Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Calm After the Storm

A quiet sense of peace envelopes over me. A smile plays at the corner of my lips. Yes, there is pain. And drains to empty. And a sore arm, along with with unattractive velcro bra that a mere nine months ago brought me to tears. But today, today as I empty my sole drain and stare at my scars, I am calm. I am not thinking of what I have lost, but what I have gained by taking my health into my own hands.

"I could never do that! You are so brave." I have heard so many times. Truthfully, I am not brave. I was scared to pieces. I prayed often hoping I was making the right decision. First to have one breast removed, and then, with no reason other than the scary chatter in my head, to have the second one gone.  It is not bravery, it's survival. Every time I looked at an old lady, a part of my heart would squeeze. Would I get to be like that old lady? Would I ever wear the polyester, elastic waisted pants and sensible shoes? Would my hair ever turn completely grey as Grandchildren clamored for my attention? I was so afraid my chances had been removed. So, I chose to have my second breast removed. And now, when I look at those old ladies holding hands with their husbands of 40 plus years, I feel happiness.

Nine months ago, I blindly walked in Faith that God would heal me. I trusted His steps as He carried me.  Today, I do the same thing, only I see two sets of footprints. My Lord always is with me, but today, I walk WITH him instead of Him carrying me. And I love the companionship.

As I told my breast surgeon about the chatter in my head, I was still so unsure I was making the right decision. As I told her of my fears, through my tears, she kindly smiled at me. And suggested the prophylactic mastectomy. It was a decision I knew I had been leading up to when I changed my implant surgery in December. At that time, I was fearful if I had the lift my plastics dr wanted to do done, that I could never have a nipple sparing mastectomy done in the future. So he only augmented and off we went. Until the implant fell through the mesh, and the voices got louder in my head. I knew moving forward to having my second breast removed was the only thing that would stop the chatter.

But little did I know that it would also calm my soul. Little did I know that it would bring a smile to my face. And relief. I truly feel like a breast cancer survivor now. Instead of waiting for the other shoe to fall. Will the cancer come back somewhere else? I don't know. But I do know that it will NOT come back in my other breast. Because it does not exist. I have eliminated my chances of a second breast cancer. And I hope I have increased my chances of never having any type of cancer again.

I find myself looking at my children differently as well. Like I'm here for the long haul, instead of being fearful and trying to soak up every little daily thing. I'm excited for their new adventures; high school, theater, 2nd grade, preschool......because I will be there to see it all. The doom and gloom is gone.

Could I be knocked backward??? Sure. I know that I am still at risk. And the medicine I take every day has it's side effects. But this peace that surrounds me is priceless. I had cancer. I had my breasts removed and reconstructed. And now, I am ready to live my life again. Fully. Without fear. Finally.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I'm staring at two weeks. Two weeks until my next mastectomy. Two weeks until I do this all over again. The surgery, the pain, the drains, the removal, the healing. Why am I doing this? Voluntarily? UGH.....

I stand in front of the mirror and I look at myself trying to see if there is a way around having this surgery again. If there is a way around removing both of my breasts that will have implants with skin covering them. A way to wrap my head around the fact that I had cancer. And lost both of my breasts. Due to my own choices. Not that I chose to have cancer. But that I chose to have my breasts removed. Both of them. Who does that?

And then I remind myself. People who want the chatter in their head to stop make this decision. People who want to increase their chances of living make this decision
. People who realize intellectually that breasts are not what makes a person. Even if emotionally they feel they are being judged.

This is not an easy decision. I'm imposing on a ton of people to have a mastectomy this time. Last time it was my parents. Who are medically not in a place to care for me this time. So it is left to our sitter. My husband. My sister. My friends. People who have their own busy lives but are willing to take a moment out to help me. I am humbled all over again. I am inconvienencing my patients who will have to go a month without guidance. I feel horrible about that. I will feel every stumbling block they feel and take responsibility for them. Who leaves their patients for a MONTH?  Sigh...... And my children. Who's summer will be filled with other people taking them to camp, swimming, to dance class, to the cabin.....when it should be me. It should be ME.

But in the middle of the wallowing in self pity, I am reminded that I asked to walk in Grace. That I asked for this journey to make an impact on others. That I asked for this testimony to lean on God and to trust His weaving. So, I am trying to do that. To lean back. To let go. To accept the fact that my real breasts tried to kill me and yet I could make decisions to save myself. So that with God's will, I could watch my children grow, marry, and have kids of their own. That I could hold my baby niece and tell her amazing stories from her Dad's youth. Every time I see an elderly woman, I pray that one day, that will be me.

