Saturday, August 27, 2011

"... where the light enters you"

"Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free."   ~ Rumi

My bandages were ripped off one final time.  My wire stitches came out, my drain was removed and I was given a new found freedom.  I drove the car after two weeks of being at the mercy of my husband.  The boys and I escaped the house and drove to Target, with the windows down, the sun streaming in, and me wincing at every turn of the steering wheel, but turning nonetheless.

I'm driving straight into it.  The pain when I raise my arm too high, or too quick.  The hour it takes to figure out what fits, what works, what I can jerry-rig together to get by.  The seams that rub wounds raw, the straps that bind, the undergarments that pucker with emptiness.

And abundance that fills my cup again and again...

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you."   ~ Rumi

These are the flowers that grew- when I didn't plant any, nada, nothing, none.  Not one flower, seed or plant.  This is our bounty.  "Volunteer" tomatoes, and flowers from seeds leftover from last year.  It was in my heart, deeply, on my mind, steadily.  I didn't plant anything this spring.  And it grew anyway.  The provision of God.  The light shines deeply.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August retreat...

After the pace we kept these past few weeks, our energy drained this weekend and we retreated to the lakes. It was a late start for us, but we arrived in time for a quick campfire and roasted marshmallows before we fell into bed. The boys have preferred to camp out in the same room as us so its been cozy.

I even forgot my camera.  But my cell phone filled in nicely.  Rick took the boys on a fishing, tubing, jet skiiing adventure while I read upstairs inside.  With the windows open I could hear their conversations and felt close by.  I read uninterrupted for hours.  We left our cell phones in the kitchen, our computers behind, and slid off the radar quite easily.

I'm a week and half out from surgery.  Each day I do a little more.  My skin pulls tight when I reach too far, stretch too far, the incision lets me know when to stop.  So my left hand prevails with some wimpy right hand help.  

Clothes continue to be a challenge, although not so much in how they look, no.  Its how the seams inside the top rubs underneath my arm where the incision extends into my arm pit.  So far I have a trio of tops that work, concealing somewhat the bulky drain, or my JP, and not cutting too tightly into my armpit.  Fashion has taken a back seat to comfort for now.  Which seems to fit my stay at home status with the boys.  I still can't drive- way too much pull on the stitches- but hopefully by Thursday when they come out I will get the go ahead.  We're ready for a bit more freedom!  

Hey, another bracelet photo!  This is the lovely Rachel from Alaska, who is the granddaughter of Willy and Terry Shercliffe.  They sent me the actual photo and I told them it was too bad I couldn't scan it and use it.  Looks like someone figured out how to scan and I am so glad to add her in with the rest of you!  Thanks Rachel!

Aren't they pretty?  As if her home made chocolate brownie cupcakes, a card and generous gift of money weren't enough, my Godmother and Aunt Carol brought these over as we were dashing off to the lake. I'm so touched she thought of me when she saw this and ran it right over...  

I am still so moved by everyone's gracious and generous acts.  Having masses said for me, being put on prayer lists, writing personal and encouraging notes, delivering meals- (all of last week my book club friends delivered food to us), cleaning my house, offering to do laundry.  

5 months in and you all haven't left my side.  Thanks for making a girl feel special and most of all very loved... 

Thursday, August 18, 2011


These past two weeks are practically a blur. Each day would have been a blog worthy day in itself, but I'm sharing a few highlights in one post instead.  Skip ahead to the bottom if you finally want to hear all about my scan results... didn't mean to leave anyone hanging...

Last Thursday, the day before my surgery on Friday, was the golf benefit...

We had a perfect day for the golf benefit and I managed to take a couple of photos with my camera before everyone tee'd off.  I was crying tears of gratefulness, before I even got out the door that day, and wondered how emotionally, I would hold up.  But my grin was pretty much permanent from that moment on and I just felt lucky... completely totally indebted to so many and like the luckiest girl ever.

Our extended hockey families represented well at the golf tournament!  The Staffords, Tami D, and The Watelands, along with friend Ryan J...

The "Refs" and Cooper were the winners... Each of these guys ref hockey and ref games all the way from youth hockey up to high school, and even the WCHA.  

