For months, Jason had been complaining about swollen lymph nodes in his neck. After nine months of going back and forth with his family physician and dentist, I had finally harassed him enough to go to a specialist. The appointment happened to be on Valentine’s Day. I thought nothing of it at the time but now, I’ll never forget it. February 14th is the day the doctor told Jason he thought he had cancer. Life stopped. We held our breath. On March 4th, they confirmed that he had Squamous Cell Carcinoma, P16+. It’s a type of head and neck cancer. He was devastated and I was in shock. Jason has never been a smoker and rarely does he drink. Who gets throat cancer and doesn’t smoke? Jason.
After weeks of tests, scans, biopsies, and a lot of prayers, we made the decision to move to New York City. Jason would receive treatment from “THE BEST” – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After seven long weeks in NYC, we happily returned to our dogs, family, and friends in Virginia.
While Jason’s cancer felt front and center in our life, it was simply the vehicle that brought us back to God. The real story, and inspiration, is how God impacted our lives, offering hope and healing for our mind, body, and soul. He not only brought Jason and I closer together, but also used “His people” to bless us, in so many ways. It was the kindness of family, friends and strangers that offered hope that we would get through his cancer journey. Not only did God bring us closer to each other, family and friends, but personally, I connected with God. I finally understood what having a relationship with Him really meant.
A friend once said to me that when God misses us, he finds a way to get our attention. I shared that he didn’t need to give my husband cancer to get my attention. In all actuality, I think he did, or some significant event that will stop you in your tracks. It’s odd to say this but I firmly believe Jason’s cancer healed me. Through Him, I recognized and acknowledged my addiction to work and need for perfection. I realized how I had been solely focused on pleasing others as a means of gaining acceptance and affirmation. It was hard to remove the perfectionist mask that I’d been wearing since childhood, but I was able to do so through reconnecting with God, my husband, family, friends and myself.
How did I do this? With time and specific strategies. Below are the strategies that helped me reconnect and reprioritize what’s truly important in life - God, myself, Jason, family and friends!.
Faith Brings Hope
How did I repair my relationships? At Jason’s recommendations, we started using the Bible app. In our 17 years of being together (6 married), we had never formally prayed together. Church doesn’t count! To be honest, I was uncomfortable and self-conscious but I told myself I was doing it to support Jason. Day after day, I got more comfortable. I felt great after listening to the Verse of the Day and completing the Daily Guided Prayer section. Day after day, it became routine, one that could not be missed! I could feel our relationship getting stronger as well as my conversations with God becoming easier and easier.
Did you know your brain loves rhythm? Rhythm, music in particular, has a regulating or calming effect on the body. Prior to Jason’s diagnosis, I listened to Christian music in the car but now I added music to my morning routine. I find listening and singing songs of praise to be uplifting and encouraging. Each song evokes feelings of inspiration and hope, making my brain and body happy! Today, I wake up to one of my favorite songs of praise playing in my head as opposed to worrying about my to-do list for work.
Finding Yourself in the Quiet Times
In today’s world, our senses are bombed by the lights and sounds of societal advancement. I’m old enough to remember a time without cell phones, IPads, and computers. When we had six channels to choose from and Sundays were spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and a handful of friends! Over the last 200 years, we’ve advanced leaps and bounds which is fantastic. However, our relationships with one another have been negatively impacted. Society has placed an expectation on doing more and having more. Life feels so fast. We are always in a hurry, rushing from one place to the next.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is great but there are times when you need to unplug and be still. It was in the times of quiet that I felt calm, relaxed and able to hear myself! To think. Taking time for yourself is critical for recharging yourself. When you are charged, you have the ability to connect with others; to give more of yourself.
How do you recharge? Some of my go-to’s include:
Finding quiet time in the morning, evening or both! Schedule and protect your time.
Rest for a moment. I especially love micronaps! During the day, I schedule time to lay down or simply sit in my office chair, eyes closed, for 15 minutes. I “come to” feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Practice deep breathing. Example: Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose. Hold for 7 seconds and then blow out through your mouth, with your lips pursed together, for 8 seconds. Do this 3-4 times in a row when feeling stressed, anxious, in between meetings or prior to going to bed.
Sitting in your favorite chair, rocking and allowing your mind to wander.
Journaling your thoughts. Free write whatever comes to your mind.
Curling up with a book.
Exercise - indoors or outdoors.
Spending time in nature
Doodling, coloring, drawing, crafting, knitting or painting.
In the end, do what feels good to your mind, body, and soul! If it makes you feel comfortable, do it! Remember, when you care for yourself, first, you can open yourself to fully connect with God, Others and Yourself!