PERSONAL : What They Don't Tell You About Cancer

 

When I woke up this morning, this post wasn't even on my mind. In fact, I didn't really know if I'd ever be able to write about this topic. But something in my heart this morning shifted. Emotions flooded in. And my mind is lost in thoughts and personal gratitude abounds. This week in particular has held so much joy as AND insurmountable fear over the years. It's the anniversary week of...

  • Meeting Stephen for the first time (2011)
  • Saying goodbye to Stephen - after becoming like best friends - for what I thought would be the last time (2012)
  • When I first considered not going back to college (2012)
  • When I didn't get a job that I, at the time, thought was my dream job (2013)
  • My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (2014)
  • When I traveled home to help my mom recover from a double mastectomy (2015)

And today? Today I'm sitting on my screened-in porch, sipping coffee, overwhelmed with 5 years of emotions. Life has, seemingly, gone back to normal. I could write a blog series on each listed above. But that time hasn't come.

Rather, I'd like to share openly a few thoughts about my Mom's journey with breast cancer. What life doesn't tell you about cancer, how to deal with it, and a few a few tips you can apply if you know someone who's walking this journey, currently.

  • It's not so much about the hair as it is about femininity. The questions of, "Am I lovely?" still remain and are heightened because of the lack of hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Yes, it was horrible. Yes, it rattled all of us. Battling breast cancer feels more like an attack on what it means to be female. Is it really about assets? Or is it about the heart of a woman that's captivating? It was difficult, but my mom found & now lives out that deeper answer.
     
  • For the record, cutting out newspaper articles about breast cancer is not helpful. Especially when the article ends with, "and she lost that battle." Have a positive survivor story to share or don't share at all. It's about relating well, not talking to fill the air. Of course, we all mean well. But think before you speak (preaching to the choir).
     
  • Sometimes you just have to talk it out. The anger. The fear. The unknowns. And then the practicals. If you're on the listening end, just listen. Don't take anything personally. And please, don't try to fix anything. Regardless of the diagnoses, EACH diagnoses is different and will react differently. Most likely, the person diagnosed and the family members are raw with fear. I'm so grateful for friends who just listened - without judgement.
  • You still have your mind. It's perfectly okay to get second, third, and fourth opinions. And in addition to those, you can research yourself. My mom's insatiable appetite for learning all she could about cancer - particular to her genetic makeup & diagnoses - was inspiring to witness. What was a lack of will in the past became overachieving resolve to fight this battle. She simply had no other choice. Because of this, life as we knew it changed. Label reading. Soy free everything. Organic as much as possible. Active, healthy living. & Vitamin C shots after each chemo treatment. We all have been better for it.
     
  • Loneliness: No one tells you how, after about 2 months, everyone who initially offered to help, kind of moves on. And that's okay and normal. But no one tells you how lonely that might feel. We think, "oh, they're in the routine of chemo rounds and doing as best as they can." But consistent friendship & nights-out-on-the-town do more than you know.

There is much more I could write. But this has become quite long already.

If you've skimmed everything else, READ this:

What they don't tell you about cancer is the crazy opportunity it gives you. Your capacity as a human being expands. There's now a whole new circle of people to relate with, walk with, and rejoice or grieve with. But more than that, cancer gives you more than enough reasons to reconcile the past and be filled with gratitude for what you have, now, in the present. The biggest change in my mom and dad? Gratefulness. Tenderness. More joy. And falling in love all over again because it's EACH OTHER that matters. Not skin. Not hair. But each other.

It's still scary sometimes. But that's where the Lord comes in. He never promised us that we wouldn't experience hardships or rage-inducing-diagnoses, but He did promise that He would be there throughout it all. That we wouldn't be alone. And that makes all the difference.

So here's to Mom (and dad). You're a champ. I love you. And I'm grateful that this May holds brighter days than last. Can't wait to come home soon. And that during that trip, we will hang with Stephen - the guy I thought I was saying goodbye to...

Always,
--Tara M.
Daughter of a Breast Cancer Survivor