Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 31: Before I ever got my diagnosis, I already had the cure.

As I walked through the uncertainty of my tomorrows, I realized that I had to start listening or I wasn't going to make it. If the cancer didn't get me, the anxiety just might. When I started learning to listen, the healing happened. There was no audible voice, but He spoke to me through my community, the seasons, precious time away with my family, hair, my husband, a longing for heaven, the sunrise, “consequences”, His Word, my body, traditions, tragedies, inspired writers, and my parents. 

Once I started listening, I became confident that I was loved. It is a love that knows no limits. It is a love that never fails. It is a love that I hope you all know. In that love death loses it's sting, and there is amazing freedom to live.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 30: In the words of my dear friend, "He always shows His Glory".

I  mentioned my community on Day 1, and today I want to share a little more of that community with you through the writing of one of my closest friends, Jen.  She is wise. She is compassionate. She is faithful.  Just what I needed for a journey through cancer.  She blogs here and I promise you will be blessed to follow.  But if you want to get hooked, read on....

Show me Your Glory

This is always the deep whisper in my soul that grows louder and
louder as I approach that beautiful sandy place where the ocean roars
loud and drowns out the untamed thoughts coursing through my mind. I
am eager to get there. Always afraid I'll miss it.

But today it's okay if we miss it. I've already seen his
unapproachable light. It came in headlights rounding the corner as my
sister Sara and I waited for our ride to see the sunrise.

It's cloudy and a little warmer than the first time we rose early and
drove to the beach to see the sunrise. It was just the two of us then.
That was nine months ago.

That time I came needing Him in a way that I hadn't in a long time. It
was the last day of summer. Just a week before, I had watched my sister
Kara build a sandcastle with her son and daughter. I watched and
wondered, never voiced, just wondered deep down if she would be doing
this again come next summer. Or dare I ask the question, would her
Cancer take moments like these from us?

Nine months ago I watched the sunrise from this same beach. I begged
for His mercy to save her, get us through the upcoming year of
surgeries and chemo treatments. I was asking for my husband to have a
job, but most of all I remember asking that He would bring His
goodness to this life. A life that only seemed to be getting harder
with each passing year. With that sunrise He comforted me and reminded
me that his Glory never fades, like the sun it will always rise.

Today I was headed to watch a beautiful sunrise over the ocean, read His word,
and be reminded again about the light, the Glorious light that comes
from God alone, but that was not the unapproachable light he shone for me
today. No, His light today was in the headlights approaching.

Kara was in the driver seat today, her faithful mom by her side. She  picked us up with a smile, and the four of us headed to the beach with hopes of catching sight of that
sweet moment when the grey horizon is broken by the glowing orb that
brings warmth and light to my soul.

We've made it in time. We sit in our chairs each reading a different chapter or
verse from the same Good Book. Again, 
God is faithful. The sun appears.  It starts as a glimmering of pink, none the less. Then slowly the sky brightens. 

And there it is plain as day , because there really is nothing new
under the sun. He's put it in words for me already.

1Timothy 6:15-16 God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings
and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in
unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor
and might forever. Amen.

Unapproachable light. That's what made me wake up early this morning
that desire to know again the only thing that satisfies. Jesus the
light of the world.

I continue reading and sure enough He points me toward his glory.

Psalm 145:3-7
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of
your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of
your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The sun rises and takes my breath away. The tears dry on my cheeks.  I
sigh and silently say thank you. "Thank you Jesus, for how you've loved
and shown your glory over this past year." I sit feeling whole again.
Then it comes...

She breaks the silence of the moment. "Jen, I think you should write a
blog." I stare at her, now a cancer survivor wearing her black and pink "go, fight,
cure," hat. It's nine months later. Her hair is quickly growing back.
Her last surgery was finished 2 weeks ago.

He uses her to say it, loud and clear. With two witnesses watching.
What he's been quietly asking me to do for the past nine months. Write
Jen, write.

Can I really tell my sister who just fought for her life, with
everything in her, that I can't? Can I give her excuses about not
being good enough, not having enough time, or not knowing where to
start? Of course not, and that's why He uses her to tell me it's time.
It's time to give birth to the seed He planted. To write. To tell of
the power of His awesome works- to proclaim His great deeds.

