What to do or say…

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I had no idea how it would change my life. Writing a Caring Bridge update and then a regular blog has opened me up for questions. I get asked from friends, relatives and acquaintances about how they can help their newly diagnosed cancer friend. I am honored to answer such questions. I know everyone’s journey is different and not everyone appreciates the same things I do. I hope I am able to give some good advice and perhaps spark some joy for those who are traveling a scary path.

Here are some things I frequently tell people when I’m asked, “what can I do?!”


  • Reach out to them in some way.
  • Send a card or note – it doesn’t have to be big. (I kept all of the cards and notes)
    Journals or notebooks are helpful. There are lots of Dr appointments, things to remember or record. They may also want a journal to chronicle their journey.
    Start a meal train to make sure they don’t have to worry about supper.
    Support their family – their spouse/partner or kids. (Take the kids somewhere fun or just drive them to events, if needed.)
    Offer to do their grocery shopping, laundry or cleaning.
    Give some gift cards to the family.
    Offer a massage certificate.
    Tell positive stories about survivors.
    Give a good book, one you’ve enjoyed – it doesn’t need to be new.
    Hug or touch them, if appropriate. Cancer isn’t contagious.
    Pray intentionally for and/or with them.


  • Don’t tell them stories about people who died. They do not need to know about your neighbor’s aunt who had the same thing and died in 3 weeks.
  • Please don’t ignore them. This is hurtful. The people who left me during cancer were not really my friends.
  • Don’t ask them to “let me know what I can do to help.” They do not need to find a to-do list for you. They are seriously just trying to get by. I know people mean well by this, but it’s one of the least helpful things (in my opinion).
  • Don’t tell them, “I was going to stop by/call/do something etc.” This tells them you thought about it for a minute but you really weren’t worth their time. Sometimes it’s because they wanted to do the perfect or huge thing and didn’t get around to it.
    Please don’t judge how the spend their time or money. You probably don’t know their whole story.
    Don’t look at them like they are about to die. They can see the “oh this must be so difficult” look on your face.
    Don’t tell them it’s karma. (Seriously, someone said this to me.)

Some people love the word survivor, while others find it annoying. Some choose to go through their journey quietly, not wanting people to know. Everyone is different… but hopefully this gives you some ideas of what helped me. This applies to many situations, not just cancer – anyone who is struggling may benefit from the list above.

Go write the note, make the call or bring the hot dish. I believe God puts people in our path for a reason, so who am I to argue with that? On your journey of enough, there will be bumps along the way. Hopefully those bumps are also learning experiences and you have someone to love and support you. Peace be with you, and your friend.

Neo what?

Before 2014, I hadn’t heard the word “neoplasm” before. If you would have asked me what it was, I would have assumed it was some kind of science fiction term. I might have thought it had something to do with The Matrix (since Neo was the main character). I never thought it would be part of my permanent record. (My medical record, not my criminal record.)

Yesterday was my oncology follow up. Every 6 months, I drive back to Fargo to meet with the oncology Dr to see if anything has changed. Before this appointment, I had an MRI, ultrasound and mammogram in Alexandria. A few days after the tests and before the oncology appointment, I skimmed through the test results online looking for key words… “no sign of malignancy,” “benign,” “no abnormalities.” I’m not a doctor, but I know that if you have those 3 tests and there is anything suspicious, they will call you. Since I was reading these results myself, this was also a good sign. I saw nothing that looked concerning.

A neoplasm is a fancy word for tumor. My medical records will always include “malignant neoplasm of central portion of left female breast.” I will always remember December 2014. The timing of cancer free or survivor vary depending on what you’re talking about. They consider you a survivor when you’re diagnosed… I guess because you’re not dead? That part seemed strange to me. You’re considered cancer free after they remove your tumor. The “5 year mark” for me is based on when I started my hormone suppressing (aka “anti-cancer pills.”) I started those the summer after my hysterectomy, so according to that, I’m at 3 1/2 years. These were all things we discussed at the appointment. Since my side effects are minimal, I will likely stay on this medication for 10 years. The doctor agreed. It was a pretty uneventful appointment, and I am SUPER thankful!

