Family Pictures

 5/7/2021 

We recently had family pictures taken. It had been almost 2 years since our last pictures. That doesn't seem like a long time, unless you have little people who change A LOT in 2 years! :-) 


We had these done by a photographer friend from our church. Very talented! 





Individual shots of each of the kids. Since we homeschool, these are the equivalent of annual school pictures. My oldest daughter had senior pictures taken during a separate photo shoot, so no individual shot of her here.



Just me and my love.







A few different groupings. This location was just perfect - an indoor conservatory with all this lush green vegetation. Great for photos taken during cold months that give the appearance of warmth!



And a random cat that was wandering about during our photo shoot. :-) NOT our cat! 

Overall a great day with excellent photos! 
We are so thankful for this family God has given us - what a gift!

Senior Pictures

 5/6/2021

My oldest daughter. A senior. Class of 2021. A beautiful young lady ready to fly!


These pictures evoke so many memories! We've homeschooled all the way through, so as much as this is her moment, her graduation, it is also my moment. To graduate my first student. To make it from kindergarten through 12th grade is no small thing. One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is learning alongside the kids. All the hours we've read books together and all the discussions generated by those books. I have grown up as I've been teaching them. It's been a beautiful process of education for them and for me too.




There's a special story behind these senior pictures. They were taken last fall as a complete surprise to me during my cancer journey. The kids were in Wisconsin staying with grandparents for the week right after my surgery. Totally unbeknownst to me, they planned this whole thing and surprised me a few weeks later with these beautiful pictures. What a great surprise and a load off my shoulders! 




Thank you to all the extended family who were a part of making this happen, including my niece Danielle who was the photographer behind the camera! 

Field Trip: Grand Rapids Public Museum

 3/11/2021


I ventured out this week with all 5 children on a day trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. For us, this is about a 2 hour drive from home. 

Most of our time was spent at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. This was a very well done museum, with over two dozen exhibits. They were very family friendly, even in these days of COVID (encouraging hands-on engagement with many exhibits).


 

Some of our favorite exhibits included a huge Lego version of historical Grand Rapids...


An actual-size whale skeleton that was suspended overhead...



Also an airplane suspended from the ceiling...



An enormous clock with an open backside to see the internal operations...



The dioramas were impressive and educational...



A very well done exhibit that took you down an old-fashioned street in Grand Rapids, showing old storefronts and shops. Many of these were open to walk in and get a very realistic feel of what service was provided or what goods were sold at these stores. 



Lots of fun opportunities for photos.




The museum is located right along the river that runs through Grand Rapids, providing beautiful backdrops and a chance to take a brief walk during our visit.

Personally it felt like a new season of life. To all go together for a day trip with decent attitudes about riding 4 hours in the van... not bringing a stroller as everyone was able to walk the whole time. There's a newfound freedom in this season that allows us to be able to get out a bit more. It feels good! 


Overall a fun day spent in Grand Rapids!

A New Story: Cancer, Part 4

 11/25/2020

After surgery, I spent 6 weeks recovering and preparing for the next phase of cancer treatment. For most of this time, I was taken off of all thyroid-regulating medication and all over-the-counter meds and vitamins and supplements. All of that meant that I felt very not-like-myself. 

The thyroid affects many different body functions. Without regulation, my metabolism was off and I gained over 10 pounds. Without regulation, my body temp was off and I felt cold most of the time (which is unusual for me). Without regulation, I had headaches almost daily and I struggled to sleep well at night. Without regulation, I felt moody and irritable and overly stimulated by noise and activity. 

Finally it was time for the second phase of cancer treatment: radioactive iodine treatment (RIT). During this time, I was given two radioactive iodine pills at the hospital. Then I was sent home to quarantine for 7 days, staying away from all people and pets. I ended up staying home while my husband and kids took a stay-away-cation. It was a very odd time, as I was alone for an extended period of time for the first time since having children. I had to be careful in my own home with what I touched because I myself was radioactive. Before my family returned, every surface I had touched had to be cleaned well in order to not spread any radioactivity to them (and thus damage their thyroids). 

I used the time to watch a few movies, to read a lot of disposible magazines, and to just process this whole cancer journey. It was eerily quiet in my home with no children or even our pet parakeet to make any noise, so I often put on a music playlist to have something to listen to. 