He's shown His glory time and time again this past year, miles away
from the beach. But today at this sunrise He is up to something
different. He's asking me to share His glory with you...

I'm not sure what it will bring, I'm scared to death I'll make a fool
of myself and I realize I'll never be able to perfectly put my Savior
into words. But I've clearly been asked and it's time. It's time to
birth a blog?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 29: I am blessed with a heritage of faith.

On the heels of yesterday's post, I was feeling the need to write this one…My 31 Days would never be complete without mentioning two of the key players in my journey through cancer, my mom and dad. The truth is I cannot imagine how I ever would have made it through the process without them. Without my dad's wise counsel, I would not have experienced the healing prayers of our church's elders. Without my mom, the routine that kept life normal for our kids would not have been possible. Without them as a team {for my entire life}, my faith would not have endured and grown through the trial.

To read more about how my mom endured my trial, click HERE!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 28: Every year counts.

When I first read Genesis 5 in preparation for last week's BSF lesson, I was hardly enthused. At first it seems like a long list of names that are hard to pronounce followed by the hundreds of years they each lived. Who wants to live that long and what does this have to do with me anyway? However, as I sat listening to our teacher, Joann lecture on this chapter, I was completely blown away by the treasures hidden in these 32 verses.

There are a few key things that should be noted from the lineage of Adam's son, Seth especially when it is compared with the lineage of Cain in the preceding chapter. Despite repeated warnings from God, Cain's heart was hard, and his bitterness eventually led him to murder his brother, Abel. His actions and refusal to repent of his sin are passed down for many generations after him and he becomes known as the seed of Satan. The description of his family line include accomplishments in such things as agriculture, music and art, as well as the sins of polygamy and murder. There is no mention of God nor how many years they lived.

Seth, on the other hand, was born as a replacement for the murdered Abel and fulfilled the prophesy that a deliverer (Jesus) would come from the line of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15). In contrast to Cain's ancestry, Seth's line does not speak once of worldly accomplishment but only the faith of men like Enoch and Noah. Then the amount of years that each man lived are recorded as a sort of celebration of their lives.

So what does all this mean and what does it have to do with life after cancer? It reminds me that God doesn't care so much about what I accomplish on this earth. What He really cares about is that I call upon His name (Genesis 4:26) and walk faithfully with Him (Genesis 5:24). Then He cares how I pass that down to my kids. It also reminds me that each year counts. If it mattered enough to list how many years each of Seth's ancestors lived, I am willing to bet my years and those of my children matter as well.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 27: I was in need of rescue from the “hollow motions”.

I think I have always been someone that tries to enjoy life, have even celebrated it by acting silly at times. But there was a time period in my life when I seemed to have gotten a little stuck. It probably started sometime around when our son, Kekoa was a toddler. Being a mom is so scary. It makes you imagine all these possible scenerios that could potentially cause harm. Insecurities about so many things (body image, relationships, not doing the best for your kids, etc) rise to the surface, big time! Then personal time starts to dwindle away. I didn't have as much time to be with friends, and for an extrovert like me that could push me over the edge. 

What really pushed me over the edge was pregnancy with our second. Those close to me can attest, I am quite a different person when “with child”. I probably take on a shade of green because I feel so horrible. {I liken it to chemo but that is for another post}. So several months of a new-mom rut turned into nine months of blah from pregnancy, and then an infant enters the picture. I became so discontent with my life because I felt so overwhelmed by it. I couldn't possibly do it all and please everyone, including myself that I checked out a bit.

I am reading through Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts now {I know, what took me so long, right?}, and there is a paragraph from chapter two that nails it on the head for me. “It's the in between that drives us mad. It's the life in between, the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that's lost all capacity to fully feel - this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead.” She is describing life as she knew it until she woke one morning from a nightmare about receiving a cancer diagnosis. Her nightmare was my reality, and just as Ann woke that morning desperate to live, I too was in dire need of rescue from the hollow motions. No more self-loathing because I couldn't accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in a day. It was time to stop, look around and appreciate that I have this beautiful life to wake up and live each day. Eucharisteo!

