5.30.19 💚 KWH

One phone call changed it all on 5/30/19. It was around 7ish in the morning and I was just about to take Kevin to the train. My phone rang and our social worker’s name flashed across the screen. In the realm of adoption, or at least with our social workers, phone calls were reserved for either really good news or really bad news.

After nearly 3 years of seemingly only bad news phones calls in our life, I knew it in my bones when I saw her name that this was the call that would change everything. This was finally going to be our very, very good news.

Sure enough, our birthmom was in labor and I was instructed to get to the hospital as quickly as I could. On one of the first phone calls we had about our match, the social worker told us that she’d want me to be in the delivery room with her. I kept my cool on the call, only to hang up and instantly burst into tears. It was my first sign that this was meant to be. One thing I took so hard after losing Hallie and our ability to have future biological children was that Kevin and I would never get to share that moment in the delivery room. That one still cuts hard today. While going through the adoption process, I knew it was far out of the ordinary to be included in that but I prayed for it over and over again. And there I was that morning, rushing to the hospital to be part of our son’s birth.

Kevin wasn’t far behind me! Waiting room 💚

Kelly William was born at 12:59pm, weighing 5lb 11oz. I watched as he took his first breaths and as he mustered together his tiny first cries. I watched as his birthmom, through her own tears, asked me to step in and cut his umbilical chord. As Kelly was held by his birthmom and then placed in my arms, an indescribable moment was born of two stories marked with such love, loss, grief, gratitude, sacrifice and superhuman courage colliding hard between us, all for the pure love of this child.

I of course texted Kevin as fast as I could. I sent him a picture with, “OUR SON is here!!!!!”

Kelly was a name that we loved for a boy when we were initially pregnant with Hallie and before we knew she was a girl. We loved the ring of it and that it was an Irish name because of course our kid was going to have red hair. We only found out during this match that Kelly means “warrior,” and well, how perfect is that? William was picked in honor of our birthmom’s Grandpa who had a very significant role in her life. Right before she delivered Kelly, she asked if we had a name picked out and I’ll never forget her reaction when I told her. His name became a perfect representation of his special story.

Because Kevin and I weren’t going to get that moment in the delivery room that we had wanted in life, I quickly became fixated on what would be our new moment. That moment turned out to be when I’d get to introduce Kelly to his Dad and place him in those strong, protective forever arms of his. One of the very reasons we were picked was because of how hands on Kevin is in life, how much he likes to do and build and play. A big kid, some would say. A lot would say actually. And that moment was everything. Everything. Yeah it wasn’t how it was supposed to be but what a life lesson that hit hard for us. When you let go of, “supposed to be,” and instead embrace what you have, you get the moment we got instead. The magical moment marked with so much love, such happiness and so much redemption. The moment we became a family of four. The moment all of Kevin’s dreams of playing catch, punting footballs and fishing with his son became a reality. The moment I became a #boymom!

We spent that entire day and night at the hospital, in awe of this perfect little human. We didn’t put him down, we took a billion pictures and made the most of the subpar at best hospital cafeteria. Because of the nature of the adoption process, we couldn’t post anything for awhile after his birth so y’all, we have pictures for days from the vault! Guilty of finally being that Mom that says, “isn’t he the cutest?!”

First family selfie!

Boy does this story have so much more to it but for today, this first birthday of Kelly’s, what joy do I find in remembering how that day changed our life forever! This year has been better that I could’ve ever dreamed, hoped or prayed for. And that was before Kelly started growing red hair. He is living, breathing proof that miracles happen.

He is also wildly hilarious, crazy and fearless, cuddly and curious. He is entertaining for days and loves life like I never knew a one year old could. He has challenged us in ways we never knew possible but boy, is it all so, so beautiful.

We promised his birthmom that we would love him hard and baby boy, do we ever, forever! One year down, a million to go. Happy first birthday Kelly William! We love you MOST!

Three Years

Three years ago today, we heard the word cancer for the first time. “You have cancer, you’re going to lose your baby and you’ll never have your own children again,” was actually what we heard. I spend a lot of time thinking about people’s stories of when they were diagnosed. I’m fairly certain how it’s handled can immediately dictate the trajectory of the battle. I know it did for us. I guess it was fitting that ours was handled so flippantly. I mean, why not a worst case way for a worst case scenario. What kills me most is the doctor didn’t even have the pathology from the biopsy at that point. This was on a Monday. That Thursday (this Sunday) I was officially diagnosed with sccc, turning those haunting words into our sobering reality.

It still amazes me, not in a good way, how nothing went our way. If it would’ve been “normal” cervical cancer. If it would’ve been caught sooner. Or if I were 32 weeks along. If I wasn’t pregnant we would’ve been able to harvest my eggs for future biological children. If. If. If. Absolutely nothing went our way. There aren’t words I could string together that could bring life to what those following two weeks felt like as we sought different opinions, or any information that would yield hope. Destroyed again. And again. And again.

