Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dear Crusher Boys...

I'm not 12 and I don't play baseball. 
I’m 41 and I’m a mom.

You boys all know what I went through two years ago because you were right there with me. You may have been confused and scared just like me.

When I waited to find out whether I had cancer, it was the worse time of my life. I was so scared. Terrified. Riley was about to be a senior in high school and Natalie was 13 and Papi was just 11. When you’re a mom, your biggest worry is taking care of your kids. I knew they needed me. Can you imagine how hard life would be without your mom? I kept putting myself in their place and it was a terrible place for my mind to go. The constant thoughts of leaving them behind to go through life without their mom were sometimes more than I could handle.

The voices in my head during those times were playing out the worst possible scenarios. I spent a lot of time hiding and crying because I was so scared but I didn’t want everybody to know I was scared.

Life was tough during that time. That was the toughest opponent I’ve ever been up against. And I let it intimidate me in the beginning—maybe a little like you all did when you saw what appeared to be half-grown men step in the diamond in Cooperstown? Sometimes it’s easy to let the doubt and the fear take over. 

What if this guy jacks one over the fence while I’m pitching? 
What if my cancer has spread?
What if this guy hits a line drive so hard that it knocks my glove off?
What if my cancer comes back?

I don’t know if you all have those things that run through your heads, but I sure did.
And I still do sometimes. 

I wanted to tell you about the day that everything changed for me. And who knows? Maybe it can help you also. 

Back when I had found out about the big C, I spent a week or two engulfed in fear and uncertainty about the future. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my own thoughts.

So you know what I did?

I sat down with a marker and a stack of paper and I started writing down things that would strengthen and empower me and I posted them all over my house. For me, they were statements that would quiet my fears. It was scripture and it was positive affirmations. 

Do you know what an affirmation is? If any of you are Methodists or Presbyterians, you may pull out your hymnals and recite an “Affirmation of Faith.” That’s just a few lines that remind us what we believe in.

An affirmation is simply a statement. 
A positive affirmation is a positive statement. 

If my fears were telling me that I wasn’t going to be around to see my kids grow up, my affirmation would say things like “I am beating cancer because I have important things to do on earth!”
See how saying that or reading it silences the other negative things?

If your fears are telling you that you are going to strike out, maybe you can try out a positive affirmation when you’re on deck. Maybe you can say to yourself “I’m strong and I’m in shape and I’ve trained for this.” Maybe you can say “I will see the ball, swing through and drive it.”

You know what else this works on?
Tests. SOLs. Exams.

I took a really hard math class a while back. I’m talking REALLY hard. It’s called Statistics and it’s awful. I used to drive to college in my grocery-getting mom wagon and I used to cry in the parking lot before I even went in that class. Then I usually cried in the parking lot after I came out. You see, I needed to pass this class to get my degree and it was so hard for me! I would practice and do my homework, but then when it was time for a quiz or a test, I’d get so nervous! After getting super nervous and failing a couple of tests, I decided that instead of crying or working myself up, I would get out my notebook before the test and I would write a few sentences. And so I did. And those sentences would remind me that I am smart and capable and prepared for this test, but no matter whether I pass or fail, it was still going to be ok! It was not going to be the end of the world.

Baseball is teaching you life lessons with each practice swing, each at bat, each first inning, each last inning, and each relationship made with teammates, opponents, coaches and umpires.

The cool thing about the mental game is what it brings to you after you’ve overcome it. It brings confidence. Cancer sucked, but I am so much more confident than I used to be.  And you will be too.

Baseball is serious. Life is serious.

But baseball and life are also so much fun! Don’t ever lose sight of the reason you’re on the field and the reason you’re on planet earth. 

Have fun, play ball and enjoy this life!

Papi’s mom

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cooperstown 2018

2018 Cooperstown
Dreams Park Tournament 

Reflections from a mom who knows next to nothing about baseball...

