At BELONG, we believe in the power of story to break down walls and share truth. Nicole’s story may be nothing like yours, but most of us can relate to a life that hasn’t turned out quite as expected…

We all have a story to tell. I never would’ve imagined mine; it seems fictional with twists and turns around every corner. How my heart could be filled with so much joy and then . . . bam! A new challenge to face. It’s a little like watching a Netflix series unfold: finding the umpteenth solution, only to be faced with a new problem. The story I had planned looked so much different, but God had something else in mind . . .

It’s 6:30am. Prepped and ready for surgery, tears fill my eyes as I read through his note one last time:

My World, My Life, My Friend, My Wife
Nicole,

You are beautiful inside and out, a great mother, my best friend, and stronger than you know. I love you more every day. We WILL get through this scary time together. As we approach your surgery date, I pray that your strength and spiritual guidance will calm your body and mind. I look forward to post surgery and the opportunity as a family to create lasting memories for years to come. The only desire you leave me with; is to share the rest of my life with you. You make me a better person every day. Your smile and glow are contagious. I thank God every day for putting you in my life. I LOVE YOU.

Your forever grateful Husband,

Chad

My family fills the room, one after the other, and we begin to pray, praising God for His many blessings and begging for all to go well. We say our good-bye’s and with one last kiss from my husband and six-year-old baby girl, they wheel me away. Tears are flowing as we ride up the elevator to the operating room. They move me to the cold, metal table, lay my arms out to my sides and begin starting IV’s. I am terrified. So many people moving from here to there, counting instruments, talking, laughing. Finally, the surgeon appears. He puts his hand on my head and says, “Don’t worry, we’re going to take care of you.” The bright light overhead seems to get even brighter, the nurse puts the oxygen mask on, and then the lights go out . . .

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. I was six months pregnant with our first child, in my first year of teaching, and in the midst of building our forever home. The diagnosis sent me on a downward spiral. I was afraid of so many things, the biggest being that I wouldn’t live to meet my unborn baby girl. I spent so many days before and after her arrival crying before I finally hit rock bottom and decided I needed help.

I spent the next several years working to become a better version of me. I forgave myself for the guilt of the past, stopped worrying about the future, and started living in each moment. My relationship with God also grew; I learned to trust in His purpose for my life and the plans He had for me. I accepted that the aneurysm was part of my story and learned to live each day to the fullest in spite of it.

Then the day came for open-heart surgery. I was in the hospital for a total of five days and recovery continued at home for seven months. Each day I grew stronger. I was in a really good place, working out daily, healing well, and on a mission to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.

And then…bam! We found a lump in my left breast. It took the doctors less than twenty-four hours to do a mammogram, ultrasound, fine needle biopsy, and to inform me that yes, I did, in fact, have breast cancer. I was devastated…literally on my knees in tears asking, “Why?”

It still doesn’t seem real. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see an eight-inch scar down my midsection, three scars where they placed chest tubes, a bald head, and a tired body. In two months, they will remove both of my breasts. I am terrified of what that will look like, feel like.

Honestly, I have every reason in the world to be angry, to feel sorry for myself. But the only thing that will accomplish is making me and the people around me miserable. So instead, I choose to wake up each day and be grateful: grateful that my aorta was fixed prior to the cancer diagnosis, grateful that the cancer has not metastasized, grateful that my body is tolerating the chemo, grateful for the time I get to spend with my family, grateful for my support network.

Some days are harder than others. Do I cry? Yes! But I keep moving forward because I have hope…that my story means something. I take a lot of deep breaths. I take pleasure in each moment. I allow myself to be vulnerable. I wear my heart on my sleeve. God gives me the strength to get through each struggle. I know who I am, I have a family that loves me, friends who support me, and I’m living a life that I am proud of.

The story I planned for my life was much different, but what’s been written is more than I could have ever hoped for. We all have a story to tell. What’s yours?