Our family sat together around that kitchen table. It was the same kitchen table we had sat around countless times before sharing meals, celebrating holidays and birthdays. We usually begin by blessing the food and later end by cleaning the mess. However, it's what happens in between the two that pulls us together the most.
That particular day we had just finished a family dinner. It was one of those "just because" get-togethers on a random summer day in June 2012. As we were talking, our mom, Judy, somehow transitioned to a conversation that included three words. "I have cancer," she said.
We were stunned. All we could focus on was that one word: cancer.
Finding strength during cancer treatment
After mom's anal cancer diagnosis the news didn't feel real at first, and we all wrestled with questions and unknowns that seemed to hit us from all directions. Later in the discussion, our mom spoke something that would ultimately set the tone for our journey with her. "I just want to laugh," she said. As tears streamed down our faces, we understood what she was telling us. No matter the battles that were ahead and no matter how much this cancer wanted to make her a victim, she had a choice in the matter. She would choose, through strength and courage, to have joy, and that joy would be her avenue toward the blessing in between the mess and pain of this disease.
Coping with chemotherapy
We set off on an unfamiliar path and walked through the doors of MD Anderson, where it seems cancer is the norm. However, along the way we have realized that fighting it is anything but. There is no normal to cancer. Our mom has fought and beat it twice, through countless hours spent hooked up to bags of liquid chemotherapy drugs, hours lying on radiation tables and other hours persevering through difficult side effects and complications that resulted from each of those procedures.
Sometimes, she would dance after completing a treatment cycle. Other times exhaustion, fear, anger and discouragement would come over her. Yet, it was, and continues to be, the intentional choice to not stay in those feelings that protects her perspective. Although such emotions are natural and normal and OK to have, give them too much time and space in your life, and they will begin to rob you of what is good. They will rob you of your thankfulness. They will rob you of your joy.
This past fall, for a third time, the cancer came back in an aggressive form that will require infusions of chemotherapy twice a month, possibly for the rest of her life. Upon hearing this news, our mom wanted to go straight to the chapel at the hospital and, though feelings of defeat challenged her, she prayed. She asked aloud that she would somehow be used for a positive purpose in this circumstance. Essentially, she was praying to see the good between the blessing and the mess.
Unbeknownst to her, that pure desire to be used for good would inspire the promotion of a collective movement of people resolutely choosing joy.