Tag Archives: cancer survivor

Plunging Through Grief

20 Apr

I lost two greats within 6 weeks of each other, my dad who I wrote about in my last blog, and then my dog, Moose. Both were diagnosed with cancer out of nowhere and both passed away quickly after diagnosis; my dad 11 weeks after and my dog, 5 days after-just a little over a week ago. It has been a lot. There are moments the sadness overwhelms me, sometimes without warning. Losing Moose was the tip of the iceberg, and I honestly wasn’t sure I could bounce back from all the grief I’ve collected over the years. Moose was my comfort after my Stage 4 diagnosis, through Alex’s stroke, the global pandemic and lockdown, my sadness over being an empty nester and missing my kids who are all so so far away, my dad’s diagnosis and passing, and all the times in between. Moose was the loving, always present, positive thread throughout the most difficult times. His sudden illness and death was the pin prick that finally popped my already stretched balloon full of grief. 2023 has been rough but SLOWLY I’m feeling life come back without tears attached.

Two things happened this week that helped me a little, the first was a quote I read a few days ago and it impacted me so much that I wrote it on a sticky note and stuck it to my laptop, ‘We live daily and die once, so we must make the most of the time we have.’ ~Dr. Howard Tucker, the oldest practicing doctor alive at 100 years old (he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records). Take a pause right here and repeat, ‘We live daily and die once…’ One thing I remember my mom saying in her grief just moments after my dad passed, ‘We still had so many plans.’ As hard as it was to hear that, it was a reminder AGAIN that life is so brief and we need to steal those moments of joy, but not just that, we need to REMEMBER and make the most of them.

The second thing was an interview on Kelly Corrigan’s podcast with author and journalist, Michael Lewis whose high school daughter died suddenly in a car accident. I resonated so much with his insight as he processed through his grief. First he acknowledged that we all want easy stories, and of course, who wants a life complicated by grief and sadness? But spoiler alert, fairy tales don’t get a happy ending without all the crap in the middle. Next he used the phrase ‘radical gratitude.’ I have heard the phrase ‘radical love’ from therapists and I get it. Radical love to me is loving someone ‘despite’ or ‘even though we don’t agree’, or ‘even though I’d rather not be in the same room as you, I still care.’ I believe in Jesus and I believe his life and death were examples of radical love and I try, I really really try. I’ve never heard the phrase ‘radical gratitude.’

Radical gratitude (to me) means the act of taking all your circumstances, good or bad, and consciously choosing gratefulness. It is the exercise of being completely devastated but still actively searching for one thing, one tiny thing to be thankful for. It’s hard but it’s the magic sauce. In 2008 after years of singing at church, on tv, on the radio, at events, I got cancer in my neck that cut the nerve to my right vocal fold. What once was what I was known for, my identity, and also what I LOVED to do, was gone, but after that surgery and radiation, the cancer was gone too. I was grateful to be alive. In 2009 and 2010 when cancer came back again and again, they took it out without harming anything else even though both were high risk surgeries. And then in 2017 when the cancer traveled to my lungs, well, I’m still here. I have had LOTS of practice, too much practice in my opinion, being devastated and having to focus on things to be grateful for (and not just from having cancer). I’ve learned that grief over what’s lost never goes away, you just build your life around it. Life is NEVER what we expect and most things we can’t control. Grief transforms us and it’s radical gratitude that keeps us soft and hopeful for another day.

I came home tonight from a couple days of travel and broke down. It was the first time in 7 years that I’ve come home from being gone a couple days and my 90lb Moose was not bounding after me, happy and longing for pets and hugs from his human. Ugh, I was so sad..and then I saw a box. It was a care package a friend sent to let me know that she was thinking of me after the loss of my dad and Moose. I cried harder. It was my fairy tale happy ending to the day. That is life, brutal and beautiful. Sure, fairy tales are not real but happy endings happen all the time in the in between. We get to narrate our story, we get to react and grieve how we need to, but practicing radical gratitude is perspective changing. Grief can make us hard or soft and I choose soft because life is too short and too difficult to walk around with that heavy coat of armor. I’ve heard time and again that I don’t look sick. Not everyone who is sick or sad or struggling internally has that on their face, they just carry it in their bodies and hearts. EVERYONE carries some form of hurt and grief from an imperfect life, is it possible to start looking at people from that lens? Yes, and hopefully it changes you and allows for more grace, patience, and understanding. I will caveat this by saying there are still jerks, abusers, and those who cause harm or pain–try to understand where that came from for them and leave it at that; forgive, let go, and radical love them from afar. I’m no expert.

