It’s the eve of the eve of the most important surgery I’ve ever had.  It’s a surgery that will bring my risk of breast cancer from approximately 84% down to approximately 8%.

It started about a month ago.  Upon performing my monthly breast self-exam, I noticed a spot that had not been there before.  Checking my calendar, I saw that my next appointment with my breast specialist was in April.  I wavered back and forth about calling and going in earlier… what a nervous nellie I was becoming!  But finally I decided to go ahead and make an appointment.

To be completely thorough, my doctor and the radiologist said they were going to do a complete exam of both breasts, mammogram and sonogram.  Call it irony, call it providence (I choose providence), the spot I was worried about was nothing… but they found something else.  Something that had accumulated since my last mammogram 4 months ago.

The next step was a biopsy.  Let no one tell you biopsies are no big deal.  Yeah, they “deaden” it, but it still hurts, including the deadening shot.  I managed to keep from bawling until they were done, but then it was over-the-waterfall.

Here’s the good news (perhaps I should have led with this): I do NOT have cancer.  The cells they took in the biopsy were classified as “atypia.”  In the chart the doctor drew out for me, atypia is one precarious step away from cancer, but NOT yet cancer.

As I’ve said in other venues, I’ve been waiting for the “cancer shoe” to drop for over 20 years.  My family history of breast cancer is ridiculous – my sister died at age 36.  My mother, grandmother, and aunt all had breast cancer as well.  I’ve always known this day was probably coming.  Because of that, I have been obsessively vigilant about monitoring my breasts.  I started getting yearly mammograms at age 28.  About 15 years ago, I started seeing a breast specialist – it’s all he does.  About 6 or 7 years ago, becoming more and more nervous about my breast health, I started going every 6 months, with a full mammogram and sonogram each time.  I perform self-checks every month.

So I’ve always known that if and when breast cancer once again raises its ugly head in my family (me), I would be right on top of it.

….And here we are.  One step away from the cancer.  It took me and my husband approximately 15 seconds to decide the best plan of action.  It’s a no-brainer.  Everything has to go.  I will be getting a complete bilateral mastectomy, with reconstruction happening during the same surgery.

I am completely at peace with this decision.  It means I will not ever have to worry about chemo or radiation.  It means I will be here to continue raising my girls.  It means I will live to see my grandchildren.  It means I will grow old with my husband. It means my parents and brothers won’t have to bury another daughter or sister.  It’s GOOD NEWS.  We’ve caught it before it can begin.

Okay, now I have to confess… I’m terrified.  This is big, major surgery, with a difficult recovery period.  I won’t go into some stuff I have to do before the surgery, but I promise it would make you cringe, especially the women.

So, during church this morning, I couldn’t keep from worrying and stressing and obsessing and feeling REALLY sorry for myself.

Then, during the announcements at the end of the service, they told of a 4-year-old boy – the son of a friend of a church member’s – who had been diagnosed with leukemia.  And they told of a member who is having difficulties with walking who could not be there today.  Then, when service was over, I stood up and noticed a young woman who was recently widowed by a long-fought cancer – she still looks shell-shocked.

It’s all about perspective, people.  I would take my lot over theirs any day.  Yeah, it’s gonna be hard.  Boohoo.  I’m going to LIVE.

I can’t promise I won’t still have times of being afraid and feeling sorry for myself.  But overall, I’m so incredibly thankful.  I will come out of this strong and healthy and present.

Thanks to all of you who have been so kind and encouraging, and for your prayers.  Please keep them coming.

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More Things I’m Thankful For

I did a list like this several years ago, and decided it was time to do a new one.  I’m still thankful for the stuff on the old list. But here are some more things.

  1. My house.  It is exactly what David and I were both looking for.  I mean EXACTLY. Everything he wanted, everything I wanted.  Everything.  Took us 3 years to find it.  It makes me happy.
  2. Hot water.  There is nothing like a hot shower.  Nothing.
  3. Family.  This was on my last list, but it bears repeating.  I have the most amazing family, from my kids and husband to my parents and siblings, to my wonderful in-laws, and extended family.  As a subset, I want to mention the Daws. I recently told a friend, I don’t know where the Mercers end and the Daws begin. They are, seamlessly, my family.
  4. This nice little heater that is currently keeping me warm while I’m writing this.
  5. Enough money to pay our bills.
  6. Books.  Again, this was on my last list, and again, it bears repeating.  It’s that important.
  7. That my baby girl Mary is getting better.  She still has a long way to go, but she can do more now than she could a year ago.  I’m thankful that we finally figured out what was wrong with her (thanks to the diligence of one Dr. Janke), and that it isn’t cancer or anything similarly scary. And for the validation that it is NOT psychological! (Take THAT, everyone who said, cautiously, as to a mad woman, “Have you tried… counseling?”)
  8. Friends I’ve been able to stay in touch with through the magic of Facebook.
  9. The turkey I got in the oven this morning with a minimum of fuss, and the husband who helped me get it in there.
  10. The way my family pitched in to get the house cleaned up for the 13 people we will be feeding later today!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Love you all!



