Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Joy Comes in the Morning

Last week was a bit of a challenging week for me. It began as every week since October 2nd has begun with me getting up at 5 AM Monday morning to get myself together to go to radiation. I’ve kind of gotten into the rhythm of things now. I get up at 5 so I have a chance to exercise, have my coffee, eat breakfast, and do a 10 minute Facebook Live video, chronicling my journey, before I leave for radiation.

Last Monday, although I had a wonderful weekend spending time with my family, physically I wasn’t feeling well and emotionally I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that stayed with me most of the week. On Tuesday, after radiation, I went for a walk at the lake. As I walked I tried to figure out what was weighing on my heart so heavily. I knew it wasn’t the cancer stuff. This was a different feeling. Nothing surfaced in my mind, but still tears made their way from my heart to my eyes. So, I walked and I cried. When I finished my walk Jesus asked, “Why are you crying?” I replied, ‘I don’t know. Please restore my joy!’

To that He said softly, “Your joy is in tact. It is just hidden beneath the sadness you feel. You are sad because you are weary. You are weary because you have been striving to accomplish something that will never be. You will never be who you were before this day. You will never do math and manage money like you did before you had a stroke, but I will always help You manage everything I place in your hands. You will never be able to focus on more than one thing at a time like you did before you had a stroke, but I will always help you do all things with excellence. You will never communicate the way you did before you had a stroke, but I will always help you find the words to say what needs to be said. You will never be able to just keep going like you did before you had a stroke, but I will always be right here to remind you when it is time to rest. So, you can rest now, Lisa. There is nothing for you to do except rest in Me.”

I was totally unprepared for His response to my plea. At first I thought, ‘The stroke? Why are You talking to me about that? That was almost seven years ago. I’m used to who I am now.’ When I got home and began to process His words each time I heard in my mind “You will never be able to…” it was as if a knife was piercing my heart. It was then that I knew Jesus had pulled the band aid off of a wound that I didn’t even know was hidden in my heart. For the rest of the week I thought about what He said.

I thought about how upset I had gotten at the lake when I was walking and began to drag my right leg, because I was tired and it is still much weaker than my left. I thought about how I pushed myself all summer during chemo, doing as much as I could, pushing my body well beyond its limitations and as a result, out of total mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion waking up the morning of my eighth chemo asking God why He wouldn’t let me die. I thought about how I find myself apologizing or feeling as if I should apologize to those closest to me for not being able to do the things I can no longer do. The more I thought about Jesus’ words and what my life has been since the stroke in 2011, I discovered adapting and accepting are two very different things.

Over the weekend I was looking through my closet and saw where I had segregated it so on one side are the clothes I wore before the stroke and the clothes I’ve purchased since the stroke are on the other. When I looked at the “pre-stroke” side of my closet I thought, ‘I would NEVER wear any of this!’ All throughout my bedroom I systematically set aside things that I no longer like or have any use for just in case the person I was before February 2, 2011 suddenly reappeared.

So much has happened in my life in rapid succession over the last 6 1/2 years. I have had very little time to really process it all. I adapted to the stroke, but until Jesus said what He said to me last week I hadn’t really accepted it. With acceptance comes responsibility and accountability. I am responsible for this miraculous life Jesus gave me on the other side of the stroke. I am not going to be held accountable for all the things I can no longer do, but all the NEW things I can. He gifted me this resurrected life. The pathways in my brain that died in the stroke gave way to new ones that I haven’t even explored, because I have been stuck in the tomb of someone who is never coming back. Over the weekend I gave her a proper send off. I cried my final tears over losing her. I cleaned out my closet and got rid of all of her old clothes. I’m still working on cleaning my room and taking down my memorials of her.

For today, I can say I finally understand Psalm 30:5 that says, “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” My journey from the stroke to today has been a very long night. But, it’s morning now. And Jesus was right. My joy is still in tact!


Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Jesus and Me

I have never been what I would consider an outdoorsy person. There is nothing appealing to me about camping or other activities that require me to trespass in the natural habitat of bugs, spiders, snakes, and all the other woodland creatures that make the great outdoors their home. However, of late, my stance has begun to shift a bit. I still have no interest in camping, but I have discovered I like hiking. And the highlight of any day for me is a day that I am able to go walking at the beautiful lake pictured above. I try to go as often as I can. The scenery alone is worth it. There is something about walking there that allows me to talk to Jesus and Him to me in a way that I don’t experience anywhere else. It is our “secret” place.

