Monday, November 9, 2009
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.
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
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?"
Me: "Raking what, sweetie?"
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?"
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?"
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.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
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.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
This blog thing is very time consuming. I'm used to just writing a few notes to teachers and some checks. Spilling your guts, though cathartic, takes a lot of energy, creativity and time. So if some days you don't hear from me, just know that I'm either tired, have no information, or I'm busy writing bad checks all over town.
Like any cancer patient who is about to start their fight against the beast, I decided it was time to take care of the important things; determining the childcare issues, paying the bills (see above) and finishing any time-sensitive family tasks. I prioritized my list and set out to accomplish the first--I got my teeth whitened! I figured, heck, if I'm gonna be bald, I'm at least gonna have pretty white teeth--and my friend Courtney agreed with me, in fact, she really talked me into it. She said it would be a nice distraction. Not to mention, my sweet husband Ted can't hardly say no to me these days. So now, after a little chemo and radiation, I just may glow in the dark!
Speaking of radiating, I went to my first breast cancer event last night at Calvary and heard Birmingham television personality Brenda Ladun talk about her two-time battle with cancer. I'm sure she gave a wonderful presentation, but honestly, the only word I heard her say up on that stage was "SURRENDER." After that, everything else sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. wawaaawaaawawaaawa. There it was, right in front of me. The solution to my problem: I'd not surrendered it all to God. I was talking the talk, but the walkin' part wasn't jiving. It was ok if God wanted me to have this cancer, but I wanted to take over at that point. A little power struggle was-a-brewin'. I've decided that He can have all the big stuff and I'll worry about sweeping up His crumbs. And I'm not even worthy of that!
Yesterday, I reread my last blog and boy, you could cut the anxiety with a butter knife. whew! The entry about the doctors and the coconut shells was perfectly descriptive of how I was feeling, (note to self: surrender) but low and behold if I didn't get an email from my sweet high school friend Traci Sprenger V. and she told me that God would be under all the shells, not just one!!!. duh. By telling me of her own experience, she reminded me that God doesn't operate that way and that he would never abandon me like that! So within an hour, I had received two incredible messages that not only put Satan back in his little red chair, but it re energized me to focus on my maker, not the taker. Boy, I feel better.
My doctors appt. went ok today. But I confirmed that my tumors are pretty darn big, so they are more than likely going to schedule chemo, heavy, heavy chemo before any surgery. I'm still in limbo--although my files, charts, etc., have all been rec'd by the docs at UAB, they can't see me any time real soon. So I'm making calls to PEOPLE WHO KNOW PEOPLE to pull any and all strings that I can. Kirby Bland is the man. To quote Norma Hanson, he's P.L.U. That's "People Like Us" for all of you outside the Houston County metro area. He's from Abbeville for gosh sakes.
I almost bought a blow dryer today. LOL
Surrender all people. Surrender all!
p.s. Dona Stickler and Courtney Mann are organizing a team for the Breast Cancer Awareness walk/run on October 10 here in Dothan. Please go to Dona's blog @ www.thestickler7.blogspot.com if you would like to participate.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Heck, I even saw a palm reader one time (forgive me Lord) in Sweet Water, Alabama. I was in the midst of a shaky relationship and I needed the skinny on my man. She was very nice, but not very intuitive. Why, she never even mentioned a "Ted" and was waaaaay off about that career thing. And no, she didn't wear a turban and a bunch of fake Sarah Coventry jewelry. I remember she had long red nails with "real" diamonds glued on the tips. I'd never seen that before. Or since.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that I'm the kind of person who NEEDS TO KNOW. And for what appears to be the most important, LET'S FACE IT, life or death decision I've ever made, I'm totally confused and feel as though I have no control. I feel like I'm playing the shell game on Let's Make A Deal. Monty Hall has three coconut halves and under each one is a doctor's name and his/her plan for my cure. Of the three, there's only one that's effective, the other two, not so much. Carole Merrill, who of course is in a pink chiffon dress, is trying to distract and confuse me. She's spinning the shells and pushing them in and out and around one another. She's talking really fast and Monty Hall is behind her giving me a counter-point to every point she makes. The game clock is ticking very loud and fast, but in order to get any prize, booby or otherwise, I have to pick one right now, right this minute !!! Crazy, yes I know. But consider the frame of mind of the author..... (why did the guests on that show wear costumes?)
