Cancer Turned Me Into a Hippie.

Yes, I know, any story about cancer is a total downer, except when it’s not. I’ve found that my life has profoundly changed after my cancer diagnosis for the better. It was a honor to have this piece originally published by Scary Mommy.

I’m also happy to report that I have become a contributor for The Mighty !

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Cancer changes you. It’s sometimes a cheesy cliché, but I can attest to you that the statement is every bit true. I’ve changed in several ways, physically and emotionally but I was most surprised to find that of all things, cancer helped me calm the fuck down.

It was during a physical exam with my gynecologist when I heard her say, “I feel something.” I had switched doctors and finally felt like I was in the right hands. Clearly I was, because up until this point, not a single OBGyn had ever touched me above the shoulders. Rarely, if ever had any of them touched me anywhere except the obvious pink parts. This exam was different. She started behind my ears doing a very thorough check of my lymph nodes, then headed down both sides of my neck. I felt her palpate the right side of neck, move to another spot, and return to the right side. She returned to that one spot three times before she made the announcement that she felt something.

A week later I had an ultra sound, two weeks after that I had a biopsy, two more weeks later received the news that I had Thyroid Cancer. Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma to be exact. I had surgery to remove the entire thyroid followed by in-patient radiation treatment. Now I am different.

Physically, I am different. I no longer own the organ that produces a necessary hormone that regulates my metabolism, heart function, body temperature, and more. I no longer can tolerate heat, my hair has changed, I have indigestion, my period is wildly irregular. I take a synthetic version of thyroid hormone, and while so far, so-so good, I’d be lying if I wasn’t waiting for the rest of my organs to figure it out and stage a full-scale rebellion. (Fingers crossed.)

Mentally, I am different. I used to be sharp. I’d say I was pretty damn sharp. I could remember anything and everything down to the exact detail of an interaction including where we were and more likely than not I could recall what everyone involved was wearing. Professionally I could site sources, references, and recall all of the necessary information to support my opinion. I remembered dates, places, and times. I always had an answer. I was always quick to answer. I rarely needed to think about thinking. I was always thinking.

If I saw you coming, I remembered our last encounter and quickly followed up. “How’s the whatever going?” “Hey, what happened to the situation?” “Did you ever find out about thus-and-such?” I remembered everything. I had a hyper sense of with-it-ness that didn’t diminish even after 13 years of marriage and two children. I felt a keen sense of awareness that, unbeknownst to me at the time, was a total drag.

Now, I admit that I am knocking on the door of 43 years old, which could have something to do with the changes I have experienced. I’ve also had way more general anesthesia in the last year and a half that a human probably should. I would argue, though, that the physical changes I’ve gone through have had a direct impact on my brain because it no longer works the way it used to.

When I first noticed the changes, I panicked. I was out in the world, doing normal world things when I suddenly felt like I had to think about what I was actually doing; almost as though my auto pilot was malfunctioning. I noticed that I didn’t immediately have an answer to one of my student’s questions. I wasn’t totally sure of what I wasn’t sure of. I didn’t immediately remember the last conversation I had with a friend at morning drop-off. Once we started talking, it all came rushing back, but it wasn’t right there in my mind ready for the follow-up about it.

I felt anxious. Nervous. Cautious in all of my interactions. I would tread lightly in hopes of not getting caught not knowing. Suddenly I felt a constant need to be “on guard” in an effort to keep myself prepped and ready for anything I might encounter. I was forcing my brain to work twice as hard in an effort to keep the world from seeing that I didn’t have it all together. I was keeping a frantic pace that wasn’t helping me in any way. All the work I was doing trying to make my outward appearance seem unfazed by what I had been through was wreaking havoc on my soul. It was exhausting.

Then summer happened.

For a host of reasons, this was the best summer on record for my family. I was forced to let go of things – like really, really let go – and it was a total game changer. I let go and the world did not stop. I let go and no one died in some tragic fashion. I let go and my life still carried on just with a lost less stress. I let go and let life happen. I let my new life happen and to my surprise, it was everything I needed.

