Nearing the Holidays

Next week is Thanksgiving.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As I have done in years past, the preparation of the home for all that is “Holiday” has started.  The tree is almost finished and then it’s onward to the other things that will be brought out this year.  Those that know me even a tad, know that I see magic all around me during the Holidays.  I still see it through the lens of a child….full of wonder and awe of every light, decoration, greeting of “good cheer.”  I want the sounds of every Christmas carol to ring day and night, along with the best of the best in contemporary offerings.  Dress a tad nicer on Sunday, in celebration of the entire Season…and the reason for it to even exist.

And yet…..in all of my wonder….the first ornament on the tree…for the past three years….has been met with sadness.  A bittersweet moment as I remember how excited she was to give her kiddos a selection of ornaments she worked so hard on during her cancer battle.  Then I remember her joy, her awe of Christmas and how she just couldn’t have enough ornaments on her tree.  I’ve never seen anyone who could  make a tree as beautiful as hers.  Growing up, we had blue trees, pink trees, white trees…green trees….and often with color coordinated decorations.  We may have not had but one or two gifts to open, but we always had the most beautiful tree.  As she got older, an artificial tree took over, but every branch was met with an ornament.  1000 lights?  Why not double?  2000 has to be better…each branch so carefully wrapped.  Days, countless hours…countless sharp looks to the man pacing across the room wondering why each ornament had such a specific spot.  Soon, after several ornaments are in place, my sadness is replaced with almost a giddy excitement to see how close I can get to her tree…every branch covered and decorated.

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In so many ways, my Christmas tree is a yearly reminder of the best parts of her.  Whether it’s me standing back wondering if there is room for just one more ornament, or is there a way to get more lights wrapped into the branches….what if that ornament could speak and tell me exactly what she was thinking the day she created it….these are my grown up Christmas moments.

Then, I step back and see the Hallmark ornaments we started for the kiddos the day they were born.  One for each year.  Our oldest was given hers when she married, but our son still has his proudly displayed, and each year we continue to add to both of their collections. Each one was carefully picked out by them…on sometimes short, sometimes long visits to Hallmark.  Each ornament a reflection of their personality or obsessions at that particular moment.

Today, as I finish the tree….I step back and see a life of memories….her memories, my memories, memories of my kiddos…and I see a tree full of such awe and wonder.  I see her.  I see my grandparents who are represented by memory ornaments.  I see my world through the eyes of a child….believing that Christmas magic is real…Santa does exist and snow holds magical powers on Christmas Day.

So, in my awe and wonder….and believing that Christmas magic does exist…make this one count.  Set aside the pain of days past…embracing the idea that everyone has a little bit more love to give during the Season and that Christmas magic really can heal the most broken of hearts.

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Lights and New Traditions

We are five days away from being here officially for one year.  (Lee, at least.)  We have survived the twelve months of “firsts” for so many different things.  As we get ready to enter into year two, a recap of the Holiday that brought with it lights and more new traditions.

The Holiday season has kicked off of us the past three years with Christmas at Belmont.  Every other  year, it is held at the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.  This was one of those years.  This will be our final year of being able to attend, as this is a closed ticketed event.  Our son graduates in May and with that comes the end of the two parent tickets we get due to his involvement with the program.  I look forward to watching it for years to come on PBS as new students come after this amazing group leaving this year.  Now, you know, true to any college student, our first sighting of our son was him carrying his laundry basket.  Yes, I did this laundry with joy!

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What college kid doesn’t bring Mom laundry?

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That’s our Josh during the PBS showing of “Christmas at Belmont.”  

This was our first holiday in a long time where our home wasn’t hosting at least a couple of folks, so we decided to just stay in Nashville and spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family and my Dad!  We had the best time.  So much food was prepared and eaten and then the shopping where we were determined to find a deal….even if we needed nothing that was on sale!

Soon, it was time to say goodbye to Nashville family and send our son back to Belmont to finish his finals weeks of the fall semester.  Just like that, the Holidays were upon us and an eagerness to create new traditions so that we wouldn’t look so sadly upon those traditions that would be no more.

We have been so fortunate to find some wonderful people who have so willingly let us join their little group.  One of the first events of the Holiday season was our outing to see the lights at the Morton Arboretum.  Just beautiful.  I’m a light fan and the more lights the better.  One day I dream of having a “Christmas Vacation” home!  Nothing could make my Holiday better than seeing the power grid of Chicago shut down due to my usage!

There were various events to attend over the next couple of weeks and before we knew it, our college boy was home for a couple weeks!

