The message I want to send with my story is to not take the love you share with someone for granted.
I acknowledge that this message may sound like a cliche, a cliche being an idea, expression or action that has been overused to the point of it becoming boring and unoriginal. But to that notion I say if I have heard this message many times before, then it must speak some Truth, and with that said how can the Truth ever be boring or unoriginal? And so with my message and acknowledgement in mind, I want to share with all of you a specific event that occurred the day when my bride, Tracy, shared her diagnosis with me.
We were sitting at the restaurant Pappadeaux, like we had many times before, when the gravity of what my wife was going through hit me. I have been affected by many things in my life, but only one other time have I felt the way that I felt on the day that Cancer entered the scene.
It was the fall of 1999, and I can remember the exact moment when I became aware of my depression. The recognition started from the top of my head and made its way to the tip of my toes. I recall, sitting in my black Nissan Sentra that had a manual transmission, smoking a cigarette at the intersection of Mulberry and 281, waiting to turn left, when I looked out my left window and noticed dry brown grass blowing to the left because of the wind, when the feeling started. For days, no matter what I did, I could not shake the feeling. As I worked through my depression, I found the source to be trauma perpetrated upon me in my youth. Unfortunately, before I could heal, my wife at the time took my children to NYC and abandoned me. When I became better, I vowed to never treat someone the way I was treated in my time of need.
During my reflection for this writing, I came across this image created by a professor from the University of Northern Iowa named F Echeverria that spoke to me.
“The seed in the ground that rots first, but becomes a beautiful, fruit giving tree at the end”.
The seed that rotted in 1999 is exactly what needed to be so that I could be what Tracy required 23 years later. In numerology, 23 signifies new beginnings, revolution, and transformation.
Sitting at Pappadeaux was a new beginning and the second most consequential day in my life. I knew it was a big deal because my senses were heightened just like in 1999. When the weight of the diagnosis hit, the tablecloth at the restaurant was whiter than I ever observed, the bread crumbs were more noticeable and the swirls in the butter seemed to capture what was going on.
The feelings that came over me were twofold: a concern for the future and regret for a past that I squandered with my wife.
With tears in my eyes, I apologized to my bride for not appreciating our relationship more when there was no cancer. I told her that I wished I had that time back, and I vowed to take care of her.
While our future looks good, for the most part; I just wish that my sense of urgency for the for the relationship with my wife was as pronounced before the cancer as it is now.
Hello, my name is Beatrice Garner, and I am a two times Breast Cancer Survivor and a mother to a boy and girl twins. My journey started on June 20, 2011, when I got that dreaded phone call from my OB/GYN doctor. He said Beatrice, you have breast cancer. I fought back the tears because my daughter was with me at the time, and we were driving down IH-35, heading back home from being out all day. Oh, boy, that was a long ride home. I didn’t want my daughter to know but when I looked over at her she already had tears in her eyes. The more he talked the angrier I got. “How is this so” I stated, “I did everything I was supposed to do. He assured me that I was in good hands. Later, a breast biopsy showed I had triple-negative breast cancer stage 2b. Triple-negative is a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It appeared first in my right breast. While there’s never a good time to get cancer. This was the worst time for me to get this diagnosis because my daughter was pregnant with my first and only grandchild. There was no way I was going to miss his birth. Being there for my grandson became my motivation besides I already had a baby shower planned for my daughter. I told my surgeon there was no way I was not going to be at the baby shower. At that time, he informed me that surgery would be on 07-05-2011 the day after the holiday, not a day later.
My grandson was born a week after my mastectomy. So, with God’s grace, I was there to see his birth. Remission for me lasted for almost ten years. The first time I had cancer it appeared in the right breast but now it was back but on the left side. Just like the first-time surgery was done first followed by chemotherapy. Radiation was part of my treatment plan on the first go around but not part of my treatment plan during the reoccurrence. The first time it was at stage 2Bright before it was getting ready to travel to other parts of my body or metastasize. I was able to find the knot while taking a shower. The reoccurrence was stage 1A. It was caught earlier stage the second time and was detected by a mammogram. It couldn’t be seen by the necked eye. Both times I had surgery first followed by six rounds of chemotherapy.
