When is it ENOUGH for YOU?

13 June 2016

I had my first radiation treatment today.  I will go every weekday for the next three weeks. When walking into the facility, my beautiful wife reached out to hold my hand – and I was nervous, in a way that I haven’t been in a long time.  It reminded me of all of the times that we have gone dancing, or to play Gaybingo, here in Dallas, or out to the theater in NYC.  In those moments, we are safe (or so we think). 13394187_10153754358297309_8892603861900442623_nWe can securely hold hands, dance together, share a kiss. Yesterday, in the early morning hours, a deranged man with assault weapons stormed an Orlando nightclub, filled with members of the LGBT community, along with their friends, allies, and club employees. Those who were at the club, Pulse, this past weekend were in a safe, secure space where they could be themselves without fear. Have you ever felt afraid to show love or affection towards the one that you love in public? Every time I think of it, I shudder, because that could have been US, pre-baby days when we went dancing more often, or went out to socialize with friends for a drink at one of our “safe havens.” It has sickened me to see tweets from not only high profile figures like Dan Patrick or Donald Trump, hours after a massacre, using phrases like “you reap what you sow” or blaming current administration. It has sickened me even more to see people I know – people who are supposedly my friends that care about me – posting similar “reap what you sow” statements. It’s too much, and I almost just. can’t. even.

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When is it ENOUGH for YOU?

What the hell is wrong with people? This massacre of human life did not happen as a result of our current political administration – how ridiculous is it that anyone would even utter those sentiments?!  It isn’t the parents’ fault. It isn’t because “God has been taken out of schools” – I NEVER prayed in school growing up. It is unbridled, unmitigated and uncontrolled HATRED.  It was not carried out by someone in our country illegally – this was a US citizen, born in New York.  It was not carried out by someone who conducted a back-alley gun purchase with no criminal background check – this was a military grade assault weapon that was purchased legally through a FLAWED system. If background checks came back clear (and federal background checks were obviously NOT done, or done correctly), then something is seriously wrong, considering the murderer had a history of domestic violence and had been investigated by the FBI not once, but at least twice; yet he still was able to not only purchase the murder weapon, but also hold a job in security.  I don’t really care anymore if I piss someone off with my distaste for guns – enough is ENOUGH.  Something MUST be done, and NOW!  I see all of the screaming that Obama and Hillary are trying to take away guns, and second amendment bullshit – but have yet to see any evidence of such attempts to take away weapons OR rights.  Just because someone states that there needs to be gun reform, that doesn’t equate to “taking away my guns!”  Just today, I read an article of a mom in Philadelphia who had the ability to purchase one of these heinous weapons of mortal combat in SEVEN MINUTES. Yes, you read that correctly. SEVEN minutes. No waiting period – HA! That is laughable! I want to know how in the hell that is possible! I want to know how a 20 year old kid with an expired driver’s license was able to also go and buy one of these weapons in FIVE MINUTES?! THIS. THIS is part of the huge overlying problem.  A very, very flawed system for background checks that is the biggest joke that any of us have ever seen! So yes, as Samantha Bee has said on her show this week, we DO want to take away your guns, if they are military grade assault rifles! So come on people, how can you see children get gunned down at school, or a nightclub full of people be systematically murdered by the spray of bullets from an assault weapon that only belongs in a military combat situation?!  When is it going to be ENOUGH for everyone?  sandyhook-heart

 

Twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook obviously wasn’t enough.  Forty-nine more people are dead today, and more than that are injured, some may not recover, but all are never to be the same – is this not enough?  Do these lives not matter as much because many of them were LGBT?  People screaming back and forth at each other angrily about their stance on guns, or radicals, or LGBT citizens does nothing but create more noise, overtaking the sound of the tears and sorrow for those who were lost.  Is today the day that you, or I, have to be right? We may not ever agree on who is right, but I hope we can agree that it is most definitely ENOUGH! Those of us who feel this pain for our brothers & sisters who perished, who feel the outrage at the loss of life being overshadowed by arguments about politics or gun control; we still see you, the silent ones who normally pray for every tragedy or post your condolences when the unthinkable happens. We see you and notice the absolute absence of commentary from you on THIS particular tragedy – what is THAT about?   13407221_10153450633247820_179011674951000247_n

When is it ENOUGH for you?

Hatred for that which is different from ourselves can take on an ugly life of its own.  It seems that somewhere along the path in the life of these terrorists, this kind of hatred became perfectly acceptable. Most of us, civilized human beings, are mortified by the atrocities of the Holocaust during WWII, asking over and over why more people didn’t step in and stop the systematic murders of millions.  We are appalled when we hear of those who stood by and let it happen, not willing to step out of their fear and stand up to the obvious wrong that was happening before their very eyes. But that was something in our history books, right?  Yet here we are again, only the murders aren’t by the millions, in another country out of sight.  It’s 26 here, 50 there, a high school or a movie theater in Colorado. When WE see hate directed towards another, and we say nothing, then WE are saying that we are okay with it. When WE see hate physically manifested towards another, and we take no action, then WE are saying that we are okay with it. When WE hear a teen call another faggot, or tell them that they’re “gay” when they really mean “dumb or stupid,” and WE don’t call them out on it, then the message we give is that we don’t have a problem with that kind of hate speech. When is it ENOUGH for YOU?  Will it be enough when it’s YOUR child, YOUR brother or sister, YOUR childhood best friend who was dancing in a nightclub, but then is on your television screen as just one among the bodies? Will you be arguing about your guns then? Will you be pointing fingers at politicians then? Or will you be face to the ground, arms around a stranger who mourns next to you, because THEIR person silently lays among the carnage next to YOUR person? When is it ENOUGH for YOU?

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Today I laid on a table in a cold room, alone, with a mask locked tight around my face, while a huge machine clicked and buzzed while circling my head, giving me the radiation that we hope will keep me alive. FullSizeRender-7 I had to remain completely still. I fought the urge to scream, to freak out in claustrophobic madness. I fought the tears as panic tried to take over. I gritted my teeth in anger, knowing that if I don’t do this, my chances of winning – of living – become markedly lower. FullSizeRender-8 

 

 

Today, fifty people will also lie on a table in a cold room, alone – no mask on their face needed. They will remain completely still, too; no fighting panic like they surely experienced during the moments before they died.  I cannot imagine the terror that went through their hearts and minds during those final moments.  They no longer have the urge to scream, or cry, or panic; their lives were cut short by a terrorist who hated them, just for BEING. Is this too harsh for you to read?  When is it ENOUGH for YOU?? Most of the victims were young, with a full and productive life ahead of them.  Some were coupled, some were not.  Some were out, others were not.  Some were there with friends, others were there with a supportive parent.  But rather than give this terrorist a minute of time learning his background – hell, even learning his name – I choose to remember as many of the names of those who perished that I possibly can.  I will try to remember their stories, as I hear them.  

Like Amanda Alvear. She was 25 and was at the club Pulse with her best friend, celebrating having lost 200 pounds. And Brenda McCool, age 49. She was a two-time cancer survivor.  She raised twelve children, and was at Pulse dancing with one of her sons, who survived the shooting, but had to watch his mother die. Stanley Almodovar III was 23 and a pharmacy tech. Cory Connell, age 21, was leaving the club with his girlfriend when they came upon the shooter.  He was a college student who hoped to become a firefighter.  

They were all people just like you and I. Instead of everyone standing around with raised fists in the air, angry and indignant about who or what to blame, why don’t we learn what we can about the only people who really matter in all of this.  Click on their name; if there is an available profile, the link will take you to it:

 

When is it ENOUGH for YOU?

 

 

But then THIS happened…

May 18, 2016

So how are you guys doing with those snacks?  Still working on them?  I appreciate you all not crunching too loudly – sometimes it’s hard to hear my own thoughts when I have distracting crunching or smacking sounds.  So thanks for that.

