Mission Complete

On Tuesday, April 10, 2018 after school got out, but before a monthly staff meeting, I got the call that my biopsy results were in: Breast Cancer.

On Thursday, January 10, 2019 at approximately 3:25pm, I walked out of the Lakeshore Radiation and Oncology Center for the last time: Breast Cancer treatment complete.

Diagnosis in April.

Lumpectomy in May.

Chemotherapy from June to October.

Radiation from November to January.

I’m done. Sort of.

I’ll still have to go on hormone receptor blockers, but my days of going to appointments for treatment are over.

I have been looking forward to this for nine months, obviously, but when I got in my car after that last treatment a shudder went through my body and tears sprung to my eyes.

And in that moment I understood why so many had asked me how I would celebrate. I hadn’t really given a celebration a thought–we didn’t have time for anything and just being done is a celebration, right? Well it suddenly seemed important.

So on the way home I stopped for cupcakes and champagne.

I should have known though…a few minutes after getting home, my dad showed up with a cake my mom sent over. Of course my mom sent a cake. It’s what she does!

Tonight we will go to some non-fancy chain restaurant that is kid-friendly to have a celebratory dinner with the kids. We will let them order soda AND dessert. It’s a celebration after all.

1/1 lumpectomies DONE
16/16 rounds of chemo DONE
30/30 rounds of radiation DONE



If you would like to donate to my classroom library, check out our wish list full of new titles!

How I’ve Made it Through the Past 9 Months

I’ve gotten some pretty great compliments this weekend from people who know I’m about done with my cancer treatments. I’ve been trying to accept compliments and not explain them away. It’s important to hear the great things people say about you.

I’m trying to believe that yes, I am strong. Yes, I am hopefully teaching my kids and my students about resilience and not giving up.

But here’s the thing: I did not do this in a vacuum.

While yes, some of that in just part of who I am. I want something so I work hard. I want to live. I want to be here for my kids. So I did all the hard stuff. But you would too.

Hell yes, I was scared. Terrified. I did a LOT of crying and cursing and trying to instruct God to take this all away.

I whined about pain and fatigue and appointments and my schedule and my work load (that was self-chosen, by the way).

Those of you have (wonderfully) told me that I have done this with strength and grace need to know that maybe that is what it looked like online, but it was messy and ugly and sad in real life. We all cried a lot around here.

I’ve mentioned that prayers got me through, and they did. But it would be a lie to say that is all that carried me (or us). I think being part of our church family definitely made a difference. If this had happened to me ten…shoot even 5…years ago, I don’t know that I would have managed as well as I did.

Prayers are great, but there is something to be said for having a lot of organized people on your team. I had friends who helped Cortney organized childcare–that was HUGE for me. Knowing I didn’t have to worry about caring for the kids while I was at my worst–and even when I just needed a break–was a major help. It meant I could actually rest when I needed to.

I also had friends who organized meals. I was encouraged to create a calendar for when our family needed meals the most and to be honest about what the kids would eat. Church families (shoot, all friends and families) love to cook for you when they can’t take your hurt away. Being honest about how picky our children were meant we got meals they would actually eat (and LOVE), with the bonus of us not having to worry about how the meals were going to happen.

We also had lots of friends give gift cards which was great when we needed a dinner on the quick or wanted to treat the kids (and us) to something fun.

Friends also gifted us with a Shipt subscription (which we loved so much we renewed).

People mailed or left care packages on our front stoop: books, the coziest blankets in the world, treats, notebooks, gift cards for the kids, beer, tea, fruits, cheeses, earbuds, music, lotion for my dry skin, and the list goes on. Little things that were not at all necessary to my healing, but contributed because they were things that made me smile through all the garbage.

And maybe the biggest thing: I continued to see my therapist through all of it. I have been with Dr. Melissa since I sought help for postpartum depression after Eddie was born. I have been with her for almost 8 years and I am so glad I keep my monthly appointments. I went more frequently during the time I was getting chemo because it did a number on my mental health.

