A letter to my daughter on her first day of high school…


Dearest Ellie –

The day you were born changed my life.  I thought I knew love.  And then you came along.  At the exact moment I looked into your bright and benevolent eyes, every single thing about my life changed.  Forever.

We struggled to get you here.  I struggled carrying you.  It wasn’t an easy road.  But I wouldn’t change a thing.  In fact, it makes me appreciate you that much more.  Not a day goes by that I don’t look at you and think….I am one lucky mom.  You are my miracle baby and I thank my lucky stars every day that God put us together.

There will be many defining moments in your life.  Today is one of them.  I am filled with joy and reflection as you embark on the first page of the first chapter in this series of four years of high school.  I also can’t believe it.  When did we trade in mommy’s lipstick for mascara and concealer?  When did we evolve from Goodnight Moon to Harry Potter to Fahrenheit 451?  I will never stop looking at you in awe as you blossom into this amazingly beautiful young woman.

In the meantime, there are just a few things that I want you to know on this important day.

Now is the time to truly learn…about yourself, your friends and team mates, the cute boys that catch your eye, your teachers and coaches.  Sometimes you will feel stressed and down.  You will face peer pressure and may have difficulty concentrating.  There will be emotions, lots of them!, on a seemingly crazy train that fortunately has an emergency brake.  Pull on that when you need to.  And remember that there will be helping hands and loving words to get you through.  Friends to lean on, your parents, and your faith.  This is all part of growing up.  You don’t get to the top of the mountain without the climb.

Stay kind no matter the circumstances.  You are a giver, have a tendency to put others before yourself.  It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes too.  In fact, I strongly encourage it.  Follow your heart and your gut.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.  Stay away from drugs. Period.  And don’t rush to grow up.  Have fun.  Be confident.  Believe in yourself.  I believe in you.  Your dad believes in you.  Talk to us.  We are here for you every step of the way. Your future is brighter than you can possibly fathom.

My wish for you is that you experience this time in your life to the fullest.  I hope your teachers inspire you, challenge you, strike a match and spark a fire in you.  I hope you are elevated to your maximum potential.  And I hope you learn about more than academics and sports.  I hope you feel part of a very special team, and embrace the fact that life is beautiful and tragic and wonderful.

You’re starting high school.  This is a BIG DEAL.  Take that giant leap, Ellie.  Be brave.  Be wonderful you.  This is your time.

I’ll be on the sidelines cheering you on the entire time…..


Your biggest fan (a.k.a. Mom)

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The Road to Healing

I can’t stop thinking about all the brave men and women who are walking down Cancer Road.  Whether it’s the discovery of a lump, that gut-wrenching phone call, a biopsy, surgery, last round of chemo or radiation, or final swallow of a hormone therapy pill.  How do each of us navigate through the healing process?  How do we rebound from something that has so profoundly changed the way we view ourselves and the world?

I realize I’m in the initial stretch of walking down this path toward healing, but it’s making me stop and think.  Reflect.  Absorb.  Try to wrap my head around the magnitude of what has transpired over the past four months.  It’s amazing how precious the gift of life is when you are faced with life-challenging medical issues.  My eyes are wide open.  I’m awake, more so now than ever.

From the moment I received my diagnosis on November 6, 2014, I chose not to delve too deeply into the worse case scenario prior to undergoing a bilateral mastectomy.  My mind wanted to go there, to the darkest corner of the room, but I dialed back that fleeting feeling of terror as much as I could.  Perhaps as a defense mechanism, as a means of enduring what was within my emotional tolerance at that time.  Instead, I took in enough limited knowledge to get through my own frightful journey.

You see, if I had exposed myself to everything under the sun, that meant the monster could climb in the window of my soul with ease, sit on the edge of my bed, ask for a cup of coffee and for a chance to take up additional real estate in my body.  Instead, I cracked the window open slightly, just enough to allow his looming eyes to peer insidejust enough to allow his hideous fingers to curl around the window frame of my beloved home.

