Thanksgiving – The Cancer Edition

We’re all thankful at Thanksgiving. (Right? Not feeling grateful at the moment? Stressed about the travel, the food you have to prepare in your tiny kitchen, the kids? Annoying Aunt Clementine and her yappy dog? Ok…quit your bitchin’ for a minute – yes, I know those yams won’t peel themselves, but really…just for a second…take a moment to breathe and be present and look around you at all you have to be appreciative of, okay?) Good. Now…we’re all grateful for our families, our friends, our warm, safe homes, our jobs and our car and our pets. There is no minimizing this. I am grateful for all of that and more. Here are some specific cancer journey-related objects of my gratitude:

I am grateful that at this exact moment I am not nauseated. It could pop up at any moment and it probably will, but at this very moment, I’m nausea-free. Take a minute, while you’re sitting there at your computer or in some waiting room passing the time and acknowledge that you are free of nausea (assuming you are.) That’s what I’m doing right now. An unhappy belly makes an unhappy person. A happy belly at least leaves the possibility of a happy person. I’m thankful that when I did barf up the blueberry oatmeal the other day that I had teh strength to clean it up, multiple offers from others to do it for me (THAT is love, People) and the option to stay home to recover fully from the blue, chunky trauma. šŸ™‚

I am grateful I have my hair. It’s hanging tough. It will not go without a fight, that’s for sure.

I am grateful for laughter. It honestly makes me feel better. Thank you, to those of you who really get this about me.

I’m grateful for people speaking boldly into my life, people going beyond their comfort zones to help me, people bending over backwards to make my life easier and to care for me and my family. From food to flowers to laundry and childcare…we could never do this without you.

I am SO grateful for my chemo schedule. Just the way everything fell – I’ve been able to avoid the worst chemo days coinciding with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. God provided there, big time. I would be so frustrated if I had to spend these special days in bed. You don’t get back Christmas with your four year old.

I am grateful for all of the normal stuff I am grateful for every year – to spend my 5th Thanksgiving morning at Light of Life Rescue Mission with some excellent people who care enough to serve the poor on a holiday, to sit at the table with most of my family members at some point during the day. Turkey. Pie. Love.

Cancer is an Opportunity

Cancer is a chance to do and be (or not do, or not be) a lot of things. It’s a chance to feel sorry for yourself. It’s a chance to hide or check out of relationships. It’s a chance to complain, to crumble, to grumble, to feel bitter, to live in a space of anger, resentment and basically wear a t-shirt that says:

Well, it’s true. Life isn’t fair. Though I take a different tack on that one. People say life isn’t fair when they experience pain or loss because they presume themselves to be morally upright, relatively speaking. And this, somehow, gets them a pass from experiencing pain.

I find that to be a strange, selective way of looking at things. If we’re honest, we can see how often we escape, by the skin of our teeth, consequences of all the not-so-perfect things we do – lying a little bit (or a lot?) cheating in any number of ways, stealing (ideas? credit? Post-it notes?) rudeness, superiority, gossip, passive aggression, blaming others for our failures, jealousy over…everything. Road rage, anyone? How about resenting others’ success? In fact, one could argue, we often get more good stuff than we deserve – love in spite of our mistakes and imperfections, we keep our jobs even though sometimes we don’t know what the heck we’re doing, the extra miles to get to the next exit even though we’ve been on E for quite a while.) I would argue that we reap not nearly the amount of crappy stuff we ought to from our sowing of wild, selfish, apathetic oats.

So if we can set aside the “life isn’t as fair as I feel like it should be” issue, gently helping each other down out of the seat of God’s throne where we occasionally plant ourselves…we can consider that suffering perhaps isn’t undue punishment. So what might it be, if not that? I can’t tell you what your suffering is for, or even what mine is for, in certainty and in its entirety. But I can tell you what it’s an opportunity for:

It’s an opportunity to grow in empathy. For some people, like me, it’s hard to empathize with something we haven’t experienced. I, unfairly, sometimes tend to have a “it can’t be that bad” attitude when people complain of pain or fatigue or physical or emotional difficulties. Cancer is making me softer. More understanding. I care more about people’s pain. Before it was easy to know someone was having surgery or whatever and see them two weeks later and go “look! they’re fine….that wasn’t so bad.” I am now intimately familiar with the long nights in the hospital, the pain that meds don’t touch, the struggle of long-term nausea. I know more about struggle. And I regret the attitude I’ve occasionally had in the past about how bad something I didn’t know anything about can be. I am grateful for my growing capacity for sympathy.

