Tag Archives: inspiration

Hello Again

23 Nov

I had to look back to see the last time I wrote a blog, and it was July, just after I got the results telling me that my cancer was still stable after 5 years; those dumb nodules on my lungs are not really growing or at least not growing very quickly. I’ll take it. Writing has always been a release for me and a way to process my feelings, but this year it’s been tough to write, and I think maybe it’s because I have too many feelings to process. Before, it was just having cancer 4 times, motherhood, divorce, a child with a life changing health event (which was already a lot), but then the pandemic started and kept going, and I became an empty nester and then menopause, all the things politics, shootings, and absolute craziness. I have relegated myself to 3 bullet points in a journal highlighting 3 specific things I am thankful for each given day and sometimes that’s even hard. I recently read a book by Susan Cain called Bittersweet and boy did that speak to me. It’s a book about people with a more melancholic personality, ‘a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world.’…Bitter and sweet are forever paired. Remember my word for this year was ‘AND’ because life was beautiful AND brutal, light AND dark? This book was validating and so me.

What does it look like as a Stage 4 cancer fighter on her 4th recurrence in 14 years to have an acute awareness of passing time? Pretty shitty, and yet…And yet there is so much beauty. And yet there is so much love from friends and family members and sometimes even strangers. And yet the time we do get to spend with family and those closest to us seem even sweeter, so although we don’t necessarily like ‘just be grateful and move on’, we can be grateful for another breath to keep moving forward. Moving on is different than moving forward. It also helps to seek out those things of beauty and be purposeful when it comes to finding joy.

I miss my kids. Being an empty nester is bittersweet to me, it’s great until it’s not. I’m happy they are all thriving and growing to be amazing adults, but there are days when the ache in my heart to see them, hug them and be around them is so overwhelming I can’t catch my breath. It doesn’t help that seeing them requires at least a 3-hour airplane ride and 2 of them are currently in two different time zones. And yet, they are thriving. And then, I remember my mom having to let go of me and my brother as we grew up and moved away; and her mother saying goodbye to her as she and my dad moved to the US, a different country; those who’ve had to send their kids off to war, and of course those who’ve lost a child, so many goodbyes and yet…

Tomorrow will be my first Thanksgiving EVER not having at least one of my kids here and not gonna lie, I’m pretty sad (although I got to see and spend time with my oldest last weekend). It’s the ‘take my breath away if I think too much about it’ sad but it’s just a day and I’ll see them soon. Also, that acute awareness of time plus having cancer is not cool. So tomorrow I may still cry, but it will be that perfect mix of sadness they’re not here and gratitude for life and living.

I’ve had lots of conversations about faith over the past few months and it’s been quite the journey. Here’s what I know, because of the pandemic, all the things happening in the world (including our own backyard), all the divisiveness, cancel culture, etc., people are asking questions. People are searching for truth but not pat phrases, bible verse responses, religious lingo, Christian-ese, etc…Truth in ACTION. Love in ACTION. Kindness in ACTION. Is that a tall order? I hope not. I will never abandon my faith, but I will continue to question rules that are manmade, those whose actions don’t match the love they speak about, and words and stories taken out of context to ‘win’ something when there are no winners and losers, just people trying to feel like they matter and that are loved. How do we love like Jesus? I’ll stick with that.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

5

14 Jul

Five years.

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

What. A. Ride.

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

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

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

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

Look up

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

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

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

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

5 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello 2022

19 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empty Nest (yes I’m crying)

18 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tears and Magic

25 Nov

I lost someone dear to me last week and I cried for almost a half an hour after I found out. Then I cried again today. When you are a cancer fighter, and if you’re like me who has battled cancer more than once, you become close to some if not all of your healthcare providers, especially if you see the same people year after year. Dr. Menaldi was one of those people. If you don’t know already, I was a long time singer when I got cancer the first time. I sang at local events, church, radio jingles, was on a tv show, and was involved in musical theater. After my first surgery for cancer, my right laryngeal nerve was cut which paralyzed my right vocal cord. Singing I thought, was done. My vocal rehab team consisted of Dr Rubin~ laryngologist, Dr Menaldi~speech pathologist, and Marie~vocal coach. Dr Menaldi worked tirelessly trying to help me find a new way of speaking and breathing with only one functioning cord. Eventually, she trained me to be able to sing again albeit not the same. She pushed me and motivated me and when one thing wasn’t working she researched and tried some of her own methods to get me and my voice back, or close to the way it was.

