Pollyanna and Her Pity Party

I am not a Pollyanna. In fact, I happen to have a standing invitation to a one-woman pity party at which I am the guest of honor. Although I’ve never been one to miss a party, I do work hard to avoid this one. Instead I focus on inspiration, live in the moment, and try very hard to cultivate hope.

I know how very fragile hope can be. I know that hope often balances precariously, held up by thin threads of human spirit, easily snapped by something as innocent as a few words or as daunting as the truth. I know that hope can easily come crashing down.

Yesterday I sat in a hospital bed at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, waiting for the results of multiple tests–blood work, chest X-ray, EKG, brain MRI, CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis. My future, along with the opportunity to participate in a potentially cancer curing clinical trial, hung in limbo, dependent on the results of these many tests. There was a knock on the door and the medical team entered the room. Physicians, nurses, researchers surrounded my bed. The lead physician, a handsome and compassionate young man, already vested in my welfare, pulled up a chair next to the bed. Quietly he sat down and looked at me intently. And in that moment my hope was shattered.

There would be no clinical trial for me. It turns out the cancer has spread to my brain, forcing me to be dismissed from the trial. Due to the metastasis lurking in my gray matter, the risks of the trial treatment now outweigh the potential benefits. Instead I will go home, regroup, and begin radiation. And I will rally.

But not yet. For now I’m in shock by this unexpected and devastating news. My mind is in denial, preventing me from absorbing the whole truth with its many implications.

After the medical team left my room, some with tears on their cheeks, I let down my delicate veil of courage and dignity and I held my head in my hands and I wept. I wept for myself and the loss of my fragile hope. And I wept for my daughters, my mother and sister and the family and friends who love me so and who will now have their hope shattered, too.

My mother and step father, sitting beside my bed and having witnessed the grave delivery of news, also cried. But when we were done, after they had wrapped their arms around me and we had prayed, my step dad said, “do you still want to go out for crab and shrimp tonight?” And I looked at him and said “hell yes!”, which caused him to chuckle and mom and I to smile.

For a bit I would not indulge in the pity party. For a bit I would push it aside, opting instead to partake in my favorite east coast meal at a Maryland restaurant–a true treat for an Idaho gal. For a bit, and as often as possible, eventually and once again extending to most of the time, I will live in the moment. I will practice the art of mindfulness as best I can. And with that I will again find inspiration.

Four years ago when I was originally told that this cancer is incurable I grieved. And as I grieved my mind raced with uncontrollable thoughts and visions of an unknown future that did not include me. Most of the thoughts were about my three daughters and how their stories would unfold without me. And the grief that my death would cause them. My thoughts were also about how much I enjoy this world, this life, and how I wasn’t ready to give up the small stuff–the smell of fresh cut hay, the sight of sun glistening on water, the sound of my daughters’ laughter. These thoughts spiraled out of control, paralyzing me with fear and bathing me in overwhelming sadness.

It was at that time a psychiatrist specializing in cancer patients introduced me to the concept of mindfulness. She explained that by projecting myself into the future and allowing my thoughts to be out of control I wasn’t really present in the here and now. I was essentially robbing myself of being present in the current moment. This made sense to me, and desperate to regain control of my mind and to feel joy again, I latched onto the theory for dear life. After leaving her office that day I detoured to a bookstore to further immerse myself in the concept of mindfulness. I was especially interested in the writings of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert in mindfulness. A professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Kabat-Zinn has integrated mind/body science with meditation, relaxation, and self- healing techniques. I sensed that if I could consume and master this concept I could live more comfortably within the confines of incurable cancer and could once again find pleasure, even adventure, in each day.

It has taken practice and self-discipline to become good at mindfulness. And sometimes, such as today in the wake of devastating news, I battle with myself to rein in the frightening thoughts. But in doing so I am less stressed, less sad, and am more focused, more joyful. I am able to reconnect with my surroundings and the relationships that are so important to me. I am able to truly live in the moment and appreciate the small and beautiful things that life has to offer—a cup of tea on the front porch, a conversation with my daughters on the way to school, the familiar scent of my horse as I hug his neck. Mindfulness allows me many, many moments, extending into minutes, hours and even whole days, when I’m able to forget that I’m a cancer patient.

