Tancer, Hope and Sunsets

Have you ever taken a moment to look back at your life thus far and be simultaneously proud but confused as to how you have arrived at this very moment?  Only to have life give you a nudge and a wink to remind you of where you’re going.  Well, ladies and gents, welcome to that moment of mine…

Two years ago, around this very time,  Elena was violently sick and had lost almost 4 pounds in a week from a combination of a stomach flu and no immune system to combat it.  She was skin and bones and looked as if a small wind would break her.  I took one picture of her like this.  I still have it saved on my phone …it’s my reminder.  Because looking at her today makes it so easy to forget about the year she spent fighting for her life.  This kid is snarky and sassy, loving and affectionate, blissfully happy and wildly stubborn.  My close friends tell me that she’s me…but she isn’t. She is Elena, a force all of her own and one that I am fiercely proud to call my daughter.

You’ve all read about my life through Elena’s cancer treatment, but where am I today?  I keep pretty silent now…and not because I don’t want to write but simply because the ‘cancer mom’ aspect has taken a backseat to living life again.  Also, if I’m being  completely honest, I’ve had a sort of “survivor’s remorse” in terms of my writing, as if writing about our lives outside of cancer was offensive or gloating.  I don’t know; there are so many emotions that comes with having gone through this disease that don’t make much sense when put into words and that’s definitely one of them.

Commence the Obligatory Update

I can’t possibly write a post for the first time in…over a year?!?!  Yes, I just looked that up and am seriously disappointed in myself! Well…the big cancer news of course is that Elena just finished her 18 month post treatment scans and remains cancer free! She is thriving. She is happy and silly and wild and growing and HEALTHY.  There are times that I *almost* forget where we were two years ago.  If you saw her today and  didn’t know her story, you would never imagine what she went through.  She started preschool in September and has turned into quite the social butterfly, though that doesn’t really surprise me.

Elena turned 4 in December, and it’s interesting to note how after these last set of scans she talks about her cancer and treatment.  As her hair is getting longer she will occasionally ask if it will fall out again.  When I tell her that, no, it won’t, she responds with “Right.  Because I don’t have Tancer anymore.” *Not a typo- she says ‘tancer’ and it’s easier to hear than the actual word from your four year old’s mouth so I’m not correcting it.* It was jarring explaining to her the need to go back to hospital in January for her follow up.  She doesn’t understand the reason behind it and had me simultaneously laughing while breaking my heart by stating “But Mommy, I kicked tancer’s butt!!  I promise I won’t have tancer ever again so I don’t want to go!  I promise Mommy, I promise.”  Oh my Dear Elena…yes, you did kick cancer’s butt!  And I pray everyday that you are so very right and that mean ole cancer never comes back!  BUT…we have to check.  And we’ll have to continue to do so for awhile.  It’s a definite step up from my perspective.  So I’ll navigate as best I can in trying to explain to her as she grows what she went through and how our lives have changed because of it while ensuring that she feels safe and happy and healthy and loved.

Annalise is 8 now, going on 18 at times! She is smart and goofy and strives to please everyone.  I continue to work towards having open communication with her dad so that we can both give her the solid foundations of love and support she needs to thrive.  It’s a work in progress…I hope.

A Beacon of Hope

In the Spring of last year David Caldarella asked me to become a part of David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation (DDBCF) as a Director of Patient Advocacy.  I cannot begin to express the fulfillment this has brought into my life.  This blog is a testament to my desire to share Elena’s story and our experiences.  Selfishly, it’s therapeutic for me. But I’m hopeful that sharing my stories, emotions, triumphs and struggles reaches people who need it, however that may be.  DDBCF is a Beacon of Hope for patients and families struggling both financially and emotionally with a cancer diagnosis.  It has become a second family for me, as we share our personal experiences, those of the patients we are bringing hope to and our personal losses as well… and the loss of one of our own was truly heartbreaking.

