Monday, September 22, 2014

Fairy Dust {The Selfish Post Update}

Thank you for all the fairy dust this last week. It means more than I could possibly ever express. I've been so overwhelmed with the amount of love and support, I honestly didn't know how to respond. I still don't, but at least I can thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Update RE: The Selfish Post

I had no idea-- no idea what what would happen when I shared with you last week. I thought it might be odd to share and I was fully prepared to take it down. Within a couple hours of publishing, over 50 of you commented on facebook; within a couple days, about 600 people read my story. I had never heard of cervical dysplasia and I was so scared; it wasn't until you all started posting, emailing, messaging, and sharing your stories that I realized what incredible company I find myself. No one talked about this before, and I am so in awe of all of you. I felt vulnerable and almost selfish sharing, but I'm so happy I did. I am astounded time and again how my definition of "community" is ever evolving; what a beautiful and wonderful thing.

So. The colposcopy on Friday was probably the most painful and uncomfortable thing I've ever experienced. To the women who shared that they too underwent this biopsy sampling: I f***ing salute you. I wore the locket that held an old photograph of my grandmother and a street sign of where she used to live. My mom talked to me the whole time, distracting me with details and stories about that same town where she grew up (the town that has my heart). Following the procedure, standing next to my sister in the bathroom of our parents' home, I could feel arms surround and hold me. It may sound silly, and that's fine, but I felt an overwhelming warmth that it was my Aunt Joan.

The Fates

I was so happy and relived that the biopsy was over, I practically forgot to worry about the results! I was covered in all of your fairy dust and happy thoughts that I wasn't scared for a while. Beyond touched at all of your candidness and warmth, I decided to put your words to work -- which I'll detail soon in an upcoming project. But first -- the results. (See, I shared this news but didn't realize people would be asking for an update, so here we go.)

Right before the biopsy procedure, the nurse practitioner warned me that cervical dysplasia usually only progresses to cancer if the patient hasn't been tested in 5+ years. The cervical cancer test came back normal: not cancer. It is still, however, pre-cancer. I tested in level three/three-plus out of four levels in two different sections. If it were levels one or two, the chemo gel would've been a viable treatment (and you better believe that I hoped for that). Levels three and up mean that I have to undergo a LEEP surgery. Now, I was surprised that several of you reported experiencing this procedure as well. The good news is: this is treatable, this is not cancer yet, and I can still have children (with some adjustments and additional precautions).

And though she be but little...

I really didn't mean for this post to be so long already, but I can't go without saying this next part. If honesty is the best policy, then let me be totally frank. I am really, really upset about this. I've been walking around this last week trying to remind myself of the aforementioned good news while struggling with the fact that I am actually very angry and very sad by all of this. If you know me, then you know how I already feel about needles... now lasers? But more so, this feels personal and is so personal. (I'll interrupt myself by saying that it feels melodramatic being so emotional even after several of your reported that you're fine after your LEEP, but again, if grief therapy taught me anything... cue feelings... ugh, so many feelings!) But here's what has been troubling me. Everyone said such nice things about how strong I am and how brave I'll be, but it just sort of feels like a lie. I'm not being brave or strong. I opened up about this because I was scared. And now that I have the results, I cry about this almost every day. I'm angry. And I feel bad for feeling so angry. I am so sorry for not taking your calls or responding to messages right away; this is unlike anything I've ever experienced and I'm doing my best to navigate. I don't mean to complain. I want you to know that my family insisted on distracting the evening of the colposcopy by taking me to karaoke. With convincing, I got on stage with my sister (which hasn't happened in years) and we jammed out to Spice Girls. That first "YOOO--" of Wannabe was pretty cathartic...

Fairy Dust

I'm completely flustered and I'm trying to stop apologizing for being a baby (because I have a bad habit of saying that), when I received a postcard in the mail from a friend I haven't seen in almost ten years. I hope it's okay with the sender that I share, because it really helped me and maybe it could help someone else too:
Joan! How are you feeling today? Whatever you may be feeling, I just want to validate you in that. The world often tells us that we should just "feel better" or "Don't worry; be happy." But I want to encourage you to not numb yourself, but to really live and honor your heart... something I've been learning in my journey the past two years.
I have received the most incredible doses of fairy dust this week, this postcard being one. It's things like this that I know and you already know, but it's nice to hear from someone else. Thank you for your kindness this week and every week.

I hope you were able to send some fairy dust along in our ITLT project from last week!! 
As a surprised recipient of some of your letters,
I can honestly tell you that this little effort means the world.
The littlest things... 

And I will be posting the following ITLT project soon so stay tuned! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Selfish Post

I went back and forth on whether or not to write an entry about this, especially since there are much more important things to share. It has been such an incredible summer and all I've been wanting to do is bask in the amazingness of the people who surround this little operation, but lately I've been distracted with another little... situation. I figure honesty is the best policy. I connect with each ITLT post and project in a personal way, this one is no different. Forgive me, as this will hopefully be the only selfish post you see from me.