So, I’m going home and I will rally. I’ve already contacted my beloved medical team and a plan of attack is forming. They will take good care of me. Family and friends will surround me and hold me up. The prayer chains will continue. And although I will likely visit the pity party from time to time over the next few days, I won’t stay long. Instead I will ditch the party in favor of mindfulness, and will once again find pleasure, joy, and adventure in each day. In fact I’m already looking forward to watching my daughter play her trumpet in the marching band on Friday night. And I have a couple of quilts in mind, fabrics, colors and patterns are dancing in my head. I think I’ll go through my stash and get started this weekend.

Here’s to living in the moment ~Kelly~

Some recommended readings by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Full Catastrophe Living:
Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

Mindfulness for Beginners:
Reclaiming the Present Moment – And Your Life

Letting Everything Become Your Teacher:
100 Lessons in Mindfulness

Arriving at Your Own Door:
108 Lessons in Mindfulness

Me and My Co-Stars

Cancer didn’t take me by surprise, not really. I remember suspecting that I had it. Not like a hypochondriac suspects a myriad of diseases based on a few vague symptoms. It was more like a dawning realization. Like most health care professionals, I know enough to be dangerous to myself and for a few months in the spring of 2007 I just didn’t feel right. But I had been training for a triathlon, pushing myself with lengthy miles in a bike saddle, lap after lap in the pool, and long, lonely runs along ditch banks. I told myself that I had been training too hard, that my body was adjusting to the changes I had made in my diet, and that the dietary supplements I had recently started were likely culprits. But I remember that early spring morning when I figured it out. It was dark, not even 5am, as I drove to the Y for an early swim before getting the girls off to school. Something in my mind clicked, the pieces fell into place, and for a moment I experienced a panicky feeling that made me feel lonelier than I had ever been. To this day I avoid making that drive in the wee hours of the morning because it causes me to relive that sensation—that KNOWING something serious was about to happen, something so big that my life would change forever, something that no one could get me out of.

Cancer is a solo act. It’s just you—there’s no understudy, no replacement, no substitute… or so I thought. True, only you go through treatment, only you wade through the numerous side effects, only you choke down pills designed to control those side effects. Alone, you lie awake at night, praying for a little more time, for strength to face another round of chemo, for a miracle. But in reality we aren’t alone. And if we allow ourselves to reach out, to connect, and to be held up, we find that we are surrounded by the inspiration we receive from others.

When I was originally diagnosed, treatment included radiation along with chemotherapy. Every day for a month I lay on a table in a mold made specifically to fit my body, hidden beyond a giant lead door, positioned just right so that the radiation beams lined up properly with the little black dots that had been tattooed onto my abdomen. And every day as I sat in the radiation waiting area, I chatted with an older gentleman also waiting for his few minutes on the table beyond the lead door. As we became acquainted, I learned that he drove quite a distance to receive treatment, he lived alone, and his grown children lived far away. Over time a friendship of sorts began and when we discovered that we would each finish radiation on the same day, we made a date to celebrate with ice cream. Unwilling to admit this would be a difficult task for each of us, we talked about our ice cream date with anticipation. My friend’s radiation targeted his jaw and neck, making it difficult and painful to swallow. Mine targeted my abdomen and pelvis, making my gut ache and causing me to lose interest in food. But I believe that the human spirit was prevailing, making us feel brave and confident in our camaraderie. Although I never saw my friend again after our radiation ended, I learned an important lesson—the power of inspiration we gain from the relationships that surround us.

I’m really a very private person—which I realize is ironic for someone with a blog that journals a very personal and life changing experience. In fact, when I was originally diagnosed, I was secretive about it. It was as though I could control it—as though the cancer would not take over my life if I held it close. I suppose I was also protecting my children. They were so young and I didn’t want them to be afraid. I was wrong about all of that and over time I learned that the way we connect with one another, the way we reach out to one another, is incredibly strengthening, soothing, and empowering. It lets us know that the solo act isn’t quite so solo and in reality we have lots of co-stars.

