Sunday, September 15, 2013

GOOD VS. EVIL (9/11)

Since the beginning of time there has been a battle of Good vs. Evil.  It started with Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and it continues today in the form of terrorists threatening our security both here and abroad.  So, “Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?”  Alan Jackson asks this question of us, and I’m sure there are few, if any, of you who can’t say exactly what you were doing on September 11th, 2001.  I know that I certainly remember that moment vividly.  I had woken up very early that morning and for some reason (which I expect to be God) I turned the TV on and changed the channel to Fox News (or maybe CNN, but that’s irrelevant).  The strange thing is I never woke up and turned to these channels.  But that day I did.  And as soon as I did, I saw the smoke and fire billowing from the first tower.  The first plane had just hit before I turned it on, and the regular stations didn’t even have coverage yet.  Speculation flung its way through the newsroom (which happens all too often now…) like a chicken with its head cut off as the reporters tried to make sense of what they were seeing.  At first, I heard them guess that it was a terrible fire then it was a small airplane that must have gotten off course and had engine trouble (some hadn't seen the first plane hit as they started reporting).  Then, it happened.  In the distance you could see a jet liner heading for the second tower and in that moment my heart sank and I watched in horror on live TV the worst terrorist attack on US soil in our history.  I could hardly believe my eyes through the streams of tears.  The horrible images of people running from the deluge of smoke and debris were nothing compared with the unbelievable video of people jumping from nearly 100 stories high to try to get out.  The heartbreak of phone calls to loved ones from the airplane that went down in Pennsylvania was enough to change anyone.   Such desperation, such devastation, such tragedy.  The world changed that day forever.  The world, it seemed, had in fact stopped turning.   

Mike M. was just 19 years old on 9/11/01.  His life too would be forever changed.  He is the brother of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Laura.  He and his twin brother both entered the Marines and served tours of duty in Afghanistan against the war on terror.  Mike was injured by an IED on November 3rd, 2010 while in Afghanistan and had a very difficult recovery.  I wasn’t sure what I could do, but to pray.  Then I realized that the Tough Mudder race I was planning on doing supported the Wounded Warrior project which has helped Mike and many other brave heroes.  Part of the entry fee goes to the Wounded Warriors, but I felt like I needed to do more.  They gave you the option of fundraising too, so I did the fundraising and race in honor of a personal friend (Mike) and war hero.  I tell you all of this, not because I am looking for praise for doing this, but because I had the most wonderful surprise on September 11th of this year, just a few days ago.  I received in the mail a card, postmarked from the middle east (for security purposes I won’t say what country), with the word “FREE” written where the stamp would have been.  Then I saw the return address from Sgt. Michael M., CF3, Fast Company, Central Command.  I was very surprised not having talked to Mike since we moved, but keeping up on tidbits of his life through Facebook as they appeared.  He sent me a sweet card, signed by his entire platoon, thanking me for my support of him when he was injured in battle, and offering me their support during my battle with cancer.  Now not only myself, but my entire platoon will stand by your side and fight this battle with you.”  I was brought to tears as I thought of the Marines of Charlie 3 Fast taking time to wish me luck and offer their support.  I was brought to tears that this card happened to arrive on September 11th…I don’t think this was a coincidence, but part of God’s perfect timing.  I was brought to tears because I had no idea how much my small gesture (in comparison with his big troubles) would mean to him even years later.   And I was brought to tears by the word “FREE” on the envelope, meaning merely that he didn’t have to pay postage.  But I saw it as symbolizing our Freedom, being kept alive by brave men and women like those in Charlie 3 Fast.  Thank you, Sgt. Michael M. for being part of the Good in the battle versus Evil.  But ultimately I saw it as meaning that we are truly free when we have faith in Jesus Christ. “I will walk about in Freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”  Psalm 119:45 

