Thursday, August 10, 2017

There Goes My Life...


Monday, August 7, 2017—the day that I drove away and left my kid at college.

Let me clarify. I am not a wuss. I do not baby my kids. None of them. Never have. I have loved each fiercely, but I don’t sugar coat. I’m not the overprotective type. I love my kids and I love spending time with them (unless they are being jerks)—summers and weekends and evenings, but I am one of those moms who does cartwheels when school is back in session.

I never dreamed my kid going to college would shake me to the core. Yes, I’ve heard the Kenny Chesney song. And the Brad Paisley song. And all the other songs that talk about your kid driving away or the last time you do this or that, and they do make me a little teary-eyed, but honestly, I did not think my kid moving out would do that to me.

I have been a mess this week. A MESS! My husband finally told me today that I had to get it together. And I hope that he got through to me, because I DO have to get it together. I hate feeling like this. So much of me wants to be so proud and happy for my kid and I AM those things, but he’s gone y’all! And yes, he is only a couple of hours away and he is still my son and blah blah…all that crap that people say to make you feel better, but I know what happened when I went away to school. I never came back. I left in 1995 and I didn’t come back until 2003. Sure, I visited, but life as we knew it was never the same.

I carried this baby for nine months and I gave birth to that 9 lb. 4.5 oz half-grown kid and I still have the stretch marks and extra 30 lbs. to prove it. I held him and fed him and got peed and pooped and puked on by him on the daily. I pushed him out of my unmentionables and then I pushed him for hours upon hours in the swing. For years.

 I finger-painted with him. I pulled him in a wagon. I rode him on the back of my bicycle. I took him to Kindermusik. I took him to church. Soccer. Basketball. Cross Country. Track. I watched him get baptized. I watched him receive countless awards and accolades. I watched him become a big brother. Twice. I watched him grow into the handsome young man that he is. I watched him be a good son, a good brother, and a good friend. I watched him walk across that graduation stage as an honor grad. I even had to watch him watch his mom go through a cancer battle right before his senior year of high school when all he should’ve been worrying about was girls and who is going to win the football game and how many cheeseburgers can he get for $10. I have laughed with him until I have cried and I have cried with him until I laughed.

I remember my fear when he was still nonverbal at almost 3 years old. I went through 18 months of speech therapy with him, twice a week until finally he was speaking. I got a call when he was in Kindergarten for a meeting because his fine motor skills were not up to par. They tested his cutting with scissors and he actually held the scissors backwards and cut with the blades facing him. He got the job done, but they were at a loss because he hadn’t held the scissors the proper way. I left crying because I just wanted him to be like all of the rest of the kids. What I realize 14 years later is that I was underestimating him and not being brave enough to look outside the box. Sometimes the way one of us gets from point A to point B might not be the same as the way someone else does. And that doesn’t mean either way is wrong—in spite of what the PALS testing regulations say. After that battle, it turned out by 5th grade, they felt he should go into the gifted program and so he did. He enjoyed those challenges and the students and teachers during those years.

I was struggling one time with him and I remember calling my dad and crying, “But I don’t want to break his spirit!” That has always been a fear of mine as a mother. I want my children to be kind, loving, civic-minded, productive members of society, but I never want them to lose an ounce of their individuality or quirkiness or uniqueness. That is their special gift to the world! My dad’s advice at that time was, “Don’t break…mold.” And those three words have stuck with me. Molding takes patience and time and practice. You can’t just wave a wand and mold something. You have to work with it until it’s pliable and then you have to keep working with it until it can be shaped and you have to continue to shape until it takes form.

So many things I have to look back on in the last 18 years…so many fun times and laughs and memories. I treasure each of them. I think back to that scared 21-year-old in the hospital who didn’t have a clue what to do with a baby. Riley and I grew up together. We screwed up some and we rocked it out some. Kevin always loves to tell the story of when Riley was an infant and I knocked his head into the door jam. Twice. It wasn’t as horrible as he likes to describe it and you turned out smart, so clearly, I didn’t mess your brain up too much.

So I think everyone is beginning to understand my heart-hurt. Those who have let go understand this. This was my first time. You know when they do the water release up at Gathright Dam? That’s kind of how it is right now. I’ve done a release and the levels are rising now—it’s a flood of memories. It’s everything over the last 18 years that made Riley’s time under our roof so special and wonderful. No longer will Natalie and Wyatt have their brother living at home. Everything is different now. That doesn’t mean that great times aren’t ahead! I do know they are! And oh my gosh I’m so proud. I’m SO PROUD! And I’m so happy that he is going out and doing what we’ve been preparing for over the last 18 years!

But a super selfish mommy part is really sad that things can’t remain all the same forever because I’ve really enjoyed the ways things have been.

But what if my parents would’ve clipped my wings? I wouldn’t have been able to experience all of this awesome life! So, I know in my heart of hearts that I have to do the same for him. And then Natalie. And then Papi. And it’s going to hurt so much with each of them that I might wonder if my heart will be able to take it. But I will do it because I love them. And because it’s what is required.

But mostly because it is frowned upon to keep your children in the basement against their will for the rest of their life.

If you are in this chapter, I wish you the best. And if you ever need to talk or cry or drink a fifth of liquor, just call me.

~lightningbug


Monday, March 13, 2017

Go out with a bang...

I have been dragging butt now for…well…for months if we’re being honest. I keep hoping that the time change and the promise of longer days and shorter nights and warmer temps and sunshine will be the medicine I need to get me motivated and moving. I work part time at the church. I used to come in at 8 or 9 am like a normal person. Now I can’t get moving that fast! I have a hard time getting here at noon these days!

A lot of people ask me how I’m doing…how I’m feeling. And my answer is always, “Absolutely fantastic!” Nobody (including myself) wants to hear about how my back hurts and how I have to sleep in the recliner if I’m going to be able to bend over and unload the dishwasher the next day. Nobody wants to hear about chemo brain and how it’s not something that I’m using as an excuse to focus or get things done. So the answer is “Fantastic!” because I’m cancer free and I am going on about my life and things are indeed, mostly "absolutely fantastic!"

