Monday, April 27, 2009
Today Johnny and I celebrate 13 years together. On this very day thirteen years ago we stood hand and hand vowing our love to one another no matter how the world would turn in the years ahead of us. I was young, but I knew no matter what storms would come, Johnny loved me and I him. We were complete opposites, yet we were hand picked for one another. In Johnny I found myself and in turn we found a whole new life before us, together...
So today, April 27, 2009, I celebrate the mark of many passing years with my husband. Has each one of them been easy? No, many have been hard and long, but each one have been met together.Many seasons have come and gone since we spoke our vows that beautiful evening spring sky. Even many more lessons have been taught as we have faced the miles both ahead of us and behind us.Tear's and triumphs have come our way but in each one we have been side by side, together through the good and the bad.
We have welcomed two beautiful baby boys and found love beyond measure in the raising of their precious lives. I have watched Johnny's hair gray and he has been witness to the lines across my own face, yet our love has grown even deeper. Cancer has made her mark upon our lives and true to our vows in sickness and in health, Johnny has taken my hand in his and walked this path without flinching. Through the loss of my breast and even my hair, Johnny has loved me unconditionally.
Life has been hard, finances have been troubling, and my health has been trying at the best of times. Yes, time has changed us. We do not resemble the same people we once were, physically or emotionally. Honestly there are moments when we do not recognize each other but the love we share together always breaks through. How could it not? Love is not merely physical nor is it merely emotional. No love is greater, stronger than any of those things. Love is unconditional, a merging of souls and a blending of spirits. Johnny and I are completely different people each to ourselves, yet together we are a merging cultures and lives blended into one.
Right here, right now, on this path, at this bend in the road we are hand and hand. We can not see what lays ahead of us. The world will again turn and the roads will change. Tears will come and go as the road ahead may be rough and the journey may be long, but together is the key to surviving the nights ahead of us.
We stand here now looking back from where we have come, and looking ahead to where we will one day be. The roads are winding yes, but still so exciting as we take the next step in our life together. True we do not know when our last mile will emerge along life's journey but I do know this: We never have to say goodbye because the blessings our marriage have brought us are deeper than we could have ever imagined.
What does it say about the view from the front porch looking in?
Friday, April 24, 2009
I loved circus day as a child. The sights, the sounds and yes even the cotton candy were all part of the experience. But truly for me it was the one day I felt I was home, among those who understood my oddly, yet unique spirit. Don't get me wrong, my family is where my home is, where my heart is. I have always been loved and cared for. I would not trade my life for any other but as a child I always felt a bit out of place. I was different from the other kids and so circus day was a kind of homecoming for me. I was under the big top, with diverse, beautiful, and sometimes odd people. I would laugh, hold my breath and long to travel the world with this beautifully woven and threaded family.
Yes, as a little girl I always wanted to run away and join the circus. I sure was an imaginative little thing for sure. I was always running around with my imaginary friends, balancing on pretend wires, dancing in and out of hoops. Just the thought of circus life was absolutely thrilling. The lights and bright colors all seemed beautifully strange and wonderful to me.
Yes as a child there were moments when I felt I had been swept away from a life of adventure and needed to return to the life I was born to lead. I would dress up and put on my own shows for my stuffed animals, imaginary friends and my parents. Oh how I longed to wear one of those beautiful sparkly outfits! You know the ones, a bit scarce, full of beads and feathers? I would watch in awe as the women walked the tight ropes, the clowns bounced around full of wacky tactics and wish I could join them in the three ring circus show below.
I guess I always saw myself as a daring gypsy of sorts, wild, beautiful and free. I was never a tame spirit, not even as child and neither were my dreams. I longed to explore, to roam and to be a woman of my own making. I saw life through a different set of rose colored glasses than everyone else did. To be honest to this day many would say I am definitely a different cup of tea all together. So I may not have literally joined the circus, but in my heart I was always apart of it. The adventures my dreams took me on, the places I went and the people I met! All of those things set the scene for my adult life when I could no longer retreat to the dreams of my childhood.
