Friday, April 24, 2015

"Before the Earth Awakes"

I am hoping to find time in the coming week to finish up the edits on the "Before the Earth Awakes" fine art photos.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights from this very special shoot. 

Deciding on an edit was a challenge.  Facebook friends helped me to decide on this combination of edits, on the right.
And then of course... another day... another editing style.  Moods determine so much in the editing process.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #20 (crisis/business derailment)

It's OK to temporarily derail your business, when a family crisis occurs.

Shortly after my dad passed away, an article came up in my Facebook news feed.  The title was something like- "5 Ways to Avoid Derailing Your Business During a Crisis".

While the general intention was good, it made me angry.

I LOVE my job.  Like REALLY love my job.  My clients are crazy awesome, my creative mind gets a daily workout, the pay is enough to contribute to my family in a meaningful way, basically aside from paying taxes and returning phone calls, it's quite perfect for me.

But, I will derail it again, and again, for the sake of my family. 

Now before you start arguing in your mind, saying- "But, Miss Kimmi, you own your business.  You have the flexibility to put it on hold without much consequence."  Please know- that is only paaaaartially true.  The problem is- when the sole worker at a business stops working, the business stops working.  Which means we lost a lot of money (and a few clients), due to cancelled shoots. 

I don't share that for a pat on the back or a sympathetic "awe".  We made it through and are OK now.  I share this with you to empower and encourage you to make the decisions that will allow you to look back on a time of crisis with no regrets.  

Your business or work may be the direction you have to go in. Maybe you're the sole bread winner in your family.  Maybe you don't have a choice.  But if you do and you're on the fence, please believe me- It IS OK to derail your business.  You will have the rest of your life to get it back on track, once the crisis is over.  But you may not have the rest of your life to help, encourage, and spend time with your loved ones.  Because "the crisis is over" may actually mean "your loved one has died" and no amount of money or clients lost will make you regret the time that you gave to your family.

Lessons I Hope You Learn Along the Way #1 (medical professionals)

Doctors, nurses, secretaries, and medical supply vendors, please know ~  You hold in your power the ability to help, and the ability to hurt.  Please use your powers carefully.

We had many amazing medical professionals walk through my dad's life, as he battled cancer.  In general the level of care that he received was good and for that we are very grateful.

But there were a few people who handled themselves in unprofessional and occasionally infuriating ways, which caused great stress to myself and my family.

Mistakes are understandable.  But no one should have the burdens of insensitivity, unprofessionalism, or ineptness added to the burdens of a terminal diagnosis, or any illness for that matter. 

Some of the requests below seem basic and shouldn't need to be said.  But given our experiences, I think it's worth putting out there, in the hopes that other patients receive more thoughtful care.


Please introduce yourself to the patient, before talking about personal things with your coworkers. 

Please read the charts and become familiar with the person's history before asking a barrage of questions.   

Please weigh your words and choose your inflections carefully.

Please follow through with your staff to be sure that details don't slip through the cracks. 

Please communicate regularly with other doctors and personnel who are treating your patient.  And if the patient passes away, please let everyone know in a timely manner.

Please schedule tests or exams in a timely manner.

Please keep on top of needed medical supplies.

Please make sure that all medical supplies are thoroughly cleaned and operating properly before delivery.

Please return phone calls. But not with your butt, because it's extremely frustrating to be on the phone with a doctor, but not be heard by said doctor.

Please treat your patients with the same care that you would want for your family.  

And when delivering bad news to your patients, please make them feel as if their needs are the only things on your mind in that moment- because I can assure you, your help is the only thing that is on their minds in that moment.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #19 (cancer/don't wait)

Do what you can, while you can.  Don't wait until it gets better, because it may never get better.

This became one of my mantras, after my dad, Jack, was diagnosed with lung cancer.  While it may sound like a pesimistic outlook, it proved to be one of the best decisions that I ever made.

At the start of each "phase" (suspicion of cancer, diagnosis, treatments, decline) I asked myself- if this is the best he's going to be for the rest of his life, what should we do now, that we may not be able to do in a few weeks or days...

We took more pictures, we made more visits, my brother's family came in from Thailand sooner instead of waiting, we went hunting, we worked on his gun, we watched Harry Potter...  ;)  

Had we waited till he felt better, looked better, got off his oxygen, or till "the worst was over", we never would have done these things.    

Please.  If you have a loved one who is ill, don't wait till they are better.  Do things now, while you can.  And if God gives healing and your loved one overcomes their illness, celebrate!  And then do more things!  

If my dad had been healed, I would still cherish the photos that I took and the memories that we made, during his illness.  But if I had not had the courage to take the photos or if I had not created new memories, because I was waiting till he was better... I would be filled with regret today.

Do what you can, while you can.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #18 (death/duties)

There is more to death than death, for the people who are left behind.

