Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The case of the missing boobs

In my house, you never know where my boobs will turn up. Wait a minute you say...what is she talking about??? I'll back up and explain for those of you who don't know. Almost 3 years ago,  I had both of my breasts removed due to breast cancer. After surgery, I chose not to have reconstruction. I didn't want to go through the pain of more surgery. The breast surgeon said if I didn't choose reconstruction I'd have to either be flat chested forever or wear prostheses. I figured my best choice would be to remain flat chest for most of the time and wear prostheses only when necessary. It's worked out pretty well for me.

My first set of silicone breasts were a large C cup. The fitter at the little boutique selling after care items for breast cancer patients encouraged me to go with a large cup size. She said the prostheses needed to match my body. (I guess that was her way of saying I was overweight or of large stature?) I had no idea what I was doing so I trusted her. I went home with those heavy breast forms. The first time I tried to wear them, I felt so weighted down. My natural breasts hadn't been that heavy and certainly weren't that large. Needless to say, I only wore them once.

Around the house, I don't wear my prostheses. I'm more comfortable sans breasts. My husband and children have gotten used to seeing me this way and think nothing of it. When I go out in public, I do wear the prostheses. I'm still not comfortable being without breasts when I'm around others. I guess I don't want to disappoint them or have the constant stares that come with judgmental eyes.

We were on the way to the nursing home recently to visit my mother so I slipped on my mastectomy  bra and prostheses. I knew we'd be gone all day and would probably go out to eat. Although uncomfortable to wear all day, the prostheses were going with me.

The ride to the nursing home was long. We had a good visit with my mother and on the way back home, stopped for a quick dinner out. On the way home, I told my husband I was tired of wearing my boobs. He said, "Why don't you take them off then?" (I've made a point to remove my boobs whenever I felt I couldn't wear them one second longer. My family is used to me whipping them off at random places and times.) I've gotten quite adept at removing my bra and prostheses without removing my blouse. I smiled at him in silent agreement. "Here they go," I said as I unbuttoned the sleeves of my blouse, reached inside, grabbed my bra straps and pulled them down until I could slip my arm through. After getting my arms free, I reached up and under the back of my blouse to unhook my bra. Next I grabbed one of the bra straps through the armhole of my blouse and gave it a quick yank. The bra and prostheses came out easily. I threw them into the back seat of the car and breathed a sigh of relief. I was so thankful to have the excess weight removed. When we reached home a couple of hours later, we were both exhausted. We went inside just as it was getting dark and got ready for bed.

The following day, I had a doctors appointment. After showering and getting my makeup on, I was ready to get dressed. I'd already picked out my clothes and had them lying across my bed so they wouldn't get wrinkled. I slipped on my pants, socks and shoes. I went to my dresser drawer to pull out my bra and prostheses. I keep my silicone breast forms in two small round zippered cases with built in sling hammocks. The little hammocks are to keep the forms from being damaged. As I looked inside the cases, the breast forms weren't there. Now where in the world had I put them? I went into the kitchen to look. Sometimes I leave them on the kitchen table when I come in from a trip. They weren't there. I looked in all the usual places and couldn't find them. That's when it hit me. My boobs must still be in the back of my husband's car! Quickly, I sent him a text and asked if he'd take a look. He left the warehouse and went out to the parking lot. Sure enough, my bra and boobs were lying in plain view on the backseat of his car! I couldn't help but laugh as he told me. I wondered what his coworkers thought as they passed by his car and noticed the intimate apparel with flesh colored silicone breasts peeking out. Did they think he was a transvestite or transgender person??? Heaven forbid!

I remembered I some microbead breast forms I'd made last year for a summer trip to the beach. I dug them out of my closet and put them into another mastectomy bra. Without weights in them, the bra kept crawling upward as I moved. Pretty soon, the bra and boobs were practically under my chin! This was inconvenient! I stripped that get up off and decided I'd just go to the doctor without anything on. If I chose a print or checked blouse, it wouldn't be quite as evident that I was flat chested.

