Monday, July 18, 2016

Turning 49

My mom always told the story of how her and my Dad had decided to name me, their first born child.  If you were a boy, I was going to name you.  If you were a girl, your Dad would name you.  

I've never asked which day I was due to arrive.  I just know my mom was in labor with me for 36 hours, and I never lived that one down!

But Dad had already proclaimed, if I were a girl, I was Vicky Marie.  I often wonder why he chose Vicky?  But I knew why he chose Marie.  He had a very special cousin, Marie, and I would have been named after her... BUT...

July 16th, 1967 at 3:17 pm, I was born.  It just happened to be the same birthday as the young girl my mom used to babysit, named Nancy.  Nancy Kay.

Nancy and all of her brothers and sisters were so special to my mom, how could she not give me Nancy's middle name?  Plus she reasoned with my Dad, I could be called Vicky, but my full name should be Victoria.   

Hence my name- Victoria Kay.  

From the start,  Nancy brought me a gift every year for my birthday. I don't recall if we got something for her every year.  I just know, long into my teen years, Nancy would surprise me with a small, beautiful gift. 

Throughout the years we went to the same church as Nancy and had contact with her on various occasion.   

But then I moved, married, and had kids.  My mom would keep in touch with Nancy and give me updates every once in awhile.

After we moved back here, one year I finally found an address for Nancy, and sent her a card for her birthday.  I told her how much her presents in the past had meant to me and I wanted to thank her.  She called me, weeping over the phone, thankful for being remembered.  Lesson learned on my part.

More years passed.

It was just last week I was scanning the newspaper headlines, and saw on the obituary page that our Nancy had died a few days prior.

I had no idea Nancy was sick,  It would have been my mom in the past who would have known somehow and told me.  My mom's friend filled me in.

It seems Nancy had been sick and needed surgery on her heart.  She seemed to be recovering well, but then suffered a set back and despite the work of her medical team, she was 
simply called home to be with Jesus.

I have no doubt, Mary Ann (my mom) was there to usher our Nancy to her heavenly home.  

It was a bittersweet day, yesterday.  I was celebrating turning 49, while mourning the loss of a friend who would have turned 63. 

I'm reflective lately.  Having just attended the funeral of a young woman taken far too soon by colon cancer, time and again my own mortality stares me in the face.

I treasure seeing those pictures (above) of me from long ago.  Me- playing in the lake with a rusty pail and half a shovel.  Me on a pontoon at the lake,  sitting on my Daddy's lap- always the Daddy's girl.  Me- in my little pedal car off on an adventure- wind blowing in my hair.

The car may be gone, and the pontoon, as well as my beloved Dad- and Mom, now Nancy too.   But that girl is still here.  Somehow, for some reason, the gift of life is the very present I open every day- and I am one lucky girl.  

Thank you to all of you who show up, encourage me, hold me up, and fill me with so much love.  

Colton was helping me with the candles for the cake.  We had a Ziplock bag full of all kinds of candles.  But when we searched for the numbered candles?  We could only find two.  They are blending in on the cake.  Two numbers.  A 4.  And a 9.  Someone was clearly helping me celebrate... turning 49.    


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

19 years...

Dear Superman,

Happy 19th wedding anniversary! 

I'm sitting here, stumbling with finding my calculator on my phone, trying to plug in the numbers.  Then I remember, you are celebrating your 30 year high school reunion this year.  So its been 30 years ago since our first date,  although it seems our hearts married right from the start. That one summer night, you had 400 hundred and some odd dollars on the dash of your Mustang, and we had a wide open night to do with as we pleased. I remember little of where we went, or even what we did.  But we spent not a dime, and talked under a bright moon in the front seat of your car, till the birds started to sing at dawn. And we learned that even in the quietness, speaking not a word, our heartbeats had started to commingle. 

But in the thirty years of knowing you I can't put my finger on when it began.  Was it a word?  A date?  A present?  When was it, that I knew?  The times we were together those first couple of years, it was so very real for both of us.  Yet, the times we chose to be apart, I'm convinced, tied us together in even more binding ways.  Maybe I knew when you called and talked to me for over an hour when I was in Paris, and we weren't technically dating at the time. The bill had to have been massive, but at no point did you want to cut it short.  Or it might be how 
you'd just show up to drive me to my college classes, on the really cold days- like -42, knowing I'd have to walk in the cold if you didn't.  We weren't dating, and yet, your desire to take care of me never waned. I still have the Snoopy Christmas ornament your grandmother made for me that year.  You wouldn't tell her we weren't dating... you see...  