It’s an opportunity to galvanize my faith. Do you notice how when you’ve gone through something difficult like a test, or scary like a giant waterslide, that even though it wasn’t easy, once you’ve been through it, you are less anxious about the next one? Life is like that, too. You go through a bad break-up with your first love, and while it’s painful…you lived, didn’t you? The next break up doesn’t destroy you quite like that first one did. Whatever level of “strong” I am is probably a direct result of how much tough stuff I’ve been through – seeing that God comes through, in one way or another, every time. I’m going to be so freaking tough after this. You’ll think I’m on steroids.

It’s an opportunity to be loved. I am amazed at how loved I am. Of course there is the occasional disappointment – the person you thought would be there that just sort of faded away or disappeared suddenly, altogether. But mostly, I feel like there is a persistent army of caring, loving people beating down my door with cards and flowers and bubble bath and prayers and dumpling soup and hugs and special tea and chocolate covered strawberries and trips to the grocery store. Thank you, to the people who are loving me so well and generously through this. I feel cherished and cared for like never before.

There is this story that Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC tells about this group of elder leaders of a denomination of a European country. Their denomination was basically dying off, not having had growth in many years. They wanted to appoint this young, up and coming, high energy pastor as their new leader. They all respected him and liked him and felt he was on his way to great things. But they stopped in their tracks when one of them pointed out that the young pastor hadn’t really been “put through the fire.” He’d yet to have a life experience that truly tested him. They knew, once they realized this, that his time had not yet come. Many years in the faith and in leadership had taught them that to really be able to lead people effectively, you have to have been through some pretty tough stuff. I’ve found myself in leadership of some kind, throughout most of my life. Perhaps I am not ready for anything further until I’ve fought this particular battle.

I think you make some key decisions in any life chapters that you might title “SUFFERING.” And one of them is if you are going to let it beat you down or if you’re going to let it make you better. I don’t know about you, but I want to be better. So I will. Sometimes pressurized coal turns into boring coal dust. And sometimes, it becomes something so beautiful, people lose their lives trying to find it.

Want to know what chemo is like?

Not every cancer patient gets the same chemo drugs.  Some people get one drug.  Some get four.  I get two.  Here’s how it goes down.
The morning of my treatment, I get up and start my two week cycle of oral chemo.  This drug has a few side effects including nausea, weakness, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.  I get all of them to varying degrees. But, so far, none to the point of stopping me from getting through a normal day reasonably well.  

My husband, aka, my driver, chef, and wiper of tears on bad days, takes me to the cancer treatment center.

In Pittsburgh, there is an enormous, fancy, well funded cancer treatment center called Hillman. It’s got sculptures, fountains and free lunch. The place I go? Is not that. But it’s close to my house and I like my doctor, so I’m ok with a boring, clinical setting. We arrive and wait a bit in the waiting room. I always notice the people there. I am always the youngest and seem the least sick. I’m never sure how to feel about that. I’m tempted to feel a little sorry for myself because, geez, these people typically have 30 years on me at least. But on the other hand, I’m feeling good enough to take a shower and put on lipstick and earrings and wear boots that once, an elderly but sassy patient loudly pointed out were not worn by “nice girls back in her day.” So mostly I feel thankful that, at least so far, we don’t really need to use the “cancer patient only” parking spaces.

So we get called back and they take my vitals. They then access Mort the Port. Mort is located below my collarbone on my left side. He’s about the size of a peach pit and he makes a weird little bump. 

 Via Mort, they can draw blood and give me medication. They also have to flush him with saline, which makes my mouth taste like metal for some reason. It is weird and gross. They then give me my pre-meds which include some fluids, steroids and anti-nausea medication. About then I meet with my doctor who is about my age, Indian, friendly and funny. I like him a lot. So far we’ve only gotten good news from him, such as stellar blood work and so far no evidence of cancer cropping up in other places. So my meetings with him have been pleasant and positive. He says I’m a trouper and he is impressed with my staying active, working, etc.

