Our Family Got Cancer

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pancreatic cancer hope

This is a post I never wanted to write.

I thought about not writing it.

I didn’t know if I could have the strength to write it.

But I wanted to write it because I wouldn’t feel right carrying on with posts as if nothing happened.

So here it is.

My mom has pancreatic cancer. 67 years old and completely healthy up until this (insert expletive here) cancer.

That’s our family above a few weeks ago. I’m on the left with my two girls standing behind. My sister is on the right with her two boys. And my beautiful mom in the middle.

Her name is Julie and she is the center of our family. Her cancer is our cancer.  Our family got cancer.

Julie | Mom |  Nana

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To know her my mom is to love her. She is like sunshine. She sparkles.

Everywhere she goes and to every one she meets she makes life brighter with her positivity. She loves people and has a genuine interest in every one she meets.  We joke that she is the only person that can meet a stranger in any situation and walk away knowing their kids’ names and where they went on their last vacation.

My kids worship the ground their Nana walks on. Because she is a LOT of fun.

Our relationship is so close that I can’t remember in my 40 years having a major fight with my mom. She has been my # 1 fan and is now tied for # 1 fan of my two girls.

She’s an extraordinary mother.

This summer, after 10 years of saving, and dreaming, my husband and I put in a swimming pool in our backyard. It was something I never thought we could do – but we did.  I always dreamed of having my whole family over for pool parties with the cousins swimming and us all enjoying time together.

This photo was taken 3 days before her diagnosis.  The water in our pool had just gone in 2 weeks prior and it was our first family swimming party for my parent’s 46th wedding anniversary.

I remember sitting there next to my dad, and saying to him, “I am SO HAPPY. I am just SO HAPPY.” I hadn’t felt that magnitude of joy in a very long time.

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It is ironic how life can change in the blink of an eye.

The Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis 

April 1st my mom got hit with bad abdominal pain out of no where and ended up having surgery to remove her gallbladder.  She recovered nicely and the pain that sent her to the ER went away but afterwards the bloating in her stomach never went down.

Come June 24th she started experiencing bad abdominal pain that didn’t go away.  She went to her doctor and because abdominal pain can mean a lot of things, she went down a road of different tests…that returned nothing. Weeks go by between different tests and results with no answers and then a CT scan was ordered that revealed a mass on her pancreas.

An endoscopy to biopsy the mass was scheduled and after the procedure the doctor came in and said you have a tumor on your pancreas and it is a cancerous tumor.

Life Changes In One Day 

No one can prepare you for that moment of sheer horror.

NO. NOT MY MOM. Not now. No. No. No. No.

I went into the bathroom and dry heaved, shaking, crying, “No, no, no, no, no.”

The days afterward are hard to explain. I couldn’t stop the tears, I couldn’t talk about it without crying. It hurt to breathe. I would wake up in the middle of the night and just sob. I didn’t know how I could still have any tears left. I was emptied.

“I Don’t Know How to Do This”

I kept saying, “I don’t know how to do this.” I have always thought of myself as a fairly capable person who could handle obstacles placed in my path. But I didn’t know how to do this.

I didn’t know how to handle this pain, I didn’t know how to get through the day, I didn’t know how life would ever feel normal again.

A good friend of mine’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks prior to my mom. I called her in a parking lot not being able to drive because I could not stop sobbing. I asked her, “How did you do this?”

Her words and empathy that day were so healing. We cried together.  But behind her tears and voice was a strength that inspired me.  She assured me we were all going to get through this. I had hope that one day my voice too would find its strength.

We needed more information, and a plan. She told me, just get on the path to a plan for treatment.

The Cancer Diagnosis to Treatment Plan Roller Coaster of Hell 

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The pancreatic cancer diagnosis with no information yet was hell, pure hell.

The minute I heard there was a cancerous tumor inside of her I wanted to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT – like NOW!! I wanted her in some sort of treatment the next day.

But it doesn’t work that way. One must wait for appointments to get more information with each day feeling like a year. You desperately wait for the next appointment, but that also comes with a dread of what you might find out.

