Sharing my true feelings means exposing my weaknesses, which does make me vulnerable in a sense. Equally important to me is my strong belief in only speaking what I desire; yet in telling this story I fail to uphold my own belief at times. For this I apologize because it is my sincere desire to be an encourager and to help you see that there is good in all things. I would love if my example of living were capable of such lofty goals; instead my story is more likely an opportunity for learning from my mistakes.
I am so grateful for my life thus far and look with great anticipation, my life to come. I wish I were capable of leaving it at that, yet I am far too introspective to do such a thing. Right or wrong, I’m driven to understand life and with this drive come many questions. I do cherish the many people in my life that much prefer the attitude of “Live While You’re Living”. This is an attitude my husband, Michael, often reminds me of as he invites me to put away my “questions” for a day and have fun. I’m guessing, but the cancer journey for everyone with this great attitude must be entirely different than mine. Theirs is an experience that should be weighed against mine.
I find it interesting that over the past decade I have studied in great detail how we directly affect our lives and those around us. This study was inclusive of suffering and the role it plays in our life. I get an eerie feeling as I ponder the possible meaning of my diagnosis. Is it possible that this is an opportunity to live out what I have learned and to experience it first hand? Early on I thought to myself, “Ok, Susan here it goes, now you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
I felt a sense of obligation to face cancer with courage and to bear my cross with honor. It seemed pathetic to do anything else, how would anyone ever trust me again if in my own crisis I didn’t’ lean into the God I know and love. Faith and being positive is easy when all is well.
True honor comes through applying faith and courage when you are faced with real sorrow.
With all my talk of honor, before I mislead, let me be quick to say in and of myself I will crumple under the heaviness of cancer. I “need my faith” to survive it, but despite all my worthy intentions I often fail miserably in my walk of faith. Fear overcomes me and I fall subject to all my human weakness. The knowledge I’ve gained from learning gives me the truth to turn to that ignites courageousness.
I’m crushed as I become increasingly aware of how we cause so much of our own pain. Judging and blaming circumstances and people for the results in our lives, this holds us captive. Stubbornly we hold on to what we think we want and are unwavering in our points of view; this is all the evidence of our own responsibility for how we feel. We must be willing to look and consider people and circumstances from a different perspective. Submitting to this idea, the willingness to see something differently, has given me relief during this time.
A peek into the window of my life with the cancer card in hand reveals a few situations. One of the greatest frustrations is that I had no reason to believe I was sick when I was diagnosed, therefore, how do I know I am well now? This is of particular concern as you realize the mess chemotherapy makes of you. You would be surprised how complex this question becomes. Getting this answer is comparable to putting together an intricate puzzle. There are lots of starts and stops, lots of things that seem like they will work, and some do and some don’t. The shear number of different sources you must seek information from to get this answer is huge, not to mention time consuming. There are days I want to throw my hands in the air and fully embrace the attitude, “Live While You’re Living”, but as a mother I long to know I’ll be here to raise my children. I’m sometimes haunted with the thought of “who would love my children like I do” and I persevere.
I often receive a call and a friend learns of yet another doctor appointment I have scheduled and soon pose a common statement. “I thought you were finished.” It’s funny how some insignificant words can stop you in your tracks. As I am reassuring them nothing new is wrong, I’m thinking, do you ever finish? Cancer feels like an anchor, something attached to you that you can’t get rid of, even if you want to.
The quest to find out how this happens leads to many possibilities, one being our food or our water. I begin my day with so many vitamins and thinking all the time about what I’m eating. My new friend, cancer makes most food seem dangerous. Every bite could be poison, ooh! This is anxiety provoking. Weight has become an issue hence surgery. I long to feel good about myself. I look in the mirror in disbelief thinking to myself, “Who are you?” I must come to terms with the changes and deal with what is. I wish I didn’t place so much value on these things, but we live in a visual world, and how we look affects how we feel. Even still, looking deeper reveals a reflection on the inside of the many changes on the outside. The changes on the inside are much harder to describe and talk about therefore the discussion commences to focus on the external. It’s hard to let go.
I vividly remember, months before I knew I was to be handed the cancer baton, receiving a phone call filled with emotion. Angelle Albright, a dear friend in the mist of her cancer treatment and was calling as we were both on our way to pick up our children at school. Her words resonate so loudly in my mind. “Susan, I just want my old-self back, I just want my life back.” My heart was so heavy for her; yet even then life wouldn’t stop for she or I to catch up with this heavy emotion. I tried to offer words of encouragement, but just seconds later we hurry to say goodbye, “Gotta go, the kids are getting in the car, call you later.” Remarkably, now I muse as I hear the same words coming out of my lips. I too want my life back, or at least I say I do because there is comfort in the familiar. However, living fully in the present should be the goal, it is the most satisfying way to live.
Dying, cancer, both words are loaded with apprehension. If we could fully embrace a spiritual view of death our fears would turn to anticipation. Instead these words pierce our hearts and cause us to be fearful. Uncomfortably in this process, death becomes part of everyday conversation. I wince as I hear the words…. my sister died of cancer…. or my mom had cancer too, she died when I was young. I’m reminded to focus on my priorities as I hear this. What is the impact upon my children as they hear this, as it seems to happen frequently in their presence? Should children be reminded of death so often? Should I protect my children from this or will learning to deal with their feelings about death make them stronger or make them more fearful?
Cancer touches so many people, a short time ago I lost two uncles and an aunt to the disease, I learned just this week of three more friends with malignancies. A dear friend will soon have skin cancer removed; something my dad deals with often. All the while another friend fights recurrence and another just completed radiation. I’ll stop there, but the list really goes on. I shudder to think of the vast number of people suffering, often suffering far greater than me. As the weight of all this bears down, I turn to God for comfort and remind myself that I shouldn’t judge suffering good or bad, it just is. For those who believe, God will use their suffering for good making it worthwhile to walk with courage.
I visit the cancer center every three weeks for a couple of hours to receive Herceptin, a drug that blocks the expression of a particular protein that gets over-expressed. Over expression causes cells to divide rapidly and results in aggressive cancer, Herceptin protects me, but I must monitor the risks to my heart potentially induced by this drug. Herceptin is delivered through my port still in from chemotherapy. Friends would sometimes join me during chemotherapy; I’m so thankful because I realize it can feel really awkward. Those days were long, sometimes six hours and the company was comforting. There is good in facing cancer and the good is unfailing. Cancer gave me permission to be forthright about what “I” believe is important. Cancer forced me to learn the science of my body and begin to treat it better, and cancer established greater depth and dimension to my spirituality. Developing spiritually makes me happy and I treasure the feeling of happiness more than ever.
The emotional part of cancer is often about loss, but sometimes about pride. Pride is a problem of the heart and mind, a problem self-inflicted. I have to make conscious effort to control my thoughts, resisting the feelings of worthlessness that nag at my heart, recognizing these thoughts are not based in truth. The fact is we only get more of whatever we think about the most; we need to practice conscious thinking and speaking. Our words are full of power for good and for bad, we get to choose what legacy we want to leave to those we love, including to ourselves.
We’re anxious to improve our circumstances, yet often unwilling to improve ourselves. Cancer is an invitation to do just that. If willing, you can begin to let go of unnecessary ways of our culture and live a life truly “authentic to you”. Authentic, I love that word! Relationships are put to the test as cancer affects everyone close to you. Issues prior to cancer either evaporate or become magnified; this is an opportunity for everyone to grow.