On Friday after I left radiation I felt like I had enough energy to walk around the lake at least once. Once around is about a mile and a half. It was a little chilly, but I had on layers and the sun was shining. Once I started walking I warmed up quickly. As I walked I listened to my “Jesus and Me” Playlist filled with some of my favorite Gospel/Contemporary Christian/Praise and Worship music (there are way too many labels for music now – just my opinion). About half way around the lake I started getting tired. On a good day physically, I try to go around the lake twice. My right leg is still significantly weaker than my left from the stroke I had in 2011. The more tired I got I felt myself beginning to drag my right leg a bit.

For whatever reason I started to get upset that I wouldn’t be able to walk around the lake twice, which snowballed into a full blown meltdown inside with me asking Jesus why everything always had to be so hard for me. I told Him I was tired of being sick. I complained I had forgotten what it feels like to just wake up and not have to have a conversation with my body in order to get out of bed or to be able to go through an entire day without any pain anywhere. I whined I knew all of this had some kind of purpose and I was trying my best to see His plan for me, but I couldn’t. I could see where breast cancer, the stroke, my divorces, being a teenage mom, being molested… have all helped me be an encouragement (I hope) to other people and an overall compassionate person. But, on Friday, walking around the lake, dragging my right leg, aching all over, with my left breast throbbing, I wanted to know, ‘WHAT ABOUT ME!’

I could see no benefit for me out of all that has happened thus far in my life’s journey. Just as I was nearing the entrance of the lake, which would have completed one loop around, my emotional tirade with Jesus was abruptly interrupted by a unique looking, but beautiful dog. She and her owner were walking on the opposite side of the pathway. As we passed each other the dog stopped and made her way near me as if she wanted me to pet her. She was really furry with grey and brown patches all over. I could tell she was an older dog.

Her owner very friendly said, “You can pet her. She won’t bite. She loves walking here. She is 19 years old. She is blind. You see her leg? It wobbles and shakes now. My wife and I found her under our neighbor’s car when she was 3 months old. She has been such a good dog for us.” She stood close to me so I could pet her. I took notice of her right leg shaking. When she and her owner walked away I watched her walk closely behind him. She couldn’t see. So, he lead; she simply followed. They kept pace with each other. She didn’t pull away from him or try to walk ahead of him. Nor did she walk too slowly and lag behind him, even with her wobbly, shaky right leg.

As I turned to continue walking Jesus said, “Lisa, I know you cannot see as I see. I know you often wonder if all you have suffered has any value for you. It does. Just like that dog you just saw, I am asking only that you let Me be your eyes. That you trust Me enough to know that even when you can’t see where I am taking you, you will follow Me anyway, knowing I only want the very best for you. Trust Me enough that even when your body is weary, your legs are weak, and you feel as if you cannot take another step, you know I am a God that can enable you to walk on water if you, but trust Me. You were created not only to be a blessing, but to be blessed. It is out of your blessedness that you are equipped to be a blessing.”

Listening to Jesus talk to me I walked past the entrance and completed a second loop around the lake. I wish I could say His words made everything better and I was suddenly all smiles and giggles inside. That’s not how it is with Him and me. I was comforted by His words. I asked Him to help me trust Him more and promised to do my very best to allow Him to lead, while I simply follow. And of course I apologized profusely for my nasty attitude on such a beautiful day.

One of the many things I love about Jesus is He knows me intimately and doesn’t penalize me for being me. He knows I ask a million questions. He knows He has to reassure me daily, sometimes hourly that He will never leave me and He still loves me. He knows some days the smallest thing can cause a total emotional meltdown (ie: dragging my leg at the lake when I already knew I was tired and weak when I got there). He knows when He asks me to do something I really don’t want to do my first response is generally, ‘Ok, but…’ That’s just Him and me. That’s how our relationship works. I fall more in love with Him everyday and for some reason known only to Him He just keeps loving me just as I am.

