Santa is not real, but the magic is.

snow magic

I haven’t typed out a blog post since April . . . but I’ve written so many since then in my mind.  I know I have mentioned it before,  but it was easier to share my writing publicly when I was sick.  With wellness, comes self-consciousness, an awakened awareness, a resurgence of that voice that kept me from sharing my writing before cancer, “why would anyone care what you have to say?”

When I was sick, that voice fell silent.  I had bigger fish to fry.  And as I started my journey back to health it was tiny like a fruit fly circling my wine class – I could easily flick it and drink on.  But know it’s like a threatening yellow jacket.  If I try to kill it, I could be stung.  So I freeze, or runaway, or do all of writing in my head and never take the time to let my fingers find their way on this keyboard.

But . . . I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this happen.  Writing brings me joy, and sharing my writing makes me feel somehow more connected to this infinitely big universe.  So . . . here I go . . .

Alex figured out that Joel and I put the presents under the tree . . . and that it is not Santa.  He asked Alexa how many children there were in the world and then did the math about how many presents he would have to deliver in a span of 24 hours.  When he presented the facts to me, I couldn’t keep up the story anymore . . .

“So mom, Santa isn’t real . . .right?”

“What do you think?”

He said based on his math work with Alexa, it was impossible.  I said, “you are right, but do you still believe in the magic of Christmas?”  He said he did.  I said he could help me keep that alive for his little brother Andy.

He seemed sad.  I did, too.

Just like that his belief in something that brought him so much joy and excitement was gone.  He saw the puppet strings.

Growing up is hard.  There are so many moments like this.  We can all think back to the times when we realized that not all people were good, not all places were safe, not everyone wanted to help, that bad things happened to good people, and not every story has a happy ending.

Last week Alex was upset because he watched a hawk get a mouse.  He came in the house telling me about how sad he was for the mouse . . . it was “crying” and trying to get away.

Joel told him that was the circle of life.  He seemed satisfied with that answer and when back outside to play with this nerf gun.

And then when he heard me telling Joel about a 7-week old baby that was in car crash and in critical condition . . . he asked me, “Mom, is that the circle of life, too?”


Where is the parenting guidebook for that question?

We really don’t watch the news in our house.  And I turn off NPR when it starts to let too much of the scary stuff seep into our comfortable air-conditioned car.  I struggle with how much of this world I want my kids to see.   And for the most part- I have control over that.  I can decide as a parent what political, environmental, and racial crises I want my kids to know about.

And this is privilege.

If I am a mom in Flint Michigan, I don’t have a choice but to tell them they have been drinking unsafe water.

If my boys were brown or black I would have to tell them why it is unsafe to play with their toy guns at the park, or why they would most likely be followed while they shop, or that because of our society’s implicit bias . . . they might always have to deal with presumed guilt.

If one of my boys identifies as gay, I will have to tell them that they may be called a sinner, or a freak, or not be given the opportunity to marry the person they love.

And if I was a mother from another country who was willing to risk everything to give my children a better life, I might have to listen to their sobs as they are ripped from my arms.

I read an article once that said it isn’t the best strategy to protect your kids from the outside chaos.  You might be able to preserve their innocence, but they might miss the opportunity to see the injustices that need to be addressed.

And honestly, I don’t know the right answer.  I don’t want my kids to worry about being shot at school.  I want them to believe that people are good, that the world is kind, and that justice is real.  And they are, and it is, and sometimes it can be.

BUT.  I also want them to know that as white boys/men born in America they have an unmistakable privilege that they did not earn.  They just got lucky.  And they have to use this privilege for good.

So Alex knows that Santa isn’t real.  But he also knows that this Christmas he gets to be our helper as we keep the magic alive for his brother.  And there is magic in that, too.

There is magic and goodness in the helping.  In the believing that with knowledge and privilege comes great responsibility.  There is a big, cruel world out there.  But there is also a big, beautiful world out there.  There is both.

