Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Accepting Limitless Love (ALL)

There have been many times in my life that I have seen and accepted God's limitless love for little ol' me. That's the key, isn't it? Seeing and accepting His heavenly influence in our earthly existence. He knows me as His child. He knows my name. He knows my joys and my sorrows. He knows what I need to make this life more bearable, long before I even realize I need it. I've written and talked about His miracles in my life--the healing, the peace, the comfort, the love--and I've even written about the way He often hands me a tender mercy in the course of a day, as if to say, "Here I am...and here I'll be, now and forever." Last Sunday, many normal, ordinary human beings--just like me--bore humble witness of that individual attention God gives us at the exact moment we need it. One called it his "Chapstick" experience, when the Spirit urged him to grab the Chapstick as he headed out the door for a routine run...and ended up with a split lip. Sure, he could have waited & used the Chapstick when he got home, but how grateful he was to have it right when he needed it. Others testified of tender whisperings while driving that saved them from serious accidents or injuries. My first thought while listening to these testimonies was my "temple mint gum" experience (I'm pretty sure I've written about already in an older post). It was such a positive realization that God knew my needs, it literally took my breath away. I'm confident "limitless love" is part of my every day life, and I'd like to start recognizing it more fully. My ALL posts will be showing up regularly as I gradually learn to see (and be grateful for) God's blessings in my little life.

Today's weather forecast was for strong winds as a cold storm front moved into our part of the world. To say that I dreaded every second I'd have to stand outside for playground duty in the first real winter storm of the season was an extreme understatement. I had tried to prepare myself physically by shopping for "layers" to keep warm--long-sleeved shirts, thermal underwear, gloves, boots, etc.--but mentally, I was a mess. I'm not a cold-weather person (so why do I live in a valley at the base of the Wasatch Mountain range?); sometimes I wear sweaters in the summer and I always sleep under a mound of covers! The very thought of being cold, wet, wind-blown, and frozen made my stomach hurt! I listened to the wind blow all night, and this morning, as I sat eating my cereal, it started to rain. Einstein wanted to go outside, but one sniff of that cold, Arctic air sent him running for a warm spot to snuggle. The thought came to me, "I'd better take an umbrella," but then I realized that my favorite two or three umbrellas were in the trunk of the car Janessa was driving to school at that moment. I'd have to walk to school...in the middle of a downpour. I'd be soaking wet and frozen for the next four-and-a-half hours! All I could do was close my eyes and plead for help: "Please, Heavenly Father, let the rain stop before I get to school in an hour..."

Limitless love. The rain stopped about 20 minutes before I had to leave the house and the sun actually came out. The wind was still hurricane-force, but I was toasty in my layers and my knit headband over my ears. Recess was comic relief, as tiny humans were blown around the playground like little squares of confetti! I worried for the kindergarteners...but I made it through the wind and cold without being unbearably miserable. 

Now, tomorrow?? More predictions for terrible winter weather throughout the day. Even if God decides to let that storm come rolling across our playground, maybe we'll have indoor recess! One can only hope...and pray. But for today, I know He felt my dread and my worries and He put my heart at ease. I am so grateful.

(Pictures of my precious grands on Halloween:)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Getting Rid of Can't-cer

In the beginning of my journey, there were many whisperings (and sometimes SHOUTS) of "you can't do that anymore." I had to give up a lot. I lost the ability or stamina to do some of the things I really loved to do. Cancer not only stole some of my freedom & peace of mind & health & strength, but it accelerated the aging process inside and outside my body. There were some things I thought I'd never be able to do or feel again. Though I'm not 100% by any means, I'm beginning to see the fruit of the motto, "I have CAN-cer, not CAN'T-cer!"

One of the weird things that has suddenly popped up after 4 1/2 years is that I have seasonal allergies again! All the sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat hay fever that I used to have! Too strange. Who knows why it ever stopped or why it has come back now? One or two episodes required meds, but other than that, I've just suffered with it. Happily. Well...mostly happily.

