6 and counting…

This is the shirt I wore on Monday. I normally just wear it around the house, but I thought it was appropriate. For 15 minutes, it sat on the chair in the doctor’s office for my yearly checkup (not that kind). I’ve graduated from oncology follow up appointments being every 6 months. Now I just go yearly for in person visits, still alternating MRI and mammogram every 6 months. It’s been over 6 years since I rang the bell. Each time I walk back into the cancer center, it takes my breath away a little bit.

Today’s appointment was fairly uneventful. I did get the green light to skip the dexascan (bone density) every 2 years. Since my numbers looked good last time, the Examestane & lack of estrogen must not be creating any bone issues. Although the dexascan is not painful or uncomfortable, there is something reassuring about not having to get one done. I’m 47, so osteoporosis is not super common, but it is more likely given my medical situation (side effects of estrogen reducing drugs and total hysterectomy/menopause). The Dr also asked if I wanted to continue the meds I’m on. I said “yes,” because my physical side effects are minimal (everyone is different), and I had aunts with breast cancer more than once. If a tiny, once a day pill can prolong my life, I’m all for it. And now that I met my deductible, the $500/month is covered.

We chatted awkwardly about the weather and how I had been feeling. I had nothing to note, really. I recently had my MRI, which showed small change in right side lymph nodes, but nothing to be worried about. We talked about my vertigo and other routine medical things. It was wonderfully uneventful. As soon as he left the room and I put my “breathe” shirt back on, I did just that. I took a deep breath and texted my family & friends that I had the “all clear” for another year. I walked outside into the sunny, 85 degree day, took off my mask and took a deep breath again. I walked over to the sculpture, snapped a picture and gave thanks. I’m thankful for my health, the support of my friends and family, the ability to keep sharing my story, and for the wonderful sunshine.

Why do I share such a mundane thing? Because for cancer survivors, it’s not over when they ring the bell. It’s not over when the treatment ends, when the scars heal or when their hair grows back. It’s a lifelong sensitivity to their health, follow up appointments they don’t discuss, health scares they may worry about in silence. They become the family member or friend who had cancer. They become an expert even when they don’t feel like they are… but they have been through it. They get calls or texts or messages from people asking how to help their newly diagnosed loved one… because they have been though it. I have been through it. While it is in my past, it will still make me pause each time I walk through those doors and wait for my appointment… thankful that I can just breathe.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. Wherever you are, it’s always a good reminder to breathe deep & say a “thank you” when you do. And if you’re in Fargo, ND and want a fun treat, check out the Thai ice cream rolls at Tea & Crepe downtown. We had a nice walk downtown, stopping at some shops and visiting with friends.

Here comes the sun…

I was sitting in Sanford hospital last week, waiting for my son’s cardio appointment & “Here Comes the Sun” plays over the speakers. They play this when a Covid patient gets sent home. It made me smile, although you wouldn’t be able to see it.

Earlier that day, I found out that my friend had passed from pancreatic cancer. My heart was heavy, but also filled with peace. I could envision her greeting her husband with a huge smile & arms wide open. I knew she would always watch over her daughter, but it’s not the same. The conversations aren’t quite the same, and you don’t get physical hugs. A few years ago, I met her at a Spirit School retreat. We connected instantly. I also connected with her husband who had passed away. We would see each other once or twice a year & keep in touch via texts etc. It was at that retreat where I learned we can connect with those who have passed away. When people say, “I just wish I could talk to them”… you can. Sure, it’s different, but you can still connect and communicate with them. I’m not a teacher or professional in this area, but I have had the experience. It’s one that’s probably easier to write about than to talk about. (Partially because I can’t see you rolling your eyes right now.)

Have you experienced a loved one appearing in a dream? Found feathers, seen cardinals, eagles, pennies/dimes/quarters? If you think it might be a message from them, it probably is. My friend’s husband came through in eagles. My aunt comes through pennies, my grandparents through pennies and dimes, and my mother-in-law through quarters. It makes me think of death differently. Although I’m still super sad at the passing of my friend, I know her spirit is at peace. I know she joined her husband and has left her earthly body. Less than 12 hours after she passed, her favorite song came on the radio. It’s not a current/pop song, so for me to hear it was certainly a sign from her. I smiled and cried and said, “thank you – I’m glad you made it.” Since then, I’ve seen 2 eagles, found a penny and visited with her in a meditation.

It’s no coincidence that I heard the song at the hospital either. The song “Here Comes the Sun” is one of hope. It’s about the sun coming after a long, cold winter. I believe my friend is feeling the sun. Her earthly pain is gone. Her winter is over and she is among the angels and spirits. I will miss seeing her at the retreats and hearing her laugh. I’m looking forward to the signs she sends.

