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Tag Archives: cancer warrior

Possibility

27 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pity Party

3 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

Pain and Church

16 Sep

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I saw a friend the other day that I haven’t seen in years. After the initial surface questions and conversation she broke down in tears. She shared about the many difficulties her daughter has had from a lifelong illness and also shared recent difficulties in her marriage. She expressed her exhaustion, her sadness and her hopelessness; she is at the end of her rope. As she was asking me how I was dealing with having cancer again my heart was breaking for her because she looked so defeated. What was more heartbreaking was after sharing her pain she said one of the last places she wanted to go was church; she’s angry with God, she didn’t want to be judged, and she didn’t want to hear any ‘Christian-ese’ talk. Knowing some of my past struggles and now cancer again she looked me straight in the eyes and asked, ‘How can you still have faith in God? How can you not be angry?’ Tough stuff. When did church become ‘unsafe’ for the heartbroken, hopeless, and weary? Why do we sometimes feel like we have to put on our ‘best face’ to go to church? These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asking myself for awhile.img_4188

I have a confession. When I first found out my cancer was back a year ago July, I also didn’t feel like going to church for awhile. Sometimes even now, over a year later, I still feel the same way. ‘With so much effort being poured into church growth, so much press being given to the benefits of faith, and so much flexing of religious muscle in the public square, the poor in spirit have no one but Jesus to call them blessed anymore.’~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church. I go to an awesome Christian church with great leaders and great people. I’ve been attending for over 20 years, have volunteered here, was on the worship team, and have gone on mission trips. I love it yet I wanted not to go after I got the news of cancer’s 4th return. Why? I can only speak for myself when I say that I didn’t want to put my happy, ‘God’s got this’ face on at a time when I felt raw, sad, and disappointed. I didn’t want to hear ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘God only gives you what you can handle.’  Phrases I’ve probably used before. Do we really think about things before we say them? I listened to a great interview with Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist who spoke about this exact thing, watch it here. She says that Christians are so used to these words and phrases (‘Christianese’) that we have stopped thinking, have we? Maybe. These phrases, words, and easy responses sometimes take away from us listening, thinking and loving the people who are hurting. Words have power and when you’re hurting you hear every single word so when you are on the receiving end of these patent phrases that we use all.the.time. you can’t help but want to roll your eyes and think, ‘You have no idea.’ I’m sure it’s all well meaning.

So what was my response to my friend? I hugged her and stayed silent awhile. Then I told her I was so sorry she was in such pain and that I truly had no words. I told her to be gentle with herself, and that it’s ok not to smile. I look back at some of my pictures from the first few months post diagnosis and I’m smiling but my eyes are not. I told her I’m not mad at God and even though I don’t want to go to church sometimes I know that I still have God and more importantly He has me. I told her churches are filled with hurting people regardless of the shine of the facade but vulnerability and authenticity can only happen if we’re willing. I shared my pain and told her that illness and in her case, serious adversity can be lonely because most people can’t know exactly how you’re feeling. I told her that for me, that is the reason I can’t let go of my faith in God. At the end of the day if I don’t have faith that God is real, if I don’t have God to talk to and if I didn’t believe He loved me I would have nothing to hope for after this life and there would be no possibility of joy in crappy circumstances. How do you convince a broken person that God loves her? You start showing God’s love by listening and loving. ‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. img_4187Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.’ I LOVE that quote from Morgan Harper Nichols. In my low moments I don’t remember many conversations but I do remember the encouraging notes, those who sit and pray with me, and the many hugs with no words…love. Can we think on our own and not defer to a Christian-ese phrase as a response to someone’s pain? ‘No one leads people to Jesus; He leads people to Himself. All the pressure’s off; just go love everybody without agenda.’~Bob Goff

Today I’m feeling the red lipstick just because. I chose Urban Decay Vice Lipstick in Love Drunk which is a deep red. Love the name, love the color. Cheers!

Chaos

23 Aug

 

img_3915I ended up in the emergency room yesterday, all is fine. Over the past few days I’ve been having periods of time when I can’t catch my breath to the point of getting dizzy. Yesterday I happened to be speaking to a customer/friend for my job at a local hospital and I told her about my breathing issues. I also said that I thought I may be having panic attacks because of all the things on my mind and she recommended I just go to the ER to rule out anything really serious since I do have cancer in my lungs. OK. Two hours and a CT scan later I got the ‘all clear’. The nurse basically said that besides the cancer I’m a picture of health. Good and bad. Good that it wasn’t anything serious, bad that I guess I’m right, I must be having panic attacks. Also bad that the multiple cancerous lung nodules are still there (for some reason with every CT I kind of expect the nodules to have miraculously disappeared-that’s called hope people).

