Monday, October 31, 2011

To Dream the Impossible Dream -or- Watch Me Work

If ever someone was born and called to be a pharmacist, it's my daughter, Jessica. By the time she was five years old, that was all she was going to be when she grew up. She never dreamed of being a doctor, lawyer, cop, fire-woman, teacher, nurse, or every "-ologist" known to man like I had done. Nope! She set her sights early on being a pharmacist.

It's a mutant gene in the Taylor family. Her great-great uncle Leroy graduated from UNC Pharmacy School, as did her Granddaddy Jim, her Daddy Mitch, and her Uncle Stacey. My Daddy George graduated from UNC Dental School. UNC was in her family tree, pharmacy was in her DNA, and the two combined were her destiny. Life sailed along relatively smooth for her. She had anoles and an iguana as a child so she could study the "effect of vitamins" on them. She worked at the family drug store. She was very responsible and level-headed, with her head in Carolina Blue clouds. She never paid attention when Campbell University opened the second Pharmacy School in NC in 1986. She was only 5, so who cared? They were not UNC. The dream lived on.

She went to local Chowan, then College, now University, and took her pre-pharmacy courses with every intention of getting all that done in two years so she could move onto UNC for four years of Pharmacy. She took the PCAT both years, even as a freshman and did well!

She stayed on track and applied to UNC Pharmacy, as planned, and practically had her bags packed. Pharmacy School has a limited number of openings so I urged her to also apply to Campbell. My advice went unheeded. She received notice that she would not be filling one of UNC's seats and that she was number 9 on the waiting list. Wait she did! When it became obvious that 2002 wasn't going to be her year, she made plans and went back to Chowan for a third year. Because she had been number 9 on the waiting list, she just knew in her heart of hearts that she'd be one of the first accepted when she applied the next year. She was determined 2003 was going to be her year to begin Pharmacy School.

So, when it was time, she applied to UNC. Not to Campbell as well. The only time she ever gave Campbell a thought was to tell me "no" when I urged her to apply. They both had a limited number of open seats, if one didn't accept her, maybe the other would: that was my reasoning. Her reasoning for not listening to me was "They aren't UNC."

She applied for early acceptance. I remember checking the mail that Wednesday morning in March 2003. She was at home when I returned from the post office. I handed her the letter from UNC. Her excitement turned to sheer disbelief, anger, and tears when she read she had been waiting listed again...this time in the double the 40s!

It was 10:30 am and she grabbed that letter and rushed out the door. She was going to Chowan to see her advisor. Bonnie had connections! Bonnie would know what to do about this outrage! Bonnie had no clue Jessica was on her way!

I breathed a quiet, "Help her Lord." and I very distinctly heard God say, "Watch me work." That was it. Watch me work.

When Jessica returned home she said Bonnie would see what she could do. She had meetings that afternoon but when she got a chance, she'd make some calls and get back in touch with Jessica later that evening. She had a meeting that wasn't on her agenda. It was on God's though.

Bonnie called back at 6 pm that evening. Remember, this was Wednesday and ALL applications for ALL pharmacy schools had been due early February. ALL deadlines were well past.

Around one o'clock that afternoon, she was in her office meeting with two advisees, her office door was open when she heard a woman's voice across the hall. She was there to see Dr. So-and So and she was from the Campbell School of Pharmacy Admissions Office. She needed directions to the Dr.'s office.

Bonnie stuck her head out of her door and asked the woman if she had heard her correctly. She had! Bonnie asked her if she had time to meet with her about a student. She did! Bonnie's advisees willingly postponed their meeting and Bonnie and this woman from Campbell School of Pharmacy Admissions Office spent an hour going over Jessica's file!

It turned out this woman was on the Admissions Committee for the Pharmacy School and they had one more meeting that coming Friday and five seats left to fill. If Jessica could get all her admissions materials together and in her office by Friday morning when they met, they'd consider her. They would accept faxes of all transcripts with the understanding that originals were in the mail.

It wasn't her dream. Up until then her dream was UNC and pharmacist. They went together. The question became: is it more important to go to UNC or more important to be a pharmacist. I guess you know how she answered.