The first appointment was with an oncologist who said surgery to remove the tumor was the best shot. In order to be able to operate, it had to not have spread and be in a spot on the pancreas to be operable.  She was very positive and encouraging.  We left that appointment feeling like a hand was reaching down to us to pick us up. We felt hope. Maybe the surgeon could operate and cut it out. Get it out of her.

We were chugging up the roller coaster towards the light.

The next morning we met with a surgeon with no bedside manner that delivered the news that it was inoperable because of its placement near the veins and arteries that run behind it. Surgery was not an option. We could do chemo to try and shrink it. His delivery was not hopeful.

Enter the free fall roller coaster of fear drop. 

In total we had five appointments with oncologists and surgeons, with each one a different outcome of hope or fear or a mixture of both.

This is Bigger Than Me

The highs and lows and loss of control and fear were more than I could handle. At one point in the middle of the night I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. This was bigger than any human. I started to pray.

I have always been a Christian, but there is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to drop you to your knees with a need for God in a way I had not experienced before. Our pastor has said that God is always found at the end of your rope.  I was at the end. And God was there.

The next day, things started to shift. I went for an early morning run and there was the most beautiful silver lining behind the clouds with the light shining through. I felt God in that moment sending me a message that there would be a silver lining. I felt hope.

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The Beauty of Human Connection

In the midst of our devastation and sadness, our eyes have been opened to the beauty of human connection. They say it takes a village to raise children, well it also takes a village to get through times like this.

We have witnessed the most intensely beautiful outpouring of love and support.

I had multiple friends jump to help me watch my girls so I could make all the appointments. My best friend helped me through the beginning days when I didn’t think I could get through this. One night a friend left dinner on the doorstep so I didn’t have to think about what to make.

I have shared beautiful moments with both my girls who have been there to give me hugs and “mother” me.

My sister got a pep talk from a friend who fired her up and told us to get out there advocate and fight for the best care for my mom, who in turn fired us both up.  Yes, the “put on your big girl panties and do what you need to do to take care of your mom” phrase was used.  And we did!

My husband continues to be a source of unwavering comfort.

I got a call from a woman I know, a cancer survivor, that put me in touch with a family who is currently (and successfully!!!) fighting pancreatic cancer. This man’s wife has become a source of support, encouragement, information and expertise for us. They have both been a gift from God.

My family, the four of us, has spent more time together in the past month than we probably have in the last year. Memories I will always treasure.

I have turned into the communicator to send out email updates to my mom’s family and friends, and the words of encouragement and prayer that come back are overwhelming.

My mom has an army of Prayer Warriors praying for her.  Team Julie is STRONG!!! JOIN US!!!

Pancreatic Cancer Hope – Join Team Julie!

TeamJulie3

How You Can Help 

If you made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. It was a long one. I appreciate you taking the time to read it because I know your time is precious.

If you are moved to help our family during this time, there are a few different ways, and I thank you so much. So very much.

1. Pray for my mom Julie, and our family. Pray for the chemo to shrink the tumor and for her to tolerate it well.

2. Join Team Julie just you or the whole family and walk or run a 5K with us Saturday, November 14th in Irvine to benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and RAISE MONEY AND AWARENESS for this ugly disease.  You can even sign up for the 5K and just show up to give out hugs or cheers! We don’t care!!  We want to get 100 people on our team and raise $10,000 and we are half way there!! Join us!!! 

3. Donate to my personal page on Team Julie. Any amount appreciated!!!

4. Like our “Team Julie” Facebook page to stay updated on progress and to give my mom inspiration and support.

5. Sign this petition on Change.org to turn the NFL and sponsors to turn “purple” in November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November.

Choosing Hope 

Facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is terrifying and there is so much fear.  However, there is always, I mean ALWAYS hope.  

My mom will start chemo in the next week to shrink the tumor.

I recently wrote out a Family Mission for us, to remember what we believe as we walk this path with her, before she begins chemo in the next week.

My mom and our family chose hope

We choose to be positive. 

