Wednesday, October 7, 2015

embracing life

The third annual embracing life breast cancer retreat was such a great success!  I am both thoroughly uplifted and completely wiped out, all at once.  We started the retreat with a fun night of socializing, playing some competitive "Jeopardy," listening to great music, and hamming it up for the photo booth.  

When reporters from the news channel KVRR came and set up their camera, and asked if they could talk to some of us, we said sure.  It wasn't until the next night, that I actually got to see the story and was very humbled by it.  Stella played a prominent part!  If you'd like to view it, you can go see it here, at KVRR.

The next day we arrived at the hotel conference center to a beautifully decorated retreat area.  

They even provided a "stage," for us to sit while we spoke, which made for a more relaxed day.

One of the themes we centered our retreat around was Kintsugi. One of the survivors gave an inspiring story of how she is in the process of making sense out of what had happened to her.  Below is a small part of what she shared with us.

I was so happy to be asked to be part of the planning meetings for the retreat. Could we somehow do  a group created piece of art using the ideas of Kintsugi?  

We had used rocks, for our theme for the first year, trees, the second year- as we brainstormed someone mentioned a butterfly.

So I went home to do some research and happily stumbled across the dragonfly...

Dragonfly- "a dragonfly is usually all about transformation, change and being present in the moment.

See it as a sign that you need to wake up. That you should cherish your life. Every single moment. 
Life is extremely short and you shouldn't waste it by worrying about things you cannot change or have no control over. Live life fully and enjoy yourself. Adapt to new situation and change and don’t get stuck in the past."

We all took turns selecting broken pieces of glass pieces, tiles, ceramics, and gems, and gluing them into the body of the dragonfly.  The piece will be sent off to add the "gold" and finish the piece.  I am so excited to see how the final project turns out! 

I was also very touched to be given the chance to be part of a presentation done with some of my stage 4 sister survivors.  Our group, fourward, meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, at Roger Maris, with Dr. Chery Hysjulien

We spent several sessions of formulating a message, through boards we decorated, to share as one of the inspiring stories of the retreat. 

I'd love to share the whole presentation, if I'm allowed to.  As each member of the group stepped forward, holding our signs, not uttering a word, a powerpoint was projecting a copy of our boards so all could see and read our messages.

I scanned the faces of all those in attendance and saw tears in abundance, and emotion-laden responses, smattered all across the room.  I feel like we were seen, and heard.

These were the two I made~  

In other news...

I continue to wrap my arm, trying to assuage the swelling.  It's slowly getting better, but I may be wrapping for quite awhile.

And just like that, it was time to see Dr. Panwalkar yesterday.  The look of shock on his face when he saw my wrapped arm was surprising to me.  

But after examining me, and seeing the fluid being retained in so many parts of my body- he decided to put me on some lasix, to help me get rid of the fluid.  He also held off on the taxotere yesterday, and instead I had the other two drugs for infusion.  He said we will decide on how to proceed with chemo/taxotere  my next appointment.  

He still affirmed that I will likely have to do chemo indefinitely, or until my body can no longer stand it.  It's a little sobering.

But I have so much to look forward to, that I am keeping my gaze ahead of me. 

We added a new charm in honor of our 3rd embracing life retreat this year- a dragonfly.  

"cherish your life, every single moment." Amen...

Monday, September 28, 2015

a little hitch...

I've got a new little hitch in my giddy-up...

Wednesday I awoke with my arm, hand, and fingers, nearly double their size.  I've had lymphedema before, just never to this extent.  

I was so fortunate to get in to see Linda, a physical therapist who specializes in lymphedema.  She wrapped me right away.

I have about 7 different layers of differing wraps, from my fingers all the way up to my armpit, which only comes off so I can shower.

Its awkward and uncomfortable and typing/texting are big challenges! 

It makes me clumsy- the wrap, the swelling, the aching in my joints.  

But, underneath all of that?  My energy level has improved.  I feel better overall.  

That silver lining is always within sight when we just open our eyes wide enough to see it...

Plus... look who came to visit? 

This is my Aunt Elizabeth.  My Dad was her older brother.  And Crosby treated her just like family, jumping up and wiggling his way right next to her, somehow knowing she is family.  She came with friends, driving 3 hours each way, just to spend an afternoon with me.  Thank you Elizabeth!

I will continue with PT for 3 weeks in the hopes we can get the swelling down.  

