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!

Pockets of Joy

Low expectations. Two words I could’ve never imagined to be associated with my approach towards Christmas. Our goal this year was literally to survive Christmas. Survive! Survive the most magical time of year. So twisted and yet so real. I’ve been in writing hibernation as we’ve tackled this holiday season. One part because we’ve run ourselves into the ground in keeping busy, one part because my body has revolted against me in the form of colds & flu that had I gotten them last year at this time, I would’ve been hospitalized and one large part because words could never do justice to the daily power struggle between the magic of the season and the absence of Hallie.

As this holiday weekend was approaching my Mom texted me to keep low expectations and to face each day as if it was a normal day. They weren’t holidays, they weren’t special days. We took it to heart, gave ourselves permission to do it all one step at a time and promised each other to stick close together and to check in. You never know when or what could or would set either of us into a wave grief.

The result? Those low expectations delivered a few days full of incredible memories with family and friends, old & new, laughter until there were tears in a (accidentally) wildly inappropriate game, a new found love for onesies as adults, reflection on the big moments of 2017, a #1 fan photo shoot for our fave CMU lax player, a legit Christmas surprise from Kevin in the form of bikes and one freaking beta fish that Kevin won in our family white elephant that well, I think is gross. But, I guess that fish, Coach Q, is the greatest representation of our Christmas season – it truly is the simple things in life that make you happiest (as he is Amazon priming a way too aggressive habitat for this thing….).

Pride is something I feel right now when I say that we didn’t just survive Christmas, we truly enjoyed the festivities. It sure does not mean we didn’t have to power through difficult moments and it certainly doesn’t mean we wouldn’t trade it all in to have had the Christmas we should’ve had this year with Hallie, but while conquering yet another milestone, we were able to find pockets of joy that we are so thankful for. Turns out, low expectations are quite powerful. And so taking that fulfilled feeling despite our circumstances, we look forward, with hope, to the idea of what Christmas 2018 could look like for our family.

We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas with those closest to you. And while I hope Santa was great to you, I hope even more that you were surrounded by those you love most. We send you so much love!

Christmas Season

My favorite moments of the Christmas season are often the quiet moments – early in the morning before the world starts moving. I love having Christmas music playing low and it’s usually my time to let my mind wander. My mind this morning wanders everywhere. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m hopeful, I’m joyful, I’m numb. I’m also still very much in the processing phase of what our lives looked like a year ago. This week, last year, actually makes me laugh. In the span of five days we closed on our home, moved into our home, wrapped up our CHI apartment, I had my port surgery, fainted after my port surgery, wore my last pair of mismatching socks to the hospital ever (sock shamed) & successfully shopped for a wig I’d need in three short weeks. How did I even function? All of this while recovering from major surgery and preparing for chemo/radiation, which started the following week. I’m shaking my head at it all – one because we are probably a little crazy, but more so because I can’t believe that was our life. I’m so deeply grateful that I’m healthy this year and not going through all of that right now.

And while I feel that level of gratitude that I’ve never experienced before, there’s a piece of me that wants nothing to do with the holidays this year. Bold statement from a tried and true Christmas lover like myself! The holidays are a stark reminder of what’s missing in our life. These quiet mornings that allow my mind to wander are so needed for my sanity but also pierce my soul as they should be mornings filled with baby giggles and Christmas jammies. I’ve found grief to be impossible in so many moments, but I had no idea what was coming for me as the calendar ticks closer to December 1st. Grief is obviously difficult at the pure fact of Hallie missing from our earthly life but what makes grief nearly impossible is the way it creeps in with no warning. And I feel like it’s magnified mightily during the holiday season, when days are usually filled with so much joy. We should be stockpiling toys and yet, ‘stuff’ doesn’t interest me one bit this Christmas season. I actually find myself resenting it a bit, to be honest. It all seems meaningless when we would trade everything we have and all that we are to have Hallie terrorizing our Christmas tree ornaments this morning.

That’s all obvious, though. Or at least for us.

