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Paying It Forward

by Erin V.

Just one month ago my family and I celebrated my 5-year survival of this nasty disease.  I had been 47 years old when I was diagnosed, with a husband and two college-age sons, a dog, a home, a busy career, and a 91-year-old mother who depended on me and had beaten breast cancer twice herself. Like so many women (50% of us) I had dense breasts, and like many women with dense breasts my cancer was missed on previous mammograms (75% is missed on mammograms due to dense breasts). It was estimated that my cancer had been growing for 3 to 4 years when I was diagnosed and it was already stage 3.

So I thought I would just pull up my bootstraps, get through the unpleasant treatments, and then my life would get back to normal. I had no clue what my journey ahead would be like and I had a much different perception of breast cancer than I do now. I’m afraid many other women still do, and that causes them to not take it very seriously. That’s why I work so hard at spreading breast cancer awareness in any way I can and also supporting others who are battling alongside me.

When the doctors told me it was aggressive I thought that meant we’d better get busy and not delay treatments, but I never thought of breast cancer as life-threatening. I bravely endured a year of chemo, mastectomy, radiation, and more chemo, and then expected life would get back to normal and cancer would be a part of my past. It came as quite a shock, both to me and my family, when just 2 years later the cancer reappeared in my lung and another year later in my brain. Just breast cancer had now become much more serious, it wasn’t like a bout of the flu that I would recover from after a nice bowl of soup. Since then I have endured more chemo, radiation, many trips inside the scanning tunnel and various cutting-edge treatments. I will continue to have weekly chemo for the rest of my life.

But I also have a strong faith in God, and His Word tells me that He works ALL things together for good, so I believed that and have continually looked for His blessings and purpose in all of this. After listening to my many stories of my experiences, life lessons, humorous stories, miracles, a friend encouraged me to start writing it all down in a blog in order to share it with others. The funny thing was, over 30 years ago I had gotten a degree at Cal State Long Beach in English/Creative Writing. I had been so on fire and excited about my writing gift when I first started college, encouraged by my teacher at Millikan High School. But, my college professor had been brutal with his criticisms, which completely deflated me and made me decide against pursuing a career in writing. Now, all these years later, it seemed that God was finally going to use my writing gift after all! My blog is now posted on 3 different websites where it reaches over 50,000 potential readers all over the world. It is so thrilling to see God using my blog to reach others with a message of hope and encouragement. Others have told me that my blogs are inspirational and insightful to cancer patients, to their friends and family who are trying to understand and support them, and to anyone going through a personal struggle.

A couple years ago, a cousin of mine on the East Coast was also diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something to help, so I decided to send her a care package full of items that I had found helpful while going through treatments. I included a couple hats, scarves, a neck pillow, ginger tea, a devotional, some warm socks, and some information on places to find help and support. Then I heard of another friend who was diagnosed, and the friend of a friend, and a co-workers mother, etc., etc. It seemed like so many people were touched by cancer and I wanted to somehow reach out to them and let them know they weren’t alone. So I sent them care packages too, and I continue to whenever I hear of someone else.

My devoted husband deserves an award too (although he’d make a pretty funny looking princess!). These past 5 years have been difficult for him too, but he has stood by me and showed that he took very seriously his vow for better or worse, in sickness and in health. I don’t think there are many men who would do all that he’s done. He has accompanied me to all my doctor appointments and treatments. He has arranged to work a 4-day/10 hour workweek so that he can take me to my chemo every Friday. After working a 10-hour day, he comes home and does all the cooking, cleaning, and household chores that I am unable to do. He supports and encourages me when I’m down, fights for me when I’m weary, loves me even when I am bald and haggard.

Facing my mortality through stage 4 breast cancer has definitely made me stronger. It has changed my perspective in that I am more focused on what matters in eternity and I don’t sweat the small stuff. It has made my faith stronger.  People have told me that they think it’s a great thing that I haven’t LOST my faith as a result of my battle with cancer. That surprises me!  Perhaps some people might be angry with God or think that He has failed them, but I can’t imagine going through a difficult trial like this WITHOUT Him! I have often said that this is where the rubber meets the road if you TRULY believe God’s promises, then they are true both in bad times and good. I’m not going to stop believing just because God has directed my life down a path that I wouldn’t have chosen.

So this is my story, pretty much. Well, so FAR, at least. The story keeps growing every day. My battle rages on, I fight on thanks to my faithful God and the love and support of my family and friends. Sometimes I am melancholy about the future and the experiences I may miss out on, but then I look around me at all the blessings I have to enjoy today and I know how very blessed I am!

To read more of my story, see my blog Erin’s Serendipity