take care of yourself

Life has gotten bus(ier) and time has slipped past me and suddenly it’s been a while. This weekend Thomas will be 8 months old. I’ll do a “quarterly” update on him then – a 6-8 month update.

Recently my husband joined the local volunteer fire department while also functioning as the only technician in his work exchange, as his fellow tech had gotten a promotion and the replacement hadn’t been hired yet. Needless to say we saw very very little of eachother at the beginning of the summer – he had fireman’s classes 2 evenings per week and was working late the other nights to keep up. He’s now passed his written exam and we have another couple months before the practices start up again for his fire training. And, finally, the new tech was hired and took some of the work strain. Now I see him at a relatively decent time most nights. Anyway, long story short, I was  basically single-momming it for a couple months and couldn’t sqeaze in blogging. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about cancer. Again.

Previous to my oncology job I did family practice – very general wellness, acute, and chronic care. In my training I learned there are certain times you go hunting for cancer. Luckily, our country has some decent cancer screening processes in place – mammograms, colonoscopies, even low-dose CT’s of the chest for long-time smokers. We know that typically finding cancer before it displays symptoms will lead to a better outcome. Sometimes this isn’t true, but commonly it is. We also know that cancer breaks the body in some common ways. It causes weight loss, fatigue, changes in lab values of the blood, persistent cough or unusual pain or bruising. When we have patients come in with these vague symptoms, we sometimes go searching for cancer, hoping we are wrong.

A little over a month ago my mother in law had been complaining to us on a phone call about her headaches and fatigue – she had just retired from her long-time job as a customer service rep and had been working part-time in a green house. She felt like the new job was just too hard on her and mentioned she was going to go to the chiropractor for her headaches. Now, I know my MIL well enough to know that she doesn’t go to the doctor very often. I also know she has a history of high blood pressure, so I told her that she should probably go to her doctor instead, since her headaches could be from uncontrolled BP. She sorta agreed. I felt like she wasn’t going to listen to me. I saw her a couple weeks later at a family reunion. She looked tired, pale, and grouchy. I was busy chasing kids and didn’t broach her health with her. 3-4 days later my husband’s sister mentioned in a text message that her mom was not very talkative at her daughter’s birthday party, but that her “iron was low.” I replied, “good, she must have went to the doctor.” My SIL said, “No, she went to the chiropractor, but she tried to give blood and they wouldn’t let her because her iron was an 8 or something.”

Now, let me pause and speak to the fact that the common person is fairly medically uneducated – my MIL especially so. She goes to the doctor about once per year to get her pills refilled. She can’t tell you the names of the medications she takes. She doesn’t seem to care AT ALL what type of diet she eats or if she ever exercises. And I had to badger her into a mammogram a few years ago after she turned 60. I told her to have a colonoscopy, too, but that was far too much for her.

Back to the text message convo with my sister in law. After I read that my MIL’s hemoglobin (they don’t measure your “iron level” routinely, FYI) was an 8 (it should be at least a 12-13 for an adult female), I promptly panicked. I explained with successive quick messages that she needed to get into the clinic NOW, that anemia is not a solo disease, but the symptom of a disease and that she needed a colonoscopy ASAP because in someone her age colon cancer was a very common culprit.

She went to the clinic. She saw a nurse practitioner who she had never seen before, but who prayed with her, which meant so much to my MIL. The next week she had a diagnostic colonoscopy – she did NOT want to. She asked me why, what they were looking for. Again, speaking to the medically uneducated nature of the common person, she wasn’t even sure what this was for and so I told her, but I didn’t say the word cancer – she was already worried, no reason to make it worse. Last Wednesday my husband and I waited in the room with her husband, who is not the most supportive person in any situation to anyone. And the surgeon confirmed what I already knew deep down – she has colon cancer, and the tumor was the source of her blood loss. She had scans completed that, THANK THE GOOD, GOOD LORD, did not show metastatic involvement to the liver or lungs, but that lymph nodes are likely involved. She has a colon resection scheduled next week, and if there is cancer detected in the lymph nodes she will be recommended to complete chemotherapy, which she will HATE and probably not tolerate very well. Anyway, please keep her in your thoughts in prayers next Friday – pray for a safe surgery and a good path report, or at least grace and mercy in acceptance of whatever the results show.

