Thursday, June 30, 2011

#82 - True Strength

Being flexible in life is a key to having consistent joy. My body has been pretty rough on me and has caused my direction in life to have plenty of unexpected, shocking detours. I found, years ago, that going with the flow is imperative to my adaptation to new circumstances. Trying to hold on to the way things "used to be" will only lead to heartache and frustration. Besides, just because things seem to be different or even more difficult, it does not mean that the situation cannot be embraced.

My oldest, Heather, playing with Tux.
Encountering challenges can bring richness to your life. Having health battles can magnify the simple things in life and the smile on your face might be easier achieved. However, this is all about attitude. For myself, I had to often tell myself, as I've told my children, "You need an attitude adjustment!"

My youngest, Stefie, ready for another formal affair.
For the most part, I have adapted to having hard days. For 33 years I had a body that essentially did everything I asked of it. In fact, my body was full of strength, amazing endurance and my mental sharpness allowed me to be a legal/technical business writer for years and years. I was blessed. And, I'm still blessed today on deeper levels.

My girls when they were so little!
However, now, my body is not as strong. Part of the problem is that my body attacked itself. And our body is made so miraculously by God that once it begins to have health issues, it is a challenge for man-made solutions and medicines to restore it to the "natural" condition. As the years passed, I had organs fail, bones collapse and body parts shift to places that were not normal. I am a walking miracle, according to several doctors' opinions. So, I am indeed blessed.

This past weekend as my husband and I tour a
wedding venue for our oldest daughter. Love his six eyes.
He's still the most handsome creature I've personally ever known!
The challenges have taken a toll, yet I have found my renewed strength in other parts of life instead of depending on it coming from my physical strength.

Lessons about lasting endurance often come after you have been seriously ill for an extended period of time and everything in your life changes. Frequently, your mindset changes; you'll never be the same. Serious illness can create huge changes, which require that you endure suffering and hardship. This kind of endurance lesson is not by recreational choice. It's not a trip-to-the-gym kind of endurance; it goes much deeper than that because there is no "resting" state. You can't always escape your situation.

For those facing serious illness, you are learning about certain kinds of strengths and endurance as bad circumstances are cast upon you.

In my situation, I had been told on numerous occasions that I probably would not make it. I needed two serious cardio-thoracic surgeries that could be performed by only a handful of surgeons nationwide and we learned a terrible thing...surgeons don't always like to take a risk that is already bad enough and make it worse by adding Addison's disease. It was a rare surgery complicated by a rare disease. Actually, the Addison's disease wasn't the problem, it was simply an added complication. At one point, I was flat out told by a cardio-thoracic surgeon that I'd not find a cardio-surgeon that would touch me and my surgery needs with a ten-foot pole because the surgery risk was higher than open-heart surgery, and the Addison's disease tipped the scales far out of my direction. That night, in the hospital, I could only cry. My husband and I cried together. I was told to go home and to remain as comfortable as possible. Until what? Until my children found me dead? It was an unthinkable time in my life. My upper body was not getting enough blood flow; blood was backing up and puddling around my neck, and a pulmonary embollism was expected at any time from the constant blood clots...I was living on borrowed time.

Yes, I did find a surgeon. This in itself was a miracle. I had a brilliant cardio-vascular surgeon and he hired the very best on his team to help me come out of the surgery "alive." It was touch and go. I had internal bleeding and one liter of blood leaked into my chest wall, collapsing my phrenic nerve was nicked and one of my eyelids drooped so badly that it wouldn't really open for about a year. When I'm tired, it still gets droopy. My first rib was removed and the muscles in my neck were cut out and I have artery clips in place after the bleeding would not stop. A year later, I had to have the same thing done on the other side. It was a brutal time in my life.  But, afterward, artery dopplers and angiograms finally showed a continuous pulse to my upper body. SUCCESS! I also no longer felt as if invisible hands were constantly around my neck strangling me. I was thrilled to not be strangled any longer.

So, I know suffering. And, these surgeries have not been my only battles. There have been more. These two surgeries were in 2005 and 2006. But, they helped to teach me that life is not always a breeze. On a deeper level, as my life neared an end, I began to move forward in the hope of Heaven. This attitude is what helped me to have joy even in my worst, most despondent of times. What did a dying person have to look forward to? Well, I found tremendous peace in this question as I began to quit putting my hopes in this world and began to think beyond my earthly years.

I will say, that to face this kind of future is a tall order and not for the meek at heart. Neither were the shoes that my husband and daughters had to walk in during my life saving surgeries that came with a huge price. For reasons, I still don't understand why God decided to keep me around. But, I've learned to quit asking the "Why" question long, long ago. Through very serious, major surgeries AND Addison's disease to boot, I kept surviving against the odds. I savor life because I've already come so close to confronting and accepting the end of my life; I am always thankful for the additional time I've been given with my family.

