Baby Steps to Brave

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The last few weeks have been an emotional time. I’ve been busy studying up on all things breast cancer in order to best understand my next steps and to try to come to terms with what lies ahead. I’ve had lots of appointments with my “team” of oncologists and surgeons and feel I’m in very capable hands.

I’ve gone back and forth on how much is too much to share and decided to just spill it (because, I’ve never been good at discretion any way). As I’ve shared before, I operate under the mantra that bringing truth into the light is so much better than struggling alone in the dark. If one person reads this blog and better understands the trials of cancer, than my vulnerability won’t be in vain.

In just over two weeks, I’ll be undergoing a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I’ve been sharing this information with friends over the last week and sometimes feel like I’m giving a report about someone else. Up to this point, it’s felt kind of like a theory. It “might” happen. But, perhaps that’s what our minds do when we just can’t compute things that are uncertain or scary. As we draw closer and closer to the date of surgery, however, it’s becoming more real and concrete. The optimist in me wants to demonstrate that a positive attitude can overcome anything. The scared little girl in me wants to run and hide and cry to her mommy.

Here’s a little about what I’ve learned to expect in the days ahead:

I will report to the hospital at 5:30am to get injected with radioactive blue dye in my tumor area. Super fun! This allows the surgeon to follow the path of the lymphatic fluid and identify and examine the nodes. The surgical oncologist will remove all the breast tissue (as much as they can) to take out the cancerous tumor areas. She will also remove some of the lymph nodes in my armpit area for biopsy. Next, the plastic surgeon steps in and begins the reconstruction. Since I did not qualify for tissue transplant, I will have implants inserted under the skin and the surgeon will use AlloDerm (donated dead tissue) to act as a hammock and keep the implant in place.

As it turns out, I’m a lucky gal because I have smaller breasts (finally a plus!) so I qualify for direct to implant surgery. With this type of surgery, the plastic surgeon places the implants directly following mastectomy rather than the traditional use of placing tissue expanders. In the latter type, women have to have a second surgery after their skin has been stretched slowly (3-6 months) to exchange the tissue expander with the actual implant. So this is very welcomed good news. If I can get through this whole process with only one surgery, I’m going to be so relieved and happy.

A recovery from mastectomy is going to be painful. There’s no getting around it. I’ve been talking with fellow survivors and learning about the post surgery situation. I won’t be able to lift my arms above my head for a couple of weeks. So, washing and brushing my hair will be a real challenge. I won’t be allowed to lift anything over a half-gallon milk for at least two weeks. I’ve been told that the days immediately following the surgery are tough for sleeping and several friends have recommended sleeping in a recliner. Getting up and pushing off of a couch is nearly impossible following surgery so I’ve been told to get as much core exercise now as I can in preparation.

At the time of surgery, they will place drains near the incision site to collect fluid from the area. The drains help the body heal and reduce the chance of infection. I will have to “wear” my drains for about two weeks depending on the amount of fluid. I’ve already ordered a special mastectomy bra and something called Pink Pockets that adhere to clothing so I can discreetly tuck my drains inside my hoodie or sweater. I’m not gonna lie—I hear that they are a real pain and I’m not looking forward to these dangling, unwanted accessories!

Since I went through radiation therapy during my first bout with cancer four years ago, I will have some additional challenges. My plastic surgeon was very thorough in warning me of the many problems that increase as a result of previous radiation. Radiated skin is less elastic and healthy and is more prone to infections and necrosis (fancy term referring to tissue dying). Sometimes radiated skin does not heal well and could lead to delayed wound healing, again upping the odds of infection.   Extrusion (the implant coming through the skin) and breast tissue atrophy (implant shape gets wonky) were also thrown out there as possible complications. So, to get through this surgery with peace of mind is going to be my real struggle. I’m praying for no complications or additional surgeries. However, no matter how I slice it, I’ll need additional surgeries in the years ahead. Implants are only built to last 10 years so since I’m on the younger end of cancer (oh yippee), I can expect a few implant swaps down the line.   Additionally, I will need ongoing MRIs to ensure the implants do not leak. The physical and financial costs of cancer are unfortunately continuous.

Aside from acclimating myself to all this physical stuff, I’m trying to focus more on the many blessings in my life. My friends and family have been so supportive. The encouraging letters, thoughtful gifts, and uplifting texts and messages have given me such a tremendous appreciation of all that is good in the world. Thank you for showing up for me (AGAIN). When I don’t feel strong, your words and hugs have carried me. It helps me not feel so alone.

