Thursday, June 20, 2019

Writing a book is like giving birth

This is the year I'm supposed to complete my book. That was the impression I got from God as I prayed about it. Over the past few years, I've felt I was supposed to write about the story of how He led me through the valley of breast cancer, but one thing after another has gotten in the way. I'm a firm believer in God's perfect timing and I know, He's been working to get me to a point of obedience regarding this matter. The other day, I heard a sermon that said something along the lines of when we are disobedient to a call God places on our lives, that's the very point Satan steps in and takes advantage of us. That really made me stop and think. Had my busyness been a blatant refusal of being obedient to God's call on my life, I think it probably has been.

So, for the past few weeks, I've been focused on making myself sit down and re-read my journals. I've kept a journal since the first day I found a mass in my right breast. It's been hard reading them again and reliving every aspect of my journey but it's been necessary. Without my journals, I'd have forgotten about all I've been through - well, maybe not everything, but a lot of the fine details would have been lost due to my aging memory and post traumatic stress from cancer.

As I've been reading, I've asked God to point me in the right direction for this book. I had a concept and had written over 45,000 words but this morning, as I woke up, God shifted my perspective and He's taking me in a completely different direction.

For the past 6 hours, I've been writing. I had no idea what time it was until I just now looked at the clock. My shoulders are killing me and I'm about to stop but wanted to do a quick blog post. I haven't been keeping up with my blog either, by the way. I've just had stuff to do.

So I scratched some of what I'd already written and boy, did it feel weird deleting that much content, but when God says, "No," I can't very well say yes, can I?

Now I'm excited about my book. Before, I was feeling weighed down and like I had to do it just to complete the project. Maybe that's why God had me shift gears. I know He wants us to experience joy, so thank you, God.

The goal is to have my book published early next year. I have no idea who's going to publish it but I'm trusting. And if God says I'm to self publish, then I'm going to pray for His provision for the funds to do that. In any event, it will be published next year unless I'm raptured first.

I love how God cares about every single detail of our lives. As we learn to walk by faith and not by sight, He takes us on paths we never expected to cross. He's such a kind and loving God. I'm so thankful I know Him.

So keep your eyes pealed. One of these days, my book is going to hit the shelves. Until then, you can keep coming back to my blog and reading about my life. I promise, I'm going to work hard to do better about posting on a daily basis.

One thing I've learned throughout this process is that writing a book is difficult. It's like giving birth to a baby. The labor pains have just begun as I pour out the first few pages. I'm sure the intensity will grow as I remember the trauma I've experienced. One thing I do know is will be worth it in the end. I'll have a finished product that I'll be proud of and I will have been obedient to God. So yay, me! The let process continue and may the words flow freely today and for the months to come.

Monday, June 3, 2019

I Hate Cancer

I don't usually use the word hate. I don't like it very much, but today, I will.

Today I got an email from a friend sharing the news that one of her friends was just diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. My friend was reaching out wanting to know how she could help this newly diagnosed friend. As I read through the email, I was not only sad, I got mad. I wasn't mad at the sender. I was mad at the disease.

Everywhere, it seems, cancer continues to invade and decimate the lives of unsuspecting men, women, and children. Every single day, I hear of another case of cancer. For some reason, once you've been diagnosed, people assume you're an instant expert on the disease and I'll admit, I have learned an awful lot over the past 5 years but there's still much to know and understand.

Naively, I keep thinking one day they'll find a cure for all forms of cancer, but when I think of how much money the big pharmaceutical companies are making from treating the disease, I doubt that's true. My heart hurts for all those who've gone the traditional medical route. Chemotherapy, radiation, and antihormone therapy wreak havoc on the body and many times cause irreparable damage. Many people don't know they have a choice not to go the traditional route and doctors don't offer them the choice. It's up to the individual to do their own research or learn of the option by word of mouth from another cancer survivor.

More than likely, cancer has been around for hundreds of years but doctors back then didn't have access to the medical information we have today. I'm sure many people died of cancer that was left undiagnosed or was misdiagnosed. And they may have lived for many, many years with the cancer growing inside their bodies while they were completely unaware that anything was wrong at all. In fact, the oncologist told me that most of the time, by the time a lump is felt, it's been growing in the body for ten years or more. That's a scary thought. How many people purposely check their bodies every day for lumps, bumps, and bruises? Not many.

All that being said, I'm completely disgusted with cancer and yes, I do hate it, but I'm also grateful for it in my own life. It's been a great teacher. It's taught me to slow down and see things differently. That may be a hard concept to grasp for some but it's true. Before cancer, I took so much for granted. Now I don't take a single moment of a single day for granted.

I do still suffer from the side effects of treatment and complications from surgery. Those are little unexpected gifts that cancer left in its wake. And while I wish I didn't have to deal with the aggravating condition of lymphedema, muscle cording, and so many other ill effects of cancer on my body, I'm just thankful to be alive.

It would be amazing to live long enough to see a cure found for cancer, but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. In the meantime, I pray daily that none of my loved ones will ever be diagnosed. I think I will always hate cancer and I think it's okay to feel that way.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

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 world of exploring my independence. It was an amazing school year. Most of my friends and I had known each other since first grade. We’d attended the same elementary school and were so excited to be leaving Indian Creek. We thought we were hot stuff but had no idea what who we were or where we were headed.

My first year of high school was scary. I can still feel those feelings of anxiousness as I wandered down those locker lined hallways. I was a tiny minnow swimming upstream in a sea of hormones. But those scary feelings didn’t last long. Soon I learned my way around the school and began to settle into a comfortable routine.

Not long after I’d memorized my class schedule, I began having strange stomach pains. All through the school year, I struggled with extreme nausea and a feeling of something being not quite right in my belly. My mother thought it was just nerves and encouraged me to push through the pain, which I did for many weeks, but soon the nausea was accompanied by vomiting and the pain grew worse.

Realizing I wasn’t feigning illness to get out of classes, my mother took me to the doctor. After running a battery of tests, it was determined that I had a viral infection. We were sent home and told the infection should clear up in a few days, but it didn’t. Things continually got worse. I think my parents really started to worry when I was unable to keep food down and I’d cry myself to sleep at night as the abdominal pains wracked my body.

