Grief Awareness: From One Broken Soul To Another

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Tomorrow is 3 years since my sister, Jessica Rae was suddenly taken from us by the cruel and indiscriminate clutches of cancer at the age of 33. Then 24 hours later, it  is a year since my grandfather passed. How delightfully poetic that his last gift to our exceedingly dysfunctional family, was that he waited to die as not to overwhelm us with double grief or overshadow that already painful day.  It was a definite gesture of love if ever there were one.

The beginning of the year is especially draining on me. I let those emotions flow where they will and then continue in my daily life. Not to say I don’t have other draining days of the year…because I do, several in fact. Nearly every month of the year is scattered with painful losses for me.  But, this time of year is absolutely the hardest.

Losing a loved one {I’m an expert in this…I’ve encountered more than my fair share of death} is a difficult and excruciating part of life. One that nobody wants to speak about lest they become the next victim of loss. Many have no idea how to handle a friend in mourning, let alone  are they aware that grief has no time constraints.  The mere idea that someone could suffer so much from their loved ones end of suffering is not only unfathomable to them it is difficult for them to give loving support to the person grieving.
   
 
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The pain that is commonly accompanied by thoughts of guilt is torturous. There is always questions…ones that can never be answered, not in a person’s lifetime anyway. Questions like… why did this have to happen to them, did I do everything I could to save them, could I have done more, why didn’t I spend more time with them, why…why… WHY???

As unfortunate as it is, there is/was nothing more or different that could alter what transpired. They had to go and we had to stay. This realization doesn’t remove the pain. Nothing completely removes the pain and nothing ever will.

You can choose how the pain affects you though. You can choose to be mindful or you can choose to let the pain consume you.  It’s painful, don’t deny yourself to feel that pain. But don’t let that pain take away from the joyful and beautiful moments happening all around you.

When you need to grieve, do it. Feel the pain from losing them, feel the joy that they gave you while alive… let the emotions come but most importantly let those emotions go. Don’t allow yourself to be swept away into the dark abyss of depression…because the painful truth is, their earthly ties have been undone because their physical job is over. But yours, my dears, is not.

Your work here is still needed. There is a job for you and only you can deliver  it. I know that offers you no comfort…as I sit here teary-eyed over my own losses…I know exactly how little my words soothe that throbbing ache in the pit of your stomach or mends even a fraction of your now irreparably damaged heart. I really truly get it.

Just know that there is no time constraint for grieving. And forgive those who don’t know any better than to say offensive words under the guise of compassion. They know not what they do because they have never been in your shoes.     
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Don’t suffer alone in silence. Feel free to add me on Facebook . Also  “like” the page,  National Grief Awareness Day where you will find others who know how to listen and how to be a friend.  Life is too short to spend it alone in pain. Love, understanding, and compassion can heal us all.     

All photos courtesy of National Grief Awareness Day’s Facebook page. Link provided above. Please support their page. Thank you.     

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A Merry Kenia Christmas

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Sunday I went to Cardinal Glennon Hospital to visit my niece, Kenia. She is my husband’s cousin’s daughter, which doesn’t make her my niece in American culture but, her mother has the same last name as my husband. (Their parents are siblings on both sides.) That makes them more like siblings than cousins. I realize it’s a bit confusing; she is nonetheless to me, my niece.

I have known Kenia since she was a tiny baby. I first met her and her family when they were living in Las Vegas for a short time in 1997. Kenia has Crouzon’s Snydrome. Her skull fused together prematurely causing abnormal development of the eye sockets and mid-face.

I didn’t become reacquainted with Kenia and her family until I moved to Chicago in 2001. Kenia and her older brother played with my kids like all little cousins do. They all got along really well. My children, like me, see a person’s inner self. Unconditional love truly is blind.

Kenia attends the school for the blind, because of the Crouzon’s Syndrome, her eyesight is very bad. Over the years, Kenia has had major surgery several times to make space for her growing brain. She recently had another surgery in August of this year. Friday, Kenia was admitted to the hospital because of an infection that she contracted while at school.

It is difficult to fight illness this time of year and even more so when you have a brace attached to your head and face and are around other children who may or may not be carrying a simple cold virus.

Kenia’s mother hasn’t worked since the surgery in August. She took a significant reduction in income so that she could be with her daughter. What parent wouldn’t do the same thing?

