Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!!

My resolutions start off the same year after year:
Lose weight and get in shape
Spend more time with family
Save more money and spend less.

This year, I am choosing not to make any resolutions. Hahaha, it only took me 2 decades to realize that I am only setting myself up with lies and for failure.
No, this year, instead of resolutions I am just going to enjoy life as it comes to me.
Of course I want to work out more, eat better, save more money and spend less on frivolous things, but I’ve come to want a lot more. I’ve come to realize that my life is worth so much more.

Since my surgery in the middle of September, I’ve lost 4 pink sisters to cancer, a man I knew to cancer and 2 children to cancer. I’ve watched people battle health issues and battled my own this year.

Around Thanksgiving, I noticed that I was feeling a little differently. I was so excited to be with family at my parent’s house and I really missed the family that wasn’t there.
I’m a 4th grade teacher and when the Christmas break started, I walked away from my classroom with the intention of just having fun with my kids. I did just that. We slept in and stayed up late. We played games, watched movies, cooked together and talked with each other.

Now, it is New Year’s Eve and as I sit here typing, I can’t help but reflect on the year that was 2013:
 I completed my first year as a teacher. 
I was diagnosed with cancer for the 3rd time.
I listened to a friend’s advice and began this blog. 
I found forgiveness within myself.
I found the joy again in simple pleasures.

Now, it is New Year’s Eve and I can’t help but get excited for all that 2014 will bring.
I am excited for the changes that I have already made within myself and for the growth that I will continue to try and do.
I am excited about the memories that I will continue to make with my family and my friends.
I am excited to finish my Master’s degree and put school behind me, unless I bite the bullet and pursue my Doctorate...**gasp**cough**choke**
I am excited for the bonds that I know will grow and strengthen, ones that I hope will grow stronger and the bonds that have yet to be formed.
I am nervous about letting go of my oldest daughter as she begins her own life, when I know what’s waiting out there for her.
I am nervous that my son will be entering high school in September and is that much more closer to being an adult.
I am nervous that cancer will rear it’s ugly head even though I believe that I have kissed it good bye for the last time.

Now, it is New Year’s Eve and I am ready. I will celebrate all triumphs. I will face all challenges. I will hug my family and friends tighter. I will love stronger. I will embrace all people for who they are. I will stand for what I believe in. I will face my fears.
My year is not a resolution. My life is my celebration, my joy, my story and I can’t wait to see what 2014 will bring to fill my pages.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Hate Can't Win In Me

I really HATE this disease. I hate living in fear. I hate losing sisters. I hate losing friends. I hate the thoughts and worries that go through any survivor’s head. I hate that a child is right now suffering from this crap. I hate that a parent is right now planning a child's funeral. I hate that someone is now making arrangements for their family to go on once they lose or in case they lose their battle to this beast. I hate that someone is trying to cope without their loved one. I hate that someone is in pain because of this garbage. I hate missing my friends and sisters so much that I cry when I think of them and their families. I hate the aches and pain that I have had ever since chemo. I hate that big pharma will not work towards a cure of a cost effective illness. I HATE CANCER!!!

That was my Facebook post in one of my support groups yesterday and on my personal page today. So frustrating to be a part of something that causes such pain and devastation.

I always try to stay positive because I feel like I'm letting evil win when I mope too much. I’m a strong believer that if you allow negative energy to sit with you too long, you begin to believe it and live it. That will never be me. I hate cancer beyond reason, so here is my positive spin.

I lOVE my sisters and brothers that I met through this battle. I LOVE being able to celebrate their wins with them. I LOVE knowing that no matter what I go through, there will be someone who understands me. I LOVE knowing that you trust me to share your battle and to share your fears about this disease. I LOVE that I want to be there and will always be there for anyone that needs me. I LOVE that no matter how dark things sometimes gets, there is a light at the end of that tunnel. I LOVE that my father taught me to find my positive, handle what I can take care of and deal with the rest as it comes. I LOVE that I have found a spirit that will not be broken.

Please don't take offense, I don't appreciate any part of this disease, but I LOVE and appreciate my friendship with you!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Today is a Gift

This morning I got into a conversation with a friend that left me thinking about all of the sadness that has fallen over the holidays.

