grateful amazement

finding wonder…everywhere.

Fear Makes You Flaky

There are a few things in this life that I know for sure.
The number of things I have yet to figure out far outweigh them, if I’m honest.
So, when I stumble onto something that I can put in the ‘I Know This’ column, I get pretty excited.
Don’t you?

Here’s one of those things…
(and I’m none too proud that it’s taken me this long to get clear on it)

Fear makes you flaky.

Flaky, so we’re clear, is defined this way:
~forming or tending to form flakes, or thin, crisp fragments
~tending to peel off or break easily into flakes
~tending to break apart into small, thin, flat pieces

I don’t know about you, but those very literal definitions resonate with me.

When I let fear dictate my decisions (like not attending a party because I’m sure I’ll look a fool or not going to church because the ‘Let’s take a minute and shake hands and greet one another’ time makes me certain I’ll faint or not saying hello to an acquaintance when I’m out and about because I’m sure-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt that I’ll say something stupid), I end up in thin, crisp fragments, breaking easily, and finding myself in a pile of small, thin. flat pieces.

Admitting these specific fears always garners me quizzical raised eyebrows from most of the dear souls I get brave enough to share them with.
In response, I hear such things as. ‘But you’re so good at small talk.’ ‘You seem so confident.’ ‘I would have never guessed you were scared.’

The truth is that I suffer from bouts of profuse Flop Sweat in most social situations.
I can even fog up my glasses and feel sweat rolling down my back while on a ‘normal’, ‘simple’ phone call.
It’s the weirdest thing.
And I’m doing everything I know to do to get a handle on it.

One of those ways is to acknowledge the truth that Fear Makes You Flaky.
And who, in their right mind, wants to be flaky?

Let’s dig a little deeper for a minute…
One of the definitions of ‘flaky’ at Urbandictionary.com is this:
~An unreliable person. A procrastinator. A careless or lazy person. Dishonest and doesn’t keep to their word. They’ll tell you they’re going to do one thing, and never do it. They’ll tell you that they’ll meet you somewhere, and show up an hour late or don’t show up at all.
(Just so we’re clear, I know that Urbandictionary.com is like the Wikipedia of words…with definitions provided by regular, everyday people…)

When I look at that particular definition, I see all kinds of things I don’t want to be.
But things that I know I’ve been.
And still am, some days.
Things I want to be done being.

And then I wonder, How?
How do I stop being so worried about how I’ll come off so that I can be focused on the PEOPLE around me?
How do I stop letting the voices in my head that tell me they’re sure no one likes me to crowd out the voices of the ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS telling me their stories?
How do I stop letting fear call the shots?

I think the answers to those questions lie in Simple Things…
Get to know – really know – what God says about me.
Embrace – really embrace – who He says I am.
Rest – really rest – in His love.

For so many years, I’ve known those answers.
Known them in my head.
I’ve just had the hardest time integrating them into my life, my heart, my being.
It’s a process, though, I’m sure.
And, like all processes, there will be steps forward and steps back.
Hopefully the forward motion exceeds the backward over time.

As I’m stumbling toward practicing those answers, there are a few practical things I’ve thought of that may just help…
~Show up, no matter how much Flop Sweat is happening.
~Ask good questions, then listen. Really listen.
~Get out of my head, where the Fear lives.
~Accept that not everyone is going to like me.
~Trust the unfolding of any given situation.
~Relax about having to ‘perform.’
~Know that others may be feeling just as nervous.
~Focus attention on the people around me.

I’d like to tell you that I can instantly recall all of those things in the heat of a social situation.
And that they always make a dent in the Fear.
But I’d be lying.

I can tell you, though, that I have hope in this, despite the quaking of my knees…
As I re-record with Truth the tapes that have played loudly in my head for most of my life, I believe the fear will dissipate.

And, in time, I’ll be less flaky.