I’m glad I did because a cancer diagnosis is really really hard to process. It’s unexpected and unwanted and really, really scary. So not only was I able to talk through my fears and my anxiety, but it was super helpful when I felt myself dipping into depression. And now, as I am coming out of all of it, I still have fears about recurrence and I think about my own mortality a lot.

I am getting through all of this because first and foremost: I have to. Not getting through it is just not an option.

But I am also getting through it because I have learned to let people take care of me and my family. I’ve learned that I have to take care of myself–all of myself: my mind and body.

27 radiation treatments out of 30 DONE.

3 more days left.

Just a Handful

I only have five radiation treatments left, and the last five are quicker and less broad than the previous 25. Up until today, my treatments were broadly applied to four “zones” so that the radiation hit all my lymph nodes and my left breast in the area that the cancer had been.

It’s been manageable, but not at all fun.

It looks like sunburn, but it’s not really sunburn. It’s not a burn from heat since radiation is not hot. Our skin normally sloughs off and regrows. With radiation, my skin is sloughing off, but not regenerating. So it’s raw. It’s itchy. In the places where my skin rubs on itself (my armpit), it’s tender.

I have some products that were gifted to me by friends that has been working to relieve most of the itching and to give my skin some moisture back, but it’s still very uncomfortable.

The last five treatments won’t contribute to anymore of this since they will be targeted only at my scar from the lumpectomy. But it will take some time for my skin to heal. It will get a bit worse before it gets better even without the radiation. And my scar spot will obviously still be raw from 5 more treatments.

Now that the holidays are over, I’m noticing the fatigue that comes with radiation as well. I am very tired even though I am trying to get a bunch of rest, and I can sleep for very, very long periods of time. I’m thankful that I haven’t had homework or schoolwork to do over break because I have been pretty tired.

That said, I just have five left! By this time next week I will be DONE. I know there will be a transition period where my skin will need to heal and where I will have to slowly get my energy back, but the whole family is looking forward to no more appointments for treatment on the calendar.

Looking forward, I have a follow up appointment with my oncologist later this month and I will have my port removed as well. My next treatments step will be Tamoxifen which will block estrogen from attaching to the receptors in my breasts (my cancer was estrogen receptor positive) and reduce the recurrence of breast cancer. It will, however, push me into menopause. FUN. I will take this for 5-10 years.

But let’s focus on the GOOD, right?

My hair is growing back quickly! Yay! I have an actual salon appointment in a couple weeks! I hope to get it shaped/cleaned up into some semblance of a style. I also hope to find out it’s long enough to color because I miss my warm, brown that I had before I had to shave it. I LOVED my hair color and I am eager to have it back.

I also get to have my eyebrows waxed! Yay! I can’t wait to feel feminine again. That is something cancer has stolen from me–feeling like a pretty girl. It also took away my control over what I look like, and I am excited to get some of that back again.

So, just a handful of treatments left.

2018 in Review

It would be easy to say farewell to 2018 and write the whole year off as a pile of steamy turds. But that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. Despite the Big C being part of the year, we had some really great times too. In fact, I think it’s possible some of the best parts of 2018 came because of The Big C.

I started the year by hitting “submit” on my application to the English Education Doctoral Program at WMU.

In February, I had my annual check-up. I was turning 40, so I also scheduled a routine mammogram for March. Life moved on.

Alice turned three at the beginning of March!

And Charlie turned six!

I turned 40 and Cortney took me to Chicago to celebrate with my best friend.

Upon return, I found out I was accepted to my PhD program!

And then I found out I had breast cancer.

But we moved quickly and less than a month after my diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy. The cancer was removed from my breast and three lymph nodes were taken–one of which was found to have cancerous cells. That one bum lymph node changed my entire year because it meant I would have to do chemotherapy.

Thankfully, I was home and able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my family. Although Charlie was starting to show signs of anxiety even then.

But life moved on…

Baseball season was underway. Eddie played Little League for the first time (and according to him, the ONLY time).

