Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God's Infinite Love, Mercy, and Protection....

I've been a "believer" in God my whole life. (Hopefully, everyone reading this understands that there is a great difference between "believing" and "knowing." Belief alone isn't enough. It takes a personal knowledge of Jesus, a faith and trust in who He is and what He did for every human in the world.) Salvation, for me, came in my teens, in no small part due to my love of music, which the Lord wisely used to draw me into church. I began singing in the youth choir, then also joined the adult choir (though I was still a teenager) for several special programs. I also sang with a music group put together by one of the piano players at our church. There was another small group that our church choir director decided to start, too. I was in my school chorus as well, but the vast majority of my singing was done at or through our church. Our youth choir director was also the youth pastor and the adult choir director. He was a great influence on us. I respected him tremendously. He was the most honest person I ever knew, other than my mother. That honesty wound up getting him fired from our church. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that was right about the time I found myself a different church.

God used my love of singing to pull me into the church and it was there, in between all the singing, while sitting under the teaching of our youth director that I learned a great deal about God. I learned who He was, what He was, what He'd done for me, and maybe even more helpful to a teenager, I had a first hand example of how a man and his family could live real and true lives for Christ. My youth director and his wife and children were such an inspiration to me. I believe he deserves direct credit for my coming to Christ.

I've said all this to get to a single song that touched me all those years ago. I think about it often, especially when I find myself aware of a "near miss" that could have caused me or someone I love pain or sorrow or even mere distress. This morning, Mark and I were up early, heading to Madison for my final dense dose chemo treatment. (Yes, I said FINAL. I'll talk about it later, as it certainly is a big event. But that's going to be another post.) It was that time in the morning when there's too much light for headlights to be helpful, and not enough light to make everything clear. There was a car coming toward us and I noticed a deer several yards off the side of the road. It was standing still, facing the road, but not moving. Just before the car reached us I suddenly realized that there was a second deer, right at the edge of the road. It was apparently about to cross the road. Anyone who lives around here knows that deer are quite prone to making rash decisions about the direction they will run. I've seen more than one decide to jump into the road right in front of an oncoming car. I hit one that did it to me a few years back. Anyway, this deer made the smart choice and ran away from the road. My first thought, however, was how bad it could have been if it hadn't.

If that deer had tried to cross the road, the car coming toward us would certainly have hit it. If they hit it, it could very easily have gotten thrown into us. These kinds of things happen all the time. It could so easily have been a very bad situation for everyone involved. We were traveling at highway speed, not speeding, but 55 is plenty fast enough to throw a full grown deer a pretty good distance. So, as I saw the deer running away from us, and we passed it and the other car with no trouble, I said a word of thanks to God and thought again of this song I've known since the earliest days of my salvation.

It is called Angels and was sung by Amy Grant. Here are the lyrics.
"Take this man to prison," the man heard Herod say
And then four squads of soldiers came and carried him away
Chained up between two watchmen, Peter tried to sleep
But beyond the walls an endless prayer was lifting for his keep
Then a light cut through the darkness of a lonely prison cell
And the chains that bound the man of God just opened up and fell
And running to his people before the break of day
There was only one thing on his mind, only one thing to say

[Chorus:]

Angels watching over me every move I make
Angels watching over me
Angels watching over me every step I take
Angels watching over me

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown
Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home
God, I know they're all around me all day and through the night
When the enemy is closing in I know sometimes they fight
To keep my feet from falling I'll never turn away
If you're asking what's protecting me then you're gonna hear me say

[Chorus 2x]

Angels watching over me
Angels watching over me
Angels watching over me
Angels watching over me
Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home
It's the words of that second verse that get me. The times our lives are in danger that we never even know about or see. The times that we have been spared some tragedy or grief or pain because one of the angels that God sends to protect us stepped in and protected me or someone I love. Even when things HAVE happened that could or should have had devastating consequences, so many times I have been spared. (The cancer certainly comes to mind!) God loves and protects me every moment of every day.