2 Comments »

After the Cupcakes, Gratitude

{This past October, I was honored to share my cancer story at an awesome annual Run/Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness. As I lick the frosting off my fingers from yesterday’s Cupcakes of Celebration, I think posting this *revised* version of my notes from that evening is a great way to finish up this series on the blog. Thank you again for your presence here. It means a lot.}

When I think about my cancer journey, there is one word that keeps resonating in my mind. It won’t leave me alone. It crashes in while I attempt to recall dates and details that I hope will help paint the picture of this path I’ve been on since July of 2010. It not-so-gently nudges itself to the front of the line as I try to corral the things that I thought may frame that picture in a nice, neat way.

I mean, when someone asks you to share the story of the day your life took a sharp left turn into the path of a careening cancer diagnosis, there’s a part of you that wants to be able to wrap it up all shiny and pretty. To make sense of it in your own mind so that you can make sense of it for a room full of people. The thing is, though, cancer – in my case, breast cancer – isn’t shiny or pretty. And there’s very little about it that makes much sense. Especially when you’re in the middle of it.

What is that word – that pushy, bossy word that’s so noisily bouncing all around my mind?

Gratitude.

Unexpected, right?

But then again…maybe not.

You see, I’m grateful for the friend who was my walking buddy during that summer of 2010. When she found out that I had been putting off my annual mammogram, she made me promise to make the appointment…and to text her as soon as that mission was accomplished. She is a breast cancer survivor herself and she knew full well the importance of keeping up with that annual screening.

I’m grateful for the God whisper my heart heard in the changing room as I waited for the radiology tech to take me back to be tested. I really feel like He knew that my heart and mind needed the cushion of His whisper to face what was coming. You know what He whispered? ‘They’re going to find something, but you’re going to be okay.’ So grateful.

I’m grateful for all the advances in testing and diagnosing and treating that were in place four years ago. And I’m so grateful for all the research and development that have taken place since then so that the women and men whose diagnoses are more recent have even better care than the absolute stellar, gold star care I received.

I’m grateful for the surgeon who performed the lumpectomy…as well as the mastectomy I ended up having to have when the margins weren’t clear of cancer after the lumpectomy.

I’m grateful for the amazing oncologist I have. They say laughter is the best medicine, and I honestly believe that. He and I have laughed more than I ever thought possible. What a gift in the middle of a storm, right?

I’m grateful for the terrific oncology nurses who put up with all my questions and concerns so patiently as I underwent a year of chemotherapy. Their gracious care made sitting there while that medicine dripped into my veins so much easier.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to participate in a clinical study as part of the treatment I received. To know that maybe something I went through can serve to help those who come along behind me on this crazy, twisty path is a real blessing to me.

I’m grateful for CaringBridge. I’m thankful that I had a place to record the ups and downs and ins and outs of the everyday Living with Cancer. You think it’s seared into your memory and that you’ll never forget, but there’s so much I’ve forgotten…or maybe it’s just that I haven’t thought about it at that level for so long… It’s good to have it all in black and white. To be able to go back and remember.

I’m grateful for my church family and my sweet friends who came alongside me and my family to share our burdens – practical things like cooking, cleaning, and getting my then school-aged girls to and from things when it was just too much for me because of the chemo, as well as the spiritual and emotional care each of us received. There aren’t enough Thank You cards in the world to properly express just how much we appreciated it all.

I’m grateful for my plastic surgeon. In 2012, I elected to have a prophylactic mastectomy and to start the reconstruction process. He’s very good at his job and I’m very grateful for his work. For my 5th cancerversary (the anniversary of my diagnosis), I’m going to buy myself a Tshirt that says ‘Of course they’re fake. The real ones tried to kill me.’ And I’m going to wear it proudly.

I’m grateful for my daughters…I have four. They were 19, 17, 15, and 13 when I was diagnosed. They were each so strong and brave and understanding when I couldn’t make it to their concerts or games…when I couldn’t decorate the house for Christmas that first year. It was really humbling to know that they were seeing Mom in a light that was sometimes harsh and laced with more reality than teenagers should have to face. They are my cheerleaders. And, this year, they’re 24, 22, 20, and 18…and none of them live at home anymore. Time flies. (And so do children, apparently.)

I’m grateful for my husband. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in December. And, even though it hasn’t been easy, it’s been good. He was with me at every appointment, every test, every chemo session. He’s been by my side through 5 cancer-related surgeries. He’s been patient and present and I’m super-grateful for that.

