I’ve attempted to write another post multiple times now. I’m sorry I’m not better at cueing you in while things unfold but it’s too hard for me! It feels like I’ve been a passenger in a car and I’m trying to send a long text message but I keep getting car sick because the road is curvy. I close my eyes or I focus on the horizon line ahead during the curves so I can get the text typed during the straight aways. But the text is disjointed and I erase half what I typed and start again but then there’s another curve so I stop and start again and again. I just can’t give enough attention to say what I want cause the road is so damn curvy! If this were a metaphor not just for writing my blog but for the state of my life the take away would be this, the car is continuing to move forward and the road continues to reach out ahead of me even if I can’t quite see around the curve up ahead.
My surgery that removed half my left lung and then some was six months ago now. I had scans three months ago that showed no nodules or cancerous growths anywhere! We’re still monitoring things closely, checking my CEA every month and my circulating DNA every other month. My CEA has had some mild fluctuations going up and down but overall remaining stable within normal limits. I’ve even started planning the rest of my life! I’ve been living in three month increments, scan to scan, chemo cycle to chemo cycle for three years, so to say I’m starting to plan, dream and pray about a real future is a pretty big deal. It’s also terrifying.
I’ve been training in the gym basically since my incisions healed and I got past the narcotic withdrawls, probably around a month after my surgery. I would get soooo short of breath so quickly and if I pushed too hard it would feel like an asthma attack and I just couldn’t get enough air and would start coughing uncontrollably. It was scary and frustrating. My body felt strong, movement felt good, but I just couldn’t breath! Sometimes I would despair, that I would never be able to train the same again and always be limited. I found out that within a year I could have my lung capacity back to 95% of what it was. Luckily, my coach and best friend, Astrid, was patient enough to lecture me on changing my mentality around training and the need to improve and actually train my aerobic capacity. In addition to weigh lifting and dying on short metcons, I started putting in work with EMOM’s, pacing, and long slow cardio pieces. I am now basically back to my pre-cancer strength with my olympic lifts and even beating scores on workouts I did in 2017 before I had cancer. But I still get super short of breath and cant really push during a workout as much as I want to. My workout focus is in not getting to the point where I start panic breathing, aka hyperventilating and completely freaking out, ughhh it’s the WORST feeling! I’m actually getting the hang of it and might even be becoming a better athlete than when I had two lungs!
Things were really looking up. Cancer free, feeling strong, feeling healthy, hair growing back, finding stability, dreaming of a future… But where there’s light there’s always a shadow. I think my shadow will always be fear. I genuinely feel like when I was first diagnosed God spoke to my heart and said “I’m going to heal you and you wont need to live your life looking over your shoulder.” That was a hard thing to believe when there was cancer everywhere and I had I wasn’t a surgical candidate. That was hard to believe when I had a massive miraculous surgery but cancer showed up in my lungs. It was hard to believe when specialists told me I would never be cured and need chemo for the rest of my life. It was hard to believe when I had another massive miraculous surgery but cancer showed up in my other lung. It was hard to believe when chemo stopped working and the cancer kept growing and showing up more and more. So let’s be real, its still hard to believe after a fourth surgery and a couple good months feeling good without cancer. But I’ve always believed it. I doubt it because I’m a human and it’s crazy talk but I’ve always believed it. I believe it because I believe that I know what His voice sounds like. I believe it because I know He is capable of it. I believe it because He is not a liar and He always fulfills His promises. I believe it because it’s consistent with who He’s shown Himself to be to me, in my life.
