MD Anderson, or Where Emotions Live

Last week, I went back to work and the Minis went back to school. Naturally, our calendar was immediately ten times more full. And normally, our stress levels would immediately be through the roof too. But this year was different. I found myself unable to get upset or worried about deadlines, and schedules, and paperwork, things that would have really gotten to me this time last year. Don’t get  me wrong, I still want to be a good teacher and I’m still working non-stop to achieve that, but it just feels different on the inside. So many things have happened since last August that could have caused that change in me; tragedy and miracles will certainly teach you what’s really important in life. Simply spending one day in a place like MD Anderson will teach you what’s really worth your time and your heart.

It has been a month since I was there and I still can’t seem to shake the effect it had on me. I’ve thought about how to describe that to you a hundred times and I just can’t seem to find the right words, the ones that truly capture the place. I think that is because it is such a powerful place that I know mere words won’t do it justice.

Alas, I will try, but I have to warn you, it is a place that causes a veritable plethora of emotions. In fact, I’m not so sure that it’s not the place where emotions live. Emotions, all of them, dwell there so heavily that it is impossible to not feel them. They grab your hand in the foyer and walk with you to the lab. They whisper sweetly in one ear while the doctor vies for your attention in the other. They mingle in the coffee shops and blanket the air. They play in the waiting rooms and lounge in the hallways. You cannot escape them, even if you want to. And the thing that has surprised me the most about them: they follow you home. The emotions I felt there, and the things and the people that caused them, are so forever ingrained in my mind and my heart that when I share them with anyone, it literally feels like I’m sharing a piece of myself. I know that sounds nuts, but I’m telling you guys, that place is special.

We got to Houston very late on that Monday night, or technically Tuesday morning. The alarm clock hurt our feelings when it went off after only three hours, but the Texas-shaped waffles at the continental breakfast at the hotel made us smile.

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The Minis and my friend Jess (they refer to her as their “second Momma, the nice one”) got to sleep in. Kids are welcome on the floors of the hospital where my appointments were, but I figured they had already seen enough hospitals this year, so we let them sleep.

Luckily, Momma found a hotel that offered a shuttle to the hospital, so after breakfast, we waited outside for it. That is where we met Gloria and her husband. I sat down next to him on the bench and we started chatting about the book he was reading. Then, Gloria joined us. She was about five feet tall, Hispanic, at least in her 70s, and absolutely adorable. Her husband completely agreed with me on that last point because when she said, “Oh no! I meant to put on my make up and I totally forgot! Do you think I have time to run back up?!” he said, “Oh Honey, you don’t need make up! You’re beautiful just the way you are.” She blushed, shushed him, then ran after her make up anyway. They were so cute together, y’all. Gloria and her husband have been going to MD Anderson every three weeks for over a year for her chemo treatments. She has a rare type of skin cancer which, unfortunately, made its way inside her body and proceeded to spread all over. He gave up his seat on the bench for her when she returned wearing mascara and bright red lipstick; she sat and promptly began bragging about him.

“He never does anything for himself. He gets up every day and says, ‘What’s on your agenda today, love?’ and I tell him, ‘Go! Go to the library or something! Go do something you love! I can do this by myself!’ but he never listens to me.”

I smiled, choked back tears, and said, “Well it sounds to me like he really loves you, so I’m sure he doesn’t mind coming with you; he probably prefers being with you than at the library.”

She grinned, leaned in toward me conspiratorially, and said, “Well, I am his third wife you know, so I guess I’m the charm,” with a wink.

We laughed and since I was completely charmed by her in less than five minutes, I told her that I was absolutely sure she was right. And we laughed some more.

Once on the shuttle, they told us that this was their last trip to Houston because they couldn’t afford to come anymore. They only live about three hours away, but they are old enough and that is far enough that they have to stay overnight and hotels are expensive. Gloria’s chances of survival aren’t as great at home. The doctors there just don’t have the same equipment as the ones at MD Anderson. Her husband didn’t say much after she said that, but I could see everything he was feeling in his eyes and it broke my heart.

She told me, “We’ve been married for twenty-six years. I’m not sure what he’ll do without me, but I’m sure he’ll figure something out,” and she smiled a sad smile while she winked at him playfully.

I want a love like that. I want to be someone’s charm. But more than that, I want his charm to get well. There are so many evil people in the world – why can’t one of them have skin cancer gone wild? Why Gloria?  It hurts my feelings. It makes me so mad. Stupid cancer. Something as beautiful as the way they love each other should never be riddled with disease. It’s just not fair. I’ll never see them again, but I think about them almost every day.

When we got to the hospital, Momma and I were immediately struck by how incredibly efficient the place was. There were several people right inside the massive doors greeting patients upon arrival, asking us if we needed help finding our way. They directed us to a reception desk to pick up my schedule for the next two days. Then, we followed several well-organized maps and lists on the walls like this one

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until we found where we needed to be. The place has endless hallways and countless elevators, but we didn’t get lost. We were impressed – these people know what they’re doing. Efficient, I tell ya, super duper efficient.

I had an appointment at the endocrinologist’s office first. After filling out literally ten pages worth of background information and discussing my history, vitals, and medicines with the nurse and patients’ rights with the liaison, I met the nurse practitioner who asked me  a million questions and then patiently answered a million more from me and Momma.

After she had taken the time to speak with the nurse and the nurse practitioner about me and review all of the records and films I brought with me, Dr. Hu [pronounced who] finally came in and introduced herself with a firm hand shake and a warm smile. She was Asian, mousy, and petite. We liked her immediately. I’m not sure what Momma liked about her, but for me, it was her confidence and honesty.

In the last ten years since my initial diagnosis, I’ve learned that people get shifty and uncomfortable when they’re treating you for cancer. They desperately don’t want to be the one to have to give you bad news, so oftentimes, they’ll pass the buck to some other unsuspecting soul, or they will exaggerate your odds against it in order to soften the blow. There is nothing confident or honest about that behavior. I understand why they do it, but it doesn’t make it feel any better when it’s happening.

Dr. Hu wasn’t like that at all. She very confidently told me that I will always have thyroid cancer (ouch), but that it will not be what kills me (well thank goodness for that!). She explained again that my cancer cells have mutated and are immune to the only radiation that could potentially kill them; therefore, the cancer will always be there. There is no cure. Right now, it is too microscopic to treat, so we have to wait for it to grow again. If it grows in my neck again, they will cut it out. If it grows in my lungs, they will watch it grow until it is at least 2 cms and then they will give me chemo pills to stunt the growth.

“It could take decades to get to that point.”

What a relief. Seriously.

Her honesty was a breath of fresh air. Now, I truly know what to expect, as much as possible anyway. She said that this type of thyroid cancer, even the fastest growing variant of it like I have, is so slow growing that most of her patients think of it more as a nuisance than a threat. Holla!

