Cancer Taught Me Grace

On December 21, 2006 I began my cancer journey. On that day I never thought I would survive nor how I would change my thinking about what I thought about Cancer.

After a routine mammogram, which was followed by a biopsy, I received a call on the morning of 12/21/2006. It was the radiologist and he simply said “I have good news and I have bad news. You don’t have breast cancer; you have Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” I breathed a little easier because I did not have breast cancer.   I didn’t know what NHL was but I thought I can take a pill for that. Ignorance is bliss. That day I was on my way to my primary doctor and I asked to speak to him before the exam. I told him about the phone call and asked what NHL was and what he would be giving me to take care of that. He had a sad face and said he was referring me to an oncologist and explained that NHL was a blood cancer. My heart felt like there was a vise gripping it. I was angry. My life held another secret and this just seemed too much. My other secret was that I was in an abusive marriage. I had been afraid to tell anyone or leave and now I was really trapped.

It was a few days before Christmas and I didn’t wanted ruin Christmas for my daughters or mother. I kept my cancer diagnosis to myself and would take showers so I could cry without anyone knowing I was in emotional pain. I had a plan that I would reveal my cancer secret after the New Year. That was the longest two weeks. The day before I saw the oncologist I gathered my daughters, mother and husband and told them the news. My daughters and mother began to cry and my husband had the look of anger. I knew I was going to pay for this. That night he beat me and said I was defective.

The following morning my daughters went with me to see the oncologist. He was very clinical and said I was stage IV and because the cancer was in my lungs and stomach I was not treatable. I should go home and enjoy the last few months with my family. The look of horror in my daughter’s faces was devastating. I left the appointment with a resolve that this was not going to define my future and maybe this was a sign that I needed to change my life.

I found a new oncologist and told him I would do anything to fight this cancer. I was put on a clinical trial. The doctor noticed bruises on me and for the first time I revealed that my husband beat me. He helped me find a social worker and I learned that I did not have to live with abuse. My daughters were in college and I could leave.

During the middle of the night when my husband was at work I filled a suitcase with clothes and I left. My youngest daughter needed a roommate and had agreed to let me live with her. She and her sister would help me get to chemo and I filed for divorce. My husband said if I didn’t return he would find me and kill me. I lived in hiding and began chemo.

Chemo was hard. I lost my hair and I was so sick that on some days I thought I was going to die. The only thing that kept me going was I for the first time felt like I had control over my life. I had an active part in my treatment and I was no longer an abused wife. I heard the actor Steve Harvey say “you can’t drive your car while looking in the rear view mirror.” I let go of my past and decided to move on.

I did not look at cancer anymore as a curse. I saw it as a gift from God. Cancer gave me strength to fight for my life and to find a better life. Cancer taught me that I was stronger than I ever believed and that I was worth something. Cancer took away the embarrassment of being an abused women, and to share my story to help others.

I divorced my husband and was so broke. I learned how to be creative and live off a small amount of money and how to grocery shop at the dollar store to make meals. Cancer taught me that it was not a weakness to ask for help from friends, and from organizations like American Cancer Society.

Cancer taught me grace and it gave me joy. I learned to celebrate small things like a nurse finding a vein on the first time during chemo. I taught myself to paint to handle stress and gave back by teaching an art therapy class.   I became a Chemo Card Angel and gave support to another who was going through chemo. Cancer was no longer a disease for me but a gift. I have met the most amazing people on my cancer journey and I rediscovered who I was. I also found real love on my cancer journey. I went on a blind date and met the most amazing man. I never knew what real love was until I was loved by him. We were married while I was in remission, but sadly after a month of marriage I was on chemo again. He took me to chemo for 6 months until I went into remission again. He nursed me, and loved me at the lowest points.  He took the marriage vow in sickness and in health to a new level. He continues to love me even though cancer may come back at anytime.

Cancer taught me that I am not just a survivor, but that I am a warrior. I fight every day to live and to teach people that cancer is not the end of the world. Every journey does not have a happy ending but it is what you make of your journey is what counts. Cancer is just not a disease; it is the start of a gift that you have to figure how to use it. I am on watch and wait currently.   I am not waiting on the sidelines to see when it comes back. I am living my life as if each day is my last and loving the people who are in it. It may seem odd that I look at having cancer as a gift, but I will always be grateful that it came into my life. I found love, I found courage and I found who I was.