I have always been inspired by Breast Cancer Awareness month. Within a few years October became a month synonymous with PINK. October, a month known for falling leaves, Halloween and pumpkin spice lattes is now equally known as Breast Cancer Awareness, full of 5k’s, free mammograms, and every NFL player sporting their pink paraphernalia. And more than anything, I have been inspired by the stories of the survivors of breast cancer and the words used to describe them and their journeys. Words like warrior and fighter, and the hash tags #kickcancersass and #%$@!cancer. In my mind I conjured up images of strong and beautiful bald women going to battle against the towering Goliath and handily bringing him to his knees. Breast Cancer Awareness month had become a month of fun and inspiring events, about strong and beautiful bald women, all wrapped up together in a bright pink ribbon.
And here I lay in bed, still in my pajamas, bald, weak, nauseated, headache, mouth sores, metal taste in my mouth, depleted. I look at myself in the mirror and I hardly recognize the face staring back at me. Every glance is a gnawing reminder that I am sick, and life is different, and I am in the biggest battle of my life. And it’s lonely, at a time when my community of friends and family surround me so completely, at a time when I am being swaddled daily by love and kindness in such an unbelievable way. But the real battle is lonely, and isolating and internal and raw. I feel nothing like the strong bald warriors I had envisioned. And I feel like Goliath is crushing me under his weight and I’m too weak to fight. I wrestle with words like battle and strength and warrior and fight. They seem to have no place in my vocabulary. And I’m left by myself to somehow reconcile my current state of affairs and the men on the football field covered in pink and the pictures of smiling warriors and the hash tags and the fun runs and the HeatherStrong and the neatly tied pink ribbons.
So as I lie in bed alone, I find myself pondering the irony of my current journey. I am a sick – I am a warrior. I am weak – I am strong enough to beat cancer. I can’t do this – I’m a fighter. HeatherSick – HeatherStrong. And I’m realizing this battle I’m fighting is like nothing I have ever fought before, but yet like every battle I have ever fought. And it won’t be won with pride or muscle power or flashy weapons or grand armies. It will be won in the stillness and the quiet and the surrender of my heart. It will be won in the breaking of my body and the strengthening of my faith. It will be won in the gentle binding of my wounds and the scars left in their place. It will be won in the letting go, as the Lord slowly and painfully peels away my strong grip on this life and tells me I was holding onto air. AIR. And He gently whispers to relax and let go and be still because He’s got this, and I’m not in control anyway. And my weapons are your prayers, and my army is my community of friends and family, and the war is being fought on the battle field of my soul because it’s about my will and purpose and knowing I was put on this earth for a reason. And my hands that were holding on so tight to things like control and perfection and money and stuff and STUFF and AIR and AIR and AIR, are now freed up to fight the biggest battle of my life. My hands are now freed up to not simply beat cancer, but to actually live well the life I have been given.
It all makes sense now. When you meet a cancer survivor they often have a rare joy, an energy, a curve in their smile that inches just a bit higher than the average person. Many say that cancer changed their lives for the better. A friend of mine who went through this battle with her son told me that with cancer come so many beautiful gifts, and she encouraged me to keep my eyes open and not miss them. And I think the common thread among survivors is that fighting cancer is so brutal and scary and hard, but in the quiet surrender, in the forced stillness, in the isolation, you realize how truly strong you are. You realize that life isn’t about days stringing into months stringing into years. You realize that life is about the present and that is all you are promised. You realize that you have a unique purpose that only you can live out. And you realize that if you are going to fight so hard to live, you better make it worth it!
BATTLE UPDATE: It’s official, Chemo sucks. I don’t think there is a word I despise more. And I know it is what will ultimately save my life, but I’m just being honest, It is the worst 5 letter word I know. This round was similar to the last. I am tolerating it by going to get fluids daily for the 6 days following treatment. I spend most days resting or in bed. This round my cousin Lark and friend Sandra both came out to help care for me. It was so nice to have them both and they were so much help to my family. Prior to this chemo I met with my oncologist who confirmed that the cancer is still shrinking and therefore the chemo is working. I am so excited that that my good week will fall on Thanksgiving week and I can spend time with my family. Marc and kiddos are doing well. My illness is hard on all of them but they care for me and love me so well. The kids ask me if I’m ok about every 5 minutes. I hate that they have to carry that kind of worry but I’m thankful for their empathy and compassion. And a quick shout out to my husband who just weeks ago made a goal of running his first 5k and just did so this weekend.