I want to tell you that I’m going to “kick its ass” and “battle the beast” and all that warrior talk but I’ve learned that I don’t feel quite that heroic. I’m simply reporting to the hospital with whatever bravery I can muster.   I fought cancer the first time and wanted to be a real conquerer. This time, I’m a little wiser. Cancer isn’t predictable and sneaks in even when your eyes are wide open and on the defense. My choice, then, is to face it with grace. I can move forward with gratitude and I can find joy in every small moment despite any hardship. These last four years were never promised to me so I must be grateful for every minute of extra love, laughter, happiness, and adventure. I assure you—I had them all in spades. I can sit with the pain and get back up. We all can, I’m learning, especially when we have each other’s backs.

Please keep those prayers coming that I can have the both the physical and emotional strength to fight through the tough days. I pray I can accept this soon-to-be foreign body and not cringe when I look at myself in a mirror. May I remember who I am on the inside, not just on the outside. I pray I continue to trust that God’s using everything I’m learning for growth. Please pray I can let go of some of the guilt I carry for feeling like an emotional and financial burden for my family.   May the beauty arise from the mess.

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Fight Cancer, Seek Gratitude, Spread Love

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So, it’s been one week since the biopsy that confirmed that I had breast cancer AGAIN.  It’s been a doozy of emotions over the last week as I processed my worst fear.   It’s hardly the news I had hoped for or what any survivor wants to hear.  Yet here I am again, sitting in a place of uncertainty and disbelief.

The good news (and I use the term “good” loosely) is that since I’ve been monitored very closely over the last four years, my surgical oncologist believes we’ve caught it early again.  The bad news is that it’s in a different area of the same affected breast so she does not consider this a recurrence.  Rather, it’s cancer cells forming in another area.  What’s bothersome about this piece of information is that I’ve been on a medication for almost four years that’s supposed to block the estrogen in my body (which feeds my type of cancer).  I’ve disliked taking Tamoxifen but put up with all the nasty side effects of pseudo-menopause (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain) because I thought I was doing everything possible to prevent cancer from returning.  In addition, I had radiation therapy on that breast.  So, to know that despite these measures, cancer continues to grow is more than a little disheartening.

Yesterday was a hard day. No matter how much effort I put into trying to remain positive, I found myself wallowing.  I’m grieving the soon-to-be loss of a body part.  Since I had a lumpectomy the first go around in 2013 followed by radiation, I’m unable to go that route again for my treatment.  Instead, I must have a mastectomy.  Ask any women how she feels about removing her breasts and you will likely understand the gravity of my situation.

I spent the weekend praying for peace as I came to terms with that news.  For the most part, I’ve accepted that removing the cancer is paramount to any issues I have with my aesthetics. Furthermore, due to a family history of breast cancer on both sides of my family and the fact I had another occurrence, my surgeon has encouraged me to weigh the pros and cons of removing the unaffected breast as well.   I talked with several fellow survivors about their surgical experiences and thought I was in a good mental state.

I dutifully started researching unilateral and bilateral mastectomies and found myself in tears as I stared at the pictures of breast reconstruction.  I know that some women joke that “hey, at least you get a free boob job.”  But friends, the photos I looked at were anything but beautiful or comforting.  Instead, I felt fear rising as I looked at patched up, scarred, Frankenstein-ish breasts.  The words of my surgical oncologist rang in my ears as I remembered her gentle warning that “no matter what, reconstructed breasts will never be quite like your own. ”  Reading that there would be heavy pain during a long recovery and a questionable outcome didn’t make me feel optimistic about surgery.  I texted my friend who already walked this road with an “I feel crazy” and “this is too hard” message.  But God sends His angels when you need them most and she reassured me that these days are hard and that’s ok.

I spent the rest of the afternoon throwing quite the pity-party for myself.  I couldn’t believe I had to travel this road AGAIN and have to give up even more.  I was angry at the unfairness of a second battle and mourning my breasts all at the same time.  Hadn’t they fed my beautiful babies and nourished their little bodies?  How could my breasts punish me this way?  And why didn’t I appreciate them more instead of cursing their non-voluptuous size?

