“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!!!!!!🥳🥳🥳

“I am thankful for my passion”

It’s Thanksgiving 2020. Thanksgiving is a day where we take time to reflect on what we are thankful. Some, if asked, will say good health, spending time with family, thankful for their children, and maybe their job. If you ask me, I would definitely agree with all these things. All those things are important to me as well. For this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a few different things. I am thankful for my passions.

The definition of passion is an intense desire or enthusiasm. I’d even add, for me, passion is something that you would not mind doing even if you were paid or not because it brings you joy. It puts a smile on your face, and it brings you peace. This year, I began to focus on my passions and what brings me happiness.

I do not believe there are many people that would not say that 2020 has been an intense, interesting, or difficult year. It has been very trying for me. I never would have imagined that the entire world would be affected by one virus. There were deaths, massive layoffs and company closures. Ones that I’d never in my life imagined would ever close. It showed me that nothing is guaranteed. This was very eye opening for me.

I began to pray. During my prayer, God spoke to me. He said that He’d given me gifts that I should be using, and that I should be using what He’s given me. Honestly, I was fearful and afraid to step out and do it. I told God that I couldn’t. Each night that I resisted was a night of restless sleep. Finally, I told God that I would obey. I told Him that I would use what He’s given me.

I’ve always been passionate about writing. When I was younger, I would write poems. That was my first introduction of writing. In my teenage years, I wrote in a diary about my day and things that were going on in my life. As I got older, I would journal and write letters to God when I felt I couldn’t speak the things in my heart out loud.

One of my cousins, Chasity, encouraged me for years to blog. She said Carman. You have a story. You could help so many people. I never thought I would do it. I put it off for years. When I finally accepted my gift from God, I decided that I would write and started my blog. I created my website http://www.lovingallofcarman.com. The crazy and awesome thing is that God even gave me the topics to write about for my first six months after I submitted to Him. Writing is one of my outlets and therapeutic for me.

Whether you know me personally or we are friends on a social media, you know I ABSOLUTELY love pictures. I do not care where I am I feel that there is a moment that needs to be captured. Therefore, I am always snapping pictures(because I don’t take just one). You can say I’m the family or event photographer. ☺️

During my many conversations with God, my love for photography was the second thing He mentioned. I tried to talk myself and God out of it too. He wasn’t trying to hear it. ☺️ I said Tupelo is small. There are enough photographers here. The city doesn’t need anymore. God made me realize what I have is unique, and each person’s gift is unique. I can’t compare what I do to the next person. I need to focus on Carman and develop her. I was talking to my oldest brother, Juan, and mentioning my hesitation. Something he said to me was very profound. He asked me if I wanted God to take my gifts away. I knew I didn’t want it to happen. After much prayer (many sleepless nights), I told God that I would be obedient and do it.

Focusing on me is exactly what I did. I created my website for my blog, Loving all of Carman: mind, heart, body, and soul. I purchased a professional camera and began to accept clients. I created a business Facebook page for my photos that I’ve taken, Daffodil Photography. I would absolutely love to take pictures of you, your family, or a special event. I purchased a new computer to help me with everything. I invested in myself. My prayer is that God touches my mind to always write something that can help at least one person. I pray that God blessed my hands and my eyes when I am taking pictures. I pray my pictures captures moments that my clients will never forget. I pray that God allows me to be successful in the things that I do for my faith and trust is in Him.

Writing/blogging are my passions and my gifts. Whether you know it or not, you have a gift too. You might be saying I don’t have anything special. I can’t do anything. That is not true. According to James 1:17, every good and perfect gift comes from above. God has placed greatness inside of each of us. It is up to accept what He has given. I knew the things that God has placed inside of me. I was hesitant to put them to use. I am glad and thankful on this day that I was obedient to His will. I want you to seek deep inside and think of what is inside of you. As long as you have breath in your body, it is never too late to ever start, and it’s never too late to discover your passion.

