Saturday, April 30, 2016

Step into my world

It's been a while since I've written an honest, open, and raw post about how things are going in my life so I decided today would be a good day to do just that. I know reading my posts on grand spiritual insights can get tedious and sometimes boring if the reader isn't quite in the mood for such heavy fodder, but don't worry, today will be light and airy.

It's the end of April and soon, I'll be celebrating 2 years of being in remission. (July 9th is my actual "cancerversary") It's hard to believe 2 years have passed by so quickly. Although I say they've passed quickly, some days felt like they'd never end. It's been pretty hard to look at my calendar and see an average of 1-3 doctors appointments scheduled every single month. Some months there are more but never less than 1. Sometimes I feel like a bug under glass...a science experiment gone terribly wrong. But I'm thankful for attentive doctors and though the appointments get tiresome, at least I know my medical team is keeping a close eye on me just in case something unique pops up. Everything I've read about breast cancer lets me know this process will continue until after I've reached the 5 year mark and then, although things might slow down a bit, I'll be under close scrutiny for the rest of my life. It's just a fact I have to learn to live with and that's a small price to pay for being alive.

Summer is sneaking in stealthily and with the Georgia heat intensifying, I'm finding it more difficult to stay cool. At home, I usually stay indoors enjoying the air conditioning but when I go out, with my prostheses and my compression sleeves on, I'm hot! I'm so hot I feel like I just want to strip naked and throw modesty out the window. I'm dreading going back for Lymphedema treatments. Next week, I'll start back with regular visits to the therapist. I'm hoping she won't do the wrapping like she did last time. Wrapping is worse than just wearing the compression sleeves. At least with the sleeves, I can pull them down or take them off whenever I need some relief but when I'm wrapped, I have to leave the wrapping on for a long time and it's so uncomfortable. Let me walk you through the process so you can understand a little better. I'll drive to the hospital and go into the physical therapy clinic. I'll meet with the CLT (the Certified Lymphedema Therapist) and she'll take me back to a dimly lit room. She'll ask me to lie down on a table and she'll put on some soft music...yes, sounds a little freaky, doesn't it? She'll begin to slowly massage each arm and my upper body. It takes about an hour to complete the therapy session and when she's done, she'll have me sit up on the side of the table. She'll raise the lights a bit and take some rolled cotton out of a box. She'll start wrapping my arms, one at a time, like a mummy. After she's got each arm wrapped securely with the cotton, she'll go back and apply an ACE bandage over the top of each arm and fasten it with a little metal fastener near my wrists. After I'm "mummified," I'll get dressed and leave the office. It will be difficult to drive home like this but I'll manage somehow. I'll pray all the way home that I don't get stopped for a traffic violation because I don't want anyone to see me this way and I surely wouldn't know how to explain it fast enough for them to understand. The therapy sessions usually start out with 5 sessions a week and then taper down to 3. I have no idea how many weeks I'll be going this time but I do know I have to go until my insurance approves the recirculating compression pump system my oncologist ordered for me. When they approve that, I'll be able to have treatment at home and there will be no more wrapping!

I continue to take all of my natural supplements to stay alive. This morning, I was looking at the bottles of everything I take and I wondered how my poor liver has been able to keep up. I'm thankful I did a liver detox last week and I think it helped tremendously. I've made a mental note to continue doing that on a monthly basis. Would you like to know what I take daily? Here goes:
Matcha green tea
Chlorophyll
Ashwagandha
Turmeric
Vitamin D2
Vitamin C
Potassium
Magnesium
Biotin
Coconut Oil
Fish Oil
Flax seed
In addition to all the natural supplements I'm taking, I'm also trying to eat tons of organic fruits and veggies. I try, but don't always, manage to get in an hour a day of walking. Some days I just don't feel like it so I don't. With all the housework I do around here, I'm sure I get enough physical activity to counter balance scheduled walking.

It seems my house has become a gathering place for extended family lately and it's been nice to have lots of company. Many of my days are spent alone for the majority of the day.  It's been nice to enjoy some pleasant conversation and visiting with loved ones.

Hubby and I are still trying to figure out when or if we'll be able to take a vacation this year. It depends on how I'm doing physically and whether or not we have enough money to get away. Medical bills continue to pile up and seem to be never ending. It's frustrating! We try to plan little mini trips around town so we don't always feel like we're depriving ourselves of doing anything fun. A week long vacation to the beach would be better than any medication the doctor could order. The ocean always refreshes and revives me. It's been calling my name for weeks now....

I continue to write for the breast cancer magazine. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and it's really nice to be paid for my work! I also continue to review books for several Christian publishing companies. In exchange for my reviews, I receive free books. It's a win win situation for both of us. And then there's always my blog...my creative outlet...my place to vent and share my deepest thoughts. It's helped me process my thoughts and manage to stay sane. And that's the most recent update from my world. Things are going well and I'm thankful for that. Hopefully things will continue to run smoothly for the rest of the Summer. I like having no drama in my life. It's been great to be able to function without stress. Shouldn't everyone enjoy a life without stress? I think stress is one of the main causes of health problems in America today and it more than likely contributes to all the cases of cancer we're seeing on a daily basis.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and most of all, I wish you peace and God's best blessings. Rest. Relax. Take time for yourself. Let love be your guide. Life is short. Don't waste a single minute.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved



Friday, April 29, 2016

Sweaty boobs and swollen arms

Summer is a challenging month for many women. We don't like sweat. It's unattractive and bothersome. We don't enjoy having to reapply our makeup or wear ultra strength deodorant to keep ourselves looking and smelling pleasant. But add to those minor inconveniences the challenges of having to wear silicone prostheses and compression sleeves for Lymphedema and you get some pretty hot ladies! No, I'm not talking about hot as in extremely good looking...I'm talking about hot as in lots of heat, as in who turned up the thermostat to 120 degrees?! The excessive heat of Summer is instantly compounded by having to wear these medically necessary items. So what's a girl to do?

