Offering hope to those on the path behind me

2021 Summer Blog Hop Challenge

This is my first time participating in a Blog Hop.

I found this challenge on a fellow blogger’s site (Nancy’s Point)

I thought it would be fun to answer a few questions for Nancy, and anyone else new to me or my blog. So here goes:

Question 1: Who are you? Tell us your genre, how long you’ve been at it, who or what inspires you or whatever you want us to know.

Answer 1: My name is Kim and I currently live in Central Texas. My genre began as a cancer blog, specifically breast cancer after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in October 2010. It morphed into a blog about grief after my dad died from small cell lung cancer and melanoma and my husband died from renal cancer 4 days apart in July 2016.

Recently, it has been more of an outlet for reminding myself that I am resilient and other musings with a smattering of breast cancer and grief still thrown in.

Question 2: What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it? (If you didn’t, that’s okay too. We’re here to support you.)

Answer 2: My biggest roadblock this year has been laziness and the perceived lack of time. Truthfully, it may be more related to lack of inspiration due to COVID. I have plenty of time to write, but I get mentally exhausted helping family members navigate this craziness we call 2021. I’m hoping this challenge, and a writer’s conference I am attending in September will be just the kick in the pants that I need to recover my motivation and inspiration.

Question 3: What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of?

Answer 3: See answer 2 above. Honestly, just that I do keep coming back to the blog occasionally to write new posts.

Question 4: What are a couple of your best blogging tips?

Answer 4: My blog started with a few friends reading my story. A few more have come along for the ride, but I have never set out to make this anything more than an outlet for my own thoughts. I do not have any affiliate links, I do not make any money from my blog (although that might be nice now that I am on disability).

I write as though I am talking to a friend. That is how I perceive the people reading it because, in all honesty, that is how it started.

I am authentic on my blog. My story about cancer is truthful and painful sometimes. But through it all, it is authentically me. If you met me on the street, I would be the same person as you are reading about. At least I think I am.

Question 5: How do you handle negative feedback or comments?

Answer 5: Since most people reading are friends and family, I have not experienced too much. I think I am harder on my writing and telling my story than anyone else reading it. In general, I wish I could say I let negative comments/feedback roll off my back. But that would not be authentic. I’ve never been good at getting negative feedback, but it is something I’ve been working on a little more lately as I’m writing a book and I expect a lot of red marks during the editing process.

Question 6: Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written THIS YEAR (or anytime if you’ve been a bit quiet) that you want more people to read.

I think my most personal and raw post was when I wrote Dear Cancer…A letter about how I really feel

My favorite post this year was Grief’s Most Precious Gift and Other things I’ve learned or Dream Big – Lessons from my Skydiving adventure

And then there was the one where I was asked to speak at church about my story Imposter Syndrome – Is my story worth telling?

Thanks, Nancy, for hosting this Blog Hop.

Grief’s Most Precious Gift and Other things I’ve learned

Grief – it doesn’t ever go away. Five years ago this week my dad and my husband died 4 days apart. A little of me died that week as well. It is gut-wrenching to lose one of the male figures in your life, but to lose them both within 4 days was rough .

Earlier this week I read a blog post from Nancy’s Point titled What do you do with grief at five (or more) years out?.

Grief was not something I read about until I had to face it on my own. I never understood it. And honestly, it is one of those concepts that you can never truly understand until you are thrust into it (much like having cancer, but that’s another story).

I am blessed in that I was a grown adult before my grandparents died. In fact, I was married with kids of my own when 3 of 4 of them died (my maternal grandfather died before I was born).

When my dad and my husband died I realized I didn’t know how to process grief. And 5 years later I’m not sure if I’m any better at it.

When two deaths come so closely together, it may be referred to as compound grief. In short, compounded grief, also known as cumulative grief, is a pile-on effect of grief or “grief overload.” It may mean losing several loved ones in a short period of time (https://www.funeralbasics.org/what-is-compounded-grief/)

Compound grief can also represent when many losses pile up over time.

To add to the compound grief of 2 losses in a short period of time, my youngest daughter left for college less than a month later. You can see why some of my friends recommended I see a therapist.

Then there is the other elephant in the grief room…I have been living with metastatic breast cancer since October 2010. I never realized, until therapy, that I should have been dealing with grief related to all of the losses that come as a result of a terminal cancer diagnosis. [To understand more about these losses, you might want to read what my Twitter friend Abigail discusses in her blog titled “Little Deaths”]

Instead of facing the grief, I trudged on. For almost 6 years. I didn’t know how to process those losses and I probably made relationships more difficult than they had to be. But I digress.