My hair is growing back like a weed--like a wild and unruly weed. It is crazy curly and if I try to tame it, it laughs in my face! Ha! Each day I try to style it differently because I haven’t had short hair in a while and I haven’t had short, wild, curly hair ever! I also am trying to readjust to actually having to carve out time for hair styling again! For the last year I have done my makeup and then put a wig or a hat on my head. I haven’t had to dedicate time to drying and styling. That doesn’t help my chronic lateness!
This morning I was drying it and I was blowing all the hair forward and I wasn’t even watching what I was doing. When I looked in the mirror, I had bangs sitting on my forehead.

I laughed out loud because it reminded me of the funniest thing. I have a good friend who lived here for only a short time. Her name is Brandy. She moved here from Texas and was only here for about three months before returning to Texas. She and I hit it off from the get go and I miss her like crazy. During her time here, my hair was nice and long. I was wanting something different though. I wanted to cut my hair and get some bangs. She told me absolutely not and she told me there was a YouTube video to show me how I could pin up my hair to make it look like I had bangs. Well, I was in the kitchen (burning something I’m sure) and I went into the bathroom and pinned my hair back to make it look like bangs. It was awful looking (the uneven way I had it pinned up) and I snapped a pic and sent it to Brandy with “NAILED IT!” on the pic. We laughed hysterically and our girls threatened to show it to the whole world which at the time, seemed like the most horrible thing that could ever happen.

This morning as I looked in that mirror and saw those bangs, I realized they resembled those uneven faux bangs I had pinned up that day. After I laughed, I started thinking about how on that evening, the worst thing we could imagine in life was some botched bangs.

Fast forward a little over a year. She was back in Texas and I was in Virginia, but we remained in touch. February I got the cancer diagnosis. Now all of a sudden, crazy bangs didn’t seem like such a big deal. She was there for me through some ugly moments over the last year. 

And then as I was doing my victory lap, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Are you kidding me?!

The last year has taught me (and hopefully many others) that what we perceive to be the little things are indeed, the big things (sunsets, goodnight kisses, the smell of fresh coffee) and the things that we perceive to be the big things (chopping my bangs off, forgetting something, a disagreement) are so minuscule in the big scheme of things. 

Is it going to matter in a year? If so, then give it some attention. If not, then don't spend another minute of worry on it. 

My uneven bang game is on fleek!





Thursday, February 23, 2017

Once Upon a Time...

I love children's books. I loved being read to as a child. I loved reading to my own kids and now that my kids are older, I love reading to other children! I have had the honor of reading to Mrs. Looney's class for many years now during Read Across America week. Last year it was difficult for me to keep my emotions in check. The day that I read, I knew I had cancer, but I didn't have my treatment plan mapped out yet. I was still kind of in limbo. I didn't know what stage my cancer was, I didn't know what my prognosis was—I didn’t know much of anything. 

Reading to children stirs something very deep inside you. It's a very special intimacy as they intently hang on every word. Thoughts flooded my heart on that day last year. When you face uncertainty, sometimes your fondest memories will all of a sudden just race like the shuffling of a deck of cards. As I began to read, I suddenly was flooded with memories of all the years of reading to my children. My thoughts raced as I remembered snuggling up on Riley’s big boy bed with sweet baby Natalie in Bluefield as we read Green Eggs and Ham and Hop on Pop. Then my memories shifted to sitting on the edge of Natalie’s bed reading the old set of Raggedy Ann and Andy books that she loved so much. I got those books one year at a Boiling Spring open house when they were getting rid of old books. And then my memories flashed to holding my sweet baby Wyatt. He loved to read Go Dog Go and Hondo and Fabian. “Do you like my hat? No I do not. Goodbye. Goodbye.” That was his favorite part. Time and time again we read that. I still say that to him when I put on a hat!

I had some really horrible moments in the beginning of my diagnosis. I don't like to think back to those times. They hurt down to my core. During that time, it was harder for me to deal with good things than bad things as crazy as that sounds. As the good things happened in my life, I would do my best to smile, but that was always laced with the bitter aftertaste of "Will this be the last time I do this?" "Will this be the last year I watch my daughter play softball?" "Will this be the last year I host my son's birthday party?" "Will I be here next year to see him all dressed up for his senior prom?”

As time passed and treatment plans were mapped out, I became more and more comfortable with the thought of looking ahead and thankfully, those bad feelings began to dissipate. I began to not fear the future so much. I began to not dread the thought of missing out on the future. I made a decision that I would do whatever I could to make the very best of whatever time I have, whether that is a month or 60 years. I decided to make every effort to live each day—not to merely be alive--but to live. I would rather live for a year than merely be alive for five. And I think that made all the difference in my life and my fight. I was determined that I was not going to sit at home and let cancer keep me from missing out on life. 

Today I got to read to the early education class at the YMCA Learning Center. The book I chose is called “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” Have you read that one? It’s a great one! I will be returning it to the library next week so be sure to go grab it! It tells us how we all have imaginary buckets hanging over us. We can choose to be “bucket fillers” or “bucket dippers” by our words and actions. Bucket fillers use their words and actions to fill others’ buckets—maybe it’s a smile, a kind gesture, or a thank you. When we fill another’s bucket, ours become full also.

There are also “bucket dippers.” We are all guilty of being bucket dippers from time to time. We say or do something that hurts someone or we’re a bully or we exclude someone. Unlike the bucket filler, the bucket dipper can’t fill his or her bucket from dipping out of someone else's. When we dip, we empty both buckets.

See why I love children’s books?

Cheers to the future--one day at a time--but each to the absolute fullest. 

Do you like my hat? No I do not. Goodbye. Goodbye.
-lightningbug

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Stop, Drop, and Fluff

So for those of you living under a rock, I’ve had breast cancer this year.  I have done chemo, double mastectomy and reconstruction. I am cancer free. I am one month post implant surgery. Things are healing up.