My best "can-do" situations have come in the past month. The first one was quite obviously an answered prayer. Our neighborhood elementary school was looking for part-time substitutes for the playground and office help. At first, I doubted that I would even qualify, but after talking to a friend who has been subbing there for several months, I decided to give the application process a try. Before I knew it, I had been approved and accepted for part-time employment through the school district, which meant I could apply at any of our local schools to sub in "non-classified" (non-teaching) positions. My first choice, of course, was the neighborhood school because I could walk there easily (since the three of us registered drivers are still sharing ONE car!), but I also considered applying at my little grand-girls' school - wouldn't that be FUN to see them every day at school? My first official sub day was a Wednesday at the end of September...and by Friday, I had been hired to be a permanent playground "duty" and office helper! I started working every day the following Monday. Monday through Thursday, I work from 10:00 to 2:30, and Fridays, I work from 11:45 to 1:15. I walk to and from school most days, unless I need to go somewhere after. The timing is perfect - I can still take Dean to work & Janessa to Matt's house in the mornings to catch the bus (or she can take the car to Weber), and then I can pick Dean up after work. I rarely have a moment where I "sit" because I help the office ladies with stocking supplies and other little tasks in between playground duty. I LOVE the kids (even the "naughty" ones) and especially love getting hugs from my little neighbor-ward friends...but I don't love standing for hours on sore legs & feet. And wouldn't you know that this October has been the WARMEST (actually HOTTEST) in years? I slather sunscreen on my arms & face, I wear my little blue/white brimmed hat and my sunglasses...and still, I feel like I'm slowly being baked. I have tan lines on my FEET!! I watch the weather reports & cheer when the forecast goes below 70-degrees! I know it will soon be cold & wet and I'll be complaining again...but for now, I'll just be glad for a little fall weather. I know I still need to build up my stamina because I come home so exhausted I have to nap before dinner. But it's a JOB! And I like it! I can do it!

The second "can-do" is that I'm playing church volleyball and it's FUN!! I tried to play last year, but worried about bruising from taking my high doses of blood thinners. I'm still taking Warfarin, but not enough to cause easy bruising. I loved playing volleyball as a teen, and I think I remember playing on the ward ladies' team long, LONG ago. So, I was excited to find out that I CAN still play! Wahoo! I can do it!

Little baby steps. Yay for me!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Beach Bliss

At the end of August, we were able to fulfill a dream, but I didn't realize it was more MY dream than the rest of the family's. I've been a farmland, desert, mountain-loving girl my whole life. Who knew that the BEACH could move me so much? Now I know, and I can feel myself going through physical withdrawals since we came home.

Last year, Chels & Rob & kids shared a tiny bungalow in Newport Beach (CA) with Rob's family for a week. They raved about the adventure and planted the seed for a future trip with the rest of us. Knowing that my own "poor neglected" baby had never seen the ocean in "real life", I promised that we would save our money and join them. It became a sort of graduation gift for J and unique vacation for Dean and I. Without going into all the details and worries of how we were actually going to make this thing work, I'll just say that it was a tummy twister from the beginning. By the time we'd finally paid our part of the week's rent (thank goodness we had a gracious "payment plan"), worked out the logistics of going on vacation just as J's freshman year of college was beginning, and finding a suitable dog-sitter for our pup, I was sure I had developed an ulcer. In fact, I was down-in-bed sick just two days before we were supposed to leave. Thank heaven for answers to prayers.

We took the scenic, cheap, and exhausting mode of travel - we drove our car. The trip TO the coast - not so bad; the trip BACK - excruciating. But the in-between was full of pearls - a whole strand of wonderful made up with individual amazement. In typical (for me) list-making behavior, those little beads of bliss were, as follows: 

**reaching our destination by coming to the END of the freeway! Freeways end? Really? Wow...
**staying in the cutest, movie-worthy beach house that became our own secluded island, despite being six feet away from the neighbors on both sides
**walking 50 steps (give or take) from the white picket fence to the crashing waves of the Pacific!
**the sound of waves! the cool sea breeze! the foam! the sand! It actually gave me the same thrill I get when I'd walk through the gates of Disneyland. I just want to sob with joy.
**treasures in the sand - shells of every color and size, feathers from several species of birds, and PENNIES. Yes, my dad was there, watching...
**surfers! My own personal exhibition from bronzed, blonde, fearless SURFER DUDES! They arrived every morning to catch the perfect swell. I quickly learned to watch for the one who came up out of the water and perfectly flipped his hair away from his face with one swoop! I was mesmerized by the kids and girls as well as the young guys - one of my favorites was an older man who daily struggled to pull a pair of plastic flippers onto his feet. He probably started surfing as a kid & now used a boogey board to ride his wave clear to the beach. An old pro, still playing in the sand and the surf!
**the gift of seeing a pod of DOLPHINS one morning, their shiny silver backs gliding up & down out of the water! Spectacular!
**bicycles everywhere... It was rare to see a "mountain" bike; no, these had sturdy tires, wide seats, baskets on the handlebars, and one speed - the speed of pumping legs...
**Californians are PROs at parallel parking! Where parking is at a premium, these people can maneuver a car (or even a truck) into the teensiest spot available. And of course they don't pull into a spot, no, no. They do it exactly like the driver's ed film say to do it! Zip, zip, zip, ...and they're in. I admit I was jealous of their obvious skills.

