Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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“Holding space for another person is incredibly profound. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support. And when you do both of you heal, grow, and transform.”


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Chimes

One of the best things about having a Spring birthday is that I always feel inspired to run at some point in the day. This year, it was in the morning before the rain came. It was dreary and chilly, but I knew I wouldn’t be out long.

The destination for this run was to my mom’s memorial tree. It’s 2 miles from our house- the perfect
distance to get to anytime.

I’ve been to her tree dozens of times now. I think about her, talk to her, and feel close to her when I’m there. It’s usually very calming and peaceful.

Not sure why today was different, but as soon as I got there I just started crying. Then sobbing. I could barely even form a thought in my mind as I was trying to talk myself out of the emotions… I was just so sad. I kneeled down and put my head on the plaque with her name and let it out. It was embarrassing and gross, but apparently necessary.

Last year, my cousin left a wind chime on the tree and it’s beautiful. But it’s also kind of heavy, which means it would take a lot of wind to move the chime and make noise. In all the times I’ve been there in wind and rain and sun and breezes, I’ve never heard it chime.

You know where this is going…

As my head was down and I was a mess, I felt a very light breeze and heard the wind chime! Probably 10-12 little, high-pitched “ding-ding-dings”… then it stopped. I stopped to listen. Stopped crying. The breeze continued but the chimes didn’t move again.

That, friends, was my mom. A woman who always comforted me when she was on earth, now found a way to comfort me from heaven.

I wiped my tears, stood back up with a sense of genuine “okayness”, and finished my run for the morning.

I love mom so much that the pain of missing her is hard to allow myself to feel. But if I had not allowed myself to feel that painful moment, I would have missed feeling her presence, too.

Thank you for such a wonderful birthday gift, mom!

“don’t look away from the arms of a bad dream.

…don’t look away from the arms of a moment.

Don’t look away from the arms of love.”

– Green Day “The Forgotten”


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It’s Okay to Look Back

I loved Ohio winter this weekend! The rain from Friday night that mixed with the dropping temperature caused everything to ice over. When the sun shone through the trees and on the snow Saturday morning, everything sparkled and looked like glass. It was magical. Rob and I went out to enjoy the unique scenery, he took this photo, and it got me thinking…

We have such a linear view of our experiences in the world. We often talk about “moving forward” after a trauma or life change; sometimes using our distance from the trauma as the metric for how well we are getting over it. I see why we do this- we need to create something somewhat measurable so that we feel like we can show progress.

One of the sayings I like and remember in hard times is “Don’t look back- you’re not going that way.” But this weekend I had a moment to rethink that. There may be occasions that it’s ok (even beautiful) to look back. That is when you see things and appreciate them from a different perspective.

Back to this picture…

Rob took it near the end of our walk on Saturday morning.

Were my fingers numb? yes.

Was my nose frozen? yes.

Was I uncomfortable and looking forward to getting back in the car? you bet.

Then you know what Rob did- he looked back behind us. While I was so focused forward, he took a moment to glance back at the path we were on. When he turned around, he grabbed his camera to take this picture and I could see why. It was gorgeous! If he hadn’t turned around, we still would have finished the walk, we still would have enjoyed the rest of our morning together, and we still would have other beautiful pictures. But because he looked back, we got to experience a moment of extra beauty, too!

At the beginning of my experience with breast cancer, I remember Rob took a picture of a foggy path and to me, it represented the unknown ahead of us. This weekend, I was reminded of the value of also looking back after an experience. Not to relive it, but to reflect on the beauty that was within it.


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Five Years and everything is gonna be alright

Today is an important one to point out- it’s been 5 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the oncology world, they consider this “cured”!!! (The feelings from today are a lot to process and explain, so I’ll focus on sharing the activities of the day instead.) I took the day off work and spent the morning with a good cup of coffee from a friend and some quiet time doing some writing. Then, I excitedly redeemed the massage gift card that Rob gave me for Christmas. It ended up being an unexpectedly funny experience that I’ll remember for a long time. My plan is to tell my grandchildren about when I’m 75 years old and laughing about funny things that happened along my recovery. I also had a nice lunch with Rob and then an afternoon full of our “ordinary”- taking the girls to and from cheer and dance, stopping at the store, squeezing in dinner. Turns out that this ordinary is pretty sweet when you feel like you have a renewed perspective on life. 💕To mark today’s occasion, I want to share a Green Day song from their Hella Mega tour last summer- “Pollyanna”. Rob and I saw them in August in Pittsburgh and it is so far my most favorite concert ever! (Sorry, Dawson High)“ I think it’s time to pull up the shades. It’s wonderful to be alive……And everything is gonna be alright.”