What plagues me even more are the moments that you just don’t expect. Moments you can’t plan for. And when you’re a planner, my oh my, it can sure be paralyzing. At the risk of sounding dramatic, those moments are truly devastating. And they’re usually so random! You would think it’d be the obvious- seeing a baby girl in her mama’s arms, or a comment that is said and is just a total miss (regardless of intentions, which I know are usually always good!). We are actually pretty good at smiling and nodding through those moments, while silently cursing the world. If together, Kevin and I make eye contact and move on. If they happen while we aren’t together, we’ve actually amazed ourselves at our ability to rehash them, find a way to laugh and move on. You have too! But it’s the moments that something so small goes so wrong – I’m talking like fry sauce spilling or plans changing and suddenly your world tailspins. And then you feel stupid that something so small can trigger such a tailspin. And then you just realize how sad you are, how off you are. And then you realize again how much you’ve lost and changed physically and how frustrating it is to not even be able to function normally on top of it all. I call these moments, these days, my, “just go to bed and try again tomorrow” moments. I’m learning to not be so hard on myself but that is insanely easier said than done. This, y’all, is grief.

I had one of those nights last night, while out on a date night with Kevin. I hate it. I hate all of this. But I woke up this morning to Christmas decorations starting to take over our home and in the same breath that I say Christmas is so hard, it’s also such a savior. If none of this makes sense or doesn’t add up, I think that’s the whole point of grief. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t add up. Ever! It makes you feel a little crazy sometimes. All Kevin and I can do is keep talking, keep finding a way to laugh, and somehow keep being grateful for our second chance at life. And of course, keep praying for that baby of ours out there!

Here’s to making the most of this Christmas season as we try to navigate it all. 🧡🎄

Hospital Sunrise

Who has the app Timehop? It’s been both a blessing and a curse in my life. On the good days, it’s fun to walk down memory lane. It can sometimes be helpful to have a perspective reset that in the span of our lives, the past year has been just that, one year. But then on the bad days. The anniversaries. The unexpected moments that trigger a deep sadness, it’s a curse. A curse that I equate to a car accident on a highway – you know it’s going to be brutal but you just can help but look. 

I’d say each day for the past couple of months has been more of the latter for obvious reasons. Nothing like starting the day with a punch to the gut at what should have been. But just as there are unexpected triggers of sadness, there are posts that stop you in your tracks for the good. This was from yesterday: This won’t mean much to most of you and if we are speaking honestly, you’re probably pretty underwhelmed by this photo. But the story behind it? That was from my hospital room last year. The 6th floor and it was early. I remember the moment vividly. The nurse had just come in for rounds (aka shots, aka the worst). It was so dark in the room, Kevin was sound asleep. It was a rare moment alone and I remember glancing over and that sunrise captivating me. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a totally cheesy human, a total sucker for things to take as a sign. I took this as a beautiful sign amidst so much heartache and loss in those days. Amidst so much physical pain and setbacks. I snapped a picture, wanting to remember that moment. A sign from Hallie (a sign from God) that even through the darkest days, the fiercest storms, the sun will always rise. And when it does rise, it shines down on us, completely different people, changed forever by our circumstances but with a hope that carries us through. This belief is exactly why Hallie deserved her name, Hallie Hope. 🧡

We broke out of Loyola after nearly a week, a year ago today. I use the words “broke out” generously. I really mean we wheeled reaaaally slowly, took three steps and a break. One stair per five minutes. But eventually we made it home. We also shared with you all, for the first time, our little girl and her most perfect footprints and handprints.  One step in front of the other. We’ve conquered another day. 

We have officially entered the season of Thanksgiving and as I reconnected with an old friend last night, a nurse herself, it made me realize that I wanted to take a moment today to express our immense gratitude for our doctors and nurses at Loyola. That hospital stay was hard. It doesn’t need to be described and yet the care for my body and our hearts was simply incredible. Those nurses of mine, heroes. Real life heroes. And my doctors. I’m 370 days cancer free because of their expertise, giving us the ability to hope. We left that hospital with empty arms a year ago, a life we could’ve never imagined but just as there is always hope in that the sun will rise, we cling to the hope of the life in store for us and the baby out there that is meant to be ours. Hopefully sooner than later, of course. 🧡

HHH💖

This. This was our last family photo. Truth is I have zero recollection of taking this photo. At that point I had already been sedated prior to the epidural. According to Kevin I asked for it, saying it’d be our last family photo, and a whole lot of tears from the entire pre-op staff ensued. So I’m told.

