Just Anna

3 Jun

beachThe past few days have been hard. I’ve been trying to process all that has happened in America recently regarding race and it’s too much. When Covid started, it was Asians being blamed as being responsible, then the sickening killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, the most recent horrific murder of George Floyd, so many more…and those are just what we’ve heard about. It’s been hard and disheartening for me because of my own experiences with racial discrimination and has brought to mind all the times I have felt ‘less than’ or ‘out of place’ over the years. My experiences are in NO WAY NEAR what black Americans deal with on a regular basis, and I’ve not felt the pain of injustice, but they are mine and they are stories of being yellow/brown, and not white, in America.

I was born in the Philippines and emigrated to the United States with my parents when I was two. With very little money, we first settled in downtown Detroit at an apartment complex right next to a car dealership. Both my parents worked because they literally left the Philippines with nothing and came to build a better life in America from scratch. I remember being dropped off at a childcare/preschool in Detroit and having 2 little girls tell me I couldn’t play with them because I was different, I wasn’t black like them. I must have only been 3 or 4 years old but some memories never leave you. When I was 9, we moved to a suburb which was pretty much all white, and that very first day of 4th grade, the little boy sitting next to me asked my other table mates, ‘Do you think she speaks English?’ I grew up thinking I didn’t belong to white America or to black America so when I was 14 and my parents took me back to the Philippines to visit, I did not want to come back. I felt like I finally belonged someplace where I didn’t have to try so hard to fit. My mom, in all her wisdom, simply told me to get involved. She said, ‘Join everything, participate in everything, get involved and really get to know people, and if in a year you feel the same way, you can go back to the Philippines and stay with your grandmother.’ It was a risk but living life takes risks.

I’m still here. I did what she said, opened myself up and got involved. Did I feel like I belonged? Somewhat. Did racial remarks and attitude stop in my life after 8th grade? Never. I’ve been called ‘chink’ more times than not and have been asked (still) ‘what are you?’ and ‘where are you from?’ so many times it’s laughable. I was in a sorority in college (the only Asian) and people would say they probably chose me because they needed a higher GPA… ha, I was the wrong chick for that. I was chosen to be a sorority rep for the Panhellenic council (group that promotes unity and cooperation amongst fraternities and sororities at a university) and walking into my first meeting, one of the fraternity boys pointed at the door and said, ‘Your group is meeting next door.’ Next door was where the black Panhel council was meeting. I could go on and on. Last March I was in LA for a meeting right when Covid struck. At the crowded LA airport I sat waiting for my friend to come out of the bathroom and as I found and sat in one of the only available seats in the terminal, the couple next to me whispered between each other, got up and moved; no other seats open so they stood against the wall instead (insert eye roll here). I wasn’t even coughing, which for me is always a risk since I’ve had cancer in my neck several times, heavy doses of radiation, and now cancer in my lungs. Which by the way, cancer does not choose a color.

How do we change? First and foremost, listen. Since George Floyd’s murder, there has been so much noise. Mostly from white Americans talking; wanting to make things better, ordering books, talk, talk, talk. It’s so great to have these conversations open up but it’s talk I’ve heard before. How and when does it change? Today is Black Out Tuesday and maybe that’s a good start. Stop talking, give space to listen; listen to stories of heartache, fear, how people live and think every single day. Second, enter into relationship. In college, I remember having a conversation with one of my closest friends. I told her of my insecurities about being Asian, some of the stereotypes involved, and how people viewed me differently. She stared back at me and said, ‘What? I don’t even see color, you’re just Anna.’ When I was engaged to my now ex-husband, we visited his dad to announce our engagement and he walked out of the room. After our first child was born he wouldn’t hold him for at least the first year. It wasn’t great, but he’s from a small town and had no experience with other races. Slowly over the years, after getting to know me and being open to enter into relationship with me, he listened, learned, softened his heart, and loved. So much so, that when I had cancer the third time and was going in for my third surgery, he surprised me by showing up at the hospital to pray and support me; he drove 200 miles by himself to be there without me asking or knowing he would come and was already sitting in the lobby when I came to check in. What changed? He was open enough, even if just a little, to enter into relationship with me. I was just Anna.