You wouldn’t think hearing that I’ll have cancer for the rest of my life would be such good news, but it was. The part of what she said that matters most is the word decades. When I left her to go have the tests she ordered, I quickly realized that “decades” is not a word that is thrown around too often at MD Anderson.

Sick people everywhere. Really sick people. People walking around with giant IVs hanging from their arms. People who can’t walk curled up in wheelchairs or on couches. Very few people with a head full of long, healthy hair like mine. Actually, many of them wore head scarves like this.

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The IVs and head scarves were constant reminders of why we were there. Sure, there were sculptures, gardens, and incredible pieces of art all around us. It was beautiful. But one could scarce take in all the beauty for all of the pain. Momma even said once, “It looks like a resort. Except for sick people.”  My happiness from Dr. Hu’s “decades” comment was quickly countered with heavy, heavy guilt and despair for the dying all around me.

Next, we went to the lab for them to draw blood, where we were dazzled with even more efficiency. You have to remember, I spent the last year in endless doctors’ appointments and hospitals, so when I tell you that this place was well-run, I actually have the research and data to back up that claim. We couldn’t get our seats good and warm in a waiting room before my name was called. It was awesome! If you’ve ever waited too long for a doctor, I’m sure you can understand my joy over something so silly.

After the lab work, I had a break until 6:30 that night, so we took the shuttle back to the hotel, where we found Jess and the Minis ready to go discover Houston. We ate lunch at an overpriced cafe, with the yummiest lemonade on the planet, and then we went to the mall. It was no ordinary mall; it was the mall for the other half, if you know what I mean. It had stores that I’ll never be able to afford to shop at in my lifetime. Momma and I gawked into the window of Tiffany’s and skipped right passed a dozen high-end places like Versace and Prada. Gawking and skipping is fun for water parks or Walmart maybe, but not so much for shopping. Can a girl just get a Target clearance rack around here?! Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate that place, but I was actually glad when it was time to go back to the hospital so we could get out of there.

My appointment that night was for an MRI with contrast to see if the cancer had already spread to my lungs (I’ve since gotten the results and they are clear! Woo hoo!). That’s when I finally got one of the giant IVs. There was a woman from Mississippi next to me. She and I joked about how my IV meant I had finally been accepted into the club. Some club, huh? She said, “A sick sense of humor is a must for survival.” I agree – laughter is definitely the best medicine. It certainly helped when this monster was hanging out of my arm.

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They used the biggest possible catheter in order to get the most contrast in my body; it felt like she shoved a two by four into my arm. I cried. I felt like a sissy and tried real hard not to cry, but dang that hurt. When the nurse spotted me crying, she told me how big the catheters were in a effort to make me feel better. It worked. It was dang near a two by four. She had the sweetest smile and beautiful Shirley Temple curls. She brought me a warm blanket and chatted with me about the drive in movie we had plans to go to the next night for my birthday. I felt like a little kid, sitting next to my Momma, wrapped in that blanket, wiping my tears on it and getting excited about my birthday. I wish I could remember that nurse’s name – she sure made a particularly painful moment into a sweet memory for me. I told her thank you as I left, but I really wanted to hug her. I bet she would have hugged me back.

Momma had to wait in the waiting room without me after that. I went back to what my Mississippi friend called “the holding cell.” It was a small area, not even a room, with about fifteen chairs in it. When Mississippi and I got there, all fifteen chairs were full of people waiting for tests just like us. Everyone had the big IV, the standard-issue hospital gown (no bra in mixed company – oh dear lord! Uncomfortable is an understatement!), and a worn look on their faces. It was about 8 pm and you can’t eat for several hours before those tests, so we were all hungry and tired.

Mississippi was a talker and I really liked that. She has pancreatic cancer and is a five-year survivor, which is almost unheard of. Pancreatic cancer is not a nice cancer. She had some kind of experimental treatment at MD Anderson and it seems to be working so far! Praise God! She teaches first grade on the coast and her husband is a pastor. We sat there and complained about what lawmakers are doing to the education system and pretended to not be sick and bra-less in a room full of strangers. Her enthusiasm for teaching, for cures, for life was contagious and I found myself wishing we were friends in real life. Once she left for her test, the woman on the other side of me started talking to me. She asked me the most common conversation starter at MD Anderson, “What kind of cancer do you have?”

I gave her a brief synopsis and followed with the same question. Her response took my breath away.

“Oh Honey, they don’t know. It’s all over. They think it may have started in my stomach, but there’s really no way to be sure because there’s so much of it.”

Wait. What?

How does one respond properly to those words? I’m sure I didn’t. I don’t even remember what I said to her. I just remember having to remind myself to take deep calming breaths because my heart was racing. I remember thinking this woman is dying and I have decades. Why? How is that fair? She was perfectly calm about it though. She said she was an artist from Monroe, Louisiana and that she would start chemo treatments there in a few weeks when she returns home. She told me she admired teachers and the sacrifices they make.

A dying woman thanking me for my sacrifices, no bra, no breath. Surreal.

That night when we got back to the hotel, Momma fell fast asleep (she was so tired, bless her heart) and Jess went out in search of food for us. When she returned, she found me outside on the curb, crying. Of course, being the stubborn girl that I am, I tried to deny it at first, but I couldn’t stop, so there was soon no sense in trying to hide it. I don’t cry often, so I think Jess was a bit surprised and confused. I tried to explain to her what was wrong, but how could I properly explain something that I didn’t even fully understand?

My heart was broken for all those sick people. For Gloria. For my Mississippi friend. For my Monroe friend. For the woman who was too weak to even lift her head off the couch when I passed her. For the man who had an allergic reaction to the contrast, but was too tired to even care. For the people there taking care of them. For my tired Momma who was there taking care of me. For the nurses and the doctors who want so badly to cure us, but can’t. Cancer, you cruel selfish bastard, how dare you take all these people away from those who love them? How dare you take our charms? And our daddies? And our mommas? And our grandparents? And our best friends? And our babies from us? How dare you make their last days full of weak limbs and allergic reactions? How dare you mix their beauty with IVs and head scarves? How dare you?!

It was all too much. I cried ugly tears until my head throbbed and my stomach hurt. I fell asleep thinking about Gloria and her man.

The next morning was my birthday. The Minis and Jess joined me and Momma for breakfast, but went back to the room when we headed off in the shuttle again. This time, I sat by a med student who was on her way to take her finals. I found myself staring at her and thinking I hope you make an A and promptly find a cure.

I had an ultrasound of my neck to check one more time for any signs of malignancy. The ultrasound tech was amazing at her job and had that same confidence and honesty that I loved about Dr. Hu. She encouraged me to continue coming to Houston for my yearly checkups because their equipment is better and they see this stuff everyday so they know exactly what they’re looking for. She didn’t have to encourage me too much because Momma and I had already discussed how much we liked the way things are done there.

