“Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley

Last week I went for my first screening since the end of treatment and received a letter today that says, in part, “We are pleased to inform you that your recent screening showed no mammographic evidence of cancer.” !!!

I’m feeling surprised, relieved, thankful, giddy and weepy all at the same time! Mostly, I am grateful that just moments after diagnosis, it was as if God placed His hand on my back, replaced fear with acceptance and peace, and guided me gently through the journey.  It is true that healing is not the same as curing – that healing does, indeed, bring us “closer to our true self.”


“Life is God’s novel. Let him write it.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer

I have been reflective today, looking back on this crazy and unexpected journey.  After re-reading my first post and the quotation by Marcel Proust, I am struck by its’ truth – on that day and on this day.  I knew, instinctively, that it fit.  I am in awe of the journey and the experiences of the last few months and feel as if I have come full circle.  I can stand in the same place I was in late October, yet now I recognize where I am.

The last month has been challenging.  As the last day of radiation treatments approached, I anticipated feeling like celebrating but when the day arrived I mostly felt like crying.  Although I was warned, I was shocked by the reality that two weeks after the last treatment I felt worse than ever.  I am (finally!) beginning to feel like me again – every day, a little better.

If my “lesson” last year was about being present, my lesson this year is all about acceptance.  Acceptance is humbling.  The last few months I’ve experienced shock, disbelief, dismay, exhaustion, horror, limitations, helplessness and grief.  Yet, looking back, almost all of that is erased and I am brought to tears by the gestures of kindness, generosity, gentleness, understanding, faith extended, thoughtfulness and, finally, the wonderful gift of acceptance again.

“And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.  It’s quiet but the roots down there are riotous.”  – Rumi

I am happy to be in a place now where I can look forward with anticipation.  I am grateful for each experience and the people I met along the way – people like Valerie, Sophie, Karla, Desirae, Bernadette and Missey – who I never would have met but have encouraged me and enriched my life in a very short time.

The next step for me is genetic testing and counseling (you know you have issues when even your DNA needs counseling!).  I understand I may still need to make decisions regarding preventive surgery but I will cross that bridge when and if I get to it.  For now, I will be grateful for the little accomplishments like having enough energy at the end of the day to smile at and show love to the people I love the most – my family.

I was surprised last week by a gift from my aunt, uncle, cousins and some of their friends who I have never met.  They collected Breast Cancer Awareness t-shirts from events they have participated and Aunt Patricia made a beautiful quilt.  It really is like a big hug and I wrap myself in it and smile every day.

Finally,  I am grateful again for the wonderful women in my family who have travelled this path and were willing to share with me their “travel journals.”  I am absolutely certain I am meant to pay forward the gifts I have received from this experience and I can not WAIT to see what that looks like and what God has planned next.

“We also give gifts by telling our stories, for when they are genuine, they become stepping stones for those who inevitably follow on this path.”  – Susan Kuner

“Find a place inside where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell

The end of radiation is near and I will be so relieved when I’m finished! As I’ve said before, compared to chemo, radiation is nothing to complain about but it has been much harder than I thought it would be. Taking care of myself and balancing the demands of work and the needs of my family have taken a toll. The physical effects are cumulative – mind-numbing fatigue and the evidence of radiation on my skin are more noticeable (and shocking!  Holy crap – what are they DOING to me?!) every day.  Sometimes I have felt as if my body has betrayed me – my mind is searching for the silver lining but my body is spent!  My doctor warned me that the last week of “boost treatments” would be harder on my body than previous weeks.  The first day of treatment was a surprise – I thought he said BOOZE treatments and was looking forward to a crisp glass of chardonnay or an umbrella drink in the waiting room (ha ha)!  Day two was a bigger surprise – in spite of the boozeless treatment I FELT like I had a hangover and didn’t even have any funny stories to tell or pictures to share!  Needless to say, many other people have been picking up my slack and I am grateful to the awesome women I work with and for who have my back – encourage me, make me laugh and send me home to bed when I’m so tired I’m in tears.  I am blessed to have friends and family who know when I need a hug, a meal, or a word/text of encouragement to keep me going.  And I couldn’t have faced any of this without my husband and my sweet and understanding kids.  We have all grown in unexpected ways from this experience.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12

I left the hospital yesterday and arrived home feeling overwhelmed.  To my amazement, I had a message from my new friends (and jungle family!) at Selvatica Adventure Kingdom in Mexico.  They have been taking care of and watching closely the seed I planted on Christmas Eve.  In spite of the challenges we have faced the past few months, HOPE is growing – both literally and figuratively.  God is good.