The world is full of evil and bad, of that there is no doubt.  During this week where we remember the tragedies of 9/11, we should also remember the good that came from it.  People came together like never before.  People flocked to church in hopes of finding understanding and truth and hope. And for me, this week, my life was really good and full of hope!  So I choose to focus on that.  I was offered continued support from friends…thank you Terry for the sweet card and Charlie 3 Fast for your support.  I also received the best surprise when I got a dozen cupcakes from DC Cupcakes in Georgetown (anyone seen the show on TLC?)!  OK, so I actually knew they were coming, but that’s beside the point. My cousin, Bridget, wanted to send them to me earlier but I wasn’t able to eat.  So, this week I happened to mention that I thought I would definitely be ready to sink my teeth into some sweet cupcake goodness.   She ordered up a mixed dozen with some of my favorite flavors (chocolate peanut butter, red velvet, carrot cake, etc.), and they were worth the wait!  Although keeping them from my kids continues to be the challenge!   

My energy level is definitely good too! I have been walking a pretty tough 4 mile, hilly course, at least 3-4 days a week.  For some of my old workout friends (and new ones) that might not seem like a big deal.  I’m used to running, not walking.  I’m used to riding my bike long distances.  I’m used to tennis, kayaking and yoga, and some P90X style tough workouts.  But I am not disappointed with a 4 mile walk.  After what I’ve been through this is a victory.  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”  Psalm 28:7.  I won’t allow self doubt and disappointment to hinder my progress.  I am making excellent progress considering I had radiation and chemotherapy for 7 weeks.  I had radiation on the entire right side of my head, with even a beam even going through my brain.  I am going to symbolically claim victory over this cancer by completing the Gladiator Race on November 9th  in San Antonio, TX with anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of this special day.  Do it with us, or just come cheer us on.  You may remember that someone described my tumor originally as the size of a large plum.  Well, after much deliberation and thought, I came up with the t-shirt design for our team…on the front it will say, “Cancer Plum Sucks” with a big plum surrounded by a circle with a line through it.  I thought this says it all!

Yes, my week was good...very good by the standards of the last 3 months.  I had my first dinner out with my family.  Again, this may not sound like much, but when you haven’t been eating out or ‘eating’ at all it’s a big deal!  We went to a new restaurant in town, The Grove, which opened while I was in Houston getting treatment.  It is always packed, but we went with the blue hairs right around 6pm.  I ordered a grilled chicken and goat cheese Panini that definitely titillated my desperate taste buds! It was AMAZING!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite wrap my mouth around it (my jaw still not able to open any more than before the treatment due to scar tissue from the radiation), so I had to try to cut it into smaller pieces.  The knife wouldn’t cut all the way through the bread, so you can only imagine the look I got when I asked for a steak knife for my Panini!   

I had my first haircut and color since getting home 7 weeks ago (boy did I need it too!).  It’s funny too, because my hairdresser moved before I finished treatment and my hair hadn’t been my priority.  But all of a sudden, when you are feeling like your old self, you also want to look like your old self…like NOW.  Not in 2 or 3 weeks when some of my friends’ hairdressers could get me in.  But NOW.  A little voice in my head kept telling me to call Salon Belleza, and I’m not sure why.  No one had ever recommended it.  I had never been in it.  It wasn’t the best deal by ANY stretch of the imagination.  But I just felt like that was where I needed to go.  I can’t explain it.  Luckily, they were able to get me in on Friday, which was very good news.  So far so good.  But the interesting part is that the girl who did my hair was a faithful Christian.  I had to tell her about my cancer because of the big bald spot she had to work around.  We started talking and she mentioned her friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  I wrote down my blog in the hopes that it would give her friend some hope…sounds corny doesn’t it?  I just find it amazing when you listen, God will lead you to where you are supposed to go…even for your hair J 

My eyebrows and eyelashes are already growing in, after only being completely gone for a week.  That’s a VERY good thing too, because my eyebrow drawing skills equated to a 3 year old trying to draw inside the lines.  Actually, that gives me a thought…do they make eyebrow templates?  I seriously could’ve used one!  My face is healing nicely, and the skin on the right side is as smooth as a babies butt.  Who knew radiation would serve as my own personal laser facial peel?  And I didn’t even have to pay for it.  OK, now that I think about it that’s not true…I paid a big price(both financially and physically).  But lucky for you and me Jesus paid the bigger price.  And remembering that is what got me through this entire thing with what I hope is, and continues to be, grace and dignity, along with humor.   

