Monday, December 28, 2015

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Growing up Christmas was never just one day. There was the season of Christmas; Advent in our Church. On Christmas Eve we would have dinner with our neighbor and then we would all go to Church for the service of Lessons and Carols. Back at home after the service there was hot chocolate while we hung up our stockings.
But Christmas did not end the next morning. My parents made it a day-long event. We could unpack our stockings before breakfast. However, presents weren’t opened until after we were dressed and had consumed a hearty breakfast that would last us until dinner later that afternoon.
And then there was Boxing Day. The day after Christmas, (or at least sometime during the holiday break from school), we would get together with friends that were part of the family. My sister’s Godparents were another “aunt and uncle” to us, and they had two kids our age. We would go to their house for the day. We children would play together. There would be a shared meal. Family gifts were exchanged. Christmas went on all week.
My husband and I have no children of our own and I tend to think that we have no Christmas traditions. Upon reflection, that is not entirely true. When we were first married my niece and nephew were quite small; 18 months and three, respectively. My nephew’s birthday is New Year’s Eve. So with various in-laws among my siblings, and a birthday we wanted to celebrate, we would spend Christmas with my husband’s family and New Year’s with mine.
The children are grown now. My niece is married with children of her own. My father passed away almost 20 years ago. My sister and her husband are like us, no children, but plenty of family and friends with whom to celebrate. We now alternate between families. One year we are with my mother, the next with my in-laws. It works well. Whoever we don’t see on Christmas we visit later in the week; sometimes for New Year depending on how the calendar falls and schedules work out.
In addition to family, there are get-togethers with various friends. We celebrate our own Christmas together after the rush of travel and the many different gatherings of family and friends. Christmas is a week-long event for us.
My mother reminds us annually that there are twelve days to Christmas. That Christmas is not over until January 6. In our tradition, mine and my husband’s, this seems to be very, very true.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I Heard the Bells

My personal Facebook newsfeed is filled with reflective posts, the year in pictures, and memories that my friends are sharing. They remind me that 2015 is coming to a close, and my own thoughts are mixed with pain as well as joy. A year ago I was spending time with my friend Linda, reading her the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke. We knew it would be her last Christmas.

In March God took her to be with Him. It was heart-wrenching. Yet I would gladly do it again. What she gave me in those few short years that we knew each other will always be with me. Her love. The way she accepted me into her home and family. She let me be with her. When we were together we were simply together. No agenda. No ulterior motivations. No mandated reason to show up. We laughed (a lot). Sometimes we cried. We cuddled. Our relationship was like no other that I’ve had. And I will always thank her for letting me in.
At the end of August we lost my cousin’s husband. As heartbroken as I was, I watched in sadness and helplessness my mother’s devastation, and my cousin’s heartache. My cousin is my older sister in many ways. Losing her husband was more than losing a cousin by marriage. He had been in our lives since we were teenagers. The hole he left behind is enormous.
I ran the “year in pictures” that Facebook offered and was struck by the number of pictures of flowers that the app generated. Each bouquet was bright and cheery. Each one celebrated a moment of joy.
This year was filled with “firsts.” The first of many holidays and events without Linda or David. But also memories of joy and love were created. We had a “girl’s weekend” of me, my sister, our cousin-sister, and my mother. Just the four of us making a casserole for dinner out of items from my mother’s pantry. Laughing. Trying to take selfies.
Going to church once a month with my mother at the church where I grew up. Opportunities of growth and learning at work. Meeting up with friends when we were in the same area. And travel. Lots and lots of travel.
I was faced with much darkness and pain this year. The heartache and brokenness of so many. Death. Disease that threatens to take friends away too soon. But there was also joy. Babies were born. Friends advanced in their careers. There were flowers in my home. I spent time with those I love most. And I have added to my collection of dear ones; friends that I cannot imagine my life without.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s civil war poem is reflective of the deep despair he felt at Christmastime, but it ends with “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep: The wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.” My wish for you is to know the depth of Peace, and the joy of Love that you found in 2015.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ten Years Later

I recently had my third colonoscopy; my first one was ten years ago and I am on the every-five-years plan. The quick explanation is that I have a family history of polyps, I have a history of cancer, and the doctor always finds polyps when I have one done. If you know anything about colon polyps, it is not a question of “if” they will turn into cancer, it is a matter of “when.” Since it seems that I am predisposed to cancer I do not mind this procedure.