I think we already knew.  We weren't entirely ready.  But we knew.

It might have even started back in high school, when we went on the church trip to New York City. We stood at the top of the World Trade Center taking night photos of the cars down below. Even then, neither one of us talked and yet we were completely comfortable not filling up the space with needless words. Were the seeds planted then?

Perhaps, I know, because of all the treats you bring me now, just because you know I had a REALLY LONG DAY. Or its how much I love the way you say, we'll find a way, don't worry. 

Like the day the letter from Blue Cross shows up last week, telling us yet again, they're canceling our health insurance policy at the end of this year. I can't fathom what the new costs might be to us.  But you reassure me, as always, we'll get by.   

It could certainly be because of all the spontaneity. Like when you say, Really, Toronto, Canada is not too far to drive all 4 of us in our little Toyota Prius.   And I discover its not really too far, and we end up with the adventure of a life-time. Or the time when you first got your job in Idaho and were getting ready to move.  But you said "Stay in graduate school.  We can weather a 9 month separation."  Yeah, we did that too.  

It certainly could be the day you said Idaho isn't working for us anymore, after nearly 10 years of calling it home.  Lets quit our jobs, buy a small blue house and move back to Minnesota to be closer to our family.  Maybe I'll try photography and see if I can make a go of that.  Um hm.  That's what we did.  It could have been that day.

Or it could be that one really hard day.  The day I called, sobbing, saying this time its not cysts in my breast.  I was wrong.  Its the worst imaginable and I don't know how I am going to do breast cancer.  I'm sorry.  And you say, I'll be right there.  We'll just do it, together, and everything will be okay.  Five years later, you're still here, and we still manage together.

I guess that's the thing, really.  Its not any one of these, but its all of them.  Its how we've woven this tapestry of us.  Through the times we are at our best, and the many more times when we are broken, tired, or weak.  It hasn't mattered. Apart, was just never really meant for us for very long.  I can't think of a time in my life, when it ever really will be either.  

So at some point its just been together.  This story of us.  Its about the 19 years of marriage, the 30 years of knowing each other, the 16 years of Nolan, plus the 14 years of Colton.  Its the forever I hope to know you, to love you, be with you, and weave together the rest of the story of our life.  All of these years later I know our commingled hearts will always be just enough to sustain us through the foreverness of you and I.

Friday, July 1, 2016

saving up

I've been in a swirl of activity.  

Within one week's time:

 I attended my cousin's daughter's wedding and spent a fun evening with lots of family.

 Celebrated a friend's birthday.

 Had a wonderful girl's night out and dinner with two fun friends.

Drove to Minneapolis for a day with Nolan and Rick.

Spent a Friday night shopping, with Nolan, at the Mall of America. We bonded over Birkenstocks. 

Attended a viewing of a documentary I was honored to be in.

Spent the most beautiful and perfect lake day at a friend's lake cabin.

Had cousins visit from Alaska...

Took oodles of pictures- way more than I can possibly share.

Then my feet came back down to earth as I detoured through Roger Maris for Infusion on Tuesday.  I've been knocked back a bit ever since.  Tired, achy, and nauseous- with a swollen hand leaving me inept at typing again.

So I've been reflective too...

Many years ago I heard sage advice from my uncle Emery.  Isn't it funny how we never know what words uttered might be the ones remembered?

Uncle Emery told stories that made you laugh until your sides hurt.  With his thick Norwegian accent he could tell you the funniest Ole and Lena jokes.  He was a master entertainer and we loved going to  my uncle and aunt's house for the holiday celebrations.

Sadly, just months after he retired many years ago,  Emery was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Rick and I lived in Idaho during this time.  Through the phone my mom would relay the news in bits and pieces.

As his time here on earth waned, he grew more quiet, and had Hospice nurses helping to take care of him.  My mom said the silence was utterly devastating... until that last time he spoke.

In fact, Emery had a resurgence.  And asked if the pastor could come- to sing hymns.  So the family gathered round the bed and to everyone's disbelief, a beautiful, strong voice emerged, one they hadn't heard before.  Mom could only shake her head in wonderment  as she discovered the voice singing was Emery's.

Finally, someone had to ask.  Emery?  All these years, and we never knew you could sing like that?

I can practically hear the words coming from his mouth, myself.

That thick Norwegian lilt to his voice, "Well, dontcha know, I've been saving up!"

Oh the laughter that ensued!  Leave it to my uncle to leave them all with laugher on their lips, and tears in their eyes.  We knew the treasure we were losing during that time.

But those words stayed.  I realized not long ago- its exactly what I do as well.  I've been saving up for these days- like the ones from above.

