Category: my story

my storysocial distancing

How Being a Cancer Mom Prepared Me for Social Distancing

In Januuary 2016, my then six year old daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. We were swept up unexpectedly into a world we knew nothing about. I had to quit my part time job and neglect my thriving etsy shop and graphic design blog. Homeschooling changed and looked different. We were uprooted from all things normal and given a new temporary normal.

She had surgery to remove the tumor at the end of January 2016. Within two weeks, we were given the news that the tumor was malignant and we had been accepted into St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. At the time, I had no idea where St. Jude was located. I don’t think I had ever given thought to the fact that it was a real place and not just commercials on television.

It turns out that St. Jude is in Memphis… approximately 500 miles away from our front door. She and I got on a plane and headed off for the first 8 week stretch. We were at the mercy of the hospital and its services. I had no idea where we would be staying or how we would get around. I didn’t know what we would eat, etc. We packed one large suitcase and two carry-ons. The hospital provided our flight, shuttle service to the hospital, lodging, food, laundry detergent, housekeeping… all the things. We found out when we arrived the St. Jude patients are given free or reduced admission to many attractions around Memphis.

Our days were dictated for us. We would go to the registration desk each morning where my daughter received her hospital bracelet and schedule for the day. We took the provided shuttle to get to and from the Ronald McDonald House for the duration of the radiation phase of her treatment. My husband and I were able to manage long drives to and from home on the weekend to trade off and bring siblings for much needed family time. It was insane. When I think about all the hours on the road and the quick weekends, trying to squeeze in all the family time we could… it just makes me exhausted. But you do what you can to survive in times of crisis. We desperately needed to be together during that time and we did the best we could.

Once radiation was over, we went home for four weeks before returning for the chemo portion of her protocol. This is when the isolation and social distancing really set in. Radiation was not so difficult on her body. Different people have different experiences… but for us, radiation was not so tough. Now… we are seeing some long term effects of the radiation that aren’t so great. We are a little thrown off by some of it simply because radiation itself wasn’t so bad.

I sat with a nurse before chemo began to learn what was to be expected. I found out that hand washing was key. I learned that sanitizing was a non-negotiable. Her favorite stuffed animal could only come to the hospital stays with her if we agreed to take it home and wash it daily. There would be times during her chemo cycle when her immune system would be completely wiped out and she would be super susceptible to any and all germs. It was in those times that she needed to be treated with extreme care and kept away from any sickness. She wasn’t supposed to even play outside where there might be a chance of her falling down and scraping her knees… because germs.

When we left for chemo, we did not stay in the hospital provided housing (at the time, they only allowed for four people and we have a family of six). We made the decision to stay together as a family for the duration. We were graciously given a house that was about 20 minutes away from the hospital. It was furnished and we had a cleaning service come in every other week. It was amazing, but in some ways it added to our isolation. We only knew two other families in Memphis. We were now separated from the community of other patient families at St. Jude. Our in person community became very, very small.

**Please note, because most people ask… my daughter survived. She is doing really, really well. We are so thankful for her life.**

This time of social distancing and isolation feels very familiar to me. It reminds me very much of when we had our world rocked and even the familiar things felt foreign. I wanted to share a few things that I learned during that time that may help make this time a little less scary and a little more manageable.

  1. Cultivate a Hobby. For your own sanity, think of something you have been wanting to devote more time to and do it. For me, it was drawing. I drew all day long. I took my sketchbook to appointments. I had it in my bag all the time. It was an outlet… a place to channel my anxiety.

2. Get outside. The weather is beautiful right now. Sit on your porch, take a walk, lounge in a hammock, play basket ball, get in a water gun fight, stand barefoot in the grass. Get outside. It does wonders for your soul!!

3. Make memories. Take time to be silly. Put on some music and have a dance party. Allow for unprompted cookie baking and craft time (shrinky dinks are a magical craft). Say yes to the things you usually say no to. Get outside of your own head and engage the people in your house.

