“If you choose, struggles are for you, not against you,” is a belief I didn’t always hold.
I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma when I was 18 years old. A very unusual malignancy that targets young cancer and completely sucks cancer is also known as bone cancer.
Each year, approximately 16,000 new instances of pediatric cancer are discovered. This equates to 1% of all cancer diagnoses. Approximately 450 children (ages newborn to 19) are diagnosed with osteosarcoma out of 16,000 cases.
Oh, and I failed to mention that I was 6 months pregnant, married, and had a 10-month-old kid when I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was already in the unusual group due to my osteosarcoma, but being pregnant made things considerably more difficult.
My physicians urged me to have the pregnancy terminated. They claimed they couldn’t find any evidence of a healthy baby being born to a mother who had chemo in the first or second trimester.
Termination was not an option, I told my doctors. Chemo would have to be postponed until after she was born. They told me there was no way I could wait. It may be too late by then.
My osteosarcoma was high grade, which means it grows and spreads swiftly if left untreated. The difficulty with this was that if it spread to my lungs, my 5-year survival chances would decrease from 60-80 percent to 40%, and if it spread elsewhere, it would plummet to 15-30 percent.
A mother’s instincts to protect her child are strong no matter how young she is.
All I could think about was saving the life of my unborn child. My doctors were only concerned with saving my life. Through the fog of it all, I heard them say that I had to pick between my already-born daughter and the one who was still growing inside me. Because selecting Elly meant choosing Elly over Fayth, and choosing Elly over Fayth meant choosing Elly over my life.
It was up to me to make a difficult choice. How was I ever going to make a decision? What type of mother could possibly make such a decision?
I’m fortunate in that I’m suborned and a warrior. Tell me no, I can’t, it’s impossible, and I’ll show you that you’re wrong.
With my refusal to compromise on abortion and the physicians’ backs against the wall, they informed me that if I gave Fayth a few weeks to reach her third trimester, she would have a decent chance of surviving, but they couldn’t give me any guarantees or tell me what chemo would do to her.
I agreed to therapy after speaking with my mother and keeping all three of us in mind, but only after Fayth reached her third trimester. Thankfully, it was only three weeks away.
It seemed like the only reasonable way to give us all a fighting chance at the end of this was to be standing together.
Elly would have a mother, Fayth would have a chance at life, and I would live.
I had a feeling Fayth would be fine! But that if she had any problems, we would take care of them.
On 9/11/2001, after a 3-week waiting period, I was set to be admitted to MDA. Yes, the day when our country came to a halt. The day that forever altered our country and the lives of so many people. We were being attacked that day. That was a day we’ll never forget!
My chemo was postponed till the next day due to those heinous incidents.
While the rest of the world was glued to their televisions and our country prepared to go to war, I was under attack and preparing for the most important battle of my life.
My husband left me after the first round of treatment. I have no grudges against him. Despite the fact that I was heartbroken at the time. His family informed me he couldn’t see the girl he cares about die.
Even though I understood what he was saying, it didn’t make me feel any better. He, too, was a young man, and I knew that expecting him to look after me was a tall order. In the face of adversity, he did the best he could. I’ve filed for divorce…
My baby was born 6 weeks early after two more rounds of chemotherapy. They intended to take her as soon as possible, with as few hassles as possible.
She was born at 3lbs 10oz, screaming, with a head full of dark brown hair, while I was laying on the bed like Mr. Clean! This was interpreted positively by the doctors, my family, and myself. This meant she was a fighter and will be fine!
While she lingered in the NICU for a few weeks to put some flesh on her bones, I returned to MDA’s purple floors for one more round of chemo before the 13-hour limb salvage surgery.
Christmas was approaching, and I was still recovering from surgery in the hospital. The doctors didn’t believe I’d be able to return home for Christmas, but I promised them that I would.
They mistook me for someone who didn’t comprehend what they were saying, when in fact I did.
They couldn’t understand what I was saying. ‘I am leaving this hospital with or without your permission so that I can spend Christmas with my two girls at home,’ I told them.
They reluctantly let me go on Christmas morning!
We brought in 2002 with even more treatments and all the possible adverse effects.
Each chemo had its own set of complications. I had kidney failure, low blood pressure, and excruciating mouth sores that prevented me from eating or drinking, resulting in considerable weight loss and dehydration, which necessitated visits to MDACC’s emergency room.
