One song I enjoy running to is Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger." I've always believed that to be true in life. Each situation we face makes us adapt, change and grow to deal with and, hopefully, overcome it.
I spent several years working with an birth education and advocacy group, The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). My involvement grew out of my own bad experience with Olivier's cesearan birth in 1999. As I became more aware of the physiological and political issues surrounding the birth industry, I was able to go on to have two amazing home births with Isabelle and Jean-Marc. I got involved in ICAN, a group that I found much support and information from during my subsequent pregnancies. I like to think that I helped other women avoid some of the same mistakes that I made the first time around. My cesarean experience definitely made me stronger, but it took me a long time to get to the point of saying that I was grateful for that experience. But now, I can honestly say that I am grateful for my cesarean and for the person it forced me to become.
A new friend, (who found me through this blog), mentioned an interview with "Soul Surfer" Bethany Hamilton. Bethany was asked if she could do her life over, would she have not gone surfing that day or gotten out of the water before the shark came? And she said, "No", because she has been able to reach so many more people to tell them about her faith and God's love than she ever would have if she'd remained a normal surfer girl.
That got me to thinking...will I ever be able to say that I am grateful for my cancer? Maybe not grateful, but would I ever wish that it didn't happen to me if I could have it all to do over?
Honestly, I don't know right now. Sometimes I look back on what I went through and it doesn't even seem real. Did that really happen to me? It doesn't take long before I have a glance in the mirror and see my scarred body to confirm that, yes, it did.
If it weren't for the lingering specter of recurrence, I probably could get to the point of being grateful someday. Even with the lymphedema that will always be an issue in my life, I could probably get to that point. But the thought of the cancer coming back at any time really plays games with your head, because its never really over.
That being said, I can think of some things that I appreciate having gone through cancer and treatment that I would not have necessarily experienced if I did not have the experience. First of all, I have been able to experience the love, care and keeping of God in a way I never had before. It was experiential at times. It was palpable. I think of my biopsy or my surgery, when I could actually feel the presence of the Lord with me, keeping me, whispering scripture into my mind to bring me peace and calm.
I learned through experience that God's promises in the Bible are true. Things like, "I will not leave you or forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5-6) Or the promise from Joshua 1:9 that I wore on a necklace to every chemotherapy appointment: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Even simple things like being able to sleep at night because "He gives to His beloved sleep." (Psalm 127:2) I KNOW these things are true because He did them for me. Based on that, I can rest assured that the rest of the promises in the Bible are true as well. (Which really puts one in a place of peace during these crazy times.) Even if the cancer comes back and is what ultimately makes this body die, I know based on the promises in His Word where I'll be, because "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Another thing I appreciate is the fellowship of other breast cancer survivors. What an amazing bunch of people they are! Most of them not only have or are going through treatment, but they all try to help others in some way. Many do help through participating in walks or events and raising money for cancer charities. Others have informative blogs, or give back by volunteering to help run support groups and working one on one with women as they go through treatment. We don't all see eye to eye on all issues related to breast cancer, treatment, pink ribbons, etc. But we all respect each other's experience and I always feel a genuine warmth from all of them.
Having had breast cancer has certainly put the women in my family on alert, as well as many of my friends and acquaintances. If it could happen to me at 40, it can happen to anyone. Hopefully this heightened awareness will lead every woman to check her breasts regularly, know what they feel like, know what is normal so if there are any changes, she can alert her care providers immediately. I believe that is even more important than mammograms. (Remember...I had a "clean" mammogram a month before I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer!)
While I will never reach the celebrity of Bethany Hamilton, I hope that my experience has reached out and helped others. I hope that people can see evidence of God's love through my experience and be strengthened in their own faith.
So while I am not "grateful" that I had cancer, I am beginning to see how God has used it for good purposes. I know that He works all things together for the good (Romans 28:8). I pray that this list of things that I have come to appreciate grows as I reflect on the past 25 months and move forward in my "post-cancer" life.
About this blog
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.