My mom is one of the most positive people you will ever meet. She is ALWAYS upbeat, looking on the bright side, and filled with a God-given ability to overcome any obstacle life has put in her way. With a smile and an “It’s all going to be OK” attitude.  This situation is no different.  

We believe she will be one of the success cases to give others hope and we believe she will be a survivor of this disease.

We believe in the power of the mind, body and spirit working in conjunction together and we believe that the positive energy of the people on Team Julie that surround her during this time will have positive effects on her spirit and health. 

We believe this path is in God’s hands and we know our faith can move mountains.

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Thank you for reading and thank you for your prayers.

XO

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Don’t Do It

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How to Not Overcommit Yourself

Ladies, the start of the school year is upon us and that means lots of sign ups and volunteer sheets and new jobs to be done at school. This post is on how to not overcommit yourself because it’s oh so easy to do.

This time of year, I usually feel pretty hyped up.  I am fresh and haven’t experienced lunches, homework or projects for 3 whole months.

But sometimes this gung-ho energy can get me into trouble. What kind of trouble? The saying “yes” to every volunteer opportunity trouble. Like even just this morning I was sent sign-up sheets to volunteer and I immediately thought because I was sent the sheet, I am obligated to sign up.  But not necessarily.

Volunteering is an amazing gift if you have time available to dedicate to it.  I love to volunteer. I love to be around school. I love to help.

I don’t love being overcommitted and stressed out. Especially at the sake of my sanity or time with my family.

So, at the start of the school year, look at your schedule and obligations before jumping to “yes!”

How to Not Overcommit Yourself 

This post on Momastery was one of the most powerful posts I have ever read. Take a few minutes to read it. It’s not just about tweens, it applies to kids of all ages (and their moms)!

Her opening struck a chord in me because I am a people-pleaser and always want to say “yes” when asked to do something. But it’s never a good idea to jump to “yes” off the bat when asked unless it is a “hell yes, no question, I can totally do that and I WANT to do that” yes.

But lots of times it’s not.

So, when asked to do something, you got to practice your responses in advance because a lot of times you will be put on the spot. Come up with your responses now, then practice them.

If it’s a “hell no” you can say…

“Thanks so much for thinking of me! I would love to be able to, but I am…… (blah blah blah), and I am afraid I have too much on my plate to take on anything extra.”  Or truly you can just say, ” I have a lot going on this year and I am sorry I can’t swing it.” 

If it’s a “I’m not sure” you can say…

“Thanks so much for thinking of me! I have a lot on my plate right now, but let me think about whether I could fit it in, and I will get back to you.”

At least this buys you time to think through your obligations and if you are able to do it or not.

Come up with your responses now and practice them mamas.

You will be VERY glad you did.

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UCI Festival of Discovery

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This is a sponsored post to promote the UCI Festival of Discovery 

UCI Festival of Discovery

UCI Festival of Discovery 

A new event featuring exciting and educational interactive programs are being planned as part of University of California Irvine’s Festival of Discovery scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 from 9:00am – 3:00pm. I wanted to share the details so you can save-the-date because this is a free family-friendly event you won’t want to miss!

Celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary the Festival of Discovery will illustrate the solution-based work of UCI researchers who are solving global issues in energy, healthcare and medicine.

A “Discovery Pass” will invite festivalgoers into interdisciplinary themed pavilions, including Health + Wellness, Ingenuity + Innovation, Local + Global Impact and Arts + Culture.  Click here to register now and receive a free festival tote bag!

Health + Wellness 

The Health + Wellness pavilion will feature the School of Medicine and a presentation on how Google Glass is transforming medical care. The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute will be hosting a pediatric mobile eye clinic offering complimentary eye screenings. UCI Athletics will also offer youth sports clinics led by star student athletes and coaches.

Local + Global Impact  

In the Local + Global Impact pavilion the School of Humanities and the Spanish-language-learning residence La Casa Nuestra will teach Spanish through interactive card games. UCI Extension’s Kids Painting Table will explore artistic careers through the eyes of Peter the Anteater with a paint activity mini-kit.