Although I didn’t see that therapist long, I did learn I was handling my grief in an acceptable manner (ie I learned that everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve).

This week, as I thought about the past 5 years, I wrote a list of all the ups and downs.

When I started listing everything I expected tears, as all of these things happened without my husband by my side (the good and the bad). But the tears didn’t come. Instead, there were some smiles as I reminisced about things I had forgotten. And I shook my head as I thought about more things I have overcome.

The UPs and DOWNs since July 24th, 2016:

  • My youngest started college – Aug 2016
  • I signed a contract to begin building a new home – Aug 2016
  • A friend unexpectedly passed away – Sept 2016
  • The friend’s funeral was held on my husband’s birthday, a day we had originally set aside to spread his ashes – Oct 2016
  • Spent our first Christmas in New York with my brother – Dec 2016
  • Buried my dad at Arlington National Cemetary – Dec 2016
  • My new house was completed and I moved in – March 2017 (March 6th was our wedding anniversary, I’ve always considered my house as a final anniversary present).
  • My oldest graduated from TCU (my alma mater)- May 2017
  • Took my daughters on our first (and maybe last) cruise to celebrate graduation and surviving the past year – May 2017
  • My daughters went to Malawi on a Mission trip with drops of grace – July 2017
  • My oldest daughter started grad school at Angelo State (my husband’s alma mater) – Aug 2017
  • Spent 10 days in the hospital due to my hip developing an infection, surgery to remove all the hardware – Dec 2017
  • 40 days of high dose antibiotics to rid my body of infection and LOTS of Physical therapy – January and onward 2018
  • Drove to the Outer Banks (OBX), North Carolina to “help” my brother get his new house ready for rentals – July 2018
  • My nephew got married – September 2018
  • Threw axes, flew a plane and got my first tattoo all to celebrate my husband’s birthday – Oct 2018
  • Participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote more than 50,000 words on a book (one I’m still working on) – Nov 2018
  • My oldest got a dog (cutest little corgi, australian shepherd mix ever) – Dec 2018
  • My mom finally (at age 79) officially retired – Jan 2019
  • I attendended my step brother’s wedding in the same chapel we had my dad’s funeral – Mar 2019
  • I strutted down a runway in a bra to raise money for the BCRC – June 2019
  • Slight progression with a new Met to my spine, necessitating a biopsy and radiation – June 2019
  • My youngest went to Malawi for a second time with the drops gang – July 2019
  • Took my mom to my brother’s house in OBX – July 2019
  • Stand up paddle boarding – no hip and all – Aug 2019
  • My oldest graduated from grad school and moved to South Carolina to start her first job – Aug 2019
  • Another scare of mets to spine, but turned out to be a herniated disc – YEAH!?! – Aug 2019
  • Went on a Casting for Recovery retreat and learned how to fly fish – Nov 2019
  • Got my dog, Guin – Nov 2019
  • More mets showed up on scan, time to say goodbye to meds that had kept me stable for 7 years – Nov 2019
  • My step-brother and his wife had their first baby – Nov 2019
  • My youngest finished college (in 3 1/2 years, might I add) – Dec 2019
  • Graduation party for youngest (who knew that would be the last big party for the foreseeable future?) – Feb 2020
  • A Pandemic shut down the world – March 2020
  • Started working out with Camp Gladiator (CG) vitrually – May 2020
  • My youngest finally walked the stage to get her diploma (watched it virtually, thanks pandemic) – Aug 2020
  • More paddle boarding (thanks CG for building my strength) – Aug 2020
  • My nephew and his wife welcomed their first baby – Oct 2020
  • A trip to Lost Maples for my husband’s birthday – Oct 2020
  • Annual trip to OBX – October 2020 (this may be my new favorite time to go to the beach)
  • My youngest moved home – Jan 2021
  • Snow in Texas – Jan 2021
  • Snowpocalypse, including 3 days of no electricity and a record breaking number of days below freezing – Feb 2021
  • My first skydiving event – Mar 2021
  • My step-brother and his wife welcomed baby #2 – May 2021
  • I celebrated 55. – July 2021

What do the next 5 years hold? Who knows! I have learned I can’t predict the future, but at least I know what I have learned from the past 5 years:

  1. Life goes on. Whether you want it to or not. My daughter left for college and I signed a contract to build a new house within one month of my husband’s death. The sun came out and the moon rose each day. Some days I wanted to yell and scream at the fact that the world did not stop and give me time to process everything that had happened. But instead, I had to learn to process it as the pages on the calendar continued to turn.
  2. I’ve said it before and I will say it until my last breath. I have some of the most amazing people in my life. Friends CAN help you get through the toughest times. I have friends that will allow me to be myself – even if that means that 5 years later I still get emotional (which happens and is OK). I 100% recommneding finding friends who allow you to be yourself – even at your worst.
  3. The old adage “You are stronger than you think” is true. I just wish sometimes I didn’t have to be the poster child for it.
  4. In the beginning, when people told me “you will get through this and even smile again” I wanted to punch them in the face (thankfully I had access to a punching bag and hit the bag instead). How dare they say I will smile again. But, I discovered that you can find joy even when you are grieving. And at some point (everyone is different) you will discover that even when you are grieving you find yourself laughing. And you realize they were right.
  5. I have done a lot in the last 5 years. It took me writing a list to realize just how much. But as I made the list, I discovered something unexpected. There are things on this list I probably would not have done if I hadn’t challenged myself to deal with grief and discover who I am without my husband. One of the most precious gifts of grief has been discovering myself – and knowing my husband is cheering for me to keep discovering.

Collateral Damage – The Damage Cancer Causes to The One’s You Love

Collateral damage was originally used by the military and is defined as “any death, injury, or other damage inflicted that is an incidental result of an activity.”

I’ve written before about how much I hate cancer. But I realize all of those were written from a very selfish perspective.

Granted, I AM the one living with cancer. And my body has been through A LOT.

I didn’t properly thank him at the time. He went with me to appointments. Listened to doctors. Saw me in more pain than giving birth to our two daughters. And he held my hand through it all. He was there in the trenches with me

(Sorry to those of you who don’t like the battle analogy but we all see things a little differently. I appreciate your perspective, I hope you can appreciate mine at least for this blog post.)

As I was fighting on the front line (ie surgeries, chemo, radiation). He was fighting a different battle. Trying to keep the household going. Taking kids to school, helping with homework, grocery shopping, preparing meals (that I may or may not have even felt like eating).

And then the tables turned.

When my husband got cancer, I was able to see the toll my cancer took on him. I was taking him to appointments. Listening to doctors. And watching him experience so much pain. Holding his hand through it all.

When I was diagnosed in 2003, our kids were young. Even when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer our kids were still in school. There were still home responsibilities that had to be handled. And I was not exactly mobile with a hip joint that no longer worked.

When he was diagnosed in 2015, the kids were older. There was no sheltering them from what was happening. One was a junior in college, the other a senior in high school. It wasn’t up to me to make sure they were getting to practices or school. Friends brought meals so often that I almost forgot how to cook anything other than reheating things in a microwave.

My husband was in a trial at MD Anderson in Houston which required trips from our home to Houston (about a 3 hour car ride) several times a month from October 2015 through January 2016.

His cancer was much more aggressive than mine. For the first time I understood what my doctor meant when he said “as long as your mets stay in your bones, we can manage it”. My husband’s mets were in his lungs and then moved to his brain. We went to the emergency room and he had several hospital stays from February 2016 until he passed away in July 2016.

My husband and I were again in the trenches. We were battle buddies. We fought the fight together. Until the very end when cancer finally ravaged his body so much that he had nothing left to give.

I grieved. For my husband, for my children, and finally for my own cancer diagnosis.

I lost my husband, my best friend, and my battle buddy. I still had metastatic cancer and was still in the trenches. But my battle buddy was gone.

My daughters have spent most of their life living with someone with cancer.

They were 5 and 8 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer they were 12 and 15. When their dad was diagnosed with cancer they were 17 and 20.

Their dad died when they were 17 (a month shy of her 18th birthday) and 21 (just 20 days after her 21st birthday).

We always put on a strong face for our girls. Sheltered them from as much as we could. And tried our best to give them a “normal” childhood (whatever that means).

I thought we did a pretty good job. And yet…

The reality is they suffered cancer’s collateral damage.

Recently, I have had conversations with both of them about their childhood. Both told me they have “blocked out” some of their childhood memories.

That surprised me.

Like I said, I thought we had done a pretty good job of giving them a normal life.

My oldest has tells me often she is “certain” she will get cancer. She’s just not sure when or what kind. She lives with an anxiety I wish I could wipe away. But no matter how much I tried to shield her, cancer still managed to destroy part of her.

Cancer took a little hope away every time it came knocking at our door.

My youngest. She has lived with the idea of cancer most of her life. Recently we were watching Grey’s Anatomy (spoiler if you haven’t watched recent episodes). A mother and daughter both had COVID. The mother told the doctors (paraphrasing here) “please save my daughter”. The daughter said (paraphrasing again) “please save my mother”.