I still ask Kevin at times how this is our life. Isn’t that funny? I think it says everything about cancer though, it’s so unreal in what it does to you that it’s often surreal.

The hard part about anniversaries is there’s a piece of you stuck deep in the trenches of those memories. No matter how much time distances you from that day, you can feel, taste, and see it all as if it were that exact day again. It’s haunting. The song, “Mary, Did you Know?” literally takes me back to my moms car, because it was playing when I called my sister, as we were passing the old post office in Chicago. I can still feel the silence and hear and taste the tears. Even if it were dead of summer and 80 degrees out, that song would take me there (of course I don’t listen to Christmas music in July). Or how a scene in a movie or TV show, or a well intentioned comment or conversation immediately triggers any part of all that trauma, and you’re left spiraling …again. There’s another piece of you that doesn’t want cancer to keep winning by staying stuck. There’s a piece that tells you you have to make something of it, see the good, while another piece of you wants to slap that voice squarely, as if to say, absolutely not, are you kidding?! There’s a piece of you that needs to feel a deep sense of gratitude for beating the horrible odds, survivors guilt as they say, especially with my cancer. Two women died yesterday alone from my cancer. It’s so messed up.

I’m not sure what the right way to do these days is. I know I’ve had many moments of spontaneous tears this week. Out of nowhere, that punch to the gut. I know that I still deal with a lot of triggers as a result of the day I was diagnosed, how I was diagnosed and because of cancer as a whole and it is hard and exhausting and you got it, unfair. I know the fear of cancer persists big time three years later. I know now how to talk myself off the ledge of my inevitable first reaction to anything, which is of course always the worst case scenario, because I am that. I know how hard adding parenthood into that line of thinking is and how much I have had to fight to retrain my instincts and how much I’ve had to rely on Kevin to be my sounding board, my moderator. I know that I had millions of moments that I didn’t know if I’d make it or why I made it and Hallie didn’t. Really, really dark moments. I know I had and have moments of such intense anger towards our circumstances that I would take on the whole world if I could! I know that every single one of my relationships changed, because I changed. Cancer changed everything. Grief changed everything. When I was first diagnosed, someone told me and Kevin that 50% of marriages with cancer end in divorce and something even higher I think with child loss. Super comforting to hear, right? I can understand why because I know the way in which you grieve and process the fears and realities of cancer is so radically different, that it requires a level of communication that is basically superhuman! I know what it takes to beat those odds! How hard we had to fight to learn that and to make space for each other on it and to grant grace and to cheerlead each other on. I know that our ability to laugh saved us more days that we probably realize, even if people think our cancer jokes are too much or too soon. I know that my faith changed entirely through this process. I thought I always had to be perfect and happy and thankful – that’s fake. Actual fake news. I know now that God is big enough for my anger, my why’s, my screams. I know that because I was that. I am still that some days. And I know what He does with it, what He makes of it. I see it in our life today. I see it in our son whose smile melts away any sleepless night, crazy diaper or witching hour. Who everyone says looks like us. I see it in our daughter who is looking down on us and whose legacy has helped us spread hope to the very people whose shoes (socks?!) we’ve walked in. In the orange sunsets I know she has her hands in. I see it in all the opportunities we’ve gotten as a family as a result of HallieStrong. I see it in the perspective that has shown us who and what truly matters and the drive to pour our heart only into that. I see it in that my son and nephew are two months apart! In watching our parents finally becoming grandparents and siblings finally becoming aunts and uncles here on earth and their love for Kelly. It can sure melt you! I see it in the holiday joy already filling our home (yes, Halloween, not Christmas I promise!). I was made for having children during the holidays, I swear, that or I am still a child when it comes to the holidays. I cannot wait for the magic of Christmas Eve with Kelly! I see it in the people we’ve met (that we wouldn’t have otherwise) that have changed our lives and in our friends who stood by us all along and continue to see to it that we are ok. Who make us laugh without end. Who come together and work to make sure it isn’t just on us to make sure Hallie’s life is never forgotten.

I could’ve never known three years ago today where we’d be today. If I’d be here today. I have no idea where we will be in three years from now but I guess that’s the point of cancer. It makes you face the realities of life that we all actually face, it’s just head on for us. This life truly is so fleeting. We would’ve been just fine having never met our fate with you cancer and I’m feeling that hard this week. And (and, not but!) I am intentionally recognizing every single thing I am so grateful for today even harder. Most notably big, big bear hugs, like these, with my family. Of course I was going to squeeze in one more proud plug of our marathoner! 😉

26.2 for our MVP!!

Marathon weekend is HERE! Whoa baby. If I’m saying whoa baby, imagine what Kevin is saying! 😜

Kevin runs Sunday – 26.2 miles through the beautiful streets of Chicago. Weather looks to be perfect for running & perfect for bundling up Kelly to cheer on Dad! Is there anything cuter than an infant stuck with their arms out in a warm suit?!