I remember less. It’s a fact of my current life. Thankfully I haven’t forgotten anything major like a child or report for work, but generally I remember less. I don’t usually recall where we were the last time we talked, or exactly what topics we covered but if you are willing to catch me up, I’m totally on board. The surprise benefit to this is that my conversations are now more authentic and genuinely seeded in the moment; less a production tied to what happened before. I say what’s on my mind and how I feel at the moment; not necessarily what I think I should say.

I feel less pressure to have the answers; which is a blessing because the truth is, I never had the answers to begin with. I have good hunches, firm beliefs and opinions, but not answers.  I feel less pressure to always know what to say. I feel more willing to give myself time to find what’s possibly a better response.

I have more compassion for my kids who always seem to need more time. I’m less hurried. I feel free to take up whatever space and time that I need and that feeling is fabulous. I confidently show the world the parts of me that are incomplete, uncertain, and sometimes need help. Whether it’s an emotional change resulting from the fear of all that cancer is or if my brain is physically different, either way I am no longer the same person.  As a result of the surgery and treatment, I now have the neck of an 85-year-old chicken, which is pretty humbling, too. But, it took cancer to turn me into the 1960’s flower child that I never realized how much I actually needed to be, so I’ll take it.

Growth is Necessary, But Growth Can Suck.

During the time when we should have all been celebrating the joyous event of back-to-school, I noticed that several of us moms were all crying. Me included.

WHY THE HELL ARE WE ALL CRYING??

My latest for Parent.Co !

It’s been three weeks since my kids went back to school and I’ve cried twice. I talked with a teacher-mom-friend the other day and she cried. I’ve read several articles by fellow writers who are also crying.

Why the hell are we all crying so much?

Because sometimes growth can suck.

I believe in growth. I teach from a growth mindset. I have publicly declared how much I love that my kids are getting older. The physical growing and getting bigger is a great thing! Personal growth for me is essential in life. I need to grow in order to live. It may be hard but I know I can handle it.

I was recently faced with the terrifying experience of sitting in a courtroom to settle a case involving an accident. I was hit from behind by an 18-wheeler while driving over 60 miles per hour. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not a typo. I was hit from behind while moving. Despite this fact, the ruling landed in the defendant’s favor. No, not another typo – I was found to be at fault. This was an excruciating experience that left me floundering and questioning everything I knew about life. My initial reaction was to curl up and wallow in a lifeless ball of fear, pity, and sadness.

Then I realized that I had to find a way to grow from this experience.

With the help of two glorious women and an emergency road-side stop at a local sports bar for a drink and solid conversation, I was able to piece back parts of my life that were beginning to crumble. With their push and my intentional movement forward, my faith in humanity has been restored intact and made stronger. Growth resulting from an internal struggle is a very good, positive thing. Except when I have to watch my children do it.

I cried this week when my five-year-old told me he was sad because his new friends didn’t laugh at his jokes. It was soul crushing, thinking how he may be feeling lonely throughout the school day. Another mom cried when her daughter was having a hard time getting her new high school schedule straight. The uncertainty for her, being placed in the wrong classes, learning to navigate self-advocacy, and the feeling of helplessness as a mom unable to solve these newfound challenges. I shudder at the thought of my daughter dealing with rejection. Another mom cried about her son playing alone at recess.

The thing is, I don’t mind this kind of growth because I have the life experiences to know I can handle it. I’m 42 years old and fully aware of what I’m made of and capable of. My kids know how to record 57 episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Of course, they are more capable than that, but the thought of it scares me. I continually share with them the honest reality of the challenges in life but these experiences are mine, things I’ve gone through. Of course it helps to assure them that they are not alone, but truly, they need to experience all of these things themselves.