For today, I am going to hold on to the image of that beautiful 19 year old, weary, wobbly, blind dog and her owner walking at the lake for as long as I can. Whenever I find myself wondering what’s in it for me in all of this I want to be able to remind myself I am walking out my life’s journey with my very best Friend, a companion who loves me unconditionally, who will never leave or forsake me. One who I can wholeheartedly trust to lead, while I simply follow. It gets no better than that! That really is enough for me.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: What I Believe

As of today I have completed 19 of the 35 radiation treatments I have to do. (The picture above is how I have to lay at each session. They placed six small tattoos that look like moles on my back as markers to make sure they are administering the radiation in the same exact spot every time.) My energy level has decreased significantly. My left breast is extremely sensitive and looks like I have been lying topless in the sun with my right breast covered. I see the radiation oncologist once a week on Wednesdays. All other days the technicians administer my treatment and I am generally in and out within 20 minutes, except Tuesdays when they also do X-rays. My chemo sessions lasted 2 1/2 hours. So, I do like I am not there as long and it is not painful. But, to me, radiation is much more draining and I’m still adjusting to going five days a week.

At my last doctor visit with my primary care physician he gave me an order to have my annual mammogram screening. When the front desk clerk went to print it out she said, “Oh, I have to change this. It isn’t a screening. It is diagnostic to rule out cancer.” Perplexed, I said, ‘No, it’s just my regular yearly exam.’ She went on to explain that going forward my mammograms will always be considered diagnostic to rule out cancer. My oncologist was also careful to tell me if my scans are clear they will consider me in remission.

It’s hard to explain how I felt when the clerk explained the new classification for my annual mammogram. All of this time I have been traveling through this journey one breath, one step, one moment, one day at a time, giving very little thought to follow up care or “remission” as they call it. At the beginning of all of this I decided and declared this would be my one and only journey through cancer. I have told my doctors and remind myself often I am healed. I’m just walking out the process of my total healing. I have also told them and anyone who will listen I will NEVER have cancer again.

In 2011 when I had a stroke, two months after my 40th birthday, I remember the hematologist, who is also my oncologist, shared a statistic with me that 80% of people who have a stroke as young as I did have another one. Without hesitation I boldly declared, ‘Well, that won’t be me, because I am NEVER having another stroke!’ On my first visit with him after the breast cancer diagnosis I was sure to remind him that what I said still held true. I wasn’t seeing him due to another stroke!

Journeying through breast cancer has been a much different experience than recovering from the stroke. The morning after the stroke my neurologist came in my hospital room and told me he didn’t think I could walk. I immediately refuted his assessment and declared with an attitude, ‘Yes, I can!’ I then proceeded to get out of bed to show him. My daughter was able to catch me before I fell on the floor, because my right leg was unable to sustain the weight of my body. Still, no one could convince me I could not walk. During the months that followed, I discovered I could read words, but couldn’t understand them. I struggled to find the right words for objects and during conversations. I couldn’t count change. I didn’t understand the value of money. I couldn’t follow written instructions. I couldn’t write my name. I couldn’t be in a room with a lot of people or loud noise.

The list of what I couldn’t do seemed endless. But, what I could do is sit in my walk-in closet for hours every day reading Psalm 27, which I was able to understand perfectly. When I read it, it was as if the words came alive and I knew Jesus was in my closet with me. And as long as He was with me I knew I was well. It didn’t matter what the doctors or therapists said. I was convinced Jesus would fix everything they said was broken. After a year of physical, speech and language, and occupational therapy I can walk unassisted. I can read and comprehend words. I can count change, but more often than not I choose to just throw it in a can or give it to my granddaughter. Money and numbers still mean nothing to me. $2, $20, $200, $2,000…it’s all the same to me. A 2 with some zeros. I can follow written instructions, but am much more of a visual learner now. I can write my name. Crowds and loud noise is still hard for me at times. I still find great peace reading Psalm 27.

Having traveled such a journey with Jesus it really surprised me that throughout this breast cancer journey I have had to question at my innermost gut wrenching level what I truly believe. I found myself wondering is my faith just words or actual truth upon which I stand? When doubt would fill my mind, pain would consume my body, Jesus would whisper, “Lisa, whose report will you believe?” I would then remind myself I choose to believe the report of the Lord. My breast cancer journey has taught me what faith the size of a mustard seed really looks like. Scriptures I’ve learned over the years have become like air to me. I recite them to myself and they give my mind, body, and spirit the energy it needs to continue on through each day.

My stroke journey taught me what I choose to believe is the most significant part of the healing process. Though I haven’t had the same level of zeal and strength I had during my stroke journey, what I believe remains the same. I still believe Jesus is a Healer. I still believe His word is absolute truth and He is faithful to fulfill every promise in His word.

