Every Girl Needs a Posse

With Thanksgiving being so close, I did what most people do. I began to count my blessings. Of course, I count my wonderful husband, amazing sons and devoted Mom among my greatest blessings, but I also began to think about that core group that keeps me going. These are the people who link arms to keep Satan away and provide me with the strength to keep putting one foot in front on the other. It occurs to me that every girl (and guy for that matter) needs a posse.

Back in the old West, the sheriff rounded up the most trusted citizens to help him catch cattle rustlers, bank thieves and other nefarious neer-do-wells to maintain law and order. These men were duly deputized to hold up the law and do everything they could to ensure that justice and order were kept. In the same way, my posse does everything it can to ensure my life has some semblance of order and they support me just like the posse supported the sheriff.

At this time of giving thanks, I’d like to give a shout out to my own posse and publicly acknowledge their ongoing love and support no matter the season.

Despite being at Learning Tree together for eight years, it wasn’t until three years ago that Coach Cathy and I truly became acquainted. Shortly before my hysterectomy, she introduced herself and explained she’d had one a few years before and was a breast cancer survivor. After my surgery, she checked in with me and once it was determined that I did have cancer, I asked her to be my “Coach.” She agreed and became the person I called when my scalp itched before my hair fell out. I cried on her shoulder when I felt like I’d been scraped off the bottom of a boot. I rejoiced with her every time my tumor marker went down. She was my cheerleader and never let me feel too sorry for myself.

As I face my second battle with cancer, Cathy has moved from “Coach” to Chief Cheerleader. During the long weeks of continual testing following my diagnosis, she let me cry on her shoulder with astounding regularity. However, one Monday at co-op, she quickly announced that we were done crying. It was time to laugh. And I’ve followed her advice ever since, even to the point of dressing up my IV pole as “IVan Polesky,” complete with a dapper hat. We have eaten vanilla pudding out of a mayonnaise jar and made jokes about cancer. She is the first to stop a pity party since a party only truly exists if there are margaritas involved. I love Cathy and am eternally grateful that God placed her in my life. It’s so much fun to have a friend who can look at you and say, “Cancer sucks,” and knows it’s true.

If Cathy is my cheerleader, Mamma Renie is my “second mom.” She is the first to tell me on Sunday morning if I look too tired or if I’m looking fabulous. She and her husband Dan are surrogate grandparents to the Ultimate Bengal Fan and the B-Man. I never worry about them with Momma Renie. They spoil them more than their own grandmothers. Renie is often at our home at 6:30 on a Wednesday morning to send hubby and I off with hugs and greet the boys with a smile on chemo days. Renie is another cancer survivor and when I look at her and say, “I don’t feel good,” (imagine this with a 4-year old whine in my voice), she gives me a hug and lets me cry knowing that I really don’t feel good and there’s not much that can be done about it. I value her wisdom in my battle. When I complained about having metal mouth (a metallic taste that some chemotherapy drugs cause), she immediately recommended Skyline Chili. It works. I tried it today. Two chili cheese sandwiches and a sweet tea cured metal mouth for a couple of hours. It’s true kids. Your elders really do know what they’re talking about. I’m thankful for my second Mom who knows what I need to feel better.

While the boys love hanging with Renie and Dan, the also love being with their second family, the Finke’s, which are led by my good friend “Second Mom Kelley.” Kelley truly is their second mom. They walk in and and make themselves right at home, which gives me peace of mind. Not only does Kelley create a nurturing environment for them, she also gets them to do their schoolwork. She’s been at this homeschool thing so much longer than I have, she even has B-man’s evasive tactics figured out (I doubt there’s anything she hasn’t seen). The other day at co-op, we were talking about arranging rides to a basketball tournament and I began crying. I feel like I am asking too much of my friends. She explained that this is what friends do. They figure out a need and respond to it. She is a true friend, sister in Christ and another mom to my boys. I am constantly amazed that God brought her as a friend, not only to me, but as someone my children could feel safe with and love.

