“My Independence Day”

Today is July 4th, and this is my vlog post for this month.

Several people have asked me why I don’t have a YouTube channel. Honestly, I was reluctant because of my lack of knowledge when it comes to technology. I even had trouble today with uploading. I had to do it from my phone. The quality isn’t the best.

While I was on vacation, I had a lot of people to send me messages asking if I traveled to Jamaica alone. Here’s my reason why. This was my first and ONLY take. I had to finish packing for the plane. I hope you enjoy.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss any videos.

“Preparing for the ultimate race, this thing called life”

A marathon is 26.2 miles. It’s not just for super athletes. There are people of all shapes and sizes, ages, and genre that will begin. One can’t simply wait until the day of the race to start preparing and expect to win. There is work behind this. Everyone will start, but not all will make it to the end. The good thing about life is that we can all be winners.

Typically, training takes 16-20 weeks to prepare for the marathon. This includes the runner running 3-5 times a week. Each week, he/she should increase the miles ran. There should also include strength training for your muscles to help endure (http://www.runnerworld.com).

As I was thinking about this month’s blog, I thought about another kind of racing-horses. Growing up, my father had three horses. On the weekends, we would go and ride. I have always had an admiration for horses (their strength, their beauty, and their endurance).

I’m not sure if you ever watched or heard of the Kentucky Derby. It is one of the elite social events of the year. Men and women are decked in their finest attire. Women’s heads are adorned with the largest and most unique hat they can find. While it a social event, the horses have trained and prepared for the race.

Training is typically in the mornings. Trainers focus on physiological as well as the physical. It is important for the horse not to have anxiety on the day of the race http://www.ofhorse.com. When you see the horses on tv or in person, you should know there is plenty of work and preparation behind it.

I’m sure you are wondering where I am going with this. For me, life is a simile of a race. The moment, we are born, our parents began to prepare us for life. They know what lies ahead.. They have already experienced where we are going. They watch us grow from infants into adulthood. They try to shield us from being hurt. They know that some challenges will be won, and there will be some failures. It is what life brings.

My mom and I

Even though life brings forth obstacles, we must not quit. Sometimes, just as soon as we jump over one hurdle, another one is there waiting on us. It doesn’t matter if we trample over it, leap high without touching it, or run right through it, we will not be disqualified. The importance of it is to never quit.

Other times, there is rain. The sun can be beaming down our faces, and the rain can come pouring down unexpectedly. This is the last thing that a runner or a jockey on the horse would want. Rain slows you down. If you aren’t prepared, you might want to give up. In life, we will have days where things are going great. Then, booom!!!! Here comes the rain. Will you dance in the rain like no one is watching, or will you let it ruin your day?

Family vacation in 2017. In New Orleans, and we got caught in the rain.

As I was gathering information for this month’s blog, there was one article about how to mentally prepare for a race. A couple of suggestions were to visualize yourself finishing yourself finishing and to run your own race http://www.runninforsweets.com. That was very profound to me. We must realize that life is not a competition, and that we must focus on ourselves. The race your friend or family member is on will never be the race you are on. There might be similarities, but no one deals with situations exactly the same. That is what makes us unique.

Today is my 44th birthday. I’ve had journeys. I’ve had hills. I’ve had mountains. I’ve had bumps and bruises. I’ve had heartaches. I’ve felt faint. BUTTTTT I’ve had sunny days. I had love. I’ve had rainbows. I’ve had days filled with glitter and days where I made lemonade out of lemons. Even though life might get hard at times, I shall never quit. Whether it is a Boston Marathon or the Kentucky Derby, there can only be one winner. In life, we can all win. It is the perspective we choose.

The summarization of Ecclesiastes 9:11 is the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong but he that endures to the end. It is one of my favorite scriptures. It helps keeps me focused. Another quote I use often is a sermon that my father once preached. It says, “a good start is important, but the key is to finish.” With that being said-Let’s go running y’all. We have a race to finish!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Even superheroes get weak”

We all have that friend or family member we can depend on no matter what. That person is dependable and reliable. That person encourages and uplifts. Basically, that person is there whenever we need him/her. He/she is a confidant. He/she is trusting and a pleasure to be around. That person is our rock. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting, knowing, or spending time with Shay Ashford, you know she embodies all of these traits and characteristics.

What happens when the person we depend on and lean on so much gets weak? What happens when our rock is suffering in pain and in silence that he/she is willing to end it all? Because of a chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, Shay has suffered and dealt with pain day in and day out, and only a very few knew the extent of pain she was in. One day, Shay had enough. She asked her father, Chip Ashford, to take his gun and shoot her because of the pain she was in. We all depend on our rock. There are times, even our rock, our superheroes get weak.

Shay is a person that never complains. You would never know what she battling internally. I have been guilty of calling in for a headache. I’m sure I’m not alone for calling in and might could have gone ahead to work. Yet each day, she presses on in spite of how she is feeling and goes to work without complaining. A few weeks ago, I began a series on Shay and how Crohn’s affected her life. When she was diagnosed in 2007, there was not a lot of information about Crohn’s. During her interviews, I asked Shay how the flare ups made her feel, the number of surgeries she’s had, and some moments that stuck out to her as she deals with Crohn’s on a daily basis. In her words, “Crohn’s ruined my life.” Shay went from being the social butterfly and a star athlete to a person who was bedridden for days or weeks at a time and having to give up the sport she loved. Her body had now become her enemy. Since that time, she has had over four surgeries and over twenty hospitalizations. Ask yourself this question. Would you still be able to press on?

Prior to Crohn’s, Shay lived a carefree life. She was able to hang out with friends with no worries. After her diagnosis, she had to worry about how many times she would have to use the bathroom. She had to know how long the ride would be because of the possibility of having to use the bathroom. She had to know where she would be dining whenever she ate with friends or family. She would have to look up the menu prior to going to see if it was something she would be able to eat. After Crohn’s, Shay was no longer able to eat lettuce, popcorn, anything spicy, or crab legs (one of her favorite dishes). There would be no more overnight stays with friends. If she did agree to go, she had to make sure there would be multiple bathrooms. Shay’s main concern was that she did not want to take away the fun from others. She did not want to be a burden to anyone.

During our conversation, I asked Shay during one of her 20 hospitalization, was there any moments that stood out? There is one hospitalization that sticks out vividly in her mind. She was teaching for New Albany Public Schools. That morning, she had one of her flare up symptoms (thrush in her mouth). She said everything tasted like wood. Later that day, she began to feel worse. Her ears began to burn. For her, that is a tale-tale sign that bleeding has began in her body. Therefore, she knew that her symptoms and flare up was about to be worst. Prior to that day, Shay had already been to the ER 4-5 times because of her flare ups. Because of her symptoms and knowing and body, she knew she needed to get to the hospital fast. She calls for someone to cover her class and the nurse because she knew she had to get to the ER and quickly. The nurse would not let her drive herself to Tupelo. She met her father, Chip Ashford, halfway to Tupelo.

When she got to the room, she tells Chip that she has to use the bathroom. When she goes, the toilet is full of blood. She is weak and barely makes it back to the bed. Only a few minutes later, she has the urge to use the bathroom again. She tells Chip that she feels her body weakening and knows she is at the point of passing out. She told him she needed him to come with her because if she did pass out she would need someone to get her. Just as she suspected, she passes out in the restroom and has a dream.

Her dream is of flying pigs. They tell her “follow me Shay. Follow me into the light.” She begins to follow them. The sun was happy and shiny. She starts gravitating towards the light. After following them for a little while, she tells the pigs she can’t go the light. She tries to turn backwards, but she is unable to move. She attempts to turn again. This time, she awakens. When she does, she is on a gurney, and Chip is standing over her and asking her to wake up. She begins to vomit on the floor and in her hair. If you know Shay, you know she’s a germaphobe. She said she wasn’t worried about her body. She was worried if the vomit got in her hair. ☺️ On this visit, she has to be admitted for 3 days. Only few family members know that she is even there. They bring her one of her favorite stuffed animals, lady bug. The lady bug is symbolic for good luck. In that moment, good luck and positive vibes is what she needed.

Shay has endured four surgeries because of the Crohn’s. The most horrible surgery was in 2016. The reason for the surgery was because her bowel was not moving through her rectum as it should. She had anal fissure (tear in anal lining) and anal fistulas (infection in anus). Having the surgery was important because her body was identifying the stool as a foreign object. Her body was going into shock because of the pain. The pain she experienced prior to the surgery was nothing compared to the pain she felt after surgery. The only thing that helped eased the pain was bathing in warm water. Her mother, Carolyn, helped her into the tub. Even the warm baths weren’t helping. At that moment, Shay could not take anymore. She asked her dad to shoot her. That was the only way she felt that she could escape the pain. They all sat in the bathroom and cried as Shay suffered in pain. It would take months for her body to completely heal and for her to regain her strength. Still to this day, Shay said the pain she felt was the worst she ever felt in her life.

