Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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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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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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He is breathing on MY dry bones…

It’s difficult to know what to say to update everyone in this post and how many details to share. This was definitely the worst round of chemo, even knowing what to expect and armed with my arsenal of remedies for side effects. I was physically and emotionally at my lowest and had a hard time coming out of it. Like, it’s been 13 days and today was the first that I can say was not miserable. Coming out on the other side of it, I can share some beautiful things. My parents and brother were all out here to help out and love on me when I needed it. It was so depressing to see everyone’s fun spring break pics while I was barely getting out of bed, but now I see the gift of timing to be able to send my girls to PA for the worst parts of it so they didn’t have to see me so miserable and just have fun with their cousins. I have seen the value of friends who know how to love me and encourage me through the worst of the worst. I cannot say enough about Rob and his ability to help me through this. He knows me so well- when to let me rest, and when to push me to get out of bed; when to make me drink an Ensure and when to just bring home a slushie (I still think I could live on slushies and applesauce at this point); when to call on my friends to come encourage me even when I thought I didn’t want to see people; and when to stop in the middle of life and give me a hug. The hug was very much needed on Thursday, when I learned that a friend fighting a different kind of cancer lost her battle. This disease is awful. And way too prevalent. This treatment is barbaric and ugly. I don’t want to do it, but it’s my place right now. And I’m floundering my way through it.
The picture I posted below was actually taken when I wasn’t feeling too bad yesterday. It was warm outside and there’s something so healing about breathing fresh air and hearing birds chirping around you.
I don’t write all of this to make you feel bad for me. But more importantly, so you know what this experience looks like. And to know how I get through it. The misery I felt this round definitely tested my faith, and will surely happen again (the testing, not the misery). But as sad and lonely as I felt in the hours of being up all night or soaking in the tub for comfort, I’m not alone. I have a God strong enough to get me through this when I can’t. Thank goodness, because I don’t know how I would do it otherwise. I heard the song “Oh My Soul” (the link is below) right after round 3 and played it repeatedly these last 2 weeks. There’s something so powerful in the lyrics:

I won’t try to promise that someday it all works out
‘Cause this is the valley
And even now, He is breathing on your dry bones
And there will be dancing
There will be beauty where beauty was ash and stone
This much I know

Oh, my soul
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down

I’m not strong enough, I can’t take anymore
(You can lay it down, you can lay it down)
And my shipwrecked faith will never get me to shore
(You can lay it down, you can lay it down)
Can He find me here
Can He keep me from going under

This is MY valley… He is breathing on MY dry bones… One more day He will make MY way…. MY shipwrecked faith…He can keep me from going under. I don’t expect to be shouting from mountaintops in a beautiful unscarred journey. But I will get through this my own messy, miserable, broken way… with Him.
(Side note: Just now as I went to find the link for the song, I learned that the artist wrote this about his own battle with cancer. No wonder it resonates so closely with my experience. Thank you, God, for knowing what I need to hear. And knowing it usually comes through music for me. And thank you, everyone who is reading this and part of this group, for holding space with me and reminding me of your presence even in my silence.)

Today, please say a prayer for the sister of my friend who is no longer here, and her family. Her sister has been a dear friend for many years and this is really hard for the entire family. God will know who you mean. The family could use some comfort tonight.

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It Is Well

You all know I have a strong faith that has helped me through difficult times in the past- especially losing a close cousin and also a dear friend to cancer. I know I will get through this, but it is still scary to be standing in shoes similar to theirs at the beginning of their experience. My friend, Allison Armstrong chose to have the song “It is Well” played at her funeral and it forever changed the way I heard and understood the power of those words. Now, in the middle of my own experience, I can’t help but feel an even deeper, soul-reaching sense of peace when I listen to the lyrics. For anyone who does not have a relationship with Christ, I hope you can see His presence in my experience. He didn’t cause this, but He will carry me through it. Enjoy this beautiful version… “This mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea.”