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  • Jess Haag

Head Above Water

Updated: May 1, 2019

I’ve gotta keep the calm before the storm I don’t want less, I don’t want more Must bar the windows and the doors To keep me safe, to keep me warm


Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore And my voice becomes the driving force I won’t let this pull me overboard


God, keep my head above water Don’t let me drown, it gets harder I’ll meet you there, at the altar As I fall down to my knees Don’t let me drown, drown, drown Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown


So pull me up from down below ‘Cause I’m underneath the undertow Come dry me off and hold me close I need you now, I need you most


God, keep my head above water Don’t let me drown, it gets harder I’ll meet you there at the altar As I fall down to my knees Don’t let me drown, drown, drown Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown Don’t let me drown, drown, drown Keep my head above water, above water


And I can’t see in this stormy weather I can’t seem to keep it all together And I, I can’t swim the ocean like this forever And I can’t breathe


God, keep my head above water I lose my breath at the bottom Come rescue me, I’ll be waiting I’m too young to fall asleep


God, keep my head above water Don’t let me drown, it gets harder I’ll meet you there at the altar As I fall down to my knees


(Head Above Water- Avril Lavigne)





There are certain songs that just speak to you and come to you at the perfect moment in time…this is one of those songs for me. I remember when I first heard it, my first thought being, “Wait a sec. Is this Avril?? (You know…the sassy, punk ‘Sk8ter Boi’ rocker chick) I haven’t heard new music from her in forever! And this is different…way different.” I listened. Closely. And after really listening, I had this urge to know what inspired her to write a song like that. So, naturally, I checked it out—and wouldn’t you know, it had to do with health issues she was dealing with. It came from a dark place, a place she wasn’t sure if she would come back from—she thought she was going to die. It turns out, she was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease—another nasty disease. It got so bad for her that she thought she wasn’t going to make it, and she literally asked God to keep her head above—no music or song in mind at the time.


It’s a song that hits home. It’s a song that I and I’m sure many others can relate to. It spoke to me. It brought tears to my eyes. There are those songs that I sing along to wildly and fiercely (if you ever pull up next to me, jammin’ out in my sweet minivan, I’ll say it now—you’re welcome. For the show. 😊). There are those songs I sing along to and I envision what my music video would be like from start to finish…with some editing along the way. And then there are those songs that I just sit…and listen—blank stare kind of listen. This…is one of those songs.


“I’ll be your positive today,” were words spoken by my bestie, Tif, roughly seven weeks ago after I expressed my concerns about a climbing tumor marker number. It went up from the last chemo treatment which is always concerning to me. We monitor that number closely and it can dictate course of action. When I heard the numbers, my immediate thought was, “God, keep my head above water.” And ya know what? He did just that.


I was scheduled for a CT scan January 31st, so we would see if there were any changes to the tumors in my liver at that point. Those scans can be nerve racking, to say the least. But…I find the time leading up to them to be the most nerve racking. I also find that once I’m there—I say a little prayer and usually am totally calm and have the “whatever comes of this, I know He’ll help me through it” mentality. That feeling of peace brings me through.


But back to that “I’ll be your positive today” comment. Let me just say…I love my friends. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today without them. They know me so well. So. Well. They allow me to feel what I’m feeling, say what I’m feeling, pick me up when I’m down, but more importantly sometimes—they allow me to feel down….and respect it. They reassure me that it’s okay to not be positive 100% of the time…in fact, it’s impossible to be 100% positive all the time—and it’s okay to not be ‘strong’ 100% of the time. It’s okay to have moments of weakness.  I was definitely weak.  I cried, worried about those numbers.  I felt defeated and like there may be no hope.  I kept thinking about my kids and how I didn't want to leave them with no mommy.  I thought about my hubby and how much I yearned to grow old and gray with him.  I thought about the rest of my family--my parents especially.  They've been through so much in life and I don't want them to lose their daughter.  So much running through my mind--and all negative.

