Tuesday, October 28, 2014
This month, always is a mixed bag of blessing and conflict for me. A solid month of Pink, celebrating survivors and remembering our loved ones lost to Breast Cancer. Truthfully, I have spent most of October in reflection. I quietly wear a small pink ribbon year round because breast cancer is not a once a year, for one month disease. So what did I physically do for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year? Well for starters I began each day as I always do, with thankfulness. No, I didn’t walk; I didn’t put out any survivor ribbons in the yard, wear a pink T-shirt or purchase anything in honor of my own survival. To be honest, I haven’t actually done anything this year outside of supporting a particular amazing fundraiser whose goal is supporting those affected by this disease. What I have really done though is reflect. Interestingly enough, I haven’t experienced all the fanfare usually associated with October which I found to be a relief honestly. Instead I found by focusing on my family, loving them and celebrating our small, beautiful moments together was the bigger blessing in my life rather than anything else!
I really thought long and hard about where I wanted to plant myself during this particular month this year. It has absolutely been a personal choice, one I didn’t come to lightly. In many ways, my deliberate decision this time around to step back from the pink take over in October served as a real area of personal growth and an acceptance of my own battle with this beast beyond anything I could have imagined. So as this month comes to an end I want to talk openly about breast cancer because when November 1st comes around most folks will go on, put their pink away until next October and move forward with life as if this demon doesn’t exist any longer.
Life Lesson # 10: Acceptance, finding ourselves in the bare truth of who we are.
Breast Cancer seems like two little words yet together they hold such big impact. Most of you know my story; I was 32 years old, raising two little boys, no family history when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. The coming year brought the loss of my breast, the discovery of lymph nodes infected, six months of chemo and countless surgeries which reached well into my 5 year mark. The loss of a breast is almost surreal, as it is life changing. Learning to dress, to look at yourself in the mirror and to cover your scars, all in an attempt to make life more bearable is a process. I remember watching the surgeon draw marks with a black sharpie around my diseased breast, knowing full well I wasn’t coming out of the OR with both my breasts attached like it was yesterday. Let me tell you, it is a feeling beyond description. Talk about a reality check.
Chemo followed, though it was an unexpected gift after by chance lymph nodes were removed and tested because of something the doctor felt before closing me up. Suddenly I not only had the loss of a breast to deal with but the possibility of something worse, death. Chemo was downright despicable. TAC, (Taxotere ,Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide) was my doctors’ poison of choice. I lost all my hair within a week, and to this day I can’t begin to describe how unprepared I was for the physical pain of my hair falling out. Not long afterwards, I found the joys of no longer needing to shave. My eyebrows on the other hand waited around to fall out a few more months, along with my eyelashes. I was swollen, hairless, one boobed and sick continually despite the anti-nausea meds. What about the steroids, well they were simply the cherry on top! So there I was at 33, just 3 months into treatment and I looked and felt more like E.T. than actual E.T. did himself! The reality was I had no choice but to learn to accept and be comfortable with the new me I was becoming. Yes I could have been angry, I could have fallen apart, hide myself away but by God’s grace I didn’t. Instead I found peace, joy and humor in the midst of so much upheaval and uncertainty. I wasn’t brave on my own, courage came with getting up every day, looking for the blessings waiting for me and sharing those little moments with my family I have now come to cherish.
So many of us tend to get excited, we rally for the cause, showcase triumphs during October, but what are we doing year round to honor those we call heroes during this month of breast cancer awareness? I guess this is my real cause for reflection. Sure, I could have worn my pink, showcased my own battle, and made a statement. I guess this year I just needed more than all the Pink ribbons in the world could offer me. True, no one stopped me this month acknowledging I was a survivor and yet I didn’t miss any of the hoopla this time around. Quite honestly, I was content in reflecting, allowing myself to fade away from this identity of being anchored in the color pink. I am still a warrior, I will always wear pink, year round, in memory of my fallen sisters, and I will always and forever be a survivor. I guess I have just stepped back, and taken a good long, hard look at where I am today.