It’s been 365 days since we lost Hallie and not one of those days makes sense. Those days have been filled with incredible loss and unbelievable circumstances. As we distance ourselves further from the physical treatment of beating cancer, it seems as though our loss becomes more tangible. Today, it just feels numb. Today, more than ever, my heart just wants to know the earthly why. My best attempt at articulating what today, what this week has felt like is paralyzing. It’s like we’ve been held hostage to these dates and the cost of what they all mean. Ever since this nightmare started, so many people have reached out with their favorite verse or sent me incredibly thoughtful words. I’ve kept an ongoing note on my phone where I have saved every one of them. I’ve referenced it more times than I can count over the past year. Today, I fixate on Philippians 4:7.

I read a blog the other day about interruptions in life and how no matter how small or how big they are, they are meant to seek our attention. To get us to slow down. To open our eyes and to give us the opportunity to identify those we should hold close when they need it most and to recognize when we ourselves need to be held. There is power in both. I’ve never been good at the latter but one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned the past year is that there are just days you don’t have to be ok. You simply have to let go and allow yourself to be held by God’s grace. Today is that day in the biggest of ways. 

You left incredible footprints in this physical world Hallie, but your true footprint lives on forever in our hearts and in Heaven sweet girl. We would give anything to have your laughter fill our home these days. We can’t wait for the day that we will finally get to hold you. 💖 I will never let you go when I finally get that opportunity.  

As for us today, we are off to the airport to get off the grid for 48 hours with two of our best friends. Two people that have been so incredible to us and who we love so dearly. Two people that have walked this journey with us every day and who would’ve undoubtedly been the greatest honorary Aunt Noelle & Uncle David to Hallie. She totally would’ve had her first Taco Bell experience with them. We are honored to remember Hallie with them today and we are grateful to call them family. 

And although we are numb today, we believe to our core that Hallie would’ve been the happiest, funniest, biggest bundle of energy possible. We believe her legacy is one of love and laughter. And bravery. Find a way to honor her today. Hug your family and friends a little tighter. Be grateful for all you have in those closest to you, as that is what matters more than anything. And as we tried to do even in the hardest of moments, be brave enough to find a moment of laughter, a glimmer of hope on her behalf. And as always, share your stories with us when you have a moment that it just had to be Hallie. We love them! 

Love you Hallie girl 💖, forever and always. 

October 20th, 5:56pm

The day & exact moment in time that our world was solidified as upside down, inside out.

I remember I got the phone call while Kevin and I were sitting on the couch. I remember the Doctor barely listening to me, having his mind made up on treatment. He already scheduled a PET scan, something you can’t do while pregnant. I hung up the phone to process, but needless to say, we never talked to that doctor again.

I remember relaying the details to Kevin. I remember the very next moment vividly: we laughed. We shook our heads in incredible disbelief and simply asked, “How? How is any of this real?” I’ve learned that laughter and tears are truly interchangeable. 

I promise I don’t have a photographic memory in terms of how I know that time stamp, I simply still have all the notes on my phone from every phone call with the doctor. They’re haunting to read. I still have the draft of the mass text we sent our families and closest friends after that call – it’s outright heartbreaking. It’s unfair, it’s sobering, its confusing. It’s paralyzing. It’s a few shattered lives widdled down to a few paragraphs. 

The next day brought a two week journey of opinion after opinion, pursuing any doctor that would see past the type of cancer to give our baby a shot.  It brought the ultrasound where we’d learn that our baby was a girl, she was our Hallie Hope. It brought scans that showed the cancer hadn’t spread. It brought a scan that showed I was misdiagnosed at 1b2, my tumor was a lot smaller and I was reclassified as 1b1. Seems like no big deal but that 1b1 brought a significantly different outlook. I now know that was God’s first sign to us that He is ultimately in control. It brought so many boxes packed out of stress and sadness – leaving our one bedroom apartment for our newly purchased family home. It was a haze, it was exhausting. I simply can’t articulate the crushing blows over and over. There aren’t words to describe having your future spelled out to you in a way like this.

During those weeks, our hearts and minds were so focused around Hallie. Every effort, every phone call, every appointment, every email sent. Obviously cancer was the driving topic but I don’t think we really made sense of the cancer diagnosis. It’s another thing that’s really hard to articulate – coming to grips with your own mortality, how fragile life is, how little control you have in a battle with cancer, the true meaning of faith.

