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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: A Year Ago Today…

twin towers

(I dedicate this blog to my dear friend and soul sister Brooke West who took me to all of my doctor visits, who sat with me through every minute of chemotherapy, who endured me on steroids…whoa! who laughed, cried and prayed with me, and who sent me the most powerful text message early one late December morning that inspired these words.)

They say time flies when you are having fun. I say time has a way of creeping by and flying by all at the same time whether you are having fun or not. It is hard to believe that just one year ago today I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging personal journey I have ever faced in my life. I have definitely been through some rough times in my 49 years, heck my early childhood was enough to make anyone tremble a little (but that is another blog for another time). I have lost family, friends, a marriage, a spouse. I have had my heart broke by people who were supposed to be my friend. My family has experienced the tragedy of senseless violence, we have suffered the consequences of not-always-the-smartest choices (a nice way of saying I have done some stupid stuff in my life!), and we have had the proverbial rug pulled out from under us on many occasions. I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift that life hasn’t always been a piece of cake. The hard times have shaped me and my faith has produced a stubborn resilience that refuses to let the hardships get the best of me! However, in January of 2019, life was getting ready to throw me a hefty kick to the gut, on the most personal level, which would require me to dig deep, trust wholeheartedly in my faith and endure with the strongest determination I could muster up.

On November 21st, 2018 I went for my yearly mammogram. After receiving a bad scare in 2015 and having to go have a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound to determine density in my right breast, I had kept up my mammograms on a regular basis regardless of the fact that I didn’t have health insurance for years (kudos to the local health department for a grant that covered mammograms for uninsured women). On November 28th I went for a complete physical with my primary care physician. I hadn’t had one of those in years and felt it was a smart move since I now had health insurance that covered such things, and I hadn’t been feeling quite like myself here and there. The good news is that my physical results were fabulous! All of my blood work came back perfect and my doctor said I was one of the healthiest women she knew. The bad news is my mammogram came back showing some questionable areas in my right breast, and once again, a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound was ordered. I would like to say that I was as calm as a cucumber, but I won’t even try to downplay the fear that ravishes a woman’s heart when she is told further tests need to be done. Not to mention that over the course of 2018 I had noticed a change in the pea size mass that was diagnosed as density in 2015. It was now about the size of a nickel but according to google it was nothing, (seriously, of course I googled it!!) but deep down inside, I was scared. On January 3rd 2019, I went in for my testing. It wasn’t anything I was unfamiliar with, but this time the atmosphere seemed a little more intense. The mammographer appeared a little more serious and the ultrasound tech took an extensive amount of time checking out my right side and under my right arm. Finally, she called in the radiologist so that she could sit down with me face to face, eye level to eye level, and tell me ever so gently that it was expedient that I go for a biopsy.

I left the office feeling overwhelmed and as I drove back to work, I cried a little and prayed a lot. My thoughts rushed to my children and I had no I idea how I would tell them that their mother may have breast cancer. I spent the next week praying profusely and diplomatically telling God why I DID NOT need to walk through breast cancer at this time in my life. No just NO! Of course I didn’t want to have to fight the battle, but my reasons weren’t selfish ones, first and foremost I did not want my children to have to suffer through another parent having cancer. Please Lord, not at this time in our lives. Give us a little more time to grow, to heal, to enjoy life. I am strong in my faith and firmly believe that the God I serve can work miracles and remove anything out of my body that He chooses. Yes Lord, work a miracle on my behalf, after all my God moves mountains, right?!?

A year ago today, on January 10th, 2019, I was dreadfully waiting for the sun to rise as I rose out of bed early to get ready to go to my scheduled biopsy. One of my most dear friends and soul sister’s was taking me so that I didn’t have to go alone. I made my coffee, read my devotion, prayed and again recited to God at what a testimony it would be and how I would so praise Him if He would just remove these freaking lumps in my breast (yep, ultra sound showed two!).  I opened my Facebook and the first thing I saw was a memory from my ‘Dear Christy from God’ letters on January 10, 2018 (exactly one year prior) that said:

“Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what?” ~God~.

I knew in that moment what the outcome of the biopsy would be before they ever pierced my skin. I knew in that moment that my life and my children’s lives were getting ready to change drastically. I honestly didn’t know what all it would involve, but I knew from this moment on that my life would be on a different time table – you know, like how we measure time as BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini – the year of our Lord) – now for me it would be “before I got breast cancer” and “after I survived breast cancer.” I sighed deeply and read the memory again:

Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what? ~God~.
Dear God, well, I guess we climb the dang mountain, that’s what. ~Christy~

And that is exactly what we did.

It took eight viciously long days for the doctor to call and ask me to come in for my results. Tom Petty nailed it on the head when he said “the waiting is the hardest part!” My dear friend and soul sister went with me to hear the results and we all had to chuckle a little as my doctor recited again that I was one of the healthiest women she knew…but…the biopsy showed that I had breast cancer.  My first reaction was “well hell” and after listening to what the next few weeks of my life would be like with all the doctor visits they would line up for me, Brooke and I both agreed on one thing; My God, the one in whom I believe in and love wholeheartedly, the one who loves me more than I can imagine, the one who flung the starts into place and measured the depths of the seas in the palm of his hand, the One who is good all the time, He was not at all surprised by this diagnosis. The bargaining was over, the course had been set and if He wasn’t going to move the mountain, then in no uncertain terms He was going to have to show up and help me climb it. On this side of the battle I can say that not only did God show up, but He showed out!

I have spent the past year of my life climbing this mountain called breast cancer. I have gone through two port surgeries, 5 months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments, and reconstructive surgery. I lost my hair, my dignity, my hot, muscular beast of a body I had worked so hard for (okay, maybe I wasn’t so hot to start with but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it! J). My battle isn’t quite over yet as I am still doing immunotherapy infusions every three weeks. I am getting ready to take a preventative pill for a year and then another preventative pill for five years. Hopefully I will only have one more surgery left to complete reconstruction. All in all, it is safe to say that it has been a wing-dinger of a year! I have felt strong and I have felt weak. I have felt empowered and I have felt helpless. I have been brave and I have been scared. I have been challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. I can say that being on this side of the battle feels much better than where I was one year ago and, despite all of the losses and struggles,  I have experienced some pretty awesome things through all of the madness. I have been surrounded by the most wonderful support system of family and friends, saturated in prayers and positive thoughts by a countless number of people and received more acts of kindness than I deserve. I have met some of the most precious folks along the way who had fought this same battle, strangers who became friends almost instantly because of the special bond we share. In the best of times and in the worst of times, I know without a doubt, that I have not been alone in this struggle for one single minute.

By the grace of my Almighty God, I was not only able to continue to work full time, I was also able to do my job with a passionate fervor and reach and exceed the goals that were set before me. I have traveled to more states this year than I have in all my life and I have watched the sun rise and set on the east coast and the west coast. I was able to experience a sweet beach vacation and a grandiose out west adventure, celebrating my 50th birthday watching the sun come up over the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. In the midst of fighting cancer, I logged 3,284,177 steps and I was on the trail 83 days, only missing  a handful of adventures due to treatments and side effects. The most difficult year of my life has also been the most glorious of adventures! And I give all praise, honor and glory to the God in whom I gave my heart to so many years ago. His joy IS my strength!

Some would argue that if He was such a good God, why didn’t He move the mountain like I had begged him too? Oh my, as I type this I shudder at the things I would have missed if He would have done things my way. Am I saying that I am thankful for cancer? NEGATIVE GHOSTRIDER! However,  had I not walked this journey, I would have missed the recognition of His mighty hand weaving the strands of my life and guiding my every step. In 2012 God sparked a desire in me for the outdoors, and after my first hike in June 2013, a passion for hiking and adventure was birthed in my soul. I can name 3 things that tried to divert my passion through the years, but God in His goodness would always just redirect my steps and lead me to another place til eventually I found my Tribe. From 2016 through 2018 I spent weekend after weekend on the trail and with each step God was with me, honing my heart for maximum strength, honing muscle and sinew to perfection, building up every aspect of my body, strengthening my mind. healing my soul, and preparing me for a battle that would inevitably attack it all. He knew that on January 18, 2019 when I received the news that I had breast cancer that I would need to be in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape that I had ever been in to endure and come out victorious. Insert that I worked for 13 years without health insurance, and in August 2018 I was hired at my new job that offers incredible benefits, my health insurance kicked in on October 1, just 3 short months before my diagnosis.