Typically, a person does not have colonoscopies until the age of 50 (http://www.cancer.org). Due to the in inflammation of the bowels, people that are diagnosed with Crohn’s are more likely to develop colon cancer (http://www.webmd.com). Due to Crohn’s, Shay has a colonoscopy every two years. In 2019, during one of Shay’s routine colonoscopies, the doctors were unable to complete it. The doctors were not able to see inside the colon with the scope because of two blockage, and there was a possibility of colon cancer. She was referred to a specialist. The doctors said that she would have to have surgery to go in to see what was going on. They gave her three scenarios because they didn’t know what it would look like when they went inside. Option A. The large intestines would be taken out and reconnect the small intestines. They would make a clean passage. The small intestines would do what the large intestines used to do. Option B. Everything did not go as smooth, and she would have to wear a colostomy bag for six weeks. She would go back after six weeks and reconnect the small intestines to the rectum. That is if it was a little irritation. The colostomy bag is a plastic bag that collects feces from the digestive tract with and opening from the abdominal wall (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com) Option C. If they go in, try to connect it, and it won’t connect, she would have to wear the colostomy bag permanently for the rest of her life. The doctors felt that because of her being young that option a is what they were hoping for, but she had to be prepared for option C. She didn’t want to have surgery. She did pray about the options, but she was afraid. Shay felt that she PTSD from the surgery of 2016. She didn’t want to have the surgery because of what previously happened. She was afraid of the healing process and wondered what would the pain level be this time around. She researched YouTube, talked to her doctors, and called her friends to get insight on what would happen. None of it helped, but she decided to go ahead and go through the surgery. In order to prevent the risk of colon cancer, Shay’s entire right colon and appendix was removed on December 17, 2019. The hospitalization was four days.

She said it was the best decision ever in her life. She wish she’d done it earlier. It didn’t take away her having Chron’s, but she no longer suffers in pain each day. She is able to eat things that she previously had to let go. She no longer lives her life in fear. Before the total right colon removal, Shay was afraid of trying new things and living her full potential because of her illness. Now, the fear is gone. She is able to live a care free life. She is able to bet he social butterfly that she once was. I am glad and thankful that Chip did not honor her request.

Remember, just because you see someone smiling, it does not mean there isn’t pain behind it. There are people that push through the pain regardless of what is going on with their bodies. They get up, get dressed for work, encourage you, pray for you, and still have a smile on their face. BUT!!!!!! If you don’t remember anything else, remember this!!!!!! There are times, even our superheroes get weak.

“There are superheroes living amongst us each day “

Many of us wake up each day with no pain. We get up and go about our morning/daily routine (showering, breakfast, leave for school or work). Have you ever stopped and thought that waking up with no pain is actually a blessing? For the person that suffers with Crohn’s disease or any type of chronic illness, the person may not have the luxury of waking up with no pain.

March is recognized as colon cancer awareness month. I did a three part series on my friends, Gary and Mary Pat Hancock. When I was discussing my topic for the month of March with one my close friends, Shay Ashford, she reminded me about having her total right colon removed in order to prevent the possibility of her getting colon cancer as a Crohn’s patient. Statistics show that every 1 out of 20 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. People with Crohn’s have an even higher risk of obtaining it. http://www.everdayhealth.com. Initially, I thought she would be the week four blog post in the month of March to conclude the series, but there was so much to her story that needed to be shared as well. It would be impossible to tell it all in one week.

If you were like me, you might not even know what Crohn’s disease is. I had not heard of it until Shay told me about her diagnosis and how having Crohn’s has affected her life. Before I share part one her story of her with her battle of how having Crohn’s diseased changed her life, I need to explain what Crohn’s is and how it affects people.

Crohn’s disease is an chronic illness. It is inflammation of the bowel. Some of the symptoms are excruciating stomach pains, fatigue, severe diarrhea, malnutrition, and fatigue. Sometimes, the complications of Crohn’s can lead to death. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease. People that live with it have to learn how to live with it and attempt to do certain things to reduce pain and flare ups. http://www.mayoclinic.org

The symptoms can be mild or severe. They can develop or a period of time, or it can hit a person at all once. This is called the active time period. During this active period, the list of possibilities of symptoms goes on. Sadly, a person can experience several of these symptoms at once. Other symptoms besides the ones from above are blood in stool, mouth sores, reduced appetite, pain or drainage in the anus, inflammation in several areas (skin, eyes, joints, liver, or bile ducts), iron deficiency and kidney stones. If you have some of those symptoms, it does not mean you have Crohn’s. The time to see the doctor is when you are experiencing blood in stool, days of diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, unexplained fever, or abdominal pain http://www.mayoclinic.org. There are even times when nothing is going on. This period is called remission.With symptoms as these, I would personally call it moments of gratitude because I wouldn’t be in pain.

Since November 2003, this was not the case for Shay. It would be the moment that her life would forever change, and things would never be the same. Shay remembers it as if it were yesterday. She was in her college dorm room watching an episode of The Golden Girls when she would have experience her first symptoms; what we now know as her experiencing her first flare up. She felt sick to her stomach and had to go to bathroom. She was vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Shay assumed it was something she’d eaten and didn’t put much thought into it. Around day 5 of the same thing going on, Shay was extremely weak that her basketball coach had to come feed her like an infant. The smell of food would not allow her to keep anything down. This went on for 7-8 days. After lasting that long, Shay knew it was more than a stomach bug or a bad case of diarrhea. She just didn’t know what it was.

The next severe flare up did not happen until the summer of 2004. Shay was on the track field with her basketball team. Her vision became blurry, and her ears began to hurt. The coach blew the whistle for the team to begin. Shay could not move because of not being able to see and the pain in her ear. She began to black out. Her coach yelled at her because she was not running with her teammates. He asked her was she scared to work out. He even gave her an option. He told her she could either start working out or pack her bags and go home. If you know Shay, she is an athlete. She has been involved in sports all her life. She was not a quitter. She gathered up some strength and began walking as fast as she could around the track. Every 10 steps, she was vomiting on the track. She only made 1 lap around the track, and she collapsed. She doesn’t remember how she got back to her dorm room.

This flare up lasted almost 2 weeks. She was experiencing constant diarrehea, rapid weight loss, no desire to eat, and thrush in the mouth. Shay was going from doctor to doctor to see what was going on with her body. Doctors were saying it was bacteria in her blood, the flu, or a stomach virus. She was having a side effects from the medications on the same time having a flare up, but she didn’t know it was a flare up. She was having to use the bathroom approximately 4 times in each hour. The diagnosis the doctors were giving her symptoms were absurd. She knew it wasn’t the flu. She knew it wasn’t a stomach virus. She lost 40 pounds in 3 days. Her teammates would be shocked when they saw her. Shay was in her room crying and praying for an answer. Due to her being in pain and not being able to practice, Chip, her father, came and withdrew her from school. Shay enrolled at ICC on a basketball scholarship. The head coach gasped when Shay arrived on campus. Shay was not the athlete she’d watch play in high school. Shay told her she was overcoming a sickness. She assured the coach that she would be able to practice if she would bare with her during this time.

In January 2005, there was a little relief. Shay went to a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with Crohn’s. Even though she had the diagnosis, it didn’t help much. There was little information out about Crohn’s. The doctors didn’t know how to control it or how to reduce the symptoms. The doctors were changing her medications to see what happened. In the first 2 years, she changed about 6 times. The doctors told her to keep up with what foods made her sick and what didn’t. Her weight and health was in such bad condition. Typical body fat for athletes ranges from between 14-20% http://www.healthline.com. During this time, Shay’s body fat was reduced to 10%.

In August 2006, Shay transferred to the University of Alabama. The first year wasn’t bad. She would have min-flare ups that lasted 1-2 weeks instead of the 2-4 weeks before diagnosis. The college got a new basketball coach in June 2007. Shay was excited. Her stamina was coming back. She was looking forward to a new season. July 2007, Shay woke up that morning feeling dizzy. She went to the bathroom, and everything was coming out on both ends. When she flushed the toilet, all she saw was blood. Within 20 minutes, it was still going on, and Shay used the bathroom 4 more times. She freaked out. She called the coach, but he didn’t answer. She called the trainer. The trainer asked if she was able to drive to the school’s infirmary. Somehow, she was able to make it. It was nothing but the grace of God that allowed her to get there safely. During the drive, her head was spinning, ears were burning, and her vision was blurred. Once she was inside of the clinic, she passed out. She remembers the nurse slapping her in the face telling her to wake up and not to die on the floor. The nurse was kind and helped Shay clean herself up before the paramedics came to take her to the ER. When the paramedics came and rolled her out, Shay remembers seeing her teammates and coaches outside watching. All she could think about at that moment was being embarrassed because they’d seen her in that condition.

