Purple Is My Color: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Purple is my color…in November. Well, except on the Saturday of the Alabama-LSU game (which was this past Saturday). Other than that day, purple is my color in November, because the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has adopted purple as the color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

My daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2006. He died less than seven months after his diagnosis, on October 2. Our hearts broke when he was diagnosed, continued breaking for seven months, and shattered on October 2. But he was finally at peace, after a lot of suffering.

I remember exactly where I was when my parents told me Daddy had pancreatic cancer. I was driving up Colony Road, near the intersection at Carmel Road, in Charlotte, going to meet my friend, Wendy, for dinner with her, her husband, their son, and my daughter, the night before Wendy was scheduled for a C-section to have her daughter, Madison. I was devastated at the news from my parents, but I didn’t want to ruin the night for Wendy, so I dried up my tears and put on a brave face. Apparently, I was a better actress than I had ever realized, because they suspected nothing over dinner. We celebrated the upcoming birth of Madison (though she didn’t have a name yet, at that point).

I knew the prognosis for pancreatic cancer patients was not good. I knew my time with my daddy was limited, so we tried to make the best of it. We were fortunate to have a condo near my parents’ house in Alabama, so we moved down there for the last couple of months before he died. My brother came down as often as he could, and even though it was bittersweet, we had a lot of quality time together. We made the most of it, but we knew we were losing our daddy.

Daddy was brave. He even maintained his sense of humor. He worried about what would become of us after he was gone. He was sad he wouldn’t see his beloved grandchildren grow up. He encouraged us to stick together. And he often said, “I’ve lived a full life, and now, I’m spending lots of quality time with y’all.”  He was finding the silver lining till the end. Throughout life, he looked for the good. And in his final days, the good was that he had a family who loved him and loved each other. He knew it. We laughed. We cried. And then we laughed some more to keep from crying.

And here’s the thing. In the 12 years since we lost Daddy, not much has changed for pancreatic cancer patients. Most patients don’t survive one year after diagnosis, and very few survive five years…roughly 95 percent of those diagnosed die from it. It’s very difficult to diagnose, and it’s usually too late when it is diagnosed. It is considered by many to be the deadliest cancer, based on the general prognosis, but it gets very little press. Every time a friend calls me and tells me someone they know has been diagnosed, I don’t know what to say. The only thing I can do is offer prayer and refer them to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as PanCan.org. We need more awareness, more funding for research, and we need more trials, and PanCan raises money for those things. They also raise awareness and on behalf of patients and families, contacting Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to support bills that offer funding for research.

So, every year, since 2006, I wear purple in November. It might be just a purple handbag, purple pendant, or purple earrings, but I try to wear a little piece of purple every day…except the day Bama plays LSU…Daddy would understand.

***If you would like to donate to PanCan.org, please go to the website here. Call or write your Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research.***

img_9374

Photo: pancan.org

Advertisements

Accentuate The Positive

No matter where you live, people complain about where they live. Maybe they’ve spent their whole lives there, so they’re bored. Maybe they just moved there and think the place they lived before was better.

Here’s the funny thing, though: complaining doesn’t help. No matter the situation or place, pointing out the negative in life makes everything worse. Constructive criticism = yes. Complaining = no.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who moved to Charlotte from a large city in another state last summer, and I asked her how she liked it. Rarely do I hear someone say they don’t like Charlotte. In fact, a pilot on a recent flight out of Miami, before takeoff, said, “We are going to Charlotte. If you don’t want to go there, well, you’ve probably never been there.” It’s a lovely city…not too big, not too small.

When I asked my friend how she liked our fair city, she responded, “It’s fine, but I can’t believe schools close when there’s hardly any snow! What is wrong with you people?” Really? Frankly, complaining about snow days in Charlotte is not very original, so you get zero points for creativity. As always, I explained that, because we don’t get much snow, cities in the south don’t spend money on a lot of snow-clearing road equipment, so some roads can be icy for days. Plus, some people in the south have never driven in snow or ice, adding another level of danger. Blah…blah…blah…I’ve said it all before.

Different regions have different strengths. Southerners might not drive in snow, but we can drive in torrential rains! Before living in Charlotte, I lived in Mobile, Alabama, a city on the Gulf Coast where we had afternoon thunderstorms almost every day during summer. Guess who had trouble driving in it? People from other parts of the country. You won’t see someone from Mobile turning on their hazard lights and slowing to a dangerous crawl on the interstate in a rainstorm..but that’s another discussion for another day.

