The Diagnosis



It was a cool autumnal day in October, four years ago, when I first noticed the lump. The steady sharp pain in my groin was a constant distraction, like an irritating mosquito hovering in front of my face that I couldn’t ignore. It constantly stole my attention, and with it all logic and reason. I feared the worst.


Anxiety sat lodged in my throat, plaguing me with the worst possible outcome. Cancer, I thought. It’s cancer and I’m going to die and my children will be left motherless. It was the most reasonable explanation to me.


I didn’t wait long to make an appointment with my family doctor. She sent me for an ultrasound and I waited in agonizing torture for the results. They turned out to be inconclusive and I was referred to a gynaecologist, assuming it was related to my reproductive organs given its location.


I was scheduled for a CT scan a few months later. Nerves abounded as I sat in the waiting room, self conscious and uncomfortable that I was braless under the thin, mint green hospital gown. A needle was taped to my forearm so I could be injected with contrast for my scan. I tried not to look at it, needles always did make me squeamish.


When my name was called I followed the nurse into the room and laid down on the bed. She attached a tube to the needle in my arm and told me I would experience a warm sensation that would make me feel like I wet myself, but she assured me I wouldn’t actually. Sure enough, moments after injecting the contrast, I tightened my pelvic floor muscles, fearing I had urinated on the table. I remembered her words and relaxed, slightly. I was still in a hospital, after all, about to get scanned for an unknown lump in my body. There was nothing relaxing about the situation.


The nurse excused herself and I was alone in the room. I let out a deep breath and looked up. A bright scene was painted on the domed ceiling, making it appear as if I was lying outside in a garden, looking into a blue sky, a lattice of blooming flowers reaching toward the heavens all around the dome. It was serene in and of itself, but the reality of where I was ruined the mood.


After some time the nurse came back into the room. She looked puzzled and stumbled over her words, making my heart race more than it already was. We think we see something at the top of the scan, in your chest, so we’re just going to check with the radiologist to see if we should do a scan for you chest yet, too. I’ll be right back.


Well, there it was. I wasn’t dying from a cancerous tumour in my groin after all. I was going to die from a cancerous tumour on my heart. This was my Hollywood moment - I went in for a scan for a cyst-like lump in my groin, but instead, a vicious tumour was found on my heart. It would be a blockbuster hit. Perfect.


When the nurse returned she informed me that they would not be doing another scan. I was young and they didn’t want to put me through more radiation than necessary. I respected that, as I also shared their conservative thinking, but I was now left with an undiagnosed something in my chest, as well as a lump in my groin.


More waiting ensued, which did not bode well for my anxiety. I continued worrying about my lump, with the added fear and uncertainty of whatever I had growing in my chest.


I can still palpably feel the anxiety I experienced the day before I was to hear the results. I remember where I was in my house, and the pounding of my heart against my chest. My breathing was heavy, and my mind was racing. My eyes forced back tears all morning until I couldn’t control myself any longer. I remember sitting on the bottom stair in our kitchen, my hands shaking so terribly I could hardly get my fingers to press the button to call My Love. When he answered I finally broke down. I cried, exclaiming how intensely afraid I was for the news. I was expecting the worst. He prayed for me, and when we hung up I texted a few other friends to pray for me as well. I needed peace.


I made my way to the couch and sat down. Needing a distraction, I logged into Instagram on my phone and started scrolling through the photos in my feed. I came to one that reached out and beckoned me to stop and read every single word. Everything around me faded away as the words on the screen, a Psalm, spoke to me. God was speaking to me.


They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:7.


The sureness of God’s voice in that moment was undeniable, undoubtable. Instantly my anxiety lifted significantly and I felt peace overcome me. It was so tangible, so real, so close. He was close. I leaned into that closeness, embracing the comfort He offered.


