I Hope…

A Letter of Love to My Sons on Mother’s Day 

Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.  —Robert Browning

my loves

Boys,

Earlier this week I got a notification from Shutterfly that made me literally gasp. As I read “Look what we found for you. Remember eleven years ago?” I scrolled down to see your beautiful faces from one of our many memorable Nantucket vacations…so many years ago. My heart skipped a beat. For a moment I felt that anticipatory sensation on a roller coaster that typically comes right about midway up the chain lift of the biggest hill. You know—when the visual cues of what’s about to go down physically lead to that sinking stomach feel only to be amped-up while going full speed ahead down that amazing hill.

Time has gone by SO fast. It’s overwhelming.

When each of you came into this world, I was in awe of your miraculous perfection and couldn’t believe that God had entrusted each of you to me. It is truly an overwhelming privilege and joy to be the mother of three spectacular boys that God so perfectly knit together in my womb.

From your first steps to your first missteps…I’ve been your biggest fan and supporter. You honestly never stop amazing me. With every milestone each of you have reached so far, I’ve reveled in joy and celebration.

As you continue to grow and thrive, I’m in awe at the amazing young men you’ve become. You each have your own unique personality, your own thoughts and opinions, and your own crazy sense of humor. I embrace the individual uniqueness that makes up Colby, Logan and Lance. I am blessed and honored to be part of your lives—you’ve all undeniably taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love.

Years ago, when I gave you the book and keepsake CD—I Hope You Dance—I prayed that each of you would grow to understand the deeper meanings of these lyrics, and perhaps when you did, I would know that I’d done the best job I’ve been entrusted with—as a Mother.

My prayer remains…

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

Psalm 65:8—The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.

I’ll always pray for each of you to be satiated with His perfect plan for your lives. But even when you’re “full” I want you to still hunger and thirst for personal growth. Never stop pursuing your dreams or become complacent where you are. Live a life that has meaning and purpose.

Don’t forget to take it all in. There’s beauty everywhere…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. Don’t become jaded. Instead look for freshness in all that you do so it never grows mundane.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Philippians 2:3-4—Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

First and foremost, may you always know your worth and how incredibly precious you are not only to Him but to me. As your mom, it is my privilege to impart these important truths to you. Throughout your life, always be humble—never having an inflated ego. While I always want you to be confident, humility is even more important. By remaining humble, you are open and receptive to improve. A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses so growth can take place.

I hope you dance

Jeremiah 29:11—For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Don’t be afraid to take (prayerful) risks in life. You can often accomplish great things by taking risks. Get outside of your comfort zone, never letting insecurities hold you back from taking a chance. There’s nothing worse than saying…I wish I didn’t stay on the sidelines when I had the opportunity to be part of something bigger.

Whatever you do…don’t take life too seriously. Have fun. Laugh often…even at yourself when you make mistakes. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Enjoy life to the fullest…and dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance

James 1:2-4—Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Struggles and other hardships are an inevitable part of life. Don’t let the challenges of tomorrow consume your “today.” It is often in these hard climbs in life that we learn and grow—making room for future opportunities to help and encourage others going through something similar. Ceaselessly pray on the climb, pray once you reach the top and continue to pray when you’re over the mountain and coasting along on the other side. Pray. Pray. Pray.

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

Hebrews 11:1—Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

God’s handprint is on each of you. Never stop striving to see Him—as He’s always there seeking for you to draw close to Him so he can draw closer to you and encourage you each day.  Never lose the wonder of who He is and what He’s doing around you. Allow your uniqueness to shine through. You never need to change who you are for someone else. You are magnificent exactly as you are.

Time is indeed accelerating—even faster than the biggest drop on our favorite roller coaster. While I want to freeze so many moments and not let them go…I know that I need to make room for so many more to come.

