Monday, December 3, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes with Women Blessings

Thank you Julie for inviting me here today to share my story. Because of your willingness to include me over a year ago in the Women's Retreat, I am here today to tell this tale. Thank you for your notes of encouragement, prayers, nourishment, and the gift of One Thousand Gifts. You fill me, Woman. 

Last year, I turned 40. If you're a woman, you know what this means . . . mammogram time. My first mammogram was scheduled the first week of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because of suspicious findings, they immediately sent me for a sonogram. The results concluded a breast excision was in order. This is where they put the breast in question in the mammogram machine and then thread a wire into the breast to the mass. From there, they take you into surgery. What is interesting to note is that I never had any lumps. I had night sweats, but just assumed this was due to the possible onset of early menopause. Sorry, I know you've just eaten, but one night I did wake to nipple discharge which I now know is a symptom of breast cancer.

In the meantime, I had e-mailed Julie Ford regarding my interest in the Women's Retreat. I didn't know anyone who was going, but it sounded like an experience I didn't want to miss out on. After a few exchanged e-mails, Julie invited me to help plan the Women's Retreat. Without hesitation, always up for a new experience, I said, “Sign me up!” and I was soon introduced to more women blessings via Julie: Deb Inman, Angie Henshaw, Cindy Whitcomb, Dannette McKellar, and Sue Hansel to name a few. Each of these women became instrumental in my healing through prayer, nourishment, sharing of her own story, listening, and the teaching and loving of my oldest daughter, the one who was affected the most by the upset of this past year. Thank you! You have filled me. 

Shortly after the retreat, the call came where I was indeed positive for invasive tubular cancer. My three-year-old was a few feet from me when I received the call. I remember the adrenaline racing and my body entering fight or flight mode. My father had passed five years previous after a gruesome 11-month battle with cancer, so I had a first-hand glimpse of what may lie ahead. I had to fight. I had a 3 and 5 yr-old, and they needed more time with their momma. We scheduled the lumpectomy for the week of Thanksgiving, the one chance to save my ta ta. Soon after sharing the news, a knock was at my door. A woman blessing came in, prayed with me, wrapped me in a prayer shawl, listened, and shared. Before we knew it, the once lit room in which we were sitting was now dark. Time had passed, tears were shed, and I felt so much better. Thank you Cindy Whitcomb for filling me. 

One morning prior to surgery, I awoke thinking the word needs to be spread about breast cancer; let's turn a negative into positive. I e-mailed Deb and asked if a Get Pinked Party might be possible. She replied, “Yes!” and helped turn my impulsive idea into a reality. Many prayers of thanks for you, Deb, throughout this entire process.

My Women's Retreat roomie and tennis buddy, Masja LaRue donated a delicious pink ribbon cake and assisted Mary Kennett, who offered her hair services for pinking free of charge. This was a welcome distraction, and I enjoyed every minute of it connecting with more women blessings of all ages: Tonnie Schalk with her infectious laugh, whom I had only met a few times, not only jumped in and started painting nails, but also shared her own story. Thank you, and thank you to the many other women blessings who were Pinked that night. Your support filled me. 

A mastectomy was now inevitable, but while Chad and I were listening to the surgeon explain the skin-sparing procedure and follow-up treatments, I inquired about a double mastectomy. I did not want to have radiation and scans every six months. With two squirts, who has time for repeated doctor visits? The truth is I didn't want to make the time; instead, I wanted to use my time for authentic life experiences. I was fully resigned to the fact that this body is simply a shell, and we can't take it with us. I had witnessed my father's body shrivel to practically nothing, and it still haunts me to this day when I visualize it. I didn't want my girls to have to ever witness this, so I opted for removal of both breasts and honestly felt relieved about my decision.

My best friend and woman blessing, Sarah Bohnenstiehl, from the beginning campaigned for the double mastectomy, and I remember telling her she was nutty. In the end, though, and as always, I backtracked and told her she was right. She is always right! When I bounced worries and concerns off of her, her response was “Cansah Schmansah!” which became my mantra. The approach to treating breast cancer is aggressive and swift. One morning it had finally all sunk in, and I called my BFF crying. Her response, “I'll take Sissy for the day,” which is exactly what I needed. I needed that day to myself to let it all out, and I couldn't do that in front of my children. I am grateful every day for this woman blessing and work on intentionally letting her know.

