This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
I just had my scans again. I have them every 3 months. Because my oncologist has to keep an eye on those cancer cells lying in wait to attack bone, lung, liver, or brain; I have regular scans to check for progression. So, every 3 months, I prepare myself for a day in the hospital and a day or two of waiting for the results. The scans aren’t so bad. A little uncomfortable and capable of bringing back a lot of bad memories, but I get through those alright. The waiting, though – that is the worst part.
You see, there is no middle ground. A good scan means that my treatment is still working. I can go on with my life as is; and although, I deal with the side effects of my treatment, I am pretty used to them by now. A bad scan means that my treatment has failed. The cancer is growing and attacking a bone or organ. I will face more radiation or surgery, and I will have to start a new treatment, not knowing how bad the side effects will be, what my quality of life will be reduced to, and whether that treatment will even work. Life as I know it will be over, and the odds of living to see my children graduate high school and beyond will be even lower.
Most metastatic breast cancer patients live about three years past diagnosis. I am going to hit that milestone in about six months. Only 20% of patients live five years. I fully intend to be part of that 20% and prefer to live well beyond my sad prognosis; but, that is up to God, not me. We know what to expect when we leave this earth; but God doesn’t tell us when that will happen, although, having a terminal illness seems to narrow that time frame down a bit.
One of the things that people tend to say to me (and many cancer patients) is, “Hey, we could all get hit by a bus tomorrow.” Ugh. Honestly, I hate when people say that and so does every other cancer patient. It really isn’t the same thing. Yes, it could happen; but the odds of you getting hit by a bus tomorrow are not quite the same as the odds of me succumbing to my disease in the next 6 months to 2 years. The other thing people say is, “None of us know how much time we have.” That is also correct; however, it is easy to say that when you have never heard a doctor say you have a terminal disease or how long they expect you to live. Knowing that information is a game changer, a life changer – and unless you are in that position, you really don’t understand.
You can sympathize, yes.
And that’s okay. I wouldn’t wish that type of understanding on anyone.
The last couple days after my scan had been a time of prayer and reflection. I am as positive and faithful a person as they come; but as a way of coping with this disease, I have to mentally prepare for every outcome. I desperately want to hear my doctor say that my cancer is stable and there are no new lesions; but I need a game plan if the answer is not what I want. My oncologist and I have this conversation before every scan – the what if’s, the what will be’s. If the cancer has grown, I may have radiation again or surgery, and I will start a new treatment plan with new side effects – and pray that it works. I will do whatever I need to do to prolong my life on this earth, still knowing that God will make that ultimate decision, but it is scary, not knowing what the future will bring.
Thankfully, after a pretty unsettling day and a half, my oncologist called and told me that my scans were ‘as good as it gets’, my cancer was stable, and I was exactly where he wanted me to be. The treatment plan was still working. Praise God!
A big exhale. A huge relief.
But now what?
I now had 3 months before my next scan to continue on, to live this life as I know it. I had 3 months before I had to schedule, or even think about my next scan … when I would have to go through this all over again. Knowing that my life could drastically change in as little as 3 short months – that injects a little urgency into my days.
Think about it, if you knew that in 3 months, you may be facing surgery that would keep you down for a period of time, or radiation that would burn your skin and make you feel sick and tired; that you may be starting a new treatment that made you want to sleep all day or vomit all day or hurt all day; that you might find out that the cancer had spread to so many places very quickly and there wasn’t anything more they can do…
I ask you…
How would you choose to spend your next 3 months?
I bet your outlook would be a little different. I bet you would stop worrying about some of the things that keep you up at night. I bet you would stop putting in extra hours at work and start spending more time with the people you love. I bet you would take notice of things you overlooked before – like the sunset, the big puffy clouds in the brilliant blue sky, the first buds of spring and the first burst of color in the fall. I bet you would spend less time doing the housework and more time playing with your kids. I bet you would spend less time in the evening on the couch watching television and more time on the side of the bed watching your children sleep.
I know what you would do, because that is what I do.
So many people are missing out on right now because they think about what will happen then – when they get that promotion, when they get that new house, when they can finally retire…
Life is what happens in the meantime.
And so many people don’t get it.
Every day is a gift. Every day is a chance to take notice of God’s Creation. Every day is an opportunity to love and to be loved.
I spend a lot of time praying and thinking and reflecting on things. I spend a lot of time deciding what is worth my time and attention. I spend a lot of time focusing on what brings me joy.
And I have a lot of joy.
Even as I wade through the uncertainty of this disease, I find joy. I find joy with God. I find joy with my loved ones. I find joy in the quiet moments and in everyday things.
If you struggle to find joy in your life, your situation, you can make some changes. If that isn’t possible, find joy by passing it along to others. Send a plate of food to an elderly neighbor, or better yet, invite your neighbor over for dinner. Give a simple gift to someone going through a difficult time. Call a friend that you haven’t talk to in a while. Compliment a stranger. Say ‘hello’. Smile.
There are so many ways to spread joy in this world, and most of them don’t require much effort; but the joy you put out there will come back to you ten-fold.
I promise you that.
I have learned through this process to live life right now, to live the life in front of me instead of looking ahead. I mourn the things I might not live to see. I think about the anniversaries I may not celebrate with my husband, my children’s weddings I may not attend, the grandchildren I may not hold. All of those things make me sad, but I can’t dwell on what is yet to come. I can’t assume that I won’t be here to do all of those things, either. God is a wonderful God and despite what science and medicine say, He could allow me to enjoy all of those things and more. I will not know until the time comes but I refuse to let that take away from what I am here to enjoy … right now.
Often, my scans happen to be on a Thursday or Friday and I am left waiting the weekend to get the results. I have a choice. I can enjoy my weekend, every last drop of it; or, I can worry my weekend away. I can curl up on the couch and cry myself to sleep. When Monday comes, and I find out the results, I will look back on that weekend and think one of two things. I will have wasted those days worrying for nothing because the scans were stable … or I will have wasted the last two days that I had to enjoy before that bad news came.
So, I won’t spend these 3 months worrying about my next scan. I won’t spend these 3 months worrying that it might be the last 3 months of a somewhat normal life.
I won’t spend these next 3 months crying.
I will spend these next 3 months living, the way God wants me to live. I will spend these next 3 months rejoicing in the day He has made, and not worrying about the days ahead.
It may sound crazy to some, but in a way, I am thankful for my situation. Of course, I would love to wake up and find out that my diagnosis has gone away; but only if the lessons I have learned could remain. It isn’t a good feeling to know that this cancer could take me away from this world much sooner than I expected, but knowing, really knowing, that my time is limited – it makes my faith stronger and makes me love harder. I wouldn’t be living my life, the way I am living it; if God hadn’t put this obstacle in my life. My eyes would not be this open and my life would not be as full.
I don’t like having cancer; but I am forever grateful that I know what I know now, that I know what I didn’t know back then.
When the time comes that I no longer have 3 months, 3 days, or even 3 minutes left on this earth, I won’t be someone who looks back with regret. I won’t look back, knowing that I wasted time on things that didn’t matter. I will look back, knowing that I soaked up every bit of joy that God intended just for me. I will look back, knowing that I spread joy to others whenever I could. I will look back, knowing that I loved my family and friends so much while I was on this earth, that they will still be able to feel it even when I am gone.
God has blessed me with 3 more months.
I promise that I will make the most of these next 3 months.
How will you spend yours?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, for whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)
So often we don’t know the right thing to say when someone is dealing with a life threatening illness. How could we possibly understand what it’s like? Jennifer Lilley Collins does a wonderful job sharing her thoughts here. Please read!
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