The Sky’s the Limit

At the beginning of the year I mentioned that I was wanting to focus on the concept of rest throughout the year. It’s now the end of July and As I sat down to write this I realized that rest is one of those illusive things in my world. Something I desperately crave but don’t often attain.

However, last week I spent five amazing days with two of my dear friends on a girls’ beach trip. That my friends, filled my heart with boundless peace!

We spent joyous hours on the beach, soaking up the sun and listening to the waves. We swam in the salt water. We walked miles along the different shops, enjoying conversation and laughs. We delighted in the views from a Ferris wheel, complete with an after storm rainbow. We were thrilled watching the dolphins playing along the beach outside our balcony window each morning, as well as getting a closer view of their beauty on a dolphin cruise. By far, however, the highlight of our trip—excluding the gift of time spent together—was the morning we spent parasailing. Yes, I said that right. I went parasailing. Me. The “afraid of heights,” “not so thrilled with deep water” girl that I am, I went parasailing—and thoroughly loved every single minute!

As we lifted up off the boat, it was as if I was being lifted right out of the cares and worries of the world, no longer weighed down by the stresses of this heavy earth. Weightless and free in an almost silent tranquility, floating high above the ocean. Watching the play of light and shadow as the sunlight glistened off the ocean waves was captivating. Observing a sea turtle swimming through the glimmering water was mesmerizing. The peacefulness enveloped us like a warm, safe blanket. The freedom of the open air was intensely gratifying. Our time in the sky was way too short, and so beautifully serene that I could have stayed up there all day. All week. For an eternity.

The beauty of this gift of flight was in the fact that the release from cares continued long after our feet returned to terra firma. In fact, I’ve now been home for a full week and can still close my eyes and relive the joyful serenity of those moments in the sky. The peace, the silence, the freedom. The rest. For those few brief moments I truly understood what rest means, what it brings to the body, mind, and soul.

Sometimes, rest requires a change. A change of pace, a change of routine, a change of thought. And sometimes, extraordinary, out of the ordinary, exhilarating experiences can actually bring rest.

 

Where Has the Year Gone?

One year ago this week, my home for sixteen years was wrapped up, boxed, bagged, and loaded into a moving van to head half way across the country—back to my childhood home of Texas. It was to be our homecoming. Our empty nest years to enjoy each other in a fun and vibrant city setting—a big change for this country girl married to the traveling boy with Kentucky farm roots. A change we were more than ready to explore.

This move has been the move that keeps on giving…and giving…and giving…until it hurts. Until it hurts beyond all proportions of what should have been the actual stress involved in this kind of move. The pain it has caused has been interminable. The stress of continual workers in and out of a house that should have been finished months ago continues ad nauseam.

The move that should have been a welcoming embrace to everything new and exciting has become a nightmare into the reality that is home building in today’s world of dwindling craftsmen. I could take this written thought in many different directions: the dying art of skilled tradesmen; the ineptitude and apathy of the average worker today; the callousness of corporations unable and/or unwilling to adequately meet the needs of the customer; a housing industry that has lost sight of the basic goal of building solid homes for the homebuyer; the high cost of not doing your work right the first time (or three) you attempt it.

While these are all very worthy topics of conversation—topics which really should be discussed at length, if we ever want to get a sense of “pride in workmanship and a job well done” back in our world today—but these are not the topics I wish to address today.

This is my one-year anniversary to my move “back home,” and the name of my blog, as well as my nom de plume for these past nine years, has been GlimpseJoy; so I am not going down the very slippery, slimy, depressing slope those topics could—and will—take me down.

After one entire year of living within the deepest darkest realms of this nightmare existence, I would like to step just outside and examine it from a slightly different angle. The angle through which I normally assessed my world, prior to this deep invasion of the soul. Trying to glimpse the joy in the midst of this chaos we call life. And this has been a quite chaotic year, to say the least, so glimpses might be all there are to be found. Maybe.

This move has drained me of much of my ability to express myself in the written word so there have been no blog posts about it. Thus my silence during the year was supposed to see renewed activity on this site. However, Brad and i both have shared a few of the shenanigans on Facebook, and if you have not followed along there, I will try to concisely list the facts of these past twelve months, before moving on to the purpose of this meandering of thoughts. I warn you, this is a story difficult to condense—please bear with my lengthiness. It is an entire year, after all.

First, envision three cars loaded with suitcases and belongings heading across the country in convoy—me alone with an extremely distressed cat, then each of our youngest two sons following closely behind. Happily contemplating a short ten days in a hotel before moving into our brand new home. A phone call mid-trip (literally mid-trip in mid-Mississippi) with the builder apologetically announcing that the home won’t be ready in ten days—more like 2-3 weeks…they say. It seemed the stair treads were not ordered in the proper time to install, but all else is on schedule…they say. The dozen or more delays prior to this point left us somewhat skeptical of the veracity of their timeline.

Skepticism was good. Upon arrival we discovered the house was missing way more than the stair treads. Very little had been accomplished in the month since we had last visited. There was at least six weeks of work left to be done before the home would be able to pass any inspections of occupancy. They agreed to pay to store our furniture for a month and find us a furnished apartment so we weren’t crammed into a hotel for the entire month. Well golly, wasn’t that nice of them?!

The apartment they picked was shady, to say the least. A rapid rundown of our days  apartment included a water heater fire—with all our belongings forever smelling of acrid electrical smoke; my car being broken into and Joshua’s car being stolen, inside a gated parking lot.

Back to the house. The first three weeks we were in Texas NO work was done on our house. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. On the house that only needed stair treads but actually needing flooring, and tiles, and cabinets, and landscaping—way more than stair treads—absolutely no work was even started during the first three weeks after we arrived in mid-July. Infuriating is a word you could use to describe it, but it falls way short of the mark.

