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Keep Going

9 Dec

img_0448Last weekend I got to spend some time in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is probably my favorite place in the whole world because of its beauty and the peace I have felt every time I’ve gone there. Typically I’ve gone with girlfriends and we’ve enjoyed walks, food, and spas but this time I went with my husband. A die hard water person, he was hesitant to visit the desert but on the road into Sedona after seeing the first giant red rock, I believe he was hooked into the magic. On the second day (we were only there for 2 days), we decided to pick a trail and hike. I asked the front desk person at our motel for a map of the trailheads and for a short description of the trails. We decided to hit a trail late in the afternoon, picking the ‘light to medium difficulty’ 3 mile trail with ‘the best views’ (according to the lady). Long story short it was a beautiful trail near the top of a mountain with spectacular views but instead of the 3 miles, we ended up on different trails along the way and about 5 miles and 2 hours in, we started wondering if the trail was ending soon and if was going to be anywhere near where we parked. We kept a comfortable pace until the sun started going down and we started img_0466seeing animal (mountain lion) tracks along the way (the trail was a little muddy in some parts from rain earlier). Over 6 plus miles later, with the last mile or so uphill, we were exhausted, hungry, cold, but finally back in our car. Whew! It was exhilarating! 5000 foot elevation, 6+ miles, metastatic cancer with multiple lung nodules, the hike was a little challenging going uphill at various times but dang, when you think you can’t do something but do it anyway…it takes your breath away (literally for me).

‘If you can’t fly then run, If you can’t run then walk, If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’~Martin Luther King

This morning I went to the gym. I go to Orange Theory Fitness because I need to have someone tell me what I need to do and for how long when it comes to working out. OTF is like having a personal trainer (but in a group setting) for an hour and I love it. Today was what they call ‘power day’ which is basically working your tail off non stop for an hour. About half way through the class I could feel myself losing steam but then a new song came on and I was back in the game; Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll. There was something about that song that brought back memories of my youth, and the sheer strength and grit of her female rockers voice pushed me to keep going.

What is it that pushes you to take that one extra step? On the mountain, fear and cold was a pretty good motivator. At the gym, it was a song translating into grit, determination and stamina. There are so many things in life that are like the mountain. You move ahead without img_0500really knowing if you’re going the right way or if there may be a little danger ahead. You take one step at time with a little fear and trepidation but you know that stopping is not the solution. Keep moving. Then there are times like the gym when you know you’re on the right path but you’re simply losing steam. Dig deep. Surround yourself with people that can motivate you and those that believe in you. Keep going.

It’s the holiday season and I admit, it’s always been a melancholy time for me. Partly because when I was young I remember my parents being a little sad missing their extended family they left behind in the Philippines. The other part comes from first finding a lump in my neck around Christmas in 2007, recovering from my 2nd surgery/cancer around the holidays in 2008, then getting a call on Christmas Eve 2009 that my cancer had returned for the third time. This Christmas I’m feeling that extra push to seize every moment. I’m so grateful for my life and for every person in it. My cancer has been stable now for a year and a half so I can feel myself getting excited about living and possibly a longer future ahead. Hope is a beautiful thing. I will keep moving forward.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.~Deuteronomy 31:6

God’s got us. Christmas is a miracle. Unto us a child is born. What a beautiful time of year to sit back, reflect on our blessings and keep. pushing. forward.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Promise because there’s so much hope and promise in every day. Cheers!

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Possibility

27 Nov

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There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying’.~Lauren Roberts

When I read that quote it really spoke to me and helped explain a little of what has happened to me since getting diagnosed with metastatic cancer in July of 2017. The world got quiet and I heard (and continue hearing) my heart. It’s really been an incredible year feeling every emotion from the depths of sorrow from the diagnosis, to having moments of pure joy just from being alive. In the quiet is where I’ve prayed and poured my heart out to God. In the quiet is where I’ve wept and in the quiet is where I’ve learned more of who I am and what my dreams and goals are.

This past Thanksgiving was one of those times of pure joy. My two older kids were home from college and all I felt was joy having everyone around. Even though I did most of the cooking and there were only a few moments of silence the whole weekend, I pretty much had a smile on my face the entire time. It was awesome having a crazy, active, and alive house for awhile. I do have to say, there are still 3 teens at home so our house can still get crazy and loud but school, sports, and work break that up a bit.

