✌🏻out Port!

The title says it all, cue, “We are the Champions!” My port was removed yesterday after two years & 2.5 months of playing its role in saving my life. No joke though, that song did play on the way to the hospital & I couldn’t help but crank it up and belt it out. #yourewelcomekevin

There were a lot of  conversations and conflicting emotions leading up to the surgery yesterday. My port, all three inches-ish of it, was the medium used to deliver five rounds of chemo into my body to attack any cancer cell that tried taking up residence. It was the savior for my super small veins, an insurance policy of ease & peace of mind after a lifetime of, ‘let me try again,” needle pokes, knowing how many blood draws I’d be up against. It truly made my life easy and I had grown to really appreciate it. Physically though, it was my daily reminder of all that SCCC has taken from us.  It was also the daily reminder of how uncertain my future will forever be as a cancer survivor, let alone a SCCC survivor. Because of that & because I passed the two year mark that I was required to keep it in, we opted to proceed, a fresh start, Beef 2.0, as a friend dubbed it a few days ago. I like the sound of that! Although I will say, after we were prepped for surgery, I looked at Kevin and said, “I don’t think we prepared for the physical part of this, think we downplayed the actual surgery part!” He laughed, we laughed, we shook our heads at ourselves (classic us) and well, no turning back now. Happy to report that the surgery itself was smooth & yes, Kevin did ask if we could keep the port. And no, no we couldn’t.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my port. When I had it put in, it took me months to even look at it, to accept it as part of me. Kid you not, I’d get out of the shower and so purposefully avoid the mirror because I could not stand the site of this thing grossly protruding from my chest. I went to a cancer specific therapist during treatment and I remember her coaching me to self-talk-it-up, “you’re saving my life,” type stuff, to come to terms with it. I’ve been coached a lot in my life (you’re too defensively minded Beef, shoot the ball more!) but I never could’ve imagined I’d need to be coached on accepting a new piece of me that would save my life. I hated this thing, almost as much as I hated that I needed this thing. Oh and I also really hated it because I’m a stomach sleeper and it made that super uncomfortable (the audacity!). If you really want to know how much of a freak I am, I never actually touched my port. 26 months and never once did I ‘feel it’ intentionally. Give me blood, guts and gore, give me cancer, give me anything really and it doesn’t phase me but when I’d accidentally graze the port here or there, no thanks!

And yet. This port. I grew quite fond of it. I can’t even remember when my mindset started to shift, maybe once I realized how “easy” it did make my life or maybe it’s another classic example of wanting what you can’t have. Didn’t want it when I needed it, want it now that I don’t?! I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I had doubts of getting it out and I think I slowly realized that port was a representation of me. How far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown and how hard I’m working to come to grips with what parts of me that, because of my cancer, is now old and gone forever, what can be repurposed from old into new, what simply requires a whole new fresh start. Removing it hits on them all – the physical port, I now no longer need and while there are zero guarantees I won’t ever need one again, there’s something freeing in finally letting myself live for this moment & truly leaving the rest up to God. The physical scar will always be there, it’s forever part of my story but now it can simply be a symbol of something I’m proud I survived, rather than a protruding device I refuse to touch and prevents me from solid sleep, a signal of “what if?” All of this means I can move forward to a new chapter, Beef 2.0, where all of this bad can start to unfold into the good that is promised to us.

Cancer and Beef 2.0 aside, my emotional attachment to my port is enormous for two reasons – I gained family through it & we launched our Foundation because of it.

First, family. After I was diagnosed and going through all of the treatment prep, I connected with a girl who had my same type of cancer but was a few months ahead of me. Aka, she was the keeper of information that made her an expert of what to expect and how to best prepare. She made so much time for me via Facebook messenger – including the day that I was freaking out about the port surgery. I was quickly calmed when I learned she named her port (byeeeee Felicia), how can you not be calmed by that!? This girl was so helpful to me, the self admitted control freak lost in the world of cancer where nothing could be controlled. I was constantly telling Kevin & my mom about her, calling her my, “cancer friend.” That girl was Kelly, our now treasured team member of Team Hallie. Fast forward to the exchange of phone numbers and the billion texts that ensued. Through treatment comparing side effects, through the bad days where’d we share our deepest fears that were now reality, through the good days where we’d cheer each other on, through the insane moments of cervical cancer that would be embarrassing to tell our husbands or moms but had zero reserve telling each other. Through it all. “Cancer friend” quickly morphed into irreplaceable bestie. We met for the first time when Kelly, her hubby Michael and their son Marcus traveled up to Chicago in October of 2017 and immediately, we were family. Cancer has defined and redefined every relationship I have in life – some for the good, some for the bad, some born only because of cancer. So no, I’m not thankful for cancer but the Causey’s are one of a few relationships/friendships that were born of our cancer and we are beyond grateful for them. And the Green’s! We also would’ve never met them if it weren’t for cancer, and yet they’ve turned out to be such incredible humans for us, like yesterday when four of their five (amazing) kids hand delivered us dinner, along with flowers, a sweet sign & two coffee mugs (because when sisters can’t pick just one, I get two!!). These are the things I think I about with my port now and they truly are some of the greatest silver linings of our story. The other rusty lining turned silver lining of my port, our Foundation. It’s always hard for me to celebrate it because what I would give to not have it. That said, all because I wore mismatching socks one day to get my port put in and all because my Mom loves to shame me, an idea was born that would help us connect with people that now walk the same terrifying path we did. Turns out socks are a lot of fun! I adore opening each and every package donated to see the personality in each pair but I will tell you, 9 months into this Foundation, these socks, this work, have become so much more for us that we could’ve ever first imagined. My heart bursts when I ship a package because I know exactly what the feeling will be when the person receives it. When I see people donate – whether a few pairs or 2,000 (still speechless), my heart bursts at how much good there is in this world & how much people truly want to help the cancer community. When I read the nominations, my heart aches for both the fear they feel & how helpless they are but bursts that even a small bit of hope, by way of these socks, can be shared in Hallie’s name with their loved one. That has become our why to push in moving forward. And yes, of course I wore mismatching socks yesterday, although we will call it “coordinated mismatching.” Team Hallie home & away colors, if you will!I had my recurring oncology appointment today (for those keeping count, my cadence is physical exam/PAP every three months and scans every six). Everything looked good & we will wait for the PAP results per usual. My appointment was with my radiation oncologist, he said I gave him a scare yesterday! Come to find out they are notified anytime I have a procedure or ER trip. He was happy to see it was for the port removal & I find a ton of comfort in knowing they’d be the first to know if anything ever happened. I love Loyola! I also got a chance to quick see my oncologist, which was a bonus. They sure take care of me as if I was their own daughter! 🧡 We talk every time about the nature of my cancer and every time it hits me hard all over again. I walk out feeling a renewed sense of gratitude for my clean bill of health and I say a prayer of a million thanks, but also for so many that I know that are awaiting news on their own scans and appointments, especially those that don’t hear the news they are praying for. Cancer sure sucks! I have a follow up things scheduled for issues with this ole body of mine, but all things considered, count me as 2 years & 3 months cancer free!

