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.

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Moving On

As we do most Sundays, we attended worship at Cornerstone Church.  Today was “step up” Sunday for the boys.  Braeden moved up to 2nd grade, his first year in elementary Sunday School without Kyle.  Kyle moved to our tween class, Club 56.  They have their own room and are situated away from both the lower elementary and the youth.  It was a big adjustment for both of them.  John and I are loving worship with our new pastor, Pastor Brian.  He reminds me of my youth pastor.  His sermons are relevant and entertaining, not an easy combination for pastors to master.

Tomorrow we begin our 6th year at KTA (Kitchen Table Academy), the affectionate name for our homeschool.  Since our learning occurs at the kitchen table, it’s given rise to the name.  I really should come up with something that will look better across the top of a diploma, but I haven’t stumbled on one yet.  I still have a couple of years.  I mean, can you seriously see UC accepting a transcript from Kitchen Table Academy?  I cannot believe Kyle is starting 5th grade.  With the exception of some stumbling over double and triple digit multiplication, my son is a practically a middle schooler.  Next year, he will be considered one at Learning Tree, our homeschool co-op.  What happened to that little bundle I brought home from Russia?  I finally understand the old saying, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

We are moving on this year in many ways.  We are starting new grades.  Mom is hoping to pick up more freelance work.  Both boys are playing sports again – Braeden’s soccer team won their first game yesterday and Kyle starts flag football practice Tuesday night.  John continues to hone his project management skills at Children’s.  We are beginning to move on.  Yet, I still get stuck.  In a few weeks, I have my CA125 drawn to track my tumor marker, have my 6 month CT scan and undergo yet another exam.  Yes, it’s preventative and given the results of my last CA125, I really don’t expect anything to show up.  Of course, I never expected to have cancer either.

Pastor Brian spoke about the bad times in life.  You know those times when life just knocks you for a loop and you can’t get back on your feet?  I’ve always known that when faced with struggles, I have two choices.  I can whine, moan and complain or I can face it head on.  Cancer makes you do a bit of both.  You have to face it head on.  It’s now your reality.  But I really don’t see how you can manage to make it through without whining, even if it’s just a little bit.  I chose to cling to God’s promise that even in my darkest hour, he wouldn’t leave me or forsake me.  He would lead me to those still waters and restore my soul.  Yes, I did have those times when I yelled at God, quite a few in fact.  My mentor, Pastor Linda Troy, once told me that God doesn’t care how much we yell at him.  It means we still believe in Him.

When I got the definitive diagnosis, I prayed like I’d never prayed for myself before.  I begged and pleaded with God to heal my body.  I visualized His healing hands.  I did it all right, but I still had a massive tumor on my ovary.  Funny thing is, if I had been healed of just my tumor I still would have had the nasty blood clot in my right leg.  It still would have probably broken off and, had I been anywhere but post-op, I probably would have died.  Hmmm.  Once I had the benefit of a couple of months of hindsight, I saw that.

That still leads me to why I had cancer.  Why couldn’t I have just had a massive benign tumor?  My oncologist told me that we will probably never know what triggered the cells to turn cancerous.  Even if we did know, it wouldn’t change anything.  I’d still would have had cancer.  Okay.  Here’s where choices really kick in.  Do you chose to wallow or do you choose to move on?  My friend Cathy told me I had to move on.  No choices.  I have 2 young sons and a husband.  While they were good reasons to move on, the only reason you can move on is because you feel like you have to.  God wants me to move on.  Granted, He let me have pity parties.  He gave me two wonderful friends who let me rant, rave and cry about how lousy I felt.  I will never, ever be able to repay Cathy or Lisa for listening to me when they had their own lives to live, but they both took the time to let me do what I needed to do.  Then I was able to move on.

Moving on means you accept you are not the same person you used to be.  Unfortunately, I will always have the “C” word in my background.   I feel a strong pull to work with ovarian cancer patients.  I’ve always been interested in healthcare and often write on healthcare topics.  Would I have found my niche without having ovarian cancer?  Maybe.  Did it affect me?  Definitely.  The person who entered Good Sam Hospital on October 17, 2012 is not the same one who left October 25, 2012.  Nor I am the same person who completed chemotherapy on March 15, 2013.  If we are open to things, God will continue to use our best and worst experiences to shape us.

So I need to be moving on now.  Life is about being an active participant, getting in and getting involved.  While cancer will always be a part of who I was, it doesn’t have to be a part of who I become.  And if it comes back. well, we’ll just move on with life and kick it back to where it belongs, in the past.  So we can get on with the future.  Moving on!