“Breast cancer did not get the best of me”

This is the last week in this month of October. Therefore, it is the last week of breast cancer awareness month. If you’ve been following my blog, I’ve provided statistics and vital information for breast cancer. You learned how to detect it and things that could possibly help to reduce the chances of getting it. One week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my seven siblings and gave their perspective along with mine on how it was as a child to witness a parent go through the breast cancer process. For this last week, I wanted to dedicate it to my mother. My mom is a 15 year survivor of breast cancer. There was no better person than her to interview to end this breast cancer series.

My mother’s name is Zell Long. She is one that admired by many, and I count it a blessing for her to be to be the one God gave me as a mother. She has eight living children (miscarried one). If you know my mother, you know she is a woman of faith. She is a woman that can get a pray through to God. One my fraternal uncles jokingly calls her Jesus’s sister. He said if you ever need to get in touch with God all you have to do is call Zell. My siblings and I often joke about when we were sick growing up. Where as most kids get sick and miss school, it didn’t happen that way for you. Not JB and Homerzell’s kids!!!! If one of us woke up not feeling well, we’d go into our parents room and let them know. Of course, we’d hope that we’d be able to miss school and stay at Muh’s house for the entire day. No such luck!!!! Our mother would have us to get her bottle of prayer oil. She’d lay her hands on our heads and ask God to heal us. Within a matter of minutes, God would touch bodies, our sickness would be gone, and we’d be getting dressed for school. Such a bummer for kids that wanted to miss. It was a blessing for her. This same faith, her prayer, and her strength in God is what helped mom as she battled breast cancer.

My mother was born January 9, 1952. My mother is the baby of eighteen children. There were nine girls and nine boys born from Marsie and Gillie Jones. Out of the nine girls, three at the time had been diagnosed with breast cancer. (As of 2020, the last five girls born of Marsie and Gillie were diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my aunts succumbed to breast cancer in April of this year.) Considering her family’s history, my mom was always faithful in getting her yearly mammograms. I asked her did she ever think she would have breast cancer. She said it was always a possibility in the back of her mind that she might later end up getting it. The reason being was this. When she had mammograms, she would often have to go back because there would be an abnormality or irregularity on the mammogram. She’d have to go back to get a second mammogram. With all the irregular mammograms, the actual time of hearing the news of you have breast cancer wasn’t a surprise. Of course, it was not something she wanted, but the potential of having it was always there.

It was not a monthly self breast examination on how my mom discovered, but it was through the mammogram that the breast cancer was discovered. My mom could not remember the exact month she was diagnosed. She said it was somewhere between October-December 2005. This is why it is very important for women to get their annual mammogram and do the monthly breast self examinations. At the age of 40, doctors suggest this to be the age for women to start having yearly mammograms http://www.cancer.org. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should speak to your doctor. You might be eligible to have one sooner. My first mammogram was at the age of 35 (due to my family’s history).

After the mammogram, mom’s faith kicked in. She said she told God that she has to believe Him. The mammogram and biopsy were showing different things. She said the mammogram showed the thickening in the one spot. Remember for her, this was not unusual, but biopsy showed positive for cancer and malignant. The decision had to be made to have the mastectomy (having the cancerous breast removed). She was fine having the mastectomy because it meant that the cancer would be removed from her body.

Going from it being a possibility to actually having breast cancer, mom had several thoughts running through her mind. What is going to happen next? Would it be a death sentence? Would this be the way my life ends, from cancer? God, I’m believing You for a miracle, but are You going to heal me on earth? If I die, what is going to happen to my children? If I have the mastectomy, what would my spouse at the time think of me because I’ll only have one breast?

Radiation or chemotherapy was never an option for her. The only option was having the mastectomy to remove the cancer. Mom did not have reconstructive breast surgery (to replace the breast that was removed). I have always wondered why she didn’t. She laughed, and she said she would never forget it. She said Dr. Buddy Williams said, “Zell, I can’t perform a reconstruction surgery. Your breast are too large, and I can’t make it the same size as the other.” I inquired and asked why didn’t she go smaller. Mom said it was not worth it. She said that it would require plastic surgery, and she did not want to endure having to go through surgery again. With the mastectomy, it was enough. She was very thankful the cancer did not spread by going into her glands and lymph nodes. Therefore, she was not worried about reconstruction. Instead, she would focus on her recovery by emptying the drainage tubes, enduring the pain, and allowing her body to heal. All of it was an indication of her body getting better.