Somehow I managed to complete the eighth grade but I was still very ill and we had no idea why. One doctor after another was consulted. My mother was told I had mononucleosis and I was sent home to rest. When nothing seemed to help, I was taken to another doctor who thought I had Hepatitis. That diagnosis involved my entire family who had to endure preventative shots but that diagnosis turned out to be incorrect, too.

I wasn’t getting any better, in fact, I was growing much worse. At that point, my mother decided to take me to see a gastroenterologist. Upon physical examination, he could find nothing wrong. But after several visits to see him, this old country doctor had an idea. He told my mother to take me out a very greasy meal. Both she and I looked at him like he was crazy but he assured us he knew what he was doing and that we needed to trust him.

Mama took me to Matthew’s cafeteria to get a big ol' plate of fried chicken. She’d been told to allow me to eat the food and then bring me right back to Dr. G’s office. Shortly after consuming the chicken, I became deathly ill and was doubled over in pain. In the doctor’s office, I sat on the exam table as he palpated my abdomen. He looked at my mother and said we need to do emergency surgery. Both she and I were dumbfounded.

Dr. G explained that I had gallstones and that my gallbladder was severely inflamed. This was a rare condition for a thirteen year old to be facing, Dr.G said, and that’s one reason it had been so difficult to diagnose.

I was admitted to the hospital the following day and before surgery could be performed, my gallbladder ruptured allowing dangerous gangrene to spread through my body. I didn’t know it at the time, but I almost died. Dr. G told my mother if they hadn’t had a cancellation, which allowed my surgery to be moved up an hour, I would have died.

It was touch and go for many days, but they finally got me stabilized and I was able to go home with a foot long scar and a drainage tube in my belly.

Recovery was tough and I spent the summer recuperating at home.

When it was time for me to start 9th grade, I was still weak and the doctor felt I needed to continue gaining my strength back before returning to school. That meant I would have to be homeschooled so I could keep up with my classmates. Teachers at the high school were notified and a plan was made. The teachers would write out weekly assignments for me, my mother would go to the school each week to pick them up, and the following week we’d submit my work for grading. This plan worked well with most classes and I was thankful to have the opportunity to recover at home.

One day, my Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Sara Lou Jenkins, decided to make a home visit to see how I was doing. She’d called the house and asked my mother if she could stop by after school that day. I was nervous about the visit because I’d never met Mrs. Jenkins before but I was also looking forward to visiting with one of my 9th grade teachers.

Mrs. Jenkins rang the doorbell as Mama was getting supper ready. We were going to have fried chicken, something I hadn’t been able to enjoy in quite a long time. Since Mama had flour on her hands from dredging the chicken, she asked me to invite Mrs. Jenkins in.

When I went to the door, I found a slight little bird-like woman standing in front of me. She was in a 1950's style dress with a string of pearls around her neck. I noticed her perfectly coiffed hair and her earrings that matched her necklace. Inviting her into our home, I led Mrs. Jenkins into our living room. She sat on our sofa and began to chat with me. Mama leaned her head toward the living room from the doorway of the kitchen telling Mrs. Jenkins that she’d be available to visit in just a few minutes. She explained she needed to wash her hands first.

Mama joined Mrs. Jenkins and I as we conversed in the living room. Mrs. Jenkins asked about my health and how I was doing with my assignments. We talked for about ten minutes and then we noticed smoke and a loud pop coming from the kitchen. Mama and Mrs. Jenkins rose at the same time as Mama ran into the kitchen. I was right behind them. Flames were licking the cabinet above the stove as the grease Mama had put into the iron skillet on the stove burned. Mrs. Jenkins was frantic and called out to Mama ways to put out the fire. “You can douse it with flour or throw the lid on the pan,” she cried out in a shrill voice. “Mercy, you have to get that fire out fast!” she screamed. Mama was busy grabbing a towel and trying to get the iron skillet off the gas flame so she could put out the fire and I was afraid she was going to be burned, but somehow she managed to get to it and contain the fire.

My face was blood red with embarrassment as Mrs. Jenkins hurried to leave our smoke filled home. I don’t think it would have been so bad if she hadn’t been my Home Economics teacher. After she left, Mama started to laugh hysterically and as I asked her why she was laughing when our house could have burned down, she said, “Well, at least you learned how to put out a grease fire today and you learned never to leave an iron skillet on a hot stove eye unattended.” I didn’t think it was very funny but I guess Mama was thankful she hadn’t added the chicken just yet. If she’d done that, we wouldn’t have had supper that night.

When we sat down to eat, Mama was telling Daddy all about Mrs. Jenkins visit and as she got to the end of the story, she said, “You should have seen that lady fly out of the house! She must have been so frustrated. I bet she’s never seen a grease fire in all her life and yet she has to teach her students what to do in case they ever have one. I think she got a big ol’ homeschool lesson herself today.”

At that, we all had a good laugh but it took weeks for the smell of smoke to leave our kitchen. I’ll never forget how Mama remained calm that day and how she took care of the fire like it was nothing unusual. That was the day I learned my Mama could teach Mrs. Jenkins a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mother's Day - Memories from my childhood

Growing up, I wasn’t blessed with many material things. Although my Daddy worked long, hard hours, my Mama stayed home taking care of the house, my sister, brother, and I. By all standards, we were poor but my siblings and I didn’t realize it. We had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. But one day, when I was about six or seven, I can’t recall the exact age now, I found out the truth. I learned that the little amount of money my father brought home was never enough and no matter how my mother tried to stretch it, we always needed more. That need caused my mother to become very resourceful but even with all of her effort, most of our needs were met as God blessed us abundantly through the generosity of others.  

One day, not too long after we’d moved to Clarkston from Atlanta, I met our new neighbors. There were two boys and a girl.  Their only girl was a few years older than I. We became fast friends and soon played together every afternoon after school. One day, as we were playing, she pulled out a large case from her closet and asked if I’d like to see her Barbies. I had no idea what Barbies were but they sounded interesting, so I said yes. As she removed each doll from the case, I marveled at their beauty. Though they were only dolls made of plastic, they looked very lifelike. They had real looking hair, perfectly painted on makeup, tiny jewelry, and beautiful clothes. Oh, how I wanted one of those dolls!

