Vanessa L., one of our 2019 models in A Calendar to Live By, has a two-part blog series to share about three lessons she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis -- some great thoughts for a new year! Below is part one. Thanks, Vanessa! Pictured here is Vanessa on the cover of our 2019 calendar; order yours here.
In 2016, I was 43. At the time, I had two daughters, 4 and 10, and a 13-year-old son. I had been in my brand-new job for less than four months and my family was about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of being in our dream home that we had built from the ground up. I found out I had breast cancer on December 29, 2016. Can I just tell you that being diagnosed with cancer at that point in my life was a huge inconvenience… HUGE!
What I came to learn was that nothing about the breast cancer fight would be convenient, nothing would happen in my time or way that I wanted. In spite of it all, I chose daily to LIVE BRAVE; with that focus, I learned some important lessons along the way and that is what I would like to share with you.
December 29th of that year I had my yearly mammogram.
When the radiologist informed me, after lots of hmms and ohhs and side huddles with the nurse, that he wanted me to see a breast surgeon for a biopsy... that’s when I became concerned. In his words, he would be surprised if it was not cancer. I was scheduled for an appointment the following week.
So we waited... I waited. Waiting is the worst part of this whole thing – well obviously not, cancer is the worst part – but you get what I mean. During that week, I wavered between wallowing in a state of shock and self-pity to researching every bit of information I could find on breast cancer. I decided it was only fair that I would spend equal time in each state.
During my time wallowing, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I thought of my husband and children and worried that I wouldn’t be there to watch them graduate high school or college. Would I be there for their first date? Would My husband outlive me!? I mean really, I was the vegetarian, I was the one jogging and working out and such. Him: beef jerky, steak, and his longest walks where from the refrigerator to the couch... I mean, come on!
Hey, don't judge me, I said I was a survivor, not a saint!
But most of all, I mourned the idea of not being there for my children, to lug them to softball and ballet practice, to tell them for the millionth time to get off fortnight and do their homework, and to clean their room. All those chores that exhausted me just to think about are the things that I now did not want to miss out on.
When not wallowing, I became... well, let’s just say that everyone knows that you are not supposed to actually google diseases you may have or you’ll be sorry, but that’s easier said than done!
You might as well call me Dr. Larkin, because by the end of the week, I had already diagnosed myself, decided on my treatment, knew I was going to do chemo and knew what type of implants I would get after my mastectomy!
My husband, on the other hand, had more of the "be positive, let’s just wait and see what the doctor says," mindset.
Not a surprise, we had faced the same dance when I was pregnant. I wanted to daydream about Harvard, MIT, ODU, and he was thinking about ensuring 10 fingers, 10 toes, overall health – you know, just making sure our child was breathing.
So, back to my wallowing... I begged and prayed to every higher being there was. I didn't want to take any chances, so I called on them all. What continued to echo through my prayers and chants (as I was covering all bases) was, " Please, just give me a chance, let me have a chance to fight.” I begged and I promised that if I was given the chance to fight, I would be thankful. I would be thankful for every opportunity I had to fight in future and that I would find the blessing in everything I had ahead of me. And that’s what I did.
And that made all the difference in my fight. That was my first LESSON, to just find the blessing.
Even in the midst of a storm, even when fighting for your life, if you can find something, anything to be thankful for in the midst of chaos, it changes your outlook.
Stay tuned for part two soon!