Friday, May 24, 2013

Unexpected Angels…

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.  ~Rumi

This journey has had plenty of unexpected moments and places from where strength and courage had to be pulled. One of the most unexpected surprises was a phone call I got from a friend (we will call him 2Trillion!) who told me he was taking a trip to Texas to visit Joel Osteen’s church. Pretty much everyone is familiar with Joel Osteen and his family ministry. I told him to let me know how it goes and to have a great trip. I wished I could have gone.  Not only did he go there and visit the church, he had the opportunity to talk to Dodie Osteen (Joel Osteen’s Mother) about me. He said he told her all about me. Dodie Osteen is known for her ministry of love and compassion. She is also a cancer survivor and has the most powerful testimony I have ever read. She wrote a book called ‘Healed of Cancer.’ I was truly honored when she gifted me her book complete with a personal inscription inside. I have read this book at least five times already, and I carry it with me everywhere I go. The messages in the book are so powerful. I believe the spirit and the mind have a lot to do with our physical state, and this book helped me get my spirit and my mind right! If I ever got the opportunity, I would love to thank her in person. I would love to express to her how that book she so kindly gave me played such an integral role in my healing process.

Another unexpected angel in my journey was Dr. Jaqueline Walters--many of you may know her from the show ‘Married to Medicine.’ A two-time cancer survivor, she was someone I connected with last year through a mutual friend because I knew she had the same surgery. I had met and spoken with her a few times over the past couple of years, but I didn’t know her very well. That quickly changed. Our first of many phone calls lasted for an hour. She helped me mentally prepare by telling me things I should get ready for that she knew from having gone through the same procedure herself. A lot of people say, “I’m here if you need me.” Or “Call me anytime.”  When Jackie said it, she really meant it. Every time I had a question or concern, she was right there when I reached out. Before going to the hospital, she told me all the things I needed to make sure I had. The day of my surgery she showed up with a big box. She said it was just a gift. (Who doesn’t love getting  gifts!) I opened the box and it was filled with pairs of beautiful pajamas ranging from casual to cute and sexy. She said, “All the pajamas button up because you won’t be able to put anything over your head for a while.” I was speechless. The action was so thoughtful. Of course I had not thought of that. It meant so much that she cared enough to do that for me. She knew that only someone who had gone through this would know things like that. When the pain and muscle spasms got unbearable, it was Jackie that I could text at 2am and she would hit me right back with some encouraging statement. She always knew just what to say because she had been there not that long ago. I would shake it off and get my mind right. Jackie also came out to my house to visit me while I was recovering. Unexpectedly, she had another gift in hand. She brought me the softest blankets and booties that you heat in the microwave. They smelled like lavender -- soothing and beautiful. Talk about feeling good! I am thankful for her and her kindness. There are still people in the world that just do because they care about helping others. This connection was only the beginning. Now, I am preparing to help Jackie with her non-profit for breast cancer called ‘Fifty Shades of Pink.’  Don’t worry, you will hear a lot more about that real soon!

There are so many great things that came out of this bad situation… (to be continued)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Mom Saved My Life …

“When you are a mother you are never really alone in your thoughts. You are connected to your child and to all those who touch your lives. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”   ~ Sophia Loren

I have always thought of my mom as my hero. She is the strongest woman I know. I have never witnessed a woman overcome so many obstacles and handle life with such grace. She instilled the most valuable life lessons. She is the ultimate survivor!  My mom has always played the hand she was dealt (no matter how crappy it was) without complaining. Her beautiful spirit is unforgettable, and her smile is sure to light up any room. Growing up we didn’t have much, but I never felt like I missed having anything. Her caring, comfort and compassion were much more filling than any material things would have been.  She taught me the importance of being independent and how to be responsible.  I grew up fearless believing I can do anything…

