Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hats Galore!

Saturday the 27th was the third organizer’s meeting and to date my hardest morning so far. The Neulasta shot was especially brutal, making my very skull scream out in pain and the waves of nausea were almost constant, but I took a handful of pills and rolled into the meeting about 15 minutes late.

We pulled into the parking lot and I commented to Justin that there must be another function because there were so many cars. SILLY ME! I absolutely found out that all of the cars carried loved ones with bags, packages, and bows chuck full of hats. Apparently, Brenda and Clair had been planning a Hat Party and today was the day.

I was oblivious to the situation while walking up the sidewalk to the church. I figure it had to do with the special effects of Spring starting to bloom, the wind blowing on my face (not through my hair:)!), and my mind, feet, and legs feeling heavy with the effects of the medication. Looking back, it didn’t even give it away when I saw my aunt Joey for the first time since the diagnosis. The hugging and crying clouded the logical question about why she was there!

Nonetheless, I walked into the gym, hoping to take some pictures of the different groups and quietly hug friends and family, when to my surprise; Clair whisked me to the front of the room and announced that, in addition to the organizer’s meeting, everyone was there for a Hat Party.

Shockingly (or not!), I started to cry and did not stop through the entire process. I was so overwhelmed by the love and generosity of everyone present, and maybe the most curious part of the afternoon was the fact that I was absolutely and utterly speechless. Luckily, my sweet Justin was able to thank everyone and share some special thoughts and sentiments that conveyed many of our deepest feelings.

My speechlessness has since left and I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks and as I have thought about all that were present, I realized that we all really do have HATS GALORE! In life we are called on to do many things or wear many HATS. This can be a challenge to say the least! When I looked around the room on Saturday it became apparent how many roles were being juggled just to make a Hat Party; there were parents and offspring, siblings and friends, CEOs and hourly employees, teachers and students, and the list could go on and on.

Many of life’s greatest pleasures and pain are found in the HATS we wear. Some of these HATS are chosen and some are thrust upon us, but at the end of the day we are free to choose our attitude not depending on the HAT we are currently wearing (2 Nephi 10:23). I love the empowerment that happens when we truly exercise our power to choose. I think about how this conscious choice changes the potential impact we have as parents and offspring, siblings and friends, CEOs and hourly employees, teachers and students, and maybe most importantly of all, CHILDREN OF GOD.
As CHILDREN OF GOD we will experience pain and disappointment, joy and accomplishment and are asked to become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

While wearing my parenting HAT, I have my boy’s best interest at the heart of my decisions and requests. In my feeble parenting I attempt to help my boys even when they, out of lack of experience or maturity, cannot understand. I think about my HAT as a CHILD OF GOD in this same way. I may not have the experience or maturity at this time to recognize what He is trying to do with me, but I CHOOSE to trust my Father, as my boys often CHOOSE to trust me, and when I look at their little faces, I am less likely to be overwhelmed by the CANCER HAT and that is a blessing.

I know life can be engulfing sometimes and it is hard to juggle the HATS that are in our lives. Thank you for your example and thank you for the HATS you wear with honor (2 Nephi 31:20)!



“Mom’s Heart” moment: One of the most painful parts of this journey has been watching my “Mama’s Boys” rely on others for answers to their cares and concerns. In our small world previous to cancer, it was Eli, Isaac, and I day to day while Justin was at work, we experienced triumph and tragedy (like the loss of a favorite car!), laughed and cried and we were together. It has been extremely difficult to be without them as much as I have and feel that connection fade a little, so you will understand how heart healing it was for me when Isaac bound up on our bed last night and grabbed my cheeks at said, “Mom, you my best friend!” And, though he jumped off the bed in the next moment to tackle Eli, a tear of relief fell from my eye.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are we not all strangers here?

As supported as I have felt during this entire process, it was a really difficult morning realizing that part of that support had serendipitously stepped out, as Brenda had a bad cold and would not be there, Denise was on a business trip and would not be there, and Dr. Stinnett’s office in Layton was shut down for vacation, which meant that Lisa would not be there either and we would be traveling to an office in Bountiful where complete STRANGERS would administer the Chemotherapy.

I tried not to cry when Justin said that it would be OK because he would be there and as much as I love and appreciate him; he is an extension of me and my heart, so it wasn’t the same! I know he was saying it would be OK because he knew that is what I wanted to hear, and I know he was just as nervous to be among STRANGERS.

When we were driving to Bountiful my mind was struck about this dynamic for all of us. We indeed are “STRANGERS in the earth…” (Psalms 119:19). We all became used to the companionship and associations that occurred in the pre-mortal realm, and at certain times in all of our lives we feel loneliness, as if we are STRANGERS here. That was me today and I yearned to the security of a more predictable time!

