From Cancer

Sending Love & #goodjoujou To Olivia Newton John and Flipping Off Cancer

                              20 years:(
                            #fuckcancer

I have my quarterly oncology check up coming up next week.

THIS. is just another reason why, once the #pinkmonkey has jumped on your back, the damn pink monkey is always on your back. Always.

Practically everybody knows the stats that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. But the collateral damage from all the pink is that too many peeps believe we are done (even though pink means rare) and breast cancer is now a “manageable” thing. That just because we who are the 1’s in 8 have a whole month dedicated to us, that breast cancer is the good even lucky kinda cancer to get. Cancer is an insidious bastard and there are no good kinds. Even if you get a whole month filled with bottomless pink buckets of fried chicken dedicated to your cancer like I get with mine. Even if all the chicken BREASTS in the buckets don’t seem the most sympathetic kinda “support” for “aerodynamic” breast cancer peeps like me. But I digress.

1 in 8. That doesn’t seem like a lot if you are in a room with me. And I don’t mind taking that bullet one bit for you. I love you and hope you never have to join this damn exclusive club.

But here’s the thing. Whenever I’m in a room with 9 of my fellow 1 in 8’s, stats hit the fan like #shithitsthefan. To the point: 3 out of 10 of us who have been diagnosed with breast cancer will recur and become metastatic aka #stage4. There is no cure for stage 4. And there is no stage 5.

30%. Not manageable. Not good. Not lucky. Yeah, it’s better than a coin toss. Unless you already rolled a 1 out of 8. Like I did. And like my 9 friends in the room did. That’s why the odds don’t always feel like they are with us. That’s why the pink monkey always is. On our backs.

I was so superpower sad to see that Olivia Newton John has, after 20 years remission, recurred and gone metastatic. #fuckcancer She will be in my prayers, with all my other friends who also have to fight that fight every damn day of their lives for the rest of their lives.

That’s not OK with me. And the #truthbomb is that until we do something different with the way we fight breast cancer, 3 out of 10 of me & my gang, regardless of how aware we were or how early our diagnosis, will experience recurrence.

Now, I’m not against awareness, at all, so don’t get me wrong here. But it seems to me the shift that needs to happen in the way we fight breast cancer is a shift toward the other end of the spectrum, not taking away from awareness, but a laser beam kinda focus on #metastatic cancer, on curing the kind of cancer that kills. Would 30% be too much to ask, if you or someone you knew was in the 30%? Cuz here’s the current situation is that, of all the monies raised to fight cancer, only 7% goes for Metastatic research.

7% #wtf?! #amiright?! #notok #stage4needsmore #moreresearch #dontignorestage4 #thereisnostage5 

Shaken Not Stirred…a Chemo Cocktail Turns 5 Today!

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Holy WOW! Talk about a happy #blastfromthepast of a #fbf memory! So today is Shaken Not Stirred . . . a Chemo Cocktail‘s birthday! Once upon a time 5 years ago tonight aka 11/11/11 at 11:11pm I made the first biggest dream of my life come true, pushed PUBLISH, my book went live on Amazon, and we popped a cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate!
Besides obvi popping another cork today, I thought it would be superkaPOWer fun to #SHAKEN things up a bit and give away 5 signed copies in honor of my book baby’s 5th bday. So if you’d like to enter to win one, for yourself or for a gift, send me a #postcardfromtheroad from wherever you are, and I’ll #shaken them all up and randomly pick 5. (Don’t forget to write down the name and addy for me to inscribe and mail to.) Here’s my addy: PO Box 882, West Chester, OH 45071.


And in case you are wondering what to buy a 5-year-old? The best. gift. EVER. that you could (pretty please _/\_) get my sweet book baby that would #shaken up and rock its (and my) world like no other…would be to click HERE and give it the ol’ thumbs up and shiny stars on Amazon. 5-year-olds LOVE stars! (As a self-published author, that is not just my bread and butter, but like Popeye’s spinach to me.) So thank you from the bottom of my heart to anyone who has already written a review or will go do that most uber epic act of kindness for my book baby!


