2018: Turning 40 & 5 years of survival

In 2013 when I was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, the year 2018 popped up in my head.  Why?  Because as I sat in the waiting room at Hilman Cancer Center, I was reading a pamphlet on colon cancer and a little chart caught my eye.  It was the 5 year survival rates for people with my diagnosis.  And the news wasn’t good.  13%.  Sitting in a cancer center, surrounded by elderly people who didn’t look so hot, feeling perfectly fine, but knowing this horrible disease was eating its merry way through my body – I felt the air rush out of my lungs.   It hit me.  I really was probably going to die from this.

30 minutes later, we met the guy who everyone told me would make me feel better – my soon to be oncologist.  And he made me feel worse.  He barely looked at me, and he asked me “Do you want to know what your chances are?”  I looked him square in the eye until he met my gaze and I said “Absolutely not.”  Because I already knew.  And I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop crying if he said it out loud.  The numbers and words on a pamphlet are one thing.  Coming out of a very educated man in a white coat – it felt like they would be solidified, permanent, true.

We went home and I cried the whole way.  But when we got home, I was done crying.  I was determined.  Determined not to let the pamphlet or the guy in the white coat (who I mentally fired during the car crying) or the odds have any more power over me than simply being numbers.  I mean, what were the odds that I would be getting colon cancer at the age of 35.  One in many, many thousands?  Odds mean nothing.  Not because they aren’t real or accurate.  It’s just that they really don’t matter.  My story is my story.  It’s unique.  Individual.  Specific.

At the age of 9, I walked out of my house and it literally blew up 2 minutes later.  I was stupid and went surfing in a hurricane in 1996, got sucked under water for a very long time, but somehow popped back up, a hundred yards down the beach from where they were looking for me.  In 2000 my house caught on fire while I was sleeping in it and an accidentally set alarm clock woke us up to black smoke so thick we couldn’t see.  Another minute and we would have been gone, said the fireman.  A gas leak in my next house brought a dozen fire trucks and EMS vehicles – we almost hadn’t called because we weren’t sure if it was a problem.   The point is, I should have been dead a few times, but God has seen fit to keep me around.  My number simply isn’t up until He says so.  I’ve learned to trust that, and not the odds.

I just celebrated my 40th birthday.  A bunch of my favorite people gathered around and told funny stories and raised their glasses, basically to the simple fact that I’m still here.  I couldn’t be more grateful.  New adventures are in store this year, I assure you.  This is a year where we are turning to new chapters.  New ways of growing and expressing the unique gifts God has given me.  New challenges.  New people.  New places.  Leaving comfort zones and diving in.  God is making all things new.  A game changer, He is, indeed.  Change is scary.  Both those who resist change get left behind.  I liken it to jumping out of a plane.  Knowing it’s crazy.  But trusting the parachute is in perfect working order and falling into the great, empty sky.  I’ve done this – I was  just barely 16 and used my older cousin’s driver’s license.  It was insane.  And you know what?  It was really, really fun.  Are you with me?  Let’s go.

On the Subject of Infomercials

So who is it that invented the infomercial? Because they were smart. And mean.

Apparently the first product to be “infomercialed” was a Vitamix Blender in the 1950s. That was probably hilarious and weird. Some guy in a suit, holding the blender up and emphatically saying “VITAMIX!” over and over in a very serious tone.

I have seen my share of infomercials. The Shamwow, the Bowflex, the Food Dehydrator. I also enjoy a moment or two in the “As Seen on TV” aisle of my local Rite Aid. I know they are basically useless items that are poorly made and absolutely do not do what they claim to as well as they claim to. And yet…there is an allure to them. I have woken up at 3am, having left the TV on, when my ear catches a blip about a hair removal device, a bra-esque contraption or a nutritional supplement that, within about 3 minutes, I am convinced I not only MUST have, but that I must have been crazy to try and live without up until that moment in time. Fortunately, I do not cave to these impulses. Well, honestly? I parent a busy child and work a lot of hours, and sleep is a hot commodity in this house. So exhaustion always wins out before I can dive over my snoring husband for the phone and my credit card. In the morning, I wake up and laugh at myself, at how totally sold I was, in my sleep-deprived mind, on some scam that promised to change my life. Skinny! More productive! Better skin! No panty lines!