Ok. I’m lying. If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy you will understand when I say the prep sucks.
But let’s do a reality check. If you were told that you could prevent cancer by having a scan every five years wouldn’t you take it? I would. And that was my perspective this time around. As a result, it didn’t seem so bad. I knew what to expect, and I knew that I’d need a day to recover after the procedure. So I took care of myself and took a couple of sick days from work.
The thing that struck me was how things have changed in ten years. Ten years ago you could not take aspirin or anything that would thin your blood for the week prior to the procedure. So of course that would be the one week I’d get a headache. Also, ten years ago you had to go on a “low residue diet” for a whole week in advance. Basically that means no nuts, seeds, whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables. A difficult task for someone who eats a lot of fresh produce every day. Prep day was “clear liquids” which meant no coffee or tea.
This time was different. I could take aspirin if I wanted. I’m happy to report I had no headaches or joint pain this week. The low residue diet was only three days before the procedure; i.e. the two days before I what I call “purge day.” And the “clear liquid” list included black coffee and cranberry juice. Since I drink my coffee black I was ecstatic.
Purge Day consists of lots of clear liquids: water, ginger ale, apple juice, etc. Of course I had my morning coffee.

Lunch Options

Food” consists of Jello®, broth or bullion, and popsicles. But nothing “red.”

And then, of course, there is the “purge” itself. What you have to drink is the worst part of the procedure. I call it “drain-o.” I’ll leave it at that.

Over ice & thru a straw is recommended

For me, it really is the worst part of the procedure. Even though I buy the lemon flavored I find it hard to get down.
As for the rest of it, I knew I’d be hungry on “purge day” so I wasn’t as hungry as I remember. The procedure itself is straightforward and the drugs you are given are great; a combination of Morphine and Fentanyl. It’s no wonder the doctor tells you not to drive or make any major decisions that day.
The good news is that my polyps continue to be benign.
P.S. If you have a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, please get yourself screened.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I Am (Not) Flexible

I am not flexible. I try. I really do. But it’s just not in my DNA. Yesterday morning I found myself sitting at the dining room table with my head laying on that same table with my arms as an uncomfortable pillow moaning, “I’m not flexible. I just can’t do this. I try, but I’m not flexible.” My husband comforted me with the sweetest words. “I know honey, but you are so much more flexible than when we were first married.”

I need a schedule. I need to know what time I should be doing what activity. I make lists. I am a creature of habit and thrive in my routine. For his sake I try to “go with the flow” on weekends. We eat breakfast and lunch when we are hungry, but dinner is always (around) 7 p.m. I know my husband appreciates that I try.
This morning I look at my house and am overwhelmed by the mess. There are dishes left behind from last night’s flexibility in not cleaning up after dinner. The laundry basket if full of clean clothes to fold and put away. My “to do” list doesn’t seem to have as many things crossed off from yesterday. I was sure the list was three-quarters of the way complete. Why are only half the items crossed off?
These are the things that bring me anxiety. And I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like my brain shuts down and multitasking is out of the question. So what do I do? I screw up my courage and tell myself to take one thing at a time. Okay. I can do that.
Step 1: take a shower and get dressed. (Ignore the laundry basket sitting on the chair in the bedroom).
Step 2: eat breakfast. (The dirty dishes can be put in the dishwasher with the cereal bowl).
Step 3: pick a room, any room, and start there. Do not attempt to multitask. Do not leave that room until it is picked up; finished.
Oh, and play Christmas music. That is sure to put a smile on my face.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Broken and Fallen World

Our world is filled with ugly. All you have to do is read the headline news to know this. But you cannot know the depth of pain and suffering until you look into the face of a hurting soul.
At work I recently became more involved with Student Life. Last year I was asked to help out and I gladly said “yes.” It was an opportunity to support the department and to learn something new. My role was similar to that of a Principal. Students were sent to me for such infractions as smoking in the girls’ room or swearing in class. This semester is different.
This semester I am deep into student issues. Issues that require a team to investigate complaints. Issues that need support systems put into place to help a student get through the day, not just the semester. These are the issues that break my heart and drain my soul. And it turns out I’m pretty good at it.
But at the end of the day I am weary. Every morning I find myself asking God to help me get out of bed and face the day. Not because I cannot physically get out of bed. Rather, I ask Him to help me face the challenges of the day; that I will know what to do and say.

