Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas with a Heavy Heart

It’s tough to go through the Christmas holidays with a heavy heart, especially when you’ve lost someone dear.  

We received word that a family friend passed away, someone I’ve known since I was 11 years old.  We used to live next door to his family, he went to college with my brother,  I’ve watched his little brother and sister grow up from birth, and am close friends with another sister.  Over the years, our families just became intertwined.

Granted, time has put some distance between us, as we’ve grown and had families and lives of our own.  Yet there is always a bond, especially around Christmas.  When we lived next door to each other, we started the tradition of spending Christmas Eve at their house.  Even though we no longer live next door, every Christmas we come home,  we have Christmas Eve with our friends. That included last year.

While we’re reeling from losing a member of this precious family, it hits home a little harder during the Christmas season.  I’m staying home for Christmas this year, but part of me is yearning to be in New Mexico to be with our friends. Yes, I will see them this weekend, when I take this unplanned  journey back home for the memorial service, but I won’t be staying for Christmas Eve.

I know I’m not the only struggling through the grieving process right now. Another dear friend of mine lost her father about a month ago. Getting through this first holiday without him has to be difficult for her.

And I can't help but remember our Christmas from 18 years ago.  We lost my (step) nephew in a car accident, and nearly lost his mother.  My nephew was 7 years old, and it was 4 days before Christmas. His funeral was Christmas Eve.  I don’t know how my brother got through that time. 

As I think through all of this, I’m learning that while it’s difficult to celebrate Christmas with a heavy heart, I ask what our deceased loved ones would want us to do. I believe they’d want us to move forward, carry on, and continue our Christmas traditions.

I think my other nephew, who was 6 at the time of his brother’s passing, said it best on that awful Christmas when we lost his brother.  He said that he thought our nephew was having the best Christmas ever, because he was celebrating with Jesus!

Out of the mouths of babes…

While we miss our family and friends who aren’t with us right now, are feel their absence deeply, I know they are celebrating with Jesus. 

We must look upon Christmas not just as something we have to get through this year. We need to remember that  Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth.  And in my mind that means: Christmas is hope.  

Personally, as I grieve the loss of my old friend, and recall 37 years of memories with his family, I know I must cling to the hope that Jesus’ birth brings. I will cling to that tightly as I hug my friend’s sister when I see her in a few days. 

We must have that hope to carry us through…and celebrate Jesus’ life, and the lives of those we love, more than ever.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What now?

Obviously, since I haven't posted in a while, I'm not sure what to do with this blog any more.  I've talked a lot about my cancer experiences, and hopefully shared how faith, family and friends get you through that. I had a whole list of things to discuss on this blog, and you know what? I don't want to talk about cancer anymore!  At least not right now.

I'm tired of cancer.  It's been too big in my life, and now that I'm past all surgeries and all treatment, I want to put cancer in the past, too. I want to go back to being normal again. 

But what is normal?  The tag-line on this blog says "Living After Cancer - the New Normal." Well, that's true, this is a new normal.  Cancer changed everything, whether I want to admit that or not.  But I just don't want it to dominate my entire life.

I'm very proud to be a survivor.  I love to encourage and give hope to others who are struggling with this awful disease or who have friends or family members in the midst of it.  But I've never been one to go to these fundraisers or 5K runs, and wrap a pink feather boa around myself indicating that I'm a survivor.  Please don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong about survivors proudly proclaiming that we're still here.  We should!

I just don't want to think about this disease every single day.  It may have changed me...and changed me more than my physical appearance, but it won't define me.  Again, I don't want to trivialize survivorship. Believe me, every day I look in the mirror, I see that I had cancer.  And my scars are a symbol of surviving.  However, my life is much more than “I had cancer.”

I don't want to think about it anymore.  I want other things to dominate my life. Key words: my life. (not my cancer).  That life should be focused on my wonderful husband, fantastic kids, cheering on my daughter as she goes to graduate school, preparing for my son's spring wedding in 2012...there's so much more going on in my life.  Cancer isn't here anymore.  Life is here!

