Saturday, June 29, 2013

Choosing


"The beach where life is different.  Time doesn't move hour to hour, but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun."  



As we wrote down and offered our prayer requests, I quietly reflected at Bible study on Wednesday morning, I hope it isn't too silly to ask for a little sunshine for this evenings photoshoot?  I mean, the list is filled with prayers for health, healing, hurting hearts, uncertain futures, etc.  And I sit and think- my lungs?  My brain?  The growing cancer?  All valid for prayer requests.  What should I choose? I sat in quiet thankfulness, and discovered what was truly on my heart and mind was nothing but a little sunshine. 


So many of my very favorite things in the world were lining up for me.  A trip to a friend's lake.  A photoshoot of my family, by our talented and creative friend and photographer, Ria.  And all of this during my favorite time of the year- near summer solstice where the sun going down uses the sky as its canvas and streaks it in breath taking colors.  Please, if it isn't too much to ask. Please.

But as we left for the lake, some dark clouds started forming in the distance.  We managed to drive ahead of them, but they loomed in the distance throughout the night.  I had no idea how they would play into our evening.  Rain?  Stormy weather?  More thunder and lightning? 

As we rounded the corner to the lake cabin, I felt my shoulders drop, my breathing become deeper, and my mind just stopped in its tracks.  The waters were calm. The trees and grass were vibrant green. The water, blue and the sky a mix of blue with some clouds.  The beach was pristine.  And the serenity of it all cocooned us in peace.

The Czichotzki Family has created a sanctuary at the lake and we were honored they so openly welcomed us in.  Thank you!  







The photoshoot was one of my all time favorites.  Now I am a bit spoiled in having a husband who is a professional photographer, but one of the things we rarely get, are photos of our entire family.  

And Ria's vision, is unparalleled in the photography business.  She is creative, passionate and so good at naturally capturing our family in all of our fun, silly, goofy and treasured moments.  

Aren't you just dying to see the pics?  Ahhhh... but they're part of something else.  And so, you, and I, will have to wait, until the larger picture is revealed sometime in the near future.  

Yes, seriously, pinch me.  It'll be worth it.  Just wait.  

But here is just a hint at what is to come...


My beautiful and talented friend Ria, who honored us, delighted us, captured us.  She loved on us through her lens, her tireless work, her vision.  We're so grateful.  So blessed.



Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.  ~Rabindranath Tagore 


Those clouds that I wondered about?  Just look at what they did...





And then with the sun going done and an early Thursday morning to get up for, we reluctantly left the lake.  But were treated to a virtual, visual feast as we left.  That changed and grew greater and more spectacular moment by moment.   









"You can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul."  

It doesn't matter how tired I am.  Or how dizzy I get at times.  My feet still turn red and are peeling.  And my lungs are... ugh... not feeling great and leaving me with a pesky cough.

I don't care.  I hardly take count.  How can I?  I am surrounded by such abundant grace and beauty- and I'm CHOOSING to honor the joy in it all.  To embrace it as much as I can.  

I asked for a little sunset "light," and ended up feeling like a slice of heaven burst through and transformed the sky.  Answered prayer. 

Anyone else want to "Choose" along with me?  






Monday, June 24, 2013

"when the years fall away..."



“We are friends for life. When we’re together the years fall away. Isn’t that what matters? To have someone who can remember with you? To have someone who remembers how far you’ve come?” 



166 years- or thereabouts- Elizabeth figured for us.  Our years of friendship- going back to around that first year in high school, just over 30 years ago.  The five Moorhead girls.  


Who became Spuds and teenagers, drivers and debaters, cheerleaders and punk rockers.  We bled orange and black, talked like "Valley Girls," totally, cheered loud and laughed louder.  We made memories... to last a lifetime.  

We went on to college, became lawyers and writers, moms and wives, crafters and bloggers, farmers and runners.  

We moved away, losing touch, but remembering often.

Till one plate of caramel rolls and a chance encounter and one day we were all back together again.

