The Week I Had Cancer

“If everything looks normal, we’ll mail you a letter within a few days. Otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

That’s what the nice young lady said to me who had just finished gently smashing my girls for a 3D mammogram. Nice to meet you, Miss Boob-Wrangler. Have a nice day. 

A few hours later I was chatting with my husband about his day at work, when my phone rang. I never answer calls when I don’t recognize the number. But the number was local, and all I could think of was “…otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

Within a couple of seconds I was listening to a woman on the phone tell me how they needed me to come back in for another mammogram and an ultrasound on both sides.  The earliest appointment was a week from today, could I make that? No, she didn’t have any other information. A WEEK?? I had to wait a week to find out what this was all about? Seriously, lady? Then she said some stuff about co-pays and not wearing deodorant or lotion, and my eyes were already full of tears when I hung up. My husband was standing next to me. I cried as I relayed the very limited details. 

I have cancer. That’s all I could think of. My fingers got busy googling all the way down the rabbit hole of what it meant to get a callback after a mammogram and what percentages of callbacks were actually cancer, and what types of breast cancer were the “worst” to have for women in their early forties. Researching things and trying to have as much information as possible is how I deal. How I maintain some semblance of control. It’s just my MO.

As googling medical information often does, it made me more scared. The more advanced 3D mammogram decreases false positives, greatly reducing the need for callbacks. Great. But I did get a callback. Which to me, now sounded like big, bad news.

I spoke with a few friends. They gave me all the comforting words that friends should, about how lots of women have to go back for another scan, and most of the time it’s for a perfectly harmless reason. Most of the time.

But as far as I was concerned, this would be my last normal week ever. I would go back and have my second scans and they’d probably have to do a biopsy and within a day or two we’d be talking about treatments and a prognosis and all the things you never want to talk about.

As far as I was concerned, I had cancer. And everything was about to change.

So what exactly did all this this mean for me, during these 7 days of waiting to hear the doctors speak it all out loud? How would that make life different? Would it make anything different?

For me, I can assure you that it most definitely did make things different. I woke up every day and still did the things I had to do. I went to work. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. Normal, everyday stuff.

But this week—The Week I Had Cancer—I also thought about a teacher friend who had passed away just last year from breast cancer. She was around the same age I am now. I thought about how the effects of chemo or radiation would drastically change my plans for this year. Would I need just one of those or both? My husband and I discussed thoughts about treatment based on different diagnoses and whether there would be a scenario where I would not want treatment at all. We made inquiries to some lawyers about updating our wills. We made awkward comments like “Next week I’m going to ______, I mean, unless of course I have cancer, then I’ll…” Making awkward jokes between the two of us is how we both cope with bad things. That’s our MO as a couple.

But you know what else happened? We decided that we were finally going to take that trip to Italy that I’ve always wanted to go on. If I’m sick, then we’re going right away. If I’m not, then we’ll plan it for next summer. No more waiting, either way.

Every day I noticed my hair. And instead of complaining like I usually do about how crazy and unruly it can be, this week I actually appreciated it. I brushed it slowly and realized how shiny it is and how long it’s gotten. I thought about how funky I will probably look without it, but for now, I had it.

I kept eating healthy for the most part, because we’ve been doing so great at that lately, and because I just feel better overall when I do. But I also had delicious Friday night pizza and didn’t think twice about it.

I made homemade pasta for the first time ever. I lingered longer during snuggle time on the couch with my hubs. I skipped Spanish class one night to enjoy a dinner out with friends. I made an appointment at a local spa for a massage and some relaxing time in a sauna. I took my time reading books that I’ve been neglecting. I was more patient at work but didn’t stay late every night. I savored small things like my favorite-smelling body butter and my coziest blanket. I made plans to spend a couple hours with a friend that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. I identified some things that I’d been putting up with that I wont be allowing anymore. No time for that nonsense.

I thought quite a bit about how I literally might be dying. But at the same time, in every small way, I lived my one beautiful life. I squeezed as much life out of this week as I possibly could.

The next week finally came and I was back getting smashed and scanned. After nearly two hours, I finally got the results. Apparently the alarm had been raised due to dense tissue in specific spots on both sides. Not suspected to be cancer. Come back in six months for a recheck. Whew!

That was it. Just like that, I didn’t have cancer. In a way it felt surreal. It still does. I am so very grateful. Not only for the fact that now, I was not actually staring down a cancer diagnosis, but also grateful for this whole past week of waiting to find out, as painful as it had been. Because The Week I Had Cancer gave me a gift I didn’t expect. It gave me a fresh perspective about things. About life. And about how I don’t want to waste a second of it on things that don’t matter.