Cheers and BIG love,

Me

4,207,680 Minutes

moments

[So I have a late but very important date with my sweet Mikeyy TONITE! Because. THIS. happened 8 years ago. TONITE…the beginning of my accidental memoir SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL…the night Bitch wine saved my life…the night I found a damn spot in my left breast…before I knew it was cancer…the last night in my memory of life before cancer…a sweet and perfect moment with my sweet Mikeyy…the night we watched Perseus’s meteor showers and I learned to count my lucky stars before they hatch. “That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.” I think that moment was the diving board into all the lovely 4,207,680 minutes I have been lucky enough to experience since. Each and every one of those precious moments has been one helluva ride. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t trade getting to sit here watching Perseus do his thing again from where I’m at now, EIGHT years later. Anyway, so here’s where that once upon a time began…]

Chapter 2


When the Stars Go Blue
(Cue: Tim McGraw *I don’t know if you know it, but each of my chapters has a soundtrack to it. The songs are from my own chemo cocktail mix that I listened to during cancer, chemo, recovery, and writing Shaken Not Stirred.)

On August 11, 2008 there were meteor showers over Cincinnati. My world was rocked that night, but it had nothing to do with the meteors that my teenage son Mikeyy and I watched in the wee hours of that sleepless in Cincinnati kind of night.

Previous to Perseus’s fireworks display, somewhere in between the lines of August 11 and 12, I’d awakened particularly parched from the end-of-season cocktail party I’d thrown that evening at the Evanshire, aka my home sweet home.

Being somewhat of a newbie tennis freak, I’d played on three tennis teams that summer. My neighborhood team had just won the division championship. My United States Tennis Association (USTA) team had just played in the district championship tournament. We actually won the districts, but.

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And the big but (yeah, they say everybody’s got one) was that the win pushed one of our player’s ratings into a higher bracket, which.

And the “rhymes-with-a-witch” was that “the win?” officially disqualified all her matches and our team from the victory, not to mention a road trip to regionals. The trophy didn’t have a chance to slip through our fingers; we never even got to touch it before the ruling came raining down on our parade.

For the cocktail party, I’d grabbed several bottles of a certain Grenache that had caught my eye from across the wine store where I was searching for just the right red and/or white to go with our blues. It had a hot pink label with elegant cursive lettering that read Bitch.

Cancer is a bitch wine

My tennis girlfriends cracked up when I presented the wine. Then we all sighed, and said, “Yeah, it sure was.” We uncorked the wine. It was the best of times and we were making the best of the worst of times. We ate and drank and made merry. I went to bed thirsty.

I knew I would wake up in the middle of the night dying-of-thirst thirsty.

What I didn’t know was that dying of thirst would end up saving my life.

It was five o’clock somewhere—for me it was somewhere in the middle of the night when I woke up from a dream in which I was practically dying of thirst and trying desperately, though unsuccessfully, to quench it.

“Need . . . H . . . 2 . . . Ohhhh,” I sputtered out in a dry whisper like I was some kind of a tumbleweed, searching for an oasis.

“So. [click] Very. [click] Thirsty.”

I couldn’t even peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth.

I’d dealt with similar middle-of-the-night dehydration before, so I had the drill down, practically in my sleep. I tumbled out of bed, crawled across the bedroom floor, slithered down the stairs more like a Slinky than a snake, and somehow found myself standing in front of the kitchen sink. I guzzled a glass of water, diluting the dehydration and dousing the dream.

Then I poured another, and headed to the study to sip on the second one while checking Facebook. And I played a little Scramble, to try and unscramble the fog in my brain.

That’s when I bumped up against my desk—Ouch. I felt—and heard—an unexpected thud.

Something had gone bump in the night— and the bump was on me: my left breast, to be more specific.

My jaw fell to the floor and my eyebrows formed a question mark as I held my breath, brought my hand to my breast, and felt the lump.

I cannot explain the shock and awe I felt. It was like a meteor to my chest, literally. I remember the lump felt like a shooter marble right beneath the “milky way.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before. My hubby, Dave didn’t mention anything about marbles later that night. I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but I don’t see how we could’ve missed a meteor like that.

I don’t know how long I sat there trying to imagine what in the world the marble could be. I found myself checking and rechecking to see if it was really there. Then I kept checking and rechecking to see if it was still there. Part of me thought I was imagining things. But, no, it was still there. Part of me started imagining things. I felt the meteor again, and then stared out the window.

My fourteen-year-old son Mikeyy was lying out on the driveway, gazing up at the meteor showers in the sky. I let go of my own gravity and let myself get pulled into his world for a little while— snuggling up next to him and watching the sky fall, like it was a movie.

That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.

When the meteor show was over, I had a hard time keeping my thoughts from spiraling out of control. A sensible part of me, that I had to dig way down deep for, took all the other parts of me, and put them to bed.

Not wanting to wake Dave, I lay there, deciding to wait out the night. I waited for him to wake. I waited to see if it would just go away. I waited. And prayed.