A year ago today breast cancer was my diagnosis but it was never my destiny! It is just a path to another purpose and I hold fast to the peace, joy and thanksgiving that fill my soul. Today, on January 10, 2020 I open my eyes to a new day, a new year, a new decade and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am better, much better than I was…a year ago today.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Radiation and Vacation

The Subway

A diagnosis of breast cancer is something that no woman ever wants to hear, however, on average, one woman out of 8 is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States every two minutes. On January 18, 2019, I experienced those “two minutes” and my doctor informed me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. Suddenly I became the “one in eight.” The good news was there are 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, the cancer had been discovered in early stages and I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life, which gave me a running start at what my body was getting ready to endure for the next several months. My treatment plan included 6 rounds of chemotherapy, once every twenty days, and then surgery to remove the affected breast tissue. The bad news was…I had freaking breast cancer and I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging year of my life.

After my diagnosis, things moved quickly. I had my first MRI on January 24th, first Echocardiogram on February 1st, had my port put in on February 4th, and my first chemotherapy treatment was February 11th. For the next several months I had more doctor visits than any one human should have and my body experienced many hardships and changes. I had my last treatment on June 3rd (hallelujah!) and went to my follow up MRI on June 17th to assess how effective the treatments had been. On June 19th around 11:45 am, I received the call with the results, “No evidence of residual malignancy in posterosuperior and upper inner quadrant areas of the right breast or elsewhere.” The tumors were GONE!  The chemotherapy had worked! The prayers had worked! All the support and encouragement had worked! All the moments of fighting against the terrorist that had invaded my body had worked! And last but not at all the least, my God had worked on my behalf and we had won! This stage of my battle was over and my next stage would be surgery scheduled for July 8th, 2019.

After careful consideration and consultation with my oncologist and surgeon, I chose to have a double mastectomy instead of just having the right rebellious boob removed. No cancer had been present in my left breast, yet I wasn’t willing to take the chance in having to fight this battle again if ole lefty decided to rebel against me in the future. Plus, the aging process is a reality in all of our lives and what woman really wants one boob that says “hello there!” and one that is saying “see ya later alligator” as she ages?? So, a double mastectomy with complete reconstruction beginning during the same process was scheduled. I am happy to say that surgery was a success and healing came swiftly. Perhaps it was the resilience that my body had already proven time and time again; the many prayers; my stubbornness; or all of the hiking I was able to enjoy while on medical leave. I was back on the trail 12 days after surgery and enjoyed 7 trail days, a beach trip between July 20th and August 4th and I was able to return to work August 5th.  My conclusion is that it was a combination of all the above! My surgeon had said that I could return to my normal activities after about a month so within one month and two days after surgery, I was back on the rock, climbing carefully, but nevertheless climbing! We even climbed one route completely blindfolded! Booyah!

Needless to say, despite all the hardships this year had brought so far, I was living and loving life! My follow up consultation with my surgeon brought unexpected news. She only had to remove 3 lymph nodes, which came back crystal clear, however one of the cancerous tumors had rested so close to my skin margin, and because she didn’t have a whole lot extra to work with (her kind words referring to my size B!) she recommended radiation to make sure there was nothing microscopic lingering around the tumor area. I would probably be okay without the radiation she said, but if I chose to have the radiation, she was confident that there would be no cancer left behind. So of course I chose to proceed with a radiation consultation and the next step in my journey would be 25 treatments, one a day for 5 weeks. We opted to allow the plastic surgeon to complete his process of stretching my muscle cavity to make pockets for my new implants before we started the treatments and this put us on a close time table. I had told my doctor during my consultation that I had to be done by October 17th because I flew out on October 18th to Utah for a much awaited out-west adventure that had been in the makings for almost a year. They weren’t that happy about the time restraint, nevertheless 2 days after my consultation my first treatment was scheduled.

Radiation began on September 12th and I had 26 days to complete 25 treatments! The first treatment was somewhat overwhelming as you walk into this huge room, a nurse stands behind you holding a hand towel to cover you up as you undress, you lay down on a table and they wheel you under this huge concoction of a machine that lines you up and shoots a radioactive beam straight to the targeted spot. After I got over the reluctance of taking my top off and standing naked in front of strangers, bearing my scarred chest that looked like it had two cement filled softballs crammed in it, the process itself was painless, a little dehumanizing, but painless. Each treatment lasted less than 15 minutes to show up, undress, lie down, get zapped, get dressed and leave. I began to get some minor skin irritation after 18 treatments, but I only had 7 to go and then I would be done and my body could enjoy a much needed 10 day vacation while healing.

On Wednesday October 16th, I completed my 25th treatment. Needless to say I was elated as I walked into the office to see the doctor and say goodbye. Treatments had gone well with minimal side effects and it was time to heal. The doctor looked at my skin, frowned a little at the irritation and then informed me that radiation side effects were about 10 days behind and I could expect more irritation. I would have to watch carefully and treat my skin with a special salve 4 times a day to avoid cracking and possible infection. When I explained to him I was going on vacation and would be hiking and camping, he explained to me that there was no way I needed to carry a backpack for at least two weeks. Yeah right, bahahaha! Inside I was screaming…what the heck! Why do you always have to rain on my parade! I am going out west and I do not have time for irritation and infection. Insert some major eye rolling and heavy sighing as I left feeling my stubbornness rising up from the pit of my stomach and as rebellious as the boob that had gotten me to this point in the first place.

Friday came and we were on a plan to Salt Lake City Utah. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we enjoyed 10 days of the absolute best adventuring a girl could have. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful! Mountains bigger than life! Incredible monoliths that didn’t even look real! Rocks, canyons, rivers, waterfalls! We put 1700 miles on a 15 passenger van, and almost 140,000 steps on my Fitbit. We visited Bridal Veil Falls in Provo, Utah; camped in the desert of Moab; visited Arches National Park and  Canyonlands;  watched the sunrise over the Mesa Arch as we rang in my 50th birthday; visited Mule Canyon and the House of Fire; drove through Natural Bridges National Monument and down the Moki Dugway (whoa what an adventure!); went through Mexican Hat, Monument Valley and Navajo Nation; stayed the night in Page, Arizona and visited Horseshoe Bend; drove to Bryce Canyon for a night of camping and exploring; and ended our trip with 3 days and nights camping in Zion National Park right behind The Watchmen. We hiked the Subway (thank the Lord and Jeremy for getting the permits!) and Angels Landing and finished up our last night at the Canyon Overlook trail. WOW!!! Needless to say the entire trip was beyond amazing. I have inserted pictures for your viewing pleasure :).

I somewhat followed the doctors’ orders and spent time treating my irritated radiation skin in a cold van in the desert of Moab and in campgrounds at the National Parks. I only had to wear a pack twice the whole time we were there (thanks to my David for carrying everything!). By the time we returned home, my skin was almost all the way healed and ready for the consultation with my plastic surgeon on November 12th. The next stage of my journey would be scheduled for November 26th – surgery #2, the removal of the concrete softballs on my chest I had been carrying around since July and the insertion of new implants. Goodbye softballs, hello noobies!

This year of my life was almost over and the hardest parts of my journey were coming to an end. As I reflect back I must say it sure has been a challenge. There were days I felt like a victorious warrior and days it took all I had within me to fight through. Through it all I’ve lived, I’ve learned, I’ve loved, I’ve collected priceless memories and have been surrounded by the most precious people. I’ve discovered I am stronger than I thought I was but yet I don’t have to be strong all the time. There is a time to persevere and push on and a time for rest and healing. I’ve learned that no matter what life throws at you, with a little faith and a lot of support, you absolutely can make it through anything. It may not always be pretty and you may not always like it, but you will prevail. I’ve learned that during the struggles, if you keep on keeping on, the day WILL come that you are better than you were during those moments.

Next step – say hello to the ‘noobies!’

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Delicate Arch

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Landscape Arch

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Sunrise at Mesa Arch

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Canyonlands

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The House of Fire

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View from Moki Dugway

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Looking back up Moki Dugway. We drove down that!

