When the Tornado Hits Home …

17 Apr

I just watched a tearful interview with the Emergency Services Coordinator of Amherst County. There were accompanying aerial photos from an area just 2 miles from our home; sharply bringing to viewers a drone’s eye view of familiar homes & landscapes now totally unrecognizable.

I wept. I wept with the Coordinator as he asked people to stay out of the area; as he told of organizations, fire departments & state facilitators who had come to the area within the past 17 hours to assist, assess & coordinate the recovery effort. This took place in the aftermath of a small tornado that touched down here & 16 miles away in Lynchburg last evening.

As far as I know, the tornado didn’t have a name but it was thought to be an EF1 category at the high end of the range. It didn’t need a name. It will be remembered without one.

Here in central Virginia … in the foothills of the majesty of mountains … we have long thought we were protected from the ravages of tornadoes by those same mountains. We’ve endured fairly violent summer storms & the occasional tail end of a hurricane. We’ve even been exposed to downed trees & hail the size of golf balls but seldom have we had tornadoes … until recently. We didn’t realize what beautiful things normal storms were until they were replaced by something more sinister & devastating.

Somewhere & for some reason the climate has changed. It has hiccupped & belched forth a not so subtle change that has resulted in the violence of storms, the frequency of powerful snow storms & spawned tornadoes. In the past several years our area has suffered the aftermath of derechos – a word I’d never heard until 2013 after we had one – & now the more frequent emergence of tornadoes.  We are suddenly targets, although not the targets that those living in Kansas are, but targets nonetheless. It is a change we mostly could have done without & that has surprised us.

This morning I sent out an email to our club members suggesting we donate to tornado disaster relief in our area … because it isn’t just our area … it is HOME … it is US … it is OUR community. Even though “our” storm was small in comparison to others of greater magnitude & though the damage is minimal in comparison to many storms, this tornado was different. Even with the damage, this tornado has brought us closer together & defines us now as a “community family” sharing a disaster.

And so I’ve cried. I cried last night when the list of local schools & businesses crawled across the bottom of the TV screen alerting the public to closings & delays more familiar during winter snow storms than warm April evenings. It was surreal. I cried when I saw the damage on the local news & I’ve wept with the county Emergency Services Coordinator when he struggled to hold back his tears while giving an interview about the damage & how the caring public might help.

I feel helpless & sad & personally invaded & attacked because this is my home. Yet our physical home was not damaged at all & I am grateful & thankful & feeling blessed. That gratefulness is shrouded in some sort of unfamiliar guilt because my heart is so sad for those of my “neighbors” who have lost everything.

My overwhelmed emotions surprised me by popping up at almost any time today & making me cry. This tornado was personal &, although we in the area & especially those who have lost so much will bounce back, rebuild & life will go on as before, it will never be quite the same. We will always remember this storm; the sadness associated with it whether we had property damage or not & the respect we feel for the resilience we all possess but seldom become aware of until we have to be.

It’s so different when the tornado hits home.



Out of the Mouths of Babes …

23 Mar

Disclaimer: Please, before reading this, understand that the opinions shared in this blog entry are mine alone. They are NOT an invitation for debate or argument. They are not about politics or guns or amendments. They are my views & this is my forum for stating & sharing them. If you do not agree, please be polite enough not to reply with a rant. This entry is NOT a rant & does not call for a rant in rebuttal. If you are offended by my opinions, please DO write a blog entry of your own. That way everyone has a voice & none of us is attacked. It’s the civilized thing to do & allows friendships to stay intact & feelings to go unwounded. Thank you ahead of time …

Even before I’ve been able to gather my thoughts & find time to comment on the school shooting in Parkland, FL on Valentine’s Day, yet another one has happened. Granted, the most recent in Maryland resulted in the loss of only one young life but it still happened … an exclamation point following Parkland. And isn’t even ONE violently lost life enough to say, “Enough???”

School shootings, night club massacres, attacks on open air events, vehicles plowing into innocent people, numbers of first & second grade “post-toddlers” wiped out with rapid fire assault weapons ………. there have been so many, so often that it’s simply difficult to keep up with which one happened last & to whom. I should be ashamed that I cannot remember but I am constantly overwhelmed … again & again … with the enormity & hideousness of it all & it all begins to blur.

