Beauty in the Brokenness

andy 6Sometimes I look at elderly people with a such a sense of awe.  How did they make it through all of this?  How did they survive the million and one things that can wrong in this life? How did they get so lucky?

The past couple of weeks I have been hearing stories about cancers coming back. Brave, lovely people that survived the crushing realities of cancer once already,  now have to put the gloves back on and fight it again.  I can’t help but personally respond to these stories.  The thought of the doctors putting a port back in my body, the thought of managing the weight of chemo from the couch while my kids whirl around me again . . . it steals my breath.  When you know the intimate details of cancer, you know the dragon you must slay.  You understand how it’s breath will melt your energy, how it’s claws will cripple your body, how it’s angry eyes will bend your knees.  You know your battle.

I remember once when I was sick envisioning cancer as a dragon.  As a beast that I must slay.  But that metaphor didn’t resonate with me at that particular moment on my journey.  I did not have the energy to fight, I did not possess the heart to try and kill anything.  So I started picturing myself kneeling down before the beast with my eyes closed and my arms open.  As if to say, I am no longer fighting you with a sword.  I am no longer fighting you with my fists.  I will let you find me here in this place of utter vulnerability and I will let you get as close to me as you can,  I will surrender to you.  But not in the way where I let you win.  In the way that I say to you, “I am no longer afraid.”

And that did something for me.  It didn’t mean that I was okay with dying.  It didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to do everything possible to get better to raise my boys.  It just meant that I didn’t want to fight, and I didn’t want to run away.  I just wanted to kneel down and open myself up, and trust that this dragon would circle me, smell me, nudge me with its nose, and then walk away.

Knowing that there are people who have to watch this beast walk back into their view, makes me hang my head.  How will you do this again? The type of anger that has the potential to well up. . . could choke us.

Cancer has kids chained to hospital beds, too.  Instead of building sand castles and playing soccer and making mistakes they are learning words like radiation, chemotherapy, bone marrow, and watching sticky liquids that steal their spark drip into their veins.  How can we survive this? How can we make sense of this?

Andy celebrated being 6 at the ocean last week.  We drove 12 hours on his birthday and he got to open a present up at every rest stop.  When we finally arrived to our house that lined the beach he ran into the ocean with his brother and their friends and they laughed and let the sea soak their clothes.  We had a wonderful week of sunshine and salt water and silliness.

Yesterday a 10-year-old boy was killed on that exact stretch of beach where my children played.  A wave smashed a log into his young body while he was walking on the shore with his family.

How can we survive this?  How does any of this make sense?

A friend of mine’s young boy had open heart surgery yesterday.  For 8 hours my sweet friend held her breath waiting to hear if the doctors could repair his heart.

How can we survive this? How does any of this make sense?

Last night I watched my best friend hold her 6-day-old baby.  He is so tiny.  And so perfect.  We were in wonder pondering how just a week ago he was tumbling inside of her.  And now he is here.  A little swirl of new life.  An impossible amount of potential and beauty is such a small package.

And I couldn’t help but feel awe.

And on a family walk last night Alex pointed out all the lightning bugs lighting up the park, and Joel carried Andy’s walking stick because he was to tired to carry it any more, and Andy held my hand and whispered to me that he loved me and that he loved walking with me.  And before I went to sleep I got a text from my friend reporting that her son’s surgery was a success.  They fixed her son’s broken heart.

And I couldn’t help but feel awe.

There is so much that is broken, there are so many holes that are too big to ever be fixed.  There are things we will never be able to make sense of, and somethings that we won’t be able to survive.

But I can’t stop myself from believing that there is beauty in the brokenness.  We are still drawn to the canyons, to the holes of life.  It is in these places where the truest forms of love exist.  Where the purest water runs.

I can’t make sense of the suffering that surrounds us.  It seems cruel and unfair.  And yet, suffering brings out such a rawness, such a deep awareness that life is short.  Such a powerful reminder that we must love fiercely.  That we must put down our cell phones and spend more time looking at lightning bugs, and holding hands, and watching the sun come up.  Because it always comes up.  No matter what.

 

Creepy Cancer Scarecrow, Parenting, Puppies, and Poop

ANdy and ellieI’ve been quiet for awhile.

