Stories and thoughts about family and life

Tough Times

I had a little health scare a few months ago.  It wasn’t anything too serious, thankfully, but in the moment it wasn’t anything I was interested in dealing with.  I woke up in the middle of the night one night with a very painful lump in my breast and when my husband woke the next morning and I asked him his opinion, I think it was his reaction which really heightened my concern.  He wanted me to make an appointment immediately.

Not that his reaction wasn’t absolutely valid–my grandmother died of breast cancer, and I’ve honestly been a little too lax at my own wellness the past couple of years.  I didn’t end up having a physical at all in 2015, which would have included the likes of such exams.  Add to that my now being 40-something and it was definitely something which needed some attention.

I called the Breast Center where I usually go, and they could get me in once my PCP made a referral.  I’m blessed with a fantastic physician and an equally fantastic nurse, who wasted no time getting everything worked out for me.   My sister-in-law insisted on going with me to my appointment, just in case the news I received wasn’t so good, and while I hated to think I was wasting her time I was exceptionally appreciative of the company.   A mammogram and an ultrasound later and the radiologist was visiting with me about stress and too much caffeine.  Then I was on my way, feeling relieved and putting the whole thing in the back of my mind.

Isn’t that what we do?  Those little health scares which pop up, you deal with them in the moment and when they turn out to be nothing you just shove it aside and go back to life as “normal.”  Oh, I did make some changes.  I hadn’t honestly realized how much caffeine I was taking in, and I took the opportunity to cut my sugar back too.  But my approach probably wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it should have been, and definitely not what it could have been.  At any rate, I’m fine and that’s all in the past.  Right?

A couple of weeks ago I received a text from a friend of mine asking me to pray for her.   When I started asking questions, she had found a lump.  There had been some evaluation, and now needed a needle biopsy.  I already felt sick for her.  Hadn’t I just been here?    We talked about how important mammograms are and how we take little things like that for granted, and how this was hopefully all just a necessary approach to eliminate concern.  I followed up with her the day of her procedure, and checked in with her repeatedly afterward waiting on some news.  I wanted so badly for this to be just a step worse than my situation–she wasn’t going to have walked out of the office reassured with one visit, but maybe just this biopsy and she’d be clear.

Her course of treatment is still being decided, but it’s not the news I had hoped for her.  She’s still grasping what all that means, and  I’m so thankful that she’s asked for my prayers and shared her thoughts with me.  I realize how blessed I am with our friendship.  The day she texted me the current plans of her doctor, I sat and thought about all those things I’ve read in magazines and on Facebook about having friends with cancer.  “What not to say.”  “How to comfort” and the like.  I must have started to text her about 10 different times with varying responses before I settled on “how can I help?”

I honestly didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry” didn’t feel right and “are you okay?” seemed like the most absurd thing ever.  Of course she’s not okay.  Even if she’s “okay” she’s not okay–this is serious and it’s important and it’s just not okay.   She responded with something I could actually do to help her, and even though I can’t cure her I feel I can do something real to help her cope.

I reached out to an oncology nurse I know (also a dear friend) and she has answered a myriad of questions I’m not prepared to ask my friend about her situation.  We talked for a long time about how our perspectives change from when we’re 20-something and boobs are something to be proud of and, frankly, flaunted, to being mid-40s and realizing that the older we get the scarier those things are.  I realized talking to her that in my own situation, had it gone the other way, I would maybe choose a completely different path than I would have chosen in my youth.

I’ve thought a lot about Komen and the Race for the Cure over this past week or so.   I hope I don’t offend anyone here, but I’m not a big fan of Komen.  Especially in Little Rock, I know so many people who go to the race just to GO.  I participated in the first Komen Race in Little Rock when a coworker was diagnosed quite a few years ago, and there were just a few of us on the street, and we were all so proud to walk with her and FOR her.  Now it’s just a sea of people and there’s every imaginable Komen this or Komen that event, and it just seems that the reason for it all has been lost in the marketing of it all.  Everybody has tried to figure out how to put their own unique Komen spin on things in October.  I quit going probably 10 years ago and I actually make a point of avoiding downtown altogether on race weekend.  This week, however, has reminded me that with a good reason to participate, I would feel motivated to get involved again.

It’s funny how those little things left in the back of your mind just become forgotten.  It takes something intensely serious or strong to bring it into focus again and help you see the value of something you had previously dismissed.  It’s easy to get sucked into your daily drama of kids, and work, and school and all the other little things going on and those things which you shoved to the back gradually come creeping back up.

I know my friend has a frustrating road ahead for her, no matter what choices she makes. It’s scary when you don’t feel like you’re in control and you’ve just got to figure it out the best you can.  I hope that she feels all the love and prayers and wishes for her being made by all those around her, and that they give her the strength she needs especially on the not-so-good days.  It also makes me more grateful for the little blessings which I sometimes forget to count, and how those things become increasingly important when times are tough.