{This picture is from a sunrise that I shared with my "sisters" during which I realized how cancer rescued me from being the "wild walking dead".}

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 26: Bald can be beautiful.

When I didn't have any hair, I actually had people tell me that I was beautiful. I look back at pictures from that time and I was NOT beautiful. I was pale, my eyebrows and eyelashes were sparse, my chest took on the form of boulders (from my expanders) and peach fuzz was in patches on my head. It was hardly the look of a super model. At the time, I was pretty sure the beauty comments were desperate attempts to make me feel a little less like a monster.

I made the decision pretty early on that I did not want to cover my head with a wig. This is a very personal decision for those that must walk this road, but my reasoning behind it was that I didn't want to pretend that it wasn't happening to me. I wanted people to ask {sometimes} so I could share how God was bringing me through it. Don't get me wrong, the vain thoughts were always there. Will I have an alien head? Will I need to draw on eyebrows to frame my face and how do I even do that? Will my husband find me at all attractive?

Then the Lord showed me verses like “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.”(1 Peter 3:4 NIV84)“ and ”…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30 NIV84)“ I clung to these verses during that time because I knew that something beautiful was happening within me as my outer self was becoming less and less attractive. I am still not sure if people were just trying to be nice. But I hope the beauty they were seeing was the joy that the Lord was providing me as we spent more and more time together. 

{This photo and others like it were taken by my friend, Josh Shirlen. Although they are sometimes hard to look at, I am grateful that I will always have these visual reminders of my journey.}

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 25: Only Jesus can turn trial into blessing ~ Part 2

I would never belittle the suffering that comes with a cancer journey, but there is another type of suffering that haunts my worst nightmares. How does one possibly endure tragedy happening to one of their children?

Approximately one month before my diagnosis, I heard the story of Olivia Constants. Olivia was a 14 year old sophomore at our local high school and member of our church. She died in a tragic sailing accident on the Severn River on June 23, 2011. I never got to meet Olivia and don't know her family well, but I have had the honor of meeting her mom once. It was just before her first Christmas without Olivia, and she expressed that they were {obviously} struggling with how to celebrate the holidays without their beloved daughter. Although there was unspeakable pain in her eyes as she spoke of Olivia and I walked away with a heaviness in my heart, I will never forget the hope I received from our fifteen minute encounter.

She knew that her sweet daughter had accepted Jesus into her heart and was in His Presence. Because they are confident of God's perfect plan, they could turn the trial they were facing and would face for the rest of their lives into something that could bless other people. She spoke of meeting with other parents who were facing similar struggles of losing their teenage children. She spoke of counseling and encouraging Olivia's peers who were struggling over losing their friend. I have since heard about the Olivia Constants Foundation which is a non-profit organization established by her parents and older sister with a mission to do as much good as possible for whomever they can in the spirit of Olivia.

When I wonder how does one possibly find the strength to keep going in the face of such loss, I think of this precious family. They choose to celebrate Olivia's life every chance they get by blessing those around them. Sounds like perspective that only Jesus could give.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 24: Suffering leads to intimacy.

"There is a depth of intimacy with God that can only be known through suffering."
                                           -Laura Story

Suffering takes on many forms. It is supporting your husband through a year and a half of unemployment. It is losing a child because of a tragic accident. It is fighting suicidal thoughts that are a result of bipolar disorder.

For me, it was the unknowns of a cancer diagnosis, losing my hair and the nausea of chemo. 

Whatever it may be now or will be in the future, I know I will only make it through because of my friend, Jesus.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 23: I have lost my taste for Drunken Noodle.

We have a “Modern Thai” restaurant in Annapolis called Lemongrass. I don't really enjoy spicy food but I have asked for their Drunken Noodle without spice and boy, is it delicious! It had actually become one of my favorite meals. That was until I ate it the night of my first chemotherapy treatment.

Prior to that first treatment, I attended chemo school. Who knew that existed huh? It was actually a meeting with a nurse who was really lovely but provided some really grim information. “These are the poisons picked out for you. These are all the possible side effects you will encounter from the poisons. These are the pre-meds you will be given so you don't get too sick, but if you do, it doesn't usually happen until day three.” Stuff like that.

