The last sunset…

A Facebook memory popped up today. This is not unusual, of course, but they typically involve pictures of Jacob. They always make my heart swell, as he continues to grow so much each day. Today’s reminder was different though and it made me pause.

In 2012, Joe & I spent New Year’s Eve at the beach. We enjoyed dinner, a glass of wine and a walk down the beach at sunset. I have always been anxious to be off the roads early on a night like tonight. The picture was of us, smiling broadly, the beach behind us. The very last sunset of 2012 going down in front of our eyes. 

This year, we unintentionally did the same thing. Jacob woke up with a bit of a cold so we changed our plans. We ventured to the beach, enjoyed appetizers at the same restaurant and visited the beach. The sunset in front of us, closing down on 2016.

The amount of things that have changed in 4 short – or long – years is astounding. The restaurant itself went through a massive renovation and was closed for months last year. It was more of a hole-in-the-wall then than now but still just as good. The ocean has remained constant, with its waves crashing loudly, though I can just imagine what has changed beneath the surface. The sunset is equally as gorgeous and glowed brightly against the blue sky as the sun lowered itself down.

Then there is us. My mom joined us this year, which is the first time in over a decade that I’ve spent this night with her. I’ve gained and lost a few pounds over the years and the lines on my face have deepened with age, stress and tears – of laughter and sadness. I’ve been through many hairstyles – straight, long and bald.

We didn’t have the blessing of Jacob back then and little did we know, a year later I’d be proudly holding my belly as we watched the ball drop…struggling to stay awake.

I started a new job since then. Though the same company that I’ve been with, it has been both rewarding and challenging as I learn new things.

We bought a new-used car and our parents (my inlaws) bought a boat to keep us all busy and enjoy the water.

We have traveled to the Caribbean to celebrate my big sisters 30th birthday, visited Georgia countless times to visit my baby sister and her husband, had multiple trips to my hometown for visits with the people we love and trips around Florida to visit friends and local parks.

Life is relatively the same in terms of where we live and yet it is so very different. It’s hard to imagine life before cancer and even harder to remember life before Jacob. Our routines are so different than they were back then and our priorities are very, uniquely different.

We have made more new friends than we can count and though we lost touch with a few, we all found our way back to each other over the last year.

I have rediscovered my faith in God. Though I never lost in entirely, it has strengthened exponentially and I remain steadfast in my faith and love for our Lord.

Though the sunset is similar, the years between are memorable for so many reasons. Our blessings are unique and huge. We are loved by so many and love hard in return.

As this year comes to a close, remember all the moments – big & small – that you are so incredibly blessed with. This year comes to a brilliant end while 2017 lingers, waiting anxiously in the distance.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope this year is filled with love, laughter and overwhelmingly wonderful memories. Keep spreading the love, my friends. Now & always.

2016…

As I reflect on this last year, I realize many people are over it, meaning they are ready for the bright new year that 2017 will bring. They are ready for positive change, new beginnings and a fresh perspective. While I am also ready for 2017, I am not closing the chapter on 2016 in sadness or anger.

This past year has brought a lot. I had a double mastectomy with 21 (21!!!) lymph nodes removed, I had expanders put in place of the breasts that once fed my son, I experienced radiation- twice, I had brain surgery, herceptin every three weeks from January until July, two new chemo pills that equate to about 686 pills yet well over $25k, 4 injections totaling over $28k, I had a few colds but many stomach aches, Jacob had pneumonia once and a cold twice and Joe had a sinus infection. We have traveled to 6 separate cancer centers across the east coast and Texas, met with countless nurses and doctors throughout the year, and the list goes on…I am sure this is just the beginning of what this year has brought in terms of medication, treatment and, well, cancer. 

Yet I can’t help but think about what else 2016 gave me. I made a few dozen Love Jars trying to brighten someone’s day, worked fulltime between my surgery and radiation, bought a new-used vehicle (for the first time in 8 years) to celebrate being “cancer free”, made sure each cancer visit was filled with some sort of adventure, I’ve had 2 paint parties that were filled with endless laughter, was blessed by Team Gina – who not only gifted my family my medical deductible and a weekend away but also new friendships that I didn’t know I NEEDED in my life, a fundraiser in New York to help pay the insane cancer costs, more new and priceless friendships that formed by a simple hello, an unexpected (free!) weekend cruise getaway that my husband and I needed more than we realized, a first ever sisters weekend, a trip to Savannah to meet my baby sister, my baby sister’s WEDDING – and a wonderful visit with family and friends, wonderful inlaws, my best friends wedding!, a few hundred blog posts, probably a million pictures and enough belly laughs for me to have a 6 pack (not happening).