It soon became abundantly clear we were not going to close at the beginning of August, their new promised date. Whenever we confronted the builders on this reality they continued to assure us it would definitely close the first week of August. Until one day about three days before their August 8 date, when I firmly (and emotionally) confronted them and told them I knew this was not happening and all I wanted was their honesty—for once. They finally capitulated and said it would be more like the end of August. August 28, to be precise. The reality that they actually had a date for the closing led us to understand they had known this all along but were unwilling to admit it to us. Why? Who knows. Apparently, Lying About Everything 101 is taught to all home building employees before they learn anything else. Even before learning how to actually build a house—if they ever learn that remains to be seen.

At our final walk-through the day of the actual closing—the Monday after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the state—it was clear the home was still not ready (no surprise as we had been walking through on a daily basis since our arrival in mid-July) and many things still needed to be finished or repaired, but at this point we were kind of between a rock and a hard spot.

So we agreed to close with the contingency that they would continue to work on our house after we moved in to make it right. This work has continued to this very day, one year after our move from Georgia, as we await the tile installers to come and repair the tile in the entryway, as well as re-grout the guest bathrooms—again.

This past year has been filled with appointments, arguments, and days of workers in and out all day, as well as a five week period where they packed up our belongings and moved us out completely in order to rip out all the flooring, half of the walls in the second floor, a leak in the master bedroom ceiling, and replace an improperly installed support beam—as well as a plethora of smaller items to numerous to even remember, much less list. However, the five weeks were apparently not long enough and while we are now back in the house and trying to once again settle in, we continue to have almost daily visits of workers of one sort and another. Not to mention the fact that their movers scratched, dented, and battered much of our brand new furnishings.

In a nutshell, that seemingly exhausting list is really a mere sampling of what we’ve endured in these past twelve months. Needless to say, exhaustion is the best word to express most of what we’ve been feeling along the way. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.

But this really isn’t what I wanted to focus on today. Today I wanted to look back at the mess that has been this past year and try to salvation something from the wreckage of all these “wasted” months. Today I am choosing to glimpse those moments of joy that popped up along the way…and amazingly enough they really were there if we chose to tiptoe tall and pull our head far enough above the chaos and look out over the edges of insanity that surrounded our immediate day to day.

Joy. What joy, you ask?

For one, the endless wide open skies I get to see each and every day. I grew up with these miles and miles of blue as my constant companion, and while I loved the hills and trees of the north Georgia mountain region, my heart sings to be once again surrounded by a daily diet of never ending skies. Even the stormy skies and winter laden grey skies hold endless fascination for me. No trees block my view here. My bedroom window faces the eastern sky and through my solar blinds I am greeted by the Texas sunrise most every morning.

Also, this country girl LOVES living in the hustle and bustle of the city. And while San Antonio isn’t the largest metropolis around, it’s plenty big enough for me—with the ability to walk to the park, the zoo, the botanical gardens, a few shops and restaurants, the riverwalk, the museum, the jazz club, and still feel as if I’m off in a quiet suburb when I’m at home. Downtown, with all it’s crazy tourist chaos and the heart of the riverwalk is just a couple miles away, the airport is a ten minute drive from our door, and most other areas of the city are within a twenty minute drive in all directions.

The joy of being back in my home state is a constant reminder of why we’ve suffered this craziness in the first place. I can honestly say I truly loved the almost six years we were in New Jersey. And our sixteen years in Georgia left us with beautiful memories and amazing friends. But after 21 years away, both of us knew it was time to return and make Texas our home again. It just felt right. Despite all the turmoil, tension, and turbulence we still know this move was the right thing for us. It’s just time to be home.

There is always joy in friendship and we have had this in abundance during these past months. Our little “subdivision” is twenty-two houses strong, and quite frankly, they are all really nice people. We look forward to having more time to get to know them all better. We have taken a special liking to a couple of families who moved in around the same time as us and had similar, although not as extensive, issues. We have had several dinners, outings, and many chance meetings to commiserate, complain, compare, and even chuckle over our myriad problems. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each other and our new community together. 

There are also friends from our past that we are slowly getting reacquainted with, and a few new friends, too. Overall, people have brought much joy to us in this crazy year. People have also been what has brought so much of the anguish and sorrow of these past months, it’s true; but for each person who has reminded me just how apathetic and selfish humans can be, there has always been multiple people to remind me of the loving goodness that fills them, as well. 

God has been beside us each and every step—even when it’s so dark that it’s hard to realize. This year hasn’t been easy. I haven’t made a very pretty picture of “faith in the midst of…” on any given day during this ordeal. I can honestly say that, for whatever reason, this season has been even more difficult—in its own way— to walk through than the cancer that started my blog nine years ago. But even on my worst days (and there were 365 of those), I do know He has covered us in His love and walked with us through the darkest days. And He will walk with us all the way to the end of this season and into the next—which we pray will be a little (or alot) less chaotic; but even if it isn’t I know He will guide us if we just remember lean on Him.

We also have the added joys of two darling animals to share our days. Alfred has been my constant friend throughout his six years of life, and this past year we have become comrades in arms against the continual onslaught of workers. Now we have been joined by our little Schatzi, an Aussiedoodle puppy we insanely adopted a month ago, while moving back into the house. (Who even contemplates that kind of absurdity?) But in midst of the distraction of housebreaking and puppy antics, she has brought her own brand of comfort to us all. She is a bundle of boundless energy and sweet-tempered love, overwhelming all of us with both from sunrise til sunset.