If you’re lucky, you have at least one friend you’ve been connected to at the hip – literally. While we’re not connected physically any longer, my “Sister Sue” is as much as part of my life as a real sister. When I was in college, we were together all the time. If we weren’t, people asked why. I can’t tell you how much Wendy’s we ate. Fortunately, our tastes have improved and we prefer places like “The Cheesecake Factory,” for sharing meals.

Like a true sister, she cries with me, loves me, shares my deepest fears and never judges me. She loves my kids as if they were her own nephews (and I am honored to be Aunt Shelli to Matt, Sarah and Kate, whom I love like my own children). No one understands my frustration, fears or puts up with my foolishness like my sister. And when I go to the dark places, she tells me she doesn’t have time for my crap and to knock it off. Only a sister can do that and I love her for it.

The person pictured above is as important as any of these other women. She is my “Angel in Blue” and I can honestly say that she is truly a gift from God. God knew I’d need someone a bit crazy, but loaded with love and compassion to poison me on a regular basis. Sharon Sanker is that person. I remember when I met her. She told me we were in this together. When I recurred, she told me we were beating this together; period, end of discussion. While all the nurses at the Cancer Institute are incredible, Sharon is special. She loves IVan and liked my idea of giving him a twin sister IVy (complete with my old wig). My hubby bought me a laughing Snoopy for chemo (shake him and he laughs). Sharon and I shake him throughout my infusions, not only to “Laugh in the face of chemo,” but just to lighten the mood. Let’s face it, chemo is serious. I can’t handle too much serious when I’m being poisoned. Sharon lets me be silly, as silly as I need to be. And when it’s time to cry, she hugs me and tells me it’s all going to be okay. Then she tells me to wipe my eyes and start kicking butt.

These amazing women all play an incredible role in my life. While they let me blubber a bit, they mostly kick me in the pants and tell me to kick cancer’s ass and show it who’s boss (well, not Kelley in those words, but she does say something more gentle that makes the same statement).

There’s a “saying” that goes God doesn’t give you more than you can carry. He doesn’t. When it seems like to much, He gives you a really great posse to help carry the load. So when I give thanks on Thursday, I will be thanking God for Cathy, Renie, Kelley, Sue and Sharon. The load is so much easier to carry when your posse has your back.

Climbing out of the Pit

Hitting bottom is not fun. It hurts – badly. I don’t recommend body slamming unless you have the body of a superhero. When you hit bottom, you generally don’t flutter down softly like a feather, you hit it full force and there’s nothing to break the fall. If you’re like me, you land face down and get a mouthful of mud on top of the indignity of laying spread eagle at the bottom of a huge hole. It’s the end of a long line of bad things.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get out of the pit. The ground is spongy and you can get a decent jump to catapult yourself to a limb or other hold to pull yourself you. Or, if you’re like me, you just lie there. After all, there’s no place left to go. You’re all ready as low as you can go. Why tempt fate? Better to wallow in the pit with the worms and slime then to run the risk of sliding back despite your best attempts not to. And why not stay in the pit. Blood clots, liver biopsies, brain MRI’s, failed chemotherapy, all pushed me down further and further into a dark place that I felt like no one could reach. Not my children, my mom, my husband or even God. NO ONE. And I preferred it that way. At least, I wasn’t going to have any more issues.

I will admit, wallowing in the pit, while it can be strangely comforting, isn’t a good place to stay. Well, unless you like worms, slime and other creepy crawlies. Personally, I find them a bit, well, creepy. And while mud is supposed to be good for the complexion, I’ve never read any studies on the dental benefits of mud. So what’s a girl who’s been through the wringer to do?

Well, this girl didn’t do anything – at least at first. I stayed in that pit. It was safe, relatively speaking. Yes, it was slimy, and dank and definitely gloomy. But I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else. I was at rock bottom. Rock bottom isn’t a bad place to be. Hard, yes, but not necessarily bad.