I’m grateful to be able to say that I’m a 5-year survivor of very aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer. I’ve technically been cancer-free since September of 2010 when the surgeon removed my breast. And, today, I live each day grateful.

So, you see…gratitude is the perfect word, don’t you think?

I’d love it if you – or someone you love – would make sure to be proactive and get your mammogram scheduled. Follow through with it and keep up-to-date on your screenings. The cancer I had could only be seen on a mammogram…it wasn’t a lump or a dimple. That mammogram saved my life. One could save yours, too.

Be brave and get it done.

You’ll be grateful you did.

1 Comment »

July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Four

As I read the following CaringBridge journal entry this morning, I shed a tear or two. You see, the Empty Nest I thought I’d be so looking forward to actually materialized just last month. Allie and Dina both moved out and forward (*see yesterday’s post regarding my choice of that word) within a week of each other, emptying our nest and leaving earsplitting silence in their respective wakes.

I seriously thought I’d be the mom who changed all the locks and threw a huge party when this time finally came. I told everyone who would listen that we’d be dancing and rejoicing for days after the last chick flew the coop.

Let me here, publicly and loudly, admit that this whole Empty Nest thing…well, it’s totally for the birds. (See what I did there?)

Don’t misunderstand.
I’m thrilled and excited and happy for each of my four girls.
They are bravely forging bold new paths and courageously claiming their newfound freedoms and responsibilities with the grace and aplomb that would make any mama weep tears of joy.
(Next year, one will be living in Japan, one will be living in New Zealand, one will be living in Virginia, and one will be living across the river in Mandan. These girls. Bless.)

It’s just awfully quiet around here sometimes.
No bad quiet…just odd quiet.
I haven’t seen a stray sock in days.
The laundry room is fully ours…no mysteries or messes that we can blame on anyone else.
And things do stay where we put them.

Moral of the story?
Enjoy the days when you’re in the middle of them.
Even the hard, yucky, messy ones.
They all pass more quickly than you could ever guess.
And when someone tells you you’ll probably be sad about things like girls growing up so fast it’ll make your head (and heart) spin, for the love of all that is holy, believe them.