Dr, Rubin (l) and Dr, Menaldi (r)

Cancer came back twice after that first time, both times in my neck, both affecting my voice again so I worked with my voice team for several years. They had become my family, my go to, my shoulders to cry on every time the cancer came back but also the ones who stayed positive, encouraging, and who pushed me to keep working to get my voice back. Last Friday, Dr Menaldi died of cancer. I hadn’t spoken to her in awhile. Last summer we reconnected after I found out her cancer had come back but I didn’t get to say goodbye. Instead this past summer, knowing her cancer was bad, she encouraged me in my path and in my current cancer journey. I cried because it brought back my past fight, seeing her two sometimes 3 times a week for 4 years. I cried because I didn’t get to say goodbye or encourage her in her fight. I cried because it made me scared about my cancer. I cried because it was a reminder of how truly brief our lives are here on earth.

We are in a pandemic and the holiday season is among us. Yes it’s different and we are all grieving, but life is so fragile and there is so much to be thankful for. My daughter and I were talking about things we miss because of pandemic and she mentioned that she missed travel. Then she said she misses landing and seeing my face and how excited I looked when I saw her (she’s been on mission trips to Africa, Haiti, India, and studied abroad in Jordan). Toni Morrison said, ‘When a child walks in a room…do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for.’ Clearly that’s what she remembers, but aren’t we all looking for that? I think when this pandemic is over we will all be looking at each other with no masks on and magic in our eyes knowing we got through.

Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, lost everything and saw death all around him. After his horrendous ordeal he said, ‘When we have reasons to rejoice, we know how.’ Read that again. He knew how to rejoice and be grateful because he saw what he saw. After surviving he was grateful for EVERYTHING. This pandemic cannot even come close to being compared to what he went through but because of it, how much more grateful will you be when you can see your friends, when you can have a big party, when you can sit for a meal in a restaurant, when you can fully hug someone without anxiety, etc.. I have Stage 4 cancer. When I get caught up in the nonsense of life, I remember, I’m alive and my cancer is stable. My thing is time. When I get to spend time with loved ones I rejoice and I know how. Time is everything to me because I know how precious it is.

I’m not ashamed to say I watched the teen show ‘Dash and Lily’ on Netflix. Although it wasn’t exactly deep or brain stimulating, there was one line that stuck with me: ‘We see what we look for…magic.’ I always say there is magic in each moment and I believe it, but we won’t see it if we’re not intentionally looking. Always be looking because even now, there’s magic.

Uncertainty

28 May

annapensiveIt’s week, I don’t even know anymore, of Covid quarantine. I have semi-adjusted to the daily web based calls for work, various networking calls, dog walks, exercise, cooking, etc, and of all those things, I don’t want to cook anymore…I’m bored with my cooking. I have developed a couple addictions; one to pork rinds (the ‘healthy’ keto kind from Whole Foods), and I can’t get enough of a cleaning instagram account called @gocleanco. It’s seriously a before and after gold mine of house cleaning. No, I haven’t deep cleaned my house from top to bottom nor have the desire to, but I love watching the cleaning stories on this account and I did buy powder Tide for the first time ever (if you watch, you know). It’s weird.

Yesterday I found out that one of the sweet cancer fighters I sent lipstick to a couple months ago passed away. If you’re not familiar, my lipstick company does a buy one/give one. Meaning, if you buy a lipstick, I donate one to a cancer fighter/survivor that you know, and if you don’t know anyone, I give partial proceeds to cancer organizations I’ve chosen. I got the information about this beautiful woman from one of my repeat customers. She was a young wife and mom of two little boys with a constant smile on her face. I was so happy to send her lipstick in hopes to bring a little joy to her fight. Days later I got a little thank you from her via private message on Instagram. She was super excited and grateful, and was hoping to try more colors. Hearing the news of her passing made me so sad and reminded me again how fleeting life can be, and that cancer is a bitch.

