No such thing as "good" cancer, but I've got it.

There's an old cliche' that says God never gives us more than we can handle. Mother Theresa was once quoted as saying "God never gives us more than we can handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." A month ago, and for the last seven years, I thought I understood how she felt. Now, I know I understand how she felt.  A week ago I was diagnosed with cancer. It's not your "regular" cancer, in fact, it's the "good" kind of cancer. I, thankfully, will not have to undergo chemo treatments to fight this disease. The doctors and the "all-knowing internet" have all simplified it down to 3 things: 1) Surgery to remove the cancer and my thyroid. 2) a one time pill of Radioactive Iodine to kill off any left over thyroid or cancer cells. 3) Taking thyroid replacement hormone for the rest of my life.

They make it sound as if it's no big deal like it's not really cancer, but it is still CANCER! So I don't have to go through the nastiness of chemo and radiation treatments, but there are still the numerous dr. appointments, scans and tests, not to mention the thought that it could spread or come back at any time is always lingering in the back of your mind and there is still the worst case scenario. Even though there is a near 100% cure rate, there are still those who don't survive this type of cancer. Having Thyroid Cancer is a bit of a different ball game. I've had a difficult time deciding whether or not to share my diagnosis with people outside of my immediate circle. There are people in my life that have a tendency to say things that infer they think I'm a hypochondriac or just want attention and use my health to get it. Trust me, I would much rather not have to deal with MS, cancer, or any of the other health problems I have. And I'm sorry, but it's not my job to make you feel better about the fact that I have cancer.

There's not really anything you can do to "fix" these things. You follow the doctor's orders, but the reality is there is just no way to really know how things will turn out. These aren't medical issues that require a round of antibiotics and then you're done with it. These things don't go away completely. Sure, there's remission and at some point the doctors could declare me "cancer free," but there's always the possibility that it will return. I don't know why MS and arthritis weren't enough trouble for me, but for whatever reason, these are the adversities I have to navigate in life.

I don't need your drama or your stress. I don't need any stress. What I need is your smiles, an occasional hug, laughter, and for cancer to not be constantly on my mind. I don't want to think about it all the time. I want to continue my life, not pause or stop it. I need you to not be sad, if you're going to be sad, then go be sad somewhere else. I need you to be my friend, not a walking bucket of pity. Two great coaches who lost their fight with cancer said it best. "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."--Jim Valvano  and "It's what you got, deal with it."--Tom Pratt   So, I've got MS, I've got arthritis, I've got cancer, I've got no plans to give up. Just deal with it.

Quitters never win

Quitters never win. It's something we hear all the time, but do you really "get" what that means? I think it's really a question of your integrity, heart, and ultimately your identity. Integrity involves many things, but in this case I'm talking about your ability to finish what you started or fulfill a commitment/promise. When you sign up for a team of any kind, you make a commitment to be there every time until your season/project is finished. People are counting on you to be there and you said you would be.  Heart: Do you want it enough to push through the bad/difficult times? Do you believe in yourself even when no body else does? Can you rise above not only the expectations of others, but your own potential? Identity: Are you secure in who you are? Can you do your best, and give everything you have only to lose or fail at achieving your goal and be okay with it? Can you accept that things don't always go the way you want them to, forget about it, and try again tomorrow?

I learned all of these things through soccer. I remember getting cut from my soccer team. I was so upset I wanted to quit soccer all together. Thankfully, I had a mom and dad that wouldn't let me. Even though I complained and fought them the whole way, they forced me to go try out for another team. They wouldn't let me quit something I loved just because things didn't go the way I wanted them to.  Then two years later when my new team began to flounder, I wanted to quit again. My mom said "absolutely not! You signed up to play with this team for the whole year and you will honor that commitment. When the season is over and you still want to quit then okay, but you will not quit on your team in the middle of the season. That also means you will do your best everyday." I finished the season and decided I still wanted to play, but not with that group of people. Not because we didn't win or because I didn't like my teammates. I left because the other members of the team didn't have that same commitment to the team that I did and their parents weren't making them show up.

