About Me...

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life Lesson # 10 ~ ACCEPTANCE & THE BARE TRUTH






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.

~Christina

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Life Lesson #9 ~ HAPPINESS & FAMILY TIES





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!

~ Christina

Monday, October 20, 2014

Life Lesson #8 ~ LIFE'S LITTLE MOMENTS





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!

~Christina

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life Lesson #7 ~ FORGIVENESS





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.

~Christina