I want my kiddos to see the beauty, to let it wash over them, to touch the trees with their toes while they swing, to play in the mountain snow, to marvel at the cloud shapes in the sky.  To ride rollercoasters, and walk in the sand.  To believe in things they cannot see, or prove.

And I want them to see racism, injustice, hunger, poverty, corruption, discrimination, and hate.

And then I want them to know they can do their little bit of good, and that it matters.  And that doing for others, that acknowledging suffering and doing what they can to alleviate it- is empowering . . . and magical.

Not everything can fit in pretty box with a pretty bow . . . but with the right perspective, everything that happens can be an opportunity for growth, and goodness.  It just takes a flicker of flame to light a dark room.  We don’t always need the sun, sometimes we just need a tiny flash of light to remember why we are here.

After watching a cartoon on vacation, the news popped on and Andy, my seven-year-old, caught a flash of a clip showing immigrant children being detained.

He has asked me about every single day since then.  I honestly didn’t know what to tell him.  I have purposely not read about it, or watched it because I didn’t think my soul could handle it.  He wanted to know if he could be separated from me.

“No,” I told him.  “You are safe. No one can take you from me and your dad.  But we do have to care that this is happening because it is not right.”

So we are going to have a lemonade stand this week with his friends to raise money for the International Institute in St. Louis to help immigrants and refugees in our area.

Sometimes I do nothing because I don’t know what to do.  Sometimes I say nothing because I don’t know what to say.  Sometimes I do nothing because what I can do seems so small, so insignificant.  But something, is always better than nothing.

Fear comes when we feel powerless.

Hope comes when we feel empowered to help.

And there is magic in the helping.



Arm us.

When I became a teacher 15 years ago, I really didn’t think much about school shootings.  Columbine captivated my attention during college, but it seemed like a once in a lifetime type of tragedy.

Throughout my career I have always worried about whether or not I have done enough for my students.  Are they learning enough? Are they thinking enough? Are they feeling loved? Do they truly feel heard? Do they truly feel seen?  Some nights I lay awake worrying about them, wondering what else I can do to make sure they have what they need.

I believe my job as an educator is to create a space where students feel safe.  Where they can feel unafraid.  That has always been my number one goal because I understand that if students do not feel safe, they cannot learn.  I want them to feel safe enough to be completely who they are.  Safe enough to take risks, and safe enough to ask hard questions.  I want them to feel safe enough to speak their truths, and to share their stories.  I want them to feel safe enough to reach out and ask for help.

And to create this sense of safety, I do believe I need to be armed.

But not with a gun.

Not with a weapon.

Not with the power to end life.

Teachers need to be armed with resources.  With support systems.  With partnerships.  When one of our babies is hurting, we need to be armed with supplies to help heal them. We need to be armed with a mental health care system that doesn’t involve waiting lists, and red tape, and continual funding cuts.

Schools need to be places where hungry kids are fed.  Where disconnected kids are engaged.  Where kids struggling with anxiety, depression, and mental illness can be connected to free therapeutic services.  Schools need to be places where students who are struggling with impossible lives can learn about resilience, and hope, and bravery.   I know districts like this exist, because I am lucky enough to teach in one.

Teachers are on the front lines of this fight, so please arm us accordingly.  Expand mental health services, increase public education funds, and empower us to keep our students safe.  We can do this.

I never thought I would have to ask myself if I was willing to literally die for my students.    I never thought I would have to wonder if my own children’s teachers were willing to die for them.  But I am willing.  And I bet they are, too.

We are teachers.  We are called to challenge our students to think critically, to write, to speak up, and to dream.  We’ve been trained to educate them, to meet them where they are, and to inspire them to take leaps forward.


We are warriors, but we do not need weapons.



Facial Warts, Flaming Hots, Feeling Fine

messy kitchenTomorrow I am going to be 39.  WTF.  That is only one year away from 40.

In some ways I still feel like I am the 18-year-old Melissa driving at night with the sunroof down, music up, and the open world spread out before me.