Sooooo…instead of pointing out the obvious to that friend who was complaining about snow days in Charlotte, I asked, “What do you LIKE about Charlotte?” After all, she chose to live here. Folks can get defensive about their cities.

action blur car daylight

Photo by nika kakalashvili on Pexels.com

I could sit around thinking of bad things to say about Charlotte, but I can immediately  give people a laundry list of great things about this city: great climate, friendly people,  an awesome amusement park, an airline hub, miles of scenic greenways for biking/walking, green spaces everywhere, plays/musicals/shows, museums, sporting events, good shopping, churches on “every corner,” a fantastic Jewish Community Center, great employment opportunities, colleges and universities in the area…the list goes on and on.

Every place has strong points. In a small town, it might be the sense of community or safety. In a bigger city, it might be great restaurants, cultural events, or sporting events…or maybe the city, like Mobile, is near the beach.

When my daughter was younger, I would pick her up from school and say, “Tell me two great things that happened today.” It forced her to find two positives. It’s easy to complain, but it’s more fun to find something good. It started the ride home on a good note.

So, if you’ve moved to a new city or town and can’t find something nice to say, well, don’t say anything at all. You probably haven’t been looking for good things. Search for good things about it. But if you’ve searched and still can’t find anything nice to say, it’s likely not the place that’s the problem.

Next time it snows in Charlotte, I’m going to pray schools are closed, so we can drink hot chocolate and eat grilled cheese sandwiches after we go sledding in two inches of snow till it melts. And next time there’s a rainstorm (with no lightning), I’m going outside and splash through some puddles.

Accentuate the positive, folks!

***This made me think of my Mother telling me one time, “If you think everybody else is crazy, chances are you’re the crazy one.” But that’s for another day…***

For information on events and things to do in Charlotte, click here. Charlotte’s got a lot!

Forgiveness

Today, I was looking through Facebook while I was sitting in an airport, and a friend had posted a video about forgiveness. The video is really good, and I will tell you where to find it in a minute. When I boarded my flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about that video and what it meant. It was in my brain! “Forgiveness” is a word we hear all the time. There are lots of quotes and Bible verses about it:

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.–Mahatma Gandhi

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.–Maya Angelou

I can have peace of mind only when I forgive rather than judge. –Gerald Jampolsky

Forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes and move on. –Les Brown

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. –Lewis B. Smedes

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.–Matthew 6:14, New International Version of The Holy Bible

lina-trochez-377674-unsplash

Forgiveness.

The video I saw is on a Facebook page called Have a Little Faith. And the speaker in the video is a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is described on the site as “a feminist, no-nonsense Evangelical Lutheran pastor who will blow you away with her honesty, hilarity, and plenty of ‘holy sh*t’ enlightenment.” Wow. I’m not sure I would have found her at all except for the video my friend posted. You can see the video here. She says forgiveness is not about “niceness.” She says holding onto anger “feeds the evil.” She encourages us to think of forgiveness as “snapping the chain that connects us” to the evil. It gives us freedom. Free people are not chained to resentment. While she has an unconventional approach, I like what she has to say about forgiveness.

It’s a simple concept, really. Choose forgiveness. Find a way to choose forgiveness. It’s not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of great strength. It can be difficult, but it’s just like most things in life…the more we practice, the better we become at it. It is a choice, and for me, it is a choice that I make not so much for the other person as for myself. I simply cannot be tethered to anger. It will suck the life out of me.

In my 51 years of life, I have offended many…usually unintentionally, but sometimes, it was intentional. Most of the intentional offenses occurred in my younger days…usually in response to a perceived transgression against me. There’s that “chain” concept. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a lot more about forgiveness. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun to forgive. Holding on to anger or hatred is exhausting. And seeking revenge is exhausting too. All that anger only hurts the person who harbors it. I’m not that person.

Of course, there are some people who just can’t forgive. I don’t think there’s anyone I haven’t forgiven. There are people I don’t want to spend time with, because of personality or value differences, but as far as forgiveness, I have forgiven. I don’t harbor anger toward anyone. Well, I can’t think of anyone toward whom I harbor anger. If I can’t think of anyone, I guess that means there’s no anger.