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Dr. Rehmus

There aren’t enough “thank yous” in the universe for this woman. She’s my oncologist- Dr. Rehmus- the person who saved my life. This post is to acknowledge and celebrate her!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day in 2017 when I met her. I had just learned of my diagnosis around lunch time and had an afternoon appointment with my surgeon (someday I’ll see if he’ll let me take a selfie with him, too!) It was the end of day on a Friday and I’m sure she would have been on her way out the door if not for me. Thankfully she said she would take my appointment at the last minute.

As Rob, Trisha and I walked into the room with the round conversation table, I couldn’t stop thinking about how nauseous I was and unsure if eating something would make it better or worse. Dr. Rehmus walked in with her medical student and introduced herself. I vividly remember that the first thing she did was sit next to me and turn her chair so that we were knee-to-knee. I don’t know the exact words she said but the sentiments were acknowledging that this was a hard afternoon and an immediate concern for taking care of myself- starting with getting me crackers and ending with a prescription for Ativan and instructions to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home (don’t judge if you haven’t been in that position before. 😆)

She saw me that day with all of the fear in my eyes that I couldn’t hide. She knew how much to explain and when to stop because it was mental overload. She had been here thousands of times with other patients, yet still managed to make me feel like I was her only (and most important) one. She did this throughout my entire care with the perfect combination of intelligence, reason, compassion, encouragement, and humor that is necessary for this kind of work.

I have always had confidence in her as she provided reassurance in her responses to my gazillion questions. She is the epitome of amazing medical care. Although I obviously wish I didn’t need an oncologist, I’m thankful she’s the one!

Now, after years and years of treating thousands and thousands of patients, she gets to retire! I’m so excited for her. Yes, she diagnosed me with “oncologist withdrawal syndrome” (her made-up term for what I’m going through), but I don’t know how to feel knowing that I might never see her again!!

So I will celebrate her here and introduce her to all of you and pretend like she’s a part of this group. Because I wouldn’t be here to keep writing and sharing thoughts if not for her. Not sure how a woman like that stays so humble, but I want to be like that when I grow up. 😉


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You just never know where your path will lead. Rob’s path is taking him through the 5 boroughs of New York for the NYC marathon!! He’ll be running in November and achieving this goal he set out to do a few years ago. He was planning to do this in 2020 but obviously that was cancelled, so he is now on his way to do this in a few months and I’m so proud of him!!

You all know cancer has affected our lives so much- as well as so many of you. Rob has chosen to race by fundraising for a cancer research center in NYC. If you are able to donate to the cause, click on his link. If you are donating in honor/memory of someone, let him know and he will add it to his shirt on race day. And if you are inclined, please pray for this amazing research company because, my goodness, what a difference it would be if a cure can be discovered. Thanks in advance for everyone’s support for him. He’s a rockstar!

This is how we fight this disease together!

https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/team-waxman-2020-tcs-new-york-city-marathon/robertvaughn11


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Two bags of trash

Two bags of trash- seems like no big deal but it was SO emotional. (I wonder how it feels for other people who aren’t so sentimental about every little thing in life.😆).

These bags are the last round of my “cancer stuff” that I’ve held onto. The “essentials” from surgeries and treatment that I haven’t gotten rid of yet. In trying to explain to Rob, I realized that this seemed important enough to include on this page- and so I’ll share…

These two bags are filled with the medical things that helped me through cancer treatments- the expired numbing cream to go on my port each time they accessed it for treatment; the wraps to keep the bags of ice on my hands during chemo treatments to minimize neuropathy; the “drain apron” that was essential to hold the drains post-surgery; the bandages and binders to help hold my body together as it healed. These items were valuable to me along the way, and holding onto them has made me feel prepared for the “what if…”

I’ve always thought that part of the PTSD aspect of my experience was that it was so sudden and unexpected at my age. And I wonder how differently (if at all) it would have felt to go through it when women are “supposed to”- more like in my 50s or 60s. I wonder if it wouldn’t have been so traumatic if it was more expected and I was more prepared.

