Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cancer is so hard

 Last night, I got a text from a friend of mine who's going through chemo. He's having a really hard time and has been struggling through treatment but was more concerned about how his wife was faring than how he was doing. As I read his message, I could "hear" his worry and fear. 

At his request, I called his wife. She had no idea he'd asked me for this favor. 

As we talked, I let her lead the conversation. I knew, from past experience, she needed a friend and needed to be heard. 

I listened as she poured out her heart. Without coming right out and saying it, she was afraid of what would happen in the near future. She was terrified of being alone. And I couldn't blame her. Her husband's prognosis is grim. 

My heart broke as I listened. She tried to hide her tears but I could hear them. Mingled with my own, we cried together. 

I tried to reassure her none of us are promised tomorrow and that we can only focus on today. I reminded her of Scripture that says we're not to worry about tomorrow. 

She told me she'd been having a very bad day. She'd been faced with spiritual and emotional attack. I explained the feelings she was having were normal and it was okay to feel them but to remember God had promised never to leave or forsake her. 

We talked for a long time. By the end of the conversation, I could tell she was doing better. It's cathartic to pour out feelings sometimes, I said, and offered to be available whenever she needed to talk.

I'm so thankful she trusted me enough to share her deepest fears and concerns but I'm so very sad for my friends. I've been on both sides of cancer and neither of them are easy. 

If there was a way I could take the pain away, I would in a heartbeat but all I can do right now is be available. I promised her I'd give a listening ear whenever she needed it and I meant it. 

If you can, please say a prayer for these two dear friends. I won't share their names to protect their privacy but God knows who they are. 

I hate cancer so much. I wish we could find a way to cure it. Maybe one of these days scientists will figure it out. Until then, we just have to muddle through.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Glitter, glitter everywhere!

 


A few weeks ago, I had the wild idea to start a dress up box for my young granddaughter, Heather. I'd remembered how much her mother, my daughter, Laura, had loved dressing up when she was about the same age. 

As I began my selections for the dress up box, I remembered most little girls I knew loved shiny things so I searched for those specific items. 

On a trip to our local Goodwill, I found a beautiful blue gown with a white net overlay. The white netting sparkled with silver glitter and reminded me of a fairy princess so I bought it. I also found a pair of silver shoes and a beautiful pink tutu. 

Thinking those would be good first additions to Heather's dress up box, I brought them home and did what I always do whenever I make a purchase from Goodwill - I immediately wash the item. 

Dropping the princess dress and the tutu in with my regular load of laundry, I couldn't wait for them to come out so I could pop them in the dryer and then into her box. 

I went about my other chores for the day as the clothes were washing. 

About thirty minutes later, the chime on my washer indicated the load was done so I went to transfer the clothes into the dryer. 

When I opened the lid to the washer, I was surprised to see sparkly silver glitter on all of our clothing. "Oh well, I thought. It will come off in the dryer." 

Gathering the wet clothes, I chucked them into the dryer and turned it on heading back into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. 

When the signal alerted me to the fact that the clothes were done drying, I went to take them out. 

After withdrawing a couple of items from the dryer, I found the glitter had not come off. All of the clothes were still covered in silver sparkles. This was not what I'd expected! 

I took all the clothes and put them back into the wash and set it to wash on a longer cycle and added an extra rinse cycle, too. 

Once again, about thirty minutes later, the washer signaled the cycle was complete. This time, when I transferred the clothes to the dryer, they looked okay.  

When they were dry, I took the large load of clothes to my bed and folded them. As I began to put them away, I was thankful I'd found some cute things for the dress up box. 

This morning, as I was preparing for my shower, I gathered my clothing and took it into the bathroom. After placing the clothes on the counter, I turned on the shower and stepped in. 

When my shower was complete and I was toweled off, I reached for my clothing to get dressed. As I grabbed my underwear, I noticed they were covered in silvery sparkles! "For heaven's sake!" I thought and then shook my head. I was just going to wear the sparkly drawers anyway. 

As I pulled the panties up, I was reminded of a funny story a friend had told me years ago. She'd had her elderly mother move in with her when the Mom's health was failing. She wanted to give her the very best care she could and that means she'd oversee all of her health needs. She'd scheduled an appointment for her mother to have a pap smear, even though the mother protested at the need for the test. 

On the day of the test, the daughter encouraged her Mom to take a shower beforehand. 

Finally, it was time for the duo to head out for the doctor's office. 

When the Mom's name was called for the appointment, the daughter decided to give her Mom privacy and not accompany her into the exam room. 

On the exam table, as the woman prepared for the pap smear by spreading her legs apart, the doctor exclaimed, "My, Mrs. Weaver, don't you look fancy today." 

The test was performed and when Mrs. Weaver went back out to the waiting room to meet up with her daughter, she said, "I don't know what is wrong with that doctor. He kept on telling me I sure did look fancy today and I have no idea why. I look like I do every other day." 

Walking to the car, the daughter tried to get to the bottom of the incident. She asked her Mom if she'd done anything special to prepare for the exam. Mrs. Weaver said, "I just took a shower and used that body wash you have in my shower and then I used some of that hairspray you have underneath the counter." 

Thinking for a moment, the daughter said to her mother, "Mom, I don't use hairspray." The Mom said, "Well, there was some under there and I thought I might better use some." 

When they got home, the daughter went into the bathroom and opened the cabinet. Underneath the counter was a can of sparkly glitter hairspray her teenage daughter had used the year before for a party on Halloween. All of a sudden it clicked! The doctor had said Mrs. Weaver sure looked fancy because Mrs. Weaver had sprayed the glittery spray in her nether regions! 

All of a sudden, she burst out laughing as she thought about the doctor getting a bird's eye view of her mother's hooha covered in silvery glitter. 

I never thought the glitter from the princess dress would stick so well to my undies, but it sure did. I don't think I'll be buying any more glittery things for the dress up box any time soon and I hope my husband doesn't notice the sparkles on my undies as I undress tonight. If he does, I think I'll have some (in the voice of Ricky Ricardo) 'splaining to do. 



Friday, October 2, 2020

Flatties unite


 Find your tribe they said. Okay. So where do I find a tribe of flat chested women? And where do I find ones who had no say in the matter? Facebook! Yeah. That's where. 

So I started looking for my tribe and found a group called Flatties. Cute. And appropriate. These would be my people. 

I submitted a request to join and answered the questions. Apparently, I passed the test. They let me in. Now I have a group of women who understand what it's like to go through life without breasts - thanks cancer. 

Of course, the choice wasn't only up to cancer. Yes, it was the cause behind the choice but the choice not to reconstruct was ours. We had that power. We were smart. We had considered all options. We chose freedom from more surgeries and the possibility of more infections and more pain. 

So what if our chests are scarred? At least we're still here. We are alive and we are strong. 

We wouldn't be human if we didn't have our moments of weakness, though. We'd be liars to admit we don't wish things had been different. Sure, we mourn our loss at times. And yes, we cry. A lot. Who wouldn't? 

Becoming breastless is tragic. The emotional, physical, and spiritual pain behind it is unexplainable but those who've experienced it understand. Yes, I need a tribe. 

In the group, I find women who are unashamed of posting photos. Their bare chested shots don't shock me. In fact, I find them quite brave. At least they're willing to take a risk - to prove cancer couldn't take all of them. I'm proud to call them friends, albeit virtual. 

There are days I don't like myself much. When I look in the mirror, I see ugliness, disfigurement, flatness. But, then I remember. The choice to be flat was mine. I could have chosen the route of breast reconstruction. I could have allowed the doctor to slice chunks of fat off my body and sew them in place upon my chest forming mounds of fake breast tissue that may or may not have survived. Tissue that doesn't survive is called necrotic. And when it dies, it has to be removed immediately. 