What am I panicky about? I went through a mental list of all the things happening in my life at this moment because I didn’t think I was stressed about anything. After thinking about work and it’s challenges, kids leaving for college, kids still at home, new kids driving, new school year, new dreams taking shape, a half finished book I’m writing, finances (kids+college=$$$), etc…I guess there are lots of things on my mind, oh and I still have cancer.  Not all my stress is about bad stuff but the body can’t differentiate between good/excited stress and bad stress, it’s all the same. With all the moving parts and noise in my life it seems I live in chaos and there’s been one thing I KNOW I have given up over the last week or two and that’s stillness. I have been in such a rush every day that I haven’t sat down with God to read and chat in the morning. I haven’t really made the time to go to the gym (not stillness but good for me time) and until my head hits the pillow at night I don’t think my mind stops because I have not allowed it to. My bad. Plus I’m an introvert and quiet, alone, and stillness is a necessity for me to recharge.img_3722

I decided two things yesterday; not to miss my 5-10 minutes in the morning chatting with God and saying thank you for my blessings, and to finally jump in on the meditation bandwagon. I downloaded the Calm app (calm sounded like something I needed), and tried a free meditation in the parking lot while at work that was mainly 10 minutes of inhaling and exhaling. Through the breathing I said little prayers and within about 8 min I felt my body relax and just about fall asleep. Well ok, I pretty much fell asleep at the back of this parking lot for a few minutes, but when I opened my eyes there was a man standing about a foot away outside of my car; harmless, he was looking for his car and his back was to me but still…there went my calm. I should probably meditate at home.

We’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, and our nights off — our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, our email, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.~Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

It’s so easy to forget to stop. We get pushed so much to ‘be all’ and ‘do all’ and ‘achieve’ that sometimes it’s easy to get caught up or feel like we might be missing something. I admit that after my last CT scan and finding out that I was still stable for a year, I pushed cancer aside and jumped right back in to ‘doing’ and forgot the ‘being’; being aware, being still. This scare was a call back.

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

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photo courtesy of Leanna Vite Photographu

Today my life is not really any less chaotic and I don’t foresee that part dramatically changing any time soon but I’ve been breathing a little easier. My husband showed me a video today called Why Your Life Is Not A Journey (you can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/176370337?ref=em-share). It basically talks about how we are always striving for the next thing like there’s some great finale when really the whole point of ‘dancing is the dance.’ In other words, the whole point of life is the living (at least that’s what I got out of it).

Today I wear Too Faced Throw Back Lipstick in Marcia, Marcia, Marcia which is bubble gum pink with glitter, there are several fun colors to choose from! These are actually moisturizing but I only chose this for fun and for the name. Marcia was always so chill while Jan kept striving. Inhale. Exhale. Cheers!

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!

I am a mom

11 May

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Mother’s day is around the corner and I am a mom. I am a mom with cancer. What does that mean on mother’s day for me? How have I changed?  This is hard to talk about. The first time I got cancer my kids were young and all I could think of was to fight for them. I have to say, what lessened the urgency or ‘scare’ from the word cancer for me was that I had thyroid cancer which I read about and was told even by my doctors that it was the easiest and best cancer to have because of the high cure rate. When things turned out a little more complicated after the first surgery I was scared and yes, I cried…a lot. My img_1886kids were only 5, 7, and 10 at the time and I wasn’t ready to leave them (are we ever ready to leave them?). I fought, I cried, I prayed, I survived and for the next 2 years cancer came back again twice but same thing, I fought, I cried, I prayed, and throughout those years and the surgeries, and the treatments, I tried to make their lives as normal as possible. I continued to work, I volunteered at their school, I brought cupcakes and donuts to their classes for their birthdays. I rarely missed anything.

Today, 10 years later, cancer is back and it decided to spread. My kids are older, facetune_01-04-2018-18-00-11one is in college, one is headed there next fall, and the youngest is in high school. I’m older, teens are more difficult, life is rarely quiet but I fight, I cry, I pray. Life is funny because there are always things you don’t want to miss. When the kids were younger and I got cancer all I wanted was more time to get them through high school. Now that they’re older I want to see them become adults, get married, maybe meet my grandkids, I want to see them fly and flourish and know that they’ll be ok.

