Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Its not about the book...

Would you believe me if I said these photos are from book club? Yep, for real. Coolest, book club, ever. What I've come to know about our group is that we are never at a loss for something to talk about, and yes, we even talk about books sometimes, or not.  So when the suggestion was made for a Friday afternoon book club meeting by the pool, it should be no surprise that we all jumped at the offer.  Even more surprising, I was able to attend as I've missed the last two meetings,  and all but 1 friend *cough* Amy, made it for the afternoon.

It was a mildly overcast day, just bright enough to make you squint, but not so hot you needed to cool off in the water.  The rain threatened off in the distance, but nothing dampened our spirits. We laughed, we ate tasty foods, laughed some more, and completely relaxed around the pool.

While the rest stayed through the night, I had to leave early to get Colton to baseball.  I so didn't want to leave.  Its one thing to have a group of women make you feel like a part of their group.  Its another thing to feel more than just accepted, and truly embraced and valued.

Back row, L to R: Shauna, our host, Heidi, Jill, Heidi, Jen.  Front row L to R: Suzanne, Nikki (who is definitely wearing clothes and allowing me the use of her knee to sit on) myself and Pam.


I have some exciting news to share in the next few days or so... stay tuned!  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

on boughs too slight

“Be like the bird that, 
pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, 
feels them give way beneath her, 
and yet sings, 
knowing that she hath wings.”

Victor Hugo

The other day, I could hear the faintest "brushing" sound, a fluttering of sorts and looked over my shoulder to discover a flash of yellow.  In the gloomy grey, pouring down rain, a baby finch appeared in my window. But he hovered, hence the noise I heard.  And upon a closer look I saw that he had somehow managed to plop his little claw just over the metal rim on my window. 

He precariously perched for the longest time while I carefully retrieved my camera.  He seemed both barely hanging on, and yet not afraid of his tenuous position. 3 quick pics were all I managed to get off before he took flight again.  

This much I know is true, God always seems to bring me something that helps me articulate how I feel.  I've been trying to put into words what "cancer" has meant to my life.  Oh sure, the obvious things, the chemo, the diet, the tumor protruding from my right breast that is still both crusty and grotesque, but a part of me nonetheless.  All of these I've grown somewhat accustomed to and can speak about at will.  In fact, saying I am making a trip to Roger Maris has come to sound like I am going to visit a favorite Uncle, instead of the name of the cancer treatment center I attend frequently.  But those are the obvious ways cancer affects your life.  

On a deeper level?  I'm not truly sure if I know yet the how and why of cancer and what it means for my life. Three months past diagnosis and in many ways I am still just a "newbie."  I've begun to spend some time on the cancer "boards."  Last week I finally made a profile for myself and spoke up for the first time.  The "veterans" on the board have lived years with varying diagnoses of breast cancer.  They're on their 9th or 10th new drug now, they've had hair and lost it, gained weight with steroids and lost both breasts, or surrendered an arm to lymphedema. They've been cancer free for months or years, only to have it come tearing back into their lives sending them to the ends of the world in search of the next cutting edge treatment.  Their insight and experience is both mesmerizing, encouraging and gut wrenching all at once.

Through all of my reading, all of my conversations, what I've come to see is how very close to that fledgling bird I really am. I think when I didn't first see that bird perched on my window, God helped me hear the fluttering and notice the bird, for a reason.  No different than me getting cancer, for a reason.  Most of the reasons I can come to know, but some of those reasons will take a bit of work to discover. 

I've gotten a tiny finger hold or "claw" on the ledge of the window looking into cancer.  And now, I am beginning to understand the key is to learn how to sing, and find my wings, no matter how slight the bough on which I perch.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hope sits...