Honestly, it did not seem odd that it took us 15 minutes to find the office once inside the building and it did not seem odd that the calls and text messages had shut down for the morning; what seemed odd, given my mindset was seeing one of our oldest and dearest friends, Bill Brooke, sitting in the waiting room. He turned his sweet, 90 year old head, and started to cry and feebly rose to his feet to give me one of the most tender hugs of my life. We stood there in that embrace (trying to steady one another!) for quite some time and all he whispered was, “I’m so sorry!” This seemed odd coming from him because he was there waiting for his wife of 60 years, who is also dealing with cancer. I could not choke back my emotion and I just cried. I did not feel so foreign anymore and given that these new STRANGERS had been taking care of Edna, they were good enough for me; “Love ye therefore the STRANGERS for ye were STRANGERS in the land…”(Deut. 10:19).

My spirit was brightened as I walked in the back of the office to receive my vitals, and despite the fact that it was different than my previous experience, I felt welcomed though I was indeed a STRANGER to them. They went about their job with a great deal of compassion and even sang a song to us as we wrapped up the last round of THE RED DEVIL and lit a candle on top of Sparkling Cider! We were very excited.

After leaving the office, we decided to go to a restaurant in Bountiful before the effects of the medications started to set in. We were quickly seated and a woman approached our table. She compassionately took my hand and asked if I had Breast Cancer. I confirmed. She then told me that she was diagnosed 5 years ago and had just finished her anti-cancer meds in February. She went on to share a lot of really helpful pieces of information, but the most significant thing about her visit with me was not about what she said, but the reality that she had listened to the spirit and walked right into my life. I loved her immediately and understood that she had used her own personal pain to brighten a complete STRANGERS life (Matt 25:34-40). Little did she know, she had the same unique eye color as my Grandma Nelson (who died of Breast Cancer nearly 18 years ago), I could not help but believe that my Grandma had a little part to play in our meeting :).

I thank Heavenly Father for my new friend Karen and the fact that she was able to express the thoughts and intents of God to a STRANGER along the way (Mosiah 5:13) and the understanding that I gained that some of the Lord's greatest blessings are found in the serendipity of the journey!

It will be a wonderous reunion when we are back home, where there will be no more STRANGERS, much like going back to the Layton office for the Neulasta shot this morning and getting to hug Lisa.
It reminds me of a quote from an unknown author, "Our fingerprints don't fade from those we touch!"  Thank you all for touching me so profoundly.

'Mom's Heart' moment:  Yesterday morning we were trying to prep the boys for the goings-on of a Chemo day and who they would be spending time with etc, and Justin turned to Isaac and said, "Guess who you are going to spend time with today?"  "Who?", he retorted.  "With Grandma Karla!", Justin continued.  Isaac got a huge smile on his face and in elation stated, "Happy day!"  I am so grateful that these Chemotherapy days can truly be 'Happy Days' for my boys because of all of your love and support.  Thank you all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Yesterday was a difficult day emotionally. For the first time in my life I totally and absolutely did not remember what day it was! Mindy Astle came to pick Eli up for preschool (it was my day to drive!) and the knock on the door was the antecedent to my emotional panic as I tried to sift through the cobwebs in my mind and figure out what day it was. At first I was certain that it must be Thursday and I was missing my Chemotherapy appointment, then I was quite sure it was Wednesday and I would have to call and tell Mindy that she had made a mistake! At the end of the panic, I just cried at the reality that I am clearly not the same as I was before and the ‘Chemo Brain’ is real!

My tears of self pity and forgetfulness, turned for my good as I realized with a brighter hope that I REALLY AM NOT THE SAME AS BEFORE and there is real power in REMEMBERING! This spiritual insight came at the heels of my panic attack and a late night visit with some old friends from High School.

Sitting there with my friends, from an earlier—easier time, it was so fun and healing to just plain REMEMBER! We talked about funny old stories and adventures. We laughed and laughed, and I was struck by the reality in Christ’s words that ‘men are that they might have joy!’ (2 Nephi 2:25). Just like the panic and fear of not REMEMBERING, the conversation with my friends also had some times of sorrow and tears as we talked about the varying trials and struggles that had accompanied our journeys, but at the end of the day, JOY is the culmination of all things, it is not the absence of pain and/or struggle. It is through these struggles that we are brought to our knees and REMEMBER God, the Eternal Father and His son, Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77 and 79). And, when we REMEMBER them, we become more like them and that is JOY.

This life is not designed for us to remain in the rut of sameness (Alma 34:32-34); we are constantly moving and hopefully growing. This growth is brought about in a number of ways: time, insight, empathetically considering someone else’s life, and our own blessings and trials. This life was never designed to be easy, only worth it; and the only way it’s worth it, is if we REMEMBER what life is really about.

So to that end, I am so appreciative that I REALLY AM NOT THE SAME as I was before and I have indeed moved closer to my family, friends, and God. I hope the desires of my heart will continue to lead me closer to my Heavenly Father because this is the JOY in life and it makes all of our other relationships just that much sweeter.REMEMBER the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

I am grateful that I FORGOT, so I could remember how important REMEMBERING is!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Connection Problems!

Recently, among other things, we have been having problems with our internet, which ordinarily would not be that big of a problem, but it has become our lifeline in communicating with a lot of great people, so on Friday morning when I received the all too familiar error code, “DIAGNOSE CONNECTION PROBLEM”, I got on the line with our provider and scheduled for a repair man to come and intervene.

