Why me? I can’t! How will I get through this? I am not strong enough. I am not brave enough. This is too much to endure!
These are things that went through my head when I was battling breast cancer. These are things I hear my survivor/lifer sisters say on the daily. When you go through something that is too much for you both mentally and physically, no matter what that may be for you. You feel like you are being pushed to the breaking point. You feel like this is some sick joke, thinking, what did I do to deserve this. At least I had those thoughts from time to time. But I sure have learned a lot along the way. When you think you can’t, more often than not, you actually can. It may hurt like hell and it may break you in more ways than one. But the mind is more powerful than you may think. I learned that all those thoughts in my head were not true. Why me? Because now I am passionately helping others. My story is worth every grueling moment each time I hear that it has helped someone in some way. I did get through it. I was strong enough. I was brave enough. And you would not believe how much the mind and body can actually endure!
Chemo, seven surgeries, horrible medications with long-lasting, debilitating side effects, weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, the loss of muscle mass and so on…. I was weak and had zero energy. My side effects made it hard to get back into shape or even get out of bed sometimes. My bones and joints were so painful. I decided since I made it through all that and was still alive. Hell, let’s make it worth it! So I decided to go on a 5 day hike in Montana. It was the most amazing and brutal trip I ever went on. We hiked roughly 4 miles a day. My pack was over half my weight and I could feel my spine crushing under the weight. I remember repeating to anyone who would listen to just throw me to the bears. This was too much!! It was excruciating and exhausting. They put me in the lead because I was becoming the weakest link. Never leave a man behind! They didn’t give up on me. They believed in me. So every moment when I couldn’t go on I would tell myself. If you can beat cancer, you can climb this damn mountain! So each summit I came to each day, it was one of the most incredible feelings ever.
When I tell a story about me, of course there is NEVER a dull moment. Along the way one day I was sprayed with bear mace. We had just scaled a rock wall and the guide in front of me had the bear mace on his belt. The can was punctured and I was right behind him, down wind naturally. I remember thinking how excited I was, that I was going to take the biggest breath of fresh air when I get to the top! Not knowing what had happened, suddenly, my face, neck and arms were on fire. Eyes watering, nose running and the most horrible headache ever! In that moment all I wanted to do was throw myself off the cliff! Then I heard the guide yelling, “stand back the can of mace was punctured”, and that breath of fresh air turned out to be not so fresh and was that darn can of mace! Fast forward past the grueling part. My team asked me if I wanted to go back down. We had one more summit to climb and we were halfway there. I could barely see and my head was throbbing. I said what the hell, bring it on! So we climbed to the second summit. Right as I took the last few steps, I carefully checked my surroundings making sure I was clear from all toxic chemicals flying through the air. Closed my eyes and finally took that breath. Right as I opened my eyes a bald eagle soared above my head so close I could almost reach out and touch it! Every brutal second was worth that very moment.
So here is the lesson…. For me personally, I have found the blessing in every tragedy. For instance, my father died drinking and driving. I am always designated driver, I wake up without hangovers and I save a lot of money! It is a hard pill to swallow to say there was a blessing in my father’s death. But that is the brutal reality. I have learned to embrace the madness. I miss my father dearly but I know it was the way it was supposed to be.
Getting cancer has given me the most amazing, incredible life long friends. It has given me a platform to help others with their health and happiness. It woke me up and showed me that before cancer I wasn’t really living. Now my life is incredible and I constantly see through rose-colored glasses. So many other tragic lessons I have learned throughout my life. And every single heartache, every single painful moment, every single time I thought I couldn’t go on or didn’t want to go on, I somehow found a way and was rewarded with a beautiful lesson.
I have lost many friends to this devil disease and will continue to lose more. But every single person I lost, taught me something. When you watch your friend die and there is nothing you can do, it is the most painful thing ever. My friend Toni, who passed a year ago, told me she was glad it was her and not me. I argued with her and told her she was crazy. But she said suck it up. This is the way it goes sister. She told me she was passing on the torch. That I would do something so great. My friend Amber who passed a few months back was a powerhouse. I was upset that I couldn’t do anything. That I wish it were me that was dying. She told me to get the hell over it. This was our fate. I was to continue to be a voice for those who no longer can. She left this world knowing it was meant to be.
As I type this I can hardly see the keys as I remember those moments before they passed. These women believed in me when I didn’t. They gave me the courage to push myself out of my comfort zone and believe in myself. I don’t know how in the world I will be able to fill the shoes of those incredible women. All I know is to tell my story and hope that I will keep their spirit and hearts going. I hope that I will somehow make a difference.
Whatever you are doing now. Just close your eyes. Take a deep breath and picture yourself on that mountain. That mountain could be anything. Walking from your room to the bathroom sink, finally lifting your arm after your surgery, walking away from a negative situation, getting that promotion, helping someone in need, celebrating a milestone…. They sky is the limit and we all have different mountains, some bigger than others. When you are in the moment of your tragedy, you will feel like you can’t go on. You will feel like giving up, but hold on just a bit longer.
Don’t go back down the mountain when you are so close to the sky. Maybe you will reach that summit and be able to hug the clouds and watch that eagle soar. Or even better, maybe you will be that eagle. Holding your head high, with the wind in your face watching the beautiful world below.