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Praise of Thanksgiving for every breath and every moment these past five years. 

1826 days.

Looking in the mirror every morning and evening, more than 3600 times, seeing what cancer took. Some days I have moments of normalcy where I forget what this earth handed me to deal with. Wearing a prosthetic allows others to not think about it since everything “looks” normal when they see me. Then a tightness or pain, in the breast that no longer exists, brings me back to reality. How can there be a phantom pain five years later. But there is. Pain as if being stabbed. Pain that gets your attention. It never leaves me. A reminder of my loss. My view in the mirror some days reminds me of the darkness that was cut out of me. Thankfully, most days, the scar reminds me of a God that moved mountains for me because of His great love. His love is more powerful than any darkness in our lives.

He brought me through my battle.
He gives me life to enjoy, even with battle scars and all my other flaws.
My missing breast doesn’t define me, it refined me in the grace Jesus provides me.

We all have challenges in life. It could be addiction, unemployment, loneliness, stress, or chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer recurrences or MS. Our attitude through our challenges defines us. We are never alone through these stages of life. We always have a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on. Just this week I led children in a prayerful meditation. Guiding them to spend time with Jesus in their mind’s eye. Seeing Jesus sitting under a tree, calling us to spend time with Him. Gently listening to our every need. Holding our hand and carrying our burdens right beside us.

Praise to God for giving me the blessing of reaching my 5 year mark! Looking forward to celebrating the 10 year, 15 year, 20 year and so many more.
God is Good! All the Time!
Celebrate today! Celebrate tomorrow! Celebrate Everyday!

Psalm 68:20-21 Blessed day by day be the Lord, who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation. God is our saving God for us; the Lord, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.

Chance encounter or Divine Intervention

When something happens do you chalk it up to chance? We say “What are the chances of that happening to me?” or “I’ve got a pretty good chance of that  happening today.”

Chance, according to Google, is “the occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design.”

Maybe it’s not our “obvious design” but every occurrence is an ultimate design.

I don’t believe in luck or chance. I believe in divine intervention. Through life’s experiences I have come to believe everything happens for a reason. Even terrible tragedies and loss happen so that we can learn and grow. We are all moving through this life to reach the next life with our Lord Jesus and each step we take is His divine plan.

I was once asked by a teen at a youth ministry meeting “how can it be God’s plan when we have free will”. I reflected for a moment and then attempted to explain it as if your parent was sitting on a roof top watching you drive up. That parent can see all the different paths you can choose to get home and they can see that some of them are not safe. They see the path you are on will be a collision with another car and although they are screaming at the top of their lung for you to turn at the next street you can’t hear or you are choosing not to hear. Then someone steps into the street to cross the road and you slow and avoid two accidents, hitting the walker and the collision that was ahead. God sees all the different paths in front of us, some of the paths lead to Him, some of them do not. As we choose a path, he shifts to other paths and again places paths that lead to Him and paths that don’t. He never tires of leading us on the right path. He is the father in the prodigal son story; waiting, watching and praying for our return through all the free will choices we make.

I know God is omnipotent and omnipresent. I know He places obstacles in my path for His purpose. I have learned to trust in His movements through my life.

His presence was glaringly visible yesterday.

As I sat through a workshop at the beautiful campus of St Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein I sat with and meet six amazing women ministering in the life of the church. Each one had a story to tell of their journey listening to God’s voice in their life. The voice that led them to bible studies, RCIA, serving the poor, sheltering the homeless and the voice that led them into a new family at their parishes. They were enlightening stories of challenges and hope…and of JOY! I love sharing faith with such inspiring, strong women. The six of them sitting with me was God’s divine plan. But that is not the end of the story.

During our last break of the day, one of these women asked me a simple question about my water bottle.

You see, I carry every day a 24 oz Tervis water bottle with a pink ribbon design on it. I have two of them that were given as gifts to me during treatment so that I would always remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A habit I continue everyday. I’m a pretty routine person – each night I place the water bottle without the lid in the freezer half full. In the morning, I fill up the rest of the bottle with cold water…and it keeps cold until about 2:00 pm. (I prefer drinking cold water and ice cubes melt too quickly!) Yesterday was no different. I carried my water bottle into the workshop, little did I know it would spark a connection.

I have learned to not bring up the subject that I am thriving after breast cancer…I’ve seen too many people change their demeanor when they hear that, so I just allow it to come up organically if it is meant to. And yesterday it was meant to…God’s intervention.

This beautiful, kind, gentle woman asked ever so sweetly “pink ribbon…is that you?” I said yes and she said, I need to find one of those bottle for lymphoma, and I responded “you?” as she said “yes”.