Thank you, boys for always being the reason for my smile at some point in every day.  While I know I can be tough and am FAR from perfect as a mom, I thank God for this gift of motherhood that is both overwhelming and beautiful. Know that I love and adore each of you…always and forever. *Don’t ever forget the words of my favorite book—you know…the one that makes me ugly cry—I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Even though I don’t sing it to you anymore (insert sad face), the words will always be true:

“I’ll love you forever…I’ll like you for always…as long as I’m living…my babies you’ll be.”

Love,

Mom

XOXOXO

Collage 2017-05-12 06_12_26

Gioie della Tavola

Tuscany

For Italians…the dinner table always serves as reminder that we’re connected to each other and to life itself.

Evoking feelings of nostalgia isn’t a hard task. One scent, one picture…or even one smile can drift you back to that sentimental place or time in the past. After a recent conversation with my Mom, I took a little nostalgic journey back in time, back to a period in my childhood where the “Council” existed. The Council, as it was known, was a regular gathering at my Great Aunt Rita’s house—made up of mostly Italian women—who would congregate around a large dining room table and talk and talk…and talk (usually in debate-style) about life, love, family, politics, memories—all while naturally being encouraged to mangia, mangia over the Italian yummies laid out before them (and yes…I can recall the redolence of anisette in the air from those fresh Italian cookies).

When it comes to Italians or Italy, let’s face it, the first thing people usually think of is the warmth, joy and utter magic created around the dinner table. It’s well known that Italians are accomplished in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table.” In fact, the dinner table is one of the most steadfast images and emblems in Italian art—celebrated in our paintings and films, from the Renaissance to present day.

If you were an outsider looking in on those gatherings of the council, you’d likely be dizzy with confusion—because just like many large Italian families, all gathered around that table would not only talk at higher than normal decibels, but also all at the same time…and don’t forget the hands, which also spoke volumes. But it was there at the table, where hearts would open, and life’s greatest celebrations and sometimes even dramatic battles would unfold.

We all seem to crave time that will create nostalgic memories, like our winter bones crave the warmth of summer. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to reconnect to oneself. Just. More. Time. Yet the irony comes during the week when all we wish to do is speed that time up…a magical fast forward to Friday, where the challenges of the week can be left behind.

For me, with work and school dominating our days, and homework, sports and activities dominating our evenings, there often seems to be little room for creating memories as a family around our dining room table—but they’re a necessity. My boys crave “family nights” in the dining room during the week and they always become the high point of any day. There we connect. We laugh. We pray. We share our struggles and joys…and ultimately we strengthen the bonds of love and friendship.

There aren’t many members of that beautiful Council left on this side of Heaven, and though the table is still there in my Aunt Rita’s house, all you can really see is what is not there anymore. I guess a table is not simply an object in a room, it’s the people gathered around it that bring it to life.

Time is short and precious. Embrace more moments in gioie della tavola…appreciating the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of amazing food and drink.

“What must be broken apart in order to bring a family close together? Bread, of course.”

Smiling from the Valley of Shadows

smiling through the shadows

“It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.”

― Cheryl Strayed

Books.  Some of my best experiences have come from the pages of a writer’s mind.  I’ve been held captive in more books than I can count…some even revisited from time to time when I desperately feel the need to recapture the feeling I once had in between the lines on a page.  I once read that a book is truly the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it.

When a friend recently did a random “how well do you know your friends?” quiz with me, one question was:  Does your friend prefer books or movies?  Though she knows I love movies and has actually never really been around me reading a book, she still guessed right away that I was a lover of books. I guess it’s the subjective and evocative nature of written fiction that creates a real intimacy between your mind and emotions—proving Edmund Wilson’s point that no two people have ever read the same book.

Once in a while, however, a movie will come along that resonates deep within me and stays with me like the pages of my favorite reads.  Two such movies have had my mind reeling recently—Wild and American Sniper—both based on memoirs I had yet to read, while also being politically and socially controversial—intriguing me even more.