This marathon is the supreme culmination of the proverbial blood, sweat and tears – and I’m not just talking about the physical training. Kevin has poured his heart and soul into that though, for months and months. He committed in January and started pre training in the spring. He joined a running team and ran every Saturday morning at 6:30am with that team, on top of many days of training throughout the week. He didn’t bat an eye once Kelly was born and remained committed to his goal, when he would’ve had every right reason to bow out. If you would’ve told us a year ago this is where we’d be at, we both would’ve laughed in your face. Like, loudly. And yet here we are. I am so proud of Kevin. The risk he took in committing, the dedication he showed in pushing forward, the humor and attitude he brought to it all, the humble brags as the pounds melted away and the miles got faster, the real talk about pain points, the never give up attitude, relentless positivity through it all.

You all know I hate that dang phrase but here we are, yet again. “Everything happens for a reason” 61538, Beef 0. It’s no coincidence that three years ago today, we were at peak happiness in life. When Kevin crosses the finish line, it’ll be one day shy of the three year anniversary of our colposcopy, the appt that sent us to an oncologist and started the never ending marathon of our life. This entire weekend is going to be wrapped in so many emotions, likely quite intensified given the timing and the cause. But I just can’t stop thinking how cool it is, the timing. This year we get a triumph. This year Kevin gets to accomplish something that is incredible and I get to be bragging about my hubby. This year we get a big, joyful, sweaty hug, with our son squished between us and Hallie looking down on us. We are adding this triumph in a year that already gave us our ultimate redemption in Kelly. Our tides are turning, that’s what this medal means to us! We get to create pockets of celebration in a month so full of devastation. We continue our come back from cancer and immeasurable loss. Wildly different people, totally different life and crazy beautiful all at the same time. (See, the power of and, not but!)

While we can’t compare cancer and marathons for obvious reasons, now that we’ve gone through both, I can see that there are a lot of parallels between them. It’s a fight, it’s a battle. There will be really good times (miles) and really bad times (miles). There will be so many conflicting emotions. Anger at the pain. Pride in the feat. Fear of what’s to come. Hope for the finish. Knowledge that if you let it consume you it will but if you fight with everything you have, you’ll be part of something so much bigger than you can even imagine. As hard as it is and as much as the anger at the pain runs deep, if you embrace it, so much good can come from it – and yes, you’re totally allowed to resent it in the moment. At the end though, when all is said and done you’re a changed person, for the good and bad you’ve endured. And what you do with that is the legacy you leave. You’ve ran the marathon of cancer a million times already Kevin, you are more than prepared to crush this goal that’ll be added to your amazing legacy.

We are so proud of you and can’t wait to cheer you on mile by mile! When you are hitting your stride, may you stay in that stride and really recognize the good for the good that it is, even if it’s a painful good. Whether it lasts a mile at a time, three miles at a time or three steps at a time, embrace it!Embrace the joy in this amazing physical feat of yours. Even more, be proud of the husband and father you’ve been through the real marathon of our life. When the miles are hard and the pain is real, know that this too shall pass! This life is so fleeting, these troubles won’t last forever (our wedding song lyric that was clearly prophetic). In those hard miles, may you realize the impact you’ve had by running this race for so many people fighting cancer and the pain you’ve helped to fight for them – and the pain you’ve helped to fight for you, for me, for Hallie, for Kelly. Watching you tackle this and the way you’ve rebuilt our life in doing so has restored my hope in how good we can have it despite all we’ve endured. And may you not be *too* bitter that I kind of made you “volunteer” for this. 😂 May your playlist be perfectly what you need, may your battery last the entire race. May there be porta potties when you need them, but actually, may you not need them! 😜 May you feel super celebrated all weekend and may you know how big of an accomplishment this is physically but that this race truly is so much bigger than 26.2. It’s further confirmation that we can literally get through anything! Run, run, run to the big hug with your son that awaits you and of course, to this wife of yours that will obviously have a beer in hand for you, maybe even two. And I won’t even be mad when you look at that beer more lovingly than me! 😉 You’re our hero!

And big thanks to everyone that donated, which helped us crush our goal for Imerman. Their slogan is, “so no one faces cancer alone.” This weekend is sure going to hit us hard in ALL the feels.

And, Not But

Back to back days I was reminded of what life was like three years ago.

First, our pregnancy announcement.

Next, my last post of “normal” on social media before our world fell apart.

Gosh, I remember being so annoyed that day at how hot it was. I’m laughing at the fact that I had a flannel around my waist – shows the lengths I’ll go to for that full fall experience!

Took me to year three but I actually went back and read every comment for the first time on our pregnancy announcement. It struck me hard, how much joy overflowed from comment to comment. Social media is flawed in so many ways, the unrealistic highlight reel it is a majority of the time, but it is so wonderful too, being able to share life’s milestones like that. So much happiness shared, well wishes for our child, anticipation for boy or girl, high fives for us! I was sort of frozen in time for a little bit, staring at it all. These were the moments that marked the absolute peak of our lives. I truly long for the insanely blissful happiness that that was.