Lauren Raney was seriously one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, and I barely knew her.  She was witty, kind and genuine.  People are so rarely genuine in today’s society and her brand of it was as refreshing as the ocean breeze on a hot summer’s day.  Gastric cancer stole this beautiful mother away from her three precious children and loving husband.  I was but a new spectator in her life and the love that this family shared was truly awe inspiring and something that could be seen so clearly, even from the cheap seat I had.  Her strength and courage will always serve as an example in my life and I feel truly honored to know her.

Lunch with a Cancer Mom and a Hopeful Sunset

The real prompting of this post comes from the small amount of time spent over lunch today with another cancer mom.  Her daughter recently relapsed after being off treatment for only 6 months.  My heart bleeds for her as the idea alone of hearing those words shakes me to my core.  As I listened to her talk about how different life is, again, and the course of treatment they are going with, I was blown away by her perseverance, determination and HOPE.  She fights daily for her daughter and is the epitome of an advocate on her behalf.

I was driving home from work this evening to pick up my children from their dad’s house while I was going over the conversation at lunch today and I couldn’t help but  notice the incredible sunset.  There was a small storm front ahead, but the horizon itself was on fire with gorgeous orange and pink hues.  By the time I had the girls in my car and was heading home, the storm clouds had passed with hardly any fuss and the entire sky was glowing with those glorious colors.  I truly believe that if you pay close enough attention, life will give you little signs and hints that you’re on the right path.  And that sunset tonight was exactly that for me.  The storm cloud looming ahead with the promise of true beauty once it passes… regardless of where you are at in your life or what circumstances you are facing, we are all on the precipice of a storm, some bigger and worse than others.  But hold onto hope and look for the beauty behind your struggles.  They will transform you and shape you into something beautiful, unique and strong.

The words written by my cancer mom lunch date come to mind, “look forward for tomorrow if today is too hard, but take an action today so that tomorrow can be better.” Indeed my friend, indeed.


Paris, Laundry and Happiness

What a roller coaster ride we have all been on these last several months.  Oh right- it’s been longer than that, obviduh- but in terms of when I last blogged…yeah, an intense ride of ups and downs, twists and turns, leaving me damn near mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Elena is…holy shit, that girl is absolutely amazing.  She is energy personified and has such a zest for life, fun and trouble! She is the most formidable toddler I have ever encountered and her tempter tantrums could decimate small countries.  I have watched her glare at me while I reprimand her for something she shouldn’t be doing and, I kid you not, the look on her face is saying, “Psh- seriously, Ma?? If I can kick cancer’s ass, that ridiculous rule you are trying to impose on me doesn’t stand a CHANCE.” Though, for the most part she is just abundantly happy and excited about every small, wonderful, seemingly menial aspect of life that we all typically take for granted.  Her laughter is contagious and could make even the Grinch’s heart melt.

I’m also incredibly proud of Annalise.  She struggled through much of last year, feeling as if her sister was taking the spotlight and getting all of everyone’s attention.  I can’t say she wasn’t partially right and that breaks my heart in ways I cannot mend.  I was most concerned for her as Mario and I ended our marriage.  Knowing that she is my sensitive soul, I feared she would continue to have a hard time adjusting to another crisis in our lives.  And while she’s had her share of tears and concerns, she’s thriving so much better than I ever hoped for.  She is doing well in school and has been involved with cheer since July, keeping her busy and focused.  I have to move out of my house soon.  My landlord wants to sell it and there is no way I’m able to buy it, as I’m already facing bankruptcy.  Wanting her to be prepared for yet another set of changes (Mario just moved out 6 weeks ago), I have slowly started mentioning the idea of not staying in our house for much longer, and more than likely moving in with Grandma and Pop-Pop for some time.  Last night driving home from her final cheer practice of the season, she asked why we couldn’t buy our house.  I told her that it costs a lot of money that Mommy doesn’t have.  She wanted to know how much it costs.  When I told her almost $300,000 her response was (get the tissues out now) “Would you have enough if I gave you my Paris money?”  Annalise has been saving every dollar she has ever earned or been gifted, and just this summer decided she will use it one day to travel to Paris, like her American Girl Doll, Grace.  I couldn’t respond to her as my eyes quickly welled up with tears and begun to stream freely down my cheeks.  My beautiful Annalise…what a gorgeous soul you have.

