Friday, December 30, 2016

What we leave behind...

Well, tomorrow is the last day of 2016.  I've always been sad when a new year starts.  I'm not sure why.  I feel like it's the fact I'm moving on with my life and some people will remain forever in 2016.

It was a bittersweet year.  I married to the best man a woman could ask for.  We had a fabulous time and I'm so blessed for this family I have now.  We've made some incredible memories, visiting Chicago, Myrtle Beach, the mountains, and finally New York.  New Year's Day we will go to the final game the Atlanta Falcons will play in the Dome with Christ Draft.

Here is the sad part.  Some people won't continue on with us into 2017.  I know it's just another day and year, but it feels like more than that.  I feel like I'm leaving them behind.  Whether it be due to death or just the loss of a friendship.

One of those is Roy Reynolds.  I don't feel like celebrating a New Year.  The end of 2016 makes it so final.  As it does for Ms. Ruby, my makeshift grandmother.  So, this year I'll be going to bed early.  No celebrating for me.  I'm blessed to be alive and I do celebrate that and am thankful to have known them, but I can't be totally happy. They both made such a difference in my life.  They helped me appreciate the little things, and not take loved ones for granted.  There may be no tomorrow for them, or you  I understand Ms. Ruby had lived her life and was ready.  I don't think Roy was ready.  He was too young.  The world lost an amazing man this year, and tomorrow is the last day of the year. God had other plans for this vibrant young soul.  Oh how I miss that smile.  I know they may not be physically here, but they will always be in my heart, and that makes things a little easier.

I know,I'm a weirdo, but I've always felt this way about New Year's.  Sometimes it's hard to leave your past, but life goes on and so should I, no matter how hard it may be.  I won't be up until midnight, that's for sure.

Thank you God for your grace in sparing me another year and thank you all for your continuous prayers.  May you have a wonderful New Year and count your blessings.  You never know when your life could change in the matter of a minute.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bad Blood

Family.  What does it mean?  Well, it can mean different things to different people.   But to break down my thoughts, this is what it means to me.

Family may or may not be blood.  Just because they are blood, does not mean you have to accept them as family and just because they are not blood doesn't mean you can't consider them family.  When people marry, for instance, they aren't blood related, but they become a family.

Everyone says, "friends will come and go but family will always be there".  Well, I've come to feel like this isn't necessarily true in the traditional "blood relative" setting. Side note - I'm not referring to my family, they are great.  But the way I've seen how some children treat their parents and vice versa is upsetting.  I don't ever like to get involved in anyone's business, but sometimes I can't help it.

I've witnessed a friend, whom I consider family, go through this hardship with her "blood relative".  It makes me feel helpless.  The most I can do is support her as much as possible.

It's like the old story of the man watching his neighbor beat or berate his wife outside in front of the entire neighborhood.  Do you go help her or do you ignore it and let her be beaten or berated so badly, she is damaged forever?  This can be emotionally or physically.

I'm sorry, but I'm the person that tries to help.  That is in my blood.  That is in the blood of my "family".   My family consists of not only blood relatives, but lifelong friends who I know would (in the words of this ClayCo girl) "take a bullet for me".  Sorry, you can take the girl out of Clayco....

I love my family in Atlanta and here.  And I would do anything for them.  Loyalty, love, support, trust, sacrifice, honesty, protection, acceptance, security, compromise, gratitude, and respect is what makes a family, not your genetic disposition.

I know this is lame, but in the words of Taylor Swift, "band-aids don't fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show.  If you live like that you live with ghosts".  This has to be my favorite Taylor Swift song because she is so raw and honest.  She talks about the pain someone like family can cause.  You can't always just say you're "sorry".  Your actions have to prove it.  And if you hurt my "family", I'm not so forgiving.  It's one of the sins I know I commit, and I try to control, but I can't.

Thanks for listening to me vent, which is in no way related to cancer, because life isn't always about cancer.  It's about love.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

I just woke up, feeling like I got hit by a mac truck, but I didn't and I'm here, with my family and seeing more of them tonight. This is the first Christmas Karley has been out of state for.  We aren't waking up with a tree and presents all neatly wrapped.

