In August 2011, I started a long year of chemo to fight stage 3 Melanoma.
In August 2012, I finished.
Fighting cancer is a war. And like all wars, there are winners and losers. Battles won and battles lost. The ultimate winner of the war had casualties as did the side that lost. The loser has moments of greatness and victory. As it is with war, a lot of times it feels like even the loser wins some and the winner loses some. This is cancer.
My cancer has won some battles; I have won some. We are still fighting, and the harsh reality for me and my family is that we will always be fighting. Luckily, I believe the greatest war ever fought has already been won. My soul is already saved. My time on this earth is limited, but my time living in eternity is not. With that said I really really want to fight this war for much longer. In October 2012, we got that news. The chemo worked. There was no new cancer growth in my body. We take a breath and celebrate. We take heart knowing that eventually there will be more battles.
I dreamed of the day that I wouldn't have to stab a shot full of poison into my stomach. Lying on the couch, fighting yet another fever I told myself, just wait soon you will be done. In my head, I told myself that I would be the best mother, wife, sister, friend, and daughter once I stopped treatments. I gave so much up for such a long time, surely when I stop this craziness life will be so....perfect.
When I stopped treatments, I jumped head first into life. The life I had put on hold for so long. I found myself struggling, treading water, and working so hard for just a breath.
I am a tough cookie and don't like sharing struggles, but I told myself that when this cancer journey started I would be honest about every step. The good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I experienced so much joy, beauty, grace, and blessing during that hard year. I was only in the hospital a couple times. Even though my body had a harder reaction to chemo, I was able to just put my big girl panties on and deal with it. Just finishing one of the hardest treatments out there was a miracle. I was able to continue going to the gym keeping my body as strong as I could. My kids knew I was sick, but never had trouble with anxiety or fear. My family and friends were supportive. We were given meals. Friends and family helped with our kids. Adam got to work from home most of the time. People selflessly donated to a fundraiser to help pay down our medical bills. God showed His great love and we were so thankful.
But, it was also a really tough year. The chemo wreaked havoc on me. I was sick every day. Throwing up, headaches, fever attacks, chills, swelling, muscle loss, weakness, exhaustion, memory loss, decrease of liver function (my doctor compared my liver to that of an 80 year old alcoholic at one point), and terribly low white blood cell counts. Overall, I was just not very "Jen". The Doctor kept promising that everything would come back. I smiled weakly and believed him. He always cautioned me that for a lot of cancer survivors coming off treatments is even more difficult than being on chemo. I secretly laughed. How could that be?
The day I had dreamed of finally came. No more chemo. I could be the athlete I wanted to be. I could be the wife I was before cancer. The mother. We wouldn't have to hunker down every evening knowing that I would soon be facing fever, puking, and other sickness. We could enjoy a weekend. School was getting ready to start and I would be the most involved and organized Mom ever. No more soup and sandwiches for dinner. I would meal plan every week until Christmas. I could open my Bible and read it without getting a headache. Sit down and talk with a friend without fearing that I wouldn't be able to keep up with a conversation mentally. I could start remembering the week before. I wouldn't get frustrated easily and so tired that I couldn't clean a bathroom. My hair would grow at miraculous pace and I would feel pretty again. The scars would heal quicker than anyone else. All those weddings and babies births that I missed - everyone would just understand. My leg that caused me so much trouble during the year would simply not be a problem. I wouldn't struggle with pride or love of things of the world, after all I almost lost it all. I would appreciate everything I was given never once looking at another wishing and wanting. I would begin volunteering again. Maybe crafting. Stop watching so much TV. And eat completely clean.
For a couple weeks I pretended that everything was ok. Until one day.
I was tired. I was still sick. My house wasn't as clean as I wanted it. We did have soup and sandwiches for dinner. I struggled with what my body looked like. I did not open my Bible. I felt like a joke at the gym. My hair was still ugly. School was not what I dreamed it would be. I watched another couple hours of some stupid show. I yelled at my kids.
Mentally, I was struggling. I felt Satan whispering, "Jen, you are a big fraud". I had been so strong for so long and now what? I sang praises to God every day through treatment. But now that I was done, I felt myself saying, "God, I got this now, thanks though". I had tried to run by myself and landed on my face.
I don't cry often. When I do, it is BIG. I wept in Adam's arms. I cried out that I thought I was strong enough to do it all on my own. I had forgotten that God was the one helping me everyday on chemo and the second I finished I had ran away. I confessed that I was angry we had to struggle through this. I cried out admitting this was harder than I thought. Although we believed that cancer was gone, I was still letting sin try to steal my joy.
So for weeks and months now, I have been taking it slower.
Cancer or no cancer, I need help. Chemo or no chemo, I need help. Physical strength or weakness, I need help. Hair I love or hair I don't, I need help. Clean house or utter chaos, I need help.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
(Psalm 121 ESV)
I know where my help comes from. Every day, I remind myself of this. I admit to God I can only do this with His help.
And you know what? I'm finding my joy again.