Tag Archives: breast cancer

The Power of Pink

It’s that time of year when pink takes over sports, products, articles and all facets of media as we focus on how breast cancer has or will change the lives of 1 in 8 women and many men. Yes, I know some people don’t like the pink emphasis, but I do.

Six years ago at this time, I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. I had two weeks where I knew before I could widely tell people because I hadn’t seen a surgeon yet and did not know The Plan. During that time, I had a couple of days at the university I attended, Texas A&M. It is where my dad went to school and my brother. It is where I met my husband. It is where I met some of my still best friends. It is the undergraduate university for all three of our children. Woven throughout my Aggie experience is the Corps of Cadets at A&M.

The cadets now wear pink carnations at a home football game each year to increase breast cancer awareness. Six years ago, at a home football game, in the midst of the crowds, I sat down on a curb in the shadow of the football stadium and lost it. I wept for all the not-knowing I was in the midst of. I wept for all I feared I might miss. I wept because I was weeping in public on a curb at an event that was supposed to be fun. I wept because cadets have to wear pink carnations.

Last Saturday, six years later, I found myself standing in a spot very close to the same spot where I lost it. Since then, I’ve finished treatment, thanks in part to a new test (The Breast Cancer Index) which gave my doctor more information about my specific response to treatment. I’ve benefitted personally from advancements made due to the hype/funds raised and spotlight on this disease.

In the last six years, I’ve worn lots of pink. I’ve seen two children graduate from college, our daughter get her Master’s degree and our youngest graduate from high school. I helped plan and attended our daughter’s wedding. I was there (right there) for the birth of our first grand baby and now am excited about another one on the way. It’s true! And in and out of all that, lots of sweet, precious, normal life.  This time as I stood in that  same spot, instead of melthing, I was watching our third child as drummer in the Aggie Band.

In that six year time frame, I’ve lost two friends, Lina and Sharon, to breast cancer. I’ve seen others diagnosed and fight back (Rhonda, Robin, Vickie, Tana, Melissa, Terri, Kim, Stephanie and Kenda.). I’ve been encouraged by another tribe of  women who  fought the disease before me. They inspired me by being happy, healthy and telling me I’d get past this. One even told me, “You’ll one day have days where you won’t even think about it,” She was right.

Pink matters to me.The ribbons and the hype supports us in the fight. It honors my journey and the journey of so many.

This weekend the entire Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M once again wore pink carnations. This time our youngest son wore one. He was 13 when I was diagnosed. I wore my new pink Aggie breast cancer shirt even though most everyone else was in maroon. My husband had no trouble finding me this week in the crowds.

The back of my shirt says “There’s no place like hope.” That says it all. Cadets in carnations give me hope. Pink is hope. Thank God for hope.

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Sparkles

In Texas, the past week has been horrendous with a major hurricane hitting our coast and flooding cities. Weather watchers now report that two more hurricanes are now gearing up. Our country is going through some things too. And, our world is teetering in several places on the edge of serious conflicts/wars. People are going through things as well. Tough things. Unspeakable things.

Every week when I write this blog, I have to acknowledge the tough things because that is the context in which we are living. It just is.

If I was left to my own feelings, opinions and media consumption, I’m pretty sure I would lose it and float off in a sea of anger and anxiety…because, well, the tough things keep happening.

Thank goodness, that is not the only input I have. Thank goodness, I journal, pray and read scripture and devotionals. I know it is a good practice for me because that discipline always offers me a surprising perspective.

Today, for example was about sparkles. Jesus Always by Sarah Young: When you are feeling joyless, you need to pause and remember: I am with you….seek to see Me in your circumstances….Keep on looking until you can discern the Light of My presence shining on your difficulties, reflecting sparkles of joy back to you. p. 260

Sparkles of joy…I did not see that coming. I’ve always been big on the whole Light of the world theme and that all will be made well in the end. But, sparkles? Now? In the midst of our current day messes, problems, worries and griefs?

And then I started thinking about all the recent sparkles: our one year old evacuee grandson devouring a warm buttered blueberry muffin; a cottontail bunny I saw on my walk; rainbows that draped the sky after hurricane Harvey; acts of compassion, giving and heroism for others; JJ Watts’ fundraising miracle; churches opening their doors, making flood buckets and doing disaster relief. Funny things and beautiful things and unexpected things. Sparkles.

A friend of mine faced major cancer surgery last week. She and I actually laughed on the phone the day before at a tiny bright spot in the whole thing that no one but breast cancer warriors would understand. Sparkles of joy.

I don’t know what you are going through. My guess would be that it is something tough, unimaginable or even unspeakable. The surprising word of faith is this: look for the sparkles of joy. It turns out, they are everywhere.

 

Emotionally Able

Sometimes there are just seasons of emotional ups and downs. Sometimes you and I just get into times of being stretched, challenged or pushed just a little too far. One unfortunate thing about being in such a season is that the high emotions make it difficult to realize we are in a time like no other and we simply need to be gentle with ourselves.