After my diagnosis the world seemed to go in slow motion, and did get quiet around me. I have spent a lot of time thinking, praying and being intentional. When you’re faced with your own mortality you start to really analyze how you use your time and truly, how you want to use it. This is what I believe the quote meant…the only thing left to listen to was my heart and God, because He owns my heart. Something I knew I wanted to do was help other patients fighting cancer.

The last 3 times I had cancer, surgery was involved and therefore, hospital stays. The hardest times for me was when I was alone in that hospital room and I was alone A LOT. Yes I had visitors and lots of support from family and friends but when you are just laying there 24/7, there’s lots of alone time. When I was going through radiation for 7 weeks I was alone most of the time then too. As I walked past some of the rooms when leaving the hospital I saw many people alone and couldn’t imagine not having support of friends and family. After all of that, the one thing I knew was that I didn’t want other people to have to fight alone or to feel alone.

Over the past year or so I’ve been working on bringing two of my passions/dreams together, lipstick and helping other cancer fighters. Last Saturday I launched my very own lipstick company, The Lipstick Journey, combining story with color. It is a dream come true. I decided what ingredients I wanted and those I didn’t. I decided the formula and how I wanted it to feel. I named the colors and wrote the descriptions. What a fun journey it has been. During my times with cancer (and now) I would use lipstick and the power of color to express how I felt and now, through my company, I want to help others do the same. I plan on giving partial proceeds, as well as time in volunteer efforts once a month to two organizations I have relationships with, with hopes of adding more organizations in the future. This past year I was sent a Fighting Pretty box and loved it, and since cancer #2 in 2009, I have been an angel mentor with Imerman Angels. Both amazing organizations that uplift and help cancer fighters not feel so alone.

TLJIs it ever too late to dream? Never. Stage 4, metastatic cancer? It’s now or never. Keep dreaming. God puts dreams into your soul and sometimes it’s adversity that reveals them. It has been a beautiful and fun journey and has been one thing giving me life. What is it that brings you life and joy? Maybe you should be walking in that direction, just take that first step.

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do’.~Pope John XXIII

Today I wear Fierce from The Lipstick Journey…self explanatory! Cheers!

Why Be Kind?

13 Nov
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Photo courtesy of Nicole Daniela Photography

Today is National Kindness Day…because we need a designated day to be reminded to be kind. I guess it’s fine since there seems to be a day for everything now. Last week I had a short meeting in Chicago. One of the best places to see human nature at its finest is at the airport during the boarding process and also trying to get off the plane after landing. We all know we all have to get on the plane and buckle up and we all know we have to get off so why the insanity? From my previous posts you know that my left arm is significantly weaker than my right and is also losing feeling. What that means for me and travel, is that I panic at the thought of having to lift a bag over my head to place into the overhead bin. On the short flight to Chicago, I struggled getting my stupid carry on bag up into the bin. I didn’t ask for help but as I struggled, broke a sweat, and bumped my head trying to lift my bag up, the man sitting underneath the ‘said bin’ sat and stared up at me with a face that said, ‘Are you serious, that bag is so small and you can’t lift it?’; I’m sure the people behind me wanting to get through were thinking the same thing. Coming back home I had to put my bag in the bin one row behind me. I’m sure you can guess, but trying to walk back even one row to get your bag once you land is not a party. Where does kindness go when you’re rushed, impatient, or inconvenienced?

My church spent a month highlighting random acts of kindness. They created a beautiful board for people to write what they’ve done to help and be kind to others. The acts of kindness ranged from the extravagant gestures to the simple ‘holding the door open for people’ ones. It makes me a tiny bit sad that we have to dedicate a month or even a day like today to be more intentional about being kind to others. Times are so weird right now; not only do we need reminders to be intentionally kind, sometimes it feels like when we are, we need to be recognized for it. We live in a very volatile world right now with hate, mass shootings, and racial tension but maybe, just maybe, it’s because we forgot the basic precepts of kindness, love, and respect for each other to the point of which we need a day to remember to be intentional about being kind. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this but I do know being pushed out of the way even after waiting until the row behind me got out to get my bag was not pleasant. Had the woman known I had cancer and it would take me a little extra effort to grab my bag because of radiation damage from cancer, would she have pushed her way through me to get out of the plane? Do we need a reason for basic kindness and respect? Even the smallest acts of kindness matter, but if we’re too self absorbed to be self aware then we’ll miss those moments. Be nice, even if no one knows, they’ll remember.

Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.~Lindsay Gordon

The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made of stone, They’re made out of memories people have of you.~from the book Wonder, RJ Palacio

Today I wear Laniege Kiss and Make Up Set. This is a full set of different flavored lip balms that they call ‘masks’ that you wear at night and wash off in the morning. Right now you can buy this set at Sephora for about the same price of a full size container (and you get a full size included in the set). I love it and had to try because it’s a top seller but I’m not attached because I do still love my Aquaphor at night. I chose it because it’s luxurious and necessary right now because of the colder weather and dryer lips. I also chose it because of the name of the set. Cheers!

Pity Party

3 Nov

img_3275I’ve done a pretty good job throwing myself a pity party this last month. That’s right, I’ve been angry, depressed, resilient yet sad, you name it and it was hard getting over the hump. I let cancer get to me and was even mad about that for awhile. Nobody could tell because I’m a fairly high functioning depressed person but it was always there in the shadows; that stupid sadness that just wouldn’t go away. Every day I’d get up, get ready and go to work…why? I’d try to work out…why? I’d try to eat healthier…why? I was plagued by the ‘I have cancer so why and what for..?’ and then I told someone. Not anyone I’m particularly close to but caught at the right place, right time. I said it out loud. I’m mad and sad I have cancer and I feel like I’m forced to compartmentalize all aspects of my life; the part of me that knows I have cancer vs. the wife, the mom, the employee, the entrepreneur, all of it. Yet, because it’s impossible to keep cancer in its own separate category since it actually infiltrates every part of your life and influences your daily decisions, well that was just making me sad. This person looked at me and said, ‘It’s ok.’ That’s it? Yes. I am all those things and I do have cancer. I function as ‘Anna vs. cancer’ with me forging ahead most of the time but sometimes cancer gets the upper hand and it’s ok. I found that it’s good to surrender to those feelings sometimes and to rest knowing that tomorrow is another day and that God is the one in control. I also found that it’s GREAT to tell someone.

I read this amazing blog by Michele Cushatt that really resonated with me. I mean, she expressed the EXACT feelings I’ve had all along but could not verbalize regarding the pain of what she had lost because of her cancer journey, in particular, singing. Like her I was a pianist, vocalist, worship leader, soloist. I grew up in musicals, sang around town, sang on a tv show, did a radio jingle but the first thing I lost to cancer was my voice. Like Michele, my brain tells me I can sing, I hear the notes in my head, but what comes out is not the same. A few weeks ago I finally did tests on my left arm which has been losing strength and feeling since external beam radiation 8 years ago. The doctor basically said my right arm is ‘bionic’ compared to the left and that my left arm could get even worse over the next few years. Depressing. I cannot feel my fingertips as it is, I can’t comfortably lift things over my head with my left arm and it feels like it’s asleep most of the time. It can get worse?? So now even piano is out. Like she said in her blog, it hurts to remember and it hurts to try and forget. Music is a part of me, I literally grew up singing, dancing and playing piano and now my abilities are mostly gone and not by choice. In her words, ‘Perhaps the most beautiful worship is the kind that springs from loss.’ Such truth there because now my heart really knows what worshipping Christ means when you feel like He’s all you have. Read her full blog called ‘A Worship That Costs Everythinghere.

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Here’s the deal, I’m done with my pity party. I celebrated my birthday a little over a week ago and it was great. One of the positives of having cancer is that it forces you to really see the minutia of every moment, good and bad. I let myself take the focus off the good for a bit but realized there is so much good. Gratefulness pulls out joy regardless of circumstance. If you can’t dig out of your sadness PLEASE tell someone, anyone. Surround yourself with good people who give you peace, and absolutely seek solitude and rest when you need to. Focus on things that give you life and tolerate the things you have to do that don’t. Notice the minutia and be grateful. Some of my old passions and dreams have had a forced death but they gave way to the birth of new dreams, and my voice? It’s still here in the words I write. Thanks for listening.

img_0017I do my best to find some kind of glow. I’m givin it some heart and soul now from the darkest grays the sun bursts, clouds break…This is life in color…this is life in motion. And just when I could run this race no more the sun bursts, clouds break. This is life in color.’~Life in Color, One Republic.

Today I wear Kat Von D Studded Kiss Crème Lipstick in Mercy which is a sparkly deep red. These lipsticks pack a punch in terms of color. They’re long lasting, creamy, and not overly drying. I chose this color because hello, sparkly red, but also because of the name. Cheers!