I had no idea what I was in for 10/20/16. Hallie & grief aside (because that’s no big deal, right?) – cancer. Cancer is a beast. 1 major surgery, 1 minor surgery, 5 rounds of chemo & 28 rounds of radiation. HARD. The long term side effects, the physical scars, the mental & emotional side effects. Every aspect of our life is different, every aspect of our relationships have changed. Our sense of security was shattered. Our faith was tested to the core and in ways that the world has made me to feel like I’ve failed, God has shown me over and over again to continue to trust in Him and His greater plan. During chemo a family friend shared a song with me – Thy Will by Hillary  Scott of Lady Antebellum. The song is amazingly spot on, as if I wrote it, if I had any creative talent of course. Part of the song says, “I don’t want to think, I may never understand, that my broken heart is part of your plan. When I try to pray, all I have is hurt…I know You’re good, but those don’t feel good right now. I know you think of things I could never think about. It’s hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise, just trying to make sense of all your promises. Sometimes I’ve got to stop and remember that you’re God, and I am not.”

That song goes on to say: Your plans are for me, goodness you have in store. Thy will be done. 

So that’s where you find me today, one year removed. Our hearts are shattered, my hips are sore, we are forever changed. Blind faith. We battle everyday to not let the demons of cancer steal anything further from our lives. 

What have I learned? A lot, but nothing I’m great at articulating yet. I’ve learned the meaning of how precious life is and how fleeting it is. I have learned that while something may feel unfair, nothing is unfair in life. Someone always has it worse therefore there is power in always being grateful. There is always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of days. I’ve learned that attitude is everything and I’ve learned that being able to be grateful comes from a blind trust in God’s plan. I’ve learned that it’s ok to be angry, to be sad, to feel every emotion under the sun. I’ve learned how lonely a walk like this can be, I’ve learned the power of walking in the lowest of valleys alongside those hurting. I’ve learned that stuff means nothing. Spend your money on experiences. Be with the people you love most. Don’t make excuses, make it happen. I’ve learned that making plans with cancer can be frustrating. Heck, I’ve learned that making plans at all, in theory, makes God laugh! I’ve learned that there is so much good in this world, there is so much love, there are so many people that care. I’ve learned the power of true friendship. I’ve learned the power of prayer. I’ve learned the power of relationships. I’ve learned the power of resiliency. We’ve learned what it takes to fight for our marriage. We learned what a marriage truly is. We’ve learned how to deal with physical limitations and we’ve learned how to laugh at the most embarrassing of them to make it all ok. I’ve learned all about blood counts and scans and ports and hospitals. I’ve learned how shots for blood thinners are the worst in the hospital. I’ve learned how good sausage mcmuffins can taste during chemo. I’ve learned that laughter is the best therapy. I’ve learned how much I value relationships more than anything in life. I’ve learned the power of a legacy and I know in my heart what I want my legacy to be. I’ve learned that the hardest trials are the biggest opportunities. I’ve learned how to be held. Ive learned how you can have moments of pure heartbreak and pure happiness all in one. I’ve learned how to give up control. I’ve learned how to fight back. I’ve learned perspective, over and over and over again. 

We have learned in an enormous way how incredible all of you are. A giant, genuine, heartfelt thank you to each of you. These past 365 days have shown us the power of true love, compassion, generosity and prayer. I wish I had the words to articulate the impact you’ve had on our journey. The impact you continue to have. Kevin and I are so aware of all you’ve done for us and we are forever grateful! Forever, forever grateful. And we are forever grateful for our incredible medical team at Loyola. We were exactly where we needed to be in all of this and we continue to feel such extraordinary care from our Loyola family. 

The next two weeks are going to be incredibly difficult as we continue to navigate all of the raw memories. I am dreading the day I had surgery. That burden is far too big, that grief is far too real, we will cross that bridge when we get there on 11/4.

For today, we beat cancer so there’s a hint of victory we are trying to honor. There’s a huge sense of gratitude as that is a huge feat. We acknowledge that today, separate of the cost it came at (or at least attempting too). 

We simply thank God for the fact that I am here today.

10/17/16: I Remember

I remember waking up with nerves but not allowing myself to, “go there.” The odds were forever in our favor.

I remember my Mom picked us up. She insisted on driving us. A mother’s intuition.