Finally, and not least of all, there’s the daily joys of continued life and health (definitely tempered by long-term stress, but still healthy enough) to be thankful for each day. There’s a roof over our heads—even though at times we’ve wondered if it would cave in on us if we walked too hard across the room; there’s food on the table; and family. Every breath we get to breathe is a joy to hold dear, and some days we even remember to be grateful for that blessing.

This little post has taken most of the week to get written, and now I must sign off as I am once again supervising the tile guys who have come to fix the tiles they messed up Wednesday while fixing the tiles. I truly can’t make this stuff up.

And the beat goes on!

It’s a Brand New Day!

Brand New DayWow! It’s been over a year since I visited this place. My blog site. The place where I open up and share my world with…the world. Where I explore the inner thoughts and emotions of life after cancer. It almost seems silly in some ways to say that. It has, after all, been over 5 years since my cancer diagnosis, and almost 5 years since the end of treatment–and the beginning of a new life. Long enough that the new life is no longer all that new.

And anyway, it’s the same old life, isn’t it? Still me. Still married to same wonderful pilot. Still mom to the same four amazing sons. Still live in the same house in the same town. Still friend to many of the same people and attending the same incredible church. And still have the same faith in the same Heavenly Father.

But in many other ways, I am not the same. Life truly is a great big adventure–each day is a brand new moment. I do sometimes–way too many times–fall back into the old routine of taking each day for granted. Each relationship as a mundane, same-old-same-old experience. But when that attitude creeps in now, it is rapidly followed by the amazing thought that I could be not here. That this day could have not been given to me, after all.

When that reality hits, I try to weigh the things I do against this one thought: what good is this day doing me or someone else? Am I growing as a person/mother/wife/friend/daughter of God? Am I making a difference in my own life/the life of someone else/the world? When the things I’ve been doing no longer rank high on this scale, I try to take note of that fact and change the course I’m on. Because in the giant scheme of things, life is really all about relationship and growth. And if you’re not building relationship, if you’re not making the world/yourself/others better by the things you do, then you’re helping them to rot. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing to be doing with the days we’re given. I know that it’s not the course I want to take.

One thing I’ve realized during this year off from blogging is that you sometimes have to look backward in order to grow forward. What?! I’ll try to explain. Sometimes you reach a point in life when you have to open up your life, take a deep, long look at what’s buried underneath in order to move past and fully live the life to come. Or even just to fully live the life you have at this moment.

I know that many people today–and always–have felt that looking at the past is needless and unnecessary. That it’s all in the past and you should just move forward, look ahead, and keep moving on. But I’ve now lived almost 51 years and I’ve discovered that sometimes there are things hidden deep within, buried deep beneath the surface of our thoughts that fester. We don’t always know they’re there, but they are. And just like a splinter broken under the surface of the skin, they begin to rub and irritate and infect everything we do and think, even though we can’t remember them.

This is the place I’ve found myself these past months–sifting through hidden splinters of my life. I’ve tried to keep them buried, but they finally began festering and infecting my world to the point that I must dig deep beneath the surface in order to lift them out and heal the wounds they’ve caused. If I don’t, my entire world will become septic.

When a localized infection invades the blood stream and spreads the infection throughout the entire system–a state of sepsis–this is to be septic. And it can be deadly. This is also what happens when a tiny–or not so tiny–fragment of memory is allowed to lodge within the mind for long periods of time, without being dealt with properly. And after fighting breast cancer five years ago, I decided that my world would no longer be filled with infection or inflammatory components; it will be filled with growing things, healthy things. Thus, all the septic-inducing splinters must go.

So once again, I find myself on a journey. Once again, it is the journey of discovering wholeness–this time of the mind. I once again need the comfort and assistance that writing brings–join me if you want. I welcome your company. I guarantee it will be an adventure. Not always pleasant or sunny, but my heart is always filled with the ultimate joy that comes from my faith in God and His loving guidance; so I know that even in the midst of the roller coasters ahead, there will be moments–glimpses–of joy along the way. Join me and we’ll glimpse them, together.

Que Sera Sera…The Questions of Life

fond memories There are times when writing doesn’t come as easy as it normally does. As cathartic as it is for me sit and write my thoughts and feelings, sometimes they are simply just too jumbled up to put on paper. Please forgive the rambling nature of this post. It is much lengthier than normal, and much more confused; but these are the thoughts running through my head these days and as jumbled up as they are in written form, you ought to witness what’s going on in my head! Thank you for bearing with me in this lengthy tome, and hopefully by writing all this confusion down I can once again get back to the joy of sharing glimpses of post-cancer life with you in the future!

When I was little, there was a song from the 1950s that I liked to sing. I really don’t know how the little tune got stuck in my head. Maybe my parents watched the Hitchcock movie that Doris Day sang it in while I was around, maybe it was still popular on the radio in the late sixties, or maybe my mom–who did a lot of humming around the house as she worked–used to sing it. All I know is that the song was a childhood favorite of mine–so much so that it is on my iTune playlist decades later.

mom and meThe title, Que Sera Sera, literally means whatever will be, will be. Often I find myself humming this little song when I need a reminder that life is what it is and we must simply accept it for what it is and move forward with grace. I guess it’s a more pleasant way of telling myself to suck it up and deal with it.