Now that I’m on the other side of surgery, I’m completely immersed in other cancer survivor’s stories.  I can’t get enough of them.  YouTube videos, breast cancer and pink ribbon websites, clicking through countless photos of battle scars and dedication tattoos.  I’ve reached out to friends who are survivors, compared stories, texted questions about this and that.  Why do I feel like a baby during my recovery?  Is this normal to hurt so much?  Will cancer always dominate my psyche?

And then, I’d ask myself….At the end of every day, will you acknowledge the monster?  Or will you start to forget about him?  Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are.  Will I always wonder, how close is he?

My hope is that in the coming weeks and years, my anxiety levels will diminish and eventually evaporate.  My hope is that new treatments, tailored therapies, and early detection continue to climb, and god-willing, there is a cure for cancer directly around the corner.  My hope is that others facing this horrible disease are also able to move from apprehension toward treatment to a sincere appreciation for the beautiful people who are leading them through the healing process.  From the medical teams who dedicate their lives to healing the sick, to the families, friends, and colleagues who encourage us every step of the way.  

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize a cancer survivor’s road to healing takes a different kind of endurance.  It is a marathon for each of us.  Undoubtedly, there is a heightened, spiritual state of mind that is needed in overcoming cancer.  There is grace and positive thinking and perseverance required as we progress in our own way and in our own time toward the finish line.  

Whether you are a cancer survivor or not, we are all walking down this road of healing.  Let’s celebrate the days when we have the strength to sprint and breathe deeply on the days when we can only bring ourselves to walk.

Let’s also recognize that there will be days when we are unable to see the finish line.  We might sit down in the middle of the road and think we can’t continue.  On those days, let’s look to each other to offer that drink of water, that hand to lift us off the ground, and those words of encouragement to urge us further on our road to healing.

It’s not hard to ask for help.  People want to help.  Let’s let them.

And when we cross that finish line, let us not forget our brothers and sisters who are beginning their own walk down Cancer Road.  Let’s get ourselves back to the starting line and do what we can to guide them through.

Are you ready?  I know I am.

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A letter to 2014…

Dear 2014,

You and me, we had a tough year.  It sucked, really.  Hakuna MaSucka!  We started off fine, with the usual New Year’s resolutions and aspirations, then shortly thereafter, began our trajectory down a slippery slope of goo.  Stinkin’ sludge, as a matter of fact.  We landed in a muddy pit of severe neck and back pain that worsened, and worsened, and left us incapacitated.  Down for the count!  Forget Ebola, people!, this was the real American Horror Story.  Suddenly, we found ourselves with no other option than to head straight into the operating room.  Um, did anyone else notice that this may not end well?  But, then again, who needs a neck anyway?  All we need is a good head on our shoulders.  And some good shampoo to go with it.

It has been seven months since we had two cervical discs removed; carefully replaced by dead Joe’s discs from Kentucky (Go Wildcats!damn, I hate the Wildcats!).  We also freed up a few trapped nerves, removed some erroneous bone spurs and added a three-inch titanium plate with six screws.  Voila!  Good as new.  Welcome to the team of cervical spinal fusion Avengers.  Step over here and familiarize yourself with our fight manual.  I have a sneaky suspicion that you’re going to need a super hero plan of attack later in the year.

While we’re on this topic, let’s just admit that the hard neck brace was GOD AWFUL, a very stiff Joan Cusack drinking-out-of-a-water-fountain-and-drooling-all-over-herself awful.  The soft neck bracewell, that was kind of nice, in a weird, only a back injury survivor would understand kind of way.  And sleeping upright in that recliner for six weeks was like being trapped on an endless flight circling around the Bermuda triangle.   No one found Amelia Earhart and no one noticed us, with our sexy compression socks, multi-colored drinking straws, and endless bowls of soupbecause what else can you eat when you have a baby porcupine lodged in your throat?  Thumbs up, SCARletta, and amen to isolated anonymity.  Oh, and let’s give some praise to the inventor of metal detectors.  My remains will be discoverable centuries from now, thanks to my badass new hardware.