4. Plant a garden. Hardware stores and Grocery stores are considered essential business. When you make a grocery run, grab some seed packets and soil (Walmart or a larger Grocery Store will likely still have a garden center). If you don’t have space, get creative. We used a canvas shoe organizer to plant herbs. Just plant something that you can cultivate!

5. Be ok with a little extra screen time. We were given a Nintendo Wii U when we were living in Memphis. We would play together for hours. Mario Kart is my most favorite game! Even though they were looking at a screen, they were together and talking and laughing. We also watched so many movies that summer…all of the Star Wars movies, lots of Netflix, lots of Disney. There were times when we just needed to be still, be smart, be healthy… and screens were a good way to contain the chaos and hunker down together.

6. Write a Letter. Mail was a huge life saver for us. We had an Amazon Wish List. The kids would add things they wanted… craft kits, movies, books, toys. We added household items we needed. It was awesome. People cared for us in amazingly kind ways. Maybe you could have your kids create a wishlist and surprise them every now and then?? Have your kids write letters to their friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins… Just don’t lick the envelope… use a slightly wet cloth or something like that!!

In this current season of pandemic induced social distancing and sheltering at home, I find that we are implementing some of the same strategies. We are spending a lot of time outside, lounging in hammocks. I am reading through the Chronicles of Narnia with the kids. We are taking a lot of family walks and exploring a creek that runs through our neighbor’s yard. We are baking a lot (I was teaching a cake decorating class with our homeschool group before everything got cancelled and have continued lessons via Facebook Live) and cooking more meals at home. We are watching movies. We are playing a lot of Mario.

I’m not saying that our year of cancer treatment did not absolutely rock our world. We came out of it broken and lonely and socially awkward (well… me more than the others). There were some habits created in the name of survival that have been hard to break (mostly involving snacking). We are still dealing with the aftermath. I am sure that we will all have aftermath from COVID-19. We are ALL affected… every single one of us in all of the world. The aftermath will come and we will take it. But for now… what can you do during this time of social distancing, isoloation, germ diligence, and quaranting to keep your sanity and lean into the new normal?

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my storyteens and tweens

Walking Through Grief with Teens

My family is not unfamiliar with grief and sorrow and suffering. We have experienced it first hand. We know what it is to be on the receiving end of condolences and do-gooders.

The older I get, the more I realize that grief is but a breath away. Sorrow and suffering linger close.

My children experienced walking through the death of their grandfather in December. His health had declined over the course of a couple of years and they watched him struggle.

Just last week, a dear friend of ours passed away after a seven year battle with cancer. We have really only known him for the last four years. Our families share the bond of cancer. We speak the same language. Our friend and my daughter had a special bond as cancer warriors who found their strength in Jesus. They prayed together and laughed together. They shared experiences. I am so thankful she had time with him. He understood her struggles better than most. I grieve for my sweet girl as she grieves the loss of her friend.

I grieve for the loss of whatever innocence my children had left concerning the destructive power of cancer. Upon hearing the news of our friend’s passing, my older daugher asked me the chances of her sister’s cancer coming back. Because now it is real that cancer destroys and kills. Now it is real that chemo doesn’t always work.

I grieve for my friend who lost her husband… for her kids who lost their father. I desperately hope for the day when the sad things come untrue. When sickness and suffering are no longer… when tears are wiped… when pain is gone. Like a mother in labor, feeling the pains that must come to push new life into this world… I feel pain… pushing, squeezing… driving me forward. I grieve… with a believing hope that this world is not the end.

I work with teenagers. I was on the phone with one of the girls in my youth a couple of days after receiving the news of our friend’s death. She is friends with the daughter. We talked about how death doesn’t make sense… and about how much this hurts. She desperately wanted to do something to make it better.

Talking with her reminded me of a time in high school when a friend of mine lost a friend to a car accident. I was young and immature and did not know how to be a friend to someone grieving. I avoided my friend. He needed someone to sit with him and listen, but I ran away. I regret my choices and wish I had known how to be a friend to him in that time.

