Today is April 20, 2019 and one year ago on this day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26.
I’m having trouble trying to convey everything that I have been through and endured during this past year because it has happened so fast and I still can’t believe that I’m here right now. Not because I thought I was going to die (well, some days I did, but for the most part, I did not) but because one year ago today, I was so deeply blindsided that I had absolutely no idea where I would be within the next HOUR, let alone the next year.
Since April 20, 2018, I have gone through the following:
- Countless doctors appointments; more than I’ve ever had in my life.
- Sixteen rounds of intense chemotherapy that spanned over a period of about six months.
- Monthly injections into my lower abdomen to stop the production of estrogen in my body.
- Menopause…in my twenties.
- A bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
- Lost my hair.
- Daily medication(s)
And that’s just a very, very, very concise list so that you can have a glimpse into what my life has been like these past 365 days.
When I think back to all that has happened, it’s extremely difficult to try and explain to others what I’ve went through because no one really knows what cancer is like until you go through it yourself. Cancer (and cancer treatment) is not linear. It’s not black and white. It’s not diagnosis > chemo > surgery > done. Not everyone feels terrible 24/7 and not everyone feels great 24/7. No one’s story is the same and no one’s experience is the same.
When I was diagnosed, of course, I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified of the unknowns. I didn’t know how I was going to handle the treatments, I didn’t know how I would handle surgery, I didn’t know the extent of my cancer (up front, anyway), I didn’t know how many appointments I’d have to go to and how scary some of them were, I didn’t know my doctors, I didn’t know if I’d like them, I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know…
I didn’t know how strong I was. I didn’t know how strong I am.
This is where my story kind of changes tone.
When you think of cancer and people with cancer, most of the time, your immediate thoughts are most likely negative with a side of “you got this!”, “let’s kick this cancer’s butt!”, and “you’re a fighter!” — which is nice, in theory, but this is what I’ve learned from having cancer and going through all it entails…
I’m not a “fighter” and I’m not a success story. I’m just a person who was crushed. I’m just a person who went through something and got through it. I’m not exempt from ever going through another storm again. I could go through this again one day. With that said, this experience is so intimate and personal to who I am, that it is in this season that I’ve learned more about myself than I ever have and maybe ever will.
Before my diagnosis, I believed in God. I believed in Jesus and that He died for us. I believed in the general thought of Christianity but always secretly wondered if God really knew me; if God really heard me; if God really saw me; if God really had a plan for me—and 8 billion other people. But it is in this season where I found God.
I’m sure there is someone out there thinking that of course I found, and relied, on God during the toughest time in my life because that’s what people do, right? When they’re scared, broken, and dancing on the reality of their mortality, of course they look to God…but here’s the thing: I didn’t find God because I went looking…I found God because He came looking for me.
When I was going through chemo, I spent nearly all day, every day, by myself. My fiancé, Andrew, had to work and my father, brother, and sister all live out-of-state. I’d spend my mornings alone with my dog, on the porch, enjoying the sunshine and listening to sermons, reading my devotionals, reading my Bible, and just soaking in the Word of God because that is what my soul needed during a time where my physical body was being wrecked. I learned how to remain faithful even when I didn’t want to; even when I felt like I wanted to yell and scream; even when I had doubts so deep that I couldn’t do anything but cry and ask WHY; when I didn’t understand what I did to “deserve” this…
I’ve learned that it’s in these stages of our lives where we are being tested, pruned, molded, and groomed to be who God wants us to be. Bishop T.D. Jakes said that crushing is a stage—it is not a destination! We cannot live in the stage and take residency there. I choose to not dwell in the place that felt like hell because that place was not meant to consume me but only to crush me like grapes so that I can be wine. A process is not meant to be permanent.
Yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young(er) age and I believe that I’ve been crushed early in life so when God blesses me later, I will know that my faith is strong in the valley and on the mountaintop. I believe I’ve been crushed so that through my experiences, I can reach someone else in some way. Do I ever want to do this again? Absolutely not. Never in a million years. But do I thank God for reaching me and kneading me like bread over and over again so that one day I may rise? YES.
One year ago, I was not the person I am today and for that, I am thankful. I still make mistakes, I still have so much to learn, I still worry, I still wonder, but I am stronger and rooted in my faith in a way that I never have been before. I pray that I remain healthy and cancer-free, but more importantly, I pray that God makes me strong enough to crush anything else that comes my way and gives me the strength to handle it. Again.
Have a Happy Easter, everyone. And remember why we’re celebrating this time.
I will build my life upon your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in you alone
And I will not be shaken