Friday, October 9, 2015

Grandma D update October 2015

It has been a while since I updated everyone on Mom's progress. She recovered well after her mastectomy in August. Since that time she has had two more "big" chemo treatments, her latest (and hopefully last) was on Tuesday. She had an allergic reaction to the final drug, but luckily she and a friend realized it before she got the full dosage. They stopped that drug, pumped her with benedryl, fluids, and steroids and all was well (as well as can be following chemo). She's feeling pretty tired and worn down, but with the hope that this was the final treatment, she also feels optimistic. She will have to continue herceptin treatments until about next May, but she's been told the side effects won't knock her down the way these past treatments have. She will have a hysterectomy in November and after she heals from that she'll working her way back up to her super Grandma D strength.

I'm learning October can be a tough month for those with cancer. You can't look anywhere without a pink reminder staring back at you. For some it's a reminder of their prognosis, recent diagnosis, or a loved one they lost to breast cancer. Mom was diagnosed the week of Mother's Day. Do you know how many "feel good" stories are about moms and cancer during Mother's Day week? A lot. And for a daughter facing the unknown, each story seemed to bring sadness for me, not hope. I can only guess that October is much the same. And for people dealing with other types of cancer, it's a reminder that their illness is not getting the public's attention, and therefore possibly research dollars, as their mammary counterpart. I can make many a critique of the "pink movement" and various companies that use it as a marketing and PR tool that doesn't actually give money towards helping cancer patients. And I have to be honest that I don't know what to do with that discomfort in all the companies that profit off of this illness that is mixed with the connection I feel with my mom when I put on my "Volley for the Cure" tshirt last night. Or how proud my kids were when they wore their pink socks to school yesterday, the ones Grandma D gave them at our Christmas in August.

For today, that discomfort makes me become aware of where my dollars are going when I contribute to something related to any type of cancer (making sure the money is going to help actual people or that it is fully going to cancer research). It makes me aware of the people for whom the pink ribbon doesn't bring hope. Yet it also makes me thankful for the research and progress that has been made, however small. We didn't know it at the time, but mom was Stage III with an estrogen positive and HER-2 positive tumor. The chemo concoction that shrunk the tumor was only very recently (within the past year) approved for use. My true hope is that more actual dollars can go into research for finding cures for all types and stages of cancer...that is my grown up October wish.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Post-surgical update...GREAT NEWS!

Just over a week ago mom underwent a double mastectomy after 4 rounds of chemo. Her recovery after surgery has been amazing...due in part to the people that stopped in for a visit, brought meals, and helped out in other ways. Seriously, every time I called to check on her someone was there visiting or someone else had brought a casserole. It meant a lot to her and really kept her spirits up. All the help also helped me feel better since I was far away and wanted to be there to help, it meant a lot to Dad because he had to go back to work after the first few days, and it really helped Jacque who was trying to make sure mom's ladies were well taken care of while she was also checking in on Mom.

Today Mom had her follow up appointment with the surgeon. The tumor itself had shrunk and from what we understand there was no sign of cancer left...meaning the chemo drugs did what they were supposed to do. They are still waiting on results from the lymph nodes, but overall the report is the best we could have hoped for. After she recovers from surgery it sounds like she will have radiation and continue with one of her chemo drugs. But overall the report is positive.

Thank you for all the prayers, casseroles, visits, acts of services, cards, kind words, and general support. We are excited that she is recovering so well. The Greene family is headed her way on Wednesday and we are all looking forward to some much needed family time. We haven't all been together since Christmas.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Grandma D's Cancer Treatment Update

Jacque & I have both been having problems logging back in to the CaringBridge website to update the journal about mom's treatment, and we know a few others have been as well. I decided I'd use my blog to do the updating going forward.

Mom (aka Grandma D) received her fourth round of chemo on Wednesday. Each session leaves her a little more fatigued than the last. She hasn't gotten "sick", but definitely loses her appetite. But the great news is it seems the tumor has responded to the chemo and has shrunk significantly. Her oncologist determined she's ready for the next August 10 she's scheduled for a double mastectomy. She'll likely have some type of follow up treatment once she heals from the surgery.

Again, thank you everyone for your prayers, cards, and support in other ways. We (the Greene's) are hoping to be able to go back to Iowa toward the end of August before school starts. The kids haven't seen Grandma since she began treatment. Jac's family has been helping Grandma D, and Jacque has been taking care of mom's ladies during her recovery days.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The danger in polish

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” This is my usual chant every Sunday morning. I’m usually the last one flying out the door, often not ever being fully “ready.” My husband tells me I’m late because I plan on being late. I (usually) bite my tongue and think “I’m the one making sure everyone else is getting ready.”

