The Light that Will Shine Forever

Hello everyone! For starters I should quickly explain that I am not Julie. I am her son, Alex, and I wanted to give an update on her blog. I also apologize for the length, a lot to share!

I asked her awhile ago why she has not posted anything in a long time and she responded by telling me she is too tired, but God is still giving her guidance and she has drafted posts. I could understand why she would not want to dedicate a lot of effort to her blog, giving the treatments she was undergoing and just battling cancer itself. Her posts clearly depict the battle with cancer she faces. Her posts, however, do not give an overall view of my mother. I believe there are so many other battles she fought besides cancer and depression.

She fought a major battle with borderline tendencies. I am so grateful she won that battle, as suicide is common with borderline.

Mom also battled poor relationships. Significant others were just the surface of the many relationships my mom battled through, but she won each one of them. Repairing broken relationships, and forgiving all.

She battled being virtually a single parent. (Side bit, in no way is my father a bad father, he is an amazing father and I treasure our relationship as much as mine and mom’s, but that does not mean that he is without faults)

She always had her focus on me. I will never forget the day she told me she was depressed and contemplated suicide a few years ago. I had come home from college and she explained it to me. I shared with her the depression I felt around the same time. My step-father had a bunch of knives upstairs in our home. I remember one night after a particularly miserable day, I sat at the top of the stairs with one of the knives that had seemed to be calling to me for the past few days. I remember holding against neck, and then a thought came:”What is mom going to do to when she sees her only child dead, laying upstairs?” I quickly put the knife away and went to bed, happy to live on knowing mom is with me.

She saved my life that night, and I told her this. She told me how I saved her from suicide by being her focus and when she would get depressed she would think of me. We made a pact that night, neither one of us was allowed to commit suicide or the other would too. I remember the feeling of finally having something to live for, that being mom. She was now MY focus. I promised myself I would keep my mom alive forever, regardless of the obstacle. Unfortunately, I was naïve and that promise was eventually broken.

Mom passed away early yesterday morning around 4 a.m. and lost her one and only battle, cancer.

I am thankful beyond words to be her son, and to have such a wonderful, courageous, strong, and amazing person to raise me. She will always be with me, in my heart, in my soul, and in my thoughts. I know she touched each one of her readers at least once with a post.

There was nothing I physically wanted from my mom. I did not want money, or her jewelry or anything like that, I wanted something else, something more memorable to me, something I can build and share her legacy. I wanted a way to share her story, her battles, and her amazing victories. I wanted this blog.

Although I am nowhere near as prolific writer as mom (She disagreed and said I’d be a great writer, she always encouraged me), I plan on keeping this blog alive in memory of her and will continue to publish her stories and battles, and some of my own observations of her and those battles. I hope one day the world will know what a truly amazing person my mother was. This is my way of keeping that broken promise, by keeping my mother alive forever through this blog.

I love you mom, and I know you are with God in the heaven you envisioned smiling down upon us all and you will forever and ever be remembered. I love you mom, and you’ll always be my snuggle bug. 

John 11:23-26- Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

I Am Thankful For…..


wind-3I am thankful for the feeling of wind blowing through my hair.

Last winter, I went through some heavy-duty chemo treatments. There was a chance I would lose my hair. This news was bothersome. I’ve always had long hair, I mean always. Long hair was my thing. Hair dressers always complimented it. Friends envied it. I loved it and I definitely did not want to lose it. It seemed like a cruel joke, as if feeling bad wasn’t enough.

It’s hard to prepare for losing your hair. I’d like to say I was brave and stoic about it, but there were times I was not. About two months into the chemo treatments, it began to fall out. When I looked in the mirror, I started to see more and more of my scalp. When I washed it, long strands stuck to my hands in big clumps. It was difficult to remember that it was only hair and that it would grow back as I watched it going down the drain.

After finishing the chemo treatments, it did start to grow back. There was a problem, though, with that post-chemo hair style. I did not lose all of it. I had new hair growing in amongst the long hair I did not lose. Try to picture it, a buzz cut with random sections of long hair all over my head. Not pretty. It was time to get it all one length.