So yes while cancer tried to destroy my body and chemo tried to poison it, the scars they left behind did not ruin me. Instead they gave me life, a second chance, not only to discover who I could be but to embrace who I was underneath and beyond breast cancer. The truth, breast cancer is ugly, cruel and vicious, leaving those of us in her path misshapen and scared. Yet in the acceptance of these things we are beautiful and lovely, not bound by the world’s idea of such things, but by our own definition. My honest, bare truth is this: I've come a long way in my journey, from the chemo couch to where I stand presently. Today, I am a breast cancer survivor eight years strong! I am not physically whole but I am complete emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I have had this time afforded me, time many others have not, to watch my boys grow into men, to be loved and give love and embrace my imperfections. My body is a canvas of stories to be told, in no way perfect, though very much scared and sown back together again, a canvas of awkward and lifesaving workmanship. The life I have in the aftermath of breast cancer is beautiful, a mixed gift of conflict and blessings, and yes wrapped up in a big bright pink bow from time to time.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Eight years ago I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. To say life handed me a curve ball is a gross understatement. I was devastated, in shock and lost for about a week. I spent my time replaying those four little words trying to figure out my next move. I looked around, wondering, what was the point of any of it, cancer at 32 years old, married less than a decade to the love of my life. I'm an only child, what was this going to do to my parents? And our boys, oh, and what this monster was going to steal from them. But in asking myself those questions, I realized I had much more to fight for than just my own life; I was fighting for my all of my family, for my children and their futures. Besides, who was this tipsy, drunken beast anyway, trying to tell me what to do and where to go? Huh, that wasn’t going to happen, not if I had any say in the matter! Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fighter, I don’t give up easily and cancer was not going to take me down without a fight.
I had a plan, whether that plan worked out or not, was not a problem, letting go of my joy, happiness, humor and laughter was. Facing cancer was not just solely about chemo, surgery, what my chances were or how other people saw me. Nope cancer for me, as with everything in life, was and is about how I chose to live day by day. I’ve been so blessed to have a small immediate family and yet such a big extended family at the same time. The worst times in my life have been filled with the best memories; despite the uncertainties as a family we have experienced more laughter than tears. If it wasn’t for those family ties, the bonds through blood and by extension, I wouldn’t be here today. Who laughs while singing "they’re going to whack my breast off " to the tune of following the leader, imagining her excommunicated breast being sliced up like a piece of cake and incinerated? This women right here, why, because laughter is the key to happiness and sanity.
Life lesson #9: Laughter and humor, unlikely gifts we give ourselves.
Family, in my experience, has been the key to my happiness, and yes, at times misery too. Mostly, they have been my greatest sources of humor and laughter. The memories we’ve made together since cancer charged through the door are countless. We’ve gathered around the table, laughed, cried, shared stories of our day, letting life fall out unfiltered in the last 2,830 days. Our ties go deep, we share a bond to this day which may very well be shaken but can never be replaced or broken. Learning to laugh in the face of difficulties has been the greatest gift imaginable. I love knowing some 2,000 days later, our boys, who are honestly men now, feel free to dance with those radioactive monsters hiding under their beds instead of running away, screaming in haze-mat suites. Laughter, is a critical component if we plan on enjoying life, the truth is; sometimes we just have to be OK with making random crazy, funny and absurd faces into the crowd. Laughter, humor and the ability to amuse ourselves gives way to celebration, re-enforcing our ties with those we call family. The fuzzy monsters nowadays camping out in the guest room aren’t so scary anymore. They’re just part of our curiosity, the incredibly, outrageousness, and ridiculousness of the world around us.
What I've learned in this upside down world we live in is we inherit or create family; it doesn’t matter by birth or invitation. The family we tie to ourselves can conceive and develop ties to happiness or to misery, the choice is ours. Being happy doesn’t require a life without difficulties, but on the other hand it does demand a good sense of humor and an acceptance of the absurd, craziness and eccentricity of our beautiful, yet baffling flaws. Once the smoke clears and the monsters have been tamed; we have an anchor in those ties binding us to one another. Humor and laughter absolutely ease the difficult times, that is, if you’re open to happiness instead of bitterness and blame.
At this part of my story, I can say life has turned out fairly well, all in all. When I sit down, pull my chair up to the table and fill my plate each night I know happiness. Laughter, as it turns out has been our best friend. Happiness has fueled my life with a drive to live; my family has learned to thrive, not just survive in spite of whatever monster has shown up to play. Laughter and a sense of family has given us reason for celebrations, distractions, diversions, fun times, hilarity, whimsical moments, artfulness, brilliance, cleverness, comedy, irony, quickness, resourcefulness and yes true wit. Deposits like these are priceless gifts and so my advice to you: make sure not to overlook or omit happiness, whatever form presents in your family bank!
Monday, October 20, 2014
What comes to your mind when you think of an anniversary, possibly a birthday, graduation, cancer recovery, maybe a personal triumph, simply an accomplishment of any kind or the loss of a loved one? Life, in itself, is made up of small, beautiful, painstaking and mostly complicated moments. These moments are set in time, more than dreams and always wide open to interpretation. Our moments of celebration in life can be remembered as particularly breathtaking, brilliant, beautiful and pure or positively slanted in our perceptions, altered and crashed in the wreckage of our best laid plans.
Life Lesson # 8: Life can be amazing, full of little moments worth celebrating!