Wild is a beautiful film based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, recounting her solo 3-month, therapeutic journey along the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mohave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State.  As an inexperienced hiker, Cheryl’s journey was a desperate pursuit, a battle of sorts, to find herself once again after losing her young mother a few years earlier, and further messing up her life through a careless and dangerous fling with heroin leading to a failed marriage.  Her soul’s “sole” mission on the journey was simple:  “walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.”  This beautifully poignant memoir carries with it not only the physical weight of Cheryl’s immensely heavy backpack she wore along her journey, but through a series of mini-flashbacks, she further carried the emotional weight of the haunting memories of her loving mother and her own reckless lifestyle.

Truth be told, when it comes to American Sniper I didn’t realize how much this would stay with me.  Both gripping and unforgettable, it highlights US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle’s masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences, in what I consider to be one of the greatest war memoirs of all time.  But ultimately Chris’ biggest battle begins at home, in his desperate attempt to piece together his life on the other side of the battlefield.

Two very different movies, yet both sharing a common thread:  both Cheryl and Chris were each walking through their own personal valley of shadows and found it hard to find the light casting them.

In the late Fall last year, I began experiencing panic attacks and levels of anxiety daily that I have never experienced before.  Often they would even wake me from a sound sleep…in a torturous effort to bind fear and brokenness.  In those dark moments, even with prayer at my helm, I couldn’t shake the 3AM attacks that came out of left field.

For many reasons, I kept the problem tucked away safe within the confines of my mind—finding it too difficult to discuss with anyone, mainly out of guilt.  I felt guilty that I could even be anxious about anything, especially as I watch friends in the cancer community—many in the active battlegrounds of treatment, others actively dying before our eyes.  What could I possibly have to panic or feel anxious about?  Part of me knew that a “positive” attitude in prayer should instead have me celebrating the fact that I’m finally through with active treatment and almost nearing the end of reconstructive surgeries.

But it wasn’t that simple.

At a regular appointment with my oncologist in early December, I broke my silence about the situation.  When she first told me what she believed was going on, I was in denial. There must be another “PTSD” than post-traumatic stress disorder, I thought.  How can someone compare my cancer journey to the many war veterans that legitimately have PTSD, like the Chris Kyle’s out there who have heroically served on the front lines and witnessed firsthand the horrors of battle.  After all, I am just an ordinary person, a simple girl, who happened to go through what millions of other people before me have gone through in the realm of surviving a cancer diagnosis.

My oncologist went on to share with me that though it’s often easy to only place victims of PTSD with war soldiers returning home from battle; in fact, the condition is believed to be caused by the experience of a wide range of traumatic events including death, serious illness or some situations in which the individual felt intense fear, horror, or powerlessness.  She also revealed that what was going on with me was common timing among many young cancer survivors out of active treatment.  That said, she suggested I go on a short term, mild antidepressant that was considered a popular, safe choice with many cancer patients.  I took her advice and after a few weeks on the drug, I found myself in the small percentage of patients who had extreme adverse effects, including racing heart, blurry vision, unbearable muscle cramping, vivid nightmares, severe depression…and much darker thoughts of suicide—something completely foreign to me.

Currently, as I’m on the upside hike of that downhill spiral, it seems I had built such a wall between my cancer diagnosis and treatment experience and how I felt about the entire experience that I was incapable of reliving both simultaneously.  I could talk about everything that happened, even walk through treatment and surgeries with a smile, but I couldn’t feel them.  When I tried to bring it all together in the fall, when I tried to remember how I had felt and the frenzy the last two years had been…I disappeared in my own head.

Chris Kyle’s journey from the throes of war back to civilian “normalcy” was clearly no easy feat… his memories of life in battle and his longing to be “back to normal” in civilian living were nearly impossible to experience simultaneously.  As Chris finally found the light casting his dark shadows through passionately serving soldiers struggling with the fight to overcome PTSD, he went on to shine the spotlight bright on the condition, co-founding FITCO Cares, the non-profit foundation dedicated to help ease veterans back into civilian life.