After I got the “all clear,” I stopped up to see a friend (similar in age) on the oncology floor. He was in for low white counts and infection risk. We talked about somedays. I shared with him my clean bill of health, we talked about how kids process a parent with cancer, and we talked about how this changes you. It’s difficult to describe unless it’s happened to you. Someday we will take the trip. Someday I’ll change jobs. Someday we will start a family (not either of us by the way.. I was just making a point.) Cancer gives you a reminder that we are human. We aren’t meant to walk the earth in the same body forever. We don’t have an unlimited time line. Love, live life and experience it!

When I read the word neoplasm, my heart stops a little. Perhaps years from now it won’t do that, but for now it still does. It releases a flood of emotions some days, and other days I don’t think about it as much. For today, I will thank the neoplasm for all it has taught me, and be thankful it is gone.

On your journey of enough, may you be surrounded by people who care about you. Go do one of your somedays & reach out to that person you’ve been “meaning to call.”

Do it anyway…

Another storm was set to dump a foot of snow on MN this past Saturday, and our youngest son, Myles is still in a full leg cast. I had made reservations for one night at the Stoney Ridge Treehouse in Burtrum, MN. Would we be able to get there? Would we be able to get out? Would Myles enjoy it at all? Should we cancel? The snow was supposed to start early, but it looked ok at home. The owner texted me saying we could arrive sooner because the people ahead of us were gone and they knew we’d want to arrive before travel became difficult.

We had an uneventful drive to the treehouse. The roads were actually pretty clear. Aside from some backseat driving, um, I mean navigating, we made it to the treehouse by noon. The snow was falling gently. The treehouse has a covered bridge up to it, so it was accessible for Myles. Once we got settled, Cameron & Dallas put on their boots to trek down to the lake. No fishing gear came along this time, but they wanted to check it out for future trip possibilities. The 850 square foot treehouse is beautiful. Hand crafted cabinets and furniture, big beams and lots of windows made this an impressive cabin.

There is a small kitchen, a main bedroom and a small bathroom. As much as Myles wanted to go up to the loft, that wasn’t an option. Up there was a table & chairs, futon, tv, bed and another bedroom. We’d make some modifications and have the TV on the main floor so he could enjoy them also. We had brought movies with us & popcorn too!

I’d be lying if I said it was a “technology free” stay, but it was relaxing. As the snow continued to fall, we turned the outside lights on to watch. One big circle window at the top was designed with a light above it, so it looks like a snow globe when it’s snowing. We didn’t try the hot tub because that would have been difficult for Myles, but they had one there & the people before us had clearly enjoyed it. I’m sure it would be fun in the snow too!

We watched movies, took a nap, read a book and looked through the pictures chronicling the story of the treehouse being built. We read the journal entries of the guests before us (sometimes with added info for dramatic effect). We played Sequence and taught the boys International Rummy. We made our own food and even had heart shaped pastries for breakfast. At one point, my husband said, “This makes your heart happy, doesn’t it?” Yes, yes it does. Because to these three guys, I am enough. I’m the one who plans our family trips, makes sure everyone packed their clothes (but sometimes forgets the toothbrush), plans the meals and packs the snacks. As we packed up, 24 hours after our arrival, Myles said, “thanks for a fun time.” And it was all worth it. The drive home was more challenging due to the foot of snow, but the roads were plowed and the sun was shining. We made it home safely.

My advice is… on your journey of enough, if there are challenges or obstacles, do it anyway. Take the trip, spend the time together & soak it up like a sponge. Don’t forget to take the picture, even if they have to get back out of the car (& you risk the embarrassment of someone seeing it.) Do it anyway.

Well done…

I’m not talking about steak or my score on this game… it’s a song. I know I write a lot about songs, but it’s one of the ways I pay attention to messages. A Contemporary Christian group, “The Afters,” has a song on Sirius radio called “Well Done.” I hear it a lot. I feel like many of us long to be told “good job” or “well done.” Such simple words, but when they aren’t said, can leave us searching to be enough.