Today is Thursday morning. Instead of scrambling to get out the door of our cozy Garrattsville, NY campground cabin to get to the ballpark for our 8:30 game, I am sitting at the picnic table reflecting on the week.

What a week!

What is it about baseball that is so darn special? It just brings people together.  To see a group of kids, who almost all came out of the same county, who have relied a lot more on hard work than natural born talent, perform on this size of a stage…it’s just almost too much to take in.

The Alleghany Crushers.

They were born out of love of baseball.

We have seen these kids rise and we have seen them fall. We have been through the most incredible wins and the most gut-wrenching losses—on and off the field—together.

As I sit back this morning, I am reminded of something that happened two years ago, long before any thoughts of Cooperstown ever existed.

Our family had been through a pretty tough time and these kids and their families had our back every inch of the way. This particular week were playing in Myrtle Beach, SC. It was the hottest week on record and there we were.  Playing baseball.

My #34, Big Papi.

Why do we call him that?  A lot of these kids have been together since they were in Minor A.  First day of practice, Coach Nolan realized he had two kids named Wyatt. He knew that wasn’t going to work, so he asked if my Wyatt had a nickname or something else he’d like to be called, and without skipping a beat, he said, “You can just call me Big Papi.” And Papi was born that day—a far cry in size from what his almost 13 year old self is today. 
My Papi was up to bat with the bases loaded in that game in Myrtle Beach. You see, he was a 10 year-old boy who had spent the spring not only working on his hitting and fielding, but also watching his mom battle cancer.

Big Papi hit his first every dinger that day—a grand slam. The ball sailed over the fence and he rounded the bases behind his three teammates. They congratulated him and he went in the dugout and he sat down and he cried. He was excited but moreover, he was humbled that day and that’s the magic of baseball. That’s what brings people together.

Each of these boys have grown so much over the last four years, and this week they grew astronomically. Each kid is special is his own way and offers the team something special and unique that the other can’t.

Wyatt “Big Man” Campbell is one of our youngest kids, but don’t think for a second that his size holds him back. He is a beast on the pitcher’s mound and a vacuum on second base. He hit a dinger in Lynchburg last year, and I feel sure he’s going to hit another this year.

Peyton “Big Jim” Meadows aka Smiley, is a force to be reckoned with. He is a team player and will play any position that is asked of him. He’s gotten pretty fierce out in right field and we have seen him throw several kids out at first in this tournament. Big Jim also pitches, plays first and he is so close to knocking one over the fence it’s not even funny.

Kole Caldwell. Lord have mercy. I thought I was laid back. This kid makes me look like an amateur. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff at all. You will find him mostly in left field, but he also pitches occasionally and catches as well. He hit a dinger in Cooperstown!

Chris “Hoser” Harden. This kid is our wild card. If anybody was betting, they would certainly think this one belonged to my husband, because they are very much alike. Hoser will keep you on your toes and he will always have you laughing. He is a mighty center fielder, backup catcher and look out if he’s on base because he’s one of our best baserunners. He hit two dingers in Cooperstown.

Tanner “T-bird, Sweet T” Evans. Tanner came on board last year. He lives in Christiansburg and we got to know him and his family when we played against his team. Tanner is also one of our young kids, but you’d never know it by his performance on the field. He plays shortstop and pitches and he’s our leadoff hitter and he jacked one out in Cooperstown too!

Anthony “Squirrel” Webb. Anthony is one of our strongest pitchers. When he is on, lookout world, because we’re probably going to get a W. When he’s not on the mound, you will find him over on third base.

Eli “Big E, Deez, Big Easy” Weese goes between center field and second base. Eli is one of our little dudes, but he is mighty is so many ways. He hit his first dinger in Cooperstown this week. Eli is an all around great baseball player from his defense, to his hitting to his base running.

Hunter “Buzz” Depriest. Hunter is a key player on our team. He is one of our leaders. He is one of our best pitchers and also plays a great third base. He jacked a couple of dingers over the fence at Cooperstown also.

