If we've survived, no matter how worse

Just three words, said in passing. Little did she know how I needed to hear those words right then, how I needed to hear them from a person like her, whom I respected so much.

She had been talking about her breast cancer diagnosis. I expressed sympathy at how hard it must have been, the treatments and uncertainty and all. That’s when she said it.

“It wasn’t so much the cancer, it was what came after.”

What was that, I wondered. What could possibly be worse than cancer?

“Menopause at 38,” she said casually, as if it were as natural as breathing. My heart stopped suddenly, than started back up, amazed at the power of those three words. Why today, of all days, had we gotten into this discussion, right there at the front desk of the elementary school? Why today, when my world was closing in, when I could barely drag myself to school for lunch with my daughter, when despair that my hormone replacement medication wasn’t working was threatening to drown me?

For me, it was menopause at 41. And it wasn’t so much what came after, it was what had come before that was so tough. Years of emotional turmoil caused by wildly swinging hormones.

Based on the blank stares I usually got whenever I dared mention my struggles, my experience wasn’t typical. Not surprisingly, it seemed like most women near my age or in the same parenting season (mother of two elementary-age daughters) had no idea of the havoc perimenopause or early menopause can wreak in someone’s heart, mind and body.

As a result, I had fought it. Hidden it. Been embarrassed by it. Felt isolated by it. But here it was. There had been nothing I could do to keep this season from barging prematurely into my life. And sometimes, it made me feel so very alone.

I could have found forums and communities of people online who had experienced something similar and could relate to what I was feeling. But I didn’t want that. I wanted someone right in front of me, someone I knew and liked, to empathize with me.

And here she was. At my daughter’s school, of all places.

Suddenly, the weight lifted. My head cleared; my heart filled with peace.

She had no idea what her words did for me that afternoon. She still doesn’t know. Maybe I’ll tell her about it sometime. But on that day, and on many days since, I thanked God for putting her in my path right then, for directing our conversation to go the way it went, for throwing me a life preserver when I needed it most.

Thinking back on this moment, I’m gripped once again by the power of transparency. Clearly, the lady at the front desk was significantly farther down the early menopause road than I was. It seemed easy for her to mention it casually; it’s something I’m still processing. But her mention of it made all the difference for me that day.

It could be anything we’ve experienced, though. Depression. Infertility. Bankruptcy. Terminal or chronic illness. Betrayal. Abandonment. Layoffs. Loss of a child or spouse. Abuse. Divorce. Anything. If we’ve survived, no matter how worse for wear, our stories can encourage.

I’m not talking about the unabridged version either. A passing comment, in range of the right set of ears, can bring more hope and healing than we could ever imagine.

Maybe, in the coming months, we could look for ways to sprinkle our conversations with clues about those past struggles that we mostly keep hidden. Just in case someone is listening who desperately needs to know.

{Photo by Kym McLeod}
  • http://maddychristinehope.com Hope

    Another post here today that fits in with who I am and where I am at. It’s not too hard for me to talk about my past pains like abuse, although still suffering from it. It is a little harder to openly talk about newer struggles (infertility)… why is that? Because it’s still raw, because when I talk about it, it’s really there? But yes, like you I would like to walk into someone who can share only a short sentence but speaks to my heart and soul. Longing for that!

    • Lois Flowers

      I hope that for you as well, Hope. Infertility is a lonely road, but walking it with someone else can make it more bearable.

    • Sarah S

      Hi Hope, I’ve struggled with infertility for a long time now. Going on 5 years. There are a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes it seemed like I’d just get a handle on life and my cycle would come around again and I’d plummet. It’s very much a roller coaster ride. One thing helped me. It’s a crazy hard thing to do. I started thanking God every time my period started. Talk about bawling my eyes out. But, somehow, giving thanks for that even though what I really wanted was to be pregnant…gave me peace and freedom from the emotional roller coaster ride. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children. But, I know God wants me to live in His peace right now. It’s not easy but I keep practicing thankfulness for the blood. And God keeps giving me grace for today. It’s not a fix all. It doesn’t change my desire for children. It just helps carry me through the wait.

