"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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Turning 60

When asked my age, I'll admit it. To shave off years would change my life entirely. For which years would I eliminate?

The year as a child with rheumatic fever when I spent three months lying in bed only to recover and suffer the torment of my classmates for wearing ugly, orthopedic shoes?

That was the year I learned who my real friends were, beauty is only skin deep, and I could rely on my sense of humor when life gets hard.

Or how about the year as an adolescent when I was fat and awkward and felt I would never fit in with the rest of the crowd? That was the year I tried out for the school play--just to “show them”--and got the lead part.

Would it be my year as a teen watching a friend die from leukemia? That was the year I thought about eternal things and gave my life to the One who created me.

Perhaps the year I first fell in love?

How about the year I was divorced and felt that I had nothing left to live for? That was the year I leaned on my parents and friends for support--a year of new beginnings.

Or maybe the year I met my husband and learned to laugh again?

Perhaps the year a little bundle of life named Ariel made me a mother and I became anchored to life in a way I never had before?

Could it be the year we filed bankruptcy, sold our home to satisfy our business debts, and I felt like throwing myself off a cliff? That was the year I learned I could survive one of my worst nightmares.

Maybe the year we discovered our infertility and we were left to deal with the death of a dream? That was the year I learned even when life doesn't go my way, I can still choose to have faith.

Perhaps the year our family was baptized and we embarked together on the path of the ancient Christian faith? That was the year I knew God was not finished with me yet.

What about the year I was diagnosed with cancer and suffered the indignities of surgeries, chemo, radiation, and baldness? That was the year I learned how precious my life was and how much every friend and loved one meant to me.

Would it be the year I became a grandma and discovered a new kind of love that took my breath away?

Maybe the year that Mom got dementia and I became less her child and more her parent? That was the year of crushing sadness and learning to find joy in simply being together and holding her hand.

Or the year my second precious grandchild was born and my heart expanded even more--more than I ever knew it could?

Which years would I eliminate?

No . . . I think I'll admit each one of my 60 years. For added up, they've made me who I am today.





This is love

This last month has been difficult, as I watch my parents, both 88, contend with the ravages of time. I have long known how immensely blessed I am to still have both of them around. I've tried to prepare myself for the inevitability of losing them, but the thought of not having them here on this earth makes me want to run and hide.

I guess it's because, no matter how old you are, your parents are your touchstone. Especially when I was going through breast cancer treatment six years ago, my mom was the first person I wanted to call whenever I had a test or something scary was happening.

I remember one particular test that I had to do about three years out from the diagnosis. After all of the radiation, surgeries, and chemo I had received, there was a possibility that the cancer had returned to my bones, so I was being checked out for that.

After the test, I showed up on my parents' doorstep to give them the good news, and rang the doorbell. Mom (who is half-blind now), opened the door, recognized me standing there, and pulled me to herself, exclaiming, “Oh, I've been so worried about you! How did your test go?”

I can't get that moment out of my head because I immediately felt more loved and cared about than ever. I knew that, if everyone else in the world failed me, my mom would always love and care for me. It was feeling of comfort that I never want to lose.

Now Mom is having some difficulties and things are scary for her and dad. They are tending to each others' needs as best they can, but they need more help now. The other night, I watched as my dad patiently took my mom's blood sugar, prepared her insulin injection, put drops in her eyes, then the eye ointment, and placed food and drink in front of her.

I thought to myself, “This is love.”

How could they have anticipated, back when they met at 20 years of age, where their love would take them?

Two children, three grandchildren, five great grandchildren and 68 years of marriage later, here they are.

My dad, who has always been the quiet type, decided to write his memoirs a decade ago. His strong suit has never been writing or grammar, but he instinctively knew that he wanted to leave something behind. It may have been because his friends were all dying off. So, he wrote. Every. Day.

He wrote about his life in installments, starting with his childhood, entering the service during WWII, meeting my mom, and on to his career choice and having a family. It was incredible to read about things I had no idea about, especially how he felt about them. I don't know if he knows what a gift he has given us.

I have been thinking a lot about my parents lately and how their love for one another has taken on new meaning, so I decided to go back and read a little from my dad's memoirs.

