Thursday, September 12, 2013

Happy "Birthday" To Me!

One year ago today, early in the morning, I was being prepped for surgery at the Stanford University Cancer Center. The decision to have the surgery was one that had been weighing on my mind for months one end. Should I risk it despite the grim percentage of success? Should I forgo the surgery and live my life until the cancer is too much for my body to handle? It was, by far, the biggest decision I have ever had to make. But boy am I glad I chose surgery! Although that morning was full of nerves and anxiousness, I was ready. I kissed my loved ones goodbye, shed a few tears, and got wheeled back into the operating room. And then everything went dark.

I remember waking up and asking right away whether or not I was cancer free, and I think I remember them telling me, "yes." But it wasn't until day two when it really sank in. CANCER FREE. Wow. I had been waiting to hear those words for a very long time. That was the day I remember thinking how blessed I was. That was the day that I began to dream of all the possibilities that were laid out in front of me. That was the day my life began; again.  

As quickly as those euphoric thoughts filled my heart and mind, they were taken away just as fast. As many of you already know, the recovery that followed that very special day was pure HELL. I literally began to starve to death, as my body was not properly absorbing calories and necessary nutrients. I was vomiting multiple times a day. I was becoming weaker and weaker. And as I wrote in a previous blog, I got to the point where I was ready and prepared to die. I went to sleep at my parents so that I was not alone. It was the darkest moment of my life. The surgery was life saving, but the recovery was life threatening. It was a very scary, and very humbling, few months.

Fast forward to today. It is my one year birthday of being CANCER FREE! Happy Birthday to me! And I must say, a few months ago, I would have never imagined that I would be where I am today. Healthy. A proud homeowner. And expecting a miracle baby girl. I have the constant love and support of a wonderful family, great friends and an amazing guy. I had always hoped for this life; one day. But I never thought I would have it this soon. And although times aren't always great these days, pregnancy isn't all I thought it would be, and deployments aren't my favorite time, I am beyond blessed. I am happy. Truly happy. Which I haven't been able to say in years. Even though I am patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop, because that is what life has taught me to do, I am enjoying every minute of it. 

Oh what a difference a year can make! Days of sickness and fear have been replaced with days of hope and dreams for my little girl. Vomit buckets and prescription bottles that used to sit by my bed side will soon be replaced burp clothes and a baby monitor. Months of sitting on the couch, to weak to move, have been replaced with months of home projects and decorating a nursery. And instead of being fed through tubes and formula that I carried in a backpack, I am being fed by pregnancy cravings. All of these "instead"s are MORE than welcome in my world.  

I pray that I remain CANCER FREE for the rest of my life, and that I can celebrate September 12th every year. However, I also know that this may not happen. Being pregnant with my little miracle means that I must put scans and tests on hold for the entire pregnancy. It is very scary to think that it may be back. But worrying does not do anybody any good! So I will keep my hopes high, and focus on what I need to. And if this battle becomes a part of my life again, so be it! I like to think that after what I have been though, I can handle just about anything. :) 

To all of my readers, remember that where you are in life right now is not where you will remain. Things change. People change. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. But regardless, embrace this life for where you are right now! Enjoy every minute, even the tough ones. Because they will mold you into who you will become! 

September 12th, 2012

Me, sporting my new "backpack" of formula
(My sickest days)

My actual birthday April 2, 2012

September 2013

The sting of the word, “cancer” is one I know all too well
My mind began to wander and the tears began to swell
The day my fight began is one I hold very close to my heart
It could have easily broken me down, it could have torn me apart
But at the moment I made a choice to fight, and it was a fight I must win
Little did I know the painful battle I was about to begin
The pain, the tears, the lonely days where I thought that it was the end
Has molded me into the person I am; a better sister, daughter, and friend
I began the fight at a sprint, a walk, and then a very slow crawl
The strength I gained through my cancer battle was worth it after all
Now “cancer free” is where I stand, and I am so happy to be here
A return illness and growing tumor is still something that I fear
I can’t live like that, I can not worry about what is out of my control
So I will love and I will laugh, and live a life that is so bright, so full
I love my life and all those in it, and feel so incredibly blessed
Cancer is just a part of my story, and I can’t wait to write the rest

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Vacations, and babies, and houses... OH MY!!!