Reconstruction is a long, drawn out process and one I didn't care to participate in. Yes, I could have been a medical fake, a fraud, the great pretender...but I chose not to do so. I chose to let others see what breast cancer took from me. It took parts of my body but did not take the whole. I am still here. I am alive and I am proud of that.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

October is more than pink ribbons


 The email almost slipped through the cracks of my inbox, but something in the header caught my eye. "You've been invited to attend a virtual walk for breast cancer," it said. Virtual walk, yeah, right. Everything has suddenly turned virtual it seems because of this pandemic. 

The calendar reveals we're almost at the end of September and what I knew was coming arrived a little earlier than last year. My inbox is quickly filling with breast cancer awareness messages in preparation for this October, or should I say "Pinktober?" 

Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd always thought of October as the month ushering in cooler weather. My family and I would enjoy all things Fall related - hay rides, trips to the mountains, visits to pumpkin farms, mugs of steamy hot cocoa filled with mini-marshmallows. October didn't remind me of breast cancer, that is, until that fateful day in 2014 when I'd heard my doctor dub me a statistic. I was one of the one in in eight diagnosed with cancer. 

My first Pinktober was fun. I embraced it wholeheartedly. I bought into the commercialism of pink ribbons and found myself enveloped in it. It felt good to sport my breast cancer hoodie. It felt like I was part of a special sorority, how naive I was back then. But lots of newbies make the same mistake. It's only natural to be all in, afterall, it makes one feel as if one belongs especially when cancer can make a person feel extremely isolated and alone. 

I'd also participated in a 5K walk for breast cancer. It had been an challenge, in more ways than one. Physically, I fought for each step forward. I'd just completed 28 rounds of radiation and that 3.1 mile walk just about did me in, but I made it and I was extremely proud of myself. 

But the next October that rolled around, I passed up the races. I wasn't as keen to buy pink ribboned products. I'd done some research and had found some organizations didn't allocate funds appropriately. More money was going toward administrative fees than toward breast cancer research and that made me angry. 

Then, I discovered a tell it like it is website called "Think Before You Pink." It presented the harsh reality behind some breast cancer campaigns and organizations. The goal of the site wasn't to demean those companies but to inform the under educated and debunk misinformation. I appreciated their devotion and found the information helpful. 

This October, the big breast cancer awareness push will still be on albeit differently. Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, many cities are opting for virtual walks. Participants can register and keep a record of miles walked then submit their total at the end of the race period to be counted toward fundraising goals. Monetary submissions can be solicited through websites. Contactless collections will help prevent the spread of disease, or so they say. 

While it would be easier to participate in a virtual walk, doing it "my way," I don't think I will and here's why. 

Instead of having friends and family sponsor the number miles I could walk, I'd rather use the money toward helping provide gift cards for meals or other well timed gifts to friends currently fighting their own cancer battles right now.

Forgive me for my negative attitude toward breast cancer walks of any kind - real or virtual. This survivor is over it. October is more than pink ribbons. 

I do appreciate the awareness "Pinktober" brings toward breast cancer but let's get real. The beribboned pink paraphernalia lines many pockets but it doesn't do much for providing new means of fighting cancer. 

Cancer is ugly and trying to tie it up with a pretty pink bow can't change that. 

Those affected by cancer want more. We want answers and we desperately want a cure. 

A virtual walk may prove to be a good thing for those wishing to participate this year. There may even be a few small cities who organize actual walks for mask laden walkers, but I won't be joining either. 

What I will choose to do is make phone calls, write letters, send texts, and make visits expressing my love and concern to those who've just learned about an uncertain future. I'll make myself available and I won't be throwing any pink ribbons around in the process. 

Call me cynical if you must, but I'd rather be truthful about a disease that continues to destroy lives. 

Pink ribbons can't change statistics, but maybe one day something will. 


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Who's behind the mask?


Saturdays are always busy days for us. Usually my husband works in the yard and I work inside the house, but today we decided to venture out on an errand. 

It was time to buy our monthly groceries. Since money is tight with only one income, we always try to be thrifty. We'd compared prices at all of the local grocery chains and big box stores finding Walmart to be the least expensive, so that's where we decided to shop even though I don't really trust buying meat there, I agreed to go. 

As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed there were no spaces close to the front of the store. The crowded lot said it all. Many were taking advantage of this beautiful day. 

We walked from the far end of the lot toward the store, masks in hand. When we approached, we noticed blockades set up to herd people in the "right" direction. An employee sat on a little stool making sure each person who entered the store had on the proper facial attire. Those without masks were turned away. 

The sliding doors opened as we stepped on the mat outside the entrance. I kept on walking and my husband grabbed a grocery cart following quickly behind me. 

First stop was the produce department, my favorite area. Hubby always tells me I spend too much time there but I don't care. I love fresh vegetables and don't mind cooking them. 

I perused the aisles picking up plump, juicy tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions, luscious purple eggplants, and a heap of deep green Kale. Reaching for some artisan salad on a shelf above my head, I made the clear containers tumble down. A nearby employee scrambled to get them but I'd beat him to it. Our eyes locked and I wondered who was behind the mask. 

His dark brown eyes looked kind. I apologized for upsetting his display and he didn't say a word. I watched as he restacked the packages. He seemed frustrated and ready to move on. I wondered if he'd had a hard day. 

I quickly finished in the produce department and headed toward the aisle with canned goods. Another store employee was busy scanning and stacking items. I approached and asked where I might find sun dried tomatoes. She mumbled something and started down the aisle. She wasn't upset, but in a hurry to oblige. Within a few minutes, she turned to face me packages in hand. "Here you go," she said, her bright blue eyes sparkling. Thanking her I continued on. 

Next came the dairy department. I needed some cottage cheese and some hummus. As I rounded the corner, I almost bumped into an employee pushing a large cart with stackable blue crates. I manuevered around her and grabbed my containers of cottage cheese placing them in my buggy. She was still working next to me so I turned to speak to her. 

"Are you one of the grocery pickers, the personal shoppers for online orders," I asked. She replied in the affirmative. As we talked I noticed her large, round eyes, a beautiful shade of amber. "I'd like to thank you for all your hard work," I said, explaining that I usually use the online ordering service but had decided to come into the store for items myself today. She nodded her head and I told said, "I hope you know how vitally important your job is to those of us dealing with medical issues. I don't know what I would have done without people like you who took the time to select my groceries when I was diagnosed with cancer." 

At that moment, she stopped what she was doing and stood looking into my eyes. I hoped she could tell I was smiling even though a tear was forming in the corner of my right eye. We stood like that for several minutes, just looking at each other, and then I patted her arm and said, "Really, thank you so much. Whoever you're picking for today may never thank you, but I want you to know I value you." 

The gleam in her eye let me know she was smiling beneath her mask and she'd accepted the compliment with pride. 

I knew she needed to hear a good word and it felt amazing to offer that tiny gesture of kindness to her. 

As I pushed my cart toward the deli, I glanced around the wide space in front of me. There were people from all walks of life and all of them hidden behind masks. As I looked at them, I felt sad. So many failed to make eye contact with those around them, instead choosing to ignore the fact that they were in the presence of others. 

I wanted things to be like they used to be. Last year, when I'd gone grocery shopping, I'd often strike up conversations with those I met in the aisles of the store. I could see entire facial expressions before speaking and I'd know, by body language, whether or not it was okay to approach. 

We were made for community. A little paper or cloth mask shouldn't have the power to destroy that fact but it's already done so much damage. 

Yes, there will be those who believe masks are for the best but there will also be those who believe them to be detrimental to both health and emotional well being. 

As we see more and more public venues requiring masks, will anyone pay attention to the one behind the mask? Will we take time to actually "see" each other, even if the only evidence of humanity are the eyes? 

I hope I'm not the only one wondering who's behind the mask. Every individual matters, and everyone could use an extra measure of kindness. 