When the world feels like it has stopped turning, for whatever reason, try to find the good in simple things like haircuts and cupcakes, cards and eyebrows, family and friends.    But remember that sacrifice is a huge part of life.  We all have our own battles to fight.  Some people fight battles with terrorists, like Mike M. fought and sacrificed for his country.  Others fight terrible battles with cancer.  They too have made huge sacrifices along with their families.  The scars of those sacrifices are like badges of honor when you realize how much you have to gain from trusting the Lord during those times…at least they are for me.  I wouldn’t take them back.  So, I hope you will take the time to remember those who have sacrificed.   And, until you experience some sacrifice of your own, it may be hard to imagine and understand the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  But when you do, you will realize that with Jesus, good will always beat evil.  With Jesus we win. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The First and the Last

Do you remember the first time that your children took their first steps or ate their first bites of real food?  How proud you were of the fact that they were growing to be these little tiny people, still completely dependent on you, but who were learning new ways of doing things.  I certainly remember those moments so clearly with my daughters Meghan and Molly.  The first time they let go of the table and put their arms out towards me and walked.  Or their face covered in peas, as they decided whether or not accept the food from the spoon turned airplane.  Why we felt that making the spoon sound like an airplane would somehow make peas taste better is beyond me!  Anyways, these were moments that we as parents mark as milestones; monumental occasions in our children’s lives.  We mark these moments down in their baby books and we take pictures and video to remember them.  Well, this week for me has been monumental for me.  I was like that toddler getting to experience and do many things for the first time…again.  I wrote them down in my journal so I wouldn’t forget.  I even took some pictures to remember these occasions.  And I have no doubt that my God and Father was beaming with pride as He watched my own rebirth and recovery from cancer.  But like that toddler, I too, am still and will always be completely dependent on my Father.

As you already know, I’ve had difficulties with chewing due to mouth sores and nerve pain from the radiation.  This has probably been the most difficult part of my recovery and by far the most frustrating.  But on August 25th, I ate my first real meal in well over two months!  The tortellini with alfredo sauce and sourdough bread with butter tasted like something that Julia Childs would have served to the Queen of England!  A delectable creaminess to the alfredo sauce (with lots of extra sour cream) and the butter on that fresh sourdough made my mouth sing with delight.  It might have been singing out of tune, but it was singing with the strength and veracity of a full inner city Baptist Choir praising the Lord!  After drinking my fair share of Boost and other nutritional drinks as my main source of nutrition for months, I was certainly singing the praises!  On a side note, you would think nutrition drink companies could come up with something other than chocolate, strawberry or vanilla.  I mean, really?  There is a whole population of head and neck cancer patients who rely on the stuff for months…a little variety would be nice.  But, I digress.  The point is, I was able to get down a real meal.  It might have taken me and hour and a half, but slowly but surely I ate.  Tiny little bite, by tiny little bite, I began to retrain my tongue.  There were no peas all over my face (although I would’ve loved them in the alfredo) but there might have been a dribble or two of sauce on my face.  A visual indicator of a meal well enjoyed!