So for two more weeks I'll waddle around in thoughts that won't leave my head. Looking at my mismatched breasts that feel cold to the touch. And I'll remind myself I'm still one of the lucky ones. I'm a survivor.

Monday, June 9, 2014

You Never Know.......

Who goes on vacation and ends up on the local news? This family!! Some of the crazy hair brained schemes of our lives have never gotten us so much attention. But this one act of last minute decision making (Thanks, Dave, for pushing us all to go!) got us much more than we bargained for.

We go to South Dakota because my Dad is a history buff. He loves Custer, the battles, the Indians, the forts, anything that is related to that time period, he is so into it. I've bought him so many books through the years, we could have our own library. This is my Dad's thing. And through him, ours. Every 4-5 years we have been going to South Dakota with my parents. As young children, and now as adults. Most people go to the beach. We climb mountains. Most people lay in the sand. We bring home huge granite rocks. It's just how it has always been.

In 2005 we did our first Volkswalk up Crazy Horse Monument. On a few days of the year you can walk through the woods and up the monument to the flung out arm. It's a 10K. Mostly uphill. That first time, it was so cold, we had to buy sweatshirts before we started! With Kadin by our side, my dad, brother, husband, and I walked up to the top and took in the breathtaking view. In 2010 we took Cullen as well. This year we were going to take Liam, Elliana, my brother's wife and their baby. But due to the cold weather and the rain, the girls stayed home with Johnna who was gracious enough to remain behind so the babies weren't exposed to the horrible weather.

Who wants to climb a mountain in 45 degree weather? In the rain? No one. But Dave said we came all this way to do it for my Dad, so we headed out.

See, my Dad couldn't be here this time. With surgery on his carotid artery less than 2 weeks past, he was not able to come. So we walked for him. This time, my sister, her son, Dave, all three of our boys, my brother, and I did the walk. A first for Lisa, Jacob, and Liam. Did I mention it was cold? And RAINING?? And this is a hike through the woods and up a mountain? We are crazy!

At the first checkpoint there was a guy with a camera. Just a guy. With a tripod and a camera. Now, I admit, I've been to Disney wayyyy too much. I thought this guy was snapping pictures of people to commemorate their walk. So we get our checkpoint cards signed and I move over to see if he will take our picture. A family photo! How awesome! So, he does it. And then I realize......he is not there to take pictures!! We walk up to him and he is actually an anchorman from a TV station in Rapid City. He is there to film the Volkswalk and to look for a human interest story. We become his story.

He asks if he can follow us up the monument and we say YES! So now we are a group of nine. We learn his name is David Johnson. He's been in Rapid City for 3 months. He would like to do International News. He lived in California. He has a small apartment and likes the warmer weather over the cold we are in. We are here to tell our story but we are blessed more by this man who came into our lives unaware. He films us through the walk, the mud, the other people, and we chat.

We tell him about our hard year. My beast cancer. My brothers shattered arm. My mom's hospitalization and near death episode. My dad's surgery and struggles we are all here. Smiling, laughing, joking, and helping each other up this huge monument for our Dad. Dave chats with David about all kinds of things. We have a new sibling and he is really nice. :)

At the top, we face time with Mom and Dad. Because of the rain, the arm is not filled with people so we can wander around as we want. Showing Dad the view, letting him see if more cracks have come upon the face of Crazy Horse in the past 4 years. Letting them talk with their grandsons. It was the next best thing to having them with us. To see his face and to tell him, we did it. For you.

It was the yuckiest of days. One where you would rather stay in the cabin. But thanks to my husband's foresight, we braved the elements and had one of the best days ever. You never know when a day that seems so dismal will be one of your biggest blessings.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'll remind you all again that I am a born and raised Presbyterian. We do not go to the alter. I've been one time for myself. The day Elliana was born. But I have found myself drawn to those steps several times when friends go forward. For health of spouses, dealing with addiction, pain of miscarriage or anything else. This past Sunday I went for a dear friend who's son was recently diagnosed with diabetes. It has rocked their world. Yes, there are worse things, but this was a game changer for them. I adore this friend. She always has a smile. She is always helpful, welcoming, her hugs are like coming home. Her son is like my own. My heart was broken because hers was. As I went forward to pray, my husband followed me.

Little did I know that it would become a blessing for me.

