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Cheryl ElliottI blame my brother. He was the one who proclaimed: “May 2016 be a year of adventure and blessing!” I had no choice but to respond with “challenge accepted,” and treat last year’s unexpected breast cancer diagnosis as both adventure and blessing.

For me, his proclamation became: “May this breast cancer adventure bring unusual and exciting experiences, bursting with God’s favor, protection and well-being!” Although he also said I was going through a lot of trouble just for a boob job! Brothers!

As it turns out, my breast cancer journey – in which I experienced the whole gamut:  chemotherapy and its ugly side effects, breast surgery, immune system collapse, and reconstruction – has brought both adventure (and some misadventure) and blessing. I’m told I’ve handled the diagnosis and treatment a little differently than most women, and I pray that sharing my journey will bring hope and encouragement. Here are a few ponderings from my cancer adventure.

Facing fears

A breast cancer diagnosis unleashes a storm of fears. Fear of the unknown: Did I cause this? What’s going to happen to me?  Fear of pain: Will it hurt? Fear of losing control. Fear of dying and fear of a life unlived. Information is often the antidote for fear because I am most afraid of what I don’t know. If I’m going to buy a refrigerator, I have to learn everything I can about refrigerators before making a final choice. The same is true when dealing with a diagnosis. Make decisions based on the information available and advice of doctors. Sorry, but “Doctor Google” should not be a trusted advisor.


Struggling with loss
To me, loss is a four-letter bad word. If there’s anything that can drive me to my knees in deep dark depression and excessive misery, it’s another loss. Loss, unfortunately, has been a theme in my life:  marriages, homes, careers, jobs, and friends. Breast cancer added hair, boobs, health, toenails, and a threat on my life to the list.

Trust that there are no wasted experiences. Acknowledge the loss while not asking “why” questions, to which there are no answers. There are only answers to “what now” questions.  What’s my next move in the face of this loss? How can I do better next time? Did I really need that toenail anyway?

Making deliberate choices
Attitude accounts for 95 percent because what you expect is often what you get. Choose to have a positive attitude. Clear the stress to prepare for the “battle.” Choose to live in the present. Make yourself first priority. It’s okay to be selfish, to take care of “me first,” then family, and then outside obligations. Make choices to please yourself, not for what others would expect. I decided that wigs were going to be like shoes: a woman needs more than two.  And if I was going to get new boobs, I wanted perky ones.

Surviving the symptoms
Early on in the diagnosis my oncologist reiterated that side effects are unique to the individual. I could get all or none or just a few. So I picked fatigue, but not mouth sores. Again, one’s attitude affects the effects. And the occasional pity party is absolutely acceptable. Oh, I should have bought stock in Preparation H and Imodium.

Finding support
Throughout this adventure I felt fine emotionally, spiritually and psychologically, but physically it was most difficult thing I ever had to face. My faith grew stronger because I rested in the belief that God is good and he did not cause the situation. My family relationships grew stronger because I relied on them. My daughter repeatedly encouraged me, saying “You’ve got this, Mom.” Being with my sister after the biopsy literally saved my life. My friendships grew stronger because I accepted their support. One friend who recently survived breast cancer, whom I’ve never met in person, regularly texted with me, sharing her story. If she could get through this, then I could too. Seek out the kind of support that best meets your needs, whether in person or virtual.

Resetting priorities
There’s nothing like a near-death experience to put life in crystal clear focus. Take advantage of the opportunity to refocus life priorities and set future goals. It’s never too late to dust off your forgotten but God-ordained passions and dreams. Update the bucket list.

Since breast cancer, I want to keep my new focus and lifestyle changes, creating a new normal, rather than reverting back to the old comfort zone. Being forced to slow down and carefully choose where to spend energy has been probably one of the greatest challenges.

Let my breast cancer journey be an inspiration to you as you face whatever challenges loom before you. May you view your challenges as both adventure and blessing. And may your adventure bring unusual and exciting experiences, bursting with God’s favor, protection and well-being!

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series exploring Cheryl Elliott’s experience with breast cancer.