The Stuff of Life


When Breast Cancer Came to My House

(I was asked to write my breast cancer story for our local paper as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. The following is just a little piece of 2016 in the Harms house. It’s a bit longer than my typical blog posts, but I am publishing it as it was printed in the paper.)


The hardest part is telling your kids.

Watching your child navigate heartache is painful. But when you are the one who causes the heartache, it is almost unbearable.

We sat in front of the fireplace, Corey and I. It was January 21. Two days after my biopsy.

Carter leaned against the living room wall. Owen against a couch. Lewis beside him.  Our two teenagers and the 9-year-old who will always be my baby.

There was a surreal, fear-tinged atmosphere surrounding that moment.

The boys knew about my biopsy.

They knew there was something not quite right with my body.

But they were as ill-prepared for the blow of the diagnosis as I was.

That diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer. Corey and I had allowed ourselves 24 hours to process the news, and now it was time to bring the boys into this undesirable circle.

I don’t think I could have physically spoken my diagnosis to the boys. As I watched them quietly brace themselves for whatever news was coming, the pathway from my vocal cords to my lips grew tight and suddenly there was not enough air in the room to form words. So I just leaned on Corey hoping somehow that his strength would seep into me. And praying that his words would not get lost like mine.

“We got the biopsy results back, and your mom has breast cancer.”


The world stopped for a minute while we watched our boys’ insulated lives bust wide open.

Tears don’t often flow freely at our house, but that night they did.

I saw the fear in my boys’ eyes and more than anything I wanted to take it away.

It’s going to be okay. Breast cancer is treatable. The doctors will fix this and then we’ll get right back to normal, is what I wanted to say. But the truth is I was drowning in fear myself.

Fear of the unknown. Because all I had at that point was a name for my tumor. I didn’t know if it had spread beyond the lump I could feel under the skin of my breast. I didn’t know what my future looked like. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Death? I just knew that something was growing inside of me that was not supposed to be growing inside of me, and I was helpless to stop it.

Overcoming Fear

Fear can do crazy things to your mind if you let it. It can take you down paths you don’t want to be on. And there were days that all of my energy was spent fighting ugly thoughts.

But even as those thoughts bombarded me, one scripture verse kept coming to the forefront of my mind.

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It was from Isaiah, and I had memorized it during high school to get me through the jitters I always felt before the gun went off at a track meet. Who knew at that time how much more I would need those words at 40 than I did at 15.

At first, I don’t know that I fully believed all the words of verse that played on repeat in my mind. But the more I took the fear and covered it with the fear not the more I trusted that God knows what he’s doing.

That he wasn’t looking down from heaven saying, “Oh shoot, I screwed that one up. Kim wasn’t supposed to get that tumor. Oh well. She’s got it now, I guess we’ll go with it.”

I think what he wanted was for me to learn to trust him in the hard stuff. And by watching me trust him, he wanted my kids to learn that they can trust him as well.

The Path Through the Treatment

The boys survived that night in the living room. They worked their way through the fear. And they helped me make it through a really tough season.

After my bilateral mastectomy, they (along with Corey) became my physical strength. They helped me out of my recliner. They opened my refrigerator door. They refilled my water bottle. The adjusted my footstool.

And they graciously kept being themselves as well. They still yelled at the Xbox when their games weren’t going right. They still ate their way through a million boxes of cereal. They still wrestled on the living room floor, and they still got passionately involved in viewing Cyclone basketball games on TV. Together, we found an “unnormal” normal. And we grew to have a deep appreciation of each other and our time together.

While the boys helped me out and worked through the cancer in their own way, Corey was doing the hard things too. He came home at lunchtime to help me shower. He blew my hair dry and helped me get dressed. He emptied my drains, and he told me I was beautiful when my scars told me I was ugly.

On the Other Side

We are on the other side of this cancer thing now. I spent a couple nervous weeks after surgery waiting to be informed whether or not I would need chemo. (I didn’t. Hallelujah!) And because of the type of surgery I chose, radiation wasn’t necessary either. I am now healed and released to a 10-year prescription of an estrogen inhibitor (my cancer likes estrogen) and bi-annual appointments with my oncologist.