And Charlie played coach pitch (he is signed up for more this spring because he loves ALL THE SPORTS)

Charlie is #6

We celebrated Memorial Day with friends.

After school got out in June, I had my port put in to prepare me to start chemotherapy.

Eddie advanced in cub scouts from Bear to Webelo.

And then chemotherapy began.

It became our summer routine. I had chemo every other Wednesday, and then felt like death until Sunday. Then I did my best to give the kids a fun summer before I had to start the cycle of horrible all over again.

Charlie even got his library card this summer!

Cortney and I celebrated 13 years of marriage in June just before my 2nd round of chemo took my hair.

We celebrated Eddie’s 9th birthday.

And then I lost my hair. Or rather, my hair started to fall out in clumps, so I asked Cortney to shave it. It’s a good thing we did because after this, I found tiny hairs on my pillow every night.

Throughout all this, people began to rally. Dinners were delivered. Gift cards showed up. Friends and family took our children in while I went through the worst of it.

The 4th of July happened.

And even though I was losing days to sleep after chemotherapy, Cortney and I managed to double-date with friends at the ballpark.

I went out for coffee and breakfast and lunch and dinner with friends. I was able to take the kids out for ice cream and other treats. It wasn’t the summer we had planned, but it was a good summer nonetheless.

We even made our annual trip to Pentwater with my parents for a big weekend where I was able to sit on a beach for a little while before the threat of burning sent us back to the cottage.

I found self-care in new places since I didn’t have salon appointments or pedicures to look forward to. Instead I made time for friends and for the first time ever, got a make-up lesson!

To wrap up the summer, Cortney and I traveled back to Chicago this time for a Pearl Jam show at Wrigley Field.

Alice left the crib for a Big Girl bed right before school started up again too.

School started for me mid-August, and after Labor Day for the kids. That meant soccer season for Charlie.

My first official PhD class took place this fall as well. I was able to take one that was a hybrid of online and in person.

October 24 was my last chemo treatment. Just in time for Halloween.

Before Thanksgiving, I traveled to Houston with my friend, G for the NCTE and ALAN conferences. It was the perfect break between cancer treatments.

After Thanksgiving, I started radiation and it was time to get ready for Christmas. I’ve currently had 23 treatments with just 7 left to go in 2019.

Oh! And Alice is finally potty training! Yay to leaving diapers in 2018! Nine years of diapers in this house has come to an end!

This year has been long and difficult for many reasons, but we have been shown so much love and have been showered in prayers. I’m not sad to see 2018 go, but there were some lovely moments in there.

I hope that the love will continue into 2019 along with healing for me and for my family. Cancer wounds more than just the person going through treatment. Our whole family experienced the trauma and we are all looking to heal in this new year.

Here we go, 2019.

What I Read: 2018

Last year my goal was 40 books and I read exactly 40 books. This year, I pushed the goal to 50, was on a pretty good roll, and then got cancer which in and of itself didn’t slow down my reading, but chemotherapy made my brain mush.

I still read 35 books though, so I made my annual list for you.

The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend the most. The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit, (MG) are middle grade books, (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry, (N) are nonfiction, and (C) are children’s books (aimed at an audience younger than middle school).

  1. To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
  2. Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey (C)
  3. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (C)
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (YA)
  5. Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word by Linda Christensen (N)
  6. Six Degree: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas (N)
  7. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
  8. Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing and Making a Difference by Richard Beach and Alan Webb
  9. I’m With the Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet by Mark Martin
  10. Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction by Manjana Milkoreit
  11. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Gosh (N)
  12. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (YA)
  13. Flush by Carl Hiassen (MG)
  14. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (YA)
  15. I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett (N)
  16. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
  17. 100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F Downs (N)
  18. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
  19. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (YA)
  20. Fat Angie by e.e. Charlton-Trujillo (YA)
  21. 180 Days: Two Teachers and The Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle (N)
  22. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  23. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King (YA)
  24. The Path to Serendipity: Discover the Gifts Along Life’s Journey by Allyson Apsey (N)
  25. Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (N)
  26. Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy by James Williams (N)
  27. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erksine (MG)
  28. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (YA)
  29. Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology by Kentaro Toyama (N)
  30. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle (N)
  31. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in the Digital World by Maryanne Wolf (N)
  32. Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (N) (P)
  33. Dog Man: Lord of the Flies by Dav Pilkey (C)
  34. Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey (C)
  35. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed (YA) (currently reading, but will finish before the New Year)

