Feeling Good!

Virginia

Virginia
Spending an afternoon at Marymount during my internship!

My rocks!

My rocks!
Wouldn't be where I am without my parents!

Graduation

Graduation
Walking for my Masters. An interesting book end as this all started when I graduated from undergrad!

Awesome Nurses!

Awesome Nurses!
After my port removal and saying goodbye to my chemo nurses before moving away from Michigan. Wouldn't be doing that without them!

Last Chemo

Last Chemo

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Silliness

Silliness
Something to remember and return to. A good day!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Climbing Mountains

I don't know about you guys but there were many times going through treatment when I would think about the things I wanted to do again.  I made lists, talked to my parents, talked to myself or just dreamed of the things I wanted to do again.  Just over a week ago I finally got a chance to do one of those things.  I climbed a mountain in my beautiful Blue Ridge mountains!!

I had eyed the trail once before on a randomly less chilly day in March but was told by hikers coming down that the snow up there had become a sheet of ice!  I put it off until just over a week ago!  I really didn't know what to expect as it was a new trail to me.  Online reviews said it was strenuous but beginner.  May I say right now, those two words don't belong together nor is this trail close to beginner once you get past the first half!!

I am not in shape.  While my job keeps me walking I had the conversation with a co-worker about how we don't get an actual work out in very much.  It is a lot of walking, stopping, walking, stopping, standing and observing and explaining.  So I must stress just how out of shape I am.  I was one of those people who did loose weight in chemo but it came back with a vengeance when I was done.   At any rate, I knew I was going to have a difficult time.

My plan was to simply take it one step at a time.  So I took two puffs on my inhaler, shouldered my back pack with power aid and water on my back, and started up.  I am not kidding when I say I didn't make it 1/10th of a mile before stopping and feeling like I was sucking oxygen for my life!  The trail was wide but definitely going UP!  Remember how I said "one step at a time"?  In my mind that was just in case and I was going to fly up this mountain because I was determined and I had survived chemo so there was no way this mountain could conquer me!!  Besides, there were literally dozens of people walking up and down around me.  I tried to hide the fact I was winded at the beginning and sucking air in.  I casually looked around on the first half dozen stops like I was taking in the many trees surrounding me.  Then when I was told I was only a 3rd of the way up after what felt like forever I seriously considered turning around.  I debated it in my head.  Then I took another step forward, then a second and a third and stopped on the fifth.  I kept this up until I had decided that this mountain wasn't going turn me back.  Then I came to the stairs.

This flight of wooden stairs...I couldn't believe it!  They were steeper than the gravel path.  But I figured at least they were wide.  I only stopped a couple times on them.  Surely I had to be close to the top!  Oh no!  This old, craggy mountain simply laughed at me.  The first half was the easy half.  Now I had to earn it.  The incline increased as did the rocks, boulders and trees I had to climb up and over.  My vision was not happy with me as all shades of browns blended together and my ability to tell them apart got worse and worse.  On one of my many, many, many (you get the picture) stops I met a lady who kindly encouraged me to keep going.  That I could make it.  I don't know what pushed me to say this but gulped air, laughed and said that I wasn't going to stop because I had told myself during chemo that I was going to climb a mountain again.  That I was going to do this!  The woman smiled and said she would see me at the top!  I let her (and several more people) pass by before I took another swig of water and pushed on.  Up and over, up and over, taking more puffs on the inhaler and focusing on only one step at a time, one boulder at a time.  Trying to follow a path that was only discernible by the blue stripes painted on trees and rocks or following other hikers as they picked out a way to go.

And then, after what felt like the whole day but was in fact maybe an hour, things flattened out and I literally stumbled the last bit up to the giant rocks that jutted out from the top of the mountain.  The rocks were scattered with people resting and taking in the view.  I saw the lady who had told me she would see me at the top and she came over to me with a big smile and a wave and told me to sit down and rest for a minute and then she would have her daughter take a picture of me on the rocks!  As I sat and guzzled about half my power aid in one go, the lady's daughter scouted a seat for me up on the rocks and saved it until I was ready to climb up to it.  Then, not to get too corny, pictures of victory were taken!

I sat up there for probably close to an hour, looking out over the valley from the rocks and just letting the wind clear my mind and cool me down.  I let it push all the thoughts from my head and just enjoyed a quietness and peacefulness I hadn't felt in a long time.  There is something about the Blue Ridge that is good for my soul.  And sitting on top of it that day seemed to give me an emotional and mental cleansing!  I believe strongly in a Good God and that He uses His creation to help us heal and be at peace.  Looking at that beauty spread out below me and as far as I could see I felt a calm wash over me.