Saturday afternoon, the repair man rolled in and went about trying to figure out the connection problem. He looked at the box on the outside of our house, to no resolve and determined that the problem was on the inside, so he and Justin set about skillfully dismantling a couple of our rooms upstairs and determined that a lot of our problem came down to a missing filter! Once the filter was put into place, the problem was resolved and a strong connection was reestablished.

I think all of us at one time or another experience CONNECTION PROBLEMS in our lives. For some it takes the form of trouble in a marriage or other cherished relationships, trouble at work or school for others, and inevitably we have all experienced times in our lives when we have had CONNECTION PROBLEMS with our Heavenly Father.

It is important to note that just like my internet CONNECTION, the connectivity problems that arise with Heaven stem from the inside and the filters that are missing (and in some cases the filters that are in place!). The missing filter in our home caused a great deal of interference with the line so that a CONNECTION was weak and sporadic, or could not be formed at all. I have reflected on the filters that have been in my own life. What has caused interference with my CONNECTION to my Heavenly Father? The answer came in the form of a long conversation with a dear friend! Among the filters that have caused distance for me are old fashioned guilt and fear.

When Christ states, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if ANY man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20), He does not exclude. He does not extend the invitation to only those who are without guilt and fear of not measuring up; in fact, His message is quite the opposite. He offered an ultimate and eternal sacrifice for us because he knew that perfection was not possible for us in this life (Matt. 8:12-13), He paid the price for us through the Atonement and we must actively take part in what He has to offer, to remove the pain from our lives. He is the repair man!

When we allow Him to ‘come in’, weak things will become strong (Ether 12:27), and as President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “When you turn your life over to God, He can make a lot more out of it than you can.” So, at the end of the day when DIAGNOSING THE CONNECTION PROBLEM, I realize that I need Christ to be the filter because I do not want to be bogged down in Satan’s web of unproductive guilt and fear and lose part of my CONNECTION with Heaven. I will turn it over to Him and move forward. I want my life to be more than I dreamed it could be, so like Paul, I recognize MY ‘thorn in the flesh’ and know that Christ’s grace is sufficient for me, because He paid the price and His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:7, 9-11).

I am grateful for all of your comments, well-wishes, and especially your prayers. I have been scheduled for another MRI on the 1st of April (I have already giggled about the irony of it landing on April Fool’s Day!), and instead of fearing the outcome, I will trust that the outcome will be His will. I will keep you posted.

Love to You,


'Mom's Heart' moment: Justin and I shared a little story about a shark named Kemo that swims around eating up cancer cells, trying to help the boys understand what the Chemotherapy was doing in positive and negative ways.  We decided to give them a shark of their own as a symbol.  We thought we had done a terrific job until their Kemo sharks started to attack each other.  I guess we will have to go back to the drawing board!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hope Springs!

On Wednesday afternoon, the boys and I went outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. We hit baseballs, rode bikes, and even pruned the roses. We were all feeling terrific, that is all but Justin. He came home from a long day at work feeling super sick and had an extremely sore throat. Needless to say, he would not get anywhere around me and headed off for the doctor early Wednesday morning. When he drug himself home, he had received the big antibiotic shot with the consistency of peanut butter and was diagnosed with strep throat. We tried to stay clear of him for the rest of the day.

Despite Justin’s illness, we were sufficiently propelled headlong into Spring Fever and were ready for the cold weather to be behind us for a while. It seemed so appropriate that my nausea for this round of Chemo had left on the same day that we hit 60 degrees for the first day of the year! It may also be important to know that since we found out about the cancer, we have stopped watching the news…I guess our life was news enough, so we did not know that the temperature would be dropping again and that the weathermen were forecasting snow.

Imagine our shock to wake up the next morning to a 20 degree drop in the temperature and the despair of the cold creeping back into our life. I felt such a drop in my mood and I let the scary thoughts of this cancer sneak into my mind. I felt sad, and realized that this situation with cancer seemed as unending and cold as the winter weather!

A few hours into this downswing, my mom came over and started to pull the blinds in the house and said that someone had called and asked her to keep me away from the yard because they wanted to brighten my day. I smiled as I thought about the prayer I had offered earlier to have some relief from the bleakness that had hit in our lives. I had no idea what to expect and no idea who to thank (my mom would, under no circumstance, tell me who had called).

We waited to go outside until Justin came home from work and he had the biggest smile on his face when he said, “Nice daffodils!” I excitedly went outside and to my absolute and utter surprise; I walked into a sea of daffodils. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe as I reflected on the reality behind this anonymous act. Please understand, there were ten dozen cut daffodils, each put in their own vile of water, placed in a bag with dirt in the bottom and tied with a pink ribbon. This was not only an absolute act of charity and answer to prayer, but of a lot of work and effort.