And for the love, take advantage of your annual physical exams and labs and get a colonoscopy starting at age 50 (these wellness things should be included at no additional cost with most insurances with the ACA changes). She’s 64 and never had one. This cancer has likely been there for at least 2 years, as it turns out she’s been losing weight and having symptoms of anemia for that long. Colon cancer grows slowly most of the time, I just wish we could have caught it sooner. But, like I said, it’s not metastatic now, so we’re counting blessings for that. Life is short, take care of yourself.



Death, the death of others, has never really bothered me. My first experience with death was my grandmother’s. She was someone I saw nearly every day. I was 5, almost 6, and it was 8 days after my baby brother was born. She only met him once while he was still in the hospital, and was killed in a head on car accident a few days later. I remember being sad, but more than anything being concerned about my dad’s sadness. It broke my heart to watch him hurt and grieve his mother’s abrupt death. But even then, it didn’t scare me. It just seemed like a thing that happened.

When I was in school no one died. I went to a small school, and the last death of a student happened the year before I entered kindergarten, the next happed 14 years later, the year after I graduated.

Then I went into nursing. I still vividly remember the first death I encountered as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home, Ruth’s death. But deaths in the nursing home were often a sweet release of a soul trapped in a broken body. They were often blessings.

I lost elderly aunts and uncles. I graduated from nursing school and experienced it from the perspective of a nurse in a hospital. I saw traumatic deaths. Tragic, tragic unexpected deaths. Slow, hospice-type deaths. Stillbirths…SIDS…

I cried. I got mad. But in the end, we all die. And I never really, really took it personally.


Then 10 months ago I took a position in oncology. My opinion of cancer has generally been a distant one. The only close cancer death was my very good friend’s mother when I was 10, but she handled it with such grace that I sometimes forgot her mother had died. And then she herself battled lymphoma, but she crushed it, like it was no big thing. So it was no big thing. I didn’t really understand cancer… I mean, I got the pathophysiologic meaning of cancer, but I did not get what it did to people’s actual lives. And even in starting my new position providing care for these patients, I still didn’t get it. I knew that these metastatic cancer patients would die. And it would be sad. But I didn’t really get it.

And then, I met my first patient born in the same decade as myself. It felt as though I was punched in the stomach. I suddenly felt my mortality deeply. I developed a new sense of anxiety that I had not ever possessed. It was my mortality talking.

You see, cancer happens to children, yes. And “old” people, yes. But when you are 20 or 30-something you are busy. Busy getting educated, planning, married, procreating, moving, planning some more. You are worried about student loans and mortgages and car seat safety profiles. Consumed by your children’s well-beings, maybe even your parents’ well-beings, but you trust your body will carry on at status quo until you babies grow up and graduate and you have time for cancer. It is a time when your boobs are for breastfeeding. Your uterus for baking babies. And your everything else needs to just do its damn job. Like digest chocolate and process caffeine and get you through each day.

But it’s not always so. Even at 30-something your body can betray you. Your DNA can mess up, your cells can break, and those broken cells can spread around and try to kill you. Likely, you won’t know it’s happening. You’ll be tired because your life makes you tired. And you’ll lose weight and cheer because, well, thank God it’s a miracle. Except then there’s a weird symptom or sign. A doctor appointment. And a complete workup. And panicking. Suddenly you are smacked in the face with your mortality.

I have spent sooooo much time ponding my mortality since I saw the 1980’s-born patient. The patient with little children. And a spouse that is trying to keep their shit together, but if you look them in the eyes, they are freaking out. They are bartering with God. They are trying not to imagine life without the person they love, the person they picked and planned a life with, but simultaneously planning how the hell they are going to raise those precious babies without one of their parents there.

