Love is being….

Love is being gentle hearted. 

Let’s talk about my friend Cherylina. We met years ago through Zumba. We friended each other via Facebook and chatted all the time. We did a Zumbathon together. We drank waaaay too much wine together. We laughed and prayed and listened to each other.

She knew something was wrong. I am not sure other than woman’s intuition but she knew. She called me out on it. I told her about the cancer.

A week before my surgery I had to have a ‘pre’ surgery. It was a surgery that involved blue dye being pumped through my lymph nodes. I was told that the medicine would turn my urine blue too. When I shared this with my group she created a cute picture for her Facebook profile

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All of my friends changed their profile picture to this cute little blue smurfette and pink sock that said ‘be strong’!! I knew looking online my friends where there for me. PS I did pee blue.

When I had my “big” surgery last January one of the many things I struggled with was my hair. Funny how my hair has come into play through all of this. Anyway, I was stuck in bed with 5 octopus drains. It was uncomfortable and tiring. The worst part was I couldn’t wash my hair.

Cherylina came over to check on me and visit. When she came over she took the time to sponge bathe me. She scrubbed me down hair and all. It was humbling for me. She cares for her Uncle who had to be taken care of almost like a small child. She said it was no big deal. It was a BIG deal to me. It made me feel freshened up and clean. It was personal, I was vulnerable, she was gentle. Gentle Hearted.

Many days during my recovery she would facetime with me to keep me company. She would share her struggles as an instructor, how doors were opening for her to move on, and how scared and excited she was about it. I was impressed, excited, rejoicing and a bit envious of all of it. She is so inspiring and strong and courageous.

I don’t know where I would be without those chats. I don’t know where I would be without her friendship.

Love is being gentle hearted. Love is my friend Cherylina.

 

Love eliminates….

Love eliminates the distance…..

When I went public with the cancer on my Facebook page so many people expressed their condolences. I think that is how I want to refer to it. Cancer is immediately thought of as a death sentence. Prayers and good thoughts were posted on my page. Along with how I should have been eating right and exercising and I wouldn’t have gotten cancer in the first place comments too.  It really opens your eyes to who your real friends are. To who really gets the concept of the diagnosis. It also opens your eyes to the many people who care about you and you had no idea they did. I have been trying to highlight some of the people who have made a difference through all of this. Today it is Chrissy.

I met Chrissy through Zumba and a fellow friend/instructor. I went to a Zumbathon for ALS that she put together and my dear friend Marilee helped with too. I had so much fun. When Marilee introduced me to Chrissy as another instructor she said ‘next fundraiser you will be in with us’. When she organized the fundraiser for the Humane Society she actually remembered me and asked me to lead a song!! This was the best thing that had ever happened to me in the Zumba community. I offered to have the company I work for donate items for the auction. After we chatted for a bit I found out she lived on Fruitvale and that was across the street from where I work. It made it easy for her to pick up the donation items.

Shortly after that her husband was being transferred, to Germany! Argh, I felt we needed more time to friend. She asked for my mailing address and assured me we could still Facebook. She was so good about sending out Christmas cards to the States. I don’t think I would have been that diligent.

When Chrissy learned of my cancer she would message me often to check in on me. When I would post my Cancercize videos she would cheer me on. When I would have hard days she would simply state she missed me.

One day a large box showed up at my door. It was a care package from Germany! It had chocolates, teas, cookies and jam. It must have weight about 30 pounds. Chrissy had taken the time to put a gift together for when I was going through chemotherapy. The teas and cookies were ones for sick stomachs and nausea. Some for sleeping, some for waking up. She took the time to write in English which ones were herbal, which ones were not. She wrapped everything in bubble wrap with such care hoping it would arrive safe.

This gift. So thoughtful, so unexpected, such a surprise. I never thought I was worthy of such an expense. Chrissy thought I was worth every penny of comfort that she could send from a long distance.

I am so thankful that we have technology to keep in touch. Thankful that you can ship hugs in a box. Thankful that Chrissy is in my life if only for a moment. Grateful that she is  in it for a lifetime.

