Coming Out on the Other Side
"For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction."-Cynthia Occelli
I rang in 2022 recovering from my 7th surgery in the last four years, four of them being in the last year alone. Surgery recovery quickly took a backseat to me trying to wrap my head around a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. Shockingly, cancer was found in my lower spine, but fortunately for me, only in one spot on my L5 vertebrae. I've been schooled in what it means to be Oligometastatic, something I knew NOTHING about until I guess I had to. I now have an army of women that I've learned from and have grown alongside, all of us on an intense crash course in survivorship and survival. These women are my peers, my guides and my truth tellers. In a million years, I never imaged my fate would have me breaking the news to my children that cancer had crept back into our lives a second time. Those early days of the new year, it took all of my energy to try to come to grips with the idea that my days could be numbered, but held tight to the hope that maybe, just maybe I wouldn't have to say goodbye too soon. I knew right away that I could use this situation as an opportunity to grow, to come undone and heal the parts of me that weren't quite fixed from the first time I was told I had cancer. Like that seed, I allowed myself this time around, to completely break. Enduring destruction was then followed by working my ass off to put just enough of the pieces back together that I might bloom into something far better than anything I have yet experienced in my lifetime. Two days ago, after a long day of tests and scans, I received the news that I have "No Evidence of Active Disease". Clear freaking scans.....it wasn't a loud shouting 'hooray' kind of moment, but rather a teary eyed, 'thank you'.
I wish people understood how hard it is show up and fight so hard for your life. Cautious optimism exists in order to be hopeful that treatment is succeeding, but also protect you from the possibility that it isn't. It's constant fight or flight and boy does it take its toll on you body, mind and spirit. I wouldn't have survived these past months and honestly years, without the support of my tribe and the crucial conversations I've had with my healers. I'm beyond grateful that there are people in this world who are solely there not to fix you, but to help you fix yourself.
I still have challenges to deal with. I will continue with my daily oral chemo and my monthly injections. For now, I will have scans every three months and work through the fear, hope and faith it takes to face these moments with as much confidence and acceptance as I can. I'm excited about just taking a breath and feeling a little bit of peace. This has been nonexistent in my life for quite some time. I am already dreaming, planning and excited to take the first steps into the rest of my life. I'm relieved, so relieved. I'm grateful and I'm just so happy that treatment has worked. As happy and joyful as I am though, Survivor's Guilt is hitting me pretty hard right now. I so desperately want to stay in this state of "no evidence of disease", but I can't for the life of me understand why others aren't here with me. I know you, I see you and I'm still here fighting for you, too. I vow to all of us that my work here is not done. I will keep advocating on all levels so that we can all experience positive outcomes...that is my purpose, I'm certain.
Finally, I want to share just one experience from scan day that was a reminder of how far I've come. There have been times during this journey of mine where I have felt pretty abandoned by God. I didn't feel his presence and I couldn't understand why. I've worked so hard on this! I found myself lying on the table during my bone scan calling on my angels. I have been told that they are there, even when I think they are not. The machine wasn't working and I was held in an uncomfortable position for longer than I should have. I was honestly about going out of my mind when the techs told me that they were going to start over. It was either panic attack time or....I decided to assign each angel I could feel around me with a special request. I asked one to help keep me calm, one to help the health care workers get the information they needed. I asked one to help my doctor interpret the results and one to help keep my dad who was in the waiting room, calm. Finally, I asked one very special angel to always stay with me and to help me through the good or the bad. Five! That's five angels I could feel around me. This coming from the girl who felt none, well, it felt like a breakthrough. This, my friends, is progress. What's even more amazing is that a little over a week ago, I miraculously stumbled upon a gift. I have often wondered what my mom would say to me knowing that my life has been such a struggle lately. Her battle with Alzheimer's really limits what our conversations are like these days, although I know, without a doubt, that she is always right here with me every step of the way. Out of nowhere, I found a journal that I had gifted to her thirteen years ago when she was going through treatment for breast cancer. Her words fuel my soul and have given me exactly what I've needed to get me to where I am today. She was quoting Edward Kennedy from his book True Compass. Mom wrote:
"Every single one of us, if we are awake to the brokenness of the world and of our lives, wonders at some point, How could you allow this, O God? I believe, but help me in my unbelief! And these questions, this wonder, this pain and this pleading know no bounds of faith-for the simple, hard fact is that God plays no favorites; that we all suffer, that we all die, that at one time or another, we all shake our fists at God; and that if we are lucky, we all come home to God in the end. Thomas Carlyle said, 'I had a lifelong quarrel with God, but we made up in the end'."
Big deep breath from me, thank you Mama.
Thank you for your love, support, prayers and friendship. I know this journey is long and has so many twists and turns. I'm forever grateful that you're still here with me, helping me to fly. My wings, your wings, our wings....Keep on Killing It-M