I put off writing this particular post because it is very difficult to share this part of my journey. One week before my surgery, I had to face the most difficult task—telling my mom about my diagnosis. I had avoided it for as long as I could. This was the third attempt at telling her, and I knew it was time to follow through. I knew she would take it hard, and I knew I had to be strong. I found myself worrying more about how my mother was going to handle it than worrying about my surgery. I visit my parents often so my coming over was not unusual. It was before I was getting ready to leave that I announced that I needed to talk to them. I turned the television off and then turned to face my mom and dad. My dad says, “What? You’re not about to say you’re pregnant are you?” We all laughed. He certainly broke the ice. I stayed strong and turned off my emotional side. I just said what I had to say head on. I told them I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was going to be okay. My mother immediately broke down. There was no consoling her. Her youngest daughter had just told her the news she dreaded the most.  All I could say was it was going to be okay and it really was going to be okay!!  She kept saying that was all she prayed for was her children to be spared from the disease she had battled twice in the past nine years. It took a while, but after convincing my mom to listen I explained to her that I had been going to the doctor and that my surgery was set for the following week.  I told her every detail. I know you may be wondering why I waited to tell Mom. I didn’t want her to worry about the decision I had to make or to fret about the details. I know, from being a mother myself, you always want to make everything better for your children from the moment they are born. I didn’t want to put a burden on her knowing there was nothing she could do to make it better. I feel like she felt as if there were something she could have done to protect me from this ‘monster’ that had chosen to invade my body. When my mom pulled herself together, she gave me a look of amazement and said, “You are so strong. I can’t believe how strong you are.” To that I simply replied, “I got it from you.”

I told my Mom that she had to look at it as if she saved my life. It’s the truth. Had she not gotten breast cancer the second time, I would have never thought about getting a mammogram when I did. My mom spoke with a friend that echoed this very thing. She told her, “I had to go through it a second time to save my baby.” She told me that was when she realized that her prayers had been answered. And I agree they were…

Throughout this journey, I got support from some of the most unexpected places that you would not believe…
(to be continued) 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo

Telling the Kids ...

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I will start by saying that everyday is Mother’s Day to me. I wake up each morning to the best two gifts I’ve ever gotten!! Not a day goes by where I don’t thank God for my babies. (They are actually still at the age where they don’t mind me calling them my babies.)  They were both so strong throughout this entire ordeal. I found myself struggling before my surgery with: “How am I going to tell my babies about all of this? They look to me for everything. They will be here and they need to know what is happening…” I believe in telling children the truth. (They are always smarter than we think.) How do you explain breast cancer to a child?

This was a struggle I put off for as long as I could. I had spoken with both of my children’s teachers about what was going on, and one of them suggested we go to the library and look for a book to help explain.  I was all for it.  She told me that she had unfortunately dealt with this issue several times in her classes over the years.  We went to the school library and got on the computer. As we scrolled the screen I thought, “Note to self: There are not many books out that explain cancer on a child’s level.” Then one jumped out at me--one of the merely two we found. It was called “Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo.” I knew right then that it was perfect without even reading it. I couldn’t wait to tell my Mom about it.  When I did, she was so excited that she jumped right on the computer to order it.

The girls and I sat down with the book together and read. “Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo” is a gentle story explaining breast cancer through rhyming text to a young child. It includes things that may come along such as loss of energy and hair but emphasizes there is never a loss of love… It’s written by a Mom (Eileen Sutherland) and illustrated by her young daughter (Maggie Sutherland). My daughters loved the child-drawn pictures. This book helped by making such a difficult step easier for me.

The book starts off like this:

I have some news to share with you, to help you understand.  I have a boo-boo in my breast.  It is called cancer, and…
It’s like a polka dot that neither you nor I can see.  It’s settled in behind my skin and we need to set it free...

They were not scared learning of this, and I reassured them everything would be okay. (That’s always the strong thing to say.) I think it helps that I always believe it when I say it. They understood things so well and asked tons of questions. The book even helped them understand what they had seen my mom experience during her battle with cancer.

Although there were some nights of crying and a few episodes of getting scared, I was happy that my babies were not afraid to talk to me. I reassured them by saying, “Look, Mommy is going to be okay! And guess what? You get to brag that your Mommy is a survivor! Did you know that?” Sometimes it was hard trying to turn their tears to smiles without crying myself. They always see me being so strong (something I picked up from my Mom), and I thought it was important to let them know that it’s okay to get scared and it’s okay to cry. (I still have to remind myself that.) I had to explain to them that I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things for a little while. I was on a lot of meds and was in bed most of the time.  I couldn’t raise my arms or pick anything up for weeks after the surgery. My youngest had a hard time getting used to me not being able to pick her up. (Yes, I still pick my seven-year-old baby up!) LOL! They even learned how to hug my arm and be very gentle when they touched me. They were so strong. I am so proud of them. My babies!!

I have a lot of love and respect for Moms, especially single Moms like myself. The day-in and day-out never ends, but you wouldn’t change it for the world—because it’s all worth every minute.