Since my thoughts like to play connect the dots, this would be where my inner Lady Macbeth spoke up, as “Out, damn’d spot” were the words that came out. This seemed like a reasonable prayer, so I went with it.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to say to Dave when he awoke. The truth is, I generally obsess over just about anything I even think of, processing it at from every angle before it gets “on deck,” on the tip of my tongue. Just to make sure I say what I mean to say, and that I articulate it the way I mean it. Extroverting is not my strong suit. I can do it, but I don’t think I do it very well. And it wears me out. I had nothing by the time he woke up. I was worn out, wound up, and ended up just winging it.

Some words tumbled out into the air and then seemed to settle in a cloud over Dave. He groaned one of those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” (like he already knew, too) and fearfully, mechanically, reached over toward the spot.

Dave said that waking up to that morning was like waking up on the worst possible side of the bed ever.

“I was still pretty groggy when Joules asked me about a lump she had found on her breast. She’s pretty random and often catches me off guard, but in twenty years of marriage, she had never asked anything quite like this. As soon as I felt the obvious lump, the fog instantly cleared and I was wide awake. My heart and mind started racing, but I tried not to let her see my fear. Outside I was saying, “Hmm, that’s strange,” but inside I was frantically praying, “Please, God, no! Please, God, no! Please, God, no!” Ever since we had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, I held a secret fear that it might strike Joules one day. This fear only intensified when our friend lost her seven-year battle. Before that, cancer was something other people got. Old people. People with unhealthy lifestyles. People I didn’t know. But our friend was young, healthy (fit, even), a wife and mom, a good and godly woman. And she was one of Joules’s closest friends. Suddenly breast cancer was very real to me, and very scary.”

I won’t ever forget that groan. Dave’s middle name, Wayne, means wagon, and I could just feel him bearing the weight that was to come.

He felt the spot; I had not imagined it.

He got out of bed and made a pot of coffee. Dave makes coffee for me every morning. Even brings a cup up to our bedroom and sets it on my nightstand to help me wake up, smell the coffee, rise and shine, seize the day. Yes, I am spoiled. I admit it.

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Then he headed to the study with his computer, and began researching what “not bad” things it could be. At first we were hoping it might be a cyst, or hormones. Or even a boil—at which point, I channeled my inner Job. Then he began adding big words that started with fibro– and pap– and ended in –oma, and my brain went all foggy again.

I poured another cup of coffee and called my sister, Jennie, who lives in Charleston, to tell her about the damn spot. She’s my baby sister, but also my best friend. She’s also a little ADHD. I happen to love her rabbit trails, so I figured I could thumb a ride on her distraction.

Jennie later described the rabbit hole she fell in when I told her about the lump.

“The day Joules called me and told me about the damn spot she found, I asked her if she thought it might just be a pimple or something weird like that. I tried to be reassuring for her and myself. The thing is, Joules has always been the strong one, and almost like a mother to me, all my life. And to me, nothing bad could or would ever happen to her. But when we hung up the phone, the knot that seemed to have tied in my throat came undone, and my tears broke free. My glass is not always as full as my sister’s, and it sort of felt like it had just tipped over.”

Dave made an appointment with my gynecologist for three o’clock that afternoon. I had chosen her because I was not really into doctors at the time. She was a naturopath, but also an MD. Basically, she was into alternative/non-traditional—with leanings toward Eastern—medicine. I liked that she was not a traditional medical evangelist, but had that training as well, in the palette of her doctor’s bag. I did not worry that she would jump to any radical medical conclusions because that was not her holistic style. I felt we were sort of on the same page and that everything could be OK, because she was the most likely doctor to find alternative explanations for the spot, and alternative ways of spot removal.

Meanwhile, Dave told me I should go ahead and go to a tennis clinic I’d already signed up and paid for, to try to keep my mind off that damn spot until three.

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—So that’s the end of the chapter, but obvi… there’s more chapters, and way more to the story besides just me standing there waiting for the tennis ball to cross the net so I can CRUSH it! *Spoiler alert: I CRUSH IT! But if you feel like turning the page to see for yourself, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL is avail on Amazon and Kindle. Click HERE. And TODAY, in commemoration of that night 8 years ago when my stars went blue but thankfully not out, and in celebration and with deep gratitude for each and every one of the 4,207,680 minutes-with-me-in-it/moments made, not to mention, another late but very important date with my sweet Mikeyy tonite…THE KINDLE VERSION IS FREE!

