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!

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?


Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Promise Made on Main Street

I was reminded a few weeks back just how precious my children are to me. Now don't get me wrong I hold them tight every chance I get and of course they run as quickly as they can on many others. But I have to say spending time with them on the road, well it was rather enlightening. I have found a road trip brings out a whole new dynamic in a family and in many ways can either bring you closer or pull you apart. Of course it depends upon how you allow the pendulum to swing.

As we traveled from here to there we shared stories, watched a movie or two or three, text until our fingers hurt, fought a few times but at the end of each day we were family. We drove through cities, counties and states, slept in crooked positions and fought off bugs as we ate sandwiches out of the van. Know what? We found ourselves again as we bonded over tuna fish and baloney, lemonade and diet coke and of course all while fighting off natures critters together. Our travels took us far and wide as we spent time with dear friends, enjoyed a wonderful family dinner with them and theirs, splashed in the water and dug up horseshoe crabs. Then as time passed all too quickly our family was off and back on the road again.

Time froze for just a second or two as we drove through the gates of Neverland into the most magical place we have ever been to. Yes we arrived at Disney World, treated to this most spectacular delight by my parents, again honoring their promise to me and the boys. What promise you ask? Well you see it all started on Main Street June 2006 as the clock seemed destined to strike midnight. As I stood there, not even half way through my chemo, time stood still and I heard the last call on the wind ...

I can still see the night captured vividly in my mind... the castle beautifully lit up, glowing many colors in the background, music dancing inside my ears and Main Street carrying families to the exits. I felt so alive and yet so afraid to give up the day. I wanted this magic to last forever.. to press that one moment upon my heart so nothing could take it from me. I broke into tears as my boys came smiling, giggling and laughing out of the Emporium. Seeing them truly smile for the first time in six months was overwhelming. Right there on Main Street USA, in the middle of Magic Kingdom I finally allowed tears to burn my face. I fell into my mother's arms and let my fear spill out. I did not want to face a future which may not include watching my boys dream, hope and believe in the magic surrounding us. So then and there a promise was made... a promise to celebrate life even if mine was lost. A promise to return to this most magical of places where the boys could be themselves, happy and free.

Much of our lives these past three years have ridden upon on the hope we carry inside our hearts every day. We have pushed forward even on the days when I can say honestly we really just wanted to drop to on our knees. If it's not the cancer then it's the chemo and if it's not the chemo it is the waiting and if it isn't the waiting it's the after shock as life keeps moving ahead. Sometimes no matter how strong you are or how broad your shoulders may be you have to retreat and regroup. I can't tell you how many times as a family this beast has laid us at the Heavenly Father's feet wounded and empty. Life with cancer is full of chains binding us to fear so spending time together as a family within those fantasy filled lands fills all those empty pots up again and breaths fresh life into our hopes.

This year as our pumpkin changed into a carriage something different grabbed hold of me and lit a spark...

Part of this year I have spent battling my own body, hiding from the shadows and the worries tomorrow always seems to bring. What I saw deep down inside me was the fact I had forgotten the truth behind our promise and what is was really all about. Truly is it not better to have lived each moment as it were your last than to have never lived at all? I had to examine myself and face the music. I was just going through the motions without a why or a reason. Had I allowed my faith to be broken? Maybe... but now, here in this place full of magical possibilities all those disappointments could fall and fade away.

I stood there just gazing upon Cinderella's Castle. I am still struck by the beauty of this structure and the way it takes my breath away. I turned just in time to see both my boys grinning widely. I could see them as they were three years ago spinning in circles, laughing, chasing after all their imaginations could conjure. Time was frozen for us during our 2006 trip --- all we wanted was to catch Tinker Bell and a bit of her pixie dust too. Now I was looking at one quickly maturing pre teen son and another ten year old on the verge of leaving boyish games behind him. Right then and there I saw their dreams spread out before me and I was moved. . .

I am such a sucker for tears right? But I couldn't help it. My heart was full and as a mother I felt the sudden need to pull each of them close to me and to hold them tight. I could feel the magic filling my soul and all I wanted to do was dance in circles like a child again myself. I had to fight off the urge to laugh out loud and before I knew it I was caught up in the magic all around us. I didn't see the hundreds of other people flocking by our family on that day. No I was blinded to them what I did see was I only my small, maybe slightly broken but beautiful family about to set off on our own adventure. You know in this crazy world we sometimes lose track of the child within us. So I beg of you this question shouldn't we stop for a moment or two to listen to our heart beat and experience the magic our children have to offer us?

