The day & exact moment in time that our world was solidified as upside down, inside out.
I remember I got the phone call while Kevin and I were sitting on the couch. I remember the Doctor barely listening to me, having his mind made up on treatment. He already scheduled a PET scan, something you can’t do while pregnant. I hung up the phone to process, but needless to say, we never talked to that doctor again.
I remember relaying the details to Kevin. I remember the very next moment vividly: we laughed. We shook our heads in incredible disbelief and simply asked, “How? How is any of this real?” I’ve learned that laughter and tears are truly interchangeable.
I promise I don’t have a photographic memory in terms of how I know that time stamp, I simply still have all the notes on my phone from every phone call with the doctor. They’re haunting to read. I still have the draft of the mass text we sent our families and closest friends after that call – it’s outright heartbreaking. It’s unfair, it’s sobering, its confusing. It’s paralyzing. It’s a few shattered lives widdled down to a few paragraphs.
The next day brought a two week journey of opinion after opinion, pursuing any doctor that would see past the type of cancer to give our baby a shot. It brought the ultrasound where we’d learn that our baby was a girl, she was our Hallie Hope. It brought scans that showed the cancer hadn’t spread. It brought a scan that showed I was misdiagnosed at 1b2, my tumor was a lot smaller and I was reclassified as 1b1. Seems like no big deal but that 1b1 brought a significantly different outlook. I now know that was God’s first sign to us that He is ultimately in control. It brought so many boxes packed out of stress and sadness – leaving our one bedroom apartment for our newly purchased family home. It was a haze, it was exhausting. I simply can’t articulate the crushing blows over and over. There aren’t words to describe having your future spelled out to you in a way like this.
During those weeks, our hearts and minds were so focused around Hallie. Every effort, every phone call, every appointment, every email sent. Obviously cancer was the driving topic but I don’t think we really made sense of the cancer diagnosis. It’s another thing that’s really hard to articulate – coming to grips with your own mortality, how fragile life is, how little control you have in a battle with cancer, the true meaning of faith.
I had no idea what I was in for 10/20/16. Hallie & grief aside (because that’s no big deal, right?) – cancer. Cancer is a beast. 1 major surgery, 1 minor surgery, 5 rounds of chemo & 28 rounds of radiation. HARD. The long term side effects, the physical scars, the mental & emotional side effects. Every aspect of our life is different, every aspect of our relationships have changed. Our sense of security was shattered. Our faith was tested to the core and in ways that the world has made me to feel like I’ve failed, God has shown me over and over again to continue to trust in Him and His greater plan. During chemo a family friend shared a song with me – Thy Will by Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum. The song is amazingly spot on, as if I wrote it, if I had any creative talent of course. Part of the song says, “I don’t want to think, I may never understand, that my broken heart is part of your plan. When I try to pray, all I have is hurt…I know You’re good, but those don’t feel good right now. I know you think of things I could never think about. It’s hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise, just trying to make sense of all your promises. Sometimes I’ve got to stop and remember that you’re God, and I am not.”
That song goes on to say: Your plans are for me, goodness you have in store. Thy will be done.
So that’s where you find me today, one year removed. Our hearts are shattered, my hips are sore, we are forever changed. Blind faith. We battle everyday to not let the demons of cancer steal anything further from our lives.
What have I learned? A lot, but nothing I’m great at articulating yet. I’ve learned the meaning of how precious life is and how fleeting it is. I have learned that while something may feel unfair, nothing is unfair in life. Someone always has it worse therefore there is power in always being grateful. There is always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of days. I’ve learned that attitude is everything and I’ve learned that being able to be grateful comes from a blind trust in God’s plan. I’ve learned that it’s ok to be angry, to be sad, to feel every emotion under the sun. I’ve learned how lonely a walk like this can be, I’ve learned the power of walking in the lowest of valleys alongside those hurting. I’ve learned that stuff means nothing. Spend your money on experiences. Be with the people you love most. Don’t make excuses, make it happen. I’ve learned that making plans with cancer can be frustrating. Heck, I’ve learned that making plans at all, in theory, makes God laugh! I’ve learned that there is so much good in this world, there is so much love, there are so many people that care. I’ve learned the power of true friendship. I’ve learned the power of prayer. I’ve learned the power of relationships. I’ve learned the power of resiliency. We’ve learned what it takes to fight for our marriage. We learned what a marriage truly is. We’ve learned how to deal with physical limitations and we’ve learned how to laugh at the most embarrassing of them to make it all ok. I’ve learned all about blood counts and scans and ports and hospitals. I’ve learned how shots for blood thinners are the worst in the hospital. I’ve learned how good sausage mcmuffins can taste during chemo. I’ve learned that laughter is the best therapy. I’ve learned how much I value relationships more than anything in life. I’ve learned the power of a legacy and I know in my heart what I want my legacy to be. I’ve learned that the hardest trials are the biggest opportunities. I’ve learned how to be held. Ive learned how you can have moments of pure heartbreak and pure happiness all in one. I’ve learned how to give up control. I’ve learned how to fight back. I’ve learned perspective, over and over and over again.
We have learned in an enormous way how incredible all of you are. A giant, genuine, heartfelt thank you to each of you. These past 365 days have shown us the power of true love, compassion, generosity and prayer. I wish I had the words to articulate the impact you’ve had on our journey. The impact you continue to have. Kevin and I are so aware of all you’ve done for us and we are forever grateful! Forever, forever grateful. And we are forever grateful for our incredible medical team at Loyola. We were exactly where we needed to be in all of this and we continue to feel such extraordinary care from our Loyola family.
The next two weeks are going to be incredibly difficult as we continue to navigate all of the raw memories. I am dreading the day I had surgery. That burden is far too big, that grief is far too real, we will cross that bridge when we get there on 11/4.
For today, we beat cancer so there’s a hint of victory we are trying to honor. There’s a huge sense of gratitude as that is a huge feat. We acknowledge that today, separate of the cost it came at (or at least attempting too).
We simply thank God for the fact that I am here today.