In a basket on my kitchen table, is my box of hope. Or my "encouragement stash" as "The Nester," put it in her piece, "Everyday Encouragement," over at (in)courage.  But unlike some stashes, mine has accumulated in a mere 3 months, since the time I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.  And the basket is filled to overflowing thanks to the outpouring of love I continue to receive.   I lay eyes on it every day.  In fact I am constantly rummaging through it and re-reading.  Love-filled, hope- inducing, comfort giving words, that are balm for my soul fill me back up when the burden is starting to weigh in on me.

Running out to the mailbox has become a cherished time of day, and I am rarely disappointed.  The cards of encouragement come from all over and each day I relish and savor ripping into a new envelope, a new message, a new hope-filled moment.  My cup, um, "basket" continues to overflow and I couldn't be more blessed by it.

Monday, June 20, 2011


                                                             From December chilling...

to June warming...

Excitement seeking boys car- riding-bickering... then finally... the fishing...

lots of catching and releasing...

new lawn mower mowing...

Hot tub dipping...

s'moring, "survivor torch" twirling, with mom eventually kaboshing... (oy).

and never enough- visual feasting... 

Mind clearing...

Clean air breathing...

Memorable sun lowering...


soul searing...

And Daddy missing...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Beauty and terror"

"Let everything happen to you 
Beauty and terror 
Just keep going 
No feeling is final" 
 Rainer Maria Rilke

My body betrays me over and over again.  123/83.  My blood pressure is not its normal, and it matches my rapid heartbeat.  My feet tap, tap, tap, the floor as my mind wildly chases thoughts stumbling over each other, "What if?  How much?  How come?  What if...?"  Lorazepam is no match for my trembling knees, and fidgeting hands.  Its called scanxiety, or scan anxiety and I have it bad as I sit waiting for Dr. Panwalkar yesterday morning.

He mentions my higher than normal blood pressure and smiles when I tell him I am nervous.  My labs are within in the normal range with the exception of my white blood count, but that is to be expected.  He thumps down my spine waiting for me to tell him if I feel any pain.  He makes it all the way down my back without me stopping him or flinching at all.  My breaths are deep and clear.  I have no dizziness, no blurred vision.  I am eating and sleeping well.  He tells me he will call me during my infusion the next day and give me the report of my CT scan.  He then smiles and says "you're okay."  "I think you are okay."  

I arrive in the afternoon for my CT scan.  I drink the contrast solution in the liter bottle over the course of the next two hours.  With a few swallows left to go, they call my name.  They insert an iv in my vein and walk me to the scanner.  I pass by the open door the MRI scanner and shiver as I quickly scoot past the door to the next room.  The CT Scanner is wide and open at both ends.  I lay on the table and they take some measurements.  A voice then commands me to hold my breath.  The table slides in and out.  They insert the dye in my iv and I feel a stinging sensation as warmth radiates through my arm, down my body and into my legs.  I slide in and out a few more times and suddenly they announce I am done.  As I stand up from the table, I breathe deeply for the first time that day.  

This time Lorazepam kicks in nicely and I sleep deeply all night long.

I awake this morning with more resolve and am less nervous.  Its infusion day.  I have questionnaires to fill out for the study.  I also have to fill out a new consent form as the verbiage has changed some.  Another 10 tubes of blood need to be taken today and the nurse sets to work getting the right label matched to the right tube.  

Kathy, my research nurse comes in.  She closes the door and comes to sit by me.  She has the results of my CT scan.  She is serious looking and I notice I am holding my breath.  She gets right down to business.  

"There were three "spots" on your liver.  Two of those spots are no longer detectable.  The third one has gone unchanged and therefor they are concluding its a cyst.  Your liver is clear."

"The spot in your spine was 18 mm and is now 13mm."

"The mass in your breast has shown a slight decline of .2 cm."  

"No new lesions or masses were seen on the scan."

I realize I am searching her face to discern if this means what I think it means...  She smiles as I realize it does...the treatment is working.  TDM1, the "super herceptin", or the miracle drug... is working miracles in me so far.  At any time, it may stop working, or the tumor can build up a resistance to it.  But for today, its working.  