As a mother, it’s goes against everything within me to let that happen and I want to keep them protected and safe from hurt. As a logical adult, I realize that I cannot. The mother in me wants to stand in the middle of the den, eyes closed and arms waiving in the air, asking the universe to give all struggle, pain, and uncertainty to me. I will gladly shoulder all of the growth for my entire family. The logical adult, thankfully realizes that I, instead, should stand and beg the universe to give me the strength to let my children grow.

Letting them grow means letting them go.

I have a sneaking suspicion this is why we are all are crying. I want my children to grow, but I don’t want them to hurt in the process. I want my kids to grow, but I’m having a hard time letting them go. I want my kids to grow and become strong and resilient people of good character, but I still want them to need me. Currently, I would rather have someone hammer bamboo shoots under my finger nails, one-by-one. Slowly.

It’s the sinister paradox of motherhood. We are intensely there for them from the moment they are born and then suddenly our roles change. We once shielded them from every bump and bruise and now we have to allow them to fall. While I may be screaming for mercy on the inside, asking the universe “to give,” I will continually pack them up and see them off into their lives. I will wave from afar and wish them the best of luck and the happiest of days. I will be their everlasting champion. I will be there to wipe away tears, take in their hurt, build them back up, and send them back out into the wild, wild world of Kindergarten and fourth grade. I know we will all be better people for it, and who knows, maybe I’ll grow a bit, too.

Gotta Get a Goal.

The start of 2017 was epic. I was so ready to leave the past of 2016 and focus fully on the potential and promise of a new year, I set my sights on the year and made it my bitch. Within the first few weeks, I landed my first ever big publication on Scary Mommy which was quickly followed up by two more on that site. I was picked up by Red Tricycle and then Post40Bloggers. Sammiches & Psych Meds soon followed. Other bloggers scheduled and shared my articles and posts. I was networking within the writer/publisher sphere of the interwebs. I was on a writer’s high for three solid months. Then, life got busy and I got comfortable.

You know how it goes, work commitments ramp up, the calendar gets cramped, we were juggling two soccer teams, one baseball team, scouts, and all things related to the end of the school year. I hadn’t written anything new except to lament my current inability to eat bread. I hadn’t had anything new published in several weeks and I was unsettled by how comfortable I was about it. So is this it? Are you done?

Hell no.

I said to myself, somewhat out loud, that I wanted to write something totally new – we’re talking just an idea and a blank Word document – and get it published. Brand new, baby. In the past, I have submitted work that I had already written and published here on my blog. Writing something new is important for two reasons – one, you can get paid for new, unpublished content, and two, it’s risky. Although I’m working on monetizing my writing, right now that’s not the top priority, but the risk is. Posting things here gives time for exposure and feedback. I can get an idea of what people think about my writing on a small-scale. It’s safe. Going straight to the general public, well, the thought truly takes my breath away, and yet I could not stop thinking about it.

Like, literally, I did not stop thinking about it and it was a total and complete pain in the ass. Like a small rock in my shoe, it was there, day in and day out, reminding me that I set this damn goal and now I have to work to achieve it. As long as there was a rock in my shoe, I could not get comfortable. This was problematic because I was suddenly faced with the worst case of writer’s block.

I thought of everything.

Maybe I need to write about the impossible set of expectations society sets for women. I was waiting in the doctor’s office recently and saw a blurb about quick and easy ways to make my Easter better. “For an extra special touch, fashion little containers out of bendable balsa wood, then personalize the outside with ribbon, homemade tags, and faux flowers!”  This is neither helpful, nor reasonable as I see zero place in my life for bendable balsa wood. Things like this do not help women in any way. It only has the potential to make us crazy.

Then I thought, maybe I need to write about how sometimes when we are miserable, it’s our own damn fault. Yes, you heard me, the truth is we are responsible for our own happiness. While I know this is true, the only things I could come up with were to get rid of all the bendable balsa wood in your life, have more sex, and go out with your friends more. It sputtered along then died a slow, painful death.

I could not rid my shoe of the rock.

