This was not the story I had planned.
In the midst of a shower one day, I decided I needed to do a self breast exam. I just sensed I needed to. As soon as I started, I knew. I found the hard mass and started to cry. I called my husband, Jason, crying. I called a friend, crying. I just knew.
We sought out the proper doctors, the surgeons, the oncologist, and our fears were confirmed on a blazing hot summer day. The breast surgeon sat down and looked me straight in the eye: “I have seen the report from your biopsy, and you do, in fact, have cancer.” From that point, I felt like Charlie Brown in school. Wahh, wahh, wahh . . . mastectomy . . . wah, wah, wah . . . you will lose all your hair . . . wah, wah, wah . . . aggressive cancer. I kept looking at my dear friend Anna, who we had brought along to take notes. With tears in her eyes, she was frantically writing.
From the point the doctor confirmed cancer, I could not take in any other words coming out of her mouth. She spoke with confidence about my next steps, but I was more crumpled than the paper I was sitting on in her stark office. She came to my side to show me the devastation that cancer had had on my breast. We left the office and sat in the car for a very long time and cried.
Stripping My Pride
We stumbled in those first days to know how to live, to remember to eat, and to find life in the midst of our horror and diagnosis and stress.
When you come to the end of yourself, that’s when something else can begin. And what began for us is that we started asking for help. We had to. We had to let go of our false comforts found in control and strength. We said yes to offers of care and help. We stopped pretending we had anything figured out. Cancer stripped us of that pride. We simply asked for our daily bread, to get through each moment, for Jesus to carry us and meet us in our daily mess.
I could not wait for my health to return, to fully participate once more in life. I longed for simple moments cooking and dancing with my children. I longed to do the school driving and attend sporting events. I wanted to hike, bike, to live apart from the face-down living I had been doing in my bed for months. We were so ready. Summer came and we went on a long vacation. We played hard, we rested hard. It was a glorious summer. I would wear out quickly, but I was so happy just to be alive.
“Seeing” My Cancer
I had one more procedure I needed to complete, then I was going to make strides at battling cancer with my diet and a naturopath doctor, as well as my team of regular doctors. The last step in my aggressive approach was to have my ovaries removed. My type of cancer encouraged this. I went for a consult with a specialist in the field and he agreed about the removal, but he was hesitant to take my uterus. He did not want to over treat me, so he decided to do an exam. What he found were more tumors. And I found myself facing more tests.
I was forced into a radical hysterectomy. I woke from the lengthy surgery to hear my prognosis was the worst possible outcome: breast cancer had returned. My heart was weary. I did not feel up for another battle with cancer.
The diagnosis came, my case was passed around by multiple doctors. From the moment I looked on at my mammogram, I knew it would be hard for me to ever escape my battle with cancer. The picture of my cancer all tentacled and my breast a snow globe of calcification. In those first moments of “seeing” my cancer, I knew the battle I was about to face would be fierce.
I admitted having headaches. I won an MRI, and it indicated breast cancer had entered my brain. I called Jason with the news. He drove home to find me crumpled in the corner of my room, hopeless, afraid, uncertain. It seemed ridiculous. Impossible. Hopeless. We immediately met with the doctors of every brand: radiologist, neurologist, oncologist. They offered confident solutions, and they whisked me into treatment that very hour.
Counting My Days
All this to say, life is nothing like the one I imagined as a little girl sitting in my grandma’s kitchen.
I spent the holiday season this year after my second and third diagnoses looking deeply into the faces of the ones I love most. With every action I wondered Is this my last Thanksgiving, my last meal shared with people I love, like, and desire close? Are they counting my Thanksgivings?
Counting. Yes, my cancer forces me to count. And so I do. Days, holidays, moments, breaths—all of it this strangely beautiful gift of noticing each moment. I can tell when I look in Jason's eyes, he's counting too. I see the hunger in him for more breaths, more time for our feet to touch in the night.
I have started to talk about life without me. I have been praying for the gentle heart of Jason to know love, walk near to love, and grow in gentleness for our babes that will be so ill-equipped for life without a mama. I feel as though these future prayers that enter eternity matter. They will meet him where I cannot. I will cease, but those prayers will go on and on and on. They will be love that transcends my strength and ability.
I limp along at efforts of quieting and slowing my cancer. I made my pie without sugar, as if that effort would keep cancer away. We know it's worse than that, but it feels good to do something. The stomaching of endless pills feels proactive, and I find myself hopeful in a good outcome, but my hope is not in a cure today. My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing can separate you from my love. Nothing.
Photo courtesy of Jen Lints, JenLintsPhotography.com.
This article was excerpted from The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard. © 2014 Kara Tippetts. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.
Kara Tippetts is the wife of one excellent man and the mother of four amazing children. She supports her husband, Jason, as he is planting a church in Colorado Springs. Her story was dramatically changed in 2012 when Kara was first diagnosed with cancer. She has shared honestly the painful journey of walking through suffering and looking for Jesus through her increasingly popular blog, www.MundaneFaithfulness.com. She lives for the graces of time, time with loved ones, time spent building community and sharing her story of living life in grace. Connect with Kara Tippetts on Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @mother_to_many.