For today, while I am thankful for the great team of physicians I have, they are “practicing” medicine. God doesn’t practice anything. He does everything to perfection. So, I will never say I am in remission. I will continue to declare I am totally and completely healed and will never have cancer again!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Until Death Do Us Part

On Tuesday I attended a funeral of a close family friend. My mom, a Reverend, had the challenging task of officiating and delivering the eulogy. She served in the same capacity three years ago when his wife passed away. She and the deceased had been friends for over 50 years. She is the godmother to their oldest daughter. He and his wife are family to us. Though her heart was heavy, my mom delivered a phenomenal message about family that stayed with me.

During the viewing, which preceded the actual Homegoing Service (that’s what us Jesus Followers say instead of funeral), a slide show of family pictures played continuously on a large screen. The pictures spanned the entire 50 years my mom had known him and his wife. I remembered some of the pictures from when their daughters, my sisters, and I were kids. As I looked at each picture I saw a beautiful life, well lived, full of love, laughter and I’m sure a lot of mountains to climb and valley experiences too. But, they made it to the destination that not many in my family ever have. They made it “until death do us part.” And as sad as I was that his daughters now had to face a life without either of their parents, I was just as happy that he and the love of his life were together again.

For the better part of this week I haven’t been able to get the images I saw out of my mind. In my family divorce is like a plague. My mother is one of six children, five girls and one boy. All of their marriages ended in divorce except one. My mom’s twin sister and her husband will be married 50 years next year. My dad was an only child. So, with the exception of one of us, all of my first cousins, my siblings, and me are all the product of divorce. And out of all of us that have been married, there is only one that remains married to his first and only wife. I believe I may be the winner of the bunch, having been divorced twice.

After attending the Homegoing Service on Tuesday, one of my daughters and I were talking about my aunt and uncle celebrating 50 years of marriage next year. She asked me if I thought it was possible to be married for 50 years without anyone cheating, abuse, separation or any of the dysfunctional things she has witnessed in the marriages in my family, including my own. I told her I believe no marriage is without its troubles. However, I definitely believe it is possible to remain married for 50 years or more without the types of things she has witnessed occurring.

That night, my heart was so heavy. I found myself in my own way repeating my daughter’s question to God. I thought about the heartbreak I felt when my husband of 15 years filed for divorce. For me, in my mind, it was my second failed attempt at marriage. My first attempt was at age 19 when I married my high school sweetheart. That marriage quickly imploded and ended after five years. I married my second husband when I was 25 and if I am honest with myself I would have to admit we probably should’ve always just been friends. Neither of us were equipped to be husband and wife. Still, like my daughter, I wanted to know if it was even possible for me to make it to “until death do us part” with someone.

As recently as the beginning of this year the thought of being in a relationship and most definitely being married again really creeped me out! I cringed at the thought of it. I told God I didn’t think I could ever give that much of myself to anyone again. But, when I posed my daughter’s question to Him from my heart He replied, “There are no impossibilities in Me. Your options are limitless. The brokenness you have witnessed and experienced in your past does not have to be your or your daughter’s future outcome. You take the lessons and leave the luggage. Allow Me to be the Gatekeeper of your heart. I will govern who enters in. When the right one, one who is willing to remain until death, and be the recipient of the well-spring of unconditional love that flows freely from your heart, presents himself, your heart will know.”

When I think of my marriages, I am finally at a place of peace. I wasn’t a perfect wife, but I loved as perfectly as I could and gave to both of those men the very best I had to give. I walked away from my first marriage with three beautiful daughters that raised me to be a pretty good mom. From my second marriage I walked away with a much closer relationship with Jesus and wisdom that is priceless!

Breast cancer has afforded me the opportunity to examine areas of my heart and mind that I probably would have left untouched for as long as I could, because the pain of working out my total healing has been far greater than I thought I could handle. But as always, God has remained faithful to His word: 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

For today, I don’t know what my future holds as far as a romantic relationship. Right now breast cancer is all I can handle. And if I were a guy, I definitely wouldn’t be scoping out the hot chick fighting breast cancer (Lol). But, seeing the timeline of pictures from the beautiful life our family friends shared together allowed me to see until death do us part is possible and sparked a hope and desire in my heart to have that not just for myself, but for all the generations of my family behind mine.