Meanwhile, I texted some of the women in my tribe and told them I couldn’t find my way back to happy so I wouldn’t be able to join them for a movie after all.  Luckily, one friend lovingly reminded me that I had permission to grieve but that I myself said I didn’t want cancer to steal my joy.  Boom!  Truth bomb.   It was just what I needed to hear.  I needed reminded that I had another choice.  I could wallow, grieve and feel sorry for my situation, or I could go be in community with women who make me laugh, smile, and feel joy.  I chose joy.

This isn’t going to be easy and I’m going to forget and grow overwhelmed.  Good thing I have such great friends who can remind me to LIVE.  My friend shared this passage from a book and it really helped me remember who I am:

“Sometimes the best solution is to take a breath and seek God.  When we do this, we find that we are not lost–even when we are in the middle of the most difficult thing imaginable.  Not only does God have perfect timing, but he also knows the way through our troubles.”

So off I go to fight cancer, seek gratitude, and spread love.

Choosing Joy Again and Again

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Life is funny.  Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, I learn something new.  Or, maybe it’s more of relearning what I forgot.  The realization that what I think I’ve mastered is only a small blip on the radar of my life.

It’s been a challenging year.  For a woman who prides herself on focusing on all that is good, I’ve struggled to find my footing over the last several months.  Why?  Because I forgot.  I forgot that happiness is a daily choice.  I forgot that daily life is tricky and that curveballs are sent all the time.  I forgot that I had to get up every darn day and choose my perspective.  Most importantly, I forgot how difficult that is when I’m in the depth of a storm.

I lost a friend this year to cancer.  Losing special people is always difficult.   We all lose loved ones along the way.  It never feels fair and it always hurts.  Yet, somewhere in the midst of living, I started to feel guilty.  I started to wonder why I was spared.  Was I living up to my purpose?  Was I using the gifts God gave me to impact others?  Was I doing enough and being enough to justify my existence?  The inequity of it all overwhelmed me.

So here’s the lesson I needed reminded of AGAIN.  I just need to be.  I don’t need to prove my worth or validate my existence.   For a woman who took her job home with her, cried for every student she thought she failed, who measured her worth in the graduation rates of students as well as feedback she received from administrators, students, and coworkers, it’s been a long, hard unlearning.     Truth is, I’m relearning all the time.  As a stay at home mom now, I have to stop worrying that other working moms look at me as though I add no value.  I have to let go of the image I so desperately feel validated me.  If I’m not working, how will people know I’m smart, capable, or creative?  How will they know what I have to offer?  The answer?  Who cares?  Who really cares?  “They” do not matter.

I know this.  I learned this before.  I learned what really mattered after I lost a baby.  I didn’t think I would make it through that dark time of living without Landon.  The experience was too hard and my heart was shattered.  But I got up, albeit slowly.  I learned that I would bounce back and reenter the world.  I would experience joy and happiness again.  But, I had to make that choice.  I chose joy.  I chose faith.

I had it all figured out, right?  Wrong.  I found out I had cancer.  Another life knock-out.  I broke down again and didn’t think I would walk through life as happily.  I was mad at God again.  I thought it would steal all my joy.  But I got back up and found out I was made in strength and love.  Oh, and lots and lots of grace.

I will have bad days and I don’t need to beat myself up over those moments.  I need to keep my eyes focused and my heart soft to all the little, wonderful day to day instances.  I choose to see life through a lens of gratitude.  I will hone in on the splendor of a butterfly, the wonder of a wildflower, the giggle of a child, the excitement of a friend, the smell of coffee brewing, the roar of a rollercoaster, and the gleam in my husband’s eye.  Of course, I will need reminded of this lesson again, no question.  Again and again and again.  Get back up and choose joy.

Simple Beauty

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Summer blessings come in the form of flowers in my world.  My time outside and in the garden is meaningful beyond the obvious nurturing of plants and flowers.  It’s also where I learn (and often re-learn) important life lessons.

When I’m weeding, watering, and deadheading, I’m living in the present moment.  I’m completely alone with my thoughts and I cherish the quiet solitude.  It’s where I hush the voices in my head that are critical.  I forget about all the ways I am not enough in our culture.  I’m not concerned about whether my skin looks younger or if I’m “fighting” wrinkles.  I don’t worry about my size, my legs, or my thighs.  I’m not concerned whether other women think I’m smart or successful.

In the garden, the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes is vast.