Jakari “Pedro, J” Nicely. Ah. This kid. What would our team be without this kid? He brings leadership and power hitting (7 homers in Cooperstown) and he’s an incredible catcher. He plays with a lot of heart and he’s just a great all-around kid.

Chase “Chaser” Depriest. Chase is another young one. He’s two years behind everybody but there was no evidence of that this week! Chase came in and pitched for us and pitched really well. You will also find him in right field. Chase is killing the ball also and he will be jacking homers next year.

And my own Wyatt “Papi” Griffith. He plays first base and he jacked four over the fence this week. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has an old soul, and I truly think that when the Crushers’ time was up yesterday, that his tears were not only a reflection of the highs and lows out on the field, but also everything else that went into making this trip to Dreams Park a reality.

I’m an outsider.
Only Coach Nolan, Coach Davey and Coach Kevin know the stories from inside the bunkhouse this week and I’m sure they are doozies! How could living among 11 tween boys be anything less?!

I think back to my days of going to camp and learning and growing. It’s life changing. It’s so much more than baseball.

One of the lessons I got out of this week is that it truly is sometimes just as incredible to lose when you know you gave it every ounce of your heart. That trumps a lackadaisical win any ole day. And we saw it up close and personal in the game on Tuesday night against FCA. Kelly Caldwell went live with it that night, so many of you reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about. A couple of years ago, we beat all odds and came back in a tournament in Richmond and walked away with a win. That was great and exciting, but even still, I have never been as emotionally involved in a game more than Tuesday night. Our boys were there to play with every fiber of their being and the fans were united and cheering and Chaser was in the dugout rattling the cage and we saw the magic of baseball. Even when we came up one run short.  

Cooperstown 2018.
Thanks for the awesome memories.
Crushers for Life.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Plan Crasher

February 19.

Today marked the two year anniversary of the day I got the “Unfortunately it is cancer” call.

A month ago, I told my husband that we were going to celebrate and make this day full of happy memories!

We were planning on getting all dressed up and having a fancy dinner. I had the perfect little black dress and heels picked out.

I didn't bother making a reservation because it's Monday and who the heck eats a fancy dinner on Monday night? At 4pm we realized the reason that nobody eats a fancy dinner on Monday is because all of the fancy restaurants around are closed on Mondays. My plans were getting all twisted and I didn’t like feeling out of control. It was oddly reminiscent of the way I was feeling two years ago.  

I came home from work and I wasn’t having the best day. I was feeling defeated. The gala planning had me stressed, work had me stressed and now my plans that I had been so looking forward to were all crapped out. I put my pjs on at 4:30 and I crawled in my bed and I curled up in the fetal position and I cried.

February 19—the two year anniversary of the day I got the news that I had cancer. And I am still here surviving and thriving! And I am in my bed in my pjs at 4:30pm crying because I felt so overwhelmed.

My husband came in and was excited and he said we were going to Drapers at the Greenbrier! I told him no. He knew I wanted to go there for my 40th birthday and get a banana split, but we didn’t make it. I could’ve made up for that tonight, but I was too busy wallowing. He left me alone for a while and then he returned. He sat down and said, “You’re not having the best day are you?” I shook my head no. He asked what was wrong. I replied that I sucked at life. He reminded me that I did not suck at life and in fact, I was pretty good at it. I cried some more.

About an hour later, he asked me if I wanted to go eat.

I said let’s go to The Rail and get a burger.

And so we did.

It wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t what I had planned, but it worked out.

February 19, 2016 was also a plan crasher.
But it worked out, too.

Here we are after a long evening but a great burger and a beer!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Christmas Card File

Yesterday I picked up my Christmas cards. All 100 of them. I love Christmas cards. I used to be so much better with cards than I am now. My grandma used to send out cards for every holiday and then just weekly “thinking of you” cards. I guess we are living in different times now because when I’m thinking of you, I’ll just send you a text and tell you, but I still try to do Christmas cards because I love that tradition.