Little did I know my life would take on the persona of a real circus act on day. Can you just hear it now? " Here she is, Christina, the one boobed wonder!" Seriously, I never saw myself living life lop - sided with one boob and sharing it with all the world. But here I am, proud and loud! I have been through the highs and lows of life, most of us have. Life is truly a stage show, some would even call it a freak show of sorts. Sometimes we are the main event and sometimes we are the side show. Life is a balancing act, even if it is only for an audience of one. Things change, people change just as the circus acts do. Life supplies all the joys, the laughter, the pain, the tears and yes even the determination allowing the show to always go on.
True we all need those quiet moments just to ourselves away from all the hustle and bustle. The crowds and their noise, the ah's and the oh's, and the spilt popcorn can become overwhelming. So we retreat behind the scenes, pull the curtain closed, take a break and allow our minds, bodies and souls to rest. Yes we can still hear the crowds, all the sounds of the show going on around us, and in a sense we can hear our names being called back into the three ring circus. Once again we find ourselves longing to return to the outside world and to the one life we know is our own to live.
Life has not been easy, in fact it has been very tough from the time I can remember. One disease after the other has plagued my body. As I have grown from a child into a woman, I have felt myself long for the days of my innocent youth, but those days are gone. I am now a woman, a wife, a mother and it is my responsibility to step up to the line, get on board the train and lead by example. Life under the big top is not as easy as one, two, three. Once the train has stopped the real work begins. The set up can be grueling, almost unbearable. Glamorous? Sometimes. Hard work? Always. Circus life, just as life in the outside world is about sacrifice. Every part of the greatest show on earth is about sacrifice and determination. From the high wire acts, being shot out of a cannon and to the ring master, the three ring show requires loyalty and a love for all things diverse and difficult. Life is much the same, just as each show is unpredictable so are our lives with all it's twists and turns. Yes we may fall, no we do fail, but we never give up!
With all the hurdles I have faced in my life, despite the insults, and the failures, I have always returned to my roots. I have held true to who I really am. In fact many times I feel as if I have snuck aboard my old friend on this beautiful trusty old circus train. What a ride she has taken me on! We have been through many wonderful, some painful turns, many ups and downs, byways and exotic whistle stops together.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Well it happened once upon a night like this:
So there I was, watching TV with my hubby, in my jammies when the silly bug bit me! I was fine one minute and knocked down the next. I was in mid sentence when I suddenly felt the strangest twinge of pain hit me. Before I knew what had dozed me over I was blurting the words out of my mouth, "Johnny I don't breasts anymore, I have just a breast! I think I am having an identity crises honey."
Puzzled and confused I sat up and immediately looked down at what is left of my breasts. I felt strangely inadequate, as if I was incomplete. I wondered how Johnny saw me? Does he see the same women on the TV set and regret my lack of serious boobage? Seriously the young women sporting big beautiful breasts on the TV before me were perfect, at least by the world's standards.The men in the scene were thrilled they were going out with" breasts". Well what does that make me? Does one breast count? I was at a loss for what to say next or how to feel. I wanted to cry, scream and then I realized I have been living in this limbo for 3 years now. Maybe having one boobie and one unfinished, half reconstructed, nipple- less kinda, sorta what you might call a breast thingie isn't doing me any favors here.
So what to do about all this? Well first things first: turn off the darn TV! Second, take control of my own body image. Thirdly, stop thinking about what might have or should have been Christina!
I don't know how you feel about body image but seeing the "perfect woman" thrown at me on a daily basis on the TV or in print does not help the average woman with her body slash identity image. So how is it to help the average breast cancer survivor? Seriously... I am not a toss away and I am not damaged goods just because I do not meet Hollywood standards of beauty. But darned if I didn't feel the same way in those brief moments.
I can still be Cinderella, can't I? I can still dance at the ball, right? Sure my bra may be stuffed on one side, but I'm still here at the ball aren't I? I've experienced loss and grief, swept and cleaned, worked hard, had determination and found my own way here right? Sure I may have been a bit late, my glass slipper may have broken and the clock may still be fixed on midnight, but my prince is still standing by my side right? So why now do I feel so broken?
Breasts do not define my beauty, I know this, truly I do. But for one sad, moment I felt the sting, the pain of my missing breast in a way I have not felt before. I wondered for a moment if I was instead the fairy godmother, but I thought twice, she has way too much cleavage!