I remember these two moments in life, because they were both big moments when my parents decided to be my parent and teach me life lessons rather than be my friend and make me feel better. At the time I didn't appreciate those moments, but now I know the value of these lessons. Integrity goes a long way in life, build it up and don't compromise it.

The reality that sometimes skill, talent, and speed weren't enough to win and that sometimes it just comes down to who wants it more I learned from a stranger.  My teammates and I were waiting to play in the championship game of a tournament and decided to sit and watch a boys game. The team whose sideline we sat on and cheered for were complete strangers to us. They ended up losing their game and afterwards their coach said something to his boys that penetrated the heart of my team and we carried it into our game.  He told his boys they didn't lose because the other team was bigger, they didn't lose because the other team was faster, and they didn't lose because the other team was better. He told them they lost because the other team wanted it more. As we huddled together before our game, our coach was preparing to say something to encourage us. Before he could speak, my co-captain and I posed this question to each other and our teammates, "Who wants it more?" Our goal was to win the tournament and we determined we weren't going to let them take that from us. Simply put, we wanted it more and we continued to remind each other of that. As that cool, autumn night came to an end, we went home with a championship trophy and the knowledge that sometimes you have to push yourself beyond your known limits to achieve your dreams.

At the same time, my high school coach was teaching me, again, not to quit. My freshman year we got beat in a pre-season game. After the game, our coach really reamed us for giving up and quitting on ourselves, our teammates, and him. He said we were representing more than just ourselves, we represented each other, him, our school and our town. Our teammates, school, and town deserved better than a bunch of quitters. He told us he didn't care what the scoreboard said, that we would not quit, ever. He taught us to fight for everything until the final whistle blew.

When my soccer career ended as the result of a string of serious injuries, I felt a little lost. I wasn't sure of who I was without being part of a team and without having a ball at my feet. When the school year ended a few weeks after telling my coach and teammates that I was hanging up my boots, my coach wrote something in my yearbook that helped me understand who I was:
"I am truly going to miss you on the soccer field next year. You are an inspiring player who always "leaves nothing" on the field. I respect and admire your approach to games and your ability to always maximize and exceed your potential. You truly epitomize what an over achiever is. Thanks for all you have given Sandite Soccer and remember to apply the same principles in the rest of your life..."--Roger Bush, May 2000

 In that one paragraph, I was reminded of who I was. I was reminded that when I took the field nothing else in the world mattered except soccer. That allowed me to give everything I had to my team and the game. For 90 minutes nothing else mattered, but when I stepped off the field and took my cleats off there were other things in the world that deserved my attention. I wasn't just a soccer player. Because I gave everything for the duration of a game, I could walk away with my head held high knowing that even when we lost, I couldn't have done anything else to change the outcome. I was reminded that I wasn't afraid to push myself to be better than expected. I could walk away with no regrets and knowing that I had all the tools to be successful. I knew who I was and I knew I had worked hard to become that person. My achievements weren't just handed to me, they were earned. I did the work and gave my best effort, I didn't take short cuts and I didn't cheat and was rewarded for it.

This past fall and spring I volunteered as an assistant coach for an U-12 boys team. Needless to say, we were always the underdog. Half of our players had no soccer experience and most of them weren't very competitive and just wanted to have fun. That made it hard on someone as competitive as myself. I struggled to try to teach them these same things. They're not quite old enough or ready to learn these life lessons. At 10 and 11 years old, they really are more concerned about having fun. So I decided to focus on just one of these lessons. Never Quit. I told them the same things I was told. No matter what the score is we never quit. Whether we're up by ten or down by twenty, we fight for every ball. It took the whole season to finally get that kind of effort out of them and though we still lost, it was a spectacular game. Our regular season is over and we have one week to prepare for a tournament. After a tough season that yielded only two wins, both by forfeit, one of our guys quit the team. His mom sent a text message to let us know. (I won't even go into that). The reasons she gave were that he was tired of being on a losing team and he was tired of the other boys being bossy, not listening, and not playing as a team.

