Polly Hansen: A Secretly Incredible Story of Hope
JS: Two years ago, at the age of 42, you were diagnosed with breast cancer. What was it like to find out and how did you respond?
Polly: I couldn’t believe it. It is something you never expect nor want to hear. That day changed my life.
I was forced to add terms like malignancy, BRAC-2, triple negative, bilateral mastectomies, surgery, tissue expanders, MRI’s, PET scans to my vocabulary.
The first thing I did was scour the internet looking for hope. I wanted to find other people who had gone through a similar experience. I especially wanted to find stories of people that had survived.
Shared experience is powerful. At this point of my life I needed all the help I could get.
JS: What was the hardest part of being treated for cancer?
Polly: Breast cancer isn’t the same for everyone. I ended up having bilateral mastectomies. I lost all of my hair. I went through chemotherapy and had to be hospitalized twice after becoming sick from it. At one point I experienced a violent reaction to the sun because of the chemo.
All of this and my cancer recurred not once, but twice. I just found out about the most recurrence last month. That was very hard.
On my two year anniversary, I wasn’t celebrating. I was in the hospital having two new tumors removed. One turned out to be cancer. I get to start treatment again next week.
JS: I can’t imagine how hard that must be. At any point did you ask why this happened to you?
Polly: Of course. Who doesn’t. I asked many questions. Why? What did I do wrong? How could God let this happen?
I believe that God is in control and that he has a much bigger plan for me than anything I would have for myself. I trust his plan, even if it means cancer and everything that goes with it. I am at peace with whatever he chooses for me.
I trust him because I know he loves me.
Plus I realized I don’t have any control over this. I can’t change it. I can’t make it go away. To be honest, I don’t want any of the control. I wouldn’t know what do with it.
I pray for healing. Again. But all I can do is trust.
JS: Why do you think God brought this into your life? What gives you hope?
Polly: This journey has been filled with surprises, laughter, tears, and dark places. But this journey has been a blessing in disguise.
I can’t see all of it, but I believe that there is a purpose. I believe he is using these things to change me into the image of Jesus, and to use me to shine his light into a dark world.
I get to choose to enter into the journey in a way that allows me to experience this. I have to remember that it is not the problem you face that defines you, but the way you face your problems.
JS: This choosing how you respond must be difficult. What has helped you?
Polly: It is difficult. I have to face this every day. I focus on the here and now. When I get up every morning, I get to make that choice. Some days are easier. Some days seem impossibly difficult.
There is an anonymous quote that really resonates with me.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
I want that life that is waiting.
JS: This journey has clearly changed you. Have you been able to share what you have learned with others?
Polly: I mentor 14 African American young ladies from my community. They need help with basic things like school work. Boys. Life. We do life together by enjoying and helping each other.
I benefit more from them than they do me. Being with them makes me feel young.
JS: How did you get started with this? What have you learned from these girls?
Polly: My neighbor told me about a person she worked with that had a granddaughter that was making some bad choices with her life. My neighbor felt I might be able to have a positive influence on her. We decided to meet and the girl brought 3 others. It quickly grew to 14. It is one of the best things I have ever done.
The girls teach me to love life. To not take it too seriously and roll with what comes.
Most importantly they have taught me to love. They love me as I do them. Unconditionally. We are family now.
JS: I heard through a friend of yours that you recently celebrated your wedding anniversary in an unusual way.
Polly: Fancy isn’t my style. My husband had planned a nice evening out, but once we got in the car, he asked me where I wanted to go. We changed our plans and went to serve dinner at a local mission.
It may sound strange, but I had the time of my life. I love serving and helping people. It brings satisfaction and joy knowing I brightened someone’s day and brought a smile to their face.
JS: Recently on your blog you wrote about getting rid of your bucket list. What do you mean by this?
Polly: Before my cancer, I had a “normal” bucket list. It was fairly standard. Go there. Do that. I threw it away. It was full of normal things that people want to do before they die.
After my roller coaster life the last 2 years I gave up on normal. I made the choice to focus on being, instead of achieving.
I have one life to live. So I choose to live it with everything I can muster.
JS: What is the one lesson you would want to share with others?
Polly: Everyone needs Jesus. It doesn’t matter what you have been through. It doesn’t matter what you have accomplished. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Sick or well.
I sense that need more now. This disease and the reality of it overwhelms me. But I needed him just as much before this. I just didn’t know it. Cancer has taught me to trust and to love and to look to him.
I may die soon, or I may die when I’m 100, but either way, I get to be with him. I want to make this life that I have right now count for everything I can.
Tell us what gives you hope in the comments.