I remember my phone buzzing with words of prayers and encouragement. We had of course let our closest circle know about the appointment we had the Friday before.

I remember we took the LSD route to the hospital since it was such a beautiful day. I remember vividly that it was a perfect fall day in Chicago. My absolute favorite.

I remember that Kevin wore a Notre Dame t-shirt. I remember that because we were giving him a hard time for dressing up for the occasion.

I remember walking into the office I was to report too and there were women with bald heads everywhere.

I remember specifically that I was texting with Kaela in that moment and I remember telling her, “I don’t belong here!”

I remember the waiting room – we sat in the corner. We were talking baby names. I remember laughter. I remember my Mom taking Kevin’s side in some debate, probably some wild name idea. Those two collude against me.

I remember the nurse calling us back.

I remember the doctor walking in with his brigade of med students. That room was packed.

I remember the doctor starting the procedure. There was a TV that showed the students what he was looking at.

I remember him asking if I wanted to watch. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this guy out of his mind? Why would I want to do that?” I politely declined and turned my head the other way.

I remember Kevin standing behind me, his hands on my shoulders the entire time.

I remember quiet. I don’t know if it was but I remember just pure silence.

I remember not even being able to sit up or put my clothes back on before the doctor said, “Oh yeah. This is cancer. You will lose this baby and you won’t be able to have kids again.”

I remember that taking all but 10 seconds to say.  10 seconds to shatter someone’s world. It’s all it took.

I remember silence again. I remember vividly wanting to talk but having no words.

I remember it feeling like 30 minutes had come and gone before either of us could muster words. I’m sure it was a minute.

I remember Kevin finally breaking the silence. I remember him specifically asking, “You’re sure? You’re sure that it’s cancer?”

I remember the doctor responding with, “Oh it’s for sure cancer.” I remember feeling like, “a little compassion, please?!”

I remember sobbing. I remember shaking.

I remember feeling so defensive towards how flippantly ‘losing your baby’ was being tossed around.

I remember Kevin not releasing me from his grip, as if that was the moment he realized he couldn’t physically protect his wife or child from this.

I’m sure the doctor said more but I don’t remember any of it.

I remember the nurse asking if that was my Mom in the waiting room. I said yes. She asked if I wanted her in there. I said yes please. Who doesn’t want their Mom the moment their world shatters?

I remember when my Mom walked in and I swear I will never forget the look on her face.

I remember telling her what we had been told. I never knew you could visibly see someone’s heart shatter like that.

I remember my Mom went into the bathroom in the room and threw up.

I remember shock.

I remember my Mom holding Kevin. And holding my hand.

I remember them telling us the biopsy results would be back in 2-3 days and that would confirm the diagnosis, reveal what type of cancer it was and would inform what next steps would be.

I remember walking out of the hospital, into that same perfect fall day, except now our world was upside down.

I remember being on the sidewalk outside of the hospital. I remember not really knowing what to do. No one had spoken yet. It was so sunny.

I remember breaking the silence with a smile, saying, “So what do you do after that? Do we go shopping? Do we eat? What does one do when they’re told they have cancer?!”

I remember we laughed.

I remember getting into the parking garage elevator, only to realize we were in the completely wrong parking garage.

I remember getting into the second elevator, in the right garage, one over, and a woman got in with us. I remember her looking at all three of us, we had clearly been sobbing. I watched her as she so badly wanted to say something but didn’t. I watched her hesitate after she got off on her floor, I watched her as she turned back to look at us one last time.

I remember driving through the garage when it hit me, “Wow. Am I going to lose my hair?!” I remember my Mom telling me to not even go there. I laugh now at that. That’s what you were worried about, Beef?!

I remember we drove to a restaurant that became our go to in the beginning of this nightmare. There began our love affair with stress-eating-french-fries.

I remember vividly that there was a little kid sitting at our next table, in a cute camo coat. I remember because I remember thinking to myself how cruel that was, that was a mini Kevin!

I remember my Mom prayed for us before we ate. I remember my Mom telling us to not get angry with each other as we tackled this. I remember not understanding in the moment the magnitude of that piece of advice.

I remember we found a way to laugh a lot. I remember my Mom telling me and Kevin to stop talking about whether I’d wear a Hawks hat or orange hat once I lost my hair. It was as if this lunch was our one last piece of “normalcy” before facing the world.

