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Tag Archives: cancer warrior

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!

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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!

Power of Story

16 Mar

I heard a cancer survivor speak recently and I have to admit I was a little annoyed. I am incredibly happy that this person was completely cancer free and that her treatment worked for her, it’s a place all cancer fighters hope for. I think it was her story and her ‘after’ story that irritated me. The presentation was to a large group so I can imagine it may have been stressful but what I missed was a little authenticity, the guts of her journey. Maybe the story was too simple; got cancer, got treated, got cured, stayed positive, doesn’t remember having any ups and downs emotionally. Maybe I’m being too cynical, that’s probably it. All I know is for me to share in her joy and excitement I needed to be able to connect to her story and being a Stage 4 cancer fighter currently, the expectations and probability to connect was high but it didn’t happen. I wasn’t inspired, and all I could do was sigh, ‘that’s nice, good for her,’ a sharp contrast to someone I heard speak last year. Listening to last year’s survivor story left me on the edge of my seat, I was in tears as I was brought into her journey with her words and I wanted to seek her out afterward and know more. I didn’t even have cancer then.

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.’~Erin Morgenstern

Have you ever thought about that? The possibility that your story could actually take residence in someone’s soul and become part of their blood and self and purpose. Whoa. If that’s the case, would you be more truthful about who you are, your feelings, your purpose, your words? What I wanted from the speaker was authenticity, truth, and maybe her truth was just that simple. Maybe she didn’t have low points in her journey or maybe she just didn’t let herself get there. My truth on my current cancer path is different and that’s ok because we are all created differently. The authentic self is soul made visible. – Sarah Ban Breathnach  Be authentic.

Today’s page in my story is a jumble of words and emotions. My mind is all over the place. I have the consistency of work and kid rhythms but my mind and heart are still longing to save the world, to check things off on my ever growing bucket list, to see dreams become reality. I heard a fellow cancer fighter say that she tries to create such a big and busy life in order to shove down the ugly cancer stuff; in essence to make cancer just a small part in her mind. I feel the same, planning big, checking things off my bucket list and keeping busy helps me forget on occasion that I have cancer and it also helps me in a small way not to live from scan to scan. Faith. I recently read from an Oswald Chambers devotional that at the beginning of the Christian walk we are so marked by feelings, more by sight than by faith, but there comes a time when that joy is not what it used to be and that sometimes the soul gets dark but that is when God is taking the soul out of the realm of religious feeling and emotion into the realm of faith (all paraphrased). Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien. Deep faith. I’m right there now too. I have a sweet relationship with God that has deepened over the years through life, cancer, and other obstacles, and it’s what’s giving me hope. On Jen Hatmaker’s podcast she ends each episode with the question, ‘What is saving your life right now?’ I have to say for me, it’s my quiet time with God each day and the people I have chosen to surround myself with, my family and my friends; both give me hope, peace, and joy. My mind may be in overdrive but today I get to add another page to my story, I’m alive.

Today I wear Flower Petal Pout Lip Color in Chestnut Kiss. I was pleasantly surprised by these lipsticks from Drew Barrymore’s line. They are inexpensive, have great color, are pretty long lasting, and are fairly moisturizing as well. I chose this color because I was looking for an everyday brown that I could wear without looking ‘dirty’ on my brown skin and this was actually perfect! Cheers!

And other thoughts…

11 Feb

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You are a better Christian if you go to church every Sunday…and other statements that I ponder. I’m not sure which I have more on a moment to moment basis, thoughts or emotions. I can run from joy and happiness to depressed and anxious and back to joy in less than 30 seconds and the same goes with the various topics that pop into my mind in that amount of time. I can go from my cancer and what dreams and goals I still have, to the kids’ schedule for the week, to ‘I need a piece of candy’ in no time flat. Anyhow, I mentioned church because ever since I got the news that my cancer was back last July I haven’t really felt like going to church. People have asked if I am angry at God or have just assumed I’m maybe running away from my faith for now. No and no. In fact, I have never felt closer to God and felt more loved by Him. I’m not avoiding church, I still go, but sometimes I just don’t really feel like it. I believe there are seasons to our faith; seasons of discovery but also seasons when solitude is necessary and maybe that is where I am. I think also during this time when I’m trying to navigate my feelings of living with cancer I’m not sure I can handle that much ‘religious cheerleading’ (poor description and probably offensive but I can’t really describe it any other way). Bottom line, my faith has to do with me and God and we talk all the time. I know I couldn’t do cancer without Him and I see evidence of His love and grace daily from the words I read in the bible to the kindness and love I receive from friends and even strangers whether that’s in a church building or not. He gives me the peace to move forward and trust that everything and everyone will be ok.

img_1326Thought 2. I have heard many many times that I don’t look sick. It’s true. My cancer’s stable so in the meantime I work, go out with friends, go to the kids’ sporting activities and events, ‘normal’ life, and I look no different with Stage 4 cancer now than I did July 6, 2017 (the day before I found out my cancer was back). I don’t ever take offense to the comment, I’m truly grateful because who wants to look sick? Part of my thought process though is that none of us look sick but most of us are. The Facebook and Instagram pictures are great but don’t show sadness, depression, arguments, adversity, bullying, cruelty, or any of the things normal people struggle with every single day. REAL. LIFE. All of us are living, breathing novels with incredible stories and beautiful covers but we don’t see each others’ ripped and tear-stained pages, highlights, the worn out corners, etc…none of us really look sick.

Last thought for today…contrary to social media and what’s most highlighted on the news, people are really great. I am so blown away by the beauty and kindness and generosity of people. In fact, during this time it’s people and my interactions that have been magical and have given me a sense of wonder. I believe we all want the same thing, to know we’re loved and to know we matter. If we can give that much to another person the return is crazy. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, img_7380while loving someone deeply gives you courage. ~Lao Tzu  Courage and strength, all of us need both. I read this quote from an unknown author and I really loved it, ‘Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried; but actually you’ve been planted.’ HOW AWESOME IS THAT? Planted for rebirth, planted for new, planted for breakthrough. I love it.

Today I wear NYX Butter Gloss in Red Velvet. I own several colors of this gloss for a few reasons; moisturizing, great color, cheap. If you’re afraid to dive in and wear a bold red lip color you can start with this. This gloss gives just enough color without being scary and it feels great too. I chose this color because it’s red and I do love a good Red Velvet cake! Cheers!

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