Rainbow Boobies and Airline Angels

“Mommy, when they cut your boobies off, will they give you new rainbow ones?”

I recalled my three year old’s words as I stared out the hospital window with labored breath. The pings and beeps of the machines monitoring my body sang their hideous chorus, and I wondered how long a person could stay sane in a place like this without any loved ones to distract them. Not very, I decided.

I glanced down at my broken body. No freakin’ rainbows to be seen.

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Welcome to Crunchy Town

Hello dearest students. Thank you for returning to Part II of the lesson I never dreamed I’d be teaching. I have entitled this portion of our learning:

“Having Environmental Breast Cancer at Age 36 is Absolute Poopidy-Poo-Poo-Garbage, and I Recommend You Avoid It At All Costs.”

Okay, maybe not my most cleverly titled lesson plan, but you get the gist.

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Cancery Booby-Doos

For as long as I live and breathe, the following memory will be recalled with the dream-like-fluidity and precision detail that only a trauma can create in one’s mind.

“Do you have any questions? Mrs. Woodward?”

I stared at the radiologist’s face. Did he have a wife? Kids? What was his first name? I mean, I really feel like we should be on first name basis to even have this conversation.

His face half hidden, my eyes frantically searched his for more. I needed MORE.

I heard my own quaking voice respond, “Well…I guess… my only question is…how sure ARE you that it’s cancer?”

He breathed in slowly, intentionally. I knew his answer before he spoke.

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Just One More Page, Mama

“We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teach us how to love.” – Sarah Mackenzie, The Read Aloud Family

I am of the strong opinion that one can never own too many leggings, eat too many fruit snacks, or read too many books. Now, I suppose the majority of experts probably wouldn’t agree with my first two proclamations, but I’m willing to bet not a single one would disagree with the latter.

If I had to come up with the most important lesson I have learned from all my years of studying education, teaching children, AND parenting combined, it would be this:

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All of the Nutella: A Guide to Actually Enjoying Days at Home with Little Ones

I had a friend recently say to me, “You know how much I love my kids, right? So why do I so desperately want to wave the white flag, lock myself in the bathroom, and eat an entire jar of Nutella? I’ve only been stuck here with them for two days! And I actually did eat all the Nutella. Help me not want to eat the Nutella, Summer.”

I hear you, sister friend. And I think I can help. I’ve been that mom. I am still sometimes that mom. I don’t think God or any person on Earth expects you to be fully engaged and joyful about every second of raising your children. It’s messy, laborious, and often thankless work. And not to mention that those tiny people are so stinkin’ LOUD.

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"Omelets are for Sundays, son." Homeschooling Tips to get you started.

First thing’s first. BREATHE. Do it again with some extra deep breathing yoga flair. And hear me loud and clear when I tell you that your children are resilient. If you did nothing else but read to them for the next few weeks, they would be just fine. You are not going to mess them up. You are not going to let them down. Your house may be a little (or a lot) messy, and you may need to adjust your expectations for “home-cooked meals”, but everyone is going to be just fine. Okie dokie, artichokie?

The five tips I am sharing with you today aren’t going to bring the magic (that’ll come later). These suggestions are adjustments or implementations that may aid you in finding your footing with this whole thing. So here we go. But first…one more deep breath.

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Bleed Schmeed

2023 has arrived, and my newsfeed is currently congested with dieting ads, fitness plans, intention-setting, and all the typical resolution chatter. Meanwhile, I’m over here shaking my head and making a big ole X with both arms.

Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but January just doesn’t feel like the most organic time to burst full steam ahead. All this goal crushing feels more like soul crushing to me.

And maybe I’m alone in feeling like it’s all a little too aggressive, but hear me out.

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Just To Know You’re Alive

Last week, on November 2, 2022, I celebrated my first Cancerversary. One full year of life since finishing the trifecta of mastectomy, chemo, and radiation.

If you’re new here and unfamiliar with the story of how my cancery booby-doos tried to kill me, please explore the other posts on my blog. There you will learn how a baseline mammogram (and a fellow warrior’s insistence) saved my life. You can be asymptomatic, without a family history, under 40 years old, and STILL find your breast cancer through a preventive screening that many doctors say is unnecessary until 40 (an age I wouldn’t have seen). You will also learn about the changes I’ve made after better understanding how young-ish folks like myself can end up with environmental cancers.