It’s my mother, who has sat in exam rooms and stoically shouldered bad news alongside me. It’s my sister who picks me up when I’m down and frequently reminds me that I’m not done fighting yet. It’s my brother in law, who last fall, during my really dark days and even darker nights said “if you feel anxious in the night, just call out to me, that’s why I’m here.”

It’s my daughters who are so resilient and mature beyond their years, having had a mother with cancer more than half their young lives.

It’s my boyfriend who willingly and without complaint takes on every project and chore at my home—I believe at times just to see me smile.

It’s my friends who have driven me to appointments, brought meals to my home, sent cards and emails, left phone and text messages, and hugged me in my kitchen. They drive by, pull in to the driveway and stop to chat a bit. They offer to irrigate the horse pasture, stack hay in the barn, and make sure my girls have a ride home from school. On Facebook, friends I’ve not seen in decades, cheer me on through even the smallest of achievements.

It’s the strangers who upon seeing that I’m chemo-bald, approach me in a store or on a plane or at an event and ask if I’m fighting cancer. And when I’ve confirmed their suspicions, they ask if they can hug me and pray for me. They take my hand in theirs and share their experiences as warriors alongside me.

It’s the professionals, now friends, who have cared for me for eight long years. Who have cheered my treatment successes and have grieved when treatment failed. It’s my nurses who so competently keep me safe during treatment, my oncologist who reminds me that I’m in a marathon, not a sprint, and my social worker who allows me to voice my fears and mourn my losses yet magically steers me back to my strengths and the pleasure I find in every day adventures.

It’s my former patients who I run into at the grocery store and the gas station and the school, who tell me they’ve missed me and want me to know that if I need anything, help with anything, anything at all…

So as I reflect on the past eight years, the disappointments and the triumphs, I acknowledge that something big did happen—something that would indeed forever change my life—I learned that by reaching out, sharing the experience, and allowing others in on it, I would find inspiration. I also learned that what I thought would be a solo act, has never been so.

Here’s to my co-stars ~Kelly~

Celebrating Fathers: The Biggest Bear

(Note: Today, in honor of Father’s Day, all the inspiring father’s, and especially my own, I have invited my sister, Erin, to author the blog posting. Following is her essay, originally published in 2009.)
DadBearMany players in the National Football League ran faster, threw farther, and blocked harder than Stan Fanning. But during the 1961 season, my father earned his own superlative—the local media named him Chicago Bear’s “Biggest Bear.” His statistics—6 ft. 7in., 270 lbs.—seem almost puny by today’s NFL lineup, but in 1961, when he swaggered onto the field and took his place as an offensive tackle, he was the biggest man in the game.

Dad had traveled a long distance from the small farm outside of Pullman, Washington, where he raised chickens to help pay for his expenses at the University of Idaho. But few who knew him would have been surprised—Dad had always attacked life with determination. “I’ve set my mind to making the team,” he said in an article about his chicken farming and upcoming NFL career, written a few months before he headed off to the Bears’ training camp.

He translated this intense drive into his own personal playbook—a combination of hard work, optimism, and courage—that took him from rural America to the NFL to a career in international sales. Early on, life threw him curve balls that could have thrown him off course, or at least turned him into a pessimist. Instead, my dad turned disasters into triumphs, and used them to strengthen his resolve to succeed.

“I never made state all-conference while in high school,” he said in the same article, explaining some of the challenges he had faced in his football career. His choice of words were an understatement, so typical of Dad to downplay the hardships that stood in his path to the NFL.

He didn’t mention the battle with dyslexia that had made schoolwork a constant struggle, or that a discouraging football coach had once proclaimed (loudly), “You’ll never play in the pros.” Dad didn’t mention that his dream to play in the NFL dissolved during his final years of high school when Ken, one of his four younger brothers, the one closet to Dad’s age, was diagnosed with cancer.

Dad didn’t mention these things because he didn’t believe in complaining, and he was stoic. I’m sure my dad didn’t think a fluff piece was the right venue to discuss  his brother’s cancer, which had attacked Ken with an endless supply of artillery.

Ken eventually lost his leg to the disease, but when he returned to school, he resumed his duties as sophomore class president. Prior to the cancer, Ken had also been a state-ranked wrestler, but rather than feel bitter, he coped by becoming the wrestling team’s manager and assistant coach.

