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Hey Friends -
Thanks for visiting! I am overwhelmed by the love, prayers, texts, calls, notes, and visits we’ve received since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

A friend created this site for our family to post updates, pics, and a place for me to write. The “From the Heart” section of this site will include some of my essays and musings during this journey. Thanks for visiting.
Love, V

From the Heart

By Veronica Waldrop 22 Aug, 2016
I can't believe this is happening... I mean, I knew it could happen.  I'm not so naive to think that I am immune or invincible.  I just never dreamed it would happen to me.  

It feels like I was blindsided... Like I was sucker-punched!  Like I was floating along in life, just doing my thing... Then, BAM!

What do I do now? I don't even know where to begin.  How am I supposed to heal? I don't know the terminology. I don't understand the process.  Everyone is giving me advice.  Everyone keeps saying they are so sorry.  They want to help. I just long for yesterday, before this happened.  

What do my children think? Do they understand what is happening? I just want to protect them. God, just let my babies be ok. 

Ok, I need to get it together.  Why am I so worked up? I'm lucky to be alive.  It could have been SO much worse.  Now, I feel so guilty about feeling so sad. If I am a woman of faith, a believer, why do I feel so damn scared right now?

I know you are there, God.  I know you are with me.  You have ALWYS been here.  There is nothing in this world that we cannot handle together.  Let me find the good in this, Lord.  Thank you, God.  Always.  Thank you.

***

A year ago, today, I was thinking these very thoughts.  I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  And, I was terrified.  

Shortly after being diagnosed, I received an email from a breast cancer survivor that said, "I am two years out from the original diagnosis and it almost feels like it didn't happen...except I know it did."

This was one of the most hopeful, beautiful things that anyone could say to me.  I was elated at the thought that one day, life just might return to its blissfully uneventful state.  I took this idea and painted a picture in my mind. I could see myself with a head full of short messy hair, playing with my girls, smiling at my husband.  I played it over and over in my mind.  And, I held it near my heart.  

I would whisper to myself: One day, I will wake up and ask, "did that just happen?"

See, when you hear the words YOU HAVE CANCER, all the little things that seemed so important fly out the window.  For months, I couldn't look at my children without feeling sick and nervous, wondering if they would grow up without their mother.  Many times, I would look in the mirror and feel angry.  I longed for my hair and my breasts and my innocence.  (I have hair now.  And, I have temporary breast-like thingies in my chest.  But, the innocence is gone forever, I'm afraid.)  

As I write this, I'm sitting outside. The sun is peaking through a blanket of thin white clouds.  It is hot.  It is muggy.  But, it is glorious.  It is glorious because it isn't raining.  Baton Rouge and the surrounding communities are in a state of emergency due to extensive flooding.  Thousands of families are displaced.  So far, thirteen are dead.

My head is achy from watching the news.  My mind is spinning from the constant bing on my phone.  Another text from about another friend who had to evacuate her home.  My heart aches for this community--the very group who stood beside me, who loved me, embracing my family with prayer and time and resources when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Now, many mourn the loss of their homes; they mourn the loss of their normal.  In a way, I know the feeling.  I was just there.  

***

A few days ago, I helped a friend clean her flood-damaged home.  I could see the pain in her eyes as she sifted through memory after saturated memory, tossing them into large, black, industrial garbage bags.  The putrid smell of flood water lingered, just to add insult to injury.  

I know that cancer and flood-damage are different.  But, I recognize the emotions that I see all around me.  They are all too familiar.  

Why is this happening? I don't know what to do. I just want everything to go back to how it was.  

I get it.  

And, I'm here to say the very words that gave me so much hope.  

Here I am, one year out.  It's almost like it didn't happen.  Except, I know that it did.  

Listen, life doesn't look exactly like it did before.  My hair looks like Screech from Saved By the Bell.  I'm not quite as strong as I used to be.  And, I think about my own mortality WAY more than I used to.  But, one year later, I am still here .  My family’s normal looks different.  And to be honest, I like the post-cancer me better than the old me.  This Veronica loves harder, is closer to God, and wastes less time on the things that just don't flipping matter.  

***

Three days after being cooped up inside of our home because of torrential rain, the skies finally cleared.  The grocery stores were cleaned out, restaurants were closed, and the streets underwater.  That evening, I was feeding my four year old a delicious, nutritious dinner of Goldfish crackers and scrambled eggs, when my phone rang.

It was my mom.  "Go outside NOW.  Look at the sky. Just do it and call me back."

I scooped up Nani and we walked outside.  There, right above us, was the most brilliant, perfect rainbow.  It spanned across the sky like a vibrant love letter from God himself.  My babe and I sat down on the damp driveway.  (We were fortunate enough to not have flooding at our home.) I held her tightly in my lap and explained that a rainbow is a sign of hope...that God is here--even after the most terrible, tragic storms.  

That night, as W and I said our family family prayers, Nani chimed in, "and thank you, God, for ALL the rainbows.. they remind us that YOU are here and it's all going to be alright."

ALL. THE. RAINBOWS.  

She made me realize, in that moment, that there can be different kinds of rainbows.  There are the prisms of color, visible in the sky after a rainstorm. But, in my opinion, a rainbow can also be the coworker that swings by with Chinese takeout on the day you had chemotherapy.  A rainbow can be those friends who show up with cleaning supplies and empty bins, ready to get your back on your feet.  A rainbow can be a hug and prayer from the stranger who sees you are hurting.

I have seen and felt God's presence so much in my life--especially in the past 365 days.  I realize, now, that God has always been there.  I just needed to open my heart and eyes to see the rainbows.

God's promises, God's hope, God's rainbows are everywhere.  And, sometimes, they are easiest to see right after the storm.

***

To my beautiful Louisiana, thank you for being so full of love.  Thank you for being the face and the hands of God during these trying times.  I have seen so many of you give tirelessly and selflessly to people you don't know.  You are beautiful.  And, I am so honored to be a part of your spirit.

To my great native state of Texas and dear friends outside of Louisiana, I humbly ask that you consider donating time, resources, or funds to help this state heal.  Anything helps.  This will be a long road.  But, we will survive.  

Here is a link to my family's home church, First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge . 100% of proceeds and goods go directly to families in need. My family and I have been volunteering with teams from FUMC this week.  They are legit and efficient and ready to rebuild. There is an updated list of specific needs on the website.

Also, here is a link to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Hospital .  This is where I received six months of chemotherapy.  More than 25% of Mary Bird's current cancer patients experienced total or partial loss.  Cancer and flooding? My heart breaks...

Thanks for reading.  Be a rainbow today.  God bless you, V

By Veronica Waldrop 03 Jun, 2016
My clunky green Doc Martens were propped up on the wooden bleacher front of me. The high school gym smelled of sweat and CK One. I looked down at the gym floor. I watched the cheerleaders bounce around in their pleated skirts. Our mascot, the Lobo, was especially energetic. I remember him leading the student body in a 90s music conga line. Come on, it’s the choo-choo train! Woo! Woo!!  Everyone around me was bouncing to the music.

I couldn’t wait to finish high school. Pep rallies and teen life weren’t exactly my cup of tea.  And, I welcomed the day when my Doc Martens and I could drudge along a large, grassy campus, listening to college radio, feeling grown-up and intellectual. I imagined myself listening to The Cure in a poli-sci class, then eating sushi, while discussing twentieth-century poetry with my new college-friends.

I looked toward the gym floor, watching the cool football-players and pretty cheerleaders bop and clap.

 “I’ll probably never see these kids again,” I thought. They all seemed to be so "together."  And, I never really felt like I fit in.  

*****

Fourteen years, two student loans, and many, many sushi rolls later, I found myself sipping a French 75 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria. My Doc Martens were long gone. And, I spent more time reading US Weekly than T.S. Eliot (unfortunately.) I was wearing a long, black ballgown, gazing out onto the dance-floor, when I saw her...  She was blond and beautiful, just as I remembered. And, her face hadn’t changed a bit since 1995. It was one of the cheerleaders from my high school! Of all the places to see a ghost of pep-rallies past !

I took a sip of champagne and approached her. This was the first time she and I had ever spoken…Seriously—ever. She was so kind and friendly even though she had no idea who I was. But, she had taken some of my dad’s classes when she was in college. And, everyone loves my dad. So, that helped.

Fast forward seven years.

 She and I have kept in touch through social media. We even text sometimes. In fact, she recently reached out to me and asked if she could send me a book. Her text went something like this:
Hey V- I have to send you this book.  Last night we were down to five eggs, which wasn’t enough to make a meal, but plenty to make a chocolate cake. So my family ate cake for dinner. This book is a real mom telling her real story. It has changed me. It makes me believe that other people might have made their families chocolate cake for dinner too.

In that split second, with that single text, that beautiful blonde mommy made me smile ear-to-ear. My inner flannel-clad teenager stopped head-banging to Pearl Jam long enough to see what happens when we start being honest. I mean brutally, sometimes embarrassingly honest. It is what happens when you can’t make gluten-free, organic, Pinterest-worthy meals. You just make a darn chocolate cake. And, like that, I had this vision of the Cheerleader and the Theatre Kid sitting together eating chocolate cake on the gym floor. It was a delicious moment.

*****

Several years ago, I met a tall brunette named Kate. We shared a mutual friend and happened to all go out one evening. She and I were friendly, but didn’t become instant friends. In fact, we haven’t seen or spoken a word to each other since the day we met.

Fast forward nine years.

Kate and I still have the same mutual friend, so one of my many “cancer status” updates popped up on her Facebook feed. After learning that I had breast cancer, she sent me well-wishes and I told her how precious her baby was. Kate and I have both changed exponentially since the day we met back in 2007. We are both married with children, now living on opposite sides of the Mason Dixon. We have casually emailed back and forth a few times. Typically, it has been nothing more than casual correspondence.
 
But, three days ago I received a letter from Kate—I’m talking old fashioned snail mail with a stamp and everything. Kate’s letter explained that several months ago, she found herself in the dark valley of postpartum depression. This was a time in her life when she expected to feel an overabundance of love and happiness.  Instead, she felt overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted. She felt like she was sinking, and the term “postpartum depression” hadn’t even entered her mind. One day, a worried friend suggested that Kate talk to her doctor. So, she did just that.  

Her doctor helped her to realize that her feelings were common, treatable, and temporary. But, if these feelings were left untreated, they cold lead Kate to a very dark place. These days, Kate is thriving and exhaling. She feels great and is so glad that she told someone how she was feeling.  She was so glad that she told the difficult truth.

She shared her story in the letter as a thank you , of sorts, for my honesty in my blog. But, as I stood in my kitchen reading her letter, I felt so moved by her bravery and honesty. I know it must have been hard for Kate to call her doctor that day. But, I’m so grateful that she did. And, I’m so honored that she took the time to write and tell me her story.

I once heard someone say that embarrassment kills too many people… Whether that means not wanting to talk to a doctor about that mysterious lump in that embarrassing place, or feeling ashamed of emotions, or feeling humiliated by bullies at school.    

We have this idea of how life is supposed to be. Perfect dinners. Perfect vacations. Perfect holidays.  Perfect pictures.   But it's all just an illusion.  Really, we are all struggling with something. 

*****

Two months ago, I sat in my therapist’s office at MD Anderson. It was our first meeting together.

“I read through your chart, Veronica. You’ve had a difficult year. How are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m so good! I’m a very spiritual person. I have great faith.  I know that God’s got this! I have revamped my diet. I have a blog. And, I just joined Central Houston Crossfit. I’m planning to do this brutal workout with my friends back in Louisiana on Memorial Day weekend.”

“Hmm…” he looked at me with those I-can-see-right-through-you , therapist eyes. “Are you in denial?” He asked.

I sat in his office.  I smiled.  Then, a tear rolled down my face.   

“Sometimes, I feel so together, so hopeful, so strong. And, sometimes I’m just a damn mess. Does that mean I’m a fraud?”

He sat silently for a few seconds. Then, he smiled.

“No, Veronica. It simply means that you are human . And, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Wow.  

Sometimes, I feel so angry that cancer hasn’t made me some instant mommy-version of wise old Master Splinter, running around spitting knowledge in the sewers of life. (Yup, I just made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reference.) And, I am still sometimes scared that cancer is going to kill me. I wish I could turn off the fear like a light switch. And, I wish I could be this perpetually peaceful enlightened person.  But, it isn’t that simple.  And, that's ok.  I'm learning to manage.     

*****

So, tonight, in honor of the Cheerleader, my new friend Kate, and my shrink, I officially promise to cut the caca . If you see me at a restaurant and you ask how I’m doing, I’m not going to say, “I’m hungry and angry and my pants are too tight. I’m having a hot flash and I’m jealous of anyone with long hair.” I promise I won’t say that. But, I do promise to be more real—especially with other moms. Something beautiful happens when we share our failures and fears, not just our successes. We are all human . We are ALL fearfully and wonderfully made. Now excuse me while I go make dinner for my crew. Tonight, we are having chocolate cake!!

***

PS- That awesome book that my friend gave me is called Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life   by Glennon Doyle Melton. I highly suggest that you drop your latte and buy this book STAT. Glennon is such a powerful spirit. Her message of truth, love, and redemption is healing and empowering.      


By Veronica Waldrop 13 May, 2016
Sometime between ages 27 and 32, I realized that I wasn't 21 anymore. Maybe it was that time I saw a video of myself doing the Cupid Shuffle. In my mind, I looked like Britney Spears circa 1997 (the "Oops, I did it again" era) but I really I looked like Britney Spears circa 2007 (the "Starbucks and Cheetos" era.) Either way, it was a reality check. The universe was saying, "Toto, we're not in our twenties anymore." And, honestly, I was fine with that. I've never been one who was afraid of aging. My grandmother lived to be one hundred years old. She was lifting weights and doing the Cumbia (a fun Latino dance) in her final years. So, I view aging as a gift, not a curse.

However, there is something delightful about those moments where I'm taken back (even just for a few minutes) to those younger days---those days of feeling invincible and carefree.

Back in November, W and I had a night that, looking back, was one of the best nights ever! But, before I get to that, I have to tell the backstory.    
By Veronica Waldrop 06 May, 2016
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last August, our baby was only three months old. As soon as I "went public," my little family was flooded with so much love and support. I was, and continue to be, so humbled and touched by the incredible acts of kindness that we received.

W and I are both from out-of-state. We didn't go to high school here. We didn't go to college here. In fact, many people who reached out to us were strangers or acquaintances, at best.  

I remember saying to W, "I don't know them very well... Why are they being so nice?"

W replied to me, "Well, babe. You're a mom with a new baby. They probably see themselves in you. They see their families in our family. And, many of them are moms."

He had a point. Many of the women who reached out to me during this time were mothers.  This community was feeding my family. This group was nurturing my brood. 

There's something about mamas, specifically mamas who have children my age. One of my friend's mom sent me daily prayers and Bible verses for months. Another mama in Maryland (her daughter is one of my best friends here in Louisiana) sends me daily messages of encouragement. Sometimes she sends haikus, sometimes an inspirational quote, sometimes a funny meme. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me a note that simply said: How cool is it that the same God that created mountains, oceans, and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one of you too. How beautiful. How maternal. She didn't know it at the time, but when she sent that message, I was alone in a waiting room awaiting test results.  This act of kindness did wonders.  It was a blessing.    

W's mom has been a saint. Just months after celebrating her retirement, she traded in me-time to return to changing diapers and loving my children as her own. Then there's a mom, whom I had never met, who is a two-year Triple-Negative breast cancer survivor. When my pic appeared in her Facebook news feed, she felt compelled to reach out to me. For eight months, she's been a survivor mentor of sorts. She sent me tips on what to expect during chemo. She consoled me when I felt extremes sadness with hair-loss. And, to this day, she encourages me about the wonderful life that happens after cancer . Last week, I finally got to meet her. She told me that her gift to herself post-cancer was to audition for the Houston Rocket's Space City Seniors, a half-time dance squad comprised of dancers ages 55 and up. She winked at me and said, "there's a little candy left in this piñata!" Well, she made the dance team. And, she shimmies with the best of them during the halftime show at the Rockets games. Go, mama!

***
Then there's my mom...

She was and will always be my first love. When I was a baby, she would put tiny drops of honey on little satin bows, then stick them on my head, so my outfit would be complete. She decided, when she was thirty-six years old, to do something that no one in her family had ever done...take her first college class. For four years, we lived off of Hamburger Helper and student loans.  But, when I begged my mother for a pair of Guess jeans, she somehow convinced my father that their ten-year-old daughter "needed" that elusive triangle on the pocket. (By the way, she graduated four years later with Honors, all while working full-time and raising two little kids. *Shout out to my dad who would make the best cheeseburgers when my mom had night classes.)

My mom is unapologetic for her love of bread and Jennifer Lopez. She has the most beautiful laugh I've ever heard--it's one of my favorite sounds in the world. And, she's nursed me throughout cancer with homemade tortillas, head-massages, and magical play-dates with the girls (so I could get some rest.)

I used to get frustrated with how easily she could fall asleep. She rests so soundly, and seems to never really worry. For years, I interpreted this trait as lack of concern. When I told her how I felt, she explained to me that she does worry. But, she also told me that she handles her worry with prayer. She told me that, in the scary teenage and college years, she would pray that my brother and I would make good decisions. She would pray for our safety. Then, she would fall asleep in the gentle peace of God's promise.

She is my mother. She is a beautiful example of resilience, joy, and certainty. God matched our souls together for so many reasons. But, one is so that I can watch and learn how to live this glorious life with faithful surrender.

***

On the other hand, I've never been a good sleeper. I go through seasons of insomnia, where my mind battles my body, and the subconscious surfaces into a state of worry and exhaustion. So, when my baby falls asleep in my arms, I consider it an honor to be a part of something so healing and precious. As I hold her close, and feel her heart beat through her soft cotton blanket, I feel a combination of joy and sadness. I'm so grateful to be in that moment...to experience this miracle of peace and rest. But, I lament what feels like stolen time. Wasn't it just yesterday that the rhythm of her heart was just flicker on a screen? It just was nine months ago that, in a state of shock, I was forced to face my mortality. Breast cancer at age 36. That was hard enough. Then two days later, I was told that I would never nurse again. I didn't even get a chance to savor that last moment, with her tiny lips pressed against my body...when I was all she needed. Now she is weeks away from her first birthday. And, we are just now getting to know each other. But, I'm here. And, I'm learning to be more present than ever. Cancer has taught me that these moments are fleeting. That's why I must embrace the everyday : the beautiful, messy, sleepy, God-given everyday.

