Debbie Church’s Battle with Breast Cancer

Debbie Church

Dick and I fell in love over 32 years ago and have never quite gotten over it! We have had some interesting moments, but we have made it through each challenge. Love always finds a way.

Unexpectedly, our lives changed in an instant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2008. We knew life would never be the same. Life is like that box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

Cancer has taught us so many things. Many are bad, but some are good. When we lived in Florida, horrible thunderstorms often rolled in during the late evening hours. Dangerous flashes of lightning and torrential rain reminded us of the awesome power of nature. But just as soon as it began, it passed, leaving a renewed freshness in the air. For just a few moments, it actually felt cool outside. That is unusual in sunny Florida.
Cancer is like those thunderstorms—one after another. But just when you think it will never stop raining, the skies clear and the evening seems fresh and renewed. We cherish those moments. Yes, cancer has been mostly negative, but there are some good lessons we have learned while riding out the storm.

Cancer affects every portion of your life; communication, eating, your occupation, your children and your sex life. It is reasonable to reflect on all these issues either with your physician, your nurse or an oncology counselor. Also, Cancer Survivors’ Network offers courses or seminars on numerous issues facing survivors and their caregivers. Support groups are another arena where patients can share their concerns. Many patients have a certain sense of anonymity if they share their stories on a blog. Try to seek help from any source that suits your personality.

My husband loves to climb mountains. I know it is dangerous and I try to talk him out of it, but he loves it. I have to let him go. He always tells me that the view from the top is worth the climb. I never believed him until I faced my own mountain.

The mountain toward recovery was high, almost too high for me to climb. The chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and hundreds of other difficulties made me so weak that even the thought of climbing was inconceivable. Most of the time I was much too tired to even think about it. Honestly, I just didn’t want to. But so many people were depending on me and supporting me. It was amazing that some of the people I was really close to withdrew from me. Others I barely knew would come to help. Sometimes I didn’t even feel like having help. I wouldn’t answer my phone or even the doorbell. I agreed with the counselor inside me that I could establish those boundaries to protect myself. We utilized Caring Bridge, a website you can update with your various treatments, your daily events and needs and keep others informed about your progress. This was a tremendous help for my precarious limitations. It was a wonderful way to keep everyone informed.

However, there were those days when I desperately needed the encouragement of Dick and many others. I took one step at a time. I slipped and fell so often. I got up, only to fall again and again. Each time I got up, the summit looked closer. That gave me hope. With each passing day, I got higher and higher, stronger and stronger. And soon, I could see the top. I gathered all the strength I could muster and took one more step. Dick was right. What a view! I was on top and thrilled it was over! But I pray I will never have to climb another one.

After your treatment, most of your family and friends feel that normalcy has returned. Meals will be cooked again; the laundry will be done, with fresh underwear nicely folded on the bed; and even, “Hey…you can go back to work. Our bank account has sure taken a beating in the past few months.” But the sad thing about all of this is the fact that you have reached a new normal. You may have fatigue, depression, fear of recurrence and anxiety. Now it seems as though everyone has abandoned you, even your own family. Perhaps it is mainly your own family. They desire a sense of normalcy to return and become a part of their life again.

But cancer patients have a lot they can teach everyone around them;
We have learned to celebrate the good days.
We have learned not to sweat the small stuff.
We have learned to trust God more.
We have learned that it’s okay to cry.
We have learned to never stop climbing.
We have learned to love more deeply

About Debbie Church, BA
Debbie Church, BA in Psychology and History, Salem College, and a M.Div. from Southeastern Seminary Wake Forest and a Certified Cancer Services Navigator has worked in oncology for over 20 years. She is currently employed at St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta as Coordinator of the Cancer Survivors’ Network and Patient Navigator. She has worked also as Director of Support Services and Chaplain at Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers, Atlanta Medical Center and various hospitals in the Southeast. She has spoken at many cancer events including GASCO Conferences here in Atlanta and other hospice and oncology centers in the southeast. She was a contributing author for Thomas Nelson’s Women’s Study Bible as well as publishing a book in 2010 with her husband, Don’t’ Ever Look Down; Surviving Cancer Together.

Related Resources

Cancer Survivorship – Living Beyond Cancer
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Prepare for Life After a Diagnosis of Cancer

American Cancer Society Resources

How to Talk with Your Children about Cancer

Cancer Pain Management Video and Guidebook


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