Kelley has survived the loss of two children, both of her parents, breast cancer at the age of 40 with a double mastectomy and chemo, infidelity & divorce after 20 years of marriage and an almost successful suicide attempt.
When I was a little girl, my parents got divorced. I have a brother 9 years older and a sister 10 years older. When my parents got divorced, I rarely saw my father and not long after, he moved away and we quickly became strangers whose paths crossed once in a great while.
I spent all of my growing up years with my mom working two jobs with sometimes no days off in order for us to make it. I was what you call a latch-key kid. I never had enough clothes or decent shoes to wear. I remember one occasion where it was close to Christmas time and we literally had nothing but one piece of stale bread. She knew I was hungry. She walked in the kitchen and brought me that whole piece of bread to eat. I tore it in half and gave the other half to her.
Around this same time, I started being molested by a family member. Not immediate family, but close. Luckily I was only around this person 3 – 4 times a year and that was always when it happened. Of course I didn’t tell my mom because that was the last thing I wanted to concern her with.
Mom and I were buddies. We were just so very close. She was a wonderful mom. Growing up, I absolutely hated every waking moment of school. People could tell we were poor and I was bullied for years. I have very few good memories from my school years.
I started working when I was 15 years old. I started dating a boy I worked with when I was 16 and we were only together a few times before I found out I was pregnant. Back then, I thought the right thing to do would be to just get married and try to work it out. We got married and I gave birth to him 12 weeks early, the day after my 17th birthday. He was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. We brought him home and I stayed home with him. He was such a little cutie and so sweet. When he was almost 4 months old, he died from SIDS. My fragile marriage could not survive the tragedy. We divorced when I was 18 years old.
Being so young, I had NO clue how to handle something this big. I turned to drugs. I started going to beauty school during the day and would work in strip clubs at night. This went on for years. When I had partied all night, when I watched the sunrise and was out of drugs, I would wonder to myself every single time, WHY I was doing this. I was raised better. I knew what drugs could do to a person’s life. From the first time I had that thought, my immediate reaction was to think that if my mom ever died, that would be the only thing that could possibly jolt me into changing my life.
To make a very long story shorter, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away. She was diagnosed 3 years after my son died and died close to 3 years later at 53 years old.
The same funeral home that buried my son, was also going to be burying my mom. They called me and said I should come up. This was late at night. I walked in the room. She looked absolutely stunning. Like she had never had cancer a day in her life. I laid my hand on her chest and said to her, “I will never touch drugs again in my life.” I have been true to that promise and have been clean now for 23 years.
I got married again when I was 25. We had a little girl and then I had a miscarriage when she was about 6 months old. I ended up getting pregnant again and had another little girl. They are 22 months apart.
Before I ever got married, I caught my husband in some completely ridiculous lies. They were over things so irrelevant that I blew it off. When my oldest was just a small baby, I caught him looking at porn and would go on to find out occasionally through the rest of our marriage that he did that off and on. Or should I say, he got caught off and on.
Other than that, he was so, so awesome. He worshipped the ground I walked on. He rolled out the red carpet for me. He was an amazing dad. He went to church with me each and every single week for many, many, many years. We were highly involved in church and always leaders as well as volunteering regularly.
In June of 2009 he lost his job. He was out of work for 5 months and it was just an awful situation. My kids had never had to live like that before and had no idea what it was like to be stuck eating buttered noodles for every meal for an extended period of time. In October, he found a great job. By January, we had insurance again. I was 40 years old.
I was in the shower one day and thought wow, I should start doing those self-exam things and get a mammogram and stuff since I was 40 and knowing what had happened to my mom. So, I got some soap on my hand and lathered up, touched my right breast first and immediately felt a pea size lump. I thought for sure it must be related to my period. So I waited until my next period was over and felt it again. It was still the same.
I ended up finding out that it was indeed malignant cancer. I had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and two reconstruction surgeries. When I was told I had to have chemo, I had to go to a “Chemo class.” During that class, I was told that everyone around me would be going through the emotional side of finding out I had cancer and that I would be fighting it physically with all my might. They went on to say that once I was done with the physical part, others will have already worked through it right about the time I started dealing with the emotional side and that I should be prepared for that.
Sure enough, about 6 weeks after I had my last treatment, I was crying all the time. I am NOT a cryer AT ALL. I couldn’t keep it together. My husband, who had been so awesome and loving to me for over 13 years at this point, was far from understanding. I was in shock. He had never treated me like this and such terrible timing! After he started treating me poorly, I noticed that something was just completely off. This went on for several weeks and I decided to hire a private investigator. Lo and behold, he had been cheating on me while I was fighting for my life. Not only that, he had been living a double life for many years.
