Friday, February 28, 2014

The last big push

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do.” – Byron Katie

Somehow, we're still here.  Still together.  A family.  And that night earlier this week was a full circle kind of night.

Colton had the much anticipated end of the season parent-child game.  We expanded to include siblings this year.  And Nolan, coming off an intense practice of his own, still mustered the energy to come and skate.  

When Nolan's team was younger and had parent-child games, they were a little intense.  Nolan would get frustrated when Rick would shoot and score against Nolan's team.  He'd become feisty and aggressive if the Dads were scoring too much and I would be cringing in the stands, watching Nolan see red.  His competitive juices were flowing and he was not going to lose.  

Rick took photos the last year of Nolan's game, and stayed on the sidelines, to avoid all the conflict for Nolan. 

Enter Colton.  Maybe Colton would be excited to have Dad come and play?  But Colton wasn't too keen on having his Dad come down and shoot on him either. And then to think Nolan might fire his rocket shot against Colton?  Colton wasn't so sure about this night either.

But we've grown.  We've been stretched and made to fall apart in ways, that have helped us grow back together in even stronger ways.

Nolan kept his competitive spirit in check and simply had fun.  He split his time between the two teams- dishing the puck off to the kids when he played with them, helping them score, and scoring a few goals for the parents, when… well… they needed a little extra gas.  

The game is certainly more fun when the score is at least close.

And Colton was in his glory- making save after save- both from the parents and from the kids.  

We left that night, fully feeling our family-ness.  

Nolan has one more big regional tourney here in town this weekend.  We have team dinners, and breakfasts, and a tourney to run and lots of hockey to play and watch this weekend.

Ummm- so how did I, the OLDEST of the family,  become the second smallest all of a sudden?  

All the kids with their Dad's and Coaches and siblings.

A few more treasures have come through my door as of late…

Thank you Jennifer- what a sweet surprise.  The i-clips- are the coolest thing ever- and the sweet card along with the chocolate made for a day brightener for sure!  

Karen and I both were intrigued when our friend Hilary wrote about "Zentangle."  The Zentangle website states "Anything is possible... one stroke at a time."  

But you have to check out the link and go see for yourself how cool this looks.  So Karen, graciously sent me my own doodle book and the perfect pens to try!  

Thank you!

I can't wait to try!!

We giggled when we saw the rooster cards that came with this sweet note… ahem… and there may have been a plate of cookies that came with… that disappeared in record time.  I never even got a photo of them at all.  Thank you Greta and Angie! 

Which leads to the last delightfully delicious treat to arrive- some scotcharoo bars.  And they never made it past the camera lens either.  Straight to our stomachs and so worth it!  

Thank you to the anonymous person that thought of us- you made our day!

We've made it.  As of this morning mom is 100% out of her apartment and we made it through the check-out process unscathed. 

We've donated and given away much, whatever mom would agree to.  Stuffed animals to the kids.  A chair to her friend.  A coffee pot to the community room, etc. Traces of her going for good causes.

The rest of her things?

75% of her is now in our hallways, our kitchen, her old house, and in all of our cars… everywhere we can store a piece or two for now.  

We still have some work to do.  But mom has officially left the apartment building. 

It was a bittersweet night, driving out of the lot for the last time.  Thinking of Dad and the 3 days he lived at the apartment before he passed on.  And now mom, having moved on as well, residing in a new room, surrounded by as much of her "home" as we could fit in her space.  

~All shall be well~

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do.” – Byron Katie

So much easier friends, if you do.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Running to become...

My brain can hardly keep up.  The "deluge" that has ensued since last week is out of this world.  Both figuratively, and honestly?  Quite literally.  I have heard from followers, believers, readers, encouragers,   friends, and family, from all corners of the world.  I've tried to my utmost ability to respond to those who take the time to reach out to us.  

My, how you know, just exactly what to say… even when you claim you don't… it all helps.  

I will have to update soon with a few more things… but for now I will go with this.

Meet Deanna.

Deanna and I went to the same church together growing up.  I was closer in age to her younger sister, who is the friend we adopted Crosby from a couple years ago.

This was part of an email I received from Deanna toward the beginning of the year: 

"Every year I run the Donna Deegan Marathon (I do the half). It's called 26.2 with Donna. She is a three time survivor of breast cancer. She is quite inspiring for the community of Jacksonville and she runs it every year. This is the 7th year. You will have to check out her website when you have some time.
I'm going to run it for you this year! "

Yesterday was Deanna's race! Look at the bib she had designed with my picture and a caption which reads:

"Vicky Westra- you inspire me with your blog!  A true woman of faith.  Today, I run to "become."