Having never lost someone this close to me before, I was ill prepared for the amount of thought, decision making and emotions that would come with my dad's death.

Prior to this experience, I had mostly just thought about the sadness in the people who were left behind, and the eternal resting place of the person who had passed.  

I had never considered the many other things that accompany death.

The removal of the body.

Contacting people and breaking the news.

Writing the obituary.

Planning the burial.

Planning the memorial service.

Picking memorial cards for the service.

Planning a meal, after the service.

Selecting the tombstone.  

Wording on the tombstone.

The timing of the tombstone's placement.

Filing legal documents.

Changing names on accounts.

Organizing the deceased  person's belongings.

Distributing or storing the belongings.

Putting away the medical supplies.

It's overwhelming just thinking about those tasks, let alone doing them right after you lose someone you love.

I totally get why God makes us numb, at first.  Such a beautiful coping mechanism...

And then there are the every day questions and decisions such as:

What will my mom do now?

Will she live in the big house by herself?

Does she have enough money to live comfortably?

Does she have enough health insurance?

Who will take care of the property?  

Who will take care of the horses and ponies?

Who will fix the sink?

On and on it goes...

The void left behind by a person who passes is so much bigger than I'd imagined.

There is so much more to death than death...

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #17 (cancer/caregiving pt2)

Caregivers need emotional, spiritual, and physical support.  And breaks.

In my previous post, I mentioned how much time and energy my mom put into caring for my dad, at the end of his life.  

Unfortunately, it's one of those posts that falls flat when comparing it to reality.  You just don't know what a caregiver goes through unless you see it or experience it first hand.  So if you haven't, I just ask that you trust me and believe me- it is very, very difficult to be the primary caregiver of someone, especially a full grown adult.  And we should thank them.  Over.  And over.  Again.

Adding to that, another lesson I learned was that the primary caregiver needs as much support as the person with the illness.

Sending notes of encouragement, visiting them, bringing food, praying for them (and with them), etc...  yes. yes. yes.  These are incredibly helpful for the caregiver.  

But the primary caregiver needs a break now and then too.  And that's a whole other ballgame.  

My mom gave round-the-clock care to my dad. There were times that she needed to go and take care of things outside of the house, but it was very hard for her.  Not only because she didn't want to leave him for fear of what could happen while she was gone, but because it was extremely difficult for her to trust another person to care for him, as well as she would.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is- if you have a loved one who requires constant care and you are not the primary caregiver, step up.  Learn the routines.   Ask questions.  Take notes.  Earn the trust of the primary caregiver by showing them that you know how to provide quality care.  And make yourself available to care for the loved one, so that the primary caregiver can have a break, when needed.  

Because it is needed.

*This post (or any of my posts) should not be interpreted as a secret message to my family that they didn't step up enough.  1) If/when I have an issue with my family, it's handled directly, not via the internet.  And 2) Our family came together to help in a variety of ways.  We are more bonded because of our experiences and the support that we gave each other.  So please no reading between the lines.  I say what I mean both online and in person.  :)

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #16 (cancer/caregiving pt 1)

Spouses/loved ones who take on the duties of being the primary caregiver deserve our thanks.  And possibly a medal. 

During the end of my dad's illness, I stayed with my parents quite often.  I saw first hand the amount of work that my mom put into caring for my dad. 

Organizing and administering his meds, making his food, refreshing his coffee, helping with his oxygen compressors and tubes, getting things that he needed, communicating with medical personnel, preparing items for his shower, doting on him, you name it, my mom did it.  

Caregiving was her full time job.

It never stopped.  Even when it stopped.

Meaning- even when she wasn't actively doing something for him she was "on".  Aware.  Paying attention.  Listening.  And ready to move quickly if he needed her.  She was physically doing a lot, but then even when she was "resting", she wasn't truly resting.  It was exhausting just watching it, let alone living it.

As his primary care giver, her whole life revolved around keeping my dad as comfortable as possible and doing what was in her power to extend his life.

As his primary care giver, her whole life revolved around keeping my dad as comfortable as possible and doing what was in her power to extend his life.

That wasn't a misprint.  It's a statement worth repeating. And digesting.  And then maybe even reading again.

Her life was fully engaged in taking care of him.

At some point during the last months of my dad's life it dawned on me- I had been very active in asking questions and helping where I could, but I hadn't actually THANKED my mom for caring for my dad.  

I guess there was a part of me that thought- well of course she would take care of him.  He's her husband and she loves him.  I would do the same in her shoes.

I took her actions for granted.

And I was wrong to do that.

The amount of work, patience, and strength  that was poured into his caregiving deserved many, many thanks.  She temporarily put her life on hold to devote herself to whatever life my dad had left.  And I am so thankful for that.

