Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflecting Back & Looking Forward

A year ago today I was lying on my couch, sick with pneumonia for the second time in a five month period.  Although I didn't know it at the time, it would be a sign of things to come for the year.  Last year was supposed to be a great one filled with joyful milestones.  We were going to have another baby.  I was going to run a marathon.  I was contemplating a job change and a move.  Life was good and moving in the right direction.  Of course, two months later I was diagnosed with cancer and everything screeched to a halt.  We were forced to re-prioritize, so we did.  More than anything, the past year tested our resilience.  It was hard.  It was scary.  I almost died.  I was essentially useless for 5 months while recovering from surgery and dealing with chemotherapy at a time when my family needed me.  Tiffany had to take care of me, along with basically all of the household duties and two very active toddlers.  While pregnant.  There were many tough days, but she carried the burden with grace and determination.  (Her thoughts on her blog here.)  God showed up daily- internally by providing strength, peace, and even joy above what we would ever have been able to muster on our own, and physically through the MANY people who came through to support us.  My mother in law was an angel who cooked, cleaned, and helped with the kids.  My parents cancelled their vacation, took time off of work, and were there with us every step of the way.  SO many friends took time out of their busy lives to bring us meals and encouragement.  We were surrounded with love and support throughout the ordeal and I don't know how we would have made it through otherwise.  But we made it.  We adapted, we improvised, we overcame.  Chemo ended and we transitioned right into having a (mildly challenging) newborn in the house.  But right on schedule he is now doing much better and sleeping more, just in time for the new year.  A better year.  Our marriage is stronger because we stood together during the storm.  Ten years ago we vowed to stick together for better or worse, in sickness and health.  We've experienced the "worse" and the "sickness" now and that gives us a new ability to savor the better times.  We look forward to 2015 with just as much hope and optimism as ever, but now with more gratitude, and the knowledge that we can endure whatever life throws at us.

I can face anything with this one by my side

Our Dax - also ready for 2015

So as I move on and plan for the new year, I want to acknowledge a few of the lessons I learned this year:

  • Attitude is important.  Tragedy, heartbreak, and disappointment are inevitable in life.  How we respond to adversity and disappointment determines how successful we will be.  Things happen that we can't control, but we can control how we react.  We can accept defeat and ask "why me?" or we can resolve to use those experiences as motivation to become better, to rise above, and keep fighting.  I choose to always stay optimistic.
  • Perspective is important.  No matter how bad things seem, it can always be worse and it will get better.  There is always something to be thankful for.  I drew inspiration from a six year old I've never met who is courageously battling brain cancer.  He's the son of a friend from high school and their story is here.
  • Community is important.  The outpouring of support and tangible help we received has made me a more compassionate person. 
  • Knowledge is important.  I was going to say "knowledge is power" but then it wouldn't fit with the rest of how this list turned out.  Specifically with medical issues, I've learned how important it is to be informed.  Doctors aren't perfect.  Be your own advocate.  Ask questions.  I had time on my hands and did research using resources like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, National Institute of Health, The Journal of Clinical Oncology, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network to name a few.  But there is also a lot of misinformation out there.  I had planned to dedicate a separate blog post to that topic, but suffice it to say that I don't believe that there is a giant conspiracy to give people cancer and prevent a cure by the government/ pharmaceutical industry/ wall street/ illuminati/ aliens, etc.  I believe in integrative approaches and that clean eating, exercise, prayer/ meditation, natural/ herbal medicine can be beneficial as a compliment to modern medicine, and I added some of those approaches into my own treatment.  But false information that oversimplifies cancer and blames the victim is misleading and irresponsible.  I could go on and on and I don't want to offend or get into any debates, but my two favorite sites that confront the most common myths are here and here.  Worth a glance.
  • Faith is important. My Christian faith has been a recurring theme in this blog throughout the whole experience and this has only strengthened it.  I have never believed that if I just do the right things, then God will prosper me and make my life comfortable.  On the contrary, he promised that we will have troubles in life, but that he's there for us when they come.  Looking back, I can see clearly how God prepared me to go through this, how he carried us through it, and I know he's going to use it for good. 

So here's to a healthy, blessed, happy 2015.  The best is yet to come.