Here are some of the lyrics:

What will it be like when my pain is gone
And all the worries of this world just fade away?
What will it be like when You call my name
And that moment when I see You face to face?
I’m waiting my whole life to hear You say
Well done, well done
My good and faithful one
Welcome to the place where you belong
Well done, well done
My beloved child
You have run the race and now you’re home
Welcome to the place where you belong
What will it be like when tears are washed away
And every broken thing will finally be made whole?
What will it be like when I come into Your glory
Standing in the presence of a love so beautiful?
I’m waiting my whole life for that day
I will live my life to hear You say
Well done, well done
My good and faithful one
Welcome to the place where you belong
Well done, well done
My beloved child
You have run the race and now you’re home
Welcome to the place where you belong

Powerful words. The lyrics seem to imply that we have to wait until we are gone to hear God say, “well done.” I happen to disagree. I think he says it in ways we might not recognize… When we pay it forward to someone in the drive though and they smile, God smiles too. When we reach out to someone who is sad, hurting or going through a difficult time, God sighs with us. When we pay attention to a child who needs help or just needs someone to listen, God is listening too. When we take time out of our day to be thankful for what we have, God is thankful for our acknowledgment. When we celebrate with those we love, God celebrates also. In these ways, he says, “Well done.” We may not hear the words. We may not recognize the significance, but it matters. It matters to Him, to us and to those around us. By being the hands and feet of God, we are doing his work. Sometimes we think it needs to be monumental or difficult in order to be meaningful. But by doing the small things, God is saying “Well done,” even if we don’t feel it.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. Be sure to say the words, “Well done” to someone… it might be just what they need to hear.

Thoughts are powerful…

Are you familiar with the saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Thoughts are powerful. What we focus on, we attract. Think the world is crappy? You will look for validation of that and either see, find or experience crappy things. Think things are great? You will also find validation of those thoughts… you will look for the good in people, find the bright spot in the day or make someone else smile.

Recently, I’ve been lamenting about how quickly my sons are growing. They are more independent, one is driving and they just don’t need me as much. Then Myles broke his leg. I’m not sure how much the leg splint or the cast weigh, but for a 12 year old, who isn’t much more than 100 lbs, it’s a significant amount. He cannot bend over. He needs help with many daily tasks that seemed like no big deal prior to February 2nd, when his tib/fib fractures changed his life. He suddenly needed me. My husband made the comment that I must love being needed again. I got defensive. “Woah, I never wished for him to break his leg.” Well, no, not directly, but he does now need help.

Wheew. That was a tough one. It really brought home the power of thoughts. I’ve said to myself several times, “I’m too heavy” or “my stomach is too fat.” I recently lost almost 30 pounds. And then something happened. I stepped on the scale and couldn’t believe the number. I hadn’t been that weight in a while. And although I should have been happy, it scared me. My identity as overweight was changing. So I ended up eating things I had avoided for several months. I gained 10lbs back and was subconsciously trying to get back to that overweight me I had identified with for so long. Now I need to shift my thoughts back to the positive. I need to remember my “why” … why I wanted to get healthier in the first place. It’s not a vanity thing or a competition. I want to live longer. I want to honor this body I’ve been given and keep it around for a while.

Is your glass half empty or half full? When life hands you lemons, will you make lemonade? (These lemons in the picture were from my sister’s tree in CA last week. Dallas are one like an orange!) If you knew how powerful your thoughts were, would you try to change them? Every time you think of something negative, try to think of 2 or 3 things positive. It’s more difficult than it sounds. I’m not sure if this is one of the coldest or snowiest winters in MN, but it’s probably on the top 10 list for sure. Complaining about the weather won’t make it sunny & warm. Thinking positively won’t make it warm either but it certainly won’t make you miserable. Might as well put on some extra layers or a heated blanket & grab a glass of lemonade!

I wish you peace on your journey of enough. May your glass be half full, but more importantly, be refillable.