Here's an entry he wrote, dated April 4, 2004:

“I need to kind of reminisce some things to remember down the road. First of all, tomorrow is Ginny's birthday and she will be the same age as me. I am so glad and happy that we are both still hanging around and taking care of each other in small ways that are extremely important for living together and maybe surviving on this earth.

I know I have not said too much about Ginny, but sure need to remind myself how really important she is and brag about her, too.

I am sure glad that I was adult enough in 1946 (age 20!) to choose this gal for my life and happiness through years and years of companionship. Small things we probably don't think about: fixing meals, reminding and sorting out medicines for my health, etc.

Hey, there are so many things in my life--raising kids and family was no small item, either. I just pray she will be around always and to help keep my life sorted out.

Along with medical problems, she is a wiz at taking care of our financial responsibilities and wow, what would I do without that? She is tops in all and has been always through our lives.

Can you say I am lucky or not. WOW. Thank you, Lord, for her in my life.”

This is not to say that they have not had their share of difficulties in life. Who doesn't?

But the thing is, they chose—over and over again—to stay put with one another. And now, in their twilight years, they have one another still. It's really an incredible thing to witness.

You see, Dad can't hear much at all anymore. Probably has to do with all the years he spent providing for his family by working in the boiler room of an oil refinery. So, he wears hearing aids and we still have to yell at him.

And Mom can't see much at all anymore. Even with diabetes and macular degeneration, she's actually done pretty well. She just told me the other day, “I still think your dad has a cute butt.” Say what?!

They don't go out much anymore at all. But on the sporadic occasion we can get them to eat out, he reads the menu to her and she places the order with the waitress.

They perfectly exemplify the classic words of one of my favorite movie heroes, Rocky Balboa, when asked why he is attracted to Adrien:

“She's got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

Yup, together, they fill gaps. The thing is, they would have missed out on so much if, at any point along the way, they would have thrown in the towel on each other.

I think there's a lesson to be learned there for those of us who are younger. We don't know where life is going to take us. When we're in our 20s or 30s or 40s or even 50s, we don't know what changes we'll endure or how our love will change. The one guarantee we have is that, if we stay together long enough, it will indeed change.

Rather than thinking of that as a scary or depressing proposition, it brings me comfort. It means that, if you stay the course,  your love will distill down to its very essence: learning how to unconditionally love another human being. I think that's the greatest achievement any of us can hope to accomplish while on this earth.

Thank you,  Mom and Dad, for setting the bar high and showing how it's done.


Growth lies at the edge of fear

[If you're thinking that this blog entry is just a bunch of rambling thoughts running into each other, you're right. I wrote it over a few different sittings and just decided to put it out there. I didn't really want to agonize over making it "poetic" or particularly articulate, just honest.]

I didn't expect to do another blog update until . . . who knows when. The best word to describe how I've been feeling over the last few months is "overwhelmed." If someone just looked at my life, my job duties and schedule, etc., they might think, "Why should you be overwhelmed?"

I often ask myself the same thing. After my follow-up exam at Swedish Hospital last week, I think I understand a little more. Another person may deal with the same circumstances and come away doing much better than me. Alas, it's just me, myself, and I on this journey, so whoever that superior person is, it ain't me.

I think I understand more about why I feel overwhelmed because I have a more realistic view of my life today than I did a week ago. I've had pretty aggressive treatment for cancer and, even though initially, it wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated, the adverse effects have been a little more slow and insidious. I had a bone scan three days ago at Seattle Nuclear Medicine and got the results within an hour. My oncologist showed me the graphs that showed my bone density going down, down, down. I've lost 12% bone density over the last two years, due to the hormonal treatment I've been given to prevent a breast cancer recurrence.

In my gut, I didn't expect the bone scan to be good. I knew that something was different--wrong, you might say, with my bones. I can barely squat down now because my knees hurt so bad. If I sit too long or go for a ride in the car, I can barely get out of the car without my hips, knees, ankles, and feet aching like an 80-year old. Some have told me that this is normal aging. Well, no, it isn't. It happened too fast. It's a major risk factor/side effect of taking Arimidex.

