Monday, October 28, 2013

All Shall be Well

 ”God of Your goodness give me Yourself, for You are enough for me now…
All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
 Julian of Norwich (Christian Mystic, 1342-1416) 
My friend Susan today posted this blog post from A Deeper Story, written by Melissa Green, on my facebook wall. It is a quick read and well worth your time, especially the part where she sings a song she and several others have written entitled "All Shall Be Well."  She has a beautiful voice and the words resonate. Deep.
Sara Frankl is the one who gave me the tag line " All shall be well," in a surprise header she once made for my blog.  Could this be where she had gotten it from?  I've often wondered.
I had such a great weekend.  We had fun at the hockey social long into Friday night- well-and on into Saturday morning.  I may or may not have danced a few dances. Hehe.  Saturday we had lots of hockey- 2 games for each boy for tryouts.  Its been an intense process and we all look forward to finding out their teams next week.  
Sunday we began looking for a new mattress for our bed.  The disc problems I have in my back continue to wreak havoc on the muscles surrounding my spine- especially at night when I go to bed.  Our mattress is old, and the springs and coils in the bed are no longer working like they should.  I feel every one of them, and wake up shortly after falling asleep with shooting pain and knots in my muscles.
We've done our research and are currently looking at beds like TempurPedics.  They are quite expensive- thousands of dollars.   So we're looking for something just as highly rated, but less expensive.  I'm praying we can find financing and make something happen.  
In just a little while I will head off to my first radiation appointment.  It looks like I will see Dr. Foster before I have treatment.  I will then have treatments everyday to my lungs and lymph nodes for the next 3 weeks.
I'm both nervous and excited to begin this new chapter.

I'm grabbing hold of the "all shall be well" motto and clinging tight.

These are just a few photos taken on our way through Kentucky, Indiana, and then Iowa on our way home from Tennessee. 

The horse below wanted nothing to do with Rick, but seemed to gravitate more towards me. He was a gentle giant and I could have spent all afternoon with him I think.

Our last sunset of the trip happened near the South Dakota border and so we stopped for one last time to capture the golden goodness.  It just never grows old for me.

This was taken within minutes of me meeting Gitz for the first time.  The line shining felt as though it was coming both down to me, around me, and from somewhere deep within me. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Embracing Life...

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” - Denis Waitley

If I had to summarize my experience Wednesday at the first annual Edith Sanford Embracing Life- Breast Cancer Survivor's Retreat, I would use those three words- it was a day filled with love, grace, and gratitude.  

We had an amazing day!

Rustic Oaks was such a beautifully charming, and serene setting for the event.  It was very cool and cloudy when I arrived early in the day.

The outdoor fire pit was roaring when we arrived, yet it just didn't warm up enough for us to enjoy time outside of the barn, and it was mere cinders by early afternoon when I finally got outside.

This is what greeted us at our tables.  A cute burlap bag filled with river rocks that we were instructed to write on throughout the day.  The first rock, fear, was done for each of us.

I was assigned to the technology table to host a roundtable chat session.  

Here was the stage!  A point somewhere near the screen for us to stand in front of the 100 or so women survivors in attendance.  It was a full house barn!

Rustic and quaint and charming all come to mind when you see the layout of the building.  What a great place for a retreat!

The only struggle I truly had- was trying to take photos with the lack of strong lighting and a cloudy day.  I also wanted to be present and not too distracted so I could take it all in.  

Shortly after I shot the above photo- the room filled and we were under way.  We had an opening speaker and a welcoming presentation from Dr. Shelby Terstriep.  I was seated at a side table for speakers, and was being miked at the time.  I was amazingly calm.  I just wanted to take it all in.

Then a photo of me flashed up on the screen and I got a wonderful introduction from Shelby.  

The next 10 minutes flew by.  I could feel myself being intently listened too. I saw rapt attention on the faces of the other women.  What really enveloped me, was a raw understanding, that I was in the midst of women who spoke the same language as me.  Who were unequivocally, living in my cancer world, just like me.  

And so when I was done speaking?  The most profoundly amazing thing happened... they all stood up. Applause thundered throughout the room.  It vibrated my port!  And touched me to the core of my being.  It was profoundly moving.  Throughout the day- ALL of the presenters were given that same rousing round of applause and standing ovation- over and over again- because- we were clearly a sisterhood of survivors.  Of women warriors.  Of people, bonded by something far bigger than us. 

