Among the Flowers

As I walked into my classroom on my last day of school, I checked my personal email on my phone. My mom had sent out an early morning message to my brothers and me: Grandma died.

It was not unexpected, but it was startling nonetheless. My dad asked us kids to send him some memories for the pastor to use during the funeral. I wrote mine out in a two-page narrative. Of course I did. My dad and the pastor asked if I would read my writing, and I obliged.

I could just copy/paste that here, but honestly, it wasn’t my best writing. It was thrown together so that those who knew her would smile at the memories that they shared too. But I have been thinking a lot about what to put in this space.

My grandma with her two younger brothers
She always commiserated with me about being the older sister of two younger brothers.

My Grandma was a little white-haired old lady for my whole life. She was 94 and a half when she passed on May 31, 2019. She and my grandpa lived in the same house since my dad was very small. She had a cookie jar that was always filled and her house was filled with things that were antiques.

She wrote us notes and sent us actual dollars in the mail for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Easter…even when we were in college. My roommates thought it was adorable that my sweet Granny would put $5 cash in a card for me a couple times a year.

Life stopped at 3pm on the dot each day for my grandpa and her to have hot black coffee. Even before the days of central air in the muggy heat of summer, they would sit at the kitchen table with their steaming cups of coffee with Talk of the Town on the am radio and take a break. Every day.

My grandparents on Senior Skip Day in the spring of their senior year at Zeeland High School (class of 1942)

My grandparents were married for 75 years. “Happily married for 75 years,” the obituary said. I feel like there are hours of stories that could come out of that brief statement that spans so much time, but I do know that my grandpa and grandma knew each other for almost their whole lives. They went to grade school together and then high school.

Listening to them was always educational and humorous. They would pick at each other in a way that only two people who had been through a life time together could. My grandpa would fuss about they way my grandma sliced pie, and my grandma would fuss about my grandpa’s hearing aids. But once you asked them about something from the past or if they knew a person, they would look at each other and play off each other’s memories filling in a piece of local history you might not otherwise ever hear.

My grandparents’ wedding photo 1944

When my Grandma was 19 years old, she decided to take a train across the country from West Michigan to California to marry my Grandpa before he shipped out for WWII. They were married at the courthouse and had nowhere to stay that night. They walked around looking for a place and ended up sitting on a park bench.

My grandparents were best friends. I know his heart is broken having to go on in this life without her there.

My grandma’s senior photo

I have lots of wonderful memories of my Grandma, but there is one that seems small, but ended up having a huge impact: my Grandma read to me.

We don’t usually realize what we are becoming while it’s happening to us. I sure know I was developing into an advocate for literacy while the adults in my life surrounded me with books. My Grandma was a part of that.

She had a cabinet filled with old books–many published in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a kid, that made them more exciting and special than the ones I had at home. Two stand out to me as being especially pivotal: McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss and an incredibly old book of fairy tales my Grandma had as a little girl. I can’t remember a time we visited that Grandma didn’t read to us.

She gave me the fairy tale book when I was at her house once as an adult. I was looking through all the old books of my childhood and she said to take what I wanted. The fairy tale book wasn’t in there, so I asked about it. She got it out and handed it to me. As a little girl, I asked her why she liked it since it didn’t have many pictures. She told me you don’t need pictures if you have an imagination.

Looking back, those moments snuggled up next to my soft Grandma listening to the stories of Rapunzel and Cinderella were life-shaping. It was another instance of the adults in my life valuing the written word and showing me how much love can flow through words.

My grandma age 2

Ortha Jean DeJonge Riemersma was adventurous, sassy, and funny. She poured herself into her family and did her best to always keep the peace. She was a strong survivor–both of younger brothers and breast cancer, among other things–just like me.

Or I should say, I am just like her. At least I try to be.

Alice asked me last week where heaven is. I don’t know how to explain it to a four-year-old when I am not even sure myself. So I told her that “heaven is wherever there is something beautiful.”