Arimidex has been shown to have statistically significant success in preventing the return of breast cancer. I didn't want to take it, but, after doing the research and reading the reports, I decided that it could possibly prolong my life. I wanted to be around to see my grandchildren and to be a part of their lives.

I had a decision to make last week: keep taking the Arimidex and most probably get osteoporosis down the road, or stop the medication and hope that I can get some bone density back. Oh, and have less protection against the return of breast cancer. With cancer, there's always a trade-off. No one really knows the outcome of any decision, obviously. It's basically all a crap shoot. The doctors don't really know, either, they're just doing their best to hedge their bets, using statistics as their guide.

I told my oncologist that I think I need to get off the medication. I've "put in my time," as the regimen is usually for five years post-treatment. I've hit the five-year mark. I was surprised that she didn't offer more of an opinion; she basically let me call the shot.

Some doctors keep their patients on the meds longer because, as I said, no one really knows. You hit a tipping point where the risk factors of the meds equal or overtake the risk of the cancer coming back. Finding that tipping point is the tricky part. So, when I said that I didn't want to lose more bone density, she said, "Well, that IS rather severe," followed by, "There is such a thing as enough treatment." As of today, I have received all of the treatment that Western medicine has to throw at breast cancer.

My husband expressed concern that coming off the medication would affect me psychologically--and he's right. Removing the last layer of security is always tricky. I went through the same thing when I finished chemo and radiation. "Dancing in limbo" is what they call it. You're thrilled to be done . . . but feel like you've been abandoned to the great wasteland of cancer survivors, wandering the barren plains, moving forward, all while watching one go down over there and then another over there and hoping against hope that you're not next. Sorry if that's too melodramatic, but it's how I envision it. I've said before that the psychological challenges of cancer are as significant as the physical challenges.

I think that I've been experiencing some kind of post-traumatic stress. (These days, I know how everything has to be diagnosed as some kind of syndrome. Someone said that, in the old days, kids with ADHD were just called brats.) But, getting back to my point, I think I have a lot of the symptoms of  post-traumatic stress. There are pros and cons to having it, actually.

One of the coping mechanisms I've developed by going through cancer is detachment. It's not a well thought-out coping mechanism; it just happens as a result of going through something scary and life-threatening. In my spiritual tradition (Orthodoxy), a certain kind of detachment from this world is encouraged. It helps us see our true spiritual condition and that the world is going to pass away, placing more importance on the kingdom of heaven within us.

So, in that respect, I definitely feel more detached. I used to get so excited over things like decorating for my home, going on vacation, going to parties, wearing nice clothes, etc. I can honestly say that those things just don't do it for me anymore. They seem so shallow and kind of ridiculous now. But I admit that I miss being able to get excited over temporal things . . . it seems there's a certain kind of happiness with small things that I just don't possess anymore; it's as if nothing seems worth the effort if it doesn't have eternal significance.

On the flip side, one of the good things about detachment is that I am not as afraid as I used to be. You might even say that I feel more empowered. Honestly, on the way to every photo shoot, I'm anxious and even a little depressed (I figured out that it's because I'm scared). "What if something goes wrong?" "What if they don't like their photos?" "What if I just come across as an idiot?" Yadda, yadda, yadda.

See, in the old days (before cancer), I never would have attempted to be a photographer because I would have been too afraid of all of the "What ifs?" No more. Now, I just forge ahead. I understand now that courage is being afraid and moving forward anyway. It doesn't mean that you're not afraid.

And, after moving forward, when you start having a little success here and there, you learn that there is something to be said for being afraid and moving forward anyway. You're learning and you're growing. Sometimes you learn what NOT to do; sometimes, it's the other way around. But, the important thing is, you're growing.

I heard someone say recently, "Growth lies at the edge of fear," and it resonated with me so strongly that I wrote it down and kept the note on my desk. Probably for the first time in my life, I really understand what that means.

Before cancer, I used to feel and contemplate just about every moment. I pondered everything in my heart while it was happening. The thing is, I miss that part of my personality. I miss pondering things. I almost feel that I've lost the ability to do that now. I feel too detached to ponder much anymore. I just move forward.

