I am rapidly approaching the year “anniversary” of when I was diagnosed. I use the word anniversary reluctantly. I feel anniversaries are special occasions to be celebrated; the connotation is happy and joyful. There is definitely nothing happy or joyful about a cancer diagnosis. Yet, this seems to be the label with which society is accustomed.
It is not just the upcoming diagnosis date, but every test, doctor visit, surgery and treatment that consumed daily life last year. These are things that are in my rearview mirror, yet they are still close enough that I can glance back and see them.
There are times when we need to be reminded from where we have come, the struggles and trials God has seen us through. In Joshua chapter 4 the children of Israel were commanded to make a memorial from stones taken out of the river Jordan so that: “this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord ; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, … Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.” (Joshua 4:6-9)
For me, the memorial stones are represented by physical scars, emotions, memories and life lessons. As I glance back in the rearview mirror, I ask myself, “What do these stones mean to you?”.
The physical scars remind me of the battle for my life. The surgeries with multiple procedures, the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that changed the way my body looked, felt and operated. The physical fatigue and inability to carry out simple daily tasks of caring for myself and my family. Some of those effects have resolved themselves and others will forever scar my body as a reminder that I am a warrior, a fighter and I won the battle.
The emotions remind me the Word of God is more important that I had ever known or will ever understand. The battle against cancer is fought in the mind. Fear, anxiety and wild imaginations take root inside your thoughts and they are very hard to shake. The enemy will remind you of every reason you are unworthy of God’s love, protection and healing. But, the enemy didn’t count on my two secret weapons: my husband and God’s Word. My husband refused to allow my words or my thoughts to become negative or stray from the promises of God’s Word. I am still not sure how he knew when my thoughts were full of fear and worry, but he saw it in my eyes and on my face. Immediately he would say, “No, we aren’t going there. The devil is a liar. Remember that God said…”. There were days when he was working that I would have to read scripture literally second by second to keep the negative thoughts from overtaking my mind. The emotions don’t stop just because treatment ended. Every new ache or pain, news article about breast cancer, research that has failed in finding a treatment for triple negative breast cancer, every future plan made well in advance, every talk of grandkids and growing old sets off fear and anxiety of a recurrence. Those fears will always be in my rearview mirror, but I’ve learned God’s Word is so much more powerful and brings healing and life.
The memories of all my experiences help me to reach out to other breast cancer survivors. I have had several opportunities to speak with women who have just received their diagnosis or going through treatments. As I listen to them talk, I hear the fear and I remember. I remember each moment that I sat across from a doctor with bad news. I remember every waiting room and the countless minutes it took to be called back for my appointment. I remember the unknown of how treatment would feel or how it would effect me and how soon. I have to remember. If I lose those feelings I’ll fail to have empathy. If I lose empathy I’ll lose my ability to be understanding and compassionate. Remembering also affirms what God has done for me. I can not forget the miracle He gave to me. If I forget what He brought me through, then I will lose my gratitude and my praise.
The lessons I learned from the past year could probably fill an entire book. Most importantly I learned to give up control, lighten up and enjoy each moment as it happens. Honestly, these things are easier to do when you are in the middle of treatments. As time passes and the doctor visits grow further apart, it is instinct to pick up the baggage you laid down in the beginning. The difference now is that I know what it is like to give up control, let the unimportant things go without being argued and take in each sight, sound and smell as it happens. I slow myself down mentally when I am with my kids, so that I can recall those moments when they are gone and have families of their own. I also learned that some situations and people are toxic and when you identify it, you have to let it go out of your life. Often times that is easy but other times it is difficult to make changes when relationships or income is involved. Still, life is way too short and precious to waste it on stress and unhappiness.
The scars, emotions and memories of last year will always be in my rearview mirror. However, God has many new adventures waiting up the road in front of me. I do not know where I am going or what opportunities are along the way. I am just trusting Him and praying for miraculous experiences. I look back every now and then…but only for a glance.
Praying and Trusting!