A Sticker Back in Time

No sooner had I lay the sticker on the window sill and I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen. Her kitchen window that looked out upon the back yard amidst the crowded view brought on by vases of dandelions, wishing weeds, and other long since died flowers. Gifts from her many grandchildren, all of which Grandma cherished. The window sill itself covered from edge to edge with vases, rocks – some painted, some not, stickers and other treasures. All framed in by simple cotton curtains that Grandma had sewn herself.

The cupboards were a dark wood, darker still around the edges where they were opened time and time again. In each cupboard resided an array of colorful dishes, burnt orange, avocado green, lemon yellow and chocolate brown ceramic mixing bowls in one. Tupperware containers with an assortment of lids, silver metal bowls, clear glass bowls, all used for the many foods that Grandma made for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether it be for herself, us grandkids or for when she had c’mpany. The silverware drawer a hodge podge of utensils where a complete matching set was a treasure to be found. Many of the matching pieces long since buried in the backyard where the pirates kept their treasure hidden from the scoundrels that came searching.

The vinyl floor beneath my feet bearing the evidence of a well lived in and loved home. A place where one was always welcome no matter the reason, the length of stay, nor the conversation or lack thereof you were to give. Crumbs from graham crackers scattered in a trail leading to the back door, drips of bacon grease from the stove to the kitchen counter where an emptied pickle jar now full with hardened grease awaited to be used for fried eggs, brussels sprouts, and other things that tasted better when fried in bacon grease. A red stain, most likely Kool-Aid, that would never come clean, not even if Grandma were to get down on her tired well used knees to scrub it.

The washer and dryer at the end of the kitchen covered with baking pans, cookie sheets, and more bowls looking for a home, waiting to be used. I look closer, there on the right were two pans being used. Covered with linen dish towels. Quietly sneaking over, not making a sound as my sock feet slid one step length at a time, I lift the towel to reveal pies. The steaming warmth wafts the heavenly smell of freshly baked strawberry rhubarb into my nostrils as I inhale, deep, slow.

A noise startles me and I glance to the window in the back door. I sweep back the curtain, also made by my grandma but with a fabric that does not match the one over the sink. I see myself, a younger me all of about 8 years old. My hair is a much darker auburn red, thick, bushy, frizzy, not curly but not straight, a mass of deep fire framing my freckled face. I am running breathless across the back yard being chased by my cousin, Mikey. My sister, Lisa, and my other cousin, Bobby, are both running in the other direction. I dash through the clothes drying on the line just barely out of Mikey’s reach. A smile spreads across my face as the warmth of remembering time with my cousins wells up from within.

I turn and walk through the kitchen to the living room knowing what I will see. The TV is on with the sound turned down low, almost off. There is my grandma in her rocking chair with two large bowls vying for space in her generous lap. Her slippered feet just touching the ground gently nudge the floor to keep the rhythm of the rocker going as she snips the ends of green beans fresh off the vine from her backyard garden. The trimmed beans being prepared for canning. I listen closely so I can hear the song coming from my grandma’s mouth.

“Blessed assurance Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of Glory Divine!

Heir of salvation, purchased by God

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

Oh, this is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long;

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long……”

I can hear her voice, the one that soothed my fears, my worries, my broken heart, lulled me to sleep, and filled my life with so much unconditional love. The safe haven of my childhood remains in my mind and in my heart.

I look again and I see the sticker on the counter next to my kitchen window that overlooks my backyard, so different than my grandma’s. My counter is clear of dirty dishes that I just washed and put in the drying rack. As I look around I see a few objects that at times I think of putting away to remove the clutter. A ceramic dish that holds my rings created by the young hands of my son, painted in shades of green and red, it does not fit the decor but it fits my heart. An empty bottle formerly filled with Smoking Loon Cabernet, now holds lamp oil, a wick threaded through a cork, the memory of a weekend away with the one who would one day become my husband, the father of my son and the adopted father of my first-born. A noise pulls me from my thoughts to look out my kitchen window upon my own backyard.

There I find my son running through the yard, a soccer ball at his feet. The neighbor boy, a few years younger than he, eagerly trying to steal the ball away before Michael can score a goal. He slides and they both tumble to the ground in a fit of laughter. A smile spreads across my face as new memories fill my very being.