The Connelly Family- Grant in white was on Nolan's hockey team.  

This is part of the Golf committee- Kelly, Shelly, Kim and my sister-in-law Missy.  You guys rock!  Everything ran so smoothly and was so fun! 

Our thanks also to the Johnson family who allowed us use of the Ponderosa Golf Course and helped ensure our day was a big success!  

I went home and rested a good hour or so before it was time to go to Gio's for the silent auction and karaoke to begin.  I was completely blown away by the amount of items, and the complete giving nature of so many people.  Rick and I were drooling at so many of the cool items, totally making a list of what we would have bid on.  Like this cool hockey stick chair made by Todd... 

Sweet Angie put together this cute and delicious package of baked goods and dishes.  I was so happy to see my mother-in-law come home with this!  

Kevin and Kim put together these baskets with wine.  And the wine?  Well they brew it at home!  They even customized the labels to say "Fight Like a Girl."  One day, I just have to try a glass of the wine.  

Ben and Jen donated this awesome Sioux Logo sign.  The Sioux logo is being retired amidst much controversy, which makes this piece especially collectible. 

The tables lined the outer walls of the room and wrapped almost all the way around.  This is just a small sampling of the items and I was completely surprised and overwhelmed at this continued outpouring of goodness. 

Looking for a fresh fundraising idea?  This could be it!  I had to leave early and missed the singing, but I am told it was a fun time!  Had I stayed my 20 bucks would have slid quickly across the table- you'd be so happy with my decision to NOT SING.  All too soon it was 9:30 and with a 5 am wake up time to get ready for surgery, I knew I had to go.  I hated to leave, but I am told a good time was had well into the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to Julie, Jen and Angie S., for all their work in collecting the items, and setting them all up- you girls are simply the best!

I rode the current of good will right into the surgery the next day.  I am convinced it made me sail right through the whole thing.  The anesthesiologist spoke to me briefly Friday morning.  She had a few extra minutes so she started to share with me about two women she knows and how positive they were and how cancer was helping them see things in a whole new way.  I smiled... and thought to myself... oh if she only knew...  she could say she knew 3 people now.  

Saturday, this is what awaited me when I arrived home from the hospital...

These, well these need no words.  Only words of thanks because they seriously made my day and continue to lift my spirits daily.  Everyone who visits, comments instantly on how good the house smells and how breathtakingly beautiful both my bouquets are.  Thank you Matt and Julie...

And thank you to Dustin and Heather and John and Linda.  Linda is also a breast cancer survivor and her daughter Julie, (my sister-in-law) was Nolan's age when Linda was first diagnosed.  I know this journey is all too familiar to them, and they have been a huge encouragement to me this entire time! 

So I didn't mean to leave you all hanging as to what my scan results were last week.  On Saturday, Dr. Bouton shared with me that there seemed to be some inconsistencies in my lengthy ct scan report.  From what he briefly read, they were reporting 4 new lesions in my liver.  But the breast seemed to be about the same, and the spine looked about the same.  

4 new lesions was all I needed to hear to know I would be taken off the study.  BUT, I also knew I needed to wait to see Dr. Panwalkar on Tuesday.  Truthfully, I didn't disbelieve the results, but something seemed off.  How did I go from 0 to 4 spots in my liver but my spine and breast tumors looked stable?  It didn't add up to me, but I knew Dr. P would get to the bottom of it.

So I arrived for my appt. on Tuesday expecting to be told I was off the study and had to start a new chemo.  I figured I would be allowed to even postpone chemo that day and schedule a new day for it since I wouldn't be so confined by the rules of the study. Chemo just 4 days after mastectomy just seems so daunting.

BUT I WAS WRONG...  and this is where I fully know this whole experience is so much bigger than I. Someone flagged my CT Scan so Dr. Panwalkar would pay special attention to it.  He did.  He disagreed with the radiologist and took the scan back to the first radiologist who did my first scan.  They concurred- THERE ARE STILL NO LESIONS IN MY LIVER!  I still have 1 cyst, but otherwise my liver is clean and free of cancer.  My spine is stable... the lymph nodes are stable!  Wow...