After the ultrasound, Momma and I found a clearance rack at the gift shop. Yay! Happy birthday to me! Then, Jess and the Minis picked us up and we went to Dave and Busters. It’s a restaurant slash giant arcade. We had a fabulous lunch and then played video games for five hours. No kidding. It was great! Then, we went to that drive in.

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Man, I wish we had a drive in movie in Louisiana!! It was so neat. We saw Despicable Me 2, but our tickets actually included Monsters University too for the same low price of $6 for adults and $4 for kids. What a deal! The second movie came on too late for us, and we had already seen it, so we skipped it. On Thursday, we checked out of the hotel, went shopping, and then spent about three hours at the zoo. The Houston Zoo is beautiful and unlike any zoo I’ve ever been to. It was entirely too hot to really enjoy it, but as much fun as a group can have in what felt like 200 degree weather, we had it. Then, we headed home, physically and emotionally exhausted.

Five and a half hours and one month later and I still think about Gloria, Mississippi and Monroe almost daily. I wonder how they’re feeling. I wonder how they’re doing. I wonder if I’ll ever stop wondering about them. I wonder how long it will take for us to find a way to save them.

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Posted in Broken Hearts, Broken People, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Cancer Sucks

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I got this shirt right after my Daddy died from lung cancer. Every single time I wear it, someone tells me they love it or asks where I got it. Every time. Cancer is a universal evil. It does not discriminate – it loves every age, gender, and race just the same. It has its own agenda, one that never seems to fit within the plans we have for ourselves. In most cases, it’s unstoppable and unpredictable, which makes it incredibly scary. Even so, there is one comforting fact that helps me keep it in perspective: my God is bigger than cancer. If He means for me to be around for a while, no cancer can stop His plans for me; if He doesn’t, no treatment can stop them either. There is peace within His promises.

I have one of the “nice” kinds of cancer. My malignant journey has been nothing compared to most, a fact that sometimes causes me a great deal of guilt, especially at funerals where cancer won and Relay for Life events. Even so, cancer sucks. In any form, at any time. If you are brilliant and sitting on your haunches while millions die from this wretched disease, then I suggest, implore, plead with you to get busy finding a cure – I made new friends at M.D. Anderson last week who desperately need your help.

My cancer story started when I was only twenty-two. I found a knot in my neck while in the shower one day. I even joked with Angel May and Super Man’s daddy and said, “Dude, I think I have cancer,” when I showed him the lump. He made me go to the doctor. The doctor made me go for an ultrasound, where they found a nodule on my thyroid.

Nodule is just a fancy term for a spot that doesn’t look right. You don’t want nodules, trust me.

The doctor then sent me to a specialist. I’m going to give you some basic 8th grade science here, not to insult your intelligence, but because at twenty-two I had to be reminded of a lot of this stuff too. So your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ in your neck that controls many things in your body with the hormones it produces. It is very common, especially in women, for a thyroid to not make enough hormone (hypothyroidism) or to make too much (hyperthyroidism). Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system, so the specialist who handles hypo- and hyperthyroidism is an endocrinologist.

I was sent to an endocrinologist after the nodule was found on the ultrasound in 2002. He promptly diagnosed me with hypothyroidism and put me on Synthroid which is a synthetic hormone replacement pill very commonly used for that disorder.

Now, I’m not blaming him for the spread of my disease, buuutttttt there are folks in my family who do. He didn’t follow up with the nodule until a full year later when I asked him the status of it, to which he replied, “What nodule?” Yes, really, he said that to me. I said, “You know, the nodule they sent me here for.”

“Oh.” [flips back in chart] “Yea, we probably need to biopsy that.”

Yep. We probably should have. Notice the past tense there.

So they tried to, but dang that hurts. If you’ve never had a biopsy right through the middle of your neck, I pray you never do. They stick that big ole needle right through all those muscles and then wiggle it around for a while. It hurts. A lot.

I squirmed too much the first time, so the results were “inconclusive.” That’s just fancy talk for “the sissy la la wouldn’t be still so we couldn’t get enough cells to actually run the test.”

Then they were going to do another test which involved radioactive iodine, but I found out I was pregnant with Angel May and they nixed that idea. They watched my thyroid levels very closely while I was pregnant because if they are off even slightly, it can mess up the development of the baby. Even with a cancerous momma, she came out healthy at a whopping 9lb 14oz! When I think about the last few weeks of my pregnancy now, I shake my head in wonder. I was teaching 7th grade at my first full time teaching position, had a rambunctious two-year-old, was HUGELY pregnant and swollen, lived in an apartment on the THIRD floor, and all the while had cancer in an organ that controls whether or not you feel up to doing anything. Smh. I can’t imagine I was a good teacher that year. If you are reading this and you worked with me or I “taught” you that year, please forgive me. I promise I got much better at my job. 😉

When my chunky baby was three months old, they did a second biopsy. I cooperated a little better for that one and the results were positive. They scheduled surgery immediately and within two weeks, I had my thyroid and four lymph nodes removed from my neck. All of that was positive for malignancy. That means the cancer had spread out of my thyroid into my lymphatic system surrounding it. That was no bueno. When dealing with cancer, a “nice” kind or not, you never want to hear the word spread, the fancy word for which is metastasized.

The month following that surgery was the sickest I ever got and it wasn’t very sick. They stopped giving me the Synthroid in order to prepare me for radioactive iodine ablation, or a radiation treatment. Our thyroid cells are the only cells in our bodies that take up iodine. Therefore, when dealing with thyroid cancer, doctors use radioactive iodine. When they’re looking for it, they put you on a low-iodine diet (the likes of which are evil I tell ya, pure evil), in order to “starve” the cells of iodine, making them more likely to take it up. Then, they give you the radioactive iodine and it glows so they know it’s there. Or in the case of a treatment dose, the cells take up the iodine and they die because of the radioactivity.

After my surgery, without a thyroid making hormones and without the hormone replacement pills, any thyroid cells in my body were seriously craving iodine. That helped make the radiation treatment more effective, but it also made the symptoms of hypothyroidism much, much worse. When your thyroid is under-active, symptoms include dry skin, dry hair, brittle nails, irritability, constipation, bloating, weight gain, trouble losing weight, fatigue, memory trouble, trouble thinking clearly, and always feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet.

[I’d like to say that it is a cruel joke that one disease can cause weight gain AND trouble losing weight. That, my friends, just ain’t right.]

During that month for me, all of those symptoms were magnified times a million. I even had some pain in my back from the muscles doing something weird. I think that was also the only time I ever really looked sick. I was very, very pale. Not my normal lovely alabaster paleness [insert eye roll and giggle here]; it was more of a sickly “what the heck is wrong with the girl?!” pale.

