Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dear Beth,

There I sat on the hospital room bed, looking out the window at the snow falling. Valentine's Day cards from friends at home were tucked in my bag, others lay stacked on the bedside table. Cancer and Valentine's for some reason just don't go together. Yet there we sat, my Mom and I, on each side of my sister, Beth, and read to her the dozens of cards she'd received with love and well wishes sent through the mail. It didn't seem to matter to us that she'd been dead nearly an hour, we were determined to read every last letter to her. At the time it seemed logical. As morbid as it sounds, I remember that I kept wiping blood from her mouth as it ran from her hemorrhaged organs, looking for somewhere to go. The doctors claimed victory because her body was free of leukemia. What a shame that the drugs used to fight it would ultimately cause her organs to explode.....That was twenty four years ago, February 14, 1986. Just twenty four years after my parents buried my 9-year old brother, Danny, who also died of leukemia in 1962.

I share this with you because it explains so much about who I am and where I came from. It explains the sadness that permeated our family for years; the tears that were quietly shed before each holiday gathering without them. Why the cemetery is a familiar hangout. It's why I wanted more than two children. And it's why my Daddy always tells young parents that he sees at the grocery store (people he doesn't know) to "hug your children and tell them you love them every day." But even more than that, it explains why I'm not afraid.

I can assure you that when my brother and sister were sick, there were thousands upon thousands of prayers for their complete recovery from all over this country. Just like there has been for me. And as believers, we feel comforted knowing that God is listening. Much like a child is comforted when he knows his Daddy is close enough to hear his cries for help when he's spooked in the middle of the night. But when prayers aren't answered, at least the way we want them to be, we sometimes question our so called "blind" faith and begin to doubt God's intent. But having walked the path that I have, I want to assure you that God's plan, while not always visible to the naked eye, becomes strikingly clear as time passes.

When Beth died, my cousin Charlotte told me a story that has stuck with me over the years. She described a baby in his mothers womb, all warm and cozy, well fed and thoroughly loved. It was his world, the only one he knew. And quite abruptly, he went through this very traumatic experience that took him from the world that he knew, to a very different world. But low and behold, it was a place where he felt even greater love, unconditional love from his Mother and Father. (at least that's how it's suppose to be) It was the end of one existence and the beginning of another. For some reason, since then I've been comforted with the idea of that elementary comparison to life and death.

I was reminded in a sermon this week about Simon Peters unsuccessful fishing experience. Tired and frustrated from fishing all night with no success, he listened as Jesus told him to take the boat out again, even further, to much deeper waters. Begrudgingly, Simon agreed to listen to Jesus and though completely exhausted, paddled his boat to the deep waters that Jesus had insisted he go. Needless to say, the fishermen nearly effortlessly caught more fish than their boat could hold. Simon Peter listened to Jesus and went farther and deeper than he ever had and became a believer and disciple of Christ as a result.

I don't know if I'm in deep enough waters right now, but I must admit, God has been preparing me for this event for a very long time. He takes me out a little bit farther a little bit deeper every time.......... I can't begin to know the outcome of this whole cancer thing, but quite frankly, it's irrelevant. God's will is just that. Just like my cups, my boat is running over with God's bounty! What I do know is what waits for me on the other side of this place-- and that's one delivery that I'm eager to make.

cancer update

I had my 9th and final chemo treatment yesterday. When the snow began to fall that morning, it was surreal. What a beautiful and very meaningful day. Scans and surgery to follow. I can't begin to thank all of you for the prayers and gifts of love over the last few months. Truly, my cups runneth over.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Know This For Sure

Once upon a time, I got a much-promised spanking from my Mom because I had misbehaved while we were at the IGA. (don't gasp, we had already gotten home.) No sooner had she completed the task, that I whirled around with great confidence and candor, looked her straight in the eyes and triumphantly said, "Ha, that didn't hurt!" As any Mother worth her weight in salt would've done, she promptly tore up my hide. And it did hurt. They didn't have parenting books back then for wayward and insecure parents to consult. No sir, my parents had a leather -bound raggedy old book that told it straight and didn't mince words: spare the rod and spoil the child. 'nough said.

Well it seems like I'm gettin' a good old- fashion butt whoopin these days. I guess my 'tough girl' talk was a little too much for somebody....."bring it on", I threatened, "that cancer doesn't know who he's dealing with...." I quipped. I was all bowed up for a fight, (and still am-- don't get me wrong), but the rules of this game have changed. My tone has shifted just a's not exactly the fight I thought it would be. Or maybe, I'm not exactly as tough as I thought I would be......