And who knew why?

Well life seemed to know why.

Because 3 of us would lose our beloved fathers within months of each other.  And 1 of us would get diagnosed with breast cancer while the other had a niece who developed a brain tumor... and the knowing matters.  Community matters.  166 years of The Moorhead Girls, matters.  More than one could ever truly express.


And perhaps, more than ever, we've come full circle to know each other full, all over again.  To embrace those times we were young, foolish, carefree, fun-loving and crazy. And to raise our glasses to the wise, accomplished, still- fun-loving and a just a tad bit crazy- women we've become.  

















Here's to the Moorhead Girls!  May our bonds grow tighter, our laughter richer, and may our memories stretch out longer than any of us could ever have imagined. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

"... the distant mutter..."

“I can hear your whisper and distant mutter. I can smell your damp on the breeze and in the sky I see the halo of your violence. Storm I know you are coming.” 
― Robert Fanney



Its been a week of weathering storms. They come on so fast, out of nothingness it seems.  But the beauty in them I think, is that they rise up mightily and leave us awe-struck at the sheer magnitude of natural forces- while we surrender, and ride them out.  




Colton had baseball last night.  While we left the house with partly cloudy skies, the forecast was for an 80 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms.  



It was just two short years ago when Rick and the boys were fishing done at Grandpa Jim's lake.  The dark clouds hung in the air as they got the boat secured on the trailer up by the garage.  The boys went inside to be with Grandma Carole.

Superman said they saw a lightning bolt several miles off in the distance, and minutes the next bolt of lightning struck a tree merely 20 feet from where they stood.  The towering pine shattered all across the yard.  The roof and side of the garage by the tree scorched black.  All the electricity to the house was gone in a split second.  

Both Rick and his Dad made sure the garage was not about to burst into flames.  But both have said their ears were ringing so loud they couldn't hear anything for hours.  


Miracles happen every day.  The boys, while visibly shaken, were safe with Grandma and relieved when Jim and Rick entered the house.  

The phone call I received shook me to the core that night.  It was a mix of concern and pure gratefulness that it wasn't worse.  A week later, the garage at the lake and the chunks of tree still in the yard smelled scorched. Its a night we will never forget.  Rick and his Dad both lost significant hearing in their right ears. 


So last night, my boys were nervous.  Rick and I both went with Colton to reassure him we'd bring him home safely if and when the storms surfaced.

Barely half way through the first game, the dark clouds descended and the radar lit up with all colors of the rainbow.  

The games were called and we left the field as rain started to fall.

It was a stormy night.  The boys were shaken.  The dog was riled.  We were clearly not in control of any of it.




But we awoke to broken branches, dirt strewn about our flower beds, a crisp blue sky and the promise of another new day. 


It was our second storm of the week.

The first one arose just as suddenly.  Earlier this week, the bottom of my feet turned red.  Bright red.  They grew hot and looked almost sunburned.  Each day they grew more tender.  Then they started to crack around the heels. I was hobbling quite a bit by Wednesday.  

So I searched through my Xeloda education sheets.

And there it was, highlighted in yellow, call immediately.

So I placed a quick call to Dr. P's nurse who listened carefully and said she would be calling back.  

I was on my way to help Rick do a baseball photo shoot when she called back.

"You need to come in now," she said.  "Dr. P is out of the hospital until next Friday, but the nurse practitioner can see you."  

I've seen Lori before and really liked her.  

In a nutshell she recommended I stop the Xeloda.  Even though this leaves my cancer unchecked, my feet would likely only grow worse and at some point open sores/blisters would likely form.  Infection can set in quickly at that point "the storm" is in full effect.

So I will wait until Dr. P's return.  Knowing, I can call or be seen in the meantime if my breathing grows worse, or other lung met symptoms arise.  

So I'm riding the eddy and swirl of life's storms around me. Further evidence of how little we are actually in control. But somehow through grace, I'm left feeling buoyed and embraced- the shelter of His mercy firmly overhead, as the storms rage on.  
























