A Thing Called Hope

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Between the pain and the chaos of divorce, hope has been a difficult thing sometimes. I think I have it in hand, but if flies away, leaving me alone. It flutters just out of reach on those hard days.

That is when I remember all of the loss of the past year, all of the endings. So much that it feels like my life will break in two.

Indeed it has, with part of my heart going with my husband. I truly understand now the meaning of “one flesh” and the heartbreak that divorce leaves behind. There will always be that emptiness in my life, one that can’t be filled with activities or fun.

Am I still entirely me? I don’t know.

But I know that I must continue, must keep moving forward with my life. Hope is still here, and it is time for some beginnings. Something good.

As Katie Davis Majors says in Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful,

“Dreams die and seasons end and terrible, unspeakable things happen that don’t make much sense, but God is not done with us yet. He uses the bending and the breaking and the dying to prepare the harvest, to prepare more for us. We reach high to the Son and He comes down and pulls us closer.”

Today I reached high. I was baptized, fully immersed and washed clean. A new beginning after so many, many endings.

I am ready for some good. I still have hope.

 

God’s Presence Is with You

gods-presence-regularYesterday was an extra, extra bad day for me.

It has been several months since I began my cancer treatment, with my first major surgery in December. And soon radiation begins.

Friday brought two appointments, both with my oncologists. I had been dreading this day as we would discuss the staging of the cancer as well as prognosis. And nervous? You betcha.

My anxiety had reached new heights, and I found myself crouched on the bathroom floor, sick and crying. I felt alone, so alone at that moment.

It can be difficult to believe that God is with us during these storms of life. So very, very hard sometimes.

I’m trying to hold on to the hope, though, that is stated by Craig Groeschel in his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life:

“God’s presence is with you, no matter how alone you may feel.”

I don’t have any more wiser words for you than that.

If you do feel alone right now and the storm seems never ending, please know that you’re not alone. There are lots of us in the storm, right there with you. And there is  God, our shelter.

 

 

 

Hopes and Dreams

hopes-and-dreamsJanuary 1st is a day for all of us to dream big.

Although many have no doubt listed their resolutions formally, I only have one resolution, that of surviving the year. Not your typical resolution, mind you, but one that is pretty common among those living with cancer.

But does that leave any room for hopes and dreams? You betcha.

You want to know what my greatest dream might be? I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. Actually getting paid to write! Yes indeed, that would be my dream job.

Well, other than getting paid to play with puppies and kittens all day…

Anyway, I love writing and reaching out to others through my articles and posts. My dream for the new year is that writing opportunities come my way. My path will just be strewn with possibility! Yes, I’m dreaming big now.

As a part of this dream and the realization that this latest cancer diagnosis is much more than a simple detour in my life, I created a new blog today that will focus on my two diagnoses of PTEN and cancer, PTEN, Cancer, and a Thing Called Hope. Hopefully this will help me reach out to others with Cowden Syndrome as well as raise awareness that genetic mutations other than BRCA can raise the risk of breast cancer.

Here’s to a 2017 that will be much better than 2016!

A New Year

new-yearA new year will soon be upon us.

To be honest, I’m hesitant to say, “Happy New Year!” It doesn’t seem appropriate at the moment. Celebrating during cancer? Perhaps some may wish to yell “Carpe Diem” tonight, but I’m sitting on the couch with one of my kittens and thinking about what lies ahead.

Doctor’s appointments, scans, surgeries, exams, treatment, pills, and possibly more. That is what the new year will certainly bring for me.

For some of us, our only New Year’s resolution is to survive the coming year. That’s about the only resolution on my list, but I suppose I’m hoping for more than that.

I’m hoping for new opportunities, new ways to reach others, new ways to give, and new ways to grow. Vague wishes and dreams, but they are there.

Can I be sure and say, “Yes, 2017 will bring me wonderful and exciting things!” No, I can’t. I suppose I’m more realist than otherwise, and I’ve been on the cancer merry-go-round before. Depending on the results of treatment, this could become an even more long and dragged out affair, lasting through the year and beyond.

Unlike my first experience with cancer, this may be more than a detour. This may be a new road. And I’m pretty certain that this new road will continue, just like those seemingly endless highways here in the Midwest.

I can’t go back. I can’t get my old body back. I don’t even know if I can find the exit back to my original path, back to my old life. That old me and my life–with all of its normalcy and quietude–are gone.

So no, I may not be celebrating tonight. But I’ll most likely wake up tomorrow and struggle onward. It can be challenging to accept a new path–especially one full of doctors and uncertainty–but maybe there will be some good in all of this. Something that can make all of this worthwhile.

