November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

***This is a repost from November 2019***

All my friends know it, because they’ve heard it from me for years…since 2006…November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. What does that mean? To some folks it means nothing. To me, it means a lot. My daddy died eight months after he was diagnosed with this terrible disease. He had been suffering for months, though, without a diagnosis…I’ll get to that in a minute.

When I was in my thirties, I had heard very little about pancreatic cancer. I knew nothing about it…nothing. In 2006, I had been married for six years, and I had a two-year-old daughter. Life was moving along swimmingly, and then my daddy got sick. And it was bad. He was 67 years old when he was diagnosed on February 9, and he died on October 2, three weeks after his 68th birthday…the birthday he declared his happiest ever, because all his family members were there to celebrate with him.

Without getting into the details of his illness, let me tell you this…it never occurred to us he would get pancreatic cancer. There was no history of it in his family, except one aunt, and she was considerably older when she was diagnosed, so we tend to think “we’re all going to die of something.” But when Daddy was diagnosed, it hit us like a ton of bricks. The survival rate is terrible, and after doing some research, we were fully aware of his prognosis, but like Alex Trebek, we tried to have a positive outlook. Without hope, what do you have?!?

Detecting pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult, and that is, in part, why the survival rate is low. My daddy was having symptoms for some time before he was diagnosed, but sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. When he was finally diagnosed, it was too late to do much about it. I’m hoping research funding will help find better, easier ways of detecting it.

There are two things I want you to take away from this…

  • Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but the funding for its research doesn’t match up. There are lots of ways to help. You can donate directly to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) here. You can host a fundraiser for the organization too. You can walk in a Purple Stride event in your town. You can purchase purple (the color for pancreatic cancer awareness) gear through PanCan here. You can wear purple in memory of someone you know…and tell people why you’re wearing it. You can write to your representatives in Congress, asking them to do more to fund the fight against pancreatic cancer. I recently hosted a fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network on Facebook, and I am grateful to all who donated. I was thrilled that so many people donated, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity.
  • Live your life. We never know what will happen. My daddy was always telling us, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” He encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest…enjoy time with friends and family, see places and things we want to see, give back to the community, etc. Soon after I turned 50, I told my mother (who has since passed away), “I probably only have 20 more years that I can move around really well.” I was looking ahead and thinking it might not be as easy for me to travel when I’m over 70. She looked at me with a sweet smile on her face and said, “When your daddy was your age, he didn’t have that long. [When he was 50, he only had 18 more years ahead of him.] Do the things you want to do.” Perspective. She was right. And so that’s what I’m encouraging you to do. It doesn’t mean you have to go into debt taking a gigantic whirlwind trip, but get busy ticking things off your bucket list.

And while you’re ticking things off your bucket list, wear purple every now and then.

FYI: World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day is November 19, 2020. Please wear purple and support the fight.

A Different Mother’s Day

A Different Mother’s Day…

It’s almost here. We’ve never made a gigantic deal about Mother’s Day at our house, but we do celebrate it. My family usually goes out for brunch on Mother’s Day. We don’t do big gifts or anything, but my husband usually orders flowers or one of my favorite treats. We  normally have the freedom to make a reservation where we want to dine. But not this year.

Honestly, I look at Mother’s Day the same way my own mother used to look at it: I’m just thankful God let me be a mother to my daughter. There is no job more difficult or more rewarding. The job description is always changing, and I love it. I really do. When I was in my twenties, long before I was a mom, I thought having a child was not important to me. One of my coworkers, who had two children, once said to me, “It’s the meaning of life.” And she was right. My daughter teaches me a lot more about love and life than I teach her, I’m sure, and I love growing with her.

I always tell people motherhood gave me an opportunity to have a third childhood. My first childhood was my real childhood. Then, college was the next one. And once I had my baby, when I was 33, I got to start enjoying another childhood. She will be going off to college in a couple of years, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy that too! My neighbor, when she came over for social-distancing cocktails on the patio last week, told me and my daughter, “My daughter’s time at The University of Alabama were the best four years of my life!” She loved visiting her daughter in Tuscaloosa and got to enjoy another “childhood.” Motherhood is a great experience.