But we are waking up.  All together in this amazing place that has been such an experience.  Many of you know New York was the last city on my bucket list.  I'm not going to make another one.  If we go, we go.  As long as we're together.  

Christmas isn't about Christmas trees or gifts, but it's still my favorite holiday and will always be magical in my eyes.  It celebrates the birth of our savior, the one who is constantly saving all of us.  By His grace I'm still here to wake up this morning with my loved ones.  That can't be bought. I want these girls to know the true meaning of Christmas.   Because this has been the best.  

And hats off to the Rockettes for their Christmas Spectacular and not leaving the true meaning of Christmas out. 

I know some of you are hurting, you may have lost someone or they're sick.  I'm sorry.  I'm sure today is hard.  But just remember that you're not alone.  No matter how much you feel you are.  He died for us and is always here, no matter what we are going through.

So from our family to yours, Merry Christmas.  Thank you for your continuous prayers and most importantly, thank you God for sending your son to die for us so that we may truly live an eternal life.  Thank you for allowing me to be here with my family one more year.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sometimes it Just Sucks

Alright, a few days ago I wrote a really sad post on here. I took it down because I think everyone thought I was going to jump off of a bridge.  No way.   Let me warn you, that blogs like that are gonna happen from time to time, especially the longer I ride this roller coaster.  Like I read the other day, about the old man who shares his thoughts on grief and my friend Brandy always says, "it comes in waves" and you never know when they're coming.  To me I'm like a bipolar person some days.  I'll be happy one minute and the next crying.  Why?  Because I'm still grieving, that will never cease.

People say that time makes the grief easier to deal with, but when you live with a terminal illness the waves get bigger, not smaller as time goes by.  The anxiety and chances of your next scan not turning out well can be overwhelming.  It's a constant trauma I've lived with for over 4 years, and will do so for the rest of my life.  At least that's how I feel about it.  Others may be different, and that's perfectly normal.

But I've LIVED with it.  I'm not giving up, I'm LIVING,  As my oncologist says, "this is as good as it gets".  I may have tumors, but they aren't currently active.  And by the Grace of God, they will continue that path.  And by living, I've done and seen more in my short lifespan so far than most do in a full long life time.  And for that, I'm blessed beyond measure.  

But you must understand, I will have my moments where I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  There are times I feel like I don't want to live this way emotionally anymore but they always pass.  I would never do anything to leave my family and my girl.  So, when I get all emotional in a blog, please don't worry.  It is what I'm feeling in that moment.  The good, the bad, the raw and ugly emotions that sometimes come out.  I write because it's a release and I share that with others, because I know some of you are going through similar situations and maybe it helps to know that you aren't alone.  But we are all different, we see things differently and our lives are different.

I know the holidays can be especially difficult, not only for the terminally ill, but those with a loved one who are terminally ill.  The thought is, "will this be the last Christmas/holiday season".  And for those who had the loss of a loved one before the holiday season, this can be very emotional and traumatic.  So when you're out buying gifts and getting frustrated with other people, the lines, the traffic, think of this.  You don't know what that other person is going through.  

You would think I'm fine, in fact I know some of you do.  "Oh, she has no active cancer, she's fine".  No, that's not how this works.  And I've learned to be more sensitive because I am surviving and some of you reading this blog lost someone.  And for that, I am so sorry, it sucks, and I am praying for God to give you that peace that only He can.  Take some time to reflect and get that cry out.  It's okay to cry.  The scars we have are proof we lived and that we loved deeply.  Wear them with pride and when people tell you, "it's gonna be okay", you may know it's not.  But they mean well and quite frankly don't know what else to say.  I've just begun saying, "that sucks".  Because sometimes it does just suck and I'm not going to lie and tell you it's going to be okay.  There's only one who knows that and He's not telling His plan.  But if you can be strong enough to sit back and give your anxiety, depression, and worry over to Him, I promise you will feel better.  The problem is, it's so hard to do.  I'm guilty of not doing it so many times, I try to take it all on myself.  The truth is, I just can't.  Sometimes I just need that friend to talk to too.  And more importantly, I need to let go of what I can't control.

