Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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FashionFusion

This picture means so much to me. Last night I was invited to participate in a fashion show in my hometown of Greensburg. It was fun and different and a really great experience. This picture represents the part of the evening that meant the most to me. The girl on the left is Kelli Brisbane, who organized the show! She has such a sweet soul and she knew my cousin, Amy. My mom is next in the picture- one of the strongest survivors I know. Next is Wendy Bell. She used to work for the local news station in Pittsburgh… with Amy. Prior to the show backstage, I saw Wendy sitting in her dressing room and timidly introduced myself. I wanted to remind her that I had met her a few times back when Amy was sick and last saw her at Amy’s funeral. I said “I’m not sure if you remember my cousin, Amy.” She paused for not even a second, put her hand up to her heart, and said, “I will never forget that girl. How is her son, Michael?” She told a few stories about Amy and the impact she had on her life. She genuinely cared to know how everyone in the family was doing, especially Michael who she remembered holding as a baby when he started crying during the funeral. It felt so nice to talk about Amy again and hear others talk about her. It reminded me that my own struggles are just that- my own. And each person has their own. They may not seem comparable to each other, but the effect they have on our lives can be comparable. Wendy has gone through some very public struggles recently, leading her to reflect differently on life and family. Kelli has been through her own as well. Their struggles aren’t cancer, but they’re just as powerful in their lives. And they can be used just as strongly to shape these women into role models for others. The way we respond to the challenges we face can be such an opportunity to teach grace and love to others… and be a testimony of our faith in Christ. I pray that I can use my experience to show others how God has carried me through the fog… especially as I feel closer and closer to coming to the end of these treatments. And I feel so lucky to have had Amy as such a strong role model to me- in her life and especially as she faced her passing. Missing her dearly today.

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I wonder if they’ll know…

I wonder if they’ll know…

That they are the reason people call me brave. Without them, I would not have gotten out of bed sometimes. Getting them ready for school meant getting up and moving when I’d rather stay in bed. Taking care of them while at my lowest, meant living.

That finding people to help with them has brought me closer to certain friends and has given me the gift of watching others love on my kids. Hearing people offer to help take them places has meant seeing light shine brightly from others.

That everytime someone has sent them a gift or a card it has made my heart fuller than gifts for myself. The first cards that came in the mail for them, from other siblings whose mom had been through cancer, remain two of the most cherished pieces of paper in our home.

That watching them sleep brings a sense of peace that is indescribable- it has been that way since they were babies.

How their giggles strike a chord deep inside of me- more beautiful than all the music I could ever listen to. Hearing them laugh with each other brings its own special peace in my soul- as I know they’re growing a special bond as sisters that no one else in the world will be able to relate to. And they’ll have each other long after Rob and I aren’t here.

That my biggest fear has not been for me leaving them. It’s that they would have to go through the grief of losing their mom.

That I worry more about how they are getting through this than how I am.

That I’m beyond proud of their resilience and sweet souls as we navigate these waters without guidance. What to say? How much to share? How to calm their worries. What is normal now? Should I tell them I’m scared? Should I let them see my scars? What does this mean for their futures? What if? What if not? My worries for them go far beyond anything for myself.

That caring for them, raising them, has been such a beautiful gift- given to us and wholly appreciated- now more than ever. We’ve been graciously given the task of raising these two beautiful, sweet, hilarious, emotional, loving souls. But they are not ours… they are His. Our Creator who made us, who knows them, who holds them through me. I am so thankful that they were created in my womb. The most miraculous feelings this body has ever known was growing those two inside of it. Though my body feels like it’s failing me now, it certainly didn’t then. The breasts that have recently caused such sorrow did their job to feed those two. These hormones that “fed” cancer also did their part to create life a decade ago. And I can be nothing but grateful for that.  

You know, chemo didn’t just make me feel bad- it made me feel like a different person. My best identity change was when I became a mother to my girls. It was planned, welcomed, expected. This year my identity changed- unplanned, unwelcomed, unexpected- so much that I couldn’t recognize myself. I was no longer strong, healthy, happy, easy going. Physical changes forced me to be ok with a body I couldn’t control. Emotional changes forced me to feel differently than ever before. That was an intentional “ly”. My emotional responses and interactions with others were so unlike anything I was used to. And one of the most noticeable struggles was how hard it was to laugh. It’s just so hard to do when your body is not well. But you know the two people who could make me laugh no matter what- those two beauties I have the privilege of calling my daughters. They are precious souls who show love just as often as they fight with each other. Thank you to everyone holding space with me who have loved on them. And to those of you who haven’t met them yet- you’re missing out. I think they’re a couple of the best humans I know. Watch for them to change your world…. just like they’ve changed mine.