*For those who are new, I have two dads. My biological dad, Roger, is still alive and well.  These posts are about my step-dad, Jack, who along with my mom raised me (and many siblings) from the time I was 2 1/2 years old.  Jack passed away on December 2, 2014, at the age of 62, due to lung cancer. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #15 (death/power)

Lessons I've learned along the way # 15
I can choose what has power over me.
In October, my dad's lung cancer diagnosis went from stage 3a, to stage 4- terminal cancer. This changed everything.
Plans changed. Emotions changed. Perspectives changed. 
Everything changed.
The quaint cemetery on the road to my parents house was one of the most surprising changes, for me. 
I used to love it. The stone walls... the wrought iron gate... the quintessential white church, across the road... everything was just charming.
But after the final diagnoses, it became my enemy.
I wanted my dad to live and reside in his home. While the cemetery wanted my dad to die and reside in it's ground. 
My mind gave the cemetery a personality. A desire. And a life (oh the irony). Every time we drove by it, it taunted me and I became angry at it.
After my dad passed, we held his burial there. The cemetery had won.
Now, it held even more emotional power over me.
My heart broke again and again, at the sight of it. How could this have happened? I couldn't believe my dad was there... And if I wanted to visit him, I had to go into it- to the place that stole my dad from us.
On Christmas day especially, my spirit battled. I felt as though visiting his grave was the right thing to do. I wanted to visit him. But I didn't.
Instead I had an epiphany that night.
I realized that I had been giving power to something that deserved no power.
My dad's body is buried in that graveyard. 
But my dad is not there.
His soul is in heaven. 
And his memories are everywhere else. 
In that moment, I took away the cemetery's emotional impact on me and replaced it with this perspective-
It does not matter where my dad's body is. I do not need to visit his resting place to feel him. He did not live in that cemetery. I have no happy memories of him there.
I have happy memories of my dad in his big brown chair, teasing the kids, carving the turkey, working on the tractor, eating breakfast with my mom, hunting, fishing, and laughing. Always laughing.
The things that remind me of my dad's LIFE deserve my emotional attention. Not the things that remind me of his death. 
The cemetery holds no power over me now.

"Guiding Me Home" The Last Moments

It is not common to share the details of a person's passing.  However, God orchestrated such a beautiful ending to my dad's life that it needs to be shared...

As the last few hours drew near, we found ourselves once again all piled on and around my parent's bed, as my dad slept soundly and snored loudly.
We stayed true to ourselves and instead of being quiet and somber, we gave Daddy what he was used to, and expected- loud laughter, much mischievousness, and a rousing game of cards between the sisters who were present. 
After the games, I said- "I'm going to spend some more time with Daddy now." and went to sit by him.
There were praise and worship songs playing by us, and I felt a prompting to ask Fred to sing a few songs, with me.
To maintain the mood of the room we chose three upbeat songs from my phone. The first two were "Joy to the World" by Seabird- so he could hear one last Christmas song. And "Guiding Me Home" by Stomptown Revival. To be honest we chose "Guiding Me Home" without fully thinking through the words. But as they came out of our mouths, it was clear that God was setting the scene for my dad's homecoming.
Oh, Light of the hollows
The wind is filled with Your echoes
Your clouds as canopies,
Your rain, it covers me
You are wherever I roam…
You are the Reason…
Our souls carry on-- beyond this brief life
-Through every season…
Your beacon of love
Shines in the dark…
… you’re guiding me home…
Oh Lord of our Sorrows,
Lead on- dear Lord I will follow
Until the trumpet sounds
‘Till mirth and joy abound…
you whisper peace to my soul…
this train is tearing through the night black tunnel
I see a light, it’s distant but I know…it’s coming…
I believe in the days to come-- I’ll look up from my slumber-- and I’ll see my Lord
…Guiding me home
We sang one more song, "Manifesto" by The City Harmonic- which includes a creed and the Lord's Prayer.
By the time we finished, my sister Betsy had arrived. Those who were able to come were now all around him.
I leaned in, kissed my dad on the head and just started talking... I told him how much we loved him; that he had been such a good father and husband; that he had raised such a great family, and that we would take care of Mommy; that it was OK for him to go to heaven, and Jesus was there to give him his new lungs; that I would see him there in a few years... On and on I talked. I had said some of these things before to him, but this time it was different. I truly believe that I was a vessel being used by God, to deliver messages that my dad needed to hear, in order to leave in peace.
As I ended my talk, my dad's head rose from the pillow with a gasp. We called for my mom, who was at the foot of the bed. She ran to him, laid on his chest and wept, as he passed peacefully from her arms, into the arms of Christ.
My heart hurts. It hurts so much. I struggle with the suffering that he endured in the weeks leading up to his death. I cry when I think about him not being with us anymore. Disbelief and devastation wash over me without warning. But with this big, crazy family that my dad and mom created the smiles far, far, far outweigh the tears. That was the example that Daddy set for us. And that is how we will honor his memory- with love filled laughter, ample sarcasm, never ending teasing and most importantly- unshakable faith that we will be with him again, someday.
I love you, Daddy... we'll see you soon.