I’m not really sure what to make my reading goal this year. I know I will read a lot for my PhD classes, but that may not be actual books. It’s hard to know. I think I will split the difference between the past two years’ goals and go with 45.

I have quite a pile over here To Be Read. See?

Follow me over at GoodReads to see what I actually read in 2019!

And tell me…what should I add to my To Read pile? What did you read in 2018 that you loved?

Christmas 2018

Eddie reads the greeting for the children’s Advent service

We didn’t get a white Christmas this year, but we had a wonderfully memorable holiday nonetheless. I have been looking forward to Christmas since May when we began planning my chemo/radiation treatment schedules. I knew I would be close to done by Christmas. I knew I would have hair again by Christmas. I just had to make it to Christmas.

And here we are.

Alice (far left) was part of the team of angels during the children’s Advent play

Today I will have my 20th radiation treatment which means only 10 more after today. We can see the end.

Charlie (in the red) was the star for the children’s Advent play

Our Holiday season was filled with joy and comfort thanks to family and friends and tradition.

Second annual Granny’s Girls Bake-a-Thon (Alice on the far right with her Sluiter-side girl cousins rolling peanut butter balls)

I’ve said it before, but having children and seeing Christmas through their eyes really makes it all feel new again. The excitement is palpable as we move the Santa another day closer to the 25th on our Christmas Countdown.

Heading to Granny’s house on Christmas Eve for our first family party (Alice was excited. She was just also mad at Eddie)

After the year we’ve had, I felt more gratitude and love toward my family than ever before. We have leaned heavily on their love and prayers. Their smiles and laughter and hugs were the best part of the holiday. Seeing everyone together made me so thankful for my life.

Santa came! Opening stockings on Christmas morning!
Slippers from Santa!

Eddie still believes in Santa. He’s nine and a half, so I’m not sure how much longer we have. And I am positive that once Eddie knows “the truth,” Charlie will not be far behind. This may very well be our last year with all three believing.

The joy of having kids who believe in Santa and create notes for him is fleeting, and I have loved every minute of it.

Gifts offered to Santa from Charlie, Eddie, and Alice. Plus cookies and a carrot for Rudolf.
Santa’s letter to the Sluiter kids

Cortney and I had to remind ourselves that even with the wonder of Christmas, our kids are still, well themselves. There was arguing and fighting and tears, but there were also “thank you’s!” and hugs and lots and lots of smiles.

Charlie and I get ready for the final party of the year at Grandpa and Grandma’s house

As usual, my mind wandered back in time to Christmases of my childhood. I missed my Grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve with the turkey and shrimp and crab dip and treats and whiskey slush that all the adults drank and which I thought smelled horrible.

Alice opens a gift from her Grandpa and Grandma

I thought about my Grandparent’s house on Christmas Day with chocolate seafoam and absolutely no order to handing out gifts.

Eddie gets some clothes…and likes it.

I tried to remember when I stopped believing in Santa and realized that I never had a moment when I stopped. After awhile I knew that my parents did it, but there was never a coming of age moment when I was crushed by it. And until I was married, my mom kept a stocking for me at their house, and Santa came and stuffed it each Christmas morning.

I am forever grateful for that because even though I clearly knew it was her, there was a certain love that went into keeping a piece of childhood alive until I was ready to marry and start my own traditions.

So now our house is filled with new things scattered about. We all have Lego sets to build and clothes to wash and put away. We have the joy of family in our hearts and tummies full of appetizers as meals and treats by the handful.