That is, if we can keep from being caught up in our opinions, full of good intentions, so busy making plans for everyone else and ourselves, maps included, we forget to live in the little moments life offers us along the way. While we’re busy out planning, life is continuing, moving with meaningful points of intersection, and connecting each of us to memories, good or bad. All these moments, understated or grand events with unforgettable finales, stay with us, becoming flash points, periods in time in which we are moved in some degree or another. Whether our celebrations are full of humor, leaving us with laughter, or made up of tears, each moment, every memory we make is defining in the make-up of who we are and can ultimately become. We have all had those drop everything, let’s go, moments, book of life kind of entries. A rush of excitement, taking a breathe right before we step out, this is it… our moment has arrived and we can’t turn back kind of gravity lifting, lighting up the sky or crashing to earth in flames circumstance or occasion.
This last year has been full of little wonders as Rob Thomas sings about, good, bad and many in-between but all leaving an impact not only on my life but those of my whole family. All our moments, touch us for a little while and yet stay with us forever, changing us one way or another. Once the moment is gone, a birthday past, a celebration only a memory, those things we never wanted so much as in those small moments become fleeting. Our hearts beat faster, our breath seems caught up inside of us and time stands still. Yet, when we remember certain moments from our past, we become afraid to be alone in those defining events of yesterday. When I look back at all those little moments in my life, there’s not a moment, not a minute I would change in exchange for another. Each one, amazing or trying, has been significant along the way, chiseling, shaping and molding life in the direction it has gone. Without these little moments, I’d be nothing but empty space. I don’t know about you but I am absolutely fine with venturing to the crossroads from time to time. Life is full of boiling points, breakthroughs, living on the brink, climax of events, coming of age, defining moments, more than enough edge, flash points, and landmark compromises. In our lifetimes we experience make-or-break decisions, milestones, and many points of no return, lots of red-letter days, moment of truth, turning point and U-turn defining moments wrapped up in memories we either celebrate or turn away from. Bottom line, I’d rather live with the outcome of life, rather than big, wide, empty, missing spaces in my memories!
So for me, the truth lives here, we live by our memories; thoughts scatter to such things as maybe next time, words unsung, shadows of who we used to be, hoped we’d become and let go of. We get beat down by lost possibilities many times we can’t see, sharing the sweet company of family, friends, those we miss once they are gone and the light fighting it’s way into the darkness to overcome distant memories and moments we feel have disappeared. We hear the old whispers on our lips; see little glimpses of heaven in these brief moments of time imagining what was, holding onto those lasting, enduring, radiant moments for as long as we can. We are defined in these moments, and in retrospect we will continue to be for as long as we cling to and cherish or hold on bitterly to those memories as outside our control. What I know is this, all my life I have tried to make everyone else happy, been hurt, hid my feelings and gone along with the plans. But this year life changed in a big way, I stopped holding my head under water! I found I could let go of moments, seize others and take life fully by the horns without fear of the outcome. Not every moment has been perfect, nope in reality many of those small moments along the way have been pretty difficult, but oh so many more have been amazing, filled with some pretty awesome adventures. I can’t sort out all the ups and downs right now but I can shine a light on the good times, learn from the doubts cast and live life out loud in these very moments I have here and now.
Life’s small, little moments, these memories we make become who we are, show us where we have been and add up to some pretty big moments down the road if we can just learn to slow down and actually enjoy ourselves!
Friday, October 17, 2014
Have you ever been so hurt, you had no clue where to begin to unravel the mess you’re in? In those moments our joy seems almost suffocated and choked out of us doesn’t it? We hesitate to step outside of the gray zone because it’s safe. We can see the right and wrong of our actions, we watch our joy crushed and fleeting and still we continue to use our words, our actions and brokenness as weapons of retaliation. Even worse, our tongues inflict hurt not only into the lives of those we love but deep into our own hearts in the process. When joy flees, and un-forgiveness moves in, all our hidden scars and hurts come to light, especially the ones festering just under the surface. We draw lines, wrong or right and worse we stop listening, our compassion flees and lives are shattered.
Our insecurities in life tend to guide us more than we know, pushing our buttons, lashing out at our joy, stealing our ability to relate and love. We find ourselves overtaken by the hurts we have suffered, the wounds we have nurtured and we lose sight of everything precious to us. Our fears take over, consuming us, blinding our hearts, then our anger strikes and before we know what’s happened we’re devoid of joy, empty and wondering what the heck happened. Unwillingly or not, we become slaves to our resentment and bitterness when we sit down to a table of carnage, feasting, like cannibals on our own. From experience, we tend not to listen, we hear, but we don’t comprehend. Instead our response to what we perceive as a wrong, only allows anger to overtake our compassion and understanding, and our willingness to forgive is lost.
Life Lesson # 7: Forgiveness is a personal gift we give ourselves.