Yet, there are people who, I’m sure, haven’t forgiven me for perceived transgressions over the years, and I have a way of handling that: I forgive myself. As long as I have offered a sincere apology, I forgive myself and move on. That’s because I truly feel that if someone is incapable of forgiving me, then I don’t want to be friends with them anyway. I don’t need to be chained to them. So I move on without regret. My 14-yr-old daughter once summed it up this way to me, “Mom, when you’ve offered a sincere apology, you’ve done everything you could do…especially for something unintentional. Let it go. There is nothing you can do about it now. But you have to forgive yourself and move on.” She is right…the wisdom of a 14-yr-old. I wasn’t always able to do that, but fortunately, I learned a way. Remember the Serenity Prayer? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My mother had the Serenity Prayer framed in several rooms of our various homes as I was growing up. A favorite was one that matched our kitchen wallpaper in Spanish Fort where we lived from 1975 to 1977. It looked like this, except hers was in a nicer frame:

img_7648

The wall decor is a good everyday reminder. It reminds me to forgive (the things I can change) and move on (the things I cannot change). To see/purchase Prayer of Serenity wall decor from Amazon, click here.

Years ago, my dad was talking with a friend whose sister had gone through a bitter divorce. For years, she had harbored hatred and resentment toward her ex-husband. But one day, she let it go. Her brother told it this way: It was like she was swimming down a river holding a big pack of gear. The pack was heavy and cumbersome. She was working so hard to hold on to the pack that she couldn’t see the beautiful foliage, birds, and other wildlife on the banks of the river. She was missing it all. Eventually, she was too tired to hold onto the pack. She let go of the pack and started swimming with ease. Suddenly, she noticed the beauty of life around her.

There are some people who want to carry anger. That’s their choice. I choose not to carry that load. I choose to see the beauty life offers. I choose joy over anger, but we all live differently. We also all sin against God and against each other every single day. If you think you don’t, you are lying to yourself. Because I know how to forgive, I live a life of peace. I try to remember this: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”–John 8:7.

If someone can’t forgive you, as my daughter says, “That’s on her/him.” And she’s right.  Thank God for the wisdom of a 14-yr-old.

I must have done something right.

Rookie Gardener

I’ve said before that I am no gardener. A few years ago, I had some pretty good luck with gardening in my backyard, but then I developed a fear of snakes and became afraid. Every time I thought about sticking my hands into or near the dirt, I was terrified I would pick up a copperhead.

In Mecklenburg County, the only venomous snake species we have is the copperhead, but it seems there are lots of them. Growing up in Alabama, we had six species of venomous snakes, including three different types of rattlesnakes, which are highly dangerous to humans. I’ve seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. In fact, I came dangerously close to stepping on a big diamondback rattlesnake when I was 18. To learn more about the venomous snakes of Alabama, including the copperhead, click here. Be forewarned: just like Jaws made us all afraid to go back into the water, seeing the pictures of these snakes may make you afraid to go back outside altogether.

Back to gardening. For years, I did nothing, till this year, and I’m not doing a lot, but I am doing a little. I have more than one inspiration. I want to have some sunflowers in memory of my parents this summer, and posts by my friend, Michelle, owner of Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts in Fairhope, Alabama, would make anyone want to try their hand at gardening. To see her Facebook page for inspiration, click here.

33778994_2062017524052875_3064642255856861184_n

Photo from Corner Copia Gardens in Fairhope, Alabama

While I want sunflowers in my backyard, I’m not planting any other types of flowers. We have some beautiful knockout roses that continue to bloom, so I don’t feel like I need to add much to those. I’m adding a few vegetables.

One thing I’ve always loved is a good homegrown vine-ripened tomato. When my friend, Wendy, lived here in Charlotte, she had a neighbor who grew some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of tomatoes. Growing up, I didn’t care for tomatoes. I think a lot of kids are turned off by the slightly acidic taste of tomatoes. When I was in college, I went to the lake with a friend, and her mother had some homegrown tomatoes for us. Not wanting to be rude, I ate the slices she gave me, and I never looked back.

If you are a tomato person, you know store-bought tomatoes are deceiving. Every year, I make the mistake of picking up some beautiful tomatoes in the grocery store with hopes they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Then, I get home and slice into them, only to find they are hard and ugly on the inside. A good, homegrown tomato is just as red on the inside as it is on the outside.

