Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quiet Noise

It's 3:30 a.m. and I've been up for the last 2 hours. The pain has been incredible - every movement sends a jolt so sleep just isn't happening. Maybe clearing my head onto this computer will help.

Good news is my latest biopsy and set of xrays all came back clear. Well, good news that it's clear, bad news that we're still in the dark. Obviously, the all clear does not mean all is well, or I wouldn't be sitting here unable to sleep. Nonetheless, still thankful. In my situation, every negative (test) is a positive.

My thoughts for the moment:

There's nothing like the quiet of night. It's amazing what you hear in the quiet. The creaking of the walls, the sound of my daughter gently snoring through her stuffed up nose, the whirl of the refrigerator, the breath of my husband. Sounds of life. Sounds that you wouldn't normally hear in the daytime, as it's drowned out by the TV, Pandora radio playing on the computer, cars driving by, kids playing. The trick is learning how to quiet our days so we can hear in the midst of life moving about us - turning down the noise or tuning out the distractions so that we can hear what really matters.

And with that, I think I'll try to sleep again...

Sweet dreams,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


A recent article in Whole Living Magazine (one of my faves) noted that when researchers monitored the stress levels of women scheduled to undergo either a simple breast biopsy or riskier procedure to treat cancer, they found the pre-biopsy group to have higher stress levels. They attribute the higher stress levels to the uncertainty of not having a diagnosis.

Well, Whole Living, thank you for affirming the fact that waiting for a diagnosis is indeed stressful. After having 3 biopsies in February and another one just today, I can attest that the wait is no fun. While I'm so thankful that my appointment with the specialist at OHSU was bumped up 7 weeks due to a cancellation, now that it's just a few days away I'm starting to feel that all too familiar knot in my stomach. Maybe you know it, hopefully you don't. I absolutely want to get the bottom of this. I want answers. I need to know what we're dealing with so that we can move forward and take care of it. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid. You see, while my symptoms and pain remained present, if not worse, during the last 2 months, the break from biopsies, MRIs, body scans, blood tests and doctors appointments was refreshing. It made me feel sort of normal again. A part of me hoped that it would all just go away, that it would resolve itself and the doctors would scratch their heads and be done with me. Well, it hasn't and here I am.

The Type A personality in me is going nuts with the uncertainty. How can I create an action plan when I don't know what the problem is? And the waiting. All this waiting is such an inefficient use of my time. Or is it? There are many things in life you learn (usually against your will) only through experience. The teacher in me is always looking for the lesson, the "teachable moment", if you will. And no, this is not about making lemonade out of my lemons (although it may be a little about making green juice out of spinach). Ah, I digress.

I'm learning to dance in the shadow that lies between uncertainty and faith, fear and peace, pain and resilience. There was a time when I thought that one was good, the other bad, but now I see that each has it's place. My prayers have changed. My hope has shifted. Instead of asking that fear be removed, I pray that it makes me run, sprint and dive into peace beyond understanding. Instead of asking that the pain be taken away, I pray that it shows me just how resilient I am and how beautifully and wonderfully we have been made. I'm learning to be a good steward, responsible for the health and life I've been given. As for the uncertainty - the uncertainty that has hovered way too close for way too long has taught me that I'm not in control. I don't have all the answers and I can't fix everything on my own. Instead, I have to loosen my grip, breathe and be still. In that place is a perfect peace. A peace that calms my racing heart even as I wait for yet another phone call, another result. Maybe that's the lesson: that sometimes answers don't come when we want, the way we want. And instead of answers, we find ourselves, God, and peace. That just might be worth waiting for.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Blogger's Remorse

It happens every time. That cringe on my face and knot in my stomach three seconds after I click "Publish Post". It's not that I don't want people to read my post (obviously, I started a blog on the internet). It's not that I'm ashamed of what I'm putting out there (actually the journey is pretty exciting). It's just that, well, I'm usually a bit more private, so throwing my heart and soul out into cyberspace can be a little unnerving.

I started thinking about what causes my momentary blogger's remorse. Fear of judgment? Criticism? Fear of being misunderstood? Negative feedback? No feedback? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really wasn't afraid of any of those things. Maybe I would have been when I was younger, before I had kids, before I faced a terrifying health scare. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I'm just out of my comfort zone and that alone can be scary. But sometimes that kind of scary pushes us to do great things, meet amazing people, create beautiful music, love without expectation.