All I Want For Christmas Is No More Cancer

Last Chemo Cocktail

Whoa. 6 years ago yesterday. My last chemo cocktail. My Redheads came to sing Christmas carols in the cocktail lounge that day. And they sang my very favorite Christmas song EVER, the “Cancer is a Bitch” song, which they wrote for me in the stairwell of the chemo lounge, while I was downing that last (24/24) damn cocktail that day.

Here’s some superkaPOWer happy footage of me getting unhooked:

Not everybody gets a drum roll AND a guitar roll like that! And that adorbs bald chick sitting next to me is my chemo sister Shelly. We met in the chemo cocktail lounge on my birthday and was pretty much the best birthday present EVER. #chemoisthickerthanwater. To this day, we still book our oncology maintenance appointments together whenever possible. Talk about double trouble!

chemo sisters forever

Here’s the bootleg footage of the Redheads singing my song to me that day. (The song begins at 1:20, so fast forward a bit if you want to skip the set up.)

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and I still can’t watch that video without my eyes leaking all over the place. But catchy chorus, yeah?! I think it’s obvi why it’s the theme song to SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL!

My sweet Redheads old band aka The Kicked-in Fence recorded a pretty freaking stellar studio version on their Cheesin’ Moon EP. Click HERE for the iTunes link if you feel like cranking it up and singing cancer is a bitch with us really loud. It’s a super fun way to flip off cancer, and also makes a good stocking stuffer for pretty much anybody says amen to the chorus.

Sitting in that chemo cocktail lounge and downing my last chemo cocktail 6 years ago yesterday, all I really wanted for Christmas, obvi, was NO MORE CANCER! I was lucky, and received the amazing gift of no more chemo! Here’s a cool pix that sums up how, not just me, but the whole family, felt about that.

no more chemo jump

But just because I’m STILL jumping up and down over my good fortune to STILL be here to celebrate another merry Christmas and another happy new year… it’s STILL all I really want for Christmas. NO. MORE. CANCER. And not just in the no more chemo sense, for me. NO. MORE. CANCER.  Period. End of its story. I STILL have so many TOO MANY friends STILL fighting the bitch that is cancer this Christmas. That is not OK with me. And that is why even though, God-willing, cancer is done with me, I am not done with it. Not until I get my wish. NO. MORE. CANCER. It’s really all I really want for Christmas. This holiday season I’m praying my ass off for that, singing the chorus of my fave Christmas song at the top of my lungs, and sending all my love, to all of my survivor, and especially my metavivor (stage 4 metastatic breast cancer fighters whose cancer fight never ends cuz there is no cure for metastic breast cancer), peeps. #cancerisabitch #stage4needsmore #dontignorestage4

Lifting a Not-a-Chemo-Cocktail on the Occasion of #SHAKEN’s Birthday

A Real Live Book!
Beside myself holding the first copy! #tbtNovember2011 #hotoffthepresses

Holy WOW! Seems like yesterday. They grow up so fast! But yesterday was in fact Shaken Not Stirred…a Chemo Cocktail’s birthday! Once upon a time 4 years ago yesterday aka 11/11/11 at 11:11pm I made the biggest dream of my life come true, pushed PUBLISH, my book went live on Amazon, and we popped a cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate!

Besides the obvi popping of another cork in celebration, I thought it would be super fun to ‪#‎SHAKEN‬ things up a bit and give away 4 signed copies in honor of my book baby’s 4th bday.

The New Phone Books Are Here!

So if you’d like to enter to win one, for yourself or for a gift, send me a ‪#‎postcardfromtheroad‬ from wherever you are, and I’ll #shaken them all up and randomly pick 4. (Don’t forget to write down the name and addy for me to inscribe and mail to.) Send me postcards and make my mailbox happy at: PO Box 882, West Chester, OH 45071.

And in case you are wondering what to buy a 4-year-old? The best. gift. EVER. that you could (pretty please _/\_) get my sweet book baby that would #shaken up and rock it’s (and my) world like no other…would be to give it the ol’ thumbs up and shiny stars on Amazon and/or Goodreads. 4-year-olds LOVE stars! (As a self-published author, that is not just my bread and butter, but like Popeye’s spinach to me.) So thank you from the bottom of my heart to anyone who has already written a review or will go do that most uber epic act of kindness for my book baby!

Click HERE to go forth and do uber epic act of kindness!

Cheers and BIG love,
Joules

MASK

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This is a #fbf to a superpower freaky Friday I had two weeks ago, in which I did a superkaPOWer scary thing and go up ON A STAGE at a storytelling event in Cincinnati. The event was produced by my friends at Rebel Storytellers. These BESPOKEN events are seriously one of the funnest night’s out in #Cincy. (Save the date: the next BESPOKEN event is January 15, 2016!) The storytellers (and the band) (also there is improv) all riff on a 4-letter word. Previous words have been: KISS last Valentines Day, HERO this past summer, and MASK was the one we just did the week before Halloween. None of the storytellers know what any of the other storytellers are riffing about. It’s pretty magical how it all fits together and unfolds.