So- cancer, divorce, losing the home my girls and I love and facing bankruptcy.  It’s been a pretty shitty year when I look at it like that.  And yet, I’m happy.  Happier than I have ever been before.  I am confident and ready for whatever the future may bring.  It’s probably going to be difficult at best, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.  I find it kind of funny that for the duration of Elena’s treatment, while people would tell me how strong I am, I scoffed at them.  I didn’t feel strong.  I felt weak and helpless.  It is only now, after getting through it all, and slowly picking up the pieces of my life and finding myself all over again, that I actually feel strong.

I was folding the girl’s laundry a few weeks back, sorting through the clothes that are getting too small on Elena, just by sight and remembering how they fit her.  Checking the size on them I was astounded to see that they are her 2Ts that are snug.  Seeing as she will be 3 in December, it doesn’t sound like something out of the ordinary.  A year ago, 18 month sizes were swimming on her.  She didn’t start wearing a 2T until June, barely growing at all in the 10 months she was on chemo.  The joy that overcame me as I pulled aside those outfits to put in the give-a-way bin is indescribable. It was in that tiny moment I knew that no matter what life has or is going to throw my way, not only will I be ready for it and face it head on, but I will do so happily.  I will do so with a smile on my face and beauty in my heart knowing that Elena is healthy, and happy, and growing and thriving.  I will do so knowing that Annalise, while sensitive, is also mature and strong, adjusting to the changes in her life and rising to the occasion time and time again.  And I will do so for myself, because I deserve it.  We all do.

Cancer Lane 

I remember the first time I said the word “Rhabdomyosarcoma.”  It was slow, broken and more of a question- the way you use an unfamiliar word in an attempt to understand it as it comes out. I was on the phone with my OB, one of the doctors in my practice who had helped in the process of getting Elena diagnosed. He corrected my pronunciation. I felt so unimaginably overwhelmed in that moment. 

I remember Elena’s first day in clinic. I felt silly during the check in process and didn’t know where to go or what to expect. I sat next to two women who had a baby girl with them, not even a year old. They casually asked how long we’ve been coming to CHOP and when I responded that it was our first day, the older woman shed a tear and asked if she could hug me. She told me her granddaughter’s story of diagnosis, treatment and remission. That was the first time I felt hope since hearing of Elena’s cancer. 

I remember Elena’s first chemo. We moved it up a day because her vaginal tumor had protruded. You probably just cringed. Or threw up a little in your mouth. To say it was God awful would be an understatement but I won’t elaborate more on this, as it is graphic. 

We checked in at clinic and had to wait in the day hospital for a room to open on the inpatient unit. We waited and waited, and it was evening before we were upstairs. The doctors ordered an ultrasound, I suppose to get up to date measurements pre-chemo. The ultrasound tech seemed baffled by the lack of imagining on the screen. I asked she had her phone on her. She confusingly said yes. “If you need an image of the tumor for her records, open her diaper and take a picture of it as it is now more external than internal.”  That was rude of me, I know. But it was the truth, I had just stopped caring about my manners given the circumstances. 

I remember getting through the night and being surprised over her not getting sick. And then the nurse tried to give her anti constipation medicine and she threw up everywhere. “That’s a Colace puke. Doesn’t even count as a chemo puke!” I was dumbfounded how she could nonchalantly classify my daughters first vomit of her life, especially in this situation, as simply and unsignificantly as she did. 

I remember the countdown of when hair loss would start and the first strands that fell. I sat with Elena on my lap for over an hour, just rubbing my cheek along the top of her head. I smelled her hair, taking it in, not knowing when she’d have it again.  I wanted to savor it. And as each silent tear ran down my face and into her hair, I breathed it in deeper and deeper. 

I remember, shortly after we shaved the remainder of her hair off, once all the spotty stubble had fallen out too, doing the same thing, noting how foreign it felt. I put my lips to her bald head and thought about how strange it was that at 20 months old my lips had never touched her head. Her hair, frequently, but not the skin beneath it. 

