3 Unexpected Gifts Breast Cancer Gave Our Family

Photo: courtesy of the author
lessons learned from cancer

October is a huge month for our family. Raising awareness and celebrating the survivors of breast cancer throughout this month is near and dear to our heart.

I am a Stage 3 HER2-positive breast cancer survivor, enduring six surgeries and ALL the side affections possible — including tubes in my eyeballs for tear duct surgery. You know that annoying feeling when you have something in your eye? How a tiny speck feels enormous? Add a couple of big tubes that you can see and that annoying feeling skyrockets.

HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) breast cancer occurs when the HER2 gene mutates and causes an uncontrolled increase in what is normally a necessary process that promotes cell growth.  HER2-positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread than other breast cancers.

RELATED: How Breast Cancer Changed My Life — For The Better

Susan G. Komen and other research teams combined their brilliant minds to combat this fast-growing cancer and developed several drugs just a decade before my diagnosis that saved my life.

On the one hand, I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, and yet I wouldn’t erase cancer from our story, either because our family was changed for the better.

Social media can make it look like everyone is always happy, always beautiful, and the kids are always smiling — never fighting. When you live through a trauma, you know for certain that is not true.

Everyone is carrying some type of burden. The almost five-year journey it took for me to feel better after my cancer battle made us all more aware of that than ever before.

And we are now convinced that we received 3 unexpected gifts from cancer:

1. We learned to accept generosity from others.

We are “doers.” We were used to giving not receiving. Maybe you are, too. Someone offers and you tell them you’re “okay” or “it’s all good.”

Well, we hit a point where it wasn’t necessarily all good. I was so sick from chemotherapy and Scott and I were both still working, and for some reason, the boys, three- and five-years-old at the time of diagnosis, still wanted to be fed and needed care and energy.

We needed help. And so many, many, many people hopped in to do what we just didn’t have the strength to do.

Our sister-in-law coordinated 188 meals to our house. Enough meals to feed our hungry bunch for a year and a half! People helped out in all kinds of practical ways. Occasionally, someone from our church would swing by with a big tub of Legos and play with the boys so Scott could take a run or take care of me. Friends mowed our lawn, made more meals, and Cade’s preschool teacher even brought her sewing machine into school to help him sew a leopard print fleece hat for his mother. People are so thoughtful and kind.

We learned in this new, pink season of our life to just receive. We let go of the notion that giving is reciprocal. You give me something — I give you something. Nope. We learned to accept generosity with a gracious and thankful heart.

2. We learned to give hugs more often and tell people you love them —  LOTS.

You never know what tomorrow may bring. So cancer reminded us to give more hugs and tell people how much we love them.

Scott became that person that hugs you past the point of that polite patting on your back. You know what I’m talking about. There is a standard, polite length for a hug — and he hugs just a little extra longer than that these days.

When our oldest son, Cole, has his football buddies over, I tell them I love them.

At first, they thought it was weird, but now I think they’d miss it. They know I care about them. They know I see them and value their presence in our life.

If you go through something like this it helps put things into perspective. Do the toys on the floor matter? Does every school grade need to be fantastic? Do they need to make varsity? I think regularly now, “Am I shaping my men to be better men by barking at them or telling them I love them?” I tell them, “I love you” a lot!

Saying “I love you” a lot has transformed our family. It’s free. It’s powerful. And you don’t want to wait for tomorrow to regret not saying it today.

3. We look for opportunities to celebrate our victories.

It doesn’t have to be something huge in your life, but find something to celebrate. We think there is real value and joy in celebrating the big and little victories in life. We celebrate silly stuff and serious stuff, but we are always on the lookout for something, anything to celebrate.

After nine months of chemotherapy, Scott planned a cancer-free fiesta. He planned it all. Invitations to our home, cleaning, catering, and 250 balloons on our ceiling.

RELATED: I Have Cancer, And It's Teaching Me How To Be Happy.

We went every Friday night to the On The Border restaurant in Colorado Springs and became friends with Patrick and the employees there. And they put on "Fiesta for the Cure,” raising money in honor of my fight. And they catered the “small” celebration at our house that started out as 75 people and turned into 175 friends in our home celebrating at a fantastic fiesta!

Lives get busy, and it’s easy to forget to celebrate. But we are trying harder to have more of it at our house. Are we great at it? No. But we are trying harder to celebrate the victories. What can you celebrate?

We are so grateful for the many miracles we saw along Bethany's cancer journey, for our faith, for the people in our life, for Bethany’s recovery, and for our now very-tall-not-so-small red-headed boys.

We’d encourage you to get involved with a charity that helps others, as well. 

Hear more about: how I found out I had cancer, what the boys said, and the unrelated surgery I needed before all the cancer surgeries even started. 

RELATED: 13 Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Need To Know About (5 Of Which You Can Change)

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