My name is Erika Young. Two years ago at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. I was shocked because I did not have a family history of breast cancer, I was “too young”, and I considered myself to be a pretty healthy individual. I had pain in my breast which I thought was a pulled pectoralis muscle. A month after the pain started, I felt a small lump deep in my breast tissue. I was soon diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I immediately had a port placed and began chemotherapy that would last for 4 months. A month after finishing chemo I had a double mastectomy and started the reconstruction process. Two months after surgery I underwent radiation for 2 months. The subsequent 5 months I struggled with constant infections in my implants which they suspected was from the damage from radiation. Due to the infections, I had to have my reconstruction removed and now have severe scarring across my chest from all the radiation and surgeries. Cancer and its treatments broke me down emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I went from being a very self-sufficient, independent woman to someone who could not hardly bathe herself, take care of her children, or perform simple tasks. I was unable to handle my own emotions, much less comfort and be emotionally available to my kids and husband. I was definitely at the lowest point of my life and the year seemed to drag by so slowly. I found out shortly after my mastectomy that the chances of the cancer coming back are high due to aggressiveness of cancer and its resistance to chemotherapy. The year was filled with many disappointments, frustrations, and unexpected turns. I was in survival mode and just did what the doctors told me to do. I was so happy to get through with treatments and surgeries and “get my life back”. I did not have any clue that the most difficult season of my life was about to begin…..Living with cancer “on my heels”.
For the past year I have been processing what happened and starting to rebuild my body and my life. Upon diagnosis I figured that after I was done with all treatments and surgeries that my life would go back to the way it was. That was so far from the truth! The fact is that my life will never be the same. I will not only be physically fighting cancer from coming back the rest of my life but I will forever be facing the fear that cancer brings. My biggest fear I daily face is leaving my children without a mom. I am daily reminded of the war my body has been through as I get dressed in the morning, look in the mirror at my mangled chest and decide if I am going to wear my prosthesis breasts. I really miss my breasts. They were soft pillows to my children when I held them, they pleased my husband, and they prevented the food that fell out of my mouth sometimes from landing in my lap. Saying the pledge of allegiance with my hand on my chest and hugs do not feel the same without them. Moving past cancer has also been difficult because I have young “breast” friends I have met on my breast cancer journey that have died or are dying from breast cancer. They are leaving children without moms and husbands without wives. Not only is it painful to lose friends, but their battle reminds me cancer is not messing around and that is not easily silenced. The “sting” of cancer didn’t leave when I got a clean PET scan, like I hoped.
The fact is that cancer was the worst and best thing that has ever happened to me. I would much rather move on in my life without my breasts and with cancer “on my heels”, than ever go back to the way my life was before I had cancer. Before cancer I took my life for granted. Before cancer moments escaped me. Before cancer I took life too serious. Before cancer I took myself too seriously. Before cancer I couldn’t sympathize with a person with health issues. Before cancer fear ruled my life. Before cancer the “what ifs …” kept me from pursuing my passions. Before cancer I did not know in my deepest places of my heart if God could be trusted. Before cancer I struggled for control in many aspects of my life. Before cancer I rushed all the time. Before cancer my life was defined by my performance. Before cancer I defined myself and others more by the physical than the content of character. Before cancer I stressed the small things. Before cancer I was a mess and didn’t even know it! Thank God that cancer came and left me with a more beautiful life.
The difficulties in life are painful and hard. Sometimes we cause them and sometimes we are just random victims to life’s pains. The truth is that either way, those hard times have potential to be where you find the most beautiful things about God, yourself, and others. They have the potential to build a strength and resolve inside you that will bring life to you and those around you. I look back now and see God began using a series of difficulties in my life long ago to give me what I was going to need to face the journey I have been on in the past few years. The beauty that has come from difficulties cannot be bought or replicated. It is very personal. It comes from pain, tears, sweat, and brokenness. It is priceless.
Written by: Erika Young
You can follow Erika on her blog Beautifully Undone.
This story appeared first on Real Imprints.