LETTERS FROM MINDY

Mindy Miller -Stage 2 Emotional Contributor

Sharing my journey with you

Still and Stagnant

To the survivors who came before me.

I’m not a mom, and maybe you aren’t either.

My body will never fit their standards.

We are so much more than our hair.

You know what I’m still learning in my sixth year of survivorship after breast cancer? Neither the length nor volume of hair I display defines who I am as a woman—as a wife, daughter, or friend either.

When aftermath is more painful than the impact…

Life after cancer? How about *living* after cancer?

For the first time in nearly 6 years.

It’s okay not to be okay.

Still and Stagnant

To the survivors who came before me.

I’m not a mom, and maybe you aren’t either.

My body will never fit their standards.

We are so much more than our hair.

Still and stagnant water like time
Moves so quickly
But not at all

I saw you standing there
Atop that mountain high
You had that smile on your face

Though we may labeled cancer-free and though we may appear healthy and recovered…

The truth is that a woman’s body can never be standardized. I’ve spent years attempting…

Open

When aftermath is more painful than the impact…

Open

Life after cancer? How about *living* after cancer?

Open

For the first time in nearly 6 years.

Open

It’s okay not to be okay.

Open

Still and Stagnant

Open

To the survivors who came before me.

Open

I’m not a mom, and maybe you aren’t either.

Open

My body will never fit their standards.

Open

We are so much more than our hair.

We are so much more than our hair.

You know what I’m still learning in my sixth year of survivorship after breast cancer?
Neither the length nor volume of hair I display defines who I am as a woman—as a wife, daughter, or friend either.

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When aftermath is more painful than the impact…

These words can be especially true when trying to heal from the trauma that is the cancer experience.

And while no two such paths to healing may be alike, the one commonality I’ve found is time and the time it may take.

While some may view time as the giant ahead, I find comfort in time, in knowing that it remains constant, it never changes. And it continues on. I gain peace in viewing it as my vehicle for forward motion. My ride into my own figurative sunset, you could say.

However, I recognize that I have to propel my healing forward; no one can do it for me. And the most challenging parts can be learning how and finding the energy to do so.

So how to begin? For me, it began one hour at a time. The hours became days and the days became months, then years, and I’m still healing in many ways, here 6+ years out from my own breast cancer diagnosis.

Setting small, reachable goals has been key, as has feeling every facet of the feelings that enter my mind and body. I have worked to identify their origin, their role, and how I can best work through them.

Having full faith and trust in both my medical team and in God, and in advocating for my every concern along the way, I have chosen to believe I am safe in my body. I could live in fear of recurrence, but how much of that is actual living?

I have chosen to forgive my body for changing. The the truth is, she never failed me. She revealed the enemy as that awful lump and she endured right with me.

She carried me through every difficult day, and here we are… basking in our own sunlight and riding off into our own sunset every evening.

Friends, the time is long, but it is worth it. Embrace the gift of time and the time with which you’ve been granted.

You are the driver and the destinations possible are beautifully abundant. Go slowly and with grace for you. You can get there. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you cannot.

Life after cancer? How about *living* after cancer?

My joy. My greatest concern after receiving own breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 wasn’t for my own mortality, but instead my joy, my mental health. My spirit.

Would I ever smile again? How long until I would be able to laugh? Spoiler alert, I did and I have!

Learning how to live again after a cancer diagnosis is no easy feat, and there’s no blueprint for it. But it’s possible. It takes intentionality and time, a deep humbling and the volitional relinquishing of our own desired timelines for our lives.

The truth is, cancer can be devastating, it can embody enumerable sacrifices, the rearranging of nearly every priority. That forced pivot.

So when I say it can get better and immensely so, this is not toxic positivity. This is real talk based on personal experience, years of deep introspection and work.

I have sat in it and with it. The depression, the fear, the crippling anxiety… I admit they have each borrowed my energy over the years. I have visited my own personal brink on more than one occasion, and then pressed on.

However, permitting their residence within me was not an option. I assign each the role of passersby, and while I acknowledge each one as they drift through, I instruct them to keep moving. They cannot dwell here because I have plans, and where I’m going, I have no vacancy for them.

I share these 2am sentiments because the reasons to have hope are endless! And while simply hearing it gets better can sound like fiction, sometimes we have to see it to believe it.

*Living* after cancer is better than mere life after cancer. Join me! It’s attainable and within reach. Time and grace, work and grit. It can and will be yours. Believe it and accept no other options.

We didn’t survive to suffer, we survived to live! And here we are, present and with purpose. Living. One day at a time.

For the first time in nearly 6 years,

I FEEL SAFE IN MY BODY.

