Life, it is a precious gift. It is also full of tragic moments. Every minute of every day someone’s heart is ripped out of their chest with news that seems impossible to bear. According to the American Cancer Society, in the United States alone, 4,950 folks are diagnosed with cancer every single day, and 1,650 of those will be a fatal diagnosis. Heart disease, accidents, respiratory diseases, strokes and other numerous diseases and circumstance crushes the lives of hundreds of thousands per year. Tomorrow is always hoped for but never promised.
My family has had its share of personal tragedies. My children lost their father to colon cancer in 2011. My son’s friend was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was only 14, and is still fighting 7 years later. Friends have committed suicide and others have lost their lives in car and motorcycle accidents. Just this month I had a good friend go in for kidney stone surgery and never returned home due to sepsis, leaving behind a husband and three children. Moments like these make us question what good there is in this world! Early one March morning in 2018 my family was devastated with the news of a senseless act of violence that forever robbed us of a beloved friend. Our hearts were shattered to find out that someone very close to us, someone we loved dearly, a young man that had become ingrained in our family structure and more so in our hearts had been violently shot. It was as close as I could come to losing my own child. Not a day goes by that we don’t somehow feel the sting of his loss.
While attending his funeral, one of the speakers made a statement that resonated deep in my spirit. As she was talking about the enormous hurt and loss that we were all feeling, and how at moments like these we are moved to ask…why me? She stated that what we really needed to ask is…”why not me? What made any of us different than the hundreds of mother’s who lose their sons daily, or the grandmothers who lose their grandsons, or brothers that lose their brother, or friends that lose their friends?” The statement seemed downright cold and harsh, nevertheless it was true. Loss; tragedy; hurt; these are all common things that we as human beings will experience multiple times in our lifetime. The thing that we have to do in moments like these, as difficult as they are, is not ask “why me” but decide how are we going to face the devastation before us? How will we cope with the pain? How will we let it define us? These are hard questions to ask ourselves, but they are necessary for our survival.
Those powerful words of the speaker kept playing over in my mind when I was going through the process of determining whether or not I actually had breast cancer. As many times as I prayed for the diagnosis to be in my favor, as many times as I pleaded with God for my children to not have to walk through this diagnosis of cancer again, as many times as I laid out why it wasn’t a good time for me to fight cancer, during the moments I had to hear my doctor confirm it was indeed breast cancer, during the visits with the surgeon, the visits with the oncologist to get my treatment plan, even when I had to sit my children down and tell them the news, never once could I question why me? Research shows that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, 325,010 women per year, 890 women per day. All of a sudden, my reality included me in those statistics. I am not a rarity, I mean I know I am unique, and awesome and fabulous :), but I wasn’t facing anything that so many other women hadn’t faced before me. To be honest, I didn’t have time to ask why me, I had to focus on how my children and I were going to get through this journey together as gracefully as possible and come out victorious. I knew that it was going to take facing each day with a positive attitude, grit, determination, perseverance, lots of prayer, lots of support and above all else, the faith that could climb the mountain that wasn’t being moved for me.
I had to focus on what was and not what could be. I was in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape I had ever been in in my life. Had this hit me 6, 7, 8 years prior, I would have been in a mess! I had a personal relationship with the God of heaven, the maker of all things, the ruler of the universes, the one who flung all the stars in their places and strategically placed the planets in position. Not just a God who I had read about in the bible, but THE God who has proven himself, his love, his faithfulness and his power to me over and over again in my life. My God who was not going to leave me hanging but would continue to walk each step with me through thick and thin! The God who promises in his word that he will “make all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” (that’s me!!) (Romans 8:28). I don’t by any means want to make it sound like fighting cancer was a walk in the park. On the contrary…it freaking sucked raw eggs and maintaining a positive attitude didn’t mean that everything was okay all of the time!
There were times that I felt like crap on a stick. Times I had to laugh hysterically or cry profusely. Times my body rebelled against me. Times I was so tired that I didn’t think I’d make it eight steps to the bathroom without fainting. Moments I missed with my children and grandchildren, family and friends, because I just wasn’t up to getting out and doing anything. Times I just couldn’t’ do the hike or climb. I lost my taste and smell. Times I couldn’t eat anything – I got soooo tired of smoothies! Times I got hangry (its a real thing!). Times I struggled with depression. Times I cried out to God for mercy and grace. Times I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes (well, one eyelash held on for dear life and we celebrated each other daily!). My nose hairs were even gone! My fingernails all turned black from the skin dying underneath them. I lost my dignity more than once. My muscle tone said see-ya-later.
The picture above was right after my double mastectomy. Staring in the mirror at the ace bandage covering the place where my boobs – a significant part of a woman’s femininity – lived carefree for years, were now gone forever. My oncology nurse, whom had fought breast cancer herself, had told me at the beginning to take lots of pictures throughout my journey, even when I didn’t feel like it. This was one of those that I didn’t feel like taking, and one I thought I would never share.
However now, over a year later, I can look at this picture and see just how far I have come. I don’t just see a feeble cancer patient that had been robbed of so many parts of her. I see a woman, who despite the circumstances, chose to face the bull manure life was throwing at her and fight back with vengeance. I see a woman who stood in faith, endured the pain, won the battle and is victorious and cancer free! Am I happy I had cancer, NO! Do I ever want to walk that journey again…HECK NO! But I am thankful that when I look in the mirror today I see a woman, who is much better now than she was before the journey began and I understand…why not me?
I close this blog saying that I don’t in any form or fashion want to make light of anyone’s struggles. Life hurts and sometimes the pain can be so overwhelming that it can feel as if we just can’t get through it. I do want to say that you do not have to get through it alone! If you are hurting today, regardless of the circumstance, please reach out those who love you and support you. I would have never made it through my journey without God’s strength and mercy and all of the love, support, prayers and encouragement I received from so many. If you don’t have anyone, please reach out to me. I will listen; I will pray for you, I will fight through the darkness with you. It won’t be easy, but we won’t give up until we overcome!