Friday, November 17, 2017

What Friendship Actually Looks Like

Andrea, Becky, Me, Kayce. Friends are weird together. 
What friendship actually looks like...

Friendship is this word we throw out there casually when it's really one of the most important concepts in the human condition. You can write volumes about what friendship should be, could be, might be, but when you really know and have true friends you recognize it immediately.

Here are some examples:

Friends have common experiences. 
So, in order to come into my house you have to get an active flu shot, right? Well, my friend, Becky, and her daughter, Abby are some of our closest friends. My kids call her Aunt Becky. They went into our local pharmacy and asked to get flu shots. The person behind the counter asked if they were from our school--a local, small private Christian school. When Beck and Abby confirmed, the pharmacist said they only had one shot left because CCA students and staff had been in and depleted the stock in just a few days. That is what friendship looks like.

Becky and Carl who are honorary Aunt and Uncle. 
   Speaking of Aunt Becky and Uncle they are driving two plus hours from home to watch a series of basketball games featuring Naynuh and Carter--Becky and Carl don't have child playing in the games or even in the school right now. They are driving to Columbus, Mississippi to make sure my kids have someone there to cheer and get ice cream after. That is what friendship looks like.

Aunt KK sleeping with Elise while I get prescriptions filled. 
Some friends Elise hasn't been close to in awhile due to logistics and circumstances have come to the house to visit before chemo knowing it would be harder to do so afterwards. It's been surprising who has shown up (and equally surprising who has not).  Friends inconvenience themselves for others.  This is what friendship looks like.

This is my friend, Kayce. She has known my kids since they were babies. She is one of my longest standing heart friends. So, KK came up here so that she could see Elise, bring Sonic, and basically let me run errands in this hospital. I had to go to another building to the pharmacy and pick up meds and meet with someone to explain them to me. I needed to pick up lunch. She sat with E while I did those things, because she loves E and she loves me.  That is what friendship looks like.

While I've been at the hospital, our family friend Martie brought like the entire Sam's sale flyer to my house. Toilet paper, cereal, paper towels, snacks, granola bars, a case of coffee, paper plates and cups, and on and on. I don't know how she even fit all of that into her car. That is what friendship looks like.

Friendship has a lot of faces. I have been blessed beyond all measure with all of the people who have come into my life and stayed when things got real.

There are fifty other people I could put on this list, so if you didn't make the blog it doesn't mean we aren't friends, it means I ran out of time and space.  So many people have offered to help, sent things, shown up to do things, brought food, offered to help with kids and school, and a million other things. Because after your relationship with Christ, how you resolve your interpersonal relationships is probably the most important thing you can learn to manage. I hope that you are a good friend and that you have a friend to lean on when things are hairy. I can't imagine my life without heart friends. I wish you the same.

Charlotte &
the entire Fun Bus


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fun Bus Detour

Drawn as super heroes in masks and capes.
Because the Fun Bus is still the Fun Bus even while detoured...

We had to cram in five episodes of Stranger Things Season 2 in two days, because we simply couldn't put that on hold over the weekend. Naynuh also threatened us with certain death if we watched it without her at the hospital. We then stayed up half the night finishing the taped episode of Dancing with the Stars the semifinals episode. #priorities

This is known as "planning" in Johnsonville.

We have made more inappropriate jokes in the past week than maybe all year combined. Here are some of the more horrifying examples:

Coping in Johnsonville” aka 
“Quotes after the Crying Stopped”

Elaina: “Let’s rent a movie from Redbox this weekend for when you come home.  I wonder if they have The Fault in our Stars?”
Me: “Or maybe A Walk to Remember?”
Dad: “Or Dying Young with Julia Dogface Roberts.”
Elise: “Y’all can stop being helpful now.” 

Nana: “Been there. Done that. Have the T-Shirt.”

Me: “You realize this is like the biggest ‘get out of jail free’ card ever? You can say anything and then finish with pointing to yourself and saying, ‘cancer’. What are they going to do?”

Steve: “Should we call Make a Wish now or later? We want a good spot on the list.”

Elaina: “Can I have your room? Like you know, if something happens?”