My second diagnosis was given to me on my birthday 01-20-2020 during the pandemic. This was the worst time ever. I often told my friends who I met in chemo by the way. “I don’t know what I ever do If my cancer was to come back”. Well by God it returned almost ten years later and guess what? I was once again victorious because of my faith. There wasn’t going to be any giving up. Cancer has made me stronger and has creased my faith in God. My strength comes from him above. Life is not fair but as that old saying goes “When life gives you lemons make me lemonade.” Things could have been very different. I have now involved with three support groups that have helped me in different ways. Some help with bras, wigs, and support meetings. These are all beneficial to me because I suffer from depression it was hard to mustard up the energy to fight. I was either giving up and dying or keep relying on God and continuing to fight. I made new friends while on my journey that I met from being active in local support groups.
Having strong faith, good friends and support groups all played a hand in my recovery. My message to everyone going through or that has been fighting cancer is to first rely on your fight and keep a positive attitude. It’s okay to have bad days but don't stay down. Instead, pull yourself up by your bootstrings because I time to put on your big girl panties and tackle the world. If I can do it so, can you because HE -- God -- doesn’t give us more than we can bear. (1cornitans 10:14)
My message: Letting go of what lies behind.
Metaphor: With a journey, there are times when the paths are unswerving and times when they twist and turn. There are uncertainties, bumps and craters along the way. There are also often glorious surprises and exciting revelations along the way that I may never have savored if it had not been for the pathway that was laid-out before me on the afternoon of Friday, November 18, 2022; When I heard the words, “you have cancer”.
After receiving the diagnosis, I felt overwhelmed and was in disbelief. As my doctor continued to speak, like the verse from the song Comfortably Numb, by the English rock band, Pink Floyd, I could see his lips moving, but I could not hear a word he was saying. I immediately called my husband Robert to share the news. I returned home a short while after where he was waiting for me. We embraced, cried, talked about our fears, concerns, this dreaded journey we were about to embark upon and then we decided we must eat! So, off to Pappadeaux we went. As I delighted over the picture of the dish on the cover of the menu, I immediately opened it to review the price, as I typically do, $39.95, oh my goodness, no way, that is too expensive. I sat back, paused, then looked at my husband and said, “if this is how my life is going to end, I am going to start eating well!” Not only did I ordered that dish, I had dessert too! A NEW WAY TO EAT!
My surgery for bilateral inguinal lymphadenectomy, was scheduled on Thursday, December 8, 2022. We shared the news with our children and small circle of friends. They were all extremely compassionate and supportive. In trying to show every sign of strength we assured them we were optimistic and hopeful as well. However, the few weeks leading up to it were filled with fear, anxiety, despair, stress, regrets and a multitude of other emotions.
Now to speak about death, I died and buried myself at least a thousand times leading up to that day. Although the thought of dying does not scare me, my thoughts were; I don’t want this to be part of my story. This cannot be how it ends. I have so much life left to live! I’m ONLY 60 years old! It was in these moments where I felt the heaviness and smothering of regret.
My surgery went well and now it was time to return home only a few four hours later. After a brief review of my discharge summary with the post-op nurse, we were out the door and on our way home. Now, having worked in the healthcare industry for over 40 years, I felt somewhat equipped to navigate these waters along with my husband. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the level of dependency, loss of modesty and limited mobility that was suddenly my new reality. Things such as standing up, sitting down, using the facilities, showering, changing bandages, dressing, undressing, and more left me with overwhelming feelings of vulnerability and violation. Seeing my physical body was daunting, cumbersome and sent me into a state of panic and sadness. What felt shameful and humiliating for me was a feeling of a new level of intimacy for my husband Robert, my rock. It took me some time to come around to this, but on purpose, choosing to acknowledge my blessings by seeing the light instead of darkness, what once was shattered, GOD then used it in remolding us to make our marriage stronger and even more beautiful. A NEW WAY TO SEE.
