Cancer. What do you think of when you hear this word? When I was growing up, and even as a young adult, I never thought much about cancer at all. If I did think about it, it was because I’d heard about it in a movie, or on a television show, or somewhere far away. It had absolutely nothing to do with me or my life, or anyone close to me. On November 27, 2000, that forever changed when I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. I was 33 years old.
The trajectory of my life since that cold November day in Buffalo, New York is one I never could have imagined, nor one I would ever have created or planned. Since that initial diagnosis, I have been diagnosed with cancer, not one, not two, but THREE more times. A year after my initial breast cancer diagnosis and extensive treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation - I learned I had colon cancer. Fortunately, it was Stage 0 and only required surgery. Then I enjoyed an 8-year cancer-free interlude. During this time, many blessings happened in my life. I answered my call to the ministry, I met and married my wonderful husband Marc, I attended seminary at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey and graduated summa cum laude. But unquestionably the crowning achievement of this time was becoming pregnant with and giving birth to our miracle son, Amari Emmanuel in September 2007 – exactly two weeks before my 40th birthday. He was the best birthday present I could ask for!
In early September 2009, I got a phone call from my primary care doctor letting me know I had thyroid cancer. I had no symptoms; this had been detected at a check-up a couple of weeks earlier when my doctor felt a nodule in my neck. Due to my previous cancer history, he recommended I get a biopsy. He called me on my mother’s birthday to let me know that the biopsy came back positive. I was devastated. There I was, not yet 42 years old and I had been diagnosed with cancer three times. Let me tell you, three times was most definitely not a charm that day. I did not know anyone who had received three different cancer diagnoses. Therefore, I was certain this meant my time on earth was over. I felt I had lived a good life, and although I was interested in living longer to fulfill more of my dreams and the plans I believed God had for me, I failed to see how I’d be able to live well as a three-time cancer survivor. Although I was a person of deep faith, I felt that God was clearly calling me to the other side of creation, so I was ready to go.
A couple days after this phone call, I shared my third diagnosis and conclusions with some of my dearest girlfriends in our upstairs bedroom at our son’s second birthday party, while toddlers were playing and dancing to "Elmo's World" downstairs and outside with their parents on that late summer day. I felt at peace while relaying the news; I was finished. My girlfriends listened calmly while I talked, and then afterward they informed me in no uncertain terms that I was not going anywhere, that I was not about to die, that God was not through with me, and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was a good thing that my sisters in the spirit surrounded me with amazing strength and support that day. Because three weeks later, on Friday, September 25, a couple of young doctors at Yale New Haven Hospital told my husband and me that they were sorry to let me know that the breast cancer I had been diagnosed with back in 2000 had returned. But it was not just a simple recurrence; it had spread, which is called metastasis. It had spread to many bones all over my body – my skull, several vertebrae, sternum, a few ribs, seemingly everywhere. Metastatic cancer is also called Stage 4 breast cancer, known in the conventional medical world as cancer that has no cure. Think about it. I had just turned 42 years old, had a fabulous two-year-old son, a wonderful husband, and had been serving at the historic Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for over a year as their Director of Children, Youth and Families Ministries – my first ministerial assignment since graduating from seminary. It was an amazing place with incredible people, and I felt my life was complete.
How in the world did a Stage 4, so-called terminal, incurable cancer diagnosis fit into God’s plan for my life?
This is a question that I have been wrestling with, praying with, and journeying with for almost 7 ½ years now. Doctors told me at the time of diagnosis that the average amount of time women live after being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer is just under three years. I suppose it won’t surprise you to hear that I have never considered myself to be average in any way. So here I am in 2017, having defied all earthly expectations and prognoses, still on the journey. In this blog, and in what will eventually become my book of the same name, you will find my story of conquering three different cancers, and you’ll be able to follow the many twists and turns of my journey to heal from metastatic breast cancer from September 2009 to the present. If you’re looking for inspiration, motivation, strength, faith or courage to handle any chronic or challenging situation you find yourself in, regardless of the origin, I invite you to journey with me. Nobody said that the road would be easy, but we’ve made it this far, so let’s keep going as we seek healing and wellness together. Thank you for joining me!