In the Book of Mormon, there is a record of a family who traveled from the Tower of Babel to the American continent. The family of Jared soon received their first glimpse of a vast, stormy ocean, having been required of the Lord to crawl into some mysterious air-tight vessels they were promised would carry them safely to a better place. As they gazed into the deep, moving water, they breathed the unfamiliar sea salt and felt the ice cold water lap at their feet. "What will become of our family?" "Can we do this thing that God requires of us?"

These were the questions we asked as our family stood on the edge of a new journey in February 2011. Before Cathi was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, we saw the waves of an unfamiliar storm brewing and felt the fear of anticipation. When the cancer was certain, our family was required to wade into the cold water, crawl into a mysterious vessel and trust the Lord would be in charge.

The family of Jared was given stones touched by the finger of the Lord that provided light inside their vessels "that they might not cross the great waters in darkness......and it came to pass that...(they) set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind. And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters. And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind. And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord. And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water." Read the rest:

This blog is the captain's log of our family's journey. It will serve to keep all of you updated on Cathi's condition but also be a place where I can express the lessons we are learning so that it might be a source of strength for others who are going through difficult challenges. We are certainly not unique in this regard. I hope to continue trusting in the light we have been given and to lead our family when we are encompassed by the dark ocean or tossed by its waves. We sincerely seek for your faith in asking the Lord to calm the water, give strength beyond our own and lead all of us of us to a better place.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Four Year Celebration!

We celebrated Cathi's four year anniversary of the day she found out about her breast cancer.  Her check up today (that she always dreads) was cancer!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cancer Survivors Celebration

Nearly a week ago, I attended a wonderful celebration, which had a positive impact on my life. It was a "Celebration of Hope" in honor of Cancer Survivors Day, and it was held at Rocky Mountain Cancer Center at Sky Ridge Medical Center. When I first received an invitation to attend this event, I sort of dismissed it and thought it wasn't for me. First of all, it might be too "touchy-feely" and not my style. Second, it might be too sad, seeing lots of people who are currently going through treatment. (That's dumb, because I was going through treatment last year, and I certainly didn't expect survivors to feel sad when they saw me.) Third, it would conflict with my Monday piano lesson schedule. (What a minor inconvenience.) A couple of weeks passed, and when I picked up the invitation once more, I realized that my reasons for not attending were pretty lame and that I truly DID need to attend this event. I knew it would be helpful for my emotional healing (which is a really challenging part of overcoming cancer). So I called the RMCC and said that I would be attending, I re-arranged my piano lesson schedule, and then asked my daughter Leah if she'd go with me.

Well, it turned out to be a lovely, life-affirming experience. The celebration was held outside, in the "healing gardens" which are located in the middle of the cancer center and the physical therapy/sports medicine building at Sky Ridge. Wow, those are two places I've gone to many, many times during the past sixteen months! A nice luncheon was served, and there were umbrella tables set up everywhere, with blue or white balloons tied to every chair. It was wonderful to be there with Leah and with Jerry (who had been able to get away from work for this). As we ate, quite a few staff members from the RMCC introduced themselves. It was good to see several of my former radiation nurses, as well as my radiation oncologist, Dr. Charles Mateskon. Several people from the crowd got up and shared comments about their cancer experiences and told how long they'd been survivors. It was great to hear their words of courage, gratitude, hope, and faith. Next, a woman minister gave a prayer, and it was very simple, heartfelt, and powerful. After the prayer, we all took our balloons (on which we'd written messages of hope) and released them into the air at the same time. It was absolutely beautiful to see many blue and white balloons going skyward, on a gorgeous, cloudless summer day. I didn't expect to feel such a wave of emotion from this simple experience, but the symbolism of the balloons going skyward really had an impact on me. I came away from the celebration with a greater feeling of hope and gratitude for what I've been through and for where I am today. God is in charge, and He has blessed me immeasurably!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One Year Anniversary

This week I passed the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I must admit that I've been dreading this date--so many bad memories of things that were happening last year. Lots of tests, lots of waiting and worrying, and then a phone call with bad news. I remember February 15, 2011 as being quite surreal. It was hard to believe the bad news. Yet once I did, it was time to take action. That's how it is with any challenge in life, I suppose. You have a hard time believing it or accepting it at first, but then you just move forward and put your trust in the Lord.

