The Week I Had Cancer

“If everything looks normal, we’ll mail you a letter within a few days. Otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

That’s what the nice young lady said to me who had just finished gently smashing my girls for a 3D mammogram. Nice to meet you, Miss Boob-Wrangler. Have a nice day. 

A few hours later I was chatting with my husband about his day at work, when my phone rang. I never answer calls when I don’t recognize the number. But the number was local, and all I could think of was “…otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

Within a couple of seconds I was listening to a woman on the phone tell me how they needed me to come back in for another mammogram and an ultrasound on both sides.  The earliest appointment was a week from today, could I make that? No, she didn’t have any other information. A WEEK?? I had to wait a week to find out what this was all about? Seriously, lady? Then she said some stuff about co-pays and not wearing deodorant or lotion, and my eyes were already full of tears when I hung up. My husband was standing next to me. I cried as I relayed the very limited details. 

I have cancer. That’s all I could think of. My fingers got busy googling all the way down the rabbit hole of what it meant to get a callback after a mammogram and what percentages of callbacks were actually cancer, and what types of breast cancer were the “worst” to have for women in their early forties. Researching things and trying to have as much information as possible is how I deal. How I maintain some semblance of control. It’s just my MO.

As googling medical information often does, it made me more scared. The more advanced 3D mammogram decreases false positives, greatly reducing the need for callbacks. Great. But I did get a callback. Which to me, now sounded like big, bad news.

I spoke with a few friends. They gave me all the comforting words that friends should, about how lots of women have to go back for another scan, and most of the time it’s for a perfectly harmless reason. Most of the time.

But as far as I was concerned, this would be my last normal week ever. I would go back and have my second scans and they’d probably have to do a biopsy and within a day or two we’d be talking about treatments and a prognosis and all the things you never want to talk about.

As far as I was concerned, I had cancer. And everything was about to change.

So what exactly did all this this mean for me, during these 7 days of waiting to hear the doctors speak it all out loud? How would that make life different? Would it make anything different?

For me, I can assure you that it most definitely did make things different. I woke up every day and still did the things I had to do. I went to work. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. Normal, everyday stuff.

But this week—The Week I Had Cancer—I also thought about a teacher friend who had passed away just last year from breast cancer. She was around the same age I am now. I thought about how the effects of chemo or radiation would drastically change my plans for this year. Would I need just one of those or both? My husband and I discussed thoughts about treatment based on different diagnoses and whether there would be a scenario where I would not want treatment at all. We made inquiries to some lawyers about updating our wills. We made awkward comments like “Next week I’m going to ______, I mean, unless of course I have cancer, then I’ll…” Making awkward jokes between the two of us is how we both cope with bad things. That’s our MO as a couple.

But you know what else happened? We decided that we were finally going to take that trip to Italy that I’ve always wanted to go on. If I’m sick, then we’re going right away. If I’m not, then we’ll plan it for next summer. No more waiting, either way.

Every day I noticed my hair. And instead of complaining like I usually do about how crazy and unruly it can be, this week I actually appreciated it. I brushed it slowly and realized how shiny it is and how long it’s gotten. I thought about how funky I will probably look without it, but for now, I had it.

I kept eating healthy for the most part, because we’ve been doing so great at that lately, and because I just feel better overall when I do. But I also had delicious Friday night pizza and didn’t think twice about it.

I made homemade pasta for the first time ever. I lingered longer during snuggle time on the couch with my hubs. I skipped Spanish class one night to enjoy a dinner out with friends. I made an appointment at a local spa for a massage and some relaxing time in a sauna. I took my time reading books that I’ve been neglecting. I was more patient at work but didn’t stay late every night. I savored small things like my favorite-smelling body butter and my coziest blanket. I made plans to spend a couple hours with a friend that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. I identified some things that I’d been putting up with that I wont be allowing anymore. No time for that nonsense.

I thought quite a bit about how I literally might be dying. But at the same time, in every small way, I lived my one beautiful life. I squeezed as much life out of this week as I possibly could.

The next week finally came and I was back getting smashed and scanned. After nearly two hours, I finally got the results. Apparently the alarm had been raised due to dense tissue in specific spots on both sides. Not suspected to be cancer. Come back in six months for a recheck. Whew!

That was it. Just like that, I didn’t have cancer. In a way it felt surreal. It still does. I am so very grateful. Not only for the fact that now, I was not actually staring down a cancer diagnosis, but also grateful for this whole past week of waiting to find out, as painful as it had been. Because The Week I Had Cancer gave me a gift I didn’t expect. It gave me a fresh perspective about things. About life. And about how I don’t want to waste a second of it on things that don’t matter.

