When it has been a year: 5 things I learned in 2017

I love me a good fresh start just like any self-respecting Type A, INFJ, enneagram 3 and a New Year is prime time to do some serious navel gazing and where are we going from here pondering. Also a softie at heart I revel in all the look back and reflect type exercises too. Our family has a yearly tradition of writing our top ten lists on New Year's Eve. I personally love finding the good, the blessings, the wonder, and I find it connecting to hear what stood out for the people I love too. Not a shock to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit but 2017 kicked my behind. 2017 kicked my husband's behind. 2017 was a year we will never forget, even when we wish we could. During the top ten family list making, several events popped up that I had already forgotten about - a bunch of situations that in a normal year would have stood out for their 'badness'. But this year they disappeared into the cobwebs of my brain crowded out by much bigger situations. Despite all the hard things, I remember 2017 almost exactly like this:

2017 was a good year. It was a year I saw my children thrive and continue to believe in love and goodness. It was a year we celebrated Aaron's 40th birthday and our 19th anniversary and surprise! we still love and like each other very much, and to me that is no small thing. It was a year I got to jump off more things into water with the ones I love and what else could I ask for, after all that was my hope. It was a year I found Jesus my constant companion in the midst of not doing, in the midst of having to be helped, in the midst of fear, anxiety and sickness. It was a year I came to fully believe that even if the worst happened, I trusted God for good. It was a year I started to reclaim who I am at my core and how I want to live that out.

2017 was a year I survived, a fact I am damn proud of and looking back there are some things a survival year has taught me, recorded here so just like our annual top ten lists, I don't forget.

1. You can do hard things (even when you don't want to).  This phrase is a bit cliche these days but it is also true. We don't know what we are made of until we have to make it through something hard we haven't chosen and then trust me, you can do more than you ever guessed about yourself. This doesn't mean we always jump up and down with glee over these 'opportunities' for growth, or feel immediate gratitude for being drawn closer to what really matters through suffering. What it does mean is that even if we wouldn't wish this situation on our worst enemy and we are perfectly happy to remain shallow if we could pass this by, when push comes to shove, by relying on God and those who love us we can do this really hard thing.

2. Healing takes longer than you think it should. I could write a whole book about this but if you have been through a trauma like potentially loosing health, life, safety, a loved one, it takes time to heal. Physically yes, but also emotionally and mentally. See a counselor, pray, go to yoga, spend time in nature, move your body - it's all steps in the right direction but it is still slower going than you would like it to be. Most other people won't understand this and will expect you to be 'normal' pretty ASAP. Hold onto your healing path anyway.

3. It is okay just to survive. There is a movement in the cancer online world to call oneself a cancer 'thriver'. I swear I wanted to sucker punch someone each and every time I read that. Look, this shit is hard and getting through something that will kill you if left untreated is not in most people's 'thrive' zone. There will be other times you can thrive, other times you can do all the things you see other people not currently going through crises doing. Just getting through cancer or another traumatic season - I'm giving you a gold star all the way.

4. It is okay to say no. Most people I know fall into two categories. The first are people who are okay with taking help and these people also seem to be better at self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. The second is people who are not so great at taking help, self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. I was in the second category and am trying to slowly move myself more into the first category. I had to say no a lot this year, I took a lot of help this year, I set boundaries and placed a lot of self-imposed limits and sometimes it was really hard. No, scratch that out, each and every time it was really hard. But...BUT I did make some breakthroughs and learned I cannot be all things to all people and even if people might feel mad or sad or excluded I can give empathy, but it is not my job to do their emotional work or meet each and every persons’ needs. (This itself was several counselling sessions of material.) I remind myself of this often because it is still my primal instinct to change what will be best for myself and my family to make everyone else like me, and to try and do all the things because that used to be easy for me. If you are in the second category like me, know the world will keep on turning even if you say no, set boundaries, take help. It's uncomfortable at first (or maybe forever) but there is more room for authenticity and wholeheartedness which in my opinion is a decent trade off.

5. Everyone needs more grace. Including myself. Having spent much of this year in survival mode has made me act in ways I haven't always felt proud of. In survival mode things often feel scarce, like there isn't enough to go around and I am at my absolute worst when I am operating from that place. I have said and done things or not done things I wish 100x over I could undo. I couldn't do everything I actually wanted to do (not just felt I should) because I didn't always have the energy to. I try to use this as a guidepost for myself when other people do things I think are douchy too. Most likely they are feeling scarce because of a hard thing or a past hard thing just like I am. So I keep reminding myself, more grace, grace all around.

I'd love to hear what you learned in 2017 too.

Making Space for Hope: Advent Week One

It is the first week of advent and just now, five days in already I have had some time and space to sit down and be still. To think a little bit about this season and what I am hoping for this year. People keep asking me if I am ready for Christmas and to be honest it hardly feels like December yet, so no, no I'm not. Basically our life is the same as your very own. Our days are full, we juggle some mix of parenting, work, volunteering, appointments, keeping everything somewhat clean and kiddos tummies full, managing minor and major crises in-between the connection and laughter. We are in the mid life years where our days often start before the sun comes up and find us about ten pm, hours after the sun has set in our northern latitude finishing up supper dishes during the first chance we have had.

Mid-life is a daily practice in being present and in making space where it seems there isn't any to be made.

I so often feel we live in a world that wants us to rush on from one thing to the next. Christmas decorations are for sale before Halloween is over, a symptom of a culture encouraging us to keep looking endlessly forward for our contentment and our joy instead of finding it right here in this very day. This is why I love advent so much, I believe. It is a season of counter-cultural beliefs and practices. As much as it may not be advertised as such advent is intended as a season of reprieve from all the doing and never enough and endless thinking about the next thing. A time to step away from the always seductive promise of bigger and better stealing both my contentment and my life.

If I remember to let it be so advent is a season of stillness, of waiting and repenting and sitting right where I am under the wonder of the full moon with the one who made me. A time for moving slower, pondering more.

Advent is a time to find just one reason to hope in a world where there are a million not to. A time for softening my heart a little bit more towards God who came as an infant - as a vulnerable minority refugee. It is a time to both ponder and act on ways I could further align my own now softer heart with the ways of God I don't always understand. A time to look for ways I could help plant or water one more seed of subversiveness to help kingdom come.

Advent is about opening my eyes to see the beauty of creation and love and mercy all around me, to drink those things in with my spirit, to remind me there aren't only hardships and heartbreak and horrors. Advent is about making space for hope and being still with a God who always works towards good and finishes what is promised.

 

(Mostly I 'do' this by sitting quietly, or not so quietly depending on which children are awake/around, praying and reading from one of these books or listening to something - no rules, nothing set in stone, just which ever one catches my spirit when I make space to sit down and be still.)

A Widening Light by Luci Shaw,editor

Book of advent themed poetry by assorted authors, all with eyes to see creation and God and faith in new and life giving ways, perfect for reading and pondering one at a time in a snippet of time.

Circle of Grade by Jan Richardson

Every blessing in this book has moved me to tears or towards hope. Richardson incorporates both beauty and heartbreak, which to me is the only type of honest blessing there is.

Watch For The Light

Daily writings for the whole pre-advent through epiphany season by assorted authors. I don't read them everyday but when I do they always give me something challenging to think about.

Wintersong by Madelieine L'Engle and Luci Shaw

Journal entry snippets, poetry, essays from two of my favourite writers. If you haven't read these women you are missing out on mid-life artist/faith wisdom from L'Engle and stunning nature/faith reflections from Shaw.

