Monday, April 14, 2014

A Curve in the Path

I see my mother in the veins in my hands. And reflected in my brown eyes. And sometimes in the set of my mouth when I want my own way. I hear my mother's voice in my head often in the things that I say and the warnings that I hear in my head. She is the person I turn to almost first when things happen in my life. After Dave, I let my mom know what is going on. Mom, I'm getting married! Mom, we're pregnant! Mom, we're moving! Mom, I have cancer........  She is one of my best and dearest friends. She has known me through my worst and loved me in spite of it. She has accepted my quirks and my ways of dealing with things and adjusted how she responds to me. She listens to my dreams and fears, and shares her own. I am thankful to have her in my life, and to share such a relationship with her. Because of her I learned I could do anything I set my mind to. I could work and be a mother. I could learn new things and always had a safe place to land when needed.

So what do you do when that safe coven is threatened? When the health of your parents become precarious, you are thrown back to being a child. Suddenly, although you are grown, you are not ready to be fully grown. Yet, you already are. But you think ahead to the things you do automatically. Calling your Dad to let him know you made it home after a trip. Calling your mom on long car drives to just pass the time. Texting funny things you see and think about through the day. Little mundane things. Things that you will dearly miss in your every day life when they are gone. Forever.

I'm not ready. I admit it. I'm not ready to die myself, and I 'm not ready to  let go of any other family member or close friend. Not my husband or children. Not my dad or my sister or my brother. Not anyone in their families. And especially not my mom. I.Am.Not.Ready. But I know God has a higher plan. My mom has been sick since 1994. I've had 20 years with her that I may not have had. And I have not taken one thing for granted. Twenty years is a long time to battle with breathing problems and a multitude of other health issues. She is a strong woman. She is determined to live her life as she wants to. And to leave a legacy. I always thought I was more like my Dad, but I think I got some good stuff from my mom too.

Now I wonder about the curve ball. That bend in the road I wasn't expecting. With another surgery in my horizon and knowing I will weather this one alone, it's scary. But I think I have a little bit of my Momma in me. I will have it. I will endure. And I will move on. And through it all. I will be "fine" like she always is.

My mom is my hero. One of the most amazing women I know. One of the strongest individuals that ever walked this Earth. She is compassionate, sarcastic, sees the best in everyone, eager to laugh and try new things, loyal and loving. I hope I can be half the woman she is. I love you, Mom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Do you ever find the need for quiet time? Time to just sit and exist without having to listen to the chatter of others, the drone of the TV or anything. I'm having a night like that. Where I wish I could sit outside (but I'd freeze to death), listening to the crickets chirp and the frogs croak from the pond in my parents back yard. Mentally, I'm putting myself there. Even though they have no working internet on their back porch, live in the boon docks....but you get the picture. I'm feeling the need to reground myself. To refocus. Only the people I need to refocus on are buzzing around me and I really just want the quiet time without their voices messing up my memory of childhood.

Parenting is hard work. Some days I feel like I have it all together, other days, I'm barely hanging on. Today has been just a regular day. Nothing bad. The big boys had their piano recital and it's always fun to go and listen to the kids and see the progress they have made. Another milestone we've reached together. I'm proud of them for sticking to piano even when they didn't want to. And I kinda laugh that it's my kids that take piano lessons when I was so hyperactive I couldn't sit on the bench to get through lessons at all. My sister was the piano player in our family and her kids don't play instruments at all. Ironic. :) But her girls do sing and dance.  My boys are very musical and I love to share that part of my life with them. Kadin plays the piano and the saxophone. Cullen plays the piano, the trumpet, and the guitar. Liam wants to learn the drums and within a year will start the piano. We promised Elliana's birth mom that she would be exposed to the piano as well. I love to hear our home filled with music that they are creating. It reminds me of nature's song.

The big boys and Dave went to see God's Not Dead tonight. When Cullen got home, he wanted to tell me all about it. One part of it was someone being diagnosed with cancer. Being asked how they keep hope after having such a horrible diagnosis. And that makes me think of the people I know fighting stage 3 and stage 4 cancer. How they want to hear the words I have heard. "Cancer free" but their road is long, painful, and unfair. I feel guilty thinking how reoccurrence hangs over my head when I didn't really do the time for the disease anyway. Yes, I lost a breast. And it's stressful. And I worry. And I'm on medications. But these wonderful children and adults I know and love are dealing with so much more. I pray for their healing. For balance to be restored. For the reason that they are on this journey to be revealed to them so they know they do not walk alone. How do you keep hope? Because you trust that God has a plan. And since God lives on the inside, He can't help but shine through to the outside as well. But they all weigh heavy on my heart and soul.