My first Summer after having bilateral mastectomies, I went without prostheses. My scars were still pretty raw and I didn't like to have anything rubbing against my skin. I found cotton tank tops provided just enough coverage while at the same time kept me cool and dry. It wasn't a problem to wear those around home but when I wanted to go out to dinner or visit friends, I needed to dress more appropriately and that meant wearing my prostheses.

When I went for my first fitting, the breast specialist spent a lot of time with me. I tried on several different styles of prostheses and was amazed at the different types available. My fitter brought in a flesh colored pair of breast forms with a clear backing. She explained they were a new model. The clear gel diamond backing was specially formulated to help keep my skin cool. I hadn't given a single thought to the prostheses and how they would feel against my skin. I naturally assumed, since they were silicone, they'd be cool but that was not the case. Even inside the mastectomy bra, the regular prostheses picked up my body heat. Discovering the difference between the normal silicone prostheses and the newer cool gel backed ones made my choice an easy one. But even on a hot Georgia day, rivers of sweat trickle down my chest when I wear my prostheses. The cool gel backing helps but doesn't make Summer easy. I don't like having sweaty boobs so 9 times out of 10, I don't wear my prostheses. It's just a lot more comfortable not to wear them and a whole lot cooler, too. Silicone prostheses aren't the only challenge contributing to a miserable Summer. Lymphedema also brings its own set of issues. 

One of the major long term complications after lymph node removal is Lymphedema, an uncomfortable swelling in the arms. With the disruption of the normal lymphatic flow, the lymphatic fluid often collects in the extremities and causes painful swelling. At the time of my bilateral mastectomy, I had lymph nodes in both arms removed and found out months later that I was the lucky recipient of not only one arm with Lymphedema, but two. At first, the swelling was pretty manageable with elevation and manual lymphatic drainage performed by a certified Lymphedema Massage Therapist but, as the warm Summer months began, the swelling increased. My breast surgeon recommended compression sleeves and gauntlets to help keep the swelling down. Every morning, I donned my cool gel prostheses and my compression sleeves. I felt like I was putting on battle gear. As long as I was inside with air conditioning it was bearable but outside, in the heat, it was a different story. So what to do? I had to wear the sleeves and gauntlets. If I didn't, the swelling would become unmanageable. The Lymphedema sleeves I had been prescribed were made of a very tight Spandex® type material. They were not breathable and trapped my body heat inside them. I knew I couldn't go through the entire Summer with sweaty boobs and swollen arms or I'd swelter, so I got online and did some research. I found a website called LympheDIVAS. They sell arm sleeves with a new type of technology called Coolmax®. It allows the sleeves to wick away moisture from the skin by helping it evaporate and cool down faster. I was so happy to have found a solution to my problem! Now, I could keep my chest and arms cool but I still had one more problem to deal with in order to stay cool for the Summer. 

Lymphedema caused my arms to swell so much that I couldn't wear normal sized blouses or tops. The sleeves were not big enough to hold my massive arms. Even with the compression sleeves, my upper arms were massive. If I bought shirts in a larger size, I might be able to find one that fit in the arm area but I'd just look sloppy and unkempt everywhere else. While most women enjoy the comfort of wearing sleeveless or short sleeved tops in the Summer, I liked to stay as covered as possible to hide my swollen arms and fake boobs. Trying to do both of these presented a challenge. There weren't many choices available in fashionable women's apparel. There weren't blouses that provided adequate coverage and cool comfort at the same time. Once again, I had to do some research. I began strictly searching for Lymphedema apparel. It seemed there weren't many choices for those who suffer upper arm Lymphedema. I couldn't find a single site dedicated to clothing for women with upper arm swelling. Of course, there were Dolman sleeves, cap sleeves, butterfly sleeves, Caftan type shirts...but all of these were not currently in style. Most of those styles were popular in the 70's. So how can women who suffer from Lymphedema today dress stylishly and still meet their needs to wear non-restrictive clothing? Unless you are a seamstress or know someone who is, you'll have to compromise and accept one of the types of blouses with the sleeves I previously mentioned. By visiting a website like Shopstyle and searching for a loose, flowing type blouse you'll probably find something to suit your needs. Maybe a local retail store offers other types of shirts to camouflage the swelling Lymphedema creates. Perhaps in the future, clothing manufacturers will realize there is a huge market for clothing geared specifically toward those who suffer from upper arm Lymphedema. I certainly hope so because it would help make hot days much more pleasant and help folks like me remain cool, calm and collected instead of having to focus on sweaty boobs and swollen arms. 

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The easiest way to lose weight

Today I had to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor...well, I don't really hate going to the doctor, I hate going to see the doctor and having to get on the scale. I hate that they have the scale right out in the open in a hallway where anyone who passes by can see what you weigh. For me, that's scary. I want to keep my weight private. Shouldn't there be a HIPAA law or something to protect me from having my weight scrutinized by prying eyes? Surely there should be. Anyway, as much as I hated going to see the doctor today, I went. This was a follow up visit for an esophageoendoscopy I'd had done recently. I already had the results so I didn't really understand why it was necessary for me to go in for an office visit, but I'm compliant, so off I went.