If the scene doesn’t bring at least a tear to your eye then I don’t know what would. But when the commercial came on, my youngest said “Mom, don’t save me. I can’t take another tragedy in my life.” 

If you aren’t crying now do you even have a heart? It was a dagger to mine.

I tried to shield them from so much. But they are always watching. They see what is going on. Even if they aren’t talking about it. As a parent I thought my husband and I had done our best to raise two incredible women.

And yet, I failed to recognize the collateral damage cancer inflicted on my children.

They went to summer camps, played in the school band, graduated from high school with good grades, went to the college of their choice, graduated from college with dreams of a career of their choice (one is an athletic trainer and the other is a math teacher).

But underneath all of those accomplishments are scars inflicted by cancer’s stray bullets.

Leaving life long scars from the collateral damage inflicted while their dad and I were in the trenches with cancer. Trying our best to give them a sense of normalcy.

In the end, while we were staring down the enemy in the trenches, we did not see the collateral damage cancer was causing to the very ones we were trying to protect.

During some of the conversations about repressed memories, I have apologized for the fact that they did not have what they would consider a normal childhood. Although they both graciously acknowledge there is nothing to apologize for as it was out of my control, I wish I could go back in time and create memories with them that would out weigh those that they have blocked. 

I am currently beating the odds.

I have lived with metastatic breast cancer for 10 plus years. . And since it is “just in my bones” I feel like I am winning this battle in the trenches. I’m still trying to limit anymore collateral damage.  But every time I go in for scans, the reality is that my cancer could show progression (and it has over those 10 years – I’m currently on my 4th line of treatment).

I would give my kids the world if I could. Unfortunately, all I can do is continue to take my chemo, go to my scans every 4 months, and pray the scans continue to show no progression (and, as my oncologists said, stays “just in my bones”).

This kind of collateral damage is why the hashtags #stageivneedsmore and #researchnotribbons are so meaningful to me and every other metastatic breast cancer patient. We want to live, create memories that won’t be blocked out, and not allow cancer to cause any more collateral damage.

Dream Big – Lessons from my Skydiving adventure

March 6th is my wedding anniversary. And every year since my husband passed away (this is my 5th wedding anniversary without him) I have planned an adventure.

This year I decided to GO BIG!

Ready to leap into the unknown

During the pandemic, I read Dream Big and listened to (almost) every episode of the Dream Big podcast with Bob Goff. I even took a writing class with him on Facebook. Do you ever have to hear the same thing over and over again until it finally sinks in? The book, the podcast, and the writing class all encouraged me to start checking items off my bucket list.

Honestly though, what was I waiting for?

I have lived and survived some hard times. I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 37. Heard my cancer had metastasized at age 44. Discovered my husband had cancer when I was 49. And finally, watched my husband die from cancer weeks after I turned 50. (Who Am I?)

Now that I am 54, and have been living with metastatic cancer for 10 years, it is time for me to take that leap.

So, as Tim McGraw sings, “I went skydiving.”

Soaring through the clouds
(even got the instructor to give the Frog sign #GoFrogs)

After a bumpy start to the day, and having to change locations (but that’s a different story), my friends and I ended up at Spaceland in San Marcos

[For another option check out Skydive Lone Star – the people there were some of the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve ever met]

After signing all the waivers, and watching a short training video, it was time to climb into the suit and harness. I met my instructor, Tubbs, who listened to all of my concerns – and all of the concerns of my friends that were there to watch me jump – and made me (and them) feel like we could pull this off safely and with no regrets.

45 minutes later I was strapped to Tubbs, falling from the sky. Trusting this person with my life.

Seven minutes later I was back on the ground with the world’s biggest grin on my face.

Sitting here this morning, reflecting on my experience, I’m amazed at what I learned in those 7 minutes:

  • The first step is the scariest – While signing the paperwork, talking with the instructor, even going up in the plane my nerves were steady. I was prepared. I was not afraid. Until the moment my feet were dangling from the side of the plane. One fleeting thought of “why did I think this was a good idea?” Then we were falling and the thought flew away in a different direction.
  • After you take the first step and commit yourself, it feels like a freight train coming straight at you. 60 seconds. That’s how long we fell before pulling the cord. Lots of thoughts go through your mind in 60 seconds. After you take that first step, life has a way of coming at you faster than you had planned. But don’t forget, you (hopefully) packed a parachute, and when you pull the cord…
  • Don’t forget to pull the cord to release the chute – Sometimes we get caught up in the rush, and we need to slow down and enjoy the view. Once the chute is released it is as if time stands still. You can see what lies before you with much more clarity. There is time to get your bearings, make a plan and enjoy the rest of the ride.
  • Even when you are falling, someone’s got your back (literally when it comes to tandem skydiving). Sometimes we fail to recognize that there are people around us that are willing and able to help us when we feel out of control. Find someone (or several someones) that you are willing to tether yourself to who will support you and guide you on the beautiful journey of life. If I can trust a person I’ve only known for 45 minutes with my life (after signing waiver after waiver stating I won’t sue if something goes wrong), I should trust those that God has hand-picked to place in my life to help me through everything else.
Don’t let go of those people you trust with your life

