I have lived a very blessed and privileged life. Don’t get me wrong I have worked hard to get to where I am, but my parents were always very supportive in giving me many opportunities to grow. Some might even say I’ve been spoiled. I grew up going to church and I attended a Christian university. Some might even push to say that I’ve been sheltered. In all honesty, I can’t say I disagree.
On the day of my college graduation, as per usual, many pictures were taken to document the important day. I hate every single one of those photos because, at the time, there was severe swelling in my face that contorted my smile into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My friends kept telling me to smile normally, even though I felt like I was. My boyfriend at the time was always by my side to remind me of how “different” my smile looked. In other words, I no longer had the smile that he had fallen in love with. I no longer felt like myself. Unfortunately, within the few months to come, I would start to feel less and less like myself. My life would no longer be the same.
One week following my graduation, I went to my local hospital to further investigate why there was severe swelling in my cheek. A couple days later, what I had thought was severe swelling from grinding my teeth due to stress, I was diagnosed with cancer.
More specifically, it was a tumor in my right cheek known as a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. You say, “That’s a pretty wild name! I’ve never heard of anything like that before!” And that makes sense because it’s an incredibly rare type of cancer. This tumor had been growing since January of 2015, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college in May of 2015 that I was able to get the proper medical attention that I needed. I was diagnosed in June and began chemotherapy treatments one week after my diagnosis.
Once I had announced my diagnosis on Facebook and called my closest friends and family the cards, letters, baked goods, presents, and the encouraging messages came flooding in. Everyone said they were praying for me. I had visitors in the hospital. But I still felt so alone.
I was the one having drugs pumped through me. I was the one losing her hair. I was the one throwing up constantly and being stuck in the bathroom for hours. I was the one with a constant pounding headache. I was the one with such intense mouth sores that it was impossible for me to eat. I was the one crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t know how much longer I could handle this pain.
To make matters worse, one of the people that I trusted most to stay by my side in this scary trial — my boyfriend at the time — broke up with me in July. One month after beginning treatments and the day before my birthday. I now not only felt alone but pathetic. I felt as though my life was spiraling out of control. My life was falling apart before my eyes and I felt like I was just an innocent bystander. As it is often said by those who are struggling, I too thought, “Why me?”
At this point in my walk with God, He felt more distant than He ever had in my whole life. He was a powerful enigma that was allowing my life to become a living Hell. And I was pissed.
Prayer seemed pointless. Worship seemed like a waste of time. I just needed to focus on taking care of myself because God was doing a really crappy job.
Everyone experiences pain differently and has their own unique struggles. No one can truly understand what I went through, just like I cannot understand what you may be going through right now. But there is one thing I know…
We need to keep living. There will always be pain, but we cannot let that define how we live our lives. We cannot and shall not be buried in the stresses of life such as work, failed relationships, sickness, financial stress, emotional distress, addictions. We cannot let those things defeat us because news flash: God already won. A good friend of mine just reminded me of something amazing: While there are times in our lives that we will feel very distant from God, such as I have throughout the treatment of my cancer, maybe it’s okay to not have our faith grown during the trials but after the trials. God is constantly growing and changing us, and that does not stop when life gets hard. Quite the contrary, because I believe one of the reasons God brought me through this scary season of my life to help me find my way back to Him.
So here I am, almost a year since I began treatment, a completely different person than I was before. Still just as fun-loving and spunky, but completely overwhelmed by what the future holds for me. I’m terrified and relieved, I’m confident but I’m also unsure, and most of all, I’m much more certain of the fact that God truly is in control of my life.
You know those famous Carrie Underwood lyrics, “Jesus, take the wheel”? Catchy tune, right? Well, I’ve learned that Jesus never lets go of the wheel; He’s always in control of our life. It’s just up to us to stop holding on so tightly, trying to control everything ourselves, and go along for the bumpy and beautiful ride that God already has planned for us.
Our lives are far from perfect, but that’s what makes them exciting. That’s what makes us, and our circumstances, so unique. We’re all different, and not one of us is “normal,” we’re always changing and that’s a-okay.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10, whenever he began to struggle, “[God] said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So I’m not the same as I was almost a year ago, or even a few days ago; but I am stronger. I’m much more comfortable with myself, imperfections and all because I know this is where God wants me. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I know I’m not living this life on my own.
After all I’ve gone through, and will go through, it’s a blessing to be told my smile is still quite beautiful even if it is different. Life, although it may be different, is still beautiful. I promise.