About Me...

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In a nut shell : I'm a wife, a full time working mom, a teacher, a Star Wars geek, comic book nerd, Disney enthusiast, hockey Mom, a decade long breast cancer survivor, and oh let's not forget such a happy, sassy, southern mess!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Merry Christmas!

I wanted to share this video with my blogging family. This is Joshua's choir singing Carol of the Bells. Wishing you a very Merry Belated Christmas!!!
Be sure to turn off the music player at the bottom to listen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Giving Tree

December has come and with her the greeting of winter. The snow has fallen; we have lit our candles, decorated our trees and turned on hundreds of tiny lights on our porch while basking in this magical season. We attend parties, we remember those we have lost and gather at the table of content. December always seems to bring us closer to those we love and hold close. It is a time for magic and memories and is the month blessings seem to come to us from all around. Life takes on a new meaning and we feel the love of both family and friends embracing us. We even find the answers to our prayers don't seem so far away even if they aren't the ones we were looking for.

If we take the time to look deeper, to look past the pretty paper and the twinkling lights we will see what the season is truly about. You see when it comes to the giving of gifts this Christmas do we not truly find ourselves in the gifts of friendship and love? Christmas is here and even if we are living in the darkest hour, those touched by the hand of the true Christmas spirit bring us hope, comforting our wounded hearts coming to us without thought of themselves to meet our most desperate needs. These are the angles who guide us through this season and into the rest of the year with tidings of joy. Grace overflows through them, teaching each one of us how to give without thought to ourselves. The true meaning of sacrifice takes on new meaning and the gift of love is received with humility and genuine thankfulness.

It is no secret life has not been kind to my family over these last four years but in all seriousness life has been the toughest we have ever seen these last six months. I say that after surviving breast cancer, chemo and the whole trip to the mad hatter’s tea party the beast brings with her following diagnosis. Sadly many have even been witness to my brokenness and I can say with certainty these last six month I have questioned every part of my faith. I have dropped to my knees asking God why while crying and with tears falling not just down my face but from my soul. Icy darkness has tried time and time again to cover me with doubt. I have even come close to feeling the total loss of hope as this cold wind has blown into and through our lives.

I have dropped to my knees so many times as I have watched my family struggle through the dark, cold nights of winter. Many nights I have wondered if we were living on the dark side of the moon night after night listening to my boys words of fear and uncertainty, feeling alone as if there was no sun to rise in the morning. BUT we all come out of the darkness, and the sun does rise. We have done without much, worried through these troubled times, been down on our knees traveling through moonless nights and down the rabbits hole yet the sun still rises day after day. I have sat here waiting silently, scared, fearful we are walking this journey alone. But then a phone call come through to say it will be OK, asking if we need anything, a card will show up with a just enough cash to pay a bill or put food on the table. It is then I realize how blessed we really are. I do not need material things, no; all I ask for is a full belly and blessing of my family around me.

Three years ago life was not a given, I did not know if I would live to see another Christmas and yet here I am! How can I ask for more? Material things are over rated are they not? Life is about the hope of things to come, the faith we hold in our hearts and the blessing of the family and friends who surround us each and every day. I have heard it said destinations are where we begin again. After all isn't death a journey we are walking together? No one is immune from her claws nor can we avoid death but we can share the journey together laughing, living and enjoying the wonders of what this life offers us along the way. There is no rescue from the darkness but there is the breaking light of a new day. Night must fall but the light of day must also rise. You see once you have faced death, looked her straight in the eyes and laughed your way through the darkness life takes on a whole new meaning. There is so much to celebrate with or without gifts under the tree. When hope is born during suffering then the idea of selling your wedding ring isn't so painful. After all isn't that what Christmas is all about? It is not about how many gifts you receive or how grand the meal upon your table is. No Christmas is about sharing, giving, spending time together and the sacrifice required to obtain those things. I tell you THIS is the greatest gift of the season. The cold winter will eventually melt into spring and so I challenge you to share this gift with those you love.

In the gift of winter's sufferings my heart has been filled with hope. I have indeed heard the call of Christmas joy. The touch of magic has touched my spirit as she has danced in the light for all of us to see. Christmas cheer is here and I ask you to allow it to fill the air and your heart as it has mine. So pull those you love close to you. Hold them tightly this year and lay down the trapping of making Christmas perfect instead forget the bows or the perfectly stuffed turkey and enjoy the movements you share together. Yes, my friend it's almost Christmas Eve and so I ask you do you hear the bells? Do you hear the peace they bring, the hope and the goodwill the bells sing? There is such power in the bells of Christmas as they call out to each of us. Yes, I have felt the beauty their song brings and the glad tiding they impart. Listen closely, I know you can hear them, let the song of the Christmas bells fill you. Ah I stand here feeling the winter breeze upon my face and I embrace it. The doors of discontent have been thrown open and the veil of fear is gone. Night to day the bells ring and they beckon me to the table of hope and the tree of giving.

With the ringing of the Christmas bells I am healed, my heart is not left broken or shattered. So just as others have brought us hope and promise I gladly give to the same table. I may not be able to bring material things but I bring thankfulness and gratitude. I offer my love and devotion as a friend and as a member of this human race. I give my hope, my faith and offer the ringing of my own Christmas bell to light the way of anyone in struggling through their own darkness. For my reward is not in the bright shiny packages under the tree, no, my reward is in the giving of hope and light to others. True it may still be winter in our wonderland but we have been given a beautiful tree of giving to gather around. This tree, this giving tree grows, more beautiful as each day passes. No matter how big or small these precious gifts under the giving tree are they have brought hope and joy into our home. Truly the gift of hope is the greatest gift we can receive or we can give to one another. So my friend I have wrapped her beautiful, warm light around our tree this year. The heavens may open up, the skies may pour down upon us but the gift of hope will continue to grow within us.

As I bring what may be my last post of the year to a close I ask you to let the magic of this wondrous season fill you. Believe in the angel sitting on top of your tree or the star shining brightly. Believe in the hope she brings and the power a simple prayer can unleash. So please play me your Christmas pipes, may the bells ring loudly across this blessed morning and bring the peace of Christmas into each of our lives. May we gather with our families and feel the blessing of Winter's Solstice. If you listen closely you will hear near or far the miracle of the Christmas pipes as she calls each one of us home. May you and yours know peace on earth and the goodwill this season brings to us all.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Learning To Dance In the Rain

For months now my life and the lives of my family has seemed to fall apart despite all our attempts to super glue it back together again. Almost like a crazy scene out of the old Hollywood screwball movies you know? Gluing everything but the vase which needs fixing right? Ironic isn’t it? In spite of the seriousness of our situation life seems to be rewriting this tragedy into some sort of comical drama. A clear contradiction in words I would say! Crying and laughing, laughing and crying, coming, going, to be, not to be…oh I give up already which is it?

Six months ago life came to a dramatic holt for us. Everything in life we knew or felt was solid secure came crashing down, pulled apart by the seams. And I mean everything! I am not embarrassed to admit I have had a few moments when I have asked myself what God’s purpose in all this misery could possibly be. No I haven’t yelled and screamed at Him and I haven’t lost my faith BUT I have come close if I am to be completely honest. I have fallen to my knees, paced the floors in the middle of the night calling His name, and still on most days I hear nothing but silence, almost as if He can’t hear me.

Seriously to think as my body has grown weaker the storm above us has grown stronger. Almost as if the surge hitting my body bounces back up toward the dark sky drawing each and every storm within a 100 mile radius down on top of us day in and day out. You would think enough is enough right? I mean our troubles have multiplied from the loss of a job to the loss of our health insurance but still the rains come. Every day is a struggle and every day I still lift my eyes to the heavens searching, praying for some peace from the storm above us. I am seriously ready for the Maker of Heaven and Earth to stretch out His hands and say” Peace be still!”

I would say there are times things seem almost hysterically funny when I think how twisted and out of control life seems right now. Life following the aftershock can sometimes be worse than the first strike itself I believe. Cancer taught me that one for sure. Hum… maybe this is a missing piece to ‘Christina’s Topsy Turvry Jigsaw Puzzle’. Maybe I am to draw from my experience with cancer in order to pull us through this struggle?

