“How are you, really?”

It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to put words onto {virtual} paper. Honestly, I just haven’t wanted to. I am tired. Some days have felt heavier than usual recently. I am learning to prioritize myself through all of this and doing that has meant spending time in spaces other than this virtual blog (don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for this space and all of you but it’s not been where my energy needed to be placed).

Most of you are probably here and hopeful for a surgical / pathology results update. Let me save you some scrolling and precious time by providing the cliff notes version: I have no update. Two weeks. Fourteen days later. There’s still no pathology results showing whether margins are clear (no cancer) or there’s still cancer cells present (which = back into the OR for another surgery). No news is no news.

For those who want to know how I’m really doing, **buckle up!**

I know, I know. Seriously? “You have to be so anxious, Sarah!” “Are you worried?” “Is it driving you crazy? It would be driving me crazy!” “This has to be really hard.”

No. Not really. Nope. Kind of.

Here’s the thing, you get really good – for better or worse – at waiting. My oncologist said from day one that cancer is a bunch of hurry up and wait. He wasn’t kidding.

Could two weeks of waiting to hear if I still have active and present cancer cells in my body wreck me? Absolutely. Could it take me down a super dark emotional and mental path? Of course.

But it hasn’t. I recognize I cannot change anything. Nothing. If we’re doing surgery again, I find peace in the honest, open, comfortable relationship I have with my surgeon. If we’re moving onto radiation, great! Both will be one step closer to moving further into this being behind me.

The irony of waiting at this point in cancer is you are always waiting for the lesser of two evils to be presented to you in a phone call or in a quiet room at the hospital / cancer center. When radiation – something that burns your skin, impacts your internal organs like the heart & lungs, and likely leaves lasting impacts – is what you’re praying for, you realize life and its reality is a bit skewed for the time being. Your only other option is going back under the knife…for a third time…in five months.

…and yet, I am honestly so thankful. Every single day I wake up and have another chance to show up and fight is a blessing not given to everyone. I lost a childhood friend to breast cancer. The lady who did my hair through high school and was someone I knew most of my life back in the ol’ hometown lost her battle to breast cancer (and now her daughter has cancer). Make A Wish/St. Jude families I have worked closely with have lost a child. A CHILD. It is not lost on me that another day to get frustrated, bummed, angry and/or sad about cancer is a day that other warriors and warrior families would give anything for. ANYTHING. I will continue to cling to joy. I will continue to be thankful. I will continue to smile (and 90% of the time it really will be genuine). I will fight like hell for those who have fought before me and in hopes maybe some day nobody will have to fight cancer at all.

With that said.

I want to be very clear and transparent about this detour chapter and being a cancer patient. Everyone tends to comment on my positivity and strength. How I am setting a beautiful example for other warriors and women who may live this in the future. I can appreciate those sentiments, and yes – being positive is where I try to stay. I do hope to set an example.

But friends, if I am setting a real example for anyone who may be reading this please make equal note of these realities alongside of the good, positive stuff:

I am f*^#ing tired. Physically I am tired. Mentally I am tired. Emotionally I am tired. I am feeling the weight of cancer. My life is forever changed, and that is heavy. It’s exhausting. It’s hard.

Do I sit in that? Absolutely, yes. I sit in the stillness and feel all of the emotions that come with this. Do I stay there? No. Absolutely not. It’s ok not to be ok, but I thank God every day for the strength to push through the tiredness and the heaviness and all of the blah that finds its way to me in any given moment.

Hear this: I am ok. Really truly, I am ok. But I would be a fake cancer warrior if I said this was a cake walk and I’m always positive. Absolutely not. Not even close.

With cancer you try not to be Negative Nancy; however, you have to keep reality at the forefront. It’s a way to protect yourself. Can I sit here and say THE PATHOLOGY WILL BE CLEAR! NO CANCER! Yes, I can. And I AM hopeful those are the exact words I hear. But I also know what it’s like to pick up the phone thinking it will be nothing and then it’s something. A big something. What it feels like being blindsided when the news doesn’t match your hopeful outlook. I know the reality is that phone call may be news that cancer is still present. I’m hopeful, but I’m realistic. To some that’s viewed as being unnecessarily negative when I should be positive. I get it, but walk in the shoes and then tell me you don’t do everything in your power to brace for the possible heartache, disappointment and bad news that instantly becomes your reality after you’ve prayed fiercely for nothing but good news.