No one enjoyed motherhood more than my own mother. This is my third Mother’s Day without her in the world. I won’t cry this year like I did that first one, but I still miss her. I’ve just found ways of coping with the fact that she’s not here anymore. Lots of times, during this pandemic and isolation, I have wondered what she would have thought of it. Since she was a nurse, she would have known the importance of social distancing, but she wouldn’t have liked it. My parents were always big on “living life.” They loved the movie, Shawshank Redemption, and one of their favorite quotes from the movie was, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Since this isolation started, my brother and I have speculated about what our parents would have said about the disease and the stay-at-home order. Neither of us truly knows what they would have said, but I know I would have spent a lot of time on the phone with them talking about it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my mother. I can’t call her and ask her about it this Mother’s Day…the Mother’s Day in the age of COVID-19. If you still have your mother, think about that…once they’re gone, you can’t call your mom to ask her about a recipe or a story she told you about her life or how to handle a sick child. And I can’t ask mine what she thinks about COVID-19. I know it sounds like a little thing, but I’d love to know her thoughts on it all. In the 1950s, when she was in nursing school and studied in Louisiana for a while, she was exposed to tuberculosis and leprosy, both infectious diseases. Sure, they were infectious, but as a medical professional, she did what she needed to do to help the people. Later, when I was in elementary school, she worked for the health department and had to visit an area that reportedly had several cases of tuberculosis…a highly contagious respiratory disease. I would love to hear her opinion of the whole COVID-19 crisis….but I can’t.

This Mother’s Day will be different. That’s for sure. Because we can’t go out for brunch, we will likely cook at home. Sure, it will be different, but we will make it fun. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so I’m guessing my husband will cook on the grill. I’ll give him a grocery list today. Since the high is supposed to be around 70, we’ll have lunch outside. I won’t require my family to spend the whole day doting on me, but I will enjoy some time with them. Gifts? I don’t know if they will shower me with gifts, and it’s just fine if they don’t. I’m just thankful we are all healthy and can spend some time together.

This Mother’s Day, I’ll be thankful for my healthy little family. I’m thankful my own parents gave me a good life. I’m thankful for my brother and nephews…my cousins, aunts, uncles. And I’m thankful for great friends.

I’m just thankful. God bless mothers.

 

I Lied.

I lied.

I said we wouldn’t cancel our spring break trip to Miami, but I canceled today.

We ended up canceling, even though I really didn’t want to. I’m stubborn. I hate to give in. I didn’t want the stupid coronavirus to beat us. I wanted to win this battle and enjoy a week in the sun. It simply wasn’t meant to be.

I was still planning to go. In fact, I finally canceled this afternoon. I hated to do it, but some of the people we were traveling with were coming from Ohio, which has been hit hard, and some of the kids were getting anxious. Ugh. I was actually in a store buying a few things for the trip when my daughter texted me that she was a little scared to go.

When I first got her text, I responded, “Let me think.” And then, I remembered something that happened 17 years ago. In 2003, I was pregnant. I’ve always loved to travel, and pregnancy didn’t slow me down. So in the summer of 2003, I met a friend in Florida for a weekend of fun. We had a great time, and I boarded the plane for my flight home. Everything was normal till just after takeoff, we took a bird in the right engine of the plane. I was a flight attendant for a little while after college, so as soon as it happened, I knew what was going on. I also noticed we stopped climbing. I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said, “We just took a bird in the right engine. This could be interesting.” Sometimes, taking a bird in the engine isn’t a big deal, and sometimes it is. Since I could hear that one engine was still operational, I wasn’t too concerned, but since we had stopped climbing, I was a little concerned. Finally, the captain came on and said we were going to land at a nearby airport, so I knew everything was OK, but the incident did make me think. No, it didn’t make me afraid to fly, but at the time, I thought, “Wow, if we had taken birds in both engines, my baby might have died before she was born…for a stupid vacation.”

And today, when that same baby…now 16 years old…expressed a little fear about traveling during this stupid coronavirus outbreak, I thought about that trip, and I knew what I needed to do. ¬†I knew I needed to cancel. It’s just not worth the risk of coronavirus. We can go to Miami later.

