I got an email last week from my younger daughter saying that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled to have a double mastectomy in mid-June.
“I’m not afraid as much for myself as my children,” she wrote. She has a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. But then she added, “OK, yes I am — hearing the description of some of the procedures was terrifying and not at all what I thought I knew.”
I don’t know much about the procedures, either, and what I do know horrifies me, too. A dear friend of mine had a double mastectomy just a few months ago, and she told me, “It’s hard. It’s so hard, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through it.”
I keep thinking that if men were the target of breast cancer, the treatment would be more advanced and more humane than it is. Mastectomies are barbaric, and I have no doubt that in the future people will look back at what we call modern medicine and be appalled in the same way contemporary doctors have to be appalled at what happened to George Washington. Washington contracted pneumonia, but it was the primitive treatment he got that killed him. Doctors took five pints of his blood, causing shock, dehydration and asphyxiation.
The back story in my daughter’s case is that her mother — my ex-wife (with whom I am still friendly) — had a mastectomy about two years ago. Her grandmother — my mother — had a partial mastectomy and died of breast cancer in 1986.
So if I sound pissed off, I am. But that does no one any good, and I did find something in her email that gives me hope. It has to do with prayer.
Two years ago, my daughter gave birth to a boy named Gryffen. Gryffen was born gasping for breath, and was initially treated for fluid in his lungs — which was the wrong diagnosis. X-rays showed that there was a hole in his diaphragm, and that his spleen, colon and small intestines had pushed up through the hole and collapsed his left lung.
Luckily, this was in Boston and across the street from the hospital where he was born was Boston Children’s Hospital. Boston Children’s had an expert in Gryffen’s condition (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia) and four days later he was operated on.
In the days before the operation, I caught myself giving in to random fears about operating rooms, cold surgical instruments, indifferent medical personnel and a tiny infant newly arrived in a terrifying world. I vowed then and there that I would not allow that kind of thinking to enter my mind again. It was one thing to inflict it on myself, and quite another to direct it at a helpless newborn.
A Long Talk
I also sent out an email asking people to pray for Gryffen. The response was astonishing. Not only did they not consider it an imposition, many thanked actually thanked me.
Gryffen’s progress was slow and worrisome. He had breathing tubes and a feeding tube in his nose, three sensors taped to his torso, another taped to his foot and an intravenous Darvon drip stuck in the back of his miniature left hand. He had so many wires and tubes attached to him that for the first ten days of his life, no one could even hold him.
During one conversation, my tearful daughter admitted that she didn’t believe in God. I told her that I had had experiences that proved His existence to my satisfaction. And when I finally saw Gryffen myself — no one else was in the room — I held him in my arms, cupped his head in my hands, and had a long talk with him about how God loved him and it was going to be OK.
He understood none of the words, of course. But his enormous blue eyes — blessedly clear of the Darvon haze since the drip had been removed — were opened wide and locked on mine, and I know as surely as I’ve ever known anything that at a deep, energetic level he got it.
In her email, my daughter wrote, “[Gryffen] is now doing fantastically. He is healthy and great and described by our doctors as ‘the same as any other two-year-old.’ Amazing and wonderful.” And in asking for prayer for herself, she acknowledged that she, too, has begun to believe.
“More than ever I believe these things help,” she wrote, “and Gryffen’s amazing success proves it.”
A few days later, I sent out another email to all those people who had prayed for Gryffen. I included her update, so they would know what their prayers had accomplished, and I asked them to pray again. But this time it was for Gryffen’s mom.