Not sure why we tend to exchange truth for the grape vine, or how we confuse good intentions with wicked ones but we get everything so entwined when we’re angry our view is obscured. By the time we reach this particular intersection, we’ve lost ourselves in anger, pride and our need to get even. Unbelievably, when our wrongs are ousted and uncovered, we desperately want forgiveness extended to us, yet we struggle with the ability to offer the same grace when the tables are turned. Gossip, mistrust and lack of empathy are like an infection, taking over, going viral and destroying our relationships. When the dust clears, our ability to forgive, to love and be loved is gravely damaged. How can we push those away we say we love without first looking inside, at ourselves? Why do we have this need as human beings to always be right, no matter whom or what it costs us?
It never fails I can't help but find it rather amusing when I learn things about myself, seemingly only those “in the know” have privileged access to. Oh the places I’ve visited but know nothing of, how ‘bout those words I said without actually saying, or things I’ve apparently done without being there in person to do? It’s crazy how people in general, spend so much time listening in to the misinformed and still make judgment calls, drawing on assumptions without facts and ultimately deciding to draw guilty conclusions without a second thought. I’m totally guilty of this myself, we are all, but the outcome of our circumstances depends on our willingness to forgive and to let go. Uncovering our joy again isn’t a matter of rejecting the hurt, no; it truly comes in our response to dealing with the aftermath. This is typically a character defining moment, sink or swim, do we stop the bleeding, work to heal the differences, forgive or do we continue to push the knife in deeper?
When we reach the end of ourselves, at the end of the road when we see the executioner’s rope hanging, we have to decide, is the price of being right worth the cost? Are we truly ready to hand over our joy for the hurt we’re hanging onto in exchange for un-forgiveness? Why should we hesitate when it comes to mercy and grace? My challenge to myself and to you today is this: Don’t let your joy burn out, don’t let anger consume you; give yourself the opportunity of grace and the chance to change things. Stop taking the easy road, bending with each strand of gray. Stop concealing hurts, slamming doors on those you don’t understand, instead take a deep breath and be bold enough to offer forgiveness in exchange for pure, real joy.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
In many ways; I’ve spent the first part of my early 40’s missing. If I'm being totally honest, to a large degree, I was also in hiding. Where did I disappear to? Well, that’s an interesting question if I do say so myself. I guess you could say I was stumbling around in a maze, through parts of myself I didn’t want the world to see or know about, as well as areas of my life I had kept hidden away from myself. In many aspects life suddenly opened up, but not in the ways I had hoped. I was handed a ticket, boarding an unexpected, unplanned flight whose path was anything but ordinary. I was suddenly thrust into the unknown regions of disaster and many times disbelief. Who I thought I was and whom I've actually become are complete polar opposites. So to answer the question of where I’ve been and even what I’ve been doing, is simple; I’ve spent most of the last two years growing. I found and opened doors inside myself I honestly hadn't realize existed. Mostly, I’ve fumbled through a maze of personal growth and an assortment of growing pains.
The results: the grass is never quite as green on the other side as we think it is. I really believe once we begin to work on our present life not focusing so much on the disappointments in our past, life begins to opens up, beautifully and spectacularly. This is the only life I have been given and so it begs to reason the only life I can be responsible for is my own. I can allow the pain of growth to do one of two things, either destroy me, making me bitter and angry, destitute of joy or I can allow this journey to shape me through the process, becoming a part of the solution instead of the problem. There simply comes a time when we're faced with the decision to move forward or go backwards. I ultimately came to a place in my life where I dropped everything, giving up what I wanted most for what I really needed.
Life lesson #6: the road to personal growth can lead us to untamed, unbridled transformation beyond our wildest dreams.
Life leaves us with scars, there's no way around them. Personal growth can reopen many of those old wounds especially once we begin acknowledging our need to re-exam who we have become and why. At the end of the day we have to accept if we're really going to grow, we have to learn to both apply and enforce boundaries in our lives. Sometimes what we thought was a good thing, turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, entering our lives to consume us, to evict us from the security of our family, stealing our joy, eliciting our confidence to outright destroy us. Learning to say no or even goodbye is a necessity sometimes, even if it’s not what we want to do. I have to say, it’s seriously not an easy lesson to learn, but once we can wake up inside, opening our eyes, listening to the still, and small voice inside us, we're able to take our first, real giant leap of faith forward with conviction as life lifts up off the ground.
Two years later, I'm growing as a woman, independent and secure. I’m nowhere close to the woman I was and nowhere near where I am heading yet but I'm moving forward. In the year or more since boarding my own personal growth express life has changed in big ways. Oh, have I face my demons, taking responsibility for my own actions, spoken words, attitude, perceptions of wrongs done to me, choices made in the heat of the moment and how each one of those life changing decisions has shaped my character and relationships. We can’t blame others for our own misguided hoopla. Today, I’m a little bit wiser and definitely a lot older but as difficult as my personal growth has been, I’ve found what I am made of. I can’t forget some things or some people for that matter; they’ve changed me, moved me and left their mark on my life for good or bad. Am I afraid, absolutely, but real growth requires each of us to face our fears, to acknowledge we may not have found out exactly who we are or even where we are going just yet.
