96: A New Life

96: A New Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

A New Life

If you don’t know what’s meant by God, watch a forsythia branch or a lettuce leaf sprout.

~Martin H. Fischer

Fifty years old! Other women dread turning fifty, but I was joyful. I wanted to sing and dance and celebrate life. Fifty was my age, but I was really celebrating thirteen years of actual living.

The doctor had said, “You have cancer,” on my thirty-seventh birthday. I looked at Rick, my husband, who looked frightened. I reached out and took his hand. The doctor told us I had a grapefruit-size tumor. The doctor’s assistant scheduled appointments for me to see a radiation oncologist and chemo oncologist.

The doctor advised me to quit work. The store I managed was also a redemption center. It was dirty and involved physical labor. He said I couldn’t be in that environment since I would have a weakened immune system. I didn’t like this particular job, but when I accepted it we still had two teenaged children to support and the money was good. I was a workaholic. What was I going to do if I wasn’t working? I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. Little did I know this illness would eventually teach me to sit and relax.

Both oncologists told me the type of cancer I had was “unusual for someone as young as you, and a cancer we don’t know much about.” The prognosis wasn’t positive, but positives did result from the cancer.

One positive was realizing just how much Rick loved me. Prior to surgery, the doctor made me an appointment with a colostomy specialist. I didn’t want a bag hanging from my side. The thought of it upset me more than having cancer, treatment and surgery. Rick took my shoulders, looked directly into my eyes and said, “I don’t care if you have a colostomy. I don’t care about any scars you may have. I just want you with me.”

Another positive result is harder to explain. It was a rebirth. I had always been a perfectionist who had to control every aspect of my life. I was a take-charge, independent person. I never asked anyone for help nor did I expect help from anyone. I constantly worried, since no one can actually control everything. I was working, married and plugging along with day-to-day life. I was going through the motions more than actually living, but I didn’t realize it. I felt like I was constantly searching, but didn’t know what I was looking for.

Rick planted flower seeds in a window box so I could see it from the couch. Neither of us had taken time to plant flowers before. After I saw green sprouts grow through the brown dirt, I began going outside every day to check their growth.

One sunny day I was home alone. I opened the front door, stepped out and stopped in my tracks. Beside our driveway stood a towering, full green tree. It looked so beautiful, I said, “Wow!” We had lived in this house five years, but I had been too busy, too preoccupied, to see this tree. It was exciting and fresh.

We began buying peanuts for a blue jay that appeared at our house. Perhaps he was always nearby, I just hadn’t noticed. Life became joy! Mentally and emotionally, I felt at peace and ready to face whatever came my way. I didn’t want to leave Rick but accepted the fact earthly death could be soon. Daily, I thanked God for opening my eyes to see and for opening my heart to feel pure joy. Feeling this new joy made my life complete. I no longer searched. All burdens were lifted from my soul. I had received a treasure, love and joy, which made life peaceful and beautiful.

I became weak. My weight dropped from 125 pounds to 99 pounds. As I lay on the couch too weak to move, I prayed to God, “Your will be done.” Sometimes I would add, “If it be your will, please just let me live to our tenth wedding anniversary.” It was eight months away.

It was difficult at times, but I made the best of the situation. I talked to the nurses and doctors in the oncologists’ offices as if making new friends. Due to the newfound joy inside me, I tried to have a smile for everyone. This baffled the nurses and doctors. I heard comments such as “You are always smiling.” It was said more like a question than a statement.

Prior to surgery, the doctor told Rick and my sister it would take about four hours. They became worried when four hours turned into five hours and then six hours. We discovered later the surgery took longer because the cancer had spread to the corner of my liver and lymph nodes of the liver and stomach.

The prognosis wasn’t good even after the chemo, radiation and surgery (no colostomy needed). The doctors all believed the cancer would reappear within a year, but it only took a short time.

Three weeks after surgery, I had a complication and was readmitted to the hospital. During this stay, a CAT scan showed four new metastases on the liver. The doctor wrote in his report, “Outlook for extended survival is not great in view of the progressive liver disease.”

Rick took me down south to see all our family members. We stopped to see sights along the way, and I held onto his arm to walk. The six weeks of traveling were full of love and laughter, but we both knew this might be our last adventure together.

Then, with no treatments or medications, the liver disease disappeared. It no longer showed on any tests. One of the oncologists began calling me “a walking miracle.”

Yes, I am fifty years old, and we celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary last month. I’ve had thirteen years of experiencing joy now. Despite gray hairs, wrinkles, scars and some flab, life is beautiful! I no longer simply live, no longer search, but see the beauty all around me.

~Sara Schafer

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