 

 

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Do as I Do, Not as I Say

How often do we give an instruction to a child, our child or someone else’s child that we have influence over, that in actuality we do not follow ourselves? I was raised by two Christian parents. Married for over 35 years before they both passed away. They never divorced although they had plenty of reasons that would have satisfied most anyone’s curiosity and conviction as to a justifiable divorce. They stayed true to their vows, at least that is what everyone thought that sat at their funerals, separated by only a matter of months. Many good memories, anecdotes and accolades were shared as guests, friends, family and co-workers, reminisced about each of them at their perspective memorial service.

I sat their listening at my mother’s funeral with tears pouring down my cheeks brought on by the memory of who she was to them, of who I wished she had been for me. Believe me, I loved my mother. I longed for many more years with her. I felt cheated out of time I assumed I would have with her and only her when my father passed. The biggest problem lay in the fact that she passed first and far too soon. The memories shared expressed who my heart knew my mother was, the love she had to give, the attention and generosity of time, talent and compassion. The unconditional understanding she had for those around her. I knew that is who she was, had always known this. And yet, the thought kept creeping into my mind again and again although I tried to brush it off, that they didn’t know her, not all of her.

I sat at my father’s memorial and listened as people spoke about him and the ways he had touched their lives. Most if not all commending him for his tenacious spirit that never quit even under the weight of many health set backs year after year that were debilitating, life changing and never-ending. And all I could think as I sat there was, that they didn’t know him. Not how I knew him.

Even before Facebook my family, like many others I am sure, had mastered the art of putting on a good face. Posting only the happy moments of our life for all to see. Anything else, anything disparaging, anything questionable, of poor taste, that would leave a sour taste in your mouth or worse yet make you vomit, was hidden, left unsaid. On any given Sunday we would dawn our best, put on our freshly shined fake patent leather shoes, and walk into church, mom and dad hand in hand, each of us kids with a smile or at least a smirk on our faces. I should probably note (and commend) my older brothers that there did come a time that they finally refused this ruse. Our parents swayed and allowed them to stay home rather than stir the pot and cause a scene at church. Although I never went to work with my parents, I can imagine the conversations between them and their co-workers as they shared tales of their families. Oh, the webs they must have woven, beautiful and intricate in design to show off the cohesive and loving family they created with their own words.

As a child I was told a magnitude of times enduring countless hours of church, Christian school and conversations at home, to tell the truth.

Thou shalt not lie.

Put on the full armor of God……Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist….

You shall not give false testimony [lie] against your neighbor.

For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals with dishonesty.

The truth shall set you free!

Just tell the truth, you will feel better if you do.

Tell the truth…. We may be disappointed but if you lie you will be sinning.

Confession is good for the soul.

On, and on, the teaching went. Tell the truth. And yet, as I sit here and reflect as I have done over and over again, so much of my upbringing and years of my first marriage were nothing more than lies. Outright lies. I was lied to. I was lied about. I listened as lies were told. I listened as my family was told by their Pastor to lie. I listened as the truth was withheld in order to protect the family, the church, anyone they deemed in need of protection by those lies, themselves. I told lies to protect them, him, my daughter, me. I lied to be who others wanted, expected me to be. They taught me well.

Tell the truth, just not about this.

Tell the truth, just not now.

Tell the truth, about other things.

This truth would be better left unsaid.

Confess your sins, but do it in private.

Be honest in everything, except the things that are embarrassing, will hurt the church, will affect yours and our reputation.

Tell the truth….some other time.

Do as I Do, Not as I Say, Tell the truth, Just not today.

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Place

Quite honestly I think I am still searching for my absolute favorite place. I enjoy elements of several different places that I think I would find myself saying, “Oh, this is my favorite place!” A hike through the woods to a hidden lake, a warm summer evening sitting and listening to live music outside, a Camaro cruise through the Arboretum, a picnic at the Ballard locks with friends and so many others come to mind. Up until just recently I would have said that Seabrook, WA was my favorite place. And maybe it is…

Tom and I have been going to Seabrook since before Michael was born, before we were married, before or just shortly after I had become a real estate broker. So much of our lives have happened or been discussed while staying at Seabrook. Seabrook is a small beach town on the Washington Coast just a mile away from Pacific Beach and only 20 minutes north of Ocean Shores.   And while there is something about the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand it isn’t so much the beach that draws our family to Seabrook time and time again. As much I liking walking barefoot in warm squishy sand the Washington coast is windy and cold more often than not which doesn’t lend to a lot of time strolling the beach barefoot.

