Tag Archives: cancer warrior

Is God Still Good

16 Aug

img_4179About a month ago I was scrolling through social media and one of the cancer survivor/fighters I follow had her first scan one year after being told she was cancer free, and it was still clean. This of course is reason to celebrate and her comment was ‘God is so good.’ I hate to say it, but in my mind I thought, What if the scan results did not turn out that way…would she have still said, ‘God is so good’?

I have had a beyond crazy couple of weeks. About 2 weeks ago I was part of a celebration called Brushes With img_4060Cancer. I was matched with an artist (singer) and we collaborated together to create a piece of music with spoken word. There were several other artist/cancer thriver collaborations and the night was beautiful. At the end of the night I was presented a painting from an artist who told me he was inspired by my story and the painting he had been working on that evening was meant for me. Cue the tears of joy, gratitude, awe, etc. I left on a high. God is good. The very next day my 16 year old son suffered a stroke. The very. next. day.

Two weeks ago today, my son suffered a stroke due to AVM, an undetected malformation in the brain from birth. The tears of joy the night before turned into tears of the greatest sorrow and desperation I have ever had. I have never felt such depths of grief until I saw my baby, right side paralyzed, unable to speak that first week, with so much fear in his eyes. Was God still good? I obviously have had my fair share of bad stuff, but that first week (last week) felt like I was in an alternate reality. The words, ‘God only gives you what you can handle,’ meant (means) nothing to me because this, I couldn’t handle. Then there’s, ‘Things happen for a reason,’…what reason? Why do I have Stage 4 cancer and why would my youngest have a stroke? Here’s what I think (and excuse my language), shit happens. It just does. We were not promised heaven on earth or some euphoric life. I live in Michigan, we have long, gray winters, Michigan is not heaven. This is real life.

When Jesus was on earth, He experienced real life too. God doesn’t give us what we can handle, what kind of God would punish us to see what we could handle? I have felt completely helpless in this situation and I can’t handle this on my own, so on the contrary, I believe God helps us handle what we’re given. Ann Voskamp writes, ‘The Writer of the story has written Himself into the hardest places of yours and is softening the edges of everything with redeeming grace.’ I like that, He is softening the edges of this nightmare.

God is still good. In the case of a Christian life instead of ‘seeing is believing’, we have to live by ‘believing is seeing’. Romans 8:25 says, ‘But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ This situation sucks. Me having cancer sucks. I know for sure though, that believing in God offers me the hope I need to push forward. This hope is the release needed to say, ‘I have no control over the situation and I hand it to You.’ Erwin McManus says, ‘Our ability to endure, persevere, to overcome is fueled by this one seemingly innocuous ingredient called hope.’  So, having metastatic cancer but still stable after 2 years? God is good. Alex progressing and getting better slowly every day? God is good. The hundreds if not thousands of people who have prayed for us over the past couple of weeks? God is good. Jesus living on this earth and suffering real, human, pain to give us hope? God is good. We will all have some adversity and some, even major tragedies which will be 100% awful and make us question everything. For me, the bits of peace and even the smallest rays of hope come from my faith in a big God, no matter the outcome. I am not alone. Small steps, big God. God is good.

Scars

22 Jul

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This week I started physical therapy on my arm. Remember, it was the neuropathy and lack of sensation in my left arm that actually helped discover my Stage 4 diagnosis. Anyhow, over the past couple of years my left arm has gotten weaker and the prickly/burning feeling has been magnified. I did a nerve conduction test and found out that I have nerve damage to the nerves in my brachial plexus from external beam radiation and it could actually get a little worse over the years. Not fun. Physical therapy was prescribed to help rehab the nerves that are left and somehow strengthen the muscles around those nerves. One of the side effects from this nerve damage is called paresthetica, which is basically persistent itching from damaged and irritated nerves. My arm is always itchy, numb, and tingly, and I now have scratched it so much that I have several little scars running up and around my left arm. It ain’t pretty and honestly, going to physical therapy is a little depressing. It reminds me that I’m sick and because of that illness, I’m damaged. The weather lately has been brutal on my breathing too…all those reminders.img_3895

I have a few scars, one on my neck from the three cancer surgeries, one on my shin from banging my leg into a car door years ago, and now, several scars on my arm from my scratching my ‘prickly nerve damaged’ skin.  ‘Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.’~ Cormac McCarthy. Every scar serves to remind us of the stories that put them there but also to remind us of what we’ve overcome. I look at the scar on my neck and remember the three surgeries that put it there and how far I’ve come. The scars on my arm remind me of the 7 weeks of radiation that killed my nerves but also killed the cancer for awhile.

What about the scars you don’t see? The ones left by hurt, words, anger, discouragement, do those heal? I think it takes a really long time. I am fully aware of how damaging words and actions can be. When scars heal they change the texture of your skin, but what about the damage of scars on your heart and soul? Hurt always alters something. ‘It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I don’t fully agree. The wounds remain underneath but the scar toughens the exterior. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.’~Rose Kennedy. We are all damaged and scarred to some degree visible or not, and we should remember that when speaking to each other.

For now, I will keep going to physical therapy without getting mad at my body. I will look at all my scars and remember that I am strong.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Fierce because that’s how I’m feeling 🙂

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

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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

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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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