Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Suicide and Depression (and a Confession)

As most of you know, when I was nine I lost my mom to suicide. All of this discussion about Robin Williams has me kind of sad and frustrated with where we are with mental illness in this world. My heart was DEEPLY saddened when I heard of his death yesterday. I have always loved him. While I obviously don't "know" him, it hit close to home. My mind raced thinking about his family. In suicide, the ones left behind have so much to work through. I am still working through my suicide junk from my mom.

I have read articles today about how depression isn't really a disease, how it isn't a medical matter but one of joy and gratitude or lack thereof and I have to tell you I couldn't DISagree more. Depression isn't a choice. Truthfully...in most cases suicide isn't a choice. I feel compelled to share with you my personal journey with this topic. So here goes.

In the years following my own mom's suicide, I was so angry, so bitter, so hurt. I was consumed with guilt, grief and shame. No nine year old wants to have to answer questions about his or her parent's death...especially when it is one that is so difficult to understand and so taboo. I would speak of my mother with contempt. I hated her. I thought she was a selfish coward and if you look back in this blog you'll even find my words saying those things even just a few years ago. People would tell me she was sick and needed help....yadda, yadda, yadda. I felt like everyone was glossing it all over and remembering her as some kind of hero when in fact I believed her to be so cowardly. She betrayed me and I felt like she didn't feel I was worth living for. I'd get so angry when people would speak highly of her.

Then one morning I woke up and looked in the mirror. I saw her reflection. I was most of the time either crying or lashing out at the people I loved most. I was aware of how many blessings I had all around me and yet I enjoyed nothing. I put on a brave face and tried not to let on because I believed the term depression was just a cop out. I believed medication was something people used to numb and forget about what would have to be dealt with inevitably anyhow. I thought if I prayed harder, I'd snap out of my funk. Well guess what. All that pressure...just made it worse. The guilt mounted. I sunk deeper and deeper. I was in a fog. I felt like I was swimming and going about the motions of life but I couldn't come up for air. I almost just felt like a spectator. I wasn't really engaging in my own life.

In November of last year, I started counseling. I began to see what my mother was going through. There were times that I truly wondered if my family would be better off without me because I was just no fun. I never ever thought of killing myself, but I credit that largely to the fact that I am far too aware of what that choice my own mom made did to me and I don't want that for my kids. I want them to know that I love them and want to be here for EVERY event in their lives and I think they are worth fighting for. That is what this is...it is a fight. I have cancer. I will fight cancer with everything I have. I also suffer with clinical depression and anxiety as well as PTSD. That my friends is the first time I've admitted that.

It is easy to say, hey, guess what, I am a cancer warrior. People find that noble. No one will fault you for having cancer. They will rally behind you and build you up. It is NOT easy to say, I am a depression warrior. People think you're a debbie downer, or crazy or worse. There is such a stigma attached to mental illness and you know what...it is NO less of a disease or struggle than cancer. In the Christian community it can even be worse. People will say you don't pray hard enough, you don't have enough faith, etc. Those are all lies. If your brain chemicals are such that you can't see past the hurt you deeply feel, you can't see the hope. You can KNOW it is there, but you can't see it...your brain won't allow you.

So here's my confession, even after counseling, I was struggling. My brain would not let me find joy....I fought so hard that it exhausted me. My doctor was able to talk me into taking a tiny pill and within weeks, the fog began to lift. I had feared that tiny pill for so long. I thought it was the "easy" way out, I was adamant that I'd never need it. That little pill, makes my life manageable, it allows my brain to process one thing at a time. It made me a better mom, wife and friend. It helped to give me the boost I needed to deepen my faith and see the hope right in front of me.

I haven't really admitted to many people that I was diagnosed with clinical depression or that I take medication for it. It is time we all have this discussion. It is time we break free from the ridiculous stigma attached to mental illness and treat it like the disease it is. If we hide from it we become part of the problem. Biologically, sometimes we need some help. We need not be ashamed of that. The unfortunate truth is that some people won't get it. They'll still judge and think less of us for it...and that sucks, but truly, that's on them.