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Sunset in Monument Valley

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Horseshoe Bend

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Bryce Canyon

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Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Zion National Park

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Front view from Campground

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The Watchman

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along the Subway hike

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Hiking up to Angels Landing

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Canyon Overlook

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Going up the Wiggles

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Our total number of steps…Whoa!

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The crew at The Subway

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The Subway

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2019 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles – Chemotherapy Round 6 – Victory on the Horizon

north ridge3

When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on January 18, 2019 life as I knew it suddenly changed. Beginning February 11th, I would spend the next 18 weeks in chemotherapy, a treatment every 21 days with a total of 6 treatments. I remember walking into the first treatment bold, extremely positive and a little anxious facing the unknown. After experiencing the first round of side effects I felt like it would take forever for this season of my life to pass. Fast forward to June 3, as I walked through the doors of the treatment center, I was more than ready to receive the last and final round of chemical warfare. I had made it! I had physically and mentally endured the side effects and changes that the chemicals had wrought on my body, mind and soul. I had lost much, gained much and learned much. I was ready.

From having endured the previous 5 treatments, I knew the side effects would come. Somehow though, knowing it was the last time I would have to deal with them made it less dreadful. The 6 or so hours of sitting  in the chair while chemicals were being pumped through my body was filled with conversation, laughter (I thought we may get called down at times!) and tears with my faithful friend, who had brought me to every single treatment.  A friendship that began 20 some years ago in the flower beds of a church yard; a friendship that was woven together by the very hand of God; a friendship that has endured loss of spouses, divorce, relocations, loss of contact at times and many broken hearts. A friendship that seems no matter where life always takes us, it always brings us back together to see each other through the moments of life’s devastation. Before my first treatment, another friend had shared with me that statistics showed that women who were facing cancer and had that ONE girl friend who went with them to every treatment had an extra 40% higher chance of healing and survival on top of the statistics of their treatment plan. My friend, my soul sister, my +40% had endured this season of my journey with me, she had diligently stood with me, fought with me, checked on me, cried with me, prayed with and for me and sacrificed her time for me.  If anything good came out of those times of being bound to a chair and hooked up to chemicals, it was the wonderful time we got to spend together and I am forever grateful for her!

After the treatment, I felt great! I went home and worked outside for a while, planted some pepper plants, went to work the next day and made it all day (heck yes!), went to the grocery store, cleaned out my refrigerator and cooked dinner (can anyone say hello to my ambitious self?!?). As the days passed, I kept anticipating the side effects hitting but I think my body was as darned excited as I was about this being the last time it had to go through this cycle. It had fought so hard over the last 18 weeks and been changed so much, yet this time, it rose up like a valiant warrior. My mouth did not get as sore even though my taste buds were in rebellion, the fatigue came but didn’t put me under as long (or maybe my ambition and stubbornness was is control). The bathroom episodes weren’t as tragic or frequent. The worst part I dealt with this time around was the skin under my fingernails dying. On most of my fingers my entire nail bed looked bruised and my nails became dry and brittle. Overall, the few weeks following the treatment were manageable and there was no dread of another one coming. We were able to get out and enjoy waterfalls, kayaking and climbing without me dying of exhaustion!

I had my follow-up MRI 14 days following the last treatment and on June 19 my doctor’s office called with the results – “No evidence of residual malignancy in posterosuperior and upper inner quadrant areas of the right breast or elsewhere.” The tumors were GONE!  The chemotherapy had worked! The prayers had worked! All the support and encouragement had worked! All the moments of fighting against this terrorist that had invaded my body had worked! And last but not at all the least, my God had worked on my behalf and we had won!

It took a few moments to collect myself after the phone call. To try to explain the emotions that were coursing through me is impossible. I had spent the past 5 months in the fight of my life, for my life and sweet victory was mine. I couldn’t wait to tell my children, my family, my David, my friends, my support system! We had won! The victory we had fought for, stood for, prayed for, hoped for and longed for was ours. My “someday” had come, this part of my journey was over and I knew at this moment that I was truly on my way to being better, much better than I had ever been.

I am not thankful for cancer. It is a horrid, hateful disease that has no prejudices or discrimination. It attacks with a vengeance and destruction is its priority. I never want to deal with it again in my life. I am thankful, however, for all of the blessings that I have experienced through this journey…

The incredible outpouring of love and support!

The prayers, positive words and encouragement.

The cards, phone calls, messages and visits.

The pampering visits and dinner dates with friends!

The unexpected care packages and gifts! and poems! and M&M’s! and hand made pottery! and prayer shawls! and blankets! and pictures!

The dinners made for my family! and the help cleaning my kitchen!

The strangers who have stopped whatever they were doing, wherever we were, and prayed for me.

The strangers who have asked me to pray for them!

The connections made and bonds formed with those who have walked this journey before me.

The time I have been able to spend with my children as they supported me through every moment of this journey! You ALL are the BEST! The strongest, most courageous and awesome 4 people that I know! I am blessed to be your mom and I love you BIG!! (Insert…I have the most amazing grand children this side of the universe ❤️)

The absolute best family and friends ever!

The sweetest, kindest, most generous and supportive boyfriend on the face of the planet. (Insert…he has some awesome shoulders to cry on and stunning blue eyes that slay me every time! 😊)

The un-explainable (spell check tells me that I may have made that word up!) God moments! God will make your coffee! He will shine his glory down from heaven and saturate YOU in the midst of 12000 acres! He will send the right word at the right time! He will schedule meetings just so you can spend time with a dear friend who lives 12 hours away!

So many blessings and I am beyond grateful for each and every one.

I am thankful this part of my journey is over. Now it is time to prepare myself to say good-bye to my rebellious boob…out with the old and in with the new…to move on to bigger and better things (no boob pun intended!)

My next step – surgery! See you on the other side of the knife!

June 3, 2019

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Chemotherapy Round 4 – Me versus the Brick Wall

Round 4 of chemotherapy got off to a smooth start. The Thursday afterwards I was feeling energized and the sun was shining, so after work I decided to work out in my yard weeding, blowing leaves and mowing. I was supposed to wait on my son to get home to help me, however being the ambitious soul that I am, I began without him. It felt so good to be outside being active that I got carried away. I worked for 3 ½ hours and even proceeded to mow my front yard (at sloth speed I might add!) but nevertheless I got it done and felt quite accomplished.

Friday came and I was a little tired but still felt pretty good so I headed to North Carolina for a weekend of adventures. Saturday morning was a different story. We had a hike planned and I was excited to get out before the rain settled in. Our destination was English Falls, a short but moderately strenuous pull back out of the falls. I had done it once before and knew it would be a small challenge but nothing that I couldn’t handle. As I was getting ready that morning, I felt tired and struggled with standing long enough to get dressed and ready. My ambitious heart once again threw caution to the wind and urged me to proceed. We got to the trailhead and as we headed down the steep trail to the fall, I sensed that I was in a little bit of trouble. My legs were becoming very fatigued and I had to even stop a couple of times heading down. The coming back out of there was a complete struggle! What should have taken a quick 15 to 20 minutes became double that and there were moments I found myself getting as low to the ground as possible and almost crawling out. My legs were on the verge of completely rebelling against me, my heart felt like it would explode out of my chest and I became very dizzy each time I stood straight up. Suddenly concern was on high alert yet I was bound and determined to make it up out of there and not become the chemo poster child for the next Search and Rescue call!

When I finally made it to the guardrail at the top of the trailhead, my body went into complete rebellion. I slumped over and dry heaved for several minutes before I could make the short distance to the truck to fall into the front seat. Whew! What was I thinking? I just knew however, that after a bite to eat, I would feel fine again…hahahaha! For the rest of the evening I was completely useless. The recliner and I became best friends and I lay for hours doing absolutely nothing. Easter Sunday morning came and I had to drive back home from North Carolina to make dinner for my family, which I was highly looking forward to! The hour and a half drive that I have done hundreds of times before felt like a cross country extravaganza. I had to call a girlfriend and talk to her the entire way just to ensure that I made it home without any mishaps. Changing gears in my car felt like doing 400 pound leg presses. I was exhausted and it wasn’t even noon. When I made it to Kingsport, instead of going straight home, yeah you guessed it, ambition took over and thought it was a great idea to go ahead and head to the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to run back out.