When I got home, I remember telling my mother how desperately I wanted and needed a Barbie doll. As Mama stood over a hot iron skillet cooking our dinner, she listened and every few minutes replied, “Uh huh.” I must have talked incessantly, I had a habit of doing that and although the memory isn’t quite as sharp now, I’m sure, as I got ready for bed that evening and waited for her to tuck me in, I was still talking about how much I needed that doll.

Not too many days after our conversation, Mama gave me a gift. It wasn’t a Barbie doll, but it was a doll that was very similar. The doll I received was named Tressy. Mama had picked her up at our local Sears store. Tressy looked very much like a Barbie doll but had one major difference. She had a button on her belly that when pushed would allow her hair to magically grow.

I was so excited to have my very own doll! It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a real Barbie doll. She had tiny black shoes and a bright red dress. She even came with a miniscule plastic brush to help style her beautiful, blonde hair. I could barely wait to show my friend my treasured possession.

After months of playing with Tressy, her bright red dress began to show wear. Unlike my friend, I didn’t have extra clothes for Tressy. As I brought that fact to my mother’s attention, I’m sure my desire for more material things weighed heavily on her. I had no idea how my wants impacted her, but would soon find out.

Mama was a seamstress. She often took in sewing jobs in an effort to supplement our meager income. Many a night my siblings and I would fall asleep to the gentle hum of her sewing machine as she worked diligently to complete a paying job. Sometimes, if there was an approaching deadline for one of her clients, she’d work into the wee hours of the morning, but Mama always did her sewing while we were at school or after she’d fed us and tucked us into bed for the evening.

One night, as I lay in bed listening to the whirring sound of her sewing machine, I was unable to sleep. Quietly, I crawled out of bed and wandered into Mama’s sewing room. Her sewing room wasn’t really a room. It was a tiny closet that had been converted. It had just enough space for her sewing machine, a few shelves on the wall above it, and a file cabinet tucked into the corner where she stored all of her patterns.

When I entered the small space, Mama looked up. “What are you doing awake?” she said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep. As I stood next to her, I glanced down to see what she was working on and was surprised to see a tiny black and white houndstooth coat. It took a few minutes for me to realize that coat she was making was for me. It was a miniature piece of clothing for my Tressy doll.

Mama seemed flustered that I’d caught her by surprise and hurriedly shooed me out of the room and back to bed.  

The next morning, I pestered her about the little coat I’d seen her making. She told me it wasn’t finished yet and said she had some details to add before it would be complete. I was so excited knowing that in a few days, Tressy would have another piece of clothing, a gorgeous black and white coat.

Mama found some teeny, tiny, black buttons at a cloth shop in Scottdale where she purchased all of her sewing supplies. While watching TV she’d often do her hand sewing for projects and in my mind’s eye, I can still see her fingers working swiftly to sew on those little buttons. Thimble on her middle right finger and needle gripped tightly between thumb and forefinger, the threaded needle moved in and out as she guided it to accomplish the task.

When the coat was complete, Mama handed it to me. I was so proud of that tiny work of art. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, she smiled a great, big smile. I told her I loved her and ran off to play.

That was the first of many handmade doll clothes I possessed. Mama continued making those clothing items for my doll and soon was making them for my sister’s Tammy doll, too.

At Christmas, we each received a storage case for our dolls and their clothes. Only the suitcase had been purchased, the clothing had all been handmade. Tiny buttons, ribbons, and belts adorned each item of clothing and those gifts of love soon became the envy of my neighbor.

There’s not a price you can put on the gift of love. Those little coats and dresses that Mama made were her way of showing me that she wanted to meet my needs. Even though we didn’t have money for store bought items, she did what she could to make me happy.

As an adult, I can’t help but tear up when I remember how hard she worked to make those little doll clothes. It wasn’t until I began to sew that I realized how difficult it must have been for Mama to make those little clothes. The side seams of the garments weren’t more than 5 or 6 inches long and were less than half an inch wide. It took great skill and precision to maneuver the sewing machine needle without piercing a finger or two.

Every year, when Mother’s Day approaches, I remember those little doll clothes and the sacrifice Mama made in buying the extra materials to make them for me. I remember how she worked hunched over her sewing machine late into the evenings and how tirelessly she added the detailed embellishments to make them look professionally made.

Those little clothes are still around. I’m pretty sure my sister has them packed in her little doll suitcase stored somewhere safe in her home. And although I don’t have any of them in my possession, I have every single one of them etched into my memory.

My mother was a remarkable person and was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. She was very resourceful and talented. She was giving and kind. She loved others and loved God. I am thankful for her and though she’s not with us any longer, I’ll always celebrate Mother’s Day remembering her fondly.

Two years ago, my oldest granddaughter wanted a Barbie doll but her mommy didn’t like the worldliness of the dolls. The elaborate makeup and revealing clothing weren’t appropriate for a little girl, she’d said. So, I bought a handful of Barbie dolls at our local Goodwill and brought them home to revamp. With acetone, I gently scrubbed off their makeup and repainted their faces with kinder, gentler eyes and smiles. I removed their clothing and replaced them with some handmade pieces. As I was working, it almost felt like my Mama was peering over my shoulder whispering, “Add a button there.”

My gift of love was presented to my granddaughter on her birthday. The blessing I received, as she opened the dolls, was priceless. That love that Mama had shared with me had come full circle and hopefully, in the future, will be passed down from generation to generation.

This Mother’s Day, as you celebrate your own Mom, try to think about something she said or did to show her love for you. It may not have been through a material gift. Perhaps it was only a look or a word but if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll understand that a mother’s love for her child is a special kind of love and one that can’t be taken for granted. It’s a love that should be celebrated and cherished for now and for always.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Art, art, and more art!

I never considered myself an artist, although I wanted to be. Since I was a very young child, I'd loved to dabble in all types of art mediums. From the moment I held my first crayon, I'd fallen in love with art.