The radiation treatment was an interesting experience. I actually ate it. Weird. They poured two pills out of a specially made metal container with skulls and crossbones on it and told me to eat it. There’s just something unnatural feeling about voluntarily eating something that others won’t even touch. I had to stay in a hospital room in total isolation for three days. The only people who could come in were specially trained folks with special badges that measured the amount of exposure they had every month and they only came in to bring my meals. Paper, clothing, and every other thing you can imagine in a hospital room could potentially take up the radiation too through my skin (weird) so they covered the entire room in Saran wrap. No kidding. The smell of all that cellophane was overwhelming. To this day, just a tiny whiff of the stuff makes me think of that room. They warned me that I would have to leave whatever I brought with me. I brought a framed picture of my children and the latest John Grisham novel; I left them both there. I probably shouldn’t confess this, buuutttt I wasn’t quite finished reading the novel, so when I was discharged, I went straight to the local bookstore and finished the last two chapters in a chair there. A friend from college wandered in and excitedly started to hug me and I had to back away and warn him that I was radioactive. He said, “Oh hush!” and hugged me anyway. I remember feeling so happy to have that tiny second of human interaction after being so alone for three days. I’m an extrovert – we don’t often go that long a period by ourselves. I needed that hug! Thanks, Chance! The chair and the book were probably both radiated when I left. I still feel kind of bad about that.

After that, I had to wait two weeks before I could be around children or elderly because the radiation was still strong enough in my system to hurt them if they were exposed. I had a four-month-old and a three-year-old at home. After nine years of treatment since then, I still maintain that not seeing them for two weeks was the hardest part of having cancer. No mother should be without her babies that long. It was hard.

The next steps were body scans (like a pet scan, but with radioactive iodine) and ultrasounds to watch for a re-occurrence. The very first scan I had after my radiation treatment did show more malignancy, but the radiation continued to work for six months afterwards, so my second scan post-radiation treatment, in February 2005, was clean. Every year since then, I had either an ultrasound of the neck or a body scan or both. They’ve all been clean.

Until February of this year. My routine ultrasound showed a swollen lymph node (about 1.5 cm at its biggest point) with signs of malignancy. Let me explain the “signs of malignancy” part:  It is normal for our lymph nodes to swell. They filter bad stuff out of our bodies and while they’re doing that, they swell and contract. For example, that’s why sometimes when we have sinus infections, our necks are sore and swollen. Lymph nodes in action. But when a lymph node is swollen with cancer is looks different, just slightly, but enough that a trained eye can spot it immediately. A benignly swollen lymph node is circular or oval with smooth edges. A malignantly swollen lymph node looks more like a splat on the screen, with the edges of the circle or oval just sort of going out at random. I have four swollen lymph nodes in my neck right now that don’t look malignant. They have noted them and their sizes and they will watch them, but there is no reason to believe they’re cancerous yet because of their smooth edges. The one they found in February, though, didn’t have smooth edges.

Before I could even get home from the ultrasound appointment, they had called and told me to start the two week low iodine diet. Ugh. Hate. That. Diet. I really dislike dieting period, but that one is hard core. If it doesn’t grow out of the ground, I couldn’t eat it. Sure, sure, eat a salad you say, but what about the dressing?! Agghhh! There are recipe books online for low-iodine cooking, but I’m culinarily challenged (did I just make up a word??? lol), so that didn’t help me. I was just hungry for two weeks. I lost nine pounds, which was fun, but I gained it all back immediately after the test.

Strangely, the body scan was clear, suggesting it wasn’t thyroid cancer. And no signs of cancer were showing up in my blood work either. So she started thinking maybe the spot they saw was just a fluke on the ultrasound and she sent me for a CT scan. The CT scan clearly showed the same spot. She said, “Well, I know it’s there; I just don’t know what it is,” and she sent me to a thyroid surgeon in New Orleans so he could figure it out. He did a biopsy, which came back positive.

If it was cancer, then why didn’t it glow on the screen you ask? We asked too. Apparently, sometimes after a radiation treatment, thyroid cells mutate. They get smart. They say, “Hey, you know that iodine stuff? It’s killing us – we probably shouldn’t eat it anymore.” Then, they stop taking up iodine. Therefore, the ONLY treatment known to KILL thyroid cancer is rendered ineffective. Bummer.

The only way to get it out then is to cut it out. I had another surgery on May 2. Since I already didn’t have a thyroid, this surgery wasn’t considered a thyroidectomy like the last one.

This one was considered a “neck dissection.” I can now report that those are about as fun as they sound.

Recovery from this surgery was much harder and much more painful.

[Shout out to the ladies from my church who graciously fed me and the Minis for two weeks after my surgery. You girls rock!]

The pathology report explains why. They had to cut all of the muscles from right under my chin all the way down to my chest in half, then move them out of the way, and dig underneath them to get the tumor out. It was very, very deep in my neck. Unfortunately, it had already spread out of the one lymph node they knew it was in and into the fatty tissue and scar tissue around it. The pathology report literally says it was “matted” on my trachea and he had to “scrape” it off.

Ouch.

Also unfortunately, he nicked one of my vocal cords while he was digging and scraping. They did a scope during my post-op visit and it seems my left vocal cord is paralyzed. My right vocal cord is compensating nicely, but tires out after a while. The result: I kind of sound like Minnie Mouse now. And sometimes I even sound like Minnie’s been smoking a pack a day because my voice is so raspy and scratchy. It is much, much better than it was right after the surgery. Sometimes first thing in the morning when I haven’t talked in a while, I almost sound normal. Rest assured, this is not because I didn’t have a good surgeon. He’s excellent, in fact. The surgery was just a very, very complicated one and while maintaining my vocal cords would have been nice, it wasn’t his primary goal.With the cancer spreading and matting on things, getting it all out was very tricky. However, all of the tests indicate that he got every bit of visible malignancy out of my neck. Yay!

Normally, the next step would be a radiation treatment, but since evidence suggests that these cells have mutated and are now immune to the iodine, my doctor was leery about doing that. And since the cancer didn’t show up in my blood work either, it is tad more dangerous. It’s smart (mutating) and sneaky (hiding). After the year we’ve had, smart and sneaky cancer didn’t surprise me much. The fact that my doctor wanted me to go to MD Anderson for further testing and treatment did though. Like I said, my cancer story hasn’t been too bad, so in my head I wasn’t really a cancer patient; therefore, why would I need MD Anderson?

For the record, I now think it was a humble and sound decision on the part of my doctor to send me there. You don’t often find doctors willing to admit they don’t know what’s best. I appreciate and admire her for that. I think the story of my trip there deserves its own post (for one, because this one is already monstrously long and for two, because I’m confident that there’s no place on earth quite like MD Anderson), so I will write that for y’all as soon as I can. Until then, if you know someone who has cancer, go give them a hug (if they’re not radioactive); they could probably really use one right now.

