About Teresa

Teresa Hirst grew up in the Midwest with an imagination and creativity straight from the stories she poured through in her childhood. She put away her Harriet the Spy persona to attend Brigham Young University, where she studied journalism and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications, allowing her to engage in some legitimate people watching.

Today, she observes and tells insightful stories, both real and imaginary, that characterize our emotional experience with life. Teresa lives in Minnesota where enjoys time to cook in the kitchen with her family, sentimental movies, Sunday afternoon walks and great conversations.

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

When Goals Come In and Out of Focus

Serpentine pathway stones on a park lawn - Photo by Graphic Stock Images

I started the year without any written goals. You, too? I’m glad to not be the only one.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to accomplish anything this year. I am. I’m publishing my first novel Flowers of Grace next month and hope to finish the sequel before the end of the year.

But I will admit that I only bring out these goals on weekdays when school is in session, I’m not at the doctor or I am finished Googling symptoms of my health crises of the moment.

Basically, I haven’t gotten around to goal setting yet this year. Or goal achieving.

Having a chronic disease takes resources of time, money, energy and thought that distract or prevent me from a whole lot of activities that used to drive me.

And that makes me—a highly passionate, driven person—pretty sad.

Losing sight of my goals is the biggest everyday struggle that living with cancer brings to my life. Pain and physical discomfort are up there, but they certainly do not top the list—they change it.

The list and order of priorities in my life is far different from a year ago. While I’m still a writer, my approach to all the facets of a writer’s life have to be different.

Translation? It’s certainly not going to be a Type A approach anymore.

But that’s not all bad. My mom often referred to herself as the tortoise. Like in the Tortoise and the Hare. She isn’t in a start and stop race in her life. She is steadily moving forward all the time.

Barriers like these may confuse our way but part of the adventure is finding the solutions.

Unexpected Time Commitments

The  number of doctors’ appointments last year saved my life but started a bad habit. I returned to my “one thing a day” mindset. If I had an appointment, I mentally did not plan anything else. Very quickly, this pattern took my goals out of focus for the day  and possibly even longer if I let a string of those days accumulate.

Whether you or someone else is sick, an appliance breaks or a blizzard keeps everyone at home, unexpected commitments appear to steal our time for the things we would rather accomplish. Technically, they do require more time. But I’ve also discovered that I also use that lost time to excuse my need to be productive in the hours or days before and after the disruption.

Rescue the time not spent directly preparing for, carrying out or following through on unexpected commitments and use it for something productive. 

Emotions that Shift Priorities

A life threatening or chronic illness has a way of obscuring plans for the future. On particularly emotional days, how I feel—whether that’s anxiety or discouragement—can actually change my capacity to visualize my pointed direction, or even worse, cloud me from seeing any direction at all.

Whether it is a bad grade on a test or a lost job, disappointments seem to alter our future course. If  emotions rule the shift rather than clear, constructive planning, our priorities and plans to reach them will bounce all over, never settling into a sure and steady course.

Plan or replan your day, your schedule, your goals and your life at a time when emotions are level.

Responses that Block Progress

Just as I need caretakers and doctors to help me to heal, an audience made it possible for me to publish my book last year and will be critical as I cross over into the self-published fiction world this year.

We meet our goals with the assistance and support of other people. But just like I can’t demand that people read or like what I write, we can’t control how other people will receive, respond or participate in our goals.

That sounds obvious, but think about parenting. You make a decision about a schedule for the family and present it to them. They react negatively. Then what? Do you scrap the schedule? Fight for it? Pretend it never existed?

Well, sometimes, you shelve the schedule until you can gather support. You may modify it and bring it to the front. Or you may persuade everyone that it will be good as it is after all.

The supportive response or lack of it can cause an objective to come in or out of focus as we try to discern how to proceed.

Treat people are individuals, not objectives by forgoing negativity about their response. Rethink your route to a goal rather than giving up on the person or the goal itself.

Even when I’ve written down my goals, I’ve still wasted time, had a meltdown or blamed others. At those times I wouldn’t be able to see the most cleverly crafted, stylistically designed or poetically written statement of purpose if it were glued to my hand. My goals become blocked by those barriers.

But what’s great about a new year isn’t that I think I will miraculously be cured of cancer or I will suddenly have a best seller.

It is simply to recognize what’s preventing me from going where I want to go or becoming who I want to be, and then overcoming it.

I don’t have an unusual amount of energy, resources, or even perfect health, but let’s still go for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
Read More

He Is the Gift of Christmas

Jewel Toned Ornament

I’ve made more trips to the doctor this month than shopping trips. My “have to” list has been shortened. And I’m trying to pass on the traditional treats that make Christmas taste just right.

This Christmas looks, feels and tastes different.