-Clear mammogram earlier this year 👏🏻
-Clear lungs/chest in chest CT from late August 👏🏻
-Benign findings in last week’s thyroid biopsies 👏🏻

My endocrinologist called me personally yesterday evening to inform me of my biopsy results.

My samples were quite bloody, so the pathologist assigned to my case didn’t get enough benign cells to *officially* declare it benign, but all cells obtained were benign! This lowers my risk of a malignancy here from 10% to 1-3%. I’ll take it!

The game plan moving forward is to monitor. He doesn’t feel like I’ll need surgery at this time. That’s a win in my book! I was already mentally prepping myself for this as the nodule in question is 2.6cm in size. In 6-12 months, we will complete another diagnostic ultrasound so that he can actively surveil the little bugger.

Abundant relief!

This is the best way I can describe the feeling in my soul today. I truly did have a sense of peace after my recent diagnostic ultrasound. I credit my leaning into my faith and trusting the specific promises God placed in my heart both in the beginning and along the way to have helped me to find and dwell in that space of peace.

Residing in these promises and *choosing* to expect good things—each such helpful practices with which I’ve worked ever so diligently over the years for the purpose of maximizing my own mental health. It’s so easy to catastophize; it’s the mind’s path of least resistance. But it’s not the only path.

A big loving thank you to all who have been praying and thinking of me! And for those who have reached out to check in. My days have been better because of the compassionate hearts around me.

It’s okay not to be okay.

But…

It’s also okay to be okay.

Actually, it’s a wonderful thing to be okay! Can we normalize that, too?

My words here are not to make less of the plight of those who are not okay. My words aim to shine light on the beautiful and fulfilling place that can be reached, that comforting space of home that truly is within reach, that destination that may lie just around the bend. Though the path might be wrought with challenges, the grade may lessen and the road may flatten in time. Herein lies the importance of hope!

Grieving the former versions of ourselves is natural, and reminiscing over our prior chapters can be both a difficult and heart warming practice. Give yourself grace. Show yourself compassion, both then and now. Speak to your current self just like you would your best friend, if your best friend were in your shoes. Shift that inner self-talk. Share with yourself words of validation, words of encouragement, words of hope. Be that best friend, but to yourself.

Through years of deep soul work, I’ve finally found comfort in sifting through these before photos, the photos that used to evoke only tears and sadness. I see the woman I was and the woman I’ve become, and I take pride in both. The memories are made better simply because I have them, and it is up to me to decide how I carry them forward in my life.

I may have wandered, but I was never lost. I am beginning to see me again. I am beginning to feel like me again. As it turns out, I’ve been me all along. I never left. I may have changed in many ways, but change would have taken place even without cancer, and that’s okay. I like the me I see today.

Because it’s okay to be okay.

Still and Stagnant

Still and stagnantWater like time
Moves so quickly
But not at all
To wait in chosen peace
Is to trust the plan
That lies before me
Just out of my reach
Though I cannot yet see it
Though I cannot yet breathe it
It is well
It is well
It is well
Let it flow
It is well

***

To choose inner peace in a time of waiting for scan results is to choose control. It is to choose discernment between that which does and does not serve you.

It does not serve me to worry. To worry is to sacrifice joy. No amount of worry was ever placed in my heart by Jesus. The origin of worry is a place that has no home within me. The promises Jesus has made to me, their magnitude far surpasses the occupancy of worry.

It does not serve me to expend precious energy on that which has not happened. I invest my emotions and reactions in the clear and tangible, the known and stated.

It does not serve me to catastrophize when the odds are more accurately in my favor, when the likelihood for good exceeds the probability for bad.

What does serve me is to anticipate an outcome that works in my benefit, to expect good things. If the converse should occur, that will be the time to explore the difficult thoughts. My joy is too precious, my joy is too hard-earned, to relinquish it to the mind’s playground.

So, I continue to wait, in chosen peace.
Still and calm, cool and content. The unknown may swirl around me, but my feet I’ve planted. The outcome, I cannot yet see, but God’s promises were here long before me.

And it is well. Let the words reverberate—it is well.

We are so much more than our hair

You know what I’m still learning in my sixth year of survivorship after breast cancer?
Neither the length nor volume of hair I display defines who I am as a woman—as a wife, daughter, or friend either.

While it was incredibly difficult to relinquish my long blonde hair to the effects of chemotherapy, it wasn’t until I stared back at the barren image in the mirror that I began to see the woman that resided within, the woman that I was becoming.

The sudden loss of our hair can make us feel powerless, no longer able to blend in with the flow of people we encounter throughout our everyday lives. The quicksand of comparison, we thrash to escape.

But then we discover that the real power within us was never in our ability to control our circumstances. Rather, the most authentic power can be found within our own thoughts, within the way we choose to move forward in our respective healing journeys.