My heart soared! My eyes filled with tears and I felt overwhelmed with God’s love through the act of someone else. I couldn’t stop crying as I walked up our walkway and thought about the sweet hands and hearts that had created this little miracle for my family. Spring had definitely come in full bloom; hope had come into full bloom on that cold afternoon. I felt the sunlight of hope beam through the sadness and I knew that this situation would end just as God designed it to and I felt an increased trust in that reality.

I still do not know who answered that feeble prayer of mine; who brought Heavenly Father’s love right to the walkway of my home, but I do know that they will be blessed for their quiet act openly by a loving Father (Matthew 6:6). I also know the power of remaining positive and fostering the power of hope in our lives. Thank you, thank you to whoever you are for reminding me of this soul saving truth!

Love Forever,


The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward.

Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, The Infinite Power of Hope

'Mom's Heart' moment:  When Justin got home from the doctor and was sleeping, Eli climbed up into my lap and asked, "Does dad have bad cells now?" (that is what he calls the cancer).  I just held him tight and told him that his dad would feel a lot better tomorrow and that he did not have 'bad cells'!  He seemed relieved and kissed me on the cheek and said, "How are your good cells?!".  Thank you my little boy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blessings on the Doorstep

We have been the recipients of some incredible blessings right on the doorstep of our home! It seems like when the day has been a particularly trying one or our hearts dip into despair, we have been blessed with tangible and intangible gifts. These gifts have taken the form of ice cream and treats on some days, a box filled with hats and incredible pieces of art on another, and inevitably, smiles, hugs, and quiet acts of service. We are blessed people!

Who would have thought that such inconceivable blessings were to be found on the doorstep of our pain? Yet these blessings have indeed found their way into our home and into our hearts and have miraculously lessened the burden. It has been a wonderful experience to witness so many of you following the spirit and doing, what for you may have seemed ridiculous at the time, but was exactly what a hurting heart was in need of. Thank you for following through on the spiritual promptings that you have received (Doctrine and Covenants 6:15-16, 22-23).

I am always amazed to see how inextricably connected trial and blessing seem to be. This is a truly incredible plan from a loving Heavenly Father, and is the reality for every single one of us! He knows that it is through the challenges that show up on the doorsteps of our lives that we are pushed out of our comfort zones and grow, and it is through this growth that we receive the blessing of becoming more like Him (2 Nephi 2:25, footnote ‘d’). It doesn’t lessen the pain, but it increases the depth of the insight that comes and the resultant growth (Zechariah 13:9). I think with enough time most of us can see God’s loving hand even in the middle of our hardest times!

So, as I ponder about the wonderful gifts that we have received at our doorstep, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the good times and the hard times, for easily recognized blessings and perceived challenges, and I am grateful that Christ stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to simply let Him in (Revelations 3:20-22). I hope I will always have a desire to let Him in and truly receive the greatest gift that will ever be on the doorsteps of our lives.

“The challenges you face, the growth experiences you encounter, are intended to be temporary scenes played out on the stage of a life of continuing peace and happiness. Sadness, heartache, and disappointment are events in life. It is not intended that they be the substance of life. I do not minimize how hard some of these events can be. When the lesson you are to learn is very important, trials can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining focus of everything you do. Your life can and should be wondrously rewarding. It is your understanding and application of the laws of God that will give your life glorious purpose as you ascend and conquer the difficulties of life. That perspective keeps challenges confined to their proper place—stepping-stones to further growth and attainment.”

Richard G. Scott, The Atonement Can Secure You Peace and Happiness, Oct. 2006

‘Mom’s Heart moment’: Yesterday Justin’s mom came over to help in our home. She had just finished putting Isaac’s shoes on when he reached up to feel her hair and said, “Nice hair.” She thanked him and he continued, “My mom doesn’t have any hair. Papa Ron (Justin’s dad and the finest Barber around)cut my mom’s hair…Papa cut too much!”

When we are listening, even the tiniest of us speak the thoughts that are troubling to our hearts. Thank goodness for Grandmas!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Storm clouds and sunshine.

As I was traveling to my third Chemotherapy session on Thursday, I couldn’t help but notice two completely contrasting themes—brightly beaming SUNSHINE and the dark gathering of ominous STORM CLOUDS. My mind was drawn out in contemplation about the possible parallel between the treatment and life on the other side of the nausea!

In my soul, I felt the stormy anticipation of the Chemotherapy with the impending side effects and my heart seemed to stop momentarily. I knew, like the threat of the clouds, that a STORM was about to brew on the inside of my body and I longed for the SUNSHINE and contentment of health.

Once inside the office, the beams of SUNSHINE came in the form of the people treating me. Dr. Stinnett, who I am sure was scarily busy, took 40 minutes of his own time to just talk with us about life and share a story about a ‘Chemo Shark’ that might help the boys deal with the diagnosis. It was so refreshing and I counted it as a blessing in our day. His kindness and compassion calmed my tumultuous heart and I felt ready to conquer the third session.