Tuesday, June 18, 2013

seeing with new eyes~


Liz Gilbert:
In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call “The Physics of the Quest.” A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.
- quotes from the movie : Eat Pray Love



I've having an up and down kind of existence this last week.  Some days I have bursts of energy and well-being.  I go for long walks with friends, sit out back in our new patio area.  Rick's dad, Jim, with a some help from our boys demolished our decrepit deck.  Its been freeing to simply walk right down into our yard and feel so close to the earth.  I am enjoying it immensely.

But other days, I awake with a dull, steady, throb in my head.  Dizziness swirls, light stings my eyes, I feel nauseous, weak.

Although Nolan had hockey all day Saturday, and the sun was shining, I couldn't get out of bed no matter how hard I tried.  I caved to lying very still and watching movies.  

I've read "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, but had not seen the movie.

I was surprised by how her words hit me again in a fresh new way.  I could so relate to her journey.  And I loved the quote above when she said "regard everything as a clue... and accept everyone you meet... as a teacher."  

I have really been open to what comes, and the more I open my hands, open my heart, the more it seems, comes my way.   

I keep praying that I am worthy, for so much of it feels like abundance to me, and I am so incredibly grateful.  


As usual, I am behind in acknowledging some gifts and writing some thank you notes.  Here are just a few of the goodies that have arrived at our doorstep.



This beautiful prayer shawl came from my childhood Methodist Church.  Thank you Paula and all who thought of me, and pray for me- I have already wrapped myself tightly with it and treasure feeling surrounded by the Women of Grace.  



My friend Elizabeth has continually sent me gifts of light, hope, peace, strength.  Her latest treasure?  A membership to The Loft Literary Center, in Minneapolis, MN.  It allows for me to be amongst a community of writers, and I'm completely smitten with the whole idea and enormously wowed by the idea of it... thanks E!  



This beautiful Prayer Intention candle came from my friend Steph who is a breast cancer survivor and who has also prayed for me, offered support in numerous ways and introduced me to The Breast Friends support group that meets once a month.  The stick on the outside goes in the middle of the candle.  The wick is on the inside lip of the candle and spirals around once is lit to light the inner stick.  I think this makes such a great gift!  



I was so pleasantly caught off guard by Mother Joseph during my stay at the Monastery.  She gave me a crucifix to hold, knowing as a Lutheran we also believe in the trinity of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  Somehow Mother Joseph sensed my need to lay down my burdens while I was there and reminded me that Jesus' suffering on the Cross was out of pure love for us all.  She also gave me a beautiful rosary and a booklet telling me how to pray the rosary if so inclined.  She also indicated I could simply touch each bead and say my own prayer of sorts.  Truly what I sense, is that Mother Joseph, and my friend Roxane, and I, love the same God.  Amen.



Flowers will instantly brighten my day no matter what.  To find these waiting on my doorstep after coming home from the Monastery was life-affirming.  Thank you Julie- Julie and her sweet daughter Thea always have their "Team Vicky bracelets" on.  My heart still swoons a bit when I see them- I fully feel how much so many people have continued to hang in there with me.  



I met with Dr. P last week. He went over the PET scan with me, showing me the lung tumors, and measuring them in front of me to see just how much they have grown.  He doesn't feel its been extremely significant and is comfortable with me continuing on with Xeloda for about 6 more weeks.  At that point we will scan again, and most likely then switch to a new chemo.  

I left feeling relieved in a way.  Better the devil you know- like Xeloda- then the devil you don't- like all the ones still out there waiting for me to try.  

Are you seeing anything with new eyes these days?  




Friday, June 14, 2013

Be still...


I had not a moment of hesitation when I was asked by my friend Roxane if I wanted to join her for a few days at the Carmelite Monastery again last weekend.  When I counted back the months, I realized it was last October the first time I visited.



It was a small feat to actually get packed and go.  I kept my eyes peeled for the signs as we drew near.  Then suddenly we rounded the corner of the gravel road and we'd arrived. 