What has happened in our country???

After each of the many horrific attack episodes we’ve endured, there has been talk & more talk … discussion & more discussion … about how to FIX what is wrong. Causes are discussed. Solutions are offered & debated & as the nightly news moves on to another disaster or, God forbid, another senseless attack, the discussion fades into the background once again & no solutions are found; everyone just stops looking & the world moves on … until the next time.

The Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in the loss of 17 lives; students & teachers. Reporters from all the major media channels were on the scene immediately & brought us scenes that were unbelievable, yet too familiar because we’d seen it all before. Our hearts wept for those lost; for the parents & friends & loved ones & neighbors & neighboring schools. We felt the anguish.

What made the Valentine’s Day event so much more memorable were the survivor students that were interviewed on the scene. They were interviewed by media personnel attempting to make some sense of the event by talking to students & teachers who had been there … & survived.  And more & more of those survivor students who had hidden under desks, hidden in closets, seen their friends, classmates & teachers gunned down & had personally stared down the barrel of the killing machine, responded to the interviewer by saying, “This cannot happen again.” It was said with such determination & emotion. At that moment I believe something changed.

I sent an email to a friend & said, “If anything can be done TO stop the madness, these bright young people, forced to grow up without immunity to the events of this awful day, will be the ones to make the necessary changes happen.”

And those young people, forced to grow up on a warm February morning when their high school turned into a living hell, have not disappointed any of us who genuinely care.

They have spoken out, gathered, planned, confronted, debated, appeared on talk shows & magazine covers & marched to let the powers that be KNOW beyond doubt that “This cannot happen again.”  They have been joined by people of all ages, all political leanings & all races to accomplish their goal because theirs in NOT a racial or political issue. It is a HUMAN issue.

This simply cannot happen again.

Because of the dedication of these traumatized students … students who have turned their trauma into a movement … the world (not just this country) has taken up the cry & the cause because NOT joining the cause is simply not acceptable.

Issues that have been looked at slowly for decades are now taking their place among the most current issues of the day because the students of Stoneman Douglas High School are attempting to see to it that they are no longer ignored. And finally, although it may only be a start, solutions are being discussed & actually put into place. Eventually … perhaps not today, but eventually … students in the schools in our country may no longer be afraid to go to school.

This blog entry isn’t about gun control, mental health or any of the Constitutional Amendments, although those things certainly are at the forefront for discussion. Instead, it is about a group of traumatized students, aged out far before their time, witnesses to horrors none should have witnessed, who have turned their personal tragedy into a force to be reckoned with … into the force that, I believe, will finally make significant changes in the violence in our country today.

I applaud & support them … their determination & tenacity … their understanding at the most base level of understanding that things MUST change. And I applaud all who support them … students, parents, families, celebrities & politicians … & their efforts as they take on huge issues & attempt to defend humanity, one student at a time.

Out of the mouths of babes their mantra & challenge comes to us – “This cannot happen again.”


I Never Really Liked Camping So Much ….

7 Mar

A long time ago in a campsite not too far, far away …

… I was a Girl Scout. My greatest desire at 12-years-old was to spend a week at Girl Scout Camp. The brochure pictured girls singing around a campfire, a beautiful old lodge & glimpses of the James River through trees & foliage on the banks that surrounded Camp Sacajawea. My mom made the arrangements & sent off the fee & on a Sunday afternoon in early June she & my stepdad deposited me, my suitcase, my pillow & my blanket at that exciting destination.

There were 2 camping experiences at Camp Sacajawea that week; one for young girls who were Brownies & my camp for girls 12 & over who were Girl Scouts. The Brownies were housed in the Lodge where they were assigned bunk beds in cozy rooms, had breakfast & other meals prepared for them in the kitchen, & were warmed on cold, early June nights by a roaring fire in the Lodge fireplace. It looked like a little slice of Scout Heaven.

The older girls, 12 years & up, had an entirely different camping experience laid out for them (us). Our accommodations were  a brisk little hike into the woods & consisted of tents that had wooden floors; each housing 4 young campers (key word being “campers”). The bathroom facilities were alarming. It was a small building unlit by electricity & was what one camper described as “a four-holer.” It was a fairly long clip away from the tents; seeming even longer in the dead of night when making that dreaded trip into the wilderness alone. It was soon apparent why the brochure stressed bringing “your Girl Scout flashlight & Girl Scout, multi-function knife.”  After realizing the necessity for the flashlight for making the trip & assuring oneself that nothing unexpected was lurking in the bottom of one of those four holes, I was in immediate dread of what could be the need for that multi-function Girl Scout knife.

