I have a confession to make.
I've been keepin' a secret. At first, it was because I was being cautious. I didn't want to jinx anything.
Then... because life got busy... I kind of forgot to share.
But this news is big... HUGE... too exciting NOT to share!!!
Have you figured it out yet?
We are expecting a baby! A BABY! A baby girl to be specific. And she will be arriving in early June. So we're past the halfway mark, and I feel great because it's still the 2nd trimester and that's the honeymoon phase that comes before "I'm so fat and uncomfortable and haven't seen my feet in ages and this baby needs to get out NOW!"
Life is almost too perfect right now. I can't say I have a pregnancy glow, but I do have this feeling of closure and starting over. It's like this new baby is (hopefully) the very last chapter/page/sentence to my experience with cancer and the beginning of a new phase of our life.
Prior to trying for/finding out about this pregnancy, I felt uncertain about many things. Could we even conceive a baby? What if I was infertile (chemo can cause permenant infertility)? What would I do then? There was just this huge unknown. We knew we wanted another child, but when and how and everything else just seemed... uncertain. Like I still hadn't fully grasped all the ways cancer had impacted my life, for better and/or worse.
But the good news is that we got lucky (pun intended). After a very short period of "trying", I got the positive pregnancy test and was elated. And as the pregnancy has progressed without any issues and the baby looks healthy, etc. my sense of relief has been overwhelming at times. For the first 20 weeks, until the 2nd ultrasound, a small part of me kept expecting bad news. Because the last time this happened... my world imploded.
But now, life seems strangely normal. I'm like every other expectant mom. Worried about the little things, like getting the nursery done and what life will be like with 2 kids.
It's like this baby has single handedly given me a sense of closure.
Cancer will never be out of my life entirely. It has a whole chapter (or two) in the story of my life so far. But I have this feeling that this particular chapter is closed. I will still worry about any future chapters that might feature cancer... but this just feels like a new beginning. Like I'm starting with a fresh page, and regardless of what the future holds, I'm SO excited about today.
Anywho, just wanted to share the big news. We are very excited, and I will definitely share pictures when our newest bundle comes.
The last 2 months has been a bit of a roller coaster from "nothing is going right!" to "Wow! It's all falling into place!"
Like the fact that we called around for 2 months trying to find a mason would could fix the brick on the front of our house and NO ONE would call me back (seriously, drove me crazy). But then suddenly, a realtor gave us a name, I called him, and he not only called me back, BUT he had a free week due to some delays on another job and he could fit me in right away!
It went from "why can't I get this to work!" to "Hallelujah!"
Or like the fact that little things kept just not quite going right around the house... such as a pipe that sprang a leak 2 days before we were going to list our house. But THEN, our house was on the market for 2 days and we had 2 offers (from just 3 showings)!
And suddenly you think "all that work was SO worth it!"
Or, last example, the fact that you and your husband go on your first house hunting trip... and while you've narrowed it down to 3-4 homes, you are also somewhat fiercely divided on which house you want. But during the 2nd househunting trip, the clouds part and you both agree that THIS house is the one!
And you ask the contractor "how much would it cost to finish the basement?" and he gives you a number far below your expectations. So you decide to add the extra expense to the mortgage and move into a FULLY FINISHED HOUSE. Which means NO MORE RENOVATIONS!!!!!!! (insert sigh of relief here)
And again, its like things are just kind of sort of working out.
And then, as soon as all the renovations, house hunting, and other stressful things are completed... I come down with allergies/cold. UGH! Why does that always seem to happen? So I'm hoping that my luck continues and this is the shortest cold ever.
Anywho, things are going (mostly) right. And it's exciting and amazing and wonderful. So fingers crossed that things keep up. And in just about 6 weeks, we are in the process of (or already done) moving to Iowa.
Change is the theme of the month for the Ericson clan.
First up, we're moving to Iowa. It's official. I got my offer for a new job in Des Moines with my company, so we're picking up and moving south. Not as far south as I would like (I want to go someplace with no snow), but at least it's not the frigid tundra of Minnesota. So I will very soon be in the midst of the "sell my current house while shopping for my new house" craziness. Luckily my mom is a good listener.
