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6 Requirements of My Husband

It’s always been my hearts desire to have a family- to fall in love, get married and have children. I have spent years imagining what my husband would be like, what he would look like, what his career would be, his hobbies and personality traits. I have prayed for him, that the Lord be crafting together a man specially designed for me and that he be equipped with certain characteristics. It’s the prayer that all us women pray: “Lord, I pray that he is kind, thoughtful, smart and generous. I pray that he can always make me laugh and that we never run out of things to talk about. I pray that he is my best friend, travel buddy, and lights up at the thought of watching documentaries. Let him treat me with the utmost respect and love me as Christ loved the church. Allow him to be extra fine, chocolaty and attractive. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.”

Breast Cancer has altered this prayer somewhat. I’m realizing just how amazing my husband would have to be to handle all of this cancer, sickle cell goodness. His tolerance for all things medical is a must, and his compassion level must be a 10. The following are a list of things that I am now praying for, criteria that my husband must meet.

He must not mind a deformed boob.

Bonus points if he actually prefers it! Does that exist? Anywho, in its current state my right breast is one large wound. It has no skin and is bloody and gross. I have to change my wound dressing everyday and while you can make out what it is, its’s not the most attractive breast you’ve ever seen. Once the wound has healed, I’ll be eligible for surgery, in which I will get both breast removed. So if he is a breast man, this is not going to go well for him. I need a man who doesn’t care if they’re dented, scared, or missing a nipple. I need a man who despite this will still look at me like the sexy vibrant and exciting women that I am. May he come home at night still craving the cleavage I have left!

He must be okay with hospitals.

My husband must be okay with the occasional hospital stay. Now, visiting a loved one in the hospital is very different than being a care provider and staying with someone in the hospital. My husband will find himself responsible for making sure I don’t send embarrassing text messages while on morphine, keeping track of all medications given, advocacy work (which may include telling a doctor off), delivering food cravings to said patient, selecting riveting TV movies to fall asleep to, be the main source of contact for our family, friends, and employers/employees, act as a nurse when they’re nowhere to be found, and attempt to sleep in semi comfortable recliner chairs while machines beep in your ear. I can’t control when I may be ill, so he must be okay with the possibility of spending a major holiday on the inside, or missing the Mavericks game which he bought tickets for months ago. Sigh. Now it’s, not all downhill! I typically have an unlimited supply of graham crackers while in the hospital, which I’m more than willing to provide you with. Just call me the graham cracker plug.

He must not be attached to hair.

Chemotherapy and radiation has taken my hair twice now. While it’s currently attempting to grow back now, I’m never certain how long that will last. I’m very bald and he is going to have to be okay with any hairstyle I bring to the table. Whether I’m bald, have short hair, choose a wig or am able to grow long locs, he will have to accept me for me. Now, as a black women I’m not asking for anything out of the ordinary as we stay changing our hairstyles. I just ask that he comes knowing that “no hair, don’t care” is always an option. Who knows, maybe we will be balddies together! Sexy.

He must have an understanding for the need to nap.

I don’t plan on ending my love affair with naps, despite our committed relationship. I. Must. Sleep. While I forsee having to take naps less as my healing progresses, I don’t anticipating living life without it. I take emense joy and pleasure in my Sabbath Hour everyday, and pray my husband won’t mind spending a little downtime with me. Do I like to turn up? Heck yes! I love me some adventure time! Just give me a heads up so I, like a toddler, can plan my nap accordingly and be ready to go!

He must be flexible with the idea of parenting.

I have always wanted children. I desire to experience pregnancy, birth, parenthood- the whole nine yards. I went to see a fertility doctor when I was first diagnosed with cancer. My doctor wanted me to know my fertility options being that chemo can cause infertility. I was told by the specialist that with cancer and sickle cell combined, I have little chance at getting pregnant. That even when I beat the cancer I should wait five years before getting pregnant. He suggested that I consider freezing my eggs for in vetro fertilization, a possible surrogate or adoption as possible avenues. I was crushed. Then I was reminded that God has the final say in this matter too. I didn’t freeze my eggs; it felt like a decision that I wanted to do with my husband. I’m open to God’s miracles, including adoption. My husband must understand this and be onboard for it. Our family could look unconventional, and he must love it all the same!

He must have faith,

This is of utmost importance to me. He is required to believe in my complete and total healing. I need him to remain unwavering in this, not only for me but for himself. This is for the benefit of our peace, joy and hope in the forward progression of our lives, marriage and family. I’ll need the occasional reminder of just who God is, when I’m in the thick of medical storms. He will too and I pray that our faith is such that we will be able to uplift and encourage each other in the Lord. He must be able to look at me and at any obstacles that come our way and say, “God is good and this has already been conquered.”

I don’t ask or expect perfection. How can I, as I’m not willing to attempt to be perfect myself? But I do ask the Lord to send me someone who sees me, and sees past all of the obstacles before me. I ask that he see my destiny and the miracles before me. I pray that he believes in me; believes I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me. I pray he sees the God in me, and falls madly in love with Him. I pray that all of my new cancer insecurities will mean nothing to him, and that he will respect and love me more because of them and not despite them. I pray for bravery and vulnerability for both of us. I pray that God is molding the perfect human just for me.

