Decisions, Decisions….

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A couple of years ago I made the decision to go back to school.  I was miserable at my current job and couldn’t see the light of what a new job could be like.  I felt like I was in a huge rut!  I went back to DMACC to finish up the correct associates degree in order to become a social worker.

I started therapy in 2014 with Paul, a licensed social worker.  He was able to provide me with a little insight as to why I was feeling a certain way.  He helped me understand myself a little more and I found a need to give back.  Mental illness was on my radar!  I remember his words, “The best social workers aren’t trained, they’ve lived it.”

I finished the Fall term at DMACC and had started a second term when I was diagnosed with cancer.  I wasn’t going to give up because I was passionate.  I would not fail in life or in school.  I continued to take classes full-time and work as much as I could handle.  After the treatment was finished I was happy that I could focus just on school once again.

I went in for a scan after being told I was in remission in August.  I was super nervous but determined that I was going to be clear.  Unfortunately, I got the news that I had spots in my lungs and they wanted to do a biopsy.  More tests, more hospital, more stress.  I wasn’t happy (as you could imagine).

I went in for the CT-needle guided biopsy and had an unfortunate experience with the surgeon and team.  They didn’t get enough of the spots and what they did get was contaminated.  I was also being watched to see if they had created a pneumothorax (otherwise known as a collapsed lung).  If something weird was going to happen, it was going to happen to me.

During this process, a nurse wheeled my gurney to get a radiograph of my chest.  One machine wasn’t working so she made me walk across the hall to another room.  I was a little shocked as I had just completed surgery not long before that.  I remember holding onto the radiograph plate and waking up on the floor with about three people looking down at me.  I had passed out and I was going to bruise pretty easily from the impact.

I was the lucky contestant for a collapsed lung and the surgeon’s bedside manner made me want to strangle him.  In went a chest tube to ensure my lung would inflate again.  I spoke with the nurses and they got me through.  I just wanted to go home.

Later on I had a patient coordinator talking to me about redoing the biopsy with the same surgeon.  I gave them a big “hell no” and told them to get me the best surgeon they have if I have to go back under.  They looked a little stunned but they listened.  I went back a couple of weeks later for an endoscopy biopsy.  (He was excellent and I didn’t have any problems).

I told them I would not want my results until I came back from my trip to New Orleans so the doctors were okay with it.  My appointment was on February 19, 2016.  My dad and I were sitting there making awkward jokes to fill the silence until the doctor came in.  He looked at me and his eyes darted away quickly.  We both knew that this wasn’t going to go how we wanted it to.  It was cancer, again.

At this time, I was at DMACC still and was in classes I couldn’t afford to mess up.  I refused to drop out.  My math instructor was very understanding and I was able to keep up.  I can’t thank him enough for having the patience to work with me.  I went to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion because of all the bad past experiences with my other provider.  I’m glad I did.  I have the sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be here with you all today.

Treatments were once every three weeks, sometimes they were drawn out longer depending on my neutrophils.  I made it through my classes and even passed an online statistics course (just barely).  The next item on my list was to apply to the University of Iowa School of Social Work.  I was accepted later on! (Hurrah!!!)

I went in for a scan after three treatments with Mayo.  It was June 9, 2016.  I was nervous and I was expecting the worse…we would get results the following day.  Mom and Steven tried keeping my spirits up as they knew my mind was elsewhere, scared to death.  We went in the next day, when the nurse walked in she could tell I was a nervous wreck.  She said, “Morgan, I don’t know how this happened…” I looked up at here and with a blank stare, thinking…oh shit, here it goes.

June 10, 2016 I was told I was NED (No Evidence of Disease).  She told me the scan was completely clear as if it had never happened.  I looked at Mom and Steven.  I could see the relief but there was a catch.  I was going to have to complete three more cycles of treatment to ensure they got ALL of the cancer cells. (Drats!!!)

I was looking so forward to starting school in the fall at the University of Iowa so I powered through as best as I could.  August 12 rolled around and it was my last chemo!  Mom and I made a little sign and I got a big congrats from the nurses.  They even gave me a “Celebrate Life” pin in my precious teal color.  I felt happy but exhausted.