Without moving a muscle I just let time pass for a few moments as I let the magic lift me off the ground. I knew pixie dust had just been sprinkled upon us and for a moment we had the floor all to ourselves. The kingdom was ours, the castle our playground for the day. It was our time to spin around the courtyard, to have our eyes opened, our hearts' captured and create memories together. My heart cried out, "Christina, don't think about tomorrow because it will only slip away. Why worry about what's ahead of you when you have today? Your only concern is this very moment you are standing in and the dance before you." Oh how I just needed to take my time and let the hustle of the world pass me by. I needed to just walk, not run ,as we passed through those magical moments within the kingdom before us. In my own imagination I extended my hand toward the boys and we danced. As a mother and a breast cancer survivor there is a constant struggle internally for me. I juggle what to tell my children, what to hold back from them and how it will all affect them not just today, but tomorrow. At times I get lost, tied up in knots trying to debate whether to open just the doors of today and keep the far realm of tomorrow off limits.

So as I stood there with so many souls passing us by in a hurry I imagined myself filing with hope and tears began to fall. My heart reached out and spoke to theirs, "Boys... so young and brave, tell me you still believe in the everyday miracles? Just stop for a minute and see the wonder surrounding you. Allow your dreams to swirl around you and fill us all with seeds of hope. May faith consume your hearts and this magic sow wonder within you as you grow. Give me just today, that's all I ask, and stay innocent for just a bit longer. Let me dance one more time under a canopy of pixie dust with you. Laugh and giggle and let the magic of childhood live within you as you travel outside your fortress of imagination. May you both hold your dreams close and never forget this day. "

Nothing on earth could have been more beautiful...and in those moments standing with my children I found myself again. I saw a glimpse of the mother, the friend, the wife, the woman and yes even the survivor I truly am within. Up until then I had been allowing uncertainty to overcome me sleeping on a pillow of worry afraid I might drift away and break into a thousand pieces.

Was my heart held captive there among fairytale princess and flying elephants? Is this world of magic my permanent home, a place where our dreams set sail with just a touch of pixie dust? No, but every year if just for one day, we come together right there to celebrate this promise of life. You see my friends if we would just stop and listen to the child within us our imaginations could take us beyond the worry of today. There is such a powerful magic held within our dreams, the kind the world seldom really sees. I have heard it said “Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination.” (Barbara Grizzuti Harrison) Yes in this extraordinary place I have taught my boys to grab hold of their dreams, never letting go of their daydreams and imaginations.

As I turned to face Adventure Land I sighed, took a deep breath in and pulled my boys close pondering our promise on Main Street. I thought about twirling them each around right then and there. Thinking twice about their reactions I turned and twirled them around anyway. Were they absolutely horrified? Yes, but you know what? They were fearless, just as I was in those moments standing there in the middle of this Magic Kingdom. The truth is this: we were holding on to one another. Then as I blinked the world speed up and the moment was gone but not the memory. As we left behind Main Street we didn't have to worry about tomorrow because we had today.

The following night we packed and in the morning headed out on the road back home again. We sang and fought, laughed and shared. Coming home we brought with us many memories in which to fill year three of our new lives with hope and a new lesson...

As we experience the joys of today our possibilities are endless. We may chase fireflies together, catch frogs or believe in dragons within the realm of the unseen because the sun will rise again tomorrow and the day will be ours to seize.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Different Cup of Tea

So the last few months haven't exactly been my cup of tea. They haven't been a walk in the park, a day at the beach or a night on the town but they have taught me a few things.

For starters I have seen the darkest part of my soul which isn't a pretty sight let me tell you. No one knows this better than I do, with the exception of my husband God love him. I have not been the easiest person to live with as of late while all this bedlam has been creeping to a boil.

To be honest we all have inner corridors within ourselves and winding, twisting tunnels throughout our souls where fear and uncertainty live. I know because I found myself lost in a few of the very same ones within my own soul this last week. Coming back from the brink of what some may call " Christina's Melt Down" I can say I feel a huge load off my shoulders. You would think living through breast cancer was enough ? Nope, I had to go one better and actually wait until it was over and survived the pink one eyed monster to fall apart! The nerve of me right?