OK I can live with that. After all I have lived through breast cancer and lived to tell the tale. I am here today among the living, able to pace the floors and cry out to the heavens right? Yes indeed I am alive and every day I am thankful for this blessing because there is none greater than the gift of life.

So I will learn to dance in the rain, no matter how hard it may come down hitting my head time and time again. The storm may rage above us, the rains may fall, the winds may blow and the surge may even over take us but the one truth I know for certain is the sun will shine again…eventually anyway.

The truth is this: the sky is always above us and once the sunlight breaks through the storm clouds will pass. Maybe right now I can’t hear God speaking to me just yet because He is not ready to reveal what is held in the calm after the storm has passed. No, I don’t yet understand why we have suffered so much but I do know this: just as I had to come to terms with breast cancer, dancing day in and day out with the beast, I now too need to learn to dance in the rain.

Gene Kelley sang of singing in the rain, what was it he said? Oh yes, “I'm laughing at clouds so dark up above the suns in my heart and I'm ready for love. Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place come on with the rain I've a smile on my face.” So I say go ahead let the rain pour down, wash over my face, because I will not be left empty handed when this storm passes. No this journey is not an easy one, rocky at best but it is our journey for better or worse, rich or for poor, in sickness in health.

This is our dance, even if it is here in the falling rain. Bitterness may try to push in around us but I promise you no matter how beat down we may become grace and love continues to hold us together as a family even if we are left holding a broken vase and super glued to the chair.

Sure the path of least resistant may look tempting, but then where would we be? I don’t understand why life brings pain and uncertainty but I do know this: While it is true pain holds no mercy sometimes the pain does hold grace. Maybe, just maybe, the pain life brings each of us isn’t so much about the hurt as much as it is about the journey, the dance and the beauty inside the clearing just ahead of us beyond the trees. Maybe it’s about overcoming the struggles, finding the victory in life’s everyday joys before we come out of the darkness and into the sun!

Listen… do you hear the music playing? Listen carefully and I think you may just hear the beauty of the rain in your ear. Yes, even as one door closes my friend, I know another one will open again. But until then we have this dance for another day and so we will continue to dance in the rain! After all Tiffany Wilson (2007 It's My Life conference ) is right, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Inbetween The Turmoil

Over this last weekend I was cooking dinner as the boys watched Disney Channel. My mind was not completely on the cooking nor was it completely on the TV. As I was stirring the pot in front of me on the stove I realized I was humming the Miley Cyrus song coming from the TV. Let’s see how did it go? “Life’s what you make it so let’s make it right”. Hum… let’s ponder this for a bit…

Life is what you make it? Ok I can live with that but what happens when the tools you need are ripped right out of your hands? What happened when life takes your health? Life has sent me many obstacles, such as diabetes, stroke, bell’s palsy, cancer, lymphedema, R.A. auto immune disease, and list goes on. No, I am not listing these complications because I want sympathy; nope I am doing so because we have lost our health insurance. Yep, that’s right you heard me correctly, I have no health insurance and all these pre-existing conditions!

So what do I do? What do my children do? We have applied for Medicaid and chips. That was almost four months ago and when they finally decided to call (last week) I wasn’t home to take the call. Reschedule you say? I would love to BUT they don’t answer their phones nor does our local office have their voice mail set up. It’s such a great opportunity to see our tax dollars at work.

In between all the turmoil, the ups and downs of unemployment Johnny has done his best to find work. In fact he is working, and it’s not a bad job but in a failing economy being in sales with a 100% commissioned based job is not exactly paying the bills. We never see him anymore, the boys are a mess and now without medical insurance my body is falling apart.

I know some you will say really? I don’t see it. You are always going, always busy. The truth is I do my best to keep my pain at bay; to work and to live through it but it’s always there just below the surface. I wake in the morning and cannot move my hands. I go to sleep at night dragging my legs into bed. In all honesty I have learned in this crazy, topsy turvy life of mine to pull myself up, and let my feet hit the ground running. But even with that said, pain or no pain, there comes a time when a person’s body just gives out from under them. I think I am close to that point. No, I am not whining. I am just tired, weary I believe and yes so hurt we have no insurance.

Without insurance I am a sitting duck. First I have not had my port flushed in close to six weeks. I have no doctors, no scans, no tumor markers, no blood work, no weekly IVIG, and no medications. And it’s not just my life in jeopardy; it’s my children’s as well. What about their medical issues and their medications? Seriously medications are so high paying for them can give you a heart attack on the spot! We are all off most of our medications right now and I can say for one my body is feeling it.

So let’s regroup for a moment. So tell me what I am to do? Give up? Give in to the self pity? No I can’t do that, it does nothing for anyone. But I can continue to get up, move and live this life I have been given with my faith in tack and my hope in place. I can raise my voice and say we need reform. Our monthly premiums were billed to us at $1332 a month, how crazy is that? You think you are safe, have it all taken care of and life paid up only to find all your security gone in just a flash. Seriously with a paycheck at times lower than minimum wage I ask how does one pay such outrageous fees? When it comes to deciding between the mortgage and the health insurance one has to go especially after your policy has been re-coded.

So here we sit in a place I never saw on the map before, a place of worry, concern and uncertainty. I have lived through cancer, brought my family along for the ride and never was I so scared as I am now!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breast Cancer Survivor Calendar

Above is a recent project/interview the boys and I took part in. In order to listen to it you will have to turn off or pause the music player at the bottom of the page. The boys and I were featured in the 2009 calendar during the month of February ( She still has a few of these too ) but you can still grab up a 2010 calendar for yourself at and support the cause @ www.alisamurray.com


When the Smiles Go Blue

I have spent the last two weeks going through family pictures, looking back through time so to speak and watching my children grow quicker than I ever believed possible.

Joshua is turning 13 this week. A milestone in his life and a” take my breath away” moment for Johnny and I! In getting ready for Joshua’s birthday and celebrating his beautiful life I began a trip down memory lane I will never forget. I have sorted through picture after picture looking for just the right ones for his memory book we have been filling with letters from loved ones, friends and teachers who have all played a part in Joshua’s life. What I saw before me took my breath away… There in front of me was Joshua’s life, beautiful, tender, precious, humorous, heartbreaking and inspiring.

I felt at times I was walking through time, watching life bloom right in front of me. I was struck by the moments caught on film and how they told a story of love and hope. In his pictures I saw life unfolding as I hit the rewind button to go back or fast forward to move ahead in this beautiful time line. Life back then was full of smiles and laughter; there were so many new things in life to experience. Ahhh, the smiles were contagious and life was good. Sure we had hardships, money was always tight but the boys rarely knew about any of our ups and downs.

Through the years life took us many places and we made many memories together. Life was full and moment by moment; memory by memory we built a family, strong with hope, laughter and faith. The boys went fishing with Johnny, we baked cookies, made gingerbread houses together and we had pillow fights. Where we a perfect family? By no means, and there are plenty who would be the first to shout it out, but we were blending, bending and being forged as a family through all our imperfections.

If I were to take you down memory lane with me you I would tell you Joshua was born within the first year of our marriage, and he came into our lives with a bang. I spent most of my pregnancy in the hospital battling pre-term labor with Joshua (I did the same with Micah) . I made it through 15 hours of hard labor and following an emergency C-section Joshua was brought into this world and our lives at 9:15 PM.

Through the years we battled health issues with Joshua due to his pre term birth, and by a year old he was wearing a DOC band to reshape his skull which was 17 centimeters off course. But through it all Joshua was a happy baby, full of life, laughter and a smile to melt your heart. He was our little miracle, a blessing no words can ever express. Then when Micah came into our lives Joshua embraced “the Baby” as he called him for the first 3 months. He was a good big brother and as the two of them grew close.

As I look at all these pictures I am struck by the happiness we were blessed with. Our life together is one I wouldn’t trade for anything. We have loved, lost, and endured the hardest of days together. I see life in full bloom looking through these albums. Joshua was always so happy, silly actually, and always the kid with the biggest heart. Not much has really changed I guess but as I look, picture after picture, I see where the smiles began to fade and the serious side of life took hold. Oh sure those precious smiles were there through the bad times, through the cancer and the chemo. In fact you can still catch a glimpse of those unsolicited smiles on any given day but I realize now a serious nature took hold of our lives, right under our noses and the innocence of their child hood was gone in a moment’s notice.