“Like flowers, mommy?”

“Yes. Yes, like flowers.”

“Yours grandma is with the flowers now?”

“Yes. I believe she is, Alice.”

I love you, Grandma. I will always look for you among the flowers.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free

“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty

I Am Here

“If you can be heard then you exist.” (from Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman)

It’s almost summer break. I have four more days and then my district is done until August. A ten-week break.

I’ve been struggling with what words to put in this space. In July this blog will be 12 years old. I started it a good two years before Cortney and I would become parents, but after we had experienced our first miscarriage. I didn’t know what or how to share when I first started.

Since then I have opened up here about both miscarriages, documented my children’s early lives, talked about mental health issues like depression and anxiety–both of which I have/do struggle with–chronicled some teaching-related things, and detailed my journey through breast cancer. I’ve been vulnerable here in the hopes of showing people they are not alone and to remind myself that I am not alone. I’ve kept this space as a sort of time capsule.

We had author Kathryn Erskine visit our school after the 8th graders read Mockingbird, a novel about a 5th grade girl with autism who, along with her dad and community, is struggling to find closure after her older brother is killed in a school shooting. A piece of advice she gave to our students was to write down everything about who you are as a sort of time capsule. A way to remember what it was like to be an 8th grader in 2019. A way to remember they were here in this time and space.

This past week I told my students about this space as an example of Kathryn’s Erskine’s advice of time capsule writing and to show that writing can be healing. That telling your stories and putting them into the world (or just in a notebook) helps you feel real. It gives you a way to look back and say, “That was me. I was here.”

I wanted my students to have something similar, so I created a Time Capsule sheet for them to fill out all about who they are right now. I collected them and stuck them in an envelope labeled “Class of 2023,” to be delivered to the high school in 5 years. They thought it was a pretty fun idea.

Simultaneously, we were working on our final writing for the year: narratives. Students took topics/themes from Mockingbird like forgiveness, the importance of friendship, being different, determination, grief/loss, and emotional healing, and wrote their own stories that deal with these same ideas. It wasn’t until this week that I connected those stories to Time Capsule writing.

This week, on the day the stories were due, I gave students the chance to come in front of class and read their stories out loud for extra credit. I had read a few of their stories already during our revision days, but not all of them since they were paired with other students.

I was not prepared for what would be shared.

Thirteen and fourteen year-olds stood boldly in front of their classmates and shared stories of assault, parental abandonment, deaths of loved ones, deportation, child protective service experiences, and so much more. We cried together. We hugged. And we felt seen.

As usual, I also did the assignment. I shared mine with them through the whole process, so they already had access to mine. I wrote about the importance of friendship through my chemo journey last summer. I try to be real with my students in hopes of inviting them to be real with me. I never imagined they would accept that invitation so wholly and share it with their classmates.

I was blown away.

I was inspired.

I still struggle with what to put in this space. Who am I writing for? Why do I share my posts on social media? Should I stop? Should I shut down my blog’s Facebook page? What purpose does it serve?

And what about Eddie and Charlie and Alice? What can I share about my kids now that they are older and their story is their own? Our stories are interwoven since parenting them is my story too. But their privacy is important. But my experience is still mine. Navigating that balance is going to be tricky.

But I know now that I can’t stop writing.

My words are my way of saying “I am here. I am real.”

Survivor Frustration

“Hey Mrs. Sluiter. Remember how you weren’t here on the first day of school because you were doing chemo and you had a video for us and there was a sub and you were bald?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because I just remembered that was how the year started. It seems so long ago. I actually forgot about all the cancer stuff. Plus you have hair now and it seems like you always did.”

It’s been a really long, weird year for me.

In April, I passed the year mark from when I found out I had breast cancer. This week is the year mark from when I had it removed.

I’m living in a weird place. I feel weird in the body I’m in–most days I don’t like how I look, particularly where my hair is concerned. But then I feel guilty because at least I’m alive, right? Better to not love how I look and being living, right?

