I've been in the pit. You may know the pit, you might have been there before. Its that dark place where your most pessimistic thoughts hold you captive and warp how you perceive your reality. It’s a place of isolation and fear, of worry and anxiety. It’s a bad place, the pit.
I travel once a week from Nashville to Miami to receive treatment on a clinical trial for my metastatic Stage IV cancer while raising my 3-year-old and sustaining a healthy marriage while preparing to teach my A&P class in a week. I function out of a “one day at a time” mentality. I have to. There’s no other way. If I were to wake up each morning thinking about the entire scope of life, I would absolutely LIVE in the pit. On the days that I get to thinking about out any ONE of those elements too much, I get overwhelmed. For me to face all of those Giants at once is to surrender my capacity for living in the land of hope to a day of fear and anxiety.
The big picture is not my responsibility. That responsibility belongs to The Lord- he called dibs. My responsibility is today, only today. My challenge is to wake each day and accept what I have been given while letting go of expectations for anything more. Today I wake with a liiiiittle bit of hair, diminished energy, fogginess, a sweet and lovely unpredictable toddler, a hardworking husband of character, and no appetite. Those were the tools in my metaphorical life tool belt when I woke this morning for me to build with....
That's a glimpse into the perfect version of the mentality I try to function from (my real version has more resistance and eye rolls and taking excessive bathroom breaks to hide from it all). BUT...
A few times this month I have fallen in the pit, as I occasionally do. I felt all the heaviness of cancer and parenting and uncertainty and fatigue and a violent world all at once. I was so tired and depressed. I felt like a shadow of myself. I questioned if it was even worth doing the treatments. I questioned my meaning and purpose in this world. It's a bad feeling to feel like someone other than yourself. It's dark and scary- will I ever be ME again? Am I even contributing to the world at all? Will this ever end?!
I lost my hope.
In the pit there is no hope. In the pit I can’t see life ever improving, it’s all doom and gloom forever through my eyes. When I get sad, I tend to think that I am going to be sad forever. It’s a patterned reaction I have to sadness, and my sweet husband is good to remind me that it won’t always be this way. It won’t always be weak and exhausted and nauseous and foggy, it certainly won’t always be depressed. He tells me that I can choose to pass through the pit instead of taking up residence there. Naturally, I think he is bonks, and while his words were encouraging, they little swayed the position I had taken up in the darkness of the pit. You know how it got better?? The Lord.
I was sitting at breakfast with my 3-year-old too early in the morning for my sloth- like pace. Still exhausted even after a night’s sleep, I sat propping my neck up with my hand to keep myself from curling up on the table for a little breakfast snooze (maybe you’ve never heard of a breakfast snooze, it’s when you get up and eat breakfast and then immediately take a nap- it's a desperate move for sure, but I claim it). There’s a tumor on my neck that we’ve known about for a while, and as I was propping my grumpy self up, I didn’t feel it. I DIDN’T FEEL IT. I mashed around and finally found it, the size of an almond. That sucker shrunk from the size of a big ol cherry to the size of an almond. IN THREE MONTHS!!! And you know what?! All the other ones I can feel have done the same thing. There’s not a tumor I can feel that hasn’t shrunk. I know I’ve told you before that they were smaller, and I’m not just repeating myself now- THEY SHRUNK AGAIN! John says that after every immunotherapy (Keytruda/pembrolizumab) infusion I have had (once every 3 weeks), soon thereafter the tumors feel smaller.
It gave me hope.
And since there is no hope in the pit, I was able to come out. God reminded me in that small way that HE WAS THERE ALL ALONG, there in the pit though it may have felt lonely and isolated- he was THERE working on something amazing for me to tell you about. He was there giving hope and healing, even when my eyes were too teary and frustrated to see it. I’ve been hesitant to latch onto the idea that the cancer truly is disappearing because what if its not really shrinking. I was afraid to get my hopes up only to be led into disappointment again. But The Lord gave me BIG hope and BIG excitement and BIG faith that healing is coming.