Daily I am faced with broken souls. Not just students who have been “bad” and need discipline, but students whose lives have been shattered. They don’t know what to do or where to go. The hurt they feel is so deep they lash out at others or turn inward and hurt themselves. I often don’t know what to say, but somehow I get through a student meeting saying and doing the right thing. It often feels like instinct.
Ours is a broken and fallen world. But if at the end of the day I paid attention, if I listened well, and if I did what was best for the student while doing what was right for my college I know it was a good day.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I Wear Pink

I wear pink. I wear pink because it is my favorite color. I especially like the pastel shades.
It’s October.
For a few years after I was diagnosed I wore a pink ribbon pin every day during the month of October. I even gave out pink ribbon pins.
Over the past two years I have learned that breast cancer is not about awareness. It is not pink footballs and ribbons on food packaging. The truth is that cancer, any type of cancer can and does kill. When it comes to breast cancer in the U.S., over 40,000 women are expected to die this year alone. Additionally, it is estimated that over 2,300 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. And 85% of breast cancer occurs in women with no family history of breast cancer. [].
My friend Linda is one of this year’s statistics. A statistic that has remained relatively unchanged in 40 years. [See Ann Silberman's blog]. As a result of my very real experience with breast cancer and breast cancer death, my perspective has changed. It has changed from one of pink cheerleading to one of avid research supporter.

Last year, I lost my pins. Literally. I took that as a sign. I wear pink because it is my favorite color; not for awareness. We are aware. What we need is a cure.


If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In Need of Grace

“To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace.”
– Brennan Manning
I am not one to read books by Christian authors that are published as “inspirational.” However, I just finished reading The Hardest Peace; Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts. I discovered Kara and her story in 2014. I’m not really sure how I found her or her blog, Mundane Faithfulness. What I do know is that I came across her story at a time of pain and struggle. Her words touched my heart. The short description of her book made me buy it to give to a friend.
I continue to follow Kara’s blog, though she left this world a few days after my friend Linda. I continue to be drawn to Kara’s words as her friend Blythe Hunt reposts Kara’s blog entries under Kara’s Collection. So recently I bought a copy of The Hardest Peace for myself. I do not want to make this a book review; rather it is reflective of how Kara’s words touched my heart.
Kara’s story is familiar to anyone who has gone through cancer treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And yet her story, like our own, is unique. While the book presents as Kara’s testimony I know first-hand what she, and those who cared for her, went through. There is a deep, ugly side to cancer treatment, and cancer death. Her chapter on losing her hair was deeply profound for me, because while she touched on the struggle there was so much that remained unsaid. I knew exactly what she really meant with her kind and gentle words. To be honest, my words would be much harsher. But I get it. I never thought of myself as prideful in my looks until I lost my hair. That was, and still is, the most devastating part of my cancer story.
I tell you this because Kara’s story has made me take a look at my life; my faith. I write about seeking grace. Now I know that grace met me on that table where I lay for my first biopsy. It was grace that was with me during my treatment. I discovered grace during my years of healing. And it is grace that I need as I continue to move forward.
If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Life & Death

My cousin is dead. There’s not much more to say about that. He died almost three weeks ago. Technically he is an in-law. He was married to my cousin. He has been part of our lives since we were teenagers. That’s a long time.

My cousins are like my siblings. The six of us grew up together and we have a tight bond. Losing David was a shock. He is the first of our generation to die. As you can imagine, there is a huge hole in his absence, though I’m not sure it’s fully realized yet. But I don’t want to talk about his death. I want to share with you his life.
In many ways David was larger than life. Everything he did he did to the fullest. He loved his wife and cared for her as if she were a princess. His sons were his whole life. He did not hold back on correcting them if they were going astray, but he also showed them great love through his actions.
And if his sons were his world, his grandchildren were his universe. What he would not do for them! His eyes would sparkle just talking about them. He would grin ear to ear when they came over for a visit. He took them with him wherever he went. He could not get enough of them.
Beyond his immediate family he cared deeply for his extended family. He took care of his mother-in-law. He helped his father-in-law with yard work and other chores that are now a challenge for my uncle. He adored my mother and my sister; always having a kind word for my mother when they spoke on the phone. My sister was his kid sister. Their friendship was filled with teasing and jokes that only siblings are allowed to exchange.
As I shared with friends, his life was defined by passion. If he loved you, he loved you fully. David showed us what it meant to live. And now he is gone. It hurts.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Manna From A Kitchen Drawer

I have two cats. We feed them dry cat food. In fact, we have been feeding them a prescription food for about three years due to Kiwi’s bout with bladder stones. We buy the food in bulk and then store it in a large Rubbermaid® bin to preserve freshness. The container is kept in a drawer in our kitchen. Yes, they know the drawer and will sometimes sit in front of it “asking” to be fed.
Recently, when I was feeding them I was struck by the fact that they eat the exact same food all the time. The same food. Every day. It reminded me of the Old Testament story in Exodus 16 where God fed the Israelites manna from heaven.
I wonder what my kitties think. Is it manna?