Then one day, while pulling a blob of wet clothes out of the washer, it hit me. Yes! Yes! Of course! That’s it!

I did what I always do – started my writing process of organizing my thoughts in my head, mentally editing and arranging. Side notes, anecdotes, reflections, all maintained by the threads of my neurons. I hold it all in until I have the time to sit at my computer and dump it all out like a hamster emptying her food pouches.

I’m happy to report that my new, never-published-anywhere-before article has been accepted and will be published on national platform this Sunday. (By the way, family and friends, please don’t collectively lose your shit. I’m fully aware of my son’s birthday.) If I had not set that goal, if I had not made myself uncomfortable, I would not have reached this milestone.

While the rock in my shoe was a total pain in the ass, living in a state of discomfort had its benefits. I was certainly more aware, as I was always thinking and processing things in ways I normally wouldn’t. I thought about things more critically and dug deeper into my own personal reflections. It also kept the fire lit. It was oddly energizing. Living in a state of discomfort actually kept me going. Knowing that the only thing to rid me of this rock would be to finish the article and submit it is what kept me moving forward. I wasn’t comfortable, but I was moving.

I know that if I get too comfortable, I get stagnant. Believe me, I love nothing more than predictability and being comfortable. Just look in my underwear drawer. But there is nothing better than achieving your goals.

So remember, having a rock in your shoe may actually prove to be a good thing. A very good thing.

 

Bread is My Mortal Enemy.

“If you are going to have cancer, this is the one you want to have.”

If I could, I’d roll my eyeballs right out of my skull. Yes, of course I know the statement is true, because more likely than not this will not kill me, but it doesn’t mean it won’t suck a million times over. I wish, in general people would stop saying this because it’s not quite the neat little package that it’s made out to be. While initially, the diagnosis, surgery and treatment were acute – lots of big, scary things happening all at once and in a small period of time; now, it’s chronic. My salivary glands no longer work. Yes, you heard me correctly. I won’t die, but now I can’t spit. Bread is my mortal enemy.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster trying to figure out what the hell is going on. When lumps appear in your neck after a cancer diagnosis the alarm sounds quickly and loudly. I cried hysterically to my ENT reliving the very rare, very fast death of Al Copeland who died of salivary gland cancer. “He lasted a minute! I can not go down like this!”

I am beyond grateful for supportive and non-judgemental doctors.

I don’t have salivary gland cancer but I likely do have radiation damage. So there’s been lots of blood work, several physical exams, an upcoming CT scan, and an upcoming appointment with my very first rheumatologist. (I actually know her, and she’s one of my favorite people so I’m pretty confident that if I fall apart in her office it will be totally cool.)

Having junk for salivary glands is totally cramping my style. Forget chips, crackers, dry cereal, granola, dried fruit, or anything that doesn’t require a liquid in order to consume it. Earlier this week I almost choked to death on the second bite of my turkey sandwich. All is not lost, however, because right after I dumped the deli meat dish of death, I replaced it with a large strawberry shake from Sonic.

Look, I am fully aware that I have very little, if nothing at all to complain about but I still find myself asking ‘why?’ What the hell is the universe trying to tell me? It’s confusing because it’s as though the universe came in and decided to fuck with me just enough to turn things on its head. Not enough to kill me, just enough to get me thinking.

Someone, anyone, please help me figure out, WHAT IS MY LESSON?

Is it my children? Yes, I agree that I sometimes make them wait and don’t treat them like they are the center of my universe. Well guess what, I am a complete human with a life, a career, a hot husband, interests, and friends. Sometimes they need to wait. I readily admit that there are times when I don’t look up to see exactly how they have twisted their fingers into a cool knot, drew an astronaut space lizard or can roll their tongue. (So can I. It’s really not that big if a deal, junior.) Sometimes Mommy has to respond to an email. Sometimes Mommy has to answer her girlfriends in a group text after a field trip to Farm Day about cow clothes and the lingering smell of death because That. Shit. Is. Funny. Making them wait, I believe, will also teach them the ever important life lesson that this big, beautiful world does not, in fact, revolve around them.