School has been a challenge this year. With so much going on in my personal life, I haven’t been as patient with my students. I know I haven’t been my best teaching self this year. I have long lists of things I would like to improve on for next year and at the top of my list is patience with my students because they deserve that from me.

I’m trying to be kind to myself. If a friend told me she was frustrated with her job performance and her looks, and she had gone through chemo and radiation and a had a child at home with high needs, I would look at her and tell her to be kind to herself. It’s just one school year.

Why can’t I do that for myself?

Why do I tell myself that I should be “over” the cancer treatment? Whenever my brain still feels clouded, or I don’t do as well on an assignment as I thought, or I read critical feedback on a piece, I am so hard on myself. My first reaction is to flip my computer off the table and walk away from all of it. I’m not good enough for grad school or writing for publication. Who do I think I am?

It can’t still be the chemo or radiation, right? That is DONE.

But I am told, there are probably still effects.

That is so frustrating.

Whenever I look in the mirror I get so unreasonably crabby at hair and weight gain. I’m on estrogen blockers that make my previous antidepressant not quite as effective, so I’ve had an additional AD added. I am not the healthiest eater in the world, but even when I try to be, the weight just sticks to me. I feel like a potato with legs and short hair.

(No, I do not want to try your Keto Plexus 30 Days of Sandpaper that you sell. I’m sure it’s great for you, but no thank you).

If one of my friends told me this, I would have a hard time not slapping her into reality. My husband, friends, and even students tell me I am beautiful and look great. Why can I not see that? Why am I suddenly avoiding the camera?

Since the very beginning of all of this, the advice that keeps coming is “be kind to yourself.”

I feel like that has been a fail for me. Others (Cortney) are very good at taking care of me and directing me to sleep, drink water, take a break, but I am not good at doing that for myself. I am not good at being easy on myself when it comes to deadlines and treating my effort with compassion.

I am mean to myself because I am frustrated.

I’m frustrated with my looks. I want my hair to grow faster. I want to have better habits (but I also don’t want to not eat and drink what I love–please don’t give me advice on this).

I am frustrated with my work and school performance. I know I do a good job, but it’s not the job I feel like I can do. I feel like I am just surviving and not thriving.

I’m frustrated with all the commitments. So many appointments for me, for Charlie, and then the regular stuff like dentist appointments for the other kids. There is no time.

I am frustrated with my time management. When I do have time, I just want to take a nap. Even though I have a whole LIST of things I want to do around here.

And because of all of this, I am frustrated with myself for being so frustrated with myself.

I’m not really sure how to un-frustrate myself. I’m hoping that when school ends at the end of the month, I can turn over a new leaf in self-care and self-acceptance. But I don’t really know what that looks like.


I turned 41 and had my annual mammogram this past Wednesday. The last time I was in that little room, I had two long needles sticking out of my bewb that they were trying to image to make sure they could get the whole tumor out.

It’s been sort of a weird year.

I keep telling people this is the year I feel old, but that’s not exactly accurate. I don’t feel OLD like elderly or falling apart or unable to do stuff. I just feel…like a veteran. Like an adult, maybe? Is this what it feels like to be an adult?

Maybe it was going through the whole cancer thing. My body isn’t more achy or sore, but when I look in the mirror, I see change. Yes, my hair is short (which thank you for the compliments, but I am ready for it to be long again), but I have more lines on my face. My eyes are more tired. My skin is drier. Something looks…aged.

Maybe it’s the whole 16 years of teaching thing. This year I am finding myself surrounded by a LOT of very young, new teachers as the people I started my career with start to retire around me. A few weeks ago, I found out who will be retiring this and other shifts that are possible in department chairs and such. I also have a student teacher this semester. On one of her first days, a student asked, “Hey Mrs. Sluiter! Is that your daughter?” And I laughed at the absurdity and then did the math. It was not all that absurd.