Josh and I love the city, so we were so excited for our first trip in over Christmas!  We were able to take in “Christmas in Chicago” at the Symphony Hall with special guests, the Von Trapp Family.  It was wonderful and I am looking forward to that becoming a tradition for us in our new home!  It was followed by a dinner at Shake Shack (serious, yummy) and then our first venture to the Christkindlmarket.  I have one word for that-crowded!!!!!!  It looks awesome, from what we can tell, but going in the evening was not our best idea!  (We later would find a smaller one at the Oak Brook Mall, closer to our home!)

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The beautiful CSO performance hall in Chicago.  

One of my favorite deliveries over the Season, was a box from my Aunt in Pickwick!  Y’all, her peanut brittle is legendary!  My smile was huge when I opened a box from her and inside was a nice Holiday stash of this delicacy!  What made me smile even more was the inclusion of a couple of photos from way back in the day!

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What a throwback!  This is me (on the right), with my middle sis (on the left) and my late cousin, Todd.  

We made it over to Geneva one evening for a delicious meal and a walk around the downtown area to take in the Christmas festivities of what has become my favorite Chicago area town.  What is not to be loved about a town that has multiple candy stores!!!!! Graham’s Chocolate…oh  my goodness.  All Chocolate Kitchen…shut the front door!  Seriously.  Such a wonderful town!

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Geneva’s lovely Christmas Tree

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Yes, I really did meet Santa’s reindeer!

Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition this year. After Christmas Eve service,  Morton’s Steakhouse!  I would love to show you pictures of us in our Christmas best, but we all left our phones at home!  So thankful we made the reservation long before Christmas!  This is a new tradition that I think I love!

Christmas Day was quiet and just the three of us.  A small Christmas dinner was made and our college boy opened his gifts!

At some point over the next couple of days, we decided another trip into the city was warranted.  Christmas money in our pockets and shopping to be done!  We loved finding an area we had not explore before.  Right behind Bloomingdales-Rush Street.  Granted, most of the stores I probably could not have purchased a key chain, but we did manage to find some great buys at some other stores.  It was also fun window shopping at the Bentley store.  Drizzling rain all day on us, but it ended up being the “best day” of the entire break.  We grabbed a meal at Eataly and ran into our former choir director and his family from many years ago from FBC.  What a small world!

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The train ride into the city!

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Chicago at Christmas

Just like that the Christmas Season came to a close and our college boy was back at Midway headed back for his final semester of his undergraduate career.  Exciting times for him as he heads into audition season for graduate school.  Seven auditions!  We cannot wait to see where he ends up!  He has worked so hard and has become this amazing young professional!

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Hello from Naperville’s best hot chocolate cafe!  

Christmas One, Chicago Style…in the books.

 

 

Surgery Ain’t for Sissies and Christmas Miracles

The title says it all. “Surgery ain’t for sissies.”  Whether going in for a small procedure or a mid-level procedure or one that requires an extended stay in the hospital, surgery knocks the wind out of the sails.  Period.

I have waited to post this update, mostly due to feeling as if someone had taken a four-wheel mud ride inside my throat and airway and wondering if typing any words at all while on Oxycodone was a wise decision.  (Surely, it might have been funny to see what I would have written.)  Tack on a little respiratory infection coming for a visit, and today, well, today is the first day I think I should type any words to be saved for prosperity.  .

Mayo had  me come in a day early for some pre-op testing and consultations.  One of those consultations was with the anesthesia team.  Normally, anesthesia is that person you see the morning of your procedure and briefly as they tell you “night-night” while injecting the “good drugs” into the IV line.  For this anxious girl, this meeting was the one that I was able to ask questions and they were able to make the notes necessary to make everything the day of surgery proceed seemlessly.  To know they were just as concerned about my anesthesia side-effects as I was….well, that’s huge.  Permission to drink clear liquids up to two hours before the procedure, even better.  It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for any patient.  They were very attentive to those details and it has been my experience at Mayo for the most part.  The patient comes first. A script for Ativan to take the night before to calm any nerves and it was time to have that “last meal” and prepare mentally for the next morning.  (Chester’s is still my favorite place to eat in Rochester…yummy!)

5:30 AM check-in.  The process is seamless at Mayo and it was literally minutes until I was back into the room that I would be taken back to after surgery.  Various things going on around me to prepare the nurses, the room and myself for the day.  Getting shorts to wear to surgery-awesomesauce.  Being told that I could go back to the OR with my glasses on and with my earbuds/iPhone for music-can we get an Amen!  Then when it was time to go back to the surgery department-being able to walk like a normal, healthy person.  I can do this!  Pre-op was even more efficient.  I was sitting up in the holding bed-another little touch that can make a huge difference, while nurses went over the various questions and anesthesia started the IV.  During IV prep, another nurse was making impressions of my teeth for a custom guard-yep, I needed that about thirty years ago-teeth and a lifetime of surgery do not go together.  Then the Head/Neck doctor made a stop by and I was quickly taken to the OR suite.  Less than ten minutes later, my awareness of anything going on was gone.  I awoke in recovery and was quickly released back to the floor where I would spend the rest of the day.  Due to how well I had done, I was being released to the hotel the same day!

