Thursday, November 28, 2013

On this, The Most Thankful of Thursdays

Today, on Thanksgiving Day, I'm even more grateful than usual.

When I woke up this morning, I stayed in bed for quite a while thinking about today, about the food, the drinks, the family, the inevitable stomachache, and came up with a long list of things I'm grateful for. Here are a few of the things that are on my gratitude list for today.

* I am grateful that I woke up to a bright sunny day
* I'm grateful for my ridiculously comfortable bed
* for another year, another Thanksgiving Day
* for how far I have come from last year to this year
* for health, hair, happiness, and hugs (and the letter "h")
* I'm grateful for all 26 letters, all the pens, all the keyboards, and the words that give me the means by which I can express my profound thanks for the blessings of my life

* I'm grateful for turkey farmers
* the fact that I don't have to catch it and pluck it myself
* the farmers who raised the cranberries, the corn, the wheat, the carrots, and the broccoli
* the men and women who harvested it all
* the engineers and  machinists who created and installed the sorting machines
* the processing plants that sort and package it all

* the stock people at Trader Joe's and Harris Teeter
* the produce sorters
* the cashiers
* the bag packers
* the men and women who devised the recipes

* the factories that made the pots and pans, the silverware and plates
* the oven manufacturers
* for the kind and patient gentlemen who came and installed our oven and stove, refrigerator and dishwasher
* the folks who picked the canola plants and then created the oil
* salt harvesters and pepper growers

* the truckdrivers who bring it all to the supermarkets
* construction workers that build the highways that the delivery trucks ride on
* the highways and streets themselves
* gas stations where delivery trucks and people like me get the gas that bring food and consumers together
* for the bank where my husband works and where I gain access to the funds that pay for the thanksgiving feast and everything else we have

* I'm grateful for facebook and all the status updates related to gratitude
* for emails that wish me a happy day of giving and living thanks
* for photos of cooked turkeys, liquor cabinets, double ovens, and snowy mornings in the mountains
* for the many friends whose names and faces appear on my many electronic screens and also in my heart and mind
* for the internet and all the thanksgiving recipes I've downloaded and used

* I'm grateful for professional and college football games
* for the Modern Family marathon on today
* for Directv

* I'm grateful for the digestive enzymes and vitamins I took in anticipation of the huge meal
* for the anti-oxidant green tea that will fortify my system
* for water with lemon
* whole grain toast and eggs for breakfast

* I'm grateful for family members who drive many long hours to visit
* for family members who send texts and letters and love
* for friends who are more like family than my actual family
* for family members who check in with me regularly, even though I am not nearly as faithful to them

I'm grateful to be able to be grateful.
I'm grateful to be alive and oh so well.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I want this bumper sticker...


This sweet little fella

grew up to be this sleepy little guy
(yes, he is sound asleep on his feet in our bedroom)

and kept on growing until he became this big guy 
who is the best student in our one room, one student schoolhouse.
He is also the captain of the varsity tennis team.

Somehow I think a certain older sister 
might want to express her opinion 
on the matter of homeschooling excellence.
But she's all grown up now, 
no longer a student at our Silvermine Academy 
(hence the url for this blog...)
moving out of the nest in less than two months, 
heading off to sleepaway camp,
I mean college.
She will be a junior in college up in the mountains of North Carolina.
My baby girl is moving on up...
It doesn't seem possible that she is gonna to complete her 
associate's degree program in less than a month.
Where have the years gone?

I am a grateful Momma tonight. Two children I adore. 
Two children who seem to like me too.
What more could I ask for?
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

To God be the Glory??? Part 2

So today was gonna be the second installment in this week's three or four part installment about thanksgiving and gratitude. Being at the end of the kanswer journey. Getting the port taken out of my chest. A celebratory dinner out with friends tonight. Rah, rah!!!

Then the surgeon's office called a little while ago and said they needed to reschedule this afternoon's appointment. I will have to keep this port in my chest for twelve more days!!! What? Why?

Oh well. This is my story. This is my life. This is my chest. This is my port.
Twelve more days to remember these twelve months.