Posted in Broken People, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Not-So-Mini Update on Me and My Minis

When I’m tired, I get grumpy and eat lots of candy. I know, neither of those things are charming or healthy, but it is what it is. We’ve had several busy weeks in a row and we’ve all been tired. There have been many things that I’ve wanted to write about, but have apparently been distracted by the candy. Sorry about that, guys.  I’m going to attempt to catch y’all up with what’s been going on with us.

Three weeks ago, we spent the week at a beautiful beach in Florida with some dear friends of ours who were sweet [and brave] enough to let us crash their vacation. There are two words that perfectly sum up the glory of that week: lazy river.

Oh. My. Word. Pure bliss. Beauty and bliss. Angel May and I floated around and around and around in a fog wondering where that river had been all our lives.

We stayed perfectly relaxed…until Super Man jumped into the shallow end of the pool and sprained his foot. But truthfully, even that didn’t faze us too much. Honestly, after brain surgeries, a sprained foot is a cake walk. The nurses in the ER even joked about how calm we were about it. If not anything else, major medical problems teach you not to sweat the small stuff. He was on crutches for a few days until he could tolerate weight and now all is good.

Two weeks ago, Angel May had a CT scan and then both of the Minis had an appointment with their neurosurgeon. I am over the moon excited about the results of the CT: HER BONE FLAP IS FINALLY REABSORBING PROPERLY!!!!!!

I wish there were adequate words to describe to you how HUGE this news is for us. In April, her X-rays showed barely any new growth at all. Now, there is plenty!! In fact, there is more new growth than holes. There is so much new growth that even my untrained eyes could see it immediately on the screen. And the screws that we were 100% sure were loose (because we could literally wiggle them with our fingers from OUTSIDE her skull) are fixed in the right places and not moving at all now.

I asked you to pray, you did, and HE ANSWERED US!

This means hopefully no more surgery, no more staples, no more 1/2 shaved head! This means we can continue taking steps forward without giant steps backward. This means I can breathe again. It truly felt like I’d been holding my breath in anxious anticipation since April.

The neurosurgeon, who was also surprised and delighted with her progress, said, “Wow, this looks great!”

And I let out the biggest sigh in the history of sighs and had to grab the table to keep from giving him a big ole bear hug. Relief, friends – pure, unexpected, blessed relief. I am so very thankful. Woo hoo!

Last week, the Minis finally started equestrian therapy and they love it! The therapy center is called New Heights and it is full of kind people and beautiful horses, two things the Minis and I adore. They go once a week and are doing very well so far.

photo 3(1)             photo 1(2)      photo 2(2)

This week, Angel May finally had an appointment with the neuro ophthalmologist. She has been experiencing blurry vision and some “black outs,” where her eyes go completely black for a few seconds. Her eyes have been checked three times and they seem to be working fine so the doctors suspect that it’s not her eyes, but the part of her brain which controls her eyes that is the problem. The neuro ophthalmologist examined her and ordered a MRA – it’s like an MRI, but with contrast so they can monitor the activity in her brain. We will be going for that in a few weeks. Please pray with me that all goes well with that.

Next week, we are going to Houston for the week. Since this post is already too long, I will give you the short of it:

I had thyroid cancer nine years ago when I was pregnant with Angel May; it has reoccurred. I had surgery to remove it on May 2. Because this reoccurrence seems to be sneaky and smart (I’ll explain that more in another post) my endocrinologist is not comfortable choosing the next step in my treatment. A team at MD Anderson will evaluate me and my records and choose the next step while we are in Texas next week.

It’s not time to worry yet, friends. People rarely die from thyroid cancer. It’s true – google it. It’s a very, very manageable disease. I know MD Anderson sounds scary, but really my treatment options are the same no matter where I go, so why not let the best doctors decide?

Plus, the Minis and I have never been to Houston, so we are counting it as just another adventure. We never seem to be in short supply of those. 😉

Today, we are at the beach with my Momma for her birthday. We are feeling so thankful for her;

for beaches;

for laughter;

for answered prayers;

for horses;

for good doctors;

and for new adventures. 🙂

I’ll keep you guys posted about horse therapy, the MRA, and MD Anderson. We appreciate your continued prayers and love.

Posted in Broken Pieces | 8 Comments

Being Real for Real

After my last post, a dear friend complimented my writing and my ability to always see that the glass is half full, but, at the same time, challenged me to be real for real, to allow myself to write about the pain of my experiences too without feeling guilty or ungrateful for my blessings. I’m never comfortable writing about the hurt that I can’t change. I’m also never comfortable writing poetry because I’m admittedly not very good at it, but this hurt is so raw that I couldn’t find sufficient words to describe it in prose. Some things are better left unexplained; poetry offered me that this time. I know I promised you a piece about Super Man and loving others, but I want to share this piece before I lose my nerve. To my challenger, thank you for giving me permission to hurt like this and still hold my head up – love you!

 

To My Girl

“You’re so aggravating!”
The new girl screamed it.
She doesn’t like me as much.
I wince, miss the past,
Shake my head to clear it.
I choke on the pain,
Cough up some patience.
“Please don’t yell,”
With my hand out, smile on.
She rolls her eyes, stomps her feet.
She can’t handle me,
Not since she handled the tree.
I miss her so much,
The other her.
Taken by tragedy and selfishness,
She was sweet smiles
And kind words only.
Now she leaves us wide-eyed
And hurting, silently.
Silent because her bark
Never negates her presence;
So glad she’s here,
Just not sure who she is.
But we’re sure of what:
Our miracle –
Broken yet so beautiful.
There’s hope in that pain.
She stares hard,
A sea of blue forcing her will.
I stare back,
Wanting and waiting
To get drunk on a flash
Of what used to be.
She gives a flash of anger instead –                                                                                                yanks my hand,
dizzies me with her changes,
And her rage.
Maybe her heart is broken too.
Maybe she too longs for what was.
Maybe the flashes which sustain me
Only enrage and confuse her
Because she feels them,
But can’t capture them.
Because she misses my girl too,
But can’t find her.
Did she leave that day?
Released forever on impact.
Or is she still here?
Trapped by a mind that won’t help                                                                                                 her be her again.
To my girl,
Wherever you are:
I will not forget you.
I will not stop loving you.
I will celebrate you in the flashes,
And mourn you in the darkness.
I will miss you,
always.
I promise to love our miracle,
Just as if she were you,
Because of who she is
And also who she isn’t.
And because I know you would too.
Please know,
If you are ever in need of rest,
I’ve saved a place just for you
In my heart.