Throughout my life, I had seen my daddy eat tomato sandwiches. He loved a good tomato sandwich, and apparently, my mother knew the perfect way to make them. It’s not difficult, but if you don’t make them just right, you can mess them up. My daddy liked his tomatoes peeled. Weird, I know, but that’s what he liked. Sometimes, I peel mine too. But the main thing is to use white bread…not whole wheat, not whole grain, not pumpernickel or rye…white bread. On the white bread slices, slather your favorite mayonnaise. Daddy preferred Hellman’s, but I prefer Duke’s. Yes, you can use the reduced fat versions, but because good tomatoes are hard to find, I don’t want to mess them up with the reduced fat stuff. Add tomato slices to the mayo-slathered bread and top it with a little salt and pepper to taste. I can almost taste it now. ***It’s difficult to find Duke’s Mayonnaise in some parts of the country. If you’ve never had it, you should try it. You can order it from Amazon here.***

Obviously, I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes this summer. My husband and I picked up a few small plants, and he put them in the ground. We purchased Bonnie Plants brand Big Boy tomato plants and Better Boy tomato plants at a local store. To see the Bonnie Plants website for tomato information, click here. It’s not too late to do your own. I’ve been tending ours. That means I’ve been calling my brother to get tips on growing good tomatoes. I’ve also been checking online for information. So far, I haven’t killed them yet, and we even have a few small tomatoes showing up on our plants. I looked online to see how long it takes tomatoes to ripen on the vine, and on average, for the types we are growing, it takes about 75 days after germination. That seems like a long time. I’m counting down the days and hoping I don’t kill them before then.

IMG_6742

I’ve also planted a few other vegetables. We’ll see how that works out before I go into any detail.

My friend, Leah, in memory of my parents, gave me a Sunflower Grow Kit earlier this year, and I was so excited to get that started, and so far, they’re growing! The kit included potting soil, seeds, plant food, and a bag in which to grow them. You can see various grow kits here. I also planted some Burpee brand sunflower seeds, which you can find at your local home stores. I purchased mine at Home Depot, but they have them in Lowe’s too. If you live in or near Wetumpka, Alabama, you can visit the Lowe’s there and see my handsome nephew, Brennen.

My sunflowers have been a little slow-growing, but in the past few days they seem to be getting some traction. I have hope. Sunflowers aren’t difficult to grow, and I had huge success with them 16 years ago, growing some of the biggest, most beautiful sunflowers I’ve ever seen. I planted mine a little later than before, but with sunflowers, I think that’s OK.

For planting this year, since I still haven’t overcome my fear of snakes, I wore gardening gloves and used a gardening trowel. I don’t know how much protection that offers from snakes, but it made me feel better. I found myself scanning all around me while I dug, though. I won’t even walk out onto the patio without checking out the steps before opening the back door.

As the summer progresses, I’ll keep you posted on my gardening. Hoping for tall sunflowers with big heads and some juicy tomatoes soon.

Go play in the dirt!

***If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please invite friends to like the facebook page.***

 

 

 

 

 

Behind That White Picket Fence

When my daddy was sick and dying of pancreatic cancer in 2006, I learned a lot.

One thing I learned is that we never really know what someone is going through. I remember leaving my parents’ house one evening after spending time with them when he was sick. They lived in a traditional southern style home with a white picket fence. Yep, a white picket fence.

On the outside, everything appeared to be normal…quiet, peaceful. On the inside of that house, it was anything but normal. I remember thinking, “People driving by have no idea how sad things are inside my parents’ house right now.”

It made me think. It made me look at people differently.

As I drove out of their neighborhood that evening, I looked at each house I passed and wondered if everything was OK. I wondered if there was anyone else experiencing the sadness we were experiencing. Were the people in the corner house feeling OK? Was anyone lying in the floor of their house waiting for help? Were people crying around a dinner table because of illness or divorce? Were any of the neighbors having financial problems?

Have you ever been in a restaurant and received terrible service? It’s human nature for us to think, “What a lousy waiter.” But in reality, that waiter might be a great waiter who is going through a terrible time. We don’t know what kind of problems he may have at home. We don’t know if his wife or child might have a terminal illness. We don’t know if he can’t pay his bills. We don’t know if he is dying.

I remember when my daddy first started having symptoms in mid 2005. He was experiencing rapid, unexplained weight loss, which we attributed to the horrible hip pain he had been having. We had no idea it was pancreatic cancer, but we knew something was wrong.

At the same time, my maternal grandmother was in the early stages of dementia, and my mother was having to drive back and forth from the Mobile, Alabama, area to Birmingham, five hours each way, to get her evaluated and help get her settled in an assisted living facility. Daddy couldn’t go with her, because he wasn’t able to sit in the car for that long.

No one had any idea.

