Thursday, September 18, 2014


It was a perfect weekend.  Jeff and I spent the day outside. He closed the pool and I pruned rose bushes.  Since it was a beautiful day and the side effects (hot flashes) of Tamoxifen are still doing a number on me, I didn't wear long sleeves. 

A rose bush and I had a fight and it won.  I came inside with a bloody arm, took a shower and forgot all about it. 

The next day, when I made it up the steep stairs at the building where I work, I had to sit down at the top of the steps.  That's when I knew I was in for a long day.  Did I overdo it at (rotator cuff) physical therapy on Friday?  Surely I didn't work THAT hard in the yard.  After a couple of hours, everything was aching and my left breast was on fire.  That's when I began to cry and shake.  The cancer is back.  I called Jeff and he left work to take me home.  I was too weak to drive for seven minutes!

 I called my oncologist and my surgeon but they were both booked solid.  My Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Mater, was out of town, so her partner Dr. Matter wanted me to come in immediately the next day.   A four hour drive to and from Lexington for a 20 minute visit?  Yes. We will be there.  That night, my fever spiked at 102.  God bless those people who get 104 degree fevers because they must be miserable!  That night, I slept, if you want to call it that, in Lauren's bed.  I cried most of the night.  80% from misery. 20% from fear. From past experience,  I was way too scared to tell many people about the swollen red breast.  I can hear it now..."That happened to my mom/aunt/sister/granny and the cancer got her that time.  That's what they call it in the country..."the cancer".

Dr. Matter is not only handsome, but he's very kind with an excellent bedside manner.  If a doctor ever says, "bless your heart", "you poor woman", or "It'll be ok.", well...I'm sold.  You know how I love a good shot of empathy and validation.  Jeff who is in the room with me, looks at me with wonder as I make conversation with Dr. Matter. Just minutes ago I was telling him I was more miserable than I was on chemo!  

The redness in my breast and my side and back were likely caused from an infection from the tear in my skin from the rose bush thorn!!  Because my body hasn't recovered yet from the chemo and radiation, any infection is likely to settle at the weakest areas with scar tissue. That explains why my neck and shoulder were hurting too.  He prescribed  an antibiotic and said, "If this doesn't work, we're going to have to admit you in the hospital."  

We had a quick lunch with Jordan and Oriana at Local Taco.  It was a blur.  I was in agony, but I insisted on seeing them..and I'm glad we did.  
Jordan and Oriana 

I've certainly been a bit demanding with God this past year.   I've begged for my health back (getting there), the knowledge and strength to be the best I can be in my new position (getting there), and most of all ....praying my heart out for Lauren. She moved to O'Fallon, MO near St. Louis, in March.  She's been unable to find a position as a sign language interpreter. Someone once told me that as a parent, you're only as happy as your unhappiest child.  How true. After six months, she finally got an interview last week. She just called me today to tell me she was offered the job!

I made sure I said my prayer of gratitude 'cause I read somewhere that if the only prayer you ever say is "thanks", it's enough. It was Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle or Oprah or someone spiritual and inspiring like that.   I'm too tired to Google right now.  Anyway,  here goes...

 Thank you, God, for allowing the people interviewing Lauren to see how gifted and special she is.  Thank you that this wasn't a cancer recurrence.  Thank you for Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin.  Thank you for my husband who has taken such good care of me these past two days and always. Thank you for my co-workers who have worried about me these past few days and give me the daily encouragement to keep going.  Thank you for my son, who calls me regularly on his walks between classes just to check on me.  Thank you for the friends and family who are just now learning about my near death experience.  Slight exaggeration, God.  Only slight.  And God, I still love my rose bushes and am thankful for them. I'll just be more careful next time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Year of Change

“This year is going to suck,” said Dr. Brown, the radiologist at St. Joseph Breast Center in Lexington.  That was one year and 21 days ago.  386 days.  Lauren and Jeff, who were both in the room, heard her say it too.  Her words, abrasive like sandpaper, I'm sure sounded differently in HER mind. She was trying to prepare me for the next 12 months.  In some ways it seems like yesterday, but actually, some days were longer than others.  As Navin Johnson said to Bernadette Peter’s character in the movie “The Jerk”: “The first day seemed like a week and the second day seemed like five days. And the third day seemed like a week again and the fourth day seemed like eight days…..   Yes.  That about sums it up.