And just when I started to feel normal again.  Ha!  You cracked that ridiculous, annoying laugh of yours.  2014, you had more, much more to send my way.  Suckatooey, Jennifer Juney!  The second round of news hit harder than the first.  A blow like none other.  A call that changed our lives forever, a call that no one wants to get.  EVER.  Damn you, 2014, year of suckage.  I remember snippets from that callsomething about my mammogram results being abnormal.  Microcalcifications, additional diagnostic testing was needed, perhaps a biopsy.  I was being good, getting a routine mammogram during Breast Cancer Awareness month, for tatas’ sake!!  All I could think about was this news landing smack in the middle of my mother’s birthday.  I needed her now more than ever.  Damn it, why did she have to die so young?  I feel so alone.  Frightened and so very alone.  I’m on a plane that is going down too quickly, uncontrollably, like a bat out of hell.  Where are those stupid yellow, oxygen masks that drop down in the event of an emergency?  I can’t breathe.  I can’t think.  Why is this happening to me?

And then you sent me a messenger…..(thank you, by the way)

Hello, Jennifer.  This is your captain speaking.  I want you to listen to me very closely.  You don’t need the oxygen mask, you simply need to be still and listen.  I want you to trust me.  Wholeheartedly.  Completely.  Unconditionally.  From your head to your toes, with every miraculous fiber of your being.  Cast away your doubts.  Focus.  I need you to reach down deep and believe.  Hear the words I am saying and see the actions that I lay before you in guiding you on this journey.  We are headed toward some severe storms and in them we will encounter a terrifying stretch of turbulance called CANCER.  There is no way around these heavy storms.  The only way is through.  For your safety, please ensure your seat belt is securely fastened, your seat back is upright, and your tray table is stowed in the full upright position.

Now, look out your window.  Despair is the ominous funnel cloud to your right.  Hope is the shimmering, iridescent cloud to your left.  We will be traveling through both.  Now, look down the aisle and into the cockpit.  Notice that it is ME who is flying this plane.  Not you.  Trust Me, Jennifer.  You are the passenger, my dear, not the pilot.  You are no longer in control.  Please let go.  I need you to put your positive energy elsewhere.  I want you to lace up those pink boxing gloves, build up your strength, and let others love you and lift you.  You need them as much as they need you.  Let them carry you.  Now, look up, look down, look all around you.  Can you feel the warm glow?  That’s me wrapping my arms around you.  I am here.  I love you.  Trust Me.  It’s going to get really dark and awful and scary, but I will ensure that you have a safe landing.  I promise.  Trust Me.  

Last week, I had a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction surgery.  For those interested in the reconstruction process, please note that my new breasts did not arrive on the day of surgery.  They are sort of on a layaway program, so to speak, over the next few months.  Only one penny down was required!  My recovery, thus far, has been as good as I could have hoped.  Sure, I am in a lot of pain and exhausted, but mostly, I’m  heartbroken about the disfigurement and loss of maternal parts of my body that once nursed my daughter.  The parts that made me feel like a woman.  Feminine, soft, and beautiful.  They weren’t perfect anyway, but they were mine.  I know the heartache will ease with time, as will my pain level.  I’m putting one foot in front of the other toward healing.  And by God’s good grace, my final pathology report showed no invasive cancer and no lymph node involvement, so I am officially CANCER FREE as I type this letter to you. What a gift!  What a relief!  Actually, the very best gift I will likely ever receive.

I guess this is to be expected.  You and me, 2014.  Year after year, we enter into the next unknown.  I’d like to leave you with a few important insights that I gained on this challenging and rewarding journey with you.

  1. God is good, always.  Trust Him.  I know I do.
  2. Be. Awe. Some.  Be You.  And be a light for someone else.
  3. Fight the good fight!, with grace, guts, and gratitude.
  4. Tell yourself every day, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” – Psalm 139:14
  5. Always remember, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa.  I think we definitely belong to each other.