The morning often brings clarity, does it not? Perhaps you’ve made some bad decisions in the dark of night that, at sunrise, seem outrageously foolish. Public, solo dancing. Taking off one’s cardigan to reveal a sequined tank top and a lot of sallow, January-colored skin. A 1am run to the nearest Krispy Kreme location.

But back to the infomercials. I once actually bought something from an infomercial. It was a hammer that kept nails in a little compartment and when you pressed a button, it flipped a nail up and onto the head of the hammer where it was held magnetically. One handed hammering! Amazing! Imagine all you could be doing with your other hand when you no longer had to hold that pesky nail. I was especially enamored with the added benefit of not having to risk smashing your fingers when you held the nail in place. There were at least 30 shots of someone smashing their fingers and the announcer guy going “Ouch!” on their behalf. I was totally sucked in. “What fools we’ve been!” I said to no one, because I was the only moron up in the middle of the night watching this nonsense. So I called the 1-800 number and I bought one. It wasn’t until after it arrived that I realized a few things:

1. At that time in life, I had approximately zero reasons to use a hammer. I was in college and I traveled light – not so much as a calendar to hang on the wall.

2. You had to hit the hammer, with the attached nail, against the wall or whatever really hard, otherwise the nail went flying across the room, lost forever under the refrigerator. So…what I failed to realize (until well after the $14.99 plus shipping and handling was firmly attached to my credit card) was that there was no way to put the nail in any precise location. A general 5 inch radius, sure. But the exact spot where you wanted it so your picture frame could be level – nope. Impossible.

3. Did I mention I had no reason at all to use a hammer?

So, I learned my lesson and never bought another infomercial product again. Except for the one lapse in memory I had when I was deeply impressed with the before and after photos and testimonials of Hydroxycut diet pills. You know, because of the “science” behind it and all. I bought them, took them faithfully for a month with no results except some unsettling jittery feelings and a weird metallic aftertaste. But seriously, it’s been a solid 8 years since I’ve been a sucker. Well, at least insofar as it pertains to infomercials. While I’ve got a lot of years of clean time under my belt, I must ask you…if you see me get a faraway dreamy look in my eyes due to a P90X infomercial, please, just whisper the word “Hydroxycut” in my ear and gently point me in the direction of my running shoes.

The reason I thought of all of this is that i was given an As Seen on TV hair straightener called Simply Straight. Here’s the thing though: it totally works. Dry curly hair, to dry straight hair in 15 minutes. This may have changed my life. Thanks, Aunt Bernice!

Just tell the truth

Welcome to my new, fancy, not quite how I want it blog.  We’ll march onward anyway.  I’ve ventured into the clearly superior WordPress world.  Anyway, welcome.  Welcome to 2018.  Here we are.  And I have some thoughts.

Look around you.  Really look at the people around you.  Your loved humans.  Are they ok?  Are they happy?  Are they fully operational?  Are they genuinely sharing with you about their life?  Or are they faking it, and just barely making it?

I’m someone who is usually pretty readable.  You can tell when I’m disappointed, when I’m frustrated, when I’m furious and the dragon that lives in my belly starts to huff and puff and eventually flies out and around Pittsburgh setting people on fire and eating them.  She is feisty.

But I’ve been unsettled.  I like many aspects of my life, but I’ve felt unsettled and quietly disgruntled.  And I’ve been brave enough to share a little bit of that with some of my favorite people.  And others who have been there at the right place and time.  And here’s what happens:  when I tell the truth, believing in their care for me, their acceptance of my “stuff” and their kindness…they tell me the truth too.  I believe we are all looking for some truth listening and some truth telling.

Some people, as the classic movie line goes “can’t handle the truth.”  I’ve learned this the hard way, and those people get the “I’m good, how are you?” treatment.  Rejecting someone’s struggle and shaming them back into ‘everything is fine” is a stinging poison that touches all of us and herds us into complacency and convincing ourselves that we are ok, our kids are ok, our relationships are ok our satisfaction with the life we’ve chosen is ok, our jobs are ok, our bodies are ok, our finances are ok, our church is ok, our mental health is ok, our spiritual journey is ok.  It’s all ok!  Right??  I’m ok, you’re ok.  Don’t think about any of this stuff too much.  Because if you do…it rocks the boat.  It rocks other people’s expectations of you.  It might require you to (gulp) change.