In place of the hubbub, hype and excess food, I created a few deliciously quiet days in front of the fire to write. No, it’s not my next novel but writing that helped me outline and identify the gifts from the Savior that have come into my life this year.

And those gifts are plentiful!

You would think that cancer would bring despondency and suffering.  Instead, practicing gratitude rather than giving into bitterness and resentment has kept my mind and heart open to divine help and love through the difficult times.

The gifts that flow from this open door are not what I expected—gifts of knowledge, compassion, discipline, and refining. And they all come through Jesus Christ.

Even though we’re not assembling trains and bikes and junking out on too much candy this year, we are celebrating the true gift of Christmas. Find out ways you can, too.

My teenage son put all of this feeling of what Christmas really means in this sonnet he wrote for his English class.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

 

A Christmas Sonnet

by Newel Hirst

From Heaven unto man a gift was brought
In city David where room was no more;
A Prince of Peace foretold many years before
A Redeemer to save a world of naught.
And shepherds were those that the Angel Sought,
To bring a tiding of a Savior, Lord.
They came and watched o’er the Great newborn,
And on that night there was such Spirit wrought.
But in life of toil, pain and sin, in Him
I’ve found relief in all he gives
Since through my Saviour I am not adrift–
He is my Shepherd, Lord, my King and Hymn.
Forever grateful I know that He lives,
I can sing and proclaim He is the gift.

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
Read More

When You Can’t Ease Into It

 

Octreotide shot

That’s not a stock photo. This is actually my very own dining room where I’m filling a syringe to give myself a shot in the belly.

I didn’t think I could ever do that a week ago, but now I’ve doing it every 12 hours.  It’s amazing what you can do in circumstances you wouldn’t choose. And who you can become with the right motivation.

I’ve spent the last two weeks immersed once again in the medical world.

I set out by myself at 4:30 a.m. just days before Thanksgiving for my trip to Iowa City. Paul stayed home with our high schoolers who had finals, and they all caught up with me the next day at my parent’s home in Missouri.

At the cancer clinic at the University of Iowa I saw a renowned NET specialist, Dr. O’Dorisio, who has researched and treated neuroendocrine cancers for decades. He ordered enough blood tests to fill up three pages of MY CHART and taught me about neuroendocrine cancer—and my tumors in particular. Their pathologists did a unique test on my tumor samples that indicate that my tumors hold positive receptors, which is good for further treatments and tests that target those receptors. “Like a lock and key,” he said, drawing a fun little picture for me.

Then, I received the “Cadillac” of scans for my disease, the GA-68 PET/CT. Go here to find out why it is so good. It was a long process, but after they injected the special gallium contrast mix, they covered me in a heated blanket and let me sleep. My claustrophobia abated in the scan itself, and seven hours after I arrived at the clinic, I left for a three-hour drive to Missouri.

The results of the scan did not show any visible metastatic or recurrent tumors. My family and I spent the next few days in truly grateful THANKS-giving.

Early the next Monday morning, though, several of the blood tests results came back still showing markers of disease, including elevated serotonin levels.

What does this mean? Serotonin is the happy medicine, right? Well, not exactly. In elevated amounts it can cause some bad problems like flushing, diarrhea, anxiety and a fast heart rate. All of these are symptoms that carcinoid patients can have and that I’ve experienced.

Crash. Back to cancer life again. When I saw my oncologist the next morning, he very kindly explained that with tumors found in the lymph nodes and metastatic disease found elsewhere, I’m past the curative stage of this disease. I translated that to mean that not one or three or ten surgeries can cut this out of my future completely.

So where does that leave me? With a great prognosis right alongside many other long-surviving NET patients, and a new treatment plan to keep the symptoms and growth of the cancer in check with a drug called Sandostatin or Octreotide. You can read all about it here. It’s not considered a true “chemo” drug. It is like the natural chemical in the body called somatostatin that inhibits the release of certain hormones.

And then my oncologist told me how this drug is administered—in a short acting or long acting shot.

“You’ll start with the short-acting one twice a day at home,” he said.

“Do I have to do that?” The realization of this next step arose in me.

He nodded. With more confidence than I’ve had in most other endeavors in life, I agreed.

But I held the first needle on the edge of my pinched skin, like I was going to ease it in. Like most of this experience, though, there is no easing into it.

“Just push it in quickly,” the nurse coached me.

And just like that, I expanded what I can do, overcoming what I thought I couldn’t.

The first two shots didn’t agree with my sensitive stomach, but after a brief respite with IV fluids, a new schedule for eating, and a powerful little bottle of anti-nausea medicine, I’ve now successfully made it through several days of twice-daily self-administered shots. As long as these hold, I will switch to monthly long-acting shots in a week or so.