Now I want to be a "normal" woman, whose biggest worry is complaining about her weight!

It’s time for life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reflections: A New Path Before Me

I'm in a reflective mood this morning.  Not surprising given this time of year.  First of all, my birthday is coming up.  Second, my 30th high school reunion is a few days after my birthday.  Nothing like ramming it home that a lot of time has passed since those high school days!  :) 

Seems like July is the month where dramatic things happen to me.  A few days before my 20th birthday I was in a serious motorcycle accident.  This caused the first of the many scars on my body to appear.  But I'm still here and kickin'...

More recently, obviously, I'm reflecting on this time two years ago.  This was when I went in for my six-month mammogram... it was right after my five year mark from my first go round with cancer. I had been on every six-month visits til then, and this was actually my "graduation" mammogram where I'd finally be able to go back to yearly visits.  So, I went into that mammogram, feeling good, feeling thankful, and excited about life returning to "normal." 

As we all know...there's no such thing as "normal."  The words from my doctor still echo in my head: "I see something..."  Sure enough, there was "something" there, and cancer had reared its ugly head one more time in my body.  Cancer wasn't visible on my January mammogram, but by July, there it was.  Thank God for those every-six-month visits...I can't imagine if I had already been back to yearly mammograms at the point.

Unfortunately, this was a different cancer than the first one I had, yet still in my breast. I don't know what was scarier...cancer returning again, or the fact that it was a new cancer and not a recurrence from five years previous.  It didn't world shifted that day.... a new path was before me and the word "normal" changed once again.

The day after that mammogram, we had the biopsy.  Two days later was my birthday.  Here's a picture of my hubby and me on my birthday.
I love this picture.  But I see so much in it because of everything that was going on.  I remember being very determined to still have a wonderful birthday.  We already had plans that day, and nothing, not even a fresh cancer diagnosis was going to change our plans.  And we had a wonderful time that day, celebrating with family and friends!

Besides determination, though, I also see the fear in my eyes...knowing that our path had indeed shifted and we were on a new road.  I didn't know what was before me yet, only that I had cancer again, and that I would have to have a mastectomy, but we didn't know anything else: had it spread? Would I need chemotherapy? What else was involved?  So many unanswered questions, and a tough road, were waiting for us.

Now, two years later, another thing strikes me about this husband and I together.  That bond he and I share is precious (I thank God for it every day!), and over the past two years, we've clung to each other like that and leaned on each other, gone through the rough times, but have celebrated MANY happy times! Praise God!

So, here I sit, another birthday before me, my 2-year anniversary of being cancer free comes next month, and I'm recuperating from the final stage of my reconstructive surgery.  (It took me a long time to decide to do that).  In a way, we're back to a new path being before us.  We're gradually closing the door on this particular cancer journey.  I'm healthy, reconstructed (LOL), and now face life without cancer being in my vocabulary every single day.

But, you know what, I'll do the same thing I did two years ago:  celebrate my birthday with family and friends, cling sweetly to my husband, and step on the new path that is now before me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Doctor Changes

Well, I just found out that my cancer doctor is moving out of state.  Her office called the other day to re-schedule my July appointment to June so I could see her one more time before she moves.

While I'm happy for her that she's moving closer to family and will no doubt have a great new opportunity to pursue, my first thought was very selfish:  NO -- DON'T LEAVE ME!!

I don't "hero-worship" my doctors, however, you do develop a bond with them as you go along this journey of cancer and recovery. My doctor did life-altering and physical-changing surgery on me.  Yes, surgery that saved my life, but changed me forever.  This doctor had to provide a balance of providing me hope and encouragement while remaining professional and clinical. This is something she did very well.

So, what's next?  As far as my health, this final appointment with the doctor was the last of my "every 3-months" visits, and I was going to graduate to every 6-months.  So, I guess her leaving comes at a pretty good transition time.  I have an MRI scheduled for next week, so that will start the new doctor off with fresh images and information for me.