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Go Set a Watchman


Another quick warning: This post is very stream-of-consciousness.  Don’t look for a thesis, three points, and a conclusion.

Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lee’s… well, is it a sequel or a prequel? The setting is after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was written first. It’s important to remember that this was Harper Lee’s first attempt at a novel, and she was advised to write a different one, about the childhood of Scout, instead.  This was wise counsel, as TKAM is a much better book.  GSAW is pretty clearly a first attempt.  Better than anything I could write, for sure, but not as good as TKAM.

First, some random thoughts:

  • Was Hank mentioned in TKAM?  I don’t remember him, yet GSAW paints him as a significant part of Jem’s life.
  • Jean Louise refers to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, but we are never told what her profession is.  She has lived in New York for years, but we don’t know what she does.  Writer, maybe? Are we not told for a reason?
  • Aunt Alexandra is staunchly Proper, with a capital “P,” but she is not a completely unsympathetic character.  She has an innocence that comes from never having really faced any real controversy. I think she truly loves/loved Atticus, Jack, Jem, and Scout.
  • The scenes with Jack are full of obscure references that I had trouble following.  Maybe that was the point.  But I was fed up with the conversations with him long before Scout eventually was.
  • Boo Radley was not mentioned.  I’m curious about this because he was mentioned in the preview notes of the book.  Was this a deleted scene or something?

I believe the point of the story was to push Atticus off of the pedestal Scout had him on.  And her Uncle Jack, too.  And perhaps Calpurnia.  I will freely admit that the picture painted of Atticus in this book had me crying – no, sobbing – with the same disappointment and sense of betrayal that Jean Louise felt.  (I’m really curious as to what Gregory Peck would have thought of this book.)

The TKAM fan in me was totally geeking out at the flashback scenes, with Jem and Dill and Calpurnia.  They served as a bridge between Scout’s childhood and adulthood.  There were some differences in the stories – for instance, she describes Tom Robinson’s trial differently, that Atticus actually obtained an acquittal for him, and that he was missing an arm, rather than it just being ruined.

Was Atticus really a racist?  I think toward the end of the book it is shown that he more considers himself a realist.  But I had the same problems with the whole scenario that Scout had, and I felt personally betrayed by Atticus.  She more or less forgives him at the end… I’m not sure I do.  Uncle Jack strikes her, twice, and I have a problem with that, too.  I think in the end, Atticus is neither as saintly as he is painted in TKAM, nor as horrible as Scout sees him in GSAW.

How much of this is Harper Lee’s autobiography?  I know that the character of Dill was based on Harper Lee’s friend Truman Capote.  Was this a more realistic portrait of Atticus, seen through her adult eyes?

The ruin of the relationship between Scout and Calpurnia is also a source of grief, for Scout and for me.  In their scenes, I was reminded a little bit of the book The Help.  Calpurnia raised Scout, as surely as Constantine raised Skeeter.  But in the end, Calpurnia was black and Scout was white, and there was no reconciling that, at least in Calpurnia’s mind.

Jem’s death also hit me hard, right off the bat.

These characters are so real to me that I’ve kind of been wandering the house, trying to figure them out.  I think I must remember that TKAM was written from a child’s point of view, and GSAW from a young adult’s. Perhaps neither is completely realistic.

I think I will keep TKAM as my favorite book of all time.  GSAW brings up some interesting controversies to consider, but I’d rather keep Atticus on the pedestal. He raised Scout to be color blind. That’s the way it should be.

I’m interested in other folks’ opinions, so feel free to comment, but let’s keep it civil, please.

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Tomorrow’s the day.

Tomorrow my older daughter graduates from high school.

All schoolwork is done and turned in. All tests taken. All hurdles jumped.

We’ve worked so hard for this day.  I can say “we” because it was my work, too.  It’s a good thing.  I’m glad for it, and glad the work is completed.

My younger daughter finished her freshman year today, and she is gleefully throwing papers in the recycling bin.  “Mary, come see!” she says.  Now they are both in Leah’s bedroom, talking and giggling. The sound is so beautiful it hurts – it spears into my heart and radiates all the way down to my feet.