Until then, it’s time again to gather the supplies and start the new routine.

 

 

 

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
Read More

Use Your Voice to Share Goodness

I love that my faith has embraced social media as a means of sharing the goodness of who we are and how we live our beliefs.  In August, David A. Bednar powerfully invited us to share goodness using social media to “sweep the earth” with positive messages of truth and light.

Most people interact in this online world. Instead of avoiding it as a flourishing place of darkness, noise, and confusion, we can change it with what we contribute. So how do we do it?

First — Read or watch his entire talk, noting what ideas come to you.

Second — Create a plan. Every organization and brand has a plan–a social media marketing plan. What about individuals? Couldn’t you use social media more effectively with your own personal social media plan? A plan defines in writing the purposeful way you will use social media. A basic one has three simple elements:

Voice + Time + Community = Your Social Media Plan

Reminder notes

Voice

Voice is the unique expression of who you are and the type and tone of content you share. See if you can use nine words or less to define your voice on social media. Remember to not just describe the person you want to portray but who you really are—weaknesses, challenges and all.

“Flawed characters are okay. Our state of striving should be part of our reflections online.” Scott Swoford, BYU Broadcasting creative director, this week shared how to authentically represent ourselves and our faith without coming across as false. Take 30 minutes and watch his message. It’s powerful. He concluded, “You will go on with both feet forward, the best foot and the real foot to do mighty things.”

I’m pretty real and have real challenges. Several years ago, we had a big financial setback. This year, I was diagnosed with a rare stage three cancer. I’m honest, open and real. And I express how I’m choosing faith and gratitude to cope with these trials. This is my voice.

Don’t try to mimic someone else’s voice. Even if social media may sometimes feel like high school all over again, it’s not. You can be you.  Develop your creativity and skills to express who you are.

Time

Time is essential to a social media plan. How much time do you have and how much time do you want to devote to creating and sharing on social media? The draw to become distracted is always present. Define the amount of time you will spend on social media in your plan and set specific boundaries. Some of us need to spend more. Some less. And all of us, maybe need to spend our time online more purposefully. That’s why a written plan helps.

Community

Community is created from the friends and followers on your social media channels, the groups and circles you belong to, friends of friends and anyone in the online world who sees your posts, video, or photos. Choose one or two channels to start and develop your voice there.

A woman I follow on Twitter said, “Social media is not a billboard; it is a lunchroom.”

Try to expand your “lunchrooms” beyond just your own circle of friends and members of your own faith. Sure, that’s who you know best, but you can also benefit from and add to broader communities by responding to and connecting with others.

To do that make your posts searchable with hashtags. Think of positive hashtags like gratitude, faith, joy, family, prayer, God, happiness, service, or use your city locations.

Join online campaigns like the current one from the Mormon Channel. Share a short video of what you are thankful for. Upload it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ThankfulFor and tag @Mormon Channel. Consider starting or participating in campaigns as a family or youth group. Find more ideas at social.lds.org

Build community by speaking like you are speaking with someone not at them. Ask questions of others. Start a discussion.  If you are sharing a link, or video from someone else, use your own words to say how and why you like it. Real authenticity comes, as my husband says, when “we share without expecting anything from them in return.”

Finally – Use your social media plan to proactively share and interact, not just spend time reacting to what you see. If you’re already doing the basics and want to do and learn more, choose a new channel and develop a new avenue to express yourself.

With all that’s wrong about the Internet—and those challenges are real—I love the positive nature of this medium, too. Today’s communication gives each of us a connective and creative way to expand our influence.

 

 

 

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
Read More

My Journey with NeuroEndocrine Cancer

ncd-logo

Six months ago I heard the word carcinoid for the first time. I had a mass in my appendix and had been waiting for 40 minutes beyond our appointment time in the exam room of the colorectal surgeon who was going to remove it. My husband had left work to be with me; we were both anxious.

Two minutes later the doctor arrived, introduced himself and said he’d been studying my scans with a radiologist for the last hour trying to determine what I had. I guess you can forgive a doctor who’s not with you but still working on your case.

I told him my symptoms that brought me in: right lower abdominal pain and diarrhea for several months. Neither of those had ever erupted to the point of emergency, and since there didn’t seem to be inflammation on the CT, no one thought it was appendicitis. He poked my belly in that spot they check for that, but the pain seemed lower. He said, “It could be carcinoid, but that doesn’t seem to fit your story.”

He used that phrase “my story” a lot in the next six weeks. I know he meant my case or my symptoms, but to me it sounded like he didn’t believe I had the symptoms that brought me to the doctor in the first place or that they were unrelated to the mass in my appendix. The scans didn’t show any tumors in my liver, and he said carcinoid symptoms generally don’t manifest unless tumors have spread to the liver.