As soon as my 10 minutes were up, I got the privilege and honor to introduce Dr. Panwalkar.  Since he was closer to where I was sitting, I managed a couple of photos. 

Dr. P surprised me with saying some kind words about me, and then spent the next 30 minutes or so presenting on Breast Cancer Management- a brief history of where it's been and where its headed.

He was a dynamic and engaging speaker.  I love seeing the "teacher" come out in him. 

He was also very well received by the audience and when he finished, one of the women half-ways stood up and thanked him directly.  She was clearly in the midst of her cancer battle, using a cane to help stand up, with a scarf secured over her head.  But she told him as a stage iv survivor, she was thrilled by how hope-filled his message was and how positive he sounded.

Pretty sure I was beaming.  That's the Dr. P I've grown to know and admire so much. 

I even managed a short clip of his presentation, below.  

And then, while in the midst of our next speaker who was doing some meditation with us... Dr. Panwalkar quietly left the retreat.

I was so bummed I didn't get a chance to say anything to him.  When I spoke of my gratitude journal earlier in my presentation, what I didn't say is that the one thing that has consistently shown up page- after page- is his name.  All the little, all the big- all the ways he has seen me through.  

The rest of the afternoon was filled with breakout sessions.  They were on a variety of topics and so engaging and filled with helpful information.  Its occurred to me, that along with a cancer diagnosis, comes a crash course in all things related to having cancer.  It instantly makes us students.  And what was so evident to me, is how much knowledge and wisdom these women have gained throughout their journeys.

Breast cancer has clearly transformed how so many of us have chosen to live life.  The other thing that struck me was how none of us stage iv survivors/speakers, had ever met before.  But our speeches were interlaced with the words, gratitude, love, grace and living fully in the present moments.  We may each have had our own take, our own story, but they were so similar in those common elements and it was really a moving discovery.

The sun came out for a few short minutes, but quickly disappeared under the clouds again.

This is my friend Kristin, who just completed treatment and celebrated one year since diagnosis!  She is a beautiful woman-inside and out, and I have loved getting to know her. Kristin was asked to participate in the creation of this beautiful glass sculpture piece.  

Kristin added the logo of our Breast Friends Cancer Support Group. So neat to see the artwork!  It will be auctioned off with funds going to support breast cancer survivors here in our local community.

I tried so hard to garner a photo of Shelby Terstriep.  But she was one busy and engaged woman and this is not my photo.  I was just honored to get to meet her finally Wednesday.  Her patients all speak so lovingly of her, and its clear after our day with her- why they do. 

Our final speaker, was a stage iv breast cancer patient of Shelby's.  And she brought us all to tears.  She  says Shelby is the type of doctor who celebrates your victories with you, and sheds tears of sadness with you when the news is less than desirable.  She teaches you, brings research to you, and makes you feel like you matter.  

Clearly- Shelby was all of that yesterday, and so much more.  Her and her team did an outstanding job at the retreat.  Her vision for the future of breast cancer treatment and it's survivors seems truly to be her life's mission.  

That bag of rocks we all wrote out words on?  Went home with us.  The one with the word fear written on it?  Thrown in the river bed by the side of the barn at the end of the day. Clearly, not needed by any of us, with all the tools we were armed with that day, to put fear in its place.

I left the retreat  inspired, moved, and touched.

Monday, October 21, 2013

the things that matter most... (the big reveal)

"The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way. This simple and profound intimacy is the love that we all long for. "  ~Jack Kornfield

I've been alluding to some events from our last two days of our trip that profoundly impacted me- more than I could possibly express.  The tears, long withheld, cloud my eyes as I reflect back this gloomy and wet Sunday morning.

While in Nashville our first day, it was the first photo of Nashville that I posted on instagram that my beautiful friend, Shannon, commented on.

"Are you in Tennessee?" She asked.

As soon as I saw it, something stirred inside me.  Why hadn't I thought of it sooner? 

Shannon, herself living in Tennessee, had asked me to come visit her when we went to Myrtle Beach last spring.  We drove right through her town.  But we had family with small children anxiously waiting for us in Greenville, SC.  And somehow I knew I wanted more than a couple of minutes to see Shannon and the girls.

