New traditions

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Over the years, Thanksgiving has taken on many different forms.  When I was a child, my family would sometimes spend the weekend in Rhode Island & Connecticut with my father’s side of the family. All of the cousins would stay up late the night before, sharing stories and giggles. We would sleep in on Thanksgiving morning and wake up just in time for appetizers at noon. The adults would sit at the main table and the kids would have their own table or two.  We would eat all day, having second and even third dinner, with naps & snuggles on the couch in between.

Other years, my family would spend the day with my mother’s side of the family. We would all gather at my grandparents house for dinner promptly at noon. There were so many aunts, uncles and cousins that we ate buffet style. We would line up with our plates and serve ourselves heaping helpings of food and then sit wherever we could find the room. Sometimes the table, sometimes the couch and sometimes the stairs going up to the second floor.

The first Thanksgiving after I met Joe, he wasn’t planning on celebrating the day because his family was in Florida. Him and his roommate were going to stay home and order a pizza. I immediately invited them to my grandparent’s house and after a little hesitation, they both agreed. “The Joe’s”, as my uncles called them (something they laughed at for years), were welcomed into my family gathering without question.

After moving to Florida, we spend the first few Thanksgivings at my in-laws, with the exception of the year we bought our house when we hosted for the first time ever.

The last four years though, we have taken on a new tradition that has been named the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza. It started with my younger sisters coming to spend their first Thanksgiving in Florida with the windows open and wearing tank tops. This first year was also the infamous year that I dropped the freshly baked apple pie that my little sister made for dessert. The following year, we decided to head to Georgia and experience a cooler fall Thanksgiving, where we were able to bundle up and snuggle to keep warm in the chilly air.

Last year, my baby sister and her (now) fiance traveled back to Florida to spend little man’s first Thanksgiving with us. Jacob, despite only eating milk at the time, was the head of the table (something that seems rather fitting!).

This year, we caught an amazing sale on plane tickets early in the year and we are back in the beautiful late fall that Georgia offers. Though, instead of celebrating today, we are waiting until tomorrow so that my soon-to-be brother-in-law can join us. Today, he is in uniform protecting this wonderful city.  Tomorrow ee will join his aunt & uncle, who are kindly hosting us in their home for a feast and celebration.

So today, though we won’t have turkey and fixings, we are thankful. We are thankful for all of the amazing Thanksgivings that we been blessed to have, for the incredible family & friends who love and support us more than we could ever have imagined, for it being a “good” week that allows us the ability to travel and eat well, for this gorgeous fall weather, for each other and for each year that brings a new spin to our Thanksgiving traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy this beautiful day with loved ones! I’d love to hear what traditions you share!

Day 4 – DONE!

Day 4 - DONE

Better late than never, right? Treatment #4 is DONE! It feels super awesome to see the progress and have only 2 remaining aggressive treatments. So. Close.

I’m beginning to feel better today, though still quite tired. The fatigue hit a lot harder this time around and I tire easily when moving around. But I’m getting through it and that’s what matters.

I saw my oncologist today, as I do every week. I expressed concern that the tumor and my lymph nodes don’t appear to be shrinking lately. He examined them both and agreed, though he also doesn’t feel like it is growing, which is good news. While it is not typical that the tumor would stop shrinking with the treatment that I am undergoing, we don’t know what is happening inside the tumor. It’s possible that there is a mass of dead cells hanging out in there, waiting for surgery to remove them. I’m disappointed that I can’t feel the progress being made like I did in the beginning but I am confident that my body is reacting the way it needs to. I also feel, as my oncologist does, that I need to continue on the course of treatment that we are on currently.

So. Though this isn’t the greatest of news that I have to share, I will not let it deter my faith that I will beat this horrible disease. I took a moment in the car ride home to dwell in my anger at the situation and now I’m done. I won’t let it bring me down and I won’t waste my energy worrying about it.

Because today I ate a cupcake for breakfast that didn’t taste like metal.

Because today I picked out little man’s school pictures – and his shirt wasn’t dirty!

Because my husband is running out to grab me a strawberry milkshake.

Because tonight I will catch up with a dear friend when she brings dinner for my family.

Because I am grateful for today, and every day.

Because I am doing the very best that I can and that’s all there is to it.

Losing time

The morning following the accident that I mentioned previously, I woke up unsure of where I was or what happened. I knew that I needed to ask about Joe & Mike somehow but the details of that night are lost somewhere deep in my mind. I once pursued the possibility of hypnosis to recall those memories but eventually decided that my brain was hiding them for a reason. The moment in time is lost on me.