When my husband came home from work later that evening with my bra dangling from his fingertips, I was so embarrassed. I asked if he got teased by any of the guys at work. He told me none of the guys had seen my gear. I was so thankful! I guess I'm going to have to be a little more selective about when and where I strip off my boobs. I'd certainly hate to have them turn up unexpectedly at a most inopportune time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

We're all broken, a lesson learned from a butterfly

Cecil B. Day Butterfly House
There's a place not far from here where butterflies flourish. If you choose to visit, you will surely not be disappointed. The Cecil B. Day Butterfly house is located on the grounds of Callaway Gardens. The ornate glass building is conducive to providing the perfect amount of sunlight for plants and warmth for the butterflies. At times, it's hard to deal with so much beauty in one place but I go because I love butterflies.

Yesterday was a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. My husband and I decided to take a "mini vaca day," as we like to call them.  They're short jaunts we can accomplish in a day or less. Where should we go? We talked about several locations and agreed Callaway Gardens would be the perfect place to spend the day. We hadn't been there in many years and felt it was time to go back for a visit.

Callaway Gardens is a 2500 acre property nestled in the southwest part of Georgia. Some of the many attractions included in the gardens include a man made beach, zip lining, playgrounds, picnic areas, walking trails, golf course, restaurants, circus tent, a bird of prey exhibit and much more. There are always flowers blooming on the grounds and the management makes sure to include native species found here in Georgia.
Southern Pearly Eye

After driving for about an hour, we entered the gardens. Without even asking, my husband began to drive toward the butterfly house. He knew it was my favorite place and where I'd want to begin our day. I smiled as the warmth of the sun heated our car knowing the butterfly house would be much warmer. We pulled into the parking area outside the massive building constructed of glass and steel. I marveled at the architecture though I'd seen it many times in the past. The hexagonal angles of the glass bounced the sunlight in all directions. It seemed to glow with a heavenly radiance.

We entered the building and walked past the information center and gift shop. There weren't too many people and we were glad. It's always nice to enjoy the butterflies without crowds. Opening the door to the butterfly room, a wave of moist heat slapped me in the face. "Instant sauna," I said to my husband, as I grinned and continued forward. Beautiful butterflies glided through the air. In and around us they flitted. Instantly a large Blue Morpho landed on my hand. I was in heaven! I'd purposely worn my sweetest smelling perfume, Jessica McClintock, to attract these delicate beauties and it had worked! Hubby snapped a quick cell phone picture of me. We stood and watched the brilliant colors and shapes of these delicate creatures as they darted to and fro. I took out my 35mm digital camera and popped on my telephoto lens. As I readied for a shot, I realized my lens had fogged up. The transition from the air conditioning in the main building to the sauna like temperatures in the butterfly house had collided producing an unwanted misty film over my lens. Quickly, I took my lens cloth and wiped the foggy haze away. I began shooting and my husband disappeared further into the plant filled room. He knew I'd take my time capturing each and every butterfly.
More beauty

There were so many varieties of butterflies! I'd read on the website there were over 1000! While in elementary school, I'd taken an interest in learning to identify our native butterflies so I was tickled to find there were still a few I actually remembered. There was a pretty brown, camouflaged butterfly called a Southern Pearly Eye, a delicate white and orange one called a Dainty Sulphur, Yellow Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, a pretty orange, black and white one called a Postman, several types of fritillaries, and many I'd seen before but couldn't identify. As I continued photographing my favorites, one butterfly in particular caught my eye. It was a medium sized black winged butterfly with red spots. I watched as it landed on top of a brilliant purple flower. It was gorgeous. As the wings of the butterfly unfolded, I couldn't help but notice one of its wings was broken. The jagged edge was torn and rough. I felt sorry for the butterfly, but I was disappointed. I didn't want to photograph this less than perfect specimen. I'd always worked hard to choose butterflies without imperfection for my photos. No one would find beauty in a photograph of a butterfly with an injury. I continued to watch the broken, beautiful butterfly suck nectar from the flower.
Dainty Sulphur
It perched delicately on top of a tiny purple blossom and probed deep for the sweetest sustenance the flower could give. That broken wing kept my attention. I wondered how and when the wing had been damaged. Had the butterfly flown into something causing it to be ripped and torn away? Had the papery thin appendage been grabbed by some small child clasping with an eager hand? Whatever caused the wing to become damaged had apparently not kept the butterfly from continuing on with its life. It still flew. It still fed. It still did what butterflies do. Although the average life span of most butterflies is only a month, this little guy was thriving. His injury was not debilitating. And that's when it hit me...