When I had it cut, I didn’t get upset. I had grown a little less vain and was comfortable with the idea that long hair wasn’t going to be my thing anymore.  After the cutting, I looked in the mirror. I saw someone who looked completely different. I saw someone who was completely different.  Since losing my hair, I’ve allowed God to shine through me. I’ve allowed myself to trust Him and He gives me joy in return. I have gone through a transformation on the inside and it was showing on the outside.

Now that my hair is growing longer, I can feel it on my neck. It’s naturally wavy and I have to admit that it’s kind of cute. One day I was walking my dog and we turned a corner and headed straight into the wind. The feeling of the wind in my hair was odd, foreign and wonderful.  It felt like a victory. The past year has been rough with the surgeries and chemo. But, here I am, rebounding and stronger than I could have imagined.

One more thing to add to the list of things that God and I conquered together.

Jesus, teach me that anything can be taken away except for You. My life can change, my body can change, the people around me can change. But the one constant is You and Your love for me.

Fifty-Five Gifts

girl braveI haven’t had a chemo treatment since August 16th. Earlier this week, I found out that a few of my lymph nodes have started to increase in size again. I will start back with chemo next week. During my chemo vacation, my blood counts have been great and my CEA number has dropped. I was growing more and more optimistic and hoped for a longer break. I am disappointed.

Since my last chemo treatment, God gave me 55 gifts. Fifty-five days of feeling free. I let myself imagine life without cancer and I truly lived. I felt the sun on my face and I walked in the rain. I watched beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I stopped and looked people in the eye and really listened to them. I spent time with friends and family. I laughed, a lot.

The status of my physical health moved to the back burner. People around me stopped asking how I felt or telling me not to overdo it. I enjoyed not thinking about how I was going to feel the next day because I knew I would feel good. I grew stronger, my brain was quicker and I began to feel like me again. The old Julie with the dry, sarcastic sense of humor was welcomed back.

The news of more chemo has made me sad. I want to be free from the chains that come with cancer treatment.  I feel like I was let out to play, but now I have to go back inside. I’m a little shaken and I have cried a few times these past few days. But, I feel God all around me. He whispers to me that He is near and will never leave me.  

I’m thankful for the 55 gifts. I lovingly embraced each one. There are no promises that life will be easy and I accept that this is the path I’m on. There is no point in asking why because God is in control. He knows I can handle it. And, He’s given me another opportunity to share my faith. I will let His light shine through me and I will continue to tell my story

I will take up this battle again. He will give me the strength, tenacity, courage or whatever I need. God is bigger than cancer and I have Him on my side. I win regardless of what happens. 

I am not afraid, I have nothing to be afraid of.

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Cracks

cracks-girl-lying-downToday, I found something I had written 20 years ago. As I read it, I found it fascinating. I can see the early tracks of depression in my thoughts. At the time, I didn’t realize where these thoughts would lead me. I can see I was lost but still looking for a way out. I still had hope. I was still praying to God and asking for His help. Yet, I can also see the cracks in my spirit. For me, depression built slowly over time. It took many years for it to finally break me. When my thoughts began to turn darker and I thought about suicide, I wish I had reached out for help then and not have waited so many years. This is what I wrote:

Is it really that important to be with someone?  If I don’t stand by me, who will? I haven’t done that in a long time. I react, not act.

People are incredibly deep sources of heartache. They are unreliable and selfish. Is it really necessary to have people in my life or am I afraid and avoiding the risk of pain? Why would I want to put myself in a potentially painful situation? Plain and simple, people hurt.

No one close to me has died, yet I have witnessed many types of death. All the way back  to when I was young, parts of my heart and soul have died. Some resurrected, some still gone. All those secret places that beg me to remember and feel. I’d rather cover it up and look the other way. Why God? Why have you decided not to give me someone to lean on? Why must I stand so very alone? Please stand by me. I need to stop jumping from one distraction to another. Act, don’t react. Julie – you know she knows what is best, who else do you have?

God, I know you must be observing this. I want to breathe with no weight on my chest and not feeling bogged down. I want to feel alive. I want to feel.

God, help me to be my own best friend. You’ve got to love me, God. If I were to die, would it merely be an inconvenience to others? If I were gone, things would easily be smoothed over and life would quickly move on. Please God, surely I’m not worth that little. Do you see me? I’ve looked everywhere for answers.