So here's to the mamas. Here's to those who eat the burned toast. Here's to those who pull double shifts so that there will be gifts under the tree. Here's to the home-cookin' AND the pizza-nights that mean just as much (because what's really important is that you spend time together.) Here's to remembering that everyone is somebody's baby.  Here's to giving that other mama a break because you never know what she's battling at home. Here's to those who have never "given birth," to those who don't have children of their own, but make the world a better place by mothering others anyway. Here's to loving ferociously and gently and abundantly. Happy Mother's Day!
By Veronica Waldrop 27 Apr, 2016
I just completed radiation #11 and I'm officially one-third finished! Woo-hoo!

Last night, I had a great visit with a friend who asked me to describe radiation.  So... Here goes.  

When I arrive at the machine that is MD Anderson, I check in, recite my seven-digit medical ID number to Jennifer (the coordinator), give her a high-five and head to a dressing room. There, I do a quick outfit change into a spiffy ensemble I call (in a lovely French accent) le robe de treatment . Ok, it's not exactly Tom Ford. It's a hospital gown. But, I can pretend, right? From there, I go into a a small waiting room that usually has a few other ladies awaiting treatment.

One thing I've learned over the past eight months is that not all cancer-peeps think the same. I had to learn the hard way that not all of us are prancing around in unicorn-uniforms, blasting Marley, praising Jesus, and living to love. In fact, I've had a few terrible experiences with fellow breast-cancer survivors. I've learned that some women may mean well, but love to share their horror stories. I've heard about deathly allergic reactions and cancer coming back because of chemo and radiation... Once, someone even told me that she's been cancer-free for years, but lives every single day afraid. (Awesome. Sounds fun. Sign me up.) I usually leave the conversation feeling like I just rolled around in peanut butter and bird-seed heading onto a Hitchcock movie set! (If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google "The Birds by Hitchcock.  See what I mean?!)

I've had enough fear and drama. I don't need anymore. Therefore, when I'm in the MDA radiation waiting room, I resist the chit-chat, duck down behind a Vogue, and pretend like I'm awaiting a spa treatment.

Once my name is called I walk into a room with a machine called a linear accelerator. My team of three awesome radiation techs mark up my chest with sharpie markers, put a few little monitors on me, and place some virtual reality goggles on my head. These goggles show me my breathing patterns. Then the team leaves the room and goes into an area that reminds me of an airplane cockpit. I can hear their voices through a speaker.

"Breath in and hold," one says to me. I take a deep breath and listen for the soft buzz of the radiation machine as it shoots into my chest.

"Breathe," I hear. And, I exhale.

While this is happening, music is playing in the room. The techs usually play a fun variety--a little pop, hip-hop, 70s rock, jazz, and reggae.

The very first day I received radiation, I heard "Dream a Little Dream" by Louis Armstrong. I remember closing my eyes and pretending that I wasn't topless on a medical table. I listened to sweet Satchimo's serenade and envisioned an evening stroll with my mister... Then the dream turned into us tucking our girls into bed, big brown eyes getting heavy...  Sleepy children wrapped up in the comfort of mommy and daddy's presence... It warmed my heart. It was a perfect daydream.

****

After my first week of radiation, I felt like I was on a roll. I was in a groove. I knew what to expect. And, radiation is a cake walk compared to chemotherapy. (FYI, radiation doesn't hurt.  My skin is getting a little pink--like a sunburn.  And, I'm a little tired.  But, it's not bad at all!)  My hair is growing back, my body is healing. Heck, I even get to wear mascara these days! (Ladies, never take your eyelashes for granted!)

So, when my doctor ordered an ultrasound to verify that my lypmph nodes were clear, I felt a little uneasy. Remember, my lymph nodes were clear before chemo. BUT (and this is a big but --not the kind from the Sir Mixalot song) the chemo didn't shrink my tumor. So, my doctor at MDA wanted to be certain that the growing-tumor hadn't reached my lymph nodes.

The ultrasound tech stared strait at the screen. I've become obsessed with trying to read the ever-mysterious medical poker face. She didn't say a word, she just pressed buttons on her keyboard, while sliding her wand around my chest. She smiled at me and offered me a warm blanket, then came back with the doctor.  Then, the doctor called for two more doctors.  

They found something.

A mass on my right side. And, a swollen lymph node on my left.

Take a breath and hold.

I'll cut to the chase. After two needle biopsies and thirty minutes of waiting alone in an exam room, pathology determined that both were benign. The mass on the right side was scar tissue from my mastectomy. The node on the left was slightly swollen, but not because of cancer.

Breathe.

In that thirty minutes, I sat alone, staring at the ceiling. I prayed the entire time. But, I didn't pray for my plans. See, six months ago, I prayed for twenty more years of life--for God to allow me to raise my babies to adulthood. But, somewhere along the way, I realized that these prayers gave me anxiety--almost like I was expecting God to go along with my vision. Like I knew what was best for me, and I was begging for God to agree.

Now, I pray for peace, grace, and understanding. I especially pray these two phrases, " use me " and " thank you ." These words instantly give me peace.

I've come to the conclusion that what I want most is for God to use me. Truthfully, I really, really hope to grow old with my husband. I want to see graduations, weddings, and anniversaries. I want to be around to see a cure for this ugly disease we call cancer. But, I'm also at peace knowing that His plan is far greater than mine. I trust Him. I don't have to hold my breath. I can just breathe.
By Veronica Waldrop 12 Apr, 2016
Three weeks after my double mastectomy, I found myself feeling a little antsy. I was technically cancer-free. But, I was also waiting for my surgical wounds to heal so that I could start radiation. I made the mistake of turning to Dr. Google to learn more about life after TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer.) What I found was terrifying!

33% recurrence rate.
Not enough research.
No known cause.
No known treatment after chemo, radiation, and surgery. (Most breast cancer survivors can take a pill for five years that helps block the cancer from returning.)

So, W and I decided to make a call to MD Anderson in Houston. Currently, MDA is ranked as the #2 cancer hospital in the world. (Most years it is #1!)  If anyone had cutting edge or new research on this dreadful and aggressive form of breast cancer, it would be them. Please note, we have had a wonderful experience with our medical team in Baton Rouge. My surgeon and oncologist and nurses were/are incredible. But, since TNBC is so tricky and I have lots of life to live, we decided to just make a quick trip to Houston in search of more information.

****
A week later we found ourself deep in the center of Houson's medical district, which seemed like a small city in itself.  

My heart raced as we rode the elevator up to the second floor of the MD Anderson Mays Clinic. We had an hour before my appointment, so we spotted an outdoor area with adirondack chairs. W and I sat next to each other in a shady area looking out at the buildings of the Houston medical district. I spotted a lady sitting in the sun, knitting a scarf. She was wearing a hat to cover her bald head. Then, I saw a young man lying in a lounge chair. He was pale and frail and young. There were probably twenty people out on this big, spacious balcony. And, we were all connected by cancer. It's been seven months since I was diagnosed, and I still have moments (almost everyday) when I wonder if this is all real.

Once I completed my new patient registration, I was asked to wait in a sitting area for my appointment. As W and I walked toward the waiting room a woman in a white coat greeted us.

"Are you Veronica?" She smiled. "My name is D. I'm friends with Marie... She said you would be here today."

This beautiful breast cancer survivor was a professor at MD Anderson. We shared a mutual friend, and she had been waiting all day to meet us. She told me her breast cancer story, hugged me, and before heading back to her office handed me a pink scarf.

"Someone gave this to me when I started treatment. I've been cancer-free for two years now. So, I'm giving this to you."

I was so emotional. I was shaking.

Just then, two ladies approached me. They were hospital volunteers. They were both breast cancer survivors. They sat on either side of W and me and asked me my story. Five minutes later, we were exchanging phone numbers and hugs. That's when I heard my name.

*****

At my first meeting with the oncologist, he shook my hand and gave me a warm smile. We spoke, at length, about my diagnosis, my treatment, and why I was in his office.

He looked through my lengthy chart, rapidly reading through my medical history, occasionally looking up and verifying the notes.

"You had a baby...found a lump...Triple Negative...you did 15 rounds of chemotherapy...double mastectomy...pathology reports that the cancer did not respond to the chemotherapy...You want to know if there is anything else you can do. Is this all correct?"

I nodded.

"I have wonderful doctors in Baton Rouge. They did a great job. I'm cancer-free. But, I need to know that I am doing everything that I can to prevent recurrence ," I explained.

"Well, Ms. Waldrop," he said, "you DID have Triple Negative breast cancer, which has a 33% recurrence rate. If it comes back, it will be in your brain, lungs, bones, or liver... And, it would be incurable."

He went on to describe a series of clinical trials that are available. But, I couldn't really focus...

My heart raced and I felt a lump in my throat. I'm not sure that I knew this. And, if I did, maybe I was in denial. I thought that if it came back, I would just put the gloves back on and fight it again and again. I appreciated the doctor's honesty, but I hated hearing the word "incurable." It felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

If the cancer comes back, it will most likely kill me. Future visions flashed in my head. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, graduations. I begin to cry. And, W held me tightly.

The doctor then sent me to meet to meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss radiation, which has been my plan from day one.

After sitting in the radiation oncology exam room for a few minutes, we were greeted by a young resident. He was fresh-faced and green, maybe twenty-seven, at the oldest. He was holding a folder with my medical files.

Just like the first doctor, he skimmed my history.

"Here I am, doc," I said. "One in eight women gets breast cancer, and only ten percent of those have Triple Negative, AND, (lucky me) I have the kind that doesn't respond to chemo. My mom always said I was special..." I joked. "I guess it's just special in a really crappy way."

"Hold on," the doctor interjected. "There's also some really good news here. Your doctor removed twelve lymph nodes and they were ALL clear. So, that's huge!"

I started to cry. I didn't mean to, it just happened.

"Before you go on, please listen," I whispered. "I have been going through this for seven months. And, I needed someone to say the words 'good news.' I have a four year old, and a ten-month old. I have so much life to live. You have no idea what the words 'good news' mean to me."

Then something beautiful happened. The young doctor's eyes welled up. I felt like he was truly looking at me. He could see my desperation. He could see my vulnerability. And, in that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The radiation oncologist joined the resident in the exam room. We discussed the process of radiation and how it could substantially decrease my chances of recurrence on the chest wall. The doctor then gave me his personal cell phone number.

"Look, you are a mom with two young kids. I have four kids. I can't imagine what it's like to throw cancer in the mix. You need to do what is best for you and your family. But, if you want to receive radiation here, I can get you in with my pediatrician and help you find babysitters for your munchkins."

My head was spinning. Radiation in Houston? Six weeks away from home?

Will and I drove home that evening. We prayed about it. We discussed with situation with our parents. And, we decided that this was what we needed to do.

So, here we go. Today, April 12th, I will start my first of 32 radiation treatments at MD Anderson in Houston. We're not sure how this is going to work, but we do know that we are in great hands. The plan is for various family members to come stay with me, so that I will not be alone. We will do our best to have our babies in Houston some of the time. And, I will be back in Louisiana every weekend.

All of this should come to an end just before Memorial Day weekend. And, we will all be due a huge celebration!

Dust off your boots, kids. We're moving to Texas!
By Veronica Waldrop 17 Mar, 2016
My father is a retired college professor. He taught journalism, news writing, and video editing, and it only seemed fitting that I shared the same love of video story-telling. For years, I have dabbled in video-production. (I have worked for various production studios, run sidelines with ESPN, and have even produced a few corporate videos.) But, these days, I mostly just create really fancy home-videos. So when a friend recently asked me to help her create a wedding video for her niece, I was eager to assist. The wedding was two weeks after my mastectomy, so I thought this would be a great project to distract me from my thoughts. I’ve been a stay-at-mom for almost four years now, so sometimes, it is nice to feel like I have a job-job again.

My friend gave me a couple of CDs filled with pics of the young couple and a list of their favorite love songs. I didn’t realize that their wedding day was one day before my seventh wedding anniversary! As I cropped and edited and dragged and dropped their pics, it made me think back to the days leading up to W’s and my wedding. What an eventful seven years! I am honored to create something for this couple’s special day. In addition, I have a written an open letter to the couple.   

Dear Bride and Groom,

When I see pictures of you two, I can’t help but feel so full of hope and love. I’ve spent several hours over the past few days looking at your baby photos, adventures with your friends, fun times with family, and your engagement pictures. It is obvious to me that you both are loved. Beautiful bride and handsome groom, your smiles are so sweet and sincere. Your eyes glow in your photos. You both are vibrant and young and have so much ahead of you.

Dear sweet couple, I know you have a vision of what life together will be like. You will learn, like all of us eventually do, that life doesn't always go according to plan. But, chances are, life will be better than your wildest dreams. My prayer for you is that you will grow to love each other more and more every single day. I pray that you are gentle and kind and patient with each other. And, I hope that you never lose that sparkle in your eye. 

People will tell you that marriage is hard. The truth, I've learned, is that life is hard. Stuff happens. People make mistakes. Pregnancy isn’t easy; sometimes it doesn’t happen. And, sometimes it ends with loss. Parenthood is beautiful, but scary. People get sick. And, sometimes you’ll feel alone.

But, hear me, sweet couple. You are not alone. You have each other. I pray that you two have many, many years of abundant health. And, if you don’t, I pray that you trust each other, trust in God, and love each other hard. 

I pray that you can look back at this video years from now and smile. I hope you don’t say, “those were the good old days.” No matter what life throws you, I hope you can say, “we were just getting started and these are the great days!” Here’s to a beautiful life together full of love! Congratulations!

Love,
The stranger who made your wedding video

*****

My husband and I have a saying:  It just gets sweeter everyday . It comes from a song that we heard when we were driving around Oahu in a convertible. We had been married for a year. We were carefree and living for the moment. I loved the song so much, that I jotted down the lyrics in my phone so I could download it later.

Several years later, I look back at our wedding pictures... at pictures of us in Hawaii, the day we heard that song, my hair blowing in the wind... We were so young and naive. We had no idea what was in store: two beautiful daughters, many great adventures, new jobs, new friends, and most recently breast cancer... Our life hasn’t been picture perfect, but it is ours together. And, there is no one on earth I would rather live this life with than Will.

Truly, it just gets sweeter everyday. And, for that, I am grateful.
By Veronica Waldrop 11 Mar, 2016

May 2015

Here we go. It's 5 AM, our bags are packed and we are on our way to Woman's Hospital. W and I say a prayer as we roll out of our driveway... The interstate is dark and empty... My stomach grumbles, my mouth is dry, but I'm following strict instructions: no eating or drinking after midnight. I feel nervous, but ready... It was time to meet our new baby girl. Let's do this!

Nine months later...

Here we go again, making the same drive. 5 AM, packed bags, empty streets, driveway prayer. We were nervous, but ready. After six grueling months of chemotherapy, dozens of doctor appointments, MRIs, PET Scans, vials and vials of my blood extracted and analyzed, it was time for my double mastectomy. My, how things can change in just nine short months!

We parked the vehicle, checked in, and waited for the nurse to escort us back. I wasn't allowed to wear any jewelry, any makeup or lotions. I felt so bare without my basics: lipgloss and my wedding band. As W asked a few questions, I reached down to the receptionist's desk. I took her pen and wrote 4:13 on my left ring finger, where I normally wear my wedding ring. It was for one of my favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.)

I was ready. Let's get this cancer out of me!

***

The last thing I recall after starting the general anesthesia was glancing to my left. There was my breast surgeon. He had been with me from day one and I trusted him. "The Dance" by Garth Brooks was playing. How appropriate. I looked up, there were bright lights shining down on me.

"Y'all should serve mimosas back here," I joked.

"Veronica, we are starting you on oxygen. Just take deep breaths for me," one of the nurses said.

I could've missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance...

***

"Veronica... Veronica... You did great."

I opened my eyes. It was over. I was surrounded by women in blue scrubs.

"Hey! I know you. I think I was your nurse for your biopsy!" one of them said.

The next few minutes were a blur. But, I'm pretty sure that the nurses and I had a deep conversation about sushi.

***

While I was chatting about spicy tuna, W and my parents were in a consultation room with my surgeon.

The tumor came out easily. It was peanut shaped and measured just over 5 centimeters. They found some benign cysts in my left breast. Overall, the surgery was successful.

***

Nine days ago, I was in surgery. The past week has been a blur. Truthfully, I have been in quite a bit of pain. I had drain tubes hanging out of both sides of my body. I had gauze covering my chest, and I felt like I had spent an hour in the ring with Ronda Rousey.

My brother and his wife and new baby flew in from Texas to surprise me. I immediately broke down when I saw their faces. My nephew was born a few days after my diagnosis back in August. This was the first time for me to see him in person. I looked into his big blue eyes and ached to hold him close to me. But, I couldn't extend my arms or raise myself up out of bed. I yearned to hold my baby, to hug my big girl, to feel free.

I think back to a few weeks ago.

"You hold her too much," my mom said when I complained of shoulder pain after holding Baby Girl for an hour. But, I knew that after my mastectomy, it would be weeks, maybe months before I could hold her again. Every shoulder ache, every sore arm moment of holding that child was worth it. Absolutely worth it. Now, I hope to hold my baby again before her first birthday in May.      

The drain tubes were removed Tuesday. The nurse counted to three and yanked roughly six inches of tubing out of my body. I wanted to scream, swear, cry, and celebrate. It was a small victory to get those suckers out of me. The pain and the tightness decrease gradually everyday.

I looked at my naked self in the mirror several days ago. I didn't cry. In fact, I looked at my stitched chest, my bald head, my pale skin and expected to see a ghost: a battered, broken version of myself. Instead, I saw the reflection of a woman who would do anything for a chance at more life. Anything to hold my nephew, anything to snuggle with my beautiful girls, anything to dance with my husband again. Anything . And, If this is what it takes, bring it the hell on!

***

Yesterday, W and I met with my surgeon and my oncologist for a post-op follow up. The results: the cancerous tumor was completely removed. It measured at just over 5 cm. So, the chemo didn't shrink the tumor as we all had hoped. But, the doctors do think that the chemotherapy made the tumor easier to extract. It was soft and peanut shaped, rather than rock hard and spherical (like it was in the beginning.)