I think it's kind of sad. I'm torn between feeling that I've become more empowered and that I've lost something. And the truth is, I have lost something. I've lost my old self.

I was talking with someone today about the dirty little secret about cancer. See, people love happy endings and they love the videos and photos of people "kicking cancer's butt" and dancing in the operating room before a mastectomy and all that. It makes us feel good and a little less afraid. More in control.

And I mentioned to this person that the dirty little secret is that they don't tell you about the real repercussions of cancer treatment. I think that does a disservice to people. For the longest time, I was embarrassed to mention these things because I was supposed to be so happy to be alive (and I am). For all appearances, it looks like I'm all well now, but my body has taken quite a hit. I'm never going to be the same again. I'm not trying to be melodramatic about it--I'm just acknowledging the truth.

I realized this week that I've tried to downplay it to just about everyone, including myself. I'm not looking for sympathy, but I think we should be real and truthful about the hard things, like the repercussions of cancer treatment. One whole part of my life (and marriage) has pretty much been eviscerated due to the treatment. I don't want to go into detail, but it's not too hard to figure out if you know anything about the effects of menopause. Well, the treatment I've been on is like menopause on steroids.

That's where the trade-off comes in again. Trading quality of life for actually getting to live, love, and be loved. And really, that trumps all.

I considered it a lot and felt that wanting to have my old self back was selfish . . . I should be thankful to be alive, after all. If I lived in another time, I might not be here now. But all losses need to be grieved and I haven't really given myself permission to grieve what has been lost. I was afraid to let myself go there.

This week, it hit me. I'm sad about my bone loss and the glaucoma I was diagnosed with last year and all the parts of my life that will never be the same. I hope that I will move beyond the sadness and come full circle to being thankful. I think I"m on my way, but I'm not there yet.


Today is my birthday (again!)

I've written on my blog exactly two times in the last year. Wow. That kind of astounds and saddens me. It's like an old friend who I have neglected.

Click to read more ...


'The truth is, you don't control squat'

Above: A photo of me during the chemo phase of my treatment. My husband (the photographer) just said something to make me laugh.

Note: I wrote this blog entry months ago, but couldn't bring myself to post it. I kept thinking I would come back to it and revise it. I just re-read it today and realized that I really did write what I wanted to say. I'm not sure why I didn't post this earlier--maybe I was afraid of stepping on someone's toes or bringing down the wrath of people who like to feel empowered. Hey, I like to feel as empowered as the next person. But, for some reason, today is the day to post this.

I'm not out to burst anyone's bubble with this blog entry. Rather, I'm writing from a place that I've been struggling in for a long time. If you take the time to read the entry, please click the video link at the bottom as well. It is intended to be the capstone.

The title of my blog entry is taken from a quote by Ed Dobson, who was a “celebrity pastor with a large congregation and broad influence.” In 2001, Ed was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), a fatal illness that changed his life and ended his church leadership role. Doctors told Ed that he had two to five years to live. Despairing, Ed prepared to die.

Although I was not given the devastating news of an ALS diagnosis, I do know what it's like to be told that I have a terminal disease (although one could argue that we are all terminal, aren't we?). Although many people beat breast cancer, there are plenty who don't. The truth is that I am constantly aware that cancer could rear its ugly head again—and that I should enjoy every day I have been given as a reprieve.

I have pondered the idea of “control” a lot since my cancer diagnosis. I'm continually torn between the idea that I have some kind of control over my health with my lifestyle habits (eating, exercising, keeping stress levels down, etc.), and the gut-level feeling that I'm deluding myself and that any kind of control I have is all an illusion. In other words, it makes me feel better to think I'm in control, but that's about all it does.

See, I do believe that taking good care of myself helps me feel better. And I do believe that working hard in life pays dividends--usually. I believe all of that—and in apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, and motherhood.