Black lives matter. Black people have a long history of oppression and injustice . Being Asian, I don’t believe that I will ever see a knee on the neck of my sons, brother, uncle, dad. I don’t worry about my sons being stopped or pulled over because of their color. I don’t worry that they’ll be harassed or questioned walking down our street in a mostly white neighborhood. With all the worry and fear that comes with motherhood, I can’t imagine the added fear of raising black sons and daughters wondering how they will be treated and what injustice they will face growing up and for the rest of their lives. I heard the easy analogy of your house being on fire and the fire department coming to fight the fire. It would be like all your neighbors saying, ‘what about my house?’ when their homes are not on fire. Of course the other homes are important and they do matter, but yours is the only one burning to the ground. In the Bible,  Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The story was paraphrased this way by Manny Arteaga, ‘There are 100 sheep but one goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 to go after the one. ‘But what about us? Don’t we matter?’ Of course the 99 matter but they’re not the one in danger. The one is.’ Black lives matter.

I am not part of white America or black America but have felt accepted by both. I was taught to be kind, respectful, and to love everyone, but also to work hard and stay safe and therefore be a productive, but silent part of society. There is too much injustice and discord in the world to stay silent and fear builds on fear. I also still feel on occasion, the sting of racism targeted at me so I’m tired of always having the mindset to make sure I somehow fit in. We all need to do and be better. I’m married to a white man and I always feel like I have to dress better and look good when we are in public. Why? So people don’t question why he chose to marry an Asian woman, dumb but true and believe me, I’ve heard comments.

This is America. The reason why immigrants have flocked here is because of the freedoms and opportunities for them and their families. What makes America beautiful is that it’s the ‘great American melting pot’ where people of all races are welcomed, but it’s historical roots are steeped in anti-black actions and white privilege. I grew up hearing and reading the history about women given the right to vote, how after years of slavery, slaves were freed, how men and women fought in World Wars to maintain America’s freedom, and now, here we are, still. In a recent interview, former President Obama asked the question, ‘Can we see in each other a common HUMANITY, a shared DIGNITY, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?’ It takes courage. We are one American family. Michelle Obama says, ‘Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it just can’t be on people of color to deal with it. IT’S UP TO ALL OF US- BLACK, WHITE, EVERYONE-NO MATTER HOW WELL-MEANING WE THINK WE MIGHT BE, TO DO THE HONEST, UNCOMFORTABLE WORK OF ROOTING IT OUT. It starts with self examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.

I am not black, I am not white, and all I want to be is Anna. In response to the systemic racism and social injustice in our country against black people-I see you, I hear you, I stand alongside of you. By nature I am a peacemaker, so in a time when everything is loud, I’ll still be soft. Let’s also remember to be kind and not judge each other as we go through these growing pains. Everyone processes things differently and judgement will only bring more division. Give grace. There will always be lots of words but until we enter into relationships-TRUE, HARDCORE, VULNERABLE relationships, with people of other races, religions, colors, we will never know, understand, and love them. Enough talk. Listen, empathize, educate then enter into relationship and just do. ‘Love justice, do mercy, walk humbly with our God.’~ Micah 6:8

Uncertainty

28 May

annapensiveIt’s week, I don’t even know anymore, of Covid quarantine. I have semi-adjusted to the daily web based calls for work, various networking calls, dog walks, exercise, cooking, etc, and of all those things, I don’t want to cook anymore…I’m bored with my cooking. I have developed a couple addictions; one to pork rinds (the ‘healthy’ keto kind from Whole Foods), and I can’t get enough of a cleaning instagram account called @gocleanco. It’s seriously a before and after gold mine of house cleaning. No, I haven’t deep cleaned my house from top to bottom nor have the desire to, but I love watching the cleaning stories on this account and I did buy powder Tide for the first time ever (if you watch, you know). It’s weird.

Yesterday I found out that one of the sweet cancer fighters I sent lipstick to a couple months ago passed away. If you’re not familiar, my lipstick company does a buy one/give one. Meaning, if you buy a lipstick, I donate one to a cancer fighter/survivor that you know, and if you don’t know anyone, I give partial proceeds to cancer organizations I’ve chosen. I got the information about this beautiful woman from one of my repeat customers. She was a young wife and mom of two little boys with a constant smile on her face. I was so happy to send her lipstick in hopes to bring a little joy to her fight. Days later I got a little thank you from her via private message on Instagram. She was super excited and grateful, and was hoping to try more colors. Hearing the news of her passing made me so sad and reminded me again how fleeting life can be, and that cancer is a bitch.