Another change is that very soon, Chris will be out of the Army and be a "stay at home dad" (aka hunting for a new job). He's in the process of getting his physical and all that jazz. This whole out processing thing is very different/difficult when you don't live on a military post, so he's figuring it out as he goes along. At this point, he's very excited to be a civilian and start looking around for a new job.
So very soon, Chris and I will actually live together as husband and wife again. Which means it's good that we're moving so we can get a bigger house :) We're both a little apprehensive about learning to live together again. Like all married couples, we occasionally get annoyed with one another and look forward to having a little time away from each other. Which will obviously be more difficult when we live together full time. So here is our current joke:
Me: So when I need some time away from you, can I just say "I think you need to go away now."
Chris: That might be a bit harsh. Maybe you should say something like "I think I'm going to go sew for a few hours."
Me: OK. That works. But you don't really have any hobbies at home... so what will you say when you want some time alone?
Chris: I'll say, "Honey, I think you need to go sew for a few hours."
Lucky for my husband I have a good sense of humor :)
Changes like these are both exciting and terrifying for me. I actually love change. I generally flourish under change. I look forward to a new house, a new town, new friends, new challenges in a new job and even re-learning how to live with my spouse again (in the military we have a fancy term for it: re-integration).
The funny part is that I used to always worry about change. I used to FREAK out when Chris and I were slated to move. I never had enough info about the move. I never had enough warning. I just used to STRESS and play the "what-if" game. But now, I stress alot less. I'm sure I'll get freaked out in the middle of it all... but for now I'm cautiously excited.
But I'm also a little terrified. The last time we had big changes, like the deployment, my new job, our pregnancy... I got cancer. The rug was totally yanked out from under me and it's taken awhile for me to find my feet again.
So what if something like that happens again? I'm not sure I'm even scared of cancer right now because I feel so freaking amazing right now. But I kind of feel like I'm about to go on a beach vacation and I'm secretly afraid a shark is going to bite someone's leg off. It's totally ridiculous... but until all the change is over I feel like a little voice in my head will be saying "watch out for the shark... he's out there somewhere just under the surface."
The upside of this ridiculous fear (I'm an optimist at heart) is that I'm not even a little worried about all the little things I know will go wrong. I know something will break. Something will get lost. Something will go wrong. It always, always does. But you know what? That's OK. We'll survive it. We might cry (likely Caleb will cry more than a little... he hates change) but we'll pick ourselves up the next day and find more laughter.
And I guess that is the mixed blessing and curse of a life changing event like cancer. There will always, ALWAYS be the fear. The constant voice in the back of your head saying "beware...". Some days, heck most days, the voice is easy to ignore. But occasionally it eats your brain and makes you crazy.
On the other hand, that presence of that voice reminds you that if no one is dying, then everything is OK. Maybe not perfect, but that's OK too.
So here is to change! It's exciting, terrifying and crazy all at the same time, but if everyone is healthy and nothing
In each of our lives, if we are very lucky, we encounter individuals who forever change us, simply by being the amazing people that they are.
Take a minute and think back over your life. Think about those people (friends, parents of friends, coworkers, church members, etc) that, even if your time knowing them was brief, impacted your life for the better through their words and actions. Do you have someone in mind?
Last week, one of those people from my life died.
John Orris was the father of one of my best friends from high school, Julie. I remember evenings spent at her house, playing capture the flag or sitting around the bonfire just laughing and having a good time. And I remember how full of love and laughter that house was. Which, I imagine, was one of the reasons I was friends with Julie. Her home and her family made me feel welcome, loved, and safe... kinda like I felt in my own home.