On December 21, 2022, twelve days post-op, we received the news from Dr. Szender. The surgical pathology report showed that all lymph nodes were negative for metastatic carcinoma. My drainage tubes and bulbs were removed that day as well, what a relief! Back to Pappadeaux’s we went to celebrate this wonderful news! And yes, I indulged once again. No menu needed this time.
I didn’t want to have cancer and I realize my life will never be the same. There is no part of my human brain that thinks cancer is fair for any precious person who receives this diagnosis. I had to decide I didn’t want this reality to be a broken piece of pottery wasted on the ground or something I kept in my hand that hurt me more. I had to take it and entrust it to the Lord. I am working diligently on letting go of what lies behind; fear, anxiety, despair, stress, insecurities, regrets, negativity, busyness, confusion, doubt and unhealthy relationships. The more I purge the more I am able to breathe, the more weight I feel lifted, the more I am able to see a new life and the more joy I find.
I am so grateful for my small circle of family and friends. Their love, compassion, encouragement and presence has helped to sustain me for such a time as this. I am now on a journey to find out what makes me kinder, what opens me up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of myself and go after those things as if nothing else matters. This is where I turn my maybes into yeses and my somedays into today. A NEW WAY TO WALK.
I would like to say thank you to Methodist Cancer Care Rehabilitation Center and Curtain Up Cancer Foundation for the opportunity to participate in the Cancer Chronicles Writing Retreat. It has been an amazing experience. One I will never forget.
“Let your faith be bigger than your fear” is a saying that’s derived from Hebrews Chapter 13, Verse 6. It is also the scriptural message that became my inspiration after being diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011. Just a year before I turned 60, I noticed a small lump in my right breast. I kept thinking it would magically disappear. However, after a week of mentally wrestling with myconcerns, I scheduled a mammogram. Following that mammogram, a sonogram wasimmediately done. I was told that the suspicious mass was solid, dark, spiky and “looked like breast cancer.” A follow-up biopsy was recommended. I was alone at thetime . . . speechless and thinking, “Not me, not in my almost-perfect life.”
I was happily married, had kids and grandkids, and was enjoying life to the fullest! At the time, I was pursuing one of my passions – stock car racing. My two grandsons called me “Racecar Grandma.” How cool is that? I didn’t actually race cars, but I helped manage the racetracks. I worked from home during the week, and then I’d hit the road for the racetrack on weekends. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my priorities had slowly shifted away from my family . . . and God.Most of my weekends involved being at the racetrack for many hours, and I had to misslots of family functions. And, I was just too tired for church on Sunday mornings. I was doing what I loved, and I thought that my life was complete. But everything came to a screeching halt the day I got the dreaded phone call from mygynecologist. My cancer diagnosis shattered the very core of my being. After crying tomyself for about 30 minutes, I knew that I would soon be in a fight for my life. And then I began to pray, praying harder than I’d ever done in my entire life. I quickly realizedthat the things that I had taken for granted had suddenly become the most importantthings in my life. God and family became center stage, and I knew then that I needed them more than ever.
I saw my surgeon that same day and scheduled my surgery for a mastectomy on my right breast five days later.Then my oncologist told me that I would be getting a year of chemo treatments becauseof my HER2 positive tumor. Going through chemo was, by far, one of the hardest timesof my life. I was bald, battling constant diarrhea and very tired all the time from severe anemia, along with neuropathy in my right arm from the removal of ten lymph nodes. And, worst of all, I realized that I was no longer whole, missing my entire right breast. It wasn’t all bad though. Today’s drugs really helped control the nausea and vomiting from chemo. My total lack of appetite and frequent diarrhea helped me lose a lot ofweight – but that’s certainly not a diet that I’d recommend to anyone! On the positive side, I enjoyed wearing “bling caps,” which helped make my hair loss a bit more bearable and fun at the same time. Best of all, I didn’t have to shave my legs andunderarms for months! Near the end of my chemo treatments, I was finally able to get a blood transfusion that really helped with my anemia and fatigue.