Listening to:

Pray As You Go podcast

Simple Advent playlist on Spotify

Advent 2016 thoughts on hope

Advent 2014 thoughts on hope

And continued here

 

 

Today

Life just keeps right on chugging along and here we are mid-July already, can you actually believe it? The garden is growing; full of weeds, a little too wild as usual and right alongside it my kiddos. My baby who I will always and forever swear was just born turned seven and asked to climb a real mountain for her birthday so they did - all 2407 meters (7898 feet) of Ha-Ling with daddy and her siblings, this mama who is afraid of heights stopping 4/5 of the way to the top.

My middle doesn't have many little girl years left so I am enjoying this one so much, watching her be so wild and free in who she is is a gift. She swims on scorching days and curls up with her cat and a novel on the rainy ones in between.

My oldest is growing into an almost teenager - serious and just and determined. He fractured his wrist playing soccer but hasn't let it slow him down much and has still played soccer an almost obscene number of hours this month which makes him happier than truly anything else in the world right now.

I finished a quilt I've been wanting to make for seven years. I've been playing with the kids and cutting flowers to bring inside. Taking us all to water when the weather allows. Walking the dog with Aaron after the kids are in bed. I went back to work (part time) a few months back so that has taken away some of my writing time but it's been okay - I've been working on listening as my default, instead of always contributing.

When I think back to summers growing up I remember what seemed like an endless stretch of days that didn't fly by as they seem to now. We swam at the outdoor pool and read book after book, played outside for hours with our friends. We always went camping to visit my dad's family where we restored all our souls surrounded by British Columbia's water. After September long weekend, I was okay with going back to school, ready for the newness and routine after getting my fill of floating through the summer days doing more as I pleased.

Now I'm a middle aged mother who wakes up wanting to make the most of each day because every year I can feel a bit more panicky about summer going too fast - about how many more years I will have my kids at home. A week can go by in a blink where I feel like not much happened except our regular life.

My grandmother is right, time does go more quickly as we get older.

Here I am smack dab in the middle of summer, smack dab in the middle of my ordinary, but oh so beautiful life. Perspective is everything, or so they say and I will say that having cancer, in my experience anyway, hones your perspective about almost everything.

Summer does go by faster than I want it to, each and every year but also: that is okay. These things I am doing in my ordinary weeks, I am glad for them. Not everyone gets to wake up and go to work, cook another meal, wash that daily stinky load of sports laundry, read bedtime stories, reach out to hold the person's hand to offer forgiveness first after a fight. Not everyone gets to scrub their toilets, pull weeds, get snacks for all the neighbour kids. All these things I used to see sometimes begrudgingly as 'have' to do alongside the playing and swimming and reading and memory making, I don't see it that way anymore. I see I don't have to's - I see 'get' to's.

God is in the mountain tops yes, and yes God was faithfully with me during sickness and fear. Those are easy for me to remember. But also today, this very one rainy summer day, this is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Because God is also here in this, the ordinary, everyday. All our 'have to's' are suddenly sacred if you imagine it all gone. I'm like Jacob, I have woken up and seen that the Creator is in this place and I did not know it. The holy ground of middle life.

Life may be shorter than you thought so do all the big things you want to do. Plan the trip, climb the mountain, start and finish the big project, for goodness sake get the tattoo you have been thinking about for more than a decade. Throw yourself the party you always wanted, jump into the water fully dressed. Follow where the spirit calls.

But also life may be shorter than you thought so be right here, today, don't waste it away in forever being slightly ill contented. Don't let what ifs and could it be betters and comparisons steal anything away from what you have today.

Settle into who you are and don't wish for someone else's dreams or happiness because this right here whatever God put in front of you is enough. Smile and stop and look into the eyes of the people you love (and maybe even at some you don't), cherish your coffee, find joy in all those get to's. Sieze the shit out of it. Do your ordinary, everyday things in between the big things and love them just as much if not more. No more panicking, just rejoicing.

 

On pieces

I'm looking out the window at our apple tree all in bloom. Sitting under it and breathing deeply gives you a glimpse of heaven, just this one week or so a year, the air infused with it's scent. It's like hearing a baby laugh or kissing your love in front of the stove - all just feels possible. I'd like to be on my way to watch my oldest's soccer game, this early Saturday morning, because I love seeing my kids do what makes them feel alive. But I have two darlings still sleeping soundly, despite me opening their black out blinds, showering and putzing around with their door open. And it's like someone said to me yesterday, I still can't wake a sleeping baby. Amen forever friend.

So I thought I would write out some thoughts here instead, towards the end of May. Here where I most often sit down to write, I have just a few things that really inspire me hanging in my little office alcove. Two of them are meant to be stone drink coasters but they were hand painted on salt spring and I don't believe in hiding art with a beverage. Instead I asked Aaron to figure out a way to hang them for me and, of course he did. One says 'create' and one says 'still'. Visual reminders of two things I so often prioritize as last on the list. But not this year, this long, late winter and early spring has been a season of stillness for me. A season of sitting with myself and the one who made me.

Last I wrote here it was late March and I knew it would be a haul to get through the last of winter. I wasn't wrong. April passed by in snow day after snow day. Towards the end of the month on the day I turned 38, I looked in the mirror after a yoga class. Wearing just my sports bra and yoga capris I didn't recognize the person I saw looking back at me.

My face looked worn and a little lifeless. I have gotten my first grey hairs, given to me not by my children but instead by the stress of cancer. I have been through things this 37th year that have temporarily drained away my eyes ease and sparkle.

List that under things I have lost in my 37th year. One appendix, one ovary, one cancerous tumor. The daily sparkle in my eyes. Having enough energy to get through what used to be a normal day. Knowing who I am, believing I am guaranteed a normal life span. Believing I am guaranteed anything.

I could also see some of the things gained: nine abdominal scars, one tattoo, the gift of more time to live my life. Insight as to what is important to me. An absolute knowledge that God is with me and loves me. Gratitude for everything I have that I used to take for granted. It's hard to catch me feeling jealous anymore, I'm too aware of my own life's goodness. I see gifts everywhere and lament when I see opportunities to receive turned away or missed.

My husband and I joke about cancer being one of the mid-life crisises you don't get to pick. Other people might be buying fancy cars, or changing jobs, or taking really cool trips, or doing something else to get some joy or try and figure out or live out who we really are because we are somewhere around forty and we have no more babies so, heck, why not? But us, we got cancer to bring about intense life reevaluation and even though I didn't need chemo and am in a promising place health wise now, my very self has shifted in ways and in magnitude I didn't expect.

The best I can explain what cancer did to me is this. It shattered my very self into a thousand pieces. All the things I have chosen to be, or had to be to survive, to thrive, or often just things I thought I had to do or be are lying there on the ground about my feet. I'm standing in the middle of a broken mirror, my reflection disjointed, fractured. I look at it with interest like I would a Picasso, not like something that belongs to me. I knew cancer would be hard, but this still wasn't what I was expecting.

I've been going to a counselor because, well, because of what I said above. I wouldn't wish cancer or any trauma on anyone, but I will just say this: counseling has been a gift I've probably needed since high school and cancer made me get it.

I've seen her for lots of things but one of the things I saw her for was mourning over the loss of myself. Over not knowing who I am. Over feeling like everything I ever cared about, I'm not sure if I do anymore. Over having no idea of who I will be when this all settles. Over feeling like a gross, messy, self-absorbed pile of goop.

My counselor rocks because she looked at me and said something to this extent: 'Yes that is really hard, totally shitty, you should really mourn that because it's sad and hard.' But then she leaned closer and said 'but also Leah you can be anything you want' in a voice rich with excitement and possibility.

So here, at the end of May as I look out at new life blooming literally right in front of my eyes, I'm starting to see it differently. I look down at those shards, at those pieces and I'm curious and slightly hopeful. All of a sudden winter is over, spring is in full swing and I'm more worried about picking up too many or the wrong ones than I am about seeing them all lying there.