Her dad was a big part of that. He wasn't around every time I went over, but on a few very memorable occasions, I recall spending time chatting with him instead of going outside to hang out with my friends. One of my clearest memories was one evening when I somehow got caught up in conversation with him about literature and books. I had JUST finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha. John, whom I believe was familiar with the idea of the book, but hadn't read it, brought up some of the "deeper" aspects of the book, surrounding prostitution and an entire culture of women that were raised to be, basically high priced hookers. Julie came in and asked "whatcha talkin about?" to which her dad responded "prostitutes". Julie rolled her eyes and said something along the lines of "leave it to you to discuss sex with my friends." And then she scolded ME for enabling her dad to embarass her like that.
But what struck me as amazing about this man was how he actually spoke to me like an adult. My own parents would discuss themes and undercurrents of a book, but many of my friends parents didn't feel comfortable doing the same. And the result is that teenagers generally feel like they are being talked down to. That ONE conversation has forever stuck in my memory as the first where an adult treated me... like an adult that was capable of more than superficial thought.
I know that might not sound like an incredibly impactful thing, but for a smart kid living in a rural town in Pennsylvania where many residents grew up there (and never left), and where everything tended to be black and white or right and wrong (with little room for perspective), John introduced the concept of healthy debate and the fact that there is alot of gray. John and Beth (his wife) had lived around the world (even the middle east!) and I remember thinking "wow! that's amazing/scary/crazy/awesome!" But I think that fact planted the seed in my brain that it was possible... and that I might one day want to do the same.
I'm sure that this man never, ever realized how much I respected and admired him. I'm sure my friend Julie has no idea the memories I have of her father. But this man is one of a handful that I will remember as fondly as any member of my own family. He helped teach me to question instead of accept. He taught through his actions about living a christian life. And he demonstrated that life is an adventure to be lived, embraced and enjoyed.
So it is with deepest sadness that I say goodbye to John. I am saddened that such a bright light is gone. But I rejoice that he can rest after a long, long battle with cancer (acute myleoid lukemia). And more than anything, I wish I could be there to hug his family and celebrate a life well lived.
Time for a random update :)
I know I don't come on here often, but it's good to occasionally come back and say hello. I hope I never have to upate this site regularly again (since that might mean dealing with the beast again), but I enjoy coming back occasionally to just say hi.
Anywho, life is good right now. Really crazy, but very good. Caleb is 4 now. FOUR! To think that we celebrated his 2nd birthday during my treatment and now he's FOUR is exciting and crazy all at once. He now informs me at least once a day that he is a big boy. Which apparently means he can do anything he wants. Or so he thinks. So my job as a parent currently consists of telling him when he is climbing too high or needs to stop walking on the back of the couch. OR that the roof is not a place for little boys (he's obsessed with wanting to be on roofs right now, though he's never been allowed). As my brother in law described it, "its like he looks for the most dangerous thing he can do and then tries to do it!" And THAT perfectly describes parenting a 4 year old.
In other big news, I might soon be living with my husband again. He's currently in the process of getting out of the army and he will hopefully be living with us again by the end of summer. Which is exciting, scary and wierd all at once. Mostly exciting... but scary to think of learning to live with each other again. The funniest part to me is when he deployed almost 3 years ago, I literally FREAKED because I didn't know how I'd make it all work without him. Now, I'm trying to figure out how we're going to live together again. I guess we're at a different level of "reintegration" :)
In cancer news, all is well. I still go see the doctor every 3 months. Since my subgroup of cancer is so aggressive (HER2+), I'll keep this up for another year and then maybe go to once every 4 or 6 months? The really good news is that I don't feel like I NEED that reassurance anymore. I feel really good. I feel healthy. I'm working out pretty regularly. I should be eating healthier, but I'll get back to that point soon. I just feel good. Which is usually when the worst things happen... but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic. Once I get past this coming December, my recurrance risk will drop a good bit. Then 2 more years after that and I will be "cured" :) I'm planning a BIG party for that day!
I did try to enroll in a clinical trial about a month ago. I contacted the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to see about doing a HER2 vaccine trial that they were conducting. I took a day off of work, provided SEVENTEEN vials of blood, had an echo and a tetanus booster... only to find out that my ejection fraction for my heart wasn't good enough. Apparently I had to be a 55 or higher and mine was a 53. Booooooooo. According to my doctor, my heart is fine... apparently it was just having an off day.
