Tag Archives: cancer warrior

New Normal

23 Jun

scan day

My three month scan came and went and my lung nodules are still stable! Because of all the insurance craziness leading up to the scan, I wasn’t in a rush to get the results. My cancer has officially been stable for 2 years (next month) so now my scans move to every 6 months. It’s good and it’s bad. Every 3 months was hard but it felt comforting to keep tabs on those tumors, moving to every 6 months? Eh, I’ll try not to panic in between wondering if they’re growing.

I visit cancer centers for my job on a daily basis, ironic huh? Most of the people I speak to don’t even know I have cancer but I’m good with that. This past week I was speaking to a social worker about her role in a patient’s cancer journey and I ended up sharing with her that I myself have Stage 4 cancer. I could see her eyes and demeanor change as she shifted into ‘social worker’ gear. I told her that after this last scan I have felt more at ease knowing that my tumors have had little to no growth over the last two years; ‘still stable’ gave me a boost of hope. I told her that I was now trying to view my cancer as more of a chronic disease. This is my new normal, navigating a ‘normal-ish’ life knowing I have cancer. Yes, it’s weird.

On a podcast this week a cancer survivor said that while going through treatment, people would call her ‘warrior’ and ‘strong’ but she was just doing what she needed to do to survive. She said that integrating back into real life AFTER the tests and treatments was actually more difficult because there was no handbook, no one scheduling a test or bloodwork; she faced mortality and life became more ‘simple’. Simple meaning being grateful, loving others, being kind, appreciating time minus all the b.s. and drama and complaining and stressors that don’t really matter in the end. This is my mind daily, integrating into everyone’s normal daily life but having a more simple mindset because with metastatic cancer nothing is ‘normal’ living anymore. I can’t forget I have several cancerous nodules in my lungs and I can’t pretend that I don’t think they’re ever going to grow. How do I navigate normal and not really normal on a daily? Advice appreciated but I’ll start with grateful. Most of the time I view life as simple like the podcast chick, on occasion I get swept up in the drama but then I remember that life is fleeting.

How long is a long life? In a few months I’ll be turning 50, FIFTY!! I’ve technically lived a long life already. How do I want to live the rest? Warrior strong and not tinged with sadness and cynicism that having cancer can sometimes bring. Simple. Intentional. Grateful.

Today I wear Bare Minerals Gen Nude lipstick in XOX (which is a dusty rose) with The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Promise on top. The lipstick I created has enough pigment to wear alone but the texture is also perfect to layer on top of something you may already have to ‘adjust’ the tones. Putting Promise on top of this lipstick just lifts it up a notch and adds a tiny but of shimmer. Cheers!

 

Two Breaths

5 Jun

img_3582-1It’s been a rough week and it’s only Wednesday. My scan, which was scheduled for Monday had to be canceled because the insurance company wanted to review my case to decide whether I actually needed a scan or not. This was a bit of a jolt to the system because it takes quite a bit of mental preparation to even get to scan day. As a metastatic cancer fighter who has been getting scans every three months to determine if her tumors are growing, I rely on these scans (maybe too much) to determine how I will live the next 3 months until the next scan. ‘Rely’ may be too strong of a word but knowing if your cancer is progressing is a pretty big deal. I was able to reschedule for 2 days later (today) so I quickly got over the hump of anxiety and disappointment.

Yesterday morning I was in a minor, which could have been major, car accident while taking one of the kids to school. While turning into the school a woman ran through the red light and slammed into my car. When I heard the horn and looked, I quickly accelerated so she ended up only hitting my back wheel and all was fine. Then, later in the morning I got a call from the hospital telling me that my insurance denied coverage for my scan because they found it not medically necessary…WHAT???? It took me a minute to get over the first cancellation, this time, I lost it. Angry, frustrated, nervous, I called insurance and made her listen to my WHOLE cancer story and why the scan was necessary for my case. I also called my doctors office and asked that they call, but by then it was the end of the day. After my calls I broke down and cried out of frustration and maybe out of fear. Cancer is just as big a mental game as it is a physical one. Good news is, the doctor’s office did call insurance today and they were told that after further review, they changed their minds and approved my scan…now scheduled for Friday. Lesson: WE ARE OUR OWN ADVOCATES!