Things were looking good. And then it happened. One boob went south for the winter. One boob is visiting Santa at the North Pole and one boob has gone south for the winter. And then there’s me—the person these boobs are attached to—just wondering what they are going to do next.

Let me go ahead and backtrack and get this out while I’m discussing breast reconstruction after mastectomy. I feel like I need to say this for all who have ever gone through this and all who will in the future. I get it that people don’t know what to say—I’m right there with you. I can never eloquently express condolences or support after tragedy or illness. I get it. But reconstruction is not a “boob job.” This is not our “prize” after having breast cancer. Living is our prize. If we choose to have reconstruction, that is a consolation prize to say the least. Rest assured, we aren’t going to be working at Hooters next spring. After my reconstruction surgery, my breasts looked like flattened hamburger buns. I don’t have feeling in my breasts. I don’t have feeling in the back of my left arm or in my chest up to my collarbones or in portions of the top of my back near my arms. I don’t have nipples. And currently I have completely lopsided boobs. This is not a boob job and we are not “lucky.” This is an attempt to reconstruct something that was taken from us. I know people are well-meaning when they say “Well at least you’ll have great boobs” but really I am mentally rolling my eyes and throat punching you when you say that.

I look at my boobs every day in the mirror. I check for healing and any changes. I take pictures so I can see the change over time. The other day my daughter happened to be there when I was doing my daily check. She said “Oh my gosh! That one fell down!” I turned to the side and then to the other side and I said, “Holy crap, it did!” So then I was sure that I had a flat. I was already pulling out the emergency roadside assistance kit, lighting the flare and getting ready to jack this baby up. Then I remembered. Drop and fluff. I had read about drop and fluff. The plastic surgeon had talked to me about this (although drop and fluff is not a medical term and not what he called it) but I guess I didn’t realize exactly how this was going to happen. Drop and fluff is the process during which breast implants settle and when this happens, the upper breast fullness decreases and the lower breast fullness increases. The breasts become softer and more teardrop in appearance. My left breast has done the drop and fluff. My right breast hasn’t dropped and fluffed yet. Hopefully it will undergo that change in the next few weeks. It’s still very early and as much as I want to know exactly how things are going to look, you really can’t be sure until after six months or so. If things are still lopsided, I will have to have a revision which will go in and correct the pocket in which the implant sits.  I really like the more natural appearance of my dropped and fluffed breast. It moves a little more and is less like a snowball sitting on my chest. I am hopeful that the other breast will get its drop and fluff on soon.

After this part gets lined out, then I get to decide on my reconstructed nipples. I can leave things just as they are and be nipple-less. Plenty of women choose to do that and I totally understand why. I can choose to have an actual nipple that protrudes out of my breast and then the nipple and areola filled in by tattoo. All of that is done right in the plastic surgeon's office. The third option is something called 3D nipple tattooing. Everything is completely flat but the tattoo is made to look like an actual 3D nipple. I'm not sure which route I'm going with that yet and there's no time frame on when you have to do it so I'm in no rush to make that decision. I have talked to lots of women and no two women feel the same way. It's just personal preference.

When we were at the Pajama Jam, my friend Scarlet asked a lady what type of breast cancer she had. Scarlet went on to tell the lady that I had triple negative and she told her that I had done a good job of educating my friends and community about breast cancer and my particular type. That meant so much to me to hear her say that. The things that I have written about are to better educate those who are going through breast cancer and those who have someone they love going though breast cancer. Unless you have gone through this, you don't know the process. I certainly didn't before I journeyed though. 
-lightningbug

Monday, November 21, 2016

I'd rather it cost us playing time than family time...

I am so tired tonight, yet I have had something stirring today and I wanted to get it out! 
Let me preface this by telling about my day. Kevin is gone on his annual hunting trip and I am single-momma’ing it for a few days. SHOUT OUT TO SINGLE MOMS and if you have a spouse, you need to seek out a single mom this week and you need to hug her and offer to do something like take her kids for the afternoon because I have no idea how they do it. Today I worked til 4:30. I got home and got Papi off the bus. Natalie had a scrimmage in Craig Co. that she really wanted me to attend. I was planning on skipping but she wanted me there. Before I left, I had to figure out how I was going to get Papi to practice and home and thankfully Riley was able to help me. The scrimmage went fine and we got home around 8:45. When I walked in, the boys were sitting in the living room and Riley was going over vocabulary words with Papi. Proud mom moment! Those two fight all the time so seeing them working together like that melted my heart! Papi then went on to tell me that he thought Annie had worms because she had been scooting her butt on the ground this evening. I told him I doubted she had worms but I would check it out later. (Annie had worms when we got her.) He carried her into the kitchen and I lifted up her tail. I said, “This is the problem! She has a little piece off poop on her bottom!" So I got a paper towel and went to wipe it off and it was still in her butt. So I pulled a turd out of a dog’s ass tonight. I’m like a freaking dog turd pulling out superhero. I need a cape. A doo doo brown cape.  And some rubber gloves and Germ-X. 
And then a coffee mug fell out of the cabinet and shattered all over the floor. That was so fun to clean up. And after all that, I finally sat down at 9pm and had a bowl of taco soup.

Now let me get to the actual point. I have been bitching on my Facebook about school attendance. I do not want to be someone who doesn’t support our education system or our schools. I want to be a supportive partner in my children’s education. I truly do. The attendance thing makes me angry. I understand it, but it makes me angry. If my kids were bad students or had poor behavior, I could understand, but my kids are excelling. My oldest son told me the other night, barring any unforeseen circumstances, that he would be a 12 time letterman at Alleghany High School. That means he lettered every year, every season. Few people do that. I had never even thought about it but what and awesome thing! And he goes to Governor’s School. He is excelling. He is taking courses that many kids in college haven’t taken yet. And Natalie plays sports also and was on the A honor roll last six weeks and Papi is on the honor roll and plays travel baseball and basketball.