In grammar school, although I didn't have many tools in the way of art supplies, I found my finger was useful. When I was working on a project for a local social science fair, I chose to do my report on Brazil. For weeks, I read everything I could find on South America. My project was going to focus on the art of bull fighting and the rigorous training fighters must endure. As I compiled my information and wrote my report, I wanted to add a visual aid. Digging through my mother's closet, I found an old canvas and some used oil paints. (She liked to dabble, too.) Flipping through the pages of a large book I'd checked out from the library, I found a photo of a bull. That photo became my inspiration.

I had no idea how to use oil paints back then and was unfamiliar with their properties. But in my haste to complete my project, I sketched the bull's head enlarging it to fill the entire canvas.

I had no brushes with which to paint. My mother's art days had been long ago and apparently she'd thrown out her old and worn brushes. What a dilemma! What could I use? I didn't have time to beg, borrow, or steal brushes. It was after 11:00 p.m. and my project was due the following morning. So, I had to become creative. Ingenuity led me to look at the ten digits on my hands. Maybe they would work.

I took a dab of black oil paint and gently placed it on the canvas just inside the area I'd sketched for the bull's ear. Taking my little finger, I began to smooth and spread the paint into the areas it needed to be and found, by taking extreme patience and care, I could manipulate the paint to do what I needed it to do.

I continued working on the painting until three or 4 in the morning and then lay down to rest. When it was time to get up and get ready for school, I gathered my things and started to head out to my mother's waiting car. As I pressed the painting to my body, I realized the paint had not dried completely! What was I going to do?

When I arrived at school, I went into the girls' bathroom. Their, hanging on the wall, was a convenient hand dryers Holding the painting beneath the dryer, I used the other hand to press and turn it on. I stood there as long as possible trying to dry my painting but knew I'd have to get to class soon or be counted absent.

Thankfully, when I returned to class, the teacher was telling us it was time to go and prepare our displays. That's when I realized no one would touch my painting but me as we set up our presentations. The teacher explained that judging would begin the following week, that would give my art time to dry!

By the time the judges reviewed the work, my painting was dry to the touch. I was thankful I'd had sense enough not to use a lot of paint in my work. I'd skimmed on tiny amounts of paint while using my fingers to work it into the canvas.

I can still see the tips of my fingers that day at school. They were covered in dried paint. I'd scrubbed my hands before school but the oil paint was difficult to remove so I'd gone to school with black, brown, and deep red stained fingertips.

Fast forward to my post active breast cancer stage and I find myself loving to paint again. This time I've graduated from using my fingers regularly to only using them on occasion. I paint with acrylics now instead of oils because I'm an impatient person and don't want to wait for the paint to dry.

Painting has helped me pass the time and I've found, when I'm painting, I don't think about my health.

Yesterday, I participated in a local event called Free Art Friday. It's an event where artists create works of art and then randomly place them around the downtown area for people to find and take home. It's a great way to bless others and my husband and I often enjoy watching the finders as they discover my works of art.

Not only do I hide art and give it away for free, I often send packages to friends or family without their prior knowledge. Giving is a gift I enjoy just about as much as I do creating.

My theme for the past month has been angels. There's a verse in the Bible, Psalm 91:11, that says, "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." That verse seems very fitting to write on the back of my paintings. When I send those paintings off in the mail, it is my prayer that the recipient will know that God is always watching over them.

Art is therapeutic and I'm thankful I discovered it at a very young age. I hope I'll still have the energy to create well into my 90s, that's the plan anyway! And hopefully, my hands won't be too shaky to hold a brush, but if they are, I know how to use my fingers.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Three little letters

I am an impatient person, always have been, always will be. And while that's not always a good thing, it's the truth. I just hate waiting.

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day at the cancer treatment center. I was scheduled for a biopsy. Dr. H had found an enlarged lymph node along my left clavicle at my last exam. Since that visit, I'd had an ultrasound performed which defined a fairly large node just under my left collar bone. Those findings led the doctor to order an ultrasound-guided biopsy but the thing is, when I went in for the test to be performed, the little radiology tech couldn't find the node! She kept passing the ultrasound wand over and over the area where the node had been. She snapped photos of what she thought might have been the place Dr. H wanted to biopsy. She turned those photos in to the head radiologist for his opinion. She even brought him back into the exam room to talk with me. When he arrived, I didn't know what to think but as a big grin crossed his face, I knew everything was going to be okay.

Although the node wasn't showing up on the ultrasound scan and although no biopsy was performed, Dr. H, along with the radiologist, felt a repeat PET SCAN was due. (I'd had my last scan done in 2015 and I'm sure they felt that 4 years could have led to some notable changes in my body.)

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon at the cancer treatment center. First, I was intravenously administered a radioactive tracer. Then it was time to wait. I was told I'd have to wait about an hour for the tracer to course through my system.

After gathering the radioactive vial and other materials, the nurse turned down the lights, brought me a warm blanket, and left the room. I assumed the ambient lighting was to help me relax and possibly even fall asleep, but they didn't know me. I don't nap during the day.

I got up and turned up the lights and began reading a book I'd pilfered from the library on the second floor earlier that day. As I read, I noticed the room was beginning to get colder and colder. Although I had that thin little warmed blanket the nurse had given me earlier, I was freezing! So I got up again and tried to adjust the thermostat in the room but was unable to do so. Apparently, it was controlled elsewhere in the building so I made the best of a bad situation and covered myself from top to bottom with that little blanket.

When the time was up, the nurse came back into the room and told me to empty my bladder. I was so happy to hear her say that! I was about to burst from drinking all the water they'd encouraged during my time there and the coolness of the room exacerbated my feelings of urgency.

After taking care of business, I was taken into the room for the scan. The positron emission tomography scan (PET SCAN) would look at all my bones, tissues and organs. The radioactive tracer would illuminate any trouble spots indicating a probable recurrence of cancer. I was nervous about the test and since I don't do well in confined spaces, I'd taken the anti-anxiety meds the doctor had prescribed for me before being put into the scanning machine. They helped me relax enough to withstand the scan without feeling anxious.

