A Visit To: Columbus, Ohio

Making Nice in the Midwest - German Village in Columbus, Ohio

Ohio’s capital city has so much to offer— one weekend trip to Columbus is never enough! Our little family teamed up with Experience Columbus to showcase some of my favorite parts of Columbus, and we had such a fantastic time! We can’t wait to get back and explore more places I remember enjoying as a child, like Cosi and the Olentangy Indian Caverns, as well as some adult-me favorites like the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Columbus Museum of Art, and, of course, some more downtown restaurants. We ran out of belly space during our weekend trip! Check out the Columbus places we loved the most!

German Village - Columbus, Ohio

Pistacia Vera macarons - Columbus, Ohio

Pistacia Vera - Columbus, Ohio

We started eating our way through Columbus early Saturday afternoon in the charming neighborhood of German Village, where my sister-in-law lives. Pistacia Vera is an exceedingly charming bakery and cafe in the heart of German Village. Everything about PV (as the locals have affectionately dubbed the shop) is on-point, down to the marble table tops, charming Thonet chairs, sophisticatedly simple menu, and to-die-for treats. I can’t believe I had never visited! It’s about a block from my sister-in-law’s house, so I’m already looking forward to popping in at Pistacia Vera first thing during our next Columbus trip!

Pistacia Vera - Columbus, Ohio

Pistacia Vera - Columbus, Ohio

The Book Loft, German Village

The Book Loft - German Village

I’ve never been to a place as magical as The Book Loft in German Village! Just the pathway leading into the Italianate style building is an experience, with a long cobblestone garden area that opens to tables of books that you can’t wait to get your hands on. The interior of the building has a few annexes, and you can wind your way through this place for hours. I’m not even kidding! The Book Loft boasts being one of the largest independent book stores in the country, and I believe it. It’s a treasure trove of literary enjoyment. And if you don’t like reading so much, but prefer baking, don’t worry— there’s a whole room dedicated to the subject!

We’ve been looking for some very specific alphabet books for Lucy that would coordinate well with Phil’s kindergarten Zoo-phonics reading curriculum (He’s a teacher, in case you didn’t know!), and The Book Loft had so many options for us to choose from. Lucy loves the book we selected for her!

The Book Loft, German Village

Royal Factory Atelier - Columbus, Ohio

Royal Factory Atelier - Columbus, Ohio

After starting our Columbus visit in German Village, we headed downtown to the Short North for some shopping. Columbus has a nice amount of street parking in the areas around High Street, which is where most of the downtown shops and restaurants are located. You do have to pay for street and lot parking except for Sundays. There’s also an easy bus system and bike sharing program available for car-free transportation.

We started shopping on the north side of High Street in the Short North, and worked our way south until we’d visited all of the shops we had time and energy for. Our first stop was at a clothing shop I really adored— Royal Factory Atelier. They have a nice selection of men and women’s clothing as well as some decor and art. Everything in the shop is either vintage or from an indie label— there’s a nice amount of variety. I particularly love the line of women’s crop tops made from vintage dresses. Some of the dresses were made into matching sets of skirts and crop tops. I’m still kicking myself for not getting one!

Royal Factory Atelier - Columbus, Ohio

Royal Factory Atelier - Columbus, Ohio

Royal Factory Atelier - Columbus, Ohio

Jeni's Ice Cream - Columbus, Ohio

Most of you probably have heard about Jeni’s ice cream if you use social media these days. And there’s a reason the Columbus ice cream shop has sky-rocketed to fame! If you haven’t found a way to taste some for yourself, you really must. Jeni’s offers unique flavor combinations without being too out-there— I promise, if my husband’s timid tastebuds will enjoy it, so will yours! I normally am not much of a fan of chocolate ice cream because it’s a bit too much cream and not enough of that chocolate punch, if you know what I mean. But Jeni’s dark chocolate ice cream changed my life. I’ve heard good things about the riesling poached pear, but one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of brown butter almond brittle was all I could fit into my belly. If I lived around a Jeni’s, I would definitely try all of the flavors!