In September, after a cross country meet and after checking on my dad in the hospital, our family left on a Saturday afternoon for Boston. We were going to Boston to Fenway Park to see my son’s hero, David Ortiz play at home in his last year of MLB before his retirement. We drove halfway up on Saturday and spent the night in Hershey, PA. We did this trip as cheap as we could, so we were totally excited that we could do the chocolate tour for free! WooHoo! That was so much fun! We learned how to properly taste chocolate. (I think I finally found my career!) We bought some Hershey bars and left for the next leg of our trip! We arrived in Brockton, MA that afternoon. We went to Boston the next day and spent all day in the city. We stayed mostly in the baseball district. I wish we would’ve had time to explore everything! Boston is so rich in history and culture! Hopefully we can go back! We took a tour of Fenway Park and got to sit on the Green Monster. We got to go on the field! The game was amazing and the Sox won. Big Papi hit a dinger to right field and I had a feeling it was coming so I got the whole thing on video! 

It was hands down the best trip we have ever taken. The next day we left and we stopped in New York City for a few hours and while that wasn’t my favorite place, at least we can check it off the ole bucket list now!

Because of that trip, my kids missed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of school. They all had three unexcused absences only one month into the semester. Now each of them have had a day or two of fever or not feeling well and now I have received the Virginia state mandated phone call conference and letter. I understand that the counselors are only doing what is asked of them and I mean no disrespect to our counselors. I appreciate the work you do. With that said, I would do it again a thousand times over. Family time trumps everything. If God forbid, something happened in your life to make you uncertain of whether you will be with your children to see them graduate, your views on the attendance policy become crystal clear.

And it’s not just the school attendance policy.

Natalie plays JV basketball at the school. I should preface this also. I played basketball in high school. I played four years of varsity basketball. I wasn’t bad. My dad stayed on me about basketball. He wanted me to have a good work ethic and I respect that. I don’t agree with the way he pushed me but I respect it. I was at every open gym and the year Alleghany didn’t go to team camp, I went with Covington. I worked really hard at basketball. And then after my senior year, I was done. I was burnt out.

Kevin has this week off of work. He is in Pocahontas County, WV deer hunting with his brothers and his dad and his nephew. It’s a week they look forward to all year. Tuesday night he will come home and on Wednesday, we will leave for his brother and sister-in-law’s in Bridgeport, WV. We have been having Thanksgiving there because our nephew goes to college at Pitt and that’s the easiest spot right now. We have been looking forward to all of our family getting together under one roof and we all planned on staying until Sunday. We have a lot to be thankful for this year! Last year we got to Bridgeport on Wednesday and we had to leave Thursday night because Riley had a race in Charlotte, NC on Saturday.
This year Natalie found out she has practice on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I thought about this and I prayed about this and I talked to my dad and I talked to Kevin and I talked to Natalie and I even talked to my preacher (because I work there and I tell her all my stuff!) and I prayed some more. I understand that being on a team and being a student is a commitment. It’s a big commitment. Huge.
In sports, you don’t want to ever let your teammates down. You want to work hard and play and perform to the very best of your ability. And let’s face it, if you don’t, then there’s somebody waiting to take your place. I know. I don’t disagree with that at all.

But now listen to my side. This has been one of the most difficult years of my life. Physically it was hard, but mentally it was brutal. This year I have really realized what is most important in life.
I said to Natalie “When you are 30 years old and you look back on your life, which may or may not include some of the people who are here now, do you think you will say, “I wish I would’ve left Thanksgiving with my family and gone back for basketball practice?”
And that’s also how I feel about the school attendance policy. My kids are good students. They are student athletes. They are kind and caring and loving.
There will probably be people out there who will say that’s not good enough. They will say I’m making excuses so my kids can be lazy. And we all have our own opinions and that’s ok.
What I am doing is making my family a priority.
When you are faced with something that can rip apart your future Thanksgivings and Christmases, you realize that family time is more important than playing time.
And I’m proud to say that my kids are understanding it and that makes me prouder than any award or accolade ever could.
(P.S, she is only going to end up missing one practice.)
Happy Thanksgiving.
Spend it with the ones you love. Dance in the kitchen. Make turkey cheeseballs. Sit at the kids table. Eat pumpkin pie. Belly laugh. Drink the wine. Don’t be ashamed when the thanksgiving blessing brings tears to your eyes. Be present.



What are you Thanksgiving traditions? What's your favorite pie?

-lightningbugflicker 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Amanda's Pain Scale Principle

Last week I met with my breast surgeon and she gave me the “official” report that no cancer was detected in my pathology reports. I already knew this because I emailed the office a week prior and my nurse gave me the condensed version. All that chemo I had endured, all those days and nights of prayers and pleading, all the fundraisers and shows of support…all for this day…this big announcement. I am cancer free! Woo Hoo! Why didn’t it feel so Woo Hoo though? Maybe because I’m just exhausted? Maybe because I’m afraid to take that sigh of relief for fear that I might jinx things?