Then I head to the treatment area. It’s a large room with about 10 chemo stations. A lot of the people there are pretty sick. But most have a companion (spouse or friend or relative) with them and everyone seems to stay pretty positive even if they are weak and not feeling well. They hook me up to my IV chemo, a drug that causes all kinds of weird side effects. But during the infusion time, nothing major happens. My mom arrives.  My husband goes to work.  We chat, play Scrabble.

I watch hilarious videos on You Tube.  Have silly text conversations.  Answer work emails.  This all takes about 3 hours. It’s afterward that things get weird.

Different types of cancer require different types of chemo. So mine may be different than someone with, say, breast cancer. Plus even the same drug may affect two people differently. So this is just what has happened to me so far. When I leave the center, I have to keep my hands and feet warm because the cold paralyzes them and makes it feel like they are being stung by a swarm of bees. And I cannot breathe in cool/cold air. If I do, my breathing becomes like someone who has just climbed 5 flights of stairs quickly. I’m out of breath and cannot “catch” it even though I am not at all over-exerted. The cold air paralyzes and causes spasms. It’s very weird. So I wear a scarf and keep it tight over my face. Mind you, it’s only been about 45 degrees so far. So, I’m sweating because I’m wearing gloves and warm socks and a scarf. It is very hard to explain to someone that you are both overheated and fearful of letting the cold get to you. People have a hard time understanding this, but I wouldn’t understand it either.

The cold sensitivity also includes food and drink. Can’t ingest anything cooler than room temperature. If I do, it feels like I’m swallowing tiny porcupines. This is tough because dehydration is a major risk with these medications and one can only drink so much hot tea.   But I’m becoming a bit of a tea snob.

Also, anything sour, sweet or pungent (like a sharp cheese) is off limits. It feels like I just took a giant swig of pure lemon juice. So my diet for a week or so is warm and bland. Which is fine, because I am also nauseous. Not like toilet-hugging, stomach flu nauseous. Just unsettled and unpleasant. Nothing sounds good except, say, crackers, macaroni and cheese, toast. You get the idea.

A new side effect this time around is muscle aches. I also got a flu shot (my first ever) so maybe it’s from that. But this is for the birds. I keep waiting for a magical fairy massage therapist that does house calls to show up.

Another new side effect is that cool air or tears hurt my eyes. That’s just great. Because, you know, you never feel like crying when you have cancer. Honestly this one is just funny to me. Like…seriously?! My new motto is “There is no crying after chemo!” Seriously, I cried a little bit yesterday and immediately decided that there will absolutely be no more of that until this stuff wears off a bit. A friend’s daughter sent me a beautiful painting of a stained glass window from her church today. It was so sweet I got a tiny bit weepy and had to be like “Nope. No way. This is not adorable at all.”

So, it will be like this for a while. But it gets better. I still have to take the oral medication for two weeks, but my body seems to tolerate that much better than the IV chemo I get. Now, lest you think I’m just sitting here feeling bad and sorry for myself…I’d like to end with some gratitude.

I’m grateful for my husband handling everything while I am pretty much just capable of getting through the day. I’m thankful for my mom making sure I have everything I need and taking me out when I’m up for it. I’m thankful for the awesome care packages and cards and texts and shout outs on Facebook. I’m thankful that people care enough to read this blog. I’m thankful I’m not sicker. I’m thankful that God has been faithful every step of the way, giving me hope when I need it, grace when I need it and peace the entire time. I sincerely am filled with peace and even joy almost all of the time. Cancer does some terrible things. But it is making me tougher, wiser, kinder and more faithful every day. So, I’m grateful for this experience, even the messy, painful parts.  Besides…I’m a fighter, yo.

Rainbows galore

So my friend, Laura had this thing about rainbows. She loved them.  She dressed colorfully and sparkly and brightly.  She refused to let the cancer get her down.  She fought it with heart, soul, chemo, radiation, love, laughter, Zumba and rainbows. 

