I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, right after my last chemo treatment, but I’m just getting around to finishing it. There have been some very hard days in these weeks following my last chemo. Even though I’ve been writing about them, I’ve been hesitant to post because I didn’t want anyone to worry or feel sorry for me. However, it’s a real part of this journey, the one that I felt called to share. As I read the following verses in a card I received this weekend, I was reminded that it’s ok to feel weak, and it’s important for me to share that side as well. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
As I experienced the end of one stage of my treatment and began to prepare for the next, fear, anxiety, and sadness crept into my mind. I got stuck inside my head, started thinking way too much, and all of these thoughts led to a lot of tears. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it and my talks with God consisted of pleading with Him to help me understand why I felt this way and give me peace again. Not only was I struggling with my emotions, but I was frustrated because I didn’t want to feel this way. I wanted to be full of hope, courage, and perseverance.
I was excited about celebrating the last chemo treatment with family and friends. The last time that I would have poison pumped through my body was a huge milestone in my cancer treatment. We wanted to celebrate this, as well as the fact that the chemo had been so successful in shrinking my tumor. I looked forward to being able to celebrate this ending with so many sweet friends and family who wanted to be there, but I was not so sure of how I felt about chemo really being over. I know that must sound strange. After all, why would I want to continue experiencing unpleasant side effects week after week? Chemo in itself is certainly not an enjoyable experience, but it became comfortable and familiar to me. With all of the change that was going on in my life since my diagnosis, this familiarity was welcome. It became my “new normal”. I knew that I would go in every other Thursday and Friday and be taken care of by one of my three nurses and that I would go in on Wednesdays in between for a follow-up with my oncologist. I knew I would see the receptionists upstairs, those who drew my blood and took my vitals, my oncologist, my nurse practitioner, and many familiar faces in the chairs around me. I was comfortable and SCOA became like a second home to me. How did that happen? I remember vividly the first time Adam and I pulled into the parking lot in February for my first consultation with my oncologist. The tears came as soon as he put the truck in park and it was time to get out and go inside. I did not want to go in there I told him.
Four months later, the tears came again, very unexpectedly, as I walked out. I went for my follow-up appointment as usual, but I knew I wouldn’t be back again in 2 weeks. It was yet another thing to celebrate! But even through all of the smiles and congratulatory hugs, my heart didn’t feel like celebrating, it just felt heavy. I went downstairs to thank my chemo nurses, since I had been so busy celebrating the week before I didn’t feel like I had adequately expressed my gratitude for all that they had done. It was very strange to me to walk downstairs and not wait to have my blood drawn, and then walk into the infusion room and not go sit in a chair. I looked around at everyone and again had that feeling that I’d had the morning of my first treatment, the feeling that I didn’t belong here. However, this time I was right. I really didn’t belong here anymore. I knew then that this part of my journey was over and this day ended up feeling more like the end to me than the last chemo. I had to fight back the tears as I walked out of the infusion room, back up the stairs, and out of those front doors.
This flood of emotion was completely unexpected and left me feeling vulnerable and insecure. On one of my hard days, I picked up the devotional Bible given to me by a friend at church. I had been very confused as to why I was feeling the way that I was and I had asked God to please lead me to something in those devotions that would help me find some peace. I came across one written by a woman named Joanne Arentson who had experienced emotions similar to mine when nearing the end of chemo. She likened the experience to a child riding a bicycle without training wheels for the first time with his earthly father running close behind him. She realized that the end of chemo for her meant that these training wheels were now gone but that she could rely on her Heavenly Father who was running behind her. It seems like such a simple and straightforward analogy, but I was so encouraged by it. Realizing someone else in my situation had those same feelings brought me immense comfort. I think that this is something we can apply to any new situation in our lives – we have to have complete trust in Him rather than relying simply on our own capabilities.
This devotional Bible that I was reading from has a special story.My friend bought it several years ago because she thought it was pretty (it has a pink embossed leather cover), not realizing that it was for breast cancer survivors. Soon after I was diagnosed, she gave it to me. At the time she bought it, we didn’t even know each other or live in the same city, but I am certain that God planned this seemingly “accidental” purchase knowing that she would one day have me to pass it along to. This is just another one of the many ways I have experienced His amazing grace along the way! If you are going through breast cancer or know someone who has been diagnosed, this Devotional Bible for Women, NKJV: Pink Edition has many encouraging devotions and prayers.
This devotion also pointed me to Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Fearful, dismayed, and weak were exactly what I had been feeling, but this verse reminded me that I could rise above these emotions if I held onto those promises. He is with me. He is my God. He will strengthen and help me. He will uphold me. It is so easy for me, in times of change especially, to lose sight of this. Change has always been a challenge for me, whether I perceive it as a good or bad change. I tend to feel that in order to be successful in something that I need to be [overly] prepared for it. In order to feel prepared, I need to know what to expect so that I can then plan accordingly. That is where change poses a problem for me. I don’t know what to expect with the change so I can’t plan for anything. Without my planning, I don’t feel prepared and feel like I’m not going to be successful. Then those negative emotions creep into my mind. God is teaching me a lot about this through cancer. Too often I equate success with perfection and God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. He asks us to be faithful. I need to have faith in those promises that he gave in Isaiah 41:10. I need to put my faith in Him, not my planning. What if He would have told me last summer that this change was coming, explained every procedure and side effect I could expect, and then told me that I had 6 months to come up with a plan? Would my planning have made me more “successful” in fighting cancer? No. I’ve learned firsthand that no plan or feeling of preparedness can get you through life’s deepest valleys, expected or unexpected. Only God can do that.
I also wanted to share a snippet of God’s grace from last week. I was volunteering at Chick-fil-A with our church and was asked if I could stay an hour longer to cover for someone who was running late. Little did I know that the reason they needed me to stay longer was so that Kim Rich could get back to the restaurant with a special gift for me – a Chick-fil-A cow dressed in pink! She even has a head scarf like mine! Kim gathered all of us in a circle right in the middle of the busy restaurant and prayed for me. It was such a special moment and just what I needed to lift my spirits. I am continuously amazed at the people God places in my life and moments that He arranges. His planning and timing are so PERFECT!
Physically, I have been feeling great. I’m still experiencing the Taxol side effect of itching in my hands and feet periodically, but hopefully this will subside soon. I’m very thankful to be feeling more like myself on a regular basis instead of every other week. I will be having surgery in 2 weeks (Monday, July 27th). I will share more later, but I’ve chosen to have a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Though I feel I have been stumbling a lot along this journey lately, I am holding on to Psalm 37:23-24 “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Each day I’m trying to find my strength in Him and focus on these promises instead of all of the emotions I have about the surgery. If you could pray that I can continue to do that, I would appreciate it so much!