I also heard from a high school friend who had just learned of her diagnosis and felt they had no one to talk to who knew how it felt, so she reached out to me. Here’s what I said:

My advice to you right now is to first, breathe. I have learned that there are lots of things we cannot control. I knew what my job was; seek the best medical advice, stay calm, eat well, try to exercise, go to my medical appointments, etc., the rest I had to let go and trust God, NO MATTER WHAT THE OUTCOME. We always have our own plan for our lives and it stinks when it’s derailed, but you have to let that go. I’m doing my part and I’m trusting God and my medical team to do theirs. Second, share your story because someone needs to hear it, even if it’s just you. The more you speak it, the more power your story gives you. My blog definitely helped me release some emotions but I do not hesitate to share my story because it allows people to help you, or at the very least, to understand you better. God and faith to me came not only in my prayers, but in the hands and feet of those who surrounded me. Next, seek counseling. I started seeing a counselor after the 3rd time I had cancer and it was eye opening and super helpful. Last, cry your eyes out but when you’re done, prepare your mind to fight; even if that cycle happens every 5 minutes. It may sound cliche’, but try to find at least one thing to be grateful for at the end of the day. Hope looks different to me now that I’m stage 4. Lots of people gauge hope in some future, but I’m too familiar with the concept of time and all we really have is the present. Hope to me looks like looking into the past and seeing how far I’ve come, thinking about my days and being grateful, finding bits of magic like a flower blooming or a friend calling. As much as life is complicated, it’s also really simple.

All of the things I said can be applied to our current Covid situation. The uncertainty and anxiety that everyone feels is how cancer patients feel all the time…welcome to our world. Author, professor, and Stage 4 cancer fighter Kate Bowler calls life a chronic condition and says we are always looking to be better, look better, feel better. She says that it’s ok that life isn’t always better, we can find beauty and meaning and truth around us, but there’s no cure to being human. If uncertainty is not the ultimate enemy, then we get to live in the space between with more courage.

That’s where I have to live, the space between. My cancer has been stable almost three years but it has not disappeared. I have been filled with uncertainty about my future but I don’t fear it and I no longer view uncertainty as my enemy. It just is, but I know God is with me holding my hand, and that’s enough.

What is Courage? Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet
voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”. ~ Anonymous

Quarantine Check In

20 Apr

img_7553Starting week 6 of our quarantine but who’s counting and how is everyone? I have to say, I have run through the gamut of emotions. The first week or so I was just busy; busy preparing the house for all of the kids to be back (the older 3 are in college and 1 was studying abroad), getting groceries, preparing the home office to transition to 100% work from home for both me and my husband, etc. The second week was still busy but I felt a little more anxious and maybe depressed. Week 3 was when my anxiety peaked and I think it’s when I cried the most, not to mention I think it may have been the week when all the kids started really getting stir crazy. Remember, they are all older teens and young adults and are all used to their independence so being stuck with all their cars in the driveway is a little crazy. Yes, we have lots of cars in the driveway and street so it looks like we’re having a party…trust me, it’s no party in here.

Well here we STILL are, another week. I feel somewhat settled into a ‘pretend’ groove, but who am I kidding. Emotions still run the gamut, but now more frequently at all times of the day. I’m snacking all the time and I’ve ‘watched’ a lot of free workout videos but haven’t actually done many of them. I never know what day it is or even what time it is. I just know when the sun comes out and when we’re all hungry. The time of day seems like is gauged by meal then getting to the next meal. I’ve cut my hair (mainly my bangs and a couple ‘layers’ to frame my face), I attempted to color my hair with a brand that’s advertised mainly online (what a mess that was), and in the beginning of quarantine I ordered a stack of books I wanted to read but have not yet managed to read a single page. I do however, always carry a book around with me and set it down in proximity of where I decide to sit so that it stares and haunts me as I sit and snack.

My first born is graduating college this weekend. Did you hear me? He’s graduating college!! I obviously knew it was coming but now that it’s here, I’m a little sad. He has worked hard and is graduating from the Honors College at his university and will be meandajgoing to grad school to become a Doctor in Physical Therapy. Here’s the clincher, he was going to start grad school in the fall but recently got accepted to another school he’d rather go to which starts in May…MAY. They have redesigned their first semester to have it all online, then he moves for in person classes for the fall semester (hopefully). It’s a lot all at once. I’m not sad that he’s grown up and moving to another state far away for grad school, I’m grieving the fact that I have Stage 4 cancer and I want to soak in every single moment and my first born child graduating college is a ceremony I just wanted to see, cry, and soak in. Yes, it’s about me, but it’s about him too because I know how hard he has worked to do well and finish an undergrad science degree in the honors college in 4 years. Sigh. This Friday, the university president will have a Facebook live commencement event; thank you social media, he graduates via Facebook.