OK so how do those of us Cinderellas still working on getting to the ball get by in a "Barbie Doll" world? Well first we give up the whole notion of perfect bodies and start working on cleaning out all our insecurities. Cinderella did go to the ball girls, but first she had to endure pain and sadness. She worked harder than anyone else in the household, dealt with the step mother and the step sisters, and made friends with the mice. She was hurt, made fun of and had her dress ripped right off of her. Yes she cried, felt exhausted and had a moment of self pity or two in there as well. But then she rose up didn't she? Sure in the story her fairy godmother came along and transformed Cinderella in a the fairest maiden in the land. Maybe life isn't so grand as to supply us a Fairy godmother, but listen to me: we are still beautiful maidens!
Maybe we are not perfect, but I'll take it. I am here, alive and I have today! It's funny as I was thinking about how people see my life my cousins stepped forward and asked to see what was left of me. They even took the time to feel the uneasy lump and take note of the long scares across and under both my breasts. Many do not realize I have not completed my " breast reconstruction" process just as many do not realize I have no breast tissue left. It's funny I was more than happy to show my scares to my sweet cousins. I heard their breath swept away along with their ohs. they looked and actually touched what was left and then just like Cinderella they saw the real me inside.
Yes I have one good breast and one well, call it whatever you wish a matching lump, whatever it may be on the other side. I may not be completely happy with what's left, but it's mine and one day I will have it transformed into a breast. For now it stays as is. I think I can live with that, my question is can the world?
So I'm going to the dance. Sure I may have to leave early, run out the door and down the stairs after my stuffing has fallen out, but I will be there. I'll dance, sing, feel beautiful and be held by the most handsome prince. For a moment I'll be whole, beautiful, a princess in my one eyes and that is enough for me, in this moment, right now.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
There are times in every one's life when the rains begin to fall. At first they may seem to fall gently, soft upon your face. But then you look up, see the clouds opening up wider, the rain falls harder and the winds gust fuller. Suddenly the rain you welcomed has become an unwelcome threat forcing you to run for cover and shelter. The rains began softy, refreshing your weary body, but have now turned their forces, overwhelming, overtaking and flooding all you once held to. As the sheets come down, your eyes catch sight of a powerful flash flood coming from around the corner. Before you have time to catch your breath you have gone under with the sheer force of it's measure.
Living in the wake of cancer is very similar to being caught up in a sudden storm. One moment you are basking in the sun, enjoying the beauty of life, when suddenly there is a down pour of hard, forceful, pounding rain falling on top of your head. It is this type of rain that can and will at some point over take and break you. The truth of it is no matter how strong a swimmer you may be, once the waters begin to swell, hitting with such ferocity, your body bends, breaking with the rain as it gives way for these powerful waters to swell.
Cancer, chemo, surgery, people, doctors ... all these things begin to strip and break you down. You may hold tight for as long as you can even begging your body, willing it not to let go, but still the rains come. As each drop falls you may desperately try shielding those you love from the cold icy waters but the truth is the force of it, the pain and the weariness begin to slice away at your resolve. Suddenly you have no fight left inside you and this my friend is the one moment your eyes open wider than they ever have before. In this exact spot you will begin to let go of the thin branch you' ve been holding on to all this time. Your body is tired, your mind is weak and your heart feels crushed beneath the rising waves trying to over take and pull you under. But I ask you this, do you give in, allow the storm to claim your life or do you fight back with all you have left?
Honestly, I think that is clearly the most truthful picture I can ever share with you. I tried so long to be strong, to be invincible in the world's eyes, and not give into my weakening body. But when it came down to it there were those times, and still are, in this journey when I just need to call out for help. The weakness, the hurt and the physical pain are real and even if just for a moments time, can be exposed for everyone to see.
This has been the hardest road of my life, the biggest challenge I have ever had to face. Breast cancer has beat me up, knocked me down, stripped me of all I once knew and cut me deeper than anyone can ever fathom. And yes, I have worked very hard to be strong, vigilant, to keep my guard up, fight the monster, slay the beast and jump over every hurdle put in my way. But sometimes, just sometimes, my weakness spills through and the pouring rain, the ragging waters wash over me. Even though I try with all my might the current still pulls me under as the waters rise to sweep my hope, my strength, and my courage away.