I still feel like I could take some tequila shots and dance my ass off at some sweaty club.

Actually, we could back it up to 15-years-old. . . I still feel like I could pop a tape in my walkman and rollerblade through the streets listening to Belinda Carlisle.

But here I am in my dirty (but beautifully designed) kitchen on a Friday night wondering if I should unload the dishwasher first, or get the load of darks started in the washer.

I mean the boys and I did go to Michael’s tonight to buy some beads to make necklaces.  And to Target for a Tombstone pizza . . . so . . .


My forehead has gotten wrinkly, and I have lots of gray hairs that I sometimes spray with some mysteriously magic hair spray that turns them back to brown.  But mostly – I leave them gray.  And recently I got a huge facial wart.  I couldn’t get into a dermatologist so I just burned it off with apple cider vinegar.  (I may have also burned off some healthy skin. . . I guess it is important to read the entire home remedy article).

I think a lot about death.  This is a blessing . . . and a burden.  A blessing because it has increased the amount of time I spend actually being present in the here and now.  Like being aware of where my body is in space and time, being engaged in the conversation before me, and being utterly grateful for the simplest wonders of life:

Listening to the Lumineers.  Sipping vanilla coffee. Holding Alex’s sweet, 9-year-old hand.  Watching Andy reenact a Harry Potter scene.  Breaking Joel’s rule of no dogs on the couch, and cuddling our Ellie pup.  Watching Joel coach 1st grade basketball.  Singing to my students as their eyes roll.  Reading poetry out loud.  Christmas cooking.  Laughing at my silly friends.  Reading other people’s truths.  Watching meaningless TV. Taking warm baths with coconut oil and lavender.  Climbing into clean sheets.  Running.  Wondering.  Wishing with my eyes closed.  Praying.  Leaning against trees.  Studying the seasons.  Chicken soup. Cookie dough. Grapefruit. Moonlight. The sound of rain.  The sight of snow.  The smell of spring.

And I know.  That just like that.  It can all disappear.

Someone crosses the centerline.  You slip off the cliff.  Your heart breaks.  Your clot moves.  Your cancer metastasizes.

Just like that.

I hope I make it to 40.  But if for some reason I don’t.  I want to live. . . like really LIVE the best way that I know how.  For me that means making connections with people.  For me that means helping my students believe that they are beautiful, and strong, and that they are powerful beyond measure.  For me that means believing in things you can’t see.  And being painfully aware of my privilege, and teaching my white boys to be aware of theirs. For me that means trying to remember the canvas bags at the grocery store, keeping granola bars in the car so we have something to give the homeless man at the corner.  For me that means listening to people who disagree with me, and taking the time to wonder.  And forgiving myself after I yell (because seriously why are we STILL asking you to put your shoes on?????).   To me that means eating mostly foods that come from living things.  And then forgiving myself for eating Flaming Hot Cheetos,  cookie dough, and Tombstone pizza . . . all in the same day.   To me it means being brave enough to say what I think, and humble enough to know that I could be getting it all wrong.  To me it means investing in people.  And holding hands.  And opening my eyes all the way . . . so I can see unexpected miracles. . . just the right song on the radio, just the right sunbeam on my face, just the right wind in my hair, just the right words scribbled in a book.  To me it means sinking into sadness instead of fighting it, and holding on to joy like a snowflake that might melt.

Life is beautiful.  I am so happy to be here.  I am so glad that I get to turn 39.  Time to go clean this kitchen.  After all . . . it IS Friday night.


It’s the little things.


This morning I dug through my closet to find a scarf.  And I pulled out this one.  The multi-colored one in this picture.

This was the scarf I used to wear all of the time on my head when I was bald from chemo.  Today I tied it around my neck to keep me warm.

I paused and looked at myself a bit longer in the mirror.  My hair is slowly making its way to my shoulders.  Andy said he can’t wait until I have long hair again, that way he will know I am all better.

