Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good-bye and Hello

When I was younger, my dad went fox hunting with his buddies. In Iowa fox hunting took place when the snow was often at its deepest. He often talked about how tiring it was to lift your legs to move through the snow. It left me wondering: what's the point? He explained that the point was the possibility of the hunt. The possibility. 

I think the last few years of my life have been much like walking through the snow. It has been tiring and tedious and exhausting. At one point, in what seems like a different lifetime, all the possibility just went away, and it seemed the snow was covering me. Now I can only describe my life as saying the snow has melted some, the walking has become easier, and the possibility, the possibility is hanging there with each step. How amazing!

For the first time in my entire life, I feel a peace that I have never, ever felt. It is not that everything is perfect. Don't get me wrong. It is not that having one leg is wonderful all of the sudden because it's not. But for the first time, I feel defined by my life - all of it - not just having had cancer as a child. For the first time, I don't feel bitter and judgmental in the way I did, without even realizing it, in the past. I am still sarcastic and my humor may be biting at times, but I don't feel the harshness that was part of me before.

My counselor said something to me that really helped me turn the corner on this. She said, "I believe that people are, in general, doing the very best that they can." I have thought of her saying that every single day since then. When you look at others and life in this light, there is a freedom to breath and not worry about this constant need to help and change those around you. 

As I look back on the year, I am keenly aware that each thing that happened, happened for a reason. This includes the most difficult times and conversations that I have had in my entire life. If I had to explain to other survivors of childhood cancer what has happened to me, I'm not sure I could even do it...put it into words - I guess this blog has been a testimony of sorts to that end. Mostly, I think that I had to come to this place - as everyone does - in my own time and in my own way. I am blessed to have family and friends who have stood by me as I found my way.

Today is my birthday. I am thirty six years old today. Thirty six! Holy heck! I never thought I would be this old. I really didn't. What an amazing blessing life is. As a birthday gift to myself, I am making today my last blog entry. I have had several people encourage me to keep writing because I have so much to give. I agree. I do have much to give, but don't we all? Really. Each of us has so much to give in terms of experience and empathy and love. Writing this blog, in my mind, keeps me attached in some way to the past year and all of the struggles it contained. I'm ready to move on. 

Don't worry - I still will give in my own way and in my own time. You can check out my photography website:, and I have a feeling  you'll be able to see quite deeply into my heart and soul there! Thanks so much for your support and love. It has meant the world to me!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Good Cleaning

Ever since I have been sick this winter, I have not done much of anything around the house to keep up with my space. My office is one of my favorite places, but while I was sick, it became a dumping ground for all that didn't fit the door, throw it in. Needless-to-say, it was a wreck. I mean a wreck.

I spent the day today, with my parents' and Nick's help, reorganizing my office, as it is going to be an important space as I start my photography business. I got a new computer, and I wanted to feel together, as I always do when my office is clean.

I found that cleaning the office was pretty therapeutic. As I have felt more and more like myself, I have found that little steps make it more so. I have started mowing the lawn again, for example, and that makes me feel like myself. Cleaning the office today was like saying, "That is over; on to new things."

I would have to say that getting my divorce was in some ways like a good cleaning. I don't mean to say that to be harsh or hateful. I spent a couple of years pretty worried about the mistake I knew I made. I don't really want to go into the details, because I don't want to share Bill's personal information, but it was a struggle financially, emotionally, and physically. We were in a constant state of flux as money, job, and situation was never on an even keel. Those who know me, know that this was terribly unsettling for me. 

I never, ever saw divorce as part of my "plan." Who does, right? I had thought and thought about it, but I always pushed the idea away. I wanted to be married for Nick's sake. I wanted to be married because this thought always invaded my mind: could I do this on my own? After many discussions with family and my closest friends, I decided I had tried as much as I could try. Staying in the marriage was hurting me and Nick more than it was helping. I was embarrassed and ashamed, but mostly I felt at peace, and that is how I knew I had made the right decision.

Don't get me wrong. It was so hard, and without my parents and family, I don't think I could have done it. The first Christmas I had to drop Nick off at his Dad's just about killed me. I felt a hollow in me that I've never felt before. With time and compromise on both of our parts, it has become easier....never easy, but easier. I have always been a believer that Nick would react to his leaving much in the same way I did, so I always tried to act upbeat and positive. I told Nick I would miss him, but we'd be back together soon. He was only one when the divorce happened, so he's really known no different. That makes me sad, but I know many years later, that this was the right thing.

A long time ago, I mentioned that I would share a poem/prayer I got while at the asylum. The prayer really changed my thoughts on some things. I will write more about that tomorrow, but I wanted to share it with you and let you think about it first.

