Caregivers

9 Feb

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I found out a little over a week ago that one of my caregivers has cancer. She was diagnosed a few years ago and it has returned with a vengeance. I met her when I first got cancer in 2008 and she was integral in my healing process both physically (helping me regain my voice) and mentally because she is one strong woman. She pushed me hard to help my healing and I am so grateful. A few days ago I found out another strong woman who has cared for me and my kids was just diagnosed with cancer as well. The news made me sad because you just never think the people who have made it their job to care for you and others would ever get sick themselves. Cancer is a bitch (excuse my language but it just sucks).

Over the past 11 years with cancer I have been a patient at a few different institutions and have had img_6957amazing doctors, nurses, and support staff. About 4 years ago one of my original doctors that helped navigate my cancer journey retired and I cried my eyes out.  He was the one who called me with the news that my cancer had returned the 2nd and 3rd time. He researched new therapies and called different surgeons and oncologists; this busy doctor made me feel like I was his only patient for the 6 years that I saw him. I love all of the people that cared/care for me. What a difficult job they have trying to comfort and encourage patients, while also doing their jobs and what’s medically necessary. The impact that caregivers have on our lives is pretty astounding. Having cancer comes with baggage; fear, sadness, uncertainty~ it’s a dark time and medical staff play an important part. No matter what is happening in their lives they are tasked to care and love hard. Dr. M and Dr. D, my prayers are with you and I love you both hard.

February also marks 6 months since Alex had the stroke. He is doing remarkably well! After having full right side paralysis, he’s now walking, driving, and back in school facetune_05-12-2019-17-31-34part time getting all A’s. He still gets a little tired writing but that is coming along. Here’s my mom struggle…before the stroke he was a normal teen boy doing the push and pull; the pushing of my nerves while trying to pull away into his own adulthood. I get it, I’ve had to let go of my other two and that’s how it goes. After the stroke, he became my baby again. It was an incredibly difficult time and sometimes when I close my eyes I can still see him lying in that bed in the ICU and it makes me cry. There are things I can’t even talk about without choking up including the last night we spent at the hospital together, praying, crying, and talking about all that had transpired, before img_6960being discharged to come home. Now that he’s about 95% back to being a normal teen boy, there’s that push and pull again, and I have to relearn it. As one radio DJ said, it’s like a hard break up. For me it’s like breaking up, getting back together, then going through an even harder break up again. Makes me sad but I know it’s necessary. Motherhood is hard and time flies. Besides Alex, my oldest is graduating college in a few months and planning grad school farther away, and Audrey is studying overseas this whole semester. It’s a mixed bag of sadness and joy.

I was a guest on another podcast last week and the topic was hope. She asked my definition of hope which I responded that it’s knowing your mission here on earth is not yet finished. It’s looking forward to another day with the expectation of something good despite your circumstances. Hope is the active response to gratefulness, recognizing the beauty of what, and who surrounds you.  The month of January my lipstick company, The Lipstick Journey, did a ‘buy one/give one’ to a cancer thriver and it was amazing. I got stories and emails and pictures of people across the country. I got to write notes of encouragement with every lipstick I sent. This is the mission that gives me hope and the motivation to keep my lipstick company alive. What else gives me hope? My faith in God knowing He’s ultimately in control, and people. Despite what we see on the news, the ugliness of politics, and people still judging others, there are kind people all around that want change and want to be helpful. I’ve seen it and felt it. When you’re sick or in need, people rise up. That’s hope. We are all caregivers. Be kind and love hard.

‘Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward, casts the shadow of our burden behind us’~S Smiles

2020

19 Jan
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Photo by Kat Stevenson Photography

It’s mid-January and I’m not even sure I know how to write anymore because it’s been so long. 2019 was a little rough around the edges from cancer, stroke, job changes, etc. and I just wanted to slide into a new year with new vision, renewed hope, and peace. So many amazing things happened in 2019 too; officially launching my lipstick company, new friends, old friends, travel, and many wonderful events. My year also ended with Alex walking, talking, driving and back in school part time, as well as my cancer still remaining stable-two of the greatest miracles. Adversity can make us bitter or better and although all the not so great events tested my patience, my heart, and my willpower, I am more patient and resilient because if it. I choose better. One thing I know is that we constantly hear we have to ‘be’ the good but I’ve learned we must also ‘see’ the good.