Oh, and just for the record, Empty Nests are great places to hatch Second Acts.

~~~~~

Oct 22, 2010
A foretaste of things to come…an empty house on a Friday night! A little bit of Heaven here on earth, if you ask me! 🙂 I know some of you will tell me that Empty Nest Syndrome is a very real, very sorrowful thing and I deeply want to honor you and your experience — so please don’t get me wrong when I laugh loudly and smile brightly at the thought of the girls growing up and moving on to whatever the next chapter in each of their lives is going to be…I know I might be a little sad, but Empty Nest for me will mean so many happy things! For instance, when our Nest is truly Empty, that will mean that we completed the Herculean task of raising 4, euphemistically speaking, ‘strong-willed’ girls – without committing homocide. It will mean that each of those precious girls is on her way to becoming more of what God planned her to be – and we will get to witness it from a distance, not these ‘court-side’ seats that sometimes provide us with too much drama and excitement. It will mean that I will be able to celebrate that magic Five-Year ‘Cancerversary’ – since our little Allie is 5 years out from graduation. And those are just some of the Biggies. It will also mean many Little Things that I’m sure will bring much joy to my heart: There will be no abandoned socks found laying around in the strangest places. There will be no weird, unexplained Clothing Mysteries in the laundry room. There will be no need to house the treadmill and exercise bike in the downstairs family room (ie – one of the children’s bedrooms will be converted to a fitness room…maybe then I will be motivated to actually USE those pieces of equipment!). There will be no plaintive wailing at the site of a mostly empty refrigerator…wait, that wailing may still come from Stan. There will be days on end that things stay where they are left and/or are supposed to be (read- the TV clicker, the furniture, etc). I could go on and on…but I think you get the picture. Don’t you? Did I mention that all of this dreaming of an Empty Nest is coming from the mind of the Mother of FOUR Teenage Daughters?! That tidbit alone may elevate your understanding. No?

As you can see, it can’t be All Cancer, All the Time here. There must also be random dream sequences and lots oflaughter as I tickle my own funny bone (and I hope yours, too) with these thoughts. Thank you for humoring me. 😉

These last few days have been a mix of feeling better and feeling not-so-good. Stan came down with a mighty bug that went straight to his lungs last Saturday night and has been a coughing, hacking mess since! He even missed 2.5 days of work! You know he’s sick when that happens!! He went to the doctor right away on Monday and was put on a powerful antibiotic when he informed said doctor that his wife has breast cancer and will be starting chemo soon. After he got that prescription (and a lovely little yellow face mask with which to protect others from that nasty bug), he and I went to MedCenter to sign the 19-page consent form agreeing that I will be part of a clinical study as part of the cancer treatment I am about to undergo. We laughed uproariously with Mark, the research oncology nurse, and Dr Reynolds, who stopped by the room we were in to let me know that he had just viewed the pathology slides from my surgeries. He thanked us for arranging to have them sent to him and, in the same breath, told me the cancer I am fighting is, and I quote, ‘very agressive and very nasty.’ That was a bit disconcerting to hear, to be honest. I have heard ‘aggressive’ and seen ‘bizarre’ (in relation to the look of the cells), but the ‘very’ part being added to those words hit me in a totally different way. I don’t yet know if I have qualified to be a participant in the study, but Dr Reynolds assured me that, even if They say I do not qualify, he will use the same protocol as the study due to the ‘very’ nature of this cancer. That is comforting to both Stan and I.

I got to do a lot of the Kid Driving this week. (Mostly Allie as Sammi and Dina end up riding together most days and to most things.) That always helps me to keep one foot in the Normal Realm.

Stan and I spent Thursday evening celebrating a friend’s birthday and attending the once-monthly Mastectomy Support Group. The time celebrating was too short but filled with much healing laughter and the time at the support group was edifying and comforting. There were almost 20 women there who have walked the road I have my tip-toes on and to see their smiling faces was to have the privilege of viewing Hope itself. It is my prayer to have the blessing of being a Face of Hope to someone else a little further down this road. Stan and I then went to Applebee’s for appetizers and walked out to the truck at almost 11pm. When that little truck turned over but inexplicably wouldn’t start, we called a tow truck and tracked down Sammi and Dina at a friend’s house to come pick us up. It wasn’t the best way to end such a stellar night, but, again, the laughter shared with those 3 teenagers brought more healing. Thanks guys – for the ride and the laughs! 🙂

This morning, Stan came to pick me up and drive me (because the garage the truck was towed to was short-staffed today and they won’t be able to even look at the thing till Monday – but I’m not bitter!!) to a follow-up appointment with Dr Helbling. There is so much laughter to be had at these appointments with him, his PA Jackie (aka – Julie) and his nurse Lacey (aka- Kevin) that Stan actually pulled a muscle in his side today! (Probably doesn’t help much thatlaughter for him is currently a trigger for that awful cough!) Oh well, it was joyful, joy-filled and even though that blistered spot is taking its own sweet time to heal, it IS looking better and just needs to be given patience and TLC.

Tonight, Stan got to choose the movie and so we went to The Social Network. It was a great movie – and the popcorn was wonderful! 🙂 The guy falling on top of me as he tried, drunkenly, to get to his seat I could have done without. But that, too, afforded Stan and I precious moments of laughter as we compared notes on the way out of the theater about which of the guy’s body parts landed where! (Don’t ask!)

I’d best sign off for now. We are going to watch a little TV before the girls get home from their movie. Some good comedy before bed will bless us with even more, you guessed it, laughter! 🙂

Have a super weekend, all! Find the Funny wherever you can and savor the Laughter it brings! 🙂 🙂 🙂

He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. (If you let Him, that is – commmentary mine 😉 ) ~Job8:21

4 Comments »

July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day One

rise again

July 2010.

When it started – quietly (as if ‘quietly’ is a thing in a house peopled by four teenaged girls…humor me) and inauspiciously, like any other July in my life – who could have guessed (would I even have believed you if you told me) that it would end dramatically and terrifyingly and life-alteringly?

I think not.

Because who ever guesses that cancer – in any of its varied, kaleidoscope of types and sub-types – is going to show up and try to become the boss of things? Is going to coming around and try to knock the wind out of any sense of stability or normalcy or constancy one may have been fooled into thinking had been achieved?

Let me just stand here, tall and proud and scarred, and say ‘Not I.’

I did not guess it.

I could not have imagined it.

I never, ever, ever expected it.

That’s the thing about cancer, though, I’ve learned.

It sneaks up, puts its crawly, tricksy hands over your eyes and whispers, ‘Guess who.’

And even now, FIVE WHOLE YEARS LATER, there are some days I can still feel those creepy hands. That eerie whisper still sometimes echoes through my mind and up my spine.

It’s then that I take a big, brave, bold deep breath and remind myself that TODAY, I AM CANCER-FREE.

And to celebrate that stunning, miraculous, wondrous, magical fact – and the fact that my oncologist told me last month that I can now consider myself CURED because I’ve reached that amazing, thrilling, death-defying FIVE YEAR MARK – I’ve decided to spend the next 23 days looking back at where I’ve been in this Crazy Cancer Journey so that I can better know and understand where I’m going…and who I’ve become.

I’m grateful that I kept a CaringBridge journal (and I’m wildly thankful for each precious soul who dared to walk alongside of me on this path via the entries that I wrote there). I have to admit I was terrified to start that dang thing. I was so worried about what people would think. I was afraid that I would come across as whiny and wimpy. I was certain others would view the updates as some weird flavor of narcissism. But, in spite of all those fears and all those nasty, lying voices in my head that told me not to do it, I did it. I showed up as best I could as often as I could as honest as I could. And sometimes it was magic and sometimes it was…well, less than that. But it was all me…the good, the bad, and even the ugly. (Remember the picture I shared of my bald head, puffy eyes and face, and an Eeyore-sort-of-look?!)

Each of the next 23 days (hopefully the coming days won’t find me sitting at my computer quite so late!), I’m going to spend some time revisiting my Caring Bridge journal and then curate some pieces to share here (in part or in whole) along with current musings. It’s my hope that, if you decide to buckle in next to me, this will be a ride like no other…one filled with the ups and downs of the best, scariest roller coaster as well as the smoothest, most relaxing lazy river and everything in between.

Today, I’m starting at the beginning.
With the day the cancer was found.
July 23, 2010.

