Looking back

This is from my CaringBridge from September 18, 2016. I had completed chemo, surgery, and radiation and was in heart failure when I wrote this. I am still healing.

The nagging questions

Cancer – a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue
Cancer Recurrence – the same cancer coming back after a period of time
Cancer is genetic – it can be inherited, or it can arise because of damage to DNA, or as a result of errors as cancer divides
There are more than 100 types of cancer.

Whenever you hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions is what kind.  Soon we jump to the why.  What caused it, is there a family history, etc.  I think we want to know why as a protection for ourselves, and also because we don’t understand enough about cancer.  We want to know that we can do something to prevent it from happening to us.  We want to know how to protect our children from it.  

I have talked to many breast cancer survivors who have a family history.  They talk about what it was like when their mom, aunt, sister, grandma, etc. went through treatments.  Women with breast cancer in their families, that luckily have not had cancer, are often still carrying the “what if” with them, close to their heart.  They do self exams more vigilantly, they start getting their mammograms well before 40.  

Breast cancer is not in my family.  It is in my husband’s, so I have worried about his sisters, but never about me.  If you told me that I was going to get cancer, I would never have guessed breast.  The cancers in my family are not in the “family of breast cancers,” or at least that is what doctors have told me.  In my mom’s side of the family, there is a lot of cancer.  It seemed to skip a generations, so even young, I knew there was a good chance I would be the one to get it.  But then my mom got cancer.  It wasn’t skipping a generation.  I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t get cancer after all:  that I could dismiss that nagging feeling I sometimes got to be on top of all preventative care.  The more I kept hearing of people getting diagnosed, the more I added to my new theory:  cancer followed some sort of trauma.  The stress the body was under physically or emotionally allowed the cancer to grow.  This made me feel safe, especially as I married and have created this wonderful life.  There is no simple explanation of why I got breast cancer.  There are many of us from my high school graduating class who have had breast cancer.  I wonder if it is environmental.  You can drive yourself crazy asking why, wondering, trying to figure out the cause.  I got genetic testing, and I don’t have the BRCA genes, which I knew in my heart I didn’t.  One marker was odd, but it is one that they don’t yet know what it means.  They don’t think it is related to the other cancers in my family.  My genetic counselor thought the gene testing center might be interested in my family since 3 of us in a row had cancer before 50, and 2 of us under 40.   My mom got genetic testing.  No markers.  None of us have the same kind anyway.

They say you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis.  I do feel like a survivor.  I so want to protect my girls from getting cancer, though I certainly have not been able to protect them from a sick mommy.  I wish they didn’t know about surgery, ports, chemotherapy, radiation, hot flashes, carcinoma, wig, or mastectomy.  I hope the memories of all of this soon fade for them.  I am now to the point where the oncologist and surgeon mention the word recurrence.  It is an awful word.   Because they said from day 1 that my cancer was 100% curable, I knew I was strong enough to fight and win.  Recurrence, though, comes with worse statistics, and the never ending nagging questions of: what if, when, is it back?  The first time I heard it from my oncologist, I felt so defeated. All of this treatment wasn’t enough.  I am still in treatment, this time to prevent.  Radiation was to make sure they really did get it all and no little cells were lurking in my chest wall.  I have done everything they have recommended, even when I did not want to.  
There are no easy answers.  I will probably never know why I had breast cancer.  I have fought it with all I had.  I have lost a lot of things, and gained some good and bad things.  I am still fighting, still healing, and it is going to take a long time.  

The Next Right Thing.

The movie “Frozen” was a hit at our house.  I loved that it centered on sister love rather than romantic love.  “Frozen 2” was also a hit.  I commend to you the song “The Next Right Thing” that Anna sings about her sister Elsa.

I keep thinking of the lyrics these last few weeks:

Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing

We don’t know what life will be like in a few months.  We know that life has changed and “everything will never be the same again.”  I invite you to do the next right thing.  To take it one day at a time, one step at a time, knowing that Jesus is right with you in each step. 

Be still and Know

Last week I was on vacation.  It was the ultimate staycation, I suppose, because I stayed home the whole time.  I had lofty goals of cleaning and organizing my closet, reading books for fun, catching up on tv shows, going for walks every day, and many more fun activities.  I didn’t do any of that.  Instead, I spent my time resting.  Sometimes I just sat and stared at the pond across the street.  An egret moved in, so that was captivating.  I helped the girls with their elearning.  I napped. I felt so guilty throughout the week for not accomplishing anything. 

Luckily, Marty is the perfect partner for me.  He was working, and kept telling me that it was ok that I was doing nothing.  I used to be a good “be-er” and now I am a good “do-er.”  I tried to lean into being, and focus on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”   That Psalm begins, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.”  God is with us. 

This pandemic is such a weird time for all of us.  Some have been furloughed or laid off.  Some are trying to work to work from home and parent.  Some are so tired of virtual meetings.  Some need other people and are missing hugs and family.  Some are lonely.  Some are still showing up at work every day.  Some are fearful.  Some are grieving.  Some are sick.  Some are bored.  Some are afraid to admit that they are enjoying being at home. 

I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but it is ok to just be.  It is ok to feel however you feel.  God is with us, and wants us to “be still and know” that God is here.  In those trying moments, look to God, our “refuge and strength.”  You are a beloved child of God whether you accomplish anything or just sit all day.  You are a beloved child of God whether you stay home or whether you are an essential worker that has to work to serve others.  You are a beloved child of God whether you are employed, furloughed, laid off, retired, a homemaker, or otherwise.  You  are a beloved child of God whether you are able to be productive or not.  Be still and know that God is God, and God loves you. 

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