I discovered I have been married twice, but have yet to experience an actual marriage – two people who honor, love, and respect one another, joined in oneness, desiring to exemplify through their union how Christ loves His Body, the Church. Should the man that is willing to hang in there with me until death find his way to me and my heart recognizes him, he will have won the best version of me! Those other two were my practice husbands. The third time’s the charm! Lol.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Pretty In Pink

Before breast cancer my favorite color was shades of blue. I still like my blues, but I have fallen in love with pink! This month being breast cancer awareness month, I have enjoyed seeing shades of pink everywhere. At times it is almost surreal for me when I walk into a store and see a breast cancer awareness display and realize I am counted among the sisterhood of women battling the disease.

Last weekend I went to a luncheon a fellow warrior and friend held at her home for breast cancer warriors, supporters, family members and friends. My daughters, sisters, and mother went with me. It was an amazing time! I was the only one in attendance that is currently in treatment. It was so encouraging to talk to and see all of the beautiful women LIVING beyond where I am right now. As encouraging as it was it was also a bit overwhelming for me. When I got home that evening I found myself wondering what’s next?

As I lay in bed that night I wondered what my life will look like on the other side of breast cancer. On the other side of this I still have an entire life to rebuild. I’m not who I was before I had a stroke in 2011. I’m definitely not who I was before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. I have yet to discover what it is I am skilled at now that my right brain is more dominant than my left. I am still adjusting to being a mom to three adult daughters and not three little girls. And although after being divorced for six years I have finally mastered sleeping in my entire bed, I still haven’t mastered being single. All of these thoughts swirling in my mind brought me to tears.

Just as He always does Jesus mopped up my tears by saying, “I have given you a tremendous gift. I have redeemed the time you thought you lost. This is the clean slate day you have longed for. Your brand new beginning. Do not look at what is no more as something that has been lost or taken from you. See it for what it is. You are not meant to remain stationary. You have transitioned beyond what was to what is and shall continue on to what will be. I have a good plan for you. One that exceeds your greatest expectations. You need only trust Me. I know you don’t always understand or necessarily like my methods, but you can always trust My motives.” With that, I was at peace.

I started radiation on October 2nd. My kickoff to radiation was making it to my date with Bruno Mars on September 30th! The morning of the concert I had no words for how I felt. It had been eight long months, a week after I was diagnosed, since I purchased the tickets. I remember telling Jesus I had to be here and well on September 30th, because I had a date with Bruno Mars that I HAD to keep! He promised I would be. For eight months when I got upset I listened to my Bruno Mars Playlist and danced in my bedroom. During chemo I took the nausea medicine and forced myself to eat rather I was hungry or not, because I didn’t want to lose too much weight. I wanted to look healthy for my date. Every day that I could I went walking, my mom and I did Aqua Zumba twice a week. I wanted to be strong enough to dance all night on my date. After my final chemo on September 7th I felt so sick I was in bed for 10 days, but Jesus kept His promise. I was here and well enough to make it to my date. Not only did I make it, but I danced all night! For everyone else it was just a concert. For me, it was so much more. It was a night I will never forget!

As of today I have completed 13 of the 35 radiation treatments I have to do. I’m still adjusting to having to go every day, Monday through Friday. The treatments are quick and painless, but draining and my breast has become super sensitive and sore. For today, I’m holding on to Jesus as tightly as I can trusting that He really does have a plan for me, looking forward to the adventure!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Hidden In Plain Sight

I am blessed to be surrounded by a family of loving, supportive, intelligent, accomplished, beautiful women (the guys are great too!). Last weekend, a handful of them gathered together at my baby sister’s house for a brunch to celebrate my completion of my last round of chemo. The picture above is my favorite of the ones we took that day. Their love, laughs, hugs, and encouragement gave me the jump start I needed as I begin my next leg of this journey, radiation.

My last chemo really took a toll on me. So, I haven’t been able to do much and most days have been spent in the bed for the past few weeks. But, today, after a month long hiatus, I was able to return to my favorite place to go for a walk, a big, beautiful lake near my home. Over the summer most days I was able to push myself out of bed and get there to walk. Twice around is about three miles.

No matter how bad I felt, inside I knew if I could just get to the lake, those two trips around would be worth it. For me, the lake is where Jesus and I have some of our best, most intimate moments together. It’s our “meet up” spot. Lol. At the lake, there is no cancer or cancer treatments, no sick body, just Jesus and me, walking, talking, singing, dancing, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying…us just doing us. So, today I was so excited when I finally felt well enough to return.