When we are Seabrook life as we know it comes to a stand still. On our very first trup to Seabrook Tom and I quickly found the silence was more than being away from the hubbub of the city life, it had to do with the lack of cell service too. We found that cell service was spotty at best especially if like me, you had Sprint. (No intentional diss on Sprint it just did not work there). A staunch business person would find this utterly annoying and down right frustrating. Quite possibly it would stop them from coming back. And yet, for us it was a deal maker rather than a deal breaker. A place where I could intentionally get away from my computer, phone, email and just be with my family is something to cherish. Don’t pinch me, this is one dream I do not want to wake from. For someone like myself who finds it difficult to not respond quickly to emails, text messages and calls this was absolutely perfect. An easy out for one who has a difficult time setting boundaries. I’m learning.

While the ocean may not call our names as the salty water crashes wave after wave onto the chilly sandy shore, there are many other things that draw us back time and time again. From the moment our truck rolls up the main street Michael and I are itching to jump out and head into the rental office. I am not sure who is more excited to get inside even though we both have two very different reasons for being excited. Michael anxiously searches about the rental office looking for sweets. A piece of salt water taffy just waiting for his little chubby dirty fingers to unwrap and cram into his mouth. The sweet taste of vacation. I on the other hand want the code. It used to be a key but now it is a code. The code gives you access to the home that you have rented. Key code in hand we drive our truck slowly down the Desperate House Wives-esque streets lined with sidewalks and families walking, couples hand in hand with little ones biking, scootering, running, strolling behind them ever a mess with sticky hands and sticky faces. Tom and I  glance at the picket fences ignoring the twinge of oh-this-is-so-not-for-every-average-American thoughts that we feel creeping in but instead allow the thoughts of impromptu soccer matches, corn hole, walks through the woods and time without cell phones to crowd in.

As the years have gone by, I believe we are at year number 11 going on 12 now, who opens the door to our temporary home away from home has changed. Michael is the one who wants to open the door these days. Code works, door flings open and his not so small anymore feet are running through the house room by room. “WHICH ONE IS MY ROOM?!?!” is shouted, repeatedly. I walk through the door much slower these days taking a long deep breath as I enter. I look around soaking up the furnishings, the colors, the décor, the home that will be our home for the next 3 nights. The space that we will unwind in, tune out of life and work while we tune into each other. So much has happened in this town. Not this home as we have stayed in many different homes. Some of these Seabrook homes hold very special memories indeed.

Central Park on Crescent Park is the home where Tom and I sat around the dining room table with our friends Tae and Vanessa. Laurie was about 14 years old at the time. Tae and Vanessa had two little ones of their own, Ashley and Josh. Their family had distinct plans of how they would grow. Two close together for 3 years of hellish sleepless nights and potty training. A couple years off to rejuvenate and then bam! 2 more littles back to back is the plan with 3 more hellish years. All in the name of sibling friendships. As much as it shocked me when I heard it, secretly I thought it was a brilliant plan. I was happy for them (assuming all clocks aligned and the next two came along as planned.) Their two littles and Laurie ran around the house and played games while us adults chatted after dinner. The dirty dishes could wait. The aroma of the bbq’d steak still lingering in the air drawing me back for just one more taste. Just across the grass of crescent park we could hear the crackle of the bon fire ramping up. Not long and the kids would be begging to go roast a marshmallow over the fire to melt with yummy chocolate and make a s’more.

Lingering at the table a bit longer we chatted about life as we know it and life going forward. The big question for Tom and I was, to have a baby or not to have a baby. When I met Tom I already had Laurie. She was 11 going on 12 years old. Laurie and I both fell in love with Tom and he in turn fell in love with both of us. Having not fathered other children and with Laurie being already nearly a teenager we just didn’t know if trying to conceive and adding a new little life to our family was the right thing to do. Laurie lobbied. We weighed the pros and cons along with the realistic possibility of whether we would even get pregnant or not. That night, sitting there in this lovely large open great room at a table with close friends, Tom and I made the decision to throw the birth control pills away and see if we in fact could get pregnant. We decided to try but agreed to accept the outcome should it be that we were unable to conceive naturally without any additional help. Not more than 40 days later I was pregnant with who would become, Michael.

We have brought countless friends with us to Seabrook wanting to share the magic that we have found. Many, practically all, end up going back with their families as their own traditions are started.  In 2012 we rented the Washington House and hosted Tom’s 50th birthday party with our kids and about 20 friends. What a wonderful and memorable weekend that was. And then in 2016 we rented Grandma Dorothy’s Cottage. Neighbor Dave and Kari came with us along with Michael and De’Vion. There was a very specific intent to this trip. I had decided it was time to shave my head. Having been diagnosed with cancer in January that year we knew once chemo began I would lose all of my hair. It was just a matter of time. Chemo was having it’s toll on me and my hair was quickly falling out. Rather than continue to let it happen I decided I wanted to shave it off. Seabrook seemed the right place for this to happen. We shave it down to just a buzz cut. That would make the rest of the falling out less painful and less difficult. Having Dave and Kari there kept it light hearted albeit emotional. Just what I needed. A safe place to laugh and cry at the same time. Seabrook holds so many moments in time for us. For a family always on the go it has been the one place we can slow down, stop and just be.

