My memories as a child are filled with lazy summer days and rainy winters shooting ants down storm drains. Church on Sundays wearing dresses my mom designed lovingly and paid a seamstress to have made for me.
Those days were filled with wonder and laughter, love and ease. Nothing to prepare me for what the next years would bring, but something for me to hold onto in those times when nothing made sense. And I wonder if God had filled this memory bucket for me because, one day, He knew I’d need it desperately.
If you had asked me at any age before 16 how I envisioned my future, cancer would have been the very last thing on my mind.
My faith had been tested before this when I was nine, when my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor that left her with half vision, complete loss of smell, and countless other issues, but alive and the very epitome of a thriver.
She became my greatest source of strength.
I could have lost her then, but I think in so many ways God must have known that that blow would be so much greater than the one that came next.
At 16 I was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma — a one in a million per year type of cancer — one that had been misdiagnosed for six years by that time.
I still remember that day so vividly — falling on my knees like in those stereotypical movies and crying out the ugliest cry I had ever heard coming from my mouth. The type that comes with devastation and mourning of a life that hadn’t been lived yet.
There was guilt — had I done something to cause it? Had I angered God in some way?
Anger — why was our family hit again with yet another tragedy, and why had they not caught it earlier? Why did everyone else have these family sitcom lives, and I was living a life filled with valleys?
Gratitude — that it was me, so another loved one didn’t have to endure this.
Sorrow — for the life I thought I would lose, and the dreams I’d never get to live out.
I don’t know if anything else brings you to faith and God as quickly as thinking life is over.
Faith for me came from knowing that I could not turn to anyone else. It came from feeling a type of peace I could only feel in His presence. It came from understanding that I may never understand, but there was comfort in knowing that there was a place beyond this that would await me if it was my time.
The song I sang over and over during that time was a worship song called “He knows my name.”
He knows my name
He knows my every thought,
He sees each tear that falls and
Hears me when I call.
There was something so warming in the idea that someone saw me as I was, knew me inside out and loved me enough to be invested in hearing what I had to say.
The doctors were somber, pessimistic (or realistic…I could never tell those two apart) of what my treatments would look like and the limitations we might face.
And after prayers and tears were cried, the best outcome none of us had imagined happened.
Complete cure through surgery. All of the worst case scenarios, suddenly, gone.
There would be follow ups and x-rays regularly to check “if” (although it sounded like they really meant “when”) it came back.
And here I was with life handed back to me, and I felt even more lost than when I was first diagnosed because…
How do you start living again when you thought you were dying?
This part for me was the most overwhelming and loneliest part, because there were no doctors who gave me advice on things that mattered to me — like what could I do to prevent this from happening again?
I know it sounds crazy, but cancer free doesn’t always feel free.
Because it still meant I was worried about my future or how long that future would be. Because it still meant I was now left with nagging pains from the surgery. Because it still meant every “off” feeling brought back anxiety of recurrence. Because it still meant that while I was so excited to find a partner I could build a life and a family with — I also didn’t know if I should.
Because… what if the cancer came back and their lives and hearts were left broken?
It took me a good number of years to fully understand how to move forward and that I could.
That I could empower myself to feel better, to get my health in order, to dream big dreams again and move forward boldly.
And I leaned heavily on my faith and in God.
Because the thing was… I saw this as a miracle. And I started to see my body as a gift that I needed to take care of. And then came the realization that…
We were made for great things.
That each one of us has a purpose and that we each have this little circle of impact we have power over. That my life was no less worthy or beautiful because of what I had gone through, for the scar that could be used to define me was a story of courage, faith and love.
I think when I finally opened myself to the full possibility of what my life could be like, and the confidence that God had bigger plans for me than I could understand and see — that my life really started opening up.
I was led to work with people just like me and help cancer survivors after treatment make the move to reclaim their life and health again. And what a beautiful thing this is to see.
I met my now husband on a blind date and found a love that I had prayed for — a love that was unwavering and loyal, like the love I had felt from God.
I gave birth to three beautiful girls and built a family I had hoped and dreamed I would one day have.
I thank God daily that I didn’t give up living, that I didn’t stop dreaming big dreams.
Because it makes me sad to think that I could have wasted more than 20 years of my life on a “what if” — and I don’t know if there is anything more devastating than living a life centered in the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen.
Instead, I push forward boldly, breathing in moments I don’t take for granted, committed to dream bigger dreams, and reminding myself of the purpose that drives me and the God that created, loved and gave me hope when there seemed to be none.