I’m Doing Something I NEVER Thought I’d Do

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In a few hours I leave for Washington, D.C.  I’ve been to D.C. numerous times for various reasons, but this time it’s not so random.  I, along with other lung cancer advocates and patients from every state, will be in D.C. for the American Lung Association’s LUNGFORCE Advocacy Day. Wednesday, March 16, the other state reps and I will take to The Hill to meet with members of Congress to ask that they considering increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health and to help expand efforts in lung cancer research and initiatives. lungforce logo

I can’t bring my mom back, but I can at least work to ensure that others don’t have to endure what our family endured. A couple of years ago I started volunteering with the local American Lung Association (ALA) in Birmingham and if it wasn’t for my friend Ashley Lylerly, who works for the ALA, I wouldn’t be going to D.C.  She was the one who submitted my name to serve as the state rep for Alabama.  I never thought that I would be doing something as serious as this…speaking to legislators about my mom.  I get to tell them about Lillie B. McCarter Conway from Independence, Louisiana. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal about lung cancer. Most times when lung cancer is discovered, it’s in very late stages. You can’t “feel” lung cancer, not in a traditional sense.  But right now there are researchers and scientists working to find ways to detect lung cancer earlier. But they can’t do that without the necessary funding and grant money.  Of course it’s more complicated than that, but the simple version is this: EVERYONE has been affected by cancer, whether it’s lung cancer or one of the other 200+ kinds of cancer that currently exists.   But on March 16, I get to speak to lawmakers about how LUNG CANCER affected my mom and our family.  The fact that she didn’t know she had lung cancer until she was Stage IV is more than just troubling, it’s sad and and unnecessary.  She was a tad better than most who are diagnosed at that stage in that she lived a longer than expected.  We have made many advancements in the lung cancer community since mom’s diagnosis in 2008 and her death in 2012.  Because of those advances in research, many lung cancer patients are living their lives and moving forward now when a few years ago that may not have been possible.   More money for research would also assist in determining why more young, non-smokers are getting lung cancer.  So many unanswered questions surround lung cancer as it relates to genetics, environment and a host of other issues.  We can only find the answers through research.  So, yeah, we need more money.

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At mom’s last bday celebration, March 2012

I’m asking all of you for prayers as I travel to D.C. and as I prepare to speak to lawmakers one-on-one, Wednesday, March 16.  The best part about all of this?  Tuesday, March 15, mom would have been 72 years old.  A coincidence? I think not.  Somehow I think mom is sending me a message and letting me know that all is well.  And I know she’ll be with me.

How Can I Make My 2016 Better Than 2015?

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We do this every year. Or at least I know I do this every year. Vow to make our lives better or different. Make lists about things we should do to improve on what we did the year before. happy 2016

Most times we never remember or keep up with what we said we were going to do. My 2015 didn’t quite pan out the way I thought it would. Despite all of my ‘efforts’, it was probably the most mentally, emotionally challenging year I’ve had since the year after mom died in 2012.

Much of what happened I couldn’t really control. So I worked on what I could control…my faith. I made some small tweaks spiritually that have benefited me more than I could have ever imagined. I changed where I worship and I changed my approach. I think I was stuck and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. After mom died I was trying to make my life the way it was BEFORE she died. But, nothing ever really stays the same. That holds true for our faith and where we worship. I LOVED my previous church and it was so what I needed ‘when I needed it’. But, “AMD” (After Mom Died), I needed something else. I just didn’t know what that was. I was frustrated because I knew that my spiritual life wasn’t where it needed to be. My faith was always there, I just needed a fresh start. I was out with some really good friends and a conversation we had about faith was what I needed to jump start my path to reconnecting. What I love about my friendships is the fact that we can just talk about regular ‘stuff’ and in doing so it always seems to help…even while we’re just chatting over chips and cheese dip. I am so very grateful for the friends that God chose for me. They help me in so many ways, most times without even trying or realizing they are doing it. [That’s when you know God has blessed you with good friends. It should be effortless.]

This past fall, I was a part of two small groups from my new church that helped me get back on track spiritually. One group met on Sunday and one met on Tuesday. I didn’t have time to really focus on what wasn’t going right with me because the people in these groups kept me focused and honest. Even when they weren’t trying. Be it quick text messages or emails during the week or long discussions over food, it was refreshing and so very helpful. But guess what? I had to make the effort first. Sure there were times that I didn’t feel like going to our group outings. But when we make the effort to improve our situations we tend to have better outcomes. Meaning, nothing changes unless we DO SOMETHING. I finally decided to do something, but it took a lot of prayers and it wasn’t easy.

I’ve tried to make tiny parts of every day about my faith. Whether it’s reading a quick five-minute devotional via the First 5 app (it’s been really helpful; you should check it out) or listening to Joel Osteen on the way to work. Say what you will about Joel, but sometimes he says exactly what you need, when you need it. Most times when I get to work I tune in to my Pandora stations or listen to NPR podcasts.  My point is, I have intentionally tried to make my life and my surroundings about positive emotions and activities. Mom was a big fan of Norman Vincent Peale and she loved his books and his writings. Mr. Peale’s main focus was always about thinking positively, regardless of what is going on around you. His writings are timeless and timely.

After mom died, I realized that I was giving too much of myself to negative feelings. Grief is negative. Even though expressing it can cathartic, grief still brings forth negative feelings. I can’t do it. Not all the time. I still succumb to it at times, but I don’t allow it to overwhelm me any more. That alone is a minor miracle! But it CAN be done!

Since I couldn’t control a lot of what happened in 2015, I will work on what I can control.  So for 2016, I vow to work hard to remove any negative thoughts, feelings, attitudes, emotions or activities. I’m not normally a negative person anyway, but I am a realist so I know that negativity will creep in when you least expect it. I know that. It could be a daily occurrence if you let it. But, now I know what it feels like and looks like. For example, getting upset at a customer ahead of you in a check-out line who can’t find her money or whose credit card won’t go through? Why are WE upset? Who among us haven’t had moments where we needed others to be patient with us? So, whenever that happens, I just pick up a magazine and read articles while waiting for them to check out. Don’t huff and puff and make the person feel worse than they already do. If we’re really in that much of a hurry then we should go to the ‘self check-out’ line. Let’s try to be more compassionate and if you have problems doing that, then picture the woman in front of you as your mom or your grandmother. Patience and compassion for 2016!

I think making changes is more about incremental changes, not far-reaching, out-of-the box kind of changes. But just small, little things. We can’t continue to do the same things expecting a different outcome.

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Happy New Year!

So for 2016 I will continue to DO SOMETHING. I’m not really making resolutions; I’m just trying to make improvements. And really, you don’t have to wait for the “NEW YEAR” to do that. You can make those changes in March or August or October. Don’t wait until January to make changes NOW. Be it taking a class online or reading more books or clearing out the clutter. No one is stopping you. Making little changes a little at a time removes the pressure to do it all in January!

But you gotta put forth the effort and you gotta DO SOMETHING if you want things to change. Anything. It’s on you, no one else.