My first chemo treatment seemed like a piece of cake initially. Blake went with me. We were taken back to a large private room with a heated recliner and served as many sandwiches and snacks as we could want. We were happy to enjoy some quiet time without the kids while they spent the night with my parents. I think we may have even watched a movie while were there. When we finished up after about 5 hours, we made some plans to have dinner with a couple who had started to mentor us through the whole cancer thing. Our friends picked up Lemongrass for us, and we headed over to their house. After all, the lovely Chemo school nurse said I was supposed to feel fine until day three. {I should have known better. I am the one who was literally nauseous for 9 months straight while pregnant with both of my kids.} Unfortunately, our dinner was quickly cut short when I started to feel terribly sick. Within two hours, we were headed to the emergency room for my severe nausea and vomiting. Needless to say it was the worst feeling I had ever experienced, and I can't quite bring myself to eat drunken noodle again.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 22: It's not about me.

I don't remember a lot of what was said during that first consultation with my breast surgeon, Dr. Lorraine Tafra. It was the same meeting during which we were told that the biopsy results confirmed the suspicion that the tumors in my right breast were definitely cancer. I mentioned in an earlier post that I pretty much shut down and Blake took care of asking all the questions. I do remember discussing what the next few weeks would entail as far as all the additional testing that would need to be done. When we expressed some concern that my parents might not be available to help us because they were scheduled to travel on a short term mission trip to El Salvador that night, Dr. Tafra frankly said to me, “Now it is all about you.” (read more about that hereAlthough I understood her point at the time and appreciated her wisdom in that particular moment, my journey has taught me that nothing could be further from the truth.

I have received wonderful medical care and I believe that God used that care so I would be healed. He chose to preserve my life so I might have more time on this earth with my family. With this kind of second chance, there is the temptation to think it has something to do with me and what I have yet to do. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned through it all is that it is not about me at all. I was created to reflect God's glory. I was called to walk through cancer to reflect God's glory. Then I was healed to reflect God's glory. It is really all about Him!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 21: Traditions are important!

With the coming of October and the holidays just around the corner, traditions were already on my mind. Then I was invited to a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting the other night in which the topic for the evening was Traditions. The speakers threw out lots of wonderful ideas for traditions to do with our families. However, there were two points made that have stuck with me the most:
  1. Traditions are important because they give a sense of belonging ~ I love the idea of my kids knowing without a shadow of a doubt that they were created to be a part of our family. I want them to always feel secure and know they are important to what makes our family complete
  2. It is important to draw others (extended family, friends, neighbors, etc) into our traditions ~ What a neat way for others to feel a sense of belonging as well!
Those that know me well know I am pretty passionate about traditions. I can get pretty testy when anything messes with my traditions. Cancer did that once, and it did not sit well with me.

This weekend was especially great for me because I got to carry out two of my favorite October traditions.
{The pumpkin patch with friends}

{Race for the Cure with Kara's Krew}

What is your favorite tradition that you do as a family or extended "family"?  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 20: If it weren't for cancer, I would have never met....

Today's post is a little different and probably more for myself than anyone else.  I want to take some time to reflect on some of the beautiful people that I crossed paths with because of my cancer journey.  Each one has had a very special role to play in my journey and it is because of these people, that I am confident that there was not a single step of my journey that was not part of God's perfect plan. 

If it weren't for cancer, I would have never met:
Amy and Jennifer (the Ultrasound Techs that were there the day my cancer was discovered)
Amy V. (My nurse navigator)
Cathy S. (My breast cancer sister)
Melanie (Receptionist at my Plastic Surgeon's office)
Dr. Ravin Garg (My Oncologist)
Sylvia (Read more here)
Laura and Krissi B (Oncology Nurses)
Kevin (Pre-op Tech) 
Donna (My Physical Therapist)

Some of the people mentioned above will remain in my life.  Most, however, will not unless I run into them around town.  Even though I may not see them again, I feel so blessed that God allowed me to get to know them for a time. I hope they know the difference they made during one of the most difficult seasons of my life.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 19: Only Jesus can turn trial into blessing.

