Monday, June 25, 2018

I Thank God for Cancer

So proud of my daughter, Elise (for about a million reasons, but here are a few recent reasons). Tonight--she shared with the youth department of Randolph Baptist Church as a featured speaker during their VBS week. She shared about three incredibly important things:

1) Choosing your friendships wisely.
2) Knowing who you are without any external trappings.
3) Knowing who you are in relation to Christ and God.
I couldn't have been any more proud of her speaking ability, the quality of her message, her exuberance and complete transparency with a difficult topic, and her willingness to go when God opened a door.

One of Elise's hot topics concerning her cancer journey has been the fact that before her cancer diagnosis, she was vain, self-obsessed, borderline anorexic, obsessed with her body image, and mean spirited. (Her words, not mine.) Through the vehicle of cancer, God took everything about her that was important to her, but external in nature, away.
  • She lost her precious hair.
  • She was forced to gain 30 pounds changing her entire shape and body image.
  • Her looks changed dramatically over the nine months.
  • She lost her immediate friend group when she was unable to go to school daily (they simply faded away).
  • She was unable to stay in the loop and continue in a 'mean girl' cycle.
  • She was unable to be the "smartest" or "funniest" or most "spirit filled" person at events.
  • She was forced to question herself daily about her self-identity.
  • She was angry with God (due to some things that happened in our family that were completely out of her control) and unsure of her relationship with Him.

Scars from surgeries and radiation burns...
still bathing suit season ready!
And she kept asking herself at each turn, "Who am I now?" It's a scary, difficult question to answer for adults, but for teens, it's heartbreaking. Especially when your self-worth has been bound up in external things. But tonight, while speaking to a room full of teens who are all struggling with the same questions, she said this... How Do I Prepare for Bad Things? "Your parents have medicine cabinets full of items 'just in case' Tylenol and Bandaids. They are there for WHEN you have a problem like a headache or a cut, because they KNOW from experience that bad things ARE going to happen eventually, and they have a plan in place for those things. Here is what I have learned from my experience with cancer--a REALLY BAD THING--that happened to me and how God prepared me to deal with it in advance. "You have to surround yourself with actual Christian friends who will be there for you when stuff gets real, and you have to be there for them in their time of need in return. You NEED Christian friends around you to protect you and guide you and advise you and love you when you are unlovable. You need them for your whole life. And you need to strive to be a good Christian friend too. "You have to know that your worth is all from Christ and who you are in God and your relationship to Him. You are NOT the sum total of outside things. "You better know what you are all about when you don't have anything else to lean on. "You need to seek God's face in prayer daily. Constantly. Always. Without ceasing. "You need to believe who you are in Christ and believe what God says you are to Him. "You need to forgive those who wrong you, because rest assured they are going to. "You need to understand that when bad things come you are prepared in advance because God is there with you."
Elaina and Elise
I can't even tell you how proud I was of my girl. And when Elaina (the twin) chimed in and added that one of the best results of cancer was that before her diagnosis, she and Elise had grown apart in their relationship and God brought them back to a place of closeness through this illness. Elaina said she thanked God that they were closer than they had ever been because of Cancer. I thank God for cancer. It brought my family closer, made my faith stronger, brought Elise back to a place of wholeness, and proved that God is at work all around us daily. 

I pray that when your trial comes you can thank Him also...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


I've only cried a handful of times throughout my daughter's battle with cancer. I don't say this as a point of pride, I'm just sharing my personal experience. (Crying or not crying isn't an indication of strength or weakness--it's just a coping mechanism that varies from person to person.) But I'm not really a crier by nature. I'm more of a suffer-in-silence kind of girl. With that said...

I cried when the doctor called and wanted to see my husband and me about Elise's MRI results before diagnosis.
I cried when I told Elise and her twin because that was almost traumatic.
I cried when I told my father (and was so devastated I had to hand the phone off to The Husband).
I cried during the first in-patient hospital chemo while she slept.
But nothing compares to the cry I had at the last day of radiation.
She went to the back to the treatment room and the nurses who have been treating her asked me if she had a favorite song. I told them to play the song she chose as her senior song: This is Me by Keala Settle from The Greatest Showman soundtrack.

(Been living under a rock? Here's the song: This is Me. You're welcome.)

So, she's back there strapped to the table, unable to move a muscle, and this song starts playing at volume eleven. We can't see each other, but she knew it was me. I squalled like a baby. She cried too. When she came out and got to ring the bell that as the final act of her radiation, I was toast. Because until we complete scans to see our progress, that's it. We've done every single thing we can do for treatment thus far. And either it works or it doesn't. It was an enormous relief to just be finished either way.

I haven't cried all that much, because I believe.