I am still on the study!  

I looked at Dr. P and said "Well, I guess I'll be doing chemo today..."  We all laughed... I was both bummed, and completely elated to be doing chemo on Tuesday.

Yesterday was one of the toughest days I've had in a long time.  I was flat on my back sick from chemo and even Zofran failed to keep the nausea at bay.  I ached from head to toe.  I completely threw out any vegan eating and turned to comfort foods, including drinking Sprite.  A good night's sleep was finally the solution.

Whew.  And today I went back to see Dr. Bouton.  I woke up feeling better and took my meds right away.  I ate some toast and felt fine.  I told Dr. Bouton I am doing well.  He checked me over and said to  come back in a week to get my stitches out and my drain out.  And then he said, "you're not just doing well, I'd say you're doing very well."  

Funny how those little things put an extra beat in your heart and you stand just a little taller.  So grateful to have you all standing with me! 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I am home

9:00 am Saturday morning, just 24 hours after surgery, a smiling Dr. Bouton peels back the bandages covering my incision. I smile and comment when I see my mole is still there.  He says yes, "moles like that distinguish who we are.  The others in the operating room wondered why I wouldn't remove it from you.  I told them "its been a part of her for a long time now, and she never asked me to take it."  He then shows me the large mole on his arm.  "Doctor friends for years have told me they would remove it for me.  Why I say?  Its part of who I am and I like it just fine."  

I like Dr. Bouton.  His Texan accent matches his Texas sized personality.  He dispenses his medical knowledge cheerfully, with lots of wisdom and lots of authority as well.  

He puts a light dressing back on over my sutures and glue, then tells me how to care for them and my drain and says "you're doing well enough to go home."  

By noon, we are released.  I marvel at modern medicine.  

The boys go to the lake with Grandpa and Grandma.

I rest in my own bed.  Moving is a challenge as I discover the absence of muscle in my chest wall and a dull aching soreness that kicks in when I've pushed too far.  I re-learn using my left side, awkwardly.

We fill the narcotic pain med prescription that requires a special note from the doctor.  The bottle sits full on the counter.  I am getting by on Tylenol, but I have back up just in case.  

I fall asleep early, fully dressed, on top of the covers.  At 3 am I awake.  The dull ache has set in again, sore, but not so much painful. I run my hands down the new landscape of my shape.  One long, flat, surface where curves once prevailed.  Its like getting a tooth pulled, and your tongue goes to that empty hole over and over again, until the hole is old news and becomes just another part of you.  I get up and look  at my concave chest...

I am broken.


I am reminded of Sara's words from a week ago Friday, on the topic of "whole."  She wrote ...

"It took a long time for me to sort through all of the noise and clutter of it all to realize that I am whole."

"I am in pain, sick, frail, homebound, bedbound, without great possibility or potential in my future."

"In all of that, I am whole. I am complete. I am exactly what God made me to be in the exact time He created me to be it."  

I have printed her words out and have them close to me.  I am broken, but in that brokenness, I am perfectly "whole."  They can burn, and now slash, the diseased part of me, but I remain whole.  

I hear the hum of the crickets through the open window.  They lull me back to a peaceful and deep sleep.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Surgery update...

What a cool and fun group of people to hang out with yesterday!  The Dakota Medical Foundation and Lend-A-Hand sponsored Day of events were simply outstanding!  Rick and I have relived the many fun moments today and just continue to be ridiculously overwhelmed.  I am convinced, all of you who are supporting us, are difference makers, and have so hugely impacted us in the most thoughtful and generous ways.  Its truly difficult to express the depth of our gratitude.

But your dedication shows in my family.  You've lifted our burden, boosted our spirits and walked with us through this.  And on this big day of surgery, your prayers have provided nourishment and sustenance, anchoring and grounding us yet again.  This whole thing is so much bigger than me, and God's blessings have flowed in ways that are beyond praiseworthy.  By late this afternoon I have eaten supper, taken a walk, and am sitting up writing this on my own.  I am certainly sore, but am managing the pain, and otherwise have done really well.  The staff here at Sanford have taken such good care of me today, Dr. Bouton, and my nurse Bernie, were just outstanding.