Jeni's Ice Cream - Columbus, Ohio

Grand View Marcantile - Antiques in Columbus, Ohio

Grand View Marcantile - Antiques in Columbus, Ohio

The first time I walked this charming resale shop in the Short North, I think it was a couple of hours before I saw daylight again. Grandview Mercantile is a wonderfully curated consignment shop featuring a wide variety of antiques, art, home furnishings, and decorative accessories. I always find entirely too many things I like each visit, though restrain myself from making a purchase. But this trip I actually walked out with a treasure. I found a large panel from an antique photo booth that I can’t wait to hang as art in my home! Even better- it was originally from Cedar Point, which is a beloved Ohio amusement park.

The prices at Grandview Mercantile vary, but it’s certainly not low end. My sister-in-law found a nice console table for less than $50, and the large photobooth panel (It’s huge.) I got was $240. The great thing about their prices is that they go down the longer each item is in the shop. Each item has a tag with a series of prices, starting with the highest, and then dates alongside each lower price, indicating when the price will drop down. If you can’t afford something when you see it, you can always wait to see if it’s still there when the price starts dropping lower. Pretty cool, huh?

Grand View Marcantile - Antiques in Columbus, Ohio

Grand View Marcantile - Antiques in Columbus, Ohio

Flower Child Vintage - Columbus, Ohio

Flower Child Vintage - Columbus, Ohio

I was so excited to see that Columbus has a sister store to Cleveland’s Flower Child Vintage! The Columbus Flower Child is very similar to our Northeast Ohio location, boasting two floors of vintage furniture, home decor, and clothing for men and women. The shop mostly houses 1960s-1970s items, but you’ll also find things from the 1930s all the way through the 1980s. The prices are average for vintage shops— not too expensive, but not cheap. It’s certainly worth a visit! I walked away with two gorgeous summer tops for $38.

Flower Child Vintage - Columbus, Ohio

Flower Child Vintage - Columbus, Ohio

Flower Child Vintage - Columbus, Ohio

Bakersfield - Columbus, Ohio

Bakersfield - Columbus, Ohio

After a long day of shopping, I was really craving a margarita, and Lord knows Mexican food always hits the spot. Bakersfield is a fresh, trendy restaurant on High Street in the Short North with a combination of indoor and outdoor dining (The window wall slides open.). I drank the best margarita of my life at Bakersfield, made with all fresh ingredients and agave nectar. We really loved our meals and I still have dreams about the amazing guacamole we ate with their fresh chips and salsa. We’ll be back, Bakersfield!

Bakersfield - Columbus, Ohio

Happy Go Lucky Home - Columbus, Ohio

Happy Go Lucky Home - Columbus, Ohio

Happy Go Lucky Home is filled to the brim with fun and whimsical home accessories. They have a great collection of Sugarboo art (like the one hanging in my bathroom), and it took all of my willpower not to buy that dog painting in the middle of the photo above. You guys, this place has oodles of quirky charm, and the people who run the shop are pretty great too! They have a great heart for Ohio and their local community, so you can feel extra good about giving them your money.

Happy Go Lucky Home - Columbus, Ohio

Happy Go Lucky Home - Columbus, Ohio

Happy Go Lucky Home - Columbus, Ohio

Harvest Pizzeria & Curio - Columbus, Ohio

Harvest Pizzeria & Curio - Columbus, Ohio

On Saturday night, we decided to walk over to Harvest Pizzeria in German Village for some tasty pizzas. Next door to Harvest Pizzeria is Curio, a really nice little cocktail bar with a menu of classic and modern drinks. We ordered a couple to enjoy while we waited for our pineapple pizza and our Ohio double bacon pizza. Eating outside was really nice, and the other patrons were really friendly and interacted with Lucy while we waited for our table. It was a really nice experience in such a beautiful corner of German Village.