This year, instead of immediately thinking about the future and what 2020 had in store, I decided to take some time and look backwards; not to dwell in the past, but to learn from it. Since we entered a new decade I saw many posts with pics

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My fave picture from 10 years ago

from 10 years ago. In the past 10 years, I got cancer 3 more times, got divorced, remarried, had 2 out of 3 kids start college, and started a business. I looked at my calendar from the past year and everything that filled it, I thought about the moments and the people that brought me joy, I thought about all the crappy things that happened, like Alex’s stroke, and sat in gratitude for the people who surrounded us and loved us throughout. It was a cool thing to look back and see how I’ve grown and changed, and how all the challenges from the past year made me feel more resilient (and focused) than ever. Turning 50 also helped because now I feel like I’ve finally become who I was made to be. ‘By the time you turn 50, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important. We have learned to take life seriously, but never ourselves.’~M. Dressler. Maya Angelou says, ‘The 50’s are all you were meant to be.’ Yes, all about it and feeling comfortable in my skin.

My word for 2020 is SIMPLE or SIMPLICITY. What does that mean for me? Simple living, purging things we (I) don’t need. Doing the Marie Kondo thing and assessing the things that bring me joy and those that don’t. Not overdoing the ‘yes’ but not overdoing ‘no.’ Setting intentions and saying them out load. Simple faith which means losing the constraints of ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ and just following Jesus and His example of loving people…all people. Our pastor said today that God is writing His story through people’s lives. If you can look at people and know that God is their author how can you not love them? What about our enemies, the people who have hurt you? I’m still processing that, give me a minute. Also, at the end of the day if you simply love yourself and how and who you were created to be, there is less room for comparison and jealousy and the need to be something else. There’s just peace and gratitude. Life gets complicated on its own.

It’s 2020. I looked back to LIVE forward. What a crazy, beautiful life it’s been. Happy New Year!facetune_30-01-2019-10-32-43

And then one day

it seemed like

the past no longer mattered

because she had learned

her lessons,

embraced her dreams,

and the world

was at her feet. ~ Mark Anthony

 

Tears Through Sadness and Joy

17 Dec

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This year has been a year filled with so many tears from both despair and profound gratitude. One of the aftereffects of having cancer is that your eyes and heart are so wide open, you feel and love more deeply because you’re much more aware of time, people, and life in general. Well dang, what a year it has been; still dealing with cancer, an unexpected emergency surgery, Alex’s stroke, launching a new lipstick company, job changes…so much.

A little over a week ago Alex had img_4634what will hopefully be his last procedure having to do with his stroke last summer. Afterward, while Alex was in the recovery room, the doctor came in and told us that all of the vessels in his brain looked normal and that he shouldn’t have another stroke due to AVM in his future. Done. A few hours after leaving the hospital I was alone in my car headed to the grocery store and I started to cry which then turned into weeping. I couldn’t stop. I realized that since Alex’s stroke in August, I was remaining strong and focused on him and his recovery, trying to keep his and my own spirits up, and now, I was letting it all go. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. August and September were a blur of worry, grief, and tears and now, these were tears of joy, gratefulness, and relief.

Yesterday I had my 6 month CT scan because yes, I still have cancer. Typically for about 2 weeks before my scans I suffer from scanxiety; that anxious, fearful feeling from getting a scan that may say your cancer has advanced. I’ve even on occasion had a mini panic attack while being rolled into the machine. With my focus on Alex and his health over the past few months I haven’t had the time or energy to img_6120focus on my own stuff, which was kind of a blessing. Here’s the lesson in that, when you focus on others you focus less on yourself, it’s a good thing most of the time. I honestly didn’t even think about my scan until the night before. I got the results today and I’M STILL STABLE!! My cancer is still there but slow growing and as my doctor said in his text, ‘nothing to worry about.’ Tears, actually, lots of tears.