You are who you are for a reason.
You're part of an intricate plan.
You're a precious and perfect unique design,
Called God's special woman or man.

You look like you look for a reason.
Our God made no mistake.
He knit you together within the womb,
You're just what he wanted to make.

The parents you had were the ones he chose, 
And no matter how you may feel,
They were custom-designed with God's plan in mind,
And the bear the Master's seal.

No, that trauma you faced was not easy.
And God wept that it hurt you so;
But it was allowed to shape your heart
So that in his likeness you'd grow.

You are who you are for a reason,
You've been formed by the Master's rod.
You are who you are, beloved,
Because there is a God!

Russell Kelfer

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Ex is Never Really an Ex

Since we have been in Kansas City, I have had the "opportunity" to spend lots of time with Nick's dad, Bill. He is the score keeper/statistician for Nick's team, and so he is at all of the games. We have a very civil relationship, and our post marriage relationship is actually something I'm pretty proud of. I have never trashed Bill in front of Nick, and I don't think Bill has spoken poorly of me, either. We work out weekends and are flexible for Nick's sake. I'm confident this is part of what makes Nick the great kid that he is. Of course a big, big, big part of this is also Richard. He lets Bill be Nick's dad when it appropriate and always picks up where he needs to - this is not an easy balance to those of you who are divorced and remarried may know. 

I thought I would spend a few days writing about my relationship with Bill and how and why I ended up on the path I did with him. I remember the days around the beginning of our relationship with a sharp, sharp clarity that I wish would sometimes become more of a blur. It is in many ways painful and embarrassing. On the other hand, I can never doubt my time with Bill as "part of the plan," because it was through my marriage to Bill that I was blessed with Nick. So how can I say that it was a mistake? 

I also know now that when I married Bill I did so for one huge reason: everyone else was getting married, this was my opportunity to do the same, and I was not going to pass it by. I just wasn't. In the beginning, Bill was hugely romantic - he sent flowers, notes, and made candlelight dinners. Perhaps this should have been a big red flag! : ) Do men really do these things? I was enamored by the attention. I remember making a late night run to Taco Bell with my friend and roommate, Emily, and she said, "I guess you guys will get married." It was very early on in the relationship, but we were at the end of our college days, getting ready to embark on the real world, and it just seemed time to start looking for a partner.

I really saw no reason not to marry Bill. He was romantic, funny, and doting. He was not particularly good with money, and there were times when I sensed he had a temper, but I was still not going to let this opportunity pass me by. Why? This is the embarrassing part: would there be anyone else out there who would want a person with one leg? 

Hind sight is definitely 20/20 - or even better in this case. After I met, dated, and married Richard, I understood what true love, passion, and devotion were about. I knew what it was "supposed" to feel like, and I knew that I had settled with Bill. When people ask me why we got divorced, I usually say that it was because he had a gambling addiction that led to many other serious problems in our relationship and lives. I do not throw in the fact that I married him because I wanted to get married. I did care about Bill, and I did try and feel what I was supposed to feel. But underneath everything was a current of uncertainty, fear, and restlessness. In my mind was always the thought: "This was a big mistake." I pushed the thought out as quickly as it entered, but it always came creeping back in.

While we were at one of the games this weekend, one of Bill's college friends stopped to see Nick play. I had met her 13 or 14 years ago when Bill and I were dating. We had spent quite a bit of time with her and her then boyfriend. Seeing her caused me to get a sort of sick feeling in my stomach. It is the feeling I get when I think about that time in my life. It seems like it was only yesterday in some ways, but in others it seems like an entire different lifetime. I am such a different person now. In so many ways. I was friendly to Bill's friend, and she sat down and we talked for quite a while, although all the time I was wishing she would leave, and all the while I was wanting to look her in the eye and say, "Listen, I'm really not the person I used to be back then. I much more confident and aware and comfortable with me these days. I didn't settle the second time. I waited for someone I felt deep in my soul was the one for me."

Of course, I doubt she wanted to hear all of this, so I just let the thoughts roll around in my head. Richard kept looking over at me and smiling. He knew I was uncomfortable. As we were talking, another thought came into my head that I find there often: "An ex is never really an ex." Bill is my ex husband, but he will - for better or worse - always be a part of me, of my history, of my story, of who I am. As Nick's father, he is involved in our lives directly. I think I've spent a good amount of time and emotional energy trying to figure out a way to rid my life of Bill and of all the self-conscious, self-doubt he represents. The thing is, it never works. It is what it is. I am who I am. There is no denying it. 