I'm sure I could go on and on. I told Chels that I truly was "on vacation". There was no drama, no worries, no schedule to keep, nothing to hold me in either the house or on the beach, living comfortable and non-stressed. I didn't care what I looked like, what I was wearing. My skin felt moist & soft, my poor dry nostrils were clear and painless. I ate what I wanted without any problems. I slept all night without waking, the windows open, a small fan whirring softly. I wanted to get to the beach as soon as I woke up, and I wanted to watch the beautiful sun set at the edge of the world every night. Sometimes, the power of the waves pounding against the shore had me whispering, "Oh Lord, my God, how great thou art!"

Sadly, my J-girl remains a mountain fan. She was disappointed with the salt, the sand, the heat and the humidity. She would rather pull on a big sweater and hike trails on a cool Wasatch morning. She may not ever choose to go back. But me? Yes. I miss it. I was recharged. Maybe next time, I'll go solo. I'll sleep under the umbrella...and read more...and write more...and sit, barely breathing, as the surfers catch a wave.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Let Freedom Ring

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about freedom. It comes with the month of July, I'm sure. Naturally, my thoughts center on the blessings I enjoy as an American - living in a land of liberty & independence - but I've also been affected lately by witnessing freedom from "bondage", literally and metaphorically. We are all victims of our own "human-ness"; none of us are free from sin, none of us are immune to our own trials and struggles. Some of us are in bondage to our own weaknesses and despair; some must move forward, in spite of past mistakes. Some of us live day-to-day, praying for freedom from pain and illness; some are blessed with a fragile freedom from worry for a season. I cherish my own freedoms, especially the blessing of being able to embrace the truths I believe and to worship the loving God I know as Creator, Father, King, and Lawgiver. His word is eternal & unchanging. He loves all His children, and like any good parent, He has set rules and given us commandments to ensure our ultimate happiness. I have learned through experience that obedience brings peace and deep joy. I have also learned that when I try to "do my own thing", happiness is fleeting and finite. 

I continue to do well physically. I'm grateful for the strength & energy to enjoy activities with my sweet family. We were able to spend time together over the 4th of July, and it was wonderful. My children are all healthy & happy and my beautiful grandchildren are my treasures, more precious than anything else in this world. Dean has been blessed to work some overtime, which helps pay bills and solidify plans for a beach vacation in August and give our soon-to-be college girl a bit of financial help to her first semester of school. It is an answer to prayers, and I'm thankful my husband has the health & strength to bless our family. In this "off" time from Huntsman appointments, I'm trying to get some "maintenance" things done. I have an appointment to get my right ear cleaned out again soon. It feels plugged and is pretty annoying...except when I sleep on my left side and can fall asleep to muffled silence! I also need to find a new dermatologist and get my skin checked. There is always something to watch and keep on top of...

More fun times coming for Pioneer Day. July is a busy month, but I love our family traditions! God bless America!

(Pictures from our 2nd annual Ruth's Diner 4th of July breakfast, complete with catching Janessa in a sneeze, fireworks & other fun B times!)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Unchartered Territory

Last week, the date arrived for my 6-month scans. It had been long-awaited and fearfully anticipated. Though I had no symptoms to make me fear the outcome, I was still anxious. I had nightmares of looming tumors that had grown over the past six months and would now make their presence known with a vengeance. All the recent sleepness nights and aches & pains could only mean bad news, right? I tried to be hopeful, but I found myself rehearsing my reaction to both the possibility of new cancer growth and no cancer growth. I could feel myself crumbling if the news was the worst...and breathing sighs of relief if the news was fantastic. It was hard to wait; I only wanted the  anticipation to be over.

Happily, to my great & profound relief and gratitude, the news was the best. Carolyn came into the exam room, asked how I was doing, and immediately announced that my scans looked wonderful. "Clear scans, no new growth!" It was almost unbelievable. I think I was in shock. Lindsey and I were thrilled to tears. We laughed and listened and studied the progression of scans, comparing them to the ones in the past and marveling at the disappearance of those golf ball-sized tumors until all that remains today are minuscule slits of white scarring. Unbelievable? Yes, and no. "With God, nothing is impossible."

