I refuse to be a helicopter mom. Don’t judge me.

I have a confession to make. I don’t check my kids homework. I don’t look at their assignments. I do not log into the various on-line places that the schools want me to check their grades. In a world where supposedly “every” parent is a helicopter parent, dooming their children to be clingy and dysfunctional, I sometimes feel like a bad parent. As much as we hear “don’t be a helicopter parent” from schools, colleges, and various media sources, it really feels like society and schools are pushing parents into the role of helicopter parenting. I am fighting back against it as hard as I can but I admit that sometimes I feel like a loser for nothing constantly logging on to see what my kids’ grades look like. That said, so far, I think my strategy is working out just fine for my kids. But sometimes I wonder if I am a secret loser of parent who is not being as “involved” as I should be.

When Riley was in elementary school, I used to check on her homework. I would go over her math answers and make sure they were correct. I tried to help her when she was struggling with something, but even though I was doing my best and my heart was in the right place, I think my “involvement” caused more harm than good (my poor first-born “test” child). I am now embarrassed when I think back at the time I spent standing over her shoulder correcting her. But, I was trying to help, be involved, be a good parent. That is not to say that I think parents should not help their kids when they are struggling. But, it really is OK if they make mistakes. We do not need to point all of these mistakes out to our kids.

When Riley moved on to Middle School and Peyton went to elementary school, I went back to work.  My  husband works very long hours and I was working a health care setting. I frequently worked swing shifts and was not there when Riley got home from school. I started relying on the on-line grade book to see how she was doing. This only served to increase the loss of control that I felt over what was happening in my kids’ lives. I was barely seeing them as it was, and I could not be there to help or monitor what was going on in their lives. This prompted me to ask questions based upon electronic information. “You have an assignment missing in this class? You went from an A to a D over night! Where is this assignment?” I was at turns exasperated and afraid and angry. Most of these conversations took place over the phone or in the brief, bleary-eyed few minutes that I had with my kids in the mornings. I felt our relationships slipping away. I realized that I thought I had some semblance of control over these people with whom I lived, but in reality, I cannot control what other people are doing. I can only control myself. I decided to back off. When cancer decided to visit my life, it really hit home that these two girls that I am raising will have to function on their own in life. I may not always be here for them. I need to make sure that they are equipped to face the ups and downs of life on their own. They need to believe in themselves.

Unfortunately, I feel that the expectation in today’s world is that parents will be available at all times and will be constantly monitoring their children. When Riley went to high school, she did not have a smart phone. Right off the bat, at back-to-school night, a teacher started talking about how they will use their smart phones in class. WHAT?! I was very upset. The district policy was “no phones” in class, but the teacher said essentially, “The kids use them anyway, so we might as well harness the technology for academic purposes.” While I understand that sentiment and realize that teachers are playing whack-a-mole with the ‘no phone’ policy, I felt that my own parenting was being undermined. Suddenly, I felt that I HAD to get my daughter a smart phone or she would be at a disadvantage in school. Shortly thereafter, we had an emergency where she had to miss a sports practice. Because I, myself, had no smart phone and I was not at home at my computer, I had no way to communicate to the coach. I bought myself a smart phone so that I could be a “good parent” and essentially be available 24/7. I resented feeling like I had to be “on call” at all times and like I had to purchase expensive technology that I did not believe was necessary for a 15-year-old or for myself (how quaint, I know, but that’s just my personal belief).

Riley's birthday

Now, as Riley prepares to graduate and Peyton is in middle school, things are very different. I am determined to be as supportive but as un-helicoptery as possible. I ask them every day, “What did you do at school today?” and “Do you have much homework?” I never check their homework unless they specifically ask me to read something that they have written (which is almost never, because apparently writing professionally affords me no gravitas at home!). Sometimes we talk specifically about what they did in classes, but only if it is something that they want to share. There are no inquisitions from me. They choose what they want to talk about. Sometimes we talk about friends or activities or what is going on in the news, the election cycle, or the universe. I want to hear about whatever interests them. I want to talk to my children about their lives. I want to learn more about who they are and what they care about. I am more interested in who they are as people than what their current grades are looking like. A funny thing happened as I backed off from the role of monitor and enforcer: our relationships improved and their own personalities started to develop and really show themselves. I started learning more about who my daughters are as people and about what they actually think about and believe in. They put enough pressure on themselves to succeed academically. They do not need me adding to the pressure that they face. They need me to help put those pressures into perspective.