I’m stressing here for absolute clarity that I’d never slept in the woods & that week was my first experience EVER with a “four-holer.”

While the Brownies were acclimating to getting up in a warm room & going to a prepared breakfast in the Lodge, bright & WAY TOO EARLY the next morning & for the following 5, breakfast for the older Girl Scouts consisted of something called, “Jungle.”

We dressed warmly because early mornings in June by the river could be very raw & we trudged out into those woods that smelled of dirt & vegetation, & scrounged for our breakfast. The counselors had hidden small individual boxes of cereal, half pints of milk, Honey Buns, fruit & even a watermelon in the actual woods underneath plants & weeds & behind tall trees. You ate what you were able to find &, thankfully, if you found nothing a counselor would assist you in locating a soggy box of cereal & a half pint of milk in a tiny carton. I received a Girl Scout SURVIVAL Badge for managing to avoid starvation for 6 days in that retreat by the rushing water of the James searching the woods for a banana.

I also received a Tree Badge for identification of trees & plants (mostly the ones I ran into while searching for “Jungle” & the “four-holer.”); small portions of which I retrieved with my Girl Scout multi-function knife.  I placed them into a scrap book titled Collection for Tree Badge.

Dinner was always a feast of hot dogs & stuff we could cook at a campfire.  I learned to cook hot dogs on a stick & to really appreciate the wonderful woodsy taste of  S’Mores & tried NOT think about what those Brownies must be eating back at the Lodge.

That first … & mostly last camping experience wasn’t totally unpleasant. I met some really cool girls & made several special friends with whom I traveled through the woods in the dark of night to that “four-holer.” At the very least, it was an experience, the friendships were important, I learned what a “four-holer” was & also filed away some important stuff in that compartment in my head that is subconsciously labeled Important for Future Reference.  The main item in that compartment that is alive & functional today is that if I had a choice of diving head first & naked into a pool of ice water or camping for 5 days, I would choose the “polar plunge” nine times out of nine.

Jump forward in time to this past weekend …

… when the entire east coast was slammed by a storm that presented with winds of monumental proportions. In our section of Virginia, protected as we are by mountains, we still felt the impact of those awful winds, the damage they left in their wake & the days & days many of us spent without power.

My husband works for the power company but was off on Friday when the winds hit in the early hours of the morning, zapped our power & that of thousands across our state. He was called to work later in the day but didn’t have to go, thankfully, & said how fortunate he was to have dodged that bullet, even temporarily. Saturday, however, he was called in early in the morning & worked a 14 hour day attempting to restore power for those affected in our immediate area & those surrounding us.

I would be remiss if I didn’t stop long enough to thank Willy & his power company co-workers who give so much of their time to getting power back for those without it during these terrible, crippling storms. They work long hours, sleep only a few & go back to work. At the end … & mostly all during a power outage of any significant length of time, they are exhausted. They are HEROES who seldom receive recognition for the tireless & wonderful job they do … so I’m recognizing them here. They ROCK & we owe them as much gratitude as we are able to heap upon them.

So since Willy was off, I decided to make the best of our situation & maybe make it into an adventure of some sort & called us “Camping Out.”. (Certainly it would be better than my week-long experience at Camp Sacajawea). We dug out 3 Coleman Camp Lanterns for light, Willy hooked the fridge & freezer up to the generator & I cooked pancakes & eggs on the wood stove in the family room. It was kind of fun & REAL fun compared  to those ‘50 years ago memories’ of “Jungle by the James.”

 While Willy & I were attempting to make the best of our powerless situation, our cat was confused but stuck right with us when we moved into the family room with the warmth of the wood stove. While we called it “camping out,” which conjured up memories of dark woods, wet leaves, the smell of damp earth & my fear of that “four holer,” I attempted to keep it firmly lodged in the context of  “today.” Mainly, this camping experience 50 years later was far easier because all I had to do when I got “nature’s call” was pick up a Coleman lantern & walk through the laundry room into our “one-holer.”  It was a much more pleasant experience than the previous one.