I am a mom. Like all moms we have img_1634pieces of our hearts walking and breathing outside our bodies. We feel their hurts, we cry when they cry, we’re happy when they’re happy. We worry, we discipline, we direct, we pray, we love, we do the best we can. There are no perfect people or perfect moms but we can love and we can teach them to love. I am a mom with cancer. I may not meet the grandkids but I am planning to. I want to see them make good decisions but I can’t control them. I want them to know that my home is a safe place and that there is love waiting for them here. My love language is time and unfortunately with cancer time is what is threatened the most so that makes my heart hurt a little. Here’s the twist, they’re all older and preparing and wanting to launch so while I try to grasp tighter and grab more moments, they are at the age of friends and freedom, and adulthood, how’s that for crappy timing…but I guess there isn’t really a good time to get sick. So that’s what’s a little different with cancer. I hug a little longer, and grasp a little tighter even though they’re older and they grasp for freedom. I stare at them more because I want to notice and memorize and soak in every nuance of their faces. When they ask to grab coffee or a movie or dinner, I jump at the chance because it’s more time. I don’t get too wound up over dumb things and I let go of simple annoyances quickly because I mainly see things in ‘big picture’ now. I listen more intently and I constantly tell them how much I love them and I fight harder, I cry harder, and I pray harder. To all the moms, stepmoms, aunts, mother figures, teachers, mentors and the village helping raise our children, Happy Mother’s Day.

Maybe every year needs one day to live wide awake to celebrate that we get to call these people ours, that we get to be the one who gets seconds and minutes and hours and days and maybe even years to witness the wonder of them…We get the gift to love our people-and what if we don’t get the wonder of another? Maybe getting to love is getting the best gift of all.~Ann Voskamp

Today I wear MAC Liptensity Lipstick in Habanero. I was looking for something a little bright after my radiation treatment. I needed a little pick me up and this color did it! I love the texture of this lipstick formula and the color is awesome. Habanero is a bright orange/red and I love it. Like the name, this color is spicy and fun! Cheers!

Superhero

30 Apr

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What a long week. To recap, I was given a tracer dose of radiation to see if any of my metastatic nodules would show uptake because if they did then another dose of RAI May work. Nothing showed up after the tracer dose. At that point my doctor told me that she would like to try a challenge therapeutic dose because the tracer is so small and my nodules were small and since I had distant metastasis, a higher dose may be necessary. After talking about possible downside to more radiation, which she assured me was minimal in my case, she said that there was a 20% chance it could work to get rid of my cancer. I took the 20% then sat in isolation in my room for 5 days.

I was deemed safe to the public by Saturday and of course the first thing my kids wanted to do was see the new Avengers movie (don’t worry, no spoilers and I waited until Sunday to be extra safe). I had shared with a good friend that after drinking the radiation I sort of felt like a superhero. My 4th time battling cancer and here I was, radioactive; sweating radiation, crying radiation, etc…in a strange way I felt (and still feel) invincible like a superhero, so at the very least I wanted to take my kids to watch my partners fight in the Avengers movie.

Well, after a long week/month I’m recovering and like the superheroes at the end of every hero movie, feel a little beat up but fought my hardest. I found out a little earlier that unfortunately I will not be part of the 20% that was cured and after the initial shock of disappointment I’m ok. I am exactly where I was a month ago. Stable. A month ago I didn’t even have the 20% probability option so yes, I’m totally ok. Here’s what else…I love and trust God and His plan even more. At church Sunday our pastor said, ‘In our storms img_2258God provides people.’ I saw, felt, received the love from so many people and truly felt God’s peace through all the prayers. I have a husband who took the week off and never left my side; has been at every appointment and was by my bedroom door all the time while I was in isolation with food, smiles, conversation, or whatever else I needed. I could not be more grateful for the life I have and the people in it and I’M STILL HERE! God is so amazingly good! From Nichole Nordeman’s song Sound of Surviving : This is sound of surviving, this is my farewell to fear. This is my whole heart deciding I’m still here and I’m not not done fighting. This is the sound of surviving.

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My gorgeous Superhero ring along with my Lipstick Strong bracelet my son had made!

Saturday I got to meet a jewelry designer who had a pop up shop at a local boutique. I had purchased a couple pieces from her collection before and LOVE her stuff so I went to meet her. She was fantastic and kind and showed me a ring I had to have. In my superhero mode this ring reminded me of Wonder Woman who she said was the actual inspiration for the design! I bought it and LOVE it and it’s designer as well. Check her and her jewelry out at anujatolia.com.

Thank you for your support and walking with me in my lipstick journey. Today I still wear red lipstick. Today it’s Aveda Nourish-mint smoothing lip color in Cherrybud which just seems appropriate for Michigan spring. Cheers!

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