Dusting off the Blog!

My, how life has changed.

Right now as I type, my computer is sitting on the couch as our son lays across my lap. Awkward positioning to say the least, heart bursting positioning to say even more.

I don’t even know where to start. This is the first time ever that I’ve opened this blog to write where I’m starting from a place of true joy. Joy! This blog was initially created to keep our family and friends up to date on our cancer fight – it was out of necessity, not joy. It morphed into our chronicles of navigating life post cancer  and while there were pockets of joy, that chapter of life was incredibly, incredibly difficult. Scans, physical side effects, trauma aside (not enough, right?), not widely known but twice in that time we were matched with birth moms for them to ultimately decide to parent their children after delivery. Devastating to say the least. More crys of, “Why?,” without question. We still laugh when people tell us how strong we are! Spoiler alert, it isn’t a choice, it’s simply the only option you have.

And then one email. One phone call. Three weeks of time from start to finish (and a billion of emotions that every therapist in the world would LOVE to hear) and we brought home the perfect peanut that God meant to be ours all along. And now I’m writing from a place of joy and I have to admit, it’s very foreign territory! I’m still very much in the thick of making sense of the experience of adoption specifically, outside of actual parenting, and boy, it continues to leave me speechless. That’s how out of this world it all is, me, speechless still, 7 weeks later.  This mother’s choice of adoption gave our dreams of parenting here on earth an incredible reality. Kevin and I witnessed the ultimate act of selflessness that day and we are reminded of that amazing grace every time we look into his eyes. We can’t wait to share the adoption story with you in full in the coming months – you will absolutely need every tissue in your home. It was truly a miracle!

For now, Kevin and I are settling into life with our little buddy. Those that know me best know how much I like to say how much I hate, “everything happens for a reason,” in the moment but how I’m also first to admit that we’re the living, breathing example of how true it is. And well, here’s more proof. I left my job at the end of February after an incredible nearly 9 years in a role I loved so much, working with some amazing people. It was a much needed leap of faith and in the months since, we got our 501c3 status for our Foundation (which we just received our first grant for!!), Kevin and I started having forward planning conversations about life goals for the first time that weren’t tied to cancer, and now, we have our son. Tell me everything doesn’t happen exactly per God’s plan!  I’m a self admitted forever-in-recovery-control-freak and yet in the past few months when I’ve put my need to have everything happen to my plan aside (haven’t I learned by now that doesn’t work well?!) and instead let go and take each day for what it’s worth, the gift that it is, especially as a cancer survivor, well, I say it’s working out wonderfully for us. Pure joy. Just like the joy on my son’s face, clearly feeling better after spitting up all over me.

That means I’m out for now, but I will be around much, much more! This is simply all too good to keep to ourselves.

-Bethany

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bRUNch for #HallieStrong

A couple months ago, I got involved with an amazing nonprofit, Imerman Angels, whose sole purpose is to provide 1:1 support for cancer patients and caregivers. I found them by happenstance one morning and got lost in their website & mission for hours. I could write a whole book on the emotional side of cancer, something that is so underrepresented vs. the physical side of it so this mission naturally made my survivor’s heart leap for joy.

Whats been really cool is seeing the mission of IA collide with our work to honor Hallie. We have two really cool things to share!

One. bRUNch. Get it? Brunch & Run! Or walk with me, #badhips, thanks cancer! On Saturday, June 8th, Imerman’s is hosting a Brunch Run 5k/one mile walk on the Chicago lakefront that features brunch and of course, mimosas! We’ve put together a team to walk/run in memory of Hallie – Team #HallieStrong. There’s that creativity again. If you’re in town that weekend, we would LOVE to have you join us on the walk/run, in orange, for Hallie!

To join Team #HallieStrong – follow this link here & click on “Join this Team!” Registration includes bunch, mimosa/beer, a shirt & medal – and a cheers to Hallie at the finish line. Bonus, too! Use this code to get $10 off of each registration: HART2019PB (aka, can be used multiple times, so feel free to share).

For those that can’t join us in person, here’s a link to donate if you’d like. Everything we raise for IA goes directly towards their mission of providing 1:1 mentorship for cancer patients/survivors/caregivers. I signed up in January to be a mentor, it’s a really incredible cause but more than that, it’s a very necessary cause. We’d love to raise $750 for them!