But, here is my problem: I feel constant pressure from the academic world to not be the kind of parent I want to be. Every week, I get multiple email reminders to check this app and that app and the on-line grade book and the team and class web pages, etc. I do not blame the teachers one bit. They have pressure from everywhere to COMMUNICATE with parents. Parents demand to know what is going on every single day. But, does that make me a bad parent if I do not feel like i have to be constantly informed as to what is happening in the classroom? I trust the teachers to do their jobs. I trust my kids to do theirs. If my kids do not do their jobs, the natural consequence is that they will get poor grades. If a teacher is not doing his or her job, my kid will also suffer consequences, but no website or app is going to tell me anything important about what the teacher is doing. If my kid comes home and tells me, “We are talking about X in class and it is really interesting!”, then that is what I feel like I really need to know.

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My kids are fortunate enough to be in a school district that consistently performs well by all metrics that I have available to me. I know that they will be prepared for college. I am well aware that we are “privileged” in this regard. As important as I believe parent-involvement is, I just do not think it is something that can forced. I consider myself to be a very involved parent in the ways that truly matter. Signing papers and looking at apps will not make me more involved in any meaningful way.

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I want to make sure that my kids are hungry to learn and excited about education by the time they get to college, because ultimately that is what matters most. I want my kids to learn to monitor their own work loads on their own. I want them to be responsible for themselves. It is a process, of course, and I will provide support for them when and if they need it. But, I am not interested in looking over their shoulders every day to see what grade their received for behavior or on any one particular homework assignment. I laugh when I have to sign off on a homework calendar for my 18-year-old. (Really? How the hell do I know whether she did these assignments or not? “Hey Riley, did you do these assignments?” “Yes”. “Ok, I guess I can sign it then”). I expect that they will do their jobs and do them as well as they are able.

So, by bucking the system, I hope I am teaching my kids not that I do not care or am not involved. Rather, I hope they see that I am involved in the stuff that matters. My job is to be the support system and help shape and guide them as they grow up. I am actually more interested in guiding their ethical and moral behavior than I am in driving them to get good grades. Their desire to get good grades needs to be internally-motivated, because I sure as hell am not going to college with them.

So, to my teacher friends. I love you and respect you and would never want to do your job, because I know it is really, really difficult. I also trust that you are doing your job. This does not mean that we should not touch base on occasion, because I actually really like you and enjoy chatting with you. But please forgive me for not looking at the apps you set up. I ask my kids how they are doing and when they answer, I assume they are telling me the truth. If my kid is a problem, I want to know about it and I assure you that it will be dealt with, as I am in no way a pushover. But, my expectation as a parent is that they will do the right things in life. If they don’t, then they have to live with the consequences and learn those lessons. Trust me to be an involved parent but not one who is constantly looking over my daughters’ shoulders. They need to learn to be independent. I want them to go out into the world and feel strong and confident and competent. I want them to know that they have a mom who is interested in hearing what they want to share but it not interested in micromanaging their lives. I want them to learn the lessons that they will fail and fall down and make mistakes and that they will be able to brush themselves off and continue on with their lives…and that i will love them no less.

 

 

Two Year Cancerversary

November 18, 2013. That was the day I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. I could have surgery. Most people with my diagnosis cannot. Half of my pancreas and my whole spleen were removed and then shortly thereafter I went through 18 rounds of chemo. It was a long road that I have previously chronicled here, but I made it through. Most pancreatic cancer patients do not survive the first year. In fact, 80% do not make it to the one year mark.

When I planned my surgery, I did it strategically. In our house, November is a busy month. Our oldest daughter, my husband and my father all have November birthdays. I remember scheduling my surgery between my daughter’s 16th birthday and my husband and dad’s birthdays. I knew my illness cast a dark cloud over all of our celebrations that year, but I wanted to try to give enough time so that we could celebrate everyone else’s special day.

Last year, as the birthdays and my cancerversary approached, I admit that I thought a lot about my own anniversary. I was excited for the birthdays and so grateful that I got to be there for them, but I thought a great deal about my own anniversary and what it meant to me. I thought about everything that it signified and all of the stuff that we had experienced over that past year.

This year, as my cancerversary has approached, I have been aware of it, but in a significant mental and emotional shift, it has become less important to me. I have been more focused on other stuff in my life: Riley’s 18th birthday, my husband’s 50th birthday, my daddy’s birthday, my work and the race series that I am currently wrapped up in co-directing.

