Thursday, January 23, 2020

It's so hard to understand

My inbox was full of messages. As I was going through the process of deleting the unnecessary ones, one in particular caught my eye. It was an update from a pink sister. I'd subscribed to her blog and she's subscribed to mine. We tried to keep up with each other and often compared stories. We were both diagnosed in the same year. We both had the same type and same stage cancer.

At first, it was comforting to know we were in the fight together. At each small success, we encouraged and cheered each other on, but recently, things have changed. Her cancer has progressed. She is now stage 4 and as far as I know, I still remain stage 2B.

This week, she'll start again with chemo and radiation. The treatment will be aggressive. She's scared, and rightly so. I'm scared, too. The prognosis doesn't sound good.

It's so hard to understand how two people, with such similar health diagnoses, can have such different paths. We're both Christ followers and have trusted Him to guide us on our journeys. And while we may not always understand His ways, we know He is Sovereign. He has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives. He works all things out for our good, even painful trials like cancer.

My heart hurts. One friend is nearing the end of her journey and another is just beginning hers. On February 11th I'll find out where I stand. Would you please say a prayer for J, M, and me? We sure could use your love and support.

Cancer is such a difficult trial. We still hope for a cure. Perhaps one day, there will be one.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Four words

She reached out via Facebook Messenger, this friend I'd met last year. We'd bonded during our trip to Israel. I'd come to love and respect her. We just clicked.

But when the news came, I wasn't expecting it. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. What could I say? What could I do?

I didn't want to discourage her by sharing my story, but I wanted to let her know I cared. Instead of offering my heartfelt sympathy, I typed four words, "I'm here for you."

And that was that.

But it wasn't really...

My heart hurt. Everything in me was churning. I could feel the anger rising up within me. When hot tears poured down my face, it felt like they were scalding. I didn't want her to have cancer. I didn't want anyone to have cancer. I wished I could wish it away for her, but I couldn't.

In the next few days, she'll meet with the surgeon to discuss her options. I'll be praying for her to have wisdom. And if she reaches out again, I'll be there, to offer love, support, and comfort.

The hard will come, I know it. She doesn't know about the hard yet, but soon she will.

And I hate it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Finding my tribe

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt alone and lost.  It didn't feel like anyone truly understood what I was going through. Oh, my family and friends did their best to offer their love and support but they just didn't get it. There was no way they could truly understand what cancer felt like because they hadn't gone through it themselves. I needed a tribe, a group of women who understood. A group of women who would be willing to accept me just as I was without needing me to pretend to be someone I was not. And so, I went in search of them.

I got on the internet and joined several breast cancer support groups. There were so many and I wasn't sure which ones were better than others, so I randomly selected a few. As I began reading the posts submitted by members, I was surprised. There were women who were feeling the exact things I was feeling. There were women who were struggling to find their identity. There were women who were overcome with emotion at having to fight a battle they never intended to fight. These women got it! Though they had never met me, they were embracing me with virtual hugs and love. It was so nice to be understood and to think, these complete strangers were being so kind to me and so welcoming, it was indescribable.

But some of the groups were filled with negativity. I tired quickly of reading their rants and their complaints so I left those groups. I focused on the other groups for a while but when I found faith based groups, I dropped all others. It was comforting to share a bond with sisters in Christ. Not only could we talk about our breast cancer journeys, we could also talk about our faith.

In one of those groups, I "met" a woman who was willing to come to my house. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before me and she wanted to help me understand what was ahead of me on my journey. I was so grateful for her willingness to help and we became fast friends until she moved farther away and our friendship dwindled.

But God brought other women into my life, more tribe members! I "met" other ladies through articles I'd written for a cancer magazine. The women reached out to me one by one. The contacts came through Facebook Messenger and most of the women wanted to learn about my experiences with alternative therapies for fighting cancer. As I shared my trial and error experiences, they wanted to stay in touch. We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses, and even physical addresses. Though most of the women lived out of state, we found a way to stay in touch. My tribe had grown and was flourishing!

Each one of these women have met a special need in my life. God knew exactly who to send and when. I may never have a chance to meet any of the newest members of the tribe in person, but hopefully they'll know how much I value their friendship.

In the breast cancer community, tribe is everything. Sharing our experiences, we also share a commonality that binds us tightly together.

I never thought I needed a tribe, but I've found I do. If I hadn't taken time to reach out and risk rejection, I would never have found acceptance.

Breast cancer has a way of stealing a person's identity but with a tribe of us, its often easier to understand who we are...we are strong and brave. We are warriors who don't give up or give in. We need each other to be reminded we're never alone.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Could it be cancer?