I sit here right now shaking my head with tears running down my face wondering where their childhood went. In just a few short years, years we should have had together to laugh, giggle and enjoy the boys’ innocence was taken from us. We have been so busy trying to live through the cancer, the surgeries, the chemo, the aftershock that the price of doing so was lost on me until now.

Yes we have grown stronger as a family, and we have lived, laughed and loved but we have also lost much through this battle. The biggest loss not being my breast, no, the biggest loss has been the everyday innocence of my children. They have lost the security of knowing life as it was before, safe and constant. They were old enough to understand, to try and wish it all away and then to be swallowed up by the beast. I know it is not easy to imagine how it must feel to a boy of 7 and 9, to go to bed at night and wonder if you will have a mother in the morning. Think about this for a moment… my poor babies how they must have felt! The burden placed upon not just their backs but also upon their hearts, and their spirits. They were just babies when this battle began and now they are turning into young men. Sure the burden is not as large as it was back then, but this beast has been at their feet, on their backs, and in their hearts for all this time disrupting the path they were already set upon.

Now I look at Joshua as he turns thirteen and I see what time has lost to me. I will be honest sometimes cry over what I have brought into their lives, the pain, the worry and the fear. They dealt with enough before hand, the diabetes, the stroke, and the problems that came with those issues but with the cancer it has been different. I wonder if I have let them down, if this poison has taken too much from them. I cannot ever recover those years which have passed us by, but I know Joshua and Micah have become a strong, unyielding force. I know deep inside Joshua will never surrender any part of his faith to this beast. As parents, Johnny and I have strived through it all to give the boys hope, never surrendering to the cancer which came for my life, not theirs, yet somehow reached out and dragged them down to the pits with me.

Even when life has not made much sense we have struggled to plant the seeds of hope and faith inside their tender hearts. We have taken every moment for what it is: a living memory. Some have not always understood our choices but we have always made each decision for our children’s’ benefit, to hold them tight within the moments given to us. We have traveled near and far, from New York City to Walt Disney World, embraced their childlike innocence when they have dug up critters, chased them down the beach and given in to the innocence of their boyish grins when they have played in the rain. At the end of the day we have given them the time God have given us together before anything else.

But I see now looking through picture after picture life stopped and the joy of childhood innocence was stolen. A serious nature took root no matter how hard we fought to keep them untouched, unscathed by the beast’s scales. But again looking at the pictures before me, I see those seeds we planted in their tiny lives way back when and they have not gone un-watered.

In Joshua I see a man growing before me, as I look at Joshua today. He is a handsome boy with a beautiful heart and warm soul. His inspiration rises up from deep within his spirit. He does not seek to put himself first nor does he ever make anyone feel small just to make himself feel in control of the chaos surrounding his life. I also see a very serious child and I miss his constant grin. But you know what I see most; a great love for his family and a longing to be free from the beast.

Now I can’t cut away the pain but I can reinforce the laughter and the joy we once knew in our lives before all this began. But I can grab hold of today, throw away the despair nipping at our heels and take back the smiley, silly and genuine innocence of life before breast cancer beat our door down. Will it ever be the same as before our dance with the beast began? No, not at all because we have been through the fire, we have faced death in the face laterally and we have been tested but we have come through the flames stronger and together.

The truth is we have come though the last three years a bit more on the serious side of life. So I think it’s time to clean the cob webs out, sweep the floors and throw out the clutter collecting in our lives. It’s time for us to heal as a family, not just individually. No matter how strong we were before our lives were shattered we have been broken. So now it’s time to pick up the pieces, pull out the super glue and fix what has been broken inside each of us. As we celebrate Joshua’s thirteenth birthday we need to turn a new leaf in our lives as a family.

The day cancer charged into our lives Joshua’s smiles went blue but today when I wish him a happy birthday, I will remember the boy who would stick out his tongue and hang on his daddy every chance he got. As of today we will begin to re enforce the lighter side of life. True we can’t forget where we have been but we can reach out for today, the here and the now, enjoying every minute of it! We need to continue to seize each individual moment shared together as we also embrace the laughter, the grins and the silly, quirky moments we experience along the journey together as well.

So as I bring my scattered thoughts to a close I challenge everyone to embrace your inner child. Let the laughter back into your lives and set yourself free. Fill your lives with family and don’t ever over look the joy laughter brings. A smile can’t ever be truly lost and laughter can only be suppressed for so long…so go ahead, let it out because when your child’s smile goes blue so does your heart.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Pink Cotton Candy Monster

Have you ever noticed just how much pink October brings? Yes I know it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month but I sometimes wonder if the stores put up so much pink people become blind to it.

Now don't go getting me wrong, I really do appreciate the fact stores scramble to display pink teddy bears, bags and pink ribbon magnets for everyone to purchase but I have to stop and ask myself is this pink washing or helpful to the cause?

I guess it started for me when I walked into one of our local grocery stores a few weeks back and was just blown away by what I saw; the whole store seemed to have gone pink. There were signs here and signs there, buy this and buy that. Everything from the soups, to the chips to the go green take home bags were pink or had pink ribbons on them.

I was a bit overwhelmed to tell you the truth. I felt as if I was being devoured by a larger than life size pink cotton candy monster! So if I felt this way then how did the rest of the non breast cancer customers feel? So this is where it gets a bit harry for me; do I give into this" Let's go Pink for a Cure" or do I stand down? Seriously this is a dilemma for me. But maybe not for the reasons you think.

(Yes I am aware a good amount of funds do not go to breast cancer research. My thoughts on this are: Going pink to encourage support and to take part in the "go get your boobies squashed campaign is fine", BUT make sure people know you are not contributing funds to the cause! Many would still buy the products, make note of the cause and even give them as gifts to breast cancer survivors. )

Let me let you in on a secret most breast cancer survivors won't admit too except only to one another: We have a love and hate relationship with the color PINK! Yep, love it, hate it, make it go away, and then embrace it all over again! I have said many times we are a different breed. We are fighters, strong, passionate, sometimes fearful and insecure, uncertain for sure and at the end of the day we are SURVIVORS who not only bleed pink but end up wrapped in a pink ribbon for life.

Just a couple weeks back I was honored to take part in a local story related to Alisa Murray's Hope and Inspiration Calendars. If you are not familiar with her work, Alisa puts a personal touch on breast cancer with not just a quote, or a story but through the art of photography. Just last year the boys and I were featured for the month of February in her 2009 calendar. I was honored on this day as I spent several hours with four wonderful and beautiful survivors of all ages and backgrounds. All of our stories were different but there was one common thread between us and it was we all survived breast cancer!

As I was leaving I overheard one of these women ask this question, “Have you noticed now that you have had breast cancer everyone seems to give you all pink gifts?" It made me giggle because I knew the feeling. It's not a bad thing at all. In fact receiving the gift of pink means a lot to me, I am not ashamed or afraid of the color pink.

In fact when I receive a gift bearing the color pink I am touched and I take to heart it means more people, mostly women, are thinking about breast cancer. I know my heart skips a beat every time my precious boys pick up something pink and I hear the words," Mommy, Mommy look! It's pink, it's for breast cancer!" But I will tell you hearing those words is also a two edged sword through the gut because our children are too young to relate to pink as they do. But just as I was not given a choice in the matter, sadly neither were they.

So again I ask is it good to paint the town pink? Well yes and no. Am I straddling the fence? No and let me tell you why. I feel if letting the pink cotton candy monster lose saves just one life then how can anyone argue? BUT it is also a double edged sword too because too many people have become deaf to the cause, basically they have become used to seeing the color pink up they don't see or acknowledge the meaning behind the color anymore. It has no personal meaning for them so they ignore it. Sure maybe they throw some change into the collection plate but do they really care, do they really understand why supporting breast cancer awareness is so important?

Many even know a breast cancer survivor, have had their lives touched by the beast but she survived, what's the big deal now right? You would be surprised how many hold this view. Believe me I know because after reaching remission I have seen many "In the fight. Let's wear pink" drop out of my life. Many begin to think and feel the next person will pick up their sword and sadly what happens is in the end id you are left standing alone with your sword in hand and countless more on the ground around you because everyone else has lost interest in fighting the pink beast.