I caught myself wondering for the millionth time about the what ifs. I caught myself desperately wishing for the millionth time that just one thing would’ve gone our way. Just one. I felt that deep ache a little deeper knowing Hallie would’ve been 2.5 now, undoubtedly ruling our home with a fiercely passionate personality and a sense of humor second to none. That inevitable feeling that I always get quickly took over every space of my body, this is all just so unfair.

Then, that impossible emotion to reconcile that I knew we would be up against now took over fast – if we had that, then we wouldn’t have this. This meaning the perfect little buddy of ours, Kelly, who at just 3.5 months fills our home with that same fiercely passionate personality (seriously, you should’ve seen him last night when we tried to put him down during the Bears game, “No way guys, I’m watching with you!” …can’t blame him!) I know Hallie would’ve had & that same sense of humor that fills our home with so many smiles, laughs and our phones with far too many photos and videos. If one thing would’ve gone on our way and Hallie survived, we wouldn’t know this love for Kelly. Now I don’t know what I would do without him! Just another layer of …hard.

This is the time of year that is the impossible stretch of our lives as you all know by now. The days and months that are filled with every anniversary that takes us right back to square one of the circumstances that did everything they could to try and break us. Year two was so much harder than year one, thank God no one told me that though. Year three loomed darkly and then our world changed, for the GOOD, on 5/30 when Kelly was born. I had no idea what to expect in how that would impact the anniversaries, I still have no idea what to expect.

I do know though that a very dear friend and treasured mentor of mine once told me that anytime I want to say but, replace it with and. It doesn’t need to be either, or and matter of factly, it isn’t either, or. It is and, and you have to grant yourself the grace to learn to live in that impossible world of ‘and’ because the world of ‘but’ will break you. What does that look like?

When I start to feel how sad this all is but I can’t because we now have Kelly, I instead say, “I am so sad not to have Hallie and so thankful to have Kelly.” Because both are true.

When I need to spend time in the emotions of how unfairly all of this all played out and am tempted to push it always because, “but your home is so full of joy now,” I instead say, “I would give anything to have Hallie here and I thank God every minute of the day that He created Kelly for us.” Because they are also both true. And tell me God didn’t have a hand in this all as I stare into Kelly’s blue eyes & his strawberry blonde hair. The very combo I know in my heart our little Hallie would’ve had.

When I want to scream and yell at how much I hate cancer but am tempted to talk myself out of doing so because look at what has come of it, I can instead say, “Cancer is the %*!/&: worst thing in the world and I hate it with every fiber of my being and because I know that, I can now use that to join people in their darkest days, which helps my pain, if just a bit.” Because those are both true. And I’m finding more and more there is so much purpose created of your own trials when you jump into others.

I could go on and on.

And, not but. My survival guide to navigating the coming months, yet again, but this time with our son in my arms. We love this little boy with all of our hearts and souls and we would give anything for a Hallie hug this morning and every morning. Cancer is the worst, there are many days I still can’t believe this is our story and I am so grateful for redemption in the form of adoption and our foundation. I hate everything cancer stole from us and how it seemingly made every facet of life, every relationship, every holiday hard and I can start to see how it pulled us into bigger and better things in life, stronger relationships, better priorities. I am angry and I am so, so thankful.

Marathon Man

5.5 weeks until the big day!

26.2 miles so that no one has to face cancer alone, how cool is that? Kevin is running as part of Team Imerman, on behalf of Imerman Angels. They provide 1:1 support for cancer patients, survivors and caretakers by connecting mentors with mentees. We found this incredible nonprofit in early January of this year and a couple months ago I was actually matched with my first mentee, a woman in Canada that had the same kind of cancer I did.

It’s been incredible to watch Kevin’s dedication to training in between 4am feedings and Dad duties. Running 26.2 is a massive feat in and of itself but what people don’t see are the hundreds of miles logged behind the scenes to prepare. I am so proud of him for tackling this and sticking with it because of the cause.

We are looking to raise 2k for this charity through this marathon. There are a million amazing causes to donate to in life, but outside of our own HallieStrong, there is no cause we are more passionate about, purely because we know inside and out how necessary their work is. We would be so grateful for whatever support you can provide & we cannot wait to see what good it does for cancer patients around the world.

Donate here on Kevin’s fundraising page. Share with family and friends, and also share the work of IA. Cancer is too prevalent in todays world and chances are someone you know could really, really benefit from their work. And when you find them, send us their address and we will tag team with some socks. 🙂

Thanks team! Go Kevin, go!

Dusting off the Blog!

My, how life has changed.

Right now as I type, my computer is sitting on the couch as our son lays across my lap. Awkward positioning to say the least, heart bursting positioning to say even more.

