Monday, February 18, 2013

The Chain Link Fence...

To say this past weekend was an emotional one for me would be an understatement. My family and I had plans to drive the three hours to see Jillian’s billboard in person. On a Saturday. Exactly seven weeks after she left this Earth. The plan was to meet Steve’s family, along with our Melanoma photographer Melissa, and two other Melanoma warriors, Andrea and Jolaina. Melissa had offered to take photos of all of us under Jillian’s billboard.

As I was getting ready to go, I was overwhelmed with sadness. The kind of grief that knocks you to your knees, taking your breath away. I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t go. In a panic, I messaged Melissa.

“Melissa, I don’t know if I can do this!”

Her reply, “What do you want to do honey?”

Me: “Oh God. I have to. Shit. Ok. Deep breath. Its three hours on the road with two small kids. I'll be over my sadness by then. LOL!”

Melissa: "I got you!!!!!!!! I know this is hard. I know we can do this. We are going to do this!”

So, after putting on my Big Girl Pants, I headed out the door, picked up the kids and set off for our grand adventure. And I was right, you don’t stay sad for long when you are surrounded by giggles and the conversation that only occurs from an innocent eight year old. 

My resolve shattered however when I got the first glimpse of the billboard up ahead. Oh! It was HUGE!! We found a parking lot and tumbled from our cars, walking along the fence to get as close as we could. My throat knotted, tears streaming from my face, I looked up. There she was! She was as big as life. I could even see the freckles sprinkled across her nose. My Jillian.

And then it hit me. I am looking at my precious daughter on a billboard. Sweet. I don’t want to see you on a billboard honey! I want you here. With me. She felt so close, but so very far away. I talked to her then. I told her how much I missed her, how much I loved her and how proud I was of her. And how incredibly blessed I am to have known someone so special for 23 years. I told her I will fight for her until my dying day, and that she will never be forgotten. I think she smiled that crooked grin then.
I’ve had the weekend to mull all of this over. I’ve heard people say, “It will get easier with time”. “Time heals all wounds”. Or “At least she isn’t in pain anymore”. I just don’t know. Some days it feels like I’m making good progress, two steps forward. But then I get slammed back three. I am not the first person to lose a child, or a loved one. I wonder sometimes if some of us suffering with grief don’t get the latitude we need. Does society put expectation’s on us to buck up, get over it? Move forward. It’s been six months, it’s been a year, five, or ten. How do you put a time stamp on love? You can’t.

For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t ever fully heal. I’ll just learn to live with the wound. And you know what? That’s okay. That wound will be a constant reminder of what my goal is and who Jillian IS.

So..(and I’m not talking about me here because I am fully aware of what I need to do for me. After all, I’m fifty now, and I can do what I want) if you know of someone who has lost someone they love, initiate conversation that will include their loved one. They may tear up. That is just confirmation that it still hurts. Deeply. I really believe that a grievers fear is that their loved one will be forgotten. Their loved one mattered. They shared this life with us in some way. They still matter.

Our Heavenly loved ones will continue to be a part of our lives until there is no longer a chain link fence separating us.


** A heartfelt thank-you to Dr. Brent Boyce, Saginaw Bay Dermatology and the family and friends of Jillian. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013


These last two weeks have been  particularly hard. I don’t need to analyze why. I know why. Two weeks ago a young Melanoma warrior was sent home on Hospice care. I’ve meet Briana several times. She and Jillian shared the same doctor. There were times when we would bump into each other at  U of M. Briana is a sweet, loving young woman, with a smile that lightens any room. When I heard the news  Briana was going home, it threw me back to those weeks when Jillian was home on Hospice. This is not an easy time for the family, and it  saddened me deeply.

As a caregiver, we have a job to do. We make those last week’s/months as comfortable as we can. It’s as if you are on autopilot. Every moment is filled up caring for that loved one. Making meals and serving them, administering any medications still needed. Making sure the loved one is comfortable. Helping with brushing their teeth, taking a bath. Dealing with nurses that come in once a week along with social workers making sure that we, the caretakers are doing okay. Changing bed linen, moving your loved one from one position to the next to avoid bed sores….hugs, rubs, talks…..Looking back on those last weeks, Jillian was such a gracious patient, never a complaint. It was an honor for me to have had the opportunity to care for her.

After Jillian died that Saturday morning six weeks ago, her husband Steve and I were crying, arms wrapped around Jillian, and each other. He looked up at me and said, “You did good”.  I replied, “WE did good”. And we did.  We made a great team, Steve and I. I know that I have absolutely no regrets. Not one. I’m so thankful for that.

Now Briana’s family is going through something very similar. And early this morning I found out that yet another young woman, Jennifer, who has a husband and a young son, has been given the news, “there is nothing more we can do”.  Jennifer has been fighting melanoma with such tenacity. She has been an inspiration and a joy to anyone who has had the pleasure of “knowing” her. A very big part of the melanoma community, along with Briana.