Unlike the fancy houses, the fancy décor, the fancy shops and restaurants that are cropping up, for us it is anything but fancy. It is back to the basic of just being together. Card games around the table. Walks through the woods and in the rain. Huge campfires on the beach for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Slow strolls through the neighborhood gazing at the homes old and new while dreaming up what it would be like to just live here all the time. Knowing full well it would never work. Wanting only for this time of life being slower to simply never end.

As the years go by the town grows and the prices go up. We decided not to go to Seabrook this summer as the rental amount for 3 nights seemed outrageous. I found myself making comments that it was time to find a new place for our family to go to the ocean each year. And yet, as I sit here and types this all out I find myself wanting to close this computer page and open the Seabrook Rental Cottages page in order to plan our next trip. I am sneaking a peak at my calendar and determining where we can squeeze in a few days into the already quite booked last few weeks before school. I want to pick up and drive to the one place where we stop. I find my inner being, my soul, my heart,  my mind all reaching for the same thing. The road that leads not just to the ocean (although I do love the sounds of the ocean waves, seagulls and all), the road that leads to simply being together as a family. Walking, talking, playing, swimming, eating, laughing, silently being together in the one place that holds so many big and small moments of our lives.

I am not altogether sure I am ready to call it my favorite place. I hold out that I may find another more favorite place. For now I will call it the place that holds most of my favorite moments.

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When Your Own Mountain Crumbles

Reminder of God’s Faithfulness

 

Most of you know I am far from perfect. Not even close. You also know that I love the Lord my God and truly have believed He had good for me through my entire cancer journey from beginning to what we hope is now the end. He provided me with a peace that I knew could only come from him from the day of my diagnosis through each of my four surgeries and through the loss of my hair. Yes, vanity played a role for me. We were surrounded by friends and family who provided delicious meals, took me to appointments, delivered flowers and gifts, transported Michael to soccer and baseball, hand-made gifts of shawls and blankets, and more love than a person could imagine. I have said more than once, “If every cancer patient were surrounded as I was they would battle in a most courageous way and either recover with ease or die with love and peace surrounding them.”

One would think after 16 months of seeing and feeling so very blessed by God’s faithfulness that I would have the faith to move mountains. And yet, last Saturday I received some very discouraging news from the Seattle School District. The same news we had received a couple of years ago that not only shocked us but the many friends who were involved and knew what was going on. The difference this time was that we had been assured that we had covered all our bases so to speak. We had dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’. The proof was in the pudding and we had provided the recipe along with the dish to be certain they could see it for themselves. Upon receiving the news the only mountain that was moved was mine. It came crumbling down as though a magnitude 8+ earthquake had hit. There I sat in my upstairs bathroom a mess of blubbering rubble lost in my own despair.

Mark 4:40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I was in despair. I was afraid. Even more so, I was tired. For more than 3 years I have advocated and fought for my son’s education. I have questioned, persuaded, and challenged the system at the local school to get what I felt, what I knew our child needed. Determined to get what we pay for (public education through property taxes) I continued to meet with his teachers and the principal multiple times each year. I also helped in the classroom and expanded his education at home with our own home work while the school worked on adjustments in the classroom as they could. All of that to say, I was tired of doing so much. I was tired of asking the same questions over, and over again. And frankly, they were tired of me to. This year we hit a stale mate when meeting with the Principal in regards to what our son was being taught. In actuality, he was being forced to repeat a grade level of math that he had completed and passed the year before. The reason, they no longer were offering ‘Walk to Math’ and his current teacher felt he needed to show her he had common core understanding of each concept before she would give the next grade level material. Mind you he had completed the current grade level last year at the same school and that teacher had entered his grades into the system showing he met and exceeded the common core standards. Apparently, they did not trust her grading nor her teaching. Or they didn’t believe their eyes when they saw the passing grade in the system. The teacher, the principal and the math specialist all agreed they were doing our son the best they could by making certain he knew the standards (again) before challenging him with the next level. And so, we were forced to tell our son he would have to repeat, on a daily basis, work he had already completed. Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt. My faith was weakened. What was so big, giant even during cancer , was reduced to a grain of sand when I received the news that he had been denied to the program we had applied to. Although the decision made no sense based on what we had submitted, my lack of trust in the Public School system coupled with my human nature reduced my faith to the size of a mustard seed at best.

