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,