Time Flies When You’re Having Chemo: A Reflection on One Year of Cancer Treatment

Molly at her last infusion.

When June rolled around this year, it brought with it some heavy emotions.  Memories from last June came flooding back and I found myself reflecting on some pretty terrifying moments.  Certain dates in this cancer journey will always stop me in my tracks.  Like June 8 for example.  June 8 is emblazoned in my mind as the day I was diagnosed with cancer. But for all the darkness and fear that last June brought, it had some rays of light as well.  And as much as I would love to say that this summer has been nothing but light and hope, I can’t.  However, the tears of sadness and fear have mostly been replaced with tears of joy and hope.  We attended a college reunion, which included the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and meet their new babies!  We celebrated the baptism of our godson on the feast of the nativity of John the Baptist.  There were trips to the lake and runs that were literally bursting with color (I’m talking about you CCS color run!).  Cook-outs with friends filled up our bellies and our hearts.  And before I knew it, July was here.

Catholic Community Schools Color Run

Last year the July calendar was filled with things like my first chemotherapy infusion and myriad medical appointments.  However, this July happily marks the end of my cancer treatments.  Earlier today I sat in a room at the Coborn Cancer Center for my final biotherapy infusion.  After 18 rounds of that stuff, I can’t believe it’s over.  If I’m honest, I never really minded the infusions.  Don’t get me wrong, when chemotherapies were a part of the infusion cocktail, I knew I’d have hell to pay at the end of the week.  But the actual infusion?  It kind of felt more like a spa day than a day of toxins dripping slowly into my body.  Infusion days meant one of two things:  Either I got to sit in a room with a good friend and no sippy cups to refill or I got to sit in a room by myself to pray, read, and write with no sippy cups to refill.  I guess that’s what it really comes down to.  There were no sippy cups to refill at the cancer center.  As a mom of two littles, there are always needs to be tended.  I love tending to those needs but letting someone else do it for me once every three weeks certainly allowed me to relax a little…and hopefully grow in holiness.  After all, that’s what this life is about.

Molly, her husband, Kevin, and her godson.

This year has been arduous.  Our little family has carried some crosses for sure!  But the cross is a part of the Christian life.  In fact, we are told to embrace it.  We have a God who also carried a cross.  He gets it.  At Mass this week, we sang that lovely hymn based on the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (although not likely penned by him in reality).  I found myself reflecting on the final line of the prayer which reads, “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Although the daily crosses that we bear don’t usually kill us, they give us the chance to die to self.  These little deaths bring about little rebirths in which we become better humans.  Every cross brings with it the opportunity to grow in virtue and to grow closer to Christ.

It hit me as I was unpacking my infusion bag that it was the last time I would do that.  I think that is when it really sank in that my treatment is complete.  I’ve brought the same bag to the cancer center every three weeks for the past year.  I got the bag a year ago as a gift and its sole use has been toting my books, journals, computer, candy, and blankets to the cancer center.  The nurses would laugh at me as I would lug that bag into my infusion room, joking that it weighed as much as me.  In many ways that bag was an instrument in my spiritual growth.  It carried the crucifix that stood on my table at each infusion and the devotionals that spoke God’s Word into the ear of my heart.  I look forward to giving it new uses now, but I’m grateful for its role in this journey.

As I reflect on the past year, which has been the hardest of my life, I thank God for both the crosses and the spiritual tools that have helped me grow.  Despite how difficult this year has been, there is no guarantee that it will the toughest one I face in my life.  I pray that I have the grace to approach each future cross with virtue.

Molly Powers is not a native Minnesota girl. Rather, she hails from Atlanta, GA and lived in several different states and countries before she landed in Minnesota in 2017. She is a wife and mother of two. Read more about Molly on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Mary Monday: My Journey From Devoted Believer to Spiritual Daughter

My devotion to the Blessed Mother began in high school. Although I am a cradle Catholic and of course learned my Marian prayers at an early age, it wasn’t until I decided to pray the rosary as a Lenten observance that my mere belief in Mary grew into a true devotion. This decision during high school to pray the rosary every day during Lent planted a seed that would eventually grow into a beautiful loving relationship.

I had some phenomenal theology teachers in high school. Fr. Richard Lopez, in particular, is legendary at St. Pius X High School. He did a unit for the seniors that he called, “Staying Catholic Outside the Ghetto.” The unit aimed at preparing us for our first venture outside the Catholic bubble that many of us had been living and learning in. Most of us would go on to non-Catholic colleges and our faith would be tested. The course involved some apologetics and during the semester I learned how to explain the Marian doctrines of the Catholic faith. This course, my education as a whole, and my solid upbringing at home led to me being very comfortable with the Church’s teachings on Mary. I found it easy to differentiate between the ideas of devotion and worship and thus, Mary was never a stumbling block for me in my faith.