I'm convinced its all the goodwill and prayers still flowing through me.  I am still buzzing with the positive energy you all gave me these past few days.  I have felt comforted and very much loved and am resting in God's hands.

its going to be a long journey- some of the news today from my scans was a mixed blessing and I hope to have some clarification and more organized details to share with you next week.   For now, just know I am in a good place, resting, and counting my gifts.  Love to you all!

All prayers welcome today...

At 6:10 am Rick and I will leave for the hospital.  I am scheduled for surgery at 10:50 am.  I am writing this before I go to bed after a completely fabulous day filled with the very most thoughtful and generous people you could ever wish to know.  I'll share more about the benefit when I am uh, more fit :)  Will try to post an update soon.  I have been richly blessed with all of you.  Your prayers and support continue to nourish and sustain me.  I am so grateful.  Love and blessings to you all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where to find me today...

I'll be heading out here today for the Golf Benefit! I'm fighting off some sleepy meds they gave me yesterday when I had a bad reaction to the dye for the CT scan- holy tachycardia- be still my heart- seriously!  Once they reversed the reaction I came home and slept most of the night away.  I feel fairly good today and will try not to overdue it...

Don't forget if you aren't a golfer but still want to participate, there will be a silent auction and a social tonight at Gio's.  Chris Vandevelde just offered us an autographed stick for the event... just sayin, some really cool stuff has been donated for the auction!  So proud of my hockey community once again, we'll be indebted to all they continue to do for us forever.

Also, waiting to hear on time for surgery tomorrow.  Won't know till later today and will post something late tonight/ early tomorrow so you will know.  Prayers will be very much appreciated!   Love to all!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Soul Patch..."

It isn't often that a gift lands in your lap that is so nearly perfect you didn't know that piece of you was missing until just at the moment it squares up in your lap.  You see, along with those Twins tickets we received a few weeks back?  Was a set of keys... to a cabin... on a lake.  But not just any lake, it happens to be the very lake, (out of 10,000 lakes in Minnesota) that I spent a good portion of my childhood at.

In fact, Rick and his family camped at the same campground that we did, even though we didn't know each other then.  Laying eyes on this lake?  Felt like coming home, like all the way, completely home.  For over 20 years, I spent summers at the lake with my family in and around the Detroit Lakes area.

When I was really young, we started out in a pop up camper and rented a weekend spot at Lost Valley Resort, for the summer.  For vacation, my dad would take a week off from work and we would spend all week at the lake.  I was in heaven.  It didn't matter to me that we used an "outhouse,"  I could pinch my nose closed and hoist my nightgown all in one swift move... Laura Ingalls had nothing on me.

Oh the things that stay with us.  Like trips to the resort store for maple nut ice cream, and jolly ranchers for a penny.  The distinct smell of hotdogs and s'mores made over the fire.  The way a sunburn stings and how my mom would let us cool it off in the lake late at night sometimes under the glow of the moon.  I can still hear the laughter of my cousins who camped nearby, and the roll of the Yahtzee dice as they clacked against the picnic tables.

Its abundantly clear, I have and will always be a water-loving, lake-swimming, sand-digging, rock-skipping, sun-worshipping, boat-riding, summer girl at heart- who has longed for a week at the beach.  We've been spoiled with Rick's parents lake up by Park Rapids, but we never have much time to spend.  By the time we start to unwind and relax, its time to go home.

So I decided to ask for help in making something happen for us this summer.   Maybe in our network of friends someone would know of a place we could rent ?  Less than 24 hours later we had an offer that took our breath away.

So we've become a lake family, in a whole new way.  We have packed a few things and jumped in the car and in 40 minutes or so we feel like we are lightyears away from home.  The cabin is cozy and has every amenity-you wouldn't need to leave it, but then the loons call from the lake and you can't help but go out and explore.

I don't know how to begin to say thank you to our friends.  To first of all have the generous and giving spirit to turn over their lake home to us, but also to trust us with something so special to them, is very humbling for us.