I remember a million other moments, many of them less heart wrenching than the above mentioned memories. Including the feeling of normalcy on her last day of chemo. I don’t know why I expected something grand-balloons and applause and- oh I don’t know a marching band playing as we left, the nurses lined up down the hallway beaming at us with tears in our eyes. But it  wasn’t that. It was just us, the last family leaving the day hospital, like any other VAC day. I noted this feeling to Mario on the drive home, and not two minutes later, the biggest and brightest shooting star I had ever seen flew across the sky. Appropriate, as that  had been my wish for 10 months, and way better than a marching band!

So why am I taking this somber trip down memory lane at 3am?  I scheduled Elena’s first follow up MRI/CT scan for September 1st, with a visit to the clinic on the 4th for a check up with her oncologist. In some ways, those words feel foreign again. But then those memories come flooding back and I’m living them like they were yesterday. 

My hope for this visit? Obviously clear and healthy scans. To keep Elena happy and content as we wait for sedation and to have her recover as she always has afterwards.  I’m surprisingly looking forward to seeing the nurses and her doctor. These people were literally lifesavers for Elena, and mentally and emotionally for me and I can’t wait for them to see how she’s grown and changed, how much her hair has started to come back. 

In just a couple weeks we will be able to put her first post treatment scans behind us. Though, until then, I have a feeling it will be many late night trips down Cancer Lane. 

Better than ‘ok’

There are moments in life when, even standing in a crowded room full of people laughing and talking, with a band playing “Uptown Funk” and everyone is dancing around you,  everything falls into place. When you quickly (though it plays out in slow motion when looking back) scan the room and realize “everything is going to be ok. Better than ok.”  That moment for me happened at the gala for David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation on Friday night. Here’s why:

I haven’t posted in months. In terms of cancer and how it is currently affecting our life- I haven’t had a single word to say. I have a million others, but my thought was “I called this blog ‘a cancer moms life’ so I can’t just openly discuss anything and everything.”  Here’s the truth- my husband and I are getting divorced. I literally just breathed a massive sigh of relief. At the end of the day, it’s really no one’s business, but I’ve felt like, having been in the public’s eye as a family, people almost should know. To make a very long story as short as possible- our marriage failed. We simply don’t work anymore as a couple. And after much back and forth, arguing and hurting one another in various ways- we are both at the same place I had hoped for from the start. To raise our children and coparent in a manner that is respectful of each other and that comes from a place of love and kindness, towards our children obviously, but for one another as well. 

When David asked for us to attend this years gala, I embarrassingly told him of our impending divorce, thinking that in that moment, we would not be able to attend together as our fighting had reached its peak. Two weeks and while we made progress, I was still unsure if attending together would be a ‘good idea.’  But we did. We danced and we laughed. We cried during David’s speech as he mentioned that it was a year ago that he introduced Elena to the crowd, having just been diagnosed and that today she is cancer free. I was introduced to the generous and amazing family that, in the Spring, had sent me and Mario on a date night, covering not only our meal, but the cost of the babysitter for the night as well. I felt guilty meeting them- they had wanted our love to triumph during a ridiculously difficult time as parents and we failed at that. However, we are succeeding at being better people to one another, amazing parents to our girls and moving forward with love, respect and kindness. To this generous family I say this- your generosity played a role in getting us to this place. And for that, I am forever grateful, truly. 

I met an amazing woman and fellow fierce cancer mom. Though her story is both very different and very much the same. She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year while pregnant with her third child. Her baby Sam is absolutely adorable and melts my heart seeing her post pictures on Facebook. At one point, as we spoke and I mentioned how amazing I think she is and she shared similar sentiments towards me and the “I couldn’t imagine what you went through” it hit me that this woman and I have been in the same boat. When push comes to shove we have both questioned whether or not we would get to see our children grow. There is no greater fear as a mother and it’s a bond we unfortunately share, but one that has paved the start to what I hope to be a great friendship. 