Once we have nothing left to hide, and can recognize we are no longer ghosts of our past, living life in a cage, our lives become unforgettable. I never thought I would end up where I have, breast cancer, loss, grief, and the list goes on, but then which one of us ever does? Life isn’t an illusion; it’s a work of great effort, with brush strokes of vivid color, some dark while others are bright and brilliant. Learning to dance, even when the rain is falling down, is what growth is all about. Sometimes it’s not the pain of being let down, but the joy of being picked back up again by a greater strength than we have ever known that defines us.
Monday, October 13, 2014
There’s something so beautiful in a woman’s strength. The way she carries herself, her passions, the ways she loves her children, how she builds up the man she loves and yes, how she sees herself, or at times even in the way she doesn’t see herself. As a little girl, I watched my mom’s beauty shine, brightly and many times unknowingly. I never doubted my mom, the belief I had in her or the amazing faith she lived boldly in front of me. Her passions were worn on her sleeve and I always saw how she was free to live, to be herself boldly as a daughter of the King. Even when I was weak, I was taught to have faith in my dreams. I was nurtured in my belief in the Lord, knowing He was strong enough, big enough to mend any broken wing I suffered. My mom taught me to set the world on fire, to let go of my fears, and step out, even off the cliff I was clinging to, believing I would land on my feet. She gave me wings, teaching me mercy, to have compassion; to give second chances and to love unconditionally, even when it meant not being a door mat. Mom showed me how to stand up for myself, to believe in myself, knowing there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do, especially if I believed and trusted I was also a daughter of a King.
When we would go places, I saw how people responded to mom, the way they loved her, how they perceived her beauty, her compassion, raw and untamed. I would look around a room, eager to see mom step out from her uncertainty and put on her inner strength. Many times I would stand by her side, just basking in the glow of her light. No matter how many beautiful ladies filled a room, I only saw my mom. Her beauty is classic, stunning even at 66, she has always glowed, radiated a beauty not just outwardly but inwardly. As a little girl I would hang on to every word she spoke, listening intently; every little whisper of encouragement was magic in my ear. As a child and now as an adult I honestly don’t know what I would do without my mom, her gentle, yet fierce strength. She's the one who taught me to be a survivor and an optimist, no matter the circumstances surrounding our lives.
Life lesson # 5, Strength can be stunning, gentle, absolutely beautiful and inspiring.
As a little girl I clearly remember my mom sitting on her bed with her guitar and singing like it was just yesterday. I was mesmerized, her voice was clear as a bell, soft and strong at the same time. I saw her vulnerability and yet a soft, fierce strength come over her when she played. In those moments her soul would overflow for those blessed enough to be in the same room with my mom, to hear and witness her strength and passion. Mom’s fears where always there, just under the surface. She was never one to realize her own beauty, yet she could walk boldly into a room, hands shaking and pick up her guitar, begin to sing and the whole world seemed to become quiet listening to Mom’s offering of praise and worship. The whole room would stand still, despite her waves of self-doubt, her prayer was always heard and so was her voice. Love was in her eyes, strength in her smile and though she was never sure of herself, when she started to sing, her confidence awoke and the room stood still in awe. I watched my mom take those first steps, nervous and unsure into the unknown, yet when it came to her guitar and lifting her voice, as a daughter of the King, she felt sheltered, secure, strong even in her insecurities during those moments, and nothing could hold her back.
It was my mom who taught me to sing, as we harmonized together she taught me to be bold during those days, letting my own voice rise in worship, in adoration of my King and never in praise of myself. It was also my mom who encouraged me to begin writing early in my life, challenging me, pushing me to dig deep inside of myself, to find my voice through words. She imprinted upon my heart never to change who I was in order to fit anyone else’s fancy. My mom was always there, beside me, encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and actually spread my wings and take off! Mom would speak confidence into my heart, telling me I was made for more. My mom gave me the gift of faith and strength. She would spend hours no matter what storm raged outside our door, encouraging me the rain would eventually pass. Mom showed me how to fly, speaking life into my spirit, and affirming every day I could rise up and fly, as long as I held tightly to my faith, finding my strength in the One who created me to soar!
When I stop, looking back on my upbringing and where I have landed now as an adult, I can see the perspective my mom gave me. I am abundantly aware today even if the cards fold, there’s something to be gained at the table. So yes, I may find myself broken hearted at times, some hurts in my life might go very deep, even unspoken, and my hopes may seem dashed but just because those moments arise doesn’t mean I lose my strength or tenacity for life. Real strength can actually be found in the surrendering of ourselves, while taking that leap of faith we are so afraid of as we learn to fly! What I know is this, I have learned many things from my mom, but the greatest lesson I have gained is absolute… being strong can also allow us to be vulnerable. There’s no weakness in being vulnerable, only in being afraid to lift our feet off the ground and utilize the strength we possess. We can and many times find our strength in a hopeless place while trying to figure out this crazy world we live in. I am indebted to my mom, for her humble strength, for inspiring me to be the woman I am becoming. I love you Mom; I am so proud, and humbled to have been your little girl once, to have grown into your friend and to be called your daughter.
