Sunday, January 26, 2014


My week began and ended with a call to 911.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day so the doctor's office was closed and I got a much needed reprieve from radiation treatment.  On Tuesday, I loaded up my Mini Cooper with a ridiculous amount of luggage and headed to Lexington.   I'm a serious over packer.  Better safe than sorry, I always say. 

 It normally takes two hours to drive from Prestonsburg to Lexington, but thanks to the icy roads, I spent four hours with white knuckles during that drive..  I knew it was going to be bad when I had only driven a mile from my home and slid while navigating a curve.  A woman in front of me wasn't so lucky and swerved into a tree.  I pulled over, called 911 and waited with her until help arrived.  She appeared to be ok, but the incident made me even more tense for my weekly drive to Lexington.  I was counting down the days until radiation was over. January 24 was supposed to be my last day but some blistering radiation burns put me a few days behind.

Jordan's girlfriend, Oriana, was turning 21 this week and I was looking forward to throwing a Downton Abbey party over the weekend. She and I are both fans of the show and I thought it would be fun to act British for a day.  She's quite the actress and loves parties. Besides, I was living vicariously as I've always loved everything Victorian.  So, before leaving town, I got the silver tea set and china (very Victorian) from the attic.  I think we've used it twice since we got married almost 28 years ago.  I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to clean the silver at Lauren's house, while she was at school.  I packed it in a Rubbermaid container and placed it in my front seat.

Weeks ago, I had ordered a Downton Abbey cake from Cakes by Julie.  Juliana NEVER disappoints.  When I picked up the cake on my way out of town on Friday, I was in awe.

 Cakes by Julie's masterpiece.  Everything on the board is edible except the feathers in the hat.  The frame has an edible photo of the cast of Downton.  The cake under the fondant hat was red velvet.  

After leaving Juliana's house, I bought all the scones (they didn't have crumpets) at Starbucks and headed for home.  I carefully wedged the cake in the floorboard so it wouldn't budge during the drive. I took off my itchy wig and laid it in the front seat.  Writing these details seem ridiculous right now, but soon you'll see why they're important.

About forty minutes into the drive my oil light came on. I was just a few miles from the Stanton exit and thought I could make it to the gas station to fill up the oil. Seconds later, the "Check Engine" light started blinking. Crap. Just 1/2 mile later, smoke was billowing from under the hood. I pulled over to the shoulder and the engine stalled. I had high hopes of the friendly fellows of the KY Transportation's SAFE PATROL bringing me some oil. While scrolling through the S's in my phone, I saw in my peripheral vision flames shooting from under the hood! Oh my God!

 I panicked, grabbed my purse, and ran as far as I could away from the car. I called 911 and told them my exact location. Meanwhile, drivers behind me saw the flames and immediately stopped. We were all afraid of an explosion. I was about 100 ft. away and saw my little car totally engulfed in flames.  I called Jeff and started to cry. "My car is on fire, " I sobbed. "What? Where are you?" I told him and he said he was on his way. Then...a very nice man came out of his car and introduced himself. He guided me over to his family's car and suggested I sit with his wife, niece, and nephew. I sat in their car and watched my Mini Cooper burn. A few minutes later,  Lauren called.  "Oh My God!  Where are you? I'm on my way!"  Next, the sirens. Three police cars and a firetruck screech to a halt not far from my car.  I had scary images of that just-filled gas tank exploding. I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Don't Cwy. I'm sowwy about your caw," the little boy said in the back seat. I turned around and looked at his big blue eyes and said, "I'm not upset about the car. I'm sad about what was in it. I had a big beautiful birthday cake in there. We were planning a party for this weekend. " They looked at me like I was crazy. Then I showed them a picture of it from my phone. "Wow! That's too pretty to eat, " his aunt said. Then it occurred to me that just maybe something could be salvaged from the back seat.  I knew the cake was a goner but thought about my two computers and all my clothes in the suitcase.   I thanked them for letting me sit in their car and walked toward one of the firemen. "Is there any way we can open the hatch to see if anything is salvageable? I've been in Lexington for several days and have clothes, computers, silver..." The car was steaming while they broke the glass with an ax.  I was relieved as they pulled out my wet, soot covered suitcase.  

The policeman said, "Is there somewhere I can take you?  Maybe to the McDonald's so you can meet your family?"  That sounded like a good idea.  For the first time, I rode in the back of a police car.  

Minutes later, Lauren arrived. We drove to Banks Towing Company to see if anything else was salvageable.  
The remains of my 2009 Mini Cooper

Although I had thousands of dollars worth of clothes, cosmetics, electronics, and yes...silver in the car, all I could think about was that cake.   When the owner of the Banks Towing helped me pull out the contents, I found the charred remains of my favorite wig (sorry, Carol),  my favorite pillow (irreplaceable!), a couple of  wet computers, the silver tea set (saved!) and my soot covered cosmetic bag.  Mr. Banks got a big hug for that one! The clothes were all singed and stunk of burnt rubber.  Lauren and I did find a soot covered box of chocolate covered bananas which I had bought at Whole Foods before I left town.  (You can't buy them in Prestonsburg).  We opened the box to find five perfectly wrapped beauties.  So, we made lemonades out of lemons, laughed, and ate ourselves a perfect, slightly-thawed chocolate banana while we waited for Jeff in her toasty warm car.  He arrived shortly thereafter, took the photos above, and drove me home.

