Validation

Today is October 1.

I knew it was coming.

I chose to try to ignore it.

I made the wrong choice.

You see, as much as I would like October to come and go without any fanfare, it hit me today with a force I cannot deny. I got up and went to church and just standing there with people I know and love was anxiety laden. It was so awful that I could not even attend the second service I always attend.

I came home and crawled into bed with the cats. I needed rest, I needed to hide, I needed to not have to do anymore peopleing. My friend texted, asking if I only attended one service today and I said yup, and I was in bed. She was just checking to make sure I got out at least.

When we discussed what October meant to me the other day she asked what I needed from her or what she could do. I told her to make sure I do not isolate myself too much. When she texted today, I almost was not going to answer because I was afraid I had disappointed her by only going to one church service. She knows I thoroughly enjoy both.

Instead she told me she was happy I had gotten to at least one and to sleep well and that she was praying.

Oh I needed that more than anything. It was so validating. I had no idea how invalidated I feel about all of this until that very moment.

I feel like being full of anxiety just because it is October is stupid, that I should not feel this and I should be able to get over all of it. The truth is, I cannot. In October three years ago my world, which was already crashing down around me in the aftermath of a very long and drawn out divorce process felt like it was ending.

As I have moved through cancer and beyond; I do not think I have ever truly validated myself for all I went through. How could I ever accept it from anybody else.

So while I want to cancel the small group from coming to our house tonight, I know that it is only a six or seven people and we are finished within two hours. Cancelling serves no good purpose.

I am stuck between honoring this process and not allowing it to consume me. I am choosing to keep moving forward. One more stride. Head down and just moving forward. I cannot look ahead to how much further I have to go; I need to focus on the next step in front of me, and not one inch beyond that right now.

It feels like cancer all over again and I need to continually remind myself that it is not. That Dorothy is gone and God won. I need to remind myself that I am safe and I am worthy and I am loved. I.Am.Safe.

I thought I could embrace October and a month of advocating for the right charities and the right reasons to pink…it turns out I just need to survive this year and get beyond this pit of agony, despair, and anxiety.

I need to remember that I trust God in all of this. He got me this far.

What can you do for me? Check in with me, feed me, financial assistance, hug me and tell me I’m gonna be ok and the hard part is over. Encourage me to feel; real feelings, real reactions.

Together, we got this. I’m just the one with the puck on my stick right now and nobody to pass to.

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Hockey and Dates

Today I was gifted four tickets to a University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks hockey game. As a huge hockey fan, I cannot even begin to explain my delight at this. I have never been to a college level hockey game. Unfortunately, my boys cannot join me so I am taking friends.

While I was at the grocery store with my youngest son after school today we were joking about me looking for a date. He even asked a friend of ours and our checkout guy if they would be my date. He did not seem to care that our friend is married and the checkout guy has a girlfriend. Too funny.

At one point we were standing by a store employee who was giving out free brownie sundaes and he was still trying to convince me I needed a date, and he would find me one. He even asked the guy at the meat counter…he declined as it is his mother’s birthday tomorrow.

The lady said to him, “Aww, he just is worried about his Mama and wants her to be happy.”

I responded that he worried enough when I was sick, he should never have to worry about his Mama ever again.

Then he caught my eye…

A look of terror and dread and anguish flashed through his whole body. It rocked me to the core.

“Ya, I worried enough, I never want to worry like that again” was his reply as he moved closer and put his head against my arm and looked up at me.

“That’s legit buddy; I’m sorry.” I wrapped my free arm around him as we walked away, his head still leaned against me. What else was I supposed to say, what could I say? We walked like that in silence for a few minutes through the store, eventually easing back into conversation.

For a minute though, I saw it. I saw cancer in my young son’s eyes. I could see it written on his heart. He is nine years old. In a split second, I watched him age a hundred years. I watched him become a man, with a little boy’s broken heart.