Or maybe it’s because these gosh-forsaken tissue expanders are so uncomfortable and horrible that my every thought is skewed because it’s surrounded by pain. Pain is a hard word for me. They give you these “pain scales” 1-10. I hate those. Is this as bad as the pain I had at the beginning of my diagnosis when I threw my back out? Is this as bad as the headache I had after the first Neulasta shot? Is this as bad as the pain I had in my legs after the Taxol? Hell.if.I.know. Yes, it seems worse. It seems worse because this is what I’m currently going through. You know the rubber band they put around your arm to make your blood vessels pop so they can stick you? Or the way the blood pressure cuff squeezes your arm until you can hardly stand it? That’s how I currently feel in my breasts 24/7. Combine that with a feeling of sunburn—sometimes I feel hot, sometimes chills—just like a sunburn does. I am super sensitive to cold and hot things that I drink because I feel it more pronounced than ever before when it’s going down. The last time I got an expander fill up, my muscle literally jumped in my left breast! The nurse could see it! And it hurt.like.hell. And for that entire day, I felt like I was having a heart attack. True story. I had the most terrible pain in my chest that day and I’m sure it was muscle related but it was terrible. And then there’s this other feeling. It’s so hard to describe. I guess it’s akin to the “phantom” pains they describe, but the best way for me to describe it is like a feeling of anxiety except it’s in your breasts. You may not have anxiety, but all of us have experienced some sort of anxiety from time to time and you know that weird sort of tingly, butterfly-like, yet kind of dull constant pang that you get when you are on your way to a job interview or a blind date or any number of anxiety inducing situations? Yeah, well I feel that in my chest constantly. I take Ativan for muscle “spasms” but I wouldn’t say I have ever had a muscle spasm as in a jumpy, spasm-y type way but rather, my “spasms” are more like when I had a horrible pain in my back a couple of years ago and had to go to Med Express and he could actually feel a knot in my lower back and he said your muscle is “in spasm.” That’s the feeling I have had since August 10. I had pain meds that I took in the beginning and please forgive me if I texted you or called you and said something ridiculous that first week Ha! I was loopy and should not have been allowed access to any means of communication! Ha! I went back through and found where I had emailed my nurse at the breast clinic and I had absolutely no recollection of that! The email was totally fine and grammatically correct I might add, but zero memory of it. Everybody who came over to visit, I showed them my boobs. And they were totally gross with the stitches and the glue and bandages still there and then my drain tubes hanging out my sides and I was flashing my boobs like somebody was throwing beads to me on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. Gaaah. No wonder people get hooked on pills. Talk about releasing your inhibitions! Whew! I’m off the good stuff and I’m strictly on OTC plus the Ativan for the spasms (which I don’t actually think is really that effective but I try to convince myself that it is.)

When I had my mastectomy, tissue expanders were put in. I posted a video explaining the tissue expanders on Facebook the other day but basically they are like a balloon or an IV bag that’s really tough and has a port inside of it that is accessed and saline is put in on a weekly basis. You can actually sit there and watch the breast inflate as they are putting the saline in. It is totally wild. And not uncomfortable believe it or not…until I have checked out, gone down the elevator from the fourth floor, and am walking out the main door and then BAM! Omg I feel like my boobs are going to literally EXPLODE! I say that every time I walk out the door. It seriously feels as if someone would poke me with a straight pin that my boobs would blow up like something you would see on some twisted adult cartoon. Ha! Pain. Yes. Lots of pain.

I naively thought that this would be the so-called “easy part.” I thought the hard stuff was behind me. Turns out it’s all hard stuff. I can’t do the 1-10 pain scale because I don’t know. Pain is relative. This might not be as bad as something I have already gone through or something I am going to go through in the future but right now as I am going through it, it is all consuming. It’s a solid 7. It’s not crippling. I can function in the world but there’s never a time that I forget that I’m in pain. There’s never a time that I don’t feel like I have bowling balls under my arms. Oh yeah, I forgot that part. On the arm that they took the seven lymph nodes, I am numb on the underside of my arm to my elbow. When I put my deodorant on every morning—can’t feel a thing. And then there’s the range of motion thing. My right arm is almost back to normal but my left arm isn’t. When I reach really far with my left arm, I hurt all the way to my wrist. I have been doing exercises to try to regain my range of motion but for now, it sucks. My husband wanted me to turn the ceiling fan on the other night and I honestly couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reach that far.

Ok, back to what I was saying. Pain is relative. Yes. I started thinking about how the same is true in our lives. Whatever it is that we are going through at this moment (when it’s stressful and hard) seems like the worst possible thing that has ever happened to us in the history of the worst possible things that have ever happened to us. Divorce—10 on the pain scale! Financial problems—10!  Illness—10!  Addictions—10! Death of loved ones—10!  Depression—10! Ingrown toenail—10! Raising teenagers—10!

Whatever season of bad stuff that you might be in at this moment or that moment seems like the worst at that particular time. I’m not sure if I have a point here…I’m still waiting for it to come to me! Haha!

I guess my point is that when you get through things and you look back on them, the pain scale reduces from where it was. When we feel like we can’t possibly endure another day, look back through your life and think about the things you HAVE endured and know that you CAN endure whatever hardship you are currently going through. What seems like a 10 on the pain scale right now (and it very well may be) will lessen with time. Better days will come and those better days will be even sweeter because of the hard days we have endured.

John 16:33 says something like this…
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble (like a freaking 10 on the pain scale!) But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I’ll never be perfect (not even close) and my life will never be pain free or exactly the way I plan it or want it, but I do know I will never have to walk it alone.


  -lightningbug


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fill ups...boobs and lamps...

Me: Hey God, I’m really sick of crying and being all down in the dumps and worrying about the stuff that I’m consumed with right now. Could you help me out?
God: Could you shush your brain and your mouth and listen?
Me: You’re asking a lot here God.

I got in the shower this morning. And for those of you who read my blog, you know that the shower is where most of my talking to God happens and it’s where most of my writing inspiration happens. And often times the two go together. This morning when I got in the shower, I heard this song, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp I pray. Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning, burning, burning, keep me burning til the break of day.”

That is a song that I used to sing as a kid in Bible School and have sung with our Bible School kids over the years. There are a couple more verses and I actually had to look them up because it was just the oil in my lamp that came to me this morning.

The other verses are “Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising” and “Give me peace in my heart, keep me loving.”

Well then. 
10-4 God. 
I’m not sure you could’ve come through any clearer. My oil is low in my lamp. I haven’t been trusting like I should. I’ve been worrying about my dad and about my health and about some other personal things in my life and I haven’t been trusting that You have a pretty good track record of working things out for me. My oil is low and somedays I can't see where I'm going. Not only can I not see where I'm going, I'm having a hard time emitting any light for anybody else to see.  I haven’t been doing the things that I was doing a few months ago that strengthened me. Tomorrow I go for a boob fill up, but in the morning, I’m going to sit down and get myself an oil fill. 