Still, it is an important anniversary and one that bears marking, because so much in our worlds changed two years ago. At this point in time in 2013, our worlds were rocked by my diagnosis. We did not know how much time I would have with my family. I think about the things that I have gotten to take part in over the last two years that I might not have had I not been so fortunate throughout my diagnosis and treatment. There have been birthdays. The girls were 10 and 16 when I was diagnosed. Now they are 12 and 18. Riley is legally an adult. Riley got her driver’s license. The college decision has been made (Go CSU Rams!) There have been homecomings and a prom. For Peyton, there have been karate belts earned, selection for a club volleyball team and a number of other successes in athletic and academic areas. She moved from elementary to middle school as I finished chemotherapy.

With Riley & Peyton on Riley's 18th birthday

With Riley & Peyton on Riley’s 18th birthday

Steve and I celebrated another year of wedded bliss. My family and I took an amazing vacation together, where I also happened to run a 100 mile race.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me at the Bryce 100

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

I ran a full marathon and a half-marathon with Project Purple charity teams.

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino in Lincoln, NE

With Jenny

With Jenny in her home state of NE

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

I ran a 50 mile race this fall at the Bear Chase Trail Race.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

I ran a mountain race with my husband and friends.

Breck Crest with my honey

Breck Crest with my honey

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

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I race directed a charity 5k for Project Purple and continued working with our local club, the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the Project Purple 5k!

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

We gained a new family member when we adopted Willy in January.

Our newest family member, Willy

Our newest family member, Willy

And last week, we said good-bye to the Grand Dame, Greta, who passed away..

She was a natural beauty

Greta, the Bullmastiff

I got to spend time with our wonderful extended family back east over the summer, which is something I never, ever take for granted.

Through all of this, I have met so many amazing and wonderful people that I simply cannot name them all. I do hope they all know the positive impact they have had on my life.

I often think in long-term thoughts now, which is something I did not always feel that I could or should do. I wonder what college will be like for Riley and what high school will be like for Peyton. I wonder what new adventures are on the horizon for Steve and me as our kids grow and prepare to move on to live their own lives independent of us..

Not everything is easy or joyous, of course. You never get through cancer without any long-term repercussions. I saw an endocrinologist recently and  we agreed that it was time to try a medication to help stabilize my blood sugar levels, which have been all over the place. I have not felt like my normally energetic self for a while now and I am hoping that this will help return me to where I used to be. I am still trying to make peace with this recent turn of events. I would never have been in this position if I had not had half of my pancreas taken out. While I know that I am so very lucky to be here, I am also frustrated by how I have been feeling. If pancreatic cancer had not chosen me, I would not be facing the health issues that I am facing now.

All of the above being said, I know that pancreatic cancer gave me many gifts, too. One of those gifts is the gift of friendship from so many people I would not have otherwise met. I will relay one story now because it demonstrates to me the serendipity of life. In September, I was running the Bear Chase 50 mile race. I was wearing my Project Purple shirt which says “Survivor/Running with half a pancreas” on the back. I passed a woman who was running the 50k (different courses that converge over time) and she asked me, “Why are you running with half a pancreas?” I told her my story and she told me that she was a type 1 diabetic. We chatted a bit, but eventually parted ways. I had hoped that I would see her again after the race was over, but I did not.

Three weeks later, I was working the Project Purple booth at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo. Guess who stopped by?

With my new friend, Jen.

With my new friend, Jen.

Jen and I were meant to meet. I believe that fully in my heart. As it turns out, she had a friend who was battling pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her friend passed away shortly after we met in Denver; another tragic loss to this dreadful disease.

When I met with the endocrinologist a couple of weeks later, he told me to make friends with Type 1 diabetic athletes. I believe we met because we both needed each other at this point in our lives. She needed to see someone living beyond PC and I needed to meet someone who could show me that distance running and diabetes can co-exist. It all seems overwhelming right now but I know that I will figure it all out in time.

So much has happened in the past two years. I am so grateful that I am still here. I have been given the gift of more time with my family, and I have been given the gift of new and meaningful friendships. This year I look forward to seeing my eldest graduate from high school and go off to college, and to seeing my youngest enter her teenage years. Even though it has not always been easy, I am excited to see what year three brings!