Here’s a selfie I took from the stage to remember that time I channeled my inner #littlebravetoaster and did a superkaPOWer scary thing. (As you can see some of those scary peeps are obvi zombies getting ready to jump the stage…or break out the thriller dance;)

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Here’s a video the hubcap made of my MASK story:

Click HERE to read my MASK story. So superpower STOKED to have it up on my friend Jen Pastiloff’s most uber fab Manifest-Station!

To sum up: doing scary things ROCKS!

My next BIG scary thing is the #Route66 marathon/world’s shortest ultra in Tulsa later this month. I signed up before I got sidelined during August and September, when I had to have Operation #outdamngolfball #golfballectomy #hysterectomy #oopherectomy #wholeshebangectomy surgery. I feel like I’m back at least 75%—which is way better than when I wondered if I would ever be able to run again without my insides falling out! I ran the #cincinnati #queenbee #halfmarathon a few weeks ago to gauge where I was in the #comeback process, and whether or not I thought I could/should go for the full at Tulsa’s epic #route66marathon. My conclusion is: #ithinkican #tulsaorbust #okiedokie. It may not be the fastest or prettiest marathon in the world, but the finish line and obvi the BLING will still taste superpower yummy! I will run, walk, CRAWL to it if I have to! #turtlepower #slowandsteadyeatsthebling #cowabunga! And also obvi, I’ll be instagramming it UP! So make sure you follow me there @joulesevans if you wanna get some kicks on Route 66 by taking a virtual run on #themotherroad with me!

What’s a scary thing you’ve done recently and what’s the next scary thing on tap for you? Post below. #ithinkyoucantoo!

Mikeyy Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts

(Part III)

by Mikeyy Evans.

Then.  [14-year-old Mikeyy. Junior in high school.]

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I don’t cry a lot. In fact, I only cried once throughout the whole cancer earthquake that shook our world. I didn’t even cry once throughout the entire film, The Notebook. If you were to bottle up all the tears I shed year-round to give water to people in Nigeria, you would not even provide one person with 1/24th of the water needed in a day. If my tears were Noah’s flood, Noah would only be the size of seven molecules bonded together. In fact, eighty percent of the time water drops from my eyes, it’s my body rushing to my aid whenever I engage in my staring contest addiction, or me staring till I fake cry, so that Mum’s sweet little heart wants to give me whatever I want. That, or I’m just tired.

A time without tears can actually be a sad time. I’ve found throughout my life that when sad instances come along, tears are a little inadequate when it comes to expressing how I feel.

This instance was no different.

I did not cry when we got the phone call. I did not cry when we all dropped to the floor. I did not cry when the realization sunk in that I might not have my Mum around much longer. I did not cry.

Like I said, crying did not seem adequate in a situation like this. Instead, I nothing-ed. Nothing-ing seemed a little more appropriate. It at least made sense. Nothing I said or did would change anything. Nothing I felt would fix this. Nothing leaving my eyes would help. So I felt nothing—nothing but despair.

Now. [21-year-old Mikeyy. Just graduated from CCM at University of Cincinnati with a degree in Electronic Media. The short film UNDER that he wrote and edited for his senior capstone project was just featured in the 2015 Cincinnati Film Fest last night!]

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I never got to be an adolescent. Or, if you go by fiction book standards, I never got to be a “young adult”, recommended for ages 14-21. That’s not to say I didn’t read my fair share of young adult fiction during that time. But I was never quite able to relate. Cancer took that away from me when it attacked my mum. Instead, I was just a young “adult”.

Growing up is hard enough on it’s own, but when cancer comes knocking, you end up having to skip a few pages. I never got to have a rebellious phase or do anything notably “wrong” or “bad”, because I was too busy taking care of a mom who was getting beaten up by round after round of chemo. I never got in a serious relationship because everybody around me was much younger than I felt. I never got in a fight, or ran away from home, or snuck around to try drugs or get drunk or smoke cigarettes because it didn’t really seem to have a point. Why do life-harming things when I had a life being harmed right in front of me? Cancer not only attacked my mom, but in some ways it feels like it attacked my youth.

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But it also gave me a lot.