Today I've had trouble breathing.  Just doing ordinary household chores has taken my breath away.  For the past few days this same thing has been happening.  I haven't mentioned my secret fear to anyone.  In the back of my mind, I keep wondering, could it be cancer returning?

Recurrences can happen anytime after a person is diagnosed, but since I'm a little over 5 years from my original diagnosis, I've felt like I was safe. But that might not be the case.

I have an oncology appointment in early February.  At that time, I’ll have routine bloodwork and see the doctor in the survivorship program.

It's always scary when I go for those annual checkups.  I try not to be fearful of the big "what if" but it's hard.  I don't know what I'll do if I ever face that day.

In the meantime, I'm going to listen closely to my body.  If I keep having those feelings of being unable to get enough air, I'm going to call and move my appointment up a few weeks.

I don't want to think about the possibility that cancer could return. I don’t want to think about it concentrating in my lungs, but it's hard not to think that way when every symptom I face could be a signal that something is wrong.

With cancer, you can't never always sometimes tell...

Friday, December 27, 2019

The New Year is almost here

2020. That date freaks me out.

As a child, I remember watching the Jetsons wondering what my future might look like. Would we really travel by flying car? Would we have robots running our homes for us? Would space travel be the norm? As I think about those cartoon images, I realize we're not too far off from those predictions. While we haven't found ourselves traveling by flying cars on a daily basis, we do have robots in our homes (iRoomba, etc.) and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to help with our menial tasks like finding the newest movie to watch, pulling up directions as we drive, setting our thermostat or turning on music before we come home and a host of other conveniences. Our electronically run homes would make the creator of the Jetsons proud.

And remember when we went through the Y2K scare at the end of 1999? Everything seemed so uncertain and the doomsday prep began because we weren't sure if all the computers would crash and our world be instantly turned upside down, but thankfully, all of that was for naught.

Now here we are rushing into the twentieth year of the twenty first century, a staggering thought!

Facing an unknown future is scary, especially to someone who's faced cancer. Every single day, I'm reminded I don't know what the future might hold. Every ache, every pain reminds me the cancer could be back and it's hard to live teetering on that precipice.

In February, I'll have my annual check up with the oncologist. It's marked in big, red letters on my calendar. I've already begun to count down the days because I dread that appointment. If I get the all clear, still N.E.D diagnosis, I'll take a deep breath and rest easy until the next appointment, unless some rogue illness or severe pain tells me I can't hold onto that diagnosis any longer.

It's not a good place to be, always wondering when or if the cancer will return. And I don't want to go into the New Year with that attitude. I want so desperately to walk into the New Year trusting God. I know He knows how many days I've been allotted, but it's still hard. I have to remind myself to make the conscious effort every minute to walk by faith.

This New Year, I've promised myself to do everything within my power to be healthier, stronger, better...and I mean it but most of all, I've promised myself to move forward daily with a positive attitude and a hopeful outlook. I don't want to continue to give cancer power over me.

Yes, cancer may come back into my life sometime in the future but I pray it never does. But if God chooses to allow it back into my life, I'll know He has a reason and I'll trust Him to guide me through it.

Cancer caused me to muster up my courage. I was forced to be brave. And every single minute of every single day, I continue to fight to maintain that bravery.

As we ring in the New Year, let's celebrate new possibilities, new hopes, new dreams, and a better tomorrow. And let us not forget to pray for those currently fighting against cancer, the battle isn't one they chose to fight.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

What Can You Say When a Friend Faces a Recurrence?

I was checking my inbox the other day and found a disturbing email. The subject line on the email simply said, "It's back." I knew immediately what that meant. 

The sender of the email was a friend I'd never had the pleasure of meeting in person. Instead, we'd found each other through a breast cancer website. Shortly after we were diagnosed, as fate would have it, our paths crossed. 

We shared so many similarities. Both diagnosed in the same year, we had the same type cancer, the same stage, and the same grade. We were both mothers although my children were grown and hers were not. We shared a love of similar interests and hobbies.

Instantly, as we corresponded, we clicked. 

Through our online blogs, we were able to compare notes and keep up with each others lives. It was fun reading about each other and felt almost like I had an adopted sister. Our relationship was special. And that's why I felt so helpless when I learned, through the email, that her cancer had returned. 