This brings me to my main topic. FEAR. I want to acknowledge those who live with fear.

The melanoma community is a very tight knit group. There are several support groups available depending on what your personal situation is. You could be the one battling melanoma, a caregiver, a mom, or finally, perhaps you’ve transitioned into the grieving group. Whatever the circumstance may be, these people stick together and support one another. And they FEEL. They hurt deeply when someone they’ve cheered on, compared notes with, been encouraged by, hears those dreaded words.

And then, the reality hits. This could be me. This just happened to my loved one.  Or, why am I so lucky that this isn’t happening to me? Why are the treatments working for me, and not for those women? This could be my daughter, or my husband, or my wife. Fear.

Living with melanoma, if it has progressed, means scans every three-four weeks depending on the treatment. Fear. You have about one good week during that time where your heart doesn’t skip a beat each day thinking about the looming scan appointment. Some call it Scanxiety.

Fear- as you are sitting in the Dr’s waiting room, waiting for your name to be called to go over the results. Your knees are so weak, you can barely walk without stumbling. Racing heart, sweaty palms, shaky hands, dry mouth.

Fear- as the Dr walks into the room. You try and read his face. Good news, or bad news?  Your heart is beating so loudly, everyone must hear it.

Even living with Melanoma when it hasn’t progressed can mean fear. Because you’re constantly aware that one renegade cancer cell can travel and invade the lungs, liver and brain. And these fears are real. It happens. I read a post from a friend Becca last night where she writes, “Having Melanoma means buying a two year planner and wondering if you'll be around to use the whole thing”.


I’m not sure you can sugar coat that. Oh, we learn to live with it, we find ways to live in spite of it. But if anyone thinks it doesn’t take great strength and courage to try overcome that fear,  and make a normal life once that cancer card has been dealt, is kidding themselves. These warriors are fighting for their lives every single day. If they aren’t waging a physical battle with melanoma, you can bet they are in a constant mental battle with the beast. And they do it with spirit, grace, and courage

So, if you know of anyone dealing with melanoma, or any cancer for that matter, look into their eyes and tell them how proud you are of their fight. Many of these warriors fight in silence. That kind word, that hug might just make their day, and lessen some of their fear.

For the young readers of mine- please do yourself a favor and stay out of tanning beds. Use sunblock, cover up.  Do it for yourself, for your family, boyfriend, girlfriend. Do it for anyone who loves and cares about you. Melanoma is not anything to mess with. It’s deadly. And please believe me, it isn’t pretty.  Don’t get yourself into the situation when you repeat Jillian’s words, “I wish I could turn back time”.

For Briana, and Jennifer, I love you both so much. I’m inspired by you. I will continue to pray for you as you continue on your personal Melanoma Journey.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Connecting the Dots...Part II

My daughter in law, Kaytie, pointed out to me last week, that while I had written the blog post, “Connecting the Dots- Part 1”, she was waiting for part II. To be honest, I have had “writers block”. My thoughts have been scattered, skipping from one thing to the next, never completely focusing on one idea. I have been unable to put them together where they fit. My thoughts have been like shards of glass, jagged and broken. But I’m going to try and appease that girl, so here goes.

Years ago, when my kids were younger, I was a Bible study leader for a group of women. I certainly was no teacher, but I enjoyed the companionship of those women as we shared our lives with each other. Each week before meeting with our groups, we would gather for our weekly lecture by the head of the group. Her name was Ruth. She seemed so put together, so knowledgeable. I have to admit, I felt a little intimidated by her.  I did, however, enjoy  listening to her as she applied our lesson to our daily lives. Each week her insights spoke to me, and I would go on my merry way. Until one day. I remember vividly her telling us that God will do anything to bring us closer to him. It may be the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the death of a child. What, wait! What did you say??? The loss of a child? I wasn’t buying it. For years those words resounded in my head. I have never forgotten them.

Now, years later, here I am. I’ve lost my child. But I don’t believe for one minute that God took Jillian from me in order to bring me closer to Him. I am no longer intimidated by people like Ruth, I’ve learned all on my own who God is to me. We live in a broken world and bad things happen to all of us. But, I do believe that in spite of losing our precious Jillian,  good things will come from it. Nothing will bring her back, but I’m keeping my eyes on the bigger picture.

Jillian’s husband’s family have taken on the campaign against  melanoma as well.  Through their efforts, next week Monday, February 11, through April 7, there will be a billboard shouting out melanoma awareness.  This can be seen on I-75 .2 MI N/O M-81 E/S F/.  Jillian’s life has and will continue to make a difference in the lives of others. There is great comfort in that for me.
Because of Jillian’s story, and the stories of so many other warriors, Melanoma is being exposed more and more each day. THAT is a good thing. I don’t plan on letting Jillian’s light diminish. Not ever.

So Ruth, you may have ticked me off that day, but I do see God opening doors and guiding our way.
Spreading the light…