Some people were confused about my interest in doing a trial. Why would I consider that if I'm so far out from treatment and "probably won't die of cancer"? Well... for two reasons. First, I think I need to keep being vigilant. Keep taking care of myself. Keep working hard to stay healthy. And if a vaccine can help my body fight off a recurrance, then heck yeah I'll give it a shot, particularly when the health risk was so minimal. And second, I'm the FIFTH woman in my family in 3 generations to get cancer. I'm currently the only survivor. If there is ANYTHING I can do to help further cancer research and hopefully find a REAL cure, then sign me up. That's my responsibility to my children, my extended family and my friends who might face this beast themselves one day.
So that's the update. Life is good. It's getting better. I feel amazing. I'm SO excited spring/summer is here (after so many months of SNOW!).
OH... and how google is screwing with me? I googled "Minneapolis Nipple Tattoo" to search for a cosmetic artist for someone that asked about. And check out what the first search result is/was:
I don't think I've EVER been the first result in any google search... so do I say HOORAY? Or "huh, that's wierd." :) Just thought I'd share.
Hope you all are well and feel free to contact me with any questions ever. It might take a few weeks for me to realize I've gotten a message, but I will respond. Big hugs and lots of love.
My blog is my "safe place" to vent. At times, particularly since treatment is over, I feel like I probably vent too much, instead of filling people in on the good things in life.
So I just want to take a moment to say "life is good."
It's been a whole month (or so) since my last "scare". Which was dumb. Again. God bless my husband putting up with me and my "discovery" of ailments that I am soon convinced are cancer. This time it was a lump in the roof of my mouth. Good news: it wasn't cancer. Bad news: I feel like a dummy b/c my dentist said "I don't feel anything strange, it feels like it's just the end of your palatte."
I even have an x-ray to prove it.
First an MRI to diagnose a sinus infection. And now an X-ray to diagnose... a bone.
I swear I'm usually totally logical and pretty smart (seriously, I AM!). But some days I mystify myself.
Good news: the recurrance fears are becoming fewer and further in between. I'm not sure Chris would agree with me... but I swear they are.
Bad news: I still worry. I wish I could stop worrying. I wish I could snap my fingers and forget that there is even any risk. But that's not my reality. I just hope that the fears will continue to decline. And that as I continue to feel AMAZING, life will feel more and more "normal".
So life right now is really good. I am feeling amazing. My energy is high. I am happy about life in general. I'm exercising like a crazy person, which I think helps with the "feeling amazing" part. I just generally feel relaxed and happy and good.
We have a trip to california planned at the end of this month to visit some very good friends. I am so excited. SO EXCITED! I can't wait to get that sense of freedom that comes with seeing old friends who know you better than you know yourself (and love you none-the-less). Napa Valley, HERE WE COME!
I'm still investigating getting my tattoos. Maybe I'll convince the hubby to go on a trip to a tattoo parlor sometime soon :) And I'm toying with the idea of getting an actual tattoo (of something other than nipples). I know I've said this here before, but my "words to live by" are Faith, Hope and Joy. I find that when I get lost in the day to day stresses, I need to remind myself of those words.
Like lately, life has been hectic. Very hectic. And I lost that joyful part of me to all the scheduling and planning and everything else. So I took a second, stepped back and reminded myself to seek out that joy. So this week, I've been having a blast with my son. I've been enjoying work. I've felt less stressed (even though I'm still very busy). Life just feels like an adventure, instead of a to-do list.
So who knows, maybe I'll come away with more than one tattoo... although to be honest, I have NO idea if I can commit to anything other than nipples for the long haul :)
Well, I just wanted to say hi. To let you know that life after cancer can be wonderful. And scary. And normal. And crazy. But mostly, it's just good. And that is definitely something to celebrate.
In my life, I've had to deal with things your average person has difficulty relating to.
First there were deployments and living the army life. I'd get alot of comments from the civilian folks that went something like this: "I just don't know how you deal with that. I can't imagine it. You are just so strong."