My bestie, Amber, sent me the definition of a word that day that she just so happened to hear at her church (talk about timing) and said she immediately thought of me. The word? “Fortitude.” The definition? “Strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage.” She was the one that day to reassure me that it was okay to not be positive all the time—that it’s okay to not be okay with disappointing news. And I must say—I can’t speak for everyone, just myself, but sometimes (not all the time) you just want to hear, “Dude. That sucks.”


But the other beautiful thing about my friends? I know they would NEVER let me stay there. They would NEVER let me succumb to weakness for too long. They’d give me a good, swift kick in the hiney and tell me to get a move on—it’s time. That’s just the kind of thing good friends do, and I will love them for it if ever that day comes.


So what came of the “I’ll be your positive today” day? Well… Tif basically reiterated that tumor markers aren’t the end all be all—and I knew this as they explain that to you for the get go. These markers can be a good indicator for some, not so much for others. They were such a good indicator my first round of chemo last year (always going down, never up) so when I found out they went up, I went into a bit of a panic mode. There are different things that can affect the results of tumor markers, and Tif said she was rolling with the “cancer hasn’t grown/spread, my liver panel looked good, the markers were affected by something else. I’ll be your positive today.” And she was right. The January 31st scan showed the lesions in my liver were all stable, and we continued on.


That was seven weeks ago. The weeks in between then and now looked something like this-- sickness, sickness, SICKNESS. Snow day, snow day, SNOW DAY. AHHHH! At least one of my kids has been sick every week (well, since the New Year pretty much), my hubby & I got hit with the flu along with the kids, and I had bronchitis after that that lasted for roughly 4 weeks (so thankful that worked itself out). But then….we were able to take an AMAZING family trip to Florida—Disney with the kids, rented a house with my little brother and his family for the rest of the week and had many adventures with them. It was SO FUN we didn’t want to come back home! But who would want to leave warmth, sunshine, and the sea behind, right? The ocean is a love of mine—and my hubby’s, and now…my kids! I was so excited to introduce it to them. We were nonstop and it felt great.  So much fun...many laughs...many adventures....I. LOVE.  LIFE.


March 4th brought my 9th chemo treatment on this particular drug, 19th overall chemo treatment over the course of the past 1.5 years. The talk of ‘next step’ is in place, and I have an appointment set with my UW Health oncologist on the 18th. My tumor markers did go up again, so we’ve decided to do a PET scan before that appointment now, just to make sure nothing has spread anywhere else. That scan…is later this afternoon. I had a bit of a rough day on Friday, with pain and chest stuff so for peace of mind we headed into the ER late that night. They did a CT scan that night to make sure I didn’t have any blood clots in the lungs (with the chest pain and side (muscle) pain, combined with recent travel, they wanted to rule it out) and there were none. I was scared, of course, thinking about the scan. But as they were rolling me down there, I prayed. And I immediately felt that sense of peace.


After reflecting on everything, it occurred to me. I failed. I most often feel like it’s all on ME. I most often rely on myself WAY TOO MUCH. I forget to pray. I forget that God wants me to put it all on Him. I forget He wants me to put all my trust and anxiety on Him because He cares for me. I forget that He is just a prayer away when I need to talk. I forget that He wants the absolute best for me, and that I just need to be still. Work like it depends on you…PRAY like it depends on Him. But the beautiful thing about Him? Even though I fail more often than not, He still loves me. He is still there for me no matter what. He’s there for you, even if you have never ever called on Him. He’s there for you, even if you’ve never been that into Him—you’ve never been “that spiritual” or “religious,” or you’ve even proclaimed “God doesn’t exist.” He’s STILL there…waiting for you and wanting you to seek Him. No matter how many times I fail…He’s got me.. He is my strength--and what a blessing to know this.


I honestly pray you have the courage to realize you can’t and don’t have to do things on your own--whatever your own battles or journey entails. I hope and pray your (and my) first line of defense and offense…when something good and something bad happens…when you’re so happy or on the verge of a nervous breakdown…whatever it is in life—that your first thought…is to pray. #goals


Hope & Pray.

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