Harvest Pizzeria & Curio - Columbus, Ohio

Harvest Pizzeria & Curio - Columbus, Ohio

Harvest Pizzeria & Curio - Columbus, Ohio

Katalina's Cafe Corner - brunch spot in Columbus, Ohio

Katalina's Cafe Corner - brunch spot in Columbus, Ohio

No visit to Columbus would be complete without a visit to Katalina’s Cafe Corner in Victorian Village. This carry-out style restaurant is almost Brunch Village popular— and for good reason! Katalina’s Nutella-stuffed pancake balls certainly bring out quite a crowd on Sunday mornings! Their menu is fresh, modern, and Mexican inspired (my favorite!), and includes something everyone can enjoy— even our picky toddler! Lucy loved eating bites of Phil’s french toast while I stole pieces of his sweet and spicy glazed bacon.

Though the line at Katalina’s can get long during prime brunch time, it does move really quickly, and they just updated their outdoor seating to make sure everyone can sit down when their food is ready. (There are also a few small indoor tables.) We enjoyed our delicious brunch under the shade of the table umbrellas outside and shared our community-style table with some nice Columbus gals who politely passed the napkins when we asked.

Katalina's Cafe Corner - brunch spot in Columbus, Ohio

Katalina's Cafe Corner - brunch spot in Columbus, Ohio

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

North Market & Sunday Flea - Columbus, Ohio

Head out to the North Market in Columbus on Saturday mornings for local farmer’s bounty and visit on Sundays for the flea market where local artisans sell their creations. I was really impressed with the quality of goods for sale outside at the Market Flea— there was none of the junk you might typically find at a flea market— everything was really nice and well made! We picked up a beautiful Ohio state shaped cutting board with a nice pin-striped pattern.

Inside the North Market is a wide variety of food vendors, bakers, retail vendors, and even branches of other beloved Columbus shops, like Pistacia Vera and Destination Donuts. We had some fresh juice and smoothies and barely resisted the urge to grab some Belgian crepes (we had just eaten at Katalina’s). There’s a mezzanine level at the North Market where you can sit down to eat your food while looking down to people watch at the market below. Lucy had a lot of fun running around up there (with our close supervision, of course).

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

The North Market in Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is really such a great city to live in, and perfect for visiting on the weekends. If you’re just driving through Ohio, you should take some time to explore a little of Columbus! There are lots of fun things to do, and great outdoor activities that I didn’t even cover in my weekend. We can’t wait to visit again soon!

The North Market— Columbus, Ohio

Making Nice in Columbus, Ohio

A visit to Columbus, Ohio

visit columbus, ohio

Summertime seems made for exploring. I love traveling far from home, but I think a lot of us really neglect exploring the cities near our own homes. Columbus, Ohio is a place I’ve visited lots of times through my life, but I’ve only recently begun to dive deeper into the city to see what it has to offer, aside from the obvious— Ohio State Football. (I’ve mentioned before that I married into a Buckeye-crazed family!) I’m loving the wealth of culture Columbus has to offer, and this weekend Phil and I are headed to Ohio’s capital city to experience all the fun we can in one weekend.

My sister-in-law recently moved into the German Village neighborhood of Columbus, and I’m simply smitten with its charm! We’ll be starting our weekend there, but check out all of our plans below. If you’re from Columbus, you should pretty please share you favorite spots so we can check them out!

 A visit to Columbus, Ohio

visit columbus, ohio

A visit to Columbus, Ohio
 

visit columbus, ohio

  • North Market: The large, indoor market hosts farmer’s bounty on Saturday mornings, but we’ll be there on Sunday for food and the Market Flea. I can’t wait to see what treasures I discover!
  • The Columbus Museum of Art: Free on Sundays! I’m looking forward to seeing the Modern Dialect exhibit if we have time to visit.
  • Katalina’s Cafe Corner: A small and extremely charming carry-out restaurant with space to dine in. They have nutella stuffed pancake balls! Need I say more? They’re really popular in the mornings, though, so we may stop by in the afternoon.