“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” – Caroline Myss

I am nearly halfway through radiation treatments and haven’t updated the blog but, the truth is, I have been struggling.  Struggling with my goal of sharing this experience and keeping it real vs. my belief that “if you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all!”  Needless to say, I haven’t been feeling very positive.  Radiation is really not a big deal and, compared to chemo, I have nothing to complain about – I just don’t like it.  Side effects, so far, have been minor – the hardest part is the fatigue.  Mostly, I struggle to turn off my brain and trust the process!

“… she was always deeply moved by the kindness of strangers and saw in them the shape of a greater grace.” – Dean Koontz

 What I’ve forgotten that I learned early on in this journey is that being present helps me to SEE the people around me and gives me perspective.  Walking into treatment today I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself and was greeted in the patient waiting room by smiling faces who looked genuinely happy to see me.  Right away I was approached by a little girl with an armload of super soft socks.  She explained that her dad was treated for cancer last year and his feet were always cold.  Her ministry (ministry?!  a kid KNOWS that?!) now is to give socks with prayer cards to patients being treated for cancer – she’s demonstrating her gratefulness for her dad’s health now by caring for others.  How cool is that?!

I am grateful for the amazing people I am meeting along the way during this journey – the ladies who treat me and laugh with me every day, the other patients I am getting to know and care about, my doctor who genuinely wants to know about my support systems and if I’ve been treated by his staff like a person – with respect, and my awesome family who keeps picking up the slack around here, loves me and takes care of me (and us) in spite of my tiredness!  I realize now, that while I refuse to make this experience part of my identity and I’m not adopting pink as my signature color (although I do like pink!), I am and always will be connected to certain people because of our shared experience.  My heart goes out to the woman who told me in the waiting room today that her momma doesn’t have much time and for the woman who told me the kind words her mom had for me.  Her words brought tears to my eyes but gave me the encouragement I needed to leave with a light, thankful heart and a smile.  I am so very grateful and I am certain that God already has plans for me to pay it forward – I can’t WAIT to see what that looks like!

“Kindness extended, received or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved.”  –  Wayne Dyer

“In each moment the fire rages, it will burn away a hundred veils and carry you a thousand steps toward your goal.” – Rumi

A vacation to the beach between surgery and radiation was the perfect escape but made it even harder to come home and face the next hurdle.  Conventional treatment for breast cancer typically involves surgery, radiation and/or chemo – sometimes called “slash and burn.” I have been assured by many people that radiation treatments are no big deal. Side effects are mild – usually fatigue and sunburn-like symptoms but I can’t get past the “slash and burn” imagery! And then I was reminded,

                 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…” – Isaiah 43

Today was supposed to be a practice run for radiation but ended up being my first treatment too!  I was grateful for the reassurance from Isaiah and channeled beach memories while the machines and staff did their thing.  It was over in less than 20 minutes – 19 treatments to go… 🙂

I woke this morning feeling unsettled and did the only thing I know to relieve stress and beat fatigue – I ran!  It was brisk outside but I had this really awesome moment when I spied a fox and he spied me and we stared at each other.  He’d take a few steps and I’d do the same and we just watched each other.  It was super cool… and then I realized there was a dog in the distance behind me and the fox was really keeping an eye on it!  I had to laugh – it was like nature’s version of the old bar joke, “I’m not checking you out – I’m looking at the clock over your head.”  Have I mentioned how much I think God must get a kick out of watching human antics?

I go back to work tomorrow – looking forward to getting busy again, doing what I love – just praying for endurance!  Happy New Year!

Celebrating a tree called “HOPE”…

We are home now after nine wonderful days in Mexico – celebrating Christmas and spending quality time with my family. It was great to get away from the holiday madness and re-center.  It’s amazing how much peace is found in sunshine, waves and sand!  I had plenty of time for my family and quiet walks on the beach alone for reflection and prayer.  What a beautiful escape and respite between surgery and the next step in treatment, radiation.  It was hard to leave and get back to reality!

