Given a choice between the hard things and the easy things, I’d pick easy. But sometimes God doesn’t let me choose.
One year ago today Corey and I faced a really hard thing. A 5-hour surgery to remove my cancer and my breasts.
I remember it with an ache in my heart. But right beside that ache there is joy. JOY. Because God is good and the giver of the good things. Even in the wake of bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction.
And look at us now. Because of what we endured together, this year’s family photos will probably always be my favorite. (Plus I think we would make a sweet Under Armour ad.)
I believe what it says in the book of James, that every good and perfect gift comes from above. From my father in heaven. I also believe that sometimes those good and perfect gifts can only be delivered through the hard things.
So I will endure the hard things. And I will find joy in the good things that saturate the hard things in light.
Just before my exchange surgery in July, I posted 6 things I planned to do with my post cancer-invasion self. So here I am to brag that I’ve accomplished all but one 🙂 (Backpacking requires some wilderness and a trail, both of which Central Iowa is a little short on, so that one’s gonna have to wait.)
I am a lover of sleep. I’m neither a night owl, nor an early bird. I’ve always been the girl who could happily go to bed at 10 and sleep until 9 given the opportunity. But things changed in January when that darn tumor freaked my body out. Sleeplessness kicked my butt for months, and Netflix became my middle-of-the-night companion.
But, alas, my beloved sleep has returned to me. My body has healed, and I can finally lie on my side again. Most nights I even spend the whole night in my own bed. (That $600 IKEA futon is getting slept on more often by teenage boys than by me. And I’m fine with that.)
Holding this little man makes me so very happy. Do you see that sweet sweet face? Just looking at his photo is making you happy, isn’t it? You’re welcome.
I started running again in September, and our whole family
loved enjoyed tolerated running the Pumpkin Relay at Center Grove Orchard this year. Sometimes you’ve just gotta make your kids do stuff they don’t want to do. It’s one of the most important rules of parenting. Suck it up Harms boys, this is good stuff.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then the first 3 for this one are obviously “We are dorks.” I leave the other 997 to you. Regardless of our dork status though, that is a hug. And that’s a big deal.
I am definitely doing life. I’m making writing plans for the coming year. I’m running again. I’m cooking again (though I don’t understand why that has to be part of life). I shot some guns. I played in a wave pool. I slid down a water slide. I beat Corey in mini-golf. I strapped into a harness and did a high ropes course. I watched my boys play football. And now I’m counting down the days to a family vacation on the beach. (It’s 16 by the way.)
Oh, and I moved. Because doing life in the Harms house includes moving. We moved into residence #10 (in 18 years) in August, and now we’re hanging out in a duplex on main street waiting for the next step in our crazy life of rotating houses to present itself.
I fear some of you may think I have a terribly mean husband for making me move so soon after the cancer. To set the record straight, he is truly the most loving, caring, selfless guy I’ve met in my entire life. And if I’d requested it, we’d have stayed put for as long as I needed.
But here’s the deal. Sometimes sticking with your plan is what makes you feel normal. Before cancer we had planned to list our house this year. And by summer, I felt like was ready to handle it. The purging. The cleaning. The packing. The moving. In some weird way, all of these things factor into me feeling normal.
Cancer knocked the wind out of me, but I’m breathing again.
And I am busy loving my life.
(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.
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.)
Sweet saturating sunshine
Remind me always
of how Jesus
enveloped us in light
days were dark.
My monthly blog post is up at Inspire a Fire today. I reflected on our moving lifestyle, and why I don’t think we’re crazy. 🙂 Below you can read the start of the story and find a link to the full post.
I remember the day I realized I married a mover.
I’m not talking about a guy who drives a big truck and makes his money relocating other people. Corey wanted to move me. Every two or three years.
“It will be a great financial investment,” he said. “Plus you’ll get to live in a brand new house every few years.”
“Are you on drugs?” is what I wanted to say, but what came out was more like, “Can we explore our options before we decide on that game plan?”
I appreciated Corey’s goal. I understood that as a construction engineer, he could probably build a home economically, and we could make some money from its sale. But I was pretty sure he had grossly miscalculated the actual work of moving. And what about putting down roots and turning a house into our home?
I lived in the same house from birth to age 18. To me,home had a specific non-changing address.
I wanted to settle into a cute little bungalow where we’d mark our kids’ ever-changing heights in Sharpie on the trim of a doorway and spend summer evenings relaxing on a front porch swing.
But that was not to be.
It was with much self-pity that I reluctantly gave in to my hubby’s desires and packed up our first
little house. As I bubble-wrapped dishes and mourned the loss of our plum trees, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t the end of the world.
I survived that first move, and I quickly grew to love the new home Corey built, secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hoping he would not make me move again.
Head to Inspire a Fire to read the rest of the story.
It’s my day to blog over at Inspire a Fire. It’s just a short sweet post about childhood memories including my own version of George Ella Lyon’s poem Where I’m From.