I remember my Mom taking us out to her house, a place that quickly became our refuge.

I remember calling my sister. I remember it was right as we were passing under the old post office. I remember, “Mary Did you Know,” was playing. (Yes, Christmas music became instantly allowed). I remember the silence on my sister’s end as she tried to understand what I was saying. I remember crying my eyes out with her. I remember feeling like no sister should get a phone call like that.

I remember calling the rest of my family members. My Dad. His world shattered. All of my brothers. My sister in law. I remember how automatically upbeat my older brother was, we were going to beat this no question. I remember how crushed my little brother was. I remember the disbelief in all of their voices.

I remember getting a text from Kaela while we were still in the car. We were crossing a railroad, nearly to my parents house. I remember responding to her, “It’s really bad Kaela.” She called me. We cried. And cried.

I remember my family mobilizing quickly and meeting us at my parents house. I remember the hugs. I remember the look of shock. Disbelief. Of utter sadness. I remember the blank stares as we sat on the couch.

I remember calling Sheila and Hilary. I remember this strange sort of calm about myself, knowing I was about to shatter their worlds too. I remember telling myself I had to make it ok for them to feel this, like I felt it. They were about to be in this fight as much as I was.

I remember talking to Hilary while in my parent’s kitchen. I was standing over the sink. I remember moving to the window, staring out of it as I listened to her try to understand this.

I remember vividly dialing Sheila. I knew as soon as she saw “B” pop up, she’d know. You see, we have a spoken rule: phone calls are reserved for emergencies or deaths. Instead, we text 100’s of times a day. It’s become our thing! I called her that day. The only other time I called her through all of this was when she and Moe graciously took our skunked dogs while I was in the hospital, all while 8 months pregnant. Heroes.

I remember feasting on Augustino’s that night. Food. A common theme (eating) in our disbelief!

I remember taking a call from my OB. I remember the shock and disbelief in her voice. I remember periods of silence. Just completely shocked.

I remember my brother Chris, who had basketball that night, leaving practice just to come give me a big hug, before heading right back.

I remember getting back to our apartment to find a bouquet of flowers at our door step, with a card, from my brother in law Sean. He has the sweetest heart. I remember he wrote that he had no idea what to say but that we had a whole lot of Conrad’s and Hart’s behind us. And that we did. That we do.

I remember knowing in my core how this was going to play out, but praying like I’ve never prayed before for some miracle over the next 2-3 days as we waited for the official diagnosis. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that this was simply a bad dream. I pleaded with God over and over, please let this baby be safe.

I don’t remember going to bed that night. I don’t remember at all how Kevin and I ended that day. I don’t even remember if we slept that night.  I’m sure we wondered how we were going to make it through the next 2-3 days. I’m sure we felt a million different emotions. Actually, maybe we felt nothing at all. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember that part. We were probably numb.

It was all, it is all, still, so surreal.

 

 

 

 

One Year Ago

One year ago.

One year ago, life was normal. Sure, we had an appointment the next day that could be stressful, but there’s no chance it’d play out that way. We’d been reassured over and over how normal this type of test result was.

One year ago our biggest concern was what room we’d make into the nursery of the home we would soon move into.

One year ago our biggest concern was Kevin’s desire to trace insanely large (and creepy) animals on the nursery walls. Where did he even get taste like that?!

One year ago our biggest concern was who’d be good cop, who’d be bad cop. What kind of child care would we choose, what type of car seat was best. All legit things to be worried about!

One year ago we were nearly halfway there to having our first baby. We didn’t know the gender yet but it didn’t matter. We were so, so excited.

It is insanely hard to play this game and yet every day we wake up these days, that’s our game to play. Tomorrow, we enter the world where every day moving forward takes us back to some sort of dreaded memory. It all started tomorrow with that first colposcopy. And each day after, another appointment, another opinion, another crushing blow to every hope and dream we had for life, our little family’s life, our daughters life.

It is really weird/hard/insane/crazy to process. Does it feel real? Most days, no. I mean, it hurts, bad. There are still physical limitations, so yeah, it is real. But like, did this really happen, real?! Can we truly comprehend it? No. I’m not sure we ever will. And yet, I can’t wait for tomrorow, if that makes any sense. It’s been so hard reliving the days of, “last year, our life was perfect!” The what if’s. The, “there’s a million pregnancies a year with no issue, there’s no chance we are the one that this happens to,” mindset. I think the lead up to the milestone is often times worse than the milestone itself. So. Many. Emotions.

