That Week

The power of perspective. You may see this picture and think, “ugh, chemo, the worst!” And well, you’re right, but I see this picture pop up on my timehop and I’m like what. a. week. that was. I vividly remember how happy I was to be in that chair.

Do you guys remember this week, last year?! The lead up to that picture?! The three day stay in the hospital, quarantined from germs that could’ve killed me, all while Paisley took on a skunk and lost mightily, making our home inhabitable upon my release. Every carpet & piece of furniture had to be professionally cleaned, while every piece of clothing we owned was dipped in vinegar and also washed. I was released from the hospital, stayed in a hotel until Tuesday morning, and we drove from there to chemo.

Anytime I’m frustrated, angry or having a bad day, that’s the weekend I think of as a barometer to gauge how bad my current circumstances really are. Spoiler alert, it rarely compares! It is comical now, but what a wild ride that was. A wild, wild ride. Anyone that doesn’t believe in miracles needs to understand Paisley still being loved & cared for in our family is the greatest miracle ever recorded. 😂

But. I’ve turned the tables on what this week means for us this year. I’ve conquered some big milestones!

One, I returned back to that very chair for the first time Tuesday to get my port flushed. (For all you nurses out there, my port was flushed at my scans so I’m not that bad of a patient!!) I had neglected it for a variety of reasons, all of which fall under the PTSD umbrella towards that place, the memories, cancer, that life. I’m not saying it was rational but for once, something needed to be on my terms. Long story short (and some good advice from a close friend!), I made the appointment & conquered the PTSD on Tuesday. I got to see my chemo nurse Patty for the first time in a year! She took care of me as if I were her daughter, she fought alongside me! That hug is one I’ll never forget! Do you know that she had no idea that I had red hair, just like her?! That stopped me in my tracks. She only knew me as bald! We chatted, she had tears in her eyes. She asked me about Kevin, about adoption, about everything. She remembered every detail of my life. What a saint. My hero! I felt like I made her proud and apparently that is quite a love language of mine.

I walked out with my head held high. I felt a sense of peace. That was progress in healing.

That night, I felt led to continue to push myself. I tackled the box in the corner of my room – yes, the one filled with every card, every gift, everything we’ve been given since this all started. It has the jersey I gave Kevin to tell him we were pregnant, the elephant blanket my parents bought for Hallie the day we told them they were going to be grandparents. The Hawks bib my brother & sister in law bought for their niece at a farmers market. Every physical thing we had for Hallie. I started with the smaller cards and created a scrapbook as I never want to part ways with any card. I re-read every word of every card and while it’s infinitely difficult, I was blown away again by the incredible care people showed for us & how loved Hallie is. I only got about a fourth of the way through the box, but there was such peace in that. I don’t think that’s going to be a process I speed through with as emotional as it is but in a weird way I felt like we honored Hallie a bit that night by starting to find a home for all the physical pieces of her life that mean so much to us. She sure doesn’t belong in a box!

I like this idea of wiping out awful memories with actions that conquer the control cancer had over our lives for too long. I find a lot of hope in that as we look towards the next few months and what they mean for us now vs. what they were last year and ultimately what they should’ve been. Slowly finding my way back to being a control freak – in a way that heals!

Do Overs

A pretty powerful letter circulated throughout social media last week. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s a beautiful 27 year old’s final letter to the world before dying from cancer shortly after sharing. Find it here. 27 years old. Gone too soon but clearly wise beyond her years. And cancer, you really really suck.

Having walked her walk and having had to grasp the reality of my own earthly mortality, I give her a resounding +1 to everything she said. There is beauty in being able to share that type of perspective, that type of heartbreak. Finding a way to be grateful, eating the cake, zero guilt, spending money on experiences vs. things, not complaining in general but especially not complaining about things that some people would be grateful just to have. Those things all hit home!

Building on why that letter resonated so much for us, I think it’s a lot of things. One part because it’s just tragic. One part because we get a lot of what she’s saying and I admire how frank she was with it all. One part because her name is Holly, so close to Hallie. Many parts because that could’ve been me. That would’ve been me if it weren’t for Hallie. I had tears in my eyes the entire time and as I re-read it, I couldn’t help but feel my mind wander to what my letter would’ve said.

It would say a lot and my hope is I have a lot more time to think about it (😜) but I know for certain right now that my letter would have a big chunk in it about do overs. That’s right, do overs.

Allow me to explain.

It’s been an exhaustive stretch. And by stretch I mean 15 months. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you are walked through the treatment plan and you’re made aware of all the struggles that come. You learn when to call the doctors vs. go straight to the hospital. What you don’t give thought to is the implications of all that: emotionally, mentally, physically & spiritually. You simply enter survival mode. Survival mode is literally checking off boxes each day. No thought, you are purely robotic. And then you get a clean bill of health & you enter a honeymoon phase. You are simply grateful to be alive, and as you should be. Too many people never get even that when diagnosed. No low moment or side effect can touch your spirit!

And then reality sets in. The side effects don’t go away and in some cases get worse. You begin to actually process your own mortality. You begin to understand the magnitude of all you went through. As life moves on without skipping a beat, you look up & catch your breath to find you’re a totally different person. And then you start to feel the loss of your daughter. It was real all along but survival mode yields no ability to process reality. To feel reality. If you aren’t processing or feeling, you aren’t moving forward and as a result, things get really hard. A completely different kind of hard than chemo days or radiation fallout. A hard that the only way I can describe it is by sharing what I would say to Kevin in those dark moments, “I’d take chemo any day over this.” And I meant every word of it.