For 2 days, Shay remained in the hospital with no answers. Chip came and drove her to NMMC. The doctors discovered she had ulcers in her intestines. She had to receive blood at the hospital and another form of medication at the cancer center. After about 15 minutes of her second treatment, Shay had an allergic reaction to the Remicade and couldn’t breathe. The nurse inserted Benadryl into the treatment. They tried one more time doing the blood treatments at the cancer center, and the same thing occurred. That had to be stopped. It was trial and error with her body and her medications. Her medications had been changed many times. She had taken prednisone, flagly, Remicade, and some other pills. Now, her flare ups included everything she was already experiencing with bloody stools, receiving blood, and hospitalization that lasted for days. Would this ever stop? Would Shay ever get any relief?

I asked her how did the flare ups make her feel and how often was she having them. From 2004-2009, she was having flareups 4-5 times a year. 2010-2015, she was having them 2-4 times those years. 2016-2017, there were 6 flare ups. 2016 was a very bad year for her. Later, you’ll read why. Her answer to how the flare ups made her feel was the she had no control over her body. She was afraid of going places in fear of the possibility of having to go to the bathroom. There was no word to describe the pain that she was feeling. She felt that she had lost her true identity of Shay because of Crohn’s. She didn’t want to be a burden to a potential spouse because of her illness. She felt bad because of her parents or grandmother having to take off work to take care of her. She felt useless as a person.

The first time her grandmother, Lula, saw her. She began to cry. She said my baby is dying. That was a moment that Shay will never forget. In actuality, Mrs. Lula did not realize how true of a statement she made. I recalled one weekend going to the movies. I’d seen the movie, A fault in our stars. The movie was about a two teenagers with terminally and chronically ill patients that fell in love. Their parents did not want them to be together because they knew the end results for their lives. At the end, they die. After it was over, Shay and I were on the phone. I was in tears about the movie. I will never forget Shay telling me that is how she feels. There is not a day that her body is not in pain. She was smiling on the outside and going through her day, but she was in severe pain internally. There was a point that Shay should have died, she could have died, and Shay wanted to die because of the pain, how her life completely changed, and how things were no longer the same. In 2016 (during one of her flare ups), Shay was in excruciating pain and was unbearable. To escape the pain and misery, she asked her father to take his gun and shoot her…….

“I know the true meaning of in sickness and in health.”

January 1, 2016, Gary Hancock logged onto his Facebook page and wrote “I can’t wait to see what all good things come out of 2016. I am looking forward to a blessed year.” That would be the last time he would ever write those words. He said that he wishes it in his mind, but he will never write those words again on any social media platform. 2016 became of the most trying years of his life. In 2016, it became a year that Gary would experience the true meaning of the words (when he took his vows) through sickness and health. In 2016, he, also, experienced something else that was traumatic. What a year, 2016, it would be….

In 2010, Gary’s friends told him that they wanted to introduce him to someone, he told them that as long as the woman knew he wasn’t interested in anything serious he was okay with having a new friend. All he wanted was someone to occasionally go to dinner. Surprisingly, Mary Pat told her friends the same thing. The joke was on them. They fell in love. A year later, they were walking down the aisle saying “I do”. July 22, 2011 was when they became one together with them and with God on their side. It was God that gave them strength during these tumultuous times.

It was only a month later after Gary’s Facebook post that he felt the wind knocked out of him. Mary Pat was experiencing irregular symptoms going on in her body. She was bleeding in her stool. Mary Pat assumed it was irritable bowel syndrome. Through the urging of her family and Gary, she went to the doctor. Mary Pat was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Everything was set for Mary Pat to have surgery on February 1. Two days later, Gary’s mother, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer too. Can you imagine having to try to be there for your mother and your wife at the same time with the same diagnosis? Can you imagine being pulled in two different directions because you want to be there for your wife, and you want to be there for your mom? Mary Pat made the decision for him. She told him she had plenty of support and for Gary to be with his mother. Be being with his mother, he was able to make lasting memories. Initially, Gary was afraid of losing his wife when she received her diagnosis, but he lost his mother to colon cancer instead.

Mrs. Holloman had no symptoms of any type of cancer, and their family had no history of cancer. Her diagnosis was a surprise because she was only exhibiting signs of anemia.She set up an appointment with her endocrinologist. Her doctor ordered a colonoscopy. There was still no sign of cancer, only the anemia. Four weeks later, her doctor still wasn’t satisfied. He ordered a more invasive scope. This scope revealed that Mrs. Holloman was in stage 4 cancer. The doctor had Gary to step out and delivered the news to him. Mrs Holloman asked Gary what the doctor said. He didn’t want to tell his mom what the doctor said about her diagnosis. She insisted that he shoot it to her straight. Gary uttered the words, ” Mom, the doctor says that you only have 6-9 months to live unless a miracle happens.” Mrs. Hollomon said “maybe, I’ll be the wrong to prove him wrong.” It was exactly 3 months from her diagnosis that Mrs. Hollomon took her last breath. She passed away May 2, 2016.

Gary said the months from February to June of 2016 was a total blur. It was filled of doctor’s appointments with his mom and making sure Mary Pat was ok. He was the only surviving child left. His brother passed away over 20+ years prior. His step-father passed away 2 years prior to his mom. He is thankful for their friends and family that stayed with Mary Pat as he was with his mother the last days of her life.

Life was going good. Mary Pat received a clean bill of health for three years. In 2019, her cancer returned. Here he was having another in sickness and in health test. He felt hopeless. All he had left was his wife and children. He begged God to please not take Mary Pat from him. Mary Pat had her ovaries removed. The doctors thought this would have her tumor level numbers back aligned. When she had her follow up appointment, her numbers were four times higher. This time, it was discovered that the cancer returned in her liver. Surgery was set at UAB March 2020. Prior to surgery, the hospital told Gary that he would be able to stay in the room with her during recovery.

On day of the surgery and after they’d taken Mary Pat to the back, they told that Gary would not be able to stay at the hospital during her recovery because of new Covid procedures. Gary wanted to pass out. He could not see her in prepping, after recovery, or even after surgery. The moment she was rolled back was the last time he would see her until she was released. UAB told Gary that he could drive back home, and they would call him each day to inform him of Mary Pat’s status. Gary did not care what the hotel fee was going to be he was not leaving Birmingham without his wife. Years prior, Gary worked in the hospitality industry. He still had friends there. They allowed him to use the friends and family discount for his stay. Due to the entire world had been shut down, there was nothing Gary could do but sit and wait. Gary said that he watched a lot of television and ate at few local restaurants that were still open. Due to the havoc and extra responsibilities of everyone in a hospital, UAB was not able to contact Gary as they’d stated. He was feeling helpless.

After being in the hospital for 6 days, Mary Pat was able to come home, but the feeling of helplessness was still there. He wanted to be strong for his family. He remembers one night he and Hayden were outside. Hayden asked was his mom going to be ok. He assured him that if it was the Lord’s will that she would. In the back of his mind, he was still wondering because he was thinking of his mother and her death. His mother was ordered chemotherapy. She was not able to take it. All she had was one round, and it put her in the hospital for one month. Mary Pat was ordered 12 rounds of chemotherapy, the same regiment his mother was on. Each round Mary Pat had, Gary wondered what if it got to the point that she could no longer take it and if it would do the same to her as it did his mom. One of his friends, Bobby Mooneyham, told Gary that because of everything he experienced with his mother he knew too much dealing with Mary Pat’s health and her recovery. He finally had a meltdown one night. He had been holding in his mother’s death for years. Mary Pat encouraged him to let it out and to seek counseling to help him through the emotions. Therapy still helps him to this day get through the hard times of life.

Each year, Mary Pat has to have test to ensure that the cancer has not returned. Gary tries to remain calm and not worry that is has returned. Even in the her moments of weakness, he could not give up nor let her give up. Gary’s faith in God and the support of family and friends have helped him endure the trying times. Sometimes, Mary Pat has questioned God why she lived and his mother did not. During a private moment before her death, Mary Pat assured Mrs. Holloman that he would take care of Gary and make sure he was ok.

Often times, couples do not make it when the sickness and health comes. Divorce is soon after. I asked Gary what advice would he give to anyone that is dealing with an illness of his/her spouse. Gary said that you have to have three people in your marriage (the couple and God). Without God, it will not survive. He said to be sure to support your spouse and to remember the vows that were taken before God. Through sickness and health. To death us do part. With God, all things are possible.

Sidenote… I went back to ask Gary more questions, and Hayden was home for spring break. It was impossible not to include him in hearing how he felt about his mother’s journey. I asked him how did he feel as his mother was going through chemotherapy and diagnosis. He said that he held it in. He did not express himself outwardly. To ease his mind, he played a lot of golf. That helped keep his mind off what was happening. Because of covid, he did not want to expose his mom to any germs and visit often. Hayden said it was very tough for him. He was not one to express his emotions until it was all over. He said that his mother’s healing and a clean bill of health was the best news that he ever received in his life. He said it was priceless. He said seeing Mary Pat ring the bell was worth it all.

The day Mary Pat rang the bell.

“I heard the words I have cancer twice.”