Yes, I knew God had brought me through cancer. Not once, but twice. But this, this seemed like a never-ending journey that was never coming to an end. At least not in the way I had hoped. Maybe that was it. It wasn’t what I had hoped would happen. I had reviewed all the options. The courses that we could take and the one that seemed the best fit was not happening. How could that be? I looked at the information again. It was all there. All arrows pointed to go! All questions were answered. All information had been provided. The numbers made sense. And still they said no. And in that moment, I crumbled.

It was just hours before we were supposed to head out with friends to the school auction. I told Tom I didn’t know if I could go. I knew in mind and my heart that I had to go. Going or not going was not going to solve my issue and either situation put me in a place of explaining what I was going through. Knowing I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, it would most likely show if I were to attend. If my friends asked me I would fall apart. If I didn’t go they would wonder why. More than that I had really been looking forward to a night out with our friends (they are that awesome). My emotions were all over the map. One moment I was furious at the system and the decision. I was angry that I was now put in the position to find another solution. The next moment I was sad and crying. What was I going to do? Homeschool? While that is certainly an option it would take a lot of effort. I am not sure I have that in me. And then there was the feeling in the pit of my stomach that I just wanted to be sick. I literally felt like throwing up.

I got into the shower to wash my hair. The warmth of the water would soothe me, no doubt. As I stood there with the hot water running over my I began to sob. Body shaking sobs. I needed to let it out. I couldn’t hold it in. My husband turned me towards him and took my hands in his. He told me to close my eyes. What I expected was a kiss, what I got was so much more. After a couple moments of silence my husband began to pray. He beseeched God on my behalf. I don’t remember all of the words but I do remember that my husband was earnestly asking God to give me the faith to believe that he had a way. That he knew what was right for our son and that he would make it happen. He asked for me to have the strength to trust. He asked that we would be able to enjoy our evening at the auction. When he said Amen I went back to my shower. Slowly but surely a sense of calm came over me.

As if all that had not been difficult enough, as we were getting ready to dash out the door we realized our child/puppy care had canceled. Quite last minute but for a very good reason. We were scrambling. Tom called a friend to see if Michael could come stay the night. I called my neighbor to see if she would come dog sit for a bit and then crate the puppy. Both agreed. We boxed up the dinner we had on the stove for Michael and the sitter and delivered it along with Michael to our friends. Laurie handled the puppy hand off to the neighbor before heading to the auction herself. I texted my two girlfriends who would be joining us at the auction. I let them know the news I had received and that I was not handling it well. I told them I didn’t want to talk about it at the auction as I did not want to ruin our evening. They assured me not only would they not ask they would take great effort to keep me laughing. Let’s just say the succeeded. We had a wonderful time and I was so very thankful we hadn’t bailed on the event.

I fell into bed that night and slept deeply. When I awoke the next morning I was surprised that I remembered quite vividly a dream I had. Most often I forget them or only remember a piece here or there of what it was. I didn’t know what the meaning was until I sat down in the living room across from Tom and told him my dream.

I was driving my car on the freeway. Michael was in the backseat which is all quite normal. We were heading somewhere and trying to get there but traffic was very heavy. It didn’t seem we would make it. There was a turn or bend in the road ahead. A large semi-truck was on our right. As we headed into the turn I noticed the semi-truck hitting his breaks. Knowing he could see further ahead than I, I too began to slow down. As we rounded the corner I saw a semi-truck to my left and a semi-truck in front of me. They were also hitting their breaks as all lanes of traffic ahead were slowed way down. The semi-truck in front me was having a difficult time stopping. His truck was swaying side to side. Just as I feared the trailer turned over onto its side and was sliding on the freeway as the driver was still trying to come to a stop. Oddly he was not hitting any cars. There seemed to be just enough space for him to slide. I was in the 2nd from the left of 4 lanes. All lanes were completely blocked as my breaks failed and my car kept going forward. Surely, I was going to run into one of the semi-trucks. As I kept moving towards the stopped traffic suddenly there was a space between the semi-truck that was on my left and the semi-truck that was on its side in front of me. Not a lane, just enough space for my car to go through and go across all the lanes of traffic and exit the chaos on the freeway. Michael and I were crying, in shock, but okay. As we exited the freeway my car phone rang. It was Laurie. I thought she had seen the wreck on the news and was calling to see if we were okay. I answered the phone and said, Hello. Laurie said, “Oh hey mom, I just wanted to see if you had Michael with you?” I told her I did. She said, “Okay, good. You guys on your way home?” I assured her we were. She said, “Okay, see you when you get here. Bye.” It was then that I woke up.