 I also remember the day following my cancer diagnosis. It was a GREAT day, filled with lots of love and service from dear friends. It started out with breakfast at a friend's house. This friend (along with two other dear friends) made me laugh and forget my worries, as we sat at her kitchen table and gabbed for a couple of hours. It was just what I needed! Then two other dear friends took me out to lunch that day. Being with these two wonderful women and their sweet little kids was such a calming influence. And then that evening another dear friend brought our family a delicious dinner. (As if I needed any more food that day!) Wow, my day was so packed with love and service that I didn't have a bit of time to brood over my troubles.

That day was the beginning of what would be a very eventful year. I'm not grateful for cancer (I'm not crazy, after all), but I am grateful for the blessings it's brought me. I've always been thankful for the good people in my life--my wonderful husband and children, my extended family members, dear friends from all parts of my life, and even people that I don't know very well (my kids' teachers and Jerry's co-workers). This past year has given me an even greater appreciation for those good people! This past year has helped me to "stop and smell the roses" a bit more. For example, just driving through our beautiful little town to run errands makes me happy. I love to see the snow in the fields, the beautiful clouds in the sky, and the mountains in the distance. (I think I've taken those beauties for granted far too much.) I've learned to laugh at silly, ridiculous things, rather than getting upset by them. Our family has had plenty of giggles about my expensive prosthetic breasts and how I take them off at night and "put them to bed" in my dresser drawer. I've learned (well, I'm in the process of learning) not to sweat the small stuff. I still love neatness and order, but I'm not quite as obsessed with it as I was a year ago. Most of all, I've learned just how much the Lord loves me. He knows me far better than I know myself, and He is there to guide me and bless me at all times, even when I don't quite recognize it. I just need to let go of my worldly worries and let Him do what He knows is best.

As for the practical part of my recovery, things are going well. My hair is now long enough that it feels like a semi-normal style. My energy level is great, and I'm enjoying better exercise and eating habits these days. That feels good! I'm doing plenty of follow-up visits with doctors and am keeping on track with my body "maintenance." Yesterday I had three doctor appointments, back to back--with my primary care doctor here in Castle Rock, with my eye doctor for new glasses and contacts, and with my radiation oncologist at the cancer center. It was so good to see the radiation nurses and to chat with them and get hugs from them. They are terrific women!

The biggest thing I've been "working on" during the past six weeks is physical therapy. Because of losing nineteen lymph nodes and also having radiation, my lymphatic system is a bit messed up. Consequently, I've struggled with lymphedema. I've had quite a bit of swelling in my right arm and hand, so my physical therapist has helped me with this challenge. I've gone to many treatments with her, and she's had me wear lots of bandages and foam to decrease the swelling. It's been a pain, not being able to do much with my right arm for a few weeks, but gratefully, all of the compression has helped a lot. The swelling has decreased as much as 2.5 centimeters in various parts of my arm, wrist, and hand. So now I often wear a compression sleeve and glove (with foam inside for extra compression) during the daytime. At night I wrap my fingers and hand in gauze, then put on a big puffy blue compression sleeve (bulky and not exactly pretty), and then wrap the sleeve with bandages. When I first attempted to do this wrapping on my own, I didn't think I could do it. But now I'm a pro and can do it all in just two or three minutes. Eventually, I won't have to deal with all of this, but for now it's helping a lot. And it's become the "new normal" for me. Jerry has nicknamed me "the paw" because of my large blue arm, and it's just another one of those goofy cancer things that we laugh about.

Before I wrap up this blog post, I want to include a couple of quotes that I love and which have meant a lot to me (long before cancer entered my life). They give me peace and perspective, when I need it most. Hopefully, they'll give you a bit of added perspective today, too. Remember: Life is good!


It isn't as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don't worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out! If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us.   Gordon B. Hinckley

"Fret not" is the first step [in the process for improved faith and prayers]. To fret means to worry or to brood about something. The first thing we must do is stop worrying. When we worry about the future, we create unhappiness in the present. Righteous concern may lead us to take appropriate action, but worrying about things we cannot control can paralyze and demoralize us. Instead of worrying, focus on doing all that you can, and then leave the worrying to your Heavenly Father. If your heart is right with Him, He will take care of the worry and the fear. We must learn to "fret not."   Joseph B. Wirthlin

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cancer Free!