I have a friend named Sylvia. I haven't known her for too long now but in the short time I have known her I have learned an awful lot from her. The start of our friendship was beautiful really because it was through a handwritten card I received from her in the mail. How many of those do you really get anymore? Better yet, how many do you write anymore?

She had heard about my cancer journey through some mutual friends at the church we both attend and immediately reached out to me. Her card spoke of how she had traveled a similar journey with Hodgkins Lymphoma when she was just 23 years old. She was someone who walked in my shoes (to a large extent) and wanted me to know she was there to support me. It was as if I instantly knew I would need her support for the journey that lie ahead, and therefore, a sweet friendship was born. It also helped that our kids attended the same preschool on the same days. Coincidence? I think not!

Throughout my journey, Sylvia spent time with me and my kids at my house. She sat with me during my chemo treatments. She let me borrow books about dealing with cancer. She gave me “pink” gifts. She prepared several dinners for us, and she even led a gift drive through the Ulman Cancer Fund so that I and other younger breast cancer survivors would have Christmas gifts for our kids last year. Amazing lady, huh?

Even more than all of this, she has taught me a lifesaving truth. Sylvia loves Jesus and trusts His plan despite walking through cancer and some other really hard stuff in her life. This is why she takes the time to reach out and support others, especially young people facing cancer. I have taken notes, and she is a huge part of why I want to reach out to other ladies walking similar journeys to mine. Through Sylvia's beautiful example and some living through it of my own, I have realized that good can come out of the hardest of trials if we just let Jesus use it. Not only that but I believe there is tremendous healing that comes when we allow Jesus to turn our trial into blessings. 

More on this to come…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Day 18: I don't hate the color pink.

I've gone most of my life not being very fond of the color pink.  I blame my mom.  As her third child and only daughter, she forced pink on me quite often.  She even decided at one point while I was growing up that laying pink carpeting in our entire house was a good idea.  I have never agreed and still look forward to the day it gets replaced.  

I thought it quite ironic when I received my diagnosis, and suddenly my entire world became all about the "pink".  Funny how life has a way of taking you through things and changing your perspective, even about what colors you like! 
It is a slight understatement to say that I am now addicted to all things pink. I might even drive people crazy with it. But I think I have figured out the reason behind my addiction...I am one who needs reminders. I need reminders of the journey I recently traveled.  I need reminders that tomorrow is not guaranteed and I must be thankful for each precious moment. I need reminders that God is Faithful, no matter what. I need reminders that I have sisters out there who are in the midst of fighting the disease. I even need reminders to do my own self-exams. 

So all my pink things...that's what they are, reminders. 

I am really excited to see all the pink this Sunday at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley, MD.  Click here to join Kara's Krew and walk/run with us.  It's not too late to join! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day 17: Listen to my body!

A few days ago I wrote about not letting your mind limit what your body can do. I feel like I need to write a disclaimer addendum to that post. The body is an amazing thing capable of so much. It is also amazing because it can alert you when something is not right. I was the one who found the lump in my right breast. And no, it wasn't because I faithfully perform self-breast exams. I was lying in my bed one night reading or working on my computer (can't remember which) when I subconsciously starting feeling along my chest. Sub-conscious turned into slightly more conscious and I thought to myself, “maybe I should go have that checked.” But I am not one to run to the doctor; I am much more of the “wait and see” type. In fact, it took me about two weeks to get an appointment with my primary care physician. And when I finally did, it was because when I mentioned it to one of my friends who has dealt with a lot of cancer in her family she freaked and practically called to make the appointment for me. Even when I was evaluated by the nurse practitioner, my anxiety level was minimal about it. She referred me to the breast center but didn't seem too concerned either. On the morning of my mammogram and sonogram, I was more concerned about the traffic getting there than I was about the possibility that the lump was anything more than a cyst from drinking too much coffee. Little did I know I was on the brink of months of sleepless nights. The good news is that I didn't wait too long to have it checked. And my cancer ended up being stage 1A and did not reach my lymph nodes. All of this to say, there is a time to push my body because it is good for it, but there is also a time to stop and pay attention to what my body is telling me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 16: I delight in God's Word.

