Let’s talk about breast…

…cancer. Made you look. Made you look. You can consider that my trick for the day. Your treats can come when you raid your kids candy stash tonight after they go to bed. Seriously, I know everyone is caught up in the celebration of Halloween activities, but I don’t want to ignore the fact that today is the last day of October. Breast cancer awareness month. I can’t let it slip by without comment. Especially not this year.

You see, earlier this year my mom was diagnosed with this horrible disease. Several women in my family have battled breast cancer, so we knew there was a chance it would happen. Still, this kind of news always has the ability to shock. She’s went through surgery and radiation treatments, and appears to be cancer free as of this moment. We’re grateful.

There are many side effects to watching people you care about go through something like this. One of them is a sensitive radar for anything to do with this topic. And I don’t know about you, but to me it’s starting to feel like we are being blinded by the glare from all the pink out there. I read a shocking statistic the other day. It stated that only eight percent of profits from the NFL pink merchandise actually goes back into cancer research. Eight percent. Somehow this subject matter has become trendy, and someone is making a lot of money off of it. I love football. But, make no mistake, this is despicable.

And that’s not the only thing I’ve seen recently that’s made me angry. I also read an article talking about the “Angelina Jolie Effect.” It stated that “famous personalities may be impacting important medical decisions.” Seriously? Are we that obsessed with celebrity in our culture that we’re going to let their choices dictate our own when it comes to a matter as serious as cancer? It’s bad enough that we have girls trying to look like those ridiculous models strutting up and down catwalks. You want a good Halloween costume? Look no farther than Fashion Week. Some of the stuff those people wear is terrifying. Now we’re going to let them impact our medical choices as well? It’s stunning and mind boggling. Look, no offence to Angie. I’ve had the conversation with my mom that included phrases like “genetic testing” and “increased chances.” And I’m a big fan of prevention and awareness. It may save my own life one day. Literally. But I just can’t help but think that in the midst of all of the trendy pink products and celebrity influence we may have lost sight of actual cancer patients. So I want to share with you something a friend of mine, Rebecca Christy, wrote. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read on breast cancer all year. Here ya go…

I don’t like Angelina Jolie.

Yeah, you heard me.  Ok, ok… Maybe that’s too strong.  I’ve never met her.  But, for a multitude of reasons, I’m pretty sure that if I did meet her, I wouldn’t like her.  To be completely honest, some of my opinions on Ms. Jolie are purely driven by utter snarkiness.  I mean, come ON… she’s beautiful, skiiiiiiiiny, manages all those kids, involved in charity, etc.  Blech.  Just blech.  I realize that she probably never eats and works out obsessively, and she has nannies, and assistants and all that to make it look easy.  But still.

No, the reason that I extra-don’t-like her right now is a REAL reason.  And maybe it’s still not her fault, but, whatever.  It is what it is.  For those of you living under a rock, (seriously, you couldn’t have missed this if you TRIED.  I know because I tried.), Angelina recently had a double mastectomy and is considering a hysterectomy because she tested positive for a mutation of the BRAC1 that indicates a much higher likelihood of contracting breast and ovarian cancer.  In a statement released to The New York Times, she said, “My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” Jolie wrote. “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.”  That’s a huge decision to make, I get that. It’s major surgery.  Plus, she had reconstruction.  So, two major surgeries in less than three months, according to The New York Times article.  However, there are just as many doctors who are cautioning against this very thing.  This type of proactive preventive surgery is apparently on the rise and it’s not always a good thing. Many medical professionals are cautioning against hasty decisions and, what they call, hyper-awareness.  It seems that American women, especially, have begun to just assume that they will have breast cancer.  1 in 8 women will be diagnosed.  But, of those, the survival rate is 92% if caught early and 88% if caught at stage 1.  And even for the women who test positive for BRAC1, BRAC2 and the various mutations, there are other options such as close monitoring and oral medication that can be taken that will reduce the chances of cancer by up to 50%.

Now, I realize that a lot of you may be thinking that I’m a mean, heartless bully. You’re probably right.  But, not about this, you’re not.  Let me explain, myself… Maybe I am being too harsh, but for whatever reason, hearing Angelina Jolie hailed as a “hero” and a “warrior” and the “brave new face of the battle against cancer” really, REALLY rubs me the wrong way.  Am I wrong here? She’s NOT battling cancer.  Yes, she made what I’m sure was a gut-wrenching decision, but she does NOT have cancer!  Did I mention that she doesn’t have cancer?

