Monday, January 31, 2011

Life with Cancer

Cancer moved in like an uninvited guest. She contaminated the space that gave nourishment and pleasure. She felt cozy enough to make herself at home and invade the pearl necklace of my lymph system. She's probably a raging bitch. But she was quiet in her assault. My body didn't alarm me of her presence. I felt her, I did. She knew she could trick me, and she did for a few months. She knew that I didn't know my breasts well enough to recognize her. Yet something wasn't right. She disguised herself as a clogged milk duct and that worked for a while. But someone greater and for me was at work. There was that nudging that something just wasn't right. And before she could do any more damage, we exposed her.

Part of me was shocked and part of me relieved. I don't like having cancer. It has catapulted me into a secret society of sorts. Nothing is quite the same. Life isn't normal. Whatever the hell that means anyway. When I see a sister in a scarf I wonder if she too has breast cancer, or maybe another kind. When I see a commercial about cancer, it dawns on me that "this is me." Seven months feels like a lifetime. I remember those days clearly but they also seem like a blur. We were instantly in survival mode. Thankfully the prognosis was clear: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. I would need all 3. I just figured everyone did. I learned a little more as the days and tests rolled on. She was of the aggressive type: triple negative. She had grown and was a big girl: 10-12 cm. And I was BRCA 2 positive. This means my chances for recurrence are much higher and I have increased chances of getting ovarian.

Everything snowballed. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe I thought it'd be simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple. In the beginning I didn't care about my breasts anymore. They were now my enemies. Which made me sad because I loved nursing my sweet Charis. That was taken from me. I was willing to say good-bye with no looking back. I had no idea how hard that would be. I didn't realize my fertility would be in question. Is is. I didn't think about my sexuality being an innocent bystander. It is. I didn't know my body image could get worse. It has.

There is deep sorrow and equally deep joys. She has not robbed me of my life. She cannot take away the delight that I get in being a mama. She cannot steal the intimacy that Adam and I get to experience. She cannot stop my family, friends and community from entering into this with us. She can't take what God is using to reveal, redeem and restore in our lives. "If God is for me, who can be against me?"

Physically it hasn't been that bad. And I feel a little bad saying that. I like to think I kicked chemo's ass. That poison coursed it's way through my veins and body to kill the cancer. But it didn't get to me like I thought it would. Thankfully I was never nauseous and had plenty of energy to work part time and take care of that sweet baby o' mine. Surgery wasn't as bad as I thought...thanks to prayers and drugs. The infection afterwards and the drains sucked, but they were so temporary. And now radiation isn't that bad. Fatigue is the major side effect of it all. But let's be honest, I haven't slept well since I was six months pregnant.

Emotionally, it's been hell. Even though that feels dramatic, it feels adequate. It's the quiet moments that fear or loneliness creep in. It's the not feeling feminine or beautiful. It's the possibilities and the unknowns. It's the places my mind goes. It's the disappointments. It's the fact that the small stuff doesn't go away, it just gets magnified. It's the reality that I may not be here to see my daughter grow up. It's hard. It's scary. It's sad. It's annoying. I don't cry as much as I probably want to. I don't "go there" all that much but I'm sure I "go there" more than the average person. I live in the tension of today and tomorrow. In the reality of trusting and hoping.

I'd be lying if I said it's all bad. It's not. There are riches upon riches already oozing from this experience. We are thankful. We are hopeful. We are being called to something greater than we could ever imagine or plan for ourselves and our family.

I appreciate when I can talk about my cancer and not talk about it. It's definitely a huge part of our lives right now. (duh) But it's not who we are. I'm reminded of it every day as I get dressed or shower or put lotion on my scar. I am learning how to be a woman without the things that are essential to being a woman: breasts, hormones, hair. Let's be honest, it's hard. Adam continues to remind me that I am beautiful and I am so thankful that God has given me a man who can see my beauty apart from my body. I am thankful for him. And I am thankful for our little lady. While life is hard at times it is also filled with a bunch of joy and sweet moments.

how is she not the cutest?!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Charis' First Steps

Charis took her first steps at my sister's for a Ritz Cracker on 15 Jan. It was the day of a Steelers' game so you can hear that and my brother in the background. goodness.
hope this works since it's my first time uploading video. She is still gaining confidence in her walking but prefers to crawl.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Six Degrees

(just some rambling)
Young Life has been a part of my life since the summer of 1994. I had heard about it some before that but as a church kid I was too judgemental about the kids it attracted. You know, the partiers or the bad kids or the ones that needed Jesus more. I didn't realize that as a church kid I needed Jesus just as much, if not more.

