Tag Archives: love

Courage

28 Aug

alex

This has been one of the toughest weeks in the hospital with my son. As you know from my last blog, my 16 year old suffered a stroke on August 2nd. Since then he went from the ICU to a step down unit, to in patient rehab. He has made TONS of progress in terms of speech and his right side gaining movement, but all of this progress was leading up to 2 procedures to ‘fix’ the AVM in his brain; one to stop the blood flow in that area, followed by brain surgery to fix the actual malformation. What went from deepest sorrow, to joy from getting better, returned to grief and fear this past week for these next two steps. Everyday since last Friday, grief, fear, and joy lived simultaneously in his hospital room. During the day we would experience the joy of something gaining motion but at night, the fear of the upcoming procedures and what changes may happen would steal the joy. Then there were the questions amidst tears in the quiet before bed each night; Why did this happen to me? Why can’t I just be a normal teen? Why me? I didn’t know this momma’s heart could break even more, but watching your child in pain and struggling with these unanswerable questions broke the remainder of what I had left.

How do you answer these questions when you don’t have the answers? How do you remain courageous when you yourself have fear? All I could do was hug him, cry with him and tell him that it was ok to cry, be afraid, and ask questions but in the morning he needed to fight back and to push forward. I told him to ask God to strengthen and sustain him and to give him peace. For a kid (and even for an adult), that sounds so generic and blasé’, but it’s what I have to hang on to so I’m going to hang on to it. I also told him when he’s older, he can tell his kids and grandkids about the scar on his head and how he overcame the biggest challenge of his life when he was just a kid. Ann Voskamp speaks of grief and loss as a type of empty or negative space in our hearts which gives our lives definition; its constant presence in our thoughts and actions. She then says that God uses this space to give us permission to pause, help us reevaluate and draw our attention to what is positive-God Himself and the hope we have.

I am exhausted, mentally and physically. On top of this, we had 3 kids recently go off to college and another is starting her senior year of high school. Life moves forward. I thought that a Stage 4 diagnosis would do me in, but watching and caring for your child through such a major health crisis goes beyond human capability. I understand the being strong and fighting part when it comes to me and my fight, but for my child? It’s the next level. Children believe you when they see in your eyes that you believe, and it has taken every inch of my being, with HEAVY reliance on my faith to be strong and courageous for both of us. Love gives courage. We talk about life in seasons, ‘this is just a good or bad season,’ etc, but I heard Shauna Niequist on a podcast and she referred to life as more of a railroad track, the good and bad happen simultaneously side by side. I agree because I’ve seen it every day we’ve been here and even through my own cancer journey. In this hell, there has been light. On the worst of days, there have been glimmers of hope. There may have been tears but there has been laughter as well; always good and bad side by side.

The love we have experienced from friends, family, nurses, even strangers have meant so much and has lifted us up. I cannot thank you all enough for all the cards, texts, gifts, and prayers. As a Christian, I have always known the story of God and Jesus but now I understand even more the incredible sacrifice; a Father watching his son suffer real human suffering to give us all hope. That is love. Love gives courage.

Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you…I will uphold you.’~Isaiah 41:10

 

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!

 

Unlucky

27 Apr

mountain

Unlucky. I recently had a medical issue pop up (unrelated to cancer) which led to a surprise surgery. Not to worry, it was an outpatient procedure, and after resting a few days I was feeling better. I was in my (now former) doctors office that morning when she said, ‘I scheduled you for surgery later today. This can happen, you’re just unlucky.’ Excuse me? My response, ‘You know I have cancer right? A surprise surgery is not great news.’ Doctor, ‘I know and that’s right, metastatic thyroid is rare too…seriously unlucky.’ Yes, I called the office after I left begging for a different doctor, anyone else in the multi-physician practice but yes, this is the woman, the only one available, who was to perform the surgery later that day.

In elementary school during gym class and sometimes at recess, there were those times when the teacher would pick a ‘captain’ to a team and those kids were tasked to pick people to be on their teams one by one. Considering I was a girl, shy, and one of the only minorities in a predominantly Caucasian school (after we moved to the suburbs from Detroit), I was generally picked last. I was actually a pretty good athlete unbeknownst to them. I don’t even know why I remember this but whatever team I was on would always lose. Even when whole classrooms would compete with each other on ‘Field Days’, my class would lose. Of course moving on to Jr High and Sr High running track, playing tennis, etc, this was not the case anymore, but in those formative years of my very young youth, I felt like I was the ‘omen’ to any team I was on. I honestly do not know why I felt like that but maybe it was because I was the outlier, the minority, the shy girl who barely talked, but every time whatever team I was on lost, it was no surprise to me.