I struggled pushing the buggy, walking around to grab the few items that I needed and I felt faint and self-conscious that everyone I passed could tell I was about to fall in the floor. Suddenly I hit a mammoth size brick wall, I knew I just couldn’t finish the task and I called my youngest daughter and asked her to come to my rescue. In just a few short minutes she and her boyfriend arrived to finish shopping and I went home and straight to bed. My oldest daughter came to the house and they proceeded to prepare the family dinner for me that I was looking so forward to cooking. One of my passions is cooking and hosting my company, but on this particular Easter Sunday, fatigue had overcome me and I could do nothing. 5 o’clock came and I was able to get up and sit like a knot on a log with everyone and fellowship. I felt terrible and could barely even get up and fix a plate of food that I wasn’t going to be able to eat, thanks to chemotherapy mouth. However I felt even more terrible that my family had to see me in such a comatose state! I hadn’t experienced this kind of fatigue since I started treatments! After everyone left, I retreated back to my bed while my daughter and her sweet girlfriend cleaned up my kitchen for me. I got up long enough to spend some time with my David, as he drove from North Carolina to see me, and after he left it was bedtime, again for the umpteenth time that day. I laid there knowing that when Monday morning came, I would feel much better! Insert another hahahahaha!

Come Monday morning, getting up and walking 8 steps to my bathroom felt like an unconquerable task. I was so weak and became dizzy to the point that I didn’t think I would make it back to my room. I was able to manage enough strength to get my youngest son to school but had to come straight back home and lay down again before I could even fix my smoothie for breakfast. Sleep an hour, get up and fix my smoothie. Lay down an hour before I had enough strength to even drink it. Drink it, lay down another hour before I could muster up the strength to shower. Lay back down an hour before I could get dressed and head to the doctor for labs and fluids to see what the world was going on with my body. My oldest son was gracious enough to take the day off work to take me to the doctor or I would have never made the trip on my own. 5 hours at the doctor, labs that showed low potassium and low red blood count, fluids, exhaustion and back home to the old faithful bed. For several days it was a struggle to get up and make it to work only to come straight home and retreat back into my bed. It became a humorous question when my kids would get home and say, ”hey mom, what are you doing?” and my answer was “absolutely nothing!” I am never one to do absolutely nothing! I am use to working until I’m done, not until my body says no. However for several days, my body refused to do much of anything and I had to succumb to the exhaustion and lay down more than I wanted to!

As the week progressed and the weekend came, I began to feel a little better and regain some energy. My appetite started to come back and I was finally able to eat something besides protein shakes and soups. Saturday came and I spent the day taking family pictures for my daughter, prom pictures for my son and then drove to North Carolina to spend the night and attempt a very easy adventure for Sunday. We ended up hiking to the Chimneys and setting up top ropes to do some climbing with our Tribe, however I didn’t even take my climbing equipment. My goal was to set up a hammock, take some pictures and just soak up the spring sun and fresh air.  Let me insert how hard it was to just sit and observe! Inside my ambitious heart was dying to get on the rock, but for once in my life, I listened to my head and not my heart and opted to not exhaust myself and get back in the shape that I had experienced over the last week.

The next week was a great week of recouping and eating all the stuff I had been craving while lying in my bed exhausted and hangry the week before. Work went well, Friday came and I had decided to take a vacation day to enjoy a three day weekend before the next round of chemical warfare. I was able to enjoy a day of climbing, a Saturday of waterfall chasing and a Sunday hike on one of my favorite trails. It was an adjustment for my mind to follow the much slower pace that my body demanded, but I am determined to continue to not only seek my healing through the chemicals I am relying on to zap the cancer cells, but to also continue saturating my soul in the healing powers of nature that I have grown so fondly of over the past several years. In order to do that, it is necessary for me to listen to my body, to slow down, and to succumb to the rest that is beckoning me. I have to be wise on how I spend my energy, knowing that it is limited. It isn’t easy by any means so I face the battle with prayer for my mindset and to not begrudge that rest that my body desperately needs. No matter how weary my body grows, and how big the wall seems at times, I must keep my eyes on the prize of being cancer free and remind myself that one day soon, I’ll be better than I am at this moment.

Up next…round 5.

April 15, 2019

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: The Day I Cried for Me…

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Hearing the words that you have cancer is nothing short of devastating. No matter how much faith you have, no matter how strong you are, no matter how healthy and active you are, no matter how positive you are, no matter how much you have tried to prepare yourself for the worst, it is still quite unsettling to be faced with that worst. When I first felt that something wasn’t quite right with my body, I immediately began to pray. Hebrews 4:16 tells me to “come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain and mercy and grace in a time of need. So, boldly I went to the throne. Not only did I pray, but I petitioned my Lord, with many reasons, why I needed Him to fix whatever was wrong in my body. I know He listened intently like He always does, and somehow I know that because He is sovereign and He knows the end from the beginning, He grieved a little at the prognosis I was getting ready to face. All good fathers hurt when their children go through hardships. Nevertheless, because of His great love, He had prepared me for this journey in so many ways, and for that I am thankful!

On that dreadful day in January when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for my children, who I love more than life and the fact that I would have to tell them what was going on with me. I cried for the fear I would see in their eyes and the sadness that would grip their souls when they had to hear that their mom had cancer. I cried for the memories that would rush back in to their minds from the journey they had walked with their father just a few short years ago. I cried for the moments that they would lay awake and wonder why they had to endure so much in their lives at such young ages. I cried for the moments they would see their mom weak and hurting and not able to do for them like I always do. I cried for all the tears they would shed silently.  I cried for the sacrifices they would make to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I shared the news with them and proclaimed with courage and assurance that, when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

On that dreadful day in January when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for my grandchildren, so young and innocent who would have to watch their Momsy struggle with a disease called breast cancer that they would have no understanding of. I cried for the moments that they would want me to play and I would be too tired and would have to say no. I cried for the times they couldn’t come see me because they had a simple runny nose or a belly ache. I cried because at times, I wouldn’t be able to hug them and comfort them when they felt bad. I cried for the moments that I couldn’t kiss them because I would be toxic and full of chemicals. I cried at the confusion I would see in their eyes when they would look at me and I had no hair. I cried for the tears they would shed silently. I cried for the sacrifices they would make to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I would somehow have to share the news with them and proclaim with courage and assurance that when this was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and Momsy would be better than I was at this moment.

On that dreadful day in January when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for my family who are so near and dear to my heart – my mom, sisters and brother, as I would have to share the news with them. I cried for the pain they would feel and the dread I would hear in their voice as no one wants to hear that their daughter or sister has breast cancer. I cried for my mom and the hurt that would fill her mother’s heart for her daughter as she was suffering. I cried for the moments that fear would grip my sisters heart as they wondered if the same prognosis could be theirs also. I cried for the moments they would all feel helpless in helping me. I cried for the tears they would shed silently. I cried for the sacrifices they would make to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I shared the news with them and proclaimed with courage and assurance that, when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

On that dreadful day in January when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for my David, my companion, my adventurer, my partner whom, because of his closeness to the situation would have to hear the confirmation that yes, our fears were correct and I had breast cancer. I cried for the moments that would be different because I wouldn’t quite be at my best. I cried for the patience, compassion and grace he would have to possess as he watched his girlfriend change in appearance and stature. I cried for the moments that I would need from him far more than I could give. I cried for the moments he would have to endure as I fell apart at the seams in front of him. I cried for the moments in his life that would change because he chose to be mine. I cried for the tears he would shed silently.  I cried for the sacrifices he would make over the next year to stand by my side and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I shared with him the news and proclaimed with courage and assurance that when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

On that dreadful day in January when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for my friends who are precious to me and the deep sighs that would escape their souls as they heard that their friend had breast cancer. I cried for the moments they would hurt because I was hurting. I cried for the efforts they would make to go out of their way to provide for me and help me. I cried for the moments they would need me and I wouldn’t know it. I cried for the tears they would shed silently. I cried for the reality we were facing together and the sacrifices they would make to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I shared with them the news and proclaimed with courage and assurance that when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

On this dreadful day in January, when I heard the news, I cried for my employers and coworkers whom I have grown to adore, as I would have to share with them that I had breast cancer. I cried as I thought about telling them that this person who they had put their trust in to achieve and be successful would be challenged over the next year. I cried as I felt disappointment in my own heart that I would somehow let them down. I cried as I sat in front of them and vowed to continue to work with diligence for the program and position that I was so passionate about. I cried for the tears they would shed silently. I cried for the sacrifices they would make as they chose to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried as I shared with them the news and proclaimed with courage and assurance that when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

On that dreadful day in January, when I heard the news, I cried. I cried for everyone that I loved and the changes that would come.  I cried for the sacrifices they would make to stand by me and support me and love me through every moment. I cried each time I shared the news and proclaimed with courage and assurance that when it was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and I would be better than I was at this moment.

