Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, treasure you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest for some rare and perfect tomorrow.
-Mary Jean Iron-
I just wanted to give an update-I didn’t ever intend to abruptly stop blogging but I felt in my heart it was time. I don’t know that I have anything else to say, and I feel like God might be calling me in other directions but now is not the time to make that decision. Thank you so much for all your kind emails and comments over the years and I have loved the friendships that have developed (kindred spirits!) through this avenue.
But also why I’ve been absent-in October I found a lump in my breast quite accidentally. I never did self-breast exams because I thought since I had no risk factors to speak of, that was one cross I wouldn’t have to bear in my life. But I found a lump one day-and found out soon afterwards that it was cancer. A rare kind of aggressive breast cancer (triple negative) that spreads and grows quickly. I had a “good” mammogram in January but the lump was large enough to be obvious by October. I just finished 16 rounds of hard core chemo and will follow up with a couple surgeries and hope to avoid radiation but that will be determined later. And then I will continue to do a lot of praying and deep breaths and crying and doctor appointments and pray pray pray that it doesn’t come back. Because I really love life.
I meant to write this post several times but just couldn’t. I still don’t know if I am doing the right thing by sharing it since it seems like a very very personal private journey. After a cancer diagnosis like this, you feel like cancer takes over your entire life. And it does really. And I can’t tell you how many times I have said, “I want my life back. I don’t even remember who I am and what my routine was like.” Many times I just don’t want to talk about it. The mirror reminds me every day. (Never complain about your hair! Hair is wonderful and keeps you warm. 🙂
Here are a few things I have learned and would like to share:
1. My breast surgeon told me that the week I was diagnosed she had two other women around my age (48) in the office with same “rare” diagnosis as me-NO risk factors to speak of, healthy fit women who “did everything right”. No one gets a free pass from breast cancer. Check your breasts every month. Go to THE BEST hospital with the best equipment every time you need a mammogram.
2. If you feel off in any way with your health do not neglect finding out why. I had been exhausted for close to a year or more and should have taken more time to find out why. Maybe it had nothing to do with cancer, but maybe it did. Don’t give up on getting answers even if it is hard to find the time to do so.
3. Treasure your days. You never know how life will change. Slow down. REALLY slow down. Although I have talked endlessly about doing that on this blog, I was a hypocrite in ways, because I was a bundle of energy and stress trying to do too much sometimes even if just for my own family. I have realized I process stress terribly. I hold it all inside and have worried way way too much about things. Don’t do that. Don’t be strong all the time. It is ok and good to cry. It is ok to say “I am struggling with life” to your husband, your friends, or a therapist, and take time for yourself and to pray and journal and be calm. If you struggle with anxiety, get help. Take care of yourself. Totally reject the culture of perfectionism, competitiveness, and comparison and illusion that is so easy to find everywhere today. Get enough sleep. Take walks. Say no. Or if whatever it is helps calm and center you say yes. Grow closer to God. Build your faith. Take time to pray every day.
4. Work hard to find gifts in struggles. God Almighty, this is so difficult when you are in the middle of crap. Really it is and some days I just couldn’t (and can’t). Sometimes I would set a timer to force myself out of bed. I have been lower than I ever have experienced in my life. I have seen and experienced a whole other level of suffering and hope and pain and strength in that damn chemo room. Often I have heard how strong I am-this is what you say to people facing cancer. But I have always been uncomfortable with that, although I know it is a form of encouragement and I would say the same thing. Let me tell you, I have seen strength through this experience from my fellow companions in the journey through cancer. But what does not being strong look like? It’s ok to cry your heart out, and say you can’t do it (with whatever you are facing) and don’t want to and be mad and angry and sometimes hopeless and desperate.
I couldn’t go to church because of low immunity and instead found a few priest’s homilies on podcasts and one quote I keep on my phone from Father Ricardo (or maybe it was Father Hudgins) is, “Find meaning in suffering. Do you see what the Lord is up to? The greater the suffering we endure the more beautiful plan He is unfolding before us. See it, know it, believe it.” I have read that 1000 times. When I look back on other struggles in my life, incredible growth comes through suffering, even though it was always always hard to believe that in the thick of it. I also think as silly as this is, of Dori from Nemo-“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” It reminds me to just keep walking through the pain and suffering, keep praying for strength through the journey. I have changed and grown so so much in the last six months, even though I sometimes fought against it and wished it away (and still do!) I know I have learned too many things to even list.
5. What is the most important thing in life? Your relationships with people around you. First with God, and then with your family and your friends. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for the undying love and dedication I have experienced through this journey from my husband, my children, my friends and extended family and even strangers. It has been an incredible experience that way-I have felt like I have moved up to a whole other plane of love-a perfect example of growth through struggles.