Or I tried to fit in a quick game of Scramble with Friends.

Either way, I’m usually not early. Usually not fully put together. And often my kids can be seen in sweat pants or mismatched ensembles. We usually are not Christmas card perfect on a Sunday morning. Especially on the drive to church (can I get an Amen?)

A few weeks ago I was running especially behind and I decided my half put together self would have to be okay once again. As I flew into the van I noticed my husband still had a bleeding chin from an early morning shaving accident. As we drove to church I was trying to get the bleeding to stop. As we pulled into the parking lot with minutes to spare I proclaimed “you cannot go into church like that” (that being bleeding profusely). I searched my purse for a band aid. All I could find was a large purple band aid. My triage mind thought a) we go inside and he just keeps wiping away the bleeding, b) I throw on the big purple Band-Aid, or c) we run home so I can get some proper equipment to stop the bleeding. Even in my half put-together state, a purple Band-Aid to the face did not sound like a viable option.

So by the time husband was all patched up we were late. Really late. And half put together. We were a frustrated quartet. And slightly embarrassed.

I often wonder about the pressures of Sunday morning. Not just the pressure to get out of our pajamas and tame the bed head, but the pressure to walk in to church like everything is okay. We often put on the appearance that all is well, inside and out.  That fa├žade does more than just make church a place where we strive to keep up with the Jones’s. It makes it a place where it’s difficult to be real with the stuff in your life.

Church can be a lonely place to be when walking through a dark time. Maybe it’s a prodigal child or spouse, an addiction, a mental illness, a job loss, abuse, financial distress, broken relationships, doubts…the list could go on. But there are so many areas where it’s really hard to reach out and share our stuff when that stuff carries with it a stigma. Going through cancer with a loved one is hard, real hard. But within the church you’ll usually have no shame in putting your loved one on a prayer list or organizing meals for the family. Yet if your loved one is struggling with a mental illness, the stigma that would cause others to shy away from you or your loved one often ensures such struggles are endured in silence and isolation.

We often want to just cling to the polished side of ourselves. Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees: “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27, NASB). We worship the polished version of ourselves, a polished version of the church, yet often fail to acknowledge that both within our own lives and the life of the church, there is brokenness. It makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge that life is far from rainbows and unicorns. It may cause us to question our faith or admit that we really don't have all the answers when we deal with some of the messes in life that are not easily cleaned up. We don’t fully carry out Matthew 9:12: “’It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.’”

Jesus came to heal the sick. We often forget that Church is a hospital. Sometimes we are well and God allows us to be caregivers for the sick. Sometimes we are the sick in need of medicine or simply someone to sit and hold our hand.

Often I am both.

Friday, September 5, 2014

First look at GhostTunes

Much to my mom's lament, I spent most of my babysitting money buying music albums and books. She always wished I would spend money on clothes, and looking back at my junior high and high school pictures, she totally had a point. But there was something about browsing Sam Goody and buying a brand new cassette that was more gratifying than frosted jeans. One of my first cassette's was Garth Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind." I likely listened to the album in it's entirety about a million times and had spent many a night imagining myself singing backup or screaming from the front row of a concert. I would bellow songs like "Friends in Low Places" as if I actually had ever experienced whiskey drowning anything...I hadn't. But for a girl growing up in the middle of corn fields and the excitement of the year being the Plymouth County Fair, Garth Brooks' music was the soundtrack of my youth.

But when my disposable income was sufficient enough to actually include attending a concert, Garth announced his retirement to help raise his daughters. My hopes of every seeing him live were dashed. A dream deferred. That was until he announced his return tour would begin in Chicago. As luck or fate would have it, I was able to buy a few tickets when they went on sale in July. After 90 minutes of waiting and screaming at my computer, I was finally told I had secured two tickets but had only 3 minutes to complete the transaction. Should your life ever depend on me typing codes into a computer under such duress, I apologize ahead of time. I was instantly sweaty and shaky, worse than any first date jitters. But when that magic screen popped up to tell me I had in fact purchased two tickets to the Garth Brooks World Tour I let out a WHOOP that alerted the world...I WAS GOING TO SEE GARTH BROOKS.

