Saturday, March 25, 2017

Processing Vulval Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3 (VIN 3)

Having a precancerous condition (VIN 3)on my vulva is a strange phenomena. It's a rare so most people aren't aware of it, I certainly wasn't. And let's face it, people rarely talk about women's anatomy such as clitoris, vulva, labia, etc. We focus on breasts and vaginas, usually with odd nicknames rather than actual labels. My personal preference for vagina is "hoo-hah." It's cute with a punch of power and why can't my vagina be cute and powerful? It may not be cute after surgery but I can still pretend.

A handful of family and friends, and YOU, know about my condition. I've been wondering, do I talk about it? Do I wait until I schedule my surgery (the scheduler wasn't in yesterday due to the blizzard on her side of town), after the surgery and my results are in? Or do I keep it to myself and those who already know?  At first I thought if this was breast cancer that would be an easy answer but I don't think that is true either. I imagine that with any illness or disease one faces those same questions. You don't want to burden anyone, you don't want to worry anyone, but you do want support. You also don't want to keep it hidden in case it's worse than they initially thought.

I'm not sure how I feel or what to do. I'm in this odd place of near-disbelief. Part of me is relieved. This is related to the HPV virus. This means that it's not hereditary (except the piece that says, I likely have an underlying autoimmune issue that allowed the HPV to develop) which is great!  It's not like something within me was unleashed and I got cancer. It's that I caught a virus and got the beginnings of cancer. It also means my girls don't need to worry about it (thank goodness for the HPV vaccine!).

Yet, I am afraid that there might be real cancer. The affected area is larger than they first thought. The surgeon said he didn't think there would be actual cancer in the rest of the area but they will send it to the lab to be sure. If there is then we'll go back in to remove more tissue and my lymph nodes and see if there needs to be radiation or chemo. On one hand I want to believe him. On the other hand, I previously heard "I'm sure it's nothing but we'll go ahead and biopsy it."

When Valerie was a baby with some monumentally stubborn jaundice, he doctor said, "I'm sure tomorrow's test will be better" and "It never gets this high" until she was readmitted. Before the next to last blood test she said "I'm not telling you, it won't be worse. Let's just wait and see." Thankfully, at the scare point her levels started coming down. I worry more when told not to worry. I guess, I have some trust issues.

Through this rambling, I've decided to talk about it. All the readings say it's becoming more prevalent so people need to be aware. Sex should NOT be painful--if it is, go to the doctor. For quite some time,  I've had an area in which would often become irritated during sex. I didn't think anything of it. It wasn't the kind of pain that made me cry or stop having sex, but it did make things uncomfortable. That wasn't normal. Apparently, itching is a symptom as well. Thankfully, I didn't have the kind of itching I've read about but there was some a few months ago. I had a sore spot that went from being sore during/after sex to being sore all the time. I finally took a look (used my cell to take a picture and prayed that I didn't accidentally upload it to Facebook!) and discovered a purplish brown spot on my labia near my sore area, that is what they biopsied. The OB/GYN thought it was simply a varicose vein (gross!) on my labia but biopsied it anyway. I was prepared to ask and push if she wasn't going to suggest it. Don't worry about looking like a nut job, you have to advocate and take care of yourself.

I'm scared of being a hypochondriac so I often second guess myself.  I definitely need to stop doing that. Several years ago I was having heart palpitations and assumed it was related to anxiety because it was during midterms. Luckily, I went to the doctor for a sinus infection and they didn't let me leave until I had a Holter monitor. I then went through lots of testing and they put me on meds to help. I now avoid an abundance of caffeine and my heart is healthy. My doctor told me that if it had been an anxiety attack I would have thought I was dying. Because I wasn't freaking out was a good indication, it wasn't anxiety.'s a diagram of what they'll be removing

I appreciate having this place to write and process. I question myself why I choose to do it online in a public forum. I think it's because maybe there will be someone else who stumbles to my blog and wants to talk, wants to process with me. Thanks for "listening."

Monday, March 13, 2017


It started with a sore, a lesion, in the most unpleasant of places. I finally called the ob/gyn for an appointment.

