Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Browned Butter Cookie


So, thanks to Houseful of Nicholes, I'm popping in real quick to actually blog.

I know, I know. Please don't pass out from shock.

Anyway, I'm back again this year to play along with #HousefulOfCookies once again this year.

My teen baking!
Now, last year, I made my lovely star Christmas tree. I was so proud of that tree and it's something I love to make. Last year, I entered the Christmas season with energy and vigor and excitement.

This year, has been a bit different. This year I've been feeling not well. There's a lot going on - which is also why I haven't been blogging. I usually bake dozens and dozens of cookies each holiday season. This year I've hardly baked at all. It's hard to balance energy levels, health issues, and trying to do-do-do. I just can't do it all. Or even half.

Melted Butter
Mmm ... melted butter
So in an effort to scale back a bit, this year, we went with a simple cookie. Simple because I wanted to contribute to #HousefulOfCookies and because I needed to at least make some cookies this year. It's simple, but so good. And it's got lots of butter. And I love butter.

My 14 year old was my helper. And by helper I mean she basically did almost all the work and I snapped pictures. I told my husband the student has surpassed the teacher. So we are both feeling proud - I like an excellent teacher, and her as an excellent baker.

We (she) produced some excellent cookies. We made some with the fork, and she played with the cookie stamps for quite a few. Experimentation is good and she's never used them before. I might add, she did pretty darn good with them too, but can still work on technique a bit. Still, I didn't even know cookie stamps existed when I was 14!

It was a nice night and the longest part was waiting for the butter to cool down!

Browned Butter Cookies

What you need:
1 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups and a pinch more of flour
Decorating sugar (optional)
Cookie Stamps (optional)

What to do:
1. Preheat your oven to 350F

2. Melt your butter over medium-high heat. Watch it closely. Allow it to melt and then after a few moments, the butter will start to foam and turn a lovely yellow color.

3. Remove pan from heat and refrigerate for 30ish minutes.

4. In a bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

5. Slowly add in the flower into the mixture and mix until it is well blended.

6. Rub some flour on your hands and roll the dough into 1-inch balls (a small cookie scoop is perfect for this).

7. Roll the balls into decorating sugar (this is optional. I like it both ways - without sugar, it makes for a great cookie to dip in tea or coffee!)

8. Place on cookie sheet and use a fork to flatten them. (Like how you do for peanut butter cookies?)

*OPTIONAL STEP 8. Do not do step 7. Place balls on cookie sheet and use a cookie stamp to flatten them. Add decorating sugar if so desired.

9. Bake 11-14 minutes, or until golden brown (note: they will bake a bit faster without the decorating sugar)

10. Let cool. Eat. Enjoy.

Yield 3-4 dozen

Want more cookie recipes? Look no further than here:
12/1 –Natasha Nicholes – Jan Hagel Dutch Shortbread Cookies 
12/2 – Maple Mellows – Rosie Discovers
12/3 – Partridge in A Pear Tree Pie Cookies – All Dressed Up With Nothing to Drink
12/4 – Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Coffee Glaze – Mama Harris’ Kitchen 
12/5 – Snickerdoodle & Peanut Butter Cake Cookies – Crafty Life
12/6 – German Chocolate Shortbread Cookies – Chewsy Lovers
12/7 – Fruitcake Cookies – So Rae, Me
12/8 – Cake Mix Christmas Cookies – A Real Urban Mom 
12/9 – Snow On the Mountain Cookies – Kitchen Stories Etc.
12/10 – Melt In Your Mouth Nutella Butter Cookies P Thirty 1 
12/11 – The Queso
12/12 – Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies – Hysterical Mom 
12/13 – Chewy Gingerbread Cookies – FoodPlus
12/14- Glazed Lemon Butter Cookies – Mixed Blessings Blog
12/15 – Banana Pina Colada Freestyle Cookies – Socamom  & Gingerbread Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies – Just A Splash of Diva
12/16 –Chocolate Truffles – Houseful Of Nicholes
12/17 – Snowball Cookies – Mixed Prints Life
12/18  Mommy & Me Blessed Macarons – Blessed be the Tie 
12/19 – Eggnog Cookies – Fab Haute Mama

Monday, June 13, 2016

On getting my heart broken

Lately, my heart has been broken.
And broken again.
And broken once more.

And I've spent so much time wondering why.
Why do bad things happen?
Why are we so quick to grab our pitchforks?
Why do we not show more compassion?
Why does our anger and hatred run so deep?
Why do I care?
Why do some others seem to not care?

No, this isn't related to anything in my house.
No, this isn't related to cancer.

But current events lately?

They are slowly breaking me.
What fresh hell will we wake up to tomorrow?

It seems to me that even though witch hunts fell out of favor, that even though burning woman at the stake is frowned upon, we as a society have figured out a way to figuratively burn women at the stake.

Make a mistake? Uproar.
Act human? How dare you.
You are not a perfect mother? Then why the hell did you even have children?
And if your child leaves your eye sight for one second? Well, suddenly everyone else has NEVER lost a child and has never felt that panic and take your child away because SHAME ON YOU.
Get raped? Well, why didn't you prevent it better?

On the other hand ...
Oh you raped a woman ...
Well, do you look "nice"?
Are you an athlete?
Do you come from a "good" family?
Oh, well, here's your slap on the wrist and now we will all mourn for the things you have lost. Because maybe now you can't even eat steak anymore, and oh dear, what ever shall we do to make you feel better now?

And then we throw in the oh, you don't like who that person kissed?
Great. Here's a gun that fires more rounds than anyone should ever have a need for.
When the anger gets to be too much? Go and shoot up a bunch of people.
Because they are something that you don't agree with.

The country will mourn.
We'll pray.
We'll send good thoughts.

But nothing will change.

In a few weeks, another woman will make a mistake and be raked across the coals.
Another woman will get raped and people will blame her clothes, what she drank, where she was, and her sexual history. (Or worse, no one will listen and nothing will be done.)
Another man will get a slap on the wrist for raping her. (Or worse, he'll have nothing done because she won't report it, or she won't be believed, or the police won't press charges, or the DNA kit will be placed on an ever growing pile that isn't being tested).
Someone else will take a gun to a bar, a movie theater, a shopping mall, a street, a school, a beach, a concert, a sporting event, somewhere, anywhere.