My father decided to join the wrestling team—if his brother could no longer wrestle, Dad would become his legs. And he attacked it with his typical gusto. Between his motivation to play on his brother’s behalf and his work ethic, Dad’s wrestling career took a meaning larger than the sport, and propelled him farther than a rookie wrestler deserved to go. With Ken on the sidelines, Dad tackled local tournaments, then district matches, and finally state contests. In each, he drilled down the competition, eventually winning second place in the Washington state championships. Ken stood next to Dad on the podium, sharing what my father would have seen as their mutual success.

And behind all this—struggling with school, dreaming about the NFL, and watching his younger brother battle with a fatal illness—my dad always had a long list of farm chores and chickens to tend. In the photograph that accompanies the article, Dad held up a football in one hand and an egg in the other. Black-framed glasses perched on his nose, giving him the look of Clark Kent—his superman persona hidden until unleashed on the football field. In the photograph, Dad grinned, his chin jutted out, as if he were already marching forward to meet his dreams.

Dad played professional football for about five years, but after his first year, he rarely started. He played for the Denver Broncos briefly, and then ended his short career with the Los Angeles Rams. He may not have fulfilled all his NFL hopes, but in typical Dad fashion, he moved on with enthusiasm—traveling the world and throwing his energy into downhill skiing and bicycle touring.

Most importantly, though, he won big as a father. He developed his own playbook for life, teaching courage and optimism through his example. He might have earned the title “Biggest Bear” for only one season, but he remained so for me the rest of his life, not only in size but also in deed.

My DadThis essay was first published as Chicken Farmer to Chicago Bear in My Dad is My Hero (Adams Media, 2009).

Choosing Smiles Over Tears

(Note: This blog entry in an interruption of my five part series on inspiration. With this entry I will write about what it means, according to me, to be a survivor.)

The mood was festive—almost celebratory. It was early on a warm June evening and we had gathered at a local high school running track. The sun was shining but a breeze prevented the evening from becoming too warm. A stage had been erected on one side of the track and upbeat music, sometimes country and sometimes rock ‘n roll, blasted from the on-stage speakers. Scattered around the track tents had been pitched by various groups of people. The groups, made up of adults and children of all ages, wore matching t-shirts, signifying their individual team memberships. Some sported tie-dye, others pink or white or blue. The largest group wore purple—this year a heather purple, which pleased me because that was my group… the survivors.

There were warm greetings among the survivors, genuinely happy to see one another. We gathered under the largest tent for a meal of sandwiches, fruit and cookies. We laughed and reminisced, living in the moment, a skill that many survivors have perfected. We stood for the national anthem and then a prayer.

There were various speeches and introductions. Event organizers, beautiful and caring people who had obviously dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort, were greeted with hearty applause. And people who had raised varying amounts of impressive and generous donations and sponsorships were also enthusiastically applauded. Luminarias, hundreds of them individually decorated, were lining the track, waiting to be lit as the sun set. We had gathered for the annual Relay for Life.

Lasting 18 hours each year, The Relay for Life is a fund raising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. It takes place worldwide during daylight and overnight. As darkness descends upon the track, it is a reminder of the physical effects, emotions, and mental state of cancer patients undergoing treatment. The fatigue experienced by relayers in the early morning hours, mimics that of a cancer patient facing diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The track is lined by luminarias, made in remembrance of those that have lost their fight against cancer, and in honor of those that are still fighting. Perhaps my favorite part of the Relay, each year I make one in remembrance of my dad.

But as much as I appreciate the support, camaraderie, and efforts of the event planners and my fellow survivors, The Relay for Life is a bittersweet experience for me. Please don’t misunderstand–I am extremely appreciative of the funds that are raised by more than 4 million relay participants worldwide. And I am honored to be treated, along with my fellow survivors, as a VIP each year. And although each year that I attend, I am very glad that I did, it is a reminder of the loved ones I have lost and of the battle that I continue to fight.