So, I'm needing some quiet time. Away from it all. A time to contemplate and be thankful and to just exist. For in a few hours I will have to jump back in to the craziness of a new week. But for now, I'm feeling the breeze from the country air blow against my cheek, as the bull frogs croak their magical son that lulled me to sleep every night. With the security light shining brightly into my bedroom window, I listen closely to the sounds of the night. As the crickets sing a sweet song that makes you feel safe because they only stop if danger is near. But as long as they sing, all is right in the world. May they always continue to sing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Six months ago.....

Six months ago, on a day much like this one, a Wednesday to be exact, my life came to an abrupt stop. When I heard the words 'breast cancer' I wasn't sure what would come next. It seems unbelievable that it has been only six months since that day. Other times, it feels like a lifetime ago.

It makes me think of other things that throw our lives for a loop. Illness, job loss, death..... I've been ruminating about these things for several days. Thinking about how each of us have a struggle. Each of us have had bad news delivered in a small room, in a doctor's chair. Through mine, I've been thankful that I have a voice, and that I am willing to use it. So that other women and men do not have to walk this road alone.

Which also reminds me that April is Child Abuse Prevention month and how passionate I was about children and their safety when I worked in community mental health. It's also Autism Awareness month. Which reminds me of all of the hard work I did in changing programs in Ky and NC for children with this diagnosis. I had a voice. I used it.

But today, a friends 5 year old daughter made me stop and think. So many times we talk about what we cannot do. What doesn't work right in our lives. What doesn't look good on our bodies. What exercises we can't do. How far we can't run. What we can't eat. When we should really focus on what we CAN do. And a small, red headed, spirited little girl had the best words in regards to her older brother. "Let's not talk about what he can't do. Let's look at what he CAN do." Because truly, this little 7 year old boy has moved mountains. He CAN do so much. And learns more and more every day. And with his sister beside him, there is nothing he CANNOT do.

So in honor of this sweet 5 year old, I'm changing my mind set. I'm focusing on the things I can do. I can speak up for children who are being mistreated. I can support my friends who are dealing with an Autism diagnosis, or living with one. I can talk about mammograms and their life saving benefits. I can talk about raising boys and adoption. I can talk about so many things, sharing how God works in my life, and in those around me. And thankfully, how He works in the children around us.

I have a voice and will use it. Will you? Will you speak up and share your struggles so others know? So others feel less alone? I realize that this venue is not for everyone. There are people that are very private (obviously I am not one of them!). I respect that. But I am going to focus on what I can do, in a world full of can nots. And be thankful for a voice that allows me to share, and to be there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stay Positive!

"How do you stay so positive? How do you reconcile the fact that you did nothing wrong, yet you had a cancer that if you hadn't caught early, it could have killed you. How do you go on? If it had happened to me, I would be sitting at home, depressed, unable to go on. How do you do it within yourself?"

Those words were asked of me last night at a United Way get together and they made me stop and think. Because honestly, I don't feel like I have been always upbeat and positive. I've cried, I've complained. I've stared at my old chest and now my new one many times and lamented what has come to be. I've changed my diet, changed it back, and then settled in to a moderation. I've taken meds that make me want to barf, and then meds to counter my craziness that make me want to barf, and through it all just moved forward.

Why? Because what else is there to do? I've been sad and scared for myself. I've cried over the old woman I may not become. I've broken into a sweat thinking I won't be there at my younger two kids weddings, or at any of them. I've feverishly written in their journals all of my hopes and dreams for them so they know if I were to pass on. But living, day in and day out, it happens.

My faith has been huge for me as well. I know God has a purpose. For everything that happens in our lives. People to touch, stories to hear…..they all entwine together and I look for those strands daily. If one person learns from my life, is touched by my story, finds strength for themselves, then this journey is doing what it was meant to do. Such as all walks in my life. I simply asked to walk in Grace.

I also know that I got off easy. Four months ago tomorrow I lost my right breast. And lymph nodes. And woke up cancer free. I have friends battling through so much more. I never forget that fact.

