Ive had words on my heart for some time now, but much like our prayers sometimes, these words have felt more like groans rather than comprehensible thoughts. The blank page is a scary thing for me these days. It was my solace in the darkest days of my life, yet it’s the place that I’m most terrified to return to now. There are feelings that live in that space that I’ve worked incredibly hard to move forward from. But if I am going to continue any progress forward (and if I’m still being stubborn about going to therapy) then I have to be brave and let my heart bleed on the page sometimes.
On January 1, 2020, I deemed this year my year of REST, and I’ve given it a pretty valiant effort, but I also knew when I decided that was my word for the year that I had a long way to go to find true rest in my soul again. The way I was coping with things had gotten me through treatment pretty well, but at 2+ years post-treatment I needed to finally accept that while I had certainly processed things the best way I knew how to, that simply wasn’t enough.
My emotional health was a disaster, and it was manifesting in all kinds of uncomfortable ways in my life. I could feel parts of me unraveling each day, leaving strands here and there with no way to ball them back up together. I was running from some things yet clinging to others, feeling misunderstood, hating that I was even in a place to need healing, and frustrated that I couldn’t just fix it. But while it was hard to realize that I still had work to do on myself, I also had to realize that it was OK for my healing to not be where I wanted it just yet. I was never taught how to cope with cancer and face mortality before 30.
Most of all, I had honestly lost a lot of trust in the Lord as I traveled further and further away from everything cancer (even though that seems counterintuitive). I remember questioning in the first few days after diagnosis how I would ever experience any kind of symptom again and not have the terrorizing fear of recurrence overtaking me. And thankfully I eventually learned how to be a normal human again that gets the sniffles and a headache every once in a while and doesn’t totally lose their shiz. But apparently in thought-training myself to switch out the negative thoughts with better ones, I actually just inadvertently trained myself to stuff the scary thoughts into a bottle with the top screwed on very, very tight.
Listen, I KNOW with everything in me that the Lord ALWAYS turns things for good for those that love Him, and I do. I KNOW that every single detail of my story is so carefully woven together into the most immaculate masterpiece of a story that people were going to stand and stare at me jaw-dropped as I told them about it. I KNOW the Lord’s hand was in every single second of every single detail from years prior to diagnosis, to meeting my husband, to forming relationships with acquaintances, to the moment Dr. Carroll came to tell me at evening rounds, to right at this very moment.
But how on earth do I come to terms with the fact that there is zero protection from cancer (or anything else) happening again…for my good or not. That’s still really scary to me.
Contrary to what I somehow believed in my early Christian years, being a child of God doesn’t give you any free passes in life. Quite the opposite actually. Suffering will come, and the purpose, every time, will be for His kingdom. I just wanted to skip the suffering part. For real. But I mean, who doesn’t? No one wants to suffer, but we all want the purpose in life and the feeling that we made a difference somehow. I just got both…suffering and purpose…pretty early on. I’ve suffered in more ways than I ever expected to at this point, and I’ve also been given a purpose that I certainly don’t feel fit for that I would never have had if not for a cancer diagnosis at 28. That’s heavy sometimes too.
As stubborn and angry as I’ve been with the Lord at times, the one thing I am more confident in than anything is that the Lord was with me (and still is) through every single tiny moment. He’s comforted me through emotional meltdowns where I absolutely pleaded for relief from what I was experiencing. He’s given me strength and braveness for conversations I never thought I would have to have with doctors, family, and friends. And He’s held my heart in his palm and whispered peace and guidance to me when I felt like throwing my hands in the air and letting everything go to hell in a handbasket since it already felt like it was heading there anyway.
He’s the reason I survived cancer. He’s the reason everything fell in to place perfectly so that I landed in the lap of the right doctors at the right time. He’s the reason people were introduced into my life that would provide words of wisdom and experience when I needed it most. He’s the reason I lost two jobs in a row only to start working in the department that would unknowingly treat me in the next six months. He’s the reason I started this blog as therapy for my own heart and the reason others found it and found solace in my words during their journeys or the journeys their loved ones were facing. And He’s the reason I am still cancer free.
The Lord did not protect me from cancer, that’s the hard, glaring truth.
But He did protect me until cancer, through cancer, and eventually to victory over cancer.
And that’s where I’m finding some rest these days. Admittedly, It’s been a very slow process to get anywhere near here and I have tremendous work to do still. But I have learned a thing or two about rest and how to foster mental rest this year in a healthier way amidst the chaos.
IT’S OK NOT TO KNOW WHY
Knowing why is the magic key of life to me. If I know why something was done or why something was said, I can fix it, I can do better, and I can make it better. Unfortunately, I still have a long list of things that I don’t know why they happened or didn’t and that will be the case for the rest of my life. The Lord didn’t give me that privilege and that much control on purpose, nor do I need it. I mean, for real, I don’t even know if its safe for me to actually know and understand why some things in my life took place…but don’t think my stubborn self won’t completely exhaust myself trying to figure it out.
Some things I won’t know the answers to until I reach the pearly gates, and those things I’ve come to terms with not knowing why…but only those. I’m still working on the rest and working to accept that I simply don’t need to know why. Things happened like they did because they were supposed to, and that has to be enough from now on. Send prayers.
PEOPLE COME AND GO, LET THEM
I spend and have spent a lot of time reflecting on friendships and relationships of all kinds. The complexity is fascinating to me, but also I love being helpful and adding value to someone’s life so I’m always processing how I can do that more effectively. I’m a fixer. I’ve seen a lot of friends come and go in my life and most of that’s been the natural fluctuation. However at some point recently I realized that many of my close friends have fallen away in the last decade that had weathered much of my formative years alongside me…and most without expressing any reason. Womp. Womp.
As I’ve grown into my 30s, I long for my friendships to be much deeper than they used to be. I need my close friends to understand me and be willing to talk about real life. I want my friends to not flinch when topics reach beyond what looks and feels good. I need them to stick around when they ask how I’m doing and I’m honest and needing a bit of wisdom. And I need them to share in the fun and light-hearted laughter of daily life with me.
It’s unrealistic to have the expectation that friends are forever. Cancer knocked out several of those for me, but I would be lying if I said I’ve found closure on my own with all of those. As you can probably guess, my instinct is to find out what happened so I don’t make the same mistakes in future friendships and that’s not realistic either.