The question is, who do you want to be?  A person who bravely tells the truth about what is imperfect inside you and your life, and who listens without judgment and embraces the struggle and disharmony of others…or the person who says that everything is great and accepts only a similar response in return.

Not everyone can be a truth teller, and no one can be a truth teller all the time.  But my direction, for myself, is clear.  I’m seeking out truth tellers and truth listeners.  And I’m telling myself the truth, too.  My word of the year is authenticity.  And I’m embracing it with wild courage.

I don’t know how to fix much.  But what I do know how to do is create safe space for real conversation.  Come sit next to me, and let’s talk.  Let’s be honest about how things are going.  Let’s say the things out loud that we are scared to say.  and trust that there is no judgment or future gossip.  Let’s engage in authentic conversation where we don’t have to impress or convince or deny.  So, come on over.  I’m pretty much never more than ten feet away from coffee or a decent Malbec.  Cheers to authenticity.

Eucharisteo 2017

Thanksgiving reminds me to point my thoughts toward the practice of giving thanks.  Eucharisteo.  This idea that Jesus had this tendency to give thanks prior to asking The Father for something.  In her fine book, 1,000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp shares her story of an early life heartbreaking loss and how she went about the next couple of decades going through the motions of faith, but holding herself back, not really trusting this God she’d had decided was not trustworthy.  Eventually, she leans into her faith, deciding God may be worth trusting afterall, and she throws herself headfirst into this gratitude experiment.

I took that ride along with her as I read the book, dutifully making my list of things to be thankful for:  my exquisite, blue-eyed fairy daughter, the way sunlight beams in and makes rainbows just when I need to be reminded of my beautiful friend Laura who left this world way too soon, the nicest Malbec with a new friend, a Steelers last minute win, the way missing someone lets you know your heart still works, perfect black heels, feeling cozy and safe, laughing until I cry, not getting a parking ticket even though I totally deserve one, my pregnant friend’s pregnant lady glow, my hair growing back fuller and better than I ever thought it would.

Yo, I don’t have cancer right now.  (Or maybe ever again.)  How about that.

When I’m cranky and frowning and sniffing the air and crossing my arms and frustrated and disappointed…I think of Ann.  And I think of Jesus.  And I am reminded to give thanks.  Not just because that’s the example we have – but because this practice…this eucharisteo…it is a powerful force, infusing us with life and love.  It fights against fear.  It fights against apathy.  It helps you to decide not to give in to bitterness.  It keeps your heart soft and ready for whatever is next.

Help effectively

When you see a fellow human struggling, many of us – we feel compelled to help.  Whether it’s the people in Houston on top of the roof, just a few inches away from rising floodwaters, or a panhandler at the on ramp of the highway asking for change.  A cancer patient.  An addict.  Mental health battles with nowhere to turn for help.  

We feel compelled to help, because, (in my opinion) we were created to connect and care for one another.  That empathy and compulsion to alleviate the suffering moves us to respond.  Some of us deadened those feelings long ago, and retrained ourselves to believe it’s not our problem and it’s probably that person’s fault and they don’t deserve another chance to receive grace and mercy. But some of us hold those feelings alive in our hearts and we are moved to act. Perhaps we put our change in a cup.  We suggest that the suicidal depressed woman “cheer up and pray more.”  Maybe we send a box of old clothes to Texas, hoping they somehow find a human their size in need of our cardigan from college.  We inquire about the cancer patient’s consumption of bottled water left in hot cars to help them target the cause of their body failing them.  

I’m asking those who don’t feel the urge to care or help to consider that almost certainly, someone you love is struggling mightily, with one of those above overwhelming weighty life matters.  The world we live in is becoming increasingly shadowed by these dark clouds of sickness, mental health decline, natural disasters, powerful drug addiction.  You are impacted.  This stuff isn’t going away.  These evils will hit closer to home.  I know it’s hard and scary to love people who are hurting and imperfect. You worry that you’ll get hurt because you might lose them. You don’t want to get involved in someone else’s mess.  You have your own problems.  But I ask you to allow compassion to foster in your heart.  You don’t even have to get involved but lack of empathy is unhealthy.  It may seem subtle, but you impact the world differently whether you see struggle and shrug with contempt, or sigh with care and smile compassionately.     