But one day while driving across the mountain, oh on this day, I cried for me. Finally I allowed the tears to fall for me as I faced the news that I had breast cancer. I cried for the sacrifices that I would make as I would walk through each moment of this journey. I cried for the moments that I wouldn’t feel like myself and my strength would wax and wane. I cried for each time I would feel myself struggling and hurting, having no control over what was happening due to the chemicals that were working for me and against me. I cried for the moments that I would look in the mirror and see the weakness in my own eyes and the changes in my appearance. I cried for the moments that I just wouldn’t feel like doing what I wanted to and I would have to surrender and rest. I cried for my body and how hard it had already fought and would have to fight to see me through this battle. I cried for the parts of me that I would inevitably lose. I cried for those moments when I couldn’t take care of my children as I always had for 23 years. I cried for the changes that would take place in me, knowing that I would never be the same again. I cried as I embraced the news that I had breast cancer and I prayed for courage and assurance that when this was all said and done, and this journey was complete, that everything would be okay and that I would be better, much better, than I was at this moment.

So on this day, I cried and I cried for me.

March 3, 2019.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2019 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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I Am Not Afraid

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I am not afraid of change,
mistakes or failure
But I am afraid of giving up and not trying
I am not afraid of climbing high
or crawling low
even if it makes me tremble inside
But I am afraid of letting fears control my life
of constraining me
of making my soul grow stagnate
I am not afraid of being bold
adventurous, silly
Of pushing the limits
to live life to the full
But I am afraid of the mundane,
Of not putting forth an effort
Of lying down at night feeling empty and stale
I am not afraid of being alone
But I am afraid of being somewhere
that isn’t right for me
of losing myself because others don’t approve
I am not afraid of silence or solitude
those moments with just me and my thoughts
But I am afraid of being in
the midst of company and
feeling lonely, inadequate
unheard and insignificant
I am not afraid of love
of heartache or of pain
Of losing and starting over again
But I am afraid of growing cold and bitter and weary in a world that takes so much and gives so little
I am not afraid of adversity
difficult times or the storm
But I am afraid of the parched pale sky
That never gives me an opportunity
to dance in the rain
I am not afraid of the passion burning inside of me
Nor that you may never understand it
or embrace it
But I am afraid of never fanning the flames
Of letting the embers fade to ashes
that quickly blow away
I am not afraid of being me
or of you not liking it
but I am afraid of looking in the mirror
and loathing what I see
I am not afraid of being human, finite
of some day coming to an end
But I am afraid of dying inside
while there is still blood in my veins
I am not afraid to face my fears
To challenge them
To conquer them
To allow them to make me better
Of that I am not afraid

(picture credit: Brandi Baldwin taken on the MST in the beautiful Chimneys of the Linville Gorge)

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Of Summits, Storms and a God Who Works Suddenly

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In May 2015 for my youngest son, Oliver’s 13th birthday he asked me to take him hiking. Well of course I was elated with the request and happily obliged. Our first mother, son hike was to Grayson Highlands Park in Mouth of Wilson Virginia to take in the two Pinnacles. The weather was perfect, the skies were amazing and the company simply out of this world.

As winter 2015 began to dissipate into Spring, the topic of another birthday hike arose. Where to this year? I knew the answer immediately and shared with him that I would like to take him to one of my personal favorites, Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge. I couldn’t talk enough about how mesmerized he would be with the landscape and the views the gorge had to offer so plans were set for the 2nd annual mother/son birthday hike.

Well, May came and went with busy schedules, rainy weather, baseball season and other obstacles that seemed to constantly put off the planned hike. However, finally in August (yeah I know…way belated!) on a busy Tuesday, Oliver and I loaded up the pack and headed towards the Linville Gorge. Like an efficient mom/hiker would do, I checked the weather and saw it was only a 15 – 20 % chance of rain so I figured we should be good. Partly cloudy conditions have a way of painting up the blue sky and creating stunning views over the gorge and I was beside myself that we were finally getting to go.

The drive over was a little sketchy as we were greeted with gray skies upon entering North Carolina. By the time we reached the trail head a steady drizzle of rain was falling. “Surely it won’t last long,” I thought, and with Oliver being a willing trooper off we headed up the trail. Silently I prayed for the Lord to please stop the rain and clear up the skies for us, I so wanted Oliver to behold the views from Hawksbill, but the further up we went, the more it rained. By the time we reached the top of the trail we were completely drenched from head to toe. Oliver got to experience a white-out condition for the first time and I admit my heart sunk a little as we stared off into the thick fog only to see nothing…absolutely nothing. No tree tops, no mountains, no Table Rock, no Chimneys , no  Camel in sight. No Wiseman’s View, no Linville River down below and no Shortoff Mountain in the far distance. With our eyes pierced and searching we came up empty! Everything I had excitedly shared with him for months was hidden before us as we were engulfed by the storm. I was sorely disappointed and felt like my prayers had fallen on deaf ears.

The white-out view from the top of the Spine and the Summit

We carefully played around for a few minutes at the top of the spine of Hawksbill, getting a few shots for keepsake, but after my feet slipped completely out from under me leaving me lying flat on my back in a spot that I have stepped on several times, we decided to retreat from the spine and head on up to the summit. I am a persistent little bugger at times so I continued to pray that the Lord would PLEASE let the skies clear up for Oliver to see what marvelous things surrounded him. The rain lingered, the fog thickened and my heart sank a little more with each step. We reached the summit, grabbed a few more photo ops and decided to call it a day and head back down. As I was gathering my pack Oliver pointed out a patch of blue in the skies above us. It was a small patch but nevertheless a patch of blue!! We agreed to wait for just a few more minutes and our decision seemed quite futile until suddenly…boom! The fog dissipated, the skies opened up and one by one the magnificent wonders of the gorge came into view. Oliver’s reaction to the glory that laid before him was filled with awe exactly as I imagined it would be. I shouted out loud praise and thanksgiving for an answered prayers! (okay – really they can classify as constant desperate pleas under my breath the whole way up and there). For almost an hour we carefully played and took pictures. I emphasize carefully, taking into consideration the tons of rain, slick rocks, summits, and death worthy plunges into the gorge with one false step. The rain drenched trip suddenly turned out quite fabulous and mom and son took time to enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together at 4020 feet above sea level.

 

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Jumping for joy on Hawksbill Mountain

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Suddenly everything changed!

Heading back down the mountain I pondered in my heart the overall conditions of the trip and how suddenly things changed for us. One minute the sky was covered in heavy gray fog, the next minute it seemed as if the heavens had opened up and poured its glory upon us. I was so thankful that we endured with patience and waited just a few more minutes or we would have missed out on so many marvelous moments. After stopping a few times to collect some cool mushroom shots, we made it back to the ole Honda and we were headed back to the homestead. Later on in the evening as I was kicked back and going through our pictures, I observed the incredible difference that just a few moments made and again let praise and thanksgiving escape my lips – “thank you God for answering my prayers!” It was then I heard His response, “By the way, I heard you the first time you prayed and I answered you, it just took some time for the conditions to be right. First, I had to move the storm out.” Wow, I let that sink in a little….

Yes, as soon as the conditions were right on the mountain there was a sudden change! It went from not seeing 10 feet from your face to seeing clearly to the end of the horizon.

