Share Your Cancer Story

“Come on in and join the party!” my friend Mary, the birthday ‘girl’ and host, welcomed me. She was in the midst of checking the beverage coolers, taking care of her guests.

It was Saturday night and I was ready for a break from my growing lists of tasks: next steps in publishing my memoir, household chores crying out from neglect, charts to review for my part-time research nurse job. Going to my friend’s party was a welcomed relief.

Once I had my plate of food and was looking for a place to sit, Mary said, “Connie, I want you to meet someone who just finished our Expressive Writing Group.”

Mary had developed that group for the Waverly Survivor Clinic. We first met while participating on the planning committee to establish supports for our survivors’ community. I’d received chemo for breast cancer in their treatment area.

“This is Kay. She just completed the program,” Mary told me, then turned toward Kay. “Connie was in my first group two years ago.”

We sat across from each other on the couch. She was younger than me, mid-forties, and was stylishly dressed and wore a fedora atop her curly, dark hair. I’ve always liked fedoras, and admired women with the confidence to wear them, especially since I’ve never been a hat person. She asked me about my experience with the group, but then she was interested in my cancer story.

“It’s been eighteen years, now,” I told her. “I was shocked when they told me I had breast cancer, since I don’t have a family history of the disease.”

She’d heard the same statistic as me, that 70% of those diagnosed do not have a family history. I told her mine was discovered on a routine mammogram, the word routine always giving me pause since that day when I ran out for that mammogram during my lunch break.

“Yeah, mine was triple-negative and I wanted Dr. Graham to do everything possible to get rid of the cancer,” I told her. “I was forty-five and my sons were in 9thand 10thgrade. As a mother, after my first concern of, “Am I going to live?” my next priority was being there for my boys.”

She told me hers was triple-negative, too, and that she’d finished treatment just a little over a year ago. I knew that her memories and her fears were fresh.

She asked me about my course of treatment. We’d had a similar path but the steps were in a different order.

“Those appointments get easier over time,” I told her, remembering how anxious I was post-treatment, out from under the frequent visits and protective watch of my oncologist.

“It’s so good to talk to you, to hear that you’re an eighteen-year survivor,” she said.

Her comment reminded me of an experience at my surgeon’s office the week I found out I had breast cancer. Sitting and waiting for my appointment for him to explain the pathology report and answer my panicky questions, I overheard a woman talking about her breast cancer to the receptionist.

“I can’t believe it’s been eight years,” the receptionist said to the woman. “You really look good.”

She’s lived for eight years, I marveled. While I was a nurse, I’d never worked in oncology and never read about breast cancer. My recent experience of losing a high school classmate from that disease was my point of reference. Overhearing that conversation settled me down, and often played in my head over the months of treatment.

Now, Kay was telling me the same thing—that my story of being an eighteen-year survivor had given her hope. It reminded me that I needed to be available to share my story, when the other person was wanting to hear it. I remembered times when I didn’t want to talk about cancer, I wanted to forget about it—at least for a while. As a survivor, I needed to let the other person lead with what they wanted at that moment.

We finished our dinner and Mary led us out to the garage where The String Beings band was playing. Guests sat in lawn chairs listening to the relaxing Saturday night music, talking with the band members between songs. I spotted Dr. Graham, the first time I’d seen him outside the office, looking all ‘regular’ in a casual shirt, pants, and athletic shoes, without that long white lab coat.

Kay and I found seats near the band and continued our conversation. She showed me some of her family pictures, and pointed out her pre-chemo, straight hair. Her Mama Pride radiated when she shared the picture of her son. What a beautiful family that had been there for her during her treatment.

We talked and talked until the band played their last song.

Leaving Mary’s party, I felt full and happy. I’d encouraged a fellow survivor and in the process, made a new friend. I’d been reminded how important it is to share our cancer story, that though I want to move on and leave that behind me, there are people in my path who need Hope.

How About You?

What is your story that could provide someone with hope?

How does it impact them when you share your story? How does it impact you?

(Sorry, Friends. My photos are not loading today–after many tries! So frustrating. Will try to post them in the future)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings: Moving Beyond the Gap

In last week’s post, I left you sitting in The Gap, encouraging you to allow yourself to feel that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings (see Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap)

New Beginnings is that last stage of Bill Bridges Map for Change where new relationships or the new job begins. But like the Endings and The Gap stages, it has emotional aspects including excitement, fear of failure, anxiety, a sense of accomplishment and/or celebration. But before I can move on to New Beginnings, I’m reminded of another type of Forced Ending that I didn’t include last week.

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Emerald Isle July ’18 Now Impacted by Florence

As I write this post from my home in central North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is spinning down on our coast, producing massive flooding and a predicted record-setting storm surge. It’s a slow-moving storm that takes its time delivering its blowMany people ‘Down East’ have moved to shelters, not knowing how their lives will be changed and what they will find when it’s safe to return home—whatever is left of home. We wait here in the Piedmont, knowing we’re in the hurricane’s path but unsure of how our lives will be impacted.

Natural disasters are another example of Forced Endings that we don’t choose. While they have nothing to do with problems in relationships, workplace politics, or other issues that may produce Forced Endings, they do leave people with the same types of emotions: shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety.