Prior to that day, I would have thought they were crazy if anyone had told me that in the next 55 weeks, I’d be diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, have a lumpectomy, another surgery to remove a hematoma, four rounds of chemo, 33 radiation treatments, watch my Mini Cooper burn to a crisp on the shoulder of Mountain Parkway, lose my former boss and co-worker, get a promotion, watch helplessly as Lauren and Jesse pack and move to St. Louis, lose my beloved dog Buddy, and a former co-worker who took his own life this month. 

It turns out that my Mini Cooper fiasco is the biggest topic of conversation surrounding my blog posts.  I still have no idea what caused it.  I paid off what I owed on the car and bought a 2005 Volvo (borrring) that has some issues, which of course didn’t arise until I had the car a couple of months.  Sometimes, when I press the brake, the horn honks.  It’s really embarrassing at stoplights.  Many have asked if I sued the manufacturer.  I'd be a terrible plaintiff. "Were you injured in the incident?" the defense attorney for Mini Cooper would ask. "No. I'm fine," I'd say with a smile.  This is what my Jeff, the lawyer, envisions. He's probably right.  And quite honestly, I agree.

I still can’t talk about Buddy without crying.  I’ve had many pets in my lifetime, most of them for ten years or more. Buddy was only in my life for four short years, but never have I loved a pet so much.  His tired, old body just gave out. Buddy’s vets Dr.’s Mark and Melanie Greene were kind enough to come to our house to put Buddy to sleep, one of the few benefits of small town life.  We all four cried while saying goodbye to one of the sweetest dogs ever.   He died on July 1, the hottest day of the year.  Jeff stabbed at the parched clay dirt for thirty minutes before I joined him by the grave.  Sweat was pouring off of him as we viewed the progress, only about 1/6 the size of Buddy’s “casket”, Walmart’s biggest Rubbermaid container lined with pillows and his favorite ball.   I said, “I have an idea.  Why don’t we have him cremated?”  Jeff looked at me and said, “You think of this NOW?”  While he was outside digging, I called my sister Gail, who always has 25-30 cats (no exaggeration at all!), along with a big Great Pyrenees dog.  She suggested Bluegrass Pet Crematorium in Lexington.  We brought Buddy to Gail and she and my brother-in-law Shane were kind enough to take him for us. We just couldn’t do it.  Bluegrass Pet Crematorium returned him in a beautiful carved wooden box with an imprint of his paw pressed in clay.  I still haven’t decided if we’ll bury it.

Now, for hopefully the last two big events of the year:  rotator cuff surgery was July 3 ....

 The view of the top of my shoulder.  The exposed bone (left) is in the middle. The photo on the right was taken post surgery.

and ….gulp…my boss Bob Little, V.P. of Sales, is retiring August 30. 
I feel so blessed and honored to know this man- a true leader, motivator, and a friend to everyone who crosses his path.  At each meeting, he leads the troops in prayer, thanking God for our safety in our travels, blessing our meals, and praying for guidance.  The man has charisma and some humongous shoes to fill.  I’ve learned so much from him these last 19 years, all of it taught by example.  I’m so happy for him and sad for the KY Lottery.

Bob Little, Leader Extraordinaire

It’s just been a rough year.  I’m trying so hard to stay positive, but the curve balls keep coming.  My first of several dozen physical therapy sessions (for the rotator cuff) at Highlands Regional Hospital was this week and I’m already drained. It’s not the physical therapy that drains me, but their attitudes. No one seems to want to be there.  Normally, when I meet people like this, I’m constantly wondering, “Why are they so unhappy? What can I do to change their mood?  Are they always like this? Is there anything I can do or say to make them smile?”  Seeing them laugh becomes my mission.   But that requires a lot of energy, which I need to conserve right now.

