You Belong, Too.

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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.

🙂

Cancer Check-Ups & A Kitchen Remodel

doc It always starts like this: the stick of a needle, the smell of latex gloves, the sticky red blood that drains from my arm into the plastic tubes.  They will send it off and analyze it and my results will be uploaded and stored in my file.  And then my oncologist will read the report and determine whether or not cancer has crept back in.

Every six months this happens.  Each time I feel like a sailboat without wind.  I’m in the ocean, waves in my face, no site of land.

It is a little embarrassing to admit how hard these check-ups are for me.  In some ways I feel like I have come so far these past two year since diagnosis.  I feel stronger, braver, more connected to the present . . . and my hair is growing back (I even used a hair dryer the other day).  But in other ways I feel more fragile then ever.  More aware of how we are all just dangling on by a thread.  Just one phone call away from our world turning upside down.

In the weeks leading up to my appointments all my positive thoughts and energy somehow take a backseat to fear.  I try to wrestle it, but the “what ifs” still feel all to real.  And now I KNOW what it feels like to have cancer.  I know the true torture of having chemo in my veins.  I can still feel the tears on my face, as I hear my kids asking “why can’t mommy come, too?”

It wasn’t that long ago.

And it flashes back in my mind like this.  Like an instant replay of all that can go wrong.  And sometimes I can’t even breath.  What if my cancer is back? What if my cancer is back? What if my cancer is back? An impossible endless refrain that steals my sparkle.

Anxiety is the worst.

Fear is the worst.

What a crazy waste of time — worrying about something that may never happen.  I know it.  It makes perfect sense.  Worrying is foolish.  It only robs us of the present joy that is ours for the taking.  I know it.  I understand it.  I say it often to others.

But as I sit in the waiting room with Joel holding my hand and I see all the suffering that is so neatly arranged in rows, I can’t help but worry.  My knee starts to bounce and I wonder why the doctor is taking so long to see me.  Are they reviewing my results?  Is it so bad that they have to collect themselves before calling me in?

It sounds crazy.  I don’t even like typing it.  But it’s true. And it is real.

Let me clarify that it is not all of the time.  I am 90% free of these kind of stifling thoughts.  But when this anxiety strikes, I feel small.

My oncologist and the Siteman nurse practitioner think it could be a bit of PTSD.  They recommended I see a counselor to give me strategies on dealing with the stress that comes with my six-month cancer check-ups.   And I plan to call to make an appointment.  The kicker is- I have to go back THERE for the help.  To the place whose smell literally turns my stomach.

“Your blood work is perfect. You can breathe.”  The nurse practitioner says as she holds my hand, as she gives me the counselor’s flyer.

I breathe.  I let it settle into my bones.  I’m okay.  I’m okay.  I’m okay.  And I squeeze my eyes shut and say a silent prayer for the women in the next room, or down the hall, or sitting two hospitals away — the woman who is getting the news we all dread, “it looks like your cancer is back.”   I say a prayer for her, and for all of the women, men, and children who are waiting, or wilting, or worrying because of cancer.

But for now, I’m okay.  And I’m happy.

And I know it is a COMPLETE stretch, but I just can’t help but make a comparison between cancer and our kitchen remodel.  Sometimes you start out like this:

before-kitchen

And life throws some crazy shit your way.  And then you feel like this:during-kitchen

But because you were willing to to be knocked all the way down (like all the way down to the studs), you end up feeling like this:

And you realize that even when things are completely dismantled (and you are forced to eat cereal out of paper bowls for weeks on end and drink coffee from dirty/dusty mugs, and have your refrigerator in your dining room for months), even when things seem like they will never be normal again — the sun comes up, winter fades to spring, and you find yourself staring at your husband preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving.  And you feel so grateful.  So blessed. So okay.

For my sad friends, the day after.

123_1Like many of you, I didn’t sleep last night.

And like many of you, I felt like staying in bed this morning.  Too tired to face the reality of a Trump presidency.  I could list all the reasons I voted for Hilary, or I could angrily spit out the reasons I did not vote for Trump.  But what good would that do?

