TWO HORSES

canstock16119189Working on my book today, I came across this blog post from July 28, 2010. It brought back memories of several co-workers whose cancer diagnoses came on the heels of my own. The story I included in my post is one I believe I found online. The author is unknown, but it carried a powerful message for me at that time. Both of these friends have since passed on, but the bond we developed through our cancer journeys is one I will always remember.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2010

Who knew? Who knew when I was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago that it would just be the beginning of the cancer attack on my work family.

Last week, I asked for prayers for a good friend, just recently diagnosed. Today, another. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is such a devastating blow. You have all kept me going through your prayers and support. I would like to offer that same support to those who are close to me.

I came across this story the other day…

TWO HORSES

“When I was a young boy in Idaho, I remember there was a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But, if you stopped your car, or walked by, you noticed something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse you would have discovered that he is blind. His owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had made a good home for him. If you stood nearby and listened, you would hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you would see that it came from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter was a small bell. It let the blind friend know where the other horse was, so he could follow. As you stood and watched these two horses, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was listening for the bell. He would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stopped occasionally and looked back, making sure that the blind friend wasn’t too far behind to hear the bell. I like to think that, like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we come with problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse, being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. And at other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way.” – Author unknown

How perfect!!

Later.

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

Back to work, and reliving January 15, 2010. I had completely forgotten the highs and lows of that day and the incredible outpouring of love and support which followed. Friends and family are amazing!! But the words of one person in particular were exactly what I needed to hear and I carry those words with me to this day. Another excerpt from The Tunnel Revisited.

blog quote smallJanuary 15, 2010, was, I believe, the only day during this entire journey that took me from sky high to a new low in the course of just a few hours and was the only day on which I felt lead to post twice in one day. The outpouring of support which I received regarding the second post was amazing and, one comment in particular offered me words which I carried through the entire journey ahead. In fact, I carry these words with me to this day and share them often. So many, many people, in an effort to comfort, tell you that God will not give you more than you can handle. While there is certainly truth to that, when you are going through some dark, dark days that knowledge can be hard to swallow. You wonder what you did to be given this. But, the highlighted quote in the second post below put a whole new spin on these words and was an extreme comfort to me. Thank you, John Pehrson!!

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010

When you’re healthy and you basically feel good every day, you don’t even appreciate the fact that you feel good. Anyway, I never did. But, when you only are blessed with a few “feel good” days out of every two week period, you quickly learn to appreciate them.

I stole a few hours to go into my office today in spite of the fact that I was on “Precautions.” Sue and Sandy went in before I got there and completely disinfected every surface. Thanks so much!! And people were very good about standing well outside the door to say hi if they had any signs of a cold, etc. It was funny how many people were amazed by how good I look (in their words) and I believe that is due to what I was referring to above. I am so appreciating feeling good today that it shows. I have two more days to feel this way now before I have chemo again on Monday.

Also, it felt so good just to be back in my element…my office. I work with so many good people and I didn’t get to see anywhere near all of them but those I did get to visit with just made my day. You guys are great.

This was the first time I drove a car in a month. Negotiating intersections with gigantic snow banks which block your vision is certainly no picnic and I quickly saw that I hadn’t missed anything in that regard.

No big news today. Just getting ready to enjoy my week-end. Monday is chemo. Tuesday, the shot after chemo and Wednesday, the visit with the surgeon so lots of medical stuff next week.

Later.

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010 (2nd post)

OK…all that talk about how well I am handling this and how strong I am, etc, etc, etc, is out the window. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING ANYMORE.

I just got a call from my oncologist telling me they are cancelling my chemo for Monday and until further notice. I have thyroid cancer and that has now taken priority over treating the breast cancer. He said it is imperative that we move forward and remove this tumor before it spreads and we can’t do that if I continue chemo.

I am dumbfounded. Does that mean the last month was a waste? I don’t know. I just have to wait until I meet with the surgeon on Wednesday to see what he has planned for my life and then go from there.

Later.