There is so much hate in this world.
There is so much us vs. them.
There is so little compassion.
There is so much anger.
There is so much division.
There is so little understanding.

And it just feels like we, as a society, will ever do anything to stop it. 
Sure, we throw out platitudes. As if that's ever made a difference.


I don't know where to go from here.
I don't know what to do.

I want to be a voice that speaks out.
I want to be a voice that is compassionate.
I want to be a voice that is understanding.
I want to be a voice that is caring.

I want to stop the hate.
I want to stop the anger.
I want to stop the violence.
I want to stop the hurt.
I want to stop the pain.

It's all rolling around in my head. All these thoughts, all these feelings.
I can't imagine how people who are in the thick of things are feeling about this.

It's so hard to wrap my head around. I just don't understand it. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

National Cancer Survivorship Day

Today is National Cancer Survivor Day.
Per definition "An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition." from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
The minute a doctor tells you that you have cancer, you are considered a survivor. You remain a survivor for the rest of your life.

Many people who are survivors struggle with that term. Even though the term was coined to include those who have incurable cancer, or those who are in active treatment, many people hear survivor and assume that it means a person who completed treatment and no longer has cancer.

And so survivor can feel like an awkward term to call oneself, especially during treatment, especially if you know the cancer you have will probably be what kills you, especially if you do not feel that cancer is a gift.

Not long ago, survivor was expanded to include the family members/care givers of the person with cancer. Many of these people have trouble calling themselves survivors too.

For me, it is a strange place to be in. I'm a "survivor" but I didn't do anything special to be a survivor. I did not do anything to get my cancer and I didn't do anything special to make it go away. Science happened. Something happened in my genes, and some of my cells turned into cancer. Science happened. The doctors gave me standard care and at this moment, the doctors can't detect cancer in my system anymore.

But other people in the same boat, go through the same treatment and the story ends differently. It is hard to accept that it's just luck of the draw.

We as people want to grab onto something. "I don't eat x, so I can't get cancer. I meditate, so I can't get cancer. I sleep 8 hours a day, so I can't get cancer. I never drink y, so I can't get cancer. I pray every day, so I can't get cancer. I exercise, so I can't get cancer." It's natural. IF we can isolate the ONE thing that causes cancer, we can protect ourselves, and our loved ones.

However, cancer has existed long before our modern lifestyle. It predates sugar, and gluten, and pollution, and electricity, and we could keep going and going and going.We have found bodies with cancer that are 3000, 4000, maybe even 7000 years old. 

That's not to say don't be healthy. Because you should be healthy. I think we all know that by now.

And there are ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Reduce. Reduce. Reduce.

There are not ways to eliminate cancer. 

We haven't figured out how to do that yet. 

I wish we had. But we haven't.

So, today on National Cancer Survivors Day, think of your friends and loved ones who have/had cancer. Think of those who are still here, going through treatment. Think of those who are still dealing with the after effects of treatment. Think of their families and the people who care about them. And think of those of us who are missing someone today.

But also, remember, that tomorrow, you could find yourself in this group of survivors. Remember that even though you are healthy, there isn't a guarantee that you won't get cancer. Remember that cancer predates many of the things that people say are giving us cancer. And remember that some of the people you know, struggle with the term survivor - and that's okay. And some of the people you know embrace it fully and wholly - and that's okay.

There are over 15.5 million survivors in the US today. The only connecting thread for these 15.5 million people is that somewhere in their life, a doctor told them they had cancer. We are a group of people with a wide range of feelings on the term "survivor." 

As for me, the term doesn't bother me, but I don't feel a kinship with it either. I suppose I'm ambivalent about it really. Today will be a day like any other. I have nothing special planned. I'm recuperating from a virus I've dealt with all week. I'll watch too much tv. I'll knit some. And I'll go outside to enjoy our beautiful weather. 

For me, today is just any other day. 
Other days in my cancer story, I mark or I celebrate. 
But today, today, is just an ordinary Sunday.

Friday, May 20, 2016

This is 37

Monday was my birthday. Yay for more birthdays!
I had lots of friends send me wishes via facebook, and so I wanted to make sure I said thank you.
My thank you post turned out to be pretty long, long enough in fact to become a blog post. So here you go, this is a straight copy & paste job!

Thank all for the lovely wishes. I've been having a great day so far - the kids made me a banner, blew up some balloons and made cupcakes. I finished the book I was reading (that was due today). We went to the library and the grocery store. Now we are getting ready to head out to Miss M's softball game, where we'll eat pizza and enjoy our cupcakes. It's not fancy, but it will be a good birthday dinner none-the-less.

Now, for the serious part.

I'm 37 years old. I can't lie, I wasn't sure that I'd see 37. I didn't share this widely at the time, but when I was diagnosed, based on my specific cancer, age, and treatment, the statistics said that there was a 27% chance that I would be alive in 5 years. That's really hard to hear.
While I know I'm not a statistic, and it didn't feel like a dramatic death sentence, it still felt like a punch in the gut to hear. I never thought "when I'm 37," it has been "If I get to 37."

I know sometimes when I say things like that to Eric, it is hard for him to hear. I never said it to be depressing or dramatic, but it just what was for me.

It was hard for quite some time for me to plan in the future. I'm sure it was a defense mechanism, but I stopped thinking about long term plans. I stopped thinking about how I would spend retirement, or what I would do after all the kids left the house. That was hard to do. Because thinking about it would always end with my brain coming back to that 27%.

So I focused on doing. Doing things (when I could, when I was able to).

But I'm here. I'm 37. And that tightness in my chest feels a little less tight. I'm starting to just be more, instead of doing things, instead of just filling the time.

I know that none of us really knows what tomorrow brings. And I know some of you are dealing with a lot more than what I do. But it was still hard. And felt like a heavy burden to carry.

I'm glad I'm turning 37 today. It is a birthday that some of my friends didn't get to celebrate. But I'm here. I've got great friends and family. I'm here. I'm living. And I'm working on being. And I'm working on worrying a bit less. And I'm working on trying to just enjoy the here and now instead of letting the little things nag me or the big fears consume me.