The Bible says, "Be ye kind, one to another." Though no one may see your smile behind the mask, the eyes can say it all. Look at those around you. Lock eyes. See them. And in so doing, pray they'll see you, too. 

We're in this thing together. We might as well make our encounters count.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Hold on to Hope

 

 
Have you ever had a day where you felt oppressed, like a heavy cloak of despair smothering you? I have. Yesterday was that kind of day for me. 

There was nothing about the day, per se, that I could pinpoint, I just felt sad and overwhelmed. To be honest, I felt hopeless and out of control. 

As I thought about all that's going on in the world, my spirit cried out to God, "How much longer, Lord?" I wanted all this Covid junk to be over. 

This holiday weekend, my husband and I had gone out to run a few errands. As we sat outside a store and talked before going in, I watched the people entering and exiting the store. Every single one of them had on a mask. To me, it looked as if they had all been brain washed. They walked aimlessly forward, masks covering their faces, like robotic soldiers on duty. The ones exiting did the same. The only difference was most of the ones exiting the store eventually removed their masks, but not all of them did. 

My heart grieved for our country and I wondered why we'd fallen into such a state of compliance. Where had our free will gone? 

I was reminded of a story I'd heard many years ago when I taught kindergarten. The story was about a strong willed child and how he refused to sit down when asked by the teacher to do so. Over and over again, she'd asked the child to have a seat. Each time he'd fought back. Finally, after the teacher placed her hand on his shoulder and gave a strong push downward, he sat cross legged on the floor. The teacher thought she'd won the battle and spoke to the child in hushed tones. "I'm so proud of you, Johnny, for having a seat like I asked you to do," she said. Johnny, still seated on the floor, folded his arms across his chest and said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside." His story resounded in my mind as I opened my car door and prepared to walk toward the door to the store. 

Paper mask in place, I reached for my husband's hand as he was fastening the loop of his mask over his ear. We were wearing our masks because we weren't allowed to enter the store without them, but I wanted to scream aloud, "I may be wearing my mask on the outside of my body, but I'm not wearing it on the inside." 

I've always been a person to follow the rules, for the most part, anyway, but the mask mandate seems ridiculous. And when my husband complained about not being able to breathe well while wearing a mask, I wondered how others with health issues get past the mask mandate. 

Sure, many stores don't have a mandatory requirement for them right now, but I'm sure it's coming. 

When one freedom is removed it makes one wonder what's next. 
 
And are there others feeling as hopeless as I've been lately? I'm sure there are. 
 
I've stopped watching the news because it makes me feel anxious and unsettled. You know it's been said ignorance is bliss and sometimes, I think that statement is correct. Sometimes it's better not to know all the details of what's going on in our society, especially when there are so many hope robbers these days. 
 
I love the poem by Emily Dickinson -  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
 
Hope. Such a small little word with such profound meaning. How do we cling to it? The only way I know is to grab hold with both hands and never let go. But the power behind those clinging fingertips must be faith, for without it, our grip will surely fail. 
 
I hold onto the fact that one day soon all of this will be over. I can't wait for the day Jesus returns. Are you ready? I hope so. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Preparing for the Sneak Attack

 My husband and I like to watch good movies, especially ones with interesting plots. Recently, we watched a movie about soldiers on a secret mission. It was a nail biter. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I wondered at every scene, what would happen next. 

As one of the main characters in the movie wandered through enemy territory, you could feel the tension rising knowing danger lurked at every corner. Just as we thought he was going to make his way out unscathed, bullets ripped through the air tearing through his camouflaged material and lodging deeply in his chest. For the next few minutes, we wondered if he would live or die. Surely, they'd keep him alive to continue the story line, right?! Thankfully they did. 

Many of my friends know I've been working on writing a book about my breast cancer journey. It's been a long, tedious process. Reliving memories has made me feel like a soldier returning to previously conquered enemy territory. It's felt ominous and oppressive. 

But even though it's been challenging, I've slogged on. I am determined to finish my mission by year's end. This is a personal goal so I push through. 

Today, as I was writing, I wondered why I feel so compelled to write the story of my journey. Will it matter, one way or the other, if anyone reads what I write? Probably not. Will it be beneficial in helping someone else on their own cancer journey? I hope it will, but who knows. So why write? 

Perhaps it's to smother past demons that lurk in the dark shadows of my mind. Maybe exposing them will help with my own healing. But can I ever be truly healed from the trauma of breast cancer? I'd like to answer a resounding yes, but I'm just not sure. 

What I do know is this, time is said to heal all wounds. If that's so, and I've just recently passed the 6 year mark, I should be well on the way to becoming whole again, but then again, maybe I'm not supposed to return to my old normal. 

I hate the phrase new normal. It's popular among the pink sisterhood, but I don't like it. Nothing is ever really normal anyway, is it? I mean, day to day, everything changes. Nothing remains the same. 

So maybe writing the book is only cathartic for me. Maybe I'll complete it and then hit the delete button after I'm done, who knows. 

I'm usually not a wishy washy person but today, I feel that way. I wish I could be more positive, like a friend of mine who's dying of stage 4 cancer right now. No matter what she goes through, she smiles. I don't know how she does it. 

I've always tried to be a Pollyanna. My rose colored glasses have always been perched tightly on my nose but today, they're sliding. I keep reaching up to push them back in place. 

Maybe I need a little encouragement and motivation, or maybe a swift kick in the rear! 

Now that I've vented, I'll return to writing, for a little while, anyway.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Crafting can be dangerous!

 

Anyone who knows me knows I love crafting. To date, I haven't found one I didn't like. This week, I've been playing with polymer clay and have had fun creating a new line of creations I'm calling "Woodland Weirdos" for lack of a better name. 

Yesterday, my morning started early. After a cup of cappuccino, I pulled out my duffle bag of goodies and got busy. In front of me was a huge stack of clay, a pasta machine, some wood slices, twine, superglue, glue gun, gluesticks, paint, stain, and a bunch of moss. What in the world could I do with all of that? As I was thinking the creative juices started to flow. 

First, I conditioned the clay. Running it through the machine, I watched as the hard, dry clay became soft and supple. It reminded me of Scripture - He is the potter, we are the clay. 

When the clay was workable, I began to shape and mold it. I wanted to do something unique and interesting. As I pushed and pulled the clay, I began forming a face. Wanting to give it character, I stretched the nose and pushed up the cheekbones. When I'd gotten it as I wanted it, I took a dowel and formed the pupils in the eyes. I stood back and looked. I was pleased. (Which also made me think of Scripture and how God must have felt right after He'd formed creation, "...and it was good.")

Placing my little old man face on a sheet of wax paper, I popped him into the toaster oven and baked him for about 40 minutes. 

After he was cool enough to touch, I opened the bottle of stain and worked it into the crevices I'd created in the clay. The dark brown stain sunk in quickly and revealed the detail of the facial lines, exactly as I'd wanted. 

Later in the day, after the stain had dried, I polyurethaned the clay and let that dry about an hour, then the fun began. 

I wanted to adhere the clay face to one of the wood slices. In order to permanently adhere it, I needed to use a strong glue. A glue gun would provide instant adherence but I knew from past experience it could soften and melt in heat or even pull off in extremely cold weather. Since my little guy was doing to be an outside decoration, I had to opt for the superglue. 

Pulling off the cap of my superglue gel, I carefully squeezed out a few drops on the back of the clay face and quickly pushed and held it onto the wooden disk. The instructions on the glue said it would take about a minute to completely adhere, so I sat and held it tight. 

A minute later, I held up the wood and shook it to see if the face would stay in place. It did and I was happy. On to embellishment...

I needed to give my little man more character and interest. Looking at my pile of goodies, I came up with an idea. I'd make him a woodland creature, a woodland weirdo! 