This year my role was a little different than in years past. Along with receiving my medal, walking the Survivor Lap, and seeing a luminary meant for me, this year I would be the Survivor Speaker. I had been asked to talk about what it means to be a survivor. Although my speech was to be only about five minutes in length, I found this to be a challenging assignment. My definition of survivor has changed over the past eight years, it has become more defined and it carries a great deal of emotional and spiritual weight. Following is the recording of my speech. I have also included the transcript because although I think that speeches are better heard than read, I realize that the recording may not work for everyone (some of us would rather be quilting than figuring out computer technology). I believe that it conveys my message about what it means to be a survivor. And as I spoke I could see survivors in the audience nodding their heads in agreement and wiping away tears. Hopefully I represented them well.

Here’s to my fellow survivors! ~Kelly~  

Click here to hear my Survivor Speech:
Relay for Life Survivor Speech 2015

“I am excited and honored to be here this evening and especially excited to be speaking to my fellow survivors. Whether just diagnosed with cancer, in treatment, in remission, or cured, we are all survivors. We began to learn to be survivors from the time we were born and we were survivors the moment that first cancer cell showed up in our bodies. We were survivors yesterday, we are survivors today, and we will be survivors tomorrow.

I didn’t always feel that way. When I was diagnosed with cancer 8 years ago, I didn’t want to be a part of this—didn’t want to be here. I wanted to hide and I wanted to deny that I had cancer. I wanted to get through treatment as quickly as I could, be cured, and put the whole thing behind me. I just wanted my life to go back to normal. I’m sure that many survivors feel the same way.

But as I contemplate what it means to be a survivor, I am reminded of a quote by William Bennett, “This is our story—about going from one world into another, And the attitudes and dispositions with which we face that new world. It’s about choosing smiles over tears and effort over complaint or regret.” And as I contemplate that quote, and again what it means to be a survivor, I am reminded of what I have learned from my journey with cancer. I have learned a couple of very important things.

First, I have learned that I couldn’t walk away as if nothing had ever happened because cancer changes us—it changes our bodies, our health, our spirits, and our lives. But, among those changes, cancer has made me stronger, more determined, and better prepared. It has made me appreciate each day more than ever before and it has made me braver than I have ever been. It has made my faith more profound and it has taught me to love more deeply. What I have learned is that although I couldn’t run away from cancer, and my life would certainly not go back to normal, I could choose to turn toward the places where I find inspiration and I could choose the way in which I carry out this journey.

We, as survivors, choose the way in which we carry out this journey. We could choose to wallow in self-pity and become blind to the beauty of each day. And we could choose to be fearful, controlled by anxiety and an unknown future. However, as survivors, we have chosen to face each day with optimism and courage. We have chosen to rely on our faith and the faith of those who love us and believe in us. We have chosen to set an example of resilience for our children and grandchildren, our brothers and sisters, our friends and our communities. And we have chosen hope over fear, “smiles over tears and effort over complaint or regret”.

I have also learned that survivorship is not a solo act. We have not survived alone and we are surrounded by our co-survivors—our loved ones, our families, our friends, our caretakers, and our communities. Without their love, support, and encouragement we are merely getting by. But with our co-survivors we don’t face this journey alone. We have someone beside us, driving us to appointments, sitting with us throughout treatment, shouldering the bad news and the good. We have someone bringing meals when we aren’t up to cooking, running errands for us, and looking out for our children. Our co-survivors make an evening such as this possible. They celebrate with us and for us. They also choose “smiles over tears and effort over complaint or regret.”

So, how do we carry out this journey, this story of ours? How do we face this new world? Well, as survivors we dig deep, we pluck up our courage, we pull ourselves up by the boot straps, and we put one foot in front of the other. We buck up, we take the bull by the horns, and we get back in the saddle. … And most of all we never, ever, ever give up.”

God, Goats, and His Good Grace

This morning while the air was cool I lay in the hammock under our corkscrew willow tree, covered with a quilt, gently rocked by a breeze, looking up through the branches to the blue sky streaked with wispy white clouds. I contemplated the events of the day before. I had played midwife for our dairy goat, Mia. I was with her when she went in to labor, with her as she paced and her contractions increased, and with her as she delivered her twins. She had no idea when her pain would end. She grinded her teeth, she called out, she stoically pushed (never once asking for an epidural). Twin number one, a doeling, presented perfectly—front feet first followed by her head. Less than an hour later twin number two, a buckling, presented. But not perfectly. He was breech, his little bottom the first body part to come into the world. He didn’t start breathing quite as easily as his sister had and suddenly stillness settled over the barn. Everything seemed to become very quiet and very slow. But Mia, appearing to ignore her physical discomfort, immediately set to work, nuzzling, licking, and stimulating the little guy to cough and sneeze and eventually to nurse. It was not the first time I would be in awe of the miracle of birth and of an animal’s innate ability to care for her offspring.