Or at least a miracle found in a kitchen drawer.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I celebrated my birthday this week. My husband took me on a three night stay at our favorite B&B in northern Vermont. We spent three days taking moderate-to-easy hikes. It was three days of fresh air, sunshine, and a bit of exercise. It was just what I wanted.

Every year my husband asks, “So, do you feel older?” Every year I have said “no,” but this year I said “yes.” It’s not that I feel ancient or sick. Instead, I look at my face and I see how I’ve aged. My eyes show the years with small crow’s feet and dark circles. My hands do not look young, though they are not knotted with arthritis yet. It takes me longer to “get going” in the morning, but keeping with a routine helps. I would not say that I feel old, but I am definitely aware that I am now older.

Last year I celebrated turning 50 with two parties and a dinner. It was a joyous week with friends and relatives. The past 12 months have seen a lot of changes; both good and sad. As you know, I lost my friend Linda. I miss her terribly. I am often reminded of her by a sight or something on the radio. While her death was tragic, I have so many fond memories that make me smile that I would not trade a single minute with her.

My job at work has expanded and I am now working full time. I genuinely love my job. I like getting up and going to work in the morning. I am involved in many projects and new initiatives. The benefits are great, and I am able to take vacations to disconnect and recharge without guilt. I am participating in a leadership program over this next year. It will be a year of personal study and professional growth.

When I look back on the last year there have been a lot of changes. And while I’m not sure what 51 is supposed to feel like I am not disappointed.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me I can be found on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Reese the Inn Cat

Reese the Inn Cat
Is there to greet
All of the guests
Old friends to meet
Her purr is loud
And if you are new
She'll bump your leg
And give you a "mew"
She'll come to your room
to wander around
And stay if you let her
Her graciousness abounds
She tries to escape
to the kitchen or yard
But bringing her back
Isn't that hard
She's Queen of the Inn
And wants you to know
She'll miss your company
When you have to go
She's a cat full of love
As her purrs will attest
She's simply the best

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Survivor's Guilt

The notion of survivor’s guilt has been presented to me several times over the past couple of weeks, which makes me think I should address it. By definition, survivor’s guilt is “feelings of guilt for having survived a catastrophe in which others died.” []

The most recent challenge came from a dear, close friend who asked, “Have you ever questioned God as to why you survived and Linda didn’t?” The answer to that question is quite frankly, no. It has never occurred to me to ask God “why.” Rather, I ask “to what purpose?” I believe that everything has a reason; the Book of Ecclesiastes speaks to that very philosophy. For what reason was I spared?

Even from the very beginning I did not ask, “Why me?” I felt on overwhelming calm, and from that moment I knew I was alright. Each step of the way, every twist along this road has kept me asking, “What do you want from me God?” Along the way my heart has said “yes” and my life has been forever changed.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not about me.

I miss you every day, my friend.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kitties Get Cancer, Too

This is Miss Maggie (aka Princess Margaret or Margaret Penelope Underfoot). She lived with my mother.

Maggie was 13 years old when she went over the Rainbow Bridge. I was fortunate enough to say “good-bye” to her the morning before.

You see, Maggie was my cat, too. She would always know when I was coming to visit my mother. She would stand in front of the door to the spare bedroom, asking my mother to open it up. My mother tells me that at other times she would ask to have the room opened, as if to say “If you open it, she will come.”

Maggie was a shy kitty, but she let me hold her. Sometimes she’d sit on my lap. Often, she would sleep with me.

My last visit with my Mom I knew would be my last visit with Maggie. She had developed tumors, stopped eating, and was losing weight. As I was leaving Maggie followed me to the garage door to say “good-bye.” My mother held her while I gave her scritches and kisses. She reached out her paw and took my hand, holding it close to her frail body.

I don’t know that Maggie’s tumors were cancerous. According to WebMD, cancer is not as common in cats* as it is in dogs. Probably half the rate. Cats have a tendency to mask illnesses, so it is harder to detect. This often leads to later diagnoses.

It doesn’t really matter the cause of the tumors. What is important was the love she gave while she was with us. There is a hole in our lives, but we are better for having lived with her. Rest in peace, Miss Maggie. You will be missed.

*Changes in the behavior of your animal companion should be checked out by your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why Throw Out the Baby's Breath . . .