All in all, a crazy emotional couple of days. Kevin could write his own blog post on having to be back in a Loyola surgery room for the first time since ‘the’ surgery. Such is a life of cancer but with the progress we made today & yesterday, here’s to Beef AND Kevin 2.0! 🧡


Shine Your Light!

Blog Post by Team Hallie member Kelly Causey

Cancer impacts so many of us – we may be the patient or the person who is helpless wondering, “How can I help my spouse/sibling/parent/friend, etc through this diagnosis?” After all, cancer is the reason that this foundation was created, Bethany & Kevin wanted a way to give back and support our cancer warriors as they fight and a way to remember their Hallie Hope.  
I officially joined HallieStrong in October of 2018 and shared with my network the exciting news. I would lay awake at night thinking about ways to get HallieStrong up and running in the Greater Cincinnati area. I had so many ideas but needed to figure out how to act on them. Shortly after announcing my new role with HallieStrong, a dear friend from grade school/high school reached out. She works at the grade school we both went to and she indicated she wanted to do something to help. She and I brainstormed on some ideas and we landed on a “Sock War”! Christie has such a heart of gold and I’m truly grateful for her. She put so much work into this! There are so many good people in this world, I’m really lucky to live in community of good. 
St. Mary School is a blue-ribbon school led by Matt Grosser and located in my hometown of Alexandria, KY. They are a school of 483 students, offering preschool – 8th grade. The 1st ever HallieStrong sock war kicked off during Catholic Schools week. The challenge was the class who raised the most socks would get a donut breakfast sponsored by HallieStrong. I honestly thought we’d get a pair per kid and raise about 500 pairs. I was in tears last Friday when Christie shared the total raised…2,418. That’s right, TWO THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN PAIRS OF SOCKS!!!!!!!!!!! What an incredibly humbling and astonishing thing to read. Mrs. Kyle’s 1st grade class (1C) were the grand winners with 194 pairs alone! WOW! Just incredible! This morning I picked up 4 dozen donuts and arrived first thing at St. Mary. I walked up the front steps and into the school to see a bunch of bright smiling faces waiting for me outside the office. A representative from each class was waiting to take a HallieStrong picture with me and the giant stack of socks. I have several family members at St. Mary and was happy to see them join me for the picture as well, though I think my nephew Sam was really confused as to why I was at his school today ( 🙂). I then walked the halls of my old stomping grounds down to Mrs. Kyle’s classroom. The 1st graders were so excited for donuts! We took a group picture and then it was time for them to get back to class. Thankfully, we recruited some 8th graders to help load up my car with boxes and boxes of socks! It was filled to the top.The theme for St. Mary this year is, “Let your light shine!” and I tell you what, their light is shining and will continue to shine throughout the area to MANY cancer warriors! These kids (and parents) should be very proud of their efforts. For metrics, I usually deliver about 30 pairs of socks to St. Elizabeth in Edgewood, KY every month or so. Their contribution allows me to deliver socks for almost 7 years to the hospital! The socks raised will be given to a few different places. My neighbor has been raising money to donate “chemo bags” to the kids at Cincinnati Children’s hospital. We will put a pair in each bag to help with Julie’s chemo bags. We will also take the children’s socks and donate them to an effort by one of our little warriors, Hallie. Her mom is raising pajamas for Children’s hospital in Akron, Ohio. We are matching a pair of socks for ever pair of jammies raised. The last count for them was over 300 pairs of jammies! Finally, I will start my mission of getting socks to more facilities in this area. Edgewood will still always get love from me but we want the love to extend!
I speak for all of us at HallieStrong when I say “THANK YOU!”. There is such an immense feeling of gratitude for each and every person who played a part in the first ever HallieStrong Sock War! I feel giddy with joy today witnessing the community at St. Mary. I’m proud to be an alumni of SMS and proud to be a member of HallieStrong. 
PS – One of St. Mary’s very own, Ms. Heather, is one of our newest warriors. Recently diagnosed with cervical cancer, she’s recovering this week from her surgery and is surrounding by the light of the SMS community. They fight for Ms. Heather!