As a CANCER Survivor, fighter, and yes at times it's victim, those are the moments of sheer weakness chilling you to the bone, gnawing at your soul and truly breaking your spirit. Those unguarded rushes of hard, nail driving, heart splintering waves as the rains fall down can remove your once strong foundation. The truth is plain as day, as hurtful as some may be it is not those actions searing your heart or turning your spirit into broke pieces, but it is the CANCER itself. She alone has ripped your feet right out from under you. It is CANCER reaching into the deepest part of who you are causing you to close your eyes and shutter.
So I say this now, with a heart that still beats strong, even if my spirit is weak, I have stood as strong as I can through all this. I know that I am not perfect and I can be weak just as I can be challenging even on my better days but I still look to the sky and hold to hope. Even if I am weak in this moment and the rains begin to break me, they can not have all of me. I am never weak beyond repair, though I may be battered for certain. The days have come when I have simply been tired, my body feeling as if it might shut down and never turn over again. Yes, I have felt close to tears and I hated myself for it but I am human after all trying to stay afloat in a very flooded, mixed up world.
At the end of these kind of days I have no doubt I will rise above the flood waters, nor do I doubt the grace within me will lay my Maker's mercy upon me. I am held close, pulled up from beneath the current and it's crushing force. Though doubt may have been my companion, true peace will rest beside me at this days end. Wounded, most certainly, but liberated I will be in this JOURNEYS end. In each step I gained strength I never knew I had before. Desperation, I have known all too well and though tears have fallen from my eyes, and down my face I trust I will be pulled out away from the driving rain. So I will stand with my back against the wind, arms stretched out, linking with those who have reached for me, knowing in this HOPE I stand strong.
Broken as we may all be by the rain, we will endure. CANCER in all her breaking winds cannot keep us from rising above the pain. So I end this now, saying this to all I love... I am not who I was before and not yet who I am to be when this JOURNEY is done with me.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I have been pondering whether to write a new entry for Easter or not this week. I have not been at my best and so I have wondered what I could bring to the table and offer this week. I have just not been myself, as I have been struggling with a few physical issues. I can say truthfully my heart has been sentimental and my spirit tired as well. I have needed the rest physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As I look back over my journal I can see there are many weeks when I can write and write but then I just seem to disappear,and hide a way for a little while. The truth is sometimes I need time to be quiet, for my soul to rest and to find my inner strength once again. Once I have done that I can sit down at my keyboard, write from my heart and let my spirit run free.
So this week has been" one of those" for me, especially as I look back on where I have traveled from to where I stand now. In the last three years I have walked in the footsteps of many great women before me. I am thankful for all they have taught me in their own journeys while I have still made this path my own.
Easter three years ago I had just lost my hair, though it would be another two months before I lost my brows and lashes. I remember wearing a wig on Easter Sunday, only one of a few times I ever did so. I chose a beautiful red one, so far from my own color. I look back now and I was still confused. I wanted so much to make sense of what was happening in my world. I was facing another 7 of chemo treatments ahead of me. I was scared, concerned and still trying to find my own footing. I remember my children running around the fountain at our church and watching them just be children. I was hurt my condition was dampening their day, but I also knew I was loved, needed and nothing could remove those sweet blessing from my life... nothing.
I was not well, the chemo along with my diabetes has already been taking a toll on my body. I didn't make it through our holiday meal, but the one thing I did do was I clung to the hope of new day. I did not know what the next day would bring, but I knew I would find a brighter dawn if I let my soul be still. I took refuge in my faith, in my God and in my family. I just needed to hold them a bit closer. I needed to surround myself in their unconditional love and simply to be quiet.
I'm not saying I didn't feel the pain because I most certainly did. I felt the pain of Hurricane Christina hit full force but I did not let it topple me. What I was given that Easter was the ability to focus on all the blessing I had. I began writing that very week. I starting digging deep within my own soul and pulling out everything toxic I could. I allowed my writing to purge my soul of all the fear and the pain, then I left it there and walked away.
As I followed the path before me I took a good many detours and made some wrong turns but my writing was like a northern star. By pouring out my fears and hopes, by sharing the beauty and the pain of the journey, I found peace. My broken road was blessed you could say, because a whole new path was revealed to me . I came to know many new and beautiful souls, just as I became closer with my own family and friends.