It is only Wednesday. Deep breath. Interspersed into these 2 major events we had a child graduate high school, moved another child back to her college town into a house, and had to turn in a leased car while finding another one…all of these things just since Sunday. Oh and of course there is always teen drama and what have you, pushed into the small bits of time that I’m just trying to find a little peace in. It is only Wednesday. How does one find peace and solace when there is barely enough time to breathe? How do I release the stress of having cancer while attempting to still handle real life and all the unexpected daily events from insurance companies, work, teens, ex-husbands, etc? ‘Anything you can’t control is teaching you to let go.’~J.Kiddard  Hmmm. Ann Voskamp recently wrote, ‘Waiting is a letting go to let something grow.’ I can’t control any of those unexpected daily events and I can’t control people, including my kids so I have to let go. I consider Ann Voskamp’s quote and I wonder about the word waiting. Waiting to me means time, cancer takes away time so I view all of that simultaneously; the waiting, the letting go, the living, the growing, it’s all mashed together. Inhale wait, exhale let go. Inhale life, exhale grow. Two breaths. Can it be that simple? I know I have God on my side and that knowledge is everything. In a podcast I listened to, John Green called God the painter while we (humans) were simply the frame. So yes, through adversity and daily challenges, I will remember my two breaths living life and trusting God the painter of masterpieces. Inhale wait, exhale let go. Inhale life, exhale grow.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Serene which is a beautiful brown/coral shade. Sometimes I wear lipstick because it’s how I feel on the inside and other times I wear it because it’s how I want to feel. Serene is perfect for just this moment.

Ever Onward

26 May

car

In Kelly Corrigan’s book, Tell Me More, she talks about mottos. Her life motto after she finished college was, ‘Things happen when you leave the house.’ Meaning, any day could be a huge day. You don’t know who you will speak to, bump into, what new opportunity exists outside your door, but you have to leave the house.

The past few weeks have been pretty amazing. I was nominated and chosen as a top female founder/entrepreneur in the Detroit area, have had all the kids under one roof again for a short time, then this past weekend had an amazing photo shoot for my founderlipstick company with beautiful thrivers; ladies thriving through life despite health surprises. Survivors of breast cancer and lymphoma, one still fighting brain cancer, and one living with alopecia. It was a magical morning for me and one that brought me tears. It struck me that each one of us was fighting or had fought something that was trying to take us down. We had that common thread of fear, sadness, insecurity, but here we were, surviving, overcoming, fighting, and smiling. I had each of the ladies write their stories down in my notebook and the last words of one of the women were, ‘Ever Onward.’ Perfect. Every one of us pressing forward on our journeys. This is what my lipstick company is about and it made my heart full. Life IS our canvas and these are the things that can happen when you choose to get out of your comfort zone…when you decide to leave the house.

Life is made up of huge events that mark themselves as memories but it is also made up of millions of tiny moments in between. Is it possible to just be in the minutia as much as in the big? The kids were all here together for the first time in awhile, all 5 in one house. Yes it was chaos at times but with the older 2 in college most of the year I didn’t mind. I don’t miss the chaos but I do miss them. Time is my love language, with that comes the fact that I never want to miss the moments, and with the older two home I wanted as much time as I could squeeze out. That’s the goal, be in the moments, the big, the small, ALL OF THEM. I can’t help thinking about the beautiful photo shoot without thinking about all the moments that got me there; cancer, lipstick, mission, life. Then there’s the top founder nomination; cancer, book, blog, cancer again, vision, mission, starting a company, hustle. Lots and lots of minutia but each moment counting for something.