My mom's sister, Joan Marie McBride, died of breast cancer far too young. I never met her but was given her name, and always felt this was a big responsibility. For the last sixteen years, I was convinced that I too would come to this same early tragic end. (For someone who smiles a lot, I can get pretty dark pretty quickly.) Three times in my life I've taken myself to doctors and oncologists convinced, and three times they've turned me away. I vowed to give up this obsession.

The Short of It 

Two weeks ago, I had some routine physical tests come back abnormal but no one would return my calls. One week ago, on the way to my dad's birthday dinner, I finally connected with my doctor. Thankfully, my mom was also in the car. Hyperplasia. Cervical dysplasia. Pre-cancer. CIN III. ("It's pre-cancer. Or it's cancer, but we need more information. You don't have cancer yet. It's just pre-cancer." Say the C-word one more time... and I'm sorry, what is PRE-cancer?) Best case scenario: my body is already fighting and will need little assistance. Worst case scenario: it's cancer and we start by targeting and freezing sections. 

Based on these preliminary results, there are still many unanswered questions and I have to go back in for a biopsy. I've had all relevant immunizations so they're not sure why or how this happened. I would have to wait two and a half weeks to even be seen, and then wait another week for test results. However, this smart cookie (she said ironically) decided to call and see if there were any last minute cancellations. Don't get me wrong, that was the plan all along because the doc made this sound urgent. So - great - I can go in today.

Flash Forward

It's been a heavy week, so much so that this all sounds trivial when I write it down, but if grief therapy taught me anything, it's that I need to confront feelings head on. So in the midst of remembering 9/11 and honoring suicide awareness and prevention week, I also realized something: I had allotted myself the full anticipated two and a half weeks to deal with this upcoming appointment. Moving it into the next 24 hours was a shock to my system and I found myself hysterical in the middle of rush hour traffic. 

I wasn't crying because I might have cancer; I'm scared because I don't know and there's nothing I can do but wait. It felt like my body had betrayed me. Whether it's a physical reaction or psychosomatic, I have been in an enormous amount of pain this last week as if war is being waged inside me, and I'm scared because I don't know who is going to win.

The Project

I know I don't have a unique story. I've had too many friends go under the knife for too many illnesses. I think the sentiment remains the same though. It's scary and no one really knows what to say. So, if you choose accept, this is the creative act of kindness:
  1. Find a hospital - google one in your hometown, maybe in a place you've heard about on the news, maybe a place you've only read about in books.
  2. Look into whether they have a pediatric, cancer, or other ward that inspires you.
  3. Use your imagination to create a beautiful card(s) for someone who could use a little extra love. Let them know how brave they are, wish them luck, just keeping it light and positive.
    1. Here's how we recommend addressing your card:
      1. Leave the inside of your card blank so that someone close to the recipient can write a personal message. Don't sign your name. Instead include a message to a nurse or clerk describing the purpose of you card and specifically what you want them to do with your card. For example, on a separate paper: "Hello! Please give this card to someone who _____.  I've created it so that you or a close friend can include a personal message..."
      2. Note: Since you don't know who will be receiving your card, try and make a card that could be enjoyed by anyone of any age, gender, or religion.
  4. Snap a quick pic because we'd love to see your awesome work. (#TeamITLT)
  5. Mail your card C/O (care of) the particular ward.

If you have any additional ideas that you'd like to share, please leave a comment in the section below! We love new projects and would be excited to share yours. 

For me, you can put some imaginary fairy dust in an imaginary envelope and send it my way today. 
I just love getting mail... XO

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

From the Border

If you are looking to donate to shelters who are feeding and clothing migrants along the border, there's a big need for women's size seven shoes (that are comfy for travel) and bras for nursing mothers.

Sacred Heart Church
C/O Sister Norma
306 South 15th St.
McAllen, TX 78501

If you'd like a little more information, my good friend Natasha wrote this incredible account of her time in McAllen. She ended up volunteering, folding clothes, and feeding rather than interviewing people. If you can, take a minute to get to know Sister Norma, the selfless volunteers, and the families who made this dangerous journey.
“A lot of the women we met today,” Lucero tells me, “they will get sent home. And they may not see their kids for another ten years or ever again.” I don’t know why this has never occurred to me during my two days at the shelter.  For some reason I assumed that if a child got a visa so would the child’s mother. Some of these women have made this painful dangerous journey just to shepherd their children safely to the U.S., then they will go home.

(photo by Rick Loomis-Pool/Getty Images)
A migrant family is detained at an I.C.E. facility in McAllen after crossing illegally into the United States (Photo: Rick Loomis-Pool/Getty)

 A family arrives at McAllen Greyhound Station (Photo: John Moore/Getty)

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 8.42.09 AM Volunteers sort through donated clothes at the Sacred Heart Church. (Photo: Natasha Vargas-Cooper)

Thank you!!