I looked at Tom and he said, “See, God has it all figured out.” And it was like a light was switched on. This year has been like a freeway where all lanes came to a complete stop. The three semi-trucks represent the three options we have been looking at: Public School, Private School and Home School. I have no idea which truck represented which option. That wasn’t the point. The point was I was looking at them and didn’t know what to do but all I really wanted was to get my son to safety. The path provided in the dream, was a miracle no less. When nothing seemed possible. No good could possibly happen. It did.

Matthew 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

I sent an email off to the district that afternoon requesting an explanation for the news we had received. The peace I had felt after Tom had prayed over me in the shower continued to sustain me. On Monday morning, I received an email that they would check into the matter and get back to me by the end of the week. The peace continued to fill me as I waited. On Wednesday afternoon as I walked into the house from picking up Michael from school I noticed that I had received an email from the district. It stated that upon reviewing the information the decision had been changed. Our son had been approved for the program we had been advocating for. What I had perceived as impossible after having been denied again and again, was finally happening. I was ecstatic to say the least and relieved on top of that. I told Michael the good news about next year. I forwarded the email to Tom right away. A smile spread across my face and didn’t budge for hours upon hours.

As I contemplated it all later part of me wanted to beat myself up for not having the faith to begin with. But then, I saw something even greater had happened. Tom and I pray for others. We pray by ourselves for our kids, our marriage, our day, etc. We rarely ever pray out-loud together. In what was an extremely weak moment for me, my husband could have wrapped me up in a hug which would have been wonderful and appreciated. Instead though he heard the voice of God call him to pray. To reach out to the rock, the corner stone of our faith and our marriage to seek peace, understanding, help, direction and comfort for his wife. Not only did God answer his prayer, calm my aching heart, but he also grew the love I have for my husband.

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Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

As I near the end of my treatment I find myself looking forward to a time of healing. I envision time writing, time with my cancer survivors writing group (oh how thankful I am that I found you), time with my son every day, playing, laughing, connecting. And of course, time with Bailey. He will no doubt bring me joy and get me outside even when I don’t want to move. I have one more Herceptin treatment on April 4th. I was planning to celebrate that evening. It will be the one year anniversary of my first chemo and Herceptin treatment. One year. Who could imagine!? I say I was planning because something has come up to cause me to pause, to hesitate.

About 2 weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she had a mass in her abdomen. She was heading in for an MRI, CAT scan and other tests. This is not just any Facebook friend. This girl, Heather is her name, was a childhood friend. And although the memories of time spent with her are locked away in that vault in the recess of my mind where nearly my entire childhood is, we have a new special connection. Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was. Another childhood friend of ours reconnected us when she found out that I too had breast cancer. Heather’s was a bit more advanced than mine as she had not been having mammograms as I was. Heather had two types of chemo to reduce the size of the tumor followed by a bilateral mastectomy. Then her treatment continued with a year of Herceptin just like me. Her treatments ended about 3 months ago and she returned to work at World Market. She also began seeing a tattoo artist in anticipation of having a spectacular tattoo done across her new breast and chest. A way of reclaiming her body after cancer.

Heather’s post on Facebook made my stomach drop and made me take pause in my plans of celebration. I messaged her privately so we could chat. As it turns out, she likely has Stage 3 Ovarian cancer that has spread to her stomach. They are doing a biopsy to make sure it is not her breast cancer returning as then it would be Stage 4. I am heart sick. Heather is just a few years older than I am, much too young to be dealing with all of this. Although even as I type this I think at any age we should not have to deal with this cancer.

I know I will celebrate on April 4th. I must. Otherwise the worry of what could happen next, what could return, what cancer I could still get will consume me. And that just isn’t me. It isn’t the me that I want to be. All of last year, through all 4 of my surgeries, through my chemo and Herceptin, through visits to the ER, I felt peace. I felt joy. I felt the love I was surrounded with from friends and families flood me even when I was all alone. Through it all I have felt, have believed that I have a purpose yet to fulfill in my life. When I think back on the many paths that I have traveled in my life to get to where I am today I can only think that there is still more to come. More that I have yet to do. That is what I hold on to.

