What’s Your Color?

I promised myself I wouldn’t go there this year, yet here I am. I told myself I have to immerse myself in my own battle and not try to fight any others. Yet, here I am. I know I’m too tired to really fight effectively, but I will try. Someone has to.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite the brilliant reds, oranges, yellows and tans of the leaves and the gorgeous sunsets, all I see is pink. Bubble gum, Pepto-Bismol pink. The Ultimate Bengal Fan commented the other day that orange and pink should not be worn together, and this is the kid who would wear stripes and plaids.

It seems that cancer has been boiled down to a color. What color is your cancer? Are you pink, blue, teal, yellow, purple, green, white or some combination thereof. Are you saving the ta-tas or some other body part? A fellow teal sister on a Facebook group I’m a part of commented on the tasteless “Go Braless” campaign to promote breast cancer awareness. She thought we should go commando to bring awareness to gynecologic cancers. Actually, guys could join in with this as well. Prostate and testicular cancer are below the belt as well.

I think the people who come up with these “campaigns” mean well, but they don’t think things through. When you’re fighting for your life, you aren’t thinking pink, teal, purple or any other color. You’re trying to figure out when you can take your next anti-nausea pill. You’re trying to decide how you can hide the overwhelming fatigue from your family so they don’t worry. Some days you wonder how you’re going to haul your butt out of bed to go to the bathroom, then you hear some perky AM news host talk about how they’re painting the town pink with bras. Hey, I would gladly go braless, but as a former boss of mine used to say “You’ll take your eye out ” (I’m rather well endowed).

I’m tired of hearing about moms who have breast cancer and take care of their families. Lots of people with cancer go through therapy and take care of their families and never receive one bit of recognition. I certainly don’t blog about my journey for the recognition. Truth is that the vast majority of cancer patients deal with their families and some have to work to keep their insurance or a roof over their head. Those are the real heroes. The ones that go through treatment and keep life going. They should get a gold crown. They deserve the recognition. Not that the mom with breast cancer doesn’t – she does. She’s doing the toughest job imaginable while fighting cancer. She just shouldn’t be singled out when there are so many others who do the exact same thing.

Cancer isn’t a color. It’s a wretched disease that destroys your body, mind and spirit and leaves families shattered. If you’re lucky, like I am, you have an incredible support system that holds you close when you can’t do it on your own. I have a God who is immensely powerful to save and holds me close. I have friends who will gladly stay with my children so I can get my infusions. Yesterday I discovered that I am in need of fluids on the weeks I don’t get chemo. This means a 90 minute infusion of saline, along with some extra steroid and anti-nausea meds. My quick 45 minute trip has turned into a “3 hour tour.” Fortunately, the 3 hours I spend affords me a few days of actually feeling good before I descend back into the depths of feeling lousy.

It just seems wrong to try to limit cancer to a color. It’s as if tying a deadly disease to a color makes it less threatening. How can something pink or blue or yellow take lives every day? I guess it’s like a tiger in the wild. They are majestic to look at, but I certainly don’t want to meet one up close.

Fortunately, we’re about halfway through the “pink month.” Then we can get on with life again. Until then, I will politely decline when asked if I want to give to a another “pink ribbon” charity. I will explain that pink doesn’t represent all women’s cancers. And I will laugh at the lack of color coordination on the part of the NFL. Pink shoes with football uniforms just doesn’t do it for me. And don’t even get me started on how much of what’s raised actually goes to patients. That’s for another rant on another day.

The color of cancer is reflected in the eyes of every patient, male or female. It’s reflected in the color of their skin since cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives. Cancer is the plague of the 21st century. The only color I want associated with it is whatever color the cure is. Then, I will proudly wear the color of cancer. The color that caused it’s demise.

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Limbo Land

Life has been a mix of whirlwind and waiting these last few weeks.  It’s been a whirlwind in that it was only a month ago when the blood clots in my legs began to endanger my life.  It was those same clots, however, that triggered the alarm that the Beast had returned.  Since my last post, I have undergone a liver biopsy (not the worst thing, but definitely not for the faint of heart) and an MRI of my brain (which showed nothing).  Both were more of a CYA thing for Dr. Downer, but definitely raised my stress level beyond anything I’ve experienced in my life to date.