It makes me think of the wave that knocks you over in the ocean: when you’re facing it and watch it get closer to you, you are ready for the hit no matter how hard it comes. You bend your knees and you either dig your toes into the sand to stand firm; or you time a jump just right so that you can ride it out with a little grace. It doesn’t seem so bad when you are ready and face it head-on.

When you’re not expecting it- that’s when the wave knocks you over completely. That’s when you face plant and get a mouth full of saltwater. And you get all turned around and disoriented for a minute, not knowing what happened or where it came from.

I pray every day that I don’t get hit by another wave. I feel guilt because my mom didn’t recover from her wave. And the recent anniversary of the day Amy went to heaven reminds me that it can be even more unexpected than my own hit.

Subconsciously, but not too far down to retrieve the thoughts when I need them, I know I’ve hung onto this stuff just in case. Today, in a moment of freedom and excitement and worry and guilt and fear and peace… I let them go. ❤️


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January 20th

January 20th- it never comes without all of the emotions.

4 years ago today was my initial diagnosis.

1 more year until the big #5- when recurrence risk is low enough that I can use the word “cure”. ❤️

The details of that day have not faded; and the impact is a mess of thoughts and feelings.

It seems like a lifetime ago and just yesterday at the same time.

I’ve hated my body and been amazed by it.

I’ve felt closer to God and then not sure He’s even there.

I’ve mentally planned my funeral, and never been more alive.

I have been held up by others, and held others with even heavier burdens.

I have joked about cancer, and have been paralyzed by the seriousness of it.

I have embraced my scars, and hid behind clothes and in the dark.

I have felt thankful for being physically cured, and guilty because mom wasn’t.

Weak and strong.
Alien and human.
Depressed and joy-filled.
Frustrated and grateful.
Broken and healed.
Weary and hopeful.
And hopeful.
And hopeful.
And hopeful.

The only constants: “change and time” … and HOPE.
Artist credit: Katie Belden ❤️


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October

October is such a transitional month. The weather is a mix of warm and cool days. The typical mood of the school year sits low between the novelty of the new year and anticipation of the holidays. Even the flowers- it’s time to plant bulbs but you won’t see them grow for 6 more months.

Seems fitting that “Breast Cancer Awareness” month happens now, too. I am almost 4 years since my diagnosis, 3 months since the disease took my mom, and I don’t know how to feel. Angry at the disease itself, proud of my mom who lived well with it so long, thankful it’s not part of my story any longer, guilty that I can say that.

It doesn’t help that Covid makes everything seem wrong and weird. Hospital workers are burned out… I think everyone is.

Not to mention we’re about to have an election where people land so strongly on one side or another. I’m confused by the blurriness of Christian love how that plays out in the political world. And then I’m confused about why that’s confusing… it shouldn’t be that hard, right? How can people with the same foundation have such different resulting views. Does that mean our foundations really aren’t similar??

So, as I’m existing in this “middle of nowhere” October, I’m trying my best to soak up the precious family time. We have found ways to safely enjoy activities and the low-key/low-expectation pace has felt good.

A few weekends ago we cashed in on my birthday gift from April and went to Great Wolf Lodge. Don’t tell them I told you this, but the girls had a ton of fun together running around and laughing…. like they loved each other! 😉

It. Was. Amazing.

It also happened to be the day of the Steelers/Browns game… and you all know that made the day perfect. While up near Lake Erie, we went to Marblehead Lighthouse because… why not? The girls need a change of scenery. (We all do.)

Olivia got her pointe shoes this month and we’re so very excited for her. My mom would LOVE this so much! She would also love hearing Liana learn the violin! (Learning the violin is much easier to listen to than learning the recorder!!)

Last weekend we were lucky enough to go to “Boo at the Zoo” at Akron zoo. (Thanks to Wadsworth Community Radio!) and then do some drive-thru trick or treat in C Falls.

October- The calendar page where 7 of our favorite birthdays live- my dad (happy birthday Larry Caldwell), some of my best friends (happy birthday, Alli Herren, Mandy Daughenbaugh Schmeling, and Steph Byham, I miss you all!), Ava and Hazel (see bday pics below), and Harley the hedgehog (RIP). There are definitely some good things about the month. And some good memories that I’ll cherish forever. It will likely have one more on Saturday that will warrant its own post… 😉


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Scanxiety

“All clear” scan results again today!! It was such a relief. The “scanxiety” feeling is SO real!