I've lost this year, one of those friends to talk to.  I loved him, and it comes in waves, the grief I still have.  But I don't want it to stop, just lessen, because I know I will never forget him. Places I go, people I talk to, they remind me of him.   The grief reminds me of him.  He's one of my scars, and a pretty big one too.       

So, I hope you all have the best holiday season and Christmas possible.  And don't forget the reason for the season...hint....uh, it's not gifts.  When asking the girls if they would rather have gifts, or spend Christmas in New York (last city on my bucket list), they chose New York.  So, we will be together over Christmas sharing some incredible memories.  

Thank you for your continuous prayers and please take a moment and pray for those who have lost or are going through a hard time right now.  The holidays are great for so many, but suck for others.  Pray for the others.  I know I am.

But that doesn't stop me from Christmas Shopping!

This is Brandy, about the waves.  I don't know who the old man is...

My favorite verse

My sister displaying true love....sorry sister.  Love you!

It's really hard to be thankful for the hard times, but these words do ring true.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Meet Curt Stoner

After I was diagnosed and well into my second year of living with lung cancer, my friend Tim Gravitt from high school let me know his friend's father had lung cancer as well and was living on St. Simons Island.  He and his daughters had all gone to Georgia Tech and that's how Tim knew them.   Small world it seemed.  I didn't know of anyone else around with lung cancer.

Curt Stoner married Marie in 1975 and had two children, Elizabeth and Deborah.  Elizabeth being the oldest, I met through Tim at Atlanta's Free To Breathe Event.  Deborah was engaged when Curt was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer in April 2013 and married in July 2013.

Curt was always physically active and strong.  He had a healthy diet and always exercised.  He loved to play golf, so they moved to a golfing community in Jacksonville when he was a safety engineer for CSX,

In April 2013, he began with a cough that wouldn't go away.  His primary doctor thought it to be pneumonia but a chest x-ray and MRI would prove otherwise.  The pulmonary doctor found three liters of malignant fluid in his right lower lobe.  It was lung cancer and had already metastasized to his hips, plural cavity, sternum, and back bones.  He was given 6-12 months to live by Mayo in Jacksonville and confirmed by Sloan-Kettering.  He was tested for genome markers and none were detected so the course was traditional chemo.  He went through at least 3 rounds showing some shrinkage over the first two years.  But in May, 2015, he had a pulmonary embolism.

The surgeon at Mayo believed it was brought on by chemo so it was stopped.  He nearly bled out.  Afterwards he was so weak.  He tried radiation but to no avail.  A new drug was coming out in a about a month from then, but by this time he was done with treatments.  Like I've always said, quality of life comes first.  He opted for hospice.

He made the best of the time he had, rejoicing when his grandson was born in December 2014.  He and his wife attended as many Georgia Tech games as possible throughout.  Their daughters threw them a surprise 40th year anniversary party, including over 65 people, some who they hadn't seen for 35-40 years.  It was taxing on Curt, but he savored every moment and talked about it all the time.

Curt is remembered as a patient and kind southern gentleman.  He was a fighter, he never complained about the pain.  He even worked until January 2015.

After his diagnosis, he and his wife never took a single moment for granted and lived life to it's fullest.  She described every moment "as a treasure to 'Home-Heaven'".

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day he went to Home-Heaven.  He is no longer in pain and that gives some solace to the family.  Curt, like many others, was not a smoker.  He was not what the stigmas lead us to believe.  He was a father, a husband, a healthy person, a hard worker, and a gentle gentleman.  And that is how he will always be remembered.  He helped changed the face of lung cancer.  He was not your stereotypical patient.  My heart goes out to the Stoner family today, many prayers for you all.  I met Curt once at Free to Breathe.  He seemed like such a lovely character.  I'm sure he is missed by all who knew him.  His carefree spirit could be felt just upon introductions that year.