When was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone?

Living outside the zone,

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I remember it like yesterday. 5 years old, walking into the old stone chapel, staring at the stained glass windows, in awe. There was something about the man in all those pictures, something about him captivated my 5-year old heart. It was an Episcopal school and I was just starting kindergarten. I had never been to church before so this was all new to me - this Jesus loves the little children stuff. Whoever he was, I liked him. Fast forward a few years. I transferred to a Catholic school for fourth grade. I was given a bible - my first one - and a rosary. I learned new songs, new prayers, and new stories. It all intrigued me. I told my mom I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a nun. Yup, the fascination lasted several years. I mean, how cool are they. They got to wear cute little outfits, sing, pray, help people, oh, and they didn't have to ever get married. I thought it was a great gig. It wasn't until about 5 years later, as a freshman in high school, that I really heard the gospel for the first time. When the speaker asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus into their heart I was a little confused. I sort of thought he was in my heart since I first saw him on that stained glass window back in kindergarten. But whatever, I raised my hand and made it "official".

It has been 20 years. Twenty years of walking beside Him, trusting Him, believing Him, questioning Him, crying out to Him, thanking Him. There were seasons of plenty, of rejoicing and of hope. But there have also been seasons of pain, heartache and doubt. Whatever the season, He has remained faithful and has proven over and over again that His love conquers all things.

Even as a Christian, I have often wrestled and found myself at odds with religion and the church. We get caught up in red and blue states, right or left, conservative or liberal, and forget to love our neighbor like ourselves. I once heard a very well-respected kahu (pastor) say that he often felt like he was "too much of an activist for the Christians, and too much of a Christian for the activists." If you ask me, Jesus was pretty radical. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and loved the unlovable. What an incredible example.

My 3 year old is not quite ready for the story 0f Jesus' death, let alone resurrection, so when talking to her about Easter I simply explained that Easter is about Jesus loving us. It's as simple as that. And what does He ask of us? Just that we love Him back and love others as much as we love ourselves.

This Easter, I am thankful. Thankful that I have been loved and can love in return. Thankful for childlike faith and stained glass windows.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We finished planting our second raised bed last weekend (and by we I mean I chose the plants and my husband did all the work). He planted romaine, celery, rainbow swiss chard, sprouting broccoli, red russian kale, carrots, beets and onion. I love it. I can't wait to grab some greens from our yard to juice in the morning.

In case you're wondering, the "cage" around the bed is to protect our precious veggies from the friendly neighborhood deer that hang out in our yard (oh, and the raccoons, squirrels, and wild turkeys too).

We also have some beautiful basil, mint, oregano, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender growing on our deck.
My daughter planted these sugar snap peas and is really excited about them growing up the fence. She checks on them every morning :)

There's no doubt that our garden is well-loved. My husband spends most of his spare time taking care of it. He even puts a special "blanket" on it every night to protect it from frost. It's his 3rd child for sure. I, on the other hand, will get dirty when it gets a little warmer out. Until then, I admire from afar and daydream about all the yummy dishes I'll soon be cooking up.

Happy Growing,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Learning to Celebrate

I love birthdays. I love finding the perfect gift for someone and writing them a mushy birthday card. I love birthday parties, birthday cakes, birthday lunch dates, birthday tea parties, and oh yes, birthday drinks. But here's the thing, I've never made a big deal about my own birthday. It has nothing to do with age or getting older - that stuff doesn't bother me much. Maybe I just don't like the fuss. Maybe I don't want to have expectations. Maybe I just don't know how to celebrate myself. Whatever the reason, and I'm sure some of my psychologist friends have an explanation for this, I'm just kind of a lame birthday girl.

When I was in the hospital and things weren't looking good I thought about my birthday indifference all these years and it made me sad. If there's ever a reason to celebrate it's another year well-lived. The bottom line: I can't wait until September. That's right, you heard me. My birthday is in September. Mark it on your calendars! :)

The problem is, September is 5 months away and I sort of wanted to celebrate already. So here's what I did. I wrote a list of 35 things I want to do, see or try while I'm still 35. Believe it or not it wasn't that easy. I found myself writing down tasks in typical to-do list fashion. But I didn't want this to be a to-do list. Yes, I want to organize the garage, paint my daughter's room and tear out the 1970s wallpaper in my bathroom, but this list is about LIVING, not just doing. So I crumbled up the list and started again, and again, and well, I'm at number 31 right now. I also had to be realistic about what I'll be able to do in the next 5 months. While I'm hopeful that we'll have a diagnosis soon and start some meaningful treatment, I don't think I'll be running my first marathon just yet. But I can sleep under the stars, learn how to make pad thai, go vegan for a week, make my own blueberry jam and dance at an outdoor concert. Doesn't that sound like fun! Who said we can only celebrate one day a year?