So what do you do on a night like this? Christmas music. Yes, lots of Christmas music. Any other year you can tell me it’s too early, but this year? Give it to me!!

And you focus on the good. There is good! So much good. We are surrounded by people who love us so much, who pray for us constantly, who carry us through. We got to be part of my sisters engagement this week, a moment that we will cherish forever. (I legit squealed louder than her in the moment, I think! 😂) It was so perfect. We have the most handsome nephew in the world. I’m alive. We will find a way to be thankful always, I promise you that!

Thanks for your continued prayers as we press forward in this coming week specifically and the insane emotions that we are about to endure. Another chapter to #halliestrong – forever our driving force! 💖

#halliestrong

We are rolling into the time of year where every day presents a, “last year at this time…” 

Today?

That one stings. Especially as I see those same shoes today, sitting next to Hallie’s footprints. 

What’s funny about that announcement is we delayed it, because of that phone call we got a couple weeks prior to it last year. Standard practice in today’s world is to share your exciting news at 12 weeks, when it’s considered safe to do so. I remember checking off each week- 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. I remember making it to 12 and breathing a huge sigh of relief with Kevin. This kid was ours to keep! But then 12.5 weeks brought that call. Abnormal test results. No big deal. Pregnancy causes it. We will wait until the second trimester to explore it, when it’s safe for the baby. We went to Giordanos that night to shake it off. Pizza, of course. True to the Hart/Conrad way.

We went back and forth on whether to announce our pregnancy. There is so much joy to be had in that, especially as the first grandchild in our families. Truthfully I was the one who delayed it. I asked Kevin that we hold off in telling people. Somewhere deep down in me that “what if ” nagged at me. So we waited. We passed a couple more weeks. We finally decided to bank on those test results being nothing and took a gamble on the joy of announcing our exciting news carrying us through the remaining couple weeks until we knew for sure it’d be nothing. Kevin wanted to do a Prego jar or a bun in the oven (literally) but we settled on Bears shoes and our puppies to announce it.

Overwhelmed, we were, by all the love. I think Baby Hart was overdue by a lot of people’s standards. Carried us through it absolutely did. 

I am a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I believe with all my heart that all things work together for good, for those that love the Lord. It doesn’t mean I don’t wonder why we waited, why we finally decided to take a risk in announcing it. Cancer is impossible in and of itself – it’s incredibly difficult to speak too, and it’s impossible to relate too. But the loss of a child because of it? I am so thankful we felt that nudge too because Hallie has become our source of courage as we fight. How people fight cancer without hope, I will never know. You can’t survive it! Our hope has been beyond bleak on some days, but even on those days we have Hallie in our hearts. We fight because had we not had her, who knows what today, September 22nd, would’ve looked like for me, for Kevin, for our families. 

Every day is another “last year at this time” moment for us and as we near October 20th and November 4th, it’s going to get harder and harder. You think the emotions one year removed would be easier to deal with but they’re an entirely different set. Thanks for thinking of us and for your prayers as we continue to tackle each day. It all has to mean something, we do believe that! We are admittedly anxious for a day that it does start to really make sense. Until then, we remain #halliestrong! 

A Diamond Earring 

My hair is officially that of a Pomeranian, or perhaps Simba as a little lion. The struggle of short hair + crazy curls + humidity is real. Very, very real. Especially when you aren’t a gifted “girl.” Where’s the ponytail option?! But at least it IS turning red again. 

Rewind to a few weeks ago, we were in PHX and my trusted stylist Kaela took me headband shopping. You laugh at how silly that seems but headbands are totally outside of my comfort zone! We tried on a few & she walked by my side that next morning into work, telling me over and over to just be confident while rocking it. I still never know what are real compliments and what are sympathy compliments but I made it through the day, got lots of love and now I’m obsessed. 

Fast forward now to a couple nights ago. I had gone on an Amazon shopping spree for headbands. Can’t put a price on a new found confidence that had been missing for a long while since having to shave my head. There was a 10 pack of vibrantly colored headbands, perfect for me. 

