“The Crust of Irony”
Well, you’ve probably noticed in your trials, as I have in mine, that there is always some irony, but not nearly as much as in the ironies the Savior endured. Enduring mine enabled me to see and appreciate the grueling ironies of the Savior, and to come to know Him better.
Mom confronted pancreatic difficulties all her life, but was never diagnosed with cancer until nine days prior to her passing. Apparently, pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to diagnose, and more than 60 percent aren’t actually even identified until death or some other necessary surgery that reveals it.
Mom’s official diagnosis prior to the final one was “benign cystic disease.” Like most others whose loved one has an illness, I began immersing myself in articles about the nature of pancreatic cysts.
As I read about the types of cysts, I noticed that each one except one was either cancerous or pre-cancerous; or had strands of cancer cells lined within an innocuous, non-cancerous group of cells.
As all the lit indicated overtly the difficulty in distinguishing benign and malignant pancreatic growths, I wondered, naturally, “How did they make the call in Mom’s case?” In fact, in spite of my ignorance, flags went up, and, ultimately, I suspected cancer.
I decided to e-mail Mom’s doctor. An excerpt of that original e-mail appears below:
Hello. I’m Karen . . ., daughter of Adele . . . who will be coming to see you next Wed for a second opinion after a bout of pancreatitis and long history of pancreatic and biliary problems that no one has been able to figure out.. I guess she’s one in a million!
Anyway, I’m not a medical person, but just an interested family member with lots of questions after pouring over material on the net …and reading Mom’s reports. I wonder if I could list a few of my questions… I apologize for my ignorance.
How do we know this is psuedo-cyst for sure since it sounds like neoplasms are hard to identify clearly and some carcinadenomas are mistaken for or initially diagnosed as pseudo-cysts…?
It sounds like biopsy is poor way to detect if cancerous since some strands of growths/cysts in pancreas tend to be benign while others malignant, is that true? If so, how does one know if it’s malignant? They say 60% plus of malignancies aren’t correctly diagnosed til autopsy,amazing… Are there are new ways of diagnosing?
Has mucinous ductal ectasia, [mucinous carcinadenoma], been ruled out? Some say this mimics pseudo-cyst…
He wrote back and kindly assured me that her diagnosis was benign. Here is a copy of the response I received:
I’m sorry-I just happened to see this email today. You’ve certainly read a lot about pancreatic lesions. Essentially, I don’t think your mom has a pseudocyst. I think it is a real (not pseudo) cyst, probably like that of her kidney cysts. We will watch it, however. If it should grow, it may well need drainage. In this location, it would be best drained surgically. Don’t worry about rupture, or cancer, as her CA19-9 was normal and there appear to be no solid elements present.
While I recalled reading that the mentioned blood test was highly inaccurate in diagnosing pancreatic cancer, I thought I ought to take the doctor’s word at this point.
So when Mom was ’suddenly’ diagnosed on that memorable Friday, it seemed so odd in a way. As Dad read the report to me over the phone, I heard the words, “mucinous carcinaden-oma.” I realized that it was precisely the kind of cancer I’d inquired about.
Now the natural man would have missed the feast-the signature dish. And, initially, she began to surface in thoughts like: “How could the team have missed it?” But just as quickly as I let it in, the Spirit hovered close and whispered in no uncertain terms something to this effect:
You see, this is part of the answer to prayer. Had Mom been diagnosed two months ago, or a year or three ago, she would have had to go through chemo/radiation just to extend life. But she had expressly asked me to spare her that-and in her case, I can, for she has suffered enough in her life to be with me. The fact that it was overlooked or somehow not recognizable from prior tests and scans was more than human error.
I believe that to be true.
Purifying Our Lineage
Back to the story about my Dad. He was not a believer in the afterlife. That was another most difficult thing to bear. I can’t imagine the feeling of thinking his sweetheart of 50 years was gone-forever-just ceased to be.
I watched him agonize as his world as he envisioned it turned upside down. Last year at this time, we were at the same hospital, same floor, watching him struggle with chemo for his esophogial cancer. He thought it would be him going-all his funeral papers were worked out, and nothing was yet in place for Mom. I tried to find right moments to continue to plant seeds and all cousins prayed for the gift of faith for him, and he took some steps forward I believe. As I saw him grieve-part a necessary grief, and part an unnecessary grief, I grieved.
And then the Spirit washed over me as I thought of the little offering I had made for him this year. This was the year I felt so impressed to have an extended fast for Dad and to pray for a miracle of conversion for him. I was joined on one of those days by about ten close friends, my husband and children. I can’t tell you how secure I felt knowing, at least, that ‘that’ was in place.
