When Life Doesn’t Cooperate

The news isn’t good.  My cancer continues to grow (it’s nice to know I can grow something).  I had my CT scan yesterday and got the news from Lovely Liz around 2:20 pm (funny how you remember those things).  Strangely, she was a bit upbeat, like it’s time to get moving now.  We’ve played around long enough.

Now I was sure that my cancer had shrunk.  I would have bet money on it.  I think Pete Rose would have taken that bet.  But life didn’t cooperate.  I don’t feel bad, except for the persistent nausea from the cisplatin.  I’m not even that tired.  It’s strange, but a good strange.  I know God is in control, no matter what comes next.

It’s not that I didn’t cry, I did.  But not because I’m sad, because I’m really not.  Pissed off is more like it.  Pissed that I feel like I’ve wasted 12 weeks of treatment.  Pissed that my kids have to continue to go through this.  Pissed that I’ve got at least 24 more weeks of treatment and that will seriously cut into my planned vacation time.  Pissed that my dad is not personally here to share this experience.  I think my anger is being properly directed rather than being flung at the wall like taking a handful of darts and flinging them, hoping for the best.

Dr. Determined (I like this better than Dr. Downer) immediately went into full fight mode.  Lovely Liz told me he skipped over the next couple of drugs in line.  I imagine these drugs standing in line like tin soldiers waiting for their chance to be called up and Dr. D decides to call in the Navy Seals instead.  And I’ve got to say, I LOVE the name of this new drug.  It makes me smile every time I say it – Topotecan (pronounced toe-poe-tee-can).  Isn’t that just be best name for a killer drug.  Sounds so innocent.

Topotecan is from the Asian Happy Tree and is part of the Hyacinth family.  It has a single minded mission – to destroy the DNA of cancer cells as they replicate.  I imagine the double helix model with its red, blue, yellow and green ends twisting hoping to create more, when this little tiki guy comes in with his mask and rattle (think crazy witch doctor from Scooby-Doo and you’ve got my mental image) untwists the helix and starts pulling the ends of the DNA.  The helix collapses.  The witch doctor does another crazy dance and moves on to the next one.  You can’t help but laugh or smile with this drug.

There are some positives.  While my bone marrow will continue to take a hit and fatigue will be a greater monster, nausea may become a thing of the past.  I am so nauseated today that this sounds like the best trade ever.  It’s also done in 4 week cycles.  I get an infusion every Wednesday for 3 weeks, then I get a week off.  The infusion lasts about 2 hours, so I’ll only be at the hospital for 3 hours or so.  As I’ve asked so many, “What will I do with my Wednesday afternoons?”  Seriously, I’ve always had all day infusions.  This is great! To celebrate, I’m getting a new haircut tomorrow.  Well, actually I’m getting the haircut because my hair has lost its curl and is flat and thin, but it sounds better to say I’m celebrating.

God has promised me healing.  I heard Him say it and He NEVER talks to me audibly so this is a promise I cling to.  My husband and I ask only for shrinking tumors and that they become stable.  We can live with stable.  We can live with smaller.  Maybe this is why I’m just not all that worried.  As I explained to my Ultimate Bengal Fan, Dr. Determined’s job is to find the right drug, mine is to fight and not give up and God’s is to do the rest.  Since God has the biggest job, who am I to stand in His way?

Please don’t feel sorry for us.  We don’t.  Pity doesn’t make anyone feel better.  If anything, we are more determined than ever to fight as a family.  The boys are looking forward to a more nausea free mom and Hubby hopes his cooking days are quickly coming to an end.  I am looking forward to Wednesday afternoons.  And God has all this in His Hands.  Life may not be great, but it’s good.  I feel good.  Other than the nausea, better than I have in weeks.

Bring on the Topotecan and smile.  God has work to do.

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A Chemo Diary

Dear Diary,

Why does everyone want to know what chemo is like? Isn’t it enough that I post about the intense waves of nausea, the debilitating fatigue and the seemingly endless amounts of medication? Are these people nuts or do are they just have a morbid curiosity about the suffering of others? In an effort to satisfy this strange curiosity of my readers (and begging the forgiveness of those who know the drill all ready), here is a typical day of chemotherapy.

6:00 AM: Wake up to NPR. Slap alarm clock hard because I’ve only just fallen asleep two hours before because of the steroids I have to take the night before chemo. Throw off blankets when Hubby comes in to remind me it’s chemo day (like you can forget that. “Oh my gosh Honey, thanks for reminding me today is the day I get poisoned. I totally forgot!”). Stumble into the bathroom and again think about creating a mirror that doesn’t show your face first thing in the morning.