The reality is that friends have the ability to make choices for themselves that I don’t get a say in. The choice for me has to be knowing my worth and making sure I maintain that in the friendships I keep. I have to know at the end of the day that I did the best I could, and I’m worthy of having people that love and care about me. I’m worthy of support and my own little cheering section that will pray for me, listen to me, and have my back when I need it. So I have to learn to rest my mind and find peace in my worth rather than reaching for reasons from friends that didn’t see that worth.
My core motives in life are to find meaning and be meaningful. Often times that carries my thoughts off into la la land where I’m contemplating why trees grow like they do or what life might be like had certain events not taken place…it’s that whole butterfly effect thing Ashton Kutcher taught us about in 2004. Lots going on up there in the ole noggin always.
Social media has also created a space of comparison and reminders of people and things that we might not normally think about. There’s the normal harassment from parents about always having to have our phones attached to us too. So, while this pandemic has forced us to slow down and spend more time at home with only those close to us, I have been practicing leaving my phone behind more. It’s good for my soul to observe the beauty before me and soak it in as a memory rather than always whip my phone out to take a picture (that never does what my eyes see justice).
It’s also forced me to express myself and describe life more through words rather than always relying on a picture or something else and that’s something I needed. I’ve lost many authentic moments looking through my phone for a picture that I was reminded of in conversation when my description would have likely been sufficient.
So, I’m learning to stay in the moment and appreciate life as it is before my eyes. I’m learning to lean into the Lord again for comfort and peace and learn what it means to be a true Christian again with full trust in the Lord no matter what valley we walk through. And I’m learning to let things come and go in my life and understand that what is meant for me will find me (and stay) and what has run it’s course and is not productive any longer will go.
Onward and upward.
“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!
It’s the most wonderful time of year! The season of merry and bright, marked by twinkling lights, joyful celebrations of Jesus, gifts neatly wrapped beneath a perfectly trimmed tree, and dinner tables dressed for company. Families get together and share stories of old and memories of loved ones and friends gather to catch up on life that has slipped away without visits or phone calls. There are stories of redemption and blessings beyond comprehension that take place each and every year, but the older I get the more I begin to understand that the Christmas season is much more morose than merry for some.
Christmas has always been my absolute favorite time of year! I get giddy and regress to childlike innocence observing all the magic that the season brings. I love thinking about how my family might react to the gifts that I’ve carefully picked out for them. I love brisk winds, hot chocolate, Hallmark movies, and cozy blankets. And I love that Christmas brings a certain romanticism along with it.
After being faced with unexpected diagnosis two years ago, the holidays lost a bit of their magic for me, and I hate that. I allowed myself to feel everything completely the first two years in hopes of it healing me in some weird way, but this year I started reflecting on the holidays early and did some serious heart checking to get to the bottom of why Christmas was evoking different, less merry feelings.
Diagnosis, grief, healing, and loss…they change things in your heart, and they don’t ask permission first. It happens before you can stop it and before you know it you find yourself crying on aisle 6 on a Wednesday because the tiny twins dressed in matching Christmas outfits remind you that diagnosis means your future isn’t how you thought it would be. The light inside has dimmed and it feels like you just don’t have anything left to give after all you’ve been through.
Emotions creep in and take hold of our hearts to have us thinking things like, “Will I be around for Christmas next year?” or “Should I make sure I tell my family I love them in case something happens to my health suddenly? Or theirs?” How many times does the devil take advantage of our fragile states of mind and mock us sending us straight into a scroogy slump? It’s not supposed to be like that. The emotions we’re intended to have this time of year are supposed to be of joy, great cheer, and of new birth…Jesus, a Savior!
But it’s not quite that easy. It’s not a flip of a switch or anything close. Trust me, I’ve tried. And with the instant gratification generation that technology has created for us, it’s even more frustrating to know how to navigate. A return to a “Merry Christmas” is a slow shift of thinking and a re-focusing as with most things. But while the last two Christmases have been slightly less than magical for me, I’m determined to find my way back and whether this reaches your heart this year or not, I hope my words evoke at least a twinkle of a sweet memory and truth for you to rest in.
One of my favorite memories as a child is hands-down Christmas morning. I was always the first one awake and I would run down the hallway into my brother’s room exclaiming that Santa had come (until he got smart enough to lock me out and barricade the door). And then I was flying down the stairs to leap on top of Mom and Dad’s bed to do the same. Of course, I didn’t realize (or care) that they had stayed up well past midnight wrapping presents and I was waking them up after only a short nap…SANTA HAD COME!
It wasn’t long before I was yelled at and left sitting in the living room alone anxiously waiting to open presents for the next 30 minutes. But I knew that soon enough Mom and Dad would emerge in their white and royal blue robes respectively and John would come down the stairs with one eye half open and some assortment of pajamas that were within reach when he grumbled out of bed. Family time was coming and we would all be in the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing. No tv, no phones (back then), no distractions.
Family time wasn’t something I remember having in abundance growing up. We were a military family so Dad was often deployed or working long shifts. Mom was busy making sure John and I were fed, bathed, clothed, generally cared for, and not acting like complete idiots. I spent most of my evenings at the dance studio, and John was wherever John was. I do remember having dinner as a family on the nights we were all home but other than that, Christmas is the family time I remember.
Christmas was the time when the people that built me gathered around a decorated spruce and celebrated thoughtfulness, meaningful gifts, and the magic of togetherness. It was a sacred moment for a variety of reasons, some that I didn’t understand until I was much older, and it continues to be sacred as it is still time set aside specifically for all of us to meet back up in the same place, regardless of what has happened or hasn’t happened, and just be with each other.
Time is valuable, and it passes quickly. People are carrying around burdens of the past that don’t belong on them. Memories of bad Christmases from childhood, family arguments, things you wish you would have done differently, words you wish you could take back, hugs you wish you had given… These are certainly things to learn from, but what if we stopped looking behind us and instead looked around us at the people, the opportunity, and the things we do have.
This Christmas, take the time, spend the time, make the time, open your schedule, put away digital distractions, slow down a little bit, say what you mean, apologize, and enjoy the time you’ve been given. It will be worth it.