Elise: “So, if I want out of something I can just plead, ‘My nodes are killing me today’.”

Big E: “Does this mean I’m going to die a virgin?”
Carter: “Nah, I know an entire basketball team. Let’s make a list. I'll get the yearbook.” 
Big E: "But like there are only five boys in the senior high on the varsity squad and you are one of them." 
Carter: "I'm not going on the list, E." 
Big E: "CARTER!"
Insert giant eye roll here. 
Elaina: "If it comes down to it there are more senior high players on the GIRLS varsity squad..."
Big E: "ELAINA!"

Elise to Liam: “Liam! This means you have to be my real boyfriend not my fake boyfriend anymore, because if you reject me you’ll be that guy who rejected the girl with cancer. Not cool, Man. Not cool. I wonder who will play you in the movie version.” 
Poor Liam the Fake Boyfriend. He doesn't stand a chance.

Me: “Hey! You might actually get on The Ellen Show now!” 

Elise: “I now get my own trauma story.  I get to be an anecdote! Finally!”

Elaina: “Oh, great. Now I’m going to lose my spot as Grandbear’s favorite.”

Me: “Know how you keep asking to shave your head and I keep saying no? Well…”

Steve: “Nana can now use all of those hats she’s been crocheting for a fund raiser. I vote we call it ‘Hats for Hope’.”

Me: "I think that you should let Lillian draw your eyebrows on every morning according to your mood." 
Big E: "Nah, I'd have to keep calling her back in my room to change them every five seconds." 
Lilly: "I could just draw them on stickers..." 
Insert Long Pause
Big E: "That's actually brilliant." 

Carter: “That bucket list we’ve been making for the last couple of years suddenly means so much more now.”

Me: “So I take it back; driving ISN’T the scariest thing you will do as a teenager. Who knew?”
Steve: “Elise always did like being the center of attention.” 

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 11-16-17

Accessing the port for the first time.
First day of chemo round one:

We had to be at the hospital at 9:00. Left at same time as the rest of the house left for school. Checked in, weight, height, etc., and then we accessed the port the first time after surgery Monday. It was sore, but she said much easier than the IV. Everyone has been more than informative--patiently explaining all of the procedures. It's been incredibly helpful.

Ready to roll for first chemo. Fashion forward as always. 
Then we went onto the PFT--Pulmonary Function Test. This was to get a baseline measurement of her lung function. This is because some of the medications can cause lung damage, so they need a starting measurement. They put her into this tube that looked like something out of the movie Alien. She participated in a bunch of breathing exercises that all bordered on bizarre. Once we were cleared from those tests, we waited about an hour or so for a room to be made available in the hospital.

Pulmonary function test.

Family room has a freezer full of ice pops. 
Once we were admitted, things went very rapidly. There is a HUGE support team here at Children's, so that means lots of people in your space helping organize all sorts of services. We toured the floor, found the family room (with coffee, fridge, snacks, etc.), met social workers, nurses, shift nurses, new doctors, old doctors, child life specialists, etc. It's overwhelming. Best discovery so far? The family room has an entire deep freeze dedicated to the Freeze Pop. Elise and I both hummed the hallelujah chorus when we opened it. These are her all-time favorite snack item. It was like a little wink and nod from the Man.  She had two before she could get into the bed good.

Medications are delivered one after another over about a five-hour period. They spread them out to monitor allergic reactions, etc.  We add more medications over the next two days and repeat some. We'll also have some training about shots she has to take at home and her medicine regimen once we get to the house. 

People keep ask how we are feeling. Hopeful and tired. Hopeful and tired.
Hooked up and ready for meds. 
That's a lot of business.
Sleepy girl.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Because there is Some Serious Humor Here too

So, Elise is a hard stick with the IV and drawing blood from her is a challenge. Even though they put a port in, today she had to have an IV because of the PET scan (the dye can damage the port and/or create false reads on tests). The first time they tried to hit the vein, it didn't work. They dug around in her arm several seconds until abandoning ship. I turned to Elise while the nurse went out of the room to get more supplies and said:

Me: I'm going to pray now that they get it on the first go. Like, WHAM! There it is.
Elise: Okay, fine, but can you do that silently. It freaks people out sometimes.
Me: Sure. I can pray quietly.