Bear with me for a short biblical review of rainbows: from Genesis, we know that a rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant with all living creatures of the earth.  It’s His promise to never flood the entire earth again.  Here, a rainbow is a sign of God’s grace.  We are also told in Revelation that a rainbow is present in heaven – surrounding God on His throne.  So, rainbows represent both God’s grace and God’s glory.  
So rainbows are nice and all.  But my friend is still gone.  I was feeling especially anguished recently, between the days of Laura’s death and funeral.  My eyes hurt from the crying.  At one point, I actually said out loud to God “I’m in this.  I’m with you.  I trust you.  But I need to know, like really know that you’re with me.”  I’m much more of a thinker than a feeler. I take God’s word for it (The Bible) and go from those truths.  Like, Scripture says He’s with me, so He’s with me.  But this week was so hard.  This week, I needed to feel it to keep walking.  
So, as one who does not often ask for “signs” because I don’t think it’s good, solid faith to need some kind of sign at every turn.  It feels too much like telling God how to guide me and I’m not into that.  But as one who does not often ask for a particular type of comfort, I kinda figured He would get right on that.  I looked.  I listened.  Nothing.  
Until today.
I woke up with a heavy heart knowing it was the day we would lay Laura to rest.  I trudged into my bathroom.  And there it was.  A freaking rainbow.  Faint but clear.  I was enthralled by it.  I, as any young Gen Xer/old Millennial does, immediately took a photo and shared it on Facebook.   At which point I saw the exact same thing had happened to a mutual friend of mine and Laura’s.  It was cool, exciting and special.  Then I got the text from another friend with the photo of HER rainbow on her wall.  They were all different but rainbows nonetheless.  Now I was just speechless.   
Then we got to the funeral.  And at the cemetery, after we released an array of colorful balloons, my friend pointed saying “look!”  You won’t believe it.  But a splash of a rainbow in the sky.  On a sunny day that turned clouded but with not a speck of rain.  Above the place where a hundred or so loved ones gathered to put this rainbow warrior to rest.  
I don’t know how it works.  If it was Laura painting the sky for us with God’s delighted permission, the angels honoring heaven’s new arrival or God Himself showing a grieved group of people His everlasting love in a way we could see clear as day.  However they got there, you’re bonkers if you think there’s nothing special about these.  With them, God answered my prayer.  He showed me a sign.  He reinforced my faith.  He’s with me.  He’s got Laura.  He will wipe every tear.  He will undo every sad thing.  
Tomorrow is Chemo Smackdown-o-Rama-Fest Round 2.  I’m ready.  

Tough cookies

So this journey took an unexpected turn when my lovely friend, Laura, left this world unexpectedly. You can read about her HERE. She was battling cervical cancer like a real badass when suddenly the cancer just went out of control. A little while in the hospital, docs trying hard to stop it or slow it down. But it was her time. She knew it. Posted on Facebook shortly before that she guessed her number had been called. That she loves us all to the moon and back. And then she was gone. I still can’t believe it. The very toughest of cookies.  

But it is true. And somehow our lives must move forward. Granted, I feel like sitting down on the path and crossing my arms like a small child denied some lovely thing. No. I’m not going. It’s simply too difficult. And it’s certainly not fair. But…I must.

There is simply no way but forward.

This thought occurred to me recently as they popped the needle into Mort the Port to take some blood and, as they do every three weeks, make sure I didn’t go ahead and get myself knocked up between three weeks ago and now. (What do they think is going ON in my house?? I must look very, verrray sexy to them.)

Or maybe Kevin does.

So, I can’t just sit down and languish until the vultures come for me. There is no way but forward. This thought keeps coming into my head. Maybe it’s just a sensible notion. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit nudging me along. Maybe Laura sent me that wisp of a thought that swirled its way through the clouds and rainbows, as she left this world, making its way toward me as she came into God’s glorious presence. Whatever brought it to me, it’s true. Forward is the way.

People tell me they admire my strength.  That I’m a proverbial Tough Cookie.  Am I?  I’m never quite sure how to take that because 1. I’m leaning real hard on God right now.  2. I’m not exactly doing this alone – I’m so crazy blessed to have the best army of food-makers, child-watchers, juice-deliverers, jewelry-senders, scarf-givers, flower-bringers and prayer warriors in all the land! 3. I do feel angry, sad and a sense of disbelief at times.  (I just choose to usher those emotions out the door after a short but meaningful visit.). Now, on the other hand, I’m also motivated, persistent and stubborn as a grumpy mule.  