Friday, October 10, 2014
As we go into the weekend, and I see all the pink surrounding every one of us, during breast cancer awareness month, I’m reminded our battle with this particular cancer, is more than skin deep. It's been close to nine years since I first heard the words BREAST CANCER thumping around in my world of possibilities. I was 32 years old, and getting close to celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary with my husband Johnny. We were raising our two boys, one in first grade and the other in third grade at the time. The year was 2006, January to be specific. We had finally bought our first home just six months prior, and had so many plans for our future, none of which included cancer of any kind. This was a time in our lives in which we should have been care free, excited as we began to find our own place in this big world, but life had other plans for us. Suddenly, there she was, like some kind of sick prank, waiting for me, wearing a bright pink robe with a sickle in her hand and a big sash, spelling out FEAR across her chest, slapping me in the face, laughing like some kind of lunatic. I mean, who in the world did she think she was, dropping off her calling card now! Oh wait, that’s right, she was Death wrapped up with a Pink bow. The terms triple negative breast cancer bounced right off her like nothing and right back on my door step, I had no choice, she was there to collect. Just typical for my upside down life, just my luck, death was knocking on my door, and seriously, when life had just begun.
It would be another year before I began to breath, with a little bit of ease again, when the “all clear” was sounded. Countless surgeries, chemo and even after I rung out of six months of TAC, such a lovely mix of chemotherapy, that little red devil, life was full of tests, follow ups and side effects. You can’t go through something like cancer without coming out of it changed in some way, big or small. I am no exception. Today, I live life knowing I am on borrowed time. Some days are a bit more borrowed than others, but by God’s grace, I am thriving in spite of cancer’s hot little mess across my chest. How can I be resentful when I have been blessed to see the sun rise each and every day since my new lease began on life in 2006?
Life Lesson # 4, life can thrive in spite of adversity.
Part of overcoming the obstacles life continues to batter us with, time and time again, comes from facing our demons head on, not making excuses for why we can’t change, not hiding the truth from ourselves or blaming others for our circumstances. I have learned in my own personal battles, from cancer to a broken heart, my strength and endurance doesn’t come from hiding myself away or blaming my individual circumstances on any poor soul willing, who just happens to be walking by on a particular day, as an escape goat. Nope, it comes from personal growth, learning not all difficulties are my battles to fight, and not everything in life is meant to be understood.
Cancer changed me, taught me to let go and still not to give up. Cancer gave me new insight, a new view and take on life’s ups and downs. I’ve learned to enjoy both the beauty and sorrow in each new day, not to focus so much on the things I don’t have or think I should have. I’ve learned what real thankfulness is, and not to worry so much about what I can’t control. Life’s full of imperfect perfections, one tiny crack in life doesn’t mean everything is broken, or to be abandoned as hopeless. For this life lesson, I am forever grateful. I love the quote which says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” I completely agree cancer challenged me, changed me and while I wouldn’t step to the front of the line to willingly accept her scars across my chest; I would not erase any of the scars she’s left me either. Because of those scars, I have learned to thrive in spite of adversity, knowing courage can never be silenced and these wounds, I have suffered, have not been in vain. Instead cancer, her sickle and pink robe and everything else with her, serve as a source of my greatest strength and growth.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Stepping back and looking at my life, the story most woven into my soul are the imprints of my children. Once with tiny feet, and small hands inside mine, now they wrap theirs around my own aging hands protectively, walking beside me strong and tall, towering over my small frame these days. My boys, almost 18 and 15, are becoming more like men every day, no longer babies anymore, but grown, independent young men, living side by side with Johnny and me as equals.
When I say life has been one big, at times overwhelming test of faith and bravery for these two, it’s no joke. I’m struggling to even find the words to begin to express the hurdles in a nutshell in which life has thrown their way. Preschool brought the near loss of their Nana, due to heart issues, who is one of the most incredible forces of unconditional love and spiritual influence in their lives. In grade school life handed them the fear of losing their mother to breast cancer followed by the diagnosis of prostate cancer in their Paw Paw just two years later, another strong influence in their lives. In middle school they were handed the uncertainty of seeing their dad struggle with being unemployed, then by high school the bullies came out to play, and our oldest son was assaulted, now living with a TBI, nonstop headaches on a daily basis, seizures and tremors. At 14, we became aware our youngest son has Autism and this last year when life seemed to have possibly stopped throwing punches, they found themselves quite bravely dealing with me falling apart, broken, shattered and learning to pick up the pieces of my life in the months which followed my own personal grieving.