Second thing to share and quite notably, Kevin committed to running his first marathon with Team Imerman, after a little encouragement from his good ole wife. And ok, encouragement is used loosely, maybe it was guilt… “..If I can survive cancer, you can run so no one fights cancer alone AND for Hallie, right?!” Ok yeah, it was totally guilt, what a guy. He’ll be running the Chicago Marathon in October. We’ve done three half marathons together but this will be his first full. Most of you know but the damage to my hips from the radiation treatment stole my running career, otherwise I’d be right there next to him. Well, a half hour behind him, but you know what I mean. I will be along that entire course though, in all orange, and I will be cheering so loudly at the finish line for him! Mark your calendars early (Sunday, October 13th) to join us then too, we are going to have a celebration post race, I guarantee you that! If any of you runners out there are inspired by this, you can join Kevin in running on behalf of Team Imerman too. They still have slots open for the race.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing from Kevin lots as he prepares for the race and what the experience means to him. I have a feeling there is going to be a LOT of emotion that day and I know Hallie is already so proud of her Dad for doing this.

That’s the exciting (maybe crazy) news out of the Hart household. I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to find our new normal, Beef & Kevin 2.0 & I’d say this is a start! Check those calendars today for the Brunch Run – we would love to see that course flooded with #HallieStrong orange!

 

A Little Note to Heaven

Guest Blog written by Hilary Miele

A little note to Heaven,

That sweet angel, the one with ginger ringlets and that sparkly-eyed smile. That little girl with the purest heart of gold like her dad; who’s a force to be reckoned with like her mom. She’s the one who throws her head back as she belly laughs just as mama does and gets that same mischievous giggle when found in a pickle that works like a charm for her daddy. She’s sweet, with a little sass, witty and quick, gentle yet strong. She’s our Hallie girl and today she would be 2!

I remember when her mom told me she was pregnant with their first baby to be. We immediately started scheming up so many plans and wishes for how baby Hart’s years would unfold – never considering a life of celebrating Hallie without actually having her here with us. I remember when her mom, in the thick of her diagnosis, sent me a picture of her ultrasound with the tiniest, sweetest, little body letting me know “it’s a girl – and we decided to name her Hallie Hope”. Immediately wishes became prayers, begging for a MIRACLE.

Hallie left us seconds after she entered the world and my wishes for her and her parents became wishes of comfort, strength, and somehow peace for Hallie’s mom and dad and their shattered hearts.

The last two years, I have been one of many sending so many wishes in the way of Hallie’s mom and dad. Wishes that they know how present Hallie is in all of our lives. Wishes that they may feel how impacted we are by her presence, her hope, and her light. Wishes of so much; but today I just want them to feel all of our birthday wishes for Hallie.

Hallie, we hope you feel how loved you truly are. We wish you know how deeply you inspire hope in countless lives and how we work to inspire hope in memory of your life. I hope you know that not a day goes by that you aren’t thought of, talked about, celebrated, or dreamed of. I hope you know how you have made your mom and dad the BEST parents that we all learn from daily. I hope you know that we find you in every sunset, feel you every time the sun warms our skin, every time the trees burst into orange in the fall. We see you in every rainbow, we feel you every time we celebrate our biggest triumphs knowing you are right there helping things happen, and every time we get through our tough days, we know you’re the one pulling us through. Hallie, we celebrate you and miss you every single day and look forward to the wonder you will continue to spread in the years to come. We hope you know that even through your loss, you have been the biggest light, making this world better than how you found it two years ago. When we wished and prayed for a miracle to save you from leaving us here on earth, we didn’t yet realize the miracle you would be fulfilling us from Heaven.

Take extra good care of our girl today, Heaven. Squeeze her extra tight for us. Rumor has it she likes DQ treats naturally like her mama and daddy. Im sure there’s a Dairy Queen in Heaven – right 😉

Happy 2nd Heavenly birthday Hallie. You are truly our greatest gift.