Love hurts, but not like the Nazareth song describes.  It’s just so strong! Waves and waves of it, beautiful and strong and overwhelming.

When my Mary was born, I discovered a whole new appreciation for Mary the mother of Jesus.  The last couple of years have been hard, watching my baby suffer.  How in the world did Jesus’s mother bear it when he was suffering under the weight of the past, current, and future sin of the whole world?

I also discovered a new appreciation for how much God loves us – that He loves me even more than I love my babies.  That is too much, too wonderful, for me to fathom.

I’ll be doing lots of crying tomorrow.  Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me cry. But this is special.

It’s a good accomplishment, this graduation.  It’s a good sound, my girls laughing together.  It’s a good thing, this love.

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Mothers Day 2015

Lots of people, including my daughters, tell me what a great mom I am.  While I appreciate the praise, it always makes me squirm a little… because I feel like a fraud.  My heart secretly dreads that my kids will be 35 and in therapy because of stuff I did or said (or didn’t do or didn’t say) when they were little.  I question myself constantly, and pray without ceasing, “Please give me the right words, please help me make the right decision, please don’t let me screw them up too badly.”

It is my number 1 mission in life to be a good mom.  My girls are so wonderful, and I know my husband and I have done a good job raising them (I am incredibly blessed with a husband who is an amazing father to our girls).  But I also know the proof will be in the future, as they get old enough to take care of themselves – will they be okay?  Will they make good decisions?  Will they look back on that time I forgot to say, “I’m sorry,” and be disappointed and angry at me?  Will that scar them for life? Have we properly prepared them to face life?

Objectively, I think I can say yes, we’ve prepared them.  They are smart, sensible, generous, kind, and as wise as two teenage girls can possibly be.  I know intellectually that we have done well by them.  But deep down inside, I will probably always worry that I’ve let them down somehow.

So, here is where I usually include some word of wisdom in my blog posts.  Guess what? I don’t have one today.  I guess I’ll just ask you all to pray for me, and I’ll pray for you, that we will always do right by our kids, and that God will protect them from our screw-ups.

Mothers and mother-figures out there – hang tough.  I love you guys.

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Top Ten Ways to Get Yourself Kicked Out of Target

My teenagers are a constant source of amusement around here. As a follow-up to my Cici’s post a few weeks ago, I now submit to you: the top ten ways to get kicked out of Target.  Original idea courtesy of my older teenager.

10.  Turn up the volume to the maximum on all display televisions and radios.

9.  Request that the guy in the deli slice several kinds of meat and cheese, then say, “Oh, never mind.”

8.  Juggle oranges in the produce section.  Badly.

7.  Ask the pharmacist if they carry aspirin.

6.  Move several cartons of skim milk over to the whole milk section, and vice versa.  Alternate them on the shelves.

5.  Do the same thing with the dog food and cat food.

4.  Repeatedly take the maximum number of items into the dressing rooms, then reject them all.

3.  Ask the barista at Starbucks if you can super-size your fries.

2.  Put a red donation bucket on a tripod and ring a bell, in March.

And the #1 way to get yourself kicked out of Target.

1.  Allow your teenager to ride standing up in the cart, arms spread, yelling, “I’m king of the world!”

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Oh, Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

Next month marks twenty years since my beautiful sister died of breast cancer.  I still think about and miss her every day.

My oldest brother and I were talking about this anniversary the other day.  He reminded me of one of the songs played at her funeral.  I don’t remember it being sung that day – the day is kind of a blur, though I do remember some details vividly.  I don’t know who chose the song, whether it was my sister before her death, or my brother-in-law, or perhaps my mom.  But it was extremely apropos:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s glow its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to hide from thee;
I lay in dust, life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be. 

– George Matheson, 1882, copyright public domain

The words are very sad, but, paradoxically, very hopeful.  There is weariness, weakness, pain, and death… but also rest, light, joy, and life. This is our situation here on earth. My sister knew that and embraced it.

It’s been a tough year for our family, immediate and extended.  Knowing this anniversary looms is weighing heavily. Daily I wish for my sister to be here, for me, for all of us. I want to hear her voice and laugh, ask her advice, tell her how much I miss her.

But I can’t.  So I try to trace the rainbow through the rain, rest my weary soul, and wait for the tearless morning and the life that shall endless be.

[Edited to add:  My mom tells me she did indeed pick this song and all the others, too.  She did an amazing job of it.]

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