I looked down and saw what I had come up in one glance and I thought of how many times I wanted to turn back.  That I had wanted to turn back after just a few steps.  I was so glad I didn't because it showed me what I had accomplished in so many, many ways.

I have been told for over four years now that the decisions I made with my surgery and chemo were brave and I was a strong person to make them.   I never felt that way.  I felt that it was simply something I had to do.  The decision was practically made for me.  The roller coaster was pulling away and I was strapped down.  I had to ride it.  At least that is how I felt.  Then I looked back at how quickly that hike pulled me down.  How quickly I felt tired and wanted to stop.  How I could literally only look at one foot at a time to move forward, and I realized I could do this mountain because I had already climbed it.  It wasn't a roller coaster I was strapped to with surgery and chemo.  It was a mountain I had to climb.  Then I realized I had been climbing mountains my whole life.  That was how I was able to climb the cancer mountain and that was how I was able to climb this mountain.

When I was born I started climbing.  Being blind as a child was just life to me.  But I learned from day one to climb, to keep moving.  Onwards and upwards was the only way I knew to go.  And I can thank my parents for that.  I never let my vision stand in my way.  It got in the way a lot, but I didn't let it stay there for long.  I made adaptations and just worked with what I had.  I think that is how I first became stubborn and determined that things would just work out, one way or another.  I just had to keep trying.  Even with the giant improvement in my vision from then to now, I still have to keep trying and making those adaptations and not let it get in my way.

When my older brother was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 14 and I watched him go through it and helped take care of my little brothers...that mountain I thought was pretty big.  Then when he was diagnosed a second time.  And finally a third time.  I felt like I was watching him climb Everest and all I could do was stand at base camp and watch.  And then May 10, 2008 he reached the summit.    Even as I write this I can't stop crying.  I don't think anything I have gone through or will go through will equal that emotional mountain I will forever be climbing.

I started back up another mountain back in 2011 and climbed my way to the top of that college mountain, determined that after 15 years I would walk across that stage and finally get my diploma.  As I reached the top, I saw my own Everest waiting for me.  I was diagnosed, as many of my friends know, in 2013...during my last finals week.  But I rolled up to that stage in a wheel chair and with sheer adrenaline, I walked across that stage and got my diploma!  Then I immediately started that climb of surgery and chemo.  There was no summiting Everest for me.  I guess the Good Lord has other plans for now:).

Looking at that climb up the Blue Ridge last week, for me it was putting everything I went through from climbing my Everest into a physical climb over those rocks.  One step at a time.  That is how I made it through the diagnoses, surgery, chemo and recovery.  One step at a time, holding onto the rocks and trees to balance myself.  I actually fell down twice coming back down.  And I am pretty sure I did a little damage to the back of my left ankle.  Each time, there was someone reaching a hand towards me right away to help me up.  And then I made it back down to the bottom. My second fall was on the last stretch of the trail, close to the bottom.  I was worried for a minute that I had hurt my ankle to the point of not safely being able to walk.  Fortunately it wasn't that bad and one last rest was all I needed.  I didn't even take a moment at the bottom of the trail to look back.  I dragged myself to my car and finished off my water.  I sat in my car and repeated to myself, "I did it!  I did it!"  I don't think I was completely talking about that day's hike.  And something tells me I'll be saying that phrase a lot in my life.

This hike was a perfect view for me of how we go through difficulties and how we go through life.  Taking one step at a time and when we fall, reaching out to those around us to help pull us back up and get back on the trail.  I don't know that I will ever stop having to climb mountains but I do know now that no matter how hard, painful and cry worthy the mountain is, all I have to do is reach out for my rocks and reach out for someone's hand.  Those are my parents, my friends, complete strangers and in all of them, my God.


 1st Picture:  The beginning of the hike, wide, gravel path.

2nd Picture: The stairs!

3rd Picture: Rocks on the path with the top in the background.

4th picture: The rocks are getting bigger.  I stopped taking pictures after this point!

5th picture: Me at the top laughing and sitting on the rock!  A splendid view if the valley behind me.

6th picture:Looking between two of the giant rock outcroppings over the valley.

7th picture:  Ok, I celebrated more than a little!  Me with both arms up in the air showing the valley and part of the mountain behind me.

8th Picture:  A panorama of the rocks looking out over the valley.

