Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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Beautiful Music and Amazing Friends

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Another memorable evening- so grateful for life and friendships. These women mean the world to me. But when we’re all so busy with families and work, evenings out are few and far between. Tonight we made it happen and went to the Lauren Daigle concert. Beautiful music and amazing friends made the night oh-so-sweet. Thank you, God, for these treasured friends in my life… and for healing me so that I can still enjoy times like these.

“Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings.
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen.
So, in all things be my life and breath.
I want what You want Lord and nothing less.”


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Lymphedema is no fun…

Lymphedema is no fun. I did everything I could to prevent this, but it happened.

You see, during my mastectomy I had 8 axillary lymph nodes removed (the lymph nodes near your armpit). When breast cancer spreads, it goes through the lymph system. So part of the mastectomy procedure was to remove the lymph nodes closest to the breast to make sure all of the cancer was gone.

But lymph nodes help to regulate the fluid in your body. Specifically, the axillary ones drain any fluid that builds up in your arm/hand. With part of this system removed, the risk of this kind of swelling in your arm increases.

To prevent it, I’ve been working with a physical therapist since right after surgery. I’ve followed all the rules- not carrying anything heavy on that arm, not restricting flow on that shoulder with bra straps or purse straps, avoiding hot baths and hot tubs, and making sure to wear my lymphedema sleeve during activities. I’ve also done lymphatic massage which is meant to manually stimulate the lymph system and encourage fluid to move adequately.

And yet… three weeks ago… I woke up with a balloon hand.

My arm has been fine, it’s just my hand that’s swollen. I thought it was a fluke and that it would go away in a few days. I’ve still been going to PT to help, but it’s just not getting much better. My surgeon even ordered an ultrasound last week to rule out a blood clot. Thankfully, it’s not a blood clot. But that means it’s definitely lymphedema.

The bad news is that once you have lymphedema it never “goes away”. So I know I’ll be dealing with this forever. But the good news is that it should lessen with continued therapy, a custom compression glove I will pick up this week, and special wrapping (7 layers of stuff) that I have to do at night time.

While it’s this swollen, I can’t close my hand enough to hold a pencil so it’s hard to write. I also have some trouble opening jars and grasping door handles. And it’s a good thing I have no reason to need to make a fist because that’s definitely not happening with these sausage fingers.

I’m praying that this improves in the near future and that I can stop looking at this as reminder of a damaged body. I want to see it as another opportunity to appreciate our miraculously designed bodies. We really are the products of a masterful artist. With firsthand experience of issues that happen during “breakdowns”, I can appreciate the amazing synchrony when all of our body systems work together the way they were designed to do. It really is amazing. But honestly, sometimes, I just don’t know if I need THIS MANY reminders of it.


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“Life is such a big word”

“Life is such a big word.”
That’s what Liana said to me in a quiet conversation last night before bed. I don’t think she realized quite how profound it was.

Let me back up to Thursday this week. It was our anniversary and Rob and I spent the day having fun at Cedar Point. He had never been there and I was there once as a teenager. Taking a day off to laugh and hang out was the perfect thing for us.

Although the analogy is cliche, I can’t not use it here: The roller coaster of emotions that day was as extreme as the real coasters we had just ridden.

After we were home and the girls were in bed, I heard some devastating news about a friend of mine. She’s a fellow breast cancer survivor and her daughter is one of Olivia’s best friends. I may have mentioned in the past that I’ve always felt like our girls were meant to be in class together (along with one other close friend of theirs) because all 3 of their moms have been through cancer. Julie Nawrocky Reis was 5 years out from hers, I was diagnosed in 2017, and Jen was diagnosed shortly after me. It’s a unique thing for 10 year old girls to bond over, but special that they had each other and could relate to each other in a way that other little girls don’t understand.

Jen went through all of the difficult treatments and surgeries last year and heard just a couple of weeks ago that her MRI was clear! She was excited to move forward with life. And her heart was 1,000% devoted to her daughter, Mariah.
But she had a sudden illness hit her this week and was hospitalized on Wednesday. We heard Thursday night that she had passed away. Sudden, shocking, heartbreaking.

Telling Olivia about this yesterday was one of the saddest conversations I’ve ever had with anyone. She keeps crying and saying that she’s so sad for her friend, Mariah. And she doesn’t know how someone can live without a mom. See… heartbreaking.

I will update more on myself another day soon. I’m fine.

But today, please keep Mariah in your prayers. There’s a sweet little girl today feeling what it’s like to wake up without her mom. Jen’s fun-loving spirit will always be remembered. And our community will do our best to support Mariah as Jen would want us to. But the silent conversations with herself at bedtime and when she’s feeling lonely or confused can only be healed and encouraged through God’s voice. So please pray for her today.. and tomorrow… and every time you think of it.

Liana was so right- “life” IS a big word. A big deal. A big thing to grasp. So big that our minds can’t figure it out (at least mine can’t). But I know that right now I’m thankful for another day on this earth. It’s a beautiful day in Ohio, so I’m off to enjoy it with some family time.

Love and hugs to everyone.


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Miracle

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“When I see your face I see a miracle.”

Those are the beautiful words that a friend told me yesterday at church. It caught me off guard and brought me to tears.