Taking bits of moss, I began to glue and build, but unbeknownst to me, some of the glue inadvertently got on my index finger. And then, I touched that finger to my thumb. BAD NEWS! My finger was glued fast to my thumb! What to do, what to do??? 

I tried to pull the digits apart quickly, to no avail. They were stuck and stuck good. The superglue worked amazingly fast on human flesh. 

I asked Siri to find out how to remove superglue from flesh and He said (I have an Australian male Siri because I like his voice) to use nail polish remover. 

I knew, under my bathroom cabinet, there was a partial bottle of nail polish remover. I couldn't remember if it was the non-acetone kind or the acetone kind. I hoped and prayed it was full acetone because that would be the only way I could dissolve the superglue. 

Thankfully, the bottle had about a thimble's worth of acetone in it and it was just enough to unstick my stuck finger and thumb. Boy, was I glad! 

I continued working and created a dozen Woodland Weirdos. I had such fun forming and decorating each piece. 

As I looked over my work, I thought to myself it was time to reopen my Etsy shop. I'd closed it early last year when I got tired of posting and selling art, but I thought their might be a market for something cute and creative like my weirdos so I just may put them online to sell. 

Art has been wonderful post cancer therapy for me. When I'm creating, whether it's painting, writing, or doing some sort of craft, I don't think about how much my back hurts or how depressed I might feel. It's been a true blessing and I'm so thankful God has given me the talent to do the things I do. 

I did learn a valuable lesson while creating my weirdos, and that is to respect the superglue! It does a wonderful job for providing quick crafting adhesion, but it also does a great job of sticking skin to skin. 

In the future, I think I'll choose another glue. Superglue is too dangerous for me. That's my story and (pun intended) I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Choosing Joy even when it's difficult

Being cooped up in the house during the pandemic has been challenging. Until a few days ago, I'd done reasonably well but realized I wasn't myself. Usually, I'm upbeat and happy but I'd found myself struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression. That's when I realized, I'd lost my joy. 

These days, it's hard to find joy. Being separated from friends and loved ones is awkward and painful, but for someone with cancer related low immunity, it's not only a necessity, it could be detrimental to my health.

We've had a lot of gloomy, rainy days lately, too, due to a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic. Those gray days have also added to feelings of sadness.

I realized I'd experienced these feelings before, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then, my physical maladies caused me to revel in self- pity. I was so me focused, I couldn't see anything else.

It took a while to realize what was happening. Becoming so comfortable with those feelings, I wore them like a heavy, woolen cloak. Days and days, I'd let the weight of that thick garment smother me but then, something happened.

One morning, as I sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day, I realized I'd lost my joy. The longer I sat there, the more I thought. "Where had my joy gone," I wondered, "And when had I lost it?"

Although I couldn't pinpoint a time and date, I knew it had to have been around the time of my diagnosis because that's when it felt like my world had fallen apart. And though it had been six years since surgery, I was still struggling with my emotions.

That's when I realized I had to do something about it. I had to get my joy back. There was no way I was willing to live under a cloak of darkness.

But I didn't know where to start or what to do. So I began to pray. I asked God to help me find my joy again and in my spirit, I felt Him speak to me, "Praise Me."

I thought I did a pretty good job of that already. I always got up early and spent the first part of my morning with Him. I made sure to spend time in the Word meditating. I always took time to pray but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I was usually asking God to answer my needs and requests for those I loved rather than focusing on His character, His goodness, His mercy, and His grace.

So I decided that had to change. I was going to find my joy by focusing all my attention on Jesus. To do that, I was going to have to make myself intentionally focus on His love and I was going to have to shift my perspective. I was going adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Looking outside the kitchen window, I saw some beautiful red and white flowers on a plant my son had recently given me. "Thank you, Lord, for your beauty in nature. Thank you that my son wanted to give me a gift. Thank you he chose to come visit me." A few minutes later, two little house wrens jumped on top of my charcoal grill and began to tweet the most cheerful song to each other. "Oh, if I could have joy like that," I said, "Lord, I would be so happy!" Again, He spoke to my heart, "Praise Me."

Picking up my iPhone, I quickly found the My Music icon and asked Siri to find a praise and worship station. I wasn't in the mood for lyrics, so I chose an instrumental station. As I listened, an old familiar favorite began to play, "Bless the Lord, O, my soul" by Matt Redman.

As I listened to the words, my heart began to calm and I felt myself began to weep. All those feelings of pent up sadness began to flee. The light of worship was dispelling the darkness. My heart, in tune with His, was exactly where it should be - He focused instead of me focused.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in seasons where we must hunt for joy. During those times, it's important to be intentional about looking for reasons to express gratitude. Often, it's hard work. When a person is feeling down and depressed, the last thing one wants to do is express thanks. But it's in the thanking that joy explodes. Just like striking a match to a bundle of dry kindling, one small ember gives way to a blazing fire. We must be willing to pick up the match and strike it. To do that, one has to deliberately choose.

I'm so thankful God helped me realize how to regain my joy. My match was tapping on a cellphone app and allowing the words of a song to rekindle the fire of joy inside. As I sang along to the instrumental music, the words ministered to my heart as I praised God.

I made a mental note to choose joy. I knew this would become a discipline in my life but it would take practice. One of the ways I could implement this new exercise into my life would be to start each day by writing down three things for which I was thankful. I chose to end the day the same way.

As I've intentionally searched for reasons to be grateful, I've been able to see more clearly that God continually blesses me each day.

If there are two words I want you to take away from this post, they'd be - CHOOSE JOY. Though they seem simple, they take effort. But if you're willing to work at it, soon you'll find the practice of daily gratitude something you enjoy immensely. Before you know it, it won't seem like work any more, you'll see things and realize His great blessings without much effort at all.

We serve a good, good Father. He enjoys blessing us. That's why I think the psalmist wrote, "But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel." Psalm 22:3

When we worship, the presence of the Lord dwells among us. That feeling of complete peace and love is enough to make any heart sing with joy. Try it! If you've lost your joy, you can find it again. I promise.

Today and every day, choose joy.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Bras, Boobs, and Blueberries

The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me to get 4 new bras and a set of new prostheses. Most people don't know silicone prostheses degrade over time and two years is about as long as they keep their shape with normal wear.

Usually, when I drive to the little boutique that sells the mastectomy bras and prostheses, I feel anxious. I don't know why I feel that way but I assume it's due to post cancer PTSD. This time it was different. I felt elation. I was going to pick up a vital portion of my femininity.

Since having both breasts removed in 2014 and foregoing reconstruction, the only way I felt I looked feminine was with the addition of mastectomy bras and prostheses. Oh sure, I could have taken a old bra and stuffed it with polyester fiberfill or socks or something, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't feel like my natural breasts and it surely wouldn't look like them either.

Silicone breast forms are as close as one can get to the real thing. The weight, appearance, and texture trick the body into believing what was once lost has now been found.

When I arrived at the little shop to pick up my goods, I noticed a sign on the door asking me to wear a mask. Since the Covid -19 pandemic, so many things have changed. Pressing the door handle to the front of the shop, I found it locked, even though I had an 11:00 a.m. appointment. I was right on time. I wondered what was going on so I pulled out my cell phone and called the shop owner.

She thanked me for my call and assured me she'd be right up to unlock the door. (She was inside working along with her co-worker. They were keeping the door locked to prevent the possible introduction of germs by any unscheduled visitors.)

When the door opened, the owner greeted me wearing a mask and presented me with one, too. I placed the mask over my face and we entered the shop as she asked how I'd been doing. Just a few steps inside, I was asked to stop at the hand sanitation station they'd set up.

I squirted a big blob of gel sanitizer into my palms and vigorously rubbed my hands together.

Since I'd called and placed my order in advance, there was no waiting.