Well, after getting the shots in my back last week, I was thrilled to be able to move around better and get some work done.  A few weeks before last, I had made several other appointments that were either past due or soon coming up.  I made an appointment with my thyroid doctor (also the best breast surgeon in the world, who did my mastectomy and port) for my annual checkup to check my levels since she took out my thyroid in 2014.  I also made an appointment, those weeks ago, with my oncologist for my six month checkup.  I went and did bloodwork there last Monday, and was due to go to my appointment with the oncologist on Friday – but I missed it because I had put it on the wrong date in my calendar.

So, Monday, 5/16, I went to my appointment with the thyroid doctor.  Now, when she took out my thyroid in 2014, we knew that there had been an old, calcified nodule on it (part of why the thyroid had to be removed).  Pathology came back with cancer – 8mm of cancer that was encapsulated inside of the nodule.  But because it was smaller than 10 mm, no further treatment was needed.  I would just have to come in every six months for the first year, and then annually after that.  No big. No problem.

I went in, looking to have a short, 15 minute visit with one of my favorite docs, and then be on my merry way for the rest of the day.  The first thing that she does is lay me down and ultrasound my throat, to make sure that nothing had escaped into my parathyroid, I believe.  So I’m watching her do the ultrasound, as she has a big screen on the wall for patients to see.  She wasn’t saying anything, and when I looked over, her brow was furrowed and her hand was over her mouth, deep in thought.  Then she said, “Hey sit up and let me try it that way.”  So I sit up.  She continues to ultrasound me, and finally points to the screen.  “I’m concerned about these,” pointing at some dark circles.  They were fairly big, to me, and I asked her what she thought they were.  “Cancer,” was her reply.  Wait, what?  Cancer.

How can this be??  I have come to all of my appointments, and I have been cleared every time – from both my oncologist and thyroid doctors.  What in the actual hell?  I went in for a normal, routine appointment!  Stop, wait!  No!  There MUST be some mistake!  I sat down in a chair as one doctor went to the phone and called the other doctor.  She (thyroid doc) calls Texas Oncology, explains who she is and asks to speak to my oncologist.  She is briefly put on hold, and a few minutes later, he is on the speaker.  The two of them confer and consult, learning that my numbers that had previously always been in normal ranges had apparently come back high last week.  He said he had made a note to call me, since I had missed my appointment on Friday to go over the bloodwork.  Well, SHIT.  Together they agreed that I indeed am having a recurrence, and now we know where it is located.  She said that she could do a biopsy right then, right there, in her office; but after conferring with my oncologist, they decided that getting me in under general anesthesia for an excision of one of the masses/lymph nodes was a better idea.  Next thing I know, I am texting Erikka at work (which I later felt horrible for doing):

Me – Something is wrong.

She – What?

Me – I have a mass.

She – What? Where?

Me – Right side of my throat.  All of the throat clearing. She wants to biopsy right here. Now.  She thinks it is cancer. I can’t call you because I will go hysterical.

She – I will come get you.

Me – She is on the phone with Perez and he is saying my tumor markers are elevated.  They are both comparing numbers and such – recurrence.

Me – No biopsy today.  They want it done under anesthesia.  This week.

She – Do I need to come home? When can they get you in?

Me – We are scheduling.  Tomorrow or Wednesday. Which works for you?

She – Tomorrow.

Me – 1:30 tomorrow.

She – Do you want me to come home?

Me – Only if you want to.  I’m kind of in shock and just want to lie down.

She – Be there at 1:30 or biopsy at 1:30?

Me – Be there at 1:30.  Surgery at 2:30.

She – Do you want me to tell your mom or are you going to?

Me – I don’t think I can.

She – That’s what I was thinking.  I will take care of it.  I got this.

Me – I’m sorry I told you on text.  And there are three masses on lymph nodes in my neck.  She is removing one lymph node.

She – It’s okay.

Me – I’m so scared.

She – Don’t be scared.  Let me take care of you.

So let me just insert here that I have the most amazing, most supportive, most giving, most selfless wife in the world.  She kept me from completely losing my shit while in the doctor’s office, simply with those eight words:  “Don’t be scared.  Let me take care of you.”  Because of her, I was able to get things scheduled in a calm fashion.  Once I made my co-pay and scheduled the procedure, I got to my car as quickly as I could so that nobody else had to witness the meltdown that followed.  I just wanted to kick and scream, “NO NO NO…I don’t WANNA do this again!!  NO!”  

The next day, Tuesday, we got to the surgery center around 1 PM.  Got checked in, and didn’t have much time before I was taken back, gowned up, and IV in.  The nurses that I had were awesome and amazing, and kept me smiling and laughing, which really helped in that moment.  That moment when you know that something is really very wrong, and you’re scared to death, but know that you have no choice but to face it head on.  Soon after, they brought Erikka back to sit with me, and I could see all over her face that this time was different.  She looked scared, but didn’t want to say it. Her beautiful blue eyes glistened with tears that she didn’t want to let fall.  I promised her that this time would be different, if I have to do treatment again.  I promised her that the last time taught me how important it is that the caregiver be taken care of, too, because it isn’t just happening to me, but that she is going through it, too.

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Soon, the doctor appeared and talked to us about what she would be doing.  She was going to remove one of the three masses (the largest, I believe, at 4 cm) along with the lymph node it was affecting.  She said that if we had to pick what cancer we wanted it to be, then we wanted it to be thyroid.  Easy to treat – she would just have to go in and take out all of the masses, and quarantine me for three days in the hospital for radioactive iodine pills (oral radiation).  That’s the treatment.  Easy peasy.  Or it could be breast cancer that has metastasized to the lymph nodes in my throat.  This would mean chemo again, but likely no radiation because I believe that I maxed out on that during the last round.  So okay.  We would be hoping for the lesser of two evils.  I would be going to sleep with the hope of it being thyroid cancer on my mind.  I remember everyone being there – the OR nurse, the anesthesiologist and his assistant, Erikka, my doc – so I knew it was time.  I asked for a moment with Erikka as they put the “cocktail” in my IV to make me relax.  We tearfully kissed and said our “I love yous” and I was rolled away.  This time seemed scarier to me, knowing that the mass that she was going to remove was sitting on my jugular.  Oh and scarier because I knew that no matter what she found, at the end of the day, I have cancer again.  All I know is that I didn’t want Erikka to leave my side, ever.  What, why couldn’t she go with me??  

I woke up in recovery, immediately touching a new wound on my neck and wincing from the horrible pain.  I remember a nurse putting demarol into my IV and I was out again.  When I woke up the second time, Erikka was in a chair beside me.  When I was awake enough, she told me that the doctor came out to talk to her after surgery, and told her that it did NOT look like thyroid cancer.  My heart sank.  Well shit.  After a little while, I had my IV removed and Erikka helped me get dressed.  I just wanted some food, and my own bed.  Now I was just supposed to rest, let the wound heal, and wait to hear what the pathology report would say.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I stayed in bed like a good patient.  The pain was worse, once the numbing effects of surgery had gone away.  It hurts to turn my head.  It hurts to chew.  It hurts to try and pick anything up of any weight at all.  It’s crazy how much I didn’t realize how often we use the muscles in our neck when doing anything!  Erikka stayed home with me, which I was so grateful for; I only wish she could stay with me 24/7 while we deal with this.  When the time came in the afternoon, she left for a little while to pickup Noah from school, go to the store, and pickup Harrison from school.  It was during that time, while she was out, that the doctor called.  She had the initial pathology (that she had had rushed), and it came back that the cancer cells indicate breast cancer, not thyroid like I had hoped.  I asked her what stage it was, because she had said that this biopsy would be used to stage me.  She didn’t seem to want to answer me, but she did:  Stage 4.  WHAT???  Stage 4??  That’s like, the WORST STAGE!  She told me to please try not to worry about it too much, because it is automatically staged at 4 when it moves outside of the original area.  In my case, had it been thyroid cancer, it would probably have been a lower number because it is in the neck area where the thyroid was.  But because the cells indicate breast cancer, and it is way outside of the breast area, or the area under my arms where lymph nodes are, then it is stage 4.  And I will have to have a PET scan to make sure it isn’t anywhere else in the body.  All I could think was, “Well SHIT.  Breast cancer.  In my NECK.  What in the ever-lovin’ hell??  That is some bullshit!”  I told Erikka what the doc said about the stage, and she was calm, already aware that it would be staged that way.  