I’ve told you about my friend’s mother who had the brain aneurysm and my friend’s father who is battling against hospice care. Her status is still the same but I hope that means that she is resting and gathering up the strength that she needs to fight back and recover. He is not ready to stop fighting and is recovering from a surgery. I love and respect that fight in him.

In the past few days, a very close friend shared with me about her best friend’s daughter who committed suicide. She was only 18 and I cried for her, for feeling so much despair that she felt this was her only escape. I cried for her mom who is now left to pick up the pieces and try to move on and try to push away the guilt I am sure she feels. As a mom, I am sure she has thought, “What did I do or could have done?” I can’t imagine what she is going through. I have prayed for her and wish in my heart that she is able to move on from this.

A sister shared with us that her cancer has spread horribly to all major organs including her brain. She has 2 very young children...2 YOUNG CHILDREN!! She did what she was supposed to do, she battled and was doing her treatment and still it stays...and grows! She is not giving up and neither are her doctors. She has the determination to fight this ugly triple negative breast cancer, now we are praying that the chemo will do its part. However, even in the midst of that determination, she still is silently preparing...just in case, so that her husband will have support raising such young children as a single father, so her kids will be forever surrounded by her love and people that will love and cherish them.

This morning, I log onto Facebook and see that a sister, Karen, lost her battle to this same monster. She was a sister who always supported all of us in our battle and lives. She loved us through our problems, laughed with us through our joys and celebrated with us through our triumphs. She traveled for treatments and trials. She did everything right, but just like that, she’s gone to this damn disease.

It’s so unfair that we are unable to kill this damn beast. Why isn’t there a cure for Triple Negative breast cancer? Why don’t we have a miracle pill? Why isn’t there a cure for any of this garbage? Oh that’s right, the money isn’t made in cures, it’s made in medicines, in treatments. UUGGH!!!

Today’s conversation reminded me of what I woke up thinking about yesterday and ended up posting on Facebook. That today is truly a gift that is given to me, to us.
Times like this are why sometimes I feel so bleak and afraid. Will cancer come back a 4th time? Will I know in time before it spreads? It makes me think of days when I felt so alone and unsure of what the future will bring.
Moments like this, it would be so easy to walk away from all of these fears. I could check out and hide until the storm blows over and something new comes up or someone comes to pick me up, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything.

I cannot see what the future has planned for me. However, I can take everything that has occurred in my past, good and bad, and walk into my future a stronger more intelligent me. Shoulders back, head strong, God, angels, family and friends on my side.

I don’t understand the pain that has surrounded the holidays this year. I don’t always know the right thing to say to help my loved ones feel better. I do know that I will always be there to help them shoulder their pain and their struggle. I will always be there to help them up when they fall, placing my back up against theirs when they are weak, wipe their tears when the tears come.

I do understand that today is a gift. It may not be wrapped in pretty bows and sunshine streaming; in fact, today it is raining cats and dogs, but it is a gift. My heart is heavy, my tears have flowed and there is a blanket of sadness over my support group as we deal with Karen’s loss, over my friend as she sits by her mother’s side, over my other friend as she sits by her dad’s side and over Melissa as she mourns the loss of her beautiful daughter. However, I know that the tears will dry, our hearts will find joy, and the rain will stop...eventually.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Traditions

In 20 years of Christmases, my husband and I have loved every one of them and celebrated them to the fullest. 

We started our holidays shopping at the Dollar Tree. Our daughter received books and toys from there and we exchanged homemade gifts. 

In the 2 years that followed, we moved up in the world and embraced the world of credit. We charged our gifts and spared no expense. That was a thrilling year for us until the bills started coming in. Then it was not so much fun. We spent the next few years trying to climb out of debt. 

In those years, we learned a lot. We experimented with thinking that our children had to have everything that they put down on the list. Of course we learned that that didn’t give us anything but a lower balance on our account and toys that were left untouched.

We thought they had to have all things that were deemed the “toy of the year.” Again we discovered the same thing. We are lucky to have kids that aren’t overly interested in the brand new $1000 toys.