Late March

It is snowing outside again today - big flakes backed by a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Even though we have lived in Northern Alberta for eleven years now, winter still feels long, each and every year. I grew up in Southern Alberta where there were always tulips in early April and we never wore snowsuits (or even coats) for Halloween. Probably only four to six weeks less of winter a year, but enough of a difference to make me feel trapped after the five and a half or so months we get here. I'm dreaming of bare feet on grass. I quit facebook, probably not forever, but for well over a week now. My mind needed some extra space, and I don't have the self-discipline to stop checking on my own, so quitting it was. I'm craving a lot of quiet which is ironic for a woman who homeschools her three children, has a nine week old puppy and is living out the last few weeks of full on winter. I'm trying all my get through this season tricks that are available to me.

Running usually helps me get through this period of the year and I'm missing the mental clarity it brings to me. I've been thinking much about running because yes, I'm missing how it makes me feel but also because I feel like I have just run a race. A race I didn't sign up for and I didn't know how long it was going to be.

This is true of any tragedy, of any trauma, of any hardship that comes and surprises us I think. For anything you have to do that you really would rather not have to handle. Any race you would rather not have to run.

The actual running of the race is the really hard and scary part. You have to push yourself, you use all your positive thinking mind tricks, you tell yourself you aren't tired and that heck yes, you can go a lot further. You tell yourself you are strong, you are brave, you are not a victim. Because you are, but also because if you didn't think you were before, you have to be now.

You have to surrender yourself to the process, to God, to faith and hope. You give yourself over to the belief that good will come from this. Because the alternative just doesn't jive with your soul.

Of course there are times where you break down, where you think you can't do this anymore. Times when you depend on the medics and the volunteers who pass out water and your family and friends who helped you train and are cheering you on, even if they don't really understand running at all.

After you are patched up, cheered on, taken care of, you keep going because you aren't ready to give up. Mostly you do pretty well and don't break down too often,  and you think I'm okay, I'm fine, I'm not tired. I can keep doing this shit like I was born to handle it. This goes on for varying lengths of time and involves random changes in the course.

You keep going because you are strong, you are brave yes, but also because you are tenderhearted. Because you have the will to live and grow and heal. You learn all kinds of things about God and your self you weren't sure you ever wanted to learn. You make it through things that are taking every ounce of will you have.

Then one day the race is over, at least for now.

And whatever your race is that you didn't choose and didn't know how long it would be, when it is over you are tired. Maybe it was only a half marathon instead of a full or maybe you had to do the whole freaking iron man. Anyone who has trained for these types of runs knows, you lie to yourself to get yourself through. No I'm not tired. I can keep going. This hill is no big deal. But when you let yourself stop, when the race is done, it comes flooding in. Tired muscles, tired lungs, tired self.

So here I am in late March. Tired. Feeling acceptance about this messy middle, the place where I can't feel all the gratitude I know I will feel when I've sat here long enough to catch my breath, when I've stopped racing long enough to have recovered a bit more.

It's my nature to rush this, just like the last few weeks of winter, to wish it away, instead of learning from where I am at. So for now I tell myself, spring is coming, everything just needs a bit more rest.

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Seven sweet things

You know things are still kind of heavy around here despite the fact that I have just avoided an insanely major surgery and chemo. All I can say right now is that going through cancer is a lot and it doesn't just end when you get good news. (I wish it would!!) Although you are of course, thankful, you see how much you were just getting through and how much there is to deal with in the aftermath. So I thought I would do just a fun little post of seven sweet things that are getting me through right now. Maybe you have some things that are getting you through too right now, whatever it is you are getting through, be that simply March (in Canada) or something harder.

  1. Koa Blue: Yes we got a dog. Aaron has been searching for years and it felt like time, then we found out I had cancer and I wanted to bail. Aaron however would not bail, which is just like him (fun parent!) and I'm so glad I was too tired to argue and also smart enough to trust him that it would work out. Because I love this dog and three of my four people are dog people and thriving with him in the house. He is basically like a real life stuffie.
  2. Afternoon naps: On the couch while my kids mill around and sometimes bicker. Oh well because they get me through until ten pm.
  3. Fresh flowers: Last two weeks of February and all of March are my very least favourite. Fresh flowers in the kitchen make this last stretch of winter so much more bearable. Bonus if they smell as good as these hyacinths.
  4. Forcing ourselves out of doors: Even though it has been -20 or more and snowing we are going out every day. We bought some wool face warmers and have been skiing, sledding and walking anyway. Bonus had the whole hill to ourselves.
  5. Thinking about my summer garden: I'm not too excited about my veggies this year to be honest, the whole veggie patch may end up in potatoes, but I am excited to hopefully expand my front flower bed and dreaming of all the pretty things I can grow there.
  6. Pray as you go podcast: listening every day through lent first thing in the morning. Helps me wake up purposefully and have a bit of reflective quiet with God and time of gratitude first thing.
  7. Smoothies: after juicing *most* mornings for months, green smoothies are such a treat! Mango, pineapple, spinach my current favourite!

What sweet things are getting you through right now?

 

 

Blessing the Dust (Surprises Part IV)

There is this poem for Ash Wednesday called Blessing the Dust by Jan Richardson from her book called Circle of Grace. She talks about dust and what humans are made from. About how old stars from who knows what galaxy live in our bones. It mesmerizes me and I will post it at the end as her sorrow mixed with hope brings me to tears every time. It was just the thing to soothe my soul this past Ash Wednesday

Also, my own words are not very eloquent right now. There is good advice among writers to write from where you are healed not from where it is still raw and gaping. This thing about which I'm to share is still very raw and gaping which may puzzle you once you read it but there it is.

I saw my oncologist on Wednesday and got some shocking news that they are not recommending the next surgery/hot chemo treatment at this time (what! and yes I argued with her about it and my results for a half hour.) By some miracle my two new lesions they thought were starting baby tumors were benign. More than that all the mucin they sampled (from multiple places but there was a large sample size on my right ovary that was removed) was acellular. After my ovary surgery no one told me it was even a possibility that this could be the result (no one even explained to me the difference between acellular and epithelial mucin) and when they called to book my next oncologist appointment (apparently before all my results were in) I was told to ‘discuss your situation and surgery’.  The only surgery this oncologist does is cyto/hipec. I was told multiple times along the way by several different doctors that new lesions and mucin would mean cyto + hipec. No one told me that there was a chance all that mucin could be acellular instead of epithelial containing. And my CT scan and bloodwork I had done a few weeks after my last surgery came back clear. Anyway I am in MASSIVE shock and grateful to have been a surprise to my oncologist, but also to be fully honest still quite stressed and anxious. My brain feels very holey.

For the first 24 hours after I got the news all I could think about is that my doctor was wrong and that I should get another opinion, trying to get in with another appendix cancer specialist in Calgary. I’m feeling a bit of shame about not feeling all the joy and relief those who love me are feeling. But as someone who loves me said: after five months of some serious ups and downs, two surgeries and many more other minor procedures and tests and appointments it is not surprising my brain and body are having trouble shifting out of fight or flight mode and to give myself grace in that.

Now that it has settled in a few more hours and I’ve had some time to search on pubmed and at look current pathology guidelines (hello type J who deals with anxiety with an attempt at control) I do feel like I am moving more in the direction of accepting this news.

I already have my next scans booked for late September and will continue to have scans for a good many years as there is a 10-30% chance of reoccurance (if so at which point they would give me the cyto/hipec surgery I was expecting to have this spring) but for now they are considering me no evidence of disease (NED).

Now I need to rest and have some time to let my soul settle and breathe and think about what all this means after an insane five months. Also to continue with the healing process; body, mind and spirit.