Well, hello there! It has been far too long since I have last posted. It has been over three months! In my last blog, I mentioned that I was tired of living in the "transitional phase" of life, and that I was was ready to start living my life! And boy did I start living. The last three past months have been full of so many wonderful things, as well as some fear, anxiety and unexpected changes. I do not even know where to begin, but let me try!

I have had a lot of dreams and goals in this "new" life of mine; post cancer. These dreams and goals have always existed, but some have grown stronger, and some were forced to be put on the back burner. One of my dreams that I, very painfully, had to put on the back burner was having children. I found out that after so much chemo and radiation that I was unable to have children. I attempted to have my eggs removed and frozen, but was only able to retrieve four, as my ovaries had completely "shriveled up," according to my Endocrinologist. I was devastated. Being a mother was always a given to me. It was extremely difficult for me to come to this realization, but I got there. I knew that fighting for my own life was my number one priority. Well, as many of you already know, I have been blessed with a true miracle. The day after I posted my last blog, April 30th, I discovered that I was pregnant, without medical intervention. At first, I was numb. Completely shocked. But at the same time, I could not believe that God had allowed me to become a mother, after I had accepted that it wouldn't happen for me. After the shock wore off, I was elated. I kept touching my stomach, and could not believe that there was a little life growing inside of me. It is an amazing and wonderful feeling. However, I could not feel 100% happy about this until I shared the news with the father, Kris.

Kris is someone that came into my life after Dan passed away. He is an EOD tech as well, and worked with Dan. When Dan passed, I needed a friend. I needed someone who understood what I was going through, but was still far enough removed to be able to be there for me completely. Wow. That sounds incredibly selfish. But I will admit, that was a very selfish time in my life. Kris was also going through a loss, and was in the middle of a divorce and a custody battle for his two beautiful children. We bonded through our pain, and become friends immediately. Friendship turned into a relationship, which turned into a very real love. And in the past few years, we have had our ups and downs, like many relationships. However, regardless of where we stood, Kris was ALWAYS there for me, and I for him. Even when he was deployed in Afghanistan, he supported me through in-patient chemo, and was also a huge part of my recovery from the surgery last September. He truly is my best friend. And I could not be happier to be sharing this journey with anyone else. Not only is he a wonderful father, but he is a great man. He will make a great daddy to our little miracle. No doubt. We are thrilled to welcome this little girl into our lives.

Prior to finding out that I was pregnant, I was looking into buying a house. It was something that scared me, but it was also such an exciting and validating feeling. Finding out about the baby only made my desire to own a home that much stronger. I didn't want to bring our baby girl home to a condo. I wanted to make a home for my little miracle. And a little part of me always wanted to move out of the home that Dan and I started together after he passed. I fear that if the baby had not come along, I may have never left. I have so many memories and emotions attached to that place. I needed a start fresh. And that is what I got. I purchased a home about two months ago, and absolutely love being a homeowner. We are able to start our family here, and make new memories. And so far, we are loving every minute of it. It is a very stressful event as well! There are so many little things that need to be done, especially before the baby comes. But it is an exciting type of stress, if that makes any sense. But we are making progress, little by little and inch by inch. Buying a home is just another exciting chapter in my life.

And if the past three months haven't been busy enough, we hosted the 3rd Annual Daniel Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament on June 11th. And once again, the event was a success. It was our most successful tournament to date. I absolutely love doing things that honor Dan, and help to keep his memory alive. It is always such a fun day, full of wonderful memories. It is so humbling to watch this event grow bigger each year. The people who come out to support Dan, and our family, are so amazing. We are truly blessed to live in such a supportive and loving community.

And again, as if we were not busy enough, my family and I left for a family vacation to Hawaii on July 1st, after we wrapped up the golf tournament. Since my first bout with cancer in 2008, my family has been by my side. And throughout the past almost five years, they have never left. I know I mention it in every single blog, and it is probably getting annoying and repetitive, but I have the most amazing family that anyone could ask for. I wanted to find a way to thank them for being my rock, my punching back, my nurses, my therapists, and my shoulders to cry on. So off to Hawaii we went! Our week together was great, and it was such a wonderful way for us all to let go of the everyday stresses of life, and just focus on what is most important; each other. And although I did not know I was pregnant when I booked the trip, the timing was perfect. Once my little girl and my little nephew are born (due dates just four weeks apart,) I imagine our family vacations may be few and far between. And although my family has never once required even a verbal thank you, I am glad that I was able to provide us all with the Hawaii vacation, and some wonderful and lasting memories.