Two weeks ago? Oh sure, you want to know about two weeks ago. Well two weeks ago, I did not believe it. I had my monthly lab draws, check the ol’ CEA and get results from the circulating DNA taken the month before. Heres the thing about God’s promises, if you think they’re going to be easy to believe and trust in, you’re very wrong. Believing what God says is really what faith is. Faith has to rely on invisible things, taking as fact that which is unperceived by the senses. Do you know how hard it is to believe in invisible things? It’s way easier to believe in things you can see and touch and feel. Way easier. Where ever God is trying to get stuff done, you can bet theres going to be opposition. So if God is trying to build your trust in invisible things, I can guarantee you there will be visible things are going to be in direct opposition to what you’re supposed to be trusting. To put it plainly, if I’m supposed to believe I am healed I believe there will be opposition to that belief. The night before I was discussing this with Astrid and said out loud, “You know? I feel like even if my circulating DNA comes back elevated, I feel like I’m supposed to ignore it.” The next day, my oncologist office sadly tells me the circulating DNA is elevated. I got that buzzing in my ears and suddenly felt like miles away and fought back tears. Instead of clinging to the unseen reassurances or even remembering what I had said the night before, I panicked. I bought it hook, line and sinker – the cancer was back and we didn’t know where and we didn’t know what to do about it. I was broken hearted and felt betrayed and abandoned and all of it. All my faith, all my courage, all my determination to believe in the unseen and trust God just blew away like chalk dust.
I sobbed in the car on the way to my parents house to break the news to my mom and brother. Begging the Lord to not let it be true, to not have to start chemo again, to not have to go back, to not have to feel sick, to not do this to my family, to not do this to my friends. Telling Him I believed Him. I thought I had heard Him. Reminding Him of how much I trusted Him. More begging. Grappling to get ahold of myself, to stop the tail spin of fear and betrayal.
It’s amazing how quickly we forget truth. In an instant all my resolve fell away. All that I had learned in the last three years! “Don’t play the what if game”, “stay in the known”, “don’t look at lab values in isolation, It’s the trends that count”, all the lessons in faith and trust, even my own words of “I’m supposed to ignore my circulating DNA if it’s elevated”, were utterly forgotten. All I could see were shadows and doom and such a deep sadness. GOODNESS!!! How frustrating humans are!
Here’s the real problem with circulating DNA, it doesn’t tell you what to do with the data. At this point in its existence, it’s only an early detection that metastatic cancer is active and will spread if unchecked. But how can you check something you can’t see or measure? We had no idea if or where a nodule existed or where it would be able to spread. You can’t qualify for a clinical trial and you probably wouldn’t even qualify for chemo based on circulating DNA data alone because there’s no known cancer. It’s really a terrifying position to be in, “cancer is spreading in your blood but there’s nothing you can do about it”. Once I got a hold of myself and could evaluate things logically, I remembered my rules about what-if’s and staying in the known. I decided to use this spike to stay on top of scans and labs and not to worry about having cancer until there’s evidence of it. But I still doubted the small reassuring voice that told me not to worry. I still felt betrayed and sad. We took another blood draw to recheck my circulating DNA the next week.
You know what I found out last week? My circulating DNA is back to zero! We don’t know how and we don’t know why, and we certainly don’t know what it means. But for now I’m still cancer free. It’s a very good lesson in trusting that little, small, reassuring voice that said “don’t worry about an elevation in your circulating DNA” and the voice that said “that’s right, you’re healed”. I think we as humans love to doubt that voice. I like to discredit it with insanity and get it mixed up with my anxieties and chatty self talk. But it’s part of faith, believing the unseen, taking the unseen as fact over the hypotheticals that our eyes can see and our emotions can feel. Trusting that little, small, reassuring voice instead of latching on to fear and scary narratives. It’s my challenge everyday. Isn’t it your challenge too? I’m sorry if you read this blog just hear about what’s going on and not be challenged to look at your life and find something solid. (How uncomfortable you must be!) I dare you to look God in the face and ask Him exactly what you’re scared to have answered (you know the question I’m talking about). Just see if He doesn’t whisper something to your heart in response. Something that will sound like insanity and that you’ll have to put aside what feels and looks true to believe. I dare you to make your life’s mission to believe that thing no matter what! Everyone’s life can be deeper more interesting if they let it.