so now what?

Last week, our family enjoyed a whirlwind family road trip. Within less than 24 hours of radiation treatment wrapping up, we packed up a van and headed to Chicago, followed by Nashville, Memphis, and St. Louis. It pains me to admit the last city, because I know so many of my favorite people are in St. Louis and I laid extremely low. Let me explain a few reasons why we didn’t see any more than one family (who let all six of us overtake their awesome basement!). One, I didn’t know how my body was going to feel after six and a half weeks of radiation, so we didn’t make any definite plans until we got to each city. Our 8-year-old was diagnosed with strep in the middle of the trip, we didn’t know if we would drop like flies. Lastly, it was at the very end of our road trip when my kids were weary of all the things (like, we didn’t even go to one of the amazing, FREE museums the ‘Lou has to offer). I’ll come back soon, St. Louis friends!!! Really, I’m a complete traveling junkie who wants nothing more than to party with you all. (For those of you who don’t know or can’t tell, I’m from St. Louis!!)

This roadtrip felt like a poetic bookend. I couldn’t help but reflect on the call I got on June 8, 2015. My oncologist told me the PET scans revealed the cancer was more advanced than they expected, but that it wasn’t stage 4. It was still curative. This meant there was no time to do a clinical trial. I would leave the next day for a family trip to Naples, Florida. The day after we got back, my port was placed and the journey began. The cancer treatment was hemmed in on both sides by family travel. I love that. 

One surprising thing happened on this last trip. Each day, I felt more and more distant from cancer. This is wonderful. I recall that my sister relayed a message to me from one of her friends months ago, “Tell her that it won’t always be on her mind.” It’s true. It isn’t at the forefront anymore. It’s as if I’ve woken from a strange dream. Or more like I was lost and everyone is surprised and relieved that I’ve been found.

I have to admit, I’ve struggled with moving forward. It’s not that I don’t want to. I am just timid as to how and where to go. Like, if I resume where I left off, I’ll get a slap on the wrist (in the form of cancer). It feels like this disease was supposed to redirect my path. But, now I don’t know which way to go. I’ve observed that some people move forward like nothing happened (by all outward appearances). And, others immerse themselves in the world of breast cancer survival in service to others. Both options are good. I feel nearly frozen as I take baby steps forward. As you might recall, my parents moved in with us three months ago. So, there’s also another element of adjustment. How do we all fit and function together? Even as I consider this blog…do I keep publishing posts? I certainly want to write out all my thoughts and experiences of this past year (there are so many more pieces), but I’m moving on in my life. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m lingering in Cancerland. 

Here’s what I do know going forward:

  • I went through training to be a volunteer for the Look Good Feel Better campaign through the American Cancer Society. It’s a once-a-month commitment of 3 hours. This is a workshop for women who are undergoing any form of cancer treatment to attend. They will receive some great make-up and a tutorial from yours truly. I’m excited to start that in April.
  • In two weeks, I meet with my oncologist and a research nurse to get screened for a clinical trial. This trial is randomized, so I might simply be given the daily medication that I already take. If I am on the trial medication, it will be a form of chemo that doesn’t make my hair fall out. But it will lower my white blood count. So…that’s kind of sucky. But, it could save my life. Who knows? Anyway, I’ll be getting a PET scan if I am put on this trial. In a PET scan, they make you radioactive and you have to drink this special gelatinous sugar beverage. Thanks to radioactive sugars, cancerous tumors light up on the scan so they can see if you have any cancer in your body. It doesn’t work to detect brain cancer though, because your brain goes crazy for sugar. Anyway, I’m probably doing a horrible job of explaining. My nerdy doctor friends can feel free to jump in on comments and clarify any misinformation. What’s the point of me telling you all this? I’m part-nervous and part-relieved to be getting a scan (which will only happen if I qualify for the trial). I’m hopeful that it will prove that I’m currently cancer-free.
  • I love people. I really love you all. I have some rough drafts about how, when the cancer happened, I got busted for having too many friends. All the worlds collided and people were like “It sounds like you’re taken care of” and “I thought I was a close friend, but now I feel like I’m on the outside” and “How am I special? You have so many friends.” Sometimes, I think I want to write about relationships because I freaking love people. But, then I realize there’s already enough awesome folks who are experts writing about relationships (Brene Brown, Jen Hatmaker, etc). So, just know that I’m kind of obsessed with all of you and it’s for real. The idea of heaven is amazing because it’s an eternity with a bunch of people AND GOD. Anyway, my hope is that I have enough time to love on those around me the ways I’ve learned this last year. It seems like an impossible task, because all the words of encouragement, lip balm, earrings, hats, books, children’s art, scarves, meals and PRAYERS have been too much to keep track of (though I try!!!). I want to pour out what has been lavished on me and my family. Also, I have a ridiculous amount of Gladware that is begging to be filled with meals to deliver!  