The next step is thirty rounds of radiation: Monday through Friday for six weeks.  Then, I will see both the breast specialist and the oncologist every three months for at least five years. See, my cancer, which is called Triple Negative, is rare and sneaky. It is very aggressive and has a lower survival rate than the other, more common, types of breast cancer. But, when (yup, I just said "when" not "if") I make it to that glorious five year anniversary, the odds of recurrence decreases drastically.

So what does this mean? It means that I am cancer-free.

So, why did I sit in the Woman's Hospital parking lot and cry my eyes out when I heard this news? Maybe, I was hoping to get a better report. Maybe, I wanted the doctors to say, "You're in the clear, sister! Go celebrate." Maybe, because I know this isn't over. This will never really be over. Maybe, because I'm a worrier. And, I'm afraid that I will spend the rest of my life (however long that may be) worrying if today is the day that cancer will return.

W said it best. "I thought confetti was supposed to fall from the ceiling."

We both had false expectations of what that elusive "cancer-free" moment would be like. Shouldn't it be something like a gameshow? Confetti falling, a woman in a sequin gown pulls back the curtain to expose a guy in a white coat holding a larger-than-life check that says "Cancer Free"! Then, Ed McMahon's voice bellows over an imaginary loud speaker and says, "Veronica Waldrop....THIS is your life!" W and I would watch a slide show of images of our future: trips to the Caribbean, watching our girls graduate from college, holding grandchildren, growing old gracefully, eventually dying at the age of 99 in each other's arms like that couple on The Notebook .

Well, that's not what happened. Instead, I cried. W and I both cried. And, just like the day I was diagnosed, we held hands and prayed.

Over the past seven months, I've learned so much. I've learned that I'm stronger than I ever imagined. I've realized that the world is full of love: from the encouraging texts, to V Team t-shirts, to the flowers in my hospital room. I've seen the absolute best in people. And, that feels so good, so hopeful. I've learned that my husband and my family are more amazing, more caring, and more courageous than I ever realized. They are my everything, my reason for living. I've learned that so much of what used to bother me is trivial. It just isn't that important. What's important is family, God, and how we spend our time.

So, here's to the next step, to new beginnings, healing, and, of course, the dance ...

Photos Below:  The day before Baby Girl arrived; post-surgery; W holding Baby Girl and Cousin B (our nephew)
By Veronica Waldrop 29 Feb, 2016
It's a beautiful day.  The sun is shining.  Birds are chirping.  And, my confused azaleas are convinced that spring has sprung.  As I sit in my kitchen drinking coffee thinking about the past and present and future, I can't help but to feel a gumbo of emotions.  

Twenty-four hours from now, I will be undergoing a double mastectomy.  I would be lying if I said that everything in my mind is rosey.  It's not. I'm a little nervous... Not because of the surgery.  I'm not afraid of being unconscious for four hours while people slice open my body and change it forever.

I'm nervous because I'm losing my last visible sign of femininity.  I've already lost my hair and eyelashes.  But, I'm about to lose my breasts: the part of my body I prayed and wished for when I was twelve (I must, I must, I must increase my bust!)...the part of my body that fed my babies (yup, I used to spend hours on the La Leche League message boards)...

I'm scared of that moment when I remove my bandages post-surgery to see stitches where my nipples used to be, wounds that will soon be scars.  I'm scared.  

But, I'm also excited. I am excited to be, God willing, cancer-free. And, if this is what it takes, let’s do it. Let’s get this bastard out of me. For more than six months, I have obsessed over this alien life form in my right breast. When I first noticed it, I was nursing my two month old baby girl. I remember it like it was yesterday. Baby Girl was having a difficult time latching onto my right breast. I was holding her head in one hand and maneuvering my breast with the other hand when I felt it... A marble-sized ball deep under the skin. I thought it was just a milk-duct. This was very common when nursing. Milk ducts sometimes get clogged. They can be massaged and treated with warm compress. So this is what I did.

But, it didn’t go away. It seemed to be growing. I remember googling “breast cancer while nursing.” For some reason, I thought breast cancer was impossible for a nursing mother. I had heard (and I still hear all the time) that nursing decreases the odds of breast cancer. And, I had nursed my first born as well.

By the time I went to the doctor (roughly three weeks after discovering the lump), the tumor measured at 3.25 cm--about the size of a golf ball. It was growing at an incredibly rapid rate. The day I saw my OBGYN for the “clogged milk duct,” I told our beloved family babysitter that I thought I had breast cancer. I don’t know why I said it. She looked at me like I was making a sick joke. But, I told her, “I think I really do have breast cancer. But, I’m going to do what I have to do. And, I will win.”

Now, here we are...

Chemo: check!
Surgery: tomorrow!
Radiation: in a few months!

Hopefully I’ll be finished with all of this just in time for my baby’s first birthday at the end of May.


*****

Throughout this whirlwind six months, I have learned so much. I have always done my best to have a sense of humor. From sending silly pics to friends and family members...to making up funny new lyrics to pop songs...I have done my best to make this whole “cancer thing” as light-hearted as possible. And, it’s helped. It truly has. Laughter is the best medicine.

When I was diagnosed in August, a friend gave a book to my husband. It was called The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader by Lieutenant Jason Redman. It is about the life of a Navy SEAL who survived horrific situations on the battle field. He was shot in the face six times and lived to tell his story. One of the most compelling parts of his story was a sign that he posted on his hospital door during one of his many reconstructive surgeries. It said, “If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorrow for my wounds, go elsewhere.”

W told me about this. W was so blown-away by Lieutenant Redman’s heroic and positive attitude. We both knew that attitude would play a pivotal role in my fight against breast cancer. So, W wrote a letter to Lieutenant Redman. And, we received a letter back. In fact, he sent me a copy of his famous hospital door sign and a bracelet that said “OVERCOME.” From that moment on, I decided that there would be no pity parties here. (I don’t think they serve champagne at pity parties anyway!)

Last week, I got to meet Mr. Redman. It was so inspiring to meet him and hear his story. And, the timing was perfect. The chemo had started to bring me down. I needed a boost. I can’t hold a candle to a Navy SEAL war hero. But, I can control my attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I have sad moments. I’m not trying to sugar-coat this situation. I cry. I have scary moments. But, in the big picture, I am so grateful. I will overcome; I know this. And, I will come out of this tunnel a better person.

Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation may elongate my life.  But, cancer saved my life.  Even deeper than that, Christ saved my soul . This is what I truly believe.

And, it took cancer and chemo and tears and questioning to realize some really important things. Now, I can safely say, “I’m ok.” Whatever happens, I’m ok. And, that’s a peaceful easy feeling.  

****

So, tomorrow, when you drink your morning coffee, please think of me. Say a prayer for my sweet babies, my incredible husband, my loving parents and in-laws, and the medical team who are removing this tumor from my body. Also, please pray for those who don’t have hope, who don’t have the support that I have, and those who are in situations so horrific that we cannot imagine.

By Veronica Waldrop 17 Feb, 2016
"Monday, February 8th, 2016."  My last chemotherapy treatment.  This date had been in my calendar for months.  That day also happened to be Lundi Gras (the day before Mardi Gras Day.)

"This is huge! Big number sixteen, my last treatment, is going to be right before Mardi Gras!" I excitedly told W back in October.  

"I want to make a really big deal out of this," I told him.  "It's a celebration!  I want to hand out pink beads, bring king cake to the nurses and patients, drink champagne, and maybe march out of Mary Bird (the cancer center) to a second line..."

Will just smiled.  He was used to my shenanigans.

"Oh wow! What am i going to wear, babe? What should I wear to my last chemo treatment? Should I dress like a superhero? Maybe wear pink boxing gloves? Or, should I wear my unicorn uniform? This is a big decision!!"

I decided on a pink she-she (wig) that I named Fifi (after her birthplace, Fifi Mahoney's in New Orleans.)  The rest of my outfit would have to be a spontaneous, game-time decision.  But, I was leaning toward the unicorn uniform!

*****

The week before my last chemo, I had to have a serious discussion with my oncologist.  After fourteen treatments, the chemotherapy was officially kicking my tail.  My pale face was covered with splotchy red patches. My eyes were pink and puffy.  My muscles were constantly achy and tired.  And, my hands were suffering from neuropathy (a common side effect of Taxol).  Basically, the tips of my fingers felt like they had been pounded by a hammer, then dipped in boiling water.  It was the strangest sensation: burning and beaten.  This made buttoning baby clothes, changing diapers, and buckling carseats impossible.  The pain was debilitating and frustrating.  The scary part was neuropathy could last indefinitely.

"I'm starting to really feel it, Doc," I said.  "I have been so positive throughout this whole experience.  But, now I'm just tired."  

I hung my head down. I was so embarrassed. Usually, I kid around with the doctor. Even on the days when I didn’t feel good, I managed to wear a smile and crack a joke. Humor is my way of coping.

"Ok, Veronica.  Let's proceed with today's treatment.  If the neuropathy doesn't get better, we're canceling the last round," my oncologist told me. "I just can't risk crippling your hands forever for one more treatment."

I started to cry.  I felt like I was failing... Like I had signed up for a marathon and quit just before the last mile.  

I looked down at my black yoga pants.  This was NOT my "last chemo" outfit.  Where was my damn king cake?! I didn't have strands of pink beads to pass around! And, I wasn't wearing Fifi the she-she !

****

I spent the next week wondering if my fingers would get better. They didn't.  In fact, they got worse. I had to ask for help to do the most basic tasks like opening zip-lock bags and taking the wrapper off of a drinking straw.  

In my heart, I knew that my last chemotherapy treatment was going to be cancelled.  Rather than feeling exited and happy, I felt a little sad.  Not because wasn't I wanted another infusion. I didn’t want more chemo, believe me.  I felt disappointed or weird or anxious (I get these emotions confused lately) because the plan was changing.  And, I've recently learned that I don't do well with change--specifically when it comes to my cancer treatment plan.  

I thought back to that last treatment when I had that heart-to-heart with the oncologist.  I was wearing a black sweatshirt and those black yoga pants--which has inadvertently become my uniform (maybe because black helps hide the ten pounds that I've gained since starting chemo or maybe because black hides the baby food that gets tossed on me daily.)  

Either way, I was probably wearing something similar on that fateful Saturday morning six months before, when my doctor called me to tell me that I had breast cancer.  I had come full circle in those yoga pants.

On Lundi Gras Monday, I met with my oncologist. This was supposed to be my big “last chemo” party. Just as I suspected, my last treatment was cancelled.  But, I wore Fifi the she-she anyway, just to be festive. W and I passed around king cake to the chemo nurses.  I even got to ring the last-treatment bell, which is a common tradition in infusion centers across the country. I cried as I hugged each chemo nurse tightly.  Over the past six months, these women had become my friends--my angels.  They were all so professional, yet warm. They were cheerful, but empathetic during a very scary situation. I couldn't thank them enough for their tenderness.

Over the years, I have had vivid visions of how events are going to play out.  I hear the soundtrack playing, I imagine what eloquent words I'm going to say, and I envision what I'm wearing.  And, it never fails: I'm always wrong.  

I didn't have a second line band playing that day... I wasn’t popping bottles of champagne... I wasn't wearing some statement outfit, symbolic of how strong or fierce I am... I was just wearing those darn black yoga pants.  

In two weeks, I’ll go under the knife to remove the tumor (which has not decreased in size) from my right breast. I will have to wait a few days after my double mastectomy to receive my results from pathology. God willing, I will hear those four glorious words: You are cancer-free!

I can just see it now! I’ll pop a bottle of champagne! I’ll hug my husband, look toward my family and say something endearing and monumental. And, I’ll be wearing... Who am I kidding? We all know what I’ll be wearing.

**Just to be clear, I have a variety of yoga pants. I should own stock in Lululemon. And, yes, I wash them, usually while wearing a different pair of yoga pants.
More Posts

From the Heart

By Veronica Waldrop 22 Aug, 2016
I can't believe this is happening... I mean, I knew it could happen.  I'm not so naive to think that I am immune or invincible.  I just never dreamed it would happen to me.  

It feels like I was blindsided... Like I was sucker-punched!  Like I was floating along in life, just doing my thing... Then, BAM!

What do I do now? I don't even know where to begin.  How am I supposed to heal? I don't know the terminology. I don't understand the process.  Everyone is giving me advice.  Everyone keeps saying they are so sorry.  They want to help. I just long for yesterday, before this happened.  

What do my children think? Do they understand what is happening? I just want to protect them. God, just let my babies be ok. 

Ok, I need to get it together.  Why am I so worked up? I'm lucky to be alive.  It could have been SO much worse.  Now, I feel so guilty about feeling so sad. If I am a woman of faith, a believer, why do I feel so damn scared right now?

I know you are there, God.  I know you are with me.  You have ALWYS been here.  There is nothing in this world that we cannot handle together.  Let me find the good in this, Lord.  Thank you, God.  Always.  Thank you.

***

A year ago, today, I was thinking these very thoughts.  I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  And, I was terrified.  

Shortly after being diagnosed, I received an email from a breast cancer survivor that said, "I am two years out from the original diagnosis and it almost feels like it didn't happen...except I know it did."

This was one of the most hopeful, beautiful things that anyone could say to me.  I was elated at the thought that one day, life just might return to its blissfully uneventful state.  I took this idea and painted a picture in my mind. I could see myself with a head full of short messy hair, playing with my girls, smiling at my husband.  I played it over and over in my mind.  And, I held it near my heart.  

I would whisper to myself: One day, I will wake up and ask, "did that just happen?"

See, when you hear the words YOU HAVE CANCER, all the little things that seemed so important fly out the window.  For months, I couldn't look at my children without feeling sick and nervous, wondering if they would grow up without their mother.  Many times, I would look in the mirror and feel angry.  I longed for my hair and my breasts and my innocence.  (I have hair now.  And, I have temporary breast-like thingies in my chest.  But, the innocence is gone forever, I'm afraid.)  

As I write this, I'm sitting outside. The sun is peaking through a blanket of thin white clouds.  It is hot.  It is muggy.  But, it is glorious.  It is glorious because it isn't raining.  Baton Rouge and the surrounding communities are in a state of emergency due to extensive flooding.  Thousands of families are displaced.  So far, thirteen are dead.

My head is achy from watching the news.  My mind is spinning from the constant bing on my phone.  Another text from about another friend who had to evacuate her home.  My heart aches for this community--the very group who stood beside me, who loved me, embracing my family with prayer and time and resources when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Now, many mourn the loss of their homes; they mourn the loss of their normal.  In a way, I know the feeling.  I was just there.  

***

A few days ago, I helped a friend clean her flood-damaged home.  I could see the pain in her eyes as she sifted through memory after saturated memory, tossing them into large, black, industrial garbage bags.  The putrid smell of flood water lingered, just to add insult to injury.  

I know that cancer and flood-damage are different.  But, I recognize the emotions that I see all around me.  They are all too familiar.  

Why is this happening? I don't know what to do. I just want everything to go back to how it was.  

I get it.  

And, I'm here to say the very words that gave me so much hope.  

Here I am, one year out.  It's almost like it didn't happen.  Except, I know that it did.  

Listen, life doesn't look exactly like it did before.  My hair looks like Screech from Saved By the Bell.  I'm not quite as strong as I used to be.  And, I think about my own mortality WAY more than I used to.  But, one year later, I am still here .  My family’s normal looks different.  And to be honest, I like the post-cancer me better than the old me.  This Veronica loves harder, is closer to God, and wastes less time on the things that just don't flipping matter.  

***

Three days after being cooped up inside of our home because of torrential rain, the skies finally cleared.  The grocery stores were cleaned out, restaurants were closed, and the streets underwater.  That evening, I was feeding my four year old a delicious, nutritious dinner of Goldfish crackers and scrambled eggs, when my phone rang.

It was my mom.  "Go outside NOW.  Look at the sky. Just do it and call me back."

I scooped up Nani and we walked outside.  There, right above us, was the most brilliant, perfect rainbow.  It spanned across the sky like a vibrant love letter from God himself.  My babe and I sat down on the damp driveway.  (We were fortunate enough to not have flooding at our home.) I held her tightly in my lap and explained that a rainbow is a sign of hope...that God is here--even after the most terrible, tragic storms.  

That night, as W and I said our family family prayers, Nani chimed in, "and thank you, God, for ALL the rainbows.. they remind us that YOU are here and it's all going to be alright."

ALL. THE. RAINBOWS.  

She made me realize, in that moment, that there can be different kinds of rainbows.  There are the prisms of color, visible in the sky after a rainstorm. But, in my opinion, a rainbow can also be the coworker that swings by with Chinese takeout on the day you had chemotherapy.  A rainbow can be those friends who show up with cleaning supplies and empty bins, ready to get your back on your feet.  A rainbow can be a hug and prayer from the stranger who sees you are hurting.

I have seen and felt God's presence so much in my life--especially in the past 365 days.  I realize, now, that God has always been there.  I just needed to open my heart and eyes to see the rainbows.

God's promises, God's hope, God's rainbows are everywhere.  And, sometimes, they are easiest to see right after the storm.

***

To my beautiful Louisiana, thank you for being so full of love.  Thank you for being the face and the hands of God during these trying times.  I have seen so many of you give tirelessly and selflessly to people you don't know.  You are beautiful.  And, I am so honored to be a part of your spirit.

To my great native state of Texas and dear friends outside of Louisiana, I humbly ask that you consider donating time, resources, or funds to help this state heal.  Anything helps.  This will be a long road.  But, we will survive.  

Here is a link to my family's home church, First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge . 100% of proceeds and goods go directly to families in need. My family and I have been volunteering with teams from FUMC this week.  They are legit and efficient and ready to rebuild. There is an updated list of specific needs on the website.

Also, here is a link to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Hospital .  This is where I received six months of chemotherapy.  More than 25% of Mary Bird's current cancer patients experienced total or partial loss.  Cancer and flooding? My heart breaks...

Thanks for reading.  Be a rainbow today.  God bless you, V

By Veronica Waldrop 03 Jun, 2016
My clunky green Doc Martens were propped up on the wooden bleacher front of me. The high school gym smelled of sweat and CK One. I looked down at the gym floor. I watched the cheerleaders bounce around in their pleated skirts. Our mascot, the Lobo, was especially energetic. I remember him leading the student body in a 90s music conga line. Come on, it’s the choo-choo train! Woo! Woo!!  Everyone around me was bouncing to the music.

I couldn’t wait to finish high school. Pep rallies and teen life weren’t exactly my cup of tea.  And, I welcomed the day when my Doc Martens and I could drudge along a large, grassy campus, listening to college radio, feeling grown-up and intellectual. I imagined myself listening to The Cure in a poli-sci class, then eating sushi, while discussing twentieth-century poetry with my new college-friends.