A church friend and I sang this as a duet once. It had touched us both and we wanted to share its message. This was back in the 80's and the song is not something we hear on the radio these days. I still love it, though. It still carries such a wonderful message, such a strong reminder of how much God loves us.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. Psalms 91:11 (KJV)
I believe with all my heart that guardian angels are real, that God sends them to keep us safe from harm, and to even occasionally give us a nudge when we're headed in the wrong direction. This morning, it was a deer that was nudged away from harm. At the very least, God saved us and/or the driver in the other car from having to deal with having their vehicle damaged. Possibly, He saved us all from injury or even death. There's no way to know. But I do know He deserves to be thanked. to be praised for His care and protection. So thank You, Lord, for keeping us safe from harm. Thank You for loving us enough to give us angels to watch over us and keep us safe.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rant........Rant...Rant!

You know, I'm not a person who's particularly easily offended. I don't walk around with a giant chip on my shoulder, daring someone to try to knock it off. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve, whining every single time someone dares to hurt it. I don't look for reasons to get my panties in a twist. But there is one thing that pretty much sets me off every single time it occurs.

I am a born and bred Southerner and I refuse to either apologize for that or be ashamed of it. Worse, I'm not just Southern, I'm from Mississippi, the popular choice for most backwards, racist, idiot filled state in the country. I have lost count of just how many jokes I've heard made at the expense of my home state and those of us who are from there. And don't even get me started on the morons out there who preach about just how horrible a place it is when they've never so much as set foot in the state. Even more offensive to me are native Southerners who buy into the perceived shame of their heritage. One example that comes to mind is the comedian, Brett Butler. I used to watch her years ago and she usually made me laugh. Right up until she made a joke out of how smart she was for getting out of the South. It went something like this, "I was born and raised in the South and I'd like credit for getting out." I don't think I've watched her since then.

It's not that I'm some kind of nut who goes off the deep end every time someone makes a joke about the South or Southerners. If you've ever seen the movie, "Sweet Home Alabama," then you're familiar with a long string of jokes that had me laughing so hard I was crying. It portrays Southern life pretty well. I always laugh especially hard at the scenes of the Civil War Reenactment. I've actually been to one of those. And there are countless other comedians who poke their share of fun at Southern culture and behavior. Believe me, it's hard not to laugh at some of the things my fellow Southerners do. But I do not understand why so many have to turn it into something ugly. It's a form of bigotry, whether anyone else is willing to see it as such or not.

For example, Mississippi is supposed to be a hotbed of racism. Okay, only a fool would deny that much of the South took a very long time to get over their backwards views of blacks. Some horrible things happened there. But it wasn't just in Mississippi or just in the South. And what happened 30 or 50 or 150 years ago has nothing to do with today. I will openly admit that I grew up surrounded by racism. Mostly, it was the kind of racism based on ignorance and/or repeating what was heard from others. Like all racism or bigotry, people who have no first hand knowledge just repeat what they've heard others say without bothering to question it. This doesn't somehow make it "better" than blatant hatred of someone just for the color of their skin, but there is a difference between the two. Mainly, those who are racist out of ignorance are much more easily reached than those who are firmly entrenched in their hatred. I'll use my own mother as an example.

She was born and raised in Tennessee. (Both my parents were.) Not just Tennessee, but a hole in the wall little place. She disliked black people, not because any black person had ever done anything to her, but because she'd heard all her life that they were somehow unworthy of trust and/or respect. (My father was much the same way.) It's what I think of as "generational" racism. They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, etc. But my mother was a natural born teacher. During my elementary years she began working occasionally as a substitute teacher at my school. Then she got her GED and became a teacher's assistant. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because my mother did not graduate from high school, she was stupid or dumb. She wasn't. She just lived in a time and place when graduating, especially for girls, wasn't that big a deal. So, anyway, she was working full time at my elementary school by the time I reached 5th or 6th grade. One of the other elementary teachers was a black woman. That was, I believe, the first time my mother ever really had the opportunity to get to know a black person. I mean really get to know them. Knowing this one person opened my mother's eyes in a profound way. It taught her that all the garbage she'd heard her entire life was, in fact, not true. It changed her life.