That last reason really stood out to me. He was tired of them not playing as a team, yet he himself is quitting his team. Not exactly something a team player does. I understand his feelings, but I am bothered that his parents are teaching him it's okay to quit by allowing him to do so. I recognize she is doing what she thinks is best for her son, but I don't agree with it. If she had told him he had to finish this week and the tournament then he could find a different team, it wouldn't bother me so much. It's the quitting that gets to me.

 I am not a parent, but people please. Do not teach your kids that it's okay to quit by allowing them to do so. They need to learn things don't always go their way and sometimes they have to deal with annoying/bossy/selfish people. They need to have a sense of self and be able to fail at something and no it's okay because they gave their best effort even if no one else involved did.

It really irritates me when I see parents allow their kids to quit before the finish line. I imagine that kid growing up and quitting every job or great experience he/she has when they don't like someone or things don't go their way. As I said, I am not a parent, but I encourage you to teach your children the value of integrity and part of that is fulfilling their commitments and not quitting early no matter what. You cannot win in life if you are always quitting.

I wish this young man all the best and I hope quitting early doesn't become a fixture in his life, because quitters never win.

admiration, envy, and dreams.

I have a ton of admiration for women with families. Whether they are working moms or stay at home moms, they do so much through the day including keeping other humans alive. It's got to be one of the toughest and least acknowledged jobs on the planet.

The majority of my friends are one of these women. In fact, out of all my friends, they are the only ones I hang out with. A fact which presents it's own problems, but I'll get to those later. Of my "mommy friends," I've watched how motherhood has changed them and how it's challenged them. Often, I find myself envying them and the lives they have. They're married with their 2.5 kids and beautiful homes they've lovingly decorated.  It's a life I thought I'd have years ago. Trying to be content with my singleness is increasingly difficult when I'm around my dear friends, but I either listen to them talk about their kids' poop or I quit hanging out with them and that's just not an option for me.

For some of them, being a stay at home mom is what they've always dreamed of doing. There's nothing wrong with that. I admire that they visualized a dream and they are living their dream. Some people work their entire lives and never realize their dreams. I don't know if I'll ever realize my dreams. I'm not really sure what my dreams are anymore.

The past six years have changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I look at myself now and have to wonder how did I get to this place. It's as if I've been stuck in the same place for six years and unaware of it the whole time. Now that I've figured that out, I don't know where to go or how to get there. I'm not even sure I know how to take that first step. Sometimes I think about just packing up and leaving town. Going to a place where I can start over without any expectations; past, present or future. But how? I don't have any money and I don't have any idea what I want to be/do. I'm not giving up, I'm just stuck.

This is hard

*It took me a long time to decide whether or not to post this entry. Parts of it may be hurtful to some people and that's not my intention. The whole reason I started this blog was to have an outlet for the physical and emotional stress MS puts on my life along with a place to just express some of my rambling thoughts.*

**I know that there are people in the world that deal with far more serious injuries and illness than I do and they do it much more class and courage than I.**

I've learned that as much as I desire it to be so, I am not much of a writer/blogger. Mostly, I think it is a problem with lack of self-interest. I don't mean I'm not interested in myself (whatever that means), but that I don't find my life all that interesting. My life, in my eyes, is pretty dull and mundane. 