9th picture:  Obligatory selfie with the edge of the rocks and valley behind me.  Blue sky with some white clouds in all pictures.

10th picture:  Scenic pic of the edge of one of the rocks and the rolling valley with mountains in the distance against a deep, blue sky.  A little filter at work here :)


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Teenage Plans VS Reality.

Tonight, as I sat at my kitchen table and paid bills, I found myself thinking back to my teen years and how I thought about what my life would be like.  I don't remember all the scenarios that went through my head as I had a very, over active imagination!  There may or may not have been a hope to find myself transported into a magical fantasy land that was some combination of Narnia and Middle Earth!  Lol!

It is interesting though to look at what I thought would happen vs reality.

Teenager Plan:  Be an actress.
Reality:  Tried out for a play in college and couldn't stop laughing through the whole tryout!!  I was horrible!!  But I found out in college that I had a talent for working back stage as stage manager!

Teenager Plan:  Be an author.
Reality:  I still love to write and have so many stories I have started but haven't finished.  I feel like this is still a plan that could happen.  One of these days I will get the stories inside of me into books!  And maybe turn one of my blog series into a book too :).  Not giving up on this one teenage me!

Teenager Plan:  Get married young and have a big family.
Reality:  38 years old and not married.  Hurting still from a break up that I knew I had to do for me.  Still in love with that man.  As for a big family, well, adopting and fostering is my hope for the future.  Started to seriously look into both options as of a couple months ago.   Easier to write than to do but a family, and maybe even a big family, I think is still in the cards for me.  As for marriage, I suppose I have a lot of work to do on myself before that can happen :).

Teenager Plan: Be a singer.
Reality:  On occasion I can hit some pretty high and on key notes.  But a Grammy is not in my future!  Lol!

Teenager Plan:  Be a teacher:
Reality:  I was actually a teacher for one year!  I was hired to teach Creative Writing and ended up also teaching religion, spelling, and english.  I was planning to go back into teaching once I finished my undergrad degree in English Literature.  I even had a very promising interview process happening for a position as an English Teacher when I was diagnosed with cancer.  I had to pull myself out of the process (and I believe I had made it to the final round) when I had to go through chemo.

Teenager Plan: Own a house in the country by the time I was 25.
Reality:  38 and finally feeling like I can look for a house comfortably and on my own time schedule instead of just window shopping or desperately trying to find something to live in bigger than a studio apartment (buying would have been cheaper living when I was in Florida).

So many ideas went through my mind as a teenager as to where I would be when I was older.  For some reason the magic age for me was 25.  I felt like I would have my whole life figured out by then!  I would have to say that only in the last four years (since having cancer) have I stopped putting age limits on goals.  It is funny what seems old and established when you are in high school.  Very little turned out how I thought it would.    But that's ok.  So much more happened that was good that I never even imagined as a teenager.  And maybe as a teenager I would have said to my older self "Are you nuts!?"  A sentence I am sure my parents, family and friends stopped themselves from uttering...most of the time :).

So maybe my life didn't turn out as I planned.  Maybe the rest will be different than I think even now. All I know is I want to live it...whatever may come.  Create my adventures, open my life up to God's Will.  Do what I can for others and smile every day, even those times when my heart is hurting.    Because even though my teenage plans may not have come about as I had hoped, a pretty full life of 38 years is behind me to think back on and remember.  My present and future life, for however long God wants me here, is wide open in front of me for all the experiences, laughter, tears and surprises the Good Lord has in store for me!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: I Found it!!

When I was in 8th grade a lot was happening. My older brother Peter was diagnosed with cancer for the first time and I had started homeschooling after begging my mom for years (kids can be cruel with teasing and I got it daily in school).  One other thing happened that was so small in comparison but still is a part of my life today. My mom was given a flute and some beginner instruction books. I asked her if I could try playing it and she told me I could. Over the next year I slowly taught myself the basic fingering and what fingering was what note. I started playing some simple music by ear and would write the letters of the notes above them in the melody of other songs. I was never great and probably never got beyond beginner status but I loved it!!!

Playing the flute was a peaceful thing for me. I wouldn’t call it an escape but more of a release. It was calming for me when I had no control over anything. I had to grow up fast at 14 because of my brother’s illness. And I was far from perfect at my new responsibilities. But whenever I picked up that flute I didn’t care.   And that flute has stayed with me ever since.