6:05 AM: Give myself my Lovenox shot to prevent blood clots. At this point, I think this is funny since my platelets were so low last week I was warned if I hit my head, Hubby needed to take me straight to the ER since I was at risk for cranial bleeding. After shot, I do a dance since the shot burns like crazy. I consider this my morning aerobics. After aerobics, I brush my teeth and get dressed. My outfit on chemo day is always the same; pajama pants and an comfy v-neck shirt. I also put my Emla cream over my port. Emla is a topical anesthetic cream that keeps you from feeling the stick of the needle when they access your port. Considering the needle is over an inch long, I’m entitled to be a wuss about this.

6:15 (or so) AM: I make my cup of tea and start on breakfast. I used to be a coffee drinker. I still love the smell of coffee and I can’t wait until I can drink it again. My stomach no longer appreciates the health benefits of coffee, thanks to chemo. I like tea, but it’s just not the same. I drink my tea as I make Cream of Wheat on top of the stove to take with me. Steroids make your blood sugar surge so I don’t eat before the Angel in Blue draws my labs. My blood sugar is always high, but it’s a psychological thing for me. That and I don’t get lunch until noon so I’m starving by 10 if I eat too early.

6:25 AM: Mamma Renie arrives, coffee in hand (I am SO jealous) to wrangle the boys. Actually, the boys are in bed so she gets to enjoy a few hours of quiet before the onslaught. We joke about the day ahead as Hubby loads up the car with my stuff. I take a backpack loaded with my Kindle Fire, my Dammit Doll, quart water bottle, Laughing Snoopy (more on him later), slippers, comics (which has the crossword on the back), book for Hubby and other assorted items including anything that will be used to decorate Ivy Poleski (my IV pole). Snowflakes seem appropriate given the weather so there will be some in the pack. This weighs about 12 pounds and I lug it myself (weight training). I hug Momma and she gives me my biweekly pep talk about how the cancer is dying and this is all good. I cry. She cries. Hubby leaves.

6:40 AM: Finally on the road. Hubby doesn’t listen to any stations with traffic since they’re always wrong. We start the 30 mile drive to the hospital quiet, but then we generally start mocking other drivers or talk about how we really need a new car. Or a new couch. Or a new mattress. He usually reminds me at this point that I need to e-mail the Bengal Fan’s youth leader about a ride home since Hubby needs to stay with me. We talk about the traffic and which exit to get off. We drive through the not so nice parts of town, but always past Graeter’s production facility. I tell him what kind of ice cream I’ll want that afternoon (coconut chip). I never vary the flavor, but it’s our routine. We watch the kids walk to school and he asks of the kids are caught up at home. Yes, they are. If we are lucky enough to be running early, we stop at Dunkin Donuts for a bagel with cream cheese. I save it for my lunch since I hate the one they give me at the infusion center. Otherwise, it’s straight to the hospital.

7:53 (or so) AM: John drops me off at the outside door to the infusion center. I lug my backpack for more weight training. It’s not a long walk, unless your hemoglobin is low. Then it’s still not long, just breathtaking. I see Nancy, one of three PCA’s who I would venture to guess are the sweetest and kindest in the world (my PCA is nicer than your PCA). We chat while she checks me in. Then she calls Karen, another of the sweetest PCAs ever, to take me back.

8:00 AM: The drill begins. I lug my stuff to the scale and get weighed. I hate this. Chemo patients should not have to be weighed. Oh, I know we need to so pharmacy can calculate the dosages for all the meds, but a little known fact is that the majority of chemo patients GAIN weight. Thank you steroids and carbs. Then I am escorted to my throne for the day, a recliner, which sits across from Karen and the Angel’s desk where she takes my BP and temperature. As if on cue when she’s done, the Angel appears and we get started.

8:05 AM: After hugs (yes, hugging your nurse is mandatory) and unpacking, we get started. Angel draws the labs quickly so we can get the results quickly. I have an 8 hour day at the center and the sooner we get started, the sooner I get to go home. Once the labs are drawn, I heat up my Cream of Wheat and fill my quart water bottle. I also decorate Ivy for the day. I am the only patient who does this and some of the other nurses come back to see Ivy’s attire for the session. Karen brings me my pillow and warm blankie. Snoopy and the Doll cuddle with me while I am set up on my first saline infusion. Because of the cisplatin, I have to have a half liter of saline before chemo and a half liter after. While I eat and soak up my fluids, we review my medical chart. I love it when we get to the allergies. It’s a joke. My list of allergies is longer than the list of meds I’m on. For some reason, Angel and I always find this amusing.

