How to be grateful

Thank you all for the outpouring of support, well wishes, love and prayers as we take  the next step to get this cancer out of me. I talked to the thoractic surgeon at Mayo on Friday and it sounds like they will open me up at my sternum to get the best look at the remaining tumor. The goal is to remove all of it by cutting my tracheal tract and putting it back together.  They will have a big team of doctors there to make sure they can handle any surprises and will be able to tell right away if they were able to get it all. If they can’t, I will be given the time I need to heal up and then we will proceed with radiation. This type of tumor responds well to radiation (and not well to chemo). 

I feel confident in the plan, nervous, and ready to get it behind me. I’m expecting the surgery to be scheduled in June sometime, but we haven’t made those plans yet. 

We have received such an outpouring of love from people far and wide and we feel your prayers and thoughts lifting us up and we are so grateful. 

How to be grateful
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When my girls walk out the door to play outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, as they run toward the playground or up the road to the big rocks, they say, “It’s a beautiful day!” Or, “It’s a perfect day for a walk,” or “It’s a good day to ride our bikes.”

And there are plenty of things that I say and do that I don’t want my kids to repeat (because I am a mother, but I’m far from perfect,) but I beam when I hear them have this sort of gratitude for a sunny day.

Because they’re so young, it gives me a bit of hope that the declaration and recognition of the good and beautiful things that they see and feel might become a sort of instinct that will serve them well when life is less than fair, less than perfect or unexpected in the worst ways.

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Since the removal of the tumor that was blocking my tracheal tract this month, and the unexpected diagnosis that it is “cancerous,” I’ve been thinking about what has notoriously pushed me through the difficult times in the past. And I’ve been thinking about gratitude and how it serves me.

But first, I want to share that I’ve been having a hard time saying that I have cancer because I don’t feel like the amount of suffering I am going to endure here warrants that loaded and scary word. Because I’ve seen cancer take its difficult toll on the people I know and love and I’ve seen sickness ravage their bodies and take the light from their eyes.

I don’t know this for certain, but from what I understand, my life with this diagnosis will be short-lived. And because of that, something in me wants to save that word for the warriors who’ve had to fight harder. And the ones that we lost to it.

I realize now the “it could be worse” mantra is one I go to when I’m staring down a fear or suffering with grief or worry. I would say it during our infertility struggle and pregnancy losses, and I would say it when my dad was sick and dying in the hospital bed. He survived. We all survived it. It could be worse. We are the lucky ones.

To recognize others’ suffering beyond our own, I think, is a useful tool. But then, sometimes, so is walking to the top of a hill and crying out “Why?!” In my life, I’ve done both.

But for now all I can think is that I’m thankful to breathe better and thankful for a diagnosis and for good doctors and a supportive community and that it’s a beautiful day to watch my girls drink from the water hose and tear off their clothes to run naked in the sprinkler.

Thankful that, because the stars aligned just right to keep me safe, I can be here for that.

And I’m thankful that all through my childhood, the people who surrounded me pointed out their blessings as they saw them so that I could see them, too.

Even if it was as simple as melting snow on the hilltops, a ripe tomato from the garden, the back of a good horse, enough Juneberries to make a pie or just the sunshine on our shoulders on a perfect day to ride our bikes.

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The familiarity of gratitude

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I dreamed last night that I woke up  in a different life, one I couldn’t remember creating for myself. In the dream I wondered out loud who these people were and how I got there. I tried to appreciate it, but I felt so disjointed and out of place. I didn’t feel in-love or rested. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the house they said was mine with a man I didn’t really know.

And then, slowly, I remembered a man I used to know. The man who, in this dream, was once my husband. I grabbed my phone of my nightstand and struggled to find his phone number, fumbling and mis-dialing in the frustrating way you do in dreams, like when you’re trying to run but it feels like your feet are anchored in mud.

In this dream, when I finally heard his voic  on the other line, I said “I miss you.” And then he showed up inside my new house in my weird life and we closed the door on a room I’ve never seen before and I wrote on a piece of paper “Will you take me back?”

And he nodded yes.

And then the alarm started buzzing in the room where I was lying next to him, in my real life, in the dark.  I opened my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. I had gone to bed disjointed and sort of annoyed with him.

I woke up relieved and grateful he was still next to me.

I wrapped my robe around me and shuffled downstairs to wake up the baby as he pulled his clothes on for work, leaving him standing in the closet buttoning his shirt and smoothing down his hair. I opened the door to our baby’s dark room and reached into her crib to rub her back and pull her up to me, gently coaxing her awake as she snuggled into my shoulder. I said “Wake up, wake up baby!” and she pulled her head away from my shoulder, looked into my face and grinned.

She’s heading to daycare this morning, strapped in the backseat of her daddy’s work pickup, dressed in her pink horse shirt, sucking on her bottle and clutching her favorite blankie, leaving me to tick through work projects and head to town for meetings and pass the time by helping to make some money so that we can all be together at the end of the day, eating and laughing and complaining and worrying together the way families do.

But it will take me all day to shake the feeling of that dream.

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As we approach a long weekend, on a day set aside to honor those who have worked and sacrificed for us in the name of country, I hope we can find a place to take a breath in the aftermath of an election that has left our country vibrating with emotion.

Because some of our best work as Americans is done at home and in our communities, loving one another.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a story about a man in my hometown who misplaced his wallet in the grocery store. When he got the call that it was found, he opened it to find that the person who returned it had added a $20 bill.

That’s simple, unselfish kindness there.

So while I really wanted to challenge you all to unplug and step away from our news streams and news feeds this weekend, what I’d really like to hear are more stories like this. 

Please share them with us in the comments or on my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. Let’s spend the weekend in the familiarity of gratitude.

Peace, Love and weekend Pancakes,

Jessie

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