It's kinda like when you go to the fair for the first time with your friends (read: NO PARENTS) and you're all excited about the "I'm so ready for this" adventure; the loud music, the bright lights and the fast rides; the corn dogs and those deep fried things with all the powdered sugar caked on top. You've been picking up pecans at your grandmothers house and selling them for an entire month to pay your own way and you've got something to prove, baby. You are allll that. There you are on the midway, enjoying another corn dog, having a great time with your peeps, when next thing you know, on a very public dare, you're getting all strapped in "The Bullet" with a belt that some ax murderer from Plant City, Florida, personally put together before his "New Hire" papers were dry.

As he slithers by to check the life-saving lock, you say, "thank you Mr. Tattoo. Heeeyyyyy. Waaait a minute. Haven't I seen you o n t e l e v i s i o n n n n?" Ink-man gets smaller and smaller, and your car starts to rock to and fro , instinctively, you begin snapping your neck like a turkey to the rhythm of "Slow Ride." You're feeling pretty cocky about now and become completely oblivious to what really lies ahead. A mere 30 seconds later, already at mach speed, you suddenly realize that no matter how loud you scream or cry, you can't get off until the man that looks eerily like the fugitive featured on America's Most Wanted crushes his cigarette butt with his state-issued boots and stops this vomit bomb of a ride. As you slowly exit to the left, clutching the metal railling, not even noticing it's covered in old snot and chewing gum, you immediately know 5 things for sure:

1. You'll never again eat fried weiners, powdered sugar and a blue slushie in the same night.
2. You now hate all music performed by Foghat.
3. You would've rather had your grandmother's Pecan twirlies instead.
4. You're not as tough as youthought you were, and
5. You want your Mama.

I just got home from Birmingham after receiving treatment number 8 and wanted to give you an update. Just briefly----I'm so nauseated I can't turn my head side to side. My vein(s) are busted from 2 mis-fires and my head hasn't quit hurting since October. Oh, and I can't forget the chemo-induced hot flashes. Within seconds, and with absolutely no warning, my entire body feels like an off-brand car battery. And like clockwork, all of the sudden everything tastes like I'm sucking on BB's. But really, aside from all that, it was a great trip. I originally typed "fabulous," but that word makes me laugh. My sweet candy striper friends, Courtney and Dona, drove me to Birmingham on Thursday and made me laugh for 24 hours. Until they made me cry. Twice. (yes you did) But even with this glow-in-the-dark look about me, I have concluded that good food, even better desserts and great friends make for excellent palliative care. I'm certain, however, that my beet, arugula and goat cheese salad may have had real healing powers. It was faaabulluss.

According to tradition, for the next few days I won't feel like typing or being witty. But I just had to tell you that in spite of all this crap,(and you're just hearing about the things that are for public consumption.....) at this very minute, this is what I know for certain: I wouldn't trade this experience for all the money in the world. And when this is all over, and it will be over, I just won't have new perky bosoms--cause it's not really about them-- I'll have a new meaning. From now on, I will live with intention. Greater intention, that is. My perspective has changed and it took an out-of-control cell to do it. Believe me,

I will waste nothing on this cancer

My God has allowed and empowered me to take on an incredible foe, a mean, doesn't-play-by-the-rules kinda jerk. But even through non-stop nausea, blinding headaches, hypertension and severe constipation, (can you spell bloated?) I still say, bring it on, cause cancer, you may have found my weaknesses, but you have no idea the strength of my God! He's in charge of this carnival sweetheart.

Just so you know, I threw up all over my sweet friend Jeter Brock when he made me ride the Bullet back in 1977. I've not eaten a funnel cake since. I gag when my children offer me a blue drink of any kind. Foghat still makes me nauseated. And I desperately want my Mama.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Toot, Scoot and Boogie

One of the greatest jobs I've ever had was working for Macy's in New York. Although I was hired and based in Atlanta, I traveled all over the country doing promotions and marketing to open new stores. After an exhausting year and a half and a dozen new stores, I was up for a promotion that would move me to New York. I was young and skinny and had all the right clothes for the job. To me, I was the obvious choice.