Love eliminates the distance

 

Love breaks….

Love breaks barriers…

This is Paula. Or here in the blogging world she is Never A Dull Bling

When I started blogging she was my very first follower. She encouraged me with my revenge and wogging. Laughed at my humor and all in all a perfect first follower. As time went on we found out we live only a few hours from each other. We moved to WA from AZ. She, like me only has one child. It was funny to see so many connections in our cyber world friendship.

When the cancer call came I used my blog as my safe space. The one place where I felt safe in sharing my fears, tears and ‘deer in the headlights’ moments.  The one place where I could talk about revenge on my body. Not for weight and strength, but for fighting the enemy within.

I remember I posted my results from a test I had been studying for along with mentioning waiting for results from my biopsy test. Paula was right there checking in on me. When I posted about the cancer she waited a few days to say anything because she was overwhelmed and shocked for me. It was a huge comfort to have a stranger listening to me.

As time went on we chatted via other social media outlets and eventually exchanged phone numbers. I remember one night bringing a box upstairs from Amazon. I figured it was my case of Lysol I ordered to have on hand during chemotherapy. I was tired and went to bed early that night. I heard my phone vibrate. It was a text from Paula telling me to open the package. How did she know I had a package??!??!?  The next text was; please open it, it will help you sleep tonight (:.  I open the box and inside with a very sweet note was the softest and happiest teddy bear I have ever seen! He was so perfect! She had gotten me a teddy bear to hug on while going through chemo. So thoughtful. Unbelievably thoughtful.

I named him ‘Bear’ I know so creative. I decided that Bear would have to do happy stuff with me if he was going to do the bad stuff with me. So off on a road trip we went. We had breakfast together and went hiking too. I have pictures of Bear and I out and about. Funny how with a cancer living in you and doing chemo you don’t really care anymore what the public might say to you.  Bear still workouts with me daily . You can see him in all my Cancercize videos on YouTube.

The best part of this cyber support was when I actually had a chance to meet Paula and her hubby James in person. They run, a lot. They had a run in Montana and wanted to stay at the half way point which just happened to be where I live. We set a time and place to meet for a quick cup of coffee before they had to leave. This picture is from that. I knew what she looked like from her blogs. This was a HUGE moment for me. One that I did not want to miss. In fact I had surgery two days before this picture. I WAS NOT GOING TO MISS HUGGING PAULA IN PERSON. Not for anything. Even though Keith had to help me in and out of the car and sit up and down. All of it was worth it. To see her in person.

I am so thankful for this blog. I am so thankful for people you connect with. I am especially thankful that Paula connected with me. I consider her a dear friend. One that made the process so much better. Thankful she cheered me on.

Love is breaking barriers. Love is breaking through the cyber wall for a hug.

Love is……

Love is….. having a friend like Erin.

When I was hiding my diagnosis in my blog I must have posted it on Facebook momentarily. Long enough for Erin to see it before I realized what I had done. She texted me immediately. “You have cancer?!?”

She then jumped into full on mentor mode. She had breast cancer about six years ago. I met her at the end of it. If the ‘end of it’ is truly a thing. (it isn’t)

Erin coached me. She informed me about treatments, and surgeries. When I decided on doing chemotherapy she brought over a box of her hats, scarves, and lymphodema sleeves. The box also contained Aveeno Baby lavender-scented lotion (I still use this at night) a bag of salty chips to counter the metallic taste from chemo and a few face masks.

She cleared her schedule to be there for my first chemo treatment. It was long and even though you go through the education class and do your own research you are still frightened. She came and sat with me and Keith. She visited with me and kept me distracted. Her being there gave Keith a chance to go and get some lunch and check in with work. It made the hours seem much shorter.

We volunteer at the same improv theatre and she covered my duties for me for over a year. Making sure I wasn’t over doing anything. Knowing what surgery and chemo do your body, strength and energy.

