SAN ANTONIO -

Wednesday March 7, 2007

The nurses were in and out of my room again all night. Every hour they checked for the pulse in my breast, making sure the flaps were still getting blood flow and the blood vessels remained intact. I'm not sure what time it was when I actually awoke from my morphine-induced sleep, but I do know it was pretty early.

What I do remember clearly is that this was the turning point. This was the day I finally felt human again, and could see the light at the end of a painful road to recovery. I sat up in bed, actually using my arms to help push me up. I didn't put a lot of pressure on my arms, for fear of hurting that delicate connection of blood vessels keeping my breasts alive. But using my arms at all was an accomplishment. I rang for the nurse.

"Can I help you?" the nurse asked. "Yes - I would like to walk a little," I answered. "I'll be right there," she said.

A few minutes later, the nurse was by my bedside, smiling and encouraging me. She removed the compression garments from my legs, put slippers on my feet, and helped me sit up on the side of the bed.

"Are you ready?" she asked, eyebrows raised just a bit. "I think so. "Do you want the walker?" she asked a hint of challenge in her voice. "No," I answered, "I think I'll try without it this morning."

With the nurse's help, I slowly pulled myself up, out of bed, balancing most of my weight on the IV pole. I felt a little dizzy, but the nurse was right there to steady me. Once I got my balance, she let go of my arm. I took a step. Then another. And another. I slowly walked out of the room and looked down the hallway. Today I was going to make it all the way around the floor, an entire circle. I was still hunched over and felt shooting pains down my back, but I was standing a little straighter than the day before, and the pain was not as intense.

To people watching, I probably looked like I was moving at a turtle's pace. But I felt like a jackrabbit, sprinting around the hospital floor. Pride welled up inside me, as I thought to myself, "this isn't so bad, I really can do this!"

As I made it halfway around the circle my eyes locked with another woman coming toward me from the opposite direction. She looked like she was in so much pain. She was behind a walker, a young woman by her side holding on to her IV pole. She looked like I felt just one day before.

"Leslie?" she said as if she wasn't quite sure it was me. "Yes," I answered with a smile. "I just had the same surgery you had," she said, her voice quivering. I smiled at her. "When was your surgery?" "Tuesday," she said a sad look on her face. "It hurts so badly," whimpering as if she would break out in tears at any moment.

Again I smiled at her. "Hang in there; I felt the same way just yesterday. Today is a turning point for me. Tomorrow will be that turning point for you. I promise, it gets easier!"

I could feel her anxiety and pain. I knew exactly what she was going through - questioning her decision to have the surgery, wondering if this was worth it. It was no accident that on this morning we were both walking the same hall at the same time. It was God who put us there at that moment. It was God using me as encouragement.

"Oh Leslie," she said. "Does it really get better?" "Look at me. Yesterday I could barely make it down the hallway with a walker. Today I'm going the entire circle, no walker, no help. It's just my IV pole and me. Push yourself a little, and trust me, tomorrow will be a better day." She smiled just a tiny bit. "God bless you, Leslie, thank you." "What's your name?" "Vicky." "Bye, Vicky. I'll see you around the hallway" I told her as I walked away in one direction, and she continued her walk in the other direction.

I didn't think I would ever see Vicky again, but I was wrong. I would see her weeks later at Dr. Ledoux's office. She hugged me and thanked me for that day in the hospital. She said that seeing me and talking to me gave her the strength to push away the walker and take steps with her IV pole only. She also said I was right; the next day was her turning point, too. We both laughed and smiled and marveled at how happy we were that we made the decision to have the surgery.

Vicky also made me realize that every day we come into contact with someone, we have an opportunity to make an impact on a life. That day in the hospital I could have walked on by, but I didn't. I am so glad I didn't. I believe there are no accidents in life, just opportunities. Sometimes we seize those opportunities to touch and help others; sometimes we let them pass us by because we are too wrapped up in our own pains and problems. Vicky says I helped her, but what she doesn't realize is how much she helped me. She affirmed my decision to go public with my mastectomy. God put her in that hallway to show me that sharing something so private with the public would be used for His greater purpose.