But I hope you don’t have to wait for a week where a diagnosis may be looming to figure this out. I hope you’ll read this and just start living like every single day matters, because guess what? It does.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do a little research for some travel plans.


PS: It’s not lost on me that you may be a person reading this who is already intimately acquainted with this understanding of how every moment matters so very much, because you did get that diagnosis or some other such curveball life tends to throw at us. My prayers are with you, and it’s my hope that in everything you’re going through, you’d continue to see all those tiny little moments of joy and peace.

The Good Towels

When you’re about to have an overnight guest at your house, that’s about the time you become acutely aware of what awful shape your towels are in.

I mean seriously… every single bath towel I own looks like it wrestled with a wolverine. There are so many snags, I’m sitting here wondering how these things are still even holding together at all.

Then I wonder what my momma would think.

But really, I already know. She always had a thing for “good towels.” I don’t know where she got that, growing up in the coal-mining hollers of Kentucky. Where did she even get this concept of “good towels?” I guess everyone browses Better Homes & Gardens now and then. But there were always some good towels in the top of the linen closet that we weren’t supposed to use. They were for Company, whoever that was.

Now all I can think about is how I’m a total failure. How my houseguest will be here in a few hours and I have no good towels to offer her, and my momma raised me better than that.

Then it hits me: On this day, six years ago, I didn’t know that I only had exactly one week left with my mom on this planet. I just didn’t know. If I did, I would have bought some good towels and showed her and said “LOOK MOM! I did what you taught me! I have good towels for when someone comes over! See!? Right here they are! I listened to you!”

But I didn’t. I didn’t buy any good towels to put aside for houseguests and I didn’t treat her as if it were our last week together. I just didn’t.

Grief has been heavy on me the past few weeks. I think about her a lot. Her funny sayings. Holidays with her bossing everyone around with that thick southern accent. But mostly all the ways that I could have done better. Things I could have done just to make her happier. Like buy some damn nice towels so I wouldn’t disgrace our family name.

I know towels aren’t significant. They really aren’t, not in the grand scheme of things. But neither is a lot of stuff we worry about. But my momma, she sure was significant. And the fact that I went about her last days on earth not realizing how true that was… well, that’s about a sad as those lousy towels I have in the other room now.

I think about those who are still with me. Those I see every day and the ones I don’t. Have I really noticed their significance? Have I treated them like special houseguests in my life, loving them in a way that feels like giving them “the good towels,” or just tossing them a ratty, snagged-up scrap here and there?

These heavy-grief times are some of the hardest for me, but they’re eye-opening, instructive. They remind me that every single day is an I-didn’t-know-I-only-had-that-much-time-left kind of day, and to work a little harder to remember that for the people in my life.

I’m still working out ways to do better with all of this in my day-to-day. And I know I won’t be perfect at it. But for now, I think I’ll pick out a few new towels to keep in the top of the closet, just in case.

To ALL Who Mother

I wrote this a couple of years back and thought I’d brush it off again for Mothers Day weekend. This weekend used to be a painful one for me, but it is now something to be celebrated. Not because I have a house full of children, but because I’ve allowed God to enlarge my definition of motherhood over the years. 

Mommas, I’m thinking of you today. Those of you who are battling potty-training, bad attitudes, and car seats. Those of you who are driving every-place-in-town for soccer, dance, baseball, etc… Those who are losing sleep over your teenager trying to carve out their own personality. 

••••••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who gave birth to angels who were here for just moments, then gone from this world. You mothers who have never held your child, due to miscarriage or because of exercising your legal right to choose, only to realize the true gravity of your choice later. You are a mother. It’s absolutely okay to grieve, even if others think you should be “over it” by now. 

•••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of those of you who are not yet mothers but long to be. You who have spent years trying everything to become a mother…Thousands of dollars, tears, and heartaches only to stare at yet another pee-soaked plastic stick that brings nothing but disappointment. I’m thinking of you. 

••••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who have devoted your whole lives to raising fine children, sent them out into the world as upright citizens, and now your empty nest has left you feeling empty and confused. I’m thinking of you who are estranged from your babies, no matter how old they are. Those of you who love your Prodigal and are waiting for his or her return. 

•••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who no one else seems to recognize, because of your non-traditional mothering. The stepmothers who do all the work but get little reward. The grandmas and aunts and friends-of-the-family and foster moms who raise others’ children because somebody can’t or won’t do it themselves.