Many a time in years past I would babble on about how strong I think she is. She would just have this look on her face of, okay. I didn’t get it. Now that I have gone through cancer and treatments I have people tell me how strong I am. I give them a look of , okay. Truth is Erin said it perfect to me once. “It is time to pull your big girl pants up and just do this” I get that. I am not strong, I just did what I had to do to fight. I wanted to fight for a few more years. That is not strength, that is pulling up your big girl pants and just doing it.

I can never thank Erin enough. She was level-headed, energetic and giving. She followed my blog so she could get updates. She would text me when she would read something that resonated with her fight. She shared her concerns and knowledge of first hand experience. She gave me ideas of questions to ask. She knew what I needed when I didn’t.

I have been to many functions and events with Erin, yet I do not have one picture of her. The picture I choose to use today is one of the ring I wear all the time. It is a ring that Erin gave me. It is the same ring that her sister had given her when she was diagnosed. I wear the ring with pride. I wear it to remind me to be strong. Especially to remind me to pull up my big girl pants and move on.

Love is having a friend like Erin…

 

The love continues….

I decided after my New Year’s I would share each day on my blog about a friend or family member who has helped me with the biggest revenge of my life. My revenge against my body and the cancer. After losing my grandmother on Thursday I didn’t feel like writing. Today I feel like sharing once again. Hence, the love continues……

When my doctor called me at work to break the news to me about the cancer before I called my husband I told Janice.

Janice is my boss. We have worked together for nearly nine years. Over time we have become friends. So my first friend I told was Janice. She knew I was waiting for the biopsy results. She knew that I had gone through this a few years ago and everything was fine then. She had been telling me to practice thinking positively. She was  positive it would be fine once again.

The phone call came. I was dumb founded and surprised. I walk back to the office and tell her, like the fact that it is. She jumps up, hugs me and grabs my hand and reassured me it is going to be okay. I simply agree and then ask if I can be excused a little longer to call Keith.

During my battle she was my constant supporter and listener at work. While I was fighting she was dealing with her brother fighting his battle with throat cancer. Sometimes I think seeing me doing so well and her brother struggling so much was difficult for her. He lost his battle midway through my year.

She came and visited me the day after my surgery while I was in the hospital. She texted me about work while I was in recovery. She prayed with me, listened to me and made sure that I kept my job.

We started off as boss and employee. We became co-workers that were friends. To friends that work together.

Life finds a way to bring the right people into your life at the right time.

and so it is that love continues….

 

 

 

Love is…….

My grandmother……..

When my parents divorced years and years and years ago my mom would ship me off to California to visit my grandma. I have so many wonderful memories of that. We would go to the beach, Disneyland and parks. My favorite times were when we would stay at their house and play dress up with Grandma’s old clothes, or hear about our family. The memories are intact because Grandma made a photo album of one of our trips that I look through often.

My grandmother made sure that my mom always felt welcome and part of the family. Even though her son was married to someone else my mom was always welcomed in her home.

As we grow up and life happens we visit with distant family less and less. It just happens. I made several trips over the years to California with my family to visit once in a while. Never long enough. Never often enough. When my grandma moved to Florida with my Aunt Kathy I had plans to visit. My Aunt Marilyn was very sick (breast cancer, again) and we decided to go and see the family in FL. Hurricanes ripped through the state and we didn’t make it. I missed saying goodbye to my Aunt. I missed another chance to see my family.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Tom then moved to Georgia. Grandma in tow. One day Aunt Kathy called me and asked me to come see them. They made the trip happen. I flew to Georgia by myself. Wore my ‘I’m a Pepper’ t-shirt so they would recognize me at the airport. Was so excited to see my grandma, my aunt and uncle and my cousins Jenny and Becky! It was a great visit. Very healing for my heart. I never knew how much of a Pepper hole I had in my heart.

I was lucky enough to go back the following year and ‘granny sit’ for my Aunt. A whole week with my grandma. We played games and watched movies. Her mind sharp as a tack so she reminisced about her childhood and family, my family.

Then two years ago, Aunt Kathy calls and says please come out again. Bring your husband. All the grandchildren will be here. We went. It was awesome. I reconnected with my cousin Eric that I hadn’t seen since he was in high school. The trip was wonderful.

