Those closest to me know how much I love birthdays. Yours, mine, or even some random person. It does not matter I just love them. However, when my birthday month and cancer surgery collided and decided to have a party so well... Cue my very own pity party. Anniversaries are a funny thing; they can be a reminder of a happy celebration or a painful reminder of loss or hardship. Sometimes things happen that turn into an anniversary you never thought would mark your calendar, at least that’s what happened with my surgery.
I had it in my head that once I heard the words remission, life would go back to how it was before cancer, what I was not prepared for was that my fight wasn’t over. The years after that doctor’s visit when I heard the words I wanted to hear so badly have been a bit like living in my own odyssey where time stood still. What has followed is more doctors’ visits and sickness then even during treatment.
The date left a mark and the past two years as August arrived, it has served as a reminder of what all I had lost, what I felt robbed of. The life I knew, friendships I felt cancer stole from me and the sense of youth that was replaced with doctors’ offices over Friday night happy hour. I let bitterness take root and sink in, and yes maybe I was justified in that from the world’s viewpoint but that is not how I was called to live as a believer. Corinthians 4 tells us we are not to lose heart, not to quit; we are to fix our eyes on things eternal. We may be pressed on all sides, but we are not to run away for we were never guaranteed easy in this world.
If you are looking for an ending with a bow on top, you may want to stop here. This is not a story of how I figured it all out. I am very much a work in progress and being “sick” is a very lonely thing no matter how many people surround you. I have felt all of the emotions from anger, sadness to gratitude. The difference now is I can feel joy returning and I am learning that I can live in the joy and sadness of life, that they can coexist at the same time. While we go through seasons and find ourselves in a valley, we were never meant to pitch a tent and live there. I say that with love more to myself, because not only did I pitch a tent I built a house. Yes, the valley is HARD but we were never supposed to move in, we were meant to fight for the mountaintop. To keep pressing, keep trusting, keep praying, and keep seeking Him.
A year ago on my 26th birthday I buckled under the weight of the past few years. I had spent the most amazing weekend with family and friends being loved on and celebrated yet I was so consumed by what I was feeling and the loss I felt. I could have stayed where I was; instead, I made a choice and let out a broken prayer in my car as I drove back to Gainesville. That prayer was a start not an instant fix, the changes have been gradual and slow but fast forward and here, we are at my three-year anniversary and almost 27th birthday. My physical symptoms and wonky labs have not changed but my God, who loves me even at my worst has changed me. It has taken time to get here but if I am honest, I can see now that this is a far greater gift. One I never would have asked for. I still fully believe that he can and will heal me, but I also know it may look different from what I want and after these past few years, as hard as they have been, I know His story is so much better. It is difficult to put into words the last three years. They have been unexpected, but what I do know is my Savior is constant despite my circumstances.
I still automatically started a countdown when May rolled around this year, but it was different, rather than it being a secret I carried alone I spoke it aloud for the first time to those close to me. Giving light to my "secret" gave room for people in my life to step in and love me, to remind me I am not alone. Each time I have shared it has lost just a little bit more of the control it has over me. Even with all that the Lord has healed and taught me, it still is fresh, three years is not all that long and yesterday I woke up and felt the weight and sadness of the past few years. It caught me off guard, but the difference this year is I called someone, I told them I was sad and let them in. Then I repeated what I have all year to myself, God you are still good and you are still good for me, to me. A year ago, I did not believe this, today it is written across my heart. August may always be bittersweet for me and that is okay. I will give myself grace to feel the sadness, but I am also going to relish in the simple joy of snuggles with my Westie, Lulu, laughter with my friends on my living room floor on an ordinary night and sticky kisses from my nephew. There are a thousand simple joys that collide with the ordinary of my everyday life if I look for them. There is so much good around me and I will celebrate big and small. I will not wait for the victory to give praise to my Savior.
Today, if you find yourself in a valley or even a mountaintop or somewhere in-between, I pray you know you are not alone. He holds every failure, valley, hurt, joy and victory. He even holds you too. Do not give up on Him. He has not given up on you.
So here is to you August, and the three years since I said goodbye to a thyroid full of cancer in an OR room. Not going to lie sometimes, I still miss you and all that I had no idea you did for my body but we were bad for one another so it is better this way…
AND here is to you year four. I feel pretty great about you!
Photos by Johanna Lakin Photography