A visit to Columbus, Ohio

I’ll be sharing our Columbus experience next week. We’re excited to have fun, unwind, and eat to our hearts’ content this weekend! Be sure to send along your Columbus recommendations!

Wear & Share Fashion Show in Canton, Ohio

Happy Earth Week! Alright, so I missed posting on Earth Day, but that’s because I was busy getting ready to be a judge at Canton, Ohio’s second annual Wear & Share Fashion Show! If that sounds like a lot of fun, let me assure you— it was! I was invited to attend as a judge, but I left the event feeling extremely inspired and motivated to put my imagination to work with my sorely neglected mending pile at home.

The 2014 Wear & Share event was dreamed up by the fine ladies and gentlemen of ystark, a local organization that works to improve the Canton area community through knowledge, leadership and participation. The ystark committee members were inspired by Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuffwhich focuses on reusing materials to help with the waste problem of consumerism. Wear & Share celebrates and inspires with this earth-friendly mindset, featuring the wear— on-site vendors selling repurposed clothing and accessories as well as the refashioned styles showcased on the runway— and the share— a clothing drive to share your lightly worn clothing with those who need or can repurpose them.

photos by Mallory + Justin Photographers

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

I’ve never attended a high style fashion show before, but I’d wager to say the Wear & Share fashion show was twice as inspiring! The showcased designers were regular folks (women and men) from my own hometown of Canton, and the outfits they crafted were fashioned from just a few dollars worth of supplies from the thrift store! It was incredible as a judge to be able to see the before photos of the supplies— dated curtains, horrible satin pajama pants, ’80s dresses with the hugest shoulders, and even neckties. The way the original elements were deconstructed and completely refashioned just blew my mind and really got my own creative wheels spinning. So inspiring!

It was so refreshing to see such a variety of styles all in one place. The diversity showcased was really encouraging. Some of the runway styles were pretty easy to wear— just like something you could wear to the office— while other styles were begging to be taken out for a night of drinks and dancing. There was pattern mixing, there was subtle use of muted materials transformed into glorious vintage-inspired duds, there was high fashion influence, and there was even a good ol’ nod to punk rock styles.

My new friends and talented photographers, Mallory + Justin, captured the entire event, so if you’d like to see more of the designer’s creations and more of the event, please check out their public gallery here. If you think something like this would be fun to do in your hometown, why not work with some creative community-minded friends to put your own event together? You don’t even have to wait for Earth Day!

photos by Mallory + Justin Photographers

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

Canton's Wear & Share fashion show- photos by Mallory + Justin

photos by Mallory + Justin Photographers

A VISIT TO: Happy Dog in Cleveland

A visit to Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio
Don’t you love traveling to new cities, falling in love with new restaurants, shops, and people, but then get kinda sad when it’s time to go back to your boring ol’ town? I used to feel like that in my early twenties, before I began branching out and meeting new people and places where I live in Northeast Ohio. Now I’m quite content traipsing about from Canton, to Akron, to Cleveland, and back. There are so many amazing places if you know where to look, and if your city’s like Cleveland, you have to know where to look— and often, that’s not downtown.

If you head west from downtown Cleveland and over the bridge, you’ll find yourself in a thriving part of the city, known as Ohio City, where there are a lot of great shops and restaurants. If you go a bit further, you’ll end up in the heart of a newly thriving corner of Cleveland known as the Gordon Square Arts District. In the summertime particularly, this neighborhood comes alive with an artful colliding of cultures, artists, music, and FOOD. And one place in particular manages to mash it all together so nicely. That place, my friends, is Happy Dog.

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

Happy Dog is about as simple as it gets. Its menu is all dogs, made locally from their own recipe, and even including a nice vegan sausage if you’re not into the whole meat thing. Dogs, tots, and fries are all you’ll find, but you may just be blown away by the long list of toppings and sauces you can pile on top. From silly toppings such as breakfast cereal and peanut butter to complex sauces like oaxacon red chili and chocolate mole, the beginning of the fun at Happy Dog is deciding what adventure your taste buds will experience this time. You just sit down, fill out your checklist of toppings, and order a drink while you wait for your dogs.

