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.