I can’t wait to meet this piece of awesomeness!

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Glancing Back

I hate the oncology office. It smells like chemotherapy and pain.

I’m currently waiting in the lobby of Texas Oncology, breathing through my mouth, so that I don’t smell the odor of illness. Okay, I’m not certain what illness smells like. Most likely I’m smelling a combination of hospital cleaners, hand sanitizers and latex gloves. Regardless, my mind associates the smell with all the crap that cancer brought. I’m taken back to chemo, nausea, muscle pain, soreness and radiation burns. I hate this smell. On rare occasion I’ll get a sniff of it while in the foyer of my apartment complex, or in the grocery store and immediately must move away from it. But right now, as I wait for the nurse to call me back, I must sit in it and flash back to the worst of the past year. I hate remembering.

Flashbacks are fickle.

These very same images that I hate to recall in the doctor’s office, are the very same images that come to mind during worship. I stretch my hands to the Father, close my eyes and meditate on the “red devil” coursing through my veins, and the days after where I lay in pain on the couch. I recall to memory sickle cell crisis’ in the hospital and crying from the mind numbing pain in the emergency room. I recall the smell again, and I smile, because I’m reminded of the healing that God has brought. I need to remember the bad that occurred in my life, so that I’m consistently aware of the good that is happening. I love remembering.

Where is the healthy balance between remembering and forgetting? How do we balance no longer living in the past and rejoicing in the present, while not forgetting just what the Lord has done?

And then I remembered our friends, the Israelites, and this particular scripture:

“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Now, I’ve heard this scripture before, understanding it as a call to put my past out of memory. I grew up thinking that there was something “healthy” about forgetting. We are told as children to forgive and FORGET. But as I wrestle with the memories of my cancer battle, I question this. So I look at this scripture a little closer and as I read it now, I’m noticing two important things. The first thing I noticed is the verses above this passage:

“This is what the Lord says—

he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:” -Isaiah 43:16-17 (NIV)

In the preface to telling us to forget the former things, the writer reminds us, pulls to memory, what the Lord has done in the past! The writer is saying, “Look, the dude who parted the red sea, who drew you out of the hands of your enemy- that guy has something to say.” He is defining God by what He has done for him in Israel’s past! This requires us to go back, and recall all of the mess we were in AND HOW the Lord delivered us from it. We look back to remember this, that we may remind ourselves of just who God is.

The second thing I noticed is the word “dwell” in vs 18. Remembering the past and dwelling in the past are two different things entirely. It’s not the casual glancing back that is dangerous, but the complete 180 turns we make to stare and meditate on our past. This is dwelling. The longer you stare in a direction, the more likely you are to walk in that direction. We move in the direction in which our feet and body are postured; surly if I’m facing towards an exit, I will walk in the direction of the exit. Surly if you position yourself to fixate on your past you will move toward it.

So, I encourage you to not turn around and dwell on your past. There is nothing in the past that is worth the repositioning of your body, and the slow backwards journey you will embark on. Your future, and the brightness and fullness thereof, is in front of you! Glance back. Occasionally turn only your head, ever so slightly over your shoulder that you may be reminded of the incredible road you have challenged. Do this only that you may remember what the Lord has done, and that it will propel you deeper into praise, worship and service. This is important, as Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:12 of forgetting, saying,

“Then take care lest you forget the Lord,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

out of the house of slavery.” (ESV)

I’ve often wondered if this is why the Israelites complained so much, and had such little faith during their journey. Time and time again, the Lord showed His mighty hand, providing for them in miraculous ways! The Lord parted the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from slavery and the wrath of Pharaoh (Exodus 14); He rained down manna from heaven that they may eat (Exodus 16); He provided water for the Israelites to drink, from a rock in the desert (Exodus 17)! And yet every time they approached a trial, complaining and unbelief overcame them. Maybe they didn’t glance back. Maybe they allowed themselves to forget the previous wonders and miracles that the Lord had done. Maybe they no longer remembered the pain of slavery and their prayers for freedom.

I don’t want to forget. i wont forget. I shall not. I’ll be sure to glance back to the past on occasion while resisting the fleshly urge to dwell on in.