Before submitting payment for my 20% portion of the bill, the owner had me fill out a corona virus questionnaire - Had I visited a country outside the United States within the last 30 days? Had I been running a fever? Etc. Etc. To every question I was thankful I could check the NO box.

I paid my portion of the bill and tucked the sales slip into my bag. My eyes noting the total, $653.45. My 20% was $130.69. One set of breast prostheses was $556.22. Three mastectomy bras were $94.23. Post mastectomy products were so expensive.

Before leaving the shop, I asked about swim prostheses. I was pleased to find they did sell them but insurance did not cover them. Inquiring as to the cost, I was told each prosthesis would be $50. It didn't take but a few minutes to rationalize buying these lightweight, fast drying prostheses. What was another $100 plus tax added to my already mounting credit card bill?

I left the shop with two large pink and white shopping bags in hand. My husband smiled as I came out the door. He'd seen these bags before. The closet in our guest room was full of them. They were a high quality vinyl product and had been recycled often for many a family birthday gift.

As we left the shop, I checked my phone messages and found one from a local farm I'd visited two weeks earlier. It was a family run farm that sold vegetables and fruits. Today, the message said, the farm was selling off some of their thirteen year old blueberry bushes.

Turning to my husband, I asked in my sweetest and most convincing voice, "Honey, could we run by the farm and dig up a blueberry bush?"

I had no idea what he'd say. It was well over 90 degrees and very humid.

"Of course we can," he said, so we did.

It took about half an hour to dig up the huge plant and get it to the car. When we opened the back of the van to stuff the bush inside, I had to laugh. My bags of bras and boobs sat just at the top of the blueberry bush.

As we worked to push the large plant in far enough to close the van door, some of the ripe berries fell into the bag with the prostheses. Watching them fall reminded me how quickly I'd lost my breasts. For 42 years they'd been attached to my body and in an instant they were gone never to be seen or felt again. 

The blueberries, on the other hand, would be plucked from the bag and added to ones still clinging to the tree. I'd make muffins, pancakes, and jams with those. We'd enjoy them for months to come. Their plump ripeness a sign summer harvest.

We left the farm with our van full of bras, boobs, and blueberries.

The day had been productive and satisfying.

While hubby was busy transplanting the new blueberry bush into the ground, I went inside to try on my new bras and prostheses. Tucking the molded silicone into each side of the mastectomy bra, I noticed  something wedged inside one of the boob pockets - a nice, fat blueberry.

Plucking it from the bra, I quickly popped it into my mouth letting the sweet juice explode there.

A huge smile spread across my face. Bras, boobs, and blueberries. What a combination! And that's when it hit me. I wasn't crying. A feeling of joy had replaced the past sense of sadness I'd always felt after coming home with new bras and boobs.

All it took was a blueberry. One fat, juicy berry to remind me life can still be sweet, even after breast cancer.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Berry picking thoughts

When the sun came out and the rain stayed away, I made a decision. Today I would go berry picking.

The past few days, we've had heavy rain. I'd planned to go picking but knew the ground would be too soggy so I stayed home.

Gathering up my bottled water, keys, purse, and phone, I headed out the door knowing my trusty GPS would guide me. I'd only braved this trip alone once before.

I was surprised to see about ten cars already parked on the gravel lot outside the farm entrance. I assumed there would only be one or two cars at most since yesterday was a complete washout.

Making my way up to the check in desk, I was greeted by a young girl. She wanted to know if I was there to pick strawberries or blueberries. I told her both.

She handed me two baskets and pointed me in the direction of the open rows. I decided to wander down the strawberry rows first since I knew it was the end of the season and there wouldn't be many berries to pick.

The rows were rain soaked and muddy. I wished I'd worn my old sneakers instead of my new ones. Doing my best to dodge the puddles, I bent over to check the strawberry mounds. The first few I checked had no berries, so I made my way further down the row hoping no one else had gleaned the fruit there.

The sun was beginning to rise and I felt the heat on my back. At the end of the field, I found a few berries. Most of them were overripe and mushy. The others were under ripe. Yellow jackets hovered near damaged fruit and I made a point to veer away from them. I didn't need a sting.

After picking half a basket of subpar berries, I decided to shift my focus to blueberries. I knew they'd be abundant and quick to pick.

Heading over to the blueberry bushes, I meandered to a shady part of the row. A neighboring dog barked loudly and startled me. Thankfully, he was behind a tall fence.

Turning my attention back to the bushes, I noticed they were weighed down with fruit. Beautiful, lush blue berries clung tightly to the branches. Among them were scattered dots of light purple, unripe berries and tiny pale green baby berries. The contrasting color was so stunning. I stopped to take a few photos. 

A cluster of berries caught my attention and I moved to pluck them one by one. Dropping them into my basket, I continued picking a few at a time until I realized the berries were so ripe, I could grasp a handful and pull gently allowing them to drop steadily into my basket. Soon I found myself thinking about friends and life in general.

Every berry I picked reminded me of how my friends were slowly disappearing. One by one, they were finding themselves facing a recurrence of cancer and then, days, weeks, or months later, they'd pass away. It seemed so unfair.

I wanted to keep my friends in a tight little cluster, healthy and whole instead, they were ripening and falling - ripening to the devastation of cancer, slowly and surely.

It was hard not to cry as I worked my way down the rows, picking, and sorting the berries. I wished there was something I could do to help my friends.

Each of them was in a different stage of decline. Most of them were waiting for test results that would determine their fate. None of them had a positive perspective. My heart hurt.

With my basket full of berries, I didn't want to leave the farm. There was such solace there and although there were other people picking, none were near me. I felt alone.

Finding my way to the shade of a large pin oak, I lucked up to find some empty wrought iron lawn chairs. I almost sat down for a spell, I was hot and tired, but noticed a large red bull in a pen adjacent from the tree.

The bull and I locked eyes. As he lifted his head from chewing, I spoke to him. "Hey buddy, how ya' doin'?" He listened attentively for a few minutes and then went back to munching on grass. I stood watching him for a minutes wondering how such a large animal could survive on grass.

A bluebird flew out of his nesting box and startled me. The distractions of nature kept my mind busy and pushed the depressing thoughts about my friends' health to the back of my mind.

I wished I didn't have a heart of empathy. It would be so much easier. But I do. And I'm invested. I love my friends. I want them to live.

I left the farm with 8 pounds of blueberries. I was tired and hot and smelly, but it was a good day. I enjoyed the solitude among the berries. It's always good to take time to process your thoughts, even if it's hard to do at times.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

When a Voice is Silenced




You never know when you're going to be blindsided. Today was my turn. As I was reading through my emails, I got notification of a friend's death.

It's always hard to learn the death of someone you love but it's easier to accept when it's expected. When it's unexpected, it feels like a betrayal.

This past week has been extremely difficult as I've learned of not one or two friends who've been faced with a recurrence of cancer, but 4! That's a lot and it makes me so sad.

I don't understand how these sweet women get chosen to go through breast cancer again and I do not.

My 6th cancerversary is coming and while I am looking forward to celebrating July 9th with great anticipation, I'm also feeling a little guilty that I'll get to celebrate while they will not.

Instead of being able to revel in the fact that they're cancer free, these ladies are starting from square one. They're having to fight all over again.

I can't even imagine what they are feeling.

If I were to get the news that my cancer was back, I think I'd be devastated. I'd feel like everything I'd been through had been for nothing. I'd wonder why I'd fought so hard to win a battle that was never going to end, but then, I'd remember why. My why was because I wanted to live.

And I'm sure they do, too. And that's why they'll fight again.

Cancer sucks and I hate it! I wish with all my heart we could find a cure. I don't understand why a cure can't be found other than the fact that there are so many different kinds of cancer. But surely there should be something that could provide hope for the fight. Surely there should be some kind of strong medication that could by more time.

If I was a doctor, I'd make it my goal to find a way to help victims of breast cancer. I think I'd make it my life's goal to improve the odds.