The liver biopsy was to confirm that the cancer was, in fact, ovarian cancer.  I couldn’t imagine God allowing me to go through another type of cancer, but hey, it’s the oncologist’s party not mine.  The recovery took longer than the actual procedure (20 minutes versus 4 hours in recovery then two days of being a couch potato diva).  The pathologist said the biopsy was a perfect match to my previous one taken at my hysterectomy.  I’m always glad to oblige a doctor.  Makes both our lives easier. So once we had that, Dr. Downer confirmed his treatment plan with one caveat.  Get an MRI of my brain on the very, very, VERY low risk outside chance the cancer went too far north.

If you’ve ever had an MRI, you know those tubes aren’t huge.  Having a plate over your face and not being able to see out can be distressing.  Fortunately, the tech put a washcloth over my eyes so when I opened them (despite my hubby’s urging not to) I couldn’t see how I was crammed into the tube like a sardine.  Thirty minutes later, including the contrast IV, I was done and happily returning to my regularly scheduled programming.  A few hours later, the Lovely Liz called to tell me I had nothing but a brain in my head.  Good to know the brain is there.  Now I’ve been given the green light.  Let the poisoning commence!

I will say that I’m completely tapped out.  Coach Cathy and I were talking yesterday and I told her I was way overdue for the massive breakdown cry that should have come by now.  I have shed tears, but mostly because I feel like a lousy Mom because my kids are having to face the fear of losing Mom for a second time in three years.  I feel like an awful wife since Hubby has to deal with the worse and sickness part of our wedding vows rather than the better and health.  I feel like a moocher friend since I am always asking people to take the kids, go with me to appointments, pray for me and my family, and all the other stuff that goes along with being a cancer patient.  But right now I’m so tired I can’t even sleep.  I can’t focus.  My tank just ran completely out.  The last fumes are gone.

Yet tomorrow I will walk into Good Samaritan Hospital yet again.  I will go to the 4th floor to the Cancer Institute and begin bonding with my Angel in Blue again.  We will go through the labs, the premeds, then begin the hours long infusion process.  At least I know what to bring this time.  My laptop (for Netflix and Hulu), my grown up coloring books and nice pencils (no kid stuff for me) and some cross stitch.  Also my Lovenox injection, some Tylenol and the blanket my wonderful Mother-in-Law sewed up for me.  The look is casual.  PJ pants and a T-shirt with funky socks.  No make-up, but I generally do my hair (hey, when you haven’t had it, you tend to want to take care of it).  Oh and let’s not forget the wonderful lunch fresh from the hospital cafeteria.  Tomorrow is 1 of 12 infusions.  After I complete the first six, I have a scan to ensure the poison is doing more than killing off white blood cells and platelets.  If the scan looks good, then we go for 6 more infusions.  I’ll end in mid-March – again.  Actually, it will be very close to the end of my first chemo which was March 15, 2013.

I’m ready to say goodbye to Limbo Land and move on with life.  Today, though, is for hanging with my boys and having fun. It’s probably the last time I may actually feel good (relatively speaking since I’ve been so hyped up and overstressed the last few weeks) in quite a while so I need to enjoy it.  It’s about living in this moment and not the moments to come.  It’s about loving and living and embracing all that’s good in life.  Because even when it’s bad, there’s always something good in life.  Limbo land makes you appreciate that.  It makes you realize it’s the journey, not the destination.  It’s time to move on.

Standing Strong

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I love this picture.  It’s my favorite one from my vacation.  Usually my favorite pictures are those of my kids or me and the hubby.  But I LOVE this picture.  It was taken on a very windy day atop the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan.  The tree in the picture is a poplar tree.  It is at least 70 feet tall and has roots that stretch out beneath the dunes in search of nourishment.  It gets beaten by winds and sand and yet is full and green and provides the only shade available for miles (I know, I stood there when I was hot one day). 

I’ve been thinking about this tree, so much so that I’ve decided to frame a print of this picture and hang it above my desk.  I’ve decided that in life you are either the tree or the sand.  You make the choice. 

One thing I love about the dunes is that they are never the same.  They change day to day, hour to hour and sometimes even minute to minute depending on the wind and other factors.  Every time someone places a footprint on the dunes, they change.  What I did notice is that from just about anywhere I walked, I could find my tree.

