Summer. The season that doesn’t last nearly as long as I would like it to. The season I wait for all winter. And it goes by way too quickly. As I look towards fall I get a little angsty. The grieving of the season not even done yet. Why can’t I just settle and be present and enjoy the day that is today? Why am I so concerned with what is next? I have come a long way over these past few years. The anniversary of a diagnosis of metastatic cancer is a bittersweet place to be. I am so grateful to be surviving. Thriving even. But it is still always there. Like an hourglass of unknown time allotment. Some days or weeks it can be paralyzing, this unknown. The thoughts that maybe this will be the year when the reality of recurrence comes back. It is not like it is ever very far from my mind, really, because every few weeks I see it in the faces of those who surround me in the infusion room. Or the passing of seasons. Or the passing of years. Or the passing of others, women with similar diagnosis’s.
Although the story we shared here started at one of the best and hardest places of my life, it is not one of the stories that best defines me. Prior to my diagnosis I was in a great place full of new potential. My older daughter was finding her way in her first big adult adventure (Marine Corps) and my younger was doing very well navigating her last couple of years of high school and thinking about future college plans. This was to be my year of peace. I had some really exciting things going on. A few years prior to this I had the opportunity to take a strengths workshop and to be coached in my strengths. It really resonated with me. I found myself wondering how this could also help others to see themselves in their original design- of value, strength and purpose. My educational background was in Social Work and Education. I worked in a few different settings and always found myself wanting to do more to help develop and encourage people. This strengths coaching made perfect sense to me. I had many conversations on this potential uses of strengths coaching with my strengths coach who also happens to be my supervisor. At the time we also became aware of the increasing number of hurting teens within our community. What if we could help teens reclaim their value and purpose and provide a little glimpse of hope? That first year we heard a handful of nos. Not because it wasn’t a good idea but because the climate at the schools was so sensitive that bringing in outsiders felt like a risk. Ok. So this dream and what was now becoming a passion point in my heart was put on the back burner. It seemed like a dream that would fester but never see fruition.
So we waited. We waited two years.
In the third year we met a staff person who was a catalyst. She totally understood the language and potential of strengths for students who maybe needed a little encouragement. We invited 6 students to participate. We didn’t know what brought them to the group and within the group they only shared what they wanted to. We saw this group become a safe place of discovering, sometimes for the first time, what these teens did well. How they saw the world. What they might hope to bring to the world one day. It was incredible. The next couple of years we expanded the group and added staff from the school as well as adding an elementary group to the mix. We had a blast. It was some of the toughest yet most rewarding work ever. My heart was full. It was incredible, seeing the impact on the students and adults as we all discovered a little bit more about our stories and developed our hearts of understanding for others. This felt like important work.
Then the diagnosis. Are you kidding me? No. This cannot be happening. Not only to me and my family but to this new program that I have waited to see come to reality. I had the hard task of telling my co-workers and my school team members that I was out for the year. I had made this decision as the mental toll was already heavy and adding tough chemo to the mix was more than I felt I could take on. Everyone was completely supportive. But it was agreed that this program would be on hold. Through tears, I made them promise that this is not the end of strengths in the schools. They promised that it wasn’t. (ok, I am sure they weren’t sure what that promise would look like…but they told me what I needed to hear)
That year was brutalizing in a number of ways. But some of the worst of the pain was emotional. Sitting on the sidelines to be still and focus on your own health and wellbeing is really hard. Being pulled out of your passion areas to complete treatments and surgeries that you aren’t given any great certainty of success, is hard. The odds were weighed against me. There were so many unknowns in this. Probably realized more now, in hindsight, than at the time. There were so many things that could go sideways in treatment for cancer. The side effects of treatment can be harsh. The change in my body physically could be tough to maneuver. The potential for complications post-surgery were there. The emotional upheaval of realizing that you may be in your final few years messes with your mind and throws you into chaos at unexpected moments.
But I knew I needed to be still. To be patient. To hunker down. To be as peace-filled as possible.
It was the moment of realizing that I was so not in control. The realization that I never really was. That it would be ok. It really would be even if it didn’t go the way I would plan. It was a time that started out so hard and jarring as I fought back against this loss of the control I thought I had and ending in a place of peaceful surrender. Surrender sounds like giving up but it is anything but. It is a place of trust and knowing that I didn’t have to have it all figured out. That I could trust in the moment. That I could be still enough to realize that there were things that happened in advance of this that made this more bearable. My relationships were in a good place. My kids were safe and resilient. My vision of strengths in the schools was starting to be realized. I could rest in all of this. I realized that even in the bad, I could trust God to be good. I am not saying that He brought this into my life. Nope. But He knew it would be part of my story. He prepared my heart to be able to be still. I felt a lot like Peter. If I kept my focus on the face of Jesus I felt the courage to go forward in this uncertain space. When I looked at the reality of googled stats or listened to the horror stories told of surgeries and treatment gone wrong, I would panic, flail and gasp for breath. There were still tears, grief, confusion, hurt and all those complicated emotions and thoughts. But I was not alone.
As Pat shared, it was a good thing that I had cleared the deck as we hobbled our way through that next year.
I was where I needed to be. I needed to be there for conversations with my girls, or just physically present and not saying a word. I needed to be with my husband and to squeeze the life out of this time because that was important. I needed to have time with friends. Laughing at what may seem inappropriate settings of hospitals and infusion labs. Drinking up the unexpected moments of pure joy. The ones that surprise you to the point of tears running down your face. Of gratitude in a dry desert place where manna falls and you take in what you need for each day. Not worrying and scurrying around to horde enough for the next year. But gathering and taking in enough for this day.
This is where my strengths of Belief and Connectedness pulled together and enabled me to seek out the things I couldn’t see. I needed to find my anchor and to be able to see the picture beyond that in front of me.