Thank you all for meeting Curt, who was not just a statistic, but a man with many values and a love for life.  And a man that defied the stigma associated with lung cancer.

Please take a moment and pray for his family, and thank you all for your continuous prayers for me.  You have no idea how much they mean.  God bless you all!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

4, 5, go.....

Back to that late Friday night, early Saturday morning.  Why couldn't I stop crying?  Of course my sister pissed me off but what sister doesn't occasionally?  Reggie and Sonja were sincerely worried about me.  I was worried about myself.   I wasn't seeing things as they were.  My vision was not quite right.  My depth perception was off.  And I kept crying.  I'm the one that usually made Brook cry, what in the hell was going on?

Honestly, I had felt like I was dying for a few months but couldn't get a doctor to confirm it.  The headaches, confusion, fatigue, weight loss, loss of eyesight on more than one occasion, and finally the blood that I had spit up the week before.  They were signs.  And God has always given me signs when something was going on.  When I needed to do something.  That Sunday after Thanksgiving was horrible.  As I lay on the couch, contemplating the past few months and what they meant, I knew this was my last chance to have someone advocate for me to be seen in detail.   Someone who would not take "no" for an answer.   There is no greater love than that of a parent for their child.  I knew what I had to do, I had to have my mom take me.  I knew if I didn't, death would be knocking at my door in a few weeks.  I knew it to my very core.  I no longer had the energy to even speak.  Everything was blurry.  Not having control of your own body is one of the most frightening things that can happen.

The rest you've heard before.  Piedmont Henry confirming the brain tumor.  Transferring to Piedmont Atlanta, waking up after brain surgery.  And on Tuesday November 27, 2012, 4 years ago today, I heard those four words that would change the course of my life forever.  I never thought 4 words could have such an impact or that anything in this life could make me feel as helpless as when they said, "You have lung cancer".  Those 4 words, forever scarring my life.  What do you do when you get that news?  You think that you have control still.   You can fix this, "can it be cured, lets start chemo now"   Followed by a "no".  Then the inevitable, "how much longer do I have?"  Followed by, "with what we know now, 12-18 months".

NO, I had just turned 33 and was a single mom to a 7 year old little girl.  This was a dream,no, a nightmare.  I felt like I was floating.  But, I wasn't and it was no dream.  It was the grim harsh reality  that had been flung upon me like a thief in the night.  That thief stole my life, I thought.

Looking back, 4 years later, even under heavy amounts of pain relievers, I still remember it as if it were yesterday.  It was such a defining moment in my life.  There was a before, and now we are in the after.  Ironically, I don't know which one I prefer more.  The before gives you a false sense of invincibility whereas the after, well, you know what's going to happen.   You're just not sure when.  It brings it to the forefront of your mind.  But it also gives you a chance to get your life right, with God and your family and friends.  It's not the quantity of years that define who we were, but the quality is how we are remembered and how we live up to our greatest potential.

So, this is my 4 year cancerversary.   This is Team Draft's 5 year anniversary that Chris and Keasha  started when they were married, 11/27/11.  Sadly she passed away the next month.  She was a fighter, and so beautiful.  Her tenacity and love for life is still an inspiration to me. Chris has become a very good friend over these past 4 years.   We've laughed together and cried together (maybe it was just me crying).  We've lost so many but I can't stop speaking out.  Team Draft makes that possible, as does Lung Force, Lungevity, Free to Breathe, and Bonnie J Addario.  I'm a patient advocate for the Bonnie J Addario foundation, and as an advocate for this foundation, it is my duty to persuade you to give to this organization that has been the center for so much research, especially for young people, like me.

Giving Tuesday is this Tuesday.  If the Lord puts it in your heart to give, please consider the  Bonnie J. Addario Foundation.  I want to see my girl graduate from high school, college, get married.  I want to be a grandmother.  Please help us.  I've lost so many friends to cancer,  If you don't want to donate to Bonnie J. Addario, please consider another lung cancer organization as we are so underfunded, yet the deadliest of all cancers, both male and female.  I named several in the paragraph above.  Just google them.

