Living My Best Life

I learned long ago that I could smile through what life brings me, or there is no point in living.

I learned long ago that I have a choice. I didn’t choose cancer, but I got to choose how I reacted to it.

I learned long ago that I can live, or I can wait to die.

 

And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. 

Ecclesiastes 8:15

 

Every three months I have scans to check for cancer progression.

Every three months, I am reminded that I am a cancer patient.

Although I have tolerable, yet uncomfortable, side effects and I visit my oncologist every month; I lead a pretty normal life. I gave up my career, but I keep busy writing my blog and freelancing for local publications. I am so tired that I become one with my couch sometimes, but I manage to care for my home and family as best I can.

I don’t want to be ‘the girl with cancer’.

I don’t need pity.

I don’t want to be anyone’s community service project.

I look on the bright side. I find good in any situation. I smile through all of it.

I kept going when people I trusted turned on me when I got sick.

I kept going when the pain was so terrible, I prayed that I would die.

I kept going when my cancer came back; this time, the terminal kind.

I kept going when it seemed like my world was falling apart.

I am made of some pretty strong stuff.

Only with God’s strength and mercy, my Dad’s example, and the love of my amazing family and friends am I still here.

Let me repeat that, if only for myself:

I’m. Still. Here.

I have outlived the expiration date given to me by statistics (and one pretty horrendous doctor who shouldn’t be practicing).

I am on my off week after my 41st monthly round of treatment.

I have had scans roughly every 3 months since the fall of 2015.

Scans are never fun, but I get through them.

I don’t like to live 3 months at a time, but that is my life now.

I smile, but my life isn’t easy.

I watch my kids sleep and pray I will see them grow up.

Still smiling…

I see the worry in my husband’s eyes when I don’t feel well.

Still smiling…

I walk in the cancer center every month like it is a perfectly normal thing to do.

Still smiling…

Every visit, I pray the nurse finds a vein, knowing she hides her growing annoyance behind a fake smile with every failed attempt.

Still smiling …

I talk to my oncologist about my medicine, symptoms, side effects, and upcoming or recent scans as though we are discussing the weather and last night’s ball game.

Still smiling …

I sit patiently as the nurse injects me in the arm with what feels like a million bee stings.

Still smiling …

I listen to friends with metastatic breast cancer describe their pain, their fear, and their devastation; and I feel guilty as I silently thank the Lord their story isn’t mine.

Still smiling …

I scroll through Facebook to learn that my cancer friends died. Every. Single. Day.

Still smiling …

I hold my arms over my head, IV pulling in my arm, as I lay on a hard table listening to the recorded voice tell me to ‘hold my breath’ and ‘breathe’ during my CT scan, as I calmly chat with the tech who I know by name.

Still smiling …

I lay on the hard table, head turned to the right and eyes closed so I can’t see the machine that is inches from my face during my bone scan; and then I peek at the screen and worry about every bright spot that comes into view.

Still smiling …

I wait … and wait … and wait some more for the results of these scans.

Only two things can happen.

There is no in between.

The doctor tells me in his friendly voice my scans are clear.

Or he tells me in his serious voice there is progression.

Life goes on as usual…or my world stops.

Again.

I am mad that I have to deal with this.

I am sad that life turned out this way.

I am scared that life is going to end …

too soon.

I am scared that my kids will get married, graduate college, or maybe even start high school without their mom.

I am scared that my husband will be depressed, lonely, and overwhelmed.

But guess what?

Still smiling …

There are moments (many moments) when that smile fades, when the tears won’t stop, and when my heart is broken into a million pieces.

There are moments when I don’t know if I can do this anymore.

But I do.

That smile isn’t fake.

I earned that smile.

I learned long ago that I could smile through what life brings me, or there is no point in living.

I learned long ago that I have a choice. I didn’t choose cancer, but I got to choose how I reacted to it.

I learned long ago that I can live, or I can wait to die.

This goes for anyone, cancer or not.

So when my scan results aren’t what I expect, my heart sinks and my mind races.

I look for support, but no one really understands.

They are scared too.

When dealing with cancer, there is often a ‘wait and see’ approach. Treatments need time to work. There is an ebb and flow. It is frustrating when my tumor markers go up and down. It is scary when scans pick up ‘increased activity’.

Really scary.

So how do I get through the next three months?

How do I ‘wait’ …

and ‘see’?

I keep smiling.

I keep living.

Only this next three months is going to be different.

There will be no more worrying about what other’s think.

There will be no more ‘extras’ on my calendar.

There will be no more time invested in people who don’t invest in me.

There will be more laughter, more hugs, and more fun.

There will be more family time, home-cooked meals, and baked goods.

There will be more date nights, family movie nights, ice cream, and sunsets.

There will be more prayer in the mornings and reading in the evenings.

I will let go of what doesn’t matter.

I have no time for nonsense, no time for pettiness, no time for drama.

Three months is about 90 days.

A lot can happen in 90 days.

A lot of good times can be shared.

A lot of good memories can be made.

A lot of good laughs can be had.

A lot of life can be lived.

I always look for the blessing in even the most difficult of situations.

That blessing is knowing that God is taking care of me every step of the way.

That blessing is the time with my husband, my kids, my mom, and my friends.

That blessing is the focus on all the things that really matter.

That blessing is the permission to let go of the rest.

I am going to make the next three months, the best three months.

And I hope that you will do the same.

 

 

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

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