Sonya: An angel in human form

Standard

  Have you ever had an experience where a random stranger popped into your life at the perfect time, delivered an incredible blessing, and then seemed to disappear just as quickly?

Sometimes I wonder if those people are truly angels in disguise.

This week, I found one of my angels. Here’s the story … and the back story … but you need that to understand the story. ūüôā

Last week, I spent a few unexpected days in the hospital. Cancer stinks and sometimes the treatments stink too. 

For two weeks, we’d been watching a bizarre bruise develop on my right hip for no reason at all. No injury. No fall. Nothing.

After touching base with my oncologist again Saturday morning, he said it was time to head to the hospital. By the time I checked in, the bruise measured 45×20 cm with no apparent cause.

The ER staff at OSF St. Joseph’s were the lucky people who took on my medical mystery and were outstanding.

After tests and consultations, I was admitted. I sent my husband home to check on the kids (to make sure they were eating something other than pretzels and soda), and laid there quietly resting in one of the ER rooms while arrangements were made. 

Being there brought me back to memories of one of the worst days of my life – which occurred in the same place about four and a half years ago. 

In May 2011, I had been suffering for months from severe back and hip pain. After months of physical therapy the pain had become extreme. I went to my chiropractor and begged him to do any popping or cracking that would relieve it. 

Instead, my Chiropractor sat and listened – asking me to describe in detail how the pain felt (like my hip bone was blowing up), specific locations (right hip and thigh), when it was better (never) and worse (always). 

And then he asked me when was the last time I had seen my oncologist. 

“What?!? You think this is cancer again?!?!” (At this point, I had been in remission for three years so was only seeing the doctor for occasional checkups.) He told me quickly he didn’t know what was causing the pain but wanted me to rule out cancer obviously. 

Within a week I had an MRI, something showed up as abnormal, and a week later I had a bone biopsy.

Three days after the biopsy, I was at home wrenching in pain and the powerful pain killers weren’t keeping up. We went to the ER.

Sonya, RN, took me immediately to an exam room and made me as comfortable as she could. She asked all the right questions, helped me move my body, and worked with the doctor to get me even stronger pain meds right away. She cared for me like a mom cares for a sick child. 

After checking my records and a basic exam, the ER doc came in, confirmed with me the stronger meds were controlling my pain, and then said words that filled me with dread: 

“Make sure you call your oncologist tomorrow.” 

He left the room. Sonya, my husband and kids, and I remained. With one glance, I knew my husband picked up on the comment too. I asked Kevin to take our boys for a walk around the hospital. And then I asked Sonya to have the doctor come back in.

The doctor awkwardly came in and I asked him to give me the results of the biopsy. After some discussion I told him I knew HE knew something about my biopsy and he finally said the words “metastatic breast cancer in the bones” and left the room. 

Sonya and I remained. 

Sonya immediately came over and held my hand. She gently rubbed my hair out of my face as I began to cry with tears that came from a place so deep inside me I didn’t know it existed. All I could say was, “No, God! No, God! I can’t do this again. No, God, I beg you no!!!

Sonya, a complete stranger an hour ago, held me like a child as I cried, as I wailed at God for a different diagnosis. And then she prayed for me. She held my hands and asked God to protect me and my family, to give me relief from the pain, and to guide the doctors in finding a cure. I felt her peace carry over me and was able to face my family and go home.

After I was released, I sent a note to thank her and she sent back the most compassionate note. But I was too tired that summer to stay in touch, or really do anything.

And I let Sonya, my angel, disappear from my life.

Fast forward again to last weekend (you remember, the bruise stuff).

After hanging in the ER for a while, Mother Nature does catch up with you. Soon, I was on the prowl for an unoccupied ER potty, roaming the halls in my rearview gown.

I passed several staff and made eye contact with one in a way that left me confused. Did I know her? Do I know anyone who works in this ER? Was she just helping me and I’m confused? 

As I return to my room, this same nurse appeared in my doorway and simply said, “I think we’ve met before” with a warm smile.

It was Sonya. We hugged like sisters seperated at birth. 

I won’t share all the details of last Saturday’s conversation, but Sonya remembered our first encounter as much as I did and has prayed for me since. I too have thanked God for her and shared with others what she did for me that terrible day. She saved my soul.

Sonya looked amazing – full of energy, readiness to serve, and still with a heart of gold.

And even though she appeared in human form, I can confirm she is still an Angel of Mercy for her patients.

I thank God for Sonya and all others like her who hold our hands and give us hope in the darkest of days. Blessings to you on this Thanksgiving weekend.