Now the hardest part of it all … I had to tell my Mom …

(to be continued…)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Inspiring Journeys – Featured Blog Series

When this journey began, I started looking for stories of other survivors to read. I wanted to know what someone else’s journey looked like in her own words—from her own unique perspective. It led me to several articles and blogs. (At this time, I had not thought about starting a blog or even sharing my journey.  It still felt like such a private experience to me.) I read story after story. Some I couldn’t read because it was just too painful. I was thinking, “Where are the good ones—the ones with the happy endings and the celebration trips at the end?” I wanted to read something that could lift me up. I was seeking stories that would give me inspiration through showing strength and courage. I needed to know how people were sharing this emotional experience that’s so hard to understand and accept. Then I came across one blog which was simply unforgettable. It’s called Cancer In My Thirties 

When I clicked on her 'About Me' section, it read:

“At 33 I was told that the lumps in my breast were probably nothing. So I did nothing, believing I was ‘too young for breast cancer’.

Shortly after my 34th birthday – and now no health insurance – I discovered that Cancer didn’t care how old I was. On my twin kindergartners’ birthdays, the Diagnosis of Her2 positive Stage 3C breast cancer rocked my foundation and changed my world in an instant…”

Okay, I have to be honest and say I was afraid to read anymore because this brought tears to my eyes. I soon learned this woman’s story was just what I needed to read at that time. Her spirit and her attitude still take my breath away. I wanted to hug her through the screen for being so open and honest and most of all—brave. Not only did I read more, I signed up to follow her blog. As a writer I enjoy being moved by words. I love the way she is unafraid to venture out with other topics and just write about what is on her mind and in her heart. The images of her adorable and innocent twin boys stay in the back of my mind still today.

Her post that really made me think was ‘Things I Don’t Think I’ll Get To Do Before I Die’ 
(I know… I had to read the title a couple of times myself.)

Her post was light-hearted, honest, and most of all it reminded me that it’s the little moments and small things in life (often taken for granted) that really matter the most.
This post was a reality check. It made me stop and contemplate, “What would be on my list?”

One thing I vividly remember my grandfather saying was, “Never put off tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow is promised to no one.” I miss that wise man. 

It really made me think, “Do your days have to be numbered for you to live like it? and Why not choose to live each day to the fullest?"

So I ask you…What would be on your list?

I want to thank Cancer In My Thirties for allowing me to feature her blog as the first one that truly inspired me! Please check it out.
See her list below:

20 45 Things I’m Afraid I Won’t Get to Do Before I Die:
1.            Watch my kids go off to Fourth Grade
2.            Put my toes in the ocean again
3.            Dance with my sons at their weddings in 15 years or so
4.            Have my overdue eye exam — and get stylish new glasses
5.            Hold a new baby
6.            Be my youngest sister’s matron of honor (she’s 20)
7.            Get a new puppy
8.            Hold my grandchildren
9.            Finish the next season of The Living Dead
10.        See Mumford & Sons in concert
11.        Have the option to opt out of going to my 10-year college reunion (because I don’t feel like going, not because I’m dead)
12.        Visit my family’s homeland (England/Scotland)
13.        Celebrate my sons’ 10th birthdays
14.        Publish my novel
15.        Finish writing said novel
16.        Publish a children’s book
17.        Use my teaching degree
18.        See some of my dearest friends again — jme, Jin, Loren, Sue, Sheri, Gil
19.        Make it to another winter (and I hate winter)
20.        Watch my children graduate from (and start!) high school
21.        See the love of my life again
22.        Experience what it’s like to have hormones again (or go a day without being hot and drenched from night/day sweats one minute and then shivering cold the next)
23.        Shed tears as I pack my kids up for college
24.        Shed tears as I wave my kids off to middle school

25.        See my mother happy
26.        Get divorced
27.        Be with someone who truly cares for me & who will miss me when I’m gone
28.        Listen to a lot more music
29.        Learn to play piano
30.        Live a day where money doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do for my kids
31.        Travel more
32.        Start a new job
33.        Hear that there is a cure/vaccine for cancer
34.        Show my kids the world
35.        Fall asleep snuggled next to my kids and my dogs more
36.        Experience a pain-free day
37.        Remember what it’s like to have energy
38.        To stress out about doing next year’s taxes
39.        Turn 40
40.        Turn 50
41.        Turn 60
42.        Turn 70
43.        Grow old
44.        To let go of everything that is holding me back…
45.        To say that I truly lived — and mean it…