I’m a Survivor!

Trigger warnings: cancer, scar pics

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. And it just so happens, it’s also when I was diagnosed with melanoma myself, one year ago today.

Which means, I’m officially a ONE YEAR SURVIVOR!!

I know, you may be thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s just skin cancer; it’s not REAL cancer. And it’s true that I did not have to endure chemo, radiation, or many of the other horrible side effects that so many cancer patients face. For that, I’m thankful. But, let me assure you, when you hear a doctor tell you that you have cancer (no matter what kind), the fear and distress are real. Even with skin cancer.

My diagnosis affected my mental health more than anything. Am I going to die? I can’t leave my son without a mother. Did we catch this soon enough? What if it has already spread? Why is my body turning against me? Does this mean I’ll be more susceptible to other cancers down the road too?

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. If it’s not detected and treated early, things can go south quickly. A year ago, I spent many restless nights worrying whether I would even be here today.

But fortunately, my skin cancer was able to be treated. A surgeon performed a wide excision procedure on the back of my left arm to remove the entire melanoma and all surrounding tissue. My pathology afterward showed clear margins. And one year later, here I am.

My scar is huge. (My melanoma was relatively small, by the way. You can read the full story here.) But I’ll gladly take a large scar, if it means I’m cancer free.

My incision, one day after surgery. May 2021
My scar, one year later. May 2022

I’ve learned a couple things from this experience. Things that I already knew, but they’ve hit home more deeply after going through this.

1. Take the sun seriously. Wear sunscreen. Wear protective clothing. Find shady spots outside. Use hats, umbrellas, tents, etc. And for the love, stay away from tanning beds. While you’re at it, check your skin and see your dermatologist on the regular.

The ABCDEs of melanoma

2. Trust God. That doesn’t mean everything will be easy. God didn’t promise a problem-free life. But He will carry us through the tough times. I said it last year and it’s still true today—when I was faced with such fear and panic, I was left with no choice but to surrender my entire life to a loving God who invites us to cast our cares on Him. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7

There’s freedom in that surrender, friends. There’s peace in accepting that God is holding me in the palm of His hand. I can choose to live my life in fear, or I can choose to breathe easy and put my trust in God. “Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27

One year post diagnosis, the fear has subsided some, but it still creeps up more than I’d like. I’m a work in progress. But I’m trying to rest in the knowledge that God created my inmost being, He ordained all my days before one of them came to be, and He’s not finished with me yet.

Thanks for the love, prayers, and support, friends. Love y’all! ❤️

Year in Review 2021

One of my happy places—my backyard. ☀️

Children’s author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year’s resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity – what DIDN’T get done or achieved in the previous year. Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here are my lists of successes and surprises from 2021.

Successes

Surprises

  • I won 4 picture book giveaways this year:
  • I won 5 Thursday Read-Through giveaways by Sarah Meade.
  • I won a picture book critique from author AJ Irving in the #OverBearUnderWhere contest, hosted by CK Malone and in support of Julie Hedlund.
  • I received a total of 4 agent hearts ♥️ during various pitch events this year (which is 4 more than I received in 2020!).
  • I set a goal this year to double my Twitter following from 1K to 2K. Amazingly, through engagement and relationship building, I surpassed that goal and grew to over 2500 followers.
It’s so fun winning free books! 📚

My Thoughts

I’m still not published or agented, which feels disappointing. I love writing, and I wish I had something to show for it. But, writing out these lists of positive things that DID happen in 2021, really helps keep things in perspective. I grew and made progress toward my goals this year, even if that progress feels slow.

I also want to recognize that this has been a tough year in a lot of ways. Some of you may remember that I was diagnosed with melanoma in May, which set me back for awhile, as I dealt with the physical and emotional aspects of that.

I also turned 40 this year, I potty-trained my toddler, and transitioned him into preschool for the first time ever. My family traveled out of state twice to visit family, we hosted out-of-town guests four times, and we made four trips to Disney (we are Florida residents with annual passes, so that’s not as extravagant as it sounds, but it made for a lot of overall travel).

When I think back on this year, I’m actually amazed I got anything accomplished at all. We read a LOT of picture books from our own collection, as well as from the library. And I even made time to read a few books for myself, because as I’ve said before, you can’t be a writer without also being a reader.

A few of my favorite books I read for myself this year.
Our newest picture books. Already instant faves in our house!