And the #1 Lesson Learned

  • When you get your feet back on the ground, celebrate all that you have accomplished!
Celebrate a job well done!

When your tank is empty Who or What helps fill it up?

Once when I was in high school a friend dropped me off at home. I went inside and about two minutes later she was knocking on my door. She had run out of gas. Her car was sitting in the middle of the street with an empty tank.

As we drove to the gas station in my car with an empty gas can, I asked her how she ran out of gas. Her response “I just wanted to see how far I could go once the needle got to E.”

She laughed like it was a game. I just shook my head.

I don’t know about you, everyone is different. But I am one of the ones that (most of the time) feels like if the needle gets to a quarter of a tank I am on the lookout for where I’m going to be getting some gas. With the fancier, newer cars I may push that a little further, but I don’t always trust technology telling me how many miles I have left in my tank.

Yesterday, I was feeling like I had less than a quarter of a tank in my personal tank. You know, the tank inside of you. The one that can only be filled by spending time with people who fill your tank. Your soul’s tank.

As an enneagram 9, it is easy for me to slip into sloth mode when my tank is getting empty. But I knew I needed to do something.

That’s me branding a bed for Sleep in Heavenly Peace (shout out to my friend Cheryl holding my coffee cup and cane while I work)

I was able to talk myself into getting up, getting dressed, and driving to our church parking lot where there was a large service project going on. Our church had partnered with a group called Sleep in Heavenly Peace to build and deliver beds for kids that otherwise wouldn’t have a bed to sleep in. [If you would like to donate to this great cause, our church will be doing this again later this spring, you can donate here or you can text BEDS to 44321].

When I am feeling like my tank is getting empty, the 80’s music gets louder. And yesterday, I was driving THAT car. The one that you can hear their music when you are sitting at the stoplight.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot at church, Jackson Browne started singing “Running on Empty.” As if my tank wasn’t already empty enough, the only parking spot was right in front of the columbarium where my husband’s ashes are interned (you can read more about our life by reading from the beginning of this blog or this post will give a great synopsis). I have definitely been missing him these past few weeks. He knew how to help me keep my tank full.

Empty. Running on Empty. That is exactly how I felt. For the past two weeks (let’s be honest, most of 2021 so far), I have been using everything in my own tank to fuel other people.

I’m not mad about what I have done. I’m not mad at the people I have done it for. I just realized that my tank was running on empty and I needed to do something about it.

Karah, KIm (me) and Regina – at First Untied Methodist Church Round Rock building beds for Sleep in Heavenly Peace

After turning off the radio, and blowing a kiss to J.R. I spent the morning working (well sort of) at the bed build – but mostly visiting with friends that filled my tank.

Later in the day, I filled it some more, by getting to visit with a friend who moved a couple of hours away last year (She definitely used her tank yesterday – literally and physically, by helping my daughter get some of her remaining items from her old apartment to my house).

I’m not sure if it is my age (I am proud to say I’m 54). Or the fact that I live with metastatic breast cancer (and have for 10 years, which is why I can be proud to tell you my age). When I push and push and push, my body takes days to recover. I spent two days (Thursday and Friday) as a couch potato. Doing next to nothing.

But filling my soul tank. That took just a few hours and some good friends.

I’m usually pretty good at not letting my tank get that empty. I forget sometimes that my recovery takes longer than I think it should (#thankscancer).

I know that if I do some simple things, my tank stays well above the quarterof a tank line. For example:

  • get a workout in (when I’m being a sloth it is hard to remember that exercise makes me feel better and keeps my tank full)
  • spend time with a friend(s) who listen and refresh my outlook
  • allow time for rest – one of the problems recently is that I spent hours upon hours standing, lifting, and moving stuff for several days in a row. This made it even more enticing to enter the sloth-like mentality at night (and not want to exercise with my camp gladiator trainer who gives me joy by her own enthusiasm).

So this is a note to you (but mostly to myself), don’t allow yourself to get caught in the middle of nowhere Running on Empty. Find a rest stop to recharge and refill your tank.

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