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel a sense of despair.  I was surprised at how angry I felt.  How scared.  How powerless.  And then those feelings were followed by an awareness that my race and economic class so often protect me from feeling this way.

And then I got a text from my friend Pam.  Pam is lovely.  She is good and kind, and patient and forgiving.  She has a quiet way of making the world better.  She is one of those people that is always working behind the scenes.  Pam is hope.

Pam says: “I’m remembering the Martin Luther King quote: ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I have to believe that love does trump hate in the long run.  I think we’re living through a period of backlash.  Progress is never linear.  Politics, in particular, goes through cycles…”

Progress is never linear.

Pam is brilliant, and right.

Pam’s text made me breathe again.  And the very act of breathing made me feel hopeful.

Do we have work to do? Yes.  Are all the people who voted for Trump hateful, racists? No. I know some really good people who voted for Trump.  People who feed the homeless, and do important work in their communities. Do we have work to do? Yes? Is it hopeless? No.

My students read an article today about the election results.  I gave them time to respond to the news in writing, and then asked them to write words that made them feel hopeful on my board.  They each came up and contributed.  I’m not sure if they felt better, but I sure did.  Words have a way of working into our souls, they smooth our edges like ocean waves on sharp glass.

My favorite blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton, posted this quote today:

“They tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb

If you feel buried, be the seed.  Be the love.  Be the change.  Be the light.

And breathe.  Think of all the wonderful people you know.  All the acts of kindness and grace that helped you get to where you are. Find ways to reach out to those who feel like their voice isn’t heard, and listen to the ones that do.  If you feel buried, be the seed.  Let those words settle into your soul.  Let love smooth away the sharp edges like ocean waves on sharp glass.  It takes time.  But we are in this for the long game.

 

 

 

 

The “Before”

oct-11th-2014

This photo popped up in my Facebook memories.  It was taken two Octobers ago.  Just one month before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  When it popped up I couldn’t help but stare at it.  Was that me? The girl with the long hair and a carefree smile?

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law went with me to one of those paint nights at a cute little art studio.  The ones where an instructor leads the whole class through a lesson and everyone ends up creating the same version of a painting.  The ones where (mostly) women gather with their friends, family, or co-workers, drink wine and do their best to imitate the artist’s brush strokes.

I remember looking around the room and seeing everyone working so carefully to follow the directions, to move their brushes in just the right way.  I saw how my mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s paintings were evolving so nicely,  they had patience, and precision, and some natural talent.

And then something came over me.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  And I remember wondering if I was brave enough to break the rules.  To smear my paint and start over.  To make my own version of a tree. As a usual rule follower this was hard for me.   I moved my brush back and forth and all the colors smeared together to make this deep shade of black.  Oh shit.   I saw the instructor give me the side-eye.

But once the initial shock that I had actually gone rouge was over, I started to relax.  It didn’t appear as if anyone was going to kick me out.  And so I gave into my wild rebellion and made a dark sky (that for some reason had stars AND a sun), a bare tree, and these two simple words: “be you.”

Now looking at this painting, it feels like a premonition.  Is it crazy to think that? Probably.

But I can’t help but think that tree is me.  Me after chemo.  Bare.  All my leaves fallen and blown away.  Me naked against a dark sky.  Vulnerable.  And that sun?  The sun that I for some reason painted into the night.  That sun is the promise of light.  It makes total sense.  And it makes no sense at all.  But life is funny like that.

As this October marches on, I feel a certain weight of sadness.  Not a heavy coat of sadness, not winter sadness.  Maybe just windbreaker sadness.  I notice the trees starting to surrender their leaves.  The gentle way they dance to the ground.  Fall signals change, and now it will forever remind me of cancer.  October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness month, so there are lots of pink reminders, too.  (There are even pink ribbons on my cereal box.)

But this picture reminds me that there is always a “before”.  We never know when our lives are about to change.  So be brave.  Break the rules when you can.  Listen to that little voice telling you to blur the lines.

Be you.