So, happy birthday to me. And happy unbirthday to all of you, who helped me get here through love and support and humor and all the many ways you are blessings in my life.

And an extra shout out to the husband Eric - my rock, my protector, the guy who would walk through fire for me. And my mom Ellyn, who never makes me feel bad when I have to call her crying, who has supported me always and has always been there for me.

 So here we go. This is 37.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reading, Justin Cronin, and Chemobrain

Sometime back in 2010, I was listening to the radio, and I heard an interview with this author Justin Cronin.

At the time I didn't know who he was, had never heard of him before. But the interview hooked me in. (I think the interview might have been Terry Gross, but I'm not 100% sure).

Cronin was talking about how his new book, The Passage, came to be. He would run while his daughter biked and they talked books and plots and what they should write about. His daughter was nine and naturally wanted a book where a nine-year-old girl was an important character. And so The Passage was born.

I knew it was a horror book. I knew it had vampires/zombie things in it. I knew that wasn't quite what I was reading about at the time. But when I heard that interview, I was sold. I needed to read this book that I was hearing about. Mostly because I was sold on the father/daughter creation of it.

Plus, we had a big trip coming up - a train trip from Chicago to Boston and so I would have a lot of time to kill. The Passage, when I looked it up, was a huge book and would be perfect for the train. So I downloaded it onto my new e-reader and dove in.

I. Loved. That. Book.

I couldn't put it down. I'm pretty sure my family got annoyed with me saying, "just let me get to the end of the page and I'll be there!" When it ended, I wanted to cry. I needed the second book right then. Of course, the first book had just come out, so the waiting game began.

Then April 2011 hit. And cancer hit. My own personal nightmare, which had nothing to do with vampires or vampire-like creatures, or anything you find in a horror books played out in front of me.

During treatment, I all but stopped reading. I was physically incapable of reading - the meds messed with my eyes very badly and words looked like they were dancing across the page. I tried some audio books. I was mentally incapable of reading. I couldn't remember anything they had just said. I basically gave up on reading.

This was hard, I've always been a reader. Books, more than once in my life, had been my best friend. Reading was a vital part of my life - I was always reading.

But treatment ended and my eyes got better, so I decided to try to read again. And the chemobrain raged in full force. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't remember the line I had just read. I couldn't remember which character was who.

Again, frustration hit.

It was suggested that I go back and start to read children's books. And I did. And I could keep track of them better, and I worked my way up to books aimed at middle schoolers. And the books were good, but not exactly what I wanted to be reading. I know middle school is tough, but one more bad lunchroom scene and I was going to lose it.

So I kept trying to go back to "adult" books and I just couldn't. I couldn't keep up with them. It was too much for my brain.


The Twelve, part two of the series, came out late 2012. And I was going to read come hell or high water.

I can't tell you how many times I restarted that book. How many pages I had to read, then reread, then reread again. How I would sometimes google characters names to place them in my head when I forgot who they were.

But I was in love with the series, and the second book, despite me having lots of trouble reading it, didn't dampen my love for the story or my desire to know what happened.

It took a long time, but I read, finished, and remembered what happened in The Twelve.

For me, this series will be a direct measure of what I could do before cancer, and what I could do after cancer.

The first book I sailed through. The second book almost felt like it was in a language I didn't know very well. But, when I got through it? I felt so accomplished. Take that cancer. Take that chemobrain. I finished a book!

Which takes us to today. In a week and a half, the third (and final) book comes out. The City of Mirrors. I have already ordered the book. I can't wait to get my hands on it. I plan on reading nonstop until I finish. Okay, I can't actually read nonstop because people in my house need to be driven places and fed and have laundry done and all that jazz, but I'm going to read it as nonstop as possible.

But tomorrow, I'm heading into the city to attend BookCon.
And Justin Cronin will be there.
And I'm going to do try really really hard to get his autograph.

He doesn't know it, but his book, about an apocalyptic time in America was perfectly time with my own personal apocalypse. The first book will always be what I read before cancer. The second book will always be what I read after cancer with really bad chemobrain. And I'm hoping the third book will be the book I read after the chemobrain is a lot better.

One book series to help map what I could do, what I couldn't do, what I could work hard to do, and what I could do again.

And I can't wait.

Books for me have power. There is power in them, whether it's a light beach read, a heavy dark novel, an account of history, fantasy, fiction, nonfiction, whatever is written on those pages? It's powerful for me. I love books. I love reading books. As I get older, the types of books I read grows and grows. I make a point to read every single day.

So when I think back to the time that cancer stole that from me? It's so hard. To know there was a time when I walked away from reading because it was too much? That's a hard time to remember.

But coming back to it, no matter how hard? That makes me feel good.

So tomorrow I shall walk around all day, surrounded by books. I can't wait to see all there is to see and I can't wait to meet authors that I've read before. But, I'm really looking forward to seeing Justin Cronin. His books holds a special place in my heart.

So wish me luck, send me get-Cronin's-autograph-vibes-but-don't-scare-him-with-your-enthusiasm-vibes.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Orange and pink TulipsSo, I've been home from CancerCon for a bit now, but I came home with so much energy (mental only. I'm still trying to catch up on the physical energy!) and excitement. Which has been a great thing, but of course, leads to this: what next?

What next indeed.

Where to go from here?

I have big ideas. And big dreams.



I'm busy being a mom, wife, and granddaughter.

That's not a bad thing. I enjoy my role as a stay-at-home-mom. I like homeschooling the kids. I enjoy the days we get together. I also know that my time of being busy in these things is quickly approaching an end.

So when I think about possible career paths and being more involved in advocacy, that's a few years down the road. That's for when the kids are all in school. That's for when the kids will need me physically less.

And yes, that will be quite the bittersweet transition for me.

That is all in the future though. Right now I'm here.

So I was thinking. And thinking. And thinking a little bit more.

And it hit me.

Me at CancerCon
Inspired by Stupid Cancer's charter "to ensure that no one affected by young adult cancer go unaware of the age-appropriate support resources they are entitled to so they can get busy living" and by Dragonfly Angel Society's #100DaysFearlessOfCancer, I decided to start my own 100 days project.

And so, starting next Monday, I will begin #100DaysOfGetBusyLiving. 

The key word in there is living - not busy. 