New scan dates were made for December, another six months away. Lindsey asked how many "clean scans" we'd need before we could  "graduate" to yearly scans. Carolyn's answer was, "I believe it's after four or five years...but I have to tell you that this is really unchartered territory. We aren't used to these kinds of results. You're part of an amazing story of immunotherapy that has worked exactly the way it should, and it's wonderful." Yes, indeed, it is.

So, so grateful for miracles and prayers and blessings and fasting with a purpose and the never-ending kindness of a loving God. I have lost much in the past six months, including blogger friends who were inspirational examples of courage and love and service. Sometimes I wonder why I am the recipient of a longer life, second & third chances, and relatively good health while they have been taken "home" to our Farther. I believe our time on earth is known and set, whether we are taken in old age or babyhood or in accidents or illnesses. When it's time, it's time. We take with us what we've learned through our trials and suffering or in our innocence. No matter what, we return to where we are loved and cherished and where we are welcomed by loving heavenly parents. Unchartered territory? Maybe, but only for us here on earth...

(Pic of my "new hair" in honor of my birthday & summer & just because...)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Answered Prayers

It has been a week of reflection. Four years ago, after hearing the devastating diagnosis of melanoma from dear Dr. Bradley, one of my first thoughts was of my baby girl's future. I wasn't particularly afraid for myself, but of what such a test would mean to my family, especially my 14 year-old, ninth grader. I knew my older children would be supported & comforted by their wonderful spouses and their sweet little children. I also felt my dear husband would gain peace through his life-experiences & faith. But the tears fell as I thought of my young, inexperienced, quiet, sensitive daughter going through difficult days, months, & years of having a mother with cancer, who might or might not die at a young age. Over & over again, I told my doctors and nurses that I wanted--no, NEEDED--to live to at least see my precious girl graduate from high school. At the time, anything that came after would be sweet icing on the cake.

Miracles happened. Last Thursday night, June 4, 2015, I sat in a packed auditorium next to my sweetheart, tears again rolling down my cheeks, as I watched my beautiful, smart, hopeful daughter walk across the stage, dressed in her white gown, a white cap on her head, to receive her diploma of graduation. I may have even sobbed out loud. I was so proud, knowing she was battling anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her, and yet, she appeared confident. & poised. I could imagine her sigh of relief to finally sit down and relax through the rest of the program. (Earlier she told me, "Thanks for marrying Dad so my last name would start with a 'B'!") I love her with all my heart. I love how freely we can talk to each other. I love how she shares her whole life with me. I love that I have been blessed to see all her accomplishments, triumphs, frustrations, and dreams of the past four years. And I am grateful to God that He continues to allow me good health & energy to keep up with her as she makes new plans for the future. My prayers continue, but now I pray to see her married...and to see all my grandchildren progress & graduate too!! I'll be there!!

Also enjoyed a wonderful 56th birthday with all my children, grandchildren, and my dear mama in St. George! I couldn't have asked for a better gift. 

Scans are looming once again. I have no worries, other than the weight I've gained over the past six months. Blehhh! Summer plans include better, healthier eating and daily exercise. I can do it. I can really do anything with prayer & faith in my Lord. I am blessed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