      • Lois Flowers

        I always read the end of the book first, so the waiting (coupled with not knowing how it was all going to turn out) was one of the toughest parts for me when I was dealing with infertility. Your suggestion to give thanks is great one, and it carries so much more weight because it has been born out of your own hard struggle. Thanks so much, Sarah.

      • http://maddychristinehope.com Hope

        Sarah, thank you so much for responding. My husband and I do focus a lot on what we have together. What we have is a blessing and very precious, not to be taken for granted and totally worth living life for. But the roller coaster you describe I am familiar with. I was trying to stay out of that focusing on what we do have… but I guess you get there eventually. Thanks for your love!

        • Sarah S

          Hope, I think focusing on the blessings that you and your husband have together is a great place to be. I do that too. God bless you. I’m praying for you. I know God has a perfect plan for your life and He’s working it out. It will be beautiful. He makes all things beautiful in His time.

  • kerry

    Thanks for sharing this. Last week I felt like I might have opened up “too much” at a Bible study about my intense struggle with severe depression. I am an animated jokester so I manage to share it in a light hearted but potent way. People don’t seem to know what to do with someone sharing about the real “raw” stuff in their life but I am believing there might be some girl there who is covering up and maybe my transparency gave her a little relief…..

    • Stephanie

      Kerry –

      Thanks for being real here…I struggle with anxiety and depression. I feel like I don’t fit sometimes. I can be fine for months and then fall off into a deep hole. I’m with you…I think people don’t know what to do with me sometimes, because when I’m not in my hole, I’m a fun and talkative person. But when the depression hits (usually with a large dose of anxiety sometime in the same few weeks) I seriously want to hide out. Just hearing that someone else struggles with depression (and isn’t afraid to be open about it) is a relief.

    • Lois Flowers

      Relief … that is a great word to use in this conversation. Blank stares make us feel alone; empathy brings relief. Kerry and Stephanie, thank you both for your transparency.

  • http://onerebelheart.wordpress.com Kim

    So true! You never know the struggle that might be going on in the person standing next to you in line. I had a “dirty little secret” I was harboring about behavior problems with one of my children, and one day when I finally dropped a little hint to some friends online, it turned out that one of them has very similar issues. It doesn’t solve our problem but it sure helps to have someone who “gets” it. Thanks for the reminder to be transparent!

    • Lois Flowers

      Someone who “gets” it … that is such a comfort, isn’t it? I’m so glad the little hint you dropped paid off, Kim!

  • Dawn B.

    I made a ‘passing comment’ at a Life Group meeting and afterwards a young woman asked if she could speak to me alone. I was shocked and humbled that she felt led to share some of her past with me. (very similar to mine) We have become better acquainted and I hope to continue to bless and encourage her as she is also a new believer.

  • Ruth

    The daily messages from incourage are beneficial to many. Thank you. I want to gently suggest though that incourage hire an English major to read and correct ALL entries. I often find grammatical errors in the writings. The message need not be changed, but correct grammar should be used so as to encourage proper English grammar by the readers and the writers.

    This message said in paragraph 5: “My heart stopped suddenly, THAN started back up, amazed at the power of those three words.” It should be THEN. This was the error that “hit” me strongly, but there could be more. It would be very good to have excellent written grammar as well as an excellent message. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

  • http://ginadetweiler.com Gina

    I am going through a similar struggle, and actually have an appointment with a dr today- so yes, your words are doing the same for me as hers did for you. I don’t know what’s ahead, but it’s encouraging to hear the same from others. Also, I’m only 35-much too young to walk this road.

    Thank you for the encouragement today.

    • Lois Flowers

      I’m so sorry, Gina. You are not alone, even though you may feel like it! I hope you are able to find relief soon.

