“It all started in 2012 when my middle child, Jac, was born. It was a very traumatic experience. Despite having a normal pregnancy and delivery, when he was born, he was turning blue. No one knew why. He was quickly whisked away from me and intubated. While I was recovering from childbirth in my hospital, he was taken away to a children’s hospital where he would remain for two and a half weeks. At the children’s hospital, we learned that he had a rare heart defect. At only two days old, he was taken to get heart surgery. Then began the long journey of recovery for him. He began speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. So, when he was diagnosed with autism at age two and a half, even though it was a shock for us, he was just continuing the therapy regime he always had.
Like with any child, there were challenges and joys in raising him. The challenges were just pretty unique for him. He was, and is especially destructive… the activities he enjoys often damage property or may be unsafe for him. The biggest current concern we have with him is what is called an eloper: he impulsively darts away when we are outside if someone isn’t holding his hand, putting his life in danger.
Although Jac is really smart at certain things, he is developmentally delayed at others. He is currently eight years old and is still potty training. We can’t let him go potty alone because he will try to flush random objects down the toilet. There are many activities he can do almost completely independently, but because of his destructive nature, he requires increased supervision.
In 2018, we bought our home. It was a beautiful house in a quiet suburb with a large backyard. The backyard was perfect for our three kids, yet Jac still cannot go in the back by himself. A few months after living in our new place, I noticed a lump the size of a golf ball on my breast. After having it checked out, I discovered not only did I have breast cancer, but it was the most aggressive form of breast cancer: a triple negative. The cancer had already advanced to stage four, and my oncologist said that I had only two years left to live. As you can imagine, this was devastating news for me and my family.
My church family, as well as people on the internet that I had never met, immediately poured out their support. Friends from church redecorated our bedroom with completely new furniture. They gave us an outdoor gazebo and a huge play fort for our kids in the backyard. It was very encouraging, which was much needed because the first treatment was very hard. I was constantly fatigued and had a load of side effects.
The most difficult side effect was the pain in my back and legs. It was so constant and there was no position except walking where the pain wasn’t exacerbated. Sleeping at night was so difficult that I was waking up six or seven times a night to take a shower, which would provide enough momentary relief for me to fall back asleep again. You can see in pictures of me during this time how exhausted I was. Nothing any of my doctors advised or gave me made a difference in the pain.
Everything changed when two of my friends from church prayed for me to have the pain go away. The day after they prayed, the pain I felt vanished. Their prayers transformed my life. There’s no rhyme or reason for why the pain left just like that, but instantly I was able to sleep and the constant pain was gone.
Over the next few years, I started a pattern of beginning a new treatment, bearing through the side effects, and then discovering the treatment was no longer working through a new or enlarged tumor. In three and a half years, I went through six treatments. The first and the second to last treatments were the most difficult to endure because both were targeting my specific cancer.
The emotional and spiritual journey during all of this was epic for me. I have been a Christian my whole life and have been strong in faith, but as you can imagine, this tested my faith pretty thoroughly. In the beginning, I was pretty secure, focusing on my desire to encounter God’s glory in heaven. Not that I wanted to die, but I was coming to terms with the probable imminence of my death.
Then, I actually went through a phase where I felt like I wasn’t worthy of salvation. Even though I knew it had nothing to do with me and it was all Jesus, I looked at other people, and all they were doing for the kingdom of God, and worried that I wasn’t doing enough. Honestly, I never thought that idea would enter my mind since I have pursued the things on God’s heart since I was a child. Since 2009, I have also worked for a Christian non-profit organization, Starfish Learning Center, to minister to vulnerable youth in the city of Chicago. Currently, I am the head of the organization, which is totally crazy considering I am battling cancer, and raising a child with autism.
At some point, something just clicked for me. I began focusing on all of the blessings in my life, and I began to understand God’s role as the provider in my life. I know that is a little crazy since He hasn’t provided healing for me yet, but my eyes were opened to seeing His goodness everywhere. Our house has been a huge blessing. During the pandemic, even though we were forced to stay home, the kids had plenty of room to run around. We had friends in our ‘pandemic pod’ who would come over, help with Jac and the other kids, do errands for us, etc. My mother-in-law is AMAZING. She recently retired and is devoting her whole life to helping us. Even the little things, like how our school district issued us pandemic EBT cards, helped us tremendously with grocery money. My job and my husband’s job have also been more than compassionate, generous, and understanding. They have allowed us to work almost completely (well, me completely) from home, which has made such a huge difference.
Every day I started acknowledging and thanking God for the blessings in my life, it has made such a big difference in my joy level! Especially with kids, it is so important. I can look at Jac and see all the challenges that he brings, but if I don’t focus on the good parts — his sweet smile, how he sings songs all day long, all the things that make him happy —I can succumb to discouragement.
In late 2019, I visited a friend who made jewelry and she let me make some earrings. For Christmas that year, I asked for Amazon gift cards so I could buy jewelry making supplies. I had no idea what was in store for me. After making a few pieces, I wanted to sell my jewelry so I could have money to buy even more jewelry making supplies. I enjoy making jewelry so much! I haven’t made a lot of money because I’ve sunk most of it back into the business, but the reason why I do it is because of the art of it. I enjoy perfecting pieces and learning to make new things. Somehow, my ability to be creative has transformed my mind. I sometimes wonder if it’s what is keeping me alive!
Through most of this, my concern has been not for me, but for my family. What will happen to them if I die? Every one of them needs me so much. I finally had to come to a place where I believe that as God has taken care of me thus far and provided for my needs, He will continue to provide for them once I am gone. So many people like to tell me how strong I am. If I am completely honest, I feel like them saying that makes them feel better about my situation, like they are reassuring themselves. That’s fine, if that is what they need, but I’m not sure what it means to be strong. I just make sure that my eyes are in the right place, and then my heart will follow.
The amazing thing is that through all of this, I’m actually in a really good place. I’m not sad or depressed. I get it, my prognosis is not good, but I’m hoping. I’m choosing to believe, and I’m focusing on today. One day at a time, one moment at a time. My kids will complain when they’re having ‘the worst day ever’ and I always tell them that it’s their choice. Your circumstances don’t determine your happiness, your reaction to them does. If you focus on the blessings in your life and be thankful for every gifted breath, you will find joy.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Susan Croox of Chicago, Illinois. You can follow her jewelry journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories, and our Youtube here.
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