I am so thankful that over the past five years I had the chance to reconnect with my Pepper family. I don’t know how else I would deal with the news that came last night.

My grandmas heart has stopped.

My heart is aching.

That is my grandmothers hand. I snapped this picture when they dropped me off at the airport after the first visit in GA.

My grandmothers heart may have stopped beating but her heart, full of love is living on in my Pepper family. It is living on in my sister and my mom. It is living on in mine.

Love is a grandmother

What is love……

my son…..

Today is throwback Thursday on Facebook, I figured I should use a really old picture of my son. This was taken nearly 28 years ago. He was just a wee little thing. Four pounds and four ounces and nearly two months early. Who knew that tiny little boy who relied on me would one day have the tables turned and I would have to rely on him.

He was angry. When I called him and told him I had cancer he was in shock. Or perhaps disbelief or like me ‘dear in the headlights’ lost. When it sunk in he became angry. Not at me directly. He was angry at the cancer. Angry that there should have been something that I could have changed or done in my life that would have prevented it from happening. Angry.

I think Richard and I have a decent mother/son relationship. He genuinely likes me. He likes that I don’t pry into his life. I wait for him to come to me. We have similar tastes in literature, food and movies. Hanging out with him always blesses me.

The day I was released from the hospital he was there with Keith and my sister Windy. Assisting me from one side while Keith had the other. He would come and sit on the bed with me and watch hours of ‘Daria’ and ‘Pysch’ He came and sat with me so Keith could get out of the house. When someone was here to ‘watch’ me he went with Keith to a college basketball team. It was great Keith could get out. It was greater that his son was there to keep him company. Keep him distracted. Keep him encouraged. Keep him comforted.

My son has always been my biggest ally. When I was losing weight he pointed it out. When I would do a funny skit for his school, he wanted to be in it. I made spicy potato soup he bragged to everyone. Always my greatest cheerleader. Having him near me during recovery and chemotherapy meant a lot. To my brain and to my heart. Every minute I get to spend with him reminds me of what love is.

What is love? My son.

 

PS If this seems rambling I plead doped up on cold meds. I should be sleeping. I think I will go to bed now. Thank God it is almost Saturday.

Also here is a more recent pic of us…

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Love is…….

my mom………

The day that I was diagnosed with cancer I called my husband and my son. Late afternoon I called my sister. I put my mom on the call list for ‘last one’ on that day. My friend Erin ( you will get to meet her soon here too) told me that the hardest part was telling your child about the cancer. She was wrong. The hardest for me was telling my mom.

My mom had just gone through her bout with breast cancer about three years before me. She opted for a lumpectomy no radiation and lots of prayer. Around the same time as she was healing from the surgery my dad fell ill. Very ill. She was so distracted from taking care of my dad that she didn’t worry about the cancer or recurrence. My dad passed away in January. It was hard on my mom but she kept telling me she was okay. The cancer was gone.

When I had a surgery date planned she made sure her schedule was cleared so she could come up and help Keith take care of me. Truth was she just needed to see me in person. She needed to see that I was really alright. It is a mom thing. I totally get that.

Mom was here for about a week. She did the dishes, made some of my favorite childhood meals and just visited with me, Keith and my son. She fell in love with adult coloring books, made friends with my neighbors, enjoyed going to the big, fun bookstore (think Powell’s Books in Portland then knock it down about 12 notches)

It was nice to have her here. It gave Keith the chance to get out of the house and run errands or check in on work. He didn’t have to worry about me being taken care of, mom was there.

My mom prayed for me daily, probably hourly for months. She sent me the book she used to meditate with. During chemo she sent happy things in the mail hoping they would be there the day of treatments. My favorite was a magazine entirely about Lucille Ball.

Every Sunday my mom and I text. It is not a long labored text. It simply says’ Happy Sunday’ Love you. We have turned it into a game of who texts first. Currently I am winning because of the time change.

As good as the visit was to help Keith and I out, I think the visit was a trip of recovery, healing, comfort and discovery for my mom.