Not immediately. Not quickly. But suddenly everything changed. Insert another life lesson from the trail:

Is life kicking your butt? Do you feel like your prayers have fallen on deaf ears? Suddenly…

Do you feel like you are wondering around blinded by all the chaos around you? Have you slipped a time or two in familiar territory falling flat on your back in failure? Suddenly…

Are the storms of life engulfing you? Suddenly…

Has your faith been dimmed by the lingering fog that envelopes your senses and leaves you feeling hopeless? Suddenly…

Have you been praying for something/someone relentlessly and things seem to only get worse? Suddenly…

Are you weary? Discouraged? Downhearted? Feeling like it’s time to give in? Suddenly…

At this moment I share with you the same thing the Almighty God of Heaven shared with me. His word assures us over and over that:

He absolutely hears our prayers. (Psalm 66:19-20, 2 Kings 20:5)

He is constantly working on our behalf. (Romans 8:28) (Psalm 68:28 NRSV)

He is our warrior and fights the battle for us. (Exodus 14:14)

He is on our side and if that is so, who can oppose us? (Romans 8:31)

He renews us and strengthens our weary hearts (Isaiah 40:31)

I am so thankful that we waited just a few more minutes on the summit of that mountain. Had we left 5 minutes earlier we would have missed what was in store for us. What are you waiting for? I can personally tell you that for the past few months I have been walking through one of the most difficult parenting seasons of my life. There are times that I think my mothering heart can’t take one more iota of aching. Times that I lay before the throne of God and weep and plea for Him to do something. Times I question whether He even hears me. Times I wonder if He is truly going to come and work on our behalf. I want Him to do things immediately! Quickly! Geez Lord hurry up! Times I am weary from the climb and drenched from the storms. But I am reminded on this day that there is a “suddenly” on the horizon for you and for me. There is an appointed ‘suddenly’ that will change everything. Keep climbing that mountain, keep enduring that storm because suddenly God is on His way.

(scripture references of God working suddenly:

On the Mount of Transfiguration: “suddenly” Moses and Elijah were seen conversing with Jesus (Matthew 17:). The Holy Spirit arrived on Pentecost “suddenly” (Acts 2:2). “Suddenly” a light blinded Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-4). When he and Silas were imprisoned, a severe earthquake came “suddenly” (Acts 16:25-26). There was Sirach. “For it is easy with the Lord suddenly, in an instant, to make a poor man rich” (11:21-22).

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My Oliver overlooking the Gorge from Hawksbill Summit

A few mushrooms found along the way 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Of Waterfalls and Hidden Treasures

Of Waterfalls and Hidden Treasures

Everyone has things that they love to do to feed their soul (or should!) One of the things that I enjoy doing is hiking. It is a hobby I took up 3 years ago that has provided me with an abundance of opportunities to explore some incredible places in and around East Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina and Kentucky. I’ve also been privileged to meet some of the finest folks on planet earth that share the same passion for adventuring that was birthed in me from the first step on the trail. One of my favorite things to do is venture off trail in search of treasures that are hidden away in remote places that not everyone wants to take the time and the sometimes helluva of a lot of effort it takes to get to.

One of my friends had been told about a waterfall located off trail on Holston Mountain that wasn’t well known and rarely seen. On Labor Day, 2015, several of us set out in search of this fall. We located the stream quite easily and began our trek up the mountain with hopes of finding a treasure. The journey was a fairly moderate one with some small creek crossings, quite a bit of bushwhacking through the thick mountain laurel and fallen trees, some rock hopping and some uphill scrambling. However the further up the mountain we ventured, the smaller the creek became until eventually we completely lost the water source. We found ourselves standing on a boulder filled area that appeared to be the perfect place for a waterfall, we could even hear water running underneath us, however, no waterfall was to be found. No adventure is a waste of time but I do admit we were all a little disappointed that we did not find what we were looking for so we set our sights back on the trail and headed back to the car.

Skip ahead to a rainy Sunday in February, 2016 after old man winter had dumped a few deep snows around us and then saturated us with several rainfalls. Instead of staying inside where it was warm and dry, three of us from the previous adventure decided to get out and do some exploring. A few ideas were tossed around, and after considering the amount of the recent snow and rain, we decided to revisit the location on Holston Mountain in search of the unfound fall. As soon as we approached the creek, that was swelled and raging, we knew this adventure would merit a different outcome from the last. As the rains fell from the heavens and the waters sprung up out of the earth we began a journey that would prove much more difficult this time around. The creek was at least three times wider than before with deep waters rushing violently (thigh high in places!) and crossing was impossible unless we wanted to have soaked bodies from the get go. We decided to bushwhack up the bank as far as we could, using dead logs for makeshift bridges and tight-roping fallen trees whenever possible. The laurel was thicker than thieves, the rain saturating and the ground slick. Less than halfway up the journey, the only things still dry on me were the body parts protected by my raincoat and my feet sheltered in waterproof boots. After 3 hours of travailing through any way that we could, my hands and fingers were covered in dirt from gripping on to anything I could to stay upright, my jeans were soaked and muddy from belly crawls through the brush and I’m sure my face was decorated in shades of dirt and muck from the unsuccessful attempts to wipe it dry. But oh my! Our efforts were getting ready to pay off royally and the sights we were to behold, simply breathtaking.

From a distance we looked up and saw the first sights of a waterfall! The same boulder filled area we happened upon on our last visit was now covered with rushing waters falling from high upon the mountain. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The same area that had been dry as a bone before was now waterfall heaven laden with some of the absolute most gorgeous drops I have ever seen. Valiant efforts were put forth to capture this fall on film, yet it was impossible to get the whole fall – which was at least 300ft from top to bottom – in one frame. The falling rain made it even more challenging to snap a capture, but we persisted and persevered, making our way up drop after drop. I was completely captivated with each new drop, like a kid in a candy shop trying to get a piece of all the good stuff. Even the side tributaries that flowed into the main stream possessed incredible drops and cascades that were more than picture worthy, yet I was nowhere near ready to behold the magnificence that waited for us at the top.

I’m scrambling to get as many pictures as possible with the little bit of daylight we had left, I finally climb up over the last boulder and stand upright, and oh my! I knew immediately that I had been transported to some magical place. The rock wall to the left of the waterfall was an incredible sight within itself with small streams of water trickling down from its top. My eyes scanned over to the impressive waterfall that flowed out and over the top of the mountain. My eyes teared up as gasps of wonder from deep inside my soul escaped past my lips (yes I know, I am such an emotional creature!). All of the efforts had paid off – the repeated attempts, the bushwhacking, the cuts, the bruises, being soaked to the bone, dirty as crap – and we had found her! The hidden treasure was on full display right before my eyes. Heck yes!

As I stood there engrossed in amazement, I heard that still small voice that so eloquently speaks and seizes my attention. “What if you went through that much trouble to find the treasures hidden in people? Make repeated efforts when you appear to come up empty handed on the first try. Fight through the muck and dirt of their life. Weather the storm that is raging inside of them. Not give up until you find the treasure that I know is there?” Thus began another one of the priceless moments where the great God of heaven and earth stood beside me, stopping time as I know it and conversing with me for what seemed like an eternity. We talked of those who were hurting, confused, trapped inside walls of guilt and shame. Those who felt worthless, irrelevant, insignificant. Those who appeared dark and dreary to the naked eye, but to the soul who was brave enough to take a closer look, to delve deeper into the muck, would discover a treasure so grand our hearts would be astonished. He reminded me of times that I had been broken, empty and felt worthless and ashamed. We reminisced of the anger I had exchanged for pain and the fortress I had constructed around my heart to not hurt anymore (Pink Floyd’s wall didn’t hold a candle to mine!). He took me back to that glorious place on April 10, 1994 when I knelt before Him and surrendered. The moment I joined Him on my journey to find the treasures of His spirit buried deep inside my own being (talk about an ongoing bushwhacking adventure! Hello fuzzy!). Last but not least, He addressed the weariness that was lingering in my soul from what seemed like futile attempts and exhausted efforts in my life without any treasures being found. Journeys that had left me cut, bruised, wounded and vulnerable. And then I simply stood with Him in silence as this place of visitation was being forever burned into the portals of my mind.

Only a matter of seconds had passed when I returned to the present. We were running out of daylight and it was time to bid farewell to this glorious place we had discovered. I knew with every step back to the car that, although the waterfalls we encountered on this day were nothing short of a spectacular find, the greatest treasure I had discovered was a renewed sense of hope and desire to venture on His journey, embrace His plans and continue the search for His treasures that were hidden all around me.