When I walked into the room holding Justin’s hand, Denise was already there like a rock, and Lisa was there in her confident exuberance and I felt more SUNSHINE. The STORM CLOUD came shortly after and though I was surrounded by people that I loved, my body shook in fear and I was anxious. That anxiety peaked when Lisa walked out of her office, dressed in blue and carrying the bright red vials of Doxorubicin. I tried to swallow my tears and still they came. Justin, Denise, and Lisa were quick to notice the tears in my eyes and it turned into a conversation about the needfulness of this pain and strategies for making it through. I was so thankful to hear funny personal stories from Lisa and words of encouragement from Justin and Denise. I knew that I would be OK.

As treatment progressed, so did my support as my mom and dad walked in, Christy Parker stopped by and Brenda came in with a cute pink monkey from a little nine year old named Cambri ,who is battling cancer as well. All of these things helped me to gain the necessary perspective to move forward in a positive manner.

It was interesting to walk from the office about 4 hours later, only to be aware that the SUNSHINE and the STORM CLOUDS had continued to polarize and the cloud bank was firmly in the east, while the sun shone brightly in the west. I smiled to myself as I thought about the reality of OPPOSITION IN ALL THINGS (2 Nephi 2:11). In fact the law that is affixed in heaven and earth that there is an opposite reaction to every action brought me a great deal of comfort, and as we drove towards the STORM CLOUDS in the east, I could see the SUNSHINE in the west beaming in the mirror.

I know deep in my heart that we are driving right into the STORM CLOUD and the deeper we get into the cloud the harder it is to see the SUNSHINE, but I trust that I will receive a ‘witness after the trial of my faith’ (Ether 12:6) and I will know with deeper clarity why I have been asked to shoulder this burden. I look forward to seeing God’s ‘marvelous work’ brought forth (Doctrine and Covenants Section 4) and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

I know that a loving Heavenly Father allows rain to fall in our lives at times because of the growth that it produces. STORM CLOUDS are a function of love not fear and I have the opportunity, if I choose to let this trial nurture the garden of my soul. It is difficult not to focus on the negative parts of the STORM CLOUD, but I know that when I see the clouds for what they are (antecedents to growth), I will draw myself closer to Heavenly Father and the person HE KNOWS I CAN BE!

I am excited to feel the opposite to some of the pain that we have been in and I know that those rays of SUNSHINE have and will be manifest as this trial moves forward. Thank you all for your love and support. You have truly been SUNSHINE in the midst of the STORM CLOUDS.

Love to you,


'Mom's Heart' Moment:  On Sunday we celebrated my nephew's birthdays and it had been the first time that my four year old niece had seen me without my hair.  It was a really difficult moment when I saw the fear in her eyes when she looked at me and asked my brother what had happened to my hair.  My brother Bart giggled and told her that it was just fine--it was a sign that I was getting better!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Anything For a Friend' update!

There have been some incredible advancements on the ‘Anything For a Friend’ front. Because of the efforts of so many of you, I have seen mountains being moved and hearts softened. It has been so amazing to watch the ‘Smith Trio’ (Brenda, Denise, and Scott) at work. They are tireless in the pursuit of the positive outcome of this event and because of their efforts, a countless number of you have responded to this call and sprung into action. I feel so grateful!

As I think about ‘Anything For a Friend’ and its power long after I am finished with my personal trial, a few things jump off the page in importance. From a financial standpoint, I have tried to imagine what it must be like for so many people who are going through a similar life circumstance, and the bills start to roll in and the medical options seem tied to financial ability vs. what is medically indicated, and the stress of an already overwhelming situation seems absolutely sinking. Well, that is the first blessing of this concept. Because of even with the thought of ‘Anything For a Friend’, our stress level has been reduced and we are able to focus on what is best, instead of what is affordable. What an incredible blessing!

Secondly, ‘Anything For a Friend’ creates a functional vehicle to deliver compassion to those in need. Prior to this experience, I was the one on the outside looking in and thinking, hoping, and wondering what I could do that would really help someone in need. A lot of times, I must admit, I came up short and I feel excited about getting this concept up and going so I, too can answer the call to help relieve the pain of an aching heart.

And thirdly, when the cancer diagnosis hit everything started to spin in absolute chaos and a feeling of loneliness and despair that I had never felt inched its way into my life. I was in shock and literally by myself (except for the boys and their laser tag guns), and then the reality of informing my loved ones came into full view and that is when the tears came. How would I make the call to Justin, my mom and dad, and siblings? How could I soften the blow for family and friends, and deal with my own heartache at the same time? As the moments from the fateful call rolled forward, so did the negative feelings, and the doubt, and the fear, almost enough to consume me, and then my new reality came into view in the form of a simple hug. I cried in the arms of Justin and my parents and didn’t feel so alone anymore. I was not being called on to do this by myself and that was extremely comforting.

For me the single most important part of ‘Anything For a Friend’ so far, has been the outpouring of love and connection with the gentle web of incredible people in my life (many of which I had lost connection with through the process of life). It has been this web, in part, that has caught our family and has quieted the loneliness and despair. What an incredible vehicle this concept has become. Think about it…because of Denise’s brainchild…there is now a vehicle that creates a tangible, replicable model to create a web of love and support for those in need (Mosiah 18:8-10). How unbelievable!