And on the other hand, if you care. Are we caring effectively? What happens when you hand someone a dollar on the street? What might they be doing with that?  Is it to buy something that helps or hurts them?  I’m not interested in judging a panhandler for asking for money.  But I do know that many people on the street support drug habits by panhandling, or simply fund an irresponsible lifestyle that is harmful to them.  I don’t judge them for doing it at all.  But I don’t want to help them with it.  When you send that cardigan to Texas, did it help?  Did it get to the right place?  Or is it in a box sitting in some cargo storage room at the airport taking up space?  Did someone reputable ask for it and explain how it would be used?  How does a cancer patient feel when grilled about their diet or exposure to chemicals or genetics?  Do you think they haven’t considered these matters?  How do these questions make them feel?  Is letting someone in active addiction or early recovery stay on your couch kindness or enabling?  Asking a deeply depressed person if they have tried yoga/meditation/your church – what impact does this have?  

Intent – wanting to help – does not always match impact.  Our INTENTION to help may have the following impacts in these kinds of situations:

-Providing the dollar that goes toward a stamp bag of heroin laced with fentanyl that causes an accidental overdose.  
-Demonstrating that you think a complex, heart wrenching problem is simple to fix when it is not.
-Sending unneeded, unusable items that end up creating work for people who are already overwhelmed.
-Causing someone to feel judged, guilty or shame when they are already struggling.  
-Enabling someone to continue in a deeply destructive lifestyle because of our inability to say “no.”   

I’m advocating that we all care deeply, and then we thoughtfully consider how we respond to any situation. Sometimes, our instinct to help stems from the desire to alleviate the discomfort we have with observing another person suffering.  Can we look past that desire to remove our own uncomfortable feeling, and think through to a more effective action?  

I suggest we investigate the best ways to help in all situations. Look for expert advice on the most effective way to have a positive impact.  Here is some advice on how to help more thoughtfully and effectively:  

If you send money to Texas, consider sending to a local nonprofit that has a high Charity Navigator rating and knows how to handle the different problems: rescue, shelter, food distribution, volunteer management, childcare, animal rescue, medical care.  I suggest giving to the local rescue missions.  They are working hard to help people, and they do that 365 days a year anyway.    

If you want to help homeless people, give to an organization that wants to embrace and support the entire person on a journey of wellness, recovery and eventual independence.  Many nonprofits do this.  Light of Life is one.  Community Human Services is another.  

If you want to help a loved one struggling with addiction, don’t enable them.  Seek support for yourself and find expert advice on how to encourage them to get help such as rehab.  Be able to say no, and be ready to assist them when they make that decision. Al-Anon is a great resource.   

Ask a cancer patient how you can be helpful.  Give gifts they would like.  Some people are hungry but too tired to cook and others might vomit if you came over with chicken soup.  Ask.  Send encouragement via text, email, etc.  It’s OK to ask questions to try to understand what’s going on, but don’t act like you can figure out why they got cancer, or tell them how to cure it with some weird snake oil your friend sells.  Just be supportive, pray, visit if they welcome it.  Offer the ways you are willing to help and let them choose.    

If someone you know is struggling with mental illness, be a friend, be forgiving, offer help with kids or pets or bills that need paid.  Support their family.  Offer to help figure it out.    

Bottom line:  Don’t not care.  But when you care, care thoughtfully.  

Get this book

People often ask me what to do for people who have cancer. I have written about this several times on this blog. But I want to add a new suggestion. This little book is awesome. 





I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t remember who gave it to me. Chemo brain is a real thing. Seriously, it is called post chemotherapy cognitive impairment and it can last pretty much forever. I remember lots of things perfectly fine, but certain things are just blank. So, whoever got me this book, thank you! I really like it. I don’t usually have high hopes for small, cute looking, spiritual themed books. Which is kind of silly because some of my favorite books have fit that description. But there are a lot of dumb ones out there.  With pat answers and encouragement from writers I can’t relate to.  

Again, I wasn’t expecting much. But this book has brought a tear to my eye each time I’ve picked it up. I am only 12 pages in, but this lady knows what’s up.  One of her first pieces of advice was about what to do when someone comes up to you and starts to tell you a story about someone they know who had your same kind of cancer.  And you start to tense up because you are concerned about how you’re going to react when they tell you that they died. Just the fact that she would bring that up makes me know that she has been through what I’ve been through and she has thought about how to handle it well. 
Anyway, this book is great.  Get it for someone you love who has been recently diagnosed.  