In those difficult moments of watching Dad, the still small voice was saying to stand back and watch “the arm of the Lord be revealed” in his behalf (D&C 90:10). I knew what I was promised then. I knew the outpouring of the Spirit I felt. I knew the words of Truman Madsen that still ring in my ears and that are typed in 22-or is it 26-point font in my journal.
They are the words that came to me as I was well into my fast for Dad, feeling the thinning of the veil, and receiving impressions regarding the time my father would accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in our day.
I was driving, listening to one of Brother Madsen’s (a Mormon scholar) talks, in which he spoke of the redemptive work of the Savior in gathering families to Him eternally. He spoke of how individuals coming into the Church, if righteous, could be grafting in branches of their own family and cleansing a lineage. As part of this commentary, he shared on tape a blessing given by Joseph Smith to, I believe, Elder Snow.
Fortuitously, I was pulling into a parking lot when I heard it; otherwise, I think I may have veered off the road, for it penetrated my heart so. The words resemble these:
…Your earthly father has not accepted the gospel, but Heavenly Father will be your father. And if you will live in full path of righteousness, the time will come when you will save all your kindred flesh and the blessings which are being conferred on you by your Heavenly Father will be conferred on you by your own father.
In those moments of longing to help Dad, I was comforted with the previous promise of a miracle. The Lord never bows out, so we don’t need to either. He always comes through.
So, Dad and I were virtually at opposite ends of the spectrum. I was so relieved that Mom got to go home early while sorry for his dear loss and he felt “the gods had cheated her” and given her “a raw deal.”
However, by the time we were all finished visiting with him-all of my Italian Catholic extended family who believe and made comments as inspired, and after all the prayers, and after the funeral Mass, I sensed a nuance of change in him-from his sure disbelief to an “I-hope-you’re-right” stance. The music of the funeral service was so faith-infusing, it was amazing. Perfect for Dad. Perfect for Mom.
I was asked to give the eulogy-another of Heavenly Father’s purposeful interventions. I told my Dad he might want my sister to give it since he didn’t believe in the afterlife, and I could only speak about Mom and offer comfort in that context. His preference didn’t change. His reasoning was that since Mom believed in the afterlife, and the eulogy and remarks were for her, it would be appropriate.
I had the opportunity to share a portion of Alma 40 regarding the state of the soul between death and the resurrection during the eulogy, which I invite you, if you are a friend of another faith reading this, to consider:
Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection-behold, it has been made known that the spirits of all, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame (Alma 40: 11, 12, 23).
And while I have always been grateful for that passage, never have I been as grateful for its clarity, explanation, and succinctness.
Well, the service brought back my Gentile days and confirmed the blessings of the restored gospel. Snow blanketed the ground as she was entombed in a mauseleum, with the words, “together forever” inscribed on the outside of the crypt. I felt the Lord’s hand pressing and melting Dad’s heart.
Additional Witnesses of God’s Hand
After Mom’s passing, I found information she seemed to have left for me to find about her ancestors. It was joyful to provide for them and her in the temple the gospel blessings. Bellos seemed to be ever present in our home.It was all amazing to me. God is so good. How can we say the smallest part? How can we miss the signature dish of His love? In or out of adversity? The lines begin to blur. Is this really adversity?
A Heart Pressed
The heat of summer, the heat of the furnace, the heat of the Son, is intense-”white hot, a holy flame.” Likely there will be pain. But there will be greater joy.
And, as Shad Mash Abed aptly observes,
“Sometimes we must take the heat even if we are not certain the thermometer of trial will soon be turned down” (As quoted in Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience).
For Dad-and for some who have struggled with the loss of a loved one-”the grief of death may be the fuel, an understanding of God’s plan the oxygen, and the love of God the heart that makes the refiner’s fire burn”-or the heart pressed to perfection (Dunn & Eyre, The Birth We Call Death p. 41).
For some of us, the press is something else.
There are two ways of seeing the world-one way is that nothing is a miracle. The other way is that everything is. And:
The crushed oil is virgin…all bitterness and unsavory flavor is gone.
The silver refined by the refiner is perfect when finished. And the Silversmith knows it’s complete by seeing His own image reflected in the silver.
That is the miracle of the atonement of Christ-of hearts pressed and perfected-and hope for a life with the Savior forever and a way through the pain and struggle that will be worth it one day, some how, some way.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.