So all this had happened as the band started to play another song and I looked at Mario as the room was fading out around me and I asked him “Are we going to be ok?”  And he knew I didn’t mean “can we fix things?”  He smiled and peacefully replied “yeah- I really think we are!”  

At one point I think both of us had wanted to blame cancer for the demise of our marriage. In reality it has given us the gift of loving our children so fiercely and wanting to do what is best for them. And that still means family days and shared birthdays. It means going as a solid unit to Disney in October. It means loving one another from a distance, knowing the two greatest gifts we have ever received wouldn’t have been possible without each other. And that’s worth everything.

P.S. both the girls are happy and healthy and amazing! Elena’s hair is growing back and her energy levels are exhausting (and I mean that in the happiest, most tired way possible!) Her laughter lights up my days and her determination is a force to be reckon with. Though, all things considered, I would expect nothing less from her. ☺️ 


Artistically Challenged 

12:38am. Weird. Not particularly the time exactly, rather the thoughts that are keeping me awake. Heading into Elena’s last chemo (Tuesday the 19th!!!) is a strange ride, indeed. I fee like a self medicated schizophrenic with severe bipolar. Yupp. There’s a flooding of relief and excitement. I can’t wait to embrace the clinic nurses as we leave, silently and impossibly thanking them for having taken care of Elena in the manner that they have these past 10 months. Though I truly don’t think it will all feel “real” until her port comes out, and that won’t be until mid June (after scans and one last biopsy). I’m happy and excited and overwhelmed as we come to an end in treatment with her prognosis looking incredible. 

But I have been up at night, every night, just so ridiculously scared. Sheer panic and fear for the future is impossible to shake. I read. I read about other children and their journey’s: some years and year off treatment and healthy and happy, some facing a recurrence only months after ending treatment and others losing their lives to this God awful disease. No one knows the future or what tomorrow brings, I get that. I just never thought I would be so afraid of it. 

I’m in this limbo of sorts. I feel as if I’m a blank canvas right now…the previous version of myself was utterly destroyed the day Elena was diagnosed. While coming to the end of treatment should mean that it is time to “paint” or “create” or whatever other word you want to use to describe rebuilding and finding yourself again….I’m stuck. Right now I’m just waiting- for her last chemo, end of treatment scans and biopsy and her port removal.  After that, having to find this “new normal.”  But so hesitant to commit to myself. Losing my identity the way I did was soul crushing to start and I’m terrified of finding myself, of filling up the canvas, only to hear those words again. Once was hard enough. The thought of having to hear it again haunts me every second of everyday. And it is for that reason that I don’t even want to pick up the damn brush, let alone attempt to create anything worthwhile.  I see who I am now, the changes in me and who I am becoming because of all of this…but committing to that feels impossible. 

So please, bear with me as I start to paint. And I will, I have no doubt. I can’t promise a masterpiece- I’ve never been much of an artist….but I’m working on it. 

15 Truths of Having Your Child Diagnosed with Cancer 

I had guessed how bad it would be when I heard my 19 month old had cancer. I imagined a million different scenarios in my head: some of which would happen while others did not. The Internet has been circulating “10 things you didn’t know about this” or “The top 15 reasons you blah blah blah.”  So, here’s my version. But this one isn’t funny or cute. It won’t hit everyone that reads it with a familiar nod as if to say “OMG! Yes! I do that too!”  This list is somber and sobering. It will be understood entirely by only those who have been down this road. Regardless, I think you should all know. Because I never thought pediatric cancer could effect my family, my precious children. No one does. Until it does. So here goes:

1. At some point or another, you will assume your child is going to die. Whether it’s only that initial second you hear a doctor say “cancer” in relation to your child or throughout the tumultuous course of treatment, it will happen. Maybe once. Maybe a hundred times. This thought will break your heart in a way that will never truly be fixed. 

2. As confusing as all the words and phrases that the doctors and nurses are using on your first trip into clinic, you will learn it all.  I was so upset sitting in clinic that first visit. “I’m going to fail her. This all sounds like Japanese to me.”  Within weeks, not only did I understand it all, but I could shoot off numbers from her last CBC from the top of my head with the knowledge of what it all meant and why. It’s daunting in the beginning, but that part gets easier. 