I also heard from a high school friend who had just learned of her diagnosis and felt they had no one to talk to who knew how it felt, so she reached out to me. Here’s what I said:

My advice to you right now is to first, breathe. I have learned that there are lots of things we cannot control. I knew what my job was; seek the best medical advice, stay calm, eat well, try to exercise, go to my medical appointments, etc., the rest I had to let go and trust God, NO MATTER WHAT THE OUTCOME. We always have our own plan for our lives and it stinks when it’s derailed, but you have to let that go. I’m doing my part and I’m trusting God and my medical team to do theirs. Second, share your story because someone needs to hear it, even if it’s just you. The more you speak it, the more power your story gives you. My blog definitely helped me release some emotions but I do not hesitate to share my story because it allows people to help you, or at the very least, to understand you better. God and faith to me came not only in my prayers, but in the hands and feet of those who surrounded me. Next, seek counseling. I started seeing a counselor after the 3rd time I had cancer and it was eye opening and super helpful. Last, cry your eyes out but when you’re done, prepare your mind to fight; even if that cycle happens every 5 minutes. It may sound cliche’, but try to find at least one thing to be grateful for at the end of the day. Hope looks different to me now that I’m stage 4. Lots of people gauge hope in some future, but I’m too familiar with the concept of time and all we really have is the present. Hope to me looks like looking into the past and seeing how far I’ve come, thinking about my days and being grateful, finding bits of magic like a flower blooming or a friend calling. As much as life is complicated, it’s also really simple.

All of the things I said can be applied to our current Covid situation. The uncertainty and anxiety that everyone feels is how cancer patients feel all the time…welcome to our world. Author, professor, and Stage 4 cancer fighter Kate Bowler calls life a chronic condition and says we are always looking to be better, look better, feel better. She says that it’s ok that life isn’t always better, we can find beauty and meaning and truth around us, but there’s no cure to being human. If uncertainty is not the ultimate enemy, then we get to live in the space between with more courage.

That’s where I have to live, the space between. My cancer has been stable almost three years but it has not disappeared. I have been filled with uncertainty about my future but I don’t fear it and I no longer view uncertainty as my enemy. It just is, but I know God is with me holding my hand, and that’s enough.

What is Courage? Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet
voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”. ~ Anonymous

Quarantine Check In

20 Apr

img_7553Starting week 6 of our quarantine but who’s counting and how is everyone? I have to say, I have run through the gamut of emotions. The first week or so I was just busy; busy preparing the house for all of the kids to be back (the older 3 are in college and 1 was studying abroad), getting groceries, preparing the home office to transition to 100% work from home for both me and my husband, etc. The second week was still busy but I felt a little more anxious and maybe depressed. Week 3 was when my anxiety peaked and I think it’s when I cried the most, not to mention I think it may have been the week when all the kids started really getting stir crazy. Remember, they are all older teens and young adults and are all used to their independence so being stuck with all their cars in the driveway is a little crazy. Yes, we have lots of cars in the driveway and street so it looks like we’re having a party…trust me, it’s no party in here.

Well here we STILL are, another week. I feel somewhat settled into a ‘pretend’ groove, but who am I kidding. Emotions still run the gamut, but now more frequently at all times of the day. I’m snacking all the time and I’ve ‘watched’ a lot of free workout videos but haven’t actually done many of them. I never know what day it is or even what time it is. I just know when the sun comes out and when we’re all hungry. The time of day seems like is gauged by meal then getting to the next meal. I’ve cut my hair (mainly my bangs and a couple ‘layers’ to frame my face), I attempted to color my hair with a brand that’s advertised mainly online (what a mess that was), and in the beginning of quarantine I ordered a stack of books I wanted to read but have not yet managed to read a single page. I do however, always carry a book around with me and set it down in proximity of where I decide to sit so that it stares and haunts me as I sit and snack.

My first born is graduating college this weekend. Did you hear me? He’s graduating college!! I obviously knew it was coming but now that it’s here, I’m a little sad. He has worked hard and is graduating from the Honors College at his university and will be meandajgoing to grad school to become a Doctor in Physical Therapy. Here’s the clincher, he was going to start grad school in the fall but recently got accepted to another school he’d rather go to which starts in May…MAY. They have redesigned their first semester to have it all online, then he moves for in person classes for the fall semester (hopefully). It’s a lot all at once. I’m not sad that he’s grown up and moving to another state far away for grad school, I’m grieving the fact that I have Stage 4 cancer and I want to soak in every single moment and my first born child graduating college is a ceremony I just wanted to see, cry, and soak in. Yes, it’s about me, but it’s about him too because I know how hard he has worked to do well and finish an undergrad science degree in the honors college in 4 years. Sigh. This Friday, the university president will have a Facebook live commencement event; thank you social media, he graduates via Facebook.