Confessions of a Woman with a Chronic Condition

Standard

I am plagued by a chronic condition. It impacts my friends and family more than I care to acknowledge. It’s so irritating when you see challenges you face in your personal life carry over to those you love around you. I like to keep my “baggage” inside but some issues just creep out into life and can’t be hidden.

This chronic condition is one that many people have implied I should be able to control, but yet I haven’t managed to do exactly that. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t found the right steps or options for me to make the changes needed. Or, maybe my mind and body are wired a little differently than the rest of you. Who knows.

Welcome to the world of “Adult Time Management Disorder” (ATMD).

You thought I was talking about my cancer, didn’t you?

I thought about this as I was driving last Friday to meet Leslie, who was patiently waiting to catch up over a cup of coffee. My prior meeting had run long because I just couldn’t let the person know I really needed to leave, so I emailed Leslie to say I’d be right there. I quickly tried to gather my stuff up, drove fast (but not too fast) to Starbucks, and apologized for being late upon my arrival. Truly, the¬†day-to-day frustrations I cause through my chronic tardiness probably brings me more stress than having a major health condition.

For the record, I’m not making fun of attention deficit disorder: I have a family member who struggles to manage that condition each day. But the similarities between ADD and what I have named ATMD are glaringly similar. It’s almost like I have no internal clock but yet I feel constantly rushed and am constantly thinking about my schedule ahead, just to show up late for most meetings.

It’s completely true that my cancer and the medication to treat it makes me tired. Other medications I take or foods I eat also¬†mess with my sleep as well, making the morning even more challenging. Just¬†to maintain my health I need more sleep than the average person.¬†Instead, most days I wake up late, grouchy and still exhausted.

Lack of sleep might explain why I’m not a morning person, BUT it doesn’t explain why I can’t seem to be on schedule during the day.

Back in my college days, I frequently sat in the front row in class. I wasn’t one of those “kiss up” students who was trying to con a professor; I was usually running late and had to take the only seat that was open.

I’m one of those friends that many people have teased about knowing they, too, can show up 5 to 10 minutes late … because they knew I wouldn’t be on time.

And, as an adult at work, I find that when it’s time to transition to the next meeting, I struggle to pull away from the current meeting and get to the next appointment on time. Even bosses have told me how frustrated they were with my inability to consistently be on time.

While I’m a “no excuses” person, there is an insight that’s really hit me this summer: My concern for people is part of what’s contributing to my tardiness.

I certainly care greatly about the people who are in the next meeting,¬†but I just can’t pull away from the person I’m talking to now.¬†It’s not that I don’t think the meeting I’m going to is important, it’s that I’m trying to always do “one more thing” prior to going to the next meeting. I think my self-diagnosed ATMD is due to trying again to make¬†everything perfect.

I thought my days of trying to be a perfectionist were long gone. I know I can only juggle so many things at once, and sometimes even some important balls get dropped. But, time is the most limited commodity I have, so if I can give a little more time to the person I’m talking to now, or return¬†one more call between meetings, I guess I believe the world will somehow run smoother.

Silly me.

To all of you who have waited for me to make it to a meeting, arrive for lunch, or turn in an assignment, please know you, your schedule, and your needs matter greatly to me. Self-awareness is the first step to recovery, and my heart is in the right place even if I can’t tell you for sure what time it is. I’ll do my best to keep my ATMD in check and know – after writing this – many of you will try to keep my in check as well.

I’ve become one of “those people”…

Standard

“Those people.” The words can imply so many things.

In this case, I’ve become one of those people who absolutely love my dog.

Most of you reading this are probably dog lovers. Honestly, I believe all of my closest friends are dog enthusiasts.

I’ve always loved my friends’ dog¬†stories, enjoyed playing with their sweet puppies big and small, and thought it was great that my friends were compassionate protectors of God’s creatures. But, I really thought it was slightly … um … different¬†when people referred to their dogs as “fur babies.”

Then Frodo joined our family and now I’m one of those people – dog people.

Adopting our sweet little new furry family member has been wonderful. But this joy didn’t just happen overnight and it wasn’t on my schedule.

For years, my husband and I have struggled with whether or not to have a dog join our family. Dogs take work and money to care for, and represent a commitment to love and protect throughout their little lifetimes.

Once we finally felt the time was right, additional decisions came about: Should we buy or adopt? What breed? What about allergies and costs?

