I was 46 years old when I got the diagnosis that would change my life. It should’ve been my best year… ever. It should’ve been all sunshine & roses. To say it was the worst year of my life is an understatement of epic proportions. I married the love of my life. We had two beloved adopted sons, half-brothers 6 years apart. Wonderful family surrounding us and supporting us. We were healthy and in love, all dreams fulfilled. But it would be so short lived that one would wonder what the point was to give all we’d wanted only to lose it again so quickly. What would be the purpose of this??
I had been a cyclist; I had done kick boxing and had gone to the gym for years; toning my body and feeling stronger and younger than I had in my 30’s. I had a weak back and wanted to strengthen it so I would be able to help out physically with my elderly mother’s care. I had a baby who kept getting heavier, and I needed that physical strength for lifting, carrying and ultimately chasing after him.
The back pain I started to feel in mid-2009 started out loud and got even louder, more and more painful with every day. My friend Ellen told me that she could literally see the despair in my eyes from the intensity, (and uncertainty) of the pain. A doctor, who no matter how much I begged for an MRI, constantly refused me. At the time I was angry, this could’ve been found a year earlier if she had just listened… but later I would realize that in truth the wait would not have changed the diagnosis nor the prognosis – I realized that we are all human and I was as much to blame as she was. I knew better. I knew I had to be my own advocate and yet I did not. I, who was a fierce momma bear for anyone else, just took it when it was about me.
Now on this day in June of 2010 I was about to find out what it all meant. What that year of pain was about. I would lose one of the things in my life that gave me the purest joy – or so I thought – my cycling. I would actually come to lose 4 of the things in my life that gave me all that joy and unconditional love. I would lose the biggest dream I had ever had – finally fulfilled in 2010 – that of being a wife and mother.
With three simple words I would lose it all… he could’ve said, you have a pinched nerve. He could’ve said it’s just sciatica pain… but he didn’t. He said:
“You have cancer”.
And not just any old cancer… Breast cancer. And not just any old Breast cancer either. But one that had actually come and gone so to speak from my breast and had spread to my spine. When my husband asked the doctor what stage I was in, the doctor and I both quietly answered “stage 4”. In an instant as he gave the actual diagnosis I remembered what I had learned as a disability adjuster; cancer doesn’t hurt – until it’s at stage 4. And my back hurt very, very badly.
Stage 4 is a hole you have to climb your way out of. And not just a little hole – but a deep pit you have to claw and scratch at the earth to get out of with your whole body (a body that is no longer strong and muscular but now weakened and in pain). It’s no longer a question of just get me outta here, but a life threatening decision. Get out or give up. Get out or die.
At 46 I was not ready to die. I was not going to give up – no way. I had two beloved babies at home and a husband I adored. I wasn’t going to just give up because it was hard, or sad. I never asked “why me”? I never beseeched God “what did I do to deserve this”? Why not me? Millions of women around the world are diagnosed with breast cancer (and men too) and millions of people around the world who have all different types of cancer don’t deserve it any more or any less than I did. You could’ve lived a life of excess, if you did things in your life that might’ve put you in harm’s way (like smoking) or were a “clean Marine” like I had been. Cancer sucks and doesn’t give a rat’s behind what you did or didn’t do to keep yourself “safe” if there can be such a thing from something like cancer.
It can come down to familial history… or not. It can come down to exposure to something harmful… or not. There can be a completely logical explanation…or not. Cancer just is. Every day someone wakes up to continue their fight, just like someone else – who perhaps couldn’t fight another day would quietly succumb to their battle and go home. Not all of us are meant to survive. Your destiny is after all your own.
The fight, the attitude you project to others, the lessons you learn – that is your choice. I chose to fight to live, and stay positive, stay strong. A friend came to me and introduced me to the bible (again), but a new translation, a more user friendly translation; the NLT (New Living Translation) and old familiar verses started to take on new meaning. She also brought me back to Church.
Remember what it says in the book of Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Or in the book of Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope & a future. And most importantly, the verse that would come to mean the most to me; what I would come to call my “life verse”: Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…
But all this would come later. Weeks after that fateful day in June when the doctor gave me the news, I would be asked, “At what point did you feel fear?” [With the diagnosis] “At what point did you think, this is stage 4, it could kill me?” Without hesitation I was able to answer… “I never felt fear,” nor did I ever think I was under any danger of dying from this. At the moment the doctor revealed the diagnosis to me a sense of peace came over me. Call it a sense of wellbeing. I had felt this feeling before. I had previously lived in Arizona and every time I took a trip to Sedona I had this same feeling. I was completely calm, at peace and felt no fear. A soothing voice in my head said so. “There is no need to fear. This will NOT kill you.”
I was led to those abovementioned quotes. I would be led to read the book “A Purpose Driven Life” and together that with my newly renewed faith, my purpose would come to be shown to me. I had an impactful story of strength and faith to tell and there were constant “signs” that this was my new path. I was a healer, not physically of course, but of hearts, minds and spirits. I was given this challenge to overcome to show I was up to it. For every sadness I faced in 2010, an equally compelling “blessing” would come to me.
I would have just over a month of radiation. A year and 4 months of chemo. Physical & emotional challenges like fluid accumulations in both lungs, more fractures of the lower spine. Pain – procedures that would help with the pain. Money challenges, (loss of insurance) – programs that would allow me to continue my treatment. Incredible loss -incredible support and love. Not wanting to appear I was tooting my own horn but witnessing the change in myself – the total shift from being so embroiled in my own life and troubles pre-diagnosis to realizing a genuine desire to help other cancer patients post-diagnosis. Did God do that? I may never know for su
re – but my faith and that of my friends from church believe He did.
Will I survive my physical challenges? Yes. Will my message be told? I believe so. Am I up to this challenge? Absolutely. Hey I am a former needle-phobic who gives herself daily blood thinner injections in the abdomen. And earlier this month, November 12, 2011- a year and six months from my diagnosis, with multiple compression fractures of the spine, a year plus of chemo, and a generally weakened body – I rode a bike again.
Stay strong. Be POSITIVE… and fight like a girl. GRRR!