They arrived Wednesday. I tore the package apart to find the 10 headbands, but they were very, very different than the ones I had ordered. For those of normal emotional capacity, no big deal at all. For me, in my most vulnerable state, I was crushed. And of course when I read the listing, it said, “you will get a variety delivered, not necessarily those pictured.” Read, Beef, read! 

I started trying them on one by one. Going through my mind? “Ok, they aren’t that bad.” “Alright, that one is actually really cute.” “Oh I really like that one!” At some point I heard a faint clank but made nothing of it. I tried on a few more. I was actually kind of happy with them!

I heard another clank. It registered this time, I thought maybe my necklace fell off or a diamond fell out of a ring. Both were there, I continued on. 

One more clank and this time I saw my diamond earring on the sink top. 

I quickly put it back in my ear after a slight heart attack. That’s when I realized that my other earring was gone. That was the clank. 

I called Kevin in for a stage-five-emergency.  We searched high and low. He took apart the sink piping and found the back of the earring but not the earring. 

You see, these diamond earrings aren’t just diamond earrings. They are so, so special because of their story. Those who have followed my story know that the day I had to shave my head was one of the lowest of this entire fight. I never could’ve predicted it but that crushed my soul. My Mom gifted me with a pair of her earrings and I wore them the entire fight. Yes they were beautiful, yes I adored them, but what I really adored was her act of compassion. Those earrings were a symbol of the lengths my Mom went too to get me through this nightmare. I loved having that piece of her. 

And now one was gone. Just like my hair. Just like my daughter. Just like our normal. 

And it was gone because I was trying on headbands to try to best my circumstances. It was gone because I got the wrong headbands and I was trying to make the most of the situation, prove to myself it was ok. 

It was losing an earring, a diamond one at that! But it was also so much more than losing an earring and such is life as a cancer survivor & grieving mom. 

Bless Kevin’s heart.  He tore our house apart and consoled me, knowing how special those earrings wore. Knowing how it was so much more than just the earring.

During treatment, my bestie Hilary forwarded me a devotional that eventually led me to an app called First 5. It’s meant to steal the first five minutes of your day, five minutes that I usually fill with social media (which is fake, am I right Noelle?! 😂). When I downloaded it, the devotional series was a study of Esther. Pretty cool, right? Now it’s moved on to a study of Job, who lost all of his children. I can remember many, many moments over the past 9 months feeling guilty that I’ve asked God why. Why cancer? Why Hallie? Why my earring!! What I’ve learned is that God is big enough for our why’s, He wants us to articulate our why’s. But the chaos of life all makes perfect sense in His plans, as much as it hurts in the moment. I’ve clung to this. Even when I want to cry uncle and scream, “when do we get a break?!” – as I did that night. And as I articulated to God the next morning. And then an amazing thing happened. A friend reached out to me, in the most thoughtful of ways & with a specific purpose: to mark that day with me, as it was 6 months to the day from Hallie’s due date. She wanted me to know Hallie was not forgotten, Kevin & I were not forgotten. And boy, did it show me that yes, we have lost so much, but we have gained even more in so many ways. In true friendships, being one! And in faith, for sure.

And so, you move forward, gratefully, as best as you can, because it will all make sense one day. Even if it is with short hair. Or scars. Or tingly feet from chemo. Or with one less beautiful earring. 

We are 10 days away from my 6 month scans. Crazy, right? Time continues to fly. Scanxiety is a very, very real thing but I’m challenging myself this time around to not let my feelings dictate my faith. And to help, I am currently in the midst of a 4-airports-in-5-weekends stretch, which included a sister weekend that was so, so good for the soul. And for this weekend, you will get a kick out of this. All you wives out there, tell me this isn’t the best trip ever: this weekend our bestie Moe is cooking in a professional BBQ competition in Kansas City and Kevin is his runner. They hit the road at 3:45 this morning and will be camping at the BBQ spot all weekend, with the final judging on Sunday. Me and Sheila? We are flying down this afternoon and staying in a hotel near the competition. We are joining the boys tonight for BBQ festivities and hitting the town for girls days tomorrow. Brilliant, right?! It’s going to be an incredible weekend with the best of friends. Free therapy at its finest. Wish Moe luck!!

Kevin and I ask for your continued prayers as we head into those scans. Thanks so much for always making time for us. We love y’all!