 

COMMENTS

“Cathy…I’m so sorry!! This seems to be a big bump in your road. We are all thinking of you! Stay strong. Luv you!!” – Jen

“What you are doing is taking one day, one hour, one breath at a time. YOU CAN DO THIS! This is why God made you strong. Take a deep breath and focus on beating this.The last month taught you that you can do anything – that lesson was not wasted on you. The truth is, the last month may have just given you the strength to get through the next.Feel good tomorrow. Don’t let this tumor rob you of your feel good days. Your spirit is bigger than that tumor. Go forward. Our prayers go with you.” – Kari

“I am in shock as I am sure you guys are. I was ready to send you a high give for the day when Jennifer called and asked if I had read your second post today – which I had not seen. I wish that you didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to see the surgeon – that seems like a long time. I woke up this morning with a cough, sinus, laryngitis thing so I don’t dare come over to see you but we are both praying so hard for you every day. I honestly don’t know how you are dealing with all of this but I know that you are finding a strength deep inside of you that maybe you never knew that you had until now and the thoughts and prayers of a lot of people are right there with you. Hang on tight – there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Marilyn and Russ

“Hi. The sun is shining so enjoy. We may not have many of these days. Just a little crack in the road. Get it done and keep going. Don’t think about tomorrow. Just enjoy the day you have today. It was so good to see you and see how well you are doing. You are a survivor. Keep up the good work.” – Barb

“No question, this puts a feeling of being in the pits. On the wall in my study is the saying, ‘God doesn’t give us what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given’. Even in the depths of bad news and struggle, it is possible to see hope and find peace. Judy and I continue to keep you in our prayers. We hope that knowing others are praying for you can give you a sense of God’s presence and courage for this day and in the days to come.” John and Judy

“The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. I know he is opening some doors right now that you wish you didn’t have to go through. Know that he is with you every step. You are in my thoughts and prayers.” – Cindy

“Please stay strong – your ability to relate all of this proves your courage. We’re inspired by you and wish you continued bravery.” – Mike

“Cathy. It was so good to see you last week. You looked GREAT!!!! We all needed to see you and talk to you and to hear about your good days and the other days that you have faced. Please continue to stay positive, be brave and have courage.” – Fred

“Dear Cathy – Lindsay and I continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers. This truly has been a bumpy road for you but I know you can get through it. You are a special person and you have to many wonderful family and friends that are here for you. Take care and our love to you and Ken both.” – Donna and Lindsay

“Cathy – we’ll be thinking about you tomorrow and praying that all your questions are answered. Kari is right – the last month has taught you and all of us, just how strong you are. You can do this.” – Jean

 

 

Jake Olson

Working on my book this morning, I was reminded of the story of Jake Olson, the then, 12 year old boy who had just had surgery to remove his cancerous right eye. Oddly enough, that was a story I needed to be reminded of right now.

I have been a bit down since my eye appointment last week. It was the 6 month check-up following my cataract surgeries last summer. If you recall, both I and my eye doctor were ecstatic with the results at that time. While not the 20/20, no glasses needed, results that many achieve, he was able to correct my vision to 20/30, with glasses, the best it has been in years. So, I was devastated, last week, to discover in that short time, my vision had deteriorated back to the point where I could read nothing on the chart with my right eye. He took photos of the macula in both eyes and turns out that both have deteriorated again – especially the right. He scheduled me for an appointment with the retina specialist so now I wait. According to my eye doctor, there is a strong chance that I have developed fluid in the right eye. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60 but there are two forms – dry and wet. While Dry Macular Degeneration can definitely affect the quality of your vision, it seldom causes central vision loss. I have been dealing with that form for years. Only about 10% of people with Dry MD advance to the wet form which is when abnormal blood vessels form and leak blood and fluids into the retina. Those abnormal blood vessels eventually form a scar which results in permanent loss of central vision. There are treatment options to slow the progression but no cure. The idea of that possibility has been weighing heavily on my mind for the past week.

So this morning, as I recounted the Jake Olson story in my book, I was reminded of the quote “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”  As I mentioned earlier, Jake Olson was 12 years old in December of 2009 when he had surgery to remove his cancerous right eye. What I didn’t say was that he had lost his left eye to cancer when just an infant. So, at the age of 12, he was completely blind.  Jake wrote a book at the age of 8 to help other children battling cancer. He has met many, many challenges head on and has been featured on countless network news broadcasts and in many documentaries. jake olsonNow 18 years old, he is a motivational speaker, plays on his high school football team, enjoys skiing, surfing and playing guitar and has a personal goal of becoming the first blind golfer to join the PGA. WOW!

I needed that.

Later.

