October 20th, 5:56pm

The day & exact moment in time that our world was solidified as upside down, inside out.

I remember I got the phone call while Kevin and I were sitting on the couch. I remember the Doctor barely listening to me, having his mind made up on treatment. He already scheduled a PET scan, something you can’t do while pregnant. I hung up the phone to process, but needless to say, we never talked to that doctor again.

I remember relaying the details to Kevin. I remember the very next moment vividly: we laughed. We shook our heads in incredible disbelief and simply asked, “How? How is any of this real?” I’ve learned that laughter and tears are truly interchangeable. 

I promise I don’t have a photographic memory in terms of how I know that time stamp, I simply still have all the notes on my phone from every phone call with the doctor. They’re haunting to read. I still have the draft of the mass text we sent our families and closest friends after that call – it’s outright heartbreaking. It’s unfair, it’s sobering, its confusing. It’s paralyzing. It’s a few shattered lives widdled down to a few paragraphs. 

The next day brought a two week journey of opinion after opinion, pursuing any doctor that would see past the type of cancer to give our baby a shot.  It brought the ultrasound where we’d learn that our baby was a girl, she was our Hallie Hope. It brought scans that showed the cancer hadn’t spread. It brought a scan that showed I was misdiagnosed at 1b2, my tumor was a lot smaller and I was reclassified as 1b1. Seems like no big deal but that 1b1 brought a significantly different outlook. I now know that was God’s first sign to us that He is ultimately in control. It brought so many boxes packed out of stress and sadness – leaving our one bedroom apartment for our newly purchased family home. It was a haze, it was exhausting. I simply can’t articulate the crushing blows over and over. There aren’t words to describe having your future spelled out to you in a way like this.

During those weeks, our hearts and minds were so focused around Hallie. Every effort, every phone call, every appointment, every email sent. Obviously cancer was the driving topic but I don’t think we really made sense of the cancer diagnosis. It’s another thing that’s really hard to articulate – coming to grips with your own mortality, how fragile life is, how little control you have in a battle with cancer, the true meaning of faith.

I had no idea what I was in for 10/20/16. Hallie & grief aside (because that’s no big deal, right?) – cancer. Cancer is a beast. 1 major surgery, 1 minor surgery, 5 rounds of chemo & 28 rounds of radiation. HARD. The long term side effects, the physical scars, the mental & emotional side effects. Every aspect of our life is different, every aspect of our relationships have changed. Our sense of security was shattered. Our faith was tested to the core and in ways that the world has made me to feel like I’ve failed, God has shown me over and over again to continue to trust in Him and His greater plan. During chemo a family friend shared a song with me – Thy Will by Hillary  Scott of Lady Antebellum. The song is amazingly spot on, as if I wrote it, if I had any creative talent of course. Part of the song says, “I don’t want to think, I may never understand, that my broken heart is part of your plan. When I try to pray, all I have is hurt…I know You’re good, but those don’t feel good right now. I know you think of things I could never think about. It’s hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise, just trying to make sense of all your promises. Sometimes I’ve got to stop and remember that you’re God, and I am not.”

That song goes on to say: Your plans are for me, goodness you have in store. Thy will be done. 

So that’s where you find me today, one year removed. Our hearts are shattered, my hips are sore, we are forever changed. Blind faith. We battle everyday to not let the demons of cancer steal anything further from our lives. 