I looked toward the gym floor, watching the cool football-players and pretty cheerleaders bop and clap.

 “I’ll probably never see these kids again,” I thought. They all seemed to be so "together."  And, I never really felt like I fit in.  

*****

Fourteen years, two student loans, and many, many sushi rolls later, I found myself sipping a French 75 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria. My Doc Martens were long gone. And, I spent more time reading US Weekly than T.S. Eliot (unfortunately.) I was wearing a long, black ballgown, gazing out onto the dance-floor, when I saw her...  She was blond and beautiful, just as I remembered. And, her face hadn’t changed a bit since 1995. It was one of the cheerleaders from my high school! Of all the places to see a ghost of pep-rallies past !

I took a sip of champagne and approached her. This was the first time she and I had ever spoken…Seriously—ever. She was so kind and friendly even though she had no idea who I was. But, she had taken some of my dad’s classes when she was in college. And, everyone loves my dad. So, that helped.

Fast forward seven years.

 She and I have kept in touch through social media. We even text sometimes. In fact, she recently reached out to me and asked if she could send me a book. Her text went something like this:
Hey V- I have to send you this book.  Last night we were down to five eggs, which wasn’t enough to make a meal, but plenty to make a chocolate cake. So my family ate cake for dinner. This book is a real mom telling her real story. It has changed me. It makes me believe that other people might have made their families chocolate cake for dinner too.

In that split second, with that single text, that beautiful blonde mommy made me smile ear-to-ear. My inner flannel-clad teenager stopped head-banging to Pearl Jam long enough to see what happens when we start being honest. I mean brutally, sometimes embarrassingly honest. It is what happens when you can’t make gluten-free, organic, Pinterest-worthy meals. You just make a darn chocolate cake. And, like that, I had this vision of the Cheerleader and the Theatre Kid sitting together eating chocolate cake on the gym floor. It was a delicious moment.

*****

Several years ago, I met a tall brunette named Kate. We shared a mutual friend and happened to all go out one evening. She and I were friendly, but didn’t become instant friends. In fact, we haven’t seen or spoken a word to each other since the day we met.

Fast forward nine years.

Kate and I still have the same mutual friend, so one of my many “cancer status” updates popped up on her Facebook feed. After learning that I had breast cancer, she sent me well-wishes and I told her how precious her baby was. Kate and I have both changed exponentially since the day we met back in 2007. We are both married with children, now living on opposite sides of the Mason Dixon. We have casually emailed back and forth a few times. Typically, it has been nothing more than casual correspondence.
 
But, three days ago I received a letter from Kate—I’m talking old fashioned snail mail with a stamp and everything. Kate’s letter explained that several months ago, she found herself in the dark valley of postpartum depression. This was a time in her life when she expected to feel an overabundance of love and happiness.  Instead, she felt overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted. She felt like she was sinking, and the term “postpartum depression” hadn’t even entered her mind. One day, a worried friend suggested that Kate talk to her doctor. So, she did just that.  

Her doctor helped her to realize that her feelings were common, treatable, and temporary. But, if these feelings were left untreated, they cold lead Kate to a very dark place. These days, Kate is thriving and exhaling. She feels great and is so glad that she told someone how she was feeling.  She was so glad that she told the difficult truth.

She shared her story in the letter as a thank you , of sorts, for my honesty in my blog. But, as I stood in my kitchen reading her letter, I felt so moved by her bravery and honesty. I know it must have been hard for Kate to call her doctor that day. But, I’m so grateful that she did. And, I’m so honored that she took the time to write and tell me her story.

I once heard someone say that embarrassment kills too many people… Whether that means not wanting to talk to a doctor about that mysterious lump in that embarrassing place, or feeling ashamed of emotions, or feeling humiliated by bullies at school.    

We have this idea of how life is supposed to be. Perfect dinners. Perfect vacations. Perfect holidays.  Perfect pictures.   But it's all just an illusion.  Really, we are all struggling with something. 

*****

Two months ago, I sat in my therapist’s office at MD Anderson. It was our first meeting together.

“I read through your chart, Veronica. You’ve had a difficult year. How are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m so good! I’m a very spiritual person. I have great faith.  I know that God’s got this! I have revamped my diet. I have a blog. And, I just joined Central Houston Crossfit. I’m planning to do this brutal workout with my friends back in Louisiana on Memorial Day weekend.”

“Hmm…” he looked at me with those I-can-see-right-through-you , therapist eyes. “Are you in denial?” He asked.

I sat in his office.  I smiled.  Then, a tear rolled down my face.   

“Sometimes, I feel so together, so hopeful, so strong. And, sometimes I’m just a damn mess. Does that mean I’m a fraud?”

He sat silently for a few seconds. Then, he smiled.

“No, Veronica. It simply means that you are human . And, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Wow.  

Sometimes, I feel so angry that cancer hasn’t made me some instant mommy-version of wise old Master Splinter, running around spitting knowledge in the sewers of life. (Yup, I just made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reference.) And, I am still sometimes scared that cancer is going to kill me. I wish I could turn off the fear like a light switch. And, I wish I could be this perpetually peaceful enlightened person.  But, it isn’t that simple.  And, that's ok.  I'm learning to manage.     

*****

So, tonight, in honor of the Cheerleader, my new friend Kate, and my shrink, I officially promise to cut the caca . If you see me at a restaurant and you ask how I’m doing, I’m not going to say, “I’m hungry and angry and my pants are too tight. I’m having a hot flash and I’m jealous of anyone with long hair.” I promise I won’t say that. But, I do promise to be more real—especially with other moms. Something beautiful happens when we share our failures and fears, not just our successes. We are all human . We are ALL fearfully and wonderfully made. Now excuse me while I go make dinner for my crew. Tonight, we are having chocolate cake!!

***

PS- That awesome book that my friend gave me is called Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life   by Glennon Doyle Melton. I highly suggest that you drop your latte and buy this book STAT. Glennon is such a powerful spirit. Her message of truth, love, and redemption is healing and empowering.      


By Veronica Waldrop 13 May, 2016
Sometime between ages 27 and 32, I realized that I wasn't 21 anymore. Maybe it was that time I saw a video of myself doing the Cupid Shuffle. In my mind, I looked like Britney Spears circa 1997 (the "Oops, I did it again" era) but I really I looked like Britney Spears circa 2007 (the "Starbucks and Cheetos" era.) Either way, it was a reality check. The universe was saying, "Toto, we're not in our twenties anymore." And, honestly, I was fine with that. I've never been one who was afraid of aging. My grandmother lived to be one hundred years old. She was lifting weights and doing the Cumbia (a fun Latino dance) in her final years. So, I view aging as a gift, not a curse.

However, there is something delightful about those moments where I'm taken back (even just for a few minutes) to those younger days---those days of feeling invincible and carefree.

Back in November, W and I had a night that, looking back, was one of the best nights ever! But, before I get to that, I have to tell the backstory.    
By Veronica Waldrop 06 May, 2016
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last August, our baby was only three months old. As soon as I "went public," my little family was flooded with so much love and support. I was, and continue to be, so humbled and touched by the incredible acts of kindness that we received.

W and I are both from out-of-state. We didn't go to high school here. We didn't go to college here. In fact, many people who reached out to us were strangers or acquaintances, at best.  

I remember saying to W, "I don't know them very well... Why are they being so nice?"

W replied to me, "Well, babe. You're a mom with a new baby. They probably see themselves in you. They see their families in our family. And, many of them are moms."

He had a point. Many of the women who reached out to me during this time were mothers.  This community was feeding my family. This group was nurturing my brood. 

There's something about mamas, specifically mamas who have children my age. One of my friend's mom sent me daily prayers and Bible verses for months. Another mama in Maryland (her daughter is one of my best friends here in Louisiana) sends me daily messages of encouragement. Sometimes she sends haikus, sometimes an inspirational quote, sometimes a funny meme. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me a note that simply said: How cool is it that the same God that created mountains, oceans, and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one of you too. How beautiful. How maternal. She didn't know it at the time, but when she sent that message, I was alone in a waiting room awaiting test results.  This act of kindness did wonders.  It was a blessing.    

W's mom has been a saint. Just months after celebrating her retirement, she traded in me-time to return to changing diapers and loving my children as her own. Then there's a mom, whom I had never met, who is a two-year Triple-Negative breast cancer survivor. When my pic appeared in her Facebook news feed, she felt compelled to reach out to me. For eight months, she's been a survivor mentor of sorts. She sent me tips on what to expect during chemo. She consoled me when I felt extremes sadness with hair-loss. And, to this day, she encourages me about the wonderful life that happens after cancer . Last week, I finally got to meet her. She told me that her gift to herself post-cancer was to audition for the Houston Rocket's Space City Seniors, a half-time dance squad comprised of dancers ages 55 and up. She winked at me and said, "there's a little candy left in this piñata!" Well, she made the dance team. And, she shimmies with the best of them during the halftime show at the Rockets games. Go, mama!

***
Then there's my mom...

She was and will always be my first love. When I was a baby, she would put tiny drops of honey on little satin bows, then stick them on my head, so my outfit would be complete. She decided, when she was thirty-six years old, to do something that no one in her family had ever done...take her first college class. For four years, we lived off of Hamburger Helper and student loans.  But, when I begged my mother for a pair of Guess jeans, she somehow convinced my father that their ten-year-old daughter "needed" that elusive triangle on the pocket. (By the way, she graduated four years later with Honors, all while working full-time and raising two little kids. *Shout out to my dad who would make the best cheeseburgers when my mom had night classes.)

My mom is unapologetic for her love of bread and Jennifer Lopez. She has the most beautiful laugh I've ever heard--it's one of my favorite sounds in the world. And, she's nursed me throughout cancer with homemade tortillas, head-massages, and magical play-dates with the girls (so I could get some rest.)

I used to get frustrated with how easily she could fall asleep. She rests so soundly, and seems to never really worry. For years, I interpreted this trait as lack of concern. When I told her how I felt, she explained to me that she does worry. But, she also told me that she handles her worry with prayer. She told me that, in the scary teenage and college years, she would pray that my brother and I would make good decisions. She would pray for our safety. Then, she would fall asleep in the gentle peace of God's promise.

She is my mother. She is a beautiful example of resilience, joy, and certainty. God matched our souls together for so many reasons. But, one is so that I can watch and learn how to live this glorious life with faithful surrender.

***

On the other hand, I've never been a good sleeper. I go through seasons of insomnia, where my mind battles my body, and the subconscious surfaces into a state of worry and exhaustion. So, when my baby falls asleep in my arms, I consider it an honor to be a part of something so healing and precious. As I hold her close, and feel her heart beat through her soft cotton blanket, I feel a combination of joy and sadness. I'm so grateful to be in that moment...to experience this miracle of peace and rest. But, I lament what feels like stolen time. Wasn't it just yesterday that the rhythm of her heart was just flicker on a screen? It just was nine months ago that, in a state of shock, I was forced to face my mortality. Breast cancer at age 36. That was hard enough. Then two days later, I was told that I would never nurse again. I didn't even get a chance to savor that last moment, with her tiny lips pressed against my body...when I was all she needed. Now she is weeks away from her first birthday. And, we are just now getting to know each other. But, I'm here. And, I'm learning to be more present than ever. Cancer has taught me that these moments are fleeting. That's why I must embrace the everyday : the beautiful, messy, sleepy, God-given everyday.

So here's to the mamas. Here's to those who eat the burned toast. Here's to those who pull double shifts so that there will be gifts under the tree. Here's to the home-cookin' AND the pizza-nights that mean just as much (because what's really important is that you spend time together.) Here's to remembering that everyone is somebody's baby.  Here's to giving that other mama a break because you never know what she's battling at home. Here's to those who have never "given birth," to those who don't have children of their own, but make the world a better place by mothering others anyway. Here's to loving ferociously and gently and abundantly. Happy Mother's Day!
By Veronica Waldrop 27 Apr, 2016
I just completed radiation #11 and I'm officially one-third finished! Woo-hoo!

Last night, I had a great visit with a friend who asked me to describe radiation.  So... Here goes.  

When I arrive at the machine that is MD Anderson, I check in, recite my seven-digit medical ID number to Jennifer (the coordinator), give her a high-five and head to a dressing room. There, I do a quick outfit change into a spiffy ensemble I call (in a lovely French accent) le robe de treatment . Ok, it's not exactly Tom Ford. It's a hospital gown. But, I can pretend, right? From there, I go into a a small waiting room that usually has a few other ladies awaiting treatment.

One thing I've learned over the past eight months is that not all cancer-peeps think the same. I had to learn the hard way that not all of us are prancing around in unicorn-uniforms, blasting Marley, praising Jesus, and living to love. In fact, I've had a few terrible experiences with fellow breast-cancer survivors. I've learned that some women may mean well, but love to share their horror stories. I've heard about deathly allergic reactions and cancer coming back because of chemo and radiation... Once, someone even told me that she's been cancer-free for years, but lives every single day afraid. (Awesome. Sounds fun. Sign me up.) I usually leave the conversation feeling like I just rolled around in peanut butter and bird-seed heading onto a Hitchcock movie set! (If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google "The Birds by Hitchcock.  See what I mean?!)

I've had enough fear and drama. I don't need anymore. Therefore, when I'm in the MDA radiation waiting room, I resist the chit-chat, duck down behind a Vogue, and pretend like I'm awaiting a spa treatment.

Once my name is called I walk into a room with a machine called a linear accelerator. My team of three awesome radiation techs mark up my chest with sharpie markers, put a few little monitors on me, and place some virtual reality goggles on my head. These goggles show me my breathing patterns. Then the team leaves the room and goes into an area that reminds me of an airplane cockpit. I can hear their voices through a speaker.

"Breath in and hold," one says to me. I take a deep breath and listen for the soft buzz of the radiation machine as it shoots into my chest.

"Breathe," I hear. And, I exhale.

While this is happening, music is playing in the room. The techs usually play a fun variety--a little pop, hip-hop, 70s rock, jazz, and reggae.

The very first day I received radiation, I heard "Dream a Little Dream" by Louis Armstrong. I remember closing my eyes and pretending that I wasn't topless on a medical table. I listened to sweet Satchimo's serenade and envisioned an evening stroll with my mister... Then the dream turned into us tucking our girls into bed, big brown eyes getting heavy...  Sleepy children wrapped up in the comfort of mommy and daddy's presence... It warmed my heart. It was a perfect daydream.

****

After my first week of radiation, I felt like I was on a roll. I was in a groove. I knew what to expect. And, radiation is a cake walk compared to chemotherapy. (FYI, radiation doesn't hurt.  My skin is getting a little pink--like a sunburn.  And, I'm a little tired.  But, it's not bad at all!)  My hair is growing back, my body is healing. Heck, I even get to wear mascara these days! (Ladies, never take your eyelashes for granted!)

So, when my doctor ordered an ultrasound to verify that my lypmph nodes were clear, I felt a little uneasy. Remember, my lymph nodes were clear before chemo. BUT (and this is a big but --not the kind from the Sir Mixalot song) the chemo didn't shrink my tumor. So, my doctor at MDA wanted to be certain that the growing-tumor hadn't reached my lymph nodes.

The ultrasound tech stared strait at the screen. I've become obsessed with trying to read the ever-mysterious medical poker face. She didn't say a word, she just pressed buttons on her keyboard, while sliding her wand around my chest. She smiled at me and offered me a warm blanket, then came back with the doctor.  Then, the doctor called for two more doctors.  

They found something.

A mass on my right side. And, a swollen lymph node on my left.

Take a breath and hold.

I'll cut to the chase. After two needle biopsies and thirty minutes of waiting alone in an exam room, pathology determined that both were benign. The mass on the right side was scar tissue from my mastectomy. The node on the left was slightly swollen, but not because of cancer.

Breathe.

In that thirty minutes, I sat alone, staring at the ceiling. I prayed the entire time. But, I didn't pray for my plans. See, six months ago, I prayed for twenty more years of life--for God to allow me to raise my babies to adulthood. But, somewhere along the way, I realized that these prayers gave me anxiety--almost like I was expecting God to go along with my vision. Like I knew what was best for me, and I was begging for God to agree.

Now, I pray for peace, grace, and understanding. I especially pray these two phrases, " use me " and " thank you ." These words instantly give me peace.

I've come to the conclusion that what I want most is for God to use me. Truthfully, I really, really hope to grow old with my husband. I want to see graduations, weddings, and anniversaries. I want to be around to see a cure for this ugly disease we call cancer. But, I'm also at peace knowing that His plan is far greater than mine. I trust Him. I don't have to hold my breath. I can just breathe.
By Veronica Waldrop 12 Apr, 2016
Three weeks after my double mastectomy, I found myself feeling a little antsy. I was technically cancer-free. But, I was also waiting for my surgical wounds to heal so that I could start radiation. I made the mistake of turning to Dr. Google to learn more about life after TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer.) What I found was terrifying!

33% recurrence rate.
Not enough research.
No known cause.
No known treatment after chemo, radiation, and surgery. (Most breast cancer survivors can take a pill for five years that helps block the cancer from returning.)

So, W and I decided to make a call to MD Anderson in Houston. Currently, MDA is ranked as the #2 cancer hospital in the world. (Most years it is #1!)  If anyone had cutting edge or new research on this dreadful and aggressive form of breast cancer, it would be them. Please note, we have had a wonderful experience with our medical team in Baton Rouge. My surgeon and oncologist and nurses were/are incredible. But, since TNBC is so tricky and I have lots of life to live, we decided to just make a quick trip to Houston in search of more information.

****
A week later we found ourself deep in the center of Houson's medical district, which seemed like a small city in itself.  

My heart raced as we rode the elevator up to the second floor of the MD Anderson Mays Clinic. We had an hour before my appointment, so we spotted an outdoor area with adirondack chairs. W and I sat next to each other in a shady area looking out at the buildings of the Houston medical district. I spotted a lady sitting in the sun, knitting a scarf. She was wearing a hat to cover her bald head. Then, I saw a young man lying in a lounge chair. He was pale and frail and young. There were probably twenty people out on this big, spacious balcony. And, we were all connected by cancer. It's been seven months since I was diagnosed, and I still have moments (almost everyday) when I wonder if this is all real.

Once I completed my new patient registration, I was asked to wait in a sitting area for my appointment. As W and I walked toward the waiting room a woman in a white coat greeted us.