But since I'm not a medical professional, all I can do is pray. And I do, all the time.

I have a running list of prayer requests in my journal for all of my friends with breast cancer. The only updates I've been able to list so far have been to notate the entries with death dates. I don't like that. I'd much rather write in big bold letters, COMPLETELY CURED! NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE! But I can't.

Maybe one day, I can. Until then, I'm going to do my best to help give my friends with breast cancer a loud, clear voice. And when one of those friend's voices is silenced, I promise to remember to keep on hearing it. I won't forget what they had to say.

Breast cancer voices matter and so do all cancer voices. Sometimes we have to shout to be heard and other times, we silently whisper.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

A hard day

Today's been a hard day. I didn't realize why until a few minutes ago. Since waking, I've been an emotional wreck. I've cried at the drop of a hat.

At first, I thought it was just hormonal but then I realized, I don't have those issues any longer. I'm long past menopause.

When I walked into my office and saw my calendar hanging on the wall, the red ink just about jumped off the page. Six years ago, this was the day my life changed forever.

I didn't want to think about that phone call that would forever be etched in my memory, the one that let me know I was and never had been in control of my life.

Finding out I had cancer was devastating. And even after all these years, I still struggle. There are just some things that won't ever heal.

It's not because I don't want them to, I do, really, I do. But it's just so hard.

I've never sought counseling. I've tried to handle everything on my own. I've tried to process each feeling, each emotion, each breath taking blow as its come, but I've failed miserably.

So today, I'm going to extend myself grace. I deserve it.

And as I go through the motions of the day, I'm hoping I'll be able to hold it together. I need to hold it together.

I'm going to do my best to focus on the positive.

I am still alive. I am currently cancer free (as far as I know), and those things are vitally important.

Cancer isn't easy to understand. No matter how a person tries, it's something that must be figured out second by second. There are no guidelines and it doesn't matter how much anyone else tries to help. All you can do is do the best you can. And that's how you survive. That's how I've survived.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Color should not determine a person's worth

Our nation is in a state of civil unrest as protests continue over the recent death of George Floyd. Emotions are high and rightly so.

I listened to an interview about a black woman telling how she was fearful for the lives of her teenage sons. As she talked about how she'd raised them to always be respectful and obedient, she shared she also taught them what to do just in case they were ever stopped by a policeman while driving. She said she told them to immediately place their hands on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 position telling them not to speak unless spoken to and not to move. My heart went out to her. I couldn't imagine having to think ahead like that. What a shame...

I can't wrap my head around how their can be such hate just over the color of a person's skin. I was raised to love all people no matter their race. Of course, we saw the color, that couldn't be helped, but it didn't determine whether or not we could love or accept them. People are just people and we all descended from one man, Adam. Just because the color of our skin is different, we are the same. We all bleed red.

It breaks my heart to know black men, women, and children are still struggling with racism in today's world. You'd think it would have gotten better after all these years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, but it hasn't. In fact, I believe it's only gotten worse.

I don't know what to say to my black friends. I want them to know I care but I don't want to sound flippant.

How will we ever remedy the current situation? The Bible tells us we're to love one another as we love ourselves. The only way I see the world changing is for true love to conquer all. And that will take a miracle of epic proportions.

Until things change, we have to do what we can to show others we care. One of the best ways we can do that is to listen, truly listen. We need to hear not only the words being said, but those that remain unsaid and we need to learn to have empathy.

The color of a person's skin should not determine their worth. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Maybe this generation can learn that truth.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Processing emotions

It's almost the end of May and I'm feeling emotional. It seems this has happened every year for the past five years. As it draws closer to June 6, the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I start to feel overwhelmed. You'd think those feelings would have dissipated by now, but they haven't.

Breast cancer isn't a once and done kind of thing. It's a life long trauma. Daily I deal with some sort of post cancer PTSD. Whether it's overwhelming anxiety or debilitation insomnia, the after effects of cancer are always with me.

I've done my best to process things on my own. When I feel overcome with emotion, I talk it out either with myself or one of my children. I know it's not healthy to keep things inside but I don't want to seek professional help. Surely, I can handle this on my own.

Cancer does a number on a person. It comes in like a wrecking ball and destroys a life. The pieces have to be slowly put back together but they don't always fit properly and no matter how hard a person tries, there will always be shattered or missing pieces that can never fit back into the puzzle.

I've been working on a book chronicling my breast cancer story. I had hoped to have had it completed before now but life has gotten in the way. I'm thankful I thought to blog each day from diagnosis forward otherwise, many of my thoughts and feelings would have been lost by now. As I re-read those posts and relive each moment, I find myself working through a variety of feelings.

I'm still dealing with self esteem issues and body image issues. I'm still dealing with feelings of grief and loss. I'm still dealing with the lack of physical intimacy between my husband and I and all of those things hurt.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if cancer had never come into it. What would I have done? How would I have felt? Would I have been stronger or weaker than I am today? As I ponder those thoughts, I think I have to be grateful to cancer for so many things even though, I still hate it with all my heart.

But cancer has been a good teacher. It's caused me to focus on daily gratitude. It's caused me to live in the moment. It's caused me not to take a thing for granted.

So even though the emotional stress can be consuming, I'm still here and I'm still working through it. I'm extending myself grace and I'm moving forward. Daily I fight to survive. I.AM.STILL.HERE. I'm still standing!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Corona, Corona, Corona

Wow. I'm so tired of hearing all the news about this darn coronavirus and to top that off, I'm really tired of hearing all the fantastical fake news. Lately, when my husband flips on the TV to watch our local news station, I beg him to turn it off. It's too overwhelming and I just can't take it any more.

You may think I'm being an extremist - ignorant and unintelligent in my choice not to partake of the daily news feed but I don't think so. I think I'm enacting my right to self protect. I don't have to listen to all the boring statistics and fear mongering if I don't want to...so there.

Yes, I know. People are dying. I'm not making light of the situation and believe me, my heart goes out to all those people who've lost their loved ones. It does. I'm just tired of hearing the depressing, overwhelmingly discouraging news that I have had to take drastic measures. If I didn't, my post cancer PTSD would flare up so drastically I'd have to pull out the anti-anxiety meds or even worse, the anti-depressant ones.

We're all tired of Covid-19. We want it to be gone. We want our lives to return to normal, or what we used to know as normal, anyway. But will we ever see any semblance of normal again in our world? I don't think so. I think this is all part of the grand scheme of moving us toward a new normal. A new, new normal, because the phrase new normal belongs to a life post cancer. One I'm well familiar with as a breast cancer survivor.

So what can we do to help ourselves return to a safer world? We're all washing our hands, keeping our distance, and being good little Americans obeying the new rules for existence. But what if it's all a bunch of malarkey? What if Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Anthony Fauci have cooked up this great plan to force worldwide innoculations so they can get rich and implant a teeny little device into all of us transdermally to keep track of our movements....what if?

It almost makes a person want to grab a tall glass and pour a cold Corona (we're talking beer here, not viruses) and suck that baby down right fast, doesn't it? At least if we were soused, we might not care so much about what news broadcasters are feeding us. But there's an easier way to take back the power, just turn it off. Just say no. Do your own research and don't be so gullible. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sometimes I just want to pull my hair out

Sometimes I just want to pull my hair out, especially when I read a friend's blog post and I just can't wrap my head around it.

This morning, I was reading a post from a fellow breast cancer survivor. She said her cancer has returned and is growing in her spine. As soon as I read the words, I burst into tears. I just didn't understand! We'd been diagnosed with the same type of cancer in the same year. How could it be that her cancer had returned and mine had not? And what made it even more difficult to understand and accept was the fact that she'd chosen to go the traditional treatment route. I'd opted not to do that. She'd endured chemotherapy, radiation, and the anti-hormone therapy afterward. I'd refused chemo, had done 28 rounds of radiation, and had only taken the anti-hormone drugs for a couple of months. It just didn't compute and it certainly didn't seem fair.