When I did eat or drink, I preferred taco bell and red fruit punch. My mother didn’t enjoy the crimson stains on the carpet from my vomiting, and I would never, ever recommend that diet to anyone, especially someone who is sick as I was!
I had many blood transfusions and felt like a brand new lady! Because of how amazing they made me feel, I secretly hoped that every time they ran my blood count, they would say I required a blood transfusion. Let the blood flow!
I was given too much chemotherapy, which caused me to lose my motor skills for a day. What a terrifying experience! I wasn’t sure if this would be the new me.
A neurologist was called into MDACC ER to try to determine out what was wrong with me.
They showed me flashcards with animals, shapes, colors, and letters and asked if I recognized them. You know, the ones we show our 3-year-old when we’re attempting to teach them a new skill.
I was certain that I understood what they were teaching me. But I couldn’t tell them since I couldn’t interact with them because I couldn’t speak.
Because of the surgery and the fact that I couldn’t bear weight on my leg for ten months, I couldn’t walk by myself. Crutches were required, and resentment grew as a result of the loss of independence.
I fell into depression as a result of the isolation of being in the hospital and the toll it was taking on me, and the only way I knew how to deal with it at the time was to utilize the pain meds I was given after my surgery.
They transported me to a happy place where I didn’t have to deal with my problems.
I was in mental and emotional suffering if I wasn’t in physical discomfort.
I gradually came to the conclusion that death would be preferable to what I was experiencing.
I didn’t want to die, but it felt like a better option than living in my current situation.
My body was shutting down, and I knew I’d die if I didn’t finish the remaining few rounds of chemo.
I wasn’t going to die from cancer. Chemotherapy progressed slowly! It seemed obvious to me. It was obvious to my spirit. It was as though I could feel it in my bones.
I was once again confronted with a difficult choice. Either stop chemo or keep forward with your treatment plan.
When I was trying to figure out what to do, I remembered my uncle, who had leukemia and died approximately ten years ago.
My family used to argue that it was the treatment that killed dad, not the disease. His entire body had just shut down. I didn’t want to suffer the same destiny, but I knew that if I kept going, I would.
After being told I had cancer for almost a year, I made the decision to stop!!
It’s a fair statement to say that going to battle with cancer took a toll on me. But I’m here now because I triumphed in that fight, and I have the scars to prove it!
My life seemed to be returning to normal. Something I didn’t understand, and I believe many others don’t, is that simply because treatments are over or you are cancer-free, life does not return to its previous state or that it should.
Cancer was a painful and life-changing experience for me. I needed to give my body, which had been poisoned for over a year, as well as my heart and mind, time to heal.
I had to relearn how to walk from scratch, which was a difficult task. I had to return to a world I had forgotten about since I couldn’t be in public or near someone who had even the faintest sniffle when I was sick. My entire life revolved around my bed and MD Anderson.
I couldn’t talk about what I’d just gone through, and I was irritated if anyone I knew mentioned it or asked me questions about it. I desperately wanted to sweep it under the rug, pretend it never happened, and move on.
Isn’t it true that what’s out of sight is out of mind?
But here’s what I’ve discovered about sweeping things under the carpet. They may be hidden, but unless they’re dealt with, they’ll be the unsightly lump beneath the rug that you keep tripping over.
Over time, I began to share bits and parts of my experience with others, and as I did so, I noticed that the pile under the rug was shrinking.
I felt a lot better and that I was on my way to a full recovery. It’s true that the more you talk about the difficult issues, the less power they have over you.
I was never the type to ask, “Why me?” I was a lot worse.
I’d simply concentrate on getting through all of my difficulties so that I could go on. At the very least, the individual who asks why me is looking for an explanation.
I didn’t want to know what was going on. I only wanted to be free of the pain as quickly as possible.
I’ve been through a lot in my life. Cancer was the epitome of adversity. After all that had happened to me, I wanted to think that it wasn’t all for naught and that something good could come out of it.
One day, I felt it was time to go deep into the subject of challenges. I achieved this by reflecting on my struggles and conducting research.
My vision of problems was shaped by the thought that they could work for me rather than against me. My belief was formed as a result of my perception. And it was my conviction that led to my actions in dealing with them.