So many words have been tumbling around in my head.  So many things I’ve wanted to say.  I’ve wanted to write blog posts on poop, and puppies, and the way we make parenting so hard for ourselves.  I’ve wanted to write about my belief in a higher power, and about a certain type of rage that can only be created by the adult version of strep throat.  I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to say.  But every time I picked up my computer I  just stared at the empty screen, and my fingers just didn’t feel like dancing.

Even now, this post feels more like drool than coffee, and my fingers are clumbsy on this keyboard, and I have to stop myself from stopping.  So I forgive you if you stop reading here . . . this is for sure not my best work.

Puppies and poop go together.  When you have a newborn you are constantly analyzing your baby’s diapers.  Are they wet enough?  Is the poop too runny? Too hard?  Can it tell us the story about how much they are eating, or if they are healthy?  And there is nothing like trying to get a toddler to poop on the potty.  All of a sudden they are in control of something, and they use that control to make our lives miserable.  And before we know it, we are at Target buying plastic crap to bribe them to crap in a place that doesn’t squish their crap all over they butts and up their backs.  Joel and I thought we were done with that stage of life, and then we got a puppy.  And wouldn’t you know we are back to asking each other: did she poop?  Did it look solid enough? Did she pee when she was outside?  Are you sure? Do you think that cry at 2 a.m. means she has to pee again? Poop and puppies go together.

For the first 4.5 years of Andy’s life Joel and I were sure we would never sleep through the night again.  From the moment that boy was born he rebelled against sleep.  It was almost like he was allergic to it.  I can’t believe we didn’t wear a path in the hardwood floor of our house.  We paced it every night taking turns with the wide-eyed baby that would trick us into believing he was in deep sleep just long enough for us to lay him down in his crib, sneak out of his room like a trained assassin, crawl into our bed and just start to experience the first caress of sleep before he was up again screaming at the top of his lungs.  If I had a dollar for every time I yelled “fuck me” into my pillow, I would be a wealthy lady.  Joel and I weren’t down with the “cry-it-out” concept, so as soon as Andy could walk he found his way into our bed, and before we knew it we were co-sleepers.  And the entire process of getting him to bed was also a nightmare.  If we didn’t lay with him he would cry for hours and figure out a million and one reasons he needed to leave his room to seek more parental attention.  We would try every single piece of advice that was given to us to get him to fall asleep on his own, and none of it worked.  We were frustrated and exhausted, and we just wanted him to fucking sleep.  I would be lying if Joel and I didn’t feel judged.  (Don’t we all feel that way when one of our children doesn’t do what the world expects them to do?)  But somewhere along the way Joel and I stopped fighting it, and we just started laying with him, cuddling him, scratching his back, and singing him to sleep.  Now the 1.5 hour battle every night was only lasting 15 minutes, and they were quickly turning into a very enjoyable 15 minutes.  And now Andy is almost 6, and while Joel and I still cuddle with him until he falls asleep (which surely means we have failed as parents), he stays in his bed all night, and he ends his days feeling loved and cared for.  And I realized sometimes those are the best few minutes of my day.  Every once in awhile he whispers something like: “mommy even when you are dead,  I know you will be in my heart forever.”  And I can’t even stand the cuteness.

So when our puppy cried off and on through the night in her crate.  It was an easy decision to bring her doggy bed in our room.  Now Joel and I are rebels.  And ruin-ers of sleep rules. And sometimes when our sweet little Ellie is licking my arm at 3:41 a.m. I smile and roll over and feel lucky. I finally get it.

Sometimes we make things so hard on ourselves because we are sure things have to be a certain way.  But why? Will I ever look back on my life and regret the time I spent cuddling my kid? No.  And cancer didn’t teach me this truth, but it still reminds me of it.  I am not suggesting that we always say “yes” or always do the easiest thing, but sometimes we have to ask ourselves is this worth the fight? We can loose a million battles and still win the war.

Cancer.  I almost wrote a whole post without mentioning it.  But dammit it is still there like a creepy scarecrow that every once in awhile pokes me on the shoulder and makes me turn around and stare at again.  And I want to scream, ” I know! I know! I see you.  I get it . . . you are still there.  You are still there.”

Because when I get a virus, and then strep throat, and then another virus, and it feels like its been weeks since I felt like I could jog up the steps, I don’t just think, “oh it must be May, the time of the year when all teachers feel like a deflated balloon and I must be tired and maybe I have spring allergies, and ‘oh yeah’ that puppy has been waking me up a lot — so that’s why I feel like hell.”  No.  I don’t think that.  I think, my cancer is back. 