Cancer will be a part of who my boys become as young men, as partners, as fathers, as leaders. I am so glad I get to guide them and raise them up!

Lord,

That fear I saw tonight…it was the first time I’ve seen it in a long time. I am so grateful that he had that moment with me, so he could be validated and comforted.
As we move further away from cancer and as I raise these young men up into Godly men; give me the patience, the strength, and the integrity to do it right.

Amen

Please Don’t Pink for Me

Before breast cancer, I hated the color pink. Honestly…hated. I grew up as a tomboy and anything even resembling femininity was a no-go for me. Jeans, t-shirts, and ball caps.

I have no idea why, but when the pink ribbons came about I thought they were stupid and useless. To me it seemed like people were making a point to make it look like they actually cared…but only in October.

Then I got sick.

In October.

Now, every year as my cancerversary comes up, I am attacked with pink ribbons EVERYWHERE on EVERYBODY. For those who have dealt with a cancer diagnosis, you may understand the anxiety laden time or the PTSD symptoms that pop up around the time of year you were diagnosed. The last thing you want to be reminded of is just how sick you were and that everybody and their dog is now (for 31 days) supporting some pink ribbon campaign somewhere.

Before cancer, pink was my oldest sons favorite color. He only has one shirt now that has any pink on it and he made it at Cancer Camp…otherwise, he stopped wearing pink three years ago. Overnight. He refused to wear his favorite sweatshirt, his favorite shirt. He was done.

I have gone the other way. My mostly black shoes have pink stitching…it has become a badge of honor for me. I have a t-shirt with a huge pink ribbon that says “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL.”

I guess for me it is about the other 11 months of the year. I wear my pink year-round because breast cancer does not just happen in October. People become more aware than they ever wanted to every day of the year. I thought I was aware.

I had no idea.

I had no idea how much I did not know.

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

In 2017, an estimated 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 63,410 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.About 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2017. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

About 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. 

For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.

Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2017, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.

As of March 2017, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.

About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older). 

http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

Did you read that?? A QUARTER OF A MILLION women will hear the words, “You have cancer” in ONE YEAR. Now think of her family. Spouse or parter, kids, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents…the list goes on and on. Millions of people have this disease just burst into their lives one day and are forever changed.

If you would like to pink in a manner that is meaningful to me, here are some suggestions with links to organizations that I support:

Pink for my cancer sisters who are stage IV which is a terminal diagnosis.

Pink for research.

Pink for my daughter who has a 50% increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Pink for my sons who endured a hell I cannot even imagine as they watched their mom get sicker and sicker.

I have both pink ribbons and pink bracelets that are available and the funds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Contact me if you are interested. I have taken a permanent marker to mine and written on my children’s names, because I pink for them.

If you want to pink for me:

Pink in April when it is my birthday and I am here to celebrate another year.

Pink in December when I get to spend another holiday celebrating with my family.

But Please; in October.

Don’t Pink For Me.

What To Say

Another warrior discovered her cancer had metastasized to her bones a few weeks ago.  Her doctor ordered a brain MRI and she received the results today that she has three lesions on her brain.

I do not even know what to say. I am sorry sounds like a death sentence. When I think of what I would want to hear, I cannot even imagine.

I think the most logical, honest, heartfelt response for me would be, “Oh Fuck, now what?”

Seriously…because for women who have breast cancer that metastasizes, it means life-long treatment. It means facing the unknown and every fear you have faced since your initial diagnosis has been realized.

One lady said she feels such peace now. She had spent years wondering if and when it would show up again; now she knows and can make a treatment plan and move forward.

I would like to think I would also feel that way; but I am not that strong. Oh, I would look that strong on the outside, of that I am sure. On the inside, and at my Mommy’s house though, I would be a mess. A puddle of mush.

And when it was time to get to work, I would get to work. Maybe I would be like that. I am glad I do not have to find out.

Being healed has brought me a peace I had before I ever heard that ugly word; Cancer. I am different though. I no longer am able to be naive about my mortality. I am no longer willing to let simple symptoms go for more than a couple of weeks.