I didn’t have a lot of heartbreak during my adolescence, because I’d already dealt with some, and didn’t take the steps that led to more. I matured a lot really fast, because I had to mature if I was gonna be taking care of an adult human being. I got a really tight knit family out of it, one that knew it could withstand whatever hardships were thrown it’s way, and loved each other in spite of all our flaws. I got a more precious outlook on life and it’s importance, and a passionate mum who recognizes that too and let’s me be a kid when I need to be. And more than anything, I got new perspectives on God, every day, that have shaped my view and relationship with an all powerful, good God.

I’m just now twenty-one, and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m my own age. There’s a lot of things I missed because of cancer, a lot of normal experiences that probably would have shaped me in plenty of different ways. But when I think back to that night when we got the phone call, if it had been my future self on the line instead, I think I would’ve said something like this: “Hold on tight, ace. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, and even though those tears aren’t coming now, they will; but just wait ’til you see the other side. There’s hope, even in the little things, so keep those eyes wide open. Don’t miss this for the world.”

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Matt Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts

(Part II)

by Matt Evans.

Then.  [15-year-old Matt. Junior in high school.]

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The whole day was a really big blur. I remember it seemed like it moved so fast, but at the same time it was also one of the slowest days ever. Mikeyy and I had been in my room playing Portal on our Xbox 360 for the previous couple of days, like going through the portals in the game took us through a portal out of our lives for just a bit. It seemed like the best thing to do to keep our minds off of everything going on. Then I just remember all of us in my room, huddled around the phone. Trying to get the phone conference going seemed like it took hours. The doctor’s voice had no real emotion, which just made it all the scarier. Finally, we got everyone on the phone: Dad conferenced in with us and the doctor. I don’t think any of us breathed the whole time the doctor was talking. Nothing she said made any sense to me. My mum was healthy. Nothing was wrong with her. Everything was fine. But then I was sitting there and the doctor was saying she had cancer. Then it hit me. I remember thinking about how ever since I was little, whenever Dad would leave on business trips, he would tell me that while he was gone, I was the man of the house. It eventually just became second nature so that he didn’t even have to tell me. I didn’t think I should cry because Dad was gone, which made me the man of the house. I didn’t think the man of the house would cry—I cried anyway though. I remember sitting in the corner by my bedroom door holding Amanda and Mikeyy. None of us really knew what to do. What can you do in that kind of a situation? I went and sat in my closet. Something about the dark enclosed space of my closet always makes me feel safe.

Mum picked the phone back up and she, Dad and the doctor stayed on for a while longer. I just kind of sat there in shock. Our whole lives had been shaken and everything was different. Everything seemed dark and rainy and just downright sucky then but I never even thought about the silver lining that would come.

Now. [23-year-old Matt. Graduated from University of Cincinnati with a degree in Journalism. Now working at University of Cincinnati with Navigators student ministries.]

Photo credit: Isis Charise @isisimages

I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t read my part of the book since I first wrote it. I don’t particularly enjoy reading it or even thinking about it. It felt a weird reading it again and putting myself in that mindset. Reliving those moments. The weirdest part is that I really don’t feel very different at all, even after 7 years. Yeah, I’ve gained a bit of weight, finished college, moved out of my parents’ house; all those kinds of things. But I still have that “man of the house” sense of responsibility. I still sometimes sit in small enclosed spaces to feel safe. I still hate doing conference phone calls.

That silver lining was true though. There was no way I could know how much good God was going to bring through all this cancer crap, but He totally did it. And that definitely changed me, and changed us as a family.

He brought our family together. He made my mum into a borderline celebrity. He brought out so much amazing character in her and grew her into someone who takes care of and love on so many people going through the same stuff that she went through. He taught me how to really trust in Him for the first time.

Never has the saying “hindsight is 20/20” been more true than with our family’s journey through cancer. A couple years ago, I wrote a blog on my own site talking about this same topic. Click HERE to check it out. It made me think of that quote from The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers where Boromir says to Faramir, his little brother, “Remember today, little brother. Today, life is good.” He says that even through the buzzkill, sad, frustrating things that are going on around them.

He knew what mattered. He knew that although there was pain in the moment, that things would somehow be okay. Because they were a family. And they would stick together. And because of that, they would win.

I guess there is one thing (at least) that has changed about me. I now know that if I were in a situation where we were all crying in a closet together, I think I might know what to do. It might be hard, but I would do what Boromir did. “Remember today, little brother. Remember today, little sister. Today, life is good.”

Not because the situation is fun or anything. God, no. But because we are together. We are a family. We will stick together. And because of that, we will win. Cancer’s got nothing on that.

