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

 

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Taking up my cross

Why do so many suffer? Why does anyone even have to?Wooden Cross

We have been paying for the sin of eating that apple for a long time.
Sin was brought into this world through a simple act, but this Lent we can choose to look beyond the sin; to look beyond the suffering. To cast our eyes of heaven and remember there is a paradise waiting for us.

I know suffering. I have been in pain. Physical pain through 17 months of treatments and many tests before, throughout and continuing. I have had the emotional pain of losing loved ones. But there is always mountain tops to help us with the valleys. I choose this Lent to focus on the blessings. I want to focus on the graces and the joys of my life. It’s a choice, it’s a decision I make each day. And you have the same choice too. You can choose to remain in the suffering or depression of our lives or you can choose to look upward and change your view.

Christ suffered…He did not have to, He’s God…He could have chosen a million other scenarios to come into the world. But He chose a lowly stable to be born in and a brutal cross to die on. He accepted this path for His life. My suffering can never be as horrible. Lent is calling me to reflect on Christ’s life and I can’t do that without reflecting on everything He gave for me…and you.

So I will take up my cross everyday, no matter how heavy. At the end of the day, I also know that I can lay my cross at the feet of Jesus and He willingly takes it from me. I pray my life gives glory to the graces that have been given me.

Grace embraced today through the kindness of the medical professionals that helped my daughter with her pain this past week while fighting a violent flu, while her parents can’t get to her in Arizona. I love and miss you Jaclyn.

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:24

Ashes to remind us

AshWednesday

Today begins Lent…what does Lent mean to me. As I approach my second anniversary of becoming a survivor, I see this Lent as another opportunity to deepen my faith as I reflect on my past year. Lent is about looking inward and changing our lives to better serve our heavenly Father. So I have to ask how can I change this Lent?

Here’s a lot of ideas for your Lenten journey.

Today’s scripture tells us…”Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”

I am so thankful for the gracious Lord – fasting is about offering myself to the Lord for all the goodness He has given my life.

Happy Lent, may it be joy filled as you journey towards Easter!

“We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Grace embraced through the opportunities to serve in ministry

Last Herceptin!

photo (10)Thursday, August 8th is my sister’s birthday.  This year along with the gift I sent her in Colorado I also gave her a better gift. My last day of treatment.  I’m done with surgery, I’m done with Adriamycin, Cytoxan Chemotherapy. I’m done with Taxol Chemotherapy. I’m done with Radiation therapy. I’m now done with a year of Herceptin chemotherapy. It was the last piece in the puzzle and I’m so happy that the last piece of the puzzle is complete!

So August 8th was a true celebration. The only thing that would have made it better was if my daughter, Jaclyn and my sisters could have been here to celebrate with me.

However my husband did an amazing job celebrating with me. He took off work early to go to treatment with me. Even though I’ve been going to treatments alone since finishing Taxol, (Herceptin does not affect my driving), he wanted to go with me. I always become extremely tired after Herceptin. So a restful weekend is always in order.

Kevin and I laughed with the nurses as we all celebrated my final treatment visit. I brought treats as a thank you for being so wonderful! We laughed, hugged and said good-bye. I stopped downstairs to the radiology section to drop treats for those lovely ladies there too. I’ll miss them, but not the treatments. I trust the Lord has removed all the cancer, so visits there will in the future will only be to say hello!  Like my oncologist said last month, “well you’re looking good, and we threw the book at you.” And I smiled and said “thanks, it was a really heavy book.”Candy thank you

Kevin and I left University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross for home. My son was waiting for me to celebrate with my family. Kevin had invited my mom, brothers and their families over for dinner to celebrate. But he had more up his sleeve.

As Mindy, my sister-in-law, came armed with paper products and flowers, she began preparing veggies, appetizers and desserts. In came Mary and Dominic from Cafe Milan in Frankfort. I have known them for 15 years and they have the best caterers in the area (http://caffemilanfrankfort.com/menu.htm) They brought in more food than my family eats and I started to suspect something was afoot.

Spinach lasagna, chicken pesto, strawberry spinach salad, baked fruit and congratulatory cakes filled my kitchen counter. Then friends started arriving.  I was so thrilled to see so many people who have filled my life the past 18 months celebrating with me!

What an amazing evening!

A warrior cake

Thank you Kevin. And Thank you Lord for bringing me through this journey. I know it will never be completely over, but I have reached to top of the mountain and can see the light streaming on my face from heaven! Every day is grace filled!

Grace embraced through every moment of love I have received and I pray that I can share it forward to others in my life through any challenging valleys they may have to travel, while praising with them for all the wonderful moments of mountaintops!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:7-10 

21 days of Freedom

I have gotten a taste of freedom!

Freedom from doctor’s appointment…
Freedom from physical therapy…
Freedom from blood pressure checks…
Freedom from the dreaded weight ins…
And even Freedom from wigs….I am going la natural!

The last 21 days, I have not had a medical appointment of any kind! Some people say survivors go through a depression when treatments end, they miss the attention, the check ups, the care…

But I enjoyed the freedom! The Lord has blessed me abundantly with so many people surrounding me that the care and prayers continue, so no depression here! Only JOY in the graces of Gods mercy and healing hands!