In talking with my children and my youth gal about this death and sadness, I realized a few things that may be helpful if you are walking with a teen through sorrow.

  1. Grief does not come with instructions. There is not a right way to do it.
  2. As Christians, we grieve with hope. Both are true… the grief and the hope. One does not out weigh or overshadow the other. Scripture says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). It also says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). We can grieve and mourn… and we can have hope that there is more happening than what we see.
  3. Hold space. If you are the one grieving, allow space to grieve. You are not obligated to do or give anything. If you are walking along a friend who has experienced loss or is suffering, allow space. Don’t try to make it better. Wait for them to express a need. Let your friend know you love them and don’t expect a response right away. Do not look to your grieving friend to make you feel better for what they are going through.
  4. Trust that the Lord is at work. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

While we desperately want to make things better and take pain away from those we love, we must trust that God, in his sovereignty, is at work. Suffering produces endurace. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. Hope does not put us to shame. There is a direct correlation between grief and hope. Those who are grieving and those walking alongside must be willing to lean into the grief to give space for the hope.

my story

As the Sun Sets on Summer

Do you remember in the days before social media and the internet how you would come back to the school in the fall, ready to share with your friends about all the things you did over the summer? There was no Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat to document all the things you did and ate. You had a break from the rhythm of school to reset and recharge. I remember returning to college each year and being so excited to find my friends and talk about all the things. Email was becoming more common… but cell phones still weren’t the norm… people didn’t text all the time. Ah… those days are long gone.

I feel like I did that with this blog and the greater interwebs this summer. I took an unintentional break from blogging. I had actually intended to do more writing, more posting, more networking and connecting over the summer, but it did not happen… and I’m ok with that. Now I get to share with you all the things!

There was a cricket in my kitchen the other day. I was not all super homeschool mom who called the kids into observe and gently remove the cricket. I totally cried in my heart that my husband wasn’t home and I had to be the one to deal with it. It was perched, ever so steadily, just above my stove where a nice pot of mac and cheese was in the works. I got my broom and swept it from the ceiling where it proceeded to jump, leap, and bound around my kitchen. I wish I could say I opened the door and he tipped his hat to me as he went along his merry way. Instead, he met the business end of my shoe and that was that.

I used to despise summer with it’s oppressive heat. When I was pregnant with number 3, we moved to Orlando in my third trimester. It felt like hell… so hot and sticky. Air quality and temperature warnings keeping us inside with the curtains closed. The pools felt like bath water and offered no relief. When my daughter had cancer and we lived in Memphis for the summer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the oppresive heat was … well, oppressing. It seemed to magnify the suffering in which we were living.

But there is something about summer now that draws me out. I love it. I long for it. I am sad as we are entering the last couple of weeks before the routine of school and church and sports returns. I love the lazy days. I love the feel of the sun on my shoulders as I weed the garden. I soak it in. Our garden is producing, our chickens are laying. The children are active and freckled. The heat of the summer in the mountains is not so oppressive. It sinks with the sun in the evening and things cool down. Summer (in the mountains) has become my favorite time. There is a beauty in the slow of summer that doesn’t appear during the rest of the year.

Flowers bloom and I actually stop to notice them.

We spent our June playing in the pool and doing VBS at our church. We had our first ever middle school VBS. It was a learning experience and so much fun! July got busier than I expected. I blinked and it was over.

We visited St. Jude in Memphis for my daughter’s bi-annual scans and tests. We decided to take the whole family and use the time as a vacation. It was a weird vacation… because it was and it wasn’t. We weren’t there to have fun. We were there to complete a day and a half of doctor’s appointments. We were there to sit in waiting rooms, visit with doctors, and have bloodwork. However… St. Jude patients are given admission to several attractions around Memphis. While there, we visited the Bass Pro Shop and rode to the top of the pyramid structure that houses it to overlook the Mississippi river. We also visited the zoo. It was hot, but we were able to enjoy seeing some animals as well as awesome Lego structures that were on display. So…we vacationed in a paradoxical way.