I don’t even know where to start. This is the first time ever that I’ve opened this blog to write where I’m starting from a place of true joy. Joy! This blog was initially created to keep our family and friends up to date on our cancer fight – it was out of necessity, not joy. It morphed into our chronicles of navigating life post cancer  and while there were pockets of joy, that chapter of life was incredibly, incredibly difficult. Scans, physical side effects, trauma aside (not enough, right?), not widely known but twice in that time we were matched with birth moms for them to ultimately decide to parent their children after delivery. Devastating to say the least. More crys of, “Why?,” without question. We still laugh when people tell us how strong we are! Spoiler alert, it isn’t a choice, it’s simply the only option you have.

And then one email. One phone call. Three weeks of time from start to finish (and a billion of emotions that every therapist in the world would LOVE to hear) and we brought home the perfect peanut that God meant to be ours all along. And now I’m writing from a place of joy and I have to admit, it’s very foreign territory! I’m still very much in the thick of making sense of the experience of adoption specifically, outside of actual parenting, and boy, it continues to leave me speechless. That’s how out of this world it all is, me, speechless still, 7 weeks later.  This mother’s choice of adoption gave our dreams of parenting here on earth an incredible reality. Kevin and I witnessed the ultimate act of selflessness that day and we are reminded of that amazing grace every time we look into his eyes. We can’t wait to share the adoption story with you in full in the coming months – you will absolutely need every tissue in your home. It was truly a miracle!

For now, Kevin and I are settling into life with our little buddy. Those that know me best know how much I like to say how much I hate, “everything happens for a reason,” in the moment but how I’m also first to admit that we’re the living, breathing example of how true it is. And well, here’s more proof. I left my job at the end of February after an incredible nearly 9 years in a role I loved so much, working with some amazing people. It was a much needed leap of faith and in the months since, we got our 501c3 status for our Foundation (which we just received our first grant for!!), Kevin and I started having forward planning conversations about life goals for the first time that weren’t tied to cancer, and now, we have our son. Tell me everything doesn’t happen exactly per God’s plan!  I’m a self admitted forever-in-recovery-control-freak and yet in the past few months when I’ve put my need to have everything happen to my plan aside (haven’t I learned by now that doesn’t work well?!) and instead let go and take each day for what it’s worth, the gift that it is, especially as a cancer survivor, well, I say it’s working out wonderfully for us. Pure joy. Just like the joy on my son’s face, clearly feeling better after spitting up all over me.

That means I’m out for now, but I will be around much, much more! This is simply all too good to keep to ourselves.

-Bethany

bRUNch for #HallieStrong

A couple months ago, I got involved with an amazing nonprofit, Imerman Angels, whose sole purpose is to provide 1:1 support for cancer patients and caregivers. I found them by happenstance one morning and got lost in their website & mission for hours. I could write a whole book on the emotional side of cancer, something that is so underrepresented vs. the physical side of it so this mission naturally made my survivor’s heart leap for joy.

Whats been really cool is seeing the mission of IA collide with our work to honor Hallie. We have two really cool things to share!

One. bRUNch. Get it? Brunch & Run! Or walk with me, #badhips, thanks cancer! On Saturday, June 8th, Imerman’s is hosting a Brunch Run 5k/one mile walk on the Chicago lakefront that features brunch and of course, mimosas! We’ve put together a team to walk/run in memory of Hallie – Team #HallieStrong. There’s that creativity again. If you’re in town that weekend, we would LOVE to have you join us on the walk/run, in orange, for Hallie!

To join Team #HallieStrong – follow this link here & click on “Join this Team!” Registration includes bunch, mimosa/beer, a shirt & medal – and a cheers to Hallie at the finish line. Bonus, too! Use this code to get $10 off of each registration: HART2019PB (aka, can be used multiple times, so feel free to share).

For those that can’t join us in person, here’s a link to donate if you’d like. Everything we raise for IA goes directly towards their mission of providing 1:1 mentorship for cancer patients/survivors/caregivers. I signed up in January to be a mentor, it’s a really incredible cause but more than that, it’s a very necessary cause. We’d love to raise $750 for them!

Second thing to share and quite notably, Kevin committed to running his first marathon with Team Imerman, after a little encouragement from his good ole wife. And ok, encouragement is used loosely, maybe it was guilt… “..If I can survive cancer, you can run so no one fights cancer alone AND for Hallie, right?!” Ok yeah, it was totally guilt, what a guy. He’ll be running the Chicago Marathon in October. We’ve done three half marathons together but this will be his first full. Most of you know but the damage to my hips from the radiation treatment stole my running career, otherwise I’d be right there next to him. Well, a half hour behind him, but you know what I mean. I will be along that entire course though, in all orange, and I will be cheering so loudly at the finish line for him! Mark your calendars early (Sunday, October 13th) to join us then too, we are going to have a celebration post race, I guarantee you that! If any of you runners out there are inspired by this, you can join Kevin in running on behalf of Team Imerman too. They still have slots open for the race.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing from Kevin lots as he prepares for the race and what the experience means to him. I have a feeling there is going to be a LOT of emotion that day and I know Hallie is already so proud of her Dad for doing this.

