A Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The current is constantly changing direction, the river’s edge and floor are altered with every ebb and flow. The water is clear and you can see the life flowing inside of it, until a storm comes and makes the water murky, hiding the life that you’re sure was there before. Standing on the river’s edge, as you step in, realize that no matter how much it looks the same to you on the outside, it has changed.
The same is true of cancer. A cancer by any other name is not the same. Neither can you get the same cancer twice. On May 2nd, 2013 I was diagnosed with Stage IV, inoperable Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, with a tumor the size of a large plum invading my sinus cavity. I was about to be thrown into a river that I didn’t feel like swimming. It had what appeared to be Class 4 rapids, and I was told to hold on for dear life. I put my helmet on (otherwise known as my radiation mask), got my hydration pack (otherwise known as my IV) and held on for dear life as I roared down the polluted river (otherwise known as chemo).
Much to my surprise, when I jumped in, I was caught in the arms of my loving savior. I didn’t have to hold my breath any longer. I didn’t have to do it alone. The fear that I felt when I was thrown into the river and told “You have cancer,” was now replaced with faith the He would carry me through it. The murky waters, filled with chemo and radiation, were slowly clearing as treatment progressed to show the life that I still had inside of me. The tumor was shrinking and my faith was growing. The ups and downs of treatment may have changed the landscape of my life, just like the flowing water changed the river’s edge, but trusting in His power to heal gave me new life.
No longer did the Class 4 rapids (or Stage IV diagnosis) scare me. HE was my raft, and as I rode the waves, my eyes were opened to see the beauty around me. The journey down the river wasn’t easy, but it was a trip worth taking. The landscape of my life, the people around me, my purpose, my passion, and even my routines were all changed because of ACC. He used cancer to change me from the inside out. Fear had been replaced with faith. Pain had been replaced with joy. Boredom had been replaced with purpose. I had been given a chance at life once more, and it was to be used for His glory.
May 2nd, 2014 is when my passion was ignited and turned into purpose. That was the one year anniversary of my diagnosis, and also the day I discovered Relay For Life of Lake Travis. I took over a dying event and gave it new life, just like He did for me. The next two years I spent as Event Chair, where our events raised almost $200,000 for The American Cancer Society. My story was noticed and I am honored to also be a Hero of Hope and MD Anderson Proton Therapy Advocacy Alliance spokesperson, sharing my story of hope and faith with others facing cancer.
January 23rd, 2015 I was told that I had no evidence of disease. The river currents were steady and calm, the waters clear and life was flowing through it. I had beaten the odds. I got off the raft and began to go about my life. I was alive and determined to live my best life. Until…
March 29th, 2016 was the day I heard three little words. They weren’t those same nastythree little words I heard on May 2nd, 2013. You know the ones, “You have cancer.” This time the response was the same, but the words were different. I got the call from my doctor, who simply said, “It’s Adenoid Cystic.” I had been thrown in the river once more. This river had the same name, but looked totally different. Rather than an inoperable, plum size tumor in my head, it was an operable 7.5 cm tumor in my liver (no fruit comparisons were made this time). Lack of mobility in my jaw (from my first tumor) would surely complicate anesthesia. Suddenly the fear that I had after my first (much more complicated and dire) diagnosis, had returned with a vengeance. This time I felt like I was drowning.
A relatively uncomplicated surgery (other than the whole problem with keeping me alive and breathing), suddenly scared me. The momentary fears (like missing important milestones in my daughter’s lives) that I experienced the first time, were consuming me. I wondered if I could once again beat Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma. I was afraid of dying on the operating table. I contemplated writing life letters to my daughters. Birthday cards to closest friends (Terry and Shelly) were filled with heartfelt sentiments that they needed to hear in case they were the last ones I would send. I was worried. Had my purpose been fulfilled to His completion?
I felt myself sinking in the murky waters. I could feel the silt of the river’s floor. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t feel his arms catching me…until I did. Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” I had an “ a-ha” moment. I had let life interrupt my relationship with my Lord. I didn’t understand why I was so scared, until I realized that I had gotten out of step with Him. Bible study fell to the way side, replaced by other things, which I thought were important and what He wanted me to do. But I let my need to do things, interrupt His need to do things in my life. I hadn’t been seeking Him out in my daily life, so I left an opening for fear and anxiety to take over. Suddenly, once I realized the reason for my fear, the verses I clung so dearly to the first time, started to pop into my head, and I felt Him slowly lifting me up out of the water, breathing new life into me once more.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
May 2nd, 2016 was the 3 year anniversary of my initial diagnosis. It was the two year anniversary of my first Relay For Life. It is my best friend’s birthday. And May 2nd, 2016 was pre-op for my May 9th liver surgery. God’s hand is clearly playing out in my life and these dates are no coincidence. It was before my pre-op that I prayed for the Lord to take my fear, and it was during one of those appointments that I literally felt that fear leave my body.
I didn’t write those letters to my daughters. There was no need now. I knew that He had me in His arms. I would ride out these currents with my head above the water. No helmet, no hydration pack. No fear, no anxiety. I came out of surgery with flying colors. The 7.5” tumor was completely removed. I have recovered beyond expectation once more. The lymph nodes were clear. Ten weeks out from surgery and you would never know, short of the 7” scar (part of my new landscape) that is disappearing just like my first tumor did. Last week I was once again told I had no evidence of disease.
Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma is my river. Twice I’ve been diagnosed with Stage IV ACC and twice I rode the rapids and came out on the other side. Three years ago tomorrow I completed treatment for my first bout with cancer. That cancer, while it had the same name, was very different. I was also very different. But one thing that never changed and never faltered is His place in my journey. He was always there, guiding me, even when I didn’t know it; even through all the rapids. Yes, it’s true. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
-Cathleen McBurney 7/25/16
NOTE: Three years ago today 7/26/16, I completed my last treatment for my first bout with cancer. 10 weeks ago yesterday, at the time of writing this blog, I had my surgery for my second bout with cancer.