Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.
This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.









Does Prayer Work?

I recently read a call for blogs on the topic: “Does prayer work?’

Since it’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought about this question as it related to my breast cancer diagnosis.

Since that experience, my answer to the question of whether prayer works is, “It depends.”

If we believe praying is as easy as placing an Amazon Prime order, we might be disappointed to learn it might not work like that.

I learned to pray as soon as I could talk. So, when I heard I had cancer, my natural instinct was to pray.

Truthfully, I felt like I was begging God more than praying to Him, like I was pulling at His holy robes and saying, “Stop this from happening!”

Before cancer, I would have said unequivocally that God answers our prayers.

As I plodded through months of cancer treatments, however, my knowledge and understanding of prayer changed. Praying didn’t deliver the results I wanted.

I believed Jesus’ promises – ask and “it shall be given, seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

I thought I was doing my part – asking, seeking, knocking; then asking, seeking, and knocking some more. So, why wasn’t God answering my prayers? Clearly He knew that I desperately needed His help.

I prayed from the beginning that the “abnormality” they found would be benign. It was malignant and I needed a lumpectomy.

I prayed for a clean removal of the tumor with no cancer in the surrounding tissue. It invaded the surrounding tissue and I needed a mastectomy.

I prayed that cancer wouldn’t travel to the lymph nodes, so that I wouldn’t have chemotherapy. It was found in my lymph nodes and I was scheduled for months of chemotherapy. Just reading and hearing about all the side effects made my brain numb.

I felt prayed out.

I didn’t know what to ask of God anymore.

It was a hard truth for me to accept that God did not want to save me from cancer.

In my state of bewilderment and grief, I asked Doug, “Why did God give me cancer and why isn’t He answering our prayers?”

He said, “God doesn’t sit up in heaven and deal out cancer cards or any other kind of terrible cards. Some things just happen. Maybe God dealt you a growth card and He expects you to learn and grow from this. Maybe you should just be asking God to help you respond well.”

Respond well to cancer? What would that look like?

I decided it would look a lot like Christ’s ultimate prayer — ”Thy will be done.”

I began to understand that God could give me strength, courage, determination, an excellent medical team, supportive friends and family, and even medications and treatments to help me survive, but He couldn’t rescue me from what amounted to a test of living in a mortal world where surprises and disappointments are just part of being human.

In my case, it was a matter of understanding the definition of prayer, which according to my Bible Dictionary is, “the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other…Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”

If we expect answers to prayers like we expect Amazon purchases to arrive within two days and come with a satisfaction guarantee, then we might be disappointed.

If we expect to receive the grace to respond well to life’s challenges and heartaches, then, yes, prayer works.

If we expect God to change us instead of expecting Him to change our circumstances, prayer works.  

Like I said, it all depends…