Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I Didn't Have a Story

I remember so vividly washing dishes in my kitchen after lunch that Wednesday. A call came across my screen, and I didn't recognize the number but was expecting a call.  Answering, after she asked how my biopsy sites were doing, she said, "Do you have a minute."


Actually, yes, I did.

And, in that minute, life forever changed.

She told me I had cancer.  I wrote as fast as I could what she said while a million questions raced through my mind as I sat on my bed with the door of my room closed.  Hanging up the phone, I knew I had to walk through that door and explain to every one I loved so dearly, that I now had what they usually linked to death.

I walked past the kids watching cartoons to the kitchen where my husband was sweeping the floor and just nodded my head with tears in my eyes.  He followed me outside to the back steps and hugged me as I said, "I have cancer."

Shortly thereafter, I had to figure out what to do.  So, he went back in with the kids, and I took the next step.  I locked myself in our giant van and called one of my closest friends who had been dealing with a cancer diagnosis eighteen months before me, and I asked her what to do: where to go for care, how to tell my kids, what to do next.

Or maybe I called my parents and sister before that.

I can't quite remember.

Then came the mass text to family and friends as no one knew I was even concerned with such a diagnosis.

Jeremy told the kids.

Then I came back into the house.  Some were sobbing.  Others were shocked.  And even some had no clue what Jeremy's words meant (thank goodness).  Sweet Gen thought I had COVID, but that was the worst possible thing in her four-year-old mind.

Soon after, my parents met me on my dirt road, and we cried, hugged and assured each other we would get through this.

I came home to the "love parade" orchestrated by my precious little ones, and rounding the corner back into my parking spot, I wept.  For a few minutes.  Because, I had to get back to the wide eyes of those who love me most.

I've told this story probably too much.

I have moments when I wish this day would have never happened.  I have times when I feel sorry for myself...and even sorrier for my family. And, I have days when I worry more than I should.  But, I remember so vividly a younger version of myself, knee-deep in the leaderships roles of FFA, aspiring to be a motivational speaker some day.

The problem was...I didn't really have a story.

Now I do.  Yet without a stage, I've decided to write a letter instead...

Dear Cancer Patient Friend, 

What you wanted to write off so badly in your head has just been confirmed.  As your nurse so quickly has thrown terms at you that you've possibly never heard, you jot down every detail she will give so as to answer the questions you know are coming.  Still, you don't even know what to begin to ask.  You have cancer.

You have just "become a member of the best club you never wanted to be part of" as they say.

Immediately, before you even have a chance to process what you've heard, you wonder how you'll break the news to those you love most.  You wonder how you will explain to your babies that even though every other death they've ever known has been a result of this dreaded disease, Mommy isn't going to die.  And your mind goes there.  Honestly, it probably already has.  For now, you hold on to the hope that you won't leave your spouse a widow(er) and your children without a parent.

But as you tell them the news, you somehow see that this disease is one that will be faced together.  And, the grace you will be given to actually go through it is a very similar grace that will be given to those who have the pain of helplessly watching.

Then the research begins.  What is the death rate for your particular type, stage, receptor status, etc?  What is the recurrence rate?  How long will treatment be, and what is the order in which it comes?  How will you get through it?  How soon can you start?  How in the world will you answer those who offer to help when you have no clue the help you will even need?

That will come.  But first, you will have to discover that you do, in fact, need that help.

Appointments begin and feel that they'll never end.  You'll soon realize that the initial phone call only gave you a glimpse of what was to come and that the scans upon scans will soon tell the whole picture.  You will have a plan soon.  The unknowns will likely become knowns one by one, and you will breathe a little easier, if not more scared, because you will at least have a direction in which to head and enough answers for now to push you forward.

You will hear from friends and complete strangers, the exact way to "cure" your disease.  They mean well.  But, only you can make those decisions, and if there was an exact plan that guaranteed a cure, you wouldn't be in this position.  Just the same, don't spend too much time thinking of what might have "caused" it.  You'll never know, and that will save you some guilt.

Then treatment begins.  And, much like pregnancy, you'll have a general idea of what to expect but enough of an individualized experience that no one will be exactly able to tell you what you are about to go through.  That's okay.  It's part of the letting go.

You'll try to control it for awhile.  You'll take medicines to combat the results of the toxic others that are pumping through your body.  You may spend your time on the bathroom floor.  You may feel pain in every bone of your body for days.  You may not be able to eat because of the burning in your esophagus.  Your nails may fall off.  You may lose feeling in your extremities. You may not have enough mental capacity to do more than stare at a wall.  And then, you run your fingers through your hair and realize it's time.  Time to let go of that, too.

So, you get through one cycle just in time to prepare for another, with the anxiety this time of actually knowing what's to come.

You may discover in those dark, dark days that you better understand those now who choose to be comfortable for lack of a better word.  But, on those dark days, you'll also discover over and over again your reason for continuing to fight this disease with everything you have.

Then there is a can almost count on it.  A drug that isn't working, a surgery rescheduled, an immune system that needs a break, additional treatments you were not expecting.  Again you're reminded of your lack of control and need to let go.

You feel that with each next step you're getting closer to the goal of "being finished" just as that goal keeps extending.  And, you have to remind yourself that you just have to get through today.

In the meantime, you realize that this is your life now.  Your will, your decisions, your daily activity are all geared toward survival and what exactly should be done to get through it all.  Others are taking care of what used to be such a huge part of your days.  Still others show up with things you didn't even know you needed.  And, even more, you realize you are not doing any of it alone...that the prayers of every single person are carrying you and your family as you each move forward.

But with that, some of the things you held so tightly that made you "you" will never hold that place in your life again.  Whether it's all the tasks you seemed to simultaneously handle so well, or the schedule you adhered to, or even the ideals you allowed to make you "you" will fall away, and you'll realize that the only thing you really need is the love of the one Who made you enough without all of those other things.

Because you will talk to Him a lot more now.  Whether it's in anger, frustration, fear, questioning, detachment or even thanksgiving, this disease will almost force you to beg for His mercy.  For the grace to get through this.  For the strength that only He can give.  And He will.  He will hold you in His grip and remind you daily that what you are worrying about, He has already taken care of (even when we cannot see it).

You will lose friends.  And, that's okay.  It is probably not all their fault either. Sometimes it's just hard for others to know how to handle this diagnosis, too.  Maybe you've been that friend before.  But, you will discover just how deeply you are loved, and sometimes it will surprise you where you discover that.  It will also make you a better friend to others when you're well.

Just when you think you've got it all handled (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually), you'll be reminded of the grief of the things you've lost because of this and of a future you never would have asked for.  But, you will take the next step again as you let go of more and more.

There will come a time when you have the time to take a deep breath.  You may realize you spent so much energy just getting through the really hard parts that you didn't ever sort through it all.  It may take a lifetime of good and bad moments to do so.  And, that's okay.

Your life will never be the same.  But, maybe that isn't all bad.  This disease is brutal.  It takes so much away.  But, if you allow it, in your helplessness, the opportunity to suffer with Him is such a gift, and there is so much to gain.

Welcome to the club.  I wish you weren't here, but since you are, I'm here to tell you, "You can do this."

Be Not Afraid,