I look back and remember the pain I had then.  That Julie seems so innocent and oblivious to what is to come. I’d give anything to go back and help her avoid it. But if I did, I wouldn’t have experienced the depth of God’s love for me. The deeper the darkness, the greater the miracle.

Jesus, teach me to keep a close eye on myself and the people in my life. Keep me from ignoring any warning signs because I think they’re not important or temporary. Help me to remember we are all amazing creations. We’re here to make a difference and build each other up.

I Want To Be Like You

pointing-babyBack when I was fighting (and at the time losing) my battle with depression, I didn’t like me. I didn’t want to be me. I thought I was a mistake and forgotten by God. I believed I was unlovable and a failure at life.

There were many people in my life I did want to be. Strong people who spoke their minds. Confident people who always said the right things. Brave people who shared their beliefs, regardless if they would cause controversy. Successful people who worked hard and reaped the benefits. Optimistic people who were not afraid of the future.

Since beating depression, I now know that God doesn’t make mistakes and I am meant to be here. He made me on purpose, just as I am, His beautiful creation. I no longer want to be anyone else, I only want to be like Jesus. But, there are qualities some people have that are like rays of sunshine shining through them.  They have opened up a window to their soul, allowing God’s light to shine through them. They are very special because God chose them, they listened to Him and He is using them to reach others and provide hope.

I know one such person. I worked with her for a while and we got to know each other. She is a positive person who always smiles. She has lots of energy. She speaks openly about her love for God. She’s one of those people who when she walks into a room, others are drawn to her.

After a few years she moved on to another job. She regularly posted on Facebook and I kept up with her there. Last month, we directly communicated with each other for the first time in years. I learned that she is fighting stage 4 thyroid cancer. She has endured surgeries, radiation and many trips to the emergency room. I was shocked. After reading her many posts, I never would have guessed what she was going through. She posts a lot of pictures on Facebook and her beautiful, smiling face is in each one. She posted a selfie while lying in a hospital bed. She was grinning and surrounded by a happy glow. The only reason I knew she was in the hospital is she mentioned it in her comments.

She is the perfect example of how God shines through us. I know she trusts and believes in God. I know she prays regularly and has a close relationship with God. I think many of us know people who shine just a little brighter. They have a different kind of courage and an unshakable faith. I want to spend time with these folks and get to know them better.  I know being around them brings me closer to God.

Acts 13:47 – “The Lord gave us the following order: ‘I have made you a light for the nations so that you would save people all over the world.'”

 

Human Gifts

giftA few weeks ago, my husband and I had a huge garage sale. We probably had enough stuff for two huge garage sales. We made a decent amount of money from the sale, but the most valuable rewards we received were all the people who came to the sale.

I had help from family members. They traveled a long way to be here. They worked and sweated (and sweated). They cooked meals, did laundry and went to the grocery store. They helped price and organize all the things we had to get rid of. They hauled out furniture and climbed in attics. They did these things cheerfully and always asking, “what else can we do?”.

I had help from two dear friends. Both have very busy lives, but they made time on a hot, August Saturday to help us. They are marketing geniuses and used these skills to sell many more things than I could have ever sold on my own. They were genuinely happy to help me with this unpleasant job. I hope that if the roles were reversed, I would be as giving as they were.

Neighbors came over, some of them we had never met before. Many knew about my health struggles. I received a lot of hugs, good wishes and prayers (and they bought things too!). I never would have thought that a garage sale could be used as an example of the kindness of people. People are quick to give love, they only need to have the opportunity.

One person, her name is Teresa, came to the sale. She spent a lot of time talking with my husband. During their conversation, he told her about my battle with cancer. After she paid him for the items she wanted, she drove away. Five minutes later, she came back. She pointed at me and asked to speak with me. She spoke in such a serious tone, I thought she was angry. She said as she was driving away, God urged her to come back and pray with me.  Teresa looked into my eyes and she knew what my fears about cancer were. She told me to stop being afraid and then prayed with me. It was a surreal. All the people around me were bringing items out to sell, talking about prices and chatting with each other. Yet Teresa and I stood in the presence of God. I knew that even in the normality of a garage sale, God found me and reminded me He is in control.

