I don’t remember having a “blankie” when I was little, but I’ve found that I really like having one now. Here are a few of the blankies that have helped me through the last year:

In the first months of my cancer treatment, I received two prayer shawls. One was from a friends’ church, knitted by an anonymous donor; the other was crocheted by my niece, Kim, with prayer for me crocheted into every stitch. They coordinated so I kept them on my round chair in the sickroom and alternated between the two. I also had an assortment of quilts that I had made and loved and took to each chemo visit. They provided blankets, but I preferred my own.

photo-33-e1371958121734In June, my sister-in-law Joann surprised me with a quilt she had made, gathering verses from friends and family and lovingly piecing together a beautiful quilt–her first. I told the story of the quilt in “Morning Surprise” shortly after receiving it. That quilt made a few trips to chemo as well and comforted me at home on my bad days.



Oddly enough, my own church hadn’t given me a prayer shawl even though there is a strong group of regular knitters. But one morning in February, after my mom had died and while I was struggling with the complicated schedule I faced, Allie slipped me a prayer shawl, saying she thought I particularly needed it then. It was an extra-long shawl in a solid blue. (All my prayer shawls were shades of blue.) I could wrap it around me several times, which for that long winter and those tearful days, was perfect. I took it with me to surgery and on the plane to New Zealand. I even took it to the reception. And slept wrapped in it most nights.

1484371_10151878451874562_482441378_nMy latest blankie is a quilt I made for my mother several years ago. She had treasured it, but rarely used it. It was neatly folded at the foot of her bed, part of her room decor. I’d made matching pillow cases and a mini version for one of her great-granddaughters. It is pink, green and cream with scalloped edges.


I didn’t bring it home with me after the funeral or even the first time I cleaned out her closet and brought home some of her things. But I did bring it home after my Mother’s Day visit and it has been on the foot of my bed ever since. Most nights, I also pull it up and sleep with it, sometimes wrapping it around my body or shielding my eyes from the light.

My daughter Anne tells me that she doesn’t like quilts (what?!) because they aren’t soft and pliable. This quilt is–and it is becoming softer as the days (nights) go by. The more a quilt is used and loved, the better it becomes. It may get faded and a little worn, but it just gets better and better.

I love wrapping myself in my blankies–and I love when they are homemade, beautiful and meaningful.

So now you know my secret.

Spending Time

I am very aware of the passing of time this summer. After that long winter and our crazy spring, the long-awaited summer is already going by too quickly. I want to savor the moments but I’m finding it difficult.

Work has filled up my days and consumed my energy. We are three weeks into our new Electronic Medical Record system and just starting to get comfortable with it. At home, yard work has taken another big chunk of my time–constant weeding–but it is starting to bear fruit (well, flowers.)

I’ve continued my Swedish Genealogy (including a field trip for a Swedish Pancake breakfast) but lately the focus has been on reading books written by my Mom’s cousin and continuing to organize my information. Someday soon I’d like to venture into Chicago–to the north side neighborhoods and downtown to look for vital records.

photo-2In the meantime, I’ve started tackling my own genealogy resources–letters and journals that have accumulated over the years. One of my goals is to sort through at least one box of storage each week and early on I found journal cards that I started writing in 1985. I felt obligated to read through them and also get rid of them. I’ve been writing a few paragraphs for each month’s worth of cards, attempting to hang on to the good memories without burdening my family with excessive words. One friend suggested that I “rewrite history” and I’ve kind of enjoyed doing that. I want to pass on to my family an honest picture of my life, but they don’t need to know everything!

photo-3I also got to travel to Michigan with Laura and her two boys, sharing family time with Great-Grampa and lots of cousins. Genealogy-in-the-making! Precious times with my Dad and with my grandsons 🙂





As a result, life is busier than I’d like. I’m sensitive to the fact that my time is truly being spent. I often find myself wondering if I’m spending it wisely? I can’t quite get over the question of how much time I have left. I know there is no answer to the question, but it doesn’t stop me from evaluating my activities and well, wondering. Every choice I make also seems a choice not to do something else; every focus a distraction from other pursuits. I can’t do it all, so what is it that I choose to do?

