One Year

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One year ago today, my life changed forever.

One year ago today, I got the news no one ever wants to get: “You have cancer.”

My first “cancerversary,” as it’s called by so many who’ve dealt with this nasty disease, felt almost like groundhog day. Last year, when I got the news, I was en route to Chicago for a business trip. The thing is, it’s a trip I make every year at the same time. So, once again, I’m in Chicago. And I feel almost like I’ve been reliving the events of last year.

Just like last year, I spent my layover in the Atlanta airport. And I spent today walking the furniture market in Chicago. I’m staying in the same hotel. Even the weather is eerily the same–hot and stormy.

Looking around this hotel room that looks exactly like the one I retreated to last year, those feelings of terror and despair feel closer to me than they have in a while. And yet, in this same space, I remember good things, too.

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The Chicago sky, last year

In that first awful night after getting the news, I holed up in my room to wallow. I cried–my body heaving with sobs that left me practically breathless. And then, I began to pray.

I’m not a particularly religious person. I don’t go to church. I don’t read the Bible regularly. But, I’m definitely a spiritual person. I pray a lot. I talk to God. And I have a pretty strong relationship with him.

That night, I begged. I bargained. I reasoned. “Please don’t take me now. My son still needs me. Please let me see him grow up.”

And in the midst of my agony, I suddenly felt calm. A strange feeling of peace washed over me, and somehow, I knew everything would be OK.

While some will say it was merely my mind playing tricks on me or whatever, I truly felt it was God letting me know things would be alright.

I’ve carried that moment with me throughout this past year. When things got really hard, and I feared the absolute worst, I returned to that night in this hotel. That moment of peace has sustained me through this ordeal. And though I’m still fearful, I keep that peace with me to calm the worry and anxiety that simmers deep within.

I’ve lost a lot this past year: My breasts, my hair, my ovaries, my peace of mind. I lost my innocence in the sense that I no longer trust my own body. It has betrayed me, and I’ll never be able to feel an ache or pain without that voice in my head wondering if it’s a sign of something much worse.

But I’m still here. And while I’ve lost so much, I’ve gained so many things, too. Perspective. A new sense of gratitude. A renewed appreciation for the gift of life. The knowledge that I am stronger than I ever thought.

Today has certainly been bittersweet, but mostly, it’s been a good day. I’m thankful to be here. To be well. To be alive. And for today, that’s enough.

 

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Winks from God

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The other day, my son and I stopped into Starbucks for a little treat. As we settled in at a table outside, a woman seated near us walked over and asked me how I was doing.

This might seem a bit odd since I didn’t know her, but I was just wearing a ball cap that day (as I do most weekends), so it was clear I’d lost my hair. I knew she could easily see that I’d been through chemo.

I told her how treatment was going, and she offered some words of encouragement. Then I asked her if she’d been through this, and she admitted that she was a breast cancer survivor, as well, and told me her story.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Since I started treatment and lost my hair, I’ve had several complete strangers approach me in public with words of encouragement. And these strangers were all survivors themselves.

A few weeks ago a woman (also a survivor) came up to me in a restaurant and told me to keep up the fight. And on the day before my brain MRI, a woman (another survivor) in the drug store told me I was going to be OK–a message I desperately needed to hear that day.

As I thanked the lady at Starbucks for coming over to talk, I told her this keeps happening to me. She just smiled and said, “Yes, it happened to me, too. I call them winks from God.”

I love that. And I also love that there’s this inherent sisterhood among women who’ve faced this nasty disease. It’s as if we have a sixth sense about one another, and can spot a sister from a mile away. And what’s even cooler is we’re not afraid to reach out and offer love and support, even to someone we don’t know.

I’ve decided that once I get to the other side of this, I will do the same for other women I encounter. Being someone else’s wink from God is the least I can do.