Changing the subject to…cancer!

I’ve spent the past 2 months hoping that when this day came, my oncologist would not look at me gravely, and then flip the monitor of his computer around to show me the scan images he would be looking at and point at some evil little (or big?) mass that was about to ruin my life over again.  If he did, it wouldn’t be the first or second or even third time.  We’ve done this dance before, me and determined, thoughtful, jovial Dr. Mehta.  He’s only in his mid to late 30s.  It’s weird when your oncologist just held his own first, freshly birthed baby a few weeks ago, when your kid is in second grade.  Getting older is weird.  I’m sure it’s even weirder for elderly people – they must look at their financial advisers, cardiologists and even the guy replacing their catalytic converter with such an odd mix of trepidation, concern, admiration and, finally, blind trust.

As for me, young(ish) means newly trained, up on all of the latest research, drugs, surgeries, treatments.  Careful.  Thorough.  Disciplined, and unlikely to let something slip by due to assumptions.  Don’t get me wrong – he didn’t hang up his cap and gown last week or anything.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s just right, age wise.  It’s just new and different, to think that people younger than me are curing cancer. l

So I spent most of the past two months trying not to think about this day.  And I’m pretty good at it, except when people randomly bring it up – I usually look at the clock and think “hmm made it to 3pm without thinking about cancer today.”  I don’t mind when people want to actually talk about it – like, have an actual question.  I am always, literally always, ready and willing to talk to a newly diagnosed person or someone who loved them.  This is something that I take very seriously and feel like it’s part of my purpose to be available for that.  I also don’t mind sharing my whole story, if it’s a person who I’m getting to know and it seems like it’s the right time to share.  Occasionally I’ll bring it up myself because it seems appropriate, or because it would be weird to avoid.  But when someone just brings up casually like “so, ,how’s your health?”  The way you might ask about someone’s child’s little league season.  Sigh.  I usually just say “fine.”  And smile.  And say “how is yours?”

I hate having requirements of people – it makes me seem so picky and inflexible.  I try really hard to make supporting me easy.  But this one thing, if I’m honest, I’ve got to tell you – it throws me off.  Unless my scan is the very next day, I am simply trying not to think about it.  I’m trying to live my life, cross off my to do list, laugh with my friends, enjoy my child, train for a race, plan my next party, solve a work problem.  When you drop the “how’s your health?” bomb on me in the middle of that, I’m halted.  I have to go into that realm.  I have to figure out how much to tell you.  How much energy I have to explain things.  How to respect my own boundaries without being rude.  I wonder why you don’t just look at my million facebook updates, or keep in touch with me the old way or read this blog.  Even as I type this, it feels unreasonable to expect people to understand this.  It seems like a nice thing to do.  Ask how someone’s health is.  I’m not a private person.  Obviously.  But I also don’t always want to stop having fun, being normal, laughing, working, playing, thinking about one million other things, going about my business living outside of thoughts of cancer, and be plunged unwillingly into it.  We’re out, having a great meal, I’m thrilled with the company, the weather, the food, the drinks, and then someone lowers their voice “so…when’s your next scan?”  It shouldn’t be hard for me, but it just is.  I’m sorry my brain isn’t robotic enough to just compute your care and concern and move on gracefully from it.  Well, I do – I really do try to do that.  But it bothers bothers bothers me, and throws me off.

I guess, just let me bring it up?  Is that reasonable?  I don’t want people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells.  But I also know that if I believe the best I can about you, and believe that you’re asking because you care, then I have to believe that you don’t want to ruin my day.

So quit ruining the mood.  If you have a serious question,, if you are worried about someone who has cancer, if you have just been diagnosed, if you are scared you have cancer, if you want to talk because you need someone who has been there, done that – I AM HERE.  Day or night.  Soccer field or gala venue.  But I am tired of laughing hysterically at some great thing that just happened, and then being hit with a gentle hand on my shoulder and a low voice in my ear “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that we’ve been praying for you every night.”

Someone just told me randomly right after a very sudden “how are you feeling?” that he “prays that they do find something so at least if it’s there, we know it’s there.”  Oh really?  You don’t just want to really go for it and pray I don’t get cancer again?  No?  Ok, umm, cool.  I love when people go for originality.