But I hope you don’t have to wait for a week where a diagnosis may be looming to figure this out. I hope you’ll read this and just start living like every single day matters, because guess what? It does.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do a little research for some travel plans.


PS: It’s not lost on me that you may be a person reading this who is already intimately acquainted with this understanding of how every moment matters so very much, because you did get that diagnosis or some other such curveball life tends to throw at us. My prayers are with you, and it’s my hope that in everything you’re going through, you’d continue to see all those tiny little moments of joy and peace.

The Good Towels

When you’re about to have an overnight guest at your house, that’s about the time you become acutely aware of what awful shape your towels are in.

I mean seriously… every single bath towel I own looks like it wrestled with a wolverine. There are so many snags, I’m sitting here wondering how these things are still even holding together at all.

Then I wonder what my momma would think.

But really, I already know. She always had a thing for “good towels.” I don’t know where she got that, growing up in the coal-mining hollers of Kentucky. Where did she even get this concept of “good towels?” I guess everyone browses Better Homes & Gardens now and then. But there were always some good towels in the top of the linen closet that we weren’t supposed to use. They were for Company, whoever that was.

Now all I can think about is how I’m a total failure. How my houseguest will be here in a few hours and I have no good towels to offer her, and my momma raised me better than that.

Then it hits me: On this day, six years ago, I didn’t know that I only had exactly one week left with my mom on this planet. I just didn’t know. If I did, I would have bought some good towels and showed her and said “LOOK MOM! I did what you taught me! I have good towels for when someone comes over! See!? Right here they are! I listened to you!”

But I didn’t. I didn’t buy any good towels to put aside for houseguests and I didn’t treat her as if it were our last week together. I just didn’t.

Grief has been heavy on me the past few weeks. I think about her a lot. Her funny sayings. Holidays with her bossing everyone around with that thick southern accent. But mostly all the ways that I could have done better. Things I could have done just to make her happier. Like buy some damn nice towels so I wouldn’t disgrace our family name.

I know towels aren’t significant. They really aren’t, not in the grand scheme of things. But neither is a lot of stuff we worry about. But my momma, she sure was significant. And the fact that I went about her last days on earth not realizing how true that was… well, that’s about a sad as those lousy towels I have in the other room now.

I think about those who are still with me. Those I see every day and the ones I don’t. Have I really noticed their significance? Have I treated them like special houseguests in my life, loving them in a way that feels like giving them “the good towels,” or just tossing them a ratty, snagged-up scrap here and there?

These heavy-grief times are some of the hardest for me, but they’re eye-opening, instructive. They remind me that every single day is an I-didn’t-know-I-only-had-that-much-time-left kind of day, and to work a little harder to remember that for the people in my life.

I’m still working out ways to do better with all of this in my day-to-day. And I know I won’t be perfect at it. But for now, I think I’ll pick out a few new towels to keep in the top of the closet, just in case.

Hope & Joy, Coming Right Up

wreathI’m gonna get right to it. There are two things happening tomorrow that I am super excited about! One is an online devotion study centered around hope, and the other is a photo-a-day project that highlights joyful things. BOTH of them begin tomorrow. Hope-and-joy-focused awesomeness. Who doesn’t love that??

So, a bit of explanation:

There’s an online friend I met through a Facebook group for a writer’s conference we both attended this past summer. Her name is Stephanie Adams, and she has a site called R.E.A.L. Women (Relationships through Encouragement, Accountability, & Love.) Stephanie focuses on women being real with each other and themselves, centered around what God says about who we really are. She writes and hosts online bible studies encouraging women to dig into God’s word to gain wisdom on how to live real lives.

Not long ago, Stephanie opened up an invitation for women to contribute to writing companion articles to go along with a holiday-time devotion study. Since the theme of the study would be centered around hope, I jumped at the chance to participate. After submitting a writing sample, I was offered the chance to contribute alongside 13 other writers for this study. (Yay! Thanks, Stephanie!) I began working on what ended up being a very open, raw piece of writing for me. I hope y’all don’t hate it. It just came from the real that I’m living in right now.

The devotion study, Hope Is, begins tomorrow, December 1st. I can’t wait to see how all 14 ladies’ writings will mesh. None of us have seen each other’s articles, but Stephanie already said she could see them working together. God is so cool like that.

If you or a sister-friend you know would like to participate in the Hope Is devotion study, it’s not too late to sign up! Click here to register. You’ll receive the daily devotion content Mon-Fri from Dec 1st through the 18th. You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group for the study, so you can discuss your thoughts with other readers and encourage each other along in finding hope in all the moments of this season. And of course, you’ll get the bonus articles that accompany each day of the study (Keep an eye out for one written by yours truly, entitled Giving on Empty.) So check it out, register ASAP, and spend the next few weeks focused on the best thing ever: Hope.