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Grow through what you go through

Today, since I left work, I’ve been strangely hung up on the biological side of cancer and what my body just went through. And it really is crazy. So I thought I’d share a quick biology lesson on cancer (and Jessica Hartman may need to clarify if it’s wrong.)

Everyone has some cancer-ish cells in their body (there’s discrepancy about how to describe and label these cells). The cells need some kind of “trigger” to start dividing and become malignant. Many different factors can act as triggers- chemicals, environmental factors, dietary contributors, etc. And sometimes a person’s genetics dictates whether cells become malignant or not. Once “triggered”, the cancer cells no longer have normal checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division. So they grow out of control and rapidly divide. Chemo is treatment that kills all rapidly dividing cells in your body. So it kills those cancer cells, but also kills normal cells that are naturally rapidly dividing (blood cells; cells in the mouth, stomach, and bowel; and hair follicles). This is why chemo patients have low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss.

A little more info about my chemo drugs: Adriamycin is considered an “antitumor antibiotic”. It’s made from natural products produced by species of a soil fungus (I know… soil fungus?!?). Cytoxan is a drug that interferes with the duplication of DNA and the creation of RNA. And Taxol is a plant alkaloid- made from plants, specifically the bark of the Pacific Yew Tree. Then there are additional chemo drugs that other cancer patients use that are derived from the periwinkle plant, the May Apple plant, and the Asian “Happy Tree”.

So we have this unfair genetic predisposition (some of us), some cancer-potential cells already in our bodies, then an exposure to something that triggers them to multiply out of control. And the only way to stop it is to administer poison- made from plants with pleasant-sounding names like the Yew Tree and the “Happy tree” for goodness sake… can it be any more ironic?

I had something in my body that was growing out of control and could kill me- and I treated it with drugs that kill. It’s like a battle of which can be most deadly. And thankfully the one I was hoping for won out in my body. But the extent to which that needed to happen means that the rest of my body is still trying to recover- even 3 months after my last treatment. It’s a long process that I’m still trying to be patient with. It’s not easy; but after all that time of destruction on a cellular level, I’m thankful to be “building back up” again.

“Grow through what you go through.”


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Race With Grace

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Today I was able to participate in a 5K race for a wonderful organization. I walked it with the kids; and although I wish I could be in shape to run it, it was kind of nice to spend time walking the distance with loved ones. So representative of this experience for me- “walking the distance with loved ones”. 
We did have a few of the athletes on our team running the race- which were impressive. Way to go Rob VaughnAlicia HofmannSean DawsonLarry CaldwellMelanie WilliamsAdam Staller!
I’m exhausted tonight. But you know what- I’m exhausted because of a 5K! I used to be exhausted from walking upstairs. So things are looking up. And I’m super thankful that Keely A Smith-Jividen captured this special photo of me during the race. Looks like I’ve got some heavenly help shining down… ❤️


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Deportation Day

“Deportation Day”- it happened today and the port is OUT! I’m so happy that it’s out… and that they let me keep it! If you look at the picture- the purple part was in my arm where they injected needles for every chemo treatment (and any other time I would’ve otherwise needed an IV.) The white part is the catheter that was thread through my vein- up and around my arm then the tip rested next to my heart. The numbness from the procedure is wearing off and my arm is pretty painful so I’m done for the night. Thanks for sharing in my excitement to get this out today. 

 


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No More Port!

Great news- I am getting my port taken out on Friday!! This Friday! Two days from now!! I’m so excited (if you can’t tell). I had an appointment scheduled for later in the month, but they called today to bump it up earlier. I know that treatment really isn’t done until radiation. But this port was so symbolic of the beginning of treatment… and the removal of it is symbolic that the end is near. That thing was my lifeline- I hate it and I love it all at once. I’m so glad to get it out of my body. OUT!! GONE!! Along with the cancer!
(Oh- and my return to work went well today. I had an appointment in the morning so it was a shorter day than usual. It was a nice way to ease back into things. And it was really great seeing my co-workers. Seeing them meant getting hugs from friends- which was actually really energizing and uplifting. I am thankful.)