When Breast Cancer Came to My House
(I was asked to write my breast cancer story for our local paper as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. The following is just a little piece of 2016 in the Harms house. It’s a bit longer than my typical blog posts, but I am publishing it as it was printed in the paper.)
The hardest part is telling your kids.
Watching your child navigate heartache is painful. But when you are the one who causes the heartache, it is almost unbearable.
We sat in front of the fireplace, Corey and I. It was January 21. Two days after my biopsy.
Carter leaned against the living room wall. Owen against a couch. Lewis beside him. Our two teenagers and the 9-year-old who will always be my baby.
There was a surreal, fear-tinged atmosphere surrounding that moment.
The boys knew about my biopsy.
They knew there was something not quite right with my body.
But they were as ill-prepared for the blow of the diagnosis as I was.
That diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer. Corey and I had allowed ourselves 24 hours to process the news, and now it was time to bring the boys into this undesirable circle.
I don’t think I could have physically spoken my diagnosis to the boys. As I watched them quietly brace themselves for whatever news was coming, the pathway from my vocal cords to my lips grew tight and suddenly there was not enough air in the room to form words. So I just leaned on Corey hoping somehow that his strength would seep into me. And praying that his words would not get lost like mine.
“We got the biopsy results back, and your mom has breast cancer.”
The world stopped for a minute while we watched our boys’ insulated lives bust wide open.
Tears don’t often flow freely at our house, but that night they did.
I saw the fear in my boys’ eyes and more than anything I wanted to take it away.
It’s going to be okay. Breast cancer is treatable. The doctors will fix this and then we’ll get right back to normal, is what I wanted to say. But the truth is I was drowning in fear myself.
Fear of the unknown. Because all I had at that point was a name for my tumor. I didn’t know if it had spread beyond the lump I could feel under the skin of my breast. I didn’t know what my future looked like. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Death? I just knew that something was growing inside of me that was not supposed to be growing inside of me, and I was helpless to stop it.
Fear can do crazy things to your mind if you let it. It can take you down paths you don’t want to be on. And there were days that all of my energy was spent fighting ugly thoughts.
But even as those thoughts bombarded me, one scripture verse kept coming to the forefront of my mind.
“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It was from Isaiah, and I had memorized it during high school to get me through the jitters I always felt before the gun went off at a track meet. Who knew at that time how much more I would need those words at 40 than I did at 15.
At first, I don’t know that I fully believed all the words of verse that played on repeat in my mind. But the more I took the fear and covered it with the fear not the more I trusted that God knows what he’s doing.
That he wasn’t looking down from heaven saying, “Oh shoot, I screwed that one up. Kim wasn’t supposed to get that tumor. Oh well. She’s got it now, I guess we’ll go with it.”
I think what he wanted was for me to learn to trust him in the hard stuff. And by watching me trust him, he wanted my kids to learn that they can trust him as well.
The Path Through the Treatment
The boys survived that night in the living room. They worked their way through the fear. And they helped me make it through a really tough season.
After my bilateral mastectomy, they (along with Corey) became my physical strength. They helped me out of my recliner. They opened my refrigerator door. They refilled my water bottle. The adjusted my footstool.
And they graciously kept being themselves as well. They still yelled at the Xbox when their games weren’t going right. They still ate their way through a million boxes of cereal. They still wrestled on the living room floor, and they still got passionately involved in viewing Cyclone basketball games on TV. Together, we found an “unnormal” normal. And we grew to have a deep appreciation of each other and our time together.
While the boys helped me out and worked through the cancer in their own way, Corey was doing the hard things too. He came home at lunchtime to help me shower. He blew my hair dry and helped me get dressed. He emptied my drains, and he told me I was beautiful when my scars told me I was ugly.
On the Other Side
We are on the other side of this cancer thing now. I spent a couple nervous weeks after surgery waiting to be informed whether or not I would need chemo. (I didn’t. Hallelujah!) And because of the type of surgery I chose, radiation wasn’t necessary either. I am now healed and released to a 10-year prescription of an estrogen inhibitor (my cancer likes estrogen) and bi-annual appointments with my oncologist.
I can look back and see clearly that even in a disease like breast cancer, beauty can be found. I have grown in ways that would not be possible without that significant bump in my road.
I saw God remain trustworthy when my circumstances were out of control.
I gained so much compassion for those with cancer. When I spot someone whose hair has been stolen by chemo, my heart is immediately drawn to them.
I witnessed my boys maturing right before my eyes. They made it through those broken hearts. And I am confident that the next time they are exposed to cancer (and I don’t doubt there will be a next time) they will have a compassion and understanding that would have been impossible to achieve without walking through it with me.
Cancer was the hardest thing our family has ever done together and most definitely not something we would ever choose. But in ways I have a hard time putting words to, it was also the most beautiful.
(First published in the Tri-County Times and Nevada Journal.)