  • Tina Crispin

    Great reminder, that we are all here with a piece of the puzzle. We need each other to form the perfect picture. Thank you for you encouragement. I know exactly how you feel…I too, went through early menopause and everyone around me thought I was crazy….they just felt I was too young….answers like that only add to the confusion and condemnation. We quite often shut down the lies of the enemy when we find out we are not standing alone. That’s the best part of what all of you offer, transparency so we all can know we are never standing alone. Thanks. And sorry Ruth, but just enjoy the encouragement of the message and leave the propery grammar comments out. A community like this is to InCourage not, correct.

    • Lois Flowers

      I love your puzzle analogy, Tina. So true.

  • Kim J

    This was so powerful for me today!! I have struggled with others, even those close to me not understanding my chronic illnesses. Almost to the point where I feel like the subject is taboo. It is so very encouraging when we do find that someone who says ” What, me too!” Because we all need to know that we are understood. I don’t want to feel shamed or guilty for sharing such a big part of my life with others. We all struggle and although our struggle may look different than another’s struggle, we all need to be understood and accepted for who we are!!

  • Lisa

    I so agree! Our 17 year old daughter was just told she is premature menopause. For her she is more concerned right now in her dance recitals and picking a college. But as parents we know that experiencing that loss is going to come and we are trying to prepare ourselves to help her. I was visiting with an acquaintance of mine and she made a remark that her daughter had this very same thing. It was in that moment that I knew we weren’t alone and if we allowed our hurts to show healing is there. God is gracious to put people right where we need them at just the right time. Thank you for your words!

    • Lois Flowers

      Yes, He certainly is! Your daughter is blessed to have a mom like you.

  • http://motheringfromscratch.com Mothering From Scratch

    {Kathy} The message here today is in the “Three Small Words”. We never know who is listening to us. We should share our struggles — only then will we connect.

  • karyn

    O – menopause. Us elites do not go through this. Do not know the experience. Honestly. I just did not have a period at 47 years of age. It just stopped and that was the end of that.
    My friend now, she was bed ridden and took meds and was off for a week. Monthly.
    My other elite friend with me in the Sports Institute. The same. No period. Early and then no reaction.
    We were in the same program.
    I do not know this experience.
    Thanks for teaching me. Well, kinda. As I don’t get it.

    • karyn

      And to add to this. After the elite Sports Science Program we never felt depressed again. The both of us. And my friend who was in the same program with me, got cancer but she did not get depressed at all. Strange. We’ve both been hypnotized by the same person.

  • Sherry

    When struggling through something that is so unknown – like early menopause – it is so comforting to hear how someone else got through it. After a hysterectomy at 39, I went through early menopause. It is a rollercoaster of emotional and physical unknowns – never knowing what to expect. The doctors didn’t take my concerns to heart, but there were a couple of women who shared their experiences and it encouraged me and has helped me through this difficult time. It is hard to be so open with our struggles, but I am hoping that I will be willing to be vulnerable so I can help others.

    • Lois Flowers

      I’m so glad you have women nearby who can provide perspective and encouragement, Sherry. That is truly a blessing.

  • Mary

    Mine came before I was 30. One little girl not quite 3 years old and wanting more. When suddenly surgery took away any hope of that. While I was left with one ovary so I would not be totally menopausal it changed everything. And this was without the support of family, husband or friends. I had never felt so alone.
    But GOD was there. Just as He has always been throughout my life. He never lets go of me, no matter how bad the storm is, not matter how far I wander, not matter how bad I mess up. God is the Rock, the Refuge.
    I so appreciate the honesty of those who share on this blog. What a blessing to my daily life. Thank you!

    • Lois Flowers

      “But GOD was there.” Yes, and that really does make all the difference, doesn’t it? Thank you for your words, Mary.

  • Ruth

    Thank you so, so much for this. The personal testimony of another weak human being going through the same situations I struggle with, often in a very different context, has very often given me the hope and feeling of not being “the only one” that I’ve needed to keep on going.
    My healing comes when others are transparent with me and I feel safe to be vulnerable with them, somewhere in that He comes and holds us, reminding us again that He will never leave us nor abandon us and that by His stripes we are made whole.
    Thank you for the godly encouragement to offer that same means of relational grace and healing in the community I live in.

