Thursday, December 15, 2016

Savor the Season of Advent

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." 1 Peter 5:10

This quote from 1 Peter greeted me this morning as I read the daily meditation in Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are, a beautiful book of 365 devotions which my dear friend Lisa gave me while I was going through chemo. That word "Savor" became my word of the year for 2015 as I prayed for a powerful and inspirational word that would remind me to focus on God's love as I live each day. The word has definitely lived up to it's meaning this past year and a half.

All through my treatments I was reminded to SAVOR each moment. Now as I continue to heal both physically and emotionally, I am reminded to SAVOR each memory and each present moment. God has made me stronger! With this new found strength I am learning to be still and SAVOR the many blessings around me. As people ask me, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I reply, "We are keeping it simple, so we are ready." When we keep it simple we are always ready. By keeping it all simple, we are then ready to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and savor each blessing.

God kept the birth of Jesus simple. Maybe that was to help us remember that we are to keep even the most special of holidays simple. I am taking a deep breath, and even in my strength, focusing on keeping the celebration of Christmas simple and focused.

I am grateful for the gatherings with friends and family that have already taken place and look forward to many more before the end of this calendar year. My boys have already begun saying that they can't wait for Christmas Eve/ Noche Buena, when our extended family all gets together at my cousin's house for an amazing celebration of the love we share and the love Baby Jesus brought to all of us the day he was born. I remember also looking forward to Noche Buena with much anticipation. We don't exchange gifts, but we give each other the gift of time spent listening and loving. We share food that has been specially prepared for the day/evening. We sing traditional Cuban and American Christmas songs. The kids display their talents for all to enjoy. We end the evening by heading to midnight mass or home, whichever each family chooses.

I believe that my Catholic Cuban family has taught me a valuable lesson many times over throughout life, SAVOR LIFE! God has confirmed the lesson by bringing me through  my many trials while realizing the blessings.

I pray that each of you will take time to Savor the blessings in your life every day! Appreciate even the hard times and look for the lessons God is providing. May the rest of this Advent season bring you a strong and beautiful perspective!

I continue to pray for all of you and especially those who are sick.
God Bless,
Cristina

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleading; the Lord is my strength and my shield. In him my heart trusts, and I find help; then my heart exults, and with my song I give him thanks." Psalm 28:6-9

A dear friend referred me to this Psalm the other day when I was having a rough emotional day. Yes, those days come and thankfully go. I am realizing now that even though I am physically healed from cancer I must still work on the emotional healing. Every day I must trust that God is still taking care of the details of life within me and my family. Some days are easier than others. With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming up I am excited and anxious at the same time about what I will experience emotionally. But, I know it is all in God's hands and thankfully the people/angels he sent me to support us while I was physically ill are still around us reminding us of his everlasting love.

It's funny, I remember when Peter and I were first married that he used to refer to times in life as being "BC" and "AC", "Before Cristina" and "After Cristina." Our relationship marked a monumental time in our lives through which we could identify time before and after. The same has happened with remembering life Before Children (BC) and After Children (AC). Well, now we have another time marker, "Before Cancer-BC" and "After Cancer-AC." I am super grateful that we even get to label present time as "AFTER Cancer."

Having completed my last Herceptin treatment and having had the port removed on Oct. 20th, we have already begun to refer to events in our life as BC or AC. It is amazing how one year of life can so clearly define what we were before and after. We are still the same people but we view life differently. We have been greatly impacted by the effects of deep faith and the effects of being loved so strongly and abundantly. We have a greater appreciation for the little things in life and for each relationship God has so graciously blessed us with. We are more sensitive in how we react to each other and to events. This can be challenging at times, but in the end it is better.

Here we are, Peter and I, about to enter building 631 at Gwinnett Medical for the last treatment. I remember vividly stopping to take the same picture on the day of my first treatment. I was wanting to mark time and have a way of looking back at that time BC. I think I was also afraid of how treatments would change me. Now, we have these pictures to help us mark the beginning of the AC time and a way to celebrate who we are now!