Several months ago, I came across Psalm 119:92 "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction." I thought about that word delight and even looked up its definition. Delight means "to bring great pleasure or joy". Before my journey through breast cancer treatment, I read scripture. I even memorized it on occasion but I don't believe it brought me great pleasure.  It wasn't until God used it to sustain me day after day in the midst of my struggle, that I experienced the joy that it was meant to bring me.

I mentioned the other day how the verses marked out in Jesus Calling provided just the encouragement I needed for each day. But I have found another tool that brings me delight in God's Word. As any mom can attest, it is rare that I get to exercise my choice of music while in the car with my kids. About two years ago, my best friend, Stephanie introduced us to Seeds Family Worship. It is a ministry based in Nashville, TN that was started by a team of worship leaders whose mission is to see families come together to hide the Word in their hearts by providing fun, catchy songs in which actual word for word Bible verses are set to music. They have produced several CDs with various themes including praise, faith, character, purpose, encouragement, and purity. We have almost all of them now because we love them that much. In fact, there are times that it is my choice of music even when the kids aren't in the car with me. Seriously, what could be better than my kids getting songs with God's Word stuck in their heads? What's better is that they get stuck in my head as well!

Click to watch a video and listen to an example of one of their songs from Seeds of Courage-Philippians 4:6-7. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 15: I don't have an alien head.

So remember when I mentioned my fears about losing my hair? If you were to feel my head through my hair, it does this weird thing in the back where it goes flat and then kinda drops off toward my neck. Blake and I have always joked about my alien head. So one of my biggest hair loss fears was that I would look like something from another planet. Turns out my head isn't all that alien-like, and I don't look too horrendous without hair. This doesn't mean I will be shaving my head again any time soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 14: Jesus IS Calling.

Like a lot of other great things in life, my mom was the one that introduced me to a small devotional book entitled Jesus Calling. At the time she gave it to me, I had no idea the impact it would have on my life and my relationship with The Lord. As I walked through the uncertainty and even the certainty of what my journey would entail, I was reading the devotions marked out for each day. I was continually amazed at how the scriptures and the content of the devotion were exactly what I needed for that day. It was as if I was being called to bring all my fears, my anxieties, my insecurities into His Presence so He could show me that His grace would bring me through it, no matter the outcome of my breast cancer journey.

Because of the numerous times this book has spoken directly to my needs for that particular day, I can't help but share it. If you haven't discovered it on your own, I may have given it to you as a gift. It is always included when I send kits to my "sisters" facing breast cancer surgery. It is why I can't help but include it in my 31 Days.

Thank you, Sarah Young, for your beautiful, inspired writing. And thank you, Jesus, for calling me into your Presence and revealing your faithfulness on a daily basis. 

Click here to read an article about Sarah Young.  Click here if you are looking for your new favorite app for your phone or iPad.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Day 13: I really love vacations.

A1A to 312 to 207 to 95. That is how my physical body leaves this place. But I am afraid the rest of me is struggling to know how to leave it. 

I keep trying to put my finger on why this last week has been such an incredible vacation. Is it the rest that we were so desperate for? Is it the beach that we love so much? Is it all the yummy food we splurged on? Is it the comfortable lodging that met our family's needs so well? Is it the town that has come to mean so much to us? Don't get me wrong all of those things helped make it a great time. But I am pretty sure it is all about three people. 

A wise person (my husband) once told me, “our money is best spent on making memories”. As much as I hate to admit, the peeling linoleum floor and the 1980's style laminate countertops can wait if it means memories like the ones we made this last week.

Now for a photo recap:

This is our rental car "Bu" that took us on our great vacation.  Notice it is not a mini-van or a SUV? Right, well it meant closer quarters for our 12 hour drives each way.
This is the St. Augustine sunset sky that greeted us upon our arrival. 
This is one of our favorite spots in our condo.  I enjoyed writing from this balcony many of the days. The kids especially enjoyed the large soaking tub in the master bath. 
If you ask Koa his favorite memory, he would say Mini Golf for sure!
The Alligator Farm was pretty cool too.
I felt like one of those crazy parents taking our kids back to all of our favorite spots and trying to tell them stories of "back when..."
Including this one...the site of our first date
The Lighthouse is another one of those "must see" spots.
It pays to have good friends to visit in St. Augustine who will babysit so you can have a date night....
and give your kiddos a fun tour of the fire station!  Thank you, Purtills! 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Day 12: There is no such thing as coincidence.