2 Corinthians 4:6-8Living Bible (TLB)
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that it is the brightness of his glory that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us is held in a perishable container, that is, in our weak bodies. Everyone can see that the glorious power within must be from God and is not our own.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Of Waterfalls, Baptisms and Free Souls

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I came across this quote a year or so ago and being the ‘word person’ that I am, it jumped off the screen and stuck in my spirit. It provoked me to ask these questions:

The free soul – Lord, what does it feel like to be free?

Is rare – Lord, is this even attainable for me?

You feel good when you are with them – Lord, How do I make people feel?

I pondered these words over and over and came to the conclusion that indeed I wanted to be one of these free souls! God and I (with a little help from Elvis Presley 😉 ) had been tenaciously working for months to strip off some chains – mindsets – strongholds – call them what you will –  that had shackled my innermost being from birth. I had cried out to God countless times over the years for relief, but in the winter of 2012 I was desperate. I needed a change! I was frustrated with life, weary of the responsibilities that weighed upon me, exhausted of repeating the same ole things over and over again, depleted spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I cried out and His answer to me was the same as it was over 2000 years ago to the lame man who had sat by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years (John 5) “Would you like to get well?’ well…Yes! YES! I was ready to do whatever it took for the much needed change I so desperately needed. Thus began a journey of surrendering my ways, of trusting completely, praying relentlessly, of total commitment and tenacious blind faith.  I wasn’t sure what all would be required of me but I knew I was ready and willing for anything and after reading this quote, I was convinced of what I wanted the conclusion to be. I wanted to be free – in my soul – so free that even those around me would feel it and long for the same liberation!

In May of 2014 I was given the opportunity to visit Dick’s Creek Falls located in the Cherokee National Forest in Erwin Tennessee. This is a beautiful area that possesses incredible landscapes, fabulous fungi, rocks and boulders that demand climbing and magnificent waterfalls. On this day my we  hiked in by way of Rattlesnake Ridge and took in two falls, Lower Dick’s Creek and Upper Dick’s Creek Falls. Both, very different in appearance, were captivating. Lower Dick’s Creek was tucked away in a rocky cove as a single fall flowing down into a gorgeous pool of shiny green water. For the avid cliff jumper and swimmer, this is an enticing place to take a dip! Upper Dick’s Creek Fall possesses 4 different plumes that shoot off from a huge wall made of rocks and boulders. At any angle this fall is superb! You can explore the fall from all sides, climbing on the moss covered ledges, wading out into the pool of water at the base and even climb around to the top of the fall and gaze downward as is rushes over the edge.

1st visit

First Visit to  Upper Dick’s Creek Falls

It was at Upper Dick’s Creek that the tradition of the Hillbilly Baptism began. If you are facing the fall, the far left plume is perfect for standing under and letting the water wash over you. A fellow hiker decided on this particular day that he would do just that! Watching him, with camera ready as he made his way to the edge of the flow and capturing the moment where he completely emerged himself under the water was downright exciting! Although I was apprehensive about getting wet, I wanted a turn! So off I went, under the fall, just enough to where the water would hit the back of my neck and spill over me and  WOW! What an exhilarating feeling! The Hillbilly Baptism! Refreshing! Good for the spirit and cleansing to the soul. It was amazing and it would be a moment that I would long to experience again for over a year.

Fast forward exactly 14 months. Awake on a hot humid summer day in July. Gather a crew of some Fine  hiker-trash souls  (we don’t mind being called that, we all share the same flaming passion for the outdoors!), insert a four wheel drive path and some heavy duty vehicles and prepare yourself for a grand adventure back to Dick’s Creek Falls. This time our journey would include 2 more falls that my trail mates had discovered on previous hikes. I and a couple of others in our group hadn’t had the opportunity to see them yet so we were stoked.  Many in our group share the same love for fungi as I do and from the get go we knew it was going to be a superb day as we encountered mammoth size mushrooms along the access road. Moments after stepping foot on the trail we were greeted by numerous varieties of fungus in all shapes, colors and sizes. Although our quest was to see at least 4 waterfalls, I believe we could have spent an entire day photographing mushrooms and been completely satisfied with the trip!

shroom 11737918_1040884442598080_3079390004115687357_n 11698541_1040884192598105_3033884022711856348_n 11667483_1040884579264733_4807100219327578723_n 11059161_1040884122598112_3395351644245835605_n

 The variety of Fungus was fantabulous!

The first fall we would come to would be Upper Dick’s Creek Falls. Seeing her for the second time was just as grand as it had been on the first trip. This is one of my favorite falls that I have encountered since I traded my flip-flops for hiking boots a couple of years ago. We lingered and played there for a while before climbing up to the top to see the gorgeous pool made out of gold – not really, but when the sun hits it just right the color of the rock underneath the water glistens prettier than any gold you could lay your eyes on!

Upper dicks creek My second gaze upon Upper Dick’s Creek

We finally managed to peel ourselves away from the first falls and climbed on up and over to trek about a hundred yards (maybe – I suck at measuring distance!) to the next fall, Upper Upper Dicks Creek Falls. My, oh my! Wasn’t she a sight to behold! Nestled in a cove of rock surrounded by laurel, this 50 or so foot fall was gorgeous! Shooting down the cliff and spilling over a huge tree that had wedged itself down the fall, she displayed power, prowess and pride! We all scrambled to take photos and do our best to capture her beauty and then we sat for a spell enjoying each other’s company while being serenaded by her melody. To the right of the fall stood Totem Pole rock. I had heard stories of this particular rock and I admit I salivated a little while listening. It was unique in its make-up, possessing faces at almost every angle you could study and it seemed to call out to my soul to come and climb. I succumbed to the wooing and a few of us ventured to its top and took in the view, snapped some photos and then we all proceeded to another uphill climb in search of yet another fall.

11692780_1040897042596820_8127119618070925915_n Upper Upper Dick’s Creek Falls

totem pole 3  Totem Pole Rock

atop totem pole

Shameless selfie atop Totem Pole Rock

The climb to the last upper fall was a little tricky, having to scale up a very slick crevice. One false slip and you became the human bowling ball plummeting down, taking out anyone or anything in your path. The good news is that we all made it without what we call ‘badger error’ and was able to arrive safely at Upper, Upper, Upper Dicks Creek Falls. I find it interesting how each of the falls  on Dick’s Creek are completely different from each other, and this one cascading down a wall of emerald green moss and falling into a golden pool of bliss,   fell nothing short of triggering enchanting gasps as my eyes gazed upon her. We took our turn climbing over to the base of the fall for our infamous gnome pose photo op. Eventually it was time to head out and venture down to the last fall of the day, Lower Dick’s Creek Falls.

On our way back down we made one last stop at Upper Dick’s Creek to perform the ‘Hillbilly Baptism’. We had talked all morning about doing the baptism and for over a year I had waited to come back to this particular fall and once again experience the rush of the cold water plummeting down my body. For some reason though, I lingered at the top with the rest of the crew who were going to observe and take photos. I watched as two  trail mates both stood underneath the plume of water and their gasps as the cold water spilling over them resonated in my ears. When The next one stepped up to take his turn, I felt this gnawing ache in my gut and a still small voice in my spirit and I knew that I couldn’t just watch, I had to participate. My soul needed the cleansing I had waited so long to experience so the hiking boots came off, water shoes on and down I went to the base of the fall to take my turn.

Michael Taylor, friend, trail mate and photographer would be capturing our baptism on film. He had explained to me that I needed to stand still under the fall for 5 seconds – that’s FIVE seconds under a plume of rushing ice cold water – standing STILL – not moving – to get the perfect shot. Lawd have mercy! On the first attempt, I closed my eyes, held my breath, stepped under the fall and counted the slowest count to five that I have ever experienced! I was proud of myself that I had stayed under for the required time, but as I came out and looked up, he motioned for me to do it again, this time standing up a little closer to the front with my arms straight and even. Hello Fuzzy! Again? I thought the second attempt went much better than the first but once again, as I came out from under the water, Big Mike’s instructions were to do it ONE MORE TIME!  I guess to someone who has never experienced it before, the matter sounds a little trivial, but when you have ice cold water pounding your head and running down your face it’s a little hard to breathe and stand still. And…you may be asking why on earth do it to start with? Well, (1) it’s a hiker-trash tradition! (2) its exhilarating to stand under a waterfall and let it wash over you, and (3) you only live once! And for me it is as important to ‘capture’ the moment as it is to ‘experience’ the moment so off I went for the third time under the fall. But this time was different. I borrowed someone’s ball cap! I noticed when they were under the fall that the cap seemed to deflect some of the water off his face so I wanted to see if it made it easier, and boy did it ever! Standing under the fall as the water spilled over the ball cap away from my face, yet soaking my entire body, well I don’t really know if I have the proper words to express what happened inside of me but I will try.

