This past Tuesday, we had the privilege to hear from one of our Selah Sisters, Alison Rash, about her journey through the devastation of cancer. Currently, she is battling stage 4 breast cancer. Her prognosis from her current oncologist is “longer [than the previously diagnosed 2-3 years] with a very small potential to be cured.” Though we don’t have time to recount her entire cancer journey on this blog, we’d like to share the lessons she shared with us with the hope you will be inspired, as we were.
It has been 2 1/2 years since my ﬁrst stage 4 relapse. Somewhere between “longer and a very small chance to be cured,” here are things I’ve learned . . .
- Pain is pain. Shortly after finishing treatment the ﬁrst time, after we moved to Nebraska, I remember my mom telling me about things others were going through, and I would think to myself, “Well, at least they aren’t dying.” Now I don’t think that way at all. Pain is pain and there is no hierarchy–no way and no need to compare it. It all hurts. This room is full of women who have each experienced their own pain. So when I share my cancer story, that just happens to be the type of pain that has taught me these lessons. Entering into the pain of others is always worth it. Even when consumed by your own pain, you don’t have to look very far to ﬁnd someone else in pain (usually just look to the person right next to you). Stepping outside of your own pain and entering into someone else’s is always worth it. Hard, but worth it.
- Joy and sorrow can exist simultaneously. We rejoice in the victories while grieving the failures. We celebrate the triumphs, while mourning the losses. We see the beauty even while sitting in the ashes.
- There is purpose in the mundane. When we moved to Lincoln, we lived with my parents for 6 months while we house-hunted. My parents were awesome. They cooked the meals, did the dishes, did our laundry and often got up early with the kids so I could sleep in. The problem with this was that it gave me an abundance of time to think and to worry about the future. I think God designed mundane tasks to help us to stay present and in the moment. There are things that need to be done here and now, and laundry and dishes are some of those things.
- My husband is capable of so many things. If you want your husband to appreciate all you do, try going away for two months! After the ﬁrst day I was gone, he called and said, “Wow, you do a lot of stuff!” Then again, if you want to appreciate how amazing your husband is, trust him to take care of everything for two months and then marvel when you return at how much better he is than you at SO many things (like calmly getting the kids out the door and to school on time)! After I was home, he did say, “When you were gone, we were never late to church . . . and now you don’t even have any hair!”
- Surrender. I remember telling Bryan when I was ﬁrst diagnosed, “If something happens to me, I want you to get remarried. I want the kids to have a mom.” His ﬁrst response was, “You are already trying to control me from beyond the grave!” Then he said, “If something happened to me, I would trust that you would do whatever was best for the kids.” It was so revealing because I wasn’t aware that I was trying to control that. I was able to let go because I realized, really, he’s not in control and I’m not in control, God’s in control and He’s provided for us so well throughout our lives and within this diagnosis and treatment. I know that if even if I’m gone, He’s going to keep providing. He’s got this. He’s got my family. He’s writing their stories. And although it may not be the story I would write for them, I do trust that God has our best interest at heart. God works for the good of those who love Him. I don’t think that always means for the good earth-side. I really think he wants us to be in Heaven with Him, so He is working all things for that good.
- God gives us each other, and that is one of the greatest gifts he gives us. I couldn’t do this alone. I have fantastic counselors who are gifted and trained to help me work through anxiety and recognize when I also need some help from low-dose medication. I have brilliant, compassionate doctors who say, “We do the treatment and we let God decide the rest.” I have friends and family who couldn’t be more supportive–driving me to treatment, watching the kids, ﬂying to Houston, praying. I have friends going through treatment who have taught me about true strength and determination. I have friends who have overcome insurmountable odds and have survived. I have friends I’ve lost, too, who have paved the way to Heaven before me. I have kids who keep me present because they need a drink of water or a snack. I have a counselor who talks with my kids trying to sort out if they have fears about losing their mom or are just annoyed by the antics of their siblings. I have a husband who makes me laugh about things that I’m pretty sure only we could ﬁnd funny. God gives us each other and we need to embrace that.
- Take everything to God in prayer. At one point, out of the blue, my great uncle looked at me and said, “Make your requests known to God, don’t rely on us to do it for you.” It struck me as odd because it came out of nowhere. But as I thought about it, I realized that I often reached out to my best friends asking for prayer before I even prayed myself. I often talked about God, but didn’t spend as much time talking to God.
- Stay present. When I was ﬁrst diagnosed as Stage 4, I would think, “How can I ever say goodbye to the kids?” and I would just cry. It is unimaginable. And then I was reminded that God gives us grace for the day. He doesn’t give me grace for tomorrow, only today. I’m their mom now. I shouldn’t miss out on being their mom now by worrying about not being their mom later–that just robs them of having a mom all the time. If the day comes to say goodbye, Jesus will be right there with me, just as he is right here with me now.
- Hope. None of us knows what tomorrow brings. Just because something is incurable today, doesn’t mean it will be incurable tomorrow. We all try to stick around long enough for the next advancement and the next. God is the God of miracles. I have lost enough friends to know that not every story ends in a miracle the way we would want it to. But I also have enough friends who are living miracles. None of us know which one we will be, but there is always hope.
- And finally, GRACE. All of this is saturated with God’s grace. Left to my own devices I’m a wallow-er. I can get bitter. I like things to go my way, and I don’t like it when they don’t. And you know, there’s been so much that has happened these past four years that has not gone the way I would have chosen. But there has also been a lot that has been so much more beautiful and more awesome than the path I would have chosen. But it has still been hard. Sure, I would prefer to have breasts. I would rather not have been in menopause since the age of 34 with all of the fun that entails. But Bryan and I have gotten to experience a depth of love for each other that we wouldn’t have experienced any other way. We’ve gotten to experience great love from other people. We’ve been the recipients of incredible generosity. We’ve gotten to give so much more because we are reminded we don’t get to take any of it with us. There have been so many awesome blessings even in all the hard. Because God is good–all the time.
My best friend had the word STILL printed on a bracelet, with Ex. 14:14 printed on the inside.
“The Lord will fight your battles for you, you need only be still.”
This has been encouraging as we’ve seen his hand in everything, and also as we realized that we really aren’t in control of any of this.
So again, I ﬁnd myself somewhere between “longer and a very small chance to be cured.” Where do you ﬁnd yourself today? Where do you see God in the midst of your life? What is HE doing? How can you turn your eyes to Christ rather than your circumstances? Take a moment and consider what He has to teach you.