That September, right in the middle of all this, my husband’s beloved grandmother died. The funeral was in Mobile. The day before the funeral, my mother had to go back to Birmingham, to meet with medical professionals about my grandmother’s care and to get the house locked up. It couldn’t wait. On the same day, my daddy had to get an epidural for the hip pain. It was a terrible time for my husband’s family, and in a different way, a terrible time for my family.

My parents were very private people, so very few people knew what they were going through.

With Mother out of town, my daddy was incapacitated because of the epidural and his hip problems. He was in terrible pain. There was no way I could ask him to keep a two-yr-old during the funeral, and there was no way he or my mother could attend. They said prayers for my husband and his family, but their own issues were big…bigger than anyone outside the family knew.

I’m sure there were some people who thought they should have been there or that they should have kept our daughter while we went to the funeral, but again…you never know what someone else is going through. One person even mentioned it. I just thought, “Bless his heart…he has no idea.” My parents were dealing with two different major health crises in two different cities. Even though we didn’t know the extent of my daddy’s illness, we knew something was wrong. And my grandmother, well, that was just sad. My poor mother was exhausted from driving back and forth…taking care of people at both ends of the state. There was no way my parents could have done anything differently than what they did.

As very private people, my parents would not have wanted me to tell anyone what they were dealing with, but it was a very difficult time.

No one could have known.

When my daughter was starting first grade, we had a “meet the teacher” day. All the parents gathered in the classroom. The teacher announced she would need a room mother for the school year. My friend whose child was also in the class turned to me and said, “You should do that!”

Unbeknownst to her, my husband was scheduled for brain surgery that September. I said, “Oh, I can’t. My husband is having brain surgery soon.” She was horrified. She’d had no idea, because no matter what my family was going through, we had to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I had been living life as usual, but something big was looming over our family. Of course, I told her not to be horrified, because we hadn’t told a lot of people.

This past December, when my mother died, I kept it quiet for a while in Charlotte, because I needed to process it emotionally before dealing with it publicly. I remember going to a meeting at school in early January and running into a friend. I saw her and said, “I have something to tell you, and when I say it, I need you to not ask questions and immediately change the subject.” I didn’t want to cry in public, and I didn’t want to make a scene.

She handled it perfectly. I said, “My mother died at the end of December.” She did exactly as I asked and immediately asked me about something else. Yay! Lots of people would have thought it was strange behavior, but she knew what I needed. I needed to keep going.

That friend and I have known each other for ten years, and until I told her, she didn’t know what was going on with me.

We really never know, do we? Maybe we should take that into consideration when someone forgets to meet us somewhere or forgets to return a call. Maybe that terrible waiter just needs someone to be kind to him.

How many times have you had a friend tell you they were getting divorced, but you had no idea there was a problem in their marriage? I’ve had two friends surprise me with this news in just the past few years, and I actually consider myself to be a pretty darn perceptive person. These are friends I saw regularly at least a few times a month, and I had no clue anything was wrong.

Often, we keep our private lives just that…private.

I know that after my mother died, I dropped out of life for a month. I gave myself permission to stay home, sit in bed, and do nothing for a month. On February 1, I rejoined the living. During the month of January, lots of people still had no idea what was going on in my life. I was grieving my mother, but I wanted to do it privately.

So, as you go through your day, try to remember that lots of people are dealing with terrible things…every day…everywhere. It might be your neighbor who was just diagnosed with cancer. It might be your child’s teacher who has been cranky lately, because her husband lost his job. It might be your friend who hasn’t told you she’s having marital problems.

Often, there are things we do not know. Let’s try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

img_5620

Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

IMG_5745

Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Tape a banana peel to your forehead and call me in the morning.

anh-nguyen-515149-unsplash

Have you ever gone to bed in a dark room for a couple days? Wanted to pull out all your teeth? Had visions of cutting a block out of the side of your own skull? Ever sat at your desk holding your fist firmly against one eyebrow? If you’ve had a migraine, chances are you’ve done at least one of these things or something similar.

When I was younger and had more frequent migraines, there were days I would sit and think about the pressure relief I could get if I could just cut a block out of my skull. It just seemed that if I could make a little more room for my brain, the pain would stop. I wasn’t willing to go to that extreme to get rid of a migraine, but I did some kooky stuff.

If you have migraines, you understand the pain I’m talking about. If you have been fortunate enough to never have migraines, it’s likely you know someone who does, and the pain is real. It’s something you can never understand if you haven’t experienced it, but you can empathize.