As I think back I'm not sure how it happened, but at the time my youth leader and friend, Laurel, was dating the YL staff person of N. Myrtle Beach. Maybe on a whim, I'm not sure, I ended up on a van with other kids from the N. Myrtle Beach area headed to Windy Gap for a week. That week changed my life. My parents had gotten divorced, I was at a new high school and didn't know many people, and I was trying to live out my faith. Church had always been a refuge for me and there were people there who loved me in spite of my obnoxiousness. I am so thankful for those people who lived out love and grace in my life. This week at Young Life camp was different. What I needed to hear/get from God that week I did: He would never leave me and He loved me a whole bunch. By the end of the week I knew that I wanted to be a part of this thing called Young Life. I knew that I wanted to tell others about Jesus and figured YL would be a place to start. Laurel picked me up at the end of the week and we drove late at night from Weaverville to Charlotte, stopping at Waffle House for a break. It was so cool to go to waffle house back then. I made some great friends that week. I heard great music from Ed Cash (who I learned was also from Charlotte). And I felt a calling that week too.

I got plugged into YL my junior and senior years. I returned to summer camp the following summer at Frontier for another amazing week. My faith deepened and so did my friendships. I learned more about what it meant to follow Christ in high school. When I started at UNCC I knew I wanted to be a YL leader, but there wasn't a good fit for me in Charlotte. I was also working and going to school full-time. In the summer of 1999 I spent a month at Frontier doing Summer Staff and that is where I saw the need to get plugged into a community at home. By January 2000 I was leading YL in Cabarrus County at Northwest Cabarrus HS and was a part of a really fun leadership of other college kids from Davidson. Those were some of the best years. I continued to feel God calling me to Young Life. After spending an extra year with "my girls" from NW I went on staff in Louisiana. Spent two hard and really good years there doing YL. Met my husband. Made some lifelong friends. Grew in my faith and ministry. I left staff in 2004 and taught Pre-K. I only made it two years before God called me back to Young Life. In the fall of 2006 I became the Regional Administrator for the then Charlotte Region and started leading at Country Day. Since then our Region has grown and changed names to the Carolinas Region.

This past weekend we had our 3rd Annual Regional Leader/Committee Weekend. This year it was in N. Myrtle Beach. There have been folks there for the past year praying for YL to come to the Grand Strand area. It was cool to be back there and think about how if it wasn't for YL being there in the early 90's I may not have gone to camp that summer. Somehow the ministry died down there, but with lots of prayer it looks like we will get it started again soon. That is exciting for me. These weekends are pure work for me but I also get a front row seat at some pretty cool things. It is so encouraging to see 400+ staff, leaders and committee crowded into the House of Blues singing worship music. If you've ever been to a House of Blues, it's far from a place of worship. But on this weekend that is exactly what it became. I got to see Ed Cash perform again just like (well, better) in high school. One of my YL leaders was there b/c the guy who wants to get YL started was in my YL club in high school. The weekend was exhausting and extremely encouraging as I think about my own ministry at Country Day. It was cool to hear about other connections; the speaker was at camp the summer the music guy was there as a camper at a time in his life when he was really struggling and needing Jesus. Young Life can be a small world and it always amazes me to see how God makes the connections and orchestrates all the details so that we can encounter Him, whether we are a struggling teen, a leader hanging out with kids, a committee person praying for YL to come to their local school, or a spouse of a YL staff. I am thankful to be a part of something big and small that God is doing through Young Life.