I can look back and see clearly that even in a disease like breast cancer, beauty can be found. I have grown in ways that would not be possible without that significant bump in my road.

I saw God remain trustworthy when my circumstances were out of control.

I gained so much compassion for those with cancer. When I spot someone whose hair has been stolen by chemo, my heart is immediately drawn to them.

I witnessed my boys maturing right before my eyes. They made it through those broken hearts. And I am confident that the next time they are exposed to cancer (and I don’t doubt there will be a next time) they will have a compassion and understanding that would have been impossible to achieve without walking through it with me.

Cancer was the hardest thing our family has ever done together and most definitely not something we would ever choose. But in ways I have a hard time putting words to, it was also the most beautiful.

(First published in the Tri-County Times and Nevada Journal.)


Leslie Leyland Fields Interview – Crossing the Waters


Leslie Leyland Fields graciously granted me an interview about Crossing the Waters, and I’m excited to share it it with you.
I quoted this book in my previous post, when I talked about how powerful the image of water has been to me this year. Crossing the Waters was really a gift at the end of a storm.
Leyland’s life as an Alaskan fisherwoman allows her to come at scripture from a unique perspective. And her story-telling brings new life to well-loved passages of the Bible.
Enjoy this short conversation with Leslie Leyland Fields, and then go buy her book.🙂



1.Tell me briefly about yourself. (Your family, profession, hobbies…)

Here’s my rundown: I’ve got 6 kids, a daughter and 5 sons, from ages 28 down to 13!  I’ve been married longer than I want to tell you all—because I still want you to think I’m young. I don’t want my last two teenage boys to hear a rumor that their mother isn’t so young anymore!  I’m living my own dream—I’m working full time as a writer, teacher and editor. In my spare time, I love to hike and kayak.

2.You have been a commercial fisherwoman for four decades. That life experience has given you insight into scripture stories many of us couldn’t have seen without your guiding words. How did this book idea come about? Did it brew inside your head for years? Or did it just hit you one day that it needed to be written?

I did indeed brew and stew over this for some time, years actually, before I committed to writing it. I knew it would be tough to write, and yet I was so anxious for that crucible of finding words for the life I had experienced and sending it on to others.

3.You spent time at the Sea of Galilee in preparation for this book. How did being in the place where Jesus and his disciples spent so much time affect your perspective on the scriptural texts that take place on and around the sea?

You know, here’s what struck me most—how utterly ordinary that place that Jesus chose. I had been there  three times before over the years, but this time, hiking the trail around the Sea and going out with commercial fisherman really engaged me in a deeper way. And I saw—the mud on my boots there was like the mud on my boots here. I wasn’t blown away by the beauty there. It’s really quite ordinary looking. It struck me how from the beginning God chose the ordinary, the weak, the foolish, (the fishermen!) to display his own magnificence and power.

4. One of my favorite quotes from your book is “I have found over the years that the gospel does not always simplify my life or the lives of any of his followers. If we are listening well, it rends us first. It shatters us. This new life with the Holy Spirit pummels my heart as much as it soothes it.” You share some examples of this in the book, but can you give an example here for the readers?

When we hear about people suffering, whether it’s our neighbor or Christians overseas fleeing for their lives, because we ARE the body of Christ, connected and jointed together, when one suffers, we all suffer. This is the weight we bear as Christians, that we cannot turn away. But it also means in our times of need, we are surrounded by brothers and sisters lifting us up. We are rent, shattered and healed together. We live a thousand lives instead of just one. There is no better way to live.

5. What is your favorite part of the Alaskan fishing life?

Living out in the lap of creation, surrounded by whales, sea lions, sea otters, deer and the ocean, which beats on our island like God’s own heart.

6.Least favorite?

When the waters are stormy and the nets are full of kelp, which means hours and hours of nausea in a pitching skiff bent over picking out every piece of kelp. Yuck. Hate it.

