Although my mother had died of breast cancer nearly 30 years earlier, my own diagnosis of breast cancer was still a shock. My fabulous team of doctors – surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist – took on my course of treatment and my family, friends, and faith took on my healing. My surgeries left me weak. My chemotherapy left me fatigued, sick, mentally challenged, and often unable to turn my head on my pillow; it also gave me time to pray, reflect on the important and precious things in my life, accept the incredible care giving of my family, and to relish the many hugs, warm wishes, and assistance from my friends. As a woman, wife, and mother, my very being shouted: “But I’m the nurturer! I’m the caregiver.” But I simply wasn’t superwoman. Probably the best guidance I was given is that it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to accept help. And I was tired. So tired. And I was grateful for every meal prepared by someone else for my family; for my husband learning his way around the kitchen and attempting to keep house; for my liar children telling me that I looked fine bald; for my friends who held my hand and took me to chemo and encouraged me daily; for my survivor friends who led the way; and, most of all, for the prayers lifted by my friends, my husband, my children, their friends, and many people I had not and have not met. I felt the strong and healing presence of Christ who walked this journey with me, carrying me when I could not go another step and smiling when I grabbed His hand and walked with His courage. I wouldn’t describe the journey as fun, but it was a passage I surely needed and now appreciate. I learned courage, peace, humility, patience, strength, joy, and deep abiding faith and love. I am thankful for God’s mercy and love for I am not always strong or patient or content. I am thankful for my family and friends who walked me through this journey, guiding me and supporting me in so many ways. And they still do.
Like you, I am a survivor. Some say that you become a survivor the day you are diagnosed with cancer. I was determined from day one to walk this challenging journey with grace and strength. Now, I am blessed with so many of the outcomes that are only found when we experience deep seated suffering or distress, and we know that God is guiding us through it. Today, I stop to genuinely listen and enjoy the birds singing, the overheard musings of my toddling grandson, the rain rhythmically pinging on my window, my husband running up the steps to greet me, the multiple conversations of friends at shared dinners, the stories only my survivor friends can tell, and God telling me over and over, “You are mine and I still have great purpose for you.” I am thankful to be well, to be mothering my family again, to offer a hand to others facing this journey, to love and be loved by my family, to walk every day with Christ, and to have so many amazing friends I would have never known without this journey to survivorship.
We are not alone. There are countless survivors – caring and thriving survivors – throughout this great world. I have a friend who says we may have cancer by chance, but we have our friends by choice. I am truly blessed.