Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I can’t believe…

…I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 years old.

…I really did lose all of my hair and even had a Mohawk!

…My hands literally burned and raised my finger nails off the nail beds.

…I had and survived 16 weeks of chemotherapy.

…I lost a part of my body and now have a 12 inch scar in replacement.

I can’t believe…

…the goodness and generosity of people.

…the connections with family and friends that have been created or re-established.

…I had complete clinical response to a Triple Negative Tumor

...I can't believe I am CANCER FREE!
…I know God’s love at a deeper level.

…I feel blessed beyond measure!

Life is about opportunity and opportunities present themselves daily in the form of choice. Within each of us resides a power; a power that cannot be muted by circumstance or unforeseen detours, the power to choose. I often think about a cross stitched saying that hung above my grandmother’s bed as she battled and lost to breast cancer, it said, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”

I often thought about those words while fighting fear and tears and questions of why as she struggled with the last few months of life on this earth. I watched the winds and waves of pain and loss roll over her time and time again, but I never saw her give up. I never saw her rest her mind on the negative “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S”, she rose above and when it was her time to go, her eyes were fixed upwards as if to leave her last statement of, “I CAN’T BELIEVE” how good life has been.

Her example has left an indelible impression in my mind and heart. I love and miss her terribly and am so grateful for the way she battled the negative “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S”. I don’t think it is by chance that I have had cancer; the same cancer as my grandma Nelson. I don’t think it is by chance that my 20 year old mind had distinct impressions as I watched her battle. Only a loving Heavenly Father would know the strength I would draw from those impressions and lessons, so the Spirit spoke to my heart almost 20 years ago and those concepts have marinated in my spirit, becoming a part of me.

I have drawn on those lessons to help me focus on the positive “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S” in this experience. I love life and know deep in my heart that it is not designed to be easy, only worth it. I know each of us have waged or will wage our own battle in this life. Some battles will be lost, but if we can find a way through the storm and see the lighthouse in the distance, we will arrive (not unscathed) at our safe harbor and win the war.

About a week ago there was a terrible wind storm. It ripped siding off from our house, torn down trees, and left devastation for many flower beds. My flower beds were not immune to the beating and I felt sad as I looked over the little flowers that had been whipped around all night. My mind rested on a particular group of flowers. I have forgotten the actual name of the flower, so for this example, I will call them the positive “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S”. The “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S” did not fare well. They were laying in ruin and had I not just had surgery, I would have been cutting them at their base and moving on to replace them, but I just had to watch and be sick.

Then it happened, my little flowers turned their faces towards the sun and began to grow again. I couldn’t believe it! Though they had been blown to the ground and knocked from their previous station, they rose above and tried again.

I hope we can all, whatever our battle may be, rise above the storms of life and find a way to turn towards the Son once again. He has paid the price for our pain. He knows what it feels like to have life beat upon you and to find yourself different than you were before, but He is also the perfect example of looking at the positive “I CAN’T BELIEVE’S” (Luke 23:39-43). I hope I can, like my grandma Nelson and little flowers, turn my face towards the Son and state with all that I am, “I CAN’T BELIEVE” how great my life has been!

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers”

Love to you all,


‘Mom’s Heart’ Moment: The other night it was Isaac’s turn to say the prayer. He voiced his pleasure and thankfulness for his grandparents and his Eli, and then he stated, “Please bless that mom’s bad cells will go bye-bye”.

This is not much different than the prayers that he and Eli had been saying for months, but this night was different for Eli because he had been told that the “bad cells” were gone, so he leaped to his feet and smack in the middle of the prayer yells, “Isaac, Isaac the bad cells are already gone!”

It made me smile!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stop, Look, and Listen!

Well here I am…home from the hospital with the painful reminder of the new station of my breast cancer journey…MASTECTOMY RECIPIENT. It is difficult to describe the emotions that have flooded my mind and heart in the last few days. They range from grateful and resolved, to marred and weepy. I would like to share some of the experiences that I had in the hospital with those that I love.

We arrived at the hospital at about 7:45am and walked into a patient waiting room full of people; people with different stories and reasons for being there, but all converging in this one place at this particular instance, and all of our diverse realities coming together in one moment of time. I looked around the room and felt the need to look at each of the people in the face and acknowledge our similarity and shared experience.