So here we are.  Monday morning my life was fairly boring and normal.  By lunchtime it had been turned upside down, when the rug was pulled out from under me.  I went from survivor in remission to recurrence patient.  Every fear that I had before has returned, plus some.  We have watched several of our friends over the past couple of years battle recurrences to no avail, only to watch them deteriorate and lose their battle. It’s hard not to be terrified.

Now what?  Here is what has to happen over the next few weeks:

  • PET scan, to see if it is anywhere else in my body (and dear God I hope not)
  • Appt. w/Oncologist – this is scheduled already, for next week, Thursday 5/26
  • Day surgery to put a port back in

That’s pretty much all I have to go on right now.  We will make a plan once I visit my oncologist.  If you have tried to call and I haven’t answered, don’t take it personally or get offended.  I just haven’t wanted to talk to anyone, because I get emotional and it actually hurts my neck if I start crying – especially if I start UGLY crying!

This is my, "Damn. Here we go again" face. Sigh.
This is my, “Damn. Here we go again” face. Sigh.

People will want to know and will start asking what we need or what they can do.  Right now it is early, so we have no answers really.  But once treatment starts, there are things that I know will be helpful to me and my family.  My main request is that my darling Erikka not become overwhelmed with having to work, plus take care of me AND the kids.  There will be times that it will be great for someone to take our very active little Harrison for short visits or outings so that Erikka can have a break (for instance, on chemo weeks when I will likely need her with me).  There might be times when it would be nice to have dinners for Erikka and the kids, since I am primarily the one who cooks, and I don’t want her to have to order out all the time.  Please, this is what I am asking.  Take care of her and my babies, since they will be taking care of me.  Hopefully we can get started quickly and knock it out swiftly, and get back to our lives.  We didn’t invite stupid f&*king cancer the last time it showed up, and we certainly didn’t invite it back for a second tour.  But nevertheless, it is here, so we just want to make its stay as short as possible.  We know that we have all the support and love that we will ever need, and I am more thankful for our tribe than any of you will ever know.  Once the shock wears off, I will change to battle stance, and keep everyone apprised of where we are in our course.  Please be patient with us.  Last time, when I found a lump, there really weren’t any unexpected surprises; by the time I got my diagnosis, I pretty much already knew what I was looking at.  Being blindsided is a whole different ballgame.  There are too many unknowns right now.  But as soon as they become known, we will share.

Man…I’m SO pissed off!  I just got my hair to where I like it again!  Son of a bitch, fu&*ing cancer…I hate you!  Well, at least I can finally have that rainbow mohawk I have always wanted! (am totally going to do it when the first hairs start falling)

So THIS happened…

May  10, 2016

So things have been funky in my body for a little while now, and after trying everything I could on my own, I finally decided that it might be time to go for medical experts to piece together what the hell is going on. What’s been going on, you might ask. Well, this could take a minute, or two…or twenty. You might want to go get a snack – maybe make some popcorn. Ooooo, or even better, NACHOS! Get yourself some soda, maybe some iced coffee or a bottle of water. Go ahead, really! I’ll wait.Okay. Everybody back now? Good, good…just keep that crunching to a minimum, will ya?
About six months ago – November 2015 – I developed a knot on my shoulder blade that hurt like hell, and was obviously NOT due to sleeping on it wrong, because it just didn’t budge. I had a massage. Then another. And another….until I had had about five or so. From two different instructors at the massage school. Neither could figure out why the main knot wasn’t moving, wasn’t loosening, wasn’t easing up on the pain; and by now they had discovered that there were several knots on both sides, both shoulder blades. I tried BioFreeze. I tried Tiger Balm. I tried Tiger Balm patches. I tried two other brands of pain patches, and wore them almost all the time for a while. I tried a heating pad – yeah, try sleeping on a heating pad when you are ALSO dealing with hot flashes from chemo-induced menopause. I tried lying on a tennis ball (some pressure point thing that I read about for loosening up stubborn muscle knots in the shoulder). THAT was brilliantly painful, and didn’t loosen the knot. I tried ibuprofen, naproxen, two different muscle relaxers, hydrocodone, tramadol, oxycodone – some did very little to nothing, some helped the pain for a few hours, but all of them only masked it for a while without changing the muscular problem at all. I finally went to my PCP to see what he can do, begging him to help me. He did an exam and decided to do a trigger point injection of lidocaine into the worst knot, in an attempt to make it relax. The result? A big fat plate of NOTHING. He recommended that I see a pain doctor. So I made several attempts the following week to get an appointment, at several different pain doc clinics, to no avail. It was crazy – NONE of them would call me back!

Then one weekend we were at a friend’s house, and she (a massage therapist) was working on my knot when she told me that she thought that I have what is called Frozen Shoulder. I had never heard of it, but when I did some research I learned that it can happen after mastectomy. But to properly diagnose and treat frozen shoulder, one must visit an orthopedic doctor. Just picture a dog, at this point, running in a circle and chasing its tail. That dog would be me. I got in with an ortho doc, who determined that it was indeed NOT frozen shoulder; and told me that I should go see a pain management doctor. <head explosion here> Oh sure ortho doc. Let me get right on that, especially when I can’t get a person to answer the phone at any of them, much less get an appointment with one. So they said they could help me get the appointment, and they were going to attempt a trigger point injection on the outside of my shoulder, directly into the bursa with not just lidocaine, but also some pain meds and a steroid. The result? Another big fat plate of NOTHING.

But by the following week, I had an appointment with a pain medicine doctor, but very little hope that anything would come of it. He did x-rays, examination, and some tests for strength, reflex, and agility. His diagnosis was Myofascial Pain Syndrome, and said that it was likely connected to the nerve pain that I was having across my chest, and that both the breast pain AND the back pain/knots were connected to all of the surgeries and incisions I have had in the past three years. Finally, some hope! He told me that he was going to give me several shots into the knots in my back, and that he wanted me to come back at the end of the month; if the shots helped, we could repeat them. And then, the doctor said, we will talk about me going to one of the other docs in the practice for Botox injections in my back – they paralyze the muscle and would force the muscles/knots to relax. YES! DO IT! He ended up doing four shots into my knots of something stronger than lidocaine, along with pain meds and a steroid. Within an hour I had a good amount of relief, and as the day went on I could move around significantly better than I had in months. This relief lasted three days before the pain in the knots started to return, but it wasn’t anywhere near the pain levels that it had been before the shots. So that’s where we are on THAT.
To be continued….

Pink’s Not Just for Breast Cancer Anymore, Folks!

Well, folks, it’s June 1st.  I can’t believe that yet another year is almost half over….AGAIN!  Time keeps marching on, no matter how much I just wish it would go as slow as it did when I was a kid waiting for Christmas.  Do you ever sit around and think to yourself, “What am I doing to take care of this body that I was given, so that it lasts well into my twilight years?”  Yeah, me neither.  Usually it takes something drastic for us to start paying better attention to our bodies and health – unless of course you’re one of those skinny, gym-loving, non-food addict, can-eat-anything-you-want kind of people.  But the rest of us hate those kind of people.  Not really.  We are mostly just jealous of those that it seemingly comes to so easily.  But in life, most of us learn that nothing comes easy – especially a tone, fit, healthy body.

So if you’ve followed along on my trip down cancer’s path (yeah, I used “path” because those who use “Cancer Journey” just irritate the crap out of me – not that “path” is much better), then you know that my body has been through the ringer.  Between surgeries, very little exercise, bad eating, and weight yo-yo’ing, I have been the epitome of UN-healthy.  I started looking back at the past couple of years, and WOW.   Take a look:

March 2013 – Diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer (166 lbs.)