I arrived at the gastroenterologist's office about fifteen minutes early. I'm always early. I like to have a few minutes to just sit in the waiting room and chill out before my appointment. For some reason, I get white coat syndrome...you know, where you're heart rate speeds up and you feel panic and you want to run?! Well, I sat in the waiting room listening to the receptionist giving out social security numbers and other private information over the phone to an insurance company. I was checking Facebook on my Iphone so I was half listening and half not. If I'd wanted to steal someone's identity, I could have done it easily. I wanted to chide the receptionist for being so careless about sharing very valuable personal information within earshot of those in the waiting room, but I did not. I used to work for a doctor's office. I knew it was not standard procedure for something like this to be done. That receptionist was going to find out from some irate patient, at some point in her career, that she wasn't being very professional and rightly so. A few minutes passed and I was being called back.

A heavy set nurse took me right to the scale. I don't usually mind getting up on the scale if the nurse is larger than I am so I stepped right up. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no office staff were peering at the number on the scale. Thankfully, no one was in the hallway but the nurse and I. She didn't even tell me what I weighed and I hadn't been able to see it. (Earlier today, I'd taken my glasses off and put my sunglasses on as I was driving. The sun was so bright I could barely see without them. I have artificial lenses in both eyes and they're for distance so I only have to wear my glasses for seeing things up close.) I wished I'd had them on. I wondered what the scale had said. The nurse took me back to the exam room and began asking the normal questions. I gave her all the answers and she said the doctor would be in shortly.

I didn't have to wait but a couple of minutes before the doctor came in with his scribe. The scribe sat down at the computer and as the doctor asked questions, she typed away. Dr. R asked me if I was still having issues with not being hungry. I told him yes. He said, "Don't you ever have an appetite?" I answered, "No. I really don't. I just eat when it's meal time because I know I'm supposed to eat then." He looked at my chart and said, "Well, the last time I saw you for an office visit was about 4 months ago. You weigh the same today as you did then." Hmmm...I wondered if that was accurate. I knew what my home scale said this morning before getting dressed. I asked him what the scale showed today and he told me. "HA!," I almost shouted. He looked at me stunned. I said, "I know why there's no weight loss showing." As I finished my last word in that sentence, I reached inside my shirt and whipped off my bra with my prostheses still in it. I held it up with sheer delight and waved it slightly back and forth. "Here's the five pound loss that should have appeared on your office scale today. I forgot to take them off before coming in to see you." The doctor turned a bright shade of red and his scribe had a look of shock on her face. I sat there and laughed because I thought it was so funny. The doctor took a few minutes before he commented and then said, "Well, Mrs. Annis, I guess you can lose weight whenever you choose, can't you?" I smiled and wanted to tell him, "Damn, Skippy!," but I didn't. I just shook my head and grinned.

I'm finding myself getting a little more brazen in my old age and it's kind of scary. It's also kind of fun. I'm liking the element of surprise and how I can use my fake boobs to make medical professionals think about breast cancer when they least expect it. Maybe the next time a patient steps up to the scale, the nurse should ask, like they do in the customs offices, if the patient has anything to declare. It would be funny to see how many prostheses come off before the weigh in. Can you just imagine a pile of limbs or breasts stacked in the corner while patients are being weighed? I bet that would prompt them to move their scale into a small room instead of keeping it out in the open in a hallway. There needs to be some standard of privacy and respect for folks with artificial pieces and parts. HIPAA needs to get on board and revise their policies but I bet no one's ever considered something as silly as this, except maybe me...of course.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Medically unnecessary

Medically unnecessary. Those were the words printed in large letters across a document of denial I'd recently received from my insurance company. My oncologist had ordered a new type of recirculating compression pump to alleviate the extreme swelling in my upper extremities. This condition, called Lymphedema, had occurred shortly after I'd been through surgery to remove both of my breasts and several lymph nodes in each arm. As I read the letter, I became very upset. As I re-read the letter, I became angry. How dare these insurance company agents determine what is and what is not necessary for my health? Shouldn't my oncologist be more educated in matters pertaining to breast cancer and the side effects? I certainly thought so. Toward the end of the letter, after the insurance company had supplied their standard explanation for the denial, were instructions on how to submit an appeal. Finally, a ray of hope! I was definitely going to do that, but first, I had to contact my oncologist and prepare for battle.

The insurance letter stated I had "not exhausted all means to reduce the swelling." They said I "had not tried other methods available" and I had not "tried exercise, massage, raising the affected part, or elastic bandages and garments." They said they "didn't see where other treatments were tried and didn't work for you." Boy, did I have some information coming their way as I prepared to submit my appeal. I read on and the letter of denial said, "This decision doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't receive this service. Only you and your health care providers can decide whether you need it. But, this decision means that if you do receive the service, it won't be covered by your plan." We'll see about that, I thought to myself. The insurance company had no idea what I'd been through over the past year and a half and how I'd tried so many things to treat this uncomfortable condition.

I made a call to my oncologist's office and left a message for my doctor. I told him about the denial letter and asked if he'd be willing to submit more documentation to substantiate the medical need for the equipment he'd ordered for me. His assistant assured me she'd get the message to him and there would be no problem in him providing whatever the insurance company needed to appeal the claim. I was thankful to have that assurance tucked safely in my arsenal.

After speaking with my oncologist and giving him a "heads up" about the denial from the insurance company, I contacted the company that manufactures the recirculating compression pump. I talked with a representative there and told her about the denial letter I'd received and asked what I needed to do to provide them with more information as they had agreed to also submit a request for review and reconsideration. The representative suggested I take photographs of the swelling and submit those along with a handwritten, personal testimony of how Lymphedema has impacted my life. Her suggestions seemed like very valid ways to present my case. I thanked her and agreed to copy her on my letter. I had no idea how to write an appeal letter to an insurance company. I didn't know what they needed to change their minds about whether the equipment was medically necessary, but I was going to give it my best shot.

