Monday, August 25, 2014

The Journey Of The Mind

Three years. 
Well, I made it. Not totally in the safe zone yet… but three fifths of the way to the 5 year mark of living cancer free is pretty good. Right? (Of course my goal is to live a long full life cancer free, but after 5 years the doctors say my chance of reoccurrence is near 0%.)

Three years ago this week I was told I had cancer. Three years ago life stopped… and started new… and changed.  Three years ago, God gave me new eyes.

This blog is full of my cancer story. It’s full of faith and honesty and pain. And because of the reality of the pain of cancer, I haven’t written for over a year. Many, many, many people have asked me to keep writing… to write anything. But to be honest I needed a break. A break from enduring even the thought of sickness. A break from the trap of thinking I was in the process of dying.  A break from the fears that one starts to soak in when all they can think about is what will happen to their children “when” (not “if”) they die. When you have faced the reality of mortality and fought so passioniatly with God for another chance at life and physical healing… it is difficult to pretend that moving forward with life is easy. 

This year has been tough… and good. Good for my marriage and family. But certainly difficult. Here’s the low down: After cancer, treatment ended, Eric and I reevaluated our life and family plan and last year Eric returned to school to finish his degree. He has just 1… ONE… class left until he has completed a MASTERS degree from Hope International. Not bad for a high school drop out!!!! (I’m so ridiculously proud of him.) Jesus truly changed his life and he never looked back.  Part of that plan was that I would return to working full time and he would resign from his position at BOSS (the Lord clearly led us in this) and look for part time work while he completed school. I (we) realize that in the eyes of the world, this plan looks crazy, but we both believed that God was directing our steps and we LEPT in faith. The day before resigning Eric was approached by a friend to see if we knew anyone that would want a 1 year interim, 10-12 hour a week position at a little church as the youth guy. We said “yes… how about us” and a week later the Lord had secured a 1-year part time job that worked perfectly for our family and his school schedule.  We are just a few weeks away from that year commitment being over and today we stand with arms high and hearts abandoned… waiting in anticipation for the next step for our family. All I know is that every bill has been paid, our kids are happy, our marriage is stronger now than it has ever been and I have complete peace that God will provide the next path of this journey in His perfect timing.

Okay… everything sounds great from that description of our life right???? Well, this year has been a hard journey too. As you can imagine, our “plan” also came with a lot of stress and stretching of ourselves as individuals and as a couple. Physically, mentally and emotionally.  This plan would be intense for anybody, but when you add the “mental journey” and fear of cancer returning to my stress load one can easily imagine the increased anxiety that I found myself living in.  I only share at this depth of personal info with you, because through my counseling and talking with other cancer survivors I have found that my experience is actually very common. And yet the outside world has no real understanding that after the last chemo dip drops and the last radiation beam beams… a new journey has just started.

It’s the journey of the mind.

I cannot tell you why it took two and a half years for me to fully comprehend that I had cancer and was on the road to death. I can’t explain why only last fall did I start to process that I missed 10 months of raising and enjoying my children as babies.  I can’t make sense of why, only earlier this year did I actually comprehend that when I was in the hospital THREE times, my organs were going septic and that only by the grace of God was my life saved and health restored. I don’t understand the human brain… but my counselor says that it is a form of PTSD. I survived the war… now it was time to process what happened on the battlefield.

I’ll spare you the ugly details, but let me just share that anxiety, depression, insomnia, anger and irritability became characteristics that of who I was morphing into while I journeyed through this period of mentally processing cancer. I was constantly thinking about all of the “what if’s” should I find another lump. Additionally, God brought several friends into my life that have been fighting cancer too… and my heart was so breaking for them. Walking with friends when you understand the pain is taxing… heavy, real, worth crying hard junk. While Eric certainly tried to kindly express/describe my “new personality” to me… there were two defining moments when I realized that anxiety and depression were getting the best of me. The first is when a good friend just simply told me that I wasn’t joyful anymore. Hearing that from someone other than my husband somehow was like a slap in the face. (A good slap… like the kind in a comedy movie.) The second was when one of my cousins drove a distance to bring me some clothes for Leah and I completely fell asleep while she was visiting. Rude I know… but honestly, it just happened. You see I had gone nearly 5 months without sleeping more than 4 consecutive hours in a night due to anxiety. I was SOOOOOOOOOOOO tired and had gotten to a place where practically any time I was slightly resting my body I naturally fell asleep. I remember that night thinking “how can any person function well, joyfully and completely when they haven’t slept in months.”  Long story short, I sought out a great psychologist that helped me out and attended a few classes through Kaiser that taught tools for dealing with anxiety and my emotions.  If you’ve never done it, it takes a lot of courage to go see someone for help… but man was it worth it.

Nobody told me about this part of the journey. I have spoken to several friends that are also cancer survivors and realize now that this part of the “cancer experience” can be as intense (yet totally different) as chemo. Choosing to live in the present and not obsess about the past. Choosing to enjoy precious moments with my kids instead of dwelling on how this could possibly be the last time we ever ------------ (fill in the blank). But something that I have come to learn about journeys is that nobody can truly take YOU on a journey but YOUrself. No amount of protection from loved ones can replace the road that must be traveled.  

In one of my 1st blogs on this site I quoted the classic adventure novel Going On A Bear Hunt and the lines “Can't go over it. Can't go under it. Can't go around it. Got to go through it.” I suppose this mental journey is an important part of going through this story that is my life. It’s been a lonely journey. It’s a journey that has greatly stretched my faith. It’s a journey that requires new eyes to see and grow into the person that cancer forced me to become. And it’s a journey where I realize that the input of others was not meant to wound, but to move me in the direction of mental and physical health.

Our little family, Summer 2014.
Capitola, CA
You see… we just have to go through it. Whatever “it” is. You can’t give up and there is no short cut.  Often our paths are not necessarily what we choose. And yet somehow, if we search deep enough… one can find peace in believing that they are exactly where God meant for them to be in this moment in time… and that idea builds hope.

Hope in a future. Hope in a life worth living.

Much love and thanks,


Relay for Life Opening Ceremony Survivor Speech July 2014

Okay, I am in no stretch a professional speaker, but I wanted to share the last speech that I made at the Rancho Murieta Relay for Life kickoff ceremony this past July. Many of you have asked to hear what it is that I share when I speak on behalf of the American Cancer Society. It is such an honor to be invited back on multiple occasions to share my store and encourage others in the fight. (Please excuse my nerves and stuttering throughout this speech.)