I say all this to tell you that I'm not the grounded, gifted woman of faith that you think I am. I am a wayward, sinful Christian who is struggling with letting go of control. I have a very nice comfort zone from which I operate. This cancer thing is messing up my charts and to do lists you see. Yes, I believe this whole ordeal is an opportunity to glorify God, and I know that it is God and only God who will heal me. But let's not get carried away. I'D RATHER LIVE AS AN UNPUBLISHED AUTHOR THAN DIE A POPULAR BLOGGING MARTYR. Did that sound bad? The anxiety is creeping in just a tad, but through my exhaustion and self doubt God (and good friends) are reminding me of Paul's words in Philippians, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Paul was one cool cucumber. Why just before they chopped off his head he publicly reaffirmed his faith.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
this blog is the brainchild of my two great friends, Dona and Courtney. it just dawned on me that they are probably already tired of spreading my hourly and daily updates! and who can blame them? let's review the details to date:
1. knot under right arm--early summer (ignored it!)
2. lumpectomy on sept. 10--removed 2 lymph nodes
3. "the call" wednesday sept. 16 "Mrs. McClendon, it's not what we expected..."
4. breast mri--friday sept. 18
5. "the 2nd call" --monday sept. 21/a.m. "Mrs. McClendon, can you come in....?"
6. ultrasound, 2 needle biopsies(ouch) and mammogram--monday sept. 21/p.m.
7. 'the 3rd call" tuesday sept. 22/pm diagnosis--"Mrs. McClendon, do you have something to write with?"
WELL-DIFFERENTIATED INVASIVE DUCTAL CARCINOMA ASSOCIATED WITH SCLEROTIC BREAST STROMA. and....
WELL-DIFFERENTIATED INVASIVE DUCTAL CARCINOMA WITH EXTENSIVE INTERMEDIATE GRADE DUCTAL CARCINOMA IN-SITU.
well, you'd think with all that in my one boob that i'd atleast be a full C-cup. let me be living proof that flat-chested women can compete!
consider yourself up to date. but be confident and know that ted and i are prayerful and joyful about our options. there are some incredible people out there who have spent their entire lives studying nothing but the life-span of a mutated cell. who, unlike me, never skipped school.... God will surely put the right one in our path.
this blog is going to cover a broad range of subjects, some of which may interest you, others not so much. this blog will not have any delicious recipes, time-saving or otherwise; i'm pretty sure i won't show you any photos of my nasty house and i will most definitely not discuss fashion (you knew that though....) this blog is a public admission of my lazy and intermittent relationship with Almighty God and how his incredible Grace is going to love me unconditionally through this entire lousy ordeal. but i must confess right now and up front--i am keenly aware that this is God's battle, not mine, not the doctors, not ted's, not even my sweet daddy frank's. i'm praying only that God enlightens me with greater wisdom of his almighty power and then nourishes my soul with the contentment of an eternal perspective. so if that seems interesting enough to you, i'd love for you to take this journey with me.
i've already shared this with some of you, but i truly feel like God has tapped me on the shoulder to be in this very exclusive bible study that He is going to lead. for the next year, we're going to get deeper into His word, taking copious notes and memorizing text (yikes). i'll have some exams, a few field trips for good measure and maybe some pop quizzes to remind me who's really in charge....anyway, i woke up the morning after call number 1 (refer to #3 above) and told ted i felt like i needed to go shopping for school supplies. within the hour, 2 sweet friends brought to me spiral notebooks, beautiful journals and an inspirational book of prayer! now how awesome is that? can i get an amen from the girls in the balcony?!!
I have this incredible peace about this entire experience. (except for the part about who's gonna keep 4 kids while we're out.) God is awesome and i am truly blessed to be one of his children. He will walk with me through this ordeal and hopefully be proud of me on the other side of it.
"For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.' " Isaiah 41:13
Thanks for listening
Oh yea, I had a clear mammogram on May 8, 2009.
Courtney and I will be updating when our sweet friend cannot. Dona Stickler