Finding Purpose through the Struggle
Finding Purpose through the Struggle
It was Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015, and I had just returned home from a trip to New York with my mom and sister. I was excited to arrive home that afternoon to be with my amazing husband and our 3 sons who were little at the time. I was exhausted from an early morning flight and was looking forward to a long shower after enjoying lunch with my family. After unpacking and settling back in, I was so tired. At the end of a long shower, I found a lump on my left breast. Alarmed and very concerned, I immediately told my husband and we called my doctor. She was able to squeeze me in the very next day and scheduled me for my first mammogram the following day. The mammogram was very painful. Intuitively I knew something was wrong, but was giving it to God to calm my worried heart. As the ultrasound tech began examining me, tears began to flow from my eyes. It was obvious at that point my lump was not a cyst and was going to need further testing. We immediately met with the Radiologist and reviewed what they believed to be “very suspicious” calcifications all over my left breast, in addition to a relatively large mass they found. That Wednesday I went in for a biopsy and by Friday it was confirmed that I had breast cancer.
During the week leading up to my diagnosis, my prayer life hit an ultimate high. I cried out for help like I never have before. I needed Him in a bigger way than ever. I needed and wanted my biopsy to be negative. I did not want breast cancer. Restless, worried, uneasy…asking my God why? That would describe how I felt until about Thursday of that week, the day before my diagnosis….the day before my middle son William’s Kindergarten graduation. I had all our family coming into town. That day was supposed to be about William and how proud we were of him and how much we were looking forward to celebrating his big day. I tried to keep focused on that and kept reminding myself…God has this. He’s got me. He won’t leave me nor forsake me. In Him I can trust.
On Friday, May 15, 2015, about an hour before I got the phone call from my doctor, I just laid on our sofa. Internally I was stirred like never before. I lifted my hands, wept like never before and I knew at that point I was all in. With open arms and open hands I gave it to Him. I surrendered it all. No matter what the outcome that laid before me, I knew He was Lord of all and that nothing in this world would ever come between my trust in Him. His ways were perfect and He would stand beside me, all around me and be with me every step. That phone call confirmed that I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (which meant that they believed the cancer cells and tumor were contained within my milk ducts.) At that point, as long as I had the surgery we discussed already that I would opt for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction surgery as soon as possible. I did not want to tell our boys that day. It was William’s graduation day and I wanted the day to be about him and all things good. So I held it together and fought back the tears and we ended up telling the boys that Sunday before church. It was a day I’ll never forget.
The following week, I had a breast MRI that showed a 1.5mm mass was on my sentinel node. Nothing could be conclusive about it until I had surgery and it was removed and biopsied. I met with my ongologist, found 2 surgeons in New Orleans and proceeded with scheduling surgery for May 26, 2015.
I proceeded with surgery on May 26, 2015, and opted for reconstruction from a DIEP flap, since I was not a strong candidate for implants. The cancer was so widespread that I had to have a skin graph as well. I made it through the 8 hour operation and did not have any complications. I woke up and felt relieved that my cancer was gone and that no matter how challenging the healing process ahead was going to be, God was with me and He was going to meet me right where I was and carry me though.
1 week post-surgery, I had a follow-up to have 2 of the 4 surgical drains removed and to go over the results from my second biopsy with my doctors. It was a moment when you’re smiling and thankful everything is going so well, but you sense something is not right. I could feel my joy suddenly starting to dissipate when the doctors told us the biopsy did not come back the way they had hoped. The cancer had spread from my milk ducts to surrounding tissue, becoming invasive DCIS that had traveled to one of my lymph nodes, leaving that 1.5mm mass. Even though they had removed this swollen lymph node during surgery with my sentinel node, my diagnosis had changed. My treatment plan had changed. At that moment with tears steadily flowing from my eyes and my husband’s eyes, I knew my life was about to drastically change. For the first time in my 35 years on this earth, I knew I needed God in a bigger and deeper way than I ever had before. I was afraid. I was scared of losing my hair in chemotherapy. I was nervous that the cancer had spread somewhere else in my body. I was at a loss for what we were going to tell our 3 young boys. I was at a pivotal moment where I knew above all else, God was in complete control. I knew with all of my heart that day and with all of the tears I cried, that God had a special plan for me through this. I wasn’t sure how the journey ahead was going to change me, but I knew inside I could do this with a strength and grace He alone could only provide.