And at times, that drove me bananas. Because I wasn't always strong. I had days when I'd be sad or angry or fed up, and I needed to vent and say all the things I wasn't supposed to say.
If I said those things to a civilian person, they just could not relate. At all. And often I came out feeling like I wasn't being "strong" enough.
Then I found my fellow army ladies. And I could go to them and just let all the verbal vomit come out. I could rail against the army and the stupid war and how I was SICK AND TIRED OF KILLING BUGS AND WHY WASN'T CHRIS THERE TO JUST DO IT FOR ME!
You know what? They listened. They gave me a hug. They helped me put things in perspective (and even told me I was wrong sometimes). They reminded me that I WAS stronger than I thought I was and that I COULD get through this. And then the poured me a glass of wine and the next day I woke up feeling light at heart and ready to face the challenges ahead.
The Army and deployments, for all the hard times, taught me a very important lesson about support. It taught me how to accept support (which I'm kinda bad at) and it taught me to search out support in the form of people who are going through a similar experience, because they can give you some perspective that others cannot.
So OBVIOUSLY, when I was diagnosed with cancer, at first I kind of poo-poo'd the support groups ("they're all going to be old people! I have a TODDLER!"). Hey, I didn't claim to be a genius... sometimes I have to learn the same lesson twice.
That denial lasted about 2 weeks. Basically long enough for the shock to wear off. Then I found the young survivors coalition, and I found a few other young survivors that lived in Minneapolis. One of those girls actually came to my first surgeon's appointment with me. There's nothing quite as strange as showing several strangers your boobs and having one of them be a girl you JUST met like 2 minutes before hand.
She and I are still great friends and I value her SO much.
I've become friends with several survivors. And I value those friendships more than I can say. Not because we talk every day or even see each other more than once every 2-3 months. I value them because when I'm in need, they are there. They get it. They help me put things in perspective. Like telling me I'm an idiot when I'm letting my fears run rampant... and other times when I'm maybe not proactive enough.
They also share the same kind of dark humor about cancer that I do. I can joke about things with them that non-survivors would probably not find very funny.
It's this phenomenal outlet for me. And every time I spend time with these ladies or exchange texts with them, I feel lighter. I feel happier. I just feel... stronger.
So in July, my very good survivor buddy in Minneapolis asked if I wanted to do the Dirty Girl Mud run with a few other survivors. And I was like "HELL YES!"
And y'all? We had SO. MUCH. FUN!
First, 6 days before the run, we decided to run in costumes... because really? Why not? Why not do something silly and crazy and fun? When you've survived cancer, running around dressed like a crazy person seems like just another day.
And the costume idea started out as super heroes and morphed into... golden fairies?
Yes... we were a vision in gold. Don't believe me?
We ran. We got DIRTY. We had a blast. And at the end of the day, I felt lighter. I felt stronger. I felt ready to face the challenges ahead with a smile on my face and a big "f*ck you cancer!" attitude.
Granted... I think I'm still pulling sand and dirt out of random body parts a month later.
But to be honest, I can't wait to do it again next year :)
I love these ladies. LOVE THEM! And if you want to join Team Honey Badger at next year's dirty girl mud run, you don't HAVE to be a survivor... but you do have to come prepared to dress like an idiot and enjoy it!
You ever look at your calendar and think "yuck!"
You look down the road and see weeks upon weeks of things that you WANT to do... you just wish it wasn't all happening in a 2 month period?
Well that's where I'm at right now. I'm on the precipice of a two month travel/work extravaganza and I'm going "Awwww, geeee... this is gonna suck."
Not because I don't want to do the stuff I'm travelling for, but because of all the schedule juggling and movement of my child and dog that I have to manage in order to survive the next 2 months. I feel like starting tomorrow, I'm going to throw a bunch of balls in the air and hope that my juggling skills are far superior to what I think they are.