Here she was celebrating with her friends and family having dinner at Old Venice when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He told her Mary Pat. “I know you’re celebrating with your friends and family, but you were right. You cancer is back. There is a spot on your liver. You need to have more test.”

The ironic thing is that she didn’t have a clean bill of health.

Mary Pat had stepped outside on the patio when the call came through. She turned and looked at Gary. By the look on her face, immediately, he knew something was wrong. He stepped out to the patio to join her. Her friends were inside having a joyous time believing that all was well. Mary Pat and Gary had to yet again break the dreadful news that her cancer had returned. The entire team got quiet. They said maybe it’s a mistake. Even if it is true, we will get through it as we have before. Her friends were very supportive.

NMMC referred her to UAB again. She needed an oncologist/liver specialist. She had to wait about four weeks before one was selected. The doctor, she would be seeing, was ranked as the number 1 specialist in his field. Everyone was confident that this would be the last time she’d have to have surgery or the cancer reoccurring.

The thing is Mary Pat had a feeling that something wasn’t right even before she’d received the call that night. She’d seen Nurse Nan in Walmart and told her that she was wanting them to look again at her scans. With her receiving that clean bill of health, she wasn’t due to go back to the doctor for another six months, but Mary Pat could not shake the feeling of something being wrong. She asked Nurse Nan if she will talk to the doctors to see if they can review her charts again. Thankfully, the guardian angel did so. Her doctor in Birmingham informed her that if she had waited six months after the news of the “clean bill of health” she would not have been alive.

On top of the diagnosis of her cancer coming back, covid hit the entire world. Hospitalization would not be the same. Her surgery was scheduled, but it was not a guarantee that it would be performed the day scheduled because of covid. The hospitals did not know if there would be enough blood to have the surgery. The hospital informed Mary Pat that people could donate blood even if it wasn’t her blood type. A week before surgery, the community of Tupelo and Houston (Gary’s hometown) came together to donate blood. There was an enormous turnout. The blood drive was a success, and the surgery was scheduled.

Prior to covid, the patient’s loved ones were allowed to sit in the waiting room until the patient was sent into recovery. After recovery, family was allowed to stay and spend the night in the room with the patient. Due to no one understanding the virus and how it was transferred, the hospitals around the world had to take safety precautions. Prior to the surgery, Mary Pat was nervous about surgery and Gary being allowed to be in the room. The day before the surgery, the hospital called and stated that Gary would be able to stay in the hospital room with her. On the morning of surgery, everything changed. The staff came to take Mary Pat for surgery. She and Gary told their goodbyes. Gary went to sit back up front. The staff called him to the front desk. She said the hospital received a memo that morning that no one could be in the patient’s room, no one could sit while the patient was being prepped, no one was allowed in recovery, and that was his last time seeing her before he would pick her up after release. Gary became frantic and worried about his wife. He asked had Mary Pat received the news. If so, how did she react? The staff informed him that Mary Pat was distraught and had to have medicine to calm her down. He asked if there was any left for him. The hospital told him that once she was out of surgery he could go back to Tupelo, and they would contact him each day. Even though he wasn’t able to see her, he was not going to leave the city without her. He would remain in a hotel near the hospital and wait on news from there.

The surgery was successful. When the doctors went inside, a second spot had started to develop on her liver. The cancer had been growing rapidly. It was a blessing that she did not wait six months for another review. Because of the location of the tumor cells, Mary Pat would have to have chemotherapy. The tumor cells were close to arteries. The doctors had no way of knowing if the cancer had spread through her body. For safety precautions, twelve rounds of chemotherapy were ordered. It will eliminate the possibility of the cancer spreading. She didn’t have chemotherapy the first time, but this time she would the second round of cancer.

Everything was hectic and stressful. Mary Pat was in the hospital room alone. She wasn’t able to do anything for herself. Because of covid, nurses were pulled in every direction. It was no longer nurses being able to come in draw blood and examination. I know nurses do much more than drawing blood and checking on patients. I want to enforce that other duties of nurses outside of the norm were added to them. Because no one was able to sit with patients, the nurses were having to assist patients with positioning them in the bed, going to the bathrooms, walking down the hallway, and so many others things that were not typical nursing duties.

Mary Pat remembers one day she had to use the restroom. She waited 45 minutes for assistance, and no one came. She began to unhook herself. She said to herself. It was either her wetting the bed or unhooking herself. One of the nurses came in and asked her what she was doing. Gary had mixed emotions. He was upset that it took them that long to help her. He was sad that he wasn’t able to be with her as she was going through her healing. It was a tough six days of not being able to assist Mary Pat and sitting alone in the hotel room.

I asked Mary Pat how did she feel being alone in the room without Gary. She said that she thinks she was ok because of the pain medicine and being incoherent of what was going on. Her medicine had her very relaxed. She was only breathing five times a minute. It wasn’t good that her breathing was that low, but it was a good thing because she didn’t know what was really going on. While she was in the hospital room unaware of what was really going on, Gary was patiently waiting on news to see how Mary Pat was. It would be two days before she was coherent enough to call him. Gary laughs. He said she was talking mumbo jumbo, but he was ecstatic to hear her voice.

After being in the hospital for six days, they were able to go home. They recalled it as being similar to a carpool line at school. All the patients that were discharged were lining up in their wheelchairs and waiting on their rides to pull up. Just as the other times, her support system was there. Sherrie called Gary and told him to let her know when they were within thirty minutes away. When they pulled into their subdivision, there was a surprise waiting on them. Sherry and other friends lined up on their streets and had a parade for her. Chris, the owner of Absolute Clean, came and disinfected the entire house for her. With covid, it was a necessity for there not to be any germs for her healing. Friends and family made sure they were fed. They would sit the food on the table by the door. The home room parents surprised her at the Tupelo Country Club. All her students and parents presented her with a snack basket, rolls of quarters for her to have during her visits of chemotherapy for the vending machine, and an envelope of cash for her to use for her liking. The last day of school, the students and her parents lined up the neighborhood with signs telling her because of you I can do this now. It listed what the child learned from her. Mary Pat said she didn’t care at all about covid at that moment. She wanted to love on her babies.

On the last day of chemotherapy, Mary Pat’s friends and family were outside waiting on her.

Mary Pat had to wait six weeks past surgery before her chemotherapy would begin. In the first post, I discussed how teaching saved her life. Dr. Richard Arriola was the doctor that performed her biopsy after surgery and input her port. Mary Pat taught three of his children at Saltillo. She had to have twelve rounds of chemotherapy. It was once every two weeks. Due to covid, she had to go alone. It would start on Mondays with a four hour infusion. She had to wear a pump. It was in a 10 pound cross body bag. She would have to wear it for two days. The bag had its own place in the bed with them. It would keep her up for the days that she wore it. Once it was off (after 48 hours), Mary Pat’s body would crash. This lasted for six months. It was very tiring, but Mary Pat was determined to endure it to the end. Her goal was to make it to ring the bell. Ringing the bell is the significance of the patient letting everyone know the chemotherapy is complete.

This was one of her grandparents Christmas ornaments. Her mom gave it to her after chemotherapy to remind her to always rely on God.

After her chemotherapy, Mary Pat sought professional counseling. Her counselor told her you have gone through trauma. You have survived cancer twice. You have not been able to return to the classroom. As of today, she still hasn’t been able to return. She is waiting on the moment that she can. She lost her mother in law during her time of healing. She had surgery through an entire world pandemic. She was focused on ringing the bell and finishing the race, but she needs to take the moment to process it. That is what she is doing to this day.

The day Mary Pat rang the bell, her last round of chemotherapy

She is thankful for all the support she has had through her each and every experience. She is thankful for her friends, Sherry Rial and Julie Halbert, taking her to the beach to have moments of escape from reality. She is thankful for her children for loving her. Lastly, she is thankful for the love of her life for never leaving her side. When they said the vows of sickness and in health, their marriage was put to the test when she became sick. Gary never left her side.

Mary Pat and Sherry at the beach
Wedding day

The words of advice that Mary Pat would like to give to anyone that is reading today is to listen to your body. She doesn’t want them to wait until the last minute to have a colonoscopy. Don’t wait just your’e 50 if there are issues going on. She lets people know just because you have not had family history of cancer in your body it does not mean that you are not capable of getting it. If you have to have chemotherapy, there might be hard times. There will be times of wanting to give up and loose hope. She advises anyone to never give up.

Mary Pat going through a round of chemotherapy

Even though Mary Pat has endured a lot, Mary Pat feels that her experience has allowed her to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness. She came across a quote that she used to help her overcome. It says, ” you have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”

“Teaching saved my life”

Cancer, the word no one wants to hear. Can you imagine hearing it twice? This is exactly what happened to Mary Pat Hancock. There had been no family history of cancer in her family. It was very shocking for her to receive the news once, but it was more shocking to hear it a second time less than five years later after the first diagnosis. The word, alone, is something that will suck the breath out of you and make you want to give up. Where as many of us would have given up, Mary Pat told her doctors that she was willing to do whatever she needed to do in order to recover because she wanted to see her children grow older, and she wanted to grow older with the love of her life. Mary Pat was a fighter. She was determined not to give up. Here’s her story.