Here are some photos of what happened on Monday afternoon, the day of my final treatment.
One of the many awesome nurses there, Brenda, checking me in 
and asking me all the pertinent pre-treatment questions.

The final time, the final accessing.
Yes, they do draw blood out of it before they put the medicine into it. 

 My kind, patient, serious, and cute oncologist.
He tried to shake my hand at the end of our appointment,
but I told him that I had to hug him because he had saved my life.
He laughed - and then accepted my hug.

I took a bunch of helium balloons and this certificate to the nurses at the office.
They were truly outstanding women, each of them and all of them. 

The final pouch of poison - here's to the death of all kanswer cells -
not only in my body, but in all bodies everywhere.
I will say it again: KANSWER SUCKS!!! 

I asked one of the people in the office to take a photo of me at the end of the treatment.
She said, "I've never had anyone ask me to do this before
or seem so happy to be in the treatment chair."
I told her it was my last time and that's why I was so happy.

But the truth is that my happiness extends beyond my relationship to kanswer and its final treatment. My happiness extends beyond and beneath the love of family and friends. My happiness goes to the core of who I am, the woman I am, the wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin I am. 

My happiness, my joy, my peace bubble up and out of the love I have in, from, and for God. 
My Sweet Momma Jesus has walked with me through the darkest valleys of my life and atop the highest mounts of transfiguration and transformation. 
The Gentle and Holiest Spirit guides me and strengthens me, teaches and encourages me to stand strong in the trials and dance strong in the victories. 
I can smile and celebrate even with a chemo port in my chest because who I am and how deeply I am loved are not dependent on the health of my body, the length of my hair, the money in my bank account, or the stability of my relationships. 
My joy, my peace, my hope is Christ, is in Christ, and is because of Christ. 
To God be the glory??? Yes, indeed. To God be the glory, praise, and thanksgiving.

I guess the end of this mini-series of posts will be postponed until the afternoon of Monday, December 2nd. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

To God be the Glory - Part One (part 1,001)

On weekend mornings, my iphone plays the song, "Grateful," as the alarm.
On weekday mornings, it plays "To God be the Glory."
I have decided that they are the theme songs for my life.

When the song began this morning, I lifted my hands in praise and gratitude.
"Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear God's voice.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice.
Oh come to the father thru Jesus the son,
And give God the glory, great things God has done."

There are so many things I am grateful to God for these days.

Five years ago today, my daughter was in the hospital. It was the third day of a 17 day stay at the end of which she would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Three weeks after that initial release, she returned to the hospital for fourteen more days. That year, she spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve in the hospital. Ours was a sad holiday season back in 2008.

A little more than four years ago, she had a manic episode that almost landed her back in the hospital. I remember holding her by her shoulders and even wrestling her to the floor at one point and screaming at her: "I am not taking you back to the hospital. You are not going back there. So snap out of this." My words were not enough to snap her out of that terrible moment, but medication, prayer, and several visits to the very best psychiatrist in the world were.

Less than half an hour ago, she backed out of our driveway on her way to classes in her final semester at the local community college. She is waiting to hear the outcome of her recent early decision application to Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. She has not had a manic or depressive episode in four years.

The senior pastor of our church has been one of Kristiana's biggest supporters on this recent phase of this journey. He has already contacted pastors in that area and knows someone at Warren Wilson who may be able to advocate on her behalf. To God be the Glory!

One year ago today, I had the port put into my chest in anticipation of chemotherapy and a year of herceptin treatments. My mother and I ran into one of the pastors of her church while we were in the waiting room that morning. He prayed with us and wished me well on my kanswer journey. This past Saturday while waiting for a friend to meet me at Starbucks, I saw that same pastor. I don't think he saw me - or if he did, he didn't seem to recognize me. I thought it was great timing to see him again at the end of this journey. What a year this has been!

Today, I will have my final herceptin treatment!!! My faithful friend and companion, Gibbs, was with me for that first chemo treatment last November and will be with me today for the last accessing of this port. (I cannot express how much I love you, Gibbs, and appreciate your steady, patient, humorous, generous presence this year.) To God be the Glory!