Though the effects of treatment on my memory aren’t quite as severe as that, it is my closest correlation to the time I seem to lose during chemo. The week of treatment is a period of slight chaos as we try to ready ourselves for the upcoming week.  Trying to catch up on passed due chores, paying bills, and organizing our life the best that we can. It is necessary for my own peace of mind to know that our household responsibilities are ready to be put last for at least a week.  While the world continues around me, I am at a standstill while recovering. 

We have been incredibly blessed to have family travel from out of state to help care for me during each treatment, in addition to the help we have received locally through meals and help with little man.

My sweet husband has been a sense of strength for me throughout this, as he cares for all of the day to day responsibilities to keep our home – and our life – afloat during these times.

So while we ready ourselves for the big day tomorrow (number 4!!!), I am reminded that each moment that I feel good is a blessing and that I am one step closer to recovery.

Date day

Back in the early 90s (eek!), I was totally obsessed with the band Boyz II Men. I received their CD for Christmas and listened to it in my bedroom at night on repeat in my new CD player and headphones. Despite the skipping because I played it so much, End of the Road was my absolute favorite!

Every year, Boyz II Men plays at a free concert called Eat to the Beat. Every year we plan to go but something comes up and our plans change. This year we decided we were going no matter what!  We took the day off work and headed out there, not realizing that a few thousand other people did the same thing (It’s a Monday!).  We quickly learned that there were no seats! Eek! Knowing it was totally our fault, we asked one of the coordinators if there was any way for us to see the show. She explained there wasn’t and asked if we could go Tuesday or Wednesday instead. We explained that it was our only day off and that I had treatment Thursday.  She stepped away and came back to share they they would find us 2 seats!!!  My goodness, she made my day!!

So we headed to the concert and it was AWESOME!  They played many of their top hits, including my favorite!  Talk about a blast from the past.  What a great concert.

The day itself was wonderful. Though we missed little man like crazy, we knew he was having a blast with Grandma & Grandpa. It was nice to have a little time together as husband and wife before next treatment comes.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, friends!

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I’m done being afraid

The other day, after asking me about my cancer, I heard an unusual reply. “You are a ray of light every time I see you walk into this room.” The response was unexpected and made me smile, especially given the fact that I wasn’t feeling like a ray of light to anything that day.

I mentioned earlier this week that I’ve been having a difficult time expressing myself. Writing out my thoughts and feelings in this blog helps me to release them into the world. It frees my spirit and cleanses my soul, just a little. This week I have been extra tired and cancer has been weighing heavily on my mind. I haven’t wanted to write out all of my thoughts, as I don’t want to be negative or pessimistic, though the reality is that some days are harder than others.

Last night, after I finished writing about Michael, I started searching through a bunch of old pictures to find the one of me and him. It was a serious blast from the past as I looked through pictures that were 8, 9, 10, 11 years old – my goodness! And they were all pictures taken after I met Joe. I was cracking up at some of the sillier ones and others brought a huge smile to my face as I remember trips taken and visits from family and friends. My college graduation, Joe’s 25th birthday in Las Vegas, Christmas with our grandparents…so many amazing memories that I haven’t thought about in a while.

After laying down for bed, both of my boys asleep, my mind shifted to the fears that have come to haunt me at night. I can’t help but let them in sometimes, especially when the world is quiet and dark. It hurts to even type the words. I am afraid. I am afraid of the future. I am afraid of my family continuing on without me in it. I am afraid of my son growing up without his mommy. I am afraid of my husband losing his wife. I am afraid of the void that my sisters and my family and my friends will have if they lost me. I am afraid of all of the things that I would leave undone, untouched and unsaid. (And don’t forget the all-important – who will organize the filing cabinet?!)

As I laid in bed, I thought about my fears and all of the pictures I was looking at that brought back memories from the life that I have lived so far. And I thought about Michael and my post. He was taken too soon, way too soon. I was in the car that night. I was in the accident. I could have been taken too.

And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I remembered.

I. Am. So. Blessed. I AM SO BLESSED! I am able to wake up every single day. I have lived an incredible 31 years and I have DECADES to go! I have met the love of my life and we have created a wonderful life together – a life that includes the most incredible little man that I have ever laid eyes on. A life that is filled with love from family and friends – people that I am so lucky, so fortunate, to know.

I don’t know what the future holds. But what I do know is that I am blessed today and every day. I am here. And I am strong. And I am beating this. I won’t waste my energy on fear anymore. I won’t let it consume me. I will continue to be a ray of light.

I’m done being afraid.

And I feel better already.

