Tag Archives: prayer

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.

 

Caregivers

9 Feb

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I found out a little over a week ago that one of my caregivers has cancer. She was diagnosed a few years ago and it has returned with a vengeance. I met her when I first got cancer in 2008 and she was integral in my healing process both physically (helping me regain my voice) and mentally because she is one strong woman. She pushed me hard to help my healing and I am so grateful. A few days ago I found out another strong woman who has cared for me and my kids was just diagnosed with cancer as well. The news made me sad because you just never think the people who have made it their job to care for you and others would ever get sick themselves. Cancer is a bitch (excuse my language but it just sucks).

Over the past 11 years with cancer I have been a patient at a few different institutions and have had img_6957amazing doctors, nurses, and support staff. About 4 years ago one of my original doctors that helped navigate my cancer journey retired and I cried my eyes out.  He was the one who called me with the news that my cancer had returned the 2nd and 3rd time. He researched new therapies and called different surgeons and oncologists; this busy doctor made me feel like I was his only patient for the 6 years that I saw him. I love all of the people that cared/care for me. What a difficult job they have trying to comfort and encourage patients, while also doing their jobs and what’s medically necessary. The impact that caregivers have on our lives is pretty astounding. Having cancer comes with baggage; fear, sadness, uncertainty~ it’s a dark time and medical staff play an important part. No matter what is happening in their lives they are tasked to care and love hard. Dr. M and Dr. D, my prayers are with you and I love you both hard.

February also marks 6 months since Alex had the stroke. He is doing remarkably well! After having full right side paralysis, he’s now walking, driving, and back in school facetune_05-12-2019-17-31-34part time getting all A’s. He still gets a little tired writing but that is coming along. Here’s my mom struggle…before the stroke he was a normal teen boy doing the push and pull; the pushing of my nerves while trying to pull away into his own adulthood. I get it, I’ve had to let go of my other two and that’s how it goes. After the stroke, he became my baby again. It was an incredibly difficult time and sometimes when I close my eyes I can still see him lying in that bed in the ICU and it makes me cry. There are things I can’t even talk about without choking up including the last night we spent at the hospital together, praying, crying, and talking about all that had transpired, before img_6960being discharged to come home. Now that he’s about 95% back to being a normal teen boy, there’s that push and pull again, and I have to relearn it. As one radio DJ said, it’s like a hard break up. For me it’s like breaking up, getting back together, then going through an even harder break up again. Makes me sad but I know it’s necessary. Motherhood is hard and time flies. Besides Alex, my oldest is graduating college in a few months and planning grad school farther away, and Audrey is studying overseas this whole semester. It’s a mixed bag of sadness and joy.

I was a guest on another podcast last week and the topic was hope. She asked my definition of hope which I responded that it’s knowing your mission here on earth is not yet finished. It’s looking forward to another day with the expectation of something good despite your circumstances. Hope is the active response to gratefulness, recognizing the beauty of what, and who surrounds you.  The month of January my lipstick company, The Lipstick Journey, did a ‘buy one/give one’ to a cancer thriver and it was amazing. I got stories and emails and pictures of people across the country. I got to write notes of encouragement with every lipstick I sent. This is the mission that gives me hope and the motivation to keep my lipstick company alive. What else gives me hope? My faith in God knowing He’s ultimately in control, and people. Despite what we see on the news, the ugliness of politics, and people still judging others, there are kind people all around that want change and want to be helpful. I’ve seen it and felt it. When you’re sick or in need, people rise up. That’s hope. We are all caregivers. Be kind and love hard.

‘Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward, casts the shadow of our burden behind us’~S Smiles

Tears Through Sadness and Joy

17 Dec

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This year has been a year filled with so many tears from both despair and profound gratitude. One of the aftereffects of having cancer is that your eyes and heart are so wide open, you feel and love more deeply because you’re much more aware of time, people, and life in general. Well dang, what a year it has been; still dealing with cancer, an unexpected emergency surgery, Alex’s stroke, launching a new lipstick company, job changes…so much.

A little over a week ago Alex had img_4634what will hopefully be his last procedure having to do with his stroke last summer. Afterward, while Alex was in the recovery room, the doctor came in and told us that all of the vessels in his brain looked normal and that he shouldn’t have another stroke due to AVM in his future. Done. A few hours after leaving the hospital I was alone in my car headed to the grocery store and I started to cry which then turned into weeping. I couldn’t stop. I realized that since Alex’s stroke in August, I was remaining strong and focused on him and his recovery, trying to keep his and my own spirits up, and now, I was letting it all go. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. August and September were a blur of worry, grief, and tears and now, these were tears of joy, gratefulness, and relief.