But first I have to say thank you. I know not all of you believe in God but I do, so I am massively grateful to God's gifts to me in this which have not just been physical healing. Through all of this insane ride I have felt God's presence by my side, even when I feared for the worst I was comforted and loved.  And also thank you to all of you: I have been so blessed through this by other's thoughts, prayers (to all the complete strangers and people who don't know me well praying for me, thank you), healing energy, making me laugh, sending me encouraging messages, information, cards, food, flowers, balloons, and so much more. It is humbling to think about and brings me to tears of gratitude daily at how good all you people are. Truly. To all of you thank you. To the few of you who were witness to my not so graceful parts of this - thank you too for listening to me through snotty tears and rambling incoherent thoughts and anger on my really hard days and standing by my side anyway.

To all of you: Thank you for showing me all the stars blazing in your bones.

 

Blessing the Dust: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days you felt like dust, like dirt, as if all you had to do was turn your face toward the wind and be scattered to the four corners

or swept away by the smallest breath as insubstantial—

did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?

This is the day we freely say we are scorched.

This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.

This is the moment we ask for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes, that makes its home inside the soil of this sacred earth.

So let us be marked not for sorrow. And let us be marked not for shame. Let us be marked not for false humility or for thinking we are less than we are

but for claiming what God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff of which the world is made and the stars that blaze in our bones and the galaxies that spiral inside the smudge we bear.

—Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace

 

 

 

How are you?

The question I get asked most these days is 'how are you?' I understand, it is what I wonder about people too. I wonder what are you thinking about, what makes your soul sing, have you read anything good? Do you feel like you are living an authentic life, what is really hard right now, how is the weather affecting you and what makes you feel alive? You know, how are you? I'm not sure that is exactly what people mean when they ask me; they may mean something more like how are you physically feeling, or are you going to survive?

So here is my answer: even when you have cancer not much changes. Life goes on in all the regular, beautiful, everyday ways. My kids still wake up needing to eat and learn and be parented. Sometimes I can cherish every second and sometimes I'm just hanging in there until I get an hour with no one talking to me. Aaron and I are still married, we still need to connect with each other and pay our bills and do our jobs, we still love each other very much.

Normal things happen: we went to the symphony and my girls got the flu and we fold laundry and do math and watch soccer games and clean out the chicken coop. My sister had a baby on Valentine's Day, I can't wait to hold her, a miraculous reminder of things carrying on just as they should.

I still like to write and post things on instagram and be in nature and talk to my best friends and laugh and find beauty everyday. I'm tired because I'm often not sleeping and also, oh yeah, maybe the cancer, but otherwise, it is life pretty much as normal and I'm doing okay.

 

And here is also my answer: when you have cancer everything changes. It starts out with your heart being broken. It most likely will be re-broken many times along the way and you have to decide, after you mourn, to pick up from there and move on. It challenges every thought you have ever had about how things are, about how if you do enough, you will succeed, certainly at something as simple and straightforward as keeping yourself healthy.

It makes you look at your very own life and examine every part. Is this really what I want to be doing? Is this how I want to spend my days? Is this how I want to treat people? Is this really important? Important enough to trade my time for?

It makes you wonder, what is this here to teach me? What goodness will come from this?

Cancer makes you say everyday 'I am healing' and at first you only believe it metaphorically. But then with the gift of a magical unicorn lightbeam of a healer and the power of the holy spirit, you realized as you said it two days ago, for the first time, yes, you believe it. You believe it fully, deep in your soul. You are not just going to survive, this is actually healing you.

Cancer makes you wrestle with deciding which of those broken pieces of yourself are worth picking up and salvaging and which needed to be shed off and let go of a long time ago. 

And this too is okay.

 

 

So...

(Originally written for facebook) I've got some not awesome news and that is that I have cancer. I haven't been very public about this yet as I wasn't sure until recently where this was headed (and hoping it would just be a little blip) so I wasn't feeling the desire to make it 'facebook public' so to speak. The world feels a little crazy right now and the last thing I would want to do is add to people's feelings of overwhelm or take away from anything else currently going on. Instead my intention is to hopefully increase compassion and connection for whatever is going on in your own life. I tend to have a lot of thoughts about this right now so if you are interested here are some of them.

As it has become apparent this won't be the little blip I hoped, I still debated about keeping this very quiet and asking people not to share but there were two issues with that. The first very practical one is my husband is not a private person and a part of how he lives is being very open. Therefore I want to be somewhat open here too so people who know both of us aren't only hearing things from him and people who I am close to but he isn't aren't left in the dark.

The second issue is that we live in an interesting time of facebook and instagram and all other sorts of social media. Overall truly I love social media - often I think it spreads joy and hope and connection and provides a place to get some empathy or learn about something new, support a cause you are passionate about or heck, even just good suggestions for what to read next.

However, I am getting closer to forty and as I have aged this has become a life truth: hard things happen to everyone. Everyone you know has either recently had or is having or will in the future be having a hard time. This is just a part of life, there aren't any exceptions I have observed, just as I believe joyful things happen to everyone as well, if we can have the eyes to see them.

Now social media doesn't always make it look that way because hard things are often very private, as private or more private than the things that bring us the utmost joy. Here is why: perhaps your hard time has to do with your child or your partner or your sibling. Perhaps it has to do with finances or health issues we find embarrassment around or our childhoods. Maybe it is something you feel shame about so isn't safe to put out there for everyone's input. These are things we can talk to our most inner circle about but they are not things most of us talk about online. Because they aren't just ours to tell and most of the people in our online worlds don't need to be privy to the details. The details cannot make sense outside of a close relationship context or it just simply isn't a safe subject to open up. Maybe we think that because our hard times seem easy compared to others they don't count so we keep quiet. This of course is utter crap, hardness is not a contest and empathy, as a woman I love says, is not a nine piece pie. There is enough to go around. So because of our respect and concern for others involved (including our very own selves) in our hard stories, they often don't show up on social media and we are stuck in a place where it may appear that so few of us are actually ever having hard times.

In fact the hard things can sometimes be so absent from social media that we can sometimes start to think we are the only ones going through struggles or at least the struggles that aren't on the nightly news. We can sometimes even start to feel jealous and angry and resentful of people who look like they have it all together.

So I decided to share as a reminder that whether it is out there on social media or not, if you are having a hard time you are not alone. You are loved. You are cared for. I hope you have people taking good care of you. You are not the only one with shit blowing up everywhere and living with fear and worry alongside any joy and hope. I know you care about things outside yourself and want to change the world to be a better place, no matter how much energy you have to give to that right now or not.

If you are not having a hard time right at this very instant, I hope this will be a reminder to be compassionate to others because we can't be sure of what they have going on. A reminder that while lots of us have good lives, none of us have perfect lives. A reminder to be gracious to others because we are all still learning and stress often causes us to not do things to the standard which we would prefer. To be happy and celebrate as much as possible other's healthy boundaries or joys or celebrations that they do share because who knows what else they have gone through, aside from what you are seeing.

As for me I have appendix cancer (one in a million so likely you haven't heard of it or known anyone with it before.) If you are interested in the more nitty gritty details of that I wrote a post of the history and where things are at currently on my blog: www.leahcolbeck.com  Otherwise I'm super grateful that I know so many people who believe in taking good care of the people around them - whether we know of any hardship they may be having or not because this is what the world needs. I will also say in advance I appreciate all the love and prayers and am so thankful for that.

Photo because I still believe God made this world so beautiful and full of love.

Nitty-Gritty

As a continuation of my last post if you are interested here are the details as to my case - if this is way too much information please skip on - I just logistically need someplace to send people to as at this point I am not taking time to explain my diagnosis to everyone in an attempt to spend as much time healing and with my loved ones as possible. In October I had an appendectomy where they found a low grade appendicital neoplasm in my appendix, not appendicitis as anticipated. This is a type of tumor that spreads via mucin (think mucus) and unfortunately at the time of surgery my tumor had already ruptured my appendix exposing my entire abdominal cavity to the mucin. The surgeon also saw growth on my right ovary but left it in place, unsure as to how the biopsy would come back and also unsure about my reproductive history.