So, I sat there behind the nurse, facing E, mouthing my prayer. Specifically, I said to God, "God, let the nurse hit that vein like instantly, perfectly, quickly, the first second she puts the needle in."

I look up and not only did all of that happen, but blood shot clear across the room out of that needle. Like on Elise's clothes, hand, the nurse, the table, the floor. 

Nurse goes out to get cleaning supplies and sterilization stuff.

I pointed at my head and then at the ceiling and wiggled my eyebrows. How you like me now, eh?

Elise: Okay, so maybe you pray a little less powerfully next time.
Me: God, maybe you keep on responding so we can give you all the glory.
Elise: Or that's good too.

Tests. A Testing. Being Tested. 11-14-17

Headed in for the day of testing.
Today was a difficult day. Informative, but difficult. We toured the hospital from 9-5:30 performing every test I've ever heard of and some new ones.

Based on the tests today (without the bone marrow test results which would change things considerably and should be back tomorrow) Elise has Stage II type B (more advanced symptoms) Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It's in three places: the lymph nodes in her neck that we knew about on the right side, some small ones on the opposite side of her neck, and there is a mass on her windpipe/esophagus low near her stomach.

We start chemo Thursday-Saturday of this week at Children's. We will plan on four rounds of treatment. We re-run all of the tests we did today from top to bottom after the end of round two to check progress. Biggest risks of all are from infection inside and outside of the body.

Chemo is a 21 day cycle. It's too confusing to explain, and all you really need to know is that the process will take 4-to-6 months from start to finish if everything goes very well.

With that in mind, if you are going to visit us in the hospital or in the house: 

1.) You CANNOT COME OVER IF YOU HAVE EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE THAT YOU MIGHT BE SICK OR THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO SOMEONE WHO IS SICK.  I'm not kidding. Not a sniffle. Not a scratchy throat. Nothing. You could kill her. (Also, please don't bring us food of any kind if you are ill or if anyone in your house is ill.)

Flushed from pain meds, etc. 
2.) If you are going to spend any amount of time in my home or near Elise (spend the night, come watch movies) you absolutely HAVE to get a flu shot. NOT the flu mist (you would be bringing active flu spores into our home and exposing her to them). It must be a shot. Close family and friends need to make arrangements by Saturday if you plan to visit next week over the Thanksgiving holiday.

3.) I will absolutely ask you if you have done both of those things before you are allowed to visit. Not kidding. (Anyone who remembers having to scrub up to touch Lillian when she came home from the hospital knows Mama don't play that.)

4.) Elise is going to feel terrible and be very ill during this process. We are basically killing off all of the bad cells and a ton of the good ones too in her treatment. It's taxing. Be sure you make arrangements to visit. She will LOVE to see you, but she has to rest, so we are going to try to group visitors into blocks of time. You are all still welcome in our home to spend the night with the other kids, hang out, watch movies, play basketball and video games, etc., you just have to be healthy, have a flu shot, and be careful not to spread germs through drink sharing, hand washing, etc. We will also have signs up reminding everyone to wash hands and be healthy.

Probably not supposed to be photographing. Don't give a crap. 
Things we are sad about:

1.) She's going to lose her hair. Absolutely, all of it. (#cancerperk: this might include her leg hair)

2.) She won't be able to go back to school full time. She will have to finish the bulk of her senior year at home. First, because there is too much exposure to illness. Second, because she will not have the energy while battling the cancer. (#cancerperk: sleeping late every single day of the school year and getting to watch every Hallmark Christmas Movie like as they debut)

3.) She is mourning the loss of her senior year. (#cancerperk: there are no perks to this one. that is going to stink.)

4.) The treatments have a fairly strong possibility of harming her fertility. (#cancerperk: we are people who firmly believe in adoption. Elise has told us since she was little she was going to adopt. Guess she was right.)
Elise and Elaina senior drape photos. 

Things we are happy about: 

1.) This particular disease has something like a 85-90% cure rate.

2.) This particular disease also has a very low recurrence rate. Once you're done, most people are done.