Now, 20 years later we settled into what truly matters to us...the traditions and memories. 

Every Christmas Eve is spent baking with my children and husband. We bake all the cookies that people enjoy and give them as gifts for our families. It started out as a gift idea when we were low on money. 18 years later it is still something we look forward to.

When we finish baking, we’re off to see the lights. We drive to the neighboring streets that we know go all out. We discovered one last night that has now become my all time favorite. Bless my husband because I’ve asked for that for our house next year, which he laughed and said “yes dear. “

While we are out driving around, Santa stops by and drops early Christmas gifts of pajamas on our beds. It’s a small tradition, but the kids LOVE it. They are so excited to see them and rush to put them on. Amazing the joy it brings. 

Dinner is scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes...well you get the idea, breakfast is our Christmas Eve dinner. 

Munchkin, my youngest feeds the reindeer her special reindeer food all over the front lawn. 

Finally, we all snuggle together in the boys’ room to listen to my hubby read Twas The Night Before Christmas before the kids all get tucked in. 

Once they’re settled, daddy and I go to work as Santa’s helpers. With the movie A Christmas Story playing in the background, we sneak the goods under the tree. Then we sit back on the couch and laugh, talk, relax and count our blessings all while listening to our children tossing about trying to sleep. 

We know the morning will come soon enough and the kids will gather around our bed to wake us up so they can rip into their gifts. 

One day they will be grown with families of their own and making their own traditions. I want them to have the memories that will last a lifetime.

 I wish you all peace, joy, a day of no pain, no sadness, lots of love and good tidings.

                                        Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mom and Dad

Since Thanksgiving, I have felt this sense to celebrate and enjoy the holidays as though it were my last. Not because I feel as though it will be, but more because of the possibility that it could be because we are not promised one minute.

I have two friends that have to watch their parents face tough challenges tonight. Their parents are in the hospital fighting for their lives. One of them is sitting beside her mom’s bed as she fights to recuperate from a sudden brain aneurysm. The other is sitting beside her father’s bed as he battles a long term illness that is associated Agent Orange.

Their trials made me reflect on my own parents. 

I remember my dad teaching me how to ride my bike and getting so excited only to turn around and see him cheering me on many feet away, before tumbling to the ground.

I remember him taking me to the hospital in Berlin to have my ears pierced while a cloth covered my face. 

I remember playing outside under his watchful eye as he sat on the porch laughing and talking with my uncle in Greece. 

I remember being so happy when I saw him sitting in the audience as I prepared to perform in a classroom play. I walked out with a little extra confidence and smile on my face.

I remember him telling me that it was time to learn how to drive a stick and then 5 minutes later telling me to drive him home...on the main road. I still laugh about that and can still drive a stick if I needed to. 

I remember a letter he wrote to me letting me know how much he supports me in my decisions and that he will always be there for me. That letter meant the world to me. I always knew that he loved me, but he's a man of few words and to see it written brought me to tears. I cried that day, not because of the situation I was facing, but because he reminded me that I could handle anything that would come my way and that he would be there every step of the way to help me through it...and he still does it today.

I think about the way his face lights up when he sees his grandchildren walk through the door or talks about them.

My dad is the strong silent type. He doesn’t offer his opinion much, however, if you ask, he will gladly share everything that he knows and wants you to know. He has been one of my greatest supporters. He may not agree with my decisions, but he will always be there for me and support me. 

I remember my mom always sitting in the crowd cheering me on while I cheered. 

I remember her being there for every single function that we had whether it was sports or school related. 
I remember her constantly hugging and kissing me, whether I was in the mood or not. Letting me know that I could be anything that I wanted to be. To never settle for anything less than what I am worthy of. To demand respect in every situation and to work for all of the things that I want and need. 

I remember her red knuckles as she wrung out clothes and her white knuckles as she taught my brothers and I how to drive. 

I remember sitting with her as she read stories to me and helped to foster a love that I still have today.

I remember watching her swallow her pride and overcome tall obstacles to accomplish something that she worked hard to achieve. 

I think about her now with her grandchildren, willing to do anything for them.

I think about her undying and unconditional love for her family. Her family is her everything and she makes sure we know it and there isn’t much she wouldn’t do for each one of us. 