But I'm talking about real control. This was brought home to me in a very personal way in the last few months and, truthfully, is one of the reasons I've been struggling with depression. Someone quite close to me (a good friend from church), was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and she's gone now. If ever there was a person who believed in living a healthy lifestyle, it was her. She was one of the most energetic and hardest working people I've ever known. She was full of vim and vigor. And today, she's gone.

I have found that many people (including myself, in a former life), are prone to at least subconsciously “blame the victim,” chalking a cancer diagnosis up to some kind of unhealthy living or habit. I suppose the obvious reason we do this is to distance ourselves from the terrifying thought that something awful could happen to us as well. Yet, the truth is, many people have not done anything but eat well, exercise, breathe the same air as the rest of us, and they still get cancer—or some other terminal disease, anyway.

After my friend's cancer diagnosis, she doubled up her efforts to eat right and take good care of herself. When the doctors told her that the chemo wasn't doing its job, she visited an alternative cancer clinic where she was given herbal remedies and pursued a rigorous “healthy” regimen, being told that many people had been restored to health using the same treatment. But it was not to be.

I spoke to my friend two weeks before she died and I'll never forget what she said--probably because I identified so closely with her--“I never expected to die this young.”

Add this to another woman I know from the cancer support group I've attended. She was like the poster woman for cancer survivors. She beat breast cancer over 12 years ago and is fit, a healthy eater, upbeat, tan, optimistic—a veritable role model for all women who want to move past cancer. I happened to see her at a luncheon last summer and learned that her cancer had returned and that she had just undergone a double mastectomy. I tried not to let her experience get to me—after all, she's still a survivor—but I wondered, “Is that me in a few years?”

So, I've struggled with whether any of my efforts make any difference at all. And the truth is, I don't think so. I can't jog enough, pop enough vitamins, eat enough veggies, or donate enough money to deserve this life. Each day is given to me, not because I've done anything to earn it, but because of God's graciousness. The very beat of my heart is a gift from God.

I'm sorry to admit this, but when I see people so pleased with themselves for having their 401Ks buttoned up, their scale reflecting their desired weight, their pantries lined with all the right health foods and vitamins, their tanks filled with gas, and their clothes, hair, and make-up “just so,” it makes me want to scream.

I still have well-meaning people recommending books and emailing links to me—tips on how to extend my life. Apparently, getting a mammogram was my first mistake. Maybe it was; I'll never know.

But it makes me want to say, “Really? Really! You have it all figured out . . . you've happened upon just the right regimen that's guaranteed to allow you to live to what? 90? 100? Well, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.” 'Cuz . . . you don't control squat. YOU'RE STILL TERMINAL.

The truth is, I'm envious of people who are all snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug with their illusion of control. I'd like to go back to being deluded myself. It was much more comfortable to believe that life is secure with all my ducks in a row. Feeling in control feels good.

The first time I remember having my notion of control and stability challenged was when I went through a divorce that I didn't want. I thought that I had done things the way they were supposed to be done. What I didn't count on was another person's choice impacting my life in ways I didn't desire. I didn't want to be a divorcee, but it didn't matter—I became one whether I liked it or not.

The second time my illusion of security was challenged was when my husband and I lost our house through a failed business. I thought that God wouldn't let us lose our house (why I thought that is a whole other discussion, but suffice it to say that I no longer think this way). Despite our best efforts to work out a deal and keep our house, we lost it.

The third time my illusions were challenged was when we found out that we couldn't have any more children. I believed that God could do anything and that He could reverse the infertility diagnosis. But it didn't happen.

The fourth time I experienced cognitive dissonance over my security was September 11, 2001. I remember going to bed that night with the chilling thought that evil really did exist and that I was no different than any of those people who went to work that morning, expecting to have a routine day. If it could happen to them, it could happen to me. I remember laying in bed that night, gripping the covers around me, pondering the reality that evil lurked just outside my door. I did not want to think about it.

The idea of having any real control over my life keeps getting chiseled away. In 2008, after having a mammogram, I heard the words, “We found a solid mass.” I was told it needed to be biopsied. I remember saying to a friend, “I don't have time for this! I've got a lot on my plate right now.” And when my doctor told me, “You've got a year of extreme fatigue ahead of you,” I wanted to slit my wrists. Talk about having no control.