Take this summer for instance. It seems all I do is lounge around the house in an attempt to stay cool. The one thing I struggle with most as a result from my MS is fatigue. The heat of the summer always makes it worse and this summer has been the worst since that first summer after my diagnosis six years ago. WOW, SIX YEARS!!! God has been so good to me these past six years, but with the heat of the summer I just kind of disappear from society. While everyone else is out participating in the world by working, going on vacations, hiking, swimming, jogging, biking, and whatever else there is to do out there, I am stuck inside trying to stay cool. My comfort zone is at about 73.5 degrees and sometimes even just a half degree change in the temperature can start the phases of discomfort. The heat zaps my energy away in no time flat. This year we basically had two or three weeks of spring and then the summer heat moved in. The past month has been down right ridiculous and as my dear friend Denisa put it, it's "stupid hot outside" with temperatures above 100 degrees most of the month of July.  The heat not only drains my energy, but it also completely reinvents my sleep schedule. I sleep all day and I'm up all night. So with the exception of a few weeks, my summer has pretty much consisted of my laying in bed all day with the lights off and the fans blowing over me and not emerging until the sun goes down. Even then it's still too hot to really do much. Thus my life is not any more interesting than a speck of dust. 
There just doesn't seem to be much to write about other than my daily struggle with the disease. I just can't put my brain in that mode of dwelling on the negative, even though I'm sure it would be therapeutic since there isn't really anyone I can talk to about it. My friends haven't been the best at being supportive through this and I can't really blame them. It's not that they aren't good friends, but they just don't want to hear about all the negative aspects and I think they easily forget that I really do have this horrible disease because I don't have "visible" symptoms. They don't realize that we are pretty similar. They talk about their families and about the latest thing their kids have done, because their families are the biggest, everyday thing in their lives. If I don't talk about how I'm doing with my MS then I most often don't have much to talk about, because that's my everyday. I don't have a kid or husband/boyfriend to help make life interesting. I don't go out to clubs or bars to meet new people. The truth is I've never told anyone how I'm really doing. I've heard my friends comment several times on people who "always have something wrong" or are "paranoid." They don't exactly make me believe they really want to hear how I'm doing. As for the other people in my life, either they are obviously not interested, don't want to hear it, or they already worry too much and I just don't feel like I can add to that. I know and am willing to admit that part of these perceptions and feelings are from the depression that often goes along with MS and at times I am a little bit jealous of the lives my friends have. I never ever thought that my life would be what it is and what it is not. Also, I have not talked to my friends about these feelings because that's a conversation I just don't know how to have. Like I said at the top of this thing, it isn't my intention to hurt anyone's feelings. I just need to have an outlet where I'm not being judged, where people aren't thinking I just want attention or sympathy. The fact is this life is much harder than I ever thought it would be. 

For now I have to be content and at peace. I will overcome this. I have not and will not give up or give in no matter how hard it gets. It's just hard to block it out all day every day, and every now and then I have to exhale and empty the tank that's been holding it all in. I know that I'm not alone on this journey and that God is always with me, which is enough. As for everyone else, I think eventually we'll figure out how to do this dance. 


Tornado Complacency

Around my hometown of Sand Springs and in much of the Tulsa area, we often joke about tornados. In Sand Springs there is a story that has been passed down from generation to generation about an old indian(native american) "blessing" that protects Sand Springs from tornados. This story and the fact that it has been decades since Sand Springs and most of Tulsa has taken a direct hit from an actual tornado, have contributed to a "tornado complacency" here. We've had our fair share of strong, straight-line winds, but not full fledged tornados. Even kids are known to stand outside and watch the storms roll in. I even stood outside and watched tonight.

