It happened on October 14th, 2011. Five years ago, today. I was extremely humbled and honored to have my very first story published in the on the minds of mom's magazine.
It popped up in my "On This Day," reminder in Facebook, today. Of course it did. Just pinch me now. I couldn't have possibly known, somehow this would be a "God" wink to me.
It's been a hard week of loss, and grief. Our dear friend Karla Johnson, the one in the video I shared, who had asked for Matt Cullen's stick for grandson Brody,
went home to be with Jesus, last Friday. Although I had infusion this Tuesday, I wouldn't have missed Karla's prayer service, Wednesday for anything. Karla has taught me well. Her love of her family was so much of what she talked about with us at our group. She was the mom of 6 kids, and grandmother to 3, with the third grandbaby arriving just before our Karla left us. Karla was also a NICU nurse, at Sanford Health, having worked over 35 years in nursing. One can only imagine the sheer number of babies Karla took care of.
As my friends and I drove out to the small town Karla's service would be held, we weren't in the least bit surprised as the sky turned bright pink, on an otherwise cold and cloudy day. So fitting in keeping with the spirit of Karla. Her family had even strung pink lights across their house, and wore Team Karla shirts.
We arrived to a very packed school gymnasium. The stands were full, as were all the chairs lined up on the floor. Clearly, Karla had touched a lot of people. The vision of a "living legacy," stretched out right before my eyes.
As we went to sit down, a woman came over to me. She smiled and said, "I don't know if you'll remember me. But I was the one who helped you in the ultrasound department when you were first diagnosed..." Instantly, emotion washed over me. I'm sure my hands flew to my face, and then somehow we simply embraced- locked in the moment that had happened just over 5 years ago. I struggled with remembering her name... Michelle. But that voice, and her beautiful face and the compassion that enshrouds her, brought me instantly back to that moment. I have longed to go visit her over the years. She truly felt like an angel, here on earth, sent to see me through one of the toughest days I have ever known. (see below)
And here she was again- with Karla having brought us together. Michelle even mentioned the magazine article, I've copied below, where I wrote about what she did for me. It was a full circle moment of a huge magnitude for me.
I have felt a longing to write, while not clearly knowing what to say. Psalm 46:10 has been on my heart lately, "Be still and know that I am God." So I've been trying to listen more than I speak. To quiet my mind. Hush my heart. Feel the sadness, while also remembering the joyful laughter we shared with Karla.
Karla with her new baby grand daughter, Addyson. We have no doubt, Karla, the baby whisperer, is rocking babies in Heaven.
Imagine my surprise today, to see, it was precisely 5 years ago today, that I shared the story, of my journey with breast cancer, and how Michelle, so graciously shone light through the dark, and steadied my walk.
I'm so humbled to say, I'm still living my moments, fuller than ever, counting my gifts as the list continues to grow.
(This is not the news, I've been waiting to share- its coming soon. But this is what was on my heart in this moment.)
"I'm whispering in their ears a lot lately, repeating the same messages. “When you need me and I am not there, you know you can always find me in your heart.” “I love you to the moon and back forever," etc. I have such an urgency for them to know my heart.
My youngest son is nine. Our relationship has grown especially tender. He still holds my hand when we walk to the park. He brings his blanket and curls up beside me to watch “cooking shows,” watching and pretending not to notice when I doze off. He has changed a lot these past few months, in all the ways 9-year-olds do, and in ways no mother wants for her child.
My 11-year-old is changing too. He is taller and faster. He consumes enormous quantities of food and is still starving 5 minutes later. But he has turned down three birthday parties and two sleepovers with his friends. Instead he sneaks upstairs to our room and sleeps on the floor next to my bed, just to be near me. He is stronger on the outside, but it belies how soft he is on the inside. My heart swells and aches for him.
The lump in my breast appeared last December. I knew the feel, the slightly jello like wiggle encased in what I assumed to be cysts again. I kept a careful watch on them. I cut back on caffeine. I got enough sleep. And yet they grew. In March it was time to see the doctor.
I recall at that time, I feel no panic, no worry. I've been here before. The exam, the mammogram and then the ultrasound. But urgency rears its ugly head. I am sent immediately for the ultrasound. The ultrasound tech, briefly examines me, lowers her eyes, walks out to speak with the doctor. She is somber, quiet when she comes back into the room. She flips on the ultrasound image. Its then that I see the blood-red, angry splashes leaping from the screen. “We think it has many characteristics of cancer... no, we know,” she says, “its cancer. I'm sorry to tell you, you have breast cancer. The doctor agreed I could tell you. I think you should be prepared. A lot is going to happen very quickly now. Surgery as soon as next week. Chemo and radiation too.” I find myself crying. Just like that? A few seconds and you can tell? I haven't even had a mammogram yet, or a biopsy. I learn that day, you can see cancer on an ultrasound if it’s big enough. Clearly, my tumor is big enough.
The tech brings me kleenex and my phone. How am I going to do this? I am filled with regret, worry, concern. My husband, my kids, my mom. What will this do to them? She, the tech, is compassion and concern. And it dawns on me, she is brave. She made a decision to be the one to tell me, and not wait for the doctor. I marvel at how she did that. And she hasn't left my side. In all my blubbery, salty-teared sobs, she stands witness, as my heart breaks. Yet a seed plants in my head. She is also courage. And she is showing me how to do this.
Later, it occurs to me, I chose the word “alive,” this year. Each year I choose a word as a theme and watch how it manifests in my life. I went with the word "alive" after my Dad died. I simply wanted to feel "alive" in everything that I do. “Fighting to be" alive was not how I hoped to experience the word. Life is funny like that. And oddly, 6 months past my diagnosis, breast cancer has kicked open the door to feeling my aliveness in ways I couldn't have anticipated.
After much reflection, I realize I have both an urgency to live, while at that same time, wanting to slow down enough to savor every moment of each day. And the key to really doing that? Expanding your time, instead of worrying about extending your time.
I feel more and notice more in the tiny moments of my day. The sweet smell of sunshine and sweat mixed in my son's hair after playing outside in the sun. How golden the sunshine is in August. How water lapping at my feet soothes my aching soul. How joy tickles and spills over when you delight in the small. And how gratitude in everything, even cancer, leads to wanting for nothing.
I have discovered grace can be found even in the most painful and seemingly hopeless times. Like the time my youngest got up in front of his entire second grade class at sharing time and boldly told them his mom had cancer. And that she was going to get better. The seeds of grace sewn by my second grader.
That was just the beginning of a tidal wave of grace and blessings I would receive, and cancer has made me take notice. I've learned to live my moments, feel my aliveness. Put my “grace glasses” on and live my best day today. To expand. Count my gifts. I am finding you can see them in the tiniest moments. If you are open to seeing them, they are all around us."