Is it vanity? Sorry, I’m not budging. I will not stop putting on actual clothes on a daily basis nor will I stop putting on make-up every day. I now face the world with the scarred neck of an 85 year-old chicken. So, I’m putting on the damn mascara. Besides, I am the female prototype for both of my children which, to me, is a pretty important responsibility. Taking care of myself, and actually caring for myself is a pretty powerful message to send to them. Not to mention, when out in public, a little lip gloss goes a long way when pushing a shopping cart full of giggles and fart noises.

Is it balance? I have made the very conscious decision to make 2017 my bitch. I think I’ve done a terrific job so far. I’ve exceeded my initial goal of one publication on a ‘big site.’ Right at this very moment, I’ve lost exact count, but I’m ever humbled and grateful for each and every one of them. If something doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t do it. I say ‘no’ when I need to. I cry when I need to and ask for help when we need that, too. I feel more at peace and more balanced today then I have in years.

So what the ever-loving hell?

In the meantime, while I’m trying to figure it all out, I’ll continue to focus on gratitude. In the midst of uncertainty, it’s really the only thing that grounds me. No matter what, I really do have so much to be thankful for. Sure, not being able to eat sucks, but at least the bread didn’t kill me. I refuse to let whole grains take me down. Death by food would only be acceptable if it was something good enough to drool over, and well, since I can’t do that anyway…

xoxo

The Year of The Try.

With so much of 2016 that made it the year that couldn’t end fast enough; I am grateful to have had the year to live through. I have said over and over that 2017 will be my year; hell, it will be the year for all of us. I can happily report that so far so good! For a second time THIS MONTH, I have been published by Scary Mommy!

I have plans for this year. Big plans.

2017, I suggest you buckle up.

I am committed to a year of trying. The key, I have found, is in the try. The outcome doesn’t always matter. Whether I succeed or fail isn’t important. I want to be able to tell my children that I tried things; scary things, fun things, weird things and no matter the outcomes, I tried.

I am submitting my work like crazy. Trying weekly, daily, monthly, to get published again. I am trying out new things like joining blogger groups and actually participating; not just quietly reading other people’s comments. I am trying to speak up regularly and say things that might make me feel slightly uncomfortable. I am trying to limit my life’s activities to only those that bring me joy. I am trying to say ‘no’ when I really want to (and should) say it. I’m trying to wear the clothes I already have in my closet and paying less attention to fashion rules, because really, why should those rules even apply? I’m trying to focus my family time to more of the want-to’s and not so much of the have-to’s. I’m trying to remember that I don’t have to apologize for being me and I will raise my kids to feel the same way. I’m trying to remember that it’s OK to take breaks.

So move over Rooster, 2017 will be the Year of The Try!

 

Sunny Side Up.

I originally sat down to write this post with the opening line, ‘2016 can suck it.’ My plan was to sit and bitch about the ups and downs we faced in 2016. I was going to find humor and delight in skewering the year that was a royal pain in the ass for all who were so fortunate to experience it. That was my plan.

I ran into an acquaintance at church this morning, someone I had not seen in quite some time. Her hair was shorter than mine but not for the same reasons. I hugged her and immediately saw her as a mother, a friend, a wife, a complete person facing uncertainty and I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for the year that was 2016.

As much as 2016 sucked, and by all means it did, the truth is, I had the year. It was mine to bitch about, which in so many ways is something to truly be grateful for. Every minute, every day, every year is truly a blessing. Both the good and bad.

Over the course of this year we have watched our children overcome struggles and blossom into strong, courageous people. I have watched them turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Together, Brian and I have faced the fears and did it anyway. We worried and stressed, hoped and prayed. We watched things work out really well and others, not so much. I was often drained emotionally and physically. We have been doused with the uncertainty and fear that tag along when you face cancer. We have watched our people gather around us and support us in ways we never thought possible. We have seen the greatest of humanity and sadly, the less-than-great as well. We have persisted and prevailed in the face of both. We have laughed. A lot.