So these are my thoughts on all this as we close out October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month: If we are going to paint the town pink then let's educate the town as well, put our personal touches on the color pink and open up our own lives and stories to the world. Because if we just sit on the curb and fuss about the pink paint, close our eyes and ignore this time of the year then how are we any different from the people who hide blindly to the cause? How will lives be saved from this beast if we stay on the sidelines?

I say it's time we as survivors take back the color PINK and make it personal again. Let’s be part of the solution as Fight Pink (http://www.fightpink.org/) or part of the transformation as Alisa is with her calendars ( http://www.alisamurray.com/ )What do you say? Are you in? Let's come together next year, October 2010, and make a difference, shout it loudly to the world and make PINK ours again!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Dear Boobie Fairy,

Dear Boobie Fairy,

Now I hear it's that time of year again, some call it BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH. A time of year when folk all over the world focus on defeating this beast we call Breast Cancer. She's a real menace you see. Scratching and clawing her way from one boobie to the next. She takes what's not hers and flees without so much as a please or a thank you.

I have given this a lot of thought and so if you don't mind my dear I would like to ask you for just a small favor ? One is all I really need for just one has gone missing. Oh please oh please just one wish I need? Just a little bit of pink fairy dust sprinkled over me today if you please? For you see I woke up this morning and realized the breast cancer feign had snatched my left boobie away.

Now I stand here looking into a not so magical mirror with only one breast staring back at me. Oh it's not so pretty with wrinkled up skin and an ugly scar spread across the place where my breast used to be.

I have thought this through a time or two you see. If the tooth fairy named Larry can leave coins for old teeth why can't a Boobie Fairy named Shirley sprinkle some pink fairy dust and swap the old boobie out for a new one?

I need a makeover you see. Why can't you just wave your magic wand around a bit and sprinkle some of your special boobie dust over me? Maybe if I wish really hard and concentrate on pink power my breast will re appear?

OK OK, so it isn't as easy as all that. No there isn't a Boobie Fairy and there isn't such a thing as special pink fairy dust waiting for me somewhere behind the curtains. But there is HOPE. I know because I live in her presence every day. Hope is the glue holding my life together in the absence of a lost breast and in the wake of the cancer which took it from me.

Last week I went for my six month mammogram. I walked by the pretty in pink tree in their waiting area. I read through some of the names of those lost and those who now celebrate new life. I picked up a tag and wrote down Kim's name and tied it on. My heart stopped to remember her as I said a prayer. Then it was time to change for my mammogram. As I was undressing and slipping into one of the facilities robes I did something I rarely do: I noticed my missing breast. It just sort of happened. I looked into the mirror and before I could look away my half reformed breast had just slipped out. I stood there for a moment or two , maybe three just staring.

After all this time you would think I would find it easier to see but the truth is even though I have accepted my new body I rarely take the time to take inventory of this feigns handy work. I know it is gone and I know it has not been completely reconstructed yet. I suppose I seem to fall somewhere in between. Kinda like a boobie limbo of sorts if such a place exists.

I wasn't appalled nor I did I reach to quickly cover myself up. No, I stood there for a bit and took it all in. This is who I am now. I am stronger, more confident, even if I still hide behind my layered looks and baggie T shirts. It's not about the glitter or the cleavage, no it's about life and the living of it. I don't need a Boobie Fairy to lighten my load or to bring me a brand new breast to be seen as beautiful. I am in no need of magical pink dust to enhance who I am or a breast to define who I have become as a woman. No. What I need is everything I already have: A second lease on life. I am grateful for the family who loves me, good friends who surround me with support and a sisterhood I am now a part of.

Would I say breast cancer has defined me as a woman? No not at all. I am still Christina, the very same little girl who grew up with diabetes , became a breast cancer survivor and lived to tell her story. What I would say is this: My Battle with breast cancer definitely has defined me as a woman. All I have been through since 2006 has deepened my character, pruned my soul and in the process smoothed away all the rough ideas of who the world said I should be.

I heard Eunice Kennedy Shriver used to say "Use adversity for a purpose" Well I believe this is my new motto Shirley, the Boobie Fairy. So I am off without any pink fairy dust or a boobie swap. You see sweet Boobie Fairy of mine I think it's about time I let my real beauty out to sing. Life as a survivor is a miracle in and of itself even if my miracle is a work in progress.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Turning the Streets Pink

Saturday, October 03, 2009 was a day to remember. On this day I joined over 27, 128 people, 1,194 different teams, 1600 breast cancer survivors and an estimated turn out of over 33, 000 for the 2009 Komen Houston Race For the Cure. We ALL came from different paths, different faiths, different ways of life, different parts of the city and different backgrounds but we ALL came for one reason: To Eradicate Breast Cancer.

A sea of survivors, mothers, fathers, little ones, babies in pink slings, children in wagons and teens holding the hands of their mothers and grandmothers walking some 3.1 miles in honor and in memory of those they love turned out to raced and walked together side by side. Yes we were there to make a difference and to raise the battle call but we were also there to remember and to take quiet pause for those we have lost.

For just a moment let me share my own thoughtful insight here with those who may ask how 33, 000 women, men and children wearing pink and all kinds of crazy ensembles can do anything but crowd the streets? Well let me tell you we were not just there to spread awareness or to fundraise for a cure stripping the pockets of everyone in our path. NO, we were there to walk for what could be... a world without the stinging claw of breast cancer. We were there to make a change, to spread our wings and breakaway from the poison of chemo, radiation and death. We were there to embrace those survivors and pay tribute to the fallen among us.

We come every year to walk in the pouring rain, the sweltering heat and humidity. We walk with crazy hats, pink wigs, smiling and somber faces, fresh scares and old ones. We walk for hope and for life, to make our mark and to hold the hands and the hopes of tomorrows generation living inside each one of us.

There is an old Beatles song called Black Bird. The lyrics go like this: " Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise. Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly into the light of the dark black night."

Many through the years have asked the meaning behind this song, well I can tell you in my own life these lyrics apply to my own battle with breast cancer and the reason for why we come together and crowd your streets once a year.You see my friend for so many of us the weight of breast cancer seems to hold an ending we do not want to face, to know or to feel. This is the life we lead without a choice. It is not simple, never easy but this is the one thing I know: Nothing have I ever seen as beautiful as 1, 194 SURVIVORS of BREAST CANCER adored in pink, side by side, embracing, crying, laughing and bringing light into the dark black night together.

So I ask you my friend this month as you see the ads and the pink ribbons spread through out your day take a moment to remember those we have lost and to encourage those men and women who have survived breast cancer. Wear something pink in their honor, take a moment and say a prayer, light a candle for the Pink Warriors still fighting. You need no heavenly sign to embrace those you know who have survived.... just open arms and an open heart.

Nothing has changed my life as Breast Cancer has, but God's grace has led me through each step and each mile. I would never have chosen this path for my life but now that I am here navigating these seas I would not change my course for all the money in the world. I am stronger , deeper and my life has more clarity than I could ever have imagined since 2006 intimately introduced me to a life of Pink Ribbons.

Even though many days the miles have seemed longer than they should I have grown in this life which was chosen for me. My life has been given new meaning and I am better for the men and women I have embraced along this journey. So what do you say? Will you jump in, take my hand and take this leap of hope with me? As for me, well I will continue to dance, to walk and to crowd downtown Houston's streets turning the streets pink for as long as I am given breath to do so. So watch out for us during this month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every other month in between for as Josephine Hart says, "Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive."


Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Is Here

Can you hear the howling wind? I can. The trees are rustling and I am restless. Do you feel the chill in the air tonight? So many forces seem at play right here , right now. Do I regret my path, do I fear the journey ahead? No, but I feel weary already. Time seems to be standing still. I feel as if I have crossed into an alternate reality yet my feet are still planted right here in the ground. The minutes pass every so slowly and with every tick of the clock I grow more aware something is wrong, something is moving, festering, expanding within my breast.

Yes the sun has risen in the east today but I know, yes I am painfully aware my life has changed. I am no longer living in youth's blissful denial. No today the call has come.... today I became one of just under 10,000 women under 40 in the US to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

That was 2006. This is 2009 and though many feared they would lose me here I stand. Today, October 1, 2009, marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I had no idea three years ago at the age of 32 I would be counted among any kind of statistics yet I was, and I still am today but I am counted as a survivor. Even though my triple negative breast cancer only counts for 10-20% of the breast cancers found I am a survivor and what a powerful word it is too!