Then I saw Brenda and Christi Parker, they had come to show their support. Brenda would be there all day and into the evening and Christi was just coming off an all-night shift at the hospital. I was so grateful for their comforting hugs and words of encouragement, but my emotions were varied and raw and tears were right at the surface. This experience with cancer has taught me that tears are OK and some of the most valuable conversations in this life are had in the middle of an embrace when tears are flowing. I felt grateful for my support system.

I realized as I was looking around that room and waiting my turn that a thought kept running through my mind… “STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN!” This is the phase that I have been teaching Eli and Isaac when they are crossing the road or walking down the sidewalk at the end of driveways. Before this moment, “STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN”, had always meant stop walking, look all around for cars, and listen for any sign that a car may be moving. So why was it coming to my mind now?

Then I realized that no matter how old I get, my Heavenly Father would be whispering in my ear, “STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN!” I paused for a moment, took a deep breath and committed to do just that.

When I “STOPPED, LOOKED, AND LISTENED” as I was changing into my surgical gown, I saw an elderly couple, the sweet old man bent and twisted in his back, patiently helping his wife prepare for knee surgery. His loving compassion moved me to tears as I moved into my own dressing area and I listened for the lesson… No matter what happens in this life, love remains! That is not to say that love is not often altered by pain and stress because quite frankly, I think pain introduces us to ourselves, and sometimes we have to take a long and painful look, but through the craziness that can oft times accompany our journey through this life, LOVE REMAINS.

After I got dressed we were introduced to our sweet pre-op nurse, Teresa she and Justin were quick friends, as they bantered back and forth, his playful, joking mood really lessened my stress as I approach the injection of the radioactive isotopes, which several people stated would be one of the most painful parts of the surgery…thanks for the info!

Nonetheless, the time passed and I found myself laying down waiting to be injected and receiving all of the disclaimers of the procedure, like the radioactive isotopes will be injected in four different sites just under the skin, there will be no relief from a numbing agent because the pain comes from injecting 1cc worth of radioactive fluid just under the skin, and the burn will continue until the fluid has dispersed itself into the lymph nodes. The Radiologist continued on and explained that in his experience, women had screamed out in pain during the procedure, pinched him to the point of blood, swore at him, and so forth. I was told that all of these outcomes were acceptable. He went on to tell me that though it was radioactive I would not be harmful to those around me…he did not laugh…so I didn’t make a joke…everyone is so serious about radioactive fluids…come on!

My mind froze again on the idea, “STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN!” As I did, I realized that even in the middle of an unnumbed (probably not a word!) situation, I still had power to choose how I would react, so as the isotopes were being injected, I fixed my eyes on the ceiling and just breathed deeply and bit my lip.  As I listened, I knew that I had more power over pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) than I thought, I just had to recognize my own power. Sometimes it takes intense pain to teach us that we are:

“…Stronger than we seem; braver than we believe; and smarter than we think we are!”

After an hour of the blistering burn of the radioactive isotopes, I was wheeled into another room to take pictures of the lymph nodes. I was hoisted up on a new, cold table and then lifted several feet into the air. I was instructed to lay as still as possible, as plates with targets circled my body and the lymph nodes were marked for removal. I STOPPED, LOOKED, AND LISTENED again and heard a lesson clearly. There are specific experiences that Heavenly Father knows we need in this life to become what we can. They are targeted and direct and we are individually marked. Our experience in this life is unique and special to us and one of the greatest evidences of a loving and concerned Father in Heaven.

When I thought about how much God loves me and the sacrifice that Christ made, I couldn’t help but cry and I did. My tears continued until the moment I lost consciousness in the operating room. Just before losing formal reasoning I thought about my sweet grandma and aunt who had forged this path before me. I thought about the unspoken pain and fear that their lives had held and the connection that I was feeling to them now. When I STOPPED, LOOKED, AND LISTENED I recognized that this experience was a piece to my life’s puzzle; something that would further my knowledge of who I really am and a thought from my good friend’s blog came to mind:

You will never know how strong you are until you have been in a fight with yourself!

I slowly woke up from the surgery throwing up and chattering my teeth (an inherited gift from my mom), and as Brenda describes it, “as white as the blankets that you were wrapped in!” I was not able to consciously think of STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN at that particular time but in retrospect I know that there are times in all of our lives that it is difficult to “wake up” from the grogginess of a situation, but if we are able to pause and look around us and listen, we will be able to focus again and do what is right.