There were several candidates from around the country who were being considered for this extremely desirable position, but I'd made it through the first two rounds and was beginning to consider the move north from the deep South. The day before my final interview with Mr. Finklestein (the names have been changed to protect the innocent), I arrived at work very early to get my proverbial 'ducks in a row'. Our offices were located in the downtown Atlanta store, which means they were very old. Closet-sized offices and rows of cubicles were tucked behind beautifully decorated departments on six different floors and were nothing short of disgusting--dirty, old and musty smelling with no windows for the cigarette smoke to escape (the early 90s) It was like being back stage at the Ford Theater.

After I got to work that day, I decided to take the back elevator from my office to get coffee in the employee cafeteria. The elevator, which was built to withstand a tidal wave in central Georgia, was large enough to transport merchandise up from the basement for distribution throughout the store. When I got on, Ms. Edna and Ms. Sybil, (the names have been changed to protect the guilty) two elderly women from housekeeping, were already on there and greeted me as I got in. We chatted for a moment about how dumb management was and giggled about how funny we were. Just before the door opened for them to get off one of them, dare I say, tooted. Out loooouuuuuddddd. (To quote my nephew Christopher, she had a "farty party"). Had the cafeteria not been on the next floor, I honestly think I could have suffocated from the toxicity of the fumes. Without getting too descriptive, you could see it. As I stood in that 100 square foot metal lock box, holding my breath, I heard the squirrels put their little feet down and the elevator stopped. As the doors began to slowly open, and thinking only of my quick escape, it hadn't dawned on me that there might be other people on the other side of the door. But as I fanned the dense fog out of my face, there in front of me, turning a grayish green color was Mr. Finklestein. And his boss from New York. Who was in town. For interviews. Yea, mine.

I didn't get the job.

Throughout this whole cancer thing I've figured out that I better be doggone sure of who I am 'cause sooner or later, it's all gonna be laid out for the entire world to see. Just like in that elevator, there ain't nowhere to hide, no matter how stinky life gets.

As I've sat half naked for numerous teams of doctors, technicians and nurses, never once did they care that I had deep wrinkles on my forehead or pre-cellulite on my thighs (yes, pre-). No one cared that I wasn't a V.P. for Macy's. Or surmise that I may have married for money, or assume that I got my last job because of my Uncle's next door neighbor. Everything they needed to know about me was the obvious. There is no lying about my white blood count; I can't disguise my tumors and as much as I may try, there's no hiding that I've lost my hair because I'm being treated for cancer. All of these are completely out of my control. But as I look at myself in the mirror and see a person that is barely recognizable, I am immediately comforted knowing that God is blind to all these things. He sees me in his terms. From the inside out. He knows my heart, which is something that even I am beginning to discover. But what has been so refreshing is realizing that I am loved not for the obvious things that I've lost, but for the obvious things that I can't lose-- most importantly, my faith; or my undying loyalty to my loved ones; or my overly-sappy, tender heart; and what about my sense of humor? dare we forget my patriotism and conservative tendencies? Who needs hair when you bring all these traits to the table? Too much of a good thing is a waste, isn't that what they say? So what if my arm looks like molded raisin bread from misguided hollow-point needles, and what does it matter that I have a brown rash all over my body from this lighter fluid trying to escape from the inside out? Who cares? Not me, certainly not God and thank heavens, not Ted.

How blessed am I that my God thinks I'm beautiful, if not downright desirable, knowing that my earthly body is riddled with mutant, out of control cells and all crusty from chemo? Heck, just wait til I'm zapped with radiation about 50 times, see what God thinks of me then. He's not into all that earthly stuff. He's more interested in my heart and my conviction. He's looking to see if I know what I'm made of--he already knows.

I thank God that I didn't get that job and move away to New York. Sure enough, I'd be married to some carpet bagger from Summit, New Jersey, who wouldn't be caught dead in the South. On that day, the worst part about that entire ordeal was that Mr. Finklestein wrongfully thought it was me. Twenty years later, that's the best part.....

Be true to yourself. There's nowhere to hide.

Cancer update:

Believe it or not, I have only 3 treatments left. I'll start the final 3, which is a new and even more toxic chemo, on the 15th of January and if all goes well, be finished on February 12. Surgery and other stuff will follow after final scans and MRIs. Forgive my absence from this blog thing, but I needed that time to be personal and private and not out there in cyberspace for all to witness. I've had to pull myself up by my boot straps a few times, but I've made it. I know that I am the recipient of answered prayers because I've been blessed, as usual, with a positive attitude throughout this entire event. The side effects have taken their toll, but who doesn't need a day in the bed with the remote and a heating pad. Please.

Dr. Carpenter said the tumor has shrunk by nearly 75%. I would pull my own hair out for those numbers. Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes. They are truly felt and are working.