And I have a sneaking suspicion that once I get an oil fill up, that joy and peace in my heart will follow right behind and those tears and anxieties and fears will diminish. 
-lightningbug


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fragile: Contents Under Pressure

You know that feeling when you've had a long, hard day and you come in and the first thing you want to do is take off that gosh-forsaken bra? Well that's what it feels like after a mastectomy but you can't take it off. Because it's not a bra, it's your skin. I've had that feeling since Aug. 10. And it sucks. And it makes me very grumpy. Yesterday I was cleaning the dog's water bowl and Colby knocked his head up and it busted my lip and I cried. I mean I came inside and I bawled. And not because it really hurt that much. I mean, I'm not a total wuss but just because some days that's all it takes for me to lose my shit. I can't feel the backs of my arms from the shoulder to the elbow. I feel like I have a sunburn all the time and I get hot and cold like I have a sunburn. My balance is all out of whack (totally fell down walking into the football game Friday night,) neuropathy is still messing with my feet.

I went for my first boob fill last week and my breasts are starting to fill out into a somewhat lopsided round shape. They are swollen in all the wrong places and they're just weird and ugly. They have scars all the way across each of them. Ugly scars. Like a boob through a meat grinder. People have been congratulating me on being cancer free and I smile and I AM happy. I am completely happy. Nothing is any more important that knowing that cancer has been served its eviction notice and it's crap is laying out on the front lawn for the garbage man. But this is hard. This is very freaking hard. And the kids are all back to school so it is so quiet and lonely. I have a lot going on in my head right now and the wheels seem to turn and turn and never stay still.

The pieces of me look to be all coming back together from the outside--my hair is growing back, my eyelashes and my eybrows are back--I even have to shave my legs these days--but I feel completely opposite inside. I feel like my pieces are falling apart on the inside. I know this is all a part of the process and I'm human and I'm allowed to have emotions and blah blah. Yeah, yeah. I know that. But I'm the kind of human who likes the good emotions. I like smiles and laughter. I don't like sad and lonely. I looked at Kevin the other day and said, "All these years I have thought I was a free spirit but I like a plan I think I may even be OCD. I am a total fraud." And I do like a plan. And I don't have a plan right now. I have tried to go back to my regular work schedule (which is a very modest part time) and that wears me down and I can't focus like I used to be able to do. 

When I put my deodorant on, I can't even feel where it's going. I feel nothing under my arm. I feel like I'm not "enough" right now. I so want to be complete and back to me. I wasn't any superwoman to begin with but I was me. I worked a little and I came home and did my home thing and I carted kids all over creation and I entertained and I had a pretty great life. And now life is not normal. And I feel guilty for EVERYTHING. I feel guilty that I can't be and do everything that I used to do. I know it will come back but I'm impatient. I'm telling myself that I'm not going down to visit my dad this evening because I am physically and emotionally drained, but I will. The guilt will get to me and I will go. My dad even said to me last night, "Honey, you don't have to come down here every day." But I do. He has always been there for me and I will always be there for him. That's how family works. And that's what I will do.

I know my boobs will look and feel better over time. I'm just impatient right now. I know my energy level will increase over time. I know life will go back to normal before too long. For right now though, I am sad. And Ecclesiastes 3 tells me that it's ok for me to be sad right now.
There’s a season for everything    and a time for every matter under the heavens:    a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,    a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up,    a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing,    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,    a time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,   a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,    a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.
A time for laughing and being silly and a time for sitting at the bottom of the stairs with a pillow pulled to your chest crying until breathing becomes laborous and then going upstairs and making a cup of coffee and getting your shit together because normal people don't sit at the bottom of the stairs and cry into pillows.

Have you ever bought something and took it out of the package and then it NEVER would go back in the package? When I was visiting my aunt in Florida, we took the rollaway bed out of the package and it was SO TIGHT getting that thing out that we knew it would never go back in the package. Well that's kind of how I feel right now. My old life was my package and the cancer made me come out of my packaging and I don't think I will ever fit back into my old packaging. I'm just going to have to figure out life outside of my packaging. And that's really scary to me. It's a very vulnerable and terrifying place. And here lately it feels a lot like taking a ride on the coo-coo caboose.

-lightningbug


Friday, August 19, 2016

Jesus & a Bedazzled Hat

It’s been a long time since I dug down to the area where my recent fountain of tears have originated. It was probably back before my biopsy results and the days following that.  You have your regular tears and then you have those that are from the deep down depths of your soul—the ones that don’t get out too often because they just hurt so much so we keep them buried and then one day, sometimes just out of the blue, they will begin. And in my case, they have lasted for a week. I just completely bawl, sometimes for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

Currently, I hate my life. It is the worst life ever and I don’t even know why I went through chemo and all that because I should’ve just rolled over and croaked. I do not like my children very much right now, my husband is a jerk, my dad isn’t fighting after his surgery like he should, my dogs are dumb, my basement needs Jesus and FEMA and I and I can’t drive anywhere to even get away from any of this madness. I’m just stuck here. With my stupid thoughts and a dirty house.

Today I was thinking about that woman at the softball tournament—you know—the strong one with the blingy cap and the mini skirt who was able to bring grown men to tears and that woman who (very badly) threw out that first pitch at the Lumberjacks game and that women who has stood tall and proud and strong for six months. Where the hell did she go?  She went through all that chemo and lost her hair and boo coos of changes and she did pretty darn good. All that for THIS???

And now here I am. In the homestretch and I’m losing my ever loving mind.  I’ve had my surgery and I have fallen to pieces. And it has nothing to do with losing my breasts. I’m sore. I’m really sore. I’m numb. I’m weak and tired. And I’m not used to being all those things—well except tired. I’m always tired.

