Swimming With Sharks – Literally

I am a wife of 32 years to my wonderful husband Vernon and a mother to 3 beautiful children, Brandi, Brian & Brittney! I am also known as MeMaw to my adorable granddaughter Ellie!

My 1st act with cancer started in 2009. I choose to have a double mastectomy and a tram-flap reconstruction surgery on the same day (surgery 13 ½ hrs). At my discharge my surgeon told me I’d made the right decision. They’d found a second tumor that didn’t show up on any test. The results from that second tumor dictated CHEMO. The rest of the day was a blur. In shock, I and was terrified of what that one word meant.

I finished on January 7, 2010 – a day I’ll always remember because it was also the first National College Football Championship game for the University of Alabama under Coach Nick Saban. I am a HUGE fan and that season saw me through CHEMO. I was working through more surgeries, chemo, and planning my youngest daughter’s wedding. This and every day family issues (mine a little more difficult), you can just imagine everything I was going through. With God’s grace, we won the battle and I was able to see my beautiful daughter get married and I started a new. Life was Great!

The next few years of normalcy are a blur until my yearly PET scan showed abnormal areas of concern. It was to be watched, yes watched! I asked my oncologist, just how (do you) watch this??? She wanted me to see a psychiatrist! I was not CRAZY, just wanted to know. The word cancer would not escape me. For about 5 months, I’d been very sick with a cold, bronchitis, coughing. With cough syrup, shots, steroids, antibiotics, I only got worse and there were these 5 abnormal PET scans. I finally had an appt. with a pulmonary doctor, and a vacation coming up, so I decided went! It was time to relax. I could make it another week and I needed this vacation. I left all of my stress and worry behind and my family and I headed to Panama City Beach. I tried relaxing on the beach underneath my Alabama tent, not feeling well at all, but it was time to get those scars from surgery into the water (an also pee). I took out my big pink float to relax – go figure, pink! – And the next thing I know everyone on the beach is screaming. All I could hear was, “Mama, don’t move.” A large, dark shadow suddenly moved in close, only a few feet away from me on my pink float. Now I heard everyone SCREAMING , I was thinking Shark, when I saw the shadow moving closer. Life as I knew it was about to end. I lifted my feet slowly out of the water. The shadow came close (pause) and then past me and blew out a spray of water. It was a very big manatee. Once again, I’d escaped what I thought was the end – but the manatee brought me a message I wasn’t expecting. We came home two days early and I found myself back at the hospital.

My life changed again, my2ndact! What I thought was pneumonia, was the return of cancer. My oncologist returned to tell me he had NO plan, I could get a 2nd opinion or go home! I WAS MAD! I wanted to slap him. It’s now Stage 4 terminal and all y’all did was WATCH this! I did get THAT second opinion and found The Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center (Southeastern). I immediately felt God’s presence as I walked through their doors. After a long 1st day my husband and I just cried. God had lead us to CTCA. The treatment I received at CTCA was so different than the treatments before, with non-cancer results! I had hair, a great complexion and more energy – all due to the multi-disciplinary team of CTCA experts, not to mention the numbers of smiles I receive.

It’s amazing that something as simple as a smile can brighten someone’s day in a moment’s notice. Too often we underestimate the power of a smile. Although it may be considered the smallest act of caring and it takes little or no effort on our part, it has the power to turn a life around, in fact more than one. Like the ripple effect of a pebble tossed into a pond, your smile will spread far beyond the first person who receives it. You never know how many people will benefit because you smiled first.

The word chemo no longer scares me. It has become a part of my normal routine, CTCA has become my second home – it always offering me a warm smile. Friends, family and friends of friends I don’t even know are cheering me on from across the world. My cousin sent me a video of a Hawaii bound Germany outrigger canoe team traveling chanting my name at an airport. Wow! I’m surviving, thriving. Some days are harder than others to smile, and even walk, but I lean on this scripture Joshua 1:9 ” Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”.

So this hard-headed southern girl will not give in or give up. I was raised to be strong. So, I get up each day and Praise his name! I put on my shield of make-up, lipstick, fix my hair and face the world. I push out that smile and I share my story in hopes that my journey can inspire others. All to find, I’m stronger today than the day before!