As Cheryl Strayed’s journey along the Pacific Coast Trail progressed, as she shed the physical load and symbolic emotional weight from the backpack—some of those deep wounds of death and destruction were able to find air to breathe…and heal.  Towards the end of Wild, approaching journey’s end at the Bridge of the Gods over the benighted Columbia River, Cheryl writes: “I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in the world now.”  Cheryl, too, had found the light that had cast her darkest shadows.

Carrying heavy loads we were never intended to carry, filled with things such as fear, worry, discontent and heartache—make it easy to grow weary and worn out.  We all fight battles in one form or another, and sometimes it’s our frail human nature that desperately pleads for these battles to be taken away from us.

Many times we carry these loads as we walk through the valley of shadows…never realizing that it’s only in struggling with these shadows that the light is made manifest.

Though I am but a work in progress I will never cease to thank you, Lord for Your mercies that are new every morning…

Psalm 57:1

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

chris kyle

Chris Kyle’s service, life and premature death will never be in vain.

Promises Live on the Other Side of the Rain

Rainbow

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.

Aeschylus

I’ve been sporadic at best in blogging, but in all honesty life has been anything but mundane.  In fact “blur” is the only four-letter word that could adequately describe the past month and a half—well perhaps not the only four-letter word.

My family is still reeling from two harrowing losses, only three days apart—my Grandmother, the matriarch of our family and her youngest daughter, Dolores, my Aunt who was only 53 years old.  The shock is still fresh—with the chaos of funeral arrangements and such, making it both easy to compartmentalize the grief while simultaneously making it hard to focus on the heart’s cry.  I often feel like my life is sadly akin to my drafts folder—those half-articulated writings I fully intended to finish and publish, but instead they sit, waiting hopelessly for my procrastinating hand to press send. My drafts folder in life seems to consist of the many thoughts and pain, those areas I’ve started to deal with, but instead put them on the mental back burner.  I guess some things are just too overwhelming to take in all at once.

Rain.  I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the rain.  It can be the very sound of comfort and nostalgia, rhythmically helping me relax and sleep at night. Yet rain, when you’re seeking solace under the warm sun—becomes disheartening at best.  Though we can’t predict the weather, I can always predict disappointment when you wake up on your first day of vacation, to grey skies and the sound of rain pouring down on the roof.  Over Spring break I arose to such a morning on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  It may sound childish, but inside I had a bit of a mental temper tantrum.  I so desired some long overdue down time for the entire family—sunny opportunities to escape the responsibilities and realities of daily life as we know it.  The rain was killing my buzz.

The Outer Banks was my escape plan.  When you receive a cancer diagnosis, everyone in the family receives a cancer diagnosis.  There, I planned to be still and enjoy beach life, while also taking a bit of time to reflect on the past year and a half—the challenges of treatment, and the challenges and triumphs of balancing family, work, life … and cancer.  I was excited for my entire family—even my sweet German Shepherd, Miles—to finally get away from our chaotic daily routines and instead enjoy sun-filled, fun days … away from it all.  My disappointment was soon turned around as the weather became sunshine and blue skies, blessing us with beautiful days amidst a surreal backdrop of fantastic beach and dunes.  The promises and desires for that Spring family holiday lived boldly on the other side of the rain, and I will forever cherish the memories made.

Unfortunately, it was during one sunny day on our Outer Banks’ adventure that the phone call came in from Maine, informing us that both my Grandmother and Aunt were brought to Maine Medical Center, both in critical shape.  We learned my Aunt had been brought into surgery to help stabilize blood clots that had formed around her lung and heart.

In the few days to follow, they managed to stabilize my Aunt and she appeared to be doing well enough to leave the intensive care setting to a regular hospital room.  My Grandmother, however, had reached a point of finality in her long journey with Leukemia & rare blood disorder.  After two and half years of (often weekly) blood transfusions, she was worn out.  She informed her doctor she was done with treatment.  We all knew some day ‘that day’ would come … but it’s never easy when it does.  We all stood coping with the realization that Grammie would decline quickly without her transfusion and would now be entering Hospice care—in a long-term care facility in Portland.