And to top things off, Kris left early yesterday morning for deployment. Here I go again. Even though this is not my first deployment, they don't seem to get easier. The past week has been so busy, and so full of last minute "to-do's." Watching him pack and do his pre-deployment errands was really difficult. But the only thing that I can keep telling myself is that by the time he returns home, he will be returning home to our little family. He will not be here for the birth, and that scares me a bit, but I know that I will be okay. Going through the last four months of my pregnancy without Kris is not ideal, but I know that things could be much worse. I have been so blessed to have him by my side through the bouts of morning sickness, sleepless nights, and doctors appointments. And now he must go off and do his job, and I will support him 100%. And when he returns home, his little girl and I will be waiting to welcome him with open arms.

Okay, I think you are all up to date! Whew. I must remind myself never to go that long without blogging. Writing is still my passion, although I do not find the time to do it as much as I would like. But that will change. Writing a book is still one of my many dreams that I plan on making come true. And I believe that this new chapter of my life is the perfect way to wrap-up the last five years of my life. I am very blessed, and can't wait to see what is in store for me next!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Learning To Love My Life

I often find myself thinking that I am in a "transitional" phase in my life. I remember telling myself in the three months after Dan died when I was not yet back to work that, "This time will pass. Life will start again eventually." And I have told myself that numerous times in the past few years; especially as I was laying on the couch recovering from my life saving surgery. And here I am yet again, telling myself that exact same thing; "Relax. This is just a transition. Life will start again soon." Well, boy was I wrong.

I have wasted so much time in the past few years waiting for my life to start. When in fact, I am living the life that God intended me to be living RIGHT NOW. Pastor mentioned something at church on Sunday that really hit home. I don't remember what he said verbatim, but the general message was, "Don't spend so much time waiting for your life to start, that you miss an opportunity to live in the present." Amen to that. That message spoke to me in such a huge way. I may not have the Husband, children, Master's degree and career that I planned on having at this particular stage in my life, but I have so much LIFE going on in different ways. I have a handful of friends that mean the world to me. I have a family that supports me and loves me every minute of every day. I have nieces and nephews that make me smile. I have a home that I love and enjoy returning to every single day. These things seem so mundane on a daily basis; perhaps because I take them for granted. But they are my LIFE.

I realize that even in those three months after Dan died, and the months that followed, I was making memories. I was LIVING. I got tattoos that mean so much to me. That was me, LIVING. I went on a trip to New York and had an amazing time. In fact, one of the memories that I remember most is sitting in an Applebees drinking, laughing and people watching. It seems so ordinary, but was one of my favorite nights. That was me, LIVING. When I was recovering from surgery, snuggling with Gracin was something that really helped me keep things in perspective and to continue fighting. Again... me, LIVING. And now, as I plan Dan's third annual golf tournament and plan for two vacations, I am LIVING. I am not happy every single day, but as corny as it sounds, I try to find a bit of happiness in every single day. And I do. And those moments may just be a laugh between friends, or an afternoon in the sun, but to me, they are significant.

I have to remember that just because my life isn't where I want it to be, or planned on it being at this point in time, that's okay. This is still my life. I have joy. I have laughter. I have passion. And I have a faith, that is never perfect, but it has gotten me through some of the hardest times of my life. So, from this point on, I refuse to think of any part of my life as "transitional." Every success, struggle, memory, bad day, lazy day... it all makes for one hell of a life.

All these "transitional times" have changed me. Life has changed me. So when I think back as to who I was a few years ago and wish I could go back to that "happy" time, I kick myself. I may be wounded, jaded, and have a self-esteem that varies from day to day, but this is me. Love me, or leave me. Those that are in my life are here for a reason.

This may all seem a bit corny and redundant, but it is what I am feeling at this very moment. So my advice to all you who read this? Embrace your life. We do not get a do-over. This is it. Do not focus on the negative things going on in your life. Find a bit of happiness in every single day, and do things to make others smile. I try my best to love on those around me. If that is all I do in this life, I will consider it a success!

Friday, March 29, 2013

28... NOW WHAT?!?