Several years ago, at a KY Lottery Sales Conference, we had a key note speaker who talked about the impact of positive/negative thoughts on others.  As a demonstration, one sales rep was asked to leave the room for a few minutes.    The speaker asked us to think negative thoughts about that sales rep.  As difficult as it was to imagine this guy being anything but fun-loving and energetic, a room of maybe 75 people collectively were told to concentrate on this guy’s laziness (what a joke!) and how much we disliked him.  A few minutes later, he was called back into the room and asked by the speaker to extend his arm and hold it out straight in front of him. She said she would try to force his arm down, but he was supposed to keep it rigid in front of him.  The room chuckled as we tried to imagine this older woman forcing a thirty-something year old man’s arm to his side.  She actually did it with very little effort.  The volunteer said, “What? Do that again!”  And she did…several times.  The volunteer was asked to leave the room again. This time we were told to think positive thoughts-how handsome and charismatic the guy is, what a hard worker he was, and how much we admired him.  He re-entered the room and was again asked to extend his arm and resist her force.  This time, the speaker’s arm was quivering as she tried to force it down.  I was sitting close enough to see the veins in his arm bulge as he tried to resist the woman’s force. She tried using two hands.  That arm wasn’t moving.  Afterward, our skeptical group was asked to perform the same experiment on the person beside us.  The group at my table laughed incredulously, amazed that our thoughts had so much power.  Years later, I met Nadina, my naturopath.  She’s performed this test on me many times over the years to assess my nutritional needs and my body’s weaknesses.  Some see it as hocus pocus.  I find it fascinating.

In the midst of typing this blog, I magically, not coincidentally (don't believe in those) received a card in the mail from my friend Sylvia. How could I not smile?

That being said, I know that a positive…and negative attitude are contagious, so I decided to switch physical therapists now.   I need to recover as quickly as possible from this surgery.

Many say everything happens for a reason and that we’re all here to learn lessons from life experiences.  It’s too soon to list those lessons now because I’m still learning and living them.  My longest hair, which despite the fact that I just had it relaxed, is a curly mop.  Before I had it, um, "straightened", I looked like Androgynous Pat from Saturday Night Live. 

Androgynous Pat

 Now it's a whopping 2 ½ inches long and full of cowlicks.  After Lauren and the folks at Cha Cha's spent over an hour trying to force the cowlicks to lay in the right direction, I was given a 'do that I could go to the store wearing without a stranger saying, "Are you through with chemo? Or even worse, flash a pity smile. I decided I didn't have that kind of time, nor mobility in my arm.  I'll just have to continue "wigging" it for awhile. 

 To add insult to injury,  I’ve gained almost ten pounds after starting the Tamoxifen (an estrogen receptor blocker) and the hot flashes from it are driving me insane.   I have to stay on it 10 years, says Dr. Moss.  At this rate, in 10 years I will weigh exactly 372 pounds.  But I’m here.  Dr. Moss said that that likely wouldn’t have been be the case in a few years if I hadn’t had that mammogram when I did.  Sure, I’m a little vain, but every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded of the last year.  I just want to move on with my life.  I have a trip to Italy with Jeff to make someday, future grandchildren to spoil, Jordan's college graduation, and a challenging new position at the KY Lottery.  I don’t have time for cancer, shoulder pain, or bad attitudes. 

What I do know for sure is that I’m really blessed to have had so many people support me with kind words and prayer these last 56 weeks.  I’ve learned who truly cares about me and who has my back.  Although I’ve cried a river this year, I think I’ve laughed a little more too.  I’ve made some new friends.  Several of them are like me, at the mercy of God and their oncologists.   I pray they’re as blessed as I have been.    
Many have asked. “Is it over?” Lord, I hope so.  Once I recover from the  shoulder surgery,  the fatigue from radiation (which they say starts to subside a year after the last radiation treatment), and totally forget about my complications from my surgery last August, I might have reconstructive surgery to fill in the hole I now have in my left breast.   Spackle would work nicely. 
For now, I’m taking one day at a time, nurturing my tired body and my positive attitude.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Monday was my follow-up appointment at the oncologist and I was a wreck.  Jeff knew it so he took the day off work to drive me there.  The only medication I’ve been taking is Effexor (an anti-depressant) and I have been weaning myself off of it slowly. I was down to a low dose every other day.  One of the side effects of Effexor happens to be that it cuts back on the number and intensity of hot flashes.  If I didn’t have the knowledge and fear of drugs that I do, I’d be gobbling those happy pills like Cookie Monster.   Within the last month I’ve had more crazy dreams than I care to tell you about in detail. Most of them involved bad news from my upcoming doctor visit:  the cancer has spread, my recent promotion to manager was rescinded, and walking through tulips in Lexington Cemetery shopping for my cemetery plot.  I woke up every morning exhausted from the nightmares.
Jeff and I arrived at Dr. Moss’s office loaded with a stack of resumes to read over and his massive stack of billing for his firm.  The appointment was in the afternoon and we knew we’d be waiting for a while.  After about thirty minutes they took me back to draw my blood and directed me to the exam room.  Thirty minutes later, Dr. Moss walked in.  Her hair looked liked it had grown three or four inches since I last saw her.  I wondered why mine hadn’t.  We talked about my recent diagnosis, which I haven’t had time to even blog about lately.  An MRI revealed that I have a torn rotator cuff and have to have surgery as soon as possible.  The orthopedic surgeon said I have two tears and one is considered to be a full one.  The longer I wait, the worse it will get.
Yep. That 25th wedding anniversary gift is the one that keeps giving.  Of course, I’m referring to my Jacuzzi fall 2 ½ years ago. Dr. Moss asked if I had scheduled my surgery.  Not yet, I said.  I’m so busy that I not only don’t have time for the surgery and recovery, I don’t have the time to pick up the phone and schedule it.
I had gained seven pounds since I started back to work.  Before then, I had been diligent about eating healthy.  Right now, it’s all about what is the quickest and easiest.  Sigh…I know so much better.  

