“Our lives are compiled of a series of moments, big and little. The big moments would not be the memories they are without the little moments in between. The little moments create the big emotions. I have always known God has extraordinary plans for my life.
In 2011, at the age of 26, I was first faced with my own mortality. Death is certain for everyone, but we always hope we have time. It was a glorious, sunny day that I spent at the pool with my niece and nephew. Little moments — flips off the diving board and ice cream by the pool. My swimsuit tag happened to irritate the side of my right breast. I scratched and felt the lumps. I frequently did self-exams, but had never felt a lump. I did not dwell on the fear the pebbles could be cancerous, but my husband was scared. I felt young and invincible. After all, my ‘plans’ were coming to fruition.
Three days after the lumps were removed, I was officially diagnosed with Invasive Ductual Carcinoma—Breast cancer. The surgeon gave me the pathology results and the first words I muttered were, ‘I wanted to be a mother.’ I was 26. Invincible. A double mastectomy was performed. My beloved oncologist revealed that I would not benefit from traditional chemotherapy due to a very low aggression score from the genetic testing; the cancer was caught incredibly early at stage 1. He assured me my dream of being a mother would come. I was so emotionally hurt, feeling my body betrayed me. I was angry that cancer interrupted the plans I had for my life.
In 2014, with medical permission, I became pregnant. I marveled at my growing belly and loved feeling her hiccups. Little moments. Our blessing entered the world in the middle of the night with a thick head of hair, and starving. The man I love stood holding her with tears in his eyes. A big moment. The trauma from having cancer finally seemed healed. My body grew a child! My focus was no longer on myself and the what-ifs, but on nurturing my girl. The plans I had for my life were coming to fruition: motherhood, family, career, home. ‘Faith over fear’ became my motto.
In the breast cancer community, five years post diagnosis is a major milestone. At that point, my chances of a stage 4 re-occurrence were much lower. In 2017, I began having aches in my right hip and occasional pain in my lower back. It was not an alarming pain, my doctors were not concerned. The pain had come and went, but started increasing more and more. Bloodwork confirmed my liver enzymes were elevated. Deep in my core, I knew the breast cancer had metastasized, but I did not want to believe it. ‘I am not strong enough to leave you and our girl,’ I confided in my husband. Our greatest fears were confirmed; it appeared the cancer on the scans had returned with a vengeance. I was 32 years old. I was doing a puzzle with my toddler when the phone rang. It’s the little things.
I immediately began having more and more symptoms, as I had the several weeks prior to diagnosis. I was admitted to the hospital for eight days to stabilize my body. Cancer was in many bones and my liver. My devoted husband stayed by my side the entire time. My child was gently cared for in our absence. My friend washed my hair. It’s the little things. I returned home with a greater appreciation for life. I knocked on death’s doorstep and did not want to return there. Not yet. A doctor called me a ‘saint,’ because of the extensive disease in my body, but I did not want to be a saint. I wanted to be a mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend, believer in Christ. My motto then became, ‘I can do all things,’ reminding myself that God had plans. His plans are greater than any I could dream.
Metastatic breast cancer is the only breast cancer that kills. The average survival rate is three years. At my worst, I felt like I had days to live. Invincible, I am not. No one is.
It has been 10 months since a dear doctor friend called to tell me I had stage 4 breast cancer. I sat outside on the phone, begging her to tell me my daughter would remember me.
To say the last 10 months have been a challenge is an understatement, but they sure have been a blessing too. I had to choose to wallow in my grief, or rejoice in life. There’s plenty of both. But, mostly rejoicing. God is good all the time. I have no room for fear in my life. Fear is a liar. Fear will steal my peace and joy. Faith gives me hope. Hope of a future. Hope of eternal life. My emotions sway from day to day and moment to moment, but the consistent love of God and my family overrides any fickle feelings. I am thankful.
I am often told how strong I am. I am not strong, I am weak, but God is strong. I have relied on my faith more in the last 10 months than I ever have. Surprisingly, anger is not an emotion that resides in my soul often. I have had to make peace with my own mortality and have to do so daily. The little things are the big things.
I have cried after seeing a little girl wearing light-up shoes, questioning if I would ever get to let my own child pick out light-up shoes. I have cried after my child pretends to ice skate, as I have always dreamed of taking my child ice skating. I have cried when the mom in front of me at church tucked her daughter’s bra strap in her dress. Will I get to do those things? Light-up shoes, ice skates, bra straps. You see, it’s really the little things we do with the people we love that matter. At my lowest point, enjoyment with my family was bittersweet. On those evenings, I would be devastated that I could miss this. Acknowledging those emotions allowed me to learn how to cope with them. I will savor all the moments I am given, knowing Heaven will be even more glorious, no matter when I enter.
Through prayer, I have gained a peaceful mindset. I have cried tears of joy for being able to make snow angels in the snow with my daughter. I have cried tears of joy after making travel plans with my husband. Being thankful has given me a spirit of hope and peace. I let myself process whatever emotion that comes, but I do not want to dwell in fear and anger. Fear will steal my peace.”
Update: Karen tragically lost her battle with cancer over the holidays. Her family hopes you remember her smiling face and wishes for her daughter to remember her.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karen Ware, 33, of Kentucky. She is chronicling her cancer journey on her blog, Ware the Heart Is. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.
SHARE this story on Facebook to encourage others to cherish every moment and love what matters most.