Friday, October 21, 2016

tackling cancer with the Spuds...

My heart started to pound a little with nervousness.  Mr. Cole wanted to talk with Rick and I, as we arrived for school conferences for Colton.  Could we step inside the conference room?

I try to not be overly concerned.  

But Mr. Cole assures us it has very little to do with Colton, and everything to do with Rick, and I.

In honor of "tackling cancer," night at the Spud Football game, would I like to carry the football out to the coach at the start of the game?

It was Jim Gotta who carried the ball the game before.  And before that, Chase Morlock- both football heroes from Moorhead.  

And now I was being asked? 

It's clearly written all over my face how honored I was.  The boys too,  didn't hesitate to walk with us.  

It was pretty chilly last night.  But when the National Anthem finished playing, we heard our names and began the walk from the goalpost out to where Coach Feeney and his players awaited us.  

I handed the ball off to Coach, who then leaned in and hugged me.  Then Joey, a senior football player, handed me the beautiful pink roses and hugged me as well.  

We turned for Rick's Dad, Jim, to take our picture and then scurried off the field so the football game would start.  

So proud to be a Spud.  

It was Erin, the PA I saw last week for my doctor's appointment.  My tumor markers have started to climb.  We simply watch the way they trend, and with increases the last 3 times or so, it's likely time to scan again soon, and re-evaluate treatment.  

So we're coping with it all in the best possible way- we're running away!

Yep- all 4 of us! 

We're Pittsburgh bound in a few days! 

We'll have a house full of friends and family watching Crosby for us, as we load up the truck and go.  

My one word for 2016, is choose.

When I think of "expanding" my time- living the length, the width and the depth of all my moments is exactly how I will "choose" to live as full as I can.  

Trip photos to follow soon!! 

Friday, October 14, 2016

When God winks...

It happened on October 14th, 2011.  Five years ago, today.  I was extremely humbled and honored to have my very first story published in the on the minds of mom's magazine.  It popped up in my "On This Day," reminder in Facebook, today.  Of course it did.  Just pinch me now.  I couldn't have possibly known, somehow this would be a "God" wink to me.  

It's been a hard week of loss, and grief.  Our dear friend Karla Johnson, the one in the video I shared, who had asked for Matt Cullen's stick for grandson Brody, went home to be with Jesus, last Friday.  Although I had infusion this Tuesday, I wouldn't have missed Karla's prayer service, Wednesday for anything.  Karla has taught me well.  Her love of her family was so much of what she talked about with us at our group.  She was the mom of 6 kids, and grandmother to 3, with the third grandbaby arriving just before our Karla left us.  Karla was also a NICU nurse, at Sanford Health, having worked over 35 years in nursing.  One can only imagine the sheer number of babies Karla took care of.  
As my friends and I drove out to the small town Karla's service would be held, we weren't in the least bit surprised as the sky turned bright pink, on an otherwise cold and cloudy day.  So fitting in keeping with the spirit of Karla. Her family had even strung pink lights across their house, and wore Team Karla shirts. 

We arrived to a very packed school gymnasium.  The stands were full, as were all the chairs lined up on the floor.  Clearly, Karla had touched a lot of people. The vision of a "living legacy," stretched out right before my eyes. 

As we went to sit down, a woman came over to me.  She smiled and said, "I don't know if you'll remember me.  But I was the one who helped you in the ultrasound department when you were first diagnosed..."  Instantly, emotion washed over me.  I'm sure my hands flew to my face, and then somehow we simply embraced- locked in the moment that had happened just over 5 years ago.  I struggled with remembering her name... Michelle.  But that voice, and her beautiful face and the compassion that enshrouds her, brought me instantly back to that moment.  I have longed to go visit her over the years.  She truly felt like an angel, here on earth, sent to see me through one of the toughest days I have ever known.  (see below)

And here she was again- with Karla having brought us together.  Michelle even mentioned the magazine article, I've copied below, where I wrote about what she did for me.  It was a full circle moment of a huge magnitude for me.

I have felt a longing to write, while not clearly knowing what to say.  Psalm 46:10 has been on my heart lately, "Be still and know that I am God."  So I've been trying to listen more than I speak.  To quiet my mind.  Hush my heart.  Feel the sadness, while also remembering the joyful laughter we shared with Karla.  