8:55 AM: Labs are back and are good. Premeds are started. Angel always assumes my labs will be good and orders the premeds. This is also the time I get my first dose of IV Ativan. Ativan is usually an anti-anxiety drug, but some chemo patients find it eliminates nausea as well. I get my Ativan, my Emend (anti-nausea), Prevacid (anti-nausea), Decadron (steroid) and Benadryl (anti-allergy). Benadryl doesn’t make me sleepy. I’ve taken so much of it over the years for my allergies, it has little effect at 25 mg. Mixed with Ativan, however, you get a nice mellow feeling.

9:50 AM: Time to pee; a first of many trips. This is usually when Karen asks about lunch. I always order a ham sandwich with this dinky cracker slice of cheddar cheese. The lunch is rounded out with unsweetened apple sauce and Snackwell cookies. You get your choice of chips (I take Cheetos) and a drink. Usually, Hubby brings me lunch so I eat the Cheetos, drink the drink and save the lunch for B-Man. He likes it.

10:30 AM: Premeds are done. Angel dons her nuclear fallout gear to set up my first chemo treatment. After checking with another nurse that I am getting exactly what is prescribed, she hangs the Gemzar. Gemzar doesn’t really bother me until Saturday after chemo. Then I start rocking with chills and fever. These drugs have such lovely side effects. Usually, I’m watching Netflix on my Kindle and don’t realize that it’s time for the Gemzar. Sometimes my mom comes to sit with me and we get to chatting. To say I’m clueless is correct. I’ve probably finished my first quart of water am off to the bathroom – again.

11:20 AM: Gemzar is done and I go to the bathroom and fill up the water bottle. It’s time for the first of 3 cisplatin infusions. They are done in increasingly stronger doses, with the first being 1%. I am tied to my recliner because my BP will need to be taken every 15 minutes. This is annoying because I have to undo myself from the BP cuff every time I have to pee. And because of the amount of fluid I’m consuming, I have to pee – a lot. This is also where Snoopy comes in. Snoopy likes to laugh in the face of chemo, especially one that is light sensitive. I take 2 Tylenol to offset the hot flashes that sometimes accompany the cisplatin. It’s not an allergic reaction, just another crappy side effect.

11:50 AM: Hubby arrives! Actually, he needs to be there. Since I had such a bad reaction to the carboplatin and was “by myself” (Angel was with a patient and Hubby was out walking) and was unable to press my call button, I am no longer allowed to be “alone” during cisplatin infusions. He brings my lunch and we eat while I’m still upright. The BP cuff continues its annoying pump up every 15 minutes.

12:05 PM: Bathroom break. Hubby and I look for someone to reattach me to my BP cuff before it pumps up again.

12:20 PM: Cisplatin #1 is done and it’s on to bag #2. This one is 11% and lasts for a little over an hour. The infusions go slower, just to be on the safe side. Snoopy laughs.

1:00 PM: Bathroom break. I get a second dose of Ativan by IV since I’m starting to get nauseated. The Dammit Doll gets smacked. Snoopy laughs again. I’m not amused. BP cuff gets reattached. Hubby starts looking for an escape.

1:20 PM: The Chaplain for Oncology, Dave, visits. Hubby and I see him for regular “counseling” every infusion. He helps us work things out. Dave always reminds Hubby he “can’t fix me.” Dave is spot on with his observations and I always feel better talking to him, but given the amount of medication in my system, I generally fall asleep and Dave and Hubby get some much needed quality time. Angel hangs bag number 3 of cisplatin, which will run for 2 hours.

2:15 PM: Bathroom break, with help. Legs are starting to get wobbly. Where is Hubby? Angel watches to make sure I make it to my destination okay. Fortunately, it’s about 10 feet. At this point, I consider the walk more aerobics for the day. Thank goodness for Ivy. She keeps me upright. I notice I’m on bag 3 of cisplatin and wonder when that happened. When I get back, Snoopy laughs. I smack him with the Dammit Doll.

2:30 PM: Time for Netflix. I’m starting to get agitated. I want to go home. Actually I want my coconut chip ice cream. Hubby comes through. I watch Netflix while savoring my ice cream. I laugh at Snoopy. Angel brings an ice pack. We keep one in reserve in case I get warm. It goes on the back of my neck. It works.

