If you’ve been reading my blog for this past year, you might know that 2013 was a very hard year for me. I lost my Dad in June, and my husband essentially lost his job in August. In September, our lives were consumed by Eagle Scout activities and some unnecessary drama that went along with that process.
In October we were offered a new job but it’s in Utah and with our oldest son at home in his senior year of school, we have chosen to live apart as a family for the school year. November and December were taken up with a broken car, more scout drama, a car accident which totaled our only working car, a flooded basement, more breaking cars and probably a few other things that I can no longer remember due to stress overload.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in church and I was having a hard time. I was tired and stressed and mad at the world. My youngest son, Sam, was sitting next to me and he asked me if I was okay. I told him I was having a hard time and after a few seconds he leaned close to me and said, "As a wise woman always tells me, ‘Choose Happy.’"
Oh, my son, what a great blessing you are to me! This is something I have said to my kids for years. Usually as they are going out the door or if they are having a bad day or just in general. It’s easy to say, but less easy to hear. I sat there in church thinking about how happiness is a choice we make each and every moment of our lives. I firmly believe that, which a little ironic considering my lifelong struggles with depression.
I have found this concept to be true throughout my life. I’m not going to lie, I was less than thrilled that my kid had just used my own words against me.
This concept was much harder to apply during most of November and December. The hits were coming in fast and furious and every time I thought I had caught my breath, something else would happen.
Then, something did happen. Something big. My younger sister, Pam, told our family that a mass had been found during a routine mammogram and she was scheduled to have it biopsied. Pam had just gotten married a few weeks earlier and originally thought to put off her annual test.
The technician knew right away that something was off and told her to see her doctor as soon as possible. A week before Christmas, Pam called with the news that she has an aggressive form of breast cancer. A few days later we found out hers is called Triple Negative Breast cancer, which only impacts about 10-20% of all women with breast cancer.
Basically, breast cancer is generally fueled by one of three receptors: estrogen, progesterone or something called HER2. When they do the biopsy, they are testing to see which one is fueling the cancer. If each test comes back negative then you have Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It’s a type of cancer that spreads quickly, is harder to detect and eradicate and is most likely to reoccur.
Pam, and my beautiful nieces, Shelby, Lexi and Taylor.
There are still far more unknowns for Pam at this point. We are awaiting the results of the test for the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Did you know that less than 10% of people with breast cancer have it because of a mutation in that gene? Most people think if you have the gene you have cancer, but everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in their bodies. When these genes work right, they prevent cancer from developing. If there is a mutation in the gene, though, you are at an increased risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers throughout your life.
Our maternal grandmother died of breast cancer so our family has a higher risk for this gene mutation. Pam has encouraged all the women in my family to get a mammogram. I had a baseline done when I was 40, but that was 9 years ago and I don’t even remember the doctor’s name. I’ve promised Pam I will figure it out and go see my doctor.
Pam’s treatment options change depending on the results of the BRCA gene test. Naturally, we are hoping for a negative result. If it is negative, her tumor is small, was caught early and there no other lesions. Its also located under the crease in her breast, which is both medically and cosmetically a good location. She is scheduled for a lumpectomy in a few weeks followed by daily chemotherapy for 5 weeks.
If she does have the gene mutation, she may possibly be looking at a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. We are also waiting to hear about a spot on her lymph node that was questionable during her MRI. Her oncologist seemed positive that her cancer was caught early and there were no signs it had spread. MRIs can often give false positive results on the lymph nodes so we are hopeful that is the case with Pammy.
It’s weird when something like this happens to a loved one. Part of me has been in a type of cocoon. You hear and see people who have breast cancer and survive all the time. You know the treatment is going to suck but it’s survivable. But then there are all these unknowns and variations and you probably know someone who didn’t survive breast cancer. I do. I know people who have died from this disease and it scares me. I don’t want it to scare me because I want to stay strong and positive and hopeful for my sister.
This girl has been a fighter her whole life. Pam has such a strong spirit and is a very positive person. She’s had trials and experiences that would break most people, yet she has survived and done everything she can to make a better life for herself and her children. She is one of my heroes. I choose to believe that she will survive this, too.
This news sure put all my trials into sharp focus. Not that my trials aren’t hard or annoying, but I mostly know I’m going to get through them. A few days before I got Pam’s news, I read a story online about a man named, Bob Carey, who took pictures of himself in a pink tutu as a way to cheer up his wife during her cancer treatments.
You can see his work and find out how you can support their efforts at www.thetutuproject.com. I thought at the time was a great idea it was to find a way to help his wife laugh. A day or two after Pammy’s news, I decided to help her find a way to stay positive and to laugh.
I’ve created a board called "Project: Happy" on Pinterest. I’ve been trying to pin funny, happy and/or inspirational messages with the hashtag #ProjectHappy. If you would like to contribute to this board, let me know and I’ll be happy to add you. I also started a Facebook page with the same name for family and friends to share news and positive thoughts with Pam.
Interestingly, while my motivation in doing this was to help Pam, a funny thing happened to me along the way. I started to feel lighter and hopeful and…happy. In spite of the challenges that still surround me in my own life, and despite the fact that Pam still has a long road ahead of her to recovery, I’m choosing to be happy.
I’m sitting here today, suffering from a head cold. It’s snowing and the roads are horrible and I know in a couple of hours I’m going to have bored boys who will want me to go out and drive in this weather. I’m still having panic attacks in bad weather because of our accident. Katie is also sick and it’s never fun taking care of her when she’s sick. Hubs flew back to Utah yesterday and we won’t see him again until the end of February. Life obviously still has its challenges.
But, I’m noshing on these today.
Isn’t that a happy food? Look at that gorgeous color. Santa brings me a pomegranate every year in my stocking. Also a coconut. They remind me of my daddy and that makes me happy. Plus, pomegranates are loaded with vitamin C and that does a sick body good.
Even though I don’t want to be out driving in it, the snow is beautiful and I appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.
Choosing happy is a habit. You are exercising a muscle and as you do it, you will get better at it. I’m not making resolutions this year, but I am determined to make some positive changes in my life and to choose happy. Creating beautiful things makes me happy. Sharing my creations and ideas with others makes me happy. Being productive makes me happy. I’m hoping to learn how to take better care of myself this year because feeling healthy and strong makes me happy.
I plan to simplify our lives by really weeding through everything we own between now and June and only moving those things that make the cut. I’ve been hauling around a lot of junk just because I haven’t taken the time to figure out if we still have a need for it or not. There’s a feeling of lightness that comes when you are not weighed down by stuff. I want more of that feeling in my life.
I’m a work in progress, though. I know that choosing happy may elude me a time or two. If you think that’s happening, feel free to call me out on it. I may grumble to myself about it, but I will appreciate the encouragement and support.
So many times I have found your comments and words or encouragement to be just the thing I need. I know many people no longer take the time to comment on posts and I always appreciate when you take the time to leave a comment. It makes me happy! I’m still learning WordPress and the comments thing is one thing that is still tripping me up. If I haven’t responded, though, please know I read them and I am so grateful for those of you who read my little blog.
Okay, folks, we’ve reached that portion of the program where I encourage you to also choose happy this year. Look around at the beauty in your life. Focus on it. Spend your time and energy doing those things that make you happy. If you can’t change a situation you are in, then change your attitude. It is within your power.
Life is far too short to waste another day being unhappy. Go forth, my friend, Choose Happy!