There's a part of me that feels sentimental, repetitive and hopelessly stuck in this kanswer cycle as I write about it so often. But this is my story. This is my song. This is my life's story. I have learned more about myself, about my body, about the side effects of medication, about baldness, about hot flashes, about menopause, about nutrition, about vitamins and supplements, about life, about gratitude, about joy, about family and friends, about solitude and silence, and about faith in the past year than in the previous 46 years of my life combined. And if I'm gonna be faithful in telling my story, then this is what I'm gonna tell, this is what I'm gonna write about. I'm gonna laugh and cry and repeat myself and fill journal pages - and overflow with gratitude.

I went out for a walk this morning, singing, smiling, marveling at the trees, the children on their way to school, neighbors heading off to work, the dogs barking, the birds singing, the squirrels crossing the road, and giving a stready stream of thanks to God that I am still alive, that I have the energy to walk 2+ miles on yet another gorgeous morning in Charlotte, and that I am soon to be a former kanswer patient. To God be the glory indeed!

All of this gratitude is tempered by the sadness, the sorrow, the horror of the destructive tornadoes that landed in the midwest this past weekend and the typhoon in the Philippines two weeks ago. I have sent a limited amount of money to help provide relief and will send up unlimited prayers for restoration. A friend from Connecticut has had a recurrence of kanswer - lung kanswer - and is reeling from the seriousness of her situation. Two dear friends continue to search of work after being unemployed for far too long. Long term, chronic illness. Depression. Addiction. There is is much suffering. May God have mercy. And may we all find reasons to be grateful, even in the midst of all that we suffer.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dedicated to Gibbs and the rest of the team in NYC

Here's an awesome video I discovered tonight.
I hope you get to see it before you head home tomorrow.

Traveling mercies to you all. I love you, girl. More than you know.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thankful Thursday

This week, my heart has been bursting with joy and gratitude.

I am participating in an online experience of 45 Days of Joy with Jen Lemen. That woman can write! She inspires me in ways she simply cannot imagine. Check her out here. She used to have one of my favorite blogs on all of the internet, but now she's focusing on other endeavors. Her 45 days of writing about joy have ignited my joyful heart and given me new appreciation for joy and ways to welcome joy into my life.

I am also doing more writing of late. I get up and sit at my computer for 15 minutes each morning. Remembering details from my childhood. Recounting this past year of my kanswer journey. Laughing and crying my way through the vault of my memories. I am grateful for all that I remember and so happy to be able to draw on those memories and use them in my writing.

I love this quote by Anne Lamott on writing: "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better."

Yesterday I found a fabulous suede jacket at the Salvation Army Store. Wednesdays are half-price days there, so this black, slim-fit Liz Claiborne jacket cost me $5. In exchange for adding anything to my wardrobe, I have decided to get rid of two things I already have. It's a roundabout way of decluttering... at least that's what I tell myself whenever I find a gem and want to justify buying something new.

I am grateful for the many shelves of journals here in my study. Every now and then, I pull one out and read it. And every time I do that, I am reminded yet again of how blessed I have been in my lifetime. It's not that the things I read there are always good because my journals are not only filled with praise and thanksgiving. It's not that I was always happy about my situation when I wrote in my journals. I'm just glad to read what I was going through then and recognize how far I have come to arrive safely at this moment.

I am grateful for -

* the colors of autumn in my neighborhood
* Pinterest
* Art Journaling magazine
* Almonds and cashews
* scarves and sweaters on cold mornings
* Organic milk
* Yogi honey lavender stress relief tea
* postcards
* text messages
* new friends
* old friends
* Moleskine sketchbook journals
* quinoa and beans in the crock pot
* Gala apples
* the television show, Modern Family
* Stephen Colbert
* Anne Lamott's feisty spirit and delicious writing
* rice crackers
* the sewing machine repairman who is giving my tired, old sewing machine an overhaul
* lined curtains
* a toasted rosemary olive oil bagel with butter and an egg

* having the good sense to never eat tie-dye cake
* toothpaste and floss
* the fact that gas prices are coming down
* laughter and tea with my son every morning while we homeschool
* dreams in which my father and other friends from long ago and far away show up
* the upcoming Santa Pause sketch series with Kristin Noelle. I signed up for them last year and loved every single one of them.