I spent so much time in bed this past year.  Weak.  Sad.  Dull.  Longing.  For these days.

And now I'm stringing together all my words, to ensure, I'm living it up good!


 Embracing.  Choosing.  Reaching.  Becoming.  Connecting.

Living my moments full.

Living my legacy.

I have this deep-seated resolve- to live all my moments, while I still have them.

I've been "saving up, dontcha know."

Monday, June 13, 2016

simply living

Someone is always watching over me, so it seems.  While preparing for my MRI a week ago, I received a call about my PET scan.  Could I do it the 8th of June?  I had to laugh- of course I was scheduled to get the results of the test from Dr. Panwalkar on the 7th of June.  Lucky for me, when word made it back to Dr. P he simply said lets get her scanned on the 7th and I'll see her on the 8th.  

As I sat in the exam room waiting for Dr. Panwalkar, Annie peeked her head in to say hello and show me the cutest new picture of Grace, her puppy.  We chatted briefly and she wished me well. 

Dr. P strode into the room and over to the computer desk, flipping the screen on right away.   In a straightforward manner, he said "Well your PET scan report was good.  I just read the report- haven't looked at the scan, but lets see."

I'm still a complete rookie looking at scans.  But he spends his time orienting me to the various organs and directions we're going.  Its when he gets to the lungs that he slows.  "Here's the spot.  Lower left lobe of your lung, is lit up.  The radiologist says its consistent with inflammation of some kind."

But I don't feel relief.  My questions come into play right away.  Is it radiation scarring?  Is it treatment related? I have such a long standing history with Dr. Panwalkar, he seems to know he has to give me more to stand on.  
 As I ask the questions, and Dr. Panwalkar seeks to find answers to them, he decides to go back through old scans.

And there it is.  Glowing bright yellow.  In the exact same place. 

6 months ago my scan was clean, and 3 months prior to that was ok, but last summer before I started chemo?  My lung lit up in the same spot, as it is now.   That was not inflammation.  Therefore, this is most likely not inflammation.  But only time will tell.

So even though the report sounds really good?  Dr. Panwalkar most likely thinks as I do now, the new spot is cancer again.  And again I need his reassurance that we can formulate a plan A, and B or even C, for treatment. 

He says we can go back to Taxotere- weekly maybe this time.  And he stretches way back in my history and somehow remembers I stopped Halaven, after having a really good response to it.  So I can go back to that one if need be.  He names off several chemos.  I'm just not letting it all soak in- I just want to float on the surface right now.

Yet, Dr. P is throwing lifelines like he knows I need him to.  He knows.  So much space and silence sits between us, but he doesn't fill it with anything but what I can handle right now.  There's knowing in the silence.

We also go through my brain MRI, which looks precisely the same.  Stable Mable.  

He motions to the exam table and I climb up.  He repeats his instructions to me, even though I should have every part of the exam down pat.  But he listens to my lungs, and then takes a moment and simply rubs my back.  No words.  Just compassion.  Slow. Steady.  He then checks my eyes, my mouth, my stomach, my lymphedema- everything.  Then he thumps down my spine and I tell him its fine.  He stands then and pats that place on my back again, reassuring, and says "I think you are doing really good."  

He goes to sit down and I ask, "How are you, Dr. Panwalkar?"

"Me?"  He responds, sounding surprised.  "I'm doing well.  Thank you for asking."  

I tell him I see how the chaos of the construction, and all of the congestion going on in and around the hospital can be daunting on a daily basis.  So if he decides to move on- away from all of this- just let me know!  His hearty laugh reverberates through the exam room, but then he offers this gem- a life-preserver.  

"I'm not going anywhere.  Don't worry, I won't abandon you."  

With that I let go and feel all of the air start to expand my lungs again.

I may be treading water, but my head is still above the surface breathing oxygen.  I'll just keep swimming.  It's all I know how to do. 

A new treatment plan will take shape and the right time will come in the future.  

For now,  I'm just going to keep living in the "meantime." 

 It takes Rick most of the day Saturday to get the motor running on the boat.  With the hours of sunlight stretching into the evening, its time to go, despite our late start.

We're equally thrilled that Nolan decided he'd like to go.  He starts "remembering when..." on the quick ride to the lake and my mother's heart is brimming with the resonance of his sweet stories.  The summer we spent at The Miller's lake- weren't we so lucky they let us use the cabin for the summer?  Every detail he remembers and shares with us.  

The fishing starts off slow, little nibbles and bites.  We laugh at the little blue gills, and crappies they catch.  Then Nolan fights to land a northern that he lets his Dad hold up for him once its in the boat.  We're merely catching and releasing this day.