My parents taught me so much about unconditional love and putting family first, respect in my marriage and working together to build our life and raise our children, and never giving up on myself and creating the opportunities to succeed. 

I see my friends and their current situations and I think of my own fears. My parents are my everything and I am so afraid of losing them.

I am so grateful for everything that they have shown me, taught me, and given me in my life. I appreciate that no matter what happens tomorrow; today is the gift that I have with them. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in schoolwork, work or kid’s activities that I don’t stop by their house for a longer period than I want. Sometimes, I don’t call as much as I should and there’s no reason behind it except that I just don’t talk on the phone much any more so I don’t think about it.  This week has helped me realize that I am not promised time with my parents, it is not a given that they will live to an old age of 100, and that I need to stop taking for granted that they will be there every time I walk in their house. That my dad will be in his recliner and my mom on her corner of the couch with her coffee cup.  

I know that one day, things will be different.

Tonight, I will continue my prayers for Mr. W and Mrs. L. I will pray for comfort, peace and no pain for him. I will pray for healing and comfort for her. I am praying for strength for their families and that they feel all of the love and support that we are sending to them. Miracles do happen and I am wishing that they find the joy in this season.
Tonight, I say thank you to my parents for teaching me so much, for loving me unconditionally, for being my biggest fans and supporters, for cheering me on when I succeeded, and lifting me up when I fell flat on my face. I love you...I love you. I can't think of anything more I can say that will sum it all up except for I love you.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lesson Learned...Again!

Life has a way of showing you exactly what you need to see if you open your eyes and heart to it.

This evening when I logged on to Facebook, I saw 3 pictures, one right after another that made me think. 

The first one was of my friend with her mom. She posted the older picture as she sits in a hospital, waiting to hear the latest update on her mom. Late last night, her mom suffered a brain aneurysm and went from good health to a hospital bed just that quick. She is out of surgery but will be in a coma until her body can heal properly. So we will continue to pray and pray some more. Then we will pray again. 

The second picture was of my friend Marie, who I miss so much. She passed away from Triple Negative Breast cancer and every time I see her picture, I feel a sadness that has not gotten easier.  She was always there for her pink sisters and always knew the right thing to say. Like so many other sisters, her death was sudden. It was devastating for me and I can’t imagine what her family is going through. I miss her so much.

The third picture was a picture posted by my nephew.  He posted the ultrasound picture of his wife’s and his new baby bundle to be. I’m so excited for him and the journey the new baby will take him on.  

I went from such sadness to overwhelming joy, all from looking at pictures, but it also made me think about the beauty and fragility of life.

 I thought about the student who was completely amazed by how the icing would “glue” his gingerbread house together and all of the sweet treats on it as well. The student who asked me if he could call me over the winter break just because he wanted to hear my voice and who’s worried that he’ll have a different teacher when we come back, even though I explained to him that this was just a winter break not summer vacation. 

I thought about the plans to make gingerbread houses, go to the movies, playing games and so much more that I have with my kids now that they are on break. 

I thought about my husband and our plans for this year. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary, and instead of gifts we will celebrate by doing one thing off of our bucket list together each month. 

I also thought about another friend who is still coping with the news that it’s time to put her dad in hospice care. I want so much for her to realize that she has that strength in her to deal with all things that come her way. Her children will be part of that strength to help her through this time. I pray that he enjoys the time that he has still on this earth, instead of living in fear of what’s to come. 

Every now and then life has a way of smacking me back to reality. I get so caught up in the routine of day to day living that I start rushing more and more until there doesn’t feel like there is enough time in my day.

Those pictures reminded me that no matter what is going on or how late I am, stop and give that tight hug and say, “I love you” before walking out the door. 

I know that tomorrow will never come and that today is a gift, but so often that is forgotten. Today, lesson is learned and I am ready to wake my children and enjoy today with my family.  I hope that today you find something to enjoy about life. I hope you find a smile and pass it on to someone else. I hope you know that you will always have someone who is praying for you and hoping for the best for you. 
Enjoy your gift of today.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chemo Brain

Just so you know, when I stumble over my words and struggle to get them out, I may chuckle, but it’s not funny. That chuckle is to keep from crying.