Feeding upon a flower
We're all broken. In some way, shape, or form, we're all damaged. None of us are perfect. A butterfly quietly slipped in front of me gently kissing the front of my blouse. I looked down and remembered. My chest. The butterfly had touched my most vulnerable place. The place I protected and shielded. Since breast cancer surgery to remove both breasts, I was always conscious of my chest. I didn't like to go out in public because I always felt like people were looking at me. The silicone prostheses I'd slipped into my bra before our trip today made me look like a woman on the outside but sometimes I didn't feel like one on the inside. I was broken. I didn't feel beautiful.

The black butterfly with the broken wing darted away. I watched as he flew from one flower to another. On and on he flew, rising higher and higher until I could no longer see him. How did you learn to fly so high, butterfly? Who taught you to ignore your damaged wing? Did the other butterflies ever notice your brokenness? I stood with my camera dangling around my neck. My husband was coming toward me. I felt tears welling up in my eyes as he approached. He saw them. "What's wrong?," he questioned. My chin dropped to my chest and I turned to walk to a secluded spot in the thickest part of the floral garden. I looked at him and whispered, "I'm broken." He had no idea what I was talking about so I tried my best to explain what I was feeling. When I'd finished, he put his arm around me and we made our way out of the butterfly house. I could feel the tiniest little butterfly kiss of a whisper right beside my ear saying, "We're all broken, but it's okay. Be like the butterfly and choose to live life anyway."

Our drive home was long. We were tired. We'd hiked, picnicked, and enjoyed the entire day at the gardens. The eighty degree weather and the pollen filled air had zapped our energy. Leaning my head back on the seat, I thought about the broken butterfly's wing and the messaged whispered as we'd left the building. We're all broken and it's okay. We truly are. We're all defective in some way.  Some of our injuries are visible and some are not. That little butterfly was my hero. He was valiant and brave. He'd decided not to focus on his injury but on his blessings. He could still fly, even with a broken wing. He was still beautiful, even with the raggedness. He was still alive! And so was I.

What a powerful lesson. Thank you little butterfly. You'll never know how you touched my life one warm, March day or maybe you do? Maybe I was meant to witness your brokenness and maybe you were meant to be my teacher. And without saying a word, you said so much.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Goodbye sweet friend...

Rows and rows of greeting cards line the drugstore shelves. I peruse them laughing at silly ones and cringing at racy ones. Some are beautiful with heartfelt sentiments while others are too graphic for my taste. Greeting card artists choose different ways to present our feelings on paper. As I look over the cards, I'm overwhelmed. There are so many from which to choose. How do I pick a card to convey my deepest sorrow over the loss of a dear friend? I leaf through several cards and read the wording. None of them seem appropriate. None of them come close to explaining heartbreak. None of these will really reach out and touch the recipient in the way I intend. I forego a purchase and opt for a handwritten note. I can express my feelings more clearly than an anonymous greeting card writer. I leave the store and head home.

In the past few weeks, I've attended funerals, visited dear friends in hospitals, and focused on the brevity of life. No one knows the number of days we're allotted on Earth. One minute we're here and the next we're not. I'm reminded of a verse found in the Bible, James 4:14: "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." Poof...gone. A wisp of life dissolved.

And that's the way it was with my sweet friend. Her life was too, too brief. We buried her on Saturday. What a wonderful woman. She was kind, caring, loving, and had a heart of pure gold. She found joy in serving others. She was someone who loved others well. One minute she was here, the next she was gone. No one expected it. It was such a shock, especially to those close to her. And no one can ever take her place.


The sadness at her sudden death continues to rock us with confusion and shock. But God knew best. He was ready for her to come home. He'd just slipped the last shingle onto the roof of her mansion. Everything was ready for her great move in day! The angels gathered together preparing her welcome home party with glorious choruses of hallelujahs. As she slipped out of this Earthly realm into the heavenlies, what a sight to behold! Her Heavenly Father, waiting at the gate, reaching out His Almighty, Loving hand toward her as He softly and gently whispered, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." I can just picture her kneeling before Him as He placed a beautiful golden crown of good works upon her head. Then slowly she rises and slips the crown off, laying it at His feet. He reaches for her and she moves closer until finally in His tender embrace. Once again He speaks, "Welcome home sweet daughter, welcome home." As He guides her toward her new home, she never turns to look back. She has no desire to do so. The life she lived on Earth has vanished and has been forgotten. And why wouldn't it be? Psalm 39:5 says, "Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah. (Pause and calmly think of that.)"