April  2013 – Bilateral Radical Mastectomy  (166 lbs.)  

Surgery day - April 10, 2013
Surgery day – April 10, 2013

 

May 2013 – Began chemotherapy  (163 lbs.)

After 1st Chemo - May 2013
After 1st Chemo – May 2013
Fight Like a Girl photo shoot - July 2013
Fight Like a Girl photo shoot – July 2013

October 2013 – Chemotherapy ends (180 lbs.) 

Last day of Chemo - October 14, 2013
Last day of Chemo – October 14, 2013

January 2014 – Radiation begins (177 lbs.)

February 2014 – Radiation ends (186 lbs.)

Last day of Radiation - February 19, 2013
Last day of Radiation – February 19, 2013

July 2014 – First reconstruction surgery; Thyroidectomy due to Hashimoto’s AND cancerous nodule (169 lbs.)

Anniversary trip - July 2014
Anniversary trip – July 2014
Reconstruction & Thyroid surgery - July 25, 2014
Reconstruction & Thyroid surgery – July 25, 2014

September 2014 – Surgery to reverse reconstruction due to staph infection (169 lbs.)

Race For the Cure North Texas - September 2014
Race For the Cure North Texas – September 2014

**Sometime in November, the doc added a second prescription for replacement thyroid function – weight started coming off**

January 2015 – Reconstruction do-over surgery (152 lbs.)

1st Reconstruction Do-Over surgery - January 29, 2015
1st Reconstruction Do-Over surgery – January 29, 2015

April 2015 – Second Reconstruction do-over surgery (152 lbs.)

To the outside eye, after looking at all of this, one might think that I’m doing alright after losing the weight, plus some, that I gained during treatment.  But what most don’t know if that I have no upper body strength – can’t even do one pushup.  I have no stamina when exercising, which is not very often these days.  I had very little energy, despite the weight loss, and was needing to nap almost every day.  I was relying on coffee and several sodas per day to keep me awake, and it wasn’t helping.  Meanwhile, at night, I couldn’t fall asleep on my own, and was often up until 1, 2, 3 AM; sometimes I would literally stay awake the entire night – unless I took some kind of pharmaceutical to help me sleep (sleeping pill, muscle relaxer, pain pill, sedative…or a combo of these).  After surgery at the end of January I had developed some pretty bad issues with regularity, due to anesthesia along with prescription pain medications being used day after day after day.  Then after surgery at the end of April, my “issues” got SO much worse, and constipation turned into a 7-day painfest.  Nothing worked, and by then I was TRIPLING my prescription doses of drugs that were supposed to help with it.  I stopped taking pain meds and just had to deal with it.

During that time, while I was recouperating and in bed after surgery, one of my fellow breast cancer survivor warrior friends had posted a testimonial about her use of Plexus products.  While I have had numerous friends whom I have seen using it, most for weight loss, this particular friend was talking about how it had helped her sugar addiction and improved her “gut health.”  THIS was what made me start researching it.  And don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE skeptic when it comes to stuff like this – I’ve tried numerous MLMs myself, so I don’t judge for that.  But with limited success in the past personally, I had a hard time believing that this Plexus stuff would be any different, despite what so many of my friends had been reporting.  What I found was that the Plexus Slim (aka Pink Drink that everyone was talking about) was originally created for type 2 diabetics, to stabilize blood sugar.  I have been on a prescription diabetes medicine since chemo ended, because it threw me into diabetic glucose levels (the combination of steroids during treatment + the bad, carby eating that followed the steroids).  I have been wanting to get off as many of my prescriptions as possible in my quest to get healthier.  I’m not sure if I will be able to get off of thyroid function replacement meds, since mine has been removed; but I have really wanted to get off of blood sugar meds, blood pressure meds (have been on for 20 years now), and ADHD meds.  So after all of my research, I decided to give it a try, and would keep a log of my weight, blood sugar readings, and the products that I am using.  My first focus would be blood sugar, followed by losing that last twenty pounds and getting off of the blood pressure meds.  My friend sent me some samples of the Plexus Slim, and after a few days I could already tell a difference; so I ordered my first set of products and hoped for good results.

May 6, 2015 – Started Plexus Triplex for gut issues and blood sugar (154 lbs.) – waking Blood Sugar: 150

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June 1, 2015 – 28 days on Plexus Triplex, 12 days on Accelerator +, 15 days on Block (151 lbs.) – waking Blood Sugar:  117

Lunch w/the girls - May 30, 2015
Lunch w/the girls – May 30, 2015

Do you see that?  My morning blood sugar readings are down over 30 points!  I haven’t taken the prescription meds for it in over four weeks.  My junk food cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My sugar addiction/sugar cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My carb addiction/carb cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My three-a-day Coke Zero addiction/habit?  GONE!  If I try to drink a diet soda now, I can only drink about half of it.  The sleepless nights, insomnia, and inability to fall asleep without drugs?  GONE!  My lack of energy and need to nap every afternoon?  GONE!  My “issues” with regularity/constipation?  GONE!  I’m eating proteins, fruits & veggies, with very little bread, potatoes, or rice.  I make the cupcakes but only rarely EAT one;  I’m pretty much just baking them and sending them out.  My energy is up and my blood sugar is going down!  The three pound loss is just a bonus, since that was not what my beginning focus was anyway.  The way that I’m going, the 15-20 pounds that I still want to lose should be gone in no time, all while continuing to get healthy from the inside out.

The more time that I use it, the better I feel.  The better the results, the more I am glad that I took the leap to try Plexus.  So I guess that yeah, now I am going to be one of those crazy Plexus ladies – you know, we ALL know at least ONE!  But I am trying to not be the annoying crazy Plexus lady…LOL!  So if you want to know more, or try it for yourself, then please feel free to email, message, call, text, or check out the products on my website!

http://tjdoddhise.myplexusproducts.com

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Reconstruction, Health, and The End is in Sight!

Well, it really has been a minute – or more like a few – since my last post!  In February, I promised an update as well as a blog featuring my chef friend’s new spring menu – and failed on both counts!  I know, I suck.  But sometimes life just, well, is life.  And every day comes, whether we are ready for it or not, huh?  So let’s go back and do some catching up, shall we?

As my readers know, last July, I began the reconstruction journey, even after I adamantly declared that I wouldn’t do it.  Most days I regret starting the process, but it is what it is and all I can do now is look forward, rather than behind.  I had implants, very small implants, put in, just so that I wouldn’t be caved in anymore and could wear a swimsuit without embarassment – to me AND my family!  Well, unfortunately, the implant on my left side – my radiated side – developed a staff infection, and by September I was pretty sick and the plastic surgeon had to go back in and remove it.  When THOSE bandages came off, I was devestated to see that I was now even MORE caved-in than I had been before starting reconstruction.  Deeply depressed, I cried a LOT; and upon return to the plastic surgeon post-op, he promised me that he could and WOULD make it look better, that it could be done (because I seriously, at that point, had my doubts).  He said we would have to wait several months for things to heal again before we started over, but that there was an option that did not entail putting anything else foreign into my body that could be rejected again.  He told me about a procedure called “Fat Grafting.”  This is where he first goes in and liposuctions fat from whatever area of my body that I want him to (and PLENTY of people graciously offered theirs to me as well), and then in the operating room they spin the fat to separate it from liquid.  Once they do this, the liquid is discarded, and the fat is then injected into the breast area and molded into a breast.  The only catch about this, however, is that some of the fat may not stay in place and take on the blood vessels around it, but rather just dissolve back into the body; and it would take several procedures, because only so much can be transferred at one time.  So I was in – I didn’t care how many times we had to do it (or so I thought), because hell, liposuction AND build-a-boob??  Let’s do it!