3:30 PM: Cisplatin is done. Snoopy and I both laugh. The last half liter of saline starts. This runs for an hour. Now that the BP cuff is off, I go the bathroom. Legs are still wobbly. I want to go home.

4:30 PM: Last infusion is done. Hubby has filled my water bottle for the ride home. Angel has my appointments for follow up fluids and labs. She also has the schedule for after chemo meds which she reviews with Hubby since I am now a a babbling idiot. I start crying because I feel so lousy. Hubby packs up my backpack and carries it so he can get his weight lifting. Angel makes sure Hubby is holding onto me because I wobble when I walk. I hear Snoopy laugh and try to punch my backpack. I miss. I think I’m losing it. Hubby puts me in the car and we head home.

5:45 – 6:15 PM (depending on the traffic): We arrive home. I hug my babies and collapse on Momma Renie. She knows how I feel. She sends me to bed and finds out how she can help Hubby before she leaves.

8:00 PM: Hubby wakes me up for meds. I hate this. I know I need them, but I was sleeping. I feel like crap and know that the next several days will be a struggle. Yet, without the chemo, the Beast will surely kill me. When this is over, I ought to be able to bench press a Mack Truck, since, as they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Now I will be the first to admit not every person experiences chemo in this way. I certainly chose the dramatic route, but I also know that I’m on extremely harsh drugs. As for Snoopy, I think he knows that a little humor goes a long way in making chemo bearable. So do paper snowflakes, Graeter’s and a big hug from God.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Cancer is all about dealing with the unexpected. Let’s face it. No one expects to get cancer, yet it happens. And if you’re in the wrong end of the line, you’ll deal with it multiple times. I could write volumes on why cancer is an awful Beast that God needs to eradicate with a sweep of His mighty sword, but that’s been done. Sometimes it’s the unexpected that arises during cancer that makes you step back and think about why God is asking me to walk this particular path (and trust me, I ask A LOT). I try not to whine the whole “poor me” scenario since Coach Cathy has a strict limit on the number of pity parties I’m allowed to have, so I try to find those little nuggets of gold among the silt of the river. Sometimes you really have to look. Other times they come right up and smack you along side the head.

Christmas always brings unexpected blessings. This year, we were all nearly asleep around 10:15 when our doorbell rang. Hubby went to the door and found a large gift bag with a huge jar in it. The jar was a Christmas Jar and filled with money. Coins and paper up to the top. We were floored. An anonymous note accompanied the jar along with the book Christmas Jars. I’ve started the book and cried through the first 4 chapters. I also find myself crying at the thought of so many people wanting to bless my family this season. I can’t imagine who pulled this together and why everyone who donated felt led to give to us. I wonder if Mary felt a bit like this that first Christmas. Imagine all these strangers coming up to a cave bringing gifts for your baby. You know who your baby is, but still, he is a baby. I’m not sure she looked as serene as the nativity scenes and paintings make her out to be. After all, she had just given birth! She and Joseph had to be blown away by the sheer volume of blessings their baby boy was receiving.

We went to church Christmas Eve. I decided to go, despite feeling nauseated. I love the candlelight service and singing “Silent Night”. While that was moving enough, I was blown away by the sheer number of people who approached me and asked how I was and that they were praying for me. Some I know, most I didn’t. By the time I got to Pastor Brian, I was crying. As I hugged him, I was trying desperately not to use the shoulder of his shirt as a tissue. I didn’t want him to make a bad impression on those who only come to church on Christmas. When another person brought a plate of cookies just for my sons because she thought I wouldn’t feel up to making cookies for them, that was my breaking point. I cried through the whole service. It’s probably a good thing Momma Renie and Papa Dan weren’t there. I would have found Dan and cried like a baby since he reminds me of my own dad. Since he’s the head usher, that would have made collecting the offering a bit interesting with him walking down an aisle and me clinging to him like some sort of weird snake.

On Christmas, I opened my gifts from Sista Sue. She gave me an Angel of Hope. I think this is for both of us. She is reminding me to always have hope, while she remains hopeful that this cancer will be eradicated from my body. The Dammit Doll is much more practical. When you get mad or stressed, you’re supposed to slam it against the wall saying, “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit.” It’s going to chemo with me. I can’t think of any place more appropriate. I may even share it with a couple of the other regulars I know. Chemo patients are a strange lot, but we always stick together.