To get to the dunes you have to climb and incredibly steep hill.  It’s nearly straight up.  My hubby and sons scampered up the hill while I hauled my body up using ropes that protected a portion of the dunes (I wasn’t the only one.  Lots of people did this).  I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath.  I found myself more than once thinking, “This is nuts!  I will NEVER make it up this hill.”  And yet, I put one hand over the other and hauled myself up that dune.  The view from the top is spectacular.  You can see all of Silver Lake.  When you walk to the other side, you get a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.  Two beautiful views separated by one square mile of sand, populated with dune wood (it’s like drift wood, only a LOT sharper from the constant bombardment of the sand).  It’s surreal, alien and beautiful all at the same time.

Cancer is a lot like the dunes. One side is the life you had before cancer – I call this Silver Lake.  It’s peaceful and relatively calm.  You are in your own little lake and can quietly live your life protected from the majority of the storms.

Then cancer hits.  Suddenly you are faced with the steepest climb of your life.  Surgery, debulking, and chemotherapy leave you reeling.  You keep climbing in hopes of reaching the top, but when you do you can’t get solid footing.  Just when you think you’ve found someplace solid to walk, the sand dissipates beneath your feet and you sink down, stumble and, perhaps, fall down.  Unfortunately, no one is going to rescue you so you have to get back up and keep walking. 

Off in the distance you hear the ORVs (Off Road Vehicles) racing the dunes.  I can’t decide if the sound is annoying or down right obnoxious (guess it depends on your mood).  We did two tours of the dunes, one in a large group and the other in a Jeep tour.  Both were fun and I can certainly see the attraction of not having a speed limit while driving on huge mountains of sand, but the ORV area reminded me of the people who buzz by you when you have cancer.  They are on the edges, but refuse to actually engage with you.

While you might think Lake Michigan is remission, I tend to disagree.  Lake Michigan is beautiful when it’s calm.  When it storms it’s not much different than the ocean and many ships have been lost.  At it’s deepest point, it’s over 900 feet deep.  So while it looks calm and the sounds of the waves lapping can lull you to sleep, don’t be fooled. 

Nope, I’m still on the dunes trying to navigate my way.  My feet keep sliding because of the neuropathy.  I’m slowly developing lymphedema in my legs from the lack of lymph nodes in my groin so my feet get fat and walking doesn’t help.  Osteopenia and bone pain throw me for a loop.  Sometimes I’m on top of a large dune looking down.  At other times, I find myself in the valley between the dunes trying to figure out how to climb the next one. 

Finding your path on the dunes is really tough.  First you have to decide if you’re going barefoot or wearing shoes.  I found going barefoot to be a bit easier, mostly because I could feel where my feet were when I was barefoot (I lose the ability to find my feet when I walk a lot due to the neuropathy).  Trust me, you have to know where your feet are at all times and knowing they are at the end of your shins isn’t enough.

Once you have the whole footwear issue (or lack thereof) decided, you just start walking.  Some are easy to climb.  I liken these to weekly labs during chemo.  They aren’t hard, but necessary.  Some are more difficult and are like those semi-annual CT scans.  You have to do them and waiting for the results is tough, but in the end you come out on top.  Then there are the monsters.  They’re steep no matter how you try to approach them.  That’s chemo and life after chemo.

Let’s call a spade a spade and say “Chemo sucks,” because it does.  But life after cancer isn’t exactly a walk on the beach.  You have to keep climbing all these small and medium size dunes, then suddenly a big dune is right in front of you.  You can’t really walk around it and, depending where you are or where you want to go, going back isn’t an option.  So you start to plan a route and start walking.  The sand shifts, the wind blows, your feet sink and you wonder if you chose the right path.  You might even have to change course a couple of times.  Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. 

The path you chose is probably not the path your companion chooses, no matter how close you are.  You see, we all walk our own path.  While others may walk on our path for a while, only you walk your path for the entire journey. 

Wherever I walked, I always looked for my tree. It was my focal point.  If I could find that tree, I could get out.  Jesus is the tree and I am the sand.  I blow helter skelter while He stands strong.  If I find the tree, I find life.

Walking on the dunes is a challenge, just like walking through life.  We all have our own challenges.  The walk isn’t easy and some will quit.  Others will walk in circles.  The idea is to stand strong like the tree so you can make your way through the shifting sand.  Remember it’s how you walk your journey, not how quickly you reach your destination that’s important.

