The day of my first chemo treatment my husband gave me a guardian angel figurine…this started me on my angel collection (that now numbers well over 50). I suppose word got around that I liked collecting angels and so many people started giving me little “get well” gifts (mostly of angels) that they thought I’d like. I found that each angel seemed to mark a different milestone in my “personal journey with cancer”. I started to see them as being little spiritual markers that I could look at and be encouraged when I remembered how many people were cheering me on, and how each of those little momentos represented hundreds of prayers lifted up on my behalf.
Throughout the year of surgery and chemotherapy, friends and church family rallied around me by praying, sending cards, letters and emails of encouragement. The ladies’ group put together a basket of chocolate and around each chocolate bar was a scripture verse! I think I had close to 10 lbs. of chocolate! They also provided healthy meals for my family, they cleaned my home, did my laundry, baby sat and countless other acts of kindness. Their selfless ministering contributed to my healing. The Bible teaches us to care for each other as God in Christ cared for us. My church family poured themselves out in caring for me and my family.
One of the first questions I asked initially was “Why me?” Why did this happen to me? Doctors often have no idea how to answer that question. In my case, the doctor looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s just dumb luck.” Alternative therapists tend to give their patients a greater sense of personal significance than they get from doctors and are rarely at a loss for an answer when asked the “why me?” question. Contrast the bleakness of “It’s just dumb luck”, to “Your charkras are unbalanced because of a recent spiritual upset,” or “You’ve been eating too many yin foods and not enough yang”. Sounds ridiculous but people are searching for a logical answer to the “why” question and in search for answers may be willing to grasp at any answer that seems reasonable and that’s why many woman in desperation turn to alternative healers.
In my case, one of my closest friends answered the “why me?” question by saying, “Why not you?” This was a profound statement for me and one I have shared many times with others who are facing a particular hardship in life. There are no guarantees in life. God does not promise that life will be perfect. In fact He says the exact opposite, that we can expect persecution and hardship, we live in a fallen world and our struggles, whatever they may be, may be a part of what He means to pick up our cross to follow Him.
Psychologists will tell you that many of their women clients are counselled primarily because they have a deep dissatisfaction with their own bodies. At the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary there is a whole psycho-social department geared towards women who have gone through breast cancer…why?…because women who suffer from breast cancer are radically changed, outwardly because of surgery, and inwardly as they try to cope with their disfigurement and the disease itself. They no longer feel they are a complete woman, and they struggle trying to come to grips with not being the perfect picture of a woman anymore. Not to mention the fear that accompanies the knowledge that you have a life-threatening illness.
Losing a breast is life-altering for a woman. Cancer is traumatic in itself, but the implications of losing a breast that is linked with femininity and sexuality is a devastating loss to women. It is traumatic enough to go bathing suit shopping but the trauma is compounded when you have to ask a “sweet young thing” where the “special” bathing suits are.
Before I had reconstructive surgery I wore a breast prosthetic so I would look and feel more balanced under clothes. Unfortunately MY prosthetic had a habit of shifting every so often and once when I was tying my daughter’s shoe laces for her, it actually popped out of my shirt and landed at her feet. Needless to say, you either laugh or you cry when things like that happen and I chose to laugh.
Believe it or not there were times I simply just praised God for the gift of laughter during my journey with cancer. I didn’t know it then but there are all kinds of studies that conclude that people who have a positive attitude through their journey with cancer have a much greater survival rate than those who have a “woe-is-me” attitude. I totally relate to the author of Ecclesiastes when he writes about a “time to laugh and a time to cry”…I certainly did cry…that’s human…but there were countless times I laughed and when I did not have it in me to find joy in my circumstances I recruited others to send me jokes and riddles and silly pictures and stories that would just make me laugh out loud and feel better.
Here is one such joke that was sent to me by a good friend.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A MAMMOGRAM
Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, and even if they have had them before, there is fear. But there is no need to worry. By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following practice exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test, and best of all, you can do these simple practice exercises right in your home.
EXERCISE 1: Open your refrigerator door, and insert one breast between the door and the main box. Have one of your strongest friends slam the door shut as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat (just in case the first time wasn’t effective).
EXERCISE 2: Visit your garage at 3 a.m. when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect. Take off all your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor sideways with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Switch sides, and repeat for the other breast.
EXERCISE 3: Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Have the stranger press the bookends against either side of one of your breasts and smash the bookends together as hard as he/she can. Set an appointment with the stranger to meet next year to do it again. You are now properly prepared!