2014, you’ve made it a memorable year. The best and the worst, a bittersweet symphony of 365 unforgettably painful and joyful days. Here’s to traveling deep into the depths of the valley, only to rise up and land softly in a field of fragrant flowers, free from back pain and free from breast cancer. Here’s to passing the baton to 2015 and living our lives to the absolute fullest.  Year after Year.  

Lastly and most importantly….here’s to US and this amazingly beautisucky year,


Dear Jennifer,

I think you are going to like me a gazillion times better than 2014.  After all, I’m the one who will be with you when you get your fabulous new boobs.

Hooray for cleavage!

Bodaciously yours,

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I am….

I am not a victim of breast cancer. I am a victor of breast cancer.
I am not dying. I am living.
I am not broken. I am bent.
I am not lost. My path is clear.
I am not in fear. I am loving and trusting.
I am not at odds with God. I am cradled in love by Him.
I am not weak or feeble. I am unyielding. A mighty oak!
My body is not six feet under. I stand tall, reach high, and dream big.
Cancer is not my identity thief. I know exactly who I am.
I am not weighted down. I am an illuminating sky lantern.
I am not alone. I am part of a philharmonic orchestra.
My wings are not clipped. I soar with the eagles.
I am not discarded. I am needed.
I am not living for tomorrow or yesterday. I am living for today.
I am not silent. I am a messenger.
My life story is not history. My life story is legendary.
I will not forget. I will remember.
I will not give up. This too shall pass.
My light is not burning low. My light sparkles brilliantly.

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The Oak Tree

The Oak Tree
by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew

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Can You Hear the Rain?

Night after night, I can’t sleep. The rain is pounding like mad on the roof. There is no place to take cover. Thunder bangs it’s mighty drum and lighting strikes, fists in fury. It’s dark and I’m scared. I fight back the tears. Surely, the dawn will come. Won’t it?

Several weeks ago I had a routine mammogram, found to be abnormal. An MRI. A biopsy. The wait of a lifetime. A diagnosis of breast cancer. Earliest stage, excellent prognosis. Did you say cancer? Aren’t I too young for this? Didn’t I just have major back surgery? How could this be my story? I’m only 42.

God, are you there? I can’t hear you over the thrashing rain.

I’m angry. I’m heartbroken. Inside I am cold and vulnerable. Can you hear the rain? I am shivering from the cold. What does this mean for Ellie? My beautiful Ellie. Will she dance barefoot in the rain?

I’ve consulted with Oncology surgeons, breast reconstruction surgeons. Their lips are moving but I can’t hear what they’re saying. My surgery is scheduled for December 23. A double mastectomy, one taken in order for me to survive, one taken by choice so that I can thrive. I will be released on Christmas morning. Cancer free by Christmas. What a gift!! Maybe God is holding my umbrella.

I know a thing or two about loss and grief. My parents died young. Perhaps I’m stronger than I think. I want to overcome the odds. I will stand my ground like a formidable tree. It’s the rain that nourishes the forest. Can you hear it? Drop. Drop. Drop. Cancer will not stand in my way for long. I’ve got plans. Dreams! A lifetime of jumping in puddles. God gave me a mission to see if I succeed. The rain is calling. I accept His challenge wholeheartedly.

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Where the Rare Things Are

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an American expat, living in Australia, immersing myself in the cultural fluency of Vegemite sandwiches, Ugh Boots, and sips of flat white chardonnay.  I don’t know how many people get the opportunity to live abroad, but given the law of averages, my guess is that the numbers fall on the lesser than average tip of the sea.  It seems like it would be a rare experience, and now that I’m on the other side of it, I believe it was!  A four-leaf clover, a meteor shower, a buried pirate treasure.  I haven’t seen any of these things, but I have lived in a land far, far away.  And in looking back, the experience was like magical gold dust sprinkled in the wind.