Right now I am at my mother’s home, visiting as she once again faces the decision whether to try a different chemotherapy route to treat her Stage IV lung cancer–a journey she has been traveling for over five years. While she was resting yesterday, I read this blog post by The Sarcastic Boob, reposted by mainlyhopeful. This article made me stop and think of things which I have forced to the back of my mind for quite a while–all the normal questions that flood over a cancer patient as they turn the corner into the world of cancer survivor. Sometimes these questions, and others like them, flood through the minds of late term cancer patients, as well. What do you do with your life when you no longer fit in the ranks of warrior/patient/fighter and finally find yourself in the much-wished-for status of survivor/post-treatment? At what point does this question cease to matter? What do you do if cancer returns? When does life fully resume it normalcy and cancer no longer plays a role in your day-to-day thoughts? When can you stop the fight? Do you even want to? 

Christmas 1972Life for the rest of the world continues on at the same pace as before. A never-ending circle of appointments, commitments, blessings, curses, fears and joys spinning chaotically around in a turbulent mass of confusion. But for the cancer patient during the days, weeks and months of treatment it seems like life slows to a standstill. Things still happen around them, events still take place, people come and go, but the patient in treatment is focused on only one thing–fighting to live. When that long-wished-for-prayed-for-dreamed-of day arrives and again they are thrust back into the land of the chaotic, stressful cycle of life, a tangled web of thoughts and emotions swirl inside the survivor’s head. Where am I? How did I get here? How do I stay here? Why is it all so difficult to manage? How do I survive this mass of confusion spinning recklessly out of control all around me? Do I even want to?

It’s scary to think that last question could even cross the mind of a cancer survivor, but let me tell you, IT CAN–and it does. It’s not that you want life to end–after all you fought the battle of a lifetime just get that lifetime back. You fought to win. Now you are faced with the question: what exactly did you win? You won life in the real world. Not a fantasy, not an idyllic dream, but messy life in the messy real world.

graceland--a little girl's dreamBut the real world seems a different place than it was before your journey. In reality, you are a different person and the world is still the same chaotic, mixed-up, confused mess it has always been. We as survivors have fought hard and relentlessly and have been dreaming of the day when life would be gained and peace would reign supreme. Only it doesn’t.

Just as it did before our diagnosis, life continues to give us hurdles to jump, burdens to bear, crosses to carry, other illnesses to face, sadness and stress to overcome. The desire to just relax and enjoy LIFE–to do enjoyable things with loved ones, try new things, see new places, experience new experiences–has to take a back seat to the daily “getting the job done” just as it did before our diagnosis. The world seems not to care that we want something different, something more.

1989 wedding dayFor many of us survivors life was a lot less stressful and chaotic before our battle with cancer, simply because we were able to take the easy, everyday tasks for granted. We now have to think through our daily tasks, prioritize our everyday mundane chores. There’s not enough energy to make it through all the things that must be done, so we must pick and choose the most important. Gone are the days when we could perform our daily tasks with blind and unthinking “muscle memory.” Living and doing takes a lot more energy than it used to–energy many of us no longer have.

Sometimes the easy tasks, like getting dressed, take more time because we simply can’t feel the buttons in order to put them through the buttonholes–our hands continue to be numb after weeks of toxic drugs coursing through our veins. Sometimes lingering balance issues make maneuvering around stoves and other household equipment a seriously dangerous endeavor. Sometimes residual fatigue makes getting through the daily routine without a nap a thing of the past–or else we fall asleep in our mashed potatoes. Often, chemo brain continues to plague our ability to stay focused long enough to remember what tasks we need to get done, or keeps us second-guessing whether we put the towels in the dryer (often we didn’t)!

fixing pancakes with grammyThis is not the life we envisioned as we sat hooked up to our little friend, the infusion pump, for our regular treatments. This is not what we dreamed for ourselves as we fought our way through the trenches of cancer. Now this world we so desperately wanted to rejoin seems a very unfriendly place. A place where we have difficulty maneuvering. A place where most people have no idea how we feel, why we feel that way, can’t come close to understanding, and sometimes it feels as if they don’t even care to understand. Why can’t we just get past it?

There is a reason many cancer survivors are diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and why many people outside the cancer battlefield have no understanding of why a cancer patient could be diagnosed with a disorder that is commonly reserved for the soldier. What the world doesn’t understand is that cancer survivors ARE soldiers. We have faced war. We have faced death. We have faced destruction. We have been fighting. Just like a soldier returning from battle, we no longer fit in the real world…the world not filled with constant battle and destruction and sickness and death. We, like soldiers, merely want to rejoin the world we left the way we left it–in all it’s naive, innocent, pseudo-peaceful normalcy. We have been changed. We no longer see things that way. And life is now filtered through a different lens.

a girls' road tripThe other reality is that once we pass through the ranks from newly diagnosed to patient to survivor, our view of the world we left behind might possibly be a little skewed. In our euphoric dreams of a bright tomorrow, we saw the yesterday we left behind as something far more perfect than it really was. The reality of life is that for every person on the planet, every day is a battle of sorts. Questions arise, tasks need completed, jobs to perform, crises to overcome.

In the struggle for survival on this harsh and sometimes unforgiving planet, it is our choice to determine how we’re going to face each of these hurdles. Do we face them with grace and compassion or do we face them with anger and frustration? Do we choose to continue the fight, do choose to crawl in a hole and give up, or do we choose to take each situation as it comes, living through each moment as best we can, trying to glean the most from each experience without struggling or complaining? If we choose not to fight is that giving up or is it simply a matter of letting go and living in the moment?

love for a lifetimeAs I watch my mother struggle with the decisions she again must face, I too struggle with how I would handle those same decisions if I were in her place. Were I in her place, would my filter be one of continuing the battle using every available weapon, or would I put on my Whatever Will Be lens and simply want to try and enjoy what time I had remaining before it all is gone? And in the giant scheme of life, is either filter truly more correct than the other? Each individual has his own choices to make and those choices are only right if they are what is best for that individual and those they hold dear.