At the end of this treatment I returned to the hospital for a full-body cancer scan. And the results were... I am cancer free! Between the surgery and the RIT, all the thyroid cancer that was in my body was removed or killed. Oh happy day! 

I will of course have to follow up regularly with my doctors and probably undergo a cancer scan annually for the rest of my life. But the long-term prognosis after having this type of cancer is very positive, with most people going on to live long, cancer-free lives. 

Three months to the day that I first heard "You have cancer," I now heard the words "You are cancer free." Three crazy months. Three months of cancelled-everything in order to focus on my health. Three months of friends and family delivering meals and cards and flowers and a dozen other ways of showering us with love and concern. Three months of God's faithfulness. Three months of learning to trust in God's sovereign timing. 

I realize that every cancer story is unique and certainly not all have a happy or quick ending. But for now, we rejoice, give thanks, and sing of the faithfulness of God. We are also trying to lean in to actually learn the lessons He had for us during this unique season.

Cancer changes a lot of things. But God is bigger than cancer. I have lived through cancer and can testify that He is bigger and stronger and more powerful than even this big, scary disease called cancer.

A New Story: Cancer, Part 3

 11/10/2020

On September 18th I was in surgery for 8-9 hours, as they removed my thyroid gland and 26 lymph nodes. They made a long incision from my right ear downward and then over to the middle of my neck. I will never again have any feeling in the direct area around the incision. There is a large area extending out from the incision that is numb, with the hope that over time I will regain feeling there - in my ear, scalp, jaw, and shoulder.



Since surgery, God has brought great healing to the incision and it is hardly noticeable now (7 weeks later). I have diligently obeyed the doctor's instructions for care and use a daily scar-care ointment.

Immediately after surgery, my throat was raw from having a tube down my throat for so many hours. I was hardly able to swallow even water for about 48 hours but then it quickly got easier.

After surgery my voice was a whisper. Since then, it has continued to get stronger and is close to sounding regular now (7 weeks later).

Healing from surgery is work in and of itself. I was tired and slept a lot. I am thankful for the flexibility of my husband's employer, allowing him to work from home so that he could help with my care and with childcare while I was unable to do much. I am also thankful for friends and family and our church that have provided dozens and dozens of meals during this time. 

I am also thankful for homeschooling. During a crisis, the flexibility of homeschooling is a huge blessing. Friends can easily take my children for the day or for a morning out. Lessons can be put on hold for days or weeks as mom recovers. We school year-round so that we can take breaks as needed - which is perfect for a scenario like this. 

However, I also don't want to imply that we've done absolutely nothing for school for these weeks. Some of the kids' work is online and they've been able to continue with it to some degree. My oldest daughter (senior in high school) is almost completely independent in her studies, so she was able to continue on without major disruption. 

And I also do want to make clear that there is a lot of learning that takes place outside of formal education, especially in a season of crisis. My younger kids have asked lots of questions about surgery and cancer and the purpose of the thyroid gland, so we have used those opportunities to teach them. They are also getting quite an education in how to care for someone recovering from surgery and how to show gratitude when receiving regular help from others. I don't know how much my younger children will even remember about this time when they reach adulthood. But I do know that it's impacting my 5 year old in his play, as he "pretends" drive-by parade because of mom's cancer and he has added the phrase "an army of people are praying for you" to his vocabulary. 

The thyroid gland and lymph nodes that were removed were sent away to Pathology, to determine how many were cancer-infected. 6 out of 6 lymph nodes in my central neck were affected. 4 out of 20 in my right neck were affected. This meant that follow-up treatment was necessary to ensure that any cancer left in my body (by any tissue the surgeon didn't remove from either the thyroid gland or any lymph nodes or any other hidden area) would be destroyed. More on that second phase of treatment in Part 4.

A New Story: Cancer, Part 2

 11/9/2020

"It's thyroid cancer."

I heard those words from my ENT in early August. He recommended surgery to remove my thyroid and all lymph nodes on one side of my neck. I remember asking for a timeframe. Were we talking months or weeks? He hoped weeks. He hoped we could get it done yet in August.