Through high school and college, I kept to myself most of the time. I had my close friends, I had a boyfriend, and I had my dance friends, but I wasn’t the life of the party, the popular girl, or the girl with all the answers in class. I listened to Dashboard Confessional and Yellowcard on repeat. I journaled and wrote letters often, and I preferred to hide away in my thoughts and feelings rather than creating small talk with people. I did what was expected of me as a daughter and student and I kept it moving.
The older I’ve gotten and the more life I’ve experienced, I’ve started to realize that people are actually just complex reflections of our own selves and experiences that hold an infinitude of wisdom within. Everyone has stories to tell and perspectives to give. There’s a certain instinct inside of us, too, to connect with others and feel understood to some capacity, and it just so turns out that my desire to be understood is quite a bit deeper that I thought.
People matter tremendously to me these days, and that’s saying A LOT coming from an introvert. Cancer obviously taught me a lot about life, but when I reflect on what I’ve been through and access how diagnosis has shifted my perspective, it’s simple…it’s people.
People helped me find my way again. People lifted my chin and showed me the tiny miracles that happened in the midst of it all. People talked me through the hard times, provided perspective, checked on how I was doing through treatment and beyond, shared stories of their own struggles to give me some peace, pointed me back to Jesus when I get angry, shared scripture to keep me grounded, and prayed for me constantly. People supported me through my advocacy and survivorship endeavors and encouraged me to put myself out there when I typically wouldn’t have.
Learning about one another is what makes life rich and lovely. Listening to stories that were memorable enough to have an impact is valuable. Sharing the emotion that comes with experience is what connects us to one another. And listening to these stories is what draws a line between us. It makes us feel like we’re not the only ones, and being vulnerable through the hard times is what settles our hearts and helps us feel understood enough to move towards healing.
So I’ve learned to ask the hard questions that I wish someone had asked me when I was struggling or confused. I’ve learned to listen even when I have other things I probably should be doing. I’ve learned to be open and available to others and I’ve tried extra hard to keep up with the people in my life that care for me well so that they know that I genuinely care for them too.
I beg you to step out from yourself a bit this Christmas. Let someone into your world, even though it’s uncomfortable. You just might learn something unexpected.
It’s no secret that Christmas is about more than cheerful elves in a far away workshop, a jolly old man in a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, and giddy kids finding presents wrapped beneath the tree. It’s about what happened in Bethlehem many, many years ago when the Virgin Mary gave birth to the precious son of God.
Many of us have heard that beautiful story from the manger since we were little, but the true magnitude of what the Christmas story actually means for all of us is a bit hard to comprehend. If you’re anything like me, the miraculous beauty and glory of it all didn’t really hit until adulthood.
I graduated from Auburn in December 2011, moved back home to Birmingham, and had absolutely NO idea who I was. With some friendly encouragement, I decided church was a great place to start in figuring that out and slowly found my way again.
Christmas of 2012, tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized Christmas truly meant that God was with us…every day, every minute, every thought, every joy, every disappointment, every high, and every single low. Also, can we talk about Mary for a minute? To carry a child that you just woke up pregnant with one day? I’m pretty sure any normal human would need Jesus to get through that one. And Joseph? Lord have mercy the questions he must have had. But with grace, mercy, and sweet, sweet sovereignty, it is now much easier to understand why the Lord gave us the gift of his constant presence.
There have been many moments through diagnosis, treatment, and overall healing where I was mad at the Lord. Really, really mad. I wasn’t upset for being diagnosed…I get that things happen. I was just mad that cancer stole what I thought was supposed to be my future and a few weird physical things. Mom had already been through breast cancer treatment just two years before me. Wasn’t that enough?
I prayed my raw little face off through treatment and beyond. I physically felt the Lord provide His strength in my weak body each day. I felt His gentle pushing to get up and keep going with the promise that I would see the other side of this with great blessing some day. But as time moved on and life became more “normal” again, something shifted inside my heart and I pulled away a bit.
Things finally broke July 2019. I tanked in every way. I was more terrified of recurrence than I had ever been. People I had come to know with the same or similar diagnoses to mine were dying, and I had a BIG milestone coming up in October. I couldn’t get my thoughts to settle on anything rational no matter how many pep talks I had. But the Lord still met me in that place.
When I started my soul searching soon after ASTRO in September, I made sure to try and include Jesus in all of that again more intentionally. I mean He was always there and I was still faith-filled but it was just different. I wanted and needed Christmas to be magical again this year instead of dull and flat as it had the previous two years. Man, that still hurts to admit. But now we’re here…
I know everyone views Christmas and faith differently. I’m not here to push anything, but can I just encourage you to think about Christmas a little differently this year? For me, it’s noticing the provision. The provision of a constant ally and the comfort of someone who never fails to understand. Jesus wasn’t just sent to earth for fun. He was sent to experience life in the flesh so He could tell His Father just how hard diagnosis, grief, healing, and loss really are. It’s also noticing family. The people that have loved and supported us whether biological relatives or not. Remember, Joseph was never the biological father of Jesus. And it’s taking notice of the time that someone put in to pick out a gift especially for you or make a dish or dessert to enjoy together.
Christmas can be different this year despite the hurt and the hustle and bustle of what has become commercialized Christmas. It’s time to believe in the magic again!
A precious friend of mine and former UAB coworker has a ministry blog titled Ewe R Blessed and graciously asked me to be a guest writer! She asked me to write about all the blessings of cancer, which may sound counter-intuitive to some, but for me, cancer truly has been one of my biggest blessings. Below is the post I wrote for Ewerblessed.com. Take a look!
Diagnosis and the days to follow were some of the hardest days I’ve lived on Earth thus far. No one expects to be given a cancer diagnosis, but even fewer expect a cancer diagnosis at 28 years old after going in for a simple surgery to remove a benign tumor.
That day came for me on July 6, 2017, and it came while I was still woozy from surgery. My surgeon had come in for rounds, and he didn’t waste any time getting to his suspicions.
“We noticed a cribiform pattern in your tumor once we got in there. We have concerns that your tumor had some cancer in it. We won’t know for sure until pathology is confirmed, but that’s what we expect the results to be.”