Karla with her new baby grand daughter, Addyson. We have no doubt, Karla, the baby whisperer, is rocking babies in Heaven.

Imagine my surprise today, to see, it was precisely 5 years ago today, that I shared the story, of my journey with breast cancer, and how Michelle, so graciously shone light through the dark, and steadied my walk.  

I'm so humbled to say, I'm still living my moments, fuller than ever, counting my gifts as the list continues to grow.  

(This is not the news, I've been waiting to share- its coming soon.  But this is what was on my heart in this moment.) 

My story as it first appeared in on the minds of moms, October 14th, 2011.

"I'm whispering in their ears a lot lately, repeating the same messages. “When you need me and I am not there, you know you can always find me in your heart.” “I love you to the moon and back forever," etc. I have such an urgency for them to know my heart.
My youngest son is nine. Our relationship has grown especially tender. He still holds my hand when we walk to the park. He brings his blanket and curls up beside me to watch “cooking shows,” watching and pretending not to notice when I doze off. He has changed a lot these past few months, in all the ways 9-year-olds do, and in ways no mother wants for her child.
My 11-year-old is changing too. He is taller and faster. He consumes enormous quantities of food and is still starving 5 minutes later. But he has turned down three birthday parties and two sleepovers with his friends. Instead he sneaks upstairs to our room and sleeps on the floor next to my bed, just to be near me. He is stronger on the outside, but it belies how soft he is on the inside. My heart swells and aches for him.
The lump in my breast appeared last December. I knew the feel, the slightly jello like wiggle encased in what I assumed to be cysts again. I kept a careful watch on them. I cut back on caffeine. I got enough sleep. And yet they grew. In March it was time to see the doctor.
I recall at that time, I feel no panic, no worry. I've been here before. The exam, the mammogram and then the ultrasound. But urgency rears its ugly head. I am sent immediately for the ultrasound. The ultrasound tech, briefly examines me, lowers her eyes, walks out to speak with the doctor. She is somber, quiet when she comes back into the room. She flips on the ultrasound image. Its then that I see the blood-red, angry splashes leaping from the screen. “We think it has many characteristics of cancer... no, we know,” she says, “its cancer. I'm sorry to tell you, you have breast cancer. The doctor agreed I could tell you. I think you should be prepared. A lot is going to happen very quickly now. Surgery as soon as next week. Chemo and radiation too.” I find myself crying. Just like that? A few seconds and you can tell? I haven't even had a mammogram yet, or a biopsy. I learn that day, you can see cancer on an ultrasound if it’s big enough. Clearly, my tumor is big enough.
The tech brings me kleenex and my phone. How am I going to do this? I am filled with regret, worry, concern. My husband, my kids, my mom. What will this do to them? She, the tech, is compassion and concern. And it dawns on me, she is brave. She made a decision to be the one to tell me, and not wait for the doctor. I marvel at how she did that. And she hasn't left my side. In all my blubbery, salty-teared sobs, she stands witness, as my heart breaks. Yet a seed plants in my head. She is also courage. And she is showing me how to do this.
Later, it occurs to me, I chose the word “alive,” this year. Each year I choose a word as a theme and watch how it manifests in my life. I went with the word "alive" after my Dad died. I simply wanted to feel "alive" in everything that I do. “Fighting to be" alive was not how I hoped to experience the word. Life is funny like that. And oddly, 6 months past my diagnosis, breast cancer has kicked open the door to feeling my aliveness in ways I couldn't have anticipated.
After much reflection, I realize I have both an urgency to live, while at that same time, wanting to slow down enough to savor every moment of each day. And the key to really doing that? Expanding your time, instead of worrying about extending your time.
I feel more and notice more in the tiny moments of my day. The sweet smell of sunshine and sweat mixed in my son's hair after playing outside in the sun. How golden the sunshine is in August. How water lapping at my feet soothes my aching soul. How joy tickles and spills over when you delight in the small. And how gratitude in everything, even cancer, leads to wanting for nothing.
I have discovered grace can be found even in the most painful and seemingly hopeless times. Like the time my youngest got up in front of his entire second grade class at sharing time and boldly told them his mom had cancer. And that she was going to get better. The seeds of grace sewn by my second grader.
That was just the beginning of a tidal wave of grace and blessings I would receive, and cancer has made me take notice. I've learned to live my moments, feel my aliveness. Put my “grace glasses” on and live my best day today. To expand. Count my gifts. I am finding you can see them in the tiniest moments. If you are open to seeing them, they are all around us."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Catching up

 Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe.  It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.  ~Michael Strassfeld

Last weekend Rick surprised me with a little get-away.  We'd tried all summer to find a last minute deal on a cabin at Grand View Lodge, but nothing fell within our budget.  So we felt pretty lucky to finally get a really good deal on a room, despite the fact it was only for the two of us.  