The test was over fairly quickly. I don't think it lasted more than about 15-20 minutes. When the test was over, I asked the tech when I could expect to receive the results. She assured me I'd hear from my oncologist the following day.

All night long I tried my best not to worry. I didn't want to think about the possibility of a recurrence. As I prayed before bed, I told God I'd accept either verdict. If He saw fit for me to go through another round of cancer, so be it. And, if He saw fit to allow me to remain cancer-free, then I'd accept that, too. By coming to terms with whatever God chose to bring my way, I fell asleep peacefully and slept soundly through the night.

I woke up bright and early. From 5:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. I waited patiently to hear from the doctor. I sat by the phone in my office expecting it to ring any minute.

When I finally received word that I was still cancer free, I wanted to dance around the room! I was so grateful and so humbled.

In His goodness, God has allowed me to remain cancer free for almost 5 years. I know so many others who've passed away during that time from breast cancer. I have no idea why God's chosen to allow me His favor, but I will gladly accept it. And I'll treasure those three little letters, N.E.D., every day from this day forward.

For those who've never experienced breast cancer, it's hard to explain what living under an umbrella of fear feels like. It's hard to be on constant guard for the most recent results from bloodwork, scans, or other tests. Sometimes, it seems like they'll never end and for most us, even if we're in a state of remission, we'll continue to be under the watchful eye of a doctor for the rest of our lives.

Cancer is a tricky disease. It can pop back up and become active at any time. Many times, a recurrence appears within a few years after the initial diagnosis and other times, it can appear decades later. But for those of us who've had our lives touched by cancer, we have to learn to continue our lives. We can't live in a state of constant fear - that's a very unhealthy place to be. So on this day, I am celebrating! Fear has no power over me!

And one thing I know for sure...God is good, all the time. He's got a plan for my life and I am choosing to walk in it. I will trust Him no matter what because I know He has numbered my days. No one can pluck me out of His MIGHTY, OMNIPOTENT hand.

Celebrate with me, won't you? N.E.D. seems such a tiny little acronym for such a big blessing but I'll take it!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dodged a bullet today, yay!

The biopsy setup with all those sharp instruments
Today I was scheduled for a biopsy on an enlarged lymph node on my left clavicle. I wasn't looking forward to it, biopsies hurt, but I trusted my doctor and knew he was watching out for my well being.

As I got ready for the trip to the cancer treatment center, I didn't realize how nervous I was about today's visit until I started to put in my earrings. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn't find the hole to insert my earring. That was not a good sign. I must have been internally fearful and my body's fight or flight system was saying, run, run, run! I didn't run. I realized I had to put on my big girl panties and be brave. I've been having to do that a lot lately.

When I got to the cancer treatment center, the imaging room was packed full. As I glanced around, I saw some familiar faces and many new ones. After check-in, I found a seat and waited to be called back. Usually, it only takes a few minutes. Today, it took almost half an hour.

When it was my turn to go back, I followed the quick-stepping young nurse as fast as I could. She was definitely a power walker! I was having to take 3 steps to every one of hers. We reached the room and she handed me a gown and a warm blanket. I wanted to say, "I know the drill," but I didn't. As she left the room, I slipped off my clothes and donned the gown with the ribbon ties in the front. After waiting for about ten minutes, the nurse came back in and we got started.

She took the warm conductive gel and smeared it on the ultrasound wand. I pushed my hair back behind my ear to keep the gook from gumming up my freshly washed hair. Over and over again, the nurse passed the wand across my clavicle pausing now and then to snap a photo of what she was seeing. When she was done, she left the room to show the radiologist the film.

I waited until the radiologist came in. I didn't know what to expect as he sat beside me on the gurney. He smiled a big smile and said, "You don't need a biopsy today. The lymph node has shrunk since your last visit to Dr. H." I was so thankful to hear those words. I was not going to have to endure the pain of having a large needle inserted into my neck, WOOHOO! But, I wasn't out of the woods yet. The radiologist said my oncologist had requested I have a PET scan and that would be done tomorrow. My last one was done in 2015 so they felt it was time for another.

Ultrasound ready for my scan
With my five year cancerversary just around the corner, I'm hoping I get an all clear from this PET scan. It's my hope that I don't have to come back to the cancer treatment center for an entire year. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I'm trusting God either way. If He deems it necessary for me to experience a recurrence, so be it. I'll know its His will. And, if He gives me a free and clear scan, I'll know His will is for me to move past this cancer mess and get on with my life. Either way, He's a good God and He knows what is in store for my future.

So that's where we stand today. I am grateful and I am blessed. Until tomorrow....
Happy me - no needles today!

Friday, April 12, 2019

CBD is working for me!

When my naturopathic doctor recommended I begin using cannabidiol, CBD, to help manage pain, I was shocked. I was very unfamiliar with CBD. Although I’d been seeing and hearing a lot about it on social media, the only thing I really knew was what I’d read. I had no first hand knowledge. I did understand that CBD was derived from the same plant known as marijuana, or Cannabis Sativa. CBD, according to my doctor, was the good part, the part without the psychoactive component of the plant called tetrahydrocannabinol otherwise known as THC. Taking CBD oil, he assured, would not cause me to feel “high.”  

For many months, the post cancer pain I’d been experiencing had grown increasingly troublesome. I’d visited the doctor several times to find a solution and we’d discussed options such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, nerve blocks, and even surgery. Not only was I suffering from post cancer body pain, I also struggled with secondary lymphedema, degenerative spinal issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The pain and the anxiety I felt on a daily basis,  had become overwhelming. I needed help but didn’t want to go the prescription pain medication route. I was fearful about the possibility of addiction.