Despite how I look, despite the limited use of my arm and hand,  I'm actively using this "second" wind and bit of stamina to keep moving forward.  

Its a big week with our embracing life breast cancer retreat on Thursday and Friday, along with Moorhead's Homecoming this week.  

I'm leaning in, awkwardly perhaps, but leaning in none the less.

What are you leaning into this week?  

Monday, September 21, 2015


“But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” 

― Anne LamottHelp Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

The beautiful basket of flowers my friend, Linda, sent to me.

Rick says he gets asked all the time, "Great news about Vicky's scans,  is she out enjoying herself?"  And he smiles and shakes his head, "no, not quite."  

Even though this week will mark my second week past chemo- I haven't fully come back into feeling well.  I tire so easily.  I walked across the street yesterday, sat in the sun a bit with my friend, and came home with the gift of a pie plate full of delicious apple crisp.

But I was struggling to breathe just from coming across the street.  The sun had zapped any energy I had and I tumbled into bed exhausted.  Again.  Just like the day before.  Which reminds me of Friday, and most of the days before that...  as I experience a myriad of chemo side effects.  

In truth?  I barely leave the house.  My world feels very small.  My mind quiet.  My voice hushed.

But October has some big dates circled on the calendar.  The "embracing life," breast cancer retreat will be October 1st and 2nd.  I will be doing part of the "Using technology to promote healing, panel."  And our stage iv, fourward, group has a special presentation we are working on.  And Dr. Panwalkar will be part of a panel of experts answering all of our questions.  I can't believe its the 3rd retreat already and I've been given the honor of being a part of all 3. 

It's also Moorhead High School's Homecoming Weekend, and Nolan went to great lengths to surprise a sweet girl with an invitation to attend the Homecoming Dance with him... and she said yes.  Of course, that is about all I know, but am hopeful more will be disclosed when he is ready to share with me.  Oh to be 15 again. 

In the meantime my prayers include asking for the very kind of grace that Anne Lamott speaks of- a second wind ripe with stamina and strength to hang on and just keep going- living out His will for my life.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The results...

Good Shepherd, our lovely church was the last stop we made before heading home Monday night.  It was another glorious sunset and it left me with such peace in my heart.

Earlier I had taken a few pics of something else that spoke to me.  My hydrangea plant has been barren all spring and summer.  It had so many blooms last year, and I longed to have them again this summer.  It had started to green up early, filling me with hope, and then we plunged into below freezing temps a few days, late this spring.  It seemed the flowers were not going to bloom this year at all.  But we never stopped watering the plant somehow, nurturing it, loving it, while we waited.

Until one day late in August, out of the blue, I stooped down as I watered, and look what I saw?  One single blossoming flower- in a lovely purplish bluish hue.  

Its fitting for the kind of summer I've had.  These minuscule moments of joy, hidden in a landscape of   hard and heavy.  But the light seems to always find a way to shine through, doesn't it? 

Dr. Panwalkar strode into the exam room yesterday morning right on time.  But stopped right at the door and...

maybe, for one of the first times I've seen in a long time...

He looked right into my eyes, and he was beaming.

He shook hands heartily with Rick, then with me, smiling as he greeted us pleasantly, and sat right down.

He fired up the computer, and we sat waiting for the images of the scans to load.  

"Oh come on..." he said impatiently.

For whatever reason, I was really calm.  

Slowly the images began to load.  

PET scan first.  He orients me to the direction, and puts the oldest and newest side by side.

He syncs them together, so that slice by slice, we can see the differences.

And let me just say, friends, oh my!  They were SO different!!

The old one, glowed yellow.  That disgusting, gut wrenching, glowing cancer activity that seemed to inhabit every slice we worked our way through.

But that isn't where we focused...

my eyes were glued to the spots, not even showing up on the other side.

Smallish splashes, mere hints of yellow, here and there.

But nothing in comparison to what it had been!

From my lungs, to my uterus, my bowels, my colon, my pelvis, etc., minimal signs of disease.  

Then we looked at the CT scan in black and white where its easier to see the cancer spots in white.  Side by side, we watched as some spots on one scan would completely not show on the other- some were gone!  Others, were definitely smaller.

But we still had one scan to go- my brain MRI.

Slowly they loaded, side by side- old and new.

