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What I Don't Know

I don't know why my fear is bigger right now than the reality that I was a rock-star-warrior during the biggest, deepest, most tortuous experience of my life: cancer.
BY Carol Derewitz
PUBLISHED May 02, 2019
I don't know why fear is bigger right now than the reality that I was a rock-star-warrior during the biggest, deepest, most tortuous experience of my life.

I was going to write "test," but while it did have that tone as it went on and on and on, I do not think it was a test thrown my way to see how I might measure up.. What grade did I merit?

It was instead just a shitty, awful thing that happened. And not just to me. I sat in waiting rooms and the chemo bay with such a varied group of humanity, suffering the same, fighting the same. I feel so good about the way I faced each part of my cancer story: the shock of diagnosis; the tests; the biopsies; the surgery; the third node appearing on the PET scan; my fear of MRI's, CT scans and PET scans; the horrible side effects such as diarrhea like I have never had before; the burning esophagus; my racing heart rate; my plummeting and scary blood pressure; the loss of my hair, nails and eyelashes; the intestinal obstruction and surgery; the isolation; missing Norah's birthday and Christmas; Elisabeth and Jason's divorce; lying on the table for radiation; the loss of stamina; the work at the gym; the ruptured disc surgery that led to a spinal fusion.

In other words, THE HELL!

So here is what I don't know: How did I face all of these really shitty things to now have fear? Fear of how to do this cancer diagnosis surveillance. Fear of it returning, now knowing how horrible it is.

When I had my second knee replacement, I felt much less scared because I knew what to expect. Somehow that doesn't help much with the feeling for this disease. I think that I am still too close to have the faith to know that I could draw on the facts, not fear, of how brave I was, how loved and supported, how wrapped in faith I felt.

I did walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I did look death in the eye in the hospital mirror – I was so freaking BRAVE! There was no time to fear as I looked the big, bad boogie man of cancer and fought for my life, my future, my desire to see Sarah get married, to be here to be part of Norah's life and to grow old with Dan. There was no time then to be led by fear. I was in a battle for my life.

But there is time now. My head gets it. I know that worry is indeed a bully and takes away from quality of life in the moment. I do know that I was given all that I needed as I learned that I was strong and brave and supported. My faith deepened. Dan and I were a beautiful team.

I learned that I am much more than my hair, my physical changes. I learned that my body has shown a remarkable ability to heal from such a vicious and prolonged attack. I want my heart to catch up and not be afraid. I want gratitude to win. I know I am not unique. No one gets through this life without a story of struggle. I am one of all. This gives me comfort.

When I went to Bolivia with Operation Smile and was in the operating room with the precious Bolivian children, I felt the reality that absolutely everything in my life had prepared me for that experience: my mother heart, my nursing experience, my life, my faith. It felt so good to take that moment and see this truth.

I do know that everything that had happened in my life before cancer had prepared me. I was aware of that. All the work in therapy. All the years in recovery. All my loved ones. The beautiful family we have. These all mattered.

Dan retired during my two years of treatments and surgeries. It wasn't until that time passed that we could even begin to imagine what retirement might look like. The suffering that we both experienced carved out deeper places in our souls. This space was now waiting to see where we might be led – to the places of belonging, giving and receiving.

I do know that my life no longer belongs in York, at least it seems like that right now. I will hold that space and make no decisions in this transition time.

What I do know is that life has meaning to me now in Lemoyne, Camp Hill and Harrisburg. Therapy, recovery, church, and our Syrian family are there. And then there is newness with Sarah in Philadelphia, and our sweet haven in Florida with Elisabeth and Norah. I see what is happening. And it is very good. Time takes time. I know that my alert buttons are pushed when I feel a new, different or strange physical sign.

I am only nine months out from the two-year onslaught and only three months out from the first normal blood count in two years.

Time takes time. It is really hard work to trust. My new faith-building mantra is this: Absolutely everything in my life prepared me for this experience. I know that I have everything I need inside of me to face anything that might happen in the future. And I am completely, perfectly and utterly safe.
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