The doctor recommended I take two cannabinoids, cannabigerol and cannabidiol. Cannibigerol, CBG, was a lesser known cannabinoid that worked well with the body’s own endocannabinoid system. I didn’t really understand it but according to information found on the website, things became a little more clear. Their site said, “To understand the human endocannabinoid system, it’s helpful to know a little about one of the most fundamental concepts in biology: homeostasis. And the best way to understand homeostasis is to think of Goldilocks and the three bears. That classic fairy tale illustrated the idea that the best outcome often lies somewhere in the middle, between two extremes. We don’t want things too hot or too cold, but just right. Homeostasis is the concept that most biological systems are actively regulated to maintain conditions within a narrow range. Our body doesn’t want its temperature to be too hot or too cold, blood sugar levels too high or too low, and so on. Conditions need to be just right for our cells to maintain optimum performance, and exquisite mechanisms have evolved to draw them back to the Goldilocks zone if they move out. The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vital molecular system for helping maintain homeostasis—it helps cells stay in their Goldilocks zone.”

After reading that information, I did think CBD would be good for my body. Anything that could help keep things in balance and prevent a recurrence of cancer was for me.

Along with the CBG, it was also recommended I begin taking cannabidiol, CBD, another natural component of the cannabis plant. Taking the CBG and CBD in conjunction with one another should give me good results, the doctor assured me.

Leaving the cancer treatment center, I was given information to purchase the CBG and CBD tinctures locally. The mom and pop shop selling the cannabis products was just around the corner from the hospital, so I went immediately to make my purchases.

Upon entering the shop, I felt skittish. I had no idea what I needed to buy. The shop owner began to show and explain about each product. I could choose tinctures, which were oil based, gel capsules, vaping pens, or even gummy candies. There were many strengths available, too. Relying on the advice of the shop owner, I left the store with one small bottle of CBG and one of CBD. Each one-ounce bottle cost just under $100.

Taking the products home, I planned the first dose of CBG after lunch. Assuming it would be best taken with food, I was excited and nervous.

Drawing up the greenish oil into the glass dropper, I readied my mouth to accept the liquid. I’d been instructed to place one dropper full of oil underneath my tongue. As I did so, I noticed a heady taste, almost like liquid grass. There were no immediate side effects noticed after ingesting, but I’d been told it could take up to two hours for the effects to be felt. I made a mental note to watch for side effects and share them with my physician.

That evening, I took my next dose. This time I’d be trying the CBD oil. Unlike the CBG, this tincture had been flavored with peppermint oil to make it more palatable. The taste was definitely better but even without a flavoring, the taste of the CBG hadn’t been unbearable, just different.

The effects of the CBD weren’t realized until the following morning when I discovered I’d slept soundly through the night, the first time I’d done that in several years.

Continuing to use the CBG and the CBD oils for the next few days, I noticed a significant decrease in my pain level. In fact, I barely noticed any pain at all! A feeling of relaxation was present as well. I was pleasantly surprised. These were significant changes that could only be attributed to the tinctures.

At the beginning of the third week, I found it necessary to add another dropper of the CBG to my daily regimen. I’d been only taking one dropper full of CBG in the morning and one dropperful of CBD at night before bed. With only two doses a day, I’d find myself needing something during the middle of the day as breakthrough pain would begin. “Since each body is different,” the doctor had said, I would need to make adjustments “to find what worked best.” In essence, I was going to have to be a human guinea pig.  

After a month of using both products, my overall physical health has improved. I’ve finally found the right combination of CBG and CBD that work for me. Before the products, controlling bodily pain was a challenge. I’d tried over the counter anti-inflammatory medication but it didn’t help.  With the cannabinoids, I could definitely tell a difference. I was surprised at how quickly the benefits appeared.

The products I used for this experiment contained 24 mg of cannabidiol per dropper, but as I’ve searched online for other products, I’ve noticed most of them contain lesser amounts of CBD per ml.  Conducting an online search for comparable products has been daunting. There are so many companies selling CBD products. Since none are federally regulated or tested, the consumer shoulders the responsibility to research products and companies before making a purchase.

A wide variety of products are available for consumers. Some companies making and selling these products are transparent about which parts of the cannabis plant are used in making their products and some are not. Some claim hemp oil is the same thing as CBD, but that’s inaccurate. Hemp oil is made from the seeds of the cannabis plant while cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves, and stalks.

And while CBD doesn’t contain enough THC to get a person high, there are definite benefits to using it. Cannabidiol has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, reduce pain and inflammation, reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures, reduce inflammation related to diabetes, and may even help fight cancer!

Some states have legalized the use of Cannabis for medicinal reasons while others have approved the use of CBD products as long as they fall under the category of being a hemp only product. Hemp oil products can provide an alternative to medical marijuana for those who are unable to legally obtain it in their state.

If interested in trying CBD products, please do your homework. Not all companies are legitimate in their product advertisement. Remember the old adage, buyer beware. CBD products are popular but they’re also unregulated. Without government guidelines, some companies provide substandard products that may contain unhealthy ingredients such as pesticides or solvents.  

When shopping for CBD oil, how can you know that you’re getting a quality product? Legitimate companies interested in providing quality products for their consumers adhere to specific guidelines and standards they’ve set for themselves. They are usually willing to be openly share details of their product making and quickly answer consumers’ questions. These companies may also use third party testing to verify product quality.

The market is saturated with an ever-growing number of companies selling products made from the cannabis plant. However, with a little research, it is possible to make a wise decision and reap the healthy benefits of CBD.

If interested in trying CBD for health benefits, talk with your medical professional. Ask for suggestions on usage and for suggestions on suppliers.

Bottom line – I have been pleasantly surprised by CBG and CBD. It was helpful to have guidance from a medical professional on where to purchase a safe, quality product, what dosage to consume, and how to alleviate pain naturally. I don’t think I could have made an informed decision on my own without some guidance.

There are so many things to consider when buying CBG and CBD. There are literally thousands of products available online. Conducting your own internet search will provide a lot of valuable information and you’ll probably learn some new terms such as terpenes, and terpenoids.

If you’d prefer a shortcut to choosing products, check out this site for a quick introduction.

Using CBG and CBD can be part of an alternative therapy program, but as stated earlier in this post, each person’s body is different and the results may not always be the same. Each person must decide what is right for his/her own health.

Most CBG and CBD products on the market today contain under 0.3% THC. This is important to note especially when making purchases in states that have not legalized marijuana. Any product containing more THC would fall under the guidelines of those used for medical marijuana and may require a written prescription for purchase and carry.