While I was excited for each progressing state of hair growth I share here, I also have to share with you that though my hair has regrown a fair amount, I still feel nothing like the me I was before my cancer.

My hair has grown, and so have I. And my relationship with my hair, we have grown apart. My hair isn’t the same, and neither am I. Any prior notion of my hair as my identity is old, and I am new.

Friends, if you are finding yourselves searching for past reflections of yourselves, I invite you to pause.

See the person in the mirror—trying, healing, growing. Have grace for your beautiful self. See the you your friends and family members see. Transform your self talk to words of affirmation; speak to yourself just as you would your best friend.

We are so much more than our hair.

To the survivors who came before me:

I saw you standing there
Atop that mountain high
You had that smile on your face
That glow in your soul
You were days, months, and years ahead
Of the very place I stood
Both feet in the drying mud
To move an inch was like a mile
Under the weight of the world
Sometimes I just stopped
In counted breath
Eyelids swollen
I held fast my heart
And listened to the minutes
They were hell
But time was the only constant
And because it kept going
So did I
Stepping out of my boots
I began to crawl
I reached and I climbed
And now I see what you saw

***

If you’re just beginning your journey with cancer, it may seem as though the end of treatment is out of reach, that you’ll never find the view from the top.

I want you to know I once felt this way, too. The days were long and oh did the valleys feel low. Because they were.

But one breath at a time, one upward gaze at a time, the summit became more perceptible. The haze began to lift and the hand placements grew more visible. Small, reachable goals turned to milestones of epic proportion.

To the survivors who came before me, thank you for sharing your map, your compass, and your skillset. Thank you for lending your grit, your guts, your guidance. It’s an honor to stand both with you and beside you. May we together light the path for those that follow. And may someday we all stand atop this mountain high, side by side and hand in hand.

Overcoming everything, summiting every peak that lies ahead.

I’m not a mom, and maybe you aren’t either.

Though we may labeled cancer-free and though we may appear healthy and recovered, our reality may not be exactly what those who haven’t walked this path may assume or envision.

You see, appearances are misleading and assumptions can be dangerous.

My hair may be nearing its pre-breast cancer diagnosis length, but what do they know about my reproductive function?

(Nothing.)

I may have completed chemotherapy several years ago, but what do they know about the medical measures I have been forced to take to *hope* my cancer doesn’t return?

(Nothing.)

I may smile and laugh along with superficial humor again, but what do they know about my quiet fears that I may someday have child and then not be here to see him or her grow up?

(Nothing.)

For some of us, cancer or chronic illness has forced us to come to an abrupt halt as we were bounding toward fulfilling our dreams of becoming a parent. A ledge over the unknown.

For some of us, we stand at the ledge as we broach the chapter without our recurrence prevention therapies and medications. We shift our weight with uncertainty. We peer over the side, we search for any indication of what’s to come, any reassurance that growing our families—or that simply living a long life—is possible.

Sometimes we see a dark cloud of emptiness and other times, we glimpse a reflection of hope. And so many times, we just don’t know what the future holds.

If you’re like me, you may not be a mom. You may not know if you ever will be a mom. But I want you to know something. You have a deep and beautiful value exclusive from motherhood. Your story and your life matters, every minute leading up to this moment and every minute that will follow.

A woman is not defined by her reproductive abilities.

My body will never fit their standards.

The truth is that a woman’s body can never be standardized.

I’ve spent years attempting to conceal the permanent asymmetry of my breasts following my unilateral mastectomy. I’ve purchased adhesive appliqués of every shape and form and I’ve acquired countless bras, but never ever will my body look the same as it did before.

But you know what?

I’m okay with that because I’m not the same woman that I was before. She is not me and I am not her.

I’m a woman transformed—transformed in many ways, not by cancer but by my faith in God and the manner in which I’ve chosen to move forward. My heart has been made softer and my soul has been made more expectant. I feel with my whole being now and I both act and share with intention.

Instead of my analyzing what’s wrong with my body, I’m choosing to behold what’s right with my body. I can walk, I can run, and I can speak. I am blessed beyond measure with the quiet breaths that I release in the moments I use to pen these words.

To have risen beyond the tragedy of cancer and experience life 5+ years after active treatment is an outcome that I will never understand. Why am I still here and not many of the other amazing men and women that have graced this precious community?

It’s not for me to know. For some reason, my story is still being written and I am fortunate enough to still inhabit this earthly vessel from which I can continue to share my narrative.

So this unexpected body shape, these asymmetrical breasts you see here? This is me, and I’ve worked so hard to find and become the me I am today. And what a gift it is to walk this space in a body healed.

You see, there is no standard for life after cancer, and my body and my story—we will never be standardized either.