 

Posted in Broken Hearts, Broken People | 5 Comments

Thoughts on Love, Being Watched and Being Real – Part 1

Parenting is hard. These children of mine are ALWAYS watching me. Always. Everything I do (or don’t do) gets noticed, noted, and often, repeated or mimicked. I’m not going to lie: that is scary, y’all! As parents, we strive to teach our babies to be good people, who do good things and make good choices, with good hearts. But even the best of people have bad moments, moments we don’t want anyone to see or know about, moments we wish had never happened, moments we definitely don’t want our children to learn from. I have those moments all the time, unfortunately, and the Minis are learning from me whether I mean for them to or not. Even though I know this to be true, it still takes me by surprise every time I see them do something that I am certain they picked up from me. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way for them to only mimic the good we do? In the last month, I’ve noticed that they are learning to love (themselves and others) in the exact same way that I do. Let me explain:

A few weeks ago, on one of our last morning rides to school, Angel May looked at me and asked, “Momma, do you think I’m fat?”

Whoa.

Where in the world did that come from?!

I responded the way any good momma would, “What?! Of course not!!! You’re beautiful, baby! Why would you ask that?!”

“Well, because Twerp called me that, so I was wondering if you thought that, if it’s true.”

Obviously, his name is not really Twerp, but considering how he made my girl feel about herself, I think the pseudonym is fitting.

Again, I responded the way any good momma would, “What?! Well, he’s a twerp! Don’t you dare listen to him! You know what they say, huh? Third grade boys only call you names when they like you. I bet he has a crush on you. I mean, you’re so awesome, who wouldn’t?”

I expected a smile, a laugh, something. Nope. She was still serious-faced and brooding over Twerp’s hurtful words and whether they held any truth in them. She finally said, “But I am a lot bigger than I was before the accident. And I have this little roll that hangs over my pants now.”

She is bigger. She does have a little roll. But good lord, trust me, the girl is no where near fat. I struggled for a moment to regain my wits because I was so shocked and frustrated by the whole conversation. Finally, I tried again,

“Angel May, darlin, you are bigger than you were, but that’s because you’re growing up, not because you’re fat. And I see the little roll, but it does not make you fat. It’s there because you had to wear that back brace for a while and you didn’t play as much. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, it will most likely go away as soon as you’re able to play like you used to. You are beautiful. Don’t listen to Twerp. You’re beautiful. Period.”

“But you always say your little roll makes you fat. If yours makes you fat, then mine makes me fat too.”

Double whoa. Sigh

What have I done? And how do I undo it? My silly, uncalled for, typical female self-loathing had caused this beautiful, inspiring, perfectly incredible girl, whom God gave me to guide, to question her value, to not love herself. Oh the guilt, friends. The instant guilt and regret nearly did me in. Who’s the twerp now, huh? :/

Double sigh.

I do say things like that all the time. I was always really skinny until I had my thyroid removed and since then I’ve struggled with my weight and accepting that I probably won’t ever be that small again. But even before the weight, I’ve always had a hard time accepting compliments from others. Instead of following one with a, “Thank you,” I usually dismiss whatever they’ve said, or negate it with a cruel joke at my own expense. I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it too. Why would I ever do that to myself?! I don’t know. I just do. Compliments have always made me uncomfortable. But yes, I hear how crazy it sounds when I explain it to y’all.  I had no idea she was listening to all that. I never imagined she would internalize it and do the same to herself. Man, that really hurts my heart.

I have no idea if I handled it properly, but I went with the only thing I know to do when it’s clear that I have made a terrible mistake – I got real with her. I apologized for being a terrible example to her. I asked her to forgive me for not teaching her to love herself, just the way she is. I admitted to her that I struggle with loving myself the way I am, but now that I know she hears that, I will pray for some help in that area. I explained to her that there’s actually nothing wrong with being society’s idea of fat, as long as you’re healthy. I told her that I try to eat well and work out because I want to be smaller, but really that’s not why I should do it. I should do it because I have the genetic code for some serious problems if I don’t do it. I took a deep breath and told her that starting right then she and I were going to love ourselves, just the way God made us, and that if either of us heard the other self-loathing or giving any credence to what the haters have to say about us, we would keep each other in check, with love and encouragement.

It’s been a few weeks and I haven’t been 100% successful, but I am trying. I sincerely hope she hears that too.

P.S ~ Part 2 is coming soon and about a different moment, one where I realized what I had been inadvertently teaching Super Man about loving others and being in love – Yikes!

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If I Was Your Neighbor

My best friend from college is a jewel. God surely blessed me fifteen years ago when He gave me her as a roommate and friend for life. She is a librarian and shares my love of reading. Actually, she reads much more than I do and I’m jealous. She has an amazing husband, an amazing home and an amazing heart. She also has three of the most beautiful children I’ve ever seen. She is a tech wizard and an orphan advocate, both things I admire greatly about her. Our lives have dragged us five hours away from each other, so we rarely get to sit around and giggle like we did in the old days, but thanks to social media, I do get to see her sweet face every day if I want to. And sometimes, the world spins right again and we actually get to visit each other. But most of the time, we just randomly text each other with quickly detailed moments of our lives and often use a phrase that she coined a while back which quickly became our mantra: “…if I was your neighbor.” I think the first time she said it I was complaining about something and she said she would come help me if only she was my neighbor. And then it just kind of stuck. Anytime we are doing something fun or hard or just missing each other that phrase usually comes up. And while I know that she’ll never really be my neighbor, I also know with confidence that she would fit right in here. I am blessed with a whole street of good neighbors. A whole cul de sac of incredible people who inspire me every day. People who literally love my children as their own and always have my back. There is one who ALWAYS looks like a super model [some girls have all the luck, huh? ;)] and her heart is 100 times prettier than that. She arbitrarily shows up with desserts and kind words. She is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known and she tells me I’m pretty so often that I’m starting to think it might be true. Yes, yes you should definitely be jealous that she’s not your neighbor. I’m keeping her, so don’t get ideas! Next door to her and directly to the right of me are more people that I’m lucky to call friends, a couple whose love of life and family eeks out into everything they do. The husband is a fireman in New Orleans, a fact that even without his amazing personality gains him my love and admiration. The Minis and I had the pleasure of meeting the firemen who worked the accident (not my neighbor, a different group of firemen). I became friends with one of them and he, upon my insistence, told me the details of their ride to the hospital that day. I can’t find words to share that with you yet- it’s still a very raw hurt – but suffice it to say that I have a profound respect for firemen and other first responders. What they do matters, y’all. They make a real difference in this world. That is precisely why I want to hug my neighbor every time I see him and tell him thank you from the bottom of my heart. There’s a different reason why I want to hug his wife every time I see her. On the day after the accident, she showed up at the hospital with a copy box full of love. She handed it to me in the hallway outside the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, told me how sorry she was, and said, “Here, you’ll need this. Call us if you need anything else!” and then she left. I didn’t have time to process how she even knew about the accident yet before she was gone. I didn’t learn until days later why she had made her visit so quick and to the point – parents in the midst of a medical emergency do not have time nor energy to chit chat. That fact and what was in the box tells me that she’s been there and done that. You wouldn’t believe the thoughtful treats in that box, anything you can imagine possibly wanting to snack on while stuck in a waiting room, plus some! We carried that box around for 40 days, to two different hospitals, and three different rooms. I fed hungry nurses and doctors, devastated friends and family (of mine, and of other patients), and my soul with that box. It was a blessing. She was a blessing. I don’t even think I’ve ever told her thank you for that; I hope she can see it in my eyes every time I wave to her or feel it in my grip every time I hug her. Directly to my left is another couple. They are resiliency personified and sprinkled with beauty. The husband has had stage four cancer since I’ve known him (probably about 5 years now). He does this