Reflections on a Year Gone By

As I write this I realize I was still in surgery one year ago today, blissfully unaware of what my oncologist was doing inside my body.  My husband and family were experiencing increasing anxiety since the surgery had gone on at least 90 minutes longer than they anticipated.  It would be at least 90 more minutes before John would be able to actually see me.  It would be at least an hour after that before I would be awake enough to know what was going on around me.  I still had a TPA injection, nuclear scan and admittance to ICU ahead of me.  To coin a phrase, this day sucked one year ago.

Today I did some of the things with my boys that I did on the day before my surgery last year.  We bought Braeden’s Halloween costume, then went to Barn and Bunk to buy our pumpkins.  Unlike last year when we had amazing weather, it poured down rain today.  After lunch at Max and Erma’s we headed home to watch Halloween specials we recorded.  Nothing major, nothing out of the ordinary unless you consider that the pulmonary embolism last year nearly killed me.  Now I love those ordinary moments.  We never know how many we have.

October 17, 2012 started a whirlwind I didn’t think I’d be able to escape.  I went from being totally out of it in ICU (those of you who visited me can attest to those 8 minute naps I took between hits on the pain pump) to walking the halls of the gyn floor.  I listened as my oncologist pulled the rug out from underneath me believing that if after 4 days I’d had no bad news, it must be good news.  “You have Stage 1C ovarian cancer.  I believe I got all of it.  You will need to undergo 6 rounds of chemotherapy as a precaution.  Here’s your report.  Let’s talk about it.”  It’s amazing that with the chemo fog I can still remember his words verbatim.

Three weeks later, with port inserted, I began chemo for what ended up being 7 rounds instead of 6.  I endured blood thinners that were injected into my abdomen, compression stockings, nausea, baldness, hot flashes, cold spells, constipation, headaches, ringing ears, blurry vision, neuropathy and a whole host of other symptoms that were supposed to be suppressed by a shoebox full of medications.  I still suffer from hot flashes (as a result of instant menopause from the hysterectomy), cold spells (from the anemia I had prior to the surgery that got worse with the chemo along with the Coumadin I take to thin my blood), constipation (chemo side effect, neuropathy of the large intestine), floaters in my eyes (thank you again, chemo), and neuropathy and joint pain in my hands and feet (kudos, chemo).  I can also add hernia to the list, but with a 12″ scar down my abdomen I shouldn’t be surprised.

I have spent the last few weeks wondering if I’ve been walking in a dream for the last year.  Then I check the mirror.  The salt and pepper hair and hysterectomy scar are the visual reminders I face every day.  The pain is a visceral reminder.  Every so often chemo fog kicks in and gives me a reprieve.  I can’t remember what I’d like to forget.  I really don’t remember much about chemo except that I was VERY sick and scared the crap out of everyone who saw me, except for Cathy.  She knew what to expect.  Chemo friends are like that.

I cleaned out my closet and room last week and packed up all my cancer hats.  They are in a box in my cedar chest waiting for me.  I got rid of my “sick” clothes I wore last year.  I just couldn’t stand to think about wearing them again.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  While my hair finally looks “normal” I’m not allowed to color it yet.  I look strange, old, tired, cancerous.  There’s something sad about the person in the mirror.  She lost a part of herself and gained a shadow that’s always lurking behind her.  I am waiting for the shadow to become commonplace so I can feel normal again.

I still don’t plan too far ahead.  The idea of having to tell my boys that we can’t do something because I’m sick again is more than I can handle.  I have made every soccer and flag football game so far this season.  I have bought Halloween candy.  I am working on losing excess weight to help me get healthy and help the hernia.  We’ve discussed visiting John’s family for Thanksgiving.  I see my doctor every 3 months.  I get my CT scan every 6 months.  Despite the 88-90% chance of being “cured,” it’s a long 10 year road.  And someone has to be in the bad end of the line, not that I’m asking to stand there.