Sometimes fighting is good. Sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes it is the only road you are offered. Even in the midst of the fight, we can learn to accept whatever life throws our way. Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. Because in the end, we have very little control over what life actually tosses our way. What hurdles, battles, crosses we must bear on our journey from birth to death. We also often have very little control over what joys are casually tossed our way like bones to a hungry dog. What we do have control over is how we accept each one–hurdles and joys; crosses and blessings; battles and victories.

I’m not sure what the answer is–or if there is even a question. Life is truly a confusing riddle, a mixed bag of goods and bads and otherwise. I know when I face each day with my faith in God on solid ground and a confident grip on my que sera sera philosophy, that day seems to be much more peaceful and joy-filled, despite the aches and pains of the hurdles I must jump along the way. But that is simply what works best for me. Que sera sera…

A Comedy of Errors

MRI

A normal, pre-scheduled breast MRI goes from bad to worse…

There are times in your life when things just don’t seem to go the way you want. The past few weeks have been one of those seasons for me. October is normally when I have my 6-month mammogram and surgeon check, as well as my 6-month oncology check and my 12-month breast MRI. The actual appointments with the doctors ended up being the first week of November. Not really “late,” just throwing my mental schedule off-kilter slightly, but nothing I can’t rebound from. Except life just kept piling on the minor annoyances and irritations and confusions until this check-up became the most stressful one I have endured since my diagnosis. A true comedy of errors, except I was having some major difficulty finding the humor in it all.

Comedy One: Normally, the mammogram, MRI and surgeon’s visit are all on one day. Makes for a long day, but because my doctor’s office is almost an hour away in normal traffic, it’s definitely worth the lengthy visit to not have to mess with traffic more than once. This time, however, for reasons I never fully understood, they scheduled me for the mammogram on a Monday, and the breast MRI for the following Monday, to be immediately followed by the visit to the surgeon. Two trips in two weeks. By the way, for those of you uninitiated to the world of post-breast cancer checkups, the surgeon is the one who is your designated Breast Check Specialist. Yes, your gynecologist will do one during your yearly physical, and more than likely your oncologist will, as well. And if you’re “blessed” with follow-ups with a radiation oncologist, you will have another breast check there, too. But the surgeon is in charge.

Okay, so back to my schedule. Back in April, I was notified that my insurance company and my surgeon’s group was having a contract tiff. Which meant that I was no longer covered to see MY surgeon. Now, this is TOTALLY unacceptable to me. For those of you who have read my book, or kept up with my blog during treatment, you KNOW that my surgeon is my ultimate hero. No, she didn’t find the cancer, she did something MUCH better–she REMOVED the cancer! Yes, my entire team of care providers played a major role in my treatment, but it was my surgeon’s skillful hands that removed that demon mass from my body and left me with a quite remarkably lovely scar that is totally hidden by clothing–quite a feat when the tumors were in quite visible places. So, anyway, like I said before, I discovered that the doctors and the insurance were squabbling and I might not be able to see my doctor again…ugh.

Dr. Pearson and I

Comedy Two: I checked with the insurance and the doctor’s office every month or so to assess the progress, and finally discovered in September that I would actually be able to see her AND have the insurance cover it. Except my regularly scheduled visit in October would have to be moved to November as that was the beginning of their new contract. So that appointment was duly moved from October 29 to November 2. This now meant that I would be traveling that rather lengthy commute three times in three weeks…ugh.

Comedy Three: Now, switch gears slightly and focus on monthly self-checks. Back in August–after my 3-month oncology check AND my 12-month radiation oncology check–I noticed a difference in the chest wall near the old tumor scar area. It just didn’t feel the same as I had noticed it feeling and it was obviously different from the other side. So, like a good girl, I tried to ignore it for two weeks and then checked again (this is doctor’s advice when you find a mass–as sometimes they are fluid cysts that spontaneously disappear; also if you check more often than every two weeks you could cause bruising which will swell and concern you even more). It was still there. Well, if you remember, I can’t see my surgeon until November, and I’m totally aware of the fact that any other doctor I see regarding this suspicious mass will immediately send me to the surgeon–except I can’t see MY surgeon, and I will NOT see another one. So…I waited. Checking every couple of weeks to see if it would miraculously disappear–it didn’t. So now, I’m sweating bullets from August until my mammogram in late October, literally counting the days until someone can look at this thing–which more than likely is the reason that all other events surrounding this checkup were so incredibly stressful…ugh.

Comedy Four: Then comes the mammogram. I mention the mass and get set up for a diagnostic mammogram; which simply means I am on track to have further testing–such as ultrasound–right on the spot, if needed. Which, of course, it’s needed; this stupid sucker is up half way between the breast and the neck–just a little bit higher than the original tumor. So after major contortions and much pain, they decide to send me to the ultrasound tech–who “sees nothing.” Seriously?! Even the mammogram tech could feel it–how on earth can you not SEE it?!…ugh.

Comedy Five: So now I have to wait for the MRI, which was a REALLY fun event! I know a lot of people don’t care for MRIs, but I actually prefer them to the mammograms. There’s no squeezing, bruising or acrobatics involved, and while the clunkity-clunk of the machine is annoying to a migraine sufferer (or anyone with ears!) I really don’t mind the entire process–usually. First off, they called me the Friday before the scheduled test, and said that the pre-certification from the insurance company had not yet arrived, could we please move the MRI back? How far back, I say? The end of the week, they say. Wait a minute, my doctor’s visit is on Friday, I say. Oh, well, we’ll do the MRI on Thursday afternoon, if that’s okay. Sure, I say. As long as you put a STAT on the results so that my doctor gets them before the exam (of course, that’s not really needed as she IS the director of the hospital’s breast program, so I’m certain she can get those results if she wants them!) So now, I get to wait until the end of another week for the MRI…ugh.