I am nodding to you as you share something with me, not because I’m understanding, but because sometimes, I am a little embarrassed to say to you, again, to repeat yourself, especially when everyone around me seems to understand what is going on.

I take longer to read sometimes, not because I am a slow reader, in fact reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I take longer because sometimes, I have to read a page 3 times before I can retain what is going on. 

I will forget something that you may have told me a few minutes ago, the day before or even a week ago. It’s not because I don’t find you or your words important, but it’s because my short-term memory is now full of holes that I am trying to learn how to fill.
Please don’t tell me how that happens to you or how you forget things all the time. This isn’t forgetting things; these things are gone from my memory. 

Stopping in mid-sentence because I have lost my train of thought. 

Scrambling to piece through snippets to try and recall what someone is standing in front of me talking about, so that I can respond with what they need to hear or with the proper answer.

This is just a small sample of what it’s like to have chemo brain. Over the past few years, I have tried to laugh it off when something happens when I’m speaking to people, but it’s not so easy anymore. The hurt and frustration is getting bigger as I get farther away from treatment without any improvement. In fact, it feels as though things have gotten worse.
Yesterday, my frustration was very high. I could not understand what I had read several times and it took longer than usual to type up a paper. I logged onto Facebook to vent to my fellow sisters, who I knew would understand, when I noticed one had just typed about the very same thing. I cried. I cried with defeat, because it feels like this will never go away. I cried with relief, because I am not alone in this hell. 

She just participated in a study at Yale that is focusing on chemo and the effects on the brain. I pray that they find something that can help us move on in some type of normal way.  

I’m lucky in a way. I have my husband who seems to understand. He doesn’t laugh when I fly off topic, lose my train of thought, or am unable to follow his conversation. I have my parents who patiently wait while I try to muddle through my topic. I have my daughter who has finished sentences for me to help me get back on topic. I’ve noticed that my 13 year old son has started to do that too. I’m grateful for them.

I’m grateful to have an oncologist that understands and who is awaiting my phone call to set me up with a speech pathologist. I will be making that call today. 

So please, the next time I stumble on my words, lose my train of thought or ask you to repeat yourself, please don’t laugh at me. Don’t judge me as being inept or assume that I am joking, just respect me for my changes that have occurred and support me on my journey.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fighting Back

I hate what illness does to people, how it breaks them of spirit and body. I hate that it leaves people feeling helpless, hopeless, and alone. Not only do they have to deal with the illness, but they also have to share with their family and friends what's going on. They can feel an obligation to keep the "brave" face on so that their family doesn't get upset. I hate illness.

Within the past few days, I have watched illness creep back into the life of a few people that prayed it was all gone. Not only is it back, it is back scarier and bigger and they are trying to pull it together to begin the battle all over again.

I listened as a friend shared with me that her family has been told that it is time to think about putting her father into hospice care. A man that has once battled for our freedom and the freedom of other countries is now in a hospital bed trying to fight for the life that he has and the control of how he continues to live it.

I have another friend and pink sister who has been told that there is no further treatment that can be done to help her. They are only able to make her days comfortable.  

These people that I love are battling once again for their lives. 

I remember when my illness changed for me. I was sitting on the couch and it was after my second diagnosis. My husband took the children out and I was home alone. I cried again. I was angry again. I felt helpless again.

It was while sitting on the couch wiping my face that I thought about things a little differently. Instead of asking why me, I accepted the fact that I am not guaranteed one moment with my family. 

I can’t tell people that they are going to be fine. I can’t tell people what they are going to emotionally experience when diagnosed. I can’t tell people how to live their life. 

All I do know is that the strength is within us to conquer all things. That doesn’t mean that the outcome will be health and everlasting life. That does mean that we can choose to live life for the time that we are here. 

I really do hate the effects of illness. There has been a lot of sadness this week and as I listened to the stories that were shared with me, my heart took it all in and once again I am amazed at the strength of us. Even though fear was very present, the strength that underlies each person is awe-inspiring and I will be among the many family and friends that will stand beside them, love them, and support them to help them through.