As we started gathering our notes for the writing of this story, Wendy contacted us with more information and decided to e-mail us her thoughts. These were to be used in conjunction with our notes and the story we would be sharing about her journey. After reading through what she had written, it was obvious that we needed to let her speak for herself. This is her story, in her own words, and in her own writing. I hope you find it as inspirational as we do.
---- David and Ally
As I think back on my journey, it amazes me all that I have dealt with and am still dealing with: The growth I have gained with each of the three diagnoses. Seeing how I have reacted and approached each of them differently.
The first diagnosis was a complete shocker. Thirty-one years old with a nine- month- old baby I was breast feeding! I was in good shape and had always watched what I ate. I was the last person any of my friends and family ever thought would get cancer.
I dove in head first, researching all about breast cancer as most women do. I wanted to know everything and all the complementary medicines I could try along with my doctor’s protocol. (Diet change, supplements, acupuncture, etc.). Scared to death to make the wrong choice and trying to find the magic pill, I joined a breast cancer support group that helped me tremendously. I was able to talk with others who understood what I was dealing with. My poor husband, friends and family didn't know what to say or do all the time. I made it through the madness, was tested and told I was clear and showed no evidence of disease. I had done it! I was cured, I thought.
Less than a month later, after a scan, I learned about my recurrence. Fear and shock came again. This time there was much more of an urgency to act, for they (the tumors) were growing rapidly daily. I was afraid of dying but in denial that it could happen. Knowing what I know now, I realize that if I had asked the doctor then what she thought about my chances, I don't think she would have given me more than six months.
As I went through this experience, I was working at Healing Journeys. There, I was able to focus on helping others besides myself, and I also started counseling and a women's empowerment circle. I knew for me, I had to look at more than just healing my physical body; I had to also heal my emotional, mental and spiritual self, too. I wanted to take a holistic healing approach. That is what I believe helped me move forward and make it through. Both times I had thought that if my cancer ever came back, there would be no way that I could handle it. I proved myself wrong.
When the next recurrence diagnosis was given to me, I was told it had spread to the liver, bone and lung. My husband and I went to Tahoe to sort out our thoughts. I was somehow able to stay calm and looked at selected information that came to mind, considering who to call and what complementary things I would like to try this time.
In the past I was always trying to do everything that was ever said to help someone with cancer. Over the course of the past 3-31/2 years, I have come to really understand and know I cannot make any of my decisions from a fearful place. I know that God puts in front of me the tools, people and the next step that I must take. If I can just be quiet, still and trusting, all I need in that moment is given to me. And I have learned that if I focus on the future and a cure, I am doing myself a great disservice. It only brings me fear, anxiety, and sets me up for being let down. I must look and find what will bring me peace and wellbeing today. Also, I must check in with myself when a doctor, friend, or family member, suggests something, saying to myself, "How does that information feel in my body? What emotions does it invoke? What would be my intention for doing what they suggest? Would I be doing it for them because I don't want to disappoint them or is it a case of ‘he's the doctor so I should just do what he says?’" I have learned the importance of not making any quick decisions, of just sitting with the information by myself and really feeling how my body feels inside with that information. Of course, there are times that there is so much chatter in my brain I can't figure out what to do. At that time I find someone, usually my husband or counselor, who will be honest and help talk it out without telling me what they think I should do. This method has served me well thus far.
I have also found out about fear by looking and facing what I am afraid of instead of resisting. Saying "I shouldn't think this" takes the power away from the fear and it comes back to me. I journal every feeling and thought that I have -- both the bad and the good. It allows me to disable the hold the fear has on me, and I can see from a clearer perspective. I have basically turned the light on and looked under the bed to see that there isn't a monster under there. Whereas, if I put the sheets over my head staying in the fearful place of “is it under there or not?” I am letting my fear consume and run me. I have used journaling with such issues as death and the decision of whether to go through more chemo again or not.
Now two years into this recurrence, I have experienced what it is like to feel content and at peace with my situation -- mind you, it is not that way all the time, but the important thing is that I have felt that peace and know I can again and again. Never would I have thought it possible had someone told me after my initial diagnosis that I would experience facing cancer for a third time, yet I could find peace. I attribute this to my commitment to myself to continue to take the holistic approach to heal and deepen my faith in God.
Something else that has come up stronger for me this time around is the sadness to think that my daughter could have to grow up without a mother and all the things I would miss. That is probably one of my biggest motivators to get better. At 5 1/2, she helps me daily to know that life doesn't stop if you have cancer. I can and do continue to live my life. I am not just defined as a woman with metastatic breast cancer, but more importantly, I am a mother, wife, friend and daughter. I can still find joy and happiness. Cancer can't take that away from me if I choose not to let it. Even if all the energy I have is enough to sit on the couch, I can talk and laugh with a friend, watch funny movies or watch my daughter draw me pictures. Nothing grand, but simple things are what bring me happiness now.
This journey has been one of perseverance, humility, strength, courage, forgiveness, faith and love. I have an amazing support group made up of my husband, family and great friends. I would not still be here if it wasn't for their love and prayers. I have also been given such amazing gifts I never even thought to ask for. I truly can't wait to see what is still yet to come.