Life Lessons 21

Breast cancer takes women on unique journeys. A few friends share insights from theirs.

It is one of life’s mysteries we all grapple with at one time or another – why do bad things happen? Somehow in our human experiences, being able to draw meaning from the valleys in life help us cope. Being able to help others seems to impart purpose where there can seem none. And sharing the journey with others, either as we go through or reflect, or even hearing someone else’s story, can also inspire. The silver lining, finding the good in the bad, overcoming evil… these are all elements of an epic tale. A few of our beautiful neighbors who have experienced breast cancer share the light they’ve been able to find in their own dark times, and words that inspired them on their journeys.

Trish Frevert

Diagnosis: Lobular Carcinoma, 2009
Work: Minister to Preschoolers at First Baptist Church Lee’s Summit
Family: Husband Larry; Children-Wesley (& wife Ashley), Tommy (& wife Lindsey), Warren and Lilly; 4 grandkids

Something I learned from the experience of breast cancer was that I didn’t and I don’t have to go through challenging times alone.  God was and is still here for me. He surrounded me with an awesome family and wonderful friends. I learned it is “ok” to accept help from others. I’ve always been one to help others; in fact, I love to help others but not so good at accepting or asking for help from others.

One word that inspired me through my journey would be LOVE.  I was surrounded by the love of God, my family and friends.

Michele Harman

Diagnosis: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, 2012
Work: Mortgage Loan Originator
Family: Husband James Harman; Children-Tanner (16); Carter (14), Kaisee (7)

I have been very blessed throughout my life and didn’t face adversity until cancer. Prior to cancer, I often thought, why has my life been so easy? What have I done to deserve such a good life with a loving family and healthy kids?

When I found out I had cancer, it felt like my world fell apart. My lump was 1 cm, stage 1 with vascular and lymphatic invasion, which led to four rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments, and lots of follow up visits. My cancer was strongly ER/PR positive which means the estrogen and progesterone in my body fed the cancer and made it grow.

I completed genetic testing and I was negative for both the BRACA and BART gene. There is really no answer as to why I developed cancer. I try to look at it as a special experience I was given and, believe it or not, it is one I am thankful for, as I have learned so much. The journey taught me about who I was, my faith, my inner strength, and the fight I had to make it. The amount of support I had is unbelievable. I received phone calls and letters from friends of friends that I had never met telling me they were survivors. Cancer is a terrible disease but it brings people who don’t even know each other together! Family and friends rallied around me and supported our family in amazing ways. I hope to be as good to others as they have been to me.

I’m thankful everyday for my journey. It has enabled me to refocus on myself and all that life has to offer. I found strength that I never knew I had. I think my kids have been taught what it means to face adversity and come out stronger on the other side. I can honestly look back on the last few years of my life and be happy about where I am. While I dreaded the thought of losing my hair and cried enough to fill a swimming pool, I like my new fun sassy short hair!  Going through breast cancer made me look at life and reevaluate what is important.

The two words that inspired me are FAITH and COURAGE.

Linda Hight

Diagnosis: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, 2002
Work: Administrative Director for Living Foundation Ministries
Family: Husband Jim; Adult Children-Jim (and wife, Stephanie) and Sarah (and husband Ryan Lefebvre); 6 grandkids

I’ve learned to slow down, not take life so seriously. I was living in the fast lane and that lifestyle was not serving me well. I didn’t even realize how much stress it created. I now set healthy boundaries for myself. I’ve learned how to say “no” to things and people that are not life giving to me.

I was a doer and a giver… always trying to please. My breast cancer experience taught me that allowing others to serve and help me brought joy to them.  I was not accustomed to asking anyone for help and was uncomfortable when my friends and neighbors rallied around me. It was humbling and beautiful. I learned through them to become a gracious receiver.

I learned that I cannot control everything in my world, although I tried to and was pretty good at it. I’ve come to realize that all I am responsible to control is my response to whatever happens to me. That realization has brought much joy and freedom in my relationships and daily life. Everything and everyone else is in the control of my Creator.

Faith has played a significant role in my life. The big “WHY” question was my constant companion in the beginning of my cancer journey. Many days I felt like God was far away and didn’t care what I was going through.  I knew that was not true, but the truth conflicted with my feelings. My faith was tested as I wrestled with what I really believed. I made a decision to live in and act on what I knew to be true instead of how I felt most days. Thirteen years later I still rely on that principle.  My feelings betray me sometimes and my faith has been stretched to believe what I can’t always feel, what I can’t always see …that everything that happens to me will produce something good for me.  I call that HOPE, the word that inspired me.

Jo Nelson

Diagnosis: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, 2014
Work: Registered Nurse, Certified School Nurse, Recently Retired
Family: Husband Darryl; Daughters Jenny (& husband Zach Johnson) and Emily. 1 grandson.

My breast cancer journey has been happening over the past year. My tumor was about 7 mm when I found it and was estrogen positive. I had bilateral complete mastectomy with lymph node dissections, reconstruction, and a total hysterectomy. This past year I have learned to not take anything for granted. Cultivate deep relationships. Call, text, send a card, visit… friends, family. Hug a lot. Smile even more! Notice the beauty in everything around you: flowers, sunshine, rain drops, sunsets, faces, smiles, giggles. Live!

Two words that inspired me are FAITH and FAMILY. I’m blessed with a wonderful, loving and supportive family that has been with me every step of the way. My friends have also been there to support and care for me. And my God was with me every day and he has been ahead of me through this journey. Without his love I would not be where I am today. In a way, this experience has been a blessing! To learn to slow down and appreciate what I have been given. To care more about others. To be more loving and kind. To cling to my creator for hope and peace. And to stay positive, even in a bleak situation. I do not know what the future holds so for me, but I do know that God my family and my friends will be there!

Laurie Wilburn

Diagnosis:  Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, 2012
Work:  Part time director of operations for a small consulting firm and owner/managing director of synaxisHR, a human resource consulting firm
Family: Husband Dan; Children Meah (14), Hudson (12)

Many subtle things changed for me during my breast cancer journey, and one in particular resonates: feeling more connected with my body. I hesitated to share this one thing because it is deeply personal and could be misunderstood. There were two drivers for this change:  (1) It took at least a year after radiation treatment for me to feel myself again physically so during that time I was more acutely aware of how my body felt.  I found myself saying, “Why did I just eat that?  I don’t feel good when I eat that.” (2) I was rather shocked at how emotionally jarring it was to have a piece of my body cut out, to have a significant scar.

My experience with breast cancer helped me to acknowledge that my body is an integral part of my identity. How I feel about (and in) my body affects how I feel about me – just as my emotional, spiritual and mental health do.  It’s a bit of an odd place to be in our world where eating disorders are common and fitness can be an obsession.  I don’t want to obsess on body image, and I don’t believe my physical body is the most important among our mind, heart, soul and body. I’m a firm believer in “it’s what’s inside that counts,” but that doesn’t negate the fact that my physical body is part of who I am and because of this experience I have a new resolve to treat it as such.

The word that inspired me is TRUST. I think what kept me going (in addition to the amazing family and friends who surrounded me and my family with love and support) was my belief that nothing is unredeemable. Whatever happened, God could work in and through it. I trusted (and still trust) in God’s ability to work in that way.