Reveling in the fact we had no agenda to adhere to, we took off, letting Siri route us through the back roads to Brainerd.  We simply wanted to enjoy the scenery and photograph to our hearts content.  

By dinner time we arrived.  We'd be staying in a room in the lodge itself.  But the light... oh the light... drew me right past the lodge and around to the breathtaking front.  

I felt it instantly, but couldn't figure it out.  What was so different?  I didn't care, I simply immersed myself fully in the pine scent hitting my nose, the sunshine flooding my face, and the sound of the waves rapping against the shoreline.  

I turned back around, as my lungs started to burn, and my breathing grew labored.  

But each step helped me shed another layer of burden I've been shrouded in for so long. On I went... 

I made it down to the water and thrust my feet in, the lapping water cleansing more than just my feet. 

It took a rather large quantity of caffeine for me to venture back  down to the shore after dinner.  I have to be cajoled at times, into not withdrawing into myself too long, and too often.  

But between the campfire, the gorgeous sunset, and the company of superman, I was so happy to discover the serenity that enveloped me. 

Around every corner it seemed, the light peeked through, beckoning me forward, despite the weariness I so often feel.

The next morning, while the main dining room was closed, we were provided breakfast and the food never disappoints.

Our second day was just as warm and light-filled as the first.

The leaves seemed to be turning colors before our very eyes.

Rick and I loved driving around, the tree-lined hills pulling us around the bend, over the hills, and up the mountain for our next grand view.  I snapped oodles of photos, as the all too familiar aching started climbing through my back.

I love that Rick always graciously answers yes, to taking photographs of others.  We've been gifted ourselves with photos that are dear to us, and we always seek to pay it forward in some small way.  He literally got to shoot a newborn, in her first family photo by the lodge- it has Christmas Card written all over it.  

Down to the water for one last trip, and we fully saw what the other guests had been talking about.  We knew something was different and it slowly started to occur to us.  It seems a big storm had gone through the property, and the deck that had seated dining guests, and a whole bunch of tall thin trees, had been snapped in the wind.  The view has become so "open" and truly gives it a fresh appeal.

But it's still "lodgy" enough for me to wonder where Baby is with her watermelon?  

The sun was just going down, as I took my last trip back up the stairs.  My fitbit started buzzing as I officially hit 10,000 steps and reached a new recored of 26 flights of stairs.  But my back had soaked in and registered each step and pain was shooting through my shoulder blade. Superman whisked me off to retreat to our room, finding meds to ease the discomfort.  I can't fight against it like I once could.  More than ever, I find myself yielding to it, surrendering to what is.  

We leave the next morning on a drizzly day.  With each fluttering leaf that falls, I feel the life-giving warmth of the sunshine grow more distant, and a sense of it's loss settles in. 

Its days later, I sit down to go through all of my photos.  Photo after photo, the light floods over me, and joy spills through.  It's the pure abundance of all the blessed moments that washes over everything.  It's why I have to lean in to the hard.  Embrace the mess.  Walk along the gritty path. The light always finds its way through the dark, we just have to believe. 

After a wonderful Breast Cancer Survivor's night event a week ago, along with all the goodies we received that night- my friend Sue gave me a card- filled, I mean FILLED with the names of all the people who so graciously donated to my wig fund!  I was speechless!!    

Just some of the names are  on the card below on the right- if you flipped the page over- more names were on the back!! And the big reveal below...

I have no idea what I should name my new hairpiece?  She has soft highlights, and  we cut bangs into her.  The wind was blowing all around, and yet she didn't threaten to move an inch.   The smile never left my face. I'm deeply moved, and extremely grateful for all the sweet words, the generous giving, and the thoughtfulness of so many.   