I know people who are heroes and survivors.  People who have fought the battle of their lives, FOR their life.  These ladies have undergone surgery when they didn’t have an assurance that it would help anything.  Then they’ve undergone treatments that made them so violently ill that they have wished to be dead. They’ve had to quit their jobs and have talks with their children and families to prepare them for the worst.  To top it off, these bodies that they’re trying so hard to save are wrecked from the efforts to save them.  I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with their hair.  We can have on the best outfit, and the perfect makeup, but if we’re having a bad hair day it doesn’t matter.  But what if the hair we had started falling out?  I know that I’ve made jokes about just shaving my head rather than fight my hair.  But what about the in between stages where it’s just really patchy and thin?  And you may be feeling a little better from your last chemo treatment, i.e. you’re not puking your guts up, but you still can’t go out to dinner with your friends to take your mind off everything because your hair is literally falling out.  By the handful.  Then there are the mouth sores and constipation and a complete and total lack of energy to do anything, and on and on…

My grandmother is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the second time for breast cancer.  She had it the first time thirteen years ago and was in remission for years after a mastectomy and chemo.  But,  at her regular checkups recently, her doctor found something suspicious that he ”didn’t like”.  Well, we don’t like it a whole lot, either.  I cannot imagine having to hear that for the second time.  It’s horrible the first time because it’s a fear of the unknown.  But, the second time there are still some unknowns because there’s never a guarantee that you’ll survive, and then there are the “knowns”.    As in, you know how sick you’re going to get.  You know how weak you’re going to be.  You just know… and that has to be worse.  So now she’s had another mastectomy and just started her chemotherapy a week ago.  Just healing from the surgery was hard enough and now the nausea and fatigue are setting in, to be followed soon by hair loss and a whole host of other yuckinesses. In February she had a radical mastectomy to remove her remaining breast.  A few days after the surgery, when she was still very weak, her doctors discovered that she had internal bleeding.  She had to have surgery again, less than a week after the initial one.  My mother and her sisters all took turns sleeping in the hospital with her because we, as a family, don’t believe in leaving each other alone.  (Interpret that how you will…) My aunt said that one night she woke up and heard my grandmother mumbling and thought that she was talking in her sleep.  But after a moment she realized that what she heard was praying.  And my grandmother wasn’t just praying for healing, or good health, or for the doctors wisdom.  No, she was praying for each of us.  By name.  Yeah, I cried.

So, please forgive me if you know someone who had an elective mastectomy, or if you yourself are considering one.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad decision and sometimes, with careful consideration, it may a good decision!  Don’t hate me, but I just can’t stomach a woman who can afford every convenience and comfort in the world and who doesn’t have cancer, being hailed as the “face of the war on cancer”.  No, I’ve seen that face and it belongs to Nancy Carolyn Hughes Sykes.  My Mema.

Mema

And, I’m sorry, Angie, but you have too many good hair days for us to ever be friends.

See. I told you. Good stuff. If you like Rebecca and want to find out more about her you can go here…http://thechristycircus.com/2013/05/23/i-dont-like-angelina-jolie/

If you want to read the articles I referenced in this blog you can go herehttp://www.baxterbulletin.com/article/20131031/OPINION/310310011/Rick-Jensen-NFL-sees-green-pink-chance-profit-from-cancer and here… http://www.prurgent.com/2013-10-22/pressrelease322321.htm

~T.

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And now I remember why I avoid all things Kardashian…

Why do I do things I know I’m going to regret? Why?

It all started because I was bored. Really bored. A magazine beckoned me from a nearby table promising to fill me in on all the latest and greatest information on a variety of topics. And in the midst of all the beauty tips (Did you know big eyebrows are the latest trend in Tinsel Town?) and movie reviews ( Robert Redford’s All Is Lost is generating a lot of positive buzz.) there it was…an article about Kim Kardashian’s after pregnancy weight loss.

My only excuse for not skipping over it is that I was suffering from boredom induced brain trauma. Just for your own well-being you should know this is a serious medical condition. If you suspect you are dealing with symptoms seek help immediately. If you don’t you could find yourself reading things that can never be unread. My own brush with this debilitating illness pushed me to set aside a general life rule I have in place about avoiding all things Kardashian.

You know that train wreck everyone is always talking about? Well, there it was in front of me in printed form. And they’re right. I wanted to look away, but I just couldn’t.

In the piece Kim shares how deeply she was wounded by all the criticism she received over the fifty pounds she gained during her pregnancy. According to her it “chipped away at her soul.” I almost started feeling sorry for her right up until the minute I saw a picture shared in the article. It was an image that Kim tweeted of herself in a white minuscule swim suit showing off her body post- pregnancy. That reminded me of what made her famous in the first place.

