The Day I Was “Blessed” With Unexpected News

I have been asking my mom to write a bit about her story.  I am sooo thankful she was willing to share.. 

Most people probably wouldn’t entitle a blog that way considering the unexpected news was Stage 2b breast cancer, with 20 lymph nodes removed, it had been in 11 of them.  And, honestly, if I had written this five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have entitled this blog a blessing either.  But that was five years ago…..

As a little bit of background on myself, I should explain I have a reputation for being a tough lady and “life” survivor, having come from an alcoholic fueled and abusive childhood. I didn’t succumb to that though as an adult…instead, it pushed me to change my future.  I had zero control as a child, so I had to let that go.  But what I did have control of was my future.  I knew from an early age that my life would be different and my children would have a healthy, stable environment, abundance of love and all the security they would need to become healthy minded, loving and productive adults.  I would not repeat that pattern of growing up…..I would break that cycle.   

And somehow, through the grace of God, I did.  Life is about timing so often. So, I don’t take full credit for changing my future.   But more than that, it’s about faith and hope.  In other words, the stars have to align for a cycle to be broken.  Some luck, lots of determination and surrounding yourself with positive, Christian and loving people…..and never ever giving up!  That becomes your new family. Not by plan intentionally, but it ended up being who I was drawn to…positive, uplifting people.   And I’m thankful for each and every one of those friends that mentored me or picked me up and carried me when I didn’t think I could do it anymore.  Having left home at 17, senior year of high school, I went to school a half-day and worked two jobs to pay my bills.  But it was better than going home.  I never then, nor today, look at that as anything special.  It was just the next step in my taking control of my life.  Hard…absolutely.  Tears…nearly everyday.  Scared…only of being alone at night at 17.  Nothing about the future looked scary to me, or daunting.  Again, just the next step in finding happiness.  I look back now and have no idea how I did it.  But, with determination and the mindset of accepting nothing less than finding happiness and a different life, it felt natural.  I think that it’s all in how we look at the future that makes it seem daunting, or it doesn’t.  We get to choose.  

Mom in High School (in white) - Prom 1976

Mom in High School (in white) - Prom 1976

That brings me to the news of five years ago.  Life was going along pretty normal when I felt the lump.  I didn’t panic, because I never panicked about things.  But with the mammogram the next day, came the semi tractor-trailer that hit me.  A kind and sweet older lady was looking at her screen while she performed the mammogram.  At the end, she asked if she could say a prayer for me.  I cried and bowed my head.  It was a beautiful gesture, but honestly I don’t remember a word of the prayer.  My heart stopped and my pulse raced, because she told me what I feared the most…by only asking me if she could pray. 

The next couple of weeks were filled with tears, doctor’s appointments, fears, confusion…and finally the planning.  When I got the definite news it was cancer, my first reaction through my tears was…but, I have so much to teach my grandkids...and my daughter was a senior in high school, I wanted to at least see her off to college.    For some reason, all the fight and positivity I had practiced all my life went out the window. I was numb and crying, when a wise nurse told me that as soon as I had a “plan” I would feel better.  The plan came. And she was right.  It’s because I had some control of something. I knew what my decision would be…bilateral mastectomy.  I wanted them both gone.  If “they” were what was standing between being here for my family or not…take them…sooner rather than later.  And then of course, six rounds of chemotherapy, once every three weeks, to be followed by 33 straight days of radiation.  We chose a wig in preparation.  Made it a fun experience.  But when the hair fell out, I was devastated.  By far the toughest part of it all.  I didn’t know who was looking back at me in the mirror.  No hair, no eyelashes or eyebrows.  No breasts and horrible scars across my chest.  The only way I could get through my showers was by putting on a Christian CD my good friend made me and crying and praying. THEN…I pulled myself together, put my wig on and drew on my eyebrows, and went on to start my day.  Well, my shower was usually followed by reading devotionals and bible versus that sustained me even more first…then, I was ready for the day.   I have kept my granddaughter every Tuesday since she was a baby so that my son, Craig, could take his night classes.  I only missed those Tuesdays on the week of chemo.  The rest of the time, I carried on with keeping her.  I even prepared Thanksgiving dinner and had a house full of family.  Was it easy, no.  I had the chemo brain they warn you about.  It’s real.  Its like walking on a cloud and feeling constantly like an out of body experience for everything I did.  And memory loss was there too.

Mom with her “wig” …always smiling (2010)

Mom with her “wig” …always smiling (2010)

On one particular day, Craig stopped by to see me.  I got emotional at the sight of him.  After teaching him to pull himself up by the bootstraps and get going his whole life, when I had the chance to “show” him how that’s done….I failed.  I crumbled in his arms.  He wasn’t tolerant at all, and that crushed me.  He told me I had to stop crying, and that I had overcome anything I wanted to growing up…when all I wanted was for him to hold me.  It hurt me then…but I now know that he had grown up just like me.  We weren’t going to cave to anything.  We needed to fight.  Where was MY fight?  I always had fight.  But I figured it out.  All my life from age 17 and on, I had complete control of my life.  For the first time ever, I didn’t.  It was in God’s hands and my doctors and medicine.  That’s a hard thing to swallow when you don’t recognize who you are by the way you are handling things.  I thought, I’m not strong at all, I’m weak.  Why don’t I do what I always did…march on?  But again, I had zero control.  So, I decided to get dressed every day and not let anyone see how badly I felt.  I faked it for almost a year.  Church, my Christian CD, my devotionals and Bible, the calls, the cards, the texts, and family and friends were my strength.  And that’s what I leaned on to do what I could not do myself.  Faith and hope and love.  It sustains us all.  

My hair has grown back, my chemo brain is gone and I’ve even had the chance to be another friend’s strength when she was diagnosed.  But my biggest blessing from getting this news came in the appreciation for every thing I used to think I appreciated.  My husband, Pat.  He’s my rock, my love, my everything.  I would have never made it without him.  He took in sickness and in health to a whole new level.  He saw me at my physically worst self I could be and my weakest emotional self and loved me through it all.  I see him in a different light today when I didn’t think I could love him anymore than I already did.  That’s a blessing.  I see and hear everything my grandkids say and do.  Literally…it’s like their voices are amplified and their kisses are sweeter.  I revel in the admiration for both my children, Craig and Lauren.  I’m so blessed to be here today to see them live out their passions and be such wonderful, loving adults.  Both of them inspire me every single day!  That’s a blessing.  I have more patience.  That’s a blessing.  I see the good in everyone.  That’s a blessing.  I would rather be with my family or travel, then have anything I could buy.  That’s a blessing.  I don’t sweat the small things, as they say.  That’s a blessing.  

I’m more in tune with gratefulness to Him everyday when I wake up.  A life of gratitude instead of hecticness and stress.  That’s a blessing.  My life is like a rebirth…it is full of love and happiness from my heart to others.  That’s a blessing.   I love and I am loved.  I am happy and I am healthy.  I am grateful.  Not everything about a diagnosis is bad…we just have to “be still” as my daughter Lauren says when she needs to lean on God for guidance.  We just need to be still.  

I’ll end with sharing two things that friends gave me that I often pass on…..

One sent a bible verse of a story of Jesus feeding the people.  He didn’t give them a loaf of bread; he gave them “a slice a day”.  I taped that to my mirror and every day after my shower I would look in the mirror and ask God for just one slice of bread today.  And then thanked Him.

Secondly, a friend sent a card that had a profound handwritten note in it.  She was a cancer survivor herself.

She said….there is a great life after cancer.  

I say, Amen!