~~~~~

{from the Overview on my CaringBridge site}

On July 23, 2010, as I prepared to leave the dressing room at St A’s Radiology Department and make my way to the mammogram room for my regular screening, I heard God tell me, ‘They are going to find something, but don’t worry. You’ll be okay.’ It was a bit surreal, but, oddly, it didn’t rattle me to be given such a clear impression and I didn’t question it.

By 1:30 that afternoon, I got a call from my nurse practitioner’s office stating that they had ‘found something’ and that I needed to be scheduled for a more in-depth mammogram. That magnified view with compression mammogram was scheduled for July 26. The sweet, funny radiology tech was more than helpful as she explained every step in the procedure and then had the radiologist read the results while I waited. The tech told me to expect to be referred to a surgeon because the microcalcifications found didn’t move around under the compression like they would have in a classically benign case.

She was right. I got another call from the nurse practitioner’s office and was told that I would need to meet with a surgeon. The appointment was originally set for August 18 due to the surgeon’s busy schedule. I called a couple days later to see if there was a possibility of getting in to a different surgeon any earlier and was told that there was an opening on August 3.

After that initial meeting, it was decided that I would have a stereotactic biopsy on August 13. It was a fascinating procedure that I am proud to say I survived with my humor and reputation as The Greatest Patient (dubbed so by the sweet, funny radiology tech) intact. I was told to expect the Call with the Results the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

When Wednesday came and went with no news, I called the surgeon’s nurse and left a message on Thursday afternoon. No word as of Thursday night. On Friday, I left a message for the nurse asking her to see if the doctor would let her call me with the results if he was too busy and then I could visit with him later. I could feel myself getting kind of fed up and a bit agitated having to wait to hear. As I waited for a return call, God spoke to me again. This time He said, ‘Why are you so worked up about not hearing from that doctor. I am your Doctor. And you already know the answer.’ Again, I felt oddly at peace and grateful for the clear answer to my heart’s unsettled state.