A few lines on paper can't express the deep, painful sadness over the loss of a beloved friend. But sometimes the gentle squeeze of a hand, tears mingled, or a loving heartfelt hug can speak louder than any words and that's exactly as it should be. Words aren't always appropriate or powerful enough to cover the depth of pain.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

All that stress for nothing

If you've ever had to wait for the results of a medical test, you know how nerve wracking it can be. You sit by the phone waiting for it to ring so you can pounce on it and pray your ears work well enough to hear clearly what the doctor is saying. You feel like you can't even run to the restroom for fear of missing that important call, especially when the doctor is going to call on your house phone and your house phone is hard wired instead of portable (yeah, I'm one of those rare folks who still have a land line, don't judge me)...

All Thursday evening, I bit my fingernails and prayed. My husband I talked out every possible scenario and hashed out how we would handle each one. If the ultrasound showed cancer, I had to decide if I was willing to go through chemo or not. The first time with cancer it was easy to refuse chemo, the second time around would probably be much harder. We hoped I wouldn't have to go there. I didn't sleep a wink that night. I tossed and turned all night long, wondering and worrying. I knew I wasn't supposed to worry. In fact, I have a huge Hobby Lobby stencil right above the dresser in my bedroom that says, "Don't worry about anything, pray about everything." I look at it every single night before I go to bed. I put it there purposely to remind myself not to worry but sometimes, I worry anyway. I'm human and worrying comes easily to most of us.

Friday morning, after a fitful night, I got out of bed early, got my shower and got dressed. I knew the phone was going to ring soon and I wanted to be ready. The office opened at 9:00 a.m. so I knew I had a couple of hours before the doctor would call. I grabbed a quick breakfast and went into my office to sit by the phone. While I waited, I surfed the internet, wrote a few letters, and edited some photos. Hours passed and no phone call. The medical office takes a 2 hour lunch break from 12 to 2 each day so I figured I wouldn't get a call during that time. I ran into the kitchen and whipped up a sandwich. I brought my lunch back to my desk and ate while I continued to wait. At 2:45 p.m. I was getting a little tired of waiting so I called the doctor's office and explained my situation. Immediately I was put on hold and at 3:00 p.m. the Endocrinologist came on the line. She apologized profusely and then got down to business.

I listened intently as she explained my T3 hormone level was very low. She asked if I'd ever been put on medication for that. I told her I hadn't but I had been taking Synthroid since I was 15. She also mentioned some other blood levels that were low and when I sighed heavily, I guess she figured she'd better tell me my ultrasound results. I was pleasantly surprised when she said, "WE FOUND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING THERE." But in the next minute, I wanted to reach through phone, grab her around her scrawny little neck and choke the life out of her! Why in heaven's name did she word the phone message she'd left on my voicemail in such a way that it scared the Beejezus out of me??? I told her I was expecting something really bad because of the message she'd left. She asked me what she'd said because she couldn't remember and I told her she'd said she was only calling because of the extenuating circumstances surrounding my case and blah, blah, blah... She laughed and said, "Oh, well, I meant because of all the terrible errors that have been made regarding your care on your last 3 visits." Oh brother! She could have explained it a little better then. (The Endocrinologist that called was new in the practice. She'd been called in to take the place of another doctor who'd left the practice abruptly because of the poor management and the horrible treatment to the patients. In the absence of the first doctor, my case had fallen through the cracks and one unfortunate event after another had taken place.)

Dr. J explained I'd need to be seen again in 4 months and they'd want to test me for Cushing's disease. I kindly explained I wasn't ever going to be returning to their office, but thank you very much. I'd already decided to return to my excellent Emory Endocrinologist even if it meant driving over an hour to get to her office. I knew the kind of attentive care Dr. D had given me in the past before I'd moved away from the Atlanta area and I knew she was 1000 times better than any of the doctors at the Endocrinology Center close to my current home.

Dr. J was sympathetic and told me she completely understood. She said she would do the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot. That made me feel better and I explained I had nothing against her but the practice where she worked was a joke. I told her I'd worked for doctors for years and I'd never seen any office treat patients the way they treated theirs and it was inexcusable.

When I told my husband the good news, we both cried. I'd finally had time to process the fact that this was in fact, the best news I could have received...NO CANCER! If only I could regain all that wasted time and energy I'd spent worrying and waiting, but what's done is done.