••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you adoptive moms who’ve spent months or years trying to build your family by way of a distant partnership with another momma you never knew. I see how it hurts when you have to put up with dumb questions from nosy strangers. I see how it stings when people ask ridiculous things like “…but don’t you want to still try for one of your OWN?” I’m so sorry that some people can’t see what incredible mothers you already are. You are so noble and I love you for it. 

••••••••••••••••••

The truth is, all of us mother someone. We help shape others’ lives, encourage them into the person they’ll become, bandage a few boo-boos and wipe a few tears along the way. So look around you today. Celebrate all mothers and those who mother, and think of who might be hurting more than smiling on this day. Look for the ways they mother and thank them for contributing to the future of our world. Hug them and let them know that if they’re hurting, you’re hurting alongside them. 

••••••••••••••••••••

Much love to you, mommas. Allow God to enlarge your definition of motherhood as he has mine. You’re my heroes. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

-Krysten

Go Ahead, Feel that Pain

Cramps are a killer. {My apologies, Dude-readers…stick with me} Ladies, you know exactly what I mean. They create levels of pain that fall on a spectrum, anywhere from simply annoying to a DEFCON 1, staying-home-from-work-in-tears kind of deal. There’s just nothing else to say about them… they’re pure pain.

And for this kind of pain, there are little miracles like Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. We know what causes the pain, we know it will be temporary, and we don’t have to live with it and let it ruin our lives.

It was a big day for me when I actually realized that pills like this, while they’re super helpful, don’t actually FIX our pain. The chemicals don’t travel to the site of our pain and do something to stop it. They can help with inflammation and such, but when it comes to the actual pain, it doesn’t go away. These pills work with our nervous system to basically block our brain’s ability to understand that we are in that pain. This works for a short period of time, to get us through a day or two, then the actual pain starts to go away and we need these “helpers” less and less.

But these little pills also cause problems of their own if we take them for too long or if we take them too often. See, they’re meant to be temporary, short-term. But if we go to them to stave off our pain for too long, they can actually cause damage to other organs, or they can continue to mask pain that actually could be trying to alert us to bigger problems we need to deal with.

That’s really the same with anything we go to in life that gives us temporary comfort. Some of us don’t take pain-relievers very often, but there are plenty of things we medicate with so we don’t have to notice pain as much.

Late-night ice cream? Sounds like what the doctor ordered. Too-many-shows-in-a-row on Netflix? That will eat up some hours so we don’t have to actually deal with stuff. Working long hours so we can finally feel like we accomplished something since we feel like we’re failing at the other millions of things in our lives? That’s a pill many of us pop far too often.

There are lots of things in life that we run to so that we can feel better short-term. And short-term, they aren’t all necessarily bad. But for the big pain in life, let’s not just block our brain and heart from feeling that. Let’s press into those painful things and see what’s really causing it so it can actually get fixed.

If you’re like me, perhaps you have a lot of painful/difficult things starting to pile up on you. Let’s go one at a time. After all, nobody gets a hip replacement, a heart transplant, and splints their broken fingers all in one day. I mean, *disclaimer,* I’m no doctor here, but I don’t think that’s usually how it works. We’ve got to triage our pain and address the most critical thing first, right?

What is that thing, that if we let ourselves feel it and deal with it first, will make the maximum positive impact in our lives? Maybe we make the commitment to have integrity in our speech at all times, which would improve our relationships as well as take care of our people-pleasing/over-committing pains. Or for some of us it might be focusing on our physical health by starting to exercise regularly, which not only improves our body but our quality of sleep and our mental attitude. Or perhaps it’s time to finally seek some professional health for those traumas visited upon you in childhood, that have insidiously been keeping you from living a full life for far too long.

My dear people, if you have the cramps, take the dang OTC stuff and get on with what you need to do. But feel the rest. Face those pains head-on and root them out. Don’t allow the temporary fixes and defense mechanisms to mask the pain so long that we can’t see the other, more serious problems. After all, if ignored long enough, these small pains will demand our attention later when they refuse to be masked and have created much bigger, harder-to manage pains.

Take the pain in prayer to the God who created you. Take the truth of it to a trusted friend to help you start the next steps. Take it to a professional who can help you sift through the ancient kinds of pain. Use this pain as a wake-up call now, and don’t be afraid to feel it.

Lovely people, I’m a firm believer that God uses many things in this world to help us through life. One of the big things he uses is other people. Whether that be in our own community of people or through the music, art, or writing of someone we’ve never met, we are all really here for one another. As someone who loves to read, I find a lot of helpful wisdom in good books. Others’ experiences can give us the ME TOO realization and help us to not feel alone. Off the top of my head, here are some books that have been instrumental to me in helping me process pain and see it as an opportunity. Many are written from a Christian faith-perspective but can be helpful to anyone.

