Joy and Courage

Jun 04

Today my kids are at a place called Camp Joy attending an event called Camp Courage.  It’s a day of empowerment, sharing, and community-building for kids who have been impacted by cancer in their immediate families.  Maren’s brilliant counselor is running it, and Maren was bubbly with excitement this morning.  She has enjoyed making connections with other kids who “just get it” this paste year as we have started exploring this organization.  For Greta, having just turned five, this is her first experience with the program.  She’s nervous and relying on big sister to literally and figuratively hold her hand.  When I left them this morning, Maren was literally carrying Greta as they walked over to the game the other kids were playing.  We are blessed to have the people and the programs to support us as a family–I am so grateful.  At the same time, when friends ask what we’re doing this weekend, it’s jarring to tell them, “The girls are going to ‘cancer camp’ all day Saturday.”  It still gives me pause that the best thing my kids can do today is grapple with our challenge at a camp.  The program has it right though… if they can navigate this journey, their lives, with joy and courage they will indeed be doing it well.

Our summer is off to a great start.  I love having both girls home all day.  We’re doing swim team, and after a half-dozen practices Maren can officially dive off the block, which has been a long time coming.  I’m so proud of her for conquering her fear.  Befuddling to me, butterfly continues to be her favorite stroke; it is the one I despised.  Greta, again at five, is one of the wee ones; after her first practice she stalked out of the water and over to me.  “Mom!  That was too much swimming!  It was hard!  I almost sinkded!  And!  I almost got seasick!” And then, when she saw I was giggling at her indignation, “Mom!  I am serious!  Why are you laughing!  Don’t you care that I almost sinkded?!”

While Maren practices, I hang out with Greta, and vice versa.  On the first day — even with Grandma and Grandpa there from Wisconsin — Greta was bored and whiney.  I was thinking I had definitely failed in my parenting that she couldn’t be enjoyable/well-behaved for an hour and a half.  The next day, however, she made a rainbow out of treasures around the pool area (bonus: she cleaned up all the litter).  She lined up bits of trash, flower petals, and leaves from red pink to violet and everything in between.  The day after that she played restaurant using her flip flop as a plate and landscape scraps as the food.  Upon reflection, I think that the boredom was as painful for her as it was for me, and she’s now motivated to entertain herself.  G-meister for the win!

Hanging out with Maren is different.  She sidles up to me and people-watches with me.  Often we talk about the plan for the upcoming day, week, month as she likes align her expectations.  She volunteers to help with the little kid practice; as a big sister to Greta, she is an expert at cajoling small people to do the right thing.  If a friend comes to invite her to play or talk, she willingly goes along, but she doesn’t always seek out others when she is content to be by herself.  However, if there is a book she’s enjoying in her vicinity then I have little-to-no hope of capturing her attention. She’s lost in books these days, and I love her love of reading.  Reading the Harry Potter series with my daughter(s) has been on my bucket list since I became a mom, so that may happen this summer.

Our summer is chock full of fun things.  Brad and I are content to keep working on “what’s next” and keeping fun on the calendar ahead.  It’s a challenge to plan bigger things and smaller things around my medical situation both from a schedule perspective (needing to be in the oncology office all day every Monday), and from a functional perspective (how much energy/fitness does it require).  We would like to finally do the Big Out West Trip that I planned in my head during the fall of 1998 during my “Geography of US National Parks” course at Miami University, but that doesn’t seem like a wise choice: kids’ ages, lots of hiking, time, cost, etc.  Going on Baby Sister’s cruise ship to watch her blow glass makes more sense from an activity level perspective, but has it’s own challenges too.  It’s weird to think “what do we want to do” when “we” are different because of our circumstances.  The sweetness, however, is that we recognize the blessing it is to be looking ahead for good things around the corner.  The April scan that showed regression of my tumors has given us the present of the present, if that makes sense.  We are soaking in these days and doing our best to be a normal family.  Aside from my baldness, we’re pulling it off quite well, I think!  Ha!

We have a list of summer wishes: run in the sprinkler, going to a Reds game, run/walking a 5k together, having a picnic in the middle of the roundabout in our neighborhood, creek-walking, water balloon fight, learn an overhand volleyball serve (Maren), ride with no training wheels (Greta), start AND finish the local library reading program, camp, and many more.   (We are taking suggestions too!)