No one will argue with me that our country is today in a time like no other.  Emotions are beyond high and roller coaster like. I watched a news piece last night where they brought together a group of widely diverse American strangers in a focus group, about 15 of them, to talk about the election and how they are feeling. In minutes, they were yelling and crying and were just sort of beside themselves. Strangely, it made me feel better about my own ups and downs. I kept telling my husband as we watched, “See, look at them.  They are taking this whole thing pretty hard too.”  Thank you, out -of-control focus group, for making me look somewhat normal as we head to whatever happens tomorrow.

We are now on day 29 of work happening in our home. Some things are done so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Other parts are just sadly hilarious. The floors and ceiling work, led to wall and trim work. This led to taking down every set of blinds and all window treatments. The painter suggested gently and tactfully we might want to clean all that window stuff. Cleaning curtains and blinds is not that easy, especially when they disintegrate when doing so. My husband and I are learning all over again that WE ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE. He is thorough and painstaking in his approach to home projects. For example, he likes to find studs in the walls before hanging things. I am fast-paced and streamlined in my approach to getting things done. We each think our way is best. Our two styles create a bit of emotional clash from time to time.

Last week, I went for my every six month mammogram. When you’ve had breast cancer this is a BIG EMOTIONAL DEAL. Making the appointment is hard. Waiting for it is hard. Going to it is hard. This time when I arrived, I was told I had scheduled the wrong kind of mammogram and would have to leave and reschedule. I said, “No.” As they looked at me, puzzled, my voice got sort of preacher loud for the whole waiting room to hear. I explained the part about mammograms post breast cancer being a BIG DEAL and not without a lot of angst. As all the other waiting women listened, I found myself saying, “I cannot leave and reschedule. I’m just not emotionally able to do that right now.” They worked me in. My mammogram was (whew) all clear.

Here’s what I’m learning in this season. It is okay to admit that we are in a season of high emotion. It’s okay to be election-stressed, home-stressed and mammogram-stressed. It is okay to not be emotionally able to do what others want you to do.

It is okay to say to relatives or others, “I cannot have this conversation right now.” It is okay to trim back your schedule or to do things you know will nurture your soul or level you out. For me that is getting lots of rest, exercising, writing and making banana pudding.

I’m bringing all this up in case it helps you; in case you are in a season too. Feel free to say to whoever is demanding something of you, “I’m just not emotionally able to do that right now.”  Take good care of your self. All will be well.

Celebrate!

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it in its fullness.” John 10:10

Oprah said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

I love it when my favorite people agree on things.

With our new grandson, we are in a season of celebration. Recently, my daughter told me she felt a little weird with everyone giving them presents, meals, showers and parties just for having a baby. I told her, “Life is hard and peopel need reasons to celebrate. Everyone loves celebrating a baby. Let them.”

But it is more than the grandson. It is me being in a new, easier, more restful, peaceful season of life. (On Monday my one chore was to get two hummingbird feeders, fill them and hang them because now I have time to notice them.) It is being five years past breast cancer. It is having three beautiful children who are at the moment happy and engaged with life. It is having a loving attentive husband that I still like after 31 years together. Did I tell you our sweet grand baby was born on our 31st anniversary? No one could have planned that gift.

It is that fall is coming; I am sure of it.  It is last Saturday having two family gatherings at our home and seeing our grandson meet 2 sets of great grandparents, 2 great aunts, aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time. It was my mom’s 80th birthday too. We surprised her with her great-grandson. She screamed, smiled and cried and told me it was the best birthday party she’d ever had. Even Alzheimer’s couldn’t take away that joy. One tiny baby and all those relatives just lining up for a snuggle, a smile.  We even loved it when he cried.

It is tomorrow, the 28th anniversary of when I became a mom. I celebrate the wonder of watching our daughter grow from adorable baby, to funny toddler, to goofy child who made up her own words, to awkward middle school kid, to dramatic high school student, college girl, married woman, speech therapist and now happy, attentive new mommy/wife and professional. The girl who made up all those words is teaching kids how to say them right. My celebration cup seems like it can’t hold one more drop of joy.

There’s still hard stuff happening, of course. A funeral for a dear, longtime colleague, gone too soon; normal worries; aches and pains; life stuff. But laced through it all are sweet gifts: sunrises, sunsets, hummingbirds, babies, soft pillows, good books, friends, coffee, family, milestones… so much to celebrate!

Five Years

Five years ago today I found a lump in my breast. I was 49 years old and completely unprepared for the journey that would follow. For some reason, I never dreamed that cancer could happen to me at that point in my life.

In some ways I had it easy, only a lumpectomy, only one lymph node removed. It had not spread anywhere. No chemo, only radiation after the surgery and then a daily pill, Tamoxifen, since then. Mammograms, blood work and oncologist visits every six months. Some people go through so much more. I had it easy.

On the other hand, it completely rocked my world, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I realized early on that I would be fighting an emotional and spiritual battle along with the physical one. I had to deal with fear and facing my limitations. I had to call on God’s help. I had to depend on others.