One More Step by Rachel Wojo

CS Lewis’s The Problem of Pain

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Beth Moore’s Breaking Free

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On Warrior and Love Warrior

Love & Freedom to you,

Krysten 

 

 

I chose ME today. 

I chose me today.

At 4:50 in the morning, I chose me. 

On this, my first day back at work after a beautiful summer. When there are a million things to be done and a million reasons to get to school early. There are things that need printed and copied and labeled and prepared. There are 26 little faces that will be there to meet me tonight, to see their new space. There are a million reasons why I should have chosen to go in to work extra early today. 

But instead, I chose me. 

I chose to drag myself out of bed, past any options the snooze button would have given me. I chose to start my day with clear, cold water and the laces on my shoes. I chose to crank up the fan and increase my heart rate and strength. I chose to jolt my muscles wide awake and make them do what they’re meant to do. 

I chose to take 30 minutes or so to invest in myself. Me. 

And after that I chose me again. I chose to put healthy foods into my body while I put words of truth into my heart. Words that told me  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17) And that includes me, even when I feel like I’m coming apart. 

I chose to take the first hour of my day and invest in myself. Because I’m learning that when I choose to put myself last, I’m really not that good for anything (or anyone) else. 

Those kiddos who will count on me every day? I’m choosing me for them. My husband who shares this space and life on earth with me? I’m choosing me for him. And every face I encounter throughout my day, wherever I find myself? I’m choosing me for them, too. 

Because the best version of me has a lot to offer this world. But I can only offer it when I choose myself, giving good things to myself first so I have something of substance to offer. 

So today, I chose me. And I think the world, at least my small version of it, will be better for it.

If any of you know a teacher, then you completely get what back-to-school time entails. They essentially disappear from your life for a period of at least a few weeks while they work ridiculously long hours resetting the school year for a new group of kiddos. It often means they are running on fumes… Not getting enough sleep, eating junky food, and putting themselves at the bottom of every list. That’s always me, but this year I’ve decided to switch things around a bit and start treating myself as if I’m just as important as those around me. Because I am. And you are too. I hope you’ll be inspired to choose yourself today in some small way. 

What Makes Us Think We Can Do This? 

The brake lights appeared in my right peripheral view and in an instant the car was right in front of me.

No signal. No warning, just a 4-door Chevy driven by a person with little regard for my safety or anyone else’s. I slammed on my Honda’s brakes and shook my head, again. It had been the same with several other cars around me. I’d seen it happen over and over on the short stretch of the freeway between here and there. 

Right then I was acutely aware of all the other cars and drivers around me. That old rickety truck with a ridiculously high stack of pallets that were barely held on by one tattered rope. The lady next to me putting on makeup in her rear view mirror. The man in front of me who was concerned with whatever he was reaching for in the back seat. The handful of people I saw with my very own eyes, whizzing by at 60 miles per hour with one hand on the wheel and the other one texting furiously. 

Amidst all that and hundreds of brake lights going on and off, I thought to myself, what makes us think we can do this? 
Seriously. I mean… When Henry Ford unveiled his first model, did he ever dream that one day we’d be crammed onto four-lane roads by the thousands, barely paying attention to what we’re doing as we commandeer our own personal ton of metal just inches from one another? 

What makes us think we can hop in this hunk of metal made up of more little parts than I can count, jet onto the road next to all the other distracted crazies, and somehow make it home safe like nothing dangerous ever happened? 

I’ll tell you what. It’s faith

I have faith that all the moving parts under my hood, some held together by mere tiny springs (I don’t know what you’re called, but I’ve seen you, little whatsits!) will function for the most part as they were intended, working together in a very particular sequence of timing to make this car move. And I have faith in myself that I’ll remember where I’m going and the best way to get there. Or at the very least, I’ll have faith that my cell signal is working so Siri can guide me there. And craziest of all, I have faith in all of the other drivers on the road, that their whatsits will work correctly together too, and that they know and obey (most of) the laws of traffic and adhere to the majority of the unwritten rules of courtesy when driving amongst other folks. I have faith they will not slam into my car on purpose or completely ignore a red light or a stop sign. 

That takes quite a big measure of faith. 

And that same faith is exactly what makes us think we can do anything

We need faith to even think we can do anything. 

It takes faith to take that leap into a new career or a new city. It takes faith to look another person in the eye and say, Yes. It will be you and only you forever. Let’s make that work. It takes faith to stare at a plus sign on a white stick and think Yes, I can do this even though you’ve never done it before and the responsibility is enormous. And it takes faith to believe that you’ve been created for more than just paying bills and dying.