Then you add on my personality type to that. I’m a control freak. A lover of details and one that wants everything to be perfect. The more involved the merrier. The ultimate people pleaser and also fiercely protective. I wish someone would’ve said to me, “yeah that’s like the worst personality type ever for what you’re about to go through.” 😜

I wish I would’ve known what Holly knew when I was diagnosed – that life’s true perfection is really in the imperfection. Because of all of this – cancer, grief, my personality, I can rattle off so many dates and days and events that didn’t go right this past year, especially the second half. And I can rattle off roller coasters of emotions that followed in the wake. Our anniversary was the best example of this. We talked up that night so much, we made it an “escape,” and while it was great to start, it went downhill fast. Disaster, for a lot of different reasons. Cancer ruined another night. Another memory stolen from us, another memory filed away under, “low point.”

It was admittedly yet another hard thing to work through. It took a lot. As we started to piece together the why, we started to realize the real opportunity for us – our key to surviving this stage. A radical idea let me tell you, we decided to simply, try again. A do over.

And so we planned a take two. As we were driving to the Herrington, Kevin asked if I was excited and I simply said two words: low expectations.

In turn, we had a most wonderful night. And born was this concept that has become an instant ESPN classic in our home: do overs. It doesn’t matter how big or small – whether a conversation mishandled, a plan gone all wrong, a day that you just can’t get out of bed, an event that you want to go but can’t because that should be us or the reminder of Hallie that it is. Instead of beating ourselves up over that “failure,” we’ve instead granted ourselves the grace to simply try again until you make that memory you so desperately need. We’ve strung together some great memories over the past couple of weeks, which I’m really really proud of us for. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt genuinely good about something.

So there you have it, do overs and low expectations. The absolute opposite of how I’ve always lived life. Who knew it to be the prized possessions of cancer survivors and grieving parents. For now, it is the winning combination in the Hart home & a guaranteed part in my letter someday!

Cancer & TV

Allow me to write about something today that veers away from my normal personal life reflections. This has nothing to do with anything, but what the heck. It’s a topic always on my mind and in our conversations, so why not share! The topic? How cancer and/or death is portrayed on TV and in movies, and how way, wildly off it is. I’ve got a bone to pick with you Hollywood!

Think of any movie or tv show you’ve watched where it has featured cancer or death in some way – and now think to the next scene or episode – it’s gone! People are happy, instantaneously. Cancer is healed in like one doctors appointment and life returns to normal, the next day. Smiles are huge, life is great!

What a farce! And what a missed opportunity on a platform that reaches so far and wide. The presence of cancer and/or death on TV is actually quite prevalent. It’s like when you see a red slug bug at the start of your road trip, you call it out and then for the rest of the trip, you swear the only cars on the road are red slug bugs. References to cancer really are everywhere, most people are just oblivious to it since there’s no personal connection. And because it glazes over the brutal reality. Sadly, it sets up anyone that goes through either cancer or loss for such failure. It’s supposed to be easy, don’t you know?! It also sets up networks of support for failure too as that’s all that’s a reference point, unless you’ve had someone close to you go through it. Granted, there’s a happy median to it – if I were to sit here and detail the lows of the lows of either a cancer fight, or losing a daughter, I would scare everyone away from ever leaving their house or getting checked out again. But what a huge opportunity there is in this world to bring people in more to the realities of cancer and the way it grips and destroys ever fiber of your being. You rebuild, you bounce back but you are never the same. And likewise, the same goes for grief. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been watching something and I’m like, “fake news!!” to how something is all portrayed. It really grinds my gears.

But. All that said and why this is even on my mind this frigid Saturday morning (you have to be wondering why this is a bone I want to pick as it can seem so trivial) is because after an exhaustive holiday season, I’ve been hitting the hay early this week and I will usually watch an episode of Parenthood. Have you seen it? It’s amazing. I believe that show is as “real” as you can find on TV in terms of portraying family dynamics and how they navigate the highs and lows of life. They hit it all. Including cancer. And this week, I watched the episode where the Mom is diagnosed. I sound silly saying this since it’s fake but the episode where she is actually diagnosed mirrored my experience so much. Too much, actually. Kind of creepy really! Like right down to the first doctor experience! I laid in bed and balled of course (probably too soon?) but I also thought to myself – everyone should see this. Cancer patients/survivors because they nailed the emotions & the relationships. Spouses because they hit on exactly how they feel. Families and friends, that way, you don’t have to actually go through cancer to get a glimpse into how ugly it is and the different roles personalities play and how important they all are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of true reality but I was actually quite impressed with it.

I have felt this need and want to help the cancer community so much. I don’t know how yet but I will! If this silly TV show can help, that says to me there is an enormous opportunity out there to better support, to better connect the dots of what cancer and loss really do to mainly the patient yes, but also to everyone involved that is impacted!

So, hey, maybe this is my calling to make my own TV show or movie. I did have a flourishing acting career during my elementary years, I was once even the rapping narrator of Jack & the Beanstalk. Yes, you read that right, I “rapped.” And don’t even get me started on how much I nailed my non-speaking role as a bunny in Snow White. 😀 Pure acting genius!