Say something else

Someone I knew recently died.  He died of cancer, ultimately.  He was young.  He had kids.  It’s sad.  There is no getting around that.  I overheard a conversation about it.  Someone was asking what happened, what might have caused it, how they found it.  I’ve had this conversation a thousand times.  And it’s ok with me.  It really is.  I asked those questions before, too.

But I want to explain something to you.

When you ask those questions, I think I know why.  I think those questions really are disguised versions of these questions:

Did this person do things that might have caused the cancer?

Are any of these things (smoking, drinking, drugs, inactivity, eating red meat, drinking unfiltered water, staring at goldfish) things that I do?

Was it actually his or her fault?

What’s behind these questions is a desperate lunge for a bit of superiority, that will reward us with the feeling of safety.

And here, of course, is what’s behind that:

Do I actually have control over my life?  Can I control how long I stay alive?

I don’t know.  Maybe.  According to lots of studies, if you eat fewer animal products, you’ll live longer.  And a lot of other studies suggest that a low grain, more Paleo approach will give you more years.  Some studies say that keeping excess weight off is ideal, and other studies say that a few extra pounds can be protective.  You’ll read that running is terrible for you, and that it will save your life.  I know of healthy people who have dropped dead of a heart attack out of nowhere, chain smoking alcoholics who will outlive us all.

I’m an advocate for moving more and eating well – but I had cancer three times and I’m not exactly a bikini model, so if being healthy or skinny are your goals, don’t listen to me.  I’m sort of kidding, because, hey – I’m still alive despite my body trying to kill me every year or so since 2013.  But also, not.  I mean, seriously…WHO KNOWS.

I do know this.  It’s not kind or helpful or loving to try to figure out why someone got cancer or had a heart attack or died.  Say something else.  OK?

Into the Void? Maybe not.

Sometimes when I write, I wonder what the point is and what impact the words have.  I’ve blogged for fifteen years (and wrote horrible diary entries for about 10 years before that…seriously, they are so dramatic and self-obsessed and boy crazy and just terrible) and if I calculated all of the time spent typing away, it would be thousands of hours easily.  And for what?  A few laughs, a few “likes.”  So what?

I wrote a book and no one told me that the easy part about writing a book is writing the book.  Someone has to care enough to publish you and then they have to care enough to promote your book and then you just hope and hope that your little book might somehow find its way magically to the people who will like it.  It’s a process through which I only got through the very first step – writing the thing.  It sits, like an unwanted hamster whose owner went away to college, in this laptop I’m typing at now, gathering cyber dust.  I don’t have the time and I don’t want to spend the money it would take to get it out into the world.  What I have to say can be said here.  People trickle in, 50 here, 100 there.  Hi, Friends.  Mom.  Connie.  Aunt Barbara.  Random person seeking cancer treatment tips.  Hello.  Welcome.  I’ve made peace with my little audience.  I write for people who love me, to share how I’m doing.  And I write for strangers who are scared and overwhelmed and using their fingertips on a keyboard or touchscreen, seeking answers, information and hope.  This is the hope stop.  You’ve found the right place.  It’s going to be ok.  Ok?

But even so, sometimes I feel like I write and the words fling out of me and into space, into the void, never to be reflected back to me.  That’s what we really want, as writers, right?  We need to tell the story, real or imagined, and we want it to fly out and bounce back to us.  We want to see something in the reactions of our readers.  Some writers want to get their readers to buy something.  Some want you to be scared.  Some want to make you feel sad about injustice.  Some want you to recycle.  Some want you to believe the same things that they do.  Some want you to laugh (guilty.)  Some want you to hear their story and feel compassion for people like them.  Some want to impress you.  Some want to inspire.  What do I want?  I want you to read what I write and when you’re done, believe in yourself a little bit more.  I want you to know that we can get through hard things.  That you can get stronger.  That it’s possible to survive pain and bad news and chemo.  That you can even have fun, like 98% of the time. I want to make the hard things in life a little bit less scary and a little more manageable.  I absolutely believe that if I can do it, you can do it.  I’m honestly not especially talented at anything.  I just believe in my brain and my body and my heart and I don’t give up.