I fired off a zillion questions and absorbed as much information as I could in the post-surgical state that I was in. After roughly 15 minutes, I turned to my husband and family as Dr. Carroll left the room. What. Had. Just happened. That was NOT how that was supposed to go.
My tumor had fooled me like a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. It wasn’t the Matthew 7:15 kind of false prophet, but it was definitely not what it presented itself to be.
Every single test that was done prior to surgery had come back as benign, and I had trusted that it was. To this day, I still don’t believe that any of those tests were wrong. My tumor was benign in some spots (most spots actually) but it just wasn’t time yet.
In hard seasons and in the moments that feel like you just won’t make it through, it is often easy to slump into fear and anxiety as well as pity, but the Lord wants more than that for us. He wants us to lean into Him, learn about His mighty and sovereign nature, and the way He has ordered our steps to care for us in the most gracious ways.
For me, it took some time for me to notice these blessings. Every worst case scenario came to mind as I grieved the life I thought I would live and began to accept the life the Lord had for me. But that doesn’t mean that the Lord was responsible for my cancer…sin and evil are still real. It means that He planned all along to be my provider, my protection, my refuge, and my healer through it all if I let Him.
These are the ways in which the Lord led me to and protected me through the darkest days of diagnosis and beyond.
THE BLESSING OF MARRIAGE
My husband K.T. and I had only been married two and a half years when I was diagnosed. I remember K.T. being the first one I locked eyes with after Dr. Carroll told me it was likely cancer. His eyes were dry and solemn, and it confused me. I thought he would be as broken as I was, but he had known for several hours then that cancer was likely a part of our story now and so his eyes had had time to dry.
While I’ve still never seen any sadness from him in relation to my diagnosis, what I have seen is love and support in the truest and kindest way. He has been still and steady and he’s never once wavered from the truth the Lord gave him day 1 that I was going to be fine. He’s prayed for me and with me and he has helped me feel understood and beautiful amidst a terrifyingly unsure situation.
The Lord gave me this man. I audibly experienced the Lord say, “There he is,” in church about a year after I had met K.T. And I am as sure as the day is long that there is no other human on this earth that could have and would have cared for me in all of the ways he has in the last 5 years of marriage.
THE BLESSING OF THE RIGHT JOB AT THE RIGHT TIME
I lost two jobs in a row. One in April 2016 that I had been at for two years and the other in Feb 2017 that I had worked for nine months. As both employers told me I was being let go, I respectfully asked what the reason was and what I could have done better, and they gave me the same answer…nothing. There was nothing they could tell me as to why I would no longer work there.
In March of 2017, I became a UAB employee in the Department of Radiation Oncology. It was a research position that involved reading clinical trial protocols and the first one I was handed was RTOG 1008…a protocol for treatment of salivary gland cancer.
It didn’t take long for me to schedule a follow-up scan on the lump that had been in my neck for seven years after that and that set of imaging was honestly the only ones with results that didn’t sit well with me. I pushed for a second opinion from one of our physicians and now we know why.
Seven years of appointments and follow-ups for that lump in my neck in addition to two lost jobs is what the Lord ultimately used to gently lead me towards the place that saved my life. I was able to be treated right there in the department that I work in by my coworkers and constantly checked on in case I needed anything during that time.
THE BLESSING OF PERSPECTIVE
I’ve always looked at life with zeal and excitement. I get giddy about seasonal changes, Christmas, and nostalgia. I take time when I can to smell the roses and notice the subtle changes of the world around us. And I am fascinated by the depth of people. But at some point, it hit me that I just might not live in my 70s or 80s like I always thought I might.
The thought of mortality from diagnosis shook me to my core. I fought constantly to get the image of leaving behind my husband and potentially our kids if we were blessed with any. I couldn’t bear the thought of K.T. coming home from work to an empty house or going to sleep beside just my pillow and not my warmth. I know it all sounds very morbid, but I’m not sure if I would have ever experienced this shift in perspective would have ever taken place if it hadn’t been for diagnosis.
I’m so much more likely to drop what I’m doing and go spend time with friends or family these days. I don’t mind taking a stroll around the neighborhood in the fresh air even when my to-do list is long. And I make sure to smile at everyone I make eye contact with. We truly just can’t know what someone is going through or how long until our time on earth is up.
THE BLESSING OF FAITH
There’s a quote that sums up what most of my faith journey has looked like thus far.
“Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
Things seems crazy, and then make total sense when I finally have some distance and I’m able to reflect. I like to know what’s going on. I like to understand, and I like to have a heads up on what to expect. You might even could say I have trust/control issues, but mostly when it comes to things of the future. It’s that whole wolf in sheep’s clothing thing. Is it a sheep or is it actually a wolf. How do I know? Do I even need to know?
Cancer has put me on my face more times than I can count. I continuously prayed that the Lord would heal me and give me hope and peace through everything I was to face. And He assuredly did. But since treatment and healing, I’ve been super skeptical with the usual trust I had in symptoms and medical results. I trusted before, and I ended up with a cancer diagnosis (which I now know was protection of my heart) but I don’t have any proof that something isn’t going to blindside me again like it did the first time. And that’s scary. I don’t know if my heart can take it.
Very, very slowly I have realized that I don’t need proof of something God already has control of. I’m starting to come back around and truly comprehend that the Lord has my best interest in mind and if that means taking me to heaven sooner than I think I should go, then that’s what’s best. It’s just a really hard pill to swallow.
Cancer has changed my heart. It’s taught me lessons, and stirred up my soul. It’s shown me truths I probably never would have seen. It’s led me to people I, for sure, would have never crossed paths with. It’s provided me opportunities I would have never had without diagnosis, and it’s shown me so much about life and beauty and relationships.
September 11, 2017 was my first day of radiation treatment for my surprise cancer diagnosis I had received just two months before during a regular left parotidectomy for a pleomorphic adenoma. The days to follow were the hardest days I’ve ever faced in my life. Absolutely nothing could have ever prepared me for the upside-down thinking, the excessive tears that fell, and the physical failures I would experience as each one of the 30 total treatments passed. By the end, I was brittle and broken and faced a insurmountable amount of emotional struggles to find stability in what the next days, months, or years might look like if I was afforded that kind of time.