3. Some things will get better as time progresses, but it never gets easier. For example: after Elena’s 3rd week of chemo, I knew when to expect when she would get sick and when her counts could be expected to drop. I assure you, it’s better to know when to have a puke bag ready. It’s not easier though, it never will be. Watching your child go through her…oh I don’t know, 45th port access- it’s better because she has gotten used to it. She’s not happy, mind you, but instead of having to hold her down with all of my strength, now it’s only a matter of holding her arms out of the way so she doesn’t touch the freshly cleaned and sterile skin on her chest. It’s better, but not easier knowing why she’s going through it. 

4. You will be amazed and feel overwhelming joy many times throughout this journey. I know it doesn’t sound possible but it’s the absolute truth. People will rally behind your family in a way you never imagined. It will bring you to some of the best tears of your life. Your child becomes an inspiration to others and then those people become inspiring to you. Special occasions become life changing events and will restore your faith in the kindness of people. 

5. People will associate hair growth and flushed cheeks with good health. This will piss you off. Elena’s hair started growing back just months after she lost it, slowly of course. It wasn’t until two days ago (9 months after it first fell out and 1 month away from being done with treatment) that it’s falling out again. The peach fuzz she has been sporting has been a signal of a miracle cure to those outside the cancer community. Hair = Health. So far from the truth. But you’ll smile and nod anyway, not wanting to be rude. 

6. Even the best case scenarios and progressions suck. We have been so lucky. Elena has been so lucky. Her tumor shrunk quickly, was removed early on and her first clear scan came back before 20 weeks of chemo. But that doesn’t make it ok. It doesn’t change the pain and suffering and emotional roller coaster you’re on. I have said 100 times, if we had to go through this, Elena’s way is the way to do it, as I am all too aware of children and families that are not as fortunate. But it doesn’t mean that I am “ok” with it. I fucking hate it. Period. 

7. You will be very surprised by who sticks by you. Some people will surprise you in the best way- you’ll find lifetime friends out of complete strangers. But there will be others that you assumed would be there for you and aren’t. I can’t tell you to not let this upset you. Because it upsets me and pisses me off on a daily basis. Focus on the people who are there for you. 

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will be, and you won’t do it. Even when everything else is falling apart, you won’t take your neighbor up on the offer to cook your family dinner. But you should. Someone will ask you “what can I do- anything!” You will have a laundry list of things that you should be getting done and won’t say a single one of them out loud. But you should. 

9. This is an emotional experience. Be prepared. From the lowest low to the highest high. You will find yourself hysterically crying, during a good time, when there is a break in chemo and her health is at its best in months. You’ll be angry and hurt, devastated and livid. You will be overwhelmed and joyous. This is literally the craziest emotional roller coaster you will ever take. 

10. You will feel like you’re failing your other child(ren). Even if you aren’t. You will do your absolute best to keep them involved but sheltered from the severity of cancer. You will go above and beyond for your healthy child and still feel guilty. Because the truth is that their life changes too. They get stuck inside all winter with your sick child because your husband is at work and it’s 15 degrees outside and you just can’t risk another rotavirus without the immune system to kick it. I don’t have advice for this one- it’s devastating but I think I’m doing a good job for Annalise. I suppose time will tell. 

11. The end of treatment is not the end. In the beginning I looked at our last chemo date as this magical number. This was the day our life can begin again. We’re still a month away from that and I realize now that is not the case. She needs her last scan and her port removed after. Ok- so after her port is out it’s over. Wrong. The scans continue indefinitely. You will always have to check her health. Simple growing pains of a normal child become a phone call and appointment with the oncologist. Everything centers around the possibility of cancer coming back. And…

12.  No one outside the cancer community will understand. They will be supportive, of course, but unaware of the reality of so much. And that’s ok- you can’t expect understanding from everyone…but sometimes you’ll wish they did. When the celebrations start over clear scans early on and hair growth and the end of treatment in sight- you’ll be happy for these things of course, but angry that everyone jumping for joy just doesn’t get it. Find people who do- they will be your lifelines through this. 