Their family 💛💛💛

For a few months, Mary Pat noticed blood in her stool. Sometimes, it was light pink, and other times it was bright red in her stool. There were days when she felt an urgency to go right then. All things were uncommon in her body. I’ve written in other blog post. It is very important to know what is going on with your body and notice when you have changes going on. When this happens, it is important to seek medical attention. By doing this, it can save your life as it did for Mary Pat.

Mary Pat assumed she had irritable bowel syndrome. I asked her if she had previous diagnosis or stomach issues the reason she thought it. She hadn’t, but she just wasn’t believing it to be cancer. With her assumption of it being irritable bowel syndrome, she did not put too much concern in it. She had an appointment coming up in a few months with her gynecologist for her annual yearly check up. Mary Pat decided she would bring it up to her gynecologist at that appointment because said who likes talking about stool or bowel movements. There are not a lot of people that do. For this reason, colon cancer is the second leading cause of deaths in the United States (http://www.coloncancercoalition.org). Colon cancer is a very treatable disease. The 5 year survival rate is 90% when there has been early detection. This is why it is important to have a colonoscopy and get a health screening (http://www.cancer.org). Unfortunately, many people do not talk about it. March is colon cancer awareness month. Mary Pat wants people to make the topic of colon issues a normal casual conversation.

During a talk with her sister, Jenny Filgo, who is a nurse, about what was going on, Jenny advised her to seek medical help. She told Mary Pat to not wait a few months until she went to see her gynecologist to discuss what was going on. She told Mary Pat that she needed to see a doctor ASAP. It could be more than irritable bowel syndrome. A few years prior, Gary thought he might have had colon cancer. He had some issues going on. His only ended up being hemorrhoids. He advised Mary Pat to seek help as well. By listening to Jenny and Gary, it helped saved her life.

I’m sure you’re wondering if listening to Jenny and Gary saved her life how did teaching save her life. Mary Pat has been a teacher for 23 years. Teaching is her passion. She is a teacher that treats all children the same. If your children were taught by her, your children are blessed. With Mary Pat giving her all to her profession and her babies, their parents gave it all back to her. Let me be clear. Mary Pat did not go to any office asking or requesting any specific doctor. As a believer of Christ, she felt that all the doctors and nurses were aligned by God to take care of her during her time of preparation, the process, and the healing and were all God sent. She’d taken care of their children or grandchildren. Now, it was their time to take care of her.

With the advising of her family, Mary Pat made an appointment to see what was going on with her body. Her first visit was with Dr. Stephen Amann. She taught his sons in second grade. She told him what her suspicions were. Dr. Amann told her he wanted to have her do a colonoscopy to make sure she was well. Mary Pat was 47 at the time. She was worried about insurance not paying for it because of her age. Usually, insurance does not pay for the first colonoscopy for patients until the person is 50 years old. Dr. Amann told Mary Pat not to worry about insurance at the moment. Regardless if they paid or not, she needed the colonoscopy because of the symptoms she was having.

After she woke up from her colonoscopy, Dr. Amann said you need to sit up. He said I need everyone take a deep breath. Something was there. This is cancer. We’ve set up an appointment with Dr David Gilliland. She taught his son in second grade. Dr. Amann said you are to head there now. Mary Pat and Gary did not have the time to process what had been told to her. They had to immediately leave from Dr. Amann’s office and drive to Dr. Gillialand’s office. Just as other cancer, there are stages. Mary Pat was in stage 2 colon cancer. If she waited until the age of 50, she could have been in stage 4 cancer or even died before then.

Dr Gilliland had another scheduled event prior to Mary Pat’s appointment. He set up the appointment for Mary Pat to have surgery a week later. True to nature, Mary Pat taught each day leading up to her surgery.

They’d called some friends to let them know what was going on. Gary called her best friend, Sherry, and her sister to come and be with Mary Pat as he went to pick up Hayden from school. They did not want him to hear the words “your mom has cancer” from someone else. Sherry left work, and Jenny did not go in that day. She told Mary Pat that she felt in her spirit to take off work that day because she felt she needed to be there for Mary Pat. The Hancocks had the greatest support system with friends and family, and they are very appreciative still til this day.

When she was diagnosed, she was teaching at Saltillo Elementary. These are the teachers that supported her.

Surgery was set for February 1, 2016. Two days later, Gary’s mom, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Gary was being pulled from all directions trying to take care of his mom and his wife. Mary Pat told Gary to focus on his mom and taking her to doctor appointments. They relied on their friends and family to be there with Mary Pat while he took care of his mother. I’ll share more of Gary’s experience and journey in two weeks.

The removal of cancer in the colon surgery was successful. 18 inches of her colon was removed. The doctors were pleased and satisfied. They ran test, and it showed all the cancer had been removed. Her margins were clear. Mary Pat and Gary asked if she was going to have chemo or radiation even if it was only one round. With her test showing normal, statistically, it wasn’t a need. The reoccurrence rate was 2 out of 100. Therefore, there was no protocol for her to have it. She had to see Dr. Julian Hill, the oncologist, for follow up visits. At first, it was three months. It progressed to six, nine, and to yearly appointments. Scans and test were done to ensure no cancer has returned.

Things has gone well for three years. Mary Pat was scheduled for her 4 year appointment. For cancer patients, it is a victorious moment if the patient makes it to year 5 without the cancer reoccurring. Everything was well the previous years, Mary Pat was expecting the same thing. Why should year 4 be any different?

This is one of Mary Pat’s favorite quotes.

It is a day that Gary will never forget. Gary owns a roofing company. He and his business partner were on a roof. While he was working, he received a call from Nurse Nan Francis (Dr Hill’s nurse). Tupelo had a bad storm. Gary thought she was calling to have work done for her house. He would have given anything for that to have been the purpose of the call. Instead, Nurse Nan called Gary to let him know there was an issue with Mary Pat’s test. The office had run the test three times. His business partner said that Gary’s face turned whitish gray and told him that they needed to get off the roof. Nurse Nan informed Gary that Mary Pat’s tumor marker numbers were up and had never been in the previous years. Something was wrong, and they needed Mary Pat to come back in. Gary knew that Mary Pat was excited about her getting close to the 5 year marker. He asked Nurse Nan to allow him to be the one to tell her the news.

When he got home, Mary Pat was headed to Starkville to take Hayden something to MSU. He’d left something at the house over the weekend, and she was about to leave the home to take it to him. Gary had called Sherry to have support to deliver the news. He told Mary Pat to wait to go because Sherry was coming over. When Sherry came, she and Gary were acting strange. Mary Pat said what’s going on. Y’all are acting like someone called y’all and delivered bad news about my test. Gary began to cry. He said since you mentioned it. Yes. I got a call from Nan today. Your numbers are off. You have to have some more test. Mary Pat said I knew this was going to come back and get me. Gary reassured her that he would get through it this time just as they did the last time.

All the appointments and testing started back over again (blood work, sans, and CT scans). The doctors did not know where the cancer was in her body. With the numbers being so high, they knew it was there. October 2019, the doctors found a cyst on one of her ovaries. Everything else was clear. The doctors said if the ovaries are removed that it should put the tumor marker numbers back in line. This surgery would have to be done at UAB hospital in Birmingham because Mary Pat had to have a specialist for gynecology/oncology. Her surgery was set for December 26, 2019 to have the ovaries removed.

When the doctors went to remove both ovaries, only, one ovary was there. The doctors said it was probably from the colon surgery. Originally, the doctors wanted to perform her colon removal laparoscopically. Due to the location of the tumor, Mary Pat had to be cut from the top of her chest to her pubic bone. All her inside organs had to be removed and placed in sterile surgery bags during the surgery. The ovary removal surgery was successful. Compared to the eight night colon recovery stay in the hospital, this time was only overnight stay at UAB. Mary Pat was scheduled to come back in six weeks for a check up.

The bracelets say fearless and survivor.

Remember, the ovary removal was to reduce the tumor marker numbers and eliminate the possibility of cancer in her body. Instead her numbers were 5 points higher. The doctors relooked all the test and scans and were unable to find anything. They said your CT scans are all clear and gave her a clean bill of health. Mary Pat and Gary decided to celebrate with a few family and friends at Old Venice restaurant because they’d received the clean bill of health news.

They weren’t there 20 minutes when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He said hey. I know you’re out celebrating and having dinner with your friends. I heard you received news that you were all clear. Mary Pat, you’re not all clear. There’s a spot in your liver. I think the cancer is there………………………………………….

“The question is are you truly loving you”

When you see the smile that is on my face today, it is one that is genuine. The happiness and joy that I feel is not a facade or pretense for others. Do I have sad days? Yes, but do I truly love Carman? ABSOLUTELY YES!! The feeling of truly loving myself was a journey and a process that took me some years to finally achieve. Now that I have this feeling of self love, I will NEVER go back for anyone.