So when someone says that to me, I am filled with conflicting emotions and corresponding potential responses:  “Thanks!  No I’m not.  I’m actually very sad and tired today.  Me?  Strong?  Thanks for noticing.  You’re nuts.  I’m strong because of people like you helping me.  I am strong aren’t I?  I’m not strong – just a little crazy.  I’m a total badass.  I’m as strong as a newborn kitten.  I’m a fraud!  Its all God – I’m nothing without Him. I am pretty awesome, huh?  I can’t believe I have this many people fooled.  Bring it on, Cancer!  I should really be wearing actual red Wonder Woman boots.  It’s because of all the prayers.  I’m hungry – maybe you’d like to help me be strong by making me a vegan-paleo-gluten free-organic-nonGMO sandwich?”

Chemo sucks.  (How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.) Friends leaving this world too soon is the worst – There is a Laura shaped space in my heart that will always feel empty.  Cancer is a mean, nasty, violent thing.  But there is no way but forward.  There is no way to be but strong.  Not because anyone can do it alone or because we’re looking to impress anyone.  I’m not talking about ACTING strong.  I’m saying let’s BE strong.  Strong is admitting you’re weak and need help.  Strong is going to work even though you don’t feel quite right – because you are ok with looking less than your best.  Strong is also staying home because Lord knows the world goes on without us.  Strong is striving hard but knowing when to let someone else carry you for a bit.  Strong is laughing at the absurdity of it all.  Strong is knowing, 1. without God, we’re totally screwed and 2. that it takes a lifetime to begin to grasp His infinite goodness.  Strong is having perspective that is not limited to today’s pain and tomorrow’s fears.  Rather fix your eyes on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.

Forward is the way.  Strong is the way.  God is the way.  

Good grief

Grief feels pretty bad.


It can feel like anxiety, depression, shock, outrage, emptiness and more.  When someone we love dies, we’re going on an emotional ride, like it or not.  You can shut your eyes and pretend like you’re not hurdling through the air at high speeds against your will…but if you’ve ever been to Cedar Point, you know how well that kind of denial works.  Most of the emotions are unpleasant.  Like really tough. Parts of you that you didn’t even know existed hurt.  Time seems to pass slowly.  The pain springs up in unexpected and awkward ways.  Hot, stinging tears fill your eyes while you’re just trying to pay for your milk and eggs and (let’s be honest, chocolate.)  Choking back sobs while you’re putting a sweetly clueless child to bed.  Burning the toast because you got lost in a memory that swept you down the river of grief…rendering you pretty useless and frankly not hungry anymore. 