Sometimes when I was sick he would have trouble sleeping, and he would shuffle down the hall and ask me if he could sleep with one of my scarves.  He said they smelled like me.  I even cut a piece off of one so he could keep it in his pocket. He was only three.

Today it felt like such a privilege to wear this scarf around my neck.   Each time I caught a glimpse of it, I couldn’t help but smile.

If you are sinking in winter snow . . . hang on tight.  Spring will find you.



Let Yourself Sink

Joel was reminding me that three years ago on New Year’s Eve I spent the day getting chemo.  We still tried to hang out with our friends that night despite the poison sitting heavy in my veins.  Joel remembers the delicious food they made.  I remember trying to prop my head up on my hand at the table.

Sometimes I feel bad that it has been three years and I am STILL telling my cancer story.  I am sure there are a few readers out there who are like, “Yeah, Melissa we know.  You had cancer.  Okay.  Move on.”   And I get it . . . I do.  I mean how long can I play this cancer card?

I wonder when this space will be just a blog . . . and not a cancer blog.  When I don’t associate myself so closely with the “c” word.

One of the gifts cancer gave me was the gift of this blog.  A space where I can ramble on a page, press publish, and then let my words tumble out across the inter-webs and land in the minds of a few friends, and a few strangers.  And for some reason this makes me feel more seen, more heard . . . and therefore: more alive.   It still scares the crap out of me.  Public truth-telling is both freedom and fear all mixed together.

I know I’ve said it before, but writing was easier when I was sick.  When death felt like a real possibility, when I was terrified, but also fueled with the thought of: what do I have to lose? Sickness brought this immense vulnerability and with it a courage to be broken “out loud.”  Wellness, has brought back so many missed and amazing things, but it has also reminded me of insecurity, of self-consciousness, of playing it safe.

I think suffering gives us this unmistakable knowledge of what matters.  When I was sick, I could so clearly see what mattered most.  It was like the blinders were off, and instead of standing at the shore of understanding, I was drowning in it.

This is another reason I still write.  Because I am so afraid that I might forget what I learned.  Because I am no longer drowning, I am no longer even clinging to the raft,  I am swimming towards the shore.

I know that some of you reading this are in the beginning of your suffering. The part when you are so sure that you will never breathe again.  The part when your arms and legs are so tired of kicking, your lungs are burning, and the only thing you can manage to do – is to gasp for air before you sink beneath the surface again.  Life as you know it is forever changed, and you didn’t ask to be this broken.

This metaphor of suffering makes sense to me.  This idea that you are in an ocean, and all you can do is sink.  To sink.  And to let life swirl above you, while you become part of the darkness below.  This is when you surrender.  When you give in to the suffering, when you understand that you can’t avoid it: you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it . . . so . . . you go through it.  Give yourself permission to sink.

This does not mean you are giving up, or that you are not being “the fighter” everyone asks you to be.  This does not mean you are weak.

There is a peacefulness in sinking.  The light bends differently under the water, and the bubbles that follow you are constant reminders of hope.

People like to say “keep swimming”.  I say: “keep sinking”.  You can’t skip this step.  You can fight with the ocean for as long as you’d like.  Or you can let it swallow you up and carry you to the deepest spaces where the darkness is so loud it only takes a spec of light to remind you that your legs are strong, and the bottom is just below your feet, and your knees are made for bending, and you can push off from here and find a way back to the space where water meets sky.

If 2017 has left you shipwrecked at sea.  Let yourself sink.  Look for bubbles of hope, and for tiny specs of light.

The sink is just part of your story.  It’s not how it ends.



Rashes, Reoccurrence, Reflections

FallAbout three weeks ago I got out of the shower and noticed that I had a strange rash all over my chest (on the exact side the cancer had been).  I did a double take and studied it in the mirror.  My stomach sank remembering the words of my surgeon during one of my follow-up appointments: call us if you see any localized rashes, it can be a sign of reoccurrence. 