Cancer leads me to my last point. This quarantine has made people crazy and is causing some division (not just physically) between us. I have MANY friends that are small business and restaurant owners with brick and mortar properties, and they’re hurting. I have MANY friends who are healthcare providers who are giving their all, working hard, exhausted, scared, and staying away from their children just to save lives. They’re sacrificing everything to help others and they’re hurting too. I’m stuck in the middle because I’m an enneagram 9 and I want everyone to be happy and doing well, but I have cancer and it’s in my lungs. I’m an at risk patient so I’d like people to stay home and stay safe with their families no matter what. I’d love for people to not argue the politics of it all because the issue is about health, which many people take for granted until they don’t have it. I hear a lot of Covid bringing out the best in people but I’ve also seen (or heard) the worst. Last summer my youngest child had a stroke. It was awful and by the alextime he (and I) left the hospital, it was fall. We lost summer. Now with Covid, by the time it’s over, it will probably be summer, so we lost spring too. Here’s the deal, IT’S A BLIP IN TIME and with Stage 4 cancer, I love and LIVE for ALL blips in time and having time in general, by trying to be grateful always, and trying to always find the magic. I emphasize ‘trying’ because it can be really hard sometimes. This is just a blip in time to be a little less selfish and a little more self-less for people like me, or your parents/grandparents, or even for a complete stranger. ‘No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.’~1Cor 10:24

“Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living a heart-breaking, soul healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s BEAUTIFUL.’~LR Knost

 

Cancer and Coronavirus

25 Mar

 

 

tljs3-10For the last couple of years I’ve lived with a steady undercurrent of uncertainty and occasional fear and sadness from a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic cancer. Daily, I have prayed for more time, less fear, maybe for my cancer to miraculously disappear or at the very least, remain stable for the next 50 years. Cancer has forced me to face mortality, the fragility of life, and the real possibility of death sooner rather than later. One author compared living with Stage 4 cancer to walking around with a bomb strapped to your chest not knowing when it may explode. Now add coronavirus.

I thought I was doing fine. Over two weeks ago things got a little weird. Coronavirus started to spread across the states but I wasn’t panicky. Having a science degree and being involved indirectly in healthcare helped me navigate the news and all the articles. Then the urgent conference call from work stating that we would begin working from home the next day. Two days after that, I got an urgent text from my daughter who was studying abroad and needed a flight out immediately because the airport in that country was closing in 3 days. Panic started creeping up and fear started choking me but mainly at this time, it was for my daughter. Flights were filling up as I was booking, prices were skyrocketing but I didn’t care. She got out on one of the last flights and all was well. Then the busy happened. Last week, all 5 ‘kids’ came home and while many with younger children were worried about school work and keeping young ones occupied, I was running what seemed like a bed and breakfast with 5 older teens/young adults ages 17-22; three of which were already living semi-independently away at college. I was busy in this new rhythm of work from home, my husband was on conference calls non stop with everything that needed to get done at his organization, then the scramble to get food, antibacterial lotion, and toilet paper, and to keep sane.

We are full on, in the middle of week 2 and Monday, I broke. I’ve been busy cooking, wiping things down, keeping up with my day job and the various conference calls and remote trainings during the day, and trying to take care of my lipstick business at night. I haven’t been able to focus on anything, life has become blurry.  I have cancer in my lungs which makes me one of those high risk patients, my parents who live less than 10 miles away are high risk, and my oldest son had asthma when he was younger and still has a few asthma attacks here and there, which makes him high risk as well. I still struggle with PTSD from my younger son having a stroke last summer, and for a few days I thought my daughter would end up stuck in her program abroad. I’m trying not to have fear, I really am, but it’s alot. My cancer has been stable for awhile which has afforded me lots of hope for more time, but with Covid looming in the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch including groceries we bring in our house, mortality is back in plain sight; it’s the perfect storm. The fear and uncertainty the world now feels was already familiar to me after my latest cancer diagnosis…now what? Which is more dangerous, the cancer or the virus?