Fast forward two years and I’m back home again in Indiana, working in corporate America, and doing my best to survive the grind while raising our teenage daughter.  I guess you could say I’m living a life not so uncommon from the next, but certainly doing my best to balance out the everyday highs and lows.  Since our return from overseas, our family has continued to travel, to lovely London, The Big Apple, Chi-Town, and the City of Angels.  Our family motto probably sounds something like this: “No matter how busy life gets, we will always make time to travel!”.  Much to my dismay, I’ve been out of touch with writing for a year.  A YEAR!  Pathetic.  Really, really a shame. I’ve missed writing, missed the blog reading community and the commentary.  So it’s time to return the pen to paper.  Or the key to the screen.  Whatever, my friends!! The hibernation period has ended.  I’m BACK!!

And speaking of backs, mine has recently seen Better Days.  Cue the Eddie Vedder tribute while I bring you up to speed.

Woman Down!

So it seems that turning forty-one has had a bit of a falling-off-the-cliff, plunging to your death effect on me. It started with the need for reading glasses (sans neck chain), then all hell broke loose after that.  Perhaps it was this old lady’s (failed) attempt at downhill snow skiing, my fortuitous dance moves over the years, or reaching back further, falling on my head during ambitious cheerleading stunts.  Ready, Set, Smack!  I’m still searching for the culprit who pulled the pin, but what started out as nothing more than a nuisance several months ago turned into a grenade exploding in my neck.  Call the Guards!, Release the Hounds!, Houston, We Have A Problem!, because this momma was going down.  And not in a cool, downtown Julie Brown kind of way.  We’re talking down, as in knocked out, not getting up without a miracle kind of down…for the count.  Turns out, after a gazillion medieval torture tests, I was diagnosed with…Ta Da!…a blown up neck…(translation: bulging, degenerative, herniated discs, bone spurs, pinched nerves, and spinal cord narrowing).  Did I mention a grenade?  Back to the law of averages, this became part of the rare human experience that was not so exciting.

Alas, after the final diagnosis and a spiraling effect of incomprehensible pain and suffering, I headed to the operating room.  Luckily, I had a brilliant, skilled and compassionate neurosurgeon, a guy who I will forever be grateful to for carrying me through the rain so I could stand in front of the rainbow again.  I also wouldn’t have made it through the harrowing tunnel without the unwavering support of my friends and family, especially my husband, who briefly earned the knickname Mr. Mom.  While I was out of commission, our daughter ate breadsticks for breakfast and learned how to do her own laundry, both of which turned out to be a good thing.

I’m Okay, You’re Okay

It’s been a 6 weeks since my new hardware was installed…a three-inch metal plate and six screws.  Let me tell you…surgery sucks.  Plain and simple.  Especially when your throat gets sliced open.  I won’t go into the gory details of the hazardous road to healing, but I will say that I’ve accepted my fate and the evidence of my fate, which happens to be a small scar on the front of my neck.  Strangely enough, I kind of like it.  It represents my own red badge of courage.  I just hope that the battles are over and the war is won.  I really don’t want to return to the horror of that dark and painful existence.  I’ve read the literature and listened to the potential negative effects that could happen down the road.  “Additional deterioration, possible surgical intervention at later stages in life”….. blah, blah, blah.  I’m choosing to bask in the glory that I cleared this major hurdle without residual pain, landing on my own two feet, with my toes wiggling.

I’m here, and here to stay, for whatever good in my life there is still to be made.



Better Days Ahead

While I was sitting in the waiting room at the neurosurgeon’s office for my post op appointment, I noticed two people in wheelchairs, one in a restrictive neck brace, and overheard another woman pleading at the check-in counter to see a doctor immediately because she had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I immediately sent my husband an S.O.S. text: “please come rescue me from this god awful place, I’m so grief-stricken seeing all these patients suffer”.  His response was, “those same patients were at the doctor’s office at each visit before your surgery….you just didn’t see them because you were in so much pain”.  I can’t forget that I am one of those patients too.  And I don’t know if I am a lucky one, but it sure feels like it.

So taking the road less traveled seems to be on the higher end of averages for me.  I’m okay with that.  Hidden in the dark forest are individual trees, with reflections of light and love and new beginnings.  With reading glasses in hand, it’s merely a matter of opening my eyes to see them.  How many people can say they can be found underground a million years from now by a metal detector?  As far as rare things go, it’s pretty cool actually.

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