I was standing under a tree outside my work place. I had my phone pressed hard to my ear while the doctor on the line told me that I had cancer.
Breast cancer. I was thirty-five.
As she spoke about mastectomy being the only option there was a slideshow that began playing in my head of my three small children. There was my youngest, a son of just one and half years old, giggling and dancing and stretching his arms up to me while on his tiptoes saying, “Up-a!” Then flashed an image of my beautiful middle child, a daughter of six years old who loves me so dearly and seeks my approval and advice constantly. Then my oldest, a ten year old daughter with autism who is full of life, but equally challenging. All of a sudden, with one phone call the question of my mortality slapped me in the face.
How would my family survive without me?
*Isla (10), June (6), Major ( 1 1/2)*
But this story is not about cancer – it is about kindness in the face of cancer.
My first memory of kindness after I was diagnosed was during the big visit with the entire oncology surgery team. Seeing as it was during the summer months, my husband and I decided to take our daughters along for the five-hour drive because we had already left them with family for several days as I completed the many diagnostic visits. We regretted that decision pretty quickly. We didn’t want the girls hearing the discussion with the doctor so my husband had to wait outside the exam room with them, when really he wanted to be with me every step of the way.
After multiple mammograms, biopsies, ultrasounds, lymph node scans, blood work, genetics testing, etc. the oncology surgeon was ready to give me the details. I braced for the prognosis. I was anxious for the plan.
She walked in and shook my hand and sat down. She looked right at me and said, “OK. Before we start I want to know something. How old is your youngest child?”
I wasn’t sure where she was headed with that question but I braved it with a smile and my voice quivered when I said, “My baby is one and a half. My son is one and a half.”
She smiled and said, “Just know that you are going to meet and hug and spoil his babies one day.”
*Me and Major boy the day of my first preventative mammogram*
She knew what I needed more than a plan and more than a prognosis. I needed some kindness which that time came in the package of reassurance and hope regarding the most important thing in my life, my family.
By the time the appointment came to a close, there was so much information shared and details discussed that I wanted my husband to hear it from the doctor. So we asked a nurse if she could watch our two daughters for a few minutes in an exam room next door so my husband could come in for a summary.
No hesitation. She agreed and I quickly gave her a heads up about my oldest daughter who is autistic and would probably be worried seeing as she is extremely observant and sensitive to others and hyper aware when her mommy is sad or worried or sick. We walked out to the lobby to find my youngest daughter sound asleep on a sofa tucked into a warmed blanket and my oldest sitting on the nurse’s lap. They were both laughing and talking and looking down at the nurse’s phone. The nurse had a daughter that was a first grade teacher, so when she realized that my girl loved phones so much, she FaceTimed her daughter and introduced her. My daughter was instantly distracted and made a couple new friends.
*My husband with Isla and June wearing our signature line of 1 in 59 shirts*
The nurse could have made them sit in an exam room. She could have told them not to touch anything, and maybe even tried to rush the whole thing. Instead, she welcomed my girls into her world without hesitation and even invited the people she loved the most to join them.
As I started to call family and friends with the news, I knew that the stronger I was the stronger everyone else would be.
Many of them read right through me. For weeks before surgery my phone was blowing up with memes, encouraging texts, funny GIFs, scripture and check-ins. It is true that you find your people, your REAL people when the world is crashing down on you.
At work I signed up for the volunteer leave transfer program which is a system that employees can use to donate hours to a co-worker for medical or family emergencies. I ended up having my entire six weeks paid and donated. One person donated two whole weeks from their own annual leave.
It was a week before surgery and two of my sister in laws and a cousin surprised me with a full brunch complete with mimosas, homemade waffles with all the toppings, eggs and bacon and gifts. They took me for a spa day that included a full massage with pedicure and lunch. We laughed and talked and shared ALL day. My cousin made me a custom bracelet of essential oil beads with morse code that spelled out STRENGTH and a special oil blend called "stress- away". They paid for it all.