December 23, one day before their family celebrates Noche Buena, (Christmas Eve) Kenia will be undergoing surgery again, to remove the last bit of equipment from her August operation. This is when the doctors will find out whether the surgery went well and if her skull will hold its new shape. If the surgery didn’t go well, her skull will collapse, crushing her brain and killing her. Kenia will be 15 years old next January. She is scheduled for another surgery next year.

Many times this month, you have seen me say how important it is to give to those less fortunate. In fact, if you’ve been a reader since the beginning, you know I speak about it often. We live in a society where it’s all about, “ME”. People going into debt at Christmas to spoil already spoiled children. Children asking for more and more every year, even when they have too much already. People buying cars that are beyond their means and paychecks. Where does it end? There is nothing wrong in wanting to have nice things; after all you work hard for them, right?

But, what about those who are in need? What about the family who spends their holiday in a hospital room praying for a full recovery? What about the child who hopes to be with her family for Christmas? A child who has asked Santa for her health.

No, Kenia doesn’t believe in Santa but, Kenia and her family wants those things just the same. My husband, children, and I are doing what we can to make sure Kenia has a great Christmas this year. Despite the financial difficulties we also have faced these last three years. If we have to forgo our own Christmas celebrations and sit in a hospital room to make her Christmas special, we will. Because it is the season to give and it won’t feel like Christmas without her.

Many people will throw in a couple of dollars or a handful of coins into a kettle for a stranger to have a Merry Christmas, how about doing the same for my niece? If you’d like to contribute to Kenia’s Merry Christmas you can contact me directly or use the donation button on my blog’s sidebar. All donations ‘For Jens Sake’ receives in December will go directly to Kenia’s Christmas gifts. Thank you all for being loyal readers and may you all spread the joy and magic of Christmas to everyone.

Kenia with her older brother, younger sister, mother in Sept. 2011

This is a rare photo of Kenia since her surgery, she didn’t want to be photographed while wearing the brace.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Men Are Not Immune

As I was searching for ways for my husband and son to support Breast Cancer Awareness, I became annoyed.

I don’t mind that everything Breast Cancer related, is pink. I know that my son and husband don’t mind it either, as I am sure many men don’t. After all, it’s not about the color it’s about the cause! But, what bothered me is how everything is aimed towards women…delicate jewelry, frilly, girly items, and “Fight like a girl” slogans. Where are the “I FIGHT FOR my girl” or “I FIGHT WITH THE GIRLS” slogans?

Yes, it is true, that more women are diagnosed with Breast cancer than men but, tell me why there aren’t any clothing, jewelry, gift baskets, etc… for men? Even if you ignore the fact that men also get Breast Cancer, why are men excluded from supporting their mother’s, sister’s, aunt’s, grandmother’s, or wife’s…in a more manly fashion? There should be more items available to boys and men to not only support the females in their life who are afflicted but, to also support the men who are afflicted every year. A little pink never hurt anyone, but how about some man-sized shirts, necklaces, bracelets…something that says, I wear pink because I love and support this person who is battling this horrendous disease and I don’t have to look like a cross-dresser to do it.

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Now as you may have gathered, For Jens Sake is participating in a month-long Breast Cancer Awareness drive. It is the goal of myself and many other bloggers to not only raise awareness about this disease but, to educate as well.

The biggest misconception is that Breast Cancer is solely a woman’s disease. It is not! Men are not immune. Any person who has studied Biology in school or has had a sexual education class should already know that, both boys and girls have breast tissue.

Where breast cancer begins in men:
Everyone is born with a small amount of breast tissue. Breast tissue is made up of milk-producing glands called lobules, ducts that carry milk to the nipples and fat. Women begin developing more breast tissue during puberty and men do not. Because they are born with a small amount of breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer.

Another reason that Breast Cancer is considered as solely a woman’s disease has to do with statistics. There just aren’t as many male cases as there are female cases. But, that doesn’t mean men can’t get Breast Cancer.

What are the key statistics about breast cancer in men?
The most recent American Cancer Society estimates for male breast cancer in the United States are for 2011:

About 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men.
About 450 men will die from breast cancer.
Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. The number of breast cancer cases in men relative to the population has been fairly stable over the last 30 years.

The prognosis (outlook) for men with breast cancer was once thought to be worse than that for women, but recent studies have not found this to be true. In fact, men and women with the same stage of breast cancer have a fairly similar outlook for survival.

The signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer are the same in men and women. This is why it is extremely important to do a monthly self exam on yourself and know your body.

Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer can include:

A painless lump or thickening in the breast tissue
Changes to the skin covering your breast, such as dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling
Changes to your nipple, such as redness, scaling or a nipple that turns inward
Discharge from your nipple

If you suspect that something is out of the ordinary; schedule an appointment and have a doctor examine you. Both men and women are examined in the same fashion, to rule out or diagnose Breast Cancer.

Diagnosing male breast cancer:

If breast cancer is suspected, your doctor may conduct a number of diagnostic tests and procedures such as:

Clinical breast exam. During this exam, your doctor uses his or her fingertips to examine your breasts for lumps or other changes. Your doctor assesses how large the lumps are, how they feel, and how close they are to your skin and muscles. Your doctor will also examine the rest of your body for signs that the cancer has spread, such as feeling for an enlarged liver or enlarged lymph nodes.

Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of your breast tissue. To assess your breast tissue, your breast will be pressed flat as much as possible. During a mammogram, you stand in front of a machine with your shirt off. Two flat plastic plates come together to compress your breast tissue. A radiology technician takes the X-rays. The compression of the mammogram can be uncomfortable. Ask the technician what to expect and speak up if you’re feeling pain.

Breast ultrasound. Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound of your breast to evaluate an abnormality seen on a mammogram or found during a clinical exam. Ultrasound uses sound waves to form images of structures within the body.

Testing nipple discharge for cancer cells. Your doctor may collect nipple discharge if you’re experiencing it. The discharge is then examined using a microscope to look for cancerous cells.

Using a needle to remove cells for testing. A biopsy procedure involves removing a sample of suspicious tissue for laboratory testing. A breast biopsy is commonly done by inserting a needle into the breast lump and drawing cells or tissue from the area. When analyzed in a laboratory, your tissue sample reveals whether you have breast cancer and, if so, what type of breast cancer you have.

If it is determined that you have Breast Cancer the doctor will be able to tell you in what stage your cancer is in and what type of Breast Cancer you have.

Determining the extent of the cancer:
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage helps your doctor determine treatment options. Staging tests include blood tests and imaging tests, such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The stages of male breast cancer are:

Stage I. The tumor is no more than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter (3/4 inch) and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage II. The tumor may be up to 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. Or the tumor may be larger than 5 cm and no cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes.

Stage III. The tumor may be larger than 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter and may involve several nearby lymph nodes. Lymph nodes above the collarbone may also contain cancer cells.

Stage IV. Cancer at this stage has spread beyond the breast to distant areas, such as the bone, brain, liver or lungs.


Types of breast cancer diagnosed in men include:

Cancer that begins in the milk ducts. Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of male breast cancer. Nearly all male breast cancers begin in the breast ducts.

Cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands. Lobular carcinoma is rare in men because men have few lobules in their breast tissue.

Cancer that spreads to the nipple. In some cases, breast cancer can form in the breast ducts and spread to the nipple, causing crusty, scaly skin around the nipple. This is called Paget’s disease of the nipple.

Inherited genes that increase breast cancer risk.
Some men inherit mutated genes from their parents that increase the risk of breast cancer. Mutations in one of several genes, especially a gene called BRCA2, put you at greater risk of developing breast and prostate cancers. Usually these genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep cells from growing abnormally. But if they have a mutation, the genes aren’t as effective at protecting you from cancer.

Meeting with a genetic counselor and undergoing genetic testing can determine whether you carry gene mutations that increase your risk of breast cancer. Discuss the benefits and risks of genetic testing with your doctor.

Everyone will tell you how important it is to catch cancer early. It is very, very important to catch it early. Therefore you need to self-exam and get regular checkup’s by a medical practitioner.

Let’s end the stereotype that Breast Cancer is a woman’s disease. Breast Cancer is clearly less common in men than in women but, it doesn’t care which sex you are. Men are not immune so please don’t be bashful, get yourself checked and don’t become a victim to Breast Cancer.

Don’t forget to get involved, support Breast Cancer Awareness and education. Because cancer doesn’t affect one it affects all!