I asked mom what were her thoughts after reading last week’s article from the view of her eight children while she went through her healing. Mom stated that she wasn’t aware how each of us felt, and it was an eye opener for her. She didn’t realize how it affected all eight of us differently. She personally told the oldest three (Juan, myself, and Jason) and thought that by our reactions that it would be easier to tell the younger ones. She allowed our father to tell the other five younger siblings. She wishes that she sat down with each us individually or gathered all eight of us at once to talk about it.

Lastly, I asked mom what advice would she give to a woman or man that might be dealing with breast cancer at this very moment. She said that having breast cancer changed her perspective on life. It made her realize her vulnerability. Here are her suggestions to the ones that might be dealing with it today. 1. Live life to the fullest every day. 2. Don’t have any regrets. Do what you want to do. 3. Don’t live a life of I wish I woulda, coulda, or shoulda because when you are dealing with cancer, there is no certainty. 4. Take it day by day. Some days, you’ll feel good. Some days, you won’t. Put your foot in front of the other. 5. Lastly, Have faith and pray.

“It’s ok to be a cheetah in the midst of snow leopards”

Today, I am honoring my grandmother. October 18th is her birthday. She would have been 91 years old. I wish we were together celebrating instead of me writing in remembrance of her. As long as I live, I promise to never let her name and legacy fade from my mind. I will always honor her and do my best to do things that would make her proud.

For those that do not know, my grandmother’s name is Elnora Townsend Long. She is my fraternal grandmother. My grandmother was one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet. She had the best personality, and she never met a stranger. 😊 She would talk and talk if you got her on the phone or if you went by to visit. My grandmother was nurturing. She always made sure you were fed if you came to see her. My grandmother was loving. She always made you felt welcome in her presence. She loved her family and loved being surrounded by my late grandfather, her children, grandchildren, and friends. My mom often calls me lil Elnora. She says I never meet a stranger and love to talk. I count it a privilege to have characteristics similar to my grandmother. Our characteristics make us who we are. We should never be ashamed of how we are programmed. My grandmother was never ashamed of who she was or ashamed of her walk with Christ.

The last years of her life, grandma lived in Reed house in the Traceway retirement home. When I’d go visit, she’d tell me what she’d told her housemates that week as they sat around the dinner table. She’d preach to them about something they’d done or said that she felt was wrong. I’d laugh. I’d say grandma. You can’t tell those people that. Quickly, she’d correct me. Baby, the Bible says….. She’d proceed to tell me what the Bible said. If you didn’t want to hear the truth or hear the word of God, you’d better not be around her. If you were near, she was gonna let you know.

I need to digress for a moment. This is a off topic, but it has a point in the end. In 2012, Tupelo had a tornado that devastated the city. BancorpSouth took part in the cleanup efforts. I’d asked my children to come assist. When they arrived, I introduced them to some people in upper management. I was my loud, typical self. The next day, my boss, at the time, came to me and said my cleanup efforts were no longer needed. Someone told my boss to tell me I was loud the day before (when I’d the introduction) and was an embarrassment to the bank. I told my boss that I was still going to come but would be reserved. Later that day, one of the upper management executive pulled me to the side. He asked what was wrong because I was not my normal self. I let him know what was said. He informed me I was not an embarrassment. If he had a problem with me, he’d let me know himself. He said it’s ok that my energy level is some days a 10, and theirs were a 5/6. Some days he was a 12, but it makes us who we are.

I’ve come to the realization that not everyone will like me. Every house mate my grandma had probably didn’t always like her. When they got tired of hearing her preach, they’d go to their room. It didn’t stop her from being who she was. It didn’t matter if they didn’t like it. She was not going to stop being Elnora. I know if my grandmother was still alive today that she’d still be doing everything she loved. She would still be true to herself, and she’d still be preaching to her housemates. She’d still make a call to tell you hello. She’d still ask how’s how’s those kids of yours doing. She’d still be whispering trying to tell me something she didn’t have any business telling me. She’d still be sitting in her wheelchair looking gorgeous with her jewelry on her neck, fingers, and wrist. She’d still be everything God ordained her to be.