I have a propensity toward worrying when I'm in my flesh but I know it's not the right thing to do. When I try to shoulder cares or concerns, I'm in essence telling God I don't trust Him to handle them for me and I have learned full well that HE IS VERY CAPABLE and HE IS THE ONLY ONE who can truly handle them.

Hopefully I won't have any more cancer scares any time soon. They are no fun! I'm so glad that phone call is out of the way. Now I can get back to living again.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

A little PTSD

A phone call. That's all it took to shake me to my core. I didn't even get to talk to a real person but the message on the other end of the phone speared me through and through - "This is --- from --- I need to talk to you about your test results. Can you please call me as soon as possible?" I wasn't expected that call and I certainly wasn't expecting it to affect me the way it did. I had an honest to goodness meltdown and I didn't realize it until I was in the middle of it.

We had been in the middle of eating dinner. I'd gone to my office to retrieve a book and saw the red light blinking on my desk phone indicating I had a message waiting. I picked up the receiver because I knew it would only take a second to hear the message and curiosity got the better of me. I wish I hadn't seen the red light.

I walked back into the dining room and told my husband I'd received a call from the endocrinologist's office. They wanted me to call them back about my recent ultrasound. As soon as I said the word ultrasound, I began sobbing uncontrollably. My bewildered husband took me into his arms and held me tight. I bawled like a baby, deep guttural sobs. When I came up for air, I looked into my husband's eyes. He hadn't said a word. I told him I didn't think I could survive another bout with cancer. At that point, he understood my deep seated pain. He hadn't thought of that. He sat down and held his head in his hands and began to weep. We cried until we couldn't cry any more and we didn't even know what we were crying about. We hadn't received any real news yet, only a message to call back as soon as possible. Why did we immediately fear the worst first?

As I thought about it, the only logical answer was cancer post traumatic stress disorder. Just like soldiers who'd been in the midst of battle were traumatized, so were we. Cancer does that. Cancer is hard...no, it's not hard, it's extremely difficult, more difficult than you can imagine. It takes a lot of resolve to fight cancer. It's indescribable.

It took a while for both of us to calm down and get our minds off of the phone call. He was distracted with TV and I decided to down a pint of Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream. Neither of us were really coping, but we did the best we could in the moment.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be sitting by the phone to see if it rings. If it hasn't by mid morning, I'm going to place a call to the endocrinologist's office. I am afraid of what I'll hear but I'm hoping for good news. Maybe I'm just shell shocked. Maybe I'll get good news.

I don't like PTSD. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it. It's like a slowly exploding grenade blossoming into oblivion growing stronger and more dangerous minute by minute. I don't know how to manage it right now and maybe I never will but I know if I keep on using ice cream as my coping mechanism, I'm going to weigh 300 pounds and then things are going to really get hairy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Trails to You

On March 11, I attended a celebration of life service for my sweet friend, Bonnie Ferguson. Although she'd passed away on the first of January, her last wishes were for her family to hold a service to honor her life when the daffodils were in full bloom, so they waited. I was hesitant about going to the service because I knew it was going to be difficult. Bonnie and I had shared breast cancer. I had a touch of suvivor's guilt and didn't quite know how to deal with it. Why was I still here and she was not? I may never know the answer to that, but God, in His sovereignty, does.

Bonnie and her daughter
My husband and I drove down the long gravel road to Bonnie's house. As we bumped over the road, I couldn't help but think about Bonnie. She was quite a lady. We'd first met her almost three years ago when we'd moved here. I remembered, as we were unpacking our car, how she had pulled up along the side of our house in her little golf cart. It was warm that day and she'd driven down to the corner veggie stand to pick up some tomatoes. We walked over to the cart as she spoke and I laughed when she introduced herself. We shared the same first name! After a few pleasantries, this fiery redhead handed us three huge ripe tomatoes and drove off down the road. It would be weeks before I saw her again. Although I didn't know it at the time, Bonnie enjoyed a reclusive lifestyle.