I did figure out five goals for the rest of my life (at least for the time being): 1) I don’t want to leave any messes behind for my family to “clean up.” Under that heading, comes finances, house “stuff” and the gazillion words I seem to have written. We’d really like to pack up our house and move sometime in the next 1-2 years, downsizing both our space and our belongings. 2) Leave something lasting–words, stories, family history, a few quilts and an example. This gives credence to my hobbies!  3) Get ready for heaven and eternal life. 4) Invest in the lives of my children and grandchildren. 5) Be healthy as long as I am able (eat well, move well, live well.)

And for now, those goals help me decide how to spend my time.



I watched Laura swim, bike and run a sprint triathalon yesterday. On the way out there (way too early in the morning) I recalled my own triathalon last year, the “tri” of cancer treatment. I’d used the triathalon metaphor for the three parts of treatment that I had to endure: surgery, chemo and radiation, recognizing that I was in it for the long haul.

Laura had a baby only three months ago and didn’t start training until she’d given her body time to recover from birth etc. She actually had been training for a triathalon in July but found that one was full when she went to sign up. She found this one and decided on Wednesday to do it. She was undertrained so her only goal was to finish it; it wasn’t about speed.

I, too, was undertrained for my tri(al.) Having no plan to run the cancer triathalon, I had little time to prepare. I had to just jump in and do it (like Nike) and keep my focus on the finish line, not the process.

Laura’s sprint (half) triathalon was a women only event, and breast cancer is a women-mostly event. Women of every imaginable shape, size and age enter–and finish. I’m always amazed as I sit on the sidelines to watch the variety of women who will do this. Women large and small will pour themselves into spandex (or wetsuits) and swim, bike and run in front of hundreds of cheering friends, family and strangers. And they will run, jog and walk to the finish line, red, sweaty and some clearly in pain. Still, they are smiling when they do so and there’s something winsome about the whole affair. Every time I watch these women I think “If they can do it, so could I.” (And my next thought is always, “But why would I want to?”)

Besides being there to cheer for Laura, I was also there to help Taylor with the two boys. I held Oaks and entertained Kellen at the park, trading off with Taylor as needed. We had parked ourselves 200 yards or so from the finish line (in the shade) so when Laura went by, Taylor ran with her for the last bit (dropping out before she entered the “chute” to the finish line.) I gathered up the boys and pushed the big stroller over to the finish area. I told Kellen that Mama had already crossed the finish line and he responded with great faith and simplicity, “Did she win?”

Yes, Kellen, she won.

I am amazed by my daughter’s strength and determination. A half-mile swim, 14-mile bike, and 5 K run, one after the other. Any one of those things seems impossible to me, all three together–yikes! Three months post-partum and any training at all with an active boy and a baby. (She’s been going to a 5:00 a.m. Masters Swim Class twice a week lately.) All this with a little sleep deprivation thrown in. And she’s not done either: She plans to do the Chicago Triathalon in August.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from yesterday.

Team Mama:

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After the Swim:








Celebrating the Finish:








My favorites:


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Happy Cancer Survivor’s Day

Today is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I just realized that when I saw it on Facebook. (I thought it was later this week.) Here are my thoughts:

1) I never wanted to be a “cancer survivor”. Even when I was in the early diagnosis or treatment stage, I didn’t like the terminology. I just wanted to get through the year of treatment and leave the whole experience behind. Sometime in the middle of the year I read that accomplishing this was not going to be easy.

2) About halfway through my treatment year, I came up with a term that I liked much better. I considered myself a “chemo survivor.” More recently, Mari and I have amended that to “treatment survivor.” We both wonder if the treatment wasn’t worse than the disease. The experience of having cancer still seems surreal; the experience of having chemo and radiation is a little too real.