I do not say this lightly, this was the best surgery experience that I can remember.  From Thursday-release, I cannot think of one thing I would want done differently.  The biggest praise for me is that I did not get sick…not one single time.  I can’t even think of a time I felt queasy.  This is not my normal pattern, so I am so grateful to the team for each process they put in place to limit this side-effect.

Friday evening-Sunday evening was tough.  I slept most of the time and dealt with some details from surgery that I will just leave off the blog.  Monday came and it was time for the post-op visit and hopefully that phrase, “You are free to go.”  The pain was still fairly even from the prior two days and eating was still a challenge as well as drinking, but it was getting a little better each day.  The doctor went over everything that took place in the OR, along with awesome pictures.  Biopsy results from the larynx and tracheal area would be ready by Tuesday at the latest.  Having a PET scan with a SUV value of 14 in the trachea, I knew it could go either way.  The doctor knew it could go either way as well.  He noted that he did not get everything in the trachea due to the large volume and would have me return in January to complete that area as well as see what my body was doing with the scar tissue.  The lung biopsy did not take place due to the bronchial scope being unable to reach any of the sites.  That will be a procedure on its own in January as well.  Just like that, we were on our way back to Wheaton.

I guess we were about two hours into our drive back when the doctor called.  With excitement in his voice, I got the all benign, squamous cell papilloma!  It would be several days later, that I could let that soak in and realize I had a positive PET scan, changes in the area and my biopsies came back benign.  God took care of this for me.  I know that He did.  I’m not in the clear 100% yet, but that phone call was a huge step forward.  There are still some questions about possibly missing the carcinoma at the base in the trachea, but we will cross that bridge in January.

Once home, I was given the gift of blessings by women I have met in our short time at WBC and in small group.  These women have shown me such love and compassion.  A little back track here.  The Bible study date before surgery, these women covered me in prayer like I had never experienced before.  I will never forget their hands, their prayers, their tears as we prayed for peace, healing, protection.  I know with every fiber in me that those prayers were answered.  I am here today looking at systemic therapies that are far less toxic than those I would be facing if these samples had come back carcinoma.  More than that, I walked down that surgery hall with confidence and peace.  My family covered me in prayer, friends from East to West, everyone that had any knowledge took the time to call out to God on my behalf.  For that alone, I am the richest person in the world.

Recovery took a solid three weeks.  I am amazed that I actually used to have surgery as a kid and would eat a hamburger that same day and be back at school usually within 36-48 hours.  Surgery ain’t for sissies, and it’s certainly not for us “At Your Age” gals!

And now, for the Christmas Miracle.

Surgery was performed to create access for instruments for biopsies and debulking.  I was never, not even once, given any hope or indication that I would gain anything back more than possibly a stronger whisper for my voice.  The goal was to simply determine if I had converted to cancer and create access for the instruments that would be used for that purpose.  The only hope was that in this, I would possibly gain some relief from oxygen-deprivation headaches.  Now, imagine my surprise when about four days ago, something louder than a whisper started to come out.  It’s not easy to do, as I have truly forgotten how to speak, but when I concentrate, there’s a voice.  Those who have known me for the majority of my life, well, they are saying it’s the voice I had in high school.  I don’t remember.  My son has no memory of me with any type of voice, and my daughter only has a scant memory of one.  I don’t know how long it will last, or if it will even come back after the next procedure…but for now, when I really try, there’s a voice. I have woken up each of the past few mornings and the first thing I do, well, is I try to speak.  This, based upon all that I have been told by more than one Head/Neck doc, really is my Christmas Miracle.  My vocal cords are so damaged, so stenosed, that a voice shouldn’t be possible.  I am trying so hard not to think about what happens when it leaves….because I cannot explain the elation I have felt being able to order my own meal in a restaurant.  Not having to depend on someone else to speak for me in that setting.  Simply being able to talk on the phone for brief periods of time without getting a headache or the person on the other side hoping they heard me correctly.

I can only give the credit to God today for everything. He lead me to Mayo. He carried me into that surgery suite.  He heard the prayers of dozens on my behalf.  So, for my Christmas miracle, I am grateful.  I think if I can have it long enough for the babies to hear their Mimi, for my Josh to be able to remember his Mom with a voice, and for me to remember not to take something so normal for granted…..then I have had the voice long enough.  I am going to work so incredibly hard to not beg God for more days with a voice, but ask Him to keep me focused and while I do have a voice that I use it to honor what He has done….not anything else.