This isn't going to be 100 days of being busy and running around like crazy.  A. I am already busy enough. B. It would break me if I tried. 

It might seem contrary, but my goal is to have more fun, slow down a bit and do things that I enjoy, and just try to be present more. 

Being busy living might mean curling up with a good book. It might mean laying in the yard with the kids deciding what clouds look like. It might mean taking a nature hike and snapping some photos.  It might mean a trip to a new place. It might mean trying a new recipe. Or it might mean finally starting to do yoga like I've been saying I would since, oh, maybe a year ago?

It's all about living. And being. 

I can't just jump up and pull an Eat, Pray, Love or a Wild type trip. But I can still be here and make every day count - even if it's just the little things. Flowers on the table, playing good music while I fold laundry. Something. Anything. This is what I can do. 

So next Monday it begins. An arbitrary date? Yes and no. I could easily say let's start now! But next Monday is my birthday. I will turn 37 years old. And what better way to kick off the next year of my life than by getting busy living? 

Because I'll be honest with you, 5 years ago I didn't actually think I'd see 37. I didn't think I'd get that much time. I know that sounds dramatic, but it didn't feel dramatic in my head. It just felt like that's what would be. 

But it wasn't. And I'm here. So now, I've decided, it's time for me to get busy living. We'll see where these 100 days take me. Because I'm ready. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Need a night out?

**please note: parts of this post are sponsored. I'm being given tickets in exchange for sharing this information with you, however, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own!

Hey Chicago friends! Are you looking for a night out? Because we've got some pretty fabulous shows in the area that you should know about.

I'm pretty excited because I always love heading into the city to see shows. For me, a stage show is just magical. And truth be told, we don't see them often enough for my tastes, but life is busy and it's not always easy to get into the city. But the times we manage to make it, it is always well worth it.

The King and I

The King and I is running now at the Lyric Opera House.  Didn't buy your tickets yet? That's okay. They are running a special promotion right now.
You can get half off tickets to any Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night performance of the King and I if you use the code SIAMBLOG when you purchase your tickets.
So you should definitely buy some tickets and "get to know" The King and I. (See what I did there? And yes, I will be singing Getting to Know You the rest of the day and I'm okay with that!)
I've never seen the King and I on stage before myself and I'm pretty excited to be able to finally say I have because I love the music from the show so much.

Please see for full offer details. Code expires 5/19/2016. For more information on The King and I visit


This week, the Joffrey Ballet is kicking off Cinderella. This is the final show of their 60th season it's running from May 11 to May 22, so get your tickets quick before the the coach turns back into a pumpkin.
But seriously, I've seen the Disney version, I've seen movie versions. Last year my husband took my downtown to see the Rodgers & Hammerstein's version. I've known the Cinderella story since childhood, but I'm excited to see how the Joffrey Balley takes it and makes it it's own. I have hopes which I know won't be disappointed.
Tickets are available for the show now and you can buy them on-line at

Van Gogh's Bedrooms

Speaking of heading downtown, tomorrow the kids and I are going to hop a train and head on down the Art Institute. Tomorrow is the last day of the special Van Gogh's Bedroom exhibit. Ever since it opened I've been saying that I want to go down, and in what seems fitting, I'll finally make it on the last day! My 13 year old has already been with some friends, but the 10 year old and I will be looking at it for the first (and last) time. In general, I love the Art Institute, but I'm especially excited to visit this exhibit. Plus, it's always nice to get out of the house and change up the routine a bit!
Anyway, if you have time in the next two days, you should head out and see Van Gogh's Bedrooms because I've heard from other people that it's well worth it!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

All the Feels at CancerCon

Last weekend, I bravely hopped on a plane (with the aid of xanax and a meditation app) and flew out to Denver, Colorado and attended my first CancerCon.

So. Yeah. I did actually go to a conference about cancer.

Yes, it is a real thing.
No, people didn't wear costumes.
Yes, it was fun.
Yes, I want to go back.

So, before I went, I thought I'd come back and share a lot of information. I thought I'd come back and feel educated. It was almost as if I was gearing up to go back to school.

While I did get a lot of information, and I did learn some new things, there was so much more to this conference than I knew to plan for: the richness and the depth of the conversations with other people that I would have.

I mean, I knew I'd have to talk to people. I knew I'd get to meet people, but I figured it would all be kind of superficial. I mean, there were over 600 people there, so many things going on, sessions to attend, SWAG to grab, etc, etc.

And somehow in the midst of all of this, there were some really deep and powerful conversations, at least for me.

Maybe, because everyone there is connected to cancer so the small talk was skipped? Except, there was a fair amount of talk about the weather - lots of snow, some rain, many clouds, and the sun came out just as we left for the airport ride home! But still, you had the standard my name is Brandie. I'm from Chicago. Oh yes, I was afraid I'd die.

There aren't many people you get to jump from your name to a big fear with. And no, it wasn't depressing - I realize it may sound like it, but it wasn't. In fact, it was the opposite.

I left the conference feeling lighter. And feeling stronger. And with some truths realized that were uplifting.

I met a lovely woman Cindy. Cindy left me feeling peaceful and calm. She helped me see a strength in myself I hadn't seen before. And she encouraged me to take some time to look back to see how far I've come. I've been avoiding this. I didn't want to look back because I knew what I'd see - the same thing I've been saying around these parts - that I'm still stuck 5 years ago. Except, I'm not. I'm actually not. I know, I'm shocked too. That's not to say I'm not stuck in some sense. And that I don't have more progress to make. All of that is true. But it's also true that I'm human and while some days feel like two steps forward, one step back, that means the net gain is one step forward. And I'm doing that - even when it doesn't feel like it. Amazing!

I ate lunch with Kari. Kari was one of those wonderfully energetic, just exudes energy, and makes you want to just sit by her and soak it all up kind of people. After talking to her for a while, I was ready to just go out and change the whole entire world. I often joke that I wish I could bottle my 10-year-old's energy up and just have half of it. I think Kari figured out how to do that. I want to be that kind of force in the world. It might take some serious naps and caffeine, and I'll have to do it my way, but watch out world. I'm ready to make some waves. They might be teeny-tiny ones, but they'll be mine none-the-less.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could tell you about Jonathon, and Lori, and both Jennifers, and Matt, and Melissa, and Colleen, and Dan and several dozen other people.