Christmas, 2009

ChristmasStorm1225halfblockeastl-1164215_lgA major Christmas blizzard spanning 4 – 5 days back in 2009,  dropped approximately 21 inches of snow, blown around by wind gusts approaching 50 miles per hour. This massive storm punctuated the beginning of my cancer treatment, pointing out to me, in no uncertain terms, that, not I, but a much greater force was to be in control of my destiny.

The snow was just beginning to fall as I walked into the Cancer Center on December 22, 2009, to receive my first chemo treatment following surgery for Breast Cancer. This on the heals of just finding out that a PET scan had shown a possible abnormality in my thyroid as well. I would have a biopsy in early January to determine the status of that.  These storms of both nature and my personal life at the time, were reflected in my Christmas Day post back then. In re-reading it while working on my book, I decided that this might be an appropriate time to share that post from six years ago.  Hopefully it will act as a reminder to us to always hold onto hope in the midst of life’s biggest storms.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25,2009

Merry Christmas, all! What a different Christmas it has been. The weather…what about that? It certainly has thrown a monkey wrench into lots of people’s plans. We were fortunate. Kelli and Brett had originally planned to drive home right before Christmas but decided to come a couple of days early to be with me for my first chemo treatment. That meant they were here safe and sound before the first snowflakes fell. Michelle and the kids, of course, live here in town so they headed over early yesterday bringing all of their stuff with them and just moved in. So, we had a big slumber party last night for Christmas Eve.

It was the first time in many, many years that I was unable to host the big Christmas Eve bash for Marilyn, Russ, Jen and the kids and anyone else who happened to be in town. That made me sad. But there will be others.

We missed Matt and Sara, too, but are happy knowing they are safe and sound and enjoying Christmas with their Denver family. They will begin a new adventure on Sunday as they load up a moving truck and move to their new home in the mountains.

This morning, I woke up a little after five with a really raspy cough. Got up for a bit but then was able to go back to bed and sleep for a couple of hours before getting up feeling much better. Only minor nausea. We were just getting a late start on opening gifts when the power went off…what a strangely old fashioned feeling that brought an unexpected peace to our Christmas morning.

Unfortunately, at some point, my mind strayed back briefly, to Christmas 15 years ago when my Dad had just received his cancer diagnosis. The day after Christmas,we took off for Denver to help them prepare to move back to Iowa to begin treatments. As we took down their beautiful Christmas decorations, we had no idea that it would be for the last time. That was Dad’s last Christmas. And, given the uncertainty of my diagnosis right now, I realize I could be in that same position, though, every part of my being refuses to believe that. When Christmas, 2010 rolls around, I plan to be approaching the end of my chemo treatments and preparing to begin radiation. Still, just in case, my plan was to enjoy this Christmas to the fullest, and I have. I’m trying to not focus on the upcoming thyroid biopsy and how that result might change the course of my life.

As far as I’m concerned, if it turns out to be cancer, that will just be another bend in this tunnel. I will deal with that when and if it happens. For now, I cannot yet see that light at the end of the tunnel, just as we’ve been unable to see across the street due to the heavy snow, but I can see the lights of Christmas all around me, reflecting off the huge drifts of snow and sending a comforting reminder of the Christmas miracle. It has been a different Christmas, to be sure, but a wonderful one in its own way.

In the words of Tiny Tim, God bless us everyone.

The Voice Update

sara dIn an update to my post from last week, I have come across some new information regarding Sara Davenport. As you may recall, Sara is a beautiful, spunky young lady who grew up here in Sioux City. A good friend of my son, Matt, Sara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January of 2014. Following surgery and months of treatment and recovery, this thirty something was finally able to return to enjoying life to it’s fullest. Then, this past November she discovered a lump on her neck. A biopsy determined that she now has lymphoma.

Sara must now undergo 6 months of heavy chemotherapy, which is already taking its toll.  Sara is a chef and because of the physical nature of her work and the risk of complications to her immune system from a simple cut, her doctors have said she cannot work. So she really needs our help! Friends have set up a fundraising site to help her with the expenses she is rapidly incurring. If you are able and so inclined, here is a link to her page.  And again, prayers are always welcome as well as the simple act of sharing this post to help spread the word.

Now, an update on Becky. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, more than $12,000 has been raised to help this young mother as she makes her way through treatment. The link to her page again is here.

Thanks so much for reading and for caring. And, remember – you can help. Share – share – share.