A few moments later Dr. Panwalkar calls me as promised.  He carefully repeats each bit, line by line as I let it sink in further.  When he gets to the part about the mass in my breast he says with confidence in his voice, "well that, we'll just cut out if it continues to stay there.  That is not a big concern to me."  Then he repeats his parting words to me of yesterday, "You're okay, he says, "you're okay."  

I hang up from talking with him as sweet tears of relief slide down my cheek.  I am cautiously believing him.  I know I still have a long road to travel, but for today, I rest in the knowledge I am okay.  

"Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle."
— Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are)

Friday, June 10, 2011


Colton's teacher, Mrs. Larson, retired last week from her teaching career.  The kids had written her letters describing what they had come to enjoy about her class the past year.  It was touching to see them pour their second grade thoughts and ideas into a letter.  My favorite one was from a boy who said "I hope you have a happy "re, re, retreatment..." we all laughed, but the truth of it stayed with me.  Those second graders know more than we acknowledge sometimes. Knowing Mrs. Larson, her only retreatment is truly from teaching at the school, as her children and grandchildren will now be the lucky recipients of her time.

I too have had to retreat a bit.  I've been able to only be very part time chauffeur to the boys, with Rick filling in for me as his schedule allows.  I felt a bit redeemed when after the first day of running the kids to their activities he came home exhausted!  He tried, for about a minute, to explain just what it was like... but slowly it occurred to him I might know just a bit what it is like.

No sympathy required for us, we do this willingly to ourselves every year.  I'd rather engage the boys in activity,  than watch them turn to Xbox and Wii and sitting at home fighting with each other.  So instead its hockey camp, golf, baseball, and for Nolan an extra dose of "dry-land" training with Joe Cullen.  He crawled home from baseball Monday night and asked if he could just go straight to bed!

In between washing loads of baseball pants and hockey gear,  walking with the neighbor, and a bit of running the boys around, my retreat has taken place on the couch.  A bit of a power nap and most days I am ready to go again, but some nights, the fogginess doesn't leave my head, and the heaviness in my legs nags me on into the night.  I drift off to sleep, and dream of even more retreatment... like cancer cells retreating from within the tumors, within my organs, within my mind- my dreams, from within me.

Next week we'll see how well the cancer cells truly have retreated.  I have a litany of tests Monday including a CT scan, and a meeting with Dr. Panwalkar.  Tuesday is infusion day.  

Only one big part of my life has seen no amount of retreatment.  All of you showing up here and in my life every day, cheering me on.  I've had meals delivered to my door almost every day this week- awesome, tasty, and nourishing meals!  I've gotten touching and oh so thoughtful notes brought to my door, or delivered to my mailbox.  The warm hugs I receive everywhere I go.  The phonecalls, texts, emails and visits have not subsided. You all have continued to show up and lift me up and I almost feel repetitive in my 1,000 gifts journal, because you all are there in the pages every day, multiplying my blessings and filling my life with gratitude galore.

A big thank you to Colton's Godparents, Curtis and Jennifer for sending him and Nolan the perfect preserved memory- a blanket with our photo on them.  You'd think it was the middle of winter for the amount of time we all "retreat" with our blankets in the early evenings.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Team Vicky

Courage is tiny pieces of fear all glued together.  ~Terri Guillemets

I have a permanent smile today, tattooed to my face.  Just try and take it away.  I couldn't be more proud and impressed with this special group of kids.  We've assembled a AAA hockey team to play in the North American Pepsi Cup hockey tournament for 5 years now.  Our first year skating our kids had never played in a full ice game.  They had very little concept of what "offsides" was or how to pass the puck to each other, let alone any idea of what the penalty box was like.  We were blown out of the water by teams with a score of 21-0.  It wasn't pretty.  But each year we've improved.  As their passion for the sport grew, so has their skill and development as players.  After last year, we knew we could at least compete with the others.  

