Second Breath

Yesterday, I woke up feeling the inside of my lip with my tongue. I had bitten the area while eating steak with my parents on Sunday, but yesterday, I realized that I actually have a cold sore there. I examined it in the mirror, determined there was nothing more I could do about it, and was about to turn away to get ready for work when I paused.

I looked myself right in the eye and realized that I was looking at a fragile woman. Cold sores usually mean stress for my body; the last couple of weeks were certainly taking a greater toll than I had realized. I felt tears swell up in my eyes and felt deeply sorry for myself.

“I don’t want to go through this,” my reflection and I recited together. “I don’t want to.”

We looked at each other a few seconds more, tears starting to run. This is how others see me, I thought. This is why people look at me with sad eyes and say things they don’t realize. They don’t want me to go through this either.

“Pull it together,” I said out loud, to the lady there crying in the mirror. She mouthed the words, too. If we were going to make it to work, if we were going to keep living and growing and enjoying life, we couldn’t stand there looking all weepy at each other. We had to move.

::

Seeing myself as others see me was eye opening in those dark, lonely moments of yesterday morning. I didn’t really know what to say to myself; I understood that speaking to me at all is surely difficult for people. When I tell them I’m sad, they want me to feel better. When I tell them I am not that worried, they don’t want to downplay my illness.

Most days, people say things to me that lift me up and feed my hope. Some days, no matter what people say, I feel scared and lonely. Occasionally, people have said things to me that make me cry, like salt to wounds.

I know what they really mean is “I don’t want you to have to go through this.” But instead, they say, “My cousin died of the exact same cancer.” Or, “It could be worse.” Or, “If you don’t stay strong spiritually, you will never be healed physically.”

It’s hard knowing what to say when people are struggling. I understood this looking at the crying woman in the mirror, myself. I felt compassion for all those people looking in trying to bring comfort with their words. I understood, again, how important it is to use my own words carefully when I am encouraging others.

::

Getting the news of my cancer recurrence left me sobbing last Tuesday. I cried from a deep place of pain most of the day, and even for the next two days. My mind went to those places where I saw myself suffering through great pain and weakness, then laid out in a coffin. I imagined my family sorting through my things, and overheard my sisters talking years from now about their sister who passed away in her 40s.

I know that the word Cancer takes us those places. My cancer has taken you to some of those places for me.

But then I met with my doctor, and heard him tell me that I’m actually doing pretty well, that it’s good that it took three years for the cancer to come back, and even better that it’s just in the one spot. I listened hard when my nurse said to think of this as a chronic illness and then told me stories of other patients who are still living 12 and 15 years after their diagnosis, having treatment now and then, but still living.

And on Saturday, I finally swore off for good all of those websites and Google searches and research findings that quote statistics and five-year-survival rates but have absolutely nothing to do with me.

When Jesus says that I can bring my anxieties to Him and he’ll swap them out for peace, He means it. But he doesn’t want me to go sabotaging His work in my heart by reading worst case scenarios or taking every awkward comment the wrong way. He means for me to believe what is true about my situation.

::

I hate cancer. I hate what is does to us physically. I hate what it does to us mentally.

But I am not my cancer. I am more than that. And right now, I need to keep hearing stories of hope, survival, creativity. I need for you to tell me about your mom who is still living after cancer; I need to know that it’s good and right to have hope; I need to know that the healing is in God’s hands.

Friends, thank you for breathing life into me with your words.

Photo “Second Breath” by heykelley, via Flickr, user with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

  • reply A Joyful Noise ,

    You are taking the next steps and the next breaths for each day. All are the right thing. Know this that you have been attacked, and it is not yours. Although it is in your body, it does not belong to you. If you have ever done any visualization, see the healing darts of God’s fire destroying that unwelcome visitor in that area of your body and thank God as you do this for his touch. Keep expecing a good report.

    • reply Sheri L. Swift ,

      Praying for you Charity. As Beth Moore said, “It’s hard to be us.” God knows, sees, hears and answers the prayers of His children. I pray that you will have joy, even in this journey. I know, because I’ve also been there and am still trying to heal. God bless you sister in the Lord. ; )

      • reply Sue Awes ,

        Charity – you have here given us a glimpse of reality, so honest and clear and courageous. With your words you create a wide open space where we can all breathe and believe and find hope. God be near. (Add Minnesota.)

        • reply Jean Wise ,

          Charity, what a brave and wise post you have written. Yes yes I hate cancer too but you are so right you are NOT cancer. I have you on my prayer list and will continue to lift you up.