Okay, so the South has plenty of racism. Yes, there are groups like the KKK, skinheads and neo-nazis who've carried it to violent extremes. But none of that behavior is limited to the South. And this I know first hand from personal experience. I was born and raised in Mississippi, but I have spent my entire adult life living above the Mason-Dixon Line. In fact, as my childhood best friend recently pointed out to me, I have now lived longer in the North than I did in the South. (Pardon me for just a moment while I grieve for that fact....Okay, I'm back now.)

I lived in Mississippi for almost the first 18 years of my life. I moved to Indiana just before my 18th birthday and have lived there ever since. (More than 21 years, now.) So I have plenty of experience with life in both regions, and what have I found? I have found that there is every bit as much racism here in the supposedly enlightened North as I ever saw in my backwards home state. The biggest difference is that up here it is far more insidious. It hides behind false smiles and pretended tolerance. I was told that one of the grand wizards of the KKK once lived right here in my small town. A family that I knew quite well and that fronted a friendly, open, Christian appearance turned out to have VERY close ties to the Klan. (Not so close to them now.) Even people I respect on many other issues have some frighteningly racist leanings. I find it a little scary just how well it's hidden around here.

I make no excuses for Southern racism. Racism is never excusable, never "okay." It is very offensive to me, but even more so when it comes from someone who hides it behind a smile. Someone who spews racist rhetoric is at least honest about how they feel. They aren't shaking hands with a person of color with a big ol' smile plastered on their face while secretly thinking about how beneath them that person is, or worse, spewing their skewed views behind that person's back. I've seen all this right here in the good old North. Yankees are every bit as racist as Southerners, they're just much more secretive about it. And that, in my book, makes them even worse. Because they're two faced. Talking love, and respect, and wholesome Christian values out of one side of their mouth while the other spreads cliched racist lies.

So, maybe, the next time someone makes a joke about backwards, inbred, racist Southerners, you might want to take a moment to consider that it is just as offensive as a joke about a black person and a watermelon. I am a born and bred Southerner. I am highly offended by every form of racism. I am intelligent, educated, and hardly "backwards." I am proud of much of my Southern heritage. Believe me when I tell you that being Southern is a blessing. As the saying goes, "American by birth, Southern by the grace of God." Yes, slavery is a part of our past. But there was a time when Northerners owned slaves as well. And that whole notion that the Civil War was all about Southern plantation owners not wanting to lose their slaves is a load of baloney. Sure, slavery played a role in the war, but there was a lot more to it than that. The point is, I've never known a single person who owned a slave and neither have you. Well, maybe you have. There was a news story I read just the other day about a human slave ring that was broken up in NYC recently involving a bunch of young women from Africa who were being forced to braid the hair of black women while being kept in deplorable conditions and frequently raped and abused as well. The leader of the slave ring was a black woman. Imagine that.

So maybe it's time people pulled their heads out of the sand and took a real look around. The South is not the seat of all racism any longer. It is not a hotbed of human atrocity and abuse. It is just a geographical region filled with people who, despite having an accent that makes them sound a little slow, are sick and tired of being labeled as something they aren't. That accent doesn't make us stupid. It just makes us different.

I am proud of who I am and where I come from. I was raised to be honest, loyal, and trustworthy. I was raised to understand that my family is my responsibility. I was raised to love with all my heart and without reservation. I was raised to believe in God, to trust in Him and to know that He died for me. I was raised to be polite and respectful, but to stand up for what I believe in. I was taught to love, even when it isn't easy to do so. Even when your heart is breaking, you hang on. Seen "Steel Magnolias?" Then you know what I'm talking about. Being Southern shouldn't have to be something shameful. As I told someone who made a joke (directly to my face) about how backwards my home was, "I'd rather be from a backwards place like that, than from anywhere I've lived or visited since leaving."