I wish you peace on your journey of enough. May the sun start to shine even though our actual winter isn’t over.

Thankful…

What a roller coaster of emotions.

  • Dad’s PSA was elevated
  • Re-checked, it was higher
  • Biopsy done… cancer
  • Caught it early
  • More tests just to be sure it’s contained
  • Hm, spot in the bone scan
  • Oh, results were wrong, it’s more advanced
  • Urologist left, medical order for Mayo lost
  • Back to Dr
  • Refer to Mayo
  • Expect long wait
  • Can get you in next week
  • Might not cover for insurance
  • Never mind, it’s covered
  • PET & MRI at Mayo
  • Meet with top Urologist
  • Cancer contained
  • Shot now, radiation in 3 months (6-8weeks)

This is a brief summary and I missed a lot of steps, a lot of calls, sleepless nights, calling back, rechecking. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my sister being a nurse and following through, we would still be waiting. I’ve said it before, but the logistics of treating cancer is exhausting. The people start to sound like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon, “wa wa, wa wa wa wa.” You lose track of time, who knows what part of the story and what the next step will be. Thankfully, we know the cancer is contained and treatment can be somewhat close to them. They will still have to drive, but it’s a much better scenario.

I was supposed to take them, but I had a cough. Something that wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but with COVID it is. Had I become infected? I certainly didn’t want to risk giving it to my parents. I found out they wouldn’t have let me in to the clinic anyway with a cough. I got tested but didn’t get the results back in time. Thankfully, my sister was able to take them. She had been to Mayo, knows the “campus” and is familiar with medical terms. We were so relieved he could get in so quickly and that it was the best possible outcome.

Since I couldn’t be there – helping, listening, driving, “doing” something, I did the only thing I could do – ask for prayers. Whether you believe in God or not, there is power in having many people think good thoughts, pray prayers and send positive/healing energy. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt it wrap me up like a blanket. I felt it 6 years ago while we waited and prayed and hoped for the best outcome for my brother-in-law. We got a miracle 6 years ago, and we got another one on Friday.

His journey isn’t done. He will wear a new badge that he didn’t ask for. He will change the family medical history “tree.” He will be a cancer survivor. Along the way, I may ask for more healing, more prayers, more love to be sent his way & our way. One thing is certain, I saw the look of relief on my parents’ faces, and my heart swelled. There is a plan. It might change again, but at least we have a path. And, we have an army of angels by our sides the whole way. I had the song “Angel Army” in my head and didn’t realize it until later. I envisioned all of those prayers lifting them up, carrying them forward & giving good news.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. Whatever you’re facing, I hope you reach out & let someone pray for you or think good thoughts or send you love. We are in this together. God bless.

Not ok…

The flowers don’t match the message, but I wasn’t sure what would. In April, a friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It brought up memories and made me feel not quite OK. Cancer is never easy. Managing it during a pandemic brings another set of challenges. She has received lots of care packages and love, but it’s still hard to be OK. Comparing one cancer to the other doesn’t make sense. I used to feel like mine wasn’t bad enough at stage 1. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t impact me, wasn’t as scary or didn’t require follow ups & struggles that nobody saw.

Recently, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In an effort to feel like I was still in control of life, I went into planning mode. I didn’t allow myself to feel my feelings. I didn’t acknowledge the PTSD flare up and anxiety until one day when it became too much. The old me would have just spun in my head, thinking of 100 “what if’s” and been miserable. Instead, I stopped. I took 1/2 day of vacation and I connected with nature. I picked beans, sat with my chickens and got my fingers dirty pulling weeds. And, I reached out to some friends, which was another big step. I was up front and honest with them. “I’m not ok.” I needed to cry, to be mad, to admit this was hard. I needed the support. I needed to be wrapped in prayer. I needed a reminder to breathe.

How often do we put on a brave face just to seem like we are ok? It’s not just when big things happen, but often we feel like we need to be ok even when we aren’t. Someone passes you in the hall and asks how you’re doing… you say “OK” as you keep walking. We all need someone we can just be honest with. “I’m not ok today. I don’t need you to fix me, I’m not broken. I’m just not ok right now.” I was reluctant to write on this topic right before our trip to Mayo for more tests and meeting with the Urologist. But, I was also selfish. I want to have a bunch of people sending love and light and prayers and positive energy on Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. Please pray for safe travels, for health, for clear scans, for cancer to be contained to the prostate and for a plan. We are all waiting for a plan. We want to heal and fix and “do.” Some days will not be ok, but hopefully the treatments will work and we will have more time.