So now as I sit down and write this entry I pause to thank God for His grace and for the stillness He allows to pass over my spirit. My heart is not always ready to allow the Masters hand to mold my life in the moment or to accept the answers He offers. But I know deep down I am a child of God, a daughter of Heaven. I have been called by name and ransomed by his grace from the beasts claws. Does it mean my path will be easy? No, not by a long shot! But what I know deep within my soul is I am wrapped in His grace and held within His own hope.
This was not my chosen path, but it is what I was given to carry. I am not always happy with where the road leads me but I do know the sun will rise in the morning. The Son has given me today and so as I look toward this Easter I still hold this gift of hope and grace within my soul. Times like these are not to be taken lightly, but the darkness does not have to be blinding nor does it need to break us.
So I come to the whole reason of today's entry and to why I hide myself away some times...
At the end of each day I have to ask myself if I am willing to press forward. Can I push through the pain and the weariness my body offers each and everyday? I know I don't talk often about the daily trails I face but the truth is my body is living in the after effects of chemo and cancer. There are days I long to sit down and write, to empty my heart out into an entry, yet my hands can not even open a door. I have times I sit here and cry as I type feeling as if each of my fingers are shattering. Yet I know once I am done, I actually feel better. No my pain hasn't gone away but I find when I am done I am filled once again with hope and grace.
If I am to beat this beast in all her menacing forms I can't allow her to steal my laughter. I must stand and fight even if I am to do so alone. We have been given a voice for a reason, for without it we can not stand against this beast flying above us. Our hands may be small but they are mighty once joined together. This is how I see our blogging community ... when one may need rest , another can pick up the sword and continue charging forward. At the end of the day, we are woven strongly together.
So this Easter, rejoice, celebrate and take refuge in the knowledge you are a part of a bigger family. Be still and let your spirit rest for tomorrow is a new day...
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
April is here. Spring has sprung and it's still cold! I love the cold, really I do but not in the spring. I am ready for the warmth and the beauty of a new season. But it's still cold outside and I am still hiding inside my warm home. My point is life is never certain. We never know what it will throw at us next. One minute you can be basking in the sun and the next you can be standing in a wind storm.
My life has been filled with such events. I had lived through many crazy unpredictable storm changes in my life. As a child I dealt with type 1 diabetes. As a teenager I dealt with blood clots and into adulthood came a stroke, bells palsy and of course breast cancer and lymphedema. I have had times I just wanted to pull my hair out. I never fit the "norm". I didn't get out and do normal things like the other kids did. By the time I was 21 I finally began coming into a sense of who I was outside of my illnesses.
For one , I met Johnny. At first he seemed to many as my "rebellion stage". What a rebellion stage Johnny has been too! My whole life changed. Everything about me changed if we are going to be really honest here. God took the battered remains of who I thought I was and through Johnny brought me into my own. I began to see myself through his eyes, and you know what? I was beautiful and unscathed in all my silly ways when I was with him. He found me refreshing and different. In time I became his wife and the mother of our precious children.Did the storms stop? Defiantly not, but I was given a hand to hold and a willing partner to walk through the storms with. Together we are strong, and together we have held on to Hope.
I have learned life doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would. But I have also learned just because you think a turn is in the wrong direction doesn't mean God does. This is my point: we all struggle, we all fall and we all suffer. We grieve, we endure pain and we feel loss. Life is not easy. But, yes here is the but, if we focus on the good in our lives, and the beauty... we have hope. I know I talk about hope all the time, but it really is the glue holding our lives together.
Hope inspires us to move forward, to look at our lives with meaning. Carrying just a pocketful can brighten any day. When life is hard, but do we just give up, give in? No, we fight. If we continue to doubt hope, then we sink into the quick sand of defeat. Once we sink into the depths of fear and pity, it is so much harder to get out isn't it? Hope is life, the very breath we breathe. Hope lives inside us, in our children, and in their smiles. Hope carries us, but only if we allow her to do so.
There comes a time in each of our lives where we are forced to face pain and sorrow. The beast comes in many forms with many different faces and claws. We are all touched in some way by her menacing ways.Yes we all suffer through and deal with the devastation differently but the only way to free ourselves from her chains is to dig ourselves out of the sinking sand. We have to grab hold of hope and allow those scales to fall off of us.