I’m well, but still very insular.  I can recharge by taking a walk around the neighborhood in the morning or — more often — the evening; it is a small bit of exercise and good for my brain at the same time.  I enjoy seeing my friends, but my days are short and my little free time often finds me napping, so I am feeling disconnected and removed from many of my circles.  I think my friendships stay the course, though, and the disconnect is not real.  We all have life and busy-ness and commitments, but we all hold each other close in spirit.  I know that if I put out the bat signal, my people would show up.  I also hope I’m on the bat signal call list should they need me.  It’s the way of the village, right?  I love my village.  I’m being the best version of Jen I can be, and I’m calling out to my Maren and my Greta to rock out their Maren-ness and Greta-ness.  That’s doing today well in this season, and I’m high-fiving my friends as they do the same as our paths cross.

I am wishing you much joy and courage today!


  1. Karin /

    We are very much connected in spirit dear sister! Love.

  2. Nancy McCarthy /

    As always, beautifully said. Finn is at camp today too! He loves it!
    Prayers for you and your family!
    Nancy McCarthy

  3. Marlayne /

    Hugs & don’t almost sinkded ? I ❤️ It !!!! ?

  4. Lisa Smith /

    Love you ?

  5. Jane Powell /

    I always read your blogs, Jen, though I don’t comment publicly. But today… MAREN! Butterfly Queen! You go girl! I love that stroke too – just get into a flowing rhythm, kick from the hips (not knees) fly, glide & relax! Love it!

  6. Lori6NV /

    You gave me joy and courage the other day with the email you took time out to send. Meant the world to me. We all need to send our kids to unexpected camps sometimes (trust me), but you do what’s best. Keep on doing today well!!

  7. Your girls make me smile, as does your plans to make summer the best it can be for your family.
    I agree that the big trip out west is too much right now — and that is all about your kids’ ages and stages more than it is about your personal energy level (although that is definitely a factor. When my family with teens drives from eastern WA to southern AZ each spring to visit grandpa, we tend to hit one or two big parks and it is exhausting! The girls will enjoy it much more in another 5 years and I pray that you will, too.

    I don’t always comment but I’m always reading and I keep you and your family in my prayers.

  8. Kelly Burns /

    I love that your girls are doing swim team this summer! Way to go Maren for enjoying butterfly as her favorite stroke so far. ???? As for summer activities…maybe your girls could have some fun playing hours of Jungle Girls like we did…haha. And definitely go creeking this summer…definitely one of my very favorite childhood memories with you guys!! Enjoy your fun summer ahead and those Harry Potter books. Thinking of you always!

  9. Christy /

    “The present of the present”- so perfectly said. I love it! 🙂

  10. Cindy Mitchell /

    Jen, Our thoughts and prayers are with you…I love reading your days with the girls… You are such an inspirational woman…You take care, keep up the great work you are doing and enjoy your summer… Many of us are behind you.. I am glad I got to meet you during my chemo time…We all love you

  11. Angela J /

    <3 Savoring the gift of you being able to introduce your girls to the wonder and joy of HP this summer!! Love, love, love.

    And if reading aloud is too taxing – some days or all – may I suggest listening together to the audiobook versions? Jim Dale reads them and he. is. incredible. 200+ distinct voices in the 7-book series. Really outstanding. My girls (now 10 & 14) have listened to them regularly for 4+ years, at bedtime, while sketching/drawing/playing, and sometimes in the car. They read the books, also, but when they aren't sure what to do, they pull up whichever chapter in whichever book that they want to hear at that moment, and they're off. <3 Now my 6 year old son is getting hooked, too. Ahhh, my heart!

    So glad for your positive attitude and for the gift of the regression. My mom was Dx'd with stage IV lung cancer just after I found your blog (right after your own Dx) and she is still shining love and grace and thankfully HERE with us wayyyy past her initial prognosis, though she must too do the careful energy expenditure dance. The gift of time is an amazing thing and I'm both praising and praying for three beautiful moms – mine, yours, and YOU. I'm a better person, daughter, mom, navigator of the sucky cancer journey, etc etc etc because of you and what you bring to the world. Thanks, Jen.

    Hugs from Michigan –