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth!! Psalm 34: 1

Love to all,


Monday, November 9, 2009

All We Are Saying, is Give Peas A Chance.....

Some time during the last century, I was in a beauty pageant. I don't know which of those two things is harder to admit-- the time or the place. Nonetheless, like all dutiful, (and competitive), contestants, if asked, I was prepared to answer the time-honored question that would surely put it in the "bag" for this Miss Dothan wanna-be. Regardless of my stiff competition, I had done my homework of past queens and was prepared for any brain teaser that might possibly give a mere hint of my true inner beauty. My plan was a sure bet, as long as the question could be answered by any one of these three fail-proof answers: 1. Mother Therese, 2. The Holy Land or the ultimate response, 3. World Peace.

As the emcee pulled the question out of the bucket, I stood on the Dothan Civic Center stage in my baby blue chiffon dress with dyed shoes to match and could hear my boyfriend Russ whistle. And then Press Thornton yelled something about, "Do it Tiny...." (that was my nickname). Refocused, I prepared myself to recite any one of my three rehearsed answers when out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened. Emcee: "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?" "Pardon?" I said, in an attempt to buy time.... Quickly, I tried to think how any of my canned answers could be rephrased and still woo the judges.

My brain was whirling.....perhaps I would say, "If I could change anything about myself and why, it would have to be my attitude." (yes, that was it! ) "I wish I could be more patient and forgiving, say like Mother Therese. Why she would surely leave her walk with God, in the Holy Land, to come to the U.S. and help President Carter get those hostages out of Tehran, then we'd have World Peace for sure." Maybe I would even say something about 10% inflation??? No, that would be too self-serving.....

But by the time the emcee had finished repeating the question, I had spun around on a dime and completely changed my mind. The answer was a no-brainer; I'd asked myself this same question every day for the past 16 years. I wanted to change my nose. I was one of 4 girls and the other three got my Mom's cute little pug. As luck would have it, I had gotten my Dad's Roman-Henry County nose. It was clearly a mix-up of grand proportions. That's what I would change and that's exactly why. I had a man-nose.

As I prepared to answer with the truth, I caught a glimpse of my sweet parents sitting in the front of the auditorium. Nervous for their middle child who'd shown no interest in beauty pageants or public speaking, they were clutching the program and each other's hands. I couldn't do it. The thought of embarrassing my Daddy was far more painful than that of embarrassing myself. Runner up would just have to do. Yet again, I was beaten by a nose.

Besides his profile, I inherited a lot of things from my Daddy. The son of a farmer, he knew the definition of hard work, very hard work, at an early age. And the son of the Depression, he understood the value of money. (My husband will confirm that I didn't inherit the latter.) He and my Mother taught us that money didn't make a man and that everyone put their proverbial 'pants on the same way'. My parents treated everyone the same; with respect and dignity. They didn't care which zip code you lived in and wouldn't dare ask what your profession or Alma mater was because it didn't matter. Unless you gave them good reason, they would be nice to you. They were hardworking, unassuming people who did the best they could to raise four children and bury two. They went to church, they tithed and they laughed. A lot. In spite of their overwhelming tragedies, they beat the odds, stayed happily married and made us their priority.

I've always said that I grew up spoiled and rich. But it wasn't money that I was talking about because we certainly did have it--it was love and attention. I watched my Daddy dearly love and respect my Mom. Every night while she was cooking in that tiny kitchen, he would sneak up on her and put ice cubes in her pants. She would scream and dance as if she was surprised and he would walk away with a devilish sense of accomplishment on his face. We were his life. My daddy was present. He didn't hunt or golf or fish or go out with the guys. Not once. Not ever. My, have times changed. As a parent of four, I struggle daily to keep it together. My impatience gets the best of me, even under good circumstances. I never heard either of my parents use profanity--how can you have 6 children and not let one fly every now and again???? ( well, there was that time that my sister Karen rode up on the back of a motorcycle with Wes Johnson. It wasn't pretty.)