Here is a picture of Nick and his dad at one of the tournaments this summer. I took the picture for Nick...I think it's important for a kid to have pictures of his dad. For Nick's sake, I've always been civil with Bill. For my own sake, I've stopped fighting the fact that I got married for the wrong reasons. I've just said it and accepted it. I think now, I can continue becoming a better me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I know this is going to be a huge shock to some of you -- two posts in one day! Wow!

Actually, we are in Kansas City at the 12U USSSA World Series, and I've got a bit of time on my hands between games, so I thought I would write again. After today's games, we spent the evening at the pool. One of the parents BBQ'd hotdogs and lots of Gatorade was consumed! : ) As I was sitting there watching the boys play in the pool, I was thinking how great it must be for Nick to have the opportunity to be part of a team...doing something he enjoys. 

I am a team person. By that, I mean that I love collaboration...of any kind, really. I love collaborating with friends to have a girls' night. I loved working as part of the counseling team at the high school where I worked. 

This is one of the things that is hard for me as I start my photography adventure. I am sort of on my own. However, when I stop to think about it, Richard and I have really worked together to make it happen. He has redone the playroom, put in french doors to add natural light, and he has listened as I talked through a zillion issues. 

We have been in KC since Sunday, we play tomorrow, and if we lose we go home. If not, we stay again. It has been fun and exhausting and expensive. But mostly fun. Good times together. Here are a couple of pics of Nick - one of him having fun in the pool and one of him making a play at first base. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Hello...I know, I know. It's been a while. I have been learning in my absence, however. I FINALLY learned how to post several pictures without waiting for download! It is pretty complicated, so I'm proud of myself - after hours of trying! : ) It hasn't just been the learning curve that has caused my lack of writing, however... This blog thing is really taking on a weirdness for me. I want to write, but I find myself strangely detached from this blog. Hmmm.....

I heard a song in the car today that struck a chord:

I've dealt with my ghosts and faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once Im at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin on

This is from the song, "I'm Movin' On" by Rascal Flatts. I guess in a way I have found it is finally time to move on from so much of what has burdened me in the past. I have realized that the "blame" I've felt about being sick was really put in my heart by my own negative thoughts and self-loathing. It seems obvious, but I'm finally at a place where I can feel and believe this is true. It is an amazing, liberating feeling that I never thought I would feel, quite honestly. I would love to shout from the rooftops to all survivors - of anything - that getting to this is possible.

I have also felt a special urgency lately to be the best mom and wife I can be - not in a pressure-causing sort of way, but in a way that makes me feel accomplished and ready to conquer whatever comes my way. This may sound very corny to some, and it may sound like I am on some sort of "high," but really it feels more like a deep sense of peace to me. Is everything perfect, aka hunky dory? No, of course not. I still get pissed about putting my leg on and walking in the heat and wishing I could do so much more. But the overall sense of myself and my past has taken on a whole new light.

I was trying to come up with what picture would go with this feeling. I guess it was hard to narrow it down. I kept coming back to our 4th of July weekend in Iowa. It was so great to laugh and have you do that often enough? I haven't lately...but I'm movin on!!!!

Nick switching from his baseball cap to something much CRAZIER!
Don't you love a good belly laugh?
Tucky singing and dancing..."I like to move it, move it!"
Sisters...Can't live with em, CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT 'EM!
Strike a pose!

Do you teach your kids to let go and LAUGH????
Boys will be boys! :)

Nothin' like some good lovin'!

Go out and have FUN with someone you love!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Picture Says a Thousand Words...

I have had an exciting and busy day. I launched my website today!!!! Check it out - especially if you live in Jeff City, but I would be willing to travel, of course! : ) I am busy checking off business "to-dos" and wondering if the growing list will ever end. I have felt productive today.

In the middle of the day, I had a therapy session. My counselor commented that I seemed happy and at ease - I agreed! This is not to say there are no issues - Pa-LEASE!!!! There will always be issues, I think. This is just to say I'm feeling better about the issues. We got to talking about photography (for obvious reasons), and we were discussing looking at pictures from when I was sick. I shared that my mom often took pictures of me in the hospital or in the hotel when we were in Rochester for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Although some might say, WHY? I have always been so thankful for these pictures. This was a part of my life, and I'm thankful mom was not afraid to document it through photography.

So, I received an assignment from my counselor: take a picture from my past each day (or every other day), and look at it, write about it, and think about how it makes me feel. I have found that looking at pictures really opens up my memory to things I thought I had forgot. 

Today's picture:

First of all, most people who look at this picture say one thing: "Oh my Gosh, that looks just like Nick!" What can I say, he looks like his mother!