Questions I've Gained Along the Way #3 (cancer/time)

Questions I've gained along the way #3
After a loved one dies, people often say- "I'd pay any amount of money to have just one more day with them.... to hear their voice again... to hug them..."
So why don't more people sacrifice money, time on the job, etc... to be with their loved ones as much as possible, while they are alive? 
Everyone's days are limited. Cancer or not. Why do people wait till it's too late to understand that there is nothing on this earth that is more precious than time with loved ones. Nothing.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #14 (cancer/pictures)

Lessons I've learned along the way #14
Having a family member who takes pictures regularly (pre-illness) makes it easier and more natural to capture photos when an illness such as cancer enters the family.
You saw this one coming, didn't you?  wink emoticon
Because, I am one of the "picture-takers" of the family, it hasn't been strange for my dad (Jack) to see me snapping away, during this time. It's our normal. Even with the increase in quantity, he hasn't seemed phased. "It's just Kimberly. She's always got a camera in her face." 
Had I not been taking pictures before the cancer, my sudden drive to capture moments might freak him out a little. 
I am so thankful that I had established my photo obsession before all of this!
Taking this a step or two further, I would also highly, highly recommend that the family-picture-taker learn how to shoot in manual mode (controlling the ISO, shutter speed, & aperture). Without the skill to shoot in manual mode, chances are high that you will find yourself in low light situations which are difficult to capture in auto mode. Blurry photos of important moments would be incredibly frustrating. Learn how to operate your camera before a crisis occurs. 
And finally, I would encourage you, and have had to push myself, to take photos that are uncomfortable.
Take the sleeping shots, for example. I almost didn't attempt them. I didn't want to wake them... and I didn't want to get in trouble. haha But with my beep feature always off, and a light foot, I was able to snap a few, before my light-sleeping mama's eyes fluttered open. Then today, I took some photos of my mom rubbing my dad's shoulders. It was a tender moment that I didn't want to intrude upon, but I made myself do it. To NOT capture the scene would have been a failure in my mind. This is their life right now. Shoulder rubs are a part of the story. And I want to record the story as thoroughly as I can, even if it makes me uncomfortable while I'm doing it.
*Become a picture-taker now.
*Learn how to be a good picture-taker.
*And get out of your comfort zone to capture sentimental & important moments in the story.
Now, if only I had also been in the habit of capturing videos for our family before the cancer hit...

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #13 (cancer/energy and anger)

Lessons I've learned along the way #13
Put your energy where it's needed and your anger where it's deserved.
I'm a "doer". I like looking at a situation, assessing it, seeing what I can do to improve it, then doing it *or asking someone else to do it, if I'm not equipped. 
Gossip, worry, meddling, bitterness- all energy wasters. I try to purposefully avoid them, and instead throw my energy and efforts into helping where ever I can. 
A great example of this principle was demonstrated a while ago, when a group from our church went to a family's home and landscaped their yard for them. What an awesome gift for a family who was focused on healing and recovery! I want to be a doer like that!
Think outside of the box. Look for needs, both big and small. Then do.
As for anger- it's going to come. And sometimes, it tricks you into thinking that you're angry at the wrong things or people. It deflects. I need to keep an eye on this.
One of my life's mottoes is: 
If I don't ask God "Why me?" during the good times, then I don't have the right to ask Him "Why me?" during the bad times. (Or "Why us?" in this case.)
This has helped me keep my anger from going heavenward. For the most part... Once in a while it creeps up and I have to put it back in its place. But, if I believe that God is in control and that His way is best, then who am I to point the finger at Him in anger, when things get hard? 
Also, in full disclosure, sometimes I get angry with family members who aren't doing what I think they should be doing. And I have to keep that in check as well. Their choices are theirs to make. Not mine. I need to simply handle my own business and allow others the right to handle theirs, without my judgement. This isn't always easy, and I have to purposefully fight against that anger.
So where does anger fit in? Is there such a thing as justifiable anger here? 
I think so.
I am beyond angry at smoking, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc... At some point, I expect to post my thoughts on it. Smokers, feel free to quit now before I rip you a new one. It's not going to be pretty.
And I am angry at the doctors and services who have failed. Over. And over. Again. Not because they haven't cured my dad yet, but because the ball has been dropped in very unprofessional ways, too many times. 
There is room for error. There is not room for incompetence. Letters will be written.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out... 
Needless to say, I firmly believe that a passive stance on both energy expenditure and anger management is an unwise choice. 
Make the best of these situations by purposefully using- 
your energy to do good for others, 
and your anger to fuel change for the better.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #12 (cancer/tangible gifts)