And by the Grace of God, I am so thankful to still be here.  And I can't even put into words the emotions that I feel when thinking about how far I've come.  I owe it all to our God and His grace.  I know I'm not alone, and neither are you.

Thank you all for your continuous prayers.  God bless you!  And let's continue Team Draft's mission to change the face of lung cancer!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks

On this very day (late night Friday, early morning Saturday), in 2012, I was hanging out with Sonja and Reggie visiting my family for Thanksgiving.  We went to Taco Mac that night, it was  Friday the 23rd.  My sister and I began arguing because she believed I was taking pain pills for recreational use. I don't blame her, I would've thought the same thing.  We argued that night and I stayed with Reggie and Sonja at a hotel across the street.

I kept crying, uncontrollably all night.  It wasn't like me....at all.  The next day we left, I was exhausted but felt better and the 3 of us loaded up in my car to take Sonja back to Douglasville.  I felt fine to drive and my headache was gone.  After leaving her, we headed back to Stockbridge to get Reggie's car.  I asked him to drive though because I could feel my headache returning.  

Suddenly, a wave a nausea overcame me and poor Reggie crossed 6 lanes to get to the side of the road.  I vomited profusely.  But it was white.   I hadn't eaten anything.  Instead of getting his car, Reggie drove me to my dad's.  Karley was at my mom's.

Reggie let my dad know what was going on and I laid down his couch where I didn't move all day or night.  Both of my parents were concerned I had a drug problem at that point too.  But, Sunday morning, the 25th, I asked them to take me to the hospital.  I knew something was wrong.   Something had been wrong for a long time.  But I needed someone to advocate for more tests.  I knew that person was my mom.  I knew she would not take no for an answer.

After they performed an MRI of my brain, they came in and told us the news of the brain tumor and would be transferring me to Piedmont Atlanta for brain surgery.  I had my dad bring Karley to the hospital so I could give her a hug and tell her I loved her, just in case I didn't make it out.

I don't remember much until 11/27/12 when the crainiotomy was complete and I was told I had lung cancer, stage 4.  I was told there was no cure but it could be treated to an extent.  I was told, as far as they knew at that point, I had 12-18 months left to live.

Wow.  Imagine yourself getting that kind of news.  However, there was a silver lining....maybe a few of them.

I quit working, found out I had an EGFR Mutation so could take a pill a day instead of traditional chemo, and decided to spend more time with my daughter and with my own life, making long lasting memories.

I don't believe God "gave me cancer", but I don't think he prevented it either.  I think it is part of my story and always has been.  Without cancer, I would be working like crazy and not spending time with family and friends or making memories.  We always think we have time, but when you know you don't, your perspectives change fast.

This Sunday will be my 4 year cancerversary and Team Draft's 5th year anniversary.  We will be celebrating with them before heading back to St. Simons.  I wasn't expected to live this long, and I'm living it well.  God put me where I needed to be this time of year four years ago.  He put me with the people He knew would take care of Ms. Independent.

I look back, and I give Him so much thanks.  God has taught me more than I would've ever known in these past four years and has made a true believer and follower out of Karley.  This alone makes this life worth living.

Well, I'll have some more posts in the next few days, giving thanks and remembering.  I am so very blessed.  I have a wonderful husband, daughter, and stepdaughter I get to spend today with as well as my parents.  I am one blessed chick.

Thank you all for your continuous prayers and please pray for the families and victims of the Tennessee bus crash.

And remember, you don't know when it will be your time.  Make your amends now, tell your loved ones how you feel, stop and enjoy the moments, for tomorrow is not promised.

I give thanks to God for the time I've had and hopefully will continue to have.   Thank you Lord!

The beginning of the end of the old me.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Just when I thought things were "normal"

Things went south Tuesday..  I was fine all morning, had just gotten ready to go volunteer at my old job when the pain started.  I felt like someone was stabbing me and twisting the knife in my right Hunched over I walked to the kitchen and found the Tramadol prescribed for Data (our dog) after neutering.  He wasn't on it long and I know it wasn't too powerful because he's a yorkie.  After laying there for a wile I made my way back to the bed and called my friend Cheri on the island to take me to urgent care.