I immediately started (and continue to do) to see holistic practitioners and use many, many holistic type treatments in hopes it would stop any growth and kill any remaining cells. So for all my holistic minded support system please don't think that because I am pursuing onocological treatment I haven't sought out other options and supports. My goal is to live a regular length of life, watch my kids finish growing up and hopefully even hold my grandchildren one day so please know that is where I am operating from.

In November I met with both a gynecologist and oncological surgeon who both agreed that based on my biopsy my right ovary should be removed completely. If all they found during that surgery was the growth on my ovary and the biopsy came back matching the original I would be monitored very closely for at least ten years to make sure no new growths were forming but as far as immediate treatments that would be the end of the road. At that point in time I was worried that the cancer would return at some point but also very positive that at this time there would be no new growth found.

In early January I had a colonoscopy that was all clear which showed good healing on the inside of my colon on the surgery site so that was exceptionally good news.

January 18 I had my right ovary removed on very short (2 day) notice when I was still expecting another 4-8 week wait. My abdominal pain and nausea had been increasing and I was very positive about getting this surgery out of the way and putting this mess as behind me as possible and hopefully avoiding chemo and further surgeries. 

Unfortunately during surgery there were new lesions (growths) noted on my periteneal lining. This led to another few hard weeks of fear, anger, worry and sadness similar to the first time I learned my tumor wasn't benign. I didn't blog about it because I thought I would spare everyone reading about that all over again ;) If you didn't read it the first time it is the three posts labeled 'Surprises'.

Now I am waiting for another surgery called a cytoreductive surgery plus hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (CRS/HIPEC) that is frankly, a doozy. Even on oncology sites (which we can all agree cancer patients are subject to some terrible surgeries) it is refered to as MOAS which stands for Mother of All Surgeries. So yes I am a scared about it. Yet I am very thankful it exists as it has only been used for the last decade. While it is not considered a 'cure' and isn't 100% effective, previously people with Appendix cancer were all considered terminal so overall I am beyond grateful to all the medical professionals who have spent their careers developing it and that my chances of five year survival are high (80% or so) if my surgeon considers my surgery 'complete'. Complete means that they were able to remove all visible evidence of the disease.

I don't have a date for this surgery yet but will update here when I find out. In the meantime if you are a praying/sending energy/light person I would love prayer for first and foremost obviously healing and that growth is stopped! Also prayer for accessing surgery at the perfect time for my case, that I am operated on by the best possible oncological surgeon for my case (there are two in Alberta, one here one in Calgary who perform this surgery), that my surgery can be considered complete, and that I do not have a reoccurance. Also for continuing to feel comfort and peace which even through all this craziness I can say totally truthfully I have felt. For this I am very grateful. Finally for reduced fear, stress and worry not just for me but also for those people who love me as well.

As far as practicals go until I have my next surgery we are kind of just life as much as usual as possible over here and we are doing okay. Emotionally, mentally and physically  there have been many ups and downs already. To say this has been the hardest thing I have done (and it's not done yet) is understating. We are taking it one day at a time trying to encourage and uplift, look for joy and look for hope. We are beyond grateful for all the love and suport we have gotten ❤️

 Picture because I still believe God made the world beautiful. 

Lent is coming

Lent is coming, a month away still but I was asked to contribute a devotional to my church for our Lenten devotional guide. The question asked was 'What is God doing in your life right now?' I almost backed out of writing it as my situation right now is so extreme but in the end decided that even if one other person needed to hear 'I'm not sure' with honesty it would be worth feeling exposed. I expressed my doubts to a friend and she in her wisdom answered 'Highlight reels are for facebook, not for building faith.'

So just in case you need to hear 'I'm not sure what all this is about and that's okay' here it is:

This fall I had an emergency appendectomy that looked textbook heading into surgery. Upon waking up I learned they had found an appendiceal tumor and also some growth on my ovary. Over the next months I was diagnosed, at age of 37, with a rare type of cancer that originates in the appendix.

With literally a one in a million situation occurring in my life, it has been hard to understand what good God intends to come from this. I have felt scared, for my kids, my husband, myself. I have felt angry. I have yelled at God and have cried many times. I think often about the woman who had the faith to reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak for healing and I ask daily for her faith, her certainty in Jesus’ goodness and mercy. Truthfully most days I’m more like an overtired toddler having a breakdown, clinging to Jesus’ leg while he hauls me around. It’s okay I know he doesn’t mind.

It feels vulnerable as a lifelong believer, to admit here, that other than feeling broken down and pushed to my limit, I’m not sure how God is using this.  This too is okay; God is big enough for my uncertainty.  I know that being broken down can lead to greater trust, greater faith, more reliance on God and I try to lean into those promises.

One thing I can say with certainty is I have always felt God’s presence holding me - through every test, all the waiting, the surgeries. Even though I’m not sure where this is headed, I can sometimes see this is all that matters: God is with me, God loves me, and God is good.

Perspective and circling

I was rear ended last week and perhaps the good thing about rear ending someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer is that (in my case anyway) they might not sweat it. Yes my car needs fixing and going to the police station and calling insurance took up half my day,  yes my back and shoulders are sore but my girls who were with me are a okay (thank you car seats) and we are all alive. I hugged the lady who hit me, she was shaking, apologizing over and over and I told her, it's okay, they are just things. Things can be fixed and at the end of the day they don't matter as much as we think they do, beyond food and clothing and shelter to keep us healthy and dry and warm.

It is a little like cancer. Perspective. As far as cancer goes I have it pretty lucky. Low grade is in some ways better than high grade or heaven forbid aggressive. Caught relatively early and I had my colonoscopy yesterday and there weren't any lesions in my bowel or colon: also pretty lucky. Having my main tumor removed without complications already is lucky. *Possibly* not needing chemo also very fucking lucky. Being able to live without everything there is growth on right now - lucky.

This doesn't mean it feels easy or that I feel lucky. Even yesterday after the happy colonoscopy result I felt pretty numb, likely in part from the colonoscopy prep which involves over 40 hours without solids and crapping out about 30 cups of fluid followed up by getting a camera put where the sun doesn't shine (I will laugh about this one day but that day is not today) but also because whenever a test or procedure or call happens, it is there again. A reminder. Real. Something growing in your body that shouldn't be. Before the colonoscopy results could really sink in I got a call from my other doctor (I have a bowel oncologist and a gynecological oncologist) telling me she was moving ahead with scheduling ovary removal. Again good news(ish) but also hard, a reminder of what is still to come.

Every time I feel positive and well and like "by the grace of God I got this shit handled" I think that will be it. I will be strong and positive and happy each and every day until this is over with. I will be grateful and zen and drink my green juice and take my supplements and essential oils and pray and say my affirmations and see my acupuncturist from now until forever if I need to.

Until I'm not feeling that way anymore.

I had a moment of supreme irritation last week thinking ahead to the colonoscopy and again yesterday getting the call from the gynecologist where I felt so angry at myself about my emotions. About how I was feeling scared again. I'm incredibly grateful in a logical way for the positive colonoscopy yesterday, but the week before it really settled in that this was happening because they might find something else. 

I was mad at myself that I was feeling negative feelings again. But more than that I was upset because I realized that this process will continue until this is done and that makes me feel so, so tired and also beat down. I realized I will circle through  feeling like good will come from this, that I will be refined in ways I both knew I needed and in ways I had no clue and how beautiful that will be and between feeling not so redeeming things like anger and fear and general bitchiness and self-pity.

The harder parts of the circle seem to trigger another round of 'I shoulding' myself (I should be handling this better, I should be being more positive, I should be more grateful, etc., etc., etc.), followed by another round of mourning, needing comfort and burning some fears up.