My first procedure was January 29th, and I was not at ALL prepared for what I would wake up to physically – neither the severe pain nor the huge, shocking purple bruising that came with the liposuction.  The pain from THAT surgery was way worse than even the initial double mastectomy, and the recovery time was about twice as long.  He harvested fat from my belly and my sides (ie: love handles), and after the bruising went away, I WAS rather pleased with having a smaller gut, despite all of the pain it took to get it.  I was a little disappointed, as was the doctor, in the outcome once again on my left breast (if you can call it that).  He had had trouble, when injecting the fat during surgery, in getting the large scar to loosen and expand.  It had been opened and closed four or five times previously, so it is pretty tight.  Our plan was, in between that procedure and the next, for me to try a fairly new system called the Brava – a sports bra of sorts with a suction device, designed to pull the skin out naturally through suction, rather than inserting an expander under the skin (which, as a foreign object, I wasn’t willing to do).  The wait-time in between procedures had to be at least three months, the surgeon told me, so that the fat had a chance to take on blood supply.  About two months after the first fat transfer, my nurse called to tell me that my insurance wouldn’t cover the Brava system, because it is so new and considered “experimental.”  If I wanted to do it anyway, it would cost me about a thousand bucks.  Um, no thanks.  So now what???  They told me I could proceed and do the same procedure as before, and he would work on getting the scar out a little more this time.  So surgery was scheduled and I prepared for round two.

The second procedure was April 30th, and this time I was prepared for what was coming – but I really wasn’t.  This time, he said he only had a little that he could take from my belly, so I told him to take from my thighs.  Dear God.  He got most of the fat from my thighs, he later told me, and that was a whole ‘nother kind of pain.  I woke up in a compression garment that went from just above my knees all the way up to my ribs.  Whoa.  Then on top of that, my chest was tightly wrapped in ace bandage, and between the two things, I could barely breathe!  I used my cane for a couple of days due to the thigh pain when standing, sitting, walking – pretty much moving in any form or fashion!  But I’m almost three weeks out, and have been up and about for almost a week now – much sooner than after the last time.  Last time I didn’t drive until I was two weeks out; this time, I drove myself one time after about five days, but then waiting until my 1 week (and a day) follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon.  We were both a bit more hopeful this time when we unwrapped my chest, as there is definite movements outwards of the big, main scar, and the semblance of the beginnings of a tiny breast or pec even.  We are hoping that one more procedure will do the trick, two at the most – and that is a huge improvement over what he initially predicted with EIGHT procedures!  So yeah, I am finally seeing an end to this whole ordeal, and I’m looking forward to being able to wear a swimsuit this summer without too much embarrassment, as well as on our family cruise at the beginning of October.  Now I want to focus on my health, and toning up after weight loss and liposuction…and hopefully this whole cancer nightmare will be behind me forever, never to return!

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Wow – it’s Been a Minute!

Hey there – long time no see! It’s been a while since I’ve been here apparently! The holidays cruised on by in a whirlwind of merriment and busy-ness, just like usual – I can’t believe that I didn’t sit down and write a post! Needless to say, 2015 was ushered in pretty low-key for us (even our simple plans of dinner and movie out were cut short from a migraine); we ended up back at home, and our fancy Napa bottle of wine that was chilling in the fridge to ring in the New Year is still there, unopened. We’ll get to it eventually, huh?
All this to say, now that school is back in session for the second semester, I’m not subbing hardly at all, so I have more time to focus on my photography, salsa, meal planning, and helping Krystal get Zoe’s Sweet Inspirations off the ground. Heck it’s February and all of our Christmas decorations are piled up on the dining room table and front living room, just waiting to be packed up and taken back out to the storage shed! But whatever….it’ll get done by St. Patrick’s Day I’m sure! LOL

All this to say…a new blog posting is coming soon (in the next few days, I hope) about my most recent chapter in the reconstruction saga. And next week I should have a post highlighting a local chef friend and her spring menu. Am hoping to have another chef spotlight in the next few weeks as well. You never know what you’re gonna find here! So stay tuned….

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Cousins, Football, Sweet Potato Pie, and Tryptophan Coma….Reflections of Thanksgivings Long Ago

It is late Wednesday night.  It is now just minutes away from Thanksgiving.  For weeks now, I have, almost daily, found myself in utter disbelief that it is late November 2014 – where did this year go?  I mean, for several years now, I constantly wonder how the time has seemed to speed up so swiftly the older that I get.  Remember how it was when we were kids?  The time between Christmas/New Year’s and the next Halloween seemed to be like, a decade!  But now?  I am ashamed to say that there is still at least one Christmas decoration still out, never put up after Christmas LAST year; and now it is time to drag all of the rest of the stuff out in order to decorate again in just a few short days.  I totally dropped the ball this year and didn’t decorate for Halloween, like I usually do; nor did I decorate for Thanksgiving, which is upon us and it is now pointless to do so.  But regardless of whether or not I decorate, Thanksgiving remains one of my most favorite times of year, despite the fact that the Thanksgivings of my adulthood are a bit different from those of my childhood.  Every year, as the weeks of November roll by, the memories of my family’s holiday traditions come flooding back, making me miss the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that I shared this holiday with every year.  Don’t you guys all remember how it was?

Thanksgiving 1970s:

Once Halloween had come and gone when we were kids, there was clearly a notable excitement in the air, anticipation for cooler weather, four days off of school for Thanksgiving (which meant, for us, our annual trip to my grandmother’s house), and shortly after that, two weeks out of school for Christmas break!  When we got to the week of Thanksgiving, it was almost more than we could take to have to go to school, and then to actually pay attention to anything that was attempted in the way of instruction.  Yes, we had to go to school – Monday, Tuesday, AND half-day on Wednesday.  Now, there WERE those, like us, who traveled for the holiday, whose parents took them out of school on Wednesday (some of them even did it for Monday and/or Tuesday, too).  But not MY parents.  Noooooo sirree.  We went to school on Wednesday, and when we were dismissed (not a moment earlier either), then we headed home, loaded up the car, and embarked on our evening of traffic as we were en route Southbound towards the Hill Country.  I remember the eager anticipation of getting there, knowing that there would only be one family there before us, and the rest of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would arrive the next morning.  It was so exciting for me to see family that I only got to see once, maybe twice, per year from far away places like Houston, Magnolia, College Station, Conroe, Humble, and Pflugerville!  (Funny to me now, since I know just how “far” those places really are, and have driven to all of them many times as an adult).  The car ride seemed agonizingly long, particularly after it got dark around 6 PM, where I was then stuck in the backseat, left to fight with my brother over crossing the invisible line, bringing his foot into my protected space.  Once it got dark, he would no longer play the license plate game with me; or really anything.  And once we left the interstate in Austin and headed east, we were on two-lane country roads for what seemed like FOREVER.  I must have asked at least a dozen times, “Are we there yet?” or “How much further?” of my dad.  Are_we_there_yet_Braizen1I would stare out the car window, amazed at the vast amount of stars that I could see that I normally couldn’t see in the suburbs.  My dad would mess with me, without fail, every year, with the same answer every time I asked if we were close:  “It’s just over this hill and around the next corner.”  Gullible me believed him.  Every time.  I would patiently watch as the car drove over the tiniest of hills, and then wait for him to drive in the slightest of curves that might constitute a “corner.”  Once those things passed by, I would ask again, and he would repeat the same answer.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  We would do this over and over for at least the last hour of our drive, until my mom would finally say, “OK that’s enough!  Tanya, just be quiet and we will be there soon enough!”  So eventually I would stop asking, and eventually would rest my head on my pillow and fall asleep – sure as hell just as we were arriving at my grandmother’s house in the absolute middle of nowhere.  We would be taken in and put to bed, while the parents unloaded the car and visited with Uncle Jerry and Aunt Charlotte for a bit before turning in themselves.