I am still sad, I will be for a long time and it’s ok. I have carried grief around like a siamese twin for years and it has continually broken my heart but I refuse to let it harden my heart. There is still magic. There is still love. God has been so good to me.

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The Stories We Tell

10 Jan

It’s a New Year and the past month has not been an easy one. My December story was going to be one filled with joy and reunion. Literally a month ago we were putting up our Christmas tree and decorations, my excitement for my three kids to come home was building since I hadn’t seen two of the three since August and none of them could be home for Thanksgiving. Also, we had a quick trip planned to Florida because my firstborn son was graduating with his doctorate two weeks before Christmas. My December was going to be amazing, but the story changed. The morning of December 12 we brought my dad to the hospital because we thought he was showing signs of a stroke and a few days later we found out it was brain cancer. In a few short days and the day before my son’s graduation, my dad’s health took a major turn for the worse and I had to make the difficult decision to not attend. My heart broke in a thousand pieces both for my dad and for missing a major milestone of my son.

On Faith. I had a friend ask the other day, ‘With everything you’ve been through, how can you not be mad at God? or do you ask God why?’ My answer? ‘I don’t get mad at God, I get mad at people saying dumb things. Making assumptions about what God’s intentions are or what His thoughts may be, making Him actually smaller.’ The God I follow would not create a story of hardship to teach you a lesson or to increase your faith the hard way. Does God give His strongest soldiers the hardest battles? I sure hope not because what does that even mean? No. The God I love and follow holds our hand through hardships because life is hard sometimes. God to me looks like kindness, generosity, laughter, that phone call, God is all around. The Jesus I follow is one of love, compassion, and mercy no matter who or what. The Jesus I pray to brings me peace and comfort because I believe He hears me. I read somewhere that the opposite of faith is certainty. I don’t need to have all the answers, I don’t want them, but I will continue to listen, question, read, and learn. I love my kids so much that I would do anything for them, does God love you less? I will not give up on God or my faith but there are ‘whys’ we will never be able to answer and me personally…I’m ok with that.

On Joy. Fr. Ken Tanner said this in his sermon last weekend (I’m probably paraphrasing), ‘Joy–in the midst of life you see something that reminds you existence is good, God is good. Despite the circumstances life is good and experiences are worthwhile. Happiness is fleeting and circumstantial.’ Despite the circumstances of the last month, there were MANY moments of joy and that is where I want to live. Although we weren’t able to go to AJs graduation, we were able to watch virtually and when my dad watched him cross the stage he pointed in recognition and cried. Christmas was spent in the hospital but having everyone there was again such a joyful moment. There was the day when my dad was finding his words again and when the PA asked him how old he was he said ’25’ followed by him chuckling and saying ‘kidding’. Then twice, the therapy dog that walked into the room was named Roxy, the name of my dad’s dog that passed away over the summer. The first time Roxy came in there was a parade of dogs in the hall that my brother and I were watching but she was the one that turned toward the room. Many have chosen a word of the year and I usually have a word or two but this year I have more of an intention: seek tiny joys. So many joy moments reminding me that simply existing was good and that God is still so good.

On Hope. Anne Lamott says, ‘Hope springs from that which is right in front of us, which surprises us, and seems to work.’ What does that even mean? To me it means I woke up to another day of life. It looks like a hot cup of coffee, an unexpected gift, a word of encouragement. Hope looks a lot like love. Anne Lamott’s words once again, ‘Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.’

Enough of my babbling. I’m grateful for life, for having my kids home even though it wasn’t exactly the way we had planned. I’m grateful to be married to someone who has been by my side and helping me navigate through the most horrendous things (my Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, my son’s stroke, and now my dad’s health crisis all in the short time we’ve been married). I’m grateful that I’ve had a job that helps me understand medical language and my own diagnosis to help me advocate better for myself and my dad; for a great boss, great friends, the Instagram friends that emailed me Starbucks gift cards, notes, and even small care packages. Tomorrow I have my 6 month PET scan because I still have cancer. The good part is that because of what happened with my dad I forgot all about it and did not have to suffer from my regular two weeks of scanxiety, the bad part is that from now until I get the results on Friday I will have scanxiety. This is my story, This is life.

5

14 Jul

Five years.

Five years ago this month I got the devastating news that my cancer was back for the fourth time, but it had spread to my lungs putting me in the category of Stage 4, Metastatic thyroid cancer with distant metastasis. This is rare, occurring in less than 10% of thyroid cancer patients. The statistics are not great; 50% gone in 5 years, 90% gone in 10. I did molecular testing on my tumors and they showed the BRAF v600 mutation (lots of science) but basically, cancers with this mutation tend to be more aggressive. For the first 2 years post diagnosis, I got scans every 3 months, and since scan after scan showed stable disease (tumors still there but not really growing), my scans were spread out to every 6 months alternating between CT and PET scans.

