Lying on a gurney in the radiation room at my Cancer Treatment Center, I count up to 16.
“You’re Number 16,” I say to the kind fellow prepping me for my morning CAT scan — Number 16 in a long line of strangers to examine, poke, bandage or photograph this rather personal area of my body. He chuckles and pushes a button that slides me into the scanning tunnel. All in a day’s work.
Some journeys we plan, others are mapped out for us, and still others we just stumble upon. I certainly didn’t plan my journey through breast cancer, though I believe God knew all along that it would become part of His plan for me. I stumbled upon it through a routine mammogram. And now, it seems a new course is mapped out for me.
The ten radiation treatments I received over the past week were not on my original calendar for January 2013, but the appointments scribbled in the pages of my Day-Timer and on the refrigerator calendar represent sign-posts on this journey. And the diploma and mug I received from the hospital staff tell me I’ve turned a corner with some new life lessons under my belt.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far at this intersection with breast cancer:
- Expect the unexpected. At nearly 60 (and as the mom of four sons) you’d think I’d have learned that one by now, but cynicism has never been part of my make-up. I tend to live on the sunny side of life, which means I occasionally get blind-sided by reality. In this reality, I’m finding unexpected blessings — God speaking to me in nature, friendships that grow deeper through this shared experience, the pleasure of a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders by a stranger doing her job with kindness.
- Lean on those who have traveled this path before you. I have never met author and pastor John Piper, but his thoughtful writings on the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer are like advice from a godly friend. In “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”, Piper reminds all of us walking through trial that illness or troubles of any kind are not a “curse”. Our lives have been “transformed from a punitive pathway to hell into a purifying pathway to heaven. We are not cursed. As hard as it is to feel this, we believe God is not withholding good. He is doing good.”
The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
- It’s not enough to just have a “positive attitude”. We need to walk the talk. In her book “There’s No Place Like Hope”, cancer survivor Vickie Girard said “You can’t just sit around and visualize your way to wellness with positive thoughts. I think it’s important that we connect our positive attitude to forward-moving action or activity.” Like “The Little Engine That Could”, we can say “I think I can, I think I can”, but then we’ve got to build up the steam to make it up that hill. For me, that means learning all I can about this “chronic disease”, building good nutrients into my diet, taking the right medication and making myself exercise every day. That last one will be the toughest — unless I reward it with dark, dark chocolate. (Yes, that’s in my new diet.)
- It’s okay to put yourself first once in awhile. I can be self-sacrificial to a fault. I’m realizing the good feeling I get from putting others first is really self-serving if in doing that I risk becoming a burden myself. We can not do for others if we do not do for ourselves. Whatever it is that we need for rejuvenation should be built into our days. And we shouldn’t ruin it by feeling guilty. Taking time for “self” is one of the best things we can do for those who share our days.
- Appreciate the world God has given to us. As I’ve been walking through Cancer the past several weeks, I have also been counting 21 days of “wonder” as I #LIVEWONDERSTRUCK. Today is a time to appreciate the people, places and events that are woven into my life.
- A sense of humor helps. (See the Number 16 observation above.) I intend to laugh a lot more in the days ahead.
I’m sure there’s much more to be learned in this experience and in life. These lessons are a good start — or maybe they should be called a “restart”, because as long as we’re breathing, we should be learning.