Tuesday, January 26, 2016

holding space

What does it mean to "hold space?"

 I found a beautiful blog post, by Heather Plett that explains "It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."

I've been pondering it's meaning ever since I read it...  

We'd had quite a week already.  I'd finally conceded.  Sometimes, I struggle with catching my breath, when I have to walk very far.  Or I step out into the cold winter air and it stings me in a way I can't seem to catch my breath.  Or I walk up a flight of stairs.  And if I have to carry something?  Its not pretty to see what shape I'm in when I get to where I'm going. 

 So I've surrendered, to the blue tag special.  True to his nature, Dr. Panwalkar started to fill out the paper work right away when I asked.  He raised his eyebrow, and then said, "You mean we haven't done this already?" I simply shook my head no.  Then he quickly checked the box at the way right corner that said it was good for the next 6 years, and slid the forms over to me.  No questions.  No hesitation.   He was holding space for me.  He held space.   

It was a long day of chemo.   

Rick had little time to sit and work, but rather drove the rest of us back and forth to school, the clinic, the pharmacy.  He got me lunch.  Then took Nolan's skates to get sharpened. Then picked me up and we scurried off to Nolan's hockey game.  

It was late when we finally got home that night.  I was in a beyond tired 6-drugs infused- kind of stupor by that time.  I just wanted bed.  Blankets.  Warmth.  Sweet sleep.


The sheets were still in the dryer.  It had been my last hurrah, the day before.  Its like chemo-nesting.  You run the errands, wash the clothes, scrub the bathrooms, clean the counters, and get ready, to do absolutely nothing for the next few days.  

So superman went and got the sheets.  And slowly worked his way around the bed, tucking, folding, bending, arranging.  Rubbing his back while he worked.  Tired.  He was so tired.  While I lay there, watching.

And tears crept down my face... because... then this.

I said "I'm sorry.  You've become me.  I am burdening you. You do all of you, and then you have to do me, too."  I used to drive the kids, run the errands, make the bed..."  And you'd work.  Now?  You don't get a choice.  You do both. You have to do both."

And that sweet man said this... "Honey, I just feel like I'm making up for all those times YOU had to do it all, and I wasn't here to help you.  Thats all."  And he kissed my fuzzy little head, and pulled the blankets around me. 

Holding space.  He is holding space for me too.  

Today, I was reading Ann Voskamp's Saturday post and she had a song in her post...

My friend had mentioned this song to me last week, and she said I thought of you because, your maiden name is "Held."  

"Just be Held" by Casting Crowns...  Could it fit any more perfect?  He is King of holding space!

I'm off to see Dr. Panwalkar today.  I had blood drawn from my port today, and my lab work shows some fairly low numbers.  We'll see about chemo...

In the meantime maybe you want to hear this?

Who will you hold space for today?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winner... and we danced.

"This disease has taken things from me, but it can’t take away the spirit that God put inside of me, the core of who I am as long as I choose to nurture that side of myself."  Sara Frankl

I return to Sara's words over and over again.  What I love the most about having these words in a book?  Its right at my fingertips- and I love "holding" her words.  I've carried them in my heart for so long, and now they've sprung to new life through the pages of her book.  The winner of my Choose Joy book giveaway is...



Please email me with your full name and mailing address at vwestra14 (at) gmail (dot) com! I will place the order and get it mailed off to you as soon as I can!! 


 Our schedule has been packed with all kinds of events surrounding hockey- from providing a team meal, to making food for the hospitality suite, to traveling with the boys.  We just seem to always be somewhere between Roger Maris (cancer treatment center) and a hockey arena.

Last week I met with Dr. Panwalkar for the results of my PET scan and brain MRI.

While I had already been given a copy of the MRI test results through my online medical chart system, I always want to be sure that my interpretation is in line with Dr. Panwalkar's.  So he pulled the scan up and reiterated that he also thought there were no changes in the two spots in my brain- no growth, and no new spots appearing either.  Whew.

So then we turned to the PET scan.  He loaded the previous scan from 3 months ago, side by side with the one from a couple of weeks ago.  Then started making sure we were looking at the same "slice" on either side.  

He clicked his way through, what was essentially a black and white scan.  Some of the white areas are scar tissue that has formed from old radiation treatment, and surgical scars.  So as we paired the words of the report from the radiologist, to what we saw in the scans, over and over again we read the words, "no activity."  Meaning that no yellow was showing up which indicates active cancer.

So Dr. Panwalkar smiled and said, "it looks good."  

He then examined me and asked how the side effects were going.  

But I was still processing the scan results.  

"So would you call my scan results, stable?"  I ask him.  "How do I describe this to others?" 

He leans back in his chair, then turns and faces me.  He is slowly shaking his head side to side, smiling, and says "its rare when we are dealing with stage iv, but essentially you are have no evidence of disease,  (NED) or we could say you are in remission. " 

Instantly I'm flashing back, when Dr. P  mentions good ole Mr. NED, the dance partner I've longed to call my partner... from a post long ago...