In Memorium

Soon after I was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I started following the blog of a young mother who was also battling melanoma. Alisa and I shared some similarities - we both lived in Utah, we were both mothers, we were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with firm testimonies and faith, we were both patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute and were both being treated by Dr. Grossmann. During the past four years, I've read Alisa's blog entries regularly, always curious about how she was handling some of the same issues I was going through, and marveling at her bravery and determination to try every treatment available, no matter where she had to go or how difficult it would be for her. She continually amazed me with her medical knowledge; she was trained as a nurse, but she also explored all her options to the fullest extent to understand the procedures, the side effects, and the long & short term outcomes. We both tried to qualify for trials & experimental drugs for the best results to fight our tumors, but I always felt Alisa suffered far more than I did, spending agonizing weeks in the hospital receiving chemo treatments in far-off cities that took their toll on her body and her appearance. Her most recent treatments stole her beautiful hair, but did little to diminish her love for her Savior, her family, and her home. In January, she was hospitalized with severe pain from tumors that continued to grow, despite aggressive chemotherapy. When she was too weak or sick to type, her blogs were often "voiced" by her good husband, who did his best to give updates to all of us followers who hung on every word. When days (and sometimes weeks) would go by without an update, there was a clamor for even a snippet of news about our friend & sister--how was she handling the pain meds, would she be coming home soon, how were her boys & husband managing, etc. Some days I was afraid to read the latest, afraid for the worst news. About two weeks ago, she went in for scans and found that the tumors were invading nearly all her major organs. One of her last blog updates was simply, "We are going home with hospice care." Unfortunately, I've come to recognize that cancer rears its ugliest head when pain becomes unbearable and can't be sufficiently managed with medications and hospice has to be hired. When that time comes, it isn't the spread of tumors or the fear of the effects of chemo that brings a fighter to their knees, it's the terrible, searing pain that can't be erased. I saw it happen with my friend, Dov, who for years put on a brave face & used every bit of energy to ease the hurt of others until his own pain robbed him of strength & hope. I saw it in the writing of another melanoma mama's blog who went from supposed cancer survivor to cancer casualty within a matter of months, when pain drove her to long days and nights in bed and away from daily life with her sweet, young family. And then finally, blessedly, last Tuesday I opened Alisa's blog to see an update, which was also her beautifully-written obituary. Today was her funeral and I've thought about her all day. I read online that the elementary school her sons attended decorated the funeral route with balloons and ribbons, and then stood at silent attention as the hearse passed. It made me cry again. I've been sad all week for those of us left behind...

In four years, I've followed three wonderful people who shared their trials & triumphs in fighting cancer. They each had a different story to tell, yet their words were similar. They all had hope, they all inspired other cancer fighters, and they all came to realize how very important the moments we have with our families & friends are. 

I pray that someday I can embrace Kathy, Dov, and Alisa and tell them how much they influenced my life for the best during our shared time battling cancer. I learned sacrifice, service, and the importance of love from each of their written conversations and documented experiences.They are my heroes, my friends, and my fellow warriors. Thanks from the bottom of my heart... You will never be forgotten.
(Picture posted by Alisa's family the day of her passing...)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Break 2015

It was Spring Break here a few weeks ago. I wanted to have BIG plans - go somewhere we've never been, do something we've never done - but life proved larger than the dreams and we had to think closer to home, more like our usual get-aways. Dean had started working a teensy bit of overtime (which was an answer to many prayers) and really couldn't afford to take a few days of vacation right now, so Janessa & I decided to go south on our own, leaving our two "boys" (hubby & dog) home. I'm very grateful for my hard-working husband & his selflessness in giving Ness and me a quick trip to the sunny south. We needed it. He needed it, too, but unselfishly agreed to stay home. 

When I proposed the trip to Nessi, her only request was to "do something fun every day". I called Chels and my mama and asked them to put their thinking caps on. Nessi's first thought was that she wanted to take a hike through the beautiful red rocks near St. George, and as luck would have it, our very own professional hiking guide, Cindy, was also going to be in town! What a bonus! I wasn't sure how I'd survive a hike, but Chels assured me there were plenty of "easy" trails for those of us who might have to limp along!

The weather was gorgeous. We left our house in jackets and socks, but had soon shed both for short-sleeved shirts and flip-flops. The drive was pleasant, especially without a small black dog jumping from the front to back seat for five hours! Mom was thrilled to see us & have us stay with her. She had energy and looked better than she had during our last visit. Chels & Rob and their darling kids were as excited to see us as we were to see them. It would be a wonderful vacation. 

One "fun day", we (Mom, Nessi, and I) spent a few hours at the Ford dealership to get the oil changed in her car and to run it through the car wash, and then went to see the new Disney movie, "Cinderella", with Mom and Chels and all the kids, except Jax (who stayed home with his daddy). It was wonderful. I held Olive on my lap the first part of the movie and then Knox climbed up for the second half. Olive was mesmerized by the costumes and the music. Knox happily munched popcorn from his own little sack until suddenly I realized he had slumped back against me & was snoring! 

Another "fun day", all us girls & kids went shopping at a great Old Navy "pre-Easter" sale. Nessi got a cute new swimsuit and swim shorts, among other fun finds, and we ate lunch at Cafe Rio. Later, Mom & Ness & I went to a huge nail salon, where we squeezed in among other "Spring Breakers" to get pedicures. It felt great on my pale winter feet! So nice to be pampered.

Saturday, we went to the downtown Arts Festival. Chels & Ness headed off by themselves to take some senior pictures for graduation announcements, and Olive, Knox, and I walked around the booths to check things out. Of course, Grammy had to take them for a ride on the Merry-go-round! It was sunny & warm, so we found a shady spot where kids were making cute Easter crafts and I helped them make beaded necklaces & colored plastic eggs. We were just about to get our faces painted when Chels & Ness appeared, ready to head home via a quick stop at Swig's for a pink frosted cookie! Yum! 