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.” ~e.e. cummings

One of the highlights of the trip for all of us was ziplining over the rainforest canopy.   It was terrifying climbing the first set of stairs up the side of a tree but before I had time to think about it our guide smiled and gave me a push, “Bye, bye, Señora!” and I was screaming over the jungle!  Altogether there were 12 ziplines, all connected.  We arrived at the end of each, breathless and grinning, climbed another tree platform and took off again.  It was such a metaphor of life – the climb can be terrifying and challenging, but the ride is unexpectedly exhilarating and the view is unbelievable if you take time to stop being afraid and notice.

               “When your vision fills up with the greatness of God,  you become fearless.” – Kevin Miller

The happy bonus at the end of the day was the opportunity to plant a palm tree seed.  I love the idea of leaving a place better than we found it and planting a tree in the rainforest after an amazing day was so fulfilling.  Not only that, we each got to name the future tree we planted – I named mine HOPE.

I sent a note to the owners and managers of the zipline company (Selvatica Adventure Kingdom) to compliment the staff, thank them for a wonderful day and explain why planting a seed was meaningful to me.  They replied, in part, “That’s awesome!!!  You are in our thoughts and our prayers and we are sending you all the positive energy the jungle can muster.  PS – Hope is alive and growing by the second!”

Radiation starts next week.  January 4th I go for a practice run and start treatments on the 5th.  I’ll go five days a week for four weeks.  The next step is genetic testing and counseling – I’m taking it one day at a time and crossing each bridge as I get to it!

“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”- Hafiz of Persia

Someone at work asked me (somewhat warily, I might add), “Why are you always so happy?”  I’m fairly certain he has no idea what’s been going on in my life (I genuinely think he’s puzzled and trying to figure out if I have a personality disorder or just heavily medicated) and I can’t even tell you how I responded but it got me thinking.  If nothing else, the past few months have been a time of reflection and self-analysis.  A diagnosis of breast cancer  has forced me to evaluate everything in my life including my relationships, actions, perspective, vanity, faith, happiness, future… everything!  (By the way, I’ve read that DCIS isn’t even cancer which makes me wonder why the heck I’m spending so much time with a team of oncologists but that’s a discussion for another time.)  But the question of happiness has been food for thought.  I could have told him that happiness is a choice – I think it is.  Or that I’ve observed people who are happy seem to be equally full of hope and gratitude.  But how to express happiness daily…?

Do you remember the tv show Candid Camera?  I love those prank shows – they set up an absurd situation, hide a camera and then sit back and watch how people react.  Most people respond with irritation, frustration, anger and even outrage until they finally reveal, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” and THEN everyone smiles and laughs.  But there’s almost always one person who looks baffled but amused and laughs while it’s happening and I always hope that’s how I would react.  If I’m caught on tape, THAT’S the person I want to be!  Bizarre and strange situations happen every day and I often ask myself, “Am I being ‘Punked?’  Is there a hidden camera around here?”

Isn’t that deep?  The answer to finding happiness is being baffled and amused.  Now you’ll ALL be looking at me warily, “Doesn’t she seem happy?  Actually, she’s delusional – she thinks she’s on a prank show right now.”  Nevermind – refer to the first paragraph when I wrote that happiness is a choice and there’s a direct correlation between gratitude, hope and happiness.  Even when it’s not, life is funny – I have to laugh!   God must have an awesome sense of humor.  If we are made in His image, there must be a reason that laughter makes us feel so good.

“All life … is energy.  You are responsible for the energy you create for yourself.  You are responsible for the energy you bring to others.”          – Dr. Jill Taylor

I met with my radiation oncologist on Thursday and he was great – he actually spent time getting to know me, asking questions about my family, friends, support system, etc.  I will go in for a “practice run” January 4th and will begin radiation treatments the 5th.  I’ll go five days a week, for four weeks.  Good times.

I am grateful to have so much support from my amazing friends, family and even strangers.  Your kind words, texts, emails, gifts and prayers give me strength, make me laugh (and cry!) and keep me going – thank you.

“He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.”
Proverbs 16:20

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