I'm sure my current doctor will recommend a new doctor for me. But I think I still need to be vigilant and do some research on my own for other doctors in the area, while throwing her recommendation into the mix as well.

I had a rare and unusual cancer, so I'd like a doctor who's at least had some experience with that. And a doctor who is open to new research and new treatments. Not one completely stuck in his/her ways...not willing to look at anything else as far as treatment goes. 

Right now, as heartbroken...and admittedly...a bit scared as I am, I'm praying that this is a new opportunity for both my doctor, and for me with a new physician.  I have to trust that God has a plan for a new doctor and that I'll be placed with the right one.  Overall, I just hope I stay healthy and that eventually, the only doctor I'll need is my family physician! :)

So, for now, I salute Dr. S, and wish her nothing but the best (even though my insides are still screaming not to leave me!), and I look forward to whatever a new doctor can contribute to my ongoing good health and recovery.

Onward we go....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to help...

I had someone contact me recently after finding out that a friend of hers was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. While she knew she was going to pray for her friend, she wanted to do something more.  How could she really help and support her friend?

I have a few suggestions on that topic from my own personal experience. First off, praying is the best thing you can do. Believe me, your friend will feel those prayers. Don't ever think that's not enough.

The other thing you can do, especially as time goes on through her treatment, is to treat her NORMALLY. Depending on what she has to deal with, if it's surgery, radiation and/or chemo, there will be a point where she is sick and tired of dealing with her treatments, and she's going to want something "normal," -- like just going out to lunch, or having lunch brought to her, or bringing her a Starbucks, watching a movie or something.

She's going to want to be just who she is, and not always identified by her breasts or by her cancer. She still wants to feel like a real person.

With her initial diagnosis, and during surgery, she'll get a swell of support from folks. The hard part is in the middle of chemo treatments or in the middle of radiation. People tend to drift away a little bit, but she's obviously still dealing with her illness. So, when things have calmed down, and everyone else has returned to "normal" life, that's the time to drop her a card and let her know you're still thinking of her and still praying for her. Don't make a big deal about it, but a simple card and a few words can mean so much!

One more thing, one of the neatest things I received as I was going into the hospital for surgery was a gift basket filled with silly, wonderful things. It was filled with magazines, sudoku puzzles, a roll of quarters for my husband (for vending machines at the hospital if needed), and a couple of pairs of funny, brightly colored socks. They made me laugh. The pink fuzzy ones especially, and you can bet I wore them with a smile.

Just remember simple, little things can sometimes bring the most joy.

How about you? What are your suggestions for supporting someone in need?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Keep Smiling

Sometimes you just have to laugh, especially when things are going wrong.  Well, to be fair, when things aren't going as planned.  Isn't there an old saying that says something like "If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans." 

As a Christian, I'm more than happy to let God handle the planning and be in control.  But sometimes the circumstances in our lives are just funny.

I'm not one to debate the "whys" of life.  Why did I get cancer? Twice?  Why didn't I marry my husband when we were in college, instead of a million years later? Why did my husband have to go through the pain of losing his first wife....and my kids losing their mother?  We could go on with "why, why, why?" all day long.  We will never know all the answers here on this earth.  All we can do is develop as positive an attitude as possible, surround ourselves with family and friends, and our faith....and keep plowing through....making this life as good as we can make it.

But there are days when you'll just need a sense of humor about the whole thing.  Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary.  Yay!  I'm so blessed that after nine years of marriage, I love my husband more now than ever.  Our union is strong.  Like I posted on Facebook yesterday, I didn't really believe in soulmates until he and I married.  Praise God.  I also must congratulate my kids who have also put up with me for nine years. How wonderful it is to choose each other, and choose to love and care for each other as parent and child.

So, all of this is wonderful.  And that's what stands out most.  But usually, you take time on your anniversary to go to dinner and have a romantic time together.  Yeah, not for us, not this year. Didn't happen. 