After a short nap, we were ready for the big hike! I wore a hat and a long-sleeved shirt and slathered my face & neck with sunscreen. We drove to a spot about five minutes from home (west of Green Valkey), where Cindy & Bob and other members of the family were waiting for us. Scoobie Doo was let out of the van, Jax was strapped into his daddy's backpack and lifted onto Rob's shoulders, we grabbed our water bottles, and off we went! I quickly discovered that my arthritic right knee was acting up, so any time we had to climb large rocks, I had to take either Chelsea's or Nessi's hand to lift myself up and over. Other than that, and being horribly out of shape & panting like a dog, I was able to keep up pretty well, even though I was at the rear of the group nearly the whole time. After a slight incline, we found ourselves in a beautiful ravine that wound its way through a natural bowl. The rocky terrain was a challenge, but the scenery was wonderful. Spring flowers were just starting to bloom and bright, pink flowers with a tissue-paper texture had popped out on prickly cactus plants. There was a breeze blowing that felt so refreshing. Every now and then, Cindy would stop and tell us about an interesting plant or rock formation or experience she'd had on a previous hike. It was so interesting. I was also very impressed with my little Olive. She is a natural hiker! She was at the head of the group the entire time, sometimes dragging poor Scoobie along or chasing him down a path. She was amazing! I was impressed with Rob and his little "load", Jax. I could barely make it on my own, let alone carry 20+ pounds of baby! Knox did well the first hour or so, and then he fell...and had to go potty (Rob:  "When you're on a hike, you can go behind a bush any time, Knoxie!")...and was basically DONE. When we reached the summit of the butte (we'd hiked about 90 min, which was halfway, pat that point), I was overcome by the view. We could see all of the west side of St. George and beyond. It was fantastic. Nessi & I could have stayed there for hours. The descent was gradual and we were able to look out over the lip of the bowl and see the numerous bike trails, rock climbers, and even a zip line to the other side of the mountain. Breath-taking. Even though we knew we'd be sore the next day, I loved it, and I loved that Janessa had wanted to do this "fun" thing!

As wonderful as this "easy" hike was, we were exhausted at the end of the journey. We had a quick dinner & went right to bed. I was achy, so I took some Ibuprofen - maybe too much. I had been asleep about two hours when I woke with terrible foot cramps, sweating from the pain. As soon as I could walk, I hobbled to the kitchen for some water and a banana (for the potassium) and laid down to sleep again. Soon I jolted awake with the worst leg cramps I've ever had - in my thighs! I've never had thigh cramps before. The muscles actually felt like they were being twisted in knots! Once again, I found myself soaked in sweat from the pain. I couldn't stand up to walk out the cramps. I simply had to wait it out. This happened one more time & I was getting scared. This was not normal for me. I started to pray with all my might that the pain would go away and not come back, and that I'd be able to sleep the rest of the night. I was finally able to lay down & fall asleep, and the next thing I knew, it was morning and I had slept for hours. The real miracle was that I had little to no pain from the hike that morning and I remained pain-free the rest of the day. It was only after our long drive home that I started to feel stiff again, but the cramps never came back. 

I think we made some wonderful memories in those few fun-filled days. That's all that counts. Simple little out-of-the-ordinary activities, a break from the hum-drum of life. Just what we needed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Four Years

March 7 marked four years since my original diagnosis of melanoma. When I think back to that day, I remember rain turning to snow in the late afternoon, darkness, an empty medical clinic, tears, and fears. Much has happened since then. My life was changed forever. My family's lives were changed forever. There is never a moment I forget I have cancer because it will always be there - hidden at times , but always present. There are days I feel almost normal and there are days I feel sick. Four years ago, I wasn't sure I'd make it to 2015; now I have hope & faith to make it far beyond this year and the next and the next... I feel extremely blessed.

I was blessed to see my Janessa turn 18. I will be blessed to see her graduate from high school in a few short months. I am blessed to see grand babies born and growing. I am blessed to see their milestones as they journey through their precious lives. Birthdays, baptism days, school advancements & achievements...I am blessed to witness their good choices & joys. It is more to me than earthly treasures. It is everything. I look forward to every new step. 

Four years is only the beginning. There will come a day when I will say, "Eight years...", "Ten years...", "Twelve years...", "Twenty years...", and on and on. 