A few months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In talking with one of the neighbors, I learned the other Bonnie had dealt with breast cancer 22 years earlier but was in remission. I was given Bonnie's phone number and called her often for advice in dealing with my own cancer. Bonnie was happy to offer helpful tips and advice. Soon we became good friends and Bonnie was inviting us to her home. We spent many evenings sitting with her on a large, wrap around porch talking. Bonnie loved being outdoors and spent much of her time working in her yard or just sitting watching the wildlife.
Some of the attendees at Bonnie's service

I went through a very difficult year of cancer treatment and as I was ending my radiation treatments, I learned Bonnie's cancer had returned. She was dumbfounded but went bravely forward. She began chemo treatments at the new Cancer Treatment Center of America near us. She fought hard but continued to grow weaker. We had no idea how things were going for her because we didn't see her much but I continued to call, email, or send her cards. Near Christmas we heard she was in hospice care and had round the clock caregivers. Our hearts broke each time we received an update. Bonnie's life was drawing to a close.
Places she traveled

In mid January, while talking with my mail carrier, I became worried. The mail carrier told me Bonnie's mail had been piling up and it looked like the house was no longer lived in. I contacted the gentleman who cared for Bonnie's yard and asked if he knew anything, that's when I learned of her death. Mr. Herschel explained she'd died peacefully on the first of January with all of her children around her. I wasn't expecting to react to the news like I did. It hit me extremely hard and I spent the rest of the day crying. I wasn't necessarily crying because Bonnie was gone, because I knew she'd suffered terribly those last few months, but I guess I was grieving over what cancer does to a body and how sneaky it is in subsequent attacks. I wondered, if sometime in the future, I might experience a recurrence as Bonnie did and that scared me.

About a week after talking with Mr. Herschel, I received an email giving me the details of the celebration of life service. In the email, attendees were instructed to wear happy attire because Bonnie didn't want there to be any sadness at her service. Those who wanted to speak were encouraged to share special stories of times spent with Bonnie. There would be a big barbecue afterwards for those wishing to share more time with Bonnie's children.

When the day of the service came, my husband and I chose brightly colored clothing. It was chilly that day so we bundled up and headed toward Bonnie's. It didn't take but a few minutes to get to her house. She lived directly behind us. We traveled down her winding gravel road onto her heavily wooded property.  Bonnie had the most perfect piece of land and a beautiful house. She'd chosen it over thirty years earlier and had instructed the architect to build her house where it was partly underground. She not only wanted it to be a constantly cool home but wanted protection from tornadoes and other kinds of storms.
Kim opens the service

We were surprised by the number of cars on her lawn. Bonnie had always seemed to live a quiet life and we hadn't expected to see so many people in attendance. We exited our car and walked to the large barn where the service would be held. Bonnie loved her barn and often threw parties and hosted weddings in it. There were folding chairs lined up in rows and on the back of each chair was a Hawaiian lei. We found out later, as one of the guests spoke, of Bonnie's love of Hawaii. The leis represented that love and her family wanted us to understand how special the state was to them, too. As we took our seats, we placed our leis around our necks and waited for the service to begin.

Bonnie's daughter, Kim, began the service. She spoke in a quiet voice as she tried hard not to cry. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it must have been to speak about one's mother so soon after her death. After Kim spoke, she invited others to come to the microphone and share their stories. My husband and I were amazed to learn of Bonnie's zest for living. She was spontaneous and had traveled all over the world! We learned she was very generous and often would pay for friends to join her in her travels. We were shocked to learn she'd even traveled to Antarctica!

Gift photos for attendees to take
One after another friends and family spoke about Bonnie telling funny stories or about how determined she was to have her own way. It was good to have a lighthearted gathering to remember her and it helped to take the sadness of her leaving away.

Just before the service ended, we were all asked to stand and sing "Happy Trails to You." I thought it a very fitting choice and knew it would have made Bonnie smile. The gathering was a wonderful way to honor Bonnie and I know one day, we'll meet again.

Bonnie's family had her cremated and intends on taking her cremains back to her beloved Hawaii where part of her will remain forever. She was a remarkable woman and I only wish I'd had time to know her better.

Listen to Happy Trails to You here.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Just say NO!

It's amazing how much power there is in such a little word. When I say the word NO, I can feel the power rising up in me. Even when you whisper the word, it's authoritative. I've learned to love the word and that wasn't always true of me. You see, I've been a people pleaser most of my life but I didn't realize it. I never understood doing something when you didn't really want to do it wasn't the way things were supposed to be. I was always raised to be agreeable, so I never rocked the boat until I was in my late teens and I learned I had a voice. But even after I learned I had my own opinion and I had a right to voice it, I usually kept my opinions to myself. When I reached my mid forties however, things drastically changed.