Finally after years of praying, researching, and asking friends for their perspectives, we took a leap last December and adopted a sweet little cairn terrier from a rescue shelter. (If you follow my blog, you remember my post.)

We were so excited! This dog had warmed our hearts. He curled up to my husband in the adoption center. My boys were able to walk him around with no problems. He looked into my eyes and my heart melted. So, we adopted him and happily took him home ready to start a new life with our newest family member. He was there just right on our schedule of when we were ready for a dog.

But, just one day later our entire world had shifted: This dog who had shown us such warmth initially had bit my husband, terrified my youngest son, and was guarding my oldest son. In short, we were not the family for this little guy. He needed a different family and it left us devastated. The shelter had him come back and found him another family later with just two older adults.

Our family felt the pain for months. My boys had waited for forever for a dog in our family, and we never anticipated such a sad outcome for what should have been a joyful event. My oldest son was truly devastated.

My maternal need to “fix this” for my kids went into overdrive. For the next few months, I watched websites, searched weekly for specific breeds, and talked to friends everywhere about our search. Nothing seemed to work out.

At first, I thought maybe I misunderstood God’s direction for us: Maybe we were pushing too hard and we were not intended to have a dog.¬†After all, just because something is “your plan” doesn’t mean it’s “God’s plan for you.” – something that’s always been a bitter pill for me to swallow.

Then one random day this summer, my husband came home from work and said one of his good friends had a dog they had taken in for a neighbor but were unable to continue to keep. This dog named Frodo needed a home without another dog in it. And my husband knew we’d be a good match for this little dachshund.

Frodo came to stay for a test run in the summer and all went well. No issues with allergies. No biting. Just a little crazy barking when anyone comes to the front door which is easily calmed as soon as he can sniff whomever is there.

And now, I have my little fur baby as a permanent family member. I can admit it: I give him kisses on his nose. I buy him colored bandanas to represent the sports teams we cheer for so he can join in the fun on football game days. I research dog foods and check out dog parks. I’m one of those people but on God’s schedule.

Along with understanding my friends a little better, having Frodo join our family has taught me the importance of accepting that God’s timing is His alone. And, just because we want something to happen, doesn’t mean that’s always what He wants for us.

Frodo has taught me the beauty of waiting on God’s plan and being open to his action in my life.

My mask and my breakdown

Standard

As many of you know, I’m a cancer patient. Yes, I live a full, normal life … but that’s just the part of my life that you see.

My family sees weekends when I sleep more than most people, the evenings when we come home early from activities because I’m too tired, the worries, and physical pains that come from metastatic breast cancer in your lymph nodes, bones, and liver. Stage IV cancer stinks.

I am completely thankful for my life every day, but I wouldn’t describe a life with cancer as easy. I do my best to always find the positive (like being alive!) and try to leverage the confidence and determination my parents raised me to have. But, in some ways it’s like wearing a mask each day – not being dishonest about what’s going on but not letting the struggles show through.

Unfortunately, in July we learned again that the disease continues its slow, dreadful¬†spread through my body. Much like the glaciers melting at the polar icecaps, the cancer just seems to keep growing¬†inside even though you can’t tell by looking at me.

This summer’s bad news took me back to the radiation table for the fourth series of treatments in my life.¬†One of my new tumors was located in my C5 vertebrae in the neck. Having been through radiation treatments before, I knew the prep and treatment process. However, this was the first time I had a tumor in my neck and the process is slightly different for this location: During treatments, you need to be secured to the table with a hard plastic mask to ensure¬†your head and neck stay in their exact position for accurate treatment.

And, yep, everyone forgot to tell me about the mask¬†until it was time to “make my mask.”

Each patient has a mask formed exactly to their face and neck. A flat, pliable plastic sheet is soaked in warm water while the patient is positioned on the table with his/her head evenly placed between the bolt holes forming a¬†silhouette of the human body. After the mask is softened by the warm water, the mask is placed over¬†the patient’s face and neck, and stretched down around him/her¬†until the plastic bolts outlining the mask finally can be snapped into the table. Over the next 20¬†minutes, the mask slowly hardens into the exact shape of the patient’s face and neck with no room to move.FullSizeRender (9)

Now, I wouldn’t describe myself as claustrophobic; think about how often I’m in and out of scanning machines! But something happened at minute 18 of the 20 minute drying process: I started to panic.

I’m not sure if it was the sadness and overwhelming nature of having to start radiation treatments all over again – I mean, really, how many times do I have to go through this? Or, maybe as the mask hardened I truly realized I could hardly swallow due to it being so tight. But, I panicked and needed out of the mask immediately.

