This Too Shall Pass: Healing After Cancer


How four wise words got me through my toughest days and eventually led to a newfound awareness of life's small, precious moments.

As I approach mile 10, the discomfort sets in. I’m surprised I made it this far without any pain, considering I didn’t prepare as I normally do. I found it very difficult to get up on a Saturday and run my tried-and-true training plan with a cancerous, symptomatic, metastatic, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Weeks before, I contemplated not doing the half marathon, but I could not let cancer take away my joy of competing after it had already robbed me of so much. So, out of pure defiance, here I am. My hips and hamstrings are tight, but what’s causing me the most discomfort is my stomach. Just past the mile marker, I reluctantly stop at a Porta Potty. In my previous life, I would never do this because it would affect my finishing time. I would have convinced myself three miles of discomfort was a blip in the grand scheme of life. I exit the bathroom, start running through the pain, tightness and soreness and I hear in my head wise words a dear friend says often: This too shall pass.

Days later, I find myself, once again, in an unrecognizable life. Saturday: half marathon. Sunday: MRI. On Tuesday, I was told I needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. On Wednesday, I lost my job. A year ago, I was physically stronger than any woman I knew my age, had a wonderful, lucrative job and was the epitome of health. Now, I find myself asking if this is real life countless times.

“God only gives us what we can handle,” right? Well, God has greatly overestimated me because all of this — I can not handle. Not just the rug, but the entire floor has been pulled from under my feet. I wondered if this was the new normal or if this too shall pass.

It’s my favorite season of summer, but the days have turned into the least favorite of my life. The disease has gotten ahead of the treatments and I’m scared to get out of bed each day. A good day is when I don’t spend several hours with nausea so severe I have to call my husband to take me to the hospital for fluids and intravenous meds. I’ve become a permanent fixture at the cancer center. Staff members greet me by name with a look of pity and a sick bag. My family, friends and I are shocked to see a beautiful, vain, active, social butterfly disintegrate into an reclusive, bald, shell of a person who wears pajamas and no make-up. They respond with cliche phrases such as, “Stay strong” and “You’re going to beat this.”While I know these words are intended to comfort and encourage me, they only make my blood boil. As if I had a choice to be strong. As if beating it was my decision. I pretend to stay positive because I know the other option does not serve me and would make my supporters assume I have given up. Though there were many moments I wanted to quit, I desperately prayed to God instead — with every cell in my body — for these days to pass.

Getting out of the hospital bed after abdominal surgery is a process and an art. This being my second time around, I knew what to expect and how I should maneuver. Being cut in half was nothing compared to what I had already endured. Plus, the physical pain is minimized because it was preceded with the world's most beautiful words, “We got all the cancer.”

I happily push the button to move the bed as upright as possible. Pull myself up using the trapeze. Lower the bed down. Sit up. At a snail's pace, swing my left leg left. Gently rest it on the floor. Repeat with the right leg. Get my bearings. Grab my husband’s hands. Use my marathoner legs to stand up. Resist the urge to cough. Stand for a few seconds to gather my breath. Inch the right foot forward and then the left. Could it be that this season was finally passing?

It’s a cool November day and I’m on my daily walk to the coffee shop. I’m running through my new ritual of listing of all the things I am grateful for now. There are the obvious, but in this moment, I am most thankful for the leaves on the ground and those still hung to the trees that are graced with a soft, smokey light from the setting sun — the kind of light that only happens in the fall, after a rain.

I look up at the sky and see every existing color over the next twenty minutes. It makes me feel so small, but part of something so big at the same time, and I realize it's because I am. It is the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced and tears drop from my eyes. I pass a woman unloading groceries from the trunk of her car. She’s completely oblivious to me and the pinks, blues, purples, oranges and yellows taking shape above her head. I feel both sad for and envious of her unawareness because the beauty of this moment is something only available to someone who has stared its fragility in face. I know I am blessed and cursed for my new eyes which have given me an aerial perspective of life’s most precious moments.

I pray to God that these feelings, these thoughts and this awareness will not pass.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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