I have Moved a lot over the past couple of years and when  I finished grad school the flute got packed in a box and put into storage. Tonight as I was cleaning out some boxes, desperately trying to make my bedroom feel more comfortable and homey, I found my flute! It is in sad need of cleaning and probably new stops but I played it for a few minutes and was reminded of how much I loved playing and how soothing the sound was to me.   I think I needed to find it tonight so that I could once more have that release and calm that always came with playing my flute.

So thanks mom!  I feel like I absconded with your flute long ago and I am grateful you let me!  Love you!




Friday, March 23, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Scary and Sad Moments

It has been a while since I have written.  Some of that time has just simply been filled with every day life.  But some of that time was also filled with a terrifying doctor's visit and personal sadness.  I needed some time to process and I am certainly not done processing and dealing with it all but I am to the point where I think writing will help me.

A week ago I had a follow up visit with my doctor due to an abnormal pap.  My first one since cancer by the way.  What I was told over the phone by a nurse or someone making the appointment was that I had one thing (not cancer) and that freaked me out.  I won't go into details.  Suffice to say it gave me more than a few restless nights and I did everything I could to not think about it because it seemed impossible.  Turns out I was right.  It was impossible.  I was given the wrong information over the phone.  The doctor was in fact having me come in because the abnormal cells that were found were low grade cells.  Meaning if they found more that day during the closer exam they would be considered high grade cells and that would have been a one way ticket to an oncologist.

When this was explained to me as I sat on the exam table I will be honest...I started crying and then started to try to stop myself from crying which resulted in painful hiccups and sounding like a lunatic trying to ask questions and not being able to think or see strait.  I freely admit, at 38, I wanted my mom!  The doctor was very kind and understanding and consoling.  She told me to let her do the exam and after that there would be a clearer picture and more information.  Probably the longest five minutes I have experienced in a long time.  A million things flew through my brain.  A thousand possibilities and outcomes crowded the space and it felt like, for those five minutes, my world was crashing down around my head again.  Praise God she did not find anymore abnormal cells in the exam!  All clear for one more year!  It took most of the rest of the day to bring my blood pressure down but I was relieved and also a little numb as well as terrified.  But as I said I have been processing that experience and working through it.

Another thing that happened last week was a realization that had been growing inside me that you can love somebody with your whole heart and want them to be the one and still realize that as much as you want that, you see there are just too many fundamental differences between you.  At which point, continuing on would not have been fair.  I know that for me it was the right choice but it was certainly not an easy one.  And he is in my prayers every day.

So last week was a one, two punch.  But I have been praying a lot more and entrusting everything into God's hands as well as leaning on two good friends.  It is all hard to articulate.  It is this painful feeling of missing someone I loved but have to let go to be fair to them and me, as well as trying to not let those terrifying memories of cancer overwhelm.  It's about remembering that I am ok and there were no cancer cells.  I think it is also about praying and focusing on the future and deciding to keep moving and not let my feet be knocked out from under me again.  I don't know where my personal path will lead to right now but I am holding on pretty tight to Jesus at the moment.  So I am asking for some prayers please and assuring you all of my own prayers!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Processing Doctor's Appointment.

First and foremost I have to make sure I say that my most recent doctors appointment was routine and so far uneventful as for tests.  The normal yearly tests were run and are being sent off for results.  No concerns.  What I had to spend a few days processing before writing was a long conversation my new doctor and I had concerning genetic testing.

I learned when I was starting chemo that I was genetically predisposed to the type of cancer I had, Endometrial Cancer, as well as re-occurances.  I remember a doctor asking if I had been tested for the BRCA gene.  I had not and at the time to even think of it was beyond overwhelming.  I didn't think about it since because none of my other doctors have brought it up.  One said they wanted me to get a base line mammogram because my grandmother had breast cancer and cancer in general seems to run in my family.  I was not able to get one because I was told by every place I went to that I was too young.  So when I hit 40 in less than two years, I will be in line for one.  At any rate, my doctor last wanted to talk about the BRCA gene.  I said I hadn't been tested and she seemed worried by this given my history and my family history.  She is looking into seeing if my insurance will cover it because of some other family history.  I know it is not a cheap test and if my insurance can't cover it then I guess I won't be getting the test.

What was hard to process for me was that this doctor seemed very concerned that I did not know if I had the gene.  And this forced me to think about what might come up if I am tested and found that I have that gene.  How would I handle it?  Do I even want to know if I have it?  Is there anything I can even do about it?  I managed to work myself into a stressful spot that day.  And then, I took a deep breath.  Something I have to work on with myself is how much stress I allow in my life and how much I let it feed on my fears and worries.  And I can't let this feed.