What. A. Ride.

Last Saturday I had my 6-month scan which was delayed from June because of a nationwide CT contrast shortage (yes, there’s even a supply chain shortage on that). Monday, my oncologist sent me a text that everything STILL looks good!! STABLE! I made it into the 50% of patients STILL HERE after FIVE YEARS (Although I know there have been major strides in cancer care in the last 5 years so hopefully the stats are much better now). 5 years ago my youngest son was going into the 9th grade and all I longed for was to be alive at his high school graduation and here he is about to start his sophomore year in college. Now the longing extends to weddings, and dare I say grand babies?

How has my life/perspective changed in the past 5 years? That’s a tough question because my cancer journey started 14 years ago. I feel like cancer has been riding my shoulders forever but the last 5 have been the hardest. Not only the statistic constantly looming in the back of my mind, but that youngest child of mine had a stroke 2 years after that diagnosis, then the year after that we headed straight into this worldwide pandemic. Moving into 2022, I’ve really struggled. The whole ‘being brave and strong and keep pushing forward’ seemed too much and all the stored grief upon grief punched me straight between the eyes. I learned that the research done by Elisabeth Kubler Ross on the stages of grief were mainly on dying people and that we could not apply those same stages to the living. The living has to LIVE with that grief because it is entwined in our bodies, hearts, minds, etc. There is no ‘check the box and be done’ checkmark for denial, anger, etc leading to acceptance, while we’re alive we just weave in and out of those in no particular order. So, some of the lessons?

  1. Grief lives with us always, but it teaches us about ourselves, as well as our capacity to love
  2. My faith has become so simple; I believe, and love God and I want to love how Jesus loved. That’s it. Faith is not a building, denomination, or ‘being religious’. (I have lots of thoughts about faith and maybe I’ll write more in a later blog)
  3. Love lives in the small things, the in between moments of eye contact, lunch dates with friends, a hug, an encouraging text, etc
  4. Life can change in a blink of an eye
  5. You can’t stop time so make the most of those minutes. Stay present and notice.

Those are just a few things that come to mind. This year in particular I’ve been the angriest, and the saddest more than I’ve ever been. On a recent podcast, the speaker compared life these days to a tsunami. After the big earthquake a tsunami happens, then it’s waves and waves of aftershocks and destruction, but over time, the waves die down, then things slowly heal and become normal again. We just went through and are going through a global pandemic with the first hit in 2020. The aftershocks and waves are still happening giving us no time to heal; not just waves of Covid surges, we’ve had a war start in Ukraine, civil unrest, mass shootings, so so much. My ‘earthquake’ happened in 2017 with my Stage 4 diagnosis. We have had no time to heal.

Look up

I don’t mean to be trite but one day I was driving in my car, crying (which has been my norm over past months), and completely overwhelmed. After stopping at a stop light, I looked up. The sky was so blue and vast, and I was reminded of how small I was, literally just a speck in comparison. If you haven’t seen the latest images from the James Webb Space Telescope look them up. The universe is SO BIG. Looking up helped me feel better. Looking up reminded me that the God I believe in is SO BIG and that I am so small. That there are numerous unanswerable things in this world and it’s all a hodge podge of joys and sorrows but ultimately, I am so small in this ginormous universe and have very little control if any, of much of anything.

I listen to a podcast hosted by Kelly Corrigan called ‘Kelly Corrigan Wonders’. Every week she does an interview one day, reads an essay she wrote another day, then reads someone’s obituary on yet another day. All of her podcasts are great but the 5-10 minutes reading of someone’s obituary has had the most impact on me. Every week I get to hear a summary of someone’s life written by someone who loved them. All of them speak of the type of person their loved one was along with a smattering of examples like ‘he/she was the life of the party’ or ‘they would literally give the shirt off their back to a stranger,’ but what makes me catch my breath are the simple memories and the small moments like, ‘she made pancakes every Sunday’ or ‘I always came home to a hug no matter what.’ None of the memories spoke of grandiose events or big family trips. Love is in the small moments. What would you like a loved one to write in your obituary about you? I think about that all the time now and try to be that person while I’m living.

