The other day, for the first time in a long time, I sat on a chair in my driveway and read a few chapters of a juicy novel. I was facing the sun, letting its rays warm my skin. And then when I realized how calm I was, the familiar sense of doom–one of the many difficulties stemming from trauma–crept in.
After three years of a series of intense life events, I don’t know how to be chill. I simply can’t just let go and let God—or something like that. All I’ve known for years is fear, fight, confusion, and panic. And I feel guilty for feeling good. How messed up is that?
It started with waiting to adopt a fourth child. We were matched with expectant parents halfway through the birth mom’s pregnancy. This wasn’t our first rodeo, so I naively assumed we’d be fine. But every day my children were asking me when the baby was coming—and their anticipation intensified my anxiety. I worried constantly knowing that at any minute, the plan could fall apart.
The entire experience was long and unpredictable, amplifying my anxiety. In the end, the baby became our baby—who is now three years old.
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She’s decided to nap again. She, her peep, Tiana, and all the other stuffed friends. Three years ago we were putting her nursery together and waiting to see if THE baby would become OUR baby. The wait was torture. But necessary. She is our sunshine. I’m so thankful to be her mom. Where are you in your adoption journey? . . . #whitesugarbrownsugar #daughter #adoption #adoptionjourney #adoptionstory #multiracialfamily #waitingtoadopt #sunday #sundayfunday #blackgirljoy #naptime
A post shared by Rachel Garlinghouse (@whitesugarbrownsugar) on Jul 14, 2019 at 6:01am PDT
Six months after we brought her home, I discovered a tender area on my upper right breast. Every time I unbuckled my driver’s side seatbelt or removed my cross-body purse, the area ached. I discovered what felt like a mass and brought it to the attention of my gynecologist. She agreed that I needed further testing and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound.
Thankfully, those came back clear. But after a few days of receiving the great results, I had a sense of dread I couldn’t shake. I knew something was wrong. I pursued a second opinion, and the doctor agreed to a biopsy. And that’s when my world came crashing down. I had breast cancer.
In a span of six weeks, I had genetic testing, an MRI, and multiple medical consultations. Then I was faced with the choice. I could have a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation, followed by a breast MRI every six months to check for recurrence, or I could have a bilateral mastectomy. This was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make.
After making an extensive pros and cons list—like any good type-A person does–and angry-desperate praying, I decided to have the mastectomy. I was certain of my choice—but surgery was hardly a walk in the park. It took me a solid year to begin, slowly, to feel like myself again—my new self. During that time, I had appointments with oncology, radiology, plastic surgery, and breast surgery, bursting into tears during every single one of them.
Then, in the midst of my cancer battle, I realized that one of my children had undiagnosed special needs. I initiated the evaluation processes—both in the school system and privately. What I thought would be cut-and-dried turned out to be a two-year, increasingly difficult journey to figure out their diagnoses and convince the school to agree to offer specialized services.
I’m trying so desperately to live my best life and enter into the holiday season with gratitude for how far I’ve come, but struggling with allowing myself to enjoy the people and things that are around me.
It seemed like my season of turmoil would never end. Nothing really helped me climb out of a deep, dark well of trauma except time. I wanted to hit the fast-forward button, but there wasn’t one. Instead, I had to experience the proverbial pain of one-step forward and two-steps back.
I absolutely recognized that I wasn’t myself—while realizing that difficult situations change us. Who was this new me? What was she like? What did she need? Who did she want to become? And most importantly, what did she want to choose to leave behind?
I started seeing a counselor more consistently, began exercising again, and committed to taking charge of my life. I made a lot of mistakes—setting unrealistic goals, over-researching online, and saying yes when I should have said “hell no.” I also decided to go back on anxiety medication—which was the real turning point for me.
I can happily say now that I had cancer—in the past tense. But just because all the cancer cells are out of my body, it doesn’t mean cancer isn’t still part of me. Seemingly every day, I catch a glimpse of a pink ribbon. It might be a sticker on someone’s car widow, a tee shirt, or slapped on a cereal box. I can’t escape cancer reminders no matter how hard I try.
Every night when I shower, I’m reminded of cancer when I looked down at my new breasts—implants covered by my own skin. I have no sensation anymore—so these foobs, as I call them, are attached to me — but they aren’t really mine.