Cancer leads me to my last point. This quarantine has made people crazy and is causing some division (not just physically) between us. I have MANY friends that are small business and restaurant owners with brick and mortar properties, and they’re hurting. I have MANY friends who are healthcare providers who are giving their all, working hard, exhausted, scared, and staying away from their children just to save lives. They’re sacrificing everything to help others and they’re hurting too. I’m stuck in the middle because I’m an enneagram 9 and I want everyone to be happy and doing well, but I have cancer and it’s in my lungs. I’m an at risk patient so I’d like people to stay home and stay safe with their families no matter what. I’d love for people to not argue the politics of it all because the issue is about health, which many people take for granted until they don’t have it. I hear a lot of Covid bringing out the best in people but I’ve also seen (or heard) the worst. Last summer my youngest child had a stroke. It was awful and by the alextime he (and I) left the hospital, it was fall. We lost summer. Now with Covid, by the time it’s over, it will probably be summer, so we lost spring too. Here’s the deal, IT’S A BLIP IN TIME and with Stage 4 cancer, I love and LIVE for ALL blips in time and having time in general, by trying to be grateful always, and trying to always find the magic. I emphasize ‘trying’ because it can be really hard sometimes. This is just a blip in time to be a little less selfish and a little more self-less for people like me, or your parents/grandparents, or even for a complete stranger. ‘No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.’~1Cor 10:24

“Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living a heart-breaking, soul healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s BEAUTIFUL.’~LR Knost

 

Cancer and Coronavirus

25 Mar

 

 

tljs3-10For the last couple of years I’ve lived with a steady undercurrent of uncertainty and occasional fear and sadness from a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic cancer. Daily, I have prayed for more time, less fear, maybe for my cancer to miraculously disappear or at the very least, remain stable for the next 50 years. Cancer has forced me to face mortality, the fragility of life, and the real possibility of death sooner rather than later. One author compared living with Stage 4 cancer to walking around with a bomb strapped to your chest not knowing when it may explode. Now add coronavirus.

I thought I was doing fine. Over two weeks ago things got a little weird. Coronavirus started to spread across the states but I wasn’t panicky. Having a science degree and being involved indirectly in healthcare helped me navigate the news and all the articles. Then the urgent conference call from work stating that we would begin working from home the next day. Two days after that, I got an urgent text from my daughter who was studying abroad and needed a flight out immediately because the airport in that country was closing in 3 days. Panic started creeping up and fear started choking me but mainly at this time, it was for my daughter. Flights were filling up as I was booking, prices were skyrocketing but I didn’t care. She got out on one of the last flights and all was well. Then the busy happened. Last week, all 5 ‘kids’ came home and while many with younger children were worried about school work and keeping young ones occupied, I was running what seemed like a bed and breakfast with 5 older teens/young adults ages 17-22; three of which were already living semi-independently away at college. I was busy in this new rhythm of work from home, my husband was on conference calls non stop with everything that needed to get done at his organization, then the scramble to get food, antibacterial lotion, and toilet paper, and to keep sane.

We are full on, in the middle of week 2 and Monday, I broke. I’ve been busy cooking, wiping things down, keeping up with my day job and the various conference calls and remote trainings during the day, and trying to take care of my lipstick business at night. I haven’t been able to focus on anything, life has become blurry.  I have cancer in my lungs which makes me one of those high risk patients, my parents who live less than 10 miles away are high risk, and my oldest son had asthma when he was younger and still has a few asthma attacks here and there, which makes him high risk as well. I still struggle with PTSD from my younger son having a stroke last summer, and for a few days I thought my daughter would end up stuck in her program abroad. I’m trying not to have fear, I really am, but it’s alot. My cancer has been stable for awhile which has afforded me lots of hope for more time, but with Covid looming in the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch including groceries we bring in our house, mortality is back in plain sight; it’s the perfect storm. The fear and uncertainty the world now feels was already familiar to me after my latest cancer diagnosis…now what? Which is more dangerous, the cancer or the virus?

What now? Focus and do the same things I’ve done through every adversity thrown my way. Breathe. I’ve been trying to take a few minutes throughout the day to close my eyes, stop my brain from running, and just breathe and observe. What is happening in the present? Can’t stop your mind? Focus on a chair in your room, or your dog, or a tree outside, or whatever is solid and real in that very moment. Pray. Pray for whatever’s on your heart; healing, your parents, your kids, your inner peace and sanity? Just pray. Be grateful for what you have right now. Be grateful that we can go outside and breathe in fresh air (with social distancing). Be grateful there’s no shortage on handsoap. Control what you can and let go of the rest. I cannot control my cancer or when those tumors decide to start growing but I can eat better and exercise. We cannot control this virus but we can do our part by staying home and washing our hands, how easy is that? In our immediate gratification society we have a chance to learn patience and when the day comes when we can all work and play again with others well damn, it’ll be that much more amazing.