A visit to Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

The truly great thing about Happy Dog isn’t the delicious dogs, though. This restaurant truly captures the Cleveland vibe I’ve come to know and love since discovering more of the city. At first it comes across as just an old fashioned corner bar, but once you settle in, Happy Dog oozes a totally contemporary vibe with its casual atmosphere, craft beer, surprisingly diverse live music, and bustling atmosphere filled with locals of all ages and backgrounds.

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

A visit to Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

Fun is number one at Happy Dog, so be sure to bring a roll of quarters for the vintage arcade games, juke box, or for the game room/bar below, called Underdog. Yes, that’s right- they have a game room and even more bar space below! If you’re into old arcade games, Happy Dog will be an extra special treat. And their craft beer selection is pretty good too. Perfect place for a Friday night!

If you’re in the Cleveland area, be sure to head out to the Gordon Square neighborhood and enjoy a casual meal at Happy Dog!

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

A visit to Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohio

Happy Dog in Cleveland, Ohiocleveland hot dog restaurant

 
 

When Cancer Isn’t Just a Bad April Fool’s Joke

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

We’ve all done it. Made bad jokes in poor taste. Laughed really hard only to find out what we were laughing at wasn’t a joke. Well, it was April first 2013, and I was sitting in a cold, sterile room at the Cleveland Clinic with my mom and my eight-month-old baby, Lucy. It had been a little over a week since my intense six-hour surgery to remove an extremely rare and aggressive paraganglioma from my carotid artery.  We were waiting to see what else the surgeons had found while they were in there. Hopefully nothing. My neck was the size of a football, I was swollen, sore, and I had trouble taking off my coat, so I just left it on. I was perched awkwardly on the edge of the tall, vinyl patient’s chair, staring across at my mom who was bouncing Lucy on her lap, because I couldn’t.

“Are you nervous?” she asked.

I said I wasn’t. Well, not really, I said. I wondered if I was telling the truth. We waited. The resident surgeon came in and checked my stitches, checked my nerve function, and told me Dr. Scharpf would be in to see me soon. I wanted to yell after him, “Just tell me! Please, just tell me! Am I going to die?” A few minutes later, my surgeon walked through the door, made the obligatory cute baby remarks, and shook my hand as he looked into my eyes, his own reflecting compassion and concern. I think that’s when I knew what he was going to tell me.

I really don’t remember anything he said before it. I only remember straining my neck a bit to look into his eyes when he softly said, “Unfortunately, your tumor was malignant.” He paused. Probably not for dramatic affect, but boy did I feel the drama of that moment. The weight of it.

I couldn’t look at him any more, as he waited for me to respond. So I relaxed my neck and looked ahead at my little baby Lucy. Malignant, eh? I looked into her big brown eyes, and what did she do? She started giggling histerically. Her little baby mouth opened wide and she just laughed! Her cute little face broke out into the biggest, slobbery smile, completely oblivious that her mama had just heard the scariest news of her life. Lucy just laughed. And it was the best comedic timing for the worst April Fool’s joke I’d ever experienced.

So I turned back to the doctor, smiled at the irony of the moment, and asked, “So, now what?”

Her cute little face broke out into the biggest, slobbery smile, completely oblivious that her mama had just heard the scariest news of her life.

I never expected to have cancer in my twenties. Even when they first found my tumor, they had told me it was benign. I used to pray to God to never let me get cancer at a young age, because I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I knew it would make me angry at God, and I wasn’t the kind of person who could fight cancer. I just knew it. Or at least, I thought I knew it.