I am also thankful to be back in Charlotte doing YL. Working for this region I get to see ministry continue in Cabarrus Co where I first became a leader and I get to see the re-birth of ministry in the place that my involvement first began. I think that is pretty cool and I'm so thankful for the glimpses of all that God is doing in and around me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

61 weeks...or 14 months

a little self-timer action. she's so stoic
Homegirl is 14 months old. Such a big girl. But with only 2 teeth and no walking she still seems like our little baby girl, which I love. She is such a delight. Sometimes I just want to squeeze her and kiss her soft cheeks. She continues to be such a gift to us and a sweet reminder of how God loves and provides. I was just thinking about this time last year and how much has changed...not so much with me, but her. She can now participate in her world and every thing is a wonder to her. I love it. She is still super easy and she is also at the age where she doesn't have language so sometimes it can be a whiny "uh uh uh" which can make a mama crazy. But 30 minutes of that in a day is nothing in the big scheme of things, right?! I just have to remember that in the midst of it. She is keeping us busy!

- We celebrated our second Christmas with our little lady. She wasn't really into it but it was still fun. Her favorite was the tree. She'd point to it and would say something that sounded close to "tree" but not really. She loved the "ball" ornaments, which is why we didn't have any ornaments on the bottom third of our tree.

in her Christmas pjs and fleece
- She LOVES to read. I LOVE that she loves to read. I'm amazed how she can sit through a handful of books. She loves to listen and to turn the pages. It's fun to watch her anticipate the next page as she turns it.

reading in the car
- She's getting to be such a big girl. According to the Wii she weighs about 23 lbs. (i think) and she's got some yummy chubby legs that look so cute in leggings.

- She is always on the move. She doesn't seem totally interested in walking, which is fine with me. (i have lots of child-proofing to do) She is so funny sometimes...she'll crawl around in circles, sometimes she exaggerates her crawl by swaying her head. When she wants to carry something, she has figured out a way to scoot. She is continuing to build her core strength before she's ready to walk. (ha!! according to our chiropractor crawling is good)

not sure what this face is all about
- She is still a great eater. Sometimes she plays hard to get like when she wants to feed herself instead. Her new favorite is spinach & cheese ravioli. (we felt a new tooth today so eating may just get easier)

double-fisting her banana
- She is all about mimicking. It's so fun and really cute. Lately she's even saying my name. Not "mama" or "mommy" but "amy" and "mamy". Adam thinks it's hilarious. I don't have a word count for her. She repeats a lot of our sound when we say something whether it's "i love you" or "i'm going to get you" or "hello" or while reading. It's fun to hear her mimic the sounds as she's learning language.

- We spent New Year's day at my sister's house, which was crazy and fun. Her twin girls are getting so big and amazingly beautiful, but Charis wasn't quite sure about them. Soon they will all be the best of friends.

checking out her pretty cousins
- She loves to put things on her head. Sometimes to play peek-a-boo or sometimes just to crawl around with her fleece or a towel on her head. It's silly and so stinking cute.

playing with the towel on her head
- She has learned where her eyes, ears, nose and hair are. This one book we read talks about these parts and she always reaches back to touch mine (even my hair now that it's growing back). Lately she likes to "play" with her eyelashes.

snow! i just love this picture. she looks like Adam here
- We started using a few signs when she started eating. That seems to be the best time to teach a few signs. And let's be honest, that's all I know. Recently I taught her "please" and she's picked up on it rather quickly. I'm trying to incorporate new ones now that she's getting older and learning more.

We are both crazy about Charis. crazy for charis!!! She is just so much fun. I swear I still can't believe I'm her mama. That is just crazy. But so good. She continues to be such a sweet distraction for us as life has been pretty hard this past year. I'm thankful that she is oblivious to it right now. I love seeing her personality bloom. I love how she wonders at her world. I love how she is learning to communicate with us. I love how she dances, especially when she eats, as if that bite was so yummy it made her shimmy shake. I love how she still points with her middle finger. I love that she understands what we are saying. I love how she takes her dollie to her face and sucks her thumb when she goes to bed. I love that we can spend a whole day in our pjs together. I love how she squeals with glee when we go into our bedroom to see her daddy in the morning. I love that she reaches for us. I love that she knows what kisses are and let's us kiss her all over. I love that God created her to be uniquely her and has given us the honor to be her parents. I love that I get to tell her that she is God's masterpiece.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Two Thousand Ten. What a year it has been. I've been thinking about this post all week. Each year I have no idea where I'll be in a year and am amazed at all that God has brought us through. It's also crazy to think about this time last year and the fact that I had no idea I would be where I am today. I totally trust Jeremiah 29:11 when God says "For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you." I totally trust God and what He is doing in our lives. I am thankful for this year. I do think I'm in a place to say that. And it's also been a really tough year, at times maybe even a little shitty. However, I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. I wanted to do a sort of "year-end retrospection" so here it goes.