As I waited for my computer to boot up, I gathered my medical notebook where I'd kept a record of each and every lab result, test, surgery or medication since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The notebook had started out completely empty and now was almost 3 inches thick with medical records. I flipped through the notebook marking pertinent information with sticky notes so I could refer back to them easily as I prepared my letter. I opened a blank document in my word processor and began to write my letter. I was surprised at how easily the words came to me. I decided not to fill the letter with medical jargon, although I knew that was something the insurance company would easily understand, instead I decided to write the letter so they'd feel my heart...that they'd understand I was a real person with valid health issues. I wanted them to know what it felt like to wake up first thing every morning with arms so swollen and painful that it was difficult to get out of bed. I wrote about not only the physical limitations Lymphedema imposed on my life, but also about the pain and humiliation that went along with it. I explained the swelling has increased the girth of my upper arms so much that I have great difficulty finding shirts and blouses that I can even get my arms into the sleeves. I wanted them to understand the swelling gets worse as the day goes on and often, by midday, I have to sit with my arms elevated for a hour or so, because they are so swollen and sore, before I can continue my normal household duties. I followed the representative's advice and listed every single treatment I'd tried to combat the Lymphedema. I put dates and locations. I even took my cell phone and snapped photos of my bare chest and upper arms so the insurance agents could see what I was trying to explain. My letter, by the time I'd completed it, was three pages long. I felt like I'd done my best to provide adequate information for reconsideration of my claim.

It's so frustrating to have to defend myself to the insurance company. We pay our insurance premiums on time every single month and have for over 35 years. Why is it, that when they decide they don't want to pay out a large sum of money for a fairly new medical treatment, the claim is instantly denied? I wonder if most cancer patients who receive a denial take the time to fight back or if they just accept defeat and end up paying for whatever they need out of pocket. It seems a very unfair injustice is done to those of us who have already been through the trenches of war in a battle we never chose for ourselves and then, to have to fight for what insurance companies deem medically unnecessary. It just doesn't make sense.

Yes, I understand the insurance companies want to find ways to hold on to their money and avoid paying unnecessary or unsubstantiated claims, but good grief, don't they think an oncologist is the best one to decide their patient needs? All that medical schooling to specialize in the field of diagnosing and treating cancer must give them a whole lot more expertise than a few board members sitting around a table at an insurance review board, don't you think? I sure do and I would advise any patient to stand up and fight for their rights. The letter said, in big bold letters, "You have the right to file an appeal." And that's just what I did. Now I have to wait and see what happens next. I'm praying the documentation I provided will be enough and even if mine isn't quite what they need, perhaps my doctors' information will cause a reversal of the denial of the claim. Medically unnecessary...I wonder how those insurance agents would feel if they received that same type of denial letter when seeking treatment for one of their loved ones? I bet they'd seek an appeal, too.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Feeling normal

Oh, it feels so good to have a normal day, just a normal day. Nothing spectacular happened today. My husband was off work and so we decided to go visit some local gardens so I could take photos. We visited two and they were both closed today. We'll go again tomorrow when they're open. By the time we left the second garden, it was time for lunch so we headed to a local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a normal lunch with normal conversation. It felt so good. When we were finished, Hubs asked me what I wanted to do next, I didn't have a clue so we just started driving.

We came across an antique store in a neighboring town and I asked if we could stop in to look. I hadn't been antiquing for a long, long time and I really do enjoy looking at things of the past. He said, "Sure." We went inside and he let me look in every single booth without complaining once. He was so sweet! He even let me buy a couple of things I fell in love with. As we were getting ready to leave the store, we heard a loud crash as someone's exhibit fell to the floor. Glass shattered and the owners went running to see what had happened. My Hubby walked over to see what the commotion was about and the ladies explained to him what happened. I gathered my things and we went to the register. We paid for our items and headed out.

On the way home, I asked if we could stop by for an ice cream. I thought it would be the perfect end to our perfectly normal day. Once again, he said yes. We stopped at the Dairy Queen and looked at the menu board at the drive thru. He asked what I wanted and I just told him a dipped cone would be fine with me. I didn't want anything fancy, just normal...a cone is about as normal as you can get where ice cream is concerned, even though their "ice cream" isn't really ice cream. He opted for a strawberry sundae and we left with smiles on our faces as the cold treat slid down our throats.

When we got home, we unloaded the car and came inside. I threw a load of clothes in the washer and he started working on his jigsaw puzzle. We were just doing our normal routine...normal!

NORMAL! normal feels so good to me right now and I'm so thankful for it. It's been so long since I've been able to feel normal and do normal things. I guess when my days were normal, before all this cancer hullabaloo, I took my normal days for granted but I won't do that ever again. Normal is good and normal feels so right. I like normal.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Monday, April 11, 2016

Ashamed of myself

It's late at night and I've been thinking. I'm dangerous when I think, especially when I think about things that are hiding in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind. I hide things there...things I haven't processed yet, things that hurt me deeply, things I'd rather not think about and to make matters worse, I had been holding onto something I shouldn't have. I should have let.it.go. but I couldn't. It was too painful and I needed to keep my ammo just in case I ever needed it again, or so I thought.

When the terrible awful occurred, my heart was shattered in a million pieces. I could barely believe the person I loved so deeply could wound me in such an offensive way. Though undeniably guilty, my loved one had finally admitted fault, had even asked forgiveness and I, in my piousness, sat high upon my throne of self righteousness and stared smugly with arms crossed and nose tilted high in the air. How dare this one dare ask forgiveness when such a grievous crime had been committed?