I have learned to stop and BREATHE in the midst of being busy, whether at work, at home or while working my business.  I am continuing to learn that I need to rely on others when I can't see clear or can't seem to catch my breath. I do not have to be the strong one all of the time. I can ask for help in all areas of life.

We were given the opportunity to stop and breathe and reflect and celebrate when we traveled to St. Simon's Island the very day I had my last treatment and had the port removed. My parents had been vacationing there, staying in a cousin's house, and invited us to join them for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday and the end of treatment. It was a beautiful way to celebrate and mark the beginning of the next phase of life. We had so much fun and were able to experience some firsts as a family. Here we are at our first lighthouse tour and enjoying a fun meal with mom and dad on our last day on the island.









We also enjoyed the splendor of the beach with its shells, sand bars and tide pools. So amazing!


I must admit, last year at this time I had a sense of surrender about me. I knew that I wouldn't be able to physically engage in "making the holidays perfect." We didn't even put out all of our Christmas decorations. I think we were even given a pass on preparing any food for Thanksgiving at my sister's house. I was given time to simply be and enjoy each gathering for its simplest purpose, to experience the love of those around me.  It was time to put all of the energy I had into supporting my body through the healing journey. How beautiful that those around me gave me that gift!

This year, I am having to really focus on keeping my new found anxiety under control as I already begin to think about the many ways I would love to experience this holiday season with my family. I have found that prayer coupled with using the essential oils very purposefully, help my body and mind to slow down and re-focus. However, since I experienced such a simple holiday season last year, I know that simple works and is actually more meaningful! There is no way I can possibly re-create the amazing sense of love we felt last year as people all around us showered us with love in so many ways. But, when I think about it, that is what we do each year as we go about putting pieces in place and making plans to celebrate Christmas. We are trying to re-create the feeling of love that Baby Jesus felt when he was born. And the beauty lies in realizing how simple it is to re-create that feeling. And the challenge lies in making that reality come true. So, I am challenging myself and challenging each of you to make this holiday season simple. In making it simple, focus on being and giving love to others. Let's focus on being kind, offering forgiveness, extending grace, truly being the hands of Christ so that others may feel His love. All of that can be done with a messy house and not so perfect gifts, but we must have a heart of love and gratitude. Preparing for Christmas is truly more of a spiritual exercise than a physical one. Do you have the support in place to spiritually focus on preparing for the celebration of Jesus' birthday? I can thankfully say that I do. This time "AC" is a blessing of being able to recognize the support that is all around me and being able to rely on you. It has become a time a of surrendering my plans to be open to God's plan in daily life.

Thank you for your continued prayers as we go through this time of healing emotionally! You are such a blessing to us and truly the best gift we could have ever received! On this Thanksgiving, we give thanks for each of you and the role you played in supporting us through my healing journey. I pray that each of you will realize the blessing of being loved and supported by those around you.

Much love to all of you! May this season of preparing and celebrating be a journey filled with love and peace!


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." 1 Peter 4:8-10


I have composed several blog posts in my mind and heart over the past few months. I can't believe the entire summer has gone by and I didn't post an update once. I will confess that part of me wanted to just pretend the whole cancer thing was one big nightmare. But I must be honest with myself and with you. The cancer "thing", the healing journey, has been one BIG blessing! Through this journey we have realized as a family how very blessed we are. So many have rallied around us both physically and spiritually. We simply cannot thank you enough!

Yesterday I was talking with Paul, our youngest son, and I was saying, what if we planned a party to thank everyone who has supported us while I was sick? He replied, "Mom, there wouldn't be a big enough place to fit everyone. Where would they park? How would we feed them?" I responded, "This sure is a great challenge to have, that we have so many people that love us and supported us when we needed it, that we can't even think of a place that would fit all of them. We are very blessed!" He said back to me, "Yes we are!" How beautiful for him to realize that we are not alone in life. We are surrounded by the body of Christ! Plans for the party are forthcoming.