We celebrated a new year with our sweet little lady. I went back to work full-time after having Charis. Charis was changing and smiling a ton. We went on lots of walks too.

Charis was drinking from a bottle more. We watched the Saints win the Super Bowl. Charis saw her first snow and was adorable in her "snow" outfit. Charis was spending more time on her tummy and exploring things around her. We celebrated Adam's birthday and I successfully made a strawberry cake for him.

Charis came to work with me some...she was so good. We had another snow. We spent more time outside. We went to some CCDS sporting events where Charis is totally loved by my high school friends.

We went to Charleston with Chaille to cheer her on for her 10K. Charis celebrated her first Easter. We went to the park with our friend Nora Fern and had fun playing with her. Charis began sitting up.

We went to The Farm in Tennessee for a Doula workshop (Charis' first long road trip and did AWESOME). We started our summer CSA which gave us yummy farm fresh veggies every week. Charis and I went to the beach with some YL was her first time at the ocean. Charis had her first taste of real food this month...Avocado. And she loved it. I celebrated my first Mother's Day. I helped my friends for a good cause (Cookies for Kids Cancer) at Taylor's Finish Line Festival (to celebrate the end of Taylor Gibbs' fight with Leukemia).

This is the month that has changed our lives...I was diagnosed with stage III Breast Cancer. I started chemo. Charis was baptized at our church, Hope Community. We took a road trip to NOLA for my friend, Laura's, wedding. It was Charis' first trip there and she did amazing on the road. Adam celebrated his first Father's Day. I had to go to working part-time.

I shaved my head. Although it was for an unfortunate reason, it was something fun to do. The summer was full of activity for Charis...sitting up, crawling, swimming and trying lots of new foods. My friend, Bonnie, came to stay with us for a week.

We took our first family vacation to the beach and it was wonderful. Our good friends, the Bergerons, came to visit.

We went for a hike at Crowder's that totally kicked my butt. The view from the top and spending the day outside with my family was so worth it. My friend, Laura, came to spend a whole week with us. We spent an afternoon at an Apple Orchard. Charis loved chomping on apples and riding around in the wagon. Charis started daycare...3 days a week so I can work.

So many of my friends woke up super early on a Saturday morning to walk the Race for the Cure with me. Being a part of this was incredible and joyous. I finished chemo! My sister had her twin girls. I got to spend a weekend in the mountains with lots of fun ladies from my church. We got to see the Indigo Girls, who I totally love.

Charis turned 1 and had the funnest party ever. We got a visit from Pawpaw, Mawmaw and Auntie Sara. I turned 32. I had surgery--my double mastectomy. Nonni came to stay with us for 3 weeks to take care of us while I recovered. We had a fantastic Thanksgiving and got to celebrate with all my siblings.

We took a little family vacation to Blowing Rock which was the best time ever. Charis got her picture taken with Santa. We also got to spend a couple days at Windy Gap in the snow. Charis and I had our fun annual cookie party with some CCDS girls that are now in college. We had a white Christmas night and took a walk in the snow the next day.

The list turned out to be highlights or things I remember most from each month, and lets be honest, just a bunch of pictures. As I thought about Charis I realized this year was full of firsts and to me that feels like such a sweet gift. We have experienced a tremendous about of pain and joy this past year. I have no idea what 2011 holds but I am looking forward to a few things...being cancer free and having my body restored to some sort of "normal", celebrating 5 years of marriage, another year seeing Charis' wonder grow, a post-cancer vacation, Adam finishing his Thesis and so much more. I look ahead with hope.