Last night, I reflected on my blessings. Yes, I have an incredible family, an amazing posse and friends who support all of us. But it’s more than that. I think God brought these particular blessings to me at this particular time to show me that while chemo sucks, it can be conquered. I have a choice to make this week, continue with my present course of treatment for one more cycle or switch to a new drug. Hubby and I believe that doing one more cycle of this cocktail will finally show significant results. My body is slow to respond to most drugs and the trauma of the DVT’s and liver biopsy, along with stress, make it more difficult. We’ve prayed about it and God hasn’t said not to, so we feel we should give these meds one more shot. A CT is tentatively scheduled for the end of January.

These are never easy decisions. My platelets and hemoglobin are at an all time low meaning I’m tired and cold all the time. El Nino is giving us a very mild winter, but, unlike our neighbors, we use heat because I’m always cold. My kids run around in shorts and T-shirts and I’m wrapped up in fleece blankets. But platelets can be transfused and eventually, I do get warm. Staying the course is the mantra of the day and I try to stick with it.

Embrace the unexpected and celebrate your blessings. Life has no guarantees, that’s why today is called the present. May 2016 bring you health, happiness, peace and a cure for cancer.

Great Expectations

I had thought about writing some profound Christmas blog, but I’m not feeling profound.  I’m feeling nauseated.  Nausea and deep thought don’t play well together.  It’s a lot like a couple of two year olds in a sand box.  Everything’s good until someone throws sand, then watch out.

I had a good day today.  I watched the B-Man play basketball (and his team won), then went to breakfast to celebrate the Ultimate Bengal Fan’s Forever Family Day.  Then I was able to head out with the Best Husband Ever to do some Christmas shopping.  I was out for over 6 hours and I don’t need a nap.  Tums, yes, but not a nap.

Christmas is tough when you have cancer, especially when it’s a recurrence.  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it awesome for the boys without going overboard.  It’s a balancing act and I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at it.  I want to get them everything, take them everywhere and watch every Christmas special.  I’ve bought more Christmas movies this year than any previous year (stupid Netflix), just so we can spend time together.  I want to keep them home from basketball and youth group so I can be with them.  I’m gone four days out of the first seven of each chemo infusion so I feel like I’m always gone.  When I am home, I feel like I live on the couch, napping.

The worst part of it is that I feel guilty.  Mom guilt is the worst.  I should do more and be more.  But I can’t, because the stupid chemo has to be extra toxic to kill the stupid cancer.  And at this point, the stupid chemo isn’t doing a very good job of killing the stupid cancer.  I guess the chemo is too stupid to know which cells to kill.  Perhaps I should draw it a picture or let it use the GPS on my phone.  Maybe it needs its very own “tour guide” to show it the way.  As I said, it’s stupid.  And despite its being stupid, I still feel guilty.

People ask me what I want for Christmas.  My first response is “A cure for cancer,” as if anyone could actually give me that.  I feel a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story.  Remember the scene when his mom asks him what he wants for Christmas and he tells her he wants to Red Rider BB gun with real carbine action and a compass in the stock and she tells him he’ll shoot his eye out?  Then Ralphie says he was kidding and would be happy with some Tinker Toys.  I’m Ralphie.  I really want a cure for cancer, but I’d be happy with some new stainless steel cookware or a gift card to Kohl’s.

What I realize is that I need to let go of my expectations.  If I’m going to trust God on this journey, then I need to TRUST Him.  That means that my expectations probably aren’t the same as God’s plan.  It means letting go of what’s happened before, accepting what’s happening and knowing that God knows what will happen and has it under control.

If I let go, my expectations won’t disappoint me.  That’s not to say there won’t be some disappointments along this road.  There will.  Even when I finally reach remission (because failure is not an option here people), there will still be disappointments.  Life is full of them.  The trick is to not let the disappointments become the focal point of your life.  They’re just part of the ups and downs.

So while I’d really like a cure for cancer, which would just exceed my expectations on so many levels, I’d also like a digital camera, some snowmen to add to my collection, a Life is Good shirt and some jewelry to give me some bling.  Any of those would make me happy and actually exceed my expectations (because that means that my family actually listened to me when I told them what I wanted).

While my life is not where I expected, it’s not disappointing.  I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful sons and am still blessed to have my mom.  I am surrounded by an incredible network of friends to are willing to step up and help out.  Combine that with the gift of Christ in the manger and I am bound to have the best Christmas ever.

May you find love, peace, health and happiness in the miracle of Christmas.

 

 

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.