I started getting migraines when I was 22 years old. I still remember my first one. I was visiting a friend when suddenly one side of my head HURT. I told my friend I needed to go home and drove myself the 25 minutes to my house. FIRST, do not do that. *If you are experiencing the worst headache you’ve ever experienced, call your doctor or go to the ER. It can be a sign of something very serious.*

When I was a little girl, my mother had migraines but called them “sick headaches,” an accurate description since they do make the sufferer feel sick. Medication options were limited. I’m sure there were doctors who prescribed valium or “tranquilizers,” as people called them back then, but she had children to take care of, so she was afraid to take anything that might impair her ability to do that. Even when I was 22, options were limited. I suffered for eight years before getting a medication that worked.

banana-peel-1329335-639x406In those eight years, I would try anything anyone suggested. Over-the -counter pain relievers? Check. Tape a banana peel to my forehead? Check. Put my feet in a warm bath while icing my head? Check. Ice pack on my wrists/neck? Check. Drink warm water with cayenne pepper? Check. Acupuncture? Check. Magnesium and riboflavin supplements? Check.

Some of these things might have helped a little, but as soon as I pulled the tape off that banana peel, I felt worse. (That’s a joke; the banana peel didn’t help at all, but I did try it.)

pina-messina-464953-unsplash

When I turned 30, I went to a new doctor who prescribed a relatively new drug, a vasoconstrictor. My life changed. As soon as I felt a migraine coming on, I would take a tablet, and it worked…for a while. After that, there were other meds that worked, but I seemed to build up a resistance to them. Eventually, I did find one that has continued to work for me (knock wood).

One thing that helped me along the way was to figure out what triggered my migraines. Of course, lots of them were hormonal. However, some were triggered by things I could control: alcohol, sun glare, flashing lights, loud music, sudden noises, sugar, sourdough bread, caffeine, lack of caffeine, fumes, wine, lack of sleep, hunger, MSG, Aspartame…it’s crazy. Others were triggered by weather. Barometric pressure change? Migraine. (You can check the migraine index on accuweather.com for virtually any city.) The first trimester of pregnancy was the worst with migraines, because they were terrible, and I couldn’t take medication for them. (Miraculously, after the first trimester, I didn’t have any more migraines during pregnancy.) It’s important for you to isolate what triggers your migraines, but it’s not always easy. Keep a food/migraine diary for 30 days and see if you can find some links.

For me, making a few small changes helped. I started wearing sunglasses anytime I stepped outdoors in sunlight, decreasing the risk of glare. When I go to a restaurant, I never face the window; I can’t risk the glare. Instead of bourbon (my favorite), I started drinking vodka, because I didn’t get migraines when I drank it instead (I generally have only one or two alcoholic beverages a week, tops.) I would drink Prosecco instead of Champagne or wine, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m able to drink those too.

spinach-1324474-639x427

Something that seemed to make a big change in the frequency of migraines was spinach. Who knew? I added more spinach to my diet, and within a month, I noticed fewer migraines! But it’s not just spinach; any green vegetable seems to help, so I try to eat as much broccoli and spinach as I can.

As for the hormonal migraines, my doctor prescribed birth control pills and suggested I skip the placebos and go right into the next active pills. I’m not saying this would work for everyone, but it did decrease the frequency of my migraines tremendously. ***ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR…I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL***

If you suffer with migraines, you will need to find your own triggers, but you might find some of my triggers are the same as yours.

Interestingly, lack of caffeine and too much caffeine are both triggers for me, but moderate caffeine can actually help. If I feel a migraine coming on, I take my medicine and follow it with a little caffeine in the form of a small cup of coffee or tea. A moderate amount of caffeine seems to make the medication work a little more quickly for me.

I still get the occasional migraine, but now that I’m 50, they are much less frequent (knock wood), so look to the future! My mother and my doctors had always told me they would likely decrease in frequency and severity as I got older, and they were right. So, there are some benefits to getting older. Actually, there are lots of benefits to getting older, but that’s another post.

If your friends or family members suffer from migraines, please remember, their pain is real. If you are the one suffering, I’m sorry. I truly feel your pain. I’ve spent days in bed in   the dark. I’ve never loved to hear other people are suffering, but it was always comforting to know other people understood what I was feeling. I have a friends who suffer from migraines as well, so it’s a common topic of conversation. Talk with your doctor about your pain.

In the meantime, tape a banana peel to your forehead and call me in the morning.

XOXO,

Kelly

aimee-vogelsang-106103-unsplash