I was spared from the knowledge of my own cancer, but I was still afraid of this rare, mysteriously tumor in my neck. I had joined a paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma Facebook support group online after finally discovering the group during one of my scary, late night “paraganglioma tumor” Google sessions. I was mostly just really afraid of either not making it through my surgery, or living the rest of my life with a feeding tube or the inability to talk, because of damage that could easily be done to the nerves that were bundled in front of the tumor. My doctor described the tumor resection as cutting out a meatball that’s tangled up in bowl of spaghetti. The red visuals of pasta sauce and tumors didn’t help me feel any better. Because of the support group, though, I connected with other people who had lived through the same surgery, and they all offered me such support and encouragement, and only some of the people I initially talked to were living on feeding tubes or dealing with other side effects or recurring tumors.

But still. The idea of surgery on my carotid artery was super intimidating. I would lay awake at night, staring at Lucy, wondering if she would have to grow up without ever knowing me, with only pictures and stories to communicate her mother’s love for her. I then began thinking about death a lot, and how near it constantly is. People at my church would tell me, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” But quoting scripture at me didn’t ease my concerns. I believe that we live in a physical world where physical things go wrong regardless of what we do, what plans we make, or what God wants for our lives. Bad things happen as a result of choices other people make for us, poor timing, or weird genes. I thought, what if I’m dead in a year? That might be what my future holds, even if it isn’t God’s plan for me. Telling me “you’ll be okay, God is faithful” certainly didn’t ease my worries, when my mind was going a mile a minute.

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

my cancer story

A friend of mine agreed with my thoughts about how silly it is when people tell you “everything will be fine.” She said, “We don’t know if it will be fine. But there are things we do know.” And then she reminded me of all of these little miracles that I had completely forgotten.

She said, "We don't know if it will be fine. But there are things we do know." And then she reminded me of all of these little miracles that I had completely forgotten.

  1. When I was in the hospital for a mysterious illness with symptoms that mirrored those caused by active paragangliomas, the doctors kept searching for the cause, and ended up discovering this inactive tumor that would have gone undetected. They never did find out what was wrong with me, but I began recovering after the tumor discovery. (You can read a bit about it here.)
  2. Initially they told me the tumor was benign after an investigative biopsy. That caused me to go through my entire pregnancy without stress or worry about having cancer or deciding if I wanted to have cancer treatment during pregnancy.
  3. I had been told by surgeons that I could keep an eye on the carotid body tumor for years, because they are typically slow growing and mine was benign (they didn’t find out it was actually cancerous until after surgery). But Phil was told that he would no longer have a teaching job, and while we asked God why all of these bad things were happening (job insecurity plus lots of hospital bills), we felt like I was being led to have the surgery immediately since we might not ever have such good health insurance again. I would have waited to do the surgery if Phil had that job security, and the aggressive cancer would have spread throughout my body and would have been untreatable by the time it would have been detected in my other organs.

I began to think about these little miracles, and my perspective slowly started to shift. I had been stressed and enduring sleepless nights because everything in my life seemed like it was spinning so out of control. But then I realized I never really had control to begin with. Control is just an illusion, isn’t it? Before that month, we thought Phil had job security, but who really has job security? Nobody. Because we never know what tomorrow holds. I had been bitter about my debilitating sickness back in May- the one that led to my tumor discovery. But it made me realize, the things that we perceive as bad may actually be the perfectly formed pieces of a grander scheme.

my cancer story

What makes us decide something in our life is bad? Because it makes us feel bad? Because it makes us hurt? We think cancer is bad because it makes us sick, and because it makes us sad. So, cancer=bad. But I began to learn that just because something makes me feel bad, doesn’t mean that it is bad for me. My person. My soul. Just like physical training is difficult and painful, but necessary for building an athlete. People say, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But now I ask myself, why do we see certain situations as bad? Because our personal perspectives limit us. And preparing for this major, uncertain surgery totally destroyed my personal perspective. Little did I know, a cancer diagnosis would push my limits even further and take me to places I had never wanted to go, but would never undo if I was given the chance. 