Today I went to my 6-month cancer check up.  This is the FIRST time I went ALONE.  Joel went to the other 798 appointments with me.  But this time I was determined to do it without him.  There is this moment when I am sitting on the exam table in that terrible hospital gown waiting for the oncologist to come in and physically check me and then read my blood work results that I feel absolutely paralyzed with fear.  What if he tells me that my numbers are a little concerning and that they need to run a few more tests.  This is my BIGGEST fear right now.  This terrifies me because it would mean MORE WAITING, MORE WORRYING, MORE WONDERING, MORE CANCER talk and less, “did the puppy pee on the rug or did your spill your coffee?” I like being upset about traffic jams, and long work meetings, and that they are out of the oatmeal with flax seed at Trader Joes.  I like my simple problems dammit.  I LOVE them,  I am grateful for them.  I smile up at the stars at 2:42 am when I am in a tsunami of a rainstorm with a puppy who wants to do anything but pee.  I am so happy NOT to have cancer.  I would crawl on my knees over hot stones for miles to beg someone to please, please guarantee that it will NEVER happen to me again.

But as the therapist that I saw said, (yes I finally went) – we don’t have control.  We don’t have control. Shit happens.  Shit happens to the best of us, shit happens to the worst of us.  Shit. Just. Happens.

But what I can control- is my mindset, is my attitude.  What I can control- is my breath.  I can control my breath.  I can pay attention to the traffic jam and realize that there was an accident that caused it, and feel grateful that it wasn’t me, and say a prayer for whoever it was.  I can notice the perfectly blue sky, and feel the sun on the left side of my face, I can notice the song on the radio, and I can sing along.

This time I got a good report.  And I am glad.  But I know I head back in six months, and I want to really live each day between now and then with cuddles, and puppies, and with sunshine on my face.

So I’m not going to runaway from the creepy cancer scarecrow just over my shoulder.  I am going to turn around and acknowledge that it is there, but choose to focus on the road in front of me.

 

 

 

“Post-it notes of greatness in the file of f-ing miserable.”

date pic

Facebook memories popped this up on my time line last week.  Two Marches ago.  Night before chemo #5.  Joel and I went on a date.  I put on a dress, big earrings, and slapped on a hat and we headed out the door.  I ordered a glass of wine and had a delicious piece of trout.  Joel and I talked about cancer for a little bit, but mostly we talked about our kids, our travel dreams, our jobs, and what we were grateful for.  It was a wonderful night.  Like one of the best.  Smack dab in the middle of the lowest points of our lives, we had a series of magical moments strung together like pearls on yarn.  Seeing this picture brought it all back.  I was happy that night.  Not take-a-deep-breath-and-force-a-smile-happy, but real to-the-bone-happy.

Important to remember.  I’ve lumped most of November-May of 2015 into the “fucking miserable” file, but there were some post-it notes of greatness in there.  And I don’t want to forget them.

None of us gets out of this journey unscathed.  We will all face loss and tragedy.  But the lows of the bottom will be matched by the highs at the top.   Spring will follow winter and night will always fade to day.  This is a guarantee woven into the fabric of our universe.  And even when we are at the bottom, if we look hard enough we will see the flickers of hope.

The morning after this date I got the news that I couldn’t have chemo #5.  My blood counts were too low.  My body was too weak to knock it down with another infusion.  I was beyond upset.  My sister-in-law had already left her family to travel to St. Louis to help care for our kids, we had dinners lined up, I had taken sick days at work . . . everything was set for the aftermath of chemo #5, and now I couldn’t get it.  I remember saying the only thing worse than getting chemo is not getting chemo when you need it.  I was terrified that the cancer cells would reorganize during the chemo break and take me down again. I was so angry.  (Like crazy, scary angry).

At some point I went to Whole Foods to get more Turkey Tail mushrooms (a supplement believed to help white blood cell counts), and I saw a magnet that said: “If you are going through hell. . . keep going.” And then another that said, “In the end it will all be okay, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”  I remember breathing.  I remember my fists un-clenching just a bit.  These cheesy slogans were speaking to me.  They were saying: keep going . . . it’s going to be okay.