The morning of Thanksgiving would dawn, and every adult in that house seemed to rise at the crack of dawn.  They would get in the kitchen at, I’m sure, something ungodly like 5 AM, and start making coffee, breakfast, and get the ginormous turkey into the oven to start cooking.  Nanny’s made-from-scratch biscuits and her sweet potato piessweet-potato-pie-1 were made and into the oven as well, and us kids had absolutely no chance whatsoever of sleeping in and enjoying our time off from school.  Oh noooooo!  The adults would either be so loud that there was no chance of sleep, or they would come and tell us that we needed to get up and get dressed so that we could help if or when they needed us.  A parade would be on the one TV that my grandmother had in her house, and my brother and boy cousins would go outside and play football until real football came on TV.  I waited anxiously for more cousins to arrive, 1) because I loved getting to spend this brief time with all of my cousins, and 2) because once the others arrived, I would no longer be the only girl there.  Sometimes, once everyone was there, we would get to drive on the tractor with my step-Grandpa; other times, there was a horse there (and I don’t remember if someone brought it or if my grandmother had one), and we would get to take turns riding.  There was always cousin football games going on outside, and the carport held each family’s Igloo ice chest with sodas for when we got hot and thirsty.  Once all of the family had arrived, and all of the food was prepared, everyone would go inside and find a spot at what I thought was the longest dining room table ever made (when I got older I realized that it was actually two extended tables put together, with a giant tablecloth over them).  Food as far as the eye could see, and all of my dad’s family together in one place, one time each year; all you could see was food being served onto plates, loud laughter, and the voices of everyone there catching up.

Once the meal was over, and everyone had finally pulled themselves away from the table, full & satisfied (and often, miserable and unbuttoning pants), then the clear division of roles and duties were made.  My dad, his brothers, and many of my male cousins would park themselves in front of the TV to watch hours of football.  There would be loud shouting, you know, from the armchair quarterbacks; and often, the use of very unflattering or colorful language towards the players.  5473a2be006f5.preview-620Once the coaching died down, there would undoubtedly be at least one or two who would slip into a tryptophan coma and pass out, head back and mouth open on the backs of sofas and/or recliners.  Meanwhile, all of the women would be back in the kitchen, cleaning up and covering the food on the table, so that it was available when everyone got hungry again that evening.  I remember clearly being told that I needed to get in the kitchen and help clean, do dishes, or something; but then when I got in there, among my mom, Nanny, and several aunts, then I would get yelled at for being in the way.  Ultimately I would end up going outside with most of the rest of my cousins to look for something to do, not used to being out in the country.  As the afternoon wore on, some of the family would load up and head out, having only come for the day, while the rest of us would have to figure out who was going to sleep where, and what order we were going to take baths (since there was only one bathtub and no shower).  Sometime in there we would make turkey sandwiches and have another slice of pie, while adults sat at one end of the long table either playing cards or dominoes, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer or coffee.  The three bedroom house would have three or four people per bedroom, and several more on the two couches in the living room.  And the years that my Aunt Laura and her husband, Charlie, came in their RV, you were considered one of the fortunate cousins if you got to bunk in the RV for the night.  But that night – Thanksgiving night – was one of my most favorite nights of childhood memories.  My family, well, a large portion of it, were all together under one roof (or two, if you count the RV), and this made me feel safe, loved, and happy.

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So now, here we are.  Thanksgiving 2014.  Decades have passed.  My grandmother is gone, and her house in the country was sold years ago.  Divorce has happened, and the family picture in my mind from my childhood is disjointed and different…faded with time and now almost non-existent.  The Thanksgiving tradition that we shared year after year has disappeared, and now I don’t even hear of that side of my family getting together really anymore.  My parents divorced when I was 11 or 12.  Some of the aunts and uncles have divorced.  Cousins have grown up and now have families of their own.  Several of us cousins have strained relationships, if that, with one of our parents and no longer see or talk to them.  It makes me sad, and I miss these people, this family, of my childhood.  While I don’t have any physical pictures from the Thanksgivings of my childhood, my mind is full of photographs of memories that will stay with me forever.  Because for a time, for a period, the Clark family – with matriarch Nanny, for a while her husband Dewey, my dad and his siblings Laura, Betty, Jerry, and Arthur, my mom and the spouses Charlie, Charlotte, and Linda, my brother and our cousins Sissy, Laura Leigh, Paul Allen, Douglas, John Michael, Tod, Dewey, Leida, Sheryl, and Marcy – these were what made up my Thanksgivings.  And I know that people change and grow up, time marches on, and families splinter, grow, and evolve.  But I will never forget those holidays that will always warm my heart.  Something that I will always be thankful for, not just at Thanksgiving but every day, are the connections that I have with some of these aunts and cousins on Facebook, after all of these years.

A few years ago, dinner in The Woodlands:  Me, Aunt Charlotte, Leida, and my brother, Ron
A few years ago, dinner in The Woodlands: Me, Aunt Charlotte, Leida, and my brother, Ron

Nowadays, I am back into a family with Thanksgiving traditions that occur every year, and have for as long as most of them can remember.  My wife’s family, now my family, are a large and loving group that consists of brothers & sisters, aunts & uncles, cousins and future generations.  The ages span from a few months old to late 70s, and every Thanksgiving, a good many of the clan travel in to spend the day sharing food, catching up, laughing loudly, and spoiling the new little ones that have come along.  I am beyond grateful and blessed to have been received into my wife’s family and accepted into the fold.

Today, and every day, I carry gratefulness with me.  Grateful for a second chance at life.  Grateful for a large, loving family that shares my Erikka with me.  Grateful that we are blessed enough to give back on a regular basis.  Grateful for my sisters and their giving hearts.  Grateful for every opportunity that I have to interact with my cousins or aunts/uncles, even if it is mostly on Facebook.  Grateful for my marriage and my little family, and the fact that I am fortunate to get to spend Thanksgiving with them.

Today I somehow ended up at the tail end of a funeral procession like none that I have ever seen.  It was very sobering to see police in SUVs, with lights and sirens blaring, accompanying the bodies of a local family killed last week when their sixteen year old fell asleep at the wheel while they were on their way to Disney – the poor kid driving survived while his parents and three of his siblings were ejected and killed. But when I saw three hearses pass by me, it was almost too much. So  make your passengers buckle up my friends.  Please, I’m begging you, please be safe.

Life is short, don’t blink.

Walking the Talk

For many years now, I have actively made an effort to give to others more than I did the year before.  It is something that I enjoy doing, along with my wife, and together we are constantly striving to teach our children to do the same.  I am very blessed to have a teenage son who LOVES to give back to others, simply out of the kindness of his heart.  For most of his life, he has pretty much had all of his needs, and wants, met without knowing what it is like to struggle or go without.  His older brother, on the other hand, experienced struggling and going without – to a moderate degree – when he and his young, single mother scraped by for many years just trying to pay rent and buy groceries.  I wasn’t able to instill the importance of giving back to others when he was young, because we just didn’t have any extra to give.  There were a few Thanksgivings and Christmases that were so lean, that I cried at the thought of having nothing for my young son; feeling like a failure as a mother.  Of course I know that the holidays aren’t about superficial or material things, but just like most parents, you want to be able to provide gifts for those that you care about the most.  It was during those times of lean that I truly learned that there is indeed a lot of good in a lot of people.  I remember one Christmas in particular, when we lived in a small, two bedroom apartment, and I didn’t have any money for food, let alone Christmas presents for my three year old.  On a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, I got a knock on my door.  When I opened it, there stood Santa Claus – arms filled to the brim with groceries.  Santa Holding Stack of GiftsAs I stood there, with my mouth open, he brought them in and set them down, and then left to go get more.  He returned with more food, then left again, only to return with a large box of wrapped toys that he placed under my bare tree.  Just before he and his helpers left, he told me that someone had signed me up for the Secret Santa at the Methodist church in my town, and that he hoped that this helped us have a better Christmas.  I remember hugging Santa and crying, so thankful that someone had taken just a moment to think of us and provide such an endearing, life-changing moment.  That Christmas, and that ten minutes of my life, forever changed how I looked at the world around me.  I vowed that whenever I was able, I would always do whatever was in my power to do the same for those who needed help.