We did have a very nice summer with plenty of time at the pool, visiting friends and family and just relaxing. One beautiful blessing that came to us this summer is our new dog, Brownie. While the boys and I were at our church vacation bible school (VBS) this cute little dog wandered up to the kids who were playing outside. One friend ran and got a kennel from her nearby home as well as a leash. After Animal Control checked her out we asked if we could keep her. So, now we have Brownie to love on and care for. She really has been a blessing to our family,

My treatments are almost over. I am still receiving an infusion of Herceptin, an anitbody, every 3 weeks. Thankfully there are no harsh side effects. I just get tired. The recommended length of treatment for this drug is one full year. So, since I began the treatment last October, I will receive my last treatment on October 20th, 3 days before my birthday. No coincidence! On the day of my last treatment, I will walk right over to the hospital and have my port removed! PRAISE GOD! I will then continue to visit my oncologist every 3 months for a year and then twice a year, then every year, and so on. We continue to praise God for the miracle of having NO cancer in my body when they performed the mastectomy. I am experiencing some neuropathy in my left arm, but using the essential oils has really helped with the discomfort.

I must get ready to go to work. I continue to work full time for Gwinnett County Public schools in the EL Programs Office, creating and providing professional learning opportunities for teachers of English learners.

I also continue to teach classes on how to use essential oils to provide a healthy life. I offer one on one consultations and set up booths at events as well. Please continue to refer people and events to me. I love this mission of empowering moms and dads to provide natural health care for their families in the home! Next week I will be heading to my 3rd annual doTerra convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Only this time I have six ladies from my team joining me. I am so excited! When I went to convention last year I already knew that something was going on in my left breast. I figured it was something more than an infection. It was quite an emotional time for me. So, it will be wonderful to return this year feeling stronger and with a team of ladies joining me in the mission! I can't wait!

I pray that you will each feel peace today! Thank you for continuing to pray for my family. We are still healing.

Much love to all of you!
Cristina


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Almost done with radiation

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." - John 15:1-2

I love this image that God paints through his words in John's Gospel. God intends for every part of our life to bear fruit. But, being human, there are times where parts of our life many not be bearing fruit. The challenges we face can certainly act to prune our branches and assist us with bearing fruit in all areas of our life if we allow them to do so. Many of you have been God's angels in guiding me to allow myself to be pruned and to continue bearing fruit through the challenges in my life. Thank you!

Today will be radiation session number 22 out of 25. Tuesday will be my last session! My skin in the area receiving radiation is definitely "angry." It is very red, itchy and just uncomfortable. I am applying wonderful essential oils, shea butter, aloe gel, and a prescription gel called Radiaplex that the radiologist prescribed. I just need to be applying it often and I tend to forget. I do feel tired, but it is manageable so I continue to work full time. Pete and the boys are great about allowing me to just collapse when I get home. I tend to be asleep by 8pm.

We are thankful for this end of the school year! Ricky had a wonderful 6th grade year both at Regina Caeli Academy and finishing up the year at Trickum Middle School. We are looking forward to the award ceremony at Trickum Middle tomorrow, when Ricky will receive an award. He has done very well academically and is enjoying the adventure. Paul completed 4th grades at Regina Caeli Academy and had a straight As year!!!!! He received the award for the virtue of Fortitude for the 5th year in a row. He is definitely strong in his faith and in all areas of his life!

Pete was blessed by a quick trip to California to celebrate Mother's Day with his mom and a big birthday with his childhood friend, Will. Pete's brother, Mark, blessed him with the gift of the trip which certainly lifted Pete's spirits. We ask that you please keep their mom and dad in your prayers as Pete's dad, Chief, continues to deal with a degenerative nerve disease that is limiting his mobility. We are thankful that Pete's brother, Mark, is living with them to provide assistance and support.

We are looking forward to a fun summer of being at our neighborhood pool with friends. No doubt the summer time at the pool will feel different for me as I won't be doing as much swimming, but I sure will enjoy the socializing and laughing with friends as well as watching the boys have fun in the pool. The Navy is sending Pete to a conference in Tampa later in June, so the boys and I will join him for a bit of a vacation. We are hoping to visit family and friends in the area while we are down there.