Tonight, as I was looking through my photo gallery on my cell phone, I saw it...the evidence I'd captured and that's when I heard His voice say, "You must delete this, Bonnie. How can you hold on to unforgiveness when I have forgiven you completely of all your sin?" I sat quietly for a few minutes mulling over the voice I'd heard in my heart. I knew what I had to do. Immediately, I flipped back through my photos and found THE ONE, the incriminating evidence of the crime committed against me. I'd held it for weeks wondering when and if I was ever going to need to throw it up in the face of the one who had mortified and humiliated me and now, God was saying LET.IT.GO. My finger hovered over the photo and I felt tears welling up inside me. I wanted to forgive and forget, really I did, but why was it so hard? I heard Satan whisper in my ear, "Don't do it! If you delete that photo, your proof is gone. If you need it again, you can never prove it really happened." And before that sentence was finished, I knew exactly what I had to do and I did it. I hit delete. Instantly, I felt empowered but not as one who was victorious. I felt the power of the freedom to choose forgiveness. I had chosen to follow the Holy Spirit's leading. I had chosen to forgive and that was more powerful than I could have imagined. I knew God was pleased with me. I felt it in my heart. I was so ashamed of myself for holding onto this for so long. I should have released it weeks ago, in fact, I should have released it immediately when the loved one showed remorse for the wrong, but I did not.

How very easy it is for us to set ourselves up on thrones of judgment. We look at others and consider ourselves infallible and incapable of such a heinous crime. We build our thrones in high towers with fortified walls to protect them, but sin is like a termite nibbling away at the foundation. If we don't correct it at the moment of discovery, the damage compounds daily until the walls of our high towers start crumbling around us. We realize we are fallible. We realize we are judgmental. We realize we are capable of unforgiveness. We realize the ugliness inside of us. We realize the terrible awful crime that was committed against us wasn't really so bad after all because we are all sinners. There are no degrees to sin. Lying is just as bad as adultery in God's eyes...sin is sin and it's ugly and terrible and awful. But thank goodness for the conviction of the Holy Spirit. He comes to help us know right from wrong. He guides us in doing what is holy and righteous and Christlike. And if we listen to that still, small voice inside us, we know what we need to do and we know when we need to do it and being obedient makes God extremely happy because in so doing, we learn to follow after His heart. We learn to love in the way God intends us to love. We learn to forgive even when we don't want to because we know it's the right thing to do. We learn to let things go.

I feel so much lighter now knowing I did what God wanted me to do. I am happy that photo is no longer recorded on my cell phone. I won't ever be tempted to pull that picture up and refer to it again, to hurt, to wound, to condemn...I am not powerful. I do not have that right. Only God has the right to convict a person's heart and He does it in such a way that He shows love and gentle discipline. I'm so thankful I didn't listen to Satan's lies and keep the incriminating evidence. He must have slithered away when I didn't fall prey to his promptings. Now I can go to bed with a clear conscience. Those thoughts I hadn't wanted to deal with are no longer stored in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.  And tomorrow, what joy I'll have as I face my loved one with no more judgment, no more anger, no more hurt, and no more pain. I will be free and so will he because I have released him from my grip of unforgiveness.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Into the woods


Beautiful green ferns
Sunday afternoon was supposed to be a fishing trip for my husband, one of my daughters and her boyfriend. We'd planned it and were looking forward to it but things didn't go as planned. Things shifted and what would have been a relaxing day on the water, turned out to be a blessing in the woods.

Wood Violets
We drove to a nearby state park and stopped by the visitor's center to get a park map then drove straight to the day use area which butted right up to the Chattahoochee River. It was crowded but we wanted to make the best of the day and unloaded the gear and headed toward the lake. After a few minutes, on the bank of the river, we realized this wasn't going to be a good spot. It was much too noisy. We decided to head toward a beaver pond nearby but first we needed to stop for a potty break. As we were heading toward the pond, my daughter said she'd like to try geocaching. We'd picked up a map from the park service. Everyone agreed. We were in no hurry to do anything. It was a lazy, Sunday afternoon and we had plenty of time. With map in hand, we drove to the top of a trail head and began to follow the map to the first cache near that area.
A fern unfurls

Native Azalea
We were all surprised to find that none of our cell phones had service. It's hard to find a cache without GPS coordinates, so we had to use the map and do the best we could. We started off down an old forest service road and then veered off toward the woods. Up a hill and through the brush we went. None of had any water with us. We hadn't planned to be out for any length of time on this hunt so we didn't think we needed it. Only one of us had on hiking boots...my daughter's boyfriend. He's an avid hunter and keeps his boots with him most of the time. The woodland floor was deep in fallen and crushed dry leaves. All I could think as we ducked under limbs and over logs is please Lord, don't any of us step on a snake. The weather had warmed up and I knew they were out. I certainly didn't want us to have a medical emergency deep in the woods with no phone service! We continued our trek in hopes of finding the geocache but never could find it. We did run across a Georgia Orienteering club cache but that was for a training exercise they were doing and we didn't want to disturb it. As we walked on, we began to see what looked like a trail and then we began to see blue blazes on the trees. We glanced at the park map and sure enough, we were on one of their marked trails. It was good to be out of the thick undergrowth and away from the perfect camouflaged material for copperheads and rattlers.