"Are you Veronica?" She smiled. "My name is D. I'm friends with Marie... She said you would be here today."

This beautiful breast cancer survivor was a professor at MD Anderson. We shared a mutual friend, and she had been waiting all day to meet us. She told me her breast cancer story, hugged me, and before heading back to her office handed me a pink scarf.

"Someone gave this to me when I started treatment. I've been cancer-free for two years now. So, I'm giving this to you."

I was so emotional. I was shaking.

Just then, two ladies approached me. They were hospital volunteers. They were both breast cancer survivors. They sat on either side of W and me and asked me my story. Five minutes later, we were exchanging phone numbers and hugs. That's when I heard my name.

*****

At my first meeting with the oncologist, he shook my hand and gave me a warm smile. We spoke, at length, about my diagnosis, my treatment, and why I was in his office.

He looked through my lengthy chart, rapidly reading through my medical history, occasionally looking up and verifying the notes.

"You had a baby...found a lump...Triple Negative...you did 15 rounds of chemotherapy...double mastectomy...pathology reports that the cancer did not respond to the chemotherapy...You want to know if there is anything else you can do. Is this all correct?"

I nodded.

"I have wonderful doctors in Baton Rouge. They did a great job. I'm cancer-free. But, I need to know that I am doing everything that I can to prevent recurrence ," I explained.

"Well, Ms. Waldrop," he said, "you DID have Triple Negative breast cancer, which has a 33% recurrence rate. If it comes back, it will be in your brain, lungs, bones, or liver... And, it would be incurable."

He went on to describe a series of clinical trials that are available. But, I couldn't really focus...

My heart raced and I felt a lump in my throat. I'm not sure that I knew this. And, if I did, maybe I was in denial. I thought that if it came back, I would just put the gloves back on and fight it again and again. I appreciated the doctor's honesty, but I hated hearing the word "incurable." It felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

If the cancer comes back, it will most likely kill me. Future visions flashed in my head. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, graduations. I begin to cry. And, W held me tightly.

The doctor then sent me to meet to meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss radiation, which has been my plan from day one.

After sitting in the radiation oncology exam room for a few minutes, we were greeted by a young resident. He was fresh-faced and green, maybe twenty-seven, at the oldest. He was holding a folder with my medical files.

Just like the first doctor, he skimmed my history.

"Here I am, doc," I said. "One in eight women gets breast cancer, and only ten percent of those have Triple Negative, AND, (lucky me) I have the kind that doesn't respond to chemo. My mom always said I was special..." I joked. "I guess it's just special in a really crappy way."

"Hold on," the doctor interjected. "There's also some really good news here. Your doctor removed twelve lymph nodes and they were ALL clear. So, that's huge!"

I started to cry. I didn't mean to, it just happened.

"Before you go on, please listen," I whispered. "I have been going through this for seven months. And, I needed someone to say the words 'good news.' I have a four year old, and a ten-month old. I have so much life to live. You have no idea what the words 'good news' mean to me."

Then something beautiful happened. The young doctor's eyes welled up. I felt like he was truly looking at me. He could see my desperation. He could see my vulnerability. And, in that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The radiation oncologist joined the resident in the exam room. We discussed the process of radiation and how it could substantially decrease my chances of recurrence on the chest wall. The doctor then gave me his personal cell phone number.

"Look, you are a mom with two young kids. I have four kids. I can't imagine what it's like to throw cancer in the mix. You need to do what is best for you and your family. But, if you want to receive radiation here, I can get you in with my pediatrician and help you find babysitters for your munchkins."

My head was spinning. Radiation in Houston? Six weeks away from home?

Will and I drove home that evening. We prayed about it. We discussed with situation with our parents. And, we decided that this was what we needed to do.

So, here we go. Today, April 12th, I will start my first of 32 radiation treatments at MD Anderson in Houston. We're not sure how this is going to work, but we do know that we are in great hands. The plan is for various family members to come stay with me, so that I will not be alone. We will do our best to have our babies in Houston some of the time. And, I will be back in Louisiana every weekend.

All of this should come to an end just before Memorial Day weekend. And, we will all be due a huge celebration!

Dust off your boots, kids. We're moving to Texas!
By Veronica Waldrop 17 Mar, 2016
My father is a retired college professor. He taught journalism, news writing, and video editing, and it only seemed fitting that I shared the same love of video story-telling. For years, I have dabbled in video-production. (I have worked for various production studios, run sidelines with ESPN, and have even produced a few corporate videos.) But, these days, I mostly just create really fancy home-videos. So when a friend recently asked me to help her create a wedding video for her niece, I was eager to assist. The wedding was two weeks after my mastectomy, so I thought this would be a great project to distract me from my thoughts. I’ve been a stay-at-mom for almost four years now, so sometimes, it is nice to feel like I have a job-job again.

My friend gave me a couple of CDs filled with pics of the young couple and a list of their favorite love songs. I didn’t realize that their wedding day was one day before my seventh wedding anniversary! As I cropped and edited and dragged and dropped their pics, it made me think back to the days leading up to W’s and my wedding. What an eventful seven years! I am honored to create something for this couple’s special day. In addition, I have a written an open letter to the couple.   

Dear Bride and Groom,

When I see pictures of you two, I can’t help but feel so full of hope and love. I’ve spent several hours over the past few days looking at your baby photos, adventures with your friends, fun times with family, and your engagement pictures. It is obvious to me that you both are loved. Beautiful bride and handsome groom, your smiles are so sweet and sincere. Your eyes glow in your photos. You both are vibrant and young and have so much ahead of you.

Dear sweet couple, I know you have a vision of what life together will be like. You will learn, like all of us eventually do, that life doesn't always go according to plan. But, chances are, life will be better than your wildest dreams. My prayer for you is that you will grow to love each other more and more every single day. I pray that you are gentle and kind and patient with each other. And, I hope that you never lose that sparkle in your eye. 

People will tell you that marriage is hard. The truth, I've learned, is that life is hard. Stuff happens. People make mistakes. Pregnancy isn’t easy; sometimes it doesn’t happen. And, sometimes it ends with loss. Parenthood is beautiful, but scary. People get sick. And, sometimes you’ll feel alone.

But, hear me, sweet couple. You are not alone. You have each other. I pray that you two have many, many years of abundant health. And, if you don’t, I pray that you trust each other, trust in God, and love each other hard. 

I pray that you can look back at this video years from now and smile. I hope you don’t say, “those were the good old days.” No matter what life throws you, I hope you can say, “we were just getting started and these are the great days!” Here’s to a beautiful life together full of love! Congratulations!

Love,
The stranger who made your wedding video

*****

My husband and I have a saying:  It just gets sweeter everyday . It comes from a song that we heard when we were driving around Oahu in a convertible. We had been married for a year. We were carefree and living for the moment. I loved the song so much, that I jotted down the lyrics in my phone so I could download it later.

Several years later, I look back at our wedding pictures... at pictures of us in Hawaii, the day we heard that song, my hair blowing in the wind... We were so young and naive. We had no idea what was in store: two beautiful daughters, many great adventures, new jobs, new friends, and most recently breast cancer... Our life hasn’t been picture perfect, but it is ours together. And, there is no one on earth I would rather live this life with than Will.

Truly, it just gets sweeter everyday. And, for that, I am grateful.
By Veronica Waldrop 11 Mar, 2016

May 2015

Here we go. It's 5 AM, our bags are packed and we are on our way to Woman's Hospital. W and I say a prayer as we roll out of our driveway... The interstate is dark and empty... My stomach grumbles, my mouth is dry, but I'm following strict instructions: no eating or drinking after midnight. I feel nervous, but ready... It was time to meet our new baby girl. Let's do this!

Nine months later...

Here we go again, making the same drive. 5 AM, packed bags, empty streets, driveway prayer. We were nervous, but ready. After six grueling months of chemotherapy, dozens of doctor appointments, MRIs, PET Scans, vials and vials of my blood extracted and analyzed, it was time for my double mastectomy. My, how things can change in just nine short months!

We parked the vehicle, checked in, and waited for the nurse to escort us back. I wasn't allowed to wear any jewelry, any makeup or lotions. I felt so bare without my basics: lipgloss and my wedding band. As W asked a few questions, I reached down to the receptionist's desk. I took her pen and wrote 4:13 on my left ring finger, where I normally wear my wedding ring. It was for one of my favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.)

I was ready. Let's get this cancer out of me!

***

The last thing I recall after starting the general anesthesia was glancing to my left. There was my breast surgeon. He had been with me from day one and I trusted him. "The Dance" by Garth Brooks was playing. How appropriate. I looked up, there were bright lights shining down on me.

"Y'all should serve mimosas back here," I joked.

"Veronica, we are starting you on oxygen. Just take deep breaths for me," one of the nurses said.

I could've missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance...

***

"Veronica... Veronica... You did great."

I opened my eyes. It was over. I was surrounded by women in blue scrubs.

"Hey! I know you. I think I was your nurse for your biopsy!" one of them said.

The next few minutes were a blur. But, I'm pretty sure that the nurses and I had a deep conversation about sushi.

***

While I was chatting about spicy tuna, W and my parents were in a consultation room with my surgeon.

The tumor came out easily. It was peanut shaped and measured just over 5 centimeters. They found some benign cysts in my left breast. Overall, the surgery was successful.

***

Nine days ago, I was in surgery. The past week has been a blur. Truthfully, I have been in quite a bit of pain. I had drain tubes hanging out of both sides of my body. I had gauze covering my chest, and I felt like I had spent an hour in the ring with Ronda Rousey.

My brother and his wife and new baby flew in from Texas to surprise me. I immediately broke down when I saw their faces. My nephew was born a few days after my diagnosis back in August. This was the first time for me to see him in person. I looked into his big blue eyes and ached to hold him close to me. But, I couldn't extend my arms or raise myself up out of bed. I yearned to hold my baby, to hug my big girl, to feel free.

I think back to a few weeks ago.

"You hold her too much," my mom said when I complained of shoulder pain after holding Baby Girl for an hour. But, I knew that after my mastectomy, it would be weeks, maybe months before I could hold her again. Every shoulder ache, every sore arm moment of holding that child was worth it. Absolutely worth it. Now, I hope to hold my baby again before her first birthday in May.      

The drain tubes were removed Tuesday. The nurse counted to three and yanked roughly six inches of tubing out of my body. I wanted to scream, swear, cry, and celebrate. It was a small victory to get those suckers out of me. The pain and the tightness decrease gradually everyday.

I looked at my naked self in the mirror several days ago. I didn't cry. In fact, I looked at my stitched chest, my bald head, my pale skin and expected to see a ghost: a battered, broken version of myself. Instead, I saw the reflection of a woman who would do anything for a chance at more life. Anything to hold my nephew, anything to snuggle with my beautiful girls, anything to dance with my husband again. Anything . And, If this is what it takes, bring it the hell on!

***

Yesterday, W and I met with my surgeon and my oncologist for a post-op follow up. The results: the cancerous tumor was completely removed. It measured at just over 5 cm. So, the chemo didn't shrink the tumor as we all had hoped. But, the doctors do think that the chemotherapy made the tumor easier to extract. It was soft and peanut shaped, rather than rock hard and spherical (like it was in the beginning.)

The next step is thirty rounds of radiation: Monday through Friday for six weeks.  Then, I will see both the breast specialist and the oncologist every three months for at least five years. See, my cancer, which is called Triple Negative, is rare and sneaky. It is very aggressive and has a lower survival rate than the other, more common, types of breast cancer. But, when (yup, I just said "when" not "if") I make it to that glorious five year anniversary, the odds of recurrence decreases drastically.

So what does this mean? It means that I am cancer-free.

So, why did I sit in the Woman's Hospital parking lot and cry my eyes out when I heard this news? Maybe, I was hoping to get a better report. Maybe, I wanted the doctors to say, "You're in the clear, sister! Go celebrate." Maybe, because I know this isn't over. This will never really be over. Maybe, because I'm a worrier. And, I'm afraid that I will spend the rest of my life (however long that may be) worrying if today is the day that cancer will return.

W said it best. "I thought confetti was supposed to fall from the ceiling."

We both had false expectations of what that elusive "cancer-free" moment would be like. Shouldn't it be something like a gameshow? Confetti falling, a woman in a sequin gown pulls back the curtain to expose a guy in a white coat holding a larger-than-life check that says "Cancer Free"! Then, Ed McMahon's voice bellows over an imaginary loud speaker and says, "Veronica Waldrop....THIS is your life!" W and I would watch a slide show of images of our future: trips to the Caribbean, watching our girls graduate from college, holding grandchildren, growing old gracefully, eventually dying at the age of 99 in each other's arms like that couple on The Notebook .

Well, that's not what happened. Instead, I cried. W and I both cried. And, just like the day I was diagnosed, we held hands and prayed.

Over the past seven months, I've learned so much. I've learned that I'm stronger than I ever imagined. I've realized that the world is full of love: from the encouraging texts, to V Team t-shirts, to the flowers in my hospital room. I've seen the absolute best in people. And, that feels so good, so hopeful. I've learned that my husband and my family are more amazing, more caring, and more courageous than I ever realized. They are my everything, my reason for living. I've learned that so much of what used to bother me is trivial. It just isn't that important. What's important is family, God, and how we spend our time.

So, here's to the next step, to new beginnings, healing, and, of course, the dance ...

Photos Below:  The day before Baby Girl arrived; post-surgery; W holding Baby Girl and Cousin B (our nephew)
By Veronica Waldrop 29 Feb, 2016
It's a beautiful day.  The sun is shining.  Birds are chirping.  And, my confused azaleas are convinced that spring has sprung.  As I sit in my kitchen drinking coffee thinking about the past and present and future, I can't help but to feel a gumbo of emotions.  

Twenty-four hours from now, I will be undergoing a double mastectomy.  I would be lying if I said that everything in my mind is rosey.  It's not. I'm a little nervous... Not because of the surgery.  I'm not afraid of being unconscious for four hours while people slice open my body and change it forever.

I'm nervous because I'm losing my last visible sign of femininity.  I've already lost my hair and eyelashes.  But, I'm about to lose my breasts: the part of my body I prayed and wished for when I was twelve (I must, I must, I must increase my bust!)...the part of my body that fed my babies (yup, I used to spend hours on the La Leche League message boards)...

I'm scared of that moment when I remove my bandages post-surgery to see stitches where my nipples used to be, wounds that will soon be scars.  I'm scared.  

But, I'm also excited. I am excited to be, God willing, cancer-free. And, if this is what it takes, let’s do it. Let’s get this bastard out of me. For more than six months, I have obsessed over this alien life form in my right breast. When I first noticed it, I was nursing my two month old baby girl. I remember it like it was yesterday. Baby Girl was having a difficult time latching onto my right breast. I was holding her head in one hand and maneuvering my breast with the other hand when I felt it... A marble-sized ball deep under the skin. I thought it was just a milk-duct. This was very common when nursing. Milk ducts sometimes get clogged. They can be massaged and treated with warm compress. So this is what I did.

But, it didn’t go away. It seemed to be growing. I remember googling “breast cancer while nursing.” For some reason, I thought breast cancer was impossible for a nursing mother. I had heard (and I still hear all the time) that nursing decreases the odds of breast cancer. And, I had nursed my first born as well.

By the time I went to the doctor (roughly three weeks after discovering the lump), the tumor measured at 3.25 cm--about the size of a golf ball. It was growing at an incredibly rapid rate. The day I saw my OBGYN for the “clogged milk duct,” I told our beloved family babysitter that I thought I had breast cancer. I don’t know why I said it. She looked at me like I was making a sick joke. But, I told her, “I think I really do have breast cancer. But, I’m going to do what I have to do. And, I will win.”

Now, here we are...

Chemo: check!
Surgery: tomorrow!
Radiation: in a few months!

Hopefully I’ll be finished with all of this just in time for my baby’s first birthday at the end of May.


*****

Throughout this whirlwind six months, I have learned so much. I have always done my best to have a sense of humor. From sending silly pics to friends and family members...to making up funny new lyrics to pop songs...I have done my best to make this whole “cancer thing” as light-hearted as possible. And, it’s helped. It truly has. Laughter is the best medicine.

When I was diagnosed in August, a friend gave a book to my husband. It was called The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader by Lieutenant Jason Redman. It is about the life of a Navy SEAL who survived horrific situations on the battle field. He was shot in the face six times and lived to tell his story. One of the most compelling parts of his story was a sign that he posted on his hospital door during one of his many reconstructive surgeries. It said, “If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorrow for my wounds, go elsewhere.”

W told me about this. W was so blown-away by Lieutenant Redman’s heroic and positive attitude. We both knew that attitude would play a pivotal role in my fight against breast cancer. So, W wrote a letter to Lieutenant Redman. And, we received a letter back. In fact, he sent me a copy of his famous hospital door sign and a bracelet that said “OVERCOME.” From that moment on, I decided that there would be no pity parties here. (I don’t think they serve champagne at pity parties anyway!)

Last week, I got to meet Mr. Redman. It was so inspiring to meet him and hear his story. And, the timing was perfect. The chemo had started to bring me down. I needed a boost. I can’t hold a candle to a Navy SEAL war hero. But, I can control my attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I have sad moments. I’m not trying to sugar-coat this situation. I cry. I have scary moments. But, in the big picture, I am so grateful. I will overcome; I know this. And, I will come out of this tunnel a better person.

Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation may elongate my life.  But, cancer saved my life.  Even deeper than that, Christ saved my soul . This is what I truly believe.

And, it took cancer and chemo and tears and questioning to realize some really important things. Now, I can safely say, “I’m ok.” Whatever happens, I’m ok. And, that’s a peaceful easy feeling.  

****

So, tomorrow, when you drink your morning coffee, please think of me. Say a prayer for my sweet babies, my incredible husband, my loving parents and in-laws, and the medical team who are removing this tumor from my body. Also, please pray for those who don’t have hope, who don’t have the support that I have, and those who are in situations so horrific that we cannot imagine.

By Veronica Waldrop 17 Feb, 2016
"Monday, February 8th, 2016."  My last chemotherapy treatment.  This date had been in my calendar for months.  That day also happened to be Lundi Gras (the day before Mardi Gras Day.)

"This is huge! Big number sixteen, my last treatment, is going to be right before Mardi Gras!" I excitedly told W back in October.  

"I want to make a really big deal out of this," I told him.  "It's a celebration!  I want to hand out pink beads, bring king cake to the nurses and patients, drink champagne, and maybe march out of Mary Bird (the cancer center) to a second line..."