Lessons I've learned along the way #12
Every gift, act of service, card, text, call, and/or visit is appreciated. Every. Single. One.
But if I am in a position to bless someone in need in the future, here is my top 10 list (in random order) for tangible gifts based on what I've observed at my parent's house.
1) Meals
Meals have been SUCH a blessing to my family. When my brother and his family of 6 visited from Thailand, people stepped up so much that we didn't have to make one single meal. Over 10 days! But the meals didn't stop there. They're still coming! Since there are allergies in the house, it's always nice to find out what a family can and cannot eat, but with so many visitors, nothing has gone wasted at my parent's house. I'll also throw in (at the risk of seeming self serving!) that meals for extended family who are traveling or helping a lot is also something I'll try to keep in mind, in the future. Thankfully, we are in a routine now and I have my intern Mary to help out a lot, so we are good to go. But I'll admit that the first two weeks were challenging at my own house. (We live about 3 hours from my parents, and I left in a hurry.)
*Note- bringing meals in throw away containers is appreciated. Otherwise casserole dishes breed in the corners.  wink emoticon
2) Coffee, tea + their accessories
Nearly every time I call to ask what my mom needs, the answer has been "Green Mountain Organic Coffee- whole bean!" haha Needless to say, with all of the visitors dropping by they've been going through a lot of hot beverages.
3) Easy to serve, long lasting snacks
-Cheese, crackers, and the like
-Fruit, but not too much at a time
-tortilla chips and salsa
-milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, mint chocolate... chocolate.
4) Desserts that can be individually portioned and frozen
Both the desserts and the easy to serve snacks have been great for guests (and family, of course!) It's so nice to have easy options to serve visitors!
5) Granola
While my dad was in the hospital, one of my friends brought us healthy snack bags (Thanks, Jen!). Since my mom's appetite wasn't so great she literally lived on the granola and whatnot in her bag. Granola and granola bars are awesome in times like these. Long lasting and nutritious.
6) Monetary gifts & gift cards
No matter how much a person has planned or saved, cancer puts a huge dent in the pocket. By giving money or practical gift cards, some of the budget stresses can be alleviated. 
7) Toilet paper & paper products
Yes! Yes! This is one I hadn't considered before, but one of my parent's friends contributed paper products and it was so useful, given all of the people coming into the house!
8) Gas cards
When my dad was receiving chemo & radiation, as well as when he was in the hospital, it was about a 45 minute drive from their house, one way. Gas cards were such a blessing! 
9) Phone cards
Also, extra special for the hospital times, as cell phone usage increases quite a bit.
10) Hand sanitizer and/or soap
You know why...  wink emoticon
What tangible gifts have you found to be extra helpful in times of need?

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #11 (cancer/loving others)

Lessons I've learned along the way #11
Actively loving others results in others actively loving you.
My dad (Jack) has been home from the hospital for over a month now. If I had to guess, I would say that my parents have had over 100 visitors, several acts of service, and many, many gifts given to them during that time. 
They are loved. And loved much.
And it's not just because they are nice, hospitable, and outgoing (which they are). It's because they have poured into the lives of so many, throughout the years. They have ACTIVELY loved others, in very big ways.
Here are a few examples:
*My parents were foster parents. Hard core. They began taking in children from the time I was 7 (and adopted one child, when I was a teen). With a house already filled with 5 kids, this made for a loud, crazy, ever-changing household. They lost count of how many kids came through their home, at about 300... You read that right! My parents had a hand in raising over 300 children, over 32 years... Some were temporary. Some were with us for years. How many people still to this day call them mom and dad? I don't actually know. Quite a few!
*My parents were active in the "Personal Ponies Program". For years, they had a breeding farm, where they raised UK Shetland Ponies and gave them to terminally ill and/or handicapped children. They were also the PA State Directors and Community Directors, for a time, before going back to "regular" volunteering for the program. They still have two beauties in their pasture- Shameka and Mr. Jay. They serve as a reminder of the special services that they provided, not to mention that they are a much adored attraction for visitors.
*My parents are members of the Christian Motorcycle Association, and my dad was the president of his community chapter, "Wheels for Christ". Here, they combine their love of motorcycles, Jesus, and people, by fostering relationships, spreading the love of Christ, and attending fund raisers to help others.
These are only a few of the bigger ways that they have actively loved others. In addition, my mom has done small dog and bird rescue work. She also volunteers at a local, community thrift store (Interfaith And both have been active in their church (, helping where ever they are needed.
To say that they have loved people is an understatement. They have taken that love and put it into action, over and over again.
I understand that not everyone is equipped to do all of the things that my parents have done. But my encouragement to you and the lesson to myself is simple-
If you spend your life seeking self-fulfillment then it stands to reason that you will have the person whom you've invested in most (yourself) there to help you, in times of need. But if you spend your life helping others, chances are good that they will return the favor when it's needed most. And oh what a beautiful, bonus blessing that is.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #10 (cancer/germs)