I live with Stage 4 cancer as a chronic condition, much like someone who has diabetes or Crohn’s disease. It feels like a double life or split personality most of the time. Acting normal, working out, going out with friends, enjoying life, but every farther future decision is tinged with the question ‘but will I still be here?’ While every daily decision as tinged with ‘is that how I want to spend my minutes?’ or ‘Does that buy me more time with people I love?’ For now, I don’t get to say that I fought cancer and won, the before/after narrative for me is before/during. But gratefully saying I’m stable and ALIVE after 5 years is more than enough 🙂

Life Is A River (and yes I know that’s a lake behind me)

5 Apr

We just moved. It’s been a lot and I didn’t think it would be, but so many changes have happened over the 2+ years of pandemic. I can’t seem to push past some of the sad days but there have been so many good ones. Warning, this may be a super rambling blog, so sorry not sorry. I’ve had lots of thoughts swirling in my mind so I’m writing to actually clear it up and put it out there. First, it’s Lent. Last year I did some amazing Lenten devotionals (from Kate Bowler and Erin Moon), and they were so helpful in quieting my mind and keeping my heart in focus of the season. I grew up Catholic and was ‘taught’ to give something up during Lent; a fast to remind you of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert leading up to His death.’ Last year, I decided to partake in this ritual of fasting and give something up. This year, as I was prepping for lent, I downloaded and joined a few Lenten devotionals from people I love following, Kate, Erin, Sarah Bessey and had full intention of following and partaking in a sort of fast again. DID NOT HAPPEN. I read a beautiful article right before Lent (thanks Erin) that really resonated with me. The author spoke about her difficulty finding something to ‘give up’ this year and she asked, ‘over the last 2+ years of pandemic, haven’t we given up so much already?’ We’ve given up the false security that we are invincible (maybe that’s a good thing). We lost time with friends and loved ones, and many people even lost loved one and weren’t able to have a proper goodbye. We’ve lost jobs and safety, trust and confidence and to some extent, joy and maybe a little sanity. It seemed irrelevant to give up social media, chocolate, or whatever, when we’ve gone a strong 2 years giving up one thing after another. However, it is Lent, and I love Jesus. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World, she talks about altars everywhere we go and in everything we do, so to live with purpose, slow down, pay attention; to be in constant prayer, not just ‘making time’ in your day to sit, read, and pray. What does that look like for me? Waking up and walking to the coffee maker in the silent, dark of morning and praying, being aware of the sun and rain and grass and flowers of spring, and praying, being in conversation with a friend or a child and praying for them while in conversation. Lent for me this year has been living in prayer and remembering God is always there (and also, on occasion reading one of those devotionals).

Second topic, we moved. I don’t usually get attached to homes or physical objects and I’ve never been emotional over a sale of a house, even my childhood home. I have always loved the idea of a different place, reinvention, scaling back, etc, but this one hit me hard. It didn’t happen right away. In fact, I was excited to downsize, save money, and move onward as empty nesters. Most of the kids had taken much of their things to their college/grad school apartments, in fact, AJ, the oldest literally only had his winter boots and coat left at the house. Then came the youngest, Alex’s room. His room was the same as when he left for college. The posters were up, the desk still had pens on top and notecards in the drawers, his closet had clothes, shoes, and a couple backpacks in their regular stack; it felt like another day and that he would just walk in after school and plop onto his bed. Then, still in the plastic hospital bag from when we left the hospital after his stroke in 2019, were the hundreds of notes and letters from his friends and well-wishers; reminders of that dark time that transitioned into a time of strength and healing. Packing up his room was the first ‘break of the dam.’ So many struggles, so many memories.

The piano. As discussions were had about what we would move or not move walking around the house, the piano came up. At first it was a non-negotiable even though, as Jim reminded me, I haven’t touched it in a long time. It was coming with us, and we would find a space. I have not been without a piano since I was 7 years old and maybe it had become a source of comfort and my link to my musical past. When Alex was in elementary, he even wrote a short assignment for school and talked about how my playing and singing would bring him joy and comfort so yes, it was coming. The weekend before the move Jim headed up north to bring some tools to the cottage and I sat at the piano to try to play. Cancer took my singing voice, but I had the piano. Over the years after all the surgeries and radiation, I’ve developed neuropathy in my left hand and arm to the point that I can’t really feel my fingertips. Sometimes it’s manageable and at times, it’s not. As I sat at the piano and tried to play that particular day, my fingers would not cooperate and actually sent more numbness and a little pain up my arm. This was the second ‘breaking of the dam’. I was heartbroken, hated cancer, and was now willing to NOT move the piano. It was Jim who said, ‘don’t give up on it yet’, so the piano moved and sits in a small corner of our even smaller home.