The garage sale was something I dreaded for months. But through it, I saw the many priceless human gifts I have in my life. Once again I have learned that whether I’m fighting cancer, dealing with depression or having a garage sale, God can turn any situation or obstacle into a lesson on how awesome He is.

Jesus, teach me that nothing is more important or valuable than the people in my life. Teach me to love and cherish them the way you love and cherish me.

 

The Cancer Cringe

cringe manThe reactions I receive when I tell people about my cancer diagnosis are almost always kind and hopeful. I especially love the hugs and prayers people offer to me. I make a point to study the different reactions. I know cancer has such a scary stigma. Sometimes just saying “cancer” makes people cringe.

When I was getting radiation therapy, my oncologist recommended I use pure aloe vera on the skin that was getting directly hit with the death rays. I went to a grocery store that sold all kinds of natural products. As I stood in the aisle trying to figure out which bottle of goo was pure aloe vera, a chatty woman came and stood beside me. She started talking about all the many, many uses of aloe vera. She then asked me what I was going to use it for. I smiled and explained to her my plans for the aloe vera. Then as if on cue, she gave me that cringe.

During my chemo treatments, I carried a chemo pump for 4 days each week. I was given a horrid bag/fanny pack to carry it in. If I had to carry poison around with me, at least I was going to carry it in something pretty. I decided to go shopping for a purse. In one store, an associate eyed me curiously as I stood, trying to figure out which purse the pump fit in the best (and was appropriately cute). She walked up to me and asked if I needed help. I explained to her I needed a purse for my chemo pump. She looked at me blankly, then realization set in and then the cringe.

The cringe is humorous to me. It’s like I have a magic power that can strike fear in innocent people. I understand why people are afraid of cancer, Not too long ago, I was one of those people. Now that I’ve been on the other side, I’m not afraid of cancer at all. Cancer is just a bunch of confused cells and my body doesn’t know how to get rid of them correctly. My body may be challenged by the disease, but my mind and spirit are steady and strong.

Depression taught me that my brain can get sick. When my brain was sick, my spirit weakened. Without the strength of my mind and spirit, I wanted to die. Cancer is not allowed to affect my mind and I don’t have cancer of the spirit. Depression robbed me of hope and the will to fight. Cancer weakens my body, but it can’t break my will. I laugh at cancer and its attempts to bring me down. I have the power of God on my side and He is much bigger than any cancer.

Ephesians 3:16 – I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.

 

I Should Vanish

Like many people who struggle with depression, I did get to a turning point. It’s difficult to look up for light when it’s safer to stay in the dark. It’s difficult to allow hope in when you feel so hopeless. During my struggle several years ago, I did begin to allow a little space in the darkness for hope. As I read what I wrote years ago, it’s interesting to see that hope was all around me. I had to learn to trust it.

fading figure in fog

Let’s be clear, I had no business being born. God, I really think you made a mistake. You may prove me wrong at some point, but as of now I’ve made no impact. Without a doubt, I could vanish and besides my son, nobody would skip a beat. I think my son would be OK but it’s the control freak in me that thinks nobody can take care of him better than I can. There’s a thought to hold on to, being a control freak is what keeps me going, keeps me alive.

I see the pity in the eyes of people when they look at me. They know something is wrong with me, but it’s too uncomfortable to talk about depression or mental illness. I wish I could tell them what I’m struggling with and not feel embarrassed. Having to hide that I want to die is exhausting. I wonder what kind of support I would get if they realized this disease is deadly. Even though they may not understand what I’m going through, I know their acceptance would help me.

Today, two people asked me when my next “appointment” was. That’s great. I wish I knew what kind of vibe I was putting out there that would cause people to ask when I’m scheduled to see my therapist again. I used to think saying I’m seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness. It means I can’t fix what’s wrong with me on my own. I don’t have a physical ailment, it’s only a problem in my head. I’m not strong enough or smart enough to get over something that many think is imaginary.

But lately, I have begun to like the sound of having a therapist. It means there is a chance that someone can help this little girl, teenager, single mom, lost daughter, lonely sister. Maybe someone can help me bring all these pieces together and be normal and strong again.

I do think someday I’ll feel better. Right now, just sitting at the bottom with my head down is OK.