Someone once said, “Breast Cancer does not define me as a women, but my battle with breast cancer does.” Honestly those few but powerful words are about as close to the truth as it gets.

I have to admit I wish it was all behind us but three years after losing my breast to the beast we still wake to she her shadow lurking in the distance. Just last night Johnny and I sat shaking our heads over the troubles that we have faced together. Honestly there are still those moments when my missing breast takes my breathe away. I still have moments when I expect to see my lifelong friend, but then I realize she betrayed me and faced the guillotine.

Seriously what little girl dances around pretending one day she will lose her breast? Take a moment and think about it because whether or not she dreams about being dragged off into the uniboob dungeon or not the odds are not in her favor of escaping it's grip. This sweet little girl and her court of ladies has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer and becoming 1 in 35 to die from it in their lifetimes as the statistics stand today.

Absolutely this beast came into our lives to rip them apart. She drew first blood and backed us into a deep dark cave. But what she didn't know was we weren't the giving up kind! Sure this beast came to ravage and to destroy but she only strengthened what she sought to dissipate. The sun is still rising' and yep without shame we are still barking at the moon. My life has been turned upside down and yes I am still waiting to finish my breast reconstruction. But... the hardest part is behind us. We have learned how to bend not to break.

We have climbed the mountains and pushed through the dark nights together. I have seen my boys brave as soldiers face the beast with her teeth showing and claws protruding. So many times my family has carried me, all the weight of my burdens and still had room in their hearts to embrace my weakness as strength. I have learned through all the ups and downs of living life with breast cancer life throws curve balls every chance she gets. I can say from experience once you have dodged a few of them you learn to deal, then cope and finally to survive.

So with a bit of humor and some frustration I live my life proudly as a uniboober. I guess in my warped sense of thinking, I have accepted my new state of mind and come to see my life clearly as I become a walking , talking open book. I have allowed the clarity of this insanity define me. Does that even make sense? You see I am apart of a very special and beautiful group of men and women who call themselves survivors. Honestly, after all the struggles, the battles and the hardships I would have it no other way because in the end I would not change a thing

Sure you may view me as some kind of a crazy woman, possibly a complete lunatic, lacking healthy living brain cells ( and you know you are probably not too far off ) but with or with or without those old cells I am still standing here with a new lease on life.

The truth is this: I have lived with breast cancer, the loss of my left breast, a bald head, a complete lack of eyebrows and eyelashes, not to mention the drama of having my nails fall off. Did I like it? No, absolutely not! But it is my life, my burden and now my cause.

October is here... may we remember those we have lost, fight for all those whose battle is still emerging , embrace those who have survived and be the difference that saves a life!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the Edge

Have you ever had a recurring nightmare? You know the kind you wake up from with sweat running down your face? Can you see it? I sure can... I am desperate, paralyzed and running from the angry villagers following behind me. Their torches lighting up the darkness and then I fall to my knees at the edge of the unknown unable to get back up, helpless and alone.Well I think we all can agree 2009 has not been my best year! This has been my year to rant, rave, kick and scream and yes even to knock my own chair right out from under myself.( If you figure that one out please let me know will ya?) I have had several melt down. Seriously folks who knew water thrown at a non green person could actually cause her to melt?

Let's retrace the last 9 months:

  1. Micah's mono. ( January - August)

  2. A new breast lump followed by a lumpectomy and biopsy. ( February)

  3. Port-a-cath issues --- who could forget the port! (May - August)

  4. Two insane surgeries (May/July)

  5. Johnny's job --- well what can I say about that? It came out of the left field somewhere. (July)

WARNING!!! Crazy woman on the loose! She's over Go ahead just hit me over the head and call me nuts! Singing sha- la -la- la- de- da.... Hey where did I go? Do you remember when I was sane? Hey now I'm your crazy loony girl! Just slipping and a sliding around the funny farm.

OK seriously, I can't say this word enough...seriously... life has been a bit like living on the wild side for the better part of this year. I know many of you know the feeling. One day you're just out for a row down the River of Hope and the next you're Living in the Land of Woe, hiding out in the Cave of " I Told You So" and eventually tossing about on the Sea of "You're Going Down Baby" !

Living life from the edge of shock and fear can lead to the total unraveling of your strength but I do not believe your foundation during times like these crack. No I know from experience it does not fall apart but it sure shakes a lot. But then that may have something to do with the larger than life size beast on your trail!

Yes she's around every corner and not just creeping up from behind mind you. No my dear there is no creeping about her. The beast, Cancezilla, is a big, ugly, bad beast chasing you from one corner of her world to the other. She is mean and heartless yet even when one of us falls under her feet or is dragged into her den of terror there is hope. Why you ask? Well let me tell you this my friend because no one is ever left behind! We are a band of sister sand brothers navigating our way through Cancezilla's land of the lost.

But you see this is the thing: When we say no one gets left behind it isn't just a one time thing. No way no how. Where would any of us be without the continuing support of our Band of Sisterhood? We can fall apart, fall down and completely unravel knowing we have the support and mercy of friends and fellow survivors to help pick up the pieces.

So yes I have had my year of " There she goes again" but I have not been left by all. Thinking about how I have had the love and support of so many along the road this year brings me to tears. Even when I have hidden myself away or wailed loud enough to wake the zombies I have never been left behind. These are the moments I treasure, the ones that speak to me and carry me back to the River of Hope.

Sure the zombies may be peeking around the next corner, and yes Cancezilla may still be treading through the land but I know no matter how far behind I fall I will NEVER be left to face the angry villagers with pitchforks and torches alone!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Becoming Lady Marian...

I recently came across this most beautiful picture and it took my breath away. Lady Marian stands behind a tree next to a stream. Her quiver sits gently against a tree while she holds to her bow. Lady Marian is watching a swan swimming down the stream as if she holds a secret. Has she lost something or someone close to her? Is she resting before taking up her quiver and bow again?

As a child I grew up watching many of the old classic movies. I especially loved Earl Flynn's Robin Hood. I would pretend for hours I was Lady Marian and other times I would run around the back yard transforming myself into Robin Hood himself. There was no challenge too big I could not face. After all I was Robin Hood right?

As the years passed and I grew older I would revisit my faithful friend from time to time when I was able to catch him on the AMC channel. But nothing ever compared to my days of romping through my own Sherwood Forest within the boundaries of my own backyard.

Then recently I was introduced to the BBC America's Robin Hood. No it is nothing like Earl Flynn's adventures but it has been a thrilling adventure all the same. Joshua and Micah, my own two precocious boys, have found they can not stay away from our room when I am watching this brave new version of Robin Hood's story retold.

Although it is in many ways a new tale this new Robin Hood as set me drifting back to those years as a little girl when I transformed into Robin Hood with one exception. If I was to return to my backyard forest I would emerge as Lady Marian the Night watchman. As I have watched the story develop I have seen betrayal, repentance and forgiveness. I have watched Robin and his companions face grief and anger just as I have watched Marian become a free thinker full of courage and bravery. She is no longer an object of just beauty or a damsel in distress but a fighter. A real honest to God hero! She does not just follow instructions, no she follows her heart and throws herself into the battle. In the end as she lay dying, after giving her life for the greater good, Marian says to Robin: We were fighters and I am proud. Robin then responds to her saying:I can't fight without you!

As in this battle we fight as breast cancer warriors we face lose. Our world can and does come crashing down many a day but we get up do we not? We grieve and toss our anger around but in the end we know we must continuing fighting the Cancer sheriff. Because again as Lady Marian says: Everything is a choice; everything we do.

Just as this new brave and strong character emerged so I found I did too. I found myself speaking to the boys of bravery and strength, loyalty and understanding no matter our final outcome to encourage those that follow behind to continue to defend the cause!

For some time now the four of us as a family have lived through some pretty big adventures of our own. We have struggled, fought, cried, laughed and found retreat within our own version of Sherwood Forest's Major Oak. Cancer in of itself is a menace. Crawling, daring and eating away at your soul. Is that not what was happening to England in the tale of Robin Hood? King Richard, the Lion heart, was gone and so the great country of England lay open to power hungry foes. This is exactly how I see breast cancer. Slowly she creeps in into all of your life overtaking and holding you hostage against your will.