Later.

 

The Voice

blog quote small2I have a couple of stories to share this morning and I truly, truly hope that you will take a couple of moments to read them because they are important to you. You may even know some of the people involved.

In a recent blog post regarding my project to write a book chronicling my cancer journey I said, “I believe that if you’re given a song, you should sing it. If you’re given a story, you should tell it. And, if you’re given a voice, you should use it. I’ll leave the singing to my talented husband, but I do have a story to tell and a voice with which to tell it.”

I realized in the last few days that mine is not the only story that needs to be told. So, while I will continue working on that, in the hope that it will one day be helpful to someone going down that same road, I have decided to use my voice to also share other’s stories as I am made aware of them. It is my hope that in doing so, in some small way, that will be helpful to them. This morning I have two.

The first is about Sara Davenport, a beautiful, spunky young lady who grew up here in Sioux City. A good friend of my son, Matt, Sara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January of 2014. Following surgery and months of treatment and recovery, this thirty something was finally able to return to enjoying life to it’s fullest. Then, this past November she discovered a lump on her neck. A biopsy determined that she now has lymphoma.  My heart goes out to her as she begins her second cancer journey.

The second story is about another young lady who grew up in Sioux City…Becky Morehead Anderson. Becky is close friends with Stefenie Miller Wright. Stefenie was a big part of our family, growing up, and good friends with my daughter Kelli. Her friend, Becky, just gave birth to her third child on November 4. Five days later, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Grade 2 Breast Cancer. After further testing, it was found that the cancer had spread to her bones and the diagnosis was changed to Stage 4. You can read her complete story here.

My hope is that by sharing these stories with my readers, these two young women will feel a ground swell of support and the realization that in spite of all the recent news to the contrary, people are good and that love does abound here in the US. They are both so young. Support comes in many forms…monetary contributions if you are able…lifting them up in prayer if you are so inclined…or just sharing this post to help share their story with others who may also want to help. Social media makes it so easy to share stories and generate support. I hope that you will join me in this effort. It only takes a moment to share. Thanks so much.

Later.

Chapter Two

I’ve been working on some research this morning for Chapter Two, but find my thoughts wandering to the enormity of the project itself and how it all came about.

One day you’re supposedly healthy and the next day you’re diagnosed with cancer. That is a tough thing to wrap your head around – not only for you but for those around you. You’re the same person you were the day before, but you suddenly feel like you are defined by cancer, People are concerned, but most feel awkward. It is hard to know what to say, so many resort to platitudes…you have to stay strong…you are going to be fine…God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…you don’t look sick…etc, etc., You reach a point where you want to talk about anything but the cancer…not because you don’t want to share your journey, but because it is exhausting to feel like you have to be strong for the rest of the world so they will feel more comfortable.

When I began treatment, I began my first blog. That was my way of giving myself an outlet where I was free to express myself and also a means of sharing with family and friends without having to retell my story over and over. I’ve been a quiet person all of my life. I never sought to be the center of attention – never liked to get up in front of the class…never wanted to feel like all eyes were on me. But the strangest thing happened as I made my way along this journey.

While I never believed that cancer defined me, it somehow gave me a voice. In May of 2011, I was named the first honorary chair of the Komen Siouxland Race For the Cure. honorary chair I was also named the Komen Siouxland representative on the New Balance Breast Cancer team, I was later selected to drop the puck and ride the Zamboni at the Sioux City Musketeers annual Pink in the Rink. I was interviewed numerous times on local television and was the subject of a feature article in the Sioux City Journal. To this day, I have no idea how all of that happened, but the even better thing that happened is that I found myself being placed in situations and crossing paths with friends and acquaintances who were themselves now touched by cancer and were in need of someone to talk to. I was able to give them a voice in an atmosphere where they could feel comfortable to talk freely and to express their feelings. This continues to this day.

That is why I am determined to pursue the writing of this book. I believe that if you’re given a song, you should sing it. If you’re given a story, you should tell it. And, if you’re given a voice, you should use it. I’ll leave the singing to my talented husband, but I do have a story to tell and a voice with which to tell it. And, I now have the time, so that is what I hope to do, no matter how long it may take.