I believe that God is powerful enough to make miracles happen. But I do not use the term “miracle” lightly. (Nor the word “blessed”… but that’s a story for another post.)

I was fortunate enough to witness two miracles when my babies grew within me and were born into this world. But I never thought of myself as a miracle.

My friend’s comment yesterday made me feel humbled and honored… and guilty. Humbled and honored that God could have chosen ME to be a testament to his power to heal. But guilty that I haven’t recognized that in myself yet.

Of course, the skeptical/oppositional side of my personality thinks of those who are not healed. Why wouldn’t God choose them to be a testament to His power? Why would He not grant that same miracle of healing to those who seem to have prayed even harder and longer, and honored Him in their lives more than I have?

It just doesn’t make sense. And for a logically-minded sensible girl, this is when my soul feels so conflicted. I’m usually always thinking of the flip side of comments. My response is often “but if… then what does that mean when the opposite happens?” But today- this wonderful, beautiful day- I’m not questioning anything.

Today I got “all clear” results from a CT scan! This is my first scan since treatment has been completed. I know that the doctors said my cancer was gone before, but today was the actual proof! And apparently I needed that proof for the incredible weight to be lifted.

I’ve heard people say that you don’t realize the weight you’re carrying until it’s gone. That is SO true. I was so scared that treatment really didn’t get rid of all of the cancer. I was so hesitant to praise the Lord who healed me. That’s hard to admit because I know I should be praising Him regardless of the outcome. But it’s true. I was so worried that there was still cancer somewhere in me and that I would be hearing bad news from this scan. I was finishing projects around the house, organizing the girls’ rooms, trying to get caught up on laundry- all preparing to hear bad news this week.

To those of you who know the white-knuckling anxiety that precedes a post cancer scan: I’m sorry if I didn’t recognize the immeasurable fear that builds up until you get the result. For those of you who haven’t been through it yourself: I’m thankful this has not been a part of your life.

Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it. But there is a perfect word to describe getting the results you’re hoping to hear- “freeing”. Free of the fear and anxiety, free of disease, free of the immediacy to cross things off your list. It feels amazing. If good things make you feel like you’re “on cloud 9” then I’m “on cloud 1,000”.

I have been reserved in my praise to the God who made me, who has made a way for me to get through this, who has placed each one of you in my life to pray for me. But today I wholeheartedly praise Him for my life. He did this. He healed me and I do have proof of that now. I am a curly-haired testament to His power. I hope you all see that as I confidently and proudly claim it now.

I’m alive and healed. And that’s the kind of news that warrants ice cream for dinner.  💗


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Taking Back July 26th

As my friend put it: Today I’m taking back July 26th.

This was the day of my surgery last year when I got rid of cancer but had to sacrifice a big part of my femininity. So I have mixed feelings about last year. But not this one.
Today was great.

I had a consult with a different plastic surgeon who I LOVED! She’s a female and I felt so comfortable with her. For as hard as reconstruction will be, I’m confident in working with her through it all. (It won’t be for several more months… I’ll keep you posted.)

To top off the night, in order to really take back today and remember it positively, I got a new tattoo! The phrase is from the poem I remember my dad reading to us when we were young. And it’s in my mom’s handwriting.  ❤️ I’ve got “miles to go” on these feet- with cancer behind me and God out in front.


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Settled

You know the feeling you get when you sit on a beach chair at the edge of the shore and you bury your feet a little in the sand? The sand that isn’t totally dry but gets slightly moistened by the waves every once in a while. The sun beating down to warm your skin. With each shallow wave, your feet sink a little further down in the sand. There’s a sweet spot- after a few waves but before too long of waiting there- when it feels just right. Settled. Not rooted; still moveable…. but settled.

That peaceful, comfortable, settled feeling is how my soul feels tonight.

I have had a whirlwind two weeks that included seeing so many people from home. It started with our Caldwell family reunion in Wildwood, NJ (A week with the Caldwells… yes, please!). Then Rob and I were able to spend some time in Nashville without the girls for a couple of days hearing some amazingly smart, inspirational speakers and hanging out with friends. We turned right around to go to Pennsylvania for my 20 year high school class reunion. (How did 20 years go by already?!) Squeezed in a family birthday party for Olivia at Hoss’s (a favorite PA restaurant). And topped it off this afternoon with a graduation party for my cousin, Elizabeth- which ended up being like a reunion on the other side of my family.

In the middle of that busyness I also went to the funeral of a friend’s father. It was heartbreaking to see the grief and sadness that cancer caused another family. But (with a capital  😎, the man was faithful and is in heaven now. And it was inspirational hearing how he responded to his circumstances that led him there.

I’ve so enjoyed all of this time spent with family and friends- hugging those who have only been connected through technology for many years. I had long-overdue conversations with three cousins who have been through cancer- learning more details of their experiences. My “little” cousin (who I held all the time when he was a baby) is now a daddy and I met his baby girl. I felt such a sense of hope and love seeing that the next generation is growing up and starting to change the world. I loved it! And was reminded 10-fold why I am so lucky to have been born into the family I was, at the time that I was.

Friends, family, laughter, tears, hugs and a lot of Western PA accents in the last two weeks. The best way I can describe it is “soul-settling”. I hope other people can feel this sometimes because it’s amazing. Cancer treatments held me back last summer… that’s not happening this year!