3) And now that my treatment is mostly over and my hair is growing back to the point that people assume that I’m sporting a hairCUT rather than what I call a “chemocut”, I’m finding myself wary of the survivor part of the equation. I’m not actively worrying about recurrence or metastasis, but I am very aware of the possibilities. It’s like there is a constant background noise questioning whether I am actually a survivor or if I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think that turning 60 during the past year has amplified this whole questioning process.

Although I know that all or most of us in this age range should be living with a sense that we don’t know how much time we have left, I’m not sure that simply turning 60 would have had the same impact on my thinking that 60-plus-cancer has had. I know that I could have 2, 3, 5 or 10 years of life left or I could live for 30 more years (like my dad has since his life-threatening heart attack at age 58.) I know I could also die in a car accident tomorrow.

I’m struggling to live with the tension of all those possibilities. How should I spend my time? What priorities really matter? Should I let some disappointments and sorrows go simply because they don’t matter in the long run (if the run is going to be short after all?)

I think that all this is pretty normal post-treatment stuff. During the diagnosis and decision-making stage, you’re strong and focused on the tasks at hand. You are gathering information, finding doctors, building a support team. Getting through chemo, hair loss, radiation, and surgery requires nearly all the physical and emotional energy that you’ve got to survive. And then, you do survive (and everyone says you’re strong and brave when you feel like you just muddled through it all.)  You start to look and feel normal, and everyone is happy to hear that you feel great, that you are back to work, that life can move on.

Only you find that it doesn’t.

Every ache or pain might be a sign of metastasis (or might be a normal ache or pain.) All the scars have healed well, but what is normal about an implant? Is it supposed to look (or feel) this way? Certain movements remind me that my range of motion still isn’t normal on the right arm and I still find myself surprised at the numbness of my left ear and whole right chest and underarm. Numbness is better than neuropathy, but it’s still weird.

Stumbling across a picture from last September shocks me. I thought I handled the hair loss so well. Why am I now horrified by the images of myself? Is it simply because I am able to process it now, now that I’m through all the treatment and surgeries?

And reading cancer stories (or even hearing cancer stories) is a little scary. Some are good and encouraging, but many others remind me that recurrence is a possibility. I never in my life worried about getting cancer (not much family history) and it now feels strange to “worry” or have the thought even cross my mind. I suppose that time will work this one out–unless, of course, well–we won’t go there for now.

So, I’m not sure what to think of my first Cancer Survivor’s Day. I found a comforting verse yesterday that I’ve been meditating on:

“The Eternal God is your refuge; and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27.)

Seems like a good thought for the day.


I spent  a few hours pulling out weeds today. I started in the front yard where I’m waging war on the dandelion patch that sprouts every May. I’d gotten a head start on it before my road trip and tried to deputize Lizi as my replacement, but came home to a pretty large crop. I don’t like using chemicals on the lawn and so every year I fight this battle. I’m a firm believer in the possibility of staying ahead of them if you keep at it, once or twice daily. I have a cool tool which allows me to pull weeds without bending, kneeling or getting my hands (very) dirty.

Our front yard has three grass sections and the largest one is dandelion-free at the moment. The other two sections have a long way to go. But since today is the graduation at the high school next door, I didn’t want to spend my afternoon in the front yard while all those people walked by tsk, tsking (as I am sure they must be.)

So I spent the afternoon working on my back garden, one of which is overrun by little onion plants. We’ve been living here for 26 years (this July4) and every year the garden sprouts a million small onion shoots all over what is now mostly a strawberry garden. Every year I dig out thousands of tiny white orbs, but every year there is a new supply.

As I hacked and pulled away, I thought about last spring, when I’m pretty sure I did little to no gardening. I realized that I missed my one year anniversary of starting chemo on Friday, but didn’t feel surprised or sad about missing the day. I remember the end of chemo and celebrate that–I don’t really need or want to remember beginning it. I’m just glad it is in the past.

For awhile, those tiny onion orbs looked like cancer cells and while I pulled and pulled and pulled, I knew I’d never get them all. There will be green shoots next spring, and maybe even next week. I hope the chemo did a better job at eradicating the cancer cells than I do with my annual weeding binge. (I decided it wouldn’t do any good to focus on the possibility of left-behind cancer cells, just as you can only go so crazy trying to weed out the onion roots. At some point, you just say “enough” and go on to enjoy the garden.