And I can’t end this blog without giving a shout-out to my wonderful critique partners—Molly, Lindsey, and Gennie. We’ve been together over a year now, and we’ve all said we might’ve given up by now if it wasn’t for the support and camaraderie that we’ve found in each other. I am so proud of everything they are accomplishing in their own journeys, and I’m so glad to call these lovely ladies friends. ♥️

We call our critique group “The Frenzy Friends” or the “Frenzies” because we formed our group during the 2020 Fall Writing Frenzy.

So, that’s a wrap on 2021, folks. See y’all in 2022! Happy New Year!! 🎉

The Advent Log

📷 cred: Nathan Goodin

Earlier this year, I wrote and submitted this story to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2021 Christmas edition. It was not accepted, but I know there is a LOT of competition, for the Christmas edition especially. So that’s okay. I still wanted to share it with you here, since we are in the Advent season right now. This story is based on real events from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

The Advent Log

By Jessica Hinrichs

A crisp breeze blew and the autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet, leaving an earthy scent lingering in the air. Dad, my two brothers, and I hiked deep into the woods behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house until a fallen tree came into view. Though I was just eight years old, the beautiful Black Cherry tree had been there as far back as I could remember.

“What’s the plan?” asked my brother Nathan.

“I’ll chop most of this up to use as firewood,” Dad answered, resting his axe on the ground. “But, in the meantime, we need to find the perfect log for a special project I have in mind.”

We shuffled around the fallen tree, searching. My brother Marcus spotted a large log, about three feet long and about as round in diameter as a dessert plate. It appeared to be straight and in good condition. “How’s this, Dad?”

“Great! That’s an exquisite log!” Dad answered.

I raised one eyebrow. Exquisite? It looked like any old ordinary log to me.

Nevertheless, we lugged it home and got to work.

Dad drilled 28 one-inch holes along the length of the log, then coated the rich cherry bark with polyurethane to help preserve it and make it shine. “What are we making?” I asked, perplexed.

Dad smiled. “You’ll see.”

After the log dried, my brothers and I worked together to secure twelve-inch-tall taper candles into the holes Dad had drilled. Most of the candles were white, but one candle in the very center was red. Dad positioned the finished log as the centerpiece on the dining room table. Mom dressed it up by wrapping a fresh pine garland around the length of it as decoration.

Inhaling the sweet pine scent, I stared at this enormous candle holder that now occupied much of the surface area of our table. I furrowed my eyebrows. “What is this?”

Dad stood back and motioned his hands as if to say Ta Da!This is an Advent Log.”

“What’s Advent?” I asked.

Dad explained, “Simply put, it’s the Christmas season. Advent is the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Christians celebrate this special season of waiting as we anticipate the birth of Baby Jesus. Do you see that red candle in the center?”

I nodded.

“That’s called the Christ candle. It represents Christmas Day. We’re going to light one new candle on our Advent Log each night, as we countdown to Christmas Day.”

I grinned. “Sounds fun!”

The next evening, my whole family gathered around the Advent Log. The soft glow from the Christmas tree illuminated the nearby living room. The smell of gingerbread wafted in from the kitchen.

We dimmed the overhead lights and I lit the first candle. We sat still, listening to Dad’s low soothing voice as he read a Christmas devotional out loud. Then the whole family sang Christmas carols. I sang a solo during “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and I giggled when my brothers used silly voices during “We Three Kings.” Dad prayed, then Mom let me use the candle snuffer to put out the single candle.

The next night, we lit two candles. The night after that, three. And so on. My brothers and I took turns lighting the candles, alternating sides of the Advent Log each evening. Gradually, the candles on the outer edges melted down shorter than the inner candles, creating a cascading effect as we worked our way toward the center Christ candle.

Night after night, we gathered around the Advent Log. Sometimes my brothers and I fought over whose turn it was to light the candles. Sometimes our silly singing voices overshadowed the sacred carols we sang. Sometimes my brothers wagged their fingers through the flames or picked at the wax dripping down the log. Mom and Dad scolded them. “Boys, don’t touch! That wax is hot!”

Though the Advent Log was sometimes an invitation to this sort of childhood miscreance, it was mostly a tranquil and reverent scene. The daily practice of gathering around the log for this time of reflection instilled in each of us that the true meaning of Christmas was the birth of our Savior. Our hearts felt light with Christmas cheer as we awaited Christmas Day.

Snow fell on Christmas morning, blanketing the ground in idyllic powdery perfection. My brothers and I bounded out of our bedrooms, still cozy in our warm fleece pajamas and thick winter socks. Dad lit the fire and Mom made our favorite Christmas breakfast—savory cheesy sausage balls and warm sticky cinnamon rolls. A few leftover gingerbread cookies made their way onto our plates as well.

