Oh God, please help! I'm too young to die!
by Gary McLain
Carrie Young grew up in Gresham, Oregon. She attended the Gresham Adventist Church from middle school through high school. Her passion as a teenager was to become a nurse. She knew that was what God was calling her to do, so following high school she attended Mt. Hood Community College and then went on to Linfield College to become a RN. During those years she started slipping away from church and didn’t come back until 13 or so years had passed.
In her mid-thirties, Carrie was working as a full-time nurse and loving life. But of late, it seemed as though the days were getting shorter. Not because the sun was going down sooner, but because she seemed to be more exhausted each week and felt as though she needed more and more sleep. Then one Sabbath she was so tired she didn’t go to church, and stayed in bed most of the day. A girlfriend came over later that evening. She had been observing Carrie for several weeks as she faded from her happy, bubbly self. “There is something wrong, Carrie.” Her friend told her. “I think you need to see the doctor.” Carrie agreed and made an appointment.
In the days between making the appointment and actually getting in to see the doctor, Carrie started to feel some discomfort in her abdomen. One evening as she rubbed her stomach to help it feel better she felt something hard in her lower abdomen.
When she went in for the appointment, she asked the physician about what she felt in her abdomen. The physician replied that she had enlarged ovaries and recommended that they be removed, but not to worry about it. So Carrie scheduled the surgery.
That evening the abdominal pain increased, and Carrie felt so bad by the next morning that she had to call in sick at work and then try to communicate to the doctor the level of pain she was experiencing. The day of the surgery couldn’t come soon enough. On surgery day the doctors went in to remove her ovaries and saw what appeared to be cancer covering the inside of her abdomen. It was too extensive to cover in the scheduled surgery so they sewed her back up and referred her to an oncologist.
Carrie was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic cervical cancer that had spread throughout her abdomen! Kevin, her boyfriend of seven years, crawled into the hospital bed beside her and said, “Carrie, I love you, and we are doing this together. Will you marry me?” Carrie was filled with joy! God could not have sent a more wonderful man into her life to walk through this journey with her – in sickness or in health. Two weeks after the marriage proposal Carrie had the first major surgery to take out as much of the cancer as possible and began chemotherapy.
Within a couple weeks of the surgery, Carrie and Kevin’s friends helped them plan and arrange a wedding at the Gresham Adventist Church. Anytime someone would call and ask Carrie what kind of flowers she wanted for the wedding she would say “pink.” If they called about the dresses, she answered “pink.” Whatever they asked, the answer was pink .
The day of the wedding Carrie woke up feeling very sick. When her best friend arrived to help her get ready, they sat down and prayed together that God would relieve the nausea caused by the chemo treatments. Carrie was able to sleep for a while before they had to go to the church. When she woke up she didn’t feel sick any more. Carrie says, with tears in her eyes, “It was so amazing! It was such a God thing.” Kevin and Carrie married on a winter Sabbath evening at the Gresham church. Everything went off without a hitch.
As newlyweds, Carrie and Kevin finished out the six months of chemotherapy. Carrie was quite sick and Kevin was right there with her helping in any way he could. Once the chemotherapy was finished Carrie felt pretty normal for the next year and a half. They lived life much like “normal” newlyweds would. They attended church every Sabbath and praised God for Carrie’s continued health. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer don’t live more than a year beyond diagnosis.
But Carrie again started to feel pain in her lower abdomen, and immediately went to the oncologist. He told her she was fine and it was all in her head. Carrie couldn’t believe what she was hearing, so she went to her regular physician. He said, “You wouldn’t make something like this up, so let’s do a CAT scan.” The CAT scan didn’t show anything abnormal, so the next step was to have a scope procedure. It showed a baseball-size tumor in her colon.
The oncologist reviewed the findings and told Carrie there was really nothing they could do. Even chemotherapy offered only a three percent chance of survival. Carrie and Kevin were devastated. Only a three percent chance! Carrie was already miserable as her abdomen filled with fluid. She thought she leaned on the Lord before, but nothing like now!
Carrie recalls one night when they went to the ER. They were told, “We can’t do anything for you. We recommend starting you on hospice.” The doctors gave her three to six months to live. Carrie and Kevin went home crying. Kevin cried himself to sleep, but Carrie couldn’t because of the immense pain. During the night, Carrie got out of bed, walked toward the bedroom door, and collapsed at the end of the bed. With tears streaming down her face Carrie started praying.
This was the first time she had really cried out to God. Nothing else was interfering. It was the most raw and open conversation with God she’d ever had. Carrie says, “It was just Him and I. There were no external thoughts, just total submission to God.” She felt God comfort her and say, “It's going to be okay, Carrie, now get up and walk around.” Carrie dried her eyes, and decided to lean on Him. She got up and walked around, which relieved some of the pain. Now that Carrie looks back at this prayer, she wishes she could have more experiences with Him like that one. It is so hard for us to clear our heads enough to truly hear what God has to say. She praises God for that prayer experience.
The day after the ER visit, a hospice nurse visited Carrie at home, sitting across from her in the family room. How awkward is that? Someone sitting there, seemingly waiting for you to die. After about an hour Carrie asked her to leave. “I can’t do this. I’m not dying. I’m only 43 years old,” Carrie told her. The woman left, telling Carrie to call when she was ready. Carrie didn’t believe God was done with her yet and believed there was a miracle waiting for her. So they continued praying for a miracle.
Carrie’s sister-in-law took her to a naturopathic physician who told her about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). At this point, Carrie didn’t know if she should see this as new hope, or not. She decided to contact the organization and was told that there were some experimental treatment programs they could fit her into.
At this point Carrie was suffering more from malnutrition than anything else, because her digestive system wasn’t functioning properly. Now in a wheelchair, Carrie was wheeled to the airport where she and Kevin flew to Chicago to see what CTCA could offer.
Within 24 hours they had a diagnosis, a prognosis, and a plan of care! Within three days she was in surgery. Surgeons removed all the tumors (and several organs), and Carrie started intraoperative chemotherapy. She lived in ICU for two weeks and experienced just about every complication, but through it all they kept praying.
Even with a very rough recovery from this second major surgery, Carrie couldn’t believe how amazing the experience was at CTCA. She was moved to the intermediate unit where she roomed with another Christian woman. She spent seven weeks at the facility before she could go home, but when she left, Carrie was able to get around without a wheelchair.
For six months after the second surgery Carrie had no evidence of disease. Then the tumors began appearing again. As Carrie puts it now, “God is keeping the tumors out of my vital organs.” At this point, the tumors aren't threatening her life, just her quality of life.
Kevin and Carrie have been able to cover the financial cost of the procedures, and Kevin has been able to get the time off to accompany Carrie as they go back to CTCA every three months for treatments. God is so good.
Carrie just returned from her most recent checkup at CTCA in Chicago and there is good news. All tumors are showing marked improvement with her current therapy and her tumor markers are all normal now. Carrie truly believes this is a God thing. People do not come back from ovarian cancer a second time. Carrie is on her third and there is still improvement. She attributes these improvements to God, the Adventist health message, and her parents' and twin brother’s health practices.
Carrie says she has drawn much closer to God through this journey in her life. She tries to remember how free her mind was that night in her utter desperation while talking with her Savior, and she wants to feel that openness between her and her God.
Three years and six months since that first surgery, Carrie is making plans for the future, but realizes, probably more than most, that God knows when we have fulfilled our time on this earth. She is letting God lead and walk with her through this journey.