My heart fluttered…I knew why I sat at that table, God needed us to meet…what a blessing it turned into.

After the workshop ended, we picked up our conversation. She had lymphoma years ago in her neck, arm pits, chest and abdomen (almost everywhere we have lymph nodes!)…and she bravely fought it into remission. Yet two months ago she explained that it had returned in her neck. She was beginning treatment on Monday. Monday is her mother’s birthday and she is an only child. Her eyes told of her fear of this vicious disease that lies within her. She asked if I would be back at a workshop in October and I said “no, but would see her in November”. Her eyes softened as she said “I’ll be in my month hospital stay in November.” Although the words did not come out of her mouth, I heard her crying for connection. I asked if I could stay in touch with her, which softened both of our faces…there was the connection she was searching for. Maybe it was a relief of someone who understands the fear of cancer or someone to cry with. I am blessed to do both or either.

She gave me her cell and email as we hugged goodbye. I don’t know what plans God has for this relationship, but I do know that He created a connection that I am called to nuture. My thoughts throughout today have been on prayers to releave her anxieties and put her complete trust in the Lord. I texted her today the words I remember a dear friend sent to me before my first treatment: “don’t tell your God how big your mountain is…tell you mountain how big your God is”

God’s Divine Intervention…watch for it…it presents itself in many places throughout your day…see them and embrace them

Divine Intervention

Thank you Lord the the grace of a new friendship during storms in her life. Help the sun and Son to break through her darkness. If I can be a small drop of grace in her life, I am honored to do so. Thank you for the grace of divine intervention in my life and the presence to see your hand within it.

Conversations with the Almighty

Prayer is simply talking to God.
Prayer can take many shapes. It is just a conversation with God.
No small task here you say…speaking with the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
I know many people think, why would he want to talk with me? I’m a sinner, I have done so many things wrong.
But God is merciful and is like your parents…no matter what you do or say, their arms are always open.

I was once at a presentation and the speaker has a beautiful image of the Prodigal Son. It was the reading at church and after service the mother asked her daughter what do you think about the story of the son that ran away from home and the father that welcomed him back. She beautifully said “that father waited every day at the end of the driveway so of course he was happy when the day came that he saw his son.” We often look at the story from one of the brother’s perspective. But the parent was unfailing in love for his child. He never lost hope and he always stood patiently waiting.

God knows our hearts, he hears our prayers. Each and everyone of us are precious to him, just as each of our children are precious to us. God is our Father, the ultimate parent. He yearns for each of His children to come home to him in prayer. He waits.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father. The structure of the prayer is adoration, forgiveness and humility to his will for us. We can use his words or our own, God does not care. He just wants to talk with us.

Find a quiet space, make a sacred ritual.

Each morning I drive to work and treasure the 50 minute drive (or longer in construction season). The time doesn’t bother me because it is sacred time. This is my sacred time. A time of reflection of the blessings in my life. I time to spontaneous talk with God and to pray my rosary and divine chaplet. My fingers naturally find their rhythm in a familiar pattern on a rosary my sister brought home from the Vatican in 1988. Those beads have heard alot of praise, sorrow and petitions. Prayers to the Holy Spirit for guidance and protection for my family and friends consume my thoughts. A few minutes is spent talking with my daughter as we both start our day with a commute. My time with God is sprinkled with reminders of who I am praying for…my daughter and son (and now my future daughter-in-law), the blessings of my life.

We can get easily distracted in the world around us, so turn off the radio, tv, music…wherever you are; start with silence. Developing a ritual prayer life takes patience and trust. God is with us, listening, watching and guiding, even when we don’t feel His presence.

Prayer is talking with God. It’s a conversation. prayer
Effective conversations are two ways.
Make sure your prayer time includs listening.
We need to be aware of His presence in our every day.
Listen, watch and you will see Him.
He is present in the pauses throughout the day.
Thank him for all the things that pass your way.
Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the close parking spot or for safe travel.
Say a prayer of gratitude for the ability to speak to loved ones and for the job you have (even if it’s not your dream job).
Say a prayer of petition and bring forth the needs for others and yourself.
God is omnipotent, He can take it all in. He love you so much and is waiting for your return to prayer.

Facing Challenges

Two years free of chemo and I still feel effects. I wonder if the aches pains, loss of strength, chemo brain will ever be gone. The shooting pains that feel as it I am being electrocuted from the inside out…in random places all over my body. Headaches that remain for days, when I never got headaches before. These are my reminders of a turbulent time, snapping my mind to never forget my struggles and achievements. As I reflect back on 18 months of illness, I am grateful for every moment…the hard and the easy, the good and the bad, the despair and the joy. Illness can damage so much of us, spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. It hits every part of our lives and each of our family members differently.

