I’ve begun to share with you some of my thoughts about positive thinking. (You can read about them here.) This month positive thinking is a focus because of both the Thanksgiving holiday and because of the fabulous promotion of The Clicker (Read more about The Clicker here.)
Today I want to share with you a real-life example of the power of thoughts. This is the touching story of my friend Kathi as she has spent the last year treating her breast cancer. Life is always ready to hand us circumstances that will make us or break us, and this courageous account illustrates the ability we have to make hard things become beautiful…starting with the power of our thoughts.
As you read Kathi’s story, think of challenges you have encountered in your life, and please share with us how your positive thoughts made all the difference for you.
As I glanced at the caller ID on the phone I could see that it was the call we’d been waiting for, dreading actually, since I had a biopsy done a few days before. The doctor on the line introduced himself as the radiologist who read my tests. “Is now a good time to talk?” he asked. “Uh-oh” I thought to myself, “that’s not a good sign.” Good news doesn’t need that kind of lead in. Thankful that my husband didn’t need to be in his office that day so I put the phone on speaker so we could both here the results. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast Cancer. There, he said the words out loud. The thing that had been the silent, unspoken fear since my mammogram less than a week ago.
The next 2 weeks were a blur of doctor appointments, more tests and a crash course on cancer. I was in information overload. Thankfully, my husband took the lead and began to research my disease and what kind of treatments were available, standard, and most importantly – successful. I think in those first days after my diagnosis he did more medical research and study than most medical students preparing for their final exams.
Even though it had only been 1 year since my last mammogram, my oncologist could tell from the biopsy results that we did not catch this cancer in one of the very curable early stages. Although final pathology isn’t determined until after surgery and the tumor can be examined, my oncologist was preparing us for the months ahead: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for final reconstruction. This was going to be the longest, worst year of my life!
Cancer is not a good disease to have if you like to be in control. It lets you know right up front and in your face that it will do whatever it wants. I wanted to feel more in control, but I quickly came to the realization that the only thing I could really control during this year would be my reaction to it. I knew that my family and friends would take their cues from me as to how I wanted to face this. I also knew that even though our 2 children are in their early 20’s they would be watching how I handled this. As a woman of faith would I be strong? Or would I crumble at this trial? Taking control of the only thing I could, I set up the following three rules for myself during this experience:
I knew that there would be plenty to cry about in the months to come, so laughing was going to be allowed – and necessary. It was okay to smile and laugh and have fun even as we faced a very uncertain future. This rule got put to the test very early in our journey. My daughter, Kylie, planned a girls’ night out for my sister and the two of us to help get my mind off of doctor appointments, test results and survival statistics. We were going to a George Strait / Martina McBride concert. We had seats in a luxury suite. Since I’m a country music fan, this was going to be fun! Martina started the show and was singing her greatest hits, she then said “this next song is for all the survivors” and starts singing a ballad that I had never heard before. As we sat there listening to the first lines of the song it dawned on me that this was a song about a woman who just found out she had breast cancer. I looked over at my daughter and yelled “you’ve got to be kidding me!” The three of us laughed and cried through the rest of the song.
We laughed and cried our way through trying on and choosing wigs and shaving my head. I played the “cancer card” whenever I could. I get to pick the TV show – I have cancer. I get to choose the restaurant – I have cancer. Thankfully we found many things to laugh about this year.
This rule was definitely just for me. I knew that there would be days when I just wanted to stay in bed, pull the covers up over my head and try to forget this year was ever happening. But I knew that would not be good for my emotional health. This rule allowed my family to give me a needed push (or shove) if I was having an extra hard day. This was a very loose rule. To say “get dressed/ready everyday” didn’t mean I had to be in full hair and makeup, it could be just washing my face, brushing my teeth, putting on clean clothes and moving from the bedroom to the family room. There was no time limit on when this had to happen, and believe me, there were days during chemo when just lifting my head off the pillow was such a struggle that it took me till late in the afternoon to get up the energy to accomplish this task. But it also gave my days a “normalcy” to them. I learned to enjoy a warm shower and feel its healing energy. And I found great comfort in the routine.
At first I thought that this would be the hardest rule to follow. I had cancer; I couldn’t see what was going to be good about this year. But when you make a point to look for blessings and see the good in each day, they become very easy to find. I found that blessings came in all shapes and sizes. Some were big and obvious, like surgery and recovery going well, meals and treats being brought to our family, flower deliveries, or parties planned to celebrate “graduating” from chemo and radiation. Other times it was something as simple as a phone call, a card in the mail or visit from someone checking in on me. And some days it was as small as someone liking my Facebook post. All of these things were appreciated and helped keep my spirits lifted. I realized we weren’t alone on this journey.
There were good days and bad days, and we just got through the bad days the best we could. If it was bad because I was depressed or scared or mad at the cancer and its statistics, I allowed myself to feel it – cry, get angry or mourn the loss of how I thought my life would play out. Then I’d make my peace with it and do my best to move on.
We enjoyed the good days to whatever level I felt up to. I also learned that “a good day” didn’t mean that the whole day was good. On the hard mornings I took things slowly, and by the afternoon things started to look up. Then some mornings I woke up feeling great and did too much and was flat on my back in the afternoon. The motto became: “it is what it is”.
In my life I have had the opportunity to see people handle trials in different ways. Those that chose to stay mad and angry at the situation were left bitter and scarred. They let it define, consume, control, and change them in a negative way. But the people who have chosen to be positive and make peace with the trial were able to grow from it, and become better and stronger because of it. Although the trial was part of what made them who they were, they didn’t let it define them. It wasn’t all they were. At the beginning of this journey I had a dear friend tell me that whether I liked it or not, I would be a different person at the end of it. She was completely correct – but who I became was something I was determined not to let cancer control. It was completely within my power and my choices as to who I was at the end of this journey. If getting mad and angry cured cancer, I would have stayed mad and angry. But it doesn’t cure cancer. By staying mad and angry I would just be allowing cancer to steal more from me than it already had. I didn’t want to give that power to cancer.
Looking back, the year has gone by much faster than I ever imagined it would. For that I am very thankful. Our journey is not over, there is still more ahead. Final reconstructive surgery, maintenance drugs and an uncertain future, but I do my best to make the most of each day and find the joy in it.
Have you had difficult challenges arise in your life? How has positive thinking helped you through it?