Pain and suffering eventually come to us all. At some point, we will all find ourselves in places of darkness that will seemingly overwhelm, even destroy us…Every journey into darkness, whilst terrifying, has unexpected treasures hidden in it.’~David Gotts

2019 is coming to a close, and after my scan and stable results today I feel like I am finally exhaling. A new decade is coming, 2020…a new DECADE! Through it all, what were the unexpected treasures? What were the diamonds that shone through the darkness? I cry thinking about it because there were so many points of light that I realize it was never really dark. Christmas is coming and one of the things I am most grateful for is my faith and knowing that I don’t ever have to carry anything alone. Through the tears, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for following my lipstick journey. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Cheers!img_5696

 

50

16 Nov

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It’s been a long time since I’ve written. If you read my last blog I spoke about being weary. After coming home from Alex’s 6 week hospital stay from the stroke, I was physically exhausted, mentally fried, and soul-crushed tired. All of that turned into functional depression or maybe grief over the past month or so. There’s a lot of talk about mental health these days so it seems ‘safer’ to speak truth and this is me being vulnerable. I say ‘functional’ depression because I continued to work, and smile, and socialize, and maintain my regular ‘high achieving/ goal oriented’ daily life, but then there was the other side. There was the underlying sadness that I could feel wanting to pull me down, and the tears that would show up at random times. It was like skating on thin ice wondering when it would start cracking and hoping I didn’t fall through. I still feel it come and go but I also feel like I’m coming out of it. I have PTSD from Alex’s stroke. When he doesn’t respond to a text within minutes I’m panicky, if he sleeps 5 minutes longer than normal I wonder if he’s ok. I hate it. He has one more procedure coming up to make sure his AVM is completely gone and it happens to be the same week as my CT to measure my tumors. It’s a lot. I probably need therapy.

I have to say this past year has been a challenge (cancer, emergency surgery, stroke, job stress and changes) but for every bad thing that’s happened there have been a million awesome things. Balancing the weight of having cancer was(is) difficult enough, but then I had to dig even deeper for strength to help my son. Isn’t that how life is? Never comfortable? Adversity and challenges come and go to help us know what we’re made of. We can either cower and crawl into fetal position or push forward and say ‘screw you, I’m not going down that way.’ It’s funny, my word for 2019 year was/is renewal. The definition of renewal is to make new; refresh after an interruption; to restore. This has been a year of interruption and constant renewal has been tough. How ironic.

Last October I turned 50 and I felt a mind shift; maybe wiser, maybe more confident. Even though I got my AARP eligibility card in the mail (thanks for the reminder I’m a pre-qualifier for senior discount, AARP), I didn’t feel older… I felt a little more bad ass. In my 30’s and 40’s I felt a little nervous or maybe insecure about getting older but when I turned 50 everything kind of came together. After cancer, divorce, re-marriage, a really sick kid, I know what I’m made of and I’m pretty comfortable in my skin. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

  •  You are stronger than you think
  •  50 is still young, don’t fight it
  •  Stay connected with younger people, it keeps your mind active and there’s lots to learn from each other
  •  Simple is better, there are so many things you don’t need; assess, trash, donate
  •  There are still so many good people in this world
  •  The Golden Rule is truth. If everyone treated people how they would want to be treated the world would be a better place.
  •  Actions are more important than words; Words don’t matter if your actions don’t match
  •  Words can break you
  •  Bad things will happen
  •  There’s no need to be around toxic people, they just poison you and it takes too long to recover
  •  Everyone’s days are numbered, live like it
  •  Sadness comes and goes
  •  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, read the book (paraphrased from Dolly Parton)~because everyone comes from a really good story
  •  Beauty and ugly both come from the inside, not what’s reflected in the mirror
  •  There’s no ‘perfect time’ to follow your dreams, just dive right in
  •  Loving God is different than being religious
  •  Life is still filled with wonder just open your eyes

Lastly, always be grateful.

Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’~Mark Twain

 

Weary

16 Sep

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Alex (and I) left the hospital a little over a week ago and it’s been so good to be home. He’s been getting better at hyper speed and it’s been amazing to watch and honestly, pretty miraculous. He still has some work to do but his recovery has been phenomenal and I am beyond grateful. The Monday after we came home I had my appointment with my oncologist and just like that, I was back into my ongoing cancer journey.hospital

This past weekend Alex spent some time at his dads and it was the first time since the stroke that I wasn’t around him. It made me a little anxious to be away from him but gave me time to sit and digest everything that had happened over the past month and a half. I’m tired, but more than that, I’m exhausted and soul-weary; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Over the past 10 years I have fought and beat cancer 3 times and am now fighting for the 4th time, Stage 4 metastatic…then Alex has a stroke. That doesn’t even include divorce from a (still) difficult ex, remarriage, step-kids, new jobs, moving, sending kids off to college and all the daily obstacles ‘normal’ life brings. I. Am. Tired. I picked up a couple of my old journals, one from almost 20 years ago and one just 5 years ago and both were filled with so many struggles but all my entries ended with ‘thank you for…’ I have never asked God why I got/have cancer, I did ask why Alex had a stroke, and I have asked why life just can’t be easy for awhile because there always seems to be something, and that something has felt enormous (cancer, stroke). God didn’t promise easy. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, NONE of those stories point to easy. But still…

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’~
– Ernest Hemingway

When I was first diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, there was a time when my prognosis was not great, and while I was praying one night I audibly heard God say ‘trust.’ Maybe it was in my head, but it was an interrupted thought and just the word ‘trust.’ Since then, that has been my mantra, trust Him. I am not questioning my faith because man, without faith in these trials I would be flailing. In fact, I believe I can still stand strong because I am trusting God to hold me up. I am not alone in this crazy thing called life. I do feel at this moment like my soul needs refreshment. It feels heavy, sometimes sad, and honestly it feels harder right now to find a thank you because I’m just tired; tired for my child, tired of fighting cancer. Matthew 11:28-30 ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ I am craving that rest, not just sleep, soul rest and refreshment. Psalm 71:14 ‘But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.’ Small steps, Big God.

alex homeIt was a tough 6 weeks. What sustained me and gave me energy? Love. Love is a superpower; love beyond any words, love that took action. My fierce momma bear love gave me the energy I needed to take care of Alex and to be there fully for him. The crazy love I received from my home team: my husband, kids, parents, friends, Alex’s friends and teachers, the parents of Alex’s friends, etc, helped sustained my spirit and kept me secure that yes, the world at home and around me were also taken cared of. The love Alex and I felt from the nurses, staff, work friends, acquaintances, and even wishes from social media strangers was incredible. Love does make the world go round and life always moves forward. ‘It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.’~Vincent Van Gogh

 

Courage

28 Aug

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This has been one of the toughest weeks in the hospital with my son. As you know from my last blog, my 16 year old suffered a stroke on August 2nd. Since then he went from the ICU to a step down unit, to in patient rehab. He has made TONS of progress in terms of speech and his right side gaining movement, but all of this progress was leading up to 2 procedures to ‘fix’ the AVM in his brain; one to stop the blood flow in that area, followed by brain surgery to fix the actual malformation. What went from deepest sorrow, to joy from getting better, returned to grief and fear this past week for these next two steps. Everyday since last Friday, grief, fear, and joy lived simultaneously in his hospital room. During the day we would experience the joy of something gaining motion but at night, the fear of the upcoming procedures and what changes may happen would steal the joy. Then there were the questions amidst tears in the quiet before bed each night; Why did this happen to me? Why can’t I just be a normal teen? Why me? I didn’t know this momma’s heart could break even more, but watching your child in pain and struggling with these unanswerable questions broke the remainder of what I had left.

How do you answer these questions when you don’t have the answers? How do you remain courageous when you yourself have fear? All I could do was hug him, cry with him and tell him that it was ok to cry, be afraid, and ask questions but in the morning he needed to fight back and to push forward. I told him to ask God to strengthen and sustain him and to give him peace. For a kid (and even for an adult), that sounds so generic and blasé’, but it’s what I have to hang on to so I’m going to hang on to it. I also told him when he’s older, he can tell his kids and grandkids about the scar on his head and how he overcame the biggest challenge of his life when he was just a kid. Ann Voskamp speaks of grief and loss as a type of empty or negative space in our hearts which gives our lives definition; its constant presence in our thoughts and actions. She then says that God uses this space to give us permission to pause, help us reevaluate and draw our attention to what is positive-God Himself and the hope we have.