Last week I received an email from one of my dearest friends telling me about an incident in which she was volunteering in her daughter's kindergarten class and met the mom of another girl in the class. The two little girls had become quite fond of one another since the start of school. As the moms began talking, my friend realized she was meeting someone of whom she had heard me speak several times. When my journey began in July of 2011, I was introduced {through another friend} to a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer about one month before me. We immediately began writing to one another and sharing the struggles we were mutually facing. We followed each other's Caring Bridge pages and became cheerleaders for one another. We have only met in person twice, but our bond was instantaneous. Now two of the most precious people in my life are friends, and it looks as though it might be the start of a sweet friendship for their daughters as well.

On the same day I read that email, I had a similar something happen to me. I had been told the story of a woman from our church that was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor near her spine. Apparently desmoid tumors are not malignant but behave so much like cancerous tumors that it can lead to severe pain and amputations (and death too). They are often treated with surgery unless they reach a size so large that chemotherapy and radiation are necessary in order to shrink them, as is the case for this woman. Since hearing her story and what she was facing, I had been wanting to reach out to her. I happened to be at the hospital that day for an appointment and was browsing through the gift shop checking out their “pink” stuff when a woman came up to me and said she recognized me from this video and this one too that were shown at church back in December. She told me her name and I immediately knew it was the same person. We shared a really special time in the lobby of the Health Sciences Pavilion {right outside of the Breast Center, by the way}. We talked. We prayed. We encouraged each other. We knew our meeting was from The Lord.

Is it a coincidence that my mom's friend Trisha was volunteering at the Breast Center the day my cancer was discovered? {Read more about this here}

Is it a coincidence that my friend in St Augustine was college roommates with the mom of one of Koa's little buddies in his preschool class who is also quickly becoming one of my good friends?

Is it a coincidence that a reserved guy from Hawaii and an extroverted girl from Maryland would enter a physical therapy program in St. Augustine, FL at precisely the same time.

Is it a coincidence that my mother-in-law would be diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was?

Some would chalk all of this up to coincidence.  Some may even label it fate. Not me. I believe in a plan. A plan that belongs to a God who wants us to experience His loving provision in the smallest and biggest details of our lives.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Day 11: My body is capable of way more than my mind tells me.

As a physical therapy student here in St Augustine, FL over 10 years ago, I had the privilege {some may argue with that word choice} of studying the human body. When I say study I mean cadavers, scalpels, formaldehyde and all. I absolutely loved it! It was thrilling to discover the way we were so intricately put together by a loving Creator. We specifically learned a lot about how the body heals. Throughout my years of working as a PT, I have experienced the capacity of the body to heal, and often I get to be a part of helping that process along. {I also know that the body doesn't always heal and sometimes the healing ultimately takes place beyond this life.} I have been taught it and have seen it, but apparently I needed my own body to experience it. 

As I walked through treatment for breast cancer, my body was subject to three surgeries that left me with three significant scars, eight injections of three different controlled poisons, one ER visit from severe nausea and vomiting, various prescription drugs with their own side effects and too many needle pricks than I care to count. When I look back on it all, I am amazed, more like overwhelmed, that my body feels as strong as it does today. There are mornings that I lie in my bed telling myself that I don't have it in me to run that extra distance or endure one more of those exhausting Insanity workouts. Then I remember all that my body endured last year and I can't help but “dig deeper”.

What is your mind trying to tell you that your body can't do?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 10: Watching the sunrise is one of my favorite things.

There is a bit of a commitment involved when getting up early to watch the sunrise. It requires slipping out from under those toasty blankets and tiptoeing through the house to grab your keys and such {such for me is yummy cup of coffee} while taking the chance of waking those slumbering babies much before their due time. But ever since I started taking in sunrises at the invitation of a few friends who had figured out the refreshment in it long before I did, I have not yet been disappointed or regretted getting up to go.