As this cancer begins to invade your home you may wake one morning, head out for a troll and suddenly find yourself chained inside of a dark, eerie dungeon. Bet you didn't see that one coming did ya? Nope, and that is how it happens... how cancer takes you in but.... does she have to keep you chained and defeated is the real question?

Yes there may be a price on your head or in my circumstances on my breast, but there is always a plan to be hatched so to speak. I love the part in the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood when Robin Hood and Prince John have this conversation: Robin: I'll organize revolt, exact a death for a death, and I'll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men and strike a blow for Richard and England. Prince John: Are you finished? Robin:I'm only just beginning. From this night forward I'll use every means in my power to fight you!

As I little girl I never knew these words would challenge me beyond my childhood, but now looking back I see how they have. I will never be finished fighting cancer. I will not lay down my arms, nor allow any sister or brother to fight alone! Revolt? You betcha ya I plan to revolt! There is no way I will allow this menacing force outside our refuge of the Mighty Old Oak to win this fight!

As women the lose of a breast is painful both physically and emotionally. Most do not see the scares we hide behind our outer shields. Yet the scares are deep and as in Robin hood, they may eventually take us down. But... I always love this word... our work, our battle and our rise against the power seeking to destroy us will not be forgotten. The advances we make today will come to fruit one day. To many what Robin Hood , his men and Lady Marian were attempting was treason, still they fought and as some gave the greatest sacrifice with the laying down of their lives.

So I will continue teaching my boys to stand up and not back down. We will fight together, side by side many a day. Yes I may now see myself as Lady Marian, fighting from inside the devils fortress but I am not a weak maid anymore. No, I am a fighter just as I know my boys have become warriors themselves. Sure they may be fighting from the outside but they do so together plotting against the the power hungry, cancerous sheriff of Boobieland!

Have we seen the last of the cancer sheriff and her mates? No, not in the least but you know she now knows she faces resistance. She knows her days are numbered and she knows are numbers are growing! Again to quote Robin Hood ( this time to the sheriff) :Robin:" For future reference, anyone wearing one of those tags is with me. "
I have mine my fellow warriors do you have yours?
I end with this my dear ones as I call upon each of you to arms this October? What are we? Survivors!!! What are we? WE ARE SURVIVORS!!!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cleaning Out the Cobb Webs

How often do we get caught up in the running of our day to day lives? We run here, there trying to the best of our abilities to be everywhere. We take care of the kids, our husbands ( and wives) and anyone else we feel needs us that we simply forget to take care of our homes? Let me tell you it happens more often than any us would like to admit. Before we know it we are worn out, worn thin and unable to extend ourselves any further than our beds.

So as I have pondered this theory this week I spent time cleaning, sweeping, dusting, moving things around and re- organizing my house. Talk about dirt, clutter and piles of unorganized junk! I moved from one room to the next, one day at a time literally. For months I had been hiding away deep inside my own skin, away from the outside world and my cleaning supplies! I had not realized just how out of whack my home was getting or for that matter how out of balance my soul was becoming.

Isn't it the way it goes though? Life takes a bite out of us dragging us outside our comfort zone deep into the abyss. The light once surrounding us seems to instantly fade and we succumb to the dark waters of uncertainty. We may not even know how how or why we have arrived in this place but we are hear like it or not!

Before we know what has happened we are stuck and sinking all while tied to this cold dark place within our own soul unable to move. We not only see the chains binding us to these unknown frightening waters, but we feel them too.

I don't know about you but I have found myself many times dying to shake myself loose from these chains many a day. Looking around at all this soul clutter piling in on me I have found myself longing to see the light of the sun again ready to surface for a breathe of fresh air. But up till that one moment courage grabs hold of us and forces us to push away from the bottom we are locked to this sunken wreckage of broken dreams at the bottom of the abyss.

So the question is what do we do with all this clutter piling up in our soul? Do we just toss it all overboard? Do we tuck it away in the darkest corners of this decrepit ship or do we just allow it all to continue piling up until there in no room left for us to move? At some point we have to let it all go with no regrets for what has or might have been. No it isn't easy to work through pile after pile deciding what we are keeping, putting away for now or discarding but there comes a time in our all lives it must be done.

Just maybe we need the rain to wash the tears away from our faces so we can feel the grace life offers us. Maybe the process of discarding what we know is not meant to be, what is past, behind us and ready to be let go of is exactly what we need to feel His faithfulness fill us again. Maybe we need to open those closed doors inside us and sweep them clean in order for our souls to heal fully and completely.

Yes life brings us pain without question but what of the joy waiting for us as well? I can't tell you how good it feels to finally have room in my own soul to grow again, to sing and dance without bumping into those dusty piles of clutter. Breast cancer may have taken my life for a ride and yes at times she has spun me in endless circles but after cleaning the cob webs out, packing up the festering fears she left behind and rising from the abyss my spirit and soul had sunk to I feel reborn, refreshed and once again revitalized.

This is who I am, LIFE is full of changes but I am always a SURVIVOR! I am not perfect but I am trying to live life everyday in the hope I know endured. This beast is forever a apart of me and yes she makes life complicated at the most inconvenient times but I believe she has also made me stronger for the journey! I have heard it said :Some see a hopeless end while others see an endless hope. I pray in the end I will find my life in the latter.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Into the Deep Dark Woods...

Where do I start? Do I really want to open this chapter right here, right now? No but ( this word seems to always make me see reason) I need to. This is our world, our life right now. The truth is I have been hiding. The last four weeks have been a struggle to say the least. Life has taken my little family and I down a dark and definitely scary road. One detour after another has led us deeper and deeper into the woods of despair...

When did it begin? Well it all began back in the late part of July. My husband Johnny, bless his heart, came home with a look of fear and disbelief on his face. For days he seemed to be struggling with something though what I did not know. He was very quiet and way too attentive to me, even watching a musical with me claiming he actually enjoyed it. He began by looking me in the eyes, though he had had a beer or two by now I could see the depth of distress in his eyes. Then he told me he had something he needed to tell me. All I could think was oh no, here we go. I began to question myself. Does he still love me? Has he found someone else? Do I really want to hear this? Then he pushed the trigger. It was like a bomb went off in my head and my world, our world changed in a swift yet very brief second. Suddenly we were looking at a very uncertain and deafening world. Johnny's words hit home like a slap across the face as we were faced without work, without pay and without the possibility of insurance.

I will be very honest with you I was very scared....terrified to be completely honest. Breast cancer has taken so much from us, especially when it comes to maintaining my remission. No matter how hard we have tried we have been unable to replenish our saving over the last few years due to medical expenses. I stood there searching Johnny's face understanding his fear, knowing how much we have struggled and so the idea of being without work and pay felt like the lowest blow we could receive.

I knew right there and then Johnny was afraid I would leave him though I never would. Our vows said for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I was going nowhere! But I knew Johnny felt as if he was letting his family down but love does not abandon those she holds close does she? No when times begin to overwhelm us love embraces the difficulties.
So I stood there listening, crying and wondering how we would get through this blow. My thoughts went to the kids, the house payment, the half empty pantry and of course what would happen if we lost our insurance. I have to tell you the truth my whole body went numb as these thoughts crossed my mind but... yes I love this word... there is always a but isn't there? But my heart caught up with my speeding mind and reminded me of God's grace. I stopped after I wiped my tears away and took Johnny's hand. He is a good man, a loving man and sadly at that moment a very defeated man. Again my heart affirmed I wasn't going anywhere! No way no how! It was my turn to hold fast and not to run away in fear. Johnny never flinched as I lost my breast, my hair and the world we had build together before breast cancer came barreling into our lives and neither was I.

We spent the first week to ourselves swallowed by the darkness. We didn't say anything to anyone. We didn't know what to say nor did we want to add to the "Olachia Trails and Tribulations File" either. Mostly we tried to decide what our options were the first week or two. The second week I made lots of eggs, pancakes and lots and lots of pasta while we asked ourselves how we get here. By the third week we began to emerge a bit and then something beautiful began happening. We saw a light ahead of us as friends began showing up at our doorstep with food, food money, school clothes and emotional support. Even the boys schools came through with supplies so they had what they needed to start the new school year off with.