I believe that no matter the outcome, we are stronger.
I believe that no matter the outcome, we are closer.
I believe that no matter the outcome, we are in the hands of a mighty and sovereign God.
I believe that no matter the outcome, my children are the fiercest human beings breathing air.
I believe that no matter the outcome, we can survive anything as a family.
I believe that no matter the outcome, God is still God and that is quite enough.


Psalm 9:9      Psalm 46

Radiating Nothing But Love

We have been radiating all kinds of goodness...the fourteen days of radiation. To say that I am proud of my daughter throughout this process is the understatement of my life. She has remained kind spirited, faithful, steadfast, calm, radiant, optimistic, energetic, beautiful, resilient, and all things wonderful. I am proud of what she has learned and what she has taught me.

Radiation Day One: February 20th. On the first day of radiation cancer gave to me-- 
three hours in the car in rush hour. 
Radiation Day Two: February 21. On the second day of radiation cancer gave to me--
an orthodontist visit for Lillian and Radiation with Big E. 

Radiation Day Three: February 22--On the third day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Friends who rode up and back to UAB with us. 

Day Three: February 22

Radiation Day Four February 23. On the fourth day of radiation, cancer gave to me: A Really Very Bad Awful Day.
Radiation off day between 4-5

February 25: spoke at our church at a Luminaria service for Relay for Life
"Mermaid skin" from the radiation mask.

Radiation Day Five: February 26--on the fifth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Radiation after a full day of field tripping. Went to Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, ate at Fox's Pizza, had ice cream at Frios, Gigi's cupcakes, then drove to Bham for Radiation. 

Radiation Day Six: February 27--On the sixth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Aunt KK and a bunch of really inappropriate and loud laughing. 

Radiation Day Seven: February 28--On the seventh day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Dinner at Mudtown with Clinic 8 Nurses
(I think they miss Elise as much as she misses them!)

Radiation Day Eight: March 1--on the eighth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
this was my birthday. No better present than getting our girl healthy! 

Radiation Day Nine: March 2. On the ninth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
early appointment so we could make it to the final sports banquet of E's high school career. 
Glamorous for the last sports banquet. 

Radiation Day Ten: March 5th On the tenth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Four hours in the car due to bad traffic.

Radiation Day 11: March 6 On the eleventh day of radiation cancer gave to me--
a really long Daddy Daughter Day

Radiation Day 12: March 7 On the twelfth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Rushed to downtown, rushed back to Jemison, Do-na-ted BLOOD. 

March 7: Hosted Blood Drive at school. Donated after E's radiation appointment

Radiation Day 13: March 8--On the thirteenth day of radiation cancer gave to me--
Becky and Abby G.

Faye, one of our amazing radiation nurses at UAB.
Ate at Cheesecake Factory after radiation, because ONE MORE DAY!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

And Now, We Iron Man

So, we met with Dr. Keene at UAB radiology and oncology. That was an experience. The woman is so knowledgeable. She patiently explained everything to us, but the quantity of side effects is simply overwhelming. Pretty much everything can happen as a result of radiation outside of your eyeball randomly falling out (unless you have occular cancer and then it's probably a side effect). Seriously, we spent 40 minutes listening to the "this could happen" scenarios. Two separate visits. All of them.

Then, The Worst Test Ever began. E had to have a CT scan to look at the tumor again. This time they also made the "mask" she has to wear over her head/shoulders/neck for the daily radiation treatments. It came out of a large warmer and was rubbery. After two nurses manipulated it for five minutes, stretching it over her face, head, and breasts, she had to extend her neck with her chin as high as physically possible and lie still while it hardened into plastic. Then they bolted her to the table. The mask has plastic bolts on it that will be used each time to secure her to the table so that they are aiming the radiation at the same exact spot each and every time.

I keep thinking about Rick Grimes and the Zombie Apocalypse Rule Book. Being bolted to a table seems like a dicey proposal under optimal circumstances. I'm riding up there each and every time and sitting in that waiting room to ensure I don't have to rescue her in case of an outbreak or firebomb or something. Oh, if stuff goes down we're getting off that table, Sister. Watch me.

And now, we have two radiation treatments down, 13 to go. God is faithful!

Random factoids:
  • She has mermaid skin after treatments. 
  • Treatments only last 15-20 minutes once they begin. The drive over and back and changing takes longer than the procedure.
  • If I never have to drive in Birmingham traffic again that will be just fine with me, because if the cancer doesn't kill us, road rage might. 
  • My child is braver than I am. 
  • People in a radiology waiting room will tell you anything and everything about their entire life backstory. Fear is a funny animal. And prayer is powerful when shared with scared people. 
  • We are participating in a genuine miracle. The fact that we've figured out how to point concentrated beams at the outside of the human body and vaporize stuff inside of the body is miraculous. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Basketball Senior Night 2018

Elaina, Kimberly, Samantha, Logan, Kiki--Seniors 2018
This was the Worst Night Ever.
Senior Night.
Elaina's last basketball game.
I can't even.