As a further distraction, Deb and Julie wholeheartedly gave me the green light to go ahead with RUBY Magazine. I was so motivated and so full after our Women's Retreat I wanted to offer a means to further facilitate connections between women at Troy UMC. Meeting women at the retreat I may never have met as well as The Journey Team at Christ Church was the inspiration. The Bible verse, Proverbs 31:10, “She knew that she was worth far more than rubies . . .” always a favorite became the theme of Ruby. Little did I know at the time that we had our very own little woman blessing, Miss Ruby Price, right here with us at Troy UMC.

After a “heavy” forgiveness workshop at the retreat, I was in the food line talking with a woman from our church. We had this deep conversation about dysfunctional childhoods and forgiveness not knowing each other's names or stories. Months later, I ran into this same woman at church, and she agreed to a RUBY interview. While talking, she shared how she, too, was a breast cancer warrior and gave me such hope. Here she was this strong, active, square-dancing woman. Thank you Sue Hansel for filling me. 

After my surgery in January, women blessings immediately sprang into action by nourishing my family and myself with delicious meals. . . taking the time to stamp carrots into star shapes (Masja LaRue) which my girls loved and delivering pizza in a sleet storm (Amy Burrelsman). Every evening for six weeks, my whole family looked forward to our surprise meal with anticipation and then devoured the bounty Thank you to the women blessings who literally filled me and resulted in at least a 10 lb weight gain.

In addition, the notes, e-mails, and texts meant everything to me. Two women blessings chose to sooth me with cds which had helped each of them in their own times of need. Thank you Suzanne Price and Heather Budwell for filling me through music.

In February, I was hospitalized twice for infections which led to an unplanned surgery to remove one of my tissue expanders. My girls did not take this well. So, women blessings again came to the rescue. Sherri Volz and her boys accompanied Chad and my girls to the tubes at Mickey D's one Saturday only to care for my diarrhea laden daughter in the restroom. When I returned home from the hospital, Sherri asked if I needed anything. I responded, “Boobs!” Little did I know she would bring me my very own boobs complete with nipples and a bra in the form of cake. Thank you for filling me and making me laugh, one of my favorite pastimes. 

Between hospital stays with drains hanging out of my sides and my chest wrapped in a surgical bra, a woman blessing came to my house on several occasions complete with hair supplies to at least keep my hair rockin'. Thank you Miss Mary for filling me. 

With a prosthetic left ta ta to now even me out, infections cleared, and implantation insertion scheduled, I was anxious to live a full life again. Having met a woman blessing while volunteering for VBS the previous year, I looked forward to joining her and other women blessings in Faithful Fitness by completing two 5Ks with her. Thank you Beth Miramonti for inviting me to feel whole again and begin work on losing those 10+ lbs.

In other aspects of my spiritual life, I was anxious to become involved. While waiting to speak to a staff member one morning, I decided to have some private time in the sanctuary. A woman blessing I had seen at the Women's Retreat, remembered her cute do, but didn't know entered the sanctuary and asked if I'd like her to pray with me. Unbeknown to me, I was relieved at her invitation and tears began to fall as I relayed what was heavy on my heart to this stranger. I had recently received a text message on Easter morning from a female blood relative informing me that my breast cancer was God's way of punishing me. This woman blessing's prayers that morning lifted the weight bearing down on my heart. Thank you Sue Busler for being intentional and approaching me. You fill me. 

You are all women blessings, and I thank you for filling me every day. As a reminder of your ability to nourish families, mend broken hearts, and evoke laughter, I have a tiny mirror for each of you to stow away in your coin purse, for example. So, the next time you're riffling through your purse, perhaps this mirror will be a reminder of all you are capable of in improving the lives of others and my everlasting gratitude for each of you, my sisters in Christ.*

*As a side note, the focus of today was on women blessings. Men blessings, too, first and foremost my husband, raised me up this past year, but that talk is for another day.

Courtney Winkler

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