Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Polly Hansen: A Secretly Incredible Story of Hope

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From Jeremy: I want you to meet Polly Hansen. You can find out more about Polly at her blog 64colors.net or follow her on Twitter. I hope you find her story as amazing as I have.

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.

photo by Rupert Ganzer (Creative Commons)

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.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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26 Replies

  1. Polly, your story is beautiful!  I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was a teenager.  But I think you are so right when you say  this, “he is using these things to change me into the image of Jesus”.  I watched my mom’s faith increase with her illness.  The way she responded still shapes and impacts me today.  None of these hardships  ever go unused by God!  God is using you to bring others to Him!

  2. Polly, your story is beautiful!  I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was a teenager.  But I think you are so right when you say  this, “he is using these things to change me into the image of Jesus”.  I watched my mom’s faith increase with her illness.  The way she responded still shapes and impacts me today.  None of these hardships  ever go unused by God!  God is using you to bring others to Him!

  3. Simply incredible – I’d like to meet her, as well. Your questions evoked some amazing answers: “I gave up on normal. I made the choice to focus on being, instead of achieving.” And, “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.” Blessed to have read your post – thank-you.

  4.  Ralph, I thought the same way … her answer to the bucket list hit me so hard, WOW what an amazing response, “I gave up on normal. I made the choice to focus on being, instead of achieving.” What an example for us to live by.

  5. Wow Polly…you are an inspiration! I like what you said that ‘I trust Him because He loves me.’ even with all you have been through …you have inspired me:) Saying a prayer for you…

  6. My dad died of kidney cancer. I saw the same thing in him too. The disease was awful, but that transformation was beautiful.

  7. It’s a great idea for the next week. Jut be instead of trying to achieve.

  8. Trust is really hard. It has to be based in something. Nothing is better to base it in than love.

  9. Wow…what a story.  And what a great inspiration for all of us!

    Here are my takeaways:

    1.  It’s not our circumstances, but rather how we react to our circumstances that makes us who we are.  Deja vu!  That lesson is one that I’m teaching at my soon-to-be-released website. 

    2.  “Normal” is not what it’s all cranked up to be.  I’m a member of the non-normal camp — and I love it.  I’m focused on being and serving.

    3.  Everyone needs Jesus.  Amen and amen.

    Bless your heart for all the work you’re doing with the African-American women in your community.  What a wonderful way to serve and share God’s love.  Awesome!

    My prayers are with you, sister!  Stay strong!

     

  10. Couldn’t agree more. Awesome.

  11. What a story Polly – thank you for sharing with us here at Jeremy’s site. 

    What gives me hope is Jesus!  It is all about him.

  12. I am looking forward to reading your first post!

  13. Thanks, Nics.    I’m working behind-the-scenes to get it all set up.  I’ll keep you posted.

  14. Polly, what an incredible story this is! Thank you for sharing it with us! God bless you for turning things around,  helping and teaching others, coming out of devestation a winner!
    Although cancer has claimed many in our family, I have been spared of that hurdle.  Still, the last 20 years I have been dealing with dislocated hips, infirmity, pain, reconstructive surgeries and hip replacements, osteolysis, emergency revisions one after the other. Thank God, I am better than ever, at least until my body rejects again one  or another implanted part. What pulled me through? Jesus did and my faith and trust in His Love. Jesus and God uprooted fear and despair out of my gut and my heart and gave me patience and courage do deal with everything, hope and an understanding that I will be OK no matter what. Through “guided” writing and living each moment to  the fullest, I managed to understand more and better and  allow my body and soul to heal. My book hopefully published soon, is the byproduct of the difficulties and the trioumphs of those circumstances, helping me deal and sharing with others.

    Jeremy, many thanks for bring Polly to us!

  15. Hearing people say, “I may die soon or I may die when I’m a 100, but either way I’ll be with Him” gives me hope! Praying for you and your strength, Polly.

    Katie

  16. Joan

    Your story gave me hope, Polly. I want to have interactive conversations with others, helping with life decisions, encouraging, and receiving ‘real life in community’. I haven’t been given a life altering diagnosis, but I want to live each day as a gift to myself and a gift to others. I want others to know they are HIS beloved, and I want to receive my beloved-ness, as a gift to myself. If that makes any sense… I have much loss in my life, but in that loss.. i have discovered what is most precious…  

  17. I am sorry about your loss, but I am grateful for your gain, Joan.

  18. Wendy McLain

    Polly Hansen is an amazing example of how Jesus changes our lives. He changes us in a way that takes our focus off ourselves and He begins to allow us to place our attention on the needs of others. Christ radiates selflessness and it is there where we find true joy!

    God bless you Polly and you will be added to my prayer list! 

    Wendy B McLain
    http://www.thekingstranz4mdscribe.weebly.com

  19. Agreed. To be like him is to be selfless.

  20. Wow Polly, truly an amazing story!  Your faithfulness is inspiring.  I loved the thought of “finding the life that is waiting for you,” because like Grace, it implies that we don’t earn it, but accept it.  

    Being instead of achieving – that is so powerful.  As an American male, I definitely feel the pull to achieve, and it at times is hard to discern. 

    Thank you for sharing your story. 

  21. Michaelholmes Mh

    Without hope people die.Your life is so inspiring. Sometimes I wish that I can have another life but we have our own purposes in life and the beauty of life is in its diversity/

  22. I agree. Diversity makes for beauty. Too bad we don’t always understand that.

  23. I first read this post when it originally came out. I bookmarked it and go to it often, because it really puts life in perspective. Some people allow an illness or a serious diagnosis to overtake them. But others like Ms. Hansen, see this as the perfect opportunity to live life to the fullest. She is an example we all could learn from. She made a decision to live her best life, and imparting life and love into others. I have the anonymous quote that she shared on a notecard in my bathroom as a daily reminder to myself that being in the center of God’s will for my life is exactly where I’m supposed to be. So I look to the Lord to determine the plan for my life. If I keep walking on that path I’ll never get lost.

  24. Wow. I agree that Polly’s life is worth talking about and thinking about and re-reading.

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