How true this rings for us all. But there are times in our life when we are reminded of this more so than other times. She was 24 years old and came into the hospital with nausea and vomiting and pregnant. At first glance this seemed like it was a simple case of “hyperemesis gravidarim” (extreme nausea and vomiting due solely to pregnancy –not uncommon), but within a short time this proved not to be the case. She’d started having problems with mid-chest/upper abdominal discomfort and some nausea about 2 years prior but had been told it was most likely gastritis and/or an ulcer. She was given medications and diet guidelines to help; however, things hadn’t improved and with the pregnancy had only gotten worse, to the point where she had lost several pounds of weight and wasn’t able to keep anything down. She was somewhere around 6 months pregnant when we first saw her.
On her first admission a scope was done to look down into her stomach and that was when the mass was found, in the lower part of her esophagus. Later during that stay in the hospital a tube was surgically placed through her abdomen into her stomach so that she could start getting nutrition. In the initial scope a biopsy was taken and sent to the US, where a doctor could look at it and give us a diagnosis. The difficulty is waiting, waiting for someone to be able to transport it to the US and then waiting 4-6 weeks for the results.
We’d scheduled a follow-up visit around the time when we thought we would have the results back. It was that day that I will remember. The one thing about Togolese, that I am still getting used to, is that they do not tend to show emotion, especially in a hard situations. Mothers going through a miscarriage or having just delivered a dead baby seem to show little to no emotion and want little to do with the baby. Husbands, also seem to be remote and distant with emotion. It may be a protective mechanism as they see and experience death so much more frequently than we do in the US. And that was what I was expecting as we shared the grave news with the husband and wife.
We told them that the biopsy result was positive for cancer, and that if it had spread, that her chance of survival was minimal. If it hadn’t spread that there was nothing the hospital could do for her here, and that she would need to go to Ghana as there are no oncologists in Togo. This in itself is a huge financial challenge for any family, and this couple did not appear to be in any way well-off. Then the question came, despite what we had just explained, “Wasn’t there something that we could do to help her?!” Outside of sharing the love of Christ with her, there was nothing medically that we could do for her. Then came a response that we had not expected, the husband broke down crying and again asking, “Please wasn’t there something that the hospital could do for her?!” He didn’t need to say in words that he loved her –it was written all over his face and in his actions. We prayed for them, asking God that somehow He would work in their lives during the remainder of the pregnancy and what was to come afterwards, that God’s love and Jesus’ life, death, and salvation would become something real to them.
Weeks later and close to term (9 months), she was induced and delivered a healthy baby boy. On discharge, we were talking to the husband again about what were the next steps. Ideally, they needed to go to the referral hospital first, but the cost of the trip and the initial consultation will be extremely expensive, and they were struggling just to pay the bill for what we had done for them a few months ago. The other step was to go for further testing in Lomé to evaluate her chance of a successful medical/surgical treatment, or if things were “too far gone.” As I am explaining things and talking with them, the same questions come up, “Please, isn’t there some medicine we can give her that will make her better? Or at least help her?!” My heart breaks for them and I say a prayer as I explain to them again that there is nothing medically that we can do for them. I explain that at this time our sole hope rests with God’s help and that I pray that during their time here they have come to understand more the love and grace of Jesus.
That was just a few weeks ago, and they have not come back in for their follow-up appointment, so I cannot tell you what the outcome is nor can I tell you that her and her husband have made a decision to follow Christ. But I have been and will continue to pray for her, her husband, and their new baby as they go through this very challenging, life changing process. I’m praying that not only will God physically intervene but that spiritually He will work in their lives and that somehow they will come to know and accept God’s love, grace, and salvation. Please join with us in praying for this family and the struggles that they have already and will be facing over the next few weeks to months.
God bless and May you have a blessed Thanksgiving with family and friends.