We do not have to be overcome by the pain, the fear or the curse we feel we are under. All those things can be endured as long as we see the beauty surrounding our lives. You may ask where is all this beauty found? Well, it is in the life around us, in this very day we have right here, right now. But if we fall into the mind set of death, and fear and darkness we lose our hope. True all those things will come, eventually, but until the day comes we have today.
Having hope does not mean we will not fall, or even fail but what it does do is enable us to leave behind a legacy to our children. Our own battles today can ensure we leave strength, determination and hope to our children's children's future generations. Hope is powerful if we only embrace her open arms.
I am not saying life isn't hard. It is and it can be miserable at times, but hope can help us cope. Hope can and will allow us to shine and to walk with a new sense of purpose. We all need a little hope, don't we? Just reach up, grab it off the branches and allow hope's fruit to fill you with her endurance. Again, I ask each one of you to carry a pocketful with you everyday... you never know when it will come in handy.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
....After a long night of fighting cancer cells our super hero is back on the chemo couch. Suddenly Breast Cancer Woman springs to her feet to face her arch villain, The Beast! They stand toe to toe and eye to eye, circling, pacing with teeth clenched. The Beast reaches for BCW, but she is too late, BCW has already been juiced full of the Red Devil himself. BCW is grinning back at The Beast who begins to cower in fear. Still The Beast growls as Breast Cancer Woman begins to glow an iridescent red and yells "I'll be back!" BCW just grins bigger as she grabs her trusty side kick, the IV Pole, and replies, " No you won't you fiend, I have T.A.C.! "
A bit melodramatic, I know, but the truth is without a bit of humor, a willingness to fight and the determination to survive, Breast Cancer can't be beat. Many ask me how I have kept such an upbeat positive attitude with the risk of death chomping at my heels. Well, I have done so with lots and lots of humor and determination. I have never accepted anything less than the idea of beating this beast. Defeat is not in my vocabulary. I will not be her victim nor will I allow my children to be left motherless. Does it mean I will never succumb to the beast? No, what it does mean is I will never go down without throwing a punch or without a willingness to survive.
Did I ever see myself battling cancer, breast cancer no less, in my early thirties? No way baby! But you know, I have had to face this demon over the last 3 years time and time again. I have lost my breast, no new news there, faced chemo, and the list goes on. If I really wanted to I could lay down, roll over and give up. no one would blame me and believe me I have had some of those moments behind the scenes. But I will tell you giving up, giving in or losing heart has never been an option for me. those options have not nor will ever be on the table! It's not that I am super woman made of steel because I am so far from a hero as one can be. Seriously, you want to know what it is that keeps me strong? OK ,then allow me to let you in on my secret... TTF. The Three F's. Yep you heard me right. now you ask me what in tarnation are those? Friends, Family and Faith are the three things that will see you through.
Many times over the course of this struggle I have had these three things strong holds carry me through diversity. I have not done any of this alone because the struggle for my life is not and has never been purely about myself. True it is my life, but I am not an island unto myself. So making myself one now, in the middle of a fire fight while fighting for my life, most certainly is not the best way to defeat the beast.
I am a mother first. My children are the very reason I am determined to live, so it is their lives I put first. I am also a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. In all these roles I have reasons to survive. In turn they offer me hope, strength and determination to move forward, to fight and to overcome my pain. The Three F's are here to encourage , to push me a little when I need it and to hold my hand when I am afraid but never to pity or inadvertently wound me .
My strength has not come easy nor has it kept me from feeling the loss of my breast or my life as it was before. But in this journey, this fight I have found hope and a new sense of faith. Essentially I have been given a new me. I am secure in the woman I have become. I am thankful for the lessons I have learned and the friends I have made along the way. At the end of the day I am carried by unseen hands and in His might I am renewed and made strong again. I am whole in mind and in body even if all the world sees is a one breasted, uniboob. woman in the wake of the beast.
Now back to the story...
Laughing BCW kicks The Beast out the door, shielding her chemo compatriots with her colorfull cape. BCW's boot imprint firmly glowing on The Beast's scaly hind quarters she returns to her own couch. As the sun is setting, Breast Cancer Woman watches The Beast retreat. She sighs thankfully, given another day to fight off the enemy and another day to live if only in the shadow of the Beast....