Classes started and I just knew I had chosen the correct field.   I was at home and felt like my cohort was family.  Learning came easy and I was able to erase some negativity out of my life.  September was a busy month and I was looking forward to participating in a couple of cancer related walks but my body had different plans for me.  I ended up hospitalized for five days due to an intestinal blockage.  They threatened me with surgery if I didn’t poop.  My neutrophils and platelet counts were way too low to do that…luckily that B.M. came at a good time.

Where things got easier in school, they got harder for me at work.  I had to make a choice to either continue school or continue working but I couldn’t do both because of how much time it demanded from my schedule.  Unfortunately, it took me longer to recover than any of us wanted.  It got frustrating!

October rolled around and I gave my notice.  It was time for a change.  I took a much-needed trip to Seattle to see my godfather and I’m glad I did.  It was refreshing and just what I needed to reset.  I got the job offer from the new place but I decided I wasn’t going to officially start until December.  I wanted just a little more time to heal.

I’m going into my second year as a Bachelor in Social Work and I’m serving on the National Association of Social Worker’s board as the BSW representative.  I had a moment of reflection today thinking of how far I’ve come and how validated I feel for making the transition to social work.

I am an advocate for social justice and I am an advocate for education.  I advocate for who needs it and I get to advocate for me (and several other women like me, too).  I found social work AND Cervivor at the right times.

Life is kind of funny sometimes.  You always end up where you’re supposed to.

Embrace it.

Xoxo,

Morgan

 

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Aftermath

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Lately I’ve become quite frustrated with myself.  Every day it seems like I find something else to try and process through from my past.  Some days I just can’t take it.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel like I have my shit together.  I’m not drowning, I’m not wishing it all away…I’m simply trying to embrace it and work through it.  There’s absolutely no reason to worry about me.  Why not?

Well we’ll talk about the culprit: I spent two years trying to beat cancer.  Cancer was trying to take everything away from me.  My body rebelled and disobeyed me.  How do you process something like that?  I did everything I could to stay healthy including diet and some exercise but it didn’t matter.  I still ended up with cancer, twice.

You want to know something I learned?  It. Wasn’t. My. Fault.  I can’t tell you enough about the emotional release I experienced when I heard those words at Cervivor School Florida.  Dr. Phillip Castle had the whole room in tears.  People often forget our psychological needs when facing such a difficult disease.  I still remember coming home after having chemotherapy and spending days just laying in bed.  My only form of communication was in the form of texts, Netflix, and the awful nightmares I was faced with.  Half of the time I wasn’t sure if I was in a dream land or if what I was experiencing was reality.  It really messed with my head.

After treatment, I got stronger but I kept ignoring things.  New Years Day was a day I stepped forward and I grew personally.  Even when I was sick I was too concerned about others.  I couldn’t just focus on myself.  I constantly felt worried or guilty that I was being a bad girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, etc.  I know that I wasn’t, now.

I wanted so desperately to have a normal life.  All of my friends were either getting engaged, married, or announcing their pregnancies and here I was just trying to survive.  I still don’t feel like I completely fit in.  Some of you reading this will get it, some of you will probably think I’m being a little dramatic…it could be a mixture of both, I guess.

I still want a normal life but what I need to realize is what normal means to me now.  I’m unable to have my own children biologically and people say “Well, there’s always adoption.  You always wanted to adopt!”  You’re right, I did.  I knew I wanted to at a young age.  I wanted to take someone off the street rather than put another on.  I guess a woman never gets over the feeling of having that life source being taken away.

I mean, isn’t that what makes us a woman?  The ability to conceive, carry, and birth a child?  I only got a taste of what the birthing sensation feels like because of my internal radiation treatments in the hospital.  The nurses so kindly told me that right before they pulled out the tungsten and ring they surgically placed earlier.  Did I mention I didn’t get pain medication during this since my oncologist failed to give the orders?

That was one hell of a (excuse my language) mind fuck.

And I guess, before I decide on children, I should probably consider a partner in crime to spend the rest of my life with, right?  I want to be able to have a normal relationship, someone to call my best friend, and someone who can handle me the way I am.  It seems like whenever I’m faced with this opportunity that I shut it down just as quickly.  Yeah, I’m scared.  I have a lot to work out in this area still.  Maybe I’m just not ready yet and I have to convince myself that it’s okay to wait.