When Joel came upstairs he found me crying in the closet.  When I showed him, his face dropped too.  He said, “it’s probably nothing,” but his eyes told a different story.

I did my best to not completely panic, but of course fear gripped me and literally brought me to my knees.

Not. Again.

Joel brought me my phone and I made too desperate phone calls, one to my oncologist and one to my surgeon.

The week that followed was filled with appointments, steroid creams, and skin biopsies. It was hard for me to eat or sleep.  I tried to tell my brain that it was probably nothing, maybe a bug had gotten in my bra at the Renaissance festival in the woods, maybe I was allergic to something . . .  maybe.  Maybe. Maybe.


Maybe it was back.

So many thoughts filled my head.  Memories of chemo drips, fatigue so heavy it was hard to push the grocery cart, tears streaming down my face as Joel shaved my head.  All I could think was: I can’t go back to that. 

When Benadryl and a bath in tea tree oil made a significant improvement in the rash, the surgeon told me it couldn’t be cancer.  The biopsy revealed an allergic reaction . . . it probably WAS a bug in my bra and I couldn’t even feel a bite or an itch because these fake things have zero sensation.

Was this a cruel joke the universe was playing on me? A rash on ” THE cancer boob”? I mean . . . come on.

Of course there was relief when I realized it was not a reoccurrence.

But also — sadness.

This cancer stuff is scary.  The fear of reoccurrence can hang over me like a thick, heavy fog … if I let it.

And I am trying REALLY hard to not to let it.

This rash.  It scared the shit out of Joel and I.  We were fighting the night before I found it.  And man, did we kick ourselves for wasting our time on that.  What if it was back and our last night of normalcy was spent going to bed mad? What a waste.

This rash.  It woke me up . . . again.  I get to savor the cool morning air and the dark sky at 5:30 a.m. on the way to the gym.  I get to roll the windows down and pay attention to how the wind feels in my HAIR, and how the sun feels on my skin.  I get to snuggle up with my boys to give them one more kiss before leaving their room at night.  I get to hold Joel’s hand in the grocery store. I  get to lay on the floor and let my sweet puppy lick my face.  I get to notice the sound the leaves make as they swirl together in the street.

I. Am. Alive.

It was three years ago this week that I got my diagnosis news.  Three years! I will never forget that ocean of sadness that swallowed me up.  It seemed impossible that I would ever swim on the surface again.

I almost slipped back into that place of normalcy where gratitude is the exception — not the rule.  But that stupid rash made me remember how everything can change in an instant.  Don’t wait to live fully.  Forget about your outdated purse or your messy hair.  Stop playing it safe.  You are here.  You are alive.

I don’t want to forget these truths.  As I move further away from my crisis — I want to keep my scars, my reminders that change and vulnerability are required for joy.


Looking for Lumps.



Ugh.  I made it probably five days into October before being reminded that it is breast cancer awareness month.  Before breast cancer I wondered if all of the pink made the survivors or the fighters feel supported.  Now that I am one, all of the pink just makes me feel anxious. Anxious and somewhat annoyed.  There is nothing pretty or pink about breast cancer.  Next month I will go in for my blood test to see if my breast cancer has returned.  Just thinking about it makes my stomach tighten.  I don’t know if you can make a pumpkin latte pink- but if they could- I think they would.

There is also something nice about the awareness.  I believe awareness is half of the battle.  Awareness probably saved my life.  I knew that breast cancer could kill young women.  I knew that lumps could be benign cysts, and I knew that lumps could be silent killers.  You’ve heard me say it a million of times before, but the nurse practitioner in my doctor’s office thought my lump was just a cyst.  She told me to just keep an eye on it for a couple of months.  She told me to maybe cut back a little on coffee.  But my awareness made me ask for an ultrasound.  My awareness saved my life.


So when I think about the power of awareness, I feel grateful for all of that pink.

And when I think about the power of awareness, I feel grateful for the protestors in St. Louis, and for all the football players taking a knee. They are the pink shirts of racial inequities. They are reminding us to check ourselves.  To give ourselves our monthly exams.  To ask ourselves if we need further evaluation.