My perspective also began to change through prayer and reading scriptures. Every day, Phil prayed with me that God would take away my fear and give me peace. That same friend who had reminded me of the ways God was working good through the bad in my life confessed to me the grip that worry and fear had on her life. She gave me a set of notecards with Bible verses that speak peace into her own life. I read verses like Psalm 46 in my friend’s own handwriting, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.” We continued praying for peace, my friends asked God to give me peace, and my heart was transformed from fearful to steady and sure. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

my cancer storyFinally the day of surgery came, and they wheeled me down the long, cold hallway, away from my waving family, while I managed to smile and hold back my tears, lest my emotions become contagious and plague them in the waiting room. This was it. There was no more waiting. “See you soon!” I said, though I thought, I may never see them again. And I thought how sad Phil would be if the doctor’s had to tell him, “We did the best that we could, but…”

 This was it. There was no more waiting. "See you soon!" I said, though I thought, I may never see them again.

The doors closed behind me, and I finally let the tears slide down my face. The man who was transporting me to surgery put his soft hand on my shoulder and assured me in a low, friendly voice, “You’ll be okay, sweetie. It will be over before you know it.”

I sighed a shaky sigh, but the touch of his human hand had broken down the dam I had built up against my emotions, and I just felt even more scared and alone. He told me all of these nice, reassuring things as he wheeled me around turns, over bumps, and through doors. And he even told me God would protect me. I’m not sure if transport people are allowed to tell you that, but I sure was glad he did. I started breathing easier again. He parked me in an alcove next to my surgery room, and I waited there, alone with my thoughts for about a half hour until they finally wheeled me into the OR. I thought, I’m either going to wake up feeling like crap in the ICU, or I’ll wake up and see Jesus face-to-face. And I suddenly felt calm. And I was okay with either scenario. I really was.

There were two surgeons and a room full of nurses, residents, and one anesthesiologist during my surgery. Someone asked another person in the room if my pregnancy test came back, and I interjected with a laugh saying, “It had better come back negative! I don’t think I’m ready for any more surprises!” And then I saw my surgeon, the kind, blue-eyed Dr. Scharpf who proudly wore a Cleveland Browns scrub cap. He was my ENT who would be resecting the tumor from beside my carotid artery while the head of vascular surgery, Dr. Clair, stood by “just in case.” Because I guess you just never know what’s going to happen when cutting out a rare tumor with unknown properties alongside of a carotid artery.

I had an incredibly difficult time coming out of anesthesia after what was only supposed to have been a three-hour procedure, but had turned into an intense six-hour surgery. I was groggy and miserable, and I couldn’t speak, but I had enough of my wits about me to detect the look of concern when Dr. Clair came into my room and told me that he was glad I was awake and that I win the prize for being the most difficult surgery he has ever done. Wow! I thought, should I be honored? Scared? Relieved? Thankful? Then he said they were concerned because of how aggressive the tumor ended up being, but I was a bit too groggy to put two and two together at that point. He said they had sent in the resected tumor to pathology and they would get the results back in a week or so.

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

my cancer storyWell, there I sat in the doctor’s office, facing an adorable laughing baby and the ugly reality of cancer. He said malignant. Malignant? Yes, malignant. I had cancer. I didn’t know what stage it was, what treatment I would be receiving, or what my future held, but I had this incredible feeling of peace. I scheduled an appointment with my oncologist (I had my own oncologist? Crazy town!) and went to the cafe to get coffee and treats with my mom and little Lucy.

“Is it weird that I feel relieved?” I asked Mom as I munched on a a chocolate filled, artery clogging, who-gives-a-crap pastry.

“Is it weird that I feel relieved?” she replied, absolutely surprising me.

They had found cancer in my body. But they had found it. It had been found. I would never have to wonder if maybe they had missed it, and it was growing in hidden places inside my body. I don’t know why, but I had this weird peace, and that same peace that God had given me, he had given to my mom and to Phil. I looked around the hospital cafe and wondered if anyone else there had just learned they had cancer. Was anyone there facing death too? There were people from all over the world, all seeking healing and treatment for physical ailments. And I wanted to reach out and touch each of them, somehow transferring some of God’s peace from my heart through my limbs, out from my fingertips and into their own hearts.