We need not glorify suicide, but be real. The people suicide hurts most are those left behind and if our dialogue doesn't honor God and prevent this from happening to others it is worthless. God teaches us to love one another above all else. I really believe IF we did that, this problem would be far more rare. I have come to a place of forgiveness and healing with my own mom through my own struggles with depression. I now know she truly wasn't able to think long term...she was thinking of the intense hurts at that moment and how she knew she wasn't the mom or wife she wanted to be. I truly believe she thought we'd be better off without her.

So, the moral of the story is that it is super easy to judge and have an opinion on this issue, but it is difficult to understand unless you've experienced it. Let's be kind to one another and show love and compassion. Mental illness is real and it affects more people than we realize. In the county I live in, there were EIGHT times more suicides than homicides in 2013. If that doesn't make us realize that this conversation needs to be had, I don't know what will. If you know someone hurting...reach out!

My heart and prayers are with the family of Robin Williams as they deal with this terrible tragedy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Six Months Out

Thursday I went to the cancer center for my six month check up. Because childcare is tough to find for six kids, one of whom is a foster (oh, yeah, that's why I haven't had time for blogging...I am mothering SIX awesome kids right now) I went alone. At first I was apprehensive about this. I kept thinking of the "what ifs", and would I be able to handle being alone if I got bad news. God kept whispering, "you're never alone". He stayed true to that statement for sure.

Early that morning I began the hour and a half drive to the hospital where the nearest melanoma specialists are. Despite the anxiety that I'd been riddled with in the days prior, Thursday morning, I felt pure peace. I turned on some worship music and prayed my way to Cleveland. I prayed for many things. I prayed for good results, peace, compassionate doctors, ease of blood draw, clear chest x-rays, that the surgeon would take more than ten seconds to answer my questions and that my new oncologist would be someone I could trust my life with.

I arrived early, never having driven there myself before I felt a sense of accomplishment just in making it there without getting lost. I parked and made my way down the elevator and through the eerily lit tunnel to the building where the cancer center is. I took the stairs up to the cancer center. Thanking God with each step that I was able to in fact take the stairs. I waited my turn to check in and a cheerful woman greeted me, took my copay and looked at my schedule of appointments. She sent me to do my lab work first.

I headed over to the lab and had my blood drawn. It was quick and painless! Answered prayer! I then waited to see the surgeon (who is so busy and ALWAYS super late) I sat in the waiting room reading quietly until my name was called. I then went to the exam room where I waited an hour for the surgeon. While I was sitting there I tried to calm my mind while barraged with posters and pamphlets about chemotherapy, therapeutic sperm donation (what?), and hospice care.

The doctor came in, was very sweet. Looked at my scar and explained that it was turning hypertrophic/keloid, which is why it's been so painful. He said we'd need to wait a while longer to see what it does and to just massage it. Because so much skin was taken, there was a lot of trauma and tension on the wound. He then asked if he could refer me to the "MelaFind" program so that we could keep a better eye on my moles. After the nurse gave me the information, I headed back to the waiting area.

It was then time for my x-rays which took approximately fifteen seconds. "Hold your breath don't move, ok arms up hold your breath don't move, ok kiddo you're done" Back to the waiting area for me.

I got myself a glass of water (one perk to this place is the ice machine...they have really awesome crushed ice) and made myself comfy on a couch with my Kindle since my next appointment was about two hours away. As I sat, I read, prayed and people watched. In a place you'd think would be filled with despair, the hope in the room was tangible. As I looked around I could see some people getting great news and rejoicing with their families as others did not receive good news and tears flowed freely. As I looked around the vast waiting area, I knew I was sitting in the midst of some of the strongest people I'd ever be in the presence of.

I sat there thanking God for the peace I was feeling, for the quiet time to reflect (since that is a precious commodity as a mother of SIX), and for the affirmations of hope in the good and bad that I was seeing all around me. My name was called right on time and I was taken back to an exam room. I was anxious to meet the new oncologist and had no idea why they'd changed my doctor. I knew the minute he walked in that God had his hands all over the situation the entire time. The doctor walked in, made eye contact with me and asked GENUINELY how I was. He sat down and focused on me. I felt more heard than I've felt through this whole ordeal. He listened to my every fear and concern and he didn't dismiss even one.