We also got to celebrate that this little firecracker had clear scans and remains cancer free!

Our garden was gracious to us this year and has produced all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables…. strawberries, raspberries, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots. We’ve been gathering and chopping and canning. Our kitchen has been smelling green and fresh this summer!

I turned 40 and made myself a shirt. I am surprisingly okay with 40. I’m owning it… grey hair, creaky joints, and all. My husband says to enjoy this year while I’m just 40… because next year I will officially be “in my forties”… and that’s a whole different ball game!

We added four new chicks to our animal menagerie. Because… why not? They were in a bin marked “pullets” (female chicks)… but I have my suspicions that a rooster or two may have snuck in the box. Oi… Olive and Violet may end up being Oliver and Victor… and I’m not sure that will fly around these parts!!!

I hate puzzles. I really do. They bring up all kind of childhood trauma triggers and anxiety in me. I have never encouraged them with my children (I know, I know… what kind of homeschool mom am I???). Well… Little Miss Seven Year old has decided that she “loves puzzles” and “puzzles are my life!” How can I deny her sweet little problem solving self. Our living room now has a puzzle going at all times. Sometimes I sit and try to fit the pieces, but I really don’t last long. It has been beautiful though. All the kids and my husband will stop by the puzzle table at different times and enjoy some moments together.

Summer is coming to a close. The sun is setting earlier and earlier each evening, whispering the closing of the season. My announcement of the first day of school was met with mixed reviews. Some of the kids are excited and some are tolerating it. I, myself, have mixed reviews. I only have a few summers left with these children of mine. Each year, I watch them growing up into independance and getting closer to the day they will leave the nest. I suppose I want to cling to the magical moments of summer more and more as the years go by. But… time keeps moving. Fall is coming. All things school are starting up again. So… onto the next season!

my story

The Redemption of Spring

I have not been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I am pretty sure that is only because I have not gone to anyone who would be qualified to give that diagnosis. According to what I have read in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I am pretty sure I check all the boxes.

My daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in January 2016. She had surgery to remove the tumor, six weeks of radiation, and four months of chemo. I often tell people it was like our life changed tracks. Like we were set on an alternate plane of reality. It was also very much like a cross cultural experience. We were uprooted from our home. We traveled five hundred miles away to receive treatment from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We learned a new language, the language of childhood cancer. We aquired new skills like administering IV fluids and medications. It was an awful time. We did what we had to do to survive. We did not have time to worry about tomorrow because the current day had plenty of its own worries.

I longed for home every day. I could picture our mountains. I could almost feel the cool crisp water of the mountain streams. I wanted to be surrounded by the safety of our home and community. I knew everything would be ok if we could just get home. At the end of treatment, my daugher was given a clean bill of health. We knew she may have struggles in the years to come due to side effects from treatment, but overall, she was healthy and alive.

I had no idea how hard life would be once we returned. In such a short time, everything changed. We were different. We were battle worn and scarred from it all. Where I was often the one to initiate and plan get togethers for my friends and my children’s friends, I simply could no longer. Friendships changed. I desperately needed people to reach out to me, but didn’t know what to do when they actually did. I do not know that I have ever felt so lonely as I have in the last couple of years living on this side of childhood cancer.

I do not have seasonal affective disorder. I truly believe I have PTSD that heightens and rears it’s ugly head every year surrounding the time when it all started with my daughter. I shut down. Everything becomes hard and labored. I fear snow and winter. I go into survival mode and simply do the very minumum required of life.

I hate this. I hate it so very much. Each year it seems to begin earlier and last longer. I hate it because now my wedding anniversary in December is clouded. Christmas (the day her headaches started in 2015) is clouded. My two other daughters who have birthdays in January do not get the best of me. I do the bear minimum with homeschooling and my other jobs and responsibilities. To get out of bed is a struggle. To be emotionally connected is darn near impossible. I hate it so much.