Since the birth I’ve been out to the barn about every two hours to check on Mia and her kids. They are staying warm, nursing well, and have gained their footing. And as I lay in the hammock this morning on my return trip from the barn, I contemplated God’s creation, the beauty and grace of what I had witnessed, and the relative ease with which we accept life’s events. My contemplation led me to think about the inspiration that I find in God. And that brings me to the second of my blog posts about inspiration (the first having been the Mystery of Motherhood).

Perhaps for the first time in my life, my diagnosis with cancer brought me face to face with the depth of fear and the crushing hold of anxiety. In the days following my diagnosis there were so many unanswered questions. Had the cancer spread? Could it be treated? Cured? And perhaps most significantly to me, would I see my children grow up? Would I have an opportunity to see their stories unfold? I quickly learned that the answers to those questions were not simple and that cancer would, in many ways, control my life. As I learned to live within the confines of the ambiguity of cancer, I also learned that my fears, my runaway thoughts, my pounding heart could indeed be soothed by my relationship with God.

In my early days of cancer I read an Anglican prayer that seemed to express what I was feeling. Too lengthy to memorize in my panicked state, I shortened it and edited it. That prayer became my mantra. As I lay on exam tables submitting myself to difficult, painful, and sometimes humiliating tests, I repeated the prayer to myself over and over. As I sat in exam rooms waiting for someone to relay the dreaded test results, I repeated the prayer. As I recovered from surgeries and treatment side effects, I repeated the prayer. And now as I wait to be accepted into yet another clinical trial, I repeat the prayer. With prayer I have found that my mind stops racing, my heart slows down, and my anxiety becomes manageable. My prayer goes like this, “Heavenly Father, please wrap your arms around me and fill my heart with your love and your courage.” I repeat it over and over. And I swear that there are times when I feel a gentle pressure across my shoulders.

As I describe the inspiration I find in God, my purpose here is not to prove the existence of God, nor is it to define the Holy Trinity or to tout an expertise in Scripture. My purpose is to merely explain the inspiration I find in my relationship with God—to illustrate the strength and courage I find in knowing that He is beside me through every step of this journey with cancer. That knowledge, demonstrated through Scripture and supported by faith and prayer, is the most consistent source of comfort that I have. In fact, I cannot imagine this journey without it. Because without my relationship with God, what possible point could there be in any of this? And what would there be to look forward to?

As a child I dutifully memorized the Lord’s Prayer, the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Nicene Creed, the 23rd Psalm. I learned to genuflect, sporadically read my Bible, and I prayed. But really, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I believe that I took my relationship with God for granted. Looking back, I believe I was a fair weather friend. I’m not so sure that I prayed whole heartedly. And I’m pretty sure that at times I ignored what I knew God expected of me. I suppose I assumed that God would always be there for me and that I could come and go as I pleased. I have said that I feel a little hypocritical now because I rely on God when I once did not. But I also know that He has indeed always been there—and that I was fooling only myself—He was patiently waiting for me.

One of my favorite worship experiences was in Alaska. I lived in a remote area and an Episcopal priest would fly in once a month from Fairbanks. Our service was conducted in a borrowed church, I played the piano (generally any hymns that I pleased), and we always had a potluck dinner—caribou sausage, moose meat chili, and wild berry pie. Sometimes the weather was too severe for the priest to land his plane—yes, he was also the pilot. But generally the entire congregation was present for every service. What I liked so much about that church experience is that because it was only once a month that we were all together to take communion, to sing, and to pray, we weren’t likely to miss the service. We didn’t take it for granted.