What have I learned? A lot, but nothing I’m great at articulating yet. I’ve learned the meaning of how precious life is and how fleeting it is. I have learned that while something may feel unfair, nothing is unfair in life. Someone always has it worse therefore there is power in always being grateful. There is always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of days. I’ve learned that attitude is everything and I’ve learned that being able to be grateful comes from a blind trust in God’s plan. I’ve learned that it’s ok to be angry, to be sad, to feel every emotion under the sun. I’ve learned how lonely a walk like this can be, I’ve learned the power of walking in the lowest of valleys alongside those hurting. I’ve learned that stuff means nothing. Spend your money on experiences. Be with the people you love most. Don’t make excuses, make it happen. I’ve learned that making plans with cancer can be frustrating. Heck, I’ve learned that making plans at all, in theory, makes God laugh! I’ve learned that there is so much good in this world, there is so much love, there are so many people that care. I’ve learned the power of true friendship. I’ve learned the power of prayer. I’ve learned the power of relationships. I’ve learned the power of resiliency. We’ve learned what it takes to fight for our marriage. We learned what a marriage truly is. We’ve learned how to deal with physical limitations and we’ve learned how to laugh at the most embarrassing of them to make it all ok. I’ve learned all about blood counts and scans and ports and hospitals. I’ve learned how shots for blood thinners are the worst in the hospital. I’ve learned how good sausage mcmuffins can taste during chemo. I’ve learned that laughter is the best therapy. I’ve learned how much I value relationships more than anything in life. I’ve learned the power of a legacy and I know in my heart what I want my legacy to be. I’ve learned that the hardest trials are the biggest opportunities. I’ve learned how to be held. Ive learned how you can have moments of pure heartbreak and pure happiness all in one. I’ve learned how to give up control. I’ve learned how to fight back. I’ve learned perspective, over and over and over again. 

We have learned in an enormous way how incredible all of you are. A giant, genuine, heartfelt thank you to each of you. These past 365 days have shown us the power of true love, compassion, generosity and prayer. I wish I had the words to articulate the impact you’ve had on our journey. The impact you continue to have. Kevin and I are so aware of all you’ve done for us and we are forever grateful! Forever, forever grateful. And we are forever grateful for our incredible medical team at Loyola. We were exactly where we needed to be in all of this and we continue to feel such extraordinary care from our Loyola family. 

The next two weeks are going to be incredibly difficult as we continue to navigate all of the raw memories. I am dreading the day I had surgery. That burden is far too big, that grief is far too real, we will cross that bridge when we get there on 11/4.

For today, we beat cancer so there’s a hint of victory we are trying to honor. There’s a huge sense of gratitude as that is a huge feat. We acknowledge that today, separate of the cost it came at (or at least attempting too). 

We simply thank God for the fact that I am here today.

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10/17/16: I Remember

I remember waking up with nerves but not allowing myself to, “go there.” The odds were forever in our favor.

I remember my Mom picked us up. She insisted on driving us. A mother’s intuition.

I remember my phone buzzing with words of prayers and encouragement. We had of course let our closest circle know about the appointment we had the Friday before.

I remember we took the LSD route to the hospital since it was such a beautiful day. I remember vividly that it was a perfect fall day in Chicago. My absolute favorite.

I remember that Kevin wore a Notre Dame t-shirt. I remember that because we were giving him a hard time for dressing up for the occasion.

I remember walking into the office I was to report too and there were women with bald heads everywhere.

I remember specifically that I was texting with Kaela in that moment and I remember telling her, “I don’t belong here!”

I remember the waiting room – we sat in the corner. We were talking baby names. I remember laughter. I remember my Mom taking Kevin’s side in some debate, probably some wild name idea. Those two collude against me.

I remember the nurse calling us back.

I remember the doctor walking in with his brigade of med students. That room was packed.

I remember the doctor starting the procedure. There was a TV that showed the students what he was looking at.

I remember him asking if I wanted to watch. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this guy out of his mind? Why would I want to do that?” I politely declined and turned my head the other way.

I remember Kevin standing behind me, his hands on my shoulders the entire time.

I remember quiet. I don’t know if it was but I remember just pure silence.

I remember not even being able to sit up or put my clothes back on before the doctor said, “Oh yeah. This is cancer. You will lose this baby and you won’t be able to have kids again.”

I remember that taking all but 10 seconds to say.  10 seconds to shatter someone’s world. It’s all it took.

I remember silence again. I remember vividly wanting to talk but having no words.

I remember it feeling like 30 minutes had come and gone before either of us could muster words. I’m sure it was a minute.

