It is hard to believe that is has only been a year. Both Beautiful and I were amazed when we realized that today is the day. So much has changed and we have grown in so many ways that it feels like a lifetime ago that this journey began. We all have milestone events in life like that, some big day that changes everything. I think every high school graduate feels that way at the time (I did not, but I understand many do). For me the closest was getting married to Beautiful. I remember all of the planning and excitement leading up to that special day. It was a whirlwind, but I still remember it clearly. Our lives changed completely that day and within no time, I could not remember what life was like without her. Having children was similarly life transforming. Our world changed with the arrival of Coco 28 years ago and we have had children in our home ever since. All of these blessings are easy to recognize and almost everyone understands them as such. There are Hallmark cards, and songs fill the charts for every one of those milestones.
This one is different. There are no Hallmark cards and there was no eager anticipation. No sparkly eyed speculating about what the future will hold. This one came down like a hammer. I remember when I was in Junior High , and it was close to the end of the school year. Our whole grade was headed to the gym to watch a movie. I remember running across the gym to get a good seat in the bleachers. I also remember that one moment I was running, happy and carefree and the next thing I remember, I was lying on my back looking up at the ceiling of the darkened gym with my head pounding. I was nauseous and dizzy. I remember trying to sit through the movie with a huge welt on my head that was throbbing with each heart beat. I remember being delirious throughout the movie, not understanding what was happening or how I got there. To this day, I have no idea what happened. Obviously I hit my head somehow, but I am still clueless as to how that happened as my last memory I was 20 feet from the bleachers. That my friends is the closest experience I have ever had to sitting in that room and having the doctor tell us Beautiful had cancer. We were hurt. We were delirious. And we had no idea how we got there.
What follows is not a complaint or whine session, and I hope you understand that we are exceedingly grateful for the Lord’s grace and blessings over the last year. He has grown us and we are grateful for the opportunity to trust Him all the more. I write this to give a voice to those that won’t speak and to give you a glimpse into what it is like to live with cancer.
We never ceased trusting our Lord through this process, but I remember Beautiful’s agony in those early days as she struggled to understand all of the implications. She has always been a strong woman and she has always walked in great faith, but this process has also helped show both of us just how much iron she has in her. The days of the big questions are behind us, but the reality of cancer continues to live with us every day. Most days, it is like a third wheel whenever we spend time together. Sometimes it is like a jealous lover that wraps her up and pushes everyone else away. On good days, it is quiet and seems almost content. But it is with us every day.
Beautiful has been through a lot. Surgery after surgery after surgery. Chemotherapy and hormone suppression infusions. Prescriptions so complicated we had to get an App just to keep them all straight. If we add up all of the days that she was unable to function and just needed to stay in bed it would have been months of time. Making family decisions was a mess. Beautiful wanted to participate like she always had, but her reasoning was frequently chaotic and she would come to heartfelt, passionate conclusions that didn’t make any sense. Then 2 days later, she would feel completely the opposite. Even with all of that, I think the thing that bothers her most is not being able to do what she used to for all of our children. When you go from being the primary care giver, to the primary care receiver, it is a humbling and identity crushing experience. That is the thing that weighs on her the most.
It has been a growing experience for me as well. We used to joke that I had 7 children and Beautiful had 8. Those of you that know us, know that I have never grown up. I just hide my childishness a little better than I used to. This year, I had to grow up. With Princess and Coco “off the payroll” we have 5 children in our home. With Beautiful’s cancer, for much of the year I had 6 children, a job and a household to try to hold together. Our plans for quality time and quality of life were completely abandoned for raw survival. If the kids made it out the door for school with shoes on their feet, then we were good, they didn’t even need to match (yes that happened – more than once). Eating together was replaced with just making sure everyone ate (no, you cannot have cookies for dinner). My days were filled with “firefighting” whatever was right in front of me in hopes of ending that crisis before the next began. When everyone was in bed, it was time to catch up on laundry, bills, dishes, email, whatever I had set aside to get us through the day. I remember several nights working through a pile of laundry praying to God to give me strength to make it through this next load and because I could not handle one more thing on my plate at the moment.
Of course, not every day was like that. There were times when we were able to enjoy relaxing as well, reading a book, watching HGTV or playing on the XBOX. We had many days where life seemed pre-cancer normal again, but those were a little oasis in the seemingly unending desert. The reality of how our life has changed always returns to remind us, that it is still there, still with us.
These days Beautiful is able to get around, but slowly, and painfully. Her hair is growing back in (much curlier than before), and she remains in good spirits. She has also been able to get back to some of the things she did before. I haven’t done laundry in weeks now and it is great to see her back puttering in the kitchen, baking up something we all love. We all love what the Lord has wrought through this process. We are stronger as a family and we have a better appreciation for what matters. We enjoy little things as the Lord brings them and continue to celebrate everything we can – we do love our cake around here. God is good. He has changed our world. It has been hard, but it has also been a journey I would not change. Would I ask for it? No. But, I still wouldn’t change it.
One year later, cancer is still a reality for us, but God has brought us to this point and we know He will continue to bring us through.