Yesterday I had my 6 month CT scan because yes, I still have cancer. Typically for about 2 weeks before my scans I suffer from scanxiety; that anxious, fearful feeling from getting a scan that may say your cancer has advanced. I’ve even on occasion had a mini panic attack while being rolled into the machine. With my focus on Alex and his health over the past few months I haven’t had the time or energy to img_6120focus on my own stuff, which was kind of a blessing. Here’s the lesson in that, when you focus on others you focus less on yourself, it’s a good thing most of the time. I honestly didn’t even think about my scan until the night before. I got the results today and I’M STILL STABLE!! My cancer is still there but slow growing and as my doctor said in his text, ‘nothing to worry about.’ Tears, actually, lots of tears.

Pain and suffering eventually come to us all. At some point, we will all find ourselves in places of darkness that will seemingly overwhelm, even destroy us…Every journey into darkness, whilst terrifying, has unexpected treasures hidden in it.’~David Gotts

2019 is coming to a close, and after my scan and stable results today I feel like I am finally exhaling. A new decade is coming, 2020…a new DECADE! Through it all, what were the unexpected treasures? What were the diamonds that shone through the darkness? I cry thinking about it because there were so many points of light that I realize it was never really dark. Christmas is coming and one of the things I am most grateful for is my faith and knowing that I don’t ever have to carry anything alone. Through the tears, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for following my lipstick journey. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Cheers!img_5696

 

Weary

16 Sep

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Alex (and I) left the hospital a little over a week ago and it’s been so good to be home. He’s been getting better at hyper speed and it’s been amazing to watch and honestly, pretty miraculous. He still has some work to do but his recovery has been phenomenal and I am beyond grateful. The Monday after we came home I had my appointment with my oncologist and just like that, I was back into my ongoing cancer journey.hospital

This past weekend Alex spent some time at his dads and it was the first time since the stroke that I wasn’t around him. It made me a little anxious to be away from him but gave me time to sit and digest everything that had happened over the past month and a half. I’m tired, but more than that, I’m exhausted and soul-weary; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Over the past 10 years I have fought and beat cancer 3 times and am now fighting for the 4th time, Stage 4 metastatic…then Alex has a stroke. That doesn’t even include divorce from a (still) difficult ex, remarriage, step-kids, new jobs, moving, sending kids off to college and all the daily obstacles ‘normal’ life brings. I. Am. Tired. I picked up a couple of my old journals, one from almost 20 years ago and one just 5 years ago and both were filled with so many struggles but all my entries ended with ‘thank you for…’ I have never asked God why I got/have cancer, I did ask why Alex had a stroke, and I have asked why life just can’t be easy for awhile because there always seems to be something, and that something has felt enormous (cancer, stroke). God didn’t promise easy. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, NONE of those stories point to easy. But still…

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’~
– Ernest Hemingway

When I was first diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, there was a time when my prognosis was not great, and while I was praying one night I audibly heard God say ‘trust.’ Maybe it was in my head, but it was an interrupted thought and just the word ‘trust.’ Since then, that has been my mantra, trust Him. I am not questioning my faith because man, without faith in these trials I would be flailing. In fact, I believe I can still stand strong because I am trusting God to hold me up. I am not alone in this crazy thing called life. I do feel at this moment like my soul needs refreshment. It feels heavy, sometimes sad, and honestly it feels harder right now to find a thank you because I’m just tired; tired for my child, tired of fighting cancer. Matthew 11:28-30 ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ I am craving that rest, not just sleep, soul rest and refreshment. Psalm 71:14 ‘But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.’ Small steps, Big God.

alex homeIt was a tough 6 weeks. What sustained me and gave me energy? Love. Love is a superpower; love beyond any words, love that took action. My fierce momma bear love gave me the energy I needed to take care of Alex and to be there fully for him. The crazy love I received from my home team: my husband, kids, parents, friends, Alex’s friends and teachers, the parents of Alex’s friends, etc, helped sustained my spirit and kept me secure that yes, the world at home and around me were also taken cared of. The love Alex and I felt from the nurses, staff, work friends, acquaintances, and even wishes from social media strangers was incredible. Love does make the world go round and life always moves forward. ‘It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.’~Vincent Van Gogh

 

Courage

28 Aug

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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

 

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.

Insecure

13 Apr

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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!

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