For Jens Sake and Blognostics Joining Forces For Pinktober

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Anger

Faith, Hope, Love, and Awareness

What Breast Cancer Awareness Means to Me

The Pink Ribbon Challenge

Breast Cancer Awareness Pinktober

Pinktober Is Amongst Us

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Anger

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month as many of you know. Before I even get into this post I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken part in the Breast Cancer Awareness movement this month. So many of you have truly shown your support and respect for me, by placing my BCA (Breast Cancer Awareness) post button on your blogs. A few of you have shown me remarkable love by changing your Facebook avatar to the picture I made for my sister. I am honored to call you all friends!!!

 

I fully intended to write a post yesterday, the first day of October, about my sister’s Breast Cancer story. I wrote and wrote, and the words poured from my soul as they always do in my writing. But, as I was writing there came a moment when the pain took over my fingers and by the time I had realized I was over 1000 words. I stopped and reread the last couple of paragraphs… I can’t post that agony here, because…

Not only is my heart aching for the loss of my sister but, I am still angry. I am angry at a God who claims to love his children but, allows their lives to be Hell. I am angry at doctors who didn’t catch the cancer in time for my sister to be able to fight it. I am angry at family members who instead of pulling us together in our darkest hour, decided instead to tear us apart further. I am angry at myself for not being there with her…for not taking our conversations more seriously…for not having money to pay for an autopsy… for not being able to fight cancer for her…and most of all for thinking that some people who are Breast Cancer survivors and battling it, are still taking their lives for granted. In a nutshell, I AM ANGRY!!!

Click on the image to read My Sister's Keeper

My sister was 33 years old when Breast Cancer took her life, 3 days after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. She’s dead now, do you comprehend that? She is DEAD! She had no chance to fight, no chance at all. I don’t blame anyone for that, it happened for a reason. I am still wondering the exact reason but, it was for a reason. Cancer has affected me… it has taken from me…it has changed me, and I am NOT even the one who was diagnosed.

But, is it not true, that a cancer diagnosis affects more people than just the one who has the cancer? It should but, in most cases it doesn’t. I can tell you this in all honesty, with every bit of my soul showing, that many people on this planet are too self-absorbed to realize; that it is affecting them whether they have a personal relationship with someone who has cancer or not. They fail to realize that if they don’t stand up, unite, and fight with those who are fighting right now…there won’t be anyone fighting for them when their time comes. And believe me when I say, it is much closer than you can fathom.

I don’t expect sympathy for my sister’s untimely death. I expect unity to battle a disease that is devastating our families, our friends, our planet. I don’t want to be known as a hero because I survived my sister’s death to Breast Cancer and wrote a few paragraphs about it. I want to be remembered for my small place among a large group of heroes who fought against this horrific disease. I don’t ever again want to feel like I did when Breast Cancer took my sister’s life. I never again want to tell someone I love; be it family or friend, that I am sorry you have cancer.

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I am pushing this Breast Cancer Awareness movement because the fact of the matter is, nobody is untouched by it. If you think you are, wake up, because you are dreaming. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who has cancer in one of its many hideous forms or another. You, reading this post, are 1 degree separated from Breast Cancer, Leukemia, Throat Cancer, Stomach Cancer, and Pancreas Cancer; because I have lost family to all of those cancers. Just knowing me through this blog post right here, makes you that much closer to the effects of these despicable diseases. That tear that slid down your cheek as you read my anguish, were the effects of cancer, my dearest reader!

Now that you realize how close cancer is to you… what are you going to do about it?

Please get involved! Support cancer awareness in the form of donations; by donating directly or buying products that give. Support sites and organizations that focus on helping Cancer victims and their families. Support it by wearing the cancer colors, i.e. pink for Breast Cancer. Support it by searching on Facebook for the different cancers and liking the pages. Support it by joining in on events such as the Breast Cancer Awareness challenge event that I have going on this month. Support organizations that specialize in awareness, early detection and free cancer screenings. And most importantly support it by getting yourself checked often (men too, you are not immune) and spreading the word to everyone that Cancer is trying to kill us all.

Don’t let it!!! Stand up, unite, and do something about it!

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Before you leave here today, please click on the Breast Cancer Site button in my sidebar and give a woman the gift of a free mammogram.

 

Note: Throughout this post are many links, ones that lead to sites to support and several that will take you to my blog posts about my sister and Breast Cancer. Please find time to check them out and comment. Thank you.