What concerns me is most people want intimacy in a certain way and I can’t provide that right now.  I am working through barriers both physically and emotionally.  Frankly, my body has been through a trauma and I’m still dealing with it.  My heart and my brain are craving an intimacy in conversation and relationship building.  I crave trustworthiness and the feeling of being protected by someone.  I crave someone who I can be my authentic self with, not someone I notice myself changing for.  I will have that someday but for now I’m focusing on myself.

Along with the radiation damage to my lady bits, I’ve developed body image issues.  I didn’t realize this was happening until I had a chance to study Oncology Social Work this summer.  I was reading a section on young adult cancer survivors and how they may perceive themselves during and after treatment.  There was a part that stood out to be the most, it mentioned a young man joking around about how he was the “old man” of the group and how he couldn’t keep up with his friends the way he used to.  I don’t know how many times I’ve used the “old woman” excuse, but it’s been a lot.  I’m constantly fatigued from damn near everything and my bones constantly ache from treatment.  I can get out of breath just by walking to the bathroom.  It’ll get better eventually.  It’s just frustrating not being able to be the old me energy-wise.

I have also caught myself saying negative things about my body and they have manifested in my brain causing low self-esteem…again.  I look back at pictures of me going through treatment during the first round where I lost weight but not much else and my stomach sinks a little.  Then, I look at my second round where the effects were much more devastating and I see when my strength was held high and I see where I was ready to give up completely.  I felt like a skeleton for nearly two years.  I’ve struggled to gain the weight back and I was about tired of hearing the “Oh, I’ll give you some of my fat” nearly every day.

I know I’m skinny and I’m admitting that I’m struggling.  I love food but strangely enough, food doesn’t love me.  Having an autoimmune disease before cancer (microscopic colitis) and then experiencing radiation in the pelvic region has left me with far more digestive issues than I care to deal with.  There is a silver lining in all of this though, I actually felt like a normal human being after I met a fellow Cervivor sister who was experiencing the same thing.  Our stories are goosebump worthy in similarities.

What people fail to realize is when we come out of treatment we are NEVER the same people we were before treatment.  We can’t just flip that switch and return to that person.  We don’t just “get over it.”  Trauma changes us.  Those experiences good or bad, change us.  Sometimes we outgrow the very people we loved so much before.  We all have bad days, some are worse than others and our good days can still be bad, we’re just managing.  We’re doing the best we can.

 

Change Starts Today

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Monday night in class we had a great leadership lecture! It sparked a fire inside me and I’ve done some thinking.  Actually, a lot of thinking.  Today is the day that I start becoming a better advocate for women and their health care. Today is the day that I start learning of more ways to educate women AND men about the risks of HPV.  I have a lot on my plate already working full time and going to school full time but….

I’m tired of sitting back and saying “Oh, one day I’ll do this. Or, I better wait to do this.”  I am DONE waiting around. I have spent two plus years fighting for my life and I think that’s enough waiting. I have made the decision to attend the Cervical Cancer (Cervivor School) in West Palm Florida in June. It’s true, I don’t have and won’t have a whole lot of money but this is the opportunity I have been “waiting” for.  I need this for my leadership skills more than anything and it is only going to improve my skills in the near future when I start working with the oncology field.  It is my goal to become an licensed oncology social worker who provides therapy to cancer patients and their families.

I spent some of my money I had set back for bills for the registration fee. I’ll probably have a panic attack later, I usually do, but I’ll get over it because I will be rewarded being in the presence of hundreds of cervivors and hearing their stories. It is through networking that we gain more experience! I look forward to this school!  If you will consider donating a couple bucks to help my journey to leadership, I would be forever grateful and will be giving back to the community ten fold.

https://www.crowdrise.com/donate/project/cervivor-school-florida/morgannewman

World Cancer Day

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Tomorrow marks two years since my first diagnosis.  Tomorrow is World Cancer Day.  I sit here looking back at the last two years and what I’ve been through.  Today, I had my follow up scan and I have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to get my results.  I’m nervous as hell, I’m not going to lie.  In order to keep my mind off of things I’ve been doing homework, watching Netflix, and pondering making a new bucket list.  Regardless of the outcome, I will go forth and I will conquer anything that falls in my path and that is a promise!