During my teen years, I learned how to explain my beliefs about Mary and fell in love with the rosary. However, this was just the beginning of a beautiful and multi-faceted devotion. During college, I studied in Mexico for a summer and was blessed to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I guess you could say I became obsessed. The story of Mary appearing to the indigenous Juan Diego and his courage in taking her message to the bishop spoke to me in a very new way. Seeing and praying before the miracle of her unfading image on Juan Diego’s talma sparked a new love for the Blessed Mother. My devotion was growing stronger.

After college, I began graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame means Our Lady. I was studying at a school named for Mother Mary. What a blessing this was! There is a beautiful grotto on campus that is modeled after the grotto at Lourdes. During my time at Notre Dame, I would go to the grotto every evening with a couple of friends. It didn’t matter how many papers we had to write or how many beers we had consumed, we always made that trip to visit Mary, light a candle, and say a prayer. During these nightly visits my devotion to Mary continued to grow stronger and more complex.

As I transitioned into a young adult, I continued trying to learn more and more about Mary. I believed in her. I was devoted to her. I was interested in her. But it wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I truly began to have a relationship with her. My foray into motherhood was not as idyllic as I thought it would be. Nursing did not come easy. The roller coaster ride of post-partum emotions was not like the fun kind of roller coaster. And I thought that I might actually die of sleep deprivation. Don’t get me wrong. I was absolutely in love with my sweet little baby girl. But I was in need of some serious emotional and spiritual cheerleading.

I was blessed to have some wonderful friends who were walking that road of new motherhood at the same time and that helped immensely. But something I had not expected was how often I began turning to Mary for comfort. And not just in the form of the rosary or other Marian prayers. I’d be awake in the middle of the night with a baby who was inconsolable and I spoke with Mary. I just started talking to her. I asked for her to pray for me. I asked her to just listen because I knew she could relate. She had born a child. She had nursed a child. She had rocked a child to sleep. I realized that my heavenly friend could probably relate to almost any problem, trial, or joy that I was experiencing as mom. She even expressed her frustration, anxiety, and fear after finding Jesus in the temple when she said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” It was in my own experience of motherhood that I was able to begin to truly see Mary as my own spiritual mother. Mary had always been a great Saint and an object of devotion, but she became so much more: a shoulder to cry on, a model for my motherhood, and someone with whom to share my greatest moments.

My oldest daughter turns five this year. My newfound personal relationship with Mary has been a guiding light and source of comfort and joy during these five years. This past year in particular has proven quite difficult, but I have found solace in my friendship with Mary, my spiritual mother. She was there with me at the doctor’s office when I received the cancer diagnosis. I begged her to talk to my heavenly Father and plead on my behalf so that I could live and raise my daughters. She was there with me when I learned that I would probably not birth anymore children. In that moment of sadness she whispered in my heart, “Molly, I only birthed one child, but I have countless spiritual children.” Mary was with me in my grief and helped me find hope. As I continue to navigate the often turbulent waters of motherhood, Mary will be with me, guiding me, comforting me, rejoicing with me, and praying for me.

As we wrap up this month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, let’s reflect on our relationship with Mary. How do you relate to this great Saint? Do you allow her to intercede for you? Which of her many titles do you most appreciate?

Molly Powers is not a native Minnesota girl. Rather, she hails from Atlanta, GA and lived in several different states and countries before she landed in Minnesota in 2017. She is a wife and mother of two. Read more about Molly on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Easter is a Season: Three Ways I’m Extending the Celebration

I have always loved the liturgical season of Lent. The rich traditions and symbols usually aid me greatly in my spiritual journey and this year was no different. My first Minnesota Lent proved to be meaningful and memorable. Some very personal crosses helped me draw closer to Christ and I enjoyed experiencing the liturgies at my new parish. It is also the first time in several years that I have not been working in ministry, which enabled me to minister to my family in new ways and share my love of Lent with my daughters who are just beginning to understand and participate in some of our Lenten traditions.

Despite having a certain affinity for Lent, I understand that Easter is our high feast. I know that we Catholics are an Easter people and I feel that for many years I’ve been giving Easter the short end of the stick (even though it’s longer than Lent!). Easter is a season after all. Yes, it’s a day. And it’s an octave. But it’s also a season. A season that lasts 50 days! In fact, Lent should purify and enlighten us in order to properly prepare us for Easter. Why do I seem to prefer the fasting of Lent to the feasting of Easter? Maybe I am a glutton for punishment. Or perhaps the perfectionist in me just relishes a chance to assess my spiritual life and attempt to weed out my vices. Whatever the reason for my preference, I’m choosing to embrace Easter more fully this year.

Jesus has risen from the dead! The cross was not the end of the story.  In rising, Christ conquered sin and death. It is upon this mystery that our faith rests. And this is our Good News! This is the Gospel that his followers died to proclaim. Furthermore, we too are promised resurrection. In our baptisms we died to sin and rose to new life in Christ. Am I celebrating that enough? What more can I do to celebrate this great gift that is my own salvation? How can I more fully live the Easter season and how can I better share my Easter joy? I’ve chosen three ways that I believe will help me more fully embrace the Easter season this year. First, I plan to be more appreciative of the Church’s Easter symbols. Second, I will be more open to the moments in which I can encounter the risen Lord in my daily life. Finally, I hope to be more intentional about sharing my faith with others.