Early in my journey with cancer a friend loaned me the book “The Shack” by William Paul Young. If you’ve not read it, I suggest you do. It’s not generally my reading style—not the type of novel I gravitate toward. I won’t spoil the story for you, but it contained an important take home message. WE ARE NEVER ALONE! Christ is always with us and because he lived and suffered, he knows our suffering. He faced his own trial, humiliation, and crucifixion with dignity and courage and grace. Who could be more inspiring? So although I may have to continue putting one foot in front of the other through this journey, He walks it beside me, never leaving me.

I am aware that I am the recipient of prayers all over the world. As news of my diagnosis spread, as treatments worked and failed, as I have met new challenges, family and friends have prayed for me. And then they have told their family and friends to pray for me. People have come to my home, held my hands, placed their arms around my shoulders, and prayed for me. I have been added to prayer lists and masses. That is both humbling and strengthening. And just as I have felt the strength of prayer, I hope that others do as I pray for them.

And so, as I lay in the hammock, having played midwife to a goat and admiring the beauty that surrounds me, I find myself inspired by God, His creation, and His grace.

Twin number one, a doeling
Twin number one, a doeling
Twin number two, a buckling
Twin number two, a buckling

Oh the Mamas I Have Known!

Oh the mamas I have known! They have been my role models and source of inspiration! Of course my own tops this list but this also includes my grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and friends. These amazing women have taught me so much about life, from how to drive a stick shift to the pleasure of a good book to the power of prayer. It was my grandmother, expert seamstress, who taught me to sew and bought me my first (and only) sewing machine. That Bernina dates back to 1980 and really she’s largely responsible for the quilting I am doing now. I often think of her as I sit at the machine, foot on the pedal, fabric moving across the presser foot.

When I talk about inspiration and the five areas of my life where I find it, I normally discuss my relationship with God first. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I have chosen to start with the Mystery of Motherhood. I don’t think He will mind. He did, after all, in His great wisdom, create the mamas. And really, with this category of inspiration, I’m not just referring to mamas. I’m also referring to the daddies, grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, friends… anyone who is in a position to affect the response of a child. Anyone who is a role model for children. Including grown children. I simply refer to this category of inspiration as the Mystery of Motherhood because I am a mother (and because I like the title).

Several years ago I attended the funeral of a friend that had died much too young of cancer. The priest that conducted the service talked about the many ways in which my friend knew God and God knew her. One of the ways that he listed was the “Mystery of Motherhood.” I’ve never forgotten what he said, how he described the gift of motherhood, and the role that we play in shaping our children. He spoke of my friend’s legacy and how her courage and her presence would live on through her sons. And I appreciated that this priest recognized the significance of the gift of motherhood. So I’ve stolen the title from him and if I knew his name I would give him credit now.

Not only do I have a great mom, but I was lucky enough to be born to great parents who were also born to great parents. They were amazing role models for my sister and me. They taught us and shaped us, gave us boundaries, knowing we would step over the lines, and loved us without condition. And they set examples for us that have been our blueprints for life and for our responses to the challenges that life has given us. They instilled in us a sense of adventure, a confidence that allowed us to risk, and a security that let us know we were never alone.

When I was a child, my father worked internationally. With a new country there was much to learn… sometimes a new language, certainly a new social system. My parents learned to navigate this new place, find a home, place us in school, and take on cultural nuances. They faced these challenges (and I’m sure homesickness) with poise and pluck—at least that’s how my childhood memory recalls it.

Later, when my father was in his 50’s he was diagnosed with cancer. His diagnosis and prognosis were grim. Yet my parents faced that crisis with courage and dignity and grace. I know that my father hurt, that he didn’t feel well, that he was sad, and that he might have been afraid, yet, together with my mother, he set an example that I will never forget. And so as I face my own crisis, I try to do so with the same courage and grace and dignity that my parents modeled for me. Because, you see, it is my hope that my daughters will learn from my example. And someday, if they are faced with their own crisis, they will remember their mother and the example that I set. And they will face their own crisis with courage and grace and dignity.

And how do we do this? How do we face challenge and crisis with courage and grace and dignity? We pull from the memories that I have just described, we think of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and mentors that have paved the way for us. And then we put one foot in front of the other, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and we get back in the saddle. In the words of Winston Churchill, we “never, never, never give up.”