Love is my mom. 

 

What is love?………

My sister.

I don’t know where to begin so I will pick a random spot and go from there.

This is a picture of my sister. She is three years younger than me. She loves to remind me that she is younger. I am much shorter than her so many people believe me when I tell them that I am the younger one. That pisses her off to no end. Truth is it takes forever to even convince them she really is my sister.

I often describe us as the movie Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. She is the Schwarzeneggar character that ended up with ALL the good parts, and I am like the Devito character that ended up with all the left over awful stuff. That pisses her off to no end too. I think I like pissing her off. After all we are sisters, so it is a right of passage.

As we grew up we drove each other nuts in school and at home.  As we really grew up and became adults and wives and mothers we became closer and closer. We actually became friends.

I remember when I was moving and she came over to the house.  I had a whole box of empty hangers, Pampered Chef pans and other odds and ends I wanted her to have. Mostly I didn’t want to pack them. When she saw the box of hangers she started to cry. My moving away was becoming a reality. One she wasn’t ready for. It was also the first time I had doubts about leaving AZ. I missed her so much and we were in the same room.

She came to visit me once in WA a few months after we moved here. Mom came too. It was a lovely surprise that my husband kept from me. It was a very short trip. Over time it seemed like it would be the only trip.

After my diagnosis in Nov. 2015 I called her to tell her the news. She was in denial and told me she would believe it after I get my test results back. I told her three times that the tests have all come back. I had cancer. It took some talking but she finally realized all the tests have been done. I was telling the truth.

I recall one morning I was getting ready for work. I had this overwhelming depression settle on me like a blanket. I was never going to see my sister again. I was trying to open the closet door and it was stuck. I had to pull and pull and pull. I didn’t have the strength because this blanket of sudden depression was too heavy. I started to cry. It was the first time I had cried. I accidentally woke Keith up. He said it’s okay to cry it is really scary. I told him I wasn’t crying about the cancer. I was crying because I knew in my gut I would never see my sister again. Oh how thankful I am that my dreams were wrong!

As the whirlwind of scheduling took place for what was next, I kept her up to date. Mastectomy was on January 15th.

It turns out that it was a three-day weekend for her. She is a school teacher and Monday was Martin Luther King day, no school. She called to let Keith and I know she was flying out for the surgery. I was so excited!! Even if we only got to see each other for a short time I get to see my sister.

This picture is taken the day before my surgery. We are sitting in the waiting room of the plastic surgeon doing my reconstruction after the mastectomy. After this I had my friend Julie (you will learn more about her later) come and meet her. I sometimes see my sister in Julie. Then we went and had a lovely last meal downtown at a local restaurant that has history on display. You can even go into the middle of one of the old smoke stacks. I was thrilled to share this place with her. This moment with her.

The next day we had to be at the hospital early. When she was allowed she came into the hospital room and visited with me. While I was under the knife, 8 and 1/2 long hours she sat with Keith. They went out to breakfast together. They watched television in the waiting room together.  They lunched and “dinnered” together too. He needed someone there. My sister was there. Right where she needed to be.

When I was released from the hospital and home again she visited with me but felt like she wasn’t helpful. She was, she really was.

I have a little white board in my bedroom. She wrote the words ‘Today is’ on it for me. Every time I changed the date I smile.  I love seeing ‘Today is’ in her handwriting.

Blessed to have her as my sister. Blessed to have her as my friend. Blessed that she was right where she needed to be.

What is love? A sister…..that is love.

 

It’s my New Year’s Day…….

This is going to be a long one today….fair warning. But first I need another cup of coffee…

TODAY!! Happy New year to me today. I know it is January 15th. Let me explain….

Keep in mind today is my husband Keith’s birthday.

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY:  At this time one year ago today I was checked into the hospital for  my double mastectomy/reconstruction surgery. They also had to pull out a cluster of my lymph nodes since the cancer had spread there too. Eight and half hours later I was in the recovery room. Completely oblivious to my surroundings and forever physically and mentally scarred.