When I arrived at the lake everything was just as it was when I left it last. Every tree that lines the path to the lake was still in its proper place, only now the leaves have changed colors and are falling. The lake itself is still just as beautiful, peaceful, and pristine. I saw the usual array of beautiful birds, butterflies, and the occasional turtle as I walked along my customary route listening to my “Jesus and me” Playlist.

As I walked, admiring the sheer beauty all around me, I began to feel heavy inside. I suddenly realized I had truly forgotten what a gift living on this side of life really is. I hurt inside that there were days over the summer that I almost envied my fellow warriors who got to go Home, while I had to stay here and fight. I recalled how completely finished I was on the morning of my 8th chemo. I begged Jesus to please explain to me why He was keeping me here. It felt like a punishment, not a gift. That morning, it wasn’t just cancer and it’s treatment I was done with. I was done with having been molested, having my heart broken over and over again, suffering a stroke and still trying to rebuild my life from that and a divorce…. I was done with what life on this side of heaven had to offer. It required too much fighting, too much crying, too much pain and I was FINISHED!

Seeing the beautiful landscape all around me, I thought about my beautiful family and how the ladies gave up their Saturday to spend it loving on me and all of the ways Jesus has sent love and encouragement to me on my lowest days. Not just during this cancer journey, but throughout my entire life. He has always shown up for me. He has always been faithful and true to His word. Though I know I am human, and most people probably wouldn’t judge or criticize me too harshly for how I felt the morning of my 8th chemo, today when I thought about it I hurt because I felt like I cheapened what Jesus did for me when He gave up His life on the cross.

He died so that when things like cancer and all of the other crazy, painful stuff entered my life, I would know it has no power over me because He already defeated it on my behalf. So, for me to say I no longer want the life He died for me to have, in my mind, is the ultimate slap in the face! All I could muster up to say from the deepest part of me is, “I am so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me.” To which He lovingly replied, “My heart toward you remains the same. I love you. I will never leave or forsake you. You are Mine and I am Yours. I am Your Healer. I am Your Deliverer. I am Your Strength. I am Your Peace. I have abundant life and even life more abundantly for you beyond this affliction. I know you are battle weary. All I have ever asked of you is that you rest in Me that I may show you the beauty I have hidden for you in plain sight.”

In those moments I reaffirmed in my own heart that my life with Jesus is worth fighting for. In May, I watched a sermon Pastor Steven Furtick preached called, “The Drop Zone.” In it he said, “If it were not hard it would not be worth fighting for. If it were not hard it would not be worth surviving for.” Each day I am given on this side of life is another opportunity to point somebody in the direction of Jesus, to be His hands and His feet, to be an extension of His love. That is both a gift and a privilege. I pray I never forget that again.

On Tuesday I went to my second appointment with the radiation oncologist. This appointment was to do a CT scan and the markings so they can formulate my plan for treatment. As I sat on the CT scan table waiting for the doctor to come in I suddenly got upset inside. It was as if I was being told for the very first time that I had breast cancer and I almost burst into tears. I suddenly really understood all of these months, since January, I have actually been fighting breast cancer. When I thought of that moment today I thought, ‘I’m not just fighting. I already won!’

I am learning that who I am in Christ, the risen Jesus, the Holy Spirit IN me, is way stronger than this tent I am housed in. That same power that woke Jesus up from His death state is the same power that moves this worn, achy, crappy feeling, sick body everyday. So, for today, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17 NKJV).” I am just so very thankful for the beauty and the gift of today!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: The Me I See

Last Thursday, September 7, 2017, I rang the bell and completed my ninth and final round of chemotherapy. At the beginning of all of this I was bombarded with so much information that somehow I mistakenly thought I was told I had to do 12 rounds of chemo. On August 17th, the morning of my 8th chemo, I reached my end. I woke up early that morning and prayed like I do most mornings. But that morning was very different. As I prayed, I cried and told Jesus I was finished. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t depressed. I was FINISHED. My children are grown. I had done the best I could to be a light for Him and an extension of His love in every way I could. I wanted my work here to be finished. I pleaded with Him and told Him that I just could not do four more rounds of chemo. His only response to me that morning was, “You can’t, but I can.” Immediately, with an attitude, I stopped crying, pulled myself together and got dressed. His response let me know He still had work for me to do here and although I felt as if I was finished, He wasn’t.

