Thursday, September 12, 2019

I Am

We enjoyed a wonderful summer of good health, good times, and good memories. While I miss my work family and the joy and worth I received from my job, it has been a wonderful blessing to be a stay at home wife and mother. I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I am so grateful for this time with Todd and the boys while my cancer remains in remission. Being home has also allowed me to take better care of myself, which has been helpful for all four of us. We recently found out that I am approved for both long-term disability and Social Security disability. The provisions from those programs will certainly help keep us afloat financially as we walk through this cancer journey, and we are relieved to know I can continue to stay home and focus my attention on my health and my family.

The boys started back to school a few weeks ago. Joseph is an 8th grader and Jack is a junior. I miss their presence and activity in our home during the school day. I am a little lonely without them, yet I am still not up to much socialization with others. So, most days I stay home and fill my time with reading, Bible study, cooking, playing the piano, and catching up on movies and such. I’ve been trying to establish a routine that keeps my mind and body busy. Having too much down time is not always a good thing. Lately, I have been wrestling with depression, anxiety, and my identity. The person staring back in the mirror looks like a stranger, and sometimes thinks and acts like one too. Her hair is shorter. Her body is heavier. Her ears no longer hear well, and her mind is not as sharp as it once was. She used to be confident, employed and active. Now, she is insecure, sleeps a lot more and stays home. I don’t know this person, and quite honestly, most days I don’t even like her all that much. Bring back the ol’ girl that used to live in this house, I say! She had a purpose…and identity. But, this new girl…sigh.

A sweet friend of mine reminded me that each of us is constantly evolving. Her words comforted my weary heart and mind. I am not alone. Change is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, and so we all, at times find ourselves learning to adapt to new roles, new…identities. And, I think we can all agree that sometimes change is hard.

It doesn’t necessarily take a cancer diagnosis to make one struggle with their identity. Perhaps you are struggling to find yourself as the result of moving to a new town, starting a new school or job, divorce, losing a parent, child, partner, or job, etc. We all have a longing to be known and to be accepted. Yet, when we are struggling to know our own selves, how on earth can we to expect others to know us too?

Whatever circumstances you are facing in your life right now, if you find yourself struggling, like me, to figure out your identity and to love yourself for who you are – I am praying for you. I am praying for us. Life is hard.

This morning, I read and was encouraged by the following:

“But, our burdens can make us stronger and develop qualities in us that will prepare us for the future. We cannot be overcomers without troubles to overcome. Be true to God in the hard times because even the worst situations can make us better people.”

As I’m learning to adapt and accept my new self, I am thankful for a God who never changes, and who loves me unconditionally. Furthermore, He defines me. I can know who I am because I know who He is. You can know who you are in Him too.

Every time I share with you here, I do so in hopes of sharing my faith with you. In all I say and do I want to point the way to Christ. My life is certainly not perfect, but I pray my words are encouraging. Please keep lifting up me and my sweet family. We walk by faith along this slickery road of life. While I’m walking, I am going to keep reminding myself of who I am and will ALWAYS BE.

I am a child of God. I am chosen. I am loved. I am forgiven.
I am God’s workmanship and created in His image.
I am wonderfully made.

PS). I am putting together a playlist of songs to encourage myself and remind me who I am. I’d love your input on what songs encourage you and/or you feel I should include. They can be songs of any genre. My go to songs right now are: “Who You Say I am” by Hillsong Worship, “You Say” by Lauren Daigle and “Rise Up” by Andra Day.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

In Between

Shortly after my last blog, I had a breakdown. The stress and toll of cancer and treatment caught up with me. In mid-January, I reached a point where I could no longer deal with the stress on my own and confided in some wonderful medical providers to help. I have wanted to tell you this for a while, but struggled (and still struggle) to find the words. It is difficult and overwhelming to admit, to share about it, and to understand – much less try to explain. The breakdown came with a lot of self-shame, guilt and fear. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it came with a lot of faith, hope and love as well. Please bear with me. It is not easy to be so transparent. However, it is real and it is honest. Cancer is hard. Chemo is ugly. And, I am not the person I used to be.