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The unexpected family member

We bought my GMC YukonXL in 2003, shortly after the birth of my second son. It had about 26,000 miles on it and cost us a fortune, but I fell in love with it immediately and despite my love of all things Mercedes and the hope that I’ll get to drive a sleek 500SEL at some point in my life, I can’t see myself driving anything else at this particular point.
If you’re not familiar with the Yukon XL, it’s the longer version suburban-looking vehicle. I can seat 7 comfortably (provided they’re not all over 6’2″), and carry luggage as well. I can flip up or remove my back seat and flip down my middle seats to make one long, smooth cargo area. My friends are always amazed when we are out shopping and suddenly need to haul something large. With five minutes worth of rearranging, I can handle almost anything.
I remember when I bought it, thinking there were tons of features I wouldn’t ever use. I had never had a vehicle quite so “fully loaded” and it’s humorous to realize that many of these features are now pretty common-place. My vehicle would probably rate as “standard” currently, as I don’t have on-board navigation, blue tooth or DVD. My husband added a Sony Xplod system for me which allows me to stream music or use my phone hands-free in the cabin, and I really thought I had hit the big time then, too!
My children don’t really recall me driving any other vehicle, and we’ve joked over the years about what to call her. I suggested “Gina Marie Car” (GMC), and they settled on “Good Mountain Climber.” She’s got nearly 200,000 miles on her now, but still is as trusty as ever.
As I drove Friday to take my dad to the doctor, I pondered all the trips we had made in that vehicle, and how much she’s become a part of our family.
The soccer games when Lucas was 5 and was no more interested in playing soccer than I am in hang-gliding. The scout trips, and oh there have been plenty of those! Including a couple where one or all of us have slept in that truck. She has shown her ability in towing and strength, kept us warm on cold days and cool on warm ones.
The vacation trips, where we have had our luggage and all our gear loaded up. Cruising the gulf coast and watching the boys grab snacks out of the basket I store on top of the cooler in the back, just so they can reach it and cure their “munchies” along the way. DVD players we used to strap to the back of the front two seats, which have now given way to the ipad or laptop, or to the kids just playing on their phones. In 2010 we drove from Little Rock to Booneville to pick up my parents, and then drove to Seattle, trekking all the way through Kansas, part of Colorado and Wyoming. We stopped in Montana and visited some friends of mine and then toured the lower part of the Glacier park, then continued across the northern states into Washington. We picked up my husband, my sister, and her husband at the airport, and stored everyone’s gear as we boarded the ship for our 7 day cruise. Then we toured northern California and came down through Yellowstone, where it began to snow the 10th of June. Sure-footed and easy going, GMC just ticked off the highway miles, keeping us all safe and comfortable, and always giving what was requested of her.
We’ve taken trips with a truck-load of boys for Scout adventures, and GMC has heard more than her fair share of giggling kids.
What struck me Friday, especially, were the emergency trips we had made. I was headed that day to take my dad to the doctor over a cyst which had become infected and was making him ill. We had several of those under our belt, though. My friend Deedra and her husband were in a serious motorcycle accident a few years ago, and GMC carried us quickly and safely to that emergency room waiting area, where we were able to give them a hug and tell them how thankful we were they weren’t hurt more. I’ve made several Emergency Room runs for one family member or another, as well as friends. GMC has carried me on a couple of hospital runs for myself, too, and always given me a safe, comfortable ride home–which says something if you’ve driven on many Arkansas roads!
She and I have an understanding. I like to go fast, and so does she. I take care of her and she politely finds rather interesting ways to tell me something is wrong. We had to put in a few fuel pump a couple of years ago and the one they put in apparently had some relay switch on it which was bent when they put it in. Did she leave me stranded? No, she told me something was wrong by playing tricks with the fuel gauge (I still have the video–it really made me laugh) so that I would take her into the shop.
We’ve helped people move, we’ve carried loads of groceries, we even provided a mobile workstation on a camping trip one summer as one mom was providing mohawk haircuts for all the boys who wanted them. On that same trip, we nearly blew a tire, which was bubbling out on one side. We had driven from our home to Las Vegas, and then on to the Grand Canyon. We found the tire when we stopped at our campsite, and my husband and I were safely able to change it without any damage or anyone being hurt.
I remember talking to our mechanic a while back after a brake job they had performed which hadn’t gone exactly as planned. When I was returning to my office, my brakes bled out and I found myself unable to stop. It was a sheer miracle that I was on a side road which was surprisingly not busy that afternoon, and I was able to guide her over and roll to a stop. It broke my heart to see her loaded onto a tow truck that afternoon, but by the next morning she was all fixed up again. Our mechanic corrected the problem, and he and I had a long talk about the safety of my family, and that GMC is definitely a big part of that. He smiled and talked to me about his appreciation of that, and how he appreciated that I treated my vehicle so well.
The people who ride with me regularly have likely seen me pat her on the dash and thank her for another safe trip. I drive a lot for business as well as scouts, and I can’t imagine not having her.
My dad and I have been talking a lot lately about how it’s time to trade the old girl. My husband and I have been looking around a little here and there, but I honestly just can’t get too serious about it yet. I always said I was going to drive that vehicle until the wheels fell off. It saddens me to think about such a good vehicle being “discarded.” Besides, the new ones are OMG expensive, and I don’t mind her cracking seats and stained floor mats. I’ve grown accustomed to the things that don’t work 100% perfectly. That ol’ girl and I have been a long way together.
As I was driving with my dad the other day, it gave me comfort to have her with me. I know that seems silly, to consider a vehicle part of your family, but I believe she truly is. I can’t imagine what it will be like, putting my kids in a different vehicle and not having the space which we have now. I suppose it’s akin to being raised in the same house all your life.
I’m glad we’ve been able to build such great memories with our family and that vehicle, and I hope my kids get to have the same thing with their kids someday.