I wonder which is worse… having metastatic cancer, or being married to it? Dying or being left behind? I have no idea. I don’t want to know.

That patient opened my eyes to what was really happening in front of me to all of my patients. The young, the older. The prepared and those getting through each day in a veil of denial. We are all dying. Some of us very, very insidiously. Some of us glaringly obviously. Some of us tragically fast. Each body’s life ends in death. I have faith about heaven… but I have small babies, and my fear of death right now is massive. The fear of my husband’s death is massive. I don’t want to leave them without a mommy or a daddy… at least not until they are capable adults. And worse yet, I cannot fathom either of them leaving us. But it could happen. It does happen… every single day… to someone else.


I’m sorry for such a somber post. But if you kept reading until the end, please take a moment to consider your life in all of its glory. Tell people you love them, forgive people who have wronged you and apologize to those you’ve wronged. Life is short, sometimes so very short. And you will die. And I will die. But I want to go knowing I’ve done all I can in this life. And I want the same for you.

3 months

The fourth trimester is over and my baby is a quarter of a year old already. Thomas is so laidback and sweet. He is happy almost always, I feel so lucky to be his mommy. (Of course I am lucky to be Jackson’s mommy, too).

IMG_2017Thomas has accomplished some great milestones this month. He sleeps through the night at least as much as he doesn’t, probably more now. He accomplished a back-to-belly and belly-to-back roll… at daycare. I still have yet to see it, of course. He has so much core strength we had to put the bouncer seat away because he would try to sit right up and out of it. Now he chills in the exersaucer… which Jackson didn’t try out until he was at least 4-5 months old in my memory. I should look at pictures to confirm that. Thomas also tolerates tummy time pretty well, especially if there is a person at his level to have a conversation with.




IMG_2043He eats like a tank. I have gotten a pretty good nursing/pumping routine down, although weekends always throw that off. LOL… I had to wear a swim suit last weekend, and I just grabbed one without trying it on. Terrible idea, as I am definitely more busty than normal right now. So embarrassing.

And a very important milestone was yesterday, as we welcomed Thomas to the Church through baptism. It was a great spring day with both of our families in attendance. So special. God has some big plans for this little boy. I can still smell the chrism oil on his head, and I could just sit and cuddle him and smell him all night long.

It can’t go without mentioning that Jackson has really blossomed in his role as big brother. He will be 2.5 this week, and while my heart breaks a little thinking about how he is growing up, I am also so proud him… most of the time. But I can’t lie, sometimes I just want to hide from him, you know, for peace and quiet🙂 one can only handle so many conversations about cows and cars in one day🙂

So, life as usual in the McMuffin house.

And, in case you were wondering, I am really enjoying Lent (as weird as that sounds). I have been faithful abstaining from Mtn. Dew, Starbucks, and Facebook (turns out you can still post to FB via IG even if you are not actually logged in, so still able to post pics of my sweet babies, just haven’t seen any likes or comments, haha). I have been really bad at daily devotionals, but found a good solution in getting devotionals and meditations emailed to my inbox daily and finding time every day for prayer. And went to confession for the first time in years… felt so good for my soul🙂 Hope Lent is treating all of you well also! Getting excited for Easter. Oh, and shockingly enough my hubby mentioned joining the Catholic church last night. I have never asked him to or pushed him that way, but he made a comment that it would be nice to have us all able to be together in church, participating at the same level. Talk about melting my heart. I hope he continues to have that on his heart and that God calls him to it if that is what should happen. Maybe next Easter we’ll have another celebration of joining the church.



Since having children I have, for the lack of a better explanation, been in some semblance of survival mode. Sometimes worse than others. Now? Now is pretty survival-based. I love my kiddos and life so much, despite the level of calamity it brings, but I have lost touch with some of those things that have intentionally and historically been my ways to deal. Including my time with God. My prayers now are often, “please let Jackson fall asleep easily tonight,” “please let me arrive safely to work,” “please let my husband have a good day,” “please protect my baby at daycare.” A lot of asking. Not as much thanksgiving as I like.

