When Life Knocks You to Your Knees

When life knocked me to my knees, I realized I was in the perfect position to PRAY!

Hello, my name Tiffany.  I am 27 years old… and a one year survivor of breast cancer.  I have a 6 year old son named Cameron.

It all began on my 25th birthday. I did my self breast exam and noticed something that just didn’t feel right.  I panicked because I had participated in a research project at Winston-Salem State University about breast cancer.  We had the model breast with a nodule that replicated a breast cancer lump, which felt similar.  After visiting with the doctor, what they found was a fibroid adenoma, so they decided a lumpectomy was the best for me considering my family’s history of breast cancer.

My maternal great-grandmother was diagnosed at age 81 and my paternal grandmother at age 76. I had great aunts who were diagnosed too. So for me, this was out of this world!!  I remember waking up at 4am preparing to go to the hospital to have my surgery. I was accompanied by my mother, grandmother, and boyfriend at the time.  I was so nervous and scared.  Truly, at this point, I didn’t know what all this meant.  After the surgery I was in recovery; my pain was so intense that I began to cry.  “Oh my gosh” is all I could think. I wanted to sit up but I couldn’t.  The doctor came in and stated “You have pre-cancerous cells; we had to take out more than expected.” I would have to wait for them to call me when my pathology results were back.  I was still under medication; the tears began to roll even more. I was then discharged.

When I arrived home, the pain was still very bad.  I wanted to look down at my breast, but I couldn’t.  The sports bra made me cry. I didn’t want to look at my breast, the bandage, the incision, NOTHING!!!  I became angry; I was scared, in pain, and I wanted a new body.  So, yes this was my pity party before the results.  My mom, who is my best friend, and my supporters – new and old, were on point with checking on me.  I had a hard time with not having certain supporters who I just knew would be there.  Little did I know, that was the beginning of realizing friendships would change, people who you thought would be there weren’t.  It was a hard pill to swallow and still to this day I struggle because I miss them.  It would have been nice to have them around.

It was almost results time. Now keep in mind, my surgery was on a Thursday. I had to wait until Monday or Tuesday for results, which turn into to a call around 4 o’clock on Wednesday, so my nerves were shot.  The results came back benign. I was good; PRAISE GOD for the power of prayer!! I was told at follow-up visits that I have fibrocystic breast disease, meaning very dense breast tissue. I took that as I would need looking after pretty much all the time.

Even though I had a good bill of health, I was severely depressed and still angry. The pain was still there to remind me that my breast would never be the same. They had to cut a chunk out of my body.  I hated my body. I hated crying but I couldn’t help it.  I was so lucky to not have cancer; why was I so sad?  Life for me could have been worse, but all I had to do was recover now.  My son was 4 at the time – going on 5. He knew Mommie was sick. He could no longer lay on me; our usual cuddle time had become associated with “your boo-boo!”  I began to feel inadequate as a mother. I couldn’t hold what I viewed as my baby, although really he was a big boy. He was starting  Kindergarten. I wanted life for him to be normal.

It was Fourth of July weekend; I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was still in a place of denial and pain. So I went back to the doctor where, finally, they discovered my pain source. There was nerve damage from the surgery.  They treated it with muscle spasm and nerve pain medicines.

A year later, things were still not better. I just toughed it out. I thought my family, my then boyfriend, friends, and supporters were tired of hearing me complain.  My mother would say, “Time out for all that crying!” Ha. It worked; I had to suck it up!  I had no other option. I missed a lot of work. I became stressed about bills, etc.   They finally decided to do a procedure called a nerve block. It blocked the nerves in my breast to my upper back, which was the pain source. At that point in treatment, I still had image issues. My body would never be the same and my boobs, as I call them, were uneven.  Living with constant pain does a number on you.  After two nerve blocks, the pain was still there, along with right side numbness. The pain was in my arm and breast, which this alarmed me.   I took another trip to the doctor, I believe this was the 100th or at least it felt like it!  She performed an ultrasound. There was another tumor at that point, which they called a neuroma, and nerves were wrapped around it.  The doctors suggested a mammogram.