I brought a grocery box filled with food to donate to the Sisters as they subsist off of those very donations, along with the food they grow in a garden.  

I don't know what it is, how it is, why it is, but the moment I got out of the car my burdens started to ease.  I breathed fresh air deeply.  The wind was stiff, but not too cool.  Rain threatened in the distance and the clouds were abundant.

But the richness of the greens around?  Life affirming. Dripping with color, saturated with such intense green.  I said a hasty good bye to the boys and Rick and hurried in to find "my room."  The soft blue walls, with the antique white bedspread, the worn bible with the black rosary strung across it on the nightstand.  It feels like coming home.

Within moments of my arrival, the bell sounds in the distance and its lunch time.  The video below is from my first visit, but the sound is precisely the same.  Somehow, I'm in tune with the bell.  It quietly beckons for me to come and nourish my body.






Yet I was restless after dinner.  My head still swimming with the momentous treatments ahead of me and how they would affect me, and Superman, and the boys.

So I grabbed my camera and headed outdoors, and each click shifts my focus, away from ME and towards all that is right in front of me.  I completely lose myself in walking the grounds, snapping photos, getting caught in the drizzle of the rain.  



I am eyes, ears, breathe.  




Its quiet.  But its when I become completely still, I then suddenly become in tune with the non-quiet.  Because the birds are chirping.  And the wind is whipping through the trees rattling the branches and ruffling the leaves.  

Be still...

Psalms 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God;"

And then the squawking begins.

Its guinea hens!  And oh how they scold when I approach too closely.

Dare I say God has a sense of humor?





My stillness retreats with me inside.  




I look through my photos...

The more still I become, the more minute my focus becomes... the bigger my God feels.













The weekend unravels my mind.  Hushes my spirit.  Quiets the unrest.  

Roxane and I share our views on faith, and life and everything.  

Mother Joseph requests a visit and she is wise, humorous, warm, and so filled with light it radiates from her.  I feel bathed in peace and grace after our visit. 

She asks if I'll come back and visit again?  I so will, indeed, I will. 

We leave Sunday night.

I leave... ready... still... and knowing.  



*******************


I'm slowly recovering this week.  I tire easily and have had some bouts with nausea.  

But I've been completely overwhelmed with gratitude at just how well I've done overall.  I feel its nothing short of a miracle that I am still me.

I spent the whole weekend last week, listening to bells beckon me to eat, to pray, to sleep. How truly profound that closure came for me in a celebratory ringing of my own bell.  












Tuesday, June 11, 2013

surrounded by grace


“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.



The infamous bell I never thought I'd have the opportunity to ring.








Infusion today...



 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 VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are


Back soon... 




Saturday, June 8, 2013

... just part of the narrative...



“I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything's easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.” 
― Shauna NiequistBittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way



The letter arrives midweek.  Rick casually hands it over upon discovering its not a bill.  Its a letter with the results from my PET scan.  

To be honest, its a mixed bag- that I still don't have answers for.  Dr. Panwalkar assured that we would go over everything in greater detail on Tuesday.  

The heaviness in my chest takes on a new meaning.  While some tumors are shrinking, others are growing, from mere millimeters, to centimeters now.


The whirlwind of thoughts surrounding the new brain mets, takes a back seat to thoughts about my lungs, which oddly now trump my brain. 


Yesterday the phone rings with the radiation nurse on the other end.  

Will 12:30 work?  Could you come in at 12:30 so we can begin radiation at 2?  


I think so, I reply.... umm... which day would that be?


She is talking as though I knew already and maybe I am supposed to.

Monday, the 10th she says finally.


My mind floods with all new concerns.  I can't believe how panicked I feel.

I will have targeted radiation to my brain on Monday for two spots, with sedation,  and then have infusion for Herceptin early Tuesday while starting my next round of Xeloda.... and will there be another drug added to my chemo cocktail? 

My mind simply can't fathom my body can do all of these things?  