At the appointment, she told me it wasn't anything to worry about. She was sure it was a varicose vein. Gross!  Who knew you could get varicose veins in your vaginal area? Certainly not I!  All the same I was relieved. She took the biopsy just in case. I left my appointment gently chastising myself for being a hypochondriac and going to the worst case scenario of the big C.

About two weeks ago she called with my results. I had just gotten out of court and was checking messages. I got a little nervous when she wanted me to call her but then I realized that if it was major they'd have me come in. So I sat in my car and called.

"They found precancerous cells, we're going to refer you to Dr. X. He'll cut until there are clean margins. His office will call you in a few days."
"Oh, okay."
"Do you have any questions?"
"Not right now."

In my brain the "pre" dropped off. All I heard was cancer. I had been relieved to be wrong the week earlier. And now it was precancerous.

I've had a bit more time to process so I'm feeling pretty good. I've gotten to the place where I don't think about it every day. It helped when my pap smear came back clear.  It also helped to learn the actual name of my condition, vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or VIN III. I've laughed quite a bit about finding one of the most obscure conditions to get--leave it to me!  See, I am special!

I see the gynecologic oncologist next week. I am nervous about it. I'm scared it will be multi-focal (more than one spot). I'm scared of the pain. I'm scared they will find the big C in other places. But I'm also hopeful. I'm hopeful it will just be one small spot. I'm hopeful that all will be well. I'm hopeful that he'll take more time to explain the process and what's going on. I'm hopeful my ears will be listening and my brain will connect the sound waves. Thankfully, Joel is going with me as well, so I will have a second set of ears and a second brain to help make sense of it all.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The strangest dream

"Last night I had the strangest dream..." is something my husband hears a lot. "Can I share it with  you?" is next. Depending on his mood and where he is in his stage of getting ready he may say yes or no.

Since I'd really prefer to process this strangest dream then the question is really for you. If your answer is yes then by all means keep reading! If no, then move along but I hope you will come back another day!

The dream was much like an alternate universe. In this dream my eldest daughter was 3 or 4. Her biological donor (sorry, father won't come out) came back into her life. (I was actually thrilled, him being healthy and actually being a father has been something I wanted for her for a very long time--she's now 21 and I don't see it happening. Alas, I digress.) She was spending the weekend with her Auntie (his sister) and I was having a strange church thing. We had discovered that Subway created a machine that would hold a person, magically adjusting to each new person, give them delightful nourishment, and then kill them so that their organs could be harvested and shared. It was a beautiful sacrifice for those who were facing extreme illnesses.

We borrowed 3 of these machines and offered it to the congregation.  Suddenly everyone wanted to die and give their sacrifice in the name of God and love. I think 2 or 3 people had gone through this and it was my turn to sit in the machine and then sacrifice myself. But while I sat there, I realized that this was not quite what I thought. I realized that God wanted us to really live!  That that was our sacrifice to be made. After feeling torn for my congregation and what they would think, I got out and tried to explain myself and explain how God wants us to live when my sister-in-law burst in with my child. She was appalled and going to call child welfare on me and have my daughter taken away. She ran out the door. Her husband stayed and taunted me and my congregation. During the chaos, 2 or 3 more people ran into the Subway machines and killed themselves. I was a nervous wreck. I had somehow been duped into confusing death for hope and life and led my congregation down this awful trap. I had to fix it!  I also had to keep my child safe. I began to worry about the families of the people who had died in the machines, and how would I do so many funerals and when? Wouldn't it be disrespectful to do one big funeral? Would I get sued? Omg!  I was going to be blamed for all of this! And then a foster child of my sister in law, jumped into one of the machines and died!  My life was ruined!  I was a failure!

At this point the right wing group that was sharing our church building came in and started singing and singing that I was from the devil and leading people to hell. I tried to explain what had happened and how wrong I was. I started smashing the machines, taking apart the awful decor of the church which had turned red and black. As I smashed the stuff to bits they turned white but there was something off still. In the destruction, I noticed there was no love and without love, it was not a part of God. I realized that I was not completely forsaken but God had not given up on me!  God was still within me but needed me to wake up and fully understand love (in the dream not in real life) and that this right wing pastor was really the devil. So I began to cast him out with prayers of love, arms raised and hands open to him. As the actual devil was getting cast out the room brightened with the love of God and turned sparkling white and then whenever doubt came back in or someone else screamed at me, then it would darken and turn to red and black again. The singing, dancing, destruction, and redemption went on for some time like a bad high school musical with the intensity of a evangelistic mega church altar call.