Two days before my Aunt’s untimely death—Michelle, my Sister, captured the phenomenal rainbow pictured in this post, outside my Aunt’s hospital room window.  My Aunt was fascinated with its beauty and in a short call with me and my boys that same evening, she said, “Just think, I’ll be going home, good as new on Tuesday.”  I believe in my heart, that is just what she did.  As the ambulance arrived to move her to rehabilitation Tuesday afternoon, amazingly to the same long-term care facility my Grammie was in, my Aunt coded. Gone at 53 years old.

She did go home as good as new that day to a place where she will run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint … have a clear mind—no longer battling bipolar-depression.  Physically and mentally, free at last.  We all joined together around my Grammie in those final days still trying to exhale the shock of my Aunt’s death.   My Grammie went home to be with the Lord three short days after her baby girl.

We celebrated their lives in one service together…as they always were—together, for the past 53 year.  Our hearts ache, though we find comfort in the knowledge that they are forever intertwined in Heaven—free.

My sister and I gave the eulogy at the service, and though difficult, we felt compelled to share our hearts even though we knew without a doubt we would fail to perfectly articulate the immeasurable and indescribable Mother, Aunt, Grandmother, Sister, Cousin, Great-Grandmother, Niece and friend found in the two beautiful women who have been an integral part of our family our entire lives.

Grief is the price we pay for love, just as it is impossible to capture the rainbow without the rain.  Though I know I will find myself searching the crowds for their faces for years to come … the truth is I am blessed for the love and rich memories I will forever hold in my heart.

I am honestly not inviting you to a pity party, but my life has been seemingly under torrential rains since the dreaded day I heard the words ‘you have Stage III breast cancer.’  Tomorrow, I face the long reconstructive surgery exactly one year from the dreaded bilateral mastectomy.  Though I would be lying if I said I’m not a bit nervous to undergo such a big operation … my heart’s desire is that it will bring me one step closer to seeing the beautiful promise only a rainbow can bring … on the other side of the rain.

Your thoughts and prayers for a seamless procedure and recovery are greatly appreciated.

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Ezekiel 1:28

The Doors In Between

Door to Nowhere

There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors.

Jim Morrison

After visiting the Greek islands, not only did I walk away with a deeper appreciation for the architecture—amazingly beautiful structures that all spoke of bygone eras—but somewhere among the thousands of incredible little cobblestone alleyways and whitewashed streets, I got caught up obsessing over the doors.  The mystery and allure of the rustic and charmingly seductive doors in Santorini are in many ways akin to passageways within our own lives—some invitations to great, even sheltered opportunity, while others yet signifying isolated imprisonment, an escape, or even bitter closure. To me all doors seem to speak of the powerful knowns and unknowns encountered in life—perhaps the very reason why I’m so intrigued by them.

Recently, when asked why I haven’t written a post in some time, I realized I couldn’t really blame my hiatus on a lack of inspiration.  After all, I earnestly recognize the daily miracles all around me, including the abundant joy that my three amazing boys deliver—all opportunities to ignite a spark of inspiration to flow on paper.  Instead, I think the heaviness on my heart these last months has been the source of the ink drying in my pen.  As many of you within the breast cancer social media community know, we’ve recently seen several women reach new passageways in the realm of cancer.  While some have opened doors to the unknown dreaded territory of metastatic disease (stage IV), others in the community are at the end of treatment options and have entered the doors of hospice care in preparation.  Saddest still, are the beautiful young women who recently closed their final doors on cancer and are now journeying beyond this world, leaving loved ones gripped with grief behind.  As Jada so beautifully wrote one day before her untimely death at age 36:  “Y se me va la vida….and my life goes away….”