I, like many other patients, want a post-treatment scan that will tell us we're cancer free. There is no such test.  Pet scans will only detect tumors that are one cm and bigger. Even if my cancer had returned, it wouldn't be that big yet. The best you can ever hope for is "No evidence of disease."

Dr. Moss talked about Tamoxifen, the estrogen-receptor blocker that will keep estrogen from feeding any breast cancer cells that might be lingering.  She wrote a prescription for it and another for full strength Effexor.  The most recent protocol says BC patients take Tamoxifen for ten years.  “I would take the full strength of Effexor—for the mood swings and the hot flashes.  You will need it.  If you don’t, you’re setting yourself for failure.  You’ll stop taking the Tamoxifen and jeopardize your breast cancer treatment.”

“What are the side effects?”  Although I’d read up on them, I wanted to see what she’d say.  “Double the risk of endometrial cancer, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, cataracts, blood clots, fatigue, depression.....”  There's even more.
She then checked my left breast, which isn’t very pretty.  The purple golf ball I used to have looks as if it has sunken in and disappeared, leaving behind a crater that’s as hard as a rock.  “How long has it looked and felt like this?” (Since not long after I completed radiation). “Well, it could be just scar tissue but I want to make sure.  Let’s schedule an ultrasound as soon as possible.”    I started shaking, but only my insides.  I could feel my heart beating faster and all my insides quivering, but carried out my stack of work to the receptionist desk as if nothing was wrong.  I remember my first visit there.   My nose was red and eyes were swollen from crying.  I was mad as hell that I was there and wasn’t shy about showing it.
Now, with each visit to the oncologist it’s as if I’m appearing in front of a judge.   The first time, I met her with fear, anger, and defensiveness.  After a few appearances in “court”, I’m still a scared victim but try not to let it show.  Now I’m making friends with the bailiffs.

“Did you ever get a new car?” says Amy, the receptionist.  “Not yet.  But we’re looking.”   I’ve been looking for a new (used) car to replace my burnt up Mini Cooper.  “How’s your hair under the wig?  Has it grown much?”  I had to laugh.  “It’s pretty hideous. It’s half black/half white and one big cow lick.”  I’m thinking about getting hair extensions, but that requires a day off.  With spring coming, the wigs are already becoming intolerably hot..  I keep the office so chilly that even the big men who walk in wearing jackets are teeth-chattering cold.
They “worked me in” for an ultrasound three days later.  They were implying urgency while on the phone to the Breast Center.  Of course, this added to my terror.  I cried all the way home. 
Three days later, Jeff and I made the two hour drive up Mountain Parkway.  Each time I pass the Stanton exit, I see the black spot that scarred the asphalt on the shoulder of the road where my little Mini Cooper, clothes, cake, and wig burned up in January.
We arrived on time at the Breast Center on Thursday, carrying more work to keep us busy.  They brought me back to a room to undress from the waist up. “We’re going to do another mammogram. You’re due for one in June,” says Kaye, the mammographer.  Whatever.  I’m so tired I just follow her to wherever, strip and have her place my boob and arm (I can’t lift my left one by myself) wherever she wants it.   She places a boob, one at a time on a piece of 12” x 12” plexiglass.  You hear a whir and see another sheet of plexiglass compress the breast like a pancake.  I wince in discomfort.  I look down and am amazed that my dense breast has flattened to fill out all but about one or two inches around the perimeter of the glass.  I imagined Jeff having to have this done to his, well…never mind.  Kaye tells me she was off THREE MONTHS for rotator cuff surgery. Shit.  Really? My orthopedic surgeon said two weeks!

