Life can change in an instant, the quick blink of an eye. I think that’s one of those universal truths that we all nod in agreement with when we hear it said.
On July 3, 2017, my world was forever changed. Three words, “You have cancer” followed by the compound adjective, “late-stage,” sent my head spinning, my heart beating wildly. I tried not to cry as I sat stone still, nodding like one of those silly novelty dolls you place on the dashboard of your car. The doctor, who delivered the diagnosis, seemed rather clinical and matter-of fact and I remember thinking how unfortunate that all of those years of medical school hadn’t taught him how to soften the blow for his patients. Of course, I also now realize that the biggest moments in life are subject to your own memories, but it is hard to forget even the most minute details of that day.
Quite frankly, the news was unexpected, in spite of some vague and troubling symptoms. I had been blissfully ignorant of what was happening inside of my body; I had taken my good health for granted. Yes, in those days, illness, like death, occupied its own little compartment, far away from the forefront of my mind. It was the kind of thing that happened to “other people.” Not me.
Let’s face it: we have all had tough experiences, times when we can’t think or breathe, where the world stops spinning for a brief period and all we want to do is turn back the clock so that we can “fix” what has happened, return to the time before heartache came knocking on the door. If we could slip into a time machine, we would avoid that car accident or change that foolish decision or save a loved one. We would make everything right again. But, of course, that’s not possible.
Sometimes, we are lucky. We get to fix things, start over, but sometimes we don’t. And at the risk of sounding like a cliché, that’s when you have to adjust your sails.
I am going to be perfectly honest here: having cancer is like being chased by a shadow. Even on cloudy days, it never goes away. In the still of the night, the ghosts and goblins come to visit, their raspy voices taunting you with questions about what lies ahead. You worry. And in truth, it can be a rather frightful mystery, because even the medical folks don’t have all of the answers. When cancer takes up residence in your body, it sits on your chest like a huge elephant, making every breath a chore. But that also makes each one a miracle.
I have learned that acceptance isn’t resignation. When you are able to recognize that a set of circumstances simply “are,” you have to give yourself the grace to actually feel the pain of the emotion and sit for a while with your sadness. But once that is done, you discover a strength you didn’t know you had. Seriously. Working through the difficulty of a challenging time is a process, one that is uniquely part of the human experience. But it is here that you discover who you are, that all the assumptions about your frailty are proven to be false. That’s pretty remarkable, if you ask me.
When uncertainty is replaced with hope, it brings with it a new reality. You begin to tentatively look at your tomorrows and allow yourself to think that you might just get to celebrate another birthday, plan another vacation, enjoy another holiday. You prioritize. Life looks different as you learn to make space for other experiences, and yes, it is also more precious.
I once heard that prayer is often followed by the conjunction “and.” It’s true. We pray and fast; we pray and take our medicine; we pray and wait for answers. I pray and remain optimistic. After all, on that fateful day in July, I was told my prognosis was grim, that my moments on this earth were numbered. Fortunately, God had other plans.
Cancer has been quite the plot twist in my life. That much I know. And while I thought that I had spent the past three years trying not to die, I think the reality is that I have spent them learning how to live. And that’s the blessing in the storm.
By the way…..
I wrote Ovacoming and Still Ovacoming to share my experiences as I continue to live with this disease. Both are available as a free download from Amazon today and tomorrow (July 3rd and 4th). You can read from any device with the Kindle app. (It’s free.) Follow the links below to claim your copy. If you have enjoyed them, please consider leaving a review, which makes the title more visible. And feel free to share it with others. My goal is to raise awareness of this devastating disease that affects the lives of so many women.