Now we’re home in Charlotte for spring break, and while I’m not thrilled about it, I intend to make the most of the situation. I’ve decided we will contribute to our local economy and encourage others to do the same…in a safe manner. Here are some ways I plan to do that:

  • Visit local restaurants at off hours, when they’re less crowded OR order takeout from local restaurants. Tip generously.
  • Shop local. Visit local stores and shop! You can avoid crowds and still shop. Since we’re not going shopping in Miami, we will shop here.
  • Post on Facebook about places we visit and encourage others to do the same.
  • Enjoy a little staycation at a local hotel.
  • Go on a little road trip to a place where I know there is little light pollution; it’s the perfect place to sit outside and stargaze at night. Plus, there aren’t other people there…no coronavirus.
  • Buy gift cards. I can’t go to Miami right now, but I know that when I do, I will dine at certain restaurants. I can purchase gift cards online for my future travel. We have several vacations planned for later this year, and it just makes sense to purchase gift cards from restaurants and stores now that I can use later!

Yes, this stupid coronavirus is changing the way we do things right now, but we can’t let it get us down! I’m putting on my happy face and doing everything I can to make the most of a bad situation.

Coronavirus be damned!

A Little Fever Won’t Keep Me Down

What is it about vacation that brings on sickness? I don’t mean getting sick on vacation; I mean getting sick right before vacation. It always happens to me. Always happens to me.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00, I’m getting on a flight to Los Angeles. Come Hell or high water, I’m getting on that plane. But for the past few days, I’ve noticed I’ve been “trying” to get sick. A few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t breathe through my nose. A little tissue and some Afrin helped that night. Same for the next night. Then yesterday, I woke up with a slight sore throat, and as the day progressed, my ears started to hurt. Ugh.

Today, I woke up feeling about the same, but after having an early birthday lunch with friends and a quick trip to Target, I realized I was feeling a little worse. I found a thermometer in my house, which is not an easy thing to do, because my daughter and husband tend to misplace them, but this time, it was exactly where it should have been…in the kitchen drawer. Doesn’t everyone have one of those kitchen drawers? It has paper clips, safety pins, tape, and yes…it’s supposed to have at least one thermometer. And this time I was especially lucky…the thermometer was there, and the battery in it wasn’t even dead! So I checked my temperature, and just as I suspected, I had a low-grade fever, which I probably still have, because I haven’t taken any medication yet. I’ve been staying hydrated, but waiting to take meds.

The fact that I haven’t taken meds stresses out my husband. “Have you taken anything yet?” “When are you going to take something?” I promise, I’m not sitting around complaining. He just sees me sitting in my bathrobe and remembers I’m not feeling well. I explained to him that I wanted to keep the fever for a little while to give it the opportunity to fight the germ I have. He thinks I’m nuts. Well, he always thinks I’m nuts, but he even gave me one of those “you’re nuts” looks. So right now, I’m taking an Advil Cold & Sinus tablet, because I need to feel well enough to get packed for my trip tomorrow. I’m giving it about 45 minutes to start working, and then I will get busy packing.

Tonight, I’ll take some NyQuil, you know, the “night time, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest” medicine. I know it won’t cure me, but it usually does what the old commercials said it would do.

And tomorrow, I’ll get on that plane. Oh, I’m going. I’ve been looking forward to my friend’s “big, African wedding” for months (she is from Nigeria!), and there is no way I am going to miss it. Before you freak out and say I’ll be sharing germs with everyone on the flight, settle down. It’s a cold. I don’t have measles. I don’t have flu. I don’t have tuberculosis. It’s a common cold. The wedding isn’t till Monday, so by then, I should be good as new. Sure, it has me feeling pretty bad today, but I won’t let a cold keep me down. No sir…not gonna happen.

This is one of those many times I’m thankful we live in an airline hub city. Nonstop flights sure are easier than connections. I know…connecting is no big deal, but as my daughter pointed out after we cleared customs/immigration in Charlotte after a flight home from Mexico in March, “all those other people have another flight before they get home, and we get to go home now!” There’s something great about living in a hub city. Thank you, American Airlines, for being here. So tomorrow, I’ll get on that American Airlines plane and sleep as much as I can on the way to LA. We will get there, and just like always, I’ll hit the ground running.

I don’t have time to be sick. Did I mention Memorial Day is also my 52nd birthday and the bride’s birthday? Yep…she’s getting married on Monday on our birthdays. It should be a fabulous, memorable birthday. Happy Birthday to me!

And when I get home, my daughter will have three more days of final exams at school before SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!

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.