Comedy Six: On the day of the MRI, I left early to run a few errands on my way…one of which was swinging by Whole Foods, which is right down by the clinic. I love that store, but don’t make it down there often since it is so far from home, so I thought I’d just run by and grab a few things. It was a very cool day (or supposed to have been!) and I have my insulated bags, and since I wasn’t seeing the doctor afterward I would only be there for a little over an hour…NOT!

After sitting in the waiting room for twenty minutes or so, the technician came out and explained to me that they had two emergency patients that both needed MRI, and there was another patient scheduled ahead of me. So I would have to wait another two hours before I even went back there! But at that time of day, I didn’t have enough time to run all the way home and deliver the groceries AND get back by the exam time. So I was stuck with a car full of groceries and nothing to do but wait, and wait, and wait…ugh.

Comedy Seven: After waiting for two full hours, they finally came and got me. They asked me to change into the gown and then they would put in the IV. The technician was convinced she could put it into my hand–the right one, as they can no longer do anything to my left arm/hand for fear of causing lymphadema. I tried to explain to her that my right hand is quite contrary when it comes to needles, but she was certain she could make it work. I was right. She was wrong. After a lovely stick with the needle, and her gradually inching it around to poke through the very tough vein, the entire vein burst and I instantly had a HUGE, ugly, black, swollen bruise and we g0t to try again somewhere else…ugh. Thankfully, the wrist worked quite well, as usual; although I did later end up with another nasty bruise there–nothing really unusual in that, though.

Comedy Eight: The lab tech (not an MRI tech) was the only woman in the room, so the men left and allowed her to get me on the table–except she wasn’t all that familiar with the process and when I asked whether or not I removed the gown before laying face-down on the table, she said it didn’t matter. I vaguely remember it mattering, but she’s the expert, right? Apparently not.

After laying still and stifling a rather odd and not-so-transient coughing attack for 35 minutes, the MRI tech came in to put the contrast dye in the IV. Except when he came in he realized that the gown was not removed. He said, “Oh, wow! That explains it. We couldn’t quite figure out what had happened to your nipples, but didn’t have the guts to ask”–SERIOUSLY?! You’re medical professionals, and I’m a breast cancer survivor; I’ve had more strange questions than that fired at me, and surely you aren’t THAT modest? In any case, it meant that the first 35 minutes of the test had to be redone before administering the contrast and finishing up the last 10 minutes…ugh.

All in all, that was the first time I have ever had to redo an MRI, so I guess that’s a blessing. But all I could think of were my groceries sitting in the “warmer than it’s supposed to be outside” car–which by the way, those insulated bags are really a dream, everything was fine!

Comedy Nine: Next came the surgeon’s check. When she walked into the exam room, she barely said “hi” and then instantly went to “Ok, so what are you feeling?” Wow, let’s get down to business, shall we? I guess that’s why I love her! She did the exam, and agreed that it felt differently, even though there was nothing on any of the tests to indicate a problem. But she took me to the ultrasound room anyway, looked it over and set me up for a needle core biopsy. Her opinion–we could wait and watch it for another six months, or we could jab a few holes in me and make good and sure now there was nothing for me to worry about. Quite frankly, I liked her way of thinking! Although, somewhere around 7pm that evening I wasn’t so fond of that philosophy, anymore! That was one painful biopsy. Because the mass is against the chest wall (which, by the way, is a great big muscle that runs the length of your chest and into the arm) when she took tissue from this muscle (even though it was a TINY piece) it caused the entire muscle to be tender and sore. Imagine running a marathon using only one arm to run on and you have some idea of how sore that entire muscle felt–for two days…ugh.

Comedy Ten: She said she’d call with the results on Monday. My oncology appointment was set for Monday afternoon, so if anything should be wrong, I’d be able to share the news with her immediately. Except, the call didn’t come…ugh.

She finally called mid-morning Tuesday with the results–praise God, everything was fine! She struck it up to changes due to aging and weight fluctuation, as well as the residue of scarring from the original lumpectomy. Nothing like saying you’re getting old! But I guess I’ll take “old” to “cancerous” any day!

Lessons Learned as a Fashion Model

Friday, I fulfilled a childhood dream…I became fashion model for a day. My breast surgeon–during one of my regular checkups last winter–asked if I would like to be in a charity fashion show that the hospital was hosting. I was flattered that she would ask me, and thrilled to get the chance to play dress up with other breast cancer survivors; so needless to say, I said yes.

As the day approached, I started to question my sanity in this decision, but was determined to follow through–primarily because I really am extraordinarily grateful to my surgeon for saving my life and would do almost anything to show my gratitude…even if it means stepping WAY out of my comfort zone (which by the way, most public ANYTHING requires me to step way out of my comfort zone). While I realize that I dreamed of being a model when I was 13, as a 48-year old mother I am a lot more realistic (and timid) in my self-expectations, and strutting up and down a stage is NOT in my normal day-to-day routine. Nor do I really have such daring public displays on my bucket list (and no, hang gliding is NOT a public exhibitionist), so modeling isn’t really essential to my feeling accomplished when I get to my deathbed.

Friday, as I said, was the BIG day, and we started off bright and early. My wonderful hubby helped me get the kids off to school so that I had time to get my shower and get dressed without panicking. We had to head out by 8:30 in order to be at the event site by 9:30 (North Atlanta rush-hour is treacherous!) Once there, it was a long day of meeting the other models, meeting the event coordinators, getting our clothes from the clothing sponsors, having our hair done, having our makeup done, learning how to walk, learning how to pivot, waiting, talking, more learning, more talking, a light lunch, more waiting, more learning (you try teaching 15 mid-life ladies how to walk like a model!)…and then, BAM! the big moment arrived and we were out of the dressing room and heading for our big debut.