Maybe it’s the whole being back in grad school thing. I’m currently taking a class called Professionalization in English that is all about how to be a PhD student who is hoping to become a professor. There are seven of us in the class: three of us are in the English Ed PhD program, one is in the Literature PhD program, and the other three are in the Literature MA program. I am the oldest there by at least five years. And each week we have guest speakers–other professors in the department–come to talk about things like getting published, presenting at conferences, dissertation writing, etc. I am constantly reminded that 40 is not all that young to be back in school, even if it is grad school.

Or maybe it’s just a combination of this whole weird year. Maybe this is fleeting and will go away the farther I get from the entire ordeal. Maybe I just have to settle into this new me. The cancer survivor, doctoral student, veteran teacher me.

This year I’ve had to do many things that made me uncomfortable (to say the least). Maybe that is what feeling like an adult is. Doing the things that make you uncomfortable because you only get one life and if you don’t do the thing, you will regret it.

Which means maybe this is the year we will finally join a gym and get the Christmas decorations off the yard before April.


Here I am hoping 41 is less uncomfortable that 40 was.

By the way, that mammogram I had on my birthday came back completely normal. Absolutely no sign of cancer. I’d say that is a good start to this new trip around the sun.

Lucky Seven

Dear Charlie,

Six was a tough year, let’s just say it. I won’t say it was terrible because it absolutely was not.

However, you were dealt a pretty raw deal this past year. Less than a month after turning 6, you found out I had breast cancer. Of all three kids, you took it the hardest, but we didn’t know that for quite a while because you kept it all inside.

Eddie asked questions and admitted when things were scary. Alice didn’t understand much beyond the doctors had to cut me and take out something bad and that the medicine made me tired and bald.

You quietly took all of it in and let it bubble under the surface.

Life just got hard, bud. Big feelings with no where to put them and no language to get them out lead to some pretty hard times. We thought starting school would help, but it got worse.

We made choices and sought answers and we are still in the middle of all that. And you have been a trooper. You have done the work that many adults won’t do. We are so very proud of you.

We have learned a LOT about you this year. Some things we already knew, but they grew and developed: you are whip smart, a math whiz, quick-witted, very literal, and extremely logical.

You have strong expectations of what is right and wrong along with when and how things should be done. And if someone does not meet these expectations, well, woe to them. Woe. To. Them.

You can problem solve and build things with various materials like no one else your age. In fact, when you are amped up and melting down, math problems or building things can calm you.

I will be the first to admit that I absolutely do not understand how your mind works. You are different than I am in almost every way possible. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated and amused by you and your creativity!

School is hard this year, but not because you can’t do it. There are just things you do not want to do. Because you don’t really like to talk about it, we are not completely sure what triggers your dislikes so strongly, but we are all working on it.

The tooth fairy has visited often this year. You have been missing a front tooth for like ever now. And it only adds to your sweet charm. A sweet charm you seem to know you possess. One that wiggles you into the hearts of everyone that meets you.

You LOVE to laugh. Despite the roughness of the day, in the end, you just want to laugh at silly things. And no one can make you laugh that deep, chuckle laugh of yours harder than Eddie. You and Eddie have a deep connection. He absolutely do not understand you, but he loves you deeply. He sticks up for you and wants to help you as best as he can. Sometimes you let him. When he tickles you, you pee your pants every time. But neither of you care because you’re laughing so much!

Your sister on the other hand, drives you nuts. I try not to laugh, but she is also so very different than you are. For one, she talks nonstop. For another she wants to play with you and you absolutely do not want her to touch anything that is yours or that you are playing with because she will do it wrong. You have zero patience for her being littler than you. But the minute someone is being mean to her? Look out! Bird rage!

You love things that are soft. I mean, who doesn’t?! But you particularly love stuffed animals and soft blankets and your soft weighted blanket. You love to feel warm and secure. Again, who doesn’t, right? But you love these things more than a typical kid does. You like to be close. You like to cuddle. This has been true since you were a tiny infant you preferred the swaddle or the moby wrap.