We talked about my tumor, the aggressiveness of it, the fact that I was a mom of six and what the prognosis is. The doctor looked at me and said, "You're 35 years old. 83% 5 year survival just isn't good enough. We need 99%. I'd like to suggest a change in your follow up. I believe that because of your age, we need to be as proactive as possible so you can live a long and healthy life. Immunotherapy is really coming along way with melanoma but it does best when used before the cancer really takes over, so I would suggest, and it is entirely up to you, that we do more scanning periodically to make sure there is nothing hiding internally." Tears flowed down my face, as scary as those words are...those are the VERY words I prayed I would hear. I did not feel like the previous doctors had given the attention to the aggressiveness of my particular tumor and I did not feel like they were being aggressive enough.

The doctor looked panicked and said, "Oh please don't cry! We're going to make sure you have every chance to beat this thing. It may never come back but if it does I want to be ready and waiting. You do not have to decide right now. Just please give it some thought." I choked back tears and said, "I would like the scans, I'd prayed hard to hear you say those words and not make me feel crazy for wanting them. I want to be as healthy as I can for as LONG as I can so that I can be the wife and mom my family deserves." He got kind of choked up (he is roughly the same age as me) and said, "Kristy, that is the most reasonable thing I've heard all day. You are really something. You make ME feel like a wimp." I laughed and he said, "I have two kids...and barely make it through most days."

We then went over my blood tests and x-rays which all looked good and we made plans to reconvene for scan and exams in November. I left the clinic that day, feeling God's hand on me. His presence was tangibly felt all day, and while these trials sometimes feel like too much, those moments are so sacred. He is there. He is in it all and we are NEVER alone. I truly couldn't be more grateful.

Cancer is another one of those things that no one wants to have to encounter, but I believe it is going to be another thing to teach me, heal me and help me be better. I believe God knows what he is doing and while it is hard and exhausting, He is forcing me to lean harder on Him and it is a good place to be.

So six months out...still no evidence of disease. With melanoma, they don't really talk cure. It is a disease that can rear it's head at any time...it travels in the lymphatic system and in the blood so the key is to keep up the immune system and be the healthiest me I can be. In the cancer world, time is often talked of in three month increments. Living life between scans can be super hard, but I am determined to live it to it's fullest. This IS the day that the Lord has made....I will rejoice and be glad in it. I no longer fear growing old. I pray each day that I get the privilege of growing old. I intend to be proud of each and every year lived...35 and going strong! :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Close to Home

I turned on the news before making breakfast yesterday morning. Making headlines were stories of missing children, attempted abductions and a one year old girl locally who was taken to the emergency room for dangerously high blood alcohol levels. I sat down and prayed for our children. It is easy to look out at this world gone mad and think, "I am glad it isn't my kid, or that could never be my daughter", but it is. They ARE our children.

Being a foster mom has brought this notion closer to home than I could ever have imagined. Our children are our future and we are surely not being good stewards of our future. As I placed a plate of pancakes on the table, the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was the Erie County Office of Children and Youth. My heart sank. With each time I see that number, my heart breaks knowing that somewhere there is a hurting child...a child who has been abused, neglected, or abandoned...sometimes all three.

It is hard to go to that place of knowing that right now there is likely a child being exploited, and mistreated. It is hard but it is reality. Until we go there...to that hard place...nothing will ever change. We will never make a difference...you can't hide from the hard stuff and expect to grow closer to Jesus. It is in the hard stuff that we find Him ever near.

The call was merely a clerical one, though my mind raced wondering if it were a call to come and get the little girl from the news. Each time we welcome another child into our home, we get to look into the face of Jesus just a little closer. It might seem like we are crazy or hoarding children, or trying to make up for our own losses, or any myriad of things, but it is simply because He calls us to.

If I've learned anything in my life, I have learned not to shy away from heartbreak. We can't live fearing that our hearts will break if we put them out there. We just have to put them out there knowing that WHEN they break, God will pick up the pieces and put them back together to create something even more beautiful...with every break, the masterpiece becomes more intricate and deep. Shying away from it would deprive us of so many wonderful blessings.