Beautiful foliage
The trail started out nice and easy. It was open and smooth. We had no idea where would take us but we were in no hurry. The air was crisp, the sun was out and we were in the mood for adventure. One behind the other, we continued on the trail. It meandered deeper and deeper into the woods and soon, we found ourselves in what my daughter's boyfriend called "perfect hunting territory." All around us were canopies of Oak, Pine, and Maple trees. The glorious green was so beautiful against the contrast of the deep blue sky. All along the path were tiny dots of color. Wildflowers in various shades of whites, pinks, lavenders, and yellows were everywhere. I was so thankful I'd thought to grab my 35mm camera before we started out. My husband and I sauntered along the trail so I could take photos of the various plant life while the younger ones in our group forged ahead. We forded a few small creeks and traveled through mushy, marshy areas but I didn't mind one bit. I was just so happy to outside in the forest. When I'm in the woods, I don't think about anything except the blessing of God's beauty. I don't worry. I don't ruminate. I don't really think about anything other than seeing what I can see. I love to look for interesting plants or animals and when I find something unique, I photograph it. It doesn't take much to make me happy! We continued on for a few more miles and as we were walking, I listened intently. The sounds of the forest were so pleasant and peaceful. A gentle wind was blowing through the tree tops. I could hear the soft call of Chickadees and Mockingbirds. Every now and then a small rustle rumbled through the leaves and I tried to catch a glimpse of the small animal making the noise. Chipmunks and squirrels scurried up tree trunks. The woods were alive with movement but they were filled with peace. I stood at the base of a large hill and stared out at the wonderment before me. At any moment I expected a deer to bound across the path in front of me but we didn't see a single deer while hiking. I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen a black bear. We were so deep in the woods. Bear were indigenous to that area. Thankfully, we didn't see one. As I kept on walking, I started praying and thanking God for allowing me to have the strength to hike.

Blossoms were everywhere
The trail twisted and began to take a sharp curve upward. At one point, I could see a road and I knew we must be coming to the end of the blue blazed trail we were on. As the trail inclined, I began to struggle a little to breathe. While I was going through radiation for my breast cancer, part of my right lung was damaged. Anytime I exert myself physically, I can tell I'm not being able to get enough air into my lungs and I have to slow down. I've learned my physical boundaries and although I don't like them, I have to listen to my body. I stopped at the midpoint of the large hill and rested. While I was standing there, I noticed a cluster of beautiful pink native azaleas off to the left. I grabbed my camera and took the shot. Since our hike was almost over, I wanted to make sure I captured as many plants as possible. We were getting thirsty as the trail came to an end. We were also very hungry! An opening ahead of us led us to the park visitor's center. We were thankful to see it and know that restrooms were just about 50 yards away.
Lovely flowering shrub

The youngun's offered to go get the car. It was another mile up the road and they knew our strength was waning. We'd just hiked about 4 or 5 miles and we were tired. We agreed to let them keep on walking and we headed for the visitor center steps. After using the facilities, we enjoyed an ice cold soda and a comfy seat in their big porch rocking chairs. It was so pleasant sitting on that big porch and resting. When the kids got back with the car, we drove into town to find a good place to eat. We'd put in a good day of exercise and needed to refuel.

As we left the park, my heart skipped a beat. I didn't want to leave even though I was tired and hungry. I wished I could have stayed in the woods forever. The sacred quiet ministered to my soul and I was so very grateful. What a great medicine for an ailing spirit. If only they could bottle and sell that type of peace for those struggling with the daily stresses of life, but I'm thankful they don't. If they did, there would be no need to have trees and woods around and I couldn't live without them.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Busy living - enjoying the mundane

This blog post will be a lot different from most of my other posts. There won't be any insightful spiritual message or sage advice. There will be a lot of the ordinary everyday events...ones most people call mundane, but to me, it is evidence of my getting busy living. If you read yesterday's post, you'll understand what I'm talking about. If you didn't, you can read it here.

This morning, I woke up at 8:00 a.m. to the sounds of a Summer's eve compliments of our sound machine we keep on our bedside table. (It's funny, we haven't used it since we've had it, but yesterday, after talking to my oldest daughter about my issues with insomnia and hearing the peaceful and constant tapping of her off kilter ceiling fan, I decided last night to give it a try. There were lots of settings to choose from and I sampled each one before deciding on the Summer's eve one. There was an Ocean settings, Thunderstorm, Rain Forest, etc.) I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. I'd slept well, thanks to a prescription my oncologist had given me to help with my sleeplessness. I was so thankful! I've needed a good night's sleep for a while and finally, I felt rested. I got up and made my bed then went into the kitchen to have something for breakfast.

Looking in the fridge, I didn't see anything I really wanted to eat so I opted for an Asian pear and a square of Colby cheese. I sat at the kitchen table and began to read my Bible. The verse I landed on was about not worrying about tomorrow. How appropriate, I thought to myself. After breakfast, I went back through my room into my walk in closet. I grabbed some clothes and got dressed. Next, I began putting on my makeup. My cell phone rang and it was my oldest daughter. She touches base with me several times a day and I'm so thankful for those long distance calls. While on the phone with my oldest daughter, my youngest daughter shoots me a text. She wants to color her hair again and wants to know when it's okay to do it. She's asking because she wants ME to do it. (I cut and color her hair regularly.) I give her advice and we end our messaging as her company begins their Friday employee meeting. I continued talking with my oldest girl. We talk about thirty minutes and by the time we were done talking, I'd fixed my face, got in the garage and gotten my electric blower, and was outside blowing pollen off the walkway. I was so glad to have the energy to do everything I was doing. There have been so many days lately that I haven't been as blessed.