Sadly, I lost much of his music in my move from cassette to CD to digital.Considering it was the music that was the soundtrack of my life, I had a limited supply of nostalgia. And you could not buy his music digitally anywhere (and heaven forbid I actually try to find an actual place that sold CD's.) Yesterday, that all changed. Garth and company launched GhostTunes, your one stop shop to buy all of Garth's music digitally. For the price of $29.95 I was able to get all eight studio albums plus a live concert (which confirmed my suspicion that I will in fact both cry and scream at the concert.). You can also buy music by other artists, but because Garth's music is literally not found anywhere else in electronic form, this was a big hairy deal.

Here are my thoughts on GhostTunes:

  • You can get all of Garth's And the concert (epic 90's clothes and hair included).
  • The visual layout of the site is appealing and somewhat easy to navigate.
  •  Did I mention you can finally buy all of Garth's music digitally? For the first time ever?

  • GhostTunes itself is not a media player. You buy the music and can then listen to it via the website or download it to the music player of your choice. For Garth's music it was a bit cumbersome, somewhat like the early days of physically downloading a CD onto your computer.  To download Garth's music I first had to open the album in the zip manager, then drag and drop the files into my music folder. From there I could download them into iTunes. Once I knew what I was doing, it didn't take long. 

There had been information that you should be able to download the music right into a media player like iTunes, so I had to buy just another song to try it out. That song did give me the option of opening it in iTunes.

  • The search function seems a bit wonky. For example. I was looking for Meghan Trainor's "All About That Base." When typing in the title of the song, her song didn't come up. But by typing in the artist's name, I was able to find the song. A few other songs/artists I tried didn't pop up at the top of the search like I thought they would. So if you're looking for anything beyond Garth, the search may not be as user friendly as you're used to with other music services.
  • I could not get the music to download from the browser on my iPhone. I had to download it into iTunes then sync it with my iPhone. I'm assuming the same will be the same for trying to download the video content to our TV or other media device.
  • The site doesn't seem to store your credit card/debit card data. The downside is I had to enter my information for each purchase. The upside is that I can't go on a music buying binge without a little thought. My finances thank GhostTunes. The part of my brain that is used to click and buy is a bit miffed.
I'll still use a variety of electronic media services to access music. I would definitely consider using GhostTunes for future music purchases. Artists are going to be able to create their own bundles and have more control over how their music is delivered. For example, some artists currently only have singles on GhostTunes, while others only allow you to buy entire albums. Remember listening to an album? Getting a wide range of an artist's work? You could appreciate the thought that had went into song selection along with the flow of the album.

So in this ONE WEEK leading up to my 25 year dream-come-true concert, it will be all Garth all the time thanks to GhostTunes. I will once again have visions of having a front row spot, although my actual seat is more nosebleed than "I can see nose hair." But you can bet your belt buckle I will enjoy Every. Single. Note.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why do I lunge? Hatred or Love?

 How would your life be different if you could double your confidence level?

Wow. What a loaded question. A friend asked me that question a week ago, and the answers have been rattling around in my brain ever since. I stick with my original answer: “I would be better in relationships because I wouldn’t be looking for someone else to validate me.” (I admit my answer probably did not come out that smoothly). Even after I gave my answer, the question got me thinking a lot about the source of my own confidence and my motivation for exercising.

My thoughts took me to the novel “Eyes Wide Open” by Ted Dekker. I won’t go too much into the story, but the struggle of one of the main characters really gave me new insight into confidence and self-perception. The female character is being told she is ugly. She is told by someone in authority (paraphrased) “you think you are average or even pretty, but I’m going to show you just how ugly you are. Then you will be able to appreciate how we recreate you into something beautiful.” She is exposed to mirrors that distort and contort her image into a hideous creature. She is exposed to the distortion long enough that it becomes her reality. And she buys into the lie that she is a hideous being that needs to undergo extreme transformation.

I had to set the book down for a moment when her struggle really hit me. Isn’t that our own struggle? If there were no outside influences we would look in the mirror or some other facet of our life and think “I’m pretty average, even above average.”  But every single day we are exposed to false mirrors that show us how we should be displeased with ourselves. We are shown the images of chiseled physiques and airbrushed beauty. We are told over and over again that we are not even close. We are not average. We are below average. Hideous. And only by buying this product and that product and doing this exercise or not eating these foods will we become beautiful. Any effort made to improve our life is born out of a place of self-hatred. We are sold on the lie that we are in need of extreme transformation to even be tolerable.