My heart rate raced. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was being held underwater and no one was helping me. I could only see through the small holes in the lattice of the plastic mask and felt like I was¬†suffocating. Even though the nurses holding my hand counted down to help me know how close I was to being done, I had an immediate and overwhelming need to have the mask off and now.¬†FullSizeRender (12)

“NOW!” I yelled several times while hardly able to move my mouth. I reached my hands (still free) up around my head area seeking the bolts that I heard snap into place. I grabbed¬†on to the base of the mask and the technicians¬†rushed to finish their marking on the mask as soon as possible – knowing this wouldn’t end well – while trying to calm me at the same time.

And finally, just as I was trying to rip the mask bolts out, the technicians released all the bolts quickly and got me up Рthe entire time comforting and supporting me.

I had panicked. This disease – which has tormented but not yet broken me all these 8 years since my first diagnosis – won for a brief minute. And that made me mad and embarassed at the same time.

I sat for a brief moment and cried in the arms of one of the technicians who has supported me so many time. I felt broken and weak. I felt like I had failed. My personal mask of confident optimism that I typically wear so well had slid off while that plastic radiation mask hardened on my face.

As I sit here now, I realize how that momentary breakdown was probably needed. The radiation mask was the trap that I couldn’t avoid or run from. I couldn’t hide and pretend it wasn’t happening. It was there and it was real. And, you can only wear one mask at a time.

Today, I have my mask of confident optimism back on. I feel in my heart I will still beat this disease with the love of the Lord and support of my family and friends. But, my moment of panic helped me to reflect on the importance of being there for others and loving them through their moments when their mask comes off. After all, it’s much easier to breathe when there’s nothing holding you down and loving people there to support you.

Do you have icebergs in your freezer?

Standard

What a beautiful Independence Day weekend! Perfect weather. Clear skies. Neighbors and fireworks. And no icebergs.

As we cleaned the kitchen this evening, I opened the freezer door and ice cubes fell out. Those ice cubes reminded me of my youngest son’s long-forgotten plan for this July 4th.

On a random day last February, I arrived home after a long day at work. I kicked off my shoes at the back door, took off my coat, and placed my briefcase at my desk. I then opened the freezer to get some ice for a much needed glass of water.

But there I found something that caused me to immediately freeze in my tracks. There was a twenty-inch iceberg that appeared to have been formed in nature which was residing in my freezer. 

Realizing there was no way my ice maker created this oddly shaped iceberg, I quickly reflected on my week and all the conversations I had with my family. (I have to do that often given the craziness that finds its way into our house.)

Then it hit me. Earlier that week my boys were outside throwing snowballs at each other. Tightly-packed missiles of white, cold fluff being fired at will at one another. A perfect moment in time to a teen and preteen boy.

As they came inside after their frozen¬†fun, my husband and I were laughing about the old Bill Cosby comedy routine, “Revenge.” In it, Mr. Cosby tells a story supposedly from his own childhood in which he was getting pelted with snowballs by bigger kids. So, he did what any smart kid would do: He made a bunch of snowballs, put them in his freezer, and then pelted the bullies back in the middle of summer. Priceless.

So, after a few minutes of thinking and reflection, I quickly summoned my boys. I showed them what I found in the freezer. Sure enough, the younger one was the one plotting a July 4th ambush of his older brother. 

Rather than go simple and make a few snowballs, my son went all out and chipped a twenty-by-five-by-five inch chunk of icy snow. And, he didn’t see any problem with allocating the space necessary for this iceberg in our freezer for five months until Independence Day arrived. (I guess he thought his older brother didn’t plan to ever get anything from the freezer for the next five months either.)

Unfortunately for him, I needed freezer space so his plans were brought to an unfortunate and timely end. I threw the iceberg back out into nature.

As I sit here on Independence Day weekend 2015, I can’t help but reflect on that memory and so many others I have with my family. Every day is such an adventure – ups, downs, happy, sad, free and fun. While this story is yet another reminder that we have to “be careful” of even the innocent stories we tell in front of our kids, it’s also an example of the energy and creativity that God gives our kids naturally.

Happy Independence Day and I pray our children carry this freedom forward into their lives and futures!

Summer Camp Separation Anxiety … For Mom

Standard

Ahh, summer camp. Canoeing. Archery. Campfires. Hiking.

Anxiety.

For most families, it’s the kids who have anxiety when they take off for camp. But in this family it’s me, the mom, who is having anxiety about the kids going to camp this summer.