Life lesson #3, bravery can be found in the least likely places.
It sort of feels like our lives should read something along the lines of this, the life and times of….. The truth is, sometimes real life is stranger than fiction. Ever hear the old phrase, if not for bad luck, we’d have no luck? Well, we ARE that living, breathing statement. It’s not as if our family doesn’t have good luck, it’s just after a while it can begin to feel as if we are living out a real life kind of freaky horror show. I sometimes wonder if the zombies on patrol just like our door, because most of what comes knocking on the door, doesn’t seem remotely possible. OK, maybe it’s not as bad as all that, but seriously, life has been more than a joy ride through the impossible! What our lives have required is faith, endurance, family bonds which can’t be broken, loyalty, unconditional love and a strength which does not come from ourselves, but rather from a deeper, more intimate source of bravery. I have been amazed and blessed to see my children grow from boys into men, after all this was the one and only request I asked of God when the cancer came for me eight years ago. I’ve seen my boys swim against the current, face troubles which seem at times to have no name, tackle the powers that be, succumb to the shadows when they over power them, stand up for the broken and love with such ferocity it’s almost blinding. Through everything, every battle, struggle, hurt, joy, happy moment and head scratching moment as well, both these young men have carried a fire for courage and bravery inside them. Every up and down we have faced together and through each howling storm, they have found an ability to rise out of the ashes as a phoenix, with wings strong and steady.
I stand back, just kinda asking myself how I was so blessed to be Joshua and Micah’s mother. Not because they are perfect by any means or follow all my directions at any given time, but the truth is they challenge me to be more than I am, to be better and to dip my feet into the unknown without fear and dig deeper inside myself than I would on my own. I see my boy’s humanness, and I see their ability to forgive, to live outside the box, to stand up for what they feel is right, even when it goes against society. I can’t take the credit for how resilient they are, or for where this bravery comes from, but I can tell you they blow me away on a daily basis by the measure of their strength, it has simply astounded me this last year. Hasn’t mattered if there was a rhyme or reason in any of the chaos camping outside in our front yard, the sense of family, despite the madness has been woven into each and every strand of their tapestry. Despite the occasional crazy band of pitch fork carrying zombies showing up at the door, we haven’t become part of the undead walking around, not yet anyway. What my children have given me is joy, a light which crowds out the darkness; it has been their bright light that has given me my own strength. We’ve counted the stars, or tried to anyway, looked for monsters under the bed, faced death hand in hand and we’ve chased answers and found more questions together but at the end of the day what we have truly found is our stride, and learned to live our lives out loud, full of whatever possibilities await, good or bad. Yep, you could say we have definitely taken the long way around, BUT it has been the most beautiful journey imaginable.
These boys are my heart, the reason I was created to be a mother, and I’m more than excited to see them live their lives, growing into men with character who won’t conform to the world’s idea of normal. They are braver than I could ever hope to be; who they will become in their lifetimes is going to be so worth the zombies at the door…Boys, be your amazing, brave selves, outcasts or not!
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
One word can sum up most of our lives, STRESS. I'm not saying other things like joy, love, faith, adventure, family, friendships, and work don't evoke the word happiness, but the real truth of the matter is this; STRESS is generally a key component to anything good in our lives. Stress, no matter how big or small is life lesson # 2 in my book of truths.
To say stress has had a key role or a front row seat in my life for the last two years is an understatement, especially the last eight months if we are being 100% honest here. I’m a living example of life turned upside down on most any given day. I have never exactly lived by the rules, but this year has been way off the charts even with my own natural ability to find and yes, bring out the bizarre in life. If I stopped and gave you a glimpse through a looking glass of where I saw my life going in January 2014, to say it’s nowhere near those coordinates of Christina’s great big map of bright big beautiful tomorrows, as an old Disney World ride belts out daily, is nowhere close to covering it. Yet, despite all the chaos, ruckus and plain and simple, “what the heck happened here”, I’m pretty happy with where I have landed.
So what does stress do to us? Well, in my case it tore straight through me, tearing me in half literally, and then overturned everything I thought was solid and unmovable. Suddenly parts of my life I felt totally secure in had not only been flipped over, then sideways, but pulled out, sorted through, put on display, re-packaged ,moved any which way but a safe and secure way, and eventually to a place which was anything but easy. Happiness left me, joy seemed distant, hope was lost and my faith was barely clinging onto my finger tips as I hung quite conspicuously from a cliff I never saw coming! Breast cancer hadn’t broken me, nor had my oldest son’s assault and TBI, not even learning at the age of 14 my youngest son was autistic, but the blow which hit me from behind in late February 2014 was my breaking point. By March, I was broken and shattered into a million tiny pieces which then quite promptly melted, scattered and blew away like ash.