I remember Kevin finally breaking the silence. I remember him specifically asking, “You’re sure? You’re sure that it’s cancer?”

I remember the doctor responding with, “Oh it’s for sure cancer.” I remember feeling like, “a little compassion, please?!”

I remember sobbing. I remember shaking.

I remember feeling so defensive towards how flippantly ‘losing your baby’ was being tossed around.

I remember Kevin not releasing me from his grip, as if that was the moment he realized he couldn’t physically protect his wife or child from this.

I’m sure the doctor said more but I don’t remember any of it.

I remember the nurse asking if that was my Mom in the waiting room. I said yes. She asked if I wanted her in there. I said yes please. Who doesn’t want their Mom the moment their world shatters?

I remember when my Mom walked in and I swear I will never forget the look on her face.

I remember telling her what we had been told. I never knew you could visibly see someone’s heart shatter like that.

I remember my Mom went into the bathroom in the room and threw up.

I remember shock.

I remember my Mom holding Kevin. And holding my hand.

I remember them telling us the biopsy results would be back in 2-3 days and that would confirm the diagnosis, reveal what type of cancer it was and would inform what next steps would be.

I remember walking out of the hospital, into that same perfect fall day, except now our world was upside down.

I remember being on the sidewalk outside of the hospital. I remember not really knowing what to do. No one had spoken yet. It was so sunny.

I remember breaking the silence with a smile, saying, “So what do you do after that? Do we go shopping? Do we eat? What does one do when they’re told they have cancer?!”

I remember we laughed.

I remember getting into the parking garage elevator, only to realize we were in the completely wrong parking garage.

I remember getting into the second elevator, in the right garage, one over, and a woman got in with us. I remember her looking at all three of us, we had clearly been sobbing. I watched her as she so badly wanted to say something but didn’t. I watched her hesitate after she got off on her floor, I watched her as she turned back to look at us one last time.

I remember driving through the garage when it hit me, “Wow. Am I going to lose my hair?!” I remember my Mom telling me to not even go there. I laugh now at that. That’s what you were worried about, Beef?!

I remember we drove to a restaurant that became our go to in the beginning of this nightmare. There began our love affair with stress-eating-french-fries.

I remember vividly that there was a little kid sitting at our next table, in a cute camo coat. I remember because I remember thinking to myself how cruel that was, that was a mini Kevin!

I remember my Mom prayed for us before we ate. I remember my Mom telling us to not get angry with each other as we tackled this. I remember not understanding in the moment the magnitude of that piece of advice.

I remember we found a way to laugh a lot. I remember my Mom telling me and Kevin to stop talking about whether I’d wear a Hawks hat or orange hat once I lost my hair. It was as if this lunch was our one last piece of “normalcy” before facing the world.

I remember my Mom taking us out to her house, a place that quickly became our refuge.

I remember calling my sister. I remember it was right as we were passing under the old post office. I remember, “Mary Did you Know,” was playing. (Yes, Christmas music became instantly allowed). I remember the silence on my sister’s end as she tried to understand what I was saying. I remember crying my eyes out with her. I remember feeling like no sister should get a phone call like that.

I remember calling the rest of my family members. My Dad. His world shattered. All of my brothers. My sister in law. I remember how automatically upbeat my older brother was, we were going to beat this no question. I remember how crushed my little brother was. I remember the disbelief in all of their voices.

I remember getting a text from Kaela while we were still in the car. We were crossing a railroad, nearly to my parents house. I remember responding to her, “It’s really bad Kaela.” She called me. We cried. And cried.

I remember my family mobilizing quickly and meeting us at my parents house. I remember the hugs. I remember the look of shock. Disbelief. Of utter sadness. I remember the blank stares as we sat on the couch.

I remember calling Sheila and Hilary. I remember this strange sort of calm about myself, knowing I was about to shatter their worlds too. I remember telling myself I had to make it ok for them to feel this, like I felt it. They were about to be in this fight as much as I was.