On the way home, I remembered something that was in my glove compartment.  Jordan and I had just spent a few hours together the day before.  We'd eaten at Dudley's (my favorite restaurant) and gone to Glover Books where he was searching for an old rare book.  He found what he was looking for (written in the 1800's) and placed it in my glove compartment.  I dropped him off on campus at UK and the fragile book  never made it to his backpack.  I was sad that his momento from our afternoon together was destroyed.

Lauren and Jordan knew how upset I was over the cake so they decided we would all bake our own masterpiece on Saturday.  Lauren bought fondant to wrap the cake and make handmade  roses and I baked a red velvet cake from scratch. Jordan and Oriana made chocolate butterflies and helped with the fondant.  I think it was quite beautiful for our first fancy fondant cake.

We had a great time creating our own masterpiece!

                                                       Happy 21st Birthday, Oriana!

Just when I started feeling a little down about my losses, I got a phone call from my friend and former co-worker Jamie.  She said, "You must have a guardian angel on your shoulder!  First you kicked cancer's ass and now you've escaped a burning car!"

Thanks for the new perspective, my friend.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mr. Sparkle

“Stop worrying about yourself and do something nice for someone else,” my mom used to say when I was young and would pout and sulk over my seemingly monumental troubles.  She’d bake a jam cake or we would make some cookies and visit someone who would make us realize we didn’t have it so bad.   We’d visit retirement homes, Eastern State Hospital, Shriner’s Hospital, or families in roach infested apartments and bring toys or food.  I always felt better afterward, but I thought it was because I wasn’t old, didn’t have burns all over my body, didn’t have a mental illness, or cockroaches in my house.
Until I had children of my own, I thought mom sent us to those places so we’d realize how fortunate we really were.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  She wanted to show my sister Gail and me how giving to others will bring US happiness. 
This week has been a tough one for many reasons.  Although my cough is better and my lungs are now clear, my radiation burns are keeping me up at night.   I can use aloe and hydrocortisone cream, but the relief doesn’t last long.   It’s safe to say that I don’t deal well with burns.   I also have some stabbing pains where my tumor was and Dr. Matar (rhymes with tater), the radiation oncologist, says that it’s a normal side effect of radiation.  The pains hit me at the most inopportune moments.  Usually, I’m in a waiting room surrounded by people when the stabbing pain hits me.  It catches me off guard and, as a reflex, I usually gasp and clench my breast.  Thank goodness, the pains leave as quickly as they come.  The purple golf ball is now shriveling and I’m beginning to see the final results of the damage from my lumpectomy.  Due to the change in tissue, plastic surgeons won’t perform reconstructive surgery until one year after radiation is complete. That tells me this hole in my boob will get bigger.  Earlier, I had mentioned having a bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after the one year wait was over.  According to my oncologist, the chances of recurrence will not change if I remove my breasts.  Most of the time, when breast cancer recurs, it comes back in other organs. Gulp.   Dr. Moss, Dr. Matar, and Dr. AJ seem to think that the lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation are enough to give me an 80% chance of survival.  After chewing on that statistic for a few days, I got some scary news from my friend Lesa.  She’s my new friend who brought Gigi’s cupcakes to my 1st and last chemo treatments.  She had a mastectomy, chemo, radiation and finished all of her treatments in March 2012.  We have the same doctors.  Days ago, she felt tired and noticed a swollen lymph node.  She had a PET scan and found out the cancer has spread.  I’ve been devastated over this news.  This sweet woman, who radiates joy, happiness, and a positive attitude, has to begin another round of chemo treatment soon.  She’s now searching for a miracle in Houston, where they have the #1 cancer research hospital in the country.  Please, friends and relatives, pray for her.

It was time to make myself feel better.  I thought…..What makes me smile?  I remembered Mr. Sparkle Man, the happiest man I know. He wears a sandwich board advertising Mr. Sparkle Car Wash and stands on the corner of Richmond Rd. and New Circle Rd. in Lexington.  He waves at passersby, and smiles and points when we honk and wave, as if to say, “I remember you!”

It was Tuesday, and freezing.  The temperature gauge in the car said it was 19 degrees outside and the wind chill factor made it feel even colder.  I wondered how this man could be so joyful in this weather and decided I wanted to meet him.  I turned around and drove to Starbucks and ordered a large hot chocolate with whipped cream.  I parked near the Shell station and walked on the curb toward “Mr. Sparkle”, watching him wave, smile, and point as the drivers honked their horns.  When I approached him, he smiled and said hello.  I said, “Hi! My name is Ann and I just wanted to thank you for always making me smile.  I brought you some hot chocolate because I thought you must be freezing out here.”  He laughed and said, “Thank you, Miss Ann.  My name is Derald.  Are you from around here?”  I told him that I was originally but moved to eastern Kentucky almost twenty years ago and that I've been in town for chemo and radiation.  He said he was sorry to hear that and that he would pray for me.  Wanting to lighten up the conversation, I asked him where he was from.  “Louisiana.” I told him I loved New Orleans and he said he misses the food.  He worked at a hotel there, he said. 

I asked if I could get a picture of him.  He said, “Sure!!!”  I put my arm around him and gave my best attempt of a selfie.  All the while, people were honking and we both waved.  He laughed every time I waved too.

  He said, “It must be 1:00. Is that right?”  I looked at my watch and said, “Yes. It’s 1:02.” 
“The bus just drove by. That’s how I know what time it is.”  I said, “Well, the next time you see a maroon Mini Cooper with a black top, give me a big wave!” 

I later found out that Derald is somewhat of a celebrity and had made the local news.  He was homeless and jobless when the owner of Mr. Sparkle took a chance on him.  Someone must have also taught Derald that giving will make him happy.   God knows he's made the day of many locals!