I want to use this story to tell you one of the keys to surviving cancer or hardship or anything, really:
Never ever ever give up.
I met a woman in Miami during my first infusion treatment whose husband and I were getting treatment at the same time. She sat with me for about 30 minutes and we shared stories of how we each ended up in the treatment room. She and her husband live in Mexico City and travel to Miami for treatments like I do. She has this DREAMY Spanish accent that she used to tell me over and over “You’re going to be fiiiiine.” She said it so frequently and with such confidence and such grace and beauty that I believed her. I hadn’t truly believed it until that moment because the future is so overwhelmingly uncertain, I didn’t have the confidence to declare that I would be fine, only just enough faith to hope for it.
And for that day, I truly believed that I was going to be fine. I realized quickly after that Holy Spirit encounter that the days I decided I was going to be fine, both for now and the long haul, were tremendous days. Those are the days that I waking up and making the intentional decision to keep going. Those are the days that I am operating with confidence that I have a full and bright future. I’m PERSEVERING.
NEVER EVER EVER GIVE UP.
That's what Winston Churchill and Rosa and my friend Kim who survived melanoma and the many overcomers before are telling me. Don't give up. Don't do it. Don't even think about it. Not for one second. It's not an option. You CAN do it. You WILL be fine. There is HOPE in the LORD. He will give you HIS STRENGTH and provide JOY during heaviness.
Jesus provides the tools to persevere. Never Ever Ever Give Up is how we use them.
Before this life changing encounter with Rosa the Spanish angel, I had tricked myself into thinking that I don't give up- that I am the picture of cancer fighting wariorness (I have a tendency to think I'm more awesome than I am, and the lord has a tendency to remind me that HE is awesome and I am just okay). Turns out I do give up. Lots. I distract away my hurt instead of feeling the big feelings and addressing the conflicts that hurt creates. I feel sorry for myself to the point that I forget the hard work God has done to bring me to a place of healing. Distraction and Pity.
Like with most things, a little distraction, a little Netflix, is fine and in fact may be helpful. When I was pregnant, John and I watched The Office when we were in the sad place and would always find ourselves smiling by the end of the episode or 4 we watched. But too much distraction leaves no room for mindfulness. Creating space to work through my thoughts and feelings is essential to persevering, to not giving up, to fighting like a warrior. Pick your metaphor.
I need time to pray thoughtfully, to refocus on Christ, to prioritize my marriage, to be aware of my mission. Distraction steals meaningful moments away in exchange for a temporary relief from the difficulty. Temporary relief is not healing, it's just a bandaid to a more systemic problem. Mindfulness challenges your spirit by putting you face to face with your feelings, your problems, and your fears. But when you engage, you are able to overcome them. Mindfulness is the harder choice, but it is the right one.
I must confess that I am not good at this. At all. I haven't made reflection a habit, so I have to overcome the hurdle of newness each time I do it. I am taking the little steps toward a more mindful and reflective existence- less tv, less distraction, less pity (but not no tv because the Gilmore girls revival is coming in November and I plan to watch it all in one night), more prayer, more meditation.
Never ever ever give up. Fight for your life. Don't let anything stand in your way of moving forward- including yourself. Believe that you will be fine. Push through the heaviness. Fight away the sadness once you've dealt with it. Beg The Lord to pull you out of your pit. Know your limits and don't push past them. Put excuses in their place. Reclaim every bit of life you can. Accept the normal that's right in front of you. Don't try to do it alone. Ask God to be your sword and shield, to go into battle before you and prepare your way. Ask for his fighting strength in your spirit. Gather your people around you and in full force push past the lines of your expectations and never ever EVER give up your fight.
You will be fiiiiiine.
Real talk: This blog post took me 4 weeks to write. Because going through cancer treatment is HARD and tiring. But it's important enough that over the course of those 4 weeks, I didn't want to give up once. Thanks for your patience in my spaced out posts these last few weeks.