You can read last year’s cancerversary remembrance here:

https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/remembering-on-my-cancerversary/

My New World

In the weeks since my last post, I signed up for three races. I will be running the Breck Crest full with my husband at the end of August. Next up will be the Bear Chase Trail race 50 at the end of September. Finally, in October, I will run the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon with my Project Purple team. These races could not be any more different, but I am looking forward to a late summer/fall of running in beautiful places with my husband, my friends and teammates.

In the meantime, we have been keeping busy with travel, work and important milestones.

Riley got her driver’s license yesterday.

Outside of the DMV

Outside of the DMV

If we had been on target, she would have had it a while ago, but when one person in the family gets cancer, the whole family suffers consequences. When I was sick, I was not well enough to practice driving with Riley most days. So, while her friends, one by one, posted happy pictures outside of the DMV as they got their licenses, my daughter had to wait patiently for her turn. Sometimes she was distressed by the fact that it was taking so long, but she never made me feel guilty about my own limitations. It took us a long time to get her mandatory driving hours completed. But we finally did and the big day was Tuesday of this week. We waited for close to four hours at the DMV but I would have waited in that office for a week just to be there with her for that special rite of passage. It was one of those moments that happens once in a lifetime and I got to be there to witness it.

I know this is an exciting moment in most families, but for me, it was a joy that I can never fully convey. As I lay in the hospital after my surgery for pancreatic cancer, I wondered whether I would get to witness all of these milestones. I said to myself repeatedly, “I just have to make it to graduation.” Every dance, every ceremony, every college visit, every “first” or “final” day is something that I celebrate with an enthusiasm that I probably would not have had before. For every significant moment in my kids’ lives, I think to myself, “I didn’t know if I was going to get to be here, but here I am!”

After we went through the paperwork at the DMV, I teared up. Standing in a sea of people in the dirty and crowded room, I cried and hugged my daughter. I didn’t care who saw or what they thought. The truth is that I cry a lot these days. These tears are not from sadness, but are from a place of profound gratitude. Really feeling every single emotion has been one of the gifts of the last 20 months. I have always been an intense person. Whereas I used to try to downplay intensity, now I celebrate it. It is such a gift to fully experience love and joy and excitement and even sadness in this new post-cancer phase of my life. I never thought that my emotional world was muted before, but now it feels like it most certainly was in ways that I did not recognize. My emotions are often right at the surface. Simple things bring such profound joy. I see everything through a new, different and clearer lens. I went to sleep in a world filled with blacks, whites and grays. I woke up to a world that was an explosion of vivid and vibrant color.

Could this have happened without having experienced something so life-altering? I do not know, but I do think it is a fairly common phenomenon for some of us who have been affected by a life-threatening illness. Just last night, I spoke to a friend of mine who has been battling lung, adrenal and brain cancer. He shared with me that he experiences the same raw emotions all of the time. Neither of us feels ashamed of our new heightened emotional state. The biggest similarity I see between the two of us is the profound sense of gratitude that we have for every minute we get on the planet.  Every time I look at my kids, my husband, my dogs, or the beauty of nature in my home state of Colorado, I feel like my heart may just burst with joy and love. For all of the difficult moments from the last 20 months, I do not think I would change a thing. I get to be here on this beautiful planet for another day. How wonderful is that?

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Leaps of Faith

We make decisions every day. Some are major decisions that can affect our lives forever, while others are rather insignificant. When we make the potentially life-altering decision, we can never really predict with certainty if we are making the correct decision or not. At some point, we have to let go of the intellectual side of our brains and take a chance. We must make a leap of faith.

How we get to that leap of faith is different for everyone. Some people turn to God and trust that He is guiding them. Some people rely on their gut instincts. Some people defer to fate or some other outside force. We intellectualize and weigh options for as long as we can. Contemplating options is good, but over-thinking can leave us paralyzed and unable to act.

Sometimes these seemingly smaller leaps cause a significant amount of angst. So it was this past week, when I started contemplating when it would be safe to allow Willy to be off-leash. He has caused us significant consternation in the 12 weeks we have had him. The transition has not been easy. He was a stray, after all, and was not used to being with a family. He seemed to like us well enough, but the couple of times he got away from us, he sprinted off. Those moments of him fleeing at a gazelle-like pace felt like an eternity, and I was incredibly lucky that I was able to get him to come back to me. I wondered if he would ever settle in and want to be with us, or if there would always be a part of him that wanted to be a stray.