We gave up the keys to our house less than a week ago and over the weekend I flew to see Alex in Arizona for his mom’s weekend. I’m so grateful I got to spend time with him, and I decided, with the kids gone and mostly farther away, when they ask, I want to be there. The move was hard not because I loved the house or the ‘things’ inside of it, but because of all the memories. It was a house of safety, love, joy, and new beginnings for me; a place where I could mostly be myself and breathe. No, it was not all roses. We raised 5 teens in a blended family, Alex had his stroke, I got my fourth cancer diagnosis and Stage 4 on top of that: so many challenges but also so much love and support.

As far as the empty nest thing, what’s made it so hard for me is time and cancer. My same story. What actually helped me came from the show ‘This Is Us’ (spoiler ahead if you haven’t caught up to the current season). In a recent episode, Rebecca (the mom) who has early onset Alzheimer’s sits her adult kids down at a table and gives them a speech. I’m paraphrasing but basically she says, ‘Don’t let my illness make your world smaller. Take risks and live your dreams.’ It was a HUGE mindshift for me and I come back to that phrase when I get sad missing my kids. I will confess that I’ve used the phrase ‘don’t be mean to me, I have cancer and you don’t want that to be your last phrase/feeling/sentiment to me.’ Awful I know but sometimes I just want to hold them so tight. But, I too don’t want their worlds to become smaller because of me so here I am. This morning I did a meditation from Sarah Blondin and she talked about the constant tension of life between resistance and letting go. She said,’ Why hold on to the stones at the bottom of the river when you just want to be the water that flows freely?’ I want my kids to think of me and smile, feel loved, seen, and safe because they feel free and not burdened by my own expectations, sadness, disappointments, or my own pain. Heck, I want to be free of that too. How? Remembering that tension will always be there and that life is never perfect but is always beautiful. Thank you Jesus.

I feel better, not sure if you do. When is life not changing? Just like a river, it’s not always flowing peacefully, sometimes there’s rapids. Life is full of OMGs and WTFs but also full of love, joy, and moments of peace. I am so grateful I get to feel the gamut of emotions because that is living and that is growing and that is what it means to just be present. I am grateful for all of it.

Hello 2022

19 Jan

It has been a LONG time since I’ve written a blog post and honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would ever write another, but here I am. The last blog I wrote was right around the time Alex left for school making us empty nesters. Since then, I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed all this ‘independent time’ not having to think about meals, sporting events, clothes for homecoming or prom, etc., but I haven’t. For the last 6 months I’ve been mostly sad. Not only are we in what seems like an endless global pandemic, but I also have cancer; both pointing toward a daily life of uncertainty. Time is my love language so having the youngest leave the house meant that that phase of motherhood and seeing them more often than not, was gone. Cancer already opens your eyes to your mortality so any less time with those you love is exactly that, less time. HOWEVER, I do realize that our job as parents is to grow independent kids and cheer them on as they learn to fly, so I guess I’m sad AND happy.

In the past 3 months I have been to 2 funerals; one a friend from church and the other, wife of a childhood friend that I grew up with. Both women younger than me, both moms, and both passing away from cancer. A friend of my husband’s passed away suddenly, another friend’s dad passed from cancer, and another friend’s young (younger than me), healthy boyfriend passed away just last week. All within the past 3 months. Time is our most precious commodity. Faith in a big God is still my peace.

What now? The pandemic is still raging. I still have cancer. People are struggling. All people are struggling. I am still mostly sad but getting better. All of the kids were home for the holidays which brought me so much joy and watching them come and go and ‘do their thing’ helped me be grateful for where they are AND where I am in life. We can start there, gratitude.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions but for the past few years I have picked a word of the year. Last year I chose the word ‘simple’ and it was so helpful. It became a mantra and reminder for me to keep things simple and to really focus on simpler solutions. I had it on a bracelet, and I printed it on the opening page of my planner and journal. This year I have chosen 2 words and they’ve already been SO helpful. My first word is Kairos. There is linear, chronos or chronological time and then there’s Kairos, or my definition of those magical moments not necessarily confined within those minutes. Glennon Doyle has written, ‘Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. Kairos is those magical moments when time stands still.‘ Since cancer I have always sought after those magical moments and now more than ever, we need the magic.

My second word is ‘AND’. I chose this word because with most things in life, two things can be true at once. Life can be beautiful AND brutal (an amazing full life AND cancer). I can be both sad that my kids are gone AND happy that they’re becoming these healthy independent adults. We can be grieving lives we thought would be different AND still find joy and laughter. We can be disappointed AND still hopeful. We can be scared AND still be brave enough to take that next step forward. For me, focusing on this simple word has been so powerful. If we can remember that there is an ‘and’, it makes lots of things feel more ok…well at least it does for me.