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I’m a very loyal person. I’m one of those people who makes friends and typically keeps them. I have expanded my “friend pool” over the years and I’m thankful to have so many people who are close to me now, because it wasn’t always like that. Even still, the people who have been my friends since childhood are still my friends, and most of the time we can pick up like we never were apart and have conversations as if we just hung up the phone yesterday. I love that.

Lately, I’ve had a couple of my friendships seriously tested. One in particular has been particularly bothersome. A friend of mine who is in, as I see it, an abusive relationship and just can’t seem to see it has consumed my thoughts of late and caused me to question my loyalty. Don’t misunderstand–it’s not that I wish to no longer be her friend, it’s that I feel I am enabling her to continue repeating her pattern of accepting responsibility for her situation and returning to it so she can face abuse again. It’s hurtful to me to think that I can’t stop her, and I certainly can’t make her see. It’s even more hurtful to know that I can’t stop her pain, so I must make a decision about distancing myself from this explosive situation and hoping that by leaving her without a rescue net she might hit rock bottom and begin her path upward again at some point.

I have known this friend for nearly 20 years now. We have been very close, moved apart, and returned to our close relationship. We have watched one another’s children grow up, shared job changes, and taken vacations together. I suppose that loyalty is why I respond so immediately when she calls me, out of the blue, with a need. She did this a couple of weeks ago. She was in the emergency room, having suffered some injuries following a bizarre accident following an altercation with her husband. He had left her, penniless and with no ID. The ambulance arrived and brought her into town to the ER. She didn’t have a way to get home and hadn’t eaten all day. I wasn’t quite home yet when the phone ran, as I was returning from a business trip. In the last 20 miles or so I had to drive, I called a mutual friend of ours to see if she knew what all had happened (I didn’t want to ask my friend for all the details), and then arranged for my husband to meet me and we went to the hospital together. She checked herself out and we stopped to grab her some dinner and drove her home. She was fine, ultimately, although pretty sore and very upset.

Dropping her off that night was very stressful for me. Would she be alright? Was he going to come home and them fight again? Would he harm her? She assured me she would be fine and I pulled out of the driveway, watching her in the mirror. I reached out to her at work the next day, after our other friend told me she would need to get a new driver’s license. I offered to drive her there and anywhere else she needed to go, since her husband still had her car. The whole situation was very sad, but at the same time I could see some hope in her face as she seemed to be approaching a new perspective on her life. I hate to see anyone’s relationship end, but seeing the destructive nature of this relationship is painful to say the least. She seemed, as we ran her errands, to be making plans to move forward on her own. Boy was I wrong.

The next couple of days I didn’t really speak much to her, communicating mostly through our other friend. I didn’t want to make her have to repeat everything, and I just wanted to help, so I stayed back a bit. I inserted myself where ever I thought I could have the most impact and prayed she would be okay. It’s amazing to me how a short four days can turn things around. By Friday night she was talking again to her husband and by Saturday they were reconciled. She accepts the blame for everything and tells everyone that this was all her fault. But you know what? I think the most hurtful thing is that I have heard nothing from her since Friday. I’ve gotten my updates through our other friend. To be cast aside, only to be called upon when a catastrophe occurs and the not needed otherwise is beyond frustrating. I’ve had to come to the painful conclusion that this relationship has likely run its course, and as I said earlier, I’m only enabling her by picking her up every time she falls only for her to go right back into a bad situation.

It has caused me to reflect on my own relationships and how I exercise my requests of the people who are important to me. I hope that none of them ever feel used or feel that I am unappreciative of their efforts. I hope that, if I were stranded in the middle of the night, I would have several people I could call on. I haven’t decided how I’m going to handle it yet when she calls me the next time (and I know there likely will be a next time). I hope I have the strength to handle it properly, and I hope that she isn’t hurt too badly. I hope that there isn’t a reason for her to have to need me in the middle of the night next time, and that her life straightens out. All in all, though, I realize that I can hope for her every day, but she has to make it happen.

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