Because of the use of modern technology (which I never thought I would admit to) the word has spread and we have been the recipients of some incredible experiences; experiences that are far bigger than this one incident alone. For instance, an entire gym full of Junior High aged kids wore pink in support of this situation. Some knew me very well, but the majority were people that had never met me. What an exceptionally rich experience! I loved complete strangers and found myself praying for their well-being and goodness. Our hearts had been linked through this experience.

There has already been one Organizers meeting and there is another planned for this Saturday (1:00pm, 2555 N. 2450 E. in Layton. You are all invited!). I was able to attend the first meeting and couldn’t hold back the tears as I watched people from every era of my life walk into the room. That meeting alone healed a lot of the hurt in my heart and I felt comforted. Thank you for giving of your time and resources.

My heart will be forever modified through this experience and the outpouring of love—big and small—treadmills and laptops—loaves of bread, kind letters, and anonymous boxes full of hats! I am humbled by your goodness and I thank God for your light every day.

LONG LIVE, ‘Anything For a Friend’!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Basketball is like life!

Several months ago I was asked to help coach the Young Women’s Basketball team for the ward. I felt quite ambivalent because on one hand I was excited beyond measure to coach something that had brought me so much joy, and on the other hand I was scared that I would not be able to express my knowledge in an understandable way (as basketball has always come quite easy and it has always made sense).

With this ambivalence, I held the first practice and shared some of my philosophies about basketball and the elements of the game that I thought were vital. We spent time practicing rebounding and defensive stances, pick and rolls, and swimming through screens. I felt great about the practice and felt sorry for the team that we would be meeting for our first game!

Our first game arrived and the whistle blew to start the game. To my shock, my pupils did not know what a jump ball was or where to stand. I took a deep breath in and an insight hit, “This was not only the first time most of these girls were playing church basketball, it was MY first time playing CHURCH basketball!” I had tried to give them knowledge without a foundation and without that foundation we scored our first basket with 30 seconds left in the half. All I could do was take feverish notes and try to choke back the urge to run out there and do it myself!

That first game ended with heads hanging low and an 8 to 36 loss, but the lesson was clear, “GO BACK TO THE BASICS!” and have a humble coach! The next practice we did just that, we went back to the basics and walked through all of the fundamental scenarios that they would hit, such as, jump ball, out of bounds plays, free throws, and where to be offensively and defensively. It was a comfort to know they had some fundamental skills to take into the next contest.

As all truly great stories go, these terrific kids continued to grow and develop through the next several weeks and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Championship Game against the same team that had beaten us that first night. I am happy to report that my girls won the game 38-28 and will be seated 1st place going into Region play!

This little basketball season hit at the same time as the cancer diagnosis and the beginning of treatment. Shockingly, it became a metaphor in my mind! Like that first practice, I was going through life with a pre-loaded belief about how my life was going to go and I was leading a blissful existence. When we found out about the cancer, I was stumbling around trying to figure out what was going on (much like the jump ball scenario) and it would be quite easy to say that I went through most of that ‘first half’ without scoring.

Through a lot of soul searching, additional information, and a load of fasting and prayer I realized that I needed to GO BACK TO THE BASICS! Even though this diagnosis had sent us, our family and our friends into an unknown ‘state-of-affairs’ it became crystal clear in my mind that this trial, like the trials that you are all going through, has a specific and basic purpose---“To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) I did not need to get into the details of how or why or what. I simply needed to trust Him. I needed to trust Him when He said, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven;” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

It had become really easy for me to “TRUST HIM”, because my life was going so smoothly, but could I really trust Him when I did not know the outcome; when I could not control the outcome of the ‘game’. I am happy to report that even though I do not know the end of this trial; and let’s be honest, I do not even know if I will survive this trial, but I know this—I feel peace because I do TRUST HIM (John 14:27). It is an amazing feeling to have the opportunity to ‘live like you were dying’and have the foundation necessary to trust the process. Think about the conversations that we sometimes ‘save’ or that just plainly go unsaid because they are uncomfortable or just too hard emotionally.

Well, it’s been a great blessing to have had a lot of those conversations despite it all! To truly love deeper, and see things clearer, and to recognize the incredible amount of blessings that are meted out by an All-knowing and All-loving Father. No matter the outcome, I choose to trust Him and to follow through on the things that I feel in my heart, and in that way, much like my girls, I will walk away with the CHAMPIONSHIP!

Mom's heart moment: Isaac has really taken to my new hair-do.  In fact, when we are in public he often tries to remove my hat (thank you very much!) and when we are at home he cannot fight the impulse to kiss the top of my head and is continually saying, "Cool hair mom!".  Recently, he has added yet another behavior to his liking...he tries to lick my head.  I'm not sure if that healthy or not, but it's sure cute!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Loss of status or...?

 My best friend was on a business trip this week, which happens at least once every two weeks; she is on the road often! With this reality in her life, she has come to expect certain things while traveling and reportedly since about the age of five has been able to claim Medallion Status. This status is not easily obtained, you must log at least 27,000 miles a year and to give an idea of just how much travel that really is, keep this in mind, to fly from SLC to Moscow is only 5,568 miles. That gives you an idea of how much travel has been involved, and with that much travel and the status, she has become accustomed to certain privileges and rights!