September 14, 2019 I boarded a flight to Chicago, IL to serve as one of nine social champions and the only non-MD, non-PhD representative for the American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual conference. (And to host two UAB events I planned for the department)
Isn’t God good, y’all?
If you’ve been following along for any amount of time or simply talked to me in any capacity, you know how raw and ugly my healing has been the last two years. Fear of recurrence has eaten me alive and stolen precious moments from my present while emotional turmoil has caused people to pull away or just consider me too much of a hassle to deal with. But you don’t make progress or get to where you want to be without resistance and persistence.
I woke up Saturday morning at 3:30am like I was going back to Lake Tahoe (my favorite place for obvious reasons). I had been looking forward to this trip since the day I was invited, but not once had it crossed my mind that I could potentially be walking into PTSD hell by going to an entire conference centered around cancer and more specifically the sole treatment I experienced…until we were 5 minutes out from the airport.
We pulled into the departures lane and my legs begin to quiver. My heart was racing. The back of my neck down to my fingertips were hot and flushed. The pit in my stomach was getting heavier by the second, and I was fairly sure I was going to be sick. There was no way I was getting on that plane. My very methodical and measured husband was starting to worry I was going to miss my flight as I sat in the passenger seat and tried to get my mess together, so I downed 2 dramamine and an extra dose of anxiety meds for some forced semi-sedation and willed entry onto my intended aircraft.
I spent my afternoon at McCormick Place, where conference would be held, while things were still quiet in anticipation of how overwhelming the next few days would likely be. I knew I had zero chance of absorbing as much information as the physician attendees, but I was hopeful to comprehend about 70% of the content at best. Top that with having actually experienced the very treatment being discussed for 4 days, I felt like it was probably smart to prepare myself. (It is now very clear that I was not smart for agreeing to this in the first place.)
Sunday was the first day of conference and also a big day for me as the UAB Marketing and Communications Coordinator. I had my first sessions of my first ASTRO ahead of me as well as the #tweetup where I would meet many of my fellow social media champions, mixed with a bit of pressure to represent patients well and share knowledgeable opinions. Sunday was also the day that I was hosting two events that evening for UAB: A steering committee dinner for the alumni program I’m starting in our department followed by our annual UAB reception.
Monday was my final day at conference so I made sure it was a jam-packed with every session I could possibly fit in before departing for Midway later that evening. We even organized a #retweetup because we all had too much fun at the original #tweetup. And by the time it was time to say my goodbyes, my heart was torn in a zillion different directions.
So how was my first experience at ASTRO?
As embarrassingly cliche as it is for me to utter as a writer, this experience is rather hard to explain for me. It changed parts of my heart that I had been ignoring. It widened my perspective on the physician side of things and how tirelessly Radiation Oncologists work to make what they do beneficial to the highest level and more comfortable for patients. It mesmerized me to see how much camaraderie there was among all of the attendees rather than competition, and it humbled me to see how determined everyone was to learn and better themselves for their patients while leaving their egos aside.
I had intense insecurity going into this being a nobody, 30yr old girl from Alabama that just happened to have been treated for head and neck cancer two years ago. My intelligence was questioned at times as to what I could possibly get out of a conference like this not being a physician or clinically inclined in any way. My ability was doubted to be able to attend conference and also do what I needed to do for the events I had planned while still keeping up with my other responsibilities. And a variety of fears surrounding overall acceptance severed my hopes of making a difference at such a large venue.
When I look back, even though it’s only been a few days since I returned home, I’m proud of myself. I somehow found my place in a sea of brilliant-minded MD/PhDs. I mastered attending enough conference to fulfill my social champion duties and also put on two successful events for UAB. I was received with authenticity from humans who owe me nothing and I very well may never see again. And I experienced quite a bit of unexpected healing in my soul that I know I needed desperately, especially with my two-year post-treatment anniversary and scans approaching on October 20th.
The journey to this point was incredibly hard which is no secret if you read any of my previous blog posts, particularly the ones early on. They’re gut-wrenching for me to re-read, but sometimes I force myself to so I don’t ever forget where I came from (although that would be nice sometimes) and so that I continue to heal and process what it means to be a 30 year old cancer survivor in a healthy way. I have days where I get frustrated with myself that I don’t have more to share these days, but there’s also a blessing that lies within that. Life is calmer and I have less doctors appointments and scans to attend, and I don’t take that for granted by any means. I’m moving more towards “normal” and I don’t feel as much like I have a giant “C” for cancer as my scarlet letter across my chest constantly. Thank you, Jesus.
So ASTRO: The beautifully magical unicorn of an experience, THANK YOU for every tiny little thing you sent home with me from the friendly faces to the non-coincidental, God-sent Uber drivers that also had stories of cancer, healing, and hope. THANK YOU for trusting me as the sole patient voice in the group. THANK you showing me the future of radiation care for those that will unfortunately hear the same words I did. And THANK YOU for believing in me. You have my heart!
There ARE a few special folks that deserve some extra love for standing in support of me and sitting back to watch me go get ’em (as we say in the south).
The other social champions of #ASTRO19 who followed me without question, listened to what I had to share, liked, retweeted, and commented in support of me before, during, and after conference. And my goodness, were they precious souls when I finally met them in person!
The 61st president of ASTRO, Dr. Ted DeWeese took the stage on Monday with a presidential address full of promise and progress in the field of radiation. So much so that I went and found him after the session and the first thing he did after I introduced myself was hug me and look me straight in the eyes to say, “Bless you. I’m so glad you’re here.”
My lifesavers: Dr. Bill Carroll who was my surgeon and the one who quietly gave me the news during his post-op rounds, Mrs. Kristi Gidley, the PA for Dr. Carroll that has blessed me each and every visit with her wisdom and gentle nature, Dr. Sharon Spencer, my fearless RadOnc who treated me right here in our department and has always made sure I’m cared for, Dr. Sam Marcrom, who was a PGY4 when I was diagnosed and has been a wonderful friend and colleague ever since, and finally Ms. Laronica Conway, my coworker and the sister I never had that has kept me grounded more times than I can count and pointed me to the Lord all the other times.