She was at my house in minutes and we waited in urgent care.  Once they saw me they began giving me IV fluids (I was vomiting).  Then they told me they weren't equipped to handle my case so had called for an ambulance.  Great - another bill!
Once arriving in the ER I explained that I had an ovarian cyst on the left and one on the right.  The one on the right was significantly larger and that's where the pain was coming from.  My last petscan it measured at 4 cm.  The previous petscan before that, it was 2 cm.

So, we knew it was growing.  My oncologist asked that I go see my OBGYN.  I made the appt and saw her last Thursday.  She didn't see anything wrong with them and said they'll probably go away on their own.

Well, my right one went out with a bang Tuesday.  The 4 cm cyst ruptured, son the same side I've had radiation, etc  The pain was horrific.  Thank God I was already dressed with make up on.  My last ambulance  ride I only had a robe on.

After a multitude of tests, this is what I heard them say "you have a cyst on your left ovary but not one on your right".  Well, let me tell you, it's hard being right all of the time!  JK  It had ruptured.

I have to go back tomorrow if I'm still having pain to ensure it's not a hemorrhagic bleed and please excuse any errors in this as I am seeing 2 screens right now....about to go back to sleep.

This has nothing to do with my cancer, praise the Lord, it's just a small hurtle during this lifetime.  And with all that I've been through and my cancer friends have been through, this is probably a laughable thing.   But let me tell you....I hate pain!  The pain pills help so much though.  But I've been taking with phenegran so I don't get sick.

It beats taking dog pain pills.  My dad has consumed cat food on more than one occasion, so I think of that and it makes me feel a little bit better about myself.  Lol!

Thank you God for making this small bump in the road one that I can easily pass.  Thank you all for your continuous prayers and support and since I'm not in pain, you may go ahead and laugh at the fact that I thought to take dog pain killers.  I mean, really?  Who does that?  This desperate girl.  And thank you for staying with me Cheri.  You won over the heart of my mom for sure!

God bless you all!

PS - couldn't write in my lung cancer blog, during lung cancer awareness month, without something to do with lung cancer, so see below.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Little Bit of This and That

I've been a bad lung cancer advocate this month.  I keep living life and not thinking about it...what is wrong with me?

Yes, I went through my pity party stage for a few months, but now I'm like making Karley's halloween costume last minute and already ready to put Christmas decorations up.  Why, of all months am I not advocating like crazy?  Oh yeah, I'm too busy living with lung cancer.

My computer totally failed me so I got a new cheap laptop I can put in my purse when I travel.  Super excited about that.  It's my Christmas present to myself.

Speaking of Christmas, I cannot wait.  Going to the last city on my current bucket list.  We will wake up Christmas morning in NYC!  My parents worked for the airlines so I'm fairly traveled, but we never made it to NYC.

Ok.  I promised I would advocate and I am.  Let's end the stigma of lung cancer.  Let's donate for more funding so I can quit pestering you and get a freakin cure.  This way I can watch my girl grow up and I won't be bugging you!   I really think it's a win-win for everyone.  Really.

And to our country....STOP THE HATE!  Please don't debate me because I refuse to engage, but I do think we have the greatest nation in the world, although we do have our problems.  But they aren't going to be fixed by hating each other.  Love makes the world go around.  Don't stop loving your neighbor.  Rise above the hate.

Well, that is all for now. Here is a short video for giving LCAM  Bonnie J Addario Video If you would like to donate to Bonnie J Addario for giving Tuesday or any other day, here is the link Giving Tuesday.

Thank you for your continuous prayers for my friends and myself.  Additionally, just wanted to let you know if you didn't already that my friend Reggie's Brain Tumor came back stable!!!!  God is good!  And thank you Denise Whittall for the wonderful cake and donation to lung cancer awareness.  I'll be mailing it to Bonnie J Addario foundation for you!

Traditional celebratory Mexican lunch

She's the Wishbone App

They're all so cute.  iPhone apps!

Thank you Denise!