Now, before the hate mail starts pouring in, let me clarify something: I'm a big believer in free will. I believe that God gave us free will to make our own choices and, of course, control over our lives, control over things that—to me, anyway—are short-term. Like getting an education, creating a business, shaping the kinds of relationships you want to have, and whether or not you're an obese slob or a healthy, fit person. Yes, of course, I believe we have control over those things.

What I'm saying, however, is that those things only give us an illusion of control in the end.

Back to Ed Dobson, who is amazingly still alive after 10 years with ALS. Ed's story is being told through a video made by his son. The video tells of Ed's realization that “it ain't over 'til it's over.”

You may think that Ed's video would be depressing, but, it is just the opposite. Ed has found the secret to appreciating life in learning how to really appreciate living. If only we could all learn from his experience without having to live through it ourselves. Jesus said it best (paraphrasing), “He who loses his life will gain it.”

Ed Dobson points the way for the rest of us and, for me anyway, inspires me to learn from his experience. Ed Dobson tells it like it is: the truth is, you don't control squat.

ED'S STORY Series Trailer from Flannel Staff on Vimeo.




Today is my birthday

Today is my birthday. Fifty-six years ago, I was born in what is now the city library in Anacortes, Washington. I always joked that I was born in the fiction section. And that my family moved a lot when I was a kid . . . but, somehow, I always managed to find 'em. Ba-da-bing.

I don't care who knows how old I am. That's one of the perks of getting to be this age. In my head and heart, I don't feel this old. It's only my body telling me that I'm past my prime. But, that's another story.

Anyhoo, I may as well warn you: this is going to be a stream-of-consciousness blog entry. In case you haven't noticed, I haven't written on my blog for over three months—the longest I've gone without writing since its inception.

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons:

My daughter graduated college with her bachelor's degree in English last August. And she got married exactly one week later. I could hardly wrap my head around it. She lived at home the entire time she attended college, right up to the day she got married. Yes, we know that's unusual in this day and age. I think someone referred to her as a “throwback.” And you know what? She really is.

But, that's okay. We're good with that. We don't own a TV, although we love watching movies on our big-screen projector on the basement wall. With a computer and an internet connection, I'm not sure TV is even necessary anymore.

Our daughter took summer college courses so that she could graduate earlier—and she did. She ended up graduating college one full year ahead of her high school friends. Debt-free. She sacrificed a lot to do these things. To save money on gas, she rode a bus to a neighboring city to attend university classes. Sometimes, the bus was so full that she stood the entire time.

There were times she wanted to be out on her own (we didn't stop her, by the way; it was her choice). The last couple of years, she was chomping at the bit to get out of the house. I understand all that.

I didn't have time to contemplate the usual things surrounding a college graduation. A week later, our daughter married the young man she's dated for nearly three years (a wonderful young man, by the way). So, most of my time over the last three months was spent putting the wedding together. There's too much to say about it, so I won't.

I'll just say this <deep breath>: it was an exhausting, rewarding, beautiful time. I don't remember what all my mom did when I got married. I know she did a lot. And I think I remember her paying people to do a bunch of work.

Well, since I'm a photographer and graphic designer, I got to be a little more involved in my own daughter's wedding. Here are the things I produced for her wedding: engagement photos, save-the-date cards, reception book, reception slideshow, wedding invitations, sandwich-board signs, wedding program, signs for the church, tags for the favors, shower invitations, maps . . . my mind is a blur. And that's not to mention all of the researching vendors and vendor contacts. And, you know, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. What an honor and a privilege to do these things for my daughter.

God blessed me by allowing me to swing a deal with my employer to take two months off for the wedding preparations. How in the world that happened, I don't know. But I will be forever grateful.

There were times when I thought my daughter and I were at the end of our ropes, hanging over a cliff, together. Prior to the wedding, she worked full-time and finished her college courses. Naturally, I wanted to help take some of the pressure off of her. As moms often do, I overstepped my bounds on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, we made it through to the wedding day, which was August 25th. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was ready to give up any control over the proceedings and just go with it. I wanted to relax and enjoy the day—and maybe knock back a glass of champagne as a reward for all of our efforts.