Have I given up my hope? No, I have not nor will I ever. I may fret from time to time, worry, break down and cry away from the world to see but I will never give up hope! Maybe we have lost our income and yes maybe in the end we may even lose our house... but ( there is that word again) we will never lose our home! Our lives may be minus worldly wealth but this time we have spent together day in and day out has brought us closer than I ever knew we could be. We have spent more time at home, at the parks, searching for free events and activities and with each other without distractions. Our family has gotten back to the basics and I am grateful for this gift.

No I would not choose this avenue. True it was most definitely chosen for me but ( hum see a pattern here?) I can't allow these detours of life to overtake me. What cancer has taught me is to survive! Cancer has chipped away the everyday worries and strengthened my spirit. No it hasn't been easy and at times it has been down right painful but ( just can't stay away from this word can I ?) cancer has also brought my life victories. If it were not for the dark places in life I would never have found this joy and this hope burning inside my soul now.

Yes, the road is still dark in many ways but ( shall I say it?) we do have a lantern to help light the way, in these deep, dark , creepy woods. No matter what tomorrow brings what I do know is this: We are not alone and in times such as these even the smallest of light can cast a large circle of hope!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Monster Under My Bed

Life is constantly changing is it not? Just take a look around you --- the sun never fails to rise or to set for that reason. Seasons change from winter to spring bringing both warmth and cold to our faces. The tides turn, the sands recede, the wind blows and the rain falls. Life definitely moves forward whether you are ready for it or not. This I know is certain: Rain or shine we must bend with the wind or we will be broken by the sheer might of her force.

You may be asking how I can speak so matter- of- factly? How can I be so open with my life and suffering? Why have I made my life with breast cancer an open book for all to see and read? Well the truth is I have watched the last three years of my life carry on with or without my approval. Oh yes I have seen the monsters under my bed and believe me they are just waiting to pounce! On most days I am able to hold the bed down but there are others when one or two escape. Believe me I have lived through being dragged from my bed and out unto the uneven path outside more times than I would like to count. Go ahead and imagine it: Hair ( what is, was or wasn't) sticking straight up in the air, mouth gaping open screaming and yes quite literally my feet kicking and my arms flailing while the monster has pulled, dragged and beaten me out the door! Not a pretty sight let me assure you but still, rain, shine, monsters under the bed or not a new day will begin without fail.

Again let me answer your question my friend, life changes with us, around us, for us and against us day and night. But (yes I know another 'BUT') at the day's end the truth is we are all part of this unbroken circle called LIFE.

"The problem isn't finding out where you are gonna go-its figuring out what you are gonna do once you get there that is!" (- Jamie from A Walk to Remember). This quote is one of my favorites as it really speaks to me. When I think about all we have been through as a family since 2006... breast cancer the loss of a breast, chemo, adjustments left and right,becoming a survivor and remission... well life has not been exactly picturesque. Still it has been, no it is our life and as a mother I have tried desperately to teach my children about living life, embracing hope and the journey both below and ahead of us.

Nothing in this life is predicable. So many things can be unbearably painful if not completely catastrophic if you allow them to overtake you. Breast cancer is one of those things. She sure came into our lives with a sudden jolt! Life changed in a scary and terrifying way for both my boys. Joshua was just nine years old and Micah a mere six years old when the face of breast cancer came attempting to claim me. As time has passed and as this cancer took hold of my body I began teaching my children to live life out loud, outside of the box, in spite of the beast breathing down our necks. In the years since my husband Johnny, the boys and myself, have made beautiful memories, rejoiced in the victories and held onto our hopes close as we have run through breast cancer's dark eerie cave of horrors. So yes I can attest with just a bit of experience once you have begun the journey there is no going back. But... you can make every day a first, making memories as you move forward creating a life of HOPE.

Since my own journey began back in 2006 I have watched my boys grow from children into little men. As a mother and a young breast cancer survivor I have looked at them with double vision. I have seen what life should have been, could have been if this beast had skipped over us. But like all the other changes in our lives I also have seen what life has been since this beast attacked us. My eyes have opened to true beauty surrounding my life. I have experienced unending love like never before and felt grace break what chains I foresaw as a death's blow. But mostly , I have found living to be beautiful. Yes cancer can be powerful and earth shattering but it can also fill us with might and determination, awakening our inner depths of strength.

But what about those monsters? What about our children? What of their eyes? What happens when their little hands begin to slip out of our hands? What of their fear and uncertainty? How do they see this beast and how do they face their own monsters creeping out from under the bed at night? I know I have heard the whispers calling my name, have they heard them too? I have been face to face with Little Miss Reaper packing an attitude. Her sickle and dark pink robes have stalked me, crawled out from under my bed and peaked out from the closet more times than I'd like to count. So I wonder when the lights go out how do such small children learn to ignore the shadows which come to steal their hope away?

Seriously how do we capture and keep their innocence during such times as these? Can our love and resolve be enough for them too? Nothing on earth can move us more as mothers as when our children are hurt or when they face their fears. I know because I have watched both my boys sport pink shirts proudly, hold my hand when all their buddies where watching and walk closely next to their bald mother while all eyes where on them. In the time since breast cancer charged into our lives I have seen such strength and courage in our boys tender souls. Through their daily focus and inspiration I have learned to laugh and giggle right along side them. My boys have taught me to be brave despite the fire breathing dragon an inch away from my nose!

So many times my heart has broken as I have watched the boys struggle since my illness began. But you know what? As life has pushed forward they have to, each one learning to fly and to soar above the turbulence despite the difficulties. Through their eyes I have seen such determination even when they could have given into the pain, the fear and the uncertainty. Again, I say life changes and so we must change with it. We cannot change the course we are given, but we can learn to navigate through it with hope and tenacity. Truly just as I am learning this lesson myself I say to all we must learn to live with purpose realizing our lives our given to us by Divine design.

This is the gift my children have give me... to live every moment determined to rise above the turbulence even if it may be my last. So I say: Be ready to take a deep breath, shake off your fears and go. Why you ask? Well, because when all is said and done and life has completed it's course around the sun you will have lived life with no apologies. Again just as Jamie in A Walk to Remember says, " Maybe God has a bigger plan for me than I had for myself. "

No matter where the journey ends my friend there is a plan greater than ourselves. I may only speak for myself here but I know I have indeed received my own brilliant miracle in both of my children. Because of their love, determination and hope I will leap off the last step with the knowledge I have truly lived a life to be remembered ...monsters and all under the bed.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Down the Rabbit's Hole

Ever feel as if you have fallen down a rabbit's hole? You know what I mean... it happens on one afternoon when you are just lazily strolling outside. You hadn't meant to find it but you did right?Out of nowhere you found an odd little hole and yes this is where you decided to just take a peek. After all it is just a bit curious... seriously what could it hurt right?

Let's just see what may be inside it, just a peeksy. Hum... what could this bit of a nuisance be? It's just the tiniest of lumps. Never mind...

"Alice, oh Alice are you listening to me? Yes, yes of course I am. Well, looky there! It's a white rabbit with a watch and he's telling me he's late. What on earth could he be late for? What? I am overdue... no you are over due! Very important, what could be so important? Oh well, maybe I should have kept my mammogram appointment six months ago? Well no bother.... oops!"

The next bit of insanity follows when curiosity grabs the better of you and sucks you down the tunnel head first and into Boobie Land. After all we are now chasing a white rabbit through a land filled with talking flowers, impassable, but not impossible doors, mad tea parties and insane queens after our heads!

Any of this sound a bit familiar? Well life with breast cancer and the years following it can seem rather like a day in Wonderland. Poor Alice says it correctly at the beginning when she says "Better read it first, for if one drinks much from a bottle marked "Poison", it's almost certain to disagree with one sooner or later. "

Once we hear the words breast cancer, from start to finish, we are lost in a world we know nothing about or understand. From the diagnosis, to the mastectomy, the rounds of chemo and on to remission life is a bit out of control for a while. What is it Alice says , " It would be so nice if something made sense for a change?"

I have often thought my own trip to Boobie Land was more like sitting down for tea with the Mad Hatter. Seriously think about this scenario? " What are we celebrating? Unbirthdays of course! " I don't know about you but before breast cancer I never thought to celebrate an unbirthday.