When I began working for one of the mega churches in the Metro Atlanta area, I decided to participate in a training program for lay counselors. As part of our training, each of the participants had to go through personal counseling. I'd never been through counseling of any kind before and found it new and exciting. As the counseling sessions progressed, I found myself opening up more than I intended and in the process, discovered many things about myself I'd never focused on before. That's when I discovered I was a people pleaser and had been for most of my life. It was a way of gaining acceptance. When a person fears rejection, learning to please others becomes paramount and often to their own detriment.

I'm well into my fifties now, in fact, on the cusp of sixty! I've not only learned how to use my voice, I've learned I don't really care what anyone thinks of me anymore. I've learned it's okay to set healthy boundaries and feel good about it. I'm no longer a people pleaser. I've learned how to say NO.

A couple of months after I'd had surgery for breast cancer, I began to experience a lot of pain. It was mostly concentrated in my spine but also radiated to other parts of my body. I began to become concerned. I'd heard my oncologist mention when cancer comes back it often attacks the spine, brain, bones, lungs, or liver so naturally, I thought the worst. I dealt with the pain for months and months before contacting my doctor. I was afraid to be told my cancer had come back so I suffered in silence. Soon the pain became unbearable and I had to do something. Tylenol wasn't working. I sent the doctor an email through the patient portal and he quickly responded. (Most doctors nowadays prefer electronic communication instead of phone calls and the responses are almost instantaneous which is good for the patient.) I was surprised when he prescribed Cymbalta. On the television ads, I'd always heard that drug was for those suffering severe depression. I wasn't suffering from depression. I thought there'd been an error and perhaps he'd gotten his emails crossed confusing me with another patient. When I checked with the nurse, she assured me he knew what he was doing.

I took the Cymbalta and was surprised to receive relief in just a few days. It was amazing and I thought it was the best thing ever. I was so thankful for a doctor who knew his stuff. Who would have thought an anti-depressant type drug would help with overall body pain, but it did! For the next month things were great! I wasn't hurting at all. No spine pain. No body aches. Zilch, zip, nada. IT WAS FANTASTIC! It felt like a miracle. I was so grateful. Then one night, while sitting in front of the TV with my husband, I was bored. I started to do some internet research. I'm always on a quest for knowledge...but sometimes it's not a good thing. I began reading all the side effects related to Cymbalta. I also found out it's highly addictive and there are some ugly withdrawal symptoms associated with it. That's when I got scared. I didn't want to become addicted to a medication and I surely didn't want to become dependent on it function. I began to wonder why I'd agreed to take it in the first place but I trusted my doctor. He had more medical knowledge than I did, but this was my life...my body. I knew immediately I needed to come off the drug even though it had been helping me cope with a great deal of pain.

The following morning, I contacted my oncologist and explained my plight. I was instructed to gradually decrease the dosage of Cymbalta for the next two weeks and then discontinue the drug. It wasn't wise to stop "cold turkey."  I was asked if I wanted to try another medication and for a split second, I didn't know how to respond but I remembered my power! I remembered I had a right to say NO and so I did.

Today is the first full day of being off the medication and so far, so good. I have no idea what the future holds, but I feel good about the decision I made to stop taking the drug. It's often hard to know the best decision to make but it's important to weigh all aspects carefully and follow your heart. Though it might seem coincidental that I was bored and just began randomly searching side effects of medications I'm on, I know there's more to it. I'm a firm believer the Holy Spirit leads and guides me in all aspects of my life because I trust Him to do so. I'm thankful I felt led to read about Cymbalta and contact my doctor. I'm also thankful I have the power to say NO.

Putting a chemical into my body isn't something I take lightly. Doctors, while they want to offer their patients comfort, don't always know all side effects of all medications and they certainly don't know how each specific medication will be tolerated by each individual patient. It's our responsibility, as patients, to speak up for our rights. If a drug is causing unwanted side effects, the doctor needs to be alerted. Sometimes it's okay to say NO, even to a doctor and I'm glad I did.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Just call me NED!

My routine 3 month my checkup with the oncologist was scheduled for today. I don't know why, but I dreaded the appointment and asked my husband to go with me. I hate going to see doctors and always feel better when I don't have to go alone. I didn't sleep a wink the night before and I'm sure it was due to worrying about this appointment. I was thankful my husband was driving. I don't think I could have focused on the road if I'd had to. It was quiet in the car as we drove. The scenic countryside was calming to look at as we continued on for over an hour. Finally we arrived at the medical building and found a parking space. I took a deep breath before we got out of the car and felt reassurance as my husband squeezed my hand and said, "It's going to be okay." 