She began playing Upward in second grade. She showed a little interest in playing basketball on into middle school, but only sort of as a passing idea or concept--she didn't think she'd actually play for real for real.

Then this bizarre twist of fate happened. In seventh grade Elaina had a growth spurt. Like big one. She went from 5'3 to 5'7 over two years. She was one of the tallest kids in the middle school. And coach, Todd Stephens, had an even bigger problem on the varsity team--he had 4 seniors who were getting ready to graduate and no tall girls coming up. When he approached Elaina and another girl in her grade about playing on the basketball team I pulled him aside and said, "You've got to be kidding. Have you seen her run?"

He laughed and promised that he would take care of her and that it would be good for her in every possible way. I trusted Todd more than maybe anyone I have ever worked with before. He was dead on the money; it was very, very good for her.

Now, everyone knows that I almost worship my children. It's a borderline problem. So, when I tell this you need to keep that fact in mind.

Elaina is clumsy.

Like seriously, she's the most clumsy person in the world. She was so uncoordinated and lacked balance like you can't believe. This is the kid we put in gymnastics not to learn tumbling but so she'd stop falling over so much. (I'm not kidding.)

Case in point: One night I was sitting in the stands a little too closely to the opposing team. Elaina Big Number 3 took to the floor and did her loping, awkward T-Rex run up the court, and a lady turned to her friend and loud whispered, "It is so sweet when they let the special-needs kids play like that." I snort laughed. (So did Naynuh when I told her later that night.)

When Coach Caleb took over the team in her eighth grade year he had some average athletes who were all incredibly short, then these two eighth grade girls who were sort of tallish but had absolutely no playing time or experience (and Naynuh is almost challenged in her ability to run in a straight line).

The other tallish girl turned to Elaina the night before the first practice and declared that she was outie, so guess who was on deck? Elaina was literally told to get under the basket and get in the way. And she did.

Funny thing--Coach thought she was 16 for an entire year until she finally broke it to him that she was only 13 years old. She was just really tall and showed great maturity. She's been playing up ever since.

She might look like a special needs kid when she runs, but let me clarify a few things about my child and her athletic career.
  • She played with a raging case of the flu once because Coach had no one else to put in her spot. She doped up, took a steroid shot (which she is DEATHLY AFRAID OF), and made three massive rebounds that night. I have never been more proud of anyone in my life. 
  • When a tall girl enrolled in her grade at our school for a year and bumped Naynuh out of her starting spot, Elaina cheered loudly from the stands for that girl and her team. She never stopped cheering, considered quitting, or let her feelings get in the way of her commitment to the team. 
  • She never missed a game--not a single one from seventh grade to twelfth. We even came home early from some vacations and missed some family events for basketball. She made a commitment and honored it. 
  • She went to away basketball camp two years even though she called home every night crying to come home. 
  • She never said, "I can't do that." 
  • She never said, "I won't do that."
  • She only fouled out of one game in her entire career.
  • She played hurt (two massive sprained ankle injuries that required doctor's visits, pain killers, ice baths, special braces), played tired, played sick, and sometimes played positions she didn't understand. 

She is a richer, better person because of the sport of basketball, and I am eternally grateful to Todd Stephens, Caleb Jones, and Marilyn Jones (who coached her in volleyball and then recruited her for volleyball team manager when she decided she'd had enough of balls flying toward her head) for their influence and investment into the life of my child.

She learned hard, valuable lessons from your coaching and teaching. She learned hard work, overcoming challenging situations, dedication, commitment, team work, forgiveness, communication, how to find joy in the little things, how to win and lose gracefully, and most of all how to be a part of something bigger than personal desires. You loved my child and poured into her. She will always remember your life lessons. 

So many people poured into the sports experience by
simply showing up and being a part of...
If you have a child considering
playing a sport, I want to tell you this--they will learn as much from the friendships, the bus rides, the failures, the losses, the injuries, the ridiculousness, the pep rallies, the meals after games, the gossip, the coaching wins and coaching fails, the temper tantrums, the missed calls by the refs, the gimmie calls by the refs, the school spirit, the responsibility, the practices, the conditioning, and the interpersonal relationships than they will learn from any single victory. Win, lose, or draw, it was absolutely, unequivocally worth it in every single conceivable meaning of the words. Worth. It

I am proud beyond all measure of my beautiful Elaina. Not for any accomplishment, but simply because she refused to quit and kept on in spite of. I love you, Naynuh. Go Big #3!!!! 

#3 Getting big in the paint

8th grade playing varsity. She's supposed to be playing defense on that sasquatch on her left. 

#3 on the defense

Both my babies are #3.