You can bet that I went right home and looked for more information about carcinoid online. Confusion surrounding symptoms often manifests itself during the diagnosis stage of carcinoid cancer. But i didn’t learn that right away. It took weeks and months of educating myself about this rare disease.

I received a confirmed diagnosis of carcinoid or neuroendocrine tumors six weeks after my first GI appointment. Three surgeries in six months revealed a primary neuroendocrine tumor in my appendix, metastatic tumors in the regional lymph nodes and implanted metastatic tumors in the pelvis.

Some of the best sources of information have come from carcinoid.org, where I also found links to join an email list at acor.org. This has been a valuable daily source of information from patients, survivors, family and even a leading NET specialist. I liked and followed a number of these similar sites on social media and immersed myself in learning. I hope you will, too, in recognition of NET Cancer Day – A day of worldwide awareness of NET Cancers.

Carcinoid neuroendocrine cancers are relatively rare malignancies distinguished by small, slow growing tumors which affect the neuroendocrine system. These tumors typically originate in the gastro-intestinal tract, but sometimes arise in the lungs or other organs. Incidence is around 4 persons in 100,000 – but in many parts of the world the disease is under-diagnosed. — from the ACOR carcinoid site.

I’ve chronicled my emotional and physical experience over the last six months of diagnosis and treatment here on my blog. Links to each post are listed in order on my timeline of illness below. They also express the hope I’ve found in my experience with carcinoid or neuroendocrine cancer. My hope comes from three sources: Information about my disease, faith in Jesus Christ, and the support of family, friends, doctors and nurses.

March – Met with gastroenterologist for bowel changes, persistent diarrhea and a right lower abdominal pain that came and went for a few months. Thought it was celiac, which my sister has, or just IBS. Blood test, CT and colonoscopy ordered. I almost didn’t do these. It seemed like a lot of time and expense for a little diarrhea. When I wavered, the doctor asked, “Are you going to go through with this?” I did, and it saved my life. The CT revealed a mass in appendix. Had an MRI, too. End of the month, met with a colorectal surgeon. He’s not sure what the mass is, mentions possibility of carcinoid. In my research, I’m sure this is what I have as I wait for my surgery date.

April – Had an appendectomy in the middle of the month. Pathology revealed a 1.7 cm carcinoid or neuroendocrine tumor. It’s invading the nerve cells around it. New surgery scheduled to remove part of my colon.

My thoughts at the time:

A health crisis will not rock this memorial of faith.  April 24

Ask in prayer for tender mercies April 28

Five ways to reach out when a friend is suffering May 12

May – Had a right hemi-colectomy. Yucky surgery. Removed 1/3 of my colon and reattached large intestine to small intestine. Was in hospital 4 days. Went home but couldn’t stop vomiting. Returned to the ER for a possible bowel obstruction. Later that week I learned that tumor has metastasized to the regional lymph nodes.

How I was coping:

Gratitude: The answer to a cancer diagnosis? May 24

When the caretaker needs care May 29

June – Referred to a local oncologist and met with him to review more information about the disease and determine a monitoring schedule of blood work and scans over the following months.

The healing process:

Defined by faith June 16

Better, but not back to normal July 10

July and August – Had first round of CT scans, which reveal cysts in several places but no visible tumors. Experience two or three episodes of flushing and other carcinoid syndrome symptoms.

October – Have my annual physical with primary care/OBGYN. An ultrasound reveals a large ovarian cyst that needs to be removed. During surgery my OBGYN finds and removes two more neuroendocrine tumors that have implanted in pelvic wall. Schedule an appointment to meet with a specialist at the University of Iowa, which I’ve discovered is an essential step for every NET patient to receive a second opinion about their disease, identify treatment options, and have access to a doctor fully knowledgable about all aspects of this rare disease.

Where I am today:

I may have cancer but my life looks pretty normal October 30

It’s interesting how a diagnosis can open a person to new communities, new information and new perspectives. All of these have eased my anxiety and reinforced my gratitude for life. Real life challenges, like cancer, invite me to replace fear and self absorption with courage and compassion.

A final note: Some carcinoid patients express disdain for doctors who may not fully understand this disease. Even with the example in my opening story, I still respect each and every one of my doctors. They acted quickly and as thoroughly as they could with each incident. Some symptoms along the way have been minimized, but I have armed myself with information from the specialists and persisted. I’ve found this the best way to extend awareness and bring about change on any topic in life, even in the medical profession.

If you would like to donate to neuroendocrine tumor research, here are three avenues:

The Healing NET Foundation

Caring for Carcinoid Immunotherapy Initiative 

LSUHSC Foundation 
Nets research in memo line
Send to Eugene Woltering 
200 West Esplanade Suite 200
Kenner, LA 70065

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
Read More