Why throw out the baby’s breath just because the roses have died? As I gathered up the roses to remove them from the vase and toss them in the garbage I noticed the baby’s breath. It was still white. It was still vibrant. It is beautiful. So:

Gypsophila paniculata is native to Central and Eastern Europe, but grows all over the world. It is considered invasive in North America. We use it as an accent; a garnish. It is never alone as it compliments bouquets at weddings, and almost any flower arrangement you might pick up at the grocery store or in a florist shop.
And we throw it away when the main attraction fades.
I “saved” this bunch of baby’s breath after the roses I bought over a week ago dried up. It made me think of the milestones and changes that come with life. We reach a goal and then move on. There is a tragedy and we change directions. Many times we think we need to leave the past behind; forget the person because of the hurt or the offense.
Maybe. Consider the fond memories that bring a smile to your face. My father passed away 19 years ago. I miss him at family gatherings and major life events. My relationship with him was different from the one he had with my brother or sister, and I know he loved me deeply. If I throw out the small things that made our relationship special and unique just because of the hurt I feel from his death I lose a huge piece of who I am today.
It is the same with friendships that fade or even the ones that end. If I throw out the memories that make me smile just because the relationship is over, I miss the beauty of what was once very special.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chapter II

I haven’t written much this year. There are several reasons; in many ways just excuses. My position at work became full time in January. This is a good thing, but getting adjusted to the schedule and finding balance are taking time. My friend Linda was dying, and I was grieving. While I have shared some of my journey, there are other posts that will go unwritten.

At one point these past months I thought of closing down this blog. I wondered if it had fulfilled its purpose and it is now time to move on. That happens with blogs and writers. Things change. It’s not a bad thing or even sad. It just is.
However, I have had a sense that there is much that is still unwritten; still unsaid.
Two weeks ago I attended the Chair Academy. The focus of the Academy is to develop leadership skills for college and university leaders. It was a week of professional development and personal reflection. One of the daily tasks during this week-long session was to write down goals that I want to achieve over the next year.
Over the next year I will work with a mentor. I will develop a curriculum and map out a plan to help me meet my professional leadership goals. While trying to articulate and compile my goals, it struck me that what I work on for professional development will also spill over into my personal development. So I will keep this blog going, and you may see some new material as I share insights into what I am learning.
Stay tuned.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Jumble of Emotions

I recently walked in my fifth Avon Walk. It was my fifth city, and my home city of Boston. There were many issues leading up to the weekend that could have derailed my participation, but the Walk is a commitment and a goal for me. I refused to get discouraged or give in. This was a significant year for so many reasons.

Back in December, as I was thinking about the Walk and talking with potential team mates I realized that the weekend was personally significant. It was May 16, 2008 that I had my last cancer treatment. Seven years later I was walking in the Boston Avon39 - the Walk to End Breast Cancer on May 16.

On March 17 I lost my friend Linda to breast cancer. I knew back in January that she would not be with us when I walked. While it was sad, I thought it was part of the “acceptance” stage. April 17 was significant to me; she had been gone a month and my heart still hurt while life around me seemed to go back to normal. It then struck me that Day 2 of the Walk was May 17 – two months after the death of my friend.

This year Avon gave out “connection bands.” Each band states the reason for walking. I could have taken a band that read “For Myself,” but it was the “For Someone I Miss” band that touched my heart. So I wore it for Linda, and thought of all the others that I have lost over the years.

I had known that this year would be difficult because my focus was on Linda and my loss. My reason for walking had changed. Opening and Closing Ceremonies are always emotional. This year, more than ever. I am thankful for the friends who have survived. And I thought of them as statistics are cited. We are the lucky ones. I cried when “loved ones we have lost” were mentioned.

This year I walked with the Solo Strutters; a national team that participates in each walk. It was formed so that no one would walk alone. Along the way I walked with others. Each person had their reason for walking. Each faced their own challenges over the weekend. I walked with Hillary for a while and we talked about walking alone and realizing that we are never truly alone. Both literally and figuratively.

This weekend was a jumble of emotions. Joy at being a survivor. Grief over the loss of a friend. Awe over the care that others bring and the connections that are made. And thankfulness for God’s grace through it all.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mundane Faithfulness

Back in October I came across Kara Tippetts and her book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard. I don’t remember how I found her, but I’m sure it was a connection to a connection among the on-line breast cancer family. You see, Kara was dying of breast cancer. She died a few days after Linda.