Fast forward to the doctor calling me unlucky for this medical mishap and also my ‘rare’ cancer. It brought back memories and maybe the underlying shame that I’ve always carried of being the girl who brought bad luck to a team. None of it was fun and bad memories/feelings tend to stick. I have not always been on a losing team. In fact, I’ve been on winning teams most of my life whether it be in high school sports, competitions, pageants, or even my work teams. Looking at my life now, I found an amazing husband who loves and supports me in everything I do and everything I think about doing and who holds my hand at every scan and appt. I have amazing kids and great friends, a great career and now a lipstick company that helps people and has brought me new life despite having cancer. Strangely though, the ugly feelings of not being on a winning team still bubbled up at that doctors office, caught me by surprise and gave me that insecure feeling again. For a brief moment I questioned my ‘unlucky-ness’.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.’~Romans 8:26-28 The Message.

You can’t believe in luck if you have faith and if you truly trust God and His plan. I am a Christian and that’s how I believe but I’m also human so it’s ok to experience fear and doubt too. What’s not ok? Shame. Words from your past that have imprinted onto your heart and brain…blog for another day. Life is a series of alternating bad or uncomfortable things that teach us lessons in love, patience, overcoming fear, resilience, etc,; and good things that bring us love, peace, joy, and calm. Both lessons to either rely more on God and less on self, or to be grateful to God for our blessings. It’s called being alive. Our histories and past make us who we are today but don’t dictate our future or who we are ‘supposed’ to be. Lucky or unlucky? No such thing. Things happen, we move forward, staying grateful, and trusting God.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Fierce. I’m feelin’ it. Cheers!

 

 

Insecure

13 Apr

beach

The more she looks back at her life, the more she is slowly beginning to find: not everything went according to plan, but she certainly learned from it all. She grew in ways she never imagined she would grow and no one can take that away from her.’ ~Morgan Harper Nichols

Last night I got to sing at one of my most favorite events of the year. Every year, one of my doctors holds a concert to celebrate World Voice Day; patients, staff, and even my doctor sings during the concert and it’s basically great fun and great music. The patients that sing all have had something affect their voice from polyps to paralysis, so listening to them sing and being part of the event as a singer is inspirational. Last year, I pretty much cried my whole song (first year with metastatic diagnosis), this year I felt stronger, more resilient, and a little less nervous. I almost cried at the end of my song because the lyrics really hit my heart, ‘Sometimes I wonder, where I’ve been…I may not win, but I can’t be thrown out here on my own.’ The lyrics took my breath away for a minute but I didn’t break. Catch the performance here(https://youtu.be/fuv-Z_1WfQ0)

I have to confess something. Ever since my metastatic diagnosis over a year ago I have felt kind of funky. I felt as if I have aged at a rapid pace, I’ve struggled with sadness, maybe depression at times, and lots of insecurity. I can’t exactly pinpoint what the feeling is, all I know is that it infiltrated my space. I went from being a fairly confident person to someone whose body betrayed her once again, but this time in a big way. It was a big enough shock to the system that for the first time I thought the cancer would finally win, and I was losing my voice, not literally, but having no say anymore. Consequently, things that came easier for me took more out of me. I was insecure about how I did my job, I was a wreck speaking in public, and everyday when I looked in the mirror all I could see was a girl who was exhausted from fighting her body. I didn’t even like having my picture taken because again, I saw a girl that was tired. Having cancer and what it does to your psyche really sucks.

About a month or 2 ago I felt something change. I started gaining my confidence, or maybe it’s just peace and joy, but I can feel it. I think it mostly stemmed from the fact that my last scan was still stable making it ‘stable disease’ for almost 2 years. Or maybe I was just tired of being tired. Whatever it was that changed my mojo, I have felt it and last night was an example. Yes I was nervous but deep down I felt confident that I could do it and make it through without crushing nerves and a shaky voice. Then again, even with a shaky voice, I was so ready. I guess I’ve hit the valley after learning about the diagnosis and am swinging back up to fight and live, it took awhile. I trust God, I know He’s got me. I know I will have seasons of doubt and fear again. I mean, my next scan is only about 7 weeks away so there’s that cycle again but I’m good. ‘Faith and Fear make poor bedfellows. Where one is found, the other cannot exist.’~Napoleon Hill  

The opening quote was written specifically for me by the talented poet Morgan Harper Nichols. She has made it her business to write words for people after knowing some of their story. With all the opportunities I’ve had to share my story lately, I have been able to look back at my life and see how much has transpired. It definitely has not gone as planned but I have grown and learned…and I AM STILL HERE. So much strength can be drawn from our stories. Thank you for following along with mine.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Playful. I have been wearing this color a lot lately. It’s a bright plum, probably the brightest color I created. It’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately, bright, joyful, and playful! Cheers!

