Four words spoken by my doctor altered the course of my life, and three sentences uttered by a stranger helped me learn how to embrace it.
by Julie Hernandez
Father Time is in constant motion, always marching forward. But not on June 15, 2017. On this day, time stood perfectly still for me.
On this day, the hands of time came to an abrupt halt. The sand filtering through the hourglass ceased to fall. Four small words changed the entire trajectory of my life: “Julie, you have cancer.”
I think we believe, somehow, that it – cancer – will never happen to us. Cancer happens to other people, right? And, in my case, cancer was a constant on my radar. I had worked as a cancer registrar. I lost my Dad to cancer.
I was armed with cancer statistics, real life experiences, and what felt like too much information on cancer. Most importantly, I was vigilant as a fox when it came to monthly and annual exams. I was “in the know” where cancer was concerned, and it wasn’t going to come knocking on my door. Nope, not me.
But, on that sunny Arizona summer day, cancer did come knocking, uninvited, unwelcome, and unwanted. And I stared down the dark barrel of my own mortality. It was sobering, to say the least.
I believe this, though: We each absolutely have a choice in how we handle difficult news. We can choose to get back up, or we can stay down after the fall. And, trust me, there were times when I wanted to stay down.
But, on that sunny Arizona summer day, cancer did come knocking, uninvited, unwelcome, and unwanted. And I stared down the dark barrel of my own mortality.
My hope was renewed when fate placed an incredibly wise woman, a perfect stranger, in the chemo infusion chair next to me. I was about halfway through my six treatments and so systemically sick that I was considering not finishing my treatment regimen. This woman put her hand over mine, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Sweetie, we all go to dark places with this, and it’s OK to visit these spaces in our mind. It’s very normal, in fact. However, dear, don’t pack your bags and stay there.”
I’ve kept her wisdom close ever since, using it to push me through the difficult parts of my cancer journey. My treatments included not only chemo, but also a year of antibody therapy with Herceptin and Perjeta, a double mastectomy, multiple lymph node removals, six weeks of daily radiation treatments, and five months of physical therapy.
Her words helped me choose life through medical treatment. And time has definitely not stood still since.
I am no longer a Type A personality. I now live completely in the moment. I don’t have a five-year plan, but I have a today plan. Isn’t it interesting how a simple shift in outlook can absolutely change the way we approach our lives?
I feel as if I’ve been launched forward into a new life, a rebirth, a fresh start. I am incredibly grateful for each day when morning light streams through my window, coaxing me up and into a brand-new adventure. It really is a matter of perspective.
Julie Hernandez is a wife, mom of five, new grandma, and recent breast cancer survivor. Julie and her husband, Marty, live in Arizona with their children, Australian cattle dogs, and adopted mustangs. You can follow her journey at julescrewkickingcancer.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2019.