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Breast Cancer Journey - Blessings that Found Me
Sharing My Breast Cancer Experience
I am writing this series of articles because when I found out I had breast cancer, I asked other survivors about certain milestones in their own cancer journey. Most could not remember the specifics, and I completely relate to that. I decided to try to write down my experience, hoping there will be something in my journey that might be helpful to others who feel devastated when they hear they have cancer. I must add that no two people with cancer are alike, and I have found that no two doctors are alike in their treatment. These are important distinctions to remember when going through such a journey. We are each unique, yet sharing our experiences helps make us stronger and possibly gives hope and strength so we know we are not alone.
Breast Cancer: a Blessing
In earlier posts, I said my breast cancer showed me blessings. The hardest part for me was finding out I had cancer then having to tell others. Life as I knew it was not going to be normal for a while. I didn’t realize how much I appreciated normal until I lost it. Isn’t that the way of it for all of us? At the same time, the love and well-wishes and prayers that came my way was, to say the least, overwhelming. Who knew so many people cared?
If you are getting frustrated because I have not reached the part about the type of cancer, the procedures leading up to surgery, the decisions I made for the type of treatment, and the surgery, I apologize. It is, in fact, a journey, and I am sharing mine. If it helps one person to see how I handled a cancer diagnosis from the beginning, I have served a purpose.
God Prepared Me
I am an anxious person. On the outside, I appear calm, but on the inside I am having a panic attack. For over a year, I had been reading devotionals on my Holy Bible app dealing with anxiety. Each night for a year before this diagnosis, I prayed for peace, calm, patience, compassion, empathy, joy, strength, knowledge, and the Blood of Christ to cleanse anything from my life that steals those virtues and robbed me of the joy. It was working. God helped me deal with so many issues after I sought His help. Looking back, I see that He was helping me before I sought Him.
You might ask, “Wait, hold on! You are trying to tell people that God has blessed you with cancer?”
No, I am trying to tell you that God prepared me for handling the knowledge that I have cancer. I cannot explain why certain things happen to any of us, good or bad. I am not trying to claim that I know such things. I just know this world is not a fairytale, and we have to deal with the good and the bad that comes our way. Some may adamantly oppose the idea that God can use cancer as a blessing in my life. I am not here to argue, and I will not. I am here to share how God helped me accept this life changing diagnosis. If this angers you or causes you to scoff, you might want to skip down to “Blessing Two.”
Blessings in the Eye of the Storm
Do you have a specific way of finding the positive during difficult life situations?
This English Department Rocks
Blessing One - A God-Thing
God knew there was no place for negativity in my life as a cancer fighter. I didn’t know my studies of devotionals and Scripture were preparing me for something bigger than every day challenges, but He did. I believe He put it in my heart and mind to seek out help with my anxiety that could not be shut off in my mind by taking a pill. Medicine may help with the symptoms and I highly recommend getting a doctor’s help, but meds cannot change your environment. God gave me His Grace to help me deal with what life had to throw at me.
I give credit to God for how I reacted and handled this situation. He gave me peace, strength, and perspective. It did not come from my inner self because if this had happened a couple of years ago, I would have been a mess and made everyone around me miserable. Nope, it is a God-Thing.
Since I do not go to church on a regular basis, I was searching for a way to be in communion with other believers. I am a high school English teacher and discovered a ladies’ prayer group made up of teachers, secretaries, and custodians who met one day a week after school. Yes, I believe God placed this group in my path in order to help me. As with church, I did not consistently go, but I was part of the prayer group e-mail we shared, and I saw these women on a daily basis and prayed for their needs each time they shared.
When I had my mammogram and received the news that I had an asymmetrical mass that would have to be biopsied, I e-mailed the group. I immediately received a request to meet after school for prayer. Of course, I said yes. Those ladies prayed for the will of God and for me to have peace and strength throughout this ordeal. I cannot tell you how awesome it feels to know you have a group of people fervently praying for you each day.
Another God-Thing that happened to me from the beginning of this experience was that wonderful God-filled hymns and songs would pop into my head during the most trying times. Each hymn or song comforts me by letting me know that God has this. Some that come to mind: “Blessed Assurance,” “How Great Thou Art,” “This Is the Day,” “Our God is an Awesome God,” and “The Joy of the Lord is My Strength.” I love music, so these are only a few, but each song carried its own message from God. I also listen to contemporary Christian music and found comfort in each song. God was in control, and He showed me through little and big ways.
