Do pictures or metaphors ever come to you about your life as you walk through it? That happens frequently for me, and lately I have thought about life after my breast cancer diagnosis as a washed sweater. I know that sounds kind of weird, so see if you can enter this metaphor with me.
A new sweater has a certain crispness to it. It’s often got just enough stiffness to give it body and help it drape well over the body. New sweaters also have wonderful textures; they’re smooth and “pill-free.”
I usually put off washing a new sweater as long as possible. But the day comes when even a new cashmere needs a good bath. (I don’t like dry-cleaning, so I gently wash a lot of my sweaters.) So whether I put it through a gentle cycle in the washer or give it a bath in the sink by hand, every new sweater eventually succumbs to the suds.
When I do this by hand, it always feels like a lot of work to me. Soaking, squeezing, wringing, rinsing, twisting, wrapping in a towel and squeezing again—it’s a real workout for the hands. Then after as much water as possible has been removed, there’s the reshaping it on something flat to dry. If you’ve ever tried to reshape a wet sweater, you know there’s a good bit of pulling rearranging and tweaking involved.
Though you gently tug and flatten and smooth out as many wrinkles as you can before you leave the sweater to dry, you can never really get it back to its original shape. It’s lumpier and bumpier. Something has been lost in the washing--something that can’t be regained.
But even though something is lost in that first washing, we know there are wonderful advantages to it as well. Dirt, stains, sweat and smells are removed from the sweater. Who doesn't love putting on a freshly washed sweater, looking in the mirror and feeling ready to sally forth into the world again?
This is how I feel as a breast cancer traveler. My life-sweater has been washed, and though I tug and pull at it, trying to get it back to its original shape, I can’t. It’s not just the physical changes of scar tissue where there used to be breasts and differently shaped arms and arm pits. There’s also new truth to accept, live with and factor into everyday life—“You had triple negative breast cancer; it could come back and take your life.” There’s just no going back to how life was before cancer.
But what has been gained in the “washing”? For me, some of what has been gained is an opportunity to see things differently and “freshen up” my life. It is amazing how your perspective and priorities can change when your life is threatened by serious illness.
There is a verse in the Bible that compares Christ in us to a good aroma. It is this: “As far as God is concerned, there is a sweet, wholesome fragrance in our lives. It is the fragrance of Christ within us . . . ” (2 Corinthians 2:16, Living Bible). Speaking for myself, I know that that sweet aroma, though always present, is often tainted with stinkiness. Sometimes I smell more like I’ve doused myself with a whole bottle of cheap cologne than a woman who gently wafts the sweet pure fragrance of Christ. My diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer has provided me with the opportunity to see life and relationships differently. It’s encouraged me to rethink, reevaluate and repent. It’s roused me to look both inward and outward and ask myself, “What’s important? How am I doing at loving those who matter to me?”
My life-sweater is drying into a different shape than before it was washed with the diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer. As hard as it's been to join the breast cancer club, this journey has provided opportunities for God to reshape me and help me shed more of my stinkiness. That's something I'm grateful for.