I have had people to inbox me and ask me how are you so happy. Some have said you are glowing. Do you have a new man in your life? I don’t have a new man in my life. I let them know that I love Carman for all that she is. Here is my story.

Valentine’s Day is the day of lovers. We celebrate this day and honor your boyfriend/girlfriend or your husband/wife. What if you are single? How do you handle this day? I can only speak for myself. Valentine’s Day used to be depressing for me. My divorce was final January 2013. For 21 years, I was used to receiving gifts on this day or though out the year. After my divorce, I would see my coworkers receiving their gifts, and I would be envious. In my mind (at the time), the open display of gifts represented love. I wanted someone to love me.

For many years after my divorce, I was full of emotions (anger, sadness, bitterness, depression, and unforgiveness). I couldn’t seem to shake it. I wore my infamous smile, but I was really a broken women.

In 2014, I became a member of Saving Station International Ministries. My former leaders saw the mental state I was in. They said you have to first forgive yourself and love yourself. After you do those things, you can heal. That was such a hard concept for me to accept. In order for me to be a better person, I knew I had to take heed to these instructions.

Lady Casey Bumpus would hold monthly women’s meetings. Each month, there would be different topics. Regardless of the topic, her platform and ministry is always gonna be about centered around love. The meetings were a safe place for any woman in attendance to pour out her heart and heal. She always had the best interest of the women (men as well) in her heart.

Lady Casey Bumpus would always ask thought provoking questions. During one our private conversations, she asked me do I love myself. Immediately, I said yes. She said Carman, do you truly love yourself. Again and quickly, I said yes. She said ok. If you do, why are you entertaining the relationship with John Doe? It was nothing but a pointless “situationship” as the young people say. Why are you still walking around with unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart? She said you have let yourself go (my physical appearance), and I had. If I wasn’t at work, I didn’t care how I looked. I neglected pampering myself as I did in the past. I had to admit that everything she was telling me was true. The words of wisdom that she spoke to me began to marinate in my spirit and sink in. It was a must for me to let all of that go (situationship and all the things that were holding me bound).

Another piece of advice she gave me was to get busy. I thought it was very clique. I said what does getting busy have to do what anything. I said lady. You are married. You do not understand. She said Carman. I haven’t always been married.There are things that you like to do. Focus on those things, and you will begin to see you for who you truly are. The love for yourself will come. I am a witness to the statement. If you truly get busy, it allows your mind less time to wonder on pointless things.

I began to focus on me in all areas of my life. I focused on my classes and FINALLY graduated. I started blogging last year. I purchased a camera and began accepting clients for pictures. I started back caring what I looked like when I went outside the house and not just for when I went to work. I traveled wherever I wanted. I made sure I kept my facials, pedicures, and manicures. I began wearing makeup. Lady Bumpus was the first person that had my makeup professionally done for me and tips and lesson in it. I absolutely love makeup. I don’t wear it as much now because of the masks. If I’m headed out on a night out of town, I’m beating my face. ☺️ If you knew me from days old, you will see the transition I’ve had. Simply, I started doing things that make me happy. Now, I have the concept that if it isn’t for my happiness, I am not doing it.

Even though I am not a member of SSIM anymore, I believe in giving credit where it is due. Thank you Lady Casey Bumpus for instilling the values, encouraging me, and empowering me to love myself. If you had not seen something in me, I would still be that broken and hurt women that is going in circles and letting life pass her by.

Now, when you see me, the smile is genuine. It is real. There is no man that is making me happy. It is self love. I can truly say that I am at a place in my life where I am happy within myself, and it is true happiness.

I ask that each of you reading this today to do one thing. Look in the mirror each day. Find something you love about yourself and speak it outloud. If you don’t love yourself first, who can you love? Remember, “to thine own self be true”. The question is do you truly love you?

“Your New Year might not always be January 1st.”

The US recognizes January 1 as the start of a new year. Most people take this time to reflect on things that happened throughout the previous year. Some of the thoughts are on the things they enjoyed, things they might do differently the upcoming year, memories of loved ones and friends that were lost during the previous year, and thankful to God to be alive. Often times, resolutions are made, and people are motivated and inspired on the promise of the upcoming year. 🥳🥳

As others, I celebrate January 1 as the beginning of a new calendar year, but it was February 27, 2018 that was the beginning of a new year for me (and hundreds of others). It was on this day that I began to start taking my health seriously. You might be wondering why February 27 and not January 1. February 27, 2018 was the day my cousin, Taylor, took her last breath on earth. Taylor was only 23 years old when she passed away because of a thyroid storm. It was a wakeup call to me and others who knew her to begin to take our thyroid/health issues seriously and to take our medicine each day. It was because of her death that I now live.

Taylor Denise McClain 09/20/1994-02/27/2018

I am not sure if you are aware of what thyroid glands are and what they do. Before my doctor was concerned about my glands growing, I had no clue what they were and what they do for the human body. The thyroid glands are located in the front of the throat and shaped like a butterfly. Some of the functions of the glands are the control of metabolism, release of certain hormones, and energy levels. Sometimes, things do not work as they should, and diseases are developed.http://www.myclevelandclinic.org.

This is one of my tattoos. The butterfly is the symbol often used for discussion about thyroids, and I had it done in pink, Taylor’s favorite color.

The two most common thyroid diseases are hyperthyroidism(Taylor’s diagnosis) and hypothyroidism (my diagnosis). Hyperthyroidism is when the body produces too much hormones. The heart beats faster than it should, weight loss occurs, and a person might experience nervousness. Hypothyroidism is when the body produces too little hormones. A person can gain weight even when he/she is not trying and might experience being cold all the time. Approximately, 10 millions Americans have these issues, and many may not even know. It commonly misdiagnosed http://www.endocrineweb.com.

I received my diagnosis in 2015. My doctor,Marcus Ueltshey, was concerned about my left gland constantly growing each time I’d see him. Due to the gland continuing to grow, my doctor and I decided it was best to have the gland removed . There would be a biopsy done to make sure there was no cancer. May 23, 2016, I went to have surgery at North Mississippi Medical Center. Dr Cauthen was the surgeon. He stated if the left gland was cancerous that I’d have to come back to have surgery again to remove the right one. He asked if I wanted to have both removed while I was under sedation. I agreed. On that day, I had a total thyrodectomy performed. Thankful to God that none were cancerous, but I was told by my doctor that I would have to take medicine for the rest of my life in order to regulate my levels. Taylor’s diagnosis was different. Tia, her mom, noticed Taylor’s eye bulging and wanted Taylor to get it seen about from her doctor. Taylor’s family doctor suspected thyroid issues and referred her to a specialist. Taylor had some health issues growing up. They assumed this would be another hurdle that Taylor would overcome. As any loving mother, Tia wanted to make sure everything was okay.

Taylor Denise McClain was born September 20, 1994. Tia said Taylor cried a lot as a baby. As she got older, her bubbly personality began to shine. It was only feasible that she would do something that would make bring a smile to others. In second grade, Taylor began cheering. She loved cheering with passion and joined a competitive cheer squad. As she got older, she would be a camp cheer coach to upcoming younger girls. She cheered from elementary, high school, and in college. Cheering was her life, and cheering gave her an outlet each time she overcome health obstacles that arose in her life.

In third grade, Taylor developed lymphedema. Lymphedema is the swelling of one or more extremities. It was only in one leg, but it caused her to wear a compression garment. Kids teased her, but Taylor did not let it stop her from doing what she loved. Taylor was not ashamed of the compression garment. When kids would stare, Tia told her to explain to them what it was. She let them know it didn’t make her any different from them.

Taylor and niece, Trinity

Sixth grade came, and Taylor had another health problem. She was diagnosed with scoliosis. Scoliosis is the abnormal curve of the spine. She had to wear a back brace for two years. You already know. Nope. It did not stop her from cheering. Even with severe back pain, Taylor endured the pain and cheered. It was her senior year of college when Taylor was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She’d overcome lymphedema and scoliosis. Surely, she would beat this too.

Tia began to notice that Taylor’s eyes were bulging. After seeing the family doctor, she was referred to a specialist. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. The best way for him to describe it to her was to think of her heart beating over 100 miles an hour. The best way and most imperative way for her to overcome it was to take her medicine each day. If she takes her medicine, it would reduce the speed of the heartbeats. The specialist spoke the words that she never wanted to hear. He told her he wanted her to stop cheering for a moment because he wanted her body to get accustomed to the medicine in her body. When Taylor heard those words, she cried because something she loved was being taken away from her.

Later in the year, Taylor was’t feeling her best. She went to the doctor. When he ran the test, her thyroid levels were not as they should. He said Taylor. You have to take your medicine. Taylor thought the medicine was making her hair fall out. In actuality, it was the opposite. Since she wasn’t taking it, that was the reason she was experiencing the hair loss. Her hormone levels were not as they should be. Tia begged her to take her medicine each day. There was nothing that Tia could do but ask. Taylor was in another part of the state in college. Technically, she was considered an adult. All Tia could do and did do was pray that Taylor was following the doctor’s orders. Often times, Tia wonders if Taylor did not take the medicine as instructed because she feared it take away her capability of cheering.