I'm recovering from surgery (which I'll blog about soon), and while I'm doing very, very well, I'm not supposed to exert myself too much, and especially carry heavy things or put pressure on my arms and chest.  So, I'm taking it easy.  Then my poor hubby comes down with a flu or virus....he's coughing, congested, running a fever.  All he can do is go to bed!  If you know my hubby, he doesn't sit still for much.  He can barely sit long enough to watch a movie!  And he was in bed all day Tuesday!
His fever finally broke overnight into Wednesday, but he was still very low energy and not at the top of his game. We've spent most of our time at opposite ends of the house. The last thing I need recovering from surgery is to get sick.  

So, on our anniversary, I'm sore and recovering, he's sick and lethargic... not exactly the dream day.
No romantic dinner for candlelight and flowers.

But you know what? It was still a good day.  We spent the day together, and laughed at our situation, and realized that we celebrate EVERY DAY of being together.  We'll go out to dinner sometime soon. We'll have our candlelight and flowers on another day.

Yep, we'll always remember our ninth anniversary.  And I'll remember it fondly...because it was another day spent with the man I love...and that's something I want to celebrate every day, not just once a year.  :)

So, what about you?  What's your favorite memory of something going wrong, but yet you were able to adapt and laugh through it? 

It really is your attitude that can make your day better, or get you through the less than ideal situations.

Just keep smiling.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Detours and Roadblocks

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted.  Didn't mean to let so much time elapse between postings.  Hopefully, I'll get better. 
Lately, I've experienced a lot of roadblocks in my plans, actually roadblocks for life in general. One particular issue, which I will share with you soon, has lead me down a completely different path.  In this case, the roadblocks were God-given, and detoured me to a much better place.  Yay!  So, not all roadblocks are bad.  Some detours are more scenic than others and worth the hassle of being there.
What is frustrating me is getting past the roadblocks. You've just jumped over one and now you're merrily traveling down your new path, when another roadblock hits. This one is fairly minor, yet put together by all the recent detours, well, it just weighs you down. 
Now I start to wonder what God is trying to teach me.  Patience? Persistence? Perseverance?  Ahhh.....the three P's.  Wait, four P's -- Prayer.  Maybe I'm not praying enough.  I don't know.
With all of these roadblocks, how do you know when to quit or when to keep on going?  How much is too much?  That's what confuses me. 
Right now, I'm hanging on to the notion that the recent roadblocks are good ones, and the detour is well worth it.  I'm just ready for a "steady as she goes" path for a while.  But that takes patience, persistence, perseverance and prayer. Sometimes we learn those lessons the hard way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Year - what are you waiting for?

The New Year has dawned, and we survived the holiday season. So, how are you doing on your new year's resolutions?  Have some already gone by the wayside?

For me, I don't think I've even started yet. I'm still a little disorganized and not completely on my game plan for 2011. I feel like I've been running behind ever since we returned from spending Christmas out of town. Is life going on without me? 

That may sound like an odd thing to ask. Yet here we are at day six of 2011 and I've attended my first memorial service.  I've already had a doctor's check-up (which was good, thank God), and have celebrated my husband's birthday. 

So when, during that time, have I had a chance to get to "normal"? To start with a scheduled routine of day-to-day activities?  Nothing has seemed normal so far. 

But I suppose, in many ways, this is normal.  Life has gone on...even death has come and that's part of our life cycle.

And tonight, I sit with my author friend at our weekly writing night - the first one of the new year.  I nearly cancelled after an emotional afternoon at the memorial service. But I didn't. I'm here and I'm writing.

Hey, maybe the routine has finally begun. :) 

That's it! That's what my new years resolution is going to be: Just show up!  Make an effort, even if it doesn't fit perfectly into your plans, even if distractions keep tugging at you. It's time to get going... to jump into the cycle of life, whether you're "prepared" or not.

You never know what's going to happen when you just show up.

Bring it on 2011!