Lisa Gray with her children, Brandon, 27, Amanda, 20, at right, and Hope, 13 (Photo Courtesy of Kenkel's Images, Shenandoah).
Note: Lisa Gray is a junior special education major from Shenandoah who attends the Council Bluffs site of Buena Vista University’s Graduate & Professional Studies program. A breast cancer survivor, Lisa has shared her experience with a variety of groups in recent years emphasizing the importance of monthly self-exams and regular checkups for both women and men. Her story, which she wrote for a BVU advanced composition class, was published in a recent issue of the Hamburg Reporter.
In her battle against cancer, Lisa is also setting a strong example for her family. “I want them to know that no matter what life hands you, be strong and face it head on. Pray every day and keep God in the center of your life because no battle can be won on our own.”
Lisa Gray, a single mom of three children and grandmother of two, is a cancer survivor willing to share her story. She recovered from her cancer in 2007 then returned to school, graduating from Iowa Western Community College in 2011 with an associate’s degree in education. She is attending Buena Vista now and working on her bachelors in special education. She will graduate in December 2013.
Gray was working three jobs — at Casey’s, as a lab tech, and as a cheerleading coach — when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Following is her story:
Today is Saturday, Nov. 18 (2006).... I better get this day started-off to take a shower and get dressed. Something strange caught my attention while in the shower today. Was that really what I think it is? I will call the doctor on Monday to get it checked out. It has got to be nothing. After all, I am young and healthy....
However, Gray finds herself busy, exhausted from work, and preparing for Christmas. She is trying to work as many hours as possible to have as much money as possible to buy as many gifts as possible for her children. Days pass before she calls the doctor for an appointment, which is set for Dec. 18.
I tell the nurse my reason for seeing the doctor today. The nurse gets a concerned look on her face. I tell her, “I am sure it is nothing, I am young and healthy.” I’m not sure my face echoed my words....Well, the exam is over, and once again I am dressed in my own clothes. I am still feeling the coolness of the day. A shiver runs down my body. I am sure it is due to being very nervous and more than a little scared. The doctor says I need a mammogram and an ultrasound.
She has made the appointment for tomorrow the 19th of December at 8 a.m.
The rest of that Monday was spent walking around in a haze of emotions. The thoughts racing through my mind made for a sleepless night. My alarm ringing to wake me that morning was a loud reminder of what this day had in store for me. I arrive a little early for my appointments. The nurses and techs are staring at me with worried looks as I fill out the piles of paperwork. With an apprehensive smile I say, “I am sure it is nothing, I am young and healthy.”
The tests are finished and the nurse has taken me to a room so they can show me the results. The words don’t resonate — everything is a blur. A lump? Questionable? More tests? I continue to stare at the screen with disbelief and thinking to myself surely they have switched my tests with someone else’s. They are telling me I need a biopsy and the doctor that performs those is actually in the building today. I feel like I am swirling in an ocean of emotions now. As I lay on the table I am feeling nauseous from all the excitement that is going on around me: the bright lights, the antiseptic smell, the doctor explaining the procedure and the needles.
As quick as it started, it is over. Once again, I am left alone. I still say to myself that it is nothing, I am young and healthy. Even the voice in my head isn’t as convincing as it used to be.
The nurse knocks on the door and enters. She has news about the biopsy and more appointment times for me. I now need an MRI. I have to go to Omaha tomorrow Dec. 20. Feelings of confusion and misunderstanding flood my brain as I try to wrap myself around what is happening to me. Before today I never knew what biopsies and MRI’s were.
I think I may need a medical dictionary to help me understand what is being done to my body. Jesus must have taken the wheel for that drive home from the hospital because I have no memory of how I got there. With a smile planted on my face to mask the fear inside my head, I enter the front door of my home to spend a relaxing evening with my two beautiful daughters. No need to worry anyone else with my problems, least of all my kids. After all, I am sure all of this is just procedure and that I am fine. I am young and healthy after all. Another sleepless night lay ahead of me as I let the emotions of the day take over me in the dark of my room.
The new day dawns with a dusting of snow and a glare of sunshine. I greet the morning with renewed confidence knowing that I am young and healthy and I am sure the MRI will show that it is nothing. I hug my girls a little longer and tighter as they get ready for school and tell them “I love you more” as they leave the house. I prepare myself for the drive ahead of me and what lies beyond the drive. My excuse for not going to the appointment has melted away before I leave the house. Off I went into the great unknown.
The drive went too quickly and before I know it I am at the hospital to start another day of not knowing. Another day of worried looks from everyone I encounter.
Gray’s anxiety grows as she is prepared for her MRI.
I am gently being coaxed to lay on my stomach with my gown open from the waist up. My breasts are exposed for all to see and left to dangle into nothingness through an opening in the table where I am being laid. Suddenly there are headphones on my ears with soft soothing music being played and my hands are stretched above my head. The vulnerability I feel at this moment is unimaginable and I am scared beyond belief.
I awake to the soft gentle prodding of a nurse telling me it is over and I can get dressed from the waist down. I am told I need another biopsy, only this time on the other side. Confusion lit my face as explanations were entering my brain.
Once again Gray undergoes a biopsy before being sent home.
The hour drive home gave me time to collect my thoughts and find the smile I would need to greet my family when I returned home.
Waiting patiently is not one of my strong points, especially when this could mean life or death. Dec. 21 came and went without any calls from the doctor. Dec. 22 was not so lucky; it was almost 7 p.m. when I received a call from the doctor. She wants to meet as soon as possible; I am grocery shopping at Fareway. Sitting in her van she begins to tell me words that are foreign to me, are they English or French? Then the English words hit home “You have cancer” rings in my ears like an echo in a well.
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat I mumble the words, “Are you sure it’s something? Aren’t I too young and healthy?”
Christmas comes and goes with the grandeur I was hoping for. The secret I hold will not ruin this time of year with my family. It is a new year and a lot of new beginnings lay in store for my family and me. Jan. 15 is approaching fast and my secret must be told to my children. As I muster the confidence I need to face this daunting task, I lift my face to the heavens and pray for strength and the words to tell my babies. A peace like I have never known engulfs me and I feel a calmness enter my soul. God has never forsaken me, but I had strayed and he was bringing me back home.
As I peer into the faces of my three beautiful gifts from God, I spill my secret like a river running over its banks. As the tears flow, I assure them that it will be fine by telling them, “It is nothing really, I am young and healthy, I just need a little surgery and some medicine and I will be good as new.”
The lumps are gone as well as the humps in which they were embedded. The hair disappeared and reappeared with time. The cheerleaders now have a new coach and Casey’s no longer fits my schedule. I finally figured out the important things in life don’t come in the form of money or gifts. The time I spend with God and my family is worth more to me than all the money in the world. I am still young and healthy, once again, and in the end it really was nothing that I couldn’t handle.