I’m planning to weed out a lot of things this year. We would like to move sometime in the next 1-2 years and so we’re focusing on going through our belongings and getting rid of a lot of stuff. We’re not pack rats, but 26 years’ accumulation is starting to wear on our nerves. Another firm belief I have is that you should move every 20 years, minimum, just to get rid of stuff. We are 6 years overdue. So, little by little, I plan to weed through the various rooms and closets, with a view of moving in mind. We might need to move a few more of our kids out in order to accomplish this.

But for now, I’ve made a little progress in the yard and John is working on opening up the pool. Summer is coming!




This morning I finally visited The Wellness House, a cancer care center. It has been on my “to do” list for months and numerous times I just didn’t make it there in spite of plans to do so. In fact, a year ago I walked in their 3K fundraising walk (without actually signing up or officially contributing) but didn’t go inside to really check it out. The are gearing up for a walk/run this Sunday and I’m thinking of making myself do it.

I don’t know why I didn’t go sooner. They offer free massages, exercise classes, education, support groups and even individual counseling. I think I was mostly focused on just getting through treatment and didn’t have a lot of energy (or time) for anything else. I felt supported by my friends and family and strengthened by my writing and my faith.

But now that treatment and all the crazy-busyness of the last few four six months is over, it just seems like time to take care of my emotional and physical well-being. A Wellness House seems like the perfect place to do it.

photo-1So I’m going to drop off my medical release forms at work today and start attending a few exercise classes. I’m going to start with the Pink Ribbon Fitness, hoping it will help me improve the range of motion of my right arm and keep me from ever getting lymphedema. (Just to be safe I bought and wore this “Lymphediva” sleeve on the overseas flights. Kind of cool, huh?) I’ve already spilled tears with one of the therapists so I’ll probably go back and see her a few times as well. And I will definitely figure out a way to sign up for a free massage!



photo-1I finally went swimming in the ocean this week. In a wet suit. And swimming isn’t exactly the right word either, as I really just bounced around in the waves, trying to keep my head above water and the salt out of my mouth.

The book I’m reading, Bittersweet, actually begins with a description of learning to swim in the waves near South Haven. “…the most important thing I learned was this: If you try to stand and face the wave, it will smash you to bits, but if you trust the water and let it carry you, there’s nothing sweeter. And a couple decades later, that’s what I’m learning to be true about life too. If you dig in and fight the change you’re facing, it will indeed smash you to bits. It will hold you under, drag you across rough sand, scare and confuse you.”

The surf at the beach in Raglan was a little stronger than anything I’ve experienced on Michigan beaches. It had the strongest undertow I’ve ever felt and waves that erratically crashed about me. With a wet suit and a body board, I was able to jump over some of them and ride (not surf) a few. I was thrown around a bit but it was fun (for the most part.)

I’m also trying to trust the water, the changes in my life, and let them carry me where they may. Trying.

photo-2Speaking of waves, it is the 22nd (in America) so my day to report on my hair growth. It is definitely wavy. While I’m grateful for the hair and the curls, I still don’t love it. When I looked at the wedding pictures, I barely recognized myself. And I’m still a little surprised when I look in the mirror. So, it’s still a work in progress, waiting to see how it grows out and what I finally choose. At least now I know there are lots of options.

In the meantime, I’m trying to enjoy the waves–of life and on my head–wild as they are. And for some reason, these musical lines keep running through my head: “Waves of mercy, waves of grace.” I remember waving along with the lines, but not the rest of the lyrics. Thank goodness there is Google to supply the rest:

Waves of mercy, waves of grace. Everywhere I look, I see your face. Your love has captured me. O my God, This love, How can it be?

More family pictures:

photo 3photo 1photo 2

Short and Sweet

I’ve been getting a lot of texts these days, short and sweet messages from across town and the other side of the word, keeping me updated on baby Oaks and the wedding plans. We use Viber for texting across the world and also for a group site to share pictures and comments about the baby.