I still deal with the side effects of the medication (weight gain, fatigue, joint pain, hot flashes, foot pain)  and I will not be getting it off of it anytime soon. My doctor says to count on several more years. I try not to glare at her when she tells me this because I know she’s on my team.

Despite my continuing treatment, five years is still a milestone for me and for cancer patients in general. It’s not a magic number but it is a marker that doctors use to breathe a sigh of relief. I wondered this morning if I’m allowed to count my five years from the day the journey started or maybe you are supposed to start counting it after surgery was over or radiation. Either way, I’m close.

I’ve heard some people say they are grateful for their cancer. I’m not there. But I am grateful for other things. I’m grateful that it helped me have a crystal clear perspective that life is short, fragile and that we only have right now. I’m grateful that I learned that I’m not invincible and that I need to take care of myself. I savor and celebrate more now.

In the last five years, our son graduated from college and got a big boy job. Our daughter got married, received her masters degree and gave birth to a beautiful boy. Our youngest son went from being a sweet 13-year-old boy to an amazing 18-year-old man. We’ve had holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and ordinary daily struggles. I count it all as gift.

My daughter has told me all along that she and I should get some kind of matching tattoos to commemorate the breast cancer battle and the victory. I told her I already have tattoos.  I have two scars and a whole set of black dot tattoos that marked me for radiation. I have a tumor marker implanted in my breast at the site of the lump. I am marked. I will not be forgetting this journey. No further tattoos needed here!

The devotional book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young sustained me daily these last five years. The entry for today, August 20, the beginning of my journey, has taken my breath away every single time I’ve read it because it is so spot on. “I am a God who heals. I heal broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, broken lives and broken relationships. My very Presence has immense healing powers….Your part is to trust Me fully and to thank Me for the restoration that has begun.”

Five years. Healing. New Life. Gratitude. Perspective. Trust. Thanks be to God!.

 

A Tiny Sanctuary: The Mammogram Dressing Room

Once you’ve had breast cancer, there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Maybe it is routine to the medical team.  Maybe it is routine to others, but not to you. Today, I had my every six month ritual of driving to the place, checking in, waiting, changing in that tiny dressing room, waiting, the actual mammogram and then more waiting.

For the first time since my diagnosis four years ago, I decided to be a big girl and go alone.  My husband reluctantly agreed. When I was driving there, overcome with anxiety and internal drama, tears started flowing and I realized maybe being a big girl was overrated. At the exact moment, I wheeled in to the parking lot, I received a text from my friend Rhonda who was diagnosed at the same exact time as me, with the same exact thing. She knows there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Her words were a holy, well-timed balm: “Still saying payers. I know how anxious you are.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Feel God’s presence.” I gathered myself, dried my tears and went in.

I tried to tell myself all the good things about mammograms: at least there is an easy, sort of painless way to have this checked out twice a year; at least they don’t weigh you beforehand; at least they are nice there; their wifi password is peaceofmind; they have peppermints; previous cancer patients get to find out that day if they are okay; I always have a good, gentle caring technician who asks me about 700 times if I’m okay.

Once I was ushered into the little dressing room, I realized that was my tiny, every six months, sanctuary, the shelf you lay your clothes on, my altar. Before the mammogram, my prayers were for peace, calm, reassurance; afterwards, it was the place I could cry tears of relief and joy and whisper thank you’s to God and savor, for that moment, my good health,

When I was checking out, the receptionist told me, “Girl, when you were going in, you looked like you were walking the green mile.” I said, “You’re pretty observant, it is a scary walk back there for me.”  There is no such thing as a routine mammogram, but I’m so grateful for it and for the tiny sanctuary moments along the way.

Feathers

Have you ever experienced the power of a verse and a visual? A little over three years ago when I received a shocking breast cancer diagnosis, a friend reminded me of Psalm 91 which is all about God watching over us and protecting us.  Out of that Psalm, she highlighted one particular verse, God will cover you with feathers and under God’s wings you will find refuge….Psalm 91:4.  That verse brought to my mind the words of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, …How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings….Matthew 27:37.  Such powerful images of God/Jesus gathering and protecting under the shelter of loving wings.

My same friend began a feather campaign during my cancer treatment and afterwards.  She sent me feathers in the mail in cards.  She left them on the windshield of my car.  Here and there, when I least expected it, a feather.  And with every feather, the message became clearer to me, “God’s got you covered.”

Then, on my own, I started seeing feathers everywhere–on the sidewalk, in my yard, at the beach.  Once, I spied the tiniest white downy feather in the parking lot on my way to get a mammogram. (No one likes mammograms but after you’ve had breast cancer they are particularly scary and happen every six months.)  I’ll never forget the reassuring feeling that one tiny feather gave me.

And then today, the best feather of all.  On my morning walk I came across a feather well over a foot long.  I’m not exaggerating.  I don’t even know how big the bird was that gave that one up. The message though, was loud and clear, “I’ve got you covered, big time.”  Alone on my walk, it made me smile and then cry a few happy tears.

Never underestimate the power of a verse and a visual.