This little slice of in-depth journalism went on to call all of the people who made comments about Kim’s weight gain “body bullies.” Are people, slinking behind the anonymity of their computers and iPads, quick to offer scathing remarks about anything and everything? Yes, they are. Isn’t Hollywood a place that caters to the super skinny? Yes, it is. But let’s inject a little dose of reality. You can’t build a public personality off of a sex tape and expect people to not focus on your body. It just isn’t going to happen. And by continuing to put pictures out there with sexual connotations she’s welcoming people to scrutinize her.

I can just hear some women spouting tired, old rhetoric about Kim’s right to revel in her femininity. And they’d be speaking truth. She can revel all she wants. But I don’t care what you say…we women don’t show off our bodies so that everyone will appreciate our beautiful minds. Someone needs to introduce some reason into this scenario. You can invite attention…you just can’t dictate what kind of attention it will be. But it’s a safe bet that people wouldn’t be nearly as prone to find fault in your body if you would stop letting us see every inch of it. That’s just some cold, hard truth.

And now, I’m back to my Kardashian ban. If you see me in a boredom induced trance hide any and all celebrity magazines. Please, save me from myself.

~T.

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Patriotism…

I’m going to be posting some stuff I’ve written over the past few years here. Several of you may have seen some of this before… but I have some things spread over a variety of places, and I would like to have it all in one location. This blog seems like a good place to park it. 🙂 This piece is something that came straight from my heart. My view of patriotism is always evolving, but I know if I want to see what it is at the core then I need look no farther than my precious friends…the Vaughn family.

The life, and death, of Aaron is still impacting me. One of the biggest changes in my perspective since August of 2011 is my awakening to the fact that I need to educate myself about what is going on in our world.  Particularly in regards to United States foreign policy…and all the players who represent us in the world. It is so easy to isolate ourselves in our American bubble. While we are distracted with movies, fashion, and ridiculous performances by stars on awards shows, we have forgotten that people are being wounded and dying. Every. Single. Day. But I’ll stop there. For now. Here is my piece on patriotism…

I have seen some swipes taken at our military and their families recently. I can’t get involved in every political discussion that pops up on FB or I would be posting constantly…and for some reason my boys feel they have to eat and wear clean clothes every day. They are even audacious enough to think I am the person who should provide these services.

Besides, people have the right to express their opinions. In that spirit I am going to do a little talking of my own.

Isn’t free speech grand?

Red, white, and blue runs through my veins. I am a born and bred small town girl from the mountains of South Carolina, and I don’t mean to suggest that Southerners are the only citizens who are truly patriotic, but we do have our own unique version of love of the motherland.

We are in your face about it. From the way we talk about our country in everyday conversation to the way that we have no problem, quickly and no-holes-barred, confronting anyone who would dare demean it. From the large American flags that fly proudly in the back of our pick-up trucks to the full scale celebrations of our national holidays. In the South the Fourth of July is as big as Christmas. Shoot, it might be bigger. The carnival doesn’t come to town at Christmas.

All the men in my family have been in the military. My Grandpa Hobelman fought in World War II and my brother, Greg, has had the pleasure of an all expense paid trip to Afghanistan…twice. I have seen an up-close and personal view of a hut on Bagram Air Base courtesy of Skype. I have anxiously followed news reports from the Middle East. I have felt the nerves kick in when word came of a casualty, and I have had relieved conversations with my mom when we found out that my brother was okay.

The Stars and Stripes fly boldly in front of my house. I have a yellow ribbon on my mailbox.

With my proud Southern roots, my family’s service record, and my outward show of loyalty I thought I knew what patriotism really was.

Until recently.

In August, 2011 I sat in the memorial service for Navy Seal Aaron Carson Vaughn, the very first military funeral I have ever attended, and I thought, “So this is what sacrifice really looks like.”

Somehow, in spite of my brothers involvement, I had been able to keep some form of emotional distance from the war. In many ways it felt so far removed from my everyday reality. Afghanistan is a long way from the football games, school work, doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, and endless piles of laundry that consume my world as a wife and a mother to four boys.

That distance began to be bridged as I sat in Aaron’s service and listened to his family and friends tell the story of a truly extraordinary man. The war had come home.

In a casket.

My heart bled in the beautifully awful moment when his mother was presented with a Gold Star. So much pain. So much pride.

Something began to shift inside of me that day.

It is still shifting.

Suddenly, I had to know everything I could about the American soldier. Not the surface stuff…the nitty-gritty. What makes a person willing to lay their life on the line? What kind of training do they go through? What is it really like to go to war? To stare death in the face? To lose your best friend on the battlefield?