I’d like to say I had an epiphany that got me moving out of the pit, but that would be a lie. It was more like my vivid imagination working overtime. I could see myself in the pit with these creatures dancing around the top of it. Think the Habersham Brothers from Horton Hears a Who. They were the evil monkeys who were going to roast Horton is Beezelnut oil (which I’m sure is loaded with trans fats). They reminded me of evil minions out to do Satan’s bidding. Unfortunately, I just can’t imagine Kevin, Stuart or Dave (the minions from Despicable Me being that evil, despite being actual minions.

So as the Habersham Brothers are doing their dance around the pit, who should appear but the Archangel Michael in all his glory. I will vouch for the fact that he is glorious. I can’t begin to imagine what the glory around the throne of the Almighty must be like. When Michael comes with this blazing sword and his angel army, you don’t lie in the pit and tell him you’re too tired, scared, or overwhelmed to move, you move. And if you don’t, he moves you. I was swept up on the wings of angels to the edge of the pit, with the Habersham Brothers standing their with their mouths open catching the flies coming up from the pit. Michael made it abundantly clear that I was now “off limits as a child of the Most High.” Suddenly, everyone was gone and I was alone, standing in the grass, and at peace.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know that God has to hit me with a 2×4 to get my attention. An archangel with blazing swords qualifies. However, I never felt chastised by God for not being strong enough, or brave enough or faithful enough. Jesus sympathized with my plight. He reminded me that he was alone in the Garden, sweating blood, praying that he could avoid death. Then he was beaten, scorned and forced to carry his cross, only to be nailed to it as a common criminal. He was alone. Yes, his mom was there as was John, the beloved. They were there, but were unable to hold his hand or offer any comfort. In his last hours, even God left. My savior was ALONE, tired, scared and dying. He was separated from the Father, whom he’d been with forever. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of Jesus’ pit. I can’t even imagine being that alone.
Talk about dark, scary places.

This is why I am out of my pit. Not because Michael flew in and saved me, although I am eternally grateful to God’s angel army. No, it’s because Christ said, “I know what it’s like to be alone; to be scared and not know what’s going to happen next. I know the worst. It’s being separated from God. I promise you will never be separated. I know it feels like it, but you won’t. I am always here, even when you don’t think I am. I’m ALWAYS here.”

This doesn’t make facing cancer a walk in the park or have me thinking that life is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. It isn’t. It’s full of nausea, fatigue and too many trips to the Cancer Institute to count. It’s still looking at my kids and hoping I’ll see them graduate. It’s still striving to be the best wife, mom and daughter I can be despite feeling like crap. It’s deciding to have a positive attitude even when you feel like crap. I’m still convinced it’s for times like these that Ativan was invented. It gets rid of the nausea and if you don’t fall asleep, you don’t care. I think God’s okay with that for brief periods.

I am better able to focus on what’s important for today. Actually, I live my life in two week increments, starting on Wednesday. I get chemo on Wednesday, take a bunch of steroids and nausea meds on Thursday, go for fluids on Friday (and more meds for nausea) to get through the weekend of spending time with my family and attending worship, go to co-op on Monday and then get more fluids and nausea meds, rest of Tuesday (and attempt to catch up on school since I’ve been at the hospital), then get labs and MORE fluids and meds on Wednesday. Then I spend the next 7 glorious days at home, trying to drink enough fluid and having fun with my kids. I let the little things slide. They just don’t bug me. They aren’t important. On Wednesday it starts all over again. Life is slowly getting a rhythm. Not the one we want, but it’s still a rhythm.

It’s good to be alive, cancer or no cancer. I’d take life without cancer, but that’s in the cards right now. What is in the cards? A life that’s speaks to others. May my life speak as a blessing.

Note: I tolerated the new chemotherapy well. Cisplatin works best with Gemzar as was considered the gold standard for treatment 5 years ago and still is, but has horrible side effects. I would appreciate prayers that I don’t react to the cisplatin. I have high hopes of remission with this cocktail – shaken not stirred of course.