Have you chosen a word? An intention? We have one life.

Empty Nest (yes I’m crying)

18 Aug

By the end of this week I will be an empty nester. Who came up with that name? I don’t think I like it. Plus, if it’s being compared to a birds nest, that implies they never come back. Am I wrong? Also, don’t mama birds shove their babies off and force them to fly when they’re ready? Ok. There were/are definitely times I’d love to shove the kids into the world and force them to fly but there are times I equally if not more, want to hold on and squeeze them in a hug and force them to just stay near. ‘The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.’~ Denis Waitley. Yes, yes, sure. I am not afraid of being an empty nester, it’s actually exciting to think the house will be more quiet, the tv/kitchen/couch will be just ours, our grocery bill will be significantly less (and I won’t have to think too hard about pleasing everyone for dinner), we can be more spontaneous, whimsical, and maybe even walk around in our underwear in our middle aged bodies.

I have been swallowed up in mixed feelings since Alex’s graduation last June, knowing he chose a college 2000 miles away and that this day would be coming sooner than later. I want to say that Alex is my hardest goodbye but I can barely remember launching the others so I know I’ll be ok. Alex is the baby and that in and of itself makes it harder. I was first diagnosed with cancer just as Alex started kindergarten and am now in my 4th recurrence. I was diagnosed as Stage 4 cancer when Alex was about to start his freshman year and I remember praying to just be alive to see him graduate high school. He has pretty much only known his mom as a mom with cancer. I’m still here, cancer has been stable since then but life was not easy within that 4 year period. Two years ago this month, Alex had a stroke and was right side paralyzed. In fact, almost everyday this month a memory has popped up on FB or in my google photos and it is of Alex at the hospital. This was the week, 2 short years ago, that he started moving his right arm and right leg again. Pictures have come up from the prayer vigil at his high school, of friends sending me encouraging videos, and of the night his friends gathered outside the hospital with flashlights and banners for him to see from the windows from his hospital floor. I lived at the hospital for 6 weeks and it wasn’t for me, it was for the child who is now ‘flying away’ and who had to fight hard both physically and mentally. Every memory and picture brings a flood of emotion. This is a hard goodbye.

A few nights ago we took a packing break and he laid down facing me on his bed and said, ‘let’s just talk.’ As I lay there facing him, I burst into tears. At the hospital, I would be in the exact position, staring into his eyes and praying at first for him to survive, then that he would just get better. I bargained with God to take me instead, after all, I was the one with cancer; the one who should be in the hospital bed. I remember the very last night at the hospital, looking at each other and both weeping about all that had happened, and expressing fear over his future and what leaving the safety of the hospital meant. I could not hold back the tears being in the exact same position looking in his eyes, I guess I have PTSD. All he said was, ‘Don’t let my last moments home be sad, be happy for me.’ I am ecstatic for him…for real!

As I try to process the last one leaving the house, I know that it’s not the fact that we are becoming empty-nesters, it’s the fear of an unknown future for both of us because of our health ‘scares’. I am also filled with questions about whether I was a good mom or not, did I help guide them on the right path, will they be ok and if they’re not, are they strong enough to ask and seek help, so many questions but I know I did my best. It seems the most random things melt me into a puddle of tears like the face to face talk, bringing something to his room and realizing he won’t be in it anymore for a long while (and then less and less), seeing the bag of almost 200 notes and letters he got at the hospital, the stupid picture memories that keep popping up on my phone, and even the random food items that only he likes that are still in our pantry and fridge. I know that as time passes these feelings will soften, he’s not the first kid to leave. It’s just another reminder that time goes so fast and to make each moment count. ‘Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body’.~Elizabeth Stone.

I learned after the first one graduated high school and left that raising kids is a long series of goodbyes and as they learn to ‘adult’, we learn to let go. Now I prepare myself once again to have my house as a place he visits instead of a place he lives and to leave another piece of my heart someplace else.

‘If you would have your child to walk honorable through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them-not to insist on leading him by the hand but let him learn to go alone.’~Anne Bronte

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

 

Sick

13 Jun

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Me and my baby brother recently 

I have heard more times than not that I don’t look sick. Believe me, it’s a great compliment. Over the past week or two there have been some significant events happen with people who don’t look sick. The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and the sudden unexpected passing of my dental hygienist who was a young, 39 year old mom of 2. My kids and I had known and been going to ‘S’ as our hygienist for probably 10 years so the news came as quite a shock for all of us. She and I went to the same gym so I saw her every so often and what looked like a healthy young woman was suddenly gone. She didn’t look sick.