There are no signs to cause concern.  And if I can't afford the test then I just stay vigilant with my breast exams and make an appointment for November 21, 2019 to have a mammogram.  And I set it aside and not let it stop me from living my life.  But it did make me hesitate in writing for a few days as I wanted to make sure I didn't spill out that fear and stress but rather looked at it in a way that would help me.

I have some big things I am looking into that I will share with you all soon.  Big life changes of the happiest kind!  So, I am putting my stress and fear of this BRCA gene into God's hands right now, since there isn't much I can do about it at the moment.  I really believe He has had a plan for me all along.  He has been watching over me and filing me with strength and grace when I need it and He will keep doing this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Sewing for People I Love!

I love to sew!  Not so much clothes.  For some reason clothing patterns and I have an antagonistic relationship!  However, sewing blankets and tote bags and aprons...pretty much those crafty items, is therapeutic for me and a funnel for my stress!  When I sewed 30 some mini totes for gift bags for a former co-worker's surprise baby shower, my supervisor at the time felt compelled to ask me just how stressed out I was!  Well, 30 mini tote bags in one week kind of stressed!

I haven't gone on a sewing bender in a while now!  Lol!  I do have a blanket started and two baby blankets planned to put together soon for friends.  Tonight I was looking at my tubs (yes tubs!) of fabric and finished crafts and wondered when I will be able to make blankets for my own kids.

A couple years before I was diagnosed I was sitting at my desk working on homework for an undergrad class and my mind seriously started to wander.  I couldn't tell you what the lead up to this decision was but I decided then and there that once I was secure and stable, I was going to adopt wether I was married or not.  I always wanted children and I was tired of waiting.  I felt completely at peace with this decision and I wonder sometimes if it wasn't the Good Lord putting that into my heart and mind because He knew what was coming.

I am not saying that the inability to carry my own baby for 9 months under my heart doesn't tear that very heart out of my chest.  It does every time I think about it.  But then I remember that I had made the decision to adopt two years before this all happened.  So while I sew these blankets and little gifts for the people in my life that I love...I can't wait until someday I am sewing them for my little children that I opened my heart to that day I made the decision to adopt.  I have faith that God will send them to me and send me to them.  And when that happens, I will have plenty of blankets made by my hand to wrap them in and hold them close.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Feet Back Under Me: Why Am I Still Counting??

For a year I wrote a blog entitled 365 Things To Smile About during a particularly difficult time a couple years ago.  It made sense to count as I wanted to post every day something that made me smile and pulled me out of my worries, frustrations and stress.  Before that I would have countdowns on calendars until I went on trips or countdowns to finish chemo.  It helped me get to a destination.  A concrete place in time.

Tonight I was thinking about what I was going to write and I actually felt stressed out!  Lol!  Which blew my mind as this blog is supposed to be a way for me to relax and an outlet.  It isn't a count down for anything.  Then I realized that right now, there is no more need for a count down to a better time in my life.  It's just life.  Sure, I am probably going to continue to set myself goals to meet because I always want to be doing more in my life.  But not frantic goals and not anything that requires a countdown.

Its real day to day life now.  And I will be honest...that feels a little scary.  I know that sounds odd but its true.  I have been going at such a pace since I was diagnosed.  I felt the only way I could get through things was in part through counting the days.  Putting another day BEHIND me.  Now, it's looking forward to the next day with a positive outlook.  Yes, I am going to have those scary doctors appointments still.  In fact, I have one this week.  But it isn't as scary now.    My imagination of course takes flight whenever I have to see a doctor.  I think we all have that experience.  But that is a different kind of scary.  

The scariness of day to day life with no need to count the days and put them behind me is because I dare to have real, honest hope again that I won't have to go back to putting days behind me.  I don't know how to explain it honestly other than I feel like if I can stop counting things I can start really living in the present with an optimistic eye to the future.  The fear was always getting a career or relationship and then having to leave them all.  Except, that isn't a part of my every day life anymore. So I am going to stop counting things unless it is an amazing countdown!  Like a countdown to adopting or a countdown to getting married.   Neither of which is on the horizon right now but...you never know!

So I am altering a little of this blog to stop counting the days and just living the days and writing my thoughts and experiences.  I feel like theses blog series kind of change with me.  Maybe some day I can look back and see a good progression and hopefully a good story too!