She hauled boogie the rest of Wednesday evening and all day Thursday getting her material together and faxed. When that committee met Friday morning all her info was there.

Monday she was called and told she was one of the five admitted!

She never looked back. She embraced Campbell with a bear hug! She entered the Class 0f 2007 in August of 2003.

To live her ultimate dream, she had to let go of another. And you know what? It turned out to be the best move for her! UNC, while a great school, would have swallowed her whole. Campbell was a perfect fit. God knew it all along and when she wouldn't listen, God made a way. All we had to do was watch Him work.

It can be painful to relinquish a dream. It can seem stupid and like the worse move possible. But God does know what's best for us.

Oh, when she graduated, she already had a great job lined up. Other dreams of hers have fallen into place and I think she learned a thing or two about God in the process. Me, too.

And I am grateful.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Melanoma Parable: Escargot

Fancy word for "snails." July 2010 I bought a bright red male betta and promptly named him Rudolph. He was in a rather small betta tank by himself and seemed lonely. Bettas are also known as "Siamese fighting fish" and, in pet stores, are those fish kept in tiny cups, one to a cup. Mitch taped a mirror to the side of his tank and that made him happy. I bought a couple of snails and put in his tank so he would have another moving life-form in there with him. Rudolph knew he had company and would often swim around the snails. While I thoroughly enjoyed Rudolph, those snails were mighty interesting in their own right.

They laid little clusters of eggs and they would hatch one at a time. They were almost microscopic and as they slowly grew, I could see their shell was born on them (which I didn't realize) and grew with them. When I had too many for his tank, I put some in Mitch's larger tank where he had his own community of various fish.

His fish community changed over time as fish died and he got other types and they didn't get along or the pH wasn't right for that fish while it was fine for the other. As his fish died out, Rudolph thrived by himself with his snail friends. Eventually, he ceased to thrive and developed some sort of ick that I couldn't get under control. The snails died and so did he. My tank was lifeless and got cleaned out. And though we kept the filter running in the water, Mitch's tank was lifeless also...

Until late this past summer when I bought Rex Ned. A bright royal blue betta and we put him in Mitch's big tank by himself. I had one happy betta! And then the strangest thing started happening. Snails started showing up in that tank! I didn't bring anything home with Rex in his bag of water. That tank had sat, lifeless, for months, and now, after Rex has been swimming around several weeks, he's got unexpected company. So far, there are eight snails of various sizes!

As I've contemplated my sermon for this week, God has brought these snails to mind. I'm not going to preach that sermon here. I'm going to use those snails to illustrate a different sermon.

While those snails seemed to have come from nowhere, that's really not the case at all. Apparently, eggs had been laid and were dormant, not doing anything until conditions were right and then they hatched. Now, I really don't know if that's how it can work in snail-world, but that's the only thing that makes sense. Mitch has enough decorations in that tank for egg clusters to have gone unnoticed. But they were obviously there. When the conditions were right, they hatched, and being living creatures, they're growing and doing what snails are meant to do.

Melanoma is like that. We can go about life, doing like we want, knowing conditions may be just right for skin cancer, but, hey, we don't see any sign of it and particularly melanoma at work, Soooooo...we must be in the clear....and then...all of a sudden...we start to see something we haven't seen before...a change...something grows...maybe slowly...maybe develops its shell...the longer it grows the more impenetrable that shell does what it's meant to do...conditions were right after all...we didn't know...weren't paying attention...smug...self-confident...snails grow in other people's tanks...I have no reason to look for snails in my own tank...

Until they are obviously there for all the world to see. Except, maybe, me. If you like horror films, you'll love Life With Killer Snails. Or maybe you won't.

Melanoma is one killer snail I promise you, you really don't want in your tank.

The truth of the matter is, you really don't know what's lurking around waiting to grow. If you've got skin, and most of us do, thick or thin, the potential is there. So what if you don't have a "family history" for skin cancer in general or melanoma in particular, family histories have to start somewhere. It could be you. So what if you've always protected your skin and never been burned. Check yourself to make sure you've got skin somewhere on your body. If you spot a patch, you're at risk. So what if you've never stepped foot anywhere near a tanning bed, much less climbed into one. Again, if you've got skin anywhere on you, you are at risk. It's that simple.