Suffering and endurance can teach you to find triumphant moments. This is when true strength is found, and for people who have gone through similar battles or have lived with a loved one as they fought to live, you have discovered that this kind of strength is incomparable to any other kind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

#81 - Chicken Fun at Home

This is what I do for fun these days...enjoy the chickens. I've become a city backyard farmer. We have seven chickens, well...two of them ended up being roosters. But, they are delightful and entertaining and sometimes scary. I love learning every day about's one of my lessons caught on video.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#79 - My Comrade of 25 Years

COMRADE: is defined loosely as a person who is an intimate friend or a fellow soldier. A comrade is someone who shares the best and the worst with you and who is willing to help pull you through it all.
I can't believe it! Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. My husband and I grew up together and now have hit this huge milestone that speaks volumes about our level of commitment to each other.

25 Years ago, we eloped outside of San Antonio, Texas. We were kids.

Three months later, we were married in church. It still took another
month before we were finally able to live together for the first time.
This morning, I was thinking about so many moments during our many years together. So many good times and a few bad times, but overall, it has been an amazing marriage full of blessings.

In our 30's with downtown Houston in the background.
When I got sick with Addison's disease, my husband did more than stand by my side, he fought this disease with all his strength. He helped me to survive a long undiagnosed state of Addison's Crisis that caused me go into a Code Blue in the hospital at only 33 years of age. He helped me get through the worst of times. In fact, he would be my legs, my arms, my voice...he would literally carry me as he lived in exhaustion so that I might survive this disease that nearly took me out of this world.
Still, this man is my husband. He is the one I love with all my heart. He is the one I dedicated my loyalty to and my faithfulness to and my heart, body, mind and soul to, til death do us part. This kind of love is beautiful. Even on the rough days, it is a treasure.

Snorkeling at the reefs in Grand Cayman Island.
I didn't marry him for him to be my hero, but that's what he ended up being in my eyes. He fought his own battles while helping me win mine. So, together we triumphed. Yes, there were times when I wanted to choke him, but he never gave up on me, even when it would have been easier to just let me slip away and not make that 911 call. He always flew into action, doing everything he could to pull me through. And, I did. Even when I was so far gone that I couldn't respond any longer, but I could always hear his voice. During those times, I just wanted to touch him.
These days, my husband and I love spending time together. As we get older, we find that the ticking moments of time passing has become more precious and we want to be together for as many of those swiftly passing moments as we can.

Together at a Texas A&M football game. I am having a rough day, am
trying to camouflage my shirt after I had just fallen while carrying a
plate of food. I stumbled and fell against a door, hard. The food
went against my shirt. A mess. But, we still had an incredible time.
How often does a person have a love like this? I do not take it forgranted. One smile from my husband and I'm spinning inside; he lights me up, even after 25 years together.
I love this man because he's not only my husband, he's my best-friend. A true best-friend, not just in title. More than husband is my comrade.

The day our oldest daughter received her Texas A&M
ring - a day of great celebration.
Just this weekend, I was taken on another unusual date by my husband as he signed us up for a glass fusion lesson. Together, we made jewelry. Since we'd already taken classes in stained glass years ago, this was like riding a bicycle. We were free to take as long as we wanted, so we sat in the stained glass art studio and created little beautiful works of art that would be fired in a kiln and melted together to created fused glass.

I'm in awe at the few pieces we created (works of others are mixed with our own).
This was an amazing date and I am always filled with huge love for my husband when he shares such fun moments with me. We are truly like kids together, still trying to find our way in the world and exploring as much as we can together whenever we get the chance.

I love and adore this man.
So, I am grateful to have a Heavenly Match here on earth. Together we've created a beautiful life. 

Happy Anniversary to the love of my life. My comrade. May we
be blessed to share another 25 years of excitement.

Monday, June 6, 2011

#78 - Preparing for the Bad Days

I grew up hearing the saying, "Expect the best, but prepare for the worst," and this is one of my little phrases that I live by. After becoming very ill with Addison's, I certainly learned to prepare for the worst because those bad days had barreled into my life too many times and I had not been ready. I had been knocked off my feet, literally. Finally, I realized that the least that I could do to lessen the impact of a bad day is to be prepared.

If a bad day comes my way, and I am just lacking the energy or the wellness to confront a day with physical activity, then I have a couple of spots in my house that are comfy and nurturing. These areas have been better prepared by some planning and effort.