Once again, few words are needed.  It doesn't get much better than this. 

We end our night with pizza at Zorbaz.  I'm drunk with sunshine and being on the water and living with joy in the "in between."

We came home to conclude our weekend with game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  It was the most "on the edge of my seat" anxiety-inducing, intense hockey I've endured in a long time.

But in the end?  There he is, our #7 Matt Cullen, with the rest of the Penguins, winners of the Stanley Cup!!  

Tears of joy and celebration fall, as I watch Matt's family gather around him.  Much more Stanley Cup celebration is anticipated in the weeks ahead.  

This morning, as I ease into this week, I begin my day with Jesus Calling.  

Sarah Young

June 13th

I am creating something new in you: a bubbling spring of Joy that spills over into other's lives... My spirit flows through you to bless others.  Let yourself become the reservoir of the Spirit's fruit.

Your part is to live close to Me, open to all that I am doing in you... Just keep focusing on Me as we walk through this day together.  Enjoy My presence which permeates you with Love, Joy, and Peace.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

embrace the grace...

I'm not really sure when it started.  I get so dang tired of carrying cancer around with me that I don't pay a lot of attention to it.  But one day I stepped outside and whoa as I stopped on the top step, everything around me kept moving.  I felt like I needed to grab the pillar just to steady myself.

Within minutes, I was fine again, and off I went. It didn't happen again until I was in the car with Nolan.  Around a corner we sailed and my head?  Just kept on sailing as my stomach dropped and my heart started to pound- this must be what vertigo feels like?  What the heck?

Those initially fleeting moments start to add up after awhile.  And then... one day I toppled right over.  Oh I was probably cleaning up after the dog, bending, leaning, stretching, and then suddenly, flat on my bottom on the ground. It took a couple of tries to get myself upright again, I was so off kilter.  Uff da...  

Yet, I'm feeling so much better, in so many ways. My words flow more freely, with some chemo fog lifting.  I have more stamina for sustained periods, as brief as they may be.  I can dry a load of clothes and bring them upstairs in a basket.  However folding them after that... yeah... still a stretch.  Maybe the next day?

So as I collect the sum of all the parts,  I find myself confiding my dizzy and somewhat wobbly nature to Annie, the PA. She absorbed what I was saying and concluded with ordering a scan.  I'll be having a brain MRI later this week.  She also conveys to me that my tumor marker, has started to rise.  Sigh...

Crosby and I "get" each other on a whole new level these days too.  His seizures come in clusters now.  Sometimes within hours of each other.  Sometimes days in between. But as traumatic and hard as they are to witness, and for him to go through, we stick with each other, enjoying our better moments-together.  Rick and I are in the process of getting a consult for Crosby with a Neurologist veterinarian, in the cities. We need guidance in how to truly care for our dog, ensuring quality in his life. 

These times, when it seems we can't add anymore?  Grace rises up to meet us, and multiplies the abundant gifts in our ordinary days. We just need eyes to see, as we number our gifts that literally lie at our fingertips. 

  Annie concludes our appointment, then shares photos with me of her new golden retriever puppy- Grace.  And there it is again- just when I need it.  We talked about hockey, and dogs, and life- the good stuff... with cancer falling to the side again, like chaff from the threshing floor. 

So I'm letting go of all of these things... continually letting go.  And I'll embrace the grace, with eyes that see fresh every time I blink and focus anew.

Crosby loves his time outside in the shade.

Colton simply wanted to golf with his buddies, on his birthday.  That is one happy kid. 

I could do a whole post about the amazing meal sign-up we're just finishing.  Holy cannoli!  We've been filled with comfort foods, deliveries from our favorite restaurants, and surprise meals from people we've never met before.  We were nourished, both physically, and mentally, too.

This one just leap-frogged into adulthood!  No, he didn't actually get to road trip to Pittsburgh, but yes he can always dream a big dream, can't he?  Go Pens!! 

The Star Tribune ran a really great story today about Matt Cullen. It truly exemplifies who both Matt, and his wife Bridget have become and how they truly live the words they say... definitely worth the read! 

Rick and I felt lucky to surprise the boys with tickets to a Garth Brooks concert.  They only had one question... who is Garth Brooks? And who goes to Garth Brooks?  

So as we were walking up to the Fargo Dome doorway, guess who Nolan saw just off to our side?  A man trying to shield his face.  He was Carson Wentz, the newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles NFL quarterback from North Dakota State University.  Suddenly- Garth Brooks was very cool.