When I was 12 or 13, I was invited by my friend Gerri to swim and sun at the inner-sanctum for who's who in our town, the Country Club. whooowhooo. It wasn't the first or the last time, but this particular summer day was like a show and tell for my Daddy's life lesson and I will carry the memory to my grave. My Daddy had never been to a private club before and didn't much care for his daughter wanting to go either. He was afraid I would be exposed to that personality altering disease, a-little-too-big-for-your-britches syndrome. After we parked our bikes, Gerri and I surveyed the pool to see who was there that day. It didn't take long before I zeroed in on a new sign that had recently been professionally painted and hung on the fence by the entry. The new DCC logo was beautifully painted in script across the top and the heading POOL RULES was centered just below. The usual restrictions were listed in gold cursive type: Members Only, open and closing hours, No Running, etc., and finally, painted at the very bottom, in all caps, it demanded: ABSOLUTELY NO SHELLING PEAS AT POOL SIDE. I'm laughing as I type. I couldn't get out of the pool fast enough to get to the snack bar. That's where the only phone was. We laughed out loud, my Daddy and I. His fears were immediately dispelled, I was still a farmer's daughter after all. These country clubbers too had put their pants on just as he had that morning. No longer would there be brown paper bags from the IGA collecting pea hulls from the Moms at the Club. Pea shelling was officially reserved for the back porch of your own home.

My Daddy became my hero that day. His words had been validated, confirmed and painted in green and gold for all eternity. We are all the same. Take away the cars, the homes, the private clubs and the titles and we're all God's creatures. And there's no application for that.

This lesson has become abundantly clear for me this past month. Cancer, like any disease, does not discriminate. Your income, or address, or your status makes no never mind to pain and suffering. What can make a difference (besides health insurance and that's a whole 'nother blog) is attitude. We can choose every day, every single day, how we will respond to our situation. Underneath it all, we are the same. Let's make a promise to ourselves that tomorrow we will put our pants on, but with a different, no, a better attitude. As Dale Carnegie used to say, "If you act enthusiastic, then you'll be enthusiastic." (Atlanta, class of 1986). I challenge each and every one of you to stand in the mirror and say to yourself, "Today, I will have a great attitude!" I promise you, it will make a difference in your day. Let me know how it works for ya.

Cancer Update

I couldn't even post a comment after my first treatment because I was so sick. But for those of you who've kept up with my blog, I must tell you that when Ted and I got to the waiting room for my first infusion, I got settled in my chair and looked up at the television and "Let's Make A Deal" was on! I didn't even know that show was still being made. I laughed out loud and knew God was too.

My second treatment was this past Friday and though the chemo went well, I couldn't get the Avastin because my blood pressure was too high, which is a side effect of that drug. I feel better this time, but the nausea and headaches are persistent. Both are side effects and come as no surprise. Fatigue will probably show up tomorrow. My hands and feet are beginning to tingle and will eventually begin to blister and peel. That too is expected. In the Clinic Friday I sat next to a beautiful young girl( probably around 25) who suffers from Sickle cell anemia. She has been coming to UAB for transfusions, every other week, almost all of her life. The gentleman across from me is unable to make red blood cells on his own, so he too comes for a transfusion every week--since 1997. Even though we all put our pants on the same way that morning, I don't think I did it with as much dread as they probably did. Once again, I'm the luckiest girl in the room.

My 3rd treatment is November 20. That will be the last of the Doxil, then the Taxol will begin in December. Bald by Christmas :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Sickness and in Health....


Right after Ted and I married, I went on a golf outing with him. He's not much of a golfer, and I'm not much of a golf watcher, so it was an uneventful afternoon. With one exception. While in the golf cart waiting on him to get out of the sand trap, I noticed him doing something other than hitting the ball. When he returned to the cart I inquired about what he was doing. (all newlyweds are interested in everything their new spouse does, aren't they?)

Me: "What were you doing out there, sweetheart?"
Ted: "What do you mean, what was I doing,honey?"
Me: "What was that thing you put down on the side of the bunker?"
Ted: "A rake, dear."
Me: "A rake?" "What were you doing with a rake?"
Ted: "Raking."
Me: "Raking what, sweetie?"
Ted: "Sand."
Me: "Sand?, why would you rake sand, I've never heard of such?" (just a tad sarcastic)
Ted: "Golfers courtesy....."
Me: "What the hey does Golfers courtesy mean, pumpkin?"
Ted: "Just what it says--being considerate of the next golfer and leaving the course in the same condition as when I found it."
Me: "You're kidding right?"
Ted: "Nope."
Me: "Wait a second. You mean to tell me that's for real? You were RAKING SAND? Raking. Sand. So that a total stranger, who we cannot even see, who is not even here yet, will have nice, clean sand for when he too hits a lousy shot into the sand trap?"
Ted: "Yep."
Me: (smirky) "Well, isn't that nice...." (a little more sarcastic) "I can't even get you to
put the lid down on the commode for me but you'll RAKE SAND for a total stranger." "That's just grand."
Ted: "uh huh"
Me: "where's the clubhouse?"