I remember talking to Hilary while in my parent’s kitchen. I was standing over the sink. I remember moving to the window, staring out of it as I listened to her try to understand this.

I remember vividly dialing Sheila. I knew as soon as she saw “B” pop up, she’d know. You see, we have a spoken rule: phone calls are reserved for emergencies or deaths. Instead, we text 100’s of times a day. It’s become our thing! I called her that day. The only other time I called her through all of this was when she and Moe graciously took our skunked dogs while I was in the hospital, all while 8 months pregnant. Heroes.

I remember feasting on Augustino’s that night. Food. A common theme (eating) in our disbelief!

I remember taking a call from my OB. I remember the shock and disbelief in her voice. I remember periods of silence. Just completely shocked.

I remember my brother Chris, who had basketball that night, leaving practice just to come give me a big hug, before heading right back.

I remember getting back to our apartment to find a bouquet of flowers at our door step, with a card, from my brother in law Sean. He has the sweetest heart. I remember he wrote that he had no idea what to say but that we had a whole lot of Conrad’s and Hart’s behind us. And that we did. That we do.

I remember knowing in my core how this was going to play out, but praying like I’ve never prayed before for some miracle over the next 2-3 days as we waited for the official diagnosis. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that this was simply a bad dream. I pleaded with God over and over, please let this baby be safe.

I don’t remember going to bed that night. I don’t remember at all how Kevin and I ended that day. I don’t even remember if we slept that night.  I’m sure we wondered how we were going to make it through the next 2-3 days. I’m sure we felt a million different emotions. Actually, maybe we felt nothing at all. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember that part. We were probably numb.

It was all, it is all, still, so surreal.

 

 

 

 

One Year Ago

One year ago.

One year ago, life was normal. Sure, we had an appointment the next day that could be stressful, but there’s no chance it’d play out that way. We’d been reassured over and over how normal this type of test result was.

One year ago our biggest concern was what room we’d make into the nursery of the home we would soon move into.

One year ago our biggest concern was Kevin’s desire to trace insanely large (and creepy) animals on the nursery walls. Where did he even get taste like that?!

One year ago our biggest concern was who’d be good cop, who’d be bad cop. What kind of child care would we choose, what type of car seat was best. All legit things to be worried about!

One year ago we were nearly halfway there to having our first baby. We didn’t know the gender yet but it didn’t matter. We were so, so excited.

It is insanely hard to play this game and yet every day we wake up these days, that’s our game to play. Tomorrow, we enter the world where every day moving forward takes us back to some sort of dreaded memory. It all started tomorrow with that first colposcopy. And each day after, another appointment, another opinion, another crushing blow to every hope and dream we had for life, our little family’s life, our daughters life.

It is really weird/hard/insane/crazy to process. Does it feel real? Most days, no. I mean, it hurts, bad. There are still physical limitations, so yeah, it is real. But like, did this really happen, real?! Can we truly comprehend it? No. I’m not sure we ever will. And yet, I can’t wait for tomrorow, if that makes any sense. It’s been so hard reliving the days of, “last year, our life was perfect!” The what if’s. The, “there’s a million pregnancies a year with no issue, there’s no chance we are the one that this happens to,” mindset. I think the lead up to the milestone is often times worse than the milestone itself. So. Many. Emotions.

So what do you do on a night like this? Christmas music. Yes, lots of Christmas music. Any other year you can tell me it’s too early, but this year? Give it to me!!

And you focus on the good. There is good! So much good. We are surrounded by people who love us so much, who pray for us constantly, who carry us through. We got to be part of my sisters engagement this week, a moment that we will cherish forever. (I legit squealed louder than her in the moment, I think! 😂) It was so perfect. We have the most handsome nephew in the world. I’m alive. We will find a way to be thankful always, I promise you that!

Thanks for your continued prayers as we press forward in this coming week specifically and the insane emotions that we are about to endure. Another chapter to #halliestrong – forever our driving force! 💖