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with tubes hanging from his belly. And this

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when his hair has fallen victim to the chemo yet again. Their yard is a peaceful sanctuary of flowers and love. Trust me when I tell you that my photography does not do it justice at all. He’ll tell you about the cancer, if you’re not in a hurry and want to talk, but you’ll never hear him complain. He makes me feel fortunate. And lazy. His illness tells on him – you can always tell when he’s doing treatments because he just looks weak and tired. But he’s always in his yard, or my yard, or the yard of another single mom a few houses down, planting flowers, cutting trees, or pulling weeds. And his little wife is right behind him, talking a million miles a minute, joking and gossiping like cancer isn’t trying to kill her best friend. They take daily bike rides together and pray together. They make me want to grow old with someone. Or at least bike ride with someone. Right after the accident, while both of my babies were struggling to live, on one of only two trips I made home for a few hours, he stood in my front yard, looking worn and sincere, and told me that he and his wife had been to church every morning to pray for my children. I cried at his sacrifice. Surely it must have hurt to walk with four drain tubes in his stomach, but he made special trips to the church for my babies anyway. I have a feeling he understood the power of prayer while struggling to survive. I am humbled that he put my kids’ needs before his own. So yea, my BFF would fit right in here. Her heart for orphaned children is just the kind of hearts that live on this street. All that love and inspiration and sacrifice and beauty from all these amazing people is right here at my doorstep. It’s no wonder the Minis are going to be world changers – they are surrounded by incredible examples!

We are so blessed.

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“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

http://m.cbsnews.com/postwatch.rbml?pageType=video&cbsID=50147264

Praying without ceasing for her and her neighbors.

Posted in Broken People | 1 Comment

Snowballs, Sign Language, and Sweet Words from Super Man

The Minis had a tough day at school today. They both came home a little sad. Mondays are hard for everyone, but they can be especially rough for people with TBIs. Even the slightest lack of sleep can really mess up your day when your brain is still healing from trauma. There are so many things that we (as in, the people without brain injuries) take for granted on a daily basis. So many things that come easily for us that aren’t easy at all for the Minis. Nothing major happened today from what I can tell, but for both of them, there were enough little things that they got in the car with their heads hanging, feeling defeated by the day’s woes. Poor darlins. I wish I could do more to help them. I wish I could thump their bullies in the nose and shake some sense into a few of the adults at their schools. But I can’t do that. And I can’t fix their brains either. But I can try real hard to make them feel twice as much love at home when they’re not feeling it at school. And if that doesn’t perk them up, well, there’s not much a Monday can dish out that a blue bubblegum snowball with condense milk won’t cure.

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We adore that snowball stand. It represents everything we love about summer, and like Scout and Jem Finch, “Summer is our best season.” We sat on those plastic chairs this afternoon and worked out their troubles with the help of a little sugar and a lot of conversation. Angel May expressed some sadness about not getting a certificate at school for “acing” a subject this year. She told us she was anxious about her third grade graduation ceremony tonight because she didn’t expect to get any certificates. Before the accident, she was in the 91st percentile in the nation academically; she is not used to not being one of the best, and easily acing every subject. Adjusting to being an average student has been very heartbreaking and frustrating for her. Her brother quickly encouraged her, “Don’t sweat it, Sis – you aced life this year.” His sweet words were so timely and so kind.

When we left, my belly was full of snowball and my heart was full of gratitude.

Angel May did get a certificate tonight, just one, and just for passing to the fourth grade, but honestly, of all the certificates she’s ever gotten, I think this one is my favorite. It represents so much more than her moving to middle school; it represents life and survival, hope and healing, faith and mercy. She also performed with her classmates tonight. They sang “What a Wonderful World” in sign language. She has practiced and stressed over that performance for weeks now. At the snowball stand, she said she “mostly” knew it and was sure she’d mess up, but she didn’t. She knew all the words and the motions and I cried while I watched her perform because I know how very hard it is for her to memorize new things now, and I am so proud of how determined she is to succeed despite her disability. She was perfectly content and excited about that one certificate tonight and I am confident that it won’t be her last one.

Posted in Broken Homes | 6 Comments

Meet Angel May and Super Man, my Mini miracles

Most, if not all, of you probably found your way here via our Caring Bridge site so you already know my family, but just in case, and for the sake of introducing their pseudonyms, I want to dedicate one post to telling you about my little inspirations and their pet rats.

Pseudonyms probably aren’t necessary since my ignorance of the blogosphere is surely preventing me from having the best privacy settings available. But I do know enough to know that despite settings, it can’t possibly be a good idea to scream to the potential crazies on the internet, “Hey, here’s my kiddos’ names, address, and pictures! Aren’t they cute?!” Besides, who doesn’t want a pseudonym, right? So we will have internet names, a fact the boy is particularly excited about, and I probably won’t share full pictures of them. And I will throw out this plea just in case:

If you are a psycho computer-hacking pedophile who waits for ignorant mommas like me to make moves like this blog, PLEASE do not take my babies. They are my life’s treasure. I love them more than breathing. Truly. And I want nothing more out of life than to watch them grow up and change the world.

That being said, please let me introduce you to two of the greatest humans alive. They hit a tree going 80 mph, but refuse to let that define them, or even stop them from loving life and living it to the fullest. They inspire me everyday. When I am tired or angry or confused or bothered or sad or even just feeling lazy, I only have to think about what these two have been through and how well they have handled it all and I check myself, quickly. I am humbled and delighted that God chose me to be their Momma.