I'm tired now, this week especially again but it's okay. It's okay to not always do everything well.

It's okay because I have been through this a few times already. I will lean into what is getting me through, continue on in this circle, and come around again to the top.

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Giving thanks - even on the hard days when I don't feel like it. One of the things I'm leaning into.

 

New Years and New Words

Yesterday our whole family wrote down our top ten list from the past year. We have done a family list for five or so years now, we stole the idea from one of our friends all those years back, but this was the first year everyone, even Haven could write their own down. Some things made all of our lists, our new (to us) hot tub, some aspect of our amazing summer vacation to the west coast, the same with our trip to Hawaii last March. Swimming with a pod of wild dolphins is a pretty incredible event for a ten and eight year old to check off their bucket lists. All of my kids have some of their daddies love for adventure in them so cliff diving made all of the kiddos lists and so did doing some pretty challenging hikes. Also some aspect of regular everyday life: being homeschooled, working in the garden, cooking, reading books, each a little different but something ordinary made each list.

At times it feels like 2016 will always be remembered as the year I was diagnosed with cancer and that 2017 will always be the year I deal with the treatment. Yet I know that isn't so. 2016 was the year I found out I had cancer, yes but it was also the year we had the most perfect Christmas and hiked into a volcano. It was the year we started Anahola Board Co in earnest and it was the year Aaron moved his office to home and after covering two territories for almost a year, worked regular hours. Thus we had more down time and more sanity, we had forgotten how comparably easy it is for him to work only one job.

2016 was the year everyone could ski and swim and paddleboard and hike and bike well. It was a year of watching my not baby, babies grow and live, seeing more of who they are emerge, and let me tell you that is one of my most favourite things in existence.

It was the year we had so many full and rich days at home, just living, and talking, and being together, learning, pursuing our passions. It was a year that as parents we got to see our kids thrive at what they love and also push themselves at things that don't come so easily. It was a year we tried to do the same for ourselves.

It was a year of folding laundry and drinking coffee or tea, while the other person cooks (I'm laundry, Aaron's cooking in case you were wondering) and continuing to work on the home we love out here in the country, building a new deck and growing more flowers, mowing the grass and feeding chickens. It was a year of family and friends, laughing and crying. It was a year of many memories.

2016 was good. At times it was exceptionally challenging, not just in our own little blessed life here but obviously also in the world at large where there were much bigger crises than one called cancer. But despite all of this, there was love and it was good.

And now it is 2017. I'm a person who loves resolutions and intentions and one words and all that jam. Perhaps no year has taught me we can do all of that and still have so little control than 2016. Also, perhaps no year has taught me that we can do all of that and it can give us comfort in ways we never expected.

Although I never blogged about it, my words for 2016 were 'It is well with my soul'. The words come from this song.

'When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.'

They were in the center of my vision board for 2016 and I can't really explain why at the time, except it was spoken to my soul and so there it went. I cannot tell you how many times looking up at those words helped me this year.

This year I'm keeping it simplish as specific plans are a little more up in the air. My word is 'nurture' and my goals are as follows:

  1. Love well: God, my people, those around me in my own community and the world, myself
  2. Kick cancers behind and enter summer of 2017 (medical timelines permitting) cancer free
  3. Spread some peace in the world
  4. Being open to whatever else comes my way; while praying this involves more jumping off things into water, sunshine and seeing all the miracles of everyday life.

2017 I don't know fully what to expect but I know this: there will be love and it will be good.

Happy New Year and lots of love from us

 

 

 

 

 

Finding light

Today is the shortest day of the year and also the first day of winter. I crept out of bed before any of my kids and even though it was past eight it was still pitch black. Tonight it will be solidly dark well before we have dinner. I'm looking out the window at part of our forest while I write this, the trees all bare but their branches beginning to be lightly illuminated by the sky behind them as the sun rises. There isn't even enough snow to cover all the fall leaves where they lay thick in the wild parts of our yard. Trees don't have trouble with the stark stripping down and apparent death of this season, they thrive on letting things go to nourish what is coming next. It's not always so easy for us humans. img_6539

It has been two months to the day since I had an emergency appendectomy where they found not an infected appendix but instead a tumour that had ruptured my appendix and also some deposits on my right ovary.

It has been about six weeks since I found out exactly what that tumour was, a low grade appendicital neoplasm and also that the deposits on my ovary were mucousy which is how this tumour  spreads.

It has been five weeks since I found out from my amazing surgeon (who did everything right during surgery even though this is very rare) an approximation of what oncology would do.

It has been a week since I have met with one of my oncologists for the first time.

Here is what I've found:

It takes about two weeks, maybe a bit less for your mind to wrap your head around the idea that yes, this is happening to you. You are really allowed to feel sad or mad or anything else you want about your diagnosis during that time even though there are worse tragedies going on in the world, because, well you just are.

It takes about a week (for me anyway) after it all sinks in to get incredibly fed up of thinking about life without you, so I wrote about it because that helps me process it and shake it off, but also my husband gave me this.

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It takes about one week of wearing this elastic band with one hard snap each and every time I thought about life without me in it until I didn't really need it anymore. (Idea from Kris Carr's book, Crazy, Sexy, Cancer Survivor).

If I am having a bad day, I put it back on but mostly now it is this:

One day at a time

Putting your big girl panties on

Being held up by the prayers and encouragement of those who love you and a God who calls you beloved.

Because it takes about zero days to realize how much you love your life, and by that you mean your family, your friends, your faith, your very own self, even this often very broken world. I think this is what we call blessed; when you have all of this, so dear to your heart that you have such gratitude, despite what ever else is going on. So you suck it up, you breathe them in. You absolutely get drunk on everyday moments like brushing your girls freshly dried hair and saying I love you and eating dinner together around the candles.

You revel in moments that you no longer take for granted like waking up alive and hearing your prognosis is good. Because it takes about zero days to realize that to survive you have to look for the light, each and every speck of it, especially during the darkest days of the year.

 

Advent is for waiting

It has been brutally cold here this week - our first true Alberta cold snap of the season, the kind where the air hurts your face and your lungs. We have very little snow which is so unusual for us and so all our winter favourites - sledding and both kinds of skiing are not happening yet. A  few weeks ago we started skating because the girls have been asking for years to learn and with the lack of snow we thought why not? And so we have been skating once a week or so. I haven't skated much since high school and I forgot it kind of feels like swimming, the lightness and freedom of gliding across the ice, mind clear for a minute or two. img_1553

This morning, on the way out the door to choir, a kiddo got sick in the garage, which I saw coming as she didn't eat much of anything yesterday. I was hoping to spend the day going on a walk in the woods to bring clarity to my body and mind, among other things. Instead I spent the day tending to an under the weather kiddo. Washing dishes, watching lots of food network and reading stories together. The holy, fatiguing work of motherhood.

Today was a lot like all our days right now. Not very spectacular, in fact pretty darn ordinary. These days we are doing our normal life and not much more. Work, school work, keeping the house tidy, making meals, going to appointments, soccer or dancing and music depending on which kiddo and what parent you are on any given day. Trying to remember things like putting money under the pillow for lost teeth and showing up for parent watch night the right week.

I can't remember an advent season so void of so many of our usual advent things. Aside from the lack of outdoor snow activities, we aren't caroling or hosting anything or doing a lot of extra volunteering. We aren't making cookies or doing almost any gift buying or making. I haven't read the kids even one of our advent/Christmas books yet and I keep thinking about sending cards but not making any forward momentum.