Thank you pink

19 Oct

facetune_22-04-2018-17-18-39October is breast cancer awareness month and I have a confession to make…ever since getting cancer 10 years ago I’ve been a little jealous of the pink. Everyone knows and  prepares for October; pink is everywhere from the local drugstore to the NFL to national news networks and rightly so, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. It seems that every type of cancer has a month and a ribbon color but I would venture to say that the general public couldn’t name any other month/color except for breast cancer and the pink. So when I first got cancer, not only did I hear ‘oh,  you have the easy cancer (thyroid)’ but I learned that our month was shared with Childhood cancer, Leukemia Lymphoma Cancer, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer, and our ribbon had multiple colors; purple, teal, and pink. In fact, on my first walk with Relay for Life I could not find anything thyroid cancer (t-shirts, ribbon pins, bracelets) from any vendors. Sigh.

Well here I am 10 years later, it’s October and pink is everywhere. I have cancer again for the fourth time, still thyroid but now metastatic. When I tell people I have cancer they assume it’s breast cancer because I’m a woman, it’s fine. This year, instead of the tinge of jealousy for the pink, I’m thankful. From my perspective the pink campaign has really helped increase awareness of all cancers. Ten years ago I could only find bracelets relayand pins with pink ribbons, today I’ve seen blue, purple, yellow, burgundy, and an occasional purple/teal/pink thyroid cancer ribbon. The pink has empowered women, has increased awareness and early detection, and has ultimately increased survival rates. Let’s face it, whatever color or month is associated with whatever cancer there is, cancer just sucks.

To all my breast cancer sisters, cheers to you, fight on! To all the other cancer warriors out there who aren’t represented by pink, I feel you, we got this. Here’s to another day!

Today I wear Nars Audacious Lipstick in Anna which is a smokey rose. These lipsticks have lots of color and are long lasting.  I chose this color because the name, obviously, but it’s a decent shade of pink for my skin tone. Cheers!

 

Nothing and Everything

6 Oct

img_4451The weather here in Michigan is changing. It’s my favorite time of year as the nights get cooler and the leaves change colors. I love fall. Over the past two weeks I’ve been in a little funk because with the changeover to fall my allergies start picking up and along with that and cancer, breathing becomes a little more difficult. I have had trouble breathing here and there since I got cancer the first time 10 years ago because of a paralyzed vocal cord from the first surgery. Now that my cancer is metastatic to my lungs, difficulty breathing is a little more urgent in the doctors’ eyes. Apparently even though my cancer is technically stable, since I have multiple lung nodules, there are possibilities of other things happening simply because my lungs are now compromised. Ugh. Over the past month I have been to the ER because of my breathing issues (all turned out normal besides still having cancer-still stable), and more recently my doctor thought I should go ahead and get a pulmonary function test which was not a party. That turned out pretty much as expected.

I am not in the mood to see doctors right now but because of breathing issues (which again are not new) I’ve had no choice, and again a reminder of cancer. Something I realized about myself over these past few weeks is that I’m really bad at resting and being still. I was never like that before. I mean, I was never someone who took naps but I’m pretty sure I could sit on the couch for hours staring at nothing. Now, not so much. My mind won’t stop spinning. I have a deep urgency about everything, being everywhere, doing everything I’ve wanted to do, not missing anything in regards to kid stuff and life in general. It’s so hard to be on the line between dreams, responsibility, possibility, and sadness-hard to describe. It all boils down to time. How do we spend it and who do we spend it with? Close your eyes for a minute and think about your life today; your family, your friends, your job, your home, now take a deep breath and imagine yourself  in an exam room with a doctor telling you that you have Stage 4 cancer, or you need a heart procedure, or you have MS, or whatever it may be. In a blink of an eye your life has changed it’s course to something you had not planned. Now open your eyes and exhale because you’ve been holding your breath. What would you do differently? From that point on what would your life look like? What if some things couldn’t change because of responsibility, what would you do today? In the late Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air he says, ‘I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but didn’t know when. But I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.’ Get it? Nothing changes yet everything changes so how are you going to spend your time?