I could tell you about tears and laughter - sometimes only seconds apart. I could tell you about all the hugs I received and gave. I could tell you how more than once I would (literally) squee as I saw people I've connected with on-line before this conference in person, and how I'd run over and say hey! I'm a stalker - but not really - on twitter/instagram and can we take a picture? and how everyone was like okay! I could tell you how I got a makeover, and while when I looked in the mirror and felt really pretty on the outside, after talking to my hair stylist and the photographer, I felt really beautiful on the inside too. I could tell you about how I left wondering, once again, if I have a book inside me. I could tell you about playing duck, duck, goose. I could tell you several hundred other stories. And maybe someday I will.

But today, today, the most important aspect of CancerCon to me is the connections I was able to make with people. Connections with new friends, deeper connections with old friends.

Which might just be perfect. Because 5 months ago, I decided my word for the year was connection. I didn't walk into CancerCon thinking about that, but I certainly walked away with the word buzzing around my head and my heart.

The weekend was about connection. And all the feelings that made me feel. The love, the laughter, the sadness, the tears, the fatigue, the energy, the empowerment, the shock, and the understanding.  All these feelings led to the connections.

It was amazing.
Truly amazing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

5 years ... and one week

I had every intention of writing and sharing last Tuesday.
But life.
So today is better than never, right?

So. 5 years (and one week ago) I heard the words "You have cancer."

5 years.

I know, 5 years is supposed to be really exciting.

Like celebration exciting.

And yet, to be honest with you, I wasn't feeling any of it.

To be really honest, I actually kind of felt depressed about it.

I realize this might seem counter-intuitive. I realize there are some people who are scared they won't see the five year mark and are jealous of where I am now. I have friends who are no longer with us who never saw the five year mark.

I'm not trying to downplay the fact that I am lucky enough to still be here. Five years later.

But when I think about those who aren't here. Or those who are worried they might not be here in five years, it weighs heavy on my heart.

I didn't do anything special to still be here. The science that we have worked for me. There are people who at the same age, with the same cancer, with the same stage, with the same grade who the science didn't work for.

I am not still here because I am strong.
I am not still here because I stayed positive.
I am not still here because I did cancer "right."
I am not still here because God loves me.
I am not still here because I am special.
I am not still here because of any of this.

They are not here because they were weak.
They are not here because they were negative.
They are not here because they did cancer "wrong."
They are not here because God didn't love them.
They are not here because they weren't special.
They are not here because of any of this.

We have science to try to treat cancer.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes it doesn't.

This makes it hard for me to celebrate.

Let me be clear: I am grateful. I am happy. I am glad.

But to celebrate? Celebrate something that I really had little control over? It's been hard for me to get to that point.

So, my husband and I decided over the weekend, we'd go out and get a drink. Say cheers.

At the last minute, I almost said screw it, let's just get in pajamas and stay home, but I didn't. And we got to the bar, I was surprised to see my family there - my mom, dad, sisters, and brother-in-laws. I yelled. I cried. I hugged. And I instantly felt my spirits lift.

We sat, we ate, we talked, we had a drink. A friend texted to see if she could meet us there too.

More laughter, more talking, more eating, a second drink.

I can't lie, it felt good.

I walked in that night feeling sad and overwhelmed and like it was hard to celebrate.
I walked out that night feeling happy and grateful and glad we did celebrate.

Yes, I am still mourning friends.
Yes, I have sadness for those who are dealing with illness (or other things).



I realized that at the same time, I can feel happy for where I am.
I can celebrate these milestones.

I don't need a big huge party. I don't need gifts. But to have loved ones around me, to say cheers, I'm here to have this drink,  that was exactly what I needed. I needed this Saturday night gathering and I didn't even know it.

I can celebrate these moments.
I can embrace these anniversaries.

This doesn't mean I'm forgetting about others who couldn't be there or couldn't have that moment. Because, I don't. And don't ever intend to.

But, you guys? It's been 5 years. And a week.
5 years.
That sometimes seem like 5 days and other times feel like 5 decades.
5 years.
Yep. I can raise a glass to that.

Before I close, I want to remember those who I'm missing



Thursday, April 14, 2016

It just is

Two weekends ago I headed up to Madison, WI and attended the Midwest Young Adult Cancer Conference.

It was a one-day affair and I had a good time.

I learned a few new things, and connected with some great people. For me, connecting with others was the highlight of the day for me and it's highly probable that I'll attend it again next year.

That said, part of the day was hard fro me.

I was surrounded by people who also had cancer. Who were in my age range. Some of them also parents, some of them not. It's good for me to get time with a wide range of people who are in similar boats as me. It's therapeutic for me.

It's why I try to get out to local Stupid Cancer meetings and YSC meetings.

At the end of the month, I'll be flying to Denver to attend CancerCon as well.

There are too many moments of the day where I feel isolated and different.

At my core, I know that I'm not - I'm surrounded by a fair amount of people who try to understand, who are caring, and sympathetic. It means a lot to me. But it's another thing to talk to someone who knows what things are like verses someone who is just trying to imagine what things are like.

I come home feeling more normal, feeling more okay with things, and with a wee bit of energy.

Except sometimes I don't. Sometimes I walk away and I feel stuck.

And I hate it. It's uncomfortable. It's unpleasant. It's hard to face.

So on Saturday, in the midst of all the goodness of the day, this feeling of stuckness was thrown into the mix as well. Frankly, this wasn't the feeling I was anticipating dealing with.

But I sat in it for a bit. Instead of ignoring it, instead of burying it, instead of just wishing it away, I sat in it.

Turns out, it wasn't actually that bad.

I mean, it's probably not great. But it's not really bad either. It just is.

It just is.

Okay, maybe I'm still working on convincing myself of that. But I think it's worth  convincing myself.

So with all these thoughts flying around my head, the rest of the conference went really well.

At the end of the day we did a little wrap-up activity in which we wrote what we had expected to learn there and what we did learn. After all of that, we were challenged to write some sort of wrap-up in a 7 word poem.

7 words.

I admit I was stumped at first, but it came to me.

Short. Sweet. And it hit the point.
At the last minute, I altered it a bit.
I think it's perfect.
This is what I'm holding onto moving forward.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

What comes next?