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Everything is different and I enjoy the contrast.  I’ve found that viewing life through the lens of gardening is good for my soul.

Today, my Shasta daisy buds are slowly opening and stretching their petals toward the sky.

I’m giddy because I often feel like I’m a daisy in the world.  You see, there are many flowers that are more elegant, more colorful, more vibrant.

Brides, for example, tend to choose lilies, roses, hydrangea, and gardinas for their bridal bouquets for fanciful and frilly buds.   Then there are the exotic flowers like orchids, hibiscus, and birds of paradise that remind us that we are visiting warm, lush, tropical locations.

IMG_4660 Their big blooms are showy, distinctive, and flamboyant.  Yet the daisy is still beautiful in its simplicity.  It may not be the first flower you see in a garden bed but it delights the eyes just the same.

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It’s happy yellow center draws the pollinators and invites smiles to all who visit.

If I picked a bouquet, I would welcome the variety of sizes and colors of the flowers.

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Why then, do I have a hard time remembering that I do not have to look like, act like, or “be” anyone other than me?  I can be simple and differently beautiful.   We can be bigger or smaller, taller or shorter, paler or darker, elegant or ordinary.  All of it welcome.  The difference and mixture IS the magic.

Grow, bloom, love.  Then repeat.

More Us, Less Me

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Sometimes you need to bust your heart wide open to find out who you really are and what you were made to do. I know that when my heart feels deep pain, I’m about to come out on the other side with inexplicable joy. I’m learning to lean into those painful places and not flee. Our culture encourages perfection and rewards those who keep it all together. We have a tendency to avoid brokenness and want others to “get over it quickly.” But I’m so over that script. It’s simply inauthentic and incompatible with who I need to be. One of the goals of 2017 I set out to accomplish is “more us, less me.”

Over the course of the last year, I’ve examined how I spend my days and searched for ways to find more purpose. As good timing is everything, I reconnected with a friend who was on a similar journey. We volunteered together and I found myself feeling deeply moved by Jill’s passion for others. Isn’t that what makes being around people who find their calling so inspiring? She spent her year journaling, volunteering and dreaming up a way to connect others to local nonprofits. She shared her vision and stepped out of her comfort zone, sensing something much bigger at work. Jill wants everyone to see the helpers of the world. I’ve been honored to join Jill’s efforts and dig into her ideas about ways to contribute to the good in life.

In December, Jill officially launched Charity Run as a nonprofit and we were off and running.

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Charity Run seeks out organizations that are doing incredible things in our community and listens to their stories. Sometimes small nonprofits have a difficult time promoting their services due to small staffs and tight budgets. So Charity Run features nonprofits on its social media outlets, promotes their needs and services, organizes “runs” or drives to collect desired items, and makes the community more aware of their personal stories.  Think of Charity Run as a public relations firm for nonprofits. Ultimately, the goal of Charity Run is to personalize the giving process. Beyond merely dropping off donations, we want people to know who they are serving and understand how their items are changing lives. We want to share the stories and beautiful moments when humans experience the healing balm of generosity.

Through out my life, I’ve found that serving others is a tremendous source of joy.  Something deeply spiritual happens when I am engaged in community and my connection to God is further kindled. When I focus more on others and less on me, I find beauty in unexpected places. When I see what others need, I gain better perspective on my “wants”.  I am reminded that I have enough and I am enough.  I don’t have to be perfect at all to reach out and help others.  I can listen and learn and let my heart break so I can lift up, encourage, and walk side by side with my brothers and sisters.

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Friends, I’m so excited about the year ahead and the lives that will positively be impacted because of all the helpers of the world. Do you desire to be more of a helper and to contribute to the good? Do you sense you have more to offer the world? I challenge you to join us and to keep your eyes wide open to the needs in your community. Let your heart break for the hurting and then stand along side those in need, strengthening the men, women, and children sharing our world. You can do BIG things. You can look around you and use your gifts—maybe it’s your time, your goods, or your donations. I’ve always loved the saying “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Join Charity Run and become change agents. Hope is a powerful feeling and can change everything.