On Sunday … Day 3 – No Power … Willy followed the power line outside our subdivision, found 3 smaller trees over on a string of power lines & took pictures. Returning home, he called his boss & another person from the power company & sent them his “trees-on-power-lines” photos.  Within several hours the power in our subdivision was restored.

After 3 full days without power, with only a “bird bath” with cold water & not being able to wash my hair, I was getting Cabin Fever to the extreme. By Sunday, cooking on the wood stove & camping out were no longer the adventure they originally were, had gotten VERY old & we went out to dinner.

What I learned from those 3 days in the dark is that we did have fun “camping out” at first until Willy got called to work. Until then we kind of enjoyed it & the cat seemed to enjoy spending time by the wood stove & with us non-stop in the family room. I learned that I CAN keep us alive by cooking on the wood stove & I’m not too bad at it … but then, a while ago I survived 6 days of “Jungle” & received a BADGE for it.  My Girl Scout training stayed with me & brought us through … kinda.  I have deep respect for the power company personnel who finally got us out of the dark after 3 long days.

We all learned that Willy is not only MY hero but is the Hero of the Subdivision.

My experience  back at Camp Sacajawea all that time ago apparently stayed with me & some of it sustained us during an emergency. And Willy is fun to spend time with in the middle of a crisis. He took good care of me & the cat.

The MAIN things that hit me like a ton of multi-function Girl Scout knives is that I STILL don’t like camping & probably NEVER will. Mainly I remembered that I do NOT like a “four-holer” … never did … never will & was grateful for my Coleman Camp Lantern & our “one-holer” down the hall.






The Squirrel in the Toilet

11 Feb

Next week on Valentine’s Day my husband, Willy & I will have been married for 21 years. In 2017 we’d known each other for 30. I can’t imagine where those years have gone. I can remember almost every day individually but putting them all together in a string to add up to 30 years seems impossible. The one thing I’m very certain of is that it has been quite a ride!

It’s really hard to sum up a relationship & a marriage. We’ve had our moments but compared to other people, it seems we’ve had fewer than most. Perhaps that’s because we were friends before we were anything else to each other & that friendship remains today. It’s the one piece of groundwork I’d recommend establishing before marriage; you really HAVE to like each other if it’s going to endure.

Willy is unique in the universe. He is calm & logical & is my “balance” when I don’t seem to be either of those things. He’s helpful, resourceful, creative & he loves cats. All that somehow makes us a good match, especially the cat thing.

Way back a long time ago I knew I could never marry a man that didn’t have a sense of humor. It was probably the major prerequisite right up there running neck & neck with love & friendship.

Whether we’re married or not married – however we’re attempting to struggle through this life & especially getting around the bumps in the road, doing it with a sense of humor greases the road a bit & makes the slide through life a little easier.

One of Willy’s best attributes is that he has a talent for greasing the road.

He was able to show me the humor in being “on call” in the OR on our very first wedding anniversary. He helped me laugh while we both cleaned up the terrible mess in my new oven caused by a cake that exploded during baking & we’ve just laughed together over the years at stuff one of us has said because it felt good to be silly together.

Willy’s sense of humor has gotten us through some major difficulties. He was my strength & my teammate when I was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. I can’t remember exactly what he said that was so funny but I remember how much it helped when I leaned over to get French fries out of a very hot oven & melted my synthetic wig while it was on my head. There were so many moments that I am grateful to him for during that difficult time but perhaps the most memorable was when I began losing my hair after my first chemo treatment.  I tearfully asked him to cut it for me to a manageable length for someone going bald. With scissors in hand on that very difficult occasion he told me he thought he’d found a second career as a stylist, he went through some silly gestures & we both laughed … & then we both cried. It’s that part of his humor that I will be forever grateful for.

Willy really isn’t a practical joker. He’s something close to that but I simply can’t come up with the proper description.  The best way to describe it is that he enjoys “visual” & “auditory” humor.

We went through several years when Willy stumbled across some high-squealing, motion activated small toys that he kept putting in our kitchen cabinets. When I opened a cabinet door, whichever toy was in there would scream / squall / wail & scare me silly. Willy thought it added “interest” to the “cooking experience.” I finally reminded him of my high blood pressure & the possibility of him causing me to have an actual stroke & the “cooking experience” became routine again. While I never got use to expecting those screaming toys to be in my cabinets, once he removed them it took months NOT to expect them when I opened a cabinet door.