Lessons I've learned along the way #10
When visiting, washing your hands upon arrival is a very small act that can give some peace of mind to the family and patient. Not to mention that it helps protect the patient from germs and illness...
Post chemo especially, the patient's immune system is diminished. And the thought of adding more sickness to an already taxed body is a valid concern.
Even if you just used the restroom and washed your hands, when you come into the home or hospital room of someone who is sick, grab a dab of hand sanitizer, or use the sink to wash again. By doing so, you avoid causing not-so-nice thoughts in the minds of the over-protective-germaphobes... should there be any of those around. (cough cough) And you send the message that you care about the situation enough to inconvenience yourself with a little hand cleansing.
Small act. Big rewards.
Please. And thank you.  wink emoticon

Questions I've Gained Along the Way #2 (cancer/camrys)

Questions I've gained along the way #2.
Are Camrys and cancer truly ubiquitous? Or is it just my association that is causing me to see cancer now?
Several years ago our family purchased a white, Toyota Camry. As I drove it around NEPA, it suddenly felt like every fourth car was a white Camry. Two of my friends even had white Camrys. How did this happen? And how did I not see this before? Surely, they had been in plain sight...
Fast forward to today, and I feel a sense of deja vu.
With the announcement of my dad, Jack's cancer, I receive daily messages from friends who have loved ones who have battled, or are battling cancer. And I am stupefied. 
I realize that the Camry phenomenon was just my ownership causing me to notice other Camrys, however is that the case with the "cancer epidemic", as well? 
How many of you have a loved one who has, or has had cancer? *Feel free to add details that you are comfortable sharing, as I foresee your answers turning into prayers from more than a few people.*

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #9 (cancer/information flow)

Lessons I've learned along the way #9.
The patient & his/her significant other should be allowed to control the information flow, especially on public social media sites.
As much as we "supporting cast" people would like to share updates at will, the truth is that it's not our story to tell. It's theirs. And the "main characters" should have the right to say, or not say what is said, or not said.
If there is bad news, they may need time to digest and come to grips with the info.
If there is good news, we should not burst their bubble by posting it online before they get to do so.
And let's not forget that there are family members who should be notified personally, before info is put on the web. And unless you are a main character, you probably don't know if all of the supporting cast has been notified. 
This is a hard one for me, as I am big on communication. But through this process, I have reminded myself that it's not my story. It's theirs. Therefore, public broadcasts of information is their right. Not mine. And my actions need to respect that right.

Questions I've Gained Along the Way #1 (cancer/environment)

Lest anyone mistakenly think that I've got it all together, or have all of the answers, I'd like to mix in a few "Questions I've gained along the way" posts. If you have any answers or thoughts on the subjects, please feel free to post comments. 
Questions I've gained along the way #1.
If the medical industry acknowledges the correlation between emotions and health, why don't they do more in their medical facilities to foster an emotionally pleasing environment? 
I know that some medical facilities have gone the extra mile in this area, but in the two hospitals that we were in most, the rooms were plain. Visually sterile. Emotionally void.
There was a TV in each room, however to my knowledge there was no music option, or music playing over the intercoms. 
Hospitals have the opportunity to create attractive rooms that have the potential to uplift the spirits of their patients, which in turn may aid in their recovery.
Why do they choose to not use this opportunity? This doesn't seem like a difficult task to me.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #8 (cancer/comfort)

Lessons I've learned along the way #8.
Comfort comes in many shapes and sizes. Bask in it, even if it doesn't make sense in that moment.
Our faith in God is what has carried us through this journey so far. We take comfort in the knowledge that He is in control and we leave the outcome in His hands. 
But there have been other forms of comfort that have popped up unexpectedly.
For example- my vehicle. (??)
I had been visiting my dad (Jack) in the hospital for several days in a row. It was my new home away from home. One night, as I walked into the parking garage, I saw my CRV standing alone amidst a row of empty parking spots, and I felt a sense of happiness. It was familiar... it represented home... it gave me comfort...
Since then I have tried to be very aware of the other forms of comfort that God has blessed me with.
The expected:
Texts & messages of encouragement.
My "normal" routine.
Patient and understanding clients.
Philippians 4:13
Creative brainstorming.
Chocolate. (Of course)
And the unexpected:
My yarden. 
Hot caramel apple cider.
TED Talks &  CreativeLive.
Friends who I am used to supporting, who now support me.
Alone time.
Clients who go the extra mile to do something special.
Helping others.
My gear.
Friends whom I've never met in person, who offer to help.
Photos from HalfBakedHarvest.
Gathering herbs.
God may not literally put His arms around us in times of need. But I believe that He puts people and things in our paths to offer us a place of comfort. Embrace those pockets of comfort even if they appear in the form of a dusty CRV.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #7 (cancer/meals)