So life isn't as predictable as we would like it to be. But you know what? It is so worth the ups and downs. I was reminded today that at some point you have to exit the ride. I have been circling this roller coaster holding on for dear life these last few months, buckled in, screaming through the loops and biting my teeth during the climb that I have forgotten to put on the breaks.

I have definitely learned during my stay here on "Nightmare on Christina's Street" the day is short, the night is long and at some point we all fall upon our knees. So I sit here tonight, after hours of restless tossing and turning, feeling relief. I spent all last night and into today painfully purging my soul of her darkness pulling every last drop of anguish, fear and worry up and out into my writing. No matter where I looked I saw the scary man with his big ugly grin coming for me. But you know what... I had to face him. I had to stand up against the boogie man and call his bluff. Oh sure I hit bottom all right but I had to do so in order to rise up again to the top.

So tomorrow morning will bring what it will. I am at peace no matter the outcome. I have no control over what will or will not be. What I do know is this: I am not alone. I am surrounded by those who call themselves friends, sisters, brothers, survivors, and family. I am strong in the love each of you have given me and I am determined to stay hope's course. I may have been beat up, bruised and just plain worn thin but I am still a survivor standing hand and hand with each of you.

As the song goes, "The sun'll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun! Just thinkin' about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow 'til there's none!"

So here's to tomorrow and all she brings our way!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Christina VS the Kraken

Many a day I have lifted myself up by my bootstraps, dusted myself off , placed my hat back on my head and kept walking with a smile on my face. On most days I am fully capable of just that. One breast, two breasts, no breasts as long as I could see the sunrise I have been able to stay the course through the darkest hours. Losing my breast kinda reminds me of when Captain Jack Sparrow walks out to port with two of his girlie friends, He keeps promising them they won't be disappointed then upon getting to the end of the dock they women respond by saying," Is that it? The Black Pearl. Not very big." Jack looks rather puzzled and says, "Love, that is a dinghy ( Kinda how I felt after my breast was removed) . My vessel is magnificent and fierce and huge-ish. And gone." Why is it gone? ( Again my old breast was just fine, and it was just gone in a quick clean strike.) Then his scandalous friend says, "Is that it there? " as she looks into the distance. ( I know this feeling all too well.) Again Jack looks puzzled and says,"Yes, there it is! Why is it there?... It's much larger up close. " ( Yep, there it is. Say goodbye now. Why is it there? Well because I have breast cancer and my once magnificent ( alright this is just my own wishful thinking here) has been pirated away. What does he do in the end? Well he is Jack after all, he gets into the dinghy, pulls his map out and sails away with a bottle of rum.

Up to this point in my journey I have been an optimist, I still am, but I am so tired. I know just like Jack at some point I will rope my two sea turtles and sail back to the place where my heart truly belongs. But just for today I ask of you my family and my friends, those closest to me and those I love dearly to look into my heart. Taking on this next surgery feels like the end of me right now. I know I shouldn't speak this way, and truly I have not lost my will to fight, but I am ever so tired. I have walked this path for so long now and so I search my soul deeper than I have ever before. I am a bit of a lost soul at the moment and not so sure where this path is leading me right now. My life is a bit topsy turvey at this very moment. Yes, I know this journey is a long one and a battle definitely worth fighting for but....I am just tired and weary. I want to fight, I do with all my heart. It's just my body, my mind and my soul are so tired, longing for rest and a bit of peace. I want nothing more than to stand strong with a sword in each hand ready to charge the battle field, it's just....

I am reminded of Jack and the Pirates movies again as I think of being turned upside down. Remember the Black Pearl and the crew being upside down as they sought to right side themselves and return from the worlds end? That's exactly how I feel right now! I am turned upside down trying to find my way back to the land of the living. Watching these movies after being diagnosed with cancer can provide a whole new perspective...