I made the comment to someone this year that I was sorry if I had not been on top of the things I had committed to. I was sorry because January is such a hard month for me and I knew that I had fallen behind. The person looked at me and said, “you know it is the end of February, right?” January had spilled into February and was threatening to take March right along with it.

March, April, and May are busy months for us. We have homeschool classes, my older kids are part of the Spring theater production. My little girls play soccer. Every night of the week is filled. I was able to get up and moving. I was engaging people again. I was keeping up with commitments. But I realized that I was mistaking busy-ness for health. I assumed because I was busy and seeing people regularly and engaging in my children’s lives, I was ok and the PTSD months were over and I had a few months of freedom. But when I wake up in the morning, I have to convince myself to get out of bed. I have to talk myself into just sitting up and putting my feet on the floor. Sometimes my bladder is the one who does the convincing and hurries the process along… even still, it is a daily struggle.

My husband asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day. I couldn’t come up with an answer. I didn’t really want to hide away and sleep all day, but I also didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to go out to eat or go hiking or see people. We settled on ordering pizza. I laid in bed and read for a couple of hours. It was supposed to rain all day, but when we realized it wasn’t going to, my husband invited me out to help plant the garden.

I noticed last year that our garden was a source of joy and purpose for me. I know I should feel purpose with all that goes on in my life as a wife, a mother, a teacher, a youth leader… so many noble callings. So many ministry opportunities. But the garden … that is where I have found my soul being fed. That is where I have found rest and redemption.

Throughout the fall and winter, we literally dump poop into the garden to get it ready for when we plant. We have twelve chickens and two rabbits. Last year, we let the chickens have free reign of the garden space in the fall and winter. They are hard workers. They till up and poop and churn it all around creating the most fertile of soil. The rabbits’ hutch has a tray that collects their poop. We simply take the tray and dump it into the garden. We have also let the rabbits run around in the space. During the off months, the ground that will help produce fruits and vegetables that will be used at our dinner table, is filled with poop. It composts down with the help of worms and rain and the occassional turning up of the soil by my husband. But mostly, we just let it pile on.

And then the time comes to prep and plant. We work with our meager tools…. a hoe, a claw like tilling thing, a small trowel, a small rake. We have now thrown lime and ashes from recent fire pit in to the soon to be garden. My husband has gone through with the weedeater to clear the way. We prep the rows that will hold the seeds. We plan what we will plant, buying seeds and seedlings from ACE Hardware. Then we work. We till and flatten and smooth and dig and plant.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

With each seed that is planted, I cannot help but think that it is going into the dark, poop laden ground to die. And from its death will come new life. The new life will sprout and fight it’s way to the surface where it’s leaves will unfurl and soak in the sun. Its roots will take hold and it will be ready to face the elements as they come. Strong because we have prepared the ground. We have made it welcoming and given it the nutrients it needs to grow tall and healthy and produce fruit. Nutrients that came from crap… there’s no other way to say it… crap from our animals, the leftovers from our firepit… crap.

I couldn’t help but just pause and stand still and breathe in the earthy smells as the sun warmed my shoulders while we worked. We go through season after season of death, cold and dark and in the ground, buried under poop that just doesn’t seem to stop only to come out of it reaching through the muck for the air and light.

Each year seems to be getting harder for me to shake the PTSD. I feel like it starts earlier and lasts longer. But each Spring brings redemption. The warmth of the sun on my face. The feel of the dirt under my feet. The way my chickens renew their strength and energy and start laying more eggs. The way the green comes back onto the trees and the leaves grow back, new and fresh. The flowers that come after months of no color. It brings redemption. It brings hope. It reminds me that death and suffering are not the end of all things. There is life again. There is hope for the day that death will be no more. Without hope, there is only suffering. I need Spring. I need the redemption and life it brings… even if that life is sometimes filled with bugs and poison ivy… it is life and hope and renewal. The hope of Spring gets me through the cold and dark of Winter. It reminds me that this too shall pass and I will be ok.

my story

That Time I Didn’t Realize My Kid Was Getting Braces

Also titled… “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Mom Guilt”

I took my daughter to her orthodontist appointment last month. She has been using a retainer for the last few months to help correct a crossbite and also make room in her mouth for her giant adult teeth. I’m not kidding. Each one of her top two adult teeth knocked out two baby teeth. My kids all look like my husband, but one trait they got from me is a tiny mouth. As a kid, I had to have quite a few teeth removed because there was not enough room for all of them.