I grew so much in faith and learned many lessons. Our health is a blessing when it’s good or a curse when not. Our outlook plays a big part of our we attack any disease.I found support in my family, friends and faith. I pray that others are spared from the pain and anxieties that I experienced, however if you find yourself down this road I hope my lessons can help you. It may not be cancer, it may be multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, or a number of other ailments that surround us these days. You may be walking with a friend through these times or maybe a loved one. These are the things that matter most.

  • Prayer. Begin and end each day with prayer. Prayer helps center us and calms our fears. Knowing that the Lord hears us and lifts us can change your attitude instantly. Prayers we learned as child or just talking to God and laying our burdens at his feet.
  • Be Thankful. When facing a life-threatening illness you quickly become mortal. You see the end that you don’t want to even come close to. You realize no one should take life for granted. Be thankful for every breath, every moment and every memory you make. They are what you are living for. Even the moments of hardship will bring the joy of life to the forefront. Every leaf that blows past my feet as I walk is a gift of God’s great creativeness. Every call from my children is a moment of heavenly music. Visits with my mother playing Phase Ten and talking is grace of presence.
  • Relax. Take time to be still, to clear your mind and rest your body. Give yourself a break and stop all the busyness around you. Close your eyes, meditate and relax. Your body needs to rejuvenate, you need to pause….there is a power in pausing. The worries of the day will take care of themselves in due time.

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. A powerful story everyone should read. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: “in work (doing something significant) in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.” Frankl found meaning even in the most horrific situation of a concentration camp. My struggles pale in comparison to his daily norm while imprisoned. But my struggles are my struggles, how I react is my choice. He also states the “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

mansearchformeaning

The decisions we make each day are influenced by the faith we have. A life of prayer, thankfulness and time alone gives us the strength to face what lies ahead. Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:25-27, 33a, 34a

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Matthew 6-34

Grace embraced through lifes struggles produces great joy if you choose to respond in joy and love! May your journey be embraced by grace.

Relish this remarkable life

Grace fills my life and surrounds me with God’s eternal love.
How can we capture the love that Christ offers us and share it with others?

Grace dice

This blog began as my diary for a journey I never intended to take, but a journey which I was chosen to take. It often can be personal and when I type I forget that others will read it, but that is when we are most honest with ourselves. I believe with all my soul that my breast cancer journey was a blessing, not a cure. Was it easy…Absolutely Not! Was it necessary…NO! But was it fruitful…YES!

This coming week I celebrate my 3 year anniversary of being cancer free. May 4, 2012 doctors took part of me, which created a roller coaster of emotions for me as I dress each day being reminded of what was taken. But on May 4, 2012 doctors also took the ugly darkness that threatened me. With the darkness gone, I focused on the LIGHT!

The tumor removed had a 50/50 chance of returning within the first 3 years! And by God’s grace I will hit that marker on Monday! Praise God! Now it drops to 30%…but I’ll look at the opposite…70% it will never return!

Although I have not blogged in a while. I am hoping this blog begins to transform into sharing grace moments in everyday life. Grace is all around us, it is within us and it forever embraces us. It is in sharing the grace moments that we strengthen each other, carry each other and inspire each other.

MIT meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, created one of the most intriguing ideas that moved from lab to pop culture: the “butterfly effect,” the concept that small events can have large, widespread consequences. In a world that can be cynical, depressing and negative; I can only effect those around me..or do does it? What would happen in a world where all our “wings” were spreading grace to others? I would give anything to see that world!

Last weekend I embraced grace is a simple meal. Okay pizza at Giordano’s may be simple, but there was nothing simple about getting 17 of us together! Kevin and I along with our son and his fiance met in Naperville with some of the Caschetta cousins. Two nieces and a nephew, their spouses and children (7 children…5 under the age of 6 years old)…what a beautiful and wonderful family. The craziness even prevented us from snapping a picture together, but the grace flowed throughout the table.

Catching up with their lives and watching the little cousins laugh was grace enough for me. As Kevin and I sat at one end of the long table, I realized the incredible family we have. As my children’s generation begin families and I sit in my empty nest with Kevin, I am able to reflect on all the amazing things God has provided for our family.

Seeing Lindsay, Nick and Britt in strong marriages, facing the challenges of raising children while balancing work and home makes me feel blessed. The fact that these extremely busy 30 somethings were able to make time for us touched my heart deeply. What a gift to spend time with family! I love all my big crazy family!!