I spoke to a woman once who told me that she has never gotten a mammogram because she is too afraid of finding out that she might have cancer.

I get it.  Even though I had a double mastectomy, I am still supposed to give myself a breast exam every month.  I am supposed to make sure that cancer hasn’t found a sneaky way of coming back in the tissue around my implants.  And sometimes this paralyzes me.  I am afraid of what I might find.

But we can’t afford to let fear make those decisions for us.

It is scary to find something buried inside of us that has the potential to blow up our lives.  But we need to search for it anyway.

Ask your friends of color about their experiences.  If you don’t have friends of color, find a book or an article by someone who tells their truth with bravery.  Read it.  Reflect on it.

Pretending our racial bias isn’t there, won’t make it go away.  It will continue to grow, it will turn our brothers and sisters into the “other”.  It has the power to dehumanize.  It is a cancer that needs further testing, further conversation, future investigation about how to treat it.  About how to beat it.  About how to find a cure.

Thanks to the all of the pink keychains, shopping bags, coffee cups, and ribbons- I can’t get through October without being aware that it is breast cancer awareness month.  I hope it reminds women to check themselves, to see their doctors, to ask for further testing when their gut tells them to.  It would be easy to roll my eyes and look away.  To say all of the pink was obnoxious and overdone.  But it would be foolish, too.  Because awareness can start conversations, and conversations can inspire action, and action can change policy and save lives, and get us all a little bit closer to freedom.

Our Third Marriage

MelissacantusecomputersThere was a moment this 11-year-anniversary- weekend when Joel and I slow danced in our kitchen to the song we danced to at our wedding.  We asked Alexa to play it (she needed a break from playing “the butt-cheek song” our boys kept requesting).  Ray Charles’ version of Crazy Love.  We really wanted a Dave Matthews song to dance to, but the dance instructor we hired to prepare us for our first dance (total waste of money) insisted we have something with a 4/4 beat . . . or something like that.  So now every time we hear the song both Joel and I say, “quick, quick, slow.  quick, quick, slow”.  The phrase the instructor said over and over again as we stepped on each other’s feet.

So anyway.  We were slow dancing in the kitchen while simultaneously flipping pancakes, and yelling at the dog not to lick the counter.  Alex was grossed out by our romantic moment and Andy kept cheering for us to kiss.  I had bed head, and Joel had coffee breath.

This is eleven years.  Eleven years and marriage #3.

Our marriage role models taught us this.  That your one love can be defined by different chapters, different marriages.  We had the honor this Friday of watching them celebrate 50 years of love and commitment.  They are on marriage number six.  If they had a fan club, Joel and I might try to run for co-presidents.  They love each other so intentionally that it looks a lot like admiration, and devotion, and the deepest form of friendship.  They taught us that real love that looks messy, and is sometimes loud and sharp around the edges.  They’ve loved each other for 50 years.  And they are on marriage six.

So Joel and I figured that we are on number 3.

First there was the young love.  The not wanting to be away from each other for a second.  The long letter writing, the cute message leaving, the surprise presents tucked under pillows and carseats.  The dreaming, and planning, and drinking and dancing till too late.

And then a life-threatening blood clot and a baby happened.  And with them we found marriage #2.  Joel took me to the hospital with a swollen leg, and three weeks later took me home in a wheelchair with a baby on my lap.  His lighthearted bride was now wearing compression stockings, nursing bras, and stabbing herself in the stomach twice a day to keep her blood thin.  Anxiety dimmed the light in her eyes.  And everything changed.

But with time, we learned how to navigate, we found such mystery in our two becoming three.  We found balance and peace and soon joy seeped its way back into our souls.  We left our loft and bought a house, and with Andy, our three became four.

And then cancer brought us marriage # 3.  Which was filled with the darkest moments of my life, but also with the deepest, most transformative love.

