“You have cancer.”
Stunned and shaken by these three words, I dropped into one of the wood kitchen chairs.
My surgeon’s voice wafted through the phone, “Are you okay?”
I’m not sure how I responded – I felt numb and adrift, separated from reality.
I must have said something because the surgeon began to describe the findings and options for the next steps. My brain was incapable of holding onto rational thought. I knew that if I didn’t write down what I heard, I’d never recall what he said. I frantically motioned to my husband to find paper and a pencil so I could take notes. My hands shook as I scribbled quickly to capture his words.
When I hung up the phone about ten minutes later, I felt like I was dead in the water with no land in sight. With my heart in my stomach, I looked up at my husband with tears in my eyes. He reached out as I stood, and we held each other tight, trying to fathom the impact those three words would have on our lives.
I wish I’d never heard those words, but I did, and they changed my life forever. And in some ways, they changed my life for the good.
Yes, there was the bad. I had endless tests, multiple surgeries, and chemotherapy. I lost all my hair, except for four eyelashes and a few eyebrow hairs. But cancer taught me to look on the bright side, I didn’t have to do something I despised–shave my legs.
I’m generally not good at jokes, but now I have a joke to share with people. When I realized I would need reconstructive surgery following the mastectomy, I chose to have “tram flap reconstruction” to my right breast. It involved taking part of my abdomen and tunneling it up to become my new right breast. So now, when the opportunity arises, I share this information with people and tell them that when I’m hungry my breast growls. At first, most people are shocked, and then they burst out laughing. Cancer taught me that laughter is good medicine.
So when you experience rough seas in life, and you will, I hope you’ll remember:
1. Surround yourself with support
Following the diagnosis, my husband and I ran ourselves aground on a deserted island. We didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, so we kept the news to ourselves and a few key people. It was a lot to navigate on our own. It wasn’t until we received the test results from the 2nd surgery, indicating the cancer extended further than we thought, that we opened up to our friends and extended family. When we finally shared the news we received nothing but encouragement and support.
God designed us to support each other. Genesis 2:18 tells us we are not created to live in isolation. Even Jesus surrounded himself with his inner circle and followers. During the midnight watch, when he faced the greatest trial of his life, he took his closest friends to support him. If Jesus needed his closest friends and supporters, you can be sure you do too.
“Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow.”
2. Praise is powerful
I’ve always been a worshiper, but this season was different. Because I had no control over this situation, I became utterly dependent on God. Along with that came a heart of praise like I’d never had before. Cancer taught me to lean into the promises of God and treasure the times of praise and worship, whether in my car, at home, or church.
I’ll never forget the time spent with a precious group of women who came to my home for a time of praise and worship. Several months had passed and I had no idea how long it would be before I could put it all behind me. During our time together, we laughed, cried, prayed and praised. It was a beautiful moment and brought great encouragement.
Most importantly, it brought the presence of God into this challenging situation.
Giving praise, even in the hardest of times, changed me. It brought joy, peace, comfort, and confidence in my Creator. I believe it resulted in supernatural healing as the power of praise coursed through my veins as the chemotherapy drugs spread through my body. Where the physical indicated death, the spiritual brought life. One of my personal favorites was Oceans (Where Feet May Fall).
Praise defeats the enemy. When you feel like you can’t face the wind and waves of life on your own, remember there is power in praise.
“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!”
Exodus 15:2 NLT
3. Treasure the time
You never know when you’ll experience the next hurricane-force storm in your life, and you have to deal with the aftermath. It may be the wakeup call you need to assess your priorities.
For years my focus was on my career. I was successful by most people’s standards, but it caused my family to suffer. The number of hours I spent at the office meant I frequently wasn’t home until after they had dinner.
Making time to be present for events like the choir, and other activities with our teen children was important to me. But even that left much to be desired. Sometimes I would show up in my skirted suit and heels, ready to head back to the office when the game or event was over.
My husband and children were precious to me, but I was missing the boat on spending quality time with them.
I’m fortunate. I was able to overcome cancer, because cancer taught me to make life changes, and move on to a better life. Not everyone does.
I became a better wife, mom, and friend, and I significantly changed my priorities. Not perfect. But better.
I want to encourage you to treasure each day and every moment. Find a quiet place and evaluate how you spend your time. Then ask yourself, are you happy with what you discovered, or are there changes you’d like to make? If so, set course to change your heading, one wave at a time, and live life to the fullest.
Trust me, it’s worth it.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Ps 90:12 NIV
If you are weathering some rough seas right now and need somebody on deck alongside you, I’d be honored to help. I’d love to share some helps I learned while riding the wild waves in my own life. Cancer taught me storms seem less dark and scary with someone by our side.
God loves you and “goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” You are not alone. (Deuteronomy 31:6)