I have spent my entire adult life compiling and tweaking my Christmas card list. I have an old address book where it started some decades ago. I still have the address book, although the cover is gone and the pages are worn. I don’t like to turn through it much these days because so many of the people inside those pages no longer have earthly addresses. Tis the season to be jolly fa, la, la, la, la…but also the season for reflection and remembrance and nostalgia and heartache. I had a moment with all of those today.

When I left my job at the church, I made sure I got my personal files off of the computer and stored on a thumb drive to take back home with me. I was there nine years, so I had some personal files on the computer. One of those items was my Christmas Card list. After 20 years, I had this Christmas card list pretty much down to an art. I had tweaked it from year to year—removing when I lost people and adding when my circle of friends increased. This morning after I stuffed my cards in the envelopes, I began looking for my thumb drive. I was at a loss. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I had stored it. I was working two jobs at the time and I was trying to juggle old stuff and new stuff. I’m sure my brain was all over the place. And my chemo memory is iffy at best.

I looked all day in random places. No thumb drive. Maybe it was just time to begin a new list--start fresh. Maybe this was a sign that I needed to do something different.

I had to pick Natalie up from basketball practice tonight. I sent a text to a friend. This is a friend I met about 15 years ago when we moved back to Covington—a friend that I have shared a lot of things with over the last 15 years—smiles, laughs, tears, prayers, experiences. She probably thought I had lost my bloody mind when she read my Monday night words. I was a bit frantic and desperate sounding. I was all in my feelings and I was thinking back to when the kids were small and we were doing Christmas plays. I was thinking of all the great memories we had raising our kids in the church and it just hit me like a ton of bricks how truly special those times have been and how blessed I am to have experienced that. Then the tears started flowing and they wouldn’t stop. The thing I seem to cry about most these days is that “nothing stays the same" and "I’ll never get that back.”

You’ll never get it back either.
Whatever completely normal thing that you are experiencing right now…it might even seem like a nuisance or a pain right at this second…but one day in the not so distant future you will look back on it with tears in your eyes and wish you could have a do-over. And it won’t be because your life isn’t great now. I love my life today. I just miss portions of the past and people of the past.
I miss being a little girl and going and seeing Lacy’s Lights with my grandparents—the smells, the sounds, the anticipation. My grandparents are gone. And now that season has also passed for my own children. We don’t track Santa on his flight anymore. They don’t write letters to the big jolly man. There is a lot that now lives in my memory and they are GREAT memories but they can also bring me to my knees because they are also laced with grief. Grief is a rat bastard. You will start remembering something or someone and then BOOM! Knocks the wind out of you. Just like that. And nobody can tell you how to do it. We all do it differently and there is no right or wrong way. 

Natalie got in the car from basketball practice tonight and I was crying. She asked what in the world was wrong. I told her I wanted to go Christmas Caroling. I used to have a Cookie Exchange and Caroling party.  Some of my best Christmas memories are of these parties. It has fallen through the cracks over the last few years and in its place has been travel ball and school ball and obligations and busyness—just not enough days in the week or hours in the days it seems. Natalie told me not to cry and that just the two of us would go caroling. I told her that was hogwash due to the fact that neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket. She then began to tell me all the people we could ask and she said we would do it and make it beautiful.
How lucky am I to have someone who loves me so much to offer to wrangle up a bunch of people to go caroling, just to make Christmas special for me?!

I went on to tell her how I was all in my feelings because of thinking back to the way things used to be. I told her about the stupid thumb drive and I told her how quickly the child rearing years pass us by. I was crying and she was looking for a tissue. She opened up the storage compartment in the dash. No tissues. When she closed it, the stupid thing wouldn’t close. I told her there was too much stuffed in it and I began pulling things out of there so she could shut it. She said it still wouldn’t close. I told her the spring must have popped out and she began digging around for the spring. When she began digging, guess what she found in there?

My thumb drive.
Attached to my church keys.

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.


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.

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. 

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?


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.


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. 

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.