AnnVoskamp mentions her "soul holes," in her book "One Thousand Gifts."  Cancer may be my soul hole, but I feel so "alive" and am busy filling my gratitude journal with oodles of new gifts through my lake-filled eyes.  It indeed has been the patch to any hole in my soul.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tee'd off @ Cancer!

Next week is a huge week for the Westra Family.  Dakota Medical Foundation (DMF) and Lend A Hand organization has partnered with The Vicky Westra Benefit committee to host another fundraiser.  Any funds that are raised will be matched by DMF, up to 5,000 dollars!  I'm so honored to be chosen by DMF- there are many worthy and deserving people and to be included as one of them is truly an honor.  If you'd like to participate just click on the link on the form on the right and either mail it or email it to the address above on the form.

Recently some additional events were added to the line-up for the day.

  • Kids are welcome to participate in the morning (8 am) with a paying adult 
  • Lunch will be served from 11:30 -12:30pm 
  • 1:00 pm tee off time for all adult participants
  • Thursday night there will be a social starting at 6:30 pm at Gio's in Moorhead 
  • silent auction from 7-9 
  • karaoke to finish out the night!  

Wow, it'll be a full day of events and activities... enough to keep a girl's mind occupied the way it should be the day before she has surgery!  I'm going to try to attend as much as possible... you can't miss me, I'll be the one shaking in her shoes, waiting for the call that says what time her surgery is... whew... hello courage, please visit soon!

Next week is shaping up to be quite eventful.  I have Monday and Tuesday to get our back to school shopping completed and Colton has to have a cavity filled.  Then  I have a full load of tests to be done on Wednesday, Tee'd Off Golf event Thursday, mastectomy Friday, and by then I'm so going to need that recovery room!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Both my mind and body have been caught up in the turbulence of life this past week.  I waiver between feeling like I want to heave to fighting off the fogginess of nausea meds... both leave me feeling less than...

Last Tuesday we met with the financial counselor... after a long day of chemo, I was unprepared for the stormy conditions she would unleash.  I could see copious notes she had taken.  I began to fade out when the words "restricted policy," were spoken.  As much as you know this is coming... you somehow want to duck before it makes final impact.  Tuesday there was no place left to duck.

(We don't dispute the numbers.  Our morals don't allow us to not pay what we owe.  But what we can't clearly see yet, is how we will be able to pay our long term debt with the criteria being set at this time by the hospital.)

I snapped back to present day when she bleakly stated, "Well, you could always cut back on treatment..."  I blinked as anger surfaced, momentarily.  Was she joking?  Did she mean to say that?  My stomach lurched as I tried to fathom her intention.  Am I to question the kinds and amounts of tests and labs the doctor wants to run?  When a scan is the only thing that determines where the cancer is, how do you just say no?  We sat in stunned silence, but there wasn't much to be said after that.  And...

She is not the enemy.  My anger simmered and eventually melded into distant compassion.  What must her days be like?  Stuck in a tiny box of an office, cramped in a small corner of the cancer clinic, delivering sobering news daily.  I decided I don't have anymore fight in me, to fight against her... besides, she is not the enemy.  I'm on empty the rest of the week...

This weekend I set out to be reminded of all that we still have.  We drove up to Grand Rapids, Minnesota to pick up our baseball yearbooks that Rick designed and had printed.  We dropped the kids off in Park Rapids with Grandpa and Grandma and Rick and I were alone for a few hours.  We found a spot by Lake Pokegama and I sat, letting the water wash away all of the yuck so heavily clinging to me.  Wave after wave crashes over me as I sit and feel the refreshing coolness.  The water is clean, clear and smells of the earth.   It grounds me... absolves me... washes me with grace.

I start to name my gratitude for the day...

  • I can still bear the sun in short doses.  
  • I have energy to walk all the way down to the shore.   
  • I have tan skin causing a healthy glow.
  • I am more than a big fat number written on some hospital account
  • God is bigger than all of this- the mess, the yuck, the burden, the cancer...
  • And I still see my future.  

We stopped in Walker to see Chase on the Lake.  I haven't seen the resort in years and it has definitely changed and grown.

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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