3.) We are in a hospital with one of the highest cancer cure rates in the developed world.

Because we are Bad to the Bone.
4.)  The school we attend is going to be able to accommodate her schooling needs and she should be able to graduate with her class if everything goes as planned. The clinic we are treated through has a teacher on staff whose whole job is making sure that kids have materials, tutors, classes, online helps to finish their classes. It's amazing. We also think we will be able to Facetime some of the classes. That is sort of exciting. (Situational irony: I said I'd NEVER home school because of one thing--Elise. Irony? I'm now going to have to partially home school her. Well played, God. Well played.)

5.) If everything goes as planned, Elise will be able to make her Senior banquet, graduation, even the play. They said they'd try to make sure she was healthy to attend some special events as we go too. We hope she's finished treatment in 4-to-6 months.  The doctor team said she should progress exactly like she will be able to start college in fall 2018.

So, we are going forth a little happy, a little sad, and a lot shell shocked. We found the lump and saw the doctor three weeks ago. We saw a specialist nine days ago. We've had two surgeries and fifteen tests in five days. We were diagnosed four days ago, staged today, and starting treatment in two days. Literally, our entire lives have been turned upside down in a handful of days. Be patient when we can't speak and don't know what to say or don't want to talk at all.

We love you all and can't express enough how much the calls, texts, cards, notes, gifts, etc., have meant and will mean as we go forth. 

Charlotte &
the Fun Bus


Monday, November 13, 2017

Port Installed. Bionic Woman Status Official. 11-13-17

Rollin' in ready for surgery. 
Surgery to put in the port went well today. No complications. While they had her under anesthesia, they performed two kinds of bone marrow extraction for testing. We should have those results Wednesday.

Tomorrow, we go for lots of different tests--PET scan, CT of her upper body, blood work, heart echo, lung ultrasound, etc. We meet with her team in the afternoon to go over results and make decisions.

As of this second, it appears as though she will check into the hospital Thursday-Sunday for chemo. She will then have a three-week break to recover. Rinse. Repeat.

Warning, the photos aren't for the faint of heart. We are documenting here, not just entertaining. :-)
Made a cancer binder. There are like five million pieces of paper and info to keep up with. I'm fairly intelligent and I'm swimming in data overload.
Random Facts: 
1.) Elise usually watches her weight closely. Like almost obsessively. She's wanted Arby's after every single doctor's visit like she's on the Titanic and it's last call for the dessert tray. I've ordered it for her every time too. Number Six, Medium, with a cherry turnover. She can have two of them if she wants. Amazing how nine days changes your perspective.

2.) Elaina is a boss. Today she took kids to school. Took the dog to school for petting zoo. Helped run a petting zoo with her senior class for the elementary school. Took the siblings and the dog home again. Went back to basketball practice. Brought kids home. Did math homework. Moved laundry. I can't even. Everyone needs a child with a servant's heart in his/her home.

3.) Someone left $100 in an envelope in our mailbox.

4.) Someone also brought us steaks and ground beef. Like enough for the whole fam.

5.) The doctor and nurse said Elise shouldn't eat starch or sugar tonight, but protein. Said that steak and salad would be optimal--something with greens, iron, protein. Wasn't kidding. It's for the PET scan tomorrow. I'm thinking, how I am going to afford that? The rest of my crew is going to be devastated if they have to watch their sister eating steak and salad and they are eating tuna casserole. That sort of thing doesn't breed sibling love. Seriously. (See 3 and 4.) Problem solved by the hands and feet of Jesus People.

6.) I have spectacular videos. You have to be a Fun Bus Member to view. See me later.

7.) Nurses all hugged me on the way out. Surgeon One said, "That kid is so polite. Like unbelievably polite. All of the nurses were going on and on about her." Surgeon Two said, "I can't get over how the nurses and anesthesiology team were enamored of your daughter. Everyone agrees she is like a bright light." Bone Marrow people came from surgery (who didn't have to meet me) just to meet me so they could tell me that Elise was a special young lady. I'm like, someone please check the armband of the kid in recovery. I'm not sure you've got the right one. ;-)

8.) Our new church isn't officially our new church yet and they are already treating us like family. I can't even. It's faith restoring to say the least.

