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!