That’s the exciting (maybe crazy) news out of the Hart household. I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to find our new normal, Beef & Kevin 2.0 & I’d say this is a start! Check those calendars today for the Brunch Run – we would love to see that course flooded with #HallieStrong orange!

 

A Little Note to Heaven

Guest Blog written by Hilary Miele

A little note to Heaven,

That sweet angel, the one with ginger ringlets and that sparkly-eyed smile. That little girl with the purest heart of gold like her dad; who’s a force to be reckoned with like her mom. She’s the one who throws her head back as she belly laughs just as mama does and gets that same mischievous giggle when found in a pickle that works like a charm for her daddy. She’s sweet, with a little sass, witty and quick, gentle yet strong. She’s our Hallie girl and today she would be 2!

I remember when her mom told me she was pregnant with their first baby to be. We immediately started scheming up so many plans and wishes for how baby Hart’s years would unfold – never considering a life of celebrating Hallie without actually having her here with us. I remember when her mom, in the thick of her diagnosis, sent me a picture of her ultrasound with the tiniest, sweetest, little body letting me know “it’s a girl – and we decided to name her Hallie Hope”. Immediately wishes became prayers, begging for a MIRACLE.

Hallie left us seconds after she entered the world and my wishes for her and her parents became wishes of comfort, strength, and somehow peace for Hallie’s mom and dad and their shattered hearts.

The last two years, I have been one of many sending so many wishes in the way of Hallie’s mom and dad. Wishes that they know how present Hallie is in all of our lives. Wishes that they may feel how impacted we are by her presence, her hope, and her light. Wishes of so much; but today I just want them to feel all of our birthday wishes for Hallie.

Hallie, we hope you feel how loved you truly are. We wish you know how deeply you inspire hope in countless lives and how we work to inspire hope in memory of your life. I hope you know that not a day goes by that you aren’t thought of, talked about, celebrated, or dreamed of. I hope you know how you have made your mom and dad the BEST parents that we all learn from daily. I hope you know that we find you in every sunset, feel you every time the sun warms our skin, every time the trees burst into orange in the fall. We see you in every rainbow, we feel you every time we celebrate our biggest triumphs knowing you are right there helping things happen, and every time we get through our tough days, we know you’re the one pulling us through. Hallie, we celebrate you and miss you every single day and look forward to the wonder you will continue to spread in the years to come. We hope you know that even through your loss, you have been the biggest light, making this world better than how you found it two years ago. When we wished and prayed for a miracle to save you from leaving us here on earth, we didn’t yet realize the miracle you would be fulfilling us from Heaven.

Take extra good care of our girl today, Heaven. Squeeze her extra tight for us. Rumor has it she likes DQ treats naturally like her mama and daddy. Im sure there’s a Dairy Queen in Heaven – right 😉

Happy 2nd Heavenly birthday Hallie. You are truly our greatest gift.

Love,

Aunt Dupree

✌🏻out Port!

The title says it all, cue, “We are the Champions!” My port was removed yesterday after two years & 2.5 months of playing its role in saving my life. No joke though, that song did play on the way to the hospital & I couldn’t help but crank it up and belt it out. #yourewelcomekevin

There were a lot of  conversations and conflicting emotions leading up to the surgery yesterday. My port, all three inches-ish of it, was the medium used to deliver five rounds of chemo into my body to attack any cancer cell that tried taking up residence. It was the savior for my super small veins, an insurance policy of ease & peace of mind after a lifetime of, ‘let me try again,” needle pokes, knowing how many blood draws I’d be up against. It truly made my life easy and I had grown to really appreciate it. Physically though, it was my daily reminder of all that SCCC has taken from us.  It was also the daily reminder of how uncertain my future will forever be as a cancer survivor, let alone a SCCC survivor. Because of that & because I passed the two year mark that I was required to keep it in, we opted to proceed, a fresh start, Beef 2.0, as a friend dubbed it a few days ago. I like the sound of that! Although I will say, after we were prepped for surgery, I looked at Kevin and said, “I don’t think we prepared for the physical part of this, think we downplayed the actual surgery part!” He laughed, we laughed, we shook our heads at ourselves (classic us) and well, no turning back now. Happy to report that the surgery itself was smooth & yes, Kevin did ask if we could keep the port. And no, no we couldn’t.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my port. When I had it put in, it took me months to even look at it, to accept it as part of me. Kid you not, I’d get out of the shower and so purposefully avoid the mirror because I could not stand the site of this thing grossly protruding from my chest. I went to a cancer specific therapist during treatment and I remember her coaching me to self-talk-it-up, “you’re saving my life,” type stuff, to come to terms with it. I’ve been coached a lot in my life (you’re too defensively minded Beef, shoot the ball more!) but I never could’ve imagined I’d need to be coached on accepting a new piece of me that would save my life. I hated this thing, almost as much as I hated that I needed this thing. Oh and I also really hated it because I’m a stomach sleeper and it made that super uncomfortable (the audacity!). If you really want to know how much of a freak I am, I never actually touched my port. 26 months and never once did I ‘feel it’ intentionally. Give me blood, guts and gore, give me cancer, give me anything really and it doesn’t phase me but when I’d accidentally graze the port here or there, no thanks!