Best cake ever. And yes, the likeness IS uncanny.
But as I reflect on everything that’s happened in the last two years, not just cancer but also losing my precious mom, the things I most want to share are the ways in which these trials have taught me to view things differently.
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Invisible Monsters

Nervous energy coursed through my body as I stepped onto the elevator. I was heading to my first radiation treatment.

“Does your shirt say, ‘I Got This’?” a voice from the back corner inquired. She was small and thin, and her steel gray hair was chopped into a no-nonsense bob.

“Yes, it was a gift,” I replied.

“You’ve got this, even if it sucks…right?”

“And boy does it ever,” I chuckled, “But yep. I’ve got it.”

“Haha, me too, honey.”

Hours later, I stepped back onto that same elevator.

“I rode with you this morning. You’ve changed shirts,” the familiar voice said.

“Oh hi there!” I said, turning around to meet her gaze, “Yes, I went for a walk earlier and worked up a sweat. It’s so dang hot here.”

“Yes, it is. Well, this is the last time I’ll have to come here.”

Not picking up on any kind of pensive tone and being unable to fully read her face that was half-hidden by a mask, I replied, “Oh yay! Congratulations! Good for you!”


“Well actually…not so good for me.”

It felt as if lava were being siphoned into my throat. The tears welled as I realized my egregious error.

I knew in that single, suffocating moment that I had just congratulated a dying woman.

This person had literally just returned from an appointment where a doctor (I hope) held her hand and apologized profusely because there was nothing else to be done. I rattled off my own apologies in an unending loop until we reached her floor. I asked her name and told her I would pray for her.

That beautiful, courageous woman is Ruth, and her reality is the same nightmare that often keeps me up at night. The monster on my back leans toward my ear and croons, “But what if the cancer wins?”

Yes, I have a monster. He isn’t just the cancer. He’s all of the hard things rolled into one mean son-of-a-gun. He is the fear of the unknown. He is the possibility of my children growing up without me. He is the anxiety of more scans and painful treatment. He is the poisonous, joy-thieving jerk who rides on my back everywhere I go.

Some days, he feels light and manageable, and I can drown out his whispers with worship music and positive thinking. Other days, it’s difficult to pick up my feet and trudge onward because I feel like I will buckle under his incredibly intrusive weight. He’s one rude dude, my monster.

There’s this thing I love about being here at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and it’s not just the peace of mind knowing I am receiving the best possible care. No, it’s something else. What I love is the brutal, unflinching transparency of people’s pain. It’s honest in ways that most places are Earth are not.

Every single person I pass in the hallway, meet in the elevator, and sit with in the waiting room has their monster on full display. It’s a sad kind of comradery that makes me feel seen and understood.

Ruth from the elevator has a monster too, and hers will remind her every few minutes that her story will soon come to an end. She will go home and struggle to find acceptance of this new, cruel truth.

But the thing is, Ruth’s not going to die tomorrow. She will have to resume normalcy in the days before the end arrives. Until she can’t anymore, she will cook dinner, and pay the bills, and clean the house, all the while knowing that Death will be turning the corner to meet her far sooner than she ever imagined.

And after returning home, Ruth may zbe driving to visit her daughter, lost in her thoughts. She’ll be whispering another desperate prayer for a last-ditch miracle. Aggressive honking will bring her back to the traffic light where she’s sitting. As she pulls forward, she will glance in her rear-view mirror to find an angry man throwing his arms around in the car behind her. He’s already fifteen minutes late for work.

Later, Ruth may stand in the checkout line of the grocery store where a man behind her will let out an exaggerated sigh because she’s taking far too long to thumb out the correct change. He will make muffled comments about her being a dinosaur and audibly wonder why she can’t just use a freakin’ credit card. He wants to hurry home as not to miss the football game he’s been anxiously awaiting all week.

Ruth may try to make small talk with the lady at the bank who will incessantly gripe about just how extraordinarily crappy her morning has been. You see, her cleaning woman can NEVER seem to manage to arrive on time, and she’s had just about enough.

And through all this, Ruth will feel with certainty that her luck is so much crappier than the driver who was late for work, the man who nearly missed the football game, and the woman whose cleaning lady had the audacity to get stuck in traffic.

None of these people know about the crushing weight of the monster on Ruth’s back, because if they did, they would probably operate very differently.

You see, Ruth doesn’t look sick yet. Unlike me and many other fellow cancer patients, she has her hair, and therefore, there’s no obvious sign screaming out into the world: BE NICE, Y’ALL… my monster is trying to kill me!