Last weekend, we drove 10 hours to take my oldest son to a wonderful camp in northern Minnesota. He’ll be up there for 30 days.

Yes, 30 days.

More than 4 weeks. 720 hours. In “mom terms,” FOREVER.

The drive to camp felt like a scene from the movie The Green Mile (only without the terminal ending). I felt like we were driving to the end of the earth and abandoning our child. I’ve dreaded this drive every day since March when we paid the deposit. But, the program sounds perfect for an intelligent yet disorganized soon-to-be high school Freshman, so there are times as a mom that you know you have to consider what is in your child’s best interest, not your wants or needs.

On the way up to Minnesota, we stayed overnight in the Twin Cities. Before bed, we all watched the new Weather Channel program called “Fat Guys in the Woods.” As you can imagine in a family with 3 men, the rest of my family was glued to the TV and hanging on every “what-bug-will-they-eat-next” moment.

I, on the other hand, found myself watching this and imagining my child being abandoned in the middle of the desert with two large men, all trying to collect water off their rain tent and cooking cactus and spiders for meals. Not the image I needed in my mind prior to releasing my son to the care of a summer camp program.

I still walk in his messy room each day and expect him to pop around the corner and ask me “WHAT are you doing in my room?” at any minute.

But instead his room is quiet. Nothing moves from day to day.  

I managed to keep it together during the time we dropped him off. We saw his cabin, met his counselors, and made sure to give him lots of love as we headed out, prepared for another 10-hour drive back home yet that night. I kissed and hugged him and told him I’d write all the time. But the look on his face broke my heart. I’m sure he’s fine, but that doesn’t make this situation any easier.

I feel so helpless. He is so far away and I can’t see him, protect him, or care for him. I hate it.

The whole 10-hour car ride back I continued to reflect on how much I am truly not in control of my life or the lives of my family. One of the worst moments of my life was when my oldest son was three weeks old and wasn’t gaining weight or keeping down food. We had just given birth to him, our first baby, but yet couldn’t understand how to help him eat and provide his most basic support. I remember driving to the doctor’s office during that time and realizing that God was the only one in control of my child’s life, and that was a bitter pill to swallow for this control freak who tries to do everything right for her family.

My camp anxiety is another reminder of how God is in control and we have to trust him, even when it’s really, really not what we want to do.

I guess I didn’t learn that lesson well enough when my son was 3 weeks old, because I’m remembering it very well again right now.

I thank God for standing beside me and my son. I know He is preparing both of us for future though this camp visit. 

Why I plan to start wearing fur

Standard

(I apologize in advance: This post may offend some of you. Please accept it as the venting that it truly is.)

I’m sitting here on a beautiful summer night. 78 degrees. Light breeze. Occasional clouds. The kind of evening you hear described in Rock & Roll ballads. Just perfect.

I look around my backyard and see the herbs and few garden plants we’ve already planted this season. I casually stroll by the tomato plants and blueberry bushes, the later of which is a new addition to our gardening plan this year.

Umm … Why are all the leaves and buds missing from my blueberry plant?

My husband didn’t mow it. The kids know I’d kick their buns if they did that. So, there can be only one culprit … Those damn rabbits. (Yes, I swore … Damn rabbits…)

When I was a kid, my grandfather occasionally took a shotgun to the rabbits that infiltrated his garden on his farm. I’d beg him not to hurt the animals – after all, rabbits were so cute and he raised animals as a farmer. How could a man who was so gentle and loving and in touch with animals be so barbaric?!?

My grandpa very clearly told me rabbits are the bane of a farmer’s existence – along with ground squirrels and other burrowing, destructive creatures. He went on to describe the eternal struggle between man’s existence and the critters that try to make his food “theirs.” And, he told me cute animals can be deceiving.

So, now as an adult I see what these cute destroyers have done in my own garden and I’m not happy.

Rather than terminating the little buggers, I think I may try an alternate technique: Wearing fur.

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the parrot that refused to be quiet. His owner begged and begged him to stop talking, but he just kept going. The owner, having had enough, finally put the parrot in his freezer for a sound-proof timeout.

Five minutes later, the owner took the parrot out. The parrot was absolutely quiet. 

The parrot then looked at his owner and said, “Sir, may I ask just one question?” to which the owner said yes. 

“May I ask what the chicken did to upset you?”

So, back to my saga … Maybe if I wear fur in the backyard, I can discourage the rabbits from attacking my plants. I’m willing to try anything (including a rabbit fence).

Have a great critter-free weekend!