I entered the Breast Clinic in fear and shame, thinking “I’m 26. What am I doing in this machine that is squeezing me to death?” I was being dramatic.  In reality, it did not hurt at all, it was just a little uncomfortable.  The only thing I could do was cry. None of my friends were going through this. There was no one in my family even close to my age to relate to. I would pray, “LORD, get me through this!!”  A couple of days later I received the phone call and this is what I heard, “Tiffany, we have found something and we need you to come in.”  I immediately panicked. Worry took over me even more so what I was already battling.  When appointment day came, I was told, “You have Early Stage Breast Cancer.” I was in complete shock. They said, “Don’t worry, we are going to take good care of you.” Little did I know the shock wouldn’t stop there. Before I had a chance to tell my then boyfriend (of one year, who had walked and held my hand through this whole process) what my terrible news was, I received a text from him that basically said we were done.  That day I view as one of the worst days of my life, along with one of the best. After it was all said and done, it made me stronger. It took a while to realize it but YES!, it happened.  How could I handle cancer and a break-up? They both crushed me. I couldn’t breath; it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Days after it felt like I was living in a trance. I was crying on top of crying; the emotions poured.  I kept it a secret for a while. At that time of my life, both were situations that left me feeling crushed and defeated.  HOW and WHY did this happen to me? My poor child watched innocently as his mommie fell apart. I just couldn’t see the end of the tunnel at that given moment.  Along with hating my body, I hated my life. The only reason I smiled was because of my son and my family, because I still didn’t know exactly what was going on with me.  They were no words to express the deep grief, and mental and physical pain, that I was dealing with.

Unsure of what to do next, I had three different opinions. Everyone was flowing in the same direction except one doctor.  I had my second lumpectomy. I began to spiral in to a deeper depression, and some of my friends were not there as I thought they would be.  I hated what I was going through. I couldn’t understand why God was making me go through this. I’m young and this was so much to handle. After one crazy round of radiation, I began to recover.  My mom is a minister, and she coached me through the process day and night.  I cried the most in that two year span than I had my whole life.  I had to learn to “TURN PAIN INTO POWER!!!”  I had to suck it up and keep it moving!  I had a son to raise! It used to break my heart because a 5 year old shouldn’t know what breast cancer is.  He took care of his mommie and he shouldn’t have had to.  He associated me with being sick all the time, because many days, I either had no energy or I was just down about life.  I begin to feel guilty; my child would be forever affected by this.  Even though I prayed consistently, listened to Joyce Meyer and TD Jakes, music therapy, and running, nothing was helping me take this brunt I felt at the time.  This was a very hard time for my son and me.  I felt like a zombie. I hated wearing a bathing suit. I didn’t want to look at my body even two years later.  “LORD, what am I going to do to feel better?”

A friend of mine from middle school had begun her own battle with head and neck cancer. She was and still is an amazing woman who touch many, many lives.  Jamie Berrier Crutchfield lost her fight in November. She left behind her precious baby boy and a wonderful devoted husband, along with an immense amount of support from family and friends.  It was at that time in my life that it clicked… “You have life Tiffany; she doesn’t!” Her impact on me was phenomenal. She taught us to “PRAY OUT LOUD!” Even on her bad days she would tell us to pray.  She never gave up the fight. She is a remarkable woman!

Approximately one year later, here I am. I am thriving; I am better than ever (even with some minor issues to keep on working on, but that’s life.)  After many bad days, tears, and pain, I learned a valuable lesson we can all take with us: GOD WILL NEVER GIVE YOU ANYTHING YOU CAN’T HANDLE. What may look like a train wreck can simply be a caution light to stop you and make you realize the value of yourself, your life, and to not take one minute of life for granted.  I am now closer than ever to God. My prayer life has changed and now I view life as a gift!  I regret ever questioning God but muddy water makes you wonder, where is the Holy water!

I have since been blessed beyond measure with meeting and working closely with the wonderful women of Komen Affiliate in Winston-Salem.  I have participated in four of the annual walk/runs.  I have volunteered many hours to give back and provide advocacy.  As I went through my journey, my life began to tremendously change. Friends changed, priorities changed, all that good stuff.  I met up with another cancer warrior, who walked and talked with me. We decided we needed to form a support group for young women because if you notice, there aren’t that many.  I didn’t know where to turn to, so I went to Komen.  I now serve as Co-Chair on the Young-Survivors and Co-Survivors group. I would like to extend a personal invitation to anyone interested in joining Komen’s support group and my new endeavor of life; to help change, impact, or motivate the life of someone else who has been diagnosed, or had a scare.

I’m going to leave you guys with this:

When life gives you a thousand reasons to cry, show life you have a million reasons to smile!!

To Do or Not To Do

Do you spend more time making and revising your To Do list than you do actually completing the tasks written on it? There are many days that I feel like “Managing my To Dos” is at the top of my list and I never get beyond that.