This picture was taken in 1978, I believe. I was around five or six years old. I am sitting with one of my very favorite nurses, Donna....The really, really cool thing, is that I have had an opportunity to work with Donna as an adult, through the Children's Oncology Group, and I've been thrilled to stay in touch with her.

How does this picture make me feel? I feel like there are a thousand feelings rushing through me at one exact moment when I look at this picture. I am proud, happy, sad, nauseous, anxious, and scared looking at the picture. I am proud because I feel the picture really shows my strength and determination, and while I've talked a lot about not crying, not grieving my experience, I am also very proud that I was one tough cookie. I am happy when I look at the picture, mostly because Donna was there with me. As I've written previously, nurses have played a critical role in my life as supporters, mentors, and friends. I am sad when I look at the picture because I wish it wasn't so - having cancer, that is, and I feel nauseous thinking about sitting in one of those rooms, on a patient bed, getting ready to have life-saving poison run through my veins - poison that inevitably made me puke my guts up for hours on end. I am anxious and scared when I look at the picture because it reminds me of all the what ifs and unknowns in life. This happened to me. It could happen to anyone. It could happen to my son or anyone I love.

Donna and I both look vastly different today. I wonder if we are even remotely the same people we were back then. I know Donna remains committed to kids with cancer and to being the best nurse she can be. I know I am still one tough cookie! : ) One thing that I think has changed in me is that back then I often smiled because I thought it might make others around me feel better. I still do that today, but today I am so much less afraid of saying how I really feel, and for me that is AMAZING!

Becoming Me...

I wonder if anyone even reads this blog anymore - after all, the writer is so very delinquent! : ) I apologize - again. I have had several comments about me not posting, but really, I've just been so busy. I am feeling very satisfied with life in general, and thus maybe I find less urgency to write in the blog.

I spent the weekend in Iowa with my family. We (Richard, Nick, and I) ditched baseball and headed north to eat, drink, and be merry! We had such an amazing time. Richard golfed for the first time in his life, I took pictures of my sister Vicki and her family, and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Richard and I also laid in the hammock and took a luxurious nap together. It was nice to get away and spend quality time together.

One of the things that came up several times this weekend was the subject of marriage. I have several nieces and nephews that are the marrying age. Many of them actually do have significant others. The girls were saying that they were ready to get married, but they didn't want to have to ask their boyfriends to get on with it. One said she dreams of him getting down on one knee....the whole traditional proposal thing.

I am learning more and more that life is so not what we dream it to be. I am also learning, however, that marriage can be even more than we imagined or pictured. It's not easy, but it's possible. Richard has taught me this. He and I have had many discussions about the fact that I have given up some of my old habits in my marriage to him. I drink less, spend less time at my parents' house, spend less time at bars and in socializing in general. It hasn't been as bad as that sounds - he doesn't have me locked in the basement or anything. It has just been different. He is in a very public position in the community, he is older, Nick has gotten busier, and so my (our) lives have changed.

I feel that I have taken on many recreational activities that Richard likes to do. I have become an avid fisherwoman, an antique nut, and even a bit of a homebody - which I would have never thought possible. I went to events when Richard was principal, and I tried hard to be a good principal's wife. Richard has been more set in his ways. He has humored me and gone places I like, but in general, we do his stuff because it's fun and easier when he is having a good time. 

One thing I absolutely love to do, as you have seen in my writing, is spend time with my family in Iowa. It is no secret to my family, that this is not one of Richard's favorite activities. In fact, it is something we consistently argue about. It is not that he doesn't like my family, but he doesn't like to be away from home, without jobs to do, and he definitely doesn't like to chit chat. We spend hours just sitting around chatting, playing games, etc...not really his cup of tea. He does not mind at all if I go, he would just rather stay home.

To make a long story short, he did not really want to come to Iowa this past weekend, but he did, for me. The thing is, we had a really great time, and I did not ever feel like he did not want to be there. When he actually went out on a limb and went golfing, I just about died! : ) 

I guess my point in writing about this is to say that marriage is definitely not easy. I don't think a person should change who they are because they get married, but I think if a marriage is going to work, you definitely have to be willing to change - not because you have to or "else," but because you want to. Having Richard step up and open up this weekend, really showed me how much he loves me and wants to make our marriage the absolute best it can be. In return, I told him how I felt about what he did - I don't think people thank each other enough - and I will do my very best to return the gesture when the time comes for me to step up.

I am becoming me again - I can feel it. I feel a sense of calm that I have not felt in a long while. I have a renewed desire to get out there and achieve...I haven't had that for a long time. Tomorrow, I may feel down again, but even then I will feel comfortable in my skin and oh so grateful for my blessings! Isn't that what life is all about?