I continue to ask you to please pray for my friends who are also on this healing journey as their body heals from cancer. Unfortunately I have another friend to add to the list, Beth Mappes. She was just diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer. Thankfully her healing journey should be swift and complete, but it is disturbing nonetheless. Please continue to pray for my classmate and friend, Eva McGarity Ponder and for my colleagues and friends: Mary Walker, Victoria Webbert, Chris Starr, Ryan Otwell, Laura Tammaro, Joann Mueller, Gisela Polanco, Nikki Mouton, and more that I am forgetting but who come into my mind and prayers often. I also ask that you pray for the family of Richard Ferris, a friend from church who just passed away a couple of weeks ago after dealing with cancer for a while.

May God grant each one of you good health and peace and may you recognize the beautiful opportunities to be pruned and support others as they are pruned.

Here are a few pictures of recent events.
 My youngest brother, Mike, graduated from parametic and firefighter school in Gwinnett County, the county we live in. We are so proud of him! In the picture below, Instructor Tim Lister, whom I was in grade school and high school with, was one of Mike's instructors and has become a mentor to Mike. What a small world! We are thankful to Tim for the way he challenged and guided Mike through the program.
The boys and I had fun donning red noses! We look for every opportunity to have a good time. I'm so grateful for their happiness and fun spirits!
Peter and I had the opportunity to travel to Jacksonville, FL for the annual Navy Dining In function as well as two days of training for Pete. It gave me time to relax in a different environment and have some alone time with Pete. It was a much needed break from the usual life. 





Thursday, April 21, 2016

Radiation Begins

"Be still, and know that I am God." -Psalm 46:10

This past month has been one of "being still." Even though I was up and about quickly after surgery, I have had to be patient with my body as I continue to heal. I want to do everything I used to do, but realize that I need to give my body plenty of time to heal. So, once again, I am being taught how to be patient.

The other day while driving to a doctor's appointment, I was stuck behind a very slow driver. Ordinarily I would have changed lanes to pass. But this day I needed a small tangible victory in being patient, so I decided to just stay behind him. Ha ha. It did work. I felt victorious in practicing patience. : )

With each day I am given more and more blessings as I spend precious moments with Pete and the boys. I was blessed with a quick trip to Jacksonville, FL when Pete had to report for Navy training. I tagged along and was able to relax away from home and enjoy some yummy seafood meals. We also were able to attend a formal Navy dinner and get all dressed up. It was fun! The boys, meanwhile, were treated to a two day trip to Tybee Island by my parents. They had a great time being spoiled!

I am still on short term disability as the doctors would like for the one incision to heal before I go back to work. It is giving me quite a time. This the incision under my right breast which was reduced in size at the time that they removed the left breast to help me with balance. Please pray that the incision will fully heal quickly.

Yesterday I began the radiation treatment. The number of treatments in my plan was reduced to 25 from 30 since there was no cancer in my pathology report and I'll only be receiving the minimal dose. PRAISE GOD! The treatment is very easy. The whole thing just lasts 20 minutes and I don't feel a thing. I just have to be careful to take care of my skin in that area so that I don't develop a burn. The radiologist, Dr. Maxa, who is absolutely delightful and very compassionate, has warned me that I will likely just experience exhaustion after the second week of treatment. She explained that I will be most tired the last week of treatment and the week right after. The beautiful thing to me is that I will be all DONE with treatments just in time for the last day of school for the boys. YEAH!!!! I am looking forward to a fun summer with them.

We continue to be so very thankful for each of you and the support you have given us. We will continue to pray for each of you and our many friends who are also healing from cancer.

God bless you all!
With much love,
Cristina

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Healing

"He has sent me...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." Isaiah 61:1-3

One week has passed since my surgery. We have all been surprised at how quickly I was up and about. I continue to get tired very easily but the healing process is definitely under way. I have had follow up appointments with both surgeons and both say I am healing beautifully.