What I have realized lately is the day you are diagnosed and the days to follow are so overwhelming you literally kick into some sort of survival mode you never knew you had. There’s so many appointments, details, calls, insurance battles, work considerations, people to tell, unknowns — you go numb. It’s fight or flight, and you numb yourself just enough to fight through every day you wake up and remember cancer is your reality.

But as time passes I am personally finding it does not – in fact – make all of this easier. I think once the shock wears off, the adrenaline levels come down, the hard conversations are behind you, you’re in a routine of chemo, oncology appointments are laid out, blood draws become routine…cancer starts to feel like your “normal.” It’s there you finally start feeling the actual weight of it all. You have more blah and crappy days. You feel the impact of lingering chemo brain (legit went to pick up tacos from my favorite place a handful of weeks ago and had to pull over because I couldn’t remember how to get there). Out of the blue you get a $1,200 medical bill that you’d forgotten would still be coming from June. You stop getting invited to things because people know the commentary – “I’d love to be there, but my immune system is tanked so I really can’t.” Looking in the mirror gets harder because you see what the weight of this sickness is physically doing to you. Pictures of yourself with long hair make you cry. The numbness in your arm caused by potential nerve damage during surgery bothers you every moment of the day / when you try to sleep at night and you’ve been told it may or may not get better. I may or may not know in a year.

This.is.hard. Cancer sucks. It absolutely sucks. Could it be worse? Yes. Would so much of this never happen if it weren’t for cancer? Yep. And it’s ok to say that sucks and to be frustrated.

You know what will forever blow my mind though?

It’s like the ½ marathons I’ve run (hang with me, I’m a visual example person). In the very moment where the body and mind tell you that you absolutely cannot take a single step further an unexplainable burst of strength kicks in.

…until it goes away again and every muscle in your body is so tight you’re about ready to lay down on the side of the course and cry. Yet you keep going. Somehow you keep going, and looking back you 100% absolutely cannot explain how.

You hit mile 11 or 12, and you are again certain that finish line either isn’t going to be crossed or it will undoubtedly be crossed at a walking pace (or perhaps a crawl) instead of any jog or run you could muster up. And then guess what happens? You sprint that last half mile when you see the giant FINISH sign because you get a second wind (or third or fourth), and you’re not sure how your feet are even carrying you at that point. But they are carrying you.

There’s people cheering you on along the course at the very moments you need to hear, “KEEP GOING! YOU CAN DO IT! YOU’RE ONE STEP CLOSER!”

That’s cancer, too. It works the very same way.

On the days I am on the verge of breaking, God sends me a little wink through angels here on Earth. Every.single.time., seriously.

When a surgical follow-up leaves you feeling disappointed because no pathology report = you can’t talk about next steps, God sends you a little motivation to just keep pushing. How? At the post office (I know! When you have a good experience at the post office – AKA Satan’s Playground – you know God’s hand is in it). I left the hospital feeling ok but a little down after my one week post surgery follow up. Needed to buy stamps so stopped at the post office and decided on the breast cancer awareness ones. They cost more, but a portion goes to research this awful disease. The postal worker told me this detail, I pointed to my bald head and said, “If you didn’t guess it’s a cause near and dear to my heart.” And you know what? He asked me how the journey has been so far. He told me to keep fighting. He told me I looked great. He then told me that night he would pray for me when he got home. What? A postal worker just took the time to genuinely speak into the moment? Thanks, God, for the nudge.

…and when you wake up the next morning still feeling a little blah it just so happens you already had coffee scheduled at an outdoor space with a fellow breast cancer warrior (who ironically also had a slightly disappointing appointment with the surgeon too the day before). If Cassie and I had a dollar for every time we exclaimed, “OH MY GOSH, YES!” or “ME TOO!” we both would have left there very, very rich. And while financially we left with no tangible gains, my heart and soul were restored in the richest of ways. A reminder that I have someone in the trenches with me (along with so many others who have stepped into the trench too). Thanks, God, for the wink.