Chicago at Night
Chicago at night
What comes next?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
I've got one daughter two years away from college. One daughter who is a year away from entering high school (and ending homeschooling). One son who is three years away from making the homeschool-to-public-school switch. This means there should be an eventual return to the work force for me. We're renting a house now. We'd like to buy and soon. We'd like to buy this house. I'm not sure it's in the cards for us financially (see: one child 2 years away from college with a sibling to follow every three years thereafter).

In the next several years, there is going to be a lot of change around here. Not that it's all bad. I love watching my children grow. I love seeing where their paths will take them. While I'll miss my daughter should she go away for college, it will be exciting to see how she picks her school, what she picks to major in. There will be lots of milestones to celebrate, holidays to be together for, birthday parties.

Still. I sit here and wonder what next?

And if I'm being completely honest, the truth is that's what I've been asking myself for the last 5 years.

Cancer. Well, what next?

I still don't know. I still haven't figured it out.

Sometimes I think I'm on the verge of figuring out. Something happens, I feel moved, the excitement blows up like a balloon. But always, always, a pin comes a long, pops that balloon, and I'm left there with lots of uncertainty. Lots of anxiety. Lots of worry. And lots of worrying about what the heck I'm supposed to be doing. Because I just don't know.

I'll tell you something else. I'm really, really, I mean really tired of it all. I'm just tired of it.

How has five years passed and it still feels like just yesterday I was told that I had cancer. Because it just doesn't seem to make sense in my mind.  And this whole time I've been wondering what's next.

You know what I think I realized though? It's not anything about what comes next. I've spent the last 5 years looking for the wrong thing.

It's not about what's next. It's about what's now.

This moment.
Right now.

So I'm trying.
I'm really trying.

It's going to take me time. I wish I could rush and just be where I want to be. So I'm going to try to be patient and, as the cliche goes, take it one day at a time.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

And As I Knit ...

And as I knit each stitch for you,

I knit in prayers of happiness and joy
I knit in wishes of a life of lots of laughter
I knit in hopes of goodness and lots of smiles
I knit in hugs and love for the moments you need them, despite hoping you never will
I knit in thoughts that you will have a well-knit community around you.
This is what I knit for you.

As I knit, my anxiety slips off like a stitch being dropped
As I knit, the sadness I carry lightens
As I knit, worries about my health disappear
As I knit, I feel like I've found my place in the world
As I knit, I am filled with joy and happiness as I picture you with the finished product
This is what I knit for me.

I knit for you
I knit for me

As the yarn is joined together, for a moment, so are we
Just for a moment. 

As I knit each stitch for you

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sometimes words are not enough

I can't tell you how many times I have sat down and opened this page.
I've clicked to write a new post.
The blank page pops up waiting for me to type, and nothing comes.

In my head I have plenty to say.
When I sit down, the words all seem to disappear and flit away.

I could tell you about my lymphedema flare-up.
I could tell you about my new (to me) vehicle.
I could tell you how my new (to me vehicle) is broken and the dealer we bought it from won't fix it.
I could tell you I've been getting ocular migraines again.
I could tell you about what I've knit recently.
I could tell you about the new project I'm working on with my daughter.
I could tell you we've had a few warm(er) days and it's been nice.
I could tell you about basketball seasons.
I could tell you about volleyball.
I could tell you about my son's piano recital.
I could tell you about all the things I'm baking.
I could tell you about pain.
I could tell you about anxiety.
I could tell you about gratitude.
I could tell you about fear.
I could tell you about happiness.

And yet, when I sit to tell you any of this, all of this, none of this.
It's all gone.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I've used up all the words I had for blogging.
Other times I wonder if I should maybe stop blogging.

How can I blog without words?
How can I find words when the world feels so much bigger than me and my words and my thoughts and my problems and my joys feel so small?

And today I read devastating news from a friend. Her precious daughter passed away. And I sit here heartbroken.

Words just aren't enough.

They just aren't.

Words have the ability to be quite powerful, to be a force to be reckoned with.

But right now, words fail me. They don't say enough for what I want to say.

So I sit silently. In tears. In prayers. Sending love. Sending so much love into this broken world full or heart ache and pain and unfairness.

And I hold on to the good things, the uplifting things, the powerful things.

Because this is life. This is my life.
And all I can do is what I can do.
What I can do changes every day.
So when words aren't enough, I dive into doing.
Doing what I can.

So I'm here. I'm doing. I'm thinking. And I'm trying to find my words. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day

It's leap day today.

A day we only get every 4 years ... though if we live long enough (2100) we'll see an 8 year cycle for leap year, which seems strange right? Okay, well, maybe only to me!

None-the-less, we have a bonus day today.

Alas, I will be doing what I do every Monday.

I thought about trying to do something special for today, but there just didn't seem to be anything that struck me as worth doing. And the week in general is a busy one, so February 29 will look like February 28 and March 1.

I know I've been quiet around here lately.

There's so much I want to say, and yet, I have nothing to say.

I've been busy living life.
I've been busy resting.
I've been busy reading.
I've been busy knitting.
I've been busy doing.
I've been busy being.
I've been busy being busy.
I've been busy being lazy.

All of this busyness leaves me exhausted.

Don't get me wrong, life is good. I'm getting things done. There's lots of laughter and smiles. I'm trying new things. It's good.

But I'm so tired. Same old story. I'm trying to manage the exhaustion better - some days I do a better job than others.

So, on this bonus day this year, I'll be doing what I do! And it will be good.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Baking Bucket List

Last week I made a fruit tart.
I've been wanting to make a tart for a while, and was excited to get a tart pan for Christmas.
I made it, and somehow, it turned out really good! 

Last year, all I wanted to do was try a poached egg and risotto. I've done both and they actually tasted good. I don't do poached eggs often, but I do make risotto sort of often as a side dish for us.

There are a few other things I've thought about in the back of my mind that I'd like to try to make for myself, if only once, so I decided to make a baking bucket list (well, baking/cooking list, but I like the consonance of the b). Anyway, without further ado and in no particular order at all

Official Baking Bucket List
Focaccia bread
Homemade croutons
Homemade marshmallows
Homemade pasta
Mozzarella sticks with homemade mozzarella
Lemon meringue pie
Chocolate mousse
Apple fritters
Sour dough bread
More than three layer cake
Homemade cheese crackers
Pita bread
Homemade pop tarts
Banana Cream Pie
French Onion Soup
Coffee Cake

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where Do I Sign Up For Just One Year?