Will just smiled.  He was used to my shenanigans.

"Oh wow! What am i going to wear, babe? What should I wear to my last chemo treatment? Should I dress like a superhero? Maybe wear pink boxing gloves? Or, should I wear my unicorn uniform? This is a big decision!!"

I decided on a pink she-she (wig) that I named Fifi (after her birthplace, Fifi Mahoney's in New Orleans.)  The rest of my outfit would have to be a spontaneous, game-time decision.  But, I was leaning toward the unicorn uniform!

*****

The week before my last chemo, I had to have a serious discussion with my oncologist.  After fourteen treatments, the chemotherapy was officially kicking my tail.  My pale face was covered with splotchy red patches. My eyes were pink and puffy.  My muscles were constantly achy and tired.  And, my hands were suffering from neuropathy (a common side effect of Taxol).  Basically, the tips of my fingers felt like they had been pounded by a hammer, then dipped in boiling water.  It was the strangest sensation: burning and beaten.  This made buttoning baby clothes, changing diapers, and buckling carseats impossible.  The pain was debilitating and frustrating.  The scary part was neuropathy could last indefinitely.

"I'm starting to really feel it, Doc," I said.  "I have been so positive throughout this whole experience.  But, now I'm just tired."  

I hung my head down. I was so embarrassed. Usually, I kid around with the doctor. Even on the days when I didn’t feel good, I managed to wear a smile and crack a joke. Humor is my way of coping.

"Ok, Veronica.  Let's proceed with today's treatment.  If the neuropathy doesn't get better, we're canceling the last round," my oncologist told me. "I just can't risk crippling your hands forever for one more treatment."

I started to cry.  I felt like I was failing... Like I had signed up for a marathon and quit just before the last mile.  

I looked down at my black yoga pants.  This was NOT my "last chemo" outfit.  Where was my damn king cake?! I didn't have strands of pink beads to pass around! And, I wasn't wearing Fifi the she-she !

****

I spent the next week wondering if my fingers would get better. They didn't.  In fact, they got worse. I had to ask for help to do the most basic tasks like opening zip-lock bags and taking the wrapper off of a drinking straw.  

In my heart, I knew that my last chemotherapy treatment was going to be cancelled.  Rather than feeling exited and happy, I felt a little sad.  Not because wasn't I wanted another infusion. I didn’t want more chemo, believe me.  I felt disappointed or weird or anxious (I get these emotions confused lately) because the plan was changing.  And, I've recently learned that I don't do well with change--specifically when it comes to my cancer treatment plan.  

I thought back to that last treatment when I had that heart-to-heart with the oncologist.  I was wearing a black sweatshirt and those black yoga pants--which has inadvertently become my uniform (maybe because black helps hide the ten pounds that I've gained since starting chemo or maybe because black hides the baby food that gets tossed on me daily.)  

Either way, I was probably wearing something similar on that fateful Saturday morning six months before, when my doctor called me to tell me that I had breast cancer.  I had come full circle in those yoga pants.

On Lundi Gras Monday, I met with my oncologist. This was supposed to be my big “last chemo” party. Just as I suspected, my last treatment was cancelled.  But, I wore Fifi the she-she anyway, just to be festive. W and I passed around king cake to the chemo nurses.  I even got to ring the last-treatment bell, which is a common tradition in infusion centers across the country. I cried as I hugged each chemo nurse tightly.  Over the past six months, these women had become my friends--my angels.  They were all so professional, yet warm. They were cheerful, but empathetic during a very scary situation. I couldn't thank them enough for their tenderness.

Over the years, I have had vivid visions of how events are going to play out.  I hear the soundtrack playing, I imagine what eloquent words I'm going to say, and I envision what I'm wearing.  And, it never fails: I'm always wrong.  

I didn't have a second line band playing that day... I wasn’t popping bottles of champagne... I wasn't wearing some statement outfit, symbolic of how strong or fierce I am... I was just wearing those darn black yoga pants.  

In two weeks, I’ll go under the knife to remove the tumor (which has not decreased in size) from my right breast. I will have to wait a few days after my double mastectomy to receive my results from pathology. God willing, I will hear those four glorious words: You are cancer-free!

I can just see it now! I’ll pop a bottle of champagne! I’ll hug my husband, look toward my family and say something endearing and monumental. And, I’ll be wearing... Who am I kidding? We all know what I’ll be wearing.

**Just to be clear, I have a variety of yoga pants. I should own stock in Lululemon. And, yes, I wash them, usually while wearing a different pair of yoga pants.
By Veronica Waldrop 28 Jan, 2016
It’s just hair.  

These are the three words I’ve heard most since announcing to the world that I would be receiving chemotherapy to treat my breast cancer.  Everyone who says it means well. And, everyone is right.  It is just hair.  But, it’s also complicated, especially for me.

Let me explain.    

Picture a dusty West Texas town in the late 1960s.  My mom was eighteen years old and just finished high school.  She had a love for fashion, a great sense of style, and a zest for life.  The world was her oyster---and this particular oyster looked more like a beauty shop!  So, she saved her money and left home to attend Jesse Lee’s Hair Design Institute.  Remember, this was the 60s:  bouffants, beehives, and backcombing were everywhere.  Also, keep in mind, everything is bigger in Texas, especially the hair!  This was the beginning of a lifetime of color, cuts, wigs, and perms.

*****

Fast forward to the days of Ronald Reagan and Rubik’s cubes. Ahh, my childhood... My dad was a college professor and mom had a successful career as a hair stylist in our small town.

Everyday, after school I would get a Dr. Pepper and a KitKat (we didn't do bottled water and gluten-free back then.) I would make my way to an unoccupied dryer chair, grab a stack of Vogue magazines, place my homework on top, and get to work until my mom finished coloring, cutting, and styling her last customer.  
 
It was the 80s.  And, if you had ovaries and a pulse, you most-likely had a perm.  And, my mama could give a fabulous perm!  I can remember the smell of cigarettes and hairspray, the buzz of country-radio and small-town gossip, and most-vividly the glow of every woman who stepped out of my mother's booth.  Their faces covered with the joy of pure backcombed bliss!  The higher the hair, the closer to God!      

Now, fast forward twenty-something years... Here I am in, you know, this whole breast cancer/chemo situation...

I know, I know... It’s still just hair.  And, now my hair is gone.  Hair has been something that fed my family growing up.  It was something that was discussed over the dinner table. It was part of my upbringing.  So, here I am with a few little stragglers hanging on for dear life.  I’m having to change the way I see myself, and the way I see beauty.  Honestly, that is probably a very good thing .  But, let me just say that it is very strange to be a bald woman, especially growing up the way I did.  But, I’m finding peace in every aspect of this whole experience.  It may sound cliché, but I’m learning to let it go...  

*****

During my very first visit with my oncologist, I was advised to cut my long locks right away. The conversation went something like this. “Look, I can save your life, but I can’t save your hair. You have long hair. You should probably just cut it short as soon as possible.”

WHAT?! I had been growing out my hair for a while. My colorist was my friend. I looked forward to our girl-dates in her chair.  We had just achieved the bayalage color of my dreams. And, now this?! What the hell?

The doctor continued, “After your second chemotherapy treatment, it will start to fall out at a very rapid rate... in your food, in the shower... Save yourself from the heartache, and cut it now.” So, I did.

A few days after my first dance with the red devil (adriamycin/cytoxan), I cut off eight painful inches. My husband assured me that he loved my short new sassy cut. But, I cried. It wasn’t me. I knew that this was going to be a difficult transition. So, I decided that I needed to buy a wig ASAP. I needed to be prepared. I also decided that I hated the word wig ... So I decided to start calling hairpieces “ she-she ”. Isn’t that so much more fun than “wig”?! She-she sounds like something fluffy and pretty like Poochie (that toy dog from 80s.)  

I didn't have the best luck with the she-she shops in Baton Rouge.  I was frustrated and losing my hair quickly.  Fortunately, my in-laws found a boutique in downtown Jackson, Mississippi that specialized in custom she-she .  I took a leap of faith, made the three-hour drive, and found myself having a heart-to-heart with a woman named Leslie. She specialized in she-she for chemo patients.  She was part therapist, part hair-designer.  She flipped through my phone and looked at several of my pictures before I chopped off my hair.  

"I can do this," she said while sipping on a Diet Coke.  "I can totally do this."

Soon, she was measuring the circumference of my head, the nape of my neck, and asking me to text her pictures of my favorite hair days.  

"I'll see you in a week, before your second chemo treatment.  You're going to lose all your hair after that.  Just be prepared." She gave me one of those "its going to be ok" smiles, followed by a bear hug!

The next few days were pretty emotional. My hair began to shed at a rapid rate.  Deep inside I was holding on to the hope that I would be an anomaly.  Maybe I would be that one woman who didn't lose her hair after the dreaded red devil... Not so much.  I started to notice it in the shower.  My stomach would turn every time I noticed strands of hair falling out of my scalp. This was really happening.

So, a few nights before meeting up with Leslie, my mom cut it even shorter.  Just like that, I was back to my childhood...in my momma’s swivel chair. I could almost smell the perm solution and hear Dolly singing “Islands in the Stream.”  It had been years since my mom had cut my hair.  And, we had fun.  I drank a glass of sauvignon blanc and watched her go to town on my what was left of my scrappy head of hair.  

I started to feel incredibly guilty about how much I was going to miss my hair.  Was I really this vain and narcissistic?  I kept going back to the "it's just hair" comments.  And, I would feel so emotionally torn.  I knew it was just hair.  I would trade my hair and my arms and my legs to survive this.  I would give anything for more time with my family.  Anything.  So, the hair thing seemed so silly.  

I have made a few breast cancer survivor buddies over the last several months.  We email and compare notes.  Mostly, they give me hope and remind me that I will get through this.  They are angels.  Each of them assured me that these raw, dreaded emotions that I was feeling about hair-loss were normal and ok.

One Survivor buddy told me that after she lost her hair, she covered all the mirrors around her home.  She admitted to me that the hardest part of surviving breast cancer for her was the hair loss.  Another Survivor friend wrote that there is a "complicated psychology" that goes along with hair loss.  

For me, seeing my bald head is a constant reminder that there is something inside of me, trying to kill me.  I can cover the port in my chest.  I can wear a little more bronzer to make myself look less anemic.  But, at the end of the day, (literally, at the end of the day before bed) I see my bald head as a reminder of something very real and very scary.  I don't look like me anymore.

The night before I met with Leslie to meet my new she-she , W shaved my head.  My scalp was incredibly itchy and tender.  It was time to let it go.  My mom, dad, W and I gathered in my in-law's kitchen and W went to work.  First, he cut a mohawk.  I sang some Ramones.  Then, he shaved it all off.  As, he buzzed away, I sang the only Sinead O'Connor song I knew.  And, I felt so free.  

The next morning, W and I woke up at the crack of dawn.  We drank some coffee together, said some morning prayers, and did a travel CrossFit workout in the front yard. I have to admit, feeling the wind blow on my bald head felt different than the feeling wind in my hair.  But, it wasn't any less glorious.  That was a great morning! Then we were off to meet the she-she .            

I remember walking into Kirkland Hair Studio in Jackson, Mississippi. I walked into the privacy of Leslie’s booth when I saw her. She was perched on a mannequin head. She was long and lucious. She was a caramel brown with beachy blond ends. I named her Leyonce! (Like Leslie and Beyonce.) Leslie placed the she-she on my newly shaved head. Within seconds, I was transformed. I went from broken, scared, cancer Veronica to the woman I was before all of this madness started. At least that’s how it looked. I smiled from ear-to-ear seeing myself with long high-lighted hair. That was a really beautiful moment.

These days, Leyonce only comes out on special occasions. Honestly, it’s so much easier to just wear beanies and caps--especially with an eight-month-old! But, I love having the option to just blend in. Everywhere I go, I either get “bless your heart” looks or I see people turn their heads, trying not to stare. I’m sure I did the very same thing before I became one of “those” women. I get it. It’s strange and emotional and different. I’m trying to handle it all with grace and understanding. It is a daily struggle, but it is one I can handle.  

As I write this, I only have two more chemotherapy treatments left. My eyelashes are gone, my eyebrows are patchy, and I look like a bonafide sick chick. I’ve heard that my hair will start to grow back within a month after my last treatment. And, I am so excited!   Like...really, really excited.  That may be silly.  I mean, it’s just hair, right? Yeah, right!

By Veronica Waldrop 15 Jan, 2016
I'm so hot. Honestly, I've never been hotter. I think back to my twenties, when I had long hair, no laugh lines, and didn't touch carbs... Nope, I'm WAY hotter now.

But, it's not what you think. I'm not talking about sex appeal or physical attraction. I'm talking about hot flashes. This 37-year-old is officially going through menopause! Seriously. This is a side-effect of the Taxol, and it is brutal. Therefore, I would like to officially apologize to my mom for being so aloof every time she had a hot flash. I am learning the hard way that the struggle is real. Really hot.

I would also like to apologize to my husband for having a crush on Olaf--the character from Frozen .  Yup, I have a (snow)man crush. He is so attractive to me these days. When I get really hot, I like to imagine the two of us sitting on the beach, his branches wrapped around my back, gazing into the sea. We would be two pasty-white, bald-headed, peas in pod, melting away in the sunshine. We could drink chilled Prosecco, then dump the remnants of the wine bucket on our heads...kinda like the Ice Bucket Challenge. 

And, this could be the song playing in the background:

Do you want to build a snowman?
Then maybe dump it on my head?
My sweaty face is turning rosy pink,
I need a frozen drink
Looks like I wet the bed!!!

I used to call myself a tropical flower. I would joke around to W that I am a delicate creature, who needs sunshine, salt-air, and thrives in vacation destinations. Well, I'm not feeling very tropical these days. I just googled "cold weather plants" and the results showed something called the Atomic Mix Veronica. That sounds about right.  

This morning, I woke up and it was 36 degrees outside. It was glorious. I walked outside, felt the crisp air, inhaled a deep frosty breath, then scurried back inside. I thawed out for about sixty seconds, then had to step back outside. This was my at-home version of hot/cold plunge pool therapy, minus the steep spa bill! I think I'm on to something. Needless to say, this cool winter weather is a welcomed change. My inner tropical flower is hiding under the cold ground. But, she is waiting to bloom...hopefully sometime in February, after I finish chemo.      
By Veronica Waldrop 06 Jan, 2016
New Year's Eve night of 2015 was interesting. Our baby had been fussy all day, her nose perpetually crusty and congested.  And, my big girl was stir-crazy from being cooped up inside all day. I read on Facebook that Netflix was streaming a New Year's Eve countdown so that parents could experience the big tradition with their little ones, then put the kiddos to bed. I thought this was genuis!

After indulging in my favorite comfort food, Pioneer Woman's Pot Roast, my parents, W, the kids and I gathered in front of the television. It was 7:15 and time to ring in the new year. Hey, it's twelve o'clock somewhere!

I searched Netflix and found something called "Puffin Rock New Year." W pointed out that the title sounded more like a Breaking Bad holiday special, rather than show aimed at children, but it was a beautifully animated tale about puffins (cold weather birds.) It was a grand 60 seconds long and sounded like the perfect countdown. Watch out, Seacrest: it's time to party with the puffins!

After watching the puffins reflect on the highlights of 2015 (catching fish, swimming in the sea, etc.) we counted down. Three...two...one...HAPPY NEW YEAR! We clinked our champagne flutes and exchanged warm hugs and lots of kisses. The big girl had her little cup of water and the baby had some breastmilk that I had saved for a special occasion.

W surprised me with my absolute favorite dessert: Ruth's Chris's chocolate mousse cheesecake, which I lovingly call celebration pie ! The family gathered around our new cypress table which has "Better Together" (our family mantra) carved into the corner and we ate chocolate bliss and sipped the rest of our bubbles.

We said goodnight to my parents and started the "bedtime" process around 8:15. By this time, the baby was congested and inconsolable. She was beet-red and angry and snotty and just exhausted. Somewhere, in the midst of trying to calm the baby, W and I managed to hurt our big girl's feelings. I found her hiding under the covers in her room, crying. Her head was buried under the blankets at the foot of the bed and her little bum was sticking up out of the sheets.

"I just want a noodle lasso !" She sobbed.

I had only had one glass of champagne, and I hadn't been puffin' rock. So, I was super confused. What on earth was she talking about?I had to Google "noodle lasso." (Thank you, Disney Junior, for creating a sheriff cat character who fights crime with a noodle lasso. Also, thank you for not selling some sort of noodle lasso toy.) I was so tired and I would have AP'd (Amazon Primed) that sucker if it had been available to get my babe to stop crying.  

A warm bath, a warm bottle, and a carseat drive later, W and I finally found ourselves in a quiet home. We hugged each other tight, whispered our last "I love you" of 2015, and went our separate ways. I stayed in the guest-room so I could be close to our sniffly baby.

My, oh, my how NYE has changed for us. From martinis and diver scallops to pot roast and puffins.

As I reflected on the past year, I couldn't help but feel defeated. Things felt so different. I was exhausted. The kids were acting nuts--actually, they were just acting like kids, but still... I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were sleeping in separate beds. I was ready to kick 2015 to the curb. What a rough year!

So, I started my nightly conversation with God. I always like to start my prayers with thanks. So, I begin thanking the Lord for the good things, before I started asking for intervention and help.

I started to imagine many of the moments that made me happy in 2015.

I thought back to last January: W and I spent a glorious week in Palm Springs, laughing and eating and just being us. I remembered announcing to the world that we were expecting a baby! I thought about our big girl experiencing her first Mardi Gras parade, catching beads, and eating King Cake. I thought about W taking our big girl on her first "real" date. (It was in our living room, and it was perfect!) I thought back to countless nights of W and our big girl rubbing my belly, singing to the baby. I remembered so many moments with our house full of family. Then, I thought of the day our baby girl was born.

As I reflected on this last memory, I started to smile ear to ear. I closed my eyes and remembered what it felt like to see that sweet baby girl for the first time... to hold her in my arms... to watch W rock her in the hospital glider. Then, I remembered when our big girl walked into the hospital room, her curious brown eyes growing wide when she met her tiny baby sister. I remember our big girl climbing into the hospital bed next to me and nuzzling close. W brought the baby to us, and we all sat together. Our little family. We were complete.