9.) My work is awesome. I ADORE my job--it's not a job. Teaching English is my life work. My passion. My great love. And the people at CCA make it easy to love it. So, so thankful for the love expressed for my family and the ability to care for my baby girl without worrying about my job. Students, I love and miss you and will be back in the classroom as much as possible.

10.) Elise is now the Bionic Woman. Port installed. Let the chemo begin!


(For those who don't know the "Big E" hashtag reference--when Elise and Elaina were little they couldn't say each other's names so Elise called Elaina "Nay-nuh", and Elaina called Elise "Eeese" or "Eee". We started calling Elise "Big E" because she was so much shorter than Elaina and it irked her.

Before the port installation, no meds. 
After port, meds. 

Close up of port site. It looks like a marble shoved into her skin. 

Post op. Wanted to know when we'd get to have Arby's.

port: side view

port: front view

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Skinny 11-12-17

Elise has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

We have surgery again Monday, November 13 to install a port and take a bone marrow sample to test.

We have PET scan, CT scan, X-Ray, blood work, and consultation Tuesday, November 14th.

We begin chemotherapy late this week.

Interesting Observations:

1.) The best message of comfort I have received thus far was from an atheist.  (I'll let that just sit right there for a few.)

2.) You do, in fact, deserve a cape for a cancer diagnosis. (Capes and doughnuts make almost everything better.)

3.) Bringing a girl with cancer Sonic is like better than $1,000.  (Not kidding.) Just showing up is half the battle.

4.) Hearing your child has cancer suddenly brings what is important and what doesn't mean jack crap into laser-like focus. I can assure you I don't care what you think about me, my husband, or my kids. I don't care who said what or did what or thinks what. Don't care. At all. Go on with your bad self.

A Brief List of Things I Also Don't Care About Anymore: 
wearing make up. 
leaves on the lawn. 
what's for dinner. 
the interior of my car. 
having 'alone' time. 
if I'm wearing fall or summer clothing or a mixture of both.
dishes in the sink. 
who spilled the drink.
what's on TV.
popcorn being thrown in the living room. (we own a vacuum.) 
how loud the kids are. (wait, I never cared about that one.)  
what your neighbor did to you. 
who you are mad at. 
who is mad at you. 
who is mad at me. 
what my child made on the spelling test.
what your child made on the spelling test.
if there is a spelling test.
what your cancer was like. 
what your best friend's sister's cousin's cancer was like. 
statistics about cancer.
your feelings. 

5.) People who love you show it in practical ways.

6.) God loves me. He totally loves me. What Satan intended for evil will be used to further the Kingdom. God has entrusted us with an amazing burden. He's fully expecting the Johnson Family to Job, and I'm all about proving God right. (Jesus People, give me an 'amen'.)

7.) For people who struggle to graciously receive help, the only way you're getting into the inner sanctum is to insist. Just show up with the food. Don't ask what you can do. They will ALWAYS, ALWAYS say, "nothing."

8.) Elaina, Carter, Lilly, Steve, and Nana all still have lives. Don't forget when you are getting the Big E update to ask how they are doing too.

9.) Warning: I'm not putting on a bra if you pop in at my house. (If you call first it's still a 50/50.)

10.) Sometimes you don't have to say or do anything. Just being there is enough.

11.) People keep asking me how they can help. I don't know what to say. I wish I knew what to say. I should probably make a list of things that I can spew out on cue, but I can't think right now. Ask my best friends. They can probably advise you like a million times better than I can anyway.

So, until I come up with a list, pray like you mean it.

Psalm 46
Psalm 9:9

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

11-8-17 Things We've Learned Thus Far

So, yesterday we had a consultation with the team of doctors at Children's Hospital in the hematology/oncology department. We are on track with our testing. They scheduled a biopsy for this morning first thing, so Elise and I loaded up and headed to the hospital.

We will have results in 3-5 business days. I promise I'll keep you posted when I know. Until then, no news is good news.

