Words You Might Hear on a Cancer Journey or Rather, Hope To!

Installment 2: a bit of aftermath

Suggested accompanying sound track: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

Remission or Cancer Free

I have not heard the word remission with regards to breast cancer. I hear it more with leukemia and other types of cancer. I have been told that I am cancer free. Twice. Hm. It carried more joy the first time. Being the second in the same body part, my skepticism is strong, maybe justified. My son, statistics-minded as he is, on hearing my dismay about my numbers/odds (not really justified because my numbers are objectively good, but feelings have no IQ) reminded me that all these things are “independent variables.” My limbic system isn’t buying it. Yet.


Another word I’ve heard twice now. Curiously, as long as we aren’t dead, aren’t we all survivors? It seems a very low bar with a wide range of conditions. From just hanging on by a thread or a tube, beyond suffering–morphine, to fullness of life (think: building a business, writing books, serving the community, making beautiful art, nurturing one’s family). So it is a weak word packed with powerful baggage. If survival is the goal, quality of life takes a back seat. Continuing to breathe is necessary, but who can sustain that as the only goal? Surviving leaves little room for what comes next. It does mean that one has endured very hard circumstances, not dead yet. This is good.

As for cancer, I will be surviving* for at minimum the next ten years, or until I don’t. There will be regular check up appointments, daily pills that go after every molecule of estrogen in my body, future surgery (who knew silicone implants have a shelf life?), and wondering if what they’ve told me is true; today I am cancer free. Sort of. I am not free from treating cancer. I am not free from surviving. I am not “free to go.”

*Note: I will do better than survive. I train at a gym (Power Strength Training Systems) where my favorite workout is called Thrive. Bless them richly for that title. Active cancer treatment has meant earning my survival. Now it’s time to move on to thrival.

Because I Can Do Hard Things

Tomorrow will be my first gym day after active cancer treatment. I’ve spent the entire summer in flip-flops (no real hardship there!) because of chemo. I had mild neuropathy, a predictable side effect of chemo that made shoes painful to wear. But the gym requires shoes, not flip-flops. Obviously. So today is a pedicure day so the toenails will be in good shape for weight bearing exercise.

Meanwhile, my bone density scan last week has revealed osteopenia, also a cancer thing, that will get worse as I start on anti-hormone therapy going forward. I will add calcium to the pillboxes multiplying around the house.

Goals for tomorrow are modest but real:

  1. Show up.
  2. Complete the warmup.

Bonus points if I don’t cry.

Healing points if I do.

Update: Bonus points were awarded.

Of Monsters and Quilts

Early this year, before cancer 2, I had a dialogue with someone dear to me about fear. Her self-talk reminded her to look at Jesus instead of looking at her fear. Brilliant! I had in mind a gnarly monster approaching obliquely from behind while hearing Jesus gently tell me to look in His wonderful face. He would take care of both the monster and me. Little did I know at that moment what a powerfully helpful image and tool that would become the very next month.

There are so many monsters. Some of them are tiny, no big deal. Others threaten to hack and slash everything. Either way, none are welcome. And these particular cancer monsters do deliver on their promise, they certainly make life miserable. That fear, dread, foreboding, was entirely justified. In the many days of waiting between diagnostic and treatment decisions, good news was almost non-existent.  Doctors are still talking about cure, and “not-likely-to-die” is objectively good news. However, the journey through not-likely-to-die is not the same as not-likely-to-suffer, not-likely-to-thrive, not-likely-to-have-other-body-parts-in-need-of-attention, the list continues.

Anyway, after my last surgery (March 6), I experienced . . . Knitter’s Block? Is that even a thing? I’ve used kitting for decades to cope with all kinds of life situations, and I couldn’t pick up my needles. Huh. Deploy Quilting Friend. I was on serious weight restrictions, so she came over promptly when called to dig through my stash, an impressive one, to find fabrics for hand piecing a quilt. I’ve never pieced a quilt that way. Takes a long time. Well, I have nothing but time available and lots of waiting. English Paper Piecing it is. I’m doing nothing fancy with it, just stash busting. But here’s the thing. In collaboration with my posse, there is so much in this quilt that is still an expression of groaning, hope, add your own idea to the mix. I’ll be closing out the piecing soon to prepare for the hand quilting process. I have a frame ready to go and my goal is to have it loaded or prepped in such a way that by the end of July (more surgery) I will transition to that phase of the process. Maybe that will carry me through radiation? Who knows.

Quilt progress at the end of May

Photo Op

At noon today,  I was living strong at the Y. Seven other cancer survivors and I get to work with personal trainers on circuit training machines designed for short folks (5 feet, 8 inches and under; I can get under). I have been wearing my breast cancer awareness t-shirt that says “Nope, not today” in really big, can’t miss it, letters. It is rare that I announce the cancer so boldly, and my enthusiasm for the message has certainly grown over the last year. Thank you to my dear friend who gave me my first cancer swag. My collection is growing.

Today’s gym encounter is going to prompt me to wearing my cred more.  A gentleman who had been on a piece of equipment prior to our group’s entry approached me and asked if another class member was a cancer survivor (rather an obvious guess, let’s be honest). He was trembling severely, and when I replied, “Yes, in fact we all are,” he began to weep. I said “you must have someone you love very much…” and he nodded and whispered that his mother is actively dying.  He asked if he could hug me (of course!) and apologized for being all sweaty. Have I ever hugged a sweaty male not related to me? And he asked if I would be willing to take a selfie with him.  Grateful to have worn makeup today, I smiled big for that photo!

Cancer stakes are high. I have seen scary and amazing things and people before, during and after cancer treatment. While I would still rather be shallow, it is a kindness from God to be able to share moments like these with others who suffer.

May we all look with great hope for that day when, reunited with our loved ones, we will have no need for strength, endurance, medicine, because the chesed (loving-kindness) of God the Father will be all those things for us.

A Sister’s Lament

Rejoice, Grieving One

weep, groan

Rejoice, oh Righteous Wronged

howl, rage

Rejoice, Image Bearer

with arms outstretched for rescue

Rejoice, Survivor

standing through the pain

Rejoice, Living One


Yahweh’s own breath fills the tormented

draws His loved one in

nurses the bruises

sustains His own

The God who sees wept.

He will be satisfied.


Oh, you desperate

The battle for the beloved is the Lord’s.

Evil will not carry away His cherished one

Not then

Not now.

Praise Him.

Praise Him.

Praise Him.

The storm is passing over.