I’ve been wanting to write to tell you all about how when I came out of surgery that the first thing I heard was “Country Roads” and not just in the hospital speakers—this was coming from a guitar and somebody’s voice. You’ve just had surgery and you are trying to make sense of your surroundings and you hear that and then you think maybe it’s not right. I went with it though and I began to tell the nurse that I had a tattoo on my ankle of the state of West Virginia and over a little place in Fayette Co., called Mossy, I had the tattoo artist put a little gold heart. That’s where so much of my heart resided. Before my grandparents died I had them write the words, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and I used their handwriting to form the words around my tattoo. Well the next thing I knew, the guitarist was over there by my bed meeting me and telling me that he sure was glad he picked that song for today. And I was thinking oh my gosh Momaw, you have outdone yourself on this one. Another one of those “coincidences.”

Well I came home and life was good for a day or two and then the crying started. I cried and I cried. Kevin’s mom came in and hugged me and tried to console me and I wanted to tell her that her son was just a jackass and I wish she would take him back home with her (none of that was true but that was my perception at the time.)

I cried on Sunday so bad that my dad had to leave church to come check on me. I can’t even remember what terrible thing had happened to me that day but I know a blizzard from DQ really helped things.

My dad had to have heart surgery last week and people keep asking me how he is doing and the truth is, I don’t know how he’s doing! The doctors say he’s doing good but he isn’t eating and he can’t get up from his chair unassisted and I don’t see much drive in him and I want to see him wanting to get back on his feet! There are different kinds of loves in this world and we experience a lot of different kinds and degrees. There are three people in my life who have loved me beyond comprehension and I have lost two of those. The thought of losing the third one brings me to my knees.

So basically I just have a lot on my plate right now and I don’t actually hate my life or anybody in it. I threatened Riley’s life for taking a phone charger, I told Kevin I was going to throw a match to the basement, and I have just been mean and ugly and lashing out at the people I love because I’m tired and I’m scared and I’m everything that the girl in the blingy hat on July 23 was not. Or maybe she was and maybe I just need to pull out that blingy hat again!!!

When I can’t find the answers to life when I look around in the world, I can always find them in scripture.

But you, LORD! Don't be far away! You are my strength! Come quick and help me! (Psalm 22:19)

So I am going to have a hot noon shower and talk to Jesus and then I’m going to get that blingy hat on and start conquering the world again.




 -lightningbug

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Twas the night before mastectomy...

Twas the Night before mastectomy and all through the casa,
I was running around and feeling quite awesome.

The bras were hung in the closet with care,
Since that’s one less layer I will have to wear.

The kids were riding the hoverboard down the street,
As I hollered from the porch, “Please stay on your feet!”

Kevin in his athletic shorts and I in my wig,
Were sitting outside smoking a pig.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
I jumped up from the glider to see what was the matter.

Away to the fence I flew like a flash, 
Tore open the gate and saw the big crash

The moon on the breast…wait. Did somebody say breast?!

Well played.

Tomorrow is the big day! Tomorrow is bilateral mastectomy day.

Maybe I’m still kind of in shock about the whole thing—I’m not sure. I don’t have any fear or apprehension about it. The other morning I came out on the back porch and I sobbed. I let it all out. I’m not sure if that was cancer related or if it was life related. I guess cancer lets your eyes focus on the things that matter most in life. I was on the back porch and I remembered all the wonderful things that have happened in this backyard over the years.

My mammogram and ultrasound revealed that my tumor was gone. That was the best news (although truthfully I knew it all along!) My cancer is a grade 3 which is the most aggressive type of cancer. Translation: I can’t fart around with it because it will come back. Tomorrow they will remove both breasts and they will also biopsy my sentinel nodes to make sure things haven’t spread. I hope I’ve educated you all over the last few months about triple negative breast cancer. Tomorrow isn’t the day that’s scary for me. The days that are scary for me are the next five years. I am doing the things that I can to prevent the cancer from returning, but unlike the other types of breast cancer, there’s nothing I can do to deter the cancer from returning. I just have to live my life and trust that it won’t come back.

I can never say it enough…I appreciate all the support that you all have given me throughout this crazy ride more than you all will ever know.

Bye bye boobies, hello life.

-lightningbug


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Un(W)hol(E)y

Last Sunday I had to go to Lowe’s and there’s this unwritten rule that when we go to Lowe’s in Lewisburg that we have to go to Sweet Frog for yummy fro-yo.

I had on my little gray cancer cap. That’s what I call it. Nobody wears a hat like that unless they have cancer. Sometimes I can hide the fact that I have cancer if I wear my wig and put on my eyelashes. When I wear that hat, I may as well have a sign on my forehead that says “I have cancer.” Wigs are hot as the devil’s butthole. I like to look normal. I do. But some days I could care less. I just want to be comfy.

After we got our fro-yo, I looked over and there sitting with his parents, was a little boy. He was probably about Wyatt’s age. He was cute as button. He looked normal enough. Then as I kept looking, I saw that he had braces on his legs and he had crutches. I don’t know what his health condition was that required leg braces and crutches and I hope it’s something that will be fixed soon for him.


That day I felt connected to that little boy. We both had physical conditions that made us appear less than whole. I got to thinking that day about all of us. You know, none of us are whole. We all have something that makes us un(w)hol(e)y. It might be something visible like a cancer cap or leg braces or it might be something internal that nobody can see. It might be insecurities or fear or addiction or grief. It might be any number of things. It was easy for me to see the little boy’s physical condition and for him to see mine. It’s not always easy for us to see inside others’ hearts. I got to thinking that day about how we might all feel more connected to one another if we took the time to look into one another’s hearts and to listen for the things that might just connect us as imperfect, un(w)hol(e)y human beings. 
Yeah, we should slow down and do that more. 
-lightningbug

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Batt'n 4 Boobies Words...

On Saturday, July 23, the best friends a girl could have came out to play softball and support my cancer battle. I couldn't let them do all that for me without telling them what they all meant to me, so I said these words to them before the tournament got started:

February 19 is when I got the call. It was a Friday morning about 10 am. I was standing at my kitchen counter when the call came. The doctor said, “Unfortunately…” He really didn’t need to say anything after that.
I don’t think anybody expects to have a cancer battle on their hands at 38 years old.