I'm sure a few balls will drop... like probably this blog for awhile. So please excuse me if I am absent for a few months. I'm still looking for nipple tattoo artists (the one I emailed told me she doesn't do "costmetic" tattooing). So if I do anything wild and crazy or fun... I'll try to check back in. But otherwise, I might be AWOL.
Wish me luck!
So lately I've been thinking more and more about getting my nipples done.
No, I'm not doing actual nipple reconstruction that will leave me with a bump for a nipple. This would leave me with permenanat "high beams" or "tic tacs" in my bra... and I'd say the lack of worrying about my nipples showing through clothing is one of the few good things of cancer.
So no actual nipples for me.
Instead, I'm interested in doing "3D nipple tattoos". Don't worry, they hopefully won't require special eyeware to "see" the 3D effect. Instead, the tattoo is hopefully so well done, that most people won't notice that I'm nipple-less.
Still confused? Here is a photo of work done by Vinnie Myers (a tattoo artist who does this alot):
Tattoos and images from Vinne Myers
Disclaimer 1: those are not my boobs.
Disclaimer 2: I will not be posting photos of my boobs... my husband would divorce me if I did so.
Anywho, those are just tattoos! There is no actual nipple! Anyone else think that's kinda crazy?
So that's what I deam of getting done someday. There is just ONE problem. There aren't many 3D nipple tattooists out there. Seriously. I'd say less than 20 that advertise any experience with this in the entire US.
And I really don't want to have gone through this entire reconstruction process to have someone mess up my foobs with bad tattoos.
So I'm currently hunting for the perfect tattoo artist.
But the conversation is kind of awkward. You call the shop and here is what the conversation goes like:
Me: Hi! I'd like to get a tattoo.
Tattoo person (whom I imagine is hairy and biker-y): Ummm. OK. Of what?
Tattoo Person: Nipples?
Me: Yes, nipples.
Tattoo person: Ummm... Okaaaaayyyy.
OK. I'll admit it, I haven't actually called any tattoo parlors. In part because I've convinced myself that my initial conversation will go exactly as I've laid it out above. I'm sure that I'm totally wrong. And that most tattoo parlors are used to getting strange requests. And yet, the thought of making that call makes me mildly ill.
So I'm relying on email instead!
I emailed an artist just today. Her name is Megan Hoogland and she is an award winning tattoo artist. And she lives in... mankato? I have no idea how I managed to find such a gifted tattoo artist in our small-ish town of 40K people, but I'm hoping she responds with something other than "nipples? That's the wierdest request I've ever gotten..."
Anywho. I'll let you know how my "interviewing" goes. And I'm sure I will blog about any upcoming tattoo parlor trips before they happen... if I ever get up the guts to get it done.
Photo by Alex Stoddard
Do you ever see a photo and think "WOW!" but otherwise are left with a lack of words?
When I saw the above image, I was floored.
It was like this artist saw into my soul and created this photograph just for me.
Now, I'm sure many people can look at this photo and in some way relate it to their own life, but for me, this photo captures my battle with cancer in a way my words never will.
My life is that cliff. Cancer is the awaiting abyss below. And my goal was to pull myself out of that abyss with the same amount of serenity that I see on that man's face. I see no terror there. No fear that his grip will falter and he will fall onto the rocks below. Instead I see a quiet certainty that he will get himself out of that perilous place, stand up with a quirky grin on his face and say "Phew! That was close!"
Right now, I'm beginning to feel that deep sense of hope and relief. My port will be removed tomorrow, which is truly the end of treatment for me. I've conquered every step of this battle. I've pulled myself out of that abyss.
There is still fear. Fear that I will lose my footing and find myself hanging off that exact same cliff (I'm kinda clumsy sometimes), but I'm truly hopeful that in just 3.5 years, I can declare myself offically cured! Oh what a wondrous day that will be! Who wants to come to THAT party?!?!
Anywho, I just wanted to share this striking photo with you that inspired me today. To give credit where it is due, the man in this photo is Alex Stoddard. He is an 18 year old photographer that recently completed a project he called "Project 365", where he produced a photo every day for a year. The above photo is one of them. You can see more of his work here.