I had a rather hard time with the scan on Tuesday.  They couldn't find a vein in my arm, to inject the contrast dye.  I quit counting the pokes, at 7 or 8.  Two techs, and no sweet spot on the only arm they can use.  Its so covered in black and blues spots... but I'd do it all over again... because...

For whatever reason... my two brain spots?


Even though, chemo is not supposed to cross the blood-brain barrier?

Somehow, it must have!  

Dr. Panwalkar said, sometimes chemos do cross the barrier, but its such a small percentage that they don't taut chemo as a good treatment option, especially when radiation has such a high rate of success.  

I'm smiling and nodding, and really, I'm thinking... it isn't just the chemo or the radiation- I think 

it's prayer that gets through.  It's prayer that passes muster.  

I think of my prayer list, that I gripped all the way through my MRI scan.  Over and over I prayed for all those who asked.  And for those who didn't?  I prayed gratitude for all you've done for me.  Over and over again.  

“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.” 
― Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

So Dr. Panwalkar suggests we simply keep going on with the 3 chemo drugs- but he will somewhat reduce the Taxotere.  

Big sigh...

With the laundry list of symptoms I have in my hands, knowing I will have to keep enduring all of them, is overwhelming.  Plus knowing, that living with metastatic disease, I am not likely to ever go into remission.  But knocking the cancer back, squelching its ability to grow for awhile, is truly a God given gift- more time. 

Plain and simple- it's working.  Amen! 

And so Dr. Panwalkar asks, "Any other questions for me?"

And I smile big.

"Could I give you a hug?"

And he is quickly standing,  as I rise up to meet him, and he hearty laughs while saying "of course," as his arms encircle me all the way around.  He hugs me tight, and I manage to whisper, "I'm so grateful for all you do for me, Dr. Panwalkar. Thank you." And he answers back, "you're welcome."

We slip out the door, and he ushers me into the waiting room chairs, but like always, he rubs my back as he then turns to saunter off into the depths of the infusion center.  

“It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can't see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us...” 
― Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Monday, September 7, 2015


“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?” 

I've been stretched in all the usual ways I would want to "wake up and live my life," as Marie-Laure, so aptly states in the book, "All the Light We Cannot See."   

While I've regained some of my strength, and some energy, it's a minefield of uncertainty as to when I'll run out, each day. When my breathing becomes labored, when my energy packs up and leaves with little notice, when my legs go stiff and stop working, where will I be?  

Feeling confident and energetic one night, Rick and I went for a short walk.  I made it all the way down to the end of our street.  But the way back?  My breath starts shortening, and my lungs hurting, I get so light headed, the edges around me start to fade.  Thank goodness I could intertwine my hand in his, and use his stability to propel me forward.  I'm learning about "strength," in brand new ways.      That some days its leaning, and some day its face-planting in bed, just getting by.  And some days, its just about getting up, and trying again. The biggest lessons, seem to arrive in the tiniest moments.  

As Ann Voskamp so aptly writes, “Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perserverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?” 

So I spend my weekend, chemo-nesting.  Preparing once again for the upcoming week of appointments, scans and doctor visits.  I washed the sheets, the pillows, the tattered comforter, trying to refresh my bed, my place of retreat and refuge.  My days get so long, so quiet.  I need ways to pass the hours.  To quiet my mind as it races forward wondering, how long?  How much?  And sometimes just, how? 

It's Sunday afternoon, and the rain gushes down, shoving our plans to go to the lake on the back burner.  The boys are restless, longing for something to do.  So we decide to go to dinner.  Despite how carefully I've chosen my foods and cut back on calories, I continue to expand with fluid retention, and underneath it all I am deeply craving comfort food.  

So I just decide we should go.  And even though we're driving on the highway, Nolan should drive- his first time on the highway.  We talk about merging, and how to navigate road construction, and I marvel at how he exudes such confidence.  He admits to feeling nervous, but does not let it get in his way of performance.  We're all being stretched in new ways.

We eat a delicious meal.  I'm savoring each bite, as my taste is finally close to normal again for a few days. And we tell funny family stories.   Like how Grandpa Jim accidentally fed Colton a big slice of "okra," he thought, except it was a jalapeƱo pepper and Colton's eyes leaked tears all night long.   How the only time I've ever gotten a phone call from Nolan's teacher, was when he was in preschool. He was hugging a cute girl named Ivy- and through my suppressed laughter I agreed to adhere to the new rule, "No, no, no, hugging Ivy." As soon as I laid eyes on Ivy?  Well, who wouldn't want to hug that sweet girlie!  