November 3rd 2015. That is when I got the phone call at work. My primary care doctor calling to tell me about the biopsy results. It was defiantly cancer. At first it was a stage 0, pretty much around the nipple area, a lumpectomy would easily take care of it. Many tests later and an MRI revealed that it was actually stage 2B and that I had the BRCA2 gene. I have now upgraded to a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The surgeon that I wanted and I spoke to for my initial consultation was now sick and could no longer follow through on my care. I was switched to a new surgeon I have never met, during Christmas holiday. This was challenging and scary. When I met her she told me that I had to have a sentinel lymph node surgery done at least a week before the mastectomy. Basically I was in the hospital for this surgery by the end of the week!! Yikes!  Caught us completely off guard.

The plastic surgeon I met way back in November but at that time I was only going to get a lumpectomy so I really didn’t pay much attention to what she told me about reconstruction. Suddenly I am having surgeries one week apart. I am having a double mastectomy and reconstruction and I find out the day before that I have to take shots for a week in my belly! Nope. I did not sign up for that. Neither did my husband. He had to give them to me because there was no way I was going to do it for myself. NEEDLES…a big fat NOPE.

Those first couple of weeks were a drugged blur. I remember Keith sleeping on a cot at the end of our bed, listening to my every move, making sure that I would not be in any pain and ready to help me up if I had to go to the bathroom. I remember how proud of me he was when I got home from the hospital and walked up the stairs normally. One foot , one step at a time. I remember him changing out my whiteboard with the dates so that when I was awake I would know what day it was and how much time had passed. I remember him making my coffee for me and bringing me oatmeal. He hated stripping my drains almost as much if not more than giving me the shots. He drove me to every appointment and even to have my hair washed at the beauty school. I don’t know how he did it but he did everything, all the time, just for me.

Six weeks passed and I had been released to go back to work. At this time people thought I was out on vacation and sick leave. I had only shared with a few family and friends. My inner circle, my support team and of course this blog. My breasts by now were the same size as they were before the surgery so outside of being tired no one knew what I had been through.

Then I found out that I should do chemotherapy to kill what ever rogue cells that may have escaped. Also to lower my chances of recurrence. Now I had to go public because the side effects of chemotherapy are hard to hide and I planned on working as much as possible through all of it. Chemotherapy started on my son’s birthday in March. Ironic. Hmm.

Had a consultation with the genetic counselor suggesting I have my ovaries removed. Had those removed in July, the same day that Keith was to fly out to AZ for his class reunion. He changed his plans. I don’t think I could have managed without him.

My final surgery, the exchange surgery ended up being in October. I missed out on my friends Halloween party. First time in four years. Keith missed work for a week and they were busy. He had to play catch up all year because of me.

As things are getting ‘back to normal’ ha! as if it will ever be normal again….I have learned this:

  • My husband loves me more than I ever thought he did, or could.
  • I love him more now than I ever had
  • our relationship is better, even better than when we first started
  • I had no idea it could get better or stronger or healthier
  • I have amazing friends and family in my life
  • I had no idea menopause was so terrible
  • I am not the same person I was before and I never will be again
  • I need people. I need Keith. I need my son Richard. I need my family. I need to focus on the future, on strength, on kindness to others, on love.

Keith and I decided that we want to be healthier together. Eat out less, exercise more, make better food and beverage choices. You know..blah blah blah. We also decided that we would start on New Year’s Day. Not January 1st but OUR New Year’s day. January 15th. That is our new year. Yes his birthday, but our first new year.

Okay, the watching what we eat will actually commence tomorrow because today we celebrate with a party!! My friend is hosting a ‘Renee Kicked cancer’s ass and we are celebrating one year cancer free’ party!! I know a mouthful. Just take a deep breath before you say it… Then breathe in again afterwards.

I don’t think this blog post came out in any way shape or form as I intended. It is what it is. Long. Heartfelt. Truth. Snippets. Healing.

PS: I have signed up for two runs this year so far and I am totally back in revenge mode!! So keep checking in on me… Take that cancer!!

ONE YEAR AGO!!!!!!