IMG_2104

Amanda Then & Now

A Redheaded Retrospective in 3 Parts 

(Part I)

by Amanda Benton

Then. [17 year-old Amanda Michele freaking Evans. Freshman at University of Cincinnati. Journalism student. While simultaneously going to nail tech school. And working part time as a Noodle Ambassador at Noodles & Co. This pic was taken when she and I took a little holiday away from cancer and college to go to Chicago so she could try out for American Idol.] This is what she wrote for my book:

Legends and stories often have more to do with shaping a culture or person than the actuality behind those stories. I like this—I think it’s true. Please, don’t take the following as the word of God, but rather as the discombobulated memories of a girl. The facts here may have been entirely made up.

There is a tremor that runs through this memory—as an earthquake in my brainwaves. We all gathered in my brother Matt’s bedroom. My dad was on speakerphone—he was away somewhere. The doctor was on a different speaker. Gravity was unsure of what to do. The air felt unsteady and wobbled like a depressive drunk. I think it had grown thicker, too, possibly to catch me when I heard what it somehow already knew.

I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t even remember the doctor’s gender. The only distinct thing that I remember is the sound of an implosion—and then the feeling of being submerged. It felt as though my spinal cord had been snapped and my brain set afloat in the stormy sea of cerebrospinal fluid. I think of the execution of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar: a family lined up and murdered—shot. My brothers broke. My Mum instantly became mortal. My Dad, though . . . In my memory, there was an audible creaking—as though his spine was an ancient tree being straightened out. A groaning—as though he were a wooden ship being stressed from too much weight. A thump—as this new load, in sickness, dropped on him: the sound of a man becoming Atlas.

I walked away from the room, only able to stand because of the air’s thickness pillowing around me. Everything felt loosened and unconnected as I treaded downstairs to the couch. Be the adult, now—that’s what I was thinking.

I walked up to my Aunt Jennie. So far, so strong. But as I tried to force the word cancer out of my mouth, I found myself to be broken, too. Collapsed. Aunt Jennie’s arms gathered me up, and I remember resting against her breasts. I felt as though I were merely a page in a book and the epitome’s cover slammed heavily against me.

We wept.

Now. [24-year-old Mrs. Amanda Michele BENTON. Graduated from UC with a degree in Journalism and Creative Writing on June 9, 2012. Got married THE NEXT DAY. Spent their first year of marriage abroad with her new hubby working as missionaries in Wales and Malawi. Now they live in Denver. Amanda is a copywriter and social media manager for two non-profits run by financial guru Billy Epperhart; Gary is studying at Denver Seminary to become an Air Force chaplain. They have two bunnies: Carl Bernard Benton the ginger bunny, and Pichu Bombchu Benton. This pic of me and my baby girl was taken at their fairy tale wedding.] This is what she wrote for my #lucky7 year cancerversary.

kiss the bride

It’s so interesting how our bodies can rebel against their own rules. I try to think about the why and the how. We try to think about chemicals, diet, stress, fate, inactivity, hyperactivity, hatred, passion, society, greed. The reality is that cancer is either random or so buried in the backbone of the world today: something in the air, something in our lifestyle, something in our hearts.

It doesn’t help. Because it really just seems to be the roll of a dice. The question is, who rolled?

I tend to prefer shutting difficult emotions away rather than facing them. This is why I spent the year that my mom spent fighting cancer filling my mind with distractions. Maybe if I tackle a relationship, two different schools and my first job all in one, then I’ll be able to escape from my uncomfortable reality.

I don’t think I cried much that year. I am the undying optimist at times, but that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. Yes, I know this cancer word floating over us has a reputation for death. No, I don’t want to think about it. Maybe, we’ll beat the odds. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. What if?

I remember breaking down once. I remember a stick shift rendered impossible by a port embedded in her skin. I remember selling the car, and realizing that the woman who once carried me in her body, fed me through her own blood, and destroyed parts of herself in giving me life, this woman was weak. She was small. Human. Sick. Maybe dying.

I realized that something deep was charging like the Rohirrim up the mountains of my throat and I silently shut myself into the laundry room to hurl understanding after understanding out of my body. I didn’t want to understand, but releasing that growth out in the open helped me see how we all were changing. I felt the dice roll and the casino thugs fling me out on the street. Time to figure things out.

But, things got better. Our rapid, strong response saved the day. Or maybe the dice rolled that way, although they didn’t for a lot of other people.

For me, I have some deep convictions about what really went on. And Who was rolling the dice. And why it all worked out in the end for us.

I see a family that’s a closer, stronger. But I see a family that lives in PTSD. I see fear behind our eyes.