Love,

Aunt Dupree

🧡

For the past two days I’ve gone to post a “birthday week” graphic for the sock drive we are doing this month to raise socks for our Hallie’s Hope care packages and I just couldn’t find the words. Running a foundation in memory of your daughter is naturally so intertwined with our own personal emotions that sometimes it’s just really hard. Said another way, most days I can easily compartmentalize my roles of co-founder and Hallie’s Mom. The posts of people in their socks or the notes we get about what this simple package of socks has meant helps, because it definitely drives our purpose and Hallie’s legacy. And then there are times, like this week, like this milestone Sunday, that don’t fit the “I can compartmentalize this,” criteria. Old Bethany would’ve found a way. New Bethany gave up on that post for the time being and instead realizes there are just some days I can’t. My brain isn’t #halliestrong this week. My brain is a Mom who would give anything to have never have needed to have a Foundation like this. A mom that would trade her fridge full of notes from cancer patients for a fridge of awful 2 year old art. No white lies needed on the awful part, I can confidently say between me and Kevin, Hallie would’ve never been a Picasso in training. I never know how long these waves of grief last so maybe tomorrow I can create that post but today, yesterday, I am a mom that just wants to hold her kid. To see her at two years old & to see the fiery personality she would’ve undoubtedly had. A mom that still can’t quite make sense of the fact that I’ll never get the chance to make real birthday party invitations for Hallie, a mom that wants to kick and scream, over invitations, at how unfair that is. How unfair all of this is.

We started off this sock drive with the thought that this was for Hallie, the hashtag we’ve used has been #forhallie (makes me realize we are winning in the creativity department!) but I’m realizing now this was actually so much more for us, Hallie’s Mom & Dad. The very small sliver of hope we desire to send through #hallieshope is that same sliver of hope each of you have sent us, by filling our front porch with socks all month long. Championing this life of ours, this great loss, truly is a team effort and y’all are knocking it out of the park. Thank you. 🧡

-Bethany

To the Women of Team Hallie

In Honor of National Women’s Day, I wanted to take a minute to celebrate all of the women on Team Hallie!Starting with my wife and co-founder (let’s be honest, founder) Bethany, you are my rock and the Foundation’s rock. Your strength and generosity never cease to amaze me. You never stop caring for others and it is truly amazing to witness. Thank you for supporting me always & supporting our dream of keeping Hallie’s name alive through our Foundation.To Kelly, who was so affectionately referred to for the longest time as Bethany’s, “cancer friend,” your strength through your fight was incredible to witness but your thoughtfulness in being a sounding board, mentor and most of all friend to Bethany while giving cervical cancer an old fashioned beat down yourself is what says most about you. Not to mention while also being an amazing wife and mom to Michael and son Marcus. The way you’ve jumped into the Foundation & the impact you’ve already made is impressive and I am thankful for you! To Hilary, our Dupree! Although you sometimes drive me insane with your 20 questions, you have been instrumental in the Foundation, especially notable were your sleepless nights in getting it up and running. You were and still are one of our strongest supporters through this ongoing fight, always ready to help or facetime to give us a laugh from the other side of the world. You have made a lot of bad days better! We love family time with you, Andy & our herd of dogs.To Sheila, you are an amazing asset to us, to Hallie, to #halliestrong. You friendship and support through our fight was incredible, over the top really (skunks!). You are an amazing wife and Mom of Hadley (a strong women in the making!) and Nolie. Although I think you are actually mom of 3 with Moe. I love you guys! And to Anna, my lovely sister in-law and Hallie’s Godmother. You have been a huge help with the Foundation. Thankfully you’re often the rational one that is so needed with all of our crazy ideas. I even appreciate your itineraries! You have also been one of our biggest supporters through everything we have been through, I appreciate how ready and willing you are to always step in and help. You are an amazing wife and soon to be momma. We are so excited for you and Brian! Can’t wait for baby Von.And most of all, to my Hallie girl. Even though your time on earth was brief you have changed our lives forever. I know you’re looking down and watching over all of us. You would have grown up to be a strong woman just like your momma, like all of these women on the board who work everyday to honor you and like all of women in our families. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. Your legacy is going to live on forever through all the hope we are spreading in your name!

 Happy National Women’s Day! Proud to be #halliestrong.

Kevin

✌🏻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. 
XOXO,
Kelly
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! 

n-e-u-r-o-e-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-e

I did something for the first time today. I “researched” small cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer online. It took me a few tries because I still, for the life of me, can’t spell n-e-u-r-o-e-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-e right. Let alone say it. For as awful as cancer is, you think doctors/researchers would at least make it easy on us by naming it something simpler. For those trying to do quick math, it has been 807 days since I was diagnosed but yes, today was the first day I looked up my cancer online. I’ve seen & heard information obviously & I’m part of a Facebook group of sisters who have the same cancer so I’ve of course been exposed to information there but I’ve never proactively researched it. Call it fear, call it denial, call it ignorance is bliss, call it self preservation, call it numbers mean nothing in our fight, call it whatever you want, I’ve never had it in me. Kevin scoured the internet top to bottom & left to right in the days after I was diagnosed. Reading what I read this morning, I feel a physical ache for what he must have been feeling in those days.