Tia, TeNecia (sister), Taylor, Trinity (niece) and Dorian (brother)

February 24, 2018 would become the day Tia or any parent never wants to face. Taylor was home and should have been getting dressed for a cheer competition. Tia was preparing for work and noticed that Taylor was not getting dressed.Tia asked why she wasn’t. Taylor told her mom that she wasn’t feeling well. She said she told the cheer coach that she was gonna sit this one out. They assumed it was a winter cold and that all was well. Later that afternoon, Nick, Taylor’s fiancé, called Tia to inform her he was taking Taylor to the hospital. (Taylor and Nick were engaged on February 27, 2017. A year later, their lives would change.) Taylor was complaining about not being able to breathe. Tia told Nick that she’d meet them there. When Tia arrived, Taylor asked her to play gospel. She wanted something to ease her mind as the doctors ran several test to see what was going on.

Taylor and her fiancé, Nick

Taylor complained about being hot. Nick turned on the fan to attempt to cool her down. During the testing, things took a turn for the worst. Taylor’s body began to convulse, and she began to have seizures. Out of all the illnesses she’d endured, she had never had any seizures. Tia began to ask the doctors what was going on. Taylor was going in and out of consciousness. During one of the seizures, Taylor sat straight up. She made a confession to her mom. She said “Mom, I have not been taking my medicine.” Tia was in shock. She inquired as to how long it had been since she had gone without taking it. She told her mom that it has been a long time since she hadn’t taken it. Immediately, Taylor began to start having another seizure. Nick and Tia became frantic. Again, Taylor lost consciousness. She began to code blue. The doctors had them leave the room. Tia did not want to leave. She wanted answers to what was going on with her baby. Security came and asked her to please leave to allow the health team to do what they needed to do to save her. The only thing that keep replaying in Tia’s mind was the confession Taylor made. “Mom. I haven’t been taken my medicine. I don’t know. It’s been a long time.” Those words would be the last words Taylor spoke to her mother.

After a while, they were able to revive her, but they told Tia that the hospital did not have the necessary equipment to care for her, and she’d have to be transported to another hospital. Taylor was moved to another hospital approximately 15 minute away. When Taylor got to the the next hospital, she coded again. After reviving her, the doctors told Tia and Nick that Taylor’s heart was weak and would probably not live much longer. Despite the words of the doctor, Tia was praying and believing that Taylor would overcome this health issue as she had with everything else. Tia never left Taylor’s side. February 27, 2018 (exactly a year that Nick proposed), Taylor exhaled her last breath on this side of earth.

The definition of a cheerleader is a person that is enthusiastic or a verbal supporter of someone or something. Some characteristics of a cheerleader is someone that is hard working with good grades, patience, persistence, confidence, and physical strength. By the definition, Taylor was the ultimate example of a cheerleader.

I asked Tia what would she like to say about Taylor. She said even though Taylor was in pain and didn’t feel well. She never complained. She never brought it up. She wanted to make others happy. Regardless of us having a bad day or how we feel, we do not have to complain. We can keep pushing and keep going. She did not want Taylor’s death to be in vain. I can’t speak for other, but I can speak for myself. Taylor’s death will not be in vain. I, too, was one that did not take having to take my medication daily seriously. I would go days without taking it. I had been told the same thing as Taylor’s doctors told her. Carman, it is imperative that you take your medicine each day. After Taylor’s death, I am taking my medicine each day, and it is a priority.

Taylor Denise McClain was a loving fiancé, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, and student. In high school, she graduated the top 30% of her class. She was number 44 out of 300+ student in her high school. She was the life of the party. Even in grade school, her presence made an impact wherever she went. Tia didn’t know how much of an impact Taylor made on the lives of others. It wasn’t until the day of Taylor’s funeral that she realized how much of an impact Taylor had on the lives of classmates, teachers, friends, and family. On the day of her service, there were over 2500 people that came to show her respect. The pastor of the church said that he’d never had his church as full for a person that died so young. He said he could only imagine what it would have been if she’d lived longer.

High school senior night with aunt Tonya and mom,

Taylor, your death left a void here on earth, but you will forever be in our heart. We know you are looking down from heaven with your beautiful smile and cheering for us here on earth. We love you Taylor Denise McClain. May your soul Rest In Peace.

“I survived MY 2020”

December 31, 2019, I was sitting on my couch waiting in anticipation for the new year to begin. I don’t make resolutions, but I always vow to myself to grind a little harder and exceed my expectations from the year before. When the clock reached midnight, I yelled to myself Happy New Year. 🥳🥳 I was excited for what the new year would bring. I anticipated great things would happen, and it did. It brought some things that I welcomed with open arms, but it also brought heartache and pain that I wish I could rewind the clock back to December 31, 2019 and push pause forever.

This picture represents the excitement I had for the anticipation of the new year.

The year always begins celebrating my mother. Her birthday is January 9th. Celebrating birthdays are very important to me. I believe that each day we open our eyes is a blessing. If you know my mother, you know she is worthy of celebration. She is genuine and has a heart of gold. She will do what she can to help anyone in need and will do it without expecting anything in return.

Along came February. I experienced what would be my first heartache of the year. My brother, Maury, wanted my mom and I to get a new dog. It had been a few years since we’ve had one. June 2019, Maury brought this bushy white puppy to us. Immediately, I fell in love. We named him Patrick. Even though I’ve grown up with dogs and always had a love for them, he was my first fur baby. Every day, he would greet me at my truck when I pulled into the yard. We’d play in the yard for the longest time. He was always doing something silly or getting my mom upset because he was tearing things up. 🤣 When I was away from home, I was calling to check on him or to FaceTime to see him. I loved watching him grow.

Patrick only a few months old.

February 4 is a day I’ll never forget. I received a message from a neighbor. She said her mom saw what she believed to be Patrick lying on side of the road, and it appeared he was bleeding. I was at my part time and unable to leave. My heart was beating so fast. It seemed like the clock wasn’t moving fast enough. I needed to get home to see if it was my Patrick. Since I was at work, Tara said that she and her husband would go back to see if it was him. Sadly, it was. By the time they’d made it back, he’d crawled into the woods. Tara and Chris were so kind. They went into the dark woods to find exactly where he laid. Kindly, they left a marker by the entrance of the woods for me to find him when I got off work. By this time, he was weighing almost 70 pounds or more. I knew it would be difficult for me to pull him out alone. I called another neighbor to get assistance to help pull him out because I needed to take him to the vet. When I saw him, I was saddened. Patrick was bleeding and tangled in briar patch. Immediately, I ran to unravel him. His lower back and back legs were broken. We placed a tarp under his body to attempt to pull him out, but he would not allow us to move him. He was in pain. Each time we tried to move him, he’d attempt to bite my neighbor. My neighbor was afraid of being bitten. He said it was nothing he could do and went back to his home.

At this time, it was only Patrick and I in the woods. It was late, but didn’t want to leave him. It began to rain, and I had to leave. It rained extremely hard all night long. Normally, the rain puts me to sleep, but this time was different. All night, all I could think about was my baby in pain, in the rain, bleeding, and suffering all alone. The next morning, I went back into the woods to see if he’d let me move him. I was willing to do it all alone. I didn’t care if it took me all day long. He looked up at me. For a brief moment, there was happiness in his eyes when he saw me. I think to myself that he was thinking momma did not forget about me. The happiness was brief because he was almost lifeless. I talked to him and told him I loved him. He gave me his paw. My heart melted. My heart was broken. I was angry at whoever hit him. He was big dog. There was no way that he would not have been seen him. I made one of the hardest decisions ever in my life. I was criticized by some, but I hated to see him suffering. I left my house (I didn’t want to hear what was about to happen) and called my uncle. I had him to send him to dog heaven. 🥺🥺😭

Patrick NEVER let me take pictures alone. I just gave in. 😊 (May 14, 2019-February 5, 2020)

A few weeks later, things began to look up. I’d finished all courses and had a sufficient GPA to graduate from the University of Mississippi in August 2019. Unfortunately, I still had an outstanding balance. My diploma would not be mailed until the balance was paid in full. Two of my brothers, Juan and Jason, contributed towards the balance as a graduation present. I was thankful and appreciative for their help. Each month, I made payments until it was “0”. When I did, I received an email asking me to begin graduation process. You talk about excitement and overwhelmed with joy. It was a long time coming. The first person I went to see and tell was my grandmother. I told her I have some exciting news to share with you. She said what is it baby. I said it’s official. You are looking at graduate of the University of Mississippi. If you know me and my grandma, you know we were in the room balling our eyes out. She said I’m so proud of you Carman. I knew you could do it. You stuck it out and hung in there. We cried a little more. I was happy that I’d made her proud.