We ended our evening with one more spontaneous move.  As we headed back towards home, the sun was rapidly going down.  Rick swiftly maneuvered our way out of town.  It's one of only a few sunsets I've witnessed this summer.  

But this is where I find the most life.  This is where I live my moments most full.  Surrounded by my boys, our arms firmly entrenched around each other, love at the center of it all.

These moments have been much harder for me to cobble together this summer.  But I long to keep trying, to find these moments, and live them full.  

Tomorrow I have a brain MRI with sedation, after we get the boys off to their first day of school. 
Wednesday, I see Dr. Panwalkar, and go over both my PET scan results from last week, and my MRI results from tomorrow.  Then off to infusion to round out my day.

I will have ample quiet time again- and so- how can I pray for you?  

Will you send me a message?  An email?  Or leave your request in the comments below?  

I covet your prayers in receiving my scan results- please pray for strength in handling whatever is to come our way.  

~all shall be well~ 


Friday, August 28, 2015

fleeting normal...

It's already been over a week since I saw Dr. Panwalkar, and I'm just starting to get out of bed a little more.  So I am stepping back into that day, to catch up on everything.


He strides into the room, his presence commanding, his demeanor pleasant and professional.  The questions start volleying between us instantly.  Him, doctor, me, patient.   It's this dance that we do, peeling back the layers of, "really, how are you doing?"

"I'm okay, good, (shoulder shrug,) okay."

But as he rattles off the side effects I may be experiencing, it seems my response is yes, more than no.  

"9 days,"  I tell him.  "9 days down."  

"In bed?"  he asks, incredulously.

"Well I get up every day, hoping, I can stay up.  But it's usually a matter of hours, before I'm quietly retreating back to my room.  So yes, mostly in bed."

He quietly nods, with concern cornering his eyes.

But, I've grown better at disguising the misery.  Despite the weight I keep gaining, swelling my abdomen, my arms, my face.  Despite the pale tinge to my skin, the sunken eyes, the sores covering my tongue.  The rash now creeping up the back of my head.

The fatigue. Oh my...  The fatigue.

But on this day, I've taken special care.  My wig is straight, my make up is on, and I'm fully dressed.  At a glance, I look perfectly fine.  

So I surprise him, when I say, "the weight gain is really uncomfortable, and I have little to wear, because I don't like to shop anymore."  

He literally takes a step back from examining me.  He is always impeccably dressed.  Business shirt, tie, dress pants, dress shoes.  Long white coat.  

"You don't shop anymore?  Why not?  How long has this been happening?  

I stumble, trying to ascertain just how long its been.  Months.  

I'm just too tired.  And the stores overwhelm me.  And this is me, just being real.

My professional side that I present to him, doesn't match the "mess," I truly am.

What would he say if he knew, I rarely have energy to clean, either? And cooking went out the door a long time ago.  

But my doctor,  gets to see me at my best.  The very hour before I lay open my chest, to the needle that will pour the cancer eaters,  into my veins.  

So I'm unprepared once again, for his final comments.  "You seem to be tolerating the treatment well!  We will go ahead with treatment 3, and then we'll scan the first week in September and go from there."

It's then that a phone begins to "bing," and I cast my glance towards Rick, but he shakes his head no, it's not his.

It's Dr. Panwalkar who says, "It's me, I don't use my pager anymore, Sanford pages me now, through my phone."

But he doesn't check it.  It merely continues to rapidly fire off notifications, as Dr. P wraps up his notes about our visit.  I marvel at how he musters staying present and focused on me.

He finishes, and turns towards the door, apologizing as his phone continues to sing its song of tortured urgency.  

I give him my best cheesy line... 

"Well, I think that is what you get if you are an On-call-ogist." 

His hearty laugh bursts out, as he shakes his head, and ushers me out the door, and down the hall.

I turn to say goodbye, and he smiles as he rubs my back a couple of times before he jaunts off.  


And so many people have asked, how can I help you?  And I'm humbled, and stymied at the same time.  If we come up with a specific need, we'll ask, I promise, thank you for offering.

In the meantime, the simplest things have meant so much.  I have some long days resting in bed, and its so easy to feel disconnected.  So when the beautiful flowers, from my friend, (photo above) Brenda, show up?  They truly brighten my day.  Or when Heidi, my aunt Carol, or Dawn, bakes and drops off bread or treats for our kids? Their eyes light up, and we quickly devour it- which brings me joy. 