SCCC (and LCCC) account for ~1% of cervical cancers diagnosed. To this day, there is no known precancerous state to catch this beast. There are often times no symptoms & that coupled with the aggressive nature of the cancer, women are frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage initially. Survival rates? First word that comes to mind is chilling. Second is sobering when reading these studies and articles.

I didn’t have one symptom, not a single inkling that I had cancer growing in my body. I look at pictures from the time leading up to all of this – we spent a week in Mexico, we celebrated my 30th birthday at the Sox game, we toasted our best friends at their wedding in Florida – so many pictures from all of these fun life events that are filled with so many smiles and yet all I can see now is myself in those pictures and wonder how big those cancer cells were at that moment. I’m about as curious as they come by nature and I would love to know the exact moment my cells started to revolt against me. We found out we were pregnant in mid July and we went to the doctor first at 10 weeks and again at 12 weeks. I had physical exams, ultrasounds, the whole workup & yet there was no evidence of anything suspicious. Looking at just these facts alone, it is beyond me that just four weeks later from that day, we were talking life & death. Just four weeks, a tumor was visible. Four weeks!

What first tipped us off was an abnormal PAP after my first OB appointment. I had a PAP every year leading up to this and every year, they were clear. I got a call a couple weeks later saying that some cells appeared to be abnormal but I was reassured several times not to worry because it was likely pregnancy related. I talked to two of my good friends who had gotten false positive results like this. I knew deep down something was wrong but my gift in life of being able to bury realities with a big smile & a joke sure made it easy to ignore that voice in my heart. Just to be sure though, my OB had us wait until after the first trimester to come in for a colposcopy to double check that everything was fine.

That colposcopy happened on a Friday and that following Monday I was seeing a gynecological oncologist first thing in the morning. Even then, we had no idea cancer was a possibility. Within two weeks we lost our Hallie, I had major life saving surgery & within six weeks of that I started chemo and radiation simultaneously. That’s my (shortened) story with #sccc.

January is cervical cancer awareness month. In between the lines of all the sad and scary of our story, you’ll find me, the world’s most awkward girl. I’ve never been good at talking about anything when it comes to being a girl, I was clearly made for basketball courts & jump shots over fashion & makeup. You can imagine how humbling a cervical cancer diagnosis was for a girl like me because well, you can imagine what every visit, treatment, exam, test, conversation and question is about. I’ve asked my nurses several times why this couldn’t have been skin cancer, as Kevin would always be shaking his head at me for making a joke like that. Fair question though, right?! All this to say, had it never been for Hallie, there’s a very small chance that I’m here today because of that impossible-to-spell type of cancer I had.

No two stories of cancer are the same and no two cases of cancer are the same. While I pray that cancer is something you never have to deal with, the reality is you may. The worst thing that ever happened to me pre-cancer was broken bones. Something like this can never happen to you, until it does. My hope in sharing my story today is two fold. One, it did happen to me, to us, and it’s forever a part of us. We’d give anything, anything, to change that, to have our Hallie and a sense of peace with my health forever restored but we can’t and we won’t in this lifetime. We won’t get the why we like with all we’ve lost but we can find God’s purpose in our story by sharing and connecting, because everyone has a story. Two, I share because if this awkward girl can survive all of this, you can too. Take care of yourself and don’t skip your appointments. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, schedule an appointment today! I’m not just talking for a PAP, I mean see your regular doctor too! Sure your insurance just reset but hey, a $15 copay for the opportunity to hear “all clear” is beyond worth it. I’d give anything to mightily celebrate something seemingly so simple! And in the 1% chance something isn’t all clear, like it was for me, life and death with cancer is often determined by how early it’s found so give yourself a fighting chance.

We Had it All

We had it all. We were happily pregnant with Hallie, we had just bought an amazing home to raise her in (#burblife), we had big plans for us all. This was the last picture I could find of the three of us in that ‘normal life.’ I remember being so annoyed at how hot it was that day since it was fall. You’re supposed to flannel & vest while picking apples! Real life problems, right? 😂

And then, two years ago today, in the time it took a doctor to say, “you have cancer, you’ll lose your baby and you’ll never again have biological children,” we lost everything about that normal life. I’m still traumatized by how the doctor handled it. Let me be the first to tell you that PTSD is a very real thing!