I am exhausted, mentally and physically. On top of this, we had 3 kids recently go off to college and another is starting her senior year of high school. Life moves forward. I thought that a Stage 4 diagnosis would do me in, but watching and caring for your child through such a major health crisis goes beyond human capability. I understand the being strong and fighting part when it comes to me and my fight, but for my child? It’s the next level. Children believe you when they see in your eyes that you believe, and it has taken every inch of my being, with HEAVY reliance on my faith to be strong and courageous for both of us. Love gives courage. We talk about life in seasons, ‘this is just a good or bad season,’ etc, but I heard Shauna Niequist on a podcast and she referred to life as more of a railroad track, the good and bad happen simultaneously side by side. I agree because I’ve seen it every day we’ve been here and even through my own cancer journey. In this hell, there has been light. On the worst of days, there have been glimmers of hope. There may have been tears but there has been laughter as well; always good and bad side by side.

The love we have experienced from friends, family, nurses, even strangers have meant so much and has lifted us up. I cannot thank you all enough for all the cards, texts, gifts, and prayers. As a Christian, I have always known the story of God and Jesus but now I understand even more the incredible sacrifice; a Father watching his son suffer real human suffering to give us all hope. That is love. Love gives courage.

Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you…I will uphold you.’~Isaiah 41:10

 

Is God Still Good

16 Aug

img_4179About a month ago I was scrolling through social media and one of the cancer survivor/fighters I follow had her first scan one year after being told she was cancer free, and it was still clean. This of course is reason to celebrate and her comment was ‘God is so good.’ I hate to say it, but in my mind I thought, What if the scan results did not turn out that way…would she have still said, ‘God is so good’?

I have had a beyond crazy couple of weeks. About 2 weeks ago I was part of a celebration called Brushes With img_4060Cancer. I was matched with an artist (singer) and we collaborated together to create a piece of music with spoken word. There were several other artist/cancer thriver collaborations and the night was beautiful. At the end of the night I was presented a painting from an artist who told me he was inspired by my story and the painting he had been working on that evening was meant for me. Cue the tears of joy, gratitude, awe, etc. I left on a high. God is good. The very next day my 16 year old son suffered a stroke. The very. next. day.

Two weeks ago today, my son suffered a stroke due to AVM, an undetected malformation in the brain from birth. The tears of joy the night before turned into tears of the greatest sorrow and desperation I have ever had. I have never felt such depths of grief until I saw my baby, right side paralyzed, unable to speak that first week, with so much fear in his eyes. Was God still good? I obviously have had my fair share of bad stuff, but that first week (last week) felt like I was in an alternate reality. The words, ‘God only gives you what you can handle,’ meant (means) nothing to me because this, I couldn’t handle. Then there’s, ‘Things happen for a reason,’…what reason? Why do I have Stage 4 cancer and why would my youngest have a stroke? Here’s what I think (and excuse my language), shit happens. It just does. We were not promised heaven on earth or some euphoric life. I live in Michigan, we have long, gray winters, Michigan is not heaven. This is real life.

When Jesus was on earth, He experienced real life too. God doesn’t give us what we can handle, what kind of God would punish us to see what we could handle? I have felt completely helpless in this situation and I can’t handle this on my own, so on the contrary, I believe God helps us handle what we’re given. Ann Voskamp writes, ‘The Writer of the story has written Himself into the hardest places of yours and is softening the edges of everything with redeeming grace.’ I like that, He is softening the edges of this nightmare.

God is still good. In the case of a Christian life instead of ‘seeing is believing’, we have to live by ‘believing is seeing’. Romans 8:25 says, ‘But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ This situation sucks. Me having cancer sucks. I know for sure though, that believing in God offers me the hope I need to push forward. This hope is the release needed to say, ‘I have no control over the situation and I hand it to You.’ Erwin McManus says, ‘Our ability to endure, persevere, to overcome is fueled by this one seemingly innocuous ingredient called hope.’  So, having metastatic cancer but still stable after 2 years? God is good. Alex progressing and getting better slowly every day? God is good. The hundreds if not thousands of people who have prayed for us over the past couple of weeks? God is good. Jesus living on this earth and suffering real, human, pain to give us hope? God is good. We will all have some adversity and some, even major tragedies which will be 100% awful and make us question everything. For me, the bits of peace and even the smallest rays of hope come from my faith in a big God, no matter the outcome. I am not alone. Small steps, big God. God is good.

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