The Fear

Oct 04

I had a scary experience this week.

I went to my Oncology appointment on Monday, and mentioned a lump I found under my armpit while trying to stretch my scar tissue.  For four days, I’d been checking it, telling my anxiety that it is more likely to be nothing than something; I refused to let my anxiety rule my thoughts.  My left armpit is where the three cancerous lymph nodes were; surgery was only a month ago.

Dr. Wonderful comes in and feels the lump.  His eyebrows furrow as he calls in Nurse Practitioner Rockstar: “I want her to feel this thing.”  She comes in and feels it.  I’m unsettled that he called it this thing.  Dr. Wonderful looks at me over the rims of his glasses and says, “I’m concerned this is a lymph node.”

I gulp, and nod, and try to breathe.  I know that he means he thinks it is a cancerous lymph node.  “Okay.”

“I want you to get an ultrasound.”

“Okay.”  Words aren’t going to make this better; neither of us try.

We walk out to the Chemo Room, and I sit down.  He speaks to one nurse about calling for an ultrasound while another nurse accesses my port and prepares me for Herceptin.  I text (not my best decision) Brad this message:  Wonderful is concerned lump under arm is lymph node/cancer.  Sending me for ultrasound. 🙁


The nurse on the phone calls over to me, “Can you be there by 12:30?”

The nurse who’s working on me and I say, “YES!” simultaneously.  I am not good at waiting in circumstances like these.  Brad, too, understands the gravity of this and cancels his day to meet me at the hospital.

Dr. Wonderful hears this exchange, and tells me we should know something by three o’clock.  His demeanor is somber, and I know how ominous this is.  I don’t ask what will happen if… because there are too many branches of if.  And we’ve been down this path enough times with Dr. Wonderful that I know he will say, “Let’s see what the test says.”

I drive to the hospital fighting nausea.  I know that if this is cancer, if I have a marble-sized mass of cancer in my armpit at just thirty days post-op, while on Herceptin, that this is very bad.  If it is cancer, this is very, very bad.  Aggressive, hateful, invasive, all-the-worst-adjectives kind of bad.

Brad and I meet at the hospital; we are so familiar with the parking and the elevators and the hallway maze that it is easy to find each other.  He sees the worry etched on my face, and his face only shows love.  Ironically, we still have to check in with Registration where I confirm my address even though my last visit here was three days ago.

The ultrasound tech tries to tell Brad to wait in the waiting room; I grip his hand firmly and insist that he come back with us.  The tech sees my determination and lets him come with us to the exam room.

I lay on the exam table and watch the screen as she puts first the gel, then the wand on my arm.  Right away I see the big, black shape.  I see her measuring it.  I watch the clicks.  She finishes and says that the Radiologist will look at the films ASAP because Dr. Wonderful put a STAT order on this ultrasound.  I tell her we will wait here for the Radiologist to read it.  She does a double-take at my determined face, then nods and leaves the room.

As we wait, I cry.  At first I try to fight it, but it is too hard.  Having Brad here means I don’t have to be strong.  If I have this much cancer, this big black shape, so soon, it must be aggressive.  It’s happening despite throwing the full gauntlet of prevention at it.  There is little left in the arsenal, and nothing left that would fight something this virulent.  I cry as I think that Greta won’t know me. I cry as I think Maren’s memories will be so very sparse.  I cry that Brad will have to explain this to them: forever.  I cry.

The tech comes in.  She says, “The radiologist thinks this is a pocket of fluid as a result of your recent surgery.  He sees no indication that there is cancer there, and given your recent surgical history, it is likely that fluid has collected.  It will probably drain on its own, and you don’t need to worry about it.”  She sees me starting to grin through tears and adds, “You can think positively about this.”

“Oh, my gosh.”  I’m on my way to giddy.  “So it’s fluid.  It’s normal.  It’s nothing to worry about.”