Our incredibly lovely, poised and talented modeling coach, Trudy, was very patient with all of us novices and lovingly guided us in the finer arts of “gliding” across a room and “striking a pose” to put the clothing at the best showing. Who had any idea there was so much to learn in order to walk, stand, and look “pretty?” She stressed several things over and over again as she guided each of us through the motions that would help us look more like real models than the scared, excited mothers (and some grandmothers) that we were; and as I lay in bed Saturday morning–enjoying a blissful moment of quiet rest after a very hectic day–I thought about how Trudy’s lessons on modeling apply to life in general.

Keep your head up! When you’re literally learning a new way to walk (and sometimes when you’re just doing ordinary, everyday walking), your desire is to watch your feet to make sure you don’t trip or stumble–especially when you’re walking in high heels! A model has to keep her chin up and her eyes on the horizon so that people focus on the clothes and not on the extraordinarily interesting carpet (it must be interesting because the model keeps watching it). In life, if you spend your days focusing on the ground your standing on and not looking around you, you’re going to miss out on a lot of life and joy happening all around–unless of course, your overwhelming passion in life is to compare every ground substance you walk on.

Keep your knees soft! Sounds weird, right; but basically, it refers to whether or not you’re maintaining flexibility in your stance, not standing too rigidly, and also not “locking your knees” when you stand still. Back in my high school band days, the band director would remind us not to lock our knees when standing at attention, because you could pass out if you stand with your knees locked for too long. Apparently, locking your knees can pinch an artery that runs through your leg which can cause blood flow to constrict, causing you to become faint. In addition to this, when a model locks her knees she loses the appearance of smooth, graceful motion and it becomes impossible to smoothly move her feet and legs into a graceful standing stance. In other words, she looks awkward and clumsy–and it creates opportunities for tripping and stumbling instead of gracefully posing. Flexibility is also key in many areas of life. As the saying goes, you have to be able to “roll with the punches” and if you’re stiff-legged, stiff-necked, and inflexible this becomes difficult at best.

Don’t drag your foot! When turning around and “striking your pose” to face the audience, you have to draw your front leg in toward your body, so that you’re not standing with your legs spread eagle on stage like an awkward, gawky goose. However, if you’re putting too much weight on the front leg you end up dragging your foot, which looks clumsy and can cause you to wobble, or even fall. You must shift your weight slightly to the back leg, while maintaining your soft knees (see above) and glide the front foot in toward your body all in one smooth motion. If you’re dragging your foot, there is nothing smooth in the motion and looks just awful (trust me on this one). Often in life you can’t drag your feet, either. Sometimes, you just have to step out in faith, not waiting for the waters to part, but fully relying on God to part them as you move forward…don’t drag you feet!

Feel beautiful and have fun! Oh my gosh, here’s where it all made sense for me. When Trudy got to this part of our training, the whole thing clicked. I remembered why I was there in the first place; why the teenage me wanted to dance and glide and smile and walk and pose; why I write this blog; why I sing at the top of my lungs in the shower; why I watch the rays of sunlight as they dance through the trees in the early morning dawn; why I laugh like a crazy fool at the silliest jokes; why I love getting sloppy wet kisses from little babies–because I want to have fun! Because when I see all the beautiful things that surround me in this world, when I live life out loud, when I laugh and cry and have fun–I feel beautiful! So my prayer for you today is that you will open up your eyes and your heart and find new and exciting ways to see the ordinary things around you, experience the ordinary in extraordinary ways, so that you, too, can–feel beautiful and have fun!

 

Never Forget…Is It Ever Enough?

I just got on my Facebook page and noticed all the reminders of what happened to our world eleven years ago. September 11. The day the twin towers fell. The day we will always remember. The day we will “never forget.” The day we must “never forget.” In the midst of all the patriotic comments, and photos that remind us of that fateful day, I saw one comment that truly peaked my attention. A dear friend of mine wrote: “to ‘never forget’ is not enough.” This got me thinking. What must we never forget? Is “never forgetting” really enough?

April 2001–A more innocent time

Eleven years ago, I was a “young” mother living in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia and The Big Apple the “day we will never forget” happened. Busy with the day-to-day of a family of four young sons, with an Air Force pilot-husband, focusing on getting the boys off to another day of school, feeding the baby, cleaning up the morning dishes, having that last relaxing cup of coffee with my hubby (he was on one of those rare days of duty-rest after a long trip) before really getting down to the busy-ness of daily life.

The TV was off (it was actually rarely on in those days–who had time for TV with four young sons?) and life was crazy-busy, crazy-fun…and crazy-innocent. I will never forget when my father-in-law called from Georgia to see if we had heard that a plane had crashed into the twin towers in New York City. We honestly thought he was joking–yes, he is a prankster, but this was not much of a joke even if hadn’t been true–but our minds honestly couldn’t quite wrap around the reality that something so horrendous could be true.

I will never forget that as the events unfolded throughout the day–the day that began with the normal gyrations of innocent family chaos–life was rapidly turning into a spinning cyclone of nightmare proportions, a whirling dervish of confusion and terror and constant praying and media-viewing to make sure that our own personal piece of sky wasn’t falling.

I will never forget after the phone call we went to the TV, and as the screen came on, they were showing the scenes that would become forever etched into my mind. The scenes that I will never forget, can never forget. The scenes of tragedy and surreal nightmares that changed us, changed our country…we thought, forever. Because we would never forget.

