I was able to collect some beautiful seashells on a recent trip to Florida. I started out looking for the perfect shells and then sensed God telling me to pick up the broken ones…they’re beautiful too. I needed that reminder. Sometimes I miss the old me. The person I was before Sarah’s diagnosis of cancer. I started to write that I missed the person that I was before she died, but truth is, the day we walked into the children’s hospital and started fighting cancer, was the day that the old me died. You know that girl, the one that was so carefree and lighthearted–the one that was oblivious to deep pain and disappointment. Sure I had suffered some losses, but none like the loss that Sarah’s cancer caused…everything changed. Pediatric cancer is such a giant that it takes all of your focus. It required me to give up my job, some of my friends, some of my dreams, serving others at church, and other things that were once important to me. In a lot of ways I had to put my marriage, my other daughter, and all the other things that once seemed so urgent to the side and focus on the fight. What a fight it was: long hospital stays away from home; hours of stressful waiting and researching, so that you can advocate for your child; lack of sleep on an actual bed; lack of normal routine; or even healthy eating; little to no exercise; being exposed to witnessing your own child and also other children and families suffering horrible side effects and treatments just to give them a chance to survive; and feeling helpless the whole entire time. Every single family fighting this battle becomes warriors and it changes you…just like the young person who signs up to serve in the military. They’re always so naïve and innocent, until they experience active duty. You can’t survive a battle and walk away without some wounds. Those wounds can heal, but you’ll always have the scars.
So, that’s me today. With the deep wound of grief and other scars from the trauma of losing a daughter to pediatric cancer. As one by one I’ve watched other warrior families lose their children or relapse, it causes deep sadness and always takes me back to those traumatic moments that we lived. I’m not in any way implying that I don’t want to know about their journeys. I do want to know, but I’ve come to accept that is just the way this works. I can relate to their struggle on a whole other level than the “normal” person. Just like the military veteran, who seeks out other veterans to connect with, there is definitely a connection with those other cancer warriors. To be honest though, if it’s a newly diagnosed situation or someone that’s still in the “thick of it,” I wonder if my scars scare them? I know that even being around me, or us (I’m speaking for Chad and Libby here too, I guess) is sometimes hard for others. Especially, if you haven’t been around us very much. Hopefully, if know us well, or are willing to hang out with us for a bit, you’re getting more use to the new me/us.
Yeah, part of me is gone. Good or bad, there are some new things though that have been added to my personality. There’s a quietness that I know will always be there. There are deep and somber moments that just hit and I have no control over it. There is also a deeper sense of purpose and determination to not chase after anything that isn’t truly important, even eternal. There’s courage because honestly, I’m just not afraid of death. There’s a deep sense of the spiritual that I know has only come because of the encounters I’ve had with Jesus through this journey. Yeah, it’s probably made me weird and I’m OK with that. Just like Psalms 23 promises, He has walked me through this “valley of the shadow of death.” Actually, I think at times, He’s carrying me.