What if I had gone to the doctor when I first felt pain in my left breast? Would that have changed my treatment plan or outcome? I never want to be that close to death ever again. So from now on, if I have a pain, a twinge, a feeling something is not right, I will get it looked at sooner rather than later.

I may be healed yet I still take medications on a daily basis. My body tried to kill me once, I will do everything in my power, to not let that happen again. As I still have one natural breast left; I am still at risk.

My risk for a new primary cancer in my right breast is pretty slim; I get that. I also get that it was pretty much a fluke of nature (if I believed in such a thing) that I had it in the first place.

So difficult to put yourself in the shoes of somebody receiving such devastating news; I am blessed that I can though. I am thankful I know her well enough to ask what now and have her know she can share the details with me, they will not scare me away and I will not tell her to eat more carrots.

To my stage IV warriors, my friends; this sucks, and I’m coming along for the ride. Hang in there and you do you.

Lord,

I pray for all the metavivors out there, those I know and the ones I don’t. I pray for their medical team to be the best, I pray that the treatment decisions are sound and successful. I ask for relief from any pain or anxiety as they live their new life.
I ask for a miracle, for radical healing as only You can do.
Lord give me strength and courage to continue to grow these friendships and not back away. To not fade.
I praise You for my healing, God. For giving my another shot at life. For allowing me to serve you with grace and wisdom.
Amen

I DID IT

Not only did I kick Dorothy to the curb with a relentless barrage of drugs, surgery, radiation, hockey, and good looks…I finished my very first inline skating marathon on Saturday.

I was not the fastest nor do I have the best technique, and there were certainly times when my body was determined I should just get over myself and quit. Thankfully I am not known for always listening to my inner voice; even when it is crying like a four year old who just had their blankie put in the washing machine.

There I was just 1091 days from hearing, “I’m not going to lie, it’s not good” as I walked out of my very first mammogram. Just 88 days after that first time Katie took me skating.  I had no idea how I was going to finish, I just knew that I would.

My official time was 2:52:30. The fastest times of the day were 1:03:xx. Those are professional skaters on the best of the best skates. Here I was, just me…and not quite two hours off the fastest pace.

Around mile marker 23 I began to have an emotional breakdown. I knew I was going to finish, I knew I was almost done, I knew I had conquered breast cancer for once and for all.

I did a few Facebook Live videos during the race…expressing the beauty of the view, the wow of the experience, and my final one before the finish…bawling my eyes out because we did it.

Then I stopped crying…I knew I did not have the energy to waste. I knew I needed to focus on finishing. Katie and I came around that last corner before the finish line, we joined hands, we skated as hard as I could, and we raised them HIGH as we crossed the finish line together.

The names of 50 women (myself included) that belong to a Facebook group who all endured chemo and beyond together donned my shirt along with the names of my sister, my grandfather, and other friends of ours. We had 66 warriors on our shirts…they raced with us; I raced for them.

Every time my body was done, my heart and my brain knew I was stronger than that.

So there I was in skates that are a size and a half too big (they were a great internet find at $10) and I finished strong. That last blast was probably my fastest of the entire day…and it was worth it!

One lesson I learned just before I was diagnosed with cancer was that my body was much stronger than my brain would have me think. I had read the book Lone Survivor  written by Marcus Luttrell about his life as a Navy SEAL and enduring Operation Red Wing which took the lives of 19 service members in 2005.

Throughout a firefight, which took the life of three of his teammates, they kept reminding each other they were “Never Out Of The Fight.”

During Mr. Luttrell’s BUD/S training, he could never understand when trainees would ring out (quit) when they were at the end of an exercise. His thought was that they were not giving themselves a chance to succeed; they were on their way to lunch…and guys were ringing out. They were not even giving themselves a chance to finish.

