2015 – a year in review

2015 began without much fanfare, although my cousin got engaged to a lovely woman I can’t wait to be cousins with.  A few weeks into the new year, my oncologist suggested we remove Mort the Port.  I was thrilled, not because I hated Mort, but because I felt this meant that my doctor felt that the cancer would not make a comeback.

Mort came out, and the cancer came back.  And while I can’t get away from the reality that cancer has defined most of this year, there have been many amazing, difficult, interesting things about this year, cancer related and otherwise.
I visited with the Cape family who live far away
I trained for and completed a triathlon
I had three surgeries and a biopsy
I went to California for work and saw good friends
My daughter started first grade and is having a great year
I get sores in my mouth from the chemo that make eating a chore
I grew closer with new friends, old friends and family who have helped take care of me
I lost some hair but not all
I wrote a book (publishing, pending)
I throw up from time to time
People I’ve never met prayed for me
People I know well pray for me daily
I’ve had 9 rounds of nasty chemo
I had a group of amazing friends come and visit me just because they love me
My fingernails and toenails get infected from the toxins in chemo
The mayor said he’s proud of how I’m fighting cancer
I swam in the ocean with my little fish of a daughter
I held my husband’s hand on the beach
I have a really yucky skin rash
People have sent me the most incredible, generous gifts and care packages.
I love my life and I’m grateful for this year no matter how hard it’s been.
I will continue this fight into 2016 and, God willing, triumph for good.  My mightiest prayer is to never have cancer again.  Pray with me?





My Thanksgiving post

Because of my exploration of gratitude, I’ve been paying special attention this Thanksgiving.  I am watching closely to see what people are thankful for.  Oh, Facebook, you make it so easy to do non-scientific research.  I notice that when people post what they are thankful for, it is always first and foremost, family and friends.  Second, people thank God (or the Universe or whatever they believe allows them to have these entities they are grateful for) for their home, their jobs, the relative safety of living in this country.  They thank for overcoming an illness or being sustained through one.  They thank those in the armed forces, police, first responders.  They thank for their pets.  For good food.  For nice weather.

Some that were unique and interesting:  

Thankful that an older relative saved old photos to look at now

Thankful for dinners without electronics

Thankful for coworkers to brave difficult work alongside

Thankful I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner

Thankful for a black Friday shopping partner

Thankful for a mom who can be counted on

Thankful for the ability to pay it forward

We are wired to be thankful.   It comes spilling out of us when prompted. Gratitude is the right response to this wonderful life.  Even if we don’t feel like our life is wonderful right now, or if this has been a really hard year, as it has for some of us, it’s possible to see beyond the cloudy, dark moment caused by pain, loss or fear.  The world is abundant!  Hope is just beyond that dark cloud.  And sometimes dark clouds bring rain and rain makes things grow, and that rain from that dark cloud prompts what will eventually be a needed harvest.  Harvest requires rain.  The thunder and lightning that come with it must be withstood by the hope of that harvest.

God has blessed us with such freedom, such hope, such opportunity.  Especially in suburban, rural or fancy urban American areas where most of my peeps live.

Yesterday, I spent the first half of my day at Light of Life Rescue Mission where I work.  We have a number of different programs and services, and one is to serve meals to those in need.  We serve breakfast and dinner 365 days a year.  On Thanksgiving Day we serve over 1,000 meals to hungry people.  This is the seventh year I have done this, and it is a miracle every year.  It is many miracles every year.  It is miraculous to me that people care so much to help that our volunteer spots (Over 100) are full by early October.  It’s a great problem to have to have to turn away so many willing hearts.  It’s a miracle that so many people who are in need can experience a warm, lovingly prepared meal, served by gentle hands, surrounded by kind spirits, offering up God’s love to any takers.