Cathy’s Tunnel Re-Visited

As I looked down at the dashboard on my treadmill last night, I noticed that without even realizing it I had just broken the two mile mark, arms pumping and my head reeling with thoughts and emotions. Usually I am checking every little bit to see how far I’ve gone and calculating how long it will be before I am finished. Also, I never walk on a treadmill without holding on. My balance, especially since chemo, is not that great and I have never been comfortable with the idea of face planting myself onto the belt before slamming into the concrete wall behind me. But, last night, the adrenaline was so powerful that, without even thinking, I walked the entire two miles without grabbing the rails.  l had just completed Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and it was as if the fog had suddenly lifted. The uncertainty had been replaced by a manic enthusiasm. It feels as if I now have a clear picture of what I need to do and why I need to do it.

In one of the closing paragraphs of the book she said, “No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen.” Those of you who follow my Facebook business page may also recall this quote. “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” **

I realized that I had become paralyzed by the pressure to get published. I have long wanted to write this story. I have talked about it for years. But, it was much easier to talk about when I was not really in a position to do so…when I was “standing there doing some job into which I had fallen.” But, once I left that job – once retirement made this challenge a real possibility, I found myself silenced by insecurity, laden with excuses and totally unable to shake that “deer in the headlights” feeling.

What I have now come to grips with, though, is that I have never said that I want to publish a book (though it would be nice). I have always said that I want to WRITE a book. And, I need to write this particular book for ME. If it would turn out that, once completed, I felt it might be worthy of publication and that ended up happening, it would be great. But, I have given myself permission to remove that pressure.  And, this is why.

Cathys TunnelTwo weeks from today, on October 22, it will be six years since I received my cancer diagnosis. And, I am just now admitting to myself that from the moment Ken told me of the diagnosis (yes, he was the one who gave me the news) through the entire 2+ years of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, diagnostic procedure after diagnostic procedure, the emotions, the terror, the uncertainties, I never allowed myself to truly feel. I never allowed myself to grieve. I put up a brick wall between myself and what was happening to me. I woke up every morning and just put one foot in front of the other, doing whatever I needed to do that day. I never questioned God, never blamed God, but never turned to God either. I was totally removed from the experience in my mind. I was playing a role. I documented everything in a blog – Cathy’s Tunnel. It was a means of keeping family and friends informed of all that was going on. But, I realize now, that it was also a way to record what was happening to me without having to actually experience all of the raw emotion. It was something I could go back to later when the fear had diminished, to remind myself of the journey and to thank God for bringing me through it. It is time now for me to face the demons that I didn’t face during those years and, I believe that re-writing my story in book format will allow me to do that.  It’s funny, but I have never gone back and re-read that blog. It’s still out there in bloggerspace, but I have never gone back except to grab the above photo. It was taken in California on a family trip to celebrate my birthday in 2007 and subsequently became the face, so to speak, of Cathy’s Tunnel

When setting up my new office space, I selected that same photo, different view, for my wall. revised tunnel photoIt allows me to stay focused on just how far I’ve come in the past six years. I’m a different person now, I know that. So many people have told me how strong I am. Of course – a brick wall is very strong. But, the wall is coming down and it is with that manic enthusiasm mentioned earlier that I will now re-visit Cathy’s Tunnel. I have no idea where that visit will lead. And, I have no idea whether or not I will someday write other books. But, I do know that starting now, I WILL write this book. Who knows, maybe portions of this very blog post will become the “shitty first draft” (see the October 3 post on my Facebook business page) of the Introduction or Forward to that book. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Later.

** Bird to Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott 1994

Wish I Had Thought of This

This post may seem better suited to one of my previous blogs, but I thought it had some validity here as well. This link is to one of the greatest ideas I have seen since my illness.

Los Angeles–based designer Emily McDowell, turned her experience as a cancer patient and survivor into a line of greeting cards she calls Empathy cards. These cards help people to express the words for situations that are just difficult to put into words. They are cards that she would have liked to receive during her illness. I’m pretty sure that Emily is not retired, but this is the type of thing that I would love to pursue as I reinvent my life in retirement. It is a creative outlet for her feelings that offers something that can be a godsend for others going through difficult situations. I really wish I had thought of this.

So, here is a link to a blog post written by Kristin Hohenadel . It is her work, not mine, but it spoke to me so much that I just had to share, Hope you enjoy. And, thanks so much Kelli, for originally sharing it with me.

A Cancer Survivor Designs the Cards She Wishes She’d Received From Friends and Family

Later.