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The Hillbilly Baptism! (photo credit to trail mate, friend and photographer Michael D Taylor)

As a young child I developed a horrible fear of water. I almost drowned once while trying to learn to swim and from that moment on I doubt my head had been under water more than 10 times in 40 years, except for showering of course 😉  The first time I attempted the baptism over a year ago, I didn’t stand completely under the water. The plume hit right on the back of my neck and spilled down over my shoulders. The second baptism I had experienced had taken place at Grotto Falls in Elizabethton (the fall above Blue Hole) and I braved the fall like a scared cat, standing completely under it for a few short seconds, so it was progress! This time however, I completely got lost in the moment. My focus wasn’t on trying to hold my breath, or keeping water from shooting in my eyes, nose and mouth. Instead I stood, under the rushing water, eyes wide open, taking in the scenery around me from behind the veil. I stood for what wasn’t more than 10 seconds I’m sure, but it felt like an eternity. I stood and I thought about all the things God had been doing in my life in the past two years and I felt grateful.  I thought about the undeniable peace He had placed in my spirit from the first moment my boots hit the dirt and I felt content. I thought about the life lessons He had taught me while we explored in His natural sanctuary and I felt enlightened. I thought about all the new friends I had made because of the trail who share a kindred passion and I felt connected. Just like the ball cap was deflecting the water from my face, I thought about the constant divine presence and protection I felt daily and I felt secure. I thought about the many times in life that I had stumbled and fell but got back up to give it another shot and I felt accomplished. I thought about the many fears that the trail had helped me overcome over the past two years and I felt unchained.  Perhaps time had frozen for a bit as those few seconds under the water allowed me to reflect upon a lifetime of events and changes. As I stepped out from underneath the fall for the 3rd and last time I was beyond thankful that I had succumbed to the still small voice that had urged me to participate. My body was drenched, my spirit was refreshed and my mind was clear.

Our crew regrouped and traveled down to Lower Dick’s Creek, the final stop for the day. Again, she was as fine as she was the first time I laid eyes on her! Someone had cut a tree down and had desecrated her view but two of my trail mates worked to remove the tree and once again display her glory. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed but as I sat and gazed into the emerald waters of the pool I saw my own reflection. So many changes had taken place in me, changes I had prayed for, pleaded for and worked for.  I smiled as I glanced for a moment deep down inside my soul …and I felt free.

It was yet another fine day on the trail!

11703038_1040899509263240_4889274847857008236_n Lower Dick’s Creek

flume 4 a side shot on Upper Dick’s Creek Falls

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Of Friday Mornings, Mushrooms and a God Who Answers Prayers

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Fridays are my off day from my paying job (with 4 children and 1 grandchild I never have a real day off! Mommas can you feel me??) So as often as I can I venture out on a trail with a hiking partner. Last Friday rolled around and it had been a few weeks since my last adventure. Circumstances prevented a planned outing but my weeks had been extremely taxing and my soul so needed some refreshing. I concluded to set off on my own and enjoy some solo time on a familiar trail. My destination would be Laurel Run Park in Church Hill, a trail with some waterfalls that I had been on once before during the cold weather months and was curious to see in the summer season. With backpack packed, hiking boots on and pole in hand, I put sole to trail and began my day. I chuckled a little as I crossed the bridge and saw a sign that read “Caution, Dangerous Wildlife, Proceed at Own Risk.” I didn’t recall seeing that the last time but perhaps I was too caught up in conversation to notice, and I dared to proceed despite the warning.

The day was over-cast with very little light filtering in through the forest’s covering.  The deeper into the trail I went, the darker it got. After making the stream crossing I was walking along and I began to think about that caution sign…..and bears. My mind began to race. What on earth would I do if I encountered one? Did I tell anyone where I was going today? If one attacked me I would cut him! Fiddlesticks! I left my handy dandy pocket knife in my purse in the car (no I had not been using it on anyone lately) Lord, I know your plan for me is not to be eaten by a bear when I am seeking serenity!  As I think back on it now, I am amused at how entangled I became with thoughts of a bear that was nowhere near. How many times in life do we allow ourselves to get wrapped up in worries that never happen? That we let our fears get the best of us? That we focus on the things that might happen versus the things that we know are true?

It wasn’t long until the melody of the stream became the song that I longed to hear. A few more steps and I had reached my destination of the waterfall. All thoughts of anything on the outside world fled my mind and I became entranced with the sights, the sounds, the aromas that surrounded me. I lingered at the fall for about an hour, taking pictures, exploring the different angles, playing in the rushing waters, inhaling the fresh smell of the wet earth and admiring the beauty of my surroundings. I proceeded on up to the top of the falls and found the perfect spot to sit for a spell and talk to my Father about the things that were weighing on my heart. Did He hear me? Would He answer? Would things be ok? I repeated a phrase that I had uttered many times before along my journey called life, “Lord, I believe, but help me with my unbelief.”

The clock was ticking away and it was time for me to wrap things up.  I headed back to the trail and was tossing through my mind whether I had time to proceed on up to the second fall.  After checking the hour, I knew I needed to head back to the car but I put in one simple request before I began my trek back. “Lord, I would really love to see a mushroom! Something curious and interesting!” Literally within two steps I looked down and standing there, illuminated by a single ray of sun that pierced through the darkness was the most exquisite mushroom I had ever laid eyes on! I swear I heard that “ahhhhhhhh” you hear in movies when something magical happens. I knelt down to examine this handsome specimen and was awed by his stance, the way his colors complimented the blanket of green moss he sprouted from. He was magnificent and I was enamored. When I was finally able to peel my attention away from this wonderful mushroom, I saw another one, totally different in appearance but nonetheless stunning. Then another one and another one! How had I missed these beauties on my way up? Had I been too focused on thoughts of a bear that didn’t exist? Did God just answer my prayer and kaboom! They were there? I’m not sure which scenario was right, I just knew I was happier than a fat kid eating cake as I went from one mushroom to another snapping shots and admiring their uniqueness.

I stood there for a moment, somewhat shocked at how quickly my simple request had been answered. Not only did I see one mushroom, but I had been blessed with a showcase in every direction. Thanksgiving couldn’t help but escape from my lips and it was then that I heard the response that brought me to my knees somewhere in the middle of a trail nestled in the woods of Hawkins County. “If I hear you when you ask for simple things and I answer you, how much more do to you think I hear you when you ask for greater things? For your children, your family, those that you love and I love even more?” Psalm 18:6 says “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.”  On a beautiful, serene Friday morning the most High God of heaven, the creator of the universe, the maker of the sun, moon and stars, author of my life, my Father and my Friend met with me in the woods. He ministered to my spirit and soothed my soul, reminding me that, yes! He hears my every prayer, every request, whether they are simple or heartfelt cries. He assured me once again that He is always with me, His promises are ever true and His word never fails.

As I headed back to the real world with every step my feet felt a little bit lighter, my stride more joyful and my spirit rejoiced! There were no thoughts of unseen bears lurking in the distance. Instead thanksgiving and praise to my God bellowed out of my gut. I was thankful for His presence, for His assurance, for His voice and for mushrooms.

Some of the other gems I found 🙂

10251959_855437251142801_6588633818242419413_n 10347417_855436194476240_4651641328148112246_n 10384625_855437214476138_4292925689967254526_n 10390476_855437291142797_2930135551438728172_n 10556288_855436134476246_851477255966521356_n 10559792_855437577809435_3758198781346867922_n 10577064_855437434476116_3876858321785678735_n 10583958_855437167809476_8483760520123752943_n 10612636_855436061142920_3949381524875062908_n

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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