You are my sunshine, Charlie Bird. This year, when I told you the story of your birth, you especially like the part when the anesthesiologist played Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly” while they started cutting to get you out. You thought that was so funny that they played a song about flying and then we called you Charlie Bird.

We are still working to figure you out–to find out how you tick and how we can be the best parents for you. Just because you are different than your siblings, doesn’t mean you are even a little bit less. Not one bit.

You are something special, and I have a feeling that SEVEN is going to be a very good year for you–and us!

Let’s do this together, sweet boy.

I love you more than all the wishes in the universe,

Mom Mom

The Last Baby is Not a Baby Anymore

Dear Alice,

You are FOUR!

I’ll tell you something you have probably already figured out: As the final born child, every one of your milestones is emotional for me. It’s just the way it is for the last baby. I’m sorry…but not.

In the past couple months, you’ve grown up so much in anticipation of turning four. You ditched the crib for a Big Girl bed, and are now (not so) patiently awaiting the bedroom re-do later this spring when we repaint your room and get your a REAL Big Girl bed. You chose mermaids for your bedding, and Grandma and Grandpa got it for you for your birthday.

You potty trained! No more diapers in this house! After 9.5 years, we are now–finally–diaper free. I admit that I was not emotional about that one because changing a toddler’s poopy diaper is one of the grossest parts of parenting. We are much happier that all that business is happening in the toilet now.

And just a week ago, you gave up your boppy (pacifier). The Boppy Fairy came in the night and turned it into a Barbie car which you love so much you took it to daycare for a full week.

We signed you up for swimming lessons and gymnastics this spring/summer and you are already talking about what you will wear to both.

And this week you told your first real lie: about what happened to your purple princess lipstick (“It’s not in my [laundry] basket, mom.” Spoiler: it was in there, broken into pieces).

We definitely do not have any more babies in this house, that’s for sure.

At four, you are incredibly opinionated. You feel you need to have a say in every single decision: your clothes, your shoes, your toys, your brothers, meals, what is on TV, who sits where, the color of your milk cup. This goes on and on. When you don’t get your way, there is quite a bit of dramatics.

You are quick to hug and kiss and say, “I love you,” to every member of the family, though. If you throw a fit, you will come back later with a snuggle and tell us you love us.

You are like a dance shoved in a tiny body. You like to twirl and “shake your peanut” even when there is no music.

Oh, and you have opinions on music too. If we do not play your favorite song (which could be any of a hundred songs at any one time), there are hysterics. Currently your favorites include “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons and “We Will Rock You” by Queen (you like to tell us all we have mud on our face).

You have one of the loudest laughs I have ever heard. Maybe because it’s so squealy.

You want to help or do everything I do. You follow me around, and when I tell you to go play with your toys, you protest. A lot.

When I read, you get out your copy of Bossypants by Tina Fey and sit next to me.

When I put makeup on in the morning, you get your stool and choose a lip gloss and ask me to use “the big brush” on your face.

When I make dinner, you drag your stool into the kitchen to “help” with hopes that something sweet is made that you can lick.

We celebrated your birthday with pink and princesses, of course. You even wore your Elsa dress (and crown, and gloves) for your birthday party with Charlie on Saturday.

Your facial expressions are something of a legend around here. They are so over-the-top that I am reminded of Lucille Ball whenever you pull them. (Sidenote: We got a book about girls who changed the world and you pointed out Lucille Ball as your favorite).

You have a big voice, and while I don’t want you to lose the sass and courage to stand up for what you believe, I do wish you could reign it in when it’s about not loving what I made for dinner or wanting candy as a meal. (Sidenote: while I write this you are sitting on the floor with your arms crossed, quite angry because I told you we are having chicken for dinner, not a sandwich).

