The air in the room instantly became thick and hot, her ears hearing only her crashing heart beat; four unexpected words spoken in a sterile environment now bouncing through her head like a ping pong ball – “you have breast cancer”. How she receives, processes and walks through today and the months and years ahead will transform her and impact everyone her life touches.
The insidious leviathan called “breast cancer” begins to surface, having already begun its rampage within the territory belonging to her. Does she run or fight? Her first responses to this attack are terror, numbness and inability to move. But soon instructions, research and information are received and the sword is offered; now decisions loom. The still surreal question before her – surrender to this monster’s fiery breath or take that sword with both hands, brace her feet and prepare to move forward into the fight of her life?
This devouring disease looms as a possible destroyer over every woman. There is no discrimination to its destruction – all are at risk. Every year over 200,000 women are faced with this monster’s appearance. Every year the decision to take up a sword of defense is forced into trembling hands of women of all generations – the single woman, the mother, the career woman, and the retired woman. They all will receive a “call-to-arms” that was never expected. This battle is one that is a life-long sentence! These women may make it through the skirmish, but will live everyday for the rest of their lives with this leviathan and its smoldering breath lurking under the surface; never knowing if it will resurface again.
Two brave warriors: Cherrie, a vibrant grandmother in her 60’s, and Rachael, a single mother of two in her 30’s, live each day with this lurking monster’s presence, but they walk with positive attitudes of thankfulness. The determination to fight – to lift the heavy sword – is wielded by three powerful words that stand strong within each of them: Faith, Hope and Love – the greatest of these is LOVE.
Each of my friends and every woman who will encounter, fight, survive or succumb to this insidious disease are already winners, for they have made the stand against it. How the battle is fought is the key – it is the positive attitude within them that knows that they were made for more.
At 64, the unexpected jolts in Cherrie’s life had adjusted to a soft daily roll. But one morning in March 2011, everything in her life quickly changed. As an exuberant positive person not much could shake her; but as the doctor spoke she barely heard anything past “stage 1a breast cancer”. This was a routine mammogram that now had turned into a tidal wave crashing over her mind. Shock, fear, anger, and tears all flooded unbidden over her, but within minutes the destructive wake stirred a determination as she announced, “Let’s get this taken care of NOW!”
Her years of experience and research skills immediately kicked into gear. Her first contacts and rapid response came from friends working in the local hospital. They connected her to some of the best cancer specialists and within weeks she was scheduled to have a lumpectomy and begin a regiment of radiation.
Though her greatest fears were of the cancer spreading or cells being left undetected, she knew her positive attitude had to stay intact.
Cherrie was overwhelmed with love and support from her daughter, granddaughter and friends; this love became her strength. Shortly after surgery she received a surprise visit from co-workers touting pink roses and champagne to celebrate, cheer her on and stand beside her – just in case she grew tired as she wielded this heavy sword. They were in her corner to fight this fire-breathing leviathan – they knew this red head had enough fire in her to breathe right back at him. Their support, encouragement and love were what helped her through the hardest days. The very best medicine is often found in friends – laughter, love and of course some “furry” snuggles.
Now 5 years cancer-free, Cherrie knows that love was the reinforcement she needed every day, “To be with those who were positive and loved me unconditionally kept my hope up. ”
This destructive tsunami hits new women every day, but from one warrior to the next, Cherrie’s advice is “above all else try to remain positive, it is frightening but necessary to be optimistic. Put your trust in your medical team BUT ask questions at every opportunity. If you need help – ask for it! The people who love you sometimes don’t know how to help – so tell them.” And with a smile and some sweet levity Cherrie advises, “be thankful for Lane Bryant push up lingerie – I am!”
Rachel, a 34 year-old mother of two with no risk factors, was unprepared to hear the results of the recently found rapidly growing and painful lump on her breast. As the doctor diagnosed, “It’s an invasive aggressive cancer”, the words sounded as if a death sentence had just been handed to her – this aggressive cancer could mean less then a year to live. Within weeks, armed with firsthand encouragement and research, she chose her best option for surgery and a double mastectomy, lymph-node removal and implantation of expanders were accomplished.
Life as she had known it had come to a screeching halt – surgery, weeks of chemo and a myriad of medications took over her life with her biggest fear looming in front of her – her two young sons without a mother.
Rachel lives a life that is positive – always looking at the best in life and others, so it was time to focus that positive attitude on the fight of her life.
Family stepped up! With her sister’s ability to research healthy options in every arena and help with her boys, as well as her mother’s strong shoulder and prayer warrior spirit – she found the fuel that helped her make the decisions to fight this leviathan. The onslaught of support through kind words, prayers, and gifts of all types overwhelmed her with love and hope that she would complete this journey.
With months of pain, medications that made her sick, loss of her hair, setbacks, surgeries and more surgeries, as well as living through months of hormone inhibitors which made her feel dead inside, this young warrior responded, “Giving up was never an option or a thought. No matter what I am facing and going through, God has given me this life and it is His to give and take away. My goal is love, truth and kindness – even on the hardest days.”
Now only months since her last medications, she thoughtfully responds, “I am still often tired, but grateful for each day with my sons. I’m lucky to be alive, even though I still have pain and hard days.”
She thinks often of those who unexpectedly helped her in many of the little everyday ways – providing meals, finances, occupying the boys, and a myriad of thoughtful gestures. She is filled with joy as she sees the example of God’s grace having been walked out in her family – seeing them come together, reconcile differences and support both her and each other has been an unexpected blessing.
Life is never the same and this battle is never really over. Once you have cancer it is always lurking. The thoughts that ring loud and clear from Rachel are “before this, the world and life felt so big – full of wonder and possibilities. Now I don’t feel that way. Hopes and dreams are simple now, but I have deeper peace and security. I’m able to be more honest and direct. My relationships are all simple because I’m at peace with others and myself. I don’t place expectations on anyone and I allow myself to have weakness and space to rest.”
Rachel’s thoughts for those beginning and fighting this battle are to walk daily with “Focus- Laser focus! Focus on what is in front of you right now. Whether it is a person, a project, decision, pain, recovery, gift, blessing, sunshine, or storm – all you have is right now. Soak it in. Also, every step is temporary, whether good or bad. Pain comes and goes and healing takes its place.”
Though cancer takes over every thought in this journey, it is not what defines these women – they have not chosen this battle and have no control as to how, why or when it attacks – but they do have a choice; how they respond to it.
Loving support and prayer are the covering and glue that seem to hold together as well as strengthen body, mind and spirit while these warriors trudge through this darkness.
Human beings are able to pick up, move-on and overcome so many horrific obstacles in life because of three seemingly small words: Faith, Hope and Love. Faith that there is a God bigger than all of this, who loves us and is the ultimate one in control; Hope that our life (our story) is not finished yet, and that there is still a promised future waiting for us. And the greatest of these – love. A love that will change, support and bring life, growth and strength to the atmosphere that surrounds us. Love is the adhesive that is the key to any type of recovery.
Let’s come along side these fighting warriors with faith, hope and love; bringing some small strength to them as they fight this insidious leviathan. For we know not if we may be the next warrior in need of strength to lift the sword in the fight of our life, as its lurking presence may beckon our own unexpected call-to-action.