The UAB Department of Radiation Oncology: I was hired in this department in March 2017 before I had surgery and was diagnosed in July of the same year. It has been a whirlwind but they are the ones who, at the end of the day, made it possible for me to attend.
My parents. It goes without saying that these two would believe in me. They brought me into this world and let’s be honest, I’m their favorite daughter. (Note: I’m the only daughter) But the days leading up to my trip and the morning I left were filled with encouraging texts of best wishes and a wonderful time in the windy city.
And my precious husband K.T. Lord Jesus, I’ll never be able to give back as much as what this man has given me. From bathing my feeble body post-surgery because I was unable to do it myself to cheering me on in literally everything I’ve ever tried to do, whether I succeeded or not, he has been by my side and has loved me fiercely, unconditionally, and without wavering every single day.
So needless to say, ASTRO provided ASTROnomical blessings for me as a patient, as an employee, and as a human, and I am eternally grateful! See yall in Miami! (hopefully 😉 )
On July 6, 2019, I celebrated two years of no Glanda and no cancer.
Immediately after my surgery two years ago, I was SO SURE that I was healed and that the whole benign-to-malignant-flip-in-the-operating-room situation was a miracle that none other than Jesus had performed so I could eventually find my purpose through it all. But as time has gone on and the questions and fears have terrorized me with vengeance, the miracle that has brought me people, writing, opportunity, and perspective has at times become some sort of nightmare I fight to wake up from.
The weeks leading up to my surgery anniversary this year were pretty scary…
Nothing felt safe. Nothing. And this was in no way how I had always imagined my two-year anniversary to look.
My two-year anniversary is a day that I had dreamed of since the pathology was first confirmed and since I heard the words, ” but once we get about two years out we will all feel a little better about things.” Dr. Carroll and I had a giggle over not remembering he said that recently, but let me tell you, I have clung to those words for hope on so many hard days with the expectation that there was, in fact, some sort of a resolution to come of the fear and anxiety that absolutely consumes me at times.
I’ve just always imagined of the two year mark as home base, a place of safety and security where I could rest and cozy up to the solidarity of my health. It was my something to look forward to even though I was slowly stumbling my way around the other bases at the time. It felt like a milestone where I could finally breathe knowing I had made it. I had survived.
Unfortunately, cancer’s not quite that cut and dry. A date on the calendar doesn’t wipe away emotions and health sure doesn’t shed any grace on delicate situations.
I have thought about cancer in some capacity every single day of the last two years. There are many days I feel the true weight of knowing my body made cancer cells at one point. There are days where I get overwhelmed thinking about how far I’ve come in strength and character and fall to my knees in thanks. There are other days where I sit in a filthy pit of destructive thoughts trying to claw my way back out to real life. And there are days I look in the mirror and feel like the lost and broken little girl that I was during that one other time in my life where I completely lost who I was.
If you haven’t gathered this from following along yet, cancer diagnosis and treatment is a bit like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded in terms of mental and emotional well-being. The turns that make your tummy drop and the upside down moments come without warning, and there’s definitely plenty of screaming. My instinct is always to apologize and pull away from those I have unintentionally burdened when I get scared of potentially what’s to come, but I continue to return to this place because there is someone somewhere out there that is feeling the same way but is also feeling very alone.
I told someone the other day that I never once imagined that my place of purpose would be cancer, and with a bit of a chuckle, I chewed on those words and swallowed them hard. But isn’t that the gospel? Going through something horrendously difficult for the ultimate benefit of others and the kingdom? Woof.
So what does two years post-op look like for me? It’s pretty mediocre. I’m far enough out to understand some of the deeper effects of what I’ve been through and far enough out to understand the risk that still comes with being a (former) cancer patient. It’s pretty weird to be honest, but I’m dang sure glad I can say I made it here to this important milestone.
Now, onto year 3! Onward and upward.
I spent the last week at the beach, and in true Glanda fashion, a lot of reflection took place. I always go back to where I was the last time I was in that particular situation whatever it is and try to think through the change that has taken place. How did I feel about certain things? What were my thoughts centered around? What was I thankful for or what details around me did I take notice of? Or what were my anxiety triggers and how in the world do I prevent another embarrassing episode?
The beach is my place (other than Lake Tahoe and the swing in our backyard) but last year’s trip to the beach nearly wrecked me. I had developed fluid behind my macula in my eye and didn’t know it, so I spent most of my trip thinking I had a brain tumor growing and I was losing my vision. Yeah…I know. I also don’t do super well with heat (also an irrational anxiety thing for me) so being on the Florida shores in August ’bout sent me over the edge.
I learned a lot about myself on that trip. It was the trip where I had picked up the book “Battlefield of the Mind” again and got gut-punched by a few things in there. Things like the idea that trying to figure everything out in life is essentially playing God and that somethings just need to be left alone in the hands of God. I learned I’m still quite self-conscious about myself and I endlessly compare myself to others. (Especially on the beach, can I get a good amen?) And I learned that I close up and get quiet when I get insecure.
So as you can imagine, going into this year’s beach trip, I was nervous. We were staying in the same condo we stayed in last year and we generally do the same things every year so I knew a couple of specific circumstances were headed my way that had gone awry last year. And to top it all off my husband was tied up in trial until Thursday, so I was there with my in-laws by myself from Sunday to Thursday to be a totally normal, regular functioning human being.
So, to get to the point, I returned home on Saturday with healthy eyeballs and only a very, very mild anxious moment that passed within about 10 minutes. Victory.
But here’s what that feels like to me…losing my purpose. Normal is the very thing I’ve been striving for since diagnosis and here I am living about as normal as I can and I feel weird about it because I feel like opportunities to share and encourage and educate in a sense have run out.
How can I be relatable when I’m skipping around with glitter in my veins while my heart knows many of you are tormented by your bodies and the disease that has tried to wreck far too many of us? How can I share my heart when it looks too easy over here and you’re experiencing pain and depression?
I don’t know the answers, but what I do know is when my heart needs to share, I’ll be here. And when I feel the Lord lead me to an idea that I recognize may help someone (even if it’s just one) I’ll write it. But most of all, I hope you know that no matter how it looks on the outside in my world, I totally understand and sympathize with the real life things you are feeling and thinking while you wait on your normal to return too.