This week I sent Anne pictures of the completed alterations on her dress; the Kitchen Aid mixer that arrived (sent from heaven by Gramma Marshall with a little help from Grampa); Lizi’s bridesmaid dress in two lengths to decide if it needed to be hemmed shorter; and the pair of Toms crocheted shoes I bought for her at Whole Foods. She sent pictures of the house they’ve rented and Laura posted pictures of Oaks and Kellen. In between the texted pictures were a hundred notes and questions.

Here is a sample:

Me: What about the meeting with the caterer?

Anne: That went well.

Me: So what about the good?

Me: Food

Anne: What do u want to know?

Me: What are we eating?

Anne: Lamb and chicken and salads.

Me: Buffet?

Anne: Yep

Me: No kumara at the wedding?

This week I also helped Laura and Taylor buy a van from my friend Patti, made plans for helping out with Kellen and Oaks, and send pictures of wood bowls that Laura wanted as props for newborn pictures–most of it through text messages and pictures.

Texting is great, but a bit unsatisfying. It works as a communication tool without the warm fuzzies (except for those little emoticons 🙂 I’m still a one-handed texter and I have to say that the use of the letter “u” for you (or “ur” for your) irritates me to no end. So does autocorrect. But it’s better than nothing so whenever my phone dings (Viber) or sounds Sherwood Forest, I’m there.

photo 2Another part of my life that is short and sweet these days is my hair. It is now seven months since the end of chemo. I definitely have chemo curls in my 2+ inches of hair. I’m glad winter is over because I have to wash my hair every morning to get rid of the “pouf” and I often leave the house with hair that is still wet and gelled. It’s going to be a great “cut” for the summer, but it has been a bit of a pain on winter mornings. (And this has been a long winter, though a lovely one.)

photoThe soft curls are nice but I’ve lost (according to Laura) the edginess that I had in December. I think that means I now look like this is my style of choice, not a “chemo cut” –and that I look more average, like other mothers with short haircuts.  I’m getting it checked and shaped by my hairdresser/friend Terese the day before we leave. (This is not how I wanted to look in the wedding pictures, but it’s certainly better than bald or bewigged.)

photo 1My moments with Oaks and Kellen are also short and sweet, especially sweet. Love holding that little baby–who is already not so little. I’m afraid that by the time we get back from New Zealand he will have completely outgrown the newborn stage. Kellen is short, a little less sweet, but a lot of fun. We’ve been hanging out at Chick Fil-A and the DuPage Children’s Museum and taking a few more walks than usual, trying to burn off some of his excess energy and contribute to good naptimes.


The countdown has begun: We leave next Friday for New Zealand, losing Saturday somewhere between here and there. We’ll arrive Sunday morning, get through customs and make our way to Cambridge in time for a 2 pm Bridal Shower. We’ll settle in and find out what our work assignments are for the week. One day we’ll be baking pies and other “light tea” items. John may be helping put up the tents and hanging lights. I’m guessing the week will fly by and we’ll be wondering how it all happened so fast. (I’m guessing that is what James and Anne are hoping!) I have a feeling that the month of April is going to be just that, short and sweet.



Hallelujah (Chorus)!!!!!

On the evening before Oaks arrived, we were taking Kellen to his Grandma Debbie’s house to spend the night. He asked for music so John started playing a CD. It was the Hallelujah Chorus by Mannheim Steamroller. As soon as it ended, Kellen asked Papa John to play in again. After about four repeats, he commented that it was “a beautiful song” and that he planned to play the drums for this song when he was bigger.

Since then, every time we’ve been in Papa John’s car, Kellen requests “The Hallelujah Chorus” and asks us to turn it up loud and repeat it over and over and over again. If we stop for an errand, as soon as we get back in the car, he requests it again. I have listened to the Hallelujah Chorus for many of the past ten days, with multiple repeats.

So while I waited for a call from the doctor today (and while I was replaying it for Kellen once again) I thought it might make a good title for my next post if the news was good. And then I thought, I should be able to sing “Hallelujah” even if the news wasn’t good.