When I leave town for the first time since July to retreat to my parent’s country homestead for Apple Butter Weekend (my second family lives right across the lawn and does an annual apple butter making event – five bushels of apples are peeled, cooked in a giant cauldron, put in mason jars and then what feels like ½ the town shows up to enjoy a band that comes to play while everyone celebrates) and I find myself so damn bummed that I have to literally sit in a chair on the front porch across the yard while listening to the music and watch people come/go because my immune system really doesn’t pair well with people and crowds right now….my best friend walks over with her 14 month old daughter to say hello (as do others who sneak over after finding out I’m camping out across the lawn on the porch). People made an effort all weekend to come over and see me so I felt included and so dearly loved in a safer way by making a little extra effort. They showed up. Thanks, God, for the wink.

When the heaviness of cancer causing a weekend in my hometown to feel more complicated that it ever used to follows me back to my own home, I find flowers, cards and chocolate laying on my front door mat. People showed up even when I was 100 miles away for 48 hours. Thanks, God, for the nudge.

…and when that heaviness lingers for no apparent reason a friend shows up with Panera salads on a Tuesday night and simply sits across the table from you for two hours and lets you talk it all out. Woven in conversation is realness, genuine thankfulness and many laughs. God knew exactly what I needed.

On the day you shed tears when getting something out of your work backpack because you see your badge and the picture on it –long brown hair and actual eyebrows not painted on. An unexpected moment that catches you off guard. The doorbell rings and a gal shows up with the most gorgeous (seriously, insanely amazing) floral arrangement sent by two people you’d not expected anything to show up from (I adore both of the gals who sent it, but our worlds have been a bit separated over the last couple of years…yet they showed up and my heart burst). Thanks, God, for the wink.

When a friend brings you hot tea after a day that went anything but according to plan at the cancer center, yet she knew nothing about your day at the cancer center…and you’re so tired you literally doze off in a moment of silence within the conversation. She texts this picture you didn’t know she took after she’s left, and like so many others along this journey says, “I know you probably don’t realize it now, but I feel like you are going to appreciate all these moments some day.” What she didn’t know was I had just snapped a picture of myself, because after her visit I felt so much joy, appreciation and energy. I took the time to feel sunshine on my face and give thanks for another day and an amazing friend. I wanted to capture the moment. We’d unintentionally captured the afternoon holistically – the struggle and the breakthrough. Thanks, God, for the wink.

When I am so tired and dreary in any given moment like clockwork God *BOOP* reminds me that He will help me take the next step. Again and again and again. Even when I am certain I cannot, I will (and absolutely not because of my own strength).

So I share my story because I want people to know they CAN do this should they ever have to. They WILL get through it. You can be positive and find beauty in the darkest valleys. I just as equally want to make sure I paint a realistic picture. I’d never want someone to feel defeated by having self thoughts that, “Oh, she made it look easy and here I am struggling” (because God knows we’ve all felt how comparison kills contentment). No, absolutely not. I struggle. I have hard moments (days…weeks). I will never master this journey. It will never be easy. I am human. This sh*t show is real. It’s exhausting. I am not here to try and fool anyone.

BUT. But. I will not only fight like hell to beat the disease, I will fight to find the joy. I will dig deep for the lessons I can learn through this. I will cling to the moments I have peace, calm and strength that I cannot explain. I will cherish the fact I will never be the same (a hard concept I wrestle with in many regards, yes, but also one where I see real beauty too).

I will find a way to navigate the beautiful chaos of it all.

No matter what season you’re authoring. No matter if it’s a mountain top or a valley. No matter what, I hope you know you can do it. You can.

…and when you feel like you can’t, call/text/email/message me. I will sit in those scary, uncertain trenches with you. We’ll author the unwanted detour chapter(s) together and celebrate the teeny-tiniest victories.

…and then we’ll pop confetti poppers and wear party hats and eat cake when we climb to and stand on the mountain top some day. I promise you the day will come (even if it’s not what we think it will look like to get there). It will (at least that’s what I am speaking into existence).

So how am I really on this detour chapter? In the here and now I am tired. I am joyful. I am feeling the weight of a life forever changed. I am continuing to see so much beauty. I am sad at times. I am speaking to other women who have recently been diagnosed and finding purpose in those conversations. I am angry. I am hopeful. I am struggling with missing life events. I am happy. I am thankful. I am blessed. I have peace. But I am tired.

My continued sincerest thanks for carrying me through a chapter I’m humbled to author, despite never wanting to write it.

One thought on ““How are you, really?”

  1. Dearest Sarah,

    I want to give you a “nudge” for extra strength. Know that
    your words of heartfelt wisdom are so strong & special. You have actually given me
    a “nudge,” and I thank you.

    Like

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