Keeping Positive Through Breast Cancer
Round One - 1993
Cancer is not fun. In fact, it's downright scary. My first time around with breast cancer, I was 34 with two young children. I was NOT positive at all. In fact, when the surgeon told me that he recommended a double mastectomy, I was ready to say yes. I was not proactive at all. Moreso, I was one that just accepted her fate. My mom suggested a second opinion. I remember telling her no. "Mom, I have cancer! They want to do a double mastectomy. I've set the surgery date. I need to do this and get it over with." I was terrified, depressed, and all I could think about was living through it to be able to raise my children. My mom was the voice of reason. The woman of faith that she is, she suggested that I seek a second, if not a third, opinion. In fact, she threatened that she would be dragging me in my pj's if I didn't get up and get dressed, but we were going, and that was that. And I did.
It was because of her that I didn't have to have a double mastectomy at 34. Instead, after my options were explained to me, I had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, and was able to keep my breasts for another 18 years. That's what I needed at that time. Someone to take me by the hand - drag me if necessary - and tell me what to do!
After cancer, after the therapy, I had that invincible high. I joined the ranks of "survivors" I was able to raise my children. Life was good. And I learned a lot from my experience. And I came to the realization that there was a lesson to be learned from everything in life.
There is a quote from Mother Teresa that I found recently: "I know God will not give me anything I cannot handle, I just wish He didn't trust me this much." This ties in with the lesson thing. I don't think God gives us stuff like cancer to "handle", but I do know that He trusts us with getting through it so that we can learn from it...and carry the message of hope to others. So after the cancer, I became adamant about reaching out to others with cancer, doing the breast cancer walks, helping others going through it because I've been "entrusted" with the recovery and making it through....now we carry the message forward.
I also learned a lesson in priorities. I have always thrived on chaos. My life is always "full" of too many things. But what cancer showed me back then was I needed to slow down. God had given me the gift of life and an opportunity to raise my children, and spend my days with family and friends. It was a gift and something that I needed to cherish every day. This thinking has stayed with me for the past 18 years. I still say "yes" to far too many things...that is just my nature, but each day is a blessing, and my family needs to always come first.
Round 2 - 2011
So that was then. This time, Round Two with breast cancer, I was better prepared. There was no fear of the unknown. Sure, I didn't know what a mastectomy/reconstruction would be about, but I had fought the battle once before - twice if you count the colon cancer, so it was more of a call to get on my armor and fight! Here's how I saw it this time:
Given: I wanted to live. I wanted to survive. I wanted to see daughter's nursing school graduation, my kids' weddings (someday), family celebrations. I want to see my children be happy, have families of their own. Okay, I knew this much. I am a woman of faith and given this, I told myself that I know I am in good hands. God has NEVER left me alone...not through round one of breast cancer, not through colon cancer, not through my divorce. Those were major things. But He has also never left me alone through my day-to-day ordinary life: my jobs, my life, my financial troubles, etc. So why should I think that he would EVER leave me alone now, in my time of need? That wouldn't make sense, right? Right!
So, knowing that, I just gave it all up to God. It made absolutely no sense for me to worry about my surgery. There's nothing I would be able to do about that part. I would just have to resign myself to know that I was in the capable hands of my surgeons, guided by God. What I COULD do is start focusing on the healing. I could visualize wellness, picturing myself getting a little stronger, a little healthier every day. I could put it in my head that I WOULD make it to Ani's graduation...and I visualized myself there, being present and well. I visualized myself as healthy, walking 39 miles in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in September. The mind is an amazing thing. With the help of Christ, the healer of all, we have the power to be well!
And finally, I've learned to think of my cancer as a positive rather than a negative. Since Round One really opened my eyes in respect to my priorities and my faith, I am viewing this as a positive. What lesson is there to be learned? Is it a call to slow down? A call to take better care of myself? To spend more time doing what I truly love? Or is it a reminder of how precious family and friends are? How we are all interconnected in one another's lives....and how much we are loved. Yes to all! It's a wake-up call!
To all of us who have lived with cancer, or who are fighting the fight right now: Have faith. Believe. Trust. Learn. And then put on your armor and Fight Like a Girl!