I think I was so exhausted in the dream that I woke myself up.

I woke up to the realization and beautiful feeling that I was not lost, I would never be lost to God, and that no one, no matter what they've done is lost to the redemptive power of God's love.

I was also grateful, this was just a damned weird dream!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hope, Beauty, and Kindness

This morning as I was scrolling through Facebook,  my friend Terri posted beautiful pictures of her with some folks from her congregation ceremoniously burning ashes for Lent. I asked her to share her liturgy and she did. As I read through the beautiful and poignant liturgy my heart swelled with excitement and joy. I realized that it is completely within the realm of possibility that next Lenten season I could be ceremoniously burning ashes with my congregation using her liturgy!

My first Lent as a full-time pastor in the UMC, I knew I wanted to burn my own ashes. I took the palms from the year before (thankfully the previous pastor had kept a stash), took them outside of the church with a bucket of water (safety first!) and big metal bowl to burn them in. I sat down crossed legged with the bowl in front of me, said a prayer, put the palms in the bowl and lit them on fire. They smoked....they smoked a lot. I started coughing and fanning the smoke away as I worked to stand up. Once I had stood up, the Sheriff pulled into the parking lot. Thankfully, he was one of my congregants and was curious about what I was doing. I explained to him and we joked about it being quite a site to see. The smell didn't help matters either.

He shared a story with me about a previous pastor who had burned their own ashes but whatever liquid they  mix it with ended up stinging and burning those who received the ashes. I made sure to research how to properly mix the ashes. I wish I would have researched how to properly burn the ashes! Each Lent I remember this little tale and it makes me smile, it brings a dose of joy to my heart.

This Lenten season there is a lot wrong with the world (imho); perhaps no more than previous years but it is especially difficult for me at this time. My only response, my only good thought is that in order not to be brought down by despair I must actively seeks out hope and beauty. I must intentionally act in kindness towards others and myself.  It does my rebellious soul good.

I hope to post pictures of the beauty I find. My intention is that I will do this often, they may be pictures with or without words.

This is the beauty I was struck by yesterday on my way to work. I had to stop and pull over so I could get a picture. It doesn't do justice to what my actual eyes witnessed but it comes close enough. I am truly lucky to live in the midst of such grand beauty.

 May your day be lifted up by hope, surrounded in beauty, and your actions be rooted in kindness.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My Third-trimester Abortion

It's something I don't talk about much.

In the past I referred to it as a stillbirth. It was a stillbirth. But it was also an induced labor in my third trimester, hence making it a third-trimester abortion.

When I discovered I was pregnant I was only 16 years old. I'm pretty sure Christopher was conceived on the night my mom walked in on my boyfriend and I having sex on the couch. I thought she was going to be at work but she came home early. He ran out the door and I cried while my mother yelled profanities at me. It was a horrible night for all of us.

I wasn't smart enough to consider pretending I was on my period. After a few months my mom asked me if I was pregnant. She was right but I denied it just the same. Tim and I had talked about giving the baby up for adoption but we were scared out of our minds and decided I'd get an abortion. Another month or so passed, I hadn't gotten an abortion and I couldn't deny my pregnancy to my mom anymore. I told her about my abortion idea. She said it was too late for that. I think Tim and I both breathed a sigh of relief, neither of us were really okay with the abortion.

One of my mom's coworkers knew a family who wanted to adopt. We didn't meet in person but exchanged letters and phone calls. Tim and I spoke to an attorney about the adoption procedure. My heart broke.

