Tag Archives: #bcsm

My Fourth Degree Black Belt:Why I am Testing and Who I’m taking with me

In just a few weeks, I will have been a black belt for 10 years. I know the majority of the cancer community objects to metaphors involving fighting: “fighting cancer”, “the fight with cancer”, and “the battle with cancer”, but martial arts is my sport, and when I started in 2006 I never dreamed I would be in the cancer world.

On March 1, 2019, I am testing for my fourth degree black belt rank in Songahm Taekwondo, something that I have been preparing for 5 years. Since I never had a dramatic, sudden, miraculous healing, these have been years of thinking every class could be my last: each midterm as far as I could go, each year a legacy I’m leaving behind. I have tears in my eyes in the pictures of every one of mine or my 3 teenagers’ testing. They don’t understand why I want to take random pictures after a black belt class, now that the 4 of us are third degrees.

I admit I started martial arts as an activity to do with the kids and for the social aspect, which was a good way to start. It takes my breath away to think of all that I have learned, even though I think my lessons have come slower than most of the students. Now 13 years later, I have had incredible instructors, seminars with the highest ranks, world renowned champions, and have made lifelong friendships. To this day, their support is humbling.

I started taking martial arts seriously and really pushing myself to the limit after I had the Cyber Knife on my lungs. The high dose of radiation prevented us from seeing if it was working by scanning, so I had the crazy idea that I would work out as hard as I could to see if my lungs could take it. So yes, there is the possibility that now I am afraid to stop. I get asked a lot if I think martial arts is the reason for my current status of No Evidence of Disease. No, I do not. But I know it has made my life with cancer so much better. By throwing myself into the short term goals in the studio, I stopped focusing so much on my cancer, switching my focus from what I can’t do to what I can do. My oncologists have been encouraging me to keep the cardio, weight bearing, and the mental challenges consistent. (The sparring, not so much) I have gotten stronger than I ever thought I could be, both mentally and physically.

Three years ago I shared a ride to the airport from the metastatic breast cancer conference with the sweetest, soft spoken young woman. We chatted about the conference and going back home. Her cancer had metastasized to her bones and the weekend exhausted her. She said that the following morning was going to be really hard to get up for a walk around the block, but she would since her doctor insisted on it. She looked me right in the eyes and asked in her quiet voice that I could barely hear, “Do you exercise?” With the guilt swirling around my head, I could barely nod, let alone answer. She patted my hand and said. “I know it’s difficult, but it’s really important. You keep it up.” The next morning as tired as I was, I was at kickboxing at 9am. As we warmed up with jogging around the mat, I couldn’t get her out of my mind, wondering if she found the strength for that short walk. So instead of jogging, I ran. I ran and ran and ran until my lungs hurt. I wanted to work out until I ached like she did. I was working out for both of us.

The longer I live, the more friends I lose to this disease. I had the opportunity to ask a life coach how to deal with survivor guilt, and she told me that the best thing I could do to honor my friends who have ​passed is to live the best life I possibly can. So here we go, girls. On March 1 st , I’m taking you with me, and we will do this together. I will do this with you; Stephanie, Christine, Kristi, Jessica, Sue, Ellen, Joyce, Camille, Ishiuan, Audrey, Melinda, Beth, Sarita, Heidi, Mandy, Katie, and Susan. And I will hear you cheering me, Jack, Dina, Kevin, and Jon. Let’s do this.

Hebrews 12 (NIV) 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith . .

Psalm 116 (NIV) Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.

Artificial Watermelon


The flavor of my life became Artificial Watermelon in 2010, when I was given a year to live because I knew that wasn’t the full time to LIVE.

No doctor could tell me how long I had to be well or how well I would feel on any given treatment, so each day could be my last active one. Artificial Watermelon is a flavor so amplified that it doesn’t resemble watermelon flavoring at all, but is its own intense deliciousness. It’s similar to the blue flavor of Gatorade, Jell-O, and Slurpees in that it’s a bizarre flavor that doesn’t resemble anything from God’s green earth.

“Awareness” is a well known form of meditation now, but at that time I just knew that all of my senses were acutely heightened. I would close my eyes while lying in the grass in the park and pick out each bird call, car going by, or kid playing. Since it was summer in Vegas, I would lie next to the pool and feel each ray of the sun’s intensity on my skin and each bead of sweat roll down the back of my knee. While I exercised I could feel each muscle working independently yet together to make a movement and I could feel each breath going through my lungs.

Each day went on like this, one after another. But the heightened senses really aren’t sustainable and turned out to be just exhausting. Day after day, month after month, year after year, a healing was slowly revealed.