August 26th was another day of firsts for both me and my girls!  You see, it was the first day of school.  Of course, every year I require them to take “First Day of School” pictures by the front door with their backpacks.  Molly, my 10 year old (fifth grade), is still completely willing and finds this an acceptable request.  Meghan, my 14 year old and now high school freshman, finds this the most unacceptable and ridiculous request I could make.  The days of the picture of the two of them together are gone (they start school at different times).  But shouldn’t she grant me just this one simple request?  Just a picture by the front door with her backpack?  Kicking and screaming I got her to agree, but she didn’t want to go outside because our neighbor Jonathon (a junior) might see her and that would be almost as embarrassing as having to hug your mother in public!  She knew I wouldn’t back down and finally quickly ran out by the front door and I snapped a couple shots.  I just have to say that I find it amusing that the girl who takes a million selfies and snap chats a day to her friends, finds it so irritating when I want a picture of my own.  Teenagers…  Anyways, they both got off to school and had fabulous first days.  Molly likes her teachers and is the big girl on campus, and Meghan’s apprehensions about the size of the school, being the bottom of the totem pole and the work load have lessened.  Lucky for her (unlucky for us) she looks more like a senior than a wimpy little freshman, and my social butterfly is loving it! It is sad to see my first baby go off to High School but I won’t be cliché by likening it to a butterfly spreading its wings J

While the 26th was the first day of school for the girls, it was also another first for me since getting home.  With the eerie silence of the house, and only the sounds of the TV on in the background and our dog snoring, did I realize that I was free!  Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls and love having them home, but the last several weeks have been more than a bit hectic with dance camps and sports practices, etc. and I haven’t had much time to focus on me (that sounds selfish, doesn’t it?).   Now there is time for me to begin my ‘normal’ routine, which used to include some pretty intense workouts.  But, now, there are only baby steps…literally.  My dear friend Chris and I laced up our running shoes (well, walking shoes for now) and set out for what would be my first official walk.  Just like the toddler taking their first steps, these steps were for me just as important.  They were a step in the right direction.  A step towards physical strengthening.  A step towards improved health.   A step towards the Gladiator Run on November 9th.  But most importantly, a step towards a cancer free life (we pray).  Isaiah 40:31 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” So, with an eager heart, ready mind, and rusty body, we walked (and took a picture too) and we talked, which is therapy in and of itself!  I wasn’t up to my regular walking pace, and we certainly weren’t running, but I was out in the unusually cool morning air (strange for a TX August morning) with the dearest of friends walking.   I am trying very hard to be smart about my recovery, and not pushing myself too hard.  If I do, I pay for it greatly the next day.  So we started with a mile and a half.  The next day it was two.  And the day after that it was three.  Today we did three miles again, but I was up to a nice brisk pace and felt like I could have done at least another mile or more if time would have permitted.   In an earlier blog I mentioned wanting to do a Warrior Dash in October as my comeback event.  Unfortunately, there isn’t one, but I did find a Gladiator Run on November 9th in San Antonio, TX.  I now have a goal of running and completing the Gladiator event, and I hope you will come join my team (team name and uniform details to follow J) 

August 27th was yet another first for me.   It was my first meal out in a restaurant!  Realizing from earlier in the week that I could actually eat pasta, it freed up a whole new world to me…restaurants.  I hadn’t seen my friend Jennifer since I had gotten home, so we went out to Mandolas for lunch.  I ordered a half portion of, you guessed it, pasta in alfredo sauce (why mess with a good thing???).  Again, it took an hour and a half to eat four cheese raviolis, but how nice it was to take the time to enjoy conversation with my friend.  And, the trend of firsts continued on August 28th, with a boat load of freshman moms meeting at FORE for Happy Hour.  This is a relatively new tradition where freshman moms get together once a month as a community to just chat and keep each other informed.  So, this was my first Happy Hour since my return!  Well, it was Happy Hour without the ‘Happy’.  I haven’t had anything to drink in over 3 months for obvious reasons.  It’s not that the doctors now wouldn’t allow me to, but the sores and nerve pain would be irritated by the alcohol.  So, not a bad thing at all, but I do miss the occasional glass of wine (who misses Thirsty Thursdays girls??) or margarita by the pool.  And, actually, I did have my first sip of margarita yesterday, but just wasn’t ready to take one on.  But, I was ready to take on my first few Reese’s Peanut Butter cups!  Terry Preli, can I get an Amen?!?!