This year also brought dozens of new words for Jacob, a hundred or so walks, a new bedtime routine that includes my bed, a new food change for me, countless sunsets mixed with a few late nights where little man was up until it was “too dark”, snuggles that are worth their weight in gold, 2 clothes sizes changed for Jacob and he went through a lot of shoes as his tootsies grew. He had his first haircut and another one recently, he met Mickey, Minnie, Pluto & Goofy, he picked out pumpkins and his very own Christmas tree, we have said a lot of prayers, talked to the stars while pointing out the moon, went on boat trips around the intracoastal, fished a whole lot, visited my happy place (never enough!), and giggled…oh, how we giggled.

We have read hundreds of books and visited the book fair, learned to count to 17 (and 10 in Spanish!), we have sung the alphabet song more times than I can count, done tons of arts & crafts, rode his strider bike, he is no longer afraid of his four wheeler, looked forward to his advent calendar all month and celebrated each holiday.

I haven’t read nearly enough books but discovered a love of audio books to take over the trip to work. I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted but took a leap of faith and attended a writing seminar – and learned so much.

I imagine that this just barely scratches the service of what this year has brought. I began the year by celebrating my cancer free future but quickly learned that the cancer has taken up permanent residence. The emotional toll of that sentence is hard to process and yet I refuse to let it take over. This year has brought a lot of BIG events and change but it’s the little moments, the day to day life, that I focus on most. Our daily routine and snuggles sessions are what I look forward to most. 

There are no words to describe the gratitude that I have for each & every day. I am glad to do the mundane things that I once hated – laundry, dishes, etc. These things mean that I feel well enough to do the day-to-day tasks.

I don’t know what 2017 will bring but I hope it brings stability, wellness and inspiration. I hope it is filled with belly laughs, endless snuggles and priceless memories. I plan to travel as much as I can and see parts of this world that have only filled my dreams. I intend to make memories with my family and friends. I want to experience new things and embrace the moments that make life so wonderful. 

What has 2016 brought you? What plans do you have for 2017 to be new and different?

More supplies…

Bright and early today, my sweet husband and I ventured to the radiation oncologist for my 4 week checkup. I still have an open wound on my chest (ugh!) but it’s slowly going away and for that, I am grateful. My awesome doctor spent a while with us, having us fill her in on the past 4 weeks. When I learned that I had fluid in my lungs, she was the first (ok second, Joe winsπŸ˜‰) call that I made to talk through everything happening. I value her opinion so much and am glad to have met her along this journey. Am I allowed to be her friend?! πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜‰

Next we ventured next door for more post-surgery supplies. My left arm has started swelling pretty significantly (in my opinion) so I needed to get more sleeves that fit now. My left arm is larger and a bit harder than my right, which is crazy but we are chalking it up to the swelling. I was fitted for a new sleeve and grabbed a few, plus gloves, learning again when I needed to wear them.

I also decided that it was a good time to get more post-mastectony supplies. Since I had fluid removed for radiation in September and we go on vacation in January, I figured now was a good time. I was fitted again and received 2 new breast forms. One form I can use for swimming and everyday wear but it is quite heavy. The other is a bit lighter and can only be used for everyday use. It comes with padding that can be used to fill in the gaps and make me more…even.

Since I have new forms (and lost a few pounds), it was also time for new bras. I was fitted in the newest styles for those. I was also fitted for a bathing suit top (bottoms not included!) in anticipation of next month.
Then…the bill. Oh, my. So I received 2 breast forms, 5 bras, 4 sleeves ad 2 gloves that were included with insurance. If you’ve met your out-of-pocket deductible, which I have for 2016, then these are all billed to insurance by law. The grand total? $5628…and some odd change.

Yup, that’s right. I “bought” supplies that try to make me feel slightly like a woman again, that are needed because of this cancer, and it cost the amount of a used car. Oh and the bathing suit top? That’s not included in the insurance coverage so although it requires a breast form, it’s paid for by me. And the bottoms can be found elsewhere. 

I am very happy with this particular store and very much like the woman who takes care of me. It’s just unfortunate that necessities such as this, which are covered by law now, come at such a ridiculous cost…just to help make me feel somewhat normal. 

I know insurance won’t pay nearly the amount. However, that is the retail cost and, based on my understanding, what they would have billed me independently if I didn’t have insurance coverage.  While I am grateful for these supplies and the coverage that I have, it is discouraging that they cost such an obscene amount…oh, and that a prescription is needed to allow me to obtain them.

Anyway, that’s my rant for today. All-in-all, today was a good day and I am grateful for the progress being made on my open wound and the supplies I obtained. Have a wonderful night, folks. Be grateful for the small joys in life!

I have a question…

I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people throughout this breast cancer journey. Some of the people I have met, through a random set of circumstances, are from Arkansas. These amazing ladies put together an event called NWA Metsquarade. It’s an annual dinner event that they put together and the proceeds benefit Metavivor.

I would love to attend but don’t know how feasible it is. But then I had a thought. What if I held a similar event here? A Central Florida Metsquarade? We could do a plated dinner and a silent auction as well…this may be a pie-in-the-sky idea but it’s one that I can’t get out of my head. I think it would be fun and beneficial…but also a wondeful opportunity for local people to connect, including those like myself.  It would be a night out for folks (who doesn’t love getting dressed up?! Especially for a good cause!) but it would also be a chance to raise money.