Living in the Loop

15 Jan

 

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Photo cred: Leanna Vite Photography

Last Tuesday when I was driving home from work I felt something in my eye, like an eyelash fell into it or something. Annoying, but since I was driving I obviously couldn’t do anything about it. When I got home I forgot about my eye but as the night wore on, my left eye started to feel more and more irritated. Before going to bed I looked in the mirror and my eye was pure red from my pupil down. One thing I hate about having metastatic cancer is that you are hyper aware of any changes in your body so yes, the first thought that came to my mind was that cancer had spread to my eye. When I first got my metastatic diagnosis I spoke with a couple oncologists. They both told me that it’s a guessing game as to when the tumors start to really advance; could be a month, could be years. One story that came to the forefront of my mind last Tuesday was a patient of one of the doctors had stable mets in her lungs (like me) for a few years but had to start treatment when a cancerous nodule showed up on her eye. With my eye situation that’s all I could think about so the next morning I called an ophthalmologist. Turns out I had a couple broken blood vessels from who knows what but my eye is better. Cancer stinks.

In a New York Times article last December, Kate Bowler describes her journey with stable Stage IV metastatic cancer. I resonated with most of the article (which I’ve read more than a few times) but one thing really jumped out at me and it was the way she described time. She called time ‘looped’. Time did not point to the future anymore but looped around every 3-6 months between scans or treatments. She says that hope (for the future) sometimes poisoned the work of living in the present. I get it. I find myself living in this loop. My next scan is in about 6 weeks and what has been in the back of my mind is slowly creeping back into the forefront. Elizabeth Gilbert said in a recent talk, ‘There is no such thing as a dying person. There are living people and there are dead people.’ So true. How do you live in the present without falling backward into the wasted time of the past while simultaneously grieving a possible non-future? Well, you just live. You soak in the beauty of love and family and friendships. You squint at the sun when it decides to show itself in Michigan winter. You keep dreaming, writing goals and going for them. In my case, you start a lipstick company 🙂 You just. keep. living. Every moment is a blessing and maybe hope is a moment thing and not a monumental thing. Maybe hope looks like the kindness of strangers, the new people I’m meeting, the people still praying for me after all these years with cancer off and on, time with my friends and family, and of course, knowing God truly loves me. So, I live in a 3-6 month loop of anger/hope, fear/hope, joy/hope and remind myself that it’s ok. I’m alive today and thank you God for the air that I breathe.

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have…’~Seneca

Today I wear a combination of The Lipstick Journey colors because yes, you can layer them! I chose the deep plum shade of Stormy as the base because life is dark sometimes but we need the dark to see the moon and stars. I layered Fierce on top because despite the darkness we can press on fearlessly and fierce! To layer my lipstick swipe a thin layer of the first color and pat it in with your finger. Wait a few seconds and swipe the next color on top. I LOVE these two together! Cheers!

Why Be Kind?

13 Nov
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Photo courtesy of Nicole Daniela Photography

Today is National Kindness Day…because we need a designated day to be reminded to be kind. I guess it’s fine since there seems to be a day for everything now. Last week I had a short meeting in Chicago. One of the best places to see human nature at its finest is at the airport during the boarding process and also trying to get off the plane after landing. We all know we all have to get on the plane and buckle up and we all know we have to get off so why the insanity? From my previous posts you know that my left arm is significantly weaker than my right and is also losing feeling. What that means for me and travel, is that I panic at the thought of having to lift a bag over my head to place into the overhead bin. On the short flight to Chicago, I struggled getting my stupid carry on bag up into the bin. I didn’t ask for help but as I struggled, broke a sweat, and bumped my head trying to lift my bag up, the man sitting underneath the ‘said bin’ sat and stared up at me with a face that said, ‘Are you serious, that bag is so small and you can’t lift it?’; I’m sure the people behind me wanting to get through were thinking the same thing. Coming back home I had to put my bag in the bin one row behind me. I’m sure you can guess, but trying to walk back even one row to get your bag once you land is not a party. Where does kindness go when you’re rushed, impatient, or inconvenienced?