Meet Angel May

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This little girl has a heart more beautiful than that smile. I know, hard to believe, right? I’ve called her Angel May for as long as I can remember because it’s a sweet Southern nickname and she is a sweet Southern girl. The last eight months have been rough for her, but she’s a trooper. The accident caused her to have a traumatic brain injury, 5 spinal fractures, 3 broken ribs, a broken right wrist, left forearm, tailbone, and right scapula (that’s your chicken wing for those of you who, like me, struggle to remember high school science). She also had ocular fractures on both eyes. Those are the bones surrounding our eyes. Ouch, huh? But she’s singing in my kitchen right now, whole again, plus a few screws and minus a few brain cells. Her brain damage has made school very hard for her, but she still manages to make mostly good grades. The one C on her report card last quarter was the first in her life and it broke her heart, one of the few things that the tree hadn’t broken already. It also changed her personality some, a very common after-effect of TBI, but we’ll talk more about that some other time. She loves to sing and dance and wants to be a pop star when she grows up. In fact, she asked me today how soon she could get started. When Super Man and I upset her, which we do more than I’d like to admit, she writes songs about it. Then, when she’s put all of that anger and sadness into her lyrics, she grabs her guitar or her violin and she sings them to me. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And it makes my heart full with happy. She has a collection of stuffed dolls who, because of the sheer number of them, could definitely take over the world if they ever decided to riot. But she mothers them so well, I don’t know why they’d ever get unhappy enough for that. Every night before she drifts off to sleep surrounded by babies, I turn on her stars and moon night lights and she tells me what we will be in her dreams and challenges me with, “I’ll beat you there!” I’m almost always a pink unicorn with a purple mohawk and she almost always beats me there.

Meet Super Man

photo 1

This little dude is something else. He truly is. He is as smart as most adults he knows, a fact that sometimes gets him into trouble. But since his traumatic brain injury, he has been a little bit less sassy, a post-TBI personality change that we haven’t minded so much. In addition to the brain injury, the tree crushed his face and the cracked sinus bones tore into his brain tissue. I realize I am a wee bit biased, but when I tell you that he is one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen, I do not exaggerate. This amazing doctor in New Orleans put my baby’s face back together so well that now he just has a cool Harry Potter scar that he uses to impress the ladies. He is Dyslexic and ADHD, so school has always been hard for him and the TBI did not help with that, but he too continues to succeed despite great odds against him. I am often in awe of his ability to reason, strategize, and do the worm or the dougie. I can’t do any of those things well. He didn’t get his smarts or his rhythm from his Momma. But he did get some sweet angel kisses (freckles, across his nose) from me. When he grows up he wants to be an anesthesiologist, “…because they make the most money for the least amount of work,” and own condos at the beach that he rents to vacationers. I have no idea where he comes up with this stuff, but it sounds like a solid plan to me.

Why Super Man you ask? Well, because of this:

“Hey buddy, I’m starting a blog and I need an internet name for you. I’ve always called your sister Angel May, but your nickname has your name in it. What do you want me to call you online?”

“Super Man.”

He didn’t even hesitate. I did though. For a split second, I considered talking him out of that one, but after, “Seriously, Mom, I wanna be Super Man,” I realized how perfect it is.

He is fast despite a foot injury from the accident. He is incredibly smart despite three different disabilities getting in the way of his accessing those smarts. And like I said before, he is dashingly handsome. Watch out Clark Kent. Most importantly, he is the strongest boy I know. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. He has heard, seen, and been through way too much in his short eleven years, yet he continues to amaze me every day with his resiliency. Super Man indeed, little guy.

I am blessed beyond measure.

Oh and these two guinea pigs live with us too.

photo 4               photo 3

Meet Jabba and Chewbacca (Chewy). Clearly, Chewy is the cooler one, but Jabba is much sweeter. Plus, he’s the one with the hut in the cage, so Chewy better be nice. Angel May really hates it when I call them the rats, but it makes me and Super Man giggle, so I do it anyway. A dear friend gave them to us after the accident and her daughter had already chosen their epic names. I wish I could take credit for them. They are sweet and fat and cute, cute, cute. I hate pets, but I kinda like these little guys. They are very low maintenance and often the calmest things in this house. But more importantly, they make my Angel May smile big, which makes me smile bigger. Super Man only liked them for one day. Then, he realized that they “sleep in their poop” and quickly gave Angel May full ownership. I can’t say I blame him; that is pretty gross. He is cleaner than most eleven-year-old boys. I guess that’s because he lives with two chicks; I have a feeling his future wife will appreciate it one day. I’m trying to train him right for you, girl. 😉

I usually refer to Angel May and Super Man as the Minis, a nickname that their daddy and I gave them years ago because they looked and acted so much like us. I can’t pretend to know the plan, but I’m confident that God has big plans for my Minis. He wouldn’t save them from this for nothing.

pics from phone 369

Big plans I tell ya.

The rats and I are just along for the ride.

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Hemingway Wasn’t Very Nice, but he was Pretty Smart Though

Choosing a blog name is hard. I’ve aggravated my friends with catchy and alliterative phrases so much in the last month that I was beginning to get on my own nerves. I’ve known all along what I wanted to do with this blog, the kinds of stories I want to tell you, but I had the hardest time capturing that idea in a clever little blog title. So I finally consulted the experts, to remind myself what they have to say about writing and life or maybe even the two combined. I read Shakespeare quotes and Whitman quotes until I was sure no one had yet captured the sentiment I want for this blog. And then I read Hemingway. If you’ve never, please do. The man had a way with words he did. From what I understand, he was more faithful to words than he ever was to his poor wife, but I try not to think about his scandalous ways because I don’t want them to taint my love for his writing. And more importantly, my love for how well he summed up into one beautiful line my hope for this little blog of mine. He said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” Life is hard, y’all. Can I get an amen??! It is. And not just my life, but everybody’s. Think about your life right now. Do you or someone close to you have a serious struggle going on? I’d be willing to bet every one of you said yes to that question. That’s life. That’s the world. It breaks us. Some of us over and over and over again. That’s certainly been my experience. I took my first breaths with both of my feet turned completely inward. A birth defect. Broken place number one. And there may not be enough blog space in the world to figure out what number I’m on now. From a severely broken childhood home and child abuse to an equally broken marriage and divorce. From several family suicides to a family tree full of cancer. From watching my Daddy die to watching my babies struggle to survive.  And that’s just off the top of my head. I’ve probably been there and most likely done that, either in my own life or in someone’s close to me. But I’m not special. I imagine every one of you can identify with at least one of the things I mentioned, probably more. Life is hard. Yes, Mr. Hemingway, the world indeed breaks everyone. But the breaks are not what’s important; it’s how we handle them that counts. My Momma taught me to be strong in the broken places. She taught me where to find never-ending strength in the broken places. And that has made all the difference in my life. I’m not an expert and I won’t pretend to be. But my cup is almost always half full and I’m always willing to share, especially if sharing will help someone else heal or maybe make them feel a little less alone in their broken place. Sometimes the strength lies in knowing someone else has been to that same place and come out alive. If you know just what I mean, you might like this blog. God has generously given me a love of writing and plenty of stories to tell. Welcome to my broken places.

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