In a solid tie with hope for the Best Thing Ever award is another favorite concept of mine: Joy.

Have you ever met someone that just radiates joy? I don’t mean someone with a slap-happy smile plastered on their face. Not even a perky person. Those things aren’t the same as joy. Joy is something peaceful, something that makes the corner of your mouth curl up into a contented, relaxed smile. Joy is something small or something big that makes you feel complete just for a moment. It’s a kind of shalom. No matter what’s going on around us, we can savor small droplets of joy in every moment.

My friend Melissa knows all about those droplets of joy. Joy is her thing. She seeks it. Breathes it in. Savors it. Moments move more slowly when we can find joy in them. We can stay in them, draw them out, capture them, and return to them whenever we want to. Because joy is something that is within us and can’t be taken away.

Melissa has taken on many endeavors in the name of joy. As she does so, the joy spreads. (See what she did there?) A couple years back I started participating in one such project called 25 Days of Joy. Beginning December 1st, we snapped a photo of something that brought joy to us that day. We hashtagged that little photo #25daysofjoy and shared the heck out of it. Every day up through Christmas, we focused on joy. The whole process wasn’t fancy or time consuming. It was fun, easy, and just plain joyful.

Jump on the #25daysofjoy bandwagon! Check out the Facebook page here and post your photos to share with other participants if you’d like. Any way you choose to participate, I know it will do your heart good to see the joy in your everyday moments this season.

So, there you have it. A big ol’ dose of hope and joy, available to you right now! I hope you will participate in one or both of these opportunities to focus on hope and joy over the next few weeks.

Joining me for either of these?? Leave a comment to let me know!

Hope & joy to you this holiday season, lovely people!

On Needing (and being) Strawberry Pie Friends

@ 8:45 am:

Good morning, friend! Not sure if you are up yet but I am on my way to your house with a special delivery 🙂

That’s the message that followed the familiar da-da-ding of my phone. At 8:45 in the morning.

Even though this morning was rushed and hectic, and I was just about to walk my non-showered, yoga pants-wearing self out the door to an appointment, I wasn’t the least bit upset about getting a text message early in the morning, announcing this unexpected guest. Especially since it was from one of my very most awesome diva-friends. I am never in too big of a hurry to want to see her smiling face.

Minutes later there was a homemade strawberry pie in my hand and a warm hug around my neck. I don’t even know what to say about a friend like that, other than I want every single one of you to have someone in your life just like her.

You see, folks, right now I am going through a pretty hard stretch of life. Stuff that strawberry pie won’t fix. (Even the homemade kind.) But what will help fix it is all the love that I am getting from my community of people. My own little community of ladies who text and call and invite me to hang out and message me on Facebook and pin inspiration to my Pinterest boards and bring me flowers and cards and strawberry freakin’ pie. They are there for me, whether they live down the street or in an altogether different spot on the globe. They just show up. Not always at 8:45 in the morning, not always even at my house, and certainly not always with a homemade pie in their hands.  But these girls show the heck UP. They show up by praying for me and talking me down from my crazy with God’s truth that I know has never changed. They show up to laugh and to cry with me, when either or both of those things are needed.

I am learning what it means to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2) To let myself be the “one” whose burdens are being shared by those in my community feels awkward and different for me. It’s always so easy to reach out and share and love on those people close to me when they are hurting, but for some reason I seem to try to work through my junk on my own when it’s my turn in the fire. That’s just silly. I am learning to respect the reciprocity that has to happen in real, authentic communities of faith & friendship.

Good people, keep on texting your friends and praying for them and crying with them when stuff is hard. Take them those cards and flowers and strawberry pies (homemade not required!) Show up in any way you can. And when things are tough in your worlds, you can keep on being a Strawberry Pie Friend by letting them show up for you too.

Loving Princess Leia

Hey y’all… This month’s One Word post is sitting over at my friend Marla’s blog. She is a fantastic lady and an awesome, no-pretense writer. We met online, then in real life when I realized she lived very close. (Lucky me!) I appreciate the opportunities she’s given me to share through her blog from time to time.

She’s got a series going on this month called Real. Hard. Love. With February usually being all about ooey gooey romantic love, she and some of her friends share about the part of love that we normally don’t talk about… The very very hard part. But that’s also the real part. This post that I’ve written to share over there is about perhaps one of the most difficult parts of love for me to ever talk about… Loving my own mess. Loving myself now even though that old self still clings onto me. Through this, I’m learning that loving myself as part of God’s creation actually allows me to step into the roles God has made for me with the authority He’s given me. It’s been an awesome discovery so far! I encourage you today to think about the things you’re shying away from that you know God has nudged you to do. Why haven’t you done them? Maybe you have a type of Princess Leia in your life…

Loving Princess Leia

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