(And also do your monthly self-checks & get those mammograms.)

So Worth It.

sun-rise“Getting married is one of the most unnatural things two people can do.” Those were my dad’s words on the day of my wedding.

I laughed. Cause this is so my dad. He and my mom never sugar-coated marriage. It never looked easy in my house growing up. It looked hard, and bumpy, and frustrating, and maddening, and also. . . worth it.

I was at a party with my boyfriend the night I met Joel. He knew instantly that he wanted to marry me. And if you know Joel at all, you know that it is nearly impossible for him to make a decision (he had to feel the weight of the silverware in his hand before we could register for it.) But with me . . . he just knew.

Our story starts with Joel pursuing me–  and me rejecting him.  Again. And again.  And again.  But when we finally starting dating, it was only five short months before I had a ring on my finger.  And before I could blink we were married, had two kids, a house, and a cancer diagnosis.

Joel says every time he looks at our garage ceiling, his stomach sinks. He was hanging installation in the garage the day we got the call that my biopsy revealed invasive ductile carcinoma.

I’ll never forget the way we clung to each other and sobbed. How could this be our story?

Joel went out and bought a pink leather journal. He brought it to each of my doctor appointments and wrote down everything the doctors said. He underlined the hopeful statements, and read them back to me when I felt like I might not make it.

Joel fed the boys, and tucked them in, and got them up, and dressed them, and put a smile on his face as he zipped their backpacks and drove them to school. He folded the laundry, and shaved my head, and made me tea.

In sickness and in health.

Our marriage isn’t always neat around the edges. It is not seamless, and shiny. We don’t always agree or walk the same way. Sometimes I roll my eyes, or flick him off behind his back (sorry honey . . . never in front of the kids), or scream and stomp up the stairs. Sometimes one of us feels underappreciated or unheard. Sometimes we have to dig up all of the messy stuff and study the pieces.

And it’s not like the movies. We aren’t riding around in a convertible with the wind blowing in our hair. There aren’t rose petals on our bed.

No, it is not like the movies.

It’s better.

It is noticing that Joel never starts eating until I am sitting at the table. He always says “bless you” when I sneeze (even when we are fighting). He puts toothpaste on my tooth brush in the mornings when I am running late. He makes me smoothies with organic fruit (even though he thinks it costs too much).   He washes my car, and holds my hand when we run errands, and scrapes the pieces of spinach out of my teeth. He tickles our boys until they can’t breathe with laughter. He picks up trash when he sees it on the sidewalk. He shovels other peoples’ driveways.   He sings along to Dave Matthews when he makes pancakes on Saturday mornings. He makes the bed every morning. He speaks highly of other people and he designs beautiful spaces.

And he loves me. Not just the pretty parts of me . . . but the broken parts, too.

And he sees me. Not just the stuff on the surface . . . but all the hidden parts, too.

And this feels like magic. Like moonlight on the ocean. Like snowflakes in the wind. Like sunlight on my face.

When I was at one of the lowest parts of my cancer battle, I remember telling him, “I would rather be sick with you, then healthy without you.”  And that is true.

Last month we went on an early anniversary trip. On the last day we got up early and hiked up to a lake in Rocky Mountain National Forest to watch the sun rise. We found the perfect spot to sit. I set up the camera behind us to capture this shot.

This is us. Backs to camera, knees touching, me leaning into him. This is us. Together watching the darkness fade. Together witnessing the promise that light always comes back.

And we were so ready for that light.

Ten Septembers ago I made the single best decision that I will ever make in my lifetime.  I married Joel.  He helps me be the best version of myself.  And I pray that I do the same for him.

Marriage is not about the wind blowing your hair as you glide across the sea.  It is more like holding hands while the storm rages around you.  Like getting drenched in life, and waiting patiently for the sun to dry you.  It is about choosing again and again to reach out.  To reach out, and to keep reaching out.  It is about promising to be all parts of you, even the ugly, crazy parts.  It is about keeping eye contact with each other no matter what.  It is hard, and messy, and beautiful, and real.

And so, so worth it.img_8790