Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out of the blue

I went in for a regular mammogram. Me, a mom of 4 kids ages from 13 to 18 months. I have no family history. No reason to fear. Other than fibrous cysts, there has been no reason for concern. Small breasted, healthy weight, exercise like crazy, moderation in everything in life, breast fed four babies.......no reason to be concerned. Until there is. At age 37, my mammogram was clear. At 42, it was not. I was brought in for another look. An ultrasound, another mammogram. And then a biopsy. I had breast cancer. Me. Who meets NO risks. Other than the stars aligned and here I was. This was last year. Last year. One year ago I went in for a routine mammogram. Which turned out to be anything but routine.

In a few weeks I will relive the days that led to my diagnosis. The biopsy, the waiting, the call, the dr appt, the scans. Nothing that anyone wants to endure, but things we remotely run through when it is expected of us. Appointments I went to without question. Demoralizing, dehumanizing, yet uplifting and prayerful along the way.

I remember someone telling me this journey would be at least a year. And they were right. One year ago I thought I was completely healthy. Normal every day things irritated me. I was frustrated by tiny things that mean nothing in the wide scheme of things. I was not fully involved in my own life. I was worn out, spent, and emotionally through.

Today, a year later, after a cancer diagnosis and surgeries and a pernicious anemia diagnosis, I find myself light years away. I am MORE involved in life. MORE involved in my marriage, in my children's lives, in my family, with my friends, with my community. We are not promised tomorrow, but we are given today. I have learned to live each day to it's fullest.

Do I never get frustrated?  Yes. Do I ever feel exhausted? yes. Are my feelings never hurt by others? Yes. I have learned so much this year. I am SO thankful for my cancer. For this is what I have learned Cancer cannot do:  It cannot steal my joy. It cannot take what I have to offer others. Cancer cannot stop teaching me life lessons. It has taught me to love deeper. Forgive immediately, cry freely, and to offer encouragement when it's needed. Cancer has taught me that every day is a gift. Every experience is to be met head on with JOY not with sadness. With each step my children make, I am smiling like a fool. Thankful to be in their memories and to be there every step of the way for as long as God allows. I no longer fear the end. I am a child of God and I will see him one day. Whether it is sooner or later, I have no idea, but I will live each day with no regrets. Do you do the same?

Cancer does not need to steal your happiness. It does not need to steal your friends or your life. I have seen friends fight huge battles and come out the other end further along in life than they were before. I want to do that. I want to continue to walk in grace. I want to be the face of God in my journey. I had breast cancer. I had both of my breasts removed. But I can come to the alter and pray for you, no matter what is going on in your life, because I am protected by my one true God. I will walk with you, no matter what your journey is. Because I have faced death and won. I have looked into my children's eyes and lived their whole lives with them, even though I take day by day. Lessons learned and passed on.

Sometimes life hits us like that, out of the blue. When we are normally going through things and something extraordinary hits us. For me, it was cancer. It made me rethink my life. My marriage, my boys, adopting the child of my dreams, my expectations, my bucket list. And I'm thankful that I sit here fulfilled. Although there are minute things I may have changed, each lesson has brought me to where I am. And I'm thankful for the journey. And I will continue to face life, out of the blue.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Fear Tamed

What are you afraid of? Losing someone you love? Having a terminal disease? Never having the quality of life you had before? Never having a child in your life? Some fears are bigger than others. Some are fears that stop us in our tracks. When I think of losing one of my children, I can feel my throat close as I start to gasp for breath. But other fears are able to be overcome. They may not be enjoyable, but you can do them. Riding a horse, zip lining, eating escargot.....

Since my cancer diagnosis eleven months ago, I have been afraid that I will never be able to exercise like I had been. I would never do cross fit again. I would never again flip a tire, do chin ups, do push ups, lift weights. With the node removal, my arm is at risk for lymphedema. The swelling of my arm that had the cancer and the nodes removed. It is a serious condition and one I look for even though I am at a relatively low risk. As I have walked and begun running again these past few months, I have ached to get back into the gym. To see what my body can do now. To push myself beyond where I am. Which is stagnant. And I don't want to be here. I want to be where I was. Before breast cancer entered my life and I lost both of my breasts.

But fear has stopped me. The fear of ripping my mesh (which I did) and having to have another surgery (which I did). But mostly it's the fear that I can't do the things I want to do. That I now have limitations that I didn't place upon myself. So I just walked at the gym. Ran a little. Did small weights. Jumped rope....  But my heart called out to the dead lift bar. To push ups. To chin ups. OH, how my heart called out to chin ups!! I longingly watched others do them and lamented that I would never be able to do that again. I was sad.

Then, I talked to another breast cancer survivor. One who did cross fit through her journey before cancer and did not want to give it up. I did a Skype call with her and laid all my fears on the line. She was amazing. She, too, felt like I do. She, too, was afraid. But she did it anyway! So armed with tips from her and exercises to do, I hit the gym.

Today, I did chin ups and pull ups. With my foot on a green elastic band to help with the weight of my body. I did 37 of them. I am not as strong as I once was. But that is ok. I'm also learning I'm not limited. I did dead lifts, and push ups off the bar. And wall throws and kettle bells and lap pull downs and sit ups and obliques.....I did it all! Not at high reps or weights, but going through the motions. I did them without pain. Or ripping. Or trepidation.

Facing things we are afraid of is never easy. But staying afraid is not easy either. And staying the same is not an option for a full life. So go out! Meet those fears head on. And when you do, let me know about it!!

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

Ruminations

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 since......how 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.

http://www.kotatv.com/story/25724718/volksmarch-special-for-one-family-from-illinois

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reminders

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.............

www.youtube.com/watch?v=50lu1j2r53I