Daily I strain to overcome the limits and damage cancer and chemo has placed on my body and mind, yet grant myself grace to accept those same limits and rest. It is an awkward balance. Every day is different. There are some wonderful highs and some very dark and sad lows. Some days I am able to be around other people and carry on an actual conversation. Other days, I can barely go to the store for a loaf of bread without a tremendous amount of anxiety or a panic attack. Some days I have the energy to do laundry, or drive across town. Other days, I have to take prescription medicine just to stay awake or function. Most days, however, I am somewhere in between the two extremes and learning to navigate and love myself along the way. Peanut butter cups seem to help. What? I have not lost my sense of humor, folks! And, I certainly have not lost my love of peanut butter cups!

Many of you have checked in, asked how I am doing, invited me to lunch, etc. I appreciate your love, friendship and encouragement immensely. I wish I had concrete answers to give. It is challenging to find the words to answer even the simplest of questions at times. And, in those times, I get incredibly anxious and overwhelmed. Please do not let this detour you from reaching out. You may not hear back from me right away, but know that I am so grateful for your thoughtfulness and I will respond or get together as I am able. As a side bar, I want to especially thank my Sunday school class for the prayers, uplifting cards and messages. I miss and love each of you so and look forward to returning to church when I am able. Social interaction is such a hard struggle for me. This is unfamiliar territory and I hope my ability to function in that regard will improve. I have been forcing myself, little by little, to get out and about and pray these baby steps will lead to greater strides in the near future. I am also seeing a counselor to discuss the stress and struggles. She is wonderful and I am thankful our paths have crossed.

My last PET scan was in April. Thankfully, the scan did not indicate any cancer growth. We are rejoicing that the chemo seems to have knocked the cancer down, yet we know it is merely a matter of time until the cancer begins to grow again. We live in the in between. We celebrate and savor the moments we are in, for they are the only ones guaranteed, and, we plan life in 3 months increments between scans. My next PET scan is in July. In the meantime, Todd and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next week, and in June, our family of four will embark on a grand road trip together! I am also looking forward to playing golf with my oldest son, Jack and making homemade pizzas with my chef and youngest son, Joseph. I am so very, very grateful for my three guys who do life with me – Todd, Jack, and Joseph. I thank God for giving us the gift of each other. I love you with every ounce of my being.

For those unaware, in early May, I stopped working. I loved my job and particularly my work family, but as I continued to push myself to perform, the mental, emotional, and physical toll become harder to hide and my ability to complete tasks was waning. It is humbling to admit your limits and struggles. It is also scary, particularly from a financial standpoint. I could potentially lose all of my benefits, but Todd and I took this step in faith. Home is where I need to be, and we have peace in this decision. Presently, I am on family medical leave and will soon file for long-term disability and social security disability. However things turn out in the disability regard, we are praying for God‘s will to prevail, and the faith to accept whatever His plan may be. I firmly believe His will is always the best, even when/if it is not what I envisioned. He knows all of our needs and He is an ever-faithful provider. Though I would much rather have stopped working due to retirement or winning the lottery (hey, a girl can dream!) there is no denying that I have hit the jackpot in terms of being able to focus more on my husband and boys. Time with them is such a tremendous blessing and I am thankful for this opportunity in the in between to make lifelong memories and love them well.