Putting the Pieces Together

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You are all going to have to forgive me as there are bits and pieces that I left out as my memory hasn’t been the same since I’ve undergone chemotherapy.  Chemo brain is a real, unfair thing.

One thing I forgot to mention was the first round of cancer was a time where I needed to decide whether or not fertility was absolutely important to me.  I remember as a teenager I was so set on adoption.  I was scared of having my own kids, scared may be an understatement.  I was absolutely terrified!  I was stupid at that age too because I had unprotected sex a couple times…contradicts how I felt about getting pregnant, right?  I’m going to bleed my truth out to you little by little.  Honesty will help, especially to some of you scared to end up in the same situation.

The thing I didn’t realize was adoption could be my only option from now on.  Radiation does a number on your reproductive system especially when you have a woman specific cancer.  I didn’t know whether or not I was going to lose my reproductive system in this battle.  My oncologist referred me to the fertility clinic to see if it was something I was interested in doing.  Freezing my eggs could be beneficial in the future.

This visit was so overwhelming and terrifying.  I went by myself (dumb idea).  I filled out paperwork to receive more information about financial help from LIVESTRONG.  I got the information along with a yellow bracelet which I wore through my treatments.  I did not go through with freezing my eggs because I did not want to give myself multiple injections each day and the time frame between then and chemo was not long enough.  I just wanted the cancer to be gone.

There are days where I’m absolutely sad that I may never be able to have my own children and then I face the facts…what if I never want to have children?  And to me, that’s okay too.  Children are not a necessity to a happy life.

Another aspect that really bugged me was trying to plan a future with my loved one and there was a fear that I wouldn’t be there.  I must say there is a lot of guilt behind loving someone so much, wanting marriage and a long life together yet you can’t promise that you’ll be here for them.  I have to stress this, as I have learned, WE ARE NEVER GUARANTEED A TOMORROW.  It is true.  I have seen what a couple of my classmates have endured with their relationships.  They had a great future planned out and in a blink of an eye their futures were taken from them.  I respect and admire these two women as they have been through hell and back more than once.  Just know that God has a plan, a wonderful, beautiful plan for the both of you, Mandi and Trish.  You are resilient women!

My relationship failed because we couldn’t communicate correctly.  Where we both loved each other dearly, we couldn’t make it work and it’s okay.  I would much rather have him in my life as a friend than not at all.  Steven, you were there for me when I needed someone the most.  I can’t thank you enough for sticking by my side.  I wish the best for your future and hope someone will love you just as much as I do.  You are such a talented, smart, and handsome man.  Even if you don’t read this, I hope someone tells you what I wrote about you.  I am so happy that you branched back out into poetry scene.  You WILL succeed and I believe that with all my heart!

I will continue to write as I feel and I hope you all keep with me, leave me feedback, questions, etc.  I need to stay connected.  So much love to my readers!  I’m staying strong and moving forward one step at a time.

(Photo by me).

Hard to Breathe

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The three month scan that took place showed that irritation in my lung had grown.  There were at least three spots in there now. Shit!  The not so concerning spot had become an issue.  The next step was to get set up with the Chest, Infectious Diseases and Critical Care Associates.  Dr. Westerly was a fantastic man and he wanted to get to the bottom of this.  A CT Guided-Needle biopsy was getting scheduled so we could figure out if it was a fungal infection or the same cervical cancer cells.

The CT Guided-Needle biopsy was performed at Mercy.  The procedure was quicker than I thought it would be, however, it was botched.  They were concerned with cross-contamination of my biopsy and on top of everything else, I had a lung collapse.  This was an extremely trying time for me.  I remember after the procedure was done, a nurse had wheeled me in to get a chest x-ray.  The one room she took me into wasn’t working correctly so she had me walk across the hall to the next machine.  (This didn’t seem like a good plan to me as I was still coming down from the anesthesia).  She had me stand up and hold onto the machine in order to get the x-ray.  She disappeared behind the lead wall and the next thing I knew was a group of three nurses shouting my name.  I had blacked out and fell.  I had some nasty bruising.  I was unimpressed with the doctor’s bedside manner who had performed the procedure and I was most certainly unimpressed with how things were handled after the procedure.