Marriage isn't easy. In fact, with the exception of parenting, it's the hardest job on earth. But if you're fortunate, like I am, the payoff far exceeds the investment. And maybe, without cancer, you'll learn from our mistakes and can rethink and rekindle. (I can write this entry about Ted tonight because he's going to be out of town tomorrow and he won't know.)

The afternoon that I received my diagnosis (over the phone) my heart broke. Not for me, but for my sweet husband Ted (aka, Peter Pan). Just like all caretakers, his job was going to be far more difficult that mine. I can't imagine what he must've been thinking in the following days; a young father (ok, middle aged) of four very young children (yes, one with special needs) with a sick wife who's life is now uncertain. (cue background music.) The breadwinner of our family suddenly has to consider yet another time-consuming role to play (is it just me or is this beginning to sound like a Lifetime movie commercial?...)

I'm sure I'm not easy to live with even on the best of days. I'm a tad bossy, a little moody, and have a tendency to feel resentment towards my husband during hunting season. (Did you know that there is something somewhere that is always in season?) But throw in a stage 3 bout of breast cancer and even Dale Carnegie would get cranky. I've become very focused on my battle and have been completely parenting by proxy. Whatever Ted says, goes. No arguments from me. And even surprising to himself, not so much to me, he's risen to the occasion and completely filled the gap. He cancelled his travel plans for work--and this is his "do-or-die" time of year. Called off his junket to Missouri to hunt that elusive White Tail deer he's been chasin'. (took the big C to do that though) Several times, he's taken the kids out for hours at a time so I could read some junky book about cancer. (I really read Southern Living's new October issue and drank spiced hot tea) And on more than one occasion, after his long day at the office, he'd dive in and sort and wash 4 or 5 loads of laundry. But he didn't stop there, he did the hard part too--HE FOLDED THEM AND PUT THEM UP!!!! That's huuuuuugggge isn't it ladies! (I must confess though that I had to walk away when I saw the way he'd folded the clothes--like a junky needing a fix, I'd grab a shirt or a towel when he wasn't looking and refold it and put it on the bottom of the stack ) Call me crazy, but all of the sudden, he's looking younger to me, maybe a little thinner too. And I think his hair is thicker.....don't tell anyone, but I'm being courted by a new man. Actually, same man. Just new tricks. I think I'm in love. again.

Which reminds me....

When our first son, Gray, was born nearly 12 years ago Ted and I both were in our 30's (we'll leave it at that) and were "set in our ways" to put it mildly. And like any Grandmother worth her weight in salt, my Mom had sage advice for me that I should have paid more attention to. On one occasion when Ted had changed number one son's diaper, I openly criticized his "diaper-changing" techniques in front of my parents. My Mom followed me into the kitchen and very firmly told me, "if you continue to correct the way he does things, he'll quit doing things for you." But just like any bull-headed daughter whose mother gave outdated advice, I poo-poo'd her suggestion and continued down my long road of self-righteousness. Three children later, I've wised up. My motto now is "the one who finds it fixes it." Ted has officially changed 1.7 million diapers in the last 12 years and with the exception of a few blow outs and two new rugs, we've survived them all.

Since the beast was found, we've changed. As a couple. We're more respectful of one another, we're kind and considerate to each other. We laugh and flirt with one another. We hold hands a lot now. Like we did when we were newlyweds. And we don't argue over anything. nothing. nada. (ok, the house was a mess when I got back from B'ham, but that was wishful thinkin' on my part.) It all seems trivial when you really think about it. In the scheme of things, what is worth arguing about when you're scheduling chemo and radiation to coordinate with your children's Christmas programs? I can honestly say that I'm thankful, yet again, for one more benefit to having cancer--a new found love interest--my husband. Oh and there's this: when my sweet Teddy asks me to take out the dog, to clean up a Buck mishap, or even to simply get him another cup of coffee, I just lovingly look at his big blue eyes and say, "I can't. I have cancer. (read: Cancer patient courtesy.) Works like a charm. I've got him right where I want him.

I opened the closet in my bathroom yesterday and immediately noticed all the towels were wrinkled like they'd been in the dryer for hours and folded "incorrectly." I stood there, and with tears in my eyes, fell in love all over again with my sweet Teddy. He's going to be fine. We both are. We have each other. Remember, it's not where you travel in life that's important. It's who you travel with that matters.