What could I say that wouldn't sound trite? Of course, I was sorry to learn of the news but I wanted to express my heartfelt sentiments. Since our cancer experiences had been so similar, I could almost feel the way she'd probably responded when she received the news. I imagined she felt like I would've if the shoe had been on the other foot. I would have been devastated and confused. My heart went out to her. 

Reading her blog, as she began treatment again, I learned more about her feelings. Not only did she feel betrayed by the return of cancer, she was angry.  I completely understood. And when she began to blame herself for possibly not doing something right, I knew why she felt that way, too. 

My heart broke as she told about having to go through chemotherapy again. It didn't seem fair. Hadn't she given enough the first time around? 

But with cancer, there is no fairness, there are no rules. 

What do we say when someone we love faces a recurrence of cancer? And how can a fellow survivor express compassion and empathy in a genuine way? 

One of the best things we can do is listen. Words aren't always necessary to express caring. Often, an understanding look, or a tender touch can convey the heart's deepest sentiments. 

But if words need to be shared, they should be carefully chosen. A person might say, "I'm sorry. I know this isn't what you were expecting." Or "I'm here for you, just let me know what I can do to help." 

By offering the gift of understanding to the person facing recurrence, validation occurs.

When you aren't sure what to say, it's best to say nothing at all.  

A cancer recurrence rarely comes with notice, but when the surprise comes, it makes a big difference for the person with cancer to have a support team in place. 

As I read my friend’s blog for daily updates, one thing appears in every post – evidence of her warrior spirit and personal bravery. Though she’s having to fight this war again, I know she’ll give it her all, the same way she did the first time around.

It’s challenging to cheer her on from the sidelines, but I can always lift her up in prayer, send her encouraging notes, or post supportive comments on her blog. And in so doing, I hope she’ll know I stand with her because I know she’d do the same for me should I ever face a recurrence. 

That's what we do in the world of cancer, because we've been there and we know how it feels to hear the words, you have cancer, for the first time or at any time thereafter. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thankful for Cancer

It's been a while since I've written. For some reason life keeps getting in the way.

The holidays are coming and I'm so unprepared. Things seem so different since cancer came into our lives.

In the past, I'd start planning for Thanksgiving months in advance. I'd write out my menu, do the necessary shopping, put out decorations, and look forward to spending time with family. It was a grand gesture that always paid off but for the past few years, I just haven't been able to "get into it." In fact, I haven't even been the one to host the meal. For the past two years, my middle daughter, Laura, has been gracious enough to do the family meal at her home. It's been a real blessing and has taken so much pressure off of me, but this year, it won't be that way. The meal has fallen back into my lap.

The stress and anxiety over planning for the festivities has been overwhelming, so much so that my sweet husband has stepped in to help. "This year," he said, "I don't want you to have to cook or worry about anything. I'm going to take care of it." I was shocked by his statement and wondered what he was planning. Two days ago, I found out.

After getting off work, Phil stopped by the Honeybaked Ham store. When he came home from work, his arms were loaded with a stack of frozen side dishes. He was so excited as he began to carefully place them on the kitchen counter. "I picked up some sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, and even some sliced apples," he said. I watched his face as he fanned out the frozen blocks of food in a neat arc. He was beaming as he waited for my approval.

I was taken aback at the thoughts of serving our guests frozen food for the holiday. As one who has always cooked from scratch, I felt taking such a shortcut was just short of sacrilege, but didn't dare utter a word. My husband had done what he could to take a burden from my shoulders and I was definitely thankful for that. Would it really be so bad to have pre-prepared food for one meal? In my head, I justified his plan, and accepted it as a broad smile spread across my face.

"You are so clever and thoughtful," I said to my dear husband. The pride was evident as he threw his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. "This will be great and will save me so much time! Thank you, honey!"

After giving him a big hug, I asked if he'd help me carry the frozen goodies to our deep freezer.

A lot has changed since my cancer diagnosis. I've learned to make concessions I never thought I'd make. Some of them have been spur of the moment decisions and others have been well thought out plans, but in each case, I'm thankful cancer has taught me to focus on what really matters- I'm still here. I'm still alive. And, I can still celebrate special holidays.

This year, I'll be grateful for so many things but one of the main ones is knowing I'm loved.

Cancer takes the blame for a lot of bad in our lives but rarely does it receive accolades for anything good. Over the past five years, its taught me an awful lot and in all honesty, I have to say, it's taught me so much more about gratitude than I ever knew before it came into my life. This year, I will be able to say thank you to cancer, and truly mean it. 

It's so hard to understand

My inbox was full of messages. As I was going through the process of deleting the unnecessary ones, one in particular caught my eye. It wa...