“Hello Jill, this is Dr. Nord’s office. I have the results of your breast biopsy. Are you alone?”
It was five years ago today that those words turned my world upside down.
Yes, I was alone. In fact, I was driving and had answered the phone using my Bluetooth. I pulled over to park on a side street to continue the conversation.
Once the words “breast cancer” were uttered, I don’t remember much else. There was something about what surgeon I’d like to see and something else about an appointment with a “breast health navigator” later that afternoon.
One phone conversation, and my world was turned upside down.
We caught my cancer early…stage 1 they said. It looked like surgery would be my only needed treatment until a week later when they determined my “kind” of breast cancer was something called “triple negative.” I’d never heard of such a thing.
Most breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, progesterone, or something called HER2. Triple negative cancer is negative for all three of those fuels. The problem is they don’t know what fuels it, so they throw everything they have at it: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Triple Negative is a rarer form of breast cancer, and it’s particularly aggressive.
My world turned upside down again. This would be a longer treatment protocol. I would have surgery. I would need to undergo chemotherapy. I would lose my hair. I would have 33 radiation treatments.
I was 49 years old. My diagnosis before the age of 50 had implications for my four biological children. My aunt, my mother, and my grandmother had been diagnosed before me, so genetic testing became part of the game plan, as well.
No BRCA gene was found, but my genetic counselor said that it was likely there was a genetic component here—probably a gene that just hasn’t been discovered yet.
We began to adjust our calendar and educate ourselves. Our two young adult daughters began to explore clean eating and reducing exposure to chemicals in cleaning supplies.
My time with the Lord deepened as I desperately needed an anchor as the raging seas of life threatened to toss me about.
Now here we are…5 years later. They don’t consider you’re “cured” until you’re five years from your diagnosis date. That’s TODAY!
Thinking back over the past five years, however, has cured me of more than cancer. Here are five things cancer cured in me:
Not asking for help.
When life throws you a curve ball, you have to depend on the team to get you to home base. “Can I bring you a meal?” Yes. “Can I pick up your laundry?” Yes. “I’m at the store, is there anything you need?” Yes, there is. “Can I go to the doctor with you?” Yes, please do.
Saying “let me know what you need.”
This offer of help is genuine but incredibly ineffective. People in crisis rarely know what they need. You and I both know they need to eat, do laundry, go to the store, and attend doctor appointments. Some of them need to care for their children. A specific offer to relieve them of any of those responsibilities will be helpful. In our Better Together book about the friendships of women, my daughter Anne and I use the phrase “She didn’t ask. She did” to describe what that looks like in real life. Just show up with a meal. Call when you’re at the store to ask if there’s anything needed. Let her know you’ve got some time in the afternoon and you’d like to take her kids to the park.
The perfection infection.
Cancer cured me of the perfection infection. God had already been working on that in my life. In fact, my No More Perfect Moms book had just been out a year. I had been breaking up with perfect, but this was the final one-two punch for me. When a woman is robbed of her hair, she has to learn to find beauty in the absurdity of life. No more shallow stuff. She’s invited to embrace imperfection and authenticity in a way she never has before. With that foundation, I worked to kick the perfection infection out of my parenting and my marriage. My No More Perfect Kids and No More Perfect Marriages books came out of that journey.
Waiting to take care of my body.
Early detection makes all the difference in the world when it comes to cancer. My cancer was found on a routine mammogram. There were no symptoms. No concerns. No lumps. Preventative care was the key to catching this early! If you need to have a preventative screening like a mammogram, a colonoscopy, a pap smear, or an annual well check, stop reading right now and make your appointment. Don’t wait, don’t rationalize, don’t succumb to fear. Instead, take care of yourself so you increase the chance you’ll be here for the long haul.
God does give us more than we can handle, and those are the times we are reminded that we’re not designed to do life without Him. My independence and self-sufficiency can cause me to slip into standing alone—too easily separated from the Vine. When the waves of life threaten to overtake us, that’s when we need an Anchor for our soul. Jesus carried me through each difficult treatment and the side effects that followed.
No one wants to hear the word “cancer.” However, God often uses the hard parts of life to cure us of the sick places in our head and heart. I’m grateful that today I can celebrate being cured of more than cancer!
P.S. If you know of someone going through cancer, you might find this post I wrote a few years ago helpful!