I went to my doctor's appointment the following day with slightly less anxiety than I had the day before. I was still terrified, but I felt a sense of peace. Not entirely, but I felt it. The results of the scan indicated that the lump in my groin was nothing, and that there was an unidentified mass on my heart. They couldn’t give a conclusive explanation for it because the CT scan didn’t capture the whole mass in the image. I stayed surprisingly calm at the news, pure evidence of God’s grace. The next step would be a chest MRI, and again I found myself sitting in the very same waiting room, with the same ghastly gown, and a needle taped to my forearm.


The mass on my heart was diagnosed as a pericardial cyst. The cardiologist I later met with assured me it was nothing of concern - it had likely been there for years, and would likely be there for years to come. It was small in size, roughly 3cm in diameter, so even if it did rupture one day, it wouldn’t affect me. I left feeling less burdened, but still keenly aware of the intruder residing on my heart.


While at the emergency ward for an unrelated issue at some point during those years, a doctor discovered that I had a mild heart murmur. More doctors, more tests, more waiting. An echocardiogram and an ECG concluded that there was nothing concerning about my murmur, and that was the end of that.


But I still had a lump in my groin that hadn’t been diagnosed and was still causing my discomfort, and though I had grown far more relaxed and rational about the situation, I still wasn't comfortable not knowing exactly what it was and if it needed to be treated.


As a final attempt to get answers, I had another ultrasound in the spring of last year which was quite unnerving. At one point the tech excused herself to seek advice from a colleague. She returned alone and kept scanning my abdomen, silently looking at the screen. A while later she excused herself again, telling me the lump looked “different” than it had on my original scans so she wanted to get another opinion. This time she returned with the radiologist in tow. Together they looked intently at the screen, assessing the image out loud, looking to find an explanation.


Again, no diagnosis was made and I walked out of the room feeling really frustrated and confused. There was an obvious, at times painful lump inside me and I wanted to know what it was. Why was that so difficult to achieve? With all the medical technology we had access to in this country, I assumed a diagnosis would be easily attained.


Next, I was referred to a General Surgeon who suggested the lump might be endometriosis. He declared no further action was necessary, unless it started bothering me more. I could also opt to go for another ultrasound at a more reputable clinic - apparently the lab I had been sent to the previous two times was not qualified enough to produce images any real doctor would trust. I felt defeated by this point. If my previous two ultrasounds hadn’t shown anything, why would another? But if he wasn’t concerned, then I wouldn’t be either.


But it was still there - the lump, the anxiety. They were still present in my life. A constant, droning hum reminding me that not all was well inside me. I wasn't gripped with fear anymore, thank goodness, but I still wanted to know what the lump was.


A few weeks ago I decided I would continue pursuing a diagnosis - it hurt me enough that I resolved to get it removed one way or another. A couple of weeks ago, before I had a chance to make another appointment with my doctor, I experienced immense abdominal pain. I lay on my bed in the fetal position, unable to move from the pain. I called my mom and she brought me to the hospital. I had felt the usual pain from my lump that morning, before the abdominal pain began, and I mentioned that to every nurse and doctor that assessed me. By the end of my time in the ER, I had no explanation for the abdominal pain, but I was given a referral to come back the next day for an ultrasound to determine what the lump was.


Another ultrasound, and a few more hours at the hospital the following day, and I finally received a diagnosis. An actual answer based on the images from the ultrasound. Facts. Confirmation. Conclusive results. It was a hernia all along.


To say I am relieved to finally have a diagnosis would be an understatement. I have lived the last four years of my life in a state of unknowing, my anxiety over it a consistent buzz in the background of life.


As I drove home from the hospital, I wondered why God had waited four years to give me the answer I desperately wanted. I wondered why no other scans or doctors had figured out that it was a hernia this whole time. But in the same moment, the answer was loud and clear - it took four years for me to grow in my faith and trust in Him to the point where the uncertainty no longer controlled me. I had finally settled into a place of trust where I was comfortable not having an answer because I knew that God knew. And that the timing of everything would be perfect because He was in control.


I believe God was waiting until I could honestly say: My heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

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All photos belong to and are copyright of Vanessa Voth unless stated otherwise.

Photo of Vanessa and her family was taken by Rebecca Sehn.

Langley, British Columbia

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