Monday, September 10, 2012

Cancer Sucks, Part Four: Lessons from Cancer

This is the last post in my Cancer Sucks saga.  And its very overdue.  Life has been busy, crazy busy, these past months.  Lots of work, too much work.  Two wonderful (if stressful at times) weddings.  Vacation.  Parenting challenges.  Too much caffeine.  Not enough sleep. Lots of things I want to write about.  Things I WILL write about.  But for now, here is part four. Because I promised.  Because its important.

Lesson One:  Cancer brings out the best in people.  
Once I asked my oncologist if it was depressing working with people with Cancer.  She said no, that her patients were the bravest and best people she knew.  That she loved her patients because they were fighters.  Because they truly wanted to get better (versus some people who go to the doctor for attention, to complain, or for who knows what reason, I suppose).  I can see that.

I met an incredibly brave girl, currently fighting bone cancer, at the Oh Sweet Sadie gift show the other night.  I had found myself absent-mindedly looking at some really amazing tote bags tucked away in one corner of the large hall filled with vendors.  Mixed in with the bags was a picture of a beautiful young girl, with a caption below telling how she had begun sewing these bags while in the hospital for a YEAR of chemotherapy.  I turned around, and there she was, smiling at me.   I felt like I should say something, so I told her that her bags were beautiful, and that I was a two-time cancer survivor myself.  That was all I needed to say to be "in the club", someone safe to talk to.  She told me how she was happy because she would soon be getting her leg amputated.  Yes, happy, because the titanium replacement femur behind that long scar going down her thin leg had been causing her lots of pain and problems.  Happy not to have to use a crutch, as she had for the last two years. To be able to maybe ride her horse again.  She is so brave.  Putting on her best smile and fighting the fight.  Day after day, year after year. I went back to the show later in the weekend and bought one of her bags.  It cost more than my cheap self would typically spend, but who cares.  This girl is a quiet fighter.  A 16 year old hero. You can learn more about her, and see her bags, on her Facebook page or Etsy.

The next night I was at home feeling a bit sorry for myself because my husband was working late (again) when I stumbled upon the TV fundraiser "Stand UP to Cancer".  I had watched it last year and liked it, even bought the yellow "survivor" t-shirt, but I wasn't sure I was "up" for it again.  I decided to give it a chance.  
Ronan, age 4

Talk about a reality check.  Story after story of brave people- kids, moms, dads, people young and old, fighting the fight, loving their families, wanting to get better, participating in clinical trials to help others, even when they knew their own chances for survival were slim.  You can watch it on Hulu  and still donate here if you feel so inclined .  100% of money raised goes to Cancer research. Just be ready to maybe shed a few tears.  If you are a Taylor Swift fan, she sings a song about a boy named Ronan who died of Cancer that just might rip your heart right out, stomp on it, and then put it through the disposal before returning it to you.  You can watch her performance here, and see the reaction of the mom of the little boy its written about to the song here.   Man oh man. Big old slap in the face. I have no right to whine in the face of such bravery.

Lesson Two:  Its not about me.  
I've struggled with shyness most of my life.  Agonized about what to say, what people thought of me.   Hid in bathrooms at parties. When I had Cancer, I learned from amazing people that this was no way to live.   People like the man at church (now a dear friend), who asked me every week how I felt during my chemo.  Listened, commiserated.  He wasn't afraid that I wouldn't want to talk about it, that he would somehow offend me. I've tried to follow in his (and others') footsteps.   To remember that ITS NOT ABOUT ME.  The truth, I've realized, is that most people are too busy worrying about themselves most of the time to think about whether I looked fat, or said something dumb, or any one of a million other completely trivial things I've spent way too many hours worrying about.

This realization has helped me be more outgoing in many situations, to sit by that person sitting alone, to talk to that neighbor, to approach the person going through tough stuff, even to do better at work.  Its changed me. 

Lesson Three:  I do not have the things I have because I have earned, or somehow deserve them.  
I remember driving down the road one day during my chemotherapy and being overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude.   Feeling gratitude that I had legs that worked, that I could see, that my brain could think clearly (sometimes :). Realizing on a new and deeper level  that all that I am, all that I have, isn't the result of something I have done.  All of it, every bit, is a gift from a loving Heavenly Father.  Yes, I do have a stewardship to make the most of my talents, my abilities, my situation, that's true, but without the blessings He has given me I wouldn't be able to do anything.  Its amazing the gratitude that going through something tough can bring. Its strange, actually.   I remember thinking, Man, I used to be such a whiner, always complaining about stupid little things like my kids being snotty or tough.  Like having to drive an old car.  Stupid, stupid things.  I remember thinking that I would never whine about those things again.  

Lesson Four:  We are not alone.
Sometimes in this life people let us down.  Even our friends, our children or our spouses can let us down. Life teaches us that we just can't rely on another person to meet all of our needs.  Its not being pessimistic to say this, its being real.  Its the nature of human beings to be imperfect.  

There is, however, someone who will ALWAYS be there.  We have a loving Savior who will never leave us comfortless.  I don't think I ever felt as much love, peace and support from  above as I did during my Cancer treatment.  Because, you see, I was never really alone.  I was carried.  This was my favorite scripture during the tough times:

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Its still my favorite scripture today.

I'm still learning lessons from my Cancer experience. Learning to have faith.  Learning to not worry that every little ache and pain is a recurrence.  Learning compassion.  Learning to love and appreciate life and my blessings.  Learning patience and perspective.  

I've got a long long way to go, but I'm grateful for these "lessons learning".


  1. You are...and always will be my hero, sister...smooches!

  2. wow go Janet! i love this! and that story about that girl and little boy! wow! Also love the scripture! i felt peace the second i read it:)

  3. Thanks for writing all of this Janet! It was beautiful and so are you. Thanks for stopping me at church today to check on my end date at work. It felt good to have someone remember! It's always amazing to me how much we can learn from trials. Things we never thought possible. Thanks again.

  4. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?