Happy 35!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Live Like You Mean It

A few weeks ago I started thinking about how different life would be if my results came back positive. I thought about what I would have been doing differently. And then it made me wonder. Why should my actions be any different? Why do we wait until we think we're dying to start fighting for our lives? It's so much easier to fight for our lives when we're well. And so I started to make some conscious decisions to live like I mean it. First up: optimum health.
When we were in the hospital my husband kept shaking his head and saying, "But you're so healthy. You eat well and take care of yourself. I don't get it." But really, I knew that there was more I could be doing. Laying there in a hospital bed, bruised from dozens of blood tests, I knew that I wanted to eat to nourish my cells, not make them work any harder than they have to.
With the help of Kris Carr's incredible book Crazy Sexy Diet, some Google research and a little soul searching, I created a plan that would work best for me and my family. In a nutshell, half of what we eat will be raw organic plant-based goodness, the other half will be a combination of lean proteins, cooked vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And with that, we got to work.

1st step: Plant an organic vegetable garden in our backyard.

My husband has been wanting to start a garden for over a year. In fact, one of the top 3 criteria while we were house hunting was garden space. He built these 2 beds over a weekend.
So far we've planted 2 different kinds of lettuce, kale, spinach and beets.

2nd step: Start juicing! (Thank you Grandma Jane for the new juicer) My goal is to drink green juice (kale, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, celery,broccoli stems and ginger) 4 times a week for breakfast. It actually tastes a lot better than it sounds. And the thought that I took in that many vegetables before Sesame Street is pretty incredible.
On the days that I don't have a green juice I'm experimenting with other vegetable smoothies. This one has romaine, cucumbers, avocado, banana and agave. I'll be honest, this one was hard to swallow. Okay, I gagged through the whole thing. It wasn't so much the taste as it was the temperature and consistency. I'm going to crush up some ice next time. :)
Adding these goodies to my diet has been fun and easy. It's the taking away that has been (a lot) harder. I'm trying to cut out all refined sugars. Let me tell you, it has not been easy. Have you ever seen those tobacco commercials with the woman who smokes the cigarettes through the hole in her throat? I sort of feel the same way about sugar. It's addictive! Oh, if only my green juice would cancel out that bowl of ice cream, I'd be golden. I know what you're thinking - there's nothing wrong with a bowl of ice cream every now and then. I absolutely agree. There is nothing wrong with it, but I just don't think it's helping me either. If my inflammation levels weren't still sky rocketing maybe I would have a case. And if my body wasn't throbbing in pain from whatever it is that's throwing it out of whack, I would say that it's harmless too. But the truth is, sugar wreaks havoc on your immune system and is highly inflammatory so I don't exactly have the luxury to indulge at the moment. It's all good though. There are few things that are truly worth fighting for and health is absolutely on the shortlist.

Cheers to some green juice,

Friday, April 15, 2011

How It All Began

I could have never imagined the series of events that would lead me to start this blog. In my case, the road leading here is just as important as the road ahead so please excuse me while I take my time explaining.

In early October 2010, just a month short of giving birth to my second daughter (c-section), I started to have pretty severe back pain. I assumed it was just standard c-section recovery coupled with nursing, caring for an infant and toddler and having my baby sleep on me every night for the first few weeks. I assumed it would just go away. It didn't. I was stiff as a board and every little task caused pain. I couldn't lay flat on my back. Couldn't cough, sneeze or breathe deep. Hurt to do much of anything. Several weeks later, I finally decide to see an internist. Maybe I punctured a lung. Maybe I broke something in the 8 hours I was in "natural" labor with no drugs (except pitocin). I certainly pushed hard enough to break something in there. Sure enough the Dr. confirmed my original thought - just a rough recovery: get a massage, go to physical therapy, take it easy.

