ENID — No two people face a cancer diagnosis in exactly the same way. But Lyndsay Watts’ response to breast cancer has been unique, indeed.
“It’s been a huge blessing,” Watts said, looking back on her last year of battling breast cancer.
Watts’ journey over the last year has taken her deeper into her faith, where she has found the strength to not see cancer as an obstacle, but as a blessing — a “superpower” — that has allowed her to love more deeply, and serve others with more purpose.
A year of progress
The News & Eagle first interviewed Watts last September, when she’d just been diagnosed with the disease, and followed up this month to see how she’s coped with the struggles and pain of cancer treatment.
Watts, the Enid High School swimming coach and a special education teacher, was a healthy, active 37-year-old with two children, 5 and 2, when she was diagnosed.
Like anyone, Watts said she initially faced fear when she learned she had the disease.
“The thought of not dancing with my babies at their weddings, not seeing them grow up to be amazing human beings — that was hard,” she said.
But, she didn’t linger long in that valley of fear.
“I didn’t cry any more after, maybe, five days after my diagnosis,” Watts said, “because I just decided I was going to use this as a positive thing to serve God.”
In her interview last year, Watts said she’d decided to find joy every day.
“I look for ways to show that, even in times of strife, you can still be joyous, you can still be kind to neighbors and you can still spread love,” Watts said last September. “It’s given me something to get through my days. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I look for ways to brighten other people’s days.”
As promised, Watts has gotten through the last year with joy, by sharing her faith and helping others.
A heavy load
That’s not to say it’s been an easy path.
Over the last 12 months, Watts has endured five months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and 33 rounds of radiation. She still has reconstructive surgery ahead of her.
Her body reacted well to the treatments, thanks in part to her age and physical conditioning, and her cancer had a complete response to the chemotherapy. She said getting through that has eased her mind.
“Knowing I had a complete response to the chemotherapy helps me not focus on the risk of a recurrence,” she said. “It gives me some peace of mind.”
As the physical treatments have neared conclusion, Watts said the emotional trauma has become harder.
“Someone just threw this load at me and I had no choice but to carry it,” she said. “And then, over time, they start taking off the load, one brick at a time. All of a sudden, you’re just like ‘Holy crap, how did I carry all of that?’ You start thinking about all of the things you carried, and it is emotionally hard.”
But all those times — physical and emotional — became a blessing, Watts said, because they drew her deeper into her faith.
“I felt like this (cancer) was God saying, ‘Come back to me. You need me.’ It was Him reaching out to me with His love,” she said.
Watts said, with a laugh, having cancer gave her a “free pass” to talk openly about her faith, in all aspects of her life.
Watts said cancer hasn’t been a sidestep in life, but a deepening of her purpose.
“Everything that’s happened in my life, God was preparing me for this,” she said. “I don’t think God caused me to have cancer, but he did use it, and it gave me an opportunity to talk openly about my faith and how He uses people to grow His kingdom.”
Watts said she chose to use cancer as an opportunity to build that kingdom, a little bit each day.
“I saw it as my mission every day to purposefully find those people who were having a bad day, and smile at them,” she said. “That’s been my thing — just making people laugh or smile. It’s been really fun. And, hopefully I was able to impact our school and our town a little bit by my choice of joy.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain. However, Watts said, anticipating joy made joy almost inevitable.
“Even if you don’t believe in God, if you’re trying to make others smile every day, it’s impossible to feel crappy,” she said. “If you’re trying to make the world better every day, it’s impossible to focus on the pain. So, choose joy. That’s my piece of advice.”
Others haven’t been sure how to handle Watts’ unbridled joy in the midst of breast cancer. Many express sadness over her illness. But that, she said, just gives her another opportunity to respond with joy.
“I have affected other people’s emotions in ways I didn’t expect,” she said. “When other people cry over you because of your condition, it’s uncomfortable. But, then you get to share with them why you have joy.”
When a close friend recently also was diagnosed with breast cancer, she called Watts seeking commiseration over her diagnosis. Instead, she got empathy, in an unexpected form.
Watts told her friend, “‘Oh my gosh, girl, I love this for you. This is going to be the most amazing experience of your life. God is going to use you.’”
The point, Watts said, is that cancer, or any other experience, will become what you choose to make it.
“If you let it be a blessing, it will be a huge blessing,” Watts said. “If you let it be a burden, it will be a burden — but I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
Watts has several more chemotherapy treatments scheduled through November. She has mixed feelings about drawing to an end the cancer experience that she sees as one of the most fruitful, rewarding periods of her life.
“I was taking care of God’s kingdom, and He was taking care of me,” Watts said, looking back on the last year. “I’m kind of sad it’s over.”