I had surgery the month before her appointment. I think the month before that I was overwhelmed with Christmas orders and my husband had taken her to her appointment. He kept mentioning that I needed to call and find out exactly what she was having done at this next appointment. We weren’t financially ready for her to have braces and didn’t want to have anything unexpected happen at the appointment.

I reassured him that it was just an appointment to adjust her retainer. I had already talked to them and explained that she could not have braces or anything permanent because she gets brain MRIs every six months and the metal in her mouth would render the scans unreadable.

So… there I took her… to her appointment to get her retainer adjusted. She sat in the chair and they said, “Are you excited to get your new braces today?”

I’m sorry… her new what????

And sure enough, they had come up with a plan. Phase 2 of her treatment. They were working with her special situation and going to give her ceramic brackets that wouldn’t interfere with the MRIs. The metal wire could just be popped out prior to her MRI and then placed back in… easy peasy.

I put a big smile on my face and looked at my daughter and said, “Yay! Braces!!!!”

She is such a trooper. She totally took it with no complaints. She does that… just takes it. She rarely complained when she was sick for so long before she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She rarely complained about chemo and radiation. I mean, sure, she is a typical little girl and fusses with her sisters, cries when she falls, doesn’t like vegetables… but when it comes to the big things, she just takes it.

Isn’t she the cutest thing?!?

Now… I had a choice… be eaten up with the mom guilt of not calling ahead even though my husband had asked me to. The guilt of not preparing my child ahead of time for the changes that were coming. The guilt of not being fully sure if we had already paid for the braces or not (we did… it was part of the plan). The guilt of letting the ball drop again. The guilt of not having it all together… not being on point… not being perfect.

I think it is fair to say that all moms experience mom guilt at some point. And, I think it is fair to say that homeschool moms can, at times, experience it to a greater degree. We like to carry the burden for our children’s well being and success in a heavy pack on our shoulders. We worry and fear that we have screwed them up and the damage is beyond repair. We like to think that we are, somehow, more powerful than the sovereignty of God.

If there is one thing that I have learned over the course of my life as a parent, it is the fact that God is sovereign. He is over all things…. even my poor choices do not surprise him or throw him off his game. He cares about even the smallest details. He cares about my daughter’s braces and he knew, even when I didn’t, what was coming when we walked into the office.

When I allow myself to trust in His sovereignty, I also allow myself to not revel in my own mistakes allowing guilt to reign supreme.

One thing I read about in Kathy Koch’s Latest Book, Start with the Heart, is about fostering resiliency in our kids. She says that “resiliency might be the most important quality for motivated children to have.” She also says,

“resliency is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, disappointment, defeat, failure, and trauma… It’s essential if you want them to develop self- motivation. It offers protection against anxiety and becoming depressed.”

Start with the Heart: How to Motivate Your Kids to be Compassionate, Responsible, and Brave (Even When You’re Not Around)

You can read more about Start with the Heart HERE.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could say I orchestrated this little incident to help foster resiliency in my child??? Oh that I was that creative. But I do serve a creative and caring Lord who orchestrates all things and in all things works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). He cares deeply about my children and He is more invested than I in their sanctification. So, maybe… just maybe… I don’t need to be guilty, but just thankful.

Should I pay a little more attention? Probably. Should I beat myself up? No. There is still much to be celebrated in the day to day with our kids even when the unexpected happens. How can you celebrate and find joy instead of crumbling under the could haves and should haves?

And chances are… you’re doing better than me. I mean… come on… who doesn’t know their kid is getting braces?!?!?

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate with Amazon. Purchases made through links on this post provide our family with a small commission. Thank you!