Till next time,
Angela

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hope


Happy New Year, friends! I hope your new year is off to wonderful start. Ours certainly is! We are still reeling from the magnificent time we had in New York (details below). Additionally, I had a PET scan last week...the scan did not show any signs of cancer growth or progression! Praise the Lord! We are breathing some BIG, BIG sighs of relief. My next scan will be in early April, and every three months thereafter until the cancer is detected again. In the meantime, I am absolutely enjoying the break from treatment and getting stronger with each passing day. I still get tired easily, but I feel great. My hair is starting to grow back and I’m acclimating to having hearing aids. Some of you have asked if my hearing loss from chemotherapy is permanent…yes, unfortunately so. I can still hear though (even if it's not well), and for that I’m truly thankful! While I have significant general hearing loss, I also have a loss in clarity of sounds. As a result, much of what I hear sounds very distorted. As aggravating as that can be, it does make for some interesting conversations and lots of laughs. So, be warned, friends…if you have a conversation with me on the phone or in person, I may just put words in your mouth! HA!

Speaking of words..in addition to new year’s resolutions, it's come to my attention that at the beginning of a new year some folks like to choose a word to focus on for the year. I’ve pondered what my word should be. So many words seem appropriate, but one stands above the rest. Hope. So much has changed over the past few months that some days I don't know if I'm coming or going. Yet in the midst of all the instability and uncertainty there is something that has not changed...hope. I have hope. Beyond that, who knows? I mean, life can change in an instant (for reals!)…for any one of us. We expect to pull out of our driveway each morning and head down the road to another mundane, routine day…but, sometimes, the road gets slickery and we find ourselves slipping and sliding down a path we never intended to travel. And, heck, perhaps never even saw coming. No matter what road we’re on though – there is hope - an unwavering, firm and secure anchor for our soul. The light at the end of the tunnel. Not dependent upon situations or circumstances, hope reminds us better days are coming and that they will come! For me, hope is faith. It’s love. It’s grace. It’s mercy. Hope is Jesus. He is the reason I can keep my head above water. He is my peace…the provider of my strength, and my joy. He, my hope, does not disappoint, and in Him I choose to dwell. I will not dwell in the fear of my diagnosis or of what may come. The ground is too shaky there, and it's awfully hard to stand on shaky ground. Hope...that's my focus. Hope steadies my stance. It's my word for the year, and Jesus, my hope, is my word and focus for life.

"In Christ Alone" - Lyrics by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty
In Christ alone, my hope is found.
He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this Solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

As I mentioned above, we had a magnificent time in the Big Apple! We were able to visit NY for a few days right before Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. In addition to the Stella’s Wish Foundation, many additional people came together to bless our family and offset the costs of the trip. We are so very humbled and grateful for the kindness bestowed upon us. The Christmas lights and decorations in New York were simply beautiful! I loved seeing Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Center (and the gorgeous and HUGE tree there!), the Plaza Hotel, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a Broadway show (School of Rock), and so many of the other sites I’d only prior witnessed on TV, in movies, or online. We feasted on pizza, hotdogs, and cheesecake, of course, and soaked up every bit of the sights, sounds and tastes of the city as possible! More important than the trip itself though was the gift of time with one another. That was the greatest and most wonderful gift of all. I cherish the moments, now more so than ever, that I am able to spend with Todd and our boys. So, THANK YOU for an amazing trip filled with priceless, lifelong memories and time with my family. Below is just a few of the photos from our awesome trip. 






May your new year be filled with all the joys, blessings and peace that Hope brings!
Much love to each of you - Angela

“And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” -Romans 5:5

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Best


It was springtime in Missouri, nearly Easter as a matter of fact, when Todd and I went on our first date some twenty seven years ago.  We saw the movie, Home Alone.   Though the movie had come out months prior it took a while for it to reach our theater in small town Missouri.  We found it quite amusing to watch a recently released Christmas movie at Easter, yet the timing was perfect...the best, actually.  It was a moment made just for us - the start of our beautiful relationship, and a special memory we'll always cherish. 

I’d love to tell you I am patient in all things and with all people, but there would probably be a be lump of coal in my stocking if I did!  What I can honestly tell you though is this –God specializes in timing – even if it means seeing a Christmas movie at Easter.  His plan for our lives is always perfect, always best, and always provides exactly what we need right on time...every time. 