Many of those who know this story have asked to hear my voice.  I still don’t know if I am going to make a public post with it.  The last thing I want to do is draw attention to me, when folks, anything greater than a whisper is God. Period.  It’s that simple.

So, this is my Christmas Miracle.  Recovery still has a couple areas to work on, but I am well on my way.

“He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 5:9)IMG_1753

Christmas, Friends, and a Book

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One of the best parts of the Christmas season is it gives us gals the perfect excuse to “get together.”  Whether it’s over coffee, Cracker Barrel (yummy), together at a party, or in the parking lot when you just happen to run into one another…..Christmas just seems to get us all in that “let’s hang out” mood.

I have been able to spend time with friends that I have known over fifteen years and friends that I just met a few months ago.  Friendships that are unique and contribute something to who I am as a person….compliment who I am and stretch me towards where I hope to be as I mature.  (Not get old..mature!)

I know how blessed I am to have girlfriends.  Shoot, even if I could only say one name when asked, that’s still more than I could possibly deserve….cause, shhhh…don’t tell anyone…but this chick is one hot mess most days!  I sometimes call my life “organized chaos.”

There was a time in my younger life that I would see “Sally” and think to myself…”I want Sally as my friend.”  See that phrase “I want?”  Well, I learned (with many bruises), that “I want” is the last phrase you can use as you travel through seasons and God brings women into your life.  Friendship takes effort, but the friendships God has sent for you…well…they come easily.  You get to be you…nothing more..nothing less…and then it’s up to you to grow and foster that relationship.  Sorta like that plant on the deck……ignore it…it dies.  Give it some attention…and it will grow. (Wait…maybe that doesn’t apply to me, because anything with a root brought past my driveway…dies.  No, seriously, who else can kill pansies???)

I think back to those times in my younger life that I would see a “group” and long to be included.  Maturity teaches you that “that group” is for them…..and God knows it’s not for you and that’s why that thick wall around “that group” never seems to thin.  God has you a group…it may be one person plus you..or it may be five people or more….that’s the group you want.  God’s group for you.  Then again, we may have times where all we want or need is God in our group…and that’s more than enough.  Seasons….

So, as the Christmas season has quickly come and is quickly approaching “the day”, I’ll be honest…..a speed-bump by Satan himself, was put on my path where my heart lies.  You know, one of those bumps in the road that forces you to pick up that Bible and remind yourself of God’s promises….and that bump that maybe brings you back to a book you read a while back…..and that brings us to “the Book” in the blog title.

This is a recommendation for every single female out there….fifteen and up.  Go now…and purchase “Grown-Up Girlfriends” by Erin Smalley and Carrie Oliver.  It’s filled with Biblical knowledge, wonderful words of wisdom and timely guidance in how to navigate those female relationships.

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Topics such as: The Grown-Up Friend is Committed to Knowing Herself, Setting Boundaries, Embracing Differences, Forgiveness in Friendship, Overcoming Destructive Friendships (Ya’ll know these happen.), When to Let Go of a Friend, and Friendship Requires Us to Grow Up!

Some of the words, verses that I just go back to and want to share are these:

Proverbs 17:9  He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.  (Gals, ya’ll get this one?  Don’t gossip, don’t run to Sally with an matter of an offense about Mary-go to Mary…..oh. how us gals have to work so hard on this one.)

Good friendships are fragile things and require as much care as any other fragile and precious thing. Randolph Bourne

I think one of my favorite pages is page 67.  Women, by nature, are quick to let Satan start putting fear in their minds…and on page 67 a list of “fears” and how those fears may sound in our head or in our word vomit to ourselves and others…..just a wonderful list of how powerful Satan is when it comes to being divisive in friendship and how he longs to prevent us from knowing that special gift God has for us women….

This is Christmas and today I am so grateful for my friends….those who came in at a season and are now gone…those in my season now and those very rare and special forever friends…..each helping to shape who I am and who I am to be.  How cool is that!

Friends

Friends

Aunts can be friends!

Aunts can be friends!

My dear sweet forever friend...we met in junior high.

My dear sweet forever friend…we met in junior high.

One of my first friends when we moved to Arkansas and a friend who grew up just miles from me...and we met here.

One of my first friends when we moved to Arkansas and a friend who grew up just miles from me…and we met here.

See...we know how to party!

See…we know how to party!

Oh my Shelley Trusty!

Oh my Shelley Trusty!