Throughout our life, we often mark major life moments as milestones. Baby’s first step, losing a tooth, first day of school, getting your driver’s license, first kiss, first date, your wedding anniversary are many that come to mind. And, what joy those memories evoke!

Milestones can also come in a different package. And, some of those memories may not be joy filled. While I don’t remember the exact date, I heard “you have cancer”. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feelings and can describe in sharp detail what the room was like and who was present when the ‘news’ was delivered. I remember vividly the warmth and compassion of the nurse, the concern on my doctor’s face and the overwhelming sense of fear that hit me in the chest like the repercussion of a nuclear bomb. In my mid-forties, I was in the middle of a less-than-friendly divorce, my children were entering their teen years, I had just returned to the ‘traditional’ workforce after 10+ years at home and I couldn’t imagine what else could go wrong. And yet here I was getting what, at the time, was the worst news of my life.

Little did I know that event would also spark one of the most incredible faith journeys and lead me to a more grounded life filled with more authenticity than I could have possibly imagined. Oh, and a little bit of a love story.

As I traversed the wilderness of divorce, single-parenthood and cancer all at the same time I learned to pray, trust and hope. I also learned to lean into my friends near and far, new and old. I learned to be grateful for the little things. A friend from an earlier season in my life drove from Little Rock, AR to Houston, TX to hold my hand and help me breathe through my biopsy. Other mothers in my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop prepared meals and transported my kids to numerous school activities. Men from a Small Group in my church helped me put up my Christmas decorations. People I knew from my business networking group drove me back and forth to the medical center and attended doctor appointments with me to help me remember things when the pain meds or my emotions overwhelmed me. And people I had met on my life’s journey and many I didn’t know prayed for me. I honestly don’t know how many prayer chains I was on, but I am thankful!

Somewhere in the early part of my cancer journey, when I was learning what breast cancer was, how it was treated and that there was a much larger sisterhood of survivors out there than I had ever imagined, I had one of the most significant spiritual moments of my life. For me, this is one of the BIGGEST MILESTONES of my life! My early cancer journey had taken a few less-than-positive turns trying to find the right doctor and protocol for me and I was pretty discouraged. However, I had ended up at MD Anderson in Houston and felt pretty good about my doctor, his suggestions, the way he talked to me and my options. I was leaning towards a full bi-lateral mastectomy and though it was not what he thought was the best choice, he was empathetic and sympathetic to my reasoning. Because my breast cancer was in the early stages (based on my biopsy) he encouraged me to take my time and make sure I was confident with my choice. After a few days of mulling over my options, I woke one morning and KNEW what my choice was. I felt convicted that this was the right choice. And, more importantly, I was convinced I wasn’t going to die and I was going to raise my children. I felt the most overwhelming sense of peace and calm I have ever felt in my life. I knew without a shadow of doubt this was a GOD MOMENT.

My cancer journey is marked by the milestone date of October 27, 2017. That is the date of my mastectomy. The cancer had not spread to any other lymph nodes or organs and so that marks my “Cancer Free” date as I was not required to have any chemo or radiation. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years!!! WOW! WOW! WOW!

However, my mastectomy, wasn’t the end of the surgeries or the end of my journey. If God intended for me to live, I was going to LIVE! So, let’s get this show on the road!! On the day of my mastectomy I had implants placed in my chest and began the process of reconstruction. I was very aggressive about my reconstruction and was ready for the end before the end was even in sight. And, I didn’t stop living because I was ‘sick’. Oh, how I hated that thought and that word. I went to church the first Sunday after my mastectomy with tubes hanging out under my clothes, got my hair cut & colored in the first week and went back to work just shy of the 2 weeks post-op, though I couldn’t drive. I firmly believe having a goal and a positive attitude – I wasn’t going to die! – were significant in a quick recovery.

Somewhere between surgery #2 and surgery #3 milestones began being created again – first time we met, first date, first kiss, first time meeting each other’s kids. In the middle of the mess of my cancer journey, a love story began. Because of the journey and the shaping of my character, I was ready to meet my soul-mate. He too had been hurt and had wandered in the wilderness asking “why”. However, we were determined to not stay in that low, dark place. With much honesty and trust, we leaned into each other and our faith and emerged on the other side, stronger, wiser and happier. He and my mom “talked” during my final reconstruction. He earned her trust when he told me to “sit” and wait for him to bring the car when I was being discharged and wanted to walk to the car (Yes, I’m a little independent and a bit strong-willed!).

Now, I wouldn’t wish a triple whammy (divorce, single parenthood and cancer) on anyone. I wouldn’t wish any single one of those on anyone! They are painful, yucky wanderings in a wilderness none of us are prepared to navigate. However, I can say for me, God got my attention. And for that I am grateful! I’ve had my faith tested. I’ve been on my knees asking “why”. I’ve humbled myself and learned from my mistakes. I’ve been in pain – physical and emotional. And all of those shaped me into the person that I am. I am a more authentic, humble, honest, grateful person today than I was 10 years ago. I am a survivor!

Guest Author Deena Watson for: Tina Torres, CEO, The Gratitude Specialist