Being Southern has been nothing but a blessing to me. Even the racism I grew up surrounded by came with a bonus. It made me hate racism. It taught me to recognize it, even when it was well hidden. The fact is, I haven't lived in the South for more than 2 decades. The other truth is, every time I go home (which is VERY, VERY seldom since both my parents are dead,) there's a place on the road where something lifts from my chest. Some invisible weight that I don't even notice until it's gone seems to ease and my body reaches a state of relaxation that I cannot describe. I can't give you a mile marker or a town name. But it's somewhere south of Nashville, some time after the trees along the sides of the road become mostly tall pines. Somewhere after the kudzu starts covering anything that isn't moving. Somewhere after little BBQ joints start popping up along the side of the road. There's a place out there where my body seems to recognize that it's almost home and I love it. I love those pines. Always did, despite the fact that where I'm from, they're considered trash trees. And BBQ will never, ever be anything but a smoked pork butt that's been slow cooked until it's literally falling off the bone. And sweet iced tea is the most popular drink, often served in Mason jars just because that's what's sitting around.

Southern culture is not about racism. It's about family and friends and hot nights filled with crickets and lightning bugs and slow rolling storms. It's about honesty and hard work and never, ever letting someone who doesn't know you tell you that you need to be ashamed of who you are or where you were born. Southern pride is a very real thing. Whatever mistakes my Southern ancestors made don't belong on my shoulders and I won't let anyone put that weight there. I am a Southern woman and no matter how long I live up here amongst the Yankees (nor the fact that I married one of them) will change who or what I am. If I live to be 100 and die and am buried up here, I will still be a Southern woman and I will still be proud of that fact.

So, if you've got a repertoire of Southern jokes or some foolish notion that the South in general, and Mississippi in particular are the root of all racist evil, then you better keep those things to yourself when you're around me. Because that's one thing I will set you straight on in a hurry. Someday, maybe I'll get a chance to move back below the Mason-Dixon Line. My husband loves it down there. He loves the way life is slower, less harried. I won't ever go back to my hometown. It's a long story, but there are just too many painful memories there. But I wouldn't mind living down South somewhere. Some place where my house can be surrounded by tall pines like these:
I actually sang this song as part of my school chorus. Gotta love Elvis, even if you aren't Southern!

YeeHa, Y'all!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seven Down, One More to Go!

Well, I've gotten seven of my eight scheduled dense dose chemo treatments. Just one final big bad one to go after this! I am so excited to be done with it. I'll still keep getting the Herceptin through October or so of this year, but it's nothing like the Adriamycin, Cytoxin, or Taxotere. It comes with potential side effects, but not like the others. Potential heart damage is the biggest risk, but no more hair loss, weird/bad/nonexistent taste, digestive issues, body aches and pains, etc. They'll just have to do a heart scan every 3 months or so to make sure the Herceptin isn't doing any damage.

I'm going to wait until I get that final Taxotere treatment before I call my radiologist to see about starting the radiation treatments. I was supposed to have had my 3rd Taxotere (7th overall dense dose chemo) over a week ago, but got sick with a cold or flu like virus. Had a fever of 102 for a while there that Mark and I thought for sure would land me in the hospital again, but the Dr. decided to do some blood work and get some chest x-rays first and since all that came back okay, he just let me go on back home. He went ahead and gave me some antibiotics in spite of the fact that they don't do anything for viruses because he wanted to head off any possible bacterial issues that might just be lurking somewhere inside me. I felt pretty bad for a week or so there. Lots of sinus issues and a really nasty cough that is still trying to linger a little. All in all, though, I'm a lot better than I was. I just get to coughing pretty hard every once in a while, but it's gradually getting better, too.

Mark had it first and of course I got it, too. He was sick at Christmas and by New Year's, I had it. He's still trying to get over it completely himself. He's had a lot of issues with his ears being clogged up, though no pain or apparent infection setting in. He just complains that he can't hear out of one of his ears. He says it's starting to crackle a little though, so he thinks it's about ready to start breaking up. Generally, this has been a tenacious little bug, but with God's help we're beating it!