We had been making so much progress that I was beginning to think he would be off-leash at some point in the near future.  But I was still incredibly terrified of losing Willy. When I adopted him, I was making a promise to protect and care for him to the best of my ability for the rest of his life. As we ran and hiked along a trail on Tuesday, I thought about how much nicer it would be for him to be able to go at his own pace. He could roll in the snow and smell the marvelous odors of the forest. But, I wondered, was this truly the right time? Had we had enough time to really develop enough of a bond or would I possibly never see him again?

After contemplating all of the things that could go wrong over the course of several miles, I dropped his leash. He stayed with me. He flopped and rolled in the snow. I kept walking. I looked back and he watched me quizzically before following me down the trails.

First day off leash!

First day off leash!

Eventually, I took his leash off altogether. He still stayed with me. It was truly an amazing sight to behold. This wild-eyed feral creature WANTED to be with me now. Every single day since then, he has gotten some off-leash time. I am over joyed with how well Willy is doing. Our bond has deepened over this past week, as we have been able to learn to trust one another and fully enjoy our time outside together.

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Every major decision in life eventually involves taking a leap. At some point, we must throw some caution to the wind and hope that our decision leads us on the best path. With any major decision, we cannot know with 100% certainty how things will work out. I thought about all of the times in my life which involved letting go of a sense of control and hoping for the best: Deciding on a college. Selecting a major. Every job I have taken. Getting married. Moving across the country from my family, twice. Getting divorced. Getting remarried.Sometimes I have made great decisions and sometimes I have not, but I would not be the person I am today if I had not made each and every one of those choices along the way.

Raising children requires constant leaps of faith.From the time they are learning to walk, through the time they are learning to drive, to every time they walk out the door, we have to hope that they will be ok as we learn to let go, to trust, to drop that proverbial parenting leash.

Falling in love may be one of the ultimate examples of taking a leap of faith. Loving someone demands that we place our hearts in another human being’s hands with the hope that they do not abuse or destroy the gift of our emotions. It is human nature to want to protect ourselves from pain, but to truly love someone, we have to learn to let go of our defense mechanisms and completely and implicitly trust another human being.

With the guy who I choose to trust every single day of my life.

With the guy who I choose to trust every single day of my life.

Even going on with  my life after having had pancreatic cancer has required a huge leap of faith. I live with the uncertainty of knowing that my cancer could return with a vengeance at any moment. Yet, I would never move on and attempt new things if I did not actively work to convince myself that I will be fine. I have seen the statistics. I know fully well what could happen, but I have to live my life with assumption that I will be healthy for many years to come.

What is life without risk, without trust, without taking those leaps of faith? Each time I have taken a leap, there has been so much that could potentially be lost. The thing I always try to remember is that there is so much more that could potentially be gained. I appreciate how the newest member of our family has taught me patience all over again, and has reminded me to have faith, even when I feel overwhelmed by my circumstances. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on how many instances in my life have required letting go and trusting that things will work out.

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“Beating” Cancer

As I went through my cancer treatments, people often said, “You kicked cancer’s ass!” or “You beat cancer!” I always felt a little uncomfortable with these phrases. Frankly, I never felt like I kicked anything’s ass. In fact, during my treatments, I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I had no other choice but to keep moving forward, no matter what nasty side effects cancer and my treatments kept throwing at me. Like many people confronting a deadly illness, I would have done anything in the world to get one more day, one more hour, one more minute with my family.

Right now, and hopefully forever, I show no evidence of disease. If it comes back and I am not so lucky the next time around, does that mean that cancer beat me? As I have watched many wonderful, amazing, kind, loving, vibrant human beings die as a result of having had cancer, I never once thought, “Boy, cancer sure beat that person” or “Cancer kicked that person’s ass!” I have only thought how unfair it is that we continue to lose so many wonderful people who fought so fiercely and valiantly for so long.

I know the people who say these things are doing so out of love and kindness. I have appreciated every single person who has been supportive as I have navigated this journey. I just find the language we use in regards to cancer to be interesting. We don’t hear people talking about “kicking ass” in regards to other illnesses. Yet we often talk about cancer in fighting terms. “Warrior”, “fighter” and “battle” are all terms that we use in regards to cancer, and for good reason. The treatments that we undergo to save our lives continue to be nothing short of barbaric. We undergo extreme surgeries and pump toxins into our bodies in order to save our own lives. It is a battle. We are fighting to for our lives.