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Gratitude

I have been loved on, taken care of, and fussed over from the time I entered this world. Partially because I was brought into a family with big hearts and partially because I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia Disease, a genetic blood disorder. Upon my diagnosis, you rallied beside me and poured your love over me. My Village- you’ve always been present. You then grew in numbers upon my breast cancer diagnosis and another portion of love came to me. I’ve always been amazed at your heart for me and for doing good by others. Through out the years:
You’ve claimed me as your friend even after I flashed the male nurse under my morphine endured stupper.
You’ve took me to the emergency room and sat with me in the early hours of the morning.
You’ve committed to wheelchair races and strolls through hospital gardens. How did I always win?
You’ve pressed the nurses button more times that you can count at the slightest chance that I may be uncomfortable.
You’ve listen to that damn machine’s beep, beep, beep, beep… beep.
You’ve memorized the medications I was allergic to, so that you could inform doctors and nurses. 
You’ve come to understand my treatment plan better than I do. Morphine, I. V fluids, heating pads. Repeat.
You’ve prayed.
You’ve held buckets while I threw up in them.
You’ve seen more blood and needles than you ever cared to. You haven’t passed out yet.
You ever so subtlety placed water bottles in front of me as your plea to hydrate. “Drink you water.”
You’ve turned up the heat so that I may not get too cold, while you wiped the perspiration off of your own face.
You’ve brought me balloons, flowers, games and treats to my hospital room.
You held my IV bag up in the air for 20 minutes while we waited for an IV pole, which was quite the task for someone with little arms.
You’ve spent the night with me, sacrificing the comfort of a bed and shower, to watch movies with me until I fell asleep.
You’ve listen to me complain and told me to suck it up- there’s work to be done.
You prayed again.
You’ve cooked for me. Fed me. Stolen my hospital jello and replaced it with candy.
You’ve intentionally made laugh, to keep my mind off of the physical pain.
You’ve called my parents and family to update them on my health. They’re numbers are saved in your phone.
You’ve run errands for me, gathering my prescriptions and miscilaniois items through the city.
You’ve endured a rediculius amount of hospital cafeteria food. And it ain’t all been gravy.
You’ve packed many a hospital bad, both for you and me. It’s required you to rummage through my underwear drawer and you were never judgmental.
You’ve been my chemo & hospital entertainer, is coming to never ending games of uno, cards and checkers.
You’ve collected my homework for me and committed to helping me play catch-up once I returned to school.
You’ve held my hand while I was in pain. You’ve endured my grip, which is strong.
You’ve lied to nurses, telling them you were my sister, so that you could stay with me in the absence of my family.
You’ve wiped my tears while you hid your own.
You’ve taken me to chemo appointments, enduring the disgusting sounds and smells of the clinic.
You’ve sent me care packages from across the county, that carried healing supplies, fun activities, words of encouragement and items to sooth my soul.
You’ve thrown me “No More Chemo” parties, reminding me that I didn’t do it alone. I’ve never done it alone.
You’ve loved me relentlessly, unapologetically, wholeheartedly and sacrificially.
Thank you.
I believe it’s my turn to do the same for you.
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Bonding With Purpose

I’m. Cancer. Free.

I completed the checklist. Chemo. Surgery. Radiation. My understanding was once that checklist was complete, once I was officially a cancer survivor in remission, that life would return back to “normal” and I would operate as I always had. My old life, my definition of normalcy, is what I coveted for 10 months. What I did not know, what nobody told me, is that cancer (and I imagine all life altering events) shatters normalcy, leaving you with fragmented bits of your old life. Like shattered glass, you can’t mend it back together, as some pieces are chipped, scratched and missing all together. Instead, you’re left with a few familiar pieces and the scars, wisdom and revelations that cancer left behind. Then it hits you: life as you knew it is over. You can’t go back to who you were despite how desperately you may have wanted to. There is a spiritual and emotional shift in the atmosphere, orchestrated by non other than God, and it requires every ounce of your attention.

I’m not the same. I never will be. There is something terrifying, yet so freeing about not recognizing yourself. There’s something even more surreal about realizing that you’re simply at the beginning of this transformation and that a month from now, a year from now, 5 years from now, you’ll continued to be shocked by who is looking back at you in the mirror.

Because Cancer.

Because you spent too many moments questioning death. You saw too many patients suffering more than you had. You wrestlers with God in your attempt to convict Him for what He has allowed. You can’t shake these things; the experiences bond to you like thick adhesive, becoming an extension of who you are. It’s like a heavy tumor, a sudden growth attached to your side, which causes you to now walk with a perminamt limp. I have a perminamt limp. A glorious limp that oddly enough I wouldn’t trade for the world.

The tumor’s name is Purpose. I’m so glad that she has found me.

Purpose will cause you to walk differently and therefore I no longer anticpaite going back to “normal”. Instead I’ve come to realize that further change is on the horizon and it will affect every facet of my life: relationships, career, vision. Changes that will further propel me into my new relationship with Purpose, are coming and have already arrived. I acknowledge that these changes are frightening as I’m not certain in which direction I am moving. But I’m certain in this: God is in control and I am His own possession.

So this is what I say to you loved ones: that which has not killed you has come to shed light on your kingdom purpose- to proclaim the excellence of God. And as you shift into this purpose, do not resist, attempting to glue back the pieces of your old life, but rather embrace the changes within and truly bond with your purpose.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” -I Peter 2:9

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The Checklist

It’s Radiation Day! You get radiation, and you get radiation and YOU get radiation!! (Admit it, you read that in your best Oprah voice like the good Lord intended. If you failed to do this, go to the beginning and try again.) I am too pumped to begin my first day of radiation today, because it means I’m one step closer to completing this cumbersome, long winded and dramatic healing process. I love a good checklist. Nothing is more satisfying than checking off a task on the to-do list and feeling that sense of accomplishment and adulting. The gratification is so good that I will intentionally write remedial tasks on my checklist, such as “brush tooth” and “feed dog”, just so I have something to check off. I digress. Here is where I currently stand on my cancer checklist:

[x] Chemo x 8

[x] Surgery x 2

[ ] Radiation x 33

See that!? One box left! Now, I know this list seems relatively short. You’re thinking “Jewel, whats the big deal? It’s a 3 step process.” Truth is that this checklist expands, to include what was needed for the emotional healing and journey. What doctors and nurses don’t tell you, is that healing from cancer can range anywhere from a 1 step process to a 352 step process. My checklist reads something more like this:

[x] Grieve.