Do you all remember Shannon? Or the Shan Clan as our dear Sara (Gitzen Girl) so often referred to them?  

This is a screen capture of Sara and Shannon with "Grace girl" and "Pearl girl."  Sara had her own names of affection for them.

Shannon and Jason and the girls would drive 15 hours, just to be with Sara for a few days.  Behind the scenes, Shannon used her flip camera to video moments from their day and share them daily with Sara.  If Sara wasn't leaving her house, the world was coming to her through two adorable girls and their momma,  who all travel extensively for dance competition and shows.  

It was Shannon who so graciously wrote Sara's blog when Sara entered hospice and started the last stage of her journey home.  Shannon so eloquently kept us all informed, while epitomizing the true meaning of friendship and love that knows no bounds.

And when Sara left us for her heavenly home, it was Shannon, who would text me, send me cards and notes, loving me, praying for me, from afar.  

Why hadn't I thought of this sooner?  Embrace!   Now- was the time to go and meet Shannon! 

Despite a late night out to the Grand Ole Opry, (will blog at a later time), Rick and I left Nashville last Friday morning to drive a few hours to meet our Shannon... finally.

I never would have dreamt, conjured in my brain, believed- I'd ever meet or see Shannon face to face.  That I'd have my own cheek, touching hers, just like she was able to with Sara.  

As most of you know, I tried on 3 separate occasions to visit Sara myself, who was a 10 hour drive from our house.  But there was a massive flood the one year.  And Sara was sick the second time and unable to have visitors.  The third time, I was having not just chemo, but surgery at the time of her funeral.  

So Rick and I met the Shan Clan.  We spent an entire afternoon at their beautiful house.  We ate delicious food, laughed at the funny and utterly adorable girls.  Watched an impromptu dance recital that would literally blow your socks off.  And just had such a heart-filling, soul-nourishing, wonderful time. 

I could have stayed all night- and they certainly extended the invitation.  But we still had several hours to get to Louisville.  

One of the last "gifts" I received- because really, knowing Shannon is the biggest gift of all- was a bag with goodies, including the beautiful choose joy pillow from above.  Sara had received one, Shannon had one, and now I had one.  Talk about connecting the dots!  Speak of the aligning stars!

I clung to that pillow all the way to Louisville, and off and on throughout our drive the next day where we eventually ended up in Des Moines, Iowa.

And this is when the thought occurred to me. 

Again- out of nowhere- it hit me like a ton of bricks.


I scoured my phone for the name, the location, the address.

It was clearly out of our way, but if we zig-zagged some of the back country roads, could we do it?

Rick was all in.  

Any guesses where we decided to go?

It was 5 years in the making...  October 6th, 2008 was the first time she officially came over to leave me a comment on my blog.  

Our "story" began to grow from that moment on.  

As a stay-at-home mom, I had few moms home during the day time hours.

But here was my new friend- who was home- day and night.  Once I figured out how open she was to communicating, the emails, texts, and comments flew between us.

I was so non-techie. She laughed and gave me a link tutorial.

It felt like we were kindred spirits in so many regards.  

When I talked her into using her inspiring quotes as blog buttons and offering to pay for them to be made- she surprised me by learning code all on her own.  

When I asked her big questions about her faith- she wrote blog posts with bigger answers than I could have ever discovered on my own.  

I watched as others began to embrace her message, her faith, her indomitable spirit.  Her blog grew, her audience grew, and above all else my bond with her was based on pure and unconditional love, like I've rarely experienced.

She mentored me so, and it was I for the longest time who thought she needed me.

Oh how I've learned.

Quite honestly, looking back, I think God placed her in my life to prepare me for my own journey through a life-threatening illness.  And to show me what pure love feels like.

Have you figured out who she is by now?

 After almost 5 years to the date, I finally got to "meet" my beloved Gitz!! 

I traveled almost directly from Shannon, to our sweet Sara- with my choose joy pillow firmly in my hands.

I sat in such peace and tranquility.  I cried on and off the entire way there.  Emptying... to fill... as she taught me. 

I made a video of the whole experience.  It didn't survive my still technically inept hands!  Some things just don't change.  

But I forever have her etched into the fabric of my heart.  

We didn't meet on this side of heaven.

But, one day- girlie- in God's perfect timing- we will be reunited. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

When the stars line up...