* my son's request at the barber - a kanswer ribbon. He got one just after my diagnosis and decided to get another one on the one year anniversary of the diagnosis
* the fact that the barber didn't charge anything extra to do it
* honesty and integrity
* how well the scars on my chest are healing
* the fact that I have survived the first year since my diagnosis
* freedom in Christ, in my family, and in my own skin
* the December-Christmas journal I am creating for this year
* the ways in which my word for the year, "strength," has been an anchor for me
* lunch and dinner plans with friends tomorrow
* listening to my son sing hymns along with the online Life Management class he's taking
* how my daughter has taken charge of her education and the way she is handling the complicated process of applying to colleges upon finishing her associate's degree this semester

* Most of all, I am grateful that next Monday will be my last herceptin treatment at the oncology office. That will be the last time they have to access the port in my chest. And next Wednesday, the port will be removed. I am beyond excited about having this thing extracted from my body. At the same time, I am deeply grieved by the fact that I ever needed this f*cking thing!

As I discussed this with a wise friend of mine earlier this week, she said, "You must be feeling a lot of things about that." Well said. I am feeling so very much so very deeply: gratitude and anticipation, sadness and anger, hope and peace, fear that kanswer might come back some day and determination to do the very best I can to eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and live all the time I have left as well as possible.

Several people have asked me how I'm going to celebrate this huge milestone. Will I have a special dinner? Drink wine? Dance? I will probably do all of the above. I will also thank my doctor and the nurses for caring for me so compassionately during this past year. I will move forward into the rest of my life with joy, gratitude and contentment. I will honor every day with all the grace I can muster. I will love my family and friends and strangers alike from today until my last day. And I will sit in silence for a long time and let the tears flow - as they are flowing right now.

If you have any ideas of how I can honor this upcoming rite of healing and passage, feel free to pass them along.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Today I am sooooooooo thankful and exciting that her video has gone viral. Someone told me that they saw the video on The Today Show. I saw a link to it on The Huffington Post. My husband said he thinks she will be on the Ellen show soon - won't it be great to see them dancing together? I am so thankful that she is showing the world that kanswer and a double mastectomy are not a death sentence. They don't have to steal our joy and our desire to dance. We don't have to enter the operating room or the boardroom or the classroom or the bedroom or any room in a state of terror and shame. I hope to meet her someday and, more than that, I hope to dance with her someday.

I am grateful for this moment. This breath. This day. Right here. Right now.

I am grateful that I kept returning to "this moment" when I was in Spain. Four weeks ago today, I left for that trip - four weeks already!!!

I remember arriving at the airport, getting through security, and sitting down in one of the many rocking chairs at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I pulled out my phone and called my dear friend, Lisa. She told me: "Turn off your brain and feed your soul." That became one of my mantras on the journey.

Whenever I felt myself float forward into the future with fear or worry, I pulled my thoughts back to "this moment." And very often, I would pull out my camera and take a photo of "this moment."

Here are a few of those moments.
On the airplane, flying from Charlotte to Miami.
"I am happy. I am healthy.
I am on my way. I am right here."

 Following Alvaro from his school to a koi and turtle pond.
"I am here, in Madrid, with Eduardo, Alvaro, and Jaime."

 The next day, at Harina, a lovely little restaurant, with Leticia,
Alvaro and Jaime's mom, my dear friend, I remembered: "be here, Gail."
She was looking at baked goods in the display case.
I was looking at the table and the folks around us.
"I am here. I am so very grateful."

Later that same day, Leticia and I stopped for tea at 
a luxurious and beautiful hotel in Madrid.
"I am here, sipping this tea, with my friend."

In the car with Jorge, Elena, and Irene, after dinner near La Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
A blurry photo, a crystal clear memory of deep contentment.
"I am back in Madrid, with friends, a full tummy, and an overflowing heart."

On the train between Madrid and Valladolid.
With my backpack on my back, proud of how lightly I travel.
Amazed at how large and bright the train bathroom was.
"I am here, on the train, so happy to be on my way to see Antonio."