We received GREAT news Thursday evening when my breast surgeon called to let us know that the pathology report shows that I am completely clear of cancer. They could not find any evidence of cancer in the breast tissue nor in the 9 lymph nodes she removed. We are amazed and so very grateful! What an amazing healing!!!!! We met with the surgeon yesterday and she explained that they are beginning to see this complete response more often with the new chemo therapy drugs they are using. However, we believe this was a miraculous healing. Let me explain.

Just one week before my surgery was to take place I was still not convinced that it was the right thing for me to do. I talked with several people including my doctors and asked them to convince me that I should have my left breast removed. The doctors' explanation for why the surgery should take place is that removing the breast and analyzing the tissue is the only way to prove that the cancer is gone. This is one area that I believe we need to make major advancement in.

So, I decided to go to my naturopath doctor for an additional thermascan in which, through an infrared scan, she can detect patches of heat which signify disease. She completed the breast scan and showed me how the left breast still showed evidence of cancer in two places. This piece of evidence helped me see that removing the left breast was probably the right thing to do to protect me from future recurrence of cancer.

Well, just a few days later our dear friend, Father Joseph, passed away after a long illness which began as Leukemia. We attended his wake the day before my surgery along with thousands of others.
I was praying for his intercession in providing me with healing grace, whether it be emotional or physical healing. After paying our respects to his body and praying for his soul, I asked Fr. Kevin, his brother, to pray a blessing over Peter and me. He did so right in front of Fr. Joseph's casket. As he prayed over us I held on to the scapular that Fr. Joseph had blessed for me to wear several months back. I asked Fr. Joseph to intercede for me.  So, when we found out Thursday evening, one week after that blessing, that I do not have cancer present, I really believed that Fr. Joseph had interceded and God had granted yet another miracle.

As we have called family and friends to let them know the good news the first question is always, will you still have to go through radiation? My breast surgeon says I will still need radiation. I am setting up an appointment with the radiology oncologist to discuss this further. Again, I am not convinced yet.

I'll be honest, my first reaction to the news was, "Great, so we removed my breast for no reason!" This had been my fear all along but also my hope, that they would remove the breast only to find out there was nothing to worry about. I did experience anger and great sadness. However, through the love of my husband and my parents they were able to fill me with hope and thankfulness. I needed to see the silver lining and they pointed it out to me. Now I am happy and can rejoice! Life will go on and I won't have to be worried about whether or not they got all of the cancer. Yes, I will be different physically, but the most important part is that I am different spiritually. I have allowed and will continue to allow God to mold me through this experience. I will continue to look to many of you for guidance toward God's will and support in following His will.

I thank you all for the prayers and that amazing support and love you have and are continuing to shower us with. Although painful at times, this has been an incredible experience to see how God showers us with love through each of you.

I ask that you continue to pray for several friends who are still healing from cancer: Eva, Jason, Victoria, Mary, Gisela, Ryan, Laura, just to name a few. I also pray for those who worry about cancer returning.

It is true that once you are diagnosed with cancer, life is never the same. But life can be better! It can be a good thing to be reminded of our mortality and our need to depend on God. It is good to be reminded that we need to treasure each day of life that God has blessed us with. And what better time to be reflecting on new life than through Easter time? I am so very grateful to be celebrating new life on this blessed Easter weekend when I get to see so many in my family and so many friends. I pray that you will each experience healing in your life this Easter. Ask God to show you where this healing is taking place. Be ready to experience the healing that God has planned for you!

Happy Easter to each of you!
With Much Love,
Cristina
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." - Psalm 107:1

Friday, March 18, 2016

Surgery Update

Thank you for the many prayers today. Praise God all went well. The surgery only took 2 hours! I was up in my room by 2pm.

It's amazing how tired I have been and groggy from the anesthesia and pain medications. I am resting in bed with Pete sitting next to me.

I'll post more tomorrow when I feel more like myself.

Love to all,
Cristina