I watch the faces of those who come for a meal.  I carefully make eye contact and say “Happy Thanksgiving.”  The responses vary.  “Thank you.”  Quiet, nervous, maybe a bit ashamed.  “Same to you!”  Hearty, booming, possibly intoxicated.  “Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.”  Humble, Appreciative.  No response.  A nod.  A high five.  A hug.  A shy smile.  It’s no chore to me to do my part to provide this food (mostly I manage the people who do the real work, and just make sure everything is as it should be, like a surveillance plane, way up in the sky, noticing all that is well and the small things that need adjusting.)  It’s no chore to help a young mother find a winter coat for her little daughter.  It’s my great joy, in fact.  I actually have to step away, at times, to not be greedy, and allow others the joy of helping.  I step back and I watch a nervous volunteer carefully check tags, looking for a 5T size coat.  I watch two men calmly decide who the really cool leather jacket fits better.  Strangers until that coat.  One holds the other’s belongings as they try it on for size.  Jovial.  Laughing.  Knowing there are plenty of coats for all.  I bow my head grateful that we don’t have scarcity today.  Food for all.  Coats for all.  One only need a bit of patience to wait in line for a short while.  A man and  woman sit down on the ground and find comfort in each other.  They can’t stay there, because they are in everyone’s way, but the sweetness and the miracle of their claiming that grassy spot for a few moments to rest and feel safe and calm, surrounded by the love and care of so many people who want to reach out, to bless, to give, to love.

The news cameras and the reporters with their pens and microphones come to see.  They come to share the story.  The story of blessing and gratitude.  They don’t know, but they bring glory to my God as they share this work on their tv stations and their newspapers.  We don’t have to say it.  We know who does all of this and what great things He is up to.  Craig Wolfley, former Steeler and current broadcaster, and my friend, stood up to share in the chapel that the real miracle is that for all of us, the one in 100,000 NFL player, the lady next to him with stage 4 colon cancer, the drunk fellow in the back row, the ex-con by the door, the suburban stay at home mom spooning gravy, the lumber jack looking guy answering the phone at the front desk, the Hispanic family who doesn’t speak English but followed the trail of blessings to our doorstep – Jesus came for us all.  To scoop us all up from our messed up ways.  He knows it all.  He forgives it all.  All that we are ashamed of.  In Him, we have eternal life, and we begin an epic adventure of faith.  Faith that allows people like me to have astounding hope that crushes all fear.

As I wrap up my challenge of writing down 1,000 blessings I’ve been bestowed with, I wonder how I lived before.  Not noticing.  Not making note.  Not thanking as a practice.

I’m thankful to write this.  I’m thankful anyone would read this.  That it would bless anyone in any way.  It’s what I have to give.  My observations organized into ideas and then words.  I hope you like it.  I hope it matters to you.  I hope it is a blessing to you and that it might somehow make it’s tiny way into your long list of things you’re grateful for.

Our downfall: ingratitude

I can honestly report to you that I am doing OK. I do not feel afraid right now.  Something has been allowing me to live above my circumstances. Allowing me to live up higher and float slightly above the reality we face.  It’s not illegal drugs 🙂 or tired cliches of God not giving me more than I can handle.  It’s not a unicorn farting sparkly fairy dust or a mantra.  