I finally went to the doctor who verified that I was indeed pregnant. I started taking prenatal vitamins and trying to eat healthier for the baby. I enjoyed being pregnant. It was a secret between Tim, my mom, and myself. I was due in October, people at school would find out then, I wasn't going to tell anyone. I decided to see my dad, stepmom, and sisters in May before I really started to show and then see them again after the baby was born. They didn't need to know, it wouldn't be that much longer than the normal amount of time that went by.

My mistake was that I broke down and told my Aunt Susie about my pregnancy. I told her everything. She wanted me to give the baby to her. I tried to explain that it was already set up with this other family and I thought it would be easier to let the baby go rather than have to see him/her  and not be able to be the parent. This was a nice family who would love him/her with all their hearts.

Susie's son, my cousin Doug, had died the year before. She was angry that I refused. She went and told my dad what I planned to do. He and my stepmom came and confronted me in McDonalds of all places. They were heart broken, not disappointed and angry like I expected. My stepmom told me to hold my head high and not worry about what everyone would say or think.

I started to show and I also started to share our secret.

The doctor sent me for an ultrasound. Every ultrasound I had since then I held my breath until I could see the spine connected together like a zipper and heard the words, "Everything looks good." There was silence as the sonographer moved the wand over my belly and stared at the screen. "Is everything okay?" "Uh, yeah, I'll be right back." He went and got another person to come and look at the screen and move the wand some more. They knew something but didn't breathe a word. They told us not to worry and that the doctor would call us.

I don't remember when the doctor called or even what he said. What I heard was that my baby was not going to survive outside of the womb. This little creature who kicked like a star soccer player wasn't viable. My baby had spina bifida and was anecephalic. This means that instead of a formed skull to protect his brain all he had was a strip of skin to cover his brain. His head would cut off at the eyebrows. According to the doctor I had two options, go through the pregnancy as normal and perhaps the baby would live for a few days, he had never heard of such a child living longer than that, or we could induce labor and save time, money, and my emotions.

The family was out, they weren't going to pay for the birth of a baby who was dead. I didn't and still don't blame them, it was their heartbreak too.

After a few weeks along with some pressure from my mom and Tim, we set up the appointment for induction of labor. We had to go to Wichita for the procedure. The night before they stuffed an enormous seaweed tampon inside of me to stretch out my cervix and help me dilate.  In the morning they pulled out the "tampon" and started the induction. I was over 6 months so the only way was for me to go through labor. I had plenty of painful contractions, the only difference was that they let me have medicine for the pain since they knew the outcome was going to be bad.

Finally, I gave birth to a little boy in a silent delivery room. We named him Christopher Thomas. The nurses cleaned him up, swaddled him in blankets and put a little beanie on his head. When the nurse laid him in my arms, she said we could take as much time as we wanted.

We did all the things parents do when there is a crying baby born. We counted his toes and fingers, I gently stroked and kissed his face. I told him how much I loved him.

This is what a third-trimester abortion looks like. It breaks the heart of each person involved. It's not an easy decision. It's hard on everyone, including the doctors and nurses. Our nurses were wonderful and after they took Christopher back, they took pictures of him for us.

Each August I experience a bought of depression. Each year I mark his birthday. Each holiday I think of who he might have been.

This is what a third-trimester abortion looks like.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good-bye Grandpa Bud

This is my Grandpa Bud, he also goes by Popo but that's what my nieces and nephews call him. To me, he's Grandpa Bud. He became my grandpa when I was about 5. I thought he was one  of the most handsome men I'd ever met. He looked like a movie star to me, I thought he was the spitting image of Clark Gable (I'm not sure how or why I knew who Clark Gable was but I did). He was also one of the kindest men I had ever met. I loved him immediately and took great pride when he named me Pistol.

I loved going out to the farm and spending the night because it meant that if I woke up early enough, it would be just me and Grandpa Bud sitting at the table together while he drank his coffee. I don't remember what we talked about but I do remember the ways his eyes sparkled and that I felt completely safe in his presence.

Grandpa Bud introduced me to the simple pleasures of buttered crackers dipped in milk, bread dipped in milk, and my favorite as a child, sugar sandwiches--bread spread with butter and cinnamon sugar (or just plain sugar) sprinkled on top.