So, other than the cold, I'm still plodding along. I got my last treatment on Thursday, Jan. 6, one week and 1 day late. Normally, today would be my first day down with the pain, but since it was a day later than usual, I'll be looking at Sunday and Monday being my "flat on my back, too sore to move" days. It's already starting a little. Starts in my shoulders and neck. The muscles start getting tight, then sore. Then the soreness starts spreading everywhere else. My back usually starts aching, then I get a lot of soreness in my legs and feet. There's also usually these odd little "twitches" in my feet, too. Sometime in my hands, though never as bad as my feet so far.

I've already started losing my taste buds. I really hate this part of it. Nothing seems to taste right. Or at least almost nothing does. Mark and I stopped at McDonald's yesterday afternoon and I kept asking him if the ketchup tasted weird or if it was just me. Just me, I'm sure. I really like ketchup, but after these treatments it never seems to taste right. Don't know why. Some things tend to be better. Sweet stuff usually isn't that bad. I had Mark get me a small milkshake after the ketchup fiasco just to try to get the taste out of my mouth. LOL Along with the lack of taste comes this weird feeling in my stomach. Feels like it's full of cotton, bloated, but not with gas. It just feels like it's full of something. Makes it a little sore and also isn't conducive to eating normally. Just one more thing to get through over the next few days.

For some reason, I haven't done as good a job remembering what's good and what isn't with the Taxotere. I had it down pat with the A/C, but this time around it's just not sticking. Maybe because I have 3 weeks (or more when I get sick like I've been) between my treatments. I guess I just keep forgetting what works and what doesn't. I made this roast the other night but it didn't taste quite right to me either. Mark said it was good, but it was just a little bit off to me so I didn't eat as much as I normally would have. Not that it will go to waste. Mark pretty much has it finished off. I think there's just a little bit left in there. He'll probably eat that when he gets in from work. Kinda like a snack. LOL.

Anyway, I'm wondering what I ought to try to eat next. Tomato type stuff (ketchup, pasta sauce, soup, etc.) is pretty much out just because it tastes either weird or almost has no taste at all. I was debating about taco meat (either in tacos or a taco salad) because I can add stuff to it to boost the flavor. Not sure, though. Maybe chili? I've also got some jalapeno poppers in the freezer that I'm thinking about trying. I just don't know. It's hard when I'm not sure what'll work. I tend to lean toward the spicy because at least I can taste the heat. But there's always my old stand by of Fruity Pebbles. I really don't like making a meal of them, though. Not as my only meal. Seems wrong, somehow. And even they don't taste completely normal with the Taxotere.

So, I'm doing good for now, in general. Feeling a little whiny about the lack of taste and by tomorrow I'll be too sore to care if I eat, but it'll pass. It always does. Like I said, just one more of these treatments to get through. I still have the worst of this one ahead, but just knowing that after this there's only one more makes it all seem so much less unpleasant. I'm ready to be done with it. Ready to not have to plan for the down days and the tasteless days. Ready to start healing from all the fatigue and other side effects. It won't be an overnight thing. More than one other breast cancer patient on the Survivor's Network has said that even months (or a year) after the end of chemo, they still weren't fully recovered. It takes a long time for the body to rid itself of all those toxins. Some of the effects may never fully dissipate. But it's certainly better than the alternative. So I know it's going to take some time, but I'm looking forward to the start of that part of my journey.

Gotta go. I've just raided my freezer and brought several things into the kitchen to try to decide what to try to eat. LOL. I'm not even sure what to try to drink, since a lot of that tastes weird, too. I'm just going to keep trying different stuff, I guess, until I remember what works.

Thanks for the prayers I know were sent my way while I was sick. I know they worked. I believe they kept me out of the hospital at the very least. In spite of the fever and sickness, my cell counts have been very good. This is nothing short of a miracle in my opinion. When I got my treatment on Thursday, the nurse said they were excellent. That's pretty impressive. God is just plain awesome! Love to all.