At some point within the first year of having a baby, you look at your partner and wonder what life was like before. What did you do with all of that time and energy? How did you spend your free time? What could possibly have occupied your thoughts all day and night? That is life after cancer. It’s hard to remember right now just what it was like before all of the doctor appointments and research and decisions and recovery and so on. It has been 9 weeks since my mastectomy and 15 weeks since I was diagnosed. I have been riding a roller coaster for just over 100 days now. Some of those days were great and some were filled with struggle. Most days I was full of energy, strength, gratitude and joy. But some days, were hard and exhausting. I failed to stay positive and be grateful for anything. It’s gone fast and slow all at the same time.
I haven’t updated this blog as much as I envisioned going into this journey. To be honest, it’s been hard to actually be honest on the hard days. And, its hard to stop and make the time on the good days. I’m so deeply grateful to so many of you for standing by me and supporting my family along the way. I want to include you in my journey and I hope to do better at using this space to do just that.
To give an update, my physical recovery continues to go unbelievably well. Several weeks ago, my second surgery was moved up nearly a month and half due to how quickly my body was healing. To God be the glory! He continues to heal me and pour his love over me day after day. My reconstructive surgery will take place in just over a week on Tuesday, June 13th. I am eager to have it behind me to say the least. There is much to be done before then and much to prepare for another successful post-surgery recovery. Please check out this page for an update list of prayer requests.
I’ve already learned a great deal throughout this journey about myself, about friendship, faith, hope, joy, fear, courage and countless other things. On the eve of my 39th birthday, I’m laying in bed reflecting on this past year of my life. Much of which I spent in recovery, either from a back injury or breast cancer. What I have learned through all of this? How has it made me better? I’m sure there are a million things that I could write about but these are the pits and peaks that come to mind.
- Recovery is a roller coaster – As easy as mine was, recovery is hard. It is full of unexplainable highs and unpredictable lows. I had to learn that I could be hit with a hard day at any point but that didn’t mean that I had failed in some way. I realized that I was constantly measuring everything by my forward momentum and I quickly became discouraged at the thought of taking a step backwards. I’m the same way in several other areas of my life. Even driving a car, I will go nuts if I have to backtrack to get to my destination. I’m learning that backwards isn’t always bad and often times it isn’t backwards at all. Sometimes what feels like a movement backwards is actually like winding up to throw a baseball. When I allowed myself to fall back a little, I was actually listening to my body. Those side steps often forced me to rest or re-evaluate something and ultimately propelled me forward again at a faster pace. I’m working at getting better at recognizing these moments as they happen instead of in hindsight.
- I’m good at receiving help, but I suck at asking for it – 12 years ago, I would have said that I wasn’t very good at receiving help. That just isn’t the case anymore. At some point in life, you realize that you simply can’t get through by doing everything on your own. We need people, we need community and we need help. It’s one of those life lessons I thought I understood well enough. It’s true, I have no problem receiving help from others. This journey however was a whole other level of self learning for me. I now realize there is a big difference from receiving help from others and being vulnerable enough to ask for it. It’s hard to ask other people for help. I know what a sacrifice it is to prepare an extra meal or rearrange your schedule to fit in driving a friend to an appt. Life is full and demanding for all of us. Pulling a friend away from their own family or life is really hard for me to do. I’m working on putting myself out there and trusting people at their word. People want to help and take a detour just for me and that makes me feel incredibly loved.
- There are some things you have to do on your own – As much as I knew I wasn’t alone in this battle, I realized early on there were some things I just had to go through by myself. I couldn’t have an entourage at every appointment or pep rally every time I needed to swallow disgusting supplements. I couldn’t call a friend every time I needed to take a do laundry or beg Lance to come home from work because I needed help taking a shower. I knew people were there for me but I needed to know I could accomplish some things for myself along the way. That sometimes made it lonely but it also made me rely on Jesus for strength when I felt I had none. He never left me hanging. Some days I got through and knew it was only because of him. Other days I’m not sure I really made it through but I felt his presence with me as sat and cried it out. I’m learning that it’s okay to be alone in the hardest of moments because the reality is that I’m truly never alone. He never leaves me, nor forsakes me. That is a beautiful truth I know for myself at a depth I couldn’t have before.
- Cancer is brutal and life doesn’t stop when you get a sucky diagnosis – Cancer flat out sucks. Every form, every stage just sucks! It is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care about your status, season of life or personal agenda. It shows up and you have to deal with it. The rest of life however, just keeps on going. I had to be okay with stepping out of certain roles, leaving projects undone, watching piles build up around my house, and putting down dreams and goals for a season. I had to let it take over my life for short stretch but once we had a plan in place, I knew I had to be brutal right back. This junk may be a big part of my life for a few months, but I’m not about to sit back and let it control everything. It’s made me more disciplined in some areas, more selfish in a good way and more selective about what I take on my plate.