And yet. This port. I grew quite fond of it. I can’t even remember when my mindset started to shift, maybe once I realized how “easy” it did make my life or maybe it’s another classic example of wanting what you can’t have. Didn’t want it when I needed it, want it now that I don’t?! I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I had doubts of getting it out and I think I slowly realized that port was a representation of me. How far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown and how hard I’m working to come to grips with what parts of me that, because of my cancer, is now old and gone forever, what can be repurposed from old into new, what simply requires a whole new fresh start. Removing it hits on them all – the physical port, I now no longer need and while there are zero guarantees I won’t ever need one again, there’s something freeing in finally letting myself live for this moment & truly leaving the rest up to God. The physical scar will always be there, it’s forever part of my story but now it can simply be a symbol of something I’m proud I survived, rather than a protruding device I refuse to touch and prevents me from solid sleep, a signal of “what if?” All of this means I can move forward to a new chapter, Beef 2.0, where all of this bad can start to unfold into the good that is promised to us.

Cancer and Beef 2.0 aside, my emotional attachment to my port is enormous for two reasons – I gained family through it & we launched our Foundation because of it.

First, family. After I was diagnosed and going through all of the treatment prep, I connected with a girl who had my same type of cancer but was a few months ahead of me. Aka, she was the keeper of information that made her an expert of what to expect and how to best prepare. She made so much time for me via Facebook messenger – including the day that I was freaking out about the port surgery. I was quickly calmed when I learned she named her port (byeeeee Felicia), how can you not be calmed by that!? This girl was so helpful to me, the self admitted control freak lost in the world of cancer where nothing could be controlled. I was constantly telling Kevin & my mom about her, calling her my, “cancer friend.” That girl was Kelly, our now treasured team member of Team Hallie. Fast forward to the exchange of phone numbers and the billion texts that ensued. Through treatment comparing side effects, through the bad days where’d we share our deepest fears that were now reality, through the good days where we’d cheer each other on, through the insane moments of cervical cancer that would be embarrassing to tell our husbands or moms but had zero reserve telling each other. Through it all. “Cancer friend” quickly morphed into irreplaceable bestie. We met for the first time when Kelly, her hubby Michael and their son Marcus traveled up to Chicago in October of 2017 and immediately, we were family. Cancer has defined and redefined every relationship I have in life – some for the good, some for the bad, some born only because of cancer. So no, I’m not thankful for cancer but the Causey’s are one of a few relationships/friendships that were born of our cancer and we are beyond grateful for them. And the Green’s! We also would’ve never met them if it weren’t for cancer, and yet they’ve turned out to be such incredible humans for us, like yesterday when four of their five (amazing) kids hand delivered us dinner, along with flowers, a sweet sign & two coffee mugs (because when sisters can’t pick just one, I get two!!). These are the things I think I about with my port now and they truly are some of the greatest silver linings of our story. The other rusty lining turned silver lining of my port, our Foundation. It’s always hard for me to celebrate it because what I would give to not have it. That said, all because I wore mismatching socks one day to get my port put in and all because my Mom loves to shame me, an idea was born that would help us connect with people that now walk the same terrifying path we did. Turns out socks are a lot of fun! I adore opening each and every package donated to see the personality in each pair but I will tell you, 9 months into this Foundation, these socks, this work, have become so much more for us that we could’ve ever first imagined. My heart bursts when I ship a package because I know exactly what the feeling will be when the person receives it. When I see people donate – whether a few pairs or 2,000 (still speechless), my heart bursts at how much good there is in this world & how much people truly want to help the cancer community. When I read the nominations, my heart aches for both the fear they feel & how helpless they are but bursts that even a small bit of hope, by way of these socks, can be shared in Hallie’s name with their loved one. That has become our why to push in moving forward. And yes, of course I wore mismatching socks yesterday, although we will call it “coordinated mismatching.” Team Hallie home & away colors, if you will!I had my recurring oncology appointment today (for those keeping count, my cadence is physical exam/PAP every three months and scans every six). Everything looked good & we will wait for the PAP results per usual. My appointment was with my radiation oncologist, he said I gave him a scare yesterday! Come to find out they are notified anytime I have a procedure or ER trip. He was happy to see it was for the port removal & I find a ton of comfort in knowing they’d be the first to know if anything ever happened. I love Loyola! I also got a chance to quick see my oncologist, which was a bonus. They sure take care of me as if I was their own daughter! 🧡 We talk every time about the nature of my cancer and every time it hits me hard all over again. I walk out feeling a renewed sense of gratitude for my clean bill of health and I say a prayer of a million thanks, but also for so many that I know that are awaiting news on their own scans and appointments, especially those that don’t hear the news they are praying for. Cancer sure sucks! I have a follow up things scheduled for issues with this ole body of mine, but all things considered, count me as 2 years & 3 months cancer free!