But instead I just washed my chocolate pastry down with some coffee and wondered how I was going to tell my family. The timing was incredibly awkward, because after we drove home to Canton from Cleveland, our family had to prepare for my grandma’s calling hours that night. She had just passed away over the weekend. Everyone’s emotions were high. I didn’t want to burden them with my news. But everyone was in the same room. And they were all asking the same questions. 

“Did you get your pathology report?” “How did your doctor’s visit go?” “Did you get good news?” I shifted my eyes to Phil. He shifted his eyes to me. I shifted my eyes to my mom. And then the hard part began.

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

Telling people I had cancer was the hardest part of my experience. But oddly, it at times was also the most gratifying. I’m not one to open up easily about how I really feel inside, or what God is doing in my heart. But I felt vulnerable, and wondered if I was going through this for a reason. And there was also the freakish peace that never left me through the course of my treatment and recovery. So, as my family and friends’ eyes welled up with tears, I was able to embrace them and comfort them saying,  “I’m okay! I’m really okay. I promise. Don’t be sad. I don’t know what will happen, but it will be okay.”

I think people thought I was putting on a brave face. But I am telling you, I have never seen a sick person healed, I’ve never seen the Red Sea parted, and I’ve never seen a person raised from the dead, but I did witness a miracle in my own heart when I had prayed all of those sleepless nights for peace from God, and then he gave it to me. And it didn’t stop there. As many cancer patients know, a lot of good can come from that dreaded diagnosis. Your priorities, which may have been lop-sided and careening out of control, begin to rearrange themselves as you realize what is important in life, and what isn’t. You’ve got cancer, sure. But in the meantime- there’s life! Life is meant to be enjoyed, not to be simply endured or grasped tightly with fear. Every day is a gift, and cancer was the reminder of the brevity of life and the urgency to seek higher things and enjoy simple pleasures.

my cancer story

Not every day was joyful, though, and not every moment was filled with that divine peace. Lucy was learning to make funny noises and communicate her affection to me, and I dreaded the thought of maybe having to leave that behind. We didn’t know how progressive my cancer was, and while I was waiting for the results of my full body scan, one of the members of my paraganglioma support group passed away. And then, a day later, another woman’s life was taken by the tumors that had spread throughout her body. She was young like me. She had a little child, like me. And my heart ached so powerfully and deeply. And I battled fear. And I prayed to God. Oh, how we prayed to God. I read those Bible verses over and over again. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

We were all so, so relieved when the full body scans couldn’t detect any more cancer in my body, and I went into my radiation treatment feeling hopeful, though a little anxious about the side effects. People in my church family told me they were praying for me, and I knew they were, because I could feel it! But more than that, those friends and family selflessly helped us get through the exhausting days where I couldn’t take a shower, much less cook, so they would bring us food to eat, clean my toilets, and wash poopy diapers. And when the bills came in, we even had people ask us how much more we needed before they were paid off! Cards came in the mail, and my beautiful friend organized an online fund where my blog friends contributed to help pay for some of my cancer treatment meds that helped make me less miserable during the days when my mouth was full of big, bleeding sores and my neck was on fire with literal burns from radiation. Yes, I felt sore, I felt tired, and I felt bad for myself sometimes. But most of all, I felt loved. I felt peace, and I felt like I had this amazing new perspective on life and couldn’t wait to get out there and just delight in life.

My cancer experience- Making Nice in the Midwest

So here I am, you guys. It’s been exactly one year since Lucy’s outburst of laughter in light of my cancer diagnosis, and I can look back on that day fondly. What a blessing to have that little babe laughing her way through my cancer treatment, reminding me of all the things I have to be thankful for and enjoy, even in the face of death, doom, and despair. Sometimes I feel like it’s cheap for me to say how amazing my cancer experience was, because I survived, and I am healed. But you guys, it was hard. It was really, really difficult. Through it all, God revealed himself to me because I sought him in the darkness that I felt. He took something I thought was a curse and turned it into a blessing. I’ll never be the same.

 

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