There have been other things but I don’t really have a lot of time or space for all of them & I really want to talk about what happened this morning before church.

We have a powder room on the main level of our home & I stopped there before we left. There in the toilet was a squirrel getting ready to climb out of the water & literally scared the, well …. bejesus out of me. On second glance I realized it wasn’t a REAL squirrel but a “squirrel facsimile” attached to the lid of the toilet.  Willy was close behind waiting for my reaction. He’d ordered the vinyl, decorative “Squirrel Toilet Lid Cover” from some goofy magazine, put it on the commode lid in the early hours of Sunday morning & waited patiently for me to see it.

I can’t imagine what reaction our cat would have had if she’d seen that toilet squirrel before I did …

In the end (almost literally), it was funny as hell. Willy took a bunch of pictures of the “me finding the squirrel in the toilet” event. Because it really WAS funny,  I’ve just left it on the toilet all day. We’ll probably leave it there for a while. We have a few friends who will enjoy Willy’s humor after they recover from the fright of thinking their nether regions are about to be attacked by a rabid, toilet-swimming squirrel.

As we get ready to celebrate our 21st. year of marriage I can’t help wonder what the next 21 years will hold & how many other furry creatures I will find crawling out of one of our toilets. If nothing else, life is never dull here.

I’m still forever grateful for a husband with a sense of humor; for his love & for his friendship. I’m only hoping he hasn’t subscribed to catalog completely devoted to toilet ornaments.

Groundhog Day and Other February Stuff

1 Feb

February is one of those months that just begs for even the smallest hint of excitement. It comes right after January & somewhere around mid-January things start getting very dull & very long.

If it’s a rough winter with a lot of snow that keeps us all inside for days on end, I start getting cabin fever. Heck, if we have very little snow & a fair amount of sun I start getting cabin fever. That stretch from mid-January through the end of March drags & is possibly the longest part of the year. One of my seasonal dreams is that spring & maybe summer could just once seem to take as much time as mid-January through the end of March. Maybe it’s an astrological thing somehow tied into cabin fever…. & possibly menopause.

I was making a lemon meringue pie just now, looking out the kitchen window & thinking about February, here on the eve of that month.  Once I gave it some thought while whipping meringue, I realized it’s really a fairly OK month, even if it is draggy. There’s Valentine’s Day & my husband, Willy & I were married on that romantic day 21 years ago.  At the end of the month we always go to a really cool science fiction convention, so it’s not a total loss. Somehow February redeems itself a little when I really think about it.

Then I remembered that my maternal grandmother was born on February 2 & my parents were married on February 2 a bunch of years later. AND … February 2 is GROUNDHOG  DAY.

As weird as it may seem, I LIKE Groundhog Day. That’s probably because I like furry little animals & the groundhog falls right into that category. I like AND respect him because I like the way he kind of toys with us. For that one day a year the groundhog has the upper hand (or paw). He controls us as surely as if he dangled us on puppet strings because somewhere in his furry little brain he KNOWS we’re suffering from cabin fever & likes to make us squirm. There’s something about having a bunch of people depending on him, at just what time he steps outside on a particular day & what the disposition of the sun is at that specific time & place. He has to be a mathematician, a weather aficionado & a very talented prognosticator. It all adds up to that furry little groundhog-person not only controlling the moment, he somehow controls the WEATHER. It’s all about the power & I respect that.

While there are groundhog SURROGATES in a number of states (not unlike the ones the President of the USA has) & even Canada, only one is assumed to be the REAL Groundhog Day groundhog & that’s Punxsutawney Phil who is an actual resident of Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He’s rumored to be immortal.

Punxsutawney Phil admirers & members of the Punxsutawney Phil Club swear the same groundhog has been predicting the weather for the past 132 years. Now that’s one really OLD groundhog. Those same club members also swear he’s never wrong, even though we ALL know that’s not true … that he’s not RIGHT even half the time …  but knowing how old he is, we just give him a pass.