It would be a good many years before I was in a position to do very much for anybody beyond my own family.  I would donate clothes, shoes, or toys regularly, and that was all I could do for a long time.  I would donate small amounts of money here and there as I could.  I would donate my time here and there for a cause, always remembering that Christmas and knowing that someday I would do more.  Eventually, I would join a service-based sorority, and over the years have done many charity functions and events with my sisters.  It has just been in the last few years that I have been in a place where I am able to do more and give more than I ever have in the past.  We, my family, along with the families of my sisters, have started many traditions of giving that we have watched continue to grow with each passing year.  Some years we have donated our time and our cooking to feeding families staying in the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas while their children are in the hospital.

Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas
Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas

We have, for several years, donated items to Newborns in Need, who provide sleepers and blankets for young moms having babies at Parkland Hospital of Dallas.  We donate time, money, and physical energy towards at least one breast cancer event each year.  My family, along with my sisters this year, collect diapers in lieu of gifts for our daughter’s birthday, and donate them to an organization in Dallas that gives them to homeless families.  Last weekend, at her third birthday party, between my sisters and those who came to her party, we collected almost 1700 diapers to donate!

Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) - Oct 2014
Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) – Oct 2014

My wife and I also volunteer four times a year at a cancer retreat, where she might lead a session of arts & crafts, and I run the kitchen for the weekend.  Recently, one of my sisters and I volunteered on a Saturday morning to make sandwiches for the homeless, and were blown away at the coming-together of our community to make 4400 sandwiches in less than an hour.

My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches - Oct 2014
My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches – Oct 2014

Several years ago, I wanted to give back to one of the schools in our community that my middle son attended, so my sisters and I made them a Thanksgiving basket to gift to one of their families in need.  The next year, we did two baskets.  The year after that, we did three baskets.  And last year, we did ten baskets.  Our goal for this year is a dozen baskets, but we may end up exceeding that if the interest and donations are up!

So while all of this feels wonderful and makes most people want to keep doing it over and over, there often comes a time when we are faced with putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  What do I mean?  I mean that sometimes we are confronted with the choice of supporting a charity, or not, based on personal choice, moral codes, or ethical behavior that we either agree or disagree with.  I’m not talking about not going to Chick-Fil-A and giving them my money because the founder’s son doesn’t agree with gay whatever.  Or not giving Hobby Lobby my money because they stand against women’s rights of choice in their own family planning.  But we don’t typically give to Boy Scouts of America because of their stance on allowing LGBT parents to act in a role of leadership in individual troops.  We feel strongly about it, as parents, because the parents of these scouts are just exactly the same as any of the other troop leaders:  Parents.  We typically don’t give our money, or donated goods, to the Salvation Army, largely due to their anti-LGBT policies and practices of discrimination.  But those are just a few examples and reasons that are important to US – and no, we don’t expect anybody to go along with us in our stances unless they hold the same ideals and beliefs.

But what if we are called upon to provide help in a time of need to a group (like a church or charity, for example) that we don’t care for all that much, or that we don’t agree with and also know that they don’t particularly care for us?  Is it our place to judge their level of need?  Is it our place to pick and choose, knowing that without the help that we could provide, their need might not get met?  I feel like, when faced with two roads before me – one is to give without question, and one is to say that the need is not great enough – which one will I choose?  It shouldn’t be a hard choice.  If my heart has in it to give – be it time, money, service, or goods – then when a need is presented to me, there should be no question as to whether I will or not.  When charitable work becomes about US, then we are no longer doing it for honorable reasons.  So what I thought might be a dilemma should never be.  If I give of myself, and I share that with those around me, then my gift of paying something forward should never be in question because of the recipient.  THIS is how we become an example to our children, and how we teach them to become selfless people who care about their fellow mankind.  I’m excited for all of the upcoming opportunities that my family, along with my sisters, will have to give back.

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Meeting Pastor Lisa at SoupMobile in Deep Ellum last week when Noah and I dropped off blankets, sweaters, hoodies, coats & hats – Nov 2014

And all of this is not to brag, boast, or say how great I am because I do these things.  This is hopefully a way to show how easy it is to help others, and hopefully inspire even one person to do so.  Pay it forward folks.  You never know when you might be the one in the position of needing that help.  This is repayment time in life for me. Repayment for countless times of help, either monetarily or otherwise, when I wasn’t in my best places emotionally or financially. Repayment for every meal, visit, help with kids, fundraiser, message of hope, and encouragement that I received from diagnosis to remission. I am forever grateful to those who came together for me and my family after my cancer diagnosis – friends, family, and many that I don’t even know.  People gave of themselves with their time, their talent, their finances; and I will forever be indebted to do the same as often as I am able.  And always remember, a little goes a long way.  We need to all just take care of each other…okay??

Halloween of Days Gone By…

10/31/2014

Well folks, it’s that beloved time of year again, where Pumpkin Spice everything is everywhere you go and shop.  Where some places of the country actually experience a fall season, while others of us long for the days that leaves might change colors for a few days before dying and falling off, and temps of highs in the 70s seem like cold fronts.  Well, I guess in these parts, highs in the 70s ARE actually cold fronts.  We hope for cool weather for Trick-or-Treating, so that nobody has to sweat inside of their adorable little costumes.  And we look forward to upcoming holidays, hoodies, hot drinks, and warm fuzzies.

So here we are, at the end of October, on the kickoff of the fall/winter trio of holiday greatness – Halloween!  Earlier this week, as I read a Huff Post piece about Halloween in the 1970s versus now, it reminded me of many a great Halloween of yesteryear.  So I thought that I would write my own version of how Halloween has evolved over the years, and how way different it is now.

1976 (Six years old – first grade):  While I don’t remember too many of my childhood costumes, and I don’t remember if we wore them to school or not, I DO remember that it was called Halloween, it was celebrated as a fun holiday, we DID have parties at school (with homemade baked goods even!) complete with a carnival AND a haunted house in the choir room.  It scared the bejeezus out of us!!  They had pumpkin carving/decorating contests, and in third grade, my brother and I won Grand Prize and made the front page of the local newspaper!

My brother and I on the front page of the Lewisville Leader, around 1977? 1978?
My brother and I on the front page of the Lewisville Leader, around 1977? 1978?

We were not, however, ever allowed to have costumes that were witches/warlocks, devils, skeletons, or anything that my mother remotely considered to be “evil.”  We were lucky to be allowed to Trick-or-Treat, because this was “the devil’s holiday,” and mom was just sure that somehow Satan was going to get to us through our candy, I guess.  I asked mom if she took pictures of us on Halloween, and if so, where are they; but she couldn’t recall having any, even though she was sure that she took some because we were just “so darn cute in our little costumes.”

I remember that we would come home from school and count the hours until we could go Trick-or-Treating with our friends.  Too excited to eat dinner really, we danced around in our costumes waiting for night to fall; our giant plastic jack o’ lanterns waiting by the door.  As soon as we saw people on the sidewalks and porch lights aglow, we were GONE!  Sometimes my dad would walk with us, but as we got older, we either went by ourselves or with a group of friends.  No flashlights, we were led simply by the street lights.  People would decorate their homes with the specific purpose to scare us little kids, and they did it well.  They had makeshift haunted housed in their garages for the kids of their community, and we went in, unafraid and without fear of abduction.  We accepted any and every candy, popcorn ball, apple, orange, or pixie stic – however, we didn’t so much as sample a piece of any of it while out.  Our costumes, in the younger years, were typically store-bought plastic smocks that were hot as hell (unless, of course, it was cold that year, and then we attempted to bundle up UNDER our plastic smocks and looked utterly ridiculous), and the plastic mask with tiny elastic string to hold it on the head – eye holes and small nose holes cut out for us to breathe through.  I remember one year wearing Wonder Woman in this style of costume – crazy hot but I didn’t care!  My mom would have already bought big bags of snack sized treats, and loaded up her popcorn bowl in order to give it out until it was gone.  And back then?  The bowl pretty much ALWAYS got emptied by a constant stream of youngsters ringing our bell.  We wandered the streets until our pumpkins were so full that we could hardly carry them from the weight.