For me this year, advent has shifted. Instead of doing and celebrating, I'm waiting and I'm making space. I'm trying to make room in my heart for something new to be born; exactly what I'm not sure yet. I'm reading poetry and I'm sitting in the dissonance I see in the world and in myself of so much hurt and also of so much beauty. I'm thinking about hands: held open, held empty, receiving God's love. This sparser advent I'm having this year, it feels right, it feels fitting.

I have been watching the stars every night in a little bit of meditation. We are lucky to live far enough from the city lights, so that on a clear night the sky is absolutely brilliant. As I gaze past Orion or the almost full moon I can't help but think about the universe and all it's wonders constantly expanding, creation happening right this very instant when I look up. This advent I'm trying to open my heart to any iridescent knowledge they may want to pass onto me. I wonder if they are waiting too.

Hope (surprises part III)

Advent came so early this year and I have never been so glad for it. In my faith tradition and many other Christian ones, advent is the season before Christmas when we lean into the darkest part of the year and light candles, reflect and take action for hope, peace, joy and love while we wait for Jesus to come.

This past Sunday almost a week ago already started the week of hope. There are so many reasons we need hope aren't there? Maybe it is social media, or the election in the US and all that has brought to light or just my own sad heart but the world seems full to overflowing with tragedies. It can be hard for me not to feel overwhelmed and powerless and paralyzed to do anything.

Personally to say the least I've had some challenging weeks. A week or so before advent began I told a friend the day after I googled about my tumors - when I was trying to hone in on what I needed I said - 'it's hope I just need some hope'. It wasn't an official prayer and yet there it was. I had no idea how to find it. I was hopeless.

That night another friend stopped by unexpectedly and in the midst of my tears she told me she had been up all night researching and this wasn't why she came over but she felt after listening to me she had to share some more positive statistics than the ones I had read. There it was - hope. Someone prayed for me over the phone. Hope. My husband bought me an encouraging and honest and positive book about surviving cancer. Hope again. A friend sent me a gorgeous piano piece she had been playing in prayer for me. Hope. Everyday someone new tells me they are praying for me. People are open and honest and real. People send you funny and cute messages and talk to you about normal things. Hope, hope, hope.

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I've written this before and it is still true. When I think about what I hope for it’s this: wholeness for people and planet. Kingdom come. I think this is why Barbara Kingsolver says the most you can do with your life when you have figured out what you hope for is to live inside that hope. ‘Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it’s roof.’

Ann Voskamp  calls us the Esther Generation, reminds me that I am living in the palace and that God has put me here for such a time as this. The hurting world needs us and aren't these kind of the same thing? Find what we hope for and live right there putting some skin into the game?

When my eyes are opened I look and this is what I see: hope. Instead of overwhelmed inaction I see people living nitty-gritty with what they believe. I see them sponsoring refugees and listening to a crying friend over coffee and getting up hour after hour after hour with their sick babies.  I see them picking up groceries and helping move and also giving grace when things are too stretched to contribute beyond your own family or your own self. I see people seeing others, and telling them thank you and buying fair trade and donating money and demonstrating compassion.

There it is: prayer answered.

 

Surprises Part I  and Surprises Part II

Surprises part two

(Just a heads up I'm going to talk about what it was like to find out I have either pre-cancerous cells or cancerous cells - the doctors aren't sure yet. It isn't very light reading so you may not want to read it. My main intent is to give a sense of solidarity and normalcy  to anyone else dealing with this type of news. Also I'll write more this week about how I'm doing so much better now.) img_6272

 

One thing no one tells you who has had to deal with oncology (and that you couldn't imagine even if they did) is that when a doctor tells you they found a tumor during what you thought was a routine appendectomy, is how often you think about dying.

At first you hope and pray benign, benign, benign. You cling to that in between imagining your own funeral and your family without you. When you find out no, not benign, the fears come even faster because you are not ready to leave this beautiful life. In a bizarre turn of events at age 37 your body has cells that (whether the doctors are unsure until your next surgery if it is technically considered cancer yet or not) if left alone, if you carry on the same path, will kill you.

When oncology calls you put your head between your knees and breathe because you notice you are hyperventilating and trying not to have a panic attack. Also you are nauseous everyday and you wonder if it is the growths spreading. (It's one of the questions they keep asking you, are you nauseous? Were you experiencing nausea?) Also you still have some post-surgery abdominal pain, is that normal at this point? And you are tired. All of it in your mind, cancer, cancer, cancer. You lose twelve pounds and people who don't know tell you you look great.

You avoid people who can't control their own panic because you have absolutely zero emotional reserves for anyone other than your very own people in your very own walls and you tell yourself you are barely holding your own shit together although truthfully, during this time you really aren't. At times you are mad you are a person who needs help, who needs empathy.

You don't tell anyone about how many times a day you picture life without you in it because you realize it is totally crazy town up inside your head, but also because no one imagines their loved one will be the one that actually dies tragically. You think longingly about when you had days, weeks, months, years where you didn't think about dying, not even one little time.

Then maybe the worst day, you google. If you are reading this and you are recently diagnosed please listen to what everyone says. For the love of all that is good and holy don't google. Don't google. Don't google. You will read things you cannot forget even though you will really, really want to. You totally loose it and spend the whole day weeping, absolutely sure you will not live to see your children move out.

You consider the progression of pleading in your mind. Please let the tumors be benign. Please let me not need chemo. Please let me if I need chemo that there be one that works. Please let me live at least long enough for my kids to be okay.

You also joke, you joke a lot because this helps take away from having tears spring up unexpectedly at bill paying, carving pumpkins or putting your kids to bed. When you get calls for test appointments you didn't know you needed, you joke that if you don't have cancer already, after this many CT's you will. There is also a lot of numbing with facebook and with television and the election because you just need some non-cancer distraction every day. You feel thankful for this, but also a bit guilty because thinking about death gives you an awareness that you really should be making the most of your days.

In between all this you hug your kids, you hug your husband, you list your gratitude's. And pray, yes you don't really stop praying although it would take God to make sense of all the anxious, frantic, disjointed thoughts coming from your mind. Thankfully that is what God is for. Someone who has been through a lot and has a beautiful faith and spirit reminds you that when you don't have words the Holy Spirit will pray for you. You count on this. You ask other people to pray for you because you know they are more coherent and rational and also they love God and they love you and prayer feels like the best gift anyone could give right now. You borrow some of the faith of everyone you know because this really is the only thing getting you through.

 

You can read Surprises Part I here

 

Surprises

Life is full of surprises. Some are the best things you could have never imagined like a vivacious daughter named Haven-Kate and eighteen years of partnership and love with a small town boy from Northern Alberta. Things like how much you ended up loving being a mother and how you finally came to peace with needing to write. Things like a small handful of women friends who you love like your very own sister and who love you back better than you ever knew women could.

Some surprises are different, like waking up from an emergency appendectomy to hear they found a tumor and also some things on your ovary. Then over the next while learning that there is a seemingly massive grey area between outright benign and outright malignant. That 'precancer' is a very real thing and who actually knew?

So many are bittersweet. Like learning to trust just the tiniest amount and how to wait well as medical people sort out their opinion of what is happening. Like how to find hope. Surprises like learning your body is a vital part of you and not just a tool. I could write much more on that. Surprises like taking help and telling your real life people what a mess you are.

These are surprises that serve well and you wish you didn't need a crisis to learn them better.

Then there are the just plain ugly surprises, like how badly you want to be well, because there is real shit to do in this world and so things like cancer and surgeries should fuck off so you can get on with it. And also you don't want to worry so, so much about not being here to see your babies grow all the way up.

Some are perhaps predictable like how even though the world seems to be such a mess you still see God's beloved everywhere getting on with doing the next right thing and loving their people so, so well.

Predictable like how even if you aren't sure how this (or anything) will specifically turn out you can still believe - God is good, God is good, All the time God is good.