Exactly one year ago I began blogging. My first blog was titled, "27... now what?" I wrote about how my life at 26 was not anything that I ever could have fathomed, and that 27 was going to be MY YEAR. A year to become cancer free. A year to start my master's degree. A year to travel. A year to do what ever I wanted to do. Well, here I am, one week left of being 27 and I did not do what I intended; in both good and bad ways. 27 was a year of sickness, a year of chemotherapy and treatment, a year of self-doubt, a year of celebration from being cancer free, a year of self-discovery, and a year of courage that I did not think I had. To sum it up, 27 was exhausting!

Unfortunately, a large majority of the last year of life was defined and consumed by my sickness. April through July was full of treatments, which caused me to be sick and very low energy. I did do a bit of traveling, which was great! However, traveling came with its own stresses, as I was lacking an immune system and was completely nervous every time I even touched something foreign. Praise God I did not get anything too serious. And luckily, April through July was also full of preparations for Dan's 2nd annual golf tournament. And I must say, that is my favorite way to stay occupied. Anything that I can do that brings attention and honor to Dan's legacy is where I want to spend my free time. The tournament was a huge success, and was a great way to take my mind off of my illness, if only for a brief moment. 

Before I knew it, September was upon us and it was surgery time. This surgery date had been looming over my head for months, and I was so ready to get it over with! The worrying and the stress of not knowing the outcome was starting to take its toll on me physically, emotionally, and mentally. Dan's golf tournament in Wisconsin was a week before the surgery, so I was able to fly there, visit family, honor Dan, AND take my mind off of the big day. And thank the Lord for that. I had never had a more enjoyable and relaxing vacation where I could simply unwind, and spend quality time with my family. It was just what I needed before September 12th; my new "birthday."

September 12th was a great day. It is the day I heard the words that I had been wanting to hear for so long; "CANCER FREE." Finally. After 15 months of chemotherapy treatments, radiation, doctors visits, failed attempts at removing the tumor, and nights lying awake crying of what the future holds, I was CANCER FREE. We were all so incredibly relieved. I was cured. However, I had no idea what the next four months had in store for me. As my last few blogs mention, my recovery process was hell, utter HELL. However, I realized so much about myself that I did not know. I realized that I can make it through anything that is thrown my way. I realized that I have more determination than I ever would have imagined. I realized that my family is the most supportive and amazing group of people that I could have ever been blessed with. I realized who my true friends are. And I realized that even in the darkest of times, God is by our side and walking us through each trail and celebration. 

And unfortunately, in the past two months or so, I have been challenged in a way that I never would have imagined. Losing Dan was incredibly tough. But we loved each other with all that we had, and had no regrets. I will never get over the loss of him, but each day does become a bit more bearable. And cancer is a physical battle that I can fight, like a pro. But dealing with mental health issues is a battle that I was not prepared for, and am still struggling to figure out how to overcome. I won't go into much detail, because I do not think that I am quite ready for that. But attempting to battle over something that is so strong and so dangerous worries me to my core. I used to pat myself on the back all the time because I had made it through losing Dan and two bouts of cancer, "unscathed," but boy was I wrong. This new battle is tougher than anything I ever could have imagined. Anxiety, body image and eating issues can be a very powerful catalyst for a downward spiral that I will not let myself begin. But after the battles that I have overcome, I have complete confidence in myself that I will come out on top of this one as well. Time will tell.

In four days, I will turn 28 years old. This time around, I am not going to set goals for myself. I have learned over the past three plus years that what we have planned for our lives has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually going to happen. We can't control the majority of things that happen to us, we can only control how we react. I do not want to set myself up for disappointment. All I can promise in this next year is that I will continue to take care of my health in the best way I can; physically, emotionally, and most importantly, mentally. I will continue to love and cherish my family and friends, and be thankful to have such an amazing support system. I will continue to love Dan with my whole heart. And I will continue to trust God with every fiber of my being. 28 may be the best year of my life. It may be full of travel, love and opportunity. However, it may also have its fair share of pain, loss and personal battles. Either way 28, bring it. I am ready. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Lost Identity

Throughout our lives, we take on several identities. For me, I have been Breanna's little sister, Nick's older sister, the tennis player, the church kid, the college student, and the funny one. Each identity shapes us into who we are in this life. And regardless of how long we inhabit these identities, they are special. Some of them we hold on to our entire lives, some we grow out of, and some we lose before we are ready.

During the past three and a half years of my life, I have inherited some new identities that have significantly changed the person that I am today. I spent 2009 as the cancer patient, 2010 as Dan's wife, and proudly as Dan's widow, and 2011/2012 as the cancer patient once again. Well here it is 2013, and I have no identity. I do not know who I am. This is one of the scariest realizations that I have made in the past few days, and I am not quite sure how to process it. 