Kara has a website that is now being maintained by her friend Blythe Hunt. What I found in Kara was a grace that I know is difficult. Her posts spoke to me in a way that I haven’t been able to articulate. While she was dying I found that her messages were for me; the living who knows someone who is dying. In between the lines I knew Kara was struggling, and hurting both physically and emotionally. Yet her on-line presence spoke of seeking God’s face and finding grace every day.

As the New Year rolled around my husband subscribed me to a daily devotional that is delivered to my email inbox. Each morning I read the scripture presented and read the commentary of that day’s author. As the months have progressed I find myself pausing during my day and thinking about how God would want me to respond in the moment. I often fail. In fact, one day last week I completely lost it over an oversight and immediately regretted my reaction knowing that God’s grace was certainly not in that moment. (Fortunately, I stepped back and took a deep breath before proceeding).

During the Easter season I was reminded of Christ’s struggle of faith. It is recorded that he prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” [Luke 22:42 ESV] just before being arrested. I, too, struggle with who I’ve been asked to be; what I’ve been asked to do. Those who have followed this blog from the beginning know the “why” behind The Reluctant Survivor. You also know that I’ve said “yes” to the Avon Walk; a physical challenge that this non-athlete is amazed to undertake each year. So I seek grace to be able to step up to the challenge.

Linda was a “yes,” and her journey was very different from Kara’s. Yet very much the same.

I don’t know what my next “yes” is, but for now I still have the Avon39 Walk. And as I seek grace I will strive to be faithful in the mundane.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Was Not Prepared

“God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.” - Unknown
I have seen this quote, or a variation of it, for several years now. I tried to find its origin, but failed. I like to think someone like Albert Einstein said this. He was a brilliant man with a deep faith in God.

I often write about “saying yes” before my practical brain has the opportunity to close the gate that is my mouth. My “yes” seems to come when my heart knows it is the right thing to do and my eyes see no barriers. Once I’ve said “yes” I sometimes doubt my abilities, but then I remember this quote. (Don’t get me wrong, I have learned to say “no” when it is appropriate).
When I said “yes” to the Avon Walk in 2010 it did not seem daunting until I started training and planning to go to Houston for the 2011 Walk. I have now walked in four cities and will walk for the fifth time in Boston this year. My goal is to walk in each city where Avon hosts an event. Based on the list of cities, I have two additional walks in my future.
I never doubted saying “yes” to my friend Tina when she needed help with transporting her mother to Boston for cancer treatments. I had the time. I was treated at the same facility so I knew the ropes. As it turned out, every trip into Boston was uneventful. The winter days were sunny and the roads were clear. I never had to drive in a snow storm. Unplanned trips occurred when I was available; at times that I was not normally free. Getting up and leaving my house early was never a chore. Each event, each day with Linda reminded me of God’s grace. It was never difficult for me to do what needed to get done.
At the time my husband lovingly asked if I really wanted to do this. Was I prepared for how this was going to end? I assured him that I was aware of the risks and I knew what I was getting into. And I was prepared, because as our time together progressed I watched Linda deteriorate. I witnessed the tear-filled anger. I watched as her body wasted away. It was clear that she would become one of the 41,000 people in the U.S. who will die of breast cancer this year alone.  
I spent time with Linda less than 24 hours before she died. She appeared to be sleeping and was unresponsive to my greeting, which was new. However, her nurse lovingly assured me that I should talk to her. So I did. I told her about the weather, and that I got a new car that I thought she’d like. I read from the Book of John. I knew she was going to die.
I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the devastating heartbreak or the tears. I wasn’t prepared for the loss or helplessness that I would feel. Yet God equipped the called and I know this experience will forever be with me.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


My friend Linda passed away. She died at 12:24 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. I have no words for the grief I feel. Nor do I have any words for the devastating heartbreak that I experienced. I only know that my life has been changed forever. I have no regrets, except that I did not spend enough time with her while she was here. I know that the past 16 months together are important. I know that they have taught me something. I know that my perspective on this disease that is cancer has changed.

What am I going to do with it? It don’t know. I don’t know because I don’t know how I can or will take what I’ve learned and translate it into anything.

What I do know is that I would do it all again.

I love you Linda, in a way that I have never loved anyone else. You fought every single day, every single fight. Every new treatment protocol was a new opportunity. You even told me that being in an experiment was important for the next person. But you did not live. You did not achieve remission. You did not reach the Land of NED.