“Sometimes, the stars line up, the gods smile, and love gets a fighting chance. Just a chance. That's all it can really hope for. No guarantees, no certainties” ― Tess Gerritsen

I've traveled light years in what I've learned over the past 5 years of blogging. Not just in the kosher and technical ways to blog, but truly in what its like to live in community with others- especially if its a blog community.

I didn't know it would take a trip to Nashville for the line to be drawn through so many of my "dots," that seem to have been scattered since the beginning of my time blogging. 

I didn't plan to go to Nashville, to meet any blog friends.  It wasn't on the agenda, and the thought didn't occur to me simply because I wasn't ever certain I could even go on the trip.  The main reason of the trip was for Rick to shoot hockey photos of our friend Matt Cullen, for his charity and for our local newspaper.  Period.

Me, getting cleared to go, was last minute.

And I was worried a bit.  How well would I travel?  What would happen when the stomach cramps and need to be steps from a bathroom kicked in?  How would I deal with the fatigue that plagues me often?  

This is where my word "Embrace," usually comes into play.

I listen to my spirit, lean in and decide to just go.  I try to let my human brain and its need to feel in control, surrender to what I could never possibly conceive.  To be guided by faith and trust in something, someone,  bigger than I. 

So I casually reached out to my blog friend, Melissa, knowing she doesn't live far from Nashville.

Melissa is a beautiful soul, a mom to two adorable kiddos, Camden and Rory, a wife to Brian, and a cancer sista, living with ovarian cancer, diagnosed within weeks of myself.

It was her sister, Becky, who wrote a beautiful comment on my blog, having battled breast cancer herself, who introduced Melissa and I.

And just look what happened?  We met, in person, face to face.  I heard her voice for the first time.  I hugged her, as I longed to do so often over the course of the last 2 1/2 years. She is every bit as real and beautiful and funny in person (oh my goodness do I find her humor refreshing) as she looks and sounds on her blog. 

We've prayed for each other, shed tears for each other, and written the words that only the other one will fully understand at times. 

She so eloquently wrote about our time together in her post entitled connections.

Our morning at the Thistle Stop Cafe flew by.  I felt as though I was meeting a lifelong friend for a long overdue lunch.  I clearly didn't see this "dot," coming.

So who could have possibly thought, in the meantime, another blog friend was preparing to invite us to come and see her- one dot leading to the next... leading too...

In the meantime, Rick was preparing for the home opening game where the Nashville Predators would take on none other- than Matt Cullen's former NHL hockey team- The Minnesota Wild.  

Talk about a bittersweet night.  Just who would come out victorious on this inaugural home game? 

A party on the plaza was complete with live music and a "red carpet" of sorts for the players to walk upon arriving at the arena.

I have to say, by comparison to the "State of hockey" in Minnesota, the fans were a bit more relaxed and quiet, something I was unaccustomed to.

Ronette and I with our "Cullen" jerseys.  I was the lucky recipient of a generous gift of Matt's very first Predators jersey this summer and so proud to wear it the first night in support of Matt.

The Wild warming up.

I took more photos and videos with my phone that night and they are all lost now.  The uber cool one I lost?  The one of Vince Gill singing and playing music in between periods of the game. 

But Rick got this awesome shot of Vince's daughter, singing the national anthem before the game, and turned it into this painted photo rendition. More of Rick's photos can be seen at his photograhpy facebook page RWP. Would love for you to stop by and like his page!! 

Here is another one of Rick's photos of Matt with the puck.  Matt went on to get an assist and the Predators would win the game 3-2!  

Two of the Cullen boys, clearly still in transition as well.  While one cheered every time the Preds would score, the other cheered equally as loud when the Wild would score.  Somehow, I knew exactly how they were both feeling.

I'm in the midst of finishing the story about the "dots and stars" aligning for me on this trip and will post it soon. It resonated so deeply with me and I am hopeful so many of you will get something out of it too.

 I'm also working on my speech which is suddenly taking place next week!  

In the meantime my visit with Dr. Panwalkar went well on Tuesday.  

He was relaxed and rather humorous and that hearty laugh always does my soul well.

I will begin radiation on Monday the 28th for 3 weeks.  

I will also at that time, be taking a break from Tykerb.  I may get a few days of feeling more like myself again.  Amazing the things I now find myself looking forward too.

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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