In Valladolid later that same day, out for a solo walk. 
Two nuns walked past.
"I am here, waiting to meet up with my dear friend for an afternoon adventure."

The following morning, I discovered a cafe that became my breakfast place
for all three mornings I was in Valladolid.
Toast with olive oil and tomato sauce, tea of exotic fruits,
and my pocket-sized Moleskine journal.
"I am here, hungry, and happy beyond description."

Walking in the Cañon de Rio Lobos.
Such beauty, such majesty, such peace, such quietness - 
except where the men were cutting down diseased trees.
"I am here, with Toño, walking, talking,
and I cannot stop smiling."

Behind a church that was more than 750 years old.
Perhaps even 1,000 years old.
"I am here, we are here, God is here."

In the car in Castilla y Leon, the central plains of Spain.
Although they say that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain,
it didn't rain at all while I was there.
The sun shone. The clouds rolled through. And the windmills spun.
"I am here, in the car, listening to the jokes, the stories,
and the deep wisdom of my beloved soul-friend."

Thanks be to God.
My soul was fed on this trip in ways I could never have anticipated.
Thank you, Lisa, for planting that phrase in my head,
in my heart,
and most importantly, in my soul.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

One Year Ago Today

I heard the horrible, life-altering, unexpected news: kanswer. What??? Me??? Suddenly I was pulled out of my regular homeschooling, homemaking life and tossed into the midst of a whirlwind of fear, worry, more fear, determination, hope, doubt, tenderness, encouragement, terror, and also an outpouring of love that blew my mind.

I was so confident that they would say I didn't have kanswer that I had a text message pre-written on my phone. I had already entered a long list of names of recipients of that text and was ready to push the send button as soon as we heard the good news. After the doctor read us the results, I tearfully deleted that original message and had to write a completely different text. My son was in the room with us and he burst into tears right along with me. My husband left the room to call my daughter and give her the news. She later reported that after he said, "We didn't get the news we hoped to hear," she didn't remember anything else he said. I felt a similar sensation: once the doctor said, "We found kanswer," the rest of the conversation sounded more like Korean than English. I felt the planet of my life shift on its axis. It felt like the whole world started to rotate in the opposite direction around the sun.

All day today, I've been thinking about the past year. How hard it has been. How empowering it has been. Surprising. Beautiful. Poetic. Love-filled. Tear-drenched. Laughter-inducing. Painful. Stark. Faith-deepening. I have reread the journal I began one year ago today. The journal of that first month post-diagnosis is full of questions, research, sketches, poetry, quotes, emails, notes on scans, tests, and appointments - and a lot of asking myself, my husband, and my God, "what the fuck?" A lot of that.

All day today, I've been thinking about ways to write this story. To share this story. Should I write more blog posts about kanswer? Should I write a book? Should I write articles? Should I stop talking and writing about it all together and just get on with living my life? Should I do all of this? Should I have so many "shoulds" about this chapter of my life?

As this day comes to an end, I don't have any answers to those questions. I want to write a book, but am not exactly sure how to go about it. I want to write more blogs about it, but I am also feeling a need to begin to tell different stories, new stories, deeper stories. I want to move on to new topics and stories, but every time I look in the mirror, I see this short-haired, flat-chested, post-kanswer story staring back at me. And every day I am increasingly aware that there is more to uncover and discover about this year and this kanswer journey.

One thing I know for sure is this: I am soooooooo glad to be alive, to be healthy, to be free, to be able to look back at this year and see all the ways in which courage won. Joy won. Peace won. Life won. Love won.

I remember this woman, grieving and laughing a few days after the diagnosis,
- with all of her hair and both of her breasts.
I still don't know who put that balloon on our mailbox,
but it was the first of many ways in which love has shown up
in my life during the past year.

One year ago today I wasn't sure I would make it to today.
Thankfully, joyfully, hope-fully, here I am. 
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

PS. Check out this video of a woman in the OR before her double mastectomy. This took place earlier today. Wow!!!
Thanks, Launa, for the link. Thanks also for your friendship and love.