If they had to endure these experiences it seemed the very least I could do was learn everything I could about them. My book list became about all things military. Want to know about the training of a Special Ops warrior? Read pretty much anything by Dick Couch. I was mesmerized by every aspect of what these men do to prepare themselves to fight the enemy.

And then I read “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell. The book gutted me. Completely gutted me. Through the words of Mr. Luttrell, and the death of Aaron, the war was given a face and emotions. It no longer felt far away. It felt personal.

Because there is nothing more personal than someone’s life blood being shed. For a fellow soldier. For the God-given right to live free. For the just cause of eradicating terrorism. For me.

I have come to realize I did not have a clue about the true meaning of patriotism. But I am catching on.

It looks like Billy and Karen Vaughn. Salt-of-the-earth, genuine people who raised an incredible young man and shared him with their country in his life, and continue to share him with us in his death. Their faith is deep and calls us all to the realization that God is trustworthy even when life deals you the most difficult of blows.

It looks like Kimberly Vaughn, who is channeling her grief to urge us all to a deeper love of God and country. And to ensure that the memory of Aaron as a “warrior for Christ” is kept alive for their children.

I can’t take away all of the rhetoric being thrown around. I can’t take away the hurt our men and women in the Armed Forces, and their families, feel when they hear the verbal assaults against them.

But I will add my voice to the mix and yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank you! Thank you for your sacrifice on behalf of our country.”

To anyone who has ever laced up a pair of combat boots. To anyone who has ever left family and friends behind for a higher calling. To anyone who has tucked children in at night and then went to bed to cry alone because the pain of missing a spouse was so deep it ripped at their very soul. To anyone who has cried out to God for the safety of a child on the battlefield. To anyone who has ever received “that call”…and heard the words that spun their world out of control. To anyone who has suffered the wounds of war, then went on to will their mind and body back from the brink. To anyone who has ever pounded a Trident into the unforgiving wood of a coffin. To anyone who has ever given one last salute to a fallen comrade.

Thank you.

Words are inadequate in the face of such noble actions. But, sometimes, they still need to be said.

~T.

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If I’m stuck somewhere waiting I typically chose to read over watching any screens that may be blaring nearby. Sometimes it’s simply because I’ve already seen what is playing. Take, for instance, the office of my children’s dentist. They’ve had the same movie on repeat for the past three years. Really, there’s only so much Happy Feet a person can take before they consider repeatedly pounding their head against the wall. But, the truth is, most of the time I choose to read because I love words. Even words that come in the form of a Popular Mechanics magazine.

However, I unexpectedly witnessed a very moving scene the other day. Initially, I wasn’t focused on the television as I was caught up in a book. But my eyes strayed to the screen to see a man and woman sitting on a couch. He slowly leaned in for what was obviously a first kiss. There was no way I was missing this. They had my full attention. The woman didn’t back away, but reached out with one hand to flip off a nearby lamp plunging the room into darkness.

Immediately, I knew her. I understood completely. She was scared the closer he got the more clearly he would see her. With that kind of intimacy comes the possibility he might be disappointed.

His response? He pulled slightly away, and stretched his hand around her to turn the light back on. For a brief moment he looked her full in the face. Vulnerability was obvious in her eyes. Deliberately, he leaned in again. No words were spoken. But with his actions he emphatically was stating, “You are enough. Just as you are.”

I’m not a fan of crying in front of others. Especially over a movie. It’s on my list of things I least like to do…situated somewhere between pulling my own fingernails out with pliers, shopping, and watching the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl. But I’ll freely confess that tears pricked my eyes. Trust me, no one was more surprised by my reaction than me.

The scene stuck in my mind. So much so that I told my husband about it. He immediately knew why it was so meaningful to me, because as soon as I described what happened he responded by saying, “You are enough. Just as you are.”

That man gets me. And, I’ve got to say, in a world that’s always striving for better…always criticizing any perceived lack…sometimes it’s nice to just be enough.

~T.

Enough…

Aside

I’ve been corresponding with Congress…

Okay, to be honest, I’ve been sending them multiple emails full of my complaints over their lack of leadership and the demise of my liberties. In response I’ve received form letters. Is it really correspondence if you don’t receive a personal reply?

I would hate for y’all to miss out on all the beauty that is to be found in such an email so I have to share some tidbits from my latest interaction with our fearless leaders. It’s fresh from my inbox. Stop getting all excited. You can’t read a blog while you’re jumping up and down for joy. Settle in. It’s gonna be good.

Dear Mrs. Bowen, (I’d prefer that you call me Boss…since you’re supposed to be working for me. However, the sad truth is your bilking me for thousands of dollars. I think we can drop the formality. I’m Tracy. Just Tracy.)