Club members credit his longevity to a “hit” of  groundhog punch they allow him to drink every year, or maybe that’s force him to drink. Whatever, I’m happy Phil is still around & keeps showing up at just the right time every February to entertain us, help us speculate about the arrival of spring & to make me happy because I love little furry animals who wear silk top hats, jerk us around emotionally & hit the “juice” a little too heavily once a year.

I’m beginning to think that Groundhog Day was made up by someone exactly like me who was suffering from cabin fever & needed a diversion. Probably saw a groundhog minding his own business out in the back yard scavenging for food. My cabin fever friend probably went out, introduced himself & invited that furry little creature in for a drink. After they both got good & sauced they contrived the whole idea of Groundhog Day. Because the backyard groundhog was pretty bored & suffering from cabin fever, too, he went along with what was to become a universal joke … or at least a joke throughout the US & Canada.

A few years ago our local TV meteorologist held up a sign on the evening weather portion of the news that said, “I’m a meteorologist, not a rodent.”  Beside him stood a groundhog with a sign of his own that said, “I’m a rodent, not a meteorologist” to the delight of the viewing public. A week ago our local weather guy on the evening news started adding at the end of his weather report something he calls The Rodent Report, which speculates from day to day just what the weather will be on Groundhog Day. There are TONS of us “out there” with cabin fever, apparently.

What all this tells me, combined with the delight I feel when I see that wooly old groundhog on February 2nd., is that those 2 old backyard drinking buddies … a craggy old man & a fat old groundhog with cabin fever have done us all a tremendous service by giving us the myth that is Groundhog Day.

My hat is off to you, Punxsutawney Phil for giving  me enough fodder to write about for an hour on a slow, end-of-January day that otherwise might have been spent dreading yet another day of cabin fever. And now my pie is cool & ready for dinner. It’s been a good day.

Thinking of you, Phil. “Fuzzy Buddy … you ROCK!”



Tripod Goes to Church

22 Jan

Yesterday as our Sunday morning service was drawing to a close & we began singing the final hymn of the morning, my thoughts went racing back 10 years to an individual who attended our church briefly during the spring & summer of 2008.  Our final hymn of the morning, God Will Take Care of You, always reminds me of him; that individual who brought so much joy & even a little bit of magic to our congregation.

I would later write a poem about him & that poem would even later be included in my very first book that was published in 2013. Of all the many poems I’ve written in my life, that particular poem has become one of my personal favorites & is the one poem from the book that readers never fail to comment on when they meet me & tell me they enjoyed it.

Because my memory still tingles as it always does when hearing that hymn yesterday & even though some of you may remember the poem if you’ve read my book, I wanted to share it again here as a blog entry. I simply wanted to share again … & with some of you for the first time … the “magic” this brief visitor brought to our church.

Of the subject of this poem, I hope he is still alive today; still delighting everyone he meets with his friendly, loving personality & still inspiring those with hope who find themselves disabled & with none. Mostly I hope he is still going to church …

Tripod Goes to Church

(August 3, 2008)

Tripod is an amputee,

who lives behind our church.

He greets us as we come and go

and doesn’t ask for much.



No one seems to know exactly

why he is disabled,

but he doesn’t let it slow him down;

his speed is the stuff of fables.



Lately as the service ends

and the doors are opened wide

he strolls into the narthex

then runs all the way inside.



He takes a seat down at the front

and stares up at the altar.

Through closing words and closing hymn

his attention doesn’t falter.



He’s always there on Sunday.

He seems the most devout.

While sitting at the altar

no one wants to toss him out.



He’s really quite a charmer.

Folks are bringing him cat food.

The choir sings as he’s walking out,

God Will Take Care of You

       So what happened to Tripod? He very abruptly stopped showing up at church and, as with any member who has been faithful and stops coming to services, the congregation was worried about him. Our minister, maybe going a bit above and beyond his duties, tried to find out the fate of our faithful cat.

It seems Tripod DID actually have a family that lived down the road and behind our church. The family relocated and, thankfully, took Tripod with them.

Putting an end to speculation about the fate of Tripod, our minister announced, “We can assume he’s going to another church.”







Today the Fat Lady Sang …

11 Jan

10 years ago on September 19, 2008 my life changed forever. As my husband & I were very shortly to find out, that day also changed our lives as a couple.