So now as we sit down to have a cup of tea with the Mad Hatter ( Believe me this irony is not lost on me as I think about the many bandanna's I wore after my own cup of unbirthday tea!) and engage in all his insane merriment we begin asking questions. "Of course I are seeking information... no I don't want anymore tea because I haven't had any yet! "

Mind you, not only is there no room and yet plenty of room at his table, there is more tea choices and questions than we ever thought possible. Tea pots are scattered everywhere and as soon as you pour yourself a cup you are scooted down the table into another chair. No time for sugar if you please! Just keep moving, scooting and pouring my dear.

Honestly before any of us know what has really happened we have caused ourselves more trouble than we thought possible. While chasing after the rabbit he indeed did lead you to his "most important of dates" and right to the ax swinging, "off with her" head screaming queen. (Well in this case your breast! ) She is begins calling every crazy insane character into her lunatic courtroom and proclaiming "everything is very important" commanding it be written down.

Way too many rules have been thrown your way and before you yourself even have the facts straight your head is spinning. The Queen, who you have decided at this point, is just seriously insane is spinning around crazily going on about her temper. This queen of Boobie Land has herself decided she wants the sentence first and the verdict afterwards. What? Is she kidding you? Not in the least and why? Because all ways are the queens ways of course and so informs the jury of her request. No hope for you girlie! You better get moving and soon too because once again she is yelling "off with her head!"

Where is the exit right? How do you get out of this place? The Queen for certain does not want to let you get away, but you must for goodness sake. And truthfully in time we do get out one way or another. We all wake up a bit shaken from our experience, ready to shake it off and possibly a bit more agreeable to our important dates.

In the end our stories may seem curious to others but they are still ours to tell. As Alice so poetically says, " When I get home I shall write a book about this place... "


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Journey That Takes Us There

Yesterday as I wandered the aisles and through the shelves of our library I was reminded of a very powerful conversation I had with my son Joshua a while back. He was all of about 10 years old when he sat down next to me announcing he had come to an interesting conclusion. What was it you ask? Are you sure you are ready for this one?

As most things are with Joshua he very calmly, very quietly announced his conclusion : "Living with cancer is like being a ghost. " Now how do you think those words struck me? Well, let's just say I first had to pick myself up off of the floor and make sure I didn't have a concussion before responding.

As I recovered I felt the emotion in his words. At just 10 years old he had already seen some of the worst cancer could muster our way. For a bit I just sat there holding my heart in my hands going over his words in my mind. "You know mom we are still here but it feels as if no one else is. Like we are so far behind everyone else. Do you think they have just forgotten us? "

Talk about crushing! I understood his every emotion. We could feel, see, hear everything around us , but somehow it was like life had stopped. People went on, life went on. The outside world went on living, laughing, bonding, and yet we were just on the outside of it all. You just seem to stand there, with no motion, while the world turns and people go by. The seasons change and you still stand there in the very same spot as if you are a not part of the world surrounding you. It is no ones fault really but it doesn't make it any easier. Kids back away, people back away and not because they mean to hurt you but because they just don't know how to respond to you honestly.

I tried to explain how this would not last forever and the wheels would begin turning again soon. As my children have done throughout our entire journey, Joshua let it sink in, hugged me and smiled. It was about the same time I brought home a copy of 'Where the Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendak from the library. As a little girl myself I loved this story. I hoped as Max had fed my imagination he too would bring a bit of adventure to my own boys lives.

As I began reading Max climbed through a jungle, sailed across the sea and tamed wild things all before returning home again to his room, and his mother where he was loved. Yes, you can see it now! This story is indeed one we shall always remember. Oh how the boys laughed, then giggled, thought and then they smiled. We read it over and over again, then I kissed my boys goodnight and made them promise to enjoy with the wild things knowing I would be there to wake them in the morning. Yes, there was a greater understanding of such a story in our home after that night.

When breast cancer touched my life, it touched all of our lives but the boys especially. People have asked me many times, "where does your hope spring from?" The truth is my children have been my greatest source of inspiration. As a mother I have wanted to shield them both from the pain and the worry of breast cancer. I thought about hiding myself away, rolling over and forgetting the world outside our door more times than I can count but you know what? My children have taught me better. They have taught me to laugh, to smile and to live and when all else seems lost they have given me hope.

From time to time I still bring home this book to read my boys. You would think I would have bought this book by now. I know, I know, maybe one day I will. But there is still something magical about bringing it home from the library. And though they may seem too old for a children's book such as this now I am convinced we are never too old to remind ourselves of where we have been been, where we are going and the journey that takes us there. After all, inside all of us, everyone of us is... hope, fear and adventure.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Life After Breast Cancer

Any cancer survivor will say it is a long hard road to remission. Many times before we know what has happened our lives have taken turns we never saw coming. The road of cancer is not an easy one nor is it one of complete hopelessness either. We are all given paths in this life to travel. Some are well beaten roads, some are clearly marked and many are simply unexplored. So what are we to do? Do we simply give up, give in, throw in the towel, walk away? What do you do when your specialist looks you in the eyes and tells you you have breast cancer? Suddenly our road is broken is it not? Don't we honestly feel as if we have been hit from all sides?

Seriously how do you prepare for something like breast cancer? You don't, how can you? But I will give you this bit of advice from my own experience with this beast... it's what you do with your life after the diagnosis. Our world has completely changed and fair or not we have to change with it, rearrange our lives not to fit caner inside of it but to beat it out of it.

I know at the end of the day her price tag seems just too high. I mean how many hurdles must we jump over, walls must we hit and rivers must we cross right? Maybe you feel the only place you can be found is hiding in a dark room, under the covers. Maybe you are even filled with sorrow and despair? Listen to me... it's part of the journey. I know I have cried out to God and asked him how many times must I feel broken in this process? Don't be afraid to let go and grieve, to cry and to scream. All these insecurities tagging along for the ride are part of the process.

We had so many plans right? Do we just pick up where we left off now that we hold a remission tag on our heads? Maybe, but there's so much more life wants to offer us now that we are survivors. See so many times it is our outlook on our situations that either makes us or breaks us. Now I am not saying outlook alone decides the outcome of our journeys because there is plenty we have no control over. Cancer is undeniably a cruel, unyielding and at times crushing adversary. We spend so much of our time fighting her, dancing with her and defying her when the word remission appears we aren't exactly sure what to do next. Seriously do we just resume life as it was before, do we fall apart, fret about all the what ifs, act as if nothing ever happened or simply move on? Possibly all the above right?

So now as hard as it may be I say to you... let it all fade away... let grace and mercy fill you with hope. Allow your sisters to hold you you, reach out to you, move you past these road blocks and simply give you hope. I know cancer took us for a ride, a long, hard painful ride but she also gave us a whole new lease on life. None of us have had a perfect road. We have all faced our demons, been broken by cancers grip and scared beyond what most people understand. Simply put we are battered and broken but we are now survivors. We are a band of sisters are we not, camp of survivors. True none of us want to go there again but we are ready now, prepared to wage the battle and willing to carry you my friend.

You are not alone, none of us here among our sisters are ever alone. This is who we are --- everything we are, tried and true, imperfect, defiant, strong and yes at times broken but we are survivors. the beast fears us here among her beautiful and yes scared survivors. We are living proof there is life after breast cancer. We all have bruises on our breasts, we have faced the dark nights and felt the rain fall. It surely is not fair, yet nor is it our fate to fail. We can't stop the rain or the night from turning today into tomorrow. But you know what? We can let the rain wash our tears away and let tomorrow come. I for one will take this path less traveled, paving the way for those sisters who follow behind me. We can't rewind, but we can blaze ahead leaving a blueprint for those yet to follow.

This is the thing at some point we all go through of these emotions. So who carries us? Who do we confide in once the beast has retreated? If you ask me along the less traveled path I will point you toward the little camp up the hill and around the bend growing in numbers everyday. Come with me and take refuge there my friend. It's time to stop waiting for the world to fall and come to the table of remission. I know the skies may be gray now but they sun will shine again. Come along with me won't you? Let's dance in the presence of the hope surrounding us in the joys of today? The joy of life is inside of us and we must follow the light joy illuminates. Life is full of the unexpected friend but when all is said and done aren't those moments the ones we find our defining grace in?