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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

 

 

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

2020

19 Jan
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Photo by Kat Stevenson Photography

It’s mid-January and I’m not even sure I know how to write anymore because it’s been so long. 2019 was a little rough around the edges from cancer, stroke, job changes, etc. and I just wanted to slide into a new year with new vision, renewed hope, and peace. So many amazing things happened in 2019 too; officially launching my lipstick company, new friends, old friends, travel, and many wonderful events. My year also ended with Alex walking, talking, driving and back in school part time, as well as my cancer still remaining stable-two of the greatest miracles. Adversity can make us bitter or better and although all the not so great events tested my patience, my heart, and my willpower, I am more patient and resilient because if it. I choose better. One thing I know is that we constantly hear we have to ‘be’ the good but I’ve learned we must also ‘see’ the good.

This year, instead of immediately thinking about the future and what 2020 had in store, I decided to take some time and look backwards; not to dwell in the past, but to learn from it. Since we entered a new decade I saw many posts with pics

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My fave picture from 10 years ago

from 10 years ago. In the past 10 years, I got cancer 3 more times, got divorced, remarried, had 2 out of 3 kids start college, and started a business. I looked at my calendar from the past year and everything that filled it, I thought about the moments and the people that brought me joy, I thought about all the crappy things that happened, like Alex’s stroke, and sat in gratitude for the people who surrounded us and loved us throughout. It was a cool thing to look back and see how I’ve grown and changed, and how all the challenges from the past year made me feel more resilient (and focused) than ever. Turning 50 also helped because now I feel like I’ve finally become who I was made to be. ‘By the time you turn 50, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important. We have learned to take life seriously, but never ourselves.’~M. Dressler. Maya Angelou says, ‘The 50’s are all you were meant to be.’ Yes, all about it and feeling comfortable in my skin.

My word for 2020 is SIMPLE or SIMPLICITY. What does that mean for me? Simple living, purging things we (I) don’t need. Doing the Marie Kondo thing and assessing the things that bring me joy and those that don’t. Not overdoing the ‘yes’ but not overdoing ‘no.’ Setting intentions and saying them out load. Simple faith which means losing the constraints of ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ and just following Jesus and His example of loving people…all people. Our pastor said today that God is writing His story through people’s lives. If you can look at people and know that God is their author how can you not love them? What about our enemies, the people who have hurt you? I’m still processing that, give me a minute. Also, at the end of the day if you simply love yourself and how and who you were created to be, there is less room for comparison and jealousy and the need to be something else. There’s just peace and gratitude. Life gets complicated on its own.

It’s 2020. I looked back to LIVE forward. What a crazy, beautiful life it’s been. Happy New Year!facetune_30-01-2019-10-32-43

And then one day

it seemed like

the past no longer mattered

because she had learned

her lessons,

embraced her dreams,

and the world

was at her feet. ~ Mark Anthony

 

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

 

50

16 Nov

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It’s been a long time since I’ve written. If you read my last blog I spoke about being weary. After coming home from Alex’s 6 week hospital stay from the stroke, I was physically exhausted, mentally fried, and soul-crushed tired. All of that turned into functional depression or maybe grief over the past month or so. There’s a lot of talk about mental health these days so it seems ‘safer’ to speak truth and this is me being vulnerable. I say ‘functional’ depression because I continued to work, and smile, and socialize, and maintain my regular ‘high achieving/ goal oriented’ daily life, but then there was the other side. There was the underlying sadness that I could feel wanting to pull me down, and the tears that would show up at random times. It was like skating on thin ice wondering when it would start cracking and hoping I didn’t fall through. I still feel it come and go but I also feel like I’m coming out of it. I have PTSD from Alex’s stroke. When he doesn’t respond to a text within minutes I’m panicky, if he sleeps 5 minutes longer than normal I wonder if he’s ok. I hate it. He has one more procedure coming up to make sure his AVM is completely gone and it happens to be the same week as my CT to measure my tumors. It’s a lot. I probably need therapy.

I have to say this past year has been a challenge (cancer, emergency surgery, stroke, job stress and changes) but for every bad thing that’s happened there have been a million awesome things. Balancing the weight of having cancer was(is) difficult enough, but then I had to dig even deeper for strength to help my son. Isn’t that how life is? Never comfortable? Adversity and challenges come and go to help us know what we’re made of. We can either cower and crawl into fetal position or push forward and say ‘screw you, I’m not going down that way.’ It’s funny, my word for 2019 year was/is renewal. The definition of renewal is to make new; refresh after an interruption; to restore. This has been a year of interruption and constant renewal has been tough. How ironic.

Last October I turned 50 and I felt a mind shift; maybe wiser, maybe more confident. Even though I got my AARP eligibility card in the mail (thanks for the reminder I’m a pre-qualifier for senior discount, AARP), I didn’t feel older… I felt a little more bad ass. In my 30’s and 40’s I felt a little nervous or maybe insecure about getting older but when I turned 50 everything kind of came together. After cancer, divorce, re-marriage, a really sick kid, I know what I’m made of and I’m pretty comfortable in my skin. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

  •  You are stronger than you think
  •  50 is still young, don’t fight it
  •  Stay connected with younger people, it keeps your mind active and there’s lots to learn from each other
  •  Simple is better, there are so many things you don’t need; assess, trash, donate
  •  There are still so many good people in this world
  •  The Golden Rule is truth. If everyone treated people how they would want to be treated the world would be a better place.
  •  Actions are more important than words; Words don’t matter if your actions don’t match
  •  Words can break you
  •  Bad things will happen
  •  There’s no need to be around toxic people, they just poison you and it takes too long to recover
  •  Everyone’s days are numbered, live like it
  •  Sadness comes and goes
  •  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, read the book (paraphrased from Dolly Parton)~because everyone comes from a really good story
  •  Beauty and ugly both come from the inside, not what’s reflected in the mirror
  •  There’s no ‘perfect time’ to follow your dreams, just dive right in
  •  Loving God is different than being religious
  •  Life is still filled with wonder just open your eyes

Lastly, always be grateful.

Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’~Mark Twain

 

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

 

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