[x] Make sister touch your lumpy boob.

[x] Purchase pink stuff.

[x] Phone call with oncology finance office.

[x] Phone call with insurance company.

[x] Throw phone against wall.

[x] Wait. Patiently?

[x] Chemo appointment.

[x] Get Neulasta shot the next day.

[x] Hate everything.

[x] Love everyone.

[x] Pray & cry lots.

[x] Repeat steps 1-12 a total of 8 times.

[x] Celebrate the end of chemo .

[x] Get felt up by all doctors in Dallas.

[x] Make appointment for surgery.

[x] Get labs drawn for surgery.

[x] Contact insurance company 2,347 times for approval on MRI needed for surgery.

[x] Cancel surgery due to hurricane affecting insurance company.

[x] Make second appointment for surgery.

[x] Check into hospital.

[x] Let nurse attempt to find a vein 9 times for an IV.

[x] Access port instead.

[x] Cancel surgery because hospital forgot to do a needed procedure for surgery.

[x] Go home and cry. Eat lots of food.

[x] Make 3rd appointment for surgery.

[x] Surgery.

[x] Lay on couch for days while touching boob.

[x] Schedule appointment for 2nd surgery due to cancer appearing in lymph nodes.

[x] Panic.

[x] Pray.

[x] Surgery #2.

[x] Send text messages to friends while sedated. Laugh about it.

[x] Lay on couch while touching armpit.

[x] Heal while watching Blackish.

[x] Oncology appointment.

[x] Heal.

[x] Radiation appointment.

[x] Get freckle sized radiation tattoos.

[x] Show sister tattoos with pride.

[x] Get radiation.

[ ] …

And it was all necessary.

One of the most frustraiting things about this process is that I don’t know what to expect, nobody can prepare me for whats to come and the checklist is forever evolving and shifting. I didn’t know that I had to go through so much for the process to be complete within me; the expanded checklist was necessary to build my character, strengthen my worship and heal my soul. This is reflective of life for all of us on earth, whether sick or not. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, our expectations rarely become reality and our life projections of growth and prosperity become overshaddowed with life’s cancer.

Life is a cancer.

We suffer uncontrollable abnormal growths of life’s complications and sorrows and at times it can feel cancerous. And in these cancerous stages of life, when we want nothing more than to feel better, for the pain to go away, sometimes we mistakingly convince ourselves that if we adhear to a set of tasks, that all pain will go away. We treat our healing journey like a perscribed checklist, believing that if we go through the motions, all will be fine. We try to shortcut the healing. Dont. Go through the expanded checklist. Work through every mundane, annoying and painful detail with God. Check each of them off, proudly, knowing that you are growing in the process. Embrace the crazy.

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10 Reasons Why Cancer is Awesome 

Cancer isn’t awesome. It’s pretty craptastic actually. Despite this, I have come across a few benefits to entering this hell storm.
1. Airport Benefits

Aw, the power of the wheelchair at the airport! My sister convinced me that I would need wheelchair service at the airport, as I would have just had chemo 6 days ago. The first week typically depletes me of all energy, so this sounded reasonable to me. Bruh, I contemplate purposefully breaking a leg the next time I fly internationally just to receive this glorious and devine perk.

This. Was. EVERYTHING.

This service allowed me to be pushed around by airport personnel, bypassing the lines at security, customs and boarding. I waited for nothing (except for my Starbucks order to be filled, because let’s not be greedy) and moved not a single one of my legs. It was glorious. Particularly when we arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at an airport that was very crowded, busy and foreign to me. Being escorted through the mass of people trying to get us to stay at their hotels or purchase their taxi service was a blessing, and without it we may still be there trying navigate through the crowd of people.

Might I add my travel buddy also benefited from this perk. You’re welcome.

2. Free Hugs & Kisses 

I’ve never been caressed more than I have in the past 6 months. As I’m writing this I realize that for some of you this is not a win. With irritation you would consider this a loss because you hate being touched, whether by loved ones or strangers. For me it brings me comfort and at times I’m a little tickled by it.

During my vacation in Mexico I repeatedly ran into an elderly woman who was fastenated with my bald head. She complemented me often, telling me how well I wore my look. At our last encounter, without saying anything, she grabbed my head with both hands and kissed it. While this is both strange and an invasion of personal space, I recognize the love behind it. She wasn’t the first (and I hope not the last) to show spontaneous love toward me.

3 Converstaions with Debbie

Cancer forces you to have a lot of deep, personal conversations with yourself. None have been more challenging to have, than the one you must have daily with your inner Debbie. You know Debbie, that heffa that keeps telling you to give up on yourself. She always says things like, “You can’t do this. You should give up on yourself. You’re not strong enough. Eat more kale.” I can’t stand her. When faced with trials you have to learn how to talk back to her, and put her in her place.