When I took the blower back to the garage to put it away, I saw the picture frames I'd picked up last week at Goodwill for next to nothing. When I bought them, I had a project in mind. I lay cardboard down on the concrete floor and lined up the frames. I'd already taken the glass and mats out of the frames earlier so they were ready to paint. I picked up the Rustoleum Spray Paint/Primer combo and gave them all a light dusting of paint. The smell of the paint was strong...silly me! I forgot to open the garage door. I left the frames to dry and came back inside. I had some clothes to wash so I grabbed those and threw them in the washer. As the clothes were washing, I went outside to fill my bird feeder.

As soon as I opened the door, a squirrel look right at me with guilt in his eyes! He'd been caught! He was on the feeder enjoying those plentiful black oiled sunflower seeds. I clapped my hands loudly and scared him off. The squirrels irritate me because they hog the feeder and the birds can't get their food. I needed to figure out a way to keep those guys off my feeder. That's when I had an idea. I have several wrought iron shepherd's hooks in my yard. They all vary in height and I use them to hold wind chimes, suet feeders, and decorative items. The hook the bird feeder was on was pretty short but I had a double hook in the backyard that was much taller. I decided to switch them and hopefully remedy my problem. The hooks were set deep in the ground so they took some pulling to get them out. I don't have as much upper arm strength as I used to have since my surgery so I struggled a few minutes with them before getting them out of the ground. I pulled up the two from the front yard and took them to the side yard and reset them. Then I went around the back and got the tall double hooked one and brought it around front. I rehung the feeder and then, for extra measure, I went inside and got my can of spray cooking oil. I doused the upright post of the hook just in case any pesky squirrels thought they might like to climb up the hook and get to the feeder. I smiled as I thought of a squirrel sliding down the greased pole. It doesn't take much to make me happy!

Back inside again, the clothes were ready to go into the dryer. After I'd completed that task, I went into the kitchen to put away the dishes from the dishwasher. I always run my dishwasher after we go to bed so I can wake up to a clean sink and freshly cleaned dishes. As I was putting away the dishes, I looked out toward the back patio. I noticed my hen and chicks (succulents) were overflowing their pot and needed to be divided. Back to the garage for the cactus potting mix and a pot to plant the babies in. I went outside and noticed the sky was a beautiful shade of deep blue. The green on the trees was brilliant. What a gorgeous Spring day! I broke off the separated the babies from their mothers and potted them into their new home. Soon the little babies would be  mothers and have babies of their own. Hens and Chicks multiply so rapidly and I was looking forward to being able to give some of them away.

On the bar, I saw a list of things I had written down yesterday. I had so many things I wanted to do. I began going through the list and crossing off the things I'd already accomplished and began working on the things I hadn't. I didn't want to overdo it by taking on too many tasks because I knew I'd suffer for it later, but I did find several other things I wanted to do.

I went into my office and flipped on my computer. There were several book reviews I needed to turn in. (I write book reviews for several Christian companies. They provide me with free books and in exchange, I give them an honest, detailed review for their website and their readers. It's a pretty sweet deal. It also keeps me on my toes and helps me keep my writing skills sharp.) After writing those reviews, I began working on an article for the cancer magazine. (I'm a contributing editor and enjoy getting paid for my work with them.) When I finished that article, I looked at the clock. It was almost 2:00 p.m. I thought I had better eat something for lunch even though I wasn't really hungry.

Back to the kitchen, I grabbed some leftover pizza from last night and popped it into the microwave. I heard my cell phone ding indicating I had a Facebook message. I looked to see who it was from and it was from a friend I used to babysit. She was having a rough day and was pretty depressed. The microwave beeped and I took my pizza out and sat down to eat at the bar because my cell phone was charging and the cord wasn't long enough to reach the table. As I ate, I messaged my friend back and tried to cheer her up. We sent several messages back and forth and I tried to offer advice to help her. It was evident she wasn't really seeking advice or help, she just wanted to be heard so I backed off and just "listened." We ended our conversation cordially just about the time I'd finished my pizza and the dryer sounded that the cycle was complete. I got up from the table, put my dish in the sink and headed to the laundry room to remove the clothes and fold them.

I took the big pile of clothes and lay them on my bed. As I began folding them, I figured I would kill two birds with one stone so I flipped on the TV. It was nice to have some noise in the background as I worked. It gets lonely sometimes during the day and I just needed to hear some conversation. Rachel Ray was on and she was interviewing Allison Sweeney about a book she'd written. I didn't know she was a writer. I guess actresses have contacts who can help them get a book deal. It must be nice! I finished folding and putting away the clothes and turned off the TV. As I was walking out of my bedroom, I thought I'd write a different blog post today. I guess people get tired of my same old same old posts and I get tired of writing them, too. It's hard to think of some insightful words of wisdom to share on a daily basis. Instead, I thought I'd just share what I was doing today and how I was learning how to just live.

So that's where I am right now. You're up to date and as I look at the clock, it says it's 3:20 p.m. As soon as I finish this post, I'm going to write 3 prisoners I correspond with on a daily basis. (I'm part of Saints Prison Ministry and I agreed to do that as my gift to the ministry.) When I've completed that, I'll go vacuum and mop. I have company coming tonight and I need to do a little sprucing up. I'll also prepare a Blueberry breakfast casserole for the morning meal. After I do that, I'll figure out what to prepare for supper. While I'm working on it, my husband will come home and we'll talk over his day and enjoy our meal together. We'll probably watch a little TV or sit outside on our porch and wait for our weekend visitors. When they arrive, we'll visit with them until time for bed and tomorrow morning, we'll head to a state park to do some fishing, hiking, and picnicking.