Here is a list of Things We've Learned Thus Far:

Children's "color tunnel"  
1.) Information Overload is a Real Thing  
Elise has never had surgery before; the learning curve for that is vast. We must have had the same things explained to us 27 times over. They really want to make sure you know what's happening. And since they deal with really young kids a lot, they still speak like it's kindergarten. The third time someone gave us the driving directions and parking directions I could say them verbatim. (Since I am the most directionally challenged person I know, that's like a Festivus Miracle.)

2.) Children's has Awesome Decor
B'ham has this cool place called the Color Tunnel where you drive through this tunnel of LED lights. It's a great place for a photo op.  We've gone up there for snacks and photos several times on Fun Bus outings. So, naturally, we stopped for a photo shoot in the Children's Color Tunnel.

"Fancy pants surgery shorts"
3.) We Have to be the Most Inappropriate People Alive
The photo shoot continued with modeling the "fancy pants" underwear shorts they gave E to wear during surgery. She asked the nurse if her scar was going to make her look more like a pirate or like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.  She wanted to know if she got to take the paper fancy pants shorts home. I wanted to know what songs were going to be played during her surgery for the doctors and nurses to operate by, because the wrong songs could influence the entire rotation of the planets. Speaking of music...

4.) Elise Has the Worst Taste in Music. Ever. Really.
"I'm a model." 
She sang from our "surgery support playlist" including "Broken Wings," some Donnie Osmond, songs from the musical Hairspray, Josh Groban,  and Barry Manilow.  Not kidding. Elise has the worst musical taste of any person I know. Maybe that I have ever known. It's startling. But she knows all the words and commits 100%, so I'm still proud. Disturbed, but proud.

5.) Don't Drunk Text or Dial after Surgery
She called her scar "bitchin". To her classmates. On Facetime. Yup. I snatched that phone up and said, "Elise has to go now. Goodbye! Goodbye!"

6.) Lillian Can Text
Our 13-yr-old texted me for the first time ever in the history of Lilly. She asked how Elise was doing and told me to "keep me in the loop since you tell Elaina stuff but I don't have her in my classes so...". I didn't know the kid could text. It's never happened before. And she showed concern for Elise, which was like another top ten surprise. (And she's working on a gangster/warrior avatar for Elise...stay tuned.)

7.) Everyone Loves Elise
After surgery--like a boss.
The nurses, the anesthesiologists (who Elise--while under the influence--called 'hot' about seven times audibly while he was in the room), the surgeon--every single one of the people she spoke to today adores her from head to toe. Her spirit, her attitude, her humor--she had everyone rolling. The surgeon said, and this is a quote, "I wish all of my patients were this optimistic and bright, shiny people. You are completely blessed to have her as a daughter. I sincerely believe that you are going to be fine based on your attitude alone." I told the surgeon I just thought Elise was too mean to die. (See inappropriate people)

8.) We Aren't the Only Ones Asking Stupid Questions
Elise told a friend they were taking out her lymph node to send off for tests and the kid asked, "Will they put it back when they finish?"  Another one said, "Does this mean you have lung cancer? But you don't smoke."  And still one more, "Well, some people don't die from cancer, so that's good."
(Encouragement isn't everyone's spiritual gift.)

9.) Cancer
Our home has been touched by cancer through my Mother's journey. I'm not ignorant about the disease or sheltered from its impact. However, I can say this definitively: there is nothing like sitting in a waiting room with your child, agonizing over what might be, what could be, what will be, watching 15 other families and their very sick children who are there for treatments, tests, surgeries, knowing that everyone in that room, clinic, floor, hospital, city block will never, ever be the same after walking that path. It's emotionally exhausting. But families all over Birmingham, all over the U.S., and all over the world are struggling with the same (or their version). My empathy for these people has never been higher. I can assure you that my prayer life and my tangible support for families with sick children will change as a result of what has already happened.

10.) When There is Nothing Left but Hope and Faith
That's when you know you either trust Him or you don't. It's funny, but I am not a worrier by nature. I do agonize over the things I am responsible for and can have an impact on--like my teaching or scheduling or my home life. But things I can't change? I don't usually spend a second worrying about weather or jobs or anything outside of my sphere of influence. So, I'm trying to approach this the same way. It's just another thing that we are going to give God all the glory for in our lives, because there is literally nothing we can do. It's out of our hands. It's going to be added to a very long, rich, beautiful list of things that were hard and God intended for our good.