Many people have asked us if Cathi is now considered cancer free. We've sort of hesitated in giving a direct answer to this question because none of Cathi's medical support staff has ever stated that. We have been told, however, that Cathi will continue to have her blood checked on a regular basis and that IF the results look even slightly suspicious that more tests will be conducted. At this point, Cathi has had blood work with no need for further testing.

I told a work friend yesterday (who has been through cancer herself) that we are not sure what to say to folks that ask what Cathi's current prognosis is. Michelle, who has been one of the many great resources for me this past year, said without hesitation, "You tell Cathi that she needs to tell people she is cancer free!" Not until then did I contemplate something we learned repeatedly over the last nine months . . . that faith and positive thinking will always trump scientific detail. How could we have forgotten THAT?

So Cathi and I and our kids would like to officially declare to the world that, as of today . . . Cathi is CANCER FREE! That doesn't mean that the Van Leuvens "lived happily ever after" (at least yet). It does mean that we are grateful for Cathi's recovery and for all that we have gained in loving friendships, profound learning and a major discovery that, with the Lord's help, we can do hard things!

With her hair beginning to grow back, I convinced Cathi to let me post the one and only picture we have of her shiny, bald head. I will always treasure this picture of Cathi with our three youngest.

Here is my currently cancer-free wife holding a little Willow Tree angel statue "Courage" given to her by a dear friend from Houston who has fought through her own life challenges.

We learned this past week that another dear Houston friend, after twenty-one cycles of chemo, has had more tumors discovered. Another good brother we love in our church continues to faithfully battle this unrelenting disease. I know everyone battles their own challenges and goes through their own Gethsemanes. We need each other and we need to know that our lives are part of a plan of happiness that lead back to a loving Father who has missed us during our absence. I am so grateful that I share this perspective with so many of you and hope I and my family can be a source of strength for those who do not know this.

Take the time to listen to one man's message about how this eternal perspective helped him overcome a tragedy we all remember . . . something he experienced up close.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

25th Wedding Anniversary Honeymoon

Cathi and I just returned from a trip we've looked forward to for a long time . . . one of those things we talked a lot about during Cathi's cancer treatment. Here are some pictures from the trip . . .

Looking out the window from the first B&B we stayed at in Sodus Point, NY, just feet away from Lake Ontario (Maxwell Creek Inn). This early 1800's home was used as part of the underground railroad with actual tunnels going from the lake to the fireplace in the basement. Pretty cool.

Here's a better picture of the scenery outside of our window.

Here is the front of the B&B . . .

One of the many apple orchards surrounding Sodus Point. We especially enjoyed tasting the Honey Crisps apples, a variety that was developed at Cornell University a few years ago.

We spent a lot of time in the town of Palmyra visiting several early church sites.

Cathi with a missionary couple inside the Hill Cumorah visitor center.

Me standing at the top of the Hill Cumorah where the Book of Mormon was dug from the ground by Joseph Smith.

From the top of the Hill Cumorah . . .

Another view from the top of Hill Cumorah . . .

Cathi in front of the visitor center at the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, NY. This is where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was first organized.

Cathi and I in the basement dining area of our B&B.

Here is one of the rooms inside the B&B.

Here's a good picture of the dining area we ate in every morning.

Me with Belinda, our wonderful hostess and owner of the B&B. Part of the experience was getting more acquainted with her each morning . . . since we were the only guests, she cooked breakfast only for us!

My good-lookin woman standing in front of Lake Ontario . . . the lake is so big, it looks more like the ocean.

Cathi in front of the Sodus Point Light House.

Cathi in front of the Palmyra Temple. We went through a session one morning and felt such reverence with the temple located so close to the Sacred Grove.

Here is a view of the Sacred Grove where Joseph Smith had his vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Cathi at the beginning of the path leading into the Sacred Grove.

Joseph Smith's log home after first moving to Palmyra.

The Smith home that was started by Joseph's brother Alvin before he died.

A large barn owned by Brigham Young's father, now restored and displayed on the Smith farm.

More of the Smith farm.

From inside the window of our second B&B in Burton, OH.

Inside of our room at the Red Maple Inn.

Cathi and I eating at a restaurant in Burton, OH called the Welshfield Inn . . . the food was delicious!