And so, I will celebrate! Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

 

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Truth Be Told

I find it difficult to write fiction. I want to. I really do. I have a few children’s stories started. Only one of them is complete but then I started it at least 16 years ago. If all of my stories take that long I will never finish more than 2 or 3 at best. The one that is finished is the first book I ever started. I guess maybe there is something golden in that. I often thought if I could finish it that something would release like a flood gate that would open my mind to the ability of writing more books. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

This may be the reason I am drawn to blogging. It was a natural transition from journaling to blogging for me. I wrote my random thoughts, topics that interested me, places I visited or things that my kids and I experienced. It was more about sharing what had happened than it was creating a story. More than once I thought I would like to be one of those columnist that responds to readers questions. Giving advice or helping them decipher something that was weighing on them. Between telling the truth and helping someone find that light bulb moment I would somehow feel a sense of fulfillment.

And yet, time and time again I find myself thinking of books that I would like to write. One or two would be based on or completely the truth as they would come from my life journey. Their soul purpose being to help others who are living or have lived through something similar. Many other ideas jump around in my brain. A thought here and there, late at night or when I am out walking. An idea for a children’s book, a catchy title, or a glimpse, a small concept that I think would make the start for story. And that is where it ends. I jot the book title or idea down in a sticky note on my phone only to pull it up later and wonder where I would go with it. Nothing comes…..

You know what I think I need? Time. Devoted time with no distractions and only a laptop, notepad, pen, and nature. I envision a cabin in the woods with endless trails. Maybe a small bubbling creek that ripples over small, medium and large rocks a short jaunt from the cabin. Towering trees to the north and the east with the sun shining down on me from the south and the west. Mountains off in the distance standing tall like friendly giants beckoning me to come and explore. Just outside the cabin door there are wild flowers and tall grasses that wave gently in the cool breeze. I can almost hear the call  of the whippoorwills as they hide themselves in the trees just out of sight. If I were there my thoughts would flow freely. My writing would be uninhibited. Nothing would stop me. Every distraction would be but a new idea keeping my fingers moving and the words adding up on the page.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?! I need to write. The truth may come easier at first but in time I think I will be able to conjure up some really great lies, er, I mean fiction if I just keep trying.

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Oh SPit!

Last year was the year of all years in many ways. It held a lot of firsts, a lot of change, a bit of pain (okay likely more than a bit) and yet it was full of peace and love and so much goodness. After two cancer diagnosis, chemo, 4 surgeries and a year of IV treatments post breast cancer, I decided it was a good idea to speak to a geneticist in regards to the possibility of any other cancers that I may be prone to.

Honestly I didn’t even know what that would look like. Can they tell you that based on the types of cancer you had what else you may end up with? When it comes to genetics how much information do they need to know about your extended family in order to determine your risk? If there is a family history and there is a connection to my DNA, then what? What can I do? What can they do?

Before meeting with the geneticist they had me fill out an online questionnaire that went through my family tree and any types of cancer they have or had. Along with that they needed to know their ages now or when they died.  Tis was yet another time when I was thankful for Facebook. I was able to contact some of my cousins through messenger and ask about their parents who had passed. I found they were more than willing to fill me in on the details they knew about.  This helped immensely as I had a lot of gaps.

As it turned out there were two types of cancer on my father’s side that I hadn’t been aware of. Upon going over this information with the geneticist it became clear that it was in fact a good idea for me to have further genetic testing. While the testing cannot tell me if I have or ever will have another type of cancer it can give us some very helpful information. The geneticist was able to share that the information would potentially show if I the genetic make-up or mutations that may cause me to have other types of cancer. It would also be beneficial to my sister and my children as well. Depending on what is found they may want to get tested as well to see if they have any gene mutations that coincide.

While the testing cannot tell you whether or not you have or in fact will get cancer it can help you determine when to start screening for certain types of cancers or take other preventative precautions. You may also decide to take certain medications to help with the possibility of certain cancers or even have surgery to have ‘at-risk’ tissue removed. For me, it will either put my mind at ease that I have no mutations to put me at a greater risk. Or it will help me determine screenings I will have to hopefully catch any possible cancers sooner rather than later. That has worked out quite well for me thus far.