So, until we know, that's all we know.

& the Fun Bus

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I've Had My Five Emotional Minutes; Now it's Time to be a Gangster.

Monday, October 16—Elise noticed a small, fluid knot/bump thing under her neck. Right side. It was soft, malleable, and raised slightly. I could see it under her skin by Thursday.  (She hasn’t been feeling well or “right” for a couple of months. We figured it was changing weather, senior year blues, and maybe a little old-fashioned depression thrown in for good measure.) I called Patel and made an appointment for Friday, October 20. He believed the first course of action was to treat it like an infection and prescribed Bactrim and a follow-up visit for November 6 after the cycle of medicine was completed.

I kept a close check on the knot/swollen area, checking it every day to see if it had gone down any. If anything, it got bigger. I called and moved her appointment up to the day after she took the last Bactrim pill on Wednesday, November 1.  The lump was not only larger, but it hurt—she said that pain radiated out from the area into her jaw and up into her ear. 

While we were at that visit, I also showed him some places on her legs that we thought were infected bug bites from an outdoor wedding early in October. They weren’t healing properly and just looked sort of odd to me. I told him about some other symptoms we’d been having at the house like night sweats, itchy skin (where we thought she had bug bites), lethargy, feeling sick or “unwell” a lot. Her skin has also been an off color—not like her usual skin tone (something maybe only a mom would notice). She’s also had no energy at all--like being abnormally tired all of the time. I casually mentioned that my mother had been diagnosed with and beaten non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (I recognized some of the symptoms because of my mother’s situation).  Patel ordered bloodwork immediately (done in his office) and a CT scan.

We went to Shelby Imaging Friday, November 3 at 8:15 for the CT scan of her neck. We were told someone should be in touch with us by Tuesday, November 7 with results. We rolled back home where I packed up and loaded the car ready to roll to the basketball tournament to see Carter and the Patriot’s tear it up in Ozark. I left Elise at the house and went on into school to finish the day.

Patel’s office called my husband at work at 11:00 and asked Steve and I to be in his office to discuss the test results at 12:30. (Not going to lie here, when Steve called me and told me he’d pick me up from the school and we’d go to Patel’s together my entire stomach hit the floor.) In all of the medical emergencies our family has ever experienced, “We need you to come into the office two hours after a CT scan to discuss results for your child” has never come out of anyone’s mouth. I don’t wish that panic on anyone—friend or enemy.

Dr. Patel was direct, to the point, and clear on the results. I will never be able to thank him enough for not beating around the bush or trying to sugar coat the situation. He and the radiologist at Shelby agreed that the lymph nodes in question are some kind of lymphoma. He has referred Elise’s case to Dr. Kimberly Whelan—a hematology/oncology pediatric physician with hospital privileges at Children's and UAB. She specializes in pediatric blood cancers (lymphoma specifically in children). She will be our first appointment this week. We will schedule surgery to remove what can be taken out of her neck and then determine the course of treatment based on the type of lymphoma Elise has.

We went back home from the doctor’s office and told the family, all except Carter who had already left with the basketball team to Ozark for the tournament. We had a family vote and decided unanimously to keep the info quiet until Carter finished the weekend. It wouldn’t help him or the team—no sense buying trouble or worrying over things you can’t change. Carter’s team made it to the championship game and lost by a hair. He also made the all-tournament team. He stepped up and had an excellent weekend with his team. I’m so thankful Elise was selfless and that we waited to tell him. See, Carter is her best friend on the planet. Not having his comfort and concern was a difficult sacrifice. She put someone else’s needs above her own, which makes me beyond proud of her character.

Elise’s biggest concern is not the actual cancer—it’s that she doesn’t want everyone freaking out all of the time or acting like she’s dying. She’s not. She’s got tons of things that indicate a positive outcome—it’s curable. She’s young and healthy. Her blood count is good. Her attitude is good. We believe we have caught it very early. We have many solid reasons to believe she will be treated, healed, and simply roll on with the rest of her life. We choose to be more hopeful than afraid

We covet your prayers. We serve a mighty God who knows everything before it happens. I trust in His plan and believe to the bottom of my very being He wants the best for His children. We just have to pray, participate, and praise no matter what.