But that's what sucks about cancer. It doesn't follow the rules. It makes its own rules as it goes along. It morphs and changes and there's not a darn thing any of us can do about it. Even with treatment, there are no guarantees. And without it, you just never know...you may survive and you may not. It's just a crap shoot.

So what can we do to better our odds? Naturally, I want to say we should do everything within our power to stay healthy. We should eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest, and try not to stress but that doesn't always work.

And how do I console someone who's living my worse nightmare? I can say I'm praying for you or I'm so sorry to hear your news, but what will that change? It won't take away their pain. It won't lessen their fears. It might exacerbate things and I don't want to be the one to do that. So I'll do nothing but empathize, cry silent tears, and scream words that don't make sense, like WHY????

My heart hurts for her. She's fighting so hard but it seems like a losing battle, and yet...she still fights. I know she's doing it for her family. She has small children and an adoring husband. She wants to do this for them. She's so brave.

I bet she wants to pull her hair out, too. That is, if it's grown back in since her last chemo treatments....

Thursday, April 9, 2020

How many nurses does it take to draw blood?


When I entered the doctor’s office, I was met at the door by a staff member thermometer in hand. After scanning my forehead, I was asked to sit in an unoccupied corner of the office. I noticed there was only one other patient in the waiting room, a gentleman also wearing a mask.



I sat for about fifteen minutes before being called back to have my vital signs taken. After weight and blood pressure were recorded, I heard a slight knock at the door. Giving my approval to enter, a slight woman came into the room.



She leaned toward the center of the room and extended her hand offering a fist bump. I’d never experienced that before, especially by the gloved hand of a doctor.



We sat and talked going over my medical history. She entered information into the computer via a digital voice device allowing her to speak rapidly and make changes on the fly. After about fifteen minutes, she asked what type of insurance I had. I responded, “Blue Cross, Blue Shield.” She smiled and said, “Good. They will allow me more time for this exam. Many other insurance companies limit my time and I plan to take a good bit of time with you since you’re a new patient.”



“Okay,” I thought, “Does that mean she’s going to overbill the insurance company of is she really going to spend more than fifteen minutes with me?”



She continued talking a while and then said she wanted me to have bloodwork done. We walked toward the lab as she explained what she wanted to the technician.



This was the part of the office visit I dreaded. Just knowing I’d have to go through the whole routine of explaining about my lymphedema and why I couldn’t have blood drawn in the normal fashion bothered me. Phlebotomist always balked when I told them I had to have my blood drawn from my hand. They didn’t like doing that. I guess because the veins there were so much tinier than other places on the body, but I didn’t care. It was my body and I was not about to put myself at risk for cellulitis.



The first technician was a young black girl. Pulling out a butterfly needle she proceeded to jam the needle under the skin in my hand. I winced with pain and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, did that hurt?” I wanted to scream, “Are you kidding me?” but didn’t. She knew it hurt and I think, in some sadistic way, she enjoyed watching me flinch.



When she couldn’t get the blood into the needle, she withdrew it and said she was going to try again. She didn’t ask my permission, just rammed the needle in a new spot missing the vein again. I was starting to get angry but extended grace and allowed her to try one more time. Still no luck.



At that point, the doctor entered the lab and asked what was taking so long. When I explained the tech had tried 3 times to get my blood but couldn’t, the doctor got upset and told the lab tech she was never to stick a patient 3 times for blood that she should have called another staff member for help. The young black girl left the room and the doctor called in someone else to try.



An LPN tried to draw my blood but after 2 more sticks was unable to do it. She was frustrated and so was I. So far, 5 sticks. This nurse apologized and told me she knew who could get the blood. She called a receptionist named Kim to come and help. “A receptionist?” I thought, “How odd.”



The receptionist’s name was Kim. When she came in, she got a new butterfly needle and gently inserted it into the top of my hand. On the first stick, she drew blood. I was so happy, but the happiness ended quickly as the blood stopped flowing.



Taking another butterfly needle in hand, she moved over a half an inch and gently slid the needle under my skin. I barely felt it and watched in amazement as the blood began to flow. The LPN was standing close by and said, “See! I told you she could do it. That’s why we call her the vein whisperer.”



I was thankful when the last lab tube was filled with blood. My poor hand was starting to throb and bruise from all the needle sticks.



The doctor came in just as they were finishing and said she’d have to complete my exam in the lab room because all of the other rooms were full and they were trying to keep patients separated due to the social distancing rules.



When she had completed her exam, I was told to schedule an appointment for 3 months. I walked up to the receptionist’s counter and waited behind another patient. When it was my turn, I was told my next appointment would be conducted virtually.



As I walked out of the office, I adjusted my N95 mask. The straps had made a groove in the side of my face and I wanted so badly to remove it.



When I got to the car, I took it off and was glad to be in a safe environment. I couldn’t wait to get home and put ice on my hand. 7 needlesticks and 3 staff members to get 4 vials of blood, ridiculous!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A new "new normal"

Since the Corona Virus came to town, everything has been weird. Nothing makes sense. Overnight people got sick as the virus spread. And then some began to die. That's when the President decided it was serious. He closed our borders.

We watched the news listening intently to reports on China. My heart went out to those dear people. I'd been there. I had invested time in the lives of many students there when I had the opportunity to spend time teaching them English as a Second Language. It was hard seeing the devastation.

Emotions were on edge. Along with the fear at it reaching our country, many were angry at China. Many conflicting reports made wild insinuations. We had no idea what was really true and what wasn't. We were in the dark.

And that's when many of us grew to know a new normal.

As a survivor of breast cancer, my first time hearing the words "new normal" were as I'd completed treatment. Several of my "pink sisters" told me I'd soon face a different world, a world where nothing was familiar and everything had changed. They were right.

It didn't happen all at once. It happened slowly, but over time, I learned to adapt and adjust to being a breastless woman. I learned to navigate a world of pink, a world of learning unfamiliar medical terminology, feeling like a human guinea pig as I endured treatment, the ugliness of mastectomy bras, prostheses, lymphedema and lots and lots of bills.

I had many ups and downs, and still do. It's hard adapting, but I do it because I have no choice. I want to live and this is the lot I've been given, so I heed the words of a wise sage who once said, "Suck it up, buttercup!"

When television reporters and newspapers started to use the familiar cancer terminology, I felt a little betrayed. New normal belonged to breast cancer, not a paranoid world of people fearing a contagious virus. But somehow, the phrase stuck and media outlets are using it often. Oh well. Those of us who've been through breast cancer know what new normal really means, it means a whole lot more than what the general public think it means.

The current new normal revolves around lots of hand washing, disinfecting, sanitizing, and social distancing (another new terminology thanks to the Corona Virus). Businesses have been forced to close, the stock market is unstable, people are filled with fear and rightly so. No one wants to die.

But the President has a plan to boost the failing economy. He's presented a big stimulus package that will give adults in our country a check. People are happy about that. But it's a bandaid that won't really fix the problem. The new new normal will probably be around for a while.

If you ask a breast cancer survivor how she feels about all this, you might be surprised at the many different answers you'll receive. Each of us has a different perspective. But since this is my blog, I'll give you mine.

I think we learn to adjust and adapt. Humans have an innate will to survive. We do what it takes, always have, always will. And those who choose not to usually don't make it, although some don't have a choice, especially where cancer is involved.

Those of us who've survived cancer know what it takes to embrace change. We do it second by second each and every day.

I hope our country takes their new normal seriously and maybe, when things calm down a little, they'll pay more attention to the next person with cancer who tries to explain what living life post diagnosis feels like.

And that's all I've got to say about that.