The most common phrase I heard was the shocked, “No, this can’t be! Kids just can’t grow up without their mothers.” I heard it so much that I began to panic. The desperation to spend every moment with my kids making an amazing memory out of every mundane task became creepy, unnatural and a little inappropriate as they became pre-teens and teenagers. There is a normal switch when teens want their independence, but I wasn’t ready. Not being welcomed into every aspect of their lives was a pain that went right to my soul. My Artificial Watermelon life has turned into real watermelon flavoring, sweet but with barely any flavor.   As desperately and frantically as I had held on to every moment, time went on anyway. Looking back at these last 7 years takes my breath away. How could it have passed while I was holding on so tightly?

This year our district changed the school calendar and my boys went back to school the second week of August; two weeks early. The little girl in me is crying that summer shortened so much that I have been robbed. Time moved faster in those two weeks, closing out another summer too early.  It just doesn’t feel like this summer can be over.

When I was growing up in New England, I had my own kind of calendar to mark down the time until school started again. In August we would go to bed when it was stifling hot, throwing the sheets to the end of the bed, but would wake up to a chill in the air. The forsythia bush in front of the house had beautiful fluffy white flowers in the summer that turned pink when it was time to go back to school, then brown when the school routine became commonplace. I would look forward to the tri-county fair every year on Labor Day weekend, but with a tinge of sadness that school would be starting on Tuesday and another summer would be over. That is another year away from childhood.



I see now that I have been trying to manipulate time.  We foster kittens from when they are just over a pound until they are two pounds. Instead of using a scale I can tell when they are ready by how much they climb, how much less they need to sleep, as well as how big their bellies are getting. The whole family has fallen in love with one of the foster kittens we have now, but as much as I love Nikko, I really don’t want to keep him. I like sending the older kittens to be adopted into loving forever homes and getting more baby kittens to love on. I don’t think I want to see Nikko grow up into a beautiful, mature cat. I don’t want to see more time pass.

It is always a wistful, nostalgic sadness that I have at the end of every summer. The fall always brings new routines, new adventures and new starts. Another “year” is happening, with our new school shoes on.

I am learning to let go of the intenseness of the artificial watermelon way of life. The kids are growing, time is moving on. Now I taste the passing of time as the sweetest of flavors.  The ripest watermelons are always at the end of summer, and they are oh, so sweet!

Growing up in the pink

Today is my baby’s 11th birthday. He was 2 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and was still in diapers. This means for 9 years I’ve been looking at him and bursting into tears, thinking that I won’t live to see him grow up. When he went into kindergarten, I thought I had less than a year left to live and had to make the overwhelming decision on whether to put him in for whole or ½ day. My mother said I had to start making decisions based on if I was going to be sick or well, and that I couldn’t live in the in-between world anymore. So I decided I was going to be well, and put him in ½ day so that I could have afternoons with him like I did with his sister and brother, and prayed for the best.

On the third day of school, they thought it would be best for the kids if the parents weren’t let into the playground anymore, so I said good bye and got extra kisses at the gate. I will never forget looking through the fence, gripping the metal links until my fingers hurt. He was playing happily with his new friends, looking back to wave several times. I wasn’t the only parent crying there, but I was the only one with this reason; that moment was just like our life.  My life with cancer has put me a distance away, watching and waiting.

He thought he had come up with the most brilliant plan when he was 6 and announced at lunch “I know! If mom dies, Dad can marry again and I can have a step-mom!” (I was secretly happy that nobody else at the table thought that was a good idea at the moment.) Every year I never know when to have the talk with his teacher to explain why he draws pink ribbons on everything and likes to share his knowledge of which breast cancer organizations donate the most to research.  It is guaranteed to be awkward.

Growing up with cancer is all that he has known and it really has been his childhood. He has seen me speak to drug companies, and be honored at fashion shows, baseball, basketball and pink hockey games. He has done public service announcements and photo shoots with me, met WWE wrestlers, and painted tiles across America.

So much of Hunter’s childhood I have spent sad, nostalgic, and even frantic at times. In one way I have treasured every minute with him and tried to squeeze out every drop life has to offer, but in another way there have been wasted moments in sadness. Our beautiful trip to Hawaii was so bitter sweet that the pictures are hard to look at. So many times I have hugged him so tightly and wondered who his first love will be, what will he do when he grows up, will he have a family? Will I get to see it? How much of it? Is it ever enough?

But this is him. This is me. This is our life; and for however long or short it is, I’ll take it.   img_9141