Bigger Than I Ever Imagined

At 46, I was a workaholic mother of two teenagers, wife of a local politician, and daughter whose mother is a breast cancer survivor and suffering from Alzheimer’s. And then I was diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer.

After three misdiagnoses, I was driving with my two kids when my doctor called. Her exact words were, “Mrs. Sandlin, you have cancer. You have an appointment with the Oncologist tomorrow at 8am.”  Composing myself long enough to pull my van over and not wreck, I asked my daughter Savannah to call her dad. I was thinking, did this just happen?

The beginning of My 2nd act started as my surgery ended.  See, I knew I’d been given a second chance on life.  My oncologist told me, “change your eating and sleeping habits, exercise, no stress and stay positive or you won’t make it.”  I quit my job, focused on lowering my stress levels and changed my eating habits.  Changing my eating habits was easy; lowering stress while going through chemo and recovering from a hysterectomy – not so easy.  Fortunately, I have a loving little sister, amazing family and a church family who stood beside me. They lifted me up when I was unable to stand. When two church friends were also diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I realized I have something to offer in my testimony.

God is BIGGER than I ever IMAGINED!  I had God in this little bitty box and chose to let Him out after I couldn’t figure something out on my own.  I didn’t really know how to fully rely on God until I was so terribly weak and unable to do it for myself.  That’s when He came through and provided me with strength beyond any I’ve ever known before. It was during this humbling time for myself and my family that I came to personally know God and that He loves me!  Not only does He love me, but He loves everyone diagnosed with cancer. I immediately began talking to my fellow patients. I talked about the little things in life and reminded people how they really matter. During chemo, my 2nd Act was all about lifting up other women who were going through cancer and helping them stay positive. And doing the same for me.

Half way through my treatment, bald and with no eyelashes or eyebrows, I attended the Look Good Feel Better class and was amazed at how special and beautiful I felt.

A year after my last treatment I became a certified volunteer to help keep classes available at the two hospitals in my county.

After chemo, my 2nd Act expanded my focus.  With the help of a few women at church, we organized a group (most are cancer survivors) who meet every 4 months to put together goodie bags for chemo patients and distribute them. Three years later, we’ve given over 6,500 goodie bags for patients at 10 Tennessee Oncology locations in Middle Tennessee.

I found Gilda’s Club and after attending a few exercise classes and support groups, I joined their volunteer group and do what I love… teach and cook. I started teaching a healthy cooking class each month. Although this was what I loved to do, it didn’t come easy with chemo brain. I stumbled with thoughts and words and following a recipe was difficult. Neuropathy made holding a knife even more difficult. But I never gave up.  It got easier.

I joined full force as an active member of the American Cancer Society CAN, the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization that works every day to make cancer issues a national priority. I’ve attended two Tennessee Lobby Days, Cancer on the Hill and spoken with our local politicians to pass bills that support cancer patients and makes Cancer a Priority in the State of Tennessee.

When I was diagnosed, my little sister, LaDonna, quit her teaching job to be my caregiver. In January, LaDonna, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I returned the blessing by becoming one of her caregivers.

Once my sister began asking me “How did you do this? I find it hard to hold my head up most days? ” I knew I needed more than just answers to these questions, for her and others; I needed to point her in the direction she pointed me and to remind her of all the things she once told me. ”God has a purpose! Give it to God. Let Him know you are weak and allow Him to give you strength!”

She’s finished her chemo and had surgery last week. She is cancer free. Praise God.

I’m calling on God again.

Just this past month, they’ve found three tumors. I’m using God’s own pharmacy on this path of healing, which follows with my path back to the kitchen and helping heal others through their diets. I’m on a diet of God fruits and vegetables, spiritual faith and family. I’m thriving because “The Lord is My strength” and “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

I’m thriving and kicking it!