Onward and upward, until next time…
Let’s talk scars for a minute. Have you ever thought about why they’re there and what they represent? Have you ever taken the time to study the details of yours? Maybe you have a favorite scar…one that reminds you of how much you loved to ride your bike when you were little and how long it took to perfect your balance. Or maybe you endlessly slather vitamin E and other oils on top of your scars in hopes of them disappearing.
As cancer survivors, we have scars of all kinds, most of which we don’t enjoy reflecting on or studying, and I think it’s safe to say that we are fine covering them up and hoping our future is filled with way more bike rides and far less treatments.
But today, when I came back to this very post that I started earlier this week (which was initially about how the scars that we as cancer survivors don often cause us detrimental self-esteem issues and toxic thoughts about our identity), I was overwhelmingly humbled.
Every time I read back over the word “scars” in my half-written blog a vision of the bloody and absolutely brutal beating that Jesus took before he was hung on the cross flashed before me.
The day I started that post, a friend had noticed a pea-sized red splotch on my neck that radiation gifted me. It kind of looks like a hickey so in a moment of vanity I made sure my hair covered it and went back to my desk to take a picture of it’s current status and find some sort of joke to make. I thought humor might be the best route to take for some encouragement to those that also feel some sort of way about their scars and their markings that remind them of their journey. But I came home that evening and told K.T. about the post and that I didn’t think I could finish it because I knew my scars were far less than what some stare at in the mirror every day and I had no leg to stand on on that matter.
My intentions were good, I promise, but I realized that the people that are so tragically hard on themselves need a different truth if any real change is to come. The truth of faith. The truth of hope. And the truth about eternity.
Our scars are a representation of the goodness of Jesus, not a reason to feel ashamed, y’all.
So how does that make sense?
Through cancer and everything else I’ve been through in my life, sovereignty has always been one of my favorite characteristics of the Lord. The fact that He knows each and everything that is going to happen, before it happens, and He’s had it all figured out before I was even a thought is some pretty cool junk.
As devastating as the day I found out that pathology confirmed the cancer, I was eventually able to find some peace knowing that God wasn’t as surprised as we were…in fact, He wasn’t surprised at all. Now, this is where some might say, “Well if He knew, then why didn’t He stop it?” (And don’t think I didn’t ever ask that question at some point, too). The best answer I have for that is He knew my diagnosis and my journey could be used for good…”could” being the key word there.
It was up to me to find that good and use it, and thankfully the Lord helped me position my heart towards that when I asked. But what if I hadn’t? I almost didn’t. I honestly started this blog as a sort of weird-public therapy for myself having no clue where it would go or who might read it. I just wanted easy documentation because I knew my propensity to blackout tragic things after they happened. But He saw the people that might read it and find answers. He knew the people that might read it and find Him. And He knew the people that might read it and find community.
The point is, the Lord ordered every single one of my steps and those details are now dappled all throughout various posts along the way. And for that insight, I’m thankful and I’m tethered to a quiet peace that sustains me a lot of days.
Healing…a word of many definitions.
The word means something different for each person, situation, and event. But for cancer, I think it means “progress” in one or multiple areas.
If you’re familiar with the Easter story at all, you know that Jesus was beaten, betrayed, hung on the cross, and buried in a tomb. Three days later, the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen…healed.
But what does that have to do with us and our earthly healing or lack of?
Jesus walked out of that tomb without a scratch on Him and so many of us don’t seem to be afforded that kind of miracle. Instead we may be left with residual symptoms or even continued disease. But perspective is CRUCIAL here.
In so many ways, we are just as healed as Jesus was. Stay with me…We’ll never be Jesus but there’s a point.
So Jesus offered His body and His blood. Cliff notes version is He chose to die…for us. And by choosing that, He scooped a big ole pile of yuck, pain, bad choices, dumb mistakes, hurtful words, resentment, disease, hard times, and tragedy on top of Himself. Why? Great question. Because I sure wouldn’t do that for every single human on earth and every one of them to come. Nope. But His purpose was so that we didn’t have to worry with those things. We can go on with our lives with clear hearts and minds, and start over healed if that’s the faith we choose. That’s some serious junk.
So not only did the Lord know that cancer was a part of my story and that I would go through absolute hell for some time and hopefully come out better on the other side, but He hung on a splintery cross pierced with nails so I didn’t have to worry with it. (Now, I have admittedly worried with it a time or two, but the point is, I didn’t have to).
This is a tough one in faith. There are hundreds of promises the Lord makes to His people throughout scripture. But there’s one in particular that He doesn’t promise that I had a super hard time grappling with over the last 2 years…health.
Growing up, I always thought protection meant safety and safety meant away from harm…and to me, disease was harm. So when I was diagnosed, I spent some time really angry with God, because He was supposed to keep me safe as part of this faith thing and I wasn’t “safe.” I was 28 and newly diagnosed with cancer. What in the world.
But as I’ve learned more about myself and my character and tendencies through all this, I’ve learned that I have holes in my faith and I have habits I’m not proud of that have come from other experiences. I’ve learned that faith doesn’t equal fair, but instead it always equals good and it always equals forgiven.
And for me it equals identity and purpose.
The promises of the Lord are magnificent. The things Jesus did and said on this earth are mind-blowingly extravagant and something literally no human on this earth is pure enough to continually do without eventual fault. He promises to love me always. He Loves me unconditionally. He’s always there for me. He provides perfect peace in times of trouble just for coming to chat (pray). He wants to bless me abundantly. He wants to protect me from the path I’m not supposed to walk (not the path I think I’m not supposed to walk). He promises me the reward of heaven for loving Him and knowing Him. He promises a fruitful life full of joy and blessing. And He promised that He will always be with us as He was going to the cross (even though we were the ones that hung him there).
Well what does this have to do with scars and cancer?
See that scar hooked behind your ear and down your neck? The Lord knew you would find the lump to have it removed. See those tiny hairs sprouting back up from the top of your bald head? That’s the manifestation of healing and the promise of new life. See the asymmetry of the “normal” side and the cancer side? That’s the blessing of continued purpose in living.