So, that’s where I’m at with things. I’ll end this post with some pics from our trip. I like pictures. Nothing fancy. Just sharing some joy that we experienced last week. Can you tell I’m highly relational? From the top left and going clockwise: (1) With my wonderful husband of almost 19 years, (2) Taking a leap with my darlings who are perfect and always get along and never touch my face with dirty hands and make my life complete with unfettered delight, (3) With my dear friend Allison in St. Louis who spoiled me rotten!!, (4) With my childhood friend Sandra in Nashville (I never imagined that we’d grow up and our kids would hit it off. So sweet!), (5) With my high school camp friend Jon and his delightful wife in Jackson, TN (we hadn’t seen Jon since our wedding day!!), (6) With my college bestie Kim at Sweet Mandy B’s in Chicago (You must go there right now and get a cupcake. You’ll thank me.)


6 thoughts on “so now what?

  1. Love the pictures. Love you.

    You’re right that it feels like a weird dream. I have moments where I picture you so sick-looking and with no hair (no offense, obviously), and it feels impossible that that was only a few short months ago. Feels like yesterday sometimes, and feels like forever ago most of the time. It’s so strange.

    I’m with you for whatever the next steps are, stepping forward in faith and hope for a future.


  2. “We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. Showing up is our power.

    Story is our way home. Truth is our song. We are the brave and brokenhearted.

    We are rising strong.” Brene Brown

    Keep telling and writing your story, it will take you home. I love you bigger than the world, Aunt Karla

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m glad you are in a moment of unknown! That sounds crazy but in the unknown new things can happen, new beginnings. If you think about it….almost everyday is really an unknown. We just make it feel more regular because we fill it up with routine and schedules. I’m excited about your volunteering to help other cancer patients feel more beautiful. You are so good at making people feel wonderful and that’s before the makeover.
    I’m excited for you. You have a loving husband, great kids, friends, close family, a church family to belong to and now…you have a new path….decisions to make! Whatever you choose it will be right! Because it will be something precious. You’ve learned that life can be a battle and the future can look so different by the power of one word! So now you know that every moment is God given preciousness.
    I’ll pray that you will find joy instead of anxiety. Perfect love. Perfect peace. And hugs from clean handed children that say…”Mom, I’m so glad you’re better, I was so scared…..hold me now….remind me that you’re safe.” Tell me about your dreams…
    Love and memories….bookends…family…great descriptive words. I picture the Lord’s arms being our bookend as he wraps each one around you as he comforts and reassures.
    Jenna…you are loved. You are precious. You are a gift to this family. You are a true friend. You are a daughter of God. You have a sister who thinks about you about 50 times a day. And wants you to know….you will always be loved. Hugs. To new beginnings and family trips.


  4. Jenna, you are such an amazing writer! So authentic! Always honest, hilarious and poignant! Truly a beautiful and gifted writer!! So, I think you need to add the following to your “To-do List”… 1) Write a book on your life experience with cancer (from your blog entries) and 2) Going on the road with Fred Armisen and 3) trying out for a new SNL character!! They need you, Jenna!! Love you and continue to send prayers up daily!!! 💗 Joy


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