As I sit this morning watching the sun rise in a cloudy St. Augustine sky, I am reminded of one of my favorite truths about sunrises. If we take the time to seek out God's glory, we will always find it. Even with the clouds and oftentimes because of the clouds, there is even greater glory.

Such is true of nature, but isn't it also true of our circumstances?

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15, 16 NIV84)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Day 9: I long for the "endless hallelujah".

Illness and pain have a way of making you long for heaven like never before. I imagine losing a loved one does the same.

I especially look forward to:
  • No more tears after Jesus wipes them all 
  • Experiencing reunions between loved ones
  • A heavenly body without torturing it with Insanity workouts
  • Meeting and hanging out with the saints
  • An end to time constraints
  • Unlimited breathtaking sunrises and sunsets
  • Standing in His presence and worshipping The King forever

One of my favorite songs

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 8: I lacked compassion.

Life on this earth is hard. Bad things happen all the time…not just cancer and death because of cancer but other tragic things as well. I found that I used to hear about something bad happening to someone and would actually try to push it out of my mind. It was almost as if I couldn't handle expending the energy it would require to be emotional about it. I also felt completely powerless to do anything to change it, and that made me feel small.

Then I experienced my own hard thing and the compassion of Jesus in it. I realized that He was by my side through it all, feeling all my hurt and struggle. Not only that, but He was giving me His Word on a daily basis to sustain me. And isn't it our goal to be like Jesus?

So now when I hear bad news, I struggle with being too emotional because I identify with the hurt. I stop and pray because that is something know I can do. I can also provide support with some of the same words that most encouraged me.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV84)

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8 NLT)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 7: My husband is the wind in my sails.

We live right outside of Annapolis, MD where sailing is a huge sport and pastime for many people. As much as I appreciate it, especially when I drive over the bridge that takes us from Annapolis to our home, we don't sail. However, I think I understand it enough to know that without wind a sailboat can't get very far. Shortly after my diagnosis, my husband, Blake and I attended a weekend seminar on marriage. It was entitled The Art of Marriage, and it was a video series that included several authors and speakers offering tidbits of wisdom on marriage. When I heard one of them say, “Your spouse should be like the wind in your sails”, it stuck with me. It stuck with me because it summed up so well how I feel about Blake. I have written about this before here and here so you must forgive me if you have heard me sing the praises of my husband before.

Blake is not big on emotions. He doesn't show them. He struggles to understand them (although he has come a long way). And you certainly will never catch him making a decision based on them. When Blake and I met with my surgeon for the first time and I received my diagnosis, I froze. I was so overcome with emotion that I literally froze. But not Blake. He stayed calm and asked so many appropriate questions of the surgeon. I knew it would be true when she told me that his wisdom would serve me well as I walked through the next year of my life. I just didn't realize that his lack of emotion and wisdom would actually be what carried me through it and kept me going. The lack of emotion part may seem weird considering we were facing cancer, but what I mean is that we had to keep life as normal as possible for our kids so they would know that safety and security I spoke of yesterday. Blake also took great care of me and the kids as I recovered from all of my surgeries and chemo treatments. I love my hometown of Annapolis, and now I love that it constantly reminds me of how blessed I am to have a spouse that is truly the wind in my sails.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 6: Hair or no hair, I will always be "Mommy".

I had several fears about losing my hair which I am sure you will hear more about in my future posts. I think my greatest fear was that my kids would view me differently. I was so concerned they would see me as some kind of freak with my bald head. I imagined having to wear a scarf or hat even at home because I didn't want the kids to be uncomfortable.

In a desperate effort to make it more comfortable for them, we gathered them around and made a fun video of mom getting her head shaved. They got a kick out of it for about 3 minutes (maybe) and then they were on to something else. Occasionally we would talk about the silliness of it all, but truthfully they never seemed to think much about why I didn't have any hair.

During that time, I realized that I had projected my own fears onto my kids and caused myself needless anxiety. (It probably won't be the last time I do it either.) Their world was safe and secure as far as they knew it, and mommy's hugs felt the same regardless of how many hairs she had on her head. Thank you, Jesus. 

Koa and Mommy right after our shaving adventure