So, if you're wondering if we'll open our home again to yet another child....a few weeks ago, I might have told you we were FULL and our van can't hold anymore. In the last few weeks, God has truly been speaking to my heart...just reminding me to keep it open for WHATEVER He has for me. So I'll trust in that, and each time the phone rings, I will pick it up and pray knowing He will provide ALL of my needs for whatever He calls us to. My heart WILL get broken again...foster care is heart ache all around because it isn't the natural order of things...adoption always means a tragedy happened. My heartbreaks with each call from the agency, knowing these kids aren't being cared for, my heart has broken having to let a little one go back after loving them with my whole heart, and my heart has broken as I signed adoption papers, knowing that this child will grieve the loss of his/her natural parents probably all of their life.

God will bring healing to every heart break, and I have no answers for why. I guess I've finally come to a place in my life where I don't really need to know why. I just trust. I trust that He has a good plan for my future and that He has placed each child in my arms for a purpose. Each time I see a news story on the TV about a child being mistreated, it hits close to home because that child could well end up at my dinner table, that child could be MY child, and with every child that comes to my door, I feel closer to Home. They are OUR children...and we need to love them like He would...they aren't just a news story or a headline...this stuff is happening and it BREAKS His heart and it SHOULD break ours...Let it...see what might happen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's official!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two Years

Two years ago today, I boarded an airplane and flew across the country to meet my son. It was a day and an experience I'll never forget. The months leading up to the adoption were fast, furious and filled with battles we never could have won if not for God. April 24th 2012, I boarded an airplane and flew by myself to a city I've never been to. God worked out every detail. A dear friend I met via this blog, Christine, lives in that city and she happily offered to pick me up at the airport. I don't know what I would have done without her. I was emotional charged and not thinking clearly enough to navigate a new city and she stepped right in and took me to lunch and then to the hospital.

I will never forget arriving at Phoenix Children's Hospital. We entered the hospital and went to the NICU desk. I explained who I was and a social worker came right out to greet me. She explained that Jacob's birth mother was with him and was waiting for me. We headed down the hall toward Jacob's room. She slid the glass door open and there sobbing in a chair was a beautiful woman and the son she clearly loved. My heart broke knowing the agony of letting go of a child. One look at him and I was instantly in love, but I also fell in love with her, his first mom. She held him and cried and I stood there not knowing what to do.

She stood up and walked over to me and hugged me, still sobbing. We'd talked on the phone many times but this was the first time we'd met. You could see the pain in her eyes and the years of hardship on her face. She was so sweet and just kept thanking me for coming. The nurses were all getting teary and then she handed him to me. It was a sacred moment.  I can only imagine how that must have felt. My heart breaks all over just thinking about it. I was SO excited to finally be holding my son yet I was devastated for her loss. Her attorney was there and took her from the NICU to a counseling appointment.

Jacob and I were alone. I held him but he remained rigid. The nurses started coming in to meet me and talk to me about his care. He cried a lot and was difficult to console. He ate well but wasn't too keen on sleep. He preferred not to be held and if he was held, he liked to be held facing out. Considering all he'd been through in the prior months he was doing great but this was all about to challenge me in ways I never imagined. I tend to be an attachment style parent, and this boy was going to take some retraining to get there.

I slept that night at the hospital. I gave Jacob his bath and made his bottles and slept in a chair right next to him. He enjoyed bath time but loathed diaper changes. We got to know each other as best we could under the circumstances. The next morning I got to sit through his occupational and physical therapy sessions, learning what techniques the therapists were using to help console him and relax his rigid muscles.

I got to meet his doctor that afternoon and he was the kindest man. He hugged me and said that Jacob was going to be just fine, that he just needed some TLC. He told me that he would be a challenge but to continually remind myself that none of it was his fault and that he was doing the best he could. We chatted and he gave me lots of tips and asked that I send the occasional photo as the hospital had been his family for the previous three months. He then handed me discharge papers and said, "It's going to be great. You've got this." It took me more than an hour to pack up Jacob's things. He was well loved there at the hospital, stuffed animals, clothes, blankets, toys, all kinds of things the nurses had brought in for him.