All in all, a crazy emotional couple of days. Kevin could write his own blog post on having to be back in a Loyola surgery room for the first time since ‘the’ surgery. Such is a life of cancer but with the progress we made today & yesterday, here’s to Beef AND Kevin 2.0! 🧡

n-e-u-r-o-e-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-e

I did something for the first time today. I “researched” small cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer online. It took me a few tries because I still, for the life of me, can’t spell n-e-u-r-o-e-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-e right. Let alone say it. For as awful as cancer is, you think doctors/researchers would at least make it easy on us by naming it something simpler. For those trying to do quick math, it has been 807 days since I was diagnosed but yes, today was the first day I looked up my cancer online. I’ve seen & heard information obviously & I’m part of a Facebook group of sisters who have the same cancer so I’ve of course been exposed to information there but I’ve never proactively researched it. Call it fear, call it denial, call it ignorance is bliss, call it self preservation, call it numbers mean nothing in our fight, call it whatever you want, I’ve never had it in me. Kevin scoured the internet top to bottom & left to right in the days after I was diagnosed. Reading what I read this morning, I feel a physical ache for what he must have been feeling in those days.

SCCC (and LCCC) account for ~1% of cervical cancers diagnosed. To this day, there is no known precancerous state to catch this beast. There are often times no symptoms & that coupled with the aggressive nature of the cancer, women are frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage initially. Survival rates? First word that comes to mind is chilling. Second is sobering when reading these studies and articles.

I didn’t have one symptom, not a single inkling that I had cancer growing in my body. I look at pictures from the time leading up to all of this – we spent a week in Mexico, we celebrated my 30th birthday at the Sox game, we toasted our best friends at their wedding in Florida – so many pictures from all of these fun life events that are filled with so many smiles and yet all I can see now is myself in those pictures and wonder how big those cancer cells were at that moment. I’m about as curious as they come by nature and I would love to know the exact moment my cells started to revolt against me. We found out we were pregnant in mid July and we went to the doctor first at 10 weeks and again at 12 weeks. I had physical exams, ultrasounds, the whole workup & yet there was no evidence of anything suspicious. Looking at just these facts alone, it is beyond me that just four weeks later from that day, we were talking life & death. Just four weeks, a tumor was visible. Four weeks!

What first tipped us off was an abnormal PAP after my first OB appointment. I had a PAP every year leading up to this and every year, they were clear. I got a call a couple weeks later saying that some cells appeared to be abnormal but I was reassured several times not to worry because it was likely pregnancy related. I talked to two of my good friends who had gotten false positive results like this. I knew deep down something was wrong but my gift in life of being able to bury realities with a big smile & a joke sure made it easy to ignore that voice in my heart. Just to be sure though, my OB had us wait until after the first trimester to come in for a colposcopy to double check that everything was fine.

That colposcopy happened on a Friday and that following Monday I was seeing a gynecological oncologist first thing in the morning. Even then, we had no idea cancer was a possibility. Within two weeks we lost our Hallie, I had major life saving surgery & within six weeks of that I started chemo and radiation simultaneously. That’s my (shortened) story with #sccc.

January is cervical cancer awareness month. In between the lines of all the sad and scary of our story, you’ll find me, the world’s most awkward girl. I’ve never been good at talking about anything when it comes to being a girl, I was clearly made for basketball courts & jump shots over fashion & makeup. You can imagine how humbling a cervical cancer diagnosis was for a girl like me because well, you can imagine what every visit, treatment, exam, test, conversation and question is about. I’ve asked my nurses several times why this couldn’t have been skin cancer, as Kevin would always be shaking his head at me for making a joke like that. Fair question though, right?! All this to say, had it never been for Hallie, there’s a very small chance that I’m here today because of that impossible-to-spell type of cancer I had.

No two stories of cancer are the same and no two cases of cancer are the same. While I pray that cancer is something you never have to deal with, the reality is you may. The worst thing that ever happened to me pre-cancer was broken bones. Something like this can never happen to you, until it does. My hope in sharing my story today is two fold. One, it did happen to me, to us, and it’s forever a part of us. We’d give anything, anything, to change that, to have our Hallie and a sense of peace with my health forever restored but we can’t and we won’t in this lifetime. We won’t get the why we like with all we’ve lost but we can find God’s purpose in our story by sharing and connecting, because everyone has a story. Two, I share because if this awkward girl can survive all of this, you can too. Take care of yourself and don’t skip your appointments. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, schedule an appointment today! I’m not just talking for a PAP, I mean see your regular doctor too! Sure your insurance just reset but hey, a $15 copay for the opportunity to hear “all clear” is beyond worth it. I’d give anything to mightily celebrate something seemingly so simple! And in the 1% chance something isn’t all clear, like it was for me, life and death with cancer is often determined by how early it’s found so give yourself a fighting chance.