So I cried today

Years and years ago, I was chatting with my best friend about needing an outlet to cry. I wasn’t upset or sad or angry, I just needed a good cry. She recommended the movie The Notebook, which I had never seen. I immediately purchased it and watched. I bawled my eyes out. My goodness, I cried! It was a sad cry, an angry cry, a happy cry and a fulfilling cry. It was exactly what I needed. That movie is typically my go-to for a good cry now.

This morning, I woke up to a Facebook post to me that was inspiring and thoughtful about life. Then I watched a video that someone shared with me. It was a sweet little girl singing to her mother, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. I bawled my eyes out. I cried – hard. Everything about it brought me to tears and made me start reflecting on my own life.

Cancer sucks. It does. It sucks. It’s painful, exhausting, emotionally draining, time consuming, terrifying and about a million other words. But I try really hard to stay strong. It is what it is and I can’t change it. But I can fight it – and that is what I am doing with all of my being. But it’s not just me fighting this horrible disease. It is my husband, my son, my family, my friends – the entire Red Phoenix community. Everyone who is impacted and chooses to fight alongside of me. I am not alone in this.

Every single day of this battle, I am shown an act of love, kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness. My husband in the way he cares for our home and our son. My family, who puts everything aside to drive / fly down and take care of me during treatment. My in-laws, who watch our son and bring us meals. My family & friends, who send cards and packages and kind words and bring meals to feed us and so many other amazing things. People that I haven’t spoken to in years, who reach out to let me know they are thinking of me and praying for me.

So I cried today. I cried for all of the good great things that I have in my life – all of the incredible people that I am so grateful and so blessed to know.  It was exactly what I needed.

Tomorrow

The days leading up to treatment are bittersweet. Food tastes better, the weather is more appealing, the minutes seem to matter more and the days seem to move too quickly. Yet there is a list of to-dos that haven’t been done and treatment approaches too quickly. The anxiety that I feel is a mixture of “I don’t want to do this again” and “Let’s get it over with!” You can imagine the battle in my head.

I have spent many days in my life waiting for tomorrow. These tend to be happy occasions – Payday is tomorrow! Or – We leave for vacation tomorrow! Or – My birthday is tomorrow! But sometimes they are less exciting– I have a big meeting at work tomorrow. Or – There is a parent / teacher conference tomorrow. Or – I need to schedule an appointment tomorrow.

These tomorrow statements tend to be a point of anticipation. This anticipation can be exciting or sad, thrilling or nerve racking. Having a week of vacation – and an extra week in between treatments – has allowed me to put off the thought of treatment day a bit more than usual. The last day or two, as treatment quickly approaches, my thoughts have continuously returned to Thursday morning, when I will begin my third round of treatment.

The thought of the approaching treatment causes a little anxiety because I don’t know the extent of the side effects and how they are going to affect me this round. The first treatment went easier than expected and the second was harder than I anticipated. Third round could show the compounding effects worse, or it could be better than I imagine.

Tonight, as little man reached up to me so he could sit on my lap at bedtime, I am reminded of why I shouldn’t be concerned about the days ahead. Regardless of the hardships that this treatment causes, or the discomfort following, it is allowing me the opportunity to live a longer life. To eventually be healthier and stronger, so I can continue to raise my son and be around for all of his “firsts”. So that I can dance with him on his wedding day. So that I can be a wife to my incredible husband and cry happy tears when we watch our son graduate college.

So, my friends, remember that as frightened or uneasy you may be about tomorrow…it is helping to build a better future. Tomorrow, I am halfway done with the first 6 treatments.

You deserve it

When Joe & I were planning our wedding, we couldn’t decide on where we wanted to travel for our honeymoon. We tossed around ideas about traveling to California and staying at a cabin near the vineyards, heading over to the Bahamas and seeing Atlantis, flying across the world to Fiji and even the possibility of exploring Europe. Indecision had a hold on us and we struggled with deciding.

One idea that came up periodically was a cruise. It was not something that we had done before and seemed rather pricey so we went back and forth on the idea a few times. After chatting with a few friends and doing some research, we decided a cruise best suited our taste and decided to book it. We booked the cruise on a Thursday morning, just 3 days before our wedding day. We left the following week on a seven day vacation to the Western Caribbean. We had no previous cruising experience, no cell phone access, and way too many things packed.

Booking so close to our wedding day and having the excitement of the wedding to focus on didn’t allow for a lot of time to look forward to the cruise. The excitement built over a few days but the weeks, or months, of anticipation that typically comes from a vacation wasn’t there. We spent the few days prior to cruising researching what we needed to bring, the best excursions to take and shopping for last minute necessities. The vacation itself was amazing. The week flew by – each day seemed to move faster than the one prior and before we knew it, we were pulling back into port. Memories had been made and we still talk about that cruise as one of our favorite vacations ever, five years later.