In the end you wanted to see the beauty of heaven where there are snowcapped mountains, and shells along the beach. I read to you from the Book of John. Jesus collected his disciples. He collected you. And you, my friend, taught me Grace.
And yes, I would do it all again. In a heartbeat.
If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thank You

Thank you. Two little words. But two words that mean so much. Recently I had a fully blessed day at work. I met with colleagues regarding a project, and we are moving forward. I collaborated with a colleague on a student’s file. And I spent some time with another colleague engaged in conversation. At times I look at my colleagues and I am struck by the fact that some are friends; true friends. Others are a little bit more. They are “my people.” Friends and family. They are part of my universe.

I know that I have recounted my many blessings. I often enumerate them here. One of the greatest gifts I have been given is the gift of healing. Healing goes beyond the physical. There is emotional and psychological healing that accompanies the recovery from trauma. The item that ties this all together is our spirit. So yes, there is spiritual healing as well.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had six weeks left in my law school studies. I knew that I was supposed to be in law school, so I could not imagine why I was suddenly confronted with this enormous road block to my goal of becoming an attorney. Determined, I finished my studies on time. It was December 2007 and my contract at work also ended. I was faced with chemotherapy treatments and studying for the bar exam. I embraced the challenge.
At the end of the law school journey I passed the California bar exam in July 2008. I was faced with choices and slowly got back into the workforce. I took a job doing what I knew; college financial aid administration. During the months that followed I found that in addition to my physical healing I needed emotional healing. That is where my beloved colleagues in the Massachusetts Community College system come in. I worked at two different community colleges before landing at my third and current institution. Along the way I worked with friends, I made new friends, and I was accepted as is. When I landed at my current college I also found that I was loved. And I had been loved all along the way.
That Friday a few weeks ago I was reminded of that grace. I worked with colleagues and friends who have the same vision, passion and goals that I do. Each one of us brings a different perspective and expertise to each of the projects we work on. I am excited for the future of our institution and higher education in general. And these people let me be excited. They let me be involved. They accept me for all my quirkiness, geekiness, and ways of looking at a project (or challenge or question). They let their children climb onto my lap. They share their latest technological gadget with me, like it is Christmas morning. They are willing to talk through a challenge.
At the end of the day, all I can say is “thank you.” Thank you is all I have to give back. Yet it is a place to start.
If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Magic Wand

She hands me tiny seashells
Plucked from atop her pillowcase.
Together, we visit the beach
That is in her mind.

“I’ve never done this before,” she confides.
I know.
Neither have I.

At our beach, the sun warms our bodies
As it reflects off the sand.
We breathe in the smell of the ocean
That fills her room.

Through tears she says, “I just want it all fixed.”
Me too.
I wish I had a magic wand.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Lost My Voice

Literally. I lost my voice. Last weekend I developed a cough. As the week progressed the cough has not gotten any better (though it hasn’t gotten worse) and by Friday I was losing my voice.

I have written only twice in this New Year. Over the past three weeks we have gotten a lot of snow here in northern Massachusetts. In fact, we have lost two work days a week over the past three weeks due to high volumes of snow and the need for snow removal. That’s more than a week’s worth of business days! During my days off I thought about writing. I even looked at my notes of inspiration thinking I would write about one of those topics that touched my heart at some point. But when I look at them I find no words.
I have agonized over losing my voice here. My friend Jodi has been writing every day. I love her creative writing and look forward to every new chapter. I read her daily entries over my morning coffee. I know my friend Seth  will encourage me with the words of Ecclesiastes; that everything has its season.
I’ve been reading Kara’s blog. Kara is in the truly final stages of her breast cancer. Once the decision to stop treatment is made it is only a matter of months or weeks. And in some cases days. My friend Linda chose to stop treatment while I was away on vacation. Much of what Kara and her guest bloggers write about speaks directly to how I am feeling about the imminent loss of my friend Linda. I wish I were so eloquent.
I am also reading my friend AnneMarie’s blog. AnneMarie has been writing about the truth behind the headlines. She is an advocate and a strong voice in the world of patient care. Her words paint a picture of the harsh reality that is breast cancer. Part of me wishes I could get angry and hate the pink ribbon, but I don’t. It has its place. What she and others write is also true and needs to be heard. It is the message that we truly need to share. Cancer kills. Breast cancer kills. Cancer is not pretty. Or sexy.
I think about how I have lost my literary voice and I realize that it is due to a breaking heart. With a cough and laryngitis I cannot even go visit for fear of infecting Linda. I think “maybe next week.” Linda has no sense of the passage of time these days, but I do. My visits are no longer for her. They are for me.
I can do nothing for Linda or her daughters. Tina and Kristen are now faced with the hard decisions about Linda’s final days of care. I want their days to be filled with the grace that Kara knows. I want to write about the truth of cancer. Others are doing just that.
I have lost my voice, so I will let others speak for me.
Blog references:

A Little Farm in the City

CHEMOBRAIN . . . In The Fog

Mundane Faithfulness

This and $2.50

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Carry-On Vacation

My husband and I recently returned from a two-week Caribbean cruise. It was warm. It was sunny. It was luxurious. Last year we went on a one week cruise that visited some of the same islands, but we did not mind the repeat destinations. There is always lots to do, even if it is just reading a book.

