Recently I attended a breast cancer survival meeting. I have been attending meetings for some time now. I am very grateful for and amazed by those who willingly share past and through their own experiences.
It was Jan 2016 when I was diagnosed with Invasive ductal carcinoma on my right breast. I was told the cancer had spread to at least three lymph nodes. I knew prior to any confirmation from biopsy’s that something was up. It was that dimple just to the lower right side of the nipple that pointed (in reverse) to a fact I could not deny. I knew I had cancer and there was just gonna be no way not to hear the words that would soon be coming. I tend to be the queen of denial and when life’s waters get dangerously rough, it’s in that river I have always scrambled to float. But this time there was no way to avert the starkness of a reality to which there was no denial.
Upon diagnosis my daughters and husband had insisted they be with me. I remember being so sorry for them and feeling helpless to take the pain of anxious worry away. The nurse was caring and I felt bad for her too, what a thing to have to tell someone. My family sat stoic in body but their faces betrayed the attempt to hold it together. I focused on those faces as I listened to the words that were spoken, it was surreal and reminded me of a Charlie Brown episode. All I could hear was “waa-waaaaa- waa-waa-waaaaaa——cancer”. It was here that I am fully aware and grateful for the other coping mechanisms God has blessed me with. The denial boat may have left the dock, but this was a time my control issues would come in handy. I was not able to control what was happening but I was determined that all decisions were now mine to be made. In reality I do realize, the only thing I truly control is how I react to not having much.
Before we left the office the nurse had explained the process for me would take a year to complete. From the denial river to boarding the cancer machine and all within 20 minutes.
As we left I asked God to help me and assured my children I was going to begin the process of researching my options. The nurse had explained the next step in the process was to visit a surgeon. My husband and I went and listened to a local surgeon who proceeded to tell me that chemo, surgery and radiation were in my future. I was looking for options instead pretty much told you ain’t got any lady. It is funny how God works because he put exactly the right person in my path for recovery that day. Lord knows that I really do dislike when someone tells me what to do. It was my ticket that was stamped on that stinking cancer train and not this Dr or anyone else was going to make my decisions for me. In other words he pissed me off and I thank God for that.
That Dr referred me next to a nearby oncologist who nicely explained further what kind of cancer I had, she too said chemo, surgery, radiation and a year full of infusions was the suggested coarse of treatment. I told her I could not yet make a decision as to what to do. I explained I had to be fully on board before I could commit. She had told me not to wait too long.
This is where I began asking God specifically to heal my unbelief. I never questioned why I had cancer, I did question why I didn’t have options in regards to treating it. I wanted options and I needed God to help me find them and make any decisions for me. I wanted healing of spirit and strength of faith first and foremost. I needed the peace only God can give.
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
I love this story in the Bible, it became very important to me on this journey and continues to be so. I needed my father to calm my heart and mind in order to heal my spirit. I knew my body may heal but it was my spirit and faith where it was needed most.
I asked God please lead my way and oh how he did.
While the angst of knowing I was sick and that there were decisions that I needed to make weighed heavily, I searched high and low for information. I didn’t just want medical knowledge though thank God for those dedicated to it. In a furious and curious attempt to google all things cancer I also realized there was always going to be somebody willing to make a buck off another’s terror, so to be wary in my research was important. I knew that both the disease and healing were personal. I wanted to be able to read or hear how another chose to deal.
This is when the first of my heroes came into my life. I had not yet decided which way I should turn for healing when a family member introduced me to Janie. She is a tiny little woman who is huge in class. A retired teacher, her patience and logic are I must admit foreign to me. She has been the voice of reason when I have at times been less than reasonable. Much for me to learn from in her sharing of self and I so appreciate her bravery and kindness.
Following a lot more research and speaking with my friend, I decided to get a second opinion. It wasn’t that expected to hear I didn’t have cancer, I just still was not sure what to do. My husband and I drove to a hospital a couple of hours away, while in route we continued to pray. When we walked into the hospital neither of us was too impressed. The building was small and and ornate in no way. I thought to myself oh crap I still don’t feel so good about this. But as we walked from floor to floor in search of where to be, I was overwhelmed by the look in the eyes of others who were obviously navigating there own cancer journeys. I saw smiles that held the peace that only hope can bring (at least that’s how I saw it).
I told my kids later it was like being in a really good restaurant and a bunch of hungry people knew the best place in town to eat. There were three doctors who met with us that day, a surgeon, a radiation and a medical oncologist. After, the initial exam and first consult with each it was suggested we meet again after lunch and after they could discuss what options I may have. As my husband and I left the cafeteria, I asked if we could go to the sanctuary. I still could not make a decision and prayed for God to please make it for me. We made our way back to the exam room and once again it was a surgeon that delivered the words God meant for me to hear. God took it out of my hands and decided my fate within my heart. The decision had been made and I was gratefully on board. The peace I felt was truly a miracle.
It was decided I go through a clinical trial, which included four rounds of infusions, pet scans, cat scan, more biopsy’s a lumpectomy, five lymph nodes removed, radiation and a full year of Herceptin.
It was while at radiation that I met Frances. We would see each other for five minutes at a time while waiting our turn on the table. She is physically very pretty (even bald) but it is her beauty in faith which continues to blow me away. She has never wavered in her love of God. Frances is one of those that God has gifted joy and that is what she gives freely to all of those who so desperately need it. She has been my friend, my family and a mentor in how to give and receive love, no strings attached.
After surgery I met another new friend Joy, she too had her own experience to share. Joy is quiet and thoughtful in her not so silent gestures of kindness. More than one meal has she delivered so I would not have to cook while going through treatment. When I started radiation I’ll never forget her telling me “you are being so brave Pam”. I felt like a little kid who was validated and in the gesture of kindness and word she too applied a love salve to the soul God knew needed much healing.
After radiation is when I started attending the breast cancer support groups. Not because I like talking about cancer (cuz I do not) more because I see the beauty in others reaching past and through their own pain and fears. I admire so much the nurse who puts on the monthly group. It was at a meeting I met my dear friend Cathrene. She is brilliant, talented and one of the most courageous women I have ever, ever met. When she talks there is a kindness of tone, even when most would maybe not be so kind. She is dedicated to helping others and I believe it is because of this she has overcome much adversity of her own.
I will continue I hope to attend more groups not because I want to be a survivor (i don’t really like that word) I want to be a live-er of life and appreciate so much the others who have their own breast cancer story to tell. I continue to live and learn from those who are doing the same. My goal is not to just survive but to live and heal in spirit first with my faith deepened, which has been my prayer in mid-fall and will continue to be.