The boys outwardly appeared to enjoy themselves.  My fitbit was registering steps like crazy.  Then this... Garth sings this and with teary eyes, I video a small portion of it. 

Looking back on the memory of
the dance we shared 'neath the stars above;
For a moment all the world was right.
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?

And now, I'm glad I didn't know
the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance;
I could have missed the pain,
but I'd have had to miss the dance...

The concert ends and its a school night so we head home to get the boys to bed.  Rick and I wonder aloud, could we find 2 cheap tickets and go again over the weekend?  And that's when we hear what the boys really think of the concert- a chorus of "Hey me too, I want to go!" rings out and we know we've passed along our love of Garth Brooks to our kids.  

These moments are fleeting- but so worthy of collecting- they truly add up to what matters-like Buddha says in the end its these 3 things...

"... How much you loved, how gently you lived, how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you."  


Monday, May 23, 2016


“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” 

 Ann Voskamp

The air shifts as we reach the winding gravel road.  Our voices still, and we visually feast on the richness of the land.  We're here... and its begun to feel like "we're home."  We're a mere 45 minutes from our homes, but yet it seems like a distant place and time.

We've never been to Carmel of Mary, in May.

As Roxane pulls into the driveway near the guest house,  we simultaneously breathe deep, delighted by the fragrance of lilacs and giggle as our actions mirror each other. We know what awaits us... we know.

Its early evening and as Roxane busies with some work, I step out of the house.  Sensing the sun lowering I simply stroll around the grounds.  With the magnitude of the quiet, and the pure absence of any responsibility you'd think I'd have some profound thoughts.  But its like my head heard the word, retreat, and my brain said "sure, why don't we?"  

So I simply allow myself to soak in every little nuance of light, and the smell of earthiness, and feel the energy of the wind, and renewal that comes with the season of spring. 

And I start to wonder about the horse?  Will she be waiting in the field?  And I haven't seen the guinea hens in a long time, have they survived this harsh environment so different from that of their native land?  

As the sun lowers I merely work at opening my heart to whatever story may unfold.  

The sun shines bright the next morning as we prepare for mass at 7. It's Pentecost Sunday, and we'll meeting with Mother Madonna later this afternoon.

As we leave the chapel, my first surprise visitor saunters off in the distance. Roxane and I hear the unusual squawking before we even see her.  She seems alone.  She flies up on the rail of our porch, then hastily retreats as we draw near.  

Soon enough we're heading back over to the monastery for lunch.

The sisters always prepare home made, delicious meals that we fondly look forward to.  Shortly after morning mass, the bell rings, beckoning us to come.  The meals await on a turnstile which we gather and bring to the dining table, where Roxane and I dine alone.  And on this day?  A slice of cake with a lit candle in celebration of the Pentecost- or the church's birthday. 

Its after lunch that I slip outside into the warmth of the sunshine.  

It isn't long and I see her.  She is who I've longed to see... Ann's words echoing in my mind...  

"Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks."

She's on bended knee, and doesn't get up the whole time I walk around the outside of the fenced pasture, speaking to her.   Her ears perk up but still she doesn't move. So I whisper my thanks as I pray she is ok.  Several times I make a trip out to visit.  She is always laying down near the same spot. I have no one to ask.  

I saunter off to discover what new sights I can uncover.

I notice such small details.  Like how everything seems to be leaning and bending, creating paths that invite you to walk along.  

I go and visit Mary.  

As I walk all the way around her, I see it.  Mary's hand.  Open, outstretched.  Ann's words echoing in my head again...

"...Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. "  

I walk on... in and about the big trees lining the road.  I possibly walk by it at first, but then I see it just below the arching tree branches. 

"...the small..."

The tulip is bending and leaning too... just the one.  No other tulips in sight.

I'm near the edge of the grounds now, near the road. I'm watching the willow tree branches dancing in the wind.

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”  Bruce Lee

I circle back, my steps reaching into the thousands today, and yet physically I feel strong. I'm emptying, and filling at the same time.

I go all the way back to the pasture behind the house.  Checking on her one last time.  She's up!  She is eating, and I quickly offer thanks for her well-being.  

Later in the afternoon, Roxane and I go to meet with Mother Madonna.  I've written a note with some prayer requests to leave with the sisters. I tuck a donation inside, knowing the sister's live off of the giving of the community.  With the lessons of "bending and leaning," freshly seeded in my mind.

"And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” 

 Ann Voskamp

As the light shines through the dark clouds, the sunbeams stream down over the top of the bell tower. It's time to leave and I'm already longing to return. 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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