I read the thermometer: 104.7 I was in desperate trouble.
As a breast cancer survivor I’d recently undergone reconstructive surgery. Finally finished with chemotherapy, radiation and a full year of IV Herceptin therapy, I had begun the reconstruction process seven weeks earlier. A surgically-placed implant was injected with more saline each week in an attempt to stretch the skin. Only radiation had decreased the elasticity of the flesh. A few days earlier, stitches had proved necessary to reinforce an opening surgical site.
Now, a high fever.
Time to call the doctor and rush to the hospital. Met in the ER by the on-call physician, a simple blood test confirmed infection. I needed surgery stat. If the implant remained, the infection could go septic and my life would again be threatened.
After surgery I was hospitalized for five days, the longest confinement of my cancer experience. I had my own room on the oncology floor and generally only saw the nurses once per shift. After two days of constant IV antibiotics and near-continuous sleep, I awoke.
I recollected what happened.
“God, how can this be? The doctors said the mastectomy was necessary. I’d never dreamed I’d lose that. But I hoped after reconstruction I’d look normal.” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I stared at the pale hospital wall. “I’m only 34!” Now it had failed. What I anticipated rectifying the effects of cancer on my body, on my appearance, on me, had failed. Now the only option left was for me to gain thirty pounds and have a procedure requiring six months recovery.
I knew I’d never opt for it. I had three daughters ages 11,7, and two. I’d already lost two years with my family, stolen by cancer, no way I’d voluntarily surrender more.
“God,” I cried, shaking and sobbing alone in my hospital room, “I know You’ll redeem this. I just can’t imagine how.” I stared ahead, trying to comprehend it all. “But You will find a way somehow, some way; You’ll use this for good.”
“You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Man may judge by appearance, but I judge by the heart,” Scripture burned in my brain. “Your heart is beautiful,” His voice whispered into a mind struggling to comprehend such a concept.
I sobbed all afternoon, praying, “God help me fully trust You.”
As a girl who’d never thought she measured up in the physical appearance department, I needed God’s love more than ever.
I couldn’t imagine how He could help me.
I couldn’t imagine what He might do.
I can’t believe what He did!
Over the next two years, slowly, about the same rate as my hair re-growth, God built my confidence in ways I’d never known. I studied entire books of the Bible, breaking down verses, memorizing them and applying them.
I took greater interest in fashion, dressing modestly, enjoying fun colors and cute clothes.
But the biggest change? I clung to Jesus. I repeatedly asked Him to change me on the inside so I could be a positive, faith-filled mentor to my girls. That I would slowly shape into the Stefanie He envisioned when He knit me together inside my mother’s womb. I learned His unconditional love, and I felt beautiful, basking in His presence.
It’s been seven years since that fever. My curly hair’s half-way down my back. You’d never guess by appearance I’m a cancer-survivor.
It took losing a piece of my physical body to yield to Jesus to make me spiritually whole. I gained confidence in Him, as He’s molding and shaping me. I am beautiful to Him, and surprisingly I really don’t miss that anymore. The personal relationship I have with Jesus, that soul satisfaction, is what consumes me, not the incessant thoughts of what I can do, should do, to look better.
I never would have written that journey, but I’m so thankful He authored the outcome: I now understand what it is to be truly and completely loved.