When I arrived at the oncologist that day, my doctor asked how I was feeling. I told him how much harder it had become to recover from the treatments. He said with a smile, “Well just three more weeks and we’re done!” I looked at him puzzled. He clarified his statement by telling me my next chemo would be my last. He said he didn’t know who told me I had to do 12 or how I got confused, but I only had to do nine. You could not wipe the smile off my face! I left chemo that day feeling like I had caught my second wind. I better understood Jesus’ response to my breakdown that morning and I knew for sure with Him I could do it one more time.

My last chemo I took cupcakes and doughnuts to celebrate. Both of my sisters went with me. I wasn’t prepared for the sense of sadness I felt. The staff and rotating group of fellow warriors had become family to me. The thought of not seeing them on Thursdays every three weeks made my heart ache. I received and gave lots of hugs. I told them I’m not going to let them forget me. I’m already thinking of what I will do for them for Christmas. I left that day glad that it was over, but still wondering in my own heart and mind if I really had it in me to continue on through the rest of this journey. Inside, I still felt like I had nothing left and was finished.

The usual after chemo side effects hit me like a ton of bricks. I stayed in bed all day Friday and would have done the same on Saturday except I had committed to going to a cookout with my sister, Leslie. I wrestled with rather I would go or not all day until finally I decided I would push myself and go. I didn’t know why, but I just felt a press in my heart to go. It didn’t start until 3:30. So, I stayed in bed until the final hour and started getting dressed around 2:30.

When Leslie and I arrived at the cookout the beautiful woman who was that host greeted us with hugs. Leslie introduced me as “the one who writes the blog.” The woman then hugged me again with a big, warm hug and shouts, “You are the!” She went on to say how my videos on Facebook have been such an encouragement to her and that my voice is very soothing. Later in the day, she shared her own testimony of her battle with a life-threatening disease. I was truly encouraged and inspired by her journey. She is the definition of a warrior!

Today, as I am writing this blog post, it is day seven after my last chemo. Other than going to that cookout, I have been in the bed feeling sicker than I have throughout all of the treatments. As I lay in bed today I thought about all of the words I have heard spoken to or about me. Words like, “strong,” “encouragement,” “blessing,” “fighter,” “beautiful.” I’ve heard statements like, “You don’t look like you have cancer!,” “No one would ever know you were sick if you didn’t tell them!”, and my now all-time favorite, “You are the!” As I thought about that today I thought, ‘I would love to meet the person they see.’

The reality is that is not the me I see. Most days I am just barely hanging on. In 2011 when I had a stroke and could read words, but couldn’t understand them I would sit in my closet every day for hours and read Psalm 27, because it was the only thing I understood. Every day Jesus would say to me, “I in you, you in Me; forever and ever. Amen. Don’t worry. I got you on the left. (He said that because the stroke happened on the left side of my brain).” I understood that despite having the most loving, supportive family on this side of heaven, at the end of the day it was just Him and me. And that remains the same.

I used to pray that one day I would look so much like Jesus that I wouldn’t know where He ended and I began. A cute prayer in theory, but in reality I need to ALWAYS know and clearly see where I end and Jesus begins. One of the many things I love about the writings of the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, is he clearly defined what was him and what was not, always giving all glory and honor to God for His miraculous works. In I Timothy 1:15, he even spoke of himself as being the “chief” of sinners. The line of demarcation was clear. Though I know I am a generally nice person and don’t give up easily, all of those wonderful words that have passed through my ears I have sent directly to Jesus.

In this “selfie”, “followers,” and “likes” generation where so much effort is placed on showing everyone your “best” self and gaining praise for it, I need for it to always be crystal clear in my own mind that the very best of me is Jesus in me. He’s the part of me that is a blessing and encouragement to others. He’s the strength and fight inside of me that keeps me going from day to day. Absent Him, I am certain many of the words I’ve heard over these past months would be quite different. Looking from the inside out, the me I see at this moment is very small, tired, weak, and fragile. But, I know I am safe in the arms of the One who is greater and is everything I am not.

For today, I am comforted knowing were it not for Jesus, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13 NKJV).” Next stop on our breast cancer journey seven weeks of radiation, five days a week…