So to all you courageous, graceful, dignified mamas, happy Mother’s Day! ~Kelly~

I Found Inspiration~and Quilting~As I Was Dying

Last September I was dying. Literally dying. The cancer had taken over, treatment had failed, and I had run out of options. My body was also failing. As I struggled to breathe even the smallest of daily activities zapped me of what little energy I had left. Hospice had come to my home and I had become dependent on family and friends to run my household. I was hopeful that I would live to see my 50th birthday in October and have one last Christmas with my daughters. In fact, I had begun to prepare my family and friends, and most significantly, my three daughters, for the inevitable. I had resigned myself to the knowledge that it was unlikely I would live to see my eldest daughter turn 18 in January, let alone graduate from high school in May. And I came to terms with the knowledge that I would not see her sisters into adulthood.

As I filled hope chests for my girls with mementos and family heirlooms, gifts for future birthdays, graduations, and even weddings, I experienced a curious calm. I wrote in journals, finished photo albums, and reviewed my will for accuracy. I labeled specific items for each daughter, my sister, and friends. And through all of this I found renewed purpose. Even a pleasant sense of accomplishment. Being someone who hates to leave the party early, I suppose I thought that I would at least leave on my own terms. But more than that, I recognized that these seemingly small accomplishments had given me something to look forward to and were even a source of inspiration.

And that brings me to the topic for today’s post—inspiration and the places where we find it. Perhaps as I talk about inspiration you will find that we are on common ground. In late September a couple of significant things happened to me. First, I began to regularly meet with my friend and pastor, Mark. I asked him to help me prepare for death—I had specific questions and spiritual concerns (that I will address in a future blog posting titled “Fighting to Live While Preparing to Die”). These meetings have helped me to find inspiration in my relationship with God and in the knowledge that Christ is always with me. I have learned the power of prayer and am humbled to be the recipient of so many prayers all over the world.

And then the second thing happened … my beloved oncologist, Jonathan, suggested another chemotherapy treatment. As he explained, although it would not be without risks, I really had nothing to lose. But for the first time in more than seven years, I understood why cancer patients turn away from treatment. For the first time in more than seven years, I was too tired and too sick to continue. He gave me a few days to think it over but I thought that I had made up my mind. Then soon after a nurse called to check on me. I told her that Jonathan had suggested another chemo and I could hear her typing on a computer. She let out a short laugh and said “Well he knows you, Kelly. You’re already scheduled for Tuesday.” After we hung up the phone I decided I might as well show up… and I’ve been showing up every Tuesday since then.

One day a short time later, I happened to be at my mother’s house where she has an old quilt draped across the end of a bed. The quilt was made entirely by hand by my great, great, great aunt Mary Pfost in Idaho in the early 1900s. As I looked at that quilt I considered the effort and creativity that had gone into its making and the pleasure it had brought to generations. She had left us with a beautiful legacy as well as an expression of herself. At that moment, although I had never quilted and really knew nothing about it, I decided I would create quilts for each of my daughters. It would be an adventure of sorts. I would learn a new skill and my girls would have something that I had made specifically for each of them. I would pick designs and colors that would tell a story–the story of my love for them and of their personalities–and the quilts would be my legacy. Since then I have, of course, learned the challenges as well as the pleasures of quilting. I have found solace in the stitches, been stimulated by the colors and fabrics, and comforted by the camaraderie of other quilters. I have finished one quilt, nearly finished another, and have two more in progress. This new adventure has inspired me.

As I prepare for my daughter’s graduation next week, I consider every day since that first Tuesday, to be miraculous gifts. I’m not magically cured, I still require treatment, and I live with an uncertain future. I allow an occasional wallow in self-pity and fear and anxiety still raise their ugly heads. But I also see beauty in each day and find something—some small adventure such as quilting—to look forward to. For now, cancer has been beat back, and I can reflect on what inspires me. For the next few weeks I will write about inspiration and the five areas of my life where I find it… in my relationship with God, in my relationship with everyone else, in the mystery of motherhood, in the art of mindfulness, and in finding adventure every day.

I hope that you will join me and that you will share your thoughts and inspirations. I hope that something I say might spark inspiration for someone who needs it. Mostly, I think that you will find that we are on common ground, and that in itself is inspiring. ~Kelly~