The last year has been a dark, scary one.  I have found that I have people that I can count on and who love me.  God has blessed me with new friends, strengthened casual friendships to something stronger, and made me a better person.  I am more tolerant and less concerned with the little things (unless it’s schoolwork, then all bets are off).  I nap more and feel guilty less.  I appreciate what I have and don’t pine for what I don’t (except for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer – that I drool over in stores).  I hug my husband and sons a little longer and a little tighter.  I say I love you more often.  I am more willing to get rid of the clutter.  I’m willing to try something new since you never know if the chance will come again (hello canoeing).

Life can change in an instant.  I know that now.  I only wish I hadn’t chosen such a difficult way to learn it.

Reflections

Yesterday I celebrated my 49th birthday.  There was a time when I would cringe at the thought of being 49, despite the fact that I have a couple of friends who have crossed over the half century mark.  As with many birthdays, I reflected on the past year.  What a ride it’s been!  Last year I didn’t enjoy my birthday.  I’d just found out about the mass on my ovary and, despite being 7 weeks from confirmed diagnosis, I knew I had ovarian cancer.  I was worried and obsessing over everything.  I analyzed every pain and twitch.  I poured over research and websites.  I stopped living and started planning for what I thought would be the end of things.  The picture above shows me on my birthday last year.  My husband told me that I looked sick last year.  He said I look “healthy and vibrant” this year.  Good thing, since that’s how I feel.

I am amazed at what I’ve been through in the past year and have managed to not only survive, but thrive!  My life is a testimony to what God can do when you reach the end of your rope and have only Him to hang onto.  It’s a living example of what it means to be surrounded by people (who are too innumerable to mention) who refuse to allow you to give up even when you want to give up yourself.

In the last year I have learned that I can survive major surgery, a life threatening blood clot, chemotherapy, self injections of blood thinners, more blood tests that I thought were possible, a port insertion, too many trips to doctors to count and more scans than a body should have to endure while homeschooling two boys, keeping the house of a semblance of a schedule and continuing to write.  I have learned that chemo is a double edged sword.  While it saves your life, it takes your memory.  It kills the cancer and numbs your hands and feet.  And I will find out today just how much damage it did to my eyes (I have floaters which appeared when chemo started and are getting worse).  I have done all this while wrestling with the effects of instant menopause without the benefit of being able to have any hormones to help with the adjustment.

I am a warrior in teal.  I want to make teal as prominent as pink.  I posted on FB that since it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I was going to try to wear teal every day (today, my only teal is my wrist band, all my teal clothes are in the wash).  I wear it for those who walked before me and paved the way and for those who will inevitably come behind me.  I wear it for my oncologist, his incredible staff and the nurses and aides at the OPCC at Good Sam who saved my life.  I wear it because my Dad would wear it and say no one else’s daughter should ever have to go through what my daughter went through.  I wear it to show my mom that I’m just as stubborn as she is and that I got my strength to endure from her.  I wear it to honor my husband who had to walk a path that no partner should ever have to walk, but did so with the strength and courage to carry both of us.  I wear it for the two boys I am proud to call my sons, who were forced to grow up in ways that young children shouldn’t have to, but did so without complaint.  I wear it for my friends who called, brought meals, sent cards, took care of children, sat with me, cried with me and prayed for my family.  Their presence in my life cannot be defined.

I wear teal because God has a mission for me that I need to grab hold of and claim.  I wear teal because I survived.  I don’t know what the future holds.  Life is so fragile and never goes according to plan, no matter how much we put toward that goal.  Keeping God in the midst of chaos is what anchored me to life.

As I look forward, I still face monthly blood work for Coumadin.  I face quarterly CA125 testing and exams and semi-annual CT’s.  And yes, I do get concerned.  I will become apprehensive before seeing my oncologist knowing that despite the odds, I still might have to face the Beast again.  I look forward to entering a clinical trial for my oncologist in hopes that I can help him determine ways to beat back the Beast.  And I will wear teal for my visits.

So as I reflect on my 48th year and look forward to number 49, I will wear teal and smile.  I have been through so much and come out stronger for it.  I wear teal as a reminder and to show I am better for my experience.  And, I look good in it.

Processing Life

I have had a serious case of the grouchies for the last week or so.  I couldn’t figure out why.  I know funds are tight (when aren’t they?) and the boys are perpetually tired (golf camp, July 4th, VBS and all the other summer fun), especially since they won’t sleep in, but that didn’t explain why I felt the need to dive into every box that remotely looked like it might contain chocolate and no soy.  Then, it happened.  Last night, I just dissolved into tears when I realized why I was grouchy.  My brain is processing and it really doesn’t like to do that.