And by the way, like all snails, melanoma is quite hardy and eats the most disgusting stuff. It like toe-jam...check your feet, soles and nails. It likes eye tissue and inside mouths. It likes orifices of all kinds, and I'm not going to spell that out, but, yes, melanoma shows up in those places also, your problem might not be hemorrhoids. It likes to play hide-and-seek, check your scalp and hairlines.

I've never tried escargot and don't plan to. I like my snails in a tank and my melanoma...

Well, I wish I could quietly hide that under the tank, forget about it, and go on with life and never give it a second thought.

But I can't do that because that would mean sure death. That's the kind of attitude Killer Snail Mel likes and thrives on. While you're checking your body, check your attitude as well.

See, you might not know what lurks or what's already going on inside you somewhere. You might be complacent (not good!) or arrogant (not good either!) about melanoma. You might be ignorant (deadly).

So, here's your wake-up call.

I'll keep calling and nagging. It's in my DNA. I'm a Southern Mama Preacher. This is how I roll.

And I am grateful.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cancer Etiquette: If You Know Someone With Cancer, Please Read

OK, grab your Miss Manners book and turn to the chapter on "How to Behave Around People With Cancer." Gotcha! It's not in there is it?! Nope. So, I guess I'll just have to write one. Don't worry. It will be short. All you really need to remember is three little words:

Talk to us

Let's flesh that out.

TALK to us.
That's right. Don't ignore us, don't look away. TALK. To us. We know we have cancer. It's no secret. If we have a bald head, we know it. If we wear compression garments, we put them on. I wear a compression sleeve and glove on my left arm and hand. Often people will ask about it. Often they, for some reason, assume I've burned myself. A lot of times, however, people will get uneasy when they notice it. They'll look at it, look at me, and the look on their face says, "Does she know she's got that on?" Not only do I know I've got it on (I mean, really. How could someone else stealthily put that on me?), but I did it myself, I know why, and I'll happily tell you all about it. Ask.

If you truly do not know what to say to someone dealing with any issue about cancer, instead of saying nothing, try this: "How are you?" Or, "I've been thinking about you." Or, "I remember you in prayer." Or, "I don't know what to say but I'm here if you need me." If you don't know what to say, we do. Just give us an opening, and we'll help you out. Promise.

One hint of what not to say: Don't speak in terms of us losing our battle. We're winners (see blog post "Loser? I Think Not" right below this one). Don't speak in terms of us failing trials. As has been pointed out, we don't fail the trials, the trials fail us...there is still much to learn about cancer. And, unless we are actively dying, unless we bring up "death" don't you. Talk in terms of "fighting" and about "hope." You're going to die one day, too. If you really want to go there, we'll go there. We're not afraid to talk about death and I guarantee you we've got a different perspective from you, but again, unless we know you well and want to talk about it with you, we won't. There are other things to talk about.

Talk TO us.
That's right. Don't talk about us, don't talk around us. Talk. TO us. We know our condition and our treatments, etc, better than anyone. Ask us and we'll tell you. Ask someone else and there's no telling what you'll be told. It may be accurate or it may not be. We are still people. We can still carry on conversations and they do not have to be about cancer. We know about the weather as well. If we cannot speak (seriously), then ask who lives in the house with us about us. They will know. Again, if you ask anyone else that doesn't share a house with us, even if they are close relatives, there's no telling what you'll be told. Promise

Talk to US.
That's right. Don't talk to everybody else, don't talk to the dog. Talk. To US. We're here! We didn't get cancer and slip off into some alternate universe (though cancerworld is very different from anything else we've encountered and it may not be part of your world). Learn our stories. Look at us and understand that you could be looking into a mirror. Promise.

One day you may well bump into us in cancerworld and we'll help you in any way we can. Promise.

One day you may understand this cancer etiquette from the other side of it. Promise.

Right now, it's my turn to help you understand it. I don't mind. It's part of my journey and one reason I'm here.

And I am grateful.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Loser?" I Think Not!