We are at the age of begging and NO! and all the questions and non-stop talking. SO MUCH TALKING. (Sidenote: you are talking to me right now and I don’t even know what it’s about, but you have said, “mom” at least a dozen times.)

You love to tell me that we are both “moms and girls” (you have Babycita, so I guess that makes you a mom) and that we are the same.

You hate to have your hair brushed, but you refuse to have it cut–or even trimmed.

You can count to 20 and recognize your name and can say MOST of the alphabet.

You love to sing and make me sing you “Row Row Boat” and “Jesus Loves Me” every time I tuck you in at night.

You love books, but you want to read them your way and comment on every single picture and what you think the book should say.

Every single day you make me laugh. Every single day you drive me to the edge of my own sanity. I am so glad that you are my daughter.

Happy fourth birthday, my little Alicita.



Life Lessons

As parents, we want to teach our kids many things. We want them to be good people who are kind and think of others’ feelings and needs. We want them to be respectful, but assertive. We want them to speak up, but to also listen. We want them to be aware and active.

We can tell them all the the things we want, but we all know that experience is the best teacher.

Eddie loves fun. He loves to be social and try new things. He has eagerly tried soccer, baseball, swimming, discovery camps, scouts, and this year he wanted to try basketball.

Eddie is also not a natural athlete. Thankfully he is not like me–a complete disaster when it comes to any sort of sport that requires coordination (so everything but running). He could be good if he practiced and stuck with something, but he really just wants to be good enough to not suck and to have fun.

And that is about where he is, but when things get competitive and tough rather than just fun, he tends to quit.

Soccer got too serious–and had way too much running for his liking. He really loved baseball (and had an excellent coach one season), but once he was in Little League and not just rec ball where everyone got a chance to do everything, his interest waned. Swimming was fun until he got to the point where he had to work on strokes and do laps.

The past couple summers we have had a basketball hoop in our driveway, and Eddie enjoyed shooting hoops. He mentioned interested in learning how to play on a team, so we signed him up for 4 on 4 rec basketball this winter.

From the start it seemed like a good fit for him: there was lots of running, but only for 5 minutes of a 10 minute quarter because then they would sub out. He was willing to go hard for 5 minutes knowing he would get to rest after.

He admitted that he was not the best on the team, but that the drills were fun and he liked the kids on his team as well as his coaches.

His coaches pushed Eddie to learn the game and get better.

After the first game, it was evident than most of the boys needed some more practice, and that Eddie didn’t know much about the rules of basketball. Let’s just say there were a LOT of calls for double dribbling.

Each game after, though, we watched the team come together. They encouraged each other. They passed to each other. They dominated the court not because they were miles better than every team, but because they truly learned to work together and include all four boys on the court.

Eddie continued to do his best, but he was not the most talented on the team. Nonetheless, the coaches and team continued to included him so he could get the practice he needed.

Last week, after leaving Eddie in a little extra long after subs were called, he finally got his first basket. Everyone in the gym realized what was going on: the team continued to pass to him over and over. And when the ball went through the hoop, you would have thought he got the game-winning shot!

The gym erupted.

My eyes teared up not just because Eddie’s dimples were showing all the way from the court, but because everyone–the coaches, the team, the parents–were on Eddie’s side. The players were slapping him on the back like he won them the game.

After the game came another surprise to all of us.

The head ref gave out a “character” award for the most improved player on both teams playing that morning, and Eddie was the recipient for the yellow team.

Again, when his name was called, the gym went crazy. And I openly cried.

Eddie learned more about teamwork and supporting people from his basketball team than anything Cortney and I could ever tell him. Experiencing what it feels like to work hard and be recognized for doing your best and improving–even if you aren’t the star of the team–is something only experience could teach him.

I’m proud of Eddie because he is so willing to try new things. It’s not ever without whining that he wishes he didn’t sign up for it (he is a bit of a homebody and doesn’t love to have to give up couch time to go to practice or a game). Once he gets to practice or the game, though, his mood usually changes and he gets into it.