I’m convinced that having cancer is a bit like childbirth, although I’ve never had the pleasure of childbirth.  My friends tell me that childbirth hurts, A LOT!  But after they see that sweet little face and get home and bond with their little bundle, they forget how much it hurt (thus the explanation for having more than one child).  With cancer, after you have a few months of remission under your belt, you forget just how miserable you really were.  Oh, you know you were miserable, you just don’t remember the pain that went with it.

John told me that there were nights right after chemo that he would wake up and make sure I was still breathing (ironically, I did the same thing when he was diagnosed with his arrested hydrocephalus) since I looked so pale.  Obviously I have no recollection of this, nor of much else from my time I spent bonding with chemotherapy.  I realized yesterday that I have no recollection of Thanksgiving, except that it was the weekend John shaved my head.  I also have no memory of Christmas, except that my oven broke on Christmas Eve and I had to make whatever it was I had to make in my Crock Pot.  Other than that, it’s all a blur.  It’s like I had one very long day that lasted from November 9 – March 15.

Now, I can attribute some of it to being seriously stupid (my term for chemo fog), but not all of it.  I am convinced that my brain was so overloaded by the sheer enormity of the events slamming me in rapid succession that it just shut down – BOOM!  I know people tend to forget parts of traumatic events in an effort to seal off the pain.  It’s the brain’s defense mechanism.  Maybe that’s why there’s a chemo fog, so patients forget about the crap that goes with the treatment.

While I certainly don’t want to relive those times, I would like to have some memory.  I have a few recollections, mostly of the kindness people extended to myself and my family.  I remember our friend Renie giving up her Mondays to spend a couple of hours at the Outpatient Cancer Care Center (OPCC) while I got fluids.  My friend Cathy drove me to labs and went to my first post chemo CT scan.  She also texted quite often or called.  I know she was checking up and giving me pep talks, but I can’t remember them.  My friend Kelley took the boys for an extended period on chemo days, did school with them, fed them, entertained them and still brought dinner for John and I.  I can’t remember any of the meals, except her lentil soup, which sustained me for several days.  I still need that recipe!

I do remember the care I received from every person at the OPCC.  I do remember every nurses’ name.  My incredible nurse, Sharon, had to take a leave of absence shortly after I started chemo, but when she was there she always took care of me.  So did Kelly, Jacqueline, John, Barbara, Whitley and Paige.  They were my lifeline.  I recently returned to the OPCC after my first 3 month absence to have my CA-125 drawn.  Whitley and Paige gave me a teddy bear because they missed me!  Apparently, on my good days, I made cookies and brownies for the girls.  I really don’t remember this, but I do know that when I felt good, I baked just because it made me feel normal.  This was their way of saying thanks.  I bawled like a baby then too.  I’m not sure if it was because I was overwhelmed by their generosity or because I couldn’t remember doing anything.  I think that may have been what started the grouchies.

Now that I realize I’m processing, it’s somewhat easier, although I’m still in a chocoholic frenzy. Unfortunately, I can no longer blame PMS, but I’m hoping menopause can be somewhat responsible.  I realize I need to take care of myself (it’s kind of fallen to the wayside).  On OVCA boards, I find myself telling people who are newly diagnosed to be kind to themselves, that life will take care of itself.  I need to take my own advice.  I need to try to let go of the past and realize it’s shaped who I am, but it doesn’t define me.  I faced the Beast in the eye and stared him down and, hopefully, walked away a better person for it.

So I continue to process my past, grieve what I lost, and embrace what’s to come.  It’s gonna’ be great!

Dress Rehearsal

I have decided that my life before cancer was simply a dress rehearsal.  And I went through a lot of “stuff” before cancer. I think it’s the “stuff” that gives you the strength to fight cancer.  If you haven’t had a lot of “stuff,” you might not have the tools to really fight well.