Disclosure: The results I’ve received since using these tinctures has been amazing. I will continue to use the CBG and CBD products because of the beneficial results I’ve experienced. I will give a positive report to my oncologist at my visit next month.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Don't forget where you've been

My mother always told me to look where I was going. More than likely she started speaking those words to me when I was very young but I don't really remember when I first started to hear her chide me. 

What I do know is that as a daydreamer/multi-tasker, my focus has never on what was immediately in front of me. My head was always swiveling, trying to see not only where I was going but where I'd been. That was not necessarily a good thing and often, I ended up with scrapes and bruises from my inattention. But, looking back isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing. 

Sometimes it's necessary to take a look back in order to see how far you've come. 

Today, as I was working to free up some space on my Google drive, I came across a multitude of photos from my cancer journey. That journey began in June of 2014. As I started to look through the photos, I became overwhelmed. Although it's been almost 5 years since my diagnosis, it seems like it was only yesterday. 

One of the photos that particularly impacted me was a picture of my naked torso. In that photo, I'd already had my breasts removed and had almost completely healed from that surgery. The photo was taken at the radiation clinic and the staff had just completed their "mark up" for my scheduled treatments. The dots and lines they'd applied with a Sharpie marker wouldn't stay on permanently but they'd stay on through the first couple of treatments. 

I remember well the day they began to mark up my body. They'd made a fiberglass mold of my upper body for the linear accelerator to insure accurate positioning every time I came in for treatment but then, they'd also explained, the need for markings to help line up the beams of radiation. Without them, some of my vital organs could be damaged. 

Radiation was difficult although I didn't feel a thing while going through the treatments. There were no sharp pains, no ill side effects other than some extreme fatigue and the burns I acquired about halfway through treatment. But later on, down the road, the doctor discovered I'd received some damage to the lower lobe of my right lung. They'd done everything they could to avoid damaging my organs but they could only control the radiation to a certain degree. I'd been warned in advance that the possibility of some residual damage was possible. 

As I looked at the photos of the radiation therapy, I could feel those feelings all over again. The feelings of embarrassment at having to bare my chest to even more people than I'd already done and of the feelings that cancer would never end. I was very down in the dumps during that time and feeling pretty hopeless. It wasn't good. 

But then I flipped through more photos and came across the ones from my first few cancerversaries. We'd had cake and family had come to help me celebrate those important milestones. Those were extremely happy memories and as I remembered those days, I was thankful. 

There were also photos of special trips we'd made to the beach and photos of my new boobs. I'd tried to document every aspect of my journey so my children would be able to look back one day and see how far I'd come. Some of the photos were extremely serious and some were overwhelmingly hilarious. 

Taking a walk down memory lane through Cancerland today was interesting. I'd forgotten about some of those moments but the photos helped remind me. As I looked back, I didn't lose sight of where I am now and I didn't find myself bumping into something that was going to cause me physical pain either. 

It's good to remember where you've been and how much you've overcome. Fighting cancer isn't easy, in fact, there are many, many lessons we learn along the way but some of them aren't realized until we glance back and face reality. 

Breast cancer hasn't been a total negative experience for me. I've learned many things along the way and some of those things I would have never learned were it not for this major health challenge. 

Along with being an "accident waiting to happen" as my mother always called me, I'm also a Pollyanna. My rose colored glasses help me find the good in both the past and in looking toward the future. 

I won't forget where I've been and I certainly won't forget where I'm going. Although I don't have an exact destination here on Earth, I know I'm moving forward one day at a time and that's good enough for me. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

What's it all about, Alfie?

Have you ever started a day with a song running through your mind? I have this happen to me a good bit and often, the songs come very early in the morning. This morning, it was 4:30 a.m. Not a popular time for most people to be awake and not particularly a time when people think about singing, but there it was...first a gentle whisper and then growing louder and louder. 

The name of the song was "What's it all about, Alfie." The song became popular in the late 60s and I remember hearing it often on the radio as I'd get ready for school. The tune was pleasant and thought provoking. Dionne Warwick did a splendid job of singing the song written by Burt Bacharach. 

Back then, I didn't grasp the meaning of the words as I listened to the song. If I'd realized the depth of it then, I'm sure I would have liked it even more than I did at the time. 

The older I get, the more melancholy I've become. Maybe it's because I'm realizing there are more years behind me than ahead of me. Maybe it's because I've finally realized how very precious life is - I have breast cancer to thank for that. In my B.C. days (before cancer) I took a lot for granted. 

Burt's song this morning, reminded me that without love we just exist. The Bible tells us that love is the most important thing of all. We're to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength - that's the first commandment, but then, we're also supposed to love others as ourselves. Sometimes that can be a tall order especially when people aren't quite as lovable as we'd like them to be. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in the world could grasp the concept that love is really all it takes to make the world go 'round? 

Well, I just realized I'm really dating myself with these song references but that's okay. I'm getting old and I have the white hair to prove it! 

What's it all about? None of us really understand but if we can focus on learning to love and love well, I think we're halfway there. 

I sure hope I don't wake up at the crack of dawn in the morning with another song in my head. If I do, I'd like to pick something with a little less depth - maybe Harvest Moon by Neil Young. Now that's a song I could wake up to every morning!

If you're not familiar with Burt Bacharach's song, here are the lyrics. You can listen to Dionne Warwick singing it here

What's it all about, Alfie?

Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it's wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hooray for Hemp!

So much has happened since my last post and I keep telling myself that I'm going to work on that. I've been meaning to post more often but honestly, I've just been busy! Maybe in the future that will change but I'm not promising anything, mind you.

One of the best things that's happened since my last post was visiting the cancer treatment center and having a good heart to heart with the naturopath. We discussed my back pain and the post cancer PTSD and came to the conclusion that CBD oil might be worth a try.

I was surprised when the doctor even handed me a printout of recommended brands and dosages. He even knew of a shop right here in my home town that sells exactly what I needed. As I left the hospital, I was both excited and nervous. I wanted to try the CBD but wasn't sure if it would work for me.