We booked this weeks’ vacation in the beginning of January, allowing the opportunity for lots of anticipation and excitement to build. We call it our staycation, where we stay at a timeshare locally. Our first stay at this particular timeshare was in 2013, when we were a family of two. Joe & I have been anxiously awaiting this vacation, knowing the fun that little man would have here.

After I was diagnosed, we debated on whether or not to cancel or reschedule our staycation. The trip fell on a treatment week and we weren’t sure what that meant. We didn’t want to risk a change in my prognosis or issues with scheduling if we made any changes to the treatment plan. After speaking with my oncologist and better understanding the timing, we decided to push back my treatment by a week and keep our staycation. This change wouldn’t impact my prognosis and would allow us to have some much needed family time together.

The last week has been filled with silly laughter from little man, lots of snuggles, time outside together as the weather cools, hearing new babbles that little man has suddenly developed, pool fun, relaxation and even a date night with my dear husband. We have created priceless memories and we had the opportunity to forget about our fight for a brief moment in time.

Knowing the battle that looms ahead made this trip much more needed, much sweeter and even more valuable. It was a chance for us to regroup as a family, rebuilt our strength and enjoy time together to focus on us. It was perfect.

Whether a vacation that you take spontaneously, a staycation that you plan ahead or even a weekend getaway down the road…enjoy the time away. Take the time that you need to center yourself, regain perspective and enjoy your family. You deserve it.

101010!

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My cousin once met us at the beach for a day trip and upon seeing us unload our bag filled with the beach necessities, she smiled and said “You’re beach people, huh?”  We hadn’t thought of ourselves as beach people at the time but we were.  Our bag is packed and ready for the beach at all times, so we can grab and go when able.  After getting engaged, we knew that our wedding would take place on the beach because it is our happy place.

The morning of our wedding, Joe and I both woke up early and separated to begin the wedding festivities.  I joined my big sister and her family on the pool deck, which overlooked the ocean, and watched the sun rise.  The sky slowly filled with incredible variations of pink, orange and red. What began as a sliver rising from the ocean, turned into a large, round sun that shined bright and seemed to cover half of the horizon.  I sat in awe as I marveled in its perfect beauty.

While I sat and watched the sun rise, Joe went surfing.  He paddled out past where the waves crashed and waited for the perfect time.  Sitting amongst the waves, he heard a splash and looked over.  There was a pod of dolphins swimming next to him – one within an arms reach.  They played and splashed and seemed not to notice Joe, though he sat in awe at their perfect beauty.

Our wedding day flew by.  It was filled with love, laughter and happy tears shared with family and friends.  We committed ourselves to a lifetime of love, through sickness and health.  When I think back over what the last 5 years have brought, I see the perfect beauty of it all – the perfect beauty that is us.  We have built a strong, indestructible bond throughout this marriage that continues to strengthen each day.  While we did not anticipate this disease attacking our family, we are strong and will continue to strengthen throughout this fight.  We will beat this, together, and continue in the perfect beauty that is our love.

12 years…

2003

In 2003 Sheryl, one of my very best friends from childhood, wanted to introduce me to a boy she knew from a previous job. She had been asking me to meet him for months and I kept pushing it off and evading the question. We were walking through the mall one day and she asked me again. The conversation went as it typically did, except this time I caved.

Sheryl: “I am telling you, Joe is perfect for you! You will get along great.”

Me: “Yeah, yeah, I know. Maybe next week.”

Sheryl: “Oh come on! Just meet him! I’ll come with you, it’ll be fun!”

Me: “I’m sure he’s great. I’ll think about it.”

Sheryl: “Pppllleeaassseeee???”

Me: (Insert eye roll) “Fine! I’ll meet him. Tonight. That’s it though, if he isn’t available tonight then you can’t ask me again.”

Sheryl immediately whipped out her pink flip phone and made a call, smiling her widest smile. Within a few minutes, we were scheduled to meet up at Joe’s house with a few mutual friends.

That night, 12 years ago today, I met Joe. (And, ironically, his roommate who is also named Joe!) After an awkward introduction to the “Joes”, Sheryl and I sat and chit-chatted while the boys played video games. The night itself was low key but I decided that I did, in fact, want to learn more about Joe. I started hanging out with him more and more and started to get to know him better. He had a great smile, he was kind and he made me laugh. We started dating and, as they say, the rest is history.

When I think back to how this life with Joe all began, it makes me smile. My best friend knew we were perfect for each other, even though we didn’t at the time, and wouldn’t give up on us meeting each other. Who would have thought that night would change both of our lives forever?

How did you meet the love of your life?