Three years ago yesterday my whole world stopped. For a split second anyway. Before it was thrust into a strange slow-motion, fast-forward kaleidoscope of cancer treatment and regrets for a future with my children that might never be.
Is there and other phrase that has the same effect as "it's cancer"? What powerful, life-changing words those are. Normally I would think news of a close friend or relative's diagnosis would be worse than your own. But after careful consideration, I think it's far, far worse if it is oneself. Particularly, if you happen to be the mother of young children.
When I heard the words for the first time my heart stopped. Confirmation. My worst fear. I cried.
Was I crying for myself? The prospect of death. The stress of all the medical tests. The relief of finally knowing. The fear of an unknown future.
Was I crying for my kids? Losing their mother at such young ages (that was the only end I could see for them). The confusion and pain they would feel because of me. The scars they would always carry. How those scars would change their lives.
Was I crying for my mother? Hearing that one of your children may die (not a certainty in her context for some reason). Bearing powerless witness as the child you created fights for survival. The pain that would cause - the unnecessary burden.
All those thoughts rushed through my head at once, scorching a path as they passed. Quickly in and out. Shock left in their wake. Mental paralysis. Yet my fingers started typing. As the doctor's voice relayed test numbers and statistics through the phone to some walled-off portion of my brain, I tapped off an email to co-workers. "It's cancer." Even in shock I knew it would be less painful to type than to speak those dreaded words.
I don't know how long that call lasted, but there was a tight wall of support behind me as I put the phone in its cradle. I couldn't turn around. I felt marked. Marked for death. An object of pity. Not strong. Weak - in constitution and capability. A failure. I ran away from their concern like a coward .
All through my treatment, I never successfully shook those initial feelings of failure and weakness. I'd failed to remain healthy. I'd failed as a wife; cashing in the vows from our marriage. In sickness and health. Till death do us part. I'd failed as a mother. Would I see my boys grown? Would I leave Danny with a father stretched too thin from providing and filling both parental roles to adequately see to his therapies and education?
Yet I survived.
Chemotherapy made me realize what strength is... and that I have it. It gave me time to work through that onus of weakness and failure. Time to realize that God's plan was perfect - even for my children. Even if it means that they may have to live without me someday. It gave me time to appreciate my husband for the man that he is and not the one I sometimes wish he was. And to be grateful for those in my life that have always been there for me, and even more that stepped out of shadows and into my life. Mostly, it gave me time to acknowledge my life, my loves and my future... in all its incarnations.
I am so pleased to be here three years and one day later. I am proud of the journey I've made. I am grateful that I have been able to walk my boys through a difficult time and prepare them for others in the future. More grateful still that those future tragedies just might not include their mother.
When I look back at that afternoon in December 2005 I see myself consumed with fear. Today I have replaced that fear with power and action. Daddy-O still refuses to mention the "C" word by name, choosing instead to simply reference his worry from time to time, knowing I'll know exactly what he means. As for me, I talk about it often - stripping cancer's power and making it my own.
I am more than a Breast Cancer Survivor - I am a Thriver.