It’s gratitude.  My readings and listenings and thinkings and prayings have led me to a special place of thanks.  I’m grateful.  For my life so far.  My family.  My friends. My job. The love of many.  Everything is a gift.  I’m reading this cool book that is right in line with this.  It’s called One Thousand Gifts.  (Score another one for my mentor, Lisa.) It’s encouraged me in this thinking.  
Our problem is entitlement, and not just the millenials.  All of us.  Between Hollywood, fairytales, and everybody’s Facebook highlight reel, we think we deserve a loving partner, our health, freedom from pain, a dog that doesn’t chew the couch, a DVR with endless memory, perky boobs, a sweet ride, a head full of hair and perfectly above average children.  
That’s what seems “normal” so we think we deserve at least that.  So and so has it, why can’t I?  
There are a few problems with this thinking:
-people have more problems than you think they do. Believe me, I know. Because when you have my kind of problems, people reach out and tell you their problems.  Which I love and see as a gift.  Seriously.  People have illnesses they don’t want to tell you about, pain that is difficult to share, shame that requires medication and worries that rattle them to the core.  But their family photos look sunny and fun, their smile is firmly plastered and they are deeply committed to making you believe everything is fine.  (Unsolicited advice:  Be a safe haven instead of a competitor.) 
-most of the world has nothing close to those things you think you require in order to be ok. Much of the world is inhabited by people who are not sure where their next meal is coming from, if their sister will die during childbirth, if a bomb will destroy their home, if the water is safe to drink or if an anaconda will eat them. (The last one is sort of made up.) 
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones.  Put here by God and your ancestors hard work and decent genes.  Forget about the facelift and the $400 sneakers (unless you can have them AND truly be thankful.  Which, I think, is hard.) 

-if you feel entitled to those things, you can’t appreciate them.  And you’re missing so much!  Look around your house…The one that isn’t big enough or nice enough.  Can you give thanks for it? Try.  Your kids/spouse/brother are crazy.  If only they would just…  Stop.  Look at them.  They are so great.  Just give thanks for them. 

-perfect isn’t normal.  You know what is normal?  Some mix of monotony, love, tragic loss, fun, boredom, physical pain, pleasant enjoyment, white hot fear, depression, hilarity, relief, dullness, excitement, betrayal, surprise, anger, healing.  That’s a lot more normal than a perfect family that never has any problems.   How about we expect to have problems, small and occasionally big, and learn to respond with a thankful heart – yes, crying, screaming and such is fine for a time.  We all have to experience difficult emotions one way or another.  But there is great comfort and opportunity on the other side of that wall of fear you think you can’t get over.  There is a ladder nearby.  It is called Gratitude.

When you begin to see everything as a gift, your perspective changes.  Realizing you’ve been acting like you deserve something is a wake up call.  You’ll think “why?”  Why have you acted this way?  This entitlement?  Because you do good stuff sometimes or try to do less bad stuff, or you go to church or don’t swear or something?  That’s very common and understandable but let’s be real – it’s bad theology and simply not how life works.  Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer.  Shit happens.  To really great people.  

But there is so much hope in letting go of the entitlement. 

Your heart grows and your brain relaxes and you unclench your fists and you begin to take in the scenery a little better.  Set backs are less devastating, because…look at all of these gifts!  Maybe you didn’t get the Malibu Barbie, but there’s a freaking Cabbage Patch Kid over there!

Yes, there is cancer.  That nasty thing.  But also…

There is a friend who would move mountains.  A mom and dad at the ready.  There’s a good job.  A strong husband.  There’s your aunt who really loves you.  There’s a cold drink.  A warm bed.  A fluffy cat.  Your little girl with mischief in her eye and love in her heart.  There’s The Golden Girls when you can’t sleep.  

And if you see that there is a gift giver and He is the mighty captain of this ship, and He is big and good and generous and very skilled at steering.  Well, then you can enjoy the gifts and enjoy the ride.  

I'm so grateful

Tomorrow is my last day of chemo pills.  Wooooo!!!!

As I reflect, I have mixed emotions.  But one thing is for sure.  I am grateful to have (had?) cancer.  It might be gone or it might not.  Either way I’m grateful.  Here are a few things I’m thankful about:

I’m more convinced than ever that what I believe about how God loves us and that those who believe in Christ have much to look forward to beyond death.  To a significant extent, I’ve confronted my mortality.  I’ve faced, to a degree, the fear of death.  It’s not easy or simple or fun.  But.  I’m deeply convinced that God works all things for our good.  We can trust Him.
People have been so good to me.  Encouraging cards.  Funny texts.  Visits.  Foot rubs.  
Thoughtful gifts:  Shoes.  Homemade hats.  Tea.  Enormous scarf.  Coffee cup holder.  Home roasted coffee.  Books.  Journals.  Beard photos.  Wine.  Flowers.  Soup.  Chapstick.  A scarf worn by a courageous cancer survivor.  Lunches out.  Coffee mug.  Wonder Woman stuff.  Organic, fresh made juices.  Pizza.  The best Mac & Cheese I ever had.  The glove I left behind.  Reusable hand warmers.  Scratch off tickets. Gorgeous earrings.  A personalized tote.  Gift cards for food so I didn’t have to cook.  Popcorn.  Stuff from Whole Foods I’d never splurge on.  Cool necklaces.  Amazing stuff from Europe.  Bath stuff.  Awesome lotion – the best I’ve ever tried!  Dinner at nice restaurants.  
Support for my 5K – 101 donors so far!!
Sage advice.  
Prayers.  Serious, earth shaking prayers. What a gift to be prayed over.  
Cancer survivors/patients reaching out and pointing me in the right direction.  Showing me the way.  
Grace, mercy and patience when I haven’t been at my best.  
Perspective.  Nothing gives you perspective like a life threatening illness. 
The chance to learn how to support people who are going through something like this.  I had no idea before.  I have been remiss.  I won’t be again if I can help it.  
Thank you, if you’ve been there for us.  If you’ve visited, cooked, cleaned, watched our child, prayed for us, checked in on us, cared for us in some way.  Kicking cancer’s ass is a team sport.  Thanks for getting me this far.

The world is amazing. People are awesome.

It’s true that there are some real jerks out there. The guy who cuts you off in traffic. The jagoff who doesn’t hold the door for you when you have your arms full and a four year old in tow. The cashier who seemingly joyfully closes her lane just as you walk up to the register. That Succop kicker guy who single handedly ruined the Steelers chances at the playoffs (ok, ok, it was their own doing, I know.)

But let me tell ya something. People are also really awesome. Here are some examples:

The nurse who jokes around with me when she pokes through my skin to access the port in my chest to administer poison and steal samples of my blood to the extent that I look forward to seeing her.

My mother who helps take my mind off the icky stuff going into my veins by chatting, letting me teach her stuff about her iPhone and playing games like Scrabble.

My dad who reads my mind and makes homemade, ridiculously good chicken soup.

My husband who plays pharmacist (did you take your pills?) housekeeper, chef and World’s Best Dad while I’m out of commission.

The owners of this place and the owner of these places and this web site who all donated to my crazy 5K fundraising project, which you can learn about here Seriously, go learn about it and donate. I am the number one fundraiser of the WHOLE MARATHON right now. Go look now before someone ousts me (which is definitely going to happen.)

This lady. She is ridiculously awesome. Excellent writer. Funny as all get out. Lover of Pittsburgh. Friend of the homeless and sick children. Generous beyond measure.

Also tons of individual friends have donated, bringing me significant joy. (and a sense of “oh crap, I really need to run this race to avoid public shame!”)

My friend who I haven’t seen in about 15 years, who made me two handmade hats for the cold weather!

The friends who have sent me tea – the only thing I can drink during Chemo Weekend. We are having The Pittsburgh Tea Party when this crap is over and done with.

The friends who have given me cool scarves to wear because the cold air just is horrible.

The staff on my team who have sailed the ship beautifully while the captain is barfing below deck.

Senders of cards and packages – you have no idea how this brightens my day!! Mail time (Blues Clues reference for the parents out there) is the best!

The friend who sent me the GREATEST LOTION KNOWN TO MAN that is keeping my hands and feet from horrific side effects from one of my chemo meds. This lotion is magical. So is this friend.

The friend who has three biological kids, five adopted kids and a full time job who cooked me freezer meals and got me a Wonder Woman snuggie – this woman deserves an award!!!

The friends who have whisked my child away to do fun stuff.

People who read and share my blog. I am still blown away that anyone besides my mom reads this.

So, you…I say to you…