Basketball taught Eddie that he can do hard things. He can grow and improve with practice. And just because you are not the best on the team, does not mean that you are not an important part of the team.

This is what youth sport and activities are all about.

How to Love on Someone Through Treatment

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve had a bunch of people message me that someone they love is about to go through or is currently going through a cancer diagnosis and needs treatment. They all want to know what was the most helpful thing that was done for me and/or my family while we were deep in the trenches. In fact, I have been asked so many times, I decided to write it all down in my notebook and turn it in to a blog post.

The day of my lumpectomy: May 10, 2018

Meals: This is the one we think of first, right? Especially if we live close or are in a community with the person (church, work, neighborhood, etc). Meals can be GREAT and we loved the ones we got, but ask first. And then don’t be discouraged if the person says they don’t need one. Cooking or baking might be your love language, but in our case, we have picky eaters and honestly, visitors stressed me out. We had a schedule people could sign up on if they wanted to provide a meal, and we weren’t afraid to be specific about what our family would actually eat.

Snacks: Even though meals were sort of overwhelming, snacks were not! We got some awesome deliveries of snacks for the kids (both healthy and fun), an edible arrangement (I ate most of that because FRUIT!), and other treats in care packages. These are great because they can be dropped on a porch or sent in the mail and no one feels like they have to entertain you (or put on pants to answer the door), AND they can be consumed gradually.

Also beer and wine on my doorstep were never a sad thing. Because yes, you can still drink when you’re going through chemotherapy (or at least I could. Just not on the day of treatment–not that I wanted to. Ugg.)

The Mother’s Day Basket my school sent after my surgery.

Cards and notes: If you live far away or you aren’t super close with someone, cards and notes are the way to go. I think sometimes people think, “who cares about a card?” But I am here to tell you that every card or note sent to me (snail mail is really the best) or even every email or private message I received, I kept. They are all tucked in a bag under my bed. When things got really shitty, I would re-read them. Or just hold the weight of them because it reminded me that I went through all those minds and hearts enough for them to specifically take time to send it.

This was all of them as of my last chemo treatment. I have added more to this pile!

Gift Cards: If you want to go beyond the card, but meals are not your thing or an option, gift cards are the way to go. People want to feed you and your family when you are out of commission, and that is a GREAT thing! We got TONS of gift cards to local restaurants that have take out or eat in, that way we could choose when and how we wanted our meals. Another reason this was great was because some days that we thought would be fine, were very not fine and the gift cards were there for those unplanned inability to prepare food. Plus everyone could get what they like. And the ones to ice cream or dessert places? Well those were just fun treats!

We were also sent gift cards for non-food stuff–especially for our kids (Target, the local toy store, activities, etc.) These were true gifts for our kids in the middle of a pretty scary, uncertain summer. All three dealt with my chemotherapy differently, and the kindness of both friends and strangers sustained them and gave them things to look forward to outside of seeing mom comatose.

Shipt or some other service: I swear I am not getting compensated for this, and actually we turned down the offer twice before one friend finally said, “too bad, this is what we want to gift you.” Shipt was so helpful for grocery shopping/delivery, that we renewed it for a full year after our gifted subscription ran out.

Cozy, fun things: I would be remiss not to mention the thoughtful gifts people sent. Earbuds for chemo (there are quite a few loud-talking elderly people there), blankets (chemo patients get COLD fast), hats, fuzzy socks, notebooks and pens, books (even though I couldn’t read during chemo, books are always a comfort to me), music to listen to at chemo, Bible verses, coffee mugs, tea, the list goes on! None of them were needs…or even wants I knew I had! But when they showed up, they comforted me.