I cave in, and call Dr. Panwalkar at noon, needing a voice of reason.  I rarely call him, even though he assures me I can. 

Its 5:40 Friday night when I get a return call from a nurse. 

I try to explain my concerns.  But I can't seem to get her to see... 

I acquiesce when she simply states-  "Its just Herceptin, just lie down if you need to, its fine, then you just come back the next day and you can continue radiation."  

What?  


So, I'm doing the only reasonable thing I can muster... I'm running away this weekend!  On a retreat, with a friend, to a place that nourishes me in ways I can hardly describe.  I'll be in good hands and exactly where I think I ought to be.


I don't know when I'll be able to update, next week is shaping up to be a doozy!  But rest assured... this much I know is true... all shall be well...



















Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What are you willing to give up?


I spent Sunday outside all day.  This blue chair came from my father's childhood farmhouse.  I love that its authentic, and even the blue chipped paint is decades old. 







It started sunny today- and I intended to go out and take photos later.  Ahhh, then I saw the black clouds forming as I turned to go, and instead grabbed my camera.  I had two minutes of sun till the grey overtook the skies once again.  No matter how dark, some rays were still seeping through.  





I started the oral sedation meds yesterday that Dr. Foster wanted me to try, an hour and 15 minutes before we left the house.  I expected to feel pretty foggy and sedated by the time I arrived at the door of the hospital.  

But I didn't.

So as we sat waiting to be called back, I took another pill.  Now for sure I expected it to hit me.

I sat for another 20 minutes before I was called back.  I thought, "this will be the test, standing up, when it usually hits like a ton of bricks."

But no.  Still just a distant calmness which was pleasant, but not the knock-down-drag-down I can't stay awake kind of feeling I expected.

Sigh.

I quickly changed my clothes as instructed and walked back to the mri room.  Its the most awake I've been in that room since the first time I was there unsedated 2/12 years ago.

And then I saw him.  One of the techs I've had several times before.  And when his opening words to me were, "you only have a 9 1/2 minute scan."  I nearly fell over, but only based on his words.

Thats it?

They told me an hour on the phone.  I was prepared to be in the tube for an hour.

He laughed, shrugged and said- nope- I just need you to lay still for the entire 9 1/2 minutes.  

No problem.  

I think trying to place an iv in my arm took nearly twice that long.

Finally I was tube worthy. 

Even though I was awake the entire time, I laid absolutely still, thanking God the entire time.  

When I went back to the radiation department, I still wasn't feeling my normal sedated self.  

We went over how everything would proceed.  Then the treatment consent was given to us and we were shown the part Dr. Foster filled in.  I don't know if I just psychologically couldn't listen to it all, or if sedation was starting to take effect.  But either way, Rick and I both know, despite the side effects, (hair loss, vision, impairment, ???) non-treatment is clearly not an option.  


“It's not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What's hard, she said, is figuring out what you're willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.” 
― Shauna NiequistBittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

It seems that with cancer- we give up some of the healthy parts of ourselves in sacrifice to the diseased parts of ourselves- so that the living parts of ourselves can go on.  



So the radiation nurse and I agreed to try 1 more pill after sensing I am not nearly sedated yet.  Then I laid down in a darkened room for half an hour.

Now I was starting to relax.  They walked me back to the PET/CT scanner I had been in the week prior.  

Then the techs began wrapping my face in warm plastic pieces to make my new mask.  The techs were wonderful about describing each bit to me and reassuring me I was doing fine.  

Easy. Peasy. Lemon. Squeezy.  

Mask made. Preplanning in the stages.  Day complete!

Rick drove me home and I promptly slept for the next 4 hours.  Sedation finally achieved. Smile.



Dr. Foster called again today.

The spot in the back of my brain that they were going to just watch?

After much deliberation by several doctors, we are going to go ahead and zap it now too.


I am so deeply appreciative of your prayers.  Every little thing that goes so smoothly in the midst of all the mess and the hard,  feels like something one of you has asked Him to see to, and He has.  
















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