However, I can't help but remember a trip to Kansas back in May 1999. Mom, Sheila and I had been in Wichita for a soccer tournament. We were on our way home late Sunday afternoon when a small, weak tornado dropped from the sky right on top of us. We were in Kansas, out in the middle of nowhere. For the record, Kansas is flat. I mean, flat. We've always been told to vacate the vehicle and get in a low lying ditch during a tornado, but this time there was no ditch. Kansas is flat, no ditches. Plus, it was hailing with baseball to softball size hail stones. We probably would have been killed by the hail had we gotten out of the van. So there we were sitting in the van on the side of Interstate Highway 35 out in the middle of nowhere, completely exposed as this tornado descended upon us. Visibility immediately went to zero and the van began to move. Not just shake, but physically move from one place to another. The wind was literally pushing us around. All my life I'd been taught and trained for what to do in the event of a tornado and there I was at 15 years of age and unable to do what I'd been taught. As the storm passed and we continued down the highway the road went from gray to green. The tornado might not have been powerful enough to eat us and our van, but it did rip up the sod from the nearby farms and completely blanket four lanes of open highway. We spent the rest of the night trying to out-run the tornados. We made it home 10 minutes before the storm was to hit Sand Springs and immediately headed to Tulsa to my aunt and uncle's house for shelter. Just as the storm approached Sand Springs it lifted, and returned to the clouds. That trip was perhaps the scariest time of my life.

As yet another tornado outbreak stormed across the state today, I watched my facebook newsfeed fill up with jokes and comments displaying the dangerous complacency that exists here. It doesn't seem to matter that communities all around us suffer damage year after year. People here still refuse to heed the warnings. My sister complains about all the "depressing" images on the news from the city of Joplin, MO which suffered a direct hit from a massive tornado just two days ago. My hope is that by showing all those images and telling all of the stories that people will realize the reality of these monsterous beasts. Tornados are no joke. Hopefully these images lingering across my television will lead to lives saved and these twisters will suck up that complacency without sucking up our homes.

Don't pack it away

We've wrapped up another Christmas holiday and are preparing to ring in another new year. Don't pack your Christmas spirit away with your decorations. What would this world look like if everyone maintained the same spirit and attitude we display at Christmas time throughout the year?

God's carefully woven plan left me with $2 and blessed beyond measure

In November my aunt's mother passed away. She asked me to make a video slide show for the memorial service. I did the work without expectations of payment, but my aunt paid me anyway. I thought I'd use the extra money to buy a coat for a children's coat drive we were having at church. I had planned on taking the check to the bank on Tuesday and then going to Walmart afterwards to buy the coat. The Sunday before, I received the Walmart Black Friday circular via email and saw they were going to have the same coat on sale for just $8 on Black Friday. So I decided to wait and buy two coats instead of one.

I went to work that Monday excited about the upcoming holiday and shopping for those coats. After work I had to run to the feed store for some dog food and on the way home the water pump on my car went out. I had $24 and some change in my checking account; not enough for a water pump. First I tried the salvage yard, but they don't sell water pumps. So I checked around and found the cheapest one at Autozone. Tuesday afternoon I took the check my aunt had written me to the bank, which brought the total amount of cash in my checking account to $54. On the way home we stopped by Autozone to get a water pump. My parents were going to help pay for it since I didn't have much money. As the guy rang up the part I wondered how much my parents would have to contribute and was surprised to hear the man behind the counter tell me the total came to $52.

I couldn't believe it! God knew I was going to need that money from my aunt to fix my car, so he orchestrated the black Friday sale on children's coats just to keep me from spending the money before I needed it. He then made sure the amount in my checking account was just enough to cover the cost of the water pump.

While I was happy that I could pay for the water pump myself, I was still quite disappointed that I wasn't going to get to buy any coats for the kids. I thanked God for His provision and asked Him to give the coat drive a double blessing so the fact that I couldn't donate a coat wouldn't mean some kid didn't get a coat. He did just that! Our original goal was to donate 50 coats. After the final count, we had collected 100 coats to donate!

I thought I'd share this story to remind you that God doesn't just answer prayers; He provides for us before we even know there is a need. On top of all of the above mentioned God works, He has also given me several full days of work. I've had the opportunity to work many more days than I normally get this time of year.

This is just one interwoven story of how BIG and MIGHTY my God is and how He has displayed His power to us in recent weeks. God answers prayers; from the unknown to the big to the seemingly insignificant ones. He cares for all of our needs.

Merry Christmas and Happy Miracle Season!