On to the positives. Just about every type of workout is available on social media and they’re free. I’ve done yoga, barre, dance, pilates, all from the comfort of my own home. I’ve listened to Chris Martin and John Legend serenade from their homes and I’ve taken dance class from Debbie Allen (which was one of my dreams after seeing her in ‘Fame’). There is a lot out there and for the most part, people are willing to share their gifts and talents. That’s the last thing, give. No one is immune to coronavirus and people are isolated. Check on them, send cards, get on Facetime, do TikToks, whatever. Everyday is a gift and there’s no light without darkness.

When everything is moving and shifting, the only way to counteract chaos is stillness. When things feel extraordinary, strive for ordinary. When the surface is wavy, dive deeper for quieter waters.~Kristin Armstrong.

 

Forgetting

3 Mar

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A crazy thing happened to me last week. For a split second or maybe more like two minutes, I forgot I had cancer. It wasn’t too much of a big deal but I was at a meeting and I just forgot and felt normal. Here’s what’s even stranger, I work for a company that kinda deals with cancer so I’m surrounded by it all the time but again, for a minute, I forgot. It made me laugh a little when it came back to me but I’ve been stable for awhile so maybe this is pretty normal.

I was with a good friend when she asked if hearing others’ cancer stories bothered me and no, absolutely not. I love hearing people’s stories and it actually helps to hear what others’ thought processes are so I know my thoughts are normal. I did however, tell her that sometimes what’s harder for me is when others forget that I still have cancer. Now, this is tricky because I’m really high-functioning so lots of people don’t know, and I also don’t want pity or any special treatment.Cancer is ALWAYS on my mind whether I show it or not.

  • Retirement~will I be alive for that?
  • My back hurts~is my cancer spreading?
  • It’s harder to breath today~humidity/allergies or is my cancer spreading?
  • Have dessert~is the sugar feeding my cancer?
  • I’ve lost a couple pounds~cancer?
  • Coronavirus~Yes, it’s awful and seems to be an epidemic. All of the news outlets say that the elderly, the very young, and the compromised are the ones really at risk since it attacks the respiratory system. I have cancer in my lungs so while people are thinking about the virus~am I one of those ‘high risk’ people that would do poorly?
  • Cancer, cancer, cancer…you get the gist

Cancer is the backdrop of my thoughts and is the steady undercurrent in my daily life. It drives many of my decisions and can sometimes control my mood. I get quiet, I get sad, I get tired easily, and because I’m an introvert, it’s easiest for me to withdraw. On the other hand, I am more observant, more joyful, and more grateful so it’s almost extreme. It’s a clash of intense joy and gratefulness along with sadness at the same time. I guess I’m asking for grace. Something I’m really working on is not judging other people’s pain. Someone may be struggling with work, a cold, a headache, a family issue, etc. and in my head I want to say, ‘but I have Stage 4 cancer.’ Everyone’s pain is their own and no one’s is bigger than another. Comparison is a killer in all aspects of life.

I listened to a podcast today and Richard Rohr said that sometimes his joy can make him sad at the same time. He went on to explain that in moments when he is overcome with joy and contentment, he is sometimes told he carries a sad disposition. He explained further that he realized that he gets sad that people aren’t experiencing the same joy and love of life; two intense emotions coexisting which he calls the ‘bright sadness’. In his ‘both/and’ worldview, opposites don’t contradict each other, they deepen one another. I’m sure I messed that up a bit but I get it and feel that as well; intense joy and gratitude coexisting with sadness. I get overwhelmed with living and being so grateful for everything and I just want to shake people and scream that life is amazing and that even in the mundane, you get to live. I get especially sad when it comes to my kids because of all the same things. All the little things they worry about, some of the choices they make, some of the entitlement they feel, or feelings of worthlessness while finding their passions and purpose, I want to shake them. More than that, I want to smother them with love, I want them to see the beauty of life and of people, I want them to know how amazing and worthy they are, and I also want to live until they’re older so I can see them with their own families. Sigh.

I forgot I had cancer for a moment. It was beautiful.

Prayer is sitting in silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise~Richard Rohr

 

 

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

 

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