It looks like it’s been nearly 5 months since my last blog post. I’ve thought about writing quite a few times, but honestly I’ve just wanted to go out and live! After spending the majority of last year inside doctor’s offices and hospitals and feeling sick so much of the time, now I just want to get outside and enjoy life.
Most people want to know if I’m finished with everything now, if I can put all of this behind me. With most things, I am finished. Cancer treatment is over (chemo and radiation). No more nausea, fatigue, burnt skin, or bald head. I had scans in April which showed that there is no cancer remaining in my body (praise!). In April I also had the final part of my reconstruction surgery and my chemo port was removed. The port wasn’t much of a bother to me, but it was tied so closely to chemo that I happily traded it for the small pink scar.
I am learning, however, that even after treatment ends and the cancer is gone, it’s impossible to just pack it all away neatly in a box, push it to the back of your closet and say it’s all behind you. Maybe that is possible for some people, but that hasn’t been my experience. And I’m okay with that, even though I never thought I would be. I remember in the first weeks following my diagnosis how desperately I wanted to go back to the girl I was on February 16th, 2015, the day before the nurse called me with the biopsy results. I wanted nothing more than to just be “normal” again and not wake up every morning and remember that I had cancer. Throughout the year, I felt like every surgery and treatment completion was one step closer to getting back to that girl. While those things indeed put me closer to being healed, I now realize that I was never on my way back to that “normal” life. But I am learning to surrender all of the parts of my life to God, even the parts where my plans don’t align with His at all, and trust that His plan for my life is so much better than mine.
Cancer certainly was not a part of my plan for my life – as loss, pain, and suffering are not ever at the top of our bucket lists. Now, even though I have been healed, my life still looks different than it did before cancer. I thought once treatment was complete, I’d only be going back to the oncologist at SCOA for checkups every 3 months, and eventually it would be longer between visits. In March, I went for my 3 month checkup and found out that I would need additional medication to help prevent a recurrence. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but this medication is an injection that I have to get every month, and I was told I would need to have it for at least 2-3 years. Although I love and appreciate my SCOA family, visiting every month for the next few years was NOT a part of my plan for getting back to my “normal” life. In April, I had quite a few hiccups following my surgery and my body did not heal as well as I’d anticipated due to the effects of the radiation treatments. According to my plan, it would be a smooth and speedy recovery lasting less than a week. In reality it was many weeks of drains, pain, fear of infection, antibiotics, and driving to see my surgeon a couple of times a week. I’m also now realizing that reconstruction isn’t always as final as I’d once thought and revisions are often necessary, so the surgeries may not really be over. The possibility of a recurrence is also something that becomes a harsh reality, and can create a lot of anxiety when it’s time for a scan or checkup. Somehow the wait becomes a lot scarier once you have already received that call with bad news. Being told that I have to wait to have children for 5 years (due to one of the medications that I take to help prevent a recurrence) has definitely been one of the places where it has been most difficult to surrender to God’s plan. Trying to have my first child at 35 is just not what I envisioned and knowing that I don’t have any choice in the matter is just plain hard some days.
But I think that’s one of the biggest things God has been teaching me through cancer. Our hope has to be found in Christ. It can’t be in the things He can do for us or give us, or that perfect “normal” life that we think would make everything right in our world. I recently read When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story and have been doing the companion Bible study this summer. We have talked about Abraham and the faith he had to have when surrendering things he cared deeply for to the Lord – ultimately his son Isaac. The study asks you to think about what your Isaac may be, something that you hold tightly to that would be very difficult to let go of. I think for many of us, maybe it is a certain object or person, but it also could be the idea of the life you think you are supposed to be living right now, the life where all of the things that are broken never happened and things are going according to the plans you had. When we hold so tightly to the idea of that life – the life where that loved one who passed away is still a phone call away, you have the spouse or baby you have been waiting for, your parents are still married, that disability does not exist, you still have the job you lost, that person you loved didn’t betray your trust – it becomes very easy to throw a pity party for ourselves when we don’t have it and get stuck there. Even if we don’t intend to, pretty soon we can find ourselves bitter and resentful. These things are hard and heartbreaking, and they happen to every one of us in some shape or form. Trials may look different from one person to the next, but they are inevitable because sin entered the world. I have realized that I have to surrender the idea of that ideal life to God and embrace the life He has given me instead. It’s up to me to make a conscious effort to look for the blessings and good things.It’s up to me to choose joy, even when I don’t feel like it. And it’s not a choice I can make one time and be done, it’s a choice I know that I have to make daily and sometimes even hourly. It certainly doesn’t mean that I never feel sad or angry or disappointed, but I do know that even in those moments God will meet me where I am and He won’t leave me there. He is always patient with me and faithful to lift me out of those low places.
Even though the cancer is gone now, I don’t feel much like that girl that for so long I was waiting to get back to. My life looks different than it did before cancer, and even different than I thought it would look after treatment, but it’s good. Really good. Adam and I moved into our house and celebrated our 1st year of marriage in March. I have a new appreciation for relationships and the small moments that I probably didn’t pay much attention to before. I adore going to visit our friend’s donkeys and goats, and have enjoyed strawberry picking and going to the drive-in movie theatre for the first time. I’m getting used to my curly hair and I’ve been trying some new things, like canning and painting furniture. I even overcame my fears and got certified to scuba dive! I spend less time trying to measure up to the world’s standards and more time resting in the truth that I am loved by my Heavenly Father far beyond what I can comprehend. Eternity and the fact that this is not our permanent home is even more real to me.
Oftentimes in these past few months I have wondered if I really had anything else to say on this blog since it was about my cancer journey and I don’t have cancer anymore, but I’ve realized that even though the cancer is gone, that doesn’t mean God’s work through it is finished. I don’t have all of the answers to anything, but I do know that God can use our stories in ways we could never even imagine. I have seen firsthand how He can take even the most broken and imperfect parts of our stories and use them for good. Too often we are reluctant to share those hard parts of our stories for fear that others will think less of us or reject us, when they are really opportunities to show God’s power to redeem and a testament to his faithfulness. Though it might be a little tough to be transparent and real, try sharing your story with someone and watch God work.
Speaking of transparency, I also wrote a guest post for a friend’s blog recently about my struggles with body image through cancer. You can read it here if you’re interested or share with someone who you think may be encouraged by it.
Thank you for your unwavering prayers, love, and support!