My young life has been jam-packed with hard lessons, but it is still hard to believe that it was ten years ago today when I first heard the words “you have cancer.”
Those are impossibly tough words to hear no matter your age, but I felt as if my life that had just begun was suddenly being yanked away from me. I was just beginning to figure out who I was as an independent adult. I had a well-paying job that I loved, an amazing man wanting to marry me, and I was living a pretty wonderful and privileged life, despite the fact that physically I had been feeling terrible for the last few years.
At age twenty four I wasn’t in a place to truly emotionally and mentally process everything that I had to endure after I heard the big C word. At first I chose to just tough it out and not truly feel what I was going through out of fear of breaking. It turns out there’s nothing wrong with breaking, but it took me a few years to realize that. I had been trying so hard to avoid processing everything because of the pain, the unknown, and the fear. It was much easier to just be “strong.”
Over the last ten years I’ve had ten surgeries, ten years of hormone therapy, eight weeks of IMRT (external beam radiation), two RAI treatments (radioactive pill – one of which was the maximum legal dose), and one year of alternative immunotherapy infusions, all in an effort to rid my body of this chronic metastatic cancer. All of these treatments have been tough physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The first few years felt as if I was walking through fire and couldn’t find a way out, and it became very difficult for me to see past my current suffering.
Thankfully, in 2014, four years into my cancer party (that’s what I’m calling it these days instead of my cancer fight), I took a risk and went backpacking with True North Treks in Glacier National Park. On that trip, I learned a deep and much needed lesson: there’s always an opportunity to find the good in everything.
On this trip our group of young adult cancer survivors and guides was hiking in an area that had recently burned. At first I was sad to see skinny charred sticks reaching to the sky that used to be beautiful trees, and dirt that had turned completely black and looked infertile. I’m a nature loving, tree hugging kind of girl, so to see nature “destroyed” like that was sad for me until we stopped on the trail to sit and talk. While we were sitting, I was able to pause and really take in the burned landscape. What stood out to me when taking a closer look was in drastic opposition to what I first focused on. I now looked at the remains after the fire with a new perspective and saw small sprouts of green coming up through the black ground surrounding the charred trees. A vague biology memory popped into my head: fires in nature aren’t pointless and aren’t all bad as they appear on the surface. Controlled fires in nature are also beneficial and actually needed to remove broken and dead brush, to kill invasive species, and to bring new, better, and healthier growth. There’s even some plant life seeds that NEED fire or they don’t germinate.
Stop and think about that…in order for some species of plants to survive, they must be burned in a fire to reproduce. The seeds must be broken in the flames to become a beautiful and colorful plant.
After seeing this amazing transformation of life after a fire with my own eyes, I was able to apply the same thought to my own life. I could look at this level of pain and suffering and see only loss, or I could come from a different perspective and see the beautiful fruit God has produced in my life through that suffering. I can take comfort in knowing the One who is in control of this fire. I needed to stop focusing on the mad, bad, and “why did this have to happen to me?” If I continued down that path, I’d be angry all of the time, and I’d miss seeing the small new growth sprouting out through the ashes of my pre-cancer life. I needed to take a step back to focus on the long-term benefits of this controlled fire I had stumbled through gasping for air. I needed to continually find the good to feed that new growth in my life. Now, looking back over the last ten years, I can see how much the suffering I have faced broke me in order to build me up into the person God has called me to be.
Do I believe that the cancer itself is good? No. I do however believe that God allows suffering in our life like cancer, and he uses it for good. I challenge you to take a deeper look when all you think you see in your life are ashes. God has beauty ready and waiting for you.
Isaiah 61:3 “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.”
People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. – Harper Lee
Find the Good – This song was written and performed by Mandy Ringdal, a beautiful artist the world lost too young from cancer.
“Find the good, no matter how bad it gets, believing it’s for the best, life can’t keep me down. Find the good, when the world’s crashing all around me, and hope is playing hide and seek, the first thing I do now, is find the good.”