God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
Last year on this very date I sat in a room … a room with a view, in fact. Sitting 9 floors above the hustle and bustle of city life, instead of celebrating my birthday with a view from a hotel suite, my view was in a chemo suite at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Bald and weary, I sat with an IV drip—on my 7th week of chemotherapy. I clearly remember thinking: Wow, how is it that I’ve complained about birthdays … while only dancing into my 30s … and now I’m not so sure I’ll live to see 40.
So though I don’t typically like to toot my own birthday horn—if getting through this past year has taught me anything, it’s that I cannot afford to be casual or glib about birthdays ever again.
So my birthday wish this year when I blow out those candles tonight will be all about a prayer to live well … seizing each day … moment to moment … hour to hour.
Thank you, God, for giving me the gift of life. Forgive me for all times I’ve squandered precious moments and opportunities to live it well.
Today I celebrate the gift of life. I’m alive. Thank God.
There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors.
After visiting the Greek islands, not only did I walk away with a deeper appreciation for the architecture—amazingly beautiful structures that all spoke of bygone eras—but somewhere among the thousands of incredible little cobblestone alleyways and whitewashed streets, I got caught up obsessing over the doors. The mystery and allure of the rustic and charmingly seductive doors in Santorini are in many ways akin to passageways within our own lives—some invitations to great, even sheltered opportunity, while others yet signifying isolated imprisonment, an escape, or even bitter closure. To me all doors seem to speak of the powerful knowns and unknowns encountered in life—perhaps the very reason why I’m so intrigued by them.
Recently, when asked why I haven’t written a post in some time, I realized I couldn’t really blame my hiatus on a lack of inspiration. After all, I earnestly recognize the daily miracles all around me, including the abundant joy that my three amazing boys deliver—all opportunities to ignite a spark of inspiration to flow on paper. Instead, I think the heaviness on my heart these last months has been the source of the ink drying in my pen. As many of you within the breast cancer social media community know, we’ve recently seen several women reach new passageways in the realm of cancer. While some have opened doors to the unknown dreaded territory of metastatic disease (stage IV), others in the community are at the end of treatment options and have entered the doors of hospice care in preparation. Saddest still, are the beautiful young women who recently closed their final doors on cancer and are now journeying beyond this world, leaving loved ones gripped with grief behind. As Jada so beautifully wrote one day before her untimely death at age 36: “Y se me va la vida….and my life goes away….”
Every three seconds in the US, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer. All of these people share at least one common thread that ties them together—they are a statistic. Regardless of stage at diagnosis, we all walk through the unknown door of breast cancer with a 30% chance of going on to develop incurable metastatic disease. Now I know statistics may seem mundane, but when you’ve been touched by cancer, those numbers are painfully real. As a “statistic,” I have a vested interest in educating myself and others about this terminal disease and urging people to support research that helps those with advanced breast cancer live longer. So though the town may be painted pink every October and beyond, and while some in the world perceive breast cancer to be the “good” one, the richly funded one, or even the easy one—the somber reality is that in the US alone this year, we will see an estimated 40,000 deaths from breast cancer. Yes, that’s one woman every 13 seconds—gone. So it’s safe to say that though I’m grateful for heightened breast cancer awareness that has come from pink campaigning, this disease is not good—in fact, just like every cancer, it sucks. As the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, breast cancer is a fierce adversary on the cancer brigade.
Going through photos of my visit to the pearl of the Mediterranean—as Santorini is so deservedly known—awakened that odyssey of cherished memories that live in my heart … memories all scattered in between the doors-galore. Everywhere stood phenomenal, colorful doors: doors within doors, doors with seemingly no purpose at all, and my favorite by far, those charming and dreamy “doors to nowhere.” I get goosebumps thinking about them. My obsession with these doors was in large part because they were like an unlimited gateway into my imagination, allowing me to see what my mind’s eye envisioned to be on the other side.
My prayer is to find my door to nowhere on this walk, one where my eyes will be fixed on the Lord and my trust in His plan and purpose for my life regardless of what lies before me. On December 26, 2012, I was evicted from life as I knew it and had to close the door to my pre-cancer existence. You realize fairly quickly entering this brave new world that you’re forever changed, always wondering where this narrow passageway will lead, one where you feel like one inch in any direction—the walls on either side will come crashing down around you. In fact, it’s often hard to talk about those feelings, because it’s easy to feel guilty while there are countless other women who have current goals—like seeing their children graduate from High School or even Kindergarten. These women with incurable metastatic disease are part of the 30% to enter Stage IV or advanced breast cancer, and though some will live in treatment for some time, the reality is when you are stage IV, you will die from or with breast cancer.
Occasionally in my circle of close friends and family, I’ll get the question: “Why you, Nicole?” Without thought, my answer has always been “Why not me?” I am no different than the other 10 million cancer “survivors” in this country all going about our lives with a slight pause in our walks, wondering if the cancer is only hiding behind the next door. As a woman of Faith, however I try—instead of pausing to stop and thank God for being there, for holding my hand on the journey and seeing me through every step of the way. It’s easier to rest in hope under the umbrella of prayer and thankfulness. As I once read: “Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.”
In love … and hope …