Part 1 of Series on Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC):
Hear My Voice: Stage Four and Fabulous! Lessons Learned
Yes, you read that correctly! One of my new metavivor sisters coined this phrase the last day of our Living Beyond Breast Cancer Thriving Together conference (thanks, Natalia!). The prefix ‘meta’ is of Greek origin and means ‘after’ or ‘beyond’. Therefore, metavivor refers to those of us who are living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC); breast cancer that has spread outside of the breast. It goes above and beyond the term ‘survivor,’ because we are so much more than that. Waking up every day with this disease, figuring out how we are going to make the best of it and not let it get the best of us requires us to have the attitude that Stage 4 is in fact, fabulous – rather than sinking into a pit where we are perpetually sad, sorry and miserable. I’m a witness! Speaking of being a witness, which means you see something, perspective is what it’s all about. The lens you look through significantly affects how you interpret something. I have chosen to look through the lens of MBC with a positive viewpoint instead of a negative one, and this is what I’d like to share with you today. My hope is that my thoughts will encourage you no matter what you are going through on your particular journey.
Below is my list of six ways in which this journey has helped me to live life more fully and fabulously since my MBC diagnosis.
1) My FAITH is stronger. In the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The verse defies logic, because why should we hope for something if we are not sure if it will come? And how can we be certain about something that we cannot see? But, it is very essence of faith to believe that with God nothing is impossible! Therefore, I always keep hope alive on my healing journey, through it all.
My new friend Kirby who I met at the conference is the first man I’ve ever met with breast cancer. He gave me a precious gift. It is a brass anchor, which symbolizes what has helped each of us thrive on our respective cancer journeys. Our souls are anchored in the Lord!
2) I UNDERSTAND what is truly important. My family, friends, and ministry are my lifeblood. Speaking of my family – Amari is back from China!! My heart is overflowing with joy. He had a wonderful trip to China, and we’re enjoying hearing all about his marvelous experiences.
3) I know that we are STRONGER TOGETHER. I have gained strength from the inspirational stories from the numerous people I know who persevere each day on their healing journeys. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters (my edit) or perish together as fools.” Walking on the MBC road, this is so powerfully true. If I concentrate only on my journey, I often feel isolated and alone. But meeting others on the MBC journey has helped me to step outside of my world and be inspired by and learn from the incredible experiences of others.
4) I focus on God’s mission for my life. At my core, I am a minister and an educator. My experience reminds me to always lovingly pastor, shepherd, help, counsel, listen and teach. This is the essence of ministry, and it defies any one religion or denomination. I believe, one’s life should be a ministry – doing unto others what you would want done to yourself.
5) I DEFY boundaries. I have done more than simply step outside the box; I have torn the box to shreds! In treating MBC, there is no “one size fits all.” What works for one person may not work for you. Doctors research constantly, but research has its limits. No person is a statistic, and each person’s journey is different. On my journey, I challenge assumptions, disagree with doctors, and resist some of the recommendations of my oncologists. I have also done tons of research and acted on the combination of my instincts, faith, and credible information.
6) I fearlessly face the realities of the life to come. You may ask how this life of mine is fabulous. As you may remember, in my post last week, I stated, “Life is Terminal!” At least, this life is. Although we know this to be true, most of us are not at all prepared when a loved one dies, whether it’s the unexpected tragic death of a young person or the expected death of an aging, sick relative. As a society, we are flooded with images that physical death can be overcome; that at the last moment heroes come in to save the day – and the lives of those who are about to die. In real life, it doesn't usually work that way. When one looks at life from a spiritual perspective, we realize that we are much more than our bodies. Ultimately we are spirits who live temporarily in these bodies that are subject to pain, sickness, and other traumas. It is how we handle this fact that makes our lives meaningful – or not.
When I was in seminary from 2003-2006, one of our courses required us to write our own funeral services, including our obituaries. It was a powerful experience for me. I had already overcome two cancer diagnoses at that point and had just gotten married. While it was emotional, it was also educational because it helped me to grapple intellectually, spiritually and practically with the concept of death and how those we leave behind respond to our deaths.
When one is living with a disease that is considered terminal, the invitation is extended to us to contemplate the meaning of our lives more fully. This means that we are in a position not only to create wonderful opportunities to engage in while we yet live (our bucket lists, if you will), but we also have the chance to create wonderful opportunities for how we want to be remembered and celebrated once our bodies leave this earth. I actually consider this a gift, and persons who die unexpectedly do not have this gift.
Your assignment: I want to encourage everyone reading this post to create your funeral service, memorial, or celebration of life within the next year. Once you have created your service, put it in a safe place and let your loved ones know where it is. Ideally, it is a document that won’t be needed for many years, even decades. But, if your death comes sooner rather than later, it is there. Not only will this be a gift to your loved ones, but in the process, your life will be enhanced. Some may see this as predicting your death. On the contrary, I see it as facing the reality of the circle of life!
If I weren’t living with Stage 4 cancer, I couldn’t have written this post. That is why I say Stage 4 is Fabulous. It has allowed me to go to profound places I wouldn’t ordinarily go. I invite you to do the same thing by reflecting on the thoughts in this post. If you feel so led, please reach out to me with your feedback. Next week, we’ll discuss some of the many resources available for metavivors and their families, complete with a list of organizations, websites, statistics, and fascinating little-known facts. See you then!