Every day that I wake up and find myself alive, I get to shout, “Thank you God for my life!” Once a year I recognize and remember the day I was first told that I had cancer. 2018 marks five years since I heard those life changing, priority making words. On March 1, 2013 I walked out of my doctor’s office after hearing that I was diagnosed with colon cancer, only to hear two weeks later that the cancer was already in my liver as well—stage four cancer. Last week, I remembered and reflected upon the five year anniversary of my diagnosis while attending a wedding in Cancun of my dear friend’s son (who I had the privilege of watching grow up). We had drinks by the pool, swam in the Caribbean, and kept the dance floor alive all night. Not too shabby of a way to celebrate the life I still get to live. Every day I acknowledge that I am a walking miracle. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that who I am has changed because of cancer. How I live has changed because of cancer. How I love and how I spend my time have changed because of cancer.
I have always said that I cannot be defined by my role in society. I cannot be defined by what I do for my career or by my role as a mom or a wife or a community volunteer. But having cancer has certainly defined and shaped me. It hasn’t changed my identity because I can only be defined by who I am in Christ—I am God’s beloved, His child, His heir. I am always going to be a daughter of the King, adored by Jesus, not for what I do, but simply because He created me and chose to love me. But through this trial and this suffering God has transformed me. He has strengthened my spirit and stretched my faith. I am not the same.
During these past five years I have undergone nine surgeries, and nine total months of chemotherapy. I have gone through days and weeks of darkness where I never thought I would see light. I have felt searing pain, relentless fatigue, and periods of severe depression. I have had anxious and sleepless nights and moments of complete exasperation. I have cried out to God in despair and I have praised God in joyful thanksgiving. I have loved more than I thought possible. I have cussed more than I ever have and prayed more than I ever have.
During these five years I retired after 29 years of teaching and working with youth in ministry. I started a new job and planted a new church with people I adore. I celebrated my son’s graduation from high school—which was the first thing I prayed for after I was diagnosed. I remember praying, “God please let me live to see my boys graduate. Please don’t let me die while they are teenagers.” I have attended ten weddings of former students and I have become Lola or Jaja to nine new babies and more on the way. I have met and re-connected with friends across the nation and the globe. I have buried my father and my father in law and attended way too many memorial services of others who died way too young. I have run 5k races, biked along the coast, hiked, gone to spin and yoga classes. I have redesigned and redecorated rooms in my home, and gardened in my backyard.
I have traveled—and celebrated God’s creation with numerous friends. I have been to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo, Portland, Seattle, my hometown of Concord, the San Juan Islands, Georgia, South Carolina, Belize, Cozumel, Honduras, Texas, Colorado, and Uganda.
I have spent hundreds of hours in hospitals, waiting rooms, and doctors’ offices. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars in co-pays for my medical care, and despite the frustrations I am thankful that I have medical care. God has provided for us in ways we never thought possible. He has redeemed my time and given me a new appreciation for how to spend it and who to spend it with. He has shown me how to give myself grace. He has told me when to stop, when to rest, when to give up control, when to pray, when to heal.
I wish I could say that I am celebrating the five year anniversary of being cancer free, but I cannot. I am still chasing cancer. But as I look back on what God has allowed me to experience despite the pain and suffering, I am grateful and thankful that I have loved, lived, and laughed so well.
Whatever you may be facing today, you have a choice on how to approach it, fight it, deal with it. Choose wisely. Choose well what you do with your time, your energy, your purpose. Choose well how you prioritize your life. Take what you have been given and turn it into a gift for someone else. Be selfless. Do justice. Love mercy. Give money, time, and resources away…with joy. And love. Always, always love.
“The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8