Dr. Westerly had called me and asked if we could redo the procedure only this time it would be a camera esophageal biopsy.  I agreed only if a different doctor could perform the procedure.  He agreed to get me one of his best colleagues.  We set up a time, the procedure went smoothly and he was able to get the biopsies we needed. (Hurrah!)

I would not get the results until I got back from a trip.  This trip had been planned for well over six months.  Steven, Jake, Krislyn, Erin, and I were going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!  That would have been early February.  I told them all I was going to have the time of my life while we were down there in case I came back to bad news.

February 19, 2016 was a day that I will never forget.  My dad and I were at Dr. Westerly’s office and were getting super anxious to get the results.  We were making awkward jokes back and forth in order to fill the everlasting time.  He walked in and his eyes darted away from me so quickly that I knew it was going to be bad.  “It’s cancer, isn’t it?”  He said, “Yes Miss Newman, unfortunately they are the same cervical cancer cells.”  My dad and I were devastated but I’m so thankful that I wasn’t alone at that appointment. We got out of that building and I broke down.  I started making the phone calls necessary.  Here we go again…

We, as a family, talked about options and after much consideration I decided to get a second opinion from a different oncologist than the one I had my first time around.  That’s when I looked up the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  I requested an appointment with their gynecological oncology team.  It was within hours that I heard from them.  They asked if I had a cancer diagnosis and we got all of my records including my scans and biopsies to their team.

It was two weeks later, (March 3, 2016) that I got my consultation with Dr. Weroha.  I was so incredibly scared as to what he was going to tell me but the thing that amazed me most was that he spent a great deal of time talking to us about my previous experiences and assured my dad and I that we were in the right place.  He couldn’t promise to rid the cancer but he was going to do his best.  He went over scans, possibilities of different treatments, and even mentioned a clinical trial if I would qualify.  (I didn’t end up qualifying for the autoimmune clinical trial due to having colitis).

I felt confident in the treatment he had laid out and was amazed when he personally called to check on me after our appointment.  Their staff goes above and beyond for their patients.  I knew I was going to be in good hands… (To be continued…)

 

 

Kicking Ass Part One

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After having a couple days to myself (which I highly recommend to anyone) I put on my shit-kickers and was ready to get this thing over with!  I had NO idea what this was going to entail.  The first step was to undergo an exploratory surgery to see how far the cancer had spread and to verify that the staging he gave me was correct.  We found out that the tumor was a little smaller than he had originally anticipated, however, I had three lymph nodes involved in my cervical area.  This news was chilling to me.

In those first couple days to myself I cried, a lot.  I had just recently lost a friend to cancer as well as my aunt.  My grandpa Wilson had passed in November when I was dealing with unnecessary pain and unusual period patterns.  Years before that I lost my grandpa Bill to lung cancer (he was a heavy smoker for years).  When I heard the ‘C’ word, I thought for sure it was going to result in a death sentence for me.  It really (excuse my language) fucks with your head when you lose so many people and have to endure the deadly disease yourself.  When I heard I had lymph node involvement it scared the dickens right out of me.   I never knew what strength I could potentially have…

It was that moment when my aunt Billie had passed away that her daughter Kim posted a photo of a beautiful red cardinal in her backyard.  She stated, “I know mom is okay.”  It wasn’t long after that I started seeing my own cardinals and took it as a sign.  I remember getting ready to have some testing done and I stayed the night at my dad’s the night before so I didn’t have to get up so early.  Jodi had commissioned a painting from a young gal trying to learn how to paint and sell her artwork.  All she had told her was that she wanted something with red in it.  I got a phone call asking where I was at as I was pulling up to the apartment.  I walked in and they uncovered the beautiful painting that young gal did.  It was a cardinal sitting on a branch looking back at what would be the tree.  I cried tears of joy.  I remember asking myself, “How can this be?!”

Many of you might know that I struggled in believing a faith as my family were never church goers.  Sure, I had my time at bible school and I’m thankful that let me make that decision.  I had always questioned my faith and it wasn’t until I heard the story about my grandpa Bill passing that I really kind of believed in something after life.  When he was passing away with my uncle and my dad by his side he started calling out to “Scrappy” which ironically was his name for my uncle’s dog that had passed away a month or two prior.