So today as I study my scars, I’m going to choose not to frown as I remember the heartbreak, the pain, the suffering it took to get here. I’m going to thank God that He knew the exact moment I would find out about my cancer. I’m going to find joy that He is continuing to heal my heart as well as my body. And I’m going to rest in His promises and His sacrifice so that I can live peacefully among this beautiful earth no matter what happens next. And I hope you will too.
Happy Easter, yall! From my scars to yours!
Onward and upward!
My heart in this blog and my journey has always been to provide perspective and to be able to share the real and honest truth about what it’s like to travel these treacherous roads, both physically and emotionally. Since treatment ended, I have been busy growing a list of posts that I plan to write, each to fall into the Radiation Education category to address some of the common questions I’ve been asked along the way.
When I look back at what I’ve gone through and what potentially lies ahead, I generally have two emotions…fear or overwhelming peace that it happened and will happen exactly like it was supposed to. These are two emotions that typically fight each other, but the best part of that is that they can’t exist at the same time. I’m either one or the other, and that’s usually a good read on where I’m at spiritually and mentally.
This journey has caused me to face parts of life that I honestly wasn’t ready to (like mortality), and it’s placed me toe-to-toe with the very realistic fear of recurrence that nearly every cancer patient faces at one point or another. But there’s also the fear of failing, the fear of my body failing me, the fear of rejection, the fear of putting my writing out there, the fear of not ever feeling like myself again, the fear of not being able to have children, the fear of not accomplishing what I’ve set out to do, and the fear of leaving this earth and my family too soon.
The list doesn’t end there, but in facing many versions of fear so far, I’ve learned ways to cope and it’s important to me to share a few of those things that I feel have helped me:
At the root of every single fear and moment of mental and emotional weakness, lies a common denominator that has taken me a very long time to figure out. Trust. So, is it safe to say that if I have a long list of fears then I have trust issues? Ouch.
Growing up in and around church (and in the Bible belt), you hear your whole life about how the bible says “do not fear” no fewer than a zillion times. I can honestly say that at 28, I hadn’t really met anything in life yet where immense fear was my emotion. But let me tell you, when your health fails you in a way you never saw coming, you find every last one of those times in the bible the Lord instructs us not to fear. But if you’re stubborn like me, you still need more. Three words don’t fix internal chaos and panic quite that easily.
So I prayed. I begged desperately for peace in my heart and for the Lord to restore my health back to some sort of functioning state so many days. And I get that prayer feels super weird for some folks (especially praying out loud), but I’ve personally found comfort in taking the fears I’ve felt to the Lord and letting Him carry that burden while TRUSTING (there’s that word again) that He’s got it worked out for my good. Also that He sees the bigger picture, the whys, and the why nots, and He’s leading me exactly where I’m supposed to be. Ultimately He is faithful, merciful, and most of all He understands, so when He says “do not fear,” He backs that up with His character and that is what eventually calms the chaos.
I bought this book years ago, read a few pages, and put it down. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it wasn’t speaking to me at that time in my life. I lost interest. But I picked it up again recently and holy smokes, it blew my mind and wrecked my heart.
There’s a section in there where Joyce talks about feeling the urge to know the “whys” of the things that happen. She goes on to explain the exact process of thoughts I typically have when something uncomfortable or undesirable happens. The rehashing and the wishing I could do it over and the simply trying to understand. That’s not so much to ask, right?
Not exactly. A few paragraphs down Joyce flips the script and explains how trying to figure out the why by ourselves and reasoning with the Lord about various matters is the same as playing God (because knowing all and being God is His job. Not mine).
I was at the beach last year when I read that, and it socked me right in the gut. I was days before scans and I was in a state no one should exist in on a regular basis. All of a sudden it made sense why I had always felt even more lost in trying to find what I thought was truth and what I thought would help me feel better. Spinning in circles to figure out the why creates confusion which is not what the Lord has for us so I was basically chasing the enticement of the devil. Ouch again.
This book teaches you to train your thoughts for peace and how to take control of the thoughts that are toxic to your mind and general well-being. Definitely worth the read while swimming in scary seas.
I’m a huge proponent of this one! In this crazy connected world we live in, it’s all too easy to grab your phone when something ails you and search for the answer to what it might be. But Google has the magical powers of taking you from headache to probably taking your last breath in a matter of 3 clicks.
Yes, there are informative sites out there and credible ones, too, but the truth of the matter is that every single case is different. And just because you have a few of the symptoms listed doesn’t mean that’s what you have. Two people can walk into a doctor’s office with the same symptoms and walk out with two different diagnoses. Doctors go through years of schooling and training for a reason and those years are not to be invalidated by your excessive and aggressive googling. (Side note: Choosing a doctor you trust is important too)
There is no one on earth that can truly understand what you’ve gone through and what you’re going through more than another survivor. They’ve likely had similar thoughts, similar aches and pains, and similar fears. Yes, your caretakers have been there with you every step of the way and they too have a very unique perspective on things, but even that’s different than a survivor connecting with another survivor.
Visit a few support groups in your community or talk to someone in the waiting room at your follow-ups. I know that sounds super scary for my fellow introverts, but trust me on this one. Find a few friends you can talk to about what you’re going through in a reasonable and positive light. Don’t focus on your complaints, but share in the feelings and thoughts you have and then encourage each other to better your lives in some way.
Attitude is so, so important for cancer patients and survivors and so is community, so find your people and be intentional with staying in touch and checking on them. Don’t wait on them to check on you!
This one goes hand-in-hand with attitude. I’ve learned that the busier I stay, the less I have time to let my mind wander about what already happened or what might happen in the future. I may be worn out tired all the time and barely have time to eat and sleep, but let me tell you…that feels a lot better than the anxious nausea and sweat I experience when I let my mind go full tornado on me. For most, it will be a balance. You will need both times of running around busy and times of rest, but the key is to not let yourself become an isolated couch potato. This life is far too beautiful and people are innately relational beings, so as one of my favorites Amos Lee sings, “let your little light shine!” (Here’s the song)
This journey is by far the hardest thing I’ve personally dealt with. I have a hard time believing I was diagnosed with cancer at 28, for it just to be “something that happened” and for me to never speak of it again like it was equal to a bout of spring allergies or something. But hard times bring big blessings sometimes. Trust the process and get after that fear. It doesn’t belong here!