So she ran! 

Here is the message she left on the huge pink truck they brought in for everyone to sign. 

And here she is with her medal!

I am sufficiently blown away.  Encouraged.  And inspired myself.

Deanna- you rock!  

We are in the midst of completing the packing, cleaning, and moving of all of mom's things out of her apartment. Again- the blessing of family and friends coming to help, sort, organize, fold, box, etc. has been so substantially helpful to us.  I fail to do them justice in expressing the sheer amount of gratitude I have for all they have done.  

I am finding the distraction of packing and moving my mom to be a mixed blessing.  Its thrust me from thinking of myself too much, and instead caused me to focus on my memories of Dad, and my childhood, and the plethora of memories from the past that await around each corner at Mom's place.  

I also got a report in the mail from Dr. Panwalkar.  It showed my tumor markers have indeed risen.  And even though its a standard form-type-letter- the last line was still a reassurance and good reminder.

"Call me with questions or concerns." 

I know, if I worked at it, I could certainly try to get a call through and maybe get to speak to Dr P.  Or at the very least, I know his nurse would take my questions and pass them along and then get back to me with the answers.  Or triage would try to answer them as best as possible.

I have avenues to explore if and when I need them.  

But this week is the big push to get my mom out of her apartment with as much of her security deposit in tact as possible.  

She is still telling us she is moving back to her apartment or one near by. 

Unfortunately, we've had to apprise her of the status of her movers-


sorry mom- next move is totally on you!  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

learning how to "live the question"

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. 
Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. 
Do not now look for the answers. 
They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. 
It is a question of experiencing everything. 
At present you need to live the question. 
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. "

"Letters to a Young Poet” 


Sometimes, you know before you know.  The "future enters into you," long before you are ready to know it.

It started early Tuesday morning with the Glad Press-n-Seal wrap. Who knew the household item of saran wrap would be so instrumental to chemo patients?

I grasp the scissors awkwardly with my compression-gloved hand. The first square I cut, flips sticky side down on the counter.  I grasp it quickly, but see the bread crumbs already globbed onto it, contaminating the side I need to affix over my port.

The next square I manage to place right side up, after I've carefully cut the perfect square.  It isn't until I have it slapped over the glob of Lidocaine cream I've squirted onto my port,(which numbs my port before the big needle is inserted at infusion time), that I again discover I've got the wrong side facing up.  So as I pull my hand away?  I pull both the sticky wrap, with half the cream attached to it right off my chest and it dangles from my fingers- threatening now to glob onto my glove. 

I hastily wash it off, not wanting my fingers to go numb from the cream, or to damage my glove.

Then I grab the scissors, cut the square again, and as I lean over assuring I have the right side ( I totally do this time- yay me!) , my necklace flops over and lands squarely in the middle of the exposed cream waiting for its shield in my hand.

What a ginormous mess!  And I think… really?  Is this how my day is going to go?  

A ten-second task- turning into 10 minutes of floundering and mess. 

But the sunshine streams.  My nerves calm.  I can do this. 

It feels like light years since I've been at Roger Maris,  and just like yesterday, all at once.

I get my labs drawn right away, and then settle in for the hour long wait till my appointment.

Right at 945, my pager goes off.

I don't wait long, once settled into exam room 7.

Dr. Panwalkar strides through the door and in two steps it seems, is sitting down already.  He is all smiles and I've heard him say "Hi- how are you- I've got just two things."

I smile and say "okay," then await what he has to tell me.

He quickly unfolds a pathology report he has printed out and brought with him, and says, 
"Here is the report on your ovaries."

"Here is where it mentions the cancer they found."

And here is where my world stops on a dime.  

"Wh… wha… whatttt?" My face must be saying this, as I haven't uttered a word.

He blanches, "Oh, he says, Dr. Tinguely hasn't called you?  She said she'd call."

I must be blankly, staring at him.  I'm trying to read… and reeling… and still stuck on "what?"

He quietly says, "I'm sorry for saying it this way if you didn't know.  I thought you knew."

The report, I see, mentions spots of cancer, the largest appearing about 12 mm, and blah, blah, blah.  I stop trying to read.   

I just feel stupid.

It has just never, ever occurred to me, that the cancer may spread to the outside of my ovaries.  Why didn't I think that was possible?  


the 4 places I know most breast metastases occur.

Why?  Why didn't we see this?  Oodles of scans- and it wasn't detected?

My mind is reeling.

Dr. Panwalkar is moving on with other topics, but my mind is stuck.