Lessons I've learned along the way #7.
*This suggestion was on the Today Show, this morning.  smile emoticon I like it!
Instead of asking "What can I bring for a meal?" Suggest a few things and let the person choose. 
There are so many other decisions to be made every day. Having the food choices narrowed down helps immensely! 
Here are some things to know if you're planning to bring something to my parent's house:
My dad is a "nothing fancy" meat and potatoes man. *He also loves chocolate and I'm not just saying that so I can raid his stash. Though, I probably will... 
My mom is allergic to the world. (gluten, dairy, cinnamon, soy, kale, anything processed. Organic is best.)
Having said that- there is a small army at their house at any given moment. So pretty much ANYTHING will work. We are used to having multiple options, to accommodate everyone's needs. Some of us prefer limited carbs and junk. And some live on it. lol Again- anything goes.  smile emoticon
Thank you to everyone who has helped us out in this way. My mom has mentioned how nice it is to not have to cook right now!

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #6 (cancer/feel)

Lessons I've learned along the way #6.
Allow yourself to feel everything. Allow yourself to feel nothing.
You cannot predict the range of emotions that you will go through in times like this. 
Giving yourself permission to feel whatever comes along will free you from the added emotion of guilt, if & when you feel like:
Sobbing, because you found out your dad's hair was starting to fall out...
Laughing, because you made your sister pee her pants. Again... 
Punching someone in the throat, because they are smoking in front of you...
Crying, because someone helped your family with an unexpected blessing...
Panicking, because you don't know how to connect the oxygen hoses properly... 
Smiling, because you beat your dad in a game of darts... OK, fine. Gloating big time, because you beat your dad in a game of darts... 
Your emotions are going to be all over the map depending on the situation, the mood, the song that plays, the hormones that rage, the wind that blows. 
Expect them. And express them (without throat punching). 
Emotions are part of the journey.
And then sometimes they are not.
Numbness may be one of God's greatest gifts during trials.
It's as if He says "Ya know... you've been carrying a lot on your shoulders, so I'm going to just take this load off of you for a while, and let you just be."
And just being is OK, too. 
Allow yourself to feel everything. Allow yourself to feel nothing.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #5 (cancer/needs)

Lessons I've learned along the way #5.
"Let me know if you need anything." and "What can I do for you?" are interpreted differently.
"Let me know if you need anything." is very kind and so appreciated. I am not knocking this phrase. I have said it, and meant it many, many times, myself. But when I hear this phrase, I simply say "Thank you." (And mean it.) I don't actually tell the person what I need. It just doesn't feel comfortable, for some reason.
But "What can I do for you?" sends the message that you are ready and waiting to help. It's not just a platitude. It is a call for action. You WANT to do something. You just need to know WHAT to do.
Across the board, I have answered the "What can I do?" question with specific needs. And then almost cried because I felt truly loved by the person asking. 
There are always needs. Always. And how you phrase your words has a lot to do with whether you hear those needs or not.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #4 (cancer/visiting hours)

Lessons I've learned along the way #4
Visiting hours are awesome for visitors, but they're not such a great time to be calling and texting the patient.
This never occurred to me before, but it makes total sense now that I've experienced it.
If a person is on restricted visiting hours, as they are in the ICU, then chances are good that there are close friends and family members who have been patiently waiting for the visiting hours to come.
Now imagine that they are finally in the room with their loved one, and people start calling and texting Mr. Sickie.
You (Mr. Calling & Texting Person) have now stolen time away from Mrs. Visitor who has been waiting a long time to hug, visit, and love on Mr. Sickie. 
This will not only make Mrs. Visitor a little sad and possibly cranky, but it also puts a lot of pressure on Mr. Sickie to decide who to give his attention to. And besides, if Mr. Sickie is just sitting in his room, watching Dancing with the Stars, bored out of his mind before and after visiting hours, it just makes sense to call at those times, eh?
Memorize visiting hours. And use them appropriately. I will certainly do better with this, in the future.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #3 (cancer/questions)

Lessons I've learned along the way #3
Limit your questions. And weigh you questions.
Too many questions at once can be overwhelming. Don't be overwhelming.
Starting questions with "Why didn't the doctors do this...?" is also not such a great idea. Try to have great ideas.
One of the best ways to inquire about a situation such as this is to simply ask for an update, or say "How is so-and-so doing?"
This gives the person the space to answer as they feel comfortable. And comfortably is a nice way to answer questions.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #2 (cancer/spouse time)

Lessons I've learned along the way #2
Give the spouse {or significant other} alone time with the patient.
While everyone is anxious to see their loved one. No one is more anxious than the spouse.
Giving them the time to go in first (alone) or linger after (alone) goes a long way in fostering feelings of connectedness, sanity and control.