I would like to start a new tradition.  When we lose someone we love we should be issued a t-shirt that says “I am grieving.  Please be nice to me.”  Why?  Because it feels like the entire world is acting like a jagoff to you when you’re grieving.  You get cut off in traffic.  Your boss yells at you.  For some reason the hardest times (and I’ve only had a few) of real, life-altering grief I’ve experienced, I’ve actually, physically found myself at some point in some kind of situation where I’m essentially standing in the rain, cold, drenched and unable to feel anything but totally sorry for myself.  And no one even notices!  In fact someone in a large vehicle drives by splashing muddy splatters everywhere. That’s what the real nitty gritty of grief feels like to me, standing alone, freezing, drenched, dirty and void of hope.  
So the title of this post is good grief.  How can it be good when it’s so bad?  I have a few thoughts.
Grief is good because its usually so intense we can’t help but be real.  Typically, we spend a lot of time managing our reputations, creating ways for people to think we’re cooler, smarter and stronger than we are.  Grief yanks those masks right off and burns them.  Grief is not gentle but it is helpful in this way.  We allow ourselves to be seen more authentically when we grieve.  Of course there’s always the deeply unhealthy attention seeking jackass who has to collapse in a public puddle of sobs when the opportunity for a lot of attention arises.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I mean quiet (or loud…but maybe at least a little private?) moments with people who love you.  Stripped bare of your tough facade, crying and saying things out loud that you know sound a little crazy.  “We were supposed to go to the mall on Tuesday!!!!”  Or “I forgot to give him back his sweater!!!!”  It’s ok.  Let it out.  This lets people love you in a unique and wonderful way.  Frankly I completely hate that part of grief, but I know it’s good for me and my relationships.
Grief stops us in our tracks.  Shows us what little things have been taking up our heart and brain space.  Who cares if my gray hairs are showing or that my car is full of empty yogurt containers and granola bar wrappers?  Don’t sweat the small stuff, you know?
Grief can be a gift.  How?  We look heavenward even if we’re not into that.  God can use grief to draw us near.  When you’re really desperate, really lost…sometimes we’re willing to believe, just a tiny bit, that there is actually something…someone out there who is bigger and better than we ever dreamed.  Don’t be afraid to seek that out just a little…you can always go back to believing we got here randomly and that we’re on our own. That belief will always be available if you don’t find something better.  God says if we seek Him, we’ll find Him.  Ain’t no harm in taking a peek around, right?
Grief can bring up old hurts.  Dealing with grief in a healthy way can help heal those wounds.  Sometimes when a loved one dies people feel like everyone they ever love dies. Those are abandonment issues that, if unaddressed, can lead to some bad life controlling habits like refusing to connect deeply with anyone out of self-preservation or even starting down the path of addiction.  Considering the seriousness of believing that (everyone we love dies) then responding by investigating what led us to believe that, defining reality a little more clearly and willingly releasing that belief and its associated fears can be very freeing.  
Grief creates community.  You know who has really got your six when life falls apart in this way.  Also, I’ve become new friends with people simply based on the fact that we lost a mutual loved one.  
Grief creates opportunity to serve those most impacted.  However much you’re hurting, there is probably someone even more devastated.  Think of your very best talents and resources and how you might offer them in some way.  Food, music, your company, a poem that doesn’t suck, help with legal issues, cleaning, a foot rub, letters, texts and phone calls as are appropriate.  Don’t just force yourself on hurting people.  Pay attention and try to see what the best way to help is, and when.
Grief is the worst.  But it is also an opportunity for growth, learning and love.  Don’t waste your grief.    

Laura taught me…

My friend died last night.  My sweet beautiful friend went rounds against cancer, fighting hard while living gracefully.  As it stole her energy, her comfort and her hair, what it failed to steal was her spirit.  Instead, her soul strengthened through the journey and reached out beyond her inner circle to everyone who knew her, like a rainbow whirlwind, sweeping up others with her love and joy.  

Laura gave people hope.  She continually inspired and astonished people as she marched on, full of grace and joy, down this path that I can tell you is rocky, intimidating, dark and full of danger.  When I found out a month ago that I have cancer, Laura paused on the path.  And she came back for me.  “It’s this way,” she said, smiling.  “It’s not so bad.  Lets walk together.  I’ll help you,” reaching for my hand and giving me some of her bracelets to wear for encouragement.  And she showed me that I could do it.  
I was willing to do it with her.  Now I’m standing here without her.  Ive got these bracelets, but she’s gone.  Another moment where I look heavenward, toward the God I love and trust and say “Are you freaking kidding me?!”
But The Lord, He is to be trusted.  His ways are not our ways.  He hasn’t said much to me on this topic but He’s clear that He has Laura and He’s got me.  His plans are “too wonderful for us to know.”  
So I have to do this without her now.  My heart is completely broken that she is gone.  I can’t even imagine how her family feels.  It feels like the brightest spot in the world just went out.  How can she be gone just like that?  But she is.  And we must look around and take inventory of what beauty she has left us.
What Laura taught me:
There are never too many bracelets. 
You can fight cancer with all you’ve got while accepting that your path is your path.  
Rainbows are awesome and not just for LGBT support. šŸ™‚
One should change one’s hair color and style frequently.  Why not??
Accept gifts graciously.
Give generously.
It’s possible to be kind and thoughtful even when you have cancer.
Hot baths are awesome.
Bald is beautiful.
Cancer is not something to be feared.  Neither is death.
Eastern cultures have much to offer us.  Tea!  Yoga!  
You can make a fun day out of a trip to the chemo bar.
Gifts are a great way to show a sick person love.
Dr. Who is a good time investment.
You can be positive and loving at all times.
Take photos of everything – especially yourself.  Cancer = permission to selfie it up!  Use filters when chemo washes your complexion out.  
Rest.  Enjoy it. 
Be silly whenever possible.  Dress up as your oncologist for Halloween.  
When you can’t go to the party because you’re sick, have your own.  Dress up even if its just for yourself and your dog.
Go to a spa whenever possible.  Treat yourself and let other treat you to luxurious things.
Let people help.  Let them rub your feet.  
When in doubt make someone a gift.  Loom it up!
Fuzzy socks.
Thank people often and express appreciation whenever possible.  
You can be truly grateful in the midst of deeply challenging circumstances.
Family is your staunchest force of allies but some select, special friends belong in that group, too.
I’m better because I’ve known Laura.  I’m stronger and less afraid.  She will always be in my heart.  I know she is in heaven, with God.  She trusted His plan.  Heaven is a little more colorful today.  