I'll have my first chemo cocktail party on Friday @ 10 am "with Infusion Nurse 3." I've agreed to participate in a drug study for Avastin, an FDA approved drug that is already being used successfully to treat other types of cancers. (That's why I'm having treatment in B'ham vs. Dothan.) I'm number 29 in this phase II study which has proven to be extremely beneficial to the other breast cancer participants. This drug, Avastin, used in tandem with certain chemotherapy drugs, destroys the blood vessels that feed the cancerous tumors, which ultimately destroys the tumor. The earlier patients in the study have had tumors as large as mine (greater than 5cm/3 inches) completely disappear as if they'd never been there. I'll have 9 treatments, every other week for 18 weeks total. Surgery and radiation will follow accordingly.

Thank you all for the prayers for the spot on my left breast. After I had been in the MRI tank for 45 minutes last week, they pulled me out and said they couldn't see a thing. They were baffled. Not me. Medicine might be a mystery, but God isn't.

Bottoms up!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wheel of Good Fortune

charlie's angels, buck and elizabeth
ok, I know I've been very slack lately, but our trip to Birmingham wore me out, both physically and mentally-- and then I came back to the Breast Cancer walk and then Fall Break with all the younguns out of school for a week!. Having four kids is such a blast; the constant chatter, the fun, the laughter, the mess, the food, the dirty clothes, the arguing, the fist fights, the homework, the shoebox projects (thanks Courtney!) , did I mention the dirty clothes? I love it all! No really. I do. But this entry will be sweet and short because I'm exhausted and I have pre-chemo brain fog. I have cancer you know?

Speaking of the beast, Charlie, my 9 year old, was sitting at the kitchen counter yesterday and out of nowhere asked, "Mom, what's it like to have cancer?" Totally caught off-guard, I thoughtfully responded, "huh?" "You know, what's it like, I mean, like, you know, to have cancer?" he asked again. (Charlie's not one to back down. Like his grandmother, what comes up, comes out.) And after standing there for a few seconds, and being mindful of our house guest, who is only 7 but listening to every word, I quietly said, "It's incredible." And I meant it. At least on this side of treatment and surgery, cancer has been incredible. But it's not because of anything that I've done or read or any doctor that I've been introduced to. It's because of the love of friends, family and complete strangers who have absolutely lifted me and my family up off the ground and carried us through this first stage of the battle. I've said this to several people over the past few days but it bears repeating: what a shame that this type of love and support is wasted on funerals. It means so much more while we're alive and able to respond. Who knows how many lives would be saved if they only knew how loved they were.

What I'm really trying to say is thank you. Thank you to the nearly 200 friends who bought a t-shirt for the Mmac team and the Champions of Hope race this past weekend. Thank you to Dona and Courtney who coordinated the entire thing, behind my back. To Dondee who designed the winning t-shirt with her love and God-given talent. Thank you to all of you who have cooked for my sweet and hungry family. Thank you for the hundreds, yes hundreds of phone calls, emails, cards, notes and flowers. But mostly, thank you for the thousands of prayers that have literally covered us in God's love and protection. Ted and I are truly humbled by the outpouring of sincere, genuine and heartfelt love and devotion that we have received during the past month.

I received an email from an acquaintance that said, "I have told lots of people before that I would pray for them and I never did. But for you, I'm really going to do it." I laughed when I read it then and I'm laughing now. That took guts to admit. But honestly, we're all guilty of that. Let me confess right here in black and white, I will never again underestimate the power of prayer, whether it's on the giving or receiving end of one. Some days I wonder if I'm stupid or naive or what because I have absolutely no fear of this trial and what it will bring. Then suddenly, I'm reminded by one of the many callers, letter writers, card senders, bloggers that I'm being prayed for and again, it all becomes clear. God is so awesome! I hope that you know him the way that I know him. I continue to think of all the people who received the same call that I did on that Wednesday afternoon; the ones who don't know him, or don't have friends who know him, or don't have a Church to worship him. My heart breaks for them because I feel like they're not going to battle with the same armor that I am. I have a unfair advantage.

I say all this because I want you to know that your battle is coming too, if you're not already in it. It may not be cancer, but like I've said all along, we all have a disease in us that is growing and will eventually take over unless we choose to have our own "ectomy." Whether it's depression, or addiction or hatred or jealousy or self-doubt, these all are diseases of the heart that will eventually rob us of our lives. In "The Noticer" Andy Andrews wrote a line that resonates with me still, "depression cannot enter a heart that is full of gratitude." Now that is a quote worth repeating. And a life worth living!