I'm trying to ask intelligent questions on the spot and not having very much luck… because the other side of me… is biting the insides of my cheeks to keep myself from crying.

Not sure why this one hits so hard.  I'm usually a pro when its less than good news.  And yet, usually, I know what may or may not be happening.  

But this time?

How is it, I still don't know my cancer?  Where is it at?  How much?  Should I be worried?  Terrified?  Scared out of my mind?  

WHATTTTTTT?  You found breast cancer on my ovaries?  I am officially blindsided, yet again. 

And I sit, stuck in numbness and inability to process much of anything.  Dr. Panwalkar conducts a brief exam, and tells me we'll start the new drug, Anastrozole, or Arimidex- it will be the cheapest alternative to try first.  


This is the one he mentioned he would hold off on 6 weeks ago- the side effects of joint pain being too much for some and he didn't want to subject me to it before.  He wanted to try Aromasin first.  But Aromasin, I think is expensive. And I feel the weight of making choices based on what we can afford now, versus, what might be the best treatment choice at that time- despite the cost.  

So I just nod and go along.  And as I sit there he says- we'll just check your tumor markers and then I'll see you back here in 9 weeks.


6 weeks felt lengthy- now 9? 

He asks if I have any more questions?

I feebly ask a rather incoherent question about why the PET scans didn't see the tumors on my ovaries?  He says " they were not in a size range that PET scans can normally detect.  Plus your abdomen has so much activity, its hard to decipher which is cancer, and which isn't."

"But we will do a scan within the next 6 months to see where you are at and we'll monitor your tumor markers."

And what are my tumor markers?

"Well they haven't come in from the lab yet."

(and as I type- still nothing showing up in my online Mychart account.)

Once again, he patiently asks if I have any more questions?

"So, if we didn't know there was cancer on my ovaries, then we also don't know if it might be on my uterus?"

He nods quietly… "and your other organs… yes."

But we won't scan for 6 months?  Yep- mind still reeling.

He is standing now and ushering me out and I am ready to go.

"But I think Arimidex is going to be really good for you!" He is very enthusiastic when he says this- cheerful and bright.

Yet part of me wants to just keep on going, right down the hall, past the lobby, and right out the door.

I don't.  I follow Dr. P to the infusion lobby and without having anything more to say- I turn to go find a chair.  I feel his hand briefly touch my shoulder, and then hear his footsteps fall away behind me, as I feel the first tears start to fall and I fumble to find a chair.  

Sarah Young…Jesus Calling…

You are feeling weighed down by a plethora of problems, both big and small.  They seem to require more and more of your attention, but you must not give in to those demands.

When the difficulties... feel as if they are closing in on you, break free by spending quality time with Me.  You need to remember I AM in all My Power and Glory.

Then humbly bring Me your prayers and petitions… you can learn to be joyful in Me, your Savior, even in the midst of adverse circumstances… 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

living our moments- full…

We had such a big weekend filled with all kinds of memory-making moments.  We had sadly learned the other goalie who shares with Colton in the goalie duties for the team,  had come down with a fever and was too sick to come this weekend.  Colton would have to be "on" for however many games we played.  We've prayed all weekend that Luke would recover soon.  

It was the first time I heard Colton admit he was a little nervous.  But he didn't act the part, and seemed calm and focused as we arrived in Park Rapids.  

We were facing teams we'd played all season long.  We knew any of them, including our team, could come out victorious.

The sun had warmed the temps to above zero.  The outdoor rink looked really enticing...

The arena in Park Rapids is just a quonset building and a slab of ice.  It was one of the colder rinks we've experienced this year.  

Colton getting focused as the team prepares for the opening face off.

Nolan had a game later Friday night.  He would play in his own district game a couple of hours away.  But first he got to watch his little brother play for one of the first times all year.

He was duly impressed.

It just wasn't our night.  We lost to Alexandria 7-4.  We would play the early morning game Saturday against Walker at 8.  It means a 7 am drop off at the rink and it becomes a very early morning.


With Grandpa's help in getting Colton to the rink, Rick and I had time to stop to catch the sun coming up over the frozen lake by Grandpa's lake cabin.  It was the perfect start to our morning.

Because, while our boys got off to an early lead against Walker and started tallying goals- the rest of us had our eyes glued to another game going on…

The USA Olympic game against Russia.  It had just gone to the shootout, and TJ Oshie ( a Northern Minnesota native who we had the pleasure of watching in high school, then college, and now as an Olympian!) was doing what so many of us have watched him do for years- score goals for his team!! 

We all crowded around- and watched another big moment in the making- Team USA beating Team Russia- in another standout moment in history!  