As I was taking in my new surroundings I looked at my wrist band. I had two bands…one had my identifying information and the other was bright yellow and read, “Fall Risk”. At the end of a life altering experience, the last moment of STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN that I would like to share has to do with the absolute truth that all of us, as children of God and as fallible human beings are “Fall Risks”. If we take our eye off from the prize we are in jeopardy of falling to the enticings of the devil, who desires us to be unhappy and miserable like he is. I am so grateful for the Savior and his Atonement for the possibility it gives all of us to return and live with our Heavenly Father.

So, to this I humbly state, “STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN!” I know that none of us will live perfect lives, but we do have the ability to save ourselves from some of the self inflicted pain of sin and when we have pain in our lives that is not of our own making, we can trust that we are in the midst of a divine tutorial and our personal unfolding is at hand!

Love to you all,


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Life's Branches

After the great news about the tumor shrinking, we had a visit with the surgeon that will perform the mastectomy, Dr. Morrell. This is the same Dr. Morrell that performed the Lumpectomy and positioned the port-a-cath in my chest and heart. I have come to really appreciate him for his skill and the incredible compassion that he shows. He is part of the battery of doctors that have made this unbelievable journey bearable. This group of people (Dr. Bitner, Dr. Morrell, Karen, Dr. Tamayo, Cindy, Dr. Stinnett, Nicole, and Lisa) are among the lucky ones in this life that have really found their calling and have tied their natural gifts, abilities, and passions to their profession. WE FEEL EXTREMELY BLESSED!

Given the gratitude I have been feeling and the comfort that I feel with the doctors that we have been directed to, I was shocked to find myself crying once again in his office. In fact, I was really looking forward to the visit to set up the much anticipated surgery. So you can imagine my shock when familiar tears of fear and unbelief began to flood my eyes. I had been so focused on the cancer side of the battle that I had not prepared myself for the surgery. Dr. Morrell empathetically stated, “It is an extremely difficult thing to lose part of yourself.”

I continued to think about my reaction in the doctor’s office and his words and pensively gazed upwards while sitting outside my friend’s cabin near Strawberry Reservoir.

The cabin is surrounded by magnificent sandstone, shale cliffs, huge Cottonwood trees and a beautiful winding river. There were no phones ringing, no cars motoring by, and the boys were perfectly content in the natural dirtiness of the setting.

My mind was able to pause and reflect, and my gaze upward rested on the branches shooting out from a large Cottonwood. It was awesome and brought with it shade for us below, a home for some chirping birds and created a wonderful swirling sound as the wind passed through it. All of those factors allowed me to take a deep breath in.

In the middle of all of these thoughts and deep breaths, my eyes locked on a single branch. It had grown along with the rest of the tree, but for some unknown reason had died and become a hazard. That part of the tree will need to be removed for the good of the whole tree. With a precise cut and time, the tree will continue to grow and develop into what it was designed to be.

Comfort came! Though the cancer came upon me in an unexpected way, I feel blessed to have the opportunity and technology to have that “branch” removed. I will have the chance to continue to grow and develop into what God would have me be.

There are things (dead branches) in all of our lives, some in our control and some out of our control, that need to be taken care of (removed) for our (the trees) own good. I am so grateful for the Savior, who, because of His infinite and atoning sacrifice, makes it possible for us to reclaim those things that are lost to us. Whether that loss is our health, a loved one, or a part of ourselves (physical or spiritual). He has created a way for us to triumph over all and become new again through the Atonement (Alma 11:40, 43-44).

Life is often difficult and the turns and bends that accompany life’s “winding river” can have unexpected undertows and currents, but we can trust that the Maker of all things, even our Eternal Heavenly Father knows all things and knows our hearts. He will place stepping stones and sand banks so that we can regain our footing and COME UNTO HIM...sick or well, bound or free...He loves us and will be the “Great Physician” for us bringing healing in His wings (2 Nephi 25:13) as He skillfully removes the dead and hazardous branches from our lives. Of this I am grateful as I am grateful for the skilled physician that will perform my needful surgery on Tuesday morning.  Please pray for him!  I will keep you all posted. Thank you for your love and support.

Love to you all,


“…to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“…suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning…”

Viktor E. Frankl