When my bestie shows up, and spends a whole afternoon with me?  My spirits soar. 

Or the texts, and emails?  So encouraging.

I'm still filling my gratitude journal, counting my gifts, truly sifting through the grit, to fully see the glory.

Even though, the world shrinks some days, the light still finds it way through.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


" is hard, unfair, painful.  But life is also guaranteed to offer unexpected and sudden moments of beauty, joy, love, acceptance, euphoria.  It is our ability to recognize and then hold on to the moments of good stuff that allows us to survive, even thrive.  And when we can share the beauty, hope is restored."  Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The last week has been filled with both those moments of the hard and the gritty that take you to your knees, and yet, those moments of good have pulled me up again, with enough grace to keep me surviving- and to keep me thriving.  But let me explain...

It started with the grocery fairy making its way to our front door once again, well over a week ago.  It was my father-in-law, Jim, at home with Colton, who answered the door and then called me, while I was out of town with Nolan and Rick.  "The delivery person says he has 30 bags of groceries... hehe.  Is that possible they're all meant for you?"  I assure him they could be.  He goes on to say there is roast beef, and hamburgers, plus snacks, and drinks, and everything in between. With our fridge in the garage having stopped working, we just have the one.  So Jim graciously makes space in his freezer, and fridge for the extras.  The abundance is staggering and our blessings go through the roof. Groceries line our counters, the cupboards, and our stomachs!  Thank you to the grocery god for his provision.  We have no clear idea who it could be?  We're just so thankful and have enjoyed "breaking bread" with others.

Last Tuesday night, I had the honor of having my name nominated to be used on a jersey for an Embrace Breast Cancer awareness event at the Redhawks game.  You can see the players in the bright pink, in front of the stands.  We were fortunate that although it was a hot day, a light breeze provided some relief as did the shade over our seats.  With Rick booked solid with photo shoots, both day and night now, it was Jim, Colton and I who attended the game.

You can see my name, surrounded by other breast cancer "survivors," on the back of the jersey.  They were auctioned off, some during the game, and others afterwards in a live auction.  As much as I would have liked to have one,  it was ok to just see them in person and feel so honored to be a part of it.  Thank you Sanford and the Embrace program for the honor to be included!

But my week was only warming up, with one more big event on the horizon.

“Family was even a bigger word than I imagined, wide and without limitations, if you allowed it, defying easy definition. You had family that was supposed to be family and wasn't, family that wasn't family but was, halves becoming whole, wholes splitting into two; it was possible to lack whole, honest love and connection from family in lead roles, yet to be filled to abundance by the unexpected supporting players.” 

― Deb CalettiThe Secret Life of Prince Charming

Last summer was the 10th and "the last," Cully's Kids big event weekend.  But the one sentiment everyone clung too, was how much they would miss all the people who poured forth so much time and energy helping, creating, organizing, volunteering... it was a community of people who all had the same mission in mind- to make the event as successful as possible.  A community that had grown close over the past 10 years, into more...  like an extended family.

This summer,  the card arrived... a "thank you," note, with an invitation to gather, once again.

The day of the event did not disappoint.  The photos speak for themselves.

We've kept in contact all summer, but this was finally the first time I got to see my sweet friend, Bridget, all summer.

So many of our friends attended the fun night.  I put my camera down for awhile, just to talk, and take it all in.

More of our hockey moms getting to spend an evening together.

Nikki, Melissa, and Heather- who all have sons the same age as Nolan.

It was lush and green, with sunlight streaming everywhere.

I finally picked up my camera towards the end of the night for a few more photos.  My sweet friend, Julie, who still has her pink and black Team Vicky bracelet on... her unwavering support another touchstone for me.  

This friend, Matt, who just lights you up, because he and his wife, Bridget, have a way of making it be all about you when you are with them.  

I was whipped by the end of the night.  But the beautiful setting, the tasty and delicious food, and all the time spent surrounded by friends- sharing from their hearts- does it not clearly register on my face how I feel?  These are the moments, made with these people, that I cling to, in my will to not just survive, but thrive.

For now I'll pause here, even though there is more.  

But I'm preparing for my 3 chemo cocktail tomorrow, and a visit with Dr. Panwalkar in which we will discuss, where I go from here...  

I may be down and out for a week or so... but I'll be 'round soon.  

Love to you all~ 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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