As a cradle Catholic, Lent has been a time of sacrifice. A time of giving up and abstinence of the something. Eating fish on Fridays. Solemn masses. Then as an adult I fell off the wagon of participating in Lent. I ate cheeseburgers, drank my soda, and did not care. I think I felt like I was working night shifts, that surely was enough sacrifice. I know, I know… it wasn’t enough.

This year I am being called to try again. To participate.  To sacrifice. To be more intentional in my life. And by stating that here I am asking for accountability.

I have decided to make changes, some I hope to be permanent or semi-permanent, in all aspect of my life. Spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical. I have logged off of Facebook to get more real face time with my family and friends. I haven’t had a Mountain Dew in days (I started that a little before Lent so as to not have a caffeine breakdown immediately). Stopped buying Starbucks. Started reading Rediscovering Jesus by Mathew Kelly and completing the Waiting with the Word, a mothering-focused Lenten scripture study. We plan to attend mass as a family every week – which may actually be the hardest thing, because it requires more than just my attention and sacrifice and patience, but Jesse agreed it was important.

That’s the thing about Lent, it should be a time to abstain and give, but also a time to reflect on why. And in knowing why, make new, good or at least better habits. Give up sinful or wasteful things long term, because if you (I) can make it 40 days, you (I) can likely make it 400. 4,000. Forever. Is it sinful to drink Mountain Dew and Starbucks? Nope. But being cranky without caffeine isn’t nice. And drinking water is just plain better for my body. Will I log back into Facebook? Yes. That is a main source of communication for the entire planet nowadays. BUT… maybe in the next few weeks I will teach my brain that what is important is my family and my life, the one that is in living color in front of my face… not the one I post on Facebook or the one you post on Facebook. It is HARD to take a 2 year old to church, but it is crucial. It is worth the hard and will teach us all critical things.  And most importantly, if I can lean on Jesus to help me make these changes, to help me see the bigger picture, and to help me draw my family closer to him, that is the greatest gift Lent can give me or anyone.

So, please pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.


There is something wonderful about catching up with an old friend. The kind of friend you don’t have to explain the back story to, because she knows it. The kind of friend that doesn’t care if I showered, put on make up, hell, even changed out of the clothes I wore to bed the night before.

I’ve known her since I was 5, buddies in kindergarten group B. We grew up doing so many things together… 4-H, FFA, basketball, volleyball, choir, pretty much every academic class. She was better at math, did public speaking, worked with her parents’ cattle business. I liked English more, ran track, was a cheerleader, and played an instrument in the band. We weren’t identical – she was brunette, I was blonde – but we were the same size, (except shoes, my big boats could never fit in her size 8s) shared clothes, shared secrets, navigated our way to adulthood and graduation together – her the valedictorian, I the salutatorian. Then we went to college and our lives, like so many do, drifted apart. But we kept in touch. Became Facebook friends (because we were actually in college when Facebook started). Her husband finished grad school, I finished grad school. We texted congrats across the state when we had our babies.

Luckily, with my family’s recent move, we are now less than an hour apart! Yesterday we had a great morning catching up, covering every topic under the sun. She read books to Jackson while I nursed Thomas, and Jackson fell asleep in her arms. She hadn’t met him in person until yesterday, but it was so precious to see her mothering my babies, just as I would do for hers (who I have yet to meet in person). I am so grateful to have her, to have all of my sweet friends. So grateful to carry on friendship with this beautiful woman and a few others. I love that we moved “back home” and I am close to these women again (except T, sorry I left you on the west side!). Being a new girl in town, I am meeting other women and moms. They are nice, but they likely won’t be one of the dearest.

To J, M, N, K, D and T… Happy Valentines Day to the friends I love.