Gotta grab my big soapbox for this one! The one with room to pace about as I get this out there. I feel like I'm waging my own little one-woman battle. I've mentioned this briefly in a few of my "notes" on Melanoma Prayer Center. I've mentioned it in a few comments on friends pages. I've noticed some people coming around and changing their choice of words as they change their understanding. It's time to take this to the masses.

To put it simply, what has got me up in arms, is this idea that people "lose" their battles with cancer when they die from cancer. These are folks who fight long and hard. They and their families give it everything they've got. How dare people talk in terms of them "losing" their battle?

I deal with melanoma and I do take this language personally. Let me tell you why.

"Losers" don't have an "in it to win it" attitude. We know we may die from our cancer; we also know we may not.

We are all going to die from something at some point in time. All of us. It may be from illness, from being in an accident, or because a person was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When someone dies in a car wreck, we don't say they lost their battle with a car.

God talks in terms of us getting the "victor's crown" and we get it only after we've fought the fight, run the race, and died. We don't get a VICTOR'S crown before we die, we get it after we die. We don't get a loser's "tsk-tsk, you tried." If God calls us "victors", why don't we?

Melanoma, like all diseases, is limited. It can only do so much. Absolutely, what it can do is absolutely horrible, painful beyond words, costly beyond means, tricky and devious beyond our wildest imaginations...yet, it's limited.

Melanoma, like other diseases, cannot, cannot, follow me into eternity, it cannot touch that part of me made in God's image, and it cannot kill my spirit. It cannot kill my faith. Oh, it may test it and stretch it. It cannot kill it.

Melanoma and all diseases are the ultimate big losers. Those who fight them, die from them, and enter Heaven's gates, do not enter having "lost," but having won.

Melanoma loses. Cancer loses. Disease loses.

People win.

God doesn't go around handing out Victor's Crowns to just anybody.

He hands them to winners.

And I am grateful!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just In Time


I think about "time" a lot lately. Come October 13th, my little granddaughter will be a full 21 months old! Her mother was just 21 months old yesterday, wasn't she? I'm pretty sure she was and now she has her own  almost 21 month old.

I can't forget my own 21 year old son. He squeezed in there somewhere. I know "how" it happened. But "when" did it happen? How did what sounds like so much time condense into so little a space? Day before yesterday wasn't I walking down the aisle almost thirty-two years ago? Didn't I make my initial appearance into the world the day before that fifty-two years ago?

When did the kids I babysat for find the time to grow up and have grown kids of their own? Shouldn't I still be reminding them to brush their tongues when they brush their teeth? They had never heard of that and thought I was crazy. Not crazy; a dentist's daughter. Did they find the time to tell their kids and be crazy?

When did I become that "age is just a number" person? It snuck up on me yesterday when my thirty year old daughter was 21 months old. How did my body get older and keep rhythm with the calendar and my brain didn't? And why, when I look in the mirror, do I not see that 52 year old body that my aches and pains tell me really is 52, but the mirror tells me I'm yesterday's age? I'm twenty.

Why do I get really rankled when people wish time away? Even a second or a day. I can read it in a Facebook friend's status, and they're actually a person I really don't know, but I want to scream through cyberspace at them when they wish it was lunchtime, or the weekend. I get irritated with people face-to-face when they do the same thing.

Why do we wish time away? When we do, we're wishing our lives away. Don't we get that?

And I know why I do it. I know why I get teary when people don't understand how quickly it all passes and how quickly it will, one day, be gone, and how precious it is right now.

I shouldn't be here and if it weren't for modern technology and medicine and God's hand moving my calendar along and taking control of my short span on earth like He did, I wouldn't have been here to even know I had a granddaughter. She would know me only through memories and pictures my family would share. Those of us with melanoma in our lives know what I'm talking about.

There is a time on earth for everything. A season all its own. A time to live, a time to die. A time to savor and hold on to for the time will surely come when we have to let time go. Why wish it to go sooner than it will?

Now is the time for me to look in the mirror, dimly (as that's the way I really look best in a mirror or anywhere), and see Me. Someone who is 52 calendar years with older knees and younger brain-power. Someone who lives by the clock yet can't tell time.

Someone who understands the power of time and knows the Power of time. God bless our time

And make us truly grateful.