This year, we didn’t celebrate with a trip, or any fancy gifts or cards.  We just slowed danced in the kitchen for probably about a minute and thirty seconds, had a great dinner out, and drank sparkling wine from the bottle in the place where we said “I do” (while listening the Snoop Dog concert down the hill).  This is year eleven, and marriage number three.

Joel is my person.  He is the man that I will intentionally love for all the days of my life.  I can’t predict how many marriages are left in our story, but I know for sure, they will all start and end- hand in hand.



I was preparing for the Eclip-olypse.  The MRH teachers had the awesome opportunity to watch the eclipse in St. Genevieve, Missouri and I was convinced it was going to be an absolute disaster.  I really believed there would be so much traffic that I would have to pee into a diaper in front of my co-workers on the highway.  I thought there would be so many people in the area that cell phones would no longer work, and I would have no way to seek medical attention for the bee sting that I was going to get in the middle of the traffic-jammed two-lane highway. (I’m not even allergic to bees but this is the kind of stuff that sometimes keeps me up at night).  I really thought it would be the Eclip-olypse, so I begged my whole team to wake up at the crack of dawn to hit the highway before the millions of vehicles blocked our path, and I loaded up my car with extra water, some trail mix, and a first aid kit.

When we arrived in St. Genevieve about 55 minutes later after cruising down a open road, I realized that once again I heard hooves on the road — and thought zebras instead of horses (that was for you Jim).

All the worrying about how I was going to get there kept me from having any expectations about what watching an eclipse would be like.  I didn’t even really give myself time to get excited.  I was too busy debating whether or not I needed to pack a flashlight in case we got trapped in my car over night.

So when the moon moved into the sun’s path, and the temperature dropped, and the leaves’ shadows turned to crescents, and the light started to dim . . . I really felt a sense of awe.  The grand finale was darkness in the middle of the day.  A sky transformed in an instant.  It almost felt like magic.

Joel texted me late Friday afternoon to let me know that Alex’s biopsy came back as a benign growth, and I felt my whole body breathe a sigh of relief.  I had worked so hard to convince myself that it would be fine, but my body was holding it’s breath until the doctor confirmed it.  It was just another horse . . .not a zebra.  (Although to my credit it looked super scary and way more like a zebra than a horse).  I took a moment today, during this magical eclipse, to feel the weight of gratitude.  For now, all is okay.

Andy thinks that he can cast spells, and can speak to snakes when he is in his Harry Potter costume.  He thinks his wooden wand can make magic.

Isn’t it fun to believe in things we can’t see?  And it isn’t wonderful to every once in awhile, actually get to see them?

It almost feels like magic.






alex and meBiopsy. Biopsy. Biopsy.  How can a word take my breath away?

It was a normal day at the zoo and I was pretending to be a momma bird squirting water from a Gatorade water bottle into the mouths of all my thirsty baby birds.  (In other words I stupidly only packed one water bottle for six children and was trying to prevent the spread of germs.) When Alex leaned his head back for his squirt, I saw it.

It was a weird growth thing on the roof of his mouth.  Immediately I felt my stomach twist up.  I asked Joel to look at it and he told me to relax.  It was probably a burn from eating hot pizza, and we would just keep our eye on it.  I forced myself to breathe.  I couldn’t even handle looking at it again because I know myself, I know my brain.  I could go from it being a tiny bump to “cancer.”

When I found the lump in my breast I tried to talk myself down.  “Melissa, it’s not cancer.  Do you know how many times you’ve thought something was cancer? Melissa just because it is possible does not mean it is probable.  Melissa you are always worried about the worst happening, it is probably just a cyst.”  My brain and I were in a battle during the days between finding the lump and getting my biopsy results.  Sometimes my health anxiety is a thief of my joy, but in some ways it also keeps me safe.  Because when the doctor told me it was probably a cyst and to just keep my eye on it,  I shook my head and asked for an ultrasound.  And I am pretty sure that decision saved my life.