If need a creative challenge on this lovely Saturday, try writing your own Where I’m From. It’s a lot of fun (unless you are not a word person, in which case it could be a torturous experience.)
I missed Boy Mom Monday last week because I was 3300 miles away from my boys in Port au Prince, Haiti. I just returned from my trip and, in lieu of a devotion, I am posting something I wrote in 2008 for my column in the local paper. Maybe some of you can relate 🙂
It all started with the Boy Wonder. In the fall of 2005, my mom made Batman and Robin costumes for my two boys. The two-year-old became smitten with Robin. I remember the morning I was awakened at the crack of dawn to my son, standing right next to my bed, his little towhead inches from my face.
“I waked up. Can I be Robin?” he asked to me with those bright blue eyes shining.
At that moment, I had no idea what was in store for me. That for the next two years, this child would live his life as a super hero. After Robin, it was Superman, Spiderman, Zorro, Flash, J’onn J’onzz, Hulk…if Marvel or D.C. Comics created him, we had the costume.
Grandma, the seamstress, was a busy woman, sewing alter-egos for her grandson. I’m sure at some point in her life she had dreams of sewing frilly little dresses for granddaughters (especially since her own daughter was not the frilly dress type), but God chose to bless her with all male grandchildren, so she traded in her lace and bows for capes and masks. (side note: God gave her a granddaughter in 2012.)
We went to the grocery store as Superman, Lowe’s as Batman and the park as Zorro. It was even common to find him asleep in a cape and mask, after he had been tucked in bed in regular p.j.s. The only place I did not let Owen go in costume was church. I’m confident God would’ve been okay with it, but it just didn’t feel right to me.
I remember having women a couple decades my senior come up to me and smile with that knowing smile and say things like, “Oh, I remember that age. My son was always flying off the couch in a cape. Enjoy it. My superhero is 23 now.”
In my mind, my super hero would never grow out of it. He would be flying off the furniture and saving the world from the bad guys forever. And for two solid years, that’s just what he did. Then, one day, he decided to dress in the human clothes in his closet. And eventually, he started wearing boy clothes more often than superhero clothes. Now, it’s a rare day that he dresses in costume; though I can’t bring myself to box them up and put them away.
The other morning, as he was getting ready for school, he said, “Mom, why do you always make me wear these Spiderman shirts. It makes people think I like Spiderman, and I don’t like Spiderman.”
What? Did I hear that right? What happened to my web flinging wall climber? He can’t be growing up. Other people’s kids grow up. Mine aren’t supposed to.
I now realize I am destined to become one of those nice ladies who relives the past as they see young moms buying groceries with their super heroes in tow. I will say things like, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts. They grow up so fast.’ And other phrases that so easily rattle off the tongue of people who have been there.
And I’m sure those young moms will smile at me, but in their minds they will think just as I did, “What a nice lady, but she’s wrong about my son. He will always be a super hero. Only other people’s kids grow up.”
I’ve shoved writing in the backseat for a bit while I try to learn how to sew. I mean sew at above novice status. The zippers are killing me, and my new mantra is that old construction phrase “Measure twice, cut once.” If you are curious about this sewing craziness, take a peek at Sewing is Hard.
Otherwise, just read this sweet little writing by the youngest Harms boy. He knows how to make me smile.
I love that he thinks I’m 34-years-old. I sure do enjoy my job righting storees. And ISU sharts are the best.
BOYS. Every single one of the backsides in the back row of that photo belongs to a boy.
Why is that a big deal you ask?
Because my boys have long been almost the only boys in their age-group at church. Just Carter, Owen and a sea of girls. I’m sure at some point in a boy’s life, a lopsided ratio of boys to girls that lands heavy on the girl side is a good thing. In elementary school, not so much.
On Sunday mornings, the Harms house was a battlefield: two boys with an arsenal of arguments and emotion fighting to get out of Sunday School vs. one mama who tried to stand her ground. Sometimes they won. (Their dad usually escaped these wars because he was at church early to serve in one way or another.)
I could feel my boys’ pain. I totally could. There were times I seriously thought we should find ourselves a new church to plug into for the sake of our boys.
But we stayed, and I prayed. I specifically asked God to bring boys to our church and to give my boys a place where they fit. Where they belonged.
Now look at that photo again. Among those backsides stand my boys. Worshiping.
Every week they get to play crazy games like wall-ball and glow-in-the-dark volleyball.
Every week they sit under solid Bible teaching from a youth pastor who gets kids and whom I respect.
And every week they are led in worship by a guy I’m madly in love with. (He’s one handsome dude, that worship leader.)
So the moral of my story is this:
Sometimes you’ve just gotta keep on praying.
Now if only I could talk Pastor Marty into using some Clash of Clans analogies during the Sunday morning service, I think I could get my boys on board with his sermons too. I think I’ll start praying about that 🙂