Now we go forth and conquer. Or to quote my brilliant daughter, “I’ve had my five emotional minutes; now it’s time to be a gangster."

and the entire Fun Bus 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Secret

So, for the past three years in my personal life there is something that hasn't been public--it's been hidden away like a little treasure. Like a secret. A big one.

Here it is...

My spiritual walk has been killing it.

(Whew. It's a relief to have that finally out there in the open.)

I've been on my face seeking the Lord more fervently in the last three years than perhaps all of the other years I've been saved combined. I've read through the entire Bible again. Twice. I've prayed without ceasing. I've cried out to the Lord. I've memorized large chunks of Scripture for the first time in my life. I've repented. I've begged God for healing and restoration and forgiveness and provision and guidance. I've had close, unbending heart friends who have guided me in Scripture, prayed with and for me, held me up when I was weak and in the flesh, given me powerful and sound counsel to avoid falling into the pit myself.

And through all of that, I've come to these life-altering, faith changing conclusions:

Most people who profess Christ and say they are walking closely with the Lord are really under a great delusion. They are living empty-shell lives--beautiful on the outside, a perfect image presented to please the crowd--but the inside is rotten to the core. (1 Samuel 16:7) There is nothing authentic in their walk. They want to present a brave face without any substance. This is perhaps the saddest thing of all in the church.

Lots and lots of people are living under a series of rules and restrictions not rooted in love but in personal ideology. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Human rules are ever changing. God rules stand in any storm.

Sometimes people are unconcerned with truth at all--they simply desire to be justified or "right" rather than righteous. Your being right all of the time will send people straight to Hell simply because the Lost find you completely intolerable and won't listen to your gospel, because you're screaming it at them from a high, lofty, ridiculous perch. You aren't right or righteous. You are ridiculous. (Remember Paul became all things to all people that he might reach some.)

I've sat in church with people quoting scripture, praising the Lord, singing songs, bowing in prayer, (even lecturing me about my spiritual walk--where I almost cackled laughing because of The Secret) and then publicly, loudly, repeatedly the same people refused to forgive a close relative of a perceived grievance. (Matthew 6:15) You cannot say you hate your brother and Love the Lord. (Sorry about it.) (No, I amend that--YOU should be sorry about it.)

Having been the pastor's wife for quite some time now, I know lots of your business. Lots. Of. It. Most of us have no room for judgment. Like you should be embarrassed and seeking God's face for yourselves. (Sorry about it.) (No, that was a lie. I'm not sorry at all. It makes me feel sorry FOR you.)

Some folks need to seriously learn that list of things God hates. I'm not kidding. You are confused about what really irks God the Father. (Hint: it isn't adultery or homosexuals or pregnancy out of wedlock or cuss words in literature.) (Proverbs 6:16-19) (Anyone who knows me knows I'm not sorry at all about it.)

David begged God in like almost, oh, all of the Psalms he wrote (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, might I add) for God to crush his enemies in violent, direct, profound ways. I've discovered that is a freeing prayer. Eventually, you get around to forgiving, because you pray over and over for some crazy person and God finally brings it around to your part in the problem and you get to repent again. So, I know factually some of you have been attacking me and/or my family but haven't prayed for us.

Shame on you.

God isn't amused by that at all, and He and I are tight at the moment. Like on fire tight. I'm afraid for you, so I pray for you. Not kidding. Neither is God. (Psalm 35 to you.) (Sorry about it.) (No, I take that back; I'm not sorry about it at all. I probably need to pray again. I know I need to pray again. We all need to pray again. And the Holy Spirit needs to interpret for me personally on a daily.)

With all of that said, God is a God of restoration and forgiveness. The key to both of those things is up to you--it's repentance. You can't click the tumblers of the lock until you really say you are sorry and really mean it and really turn from your wickedness. I'm so thankful that I've learned the Secret to that lock and am applying it liberally, daily. I wish the same for you.