HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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Invisible scars (and tattoos)

As a result of my cancer treatment I now have five scars and three tattoos (of dots – yes I am THAT rock and roll!) The most amusing scar is the whole way round my belly button as my belly button was removed and repositioned during my last surgery. (I know!?!) The largest scar runs across my tummy from one hip right to the other. It is huge but to most people it is invisible as they will never see it (my bikini wearing days are well and truly over!)

When I was going through my cancer treatment I steered clear of the “cancer world”. I didn’t attend any support groups, I didn’t participate in any online forums and I didn’t read anything on the internet about research/what to eat or not to eat/survival stats. I found it all far to overwhelming and I couldn’t cope with any of that stuff at all.

It is only since finishing my treatment that I have allowed myself into this world. I have tried to stay on the positive side of things (the internet is a bit of a minefield with this stuff) and late last year I started volunteering for a breast cancer awareness charity. It was through this charity that I met up with a group of young women all of whom had a breast cancer (some even metastatic) diagnosis. This was my first ever meeting and time spent socially with a large group of others in similar positions as me and I was very nervous.

As I chatted with them my heart broke at each story. I welled up a fair few times during the day and at the end of the day, although it had been fun and lovely I was emotionally spent and really, really sad. I was so sad that each of these vibrant, amazing young women were walking such a hard path, a path that they hadn’t chosen, and a path that changes everything.

And that’s the thing… A cancer diagnosis does change everything… It changed my body, my plans for the future, for children, my career… Heck, even my holidays!

And even two years down the line (and for the rest of my life), I have to live with some of those changes (you will be pleased to know my holiday plans are now back to normal). And those are the real hidden scars of this trauma.

Like my physical scars, my emotional scars have undergone huge healing, both through God’s grace and the passing of time, but as my physical scars remain weak and numb, I have areas of emotional weakness and numbness that can’t be easily seen and that endure.

And the thing is… I know we all do! We have all experienced pain and carry invisible scars caused by these hurts and traumas, perhaps a long time ago, perhaps recently. And these scars can shape our behaviour, how we respond to situations and how we view the world in often quite profound ways, both positive and negative.

Despite this, we don’t always recognise these invisible scars, these weaknesses and hurts in others, and so we don’t always extend the grace that we would like to receive but are rather too quick to get angry or be offended by others.

This is a real challenge to me. I don’t want to ever become so obsessed with my own hurts and scars that I can’t see and empathise with others in theirs. I always want to remain soft-hearted, to acknowledge others’ pain, and to reflect the character of God described in Psalm 145:8.

To be kind.

To extend grace.

Always.

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But Mummy, I want to go to my old home!

Yesterday morning was that morning that I had been anticipating since we’d moved whilst all the while hoping it wouldn’t come. Yesterday morning Jonty was completely inconsolable and kept saying, “Mummy, I want to go to my old home”… the crying and this phrase (along with “I want my Daddy”, who was not at home as he was already at church) was repeated for about an hour… A very long hour!

I tried everything to calm him down…cuddles, food, getting cross, trying to rationalise, crying with him out of sheer desperation… But nothing seemed to work! My heart broke for his little two-year old heart that has understood that we have moved, but doesn’t quite understand why we can’t go back and see his little friends again. 😥

I felt utterly helpless in the face of his distress. This was not something that I could kiss better, as I usually do when he has hurt himself. This sadness we had to ride out together until it eventually passed (and he allowed himself to be consoled with two slices of Marmite toast).

But… It did pass and since then he has been fine, and in fact quite delightful!

I guess, in his own little way he was grieving what has been lost. As a parent, I now know that I need to recognise that he is grieving and allow it to happen, rather than trying get it to stop straight away, as grieving is important and the sadness will pass and he will move on to Marmite toast, or his helicopter toy or possibly an episode of Octonauts.

I love how children are able to express their emotions and haven’t learnt yet to suppress them to reflect how they think they “should” be feeling.

There is a huge lesson in this for me. When I was poorly, I spent a lot of energy trying to keep myself together, I think as a self-preservation tactic more than anything else. Grieving is exhausting, so although I grieved for what had been lost, I did so in quite a measured way (and to be honest I think there might be some residual grieving that still needs to happen).

I think part of the reason I only allowed, and still only allow, myself such “measured” grieving times is because I am aware there is a fine line between grief and self-pity and once crossed it is so easy to slip deep into the self-pity zone which is a place I most definitely do not want to end up! It ain’t pretty down in the self pity zone and it is hard to get out of there!!

But my little Jonty has modelled for me unhindered grief, that had to express itself, but that also allowed itself to be comforted, and this was such a helpful (if heartbreaking) thing for me to experience with him.

The Bible is full of beautiful imagery of how God is both our comfort and our refuge. So, I have nothing to fear when I need to grieve because I know that as I bring this grief to Him, I will be comforted. I know that I will be held and loved just as I hold and love my own child.

Psalm 91:4 is one of these beautiful images of comfort. I love the idea of finding a refuge in the shadow of God’s wing!

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