And don't you love what TJ had to say when he was being called a hero?  "The American heroes are wearing camo," he replied. "That's not me."

Colton's team went on to beat Walker 12-1.  

So we went back to the lake to rest up for our next big game Saturday night.  If we won we'd go on to play Sunday morning.  But if we lost, Colton's season would come to an end.  

We were playing Brainerd and knew the game could go either way.  We'd lost to them twice before, but hoped the third time would be the charm.

While we got down two quick goals right away, the team did a good job of holding off their offensive rushes.  Colton, affectionately being called "Rooster," made save after save and his whole team rallied to help keep the puck out of the offensive zone.  

But when the 4th puck got by Rooster, it started to feel like it would be too much for us to overcome.  

In a bittersweet end, the other team managed two more goals, while we mustered one at the very end-it simply wouldn't be enough.  

The Peewee B's lost and were eliminated from the District tournament.

For one of the first times, Colton's head was down and he was visibly shaken.  

It was a long time before they came out of the locker room.  We waited in a crowded lobby, knowing our kids would be devastated.

Colton held it together until our eyes locked through the crowd of people.  Tears sprang instantly to his eyes and he finally broke down.  He folded into my arms and the tears streamed, unabashedly.  He felt so responsible for the losses.  I uttered every word I could to try and help him see they both win and lose as a team- never as an individual.  

My momma heart was fresh with the pain of watching her son take the loss so hard.  

And yet, it also surged with pride, as parent after grandparent, after coach,  took the time to come over and speak heartfelt and encouraging words to him. 

Even Rooster's big brother told him how proud he was of his work and effort.  

It was later that night that Rooster crawled in bed with me to warm up for a few minutes.  I asked him if he was feeling any better.  In a moment of pure clarity of thought and emotion this is what he had to say.

"Today was one of my most favorite games.  I was only sad we lost because it was a district game and it means our season is over.  Otherwise what I care about is for everyone to see how hard I am willing to work.  I am just hoping everyone will see that I did everything I could- I was willing to face the hard shots and not back down, I didn't lose focus, and I tried so hard.  I want to move up a level next year.  And I am just hoping everyone saw today, that maybe I deserve that chance too."

Clearly he left it all on the ice- blood, sweat, tears- with a smattering of hopes and dream- it was all there.  

I could only hug him a little harder.  

Superman graciously composed a video of some of Rooster's saves from the game below.

While the weekend was truly centered around Colton's district tournament, Nolan had a district tournament too.  Only two teams comprise Nolan's district, so win or lose they will both move on.  However, they were seeded based on who won or lost.

I am happy to say the Moorhead Bantam AA's came out on top and earned the top seed in the District tournament!  Nolan had two goals and an assist and the team won 6-1.

Sunday, became our rest and recovery day, and a pretty fun day!  

The lake cabin had no tv reception and no wifi.  I have to say it was refreshing, and even the boys found plenty to do.

Welcome to the Westra's version of the "luge."  

All that's needed is a sled, a slope, and some slippery snow.  

Tuesday I have a full day at Roger Maris.  I need to go in early to get my labs done, then I see Dr. Panwalkar after almost 6 weeks of not seeing him, then I will have infusion.  Rick is traveling so I am going it alone.  My lymphedema has skyrocketed over this past week.  My right hand balloons on and off into a pretty moderate degree of swelling and becomes quite useless and uncomfortable.  I've got my beautiful compression sleeve and glove on at all times and will see if I've earned the golden ticket back to PT.  More details to follow soon…  

Friday, February 14, 2014


“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” -- Zora Neale Hurston

I wish you could see the sun streaming through my windows in all of its golden goodness.  I feel bathed in light, even though its still -11 outside.  The promise of spring still looms crisply in the air.

My second week of recovery has gone even better than the first.  I even ventured out on my own for early morning coffee with a friend one day.  The moments added up in a bountiful and beautiful way that morning and I walked away feeling rejuvenated and grateful that someone had come so far, and went out of their way to meet me so early for coffee and what turned out to be a whole lot more.

These roses showed up late last night and were worth getting out of bed to come and see.  It was sweet Colton, who after a long hockey practice, cut them, and put them so nicely in water for me.  He always knows the very thing that will make my heart beat just a little faster. 

"Love doesn't make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile." -- Franklin P. Jones

A surprise of a gift from a friend who somehow knew these would satisfy the craving for sweet I've had and also just touch me that they would think of me!  There may or may not have been 4 when they first arrived last night… smiles… 

I'm still finding beauty in the small… the tiny… the infinitesimal.  The moments add up and weave themselves into a beautiful tapestry if you let them.  

