Onward & Upward

What do you do when the nest beneath you begins to give way? The short answer is you fly…

…which is fine if you’re a bird. And you have wings. And you know how to fly. Or you have instincts that fire and launch you into flight.

If none of those things apply, then you better flap like hell and hope that nest wasn’t very far off the ground.

Since July 2017 when I had my parotidectomy and woke up to a cancer diagnosis, I’ve felt very dependent on so many things and people and even places. I clung to things that were safe and familiar because everything else in my life was super scary and all too often immobilizing. There were places that healed me. There were people that were there for me as I struggled through the healing process, and the literal walls that surrounded me the majority of my days these last four years had me nestled comfortably with no plans of moving. But all successful birds have to learn to fly at some point.

Exactly 4 years since I started working in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology, the Lord has carried me to a new nest. I’m now the Communications Specialist in the UAB Department of Neurology and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience. And my new favorite joke is that the Lord sent me to RadOnc to get my body fixed and now He’s sent me to Neuro and Psych to fix my brain) You can laugh, it’s ok…

This post isn’t just to say that I’ve moved on in my career, though. It’s a lot of things. Y’all should know by now that any time I put words on the page, there is deeper meaning than what’s immediately evident. There are countless hours of thinking and processing that takes place in my head before I ever put pen to paper. It just doesn’t come out right if I don’t get to the point of just spilling over.

I spent 2020 focusing on REST. I made myself take the time to learn new things, listen to more podcasts, read more books, take more walks, listen to new music, put the phone away, and enjoy my people and the outdoors, and just freakin take a deep breath. And all of that was so needed in my life. Pandemic forced us into much of those things, but can I tell you I think we all needed some time away. The slower pace of life and quality time with K.T. honestly helped me reclaim so many aspects of my life, my joy, and my personality that I felt like cancer robbed from me.

At the turn of this year the Lord laid the word TRUST on my heart, and I knew I would have a tough year ahead. Trust is something that had become extremely hard for me in faith post-diagnosis for obvious reasons. It has changed and challenged my faith in every way possible. I’ve often questioned how much the Lord protects His children given so many of us face horror and live nightmares through disease. Yet I’ve seen provision and grace heaped upon mercy and sovereignty beyond comprehension leaving no reason BUT to trust. And still, my heart asks “why” and searches for answers only the Lord knows because trust IS faith. There would be no need for Him if we already knew.

When the time came to apply for a new position at UAB, my heart sank and fluttered all the same. The nest was failing, and I knew I had to for my mental health. But I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t planning to leave. And if I’m really honest with myself, I probably wouldn’t have ever left on my own without a driving force.

Earlier this year, I left. I flapped my little wings like hell and landed softly, tucking my feathers back in close to my sides. I glanced back at the nest and exhaled. Thank you, Lord.

Massive change happened at diagnosis, change that was wholly unwelcome and devastating. Yet the only clear path back to any sense of normalcy and healing from the intrusive trauma that ensued ultimately means that another series of changes have to take place. Changes that shake the core of who you are, what God has for you, what your body feels like as you do normal, human things, how your mind reacts to simple aches and pains, how you view life and the people surrounding you, and how long the list of insecurities gets (like you didn’t have enough already). Changes that take massive trust, the type of trust I didn’t have the strength to have at times.

But thank you, Lord.

Halfway through the year, I find myself reflecting as I often do, and nearly collapsing to my knees for being quite literally saved from things even when my trust and faith in the purpose of it all was frail. I needed to leave RadOnc. I needed the distance from seeing the places and people that helped heal me. We, no joke, picked up and moved our entire lives last summer mid-pandemic and built a house because there were too many places in that home that reminded me of cancer, among other reasons, but I needed the change to continue healing my heart. Yet somehow, I didn’t realize that RadOnc was part of that need until I glanced back.

I am beyond blessed that cancer and radiation left me with very minimal long-term physical symptoms, and sometimes I feel guilty for that. At first glance, I look like a normal 32 year old woman. But my right arm has minimal feeling due to radiation-induced inflammation in my spinal cord. My neck is tighter than a rusted lug nut on a tire. I get pretty gnarly headaches when stress builds in my neck and a theragun and flipping upside down on the inversion table is about all that will kick it. I don’t go anywhere without a drink because three salivary glands don’t always cut it like four do. My cheek sweats when I eat anything flavorful, often requiring me to dab it off mid-meal at the chance of people wondering why my napkin went to my ear like I don’t know where my mouth is. The left side of my face wears the wrinkles of an 82 year old woman that raised 7 kids on a farm in the deep south. And then there are the mental and emotional aspects associated with these things.

With each step I take to move forward, I can feel the memories and the trauma slipping away and I truly don’t know how I feel about it. Leaving RadOnc was a big one. The dream of all dreams is to not experience the haunting thoughts of cancer coming back for me every day, yet I don’t ever want to forget what changed me, grew me, connected me, and matured me. I don’t want to forget the things I have learned. I don’t want to lose the ability to relate and connect with those that also end up facing similar situations. And I’m led back to trust. Each and every step, symptom, and impact is something I have to trust that the Lord will orchestrate just as He has orchestrated all the rest.

Onward and Upward.

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