November 4, 2016
One year ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It may have been the single biggest shock my system has ever endured. I think I went through all five stages of grief in less than ten minutes (and have since repeated those stages about fourteen times, lingering through each one as if I expect a miracle to come my way if only I am somehow patient enough.)
For me, the most challenging part of cancer has been the mirror. It isn’t all vanity, though that certainly has played a role. It’s more about this sudden need to feel normal, to find comfort in the most uncomfortable of situations. So, you turn to the person who knows you the best, only she isn’t there. You have been replaced by this weird looking stranger. There is no greater feeling of isolation than when you can’t even find yourself.
As my appearance changed on a daily basis, I began this little project. It took a minute to get used to the idea of taking “selfies”. I always thought those should be reserved for Instagramming teens and the Kardashian sisters. Perhaps in the beginning, it was so that I could prove that at one point in time, I was borderline, pretty. Like my small way of giving cancer the middle finger and saying, “you can make me ugly, but I have photographic evidence that it’s all your fault!” As time went on and my hair thinned and face did the opposite, the selfie project became more about curiosity and wanting to track the daily metamorphosis.
As the year went on, the project took on a life of it’s own, and in a strange way, I believe it kept me strong. By giving me something to focus on, it allowed me to begin living more in the moment. Even when the moments were grueling, it was healing in a way to be living through them rather than wishing them away or worse… going into self-pity mode. Taking the pictures forced me to think for a minute about how I was feeling. Some days were good and other days I couldn’t get out of bed. But when you allow yourself to feel everything, even the tough times, then when you finally feel joy, it’s just that much sweeter. Feel the sorrow when it presents itself. Mourn what you need to mourn and then remember to give God the glory for all that you have.
When we live in the moment, it becomes easier to notice and find pure joy in the little things, like the quirky smile of a loved one or the way a fresh cut orange smells. Smile and be grateful for those things. Taste your morning coffee. I mean, really taste it. Sit outside when it’s cool, feel the sun on your face, and thank God that He put you here. Watch your children play. Play with them, and love the moment you are in. Resentment and negativity will no longer feel welcome in your life and you will feel it diminish.
Someone told me once that “this” (meaning my cancer) was just a tiny dot on the map of my life. That I would pass by it and once on the other side, it would seem inconsequential. She was right. Life is good. Life is beautiful, actually, and I owe all I have to Him, the One who takes our challenges and uses them to make us stronger.