I wish you peace on your journey of enough. It’s ok to not be ok. Lean on your resources, call a friend, connect with nature, breathe.

Let me know how I can help…

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. This is never an easy thing to hear, but in the midst of a pandemic, it can be especially overwhelming. In the past 5 years, I’ve had many people reach out to me after a friend or loved one was diagnosed. They want to know what they can do to help their loved one. I don’t feel like an expert. I don’t have a medical or psychology degree. I’ve written about it before but it’s a good reminder. And, if you’re willing to share this post, it might help someone else too.

For the person diagnosed: This is scary. It doesn’t matter who you are. When you hear those words, your heart stops. The doctor may sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon show “wa wa, blah blah blah.” You can’t process those things. It’s all going to be a blur. Here is my humble advice. some of it I did and some I wish I would have.

  • Get a notebook. Take it with you to each appointment or treatment. Keep it in your purse or by your bed to write down questions- you will have a lot of them and you will forget 90% of them when you walk in the doctor’s office. Write down what the doctor or nurse says. It’s super helpful.
  • It is not your job to give people a “to do list.” People will say, “Let me know how I can help.” If you do think of something, great… but do not feel like you have to give a list or task to everyone. Also, some people just say that and don’t really mean it.
  • It is your job to accept help. This takes pressure off of you and lets your loved ones feel like they are contributing to your fight. If someone close to you can let people know what you need, it’s up to them to figure out the ‘how.’ My mom, sister and nieces came to clean my house before I started treatments. It was great. I’ll have some ideas for the helpers below. Just know you can and should accept help. It does not make you weak, it allows you to focus on getting better.
  • Find someone who does Reiki or Healing Touch. I learned about this later, but it’s really good, helpful and soothing. Also, yoga Nidra is like a deep relaxed state – not the yoga you’re thinking of. It will help keep you calm during treatments and ease some anxiety.
  • People around you will not know what to say. Some will fall away and you won’t hear from them. Others will show up at your door with a hot dish and a smile. I wasn’t prepared for the people who ignored me. I’m sure they were uncomfortable and they didn’t know the right words, but it was surprising. It’s ok. Focus on you, your health and recovery.
  • There will be expenses you aren’t prepared for. Even insurance companies who seem good will deny coverage for strange things. Accept financial help. It will ease some burden and worry. It’s also an easy way for people to help and support you.
  • Scan-xiety is a real thing. It’s also something they don’t prepare you for. You will likely be anxious or moody before a scan or test. It’s ok to talk about it. The Reiki/breathing techniques do help, but it’s still a real thing years later. It does get better!

For the people looking to support the patient, here again is some humble advice.

  • Just do something. Don’t wait around for the perfect thing to do – just reach out. Send a card, letter, gift card or care package. They will appreciate it, but they might be overwhelmed or exhausted & not get a thank you note sent.
  • Instead of asking what you can do, offer options. “I’d like to bring dinner on Tuesday. Does that night work for you? Would hotdish or meatballs be better?”
  • Ask if you can set up a Meal Train. It’s a great way for people to sign up for meals. The recipient can state how many people to feed, if there are allergies or foods they don’t like. Keep in mind, if someone is going through chemo, their tastebuds will be different. They may have family or caregivers though who still need to eat.
  • Care package ideas: notebooks, plain note cards, stamps, cash, gift or gas cards, books (Jesus Calling was one of my favorites), prayer blanket, movies, tea, lip balm, unscented lotion (my sense of smell went crazy and I couldn’t handle strong scents), something with meaning between the two of you, travel pillow, hard candies, water bottle, planner, comfy socks/slippers etc. I got button up pj’s for after surgery because it was difficult to raise my arms. If you know them well, make it personal & meaningful.
  • Ask if there is an errand you can run for them… “I’m going to get groceries, what can I get for you?” “What day could I fill your vehicle for you?”
  • This is difficult for them. Don’t make it about you. Don’t look at them like they’re broken or dying. Don’t leave them. They need your support and prayers.
  • Remember the caregiver and family. This is super hard on them also. They are scared too. Find ways to reach out and help, distract the kids etc. (this is more challenging now but you can get creative.)

This is probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s for sure not everything. Everyone is different, with different diagnoses, different personalities, and different needs. Maybe it will help someone going through cancer, their caregivers or their loved ones. Please share it if you feel it could help someone else.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. You are not alone, and you are worth fighting for!