(This post is a little longer, but since I haven’t posted a real entry in almost two months I decided not to edit it down…)
No one really prepares you for the aftermath of cancer. People have plenty to say and all sorts of advice when it comes to treatment options, doctors, surgeons, diet, medications etc. They are quick to tell you remedies to make chemo more bearable or giving you tips like: “use a lint roller and roll your head to help remove your hair.” (Yes, I did that!). But no one ever told me: “The aftermath of cancer is heavy and you will have much to grieve.” When it’s all over the advice sorta goes silent.
I survived cancer physically. But I know myself well enough to know that I am a “stuffer”. I tend to stuff my emotions rather than feel them. So when all of the surviving was physically over I knew I needed to make sure that I was ‘feeling’ everything properly. I decided to go back to my Christian counselor I had seen previously a few years back. At the same time Mark and I discussed that if I am having a hard time processing the last year at 38, maybe our 10 year-old might need some help processing it as well. So Hamilton has also started seeing a Christian play-therapist.
A few sessions in, Dr. Julie assessed that I did not suppress or deflect the emotions of the last year. That she does feel that I truly felt everything. She even said ‘I think you are emotionally and psychologically healthy and stable’. Ha! I think my family might disagree with this statement occasionally, but it was so good to hear. After I told her how much I was being cared for and prayed over by all of you – my Team AJ supporters – she said she truly felt that I was carried through this past year and upheld by your prayers. You supported me so well and for that I don’t know how to adequately express my gratitude.
However, through the sessions, I pinpointed and had to walk through some of the sadness of the last year. I had to individually grieve specific things. However simple or ‘easy’ they seemed. Some were small…well smaller. The loss of my hair. The loss of time with my boys, especially Garrett. The loss of my body. The loss of our dog (not directly related to cancer, but working through the ‘why God?’ was part of that). And they got heavier. The loss of my youth (going through menopause 10 years before all my peers) and reproductive organs. The option of having more biological children taken from me. The loss of my mentor, Regina, just 4 months before my diagnosis, who being a breast cancer survivor seemed to be the perfect person in my life to walk through this journey with. (which was another ‘why God?’ moment.) And some of the grief was just feelings. Let me explain. The loss of my confidence. The loss of what I looked like for 37 years of my life. Everywhere I looked in my house I see pictures of myself that don’t look like me anymore. I go somewhere and talk to someone and have to reintroduce myself because they don’t recognize me. I go home to Texas and people I’ve known for years walk right past me. My identity was lost.
All of this is not something that I have dealt with and is now over. It is all what I am currently dealing with and it comes and goes. Grief is for sure like the seasons – sometimes it is bare, cold, and bitter and sometimes it is bright, flourishing, and new. It’s a cycle. One blurs into the other. I have days where I’m so thankful and accept the blessing of my new identity, my new look, the new me, and actually appreciate all that has transpired over the last year. And then, like flipping a switch, I arise feeling sad and frustrated and have to turn some of the old family pics around on the shelf because it’s just too much for that day. And just like the seasons, one is not bad and other one good – they each are new and different. So instead of looking at these changes in my life as bad I’m choosing to look at them as new. That was a game-changer for me!
I don’t know why I felt compelled to tell you about this part of the journey. I guess just to let you know that the physical stuff is over. The surgeries are done. The rehab is complete. Nothing but check-ups and follow-ups are in my future. But, the post-cancer emotions are real. I know I’m not the only person in your life that has been touched with cancer. So ask them how they are doing in the post-cancer realm. Not just how they are feeling, but how they are handling the aftermath. Still love on them. Know that some days, something completely random, might just be the thing that makes them emotional. And that same thing the next day may be the perfect thing that encourages them in the day ahead.
Life sure is funny. It brings me to my knees daily. But I know that all is well in the life that is tied and secured to the anchor of Christ. My emotions may get rocky in the waves and wind. The grief may rain down on certain days. My vessel gets slapped around, but no matter what I know that I am safe, stable, and secure because I have faith in my anchor that is solid, trustworthy, and heavier than any of my woes (it will not slip or break down under whatever comes it’s way).
“Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:18b-20 NLT
There is so much I could say about this verse, but I think I’ll just let it sit out there for you to read and meditate on and see what the Lord wants to show you.
Thanks for joining me on this journey and being a small part of it – or actually a large part of it –by carrying me through the past year.
And…may I ask…what are you tying your life to? There is much in this life that can give us the feeling of security, that can make us feel solid and whole. But I would suggest you look and see just how strong and trustworthy it is. I encourage you to go through the process of moving your vessel to the one, true anchor!