Imagine Tuesday rolling around and she is used to certain things being the ‘way it is’ and all of sudden the ticket agent informed her that she had, “lost her Medallion Status!”. As you can envision, my pal put up quite a fight at the ticket booth when there was no sign of the status, which meant her rights and privileges had been revoked. The conversation with the agent was so persuasive, that she did get away without paying for her bag to fly, but was strongly advised to clarify her status with the main office.

When she did so, to her shock and horror, she had indeed only logged 21,000 miles and had lost her status! She could no longer change her flights at will, or upgrade her flight, claim priority seating, nor a myriad of other privileges that had been hers. It was not a pleasant flight home as she sat in the airport for hours waiting for her chance to go home and at the end of a long business trip that is the last thing she was hoping for.

Ironically (or not), she lost her Medallion Status on the very day I lost my “hair status”, and like Denise’s experience, I had all of a sudden lost the reality that I was used to functioning under. It was a truly shocking experience to be in the shower attempting to do what I had done for the better part of my life, only to have my hair come out hundreds of pieces at a time, and for the next 30 minutes I washed away my ‘status’.

I had really taken a lot of things for granted; like walking into a store without being stared at, running my fingers through my hair, or even having the possibility of a ‘bad’ hair day! My life, for the most part, has been one of ease and comfort. I have not been glamorous or even striking enough to warrant a prolonged glance for the most part, so to feel eyes bearing down on me has been quite uncomfortable, but let’s be honest, just like Denise, I am going to arrive at my final destination—it’s just not going to be as comfortable as it once was.

It reminds me of the definition of REFINER in the Bible Dictionary, which states, “A man who separates the precious metals from the dross with which in nature they are usually found mixed. Part of the process consists in the application of great heat, in order to bring the mass into a fluid state, hence the term “refiner’s fire.” Christ is the great Refiner.”

I know that I have been in need of refinement and I am grateful for the challenge, for I know that despite the pain, lack of comfort, and increase of heat, this refiner’s fire will bring me closer to my Heavenly Father; my final destination (Isaiah 1:25, Revelations 7:13-17). I will know, on a different level what Christ really did when He sacrificed Himself for me. I know and trust that Christ has already felt the pain and depths of humility that I am now feeling and because He paid that awful price, He knows how to succor me (Alma 7:11-12) and I know where to turn for peace in the midst of chaos.

In the middle of losing the status that I once had, and ‘checking in with the main office’, I am gaining a whole new appreciation for the status I will one day enjoy, which is Eternal Life (Moroni 7:41) and that status is worth the miles that I will be asked to log!  Thank you for the lesson my friend.

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can a soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Helen Keller

P.S.  Mom's Heart Moment: The day after I had lost my hair, I was getting ready for the day and quite emotional about things.  I was trying to dry my eyes and finish getting ready so I wouldn't make the boys even more nervous.  Just moments later, Eli opened the door and with geniune surprise and tenderness said, "Mom, you look so beautiful."  I started to cry all over again.  I am grateful that my baby is already listening to a voice greater than his own and following through on what he hears.  I hope I can follow his example.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From the mouth of babes...

A couple of days ago, I was outside the home of a friend talking with a group of women about the weighty matters of the last few weeks and the decisions that may need to be made in the months to come, when all of a sudden a big, hairy, licky Wheaton Terrier puppy came bounding up the sidewalk. This unexpected exuberance of hair sent my boys into a state of frozen shock (which was not a bad thing given they were throwing the decorative rock onto the lawn and sidewalk) and my friend reacted heroically by corralling the puppy so the boys could come over to pet the unknown ball that was causing such anxiety. It was no small task, and she wrapped her arms around the puppy and tried to calm the dog near her feet, which were only clothed in a thin pair of socks. Despite her efforts to bring tranquility to the situation and some mutual understanding, my boys never got near the puppy and the puppy left only one sock unstained by the excitement of his bladder! We all (well, most of us) laughed about the outcome and the anxiety left almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Speaking of anxiety, many of you have been wondering how my boys are handling our situation and I wanted to share some of the heartbreaks and triumphs of trying to parent through the uncontrollable. Both of my boys have developed a stress reaction to news of the cancer. Shortly after finding out, and our lives being thrown into chaos, Isaac started to pull at his lips (to the point of bleeding), and Eli started to complain about his stomach hurting him. In my heartache, I knew that they were trying to deal with the news the only way their little minds and bodies could at the time.

Since the initial shock, some of their words and actions have at times helped to calm their scared mom and other times it has brought me to my knees in tears and recognition that I cannot take away their pain.

For instance, there hasn’t been a day go by that I have not heard Eli praying for my “bad cells to leave” or “for the doctors to take them away”. Those prayers, coupled by an increase of love and affection from my otherwise independent four year old have brought me a great deal of comfort. It is easy for my mind to dismiss and hope that they are being unaffected by this situation, but there are reminders, like the stomach aches and lip pulling, that remind me that cancer is a family trial and burden, as well as a blessing.

