So I’m back in the comfort of my parents’ home, in my hometown, with my home girls and home boys, and best of all my home church. So much good could come from being back at home where things are familiar. One would imagine feeling some sense of comfort. But not I.
Away from home was a symbol of success for me. I associated home with “stuck.” I had spent the last 4 years away from home trying to figure things out and make sure I wouldn’t be forced to return home but there I was. I was at home, resenting all the comforts that home provided. All I could feel was that I had tried to do something and it didn’t work. I felt like I failed and that was so hard for me. I had never truly felt like I had failed at anything before so a new feeling of failure mixed with the familiarity of home was heavy.
Of course, I couldn’t let anyone else know that. I was about to be around people who have known me since I was born and who I felt like expected more from me than I was able to produce but I wasn’t about to let them know how I really felt. I had to make sure I appeared satisfied with my decision to return home and seemingly begin again.
I began going through the motions. I read books, I wrote poetry, I looked for jobs, I ate a lot and I exercised so I wouldn’t feel bad about how much I was eating. Of course I started attending my home church again just as I had before I left. I re joined the choir and helped to revamp the young adult ministry. I appeared to be making use of my time and trying to regain my footing but in reality I had no idea what I was doing. After obtaining a degree, I still wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to pursue so I was looking for jobs just because I needed a source of income. I wanted to go back to school and I knew where I wanted to go, but I didn’t have any money so I was kind of just applying to see what would happen. I was literally just waking up and doing things until it was time to go to bed again.
Keep in mind, God still wasn’t speaking to me the way I was asking him to. I was attending church, I was praying, I was serving, I was tithing but I was doing it with clenched teeth because I still could not hear God. As I served in ministry, I was able to watch God move on everyone else’s lives and it was like sitting in a room watching an ex friend walk in and speak to everyone but you. The kind of ex friend that you still love but you’re just not seeing eye to eye at the moment so a part of you wishes they’d say hi but you’re too stubborn to kick off the conversation because you feel like they should apologize first. Physically, I was fine but my spirit was perpetually sulking and it was weighing me down.
Then one day, I was sitting on my parents’ couch watching TV. I was alone and preferred it that way. I was watching Say Yes to The Dress enjoying the brief escape from my self-proclaimed boring and uneventful life. When all of a sudden a young woman appeared on the screen. Margo Mallory was her name and I will never forget. Margo’s head was completely bald but she was so beautiful and full of life. She was excitedly shopping for a dress for her big day when she would marry the love of her life after a long battle with cervical cancer. She found a beautiful dress and made a decision not to wear a wig on her wedding day because she felt beautiful as is. The show gave us a short glimpse of her wedding day and I was so happy for her. Then the last few seconds of the show right before the credits, the screen went black and in white letters appeared the words “In loving memory of Margo Mallory.” In that moment, it was like time stood completely still as I stared at the screen. I couldn’t hear anything and all I saw was the last image on the screen of the tribute to the beautiful bride I had just watched marry the love of her life. I felt sick and I knew exactly why.
When I was 18 years old, I went to the doctor for an annual exam. My doctor performed my exam as she normally would but she came back with different results. My pap smear came back abnormal and I had tested positively for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is sexually transmitted which was confusing to me because at this point, I had only been with one person who I assumed had also only been with me since we had been together and we were using protection. After expressing this to my Doctor she told me that HPV is contracted by skin to skin contact and not necessarily bodily fluids, meaning it is possible to contract HPV even while using condoms. She also told me that it’s common for the virus not to present symptoms in men. They can simply carry the virus with no knowledge. It is also common for HPV to progress into Cervical Cancer so she scheduled me for a biopsy. As you can imagine, this was tough news for a person who had only recently began participating in sex, but I didn’t allow myself time to think very hard about it. I put the next appointment on my schedule and waited.
When I returned for my biopsy I took my sister and mother with me for when the results came back. When my doctor returned with my results, she told me she had indeed found cancerous cells and I needed to quickly schedule an appointment with an oncologist. She asked me if I had any questions but I couldn’t really breathe enough to ask anything. I remember my mother asking if I would need chemo and if I was going to lose my hair. The Doctor told us I would likely only need surgery but I would need to consult with the oncologist. She then left the room to give us time to process. I still couldn’t say anything. I didn’t even cry right away. I just sat there silently. I’m not even sure if my Mom said anything else to me after that. The last thing I remember is my sister turning to me and saying “Well… now you get to be a cancer survivor. That’ll be cool.” That was when I cried. My baby sister, 14 years old at the time, was so optimistic and I love her for that.
The next few months were kind of a blur. Everything happened so fast. I met my oncologist, he scheduled my surgery, I had surgery and then months later I returned for a follow up and was told I was cancer free. Two months later I was off to college and didn’t really think too much about it after that. I don’t think I really fully processed the gravity of the situation because I truly believed I was going to be fine. But watching Margo on Say Yes to The Dress that day put everything into prospective for me.
As I sat, staring at the TV not even realizing I was crying hysterically, I heard inside myself the clearest voice “You’re so angry that your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted but you’re 23 and your life isn’t over and it very well could have been. You’re alive! Now go live.” It sounds unbelievable but that is the most personal experience I’ve ever had with God and I felt so ashamed. I was distraught at how I had behaved; Treating God like God ruined my life and there was absolutely nothing wrong with my life. I was living a GOOD life and it was up to me to continue doing so. The chapter of my life where I lived in Atlanta away from everything familiar was over but my life was far from over.
It was at that moment I decided I was done sulking. I was embarrassed that I had been living a tantrum. I couldn’t control everything but I could definitely control my attitude. So that’s what I did. I lived.