Please follow our Facebook page  and Instagram account so you can find out ways you can join us and share with your friends. Help us get the word out about Charity Run so we can serve more people. We want to create a buzz and get on people’s radars. We want to become an effective resource to turn to when you want to donate things around your house in a more engaging and purposeful way.    “There is good in the world.  Find it.  Contribute to it.  Share it.”  ~Jill Jonassen

 

It’s Almost Summer Break

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We are rounding the final bend of the school year and I’ve buckled up for the final bumps on the Crazy Train.   The kids are getting squirrely and us moms are getting anxious. Why? Because we know that these little bundles of joy are now ALL OURS FOR THE NEXT THREE MONTHS! Oh sure, I’ve heard a mom or two say she is looking forward to summer. Those moms are crazy. Possibly drunk too.

Meanwhile, I’ll be frantically trying to squeeze in of all the places I need to go, shop and/or hang out solo over the next three days. Oh, the heavenly three days left of harmony, peace, and beloved silence.  I should research articles on “How Not to Explode at Your Children” or “Tame Your Beasts in One Day” as a just in case.  I’m not saying I’m gonna lose it (yes I am) but perhaps a little advance planning would alleviate future tangles.  Wait, why would there be tangles?  I will tell you why.  Most assuredly, one little brother will think it his duty to steal something valuable from big brother.  Big brother will feel compelled to stuff little brother into the ground, the couch, or a pillow.  Little brother will then elbow big brother. Big brother will shove back (this time with more force because he just ain’t having that) and little brother will inevitably get hurt and cry. Repeat this cycle (and similar permutations of it) about 100 times and you’ll have a good sense of our first week of summer vacation.  Did I mention that summer break is three long, arduous months?

Pass the vodka…

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That Time a Mammogram Saved My Life

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Does that title sound overly dramatic?  Perhaps to some it is.  To me, it’s 100% truth.  The very first mammogram I ever had detected something suspicious and I quickly learned how valuable early screenings are for women.

Several months ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Services or USPSTF (say that after a glass of wine!) changed the recommendation of when to start mammogram screenings.  Despite the expertise of many medical practitioners as well as studies that have shown breast cancer mortality rates decrease with earlier detection, their committee of experts moved the suggested age to begin screenings from 40 to 50.  Say what?  Apparently the increase in false positives and over diagnosis were more harmful than beneficial in their eyes.

You want to get a survivor fired up?  You just tell her something like this: “Oh, there are too many false positives and it’s really stressful for the person who has to go through that scare.”  Or watch how she cringes when you say something like “Early mammograms really don’t detect the ‘harmful’ cancers.”

I had no lumps or reason to suspect that something was growing within my breast.  In fact, I went as a walk-in for a mammogram at the prodding of my OB/Gyn because I had just turned 40.  Their offices were next to each other so I literally left one appointment and walked one doorway over for the mammogram because it was convenient.  I was moving from Iowa to Ohio the next week so I needed to knock out as many medical appointments as I could before the move.

When I received the follow up call to come back a few days later, I wasn’t terribly concerned.  After all, the mammographer had assured me that many women get called back after their first mammogram because there’s no baseline for comparison’s sake.  She also mentioned that many young women have dense breast tissue (thus making mammograms harder to read).   I shuttled my kids (then 8 and 4 years old) off to the neighbor’s house and said “I’ll only be an hour.”

Three hours later, after the follow up mammogram and an ultrasound, I found myself face down getting a biopsy.  They whisked me into the room and expedited services due to my upcoming move.  My appointment was on a Friday and movers were packing up my house on Monday so there was no time to waste.

After the biopsy, I sat bruised and uncertain.  I would have to wait a very long weekend to know the results.  Still, I was young and in good shape.  Certainly I was too healthy to get cancer.   I was confident the results would come back negative.  I didn’t know anyone my age with cancer.  I was a mom.  Moms don’t get cancer.

I’ve blogged about this before and I’ll say it again.  Nothing prepares you for bad news.  My mind could not comprehend the words I was hearing.  The man on the other end of the receiver was telling me he was sorry.  He had to share bad news.  I took the phone call as I sat in my packed up office, fumbling to find something to write with as the doctor rattled off my diagnosis.   As I was taking in this news, the men from the moving company were whizzing all around the house from room to room.  There was no private place to curl up and hide.  Instead, I scribbled down words that made no sense.  After I hung up, I tried to make heads or tails of what he told me.  What did he mean by “an area of micro invasion”?  That can’t be good.  What’s grade 1 mean?  Is that a stage?  It was as if someone had slipped me a math equation that I hadn’t studied before but I was being tested right there on the spot.

