On the fourth day of Christmas...

On this, the fourth day of Christmas, I come to you with a more serious post. 

Cancer sucks.

This topic has been weighing heavy on my heart lately. I have been trying desperately to be upbeat and happy, but right now I don't feel that. I'm not one to do these 'open heart' posts (which is funny because I'm super sentimental and sappy), but I feel like this is important. I've put a lot of thought and prayer into it, so here goes.

When I was a senior in high school the world was a crazy place. My grandfather had just died, the World Trade Centers came crashing down, I was preparing to move away to go to college, my mom was almost done with seminary, and my aunt was diagnosed with Stage 3C cervical cancer (here is some information on staging of cancer).

Within a few months of discovery, it was apparent that the cancer had spread through her body and was taking over. She came to live with us in the Cleveland area so she could get treatment at MetroHealth (one of the top medical facilities in the area) and be loved and cared for. She also spent some time at my Aunt's house. Her home in Wisconsin was abandoned and she lived the rest of her life in Ohio, surrounded by her family and friends. Once it metastasized to her brain, we knew she wasn't going to be around much longer. Just a few months later, my beloved Aunt Penny died in the hospital in Cleveland. I rushed up there from school to see her and the memory of that night still stays within my mind. I don't think I'll ever get that memory out of my mind and frankly, I don't want to. I want to remember that moment because she was at peace and I learned a valuable lesson: don't ever not see the doctor.

Penny was the most beautiful person in the world. She was the person who could make a room light up just by walking into it. She had the most giving and kind soul. She never married and had kids, but she had 6 nieces and nephews and we were her children. She loved us all so much and never failed to show it or tell us. Because I'm one of the younger ones, I didn't get to spend as much time with her when I was older, but every moment with her was amazing.

She had a glass jar of Runts on her coffee table at all times. 
She had the sweetest black dog in the world named Pepper.
(Sometimes my dog reminds me of Pepper and it makes me smile.)
Once, when we went to visit her in Kenosha, her toilet seat was broken. So we went out and bought her a new one. Just because. 
She collected everything. Plates, figurines, everything. Her collectibles were lovingly displayed all over her house. I wish I had the Star Trek plates. 

Taking care of Penny taught me a lot about love, grace, and pain. She had a seriously high tolerance for pain and hated to show that she was in pain. But through it all, she kept moving. She kept going. She kept loving. No matter how bad a day she had, she was excited to see whoever it was that was home. She made friends with the women at my mom's church. She found joy in each day.

My mom, two aunts, uncle, brother, sister, and I all went to the same high school pictured above (I know, crazy, huh?). Through the years, we have developed bonds with other families who have the same history of longevity in the neighborhood and school. My siblings went to school with Angelo Merendino and only recently did I learn of his wife, Jen, and her struggle with cancer. (Please take the time to read their story here. I cannot do it justice because they are not my words or stories to tell. Also, watch this video.)

Jennifer and Angelo
Jennifer died on December 22, 2011, after living a (not-quite-long-enough) life full of love, joy, happiness, pain, difficulty, fear, and a beautiful strength that only she could have (obituary and article - please read). Tonight are the calling hours and I plan on stopping by to say my goodbyes to a woman I never got the opportunity to meet, but who inspired so many on this earth with her courage, strength, and love. Angelo will be swarmed by people, I'm sure. But that's the way it should be. Jennifer's legacy is one of incredible grace and I am so glad that I got to hear their story.

My dear people, please. PLEASE go see a doctor. Women, go get your lady doctor appointments taken care of. Every. Year. Don't go without. If you can't afford it, go to Planned Parenthood. If you think it's silly, see above about two wonderful people who died of cancers YOU can prevent. Take care of you. Eliminate the crap that doesn't make sense. Make your own laundry detergent so you're cutting out the chemicals. Quit using deodorant with aluminum in it (yeah, you might have to reapply a few extra times but at least you won't end up sick). Find ways to keep yourself healthy and TAKE. CARE. OF. YOU.

I created a hat pattern as a request from my cousin for Christmas. I loved the hat so much I made another one for my childhood best friend. Then I realized that I need to give more. Inspired by Jen's love, grace, and strength, I have decided that this hat will be sold in our shop and $15 from the sale of each hat will be donated to the Jennifer Merendino Cancer Foundation at First Merit Bank to help cancer patients. As soon as I get home from calling hours and yoga tonight I plan on preparing the listing and getting it going because I don't want to wait another minute.

This is what the hat looks like. 
So please, please learn from these women. Get yourself checked. Get a mammogram. Get a yearly physical including a pap smear. Start exercising and eating better. Don't wait. 

With all my love,

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