“I’m. Strong. Deborah. I’m resilient, disciplined and courageous. I can overcome anything. I will overcome everything. Heffa.”

I’ve gotten to a point where I like having these conversations with Debbie. Nothing like going in on her at 4am while drinking ginger ale and eating crackers while trying not to vomit. I feel like a true warrior, and it’s at that moment that am I truly connected with my inner strength. I think she’s made me a better person.

Thanks Deb.

4. Care Packages

I have been blessed with many wonderful care packages since diagnosis! There are many items a cancer patient is in need of to help them through their journey- thick creams/lotions & chap sticks to combat dry skin, hand santizers, ginger snacks and crackers to defeat nausea, head scarfs and more! My Villiage made sure that I never went with out, by sending several care packages throughout treatment! I have received magazines & coloring books, journals, candy and scarves ( I’m currently using one of these beautiful head scarfs to wipe the perspiration off my forehead, from a current hot flash I’m experiencing. I’ll tell you more about the joys of that internal hell later. I digress.) all of which have been used and appreciated greatly! To My Village- you’re the real MVPs. Thanks for your generosity which helpes me to defeat this thing with comfort, dignity and love.

5. Obscene and Indulgent Eating 

Because cancer I am deprived of nothing. I see it, I eat it. All of it. Nothing was considered to be too fat, to have too many calories, to not contain enough nutrients etc. I ate the chocolate cake, the burger, the milkshake, the Snickers, the fried chicken and the cobbler, while helping myself to seconds and dessert. I knew nothing of kale and treated myself to gluten everything.

And it was deliscious.

What made this all the more marvelous was that nobody felt the need to correct this bahavior- everyone cheered me on! Because cancer! Because I was apart of the rare few who didn’t lose their appetite and suffer from sever weight loss. My Village took this as a sign to “feed it” and consistently blessed me with snacks and food deliveries of all kinds! Who doesn’t love no judgment eating?! We could all use a little bit more this, don’t you think?

Speaking of over indulgent eating, I’ve had some amazing free homemade meals! This was such a blessing during chemo weeks to not have to think about cooking or grocery shopping. Food just arrived at my house. Good food. Free food. Heaven on earth!

Can you tell I love to eat?

6 Found Purpose

Oddly enough it’s not the cancer that reveals your purpose, but the living. It’s the fact that I am living and thriving through it that causes me to question my exsistance and pay close attention to fulfilling my purpose. If you’re breathing, you have purpose and this fact brings peace to my soul. I have work to do, people to bless, joy to give, hope to send and gospel to spread. This is my purpose, my mission and I’m excited and honored to fulfill it.

Thanks cancer for making it oh so clear.

7 Naps

I love a good nap. Always have. I certainly have taken more naps in the past few months, not only because they’ve been needed but because it’s been easier to convince myself that it’s okay. Who cares if bills need to be paid, lesson plans need to be done or the dog hasn’t been fed all day!? You have cancer, take a guilt free nap and rest yourself!

8 No hair. Don’t care. 

I have a long history of hating my hair (It’s a black woman, cultural, historical kind of hurt that I would love to discuss in a separate post.) and attempting to grow it to long lengths, so you can imagine the pain I had watching it fall out. Despite this aggravation I have found some amazing benefits to the bald life:

* I haven’t bought shampoo or conditioner in months.

* No need to shave! Yaaassss!

* I’m jumping in this swimming pool care free! I don’t have to worry about getting my hair wet…because…bald!

* I don’t have to do my hair in the morning, which means I get ready in 2 seconds (well, after I spend an hour drawing on my eyebrows).

* It’s an awesome reason to shop for scarves and head wraps! (Like I need a reason to shop.)

* I’ve kept cool in this Texas heat!

9 Period Free! 

You don’t realize how convient this truly is until it’s gone. What?! It’s hard for me to believe that I tolerated it for so long! Women, how are you doing it? You deserve a cookie. Always eat the damn cookie because…periods.

I can’t wait until I get mine back though…because babies.

10 Love Displayed 

I’ve never been so aware of how much God’s love is on display for me, until this journey. He shows us the love He has for us through all things- even cancer. It appeared in your text messages, cards, embrace, packages, listening ear, kind words, prayers, food deliveries, rides to the hospital, balloons, well wishes, shared laughter and margaritas. I’ve been so overwhelmed by this display of love- my heart is full and aches from rejoicing. He’s a good good Father.

 

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The Evolution of Why

One of our scholars has passed away from cancer just a few weeks ago. He was 16 years old. I instantly feel guilt.
When I receive news of someone passing away because of cancer, it affects me entirely differently now that I have it. Each time I hear of someone dying because of cancer, it forces me to dive deep within myself and question my exsistance. Especially when it’s a child that has been taken far too soon. In this journey I frequently ask myself “Why me?”
The meaning and root of that question has changed several times over the course of this journey, and I imagine will continue to transform and evolve until the day I’m heaven bound. My mind twirls around “Why?” frequently these days, taking on new meaning in each phase of this cancer journey. So far, my “whys” can be categorized into 4 stages:
1. Questioning Current Circumstances 

“Why me? Why did I have to get breast cancer?”
2. Questioning Past Pain
“Why me? Why has my burden been my health? Why has it been relentlessly attacked my whole life?”