Dr. Marta Kinney is the radiologist who performed my ultrasound afterward.  She’s blond, Polish, attractive, and thin with high pronounced cheekbones like my friend Liz’s.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.  How’s that for irony?  A woman who detects breast cancer gets the dreaded diagnosis herself.  Jeff comes back to the room with me.  I’m trying very hard to focus on what she’s saying but she sounds just like the actress on SNL when she impersonates Arianna Huffington.  Focus, Ann, focus!  This is important stuff, I tell myself, but yet I’m thinking….Arianna is Greek.  Why would a Polish woman’s accent sound like hers?  Focus!  I heard her say, “This appeared to be scar tissue. “  Nicole the nurse walks in.  “How beeg vas your tu-more,” asked Dr. Kinney.  “BIG, almost 3 cm,” Nicole interrupts.  I did a double take because I remembered her telling me nine months ago that it was 2 ½ cm which wasn’t quite an inch.  She’s seen much bigger, she said back then.
“Are you on Tamoxifen,” Dr. Kinney asked. I just got the prescription this week. I haven’t started it yet.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Tamoxifen really increases your appetite.  When I was diagnosed, I weighed 103 lbs.  I’m now 132.”   I was finding it difficult to sympathize with her on that one. I haven’t weighed 132 since my junior year in high school.  “Although nothing about this breast is normal, I see no evidence of cancer at this time.”   Hallelujah!  Although I knew “this time” meant regular visits and scares, for today, I was happy with the news.  I have a reprieve from worry for a few months.

Before heading home, Jeff and I stopped by Arkon’s house. Arkon is the name of a middle-eastern mechanic/entrepreneur who likes to “flip” cars that have been wrecked (but not the engine).  We bought Jordan’s Camry from him in December and when he heard about my Mini Cooper mishap, he offered to help me find a good deal elsewhere since he didn’t have any of the models I was looking for at the time.  When Jordan broke the car door handle off during an ice storm, Arkon replaced it for free.   
Arkon had the perfect car for me, he said…a 2004 Volvo S40.   It’s a very safe car, but definitely not a mid-life crisis car.   He had just put some new tires on it and it only had 95,000 miles.  I’ll only be driving it to work nine miles a day and to doctor appointments in Lexington.  I really wanted a Fiat but Jeff says they’re unsafe.  Guess it seems silly to take Tamoxifen as a cancer precaution and then buy a dangerous car.  Kind of like eating French fries and washing them down with a high vitamin smoothie. Wait…I sometimes DO that!
I drove home in my Volvo, took a bath and went straight to bed.  I slept through a massive thunderstorm and Buddy’s panting and whines over the aforementioned.  That hasn’t happened in years!
So….today..April 5, 2014…marks the 30th anniversary of the day that I met Jeff.  It was a Thursday and Selectrocution night at 2001 V.I.P, a nightclub in Lexington.  My friend Pam called me up and said, “Tonight we’re going to Selectrocution.  I’m picking you up in 30 minutes.  Be ready.”  I was in my pajamas with a mud mask on my face.  “Pam. I’m in my pajamas..”
“Thirty minutes.  Be ready.”    So I was. 
The idea of Selectrocution makes me cringe today. But in 1984, it was state of the art, only based completely on appearances.  But when you’re 19 with a fake ID, you’re pretty shallow.  When you walk in, they ask your initials and pin a card with two three inch letters to your lapel or dress.  They also give you a card with your initials at the top with five blanks on them.  You write down the initials of five men or women you are attracted to and turn them in at the computer.  At the end of the night, you get a print-out of who picked you (an asterisk beside the initials if they picked you too) and how you rated out of all of the women.  Ugh.  Can you believe that?   I saw Jeff and his friend Calvin walk in and I wrote down their initials in 2 of the 5 blanks.  I told Pam, ”I’m going to walk by those guys.  Tell me if the tall one looks.”  I walk by with my drink in one hand and my pinkie finger on the other twisting as I walked by.  I came back to the table and Pam said, “Not only did he look, he wrote down your initials on his card!”  I was seriously wearing a blue dress that buttoned all the way up the neck.   Jeff later called it my “nun” dress.   Then the D.J. played Super Freak, my favorite dance song at the time.  I asked him to dance, he asked for my phone number, and the rest is history.  The club later became a strip club named Pure Gold, so Jeff tells people, “There’s where I met Ann.” 
I’m just praying for another 30 years with my Selectrocution dude!
May 1984, a month after we met.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