So that started a flurry of calls to schedule surgery. The initial date was August 28th. At the last minute, that surgery was cancelled due to an emergency at the surgery center (we assumed a COVID case). We were all frustrated at the delay, as many many plans had been made (for childcare, for my husband's work, for meals to be delivered) and were now all affected. But we had no say in the matter. 

It was back to the drawing board to find a new surgery date. The earliest option ended up being 3 weeks later, on September 18th. And this time surgery did happen as planned. I had a complete thyroidectomy and lateral neck dissection... meaning my entire thyroid plus 26 lymph nodes were removed from my central and right-side neck.


During the time leading up to surgery, we had a few friends deliver meals and dozens of people sending cards and messages of support. We filled up a door with all of the cards we'd received! 


Some other friends organized a drive-by parade two days before surgery. Because we were quarantining as a family, we couldn't interact much with these friends, but it was a super sweet moment of support that left nearly all of my family members in tears. They threw bags of candy for the kids, dropped off banners of support, had purple balloons (my favorite color) and many other little goodies to simply show their love for our family as we headed towards surgery.

More on the surgery itself in Part 3. 

But I simply want to emphasize here how a great support network can make all the difference. I truly cannot imagine walking through cancer by myself or without this huge network of prayer warriors and compassionate friends who have stepped up to help us in our time of need. It is truly God's church (His people, filled with His Holy Spirit) doing what they are called to do - to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It has been a marvel to behold. It has been a testimony to others (like neighbors, family members, etc) watching how we walk through this. Of course, it's also been humbling for us, to accept all of the attention and help. It's teaching lessons to us of how to show support and care for others in the future. It's modeling something to our children as they watch us accept help and show gratitude for that support (and pray for those who are helping us, and write thank you notes personally to those who help in practical ways). So many good things are coming out of this aspect of the cancer journey. We praise God for His higher purposes in our suffering!

A New Story: Cancer, Part 1

 11/8/2020


Just days after my 43rd birthday in August, I heard the doctor's words, "You have cancer."

Since then, my life has been turned upside down. 

But for now, I'll share the backstory that led up to hearing those words.

Over 2 years ago, I noticed a lump on the side of my neck. It felt like a lymph node that was enlarged. This wouldn't be odd if I was sick, but it stayed enlarged all the time, even when I was healthy. I mentioned it to my doctor in the fall of 2018. She suggested that we could look into, by ordering an ultrasound. However, at that time, I didn't have very good insurance coverage. I knew that it would cost us a lot out-of-pocket to have tests done, so I declined them. 

Fast forward to June 2020. During a routine physical, I mention the lump again. This time, I have excellent insurance coverage and would like to pursue the ultrasound to find out what this lump is all about. So in July I had an ultrasound of my neck and the results were concerning. My doctor said the next step would be a CT scan of my neck to find out more of what these concerning areas were. So in late July, I had a CT scan. This scan showed multiple areas of calcifications... bad things to hear. 

It was when my primary doctor called to give me those results in late July that the possibility of cancer was first mentioned. The next step was to refer me to a specialist, an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) doctor who would probably want to do a biopsy of the concerning areas in my neck. 

So in early August I had a biopsy done of the most enlarged lymph node in my neck. On my 43rd birthday, my ENT's office would not give me any news except to say that I needed to come in to talk with the ENT directly about the results (this is not a good sign). So a few days later, I was in his office hearing him say, "It is papillary thyroid cancer."

Part 2 coming soon...

2020 What a Year - Funnies

 10/25/2020


I've found a few more funny memes that encapsulate this crazy year of 2020. 









This is a year when each of us could use a good laugh!

Summer Fun

 8/7/2020

Here's a peek into some of what Summer 2020 has held for us. 


We've gone through dozens and dozens of popsicles to beat the heat.





We've made dozens of visits to local parks and playgrounds.



We've gone on hikes and enjoyed beautiful flowers blooming.


We've visited the zoo a time or two and a friend's horses.


We've played in water, pools and sprinklers.


We've had backyard campfires, both to intentionally burn yard debris and also to just relax and enjoy.


We've caught a dozen chipmunks! :-) 


And we've enjoyed a harvest from our garden.



And we've been tuckered out!

In some ways, it's always hard to see summer end. 

In other ways, we're ready for cooler days and a change of pace.

Summer 2020. 

Although it's been different than expected, you've been good to us.