Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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Thankful

When I got home from my last chemo treatment on Thursday, I was surprised to see my dad, my sister’s kids, and my 3 closest friends from PA all waiting in the front yard for me- with balloons and signs and arms waiting for hugs. We spent the evening hanging out- reminiscing, catching up, looking at old yearbooks. It was the kind of evening where you wish time would stop so the night would never end. It was lovely and unforgettable. Thankful for such amazing love and support!


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Mo More Chemo!

Thursday was a big day… my last chemo treatment! I still have surgery and radiation ahead of me, so there’s a lot more to go. But chemo is supposedly the hardest part, so marking the end of it feels good!! The nurses in these pictures are such special people. The one in the picture with the cupcake was there for my very first chemo, my first Taxol chemo, and my final treatment. She’s great… they all are.


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Suffering

I suppose it would be natural for anyone going through a really difficult trial to wonder why it’s happening and to think about others who have gone through similar situations. These thoughts bring me to part 2 of my post from last week- to try and put into words some ideas about faith and suffering. I just need to preface this by saying that it is very rudimentary, but it’s therapeutic for me to write it. Besides, questioning/wondering is healthy in developing your own sense of purpose… right.
So why. Why does cancer even exist? Why is this so hard? Why do humans go through tragedy and suffering. These are big questions with bigger answers that I’m not going to be able to answer. But I’ve had a glimpse into this in a way lately that I haven’t had before. In simplest form- after time spent in suffering (on any level), you gain a better appreciation for the good things in life. Your perspective shifts. What used to seem mundane or unremarkable now brings deep joy and appreciation. These aren’t new, huge events around you. They are things around that might have been there all along, but in our fast-paced, technology-filled day-to-day it’s so easy to overlook them. That’s how it’s been with my experience through cancer, and I’m guessing with many other hardships that people go through. I don’t know if it’s the reason we go through them, but it is a benefit of going through them. I’ve never been so appreciative of sunshine, and short walks outside, of sitting with my eyes closed listening to birds, the delicious smells of food (that I couldn’t eat), warm hoodies, energy to get up the steps, flowers, the sound of rainstorms, warm baths, fluffy clouds viewed through a skylight, sitting by loved ones without saying a word, children giggling, wind on my scalp, hugs… lots of great hugs. I am so appreciative of these things lately. And I pray that I don’t lose this perspective of the simple beauty around me even as I come out of (and hopefully far from) this difficult experience.

Here’s the best analogy I can think of: Your bathroom light. it’s an average light that functions fine when you flip the switch on. For the most part, you probably don’t think twice about it. But it’s a different story in the middle of the night. You wake in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom. After extended time in the dark, you fumble down the hall and reach to turn that switch on (just like you did earlier that day). But now the sensory experience of the light can be overwhelming. It’s the same light and wattage that your eyes perceived during the day. But when you’ve been in the dark for so long, that same light seems so much brighter. We suddenly have a shift in perspective that makes the light seem brighter… the light doesn’t change, but we do. Our suffering is the time in the dark. And after experiencing it, even a small amount of light seems so bright to us. So I encourage everyone this week to “look for the overlooked”- find those things that have potential to be bright lights. They may seem dim now because you’re not in the dark… but hopefully you can appreciate them anyway.

One other thought about suffering: I remember a quote from a show that said “someday this pain will be useful to you”. I believe that my pain has already been useful because of how it’s changed my perspective. But also in that it will allow me to help the next person- the next friend in need or person to get a cancer diagnosis. The next person who I may become close with because we can relate to each other through similar suffering. Some of my greatest comfort since January has been words of encouragement from other survivors. I hope I can be a source of comfort to others moving forward. Because maybe now, that is part of my purpose. Unexpected and undesired- but if I can bless someone in a fraction of the way I’ve been blessed through this, as a person more refined by this fire, then I’m all in. (see that… I even tied in a little Cleveland Cavaliers humor for you all.)


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Random Things

1- My mouth sores have improved so much over the last 2 weeks that I can eat a lot more foods now!!!  I gained 2 pounds last week!

2- My eyebrows, however, have taken a downturn and are suddenly getting very thin. And apparently, this is the year that thick eyebrows are making a comeback and all of the celebrities have thick ones… go figure.

3- Wonder Woman is amazing! The woman and the movie. You’ll walk away wanting to take on the world. Go see it.


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Surprise Visit!

As I got home from chemo yesterday, an unfamiliar minivan pulled in behind me- and out came the Hopwoods!!!! My dear cousin, Jenn Javor-Hopwood, made a surprise visit with her 4 kids (2 of which I hadn’t even met yet). Spending time with loved ones like this- walking, biking, or just sitting around, is joyful. We used to hang out regularly at our grandma’s house when we were growing up. So just being in their presence takes me back to that and brings such a sense of comfort and peace. Now there’s just a lot more little people around us who need fed and helped on their bikes/scooters. I’ve said it before- sweet days like yesterday are very bright spots in this otherwise dim experience. And the light lasts a long longer!


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“Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm”

There was a night over the weekend that the girls both fell asleep in our bed. After they were both asleep, I was ready and shimmied in between them to take my spot for the night. No sooner could I let out the sigh that comes when you’ve settled under the sheets after a long day, the girls simultaneously rolled in toward me and each put their arm around me. It was a perfect moment, and I couldn’t help but immediately say a prayer thanking God for them in my life. I couldn’t have held back the prayer if I tried… it was such a natural response to feeling my babies on either side of me in their peaceful rest. The moment stood out to me so much because, honestly, it’s been hard to pray sometimes through this (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but don’t want to read through old posts to check). I can’t explain it, but I can say that I’ve shared it with some people in similar situations who say they’ve experienced the same thing. And I know I have so many people who have been praying for me and carrying that for me, that it’s ok when I don’t. I’ve tried to figure out why this is, along with a lot of things through this experience. Two things stand out- the first is the amount of love God has surrounded me with- probably in preparation to get me through this. I’ve heard the song “In the Eye of the Storm” many times, but the other day I had a realization. There’s a part in the chorus that says “You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.” Every time I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve pictured God surrounding a worn, broken boat in the middle of the sea with some imagery of protection like a force field around the boat and God looking down making it happen (don’t laugh). You know what I pictured for the first time the other day- all of you! I actually pictured me sitting on that boat with the faces and bodies of all of you being the “love surrounding me”. Like hundreds of people I love around me, standing on the water (not sure how that would happen), with arms out like a giant group hug just waiting for me and keeping me safe! It was a beautiful picture that I wish I could paint or put on paper somehow. YOU all are the LOVE that God has talked about. You have been in my life in part because He knew His love would be shown to me through you… and He knew I would need it to get through this. A specific example of that is your willingness to lift me in prayer when I just can’t do it on my own. Someday when I’m healthy again, I hope to show you all that same love and surround you when you need it most.
And now that I read how long this became, I’m going say this is part 1 of 2. Part 2 to come tomorrow. Because it’s another long one and I don’t want to bore you too much.  But I’ll also add the link to that song just in case you haven’t heard it.