Dr. appointment then infusion tomorrow and a full week ahead- with yet another big surprise left to reveal... 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

you'll need others...

Dr. Panwalkar strode into the exam room last Tuesday, and after shaking hands, he plunged into asking about my back pain, before he even sat all the way down.  

"So what's this I hear about your pain?"

So I tell him all about it.  And as I do, he leans back, his hand resting on his jaw,  intently listening.  He asks all kinds of questions and then says, "Well lets examine you."

I breathe deep, a few extra times this time.  He is listening to something, but makes no comment.  I have no burning need to know.   Back, then front.  He checks my nodes, my neck, my shoulder.  He checks my abdomen, pushing in as I hold my breath... "Any pain here?"  "No, it's fine," I answer.

He thumps down my spine, finding no sore spots.  He checks for swelling in my ankles and arms, throughout my stomach.

He leads, I follow.  Mouth open, eyes staring, arms up, then down.  Till finally, he rests his hand on my shoulder, steadying me - the only sound- the buzz as he brings the exam table down.   He then pats me and nods at my seat by Rick.  I smile when he goes to shorthand, and I read him smoothly.  The movements are all choreographed in a way, and it calms me so, knowing we've done this hundreds of times.  

He again sits, leaning back, pondering what may be causing such discomfort.  Distance grows in his eyes, as he shares a bit about watching his grandparents go through treatments for pain back in the 80's.  It occurs to me Dr. P would have been a child at the time.  He suddenly blinks, and says "sorry."  But its those rare glimpses of him outside of being a doctor that help me feel I'm more than my label of patient, too.  

So he offers the idea that perhaps the pain is coming from radiation damage from the treatment I had to my lung awhile back?  And since neither one of us thinks it would be cancer, truly I just need to work on alleviating the pain.  He agrees with  both the ideas of seeing a chiropractor or seeking acupuncture, and mentions I could see Dr. Lien.  

As he makes refills on my scripts, he asks, "Any more questions?"  And he turns, drops his hands, and looks me in the eye to see I'm shaking my head no, and smiling.

We accomplish so much in our time together.  He is my "other people."  

Look at how others keep showing up to see me through...

Homemade baked goods- salty, spicy, sweet and yummy!  A young college student with a heart of gold who spent a day baking, then dropped it off on our front step- thanks Julia!

Shan mothers me so- the perfect box of natural pain relief and organic and yummy treats- all the way from Tennessee- a true box of love.  

All the way from Germany- Mimi makes me a beautiful beaded necklace with my favorite blue color!  The angel is pure delight.  I'm so touched by this outpouring of love from others.

As much as I love my Jesus Calling devotional- receiving a copy of this was pure gift- I dip in daily for spiritual nourishment.  Thanks Annie for the connection that endures.  

Sometimes, you get to be the "other" for someone.  Rick and I were so grateful to help my friend Karla, give something very special to her grandson, Brody.  With Karla's permission, I'm posting this fun surprise, a gift from one very special hockey player- to another.  

Who are your others?  Who might you be an other for?  

Friday, September 16, 2016

so much love

I feel so loved right now... just look what love can do! 

I thought I was going to Vi to have Stella, my poor wig, cut and shaped again, on Wednesday.  I simply sat down in the chair and pulled crumpled Stella out of my hockey bag.  

That's when my friend Sue, came to me and let me in on a little secret, in the video below!


Did you see that?  Could you hear what she said?

I'll rephrase it here- essentially, Stella is going into retirement.  My sweet friend, Sue, had an amazing idea.  She shared the idea with a beautiful group of women- hockey moms, football moms, friends, neighbors, survivors, etc.  So they all came together and contributed funds to the purchase of a new wig- for me!  And friends, can I tell you how spoiled I feel?  Because this beautiful hair piece?  Is made with REAL hair!  Its soft and light on my head and such a pretty color!  I'm beaming.  I was so overwhelmed with the awe and surprise of it!  I never dreamt I'd have a piece made with real hair!!  This hair I can wash, and blow dry, and curl and style and spray to my heart's content! 

I think the only thing that kept me from sliding into the "ugly" cry, was simply the pain meds dulling my senses just enough to keep me pretty even keeled.  But that smile says everything.  

