A Humbling Experience
by Lori L. Smart, lymphoma survivor
I had always been the one who made a meal for someone in need, or sent a card of cheer, or called, just to see how they were doing. My parents set that example for me early in life. But in 2007, when I was diagnosed at age fifty-five with Stage IV follicular lymphoma (a non-Hodgkin blood cancer) without any symptoms, my world of doing for others hit a brick wall.
Suddenly, there were friends and family everywhere wanting to do for me. I was overwhelmed. All I wanted was this cancer out of my body forever. That’s all. Food? Sorry, not hungry. Need a ride to the doctor? Nope! I can drive myself. (They won’t take my license away just because I have cancer, will they?)
People stopping by the house saw me at my worst with no makeup, thinning hair (and then no hair!) and teary eyes. Emotionally and physically, I was at the lowest point in my life.
Soon enough, I learned that the shoe was on the other foot. I had to begin letting others do for me what, under normal circumstances, I would have been able to do for myself. I had to also allow others to see me at my most vulnerable, and I needed to learn how to do this with grace, without embarrassment or shame. The person I was prior to this diagnosis was gone and I was determined to have the new “me” be a more improved model. It was very hard, but it did get easier as the treatments continued to weaken me. I saw how helping me made it easier for my friends and family to accept a situation which was totally out of their control.
But even though I was growing more needy, my desire to continue giving to others only grew more intense. I didn’t have the energy needed to make meals for the homeless as I had enjoyed before (heck, many days I couldn’t even cook for my own family) so I had to come up with new ways to fill the void.
I began to knit baby blankets for our Bundles of Love ministry at church. This kept my mind from wandering to the dark places of fear that are so prevalent during such a health scare. And the concentration that was needed to knit the intricate patterns helped with the dreaded “chemo brain.” My strength wasn’t the greatest but I was able to crank out five soft and cuddly blankets and each stitch was full of love.
I also made beautiful ribbon and pearl crosses, and as strength permitted, I wrote thank-you cards and enclosed one in each. I’ve been told that these crosses have brought great inspiration to those who received them.
But the biggest thing I could do for others was to pray for them. There was much time spent resting on the futon during the day and, as I didn’t want my feelings of F.E.A.R. (False Expectations Appearing Real) to overtake me, I chose to lift others up in prayer, which in turn, brought me great peace. I have felt the power of prayer from others and I know that it’s the only reason why I have recovered so well from treatments.
I felt the need to repay all my friends and family for all their loving deeds, kind words, mountains of cards, and most importantly, their prayers. Before I went to sleep each night, I said my gratitudes for the day and vowed to myself that when I regained my health, I would make it my life goal to “pay it forward” in ways that I hadn’t done before, like getting involved with new ministries and missions to reach a broader spectrum of people.
I have been humbled beyond belief during this journey. I have learned the graciousness of acceptance and how to allow people to love me for who I am.
Many good things have come from this horrible disease of cancer, many things that I wouldn’t have learned or experienced if I hadn’t been diagnosed.
Life will never be the same, and for me, that is better. I am not just a survivor. I am a thriver! Life, itself, feels fuller and more beautiful. Relationships are deeper, especially with my husband, and are more intense. Life is good because I have been humbled.
© 2009 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.