Throughout it all, I came to see that problems were not the enemy. Struggles were simply opportunities for development. They always bring value, no matter how big or small the challenge, but it is up to us to take what they have to teach and apply it to our lives.
With the passage of time, I devised what I refer to as the Struggle Formula.
When life became difficult, I realized that I needed to recognize it as a struggle so that I could apply my new formula to it. We can’t work on something we don’t recognize.
As soon as I recognize it as a struggle, I can begin to address it. Then I figure out what kind it is.
I’ve discovered that there are three different types of struggles.
Self-inflicted pain is defined as pain caused by one’s own decisions.
Other: harm inflicted on us as a result of other people’s decisions.
Life is a source of suffering inflicted on us by no one’s fault. As in my case, cancer.
We can now move on to contemplation. This is where true magic happens. We can’t move forward unless we have this.
I made a list of reminders and questions to ask myself to help me reflect.
1. You are not designed to face challenges alone. Who are you relying on to get you through this? This includes your spouse, friends, family, church leader, God, and anybody else you have faith in.
2. Recognize the type of struggle: internal or external. Life.
I ask these questions to assist me to find out what kind of issue you’re having.
-Did I cause this to happen? If that’s the case, what can I do differently in the future to avoid this? What can I do right now to improve things?
-Did this come as a result of someone else’s actions? If yes, what steps should be taken to improve the situation? Maybe I need to create some limits, separate myself from them, or talk to them about what is and isn’t acceptable to me.
-You simply have to roll with the blows in life. What can I do right now to improve things?
3. Concentrate on the controllable. I may not always be able to avoid difficulties, but I can always choose how I respond to them.
4. Do the things that you know would make you happy. Take a walk outside to get some fresh air, hang out with friends, listen to music or an uplifting podcast, exercise, read a book, or do anything else that makes you happy.
5. If you choose, this is for you, not against you. As a result, lean in and look for the lesson it has to teach you. I believe we all know the things we need to learn deep within. This will necessitate putting one’s pride aside.
6. I can use what I’ve gone through to assist someone else.
What counts most is that we reflect, whether in the midst of a struggle or not.
Once the fog breaks, I’ve discovered that the minor challenges are easier to reflect in, while the more difficult ones are easier to reflect out of. The struggle does not go to waste as long as you reflect.
Knowing all of this aids me in dealing with my problems.
A lesson or two emerges from all of this reflection.
Lesson = Struggles + Reflection
Growth = Applied Lessons
Growth equals progress.
Progress equals joy.
To put it simply…..
Struggles x Happiness x Struggles x Happiness x Str
So keep your head up; happiness is just around the corner!
Cancer was the most dreadful experience I’ve ever had. It was the most difficult fight I had ever faced. But I wouldn’t alter it if I had the chance. I drew far too much from that encounter. It made a huge difference in my life.
My belief system did not appear out of anything. It began as a modest flame, but with each conflict to which I used this method, the flame grew to the size of ablaze! I’m talking about TEXAS proportions!
I don’t have these beliefs about difficulties just to make myself feel better. I believe this because I have had firsthand experience with it. This isn’t something that only a few people can do. Anyone who is prepared to put in the effort can benefit from this.
And, because I think that every tragic story should end happily,
Fayth would not be a part of my family today if I had followed my doctor’s initial advice.
She is in good health and appears to be content. This is her senior year. She is a social butterfly who enjoys socializing with her peers. She is a lovely young lady with a wise soul who has a promising future ahead of her.
I remarried a year after Chemo to the man of my dreams!
We’ve been married for 16 years and counting. Our family has grown by two children.
He adopted my daughters, who are now his daughters. With the use of my leg, I have far exceeded my physicians’ expectations. And I’ve been teaching group fitness sessions for the past four years.
I’ve had several opportunities to speak at MDA events and share my cancer story in order to inspire and provide hope to others.
Because of my volunteer efforts, I’ve appeared on Great Day Houston and been able to attend fun events throughout town. I’ve also started a speaking career, sharing what I’m sharing with you now with others.
Although I still face challenges in my life, I am better equipped to overcome them and use them to my advantage.
Struggles are common experiences, but what makes them unique is what you choose to believe about them and how you respond to them.
I’m just a girl who understood that I had a choice: I could let my problems define me, or I could use them to define me.
So, yes, if you CHOOSE, problems are for you, not against you.”
The story and photos: Courtesy Tracey Ferrin