Through it all, I realized that I was truly blessed because I had been given anopportunity to survive my disease with some effective treatments. I had also grabbed God’s hand and renewed my belief in him, returning to church. On weekends when I worked at the racetrack in Kyle, I had arranged with a hotel in Buda for a late checkout on Sunday morning, giving me time to sleep late and still go to church. About halfway through my chemo treatments, I decided to take a short leave of absencefrom the racetrack. I was able to put my focus back on my family again. I had begun tosee God’s plan for me and understand why God had given me such a tough healthchallenge. Yes, He had certainly gotten my attention, and He was guiding me every stepof the way to get my life back on track again!Metropolitan Methodist Hospital downtown, the site for my mastectomy, was also inGod’s plan for me. Metro had formed a new Breast Center during the same month ofmy diagnosis. I still brag about being its first patient! I got a lot of support from theNurse Navigator, who really helped me understand my cancer and coached me throughthe trials of my cancer.Following my chemo, I scheduled removal of my other breast and DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery on both breasts in April 2013, followed by two more proceduresover the next year.
Finally, my long, tough journey seemed to be getting better. I felt complete again, andmy life was slowly becoming normal again after 2-1/2 years of procedures, surgeries,and treatments. However, I had a nagging fear about the possibility of a recurrence. Could I ever go through all of it again? In May 2014, I went on an ACTS retreat with my church, and that’s when Iadopted my “faith over fear” perspective. I learned that God is in control. Sometimes it’s hard to see it that way, and I pray that I will continue to fulfill His plan in my life’s journey.During that same year, I had a strong calling and made a big decision to pay forward all the support that I had gotten through my breast cancer journey. I felt the need to usemy experiences and talents to help other survivors.So, in February 2014, I became a Blue Bird volunteer in the Metropolitan Methodist BreastCenter, and I feel I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to learn more about mydisease, while helping others to understand it also.I formed a support group, Metro’s Pink Warriors, that is still active today. I’ve alsohelped over 500 breast cancer patients over the past 9-1/2 years. Whenever I can, Italk with the survivors about the importance of faith in their journey. I’m also on theBreast Program Leadership Team at the hospital, and I attend a bi-weekly conferencethat continually helps me to expand my knowledge about my disease.I’m happy to say that several of my patients have become dear friends. Little do theyknow how fulfilling it is for me to help them go through the challenges of their breastcancer! We often cry together, laugh together and even pray together. I feel trulyblessed to have answered God’s call to serve, and I know that I’ve been given anincredible opportunity to help my fellow survivors and make a difference in their lives.And I always keep the start of the hospital’s Mission Statement in mind, “Serving humanity to Honor God.”Going forward, I hope to remain focused on my faith, my family and friends, and my internal drive to make a difference in other people’s lives through my work at the hospital.And yes, I feel my life is almost perfect, yet again. My husband and I will celebrate our50th anniversary in March, and I’m now closer than ever to my kids, grandkids, and therest of my family. I’m also very active in my church and have formed some verymeaningful friendships there . . . love you, Leslie.
My stock car racing days are behind me, but like every experience I’ve had, they are part of who I am today. Sometimes I think of cancer in terms of racing. Amongst all the races I’ve been involved with, cancer was the biggest race of my life . . . an Enduro race, if you will – full of chaos and unpredictable obstacles. A test of teamwork and endurance.All in all, my breast cancer journey has brought so many good things into my life. Best of all, it has taught me the importance of making time for both God and family in my life. I go through each day saying to myself, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear” . . . and I share that message wherever and whenever I can.Thanks for listening to my story.