- It’s the pebble in your shoe that cripples you – I’ve shared a life analogy with several of my basketball teams over the years that I heard from an avid runner. It is said that in a marathon, it’s not the rocks and boulders in your path that trip you up but the pebble in your shoe that cripples you. It’s amazing how the little things in life trip us up. This journey was no different. I am amazed at how I received a cancer diagnosis and when faced with one of my greatest fears, I found peace and confidence. Then at some point along the way, I would get tripped up on feeling like a failure over something as small as not being able to lift the frying pan after surgery or feel guilty for not responding to a text or email message. Some of the smallest things often created huge negative emotions for me to work through. I am learning how to position myself under God’s grace like never before.
- Fear will sneak up on you – In recovery and in life, fear will sneak up on you. In an instant, I would find myself going to a dark place and I had to take control over my thoughts. It’s human nature to be afraid, to imagine worst case scenarios. Thank God that he exchanges our fear for faith when we ask him to. He declares that the spirit he placed in us is full of power, of love and a sound mind.
- People will surprise you – I learned what it looks like to show up for a person going through a difficult circumstance. I know better what to say and what to do because of the people that rallied by me. I was amazed at the way some people reached out or showed up to help. I also experienced the other side of feeling hurt when people didn’t engage in the way I anticipated and people you thought you could count on simply didn’t show up. I know that sounds awful to say but you learn so much about your relationships when you go through hard times. I learned more than anything that I want to live a life with white space. I want my life to have margins so that when people I care about face challenges, I can be there for them. I can show up.
- Ultimately, life is not within our control. We only control our response to it – When I was diagnosed with cancer, a lot of questions ran through my mind and the minds of those who know me well. I have so few risk factors for this disease. I eat healthy. I live an active lifestyle. I nursed my babies. There is no history of cancer in my family. I could go on and on. You can do all the right things and still get cancer. You can do everything you know how to do and still lose a loved one or find yourself divorced from the love of your life. I guess I could have looked at everything I did “right” and succumb to living a life of fear because I still ended up with a life threatening disease. What kind of life is that though? To me, there is no peace or joy or beauty in living that way. I figure we have to do the best we can with what we know to do while always seeking out ways to grow and gain insight. We can’t control what happens to us at the end of the day but we can embrace it and extract all that we can from life’s challenges and triumphs.
- It’s okay to do nothing, absolutely nothing – It took me several days before I was ready to do anything. Aside from enjoying visitors and my family, I really did nothing. No music. No movies. No reading. No working. I literally just passed the time by staring at the walls. It was good for my soul to just be still. I didn’t feel in a hurry to do much of anything but engage in family life with Lance and the kids. It’s funny though that about a week doing nothing, I was quick to jump into as many of our daily routines as I was physically able. From that point on, I kind of hit the ground running. I struggle at times because I can tell that my physical, mental and emotional capacity our not the same. I still get fatigued and hit a wall much sooner than I’m used to. My brain is foggy most of the time. I’m working on adopting some built in times of doing nothing and being still. It came naturally those early days but now I find it a struggle to fit in or justify. I’m working on changing that.
- Words are powerful – What we think and what we say determine so much of our successes in life. I saw that to be true yet again over this stretch. My doctor’s would tell me things about how my recovery would go and I would respectfully listen to their opinion and statistics before offering my own hopes about what my recovery would look like. I kept my mind focused on what I wanted and it motivated me every day to do the right things to get me there. I saw many doctors and naturopaths along the way and followed all of their recommendations. More than anything, I knew that God was ultimately my source of healing and I meditated his promises along the way. I wholeheartedly believe that a positive mentality promotes healing.
- You can survive on gratitude and a good laugh – Whenever I got off track, there were two sure fire ways to bounce back. Whenever I felt overcome with sadness or needed to fight off darkness, I could quickly find my way back by being grateful or simply laughing out loud. I have so much to be grateful for, especially throughout this journey. We all have so much to be grateful for. I was reminded that perspective is a choice. Seeing everything through a lens of gratitude will change your life. Even when facing the hardest of situations, perspective enables us to find God’s blessings in the midst of the storm. When I was able to laugh, I could literally feel the weight of my situation falling off of me. I’m so thankful for my husband because he worked to keep a spirit of joy and fun in our house these past months and it kept me going on several hard days.
- Life is beautiful, messy and beautiful – Life isn’t lived from mountain top to mountain top. There are bound to be valleys. It’s an ongoing struggle to learn how to appreciate both the pits and the peaks. The mountain tops are beautiful. The view is breathtaking but the reality is that it’s never easy to climb up to a great view. The path up is often brutal and there are moments along the way that you question if the view will even be worth it. In the past, I would have wished we could just jump from mountain top to mountain top and skip all the crap in between. No struggles up, no being slowed up on the way down and no pain through the valleys. It’s just not how life goes. I’m beginning to realize that I wouldn’t know the beauty of community if it weren’t for the valley and the climb. I wouldn’t know the strength of my marriage or friendships. I wouldn’t have seen the solid faith of my children. I wouldn’t understand what it means to live peacefully in the midst of the storm. I wouldn’t know how brave I was. I wouldn’t know the deep love of my Creator who has shown relentless pursuit in his grace towards me. I simply wouldn’t know how to appreciate this life I’ve been given without the mess.