My life is getting back to normal...and yes, this is a normal day for me. I love to stay busy and active. I enjoy the simple, mundane things in my life because they remind me that I'm doing well and I'm getting busy living. And just because I'm enjoying the simple, everyday things in my life doesn't mean I don't still struggle. I do. If I'm being totally honest with you, I'll tell you my back hurts all the time. My arms swell every single day from the time I get out of bed til the time I lay down. My bones and joints ache constantly. My feet burn and I can barely stand to have shoes on but I keep pushing. Why, you might ask? Because if I don't, I'll be admitting defeat. I'm not going to let my body dictate to me what I can and can't do...well, maybe just a little because I do have some real limitations that might cause further injury and make me end up in the hospital again, but I've learned to avoid the things I know my doctor's told me I can't do any longer. But even the pain tells me, Bonnie, you're still alive! And even though some days I barely make it, I do what I can, when I can. Being busy living takes a lot of hard work and there is joy to be found in the everyday tasks we are all called on to do. Sometimes it takes a great deal of determination, but it's do-able. The main thing I'm learning is not to take a single thing for granted and that's quite a lesson to learn.

© bonnie annis all rights reserved

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Revelation

Recently, on a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon, my husband and I decided to watch a movie. Although we could have picked a recent box office hit by going through our cable company, we decided to forego spending any money. As we perused the free movie titles, we came across an old favorite. We settled down in our cozy leather recliners and clicked play on the remote. The movie began and we became engrossed in it. Even though we'd both watched the movie many times before, we enjoyed picking up little details we'd missed in the scenes or the script. As the movie neared the end, one of the movie lines hit me right between the eyes.

In 1994, the movie drama, The Shawshank Redemption, came out. It was basely loosely on the Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The movie revolves around two main characters, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, and Andy DuFresne, played by actor Tim Robbins. Through a series of unlikely events, these two men become jailhouse friends. After being turned down for parole on many occasions, Red has resigned himself to the fact that he'll spend the rest of his life in prison. Andy, on the other hand, maintains his innocence and begins to secretly plot his way to freedom. As their friendship grows throughout the movie, Andy and Red have some very deep conversations about life.

Now that I've given you some background, I'll get back to the scene that touched me deeply. Sitting outside a wall, in the recreation yard, Andy and Red are talking. Andy begins sharing his dreams of life outside the prison walls. With a dreamy look in his eyes, Andy opens his heart to Red. He tells Red he wants to go to a city in Mexico and run a small hotel. He wants to buy an old boat and fix it up. He doesn't want much, just an opportunity to live freely. Red listens and then squashes Andy's dream when he says something like this, "But you're in here and that's out there." Andy immediately stops talking but before he closes himself off completely from the conversation, he makes a profound statement, "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying." WOW! I felt like someone hit me between the eyes with a two by four. Andy's movie line kept running through my mind and I couldn't help but fixate upon it. "...Get busy living or get busy dying."  Those were simple words but held a powerful message.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew I'd make those 7 words my new motto for the rest of my life. For the past 22 months, I've been existing somewhere in between living and dying. I haven't committed to either one. Andy's statement to Red resounded in my mind, ""I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying." It was simple. It was a choice. I needed to decide if I was going to keep on letting breast cancer have place in my life or if I was just going to kick it to the curb and get on with my life. I'm ashamed to admit for far too long I've let breast cancer have control. Every once in a while, I've even found myself still saying I have cancer! I've also conveniently allowed it to be an excuse when I didn't feel like doing something. I hadn't been really living, oh no, I was teetering on the edge of life and death. That type of behavior is probably typical of most breast cancer survivors. We go through a traumatic, life changing experience and then can't figure out how to muddle through getting our lives back. It's complicated and we don't always have help figuring it out.

Making a decision to start living isn't as easy as you'd think. Before you judge me, let me explain without sounding like I'm making excuses. Breast cancer has affected my life in big ways. Not only has it affected me physically, it's affected me emotionally. I no longer have the physical strength or stamina I once I had. I can't look in the mirror at myself without crying. My self esteem has suffered greatly. My confidence has dwindled to practically nothing. I do my best to get through one day at a time, but it's really hard. I try to stay active and busy but some days, I just can't do it. When things get difficult, I make myself push through but I don't feel like I'm really living...at least not in the way I lived before I was diagnosed with cancer.

"Get busy living or get busy dying." I'm not ready to give up and die so that option is definitely out (as long as I have a choice about it) so the only option left is to get busy living. Even though I suffer chronic insomnia, Lymphedema, severe upper back pain, and extreme fatigue, I want to live and live well. I don't want to exist somewhere in between. "Get busy living or get busy dying." Those words were practically magnified when I first heard them. It was as if I'd received a telegram from Heaven or something...a message meant especially for me. I guess you could say I received a little enlightenment that day.

Warning, here comes a spoiler alert so if you haven't seen the movie, stop reading here. Andy manages to escape from prison. He ingeniously figures out a way to fulfill his dream of going to Mexico, open a hotel, buy a boat to fix up, and live comfortably on someone else's money. His lackadaisical attitude about life while imprisoned is a thing of the past. No one had a clue that he'd been plotting and planning the entire time he was held captive. I guess what I'm trying to say is when you finally do decide to start living again, it's simple decision. Once you make the decision, you have to just decide to be all in and go for it full throttle. So there will be no more teetering between life and death for me, no sirree! It's time to get busy living and that's exactly what I'm going to do starting right now. Sure, I'll still have the bodily aches and pains. I'll still struggle with fatigue and other maladies, but my attitude has changed. Instead of feeling defeated all the time, I have hope. I can rise above. I can and will not only survive but thrive. I choose to get busy living. Thanks, Andy!

© bonnie annis all rights reserved



The Homeschool Lesson

I’ll never forget my eight-grade year of high school. It was such a pivotal year for me. I’d just become a teenager and had entered the wo...