Our 6 Miracle Story…
I posted a reference to our “6 Miracle” story today… as I was celebrating both our oldest son’s 14th birthday AND almost 15 years of my wife being cancer free.
Since then… I received a number of requests to hear more. So… just for those who don’t know the story… here’s a walk through of the miracles. (By the way, I would have just posted this on Facebook but it got too long to fit in a comment section.)
On Christmas Eve of 1997, we got a call from Mel’s doctor confirming the very bad and scary news. In fact, the doctor called in tears as she read the report to me. I was speechless but then had the dubious task of driving to the Pier One that Mel managed in Billings, MT to tell her the news. (Loved our Pier One family… you guys were incredible that day and always!)
On that snowy Christmas Eve… we then went home to cry, pray and start making phone calls to specialists around the country to discuss next steps. We landed on a world-renowned specialist in Salt Lake City. Due to the type of cancer, all the doctors agreed that a full hysterectomy was the only option to save Mel. That was tough news for us because we’d just started talking about having kids and Mel was only 27. BUT that was the option so we moved forward and scheduled the surgery. We also started to ask for prayer from our friends and family. We didn’t know it at the time but those requests literally went around the world.
Then it came to our trip to Salt Lake City for the surgery AND this series of miracles.
The schedule was that we’d fly down (from Billings on Wednesday) have our 15 minute pre-op visit with the doctor on Thursday and then have the surgery on Friday. Then we’d be in SLC for a week or two or possibly a month… depending on the results.
So… it began.
Miracle 1 –
We got the Billings airport early… and apparently… so did the other passengers. Because (and this is the ONLY time I’ve every had this happen in all the times that I’ve flown) the airline announced, “We’ve got everyone here… so we’re going to leave early.” And so yeah… we wound up flying out an HOUR early.
Miracle 2 –
Enterprise got us our rental car in SLC in about 8 minutes (a mix of miracle and good service.
As were sitting in the rental car at the airport a full hour earlier than we’d even planned to be on the ground… I got the “nudge” to take our huge pile of charts and stuff over to the specialist’s office. We’d never actually met him and we were scheduled to see him the next day but I just wanted to find his office in the labyrinth of medical buildings. Since we landed early we headed off to his office.
Miracle 3 –
We arrived at the doctor’s office and introduced ourselves to the receptionist. I just let her know that we were stopping by to drop Mel’s charts off and explained that we had an appointment the next day. She said, “That’s weird. We never get cancellations but we just had one. Would you want to see the doctor this afternoon and then have the day off tomorrow?” We looked at each other… shrugged and said, “sure.”
So after a few minutes they took us back to an exam room. Mel was exhausted so she plunked down in a chair on the side of the room. The only space left was to sit on the exam table… so up I went. Now this specialist was an oncologist gynecologist and we’d never met him. So when he walked in the room he saw me and didn’t see Mel who was hidden by the door. He looked at me and with a straight face he said, “Hey we don’t do weenies” here.” Then he saw Mel and said, “Oh.” We all laughed… (and Mel and I instantly fell in love with him.) His name was Dr. Gary Johnson. We started to connect and just talk. Honestly, it was supposed to be a 10 to 15 minute discussion of what the next few days and weeks were going to look like (surgery… hospital stays… future visits to SLC)
But then… the doctor did something he wasn’t planning on doing. He started another battery of tests. Now, this wasn’t called for. Mel had been tested every way imaginable… but that day… he just decided to start some tests again. As he did another miracle started to play out.
Miracle 4 –
He ran the gauntlet of tests and then wound up sticking his head back in the room and said, “Get ready and then come to my office. My nurse will show you the way when you’re ready.” Then… just as quick… he was gone. We didn’t know what to think.. whether the news was bad or good. But sure enough… Mel got ready and then Dr. Johnson’s nurse escorted us down to his office. We sat there for what seemed like hours but was only probably 15 minutes. Finally he came in and sat down on the other side of his huge doctor’s desk. He leaned forward and said, “It seems like you guys would like to have some kids.” I remember thinking… “That might just be the cruelest question a person could ask right now.” But then he continued. He said, “It appears that we’ve had a miracle. Now the cancer isn’t gone but it has regressed. I can’t explain that regression but because it has happened, it opens up an opportunity that we didn’t think we had. There is a procedure that would allow us to potentially remove the cancer. It’s somewhat risky and it may not work. My partner is the only person I would trust to do this procedure and he’s leaving for a 4 week trip to Russia tomorrow. The reason why I asked you to wait for me is that I caught him as he was leaving the office. I told him about your case, the regression and my recommendation that he do the surgery. He agreed to it. And he has his own surgical suite. They are preparing that now. If you want to do try it… we’ll go ahead with this procedure today. If it works we’ll know right away. It’s a bit risky but it might just save your ability to have children. What do you say?”
I was dumbfounded… honestly. So much so that I didn’t know what to say. Mel didn’t know what to say either but she literally jumped across his desk and hugged him. I just remember him saying, “I’d take that as a yes.”
(By the way… Dr. Johnson later told us that if he hadn’t caught Dr. Townsend he would have gone ahead with the hysterectomy.)
Miracle 5 –
Dr. Duane Townsend was getting ready to scrub in when I met him. He was fun and excited about the story. He told me “Listen, I love what’s happening with you kid’s story. Don’t worry. We’re going to get this cancer.” Later he even promised to personally come up to Billings to work with us if we needed it. But with me scrubbed in and at Mel’s side… Dr. Johnson and Dr. Townsend worked the next miracle.
We found out a few days later from a pathology report that they had gotten all the cancer. Their recommendation was to go home (after a few days rest and recovery in SLC) and after a month… try to get pregnant.
Miracle 6 – Within 6 weeks we were pregnant with our oldest son. Yeah… six miracles.
There’s a lot of questions a story like this turns up… too many to mention.
But from having a number of years to reflect on this… I know that I’ve learned a few things.
1 – I believe that God didn’t give Mel the cancer to get our attention BUT I do believe He redeemed an incredibly tough experience to draw us close.
2 – I have to admit that… at the time… I really didn’t believe in miracles. I thought God could comfort us… but I didn’t know He could really pull off a miracle… let alone six. Now… after this set of miracles and a number of freakishly cool miracle stories that have happened since… I not only know that God can move in incredibly cool ways… but that He is doing it all the time.
3 – I now believe that God could have wiped the cancer away in an instant… but there is a part of me that believes that He did it via a series of six miracles just so I didn’t miss it.
4 – Lastly… something hit me a few years later. It was when I was thinking about Jesus and His teaching about the Lords Prayer. In the original language… Jesus didn’t say “Our Father…” He used a much more intimate name for God. He said, “Abba…” which translates more accurately to “Daddy.” So… Jesus was saying that we could pray… and talk to God intimately. So… again… something about the “6 miracle” story that didn’t hit me until years later was… the doctor who stopped and did more testing the day he wasn’t supposed to… the doctor who arranged for us to have the surgery that wasn’t supposed to happen… the doctor that stood along side Dr. Townsend every step of the way of the surgery… yeah… that doctor’s name was “Gary Johnson.” Well… that’s Mel’s dad’s name too. And I think God just worked an extra little miracle to remind us that “Daddy took care of it.”
I don’t know. I might be a little weird. But that makes me tear up just about every time I think of it.
Hope this helps you to believe just a bit more today.
Cuz… God does love us tremendously… whether we believe in prayer, miracles or any of it.
Thanks for asking.