Two Marches later I am home from a week in sunny Florida.  I read on the beach, laughed at poop jokes with my kids, wore a swimsuit that covered my scars, spotted dolphins, drank coconut martinis, played football in the sand, kissed my husband during the sunset, and found myself bubbling up with happiness.

So my friends . . . if you are going through hell — keep going.  It’s going to be okay.  Hold on tight, look for the post-it notes of greatness in the file of “fucking miserable” and survive.  You’ve got this.

Izzy.

izzy

My dad never wanted us to get a puppy.  He said he didn’t really like puppies.  He wouldn’t even hold Izzy when we brought her home 15 years ago.  She was just a tiny black and white fluff ball and the rest of the family couldn’t keep our hands off of her, but my dad thought we were crazy for getting a puppy and had no interest in her cuteness.

But soon enough Izzy worked her magic on him and he had an instant best friend.  It’s easy to love my dad.  He is silly, and kind and makes you feel okay about the world when it disappoints you.  He has a magic about him that makes people feel at ease, and a trustworthiness that makes it feel okay to share your story.  He is a natural born therapist.

And Izzy was easy to love, too.  She had a such a calm spirit about her, and seemed content just sharing space with you.  She fiercely loved being outside, and when she was young she served as an excellent hiking, camping, and canoeing buddy.  She licked faces, cleaned up under-the-table crumbs, was gentle with babies, and loved looking out windows and lying in the sun.

We all loved Izzy, but my dad loved her the most.  He talked to her, walked at night with her, and while at my parent’s house I would often turn a corner and find him lying on the floor next to her asleep.

Whenever it was my duty to watch her, I would get strict notes about how many times to walk her, how many cookies to give her, and how much time I should spend petting her.  This last weekend while my parents went to Chicago, Izzy had to stay at our house.  She could no longer walk down steps, so my dad built her a ramp.  A very well-constructed ramp complete with side railings and carpet so she wouldn’t slip.  That’s that kind of guy my dad is.  And that is how much he loved Izzy.

So when I had to tell him that I thought it was time to put her to sleep, it wasn’t easy.

But it was time.

We said goodbye to Izzy today.  And saying goodbye is hard.  And I am sad because I loved that dog.  And I am sad because our whole family loved that dog, and now there is an Izzy-sized hole.  And I am sad for my dad.  Because he had a special bond with that dog.  A special connection that I know will be sorely missed.

She was a really good doggie.

 

 

 

 

You Belong, Too.

https://i2.wp.com/www.ksdk.com/img/resize/content.ksdk.com/photo/2017/02/16/download_1487254890409_8526024_ver1.0.jpg

I graduated from Nerinx Hall in 1997.  Twenty years ago.

My dad worked two jobs so I could attend the prestigious all-girl school.  I’ve always told my parents it was worth the sacrifice.

And now this gem of a school is in the headlines for not allowing a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club to form.

Once the news hit social media a closed group of almost 2,500 alumni formed.

I want to say so much, but it might be time to keep it simple.

To the Nerinx administration: You did it. You planted seeds of strength within us, you nourished roots of community and friendship, you gave us branches of ideas and compassion, you provided us with fruits of hope.  If you see us, if you hear us, you have to be proud.   You taught us that conflict is okay.  That when we see injustices we should speak up, and we are.  Can you hear us? Our voices are unified and our determination is strong.  You created these leaders of change, these women of compassion.  You taught us that one of us is not free, until we are all free.  You inspired us to see outside or our comfort zones.  You lit a fire so deep within our souls that we are not afraid to get burned. As the administration of this school, as board members of this community, I know you can do this.  You can take this energy, this momentum, and you can be leaders,  you can be trailblazers.

And I believe you will. Because I know there are girls in your halls that need a place to feel safe.  They need a group that says: I belong, too.

And I know you want to give them that.  Because it is good.  And it is right.

Will it be tricky? Yes. Will it be complicated? Yes.  Will it cause discomfort and unrest? Yes.

But I believe you will do it because it is who you taught us to be.

I believe you will do it because you provided us the space and place to dream, to believe that we can go where others have never gone.

It is who we are.

It is what we do.

Give these girls their safe place–tell them:

“You belong, too.”

