Cancer Overwhelmed Me, But It Didn’t Overtake Me


I’m looking back and sharing the lessons learned from 10 years of cancer survivorship.

It is such an honor to share my breast cancer journey as I enter my 10th year of survivorship.

November 2012. I had just lost my husband to an aggressive form of prostate cancer. His long military days and nights in Vietnam had meant much opportunity for Agent Orange exposure. He indeed fought a soldier’s battle and our family had 10 loving years of his survivorship. While deeply blessed for this time, I equally and deeply was hurting at his loss. Forever goodbyes are never easy for anyone, and I was no different. Afterall, I had been my husband’s primary support for years, and without him I was lost.

Weeks later I remained emotionally raw but took care of my husband’s legal affairs while also trying to care for myself.

January 2013 arrived, and it was time for my annual mammogram. This test I knew to be the ultimate self-care, but routine, nonetheless. So, imagine my surprise when my doctor said, ‘Your results are suspicious.’

Might life hand to me the same fate given to my husband? Would God be that cruel?

I did not know, but I knew I had to be strong. I had three adult children and one young son at the time. All were hurting but especially my youngest who had expressed to me, “Oh no! Two parents dealing with cancer!” He was facing the prospect of becoming parentless.

And so, I did what only I knew to do: I relied on my faith in God.In this reliance came a profound source of inspiration, encouragement and strength. I would get through this!

I debated for days about the best hospital for care. My daughters each had differing opinions on what hospital I should select. To reduce my stress levels, I ultimately went to three hospitals in three separate states for full evaluations. All of them with their benefits, but only one rose above: the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

My treatment plan consisted of chemotherapy, lumpectomy and radiation. I was traveling back and forth from Michigan to Rochester for treatment every other week. Sometimes a family member was able to come. Sometimes I made the journey alone. To say I was overwhelmed and lonely may be an understatement.

However, the overwhelm did not overtake me. Instead, I was reassured of the “presence” in us all when I met my mentor, Ann Oldenburg, a 10-year cancer survivor. While moving through treatment was scary, I still always had Ann by my side for a quick phone call, a place to stay the night or to get me moving with dance activities and scenic trips to the lake.

Ringing the bell of remission was a blessing filled with hope and love.

This same spirit of joy, hopeand perseverance continues to resonateloud within. The lessons learned from cancer were many, but the belief in the ongoing power of connection — to a higher power, to myself, and to other persons such as my role model, Ann — shines the absolute loudest.

Today, I can be found spending plenty of time travelling all over the world to such lovely places as Singapore, South Americaand many more ! Just like I cared for my husband and Ann has cared for others, we must praise and shine light onto others just as God directly does. God does not give surprises. We all are where we are supposed to be. It is well.

This post was written and submitted by Dr. Pauline Cash-Smith. The article reflects the views of Dr. Pauline Cash-Smith and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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