Every time I see a photo or a video-replay of that shocking day, my mind instantly carries me back to that moment when I first realized, with spine-tingling horror, that there really are real, live madmen in this world. There really are people who hate enough to kill the innocent. There really are people who choose not to see or care that those different from themselves have purpose and deserve life.

I can never forget the fears, the tears, the confusion, the pain, the overwhelming shock of that day. I can never forget–as I heard that the second tower was attacked, and then after another jet-made-bomb had crashed into the Pentagon, and still another in a Pennsylvania field–I felt as if I were in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle or something. The Twilight Zone had come to life, and my beautiful, innocent family was in the very center of it all.

If you’ve never noticed, New Jersey sits smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania, New York, and the greater DC area. We had friends and neighbors who commuted to Philadelphia, New York City, AND the DC area every week for work and play. What was even more frightening–for us personally, during the first few hours of that tragic day–my brother-in-law had left our home just a little earlier that morning to drive into New York City for a business meeting in Manhattan! For a while we couldn’t reach him by cell phone, and we had no idea if he had actually made it into the city or was miraculously still out of harm’s way. Had he not lost his keys and spent an extra hour searching for them, he would more than likely have been in the middle of Manhattan as the planes crashed. Thankfully, his lost keys saved his life, but also changed his life as he witnessed the smoke and flames from across the bridge and heard the news of what had happened. I will never forget; I can never forget.

However, I also will never forget the prayers and the phone calls to and from loved ones to make sure all were okay and out of harm’s way. I will never forget the hugs from semi-strangers as they discovered those around them had been left untouched, or the touches of comfort to those whose lives had been changed forever. I will never forget the prayer vigils throughout our country that night, and in the nights and weeks to come–people of all different walks of life, coming together to pray for God’s restoring peace and for His healing hand to guide us in the days and weeks ahead.

I remember watching on the news, and hearing my friends and neighbors discuss how people in the city were coming together to help one another clean up the devastation; restoring balance while still trying to make sense of the chaos. The uniting of different minds, different races, different cultures all across the world into a unified force for the benefit of all around them. Charities and churches raising funds to help with the clean up, help with the day-to-day needs of families that had lost loved ones and were too busy searching to focus on such trivial things as food and shelter for themselves. Neighborhoods rallying around neighbors who had lost wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons; feeding them, caring for them, praying with them, loving them and holding them while they grieved.

Every year there is a September 11. Every year, whether I want to be or not, I am forever reminded, I cannot ever forget, the evil that resides in this world. It doesn’t have a face, or a name, or a religion, or a country. It is simply known as hate. And if we allow it, it will come and reside within…us. Hate is equal opportunity in every sense of the word. It has no cultural boundaries and shows no favoritism, and it will run rampant, if we just give it a little wiggle room in our hearts and minds. The insidious evil of hate is a destructive force, but I guess that I am way too much of a goodie-two-shoes to want to focus on the reality of its existence very much. But every September 11, it seems that I must never forget.

But being the goodie-two-shoes that I am, I also allow my mind to focus on the polar opposite of this evil. The antithesis of evil is good, and the good is called love. True love is also equal opportunity–without boundaries, cultural distinctions, favoritism, or limits. True love knows how to look beyond the pain and fear, and find forgiveness to move on. The well of true love will never run dry unless we choose to let it. Unless we choose to forget to love, and remember instead to hate.

I may be a goodie-two-shoes, but I am not naive. Yes, I know that evil is lurking around the next corner waiting to strike again. Yes, I know that the evildoers must be punished. As individuals, we should not be concerned with punishing the evil in our midst. That is the job of governments and militaries and courts. Their job, their God-given task, is to provide protection and justice for their citizens and the punishment of those who do wrong. It is not the individual’s job to judge and punish. It is also not our job to hide in fear thinking that those who are different from us, or unknown to us could be waiting for a chance to strike. It is our job to love, to heal, to care for, to show God’s compassion and forgiveness to the other individuals around us.

If we choose to “never forget” but also choose to “do nothing,” then the remembering is for nothing. The lives that were lost, the innocence we lost as a country will be for nothing. Hate will have won. If we choose to never forget, but choose also to live in fear and hate of the ones who so robbed us of our carefree innocence (and the others who might in the future), then we have become no better than they–because fear grows to hate; and hate grows. It grows quietly, behind the scenes where it can’t be seen growing until it becomes so big and powerful that it can no longer be controlled or contained. Then all around there is nothing but fear and anger and hate. And hate will have won.

Love is a difficult path, and it often can lead to pain: having your feelings hurt; your hand slapped when you try to hug and help; your good intentions shunned; and yes, sometimes you will feel real pain and suffering, because the love is not only not accepted, but you are actually hated for it. Despite the cost, however, love will win. Because love also grows quietly in background where you can’t really see it or feel it. It grows and it spreads and it gradually fills the hearts of those you share it with, ever so slowly pushing hate aside. Love is the greater force; love will win–if we choose to let it.

So today, as I remember, as I am forced to “never forget,” I choose to reenforce the walls of my home and my heart with the one thing that will protect them both from the dangers that prevail. I choose to love–without boundaries, distinctions or limits. I choose to let go of anger, fear, and hate, and love like crazy, love like there’s no tomorrow. Because in the end, love is the only thing I never want to forget. I choose to remember–love. For your life, it’s your choice. If you choose to never forget love then that will be enough. Because True Love is always enough.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

1 Corinthians 13:3-7

1 Peter 4:7-11

John 15:17

2 Corinthians 5:11-14