I had been to the Mammography Center to have a follow-up mammogram after having a suspicious one. After its completion, the mammography physician told me to call my husband because she was 98% certain we were looking at a cancer. I called him & he came & stayed in the room with me while the doctor did the confirming biopsy.

There followed what seemed to be a never-ending round of appointments with doctors, blood work, exams, oncologists & radiology oncologists. I was poked & examined & tattooed by the radiologist & fitted for a bean bag device to hold me in the same position treatment after treatment when I began the 33 radiation treatments I was scheduled to have.

My husband, Willy, accompanied me on as many of those visits as he could & I told him … of the ones when he couldn’t be there … that EVERYBODY I saw, in office after office, wanted to examine my breasts. And so at some point I decided just to walk into the offices without introduction or preamble & expose them. In an effort to maintain my sense of humor (& my sanity) I told my husband that that had surprised the hell out of our dentist!

I would have 8 chemotherapy treatments over a 6 months period. I probably wouldn’t lose my hair (but I did). The choice whether to have chemo or not was up to me, with gentle encouragement from my oncologist who became my partner on my unexpected journey. Making the most difficult decision of my life, I decided to do it primarily because I wanted to do everything I could to give me a chance at the longest life possible because NOBODY loves life as much as I do. I also didn’t want to decide against it only to have my cancer rear its ugly head somewhere down the road. I wanted to know if that happened that I had done everything within my power to keep that from happening.

The 10 years since that September day in 2008 have been filled with fear, confusion, caring, difficulty, concern, the importance & support of friends, the loss of the friendship of a friend (a casualty of cancer), treatments, laughter, learning & finding out who I am. Together Willy & I learned to be strong & that it was OK for me to lean on him during those moments when I just wasn’t able to be. We learned that it is OK to cry & even to scream, as long as you don’t make a habit of it.

I learned important lessons about chemo … like saving my hair in a Walmart bag when it came out. When it came back almost a year later as white as snow, I had my “first” hair in that Walmart bag, which made it easier for a really good colorist to match. I also learned a lot about synthetic wigs & how not to lean close to a very hot oven when wearing one because they melt. I have so many stories …

There are so many things I learned during that year following September 19, 2008. When I began attempting to help other women as they went through their own frightening breast cancer experience & later when I began speaking to seminars about breast cancer, those experiences were vital to me &, as I began to realize, to the women to whom I spoke.

Of the main things I learned as I tentatively began my walk down that dark breast cancer path is that we have few choices when faced with cancer. We can either ball up in a corner & cry or attempt to make the best of what we’ve been handed. From the beginning I chose Door #2. That choice helped me AND everyone I have ever spoken to about the breast cancer journey because we never know what we can do until we try … & we never know how strong we are until we HAVE to be.

Following chemo & radiation life returned to a kind of normal … but never quite.  The experience had a profound effect of me & was an eye-opener. I became all too aware that we don’t always get second chances so I struck out on a new path … a path that ran parallel to the breast cancer road. I intended to do all the things I wanted to do but had been putting off.

I wrote a book & got it published.  I hosted a local cable television talk show for 6 years. I began speaking to groups & seminars about breast cancer, which began a new phase of my life in public speaking about a number of topics. As difficult as it is to imagine, I dug around & found a number of positives that were the direct result of the huge negative that breast cancer is.

During these past 10 years I’ve developed a very special relationship with my oncologist & the people in the oncology office. What started out as a strange & frightening place has been, for years now, more like a second home where I could depend on the caring of a large extended family. When I was still working at the hospital just within spitting distance of the Cancer Center, we all watched as the facility was built. I remember thinking how beautiful & functional it was going to be. I also remember thinking that I hoped I never had a reason to go there. Today as I left the Center following my appointment I realized I’d spent 10 years of my life there & if I had to have the cancer experience, there was no better place to have been.

Today, after all these years, my oncologist had “the talk” with me. He told me, “In September it will be 10 years since your diagnosis, your tumor was very small & you had no lymph node involvement. You are cured.”

And with those words, words that were once again life altering, he released me.

There was joy & sadness & hugging & tears shed with the office staff & as I was leaving, more tears shed with the people in the lobby of the facility. It was like graduation for a promising student & everyone was sharing my joy at having done well & having the OPPORTUNITY to move on … with life.

There’s that old saying, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

With deepest apologies to my oncologist … Today the Fat Lady Sang ……..