But what of the all the events that led up to this point?Well Jack made a deal with Jones did he not? Jack was eager to defy death, to be the captain of his own ship and roam the seas. Jack was a free man, pushing the envelope as far as he could. But life caught up with him and Jones sent the message loud and clear, here's a bit of the conversation:" Bootstrap' Bill Turner: Jones's terrible leviathan will find you, and drag the Pearl back to the depths and you along with it! Jack Sparrow: Any idea when Jones might release said terrible beastie? 'Bootstrap' Bill Turner: I already told you, Jack. Your time is up. Bootstrap' Bill Turner: It comes now, drawn with ravenous hunger to the man what bears the Black Spot. "

Why can I relate to this part of the movie so well? Well, in my youthful arrogance I thought nothing could take me down right up to the point Jones messenger showed up calling my name. In the dark depths of my own ship my first response was what black spot? Ah, it would be cancer my dear, is the response I imagine hearing. Well that explains a lot doesn't it? Yep right up until I was marked with the dreaded black spot and told a beastie is after me. ( Isn't this the part where everyone turns in circles beating their chests trying to get rid of the bad mojo? ) Seriously what is all that about anyway? By the time you have a inkling of what is happening you're running about, hands flapping , hair blowing and feet moving faster than your body all while acting like a complete lunatic.

As I sat down to watch these movies over the weekend with my boys I can truly say I saw my life on the screen before me in a whole new light. When Jack says, " Death has a way of reshuffling one's priorities." I felt the truth of it in my bones. Living in the wake of breast cancer I have had to rearrange all my priorities. Looking back I have given up some dreams, passed on an indulgence or two and tossed aside many rum bottles along the way. But... I have found treasure all the same in the many new friends and the family I have grown closer to as my life has indeed been reshuffled these last three years.

A pirates life for me? All together now, " yo ho yo ho, a pirates life for me". Hum... humor, drama and action all wrapped up together, that's me alright! Well OK maybe my life is not so exciting as all that but the truth is I have spent the last three years running from this Jones fella and his terrible beast. I have fought many swashbuckling battles trying to avoid this slimy beast but no matter what I have done this beastie has continued to haunt me through the years. With her menacing growl on my heels I have been beaten and left battered and bruised many a day but I have always come up with both feet on the ground. I have learned to hope, to cope, to live, to reach and to survive these last three years. I have held true to courage never forgetting the heading before me. As Jack says, " That's the trick, isn't it? To survive?" But is it really? Just to survive I mean? I for one feel as if my anchor is drifting. I want to keep sailing ahead, but I am dangerously close to running adrift. I can see the rocks ahead, I can feel the chard's inching closer and for once I am scared I do not have the strength to stay the course.

If you had asked me just six months ago if I would have thought about diving into the black depths, I would have shouted the loudest NO I could muster. I am a fighter, a survivor, a go to the ends of the world, bring them back kind of girl. I would have taken the deck and rallied my mates to pull full speed ahead with bravery and courage. I would shout as Elizabeth Swann does in the last and final movie, "You will listen to me! LISTEN! The other ships will still be looking to us, to the Black Pearl, to lead, and what will they see? Frightened bilgerats aboard a derelict ship? No, no they will see free men and freedom! And what the enemy will see, they will see the flash of our cannons, and they will hear the ringing of our swords, and they will know what we can do! By the sweat of our brow and the strength of our backs and the courage in our hearts! Gentlemen, hoist the colors! "

Yes, I have made the call to hoist the colors, pink and white, as they are. I have walked the last three years with a skull and crossbones adorned with a pink ribbon upon my scared chest. I have pushed the final mile with both a mighty mob and with a crew smaller in number than the year before but always, always I have stood, answering the call. Until this last week that is... This last week has found me chained aboard my own sinking ship. Why has it come to this? I do not know, but it has and I am left with a choice to make. Do I go down with the ship, sink beneath the waves down to the ocean floor? Or do I gather what strength I have left and face this beast? Just like Jack, covered in the beast's mucus, think maybe this isn't so bad and in those final moments wipe away all her sludge and slim from my face and simply acknowledge this cancer with a smile saying " .'Ello, beastie" with my sword drawn?

Oh I hope so, I really do for this new chart brings with it not just pain and uncertainty but a new heading. So I will fight, I will hold the course. How can I do anything but? I am a fighter, a survivor and after signing aboard the Pink Pearl, I must agree with one Will Turner "No course is lost if but one fool is left to fight." I guess I am that one fool....