Mathew 5:1 – 5; Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 

I Was a Ghost

My family went on vacations when I was a little girl. They were the long drive to somewhere kind of vacations. On one trip, I remember not wanting to get out of the car. We would drive for 7 or 8 hours, but I wouldn’t get out until we reached our destination or stopped for the night. Throughout the day, we’d stop for gas and bathroom breaks, but I refused to get out of the car.

I wouldn’t get out because I was afraid of being left behind. I didn’t think my parents would leave me on purpose, I knew they would never do that. I was afraid they would forget about me. My mom would ask me several times if I needed to go to the bathroom. There was no way I would leave the security of the car. I wasn’t sad or upset. I was content. I would have felt bad if they drove on and after a while, realized I wasn’t in the car. Then they would have to come back and get me and I didn’t want to cause that much trouble.

JCA Teen 1

Fast forward to when I was 19. That’s me to the right. I believed I was invisible.  I wish I could go back in time and tell her she is perfect. That she mattered and deserved the best. She didn’t have to settle. That it is OK to believe in herself.  I would tell her to find out what she wanted first and to stop looking for her identity in someone else.  

Little girls need to know how important they are. They need to be told early on that they are precious and deeply loved. Without knowing this, they will spend years searching for anything that will provide that feeling. They will look to many things to make up for what is missing. Through my teenage years and twenties, my goal was to be wanted.  I was a chameleon, changing and conforming to whoever I was around, hoping I would be seen as worthy of acceptance.

I was called a ghost. The definition of a ghost is the soul of a dead person, usually a vague form, wandering among living persons, a mere shadow or semblance; a trace. A ghost is exactly what I was. I changed my mind often and waffled on decisions. I wasn’t grounded in anything, I didn’t have substance. I didn’t feel like I had purpose. I felt like I was a mistake. When I was struggling with depression, I was a dead person. I was willing to give up me if that meant I would receive love in return.  

Today I know who I am. I am a mighty warrior for God. Sometimes the people close to you don’t know how to give you what you need. But God knows how. Look to him for your identity, you are His child. Look to Him for approval, He knows you’re perfect. Look to Him for love, His love is never-ending. Look to Him for purpose, He doesn’t make mistakes. You are here for a very special reason. Ask Him what that reason is.

Jesus, teach me to speak life to others. Everyone needs to be lifted up, give me the right words to do that. Allow your light to shine through me so others see how awesome you are.

 

Cancer Pain vs. Mental Pain

It’s been a rough few days. I’m not bouncing back as quickly as I’d like after the chemo treatment last week. Yet, each day is a little better than the one before and I can live with that. When I’m feeling the most pain, I ask myself which is easier to handle: this physical pain or mental pain from depression. Without a doubt, the physical pain. I’ll take a clear head with physical pain over depression with no physical pain anytime.

In the infusion room last week, a woman came in and sat in the chair across from me. While in the waiting room she had broken down into tears and was very upset. She was tired of hurting and wanted to quit. Anyone who has fought cancer can relate to how she felt. During the next few hours while I was getting my infusion, I watched her improve. She wasn’t given any medicine to make her feel better, she only received her usual chemo meds. But, her doctor sat with her and encouraged her. Her nurse came by and prayed with her. The infusion nurses regularly checked on her and cheered her on. A friend visited her and reminded her how strong and brave she was. When she left, she probably felt worse physically. I’m certain she felt mentally much better and would continue to fight.

I wish people suffering with depression could rally support around them like this. During the times I was close to suicide and wanted to quit, I struggled to find a thought or anything to hang on to that would stop me from following through. I can picture myself, alone, with a gun in my hand. If I had the same support I do today while fighting cancer, I can imagine my therapist visiting me and reminding me that I’m stronger than I think I am. Then a friend would hold my hand and let me know I’m not alone. Then a family member would hug me and pray with me. I can see them loving me and accepting me and my struggle. I can see me, allowing myself to feel hope.

lone swan

Depression is lonely, cancer is not. People struggling with depression need just as much support as someone fighting cancer. Don’t dismiss depression as a minor illness that easily goes away. Depression can be as deadly as cancer.

Jesus, teach me that people with mental illness are in desperate need of my support. Help me to see them and reach out to them. Let the hope that can only come from You shine through me.