Milestones on the Cancer Journey

So I had major abdominal surgery six weeks ago. It’s the thing that launched this crazy situation we’re in. We thought the surgery was The Thing to worry about getting through. Little did we know that was a cheerful, sunny walk in the park that led to the scary, poorly lit, ivy covered, rusty gate marked CANCER that we had to walk through. I have this tendency to wave my hand dismissively at that surgery. The surgeon who performed it did an excellent job and while his bedside manner made me want to hide under the covers, he removed not only the mass that caused this mess, by not screwing anything up, he also removed many obstacles for me. The connection could have leaked. I could have ended up with a colostomy bag (eeeeewwwwww.) There could have been a massive infection. All kinds of things could have gone wrong which could have jeopardized my life or delayed treating the cancer for six months.

I have been pain free from my surgery for about three weeks. I had a very fast recovery which I attribute to largely to God answering about one million people’s prayers and a little bit of my sheer, mule-like will. See, the doc not so politely noted that I am not a particularly thin person and lingered on the notion several times that due to that, it would probably take me a very long time to recover. To which I thought “Awww,that’s so cute how you don’t know who you’re dealing with, here.” And I basically said “Hey, you do the surgery right and then get out of my way.” Jagoff.

So, naturally, I was zooming up and down the hallways by the second day post-op, sweating and muttering swear words under my breath like a crazy person, with that stupid IV tower clunking along, just to spite him. I walked three times as far each day as they suggested I try to and they released me from the hospital 3 days earlier than expected. Take that, Doc. Also, I registered for a 5K that will take place a couple of days after my final chemo treatment. I will be there. I will finish. Even if I have to crawl.

Some of this post is about the will to accomplish that which seems difficult, overcoming obstacles and basically telling a guy with 12 years of post-secondary education who would go on to essentially save your life, to shove it. But it’s also about milestones.

Successful surgery. Awesome.

Getting discharged early. Great.

First “solid” food. Yum.

Returning to work to be with my crew.

Mort the Port is installed.

Starting treatment.

But the best thing, by far, happened yesterday. It’s been six weeks since I was allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. That is, well, most things. Including a 40 pound preschooler. She’s been patient and understanding that she can’t torpedo down the hallway and launch her adorable self at me. She’s been gentle and careful. Until this moment…

Cancer is funny.

Oh, calm down. Yes, yes, we know. Cancer is terrible. Trrrrblll. It steals, kills and destroys. I could make a very long list of how cancer is very unfunny. Sad. Scary. Depressing. But! Also…funny.

First, there’s the silliness that happens when I come out of surgeries and procedures. My first procedure, I came to talking about chicken tenders and an octopus. My big surgery, I spent the hour or two post-op groggily but loudly and insistently explaining to any of the medical staff who would listen (and those who chose not to) in the recovery room that I was ready to be moved up to my hospital room. A surgeon would hurry by and I would be like “Sir! Sir, I’m ready to go to my room. Excuse me! Hey! I’m all set here.” And when they seemed like they were going to take the guy next to me first, I started saying loudly “I need a transport here. Right here. I’m next. Transport. Can you transport me? How about you?” Obnoxious.

I find my scars to be funny. I have a big scar on my belly button and one on my upper chest area. It’s a good thing I ain’t no super model. Because it looks like a blind, drunken monkey stitched me up. Here is the one on/in/near my belly button. Are they kidding me?! You can’t even tell what’s going on here, can you? This is my belly button now. Awesome.

People say weird things when they find out you have cancer. Of course some people say incredible, wonderful, encouraging things. And people assume a lot of things. That I’m already bald. That I’m not working. That I’m going to die. That I can’t have more kids.