God is a family, one in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He created us to flourish in families, even mucky families. We are able to choose our actions and reactions to whatever life throws at us. When you do it from a place of faith, God gives us wiper blades to get the musky-ness out of our line of sight. It’s not gone, there is just a clearer vision within.

Life experiences help us to also see much clearer. I honestly don’t know how I would have handled breast cancer at 25 or 35. There were so many wonderful friends, mentors, bible study members, teachers, priests and family that taught me vital lessons throughout my life…and created the person I am still working on today. Thank you.

Each step we travel, especially if we have God at our side and entwined in our lives, is a stepping stone to a grace filled life. Travel with me on this journey!

Every year, I snuggle with my daughter and husband and watch About Time. It is a beautiful story about family, love and life. In the closing moments of the movie, the main character says “we are traveling through this life together, every day of our lives, all we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable life.”

Grace embraced through lives small steps each day with people we love and people we have yet to meet and love. Our wings bring grace to so many, every day of our incredible, remarkable lives. Enjoy a grace embraced life!

“But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

A Year of Thriving

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My mom, brothers and sisters…Love you all!

August 8, 2013 – Last treatment
of the targeted chemotherapy, Herceptin.

August 8, 2014 – A year free of treatments- JOY. A year free of needle pokes and IV bags-PEACE. A year of hair growth and personal growth-LOVE. A year filled with love of family and friends-KINDNESS. A year filled with sunshine blinding my cloudy days because I wake up every morning-GOODNESS.

My daily prayers still include some personal intentions, but they are mostly prayers of thanksgiving. I have faced the evil that cancer is and am still thriving. A sweet cousin, who also overcame breast cancer, wisely told me as I began this journey in March of 2012, that she doesn’t consider herself a survivor, she is a thriver. I have come to realize that my life too is about thriving! My prayer is that I continue to thrive and bear the fruits of the Spirit to others.

I was blessed this past year of good health to spend beautiful moments with my sisters, Diane, Teri and Toni and my brothers, Don and John. I believe our relationships grew stronger and deeper. There were many moments that I treasure with friends too, but siblings share a special bond that runs long and deep. They have seen me at my worst and my best and they continue to stand by me. I pray I have shown them and will continue to show them the love, kindness and gentleness that they have shared with me. Some of the years highlights were…

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation just before my last Herceptin with Teri and Diane for Teri’s Hawaii wedding to a wonderful new brother-in-law, Nick. Teri’s children Mindy and Jack joined us for an incredible 5 sunny days.

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation with Don and Mindy in Cancun for a glorious week in January. Yes during Chicago’s below zero temperatures we were all glad to get away and relax at the beautiful gulf waters. Their friends Tony and Diane joined us for an amazing time filled with lots of laughs.

In March we stole a few days away for my nephew’s wedding in Arizona. Pete and Melissa filled the air with the love that radiated from them. And the time with the extended Caschetta family was so much fun…lots of little ones running around the reception and leading the moves on the dance floor.

The abundant blessings came about at the end of May when we could put off no longer the trip that we had been planning in our minds and hearts for 8 years. Fifteen days in Italy…Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terra and Lucca. My heart felt at home in Lucca. Maybe it was because it is where my Nonno and Noni met, or maybe it was because I knew my father had walked those streets too. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a connection to a place I had only heard stories about.

There may have been hard moments, scary moments and moments of distress this past year. But I choose to remember the moments I spent with my husband, my daughter, my son, my mother, my siblings and my friends. Laughing, loving and living…no, laughing, loving and thriving!

Grace embraced through the love I have been blessed to share with others throughout the past year. May the Lord use me to help others bear their burdens, so that I may lighten their load in some small way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22-23

 

The Almighty Physician

If you have ever faced an illness you understand when I talk about all the physicians necessary to care for you.almightydoctor

Over the past two years I have met with a gynecologist, breast surgeon, radiologists, cardiologist, oncologist, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, dermatologist, otolaryngologist, gastroenterologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, oncology radiologists, generalist, podiatrist, nephrologist and I’m sure I am forgetting someone (sorry). Each of these doctors were wonderful and a specialist in their field. I am so blessed to have the top-notch professional available at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Although they may have helped me along the way, the only true physician I needed was the Almighty Physician.

When I sat back and allowed The Physician to treat me, not only was I treated physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Now I see the scar that a surgeon left, but The Physician healed.
I have neuropathy in my feet left from treatment, but The Physician knows my pain.
He was there in the surgery, He was there for each appointment, walking right next to me.
He knows what I feel, what I need and what I can carry…and I will continue to trust Him with my life.
He is my constant, always faithful and always present.

Grace embraced through the moments I remember to pause and acknowledge the healing touch of our Lord Jesus.

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” Luke 5:32