3. Questioning Blessings: 
“Why me? Why has my journey been smoother than most? Why has this been “easy” in comparison to others whom I’ve gotten know along the way? My appetite is still intact (I’m gaining weight!), my energy is stable and I’ve been told time and time again, ‘You don’t look like you have cancer!'”

4. Questioning My Unique Purpose:
“Why me? Why do I get to live and they didn’t? Why have I been blessed with life? I’m not going to die. Why?”

I’m troubled that I don’t have the answer to that last question, yet incredibly greatful, honored and inspired by the fact that it’s mine to ask. It’s terrifying and humbling to know that the very thing that has ended someone’s life, is the very thing that’s brewing inside you. You realize that both you and the deceased have fought the exact same fight, possibly (and likely) equipped with the exact same weapons. I’m watching beautiful strong soldiers climb into the exact same wrestling ring that I’m to climb in and not returning. It feels like I’m carrying death with with me. Carrying it right in my breast.
Which is why that last question is the question of most importance, the most transforming, the one to meditate and pray upon. Lord, why have I been allowed to not only live, but thrive? Have you ever thought to ask God “why?”, not when it comes to your misfortunes but as it pertains to your blessings? It’s human nature to be an expert at asking the first type of “why me?” question- we must fight these thoughts of pitty, self loathing and resentment sometimes daily. Why did my children have to be born with disabilities? Why did my parents have to get a divorce? Why did my spouse cheat on me? Why did I get rapped? Why did my mom die when I was 25? Why was I born into poverty? We ask these questions relentlessly, but rarely ask “Why did I come through it? Why did I get this far in my life? Why did I persevere? Why did I live?”. What is the purpose behind you surviving your trials?
He has an answer. Because He’s sovereign. Because there’s no such thing as happenstance. Because it’s not by coincidence that I have breast cancer at 30 years old. Nor is by chance that you have lived through the hell you have gone through. Once you fully recognize and respect the fact that not everyone made it, you too will ask “why have I?”.
Why?
This is by design.
Some may say that I shouldn’t question it- that questioning God is wrong. The issue is not the questioning itself. In fact I urge you to forever be in pursuit of your “why” and to press into gratitude, thanksgiving and slefeshness in order to evolve your “why” from phase 1 to phase 4. Let your “why” grow from complaining to purposeful action. Afterall, you didn’t make it this far for nothing. I’m alive for a reason and it compels me to do something. I’m not certain of what that something is yet, but I know this: someone will be blessed and God will be glorified.
Why, against all odds, are you still here and how does this fit into your unique purpose?
I pray your “why” is forever evolving.

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I Can’t Be Rumpelstiltskined: Discovering My Femininity 

The woman sitting across from me has had both breast removed.

She looks like a woman.

I made the fortunate mistake of locking eyes with Mrs. Castillo in the waiting room of Dallas Methodist Hospital as we both drank the lemonade flavored barium required of our impending MRI scan. Once she locked eyes with mine she did not stop speaking for 60 minutes straight. In that time I learned more than I thought possible about her family, her medical history, Dallas in the 70s, and most impressively, me. The more she shared, the more I saw reflections of myself, my journey and my misconceptions about beauty, sexuality, femininity and womanhood. Misconceptions about myself.

Mrs. Castillo shared with me that she has had her breasts removed some years ago. I quickly fact-check this by slowly lowering my gaze from her eyes to her chest. Well I’ll be damed, she’s sho nuff right! I’m oddly surprised that it wasn’t something I noticed earlier, something that wasn’t so blatantly and uncomfortably obvious to all of us in the waiting room! I mean surly we would all notice a women without breast! Right? A women…no breast! My reaction is nearly a reflection of my own fears and how I saw my own life after my doctor shared with me the possibility of having a mastectomy of my own- everyone would see me differently, I wouldn’t be recognized as a women, I wouldn’t be beautiful, I would look like Rumpelstiltskin.

You remember Rumpelstilskin, that old, ugly, strange, little man who turned straw into gold in exchange for a child? That dude was not the fairest of them all and consequently gives my the creeps. It doesn’t help that he was so obsessed with wanting this woman’s child- you can’t just bully someone into giving you their baby! Crazy! Anywho, I digress…

The removal of Mrs. Castillo’s breast did not change the slenderness of her face, the softness of her eyes or ability to apply blush to her high cheek bones. Rose colored lip stick still adheres to her lips. Her corse grey hair still squeezes into a bun at the crown of her head. Hips still not lying. Mrs. Castillo knows that she is still sexy. This she did not tell me directly, but it’s written all over her. It’s in how she talks and walks; her confident demeanor and aura communicates that she has a knowledge of this truth: she is a beautiful woman. Cancer may have taken her breasts but it did not take her womanhood. She still makes fajitas. (Food is important to me. 1st Jesus, 2nd Family 3rd, Food. The fact that she still goes in on some fajitas proves to me that she is alright. The moment I stop eating, please locate a Bishop and some blessed oil.)