While Home Alone holds a special place in my heart and Todd’s, it also holds a special place in the hearts of our two boys as well.   Every year the four of us watch the Home Alone movies together while putting up our Christmas tree.  I hope the boys continue that tradition years from now when they put up their Christmas trees with their own children; and I pray they'll fondly look back on these times we've shared and remember how much they were and are loved. I treasure my opportunities to connect and make memories with my family; even more so now - as the boys get older and as we face my cancer diagnosis.  Life goes by quick and time spent with my husband and our boys is the best, most precious gift ever.

Recently, I submitted a wish to the Stella’s Wish Foundation, a foundation which grants wishes to adults with stage IV cancers.  For nearly a month I wrestled over whether or not to submit a wish.  I wondered if it would be selfish. Afterall, our family is certainly not the only family in the world dealing with the dark cloud of cancer, and so many, many others are far worse off than us.  Submitting a wish also meant facing the reality that I meet the requirements to even do so, and that, quite frankly, is a hard reality to stare in the eye.  But, I knew what I wanted, and I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it happen on my own.  I desperately wanted to give my family the best Christmas ever.  So, I prayed, "God give me what is best... whatever that may be", and I submitted the wish. 

The foundation receives 60 to 100 wishes every month.  I am no more deserving than anyone else to have my wish granted. I am also keenly aware that just because we want something that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or right thing for our lives at that time.  I’ve learned that wanting the best thing in my life and the life of my family means I’m praying, trusting and asking God for that best thing.  There was no guarantee my wish would be chosen and I was okay with that.  Again, my desire was for our family to receive the best thing – even if it was no thing at all.  

The wish… New York City at Christmas time. We’ve never been to New York, but thanks to Home Alone 2 seeing the city at Christmas is something we have long wanted.  The movie, set in New York City, has many scenes depicting the grandeur and magic of the Christmas decorations which adorn the area.  Further, prior to my diagnosis I made a promise to my boys that I would take them to NYC before they graduate high school.  We are so fortunate in our country to have many memorials and monuments which provide us the opportunity to pay homage to those who’ve gone before us and serve as reminders to pause and appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in our great nation.  It has always been important to me to make sure my children see some of these important and reverent sites and to teach them to respect the men and women associated with those sacrifices and freedoms.  New York City is among the cities having many such memorials and monuments. 

Early last week, I got a call from Stella’s Foundation.  We will be leaving for New York soon.  My heart is humbled and full of gratitude. Thank you, Lord.  It will be the best trip ever. 



**Many thanks to the Stella's Wish Foundation for honoring my wish.  You can read more about the foundation and Mrs. Stella by clicking the link.  We are grateful for Mrs. Stella's legacy and the difference she and the foundation continue to make in the lives of many families such as ours.  

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Balance


Last week we completed round 5 of 6 rounds of chemo.  The further we get into the treatment, the harder it becomes.  Chemo has a cumulative effect, so each round builds on the previous one and the side effects often become stronger and more frequent.  We’ve certainly noticed.  My stamina has decreased significantly and my stomach pain has increased.  I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping and taking more days off of work to rest.  Finding balance has been tough, but we are hanging in there, and reminding ourselves to take one day at a time.  It’s so easy to get discouraged through this journey, and admittedly, there are days that I truly just want to stay in bed and cry.  I know that’s a normal response, but not one of which I’m particularly fond.  I suppose I thought I would breeze right through chemo and it would only affect me as much as I allowed.  Boy, was I wrong!  Daily I am reminded it’s not my own strength that will get me through this, but Christ’s strength in me.  Some days I do a better job leaning into His strength than others though.  I pray my witness and testimony continue to shine through – even on the hard days. 