We turn our faces toward 2019 with a peaceful comfort, but also a hopeful anticipation.

We are now ready to tackle mental, emotional, and physical wellness in this new year.

We are ready for new.

Woah, We’re Halfway There…

This morning on my way in to work I heard Bon Jovi’s classic hit, “Livin’ On A Prayer” and caught myself singing along loudly and joyfully.

“Woah, we’re halfway there…
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear,
Woah, we’re livin’ on a prayer!”

(You totally just sang that, didn’t you?)

Yesterday was my 15th radiation treatment. That means, baby, we are halfway there. Halfway done.

I’m starting to get a rash on the left, upper part of my chest–right under my collarbone. I am assured this is pretty normal and that other than being a little pink, my skin looks really good. I’ve started using Cortizone on my rashy part because it itches and that is not really very fun. I can also take Tylenol to help with that, so last night I took a Tylenol PM.

I’m tired a lot, but I haven’t been sleeping well at night. We have quite a bit going on, and my anxiety likes to put all the things on a continues looping parade in my brain every night. I should probably talk to one of my many doctors about that. Tylenol PM should probably  not be a long-term care plan for my sleep.

Since we are on the topic of halfway, when this week ends I will be halfway through the school year. My 8th graders are taking exams this week to finish up first semester. I think we are all looking to a fresh start after the first of the year.

I’m also halfway through my first school year as a grad student. I have one class done, and am looking forward to my next class starting in January.

So we are halfway in a lot of the things going on in our lives. We are also, quite literally, livin’ on a prayer. Ok, more than just one…many. We are livin’ on YOUR prayers.

I don’t say a whole lot about my faith here–mostly because I don’t really know how. It also fluctuates so much that it’s hard to pin it down in mere words. By the time I hit “publish” my feelings have probably shifted. This year has put my faith through the grinder in a way that it hasn’t in a long time.

I have decided over and over again in my life to just be done with church and God and faith stuff because it seemed dumb and too hard to keep up when I was mad or hurt. This year I didn’t do that even though 2018 has thrown a lot at us to make us question all the things. From my cancer to what our Charlie is going through to what friends and leaders in our faith have done and gone through. It’s been a lot.

And yet we still show up Sunday after Sunday.

I still pray constantly–even with tears streaming down my face (and sometimes swear words coming out of my mouth).

But most importantly, through all the shit storm this past year has thrown at us, it has also provided unceasing support from people in our lives. The cards that have poured in have sustained us–each one sent with prayers of strength. 

Each hug given, a prayer has been whispered in our ear.

Each text and message filled with prayers.

When we felt like we couldn’t go on, when I felt like I could not possibly show up to another day of this life, when my whole world, my family, and my friends felt like they were tearing apart at the seams…prayers would show up.

I don’t think these prayers changed the outcome of my chemotherapy or my friends’ troubles or Charlie’s struggles. I don’t think prayer works that way. I don’t think you get to ask God to take cancer away and he decided to do it or not. I don’t think that he said, “nope” when we asked him to take away Cortney’s dad’s cancer, but “sure” to mine. Honestly, I don’t believe God is in cancer at all.

What I do believe is that God is in the prayers. And I believe those prayers sustained us. They really gave us peace and strength. And I believe that having peace and strength is a big part of at least being able to deal with what comes.

That is what we have been doing: dealing with what comes.

Livin’ on a prayer (or many).

And now we’re halfway there.

A Letter at 40

Dear Cortney,

Today you are 40. 

I wanted this milestone of a birthday to be special. I had been thinking about it since we went to Chicago for my 40th birthday in the spring.

Then a week later we got the news about my cancer and I quit making any sort of BIG plans for anything. 

But I didn’t fall apart completely because you were there.

You were there in sickness.

You were there for a bad time.

You were there when I was poor in spirit.

You were there carting our children all over the place, making sure we were all fed, and cleaning up after people.

You were doing laundry and dishes and baths.

You were taking time off work (that you really couldn’t afford to do) and buying me lattes and lemon loaf. 