When we were discharged, Christine graciously picked us up and took us to her house to wait until Pennsylvania gave the approval for me to bring him home. It was the longest six days ever. Christine's family was wonderful but I just wanted to get my boy and get home. I was NOT cut out for Arizona weather and I was just eager to get into a real routine with this little guy who desperately needed it. I called home crying daily. Christine's boys were a great distraction. They were so great with Jacob and very sweet. Ultimately the heat was getting to me and I was tired and longed for my own bed. My dear friend Alyssa, whom I also met via this blog somehow moved mountains and got herself a flight to Arizona to be with me knowing how homesick I was. We'd talked and sent messages to each other but this would be our first time meeting. A friend from home, Amy offered to get me a hotel room since her husband had some extra Mariott points and she booked us a room and Christine took me to the hotel to be with Alyssa.

I still missed home but I jacked that AC up and Jacob and I crawled into the big bed and took a nap. Alyssa arrived that evening and we ate pizza, bathed my baby in the sink of the hotel and stuck our feet in the hot tub of the hotel pool. The next morning Jacob's birth mom came to the hotel for a visit. We sat out in the courtyard. I cannot explain it but it was like God granted me a grace that only could have come from him because while part of me wanted to just hide in the room with Jacob, the moment I saw her face that all changed. I wanted her to hold him and I wanted her to know I loved her and that I would always tell Jacob about her and how much she loved him. Jacob's biological grandma was there too and it was great for her to get to meet her grandson and also be there for her daughter. It really was a miracle all around.

Adoption is one of the hardest things I've ever done but it was worth every tear and drop of sweat. God carried us and Jacob every step of the way. I will never be able to tell his birth mom in words how grateful I am for that sweet boy. He has come so far. He LOVES to be held and snuggled. He is developing pretty typically and his speech is coming along! It has been a labor...different from a labor of a child you birth but labor nonetheless. Most things worth doing...are hard. Adoption is one of them.

If you are out there and you are riding the roller coaster that is adoption, please hold fast.  He is with you.  Adoption is costly...it is hard...it is a war like none I have known, but victory is His.  Ultimately His plan prevails.  Discouragement and doubt do not come from God, they come from the one who wants nothing more than to see God's plan fail.  God's plan can't be thwarted...stay the course, these kids are worth it.  If you're not riding the adoption roller coaster, maybe you know someone who is, or maybe one day you will.  Please take some time and pray about how God would use you to be his hands and feet to children in need. Maybe he is calling you to adopt or maybe he is calling you to help encourage someone who is...he is calling us ALL to do something.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

So, today was my first appointment with my new dermatologist. I need to be followed every three months by my oncologist and a dermatologist to check for new melanomas. I arrive at the office and fill out the necessary paperwork. The receptionist was friendly and asked me to have a seat. It is always surreal sitting in a dermatology office to be seen for melanoma. Many of the folks there are for much different reasons. I sat down and began to look around...Botox ads everywhere, the song "Poker Face" comes on. The irony wasn't lost on me and I began to chuckle. I continue to peruse the room to see "Latisse" billboards, chemical peel ads and various other "cosmetic" surgery type literature. Nothing on cancer. When you have melanoma you are basically the kill joy of the dermatology office.

I am taken back to the exam room where I am given what resembled those paper bag vests you make at Thanksgiving in school when you are the Native American in the school play and a giant paper towel type thing to drape on my legs. I stand there staring at them for a moment and then laugh and just put them on. The doctor came in and I immediately knew I liked him. He had kind eyes and was a ball of energy. He explained what he was going to do and took down what information I had for him. He then proceeded to check every single inch of my skin, while his nurse mapped each and every mole coded with letters and numbers. It was so very weird to be sitting on a cold table in a paper vest while the doctor pointed at my moles all the while saying what seemed like random letters and numbers in a language only dermatologists must know.

When he was done he told me I was boring and that we were going to keep it that way. He checked each of my lymph node basins and said he had no concerns, and that my surgeon did a "beautiful job" on my arm. He assured me we were about to become BFFs as I would be visiting him every three months and we were gong to stay ahead of anything that may happen. He explained my pathology reports to me in a manner that I actually understood and asked if any of my children had moles. We agreed Luke should be seen soon and followed yearly. He seemed to really know his stuff. He'd say I bet you've had this mole since you were tiny, I bet you've had this mole since your teen years....and he was spot on EVERY time. He even took a look at my hand eczema for me.