Now, that painting wasn’t the only artwork I received that evening from my dad and Jodi.  Jodi’s mother, Joan, had given her a framed cardinal photo from an Iowa artist to give to me.  Both of these pieces of artwork are hanging in my dining room to this day.

After having my exploratory surgery they scheduled me to have my port placed.  It is a bulky item for my small frame but I am beyond happy that I had it because my veins would all be blown out from the needles involved!  The procedure didn’t take long and my surgeon was amazing!  It was at this time that I signed paperwork donating whatever left over tissue/ blood samples I had to cancer research.  If you ever have to go through such a thing I would hope you would do the same.  You could potentially save someone’s life someday!

The plan was set into place that I would receive five chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of external radiation along with two weeks of internal radiation.  I still remember the first chemotherapy I had.  The machine they were using was Cardinal Health brand.  After the first treatment I came home and laid on the couch.  I felt ill and slept a lot.  I think this scared Steven more than I’ll ever know.  It was from then on that I stayed at my dad’s apartment right after treatment.  I was trying to protect our relationship by doing this.  The radiation I received Monday through Friday for about fifteen minutes.  The machine was designed to work around all of my other major organs and I didn’t receive as much scatter radiation.  It was really interesting to watch the machine work!  Radiation didn’t make me sick but it did make me tired and it dried out my skin more than winter usually does.  The staff at this office were phenomenal!  (One of the best things was I would get a quick nap in or I would stare at the beautiful, colorful light fixture they had on their ceiling).

After finishing the external radiation I was scheduled for a surgery to place a small piece to hold the radiation filament in my cervix.  I would have it surgically placed, receive a dose of internal radiation, and then have a dose the next day.  It would be repeated the following week (except having it surgically placed as it would already be there).  The radiation was not a bad experience but when they took out the contraption that held my organs out of the way was the worst.  The first time they did it without pain medication because it hadn’t been ordered for me.  I distinctly remember the nurse asking me if I had had kids before, if I had given birth.  No…. “Well this is a lot like child birth.”  Great…and I had to do it without anesthesia?!  The next time they allowed pain medication.  Even while trying to relax it hurt like hell.  I hope to never experience such a thing again.

It was shortly after I finished the internal radiation that I went to Maine with my mom and my aunt Kim!  What a beautiful experience that was!  I decided when I got diagnosed with cancer that if and when I made it through treatment that I wouldn’t put my plans on hold and that I would travel as much as my pocketbook would allow me.  Medical bills were stacking up due to a high deductible policy.  I must say I have some of the best friends a gal could ask for because of everything they have done for me.  Brother Trucker, a local band and close friends of my dad and I’s, donated their time slot at El Bait Shop in order to fund raise money for my medical bills.  I love these guys with all my heart!  They helped me raise awareness of this awful disease.  If you’re reading this, I hope you KNOW how much you guys mean to me! ❤

I had a final scan after all treatment was done.  It was August 10, 2015 and I received a phone call stating that my cancer was gone and I was officially in remission.  I was over the moon considering towards the end of treatment they had noticed an irritation in my lung but they weren’t convinced that it was cancer.  They thought it was irritation from radiation and the chemotherapy drugs.  That night was celebrated with my dad at Hessen Haus with a beer and some delicious food.

That October was Steven and I’s first anniversary!  We had made it through some of the shittiest days!  We traveled to Chicago for the weekend and went on a Prohibition Tour.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and I was so happy I could do it with the one I loved.  I think we ate and drank ourselves silly, or at least I did!  My emotions from everything and my anxiety disorder got the best of my drinking “abilities” that weekend.  No, I didn’t have anything catastrophic happen but I did get a little too drunk and ruined an intimate moment that hadn’t happened for nearly a year. (It’s the truth, there was nothing sexy about that moment and I’m sorry it’s taken this long to apologize.  I just know how I feel about these moments now that I’ve had the time to reflect back).  If I’m not open and honest about how everything was and is, how am I going to get past and heal from it?

Three months would pass by and the next scan would take place but what life would bring us next would be unfathomable.

Photo by: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cardinal-love-kristin-elmquist.html