Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
My Mom and I were on our way home from running some errands. As we drove down the hill, I looked at my surroundings. A recent windstorm had stripped the beautiful fall foliage from the trees. There were no crimson reds, pumpkin oranges or golden yellows peppering the tops of the trees anymore. All that remained was the muddy browns of twisted branches left behind. I made a comment about how sad it was that all the color was gone. My Mom simply said, “Look up!”. At first, I didn’t know what she meant. Then, she said it again, “Look up! Look at those blue skies!”. How right she was! Just above the brownscape created by the leafless trees was the brightest, most beautiful cerulean blue sky filled with white puffy clouds. It was breathtaking. It was there the whole time but I was so focused on the brown trees on the earth that I failed to see the beautiful blue sky just above it. When I focused on that pristine blue sky, I didn’t even notice those brown, lifeless trees anymore. My eyes were focused upward, as they should have been all along.
My Mom is a smart woman and I have learned so very much from her. Looking at the ‘bright side’, staying positive, and always expecting a miracle to happen are just a few of the important life lessons I have learned from her. I was just commenting on the leaves being gone. I wasn’t depressed or sad, just making an observation. Still, she was right. It is always in the little things that we find the most pleasure and it is what we focus on that determines our outlook. It can be as simple as that. With a shift of focus, our outlook can change instantly.
It reminded me of how sometimes life gets hard. We get lost. We miss the beauty around us because all we see is the dark. We can’t feel that peace because we feel strangled by the chaos of the everyday. It is during those times that we need to ‘look up’. We need to focus our eyes on Him, knowing the He will take care of us. We walk around, eyes cast downward, drenched in worry, so caught up in earthly things that we almost can’t breathe. We forget sometimes that all we have to do is look up and remember that when we have faith, we don’t need to worry.
I had been going through some difficult times. After almost 3 years of living ‘cancer free’, I found out that the breast cancer I was diagnosed with in 2012 had metastasized in my bone and my lungs. It was unexpected and devastating. I had been through scares before that prompted scans but I always received the “all clear”. This time, I didn’t get the news I expected. When I first heard, “the bone biopsy was positive for cancer”, all sorts of thoughts went through my mind. What about my kids? My husband? My family? What does “stage 4” mean? All the same thoughts and fears that flooded my mind when I was diagnosed before resurfaced; but this time, it was ten-fold. When I read information posted online, I found scary statistics like “prognosis of only 2 years”, “no cure”, “terminal”. What? This can’t be happening. Not again.
In the beginning, it was a whirlwind of emotions and a flood of doctor appointments. I was bombarded with information but at the same time, I was left with so many unanswered questions. A cancer diagnosis isn’t textbook. Every case is different. What do we do? What is the best course of treatment? What are the side effects? Will it work? If so, how long will it work? How much time do I have? I found there are no real answers to any of those questions. There is no way to know if my cancer will respond to a certain treatment, if the treatment will continue to work for a length of time, if the side effects will be so harsh that I won’t be able to continue a successful treatment, if I will still be here next year this time. So many unknowns. So many worries. So many ups and downs. The only way to get through something like that is to give it to God. That’s what I did.
There is that saying about how there is always someone that has it worse off than you so you should be grateful for all you have. That is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, especially when life gets turned upside down; but it is absolutely true. Even at your worst of times, there is someone else suffering even more. I had just found out I had end stage 4 cancer. I had just found out that, according to some statistics, I only had a 15% chance of surviving for another 5 years. Still, one particular visit to my doctor put that all into perspective. I arrived at my appointment and was told by the nurse that my doctor was running about an hour behind. She asked if I wanted to reschedule. I chose to stay because I was going to find out some important results of my scans. When I finally saw the doctor, he apologized for the wait. He discussed my scans and although they weren’t good, I had options and he was going to develop a treatment plan. At the end of the appointment, he explained that he was behind because he had to deliver some terrible news to another patient. There was another woman who went through cancer treatment at the same time as me. She also had developed symptoms that prompted scans at the same time as me. I received my scans showing a small lesion on my shoulder bone and some suspicious spots on my lungs. My previous cancer treatment was unsuccessful and it returned; however, I would start radiation treatment right away and then begin medication to keep my cancer at bay for as long as possible. The other woman got her results from her scans earlier that day and found out that her cancer had returned as well but it was everywhere and there was little they could do for her. They had to have ‘the talk’ about enjoying the time she had left. My heart sank. Two patients. Two scans. Two different results. We were like contestants on a game show and we were each going to be given the prize behind door number one or door number two. Suddenly, even with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I still do. See, it’s all about perspective.
With all that was going on, it would have been easy to curl up on the couch and cry all day long; but what would that have done for me? I needed to stop myself from getting swallowed whole by my diagnosis. Yes, my life had become a dizzying swirl of doctor appointments, medical tests, and waiting around for results that could change everything, again… but I still had a life. I was still here. In fact, my doctor told me to ignore all those statistics. He said he fully expects me to be here in 5 years and even more. Instead of looking at my diagnosis as “terminal”, I should look at it as “chronic”. No doctor or researcher can give me an expiration date. Those people don’t decide. God decides. God has plans for me. I have things to do. I love my family too much to leave them. I chose to stay positive. I chose to ‘look up’. I chose to see the blue sky, even when there were ugly brown trees all around me. I chose to live my life, enjoy my family, and most importantly, put my faith in God.
Although God placed me on this difficult path, I knew that He was there with me. I knew I was going to be okay. Cancer treatment is no joke. The medications and injections used to kill the cancer cells can cause some serious side effects. I fought my way through them during my first battle so I was prepared to fight even harder this time. I took my injections and braced for the worst, …yet the side effects didn’t come. The doctors were amazed and probably looked at it as a medical mystery. I knew better. I looked at it as a miracle, as God’s grace. I believe that with all of my heart. God chose me to walk this path but He is going to love me and help me through it. I can’t be full of faith and worry at the same time. I have to trust with all my heart that God is going to take care of me. That’s what I plan to do.
There will be hard times. I will eventually experience those harsh side effects. I will have good days and bad days. Scratch that — I will have amazing days and a few okay days. (Perspective, remember?) In the meantime, I will treat each day like the gift from God it is. I will love my family, hug my children, and surround myself with my wonderful friends. I will celebrate birthdays and holidays and I will celebrate the ordinary days too for it is in the everyday that we find the most joy. I will always look for the ‘good’ in every situation. I will always count my blessings. On those days when those brown trees seems to be closing in on me, I will always, ALWAYS, remember to “LOOK UP!”.