The other thing I want you to come away from my writing with is the understanding that I have faith.  I approach all of this with an unshakable belief that I’m God’s kid and He watches me and walks with me with Great joy.  He has my best interests in His plans, and my only job is to trust Him.  He isn’t keeping track of my mistakes with a clip board full of wrong doings and scheming to find ways to punish me for them.  He’s cheering me on, urging me to do my best, and He’s always up for getting ice cream after the game, win or lose.  There are other aspects of God.  He is holy and so perfectly powerful we cannot bear to look upon His face.  But I am so enamored of the side of God that I am certain would laugh at a slightly inappropriate but witty and well timed about flatulence.

So, I want you to laugh, I want you to believe in yourself, and I want you to understand that pretty much everything you like about me comes from my trust that the Creator of the Universe chuckles occasionally at my antics and loves me like crazy, even when I am not especially well behaved.

Today, I got some evidence that this is happening.  I got the coolest care package from the coolest group of young ladies.  A woman who has known me since I was born shared my story from the last few years with her church prayer group, and they have been praying for me for a long time now.  One of those people runs one of the church’s youth groups for girls and one way or another she ended up sharing one of my blog posts that talked about getting through these tough things with faith, with the group.  Since then they tune in from time to time and read my stuff and talk about it.  This gives me so much joy.  I have mentored younger women since I was in college and continue to do so, most often, currently, in the form of trying to be the best boss I can to a small army of rockstar young women who comprise most of my team at work.  Helping women who I am a little further along in life than (ahem, old) is a real passion of mine.  I’ve been SO WELL mentored by the greatest women, ever.  It’s been instilled in me.  Basically, if you learn something (a skill, a process, a method, a way of thinking, a way of looking at something) what good is it really if you don’t turn around and teach it to someone else.  Sometimes there is a shortage of “the teachable” but when you find them, they are attracted to potential “life teachers” like magnets.  It’s a beautiful thing when the mentor and mentee find one another.  It usually flourishes eventually into a friendship and mutual learning – and these relationships have been some of my greatest joys.  Just about everything I know is because some smart person was generous enough to share with me.

So, to discover that I’m having an impact, 30 miles away, with a bunch of God following girls I’ve never met is just the greatest thing.  They sent me notes and the notes gave me tears over and over.  One (or several?) of them made a jar and put little note cards in it.  The top of the jar said “Who you are…” and the note cards said “amazing” and “beautiful” and “inspiring” and “role model.”

Holy cannoli did this encourage me.  I honestly had been feeling a bit down on myself, for not trying more persistently at “making it” as an author.  This picked me right up today!  I’m so full of love and joy from these notes (and the treats and sweet gifts they sent!) As a recipient of these blessings, I feel honored and humbled and invigorated to keep at it, sharing what I have to share.  And it reminds me, with great intensity how important it is for us to encourage one another.  Share with people the impact they have on you.  You’re probably sitting on a lot of unexpressed gratitude and appreciation right now.  Think of three people you couldn’t be where you are without – thank them!  Tell them how they impact you and how you couldn’t be you without them.

Cancer has given me terrible things.  But the beautiful things it has given me so outrageously outweigh the bad.  When life gives you lemons, like cancer…well, I’m Lemonscarlet, and I’ll be over here with my amazing friends, making lemonade.


Q & A

I’ve been meaning to dust this old thing off for a while, and even more so wanting to switch the whole thing over to Word Press like the rest of the world, but until I get 10 free hours and 50 other things done first, here we are.

So a few months ago, my doc notified me of some funk in my lungs that he wasn’t sure was cancer.  So we kept an eye on it.  Eventually we decided we were tired of keeping an eye on it, and we thought we would crack me open and scoop that sucker out.

Lung surgery is about as icky and painful as you might imagine.  They put a camera down my throat and into my bronchial tubes and injected dye into the tumor.  Then they went in through my ribs on the left side and back.  They performed a lung resection, removing a portion around the mass and sewing it back together.  I woke up with a chest tube sucking blood and gunk out, snaking across the floor to a little plastic suitcase I had to carry with me to the bathroom.  I took one look at that thing and said “Leave the catheter in so I don’t have to go anywhere.  And can I have more pain medication, please?”

I left the hospital in a few days, stayed home recovering, staring at my cat and working from home.  Then I got a colonoscopy because, why not?  🙂  Three days later I headed to LA for a work trip and some fun catching up with friends who insist on living way out there.