I'm rambling, but hopefully I'm connecting the dots. Know that I'm doing well and keeping the faith. How many people actually gain weight after they've been diagnosed with cancer? That should tell you something. I'm going back to Birmingham tomorrow (Thursday) for some simple tests that need to be done before my treatment can begin. If all goes well, I'll have my first chemo cocktail next Friday at Kirklin Clinic. I'll know more when I get back Friday and will report back to you all then. I know I didn't blog about my trip to B'ham last week, but boy howdy do they have giant brains up there. man. Ted and I listened to Kirby Bland (the MAN) and John Carpenter, my new best friend and Oncologist extraordinaire and about 8 other genius doctors off and on for about 5 hours. I understood all the pronouns and most of the adjectives they used, but found myself thinking, "Alex, I'd like to buy a vowel for two hundred....."
Clearly, these were the people who never skipped school to go to the covered bridge, or P.C. Beach or Lake Eufaula....or Jan Creel's house for that matter. Stay in school kids.

P.S. Have you ever googled "wigs?" there's like 2 millions sites. I'm likin' the Raquel Welch series. Who knew.....

My sweet sisters, Lexi and Karen, I promise I will call you back this weekend. It's been crazy.

Love to all,


Monday, October 5, 2009

Section A Page 8

My muse, Buck

Two years ago when we celebrated the opening of the Miracle Field, I was unexpectedly asked to say a few words. For those of you who know me, you'll agree that the words "few" and "words" don't go together. Overwhelmed with incredible joy, relief and pride, I took the podium and drew a complete blank. Suddenly, out of my mouth, came this pearl that I now know is my mantra...."For the first half of my adult life, I was busy filling my resume. For the last half, I'm going to fill my obituary." blahblahblahblah......

I remember when I read Jim Loftin, Sr.'s, obituary when he departed this earth for his crimson and white resting place in heaven. It made such an impression on me the lives that he had touched; the hundreds of people that he had mentored, the thousands of hours that he spent working to raise awareness and money for those who had little to none. And there wasn't enough ink at the Dothan Eagle to list all the people that he made smile with his memorable personality. Me included. In between all the many charities and organizations that he had volunteered for over the years, tucked in between the awards and public recognition, there was one line that referenced a career--a job (the one that paid for all those shoes and college educations for all those younguns.) I decided then, that I too wanted a great obituary. I want people to miss me when I'm gone the way we miss Big Jim Loftin.

Now don't think I'm going to get all sappy and gloomy on you. Quite the contrary. Let's just talk about the qualities of said obit:

An old, black and white photograph that all my high school friends will quickly recognize and reminisce

My actual age, minus about 5

No mention of my career

How many loads of laundry that I washed and boo boos that I healed

How many times I attended 3 sporting events, simultaneously, at 3 different ball fields...

That I taught my children not to use the words, "normal," "hate," and "can't"

That I was crazy in love with my husband

That I was an advocate for the underdog

That I helped raise money for breast cancer research and Down syndrome awareness

That I helped special needs children have rights to an exceptional education

That I had awesome parents who loved each other forever

That I loved growing up in a very small house with a very big family

That I cried every time I saw an American flag blowing in the wind

That I tutored children who couldn't read

That I worked at Miss Tina's kitchen on weekends feeding the homeless

That I was a God-fearing woman who didn't deserve His love

That mental illness made me sad

That I treated everyone the same

That I loved politics and hated politicians (sorry Mayor)

That I loved my children more than life

That even though Ted made the living, I made it worth living

That I surely went to heaven and hopefully took a lot of folks with me

And still, that David Johnston entertained the crowd with his rendition of "I Can Only Imagine" and "Amazing Grace."

The irony is we're all faced with our own mortality. Some of us just a little more than others. But this story isn't about dying, it's about living. It's about finding a purpose, something greater than ourselves to invest in. What is your passion? What injustice drives you crazy? Making a difference in the lives of others isn't reserved for the wealthy. Your time and commitment are equally as valuable as any personal check. One day, if it hair-lips Hitler, I'm going to accomplish the things on my obit list above. Because the rewards that we reap when helping others is far greater than the investment. Even if it's an encouraging word and a smile to a total stranger. Make someones day. It could be your last.



Leaving for B'ham Tuesday morning. Romantic dinner with my sweetheart and day of tests and doctors appointments Wednesday @ UAB. I'll update you all when we get home.