Ingenuity + Innovation 

The discovery pavilion of Ingenuity + Innovation will welcome Carl-SJR, the award-winning robot developed in the School of Social Sciences that helps children with autism and other developmental disorders. Samueli School of Engineering & Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences will present the daunting challenge of the human-powered aircraft and its advantageous features. A high-performance track vehicle for Formula SAE (Society for Automotive Engineering) competition that was designed, constructed and tested by UCI’s students will be on display.

Arts + Culture

The Arts + Culture pavilion will present an interactive Shakespearean experience courtesy of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

Anteater 5K and Family Fun Run 

anteater 5K

The Festival of Discovery will kick off with the Anteater 5k and Family Fun Run/Walk at 7 a.m. where participants will “run through the decades” with deejays playing music and themed décor of the 60s through today.  The course will finish at the festival event site in Aldrich Park at the heart of the campus.

The festival will also offer a digital lounge and student and community performances. Flashback Heart Attack ( I have seen them play – SO FUN!!) will perform their live tribute to the 80s. Food trucks including Piaggio on Wheels, The Burnt Truck, Falasophy, Bakerytruck, Dogzilla and Crepes Bonaparte will serve on-site.

Festival of Discovery is a free event. Registration for the Anteater 5k and Family Fun Run/Walk is currently available online and for more information visit www.festivalofdiscovery.uci.edu.

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Preserve Your Summer Memories [Giveaway!]

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All opinions are 100% my own, I love Pictli!

———->>>>>   Giveaway!   <<<<<———-

Make sure to enter below to win TWO Pictli framed photo gifts to preserve your summer memories
ONE for you and ONE to send as a gift!

framed-photo-gifts

Framed Photo Gifts

Every summer my girls go to San Diego to stay with their grandparents for four fun filled days of non-stop activities. My sister-in-law lives  in San Diego as well, and this year, in addition to all the fun stuff the grandparents planned, she took my girls stand up paddle boarding for the first time along with treating them to an entire day at the Aquatica Water Park by SeaWorld.

Anyone who can brave a water park with two kids for the day deserves a big thank you, so I went online to Pictli and created a framed photo gift of the girls paddle boarding to send her as a thank you gift.  And, it took me all of about 5 minutes. I LOVE IT! 

Pictli’s New Line of Cape Cod Style Picture Frames 

Pictli is a website and mobile app where you can instantly create framed photo gifts to be shipped directly to the recipient (or yourself)!

Pictli’s new line of Cape Cod style picture frames are the perfect ones to chose from to preserve your summer vacation memories. I love all their colors and the distressed wood style frames. Reminds me of the beach.

This photo of the girls stand up paddle boarding was the perfect pic to commemorate the fun time they had with their aunt and I loved this neutral summery frame.

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The Inspiration for Pictli 

I asked Pictli Owner, and Chief Memory Maker, Frank Barbieri how he got the idea to start the company. He said he got the idea after the birth of his daughter when Frank and his wife wanted to send framed photo gifts directly to their relatives.  But the options of companies to use were not great quality, too expensive and a hard-to-use design process.

They thought, “We can fix all those things!” and a high quality, affordable, user-friendly framed photo gift site was born.

His passion for his company and obsession with making sure his customer experience is always a great one has made Pictli into what it is today.

And think, the inspiration for the company started with this precious little face in a Pictli frame (Frank’s daughter – can you believe the CUTENESS?!)

MB

Pictli Makes Sending a Special Gift So Easy 

Giving framed photo gifts are one of the most special, personal gifts you can give. But it can be a hassle right? You have to get the photo actually printed, pick out a frame, frame it and then package it to ship and mail.

Not with Pictli.

To order framed photo gifts from Pictli is so easy it’s silly.  Via their website or free mobile app you can drag and drop a photo from your phone, computer or pull images from Facebook or Instagram.

Then you can “try on” the different style frames on your image, chose your recipient, write a special note to include, and Pictli will deliver your beautiful framed photo gifts wrapped in cute orange tissue tied with your personal note to the recipient.

wrappedpictli

Bookmark the site ladies – it will be your new go-to spot for gifts.