The first six months of 2013 has brought appointments with oncologists, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, internal medicine, optometrist, gynecologist, physical therapists, radiologists, urologist, echocardiogram techs and infusion nurses. Surgeries for bladder and colonoscopy, and blood work galore! Every turn has been ALL CLEAR! Music to my ears and gratitude in my heart!

Today counts as my fourth to last chemo treatment, and as you can see I am gladly counting down. My daughter used post it notes to count down the last days of school for her students and so I adopted the ideas…my nurses are laughing at me, but think its great!

I look forward to more 21 days of freedom…then 6 months of freedom…the years of freedom! I love all the medical providers, but I love the freedom they give me when I hear them say “you’re doing great!” I give all the glory to my Lord, for he is the Comforter and Healer!

Grace embraced with the freedom God has bestowed in my life the past three weeks.
“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” Phil 1:7

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Another milestone

Oh the joy The Lord has given me this past year.

A year ago today I had my mastectomy surgery. And so began the hardest summer of my life. The only thing harder than this fight I had in front of me was losing my Dad. But I have survived both challenges.

People say “the Lord only gives you what you can handle”…but He doesn’t ask if I want to handle it! I wanted my Dad with me so often this past year. Lymphoma took him within five months, but I know my Dad was with me every step of this past year. I am filled with joy, because I have a faith that trusts in God’s divine providence. I know I might not be able to handle everything, but God can and I usually need to remember to step aside and allow God’s glory to take hold.

Every treatment, chemo, radiation, therapy, doctors appointments and bad day was in God’s ultimate plan. And it feels so good to know that someone all knowing has my back.

This past year has taught me how precious life is…I always knew it of course, but to be thrust in the middle of a life battle really makes you look differently. It also gives you the ability to not sweat the small stuff.

Every blade of grass has a purpose, every ant a mission. What a wonderful gift to be given…a new pair of eyes to see Gods creation and to contemplate its purpose and mission.

Look at the world differently today. Because we are here today, does not guarantee tomorrow. God gives us so much each and every day…we need to embrace each grace, smile and give love back.

Grace embraced this year through the beautiful creation I have seen with my new eyes e of God!

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Genesis 1:29-31

Anniversary thoughts

Today begins the Anniversary march. You know when you experience the “firsts” of everything.1anni

One year ago today I found my lump. Although I say “my”, I never took ownership of it. It was a foreigner in my body and as soon as I felt it I wanted it out. I remember telling my husband and he said lovely “it’s probably nothing”. I know he was trying to calm my fears and comfort me. But the one thing I was not was fearful.

I was with my father on November 24, 2006 when the doctor drained the fluid from his lungs and told him the tests were stage 4 lymphoma. He looked at my mother and lovely said “we’ve had a great life”. He would fight with everything he had, but he was not fearful but calm in those first few moments.

I remember thinking immediately of my dad and how strong he was and how faith-filled he was. And I felt the same way. I was not fearful, but I was concerned. Yet, I felt a peace over me. As if the Lord was saying to me “I’ve got this”. And I believed…

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” Acts 1:7

And I have always trusted in my Lord…and He has never failed me.

I trusted His plan is so much better than any plan I could imagine.
I trusted His timing is perfect and that I will not be disappointed.
I trusted His healing power to guide those ministering to me.
I trusted His joy in seeing His glory in all that I would undergo.

And He exceed any expectations I could have imagined.

I would not wish this journey on anyone and I would not choose to go through it again. But I was so blessed with each step of this journey. You have read before all those that have helped me. But spiritually nothing compares to the depth of the relationship between Jesus and me.

He hears from me daily and many times throughout the day.

And I hear from Him more than ever…
I hear his voice in the friends that have reached out to me.
I hear his voice in the family that have cared for me.
I hear his voice in the doctors as they treat me.
I hear his voice in all the support techs and nurses that have shown amazing kindness.

His grace surrounds me.

When I began this blog I named it Grace Embraced, because I knew I felt grace filled moments as I walked those first few weeks alone with my husband and children. Now I know God named this Grace Embraced because He planned on filling every moment of my life with grace, as He has always done…but my eyes are now wide open and I can clearly see the grace as it flows around me.

Grace is Love.
And
Love is God.

To all the wonderful women in my life…for me, do a self-exam this evening…be aware of your own body…don’t put off until tomorrow…I love you all too much to not remind you…

So even on this anniversary that no one wants to remember, and as I approach the first anniversary of surgery and first anniversary of chemo, etc. I remember my dad’s words “we’ve had a good life” and I’m still enjoying it! Thanks Dad for looking down on me and Praise to the Lord for his goodness endures forever and flows over me we grace! According to my medical oncologist, my chances are statistically 50/50 that I will be here for more than 5 years. But my God knows statistics don’t hold any value with Him and I will continue to embrace and follow Him!

Grace embraced through you all; and you all are embraced with all the graces I have received, because I cannot receive them without sharing them with you.

“the day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36