Here is a picture of the Kirtland Temple. It was a cold, rainy day.

Cathi on the steps of the Kirtland Temple, trying to stay dry and warm.

Cathi with a missionary couple who gave us a tour of the Newell K Whitney store in Kirtland.

Just a couple of kids in love . . .

Me inside of an Amish cheese store in Middlefield OH, home of the fourth largest Amish population.

We saw many Amish buggies being pulled by horses throughout Middlefield OH. We tried looking for some Amish farms, but were not successful. They apparently are very good at maintaining their privacy.

Cathi and I pretending to be Amish . . .

The John Johnson farm in Hiram, OH. This is where Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered by a mob of intolerant locals.

John Johnson farm . . .

Me with one of the missionaries that showed us the inside of the Johnson home.

Cathi outside of an awesome restaurant we ate at in Akron OH that displayed a lot of WWII memorabilia. The food was incredible!

Me inside an old army truck just outside of the restaurant.

Cathi inside an old phone booth that was originally on the Queen Mary (outside of the WWII restaurant).

Thanks to GREAT friends who took us to and from the airport and particularly the Burris family who kept all three of our kids so we could enjoy this time alone together!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Last Day of Radiation!

Cathi completed her LAST day of radiation today! Although the area of her body that has undergone radiation is pretty pink and sore, her hair is starting to grow back along with her eye brows and eye lashes. I am so proud of her awesome accomplishment and look forward to spending next week on our 25th Wedding Anniversary Honeymoon...more to come on that!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Summiting the Peak

I am proud to tell others that Leah and I summited Mt Bierstadt two weeks ago . . . a 14,000 foot ascent that included snow, wind, cold, and shortness of breath.

This morning, I watched a much more significant climb. Shortly after we learned Cathi had cancer, she told us that as soon as she regained her strength from chemotherapy, she intended to climb the large rock hill our fair town is named after, Castle Rock. This was not only important because of Cathi's victory over cancer, but Cathi HATES hiking! So the kids and I were thrilled several weeks ago when Cathi set today as the special day for this momentus event!

Not only did my beautiful wife hike this morning with a big smile on her face, she is finally summiting the most difficult challenge of her life with the positive attitude and determination characteristic of the girl I married.

Earlier this year on February 15, Cathi picked up a phone and learned she was diagnosed with aggressive, grade-three breast cancer. Since that dark moment, she made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy. While still recovering from this difficult surgery, she spent several days worrying that the cancer had spread to her lungs. To our relief, another surgery confirmed that the spots shown on the MRI were NOT cancerous . . . yet creating another permanent badge of honor at the bottom of her neck to remind us how lucky we are to still have her around.

On April 12, Cathi began the first of six rounds of the most aggressive chemo therapy options she was given (including "the Red Devil"). Every third week, Cathi would go to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center at Sky Ridge Hospital, usually driven by one of her wonderful church friends.

On July 26, Cathi received her last treatment . . . finally so close to the peak and feeling the hope that comes just before the end of a long, tough journey. Then Cathi was advised she should begin six weeks of daily radiation. While this has turned out to be a "walk in the park" compared to chemotherapy, her initial realization that more "climbing" was required to reach the summit was disheartening (which, so often, is the case on a long mountain hike).

This morning was the beginning of a beautiful, cool Autumn day. As we ascended Castle Rock, we felt joy as the view of our quaint, little town became clearer from an increasingly higher point of view. With each step, we reflected on all we have experienced since that dreaded day in February. We talked about the increased perspective we've been given as we have turned to the Lord and learned what faith really means . . . as we've shared our experience with others and gained so much strength and love in return.

Watching Cathi summit Castle Rock was, for me, no less exciting than the first time I watched (from a dark theater) as Rocky Balboa reached the top step of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But this morning, the individual that was the MOST thrilled about this great feat, was Cathi herself. She had finally made the climb she visualized seven months ago!

In 1975, after becoming the first woman to climb Mount Everest, Junko Tabei said, "Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top; it is the willpower that is the most important. This willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others . . . it rises from your heart" I am married to a woman who has done something no less incredible than climb the highest mountain in the world. But Cathi will be the first to say that her willpower was inspired by something far beyond herself. Thank you for "loving" Cathi through this . . . we'll never forget the kindnesses that have been shown to our family over the past several months.