God is my positive force, my positive energy. When I want to go negative, He gives me something positive to think about or to sing about or to laugh about. I highly recommend Him if you need a boost.
God Shows He Cares
Blessing Two - Loved By So Many
I realized I really didn’t know the extent of how people felt about me. Sure, we show people we care every day. We ask about each other, we “Like” each other’s Facebook posts, retweet each other's tweets, and we go on with life. This cancer deal completely overturned “going on with life.” I was tripped up and falling, but there were so many ready to catch me.
My family rose to the occasion. My husband and kids went to every appointment and kept all the information straight. They researched and created a list of questions for each doctor. I was so consumed by what I had to do before surgery that I needed them to help me. I still have to ask them to repeat something the doctors said.
At school, my administrators were so understanding about appointments and were concerned about my emotional well-being. After I told my department and students that I had breast cancer, I was met with flowers, cards, and gifts on my desk each day of the week before I left. My heart melted knowing how much they cared for me.
After surgery, my family screened calls for me while I was getting back on my feet. My sisters and friends came to see me and to just sit with me without talking. I didn't feel like I had to entertain anyone. Each Monday for five weeks, the English Department sent me a care basket. What a treat! I was really getting spoiled. I had cards from students and teachers. I had cards from people I hadn’t heard from in years. My Facebook personal messages blew up and I received several sweet posts on my wall.
I just didn’t realize. I was touched to the very core, and even alone, I felt surrounded by love and positive thoughts and wonderful prayers.
I do not know what I would have done without such a wonderful support group. I know there are many who do not have so many people supporting them during a crisis, so I no longer take for granted the blessing of all those in my life.
Cards, Flowers, and Gifts
Blessing Three - Early Detection
A blessing I have not discussed in any of my previous posts is that my cancer was detected early for a reason. Two years ago, I had a fibromatosis (benign tumor) removed under my right breast. I have had to have a mammogram every six months since discovering that tumor. One year ago, I had a biopsy on what turned out to be a calcification. In September 2015, I had a mammogram and all was well; in December 2015, I had a checkup with my surgeon who removed the fibromatosis and all was well; in January, I had my yearly checkup and all was well. At all of these appointments, my breasts were examined and cleared. From January to March, a tumor grew large enough to barely be detected on my mammogram and sonogram. It was an aggressive cancer, and it was found in time. Again, a God-Thing.
Go to your yearly appointments. Get your yearly mammograms. Do your own self-breast exams. Do not neglect these things. Even after medical science discovered my tumor, I still could not find it or feel it. I felt fine. If I had waited, I would not have known and the cancer would have grown and likely would have spread.
My Doubts – Feeling Like a Fraud
I received all of these wonderful well-wishes and gifts of love, but I felt like a fraud. Before surgery, physically I felt great. I felt like I always did. I felt terribly guilty for all the attention I received. I felt like some type of deceit had been practiced. I didn’t deserve all of this. I was fine – but I wasn’t.
Another friend of mine who had had breast cancer came to visit me after my surgery. I shared with her how guilty I felt and how I felt like a fraud in the beginning. She began to cry and told me she felt the same. My sister who had breast cancer 15 years ago said she remembered feeling the same. After talking to other breast cancer survivors, I think it may be normal. In all my time reading other women’s experience, I haven’t read anything about this feeling of being a fraud, but I think more women feel this way and just do not talk about it.
The ugly truth for those of us going through cancer is that we are not deceitful, cancer is deceitful. It is sneaky, and it takes you unawares. If not caught early, it will kill you. Once you have it, there is a chance you can get it again.
Even through the pain of surgery and the fear I lived with, I felt as if I had done something wrong. No! Cancer does not discriminate. Anyone can get it. That is the awful realization I finally concluded.
Blessings Come in All Forms
Having cancer is an awful sinking feeling. I have been fortunate to be able to see the blessings while going through this journey. Those blessings have kept me positive and sane.
I have always heard people talk about being positive. I acknowledge this as sound advice. If God had not prepared me through devotionals with Scripture, placed songs of praise and hope in my head, sent a multitude of angels in the guise of family and friends, and allowed a benign tumor that set me up to receive medical care every 6 months; I do not know if I could have been so positive because the cancer would have been left to grow for another year before discovery. I feel blessed and am thankful.
God has been preparing me for over a year. I have experienced anxiety and stress, like many people, and I have prayed for peace, calm, strength, perseverance, love, and compassion for a year to deal with those negative feelings. God knew there was no place for negativity in my life as a cancer fighter.
Please share your experience below in the comments. Did you find blessings in your cancer journey?