I have my next CT scan in a week. I can’t believe it’s already been three months since the last one but I’ve been in that weird head space again. I’m sad that I still have cancer and have to do this every three months. I’m nervous about what they may find. Am I still stable? Are the tumors growing? Are there more tumors? Is the cancer spreading? I hate all those feelings and questions, I hate the time bomb strapped to my chest waiting to explode on me, and I hate the fact that these questions steal precious moments. If I am still stable I will be one month shy of having stable Stage 4 metastatic cancer for 2 years which in my mind classifies my cancer as a chronic illness like diabetes or asthma (at least that’s how I’m going to try to think about it). It’s crazy but EVER ONWARD.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.’~Henry David Thoreau

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in 2 colors, yes you can layer! I put Playful on the bottom and Promise on top which makes a beautiful brighter mauve color on me. It’s actually the perfect combo for how I’m feeling, still playful because of all the amazing moments and hanging on to the promise that God is good and He will continue carrying me through whatever the results of the scan. Cheers!

 

Strength and Story

23 Mar

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Yesterday I had the chance to tell my story for a podcast that will be broadcast in a few weeks. I have to admit I was nervous for a few reasons; I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t receive any questions ahead of time to prepare answers for, and I’m a little insecure about my voice because it is weak and ‘breath-y’ and a podcast is all voice. When Lauryn first called to get ready to record I asked what part of my story she wanted to hear, the cancer part, the lipstick part, how the cancer opened up the lipstick business, etc. She said, ‘Your whole story, beginning to end, everything you want to tell me, just keep talking.’ Woah. That’s a lot. I started with, ‘ I was born…’ I’m sure that freaked her out a little but I quickly jumped to my passions growing up then to the first time I had cancer. I described everything from finding out, to the procedures, work, kids, people, emotions, home life, etc. I described those things for every single time I was diagnosed until now. I spoke about being a mother to young kids the first time I was diagnosed and what that meant, then now being a mom to older teens/young adults and what being diagnosed with Stage 4 means to me and to them. And of course, I spoke about lipstick and the part it has played in my messy journey.

I talked for over an hour without interruption describing every nuance. I realized that this was the first time, if ever, I have shared all of those details out loud. Not just all of the times I was diagnosed, the when, and what happened, but all the emotions and most of my thoughts surrounding those times. Yes my voice shook, yes we both cried at times, but there was also laughter. I was literally exhausted for the rest of the day. The thing is, I let myself be super vulnerable and was able to open up, and after hearing myself speak about all that I had gone through up to this point, I felt strong. I have always thought that throughout my journey I did what I had to do to just keep going for me and my family and that was not strength, it was just will, and just because. After the interview I felt REALLY strong and realized that ‘the story’ was not really the big moments, it was every piece, fragment, emotion, in between. It was the filler in the pages between chapters and that is where the strength was really necessary. ‘You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along.’~Eleanor Roosevelt.

At the end of my hour of babbling on the podcast, Lauryn had one question, ‘After everything, has your belief or faith in God changed?’ Good question. I have to say after the first 3 times with cancer I never asked God why. I just figured God had a plan and was generally at peace with whatever outcome. Total trust. This last diagnosis of metastatic cancer I finally asked God the why question. Not, ‘why me’, but more ‘why can’t my life just be good for awhile. Why can’t I just rest?’ I don’t know the answers but I still have peace with whatever. I absolutely still believe in God and if anything my faith has gotten even stronger. I told her that in the darkest of moments for me and with all the unknown, God was/is my only solid and that’s enough. ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.’ -Corrie ten Boom 

I started my day yesterday seeing this quote on Lauryn’s Instagram and it was perfect,’Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.’~Morgan Harper Nichols. Amen and amen.

Today I’m wearing The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Playful which is a bright plum/berry. It’s the brightest color I created and it’s actually not super bright (meaning still wearable every day, not neon). I chose Playful because it’s spring and I’m feeling funky. Cheers!

 

Possibility

27 Nov

restaurant

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!

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

church

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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