I got home late last night and headed straight to the doc today to find out that the funk was, in fact, cancer.  Sigh.  This is my THIRD time having cancer.  Sometimes I honestly cannot believe this is my life.  On one hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I’m 38 and super active and eat pretty healthy and I have cancer.  And not one of those “good” cancers that just needs to be treated and probably won’t come back.  One that keeps coming back and attacking different organs.  And on the other hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I have persistent stage 4 cancer that keeps trying to kill me, and yet I just ran my fastest two miles of my life 2 weeks ago, had major surgery, got on a plane 13 days later, and the same day was swinging around my friend’s loft apartment on aerial silks like an acrobat.  An enthusiastic but mostly unsuccessful, hysterically laughing acrobat.

I stayed out until 1am in Hollywood at the coolest jazz club I’ve ever been to, and managed to get up the next day and make it through a full day of meetings that I actually fully enjoyed.

I’m three and a half years into this cancer experience.  (I will refrain from using the word “journey” because even though it totally makes sense and often it seems like the only apt word, I just really hate it.  You can totally use it if you want.  In fact, if you want to send me a card, good luck finding one that doesn’t have the word “journey” in it.)  Anyway 3+ years in and the third round is on.  Treatment for now is “watch and wait” but chemo may be in the future.  My goal is to get through the Spring and Summer without needing treatment and then, come September, if it’s back to the chemo bar, then back to the chemo bar we shall go.

People ask me the same few questions, so I will post them and the answers here for you:

Are you ok?  Yup.  I am.  I’m not thrilled.  I would plan things out differently if it were up to me, but that is God’s job.  Most of the amazing stuff in the Bible I would not have been able to plan out, so I leave that to Him.  I am not always happy.  I am not always filled to the brim with joy.  But I am definitely ok.  And even when I’m not, good, familiar company, delicious healthy food, a song I love, a trip to the beach or maybe a nice Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc cheer me right up.

Are you scared?  Generally, no.  Sometimes I get scared about a specific thing, like an aspect of surgery, recovery or a chemo side effect, but between prayer and bugging my nurse friends, I usually get over that stuff quickly.  As far as being scared to die, I want to live as long as I possibly can.  And I feel hopeful that it might be quite a long while.  But heaven awaits. Then the real adventure begins, I am very convinced.

Are you mad?  Nope.  Occasionally, I am mad if I have to miss something I want to do, but I have been fortunate to minimize that. I get upset if I feel like I’m letting everyone down because I can’t do as much as I am used to being able to do.  I get frustrated when I can’t be as productive as I would like to be.  I think you are only mad about this kind of thing if you somehow think that you don’t “deserve” what is happening to you.  I do not believe that challenging circumstances are punishment, and therefore the whole “deserve” it idea is very foreign to me.  No one deserves it, and yet we all do.  And, also…there is SIGNIFICANT growth and maturity and strength that comes only from suffering.  I basically don’t put a whole lot of weight to the words of those who have not truly suffered.  It’s the only way to show what you’re made of.  And it makes you tough as hell if you let it.  I don’t choose my suffering but the results of it, when faced with the proper attitude are a blessing you can’t get another way.

Do you need anything?  There is not anything specific that I need right now.  But occasionally, I let my friend, Kait, know if there is anything that would be helpful.  If you know me, you almost definitely know Kait.  🙂  For example, sometimes lending me a book is very welcome.   (I’m all set with books right now, fortunately, thanks to a few thoughtful friends.)  🙂

What is the hardest part?  Not knowing if or when it will hit again.  I struggle with long term planning.  Like…you should plan a vacation a year ahead.  That is stressful to me.  That’s when I know I’m in a different life than most people.  You don’t not plan a trip to Fiji because you MIGHT get hit by a bus.  But I honestly would not plan an expensive trip six months out.  More like…can we go next month?  Great, I’m in.  Long range planning makes me nervous.  The other hard part is people I love worrying about me.  This worrying business is endless.  They worry about me, so I worry that they’re worrying, then they feel bad that they’re making me worry.  Everyone stop worrying, ok?!  Just pray and trust God.  Seriously.
How do you do it?  I don’t know.  Focus on what’s right in front of me.  Appreciate each day.  Refuse to miss out on something amazing.  Buy every shade of red lipstick ever invented.  Basically I choose to throw myself into all that I do, reject fear, love as hard as I can and embrace the adventure. So, who’s with me?