The geneticist had a bit of discouraging information for me when it came to having the testing done. Unfortunately Regence, which happens to be my insurance company, does not cover the full panel of genetic testing. They prefer that you test for one mutation at a time. Even then they do not necessarily cover it in all cases if they do not deem it necessary. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer my oncologist ordered the BRCA1 and BRCA2. The results were negative. In light of that Regence would not cover the full panel the geneticist was now recommending. It would then cost me $4000.00 of pocket to have the panel completed through the company (Myriad) that my insurance, and most insurance companies for that matter, is partnered with for testing. There are many more mutations that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 do not cover that I could have. The good news is that there are other options for testing.

There is a company named COLOR Genomics.  While I don’t completely understand all that there is about this company, what I do know is that they are able to provide the same panel of testing for a fraction of the cost. $249 to be exact. Compared to $4000 that is a huge savings. The way the geneticist explained it was that they came about because they knew many patients could benefit from genetic testing for mutations that would allow for preventative care or early monitoring that couldn’t afford the fees when their insurance wouldn’t cover the testing. In reading a bit about them on their website I found that to be true along with other information. The way I read it, they knew that there were studies being done where genetic testing would help with research in order to show statistics as far as who was prone to get what type of cancer. The problem with the studies was that they were unable to provide the findings the participants as the studies were being done for statistical purposes not for the purpose of helping the participant. I imagine it is a bit more complicated than I have described it, but that is the just of it. There was mention of not having the appropriate licensing or set up for notifying the individual participants. And thus Color Genomics was formed to provide testing at an affordable price where participants are not only notified but are also informed.

All participants receive their panels back with information on the positive or negative results. They are also contacted by a genetics counselor that goes over the information. They are also required to give a physicians contact info where the results are sent to as well. They are however assured their results are private and will not be shared with their insurance company unless specifically requested to do so by the participant. They results are used in studies and research on a more generic level with no personal information attached to them in the studies aside from age, gender and race I believe. You can visit their website to read more about it. Color Genomics

It took me a while to order my kit. Procrastination at its finest. At first I waited as I had asked the geneticist to confirm that Regence would in fact not cover my testing. Once confirmed I think a small part of me is afraid to know what mutations I may or may not have. Obviously I am a huge proponent of early screening as that is how we found my breast cancer in the first place. And yet, to be told that I have a mutation that may or may not mean I will get another cancer may just be more than I can handle right now. I have wanted to believe the idea that my breast cancer was a fluke. That it was caught so early and treated aggressively so that it would not return (which actually means come back as the same cancer but in another part of my body). And yet, the small chance that something like would happen stays there in the corner of my mind. In my peripheral vision so to speak. Never gone. Always there just in sight keeping me wondering a little bit. Taking the test means I may find out that I have a genetic mutation that could mean I am more likely to get a particular cancer. Something that scares the heck out of me.

And yet, if I know then I can be proactive. I can start screenings earlier. If necessary I could elect to have surgery now and remove that area that is most likely to get cancer. This depends on the location, the organ and the overall information that would determine the likelihood of me getting another cancer. On the other hand the information could cause me to stress, worry and wonder if and when I will actually get another cancer if it shows I am predisposed to one.

I ordered my kit and received it within just a couple of days. Upon opening the kit I found the instructions were simple and straight forward. I was first instructed to login online to register my kit and the vile that my sample would be sent back in. The vial had a unique customer number as well as a unique serial number. Along with these numbers I asked to enter my personal information, my Physicians name and contact info, as well as fill out a family tree and history of cancer for all that applied. All of this information will be used when they are running the tests on my sample. Once all of that was complete I was ready to provide the sample.

There were clear and simple instruction for this as well. Now all I needed to do was conjure up enough saliva to spit into the vial filling it up to the fill line. I had been assured in the brochure and in the video online that it was not as much as it appeared. Apparently the vial had a false bottom. It was actually a smaller space than it appeared to be upon first glance. Yep, that was in fact true. The video even gave you examples of how to conjure up said spit. They said you should think about eating a piece of candy or if that fails rub your cheeks in a circular motion. Try it, it works. Saliva produced, I then had to close the cap and let a pre-included fluid mix with my saliva. This solution would help preserve the integrity of my saliva during transportation. After sealing up the vial, putting it back in the box and closing the original package that it came in which had a prepaid postage sticker already on the back, my spit was ready to roll! All that was left for me to do was deliver the package to my local USPS for shipment.

And it’s off! My spit is currently in transition to a lab in California. Once received I will receive an email notifying me that the testing will begin. Once completed I will receive the results and be contacted by one of their geneticists. Then I am supposed to follow-up with my Dr. as well. The turn around time is supposed to be 3-4 weeks from the date they receive the sample. Tick tock. Tick tock. The clock is tick-tocking in my brain. And so, I wait.

 

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