Where it makes me squirm a bit is when we start talking in terms of winning and losing. The implication when someone says, “You kicked cancer’s ass” is that somehow I was tougher, stronger, or a better fighter than a person who died as a result of their illness. This is simply not true. I would like to think I am a tough person, but I really attribute the fact that I am still here largely to luck. I got lucky. At least this time around. If my cancer comes back and ultimately kills me, I am still the same person. I am still the same fighter. I am still the same “strong” person with human frailties and vulnerabilities who just wanted to live with ever fiber or her being.

I woke up yesterday to the news that Stuart Scott, of ESPN, had passed away. Stuart Scott had fought cancer since 2007. He gave one of the best speeches about living with cancer that I have ever heard. You can listen to it here.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11225895&ex_cid=sportscenterTW

As Stuart Scott says in his speech, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” I could not agree more. So while I am so saddened that the world has lost Mr. Scott, I never for one minute think cancer beat him. He was an inspiration to so many survivors. He was strong, while not being afraid to express his own human vulnerabilities. He acknowledged that he relied on the support of many people while going through his treatments. I appreciate his honesty about how much we need other people while facing a significant illness, because it is true. He demonstrated that you can be a tough fighter while still needed help from others. He expressed how desperately he wanted to see his children grow up. I can relate to all of the feelings he articulates because I have experienced them myself. Stuart Scott demonstrated how to live a full life in the face of adversity. Cancer did not win. Cancer did not beat Stuart Scott, just as it does not beat any of us who have fought to save our own lives. We will all truly “beat cancer” when we find a cure for the many diseases that fall under the “cancer” umbrella.When we find real cures, then I will rejoice and say, “We really did beat cancer!”

 

 

 

Confessions of Christmas 2014

I have enjoyed Christmas week. I am grateful that I got to celebrate the holiday with my immediate family, though this week has not been without pain. I barely remember anything from Christmas last year. It is amazing how trauma can rob you of your memories. My husband does not remember much from last Christmas, either, and he was not the one who had surgery. That time was a blur for all of us, so celebrating Christmas this year was all the more important to me.

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I was married before. While I consider the end of my first marriage to be one of my biggest personal failures, I am glad that Riley’s dad and I continue to have a very amicable relationship. Riley spends every other Christmas with her father, and on the years that she is technically with me, I still encourage her to spend a good chunk of the vacation with her dad. I think dads are hugely underrated in our society. I think their presence and guidance is critical to the emotional growth and development of healthy boys and girls. It is very important that Riley spend time with her father and his family, and I do not ever want to stand in the way of those relationships.

Last year, it just worked out that Riley was with us on Christmas Day. I was thrilled, of course, because I really was unsure as to how many Christmases I might have left. But since I really do not remember much from last Christmas, it was harder to let her go this year. I cried after her dad picked her up. It really is OK. She is having fun and enjoying time with her relatives. I just cannot help look at Riley and wonder how many holidays she will be spending at my home, with our family. She has one-and-a-half years of high school left and then she will be off to college. How long will it be before she forms her own family and then they start their own holiday traditions?

Between my cancer experience and watching my daughter grow so close to adulthood, I want to slow down time to make every experience last longer. It seems that I keep wondering…how much longer? How much longer do I have on the planet? How much longer do my husband and I have together? How much longer will my kids be coming home for the holidays? How much longer will I have Riley around to enjoy our deep and meaningful daily conversations? She has grown into so much more than “just” my daughter. How much longer will Peyton still be my little girl who loves dolls and Lego’s? How much longer will Peyton still want to hold my hand and have me tuck her in at night? I know none of these things are permanent. I have to savor these moments when they occur.

So, we spent the week making memories that I hope can sustain me when the time has passed.

On Sunday I ran 16 miles in Cheyenne Canyon with my husband. This is my favorite place to run in Colorado Springs. The temperature in the city got up to about 50 degrees. It grew colder as we climbed past the 9000′ elevation mark, but was still pleasant. The few inches of snow on the trail made the climbing slow but the run down playful and fun. This is my favorite kind of adventure.

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On Monday, I did a six-mile loop with Riley on the Section 16 trail in Colorado Springs. I wanted to do something special with just the two of us. More snow had fallen over night, which made the trail absolutely beautiful. I am so incredibly happy that my 17-year-old daughter really enjoys being out in the woods. To get to share the trails I love with Riley is such an amazing gift. We hiked up the steep side of the trail and then ran down the long downhill, while marveling at the beauty of the fresh snow on the trails and in the trees. This will be one of my favorite memories from our Christmas break.

