It was a Friday morning and I was on my way to visit my sister, who had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. My trip – a long, emotionally torturous, four hours that tested my faith like never before. I had recently began going to church a few years earlier and for the most part had never really been challenged with the possibility of losing someone I loved dearly.
Let me tell you about her – she was smart, resilient, beautiful, kind, generous and everything a brother would ever want in a sister. Everything a husband would want in a wife. All that a child would want in a mother. I watched her face challenges in her life that my hands could not reach. They were challenges that she had to figure out for herself – and she did. She did. All – by – herself!
She was so considerate, that we later learned, her cancer had progressed to stage four because when she was initially diagnosed, she-postponed her treatment for the sake of her children and family. She was diagnosed a few months prior to the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holiday. She didn’t want her children and family to worry about her being ill during the holiday season, so she didn’t tell anybody. Her thoughts, “If I could just make it through the holidays…” Her plan was to celebrate the holidays with her children and then put her gloves on and get in the ring with cancer. She didn’t want to ruin what could have been her last holiday with them, so she put them before herself – and that was heroic.
The holidays came and were enjoyed by everyone, but every one of those days for her, was haunted with the painful secret of cancer. Every time she smiled at an open gift, she cried inside. Every time she laughed at something silly, she grieved inside. Her holiday was filled with joy and pain. The joy of living those moments with the people she loved and the pain of possibly never seeing those moments again.
Back to my drive there. It ended in her kitchen, filled with everyone she cared about. We were packed in and she was in the middle. I prayed a prayer for her – a conversation – I had never had. I asked God about justice and fairness. I bargained with Him. I begged Him. She had been through things that were just simply unfair and had literally done no harm. So I had questions and I asked them to God in that kitchen. I really didn’t know what He would do. I knew what I wanted Him to do, but I could make no promises to her and that was difficult for me. I like giving the people I care about answers and I had none for her. I knew what God was able to do, but there was this little thing inside me that felt some of this would be up to her.
Then it happened. She looked up and said – “I got this!” and we all cried because for some crazy reason – we all believed her! As she hugged each of us, she blessed us with life in a way this life never could. It was something about her possibly facing death that made our lives make sense. That made the meaning of our existence more purposeful. In that kitchen – she raised love to a level I had never learned.
That night a new journey began for her and she traveled it alone with the people she loves on the sideline watching the game. Do you know how difficult it is to watch someone you love fight by themselves and there is literally nothing you can do but watch? For her, a game that remained tied for months, and those months literally felt like years. And then this happened! The tie broke! She began running for the touchdown. The 10! The 5! The 1! And into the end zone she ran! Touchdown! Once again, what she had promised – she delivered on. Her words, “I got this!” was that little something I was feeling she had to do – and that she did! She had it! She believed it! Yes, we all needed to hear her say them, but she made us believe them as much as she did. And that – was magical!
I learned that even though she survived, it was the way she lived during her diagnosis that impacted my life the most. It was the way she managed her illness that woke me up! Survival doesn’t start when your cancer goes into remission or is removed. Survival begins way before that! You are not a survivor because you survived death – You are a survivor because of the way you fought! The way you believed! And the way you loved while you were fighting! Your energy was contagious! Your faith incredible! And in many ways, it is one of the main reasons I fight so hard in my own life to make life meaningful. Fighting for me and the things I love helps to make your life make sense.
If you had someone diagnosed with cancer thank God for the influence they have in your life and live your life cherishing them and never forgetting how they are so much a part of making you the person you are today.