In 2013, I experienced one of the most meaningful nights of my life. I only wish I could remember it better. But cancer will do that to you. It seems that I’ve been experiencing a bit of chemo and crisis amnesia that can erase memories as fast as I make them. There aren’t a lot of photographs from the evening; my memory of it is more of a feeling then images.
On November 17, a powerful posse of girlfriend power put together an event to raise money to help my family with cancer treatment expenses. By that time, I’d already had a sentinel node biopsy, two lumpectomies and breast reconstruction on both sides. All of those procedures took place at OHSU, requiring long drives to Portland in bad weather and painful treks home. On the 17th, I was only two weeks out from the last surgery, on pain meds and facing months of chemotherapy and radiation as soon as my body was healed enough to handle it.
I was tired, scared and hurting. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do that night, I was still pretty wobbly and feeling the effects of the surgeries. But the enthusiasm of our friends planning the event at the Belfry gave me the strength to dig deep and stay as long as I could.
I remember the Belfry teeming with smiling people eating great food and listening to the sweet tunes of our local treasures. There was an auction with donations given with amazing generosity. Jennifer McCrystal’s brother, Jeff Mornarich did a stellar job as the auctioneer that night. Everyone was laughing as he cracked jokes and got the crowd riled up.
It sounds creepy but I felt like I’d had the chance to be at my own wake. Walking into that big room the love was palpable. It lifted me up and carried me beyond the pain in my chest and the drugs in my veins. I felt better than I had in months. I’d never been on the receiving end of the town of Sisters’ generous and abundant heart. I’d always been one of the supporters and was much more comfortable in that role. But now it was my turn. Cancer gave me that gift and I am grateful.
The love of friends, family and people I’d never met was overwhelming. My face hurt from smiling. My husband Gary and I walked around stunned by the outpouring of support. I didn’t feel like I deserved what was happening but I also knew that wasn’t the point. It was happening and it was my responsibility to accept the gift.
When I got too tired to stand, a big comfortable rocking chair was brought into the room for me to sit in. I was filled with gratitude and love for all the people who showed up and let me know how much they cared. I think we often walk through our days unaware of the blessings all around us.
That day fueled my recovery spiritually, financially and emotionally. It’s only appropriate as Thanksgiving draws near to remember the grace and blessings to be found in the most difficult circumstances… if you look for them. I chose not to fight cancer as if it was an invasion by an enemy but more a symptom of my body’s need for balance and a new way of being. Cancer has been the motivation and teacher I needed to make positive changes in my life. I am well aware that not everyone who receives a cancer diagnosis has the chance to start over. In my own family, my father, grandparents, cousin, brother-in-law and uncle all lost their lives to cancer. That made my own diagnosis even more troubling. I’d seen the devastation of the disease as well as the treatments.
The benefit at the Belfry strengthened my resolve to stay positive, grateful and determined to come out of the experience a better person both physically and spiritually. Faith, family, friends and fun have been the ingredients in my recovery. Of course, my doctors have played a large part and have provided all the tools they have to promote a full recovery. But my attitude was in my control. I strive each day to be thankful, look on the bright side (I’m alive aren’t I?) and choose gratitude. Sometimes, it’s hard to do and I have to pick myself up and walk away from feeling sorry for myself. Going that route would only produce more stress and make it harder for my body to heal.
I have so much to be thankful for. Yes, my body is different, my brain’s a bit addled and I’m still figuring out the new me. But I’m here, I live in a wonderful community and I’ve been given a chance to return the favor. Living after cancer is a journey I’m grateful to take and as long as I’m here, it’s going to be an adventure.