So instead of obsessing about Alex’s weird mouth growth by checking it constantly, looking it up on the internet, and panicking . . . I put Joel in charge of it.  Cancer taught me that Joel is calm, and level-headed, and just the right amount of worried.  Cancer taught be that I can’t be in control of everything, and that sometimes it is okay to say, “I can’t handle this.  I can’t do it.  I can’t even.” So Joel took over.  He took a picture of it and sent it to our brilliant dentist friends.  They said it looked benign to them but to take him to the dentist.  So Joel made the appointment, and took him.  And our wonderful dentist who seems to know me all to well, pulled Joel aside and said, “I know your wife.  She is probably freaking out.  Tell her it is okay.  He needs to see an oral surgeon to have it removed, and they will biopsy it to be sure, but I am not worried.”  I made Joel tell me this over and over again,  I kept asking him, “So .  . . are you sure he wasn’t worried, but why does he have to get it out? Why do they have to biopsy it?”

And my brain and I continued this battle.  Because I know that sometimes even when doctors think things are okay . . . they aren’t.  I know that even when you are sure you will get the call with the “all clear” instead they say the word “cancer” and you fall to your knees.

But I didn’t completely surrender to the panic.  Because I have been working SO hard on my anxiety.  I am determined not to let it steal my joy.  I know that if I let myself be worry’s slave, I will feel less sunshine on my face.  And I don’t want to live life like that.

My dear family friend who passed away last summer from breast cancer spent her life speaking the truth about the power of positive thought and intention.  After she died I watched her TED Talk, and she tells the audience not to stay in the negative for too long, to move it aside and say, “despite all of that, I can solve this anyway.”   This inspired me to transform all of my “what ifs” to “even ifs“.  I am trying to retrain my brain to not be caught in the “what if my cancer comes back?” mindset, but in the “even if my cancer comes back, I know how to be resilient” mindset. (

This takes a lot of work.  And patience.  And willingness to forgive myself for all of the times that my resilience takes a back seat to my anxiousness.

But “what if my sweet 9-year-old who still holds my hand, and takes naps with our puppy, and designs amazing Lego creations, and makes his cousins belly laugh, and picks up trash when he goes on walks with me, who wants to make blessing bags for the homeless, and who dreams of inventing a portal for time travel . . . what if he has cancer?”

I couldn’t survive that.  Could I?

Yes.  Yes I could.  Do you know how I know? Because of you.  Because I see some of you out there in life and you have survived this, and you have survived worse.

I had some amazing oncology nurses at Siteman.  And Erin had a sparkle in her eyes, a warmth in her smile, and playfulness in her voice that made needles, and ports, and pills, a bit easier to handle.

She just lost her three-year-old son to cancer.

And I am sure she feels like she will not survive this.  But she will.  Because of you.  Because there are some of you out there who have also lost your babies.  The single most devastating thing that could ever happen to a parent.  And you are surviving.  And you must be her hope.

When I was healing from my surgery, I wrote a blog post about prayer.  I said,

When I was a fraction of myself.  When the anchor of cancer pulled me so far underwater I was sure I would never reach the surface again.  When I felt the ache of hopelessness.

There was always this unbreakable thread that kept me just shy of the bottom.

And each prayer you sent me, each thought, and well wish.  Each time you said my name, or squeezed your eyes closed and sent me love, or read my words and ached with me for just a moment.  Each time you extended your energy in my direction, or folded your fingers together, or kneeled down at your place of worship.  Each time.  Every. Single. Time.

It mattered.

It moved me.

Those prayers.  That energy.  Those connections.  They were balloons.  And I held on to each one.  And they lifted me.

Please send that kind of love to Erin.  May there be an million balloons that hold her up, just shy of the bottom.

Alex met with the oral surgeon yesterday.  She wasn’t concerned at all.  They removed the weird skin flappy-thing and sent it off to be biopsied.  So I am breathing again, and feel confident that all will be well.

And even if it’s not. I’ll find a way to be resilient.

And you will, too.