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2010, week 6 of radiation. Minus 30 pounds, burnt inside. Do I look sick?

I would venture to say that 99.99% of everyone has some type of ‘ailment’ they struggle with on the inside whether it’s anxiety, insecurities, mental health, or actual physical health that the world doesn’t see from the outside (or social media) appearance. I spoke to a coworker whose husband has suffered from cancer awhile and doesn’t always ‘look’ ill and told her the biggest thing to remember in terms of being a caregiver for someone with a chronic illness is that we generally function under 100% all the time. Meaning, our 100% is your 85% so I told her if he’s complaining that he’s not feeling well to have compassion because he’s really not feeling well and has actually fallen below that 85% which is his norm.  For me, I have compromised breathing…all.the.time., I can never run a marathon let alone run 5 minutes straight on a treadmill because I simply can’t breathe and it takes a while to catch my breath, my left arm and hand have been numb (and getting worse) for the past few years which means I can’t play the piano anymore or confidently hold a cup of coffee with my left hand, or go through a drive thru without reaching over with my right hand because I’m not confident with my left, and when I say I’m tired, I’m exhausted and of course there are other things I struggle with regularly. Oh and I have massive amounts of hair falling out from my radiation experiment from last April. So my feeling 100% good is really about equivalent to everyone else’s 85%. I keep a full time job, try to be at all my kids’ activities, and try to keep a smile on my face. It’s how I live and you can’t see that I’m at 85%.

What does that mean for all of us? We need to be more gentle with each other. We need to see each other with compassionate eyes and know that beyond the exterior smiles, Facebook posts, beautiful instagram pics, etc there are stories of pain, illness, suffering, insecurities, and internal struggles that plague all of us. ‘The more beauty we find in someone else’s journey, the less we’ll want to compare it then to our own.’~Bob Goff. We need to love more and frankly as a Christian I am sick of the Christians acting like judge and jury (that’s a whole other blog). Jesus came to show us how to love and show grace and mercy and the world needs plenty more of that. Love God, love others no matter what.

I have another scan coming up in a week and I’m a little scared. I read this quote today, ‘Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow.’~Mary Anne Radmacher. Despite my apprehension I have trust in the One who carries my burdens on His shoulders so in my quiet voice I say thank you for another day. I’ll be ok. I hope I never really look sick but let’s all be aware that every single person is dealing with something we don’t see. Be kind. Be aware. Be loving.

She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings.’~Ariana Dancu

Today I wear Tom Ford lipstick in Violet Fatale. This may be the most expensive lipstick I own. These lipsticks are pretty amazing. I didn’t like them at first becuause I thought they were a little dry but recently I’ve come to appreciate the semi-moisturizing but long wearing power of these lipsticks. I chose this color because it’s  bright but not too crazy and fun for summer! Cheers!

Stable, but…

30 Jan

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Stable again! My cancer is still stable! I have to say I am starting to love that word because well, I have to. What does it even mean? It has been such an interesting and emotional ride and just as quickly as the mood swings up it can easily make it’s way back down. Cancer just sucks. I read a blog written by another cancer warrior last week and it. was. perfect. It perfectly described how I’ve been feeling and I have used this analogy with a number of people already. The writer described her cancer as a bomb strapped to her chest not knowing when it was actually going to blow and that is pretty much how I feel. Categorized as stable is exactly that, still with cancer, but with stable and slow growth; practically speaking the tumors have grown less than 20% since the previous scan. I guess this is the goal if you are living with cancer so I try to be really happy about it. Going back to the bomb analogy and combining it with statistics for my particular ‘brand’ of cancer it goes something like this…in 5 years, 50% of the bombs will have exploded and in 10 years, 9 of 10 bombs will have exploded. Barring all scientific advances, that’s a little rough to think about and that is what keeps my heart heavy and my mind focused on time. The other side of the coin is this, science is advancing faster than the doctors can keep up with so it seems statistics change on an almost daily basis, hallelujah! For now, my mind wrestles with the bomb strapped to my chest not knowing when it will go off but every ‘stable’ buys me more time.

