I am a 43 year old wife and mother to six children. I was recently diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It’s a cancer that reoccurs in other parts of the body, so just dealing with the cancer in my breasts isn’t enough. I went through a bilateral mastectomy and a second surgery to deal with complications from the first. I have to be given the very most aggressive chemotherapies, and I have a long road ahead of me. When treatment is done, it’s a waiting game to see if it comes back. They say if I make it five years, then my prognosis is very good, but many women who are triple negative get recurrences well before that.
In the beginning, I was devastated. I have kids I need to finish raising. I want to be there for their prom dates, their weddings, I want to watch them grow up and turn into the men and women I’ve raised them to be! I deserve to see that after all my work in raising them! I want more time with my family. I’m young and want to experience more life. I want to travel and see beautiful places. There is so much I have yet to experience, and this illness could steal it all away from me.
I also have witnessed and know the suffering that comes with cancer. Of course, I don’t want to suffer or be in pain. I didn’t want to lose my breasts or hair either! What a bum deal I’m getting here! I definitely was down in the dumps the first few weeks. I cried. I couldn’t sleep. I worried about my family and my future and how in the world we would manage all these surgeries and cancer treatments for so long.
I joined some breast cancer pages and saw other women with my same diagnosis, and they gave me hope. A few in particular were very positive, and while they were honest about how tough the road is, they showed me it could be done…and often times even with a smile on their face! This was my first glimpse of hope and I wanted to be like them, even though at the time I was so devastated that I was unsure I had it in me. But that first glimmer of hope is when I started to get well. Mentally, spiritually, even physically…..I had to find that hope before I had the strength to fight. There is an old proverb that says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” That’s what I did. These women, who were so strong and were getting through these horrific treatments, were my lifeline. They told me that the diagnosis was the worst it got. Once I finally got all of the information, tests out of the way, told what stage I was, learned if the cancer had spread, etc, then I could accept it, learn what I needed to learn, and get going on fighting this beast. They showed me what the lurking monsters were (side effects, symptoms of metastasis, etc.), and I was able to do everything in my power to suit up and be ready to prevent and combat them. I read in a book somewhere that the word CANCER might just be the one word in the entire English language that the mind sees in all capital letters….but wouldn’t it be great if we could change the case of it, diminish the power of it? HOPE is the word we should see in all capital letters. It’s the most vital human emotion when you are fighting against whatever is trying to get you. For, me it’s cancer. For others it can be depression, other health issues, relationship problems, infertility. It doesn’t matter what the struggle is, having that hope is imperative to the fight, to getting past it, and getting healthy.
So what brings me joy in the midst of this awful cancer diagnosis? Hope is the first thing. Support and love shown from others is right behind it. I have said before that every time an act of kindness is done for me or my family, I feel love from that person and from my Heavenly Father. I know He loves me because he sends people to help me and to be there for me. How can I feel negative and hopeless when angels are surrounding me and wanting to help ease my challenges? I can’t! This happened as I started being public about my illness, People came out of the word works to show support… friends, neighbors and family. People have shown up to walk through the darkness with me, not because they are ill or have to, but because they choose to. I was drafted into this, but they enlisted. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for these people.
Sometimes, though, when life delivers a tough blow, people scatter. They don’t know how to handle it or handle it differently than you would have wished. Every one going through a huge life change experiences a bit of this. I’ve seen some women totally abandoned and left to fight alone, whether it be family, friends, boyfriends, or spouses. How devastating to go through the fight of your life and see people that you love walk away instead of toward you! But I have learned that it’s okay; they weren’t meant for you then. Maybe they never loved you or maybe they did and just don’t know how to react to such a huge life change or can’t seem to make the sacrifice to support you the way you need to be supported. Count on those that ARE there for you. Let go and forgive those who couldn’t be up to the task. You need strength to surround you, not weakness. It’s okay to grieve the losses, but don’t live there too long. Move on and find peace in those who do surround you with the love and support you need.
I’m 1/5 of the way through my treatments right now. I’m just beginning, and yet, I’m already so sick some days. I feel really good just before the next chemo starts, and then it’s rough again for several days. But I can still find joy every day. I feel so much happiness when my body will cooperate and I can exercise, even if it’s just a little bit. When I have the energy to make a quick box of macaroni and cheese for my kids, I feel happy I could manage it. When my head hurts so bad that I can’t read, my little 11 year old daughter will come in and hold my hand and read to me. When I can handle the tv on a low volume, we will watch Anne of Green Gables together. These things make my heart happy. My other kids send me jokes to make me laugh, bring me water when I am too weak to get up, or someone in my family will quickly make me a dish of food that might sound good for a fleeting moment. They are learning to serve me after all this time of it being the other way around. That is definitely a blessing, and I find joy in their willingness to do it, and it’s always delivered with a soft hug.
My two biggest takeaways from this experience are that:
1. I’m a much stronger woman than I’ve ever given myself credit for. I believe most of us ARE stronger than we imagined, we just don’t know it until we’ve had to rely on it through a life-changing circumstance.
2. I’ve learned that a person doesn’t have to be “cured” of whatever ails us to be well or joyful. We can be joyful all along the way. Isn’t it much more pleasant to be hopeful and look for the good in each day? I do have hope in getting well, but the harsh reality is that I may never be cured, and how miserable my remaining life would be if I didn’t find ways to be happy HERE and NOW.
I would like to challenge anyone reading this to look for the good in whatever circumstance you find yourself. Find joy in the warm sunshine, the refreshing pool, the time you get to play with your children, the days you are able to go to work, or have the energy to clean your house. Beauty is in the mundane. Joy is in the everyday things you do and experience. Recognize it and celebrate it every minute you can!