In eight months, at my one year anniversary, 5 friends and I will do our first Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in Atlanta. 60 miles in 3 days. I've always wanted to do one, and now, as a survivor, I will. The impact of that is not lost on me. As we raise money, tell our stories, work together, and think about how we can do a few things long term, I am reminded of our basic needs. Food, water, shelter, others……and I know in my heart maybe that is how I make it through. I know I am not alone.

From Cullen's best friend's mom handing me a lapel angel silently, to my family being here, to the meals, to the cards, to the calls, emails, notes, through the support as we fundraise for this amazing walk, the hugs, the smiles, the other survivors who's strength I rely on….I have not been alone one step of the way. And it's hard to feel negative when you feel the love. So much love. And support. And prayers. And stories of hope. And peace. For God has me in his hands and even though I know not what will happen next, for now, I am here.

So I guess for me, there was no other option I considered than to stay positive, stay faithful, lean on others, ask for prayers, and to move forward. To make most days count. To exist in the here and now. To show that yes, this horrible ordeal happened to me (even though some days I can scarcely believe it!) but I came out the other side. And so can you. Because I will love you, support you, and hold your hand through it. And I bring along a slew of people who are holding my hand as well.

And in that fact, I find Grace.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Peace.

Oh Lord, if my feet are meant to be on this path, then lead me. If I am meant to pause, help me find peace in the moment......

Peace in the moment. Peace. Today I had my follow up with the plastics dr. Dr. Terry McKatyn. He is a gem among men. A little quirky but not overbearing. And he listens. He did not do the lift surgery he wanted to two weeks ago. I chickened out. In order for him to do the lift, he would have had to cut around my nipple to move things up. Which would have compromised my blood flow. Which means IF I got cancer in my left breast. And IF it weren't close to the skin or in the nipple, THEN I couldn't have a nipple sparing, skin saving mastectomy like I had on the right. And I so want that surgery again if it comes down to it. So he just augmented. So the breast is off. The nipple is off, the size is off. But it was my choice. And I know why I made it. So we agreed. I see him in three months to double check things. And then when I am a 5 year survivor, I'll let him do the lift. ;) Deal.

I suddenly have a new lease on life. As if this surgery and these results were hanging over my head like an anvil ready to fall. But three months ago, I stood in this kitchen, on this computer, with cancer in my right breast. Two days later I had a mastectomy that removed it. Today I stand here cancer free. For now? Maybe. Forever? Maybe. But right at THIS moment, I am cancer free. I had cancer. Now, I do not. And I am going to live for that.

I am going to take my friend Crystal's advice and I am going to proceed with joy. That each milestone I DO make, I can mark them off the list. Eighth grade night. CHECK. First grade. CHECK. Potty Training a girl. Soon. But I will be here for many of them. I am a survivor. And a fighter. And I will move forward with positive thoughts. Because with those, my emotional well being will heal, and my physical strength will return.

For the past 2 days I have walked my 10,000 steps. Those steps that came so easily just a few months ago, are a struggle now. My body hurts, I'm tired. The medicine makes my joints ache. But I move on. Forward. To get those steps in. To get back my strength from before. To recapture ME for a time. I will succeed. In time.

For months I have floundered. How can I counsel people at work? How can I tell them how to eat healthy, to BE healthy and reduce their risk of medical conditions and cancer when I, myself, had cancer. Will they look at me differently? Will they think I know nothing?? And then a quiet voice on the phone tells me..."Since you know more about what my journey is like, I want your opinion..." and I realize, this walk was not one I did to myself. I did nothing concrete to cause breast cancer. I eat healthy. I work out. I maintain a healthy weight. I do not smoke. I have cut way back on my alcohol intake. But I got cancer. My genes and the environment made a situation in my body that became toxic. And cancer was the result. I will continue to do what I can to remove the chances of getting cancer again. It is all I can do. And all I can advise others. But in the meantime, I've decided I will live my life as well.

Is this journey over? No. I have a huge 3 day walk to make in October with five of the most amazing women I have gotten to know. I have survivors to meet. I have fighters to pray for. I have those who have been taken to celebrate. And I have four children and a husband that need me. This story is not over by far. Only ready for another chapter.