38 Birthday Confessions, and Post Cancer Bits of Wisdom.

  1. 38Sometimes after I finish off an entire bag of Trader Joe’s caramel/cheddar popcorn, I wonder if I just fed lurking cancer cells too much sugar.
  2. I love my job.  I think if I won the lottery and never had to work again I would still show up. Getting to work with teenagers sets my soul on fire.
  3. I marched in the Women’s march, but I didn’t march in Ferguson because I was scared.
  4. I am still trying to understand the depth of my white privilege.
  5. Sometimes I yell so loud at my kids my throat hurts.
  6. I feel really bad about #5 and wish it wasn’t true.
  7. Sometimes I play Legos, and read books about pirate gingerbread men, and put chocolate chips in bananas to look like eyes, and sing songs about poop.
  8. I feel really proud of #7.
  9. The things that really stressed me out three years ago, only cause me to raise a slight eyebrow now.
  10. I hate my implants.  They are cold and weird.
  11. I used to have a port in my chest to deliver chemo straight into my veins.  Sometimes I stare at the scar where it used to be and wonder how did I get through that?
  12. I know the answer to #11 is: YOU.
  13. Blogging while healthy is much harder for me than blogging with cancer.  Now I think too much, worry about the audience, wonder if you are tired of my voice.  Cancer kept those insecurities silent.  Health has given them a voice.
  14. I am not sure what I am going to do about #13.  But I try to remind myself what cancer taught me:
  15. Everything
  16. Can
  17. Change
  18. In
  19. An
  20. Instant.  Be brave.  Listen to that quiet voice in your soul.  Be brave.  Be you.  Be all of you.  What are you waiting for?
  21. I know I kind of cheated with #15-20, but I am getting old and 38 things is a lot.
  22. I think I am going to be okay with gray hair and wrinkles.  I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on dyes and wrinkle creams.  I just want to be fully who I am, so that you feel okay to be fully who you are.
  23. Please don’t hold me to #22. I wonder if I started dying my hair at 39, will I be a hypocrite? (maybe just a little wrinkle cream?)
  24. I believe in things I cannot see.
  25. I believe in signs.
  26. I believe in having connections with people who have already left this earth.
  27. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with God.
  28. I have no idea how to effectively write about #’s 24-27.
  29. Sometimes I look at my kids while they are sleeping and I think my heart my explode with love.  (Why does this always happen when they are sleeping?)
  30. Andy (5) told me when he grows up he wants to build a home for the homeless.  He wants it to have a washer and a dryer and a coffee maker, and even a bed.  I told him he was going to make the world better.  He said, “I know I will because you are a good woman.”
  31. This is the same kid who saw me (with my bald chemo-head) sitting on his floor blogging one night while I was waiting for him to fall asleep and sweetly whispered in my ear, “you look like a turtle”.
  32. And Alex (8), is so curious about the world.  He never stops asking  questions.  He still lets me hold his hand while we are running errands and he wrote in my birthday card that I am “not bossy” and “beutiful and pecful”  (beautiful and peaceful).  I guess #5 hasn’t messed them up too much.
  33. And Joel (39) is still in love with me.  I know it might make you want to barf, and I am sorry about that, but we are still in love.  Every year with him just gets better.
  34. I haven’t done enough to help others.  I know this because I still feel that pull.  Got to do more.
  35. Cancer gave me the gift of this blog.  It made me terrified beyond measure, but it also made me brave.
  36. I wish I could use Andy’s Harry Potter wand to eliminate anxiety.  Sometime it still creeps its way inside my mind and ruins everything.
  37. I need to make an appointment with a counselor about #36.  Maybe if I type it here for all of you to see I will actually do it.
  38. I am here.  I am so grateful to still be here.

Today I worked out in khaki skinny jeans.

Yep.  It really happened.  I got to the gym and noticed I did not pack my workout pants.  So I stood there for a second and debated.

I could ditch the workout and head to Target.

Or.

I could change into my sports bra, tank top, and switch out my leather boots for my tennis shoes and rock those khaki skinny jeans on the treadmill.

Before cancer I would have ditched the workout.  For multiple obvious reasons.  One: Target. Target has things, and Starbucks, and more things, and then some other things, and then the things that go to the things, and the things that match the things. And then a few more things. Two: Who wears khaki skinny jeans to workout? Three: This is a public gym.  Four: I might know people.

I laced up my shoes, put my headphones in, scanned the gym for an open treadmill and laughed to myself as I started my workout.

Every once in awhile I see the little gifts cancer left me in its wake.

Life is short.

Workout in khakis while you can.

🙂