This one has Peewee B district tournaments this weekend.   All four of us get to go and watch.  Go Junior Spuds!!  If we win, we will advance to the regional tournament next weekend.  Otherwise, our season will end.  Fingers crossed they move on!! 

This goofy guy just cracks me up.  In his steadfast devotion to me, as I sit melting in heat that tingles from the inside out and erupts in a flash that flushes me from head to toe… this little guy starts panting right along- his sympathy "hot flashes" leave my sides heaving with laughter. 

“Love is not finding someone to live with; it’s finding someone you can’t live without.” -- Rafael Ortiz

Happy Valentine's Day!  I hope you find a small moment to treasure today.  I always say, "Live your moments- live your moments full." 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

abundance amongst the mess

The knock on the door came early in the evening, Thursday night, last week.  Rick and Nolan were in East Grand Forks for a hockey game.  Our friends had graciously given Colton a ride to hockey practice.  I had decided to spend some time downstairs in the laundry room.  I missed the sound of the ringing doorbell completely.  Crosby barely barked.

But when I finally came upstairs, I heard the alert buzz on my phone.

A text telling me to check the front step.

Oh. My. Stars.  Super ones at that.  

Would you look at what my friend Melissa found for us?  

Look at how cute she had them packaged!  Actually, the paper in the bag was much cuter, the boys had already torn through it excitedly when they got home later that night.  

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”
-Wayne Dyer

It'd be easy to tell you right now, how drained we are, in all honesty.  How the "overwhelming obstacles" in the Christopher Reeves quote are what we find ourselves facing, around each new corner.  How in the middle of the mess we are.  Just like so many others… we don't think we are alone in the hard stuff of life.

It's things like...

We have just two weeks left to get all of mom's things out of her apartment.  

I have infusion again next week and in all likelihood will start a new drug treatment therapy.

How is this one going to effect me?  

Colton starts his playoff hockey this weekend in Park Rapids, and Nolan's regular season games are winding down in Brainerd… the momentum is building for playoff hockey! Our weekends are full. 

All of this while I recover from surgery.  

Plus, the page upon page of charges, on my latest medical bill.  

Thousands and thousands of dollars being billed out all the way back to November, when I had radiation… then December when I had the unfortunate trip to the ER... I stopped counting when I got to 4o… thousand…  I wanted to just stop breathing.  

How much will get covered?  How much won't?  

Surgery hasn't even begun to register on there

And yet?

The icing on the cake.

Mom calls to tell me she'll stay at Bethany through the end of the month since its paid for, but then she'll be moving back to her apartment in March!  She thinks she's ready to tackle living on her own again… oh maybe with a "LITTLE" help.  

I can only shake my head in utter exhaustion and comedic relief. 

Part of me admires her spunk, and her spark.

Part of me marvels at how she can overlook how much help she is truly getting at Bethany.

She doesn't say she dislikes it at Bethany.

I just hear it in her voice- it doesn't feel like home yet, and she misses "home."

I so badly wish I could tell her we can honor her heart's desire.  

Instead I steel myself, to begin the conversation again, about how she needs to keep trying at Bethany.

Plus, my gracious cousin Pam, on her vacation day off from work, spent the entire day yesterday, helping me pack, box, sort, and organize mom's things for moving or donation.  

We accomplished a great deal of work, with Pam's skillful guidance and physical work, and me lending a hand- most carefully.  

It felt enormous to be making decisions about so much of my mom's entire life played out in front of me in "things," acquired and accumulated.  

and yet…

My favorite part of each day lately, has been the trip to my mailbox.  

I grip each envelope, run my fingers over each name, inhale each word.  It's like manna to my soul. 

Elizabeth, Roxanne, Kim, Susan, Jennifer, and Melissa.

"Abundance is what we tune into…" says Wayne Dyer.  Abundance then, is what we feel, not what we have.  

As I stand photographing the cards, Rick silently drops two more at my feet.

This one from The FM Breast Friends Support Group here in town.  A beautiful card, encouraging words, and a check- an enormously generous and thoughtful check.  Thank you friends!  So completely thankful for all of you Sistas! 

And this card- filled with the most kind and gracious words from a friend whose compassion and generosity knows no bounds.  Thank you Heather.

“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness 
of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it 
with an open and grateful heart.”  Sarah Ban Breathnach

It's this… all of this that leaves me in tears.  Not the "obstacles that overwhelm" it seems… thats not what I feel… it's the pure life-giving grace that falls in waves in and around me… that moves me so. 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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