What is cancer?

Writing this just shy of a month into this detour chapter of cancer, and I’m finding the horrific c-word to be so much more than a medical diagnosis. This might sound irrational and extreme to those of you reading this, but for me cancer has this far been…

Opening the NOTES app on my phone and immediately making a list of people I needed to share the news with while also trying to navigate the impossible of what order to tell people in.

Immediately worrying about how hard this will be for so many other people in my life and wanting to desperately protect them from having to navigate this journey too.

Feeling sick, absolutely sick over having to tell people I love most dearly, and being emotionally wrecked from feeling like I’ve added so much heaviness to their life the second they heard the news.

Having to call my sister while she’s at Disney — the happiest place on Earth — to tell her the biopsy results were not good (and having an epic breakdown when doing so despite trying so hard to keep it together).

Fighting tears when FaceTiming my mom in Arizona knowing she had no idea the topic of conversation I was about to throw at her. Having her kick into nurse mode was a comfort, yet the shared tears at the end of the call tugged so tightly at my already wrecked heart.

Wanting to take it all away after seeing the look on my dad’s face when telling him the news and watching tears roll down his face as he said, “The only thing I’ve ever known as your dad is to protect you, and right now I cannot do that…” followed by a hug so tight I could hardly catch my breath (but was absolutely not letting go).

Hugging my best friend tight as she cried knowing I’m her second close friend to battle breast cancer within the past year, and seeing her parents — who I have considered second parents my entire life — at an absolute loss for words.

Feeling bad as others break down when I share the news followed by me sitting there with no emotions due to being so numb and cried out (for now).

Having things said to me that have triggered reflection on how not helpful some of the things I’ve said to people in hard times / navigating grief has been over the years — even though recognizing it’s come from a good place (both what’s said to me and things I have said).

Trying to figure out how I navigate a full time career alongside all of this (thank God for an amazing boss or I do not know how it would be possible).

Headache? Nerve twitch? Achy muscle? All of those things triggering me to wonder if the cancer is spreading.

Having to discuss with my oncologist if I ever want children, because if so harvesting eggs needs to happen immediately. Chemo = infertility (at least a very strong chance).

Wishing I’d have worn my hair naturally curly more often. I’ve always hated it, but now that I know I’ll lose it I would do anything to have an opportunity to embrace it.

Realizing insurance is the.absolute.worst.

Fear of anything I put in/on my body, because this cancer was likely caused from something environmental. Would it have helped to switch to aluminum free deodorant sooner? How about going fully organic vs. eating all the stuff sprayed with chemicals? Less drinking out of plastic bottles?

Thinking about how I’ve never wanted to stay in the community where I live long term, yet through this journey I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The support has been overwhelming.

Wondering if I should I have prayed more? Volunteered more? Done more good? Trusted God more? Questioned His plan less? Could I have avoided this?

Hearing song lyrics VERY differently.

Not being able to make it through church without tears, because worship music and sermons hit my soul so differently.

Living more spontaneously, like getting in my car and driving an hour to walk through a park and eat sushi (oh, and empanadas too — don’t judge me) with a dear friend on a whim.

Not taking for granted an hour of fishing with my dad. The stillness, the quiet.

Having to step away from leading a team to El Salvador and being absolutely crushed in doing so. Consequently, being prayed over by the global staff while tears rolled down my face due to the weight of it all. Realizing how getting back to supporting these efforts will be one of the things which keeps me fighting through this battle, no doubt.

Feeling my passion for the mission of St. Jude Children’s Hospital grow leaps and bounds knowing those families never pay a medical bill, because that piece of this journey is one of the most frustrating and stressful things I have experienced. To know St. Jude takes that off the plate of families fighting for their child’s life = something you cannot put a price tag on.

Having people be angry on my behalf that I have to fight this battle.

Getting so frustrated with myself that one of the hardest parts of all this is the reality of losing my hair. Bald at 36. But hey, if it means life at 37 and beyond I’d shave it tomorrow.

Spending hours looking at wigs, and being blown away at how expensive they are (seriously, why are they so expensive?)!

Realizing my life savings will quite literally be my life saving fund. I have insurance, yes. I have a good job, yes. But is this financially still going to sting? Yes. Absolutely, yes.

Recognizing the body image issues I’ve quietly struggled with for the last couple of years are so stupid. So, so stupid. Beauty is about to look very, very different. You know that song “You’re going to miss this?” Yeah, that.

Someone commenting how long my hair is getting, uttering a quiet thank you, and secretly wondering how long I’ll have any of it at all, including my eye lashes and eye brows.

Strongly disliking my reading material vs. what I would have picked up a month ago…but so thankful for a reliable resource that’s NOT the internet.

Pulling over for a funeral procession on the way to meet a friend for lunch and wiping tears away while sitting there waiting for it to pass. The sense of just how precious life is hit me like a ton of bricks.

Trying to keep it together at work when receiving a “Birdies for Boobies” charitable golf outing sponsorship request for the local hospital’s cancer treatment unit and having to decline…but personally wanting to thank them for saving lives…lives like mine.

Intense anxiety when a doctor’s office phone number shows up on my phone when waiting on test results.

Being reminded that patience really is not my strongest virtue (over and over and over again).

Quickly learning a humbling lesson in asking for and/or accepting help.

Needing to get real comfortable with asking lots of questions, not worrying about bothering my care team, being my own advocate at times, and realizing how important it is to speak up when necessary.

Hating COVID so much more when feeling the impact it has on how many people (if any) can sit at really hard and important medical appointments/procedures with me.

Thinking about the fact that if I get married some day my future husband will never know Sarah before cancer and feeling a bit bummed about it (though recognizing those sentiments could change).

My hot water heater going out being a normally easy fix, yet when it happens in the middle of a cancer diagnosis almost breaking down while trying to reheat the pilot light because it feels overwhelmingly like one.more.damn.thing.

Realizing I will have to miss my nephew’s college graduation ceremony in Georgia.

Putting on mascara and wondering how long I’ll have eye lashes.

Wanting to throw away all of my hair products — hair ties, brushes, straightener, curling iron — all of it.

Trying to keep it together when a sweet teenage worker at Culver’s brings my ice cream to the car window and says, “I just have to tell you how gorgeous you are” and thinking, “I wonder if she would have said that if I were bald?” Also at the very same time being incredibly thankful for her sweet, innocent words in that moment.

Having moments where you wish people would treat you like they did before you told them you had cancer while also understanding how hard that is to do when you’re not sure what to say/do (because there is nothing easy to say/do).

Having two or three days of serious anxiety over the port they’ll surgically place in my chest so my treatments can be done vs. needle IVs into my arm every time. For someone who does not stomach medical stuff well it was making me sick to think about (especially when the surgeon was talking me through how he’ll place it — *BARF*).

Feeling frustrated after spending a year working really hard on my physical fitness and realizing I’ll take many steps back on progress…but then quickly re-directing my thoughts into the fact I’ve put my body in a place to *fingers crossed* be ready to handle the hell I’m about to put it through.

Awkwardly navigating texts/messages when people say, “Hey! Haven’t seen you in awhile. Everything ok?”

It’s waiting for two hours at the DMV in hopes they’ll let you renew your license early, because if not you’ll most definitely be bald in your next license photo.

These are just a sample of the crazy thoughts your mind blesses you with when living life during a detour chapter through cancer, my friends.

But you know what? Thankfully there’s also many beautiful thoughts and moments in this chapter, too.

Published May 23, 2021

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