I won’t bore you with all the details.  Certainly, I’ve written enough on this topic already (because, you know, it’s therapeutic!).  What I do want to make abundantly clear is the significance of that first mammogram.  I ended up with stage 1 ductal carcinoma.  I had an area of micro invasion that had penetrated the duct –rather than in situ (considered noninvasive and where the cancer has not yet penetrated the lining of the duct).  So mine was not a simple case.  Luckily, after a lumpectomy and the removal of three lymph nodes, pathology showed the cancer had not spread.

Sometimes I can’t believe that this is my story.  It could have turned out so differently.  What if I hadn’t turned 40 and not been prompted to get a mammogram?  With these new guidelines, I would still have another 8 years before a mammogram (I’m such a young 42 right now).  Are you doing the math with me?  That’s ten years for cancerous cells to travel from my breast tissue to other tissue, bones, or organs in my body.  I shudder to think of the consequences in my life had I not had that early detection.  I’m grateful that I sit here sharing my story with you rather than someone else sharing this with my sons after I’m gone.

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Today, I will be getting my two year follow up mammogram post surgery (they start the 2 year monitoring clock following the first mammogram 6 months AFTER surgery).  I get mammograms every six months so my “girls” are closely monitored now.  I also get yearly MRIs.  Time passes but it never gets easier.  I will likely get sweaty palms and a case of scanxiety as I sit in the waiting room in a flimsy gown, waiting for my radiologist to read my scans/images.  This is life after cancer.  I’m ok with it.  I go because I know that knowing SOMETHING is better than the surprise alternative.

Women, chicas, sisters, lady friends–do not put off your mammograms.  Yes, I know they are mighty uncomfortable and getting your ta tas smooshed like a pancake is unpleasant, but do not delay.   I strongly urge you to start screenings at age 40.  I didn’t think it could happen to me.  After all, the risk of breast cancer for women aged 40 is only 1.45% (you can read more statistics at breastcancer.org).  Get the mammograms yearly and talk with your doctor if you are younger but have a family history of breast cancer.

I will remain a loud advocate for earlier screenings and cannot/will not squander this opportunity to use my voice.  I don’t mind serving as a poster child for this issue and I will continue to share my story because a mammogram saved my life.

Just Show Up

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Last night, I came unraveled.  I learned of another friend facing a battle with cancer.  No matter how much time passes, news like this always brings me to my knees.  It’s like opening an old wound that you’ve done your best not to pick at despite its itchy presence.  I’m immediately taken back to a place filled with uncertainty, fear and all too familiar dread.

Yet, it also reminds me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.  It reminds me of hope and faith and the importance of showing up.  So many people showed up whenever I felt darkness creeping in.  Long time friends, new friends, neighbors, cousins, family members, and even complete strangers stood firm and spoke encouragement back into my soul.  They reminded me to be brave.  There was no one magical thing that made it all perfect.  Instead, it was a tapestry of human love, affirmation, and kindness that wove its way into my heart and provided me a support net.

So here I sit, wondering what purpose God could have in my life to position me right here, right now, as a survivor trying to figure out how best to support a friend.  Before my diagnosis, I never knew what to say and was always afraid I’d say the wrong thing.  However, here’s what I have learned about the trials of life:  You do not have to be perfect or do/say the perfect thing.  You just need to follow the nudge you feel in your heart.  You only need to remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.

It doesn’t take much to give much.  Maybe you are in a position to offer financial assistance but maybe you’re not.  You do not have to make BIG contributions to help.  I learned there are so many little ways you can make an impact:

  • you can give of your time–sitting with a friend during their appointments, chemo, or just on the couch.  Facing medical appointments alone can be overwhelming so having a buddy is very helpful.
  • you can send cards, texts and notes just so the person struggling knows they are never alone.  Uplifting words can be the enriching balm at exactly the right moment.  A simple “I’m thinking of you.  You are strong.” message can go a long way in building reassurance.
  • organize a group of friends to bring meals.  Oh, how I love a community that rallies around a friend.
  • if they have kids, offer to help watch them.  This was a BIG help to me when I had to fit my radiation appointments into a busy “mom” day.