I know you fellow survivors can relate. It sneaks up on you as routine appointments get close. Then it sits really heavy in the pit of your stomach, and the back of your mind, and wherever other places tough feelings go to try and hide… until you hear good results- and that is when you exhale (and probably cry and dance, too.)

I wore my mom’s sweater on scan day last week. It still smells like her even though I washed it (thank you for that, God.) As I folded it to lay it in the locker, temporarily replaced by a sterile faded hospital gown, I paused for a moment. I thought about her, smelled the sweater again, and asked her to be with me and put in a good word to suggest having a clear test. She was with me and I felt it.

As hard as life is without her physically here, I can FEEL her all the time. I felt her presence with me before the scan. I felt her during the 30 minutes my face was squashed in a cushion with the loud clanging all around me. I feel her in my heart.

It’s a terrible thing to lose your mom, but there are sprinkles of beautiful that I’m starting to see.


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40 Sunrises

I had a slow, peaceful start to my morning today, which I LOVE! The slowness allows time for reflection.

My mom has been gone for 40 days. There have been 40 sunrises that she didn’t see. My eyes have closed 40 nights and opened the next morning with my first thought being “my mom died.” I start with that thought every day, it coming to mind in a tone of confusion. It’s so immediate that I know it must’ve stayed at the forefront of my brain while I slept. Living right at the surface until the second I’m conscious again.

On a weekday, I quickly have to ignore the feelings of sadness that so badly want to come next. I have to get ready for work- get out the door on time to spend the day answering other people’s questions and solving their problems. But I have bigger questions and deeper problems in my heart. My mom is no longer on this earth and it’s not okay with me. I don’t pretend I’m fine; I don’t lie and tell others “I’m good.” I’m honest that the days are hard; but that honesty doesn’t make them easier.

So I push through, staying busy and distracted, trying to be a confident/competent leader during a worldwide pandemic, all the while crumbled and foggy on the inside in ways I’ve never known.

Then comes the weekend. Our stay-at-home weekends are a much different experience and I’m really thankful for them. I can take more time to think about life and how my heart is feeling. This morning, I was finally able to put some of it into words:

The grief I have felt in losing my mom is new to me… different than losing my close friend, my cousin, my aunts, and my grandparents. This specific grief I’m sitting with elicits so many raw emotions right now.

If you have kids, or have worked with groups of kids, maybe this analogy will make sense. You know the feeling when all of your kids (and sometimes your husband) are talking to you at the same time and there’s music or tv on in the background? When there are so many things demanding your attention that you can’t really process any of them? That’s how these feelings are to me right now. Sadness, emptiness, worry, fear, love, peace, relief, depression, anger, hope- they are all constantly trying to stake their claim as the answer to “how am I feeling”. With so many big emotions circling around the outside of my heart, it’s just too hard to let any specific one in… especially for any length of time. The hard ones are too painful, the angry ones seem uncharacteristic to my nature, the joy- well that seems inappropriate in grief.

And since it doesn’t feel ok to let any of them settle in and be truly felt, none of them actually do. Hence the confusion. I feel all of them a little bit. Or all of them a lot. I just don’t know.

What I do know, is that I’m changed by this. I hope that as time goes on I will more often think of the positive changes than the negative ones. But for now, I feel this heavy weight of grief always present with me.

I guess like backpacking. Hikes can be beautiful and peaceful. They can feel easy and comfortable sometimes, while challenging and exhausting at other times, depending on the difficulty of the path.

When Covid hit the path suddenly felt all uphill on a humid day… and I thought that was hard.

Now my mom’s gone… and it’s like someone strapped a 50 pound backpack on me. But I still have to keep going up the hill. This backpack of grief is never lifted. I have friends who walk up the hill with me. Some without a backpack at all. Some with smaller ones, or older ones. And I know some people have much larger ones than I do. Nonetheless- mine.is.heavy.

I imagine that the load won’t lighten… it will always be heavy but I will learn to get stronger and carry it well. I’m just not there yet.

If you’re carrying an obvious one, I can pray for you. If you’re privately carrying a heavy one, I’m here to listen and love you through it. If you just want some acknowledgment that it’s there, I can do that too.

Most importantly, I know God loves me through this mess. I know I’ll be ok as He guides me to slowly let those emotions settle where they need to. And as He encourages me to bear the load of the backpack. It’s nothing compared to the weight of the cross. I can do this.