For the past three weeks our nation was embroiled in an embarrassing and harmful shutdown. (As if the past three weeks were the only time embarrassing and harmful things occurred in our government. I close my eyes and dream of such a short period of humiliation at the hands of our leaders. If only.)

It is unconscionable that instead of working towards a responsible solution…House Leadership continued to play games. ( Pot, meet kettle. As if House Leadership are the only politicians playing games. They’re ALL on the political chess board, and the only people not having fun in all these shenanigans is the American people. I never did like chess.)

I stand eager to discuss issues, but holding our country hostage and hurting American families is no way to govern. (Since when is eagerness to discuss issues and refusing to negotiate the same thing? And I couldn’t agree more…hurting American families is a horrible way to govern. So stop doing it.)

I am relieved that reason, no matter how late, finally prevailed. (Silly me. And here I thought the reasonable thing to do was actually become fiscally responsible by cutting spending. Turns out being reasonable just means avoiding dealing with the issues at hand. And, apparently, adding more taxes to pay for Obama Care. Tax more. Spend more. Because we all know the height of reason is to break the backs of the people and to keep that deficit climbing.)

These manufactured crises are not good for our country (The term manufactured crises crept up in the letter three times. Note to person putting together form letters…repetition is annoying. Especially when it’s stupid. What isn’t good for our country is the fact that our entire political system is rotten to the core. And since that political system has given itself immense power over the American people we are being dominated by corruption. If that isn’t a crisis, I don’t know what is.)

Please let me know your thoughts and concerns. (Don’t worry. I will. In case you haven’t noticed I’m not one to shy away from sharing my feelings. Just ask a certain high school football referee. And I’ll be eagerly awaiting my next response. Though I have to wonder… since you’re not working on a budget why can’t you find time to write me a handwritten letter? Oh, wait, if you do that you won’t be able to fit meetings with lobbyist into your schedule. And that 3.331 billion dollars that was spent by special interest groups in 2012 won’t spend itself.)

See everyone, I told you, good stuff. Aren’t you glad I shared? Now get out there and write your own letters to Washington. You don’t want to miss out on the pleasure that comes from receiving a personal form letter. Look at me creating an oxy moron. Personal is to form letter what government is to responsible leadership. But back to the topic at hand. Seriously…write, call, use a messenger pigeon, hire a plane to write in the sky. Who knows? If we all get in on this they might actually be forced to listen. I say it’s worth a shot. No more standing on the sidelines. Look at the fun that’s to be had when you join in the fray.

~T.

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Let’s discuss expectations…

Well, I’m off to a pretty good start. My first entry has received some pretty solid feedback. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you took time out of your busy life to listen to the ranting of a crazy, blonde chick. But I know it can be hard to tell what a blog is going to be about from one post. So just in case you’re wondering where I’m going with this, I’m going to clue you in about what to expect.

I will be talking about my family. Especially my kids. Because, really, that’s a requirement of being a mom. They have to invade every single aspect of my life. If I can’t even go the bathroom to escape them, then there’s no way they’re not going to end up here. However, I hope to really explore things in our society that impact and shape my family. Good and bad.

Politics will definitely find it’s way into the conversation. Frequently.  It’s either vent here or hire a therapist. And I have mentioned I have four kids, right? (See, I told you they’ll keep creeping in everywhere.) Counseling is not in our family budget, so I’m being forced to find another outlet for all my frustrations with the way our “leadership” is handling the reigns of our country. Lucky, lucky you. I’ll be the first to say that trying to sift through all the rhetoric and lies being thrown around is a big job. But we have to do it. This country of ours is not just a place. It’s a republic. That’s been blood bought.

You should probably be forewarned that football is going to crop up frequently. I’m a fan. And I’m the only woman living in a house with five members of the male species. Being fluent in sports speak is necessary for survival.

My love affair with words will not go unmentioned. I read. Voraciously. I listen. Intently.  And good words, beautifully placed together, always provoke a response. No doubt, you’ll hear all about it.

God plays the most important role in my life. However, this isn’t a podium for me to preach. Faith is deep and wide. It overtakes. Please be aware my worldview will shape every single topic I’ve already mentioned.

And, finally, the last thing you need to know is I will try my best to be real. I’m a big fan of being my authentic self. Just ask the guy from my local McDonald’s. I had to take a child to an early football practice this morning, and I was craving a hash round so I swung into the drive thru on my way home. Did I mention I crawled out of bed to head out for this little venture? Straight. Out. Of. Bed. Poor man. He’s probably still traumatized.

~T.

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