In my bedroom, I have a large nightstand that holds pens, pads, my medications and it supports a nice little lamp. I have a bookshelf nearby that has boxes of family photos, magazines, books and my journal to write in. My laptop is always nearby and my phones are close at hand as well.

In my bedroom, I have two french doors that allow me to look into the backyard. Lately, I have chickens to enjoy watching. They are amusing and comical.

Whether I'm sitting in my leather recliner or relaxing in bed on those bad days, I have televisions with a DVR of my favorite shows and movies waiting on standby. Normally, I have an extremely difficult time sitting still and cannot lie back during the day, so when I am not doing well and am forced to recline, I try to watch a movie. But, it's not easy for me.

Of course, my dogs are always by my side. Howdy seems to always know when I'm not doing so great. He occasionally jumps up with his big paws leaning on the side of my bed to take a look at my face, very closely. If he's satisfied, he slinks back down to the ground to curl up and be quiet. If I am really not feeling well, he does a huge no-no, he jumps on my bed and stands over me to directly look into my face. If I'm feeling especially yucky, he will begin to make huffing noises of frustration and he refuses to leave until I convince him that I am okay. Usually, this means having to get up and walk around with him a bit. If I am very sick and not able to get up, then he lays down by my side while intently watching me and he won't listen to commands for him to get down, that's not like him either.

When you really aren't feeling well, it can be irritating to have a large dog act like a guardian, but then, I know that he's also helped to pull me out of a very low blood pressure time frame simply because he gets my blood pumping with irritation. He rarely does this, but when he does, I've come to realize that it's best if I simply take more medication because maybe he's sensing something that I'm not totally aware of. His keen attention to my state of being is amazing. He's one dog that is majorly in-tune!

Every morning, my sweet husband makes me a nice sized glass of hot tea and brings it to me as he kisses me goodbye. It's a tradition he's always done for all three of his girls. So, I have my tea next to me and if I'm not feeling well, I'll often have a package of crackers nearby. Also, there is always plenty of left-over food in the fridge that's easy to heat up. I'm the cleaning gal and my husband is the one who cooks the most - he is a Deputy by day and a Chef at heart.

Of course, I always expect to have the best day possible. Sometimes, my day might start out rotten, but it gets much better. Or the reverse will happen, it starts out with me bouncing off the walls with energy and I'll suddenly be knocked down by some mysterious entity, I believe the name is Addison's disease.

Some people are on the end of the spectrum of this disease where it is easier to control and others are stomped to the ground by this disease, even with the best of management. This is understandable when you think of people with any condition - as an example that most of us have seen, a cancer patient might be able to quickly conquer their cancer, but the next persons finds themselves with the same kind of cancer, yet they are quickly engulfed. Such is life - it is not fair.

I knew one person with Addison's who was on top of the world, he felt as if he had perfect control of his disease and was into body building and living a "perfect" life, for years. He said that controlling his Addison's was not an issue, he had regular bouts with colds, stomach bugs, etc., but nothing got him down for long, Then, one day, he got a "little" virus and his entire world capsized. Now, he's constantly battling for a good day. I don't know why this happens, but I take my good days as a huge blessing and make the best of them.

This past week, my Internal Medicine doctor (who now treats a few patients with Addison's disease) revealed that every one of his patients with this disease are disabled...they qualify for disability. That is revealing. I was shocked, but also not surprised...weird kind of reaction.

Preparing for the bad days means that I also take full advantage of my good moments. If I am having a strong, energetic morning, I use that opportunity to get as much done as I can. Usually, I'm like a hurricane because I don't know how long it will last - perhaps for days, perhaps for mere minutes. I can never tell. However, I utilize every good minute that I can grab. This is how I somewhat stay on top of things. Not that I do a great job of it, but I do work hard to keep my floors clean, the sheets clean, our laundry done and family paperwork in order. Then, I get to blog - I get to write and to reflect on how life has changed because of Addison's disease and how I might be able to relay that information to others.

Today, it looks like I'll be given at least a part-Hurricane day, there's so much I'd love to do...painting, organizing my laundry room, clearing out my office, going through old files, but I will take it one step at a time and be happy with however my day goes.

I must add that preparing for a bad day also includes leaving condemnation behind. Having a bad day is bad enough without having to beat yourself up over having a health condition that can be challenging and that you didn't ask to come into your life. You deal with your unwelcomed visitor as best you can and keep moving forward. So, I accept who I am, I accept what I can and cannot do, and I accept life as it is. And you know what? It's not so bad; it's actually full of goodness and blessings.

Actually, I want to make it clear, that in spite of my challenges, most of my life is incredible and full of deep meaning...I am definitely blessed and I treasure each great moment!