Every three seconds in the US, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer.  All of these people share at least one common thread that ties them together—they are a statistic.  Regardless of stage at diagnosis, we all walk through the unknown door of breast cancer with a 30% chance of going on to develop incurable metastatic disease.  Now I know statistics may seem mundane, but when you’ve been touched by cancer, those numbers are painfully real.  As a “statistic,” I have a vested interest in educating myself and others about this terminal disease and urging people to support research that helps those with advanced breast cancer live longer.  So though the town may be painted pink every October and beyond, and while some in the world perceive breast cancer to be the “good” one, the richly funded one, or even the easy one—the somber reality is that in the US alone this year, we will see an estimated 40,000 deaths from breast cancer.  Yes, that’s one woman every 13 seconds—gone.  So it’s safe to say that though I’m grateful for heightened breast cancer awareness that has come from pink campaigning, this disease is not good—in fact, just like every cancer, it sucks.  As the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, breast cancer is a fierce adversary on the cancer brigade.

Going through photos of my visit to the pearl of the Mediterranean—as Santorini is so deservedly known—awakened that odyssey of cherished memories that live in my heart … memories all scattered in between the doors-galore.  Everywhere stood phenomenal, colorful doors:  doors within doors, doors with seemingly no purpose at all, and my favorite by far, those charming and dreamy “doors to nowhere.”  I get goosebumps thinking about them.  My obsession with these doors was in large part because they were like an unlimited gateway into my imagination, allowing me to see what my mind’s eye envisioned to be on the other side.

My prayer is to find my door to nowhere on this walk, one where my eyes will be fixed on the Lord and my trust in His plan and purpose for my life regardless of what lies before me.  On December 26, 2012, I was evicted from life as I knew it and had to close the door to my pre-cancer existence.  You realize fairly quickly entering this brave new world that you’re forever changed, always wondering where this narrow passageway will lead, one where you feel like one inch in any direction—the walls on either side will come crashing down around you.   In fact, it’s often hard to talk about those feelings, because it’s easy to feel guilty while there are countless other women who have current goals—like seeing their children graduate from High School or even Kindergarten. These women with incurable metastatic disease are part of the 30% to enter Stage IV or advanced breast cancer, and though some will live in treatment for some time, the reality is when you are stage IV, you will die from or with breast cancer.

Occasionally in my circle of close friends and family, I’ll get the question:  “Why you, Nicole?”  Without thought, my answer has always been “Why not me?”  I am no different than the other 10 million cancer “survivors” in this country all going about our lives with a slight pause in our walks, wondering if the cancer is only hiding behind the next door.   As a woman of Faith, however I try—instead of pausing to stop and thank God for being there, for holding my hand on the journey and seeing me through every step of the way.  It’s easier to rest in hope under the umbrella of prayer and thankfulness.  As I once read:  “Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.”

In love … and hope …

Nicole

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

John 10:9

Heather Von St. James: A Beautiful Voice in the Wilderness

Dandelion

Purposefully Speaking Loud & Clear on the Lost Voice of Mesothelioma

Because … Hope will never be silent

It’s time now to roll up the pink carpets of breast cancer awareness month … and set our sights on WHITE.  November is National Lung Cancer Awareness month, bringing critical attention to the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States.

I was blessed and honored recently to be contacted by Cameron Von St. James—a hero in his own right … who humbly and passionately takes on the roles of Husband, Father and passionate mesothelioma advocate for his beautiful wife, Heather, as well as countless other victims of this deadly disease.  Cameron invited me to join him on his mission to share their divine family story of hope in the face of this so often overlooked cancer.

The truth is for many people—white ribbons this month represent the very real reminder and sting of experiencing lung cancer either firsthand or through watching a loved one on the front lines battle or even lose his or her life to lung cancer.

Strictly speaking, the “color” white is not really a color at all, but rather a manifestation of the presence of ALL color—the complete power of light.   My earnest hope is that the powerful light of education will shine bright on the face of lung cancer not only for the month of November … but all year.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma lies hidden under the lung cancer “umbrella,” often a lost form of cancer—though deadly.  The cancer cells of mesothelioma can involve the lining of ANY organ, but the typical site tends to be the lining of the lungs.  Tragically, mesothelioma is among one of many cancers that is still considered incurable.  It’s associated with exposure to asbestos—a deadly carcinogen that is sadly, still found in many structures built before its ban by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989.  Even small amounts of asbestos and/or infrequent exposure can create a risk for contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Heather Von St. James was just 36 years old when she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma—just three short months after giving birth to a beautiful daughter, Lily Rose in 2005.  Heather and Cam sought treatment at Brigham & Women’s Hospital to undergo a groundbreaking surgical procedure with the goal of delivering the best possible outcome.