So we were all excited for this weekend again to play in the Pepsi Cup.  We had three practices as a team.  Most of these kids play on 3 different teams throughout the year, but they are almost all born in the year 2000.  

I fell asleep shortly before the start of the first game and arrived after out team was down 1 goal.  But very quickly they mounted a comeback and the announcer was calling them something I couldn't quite comprehend.  It seems that on the program they were called the M & M team, but they had been asked to be called "Team Vicky," in honor of me.  It was the first of many surprises they had in store for us over the weekend. 

Colton, Nolan and I. 

Friday, after coming from behind, we won our first game.  In between attending graduation parties on Saturday, we played two more games and won both of them, securing a place in the semi final game.  If we won the morning game, we would go on to play in the championship game.  Team Vicky persevered!  We won our way into the championship game and faced a team we had played already form Grand Forks.  

Here we are forming a cheer tunnel for our players.  They were fired up and excited to play!  A big trophy is on the line!  Could this be our year?  The year of the pink breast cancer ribbons emblazoned on their jersey's and helmets?

Parker with the puck...

Gavin with the puck...

Colby stickhandling...

Landon firing a rocket shot...

Kade with the puck...

Ethan with the puck...

Griffin with the puck...

Clay taking the puck... Clay's dad was in the hospital recovering from a tough gallbladder surgery.  His mom videotaped the games and brought them to the hospital so his dad wouldn't have to miss seeing him play.  Clay had at least a hat trick in most of the games and inspired most of us with his phenomenal play.  A very wan and pale Craig arrived out of the hospital in time to see the team play in the championship. Clay did not disappoint... in fact none of the boys did.

Nolan with his pink taped stick and the puck... he managed one goal in the semi-final game.

Tommy scoring!  We are now up 3-0, with Clay having scored twice already. 

Carter, the other reason we won so many games, making a big save, which he did time after time for us.  He was rock solid in the net and went on to shut out the other team 3-0 to win!

Team Vicky is the 2011 Pepsi Cup champion in the boys open 2000 division!  Way to go Team Vicky!!

Notice who is asked to be in the photo?  One proud momma and all "her boys" who demonstrated to her what courage and strength and fight is all about.

Team Vicky's locker room door! 

Hoisting the big trophy and taking turns kissing it, just like it was the Stanley Cup...

The coaches, in the background, who were very humble, but are very deserving of our gratitude for leading the team to conduct themselves in a manner we were all proud of.  Thank you coaches!

Speaking of courage, this one took a stick to the chin and was lucky that it only scraped him, but he went  back in and continued to play.  Most of our kids got pretty banged up at one time or another but they fought on.

Rootbeer floats afterwords on a beautifully sunny day.  

Our youngest and biggest fan sporting his Vicky bracelet! Poor Andrew was such a trooper as he sat squinting away the sun so we could finally get a shot of his bracelet he wears so faithfully every day! 

You'd think that was the end.  Sunshine, rootbeer floats, and a Pepsi Cup Championship Trophy... could it get any better than this?  Well yes... I was summoned to the locker room... it seems somehow, the person they had decided to designate for keeping the trophy... was me.  I feebly tried to deflect a bit, truly wanting the boys to have a place where they can congregate and look at it whenever they want.  But they were having none of it.  Parker said "we did it for you!"  They were selfless and generous and so full of heart I get a lump in my throat every time I see the trophy.  Team Vicky is living proof that strong will, tenacity and all heart are what you need to conquer the major obstacles in life.

I came home exhausted.  In need of a soak in the tub and some rest.  As I crawled out of the shower I went to comb my hair.  I watched as strand after strand tumbled from my head.  I pulled again, and a clump came straight out of the side of my head.  Its the beginning of the "thinning" of my hair and we'll see if I eventually lose it altogether.

Courage is tiny pieces of fear all glued together.  ~Terri Guillemets

But its a tiny piece of fear, and I still have a permanent smile with a whole lot of courage behind it, which is much greater than a fistful of hair.  

Team Vicky Rocks! 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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