For me, this unnamed force came on hard, strong and from a place I struggled to even grasp. In the months leading up to this powerful, heart crushing reveal in my life, I was aware something was off, but like everything else in my life, I felt confident it would pass and the sun would come out tomorrow, just like the Annie song right? Ya, well no, not quite the way things played out, the sun eventually stopped coming out altogether. I had no idea how lost I already was, and then suddenly, I was eye to eye with the deepest, darkest, most horrific pain I had ever faced. Bam! Like nothing else I’d ever known before those moments, pain, stress and my whole view of happiness was gone. There it was…. Deep, dark, vast and cold, just like that, I was descending into my own personal hell. We all deal with stress, the kind which challenges us and then some right? For some of us it’s our health, it may be work, status, financials, marriage, family, friends or a half a dozen other finely wrapped gifts life throws at us. So how do we hold on, come out in one piece, untouched by the kind of life events meant to tear us apart? Well, in my experience, the truth is, we don’t.
We let go, we fall, we change, we lose parts of ourselves we didn’t even know existed. We wrestle with our demons, we find out not just what we’re actually made of, but why we were made that way to begin with. We gain stronger pieces of ourselves and then even in the middle of the descent downward, we find out who we really are, and we begin clawing our way back up to the surface. So how can I say I’m happy with where I’ve landed, well the bottomless pit of stress which tried to destroy me, didn’t and in that absolute horrible process, I found myself, fully. I lost weight, about 55 pounds to be exact, countless inches, I began to see the scared woman I was as a masterpiece, confident, and not ashamed of whom I was. I learned to stand up for myself, I went back to work, found a job I never imagined, and one I actually enjoy at that. I stopped trying to be me and started being me. I saw Christina for who she could be, not who she was in the moment. I found my faith in God restored, even though that meant He and I had and still do have some pretty real and painful conversations. Is my life all roses, unicorns and gum drops, oh heck no! What it is though, is REAL. I’m still discovering myself, and who I want to be when I grow up but I’m not unhappy with who Christina is shaping up to be. The reality is that part of me is still a mystery, but I’m perfectly content in the notion.
We’re only here for a season, it comes down to what we are going to do with this time we are given, and not the time we borrow. My story isn’t so much about what’s broken me, as much as it’s about what that brokenness has created in me. Personal life lesson here in all this; our lives are not so much found in how we get there, pain or happiness, but in how we land.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
It’s been too long since I’ve penned anything to paper, and yet in those moments along the way, I’ve done a lot of living, smiling, laughing, beating my head up against the wall and yes, crying. What I know now, that I couldn’t have imagined then, is this: nothing in this life can change the core of who you are without your consent, good or bad. What has life been like for the past two years, well, anything but even keeled.
If I have learned anything in this life of mine it is this: one, it's not easy, and two, it's not easy. Life is this weird kind of learn as you go boot camp. You know exactly what I'm talking about, a hard knuckles game, a teacher who likes to throw you into the deep end head first and scream SWIM, before you even know how to tread water. The other lesson, life has taught me, besides not being easy is this; you have to learn to roll with the punches. Just because I survived breast cancer didn’t mean life was done teaching me how to rise above the turbulence. Truthfully, I’ve had a few more lows than I’d like to admit, I’ve been in some very deep and dark places, and yet I’m still here, smiling, learning to laugh in spite of whatever tragedies life wants me to over react to.
My life is a canvas, full of lessons, some good, others really horrible, but in the scheme of things, it’s mostly about forgiveness. How we process our journey, learning to let go of not only our own demons, but those of others as well. It’s about letting go and moving on truthfully. If we spend our lives trying to blame others for the misconceptions of our own pain, we end up lonely and alone. Things happen, in our control or not, so it comes down to how you learn to love not only those around you but also how you love yourself. Life happens, hurts come with the turns and detours along the way. But as I heard from a very wise man today, in order to forgive, we need to learn to live in the reality of what has happened. If we stay rooted in our own bitterness, we deny ourselves the most beautiful gift we can possibly give ourselves, grace.
Pain has been part of my canvas, and yet without it, I know I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. Yes, I’ve changed; I’m not the timid, insecure young woman I was when I first started down this road to survivor-ship some eight years ago. Nor am I still searching for my identity anymore. I know who I am, and yet I still don’t know who I am yet to become as I learn to swim in the deep end, but that’s OK with me. So I’m ready for whatever is waiting out there, pain, sorrow, laughter, happiness or all the above. I can’t fix anyone or take someone else’s anger at life personally; I can only work on me, on my demons and my own attitude. So yes, I’m back to blogging, eager to put my thoughts to pen again, ready to share my stories with you, both the small and large life lessons I’ve personally learned along the journey in my absence…that is, of course if you’re ready lol.