Thursday, February 20, 2014

One Year In

One year ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nothing can prepare you for those words ~ especially when you believe you've been following a cyst for the past 2 months. I sat with my husband Greg in the waiting room, unable to relax, heart racing, hoping against hope the surgeon would have good news that would bring closure to the battery of tests I'd been through.

But we had barely sat down in his office when he said, "Well, it is a cancer." How can you explain how it feels to have the world fall away from under you while everything around you stays the same? As the doctor and the nurse talked me through what would take place in the next several weeks, I kept having to drag my mind back to the present. Could this be real? Surely it was happening to someone else, not me. But I was sinking into a black hole.

Greg's tears came first. All he could think of was watching his mom go through brain cancer almost 30 years before. The chemotherapy and radiation ravaged her body before the cancer took her life. And now his wife was facing the same thing? How could God do this to him?

I couldn't even cry. I was too stunned. The nurse told us we could stay in the office as long as necessary, to collect ourselves. But what good would that do? We had plans to make, family to be told.

As I walked down the hospital corridor toward the car, I suddenly thought, "Cue the music." I pictured myself, slow-motion, striding into battle. We were going to fight this thing.

Driving home from the hospital, I remember the sky was blue. So blue. The houses of our development stood out in vivid contrast, their bricks brilliant colors. The world was achingly beautiful. How could I be facing cancer? How could I walk through the door of the house and tell my kids? How could I break the news to my parents who were both at work?

Somehow, we got through the next several hours. I'll never forget the wailing of our daughters . . . their cries of, "Why our Mommy?" . . . our college-age son's stunned response and heart-wrenching struggle 8 hours away from home . . . having to tell our second son when he got home from high school . . . the shock of the Chinese friend who was staying with us . . . my mom's tears and my dad's strength . . . my fear that my younger sister would be left an only child.

Greg had to tell his family, too. It felt like déjà vu for all of them: their own mom had been only 45 when she died. The same age as me.

And how do you tell your friends and colleagues? Some cancer patients choose to keep it to themselves.  But we decided to use e-mail and social media. Is there a certain etiquette for making an announcement of this magnitude? We were feeling our way.

Ironically, three other friends were diagnosed with cancer just days before me:  four of us within four business days. They (and others who had also walked this road) became my support group, my safety net.  Nothing says “comfort” like someone who’s been there.

The outpouring of strength and support was amazing.  Well-wishes streamed in from around the world, via phone, e-mail, Skype and Facebook.  People brought gifts and flowers . . . so many flowers.  It was my own personal garden, mid-winter.  We ran out of places to put them.
I only had to wait eight days until my surgery.  Looking back, I can’t believe what we packed into that one week:  a visit to the dentist with my girls, a trip to the eye doctor, a church service, Kids’ Club, CT scan (clear), bone scan (clear, praise God!), pre-surgery appointment.  My attitude and outlook fluctuated by the day . . . sometimes by the hour.

We had some dark, dark days; but I remember Greg saying something like, “A year from now this will all be behind us, and you’ll be doing great.”  I desperately wanted to believe him, but I couldn’t even see my way clear to the local fair in the fall, let alone Christmas and a new year. 

But here we are!  If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that every day is a gift.  I’ve had many statistics thrown at me in the last 12 months, but the truth is ~ not one of us is guaranteed even tomorrow.  God has the days planned out for each and every one of us.  I may not get to fulfill all of my plans, but I trust that He knows best.

And I’m amazed at how many special things He did allow me to do this past year:

* Started some knitting and cross-stitch projects that I’d been dreaming of
* Read . . . read . . . read
* Did dozens of Sudoku and crossword puzzles
* Celebrated life and family through multiple birthdays and holidays
* Learned to take naps and say “no”
* Proofread a friend’s novel
* Shared my story and hope with others who are starting their own cancer journeys
* Hosted many visitors who encouraged and helped us with our ministry
* Traveled to North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia
* Started this blog

And no matter what this next year holds, I know that the best is yet to come!                

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