Inspiration: Victoria Hage – I’m a Survivor Part III
Today I bring you a special merging of two of my regular features: Inspiration Fridays and my recent “I’m a Survivor” series. I present to you the perfect combination of both – Victoria Hage.
Tori and I have known each other for close to 20 years. We met when she was a teacher’s assistant in one of my ballet classes. I instantly loved her. We continued our friendship but lost track of each other when I moved to Lakeland in 2000. Unbeknownst to me, Tori, her husband, and their two gorgeous children had also moved to Lakeland and by 2005, her husband and my husband were unknowingly working at the same church! New last names kept us from making the connection, but something unexpected would bring us back together. As I was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2005, Tori would be diagnosed in December of that same year. We found each other again and have been friends and “cancer survivor sisters” ever since. She is an inspiration. She is a survivor.
I asked Tori to share some of her story with us. Here’s what she had to say:
When did you first discover you had cancer?
VH: It was December 16, 2005…3:30pm, the last day of school before Christmas break. Being a teacher, it was so amazing to me that God allowed me to have such a perfect last day with my students before I even knew it would be the last time I’d ever teach them. I vividly remember standing in the media center of my school, sweaty palms holding the phone as the doctor told me the news. The word “No” seemed to be the only thing I could say. “No, I don’t have a family history…No, I don’t want to hear this…No, it can’t be cancer…No, I don’t have a surgeon.” That last one still gets me. Why on earth would I have had a personal surgeon? A hairstylist…yes…a dentist…yes…a family doctor…sure! Those are all normal, but a surgeon? No. I told her I had no reason for a surgeon, but that following Monday I was in his office learning a whole new world I wanted nothing to do with.
What were you feeling when cancer first became a part of your life?
VH: Overwhelmed with so many emotions, both good and bad. Fear and anxiety ruled me long before cancer came knocking at my door. The diagnosis of cancer just intensified them…at first. I knew that if I was going to make it through that, I was going to have to completely and utterly throw myself in the arms of my Heavenly Father. He showed me the truth to a ‘peace that passes all understanding.’
What was your treatment like?
VH: I had a lumpectomy, but due to unclear margins, had a mastectomy a week later. Surgery was followed by six months of chemo (Adriamycin, Cytoxin, Taxotere), which caused me to become violently ill after each treatment. I lost all of my hair, and dealt with fatigue, anemia, weakness, and dizziness on a daily basis. I was given weekly iron infusions, shots to help increase red and white blood cell production, had to have two blood transfusions and was hospitalized for a fever of 105 after one of my treatments. But I made it through.
Six months after chemo, the cancer metastasized to my sternum. I had to have surgery almost immediately to remove my ovaries. We were very blessed to have both a son and a daughter, but to have the choice made for you that you could no longer have more children was a depressing feeling. But God gave me the strength I needed just by looking at the faces of Abbey and Ashton (then 3 and 2) knowing that I needed to do whatever it took to be there for them.
Did you have any moments where you saw God’s Hand at work?
VH: There were so many moments that I knew God’s hand was guiding me through. Two nights before I was to have my first chemo treatment I was in bed wide awake staring up at the ceiling, completely petrified with fear. I cried out to God, “Lord, I cannot do this. I was fine with surgery, but chemo is something that I just can’t go through. I need your help.” Immediately, I felt Jesus saying, “I’m already in that chair waiting for you to crawl into my lap.” Whoa…that was big! It was then that I realized that God is not just the God of my past and present, but also of my future. He was already there waiting for me, not just for chemo, but for everything else in my life, as well.
Did you have any moments where you doubted God?
VH: Honestly, no. I felt so close to the Lord during that time. There were several times that I was so physically sick that I knew the enemy wanted me to curse God and turn my back on Him. The one thing I did, albeit difficult sometimes, was sing praise and worship songs during those times. The pain was so horrible, but singing to the Lord was the only way that I got through it. It took my eyes off of the pain and onto the Lord, who died a gruesome death on that cross for me. All of the symptoms I was having didn’t just paled in comparison to what my Jesus did for me.
What’s the biggest misconception about cancer survivors?
VH: The biggest misconception is that people think that once your hair starts coming back in, and all visual effects of cancer are gone, that your life is back to normal. That is so far from the truth. Life after cancer just doesn’t suddenly return to normal. Time is needed to repair, restore and rebuild on the new foundation that God has laid for us. It can be scary, stressful and overwhelming at times, but if you’ve never lived through cancer you cannot fully relate. It is a daily choice to live forward and not live backwards for a cancer survivor (at least for me). 🙂
Looking back, how has your life been impacted for the better because of cancer?
VH: Oddly enough, it was because of cancer that I overcame my debilitating fear. It also was the major factor in restoring my marriage. Had I not been diagnosed with cancer, my children would be the products of a divorced family. Initially, my husband felt guilty of leaving me after I was diagnosed, but little by little, he saw changes in me and I in him. We began to see each other through God’s eyes, and developed a deeper appreciation for each other.
Cancer was something I had to go through alone with God. He used it as a refining process for me. My fear of life itself was very unbecoming to my husband, but God broke it in me by using the scariest thing possible that I could have gone through – cancer. It was through that journey that God taught me how to truly trust in Him in every area of my life. I learned that fear could no longer have a home in my life. God wanted me to hold both of His hands, and I couldn’t do that while I was clinging with one to fear.
I think you can see why she’s an inspiration as well as a survivor, right? Happy Friday, everyone!