(Pictures from J's birthday and L's baptism day:)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Loving Concern

One of the best parts of our humanity is the desire to help our brothers or sisters in need. It is a tender, loving concern that transcends age, gender, race, or religion. It is the tugging of our heart strings and the whisper of a still, small voice that urges us to push aside our own comfort to give to someone else. I have been the humbled receiver and the grateful giver many times, but recently, I've been awed by the goodness of others who long to ease the burdens of a suffering friend. In some cases, it involves someone they barely know and have only heard about through social media, such as blogs or news reports, or through word of mouth. Some are friends, some are neighbors, some are relatives; some are in circumstances that mirror our own, some live a haunting existence, and some go from carefree to aching heartbreak in an instant. 

I regularly read updates on three of my fellow cancer warriors. I'm sure I've mentioned them before. Kathy and Alisa are both melanoma fighters, and Dov started his journey with a colon cancer diagnosis. All three are parents of young children and all three have devoted spouses & family members. Dov is the only one I have met in person. He is the epitome of hope and optimism in the face of harrowing pain, loss, and "bad news". Recently, he has been going through more painful rounds of chemo, and yet he continues to "walk the halls" of Huntsman, offering mini candy bars, words of encouragement, and heartfelt hugs to other cancer patients, all while dragging his chemo bags behind him. The other day he posted a plea for "good vibes", as he was going to have  another MRI to determine what could be causing an extreme pain in his back. Worse-case scenario: tumors embedded in his spine. The mere thought of it prompted him to ask for "help" from all of us. There was nothing physical we could do, but collectively we could pray, send positive energy and love, and keep him in our hearts & thoughts. Miracles happened. More tests will be performed, but spinal tumors were ruled out.

Alisa is a patient of my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Grossmann, as well as other good Huntsman docs. In the past few months, she has had new tumor growth instead of shrinkage and was finally accepted into a new chemo combo trial. Her infusions are given over the course of several days at a time, which means she stays in the hospital to receive the treatments. She started in January, and soon her blog posts were not in her own hand, but were being written by her husband & other family members. Alisa was in severe pain and spent most of her time in medicinal sleep. It was heart-breaking to watch and read. When she was awake, she was loopy, too drugged to make any sense. Her husband recently wrote that she didn't remember much of anything about those long January days. Again, there was nothing I could do physically - she was being tube-fed, she couldn't have visitors (germs & all that), and she was mostly asleep - but I could pray. And I did (and still do). Even though she is home now (until the next round begins), her husband's sweet posts make me cry. She is my sister, though we have never met.

Kathy, too, suffered terrible pain and sickness before she passed away at home on New Year's Eve. Her husband's post about that unimaginable day when he and his father and mother carried Kathy from the bathroom to the bed, knowing that she had already passed, and dreading the moment they would have to bring the children in to say goodbye to their angel mother had me weeping with a broken heart. I had never met her, but I knew her. I had prayed for her, for miracles to keep a young mother with her babies, but her time had come. I still read her husband's eloquent posts about his new, changed life without his sweetheart, and I still pray.

Our little neighborhood has been reeling from recent events, too. Our wonderful, kind, loving Bishop suffered a heart attack last month at the young age of 36. Our congregation was stunned and shocked at the news. Here was a man who exercised regularly, participated in life to the fullest, had a beautiful wife and four small children, and radiated a vibrant lifestyle.Tests revealed that he had a tear in his aorta, a condition that could only be resolved by open heart surgery or with medications to slowly mend the tear. A few phone calls and FaceBook posts were made, asking for fasting and prayers that he and his family could make the right decision, a request which rippled through the entire neighborhood & community. After a long stay in the hospital, in which he was kept as quiet and non-stressed as possible, further tests were done...and miracles happened. The tear had mended almost to the point of being completely healed, something his doctors assured him never happened as quickly or as well. 

