On Friday, a friend of mine, who pastors a local church made a request of me.
He asked if I would come to his church at the end of November to share about my cancer experience.
My first thought, which I did not share with him was, “Ugh.”
My second wave of thoughts, which I again did not share with him were, “I know so many people who have more significant and impacting cancer stories to share – in fact there are some incredible people that I know and love who are journeying with cancer right now. Their stories are much more compelling than mine.”
As I listened to my friend’s request and his reason for asking me, I replied that I would think about it, pray about it, and talk the request over with John.
Today is Sunday. Tomorrow I will give my friend my answer.
Even as I type this blog post, a swelling of emotion has flooded my throat and brought tears to my eyes. My heart is overwhelmed with the belief that my cancer experience doesn’t really count. Others have dealt with and continue to deal with cancer and its various forms to a far greater degree than I ever did or do today.
If you are familiar with my cancer journey, you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2012. Surgery and radiation treatments followed to exterminate any possible sign of cancer. From start to finish, my cancer experience – the one where I was in and out of surgery, in and out of the radiation treatment room, and in and out of cancer counseling sessions, in and out of the examination room, and more lasted all of three months. In some ways, it all seemed so simple – Do this, do that, you’re done.
Of course there have been the follow-ups. I have had a lot of those the past two years to make sure that the cancer treatments were effective and that no sign of cancer has returned. And if you know my story, you’ll know that I’m being watched quite closely to see if some indiscriminate tissue (discovered in June 2014) is something or is nothing. We’ll know more about this tissue in December. All that to say though, my cancer journey does not seem very significant.
Like I said, I wonder if my cancer experience really even counts.
As I prayed about it this morning, a brief word came to me: “Of course it counts, Heather.”
In response, I asked, “How?”
And then another reply came, “Early detection.”
Here I sit, typing on a computer, feeling healthy, strong, and humbled by this truth. The cancer story I have the privilege to share is that early detection was central to my treatment and its success.
This is my cancer story.
I do not have a heart-wrenching tale to share about how cancer impacted my life. I can’t say that it was an easy ‘woo-hoo’ experience. It didn’t always feel good. Being separated from my family, who live in the States, was not fun. And the timing of the cancer prevented me from returning to the States in time for my father-in-law’s memorial service. That was hard. However, these were all circumstantial issues related to my diagnosis and treatment. My cancer did not take my hair. It did not poison my body. It did not wipe me out. Instead, I contend that this cancer served as a warning signal that I needed to do something to save my life for a little longer on earth.
It is my prayer that my cancer story will encourage you to take the time to schedule an appointment to have your body checked out. Scientific studies have proven that early diagnosis is particularly important for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, colon, rectum, and skin. So, since we are in the middle of October which has been designated “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” worldwide, here is my exhortation to you. If you haven’t visited your doctor to be evaluated lately, it’s time.
If you kindly heed my words, you will affirm me. You will help me feel like my cancer story counts for something. And that is the story I will tell when I share at my friend’s church in November – even as I await another appointment in December. Early detection makes a difference. It did for my family and for me. I pray it will do the same for anyone who takes my story to heart and acts upon it. Please do.
Photo from annkelliot of Flickr