On those days, I can’t get motivated. All I do is sit back and wonder how I am responsible for so many tasks. The more I wonder, the more overwhelmed I become; until I get so anxious that I turn to something mindless, like TV or Facebook. After all, it’s easier to be “busy” with something than to actually be productive. Then, before bed, I shuffle items around on my To Do list in preparation of a “more productive” day to follow.

Thankfully, I was introduced to Glynnis Whitwer‘s book, I Used to Be So Organized. No more than a few pages in, I felt as if God had called Glynnis to write this book directly to me. A few days later, I was blessed with Chapter Six. Although the entire book is chocked-full of helpful hints, important information, and a mound of motivation… Chapter Six opened my eyes to the root of my problem.

I can’t say no.

Why?

There are more reasons than I care to admit:

  • I see every opportunity as a learning experience. I like to learn. I feel like the more knowledge I have, the easier things will be.
  • It looks good on my resume. The more work I do, the more options I’ll have professionally.
  • I don’t like to disappoint people, and I’m an overachiever. These two go hand-in-hand. I just want to do my best while helping others.
  • I’m searching for my purpose. Come on, don’t you wonder what God’s will is for you? What if I turn something down that is a crucial step in my life’s journey?

Glynnis discusses all of these concerns in her book – and shares detailed, personal examples – because she has struggled with saying no too! By understanding the emotions that cause my disarray, Glynnis helped me to see that my To Do list is, in fact, manageable.

The best thing about Chapter Six of I Used to Be So Organized is the importance of prioritizing responsibilities. Glynnis presents five key questions that we should all consider as we sit down to list out our tasks.

  1. What can only I do? These priorities are the first on the To Do list because only we, as individuals, can do them. For me, developing my faith and taking care of my health are two very important priorities that I have often let slip off my of list altogether. However, these should come first.
  2. What has God entrusted to me? In a nutshell, God has already blessed us with things that require responsibility: our homes, our families, our talents. Caring for and nurturing these things are significant projects.
  3. Am I a good steward of what I already have? Ouch! This one stepped on my toes. Do I manage money well? Do I care for my home? Do I love my family in the way that I should? Do I work effectively as I can? What is my attitude when God calls me to do something? Glynnis writes, “God is always watching to see how I’m doing with what He’s already given me. When He sees I manage things well, He entrusts me with more. When I’m neglectful, the opposite happens.” What a powerful statement to consider!
  4. What passion has God put in my heart? This is one that we need to really pray over to ensure we truly have a passion for it, and not a crush. Some examples include: encouraging others, being a writer, adopting, or volunteering.
  5. What has God asked me to do that I haven’t done yet? For me, one is running. I used to say I’d only run if something was chasing me. Part of me still holds true to that comment. That is why I struggle with considering the sport. After my father’s heart attack, though, I knew I needed to develop healthier habits. I prayed consistently for the Lord to guide me on a conducive path. I’m not sure what I was expecting for an answer, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for. . . RUNNING! I prayed harder. I heard “Run!” even louder. Running is one of the best exercises. I’ve read all about it. It would be very beneficial for me to start. Something is holding me back. The truth is am holding me back. So it was great to read this from Glynnis, “I once heard this statement, “Old orders are standing orders.” Meaning, if God asked you to do something…and didn’t revise the directions, He still expects you to do it. It’s never too late to be obedient.”

Isn’t it so much easier to sort through your giant list now? But I’m sure you’re thinking, What about all of the items that do not fall within these five categories? Well, Glynnis reminds us that once we have a clearer idea of priorities, we shouldn’t be surprised if it takes time to work things out. She warns us to be prepared to have to resign from certain things that we once committed to. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stop abruptly. It is okay to see a project out. But before taking on any new tasks, make sure there isn’t anyone else who can do the job. Pray about it. If God didn’t call you to do it or you don’t have the necessary passion for it, SAY NO!

Once priorities are in place, and old tasks [that we should’ve said no to, but didn’t] are cleared from our schedules, we must be smart with how we use our time. Beware of common time stealers like television, email, social media, gossip, shopping, and even exhaustion. If you need to check email or want to watch your favorite TV show, be sure to set aside time on your To Do list for these things. Once your time is up, walk away from the computer or turn off the television.

Glynnis writes, “For every yes, there is a no. As you say yes to bringing order to our schedule and home, identify where you need to say no. This effort will take time away from something else. It will take mental focus. It will take sacrifice.” Like many other things in life, prioritizing doesn’t come easy. It is a skill that requires practice and dedication. But I feel by following Glynnis’s advice, I can finally take back control of my To Do list! If you’re struggling in this area, I recommend picking up your own copy of I Used to Be So Organized.