When I arrived at the local distributor's shop, there were no products on display so I wasn't sure what I was going to be getting. I handed the printout from my doctor to the shop owner and she pulled the exact products the doctor had suggested. The first one was a CBG oil. I wasn't sure if that was correct and thought there'd been a typo but, as it turns out, Cannabigerol is a component of CBD. The doctor recommended I use the CBG during the day and that I use CBD at night.

I was shocked by the cost of each 1 ounce bottle. The CBG was $73 and the CBD was just under $100. If I decide to do this on a monthly basis, it could get quite expensive and insurance doesn't cover CBD oil.

Taking the tinctures home, I took my first dose after dinner. I didn't notice anything that day.

The following day, I took one dose of CBG right after breakfast and another mid day. I took the CBD that evening before bed. I was happy to find that I hadn't noticed back pain all day and usually, it kept me from doing many of the things I wanted to do. When I took the CBD just before bed, I slept like a rock. I hadn't had a good night's sleep in over 2 years!

Since those first initial days, I've found good results. I've been taking the tinctures for almost a month now and I'm planning on continuing. I've tried to find information online and compare prices but it's been a little overwhelming. There are so many companies out there and you just really have to do a lot of research to find out whether the companies are reputable  and have a quality product or if they're bogus.

I may end up going the medical marijuana route when I visit with the oncologist next month. We'd talked about it and discussed the need for a medical registration card in my state. I'll keep you posted on that. In the meantime, if you're interested in trying CBD oil, I'd suggest you try it. There are a few companies I'd recommend to you:

Monday, February 25, 2019

Pain, pain, go away

Well, it's official. I have a really messed up back. The MRI says so. Almost every single vertebrae has an issue. No wonder I've been having such pain.

Some of the issues are hereditary, like the degenerative disk disease, osteoporosis, and spinal stenosis, but the other things are all mine - herniated disks, bulging disks, etc. etc.

I wasn't expecting the test to reveal as much as it did...2 single spaced typed pages of information. Wow. And that's why I'm going to the pain management clinic at the cancer treatment center as well as seeing the chiropractor. Joy, joy.

I'm nervous about going to the pain management clinic. I don't want to be put on some addictive pain meds but I sure could use a little help with the difficulties in my spine. And since I used to work for chiropractors before, I know how that goes. One adjustment will lead to many others and will help for a period of time but then, after the insurance runs out, we'll be back to square one.

I've been researching inversion tables. The doctor mentioned that it might help so the plan is to get one in the very near future. Hanging upside down by your ankles doesn't sound like a lot of fun - blood rushing to your head and all, but, if it elongates my spine and helps take some pressure off the vertebrae, it will be worth it.

The other issue is that pesky lymph node that doesn't want to shrink down to size. Along my left clavicle, there's a huge lymph node that I didn't even know was there. The oncologist found it at my last visit and did an ultrasound on it. At the time, the radiologist said it wasn't cancer but I was surprised when the cancer treatment center called on Friday and told me they want me to come back in next month for a retest. If the node is still swollen, they want to do a biopsy. I don't want another biopsy. They hurt.

Some days I wonder when cancer will ever leave me alone. In just a few more months, I'll celebrate my 5th cancerversary and while that seems like a minor event, it's major to me! Major!

On a lighter note, I've been focusing on getting my art ready for the exhibit. My work will be on display from April 1 through the end of May. I'm honored the county wants to put it up. I feel so accomplished, lol.

Art therapy has become my self imposed daily outlet. When I'm working on a piece of art, I'm not thinking about how badly my back hurts, about that pesky lymph node, or about the fact that cancer could come sneaking up on me again any day.

My latest projects are polymer clay jewelry with a steam punk influence. They're a lot of fun to do and they're quick and easy.

Free Art Friday is coming up again so I may just slip a couple of my pieces in and around the city for seekers to find. I love doing that. It's so fun to hide in the downtown area and watch as finders pick up my art.

I'm so thankful warmer weather is finally here. It's so nice to see the sun today. We've had so much rain lately.

Wish me luck as I get my back cracked. (Oh how my old chiropractor would hate hearing me say that!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Love is in the Air

Almost one and a half months have passed since we rang in the New Year and it's hard to believe how fast time is flying! My grandmother always used to say, "The older you get, the faster the years go," and she was right! Since reaching my 61st year, time goes by at lightening speed.

Love is in the air and hearts are everywhere! Valentine's Day will soon be here. Isn't it nice to have a month devoted to the celebration of love? I think so. At least it's not a month devoted to an emotion like anger or hate, that would be bad...really bad. All kidding aside, I love this month - did you get that, I said I LOVE this month, haha. In my humble opinion, love should be celebrated not just on Valentine's Day but every day. Love makes the world go around, or so the song says. But these days, it seems love is hard to find for some. There are so many wrapped up in worldly ambitions and evil desires that love seems to be a think of the past, at least love celebrated in the way God intended it to be but I won't climb up on my soapbox just yet.

Today, I'm not focusing on Valentine's Day, although I should be. Instead, my focus is on cancer, namely my cancer. Speaking of that, today is the day I go for my six month check up. I always get anxious before those visits. It's not easy going to have bloodwork done and waiting for the results. Those results will either determine I'm good for another year or heaven forbid, if the cancer has returned, treatment will start again. I don't even want to think about that.

Walking into the cancer treatment center is always overwhelming. There are so many people there and all in various stages of treatment for some sort of cancer. At times, I feel like I don't belong. I don't look sick any longer. The only way anyone could tell I'd ever had cancer is the fact that I'm missing both breasts and I wear compression sleeves for lymphedema. And to see those things, one would have to look closely, very closely, because I do my best to hide those facts.

I wish there was a way to move completely out of cancerland leaving it behind forever, but that isn't an option when you're dealt the cancer card. It's a lifelong game until you die and yeh, I know that sounded morbid, but it's the truth.

So, today, as I head off to the treatment center, I'll be thinking about love. I'll think about how much I love my husband, my family, and my life. And while I don't being constantly reminded of my bout with cancer, I'll accept it as a part of my "new normal." (I really hate that terminology!)

Writing a book is like giving birth

This is the year I'm supposed to complete my book. That was the impression I got from God as I prayed about it. Over the past few year...