Well, the news WAS good. And my friend Marilyn’s texted response was perfect: “Hallelujah (chorus)!!!” I can hear the music now and see my Dad “conducting” 🙂

And I’m relieved by the news (received as a quick response to an email I finally sent to my oncologist late this afternoon.) I assumed that the chemo took care of whatever small aberrations the radiologist had noted a year ago in February, but there were no guarantees. I wasn’t worried, but I am relieved.

Now I can go to New Zealand with a mind free of concerns about my health. In fact, I’m going to take the whole summer off from any treatment (except my daily Tamoxifen) and leave the rest of the reconstructive surgery until later this fall. I decided I didn’t want to give up any pool time during the summer and my doctor agreed. I’ve healed well from the implant surgery and feel ready to travel.

We leave 2 weeks from today, leaving here on Friday (28) and arriving at 8 a.m. on Sunday, the 30th. At 2 p.m. that afternoon, Lizi and I will get to go to a shower for Anne and then we’ll spend the week with busy wedding preparations. Anne & James have done a good job pulling together the details for the wedding; delegating, borrowing, and coordinating. An outdoor wedding is planned on Saturday, April 5, at 2 p.m. at a farm near the ABS Lodge, followed by a “light tea”. A few hours later, the reception will be held at the Lodge, under two borrowed tents, with a catered meal and homemade frijola pies (made by Anne and her assistants, which includes me.)

10011299_752631584903_2002447961_nThe Hallelujah Boy (Kellen) is adapting well to his new baby brother. He likes to hold him but his attention span is pretty short. Oaks is growing and doing well. He seems to be a pretty contented baby. Laura and Taylor are doing fine even with some sleep deprivation. I am enjoying extra time with both Kellen and baby Oaks.

Life is good. Hallelujah!

Waiting Rooms

Many years ago, I heard Joyce Landorf talk about being in God’s Waiting Room. I really can’t remember what she said, except that sometimes God answers “yes”,  sometimes “no”, and sometimes “wait.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in medical waiting rooms this year. (And poor John, even more.) Usually they aren’t half bad, reading People magazines (that I would never buy!) or patiently waiting for my name to be called.

This particular waiting room is different and not much fun.

I was told to “do nothing” for 2 weeks following the implant surgery and I’ve done a pretty good job of obeying orders. However, about Day 4, I started noticing that the entire right breast was turning a deep shade of red, similar to the skin darkening during radiation. It was a little itchy and warm, but not painful. I called the surgeon the next day and he switched my antibiotic, but when I went to see him today (Day 7) he was puzzled by it. It had improved slightly over the past three days so we decided to continue the antibiotics, add an antihistamine and wait for a couple more days. It’s not a rash, though it could be an allergic reaction; it could be an infection, but that doesn’t quite fit either. Another guess is that it has to do with the radiation in some mysterious way. So I wait.

We’re also waiting for the onset of Laura’s labor, patiently wondering when this Birkey baby is planning to arrive. (And how the timing is going to fit between all the other extenuating circumstances.) She seems to be feeling okay, tired of course, but healthy and ready. Her nesting is all done and I’ve got one hat finished. C’mon, boy!

We also are in a waiting room, across the span of half the world, watching Anne and James pull together the details of their April 5th wedding, helping as we can via the Internet. John was able to take four weeks off work, so we are planning to make the most of our trip there, but waiting for details to come together. Hopefully, we’ll be there 5 or 6 days before the wedding to help with all the last minute details. We are planning to sightsee on the North Island while they are on their honeymoon and then will join the newlyweds and James’ family for Easter (still on the North Island.)

And I’m still waiting for my hair to grow 🙂 It’s up to about 2 inches now–and curly! My hairdresser taught me how to finger comb and scrunch so that it brings out the most curl. It’s has a loose, soft kind of curl that’s just short of spiky so I’m having fun with it. It just doesn’t work well with hats or naps, but I’ve learned how to perk it up a bit with products.

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photo 3-1 photo 2