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photo cred: kensington church

I am part of a small, closed Facebook support group of people with the same cancer (both type and stage) as me. Since metastatic thyroid cancer is a little more rare it was nice to find a place with resources and people just like me. Today I heard that one of the moderators passed away rather quickly after he took a bad turn just after the new year. His posts were some of my favorite because he brought both quirky and lighthearted comments along with scientific articles. He posted after the new year and said he made it to where the doctors said he would but if he got to 2019 then he would beat that deadline. Yesterday he posted from his hospital bed that things were not good and today he’s gone. Boom. Sad. So just as quickly after rejoicing my stable scan I’m reminded that I still carry that bomb. It has definitely helped keeping my journal of positive moments and points of gratitude daily. It refocuses my mind and reminds me that we all just have today. Most if not all the moments and things I’m grateful for revolve around the people I’m surrounded by. Joy is still my word this year and I am pressing through; moment by moment seeking out things that bring a smile to my face and trying to surround myself with people that bring me joy, love , and lots of laughter. I am finally chasing old dreams and goals too which has been a fun and interesting journey! ‘The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.’ ~Thomas Paine
Stable is great! I will continue to smile, grow strong, and grow brave!

Today I wear Stila Color Balm Lipstick in Elyssa. I do love these lipsticks because they feel like a lip balm and have a peppermint taste and smell while also having great color. I chose Elyssa which is a deep brown berry because it looks fairly dark on me but still has the lightness of berry (so it’s not like I’m wearing black lipstick). It kind of describes my mood at times..kinda dark (because of that stupid bomb), but the brightness is still there shining through. Cheers!

Can We Change?

14 Nov

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Recently I had a conversation with one of my coworkers about personality types and whether people could change or if we just are who we are; a deep topic but spurred on by another conversation I had with my boss. We are in sales so we talked about our specific personality types (defined by Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc) and how they relate to selling style and if one may be better than the other. In the end my coworker and I decided that we were created a certain way at our core and there are enhancements we can make to our specific types like being a little more aggressive or being a little more extroverted, but at our specific personality type stays the same. There’s a saying ‘fake it til you make it,’ can you fake kindness? Then there’s ‘this is how God made me.’ Is it? Is there a ‘bad’ personality type? I don’t believe there’s a bad type but maybe life experiences, disappointments, and our own insecurities make us ‘hard’?  Can we soften? Can people change? All tough questions.

I read this today and it really resonated with me: You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you or shakes your arm, making you spill your coffee everywhere.Why did you spill the coffee? ‘Well because someone bumped into me, of course!’Wrong answer. You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea.*Whatever is inside the cup, is what will spill out.*Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which WILL happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled.*So we have to ask ourselves… “what’s in my cup?” When life or business gets tough, what spills over? Joy, gratefulness, peace and humility? Or anger, bitterness, harsh words and impulsive reactions? Whoa. When faced with adversity who are you because that is when your true thoughts and heart show. I have been around people who have raged and placed blame outside of themselves in troubling times but who does that hurt? It shows a core of anger and insecurity and the ‘ugly’ that rolls off their tongues is truly the ‘ugly’ that’s in their hearts. Matt 15:18 ‘But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart..’ Can they change? Nothing is impossible with God but first they must look in the mirror. I am no saint but with all the challenges life has thrown over the years all I can do is fall to my knees, cry out for peace, and be grateful for another day. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t depend on personality type because at all of our cores is love and the need to feel loved. Maybe it’s all about control. We go through so much in life; illness, hurt, broken relationships, etc and maybe we become hardened because those are the things we cannot control. So here’s what must change…not our personality type, but our need to control every circumstance or person, or in other words, our need to be God. Just my theory. ‘All is not what it is-it is always more. What seems like your story is but a line in the whole story’~Ann Voskamp.

This weekend I was blessed by an img_7380-1unbelievable surprise. My son’s recreational basketball team comprised of most of his closest friends surprised me by wearing t-shirts especially made (by the moms) in support of  my cancer journey. I cry thinking about and looking at the pictures. The beautiful thing about releasing control over whatever situation you may be in is that it frees your heart to love more, to be more authentic and to be kind. You get to be more of your authentic self because you also release the need to control people and reactions and crap in general and you get to live the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’~Matt 7:12. What you put out into the world comes back 10-fold and those shirts on those boys created by the moms was a HUGE 10-fold bounce back. My grateful heart is once again mush.

img_5039-1Today’s lipstick is YSL Rouge Pur Couture Dazzling Lights Edition Lipstick in Le Rouge which is blood red. These lipsticks are a little pricey but super moisturizing. For whatever reason the lipstick just feels luxurious on your lips but I’m not gonna lie, the color slips off my lips pretty quickly. Never the less, if you want to splurge, YSL and Tom Ford are the two brands that are splurge-worthy. I chose this color because it’s red and a great color for the holidays! Cheers!

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