Within minutes, I went from declaring 2015 as a terrible year to realizing that this was the best year of my life. It's true. This was the year that I had my world turned upside down. But, this was also the year that I realized what is really truly important. This was the year that I stopped taking my parents and in-laws for granted. This was the year that I realized how many good people there are in this world... how many people took the time to cook for us, send flowers, come visit, write encouraging notes... Strangers showed us love and support and prayed for us. My husband and I renewed our vows with our actions , with our togetherness. This was the year that I realized that I am stronger than I ever imagined, that I have the spirit of a fighter. This was the year that I grew closer to God. This was the best year ever.

In a few minutes, I went from wishing 2015 would disappear from my mind, to knowing (and loving that) this was a year that I would never forget.

And, I have a feeling that, God willing, 2016 is going to be even better! 

Here's to the great moments and to the difficult ones that make us stronger.  xoxo, V
By Veronica Waldrop 28 Dec, 2015
Before I begin:  I have always been a very spiritual person.  But, for most of my life, I have chosen not to be overly vocal about my beliefs.  In my opinion, spiritual beliefs are so very personal.  I try (and often fail) to demonstrate my faith more with actions, rather than words.  What can I say, I'm a work in progress.  This blog post is about my faith and my personal beliefs, which are the biggest assets in my fight against breast cancer.  

*****

What's the first thing that runs into one's mind when hearing the words, you have cancer ?" How does it feel? What emotions does one feel? What happens to the body when you hear that phrase?

For me, it was a sinking feeling. Instantly, I felt scared...like I was drowning in a pool of confusion and fear. The first thing I thought was, "I'm going to die." Then, seconds later, I thought, "Oh, wow... look around. Look at this beautiful baby in the arms of this wonderful man. Look at this spunky child dancing around the kitchen, oblivious of what is happening at this moment where time (for me) is standing still."

Then I thought, "Oh, wow... My doctor called me on a Saturday, only two days after my biopsy. That was fast . Thank God for this doctor (Dr. Michael Hailey) who didn't make me wait a second longer to know my diagnosis. Thank God for doctors and nurses and researchers and health insurance and my husband's job...Thank God!"

"Oh, wow...I'm scared to death, but I can do this . I WILL DO THS---whatever this means.  I'm going to fight this monster. Thank God this cancer is in me and not in my husband or in my babies. Thank you, God."

I remember a blur of emotions. But, the one that stands out among the others was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude . At that point, I didn't know that I was only stage 2. I didn't know that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. I didn't know much at all about my diagnosis on that fateful Saturday morning. But, I did know that I was grateful ."

I recounted these emotions to my dad a few mornings later over breakfast. "I'm glad this is happening to me and not one of my babies," I said.

"Well," my father said, taking a sip of his coffee, his eyes tearing up. "I understand; but, this IS happening to one of my babies."

****

Two weeks after my diagnosis, I heard about a two-year old girl in my town who was diagnosed with Leukemia. Immediately, I reached out to her mother and asked what I could do to help. Days later, I was knocking on a stranger's door delivering soft jammies and chemo snacks to a family I had never met.  

A few weeks later, I heard about a seven-year old boy (again in my town) who was being rushed to Saint Jude's in Memphis. Again...cancer. We immediately logged into his GoFundMe website to help as much as we could.  

Most recently, a friend discovered that her eight-month-old baby has an inoperable brain tumor. And, I just don't know what to do.  

These situations crush me. They break my heart. I know what it feels like to hear, "you have cancer." And, it sucks.  There's no way to sugarcoat it.  But, I can't begin to imagine what it feels like to hear, "your child has cancer."

I find myself praying for these babies relentlessly, wishing that I could take away their cancer. Just give it to me, Lord. I can handle it . Please don't let these babies feel fear and suffering.

I would do anything and everything: I would go through the chemo and surgeries and all the crap that goes along with cancer a million times over to keep my babies safe and well. And, I know that this is exactly what these mothers, and fathers, and grandparents are feeling.

****

So here we are at Christmas time---the most "wonderful" time of year. What does that song say? "Have yourself a merry little Christmas... Let your heart be light..." Well, we all know that that is easier said than done. Christmas is, and will always be, my favorite time of year. But, there is also something really heavy that goes along with this holiday. There's this pressure that we all feel to make our lives look like a Rockwell painting or a Hallmark movie, where everyone gathers at Town Square to join hands and sing "Silent Night." In reality, life isn't like that. I don't know about you, but my life doesn't really look like the Christmas card I send out. In reality, turkeys get burned, that super-hot toy sells out before you can snag one, we miss loved ones who are no longer here, and people get cancer. But, despite all of that human-messy-stuff, Christmas is still So. Incredibly. Beautiful.

"For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son..." John 3:16

Just think of that for a minute. God allowed His Son to suffer so that you and I can have a chance at redemption. God allowed His Son to live the human experience---starting off as a beautiful baby...living those moments that we all know so well: laughing so hard that your face hurts, eating that bite of something that makes you do a happy-dance, stumping your toe and wanting to cry, and, ultimately, dying. His human experience, from what I understand, wasn't the easiest. It wasn't the life of a king with high thread-count sheets, extravagant meals, and luxurious accommodations. He lived a life that most of us couldn't handle, and died a death that was incredibly painful, so that WE would all be alright.

He lived and died so that all of our fear and hurting and turmoil and terror and cancer would all just wash away. God gave HIS son so that you..and me...and our babies would be ok.

This is what I believe. This is what gets me through the terribly scary times. This is what helps me to sleep at night when I think of those sweet mamas, daddies, and babies who are afraid and suffering. And, believe me, I think about this stuff quite often these days.

So, while my heart wasn't exactly light this Christmas. My heart was, and remains, full of faith.    

Finally... Here is one of my favorite Christmas songs.  Please take a minute and listen to the words.  I hope it moves you like it moves me.    
By Veronica Waldrop 21 Dec, 2015
Today marks my halfway point for chemo and I'm starting to see the light at the end of the chemical tunnel. As I write this, I'm sitting in the chemo chair at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge. W is sitting next to me writing work emails. He hasn't missed a chemo session yet.  A huge needle is stuck my medi-port, which is on the upper right side of my chest. The tubing connected to the needle is taped to my skin.  I'll be here for about two hours. Some volunteers just walked by with therapy dogs:  two Saint Bernards and a Golden Retriever. I just got some sweet furry love. It undoubtedly gave me doggy-fever. I went into that obnoxious high-pitched baby-talk voice and did some "behind the ear" scratching. It was magical!

As of now, I feel pretty good. I receive chemotherapy treatments once a week--usually on Tuesdays. My new drug is called Taxol, and it is a walk-in-the-park compared to AC (the Red Devil). The common side effects of Taxol can include changes in taste, joint pain, numbness in fingers and toes, and blackening/loss of fingernails and toenails. So far, I have minor joint pain--which isn't too bad, all things considered. Most chemo days, I just feel tired and fatigued. My port feels tender. And, I just want to rest. Effects can be cumulative. And, I still have eight more treatments to go. But, I am optimistic!

This could change.  But, as of now, here is my treatment/recovery timeline:

- Eight more weekly Taxol infusions
- Three weeks off (woo-hoo!!)
- Bilateral Mastectomy (removal of both breasts.) This is scary, but exciting. Get that damn tumor OUT of my body!
- A week off
- Six weeks of daily radiation. (I get weekends off.)
- Six MONTHS off (Swimsuit season will be very interesting...)
- Breast Reconstruction in December (The former Dallas-girl in me has always fantasized about this day! Haha!)

So, maybe, this time next year, things will start to feel more normal. I can feel my tumor shrinking. It feels about half the size that it was in August. (My doctors won't peform any formal testing of tumor size until I finish chemo.) I have a head full of baby fuzz. It does't look like real hair, but I will take it. I love it, and I appreciate this symbol of healing.  Mostly, I look forward to the day that my doctors tell me that I am cancer-free! I imagine that day.  I see it and speak it and pray for it.  

When I am asked how I am doing, I always say, "great." It is true. I am great. I'm thankful. I don't necessarily have bad days , but I do have bad moments . I allow them and accept them. Then, I have a conversation with God and try to keep perspective. I decided that every day where I wake up and know that my family is alright is officially a great day.  

Honestly, I have several-hour stretches where I forget I have cancer. Then I pass a mirror and see this bald chick looking back at me. Sometimes it makes me sad, but mostly it makes me grateful that I don't feel sick and weak.

My family is good. My husband, parents, and my in-laws have made huge sacrifices to keep life happy and good for our two daughters. My oldest, who turns four in a few days, doesn't know the word "cancer." She just knows that mommy takes a medicine that makes her hair fall out. She also knows that I have a port, which we call a "badge." I tell her it's like a police badge or a special badge to show that I'm training to be a superhero. So far, she's good with that story. My baby, who is now seven months old, is showered with love. She's being raised by six adults who love her and adore her beyond words. She doesn't have much consistency in her days, but she is constantly held and cuddled. And, this is what she now expects!    

Christmas time is a little complicated. I have blue moments. Last December, I was pregnant and excited. This is not how I pictured Christmas 2015. But, as far as I'm concerned, I'm damn lucky just to be here. Things aren't perfect. But, life isn't perfect. And, I'll savor every imperfect day that I can get, because nothing is guaranteed.    

So that's it. That's my status now. I still have moments where I sit on the floor and cry. But, these days, the crying isn't for me. It's for my husband, my children, and those newly diagnosed...those suffering in ways that I cannot conceive.  

I haven't worn the Unicorn Uniform lately. But, I just might bust it out on Christmas Eve. I've heard that Santa's reindeer love Unicorns!

By Veronica Waldrop 03 Dec, 2015
One night, early in our courtship, W and I decided to cook dinner together.

I struggled opening a bottle of wine, and I asked him for help. He twisted the corkscrew, and effortlessly removed the stubborn cork.

"You're my hero," I said to him flirtatiously.

"I hope it takes more than that to be your hero," he said, winking at me. Then he kissed me, poured the wine into two glasses, and we clinked them together, toasting to the future.

I'll never forget that moment. I remember thinking that I really liked this guy. I remember not knowing where life was going to take me next, but hoping it would take me somewhere with him.

He was good and kind. He was fun and silly. He loved his family and friends. He lived with integrity. He worked hard. I had only known him for a few months, but I knew that loved him. This was different. It was scary and exciting and refreshing.    

He made a good point that night in the kitchen. It was going to take more than opening a bottle of wine to be my hero. He didn't know it that night, but he would have his chance... His time was coming to truly become my hero.

                                                                                                       *****

"Here's a ginger ale and your Decadron pill. I brought you some saltines in case your stomach feels uneasy." W handed me a plate with little white pill, beside it was a stack of crackers.

"You're the best waiter ever," I joked. He smiled back. Then I reached his hand before he left me to sleep. "Babe, can I just say something?" My eyes started to tear up. "I'm really sorry about all this..."

"All what?" he asked, kneeling next to me. I was 24-hours into my chemo hangover. The Red Devil was at it again. Nausea. Light sensitivity. Exhaustion. Body Ache. Depression. The works... Imagine a five-day Vegas-style hangover without the fun from the night before.

"I'm not the woman you married. This isn't what you signed up for, " I said in a broken voice. He was tired, and I knew it. It showed.  And, I felt terrible. I felt guilty for bringing this turmoil into our lives.

He reached for my hand. "Damn right, you're not the woman I married." He kneeled down so that he could look me square in the eye.

"You are so much greater than the woman I married. You are my best friend. You are a mother. You're a fighter. And, yes. This is exactly what I signed up for. This is exactly what I meant when we said our vows. Better or worse. Sickness and in health. Well, this is it, babe."

At this point, tears were streaming down my face.

"I know this seems so vain, but look at me, babe. I'm bald. My body is weak and scarred. I don't even remotely resemble the woman you fell in love with."

"All I know is this..." He continued, "You have the prettiest bald head I've ever seen. And, you are more beautiful than ever.   And, just so you know, I didn't marry your face or your hair or your body. That was just lagniappe. As long as I get to see your soul shine everyday for the rest of my life, I'll be a happy man."

This is my hero.

                                                                                                      *****

A few months ago, I finally decided to give away those skinny jeans that I wore when we first started dating. Two kids, nine years, and lots of great Louisiana eating means that I'll probably never be that size again. And, that's ok. (If I do get back to that size, I'm going on one hell of a shopping spree! But, then I'll probably celebrate with king cake and fancy cheese and champagne and have to return all my new clothes.) The years are showing up everywhere physically. And, in spite of the constant message that we receive as women, I'm trying to make peace with that.

I look at pictures of W. He has a few more laugh lines and a lot more gray hair. Two daughters and a wife with cancer will do that to you! But, he wears it well. He carries these life experiences with grace and wisdom.

As I sit in bed writing this, he is reading a Nancy Tillman book to our oldest. (Parents, if you don't know her books, go find them now.) W just finished the book and said, "you are loved, sweet girl."

We have changed so much over the years. And, that's a good thing. I value the early days: the spontaneous date nights, the easy beach vacations, cooking long dinners over bottles of wine.   Those were the days that we fell. But, these are the days that we rise. We rise to make warm bottles, we rise to watch morning cartoons, and we rise to the occasion--even when the occasion is cancer and chemo.

We are so far from perfect.  We both have our moments.  But, going through cancer makes us realize what we do have, which is two imperfect souls who are fighting to survive...to be here for our babies...who want to be each other's hero.

Yeah... He's my hero. Maybe I need to tell him that one more time. And, maybe this time, he'll believe me. Then, he can open a bottle of wine (as he does so well) and we can toast to that!
By Veronica Waldrop 09 Nov, 2015
My best friend from high school went to University of Texas, one of the largest universities in the country. It was quite a transition from life in our small West Texas town. She and I met in pre-school and had, somehow, managed to stay close throughout all those years.  In a way, I felt left behind.  I, too, wanted to go to a big university, surrounded by the newness of a large city.  But, more than all of that, I felt so excited for her.  

I loved hearing about her stories about life on Planet Austin . She would tell me about the celebrity cross-dresser named Leslie, the electric live music scene, and her days living in a student-run co-op.    

“You can go into the grocery store and no one knows you” she marveled! 

I, on the other hand, still lived at home. I went to the community college where my father taught. Most of my professors called me "Roni" -- my family nickname. On Sundays, I still went to church with my parents. And, I certainly couldn’t go to the grocery store without engaging in a conversation with at least a few people who I had known for years. This was all I had ever known...small-town life: the opposite of the Austin-experience.

I remember being so enamored with the idea of anonymity . What did that even mean? What would it be like to go into the grocery store wearing pajamas to buy donuts and frozen pizza? It seemed so exotic. So cool. So big-city-free !

At the age of eighteen, I made it my goal to, one day, be anonymous. And, sure enough, I accomplished that goal. For several years, to some extent, that’s how I lived.

I left my community college to go to Texas Tech University, which had about 20,000 students. I spent six months studying in Spain, living with six people I had never met. (They eventually became my dear friends.) From there, I went to University of Florida.  The student body alone at UF tripled the size of my home town.  When I moved to Gainesville, I didn’t know a single soul in the entire state. Then, I lived in Dallas... Then, Denver... Then, College Station... Then, Baton Rouge...

Anonymous. Anonymous. Anonymous... For years, no one asked about my momma. No one noticed if I was or wasn’t in church on Sunday. No one cared.  And, come to find out, I never made that fantasy grocery store run -- you know, the one where I'm wearing pajamas to buy donuts and frozen pizza.  It just never happened.

Years later, when I was married and became a mom, my heart began to change. I remember walking around a grocery store in Shreveport, Louisiana. My sweet baby girl was only a few months old.  I wished someone would call me by name, gush about how cute my daughter was, then ask me how my family was doing. I so desperately longed for that connection: for roots ... I didn’t want to be "Mommy Anonymous" anymore.  A few months later, W's job role changed.  We moved back to the Baton Rouge area.  And, we began to plant roots.   

                                                                                                                                                           ****

When my husband and I received my breast cancer diagnosis, we decided to "go public" very quickly. I didn't want to be the subject of speculation and rumors.  Plus, I truly believe in the power of prayer. And, I knew we needed all the prayers we could get.  I wanted anyone and everyone praying for my family and me.  So, we made some phone calls to our closest friends and family. Then, I decided to share my diagnosis on social media. My husband wrote an email that he sent to a handful of his colleagues.      

Within days, we started to receive cards in the mail with notes of well-wishes. We received flowers from friends and co-workers. A few dear friends organized meal-trains.  Soon, people brought us pot-roasts and lasagnas. (On the days after chemotherapy, cooking is the last thing I want to do!) Friends sent me pictures of their kids wearing pink t-shirts with my name on them. A group of women in my community, who call themselves "Veronica's Angels," organized a raffle to help with the insane expenses of cancer treatment. (We plan on paying it forward, but we haven't decided on the specifics.) And, my local gym hosted a fundraiser in my honor for a nonprofit organization called "Barbells for Boobs."

I remember arriving at the local Fire Station (the location of the event) and seeing 150 people wearing "V-Team" shirts. I was so incredibly moved. I could not believe my eyes. There were dozens of people (many of whom I didn't know personally) lifting weights, socializing, smiling, and supporting our family with their presence. A few local businesses were there to sponsor the event.  And, in the middle of that group was a tent from my husband's company. His coworkers were cooking and handing out hot bowls of pasta to participants and by-passers. I did my best to fight back tears.  I never expected all of this.  

I was no longer anonymous.
                                                                                                                ****
When I think of all the love that we have received over the past two months, I literally feel warmth in my chest and tears in my eyes. I think of those days in my twenties when I was wandering around with no community and no close connections.  (I had dear friends.  But, because of my lifestyle, they were scattered from New York, to Los Angeles, to Houston, to Dallas.)  In a way, I turned my nose up at the small-town culture.  I'm embarrassed to say that, but it is true.  And, I am so grateful that my life is so different now.

Cancer can feel so lonely. Let's face it, life can feel so lonely sometimes.  I could not fight this fight anonymously.

This love, this attention, this support is not because of who I am. It has nothing to do with Veronica . It is truly because I am surrounded by angels:  people who choose to spend their time, and money, and energy on a mom and a family who is facing adversity.

My father once said, "God is with us through each other." I find this idea, this notion, to be so relevant right now. I see the face of God in the children who wear those pink t-shirts. I feel His presence when I read a note that says, "I'm praying for you." And, I absorb His grace every single day when I reflect on the last two months.