Recently, CJ (Dian) Corneliussen-James, of Metavivor, wrote a letter to Fran Drisco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

CJ, in her letter, makes many points I agree with. We need to make sure that if we are talking about the end of breast cancer, our eggs are not all in the prevention basket. We need to make sure that stage iv patients are included. We don't just need prevention, we need treatment, life-prolonging and life-saving treatment. There are many woman living in the US alone with stage iv breast cancer. If our focus is solely on prevention, we are basically leaving them out in the cold, on their own.

I do not have stage iv breast cancer. I have not had stage iv breast cancer. I fully admit, I don't know what those with stage iv breast cancer feel like, or what they face. I can sometimes imagine parts of it. I still use my voice, as I have many times on this blog, on social media, when talking to friends, to advocate for stage iv breast cancer. I recognize that while I had breast cancer and someone with stage iv has breast cancer, our experiences, our treatments, our lives are different. (note: this extends to people who did have the same stage as me, or maybe were stage ii or stage i. We all have individual experiences).

I imagine at times, those with stage iv breast cancer must look at those of us who are NED (no evidence of disease) and feel jealous. And wonder why I am NED when s/he is not. I imagine that my complaints on twitter might seem trivial to my friend with incurable brain cancer. I imagine when I talk about a conversation with my daughter about if I were to die, that must seem easy to the mom who is about to enter hospice because all treatment for her breast cancer has stopped working.

I can imagine all of this. I can fully understand how one could feel this way.

I agree it's not fair. I often wonder why I got to be NED when so many really fantastic woman did not. I often wonder why I am alive and friends have died.

Which is why I speak up. I talk about stage iv breast cancer. I talk about funding research. I talk about not excluding those with metastatic breast cancer from October breast cancer awareness campaigns. I share facts with friends, strangers. I talk about these things in person, on-line, in this blog. I share blog posts written by metastatic patients so that other people can see things from that woman's perspective. I read the posts so I can learn too.

I am not perfect in this, but I do try.

I try to be a "fearless friend," (a phrased coined by Rachel Cheetham Moro - who passed away several years ago from breast cancer).  I try very hard.

So when I was reading CJ's letter, and then I came to this part

Breast cancer is not the problem. You lose a breast, you have a medical year to endure and life goes back to normal. I know I will take flack for this statement … but hey … while I sympathize that some people spend many years thereafter in fear of metastasis, the simple truth is that their problems pale when compared with ours. I and every other metastatic patient out there would trade places with these former breast cancer patients in a heartbeat – their odds of survival are 70% … ours are 1-3% … that’s a huge difference in odds.

I kind of did a double take.

Wait. Did I just read this? Did she really say I just had to endure a year and then life goes back to normal? Is what I went through being trivialized?

I'd like to think that CJ did not mean to trivialize what I went through. I imagine there is a lot of frustration and anger for the lack of research into stage iv breast cancer, for all the times that stage iv breast cancer patients have been eliminated from the conversation. I believe she would trade places with me in a heartbeat. I don't doubt any of that.

But, um, can someone tell me where I sign up for my one year? Please?

Me, on the 4 year canceriversary
It's been four years. And I feel like maybe I'm almost sort of close to starting to feel normal.
I get it. Four years is a gift really. Given that metastatic patients have a median life span of 26 months, my four years really is a gift.

But it wasn't a year of cancer, and then poof! All better. It was a year of cancer treatment. That led to infections. That led to lymphedema. That led to physical therapy. That led to menorrhagia. That led to low iron. That led to more surgery. That led to allergic reactions. That led to hospitalization. That led to thyroid goiters. That led to chronic fatigue. That led to migraines. That led to brain fog. That led to missed social events. That led to missed work. That led to missing things with my family. That led to new medicines. That led to new side effects. That led to, well, a lot of things.

It wasn't just a year. It's been a crapload of things that all seem to pile up. It's been days where I can't get out of bed. It's been days where I feel useless. It's been days where I feel like the worst mother ever.

And yes, it's been fear - fear that the cancer will come back. Fear that the pain I experience today will never leave. Fear that the side effects won't get better. Fear that I will never find normal.

These are my experiences and my fears.

I realize these are different fears and worries and issues that those with stage iv breast cancer are dealing with. I realize that the fact I'm still here, four years later, to deal with all of this is a gift in itself.

But it doesn't make my day-to-day life any less painful. It doesn't make the migraines hurt less. It doesn't make the joint pain disappear. It doesn't make another basketball game I have to miss magically get canceled and rescheduled for when I'm feeling better.

I will continue to be a fearless friend. I will speak up about metastatic breast cancer. I will continue to push for awareness and education. I will continue to push for more funds into research. I will keep doing this.

But don't let that fool anyone. I still have difficult days. And hard days. I won't trivialize any one's cancer experience. I will continue to be a voice of advocacy and love and understanding. Because I believe that this is the best path to continue down.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Can't We All Just Work Together?

My 2012 Avon walk TEAM
It seems lately I've noticed some things going on both in real life and in social media.

Okay, none of it's new, it's just bothered me more lately.

There's this whole cancer competition that some people take part in.
If you've been in it before, you know what I mean

Oh, you had cancer once? Well, I had it twice.
My tumor was way larger.
Huh, no chemo for you? Aren't you lucky. I did chemo.
Your doctor only gave you 28 radiation treatments? I did more.
16 rounds of chemo? Nice. I did 32.
Stage ii? I'm stage iii.
Stage iii? Oh I'm stage iv.
You did implants for reconstruction? I did diep. It's way better.
You still eat sugar? I gave it all up to be healthy.
Oh you think cancer sucks? I don't, so you're doing it wrong.
I worked through chemo. You didn't? It's a shame you aren't as strong as me.
Thyroid cancer? Pssh. That's easy cancer. I had brain cancer.
Oh you were treated at the local hospital? I went to the best downtown so I could have the greatest chance to be cancer free.