I didn't have to wait long before I was being called back. After being weighed, I was sent to the lab for bloodwork. The phlebotomist had trouble finding the vein in my hand and after a couple of sticks, finally managed to get blood to flow. Her struggle caused the doctor to take someone in front of me. I hated that because it meant I'd have to wait even longer, but there was nothing I could do. His assistant came in to take my vital signs. As she placed the blood pressure cuff high on my left arm and began to pump it up, I told her it was too tight and they weren't really supposed to take my blood pressure up there anyway. She questioned me and I explained I have lymphedema in both arms. You should have seen the look of surprise on her face. She knew she had made a big mistake. She apologized several times and moved the cuff down toward my wrist. When she was done, we sat and waited. We could hear the doctor in the next room as he talked to a patient. 

Finally, there was a small tap at the door and Dr. F came in. He didn't greet either of us which was surprising. He just started talking and I interrupted him and asked if he remembered my husband. When I did that, he stopped to shake his hand but never offered any form of greeting. How rude, I thought to myself...These doctors are so busy they can't even stop to exchange a few pleasantries before beginning. 

I was asked if I was having any trouble breathing or if I had any pain. I explained I had been having some trouble breathing upon exertion but I thought that was due to the damage my right lung had incurred during my radiation treatments. He said he wanted me to do a walking pulse oximeter test and called the nurse to come in. As she entered, he exited. I guess to go see another patient or two...

The nurse hooked a pulse oximeter to the middle finger on my left hand and told me we were going to walk up and down the hallway a few times. I was familiar with this process because of having to watch my father do the same thing when he had lung cancer. As I started walking with the nurse, I felt like I was standing in the hallway back at Emory hospital watching my father. I could see him in his plaid shirt holding tightly to his walker. His frail frame slowly gliding down the hall beside a dark skinned nurse. The first time down the hall was challenging for him, the second time even more difficult. By the time he'd made the third pass, he was out of breath and struggling. The nurse stopped the test and ushered us into an exam room. A few minutes later, the doctor came in and explained my dad's lung capacity was greatly diminished and needed to be put on oxygen. I listened as my father tried to argue but he knew the doctor was telling the truth and I think he felt better as the canula was placed over his head and the tips of the tube inserted into his nose. Life giving oxygen flowed through his system and we gathered our things and went home. (My father died from lung cancer in 2011) As I finished my last lap, I glanced down at the pulse ox machine. My oxygen level had only dropped to 84. When we began it was at a saturation rate of 98...not bad! 

The doctor came back in and asked about my prescriptions. He ordered an increase in one of my meds and had his nurse give me refills. I was happy when he said I didn't have to come back to see him until September...I'd graduated from having to see him every 3 months to every 6 months. Before we left, I whispered in my husband's ear and asked if he'd ask the doctor a question for me. I watched as my big, burly husband looked up at the doctor and said, "So, Doc, is she cancer free?" The doctor looked at me first and then at my husband. He said, "As far as we can tell, without doing any medical tests, she has no evidence of disease." No evidence of disease! I was so happy to hear that!!! I'd been waiting 968 days (that's almost 3 years) to hear that I could finally be considered NED! The doctor left my exam room to go visit another patient and I left the room beaming.

I'm so happy to call myself NED.... NED means no evidence of disease which is the best thing I could hear right now because it means as far as my oncologist can tell, there's no active cancer in my body! It feels good to know the natural therapy I've been doing at home is working. All those vitamins, supplements and essential oils are doing good things in my body. Instead of me having to put horrible poisons inside myself to kill cancer and do damage to my heart or lungs, I had chosen the best way. The most gentle way and it was working.  

As we headed home, joy filled our car. I felt I was exuding happiness. I couldn't help it, there was no way I could contain it. NED. NED! I am NED!

I don't understand why the doctors don't want to ever tell you you're cancer free, I guess it's a legal thing...but I did get him to commit to saying I'm NED. And I'm so thankful. So very thankful. God is good. 

Dolce Far Niente

The first time I heard the phrase, "Dolce far niente," was years ago when I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I sat mesmerized ...