How do I tell my babies?
How do I tell my mom?
I’m always been the strong one. The one who says, “everything will be okay” and “it’s going to be fine. Just fine.”
But I don’t know that right now. I have more questions than answers, and fine feels unreachable. It seems like a lifetime ago since I was truly fine; I don’t even remember what a day with a healthy body feels like. And now, with this new diagnosis threatening to strangle me, I can’t perceive a future that is even remotely fine.
Do I lie? If I act like everything is okay, then those I love will feel better about all this. If I act on the outside the way I feel on the inside, how would they handle it?
It’s too much. It’s all too much. I don’t have the luxury of falling apart.
I must learn to use the word cancer without crying. I must find the words to tell them, and I only have a couple hours to acquire these right words.
Cancer. I have cancer.
I say this over and over again in the shower until the words no longer taste like aluminum foil. The hot water steams up the little bathroom, disguising my cries and my words. I have to do this, and I have to be strong. Their level of okayness will be gaged, unknowingly, by mine.
It’s been almost exactly four years since my diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease. For even longer, I have battled every single day. I’ve had to retire from teaching, my calling, my passion. I’ve been forced to accept days of constant pain as the “good days” and to smile for others, reassuring them that I’m doing better. I’m not in a wheelchair today, so I guess I am. But I’ve lost so much. I’ve lost me, the person I was before Lyme. I’ve lost whole seasons with my children and my husband. I’ve lost too many friends to count. My sick card expired with them long ago, and most stopped showing up months or even years ago.
Am I obligated to call them with this news? Will they show up in our lives again now that it’s a disease with which they’re familiar?
Do I even want them to?
Cancer. On top of chronic Lyme disease, I have cancer.
When the doctor called with this news just hours earlier, I at once felt both numb and nauseous. I said “yes” and “okay” without feeling. I didn’t ask a single question. It didn’t feel real. There were too many words I never thought would be associated with me –oncologist, invasive, mastectomy, chemo, hormone replacement. The conversation was awkward with phrases like “I’m sorry” and “Are you okay, ma’am?”
I said, “I’m fine. Really, I’m just fine.”
Sitting here now, processing that quick life-changing phone call, I wonder what the hell had been wrong with me. It was most certainly not okay. I would never be “normal” again. I’d be fighting cancer or in remission from cancer. But there would forever be cancer attached to my identity. As if Lyme weren’t enough, now add cancer.
Cancer. I have cancer. How could this happen to me? To us?
How do I tell my children? Or do I even have to? Could I fight this battle without worrying them?
Should I wait until after the holidays? Shouldn’t I give them that gift?
But, no, that won’t work. They’ll know something is off. I have to tell them, and I have to say that word without tears. I have to put even more pressure on my husband, a man already responsible for a high school full of faculty and students.
How do I add the word cancer to the weight of his days?
This last school year so many of his students lost parents, mostly to cancer. We, personally, lost dear friends. My girls prayed for both of these women every night. Gracie wore a necklace, vowing not to remove it until her teacher had beaten colon cancer. But her teacher died in December 2017 and my doctor’s wife died of what began as breast cancer in February 2018. We had lobbied for those two and their families every night in our family prayer circle. Yet my daughters’ two experiences with cancer –the ones they witnessed intimately –physically ended in funerals. How can I convince them that this experience will end differently?
How can I take the burden of fear from them?
Their lives are already unstable because of my Lyme disease. They’ve learned to be thankful when Mom is able to be at an event and to be understanding when Mom’s health doesn’t allow it. They are compassionate little troopers, but to add this to their world is simply unfair. Just 8 and 13, they’re too young to learn these hard lessons.
But that is life. It’s complicated, messy, and unfair. So I gather my babies with the rues of putting up Christmas decorations, and eventually this is what I say…
Guys, remember that biopsy mom had to have last week? Well, the doctor called with the results today, and Momma has cancer. I don’t have many answers to the questions you might have. They have to run more tests and lab work. But I know some things for sure. There is nothing you or I could have done to have caused this, and this is not contagious. You can’t get cancer from another person. I know several of the people you knew who had cancer died from it, but Momma’s cancer is one of the most commonly treated. I have a whole team of outstanding doctors and they will do everything possible to make sure your momma’s story ends happily.
It’s okay to be scared or angry or sad. The fact is life won’t feel normal, even our own weird normal, for a while. I can’t promise much, but I promise to always be truthful with you. And I know this: I love you guys more than anything in this world, and you better believe I am going to fight with all I have to stay here on this earth with you. It isn’t going to be easy. It certainly won’t be fun. But we are going to lean into God and trust that He’s got us.
No matter what happens, kiddos, He’s got this. You know I love you, right? But you can’t see that love. Faith is like that. I know God loves me, even though I can’t see it. I know God is doing something good with this, even though I really can’t see it right now.
So we are going to decorate this tree, like we’d been planning, and we are going to do our very best not to be sad. Will Momma cry? Probably, but not because I’m sad. I’m thinking of Mary when she gave birth to baby Jesus. I bet she thought she was the luckiest girl in the world as she looked into his eyes. But I think I’m luckiest woman in the world to be your momma. You five, Casey, and grand baby Hensley are my greatest gifts –gifts to me and gifts I’ve given to this world.
Do you know why we put lights up at Christmas? Did you know Christmas should be a season of darkness? It gets dark here around 5:00. Yuck, right? It’s the season with the most hours of darkness. It’s cold and dreary, full of pesky mud instead of sparkling snow. We dress in layers to retreat from the pain of freezing temperatures. Yet with all this, Christmas is celebrated more than any other season or holiday.
We decorate our Christmas tree with lights of all colors. We string lights outside, tacking them from our porch roofs or draping them over hedges. We put faux candles in our windows and real ones throughout our homes. You see, Christmas is a season full of the reminder that “the people living in darkness have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:16).
This is our family right now. We are entering a season of darkness, of fear and trepidation. There are too many unknowns and too few certainties, but we have the one and only certainty we need –to see this as an opportunity for light. Jesus IS the light. He always has been and he always will be. Since the spirit of Jesus resides within us, it is our duty to be the light to others during this dark time. How we handle this trial in our family will lead others to the light that is Jesus Christ. We must remain steadfast and trusting that God is with us.
This doesn’t mean we have to hide our emotions. It’s okay to cry in sadness, to be angry that this is happening, to be scared of what’s next. God doesn’t expect us or even want us to pretend. We are human, and our feelings were made by God himself. So know that this family will not fake fine, but we will remain unshaken in our faith in Him.
Because, my children, God’s got us.
Momma loves you bigger than you could ever imagine. Thiiiiis wide. To the moon and back. Around Jupiter. As deep as the ocean. I love you the purplest. My babies you’ll always be.
But God’s love for you and me is even bigger than a momma’s love or a bedtime story read millions of times all around the world.
He is our No Matter What. He is our Forever and Ever and a Day.
And He’s got us. So let’s let our light shine for Jesus, especially during this coming dark season of our lives, and let us hold hands as we face this together.
(I truly do have more questions than answers at this point. I have labs and testing the morning of Monday, Dec. 10th, then appointments with multiple doctors, including oncology and surgery. A treatment plan will be laid out by this team, and we will go from there. They cannot officially state which stage I’m in until further testing in done to determine if the cancer has spread to my lungs, bones, etc, but at this point, based solely on the size of the mass and its invasiveness in surrounding tissue, it’s at least Stage 2, more likely 3. The lymph nodes checked during the biopsy were clear, which is a good sign. It’s estimated that the treatments will last 9-12 months.)