Friday, February 28, 2020

A Change Is Gonna Come

The old Sam Cooke song, A Change Is Gonna Come, has always made me feel nostalgic. I love listening to his smooth, peaceful voice. For some reason, it reassures me that everything's going to be okay.

For the past few weeks, I've felt a stirring in my spirit. It feels like this year is going to be a year of great change.

It seems I've been stuck in a rut since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I've jumped through all the hoops and have done everything I was supposed to do. It hasn't been easy. There have been many ups and downs, but I can finally say I feel an imaginary door closing behind me.  Maybe it's false hope or maybe naiveté, I am unsure but I'm both grateful and afraid. How does one move forward?

Navigating cancer isn't easy and everyone's journey is different.

For the past 6 years, it's all I've known. I am thankful to be doing so well. Honestly, I am more than thankful.

I have so many friends in the thick of the battle right now and I have one who's just about to embark on her journey. I try to offer love and support to those who are fighting. That's one of the things that meant the most to me when I was in active duty. But for the one who's just about to begin her time in cancerland, my heart breaks. I want so badly to give her a heads up, to let her know what to expect, but I don't want to scare or discourage her.  She's so optimistic right now.  I am afraid I'd burst her bubble.

But what's our responsibility toward the newly diagnosed? Should we share our knowledge or should we keep quiet?  It's a fine line to walk.

As a survivor, I've found, the days post diagnosis come with no guidelines or rules. It's a challenge to figure things out on your own, but that's what's required of us.  And day by day, change comes.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Reflection

As I continue working on my book, God is reminding me of His faithfulness throughout my cancer journey. Reading back through old blog entries stirs something deep in my soul as I relieve the memory of my first steps on the breast cancer path.

It's been difficult to remember the initial pain and feelings I faced right after surgery. Though it was almost 6 years ago, it seems another lifetime ago. I wonder if I'll ever be able to forget breast cancer. I don't imagine I will.

Sometimes I wonder why I'm even trying to write a book about my experience. It's a daunting task. But if I can reach one person through my story, it will have been worth it.

Daily, I make myself sit and write even if for only a few minutes. The mental process of going through those first days again is traumatic.

I've put it off for almost two years now but I am determined to complete the book manuscript by year's end. I believe in God's perfect timing, so I will trust all of my procrastination has been part of the process.

I'd appreciate prayers as I go forward. Writing a book is hard and I have no idea what I'm doing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Annual checkup yields good news!

Yesterday I went to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America for my annual check up. For those unfamiliar with the cancer treatment center, it's an integrative facility that provides services for the body, mind, and spirit.

My day began in the survivorship department. While there, I met with the doctor and was asked about how I'd been feeling both physically and emotionally. We talked for about half an hour. The doctor and I had a few laughs and it was probably the most pleasant visit I've ever had. Instead of making me feel that she was the doctor and I was the patient, I felt like we were old friends just having a good chat. It was refreshing and I left her office feeling very optimistic.

Next was the port lab where I have my blood drawn. It's always a challenge there because I always have to explain about my lymphedema and why it's necessary to have blood drawn from my hand instead of my arm. You'd think, after 4 years of being a patient there, they'd remember or have put notes on my chart to remind them, but they don't. And it's always interesting that I am the one to point out exactly where the butterfly needle needs to be inserted to find blood, but I'm glad to do it instead of becoming a pin cushion for a newbie.

After the bloodwork was done, we had a 45 minute wait until the next appointment so I gave my husband a tour of the facility. We went upstairs to visit the library and the pool room. I showed him the chapel and the medical records department. We stopped by the inhouse wing where those in long term treatment are housed and we visited the cafeteria, gift shop, and the imaging department. When we'd completed the tour, we found a quiet corner and took time to enjoy our books.

Next stop was the oncology department where we waited another 15 minutes before I was called back and then, I waited about 20 more minutes before I heard a tap at my exam room door.  Instead of my oncologist, a nurse practitioner came in and explained the doctor was extremely behind and she would be helping me. She was very pleasant and I enjoyed my time with her. After a physical exam, she went over my labs and gave me the good news that I'm still in remission, although I prefer to use the term NED - no evidence of disease. To me, remission sounds too much like the cancer is lurking around just waiting for permission to come back. I don't want to even think about that.

As soon as she gave me the news, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. I didn't realize it until then, but I'd been extremely stressed wondering what the blood work would show.

We left the cancer treatment center and went out to dinner to celebrate. It was a wonderful evening and I was so very thankful.

God has been so good to me. I am blessed and highly favored! Now, I can breathe a sigh of relief and get busy living my life.

It seems it's been so long that I've been able to focus on anything other than cancer. It feels good to feel good and to know I'm cancer free.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Beautiful sunshine

Today was such a gorgeous day! The sun was shining and what a difference that made in my mood. The past few weeks we've had nothing but overcast, dreary days and it was beginning to cause my S.A.D. to flare up.

S.A.D. is seasonal affective disorder. Basically, a person's moods are affected by the weather. Those who suffer from the disorder find themselves feeling more blue and depressed when the weather is dismal.

Phil and I worked in the yard some trimming underbrush. It was good to be outside in the fresh air. I realized, I've been cooped up in the house too many days and wondered if perhaps my Vitamin D level had dipped dangerously low again.  Since my cancer diagnosis, I've had trouble keeping it regulated. The doctor has prescribed 50,000 i.u. per week but it doesn't always bring the level up to normal. Being in the sunshine is one of the fastest ways to absorb natural Vitamin D, that's why I'm happy when the sun is out.

I've noticed more bodily aches and pains lately. Sometimes I wonder if it's just because I'm getting old or if it's a combination of age, Fibromyalgia, and the effects cancer has had on my body. In any event, I do my best to push through and keep going. Some days are more challenging than others.

Hopefully, as we enter the month of February, we'll see more sunny days than rainy ones. I'm ready for an early Spring and so is Mr. Groundhog according to the Pennsylvania critter.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Spinning my wheels

Ever have a day where you just feel like you're spinning your wheels? It seems lately all of my days are going that way. I wake up with good intentions and a list of projects in hand but as the day goes on, I end up accomplishing nothing. My inability to focus is scaring me. I flit from one thing to another continually. The smallest of things overwhelms me. Take my email inbox for example.

Today, I sat down at the computer after failing to complete several other tasks. My one goal was to clean out my email inbox. When I opened up my Gmail account, I was overwhelmed at the amount of mail in each of the three categories - primary (where my important mail resides), social (where YouTube subscriptions, etc. reside) and promotions (where most of the unsolicited junk mail resides).

As I stared at the folders and the amount of mail in each, I felt frazzled. In the first place, how did I get so many emails in one day? It was insane, so the first thing I did was delete everything in the promotional folder. I didn't bother to read a one, just hit delete. Poof! They were gone. That felt better. Then, I was on to the social folder.

Those took a little more time. I wanted to glean emails I wanted to keep, so I had to go through them one by one. After doing that, I deleted the rest and made a mental note to unsubscribe from as many as possible tomorrow. I couldn't handle it today. Tomorrow would suffice.

On to the primary emails. These were the priority. These would need careful attention. I didn't want to accidentally delete any of the ones I needed. As I worked through them and read or deleted, more would pop up. It seemed they were coming from out of nowhere. How could I feel ambushed by something as simple as email? That's when it hit me. I'm suffering from post cancer PTSD.

For some time now, I've been struggling in different areas. Loud noises, sudden movements, and unexpected changes freak me out. I don't like feeling this way. I've always been one to be in complete control. Some days are worse than others, but it's definitely problematic. When I return to the cancer treatment center for my next checkup, I'm going to mention these issues to the doctor. Hopefully, he can recommend something to help.

I can't keep going like this, spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. It just won't do.

Cancer is so hard

 Last night, I got a text from a friend of mine who's going through chemo. He's having a really hard time and has been struggling th...