I have funny conversations with people. Especially about how I’m now going to maybe possibly be vegan/paleo/vegetarian/dairy-free/all organic or whatever.

Hospital stuff is funny. Like these legs things.

And this thing. That looks like a throw back from wilder days.

And this. Because it’s fun to freak out the nurses when you’re asleep.

Thankful for Cancer


Thankful FOR cancer? Yup. I know, it’s crazy. Let me explain.

Do I enjoy having cancer? No. I am praying like crazy every day that all of the cancer cells are gone and they never come back. I am kind of mad that I have cancer. I mean, it’s totally not, like, fair. Not that anyone deserves it. No one does. Or maybe we all do, depending on how deep you want to get from a theological perspective. But I definitely hate it that I have cancer. I hate it that my life has been so totally disrupted. I mean, I’m busy. Not just busy getting my nails done or something, but busy raising a daughter to be a (hopefully) really great person. Busy raising the operating budget of a large nonprofit organization that helps homeless people. Busy kicking everyone in my league’s butt at Fantasy Football. You know…important things. I do not like feeling tired. I am nervous I will lose my hair (but maybe just the hair that enjoys to appear on my upper lip? Please, Lord!) I hate it that I have to be so “all about me.” I like to help other people with their problems. It’s unnatural for me to be the recipient. I hate all of this medicine I take. I am tired of doc appointments. My hands and feet don’t feel normal. So…don’t get me wrong. Cancer blows.

But I’m still thankful. I mean, what good does sitting around crying and worrying about it do? Bitterness is dangerous. It chokes everything around it. Have you met someone you would describe as bitter – embittered by some bad thing they feel happened to them? Do you want to hang out with them? Me neither. Some emotions like fear and sorrow are legit, of course. It would be inauthentic to pretend they don’t exist. But, in my opinion, they ought to be acknowledged, invited to stay for a short while and then politely asked to leave so there is room for better emotions like hope and peace and confidence. The long and short of it is this: God is working together all things for my good and His glory. Sometimes it takes a little effort to bring our minds back to that truth. But what a solid place to live from!

I am thankful to be thinking about the things I am thinking about, in terms of who God is, who we are and how we are to approach life. See previous blog entries for a lot of thoughts about that. I am thankful that it is possible to have HOPE every day. I am thankful I am not sicker. I can drive and walk and work. THANKFUL for that.

I am thankful that this has pushed me to think seriously about what I eat and what products I use. I have learned a lot. I have also confused myself and stressed myself out quite a bit. But I’m learning new things.

I am thankful that cancer has brought a few familiar faces back into my life. We all let friendships fade for any number of reasons. But serious illness snaps us all to attention and reminds us how much we love some of the best people we’ve had the blessing to know.

I am so thankful for the kind things people have done for me. Seriously! So much niceness! So much thoughtful generosity. Just this week:

-meals delivered to or prepared at my house by people who are encouraging my new, developing eating habits.

-someone saved me a parking spot with their car. like “here, I’ll give you this one so you don’t have to walk in the cold.”

-home-roasted coffee beans, delivered to my desk

-lovely visits over lunch at favorite restaurants

-treats dropped off with sweet notes

-offers of child care

-wine deliveries

-a text that meant the world to me

-people sharing my blog with others – I can’t believe anyone but my mom reads this, so that is pretty cool.

Being thankful for something that on the surface is very bad.  It’s the stuff Scripture is made of.  The last shall be first, the first shall be last.  Weakness leads to real stregnth.  To receive, we must give.  Jesus won it all by the humble act of losing everything.  Rejoice in ALL circumstances.  (Not just the ones that involve cake and ice cream or healthy babies or a sale at Anthropologie.)

I am thankful for the perspective that comes from a diagnosis like this that points to toward valuing each moment and each day a little more. Seeing more clearly, noticing things I haven’t before. Directing my thoughts toward things that are worthy of my brainspace. “Did I make it count, today?” I ask myself. Was today as rad as it could have been? Did I love as fully as I can? Did I let go of the things not meant for me, and cling to the big, wonderful things? Did I trust God more today than yesterday? Did I yield my own will to His? Did I look for the opportunities set before me? I may have many more days on this earth. But if I have one or 100 or 20,000…I’m living like I mean it, yo. That is something to be thankful for.