Enter to Win Two Pictli Framed Photo Gifts!

Preserve your summer memories with Pictli and enter to win two framed photos – one for you and one to send as a gift! Good luck!

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What We Can Learn from the Maddy Middleton Tragedy

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Last month 8-year-old girl Maddy Middleton was abducted, raped and murdered in her Santa Cruz apartment complex. The perpetrator was not a stranger and this was not a random abduction.  The killer was a 15-year-old boy who lived in her building who lured her to his apartment. Her tragic story shook me to the core. As a parent, I can’t even fathom the pain.

I wanted to share this insightful article posted on the Facebook page of Orange County clinical psychologist, Dr. Jerry Weichman, on how to talk to our kids when stories like this are covered in the media along with other important reminders about how to keep your child safe.  The “Staying Put” lesson is so important. His article was so enlightening to me I asked if I could share in this post. Please comment below with any comments or questions.

Keeping Your Child Safe – Tips & Insight || by Dr. Jerry Weichman

maddy middleton I have fielded some requests this week from parents asking how to discuss with younger kids tragic events that end up getting a lot of media coverage. Specifically last month the tragic abduction and death of 8 year old Maddy Middleton in Santa Cruz was one that struck a chord with many parents.

First, I think we need to be mindful of where the balance is in this discussion with our kids to ensure that they’re safe but also not to create an anxiety-ridden child or teenager with agoraphobia.

I would go so far as to say that I would not recommend bringing the incident up with your children nor sharing the details unless your child actually asks you about it.

If your child does bring up an event that they have heard about, parents need to consider the child’s maturity level, emotional capacity, and need to listen to your child’s specific questions before giving information.

Oftentimes, parents volunteer more details than a child is actually seeking. In the end, kids usually are seeking simple facts and reassurance that they are safe.

However, if these stories serve more as a wake-up call to parents about talking with their kids about safety in general, here are my tips:

Staying Put

Regardless of whether or not your child could potentially be lured by someone they know, such as was the case with Maddy, or by a complete stranger, the first issue at hand is a child leaving the location when they were supposed to be staying put. This is what you need to be focusing on and continually reiterating to your kids. Bottom line, the message needs to be, “You do not ever leave where you are supposed to be without talking with Mom/Dad first and asking for my permission to do so.”

Stranger Danger

Your kids are naturally going to be much more wary of a stranger because most parents talk about stranger danger but it is the people whom they do know who are the “sleepers.” That’s to say, the predators who that pose the biggest problems to our kids are the familiar faces because they seem trustworthy simply because your child knows them. This is why parents need to also discuss behaviors such as people they know (adults and kids) asking your child to keep a secret.

How to Discuss The Rules

The conversation about not departing the area where they should be without first asking parental permission should be short in duration (30 seconds max) but repeated at least every other week with them to help convert it to long-term memory. Now, just because your child has heard this rule over and over know this doesn’t mean that when it actually happens they’ll remember. I recommend once you’ve had multiple conversations with your child about this putting them to the actual test to see if they truly do get it. Call a neighbor or friend and have them come to your child (whether in front of the house, at a park, etc) and ask them if they want to come over right now to do something your kid really likes to do. Don’t admonish or “bust” your child if they make the wrong decision with this test. You don’t want your kid to feel tricked by you. Instead just know you have your answer about how truly safe your kid is with regards to staying put versus going somewhere without permission. Simply make a bigger point of discussing the rules with them.

Trust Your Gut

Lastly always trust your parental intuition, especially you moms out there. I’ve never seen a mother’s intuition be wrong in 17 years of working with teens and parents. Listen to your gut, to that feeling and to that thought in your head. If you experience an odd feeling about any individual, have a side conversation with your child that being alone around that individual or being in their home is off limits. If they ask why, just tell them that there’s adult information that you can’t share with them and your job as a parent is to keep them “out of trouble.” Do not tell your kid that the individual is “bad” or that your job as a parent is to keep them “safe.” These are trigger words and you run the risk of your child (depending on the age of your kid) telling the other person’s child that their home isn’t safe and now you have a different issue to deal with in your community.

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