My church spent a month highlighting random acts of kindness. They created a beautiful board for people to write what they’ve done to help and be kind to others. The acts of kindness ranged from the extravagant gestures to the simple ‘holding the door open for people’ ones. It makes me a tiny bit sad that we have to dedicate a month or even a day like today to be more intentional about being kind to others. Times are so weird right now; not only do we need reminders to be intentionally kind, sometimes it feels like when we are, we need to be recognized for it. We live in a very volatile world right now with hate, mass shootings, and racial tension but maybe, just maybe, it’s because we forgot the basic precepts of kindness, love, and respect for each other to the point of which we need a day to remember to be intentional about being kind. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this but I do know being pushed out of the way even after waiting until the row behind me got out to get my bag was not pleasant. Had the woman known I had cancer and it would take me a little extra effort to grab my bag because of radiation damage from cancer, would she have pushed her way through me to get out of the plane? Do we need a reason for basic kindness and respect? Even the smallest acts of kindness matter, but if we’re too self absorbed to be self aware then we’ll miss those moments. Be nice, even if no one knows, they’ll remember.

Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.~Lindsay Gordon

The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made of stone, They’re made out of memories people have of you.~from the book Wonder, RJ Palacio

Today I wear Laniege Kiss and Make Up Set. This is a full set of different flavored lip balms that they call ‘masks’ that you wear at night and wash off in the morning. Right now you can buy this set at Sephora for about the same price of a full size container (and you get a full size included in the set). I love it and had to try because it’s a top seller but I’m not attached because I do still love my Aquaphor at night. I chose it because it’s luxurious and necessary right now because of the colder weather and dryer lips. I also chose it because of the name of the set. Cheers!

Nothing and Everything

6 Oct

img_4451The weather here in Michigan is changing. It’s my favorite time of year as the nights get cooler and the leaves change colors. I love fall. Over the past two weeks I’ve been in a little funk because with the changeover to fall my allergies start picking up and along with that and cancer, breathing becomes a little more difficult. I have had trouble breathing here and there since I got cancer the first time 10 years ago because of a paralyzed vocal cord from the first surgery. Now that my cancer is metastatic to my lungs, difficulty breathing is a little more urgent in the doctors’ eyes. Apparently even though my cancer is technically stable, since I have multiple lung nodules, there are possibilities of other things happening simply because my lungs are now compromised. Ugh. Over the past month I have been to the ER because of my breathing issues (all turned out normal besides still having cancer-still stable), and more recently my doctor thought I should go ahead and get a pulmonary function test which was not a party. That turned out pretty much as expected.

I am not in the mood to see doctors right now but because of breathing issues (which again are not new) I’ve had no choice, and again a reminder of cancer. Something I realized about myself over these past few weeks is that I’m really bad at resting and being still. I was never like that before. I mean, I was never someone who took naps but I’m pretty sure I could sit on the couch for hours staring at nothing. Now, not so much. My mind won’t stop spinning. I have a deep urgency about everything, being everywhere, doing everything I’ve wanted to do, not missing anything in regards to kid stuff and life in general. It’s so hard to be on the line between dreams, responsibility, possibility, and sadness-hard to describe. It all boils down to time. How do we spend it and who do we spend it with? Close your eyes for a minute and think about your life today; your family, your friends, your job, your home, now take a deep breath and imagine yourself  in an exam room with a doctor telling you that you have Stage 4 cancer, or you need a heart procedure, or you have MS, or whatever it may be. In a blink of an eye your life has changed it’s course to something you had not planned. Now open your eyes and exhale because you’ve been holding your breath. What would you do differently? From that point on what would your life look like? What if some things couldn’t change because of responsibility, what would you do today? In the late Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air he says, ‘I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but didn’t know when. But I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.’ Get it? Nothing changes yet everything changes so how are you going to spend your time?

img_4450-1I’ve been sad lately because there’s so much I want to do but I understand the facts of responsibility. I’m a wife and mom, I’m an employee, we have medical bills (obviously) and college bills so I can’t just tour the world or start a non-profit and help people. I get it but what can I change? What else can I do? This is why I’m restless. This is why my mind won’t stop. It’s kind of a lonely place to be, even lonelier when you try to pretend all is normal and the same as it always is or was because it’s not. I’m still grateful and I’m still forging ahead like there will be a thousand tomorrows because there could be. Today though, I’m seeking out the color amongst the gray because my heart’s been troubled and I know there’s so much beautiful color. I will soak in this encouragement from Ann Voskamp, ‘I have a Messiah who meets me in it, won’t leave me in it, and will carry me through it! We never cry alone. Go slow. Be God-struck. Grant grace. Live truth. Give thanks. Love well.’

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Photo cred: E. Petersen

Today I wear Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Liquorice which is a deep dark red. This lipstick has lots of color and is fairly moisturizing. I chose this color because it’s dark like my mood but has that bit of red that reminds me that there’s still fire deep inside. Cheers!

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