At my first physical therapy appointment, the PT said I was the "stiffest spine" he had seen for someone my age in his whole career. At least I knew I wasn't making this all up. I lugged my 3 month old and almost 3 year old with me to every appointment for the next month. Not so fun when you can hardly move and it's barely 30 degrees out. Christmas and New Year came and went. My progress was slow, maybe even backwards. Pain started moving to my arms and legs. Not good. My PT decides that more brains (and hands) are needed and refers me to the head of the clinic. We start a new treatment plan: water therapy everyday for the first week, no laundry, no vacuuming, no carrying anything heavier than my baby, new exercises to attempt every few hours. I saw some gains. I certainly got some range of motion back. Some days were better than others. Still, I wasn't seeing the progress I needed to make. In fact, the pain had radiated to my arm/shoulder so bad that I couldn't pump the soap dispenser, couldn't shift into reverse, and moaned every time I picked up my baby. I was getting tired of hearing myself. I was frustrated and oh so over it. My PT determined that the problem in my shoulder was a separate issue and would require a separate insurance referral. He asked me to have my Primary Care Physician call in the request. Fortunately, my PCP wasn't going to call anything in. He asked me to come in to see him.

It's early February. I'm still lugging my girls (now 5 months and 3 years old) to appointment after appointment. After just a couple minutes with me, my internist orders blood work and x-rays, tells me to come back in a few days. He tells me to wean my daughter so that he can "treat" the pain. I cry. He tells me I'll still be a good mother. Results come back. My erythrocyte sedimentation rate (indicating inflammation) is high. Really high. He wants to do more blood work and schedules me for an MRI. There's talk of arthritis of the spine, other rheumatological conditions - none of them sound fun, or temporary.  The MRI is almost 2 hours long. I'm not claustrophobic but 2 hours trapped in a machine is too much time to be alone with my thoughts.

It's Valentines Day. The girls and I went to Borders for some books, coffee (aka: chocolate soy milk and pomegranate tea) and a Valentine brownie. It was a simple and perfect day. We planned on making chocolate covered strawberries later that afternoon. When we got home I put the girls down for their nap and started to clean up and get things ready for our Valentine evening with daddy. The phone rings. The MRI results are in and the doctor wants to see me. Can I be there in 10 minutes? No, I can't be there in 10 minutes. My heart starts to pound. Okay, come in at 4:30. I call my husband, ask him to meet me there. What could be so urgent?

Sitting in the exam room with my girls, my husband isn't there yet. My doctor walks in and explains I have 2 lesions on my spine. He needs to do more tests and wants to admit me to the hospital tonight. He starts to ask questions, so many questions, then proceeds to give me the longest breast exam ever. What is going on? He asks me again if I can get to the hospital tonight. I look at my girls. A lump starts to build in my throat. I look my doctor in the eye and ask, "Are you telling me you think this is serious enough to go to the hospital right now?" Without hesitation, "Yes, it could be anything. Anything from an infection to cancer. We need to do more tests." Cancer? How the heck did cancer get thrown into this mix? My face feels hot. Tears start to run down my face. My husband shows up. Doctor talks to him outside. We go home to pack our bags.
My brother-in-law comes to pick up the girls. I pack their bags. I don't know what I'm doing. I can't think straight. I nurse my baby one more time and my husband loads them into the van. Happy Valentines Day girls. I love you.

The drive to the hospital is surreal. Just a few hours ago I was looking at recipes for our Valentines Day dinner, now I'm being admitted to the hospital. I check in to the neurology floor. The nurses hurry to get me all suited up and ready for some tests. Over the next several days I'll have a chest x-ray, CT scan, full body bone scan, another CT scan with contrast dye, a mammogram, a breast ultrasound and dozens of blood tests. Each time I went in for another scan, the tears rolled down the side of my face, my milk leaked and drenched my hospital gown. Another reminder of what I should have been doing at that moment. I missed my babies. The mammogram and ultrasound showed a mass in my breast and spots on my lymph nodes. The oncologists pay me a visit. I'm scared, confused and need some answers. They explain that the lesions on my spine may very well be breast cancer that has metastasized on my spine. My heart pounds. I can't believe what I'm hearing. In one breath, they tell me that we still don't have an official diagnosis - they need to do a biopsy - but in another breath they talk to me about a treatment plan: radiation and/or chemotherapy and surgery. I'm told there is an excellent cancer treatment facility in Texas. I'm told that these days it's better to have cancer than heart disease. Wait. What? I can't believe I'm listening to this. The next evening, my very as a matter of fact breast surgeon comes to examine me and discuss the breast biopsy. She throws "cancer" around like nothing, just something that has to be taken care of, like a bad cough or a wart. I, on the other hand, can't stop shaking. My entire body is trembling. She says she'll be back tomorrow for the biopsy. My husband holds me. We pray but can't find words, only tears.