It’s just a thought for now and would require a lot of planning and help. (I’ve also reached out to the wonderful ladies who run the Arkansas event.) So, I thought I’d turn to my blog. Would anyone out there be willing to volunteer their time to help put together this event? Is there any interest in attending a dinner benefit like this? I’m also thinking we would do a silent auction  (like nwamets.com) with donations to help raise money?

Thoughts? Is this something that we could make happen?!

Just a plain-ole-Monday…

Growing up, my parents had a boat. We enjoyed many summers on the local river, spent quite a few nights camping and have a lot of stories and memories to share. It was a point of fun (and frustration) throughout a few years of childhood. My big sister and I took boat lessons and I took pride in being the copilot of my parent’s boat. I could drive it, dock it and set the anchor at a young age. Though I lost many of those talents over the years, they are memories that my sisters and I laugh and talk about now.

The excitement of the past few days didn’t end today. We went out for a boat ride with friends. We spent the day on the river, the boys played at Blue Springs park while checking out the manatees (though they were more interested in running around the grass) and we cooked out at Hontoon Island. We shared stories, enjoyed the sun and were shocked by the massive alligator we saw sunbathing beside us. It was a gorgeous Florida day.

There is an old tree that my family and I always stop to take pictures at. Daddy stuck his hand through it and startled Jacob. Well, that sent him running and screaming (nothing a quick snuggle couldn’t fix). I happened to capture the moment on camera without realizing it. His face is quite priceless!

Despite getting yelled at by the park attendant (apparently they closed 15 minutes before we returned…oops!), the day was amazing. My boys, my momma and Jacob’s friend from the womb (and our good friends!) and the day was built for memory making.

I hope all of you enjoyed the day after Christmas and were able to snuggle your family and enjoy every moment. Happy Monday!

The night before Christmas…

Growing up, my grandparents had a barn on their property. I have no idea what they originally used it for (anyone?) but it became the place that we gathered for Christmas. My grandparents on my momma’s side had eleven children. Add in their significant others and a few dozen (50ish?!) grandkids and Christmas became a rather large event. There was never a discussion about what to do or where to go – we always gathered at my grandparent’s barn.

The grandkids were all gifted wooden stools with their names engraved and a burlap sack. We all brought our stools to sit on while opening gifts. My grandma always arranged a gift exchange between the grandkids and one for the adults. One of my uncles would dress up as Santa and handed out gifts.

The sacks were filled to the very top with gifts from my grandparents. Each grandkid collected something that my grandma decided when we were born. My collection was brass and my sack was always loaded up with different types of brass, mostly antiques, that I would display on a huge shelf in my room and play with all the time.

The gift exchange was no joke. We would sit on our stools for hours while the presents that spread across half of the barn slowly grew smaller as our collection around us grew bigger. There were tons of laughs, lots of hugs and some of the most amazing memories. I would usually fall asleep in the car on the way home, believing whole-heartedly that I could hear Santa’s bells ringing high above.

Since moving to Florida, we spend Christmas Eve with Joe’s family. Though the setting is different and the family is smaller, the love and laughter is there. My cheeks hurt tonight from smiling so big and laughing so hard. We enjoy a fabulous meal of Italian food prepared by Joe’s mom, indulge in cannolis and share gifts that we thought hard about giving each other. We even have a tradition of giving out a bag of coal to one person each year based on something silly or funny that they did that year.

Tonight was no different with the exception of my momma joining in on the fun. I have been enjoying this past week with her here but this is the first Christmas that we have spent together in well over a decade. Having her here and buying matching jammies means so much to me.

And then there’s Jacob. Every age I say “this is the best!” but this age…oh, how I love it. He is truly becoming his own little person, talking and asking questions and learning more and more. He has been counting the “sleeps” until Christmas & Santa and he even left out cookies (cooooo-kkkeeess), milk and a carrot tonight. 

One of his gifts tonight from grandma and grandpa was a pair of binoculars. Although he enjoyed his other gifts, these went around his neck and he didn’t let go. He played with them all night and even looked for Santa in the car on the way home. When snuggling in bed tonight, his excitement was palpable. He looked at me and said, “Momma, I look for Santa?” Sure, love bug. He lifts up the binoculars and looks through the half window above the curtains. “Santa, where are yoooouuuuuuu….hohoho (deeper voice)…Oh! I shink he’s ouside.”  I am fairly certain we did that routine for about 45 minutes (and one potty trip!) before he looked at me, kissed me and said “I go to seep so Santa comes” and rolled over. Oh, be still my heart.

This Christmas is special, like all others. But it’s filled with more love, laughter and snuggles than I know how to contain. I can’t help but smile ear to ear as my mom, Joe and I sit by the light of Jacob’s little Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas to all of you. May you each be gifted the blessing of love and happiness this holiday season and always. Spread the love!