I must admit that I’m surprised by this. Rather I’m surprised by my reaction to all of this. What did I think happened to women who had mastectomies or similar traumas to parts of the body that determine sex? Did I really think I would turn into Rumpelstiltskin? A short, pruney, ugly, old, greedy, boobless, man with a complex? Clearly I needed to meditate on my idea and definition of femininity, womanhood and beauty.

I cling tight to my pink bras and lace panties. Lipstick and occasional rouge makes me feel feminine and flirty. A dress with a peak-a-boo neckline that reveals a little cleavage is considered sassy, sexy and fun. It’s my “I’m a vibrant beautiful sophisticated woman” dress, which heavily relies on my breasts to communicate. I had no clue how loud my breasts where, and how much I depended on their vocals to communicate my beauty and confidence. How reliant have I been on my breast, makeup and flirty bras to make me feel like a woman? Now that the possibility of having my breast stripped away is on the table, I feel the need to define my femininity and beauty, to reassure myself that it can’t be be snatched away from me. I can’t be Rumpelstiletskined. I won’t be.

Everything about Mrs. Castillo is feminine. I can see that so very plainly. Her femininity is intertwined with her very existence, unable to be separated from her essence by physical appearances, such as breast, hips and hair. I’m like her. My femininity and beauty is in my smile, sultry walk, attitude, gentleness, kindness, strength, passion and personality. It’s my flirtatious nature- how I bat my eyes when a man speaks nerdy to me. It’s in my affections, the gentle way I receive hugs and kisses. The careful, gleeful way I survey my naked body. It’s in my tone. It’s in the delicacy of my curves and the strength of my body. Above all it’s in my mind and my spirit. It’s in how I worship the Lord and spread the message of His love and kindness.

My femininity is in my very character and being, and it can’t be stripped away. As it turns out I don’t but put on sexy- I AM sexy! My breast are not tokens of beauty, to be reserved for sex games! My husband and I (Lord bless him wherever he may be) will have sex! I’m beautiful, inside and out, and removal of my breast wouldn’t change anything about that. I will not be Rumpelstiletskined.

Thanks. Mrs. Castillo.

Im beautiful.

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I’m Perfect in Weakness

This chick is a hot mess.

I had nothing left to give (note the febel attempt at a smile). I traditionally have proven to be an expert at keeping it together for y’all. There is no amount of piss poor attitude, depression, anxiety or hardship that a good foundation, lipstick and extra curriculars can’t mask. Mom dies: get new boyfriend, smile often, don’t cry, experiment with false lashes. Boyfriend abuses you: continue smiling, get hair done, party often, Instagram, buy blush. Diagnosed with breast cancer: wear pink stuff, send photos to family of you smiling wearing pink stuff, go to work the next day, don’t cry, wear eyeliner. As odd as it sounds, these tricks have worked for 30 years of life! Y’all buy into the charades, compliment my strength and my ego remains intact. You leave inspired, I leave with my pride- nobody’s hurt. Boom! *mic drop.

But, nobody is healed either.

My spirit wrestlers with this scripture lately: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christʼs power may rest on me.” -2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We get to experience God’s omnipotence, His all encompassing power and ability to do anything, at our weakest moments. For we don’t recognize God’s power of deliverance until we are in the dark places that calls for it. Human nature doesn’t recognize help, unless there is a need. We don’t recognize solutions unless there is a problem. Therefore God’s power becomes undeniably clear when we are in the lowliest of places spiritually, mentally and physically. It is a power reserved for the imperfect, the messed up, the spiritually drained, the weak and the downcast, and therefore there is no one under the sun who doesn’t qualify for His power.

It’s at this very moment, at my lowliest place, when God is about to unleash His healing power, do I reach for concealer. I’m ashamed at my weakness and must hide behind bronzer. You must leave my presence believing that everything is alright- no mess resides here. I believe this is true for many of us.

Yet Paul says that he will boast about his weaknesses, speaking with pride and self assurance regarding his afflictions, because he is aware of the power that resides in the weakness and the mess. This is in stark contrast to what I attempt to do through Instagram filters and mascara. Boasting implies speaking and speaking requires vulnerability. Vulnerability. It sounds like a bad word. Like the word “moist”. I want to vomit.

Yet, I believe this is what Paul may be calling us to, for we will not experience the full weight of God’s power resting on us until we are vulnerable enough to speak on our weakness’, admitting our fragility. “But vulnerability gives way to judgment, which leads to rejection! This I can’t take again!” Yet the testimony covers it! Your vulnerability in showcasing your weakness allows others to witness the glory and power that falls upon you, even to those that wrongfully judged you. You will grant them access into the journey and ultimately into the victory of your deliverance. In our vulnerability we must know that although our weakness may be judged and shamed, God’s power rests on it and on us.

