‘Everything is going to be just fine’

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By Susan Sharp

Everything is going to be just fine.

I learned that phrase when I was in my early 20s and was embarking on a social work career.

Sue Nance, who at the time was the director of the Community Services Agency, saw fit to hire a fresh crop of college graduates to work with at-risk children. Under the edict of state government, we were often given what seemed to be unobtainable goals. Each time this happened, Sue would smile and say, “Everything is going to be just fine.” It became our mantra.

And most of the time she was right.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I heard myself repeating that phrase and having it said to me. And true to Sue’s word, everything was just fine.

But it was a long road between “the biopsy is back, you have cancer” and “just fine.”

There were times I was so scared I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest.

My diagnosis left me with too many questions and not enough answers.

It also left me angry. Other women got breast cancer. Not me. I was supposed to have high blood pressure or a heart attack. That is what my family’s medical history was littered with.

I didn’t have a single family member who had breast cancer. I later found out that 85 percent of women diagnosed have no family history of this silent invader.

And while my head was spinning I knew I needed a game plan.

The first item on the agenda was to make sure my children didn’t find out. All they knew was people got cancer and died. There was also another set of reasons that are a column onto themselves as to why my boys didn’t need to carry this cross.

So after I told my mother, my sister, Press family, minister and just a very few close friends, all were sworn to secrecy. They did me that favor and I will forever be grateful they joined Susan’s Secret Cancer Society. Without them, I would not be here.

In the weeks following the initial jolt of news, I had two recurring questions.

Would I be okay and I would I be able to avoid chemo, keeping my hair?

Each time I posed these questions to the host of doctors I found myself keeping company with, the answer was “yes, you should be, we think we caught it in time” and “we don’t know”, respectively.

While keeping my hair, not turning into a big, bald, sick, lump, as I put it at the time, was partly due to vanity, there was another reason. I knew if that happened hiding the cancer from my children would be impossible. That scared me.

The answer to my second question hinged on whether the cancer had moved to my lymph nodes. For weeks I prayed the doctors wouldn’t find it there.

I can remember waking up from the lumpectomy trying to scream “Was it in the lymph nodes?” Eventually a nurse heard me and sent for my mother. As she and Codi Provins, who had shown up to sit with my mother during the surgery, came in they were smiling. That was all I needed to see to get my answer. The lymph nodes were clean.

I immediately thanked God.

Despite this, an oncologist later told me I should consider the chemo. After all, I had “30 percent chance the cancer could come back.”

As I sat there listening to him I was polite when I declined the chemo. I told him I was no math whiz but in my world that meant I had a 70 percent chance the cancer would not come back.

I am not happy I got cancer. In fact, it still makes me angry.

However, I had no idea how much I was loved until I was diagnosed.

Everyone knows their mother loves them- it is a requirement for the job. And in this instance my mother excelled at her job. She didn’t miss a doctor’s appointment often asking more questions than I did, continually reassured me I didn’t look “sick” and covered for me with my children so I could sneak off to radiation treatments.

Jennifer Caldwell held my hand, let me cry, cried with me, prayed with me and texted me Scriptures when I was scared. Kim Heffinger refused to let me feel sorry for myself. All she had to do was look at me and I knew self- pity would not fly with her.

Sheri Paul, whose face drained of all color when I told her, hugged me and said, “We are going to get through this.” She also brought me junk food after the surgery-- some people just know what you need without being told.

Did I mention I felt loved?

At the risk of stating the obvious, cancer changes you. It also teaches you some things about yourself.

For me I learned my walk with God had been one of convenience up to that point. That had to change and it did. I learned I am blessed with a tight knit circle of family and friends who not only love me they loved me enough to protect me when I was at my most vulnerable.

I also learned anyone could get breast cancer. It doesn’t care what is going on in your life, what your plans are or what your family history is. You see, cancer is kind of selfish like that.

So yes, I had breast cancer. It scared the hell out of me and it taught me some things.

However, in the end, everything was just fine.