I wish I could quote the book, but he talks about how breaks such as meal time were an opportunity to get your feet back under you and carry on; quitting at break times was difficult for him to understand.

Little did I know that only a few months later I would be having the same conversations in my head. After the chemo sickness would begin to ravage my body, I would remind myself that all I had to do was get through the next few days and it would start to get better.

When I was counting my breaths…telling myself I was 20 (or sometimes 5) breaths closer to feeling better; I was never out of the fight. When I was too weak to pull my covers over myself when I returned from a trip to the bathroom…I was never quitting.

On the tough days of skate training, one amazingly grueling day I remember counting my strides, forcing myself to do five more after I wanted to quit. Then I was doing ten more or twenty more passed when my body was ready to be done. I remember nothing else about that workout, only that I was counting strides over and over again and each time, I did it. I completed the number I had decided on.

When Mr. Luttrell talked about the men who rang out of BUD/SEAL training, he talked to one of the instructors whom he had seen trying to get one of them to not quit yet…to keep trying. The instructor told him that once guys ring out, even if they can be convinced to try again, they inevitably do not complete the training because quitting is already an option.

Last Saturday as my legs decided they were no longer enjoying all this nonsense, I never once stopped moving my feet…sometimes slower than a toddler walks…but I was still moving forward. I refused to quit. I was never out of the fight.

 

 

Emotions

Our shirts are finished. Team Kiss My Skates is ready for business. We have matching shirts, pants, helmets, and wrist guards. The front of shirts are adorned with 66 names of people who have or have had cancer. Some are in remission or NED (No Evidence of Disease), others are dealing with recurrence, and unfortunately we have lost a few.

Seeing my own name on the shirt along with my grandpa and my baby sister is killing me. I had no idea that seeing us together on this shirt would hit me so hard. It was a pure gut-check moment for me.

There was a brief moment when our shirts almost did not get made. Katie’s was finished and there just was not going to be enough time to get mine done. I told the friend of ours who was doing the shirts that it was ok. He had already gone above and beyond for us and the time he had taken to just get hers done was already more than I could ask for.

I told him it was fine if I did not have a shirt.

After he left, Katie asked if I was really okay with not having a shirt and try as I might; I could not hide my sadness. We started to brainstorm for ways to make me a shirt.

Little did we know, our friend had gone home and printed out a new sheet of vinyl letters for my shirt; saving the day.

When I skate with those names…I cannot even describe the power, the feelings, the drive. I have pushed myself so hard physically. Although I would like to say I have never pushed myself as hard before, it would be a lie. I would like to say this is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. That would also be a lie.

While I was doing chemo, I fought this hard (and harder) every day just to get through the day. I had to will myself to breathe when I did not think I had any strength left in me. I had to will myself to move my legs so I did not develop blood clots. I had to trust God when I was not sure I would make it, that I would wake up from a nap.

That fight makes all this skating look like child’s play. It also reminds me that I can overcome any obstacles. I have already proven to myself just how strong I am.

My biggest task right now is to not expect too much of myself on race day. It is my first marathon, my first time ever on this course. I truly have no idea what I am up against. I have told myself (over and over again) that my goal is just to finish the race. Anything above and beyond that will just be icing on the cake.

I would like to work myself up to eventually skate in one of the advanced waves; just for the fun of it. That may take a couple years, but it would be so worth it. Next year I want to skate more than one marathon.

I was bitten by the inline skating bug…and I like it.

Seeing the reactions of my friends in the chemo group has been so humbling and inspiring. I am skating not only for myself, I am skating for each one of them and they are all skating with me. Just as chemo would have been unbearable without them, I could not finish this marathon without their support. When I cross that finish line with Katie, we will be crossing with 66 warriors. We are each of those warriors, they are with us.

Lord,

As I focus on bringing the glory to You, wrap all these warriors in your loving embrace as they skate with me in heart.