Then on a sunny day just four days before the biggest, life-altering day of my life. After a day of EKGs and chest X-rays and blood work and pre-op appointments my mom and I walked around an outdoor shopping center chatting and ignoring the big, ugly reality that was just hours away. The last stop of our day was at Kendra Scott. As soon as we entered the store a tall, pretty woman who smelled like heaven and was adorned with Kendra Scott goodies greeted me as my eyes drifted to the “Color Bar”. I scanned the catalog and chose a gold ring with an iridescent stone to secretly represent my faith that the surgery would result in “clear margins”. I paid and thanked her and sat outside on a bench admiring my new ring while my mom continued shopping. Next thing I know my mom and the sales woman were walking out of the store together. She had tears in her eyes and told me that my mom had shared why we were in town shopping that day. She told me she thought I was brave and that she was so sorry I had to go through what I was about to go through and she hugged me and said she would pray for me and then she took my hand and placed a Kendra Scott bracelet with a pink stone on my wrist as a gift.
Surgery was bigger, harder, more emotional than I could have imagined. I opted for a bilateral mastectomy because I wanted to live my life with my family without worry and at my best health with the least chance of recurrence. I would have done anything necessary that would have decreased that chance. Anything. I need them and they need me. I chose the first available surgery date and didn’t shed a single tear before that day.
Then I woke up in recovery. The reality of all that transpired within the last six weeks hit me and my husband and my parents in one big, fat, ugly-cry, dry-heaving wave.
My husband was in the waiting room for seven hours. He never left. He hardly ate. He made huge decisions while I was under anesthesia because they found more cancer than they expected.
I saw his face when the surgeon removed my bandages for the first time. I knew it was bad. As they described the wounds out loud to each other I got a little sick to my stomach and couldn’t get myself to look down. As we drove home the next day I looked at him and said, “It is bad right? I know it has to be bad.”
He held my hand and said, “There is beauty in what you did; the decision you made for us.”
Only because of his words could I face the mirror that same night.
I stayed with my parents for two weeks and they spoiled me big time. My dad took care of my drains every day, twice a day. Like seriously, drains are so gross. So that too … yes …
They gave me whatever I wanted. Food, attention, movies, Netflix just all of it. My dad even got the Christmas lights from upstairs to put around the TV as we watched the first season of Stranger Things.
KIND. (and funny)
*My view from my electric recliner.*
Then for one week straight we had a meal donated by a different family in our church every single day. My son attended the day school affiliated with the church so each day whenever he was picked up there would be a full meal with entrees and sides and dessert waiting for our entire family. Some families who donated knew me, some didn’t.
My mother in law lived in my home for three weeks and bathed, fed, washed clothes, cooked, handled homework duty and DID IT ALL for my three children. My father in law helped with morning school drop-offs and pick-ups and meals.
I got cards mailed and the texts and calls continued. I received deliveries of flowers and edible arrangements and special breakfast and lunch visits from friends and family.
The gifts that stand out the most for me were from total strangers. I had shared my story on social media by this point so people that followed my feed were well aware of all I was going through. So after a bilateral mastectomy, tissue expansion and waiting for reconstruction. I was sent a gift card from a total stranger for VICTORIA'S SECRET! Oh my goodness that one got me. I mean give a gift to someone you have never met? And on top of that send something so personal and well, potentially weird or offensive because it’s boobs and bras! I was so blown away by this person’s bravery and for giving and showing kindness without worry or hesitation about how it would be received.
Then came the necklace. I received in the mail a package with a silver necklace that had a single pink essential oil bead. No note. No card. Only a return address from a person I don’t know and who lives many hours away. No need for me to know why, just a gift that a stranger wanted me to have. I don’t even know how they got my address.
Most people who follow me know it is part of my message to distinguish between nice and kind. The definition of nice is pleasant, agreeable, and a synonym is delicate. Kind is defined as generous, considerate, helpful, not causing harm or damage and a synonym is concern. Being nice is superficial – and to be blunt, most of the time it’s fake and forced.
Being kind is so much deeper and sincere and more importantly, it implies action.
Instead of being nice and careful and cautious of how you will be received, be kind and brave and bold in showing love and let your heart move you to action without hesitation. Hug and cry with someone you have only known for ten minutes. Send complete strangers gifts that you would love and want without fear of offending or overstepping. Be kind in your choice of words because you have no idea how impactful they may be for someone.
Life can be so beautiful in the midst of intense pain because some people are brave enough to be kind to you when your pain is at its worst.
As a parent I have worked so hard to show my children what it looks like to give kindness to others. This time they got to see firsthand what it is like to receive kindness from others when their mommy got cancer.
Let’s just be kind to each other today.