Stuff that made me feel pretty: When you go through cancer treatment, you do not feel glamorous, let alone pretty. You feel like you are crawling through life. So when cute hats (that had SPF or were warm), lotions, make-up stuff, nail polish (no manicures or pedicures when you are doing chemo, so you have to do them yourself…or have a husband who will do it), even flavored lip balm or lip glosses showed up, it may have seemed frivolous, but to me it gave me back a little of my femininity. It made me feel pretty again.

Take The Kids: This is a tricky one. One of the best things people did for us was arrange fun childcare for our kids while I was at my worst. The tricky part is we had many offers, but only took up a handful of people on this because we wanted our kids to feel comfortable and natural and not like they were being sent away to someone they don’t know. Our kids were not just well-cared for, they had FUN while I felt like garbage. Some of their best memories of the summer were from the times they spent with friends and family while I was at my lowest. This helped me get the rest I needed because I knew my kids were having a ball.

Flowers: Who doesn’t love flowers? Again, this one seems like something everyone would do, but it’s not. I received some beautiful arrangements sent from professional places, but people also brought vases filled from their gardens or the farmer’s market. Since I couldn’t go outside much, it felt good to smell the fresh flowers in the house.

Ask them out: Ask them to do things when they are feeling good. Get fun stuff on their calendar. This was HUGE for me. I needed things to look forward to so I could remember that it wouldn’t always suck. We went to a minor league baseball game with friends (that I thought was going to back out of, but didn’t and I am glad about it), a Pearl Jam concert, and I got my make-up done with a friend. We also went to a cottage with my parents for a long weekend. Doing stuff when I wasn’t “sick” was necessary to my recovery. I took it slow and I made sure to rest, but I did things. This was crucial for my mental health too!

And lastly, just be there. Make sure they know they can tell you that they feel like shit and that you won’t try to talk them out of that (because you can’t. They just have to go through it). Be there when they are feeling good and help them celebrate that too.

The Names We Give Them

Edward Steven
Edward Bear
Eddie Bear
Number One
Brother Bear

Charles Thomas
Charlie Bird
Bird Dog
Charlie Tom
Buddy boo
Number Two
Birdie Boo
Brother Bird
Middle Child

Alice Katherine
Alice Beans
Bean Dip
Beansy Girl
Beanie Boo
B Girl
Allie Buckets
Pickle Pants
Little Sister
Sister Bear

Sluiter Sibs
Sluiter kids
Team Sluiter
Sluiter Crew
Cortney Sluiter Family

Whatever we call them, they are our favorite three people on this Earth.

Photographs by Erin Barkel Photography

PSA: Follow Doctor’s Orders

My Timehop app reminded me that one year ago today was my annual physical. “Annual” is used loosely here since I had not been in for a physical since Alice was born in 2015. I made the appointment because I was turning 40 and figured that was a good age to make sure everything was working like it was supposed to.

Look at that great hair!

I also knew that my doctor would probably order some blood work to check stuff that hadn’t been checked since before Alice was born (thyroid, cholesterol, etc) as well as a mammogram because I have family history and 40 seems to be the magic number for having your boobs checked.

I was right: blood work and mammogram were ordered, my mental health was discussed, and refills on my antidepressant were called in.

My mammogram was schedule for March–right before my 40th birthday.

After my breast cancer diagnosis, many of the nurses commented on how lucky it was that I actually went and had my mammogram done. I couldn’t believe it–who wouldn’t go get a test done that their doctor prescribed?

It wasn’t luck that got me to my mammogram; it was my (and Cortney’s) firm belief in preventative health care. Get regular check-ups. Call the doctor when you feel yucky. Do the tests (and vaccines) that doctors recommend.

It wasn’t luck. It was common sense.

I am thankful for our common sense because I am alive today because of it.

My doctor did a breast exam, didn’t feel anything unusual, but ordered the mammogram anyway because I was turning 40 and had family history.

Had I not followed through, and I waited until I noticed something was wrong, my prognosis would have been so, so much worse.

Consider this your Public Service Announcement: take care of yourself by getting regular check-up and following doctor advice.

Preventative care saves lives, yo.


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