Vi is adding a few highlights in the front for some added dimension, and on Monday we'll go in for the final fitting.  I could truly start wearing it now, if I wanted.  

I don't know how, truly, to begin to say thank you.  These acts of kindness, of pure generosity- from a community that has seen me through, time after time.  My gratitude fills and spills, over and over again. I am one blessed woman.  

Thank you Sue for all of your brainstorming, and organizing, and the time you take to help me, and spend time with me, and truly uplift me.   A friend, Cheryl, said "Sue has such a servant's heart."  I couldn't say it any better.  And then to have all the wonderful women step up and so generously give of themselves.  Thank you to everyone! 

(Sue, on the right with her daughter, Julia.)

I sent a quick note to Dr. Panwalkar's nurse the other day for a new pain med script.  It was Dr. Panwalkar who called me back, within a few minutes.  His concern and compassion crowded every word.  He bumped the dosage up, and gave me enough pain meds to see me through.

It may take some steady pain meds to help ease the burden a bit, but I am more convinced than ever that love will ultimately see me through.  Love is what beats cancer, ever single time.  And you all just gave me a big dose of love! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


It just comes in real.  It's one of those hard places, when you can't logically figure out where it came from, or when it all started.  I just know last week, a pain was searing my shoulder.  And I couldn't stop it.  

I take Tylenol and soak in a hot bath.  I prop my bed up to a reclining position and use my heating pad- on high.  Still no end to the dull roar.  I attempt to "choose joy" literally to embrace the heat and heal my back...

At times the pain subsides and I pray it's easing up.  But then its ripping through my back again, radiating everywhere.

My scans were fine in this area.  I can cross this out of my head.  And treatment was two weeks ago- shouldn't be side effects- not like this.  How do I even call the doctor?  I didn't fall.  I have no infection or fever.  My counts are good.  What is there to even check?

I look through my bin of meds, with the Oxycodone of long ago, singing out to me, "pick me, pick me."  

Oh how I despise you.  Oh how I love you.

I slam the drawer shut again, thinking, I'll just grit my teeth and bare it.  I promise Rick if it isn't better by the next morning, we'll call in to the doctor.

I take my sleeping meds and off to dreamland I go.

It's bearable the next morning and I quietly switch back to advil and hope.  Why is this even happening? 

But just hours later, I go to toss the ball for Crosby and there it is again... searing, blazing, all through the corners of my back- have you no mercy?

I crumple into bed, angry, spent, hurt.  

Oh how my mind narrows.  Throb, throb, hurt.

Oxy, are you my only hope right now?

I do it. Its getting late.  I take 1 old expired 5mg pill.  I sneak my eyes past the expiration date of 2013.  Its good enough for now.

Hours later, my mind is dulled, but the pain is razor sharp.  I'm so sensitive to pain meds, if this isn't helping?  What next? I don't want to go to the er.  What can I do?  

Surrender, and embrace it, the real and the hard.

Reluctantly we call the on-call Onc.  

But I'm shaking my head, because it plays out just as I thought. 

Despite all the explanations... he says...

"Come in." 

I don't want to come in, therefor he can not help me over the phone.

We ask how many more pills I can take of the expired stuff?  More if I need to.  Just take the old stuff.

So I do.  I take more, and succumb to sweet sleep.  On and off over the next few days, I take the Oxy when needed.

 I see Dr. Panwalkar in a few days and I know I'll be seen, and heard and helped.  

In the midst of it all, it's just a simple buzz on my phone that I've laid on the table far from where I rest.  But when I see the name "Ria," and see the attached files, I can't help but sit down at the computer and look...  she has beautifully edited all of the photos from our shoot with her.  

When life yields the most brutal, sometimes smack dab in the middle of it, is the most beautiful.  Ria's timing was impeccable.  She's gifted us with more than she can ever fully know. I sit and cry through photo after photo- reliving all the moments.  The sunshine.  The laughter of the boys and their silly antics. The beauty of God's creation.  The love shown.  The sharpness in my shoulder magnifies my ability to see beauty and abundance.  

I truly understand Glennon's idea.  Its brutal.   It's beautiful.  And its real, and hard, and well.  

I'm sharing just a handful of photos, with hopes to come back and share more soon... 

~all shall be well~

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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