I have a friend from China, and some years ago she tragically lost her parents in a typhoon. What a huge impact that Forced Ending—the death of her parents, had on her life. She has spent years dealing with her grief and trying to figure out how to move from that Forced Ending, through The Gap, and to a New Beginning. While she will always miss her parents, and wish things had been different, she has found the strength to move forward. Her New Beginning is not what she expected as she studies in the States and prepares for her professional future. But it is life, and like those who will be changed by Hurricane Florence, eventually there will be a better day and a glimpse of a New Beginning.

When I was dealing with The Gap following my Chosen Ending of retirement from school nursing  (see Afraid of the Next Chapter)

I’d written in my journal the first day of the following academic year that it felt “empty” to not be going back. The following sentence read,

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

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Emerald Isle July ’18 New Beginning of a Wedding

That is the glimpse of the New Beginning. Knowing that you have moved into that next phase, still uncertain but strengthened by hope, that wonder of how God is working in your life. Totally surprised by the place you’ve landed, you trust in the bigger picture, that you’ll succeed where your feet are now planted.

Whether we arrive at the New Beginning after a Chosen or Forced Ending, we can accept that change as a new start, a place that will challenge us and produce growth.

After I was fired and I muddled in The Gap for a season, I returned to a position in school nursing. At first, I thought it was like I was going backwards since I wasn’t moving to a higher position in clinical trials—as I’d assumed would be my career path. But after a while, I saw that I was a different person since my experience with that toxic job while going through breast cancer treatment. I was stronger and I valued being in a supportive work group. I was more bold and spontaneous with my students and staff. There was a greater freedom to just be myself.

My hope for you, is that whatever Ending you’ve experienced, whatever your Gap has been like, that you’ll arrive at your New Beginning and feel the strength you’ve developed in the process. Knowing that within you is what you need to navigate the new start and that all around you there is support for the challenges.

Now, sitting at my computer and looking out my windows, the wind is blowing harder and the rain has started to fall. I fear that we could lose power before my usual Saturday post. So, I’ll send this to you early and ask for your good thoughts and prayers for North Carolina and all the areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Peace and Blessings to Everyone.

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How About You? 

What New Beginning have you experienced?

What strengths emerged that surprised you?

How do you look back on the Ending and the Gap now that you’ve experienced a New Beginning?

 

The Plans I Have for You

January is a month of looking ahead and planning for the year.  We make work goals and vacation plans.  I dream about where I’ll take my solo journey, my pilgrimage.  This year, I have the excitement of anticipating the birth of my first grandchild, a baby boy – a new chapter of life about to unfold.  I pray for this baby that’s being knitted together in his mother’s womb.  I wonder, will he be like his father, my older son, Brooks?  I think about how looking at a newborn we see all of life ahead, hope swaddled in that baby bundle.  But it’s hard to see future with a person at the other end of the life cycle.  It reminds me of how I felt that day when we had to place Mama at Parkview.

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Like I described in my post, “Carry a Song” (Dec. 20), our hearts were broken when we three sisters had to move Mama to Parkview.  Once her dementia progressed and she started falling, we couldn’t provide what she needed at home.  I remember a woman’s comment after I told her about our situation.  She responded, “Well, we were lucky that we didn’t have to put our parents in ‘one of those places.’”

How that added to what already felt like a defeat.  The day we took Mama to Parkview, my sisters settled her into the room while I completed the medical information.  When I reached the final section, I wasn’t sure I could go on; What is your funeral home preference?  Mama was eighty-nine-years-old and of course, you think of the end of life.  But what it reminded me of was the woman’s comment.  Were we guilty of placing Mama in a dumping ground?  My heart broke.

Next to where I stood there was a bulletin board.  Thumbtacked to the bottom right corner there was an index card with a Bible verse written in ink; “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).

I remembered when I’d first read that verse many years before.  It was on one of Brooks’s high school graduation cards and was perfect for launching an eighteen-year-old.  But to be posted in a nursing home, how did it fit for their residents who were very advanced in years?

Then it was as if the still small voice of God said, “Your Mama has a future, too.”

That truth applies to everyone; No Age Limits.

I thought about how Mama had always been a woman of faith and had never voiced any fear of growing old.  When I’d ask her what age she’d enjoyed the most, she’d always respond, “Every age has good things.”

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Brooks visiting Grandma Rosser

Now, Mama has been a resident at Parkview for over five years.  She is loved by the staff and fellow residents will comment, “She always has such a sweet smile.”  One of the nursing assistants discovered that Mama was the “Mrs. Rosser” that was kind to her when she was a child.  She had a wistful expression as she recalled how Mrs. Rosser had welcomed her and the other day camp kids to her farm and provided great food and a wonderful place to play.

One day I came in and found a woman custodian singing to Mama.  When I commented how nice that was, the woman responded, “I always come in and sing to her.  Mrs. Rosser likes me.”

It’s been sad to see the decline in Mama from dementia.  But, I have witnessed how God has worked.  Her future has continued her rich legacy of a life well-lived, without fear, where every age has good things.

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Madison talking with Mama

How about you?

How have you experienced times when you couldn’t see hope and a  future for yourself or someone else?

What has helped to move beyond that?