Alright, I admit - three of these I wrote based on what people implied. The rest, I've actually heard or read

Regardless, the cancer competition is strong in some people.
And all I can think is what the hell people?

Does it matter who had it worse? Doesn't it all just inherently suck?

Listen, I get it. Chemo sucks, so not getting chemo might seem easier, but maybe that person had to do radiation and that made them sick? Or have surgery that was hard to recover from? Or maybe that person has 2 young children so any treatment - with or without treatment was difficult. Or maybe that person didn't get sick, didn't have chemo, doesn't have other extenuating circumstances, but cancer still sucks.

Sure, we can argue that there are varying degrees of cancer suckage, but it all sucks none-the-less.

And guess what? If we are all sitting here worrying about who had it worse, if we are all busy fighting over what's "good" cancer and "bad" cancer, or dividing the community with ads where people say I have the "bad" cancer and I'm jealous of those with the "good" kind, how can we come together to fight against cancer. Together. All of us. One big group of people. Fighting to end cancer once and for all.

Cancer is a complicate disease, because it's not one disease - it's many diseases. Even in the same cancer - i.e. breast cancer - there are different subtypes.

Sometimes researchers try one treatment and discover not only did it help the cancer a they were studying, but it helps cancer b and cancer c and even cancer d. So we need to work together for all kinds of research - sometimes very, very specific types of research, and other times, wider research.

Sometimes congress tries to cut funding, so we need to join forces to write letters, make phone calls, rally people to also do that. We need to work together to make sure that funding is in place.

Sometimes, some organizations don't use the money in a good way. So we need to work together to make sure people know that is happening. To use our voices to encourage those organizations to do better.

All of us.
Not just one of us.
Or those that are in boat A, while ignoring those in boat B.

Not only that, but we need more than cancer patients and cancer survivors to join these ranks too - we need our families, our friends, our caregivers, our doctors, we need a lot of voices to join in with us so that we can be louder, stronger, heard.

But if those of us in the cancer community are bickering among ourselves, what will the people looking in see?

They won't see a group they want to join in. The won't see a cause they want to pick up and fight for. They will see infighting and complaining and brokeness and they won't want to be a part of it. Then those who are being downplayed, or made to feel less than will leave. They won't want to be a part of it either. And pretty soon, instead of coming together to work for a common cause, we will be left fractured, broken, and making smaller marks in this world.

This is not a legacy I want to be a part of.

This is not a competition I want to be a part of.

There aren't any gold medals for the person who has the worst.
There aren't any gold medals for doing cancer "right."
There aren't any gold medals for "being the best cancer patient."

The stakes, are infinitely higher than that.

If we won't, or can't, work together, we will continue to see really wonderful people die from cancer. We will not see science advance. We will not see some research happen.

People who have/had cancer will start to suffer from depression, anxiety, worry, pain, isolation, frustration alone. People who are already dealing with so much, will also spend time wondering why they can't do cancer right.

I do not want to be exclusive. I want to be as inclusive as possible. I want to talk about my cancer experience in an open and honest way, and I want you to have room to do that as well. I want us to work together, to raise our voices to fund research, push for better science, to help those that are struggling.

But ...
If you are going to turn cancer into a competition, I have to step away from that.
If you insist that how you do cancer is the right way, I have to step away from that.
If you are going to downplay an entire group of cancer patients as not as important because it's not your cancer, I have to step away from that.

So let's just not do that. Let's work together. Let's support each other. Let's acknowledge that at all stages, types, grades, subtypes - cancer just sucks. Period.

Because at the end of the day, cancer is cancer is cancer. If we can't all stand together regardless of type/stage/etc, how can we expect to find a way to get rid of it?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hanging on to Hope

Last week I posted this on my facebook page

Sometimes I reach a point where not only do I think I will eventually die of cancer, but basically all of us will. Unless we're hit by a bus or some other freak accident first.
Because lately I can't seem to go a day without reading about a cancer death - from someone in my circle or a celebrity. Or learning a friend/acquaintance has just learned they have terminal cancer or that treatment has stopped working.
And while my first thoughts are about that person, my second thoughts are much more selfish. And it's hurting my heart and my head so very much.
Someone else chimed in that he was feeling the same way, but feeling like a jerk for thinking of himself. Last night at a in-person meeting, someone else said it was hard for her to hear all this news too. 

It is comforting to know that I'm not the only person who hears the recent news and doesn't feel stung by it

I know I didn't know any of the celebrities we've lost recently personally, and yet, if even they couldn't manage a way to out-science cancer, how can I? How can any of us? 

Right now, it feels that every time I turn around, someone is dying. Of cancer. Famous people, non-famous people, men, women, parents, children. When does it end? 

How do I hear this news and hold onto hope? Hope that I'll be here in 5 years? Hope that I'll be here in 10 years? Or 15? Will I see my kids graduate high school? College? Will I see them get married? Have children? Will I someday be sitting at a family reunion, with my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?

In a few months I hit my 5 year cancerversary. 

5 years.

5 years is supposed to be a magical number. Just get to five years and you're good, right? 

At my last appointment, the oncologist and I talked about how 5 years isn't the magic number. There isn't really a magic number. But, he did say, if we can get to 10 years, the chance of recurrence drops off a lot. It doesn't disappear. 

My cancer could come back in 11 years. Or 21. Or even 30. 

Money won't make my cancer not return*. Fame won't make my cancer not return. Being rich or famous doesn't mean cancer can't kill you

There are times where I wish I could insulate myself from learning about anyone's death from cancer. Sometimes I think I need to stop talking to people with incurable cancer. Sometimes I think I need to not watch the news. Sometimes I think I need to just hibernate, pull into myself, and ignore the wider world around me. 

And yet, that's not the answer either. I have made some really beautiful friendships with people who are dying from cancer. It is hard to lose them, but I think my life would be less if I had never met them. 

It is hard to lose family members. And friends. 

And yet. I love knowing them. I love the relationships I build with people. I love them, even if I know that there might be a hole in my heart later because I'll have to say good bye to them. 

That's just from my perspective. Can you imagine having incurable cancer and then all your friends backing away because it would be too hard to be your friend? I can't even. And I don't want to be the person who does that. 

But it's still hard. It still hurts my heart. And it still hurts my head.