So, 2016 can suck it, but I am eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to live, love, and laugh through it. I sit with great anticipation for 2017. Not necessarily for any grand gestures from the universe but maybe to be just a tad lighter on the crappy stuff.

So, 2016, in a few short days I will usher you out the door and happily close that chapter of our lives. I will look back fondly at the good times and memories, and stand in awe at all we overcame. I will welcome 2017 with anticipation and deepest gratitude, in hope that once again I am granted the precious gift of life for each and every day of it.

Happiest of New Year’s to all. xoxo

 

 

 

Raising Diamonds.

Almost daily I stop and ask myself the same question, “Is it just me?” and I promptly reassure myself and answer, “Of course not, dear. But it doesn’t matter even if so.” Recently, though I can’t help but question why I don’t feel the same way as seemingly so many others. Picture after picture is captioned, “I miss my babies!” or “Time please stop!” or “I wish I could go back!” I see these pictures, and while I love a quick dose of nostalgia, my first response is usually, “Like, how far back are we talking?”

Sure, I have wonderful memories of when my children were babies but I have no interest in going back there. You want to go back to the endless nights of staring at your newborn daughter for hours on end watching the rise and fall of her chest just to know with certainty that she’s still breathing? No thank you, I actually like to spend my nights sleeping. Back to the time when my son would cry in spits and spurts for no apparent reason and nothing I could do seemed to soothe him? Oh yes, please, sign me up for more of that.

I remember in particular one very long day when my son was about four months old and I just could not get him to settle down. We had enjoyed roughly four hours of an eat, sleep, cry cycle and I had just about had it. I decided to take him to the pediatric after hours clinic and with my three-year-old in tow, I had a plan. My mom had recently come for a visit and she left a crisp hundred-dollar bill on my nightstand. (That’s who she is and what she does.) I was frazzled from the day and was not interested in waiting endlessly to see a doctor. I arrived at the clinic with the cash in hand ready and willing to hand it to whoever was in line ahead of me. I was willing to give money to a stranger just so I could quickly get this baby to stop crying. So do I want to be go back to this place and time? Hardly.

I love that my kids are growing up; is that so wrong? I love the people they are becoming. I love to see them navigate through life and ask me thoughtful questions. I love that they are developing opinions and tastes that may or may not align with mine.

I love the fact that my son can tell me that the medicine burns, or that he feels like he might throw up. I love the fact that when she does throw up, my daughter can aim perfectly into the toilet. I love that they can easily explain to the doctor what ails them. Karaoke is a lot more fun now, too.

I am genuinely excited for my daughter’s third grade year. I honestly wasn’t sad when my son started pre k. His excitement was so infectious, how could I possibly be sad? I see how excited they are about the journey before them and I can’t see any other option but going along for the ride. I don’t find it sad to see my kids grow, blossom, and step into their life’s milestones.

That’s just it. Their life. It’s their life, not mine. I guess I can’t hold too tightly to something that’s not mine to begin with. I read a quote recently:

“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you, means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.”

This was a perfectly fine quote and in many ways it spoke to me. But so does Elizabeth Taylor and I’ve never met a diamond I didn’t like:

“I’ve never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I’m here to take care of them and love them, for we are only temporary custodians of beauty.”

Don’t get me wrong, the thought of my kids leaving and going to college in Idaho makes me very sad; but I still wouldn’t discourage their wanderlust. And full disclosure, each night when I kiss them goodnight, I jiggle them gently to hear them breathe. Old habits die hard.

As much as the thought truly sends shivers up my spine, I am their temporary custodian; my job is to prepare them to soar. They are two of the brightest jewels of my life. Brilliant and dazzling, precious and rare. Expensive. Temporarily mine to protect and nurture until they are ready to shine on their own.

#raisingdiamonds

xoxo