A few weeks ago, when I still had a full head of hair, we were coming out of a crowded, noisy gym where we had just watched my nephew play a basketball game. My mind was completely focused on holding Eli’s hand so as to not lose him in the crowd, but his little mind was on other things. Right in the middle of the rush, he tugged on my hand and looked at me with concern and said, “Mom, are you really going to lose your hair?” I quickly stated in a matter-of-fact way, “Yep buddy and it’s going to be OK!” We continued to walk and again he tugged at my hand. This time I knelt down by him knowing that his little mind was going a million miles an hour and with a deep look of concern he said, “Mom, are you going to die?” I choked back my own emotion and hugged him saying, “Pal, it would take a lot more than this little cancer to take your mom out.” He seemed content with that answer and we walked the rest of the way in silence, as I tried to catch the tears coming from my eyes before he saw them.

These types of exchanges have been far and few between compared to the little statements or gestures that have really helped along the way. Justin and I decided that we would help with the hair loss idea by incrementally moving towards it. We tried to make the three different haircuts fun and a family activity and it really did seemed to work, until the haircut right before the shaving and both boys were a little restless and cousins were inside, so off they went to play. I was concerned about their reaction when I walked into the house, but when they saw me they just kept playing until Justin’s mom called them closer to check it out. Eli’s eyes got huge and he walked completely around me with shock that my longer hair was gone and then as he appeared around the other side, he had a huge grin of approval and without another word he continued to play. My Isaac ran up to me and simply said, “Cool hair mom!” and kissed me on top of the head. That healed me!

My ‘mom heart’ has been concerned about them spending time away from me but the following have been comments about some of you that have put my heart at ease:

• Just yesterday, Eli out of the blue said, “Mom, when we have another baby I want to call it AUNT BRENNIE!”

• “Mom, can we go play with Aunt Jeany? I can do whatever I want there!” (That wasn’t quite as comforting :))

“Is Denise my aunt and Nick and Jake my cousins?”

“Papa likes me. He my best friend. Nana my best friend too!”

Thank you so much for easing the anxiety of the ‘big and hairy dog of life’. I know that many of you have thrown your hearts and ‘socks’ on the line for our family and we are eternally grateful.

Love to you all,


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Potter's Clay

Currently, the Doxorubicin (the Chemotherapy drug known as the ‘Red Devil’) is coursing through my veins in search of the cells that are reproducing quickly and tearing through the landscape of my body. Consequently, I have had a few rough days and have been unable to write about my experience.

When Lisa, the ‘Cancer Killing’ nurse brought out the brilliantly red syringes this last Thursday, my stomach turned as I knew what was in store for the next few days. This particular medication causes the nausea, hair-loss, fatigue, and other side-effects that are the unwelcomed companions to fighting this disease. Interestingly, this medication is administered by “pushing” the drug into my veins. If the drug accidently leaks out of the vein, it will cause permanent damage to the tissue. These facts make me even more grateful for the truly gifted medical staff that we have working with us. I am cognizant of the fact that it is a real blessing when someone is doing what they were made to do. The staff at Utah Cancer Specialists, Dr. Stinnett, Lisa, Nicole, and Jennifer are passionate about what they are doing and make a difficult situation far easier.

I recognize that in many ways, Doxorubicin is like trial. If trial was randomly delivered by unskilled hands, we would all find ourselves in a state of permanent damage. Instead, trial is “pushed” into our lives by a skilled physician, who is fully aware of the desired outcome, and though I have yet to “ask” for this type of trial, I know that the outcome is desirable to bring about long term happiness. We are all fashioned and designed to fill the measure of our existence; no matter what our current beliefs are. All of our trials are different in nature, but the effect is the same, if we do not fight it—we are shaped and molded by the Potter’s hand (Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6) and just like the Doxorubicin, these fiery trials can clean the landscape of our souls. We can become infinitely more than we believed that we could. Our story is yet to be fully written.  What an exciting thought, given the possible editor knows beginning from end!

I am grateful for the Doxorubicin and its ability to seek out and destroy the mutating cells, as I am grateful that this trial is seeking out and destroying my pride! It would be nice if the destruction of the pride did not include my hair and stomach contents, but…It is what it is! 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend talked about a ‘For Sale’ sign on a house in the neighborhood. We giggled at the implication, “REMODELED…I’m GORGEOUS INSIDE”, and I have thought a lot about the bigger plan for you and me. God doesn’t care what we look like on the outside, nor is he preoccupied with our comfort, instead a perfect being cares what is happening on the inside. He is mindful of who we are becoming. Are we using our life circumstances to ‘remodel’ us from the inside out? Do we like who we are becoming?  Are we gorgeous on the inside?

I hope we can all find time to thank God for EVERYTHING that we have and are.  Maybe the greatest blessing of this cancer is the fact that I have been forced to take time to see my life as it really is.  I am grateful for the REMODELING.