I learned about cows, separating cream from the milk, and playing UNO from Grandpa Bud. I also learned a lot about love and generosity.

Several years ago we had a falling out. One of Grandpa Bud's grandsons had molested one of my nephews. Grandpa Bud was angry that my sister had called the police and reported it. It was a tremendous divide. Grandpa Bud and Grandma Bertie said some awful things to my sister and so I simply stopped talking with them and pretty much everyone on that side of the family. I was crazy angry and rightfully so. I supported my sister and nephew 100%, I still do. What happened to him was wrong and my cousin needed to get help and accountability, he wasn't getting it from the family, she had to call the police.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time thinking about Grandpa Bud as he died on Valentine's Day. Before I couldn't understand how he came down on the side of my cousin instead of my nephew. I'm not sure that I completely do now but I think I'm a little closer to it. Grandpa Bud was kind and loving, he saw the best in people. He saw the best in my cousin. My cousin had had it rough as a child, without a doubt. Grandpa Bud wanted to protect him and keep him safe. I think he was also in denial and minimized what had happened because it didn't fit in his picture of who my cousin was. The thing that is sad to me, is that my sister called the police not out of anger but out of concern for our cousin getting the help he needed because we saw that if we didn't nothing else was going to happen and he'd probably end up repeating it and hurting other children and possibly going to jail for a very long time. I wish Grandpa Bud could have seen and known that rather than only protecting our cousin. I wish he would have been able to support and show love to my sister and nephew they way he did for our cousin.

As the years passed, there has been more interaction with Grandpa Bud and Grandma Bertie. We never spoke of it but Grandpa Bud's eyes still sparkled with love and kindness. His laughter continued to bring joy to those who were blessed to hear it. I think each of us experienced a bit of forgiveness. I hope so anyway.

My heart broke when I heard the news. I hadn't cried so hard in a long time. I'm thankful that in the past few years I got to see and talk and laugh with him again. I am blessed that I saw my sister laugh and talk with him again so that I could too. I'm thankful that while I'll never forget I have forgiven. I think I may even understand a little bit, I still wish it would have been different but I understand better.

I'm thankful that Grandpa Bud can breathe deeply again, that he is without pain. I can see him fishing in his overalls, having a smoke with that big beautiful smile on his face and winking good-bye.

I love you Grandpa Bud. Thank you for making me feel safe and special.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Falling in love

I've fallen head over heels for the United Church of Christ.

Throughout seminary my friend Rick and I joked about carpooling from Kansas City, MO to St. Louis so we could attend Eden Seminary in St. Louis, MO. We knew the UCC had/has an intense commitment to social justice that surpassed that of the United Methodist Church.  Yet we stayed put in Kansas City and graduated from Saint Paul School of Theology. I loved my time at SPST. I made life long friendships with both students and professors. I learned a lot there. At SPST I fell in love with Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and Process theologies. My mind and heart expanded in love and yearning to co-create a better world.

In my pursuit of ordination in the United Methodist Church it was suggested that I hide my love for these theologies. I refused. I fought against the male conservative system in the Missouri Conference.

When we moved back to Colorado and attended my husband's family church, Community Congregational Church of Manitou Springs, I heard the words "No matter who you are or where you are on  life's journey, you are welcome here." Rainbow letters decorated their phamplets and they spoke about helping immigrants at the borders.

Then I attended Vista Grande Community Congregational Church. My first Sunday there, a beautiful woman was having a renaming ceremony. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing as her mother, children, family, friends, and church surrounded her with love reminding her that no matter what she is a beloved child of God, whether man or woman.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Congregations Alive, a UCC conference to build up UCC congregations, coming together for learning and fellowship. I must have walked around with my jaw dragging on the floor. The gathering was small compared to the UMC gatherings I'm used to and people were openly talking politics!  They were openly discussing how Jesus' mandates and messages stood counter to things going on in our government!

I love the UCC's embrace of people living on the margins of life, people who are on the margins of the church. I love how they are not afraid to hide the light of Christ's words when they are in opposition to the ways of the world. I love how you can be you in the UCC. I love that they absolutely mean it when they say "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

I'm excited about what is next on my journey in the UCC!