It was a very quiet ride home to Natchez from New Orleans. I was in a great deal of discomfort from surgery and now I was an emotional wreck. How were we going to tell our 3 sons who were 3, 5 and 7 that mommy was going to have to take medicine that would make all of my hair fall out and that the medicine would make me feel really sick and very tired a lot. A giant was standing before me. Shaken to my very core. The cancer was out of my body from surgery, but because I was so young it had to be treated very aggressively. And there are never any guarantees. There was a mountain standing before me that seemed immense. I knew I needed a lot of strength in my already weakened body from surgery. But I firmly knew that no battle in my life could ever be stronger than God’s ability to take me through it.
I made a choice. I knew My God was greater than anything growing inside of my body from the world. God did not give me cancer. I knew I was, I am, and ever will be a child of God and that nothing could ever destroy that. The same immense power that raised Christ from the dead lives inside the heart of every believer. I knew this internally and I knew this understanding would be the driving force that would bring me closer to God looking at this Giant laying before me. Dying to self, being stripped completely. I had scars, I was changed physically and now I was about to lose all my pretty long dark hair. I felt stronger than ever. I knew I had to just let it all go in order to experience JOY in all the days to come.
My first chemotherapy appointment was on June 22nd. Exactly 14 days later my hair started thinning, and on June 9th, my husband buzzed off all of my long brown hair, with my 3 boys right by my side in our bathroom. I had cried hard several times prior to that day about losing my hair. That night however, I didn’t shed one tear. I was beyond the physical appearance at this point and I was in a survival mode, ready to conquer these 6 months of chemo and return to a normal life. Just 3 days after that I was admitted to the hospital with a high fever and chills. I had gotten a staph infection in my body that traveled to my chemo port and I had become septic. I laid in that hospital bed everyday for a week. I felt battered, bruised from the numerous amounts of blood they kept taking from me, and weaker than I had ever felt before. I was pale and thin and completely bald. For the first time in my life I thought…what if this is it? I was so weary and so weak…it was hard to even look in the mirror. My life had changed so quickly and everything seemed secondary to getting well. I prayed day and night, hour after hour, humbly I laid there and knew “this too would pass”. My eyes were fixed and I knew God was right there holding my hand when I felt so alone. They had to operate on me to remove my chemo port as soon as the blood cultures revealed that the bacteria had spread to the port site. I was home and fever free a few days later and was placed on IV antibiotics for 2 weeks. I had never been so thankful to be home and so relieved that I was on the path to recovery.
I continued to have a few more setbacks, but was finally able to finish my 4th cycle of the A/C chemotherapy regimen in late September. I’m not finished yet! I’m in the middle of completing 12 weekly chemo treatments that ended in late December of 2015. I continued to have the Herceptin drug for 1 year afterwards to treat my HER2 + gene mutation, and completed 6 weeks of radiation in 2016.
Through my journey these past few years, I have really found purpose and my identity in Christ. I am now a certified Holy Yoga Instructor – a ministry where I can bring Him glory through yoga. I teach weekly classes at a local church and I am able to connect with people like never before. I knew that God had promised me that in spite of the hardships of this journey I was on He would work all things out for my good. That’s the simple truth. He would take my story so that I could use it for His glory. He would help me rise up and find purpose to share my experience/struggles with others. He would take something I loved – practicing yoga – and help me to make the practice 100% about Him. Holy Yoga would encompass prayer, scripture readings, devoting our practice to Him. Worshipping Him through Christian music and letting our body be a temple of the Holy Spirit where He becomes our source of strength, he is honored and praised.
I am also a recently certified health and nutrition coach through the FASTer Way to Fatloss, where I am able to share with other men and women the importance of whole food nutrition and exercise. This program has literally changed my life forever and made me so aware of how the foods we eat effect our bodies. I am living a much healthier lifestyle now and I am in the best shape of my life! I am so excited about what God is doing in me and through me to share this program with others and to fulfill my purpose for what He has called me to do. He has really brought me full circle.
I know that struggles don’t define me. I have learned they are necessary to mold me into the image of Christ and perfect me both on and through the journey. The trials we face allowed by God are meant to bless us and equip us as soldiers for Him and are meant for us to claim victory over. Our trials may appear to be taking us down, but we are made stronger for having gone through them. I have learned and learned it well that no matter how great the storm that overwhelms your life, the Lord brings the tide in and takes it out. He controls the wind and the rain. He can and He will provide purpose for your life through your struggles. He can be your JOY.