Amen

 

Training

In August I skated 23 times for a total of 185 miles. Not bad considering I was unable to skate for 12 days last month. Those are the days I was in Canada with my friend and then my family. Of course the first morning I was back and ready to get back to skating…it rained.

About a week ago I knew I had to do some practice on hills. There are a few hills along the marathon route although most of them go the right way (a decline) there are a few that are backwards (an incline).

I have figured out that I can pretty much skate forever on a flat surface. I also know that hills nearly kill me. One evening I told Katie I was going to go up a very small incline on a bridge beside the trail we usually skate on. When I got to the top of the bridge I decided that I was going to try a park that has a very steep hill.

And that is when it happened. Mine and Katie’s lives were changed that night.

Every time we skate now we go up and down that hill a few times. It is a crazy steep hill. Steeper than anything we will encounter on the marathon route. It is a great workout. The first couple of times, I could not make it all the way up without stopping and would have to step off into the grass and catch my breath.

I bomb the hill, reaching speeds of 20 mph then trudge back up with every ounce of muscle and energy I can find. By the time I reach the top, my heart rate is in the 150’s. I let it recover…and head back down the hill again. Four is my maximum reps at this time.

Last night, we were to meet at the trail at 6:30…but I fell asleep on the couch (being back to work and having a routine is hard). I got there late, skated just over 4 miles before heading to the hill and then did four down/ups. I think it was on rep three that I almost fell coming up the hill and had to stop. Unfortunately it was near the top so I actually had to wait for my heart rate to recover a little bit before finishing the way up.

I think the five miles before heading to the hill is going to be the secret to our success though. Those were the some of my fastest miles ever…because I couldn’t wait to get to the hill.

Unfortunately there is a bit more traffic on the trail in the evenings and I am thankful that people are very courteous when it comes to right of ways. There are two older couples who ride bike and each time we passed they cheered us on. I told Katie I want THEM at the finish line.

And I know there are spectators along the route, and at the finish line; I am selfish…I want our own cheering section. People that know how hard we have worked to make this happen, what we have accomplished in just 88 days.

To the spectators, we are just two more finishers to cheer.

In our hearts, God has brought us here and given us this opportunity. Finishing this race means we have not only beaten cancer, we have WON. We have finished with each other and the 66 warriors whose names are on our shirts, on our hearts.

Each of those men and women who are listed on our shirts has been prayed for, has fought a battle that cannot be described with words. The warriors we have lost are not only written on our shirts, they are written on our hearts.

The privilege of racing for these men and women is so amazingly humbling. I can only speak for myself (but think Katie feels the same way). Skating with these warriors on our shirts gives me strength. It reminds me not only of how far I have come but how many never got the chance.

My friend Denise did not even get a full year between being finished treatments and her cancer came back in her bones. It was then less than a year and she was gone. It does not even seem real or right that this is how it works some times.

When we reach that finish line, I cannot wait to hold Katie’s hand and let out a huge victory cry! There are tears in my eyes just THINKING about what crossing that finish line means. I have a feeling the finish line tears may turn into an all out bawl…

We are going to come around that last corner…join hands and finish strong…for God…for the people on our shirts…for our hearts. I guess I really do not need a cheering section at the finish line when I know that we truly will not be finishing alone.

Lord,

I ask for your protection as the race draws closer and the emotions become too big for us at times. Give me the strength to be vulnerable and to give myself permission to feel all the feelings as they arise. I want to be able to process this all in real-time…not look back and wonder where the time went or what happened.
As we finish our training and complete our race, may the warriors on our shirts feel the same satisfaction that we feel.
God, I know without You, none of this would even be possible and am humbled to be chosen You to complete this task. To shout from the race track to the training trail to the hills how great You are has been my honor.
Thank You for your provision and your protection. Your faithfulness is amazing.
For the families who have had to say goodbye to their cancer warriors, give them comfort. Help them feel the love around them. Remind them there is no pain, no sadness where You are and that even though our earthly trials are sometimes harder than we think we can bare; we can bare them with You.

Amen