3 days later, I was officially diagnosed. The type of cancer I had confirmed that the worst case scenario that was so flippantly laid out for us, was now instantly our reality.

Today is marked with so much emotion. Haunting memories of that appointment and the phone calls to our families & closest friends. The numbness. The shock. The tears and the hugs. The Christmas music, oddly. I turned to it instantly the minute we left the hospital because who could tell me no?! This day sparks a long few weeks of anniversaries that don’t get any easier, including the day we lost Hallie. Being diagnosed with cancer is a long process. Fighting cancer is a long process. Losing your sense of normalcy and your sense of security is a long process. Losing your child is an even longer process. Grieving your child and what your life should’ve been is a long process. Adoption is a long process. Seemingly everything in our life still, two years removed, is a long process.

We continue to trust that God is hard at work on His master plan to weave all of this perfectly together. That all of these hardships will one day unfold into great joy. We have had moments of hope and we hold onto those tight. We are working really hard to honor Hallie through the Foundation, as it’s all we have of her, for now. We also eagerly wait to make Hallie a big sister through the miracle of adoption.

But for today, I really, really hate cancer & I really, really hate this day. And you better believe I am listening to Christmas music today. 🧡

The Hard Stretch

Processing, they say, leads to healing. I say that whoever said time heals all wounds should spend a day in this body of mine. Dealers choice on whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

I’ve written many blog posts over the past couple of months, none of which seem worth sharing. I find it harder and harder to articulate meaningfully what my post-cancer-grieving-mom life really looks & feels like. It sure ain’t pretty at times and sadly, it isn’t fixed by slapping a quick joke or big smile on it, my signature go-to. I’ve tried to keep that rusty lining mentality through it all though. It’s messy because you’re processing. Processing is progress. And that progress will one day turn into healing.

I have my 18-month-post-treatment appointment next Tuesday. That means I’m 22-months-post-surgery, the last day I had cancer in my body.  I’m still not sure what the correct anniversary is to celebrate. I don’t have scans scheduled for this appointment, those are every 6 months now (next up in December), this is the physical exam and PAP.  I, of course, find myself overanalyzing every ache and pain right now. Each and every one is obviously cancer, right?!  ‘What if’ is a dangerous game to play, I know that, but there’s also no escaping the thoughts filtered through that lense. There are moments of anger, there are moments of gratitude and there are a million moments of every other emotion that exists on the spectrum between those two. Keep us in your prayers!

Boy does 22 months ago feel like it was yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. I made it out in my mind that the second year of anniversaries would be easier, wouldn’t be as emotional. I’m finding instead that it is an entirely different experience, thanks to that whole, “processing,” thing. Last year, I wanted to fast forward through it all. This year, I find myself not even being able to think to October, when I was diagnosed. Or November. November 3rd specifically. That day haunts me right now. How do we navigate a day that cruelly stole our first and only biological daughter, but granted me a miraculous second chance at life? I don’t play the stats game with cancer, you can’t, you simply can’t, but I was scrolling through Facebook the other day (dangerous) and saw a post from a woman who had my cancer and was celebrating five years cancer free (amazing!). She said our cancer had a 15% (15%!) survival rate at the two year mark. I’m sure I knew a version of this along the way, I do recall that my doctor said early on that two years would be a significant milestone. Clearly I never grasped that, although I’m starting to now. I felt that most at my sister’s wedding recently. I had a very specific moment where the emotions hit me really hard, as if I finally realized how much of a miracle it was that I was even there. The idea that I could’ve missed out on being my sister’s matron of honor struck me to my core. It was a moment marked by the deepest sense of gratitude I can remember feeling since 10/20/16, paired also though with the deepest ache. Hallie is my greatest miracle and my greatest heartbreak, all in one.

I saw this posted the other day and as I read each need, I found myself silently screaming, ‘retweet’ to each one. Simple yet profound, my head & heart at this point in time, perfectly captured. In reading it, consider this your invitation ‘in’ as we tackle this incredibly difficult (and long) stretch of appointments, anniversaries and holidays …again. And thank you for your continued role in keeping Hallie alive for us.

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Here’s to a clean bill of health on Tuesday. Thanks again for your prayers!

Beef