To say I was crushed and devastated would be a complete understatement. I couldn’t make it on my own, I was afraid. I was in a mentally fragile state already and I was also still bald at this time. The girls had never in their lives even witnessed us have an argument. Not even two weeks later, he was offered a better job in Atlanta, Georgia. We had no choice but to go with him at the time and I thought maybe this was a fresh start somehow. We moved and found a counselor who came highly recommended. He even had a waiting list. We went to counseling every single week for close to two years.
After I received that private investigators report and he knew he was busted, he was never the same and isn’t to this very day. The entire time we went to counseling I wanted so bad to believe my marriage could somehow be salvaged. The longer time went on and the counselor kept siding with him, the more angry I became. I knew deep within me that he hadn’t changed a bit. I put it in my mind that if I found out again that he had not even changed at all, that I would be officially DONE with this life.
I did in fact discover that exact thing out, only on a grander scale than I could have ever imagined. He was going to the mall with the kids on a Saturday. I peeked out the window until I saw them be out of site. I ran down the stairs, I jumped in my car and ran down to the liquor store. I bought Everclear and Tequila. I came home and started filling the bathtub up with water. I downed a huge drink, put on some music, turned on the shower so if they came home they would think I was in the shower, proceeded to take about 200 pills, got in the bathtub and got as far down as I could and asked God repeatedly to please, please forgive me. I was not scared, I was not nervous, I was finally at peace knowing that this nightmare I was living was almost FINALLY officially over.
Any other Saturday, they would have stayed gone all day and I would’ve just enjoyed my day alone. I had fallen into a severe depression and had no idea what was even happening to me. He started calling me and I didn’t answer. This wasn’t unusual either. He got nervous and a sick feeling in his gut and came home to check on me. He had to bust the door down to get to me. I had been in that water passed out for over two hours. He didn’t even think I was breathing. I had thrown up and swallowed it, it had gotten in my lungs and I was blue.
He screamed for my oldest daughter who was there and unfortunately she had to bring him the phone and she saw me in that state. The paramedics came and took me to the hospital. I was on the brink of death, in intensive care and on life support for days. They did not think I would make it and if I did, they doubted I would be normal.
I woke up and was so groggy, I had double pneumonia, I couldn’t breathe, I was strapped to the bed and my throat was so sore from things being down my throat. I kept trying to wake up. Once I came to a little more I saw my friend standing next to me and I realized I had lived. The first words out of my mouth were, “You have GOT to be fucking kidding me!!”
I was in the hospital for a while and when I was getting released, my husband came to pick me up. When he got there, he sat down with me and the psychiatrists who had been working with me and proceeded to tell them he was leaving me. They quickly said what a terrible decision that would be. I was in complete shock and disbelief. Sure enough, we got in the car, he drove home, pulled up to the driveway, dropped me off and never came back.
That was February 5th, 2013. I have spent the last three plus years trying to understand why my life has been like this. Trying to make sense of it all. I was so very angry at him. Actually, it was worse than anger, it was 100% pure hate.
In 2015, I finally let that all go. I did a lot of internal work. Unfortunately, I still struggled with depression after my attempt. The shame and guilt that I felt was so overwhelming but I knew there was NO way in hell I could ever do this again to my children. There were times I couldn’t get out of bed. There were times I wished so badly that I would just die. Times when I would be driving down the road wishing a semi truck would just fall on me and kill me. There were days I literally set the stopwatch on my phone to try and stay alive 60 more seconds.
It was at this time I knew that suicide was NO longer an option for me. Counselors and therapists did me absolutely no good. I knew within me that I was the only one who could help me. I started realizing that surviving all these things I had endured was actually harder sometimes than the events when they happened. I started creating tools to help me on the bad days. I started practicing different things that would come to my mind and kept the ones that worked.
That is when “Surviving Survival” came to me. I realized that surviving survival can be a real bitch. I realized how I had gone to counseling every week for almost two years and had actually gone the Wednesday before the Saturday I tried taking my life. They were of no help in any way to me. Had I even told the counselor what thoughts were running through my mind, I would have been committed. If I told a pastor, same thing. I could not talk to anyone. If I told my family they would freak out and I guarantee you my husband would have gladly had me committed. Suicide was the only answer. I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted the internal pain to finally end. I just couldn’t take another tragedy.
So, I have something inside of my heart that is yearning every day to come out stronger and stronger. I want to make talking about this “okay.” People who are that depressed and suicidal don’t need someone to pray for them. They need real life, real time help!!!! I know that I lived to share my story with others. I know without one single doubt that I survived to help others thrive in their survival. I want to give people hope that they can truly go through just about anything and make it…they can be okay….and even better than they ever imagined.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I would love nothing more than to hear all about YOUR story. If you are comfortable enough to share it with me, please email me at email@example.com I would be honored!!
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The Survivor Coach ~ Kelley McElreath