          • reply Linda ,

            Your dear, honest heart is such an inspiration Charity. I am always at a loss when I want most to be of comfort.
            When I walked through the most difficult days of my life, it helped me most to know that when I couldn’t even pray there were others praying for me. There are so many praying for you dear one. Have you ever read Elizabeth Foss’ blog? She is a cancer survivor. She is such an encouragement, such a sweet spirit.
            Praying for you with great hope (confident expectation!).

            • reply Lyla Lindquist ,

              Your willingness to stand and face the mirror, the cancer, the fear, the nagging inside… and your courage in letting others in… That’s what I see.

              Add South Dakota to Glynn’s list, Charity. We’re talking with the Father about you over here too.

              • reply Patricia ,

                Charity, I am so, so sorry you are having to walk through this and to fight off discouragement from others. I know a bit of what you write…those who don’t know how to encourage us don’t realize they are doing just the opposite. My own experience has inspired me to try to be a better encourager of others. And, I, too, had to quit doing internet searches. My doctor warned me, but I couldn’t resist…so, of course, I was ready to give up when I read what I found there. So, yes, stay away from internet searches and try to remember that our lives are in the loving hands of our sovereign, faithful, gracious and merciful God. Saying a prayer for you right now, Charity.

                • reply Llama Momma ,

                  I’m here with you, Charity. Reading and praying. I’m not feeling sorry for you, but I’m sad. I hate cancer.

                  Last weekend, my littlest boy, Ben (who starts kindergarten in a few weeks!!) got stung by a wasp. Twice. He cried and we put ice on it and eventually, when the worst was over, he said, “Why would God even make a bug like that anyway?”

                  My thoughts exactly.

                  We live in this world with so much that’s broken.

                  May you find peace in God’s presence and strength in the community of His people today, friend.

                  • reply Sheila ,

                    I was thinking the other day about this: we have words that can make people “be” some disease. The adjectives became nouns, somehow, and you hear people say, “he is an epileptic,” or “she is a diabetic,” or “I am a paraplegic.”

                    The English language, so far as I know, doesn’t even have a word to make you into your disease.

                    Nobody says, “I am a canceric.”

                    I felt sad and sorry when I heard the cancer had returned and I pray for you every day.

                    But I never, not even for an instant, thought of you as pitiable.

                    I think of you as a strong, brave, faithful woman who walks with Him and trusts.

                    At times like this I am frustrated by my limited gift with words…because I think if I were speaking to you, I’d be able to express it better.

                    I hope you can read between my feeble lines to get at what I mean.

                    Love and hugs to you, dear Friend.

                    • reply Jenn4him ,

                      Charity, I was on vacation when you made the announcement and am just now learning your news. I will pray. I am so thankful that you have kind and encouraging medical providers.

                      • reply Michelle DeRusha@Graceful ,

                        Charity, this is an amazing post. Ironically, I don’t even know what to say…except that I am blown away by your words here, and your wisdom.

                        This is the part that sang straight into my heart: “When Jesus says that I can bring my anxieties to Him and he’ll swap them out for peace, He means it. But he doesn’t want me to go sabotaging His work in my heart by reading worst case scenarios or taking every awkward comment the wrong way. He means for me to believe what is true about my situation.”

                        Don’t so many of us do exactly that — even those of not facing cancer or other very challenging circumstances? I do that nearly every day: I allow worry to sabotage Jesus’ work in my heart.

                        Thank you, Charity, for allowing me to reap this insight.

                        • reply Glynn ,

                          Chairty, know this: when you feel scared and lonely, there are people in West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, New York Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Ontario, Ireland and a bunch of other places who are praying. You are not alone,

                          • reply Laura ,

                            Oh, Charity. No, I don’t want to see you go through this again. And I realize that we don’t get to see each other face-to-face (yet!) but I don’t see you as that crying woman in the mirror, sweet friend. I see you as a brave soul who has triumphed and will again. I was talking to my friend Elaine Olsen on the telephone yesterday–do you know Elaine? She blogs at Peace for the Journey. Elaine has just been through an aggressive treatment for breast cancer. She said something amazing to me yesterday. She said, “Cancer won’t be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” She has such a spirit. Amazing. I don’t know. Cancer sounds pretty hard to me. And I know it is a different journey for everyone. But you are so wise to say that it is good and wise to have hope. And, yes. You are. In His hands.

                            • reply Shanda ,

                              Oh, my heart goes out to you and I pray you will be encouraged and find joy in your soul. And, I do have friends and family who are cancer free today after going through treatment and the same fear you have today. One friend is cancer free 18 years this summer and my father 6 years now. So, take hope.

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