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The girls and I made approximately 10,000 gingerbread cookies on Monday. We celebrated Christmas with Riley on Tuesday. Riley had asked me a while back what I wanted for Christmas and I jokingly said, “A new pancreas.” So, she embroidered one for me. Yes, she is an amazing young woman.

My New Pancreas

My New Pancreas

On Wednesday, after my teary good-bye to Riley, Peyton and I did our last-minute preparations. We played a bunch of board games and then we took Greta to Petco to get her a Christmas present. Greta had a blast and Peyton and I enjoyed seeing her so happy.

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On Christmas Day, Stephen, Peyton and I opened up our gifts. We ate our Christmas meal and spent hours playing games together. It was a simple and yet wonderful day.

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On Friday, I took Peyton to “City Rock” so she could try out rock climbing. It was right up her alley.

Peyton rock climbing.

Peyton rock climbing.

Yesterday, Steve and I ran 18 miles. It was still cold, but the sun was shining and I felt good until the final mile. Maybe I am making progress!

Smiling because our run is complete!

Smiling because our run is complete!

While I have been a little sad that Riley is not with us this year, I am thankful that we have been able to create some memories with the time that we have had. I have gotten to spend individual time with each member of the family this week. While I had hoped for a little more quantity, I got what I hope is plenty of quality. Last year’s celebration felt hampered by fear and uncertainty. This year feels happier and more promising for all of us. Last year, I wondered if I would be here for this Christmas. Now, I am wondering about what future Christmases will hold for our family. While some things make me a little sad, getting to see my daughters grow up and move forward with their lives is a gift and a blessing. I remember my good fortune every single day.

The Week of Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was this past Thursday. One of the gifts that my cancer diagnosis gave to me was the ability to truly be thankful for small things. In years past, I intellectually knew that Thanksgiving is a day set aside to express thanks and gratitude for the things we have and the people in our lives. This year was truly a different experience for me, though. I have never been so truly, deeply and completely happy to celebrate the small, seemingly mundane moments of life.

In 2013, I had just gotten out of the hospital six days prior to Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving day, I could not stand up straight. I was hunched over because my incision pulled my abdominal cavity together tightly. It was impossible to hold my body in a fully upright position.

My husband and kids had signed up for the local YMCA Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving day. I insisted on going to watch the race. It was physically difficult to stand up for an hour, but I did not want to miss seeing my kids and husband cross the finish line. As for the rest of the day, I barely remember anything from it. I know we enjoyed a family meal, but I honestly cannot remember any of the details.

This week has been an entirely different experience for all of us. Instead of watching my family run the Turkey Trot 5k, I happily signed us all up to run. I had friends tease me about how shocked they were that I would sign up for a 5k because it wasn’t a long enough race for me. Truthfully, I have never looked down on 5ks. On the contrary, I think they are a uniquely painful race. But it is true that I used to never run 5ks. This year, there is nothing I wanted to do more than go run with my daughters. I was ecstatic to get the opportunity to enjoy the experience with my kids, friends and neighbors, not worrying about time or pace, but soaking in the moment. I was grateful for the opportunity to be there with my daughters, and I was grateful that they were willing to spend the time with me.

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Thanksgiving afternoon, we had a lovely dinner with friends who have been through this long journey with us. We ate, talked, and laughed. I am truly grateful for the friends who have seen me at my absolute worst and who still choose to be my friend. I am grateful for the people who have supported our family along the way. I am so appreciative of the mothers who have helped me out with my kids during this past year. I am grateful to be able to share a meal with people I love.

I am grateful to be well enough to host a slumber party this year. I am thankful for the house filling with the laughter of girls who enjoy each other’s company. After a year of never knowing when I would be well enough to host other kids, there is no sweeter sound than the laughter of my daughters and their friends. I am grateful for the wonderful friends that my daughters have in their lives.

I am also so thankful for the opportunity I have been given to help other patients who have been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. This week, I have had phone conversations and email exchanges with people who have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I know how lonely and isolated I felt at times after my diagnosis. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to say to others facing this illness, “You are not alone.”

This year, I truly learned that I am most thankful for the people our lives. All I wanted this year was to feel well, to spend time with my family and friends and to experience laughter and joy. I received all of those gifts and so many more. I am glad that I have been given the opportunity to feel such deep gratitude for what is truly important in life.