Dealing With The Hard Stuff

It’s December 31, 2016.  Yes, I know it’s been a while since my last post on March 15, 2016. But in my defense, I’ve had a lot going on.  And writing was the last thing on my mind, even though it used to be the first thing I did whenever I was going through something. But things change; believe me, I know. I’ve experienced a lot in 2016 (good and bad) and more than anything, God has shown me that through it all, HE has always protected me. If you guys only knew all that I’ve had to endure, not just in 2016, but also in the last five years. It’s unbelievable that I haven’t lost my mind. And sometimes if felt like I had. But God.  

Lung Force 2016

Enjoying Washington, D.C., 2016

What I can tell you is that my tolerance for negativity is zero. My compassion level is at an all-time high and my need to help others consumes me on a regular basis. I have more patience, more empathy and more room to love.

The last time I wrote, I was about to head to Washington, D.C., as the Alabama state representative for the American Lung Association’s Lung Force Advocacy Day.  It was a fantastic experience and I am so very grateful to have been able to participate.

I had only been on my new job for about two weeks at this point, so I am SO thankful that my bosses allowed me to attend this event, even though I didn’t have ANY vacation days.

Since losing mom in 2012, my life has been a hodgepodge of jobs, life experiences and faith-testing exercises. When I was a kid sitting in church, I used to wonder why the adults would cry and get emotional and “thank God” for all that they’ve been through. Well, at the young age of 47, I get it. Lord knows I’ve been through some stuff and through it all, I have maintained my sanity, I think. But I am certainly a different person. I am the same, but different. Hard to explain. But I am thanking God for all of it and I am more than grateful for my family and my friends and even strangers. I am thankful that I have been able to find a place to worship that meets the needs that I have now, not what I needed then. And I am thankful that old friends have become new friends again.

Celebrating my birthday with Derita and Bryant

My heart is full as I write this because I am wondering what God has in store for me in 2017.  On New Year’s Eve 2015, I wrote about “doing something” and basically, I guess I did do something, I changed my direction.  Last year,  all I asked for was a job that would make me happy and would allow me to get my life back in order. God answered that prayer and it took a while, but not without taking me through some stuff to get there.

Let me just say this, the hard stuff is necessary. It hurts, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary so you can appreciate the good stuff. The hard stuff is needed so you can recognize the good stuff when you see it. The good stuff is better after you’ve endured the hard stuff. Of course I don’t pray for hard things to come my way, but when hard things do appear, I know that the good stuff is just around the corner.

Don’t let the hard stuff get in your way. If God removes something from your life, just know that it’s to make room for what He’s about to give you. Trust me on that one.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me in 2017.

Peace, love and blessings!

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What Were You Created To Do?

What keeps you up at night? For me it’s wondering if I’m fulfilling my purpose, wondering if I’m doing what God created me to do.  Before 2008, I never thought I’d be a healthcare/lung cancer advocate.  I was traveling and working for the Southeastern Conference (yes, THE SEC) and was living a pretty good life. Sporting events and all sorts of fun activities dominated my professional and personal life.  I had just purchased my first house and life was pretty good. And then.  Mom was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in September 2008.  Oh. Ok, well, I’ll just keep doing my job and, you know, keep it normal.  But my ‘new normal’ was watching mom, a retired educator and guidance counselor, figure out how to navigate this diagnosis of pure hell.  What the what? Mom and dad live in Louisiana, I live in Birmingham. So just how do I do this? 

Fast-forward through two years of chemo treatments, trips to MD Anderson and lots of tears.  We didn’t even think she would still be with us, but yet she was. So did that mean there was hope? She and dad were traveling to my events and scheduling activities around her chemo treatments. She had a part-time job that kept her busy and she liked it that way. It kept her mind off her health. And then it happened. Spring 2011.  Mom and dad were with me in Birmingham after we spent a week working at the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Nashville.  What we thought was a ‘minor stroke’ turned out to be the first sign that mom’s health was declining. She had 95% blockage in one of her arteries and her brain scans showed two small legions the size of a grain of rice. I learned then what “brain mets” meant. Basically, the cancer had metastasized to her brain. For several months after that mom was on steroids to keep the swelling down in her brain and she got weaker and she lost a lot of weight. But she was determined not to go down without a fight. IMG_2401

Back then they were just starting to talk about targeted treatments for specific genetic mutations. But we didn’t know if mom was a candidate. And quite honestly, it was too late for any clinical trial participation, but we tried anyway.   At this point I had left the SEC and started a new job, but with so much going on with mom, I resigned from that job after just four months.   My life then became that of a full-time advocate, working to ensure that mom’s quality of life wasn’t affected. But how could it not be? It was then I began to see that I couldn’t go back to what my life used to be. I knew that I wanted to do something that helped others figure out how to navigate the confusing haze of paperwork, doctor’s appointments, medical bills and meds. I spoke up when I realized that mom was over-medicated and that her quality of life was poor because she was taking too much of everything. We paired down her meds list (I didn’t ask her doctor, I told him what we were going to do) and we tried to simplify her life. She had a few brief months of clarity. Though the brain mets spread, she still had her sense of humor and she still loved visiting with her former students. Though she could no longer write a check, she still wanted to go for rides, watch movies and eat pickles and popcorn at 2 a.m. And I was there for every moment. I was there when she picked out clothes for the upcoming Mother’s Day service at church. I was also there when, later that night after a day of shopping, she was riddled with pain. Pain so bad that she couldn’t speak, she only moaned. She never made it to that Mother’s Day service.

Me & mom at a cousin's wedding in 2009

Me & mom at a cousin’s wedding in 2009

I think went through all of that because God wanted me to go a different direction in my life. It took a while for me to get back on track after mom died and at 46 years old and I am still trying to get my professional and personal life back on track. I am working, but I wonder every day if I am doing what God created me to do. So while I figure that out, I decided to share what I’ve learned about lung cancer. I am a lung cancer advocate and for now it’s one of many things that God created me to do. By the way, mom never had any symptoms of lung cancer. No cough, no chest pains, nothing. Want to know how she found out she had lung cancer? A sore neck and swollen lymph nodes and a biopsy that confirmed it. At that point, the cancer had already spread to her liver and her spine. My mom’s story is why we need more funding for research and why we need better screening methods. And it’s also what keeps me up late at night. We have so much work to do.