Forty minutes later, the surgeon called and told me that yes, they found cancer. I think I surprised him by how calm and accepting of the news I was. I know that, because God had been whispering to me throughout the weeks leading up to that life-changing call, my heart and mind were held in the gentle grip of the peace that passes understanding. I am so grateful for that!

My official diagnosis as it stands now is Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1, Grade 3, ER-/PR- with surrounding Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. (I am acquiring quite an impressive sounding new lexicon, huh?) I have a lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy scheduled for September 9. That procedure will either confirm the diagnosis (if the cancer is as small as they believe it is and there is no node involvement) or serve as the basis for re-staging the cancer. Of course, we are all praying for the former! **The cancer they found actually ended up being much more aggressive and higher-staged than originally thought, due in part to its HER-2neu positive status and the fact that it had spread to the sentinel node. After not achieving clear margins in the Sept 9 lumpectomy, I underwent a mastectomy on Sept 30, 2010.**

I’m expecting this new chapter in my life – and the life of my precious family – will be one that refines, defines and shines with God’s grace, faithfulness, protection, provision, mercy and strength. I am already so humbled by all that He has put in place – and cleared away – so that I can see and feel His hand without question. He loves me, this I know.

2 Comments »

Reclaiming Me :: Mind

{Throughout 2015, one of the ways I’m going to overcome my Writing Laryngitis is to post about ways I’m Reclaiming Me :: Body, Mind, and Soul. Here’s another bit of that Reclamation.}

just do it

<< Just Do It >>

Overcoming Writing Laryngitis is proving to be just a tad more challenging than I’d imagined it would be.

After all, shouldn’t I just be able to sit down and pound out a few posts, coherently elucidating the huge number of ideas and thoughts and feelings that have been banging around in my head and heart like so many tantrumming preteens protesting being sent to their rooms these last several months?

I mean, I can write so clearly and succinctly in my imagination.
Ya feel?

Notions and sentiments flowing and fluttering and floating from my fingertips with no real effort, no impediment, no barrier.

Doesn’t just the thought of that conjure up beautiful, peaceful, writerly images?

Let’s just sit with the peace it evokes for a minute, okay?

Ah. Who am I kidding?
I can barely type without looking at my fingers.
Even on my best day, the messages have to work to hold their shape and maintain their flow as my I-cheated-in-middle-school-typing-class fumbling threatens to squelch and erase them before they even see the light of day.

But I’ve let the pressure to produce, to write it all AND NOW keep me from writing anything at all.
I’ve let the belief that I have to have it all together AND NOW keep me from freeing those feelings from their Me-Imposed Time Out.
I’ve let the whispers that I have to say it all right AND NOW keep me from allowing my words to tumble and land where they may, welcomed and accepted in all their vulnerable messiness.

I’m done with that today.
Today, it’s like a Nike commercial up in here.
You know the commercials I’m talking about.
The ones filled with sweating, intense, focused, Just Do It-ness.
The ones that make even arthritic-kneed, middle-aged, round-edged mamas like me feel like anything is possible.
Anything.

{And, for the record, there is sweating, intense, focused, Just Do It-ness happening right now…heavy on the sweating, light on the focus, if I’m being honest.}

As I argue with the Discouraged Perfectionist who knows she’s about to be evicted from her Bossy Throne in my head by all this Just Do It-ness, I can feel my heart beat faster, my knees shake a bit, and my courage flash its tiny, baby muscles.

Isn’t that how it seems to work?
You make up your mind to Just Do It which in turn unleashes all the Characters of the Status Quo who get their dander up and attempt mutiny on the itty-bitty brave new Decision to Do Things Differently.

But don’t let them win.
Tell them to quiet down.
Remind yourself, when the disloyal crowd of Characters gets loud and obnoxious and unruly, that Nike – before it was a shoe company with awesome, inspiring commercials – was the name of the Greek goddess of strength, speed, and, wait for it…victory.
Yes.
Victory.

So…you’ve got this.
Just Do It.

Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! ~1 Corinthians 15:57(CEB)

2 Comments »