There's too much to take in and we're in disbelief. At this point, we have three hurdles to clear: cancer in the breast, blood and bone. I ask my husband to go to the gift shop and buy me a journal. I need to write. He picks out the prettiest one and I start to write as though my life depends on it. The next day I have two biopsies: one of my lymph node and one of my breast. They tell me I can go home tomorrow and wait for the results.

Everything looked different on the drive home. I remember when I got glasses for the first time in the 8th grade. We were driving home and I couldn't believe I could see all the leaves on the trees. In the same way, everything looked clearer and more vibrant than ever. We got home and everything was as I left it on Valentines Day. It seemed like a lifetime ago. My sister was on her way with the girls. I didn't know how I would react when I saw them. I took a shower and cried one of those cries you can only have in the shower. The van pulled up and the joy is indescribable. I held them for what seemed like forever and fortunately, they let me.

We spent the next couple of days enjoying each other. I was completely present. Every meal. Every story. Every hug. I was there, embracing the moment and etching it into my memory. Life was beautiful. While I was terrified of the phone call I'd be getting, I wasn't going to let fear steal one moment from me, at least not one moment the girls were awake. I found myself in bed every night in a puddle of my own tears. God knew my fears and I knew he heard my cry.

The next day we drove to visit my sister and her kids. The kids played. My sister and I talked and laughed. My husband, well, he tried. He tried, that is, until my cell phone rang. It was the oncologist's office and the nurse wanted to confirm my appointment for next week. I told her I'd be there and proceeded to ask if my results came in and if she knew anything. She hesitantly said that she normally doesn't discuss results over the phone but she didn't want me to worry. She explained that both biopsies came back benign, negative for cancer. I kept saying it out loud, "So I don't have cancer!" She assured me that the two biopsies came back negative but that I would now have to schedule a biopsy on my spine. I could tell she didn't want me to celebrate prematurely. But still, we cleared 2 out of 3 hurdles. I'll never forget my husband's reaction. He ran into the other room because he was just so overwhelmed. Amazing. I was so relieved and thankful. I knew we had another bridge to cross and while I was so thrilled with the results, I just couldn't let my brain go into full celebration mode. Plus, there was still the issue of pain. I still had incredible pain in my back and my inflammation levels continued to be 10 times more than the normal levels.

Later that week I had a biopsy on my spine. There's a 2 inch scar where the neurosurgeon went in and took out part of the lesion. Recovery was incredibly long and painful. The call came in about a week later. No cancer. The lesions were classified as "bone remodeling" - most likely the result of trauma or an infection. So there it is. All three biopsies cleared. No cancer. The doctors were baffled. Thank you, Lord.  I am currently on a low dose of steroids to manage the pain and I am waiting to meet with a specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University. Hoping for a diagnosis soon so I can move forward with proper treatment.

This blog will document my journey of health, wellness, faith, and happiness. I decided to start the blog for a few reasons:

* For my daughters: When I was in the hospital (and for the 2 weeks we were under the cancer cloud) I kept thinking about how young my daughters were and how much I had to teach them. I can't get sick. I have daughters to raise. I sobbed at the thought of not being around for them. I wrote them letters, mommy to daughter stuff. Just seeing the words on the page gave me a sense of peace. They are too young to understand what's going on right now but at some point, when they're older, I want them to be able to read about this season of our lives. I want them to know what we went through as a family. I want them to get a glimpse of mommy as a woman, a woman fighting for her health and her life. I want to give them something that will last a lifetime.

* For you: We have had incredible support from family and friends. The outpouring of love and prayers has been overwhelming. The sense of community has made me want to walk with you even further. If any part of my journey encourages you to live and love better, well then, what more can we ask for.

* For myself: I always thought I was too private for a blog. And really, I sort of am. But here's the thing. I have learned more, changed more and experienced more in the last 6 months than I have in years. There's so much to take in and so much more to go. I need to document it. I need to be accountable to myself. For me, writing is healing and empowering, two things I could use right now. I am determined to not just live, but thrive. And I'm going to do it out loud!

Peace and Love,