When I graduated from college, all my friends were getting married so, of course, I wanted to get married too.  I hated being the third wheel.  Fortunately, one of my best friends got divorced during this time, but she ended up going to law school so I didn’t see her that often.  So I started dating a guy who was wrong for me on so many levels that I could write about it for YEARS and still not complete the explanation (my “sister” Sue can, however, give you the synopsis of why this guy was such a bad choice in 30 words or less).  If I hadn’t had that experience, I could never appreciate what a great guy I married.  And, despite his few flaws, he is absolutely perfect for me.  There is no way my ex-idiot, I mean fiancé, would have or could have stood by me through anything.

John and I have faced unemployment, financial distress, and infertility.  I’d have to say that the financial and infertility issues are a toss up.  Both are long term battles that suck you dry.  Both take an incredible commitment to stay together and work through it.  And both need to not place blame on the other.  We are stronger for being together through it.

Of course, infertility had its silver lining.  I have two incredibly handsome, funny, talented and amazing boys that lived in foreign countries that God gave us to raise.  Traveling to a foreign country is not for the faint of heart.  Three weeks in Russia, while amazing, took its toll on us.  And after two failed adoption attempts, the four days in Guatemala, while incredible, were hard on Kyle and my mom, especially since my dad had only been gone 5 months when we left and we were all acutely aware that Braeden would never get to meet his Papaw.  Reflecting back, however, John and I have decided that Braeden has, in fact, met his Papaw as he seems to be channeling him in a regular basis now.  They are random comments that my dad would have made and I marvel at how Braeden gets his wish to “meet” his grandpa.

Losing both our fathers within 3 years gave both of us a glimpse of the struggle at the end of life.  We put our intentions in place and have medical power of attorney’s and living wills.  And in 2012, we both had to have the talk about “if something happens to me, you WILL honor my wishes.”  John faced a potentially life threatening neurological incident that turned out to be something congenital.  It was, to that point, the roughest 6 weeks of my life.  While I had faced the death of my father and father-in-law, I never expected to face the prospect of being a widow at 47.  I am proud of the way John handled the entire experience (me, not so much.  I was pretty selfish with my prayers).  And it helped us learn why John’s short term memory is not as sharp as we thought it should be. 

Six weeks after that, the mass was found on my left ovary.  I KNEW it was cancer and even told John.  I hadn’t had any tests yet, but I just knew.  Being the incredible husband he is, he went through the entire spiel about not knowing anything and it’s probably nothing since that’s what the doctor says, yada, yada, yada.  But I knew.  Six weeks later, after nearly dying after surgery, I had to tell my husband I had cancer.  He missed the doctor because he had to take the kids to our homeschool co-op that day and was a little late.  I don’t think I will EVER forget the look on his face.  I don’t even know how to describe it.  For a brief moment, I had to be the strong one while he had to face the prospect of a life without a wife.  When I think back on this, I cry.  We’d had so many rugs pulled out from under us and landed on our feet.  This time, we landed smack on our butts and it hurt.

Once I was home, we laid out our action plan.  I would go to chemo and he would work something out with his boss so he could be with me.  We embarked on the longest, hardest journey of our lives and marriage – chemotherapy.  Lots of couples divorce during cancer treatment.  Spouses can’t handle it.  My husband shaved my head, cleaned the house, took care of the kids, held me when I cried and kept his vow of “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health.”  We definitely had the worse and sickness thing nailed during those 5 months.

Looking back, neither one of us could have come out on the other side of my battle without having been through all those smaller battles that seemed insurmountable at the time.  Had I not battled infertility and being told “No you can’t have children,” would I have developed the determination to fight and prove my doctors wrong.  Had I not dated an idiot, I would not have had to fortitude to know how to advocate for myself.  Had I not had the experience of losing my dad, I would not have learned how to fight.  Being a mom gave me the will to fight for my kids.  Being married gave me a partner to join me in battle.  Being a daughter of the one true King gave the hope that it was all in His hands.

My life to that point was a dress rehearsal for survival.  This experience has added another dimension to who I am.  Just like the experiences prior to this, ovarian cancer does not define me, but it helps shape the person I am becoming. 

No one jumps up and down and begs for cancer (if they do, they are truly more idiotic than my ex).  It happens, just like that stuff in the other more common phrase.  It’s a monster that takes far too many warriors in the battle for life.  I am thankful that I get to fight another day – every day.  Perhaps that’s the lesson from this battle.  Life makes you a better person.  You can face it head on or let it run over you.  My dress rehearsal taught me to always face life head on.  I wonder what challenges are next?