Peace. I think I have stilled my heart enough to find it. God was there with it all along. Only I kept darting away. Be still and know that He Is. And the peace will come to you, too.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Speak the Unspeakable

I wonder if one should consider themselves a writer when different situations arise and they think..Hmmmm...maybe I should write this down. Or maybe I'm not a writer, myself, but a blogger of musings. Things that run through my head and tend to re-run until I actually do get them down on paper (or a blog). I'm not sure. All I know is that I have not felt ok in my own skin and I have had no idea why. Well, I mean, I know WHY but it seems like it should have been getting better, not worse. And then a friend who is a cancer fighter herself described how she was feeling and that her doctor told her it was normal. Normal. Let me explain....

Since before Thanksgiving I have felt itchy in my own skin. Almost like I am anxious but have no reason to be. Things need to be planned. I need to be in control. People need to comply. I flip from that side to the exact opposite...Oh, let them do what they want. Whatever works. I don't mind. I'm like a charlatan only no one knows which way the wind blows. Especially me. And constantly, this itching inside of me. This jumpiness that will not be calmed. I can't name it. And I can't figure out why no one else sees it. I feel like I am twitching from the inside out.

As Christmas approached, it got worse. My stomach was upset, my sleep interrupted. My days were found doing who knows what, cleaning the same thing, doing the same laundry, rearranging the same toys, moving things from here to there, all the while this jumpiness was going on inside me and starting to ooze out of me. I was short tempered. Intolerant. Seriously, could people have been any more stupid? Could the check out lady take any longer? Could people not drive? I thought I was going insane. I thought all of the sudden everyone had taken an ignorance pill and I was having no more of it. Then Dave reminded me that my medicine will make me short tempered and to be aware.....I tried to pull myself back under control. Even though the words weren't coming out of my mouth, they were running through my mind.

And yet, I still feel this itchiness. This jumping inside me. This desire to curl up in a fetal position and cry, or to hit someone, hard. Twice. Maybe to a pulp. I vacillate between the two so quickly I almost can't trust my own judgement. Am I going crazy? I think I'm going crazy. I.am.crazy. Only no one seems to notice. How can they not notice? I'm about ready to jump out of my skin!

It all comes to a head on Christmas Eve Eve at church. I sit there listening to this amazing performance, holding my antsy daughter who is feeding off my ping ponging emotions and I want to cry. I realize I am afraid I am going to die. That I have been given this wonderful life with this loving man and four outstanding children and I am going to die. I finally hold in my arms one of the biggest dreams come true in my life and I am going to miss her growing up. Because.I.will.be.dead.

In my mind, I always saw myself as an old, old lady when I die. At least in my 90's. I'll have lived a full life, still be sane of mind (yeah, right) and physically able to make it to Bingo in my assisted living home. And now, I feel cheated. I feel like my life has been cut short. BAM! The door on watching my children grow up is creaking shut. High school graduation. College graduation. Car buying. Drivers licenses. Buying a dress that my future daughter in laws like. Watching my daughter walk down the isle on her Daddy's arm, seeing Grandchildren, even great Grandchildren! Gone. Most of that feels far, far away, and unobtainable. Catastrophe in my own mind? Probably, but there it is.

The healing comes not after I tell not one, but four friends that I am losing my mind. My first friend is compassionate. She knows my journey and is there for me. But this is Christmas Eve Eve.....no one has time and I've decided I'm having a break down! The next two friends flit on about their nights and who can blame them? It's freaking CHRISTMAS! My fourth friend gets my tears. She holds me tight and then she does it. She puts to words what I am feeling. "Are you afraid you are going to die?" Oh.My.Goodness! Someone said it out loud. As tears stream down my face, I acknowledge it. Yes. I am afraid my days are numbered. That my Christmas's are limited. And I think back on when we adopted Elliana and I bought everything under the sun I could for her. To make up for the 10 years I didn't have her. Maybe I was really buying things because I wouldn't be here to give them to her. My sweet friend grasps my hands and my mind is running 1000 miles an hour. She looks me straight in the face as if she can read my mind. "God did not give you that baby girl just to take you away from her. You are going to live!" Later that night, another friend texts me out of the blue those same exact words. Unsolicited. As if she can see my soul in turmoil. "Our eyes will meet at your daughter's wedding and you will know I have spoken the truth. You will watch your children grow and you will dance at their weddings." Oh be still my soul. Find peace.