It takes faith to believe that you’ve been created by a God who, after creating the whole world, still decided that you were needed. The world was not complete without you. It takes faith to think that He has put gifts and talents inside each one of us, and given us circles of influence in a specific combination that no one else has. It takes faith to admit that and take even a tiny step to put those things into practice in our world today. 

Today I’m on my way to the She Speaks conference, where about 900 women will gather under one roof to worship God and say I have faith that You made me, God. And I know You’ve prepared good works in advance for me to do. And I think these talents and gifts You’ve given me have something to with those good works I’m supposed to do here. I’m Yours. Show me what’s next

Whether you suspect God wants to use your writing, your voice, your research abilities, your interpersonal skills, your organizational gifts, your parenting, your generosity, or you living room, the assignment is the same: Have faith that you are made in His image, and that means you are a creator. Believe that you have already been given what you need to accomplish the things He’s prepared for you to do. And then hold fast to that faith, and take a step toward getting that business done. 

My She Speaks sisters: I don’t know what that next step looks like exactly for you or even for me. But I know you have faith simply because you’re showing up and making yourself available to His service. It takes faith to hop on a plane or in a car and travel hundreds of miles to a new place, to hang with a crowd of people you have mostly never met. It’s takes faith to walk up to someone and say hello, to introduce yourself and believe you might just make a new friend. It takes faith to share your dreams with someone and describe the talents you suspect God has placed within you. And that is the kind of tiny little brave faith that can move mountains. That faith is what makes us think we can do this. As we should. I am so excited to meet you and give you lots of hugs!

-Krysten 

Why I Must Buy the Books

“Here it is,” she said. “This is the book I’ve been telling you about! It’s the most amazing book ever! It’s just incredible. I just know you will love it too. It will seriously change your life. I can’t wait for you to read it!!”

Now excited, I replied, “Well thank you for letting me borrow it! Can’t wait to read it! ” 

“Oh, just one thing,” she added, “Make sure you don’t bend the cover or any of the pages or write in it or anything. I NEVER fold the pages or write in my books,” she scoffed. “That’s just crazy.” 

*BLINK*BLINK*

You guys. I have this love/hate relationship with books. 

Well, that’s not exactly true. 

I have a love/hate relationship with buying books. 

Sort of.

You see, the minimalist/debt-free evangelist in me leans toward the end of the spectrum where my mind says things to me like:

-You don’t need to own something to enjoy it. You can just get books at the library.

-What about all that de-cluttering you’ve done over your lifetime? Remember how freeing that was? You don’t really want to fill your space up again with a bunch more stuff, even if that stuff is books, do you? 

If you love books so much, just buy them digitally. They’re a fraction of the price and you can carry a whole library anywhere on your phone! That’s better, isn’t it? 

Every time you spend $7.86 at Amazon on that new release, you could have donated that money to {insert worthy, well-researched organization here} Imagine how much money that would be over a lifetime? 

I know, I know. And all those things are logical and even accurate. 
But y’all… Guess what’s at the other end of that spectrum? 

My heart. And my heart loves books like it’s my flippin’ J. O. B. 

Real books. Real, printed words, on real, amazing-smelling paper. Real, creatively designed covers with carefully chosen images and fonts. Real, actual pages to dog-ear and flip. The very reason bookmarks exist. Exhilarating. 

But my absolute favorite part of the books? (Besides holding them and turning pages and smelling them? Okay. It’s possible I have issues.) 

My favorite part is the margins

The beautiful, blank margins. 

The margins are the place where the books come alive to me. Because that’s where I document the difference they make in my life. The connections they make with me. The ways those words on paper are making me think and question and wrestle with new insights. 

Those margins allow the book to come to life. To come into my life. 

As I add my words and thoughts, the book becomes part of my life. If I read a book that doesn’t make me highlight and scribble in the margins, it’s likely a book I won’t at all enjoy or even remember. 

The margins make that book a living, breathing, changing thing. A story to connect to and journey with. The margins make that book part of my very own journey.  

That book lent to me, so pristine and museum-quality? I should have handed it back to her right away, but I didn’t want to seem rude. So I took it straight home, sat it carefully on the top shelf of my bookcase, and ordered my own copy from Amazon. And she was right. It was an incredible book, and my copy was full of life in the margins. (Her copy was returned to her “unharmed,” of course)

Do you, like me, love the margins, the notes you scribble in them, the ways you connect with real, live books? Then we get each other. 

I’ve been reading (and scribbling/circling/highlighting in) some wonderful books this summer. I’ll be sharing some of them here soon, in hopes you’ll be inspired to go out and get  your own real, actual copies and make them come to life too.