As painful and terrifying as it was to become a CANCER PATIENT, it also provided me with a sense of self; an identity. And as I battled through each round of chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous surgeries, I did it all with as much strength and poise as I could possibly muster up. And as I conquered cancer for the first time, I was proud be to known as a SURVIVOR. This was an identity that I was so happy to own, and prayed that it would last. 

Within weeks of becoming cancer free, I was elated to become someones FIANCE; even more happy to be Dan's fiance. And five and a half short months later, I became his WIFE. Me, a WIFE? It was so hard to comprehend, but it was such an honor! My new identity was forever linked with his. I was officially a "Johnson", and I was loving every single moment of it. And each time that Dan said the words, "my wife," I would get goosebumps immediately. He was so proud to have me on his arm, and I was so proud to be there. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to be his wife for very long. Four months. Sixteen weeks. One hundred and twelve days. I was hoping for sixty years. But life had other plans.

And on October 5, 2010, I took on a whole new identity that I was so unprepared for; I became a WIDOW. This identity threw me for a loop and turned my entire world completely upside down. Everything in my life had gone pear-shaped, yet I was more proud than I had ever been in my entire life. And when I would meet new people, namely military personnel, and I was introduced as, "Dan's widow", I was so humbled. I stood tall and owned this new identity. Each time that I was recognized for being Dan's widow was wonderful for me. People knew who my Husband was, and recognized the sacrifice that he had made for our country. This made the process all a bit more bearable. But unfortunately, as time passes by, I am losing this identity. And I am struggling with that. As I experienced all of the "firsts" since his passing, I felt as though these events were celebrated. But as I began to experience the seconds, and now thirds, these events often pass with little regard as to how I am doing without him. And this is not to put down any of the people in my life, because I am so blessed to be surrounded with people who love me and support me through everything. But naturally, everyone else moves on with their lives, as I continue to miss Dan and grieve the loss of my Husband every single second of every single day. And I know that I am in large part to blame for this. I hide my pain well, VERY well. Few people have seen me break down and lose it. I put on a strong face. So how can I expect others to know the pain that is behind my mask?

And perhaps the hardest part of this process is feeling that I am losing my EOD family. I know that I will forever have a connection with them, but it is not as strong as it once was. I feel as though I am losing my identity within the group. And this was bound to happen eventually. The majority of those who were around when Dan passed have moved away, and things have definitely changed, by no fault of anyone. Now as I continue to grieve the loss of my Husband, I am grieving the loss of something that is very special to me. I will forever love each and every one of them, but as time moves on, so must they. However, I will cling to this group as best I can. I need them, whether they know it or not. I need their friendship. I need their support. Feeling connected to them is feeling connected to Dan. They are an amazing group of people that I am honored to know.

And as I became the CANCER PATIENT yet again, it became a huge part of who I was, and who I have been for the past eighteen months. Especially with the risky surgery and horrific recovery process, I feel as though it has molded who I am and taken hold of me ever more. I was the sick one. The weak one. The "brave" one. And now, that identity is also gone. I am no longer a cancer patient. I am no longer a wife. I am still a widow, but I am over two years in and according to many should be, "okay." That being said, here I am, feeling completely empty and utterly lost. I felt as though I knew myself more when I was experiencing grief, pain, sadness and sickness. Is that normal? Now that I am healthy and can do anything I want, I am at a loss. And perhaps it is because I am experiencing these emotions, but it seems as though everyone around me is thriving in this life. People are flourishing in their jobs, having babies, getting married; all things that I hoped to be doing in this phase of my life. Instead, I am literally starting from scratch. Most would see this as a great opportunity. But me, I see this as an extreme challenge, and I have no idea where to begin. 

All I can do now is trust in God. He has gotten me through the very worst of this life, and I know that He will walk me through this very confusing and trying time. I try to remind myself when I become overwhelmed with this new life, that I am indeed CANCER FREE. I am healthy and have plenty of time left on this earth. I am the WIDOW of a great and wonderful man. And most importantly, I am a CHILD OF GOD. That is where I find my identity. I am blessed beyond measure to belong to such a loving heavenly Father, an amazing family, and the best friends that any person could ask for. I may have entered 2013 with no identity at all, but I vow to find myself again and make the very best of every situation!