Shaken, Not Stirred: The Gift of Cancer


Surgery happens Wednesday at noon.

I’m having a double mastectomy and the removal of most of my lymph nodes on my right side. Then there’s the partial reconstruction of my breasts. Somewhere in the middle of all of this cutting and stitching there will also be the insertion of my port, which will be used for the soon-to-come chemotherapy. Altogether I will be in surgery around six hours, and in the hospital for about two days.

Yep. Good times ahead.

Now that my anxiety has eased (I always do better when I have time to process big things) I find myself contemplating one of the counterintuitive aspects of cancer: that there is good that comes from cancer.

(My warning for this post is simply that I will be mushy, hokey and completely sentimental. Jump out now or deal with it.)

I know I am blessed. I am surrounded near and far by an incredible army of love warriors who protect my family and me and I have never taken it for granted. These are people who are each special in their own way. Their lives are filled with challenges and busy-ness and yet they have taken the time and effort to reach out and hug me in so many different ways.

One of the frustrations I often hear from those closest to me is that they wish they could help me. They feel helpless in the face of my diagnosis and treatment. My husband. My kid. My closest friends. My siblings and parents and other family. They have ALL said this to me recently.

I tell each of them that this is bullshit, that they are not helpless in helping me. I know that what they really mean is that they want to fix me, and they can’t. It’s up to my doctors, myself and God to fix me. Doctors have the skill and experience. I have the faith and the follow-through. And God, well God has all of fix-it power.

But that doesn’t make my loved ones helpless. Not. At. All.

Maybe they can’t wield the scalpel or write the prescriptions, but these incredible people are in my life every day listening to me, cheering me up and on, making sure I never fall so low with my fear and worry that I forget the absolute joy found in a simple smile.

Sometimes their love is delivered in a card, or a text or quick phone call. Sometimes, like with my husband, it’s taking me to every single stinking doctor appointment–and there are so many now I’ve lost count–without complaint. And when he holds me when I get scared and need to cry, telling me that I will be okay because there’s no way I’m going to leave him alone with our 15-year-old, I know I’m loved.

Love is having my small staff from our magazine work hard to take as much off of my plate as possible so I don’t have to put what little energy I have into making sure our magazine still publishes, all while sending me cute, funny, snarky texts and messages to make sure I keep laughing.

Then there are my close friends’ kids, who I watched grow up and become amazing adults, sending me gifts and flowers to cheer my day.

And then my daughter, who insists that she will stay with me overnight in the hospital because I shouldn’t be left alone, even though I know I will be drooling in my sleep all night from just getting out of surgery.

My New York sister wants to fly to Northern California to cook up a storm with my other sister (NY sis is a chef) and then drive it all down to me for my recovery. I’m holding that option for chemo days.

Love is when my co-workers stick their heads in my office door every day to check on how I’m doing, and then they give me hugs, lots of hugs. A few of them have been suddenly drafted to hold my hand as I’ve received bad news over the phone, which seems to happen while I’m at work more often than not, and then they thank me for allowing them to be with me!

Support is the family made up of teachers, administrators and staff at my daughter’s high school who constantly check on her, listen to her, hug her, give her the gift of grace when she needs more time to finish an assignment because she spent the day and night before caring for me, and then they do the same for me.

It’s my doctors praying with me at appointments and surgeries, asking for God’s helping hand for both me and them. It’s all of them telling me over and over that I will be okay, that this will not kill me. At this point, even if it’s not 100 percent true, I don’t want to know, because when everything is darkest, THIS is what keeps the light shining for me.

It’s Samantha’s cheer team putting together a recovery care-package for me to use and enjoy in the coming weeks, with special love notes from her coaches. It’s a staff member at school creating a locket with Sam’s input for me to wear with love. It’s all of my mom friends who are transporting her to and from her crazy schedule needs because we’re tied up at doctors.

Love comes to me in the form of messages, likes and emoticons on Facebook that never stop and always encourage. Then there are my oldest and some of my dearest friends too far to help in person who send me funny memes and jokes and videos almost every day. And what about those people in my life who are sicker, or poorer, or sadder than I am who still take the time to tell me that everything will be okay, and mean it?

There are yummy meals left on our doorstep, flowers filling our home with beauty and prayers lifting our lives to God’s care. Some of those prayers were offered when two prayer quilts were made for me recently, by members of different churches in two different states. I look at each yarn tied and know that someone, some stranger, took the time and effort from his or her day to wish me and mine well.

It’s the BatGirl cape that a once-casual and now forever-friend from Facebook made for me because she knows how much I love BatGirl. I draw a lot of strength from BatGirl–it’s a kid thing for me. When things were bad in my home growing up, I would become BatGirl and protect the world. Now BatGirl protects me.

It’s all of these moments and hundreds more I’ve had over the past 58 days that I would never trade for anything.

Not even my cancer.

Not even my cancer.

We’ve cried a lot over the last weeks, but it’s not always been from pain and fear. Many of these tears, maybe even most of them, have been cried with joy and humility. I don’t get it, why all of these people take the time to love me and mine. But I also know that I don’t have to get it. I just have to say thank you and mean it. And I do. People are amazing. I can never repay what we’ve received. All I can ever hope to do is pay it forward.

15 thoughts on “Shaken, Not Stirred: The Gift of Cancer

  1. Hoping for the surgeon’s steady hands, the nurse’s compassion, the pathologist’s thoroughness, your family’s strength, and your full recovery. Oh, and your friends’ ability to help while not saying stupid stuff because they are desperate for you to get well, but don’t know what to do or say. Hoping for the best outcome. Thinking of you.

  2. Wow amazing attitude, and I believe that is big on the recovery road, stay strong, thinking of you and sending good wishes and positive thoughts

  3. I have a feeling you’ve paid it forward many times already and will continue to do so. Over the years, I’ve heard people say something like cancer was good for them and wondered why they would say that. As I read your posts, I’m learning that it brings out the best in many of the people who know, or know of, a cancer victim. As always, best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  4. Oh my goodness Jake… I’ve been out of your Shaken, Not Stirred loop for just a bit and so much has happened. It certainly seems like you’ve definitely got lots of people who have your back. You’ve made people want to care for you because of who you are and how you’ve always been. Surgery will change your body, but not you. Here’s hoping and praying for better phone calls and lab reports in the days, and weeks, and months ahead. Sending my love.

  5. You are an amazing woman and God has truly blessed you. You know you are loved and cared for. And the great physician will pull you thru this. Your faith will sustain you while your friends and loved ones hold you. And God will never ever let you go, He will hold you in the palm of His hand and comfort you under His wings. Amen. You go, batgirl!
    hugging you tightly with all my heart, and praying for healing and continued peace, Sharon

  6. Praying for you, Jake. Thanks for your share. It’s a gift to us.
    I don’t believe, as some do, that “everything happens for a reason.” But I do believe we can find meaning in everything that happens. You’re showing the way.

  7. Thank you again for taking the time to write these posts I am so thankful that you are a person of faith and that you are letting your light shine, even through your challenges. I will continue to pray for you and your family and am loving all of you from afar.

  8. I hope and pray all went well today and that you are resting and getting stronger. We pray for you every night. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, joys and fears with all of us.

  9. In the dark days we can better see the light. Cancer for me was learning I was loved and I can see you are the same. Being in the quilt community means you are in loving care always with friends both near and far. Best of everything to you and one moment at a time…take only what you can and let the rest just pass…that is how it works. love, kathy doughty

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