This particular post is dedicated to my prayer warriors and anyone who has taken the time to show us love and support. It means the world to my family and me. You are fighting this fight with us. And, we are already feeling the victory. Nothing in this world is guaranteed.  But, I have already won this battle.  

One final note:  I recently received an email from a single mom who stumbled upon my blog.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer last week .  She is alone.  She is scared.  She, in some ways, is anonymous.  Please open your heart to find those anonymous souls who are hurting.  Remember, God is with us through each other.  



By Veronica Waldrop 25 Oct, 2015
My oldest was born on Christmas Day.  She made her grand debut three weeks early on that blustery December morning.  And, our lives have never been the same. Last Christmas, she turned three.  We were doing our best to teach her that having a Christmas birthday was an incredible gift.  She gets to share her birthday with Jesus! How special is that?  

A few weeks before Christmas, our family attended our church's Candle Light service.  On our way to our seats, I spotted our pastor.  

"Katie!" I waved.  I didn't really know Katie very well.  But, I liked her.  She was a vibrant, young mom, who could deliver a great message on Sunday morning.  So, I was excited to impress her.  She smiled and approached me.

I lifted up my daughter, all bundled in her coat.  "Pastor Katie, did you know that N has a very special birthday?" I smiled.  

"It is on Cwis-mas Day!" N beamed.  I was so proud. Katie smiled back.

"Good job, baby.” I smiled. “Now tell Miss Katie who else has a birthday on Christmas Day! Someone very special..."

N looked at me and smiled that precious smile.  Then, she looked at Katie, puffed her chest and proudly exclaimed, "Jimmy  Buffett!"  

Oh boy...

*****

I truly believe that the best lessons in life come from Jesus Christ. But, I also get a few pointers from other great teachers like Ghandi (“be the change you want to see in the world”), Mother Teresa (“if you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one”), or Taylor Swift (“shake it off, shake it off!”)

In his song A Pirate Looks at Forty , Jimmy Buffett says, "I gotta stop wishin', I gotta go fishin'.  I'm down to rock bottom again." I always loved that line. Sounds good to me. If the going gets tough, why not go fishing?

A few days into our family beach trip, I gazed out the window and mentioned to my husband that I would like to go fishing one day.  I told him that I have dreams of coasting out into deep waters, catching a tuna, and eating it on the boat like some super sushi cavewoman.

W smiled, "Google tuna .  You probably need to start off smaller than tuna.  But, we should definitely go fishing."

If you know my husband, you know that that's all it takes.  An idea... A suggestion... A thought... Grab your iPhone.  And, we're off!  

Twenty-four hours later, I was watching the sun rise, grabbing a granola bar, popping a Dramamine and loading into the truck with W and our dads.  Yup.  I was the only girl in the group, but I was wearing sunscreen and a fishing shirt. So, I felt so legit. I was ready!

We boarded the vessel Distraction and were greeted by Captain Troy who made us feel right at home.  Within minutes, I knew that this was exactly what I needed.  This is where I needed to be.

There was something so freeing about being on that boat at dawn, feeling the ocean spray.  About five miles off the coast, we were greeted by a group of dolphins.  They danced in and out of the water, alongside the boat for several minutes.    

All of the sudden, I watched the fishing line tug down under the surface.  It was time to fish! Keep in mind, I’m from West Texas. I didn’t grow up fishing. Until I was out in college, I thought there were only two kinds of fish: the kind that comes in sticks and the kind that comes in cans!

One by one, I watched the guys catch king mackerel. Then, it was my turn! I saw the line pull.  This was it.  It was now or never.  I walked up to the rod, and braced myself.  As, I spun the reel, I knew this would be a fight.  This was just like The Old Man and the Sea .  I was Santiago and at the end of the line was the mighty, mighty marlin.  Only this was no 18-foot marlin, this was a little tunny.  (Sounds just like little toony .)  

With W's help, we caught the poor little (and I mean little ) tunny, and sent him back with Nemo and Sebastian and all his other friends.

A couple of hours later, we were back at the marina.  We had a cooler full of mackerel that the crew of the Distraction kindly cleaned for us.  W’s mom and my mom and the kids met us at Fisher’s, the restaurant at the marina, where the chef cooked our mackerel three ways! 

As, our family sat together, eating fresh fish, drinking margaritas, I took a deep breath. This is exactly what I needed.  A beautiful distraction.  

*Notice: This post did not use the C word. Not one time! I needed that.
By Veronica Waldrop 14 Oct, 2015
The last time we were at the beach was September of last year. We were staying in a beach house with both sets of grandparents. W and I shared a secret. After several months of trying, we thought there was a very good chance that I was expecting. We knew it was early, so we didn’t say a word to anyone. One day, on our way to grab lunch, W gassed up his vehicle. He came back to the car with a two-dollar gas station pregnancy test. He was so sneaky! Later that day, we confirmed that, indeed, I was pregnant. We laughed, we cried, we prayed. Then, we told our parents! It was an incredible, emotional moment. And, it happened by the sea.

There seems to be a pattern in my life where great things happen when I am by the water. I met W in a restaurant overlooking the bay in Tampa. Two years later, we married on the sands of Mexico. We conceived our first child on a trip to Hawaii (I know...too much information). There is something so freeing, so healing, and so special about the sea.

So, when W suggested that we pack up the family and spend a few days at the beach, I was all in.

Every morning, our big girl was up before the sun, eager to put her little toes in the sand. For six days, we didn’t make plans. No doctor appointments. No blood work. No treatments. No hustling to get to preschool. And, my husband left his suit and ties at home.

We were lazy, soaking up the simplicity of coastal living, eating fresh catch from the local seafood market, ending the days watching the sun set, while sipping glasses of wine. I found myself going hours without thoughts of cancer. It was glorious.

For some, it is the beach. For others, it is the mountains. But, we all have that place where we can allow ourselves to unplug and disconnect from the worries of everyday life. By the sea, I can just be me.

Everyday, I found myself staring out into the blue, basking in God’s glory, reminded of how small I am...and how grateful I remain. Though I am fighting a big fight, I am surrounded by something much bigger. The very force that created the sand and the sea, the mountains and the desert, created me. And, that is nothing less than amazing.

So much has changed since that family beach trip last year.  But, some things remain the same.  When I feel the salt air, I feel the breath of God.  When I see the sun set over the waves, I see God's beauty.  And, when I hear the peaceful rhythm of the waves, I hear God's voice whispering, "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you." (Isaiah 43:2)

By Veronica Waldrop 04 Oct, 2015
“When I get out of this town I’ll finally figure out who I am...” I can remember feeling that teenage wanderlust, needing to spread my wings, to escape (what I thought were) the boundaries of a small town.

A few years later, I was living in a high rise apartment in Southern Spain. I can remember sunbathing on the roof thinking, “when I get out of college, I will finally make money and I can live in a cool city...”

A few years later, I was living in the heart of Dallas, surrounded by great friends. My biggest problem was deciding where we would have brunch that weekend. I can remember thinking, “When I find the right guy, this will be so much more fun... Brunch is better when you’re in love!”

See, this equation has always factor in my life. “When I _____, I’ll be happy.”

The combinations have varied throughout the years.

When I lose ten pounds...When I get my house clean...When I have a baby...

I’m not saying that I’m never happy. I love my life. I am surrounded by so many wonderful people and I have so many great memories.  But, there is always that something that I’m chasing. There is always that something that prevents me from breathing in the miracle that is the everyday.

When I received my diagnosis and my treatment plan (six months of chemotherapy, then surgery, then radiation), I immediately turned to my equation.

When I finish chemo, I’ll have a big party. When I recover from surgery, I’ll be able to breathe again. When I am cancer-free, I’ll be mommy again. I can't wait to just be me again. Me before all this madness. Me before my hair fell out. Me before cancer.


                                                                                                                                               *****


Two days after I received my diagnosis, W and I found ourselves at church, sitting in our pastor’s office.

I was trying to keep it together, and failing miserably. My hands were shaking. My eyes were swollen. My cheeks were pink and splotchy.

“Ok...Talk to me. Why are you crying?” The pastor asked calmly, handing me a tissue.

“I’m so scared,” I gripped W’s hand. “I’m so scared that my babies are going to grow up without me. I’m scared of leaving W to raise two girls in a world that isn’t exactly easy on women. I am terrified that I’m going to miss all those beautiful moments, milestones, and memories. W and I have plans. Plans to grow old together. I’m not afraid of dying. I have faith. But, I am afraid of leaving the people I love the most.”

The pastor looked at me, smiling, and calmly asked “Have you driven on the interstate lately?”

The question caught me off guard. Our church was located on the interstate. What was he talking about?

“Veronica,” he continued, “there are no guarantees... You, or W, or I could die any moment now.”

He was right and I knew it. Something could happen to W, or me, or one of my girls before my final chemo treatment, before the surgery, before the radiation. Was I going to put everything on hold? Was I going to allow that damn equation to keep me from enjoying the everyday moments?

If I allowed it to happen, time would slip through my fingers, just like sand in an hourglass. And, it took cancer to make me realize that I just can’t afford that.


                                                                                                                                               *****


This journey has taught me so much already.  But, I think the most important thing is to embrace the everyday : those beautiful, messy moments that life rich. My house will never look like the Pottery Barn catalog. I’ll never cook like the Pioneer Woman. And, I’ll never look like Jessica Alba. And, it’s ok. Rather than focusing on that silly equation, I am trying to just be. I can be the mommy who can speed-dial Mexican takeout like a champ! I can teach my girls Stevie Wonder songs. And, I can love my little tribe with all of my heart and soul. From poopy diapers, to tea parties in princess dresses, to wine and tacos with the man of my dreams... This is the good life.

I suppose all those years of chasing the next best thing prepared me for this equation:
 When I get breast cancer, I’ll finally realize how happy, how truly, deeply happy I am.
By Veronica Waldrop 29 Sep, 2015
I'm a sucker for a funny video. Your kid doing the Whip Nae Nae ... The girl mumbling gibberish after her wisdom teeth removal... A dog on a surf board... You name it! If it makes me spend time laughing rather than doing something unimportant like laundry, I'm all about it.

Recently, I saw a video of an acquaintance who teaches at the local high school. He was dressed up like a bronco (the school mascot) during a pep rally. In the video, he was breaking it down with a cheerleader while hundreds of students cheered. The video gave me a perpetual smile and I probably watched it fifty times.

I showed it to W.

"That's so fun! YOU would have been a good mascot," he said, laughing.

I had a flashback to myself in high school... box-dyed red hair, Doc Martins, writing poetry in my bedroom while listening to Pearl Jam. Hmm... Not exactly the type that could rally the team in the fourth quarter. But, that was 1997.

That was before I discovered the joy and wonder of spray tans, velcro rollers, and fashion blogs! See my friends, i am a born-again-cheerleader! Except, lately I'm a little pale and a little bald. Chemo has made me ultra-sensitive to the sun and most skin products; and you already know about the hair thing. But, I've got spirit: YES I DO!

So, I grabbed my phone and did a little online shopping. (As a friend of mine recently said, "Watch me click! Now, watch me pay, pay!") And, now I am the proud owner of a state-of-the art, all-synthetic material Unicorn uniform. Maybe, I should call it a costume? No, that trivializes the power of the plushy blue magic ensemble that is my Unicorn UNIFORM.

I know what you are thinking...I thought I was reading a blog about cancer. Yes, indeed. This is still about cancer and all the heavy junk that goes along with it. Honesty, I have moments where I am nauseated, bald, and pissed. I'll have days when I wonder why this is happening to me, why now? I should be holding my four-month-old, washing spit up out of my hair... twirling with my three-year-old as she relives her ballet classes.  But, this is happening. There is no handbook on how to be a 36-year-old with two babies and a very aggressive type of breast cancer... Am I hopeful? Yes! Am I faithful? Hell, yes!! But, sometimes, I have scary thoughts...I still have those nasty days.  And, believe me.  They are nasty.  

And, on those days, I'll say a little prayer, put my bald self into that magical fuzzy Unicorn uniform and do my best whip nae nae in front of the mirror. How can you cry when you're doing that?
By Veronica Waldrop 25 Sep, 2015
The port, which had been surgically placed beneath my skin, just two days before was tender. Dark black stitches were poking out of the incision, which was pink and puffy. The infusion port, which resembled the cap of a beer bottle, has a tube that connects to a vein that runs to my heart. This is how my treatment works. Bags of drugs to port to vein to heart to rest of the body. The goal: kill the cancer.  

There I sat... In the open air room on the 6th floor of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. The room felt a little like a stock exchange office, all abuzz with activity, everyone in their cubicle fighting his or her own battle, hoping this investment would result in high returns. Above one of the large windows was a golden crucifix. It was small, yet ornate. The body of Christ nailed to the cross, arms spread as if He was trying to wrap His body around every person in the room.  For a few minutes, I was fixated on that cross. On the body of Christ and his arms...wrapped around me.   

"We are starting you on adriamycin and cytoxan now," the chemotherapy nurse said to me.

"Will this make my hair fall out?" I asked.

"Oh yeah... Maybe not all at once. But, after your next round, it will all be gone! The red devil does that!" she said, her voice was chipper, almost bubbly. The RED DEVIL?!

I felt dizzy. I'm not sure if it was the hair thing, the " Oh, Lord...I seriously have cancer " thing, or a combination of the two. Maybe it was looking around at all the women in their chairs, with their magazines and their sudoku puzzle books, watching Wendy Williams on their flat screens. Here I was, getting shot up with super strong drugs, surrounded by survivors.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Three hours later, I was disconnected from the IV bags.

"Do you feel hungry?" W asked.

"Not really. I'm just tired. I just want to go home." I whispered.

"Ok, babe. Let's go home. I'm so proud of you." He said back.

"Thanks, love. Can we swing by Lululemon first?" I smiled at my husband.

"Sure," he smiled back.

One down... Fifteen more to go.
By Veronica Waldrop 17 Sep, 2015
W and I sat in the Whole Foods parking lot.  

“What do you take to Chemo?” I asked.  

“I don’t know. But, I bet Whole Foods would have it,” he chuckled.  

Just shopping at Whole Foods makes me somehow feel like I’m fighting cancer... and obesity... and pollution... and human trafficking... Like maybe if I buy those Annie’s white cheddar bunny snacks I can somehow star in my own version of Reading Rainbow where there’s cultural diversity and a street fair and lots and lots of quinoa.  

But, I ended up standing next to my husband with a little green basket full of “chemo” snacks: trail mix, cans of ginger ale, a container of pineapple, and a bag of pretzels. Surely, this is what I would want to eat while getting my first chemotherapy treatment.  

An hour later, I was sitting in Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. My heart was racing and my typically low blood-pressure was through the roof. We left all the Whole Foods snacks in the car. I was way too nervous to eat.  

A nurse walked me into an open-air room. There were several cubicles, each with a recliner and a flat screen TV. I sat in my assigned chair. It reminded me of the big vibrating chairs at a nail salon... Ahh, the nail salon. It would be months before I would be back in a nail salon getting my legs scrubbed and my nails painted.  

“Imagine you’re at a nail salon...” I told myself. “Pick your color...” I told myself.

A nurse walked to my chair. She was rolling IV bags of liquid on a metal stand. She introduced herself. Then she presented me with my chemo cocktail. She inserted a needle into the port that had been surgically placed in my upper right chest just two days before. I looked away. W was staring at me.  

I’m not going to lie. It hurt like hell. Then, chemo began....

By Veronica Waldrop 17 Sep, 2015
I stood there naked, looking at my body.  My three-month postpartum tummy held a pillow-like pooch where my muscles used to be.  My long thin hair draped over my shoulders, dripping onto my back. I looked at my breasts... My poor breasts.  They were still producing milk.  They hadn't quite gotten the message.  No more milk, little mama.  No more nursing.  No more pacifying my three-month-old baby with my body.  My poor breasts... They were supposed to be used as a source of food and comfort.  Now they were being invaded by Carcinoma.  Breast Cancer.  

This was all so new and fresh. It was just a few days ago that I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer.  Now, I was facing this new reality.  I was about to lose my hair and my breasts.  But, these were small sacrifices in order to save my life.

I looked in the mirror at my body.  And, I apologized.  

"I'm sorry," I whispered, looking at my hair.  "I'm sorry for all the time I said that I hated my hair.  I'm sorry for thinking that it was too thin, too flat, too brown..."

"I'm sorry," I said, my eyes moving down toward my chest.  "I'm sorry for saying that I hated my breasts... I always wanted them to be bigger, fuller, sexier."

I was about to lose these parts of my body.  And, all I could think was "I'm sorry." I should have celebrated my imperfect me.  I should have been kinder and gentler to these physical parts.  Soon, they would be gone.  I can't change that. But, I can be kinder.  I can be gentler to the parts that I do have.  
By Veronica Waldrop 14 Sep, 2015
Several people have asked me how I discovered the tumor in my right breast. Here’s how it went down...

One morning, while nursing my two-month old daughter, I noticed a small lump in my right breast. I assumed that what I felt was a clogged milk duct, which is very common with nursing moms. I treated this marble-shaped bump with warm compress and massage, but it just didn’t go away. In fact, it grew. And, grew. And, grew. It didn’t hurt at all. And, I had heard from other moms that clogged milk ducts hurt, and can lead to a painful condition called mastitis.  

One evening, I had a flashback to a conversation that I had a few months before with a doctor friend. We were discussing cancer and tumors. I could hear his voice say, “Cancerous tumors don’t hurt. They sit silently inside the body...” As I heard these words repeating in my mind, I felt the lump in my breast, which was now the size of a golf ball, and still did not hurt. $hit. This was something more than a milk duct, and I knew it. I called my doctor the next morning.  

Exactly three months after delivering my baby girl, I visited my OBGYN about the mystery lump. This doctor, who I have grown to love, said that he believed that it was indeed a milk duct. However, to be safe, he sent me to the Imaging Center for an ultrasound. The next 72 hours were a whirlwind. The ultrasound lead to a mammogram, which lead to a biopsy, which lead to the waiting game.  

I received a call on Saturday morning at 9:32 am. “Unfortunately, your biopsy results were positive for something called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I believe that this is stage two based on the size of the tumor. I need to see you first thing Monday morning for an MRI.”  

I can still hear the calm voice on the other end of the phone. I can still remember that nervous sinking feeling. I have breast cancer. I remember looking at my husband, holding our tiny baby. I can still see my three-year old prancing around the kitchen in her princess dress. The four of us gathered together, warm tears running down my face, my hands shaking, holding my family close to me. And, we prayed.  
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