Wishing you and your families a safe and meaningful night.

In the Mirror

in-the-mirrorHaving had many surgeries, I am familiar with the feeling of seeing scars for the first time. Whether it was the odd bulge of the port protruding from my chest or the strange caved-in area on my leg where a large tumor was removed, I knew that it could be difficult to assimilate these things into my idea of myself.

But this surgery, this has been something much different.

Although I had looked at plenty of pictures of women who had gone “flat,” I suppose I wasn’t really prepared for how I would look after my surgery. Looking at my newly flat chest, I don’t see me. It’s someone new in the mirror now.

Regarding my surgery, I have been told many things by other women, including:

Well, you weren’t using them [my breasts] anyway, so it doesn’t matter, right?

You should just be glad to be alive!

You’re almost through with all of this, and then you can move on with your life!

At least you won’t have to wear a bra any more!

Just think positively!

Hearing these statements, I didn’t feel consoled.

Going through cancer treatment involves a lot of loss. From the first diagnosis to the last treatment, patients like myself must confront the continuing changes in our bodies and our lives. Even after one loss is accepted, another lies ahead. And for many, this cycle of scan, treatment and more can last a lifetime.

I agree with Nancy’s Point that women are often made to feel guilty about grieving after their mastectomy.

The truth? I miss the old me. I miss having breasts. 

At this point, I don’t know who I am seeing in the mirror. My chest is mainly numb with some areas of shooting pain, neither of which helps to make a connection with the “new” me. There’s nothing I see in the mirror now that resembles myself.

Sparse hair sticking up out of my scalp, thinner after chemo, and a flat chest. That is what I see in the mirror. And there will be even more changes to come in the new year with radiation treatment, hysterectomy, and anti-estrogen therapy.

The rapid nature of diagnoses, scans, treatments, and surgeries provides little time to think about all of this. It often leaves you gasping for air, desperately searching for a break in the busy-ness of cancer. But there are always more doctor’s appointments, and always more shocks that must be quickly accepted, or more likely, pushed back into the darkness where they are often hidden behind a forced bravado.

The scars are beginning to heal, but it will be awhile before I can accept them as part of my new “normal.”

I don’t feel brave, and I’m not a warrior. Right now, I’m just tired.

Cancer and Family

cancer-and-familyBoth love and cancer have bound our family.

Cancer has often seemed like an unwanted and violent relative who continues to show up for dinner. Demanding everything and leaving nothing, he shakes our lives until very little remains.

As the dust settles from his appearance, we hug each other closer and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking this will be the final time. But no. We bury family members, struggle through holidays, and continue on. And still he returns.

I hear those who are newly diagnosed with cancer whisper sadly, “But I don’t have any family history! I never thought I’d have cancer.” Murmuring, “I’m so sorry,” I silently wonder if it is better to be thrown headlong into a cancer diagnosis or to have a family history full of cancer.

Is it better to have an unfamiliar enemy? Or to know intimately this ghastly disease?

When medical professionals ask about the history of cancer in my family, it usually takes about 5-10 minutes to discuss it fully. They take notes furiously and then look at me with glazed eyes. Their expressions seem to be a mix of sadness and disbelief.

Occasionally I’ll elicit some surprise, even from those who have experience with this sort of thing. When I spoke with the genetics counselor, she questioned me further about those family members with skin cancer. “When were they first diagnosed?” she asked. I gave her a guess as to dates but then explained that this cancer was ongoing. “You mean there has been more than one time?” she asked, shocked.

Yes, cancer keeps knocking at our door. Only two of us left now.

But then there are those who ask about my family history, specifically a history of breast cancer. Taking my vitals, a nurse in the hospital during my most recent visit asked me if any of my family members had had breast cancer. “My mother. She died in 1999,” I responded. The nurse nodded and then left my room.

Lying there in the darkness, I could guess as to why she had asked me that question. She wondered why someone my age had already had breast cancer twice. As I have a family history–plus the PTEN mutation–it’s explainable. And she could leave my room feeling a bit better about her own risk for cancer.

Our throw of the genetic dice resulted in snake eyes.

We’ve grown stronger, though, and appreciate each other a bit more after all of this. Those of us that remain are scarred and a bit hobbled, but we know well the fragility of life and that cancer can return at any moment. So we talk more, sharing stories from our lives and simple pleasures like reading and movies and good food.

And we do our best to kick that unwanted relative, cancer, to the curb for good.