I realize I am open with my struggles and my walk. My 6 month follow up appointment with the breast surgeon is on Friday. Dave and I will have to ask her some difficult questions. But the sermon was on Living in Fear and I have basically made up my mind on what will occur to my left breast. But while down at the steps, praying for my friend and her son, a new friend began praying over ME.

Knowing my road is twisting, she prayed for peace. For guidance. For God's hand in what decision I made. For my complete healing (I hope she meant my mind too!). That I have four children and a loving husband that I needed to be here for. That I had a ton of living left to do. For God to watch over me, protect us, and to let me know in my heart that He is there.

As my friend and her family left, I felt God surround this new friend, others, and my husband, and I knew I could no longer live in fear. I cannot stop the chatter in my head. I had breast cancer. It may come back. It may come in the other breast or somewhere else. But my story has been written!!  By a glorious and loving God! Why was I afraid? Why did I think I needed to make Earthly decisions when He had already written the upper story of my life???

So, thanks to the spoken aloud prayers of a new friend, I know what I will do. If the surgeon does not recommend doing a mastectomy on my left side, I will let my plastic surgeon do the lift he wanted to do to begin with. And I will live with the knowledge that my breasts will be matching for as long as I live. Or if my cancer comes back, until then.

But really, as much as God has done for me? How dare I not trust him??? How dare I live in fear of what is to come?? I will not. I greet it with open arms. God is my provider. He is all we need. He will blend my lower story with His upper story and it will be beautiful. I only need to do my part.

To walk in Faith.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Hold the hand."

Scared cries wake me from a light sleep and I lay and listen to see if they will settle and stop, or continue and I will need to get up. The house is quiet all except the whimpers that come across a baby monitor on the dresser. As the cries turn into shouts for me, I get up and go to our little girl. A bad dream. A scary moment in time. She wants held and to be "rockey." I comply. As I hold her small body close and she clutches me around the neck, we rock. Slowly she drifts off to sleep again, breathing deep, her clenched arms loosen.

It reminds me of how so many times I have had to let go in life and just be held. That I try so hard to be in control but in reality, I am not. My house gets dirty, my schedule gets messed up, my kids get sick, things don't turn out right.....but through it all, I am held. There is a Casting Crowns song that says in it something about when it feels like your life is falling apart, the pieces are really just falling in place. Cullen said this song reminds him of me. How I try to be so strong for everyone, yet in the end, I allow God to hold me close. My eleven year old is watching and learning how to lean on Christ through rough times. My heart is full.

In the darkest of the night I am always reminded of the journey of how I got to where I am. Times when on my knees I called out to God to direct me. Times when I did not wait around to listen, and other times when no answer came right away. Yet, there was always a path I was on that lead me following Him. With this small child's heart beating next to mine, I find myself in a prayerful state for those around me. For my family, for friends with stage 4 cancer, for friends newly diagnosed, for friends adopting, or finalizing, for friends going through painful relationships or infertility, for friends with new babies, or pregnant, for friends who's children have medical concerns or learning issues, for friends who have life long issues that never seem to go away. For myself.

In a few weeks I will meet with my breast surgeon again. We will run the six month follow up tests and make sure I am ok. That cancer has not popped up anywhere else, or in the other breast. I feel confident that my right side is ok. That unless micro organisms are in my chest wall, that the breast cancer is gone, along with the breast and nodes on that side. But I am worried about the left side. The side that sags because my implant bottomed out. The side that constantly hurts because it's misshapen. I have a decision to talk to my surgeon about. Do I keep this breast or have it removed as well. So I can stop the chatter in my head. Dave and I have talked extensively about it. In my gut I know I made the right decision to remove only one when I did, but in my head, I wish I had done them both. So we will see. The thoughts of having another mastectomy swirl in my head as I rock my baby back and forth. I'm ready for my breasts and cancer to no longer be in the forefront of my mind. I'm ready to do what needs to be done, and move on. But right now, I'm nervous, worried, and scared about what the decision holds.

As I lay my sweet daughter back into her crib, she stirs. I lean over the side and pat her making comforting noises that I have whispered to all of my children. To let them know I am there. I am watching over them. They are safe. As I lift my hand away from her warm body, she looks up at me, her arm shooting up in the air, "Hold the hand, Momma? While I sleep?" I eagerly reach down and grasp the small hand of the child of my heart and I am reminded again, I have always been held by God's arms. That He has always been close to hold my hand when I needed him. That is the greatest gift of all.

Hold the hand, Heavenly Father, hold the hand.............

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.