I once read that God allows crisis in our lives to bring us into a deep, deep faith and my crisis began in grace. The detection of the tumor in my anterior mediastinum was incidental, but I claimed it as my first miracle from God in this journey. The symptoms I only had were non-productive cough for a week and slight pain when lying on my right side, which I thought was my scoliosis acting up. Both were tolerable and far from alarming. What prompted me for a Chest X-Ray on the 13th of April 2018 was fear of Tuberculosis. As an Operating Room (OR) nurse, I assisted two surgeries of patients with Tuberculosis the previous week. I knew as a medical professional how less likely – even impossible – I could get Tuberculosis quickly from those patients. Hence, I believe it was God’s hand that prodded me to the Radiology Department. The result of the Chest X-Ray was a suspected mass and I was recommended for a chest CT scan.
I could still remember how surreal it felt the first time I lied down in the CT scan bed. I could still remember the pain from the injection of the contrast, the warmth that spread throughout my body and the metallic taste in my mouth. I could still remember silently praying while listening to the recorded instructions. And, I could still remember not being able to hold back my tears. The chest CT scan result confirmed an anterior mediastinal mass measuring 4.6 x 7.2 x 7.9 cm. Primary consideration was thymoma. Its mainstay of treatment is surgery.
I had no idea what a thymoma was, but I had assisted open thoracic surgeries. These surgeries are major procedures that often place patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) postoperatively. On a more personal note, my first and only table death in the OR was while assisting a thoracic surgery. I got scared so I turned to natural medicine. I stayed in a wellness facility for ten days and I learned a lot regarding diet and nutrition. However, what made that experience special were the people I met and the time I had talking to God. I met there people with various illnesses – mostly terminal ones – and they all showed incredible strength, courage and hope, while I grappled with fear. They all showed acceptance of their ordeals, while I wrestled with denial. Also, during this time, I was able to start writing in a journal, addressing letters to God. I told Him I had a lot of why’s and I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I asked Him, “What do you want me to learn from this, Lord? Am I to humble myself? Am I to be reminded that You control everything?” But, what I really prayed to Him was comfort to my parents (John 9:3). My crisis was taking a toll on them. They badly wanted me to have the surgery. They wanted to bring me to Cebu or Manila for second opinions. However, I thought that if ever I would undergo surgery, it would be in Cagayan de Oro, with a team I personally know and have worked with. It would be at home, where the support system is physically present. Still practicing what I learned from the wellness facility, I finally gave in to surgery after I had a chest ultrasound, after I saw in the monitor the large tumor near to my beating heart.
I told my colleagues in the workplace and in the professional organization about my condition when I was already admitted in the hospital and God was at work through them. They immediately helped me with the supplies needed for my surgery. Furthermore, the generosity of my surgeon and his team was heartening. It made me realize that the Lord really has it all planned out (Jeremiah 29:11). I thought it was ironic to be operated on when my job is to assist these operations, but I realized that it was His grace that placed me in this profession and it was His grace that made me meet these wonderful colleagues.
On the 11th of May 2018, I underwent “median sternotomy, radical thymectomy, partial pericardiectomy, wedge resection of the upper lobe of the right lung, and bilateral tube thoracostomy”. The last thing I remembered in the OR was being attached to the monitors before the surgery. Then, the next thing I knew, I was in the ICU. I woke up in pain. It felt like an elephant stamped its foot on my chest. I could not raise my arms and I could not move because I have tubes draining from both of my sides. I was also transfused with two bags of blood. I was in the ICU for three days. I remembered feeling lonely, looking forward to the two hours (11 AM – 12 PM and 5 PM – 6 PM) of visit from my family. I remembered feeling helpless, ringing my bell to catch my nurse’s attention every time I needed assistance. But, what I remembered the most in the ICU was that I had a nurse – I only had him for one shift – who talked to me about Jesus. I was astonished by his confidence to share his faith and I wondered if he does it to all his patients. I was grateful though to have a nurse who also cared about my spiritual wellbeing.
Intensive Care Unit
After being discharged from the ICU, I stayed in the hospital for five more days. I was thankful to all family and friends who visited me, but I was most thankful to my sister, Caroline. She slept in the hospital during my entire admission, bathing and dressing me. She also encouraged me, telling me that God is using me mightily (John 11:3-4).
My Siblings: Nikko James and Caroline Joy
My surgeon told us that my tumor unfortunately invaded the pericardium of my heart and the upper lobe of my right lung, which placed me in Stage 3 according to the Masaoka staging system. He said that in spite of the unexpected complication, the surgery was successful and the tumor looked benign. I considered this another miracle from God because if my chest CT scan result showed an invasive tumor - which it didn't - I may have been considered inoperable. Finally, the histopathology report revealed an “invasive cortical thymoma (WHO Type B2) with widest diameter of 11.0 cm”, confirming that I was not to face cancer. I rejoiced immensely even when my surgeon mentioned that we have to monitor my recovery and that I might need radiation therapy if there will be a recurrence (Psalm 30:2).
I thought my ordeal had ended and I praised the Lord with so much joy. However, the Lord had a greater plan (Isaiah 55:8). I was to praise Him through pain because this crisis had just started.