I've always dreaded going to the OBGYN because it was so humiliating...this made that seem not so bad, although the doc did make sure to tell me it could be worse. He said if I were at the melanoma clinic at Harvard that I'd be on a turn table in a g-string. So you know...there's always that. Grateful for EVERY normal doctor appointment in a way I never knew possible. While it wasn't fun necessarily, I urge you to find yourself a GOOD dermatologist and visit them yearly. It could just save your life. Melanoma kills a person every hour. Don't let that be you. God willing....it isn't going to be me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Meet Lily Grace

She entered our world in September of 2012 at just three weeks old.  Our lives have never been the same....and we are SO grateful.  In a crazy twist, we received our adoption decree in the mail on April 1st.  So, while we are still hoping for a date to go before the judge for a ceremony.  She is officially our new daughter.  I am trying to gather all of the pictures from the last year and a half that I haven't been able to share, but for now....here she is....in all her cuteness.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's a Girl!

Monday I had to head to the OBGYN for my annual exam and to discuss what testing he suggested in light of the recent melanoma diagnosis. It went well....aside from the fact that he came in and said, "hey, your blood pressure is a little high which isn't normal for you, are you doing ok?" And the floodgates broke. I am sure he is very used to dealing with hormonal and emotional women, but the poor man had to endure a blubbering me. He was wonderful and compassionate just as he's always been when dealing with me and all that life has dealt.

I got out to the van where Howard and the kids were waiting to pick me up and take me to dinner. As I got in the van I got a text. It was from our foster daughter's caseworker. She said she had just gotten the judge's report and that the judge chose us to adopt our sweet girl! I was elated and immediately began texting everyone who'd been praying and posted to Facebook. In a moment of excitement I'd forgotten the previous post had been an Instagram photo of the gorgeous view of Lake Erie from my OB's office....then about a half an hour later I post "It's a girl". LOL

I confused a few people. All that to say, my uterus is fine but all done having babies we however, Lord willing, will be officially welcoming a 19 month old little girl into our family within the next month or so!

Thank you all for praying! So grateful for each and every one of you.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This is JUST Skin Cancer

Several months ago I went to the doctor to have him look at a mole. It had changed a bit but was still relatively regular looking, he said it was nothing to worry about. I had a nagging feeling it was. This is the result of a wide excision to rid my body of melanoma. The mole was no bigger than the eraser on a pencil.

People seem to think that melanoma is nothing really to worry about. They joke using #melanomahereicome as they bake their skin on spring break not realizing that every hour someone dies of melanoma. Melanoma doesn't discriminate and it is as much a young person's disease as it is an older person's disease. Children die of melanoma. One in fifty people will battle this beast.

My cancer they say was found relatively early, but it was aggressive. I will have quarterly appointments with a dermatologist and oncologist. I will have blood tests and x rays. We will be actively watching for any evidence the beast might return. I am trusting the Lord in all of it and doing all I can to take care of my body, but skin cancer, melanoma, IS cancer. It is deadly.

I say all of this because I want you to learn from my mistakes. I want you to take care of your skin. I want you to look at what chemicals you are putting in and on your body and what nutrition your body might be lacking. I don't think sun is bad. We NEED sun, but be responsible. Don't burn. Encourage loved ones to get their skin checked regularly and if ANYTHING seems out of ordinary...get it checked. When caught early, melanoma is VERY treatable...in the late stages...it is often fatal. It doesn't respond to treatments the way other cancers do. It is a sneaky cancer that spreads quickly.

Melanoma isn't to be taken lightly. It isn't something you just remove and forget about...it is a lifelong battle. I intend to fight it, and I pray you don't have to, but ignorance could be deadly so PLEASE see your doctor...know your body and don't be afraid to be your own advocate!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

No Word

I just wanted to take a minute and thank you ALL for your prayers for our foster girl and for our family. Court was long and exhausting on Friday and the judge did not rule yet. We should hear by the end of the week and I will keep you posted as to what he decides. We are praying and trusting God, knowing He loves her more than we can even imagine.