Today, Heather is an eight-year mesothelioma cancer survivor and a keynote speaker at conferences all over, in addition to social media platforms … where she thrives on providing continuous support and inspiration to mesothelioma victims around the globe.  Her story is one of hope, faith … and love.

I invite you to meet Heather Von St. James—a beacon of light to so many afflicted with mesothelioma.  Please join her mission by sharing her story with others.  Pouring hope and light through shared education and support is strong advocacy in its most indispensable form.

“With hope, the odds don’t matter.”  ~Heather Von St. James

Watch Heather Von St. James’ Courageous Story Now.

Taking Flight

Red Balloon

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

Hermann Hesse

Nostalgia.  The very real sense of “homesickness” for things or situations of the past can appear when you least expect it.  It can come in the form of a scent … a sunset … a book … or even a song.  Often, I wonder if the chemo “fog” that so magically formed in my brain has instead given rise to a deeper level of nostalgia—more vivid recall of long ago, forgotten memories.  I find it laughable that mid-sentence during a conversation, my brain can lose focus; yet during a morning “solo” jam session in the shower, the lyrics of a song can send my mind reeling down memory lane on a fast track to childhood.  This particular morning in the shower, lyrics from a song brought to mind a recurring dream I had as a child.  It came to me with such clarity, I could actually recall the emotions I felt as a child … awe coupled with fear.  There I stood, holding a big red balloon.  The very balloon I was enamored by in the dream was also the very object that brought me indescribable fear.  Fear of flight.  There was the fear that as I held tight to the balloon—it  would carry me away … while an equally fearful sense that at any given moment my hand could let go of the balloon and it would take off without me.

Life takes us by surprise and orders us to move toward the unknown—even when we don’t want to or when we think we don’t need to.

During my recent trip to Dana-Farber, I was confronted boldly with the ugly face of fear.  Fear of the unknown … fear of new beginnings … fear of letting go.   

Nine plus months have passed since I was plunged into this unknown, unexpected realm of a stage III cancer diagnosis.  My nonstop mission to do whatever necessary to put this thing in my rear view has sent me on a journey filled with lifejackets in a sea of doubt and confusion.   The lifejackets of chemo, bilateral mastectomy and radiation therapy have kept me afloat, making hope an easier vision.  Now I am left to tread these unchartered waters with Tamoxifen, or as some refer to it:  the little poisonous pill—one I will (hopefully) be swallowing daily for the next ten years.  Needless to say, I left my oncologist that day with little comfort as her simple advice spoke angst in my heart.  She advised me from this point forward I need to be mindful of pain that appears suddenly or lasts longer than usual, any shortness of breath or recurring headaches … etc.  Basically, I left the exam room that day feeling powerless, lonely and filled with a new fear—the uneasiness of fear itself.  Will it carry me away like that big red balloon in my dream so many moons ago?

I once read that love is what we were born with, while fear is what we learned here.  When you begin an unknown pilgrimage … you must not be afraid.  You need to have ample courage to make mistakes.  God uses the tools of disappointment, defeat, and despair to show us the way.

Though I feel as though somewhere along the way, I’ve lost myself a bit, I’m growing and learning to accept suffering as a vital life force flowing through me.  I refuse to consume my present and future moments with the fear of the unknown.  Yes—I’m certainly a work in progress, making many mistakes along the way, but I need to let go … sending my red balloon of fear aloft, knowing that letting go will give me victory moment by moment.

I’m beyond grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have showered on me.  Now more than ever, I welcome and yearn for your prayers and words of encouragement.

Loads of Love … in hope,

Nicole

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. 

2 Timothy 1:7