I’ve told some people that I was less confident and more critical of myself when I lost 35ish pounds. How can that be? I was getting every compliment in the world and the reflection in the mirror was definitely smaller. But that transformation came out of a place of self-loathing. Because hatred was my motivation for restricting my eating (ahem, dieting), when I arrived at a lower weight that hatred was still there. It was telling me I still wasn’t small enough. Or that maybe I was small enough by my nose was too big or my hair too flat. I hadn’t been choosing to eat a Spartan diet because I loved myself and wanted to make food choices that would add to my health. I was living on salads and eggs because I believed that what I saw in the mirror was grotesque. And that thought stayed with me as the number on the scale went down. And it’s a curious thing. Now that the scale has gone back up I actually am more accepting of this body that I have.

After a hiatus from strength training I’ve been slowly adding weights back into my weekly activity. I love strength training in a gym setting but hate doing it at home. And with a serious lack of gyms within a 40 mile driving radius, I’m pretty much stuck with my dumbbells. And it’s like pulling teeth to even start a home workout. But today I reminded myself that I want to be able to carry my own groceries and get off the toilet by myself as long as possible, so it was time to pump some iron. As I started doing lunges I caught a glimpse of my legs in the mirror. Hideous. Ugly. Grotesque. These were the words that came to mind. I chided myself for poor discipline and told myself that I needed to start doing 100’s of squats and lunges to get rid of the lumpiness. But then the other thought passed through my head. Those thoughts come from a place of hate. Even if you arrive at less lumpiness your voice of hate will always tell you you’ve never arrived. You’re a slave to that voice. So I changed my focus. I want to be strong to continue being active with my kids. I want to be able to rock a strength training workout because of the empowering feeling it gives me.

I want my confidence to come from a place of love, not a place of hate. I want to choose to exercise not because I hate my body and want to change it, but because I love my body and I want it to stay active, vibrant, and powerful.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On mental illness and the Church (Part 1)

Can I be brutally honest for a moment? The church can be a terrifying place when you are broken by mental illness. It can be hard place if you are struggling addiction. It can be a scary place to share your struggles in loving someone with a mental illness. The place that should be a place of comfort, respite, and healing is more often a place of condemnation and gossip.

Why? Because we really don’t understand mental illness. And because we don’t fully understand the neurobiological disorders, we often are quick to pass judgment or give really poor advice.

Monday I was finishing up a meal with my husband on a rare evening with no kids. I had overindulged on chips and salsa (my own form of self-medicating), and I was ready for a leisurely walk in the beautiful evening and then on to enjoy a truly quiet evening at home. But as we were leaving the restaurant I received news that Robin Williams had committed suicide.

My reaction was I don’t want to believe this tragedy is real. I wanted to have one more beautiful evening where Robin Williams was still alive and would erupt in hilarity on some talk show or give a moving dramatic performance in an upcoming flick. For everyone who enjoyed the depth and breadth of his characters, the loss seems surreal. His close friends and family are dealing with a grief that is beyond words.

Even though Mr. Williams had been open about his struggles with alcohol and even depression, the news that he committed suicide was shocking. But it has hopefully helped open up a discussion about the pain and reality of depression, and the truth about how little we really understand mental illness. If such a beloved actor that gave his time and talents to help others that were hurting could be tormented by this often misunderstood illness, anyone could experience the pain of depression or other mental illness. If the man who brought Patch Adams and the Genie to life couldn’t just “be happy and get over it”, then we need to realize that such ill-given sentiments help no one.

His death shows that mental illness is no reflection on how many people care for you. Mr. Williams had the adoration of millions, not to mention close friends and family that cared deeply for him. Yet somewhere in the neurobiology of his brain, none of that mattered. I don’t assume to know what he was going through, but I do know it wasn’t a lack of people that loved him that caused his depression. So many times people that commit suicide are loved deeply by their friends and family, but somewhere in the chemistry of their brain the reality becomes clouded and the message they receive is “you are unlovable.” I have cried over loved ones in the depths of their illness, begging them to try to grasp that their brain was lying to them about reality, that despite the internal messages they were receiving, that they were loved deeply by their family. For the person in the middle of the illness, the feelings of despair and loneliness are real to them. That is their reality.

The most loving thing we can do, especially within the church, is to try to understand mental illness better, and realize there is probably more that is unknown than known in the realm of neurobiological disorders. We need to remove the stigma of mental illness and make the church a safe place to be broken. Church needs to be a place where we can come with all of our baggage, sadness, illness, and altered reality and receive support, not condemnation. To have people understand that there is a physical problem manifesting in emotional and relational problems. We need to be a place where people can share their struggles with mental illness and addictions, and know that their struggles will be handled with grace and love and not become gossip fodder.