img_4450-1I’ve been sad lately because there’s so much I want to do but I understand the facts of responsibility. I’m a wife and mom, I’m an employee, we have medical bills (obviously) and college bills so I can’t just tour the world or start a non-profit and help people. I get it but what can I change? What else can I do? This is why I’m restless. This is why my mind won’t stop. It’s kind of a lonely place to be, even lonelier when you try to pretend all is normal and the same as it always is or was because it’s not. I’m still grateful and I’m still forging ahead like there will be a thousand tomorrows because there could be. Today though, I’m seeking out the color amongst the gray because my heart’s been troubled and I know there’s so much beautiful color. I will soak in this encouragement from Ann Voskamp, ‘I have a Messiah who meets me in it, won’t leave me in it, and will carry me through it! We never cry alone. Go slow. Be God-struck. Grant grace. Live truth. Give thanks. Love well.’

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Photo cred: E. Petersen

Today I wear Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Liquorice which is a deep dark red. This lipstick has lots of color and is fairly moisturizing. I chose this color because it’s dark like my mood but has that bit of red that reminds me that there’s still fire deep inside. Cheers!

Motherhood And Cancer

26 Sep

facetune_22-09-2018-17-18-00Last weekend my son went to his first official high school homecoming dance. He didn’t have a date but neither did most of his friends. Interesting times but I guess less pressure if you just decide to go with a bunch of friends. When I first found out cancer was back a little over a year ago my primary thoughts were of the kids not having a mom around to see them graduate, get married, have kids of their own, etc. Since I’ve been stable over a year some of those thoughts have faded (a little) but every time something significant happens like graduation, off to college, or this homecoming dance, my heart swells and I feel so grateful to still be here.img_4293

What can I say about being a mom with cancer? Many of my emotions I can’t even iterate on paper. This may be the hardest part. When I first got cancer the kids were 5, 7, and 10 and my thoughts were consumed with being able to raise the kids to at least adulthood when maybe they wouldn’t need a mom as much, but now that my kids are there or close to that ‘adulthood’ age I realize they still need a mom and maybe even more. Watching them grow up and being there for these moments is both heartbreaking and beautiful. I guess the best description of being a mom with cancer is ‘overwhelmed’; every event, every moment, every time they lay their head on my shoulder, every great conversation, every text or call just to say hello, and every ‘I love you’ is overwhelming, like my heart may burst into a thousand pieces with joy and love. On the other side, every harsh word or rude comment, every ‘you’re so annoying’, every time they make a bad decision, it is absolutely piercing heartbreak. Thankfully the negative is not often but it still happens and it’s hard. Having cancer has magnified every single emotion for me and as a mom, sometimes the emotions feel unbearable, both the good and the bad.

As it stands, motherhood is a sort of wilderness through which each woman hacks her way, part martyr, part pioneer; a turn of events from which some women derive feelings of heroism, while others experience a sense of exile from the world they knew.~Rachel Cusk

Metastatic cancer generally has no cure, it’s all about time. Being stable means more time. Being stable over a year? Slow growing…more time. I don’t want to miss anything. When they were young, I wanted to see them through to adulthood. Now that they’re older teens/young adults I want to see the rest of their stories and how it all shakes out so I’m kind of mad about it. There is no good time to have cancer. The teen/young adult years, I have decided, are the hardest years to parent. This is the time when kids push boundaries, try to bend the rules, and try to shove their way into adulthood and oh yeah, they can drive away. Why am I mad? Because at a time when I want to hold them tight and spend every possible moment I can with them,  they are trying to push off into the world. It stinks. It’s hard in general to parent during teen years but even harder with cancer because again, it’s about time. So. Incredibly. Frustrating.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt.

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How has cancer changed my mothering? I stare at the kids longer when I see them trying to memorize every feature. I move heaven and earth to be available for the times that they want to see me. I cry a lot more and not just when I’m sad, but when I’m ecstatic as well. I cry so.much. I hug them until they have to push me away and I pray for them and their future without ceasing. Motherhood stretches our hearts bigger and wider than we could have ever imagined and when you add cancer or any illness for that matter, your heart  stretches to the point of breaking. I read somewhere that cancer is not just a disease of the body but of the mind, body, and soul. So true. I will not let cancer break my spirit. I will take ‘stable’ as long as possible. I am a mom. I am strong.

Today I wear one of my favorite lips products of all time, Dior Lip Glow in Berry. I have this in 3 different ‘colors’. Essentially these are lip balms but each brings out a natural hue from your lips. I love these because they’re moisturizing and give your lips enough color to feel ‘finished’. Cheers!

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