Little did I know, this visit would be close to the last one inside. The week of March 13, the world changed. The world experienced a pandemic. It would be called Covid-19 or the coronavirus. It was highly contagious and deadly. Health officials didn’t know how to combat it. It was something that not even my parents had experienced in their lifetime.

The entire world was shut down. Schools were closed. Students finished the semester virtually. My oldest daughter, Destinee, was graduating from the University of Mississippi in May. We were excited about her completing her undergraduate and becoming a teacher. Graduation were cancelled because CDC did not allow large gatherings. The graduation would later be done virtually. That was only one of the moments that was taken from us. Since large gatherings were banned, our family gatherings were banned. My parents have eight children, nineteen grandchildren, and in-laws. This meant there would be no Long sumner vacation for 2020. All sporting events were canceled. No games were played (from pee wee to professional). Restaurants closed, and some never reopened. Traveling was put on hold. No one was allowed to enter hospitals or nursing home unless you were an employee, patient, or resident. Funerals were graveside. Church service were moved to online. Gyms were closed. There would no concerts. CDC advised states to mandate the residents wear mask and practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart from the next person. I’m a hugger. This was hard and still hard for me. Any business that wasn’t considered “essential” was closed. The world was not and will not ever be the same.

Many jobs that physically closed had employees work from home if it was possible. I am employed at a bank and part time at a gas station. Both jobs were considered “essential” and never closed. A lot of people assume that banking is easy because we are inside a building, sitting in an office, or behind teller row. Studies show if you work in the financial industry that you are in one of the highest mentally stressful jobs. Add a pandemic on top of that. It’s even more stressful. A lot of people assumed the world was ending or that it would be another Great Depression. People were calling or coming in concerned about their accounts. We were taking customers by appointments only. Each day, my calendar remained full. It was hectic. The gas station was just as busy. Many people were laid off and were home. They drank and smoke more. Beer and tobacco sales increased meaning that I was constantly busy there too.

I am not complaining. I am thankful for jobs that supplies for me and my children needs. When the pandemic began, I was not physically able to see them. Not being able to see my children nor hug my grandmother at nursing home was the most depressing thing for me. If anyone knows me, you know that my family is everything it me. I was able to call and FaceTime my children and call my grandma. If we visited, we had to go around the back of the building where her room was and talk through the window. I was grateful for the calls and window visits to each, but those are not the same as physical seeing them or being able to put my around them. That was all I wanted to do, but the coronavirus stopped it all. My heart was aching. My weekly lunches with my son had stopped. My Saturday visits with my grandma were gone. Her health was declining. Eventually, she stopped answering calls. 😭😭 Mentally, I was crying inside, but I was smiling outside. I was a zombie. I was going through the motions and monotony of life just to make it through the day.

I had a moment earlier today and cried. I didn’t know that I had dried tears still on the left side my face from crying this morning. Outside, I was happy. This picture is a depiction of how I was going through life. Smiling yet hurting.

It was a few months before I was able to see my children in person. For me, it was like giving birth again. When you’re in delivery, you are excited about being able to finally see your child’s face for the first time. Just as I did each time I gave birth and saw their face, I cried. My heart was happy. It gave me strength to keep going. It was the push I needed.

Sadly, the next time I was able to hug my grandmother was at the hospital. I mentioned her health declining. In June, the nursing home called my aunts, uncles, and father. My grandmother was at the point of death. They had to decide if they would leave her at the nursing home or transfer her to the hospice floor at the hospital. If she remained at the nursing home, all we’d be able to do was look at her through the window from outside. Nursing home still were not allowing visitors to enter in. The decision was made to transfer her to the hospital. With her being at the hospital, we were able to visit and spend the night with her. I was finally able to physical hug her. Our family took turns spending the night. I had the privilege of being assigned two nights. Regardless of the night assignment, I was going to visit each day after work. Each day, her health was declining, and it hurt to see her lying in bed not being her jovial self.

When I would visit her each week, I had a ritual as I prepared to leave until the next visit.I’d say El (Her name is Elnora). I’m about to go. Don’t be in here trying to catch a man. She’d laughed and say stop that gal. You know the only man I need is Jesus. I’d say yes ma’am. I know. I’d bend down to hug her, kiss her, tell her I loved her, and to be sweet. Her response would always be” we love you too.” I would be so tickled at her saying we love you too because it was only her. My grandfather had been deceased since 1997. I never corrected her. I let her say what she wanted. She’d continue the goodbyes saying Carman come me when you have time. Baby. Grandma know you’re busy with those jobs and those kids. I’d say yes ma’am, but you know I’ll be back next week. Even though she was in the hospital, our ritual was still the same. The only difference was I said I’ll see you tomorrow instead of next week. I’ll never forget her last words to me. I said and did my usual ritual. This time there was no laugher behind my comment. Softly and the last thing she ever spoke to me was this. “You look pretty. Grandma loves you too.” 😭😭 I’ll never forget that moment. She never spoke to me again. Instead, she was in the bed moaning in pain. I would rub her arms and head. I’d talk to her hours. I felt in my heart she was listening. June 29, my grandma exhaled her last breath and went to be with Jesus. Knowing that she loved me and was in heaven was the only thing that gave me peace. 😭😭😭 I was breaking inside.

Elnora Townsend Long (October 18,1929-June 29, 2020)

In the midst of the pandemic, more chaos was still happening in the United States. There were police shooting and senseless murders from citizens on minorities. I’m sure you’ve heard of Breanna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, but what about Carlos Carson or Jonathan Price? I had several Caucasian friends that reached out to me. They apologized for the senseless murders. We were supposed to meet and discuss on how to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the meetings never happened. I know each person that reached out had good intentions. For them, life went on. For me, it couldn’t. I birthed three African American children. I used to worry only for my son. Now, I have to worry about my daughters getting murdered as well. Therefore, it is an issue that I can’t ever forget and just move on with life. Every day and every night, I pray that my children return back safely to their beds each night and open their eyes to see another day.

Life became overwhelming. I was as the point of a meltdown. I was not mentally stable. I was putting on the smile, but I was grieving. I’d lost both grandmothers exactly two weeks apart. Muh and I weren’t related by blood, but I loved her just the same. This year, I’d lost two aunts and an uncle, and people I’ve known for years( In December, I lost a cousin from Covid), I was stressed with both jobs. I was stressed because of how Covid changed the world and how it was affecting the changes in my life. Everything that had given me peace was paused temporarily or stopped (no gym, no movies, no concerts, no family trips, limited time with my kids). I was unable to sleep. Many nights, I cried myself to sleep.

My grandmothers 💛💛💛 that are now residing with Jesus

Let me rewind the clock for a moment. I have struggled with my weight for years. I gained a lot of weight after my divorce. A few years after that, my thyroids were removed as a health precaution. I don’t know if you know, but thyroids help regulate the body’s metabolism. Therefore, losing any weight is more difficult for me. In previous years, I’d say I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t remain committed. Around October 2019, I’d taken charge of my health and was dedicated. Faithfully, I was going to the gym between three to five times a week. I began cooking for my mother and I. Cooking used to be my least favorite thing to do. I began to enjoy it and trying new recipes. I was seeing a doctor regarding my obesity. I was seeing a nutritionist to help me with healthy options. The deaths of Patrick, loved ones, and friends and all the other stress of life halted me. The gym reopened in June, but I’d lost my drive to go. Also, I no longer cooked either. I went to see my therapist. She said Carman. You’re depressed. You’re grieving. You’re hurt. You’ve gone through a lot. On top of those things, I had to hire a lawyer for some personal things. Here, I was thinking that I was just sad. In actuality, I was clinically depressed. I was going through a lot. She advised me to put me first and to take a step back from everything. She told me to take time off of work from both jobs and suggested I start taking anti-depression medicine. She said you know it’s not a sin. We laughed. I said I know. I’ve seen her for eight years. She’s helped me deal with a divorce, break ups, work issues (anything you can name) This was the first time that she’s ever advised me to take off work for a few weeks and to take medicine. I took her advice on both. I took off work for four weeks, and I saw a doctor that prescribed me antidepressants. I began taking them.

2020 was not all bad. I had a lot of bumps in the road, but I a had a lot of highs. I joined a new church in January, The Sycamore. I received my diploma from the University of Mississippi. I had some amazing photo shoots. I utilized the gifts that God gave me( blogging, doing professional photography, and creating my website. www.lovingallofcarman.com). I wrote about it in a previous blog if you missed it. If so, I’d love for you to go back and read it.

2020 took a lot out of me, but it still provided great blessings. I learned that it is ok to take a mental break and put myself first. 2021 is only two days away. I know that it will also have ups and down. I know through it all that I will survive. I will enjoy life and make the best out of every situation and opportunity. I look forward to celebrating and the anticipation of 2021 it as I did 2020. The only difference is that I won’t be on the couch this year. I’ll be bringing in the new year in another country. ☺️☺️☺️. With alllll of this being said, Happy New Year everyone. May God continue to bless us all. Let’s walk into the new year (2021) with great expectations and no extra baggage!!!!!!🥳🥳🥳