And people ARE kinder when the monster you’re toting is of the obvious sort. I’ve noticed kindness toward me greatly multiply when my outsides started matching what was happening on my insides.

And I’m thankful for it. I’m so very thankful for all the love and kindness shown to me by the world right now. But the truth is, I was hurting a hell of a lot worse after losing my mom than I am right at this very moment. Last October, I was at the store picking up some milk. My mom had just passed away two days before. I remember looking at the man who was next to me in line and thinking, “I am dying. I may in fact die from the way my heart feels in my chest right now. The most beautiful human alive, the one who gave me life, was just robbed from this world, and this man has absolutely no idea he is standing next to the saddest girl alive. ”

He had no way of knowing, of course. Just like Ruth will have no way of knowing that the man honking at her in traffic has a son who is a drug addict. He was up all night trying to locate his whereabouts. He knows deep down that his boy’s addiction is a slow-motion funeral.

Ruth doesn’t know that the man in the grocery store has absolutely no close relationships. His depression spews out as rage, and he’s pushed every single person in his life away. This football game is the only thing he has to look forward to each week. On the other nights, he fantasizes about all the ways he could just end it all.

And Ruth may silently judge the seemingly pretentious woman who is fed up with her maid, but she doesn’t know that this woman believes herself to be worthless and sees a complete fraud in her reflection each day. She is more aware of her inauthenticity than anyone else, and she degrades others in hopes that no one will notice her own shortcomings.

Those people have their own monsters. And it absolutely doesn’t excuse poor behavior, but it does help us view the world through a different lens if we know that EVERYONE is carrying their own invisible hardships around on their backs.

People see my bald head and my lashless face, and they adjust the way they move in the world around me because my pain is so obvious. But physical insecurity, financial worries, depression, anxiety, grief… those aren’t always so clear to outsiders.

I pray for Ruth. I pray that the world feels the weight of her monster and helps her to carry the load. I pray that in her final days, she is showered with love and goodness. But I also pray that if she encounters something other than that, she will be able to recognize those people are just feeling the weight of their own monsters, too.

Cancer has taught me so much, and one of those things is to try to see others the way God sees us. Our Creator sees every invisible monster, and He is happy to help you carry the load. I’ve had to lean into Him more than ever this past year because He WILL give you more than you can handle. That’s the point. He wants you to come to Him and ask him to help you with that monster on your back. If the load didn’t feel so overwhelmingly heavy, we would think we could manage alone. I’ve found that the more I talk to Him about my monster, the quieter and lighter the thing becomes.

I’m learning to tread more lightly as I navigate life. My hope is that we can all be a little more gentle with one another. I pray that the solidarity of the human spirit that exists within the walls of this cancer center can spill out into the real world, too.

But even when it doesn’t, I’m working on kicking my judgment to the curb. Because that ugliness we see, it’s really just the invisible monsters who’ve become far to heavy to bear.

It Puts the Lotion on its Skin

My little models showing off some beloved products and sporting VERY natural smiles.

I typically title my blog posts after I’ve begun writing, but I knew what I would name this one before I ever typed a word. And I can’t stop laughing at the actual perfection. I mean we ARE talking about scary skincare (among other things) here today, but don’t worry… nobody is “getting the hose.”

If you’re Gen Z or whomever it is that comes after us elder millennials, you may not be familiar with Silence of the Lambs. And in that case, you’ll just have to excuse me because the mere idea of peppering this post with Lecter-isms is bringing me a substantial amount of joy. These days, my friends, I jump on that joy train at every opportunity.

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Yes, Even Tiger King

I believe you can learn something from ANYTHING.

Well, except maybe from Tiger King. All of our brains need a good wash down after bingeing that hot mess.

But actually, I take that back. In an alternate universe where that train-wreck of a show is child-friendly, even Tiger King could be an excellent jumping off point for a unit study.

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1,000 Book Challenge: March

For those of you unfamiliar with our 1,000 Book Challenge, you can find more details in my previous post — https://fiercelittlelearners.com/2020/03/31/just-one-more-page-momma/.

The gist of it is that as a New Year’s Resolution, my kiddos decided we would strive to read 1,000 picture books during 2020. And there were stipulations… chapter books and re-reads couldn’t count toward our total, AND it had to be a book that none of us had previously read. And that last part was the kicker because as a former elementary school teacher and self-professed nerd of epic proportions, I have read A LOT of children’s lit.

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