My last radiation was Wednesday, January 29, so  I stopped by Caramanda's Bakery for an assortment of cupcakes for the staff at St. Joseph Radiation-Oncology.  They somehow managed to make me feel safe and comfortable while lying topless on a gurney and having beams of high-energy radiation penetrate my chest and underarm.  Of course, I didn't feel any pain at the time, except for my shoulder.  I never did get used to the pain when I grasped the bar over my head. I would arrive at 10:00 each day, except for Mondays.  The kind ladies at St. Joe Radiation-Oncology suggested that I schedule my Monday appointments for 1:30 so I would have more time with Jeff and Buddy over the weekend.  

"Good morning, Mrs. Damron," Gina would say each morning, with a big smile.   "Please oh please call me Ann."   She said she couldn't possibly. "Ok, Ms. Willis," I said in a deep formal tone.  We would both laugh every time.  Seeing her big smile, gleaming with perfectly white teeth, gave me no choice but to reciprocate. It was a great way to start the day.

It was my morning ritual for 33 weekdays.  I would arrive at 10:00, chat with Gina for a couple minutes while she placed a hospital (ID) band on my arm.  I'd walk to the dressing room, undress from the waist up, put on a purplish colored gown, and grab a seat in the small room beside the radiation room.  They always had a big unfinished jigsaw puzzle on a table in the waiting room. Being somewhat of a germaphobe these days, I never indulged.  

Cristi or Susie, the radiation therapists, would call me back to the radiation room.  They'd always ask me about my weekend or what I did the night before.  They seemed to remember all the trivial things we had talked about and would mention them in visits a week or two later.  We shared photos of our children and talked about shopping and restaurants.  Although I knew why I was there, it was a relief to not mention the C-word.  

Cristi and Susie both have sweet baby voices.  It made me wonder if it might be a job requirement to work there.  "We have something for you."  It was a graduation certificate, signed on the back, by my new friends.  I asked if they would let me take a photo of the staff for my blog.  Although my doctor, Dr. Matar (rhymes with tater),  wasn't there, Dr. Matter (rhymes with otter), who has cared for and treated me several times came out of his office for the photo.  

Before handing me the diploma, Cristi said, "We know how much you like Victorian (they read my blog)."
Dr. Matar

The friendly and professional staff of St. Joseph Radiation-Oncology, including the physicists who calibrate the machines.  Dr. Matter is on the far right. In case you're wondering, it's not a requirement for all my male doctors to be handsome.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 
 I was at the Bob-o-Link location that day, so unfortunately Dr. Matar, Gina, and Beth aren't pictured.  Also, thanks to Vickie and Sarah, also Radiation Therapists, who were also very kind to me.  
Cristi, Susie, and me striking a silly pose in front of the beautiful quilt that Susie's mother made years ago.  Her father donated it to the office after she passed away three years ago.

They gave me a note with their names on it so I could "friend" them on Facebook.  If you're reading this, Cristi or Susie, please click on and add me as a friend.because I lost that Post-it note.  

As soon as the last photo was taken, I immediately started crying.  They were tears of happiness to re-gain my sense of normalcy at home and work.  Tears of gratitude for the clarity to see who truly cared about me.    They were tears of relief that it's over and tears of fear that it's not.    I was a bundle of nervous energy.  I sobbed to Cristi and Susie, "I pray it was enough."

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!