13. This will change you. Forever. You will not be the same person after diagnosis, halfway through treatment or when chemo is over. In some ways, it will be for the better and in others the changes in you really fucking suck. I can’t elaborate much on this one as everyone’s change is different and mine is still underway. 

14. Your relationships with people will be affected. From your best friend to your parents and spouse. Sometimes it solidifies a relationship, strengthening your connection. Other times it completely destroys it. 

15. You are strong and amazing even when you don’t think you are. This is so important. The most important on the list. When you feel like you’ll just die from the heartache and your eyes are swollen from all of the tears…you’re stronger than you think. People will idolize you for this but the truth is you don’t have a choice. “Of course you do!” I’ve heard- oh yeah? What’s that? Lock myself in a closet and wish it never happened while cancer wreaks havoc on my child’s body??? Right, didn’t think so. But choice or no choice, you are strong enough to get through it. 

Elena’s kindred soul 

Strength comes in many forms and it’s meaning changes to fit the situation. 

There is emotional strength. To me, being emotionally strong means being in control and aware of your feelings. It is allowing oneself to feel the power and beauty of emotions and handle them as necessary. Emotional strength doesn’t mean you don’t cry: it means after you’re done crying you understand the reason for it and know how to move forward from that point. 

Mental strength requires a deep knowledge of oneself. You understand your limits just as much as you get your weaknesses and how to balance the two of them. It is the voice inside that tells you that you can, when the rest of the world is screaming at you that you can’t. 

Physical strength, to me, can be categorized into two seperate types: pain tolerance and ability. 

What does any of this have to do with Elena and cancer, you ask?  Frank Newby. That’s what (or, whom I should say). 

We have been incredibly blessed to have so many people rally behind our family during this time. People donating their time, money and emotional support to us so that we can focus on Elena and getting through this without having to stress about everyday worries. I am so thankful for every single person who has been there for us through this, in every and any capacity that they’ve shown their support. 

The support we received from Frank Newby was so very different from the standard ways people have reached out to us. He pledged to put his strength to the test: emotional, mental and physical, for Elena and her battle through cancer. At the ABF #cancersucks Mud Run yesterday, Frank pushed himself to continue to run the course, time and time again, in an effort to raise money for Elena, our family and treatment costs. This is a 4 mile course with 36 obstacles. We pulled up, watching  a team carry a tree (yeah, a chopped up, huge and heavy piece of lumber) down train tracks… They crawl through mud, wade through water, climb walls, and God only knows what else that I wasn’t able to see from our viewing spot. We waited for Frank to come around, him not knowing Elena was there to encourage him. He was on his THIRD run of this course already. When we saw him turn the corner, tired and exhausted my heart stopped. This man, this incredible man I have never met is putting his body, mind and soul through extreme tests of physical and mental strength in the name of my daughter. Seeing his smile, even from the distance we were at, as he realized who is was waving at him and cheering for him is a moment I will never forget. 

The organizers had asked me to give him words of encouragement and I choked up. You see, I know we are a strong family…but we’ve had to be. Cancer showed up on our door, hitting our youngest daughter and while it has been a turmoil of emotional and mental battles, we have made it through because it is not a choice not to. Watching someone you don’t even know make the choice to test every aspect of their strength for the sake of your daughter is impossibly emotional and ridiculously inspiring.  And that’s what all of this had to do with Elena and cancer. Inspiration and strength. 

Elena is both: inspirational and ridiculously strong. And so is Frank Newby. Our family met someone yesterday I hope to have in our lives for good. I can’t wait for the day that Elena is off of treatment and her immune system is not a concern as it is right now and our children can play together. I hate cancer. It sucks. But yesterday, Elena met a kindred spirit. And I look forward for him being a part of her life, watching her grow, thrive, kick the shit out of cancer and never look back. 

Thank you Frank, and to the amazing people that surround you, for your inspirational support for our family!