Whatever the struggle–cancer, addiction, depression, illness, loss, or divorce, we all just want to know we are not alone.  So often we are afraid to ask how things are going for fear we’ll upset our friend in need.  I can tell you unequivocally that I appreciated knowing others were concerned about me.  The moments of avoiding the elephant in the room were far more hurtful to my spirit.  Walking with someone through a difficult time can make such a huge difference on how he or she deal with their challenges.  Trust that your presence is enough. So just be there and listen.   You do not even have to say the right thing.  Just be still and say “I’m here.”  Just show up.

Most importantly, keep showing up.  Sometimes, we need to know we have an army with us for the long haul.  Call, text, send cards, and pray.  Be a blessing and spread light like a beacon in the storm.  We can do so much to brighten the world.  Us. You and me–everyday, normal people.  We can do amazing things.

Just show up.

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When We Matter

Fitting in has always baffled me.

From the time I was little, I always felt pressure to blend.  Whether it was begging my mom to dye my blonde locks brown so I could look like my friends or buying my clothes at the “right” store, I was always searching for acceptance.  Some times it felt like I would never find “my people”.

What has taken me a lifetime to learn is that fitting in is really more about feeling like you matter.  We want others to notice, like and understand us.  We yearn for connection.  We want to know that if something happened to us, someone in this big world would care.

In my quest to lead a happy life, I have learned that acceptance starts from within.  I have to like me.  Yet, this is sometimes a challenge.  There are so many messages being whispered to my soul that I am not enough.  When I was younger, I had to work harder at school, participate and win at sports, and look a certain way to be considered “pretty”.  All these messages–I don’t know how real they were–made me feel small and inadequate.  What I heard and took to heart was that I had to change to earn acceptance.  Certainly me, as was, was not enough.  What if people found out how weird I really am?

Now I see the world through adult eyes.  I have weathered life storms that have given me new perspective.  I’ve learned that many people go through life trying to fit in.  I’ve learned we’re all sort of doing our best and we all want to matter.  More than that, we’re all a little weird.  Maybe we’ll never fully blend but we don’t have to–we can create a new story.  WE can celebrate rather than judge our differences.  WE can help others know that they matter.

Over the last month, I’ve been searching my soul to figure out my purpose.  I try to make sense of my journey–the blessings, the heartache, all of it.  I’ve been listening to a new whisper.  The message is clear that I need to be brave.  I need to encourage others to see the good.  Because if I can do it with all my baggage, so can you.  No matter what hand you’ve been dealt, you can overcome and find blessings.  You can seek gratitude.

You need to be brave.  I believe we were put on this earth to lift one another up.  Every day, we make a choice.  We can contribute to a community with love, acceptance, and tolerance.  Or, we can get all judgy, mean-spirited, and hateful.  Our words have power.  WE can choose powerful love messages.

One of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery, wisely coined the phrase “love wins”.  I’m on board with that and I’m going to bravely speak love every day.

Today, will you choose just one person to lift up?  Find a way to encourage a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or complete stranger.  Today, let love win.  Let someone know they matter.  You matter.  I matter.  WE can create a community where we all matter and fit in.  : )

Leprechaun Lumps

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Here’s a simple and  fun activity to help kick off the St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans.

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LEPRECHAUN LUMPS

Never heard of them?  Why should blarney stones have all the fun?  Leprechaun Lumps are easy to make and kids love busting them open to find their hidden “treasures”.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of used coffee grounds
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • gold coins or any other small trinket

I usually just throw my grounds into a little container over the course of a week.   I then stick them in the freezer to keep from getting moldy and take them out the morning I plan to make the lumps.

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In a bowl, mix together coffee grounds, flour, salt and water to form a dough.

Then hand the “dough” over to your kids and let them hide treasures in the middle of the lumps.  I use any little fun trinkets I can find including quarters, plastic gold coins, and shamrock necklaces.  You could probably stick little lego people inside as well.  They bake at a low temperature and so far nothing has melted!  ; )

If you have kids that are highly tactile and enjoy getting their hands a little dirty, this is the activity for you!

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Next, pop them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on 150-200 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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Once baked, they turn to a cool shade of gray.

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I love that if you take them outdoors, they blend well with stones and rocks.

Our tradition has been to hide them around the yard and let the boys hunt for them.  You know, the Irish version of Easter egg hunts!  ; )

The part kids like best is breaking them open to get their treasures.

So mix up a batch of Leprechaun Lumps and enjoy the hunt with your kids!  You’ll have fun and that’s no blarney!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!