1979 (Nine years old – fourth grade):  Somewhere in these years, I recall one year either not knowing what I wanted to be for Halloween or not being able to find it.  So what did most kids do when they had no costume, but still wanted to go out Trick-or-Treating with their friends?  They made their own!  On more than one Halloween night as a kid, after not being able to decide on an acceptable costume, I ultimately became the thing that I could do in a pinch:  a hobo.  My pants and shoes, one of my dad’s button-up dress shirts and a loosely tied necktie, some goofy looking hat of his, and some of mom’s brown eyebrow pencil that would create my scraggly whiskers.  Boom.  Done.  On my way out the door.

Regardless of all the things that we were NOT afraid of, there was never a shortage of urban legends that DID manage to keep us on our toes leading up to Halloween night, and all the way until our heads hit the pillow at its close.  Why do you think that we never ate a piece of candy while we were out begging the neighborhood?  Because our parents forbid us to touch it until we got back home, spread it all out on the table, and had it inspected.  Oh you remember why…there were weirdos out there who would inject poison into fruits and candy via needle.  Or drugs even!  They also had been known to put razor blades in kids’ buckets in a twisted scheme to cut us up….scary stuff!!  So off we would go, collecting our loot, and then drag it back home for inspection.  One parent would take mine to either the kitchen table or the dining room table and spread every single piece into a single layer, while the other parent took my brother’s to the other table.  Anything homemade – cookies, brownies, etc. – automatically thrown out.  Any piece of fruit – apples or oranges typically – out.  Popcorn balls – out.  Any piece of candy with a loose or torn wrapper – out.  Once all of that sorting and tossing was done, we would gather everything that was left back into our pumpkins, meet at one table, and begin trading and negotiating.  Once business was all done and taken care of, THEN we got busy enjoying our favorites.  And for weeks after Halloween had come and gone, we enjoyed its sweetness while we walked to school, in our lunchboxes, after school, and after dinner.

1986-1987 (sixteen/seventeen years old – junior/senior years):  Once we got to a certain age, we stopped donning costumes and going door-to-door, not wanting to be those teenagers who we saw walking the neighborhood trying to scare the little kids, and shopping for free candy in no costumes while carrying a pillowcase.  The exception to this was if one of our friends was having a Halloween party, and then we would find a costume for that.  Other times, we would go to haunted houses with friends, but typically didn’t dress up in costume for those trips.

At sixteen, I dressed up as a prisoner in black/white strips for a party – complete with plastic ball & chain around my ankle, and handcuffs hanging off my wrist.  The next year, as a senior, my best friend and I decided that we wanted to go Trick-or-Treating one more time.  I used the same prisoner costume, but her dad decided to add to it.  He was a makeup artist for a theater, so he created a nasty, bloody scab for my cheek and made me a prisoner who had escaped after an ordeal, apparently!  It was awesome!  We made the rounds in my neighborhood, and then went to the neighborhood where our French teacher lived – as we discovered when we ended up ringing her bell.  Great memories.

Mid-90s to Present:  All grown up and a parent now, the excitement of Halloween has shifted to decorating the house for the holiday, and picking out new costumes for the kids each year.  It is rare and only occasionally that we will attend a Halloween party, and have only once or twice attended the big Street Party down in Dallas – it’s just not our thing these days.  Halloween has definitely evolved since I was a kid, and the simple fun that it was for us seems far out of sight anymore.

Noah - Halloween 2001
Noah – Halloween 2001

Do kids have Halloween parties at school anymore?  With one out of school, and one in high school, I know that they sometimes have “Costume Day” at school, but no parties anymore.  And it has been so long since they were in elementary that I don’t remember.  Many places have “Fall Festival” or “Autumn Festival” parties or events.  Churches everywhere host Fall Harvest Festivals on Halloween, with rides, games, food, and tons of candy – while welcoming and encouraging costumes.  Malls have store-to-store indoor trick-or-treating.  Some cities host “Trunk-or-Treat” events, where parents go to a large parking lot, park, and open up their trunk that is stocked with candy so that kids can go from car to car and load up. When these kind of events first started becoming a thing, it was because of an ever-growing fear within communities regarding the safety of their youngsters.  Parents became convinced that Trick-or-Treating was no longer safe, and for a while, it virtually disappeared.  I bought into it along with most everyone else, and when my oldest was young, we were at our church’s Fall Harvest Festival every year, in costume.  My middle son was born in 2000, and his first few Halloweens were spent at one of those festivals, but by the time he was in elementary, we were back to Trick-or-Treating, no matter how few there were out roaming the neighborhoods with us.  Only now?  Kids don’t go out in packs like we did, unless they are older.  Flashlights accompany most groups now, either one in hand, or one shining from a cell phone.  On a typical street block, less than half of the porch lights will be on, because people are either out at a “safe” event or location, or because people just don’t want to participate.  Now that we have a little one in the house again, we take her around the streets near ours and then bring her back after a short trip out.

Nicholas - Halloween 1998, 99?
Nicholas – Halloween 1998, 99?

I typically don’t see homemade baked goods in the booty anymore – haven’t really since I was a kid.  Nor do I see popcorn balls or fruit.  But we typically see at least one toothbrush, sometimes a travel sized toothpaste – and to those people who give them out, I deem you a Halloween buzzkill.  Just keep your stupid porch light off.  We have also seen the occasional religious tract thrown in, or some other such odd non-candy item like pencils.  Come on people!  Were you not a kid…EVER??

Noah, Nicholas, & Krystal - Halloween 2009
Noah, Nicholas, & Krystal – Halloween 2010

Once we have finished making the rounds with our little girl – who will be one of the million Elsas this Halloween – we will come back to begin our duties as candy-giver-outers.  For the past two years, we have put lawn chairs in the yard, played Halloween music through my iPhone on a speaker, and sat outside to give candy out.  Once, I made pina coladas and we sat out front eating and drinking while we gave it out; the more we drank, the more generous we were!  Our neighborhood doesn’t get many Trick-or-Treaters anyway, so we can be generous regardless.  But sitting in the front lawn not only keeps the dog from losing her damn mind every time the doorbell gets pushed, it gives us a chance to see and visit with our neighbors and see their kids/grandkids costumes.  Costumes have also come a long way since I was a kid.  Rarely do you see a homemade one these days, and if you do, then you can almost guarantee that the mom has been on Pinterest.  A LOT.  And the prices of costumes at places like Party City or Spirit are crazy!  Maybe I’m just old.  But really….$50-$100 for a kid’s costume?  Who are you trying to impress here?  Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on all of the sexy, hoochie, vampy little costumes that are out there for little girls and tweens!!  Disgusting.  (But someone is obviously buying them and dressing their kids in them, or they wouldn’t exist in mass quantities and various characters, right?)

Harrison - Halloween 2012
Harrison – Halloween 2012
Zoe - Halloween 2013
Zoe – Halloween 2013

So while Halloween has changed a lot over the years, the same, basic premise remains – and that is…CANDY.  And fun!  What is more fun that dressing up as something besides yourself, laughing, spending time with friends/family, getting spooked over a haunted house or scary movie, and eating junk that you normally don’t let yourself or your kids eat??  Calories be damned!  Just get back out there and have fun!

 

Fun facts to send back to our moms:

* Number of deaths on Halloween from razor blades mixed with candy:  0

** Number of deaths on Halloween from poison injected/sprinkled into candy:  0

*** Number of deaths on Halloween from candy tampering:  0

 

Just sayin’…

If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent

Reblog of this post by John Pavlovitz of North Carolina. This is the best and only way that I could think to thank him properly for his words and wisdom – and that is to share it with any and every human that I can.

john pavlovitz

KidsFiltered


Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children.

I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often.

Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe.
Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids, from both inside and outside of the closet, trying to be part of the Church.
Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity.

For whatever reason, it’s something that I ponder frequently. As a pastor and a parent, I wanted to make some promises to you, and to my two kids right now…

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.

My children won’t…

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