So when you share with me how craptastic your life is, I’m equally exposed to how God is moving and healing you, which allows me to grow and heal too! It blesses my soul to hear how our God delivered someone out of bondage, especially when we share the same chains! I’m grateful for the testimonies that reassure me of God’s power, grace, attentiveness and love. Over the past month, friends and strangers alike have shared with me their cancer diagnosis, chemo stories, IV and fertility journeys, and thoughts on strength and self love. These transparencies have blessed me beyond belief! This is where the the magic happens; this is the critical space of enlightenment- when I realize that I’m not alone in this large world, that I belong to a network of hurting souls, and that others have found coveted joy. To my friends, family, and village, to fleshly brothers and sisters, we must allow others to heal through our exposure. May we place our fears aside to become vulnerable enough to boast in the weakness’, allowing the power of God to reign over us.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your power which is made perfect in my imperfections (for there are many of them!). Help me to be vulnerable enough to boast and share my weakness and therefore my testimony with others, that you may be glorified. Amen.

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Fertility


I’m the only single person in his waiting room.

There are two couples in the same room as I, one to my left the other to my right, both holding hands and whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ear. They could have been cussing each other out for all I know, but all I see is love and hope for a family, and all this perceived love blinds me to their pain temporarily. All I see is bliss.

The fertility clinic’s website is plastered with photos of babies, families and flowers- all things specially designed to make you ovulate upon viewing. After laying 3 eggs, I scroll through the feed in disbelief that life has brought me to this place. I’m 30, single and contemplating having my eggs frozen because chemo may leave me infertile. Because cancer.

This was a discussion and a journey I was suppose to have with my husband, and in some odd way I feel as though I’m steeling that from him, like I’m envisioning our children way too soon and inadvertently leaving him behind. It’s a carriage before the horse situation, and I feel forced into it. Robbed of the “natural” process. I realize that this may be a feeling that I should get use to, and perhaps embrace.

While waiting between love birds in the waiting room, my mind swirls around the oddest thoughts:

– I would never freeze my baby, so why is freezing my eggs okay?

– Can you freeze chicken eggs?

– I wonder who’s sperm will eventually fertilize these things?

– I wonder if a doctor has ever dropped someone’s eggs on the ground. I’d be so pissed.

– Is there an expiration date on eggs? God I hope it’s longer than what’s in my fridge ( which is currently spoiled I’m sure).

– Can they accidentally squish an egg when harvesting them? Is so, could that produce a lumpy headed baby? I mean, I’d love him anyhow.

I watch couples leave the waiting room to meet with doctors and find myself alone with my thoughts for a while. I use this time to dream, to hope, to pray. I vividly imagine having my own family- a husband, 3 girls and a dog. I’ve always had an unexplainable desire to have children, to have a full family, to be a wife and mother. I can get lost in these dreams for hours if I allow myself too. I do.

It wasn’t until one of the couples who moments ago had looked so joyful, walked back into the waiting room in tears, was I pulled back into reality. It was then that I realized that this is simultaneously a place of hope and shattered dreams. Everyone is here because it didn’t work, something went wrong and there is a heart wrenching desire to fix it. Some leave in joyful anticipation of newborns, becoming parents and developing family. Others, like me, have their dreams deferred. I feel foolish for my envy and bitter thoughts towards them. They’re hurting as I am.

The doctors prognosis is bleak- a combination of Sickle Cell Anemia and Cancer makes my chances of having children of my own small. The doctor forces me to think about fertility treatment, egg harvesting, sperm donors and surrogates- a conversation he starts within the 15 minutes I have with him, and doesn’t have the time to finish. As I’m processing all 245 of my options, I’m told that it’s somewhat of a moot point because I must wait 5 years after remission to have children (provided that I can). Five. Years. I quickly crunch the numbers in my head- I’ll be 36 before I can consider having children of my own. At this very moment in time, I give up. This was the icing to my crap cake. It is now abundantly clear that the narrative of my life isn’t and will never be described as normal, predictable, explanatory, “natural”, simple, “correct” or any other peaceful adjective. My life is quite the contrary: unpredictable, unrelenting and messy. At this moment I’m forced to drop any fantasy of life becoming simple and reconcile with these truths: you’re 30, single, living with your sister in an apartment, in the second year of your career, with breast cancer. It’s an odd and striking reminder that you didn’t fall in love with your college sweetheart, get married, buy the house, pet the dog, climb the career ladder, and have the beautiful children by the time you were 30. That didn’t happen. It won’t happen.

It’s clear I’m like a unicorn- special and a little off. I make the decision to embrace this.

Naturally not immediately. I left the clinic feeling destroyed. The labored conversation around my eggs, uterus and lack of sperm has left me disappointed and drained. All of the options the doctor presented to me isn’t for me. A viable option for someone but not for me. It’s hard for me to explain exactly why. I just know that my spirit is resolved to stop this fertility journey here, for now. So I cry. I cry from Dallas to Arlington where I find cute earrings to make me temporarily stop crying. They’re really cute so they get me to shut up for the rest of the day.

The next day I make the decision to embrace my life in the package that it’s in, to fully be content with how my present came to be and how my future will unfold. It’s all trivial, compared to the life I know Christ has for me, the life I believe He is preparing me for. Because Jeremiah 29:11-12. Because what could man possibly say to me that would shake me loose from the goodness, grace, love and kindness of God? What diagnosis could snatch away hope rooted in Him? None. Because Jesus.

These two things remain true:

God is Good

God will receive the glory