The longest I’ve ever been away from my kids and I went to….Winnipeg??!!  Oh ya! And it was all kinds of wonderful!  I’ve been looking forward to this trip for over a year when my cousin announced she was getting married.  Not only was going to a family wedding awesome, but I also got to reconnect with a friend I hadn’t seen in years and meet a friend in person, for the very first time!
Spending time with extended family (most whom I hadn’t seen for many years) who are so warm, loving, encouraging and hospitable (thank you!).  Receiving hugs with joyful tears to see in person just how well I am doing.  Getting to know cousins better and loving them that much more.  Reconnecting with my 2 “best-friend” cousins like old times. 
Experiencing a first: being so emotional and tearing up at a wedding.  These were tears of happiness, joy and gratitude. The love and excitement and nervousness (My cousin officiating his very first wedding- his sister’s) present.  The beauty of marriage: the love and hope and promise.  Seeing myself in this wedding and thinking of how much more deeply and beautifully in love Ryan and I are now, and being overwhelmingly grateful for that.  I was so glad to be there.

(My cousin’s super cute son I got to hang out with)
Then off to my dear friend’s house, a fellow cancer survivor whose journey has not been easy.  We talked and shared struggles.  She wrote it so well about our on a Facebook post, she’s given me permission to share it here:
We met 10 years ago and once upon a time were in the same small group together. We moved away in 2012 and hadn’t keep in super close touch until fall of 2016 when I found out she had cancer. I prayed hard for her as she fought brain cancer. Months later when I was diagnosed with appendix cancer she was a source of encouragement to me even though now an ocean separated us. 
And now here we are together again. We never would have thought one day we’d connect in this way because of frienship and the commonality of being cancer survivors. There is something so wonderful about having another person understand the effects of trauma on a body (and relationships) and the frustration of chemo brain and the struggle to find balance between caring for your family and household and yourself. No judgement here just grace, love and understanding.
It has been refreshing to catch up, share our stories, pray together, talk about hope, to gain insight from the amazing things she was taught by her medical team like the cancer prevention diet, the power of hope and positivity and visualization.
Thank you Cheryl for coming to visit. I hope we can do it again someday.
Our time together was so life-giving.  She brought my thoughts back round to what I’ve been learning this past year and to Brene Brown teaching that we need to have a very short list of whose opinions of us matter, and then disregard the rest.  As I thought about this I realized I carry the weight around of many opinions that do not matter.  This is stifling.  More than stifling its like being in a hot air balloon tethered to the ground with 4 ropes.  I’ve felt like I’ve been able to cut most of those ropes, yet I still struggle to “brave the wilderness” as Brene would say. To step into the unknown boldly and bravely, even though uncertainty is great.  To stand in the wilderness strong against the voices that say “you don’t belong here” or “why is she doing that?!” or “why isn’t she doing that?!” : opinions you know are going on (or worry that they are) in people’s heads.  I think perhaps this is the last rope I need to cut.  This visit has been so beneficial in seeing this.  Amazing what happens when we share our stories with others and teach one another what we have learned: we learn ourselves!

I also was able to meet a friend for the very first time.  A fellow twin mom who was also diagnosed with cancer when her babes were infants.  It was wonderful.  At one point I said to her, “I really like you!”  Meeting face to face was so great!

This visit filled my soul in so many beautiful ways.  And the gratitude continued as my husband shared when I arrived home the truth of the challenges of me being away.  Not that he had to make meals and get kids to school and daycare and activities (though I’m sure those were a challenge too).  But that in those first days he had to face emotions of “this would be what it would be like if Cheryl had died.”  With my diagnosis there is always this underbelly, even in remission when I am doing so well.  This underbelly reminds us, we have so very much to be grateful for today.  So very much.
I know I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but gratitude has been absolutely vital in enabling me to thrive.  Grace and gratitude are powerful and have been essential in continually being able to press forward into hope.
As I share my story with you, I hope you too feel the warmth of my embrace, like the ones my extended family doles out so well.  And I hope that you feel like my extended family, because you are.