I hug Brad, and see my girls’ birthdays rushing back to me, their riding two-wheeler bikes, them diving into the pool, and reading Roald Dahl books.  I even see the four of us standing together as adults and am weak with relief.  I’m not dying.

With one hand I hold NED these days, but my other side is open and vulnerable.  At times I can grip Brad, or the love of family, friends, and strangers, or Jesus.  At times like this one, however, I am gripped by the dark and ugly Fear that only patients like myself can know.  It’s lonely.   The reality is, though, that The Fear is as dangerous as The Cancer.  The Fear can take my life away even while I am living.  Puny cancer’s only threat is to take my life from this earth.  I am only in control of my reaction, not my circumstance.  This scare was a good reminder of that reality.

Believe me, I grateful for today.  Today I did not let fear in, and today was glorious.


  1. The prayers will not stop!

  2. suenitz /

    Hi Jen. I think after all you’ve been through God knew you needed a good cry. You have been so brave and strong. I must go as my daughter is about to have her babies. We have been waiting all day and they just wheeled her in the OR. You are never far from my thoughts and prayers. Love to you.

  3. darcychildress /

    Thank you for being brave enough to share your story, your days, your life with us. Every post I read makes me appreciate every moment of every day a little more. Thank you!

  4. Tears were forming as I read through this post, leaking out as I neared the end and flowing freely now. It is so hard to let go and to trust God to truly have His Best for us at hand; This was a reminder that fear is always there, waiting for an opening in the battle armor.
    I don’t know you personally, but I have been blessed by the honor of praying for you — and doing so has helped me to better pray for a friend here at home. ♥ Thank you for sharing your journey.

  5. Cameron /

    Reading your post I was feeling nauseous and teary right there with you. And now I am smiling too. You are doing such an amazing job of doing today well, and you continue to inspire me on a daily basis. Hooray for fluid!

  6. Jamie /

    Karen (formerly kcinnova) said it perfectly. I can’t add anything to her words, so please reread her post on my behalf.

  7. I’ve been quietly following your journey. Thank you for your openness about how this journey has been so far… I think of you as a close friend, even though we’ve never met. Please know that you are loved and supported by so many – some like me, who have been quietly listening, laughing, and crying with you. Hugs!

  8. Jen ~ My heart sank, I’m sure not quite as low as yours ~ A reminder that we never know ~ Even though you know you are in GOD’s Loving Arms 🙂 I’m sure everyone is jumping for JOY over the outcome of the test !!!!!! Bless You & Keep you with your family & friends ~ Continued Prayers & Peace 🙂

  9. You are amazing. Sending courage your way

  10. Angela /

    Oh, Jen. JEN. Fluid! Praise the Lord. What a crazy ride you were on that day (and us right along with you reading this post!!) and OH what a good reminder that we are to build our church on the rock, and not be ruled by Fear, by the Enemy, but to Trust in the One who has lovingly written our story. Praying prayers of healing and (for the first time, ha!) drainage for you. 🙂 Hugs from Michigan!!

  11. MommaJ /

    Your words touch me in the deepest way.. The Lord knows intimately your deepest thoughts and fears and He loves you through it…no matter what.. There are so many circumstances to encounter in this life and our response to them can only come from a deep abiding faith in the unseen…in a God who knows our frame. Loving you through these days along with Brad, Maren Greta, family and friends. It’s an honor Jen!!! Have a sweet sleep tonight.

  12. Peggy /

    Usually I savor your entries ~ you write so beautifully, with such passion. I find myself smiling and nodding, rooting you on to your ultimate VICTORY over the enemy. This post caused me to literally stop breathing ~ your fear jumped off the page and gripped me! No doubt you needed a good cry to relieve some of that pent up stress that’s been deep within you for months. How courageous of you to share this experience with us. As I fall asleep tonight I’ll be praying that the fluid will miraculously dry up ~ just like your tears did when you heard the words “you can think positively about this”. Continue healing and living each day to its fullest. ♥

  13. carla woelcke /

    “The Fear can take my life away even while I am living.”-thank you for reminding us life is precious and that fear robs us of that. And thankful with you that this lump is only fluid…..