I see health, but I see the ghost of chance hovering over us making us doubt our paths and our futures.

I hate this haunting and wondering. There are doors in my house that I have shut and will not open. I keep them locked and let the dust settle. I explore new hallways and new rooms.

I hate being followed by that which is dead. So I reject it at every chance and choose hope. And so I channel everything into courage for a better future. And still, I am optimism.

happily ever after
And they lived happily ever after…

Bookends

Ford Warrior in Pink
Me at the Ford Warriors in Pink booth at Cincy’s Race for the Cure a couple weeks ago. Super freaking humbled and honored that they’ve included SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL on their list of recommend reads! Click HERE to check it out!

Today I’m 5 weeks out from my golfballectomy/hysterectomy/oopherectomy basically the wholefreakingshebangectomy. Thought I’d give a little update. First of all, I have been humbled and lifted up by all the small and big kindnesses to me while I’ve been temporarily sidelined (but on the edge of my seat here on the bench) during my #recovery. Thank you, thank you, a hundred million thank yous! As if I didn’t already feel like the #luckiestduck that I get to…

  • still. be. here.
  • and STILL be celebrating my #lucky7 year cancerversary. I’m not done being happy about it.
  • be working on my #comeback after my oncological gynecologist’s uber fab golf game in re: “Operation out Damn Golf Ball” #FORE!
  • be giving the highest high-five that there’s 5 weeks in the rear-view mirror since surgery, and only T-7 more daze till I can #runhappy #runfree again! #handsintheair
  • be packing up for another adventure…with the Grace project…another #graceprojectontheroad-trip! Connecticut (my birthplace), Philly, Richmond, VA, Coastal NC, Raleigh, NC, Atlanta, GA, Charleston, SC…ready or not, here we come! Click HERE for more info.
  • turn the Big 5-0 in T-W-E-N-T-Y daze and then zoom zoom she’s offfffff…on another road-trip around the sun! #cowabunga
  • be working on my next project, which I’m so uber ridiculous freaking STOKED about and can’t. freaking. WAIT! to tell you guys more about!

besides all that THERE’S YOU CRAZY BEAUTIFUL PEEPS! In my life. My tribe. I mean, sinceriously, you guys are icing on the cake. Thank you for that. #nomnom

Tomorrow, I have a special gift for you guys on the blog. I threw down a little 7-year retrospective #spokenword #becausetheworldneedsmorepoetry in my open letter to #fuckcancer last week. Here’s a pic of them flipping off cancer 7 years ago that I put in my book in the chapter they wrote for me.

redheads flipping off cancer

7 years ago, this month, this week, at the Cincy Race for the Cure 2008. Two weeks after my mastectomy. Amanda had just slammed her middle finger in the car on the way to the race. That’s why she was flying that bird in the first place. Then we all decided that was exactly how we were feeling about cancer right then right there. So M&M joined the party. My sweet Redheads. My 3 reasons.

They went through cancer as much as I went through cancer. And in some ways, that seems so much more unfair to me, what they had to go through, watching their mum suffer like that. Having the roles reversed in their supposed to be wonder years and becoming their mother’s keepers/caretakers. Still bursts my heart wide open. Humbles me. Makes me proud at the amazing human beings those 3 sweethearts of my heart they are to me.

I get lots of sweet messages from peeps who are so freaking touched by the chapter my kids wrote for my book, asking how they are doing these days? So I asked the Redheads for a little something special for me, to share with y’all, for my lucky 7 year cancerversary present. So they’ve each thrown down their own 7 year retrospective, which I will be featuring on the blog over the next 3 days.

Meanwhile…I already threw down some words slamming cancer with my poetry, but since they say a picture is sometimes worth more than a 1000 words, here’s a couple of me, then and now, to wrap this post UP. 

Then. September 12, 2008 The hubcap & me crushing the finish line. 2 weeks post mastectomy. It took me so long to finish, they had already deflated the finish line by the time I crossed it. So I did, literally, crush it! My first race...my first bling! It's where I got bit with the bug!
Then.
September 12, 2008
The hubcap & me crushing the finish line. 2 weeks post mastectomy. It took me so long to finish, they had already deflated the finish line by the time I crossed it. So I did, literally, crush it! My first race…my first bling! It’s where I got bit with the bug!
Now. August 28, 2015 #lucky7 years later another tasty finish #morebling! Ford Warrior in Pink.
Now.
August 28, 2015
#lucky7 years later
Another tasty finish. Yay for #morebling!
Underneath the finish line, but still crushing it! #nomnom