And then, just yesterday, in the blink of an eye, something happened that got me thinking about our ability to "love one another." Sirens are a rarity in our little subdivision, but about noon, a horde of police cars, an ambulance, and a fire engine came racing past my home, sirens blaring. They suddenly squealed to a stop in front of the house directly behind us (we share a fence). I stood at my patio door, hair still wet from my late shower, no trace of makeup, sweat pants and bare feet, and watched as policemen scurried through my neighbor's open front door. Sweet, beautiful Faby, young mother of two little ones - was there a fire? Were the kids okay? Was Faby okay? That tugging, those whispers, would not let me stand & watch. I had to go, if for no other reason than to let my neighbor know I was there. As I came around the corner of our fence, two paramedics rushed out the door, cradling a baby between them. One held an oxygen mask over the baby's face, the other held a limp, seemingly lifeless body of a baby boy. Faby also came running out, carrying her own little boy, her daughter and another little girl close on her heels. Two other neighbors came out of their homes, each mothers of little ones. Faby struggled to tell the story as quickly as possible, handing her children off to the young mothers. She was tending the baby & his older sister and had laid him down for a nap, checking on him every few minutes because he had been sick and was congested. The last time she checked on him, he had turned over from his back to his stomach and was not breathing. She called 911 and started CPR.  The paramedics were able to get him breathing again, but he ended up being flown by Life Med to Primary Children's Hospital for further testing. The waiting was torture for Faby, even though the police & paramedics said she had done everything right. Hugs and words of comfort were exchanged before one neighbor took the little girls to her house to play "princesses" and another took Faby's baby home to play with her small son. I became the "storyteller", as neighbors poured from their homes into the street, worry and concern on their faces for the baby and for Faby. Our quiet little street was completely blocked off by police cars, sheriff vehicles, and neighbors who heard the helicopter from many streets away. Everyone I talked to offered help in some form or other, but mostly we prayed. When the baby was lifted from the ambulance into the helicopter, his little arms and legs were stretching and kicking against the blankets, and I felt in my heart that he would be okay.

This "loving concern" is a blessing, both for those who give it and those who receive it. It is part of our brotherhood and sisterhood. We are all children of God, siblings in a huge eternal family. No wonder our hearts ache for those who suffer and rejoice in the miracles and tender mercies that come from our Father. I hope to always keep an open heart that can be touched from within.

(Happy, happy February birthdays to these sweet treasures!)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Musings

It's officially 2015, New Year's Day. The old year is gone, along with challenging days, sleepless nights, wonderful miracles & joys, lovely timeless memories of family & friends, a little jumble of every emotion and thought. I celebrate those awesome, exciting times, but I also reflect on the difficult days. In spite of all the precious blessings I've been given, I feel melancholy creeping in today. It makes me feel terribly ungrateful and selfish. But maybe that's part of beginning a new year - experiencing regret & sadness and resolving to make life better in the coming days and months.

The happy, heart-warming season of Christmas is over. The family has gone home, the decorations are put back in their boxes, the calendar pages are turned, vacations are ending, and routine (often boring & stressful) is back. I see what has been neglected through December: the house needs a good scrubbing top to bottom, drawers & closets need to be rehauled, the paper trail is screaming for attention, and the desire to do & be better is urgent. I want to do it all, but I recognize the truth that nothing happens overnight. It makes me sad.

I'm also in mourning today. One of my sweet blogger friends, Kathy Taylor, another Stage 4 melanoma warrior, passed away yesterday at home. Her husband briefly and bravely posted about her death within hours of her passing and said that New Year's Eve would forever be a celebration of her life. His first concern, as he finished the post, was to comfort their sweet little children. I cried to read this news. Kathy held onto life with much hope and faith, and it blessed all of us with the same hope. I am grateful that she has returned Home to our Heavenly Father and is now without the severe pain of cancer, but I mourn for her family and friends.

We also went to our traditional New Year's Day movie today and saw the third installment of "Night at the Museum". I liked the movie a lot, but I was surprised at how emotional I became seeing the late  Robin Williams on the big screen. There were several very wonderful scenes between "Teddy Roosevelt" (Robin Williams) and "Larry" (Ben Stiller) that actually made me cry. I miss Robin and his wonderful humor and immense talent. He was a troubled soul, but he devoted his life to lifting others. It makes me cry now to think of him.

On we go. In the coming weeks, we'll be celebrating our baby girl's 18th birthday (what??), and working on applications for financial help with her college plans in the fall (again...WHAT??). I'll also be searching for a job that will fit my "new life" - at least for the next 6 months of no scans or treatments. That scares me, honestly. I just want to write books. I want to be my girl's taxi service because that's where our best conversations happen. I dread dealing with drama, (more) stress, time restraints, exhaustion, etc. But the bills keep coming & lottery tickets are too expensive - ha! I pray that the Lord will guide me in the best direction. He knows where I should be & what I should be doing. He knows the Big Plan. I'll be listening carefully to the whisperings of the Spirit.

Happy New Year. May it be one of kindness, joy, health, love, faith, and hope.