  14. Tina Mathie /

    Wow, fluid… sheeeesh. I was so nervous with you and I’m so glad this is just fluid! Continuing prayers for strength and peace and for NED to stick around forever ! Much love. See you turkey weekend XoXoX

  15. Lacy Lee /

    I would love to comment on every post of yours that I read, but this being my first written comment, I as always, have no words other than gratitude. Know that God and I chat regularly about you.
    with love.

  16. Britt /

    Oh my. My heart is racing.
    Thank you, again, about the truth behind FEAR. you continue to grow me.
    Praise God!!

  17. Definitely didn’t breathe while reading this post…your words, as always, seem to capture the intensity of the emotions in a way that somehow transports me into each minute of the story. So grateful Brad was there, allowing you to lean into his strength. Praying for God to continue to strengthen him for his role. Prayed for you today…and for the whole wonderful Anderson family zoo.

    Thank you Jesus for hope and future and for calmed fears.

  18. This has been such a roller coaster ride for you. I’m so glad you are in the glorious part now. Hallelujah! Sending a hug…

  19. I felt part of your fear as I read this post. Thank you for sharing so honestly even the hardest of moments. I will keep praying.

  20. Hi… I have been following your story since last spring, and you have never failed to inspire me. or make me cry! I appreciate your putting this all out there for everyone to experience with you, and I am so sorry you have to go through this.

    I wanted to ask you a favor – 2, actually.
    no. 1: Can you get this checked again? A friend of mine lost her sister at age 31 to lung cancer, and she was told on a few occasions that her lumps – close to the surgery site, post-op – were fluid, too. On closer inspection, however…. 🙁 I would hate for any time to be wasted if this isn’t what the radiologist believes. So many people are pulling for you…. please get it double-checked??

    no. 2: that friend I was just telling you about? Her name is Melanie Pace. She is a professional photographer, and a blogger, in Cincinnati and she has a site dedicated to her sister, who lost her battle this month last year. She has a special spotlight for raising awareness, called “Tutu Heros.” She would love for you to be her next spotlight, if you’re up for it. The link to her site Rock Pink 4 Ali is here:
    Let me or Melanie know if you think this is something you would like to do 🙂

    jackie K.

  21. Your strength is our inspiration. To know you had this concern, yet the vibe you projected was positive, funny, relaxed – revelling in Maren’s recitial, the famly cookout , the walk – I hope you feel the love from us like we feel the love from you.

  22. Misty /

    Oh my heavens! I had the same thing happen to me!!! The surgeon did the ultrasound in her office and I had her aspirate the fluid right out 🙂 I remember your fear. Even now, 5 years later, every test still feels that way. Hold tight to your faith, your family, your friends. Play ring-a-round the rosy with NED 😉

  23. jen powers /

    Oh friend. What a whirlwind of emotion. Happy to be happy dancing right now with this news. PRAISE.YOU.JESUS. Can’t wait to hug your neck on Sunday.

  24. Angela /

    You are amazing. Quite simply, you are AMAZING. I don’t know you but I love you. You are my hero. Rooting for you, as always!

  25. Phew. I’m thankful with you. Praise!

  26. Laura A /

    As I read I feared for the worst… I’m sooo incredibly happy that this was only a bad scare episode and that you’re still holding NED! I still pray for you and your family every day! Hugs!

  27. Christin /

    Dang: “fear takes our life from us when we’re living.” I’m gonna be chewing on that one for a long time. Dang.

  28. So very moved by your story. So very grateful that you continue to be well. May fear take a big hike while you revel in all that is good.

  29. Sister from another Mister /

    Received a gift from a friend this past weekend. It was a bracelet that says “Encourage your hopes, not your fears.” Made me think of this post.


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