What now? Focus and do the same things I’ve done through every adversity thrown my way. Breathe. I’ve been trying to take a few minutes throughout the day to close my eyes, stop my brain from running, and just breathe and observe. What is happening in the present? Can’t stop your mind? Focus on a chair in your room, or your dog, or a tree outside, or whatever is solid and real in that very moment. Pray. Pray for whatever’s on your heart; healing, your parents, your kids, your inner peace and sanity? Just pray. Be grateful for what you have right now. Be grateful that we can go outside and breathe in fresh air (with social distancing). Be grateful there’s no shortage on handsoap. Control what you can and let go of the rest. I cannot control my cancer or when those tumors decide to start growing but I can eat better and exercise. We cannot control this virus but we can do our part by staying home and washing our hands, how easy is that? In our immediate gratification society we have a chance to learn patience and when the day comes when we can all work and play again with others well damn, it’ll be that much more amazing.

On to the positives. Just about every type of workout is available on social media and they’re free. I’ve done yoga, barre, dance, pilates, all from the comfort of my own home. I’ve listened to Chris Martin and John Legend serenade from their homes and I’ve taken dance class from Debbie Allen (which was one of my dreams after seeing her in ‘Fame’). There is a lot out there and for the most part, people are willing to share their gifts and talents. That’s the last thing, give. No one is immune to coronavirus and people are isolated. Check on them, send cards, get on Facetime, do TikToks, whatever. Everyday is a gift and there’s no light without darkness.

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.

 

Forgetting

3 Mar

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A crazy thing happened to me last week. For a split second or maybe more like two minutes, I forgot I had cancer. It wasn’t too much of a big deal but I was at a meeting and I just forgot and felt normal. Here’s what’s even stranger, I work for a company that kinda deals with cancer so I’m surrounded by it all the time but again, for a minute, I forgot. It made me laugh a little when it came back to me but I’ve been stable for awhile so maybe this is pretty normal.

I was with a good friend when she asked if hearing others’ cancer stories bothered me and no, absolutely not. I love hearing people’s stories and it actually helps to hear what others’ thought processes are so I know my thoughts are normal. I did however, tell her that sometimes what’s harder for me is when others forget that I still have cancer. Now, this is tricky because I’m really high-functioning so lots of people don’t know, and I also don’t want pity or any special treatment.Cancer is ALWAYS on my mind whether I show it or not.

  • Retirement~will I be alive for that?
  • My back hurts~is my cancer spreading?
  • It’s harder to breath today~humidity/allergies or is my cancer spreading?
  • Have dessert~is the sugar feeding my cancer?
  • I’ve lost a couple pounds~cancer?
  • Coronavirus~Yes, it’s awful and seems to be an epidemic. All of the news outlets say that the elderly, the very young, and the compromised are the ones really at risk since it attacks the respiratory system. I have cancer in my lungs so while people are thinking about the virus~am I one of those ‘high risk’ people that would do poorly?
  • Cancer, cancer, cancer…you get the gist

Cancer is the backdrop of my thoughts and is the steady undercurrent in my daily life. It drives many of my decisions and can sometimes control my mood. I get quiet, I get sad, I get tired easily, and because I’m an introvert, it’s easiest for me to withdraw. On the other hand, I am more observant, more joyful, and more grateful so it’s almost extreme. It’s a clash of intense joy and gratefulness along with sadness at the same time. I guess I’m asking for grace. Something I’m really working on is not judging other people’s pain. Someone may be struggling with work, a cold, a headache, a family issue, etc. and in my head I want to say, ‘but I have Stage 4 cancer.’ Everyone’s pain is their own and no one’s is bigger than another. Comparison is a killer in all aspects of life.

I listened to a podcast today and Richard Rohr said that sometimes his joy can make him sad at the same time. He went on to explain that in moments when he is overcome with joy and contentment, he is sometimes told he carries a sad disposition. He explained further that he realized that he gets sad that people aren’t experiencing the same joy and love of life; two intense emotions coexisting which he calls the ‘bright sadness’. In his ‘both/and’ worldview, opposites don’t contradict each other, they deepen one another. I’m sure I messed that up a bit but I get it and feel that as well; intense joy and gratitude coexisting with sadness. I get overwhelmed with living and being so grateful for everything and I just want to shake people and scream that life is amazing and that even in the mundane, you get to live. I get especially sad when it comes to my kids because of all the same things. All the little things they worry about, some of the choices they make, some of the entitlement they feel, or feelings of worthlessness while finding their passions and purpose, I want to shake them. More than that, I want to smother them with love, I want them to see the beauty of life and of people, I want them to know how amazing and worthy they are, and I also want to live until they’re older so I can see them with their own families. Sigh.

I forgot I had cancer for a moment. It was beautiful.

Prayer is sitting in silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise~Richard Rohr

 

 

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