I went to see a genetics counselor soon after that and I found out that my specific type of breast cancer is something called triple negative breast cancer. The short version of that is that the drugs that are often used to treat breast cancer won’t work on me. Triple negative makes up 10-20% of breast cancers and has a lower 5 year survival rate compared to other breast cancers. That appointment with the genetics counselor was probably the hardest appointment for me. There was so much information and it was TOUGH information—information that I didn’t want to hear. I was so overwhelmed and discouraged and truly terrified.

I told my family and close friends that weekend and I knew my name was about to go on prayer lists around the community on Sunday morning and while I welcomed that completely, I wanted the news to come from me.
That Saturday, I wrote my first breast cancer blog that I called “In a World of Eeyores, be a Tigger.”

I ended that blog with the phrase “We got this” which came to be my mantra throughout this journey. WE got this—not me, but WE. My family, my friends, my community, complete strangers, a little of me, and above all, God.

I have been called a hero and strong and brave and all that and that’s totally sweet but I don’t believe I am any of those things. I am just a girl who loves her life and wants to do whatever it takes to stay here for as long as I possibly can. You may not know it right now, but you would do the same thing.

Since the beginning, I have said “This is part of my journey.” It has taken my strength, my money, my peace of mind, my tears, my hair, my taste buds—and on August 10, it will take my breasts.

And all that stuff really stinks and I could choose to be angry or sad about those things, and occasionally I AM sad about those things.

But what I wanted to tell you about today is not what cancer has taken from me, but what it has given to me. Sounds crazy, huh?

The Saturday that I wrote that first blog, I got a Facebook message from a friend. I was up at Edgemont school walking that day. I felt great. I didn’t feel like I had cancer. It was a crisp February day, a sunny day after a week of heavy snow. My friend wrote to tell me that her sister was a breast cancer survivor and if I ever wanted to talk to her, that she was sure she would be willing to talk to me. I gave her sister a friend request that day and she has been there for me just like a big sister from that day on. So many breast cancer survivors have reached out to me throughout the last five months. 

I have received hundreds of cards and just as many emails since my diagnosis and they have been a tremendous source of encouragement for me. I always laughed when people would say “I know you’re probably sick of hearing this…” No. I never have gotten sick of hearing that you are supporting me and praying for me and cheering me on.
I have been given so many gifts! Holy cow! You guys have been so generous to me and I appreciate it more than I can ever tell you! Money, meals, services, all sorts of care packages, along with so much love. You all are incredible.

My best friend and soul mate Deana has been with me the entire way. She has cheered me on and she has dried my tears. She has been with me to every appointment, she has prayed with me and she has cussed with me.  She has never left my side.

My husband and my kids and my parents and my in-laws and my neighbors and so many of you have gone above and beyond and I am so grateful to you all.

I hate wearing shirts that show my port. You would think a mother would be a source of confidence and empowerment for her daughter, but the opposite has been true. Natalie has been there time after time to tell me that I am beautiful even with no hair and an ugly port sticking out of my chest.  My boys have been so protective of me and have chipped in to help with whatever I needed.
Kevin has had to be mom and dad at times. He has taken over most of the chores at home on top of everything else. I jokingly call him Hazel the housewife.
You all get to read about twinkling, happy lightning bug and He has had the misfortune of catching grumpy, weak, barely twinkling lightning bug on so many occasions. I am grateful for his love and patience.

You would never believe this, but sitting in a room full of people getting chemo was a blessing. You will be hard pressed to find better people than the ones you encounter in the chemo room. It is truly a humbling experience. My oncology nurses were absolutely incredible. I believe wholeheartedly that people have been strategically placed in my path throughout the last five months—I think that’s one of the coolest things God has done for me. The people I have encountered haven’t been by chance. They were meant to cross my path.

You know…You don’t have to have cancer to slow down just a little and breathe in what is all around you. That Saturday that I told you I was walking up at the school—I took pictures that day of the water and the birds and the sky. It all looked so very different to me. I had different eyes that day. I have become a lot more in tune with the simple things since the big C came along.

That Friday morning in February, I was so nervous as I awaited my biopsy results and that was the day that my daughter said “Hey mom, come look at these birds!” I walked to the front door and the cardinals were perched in my maple tree. Two cardinals—a male and a female. When I looked out there I smiled and this peace that I can’t even describe came over me. Natalie went to school and I pulled out my laptop and googled, “what does it mean when a cardinal visits.” This is exactly what I found when I looked it up, “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. They also make an appearance during times of celebration as well as despair to let you know they will always be with you. Look for them, they’ll appear.”

I lost my grandparents in 2013 & 2014. I was super close to them and I know in my heart who sent those red birds.

I urge you today to look for the cardinals…not just the cardinals but to look at the beauty of nature and your children and the dew on the grass and everything around you with grateful eyes. I promise you that will make a difference in your life.

This week I started thinking about how to convey to you all what you have meant to me throughout this journey. I hopped in the shower one day and I heard the childhood chant from the game Red Rover going through my head. Remember that game? You would stand side by side with one another and link hands and call for someone to come over? Red rover, red rover, send Johnny on over. And Johnny would come barreling through trying to break the links and penetrate the line. Sometimes he would make it and sometimes he wouldn’t. It all depended on how tight those links were. Cancer made it through those links and invaded my body. Then all of you all—my friends and my family and some people who don’t even know me—came together and tightened those links and at every turn when cancer tried to get through and destroy my mind or my spirit, your love has been the strength that has kept that cancer out. I could not have done this without all of you. You inspire me every day.

I have completed eight rounds of dense dose chemotherapy and on August 10 I will have my surgery. If my cancer is gone (which I believe 100% that it is,) my prognosis is in the upper 90% range.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this event and blessings to each of you who have come out to support me!

We got this!
-lightningbug