My brothers and I were eager to rip into our stuffed stockings and piles of presents under the tree. “Not so fast, kids! We’re going to celebrate the ‘Reason for the Season’ before any of that,” Dad reminded us. So we gathered around the Advent Log one last time. Dad read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and we sang carols, my brothers and I sounding extra spirited as we anticipated the Christmas festivities to follow.

The Advent Log, now fully lit, glowed and twinkled like stars in the Bethlehem sky. As I watched the flickering flames, I felt a warmth in my heart, and it all made sense. The Advent Log had transformed from an ordinary log into a bright shining reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.

Year after year, my family used the Advent Log to celebrate the Advent season in this special way. It became a cherished Christmas tradition.

Time passed. My brothers and I grew older. One by one, we each left home to start our own families.

The Advent Log was packed away and forgotten.

Years later, my first nephew was born. As Christmas neared, my brother Nathan held his infant son and fondly recalled the many Christmases from our childhood spent around the Advent Log.

And Nathan had an idea!

He drove over to Mom and Dad’s house. Dad was sitting in his high back chair, a book in his hand and a mug of tea on the side table next to him, when Nathan walked through the front door. “Nathan! How nice to see you, son!”

“Hi, Dad!” Nathan greeted him. “Whatever happened to the old Advent Log?”

Dad tapped his chin. “Let’s go look for it.”

Together, they searched the basement until they found the Advent Log. Remnants of wax drippings were still visible on the outside; the inside still held sweet memories of bygone times with family. Dad and Nathan cleaned up the dusty, old log. Soon, it looked as good as new.

Nathan hauled home the refurbished log. And that year, he began the Advent Log tradition with his own family. One day, he will pass it on to his son too, and our cherished Advent Log will live on.

As it turns out, it isn’t an ordinary log at all.

Skin Cancer Awareness Month—My Melanoma Story

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s now personal for me. I’d like to share my experience in an effort to help raise awareness around this issue.

Earlier this month, I was diagnosed with melanoma.

CANCER. It’s true what they say—this word rattles you. I’m fortunate in the sense that melanoma has a high cure rate when caught early. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still CANCER. Cancer cells have been circulating in my body, entirely unbeknownst to me. If undetected, melanoma can spread and metastasize rapidly. It’s the most aggressive and deadly skin cancer. It’s frightening.

In my case, I’d had a small dark mole on the back of my arm for years. As long as I can remember actually. Maybe my whole life. I’d had dermatologists look at it in the past and no one seemed concerned. It didn’t look like a typical melanoma. Just a flat dark mole, about the color of black coffee. It stood out to me because most of my other freckles and moles are a tan color.

I was outside playing with my son in April and just happened to look at the back of my arm. Does this look different? I wondered to myself. I thought it might’ve looked slightly darker, with maybe a tinge of red around the edges, and I thought I saw a speck of white in the center. It was such a subtle change that I thought I might just be paranoid.

But I called the dermatologist and scheduled an appointment, just to be safe. The dermatologist herself wasn’t even entirely convinced that we should do a biopsy, but we did anyway, just to be safe.

I got a call a few days later, letting me know that the pathology had come back and I had melanoma. I was shocked. Unfortunately, the biopsy didn’t remove the entire melanoma, so about 2.5 weeks later, a surgeon performed a procedure called a wide excision on my arm. My stats:

  • Small 3mm mole removed for biopsy
  • Even smaller 0.7mm melanoma Dx
  • The result was a huge 10cm wide excision (an inch deep) in order to remove the entire melanoma and all surrounding tissue.

I’m thankful that my pathology after surgery showed clear margins. I can handle a large scar, if it means I’m cancer free.

But skin cancer is serious, friends. I’m sharing openly about my experience in an effort to raise awareness. Please be vigilant. Wear sunscreen. Do self-exams. See your dermatologist.

This experience has messed with my mind more than anything. It has caused me a lot of anxiety and fear. Fear about recurrences in the future. Fear about being more susceptible to other cancers down the road. Fear about leaving my toddler without a mother.

But, my trust is in a loving God who invites us to cast our cares on Him.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.”-1 Peter 5:7

Isn’t it a comforting thought that none of this surprised or rattled God? He intended for me to walk this journey for some reason. And feeling such fear and panic leaves me no choice but to surrender my entire life to His control.

“Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?”-Matthew 6:27

He is holding me in the palm of His hand. And I’m so very thankful for that.