Friday August 30th was another big first, especially here in Texas.  It was the first high school football game of the season. For those of you not from Texas, you couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of this reality!  It also happened to be Will’s birthday, but he agreed to go with our normal Friday Night Lights tradition of tailgating and going to the game.  My Aunt Karen was in town helping me out and visiting, and got into the Lake Travis spirit too.  We all wore LT shirts, ate pulled pork on the tailgate (and my first cupcake too!) and had a great time with Chris and the kids.  Sean and Ken joined us later as we cheered on our beloved LT.  It was nearly 100 degrees at 9 o’clock, and we lost (not the 5 time state champions of a few years back), but it was tradition.  And it felt normal.  And I felt good even in the heat (yes, I stayed well hydrated). 

I have told you of my eyebrow dilemma in a past blog post, but felt it was worth mentioning that this week I completely lost my first eyebrow.  The other eyebrow is half gone, but had one lone hair hanging on at the other side.  I was going to pluck it out, but my Aunt Karen said ‘that kind of determination should be rewarded’.  I agreed, and it hung on for a few more days.  Today I noticed it finally gave up.  I am still getting used to trying to pencil my eyebrows in, so maybe this week should also entail my first makeover…

Through the joy of all these firsts, there is also great sadness this week for me.  Earlier in the week we lost a dear family friend, Gene Campbell.  I have known the Campbell’s since I was a toddler.  They were our next door neighbors in Huntington Beach, and I remember such fun times our families shared over the years.  It was unexpected and terribly sad, but they are a family of faith.  I ask that you pray for his wife, our dear friend, Terri and her grown children Danny, Rory and Shannon to feel the Lord’s comfort and peace. Luke 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” As I am writing this blog, I was informed that Terri went into emergency stomach surgery today.  I haven’t seen an update, but please keep her in your prayers that she is OK, and able to go home and regain her strength before Gene’s service on Friday.

This week we also lost my dear Aunt Carolyn.  Carolyn Moreno is my Mom’s oldest sister and has fought such a courageous battle of her own with cancer.  She was diagnosed with esophageal cancer probably 8 years ago and did amazingly well for a long time.  Unfortunately, the cancer returned and spread, and she was too weak for surgery and chemo treatments were extremely difficult to bear.  She had widdled away to 90 pounds and before her passing on September 1st was a mere 70 something pounds.  My sweet mother and father were able to see her while she was still aware and walking, which was such a blessing for them all.  It saddened me when I talked to her and she told me she was afraid to die.  I kept telling her that she didn’t need to be afraid.  That as long as she accepted Christ she would be saved.  I sent her daily cards with scriptures about salvation and just the beauty that awaits those who believe in Heaven.  I didn’t know exactly where she stood in her beliefs, but wanted to share the truth just in case.  My mom informed me that about a week before her death, with her son Timmy and his father in law who is a pastor by her side, my Aunt sat up and accepted Christ.  Hearing that was the best news I ever could have received.  They said it was like a miracle because she hadn’t been doing well.  This, my friends, is why we are here.  That is God’s calling to us.  Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  Please pray for my Uncle Manuel and my dear cousins Mike, Jeff and Timmy, as well as my mother and her other sister.  While death, either expected or unexpected, is so tragic for those of us left behind, there is such hope in knowing that our loved ones are with Christ.

So, with my all my firsts this week, God was with me breathing new life into my being.  He was giving me strength and courage for the remainder of my earthly journey.   And while Gene and Carolyn drew their last earthly breaths, God was breathing new life into them for their eternal journey in Heaven.  You see, God is the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega.  He was my first walk and He was their last breath. He is the all in all.  Revelation 21:6-7 He said to me: “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

In Loving Memory of Carolyn Moreno (7/7/35 – 9/1/13) and Gene Campbell (2/18/33 – 8/27/13)