You were shaving my head and counting out anti-nausea pills.

You were getting up with kids in the night.

You were rearranging your schedule and bowling ahead and arriving late to meetings so that I could make all my appointments.

You were making me tea.

You were holding me as I cried. You were holding our children while they cried.

You were patient.

You were kind.

You are love. You loved me and put aside many many things to take care of me and our children.

You deserve a HUGE celebration. 

You didn’t get it, and I don’t feel good about that.

So I promise you that this next whole year will be a celebration. A celebration of love and life and new chances. 

And when December comes around again, we will do something BIG.

Until then, I hope our birthday date and your birthday dinner and your birthday brownies and the cards your boys made you brought a smile to your face.

We are so very thankful for you. And we love you so very much.

Happy birthday, my love.

There is Hope

I started radiation this past week.

I don’t like it.

My family does not like it.

NO ONE likes it.

Oh, it’s “easier” than chemotherapy. I don’t get sick or comatose and my hair is growing in rather than falling out. It doesn’t take hours to get the treatment with hours more of side effects. I don’t have to miss work.

But it’s every week day at 4pm.

It’s non-negotiable. I have to go.

Regardless of what the schedule looks like.

Regardless of who else has appointments.

Regardless of weather.

Regardless of how much work I have.

I have to leave by 3:15pm everyday, get to the radiation oncology center, change into a gown (just from the waist up), lie on a cold “cradle” (which is a dumb name because it implies comfort. This thing is not comfortable…or even soft), have a snorkel thing put in my mouth, have my nose plugged, have my chest out, wear glasses that slide off my face so that I can’t see the screen inside them that helps me know when to take a deep breath and hold.

I have to hold my breath for 20 seconds. Five times. If I don’t mess up.

I have to be exposed to heavy radiation in hopes that it means cancer won’t re-develop in those areas (my lymph nodes and left breast).

It only takes 20 minutes in and out the door. I shouldn’t complain. It’s “easy” and “quick.”

But I hate it.

It means I get less time at work to work. Less time at home to get dinner ready, homework started for the boys, or just stop at the store for a quick something less I want dinner to take over homework time…which then takes over bath time…which then takes over bedtime.

It’s an inconvenience only.

But I hate it like I hated chemotherapy because it sucks and who knows if it will work? Who knows if I will stay cancer-free?

I hate it because it makes everyone crabby because nothing is “normal.”  Everyone’s schedules are thrown off because of a 20-minute appointment I have to go to everyday.

What I’m saying is, this first week was rough.

But I don’t want to end with that. Because this weekend was also the start of Advent, which is one of my most favorite times of the year. With the anticipation of Christmas and the hope for newness, I find myself wanting to believe that it will all be ok. All of it. This cancer crap, the treatment, the stress, the anxiety, the trauma on me and my kids and Cortney, all the garbage we have had to individually work through surrounding a pea-sized tumor that was taken out in May. All of it might actually be Ok.

Saturday I took Eddie Christmas shopping.

He brought up Santa and my heart stopped because, well, he IS in 4th grade. I feel like we are on borrowed time for true belief.

Eddie: Yeah, Liam and I were discussing Santa. We figured he is going to die really soon because how long can that guy live?

Me: Um. You were talking about Santa dying?

Eddie: Yeah, but then Liam brought up the magic. So pretty much that was that. Magic means Santa is immortal.

Me: That seems about right.

Eddie: Last year, on Christmas Eve, when I was in bed…I thought I heard footsteps and I almost went upstairs. But then I wasn’t sure because what if it was Santa? I don’t think you’re supposed to actually SEE Santa. Have you seen Santa?

Me: Not the REAL Santa.

Eddie. Oh, just those guys who dress up like him for little kids to sit on their laps?

Me: Yeah, those Santas.

Eddie: Wouldn’t it be cool if Santa had a blog? Then we could know what he was up to all year…and those elves.

I love the way his mind works.

Later, we were in Target in the Christmas wrapping paper section. He looked over at the stocking display and said, “Mom. Look. A bad word. It says, S – H – I- T over there.”