7. When your reader finishes the last page of this book, what is one thing you hope sticks in their mind?

That Jesus is calling you to this incredible life of following after him, living like him. And if you think you can’t do it, that you’re too weak, too imperfect, listen. Your love is enough. Your tiny limited human love is enough to accomplish all that God asks of you. Peter’s love was enough. This is Peter, who abandoned his dearest Jesus in his greatest hour of need! But his small human love for Jesus was enough for God to establish his church on earth. Your love is enough for Jesus to do mighty things through you. Go, follow Him! Do not be afraid!

Purchase the book on Amazon –  Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas 


Crossing the Waters


When you pass through the waters I will be with you. Isaiah 43:2

The image of water has been a big deal to me this year. The power. The tranquility. The danger. The beauty.

Cancer was my water. Fear-inspiring, yet fused with the beautiful. So hard, yet covered by a peace I cannot explain. The water was rough, but Jesus was constant.

One night long ago on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Peter jumped out of a boat and began walking to Jesus. He sees a man walking toward him on the water and says “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you.”

In her new book, Crossing the Waters, Leslie Leyland Fields describes Peter’s walk like this.

“He walks atop the waves anyway for a few steps, but fear opens his eyes and ears too wide. He hears the wind; he feels the water at his ankles. He knows this is impossible-and he sinks.”

Whatever it is that got him out of that boat, he did it, and the most dynamic personality among the disciples took his first steps on water. But then his circumstances got the better of him.

Leyland’s word pictures throughout Crossing the Waters swing on a pendulum between 21st century Alaskan commercial fishing and seafaring and first century fishing on the Sea of Galilee. She brings new life to texts my five-year-old self was introduced to in flannel graphs and coloring pages.

And her stories reminded me over and over of my rough waters turned serene.

I didn’t jump out of the boat into the storm like Peter.

I was pushed.

I didn’t say, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to walk out on that crazy, stormy sea, and I will hop right out of this boat.”

I was more like, “Oh dear Lord, someone pushed me overboard and I can’t breathe and the salt water is burning my eyes.”

When I listened to the screams of the tumor that pushed against my bra-line, I began to sink. But when I grabbed for Jesus, he kept me afloat.

When he held out his figurative hand to me like he did his physical hand for Peter, I knew him.  “It is you Jesus. It is really you.”

Jesus knows, like Peter, my faith will waver. And he knows, like Peter, my fears will at times make me irrational. But still he holds out his hand. Because he is creating in me something new. A faith strengthened by a stormy sea.

And maybe that is what this whole tumor thing was about anyway. Maybe it wasn’t about me making it through cancer. Or not making it. Maybe it was about increasing in faith. Maybe it was about me speaking my raw emotions to my Savior, “I don’t want to die now. Please don’t let me die. But if that is what you have for me, you need to walk with me and show me how.”

Fields says,

“How many boats have gone down in just this corner of the sea…Yes so many saved, but so many lost. Even those who knew Jesus. I know he told it straight and often. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I know take up their cross means be ready to die. But who can do this?…Jesus, this God-man, can command every element of creation with just a word, but he does not always take away the winds. Jesus can sit in the boat with us, and that boat still might sink.”

I cannot think of a word in the English language that is emotionally charged enough to express my gratitude that my boat did not sink. That the waves did not overtake me.

But someday it will sink, because this life has no choice but to end in death. And when it does, I want everyone to see that Jesus was sitting with me in the boat the whole time, preparing to take me home.


Leslie Leyland Fields book Crossing the Waters is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her story-telling will take you into well-loved Bible stories in a new and deeper way, and quite possibly teach you something new about yourself. Crossing the Waters is worth a few of your dollars and a few hours of your time. 

Leave a comment

Milk Cartons, Tears and a Change in Seasons


(In my September post at Inspire a Fire, I reflect on the change of seasons in life and reminisce about the day I sent my baby to school.)

Homemade cheesebread with marinara sauce.

“Oh no, what if Lewis can’t open his milk carton?”

Those were the first five words on the back-to-school lunch menu and that was the thought that ran through my head sending a fresh waterfall of tears down my face. Yes, I read the school lunch menu and cried. And cried. And cried.

That was several years ago, but I remember it like it was several blinks ago.