"Really… he is just a big tease.  That Mr. NED that just subtly hints that he might be tapping me on the shoulder.  I've longed to dance with him, its true.  To have him fully envelope me in his safe and secure arms, if only for the briefest of spins around the dance-room floor.  

Mr. NED, or officially, "No Evidence of Disease" is what so many of us Stage 4 Breast Cancer Survivors hope to achieve one day. Remission is rare- so rare- and when the evidence of cancer is gone, its called "no evidence of disease," because its often a brief interlude.  A few weeks may pass, a few months it seems, and then cancer asserts itself again.  This is the nature of Stage 4 disease. " 

As I snap back to the present, I ask about my tumor markers.  "Well they're rising.  So we know you have cancer cells circulating, and we'll keep a close watch like usual."

"And treatment?" I ask.  

"Yes, we'll continue on with the same treatment for awhile."

And this is when Superman swoops in to rescue me.  He tells Dr. Panwalkar about the rash I have all over my arm.  And the diarrhea that plagues me. "Not much quality to her life when she is tied to the bathroom, and then the bedroom for long stretches from feeling so weak and depleted."

So Dr. P suggests reducing the dose of two of the drugs.  

I nod in agreement.  Still trying to absorb all the news.

We've concluded our appointment and I say to Dr. P, "It'll be 5 years in the middle of March..."  Again he smiles, and says in the most confident manner, "then we'll start on getting the next 5 after that..."  

What I'm really choosing?  Is to believe, that prayers have been answered.  Amen. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Choose Joy and a giveaway!

It might be my favorite gift of the holiday season.  Sara's book is being released January 5th-today!  I was lucky enough to be a part of the "launch team." Since we had a  PDF file of the book sent to us, imagine my utter delight in opening a package with Sara's and Mary's book inside!  

Sara blogged at Gitzen Girl starting 2008.  We were blogging buds from the start- and soul sisters shortly thereafter.  As my friend Robin, at All Things Heart and Home, so succinctly says in her post...

"Sara, a beautiful vibrant young woman, developed a rare autoimmune disease in her twenty’s and suffered with ever increasing and debilitating pain for nearly 20 years...  But something else was increasing throughout those years…Sara’s trust in God which resulted in Sara exuding this fantastically beautiful spirit of joy."  So well said, Robin!  If you want another beautiful perspective and a chance to win a copy of the book you should visit Robin today! 

It was months after my stage iv breast cancer diagnosis that our sweet Gitz went to her heavenly home, in 2011.  But first she took the time to breathe as much life into me, through her faith and joy filled words, on a "virtual couch," on facebook, she made for Robin and I too "sit" and talk with each other.

I brought the book to chemo and dove right in.  But it wasn't until this weekend that I truly squirreled myself away in quiet and found myself dog-earring pages.  Then underlining in pink.  Then writing notes in the margins.  Soaking it in, cherishing her words, embracing her keen insight and shedding fresh tears for how close her words make her feel to me.  That urge is ever present to fling out a text,  pound out an email, or pick up the phone and call.  Yet a part of me knows, shes here, close by, with the flush of her wings stirring the air every now and again.

As I sat thinking about her life, her lessons, and how she mentored me to live with a terminal diagnosis, long before I knew I would need it, I had also been looking for my new word for the year 2016.  

As I sat re-reading the passages I had underlined, I saw a theme keep showing up.  Two words.  And choose was always a part of them.  And while joy was often the second one, many other words were used as well.  Trust, hope, faith, gratitude, purpose, God, etc.

Then on page 27 she talks about the last time she went outside.  She'd gone to visit her doctor for what would be the last time.  And knowing her body would react in a harsh way to the air and allergens outside, she came back to the condo and relished a few minutes with her mom and dad on the patio.  

"A lot of things aren't going right because I left the house on Thursday.  But I choose the joy.  I choose the conversation, the relationships, the breeze and the sunshine.  And I especially choose the French fries."

That's our Sara!  And that's why I am choosing the word "choose," in honor of her.  I pray that "joy" is my go to word.  As she so wisely says "I choose the joy. When something is going badly and I'm dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful for.  I swear to you, it's as simple as that.  You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow.  And before you know it, you'll have an attitude of joy more than any other attitude you have at your disposal."

I hope all of you will get a chance to choose Sara's book= Choose Joy.  You may even find a few words in it from a friend of Sara's named, *cough* Vicky!  I knew of one of the parts, but to turn the page and suddenly see my name and one of the many, many questions I posed to her... humbled and honored to say the least.

So just in case you can't get your copy just now- In honor of our sweet Sara, I'd like to give one copy away!  
Please leave a comment below and I'll pick a winner at 5 pm on Thursday night through random.org with winner announced at a later date!  

I'm off to see Dr. Panwalkar today with results from my PET scan.  Then off to chemo infusion for the afternoon, hopefully wrapping up in time for Nolan's hockey games tonight.  

Its a blessed day- I pray you all decide to "choose," to live it to its fullest today! 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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