The wedding ceremony was beautiful. Many, many people remarked how beautiful it was. You can't beat the Orthodox wedding ceremony for beauty. It's really what a wedding ceremony should be.

I don't know if you've been to any weddings lately, but they are becoming less and less traditional and more and more secular. Reminds me of a joke: I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out. Only in this case: I went to a debauched party the other night and a wedding broke out. Something along those lines.

The reception far exceeded my expectations as well. Friends and family members attended from across the country—actually, the world. My nephew and his family came all the way from Milan, Italy. It was wonderful. Really, really wonderful. Several of our church friends showed up the day before the wedding to help decorate the reception hall (at another church). So many people gave unselfishly of their time and talents, it was unbelievable. I don't know if they'll ever know how much they blessed our family by their efforts.

I was really worried that after everything was over, I would fall apart. My husband took the week after the wedding off so that we could go away for a few days. That never happened. We just didn't have the funds. I thought I would be depressed and feel sorry for myself, but I really didn't. I was a little sad because I felt like my husband and I really needed to get away from everything. Maybe one day, we will. Or not.

After our daughter returned from her honeymoon, she sent me an email and innocently asked, “So, what's it like around the house now that I'm gone?”

I started to reply to her message several times and each time, my reply got longer and longer. I thought of more things I wanted to say. After a couple of days of writing, I finally decided to send my reply.

Afterward, I realized that my response to her question served as a sort of period at the end of a chapter I needed to write.

I told her that I wasn't as emotional as I thought I'd be. Then I qualified it with admitting to waves of emotion rolling over me when I least expected it. I mentioned many of the memories I had of her growing up, and of the mother-daughter bonding times I would miss: watching “Monk” and “Carol Burnett” episodes together, giving her a hug and a kiss before bedtime, and hearing about her day.

I reminisced about the many memories I would always cherish: lying on the bed together, reading about Lance the Lion and Peter Rabbit, singing “Splish Splash” at bath time, Saturday morning soccer games, and listening with pride while she played at her piano recitals and band concerts.

I told her that it has been a wonderful ride and that I feel so very, very blessed to be a mom and a wife. I remembered the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, how I was lying in bed, filled with fear, and wondering if I would ever experience happiness again. “But I did and I do,” I said. “I thank God that He raised me up out of the hospital bed—after not just one, but two cancer surgeries—and allowed me to witness you and James falling in love and becoming husband and wife. I know that, if it hadn't been for God's mercy, it could have gone an entirely different way.”

I hope I get to witness many more firsts, by the grace of God.

I asked her to forgive me for the times I had failed her, ending with this:

“If your dad and I hadn't stuck together through the hard times, we would have missed so much beauty and love and what came next. Who knows, what is next may be the very best part. Your dad and I started this journey together as two young people in love, like you and James. By the grace of God, we are still here. We may be bruised and beaten up a bit, but we are clasping hands and facing forward, with love still in our hearts.”

Of course, my husband had to trump everything when he bluntly answered her same question with: “We run around the house naked now.”

Life is getting back to the new normal. The other day, I opened the mailbox and caught a glimpse of an envelope that said, “Breast Care Center” in the return address, a reminder to schedule my next mammogram appointment. I immediately started to feel depressed.

The last few months, I've been engaged with life and it's helped me forget the “Big C.” I always feel that it's just behind me, tapping me on the shoulder, lest I forget it. I can't, nor should I. It has helped fashion me. Because of cancer, I am less afraid, more myself, and have a better understanding of how one moment can change everything.

Sometimes I miss the days when I could go blindly through life without thinking of my mortality. But, thanks to cancer, I know that I have been granted a reprieve from death once, but it's only a reprieve. Each moment, day, week, or year that I live, I am grateful—and never grateful enough.

As summer turns to fall, the trees become golden and red, and the leaves begin to fall. After 56 autumns, it's still my favorite season. No matter that winter is just around the corner. This is the season that promises new beginnings.


"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been writing on my blog. But it's not for lack of creativity. No, I have been creative out the kazoo lately.

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