We are so very appreciative of all your prayers and encouragement, meal deliveries, cards, hugs and thoughtfulness to our family.  It means a great deal to the four of us and we are incredibly blessed with so many caring, kind friends and family.  Next week I will complete my final round of chemo.  It will be a bittersweet ending.  The fatigue and stomach pain will eventually fade and my hair will start to grow back. Some of the side effects won’t go away, however.  Recently, we learned that the chemo has caused severe hearing loss in both of my ears, and I’ll be fitted for hearing aids soon.  Thankfully, I haven’t lost all my hearing, nonetheless, the hearing loss is a hard pill to swallow and another new normal to which we must adjust.  Sometimes, learning to balance involves a whole lot of wobbling until our gait is steady again.  And, right now, I feel like a wobbly, hot mess.   

We also know that the chemo has been effective in shrinking the tumors and slowing the growth of the cancer.  What a blessing!  When I finish my 6th round, chemo will no longer part of our treatment plan and the cancer will eventually start to grow again.  When that will happen is anyone’s guess, but we are encouraged that about 40% of patients tend to go one to two years without growth and the need for additional treatment.  We pray that is the case for me, plus some!  When the cancer does grow again, however, immunotherapy will likely be our next step and then ultimately clinical trials.  There is strong likelihood the cancer will be what takes my life, but we also know that none of us are promised tomorrow.  I am so thankful for my faith and the confidence I have in knowing that when my time on earth is through, whenever and however that may be, I’ll be rejoicing in Heaven.  And, I guarantee there’s balance there! 

As I close out this update, I would ask that you continue to remember us in prayer.  Specifically, I ask that you lift us up as we contemplate important decisions for our future.  Many patients with stage IV bladder cancer file for disability.  We’ve started some difficult conversations in this regard and for now are still gathering facts.  The timing of when to file is weighing heavy on our minds and shoulders.  Please pray that we would be wise and at peace with our decision. 

I have the following verse written on a note card by my Bible.  Every morning I look at it and remind myself…

Be joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Patient in prayer. – Romans 12:12

Balance. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Waves


The Florida beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are one some of my most favorite places to visit!  The soft, sugar white sand and turquoise water.  The lullaby of the tides that eases weary souls and minds to stillness and rest.  The breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.  Serenity now! I love every. single. bit of it. 

Just a few weeks ago, my family took a trip to one of those beautiful beaches. What a blessing it was to spend moments together making priceless memories.  At the time, we were waiting in the wings for news of whether or not I had cancer.  Having already received the results of some of my scans, we knew the possibility of cancer was a very real one.  But, having gone through cancer before, we are/were also all too familiar with riding the waves of survivorship.  Sometimes, there are scary test and scan results that turn out to be nothing at all.  We've learned it's imperative to find balance while riding the waves, and that balance requires a steady footing. Sometimes that is much easier said than done, but regardless, without it, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the waters. 

One morning during our vacation, we got up early to take family photos on the beach.  Thanks to my sweet husband, who also served as our photographer, we were blessed with many great photos.  One of those photos, however, speaks to my heart the most.  It’s a photo of me with my boys gazing out at the vast waters before us. 

Like the stillness of the ocean in the photo that morning, sometimes the waters in our lives is calm. Other times, as we all know, it’s full of many unexpected waves…some waves will be breathtaking and wonderful and some will hit your heart so hard you don’t know if it will ever be able to beat again.  But, for every wave that crashes, my faith in Christ will stand.  He steadies my footing.  He calms the waves.




Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? 
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.- Psalm 89:8-9

This past Monday I received my first chemotherapy treatment. I am feeling well, just riding a few waves of nausea and fatigue.  But, God’s got this.  And, He’s got me.  And, for whatever waves you’re facing, He’s got you too. 

I’ll close with the lyrics from the song, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” as performed by Hillsong United.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

(Chorus)
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

(Chorus)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

(Chorus)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A New Chapter...

Confession: I am somewhat technologically challenged!  I had hoped to upload a video here to the blog page, but it appears the file it too large to do so.  So...if you feel so inclined, I would love for you to visit the Facebook page for the blog and watch the video there. 
Our family is embarking on a new chapter and we would so love for you to continue walking The Slickery Road of life with us.  

Much love to all of you,
Angela