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #1 (cancer/say it now)

Lessons I've Learned Along the Way #1
Say it all and say it now.
Not long ago, a close friend of mine lost her mom to pneumonia {after being diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemo...}
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On the first day that my dad was admitted to the ER back in May, my wise friend urged me to tell him everything that I've ever wanted to say to him... to not leave anything unsaid, because "you never know what could happen".
I marched myself into his room and at the first opportunity, I held his hand, looked him in the eye and told him how much I loved him, how much I appreciated his love, that he married my mom, that he raised me, etc... etc...
He looked me back in the eye and said "I ain't goin' anywhere! And your NOT gettin' my gun, yet!!" 
{He has the cutest little pocket pistol that I "put dibs on" as soon as I saw it!}
While I am not ready for my Daddy to go yet, I know that when he does, there is no doubt about my affection for him, and I will have peace about this matter.
But today I realized that there is another reason to tell your loved ones how you feel NOW. And the reason is this:
When things get bad... when you're not sure if your loved one will make it another day... if you haven't already told them how you feel, you will want to do it then... before it's too late. But if you do, then you run the risk of scaring your loved one.
"Why is she telling me this now, am I dying?" This is the question that you may stir up! And who wants to do that to a loved one?!
And so, I am sharing this new epiphany with you today, and like my friend, I URGE you to tell your loved ones that you love them NOW.
Because too late is too late. But almost too late is not so great, either.
Say it all and say it now. 

From the Beginning: Breaking the news of my dad's cancer.

My dad, Jack, passed away from lung cancer, on December 2, 2014.  During his battle, I wrote several posts called "Lessons I've learned along the way" on Facebook.  Since his passing I have written one post.  It was emotionally overwhelming and left me fearful of writing more, in spite of knowing that there was still more to be said...

My husband, Fred and I decided that a few days away to process, mourn and hopefully write would be a good step on the road to healing.  And so, I am staying in NYC with dear friends (who work long hours which gives me some much needed privacy during this time) to do just that.  Weather permitting, I hope to do some "street photography therapy" to give myself a reprieve from the emotions, as well.

Before I begin new "Lessons I've learned along the way" posts, I am organizing my previous  Facebook statuses here, on the blog.  This will give those who are new an understanding of what has transpired, and will also give those who are on a similar path the ability to find the posts more easily than on Facebook.

No one has ever asked, that I can recall, but I thought I would share why I write these things publicly.

First, because as a wise women said to me at the start of this- "It's when we are hurting the most that we can hear the voice of God the clearest."  How true that turned out to be.  Over and over, I felt God teaching me things.  Sometimes they were deep things, sometimes they were just practical.  Either way, what a waste it would be for me to keep those lessons to myself.  They are bigger than me.  They shouldn't stay with just me.

I write also because it is a form of therapy for me.  Not only do I get to express myself, but in sharing, I open the door for others to also share.  Our similar experiences form a community of support that has meant a great deal to me and others who have joined the conversation.  (Thank you.)

And finally, I write because by the grace of God my dad's life had a great impact on many people.  His death should also have a great impact on people.  The grave cannot stifle his influence and inspiration.  God will continue to use his story to make an impact.  Of this I am certain.

I will also add that while I am probably the most outspoken of my family members (online, anyway) I am certainly not the only one who has experienced the pain of losing Jack.  My mom, my siblings, his relatives and friends are also grieving over his passing.  Please remember all of them in prayer, and continue to send them messages of encouragement, as well.  Months may have passed, but the pain is still palpable, and  I am only one amongst many who miss him.


So to recap...

While the journey had begun months before, I could not find the words to make the news of my dad's cancer public.  Here is what I finally wrote:

Written on Facebook, September 25, 2014

"For months, I have been typing imaginary status updates in my head, trying to figure out how to publicly say "My dad {Jack} has lung cancer." But nothing that I wrote sounded adequate.
To briefly summarize the journey thus far-
He began his battle with cancer, along with double pneumonia & sepsis, in May. He recovered from the pneumonia & sepsis, and had surgery to remove the lower left lobe of his lung... which left him with two broken ribs. This was followed up with 5 weeks of chemo and radiation, which were completed on Monday. On Tuesday, he went to see his pulmonary doctor due to labored breathing, and was immediately put into the hospital for double pneumonia again. 
He is currently in the intensive care unit. 
His spirits are good. But it goes without saying that he is in great need of prayer. 
Thank you to those of you who have been a support to our family thus far, and to the new prayer senders. You are much appreciated."
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