I know I have no reason to feel this way. I know that as I sit here, the cancer in my right breast is gone.  I sit here cancer free, as far as I know. But three months ago I was walking through life without a worry that I had cancer in the first place. So, there is that running through my mind. I also know that I have a second surgery on Monday and I am afraid when they sample my breast tissue that they will tell me it is lobular as well and I will have to have another mastectomy. I know that God will carry me through, but for awhile, I felt like a hamster in a cage just running in circles.

Which brings me to what my friend's Dr told her. That feeling like this from Thanksgiving to Christmas is normal for cancer patients. That I will feel like this on some other dates too. And special anniversaries. This crawling out of my skin itchy-jumping-twitching will come and go through the years. That most cancer patients describe it. Anxiety. Anxious. Fear that the cancer is back. Or spreading. Or out of control. Because cancer is never IN our control. And that is still a hard topic to swallow. But hearing the word "die" out loud made it less scary and now I'm employing my friend's advice. "What's the worst thing that could happen?"

Yes, I could have a reoccurrence and die. But there are other things that are worse in this world to me. I could not know God as my savior and live a lonely life with no hope for salvation. I could not have a loving husband and four caring children. I could not have a wonderful extended family that loves me. I could not have a house or friends or money in the bank or I could lose a child. There are much worse things than dying and hopefully going to live in Heaven. To not rest in peace, but to live for eternity with Jesus.

I think I'm on the back side of this crazy loop. One I did not foresee. But I guess I will travel again. Until then I will put my trust and faith back in God. I know that each trial he gives me becomes a testimony for someone else to hear. So I'm speaking loud and clear1 This road is tricky! I will sometimes falter and fall. I'm scared a lot. And angry some. And even though my breast is gone and I'm back to normal activities, Cancer is still very much a part of my life. That, and the itchy-jumping-twitching.............

Onward! Stagger stepping, but moving forward such as it is.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rocking........

Tonight I rocked my baby girl. That in itself is not an uncommon event. We frequently rock before bed while I sing to her or tell her stories of her tiny life. Her short life. Her 22 months that are filled with wonder and joy. She is our dream come true. We tell her so often that she is pretty that she marches down the stairs saying "Pretty Girl....Pretty Girl...." She greets strangers by saying "Hi, Baby!" And when someone hands her something she replies "Thank you, Honey." Listening to her tell me that she is going upstairs with Daddy to change her diaper and get in jammies hit me in the gut tonight. Her tiny voice coming out of her sweet tiny body with her little smiles and her joy that just doesn't stop. It brought me to tears.

Today, a friend of mine said good bye to her little girl. Her tiny girl. Her not yet three little girl. Who had brain cancer and fought a long, hard fight. And although she is lost here on Earth, she won wings with Jesus in Heaven. My heart aches for her beautiful mother. Her strong, courageous parents who have never faltered in their walk of faith. Ellie's kind mother who before Ellie was sick knit Elliana shawls, purses, hats, and hair flowers. A woman who's life I by chance came into contact with, but who's life has changed mine. I once asked God that if I were ever met with such a trial, that I could be like Carly and walk with such utter acceptance and grace of God's love of me. I'm not sure I could continue that walk if I had to say goodbye to one of my children.

Facing the passing of Ellie then reminds me of how God sent his only son to Earth. To live, and yet to die. For me. I'm selfish. I don't want to outlive my children.

Which then brings me to my own mortality. If my breast cancer comes back. If my left breast is compromised. If it metastasizes. If I leave my family too soon. I always thought I would live a long life. I'd be an old woman when I finally died. But the reality is, we never know. I don't know. No one knows.

So tonight I rocked my darling daughter. wanting to soak up every moment with her as if it were our last, but thankful that we will more than likely wake up tomorrow. Taking time to remind myself to be patient with my jumping little boy who is so excited that Christmas is in three days! Finding joy in the annoyances. And peace in the quiet. And time to say special prayers to the newest angel of God's choir. Sweet Ellie. She will always be Princess Strong.

Love those around you. Find ways to help. Reach out and offer your skills. Stop and listen when people talk. Look them in the eye. Hear their stories. Be the light in the darkness, the encouragement others need. Be gentle with yourself. Say Thank You. Count your blessings. And rock your babies to sleep every night you can.