I looked and realized he was talking about the stockings. They have a display of stocking each with a letter. Someone had arranged them to spell the swear word. I responded, “Someone probably thought they were being funny. That isn’t a very nice word, is it?”

I look back at the wrapping paper, and all of a sudden he is gone. Just when I was about to call for him, he jogs back. “I fixed it. I moved some of the stockings. I didn’t want a little kid to see it.”

I love the way his heart works.

This weekend Alice and I read the Christmas story. She insists Mary had a baby named Olivia. She also insists Joseph is Jesus and he lives in our hearts, not in a barn.

Charlie has a new plan at school and some new routines. He loves them, and we are cautiously optimistic.

Radiation sucks. It’s taking a toll on us because none of us like it.

But there is hope.

There is always hope.


The holidays are a time for giving, and who doesn’t love to give kids the gift of books? If you are one of those people, and you would like to gift a book to my classroom library, please checkout our wish list here. Thank you.


Slowly, I am getting stronger.

My body is recovering from the chemotherapy.

My skin is softening and looking healthier.

My energy levels are reluctantly rising.

My hair is coming back.

I am thankful for these things, and for so much more.

My family is healing from all the trauma of chemotherapy too.

Slowly, but surely, we are finding our way back to an easier normal.

We have been being very intentional with our time together–loving each other, and working with each other.

For this, I am thankful.

This is not a turkey. It’s Harry Potter. (Eddie’s disguised Thanksgiving Turkey)

Of course there are still struggles. Two of us are battling anxiety (possibly more than two, but two of us have the diagnosis). Charlie has a disturbance in his own force. This weekend has helped me believe he will be fine…or at least he is able to be fine. He will start some new routines and strategies on Monday. We–he and I and Cortney–are all maintaining a positive attitude.

My Bird has many gifts: he is thoughtful. observant, quick-to-learn, and slow to give in. He is imaginative and creative.

For this, I am thankful.

We had wonderful parent/teacher conferences for the boys. My gratitude for a school community who loves our boys and who are committed to helping them be the best versions of themselves they can be. The boys love their school, their teachers, and their friends. They both love to learn.

For this, I am thankful.

Eddie is thriving in another year of scouting. He loves the brotherhood it brings him and the adventure.  He is helpful and kind. He seeks to understand others–including his little brother. He loves to read and write and laugh. He is goofy and willing to talk about all the things.

And he continues to love Harry Potter.

For this, I am thankful.

Alice has been my innocent, pure joy from the beginning. She gives fierce hugs, has a protective nature, and loves  all things pink, princess, and unicorn. When she senses stress, sadness, or conflict, she gives kisses and reminds us all, “I love you!” She dances and twirls and reminds us all to find joy in small things.

For this, I am thankful.

My children drive me crazy to be sure, but they also give me a reason to get up. To face the challenges that are still ahead of us. They make me brave. They make me work harder and be better.

For this, I am thankful.

I recently came back from Houston, Texas where I attended two professional conferences for English teachers. I was able to spend the weekend with my sister friend, G. She and I have both take a ride down the River Styx this year, so it was good to have each other. To lean on each other. To share and laugh and learn with each other.

For this, I am thankful.

Photo Credit: Erin Barkel Photography

We had a very mini family photo shoot earlier this month. I almost skipped family pictures this year for a number of reasons, all that boil down to not really wanting to record this moment in my life. As much support and love I am given, I still feel very fragile about my looks.

But look at that guy standing next to me. Look how he looks at me. That look sums up all that he has been not just in the last seven months, but for the past fifteen years. He sees me. And he still loves me like that.

For him, I am thankful.

And the list could continue to include other precious friends and our church family and my school family and our jobs and doctors and nurses and modern medicine and all of you and your spirits of grace and generosity.

I can’t even count all of the ways gratitude has oozed from me this year.

And for that, I am very, very thankful.


Monday I start my radiation journey. The countdown to the end begins.

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