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Perhaps fear has taught you how to stay alive, and perhaps courage can teach you how to come alive more than ever before. Perhaps saying “yes” to this adventure will be the most terrifying thing you could ever do, but what if your heart is beating for more, and all of this is going to shape you. Maybe this is the time to say what you have been meaning to say, and to go into the depths of “I don’t know what will happen, but I will carry on, anyway,“ as you choose to live and love boldly even without the closure of yesterday. You have been letdown before. You have practical reasons for being afraid. But I hope you know: there is still a life to be lived beyond your fears. There is still time and space to come alive, as you are, right here. And remember, sometimes courage is subtle. Sometimes it’s climbing a mountain and sometimes it’s a gradual softening into forgiveness. Sometimes it’s creating boundaries. Sometimes it’s putting up walls. Courage will look, taste, and feel different for us all. The important thing is: do what you do for love. For joy. For peace that goes beyond understanding. Do what you do with a mind ready to learn, a heart ready to grow, and a soul ready to be still, despite all of the chaos you cannot control. You will not be able to travel this path perfectly, but grace will meet you here. Every day, you will be free to begin again, no matter what you have feared. I believe courage can be many things for us, and one of those things is our teachers. When we take the leap of faith, we do not know the outcome, but we know that we will learn and grow, anyway. And perhaps it is through our courage to live and love we mature and grow in wisdom. and slowly, we begin to see that even though a healthy dose of fear kept us alive, it was courage that helped us thrive. More tomorrow… Sincerely, Morgan Harper Nichols
A post shared by Morgan Harper Nichols (MHN) (@morganharpernichols) on Oct 17, 2019 at 1:09pm PDT
I have a hard time laying on my back, because my mind remembers when I was stuck in a vulnerable, surgical position for hours. When I go to a dental appointment, panic sets in because my body is horizontal with someone’s hands close to my face and a bright light in my eyes. It takes all I have to muster up the courage to attend any medical appointment or meeting—no matter how minor or routine it is—because I’m always anticipating catastrophic news.
It’s been two years since my surgery, three years since the adoption, and only a month since we finally got our child on an appropriate educational plan. But these events, clustered together, broke me. I felt like I could never get ahead. And meanwhile, I had four kids depending on me for their everyday existence.
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A post shared by mary purdie (@drawnbymary) on Oct 5, 2019 at 10:11am PDT
And now that I am in this better place, where I’m trying so desperately to live my best life and enter into the holiday season with gratitude for how far I’ve come, I’m struggling with allowing myself to enjoy the people and things that are around me. I have serious time anxiety—meaning, if I find myself at peace and enjoying the moment, I will be hit with a wave of guilt that I’m not doing something productive—and it’s stressful.
For three solid years, I researched, I texted, I attended appointments and meetings, I took notes. I was laid up in my bed with drains snaking from my chest for weeks. I spent so much time holding my breath and waiting for the next bad news verdict to come down the pipe. And now when there’s nothing but proverbial crickets—or, gasp—there’s actually good news, I don’t know what to do with it.
It’s easy for those on the outside to tell me I am lucky, and I should be thankful. After all, I have the family I prayed for, I no longer have cancer, and my child has a solid education plan. Trust me, I’m thankful. But my trauma says that if I let my guard down, even just a little, something horrifying will absolutely happen.
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My daughter is trying to ignore my “embarrassing” pose at the pumpkin farm. This is your friendly reminder that it’s #breastcancerawarenessmonth and you need to check you’re pumpkins! Breast cancer doesn’t care about your age, sex, race, education, bank account. You are your own best advocate! have you done your October self check? . . . #breastcancerawareness #breastcancer #breastcancerfight #breastcancersurvivor #whitesugarbrownsugar #fall #october #happyfallyall #checkyourboobs #tgif #friday
A post shared by Rachel Garlinghouse (@whitesugarbrownsugar) on Oct 11, 2019 at 6:23am PDT
Therapy, meds, prayer, sleep, healthy eating, meditation, journaling, and exercising all help me—immensely. I have a supportive family and network of friends. I am slowly and steadily rising back to solid ground, and I’m trying to trust this process.
I don’t know why I got cancer, why our school battle was so difficult, or why our fourth adoption was a hurricane of challenges. But what I do know is that I’m working diligently to give myself grace and permission to enjoy who is right in front of me.
Nothing really helped me climb out of a deep, dark well of trauma except time. And now, I’m slowly learning to enjoy life again.
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