Last year my husband proposed an experiment. We would only pack a carry-on travel bag. In a previous life I traveled a lot for work. And I mean a lot. I got so that I could pack for a one week trip in just a carry-on, so I knew I was up to my husband’s challenge. The following is my approach:
Think about what you really need for a week in the Caribbean (or anywhere you are headed). I know I’m particular to some of my toiletries, so I knew I had to pack those. I bought travel sized everything; toothpaste, shampoo, conditioners, moisturizers, etc. I made sure he also packed travel sized toothpaste so that we would have enough.
I then considered the evening dress code. On this particular cruise line there is only one formal night per week, so I packed one knit dress that was appropriate; the type that you can roll up in a ball and it hangs up with no wrinkles. I then packed a pair of black slacks and three sparkly dress tops. There is nothing that says you cannot repeat your evening wardrobe. Plus, who is going to notice that the top I wore on Sunday evening is the same one I’m wearing Thursday? I packed one pair of nicer, black flip-flops that I wore each evening.
For day-wear I thought about the fact that I was going to the Caribbean. I packed two bathing suits and one cover-all. I also made sure I had beach flip-flops. Those can also be worn around the ship during the day. I put in two pairs of shorts and a tee-shirt for each day. For my travel days I wore walking shoes that would be good for the shore excursions I intended to take. Of course I made sure I had a week’s worth of underwear. Done.
Having such success last year I thought about doing the same for this trip. After all, I knew the amenities of the cruise ship (they give you some wonderful soap that made me leave my shower gel at home). However, as I packed for this trip I realized that there were a few additional items that I would like to take if I were to be away for two weeks. So I broke out the bigger suitcase that would have to be checked. Our airline allowed for one free, checked bag so I thought I’d take advantage of that.
I still packed frugally, and ended up with room to spare. I also knew I could (and would) do a load of laundry on this trip. The good news about this approach was that I did not have to lug a carry-on into the passenger cabin of the plane. I just had a backpack filled with items I did not want lose as my one personal bag. It also doubled as a great beach/shore excursion bag. My husband also packed a checked-luggage suitcase this year.
As a result of these two lean excursions, my husband has come up with another experiment he wishes to try. Pack nothing and shop at each port for our necessities. I’m not sure I could do without my hair products, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Year of Grace

If I were to describe 2014 I would say that it was a year of grace. Grace is a theme that I continually turned to; of which I was continually reminded. According to the word itself has many uses. The grace that I found is best described as “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” Further, it is the “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God.”

In 2013 I kept a gratitude jar and wrote about it January 1, 2014. I started the jar over again but find that I stopped putting slips of paper into it about mid-way through the year. It’s not that I am no longer grateful. In fact, I’m probably more grateful this year than I was in 2013. When I opened this year’s gratitude jar I found that the main theme was, once again, spending time with family and friends. There were many birthday celebrations, hikes, lunches, and a couple of very special reunions.

Along the way there were trips. A Caribbean vacation, the Avon Walk in Chicago, and our annual fly-in with friends. The 2014 destination was Dayton, OH complete with a reunion with a high school friend.
In addition to the obvious I found notes regarding health issues. Friends who hit milestones in their recovery. Others who received good news about a scan or ultrasound follow-up after a questionable mammogram. What wasn’t there were the diagnoses. For those, I am grateful that I can listen.
My job changed focus this past year. I read a lot of regulations. I do research. I answer yes or no questions with three paragraphs of explanation all so that I can say “it depends.”
I had to smile at “4-wheel drive to get up a steep, snowy hill.” I remember that day. The sun was shining and there was significant amounts of snow from a storm the day before. In looking back on the year I realize that I never drove Linda into Boston (or home) in a snow storm. For that, I am thankful.
The note that touches my heart said, “Kiwi on my lap every morning.” She is a cuddle-bug who just simply loves. There are no strings attached. She truly has grace.

Much of 2014 was routine, and yet I received so many gifts. Gifts of friendships, gifts of moments, gifts of making memories. And most of all, the gift of grace.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.