Lewis was (and still is) my baby. The one I had to myself for four years while his brothers were in school. The one who sang wonderful made-up songs, daily made me laugh out loud and liked to wear the same way too small orange shirt. Every. Single. Day.

The one who wasn’t supposed to grow up.

What if he can’t open his milk carton? What if he gets lost? What if he gets hurt and wants his mommy? What if he gets tired and needs a nap? There was no end to the (often irrational) thoughts that filled my head as I sent my little man off to begin his own life adventures.

But I know deep down the reason I kept crying was not because Lewis might not be able to handle school. It was because I might not be able handle life without Lewis…

Head on over to Inspire a Fire to read the rest of the story – Milk Cartons, Tears and A Change in Seasons


How to Spend More Than $600 on a $269 IKEA Futon


It’s possible.

And here’s how to do it.

First, drive 3 hours to the Minneapolis IKEA with a friend. Realize when you get there that the futon you came for is out of stock. Enjoy your day anyway and come home with a few items of lesser importance.

Cost of Trip

Lunch – $12

Gas – FREE (Your friend won’t let you pay for gas because she’s pretty great.)

Then, four days later, drive 3 ½ hours with your hubby (who is awesome) to the Kansas City IKEA where the futon is in stock. Buy said futon. Eat way too much Mexican food and stay overnight in a hotel.

Kansas City IKEA

Kansas City IKEA

Cost of Trip

Gas – $30ish

Dinner out – $40

Hotel – $130

Arrive home and realize you bought the wrong mattress. Get very frustrated. Maybe even almost cry a little.

One week later, cram the wrong mattress into your vehicle and drive 3 hours with your husband (who is ever-growing in his awesomeness) to the Minneapolis IKEA to exchange it because the futons are back in stock there. Eat way too much Italian food and spend the night in a hotel again. This futon has already cost a ridiculous amount of time and money, so you might as well make it fun.


Minneapolis IKEA

Cost of Trip

Gas $30ish

Dinner out – FREE thanks to a gift card.

Hotel $100

Arrive home and realize that though your futon is now complete, you left your new memory foam pillow in the hotel room.


Pillow $20

This whole IKEA fiasco will make you look like a super high-maintenance chick who spends money like water. But you’re pretty much the opposite of that, so this scenario will kind of kill you a little on the inside.

But you have a solid defense for your IKEA insanity. Ever since cancer, you’ve had trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons. Stress. Pain related to the cancer stuff. Discomfort from those annoying chest expanders. Neck pain which is related to the stress and to the fact that some of your muscles have been moved from their God-given place in your body. Your husband’s snoring (Oh wait, I guess that isn’t really related to cancer).

When sleep alludes you, you always head to the spare bedroom. But you just moved to a new home. And you downsized. Like, a lot. Which means no spare bedroom. No place for an extra bed.

Thus, your crazy futon adventure, though extremely pricey, is ultimately worthwhile.

And though you really, really like IKEA, you will have absolutely no desire to go back anytime in the foreseeable future.





Free Mastectomy Pillows


I used several breast cancer specific supplies as I recovered from my bilateral mastectomy earlier this year.

Some were useful- like the above mastectomy pillows.

Some were not- like the two post-mastectomy camis that someone convinced my husband I needed for $70 a piece. And they gave him their sales pitch when he was in the hospital waiting room during my surgery. Good golly! Leave the poor men alone while their wives are in having their breasts removed! I’m still a little perturbed by that.

My mom and two of her friends have started making mastectomy pillows to give away FREE to women who need them. The three women have each had daughters diagnosed with cancer this year (2 breast, 1 skin). And the three of them also love Jesus and when he gives them an idea for serve others, they follow through.

These pillows fit snuggly in your armpit, providing a cushion between your arm and your sore chest after surgery. I used mine for about three weeks post-mastectomy, and they really did relieve the pressure. Each pillow is made of either fleece or flannel so they won’t slide around in your armpit. You can buy mastectomy pillows online for anywhere from $20-$50, but mom and her friends are providing them for free.

If you or someone you know could use a mastectomy pillow, contact me through this blog or through my facebook page and I’ll forward your info to mom. She and her friends would love to provide them for you.