The Mind and The Man

“Where the mind goes, the man follows.”

That’s a quote I placed neatly into my pocket in college and have carried with me ever since. The mind is a powerful vehicle that drives us from place to place, to the past and ahead to the future, but it isn’t always as easy to steer as we’d like. Sometimes we find ourselves chasing thoughts that lead us into darkness and unhealthy situations, but equally so, our thoughts have the power to lead us to positivity, growth, and a healthier state of mind. Our mind is a rudder, and it’s truly up to us whether we anchor in still waters or whether we capsize and have to fight the current to get back in the boat.

With diagnosis, a wave of inevitable uncertainty and fear swept over me. Cancer is certainly the scariest thing I’ve faced, and honestly I may never forget how I spent the first several days post diagnosis face down in the couch absolutely pleading with God for the pathologists to have made a mistake. For the years (yes, years) to follow I felt defective. I felt betrayed by my body and by my God. I felt broken, labeled, and essentially lost as a human. I was for sure I was dying so many times it’s almost humorous now (and God bless the people in my life that listened to me absolutely spiral in those times).

While things have somewhat returned to “normal” in the sense that I don’t think as much about cancer like I used to, the Powells have been through quite a bit this year since I last posted six month ago. However, January started off quite lovely.

We celebrated the new year with friends out to dinner followed by an evening at our house cozied up on the couch just as we like it.

We had the grand opening of our UAB Proton Therapy Center at work, which means more options for my fellow Alabamians and beyond for radiation treatment. (I swore I would never sit or lay on a gantry couch ever again…but I’ve watched this place come to life from the ground up and I couldn’t resist hopping up for there for a quick picture. And besides, this gantry is way cooler-looking than the sTx that treated me.)

We had our annual ROAR Gala raising over 300K for cancer research in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. This is basically RadOnc prom, but always a fun to dress up for a night out with your coworkers.

Then we took a trip to Jackson Hole, WY at the end of January for our annual ski trip and adventuring. We took a sleigh ride through the elk refuge in the basin. We hit the slopes for two days. And finally, we snow-shoed 4 miles through Grand Teton National Park. And let me tell you, snow-shoeing in thin air and freezing temperatures is no joke. If anyone else other than my husband had convinced me to go on that hike I probably would have stabbed them with a ski pole for telling me that it was a good idea. It’s intense. But we made it to this sweet little spot on a lake that you couldn’t tell was a lake due to the literal feet of snow that we almost got stuck in and it made the whole experience worth it. No joke almost had to leave the hubs there…jk I would never leave him behind.

Finally, on Feb 1 we returned home to Birmingham only to unknowingly close out the last bit of normalcy we might see for the rest of 2020. We picked up our puppy kids, and quickly noticed our oldest wasn’t quite right. The next day, he was devastatingly diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer and was given literal hours to live. He was seemingly perfect when we left him just 5 days prior, but he’s our stoic buddy that wouldn’t have let us know he was hurting until he was really sick.

Five weeks later, we lost him and then sold our house. A third cancer diagnosis (my mom, me, and then Fox) since we moved to that house four years ago was more than enough for us to list the house and look towards to the next chapter of our lives. (Not to mention the places in that house that gave me PTSD from treatment.)

Sometimes it takes big changes like that to fully clear our minds and change our thinking.

As we left for the coast Thursday afternoon, the passing miles gave me the chance to sit with my thoughts. The crawling feeling of unsettlement intensified from shoulder to shoulder. I started to think about the last six months and my recent year’s past when I think about the current state of our world, through the COVID-19 pandemic, through the racial and social injustice, and the heartbreaking loss our world is experiencing every day. Our culture has developed its own kind of cancer recently, and the fear and uncertainty is palpable.

With July 6th being the 3rd anniversary of the parotidectomy that turned our world absolutely upside down, my subconscious (as well as my conscience) tends to come after me again. At this point, my thoughts no longer terrorize me about the possibility of anything coming back, and that’s dang Jesus miracle. It’s more so the heaviness of the fact that life can and WILL drastically change in an instant. I’m certain we all know that, just as much as we know that no one makes it out of this life alive, but when the actuality of uncertainty hits us head on life carries a different importance.

I’ve found myself at the beach on anniversary day twice in the last three years since surgery. I don’t like to be in Birmingham on July 6th. The beach gives me space to ponder the “whys” that I’ll never know the answer to on this side of heaven, and the beach reminds me of the faithfulness of the Lord with the waves that never cease to flow in and out as day breaks and the sun sinks into the horizon once again. The sounds of the shore drown my thoughts to a low murmur yet the staticky whir allows them to crash and tumble about just as the tiny grains of sand do.

Sometimes I walk, letting the waves splash up on my legs. Sometimes I read, trying to inspire some words to fall out on to the page again. And sometimes I just sit, staring at the immensity of the ocean and let the waves wash over my toes. This trip I did all three. The unsettling in my shoulders just wouldn’t shake off. And I couldn’t figure it out. And Lord knows I can’t stand it when I can’t figure things out.

As the sun began to set for the afternoon, K.T. came and took my hand and gently pulled me up out of my chair and walked with me hand-in-hand along the shore. He asked me what was on my heart and listened as I shared what I thought was keeping my mind busy and simply told me he understood. He’s the kind that directs my thoughts towards the blessings and reminds me that what I’m feeling and thinking is normal for what I’ve been though. And these moments are so very valuable to me. It’s the replacement and these thoughts and feeling understood that has given me strength through the storms.

February to now hasn’t been anything we thought it would be, and if we’re honest we knew it wouldn’t be despite the pandemic or anything else. That’s just not realistic. But K.T. and I have worked hard to remind each other of the love and mercy the Lord continues to pour into our lives, especially living in less than half of the square footage we had before we sold our house while we wait for ours to be built. We’ve steadied each other in times of chaos (yes, I’ve been the sane one a few times :)), and we’ve looked forward with hope as we continue to seek the Lord and the intelligence of physicians to someday bring Baby Powell home in our arms.

Reflection keeps me humble. It reminds me where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. There are still times where I get stuck in the fray of scary and negative thoughts, and I have to remind myself that just as it takes time to get to those places of fear, it also takes time to return to more positive thoughts and progress.

Reflection reminds me of the places I still need to go. And it reminds me once again that people are all that matter. Relationships need nurturing, and the hearts of others are more valuable than anything else in this whole world.

“Where the mind goes, the man follows”…I’m steering this man towards hope and heaven.

May you all be blessed in the days to come. Onward and upward to year 4 without Glanda! Praise God!

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