    • Lois Flowers

      I totally agree, Ruth. Your comment reminds me of the verse I’ve had posted on my refrigerator door for many years. It’s Deuteronomy 31:8, and it says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I remind myself of this–every bit of it–quite often!

  • http://danahomestead.blogspot.com Jenn

    POF (premature ovarian failure) diagnosed at 31. Pretty much considered early menopause. It’s been years of different medications trying to find one that agrees, and the hopes of another child gone forever. I understand. None of my friends my age understand and it’s a lonely road.

    • Lois Flowers

      I’m sorry, Jenn. Especially about the friends not understanding. It’s not their fault that they don’t, I know, but it’s still so hard when all you want is someone who gets it. I hope you find someone close by who can encourage you along the way.

  • Sheila

    Hey ladies, I have a friend who is suffering with stage 4 Leukemia, Iam trying to do special verses or things to bring smiles to her which is not easy anymore, anyone have ideas or special verses that you have clung to when things are tough she is a Christian, has one son 13years old and lost one to a car accident, and another one who is older and has had some problems with the law. I went to continue to bless her with stories and lots of verses on God’s healing power. Can anyone help me out. Love you all and have done some of your bible studies!!\
    Love to all!!!

    • Maria

      Hi Sheila – My mom was told at age 75 that she had an aggressive form of leukemia that was not treatable and that she had two months to live and basically, she should go home and put her affairs in order. She went to a doctor in NY Dr. Liaw in Bayside ny. She decided to try an experimental drug (don’t know which) since she had nothing to lose, and she is still with us at age 88! She does now have alzheimers (last 3yrs._ but thank God we have had her so much longer – we know it was a miracle!!!

  • http://martysmoosetracks.blogspot.com Marty

    “If we’ve survived, no matter how worse for wear, our stories can encourage.”

    Your post blessed me today. Thank you for sharing. :)

  • http://middleofthemess.com Amy

    Thank you for sharing your heart on this situation. I’m 40 with two boys 6 and 9. The exhaustion is the hardest part. My doctor just wants to put me on birth control or have me take anti-depressants, both which I don’t care to do. I exercise a nod eat pretty healthy, but the symptoms remain and the list is long. Hormone problems are so frustrating. It is so true how sharing our stories is so important. You made me feel a bit more “normal” today!

    • Lois Flowers

      I’m so glad, Amy! We should never take feeling “normal” for granted, should we? Thank you for your kind words.

  • http://middleofthemess.com Amy

    That would be and, not a nod. Silly auto-correct!

  • Beth WIlliams

    I have a totally different struggle in my life. “Dreading” going to work–not liking not liking my job at all!! You see it changed completely a few years back and I felt like I didn’t fit in-wasn’t needed much.

    Then God stepped in and put an RN into my life and we have become good friends. We chat about life, work, family, etc. We encourage each other and do for each other all the time! She gets me and I get her and pray for her. We are helping each other survive the daily struggle of work in a busy medical office.

    Thanks for listening! :)

  • http://seetheshinebetheshine.wordpress.com Kristin Waters

    Thank you for sharing! We never know how our words will impact others, so we need to be aware. It’s nice to know that other women experience the topsy-turvies of our endocrine system! Hormones are just lovely – aren’t they!? I have been struggling with mine since my father passed away – my body just stopped having its monthly cycle, and it’s proved to be a challenge since – depression/anxiety/panic and lightheadedness…so fun… here’s to more balance!!

  • Jen

    Oh, you have no idea what a blessing this message is today!!!!
    I have a small group of breast cancer friends that I’m forwarding this to. (And they all need Christ in their lives…what a wonderful way to for me to bring “InCourage” into their mailboxes too.)
    THANK YOU!!!