  1. Appreciating the Symbols of Easter
    The Church helps us embrace the season of Easter in several ways. The beautiful lectionary readings help us journey back to those days when the risen Lord walked among his disciples. Things like Easter lilies, white garments, and the sprinkling rite bring joy to our senses. Feast days like Divine Mercy Sunday, Corpus Christi, and the Lord’s Ascension provide great content for prayer and reflection. I have merely to open my eyes and employ all my senses to appreciate the many ways the Church is inviting me into the mystery of the Resurrection.
  2.  Finding Christ in Daily Life
    Easter reminds us that Christ is alive and present in our lives. This year I hope to keep my eyes open for the risen Lord in my daily life. I have opportunities to encounter Him every day yet sometimes I am too self-centered or too busy to recognize Him. If I will but open my heart, I will see that He’s there in the crazy questions my daughters ask me. He’s there when my husband comforts my hurting heart. He’s there with my medical team who takes such good care of me. He’s there in those new friends who bring me muffins, sit with me at infusions, or watch my kids during yet another medical appointment. He’s there in the visits from faraway friends. He’s there in the recent invitation to be a godmother. And countless other experiences. Jesus is alive and he wants to reside in my heart. He wants me to find him in my everyday life and share Him with my loved ones.
  3. Spreading the Good News
    A third way that I plan to celebrate the season of Easter is through a natural and authentic witness to my faith. I’m not talking about being pushy or proselytizing but rather about sharing the joy that has been shared with me. Peter tells us that we have to be ready to give an account of our hope (1 Peter 3:15). How do we do this in our modern world? Well, it will, of course, look differently for each of us. As for me, I plan to start with own family and friends. I can talk to my daughters about the joy of the Resurrection and remind my husband that each trial we face is simply another cross that leads to our own rebirth in Christ. I can also offer an authentic example of faith to friends in the way that I live and when the opportunity presents itself to share with them that my deep hope comes from the risen Lord.

What about you? Have you put away your Easter decorations? How are you going to celebrate the risen Lord throughout this Easter season? Would you like to begin a new tradition this Easter season? Is Christ calling you to share your Easter joy with others in a new way this year? Feel free to leave a comment below sharing any Easter traditions that have proven helpful to you in your spiritual journey.

Molly Powers is not a native Minnesota girl. Rather, she hails from Atlanta, GA and lived in several different states and countries before she landed in Minnesota in 2017. She is a wife and mother of two. Read more about Molly on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Lent: Our Season of Love

This year for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday coincided with that saccharine Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s Day. I’ve been reflecting on this rare coincidence and at first, found it rather hilarious. My husband and I are not wont to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s not because we disdain romance or because we don’t enjoy a nice date night. In fact, we try to make date nights a regular thing, which might be a part of why we don’t like Hallmark bossing us around and telling us when we should celebrate our love for each other.

After reflecting on the convergence of such seemingly divergent celebrations, I began to find the marriage of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday quite fitting and appropriate. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent and as such is most often equated with the themes of penance, sacrifice, prayer, almsgiving, and the like. We often spend this day of fasting and abstinence asking our friends and family what they are “giving up for Lent” or what spiritual disciplines they are taking up for the six and half week season. We wear ashes on our foreheads and forgo our usual snacks. On the other hand, things we associate with Valentine’s Day include indulgence, beauty, feasts, and gifts. But what is almsgiving if not a gift of love? What is penance if not an act of love? And what is prayer if not a song of love for our Father in heaven?

Lent is meant to prepare us for the Pascal Mystery, the celebration of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which, of course, is the greatest act of love the world has ever known, much more grandiose and at the same time authentic than any Valentine any of us has ever given. Perhaps Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have more in common than I initially thought.

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition lift up married love as an image that can remind us of the Trinity. We hear repeatedly throughout Scripture how God’s love of the Church is like that of a groom for his bride. Isn’t this the type of love that Hallmark wants us to celebrate on February 14? The honeymoon-esk love? However, lasting married love isn’t about roses and chocolates (although who doesn’t love those?). It is much more so about sacrifice and humility and the grace received in the Sacrament of Matrimony. It turns out that some of the keys to a successful romantic relationship might be the same things that lead to a successful Lenten journey, namely prayer, sacrifice and humble self-gift.

Valentine’s Day is thought of as the quintessential celebration of love. I propose that Ash Wednesday, and in fact the entire Lenten season, are an even truer celebration of love. We will spend these next several weeks, purifying our hearts for the One who loves us most of all. How do you plan to grow in love for Christ this season?

Molly Powers is not a native Minnesota girl. Rather, she hails from Atlanta, GA and lived in several different states and countries before she landed in Minnesota in 2017. She is a wife and mother of two. Read more about Molly on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.