Read Surprises Part II here

In Which it is All Sweet

We have no babies anymore. Our youngest Haven-Kate is turned six this summer and Liam turned eleven this spring. I've been a mother for over decade. Liam our oldest, his labour was long and hard and far from natural. I knew less than nothing about having a baby or what I was supposed to do or how to get things off to a good start. He has never been much of a sleeper.

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Aaron was transferred provinces when Liam was just four weeks old. I got our house ready for showings and packed up and commuted between provinces for months by myself, with a newborn. I was exhausted and I spent a lot of time nursing on the side of the highway and shaking toy after toy behind me while I drove to try and keep him content for another half hour.

But this isn’t what I remember. I remember his heavenly baby smell and nursing him for hours reading books or looking at his little fingers and face while sitting in the sunshine. I remember crying because he would only be five, 13, 47 days old once and it was all going by too fast. I can still see him being cuddled on Aaron's chest on the couch after I crept back downstairs after getting a few hours sleep and the primal feeling of missing him during that time. I remember his very first baby laugh that sounded like the most perfect thing I couldn’t have even imagined. I remember how having him filled in a part of me I didn’t know was missing.

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The same is true for the girls – there were hard things, busy things, exhausted things when they were babes. More moves, three year olds, work and family challenges, stress.

Yet with Raine - I remember only the way she looked up at me with serene wide open eyes right after being born, no crying and how that changed my soul, again. I remember rocking her in the rocker and nursing her warm against my chest and how small she felt in my arms. Liam loved to hold her and Aaron too but when she was upset, she only wanted me and I secretly cherished that so much. I remember thinking how absolutely perfect she is and how her amber eyes sparkled and how stunningly she did life on her own terms right from the very beginning. I remember how she filled a piece of me I didn’t even know was empty.

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And Haven-Kate I remember how she came into the world – just her and I and the peace and joy of a stormy summer night. I remember her cuddly little self and her happy gummy grins and more nursing and more sunshine and walking through our very own woods with her on my back. Haven was everyone’s baby and she lived her joy with every pore of her little body. I remember how we didn’t know when she had woken up because she just lay there peacefully waiting until someone happened by. I remember her staying up late with Aaron and I after the other two had gone to bed and cuddling and talking to her and singing her little songs and how I looked forward to that, every night. I remember how we weren’t sure we would ever have a third and how she was the baby that filled my desire I wasn’t sure I had.

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I rocked them all and smelt their heads a hundred times a day and held them to my chest and slept cuddled around them.

Those were the sweetest years, those were the days. Those are the ones that are over now.

Those are the memories I know I will think back on fondly when my face is creased with wrinkles and my arms are too feeble to heft a toddler.

...

This summer when we were on vacation on the west coast Aaron looked at me at the end of the day and said ‘Today was perfect’ with a satisfied sigh. He was right. We’d stumbled upon the most beautiful lake. It had rock sides plunging deep, continuing down from the mountains above. The water was clear and clean and warm.

My babies who aren’t babies anymore cliff jumped into that water for hours and hours. They are their father’s kids too and he has a strong passion for rock climbing and adventure running through his veins and it was passed onto all three of our kids. It thrums there inside of them leaving little fear of anything and much passion for challenge and life.

So they scrambled up the rocky sides and jumped 15, 25, 30 feet into the water below. I held my breath as they flew through the air, seeing the people they are becoming. I felt a little scared, yes, but mostly I felt gratitude to bear witness to something so wonderful, to plunge deeply into such beauty, such life beside them. We left smelling like line dried sheets, exhausted and filled with joy from just being alive.

 

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There it was so apparent to see in all of that day's perfection. We have no babies anymore. We have three amazing kids who are growing into their own people. I am learning on the cliffs and I have learned thousands of other times. There is nothing to be scared of.

Every age and stage, I see my kids, I see them filled to the brim with life. I see in them goodness and humanness and their very own selves. I see things I will remember.

Turns out there is no joy shortage, there are no golden years, there is only abundance. Yes, the baby years are so, so sweet. 

But it turns out - all the years are.

Because I also remember when they learned to walk and learned to talk and when they didn’t cry anymore when I left. I remember when they moved to their own beds and when they stopped nursing and when they learned to ride their bikes. I remember all the books we have read cuddled up and lazy Saturday breakfasts and making art.

I remember them cliff jumping and seeing them clearly beneath that crystal water.

I remember so many things as they have grown, things that show them as their own people with their own passions and personalities and stories and plans. And all those countless times I have felt only gratitude and amazement that I get to share and bear witness to their goodness and their aliveness. And all these memories they will join me too, when I am old, with my wrinkles and my old lady arms and my full heart.

After all;

these are the days

these are the days

these are the days.

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Happiness and sadness

We are camping on the west coast which is my favourite way to start a blog post or a day.

I think everyone has a place or places that make their soul come alive, more than it is anywhere else. For some people it is the dessert with all the warm colours and sparseness or the prairies with their crops blowing and never ending horizons or a restorative and warm lake that is contained by soft sandy hills.

The Canadian Rockies are like this for me, with their peaks that reach way into the sky but root you down into the ground, settled. The water that flows or is nestled between them, turquoise and ice cold in how it wakes you up, makes you pay attention. They make my soul hold still, which is fortunate for an Alberta girl as I can head there sometimes relatively easily when everything is blowing apart.

But then there is the ocean, especially the Canadian west coast. My soul has been singing here in the summers since I was a wee babe and there is nowhere else that I have been where I feel so myself, where my vibrations steady into an expansive and free song. My intuition tells me no matter where else I may wander in the rest of my days: this is it.

The west coast is brine and seaweed and seacreatures and abundance. It’s the essence of seafood but only the kind that has just been caught that afternoon and cooked that evening on an open grill, tasting like salt and a day well spent that ends in happy fatigue. The west coast is the deep smell of decaying old cedar and the bright chartruse of new things growing right straight up out of it. The west coast is sunlight on water and peace and goodness. The west coast is seeing God and knowing.

I got sick this winter, when we were on vacation in Hawaii with something that no one I have been to is still quite sure about. Since all their ideas have been ruled out I wait to see a specialist while, so, so thankfully as the months pass I also continue to feel better. Being forced to slow down and worry about long term things is not very comfortable for me, or anyone. It challenged my work ethic and perfectionist tendencies and spirit but I will say this: God was with me and so were other people who love me and turns out that is all I really need. 

As I continue to feel more like my healthy self I’m more grateful for the ability to move and swim and explore and have some energy than I ever have been before. So is true of all things we have faced the fear of losing.

This was one of our family’s year’s hard things. We all have these hard things if we live long enough. Hard things tie us into humanity and give us understanding that just as we all have joy, we all have our struggles. Even when our hard things aren’t as clear as the ones we see on the news; of refugees and violence and hate, they are there for everyone and they are all valid.

Hardness isn’t a contest where you aren’t allowed to struggle or get upset or seek compassion if your hard isn’t the hardest there is. We all are allowed those feelings, there is no scarcity or absolutes here. Remember there is more than enough to go around, there is only abundance.

One of the simple yet so complex lessons of my thirties is this: it is okay to be happy and it is okay to be sad. I’m allowed to be content and I’m allowed to have hard times in my very blessed and privileged, yet imperfect middle class life. 

Maybe you need to hear that you are too.

Now I’m at the ocean and I’m healing inside and out because I’m not sure I ever will not be again. After all I’ve got a lot of growing left to do and I believe in things dying to make room and in a God of new life. 

But also – I’m happy and grateful and safe right now and that is okay too.

I hope wherever you are with your happy and your sad or your sad and your happy there is space for compassion, being held. I hope there is room for love and hope and healing. I hope you can be somewhere where your heart beats like nowhere else and you feel peace and surity. And when you are ready I hope there will be room for something new to grow and one day you see something really beautiful come up from all that dirt and decay.