My grandmother was special and unique in her own way. I absolutely loved that about her. I urge each of you to love yourselves and be true to what makes you you. It’s ok if you’re quiet or shy. It’s ok if you’re skinny or one with curves. It’s ok if you’re short or tall. It’s ok if you love spreading the gospel of Christ. It’s ok if you’re loud, like me, when you enter a room. Embrace who you are and live in it. It’s what makes you unique and special. Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. It’s ok to be the cheetah in the room of snow leopards. ☺️

Have you ever thought about breast cancer from the view of a child?

October is breast cancer awareness month. Last week, I wrote about becoming aware of your body. The more you know your body; the better you will be at determining when something irregular has tried to invade in. I listed different statistics on breast cancer (deaths, diagnosis, survival rates). I provided the link on how a person can learn to do monthly breast examinations. We learned that breast cancer is not only an issue for women. Men can be diagnosed as well.

With all that being said, most people wonder about the effects of cancer of the person that is diagnosed. My mom doesn’t remember exactly what month she was diagnosed. It was either October or November 2005. This week, I’m not focusing on her. Instead, I wanted to take a different twist. I wanted to write from the view of breast cancer from the perspective of the child and how it affects them.

My parents have eight children. Even as of this day, this is something that we have never sat and collectively spoken about our feelings on how we felt when our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I enjoyed calling them, interviewing them, and hearing their views about our mom as she went through her healing process. I asked all of my siblings the same questions. Although, all had the same questions, every answer was different. I wasn’t surprised because we all have different personalities. Here are the questions that each was asked and answered. 1. Do you remember our parents telling us that mom had cancer? 2. How did you feel when you received the news? 3. Were you worried that she would not survive? 4. When you heard she was not having reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy, how did that make you feel? 5. Is there any advice you would like to give to a child that might be going through the same thing with his/her parent?

I’ll go in the order that we were born. The oldest of the eight is Juan. He was at home in Florida. He said that he heard other stories of people having breast cancer, but he never thought it would hit his home. Immediately, his first thought was death. He was worried if our mother would survive and pull through. He knew of women that had survived, and those that did not. Juan was scared for her. She is the matriarch, the glue of the family, and he did not want to think about her not being around. He was upset with life and questioned God. He said that is wasn’t fair. He said his mom is the nicest person on Earth. She would give someone that last. Why her? Why did she have to receive cancer? As time went on, he began to feel better. He cried, prayed, and leaned on his wife for support. He would talk to mom, and she would encourage him. I laughed and smiled when he told me this. Juan is such a momma’s boy. I could imagine him calling her crying and being worried. Here she is dealing with breast cancer and all the things that come along with it, but she never stopped being a mother. She took the time to comfort her son when he was concerned about her. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he worried if she would feel whole and still feel pretty since she did not do the surgery. He was concerned, but he never was brave enough to ask her about it. Lastly, he said it is very tough, but it important not to treat the person as a victim. Love and support your loved ones.

I am the second born child. I remember the moment that my parents called me. At the time, I was still married. I was in my bedroom, and I began to cry on the phone. My ex husband asked what was wrong because I couldn’t stop crying even after I hung up the call. I told him that my parents had just informed me that my mom had breast cancer. She was going to have surgery in a few weeks to remove the breast with the cancer. I was afraid that my mom would die. I was worried that I might develop breast cancer. I went and had the genetic testing done. My test came back negative. I was not a carrier of the trait. I remember the day my mom had surgery. All of my brothers lived out of state. Jenci, Shayla, my dad, and myself were at the hospital. I remember waiting for hours until the surgery was over. I remember looking out of the window crying and my mind wreaking havoc. It seemed like it was the longest day of my life. I remember her having a drainage bag on the spot where the breast was and having to empty it every few hours. I remember her being in pain for long periods of time. I was thankful that she did not have to go through chemo or radiation, but her having her breast and lymph nodes removed was still painful to see her go through. As Juan, I never asked her why she chose not to have reconstructive surgery. I was just thinking if it were me that I would want me a new pair of breast. In her mind, she might not have wanted to go through another surgery. As a family, we did not come together and speak about it at one time. I would recommend children to speak to the parent that is diagnosed to see how he/she feels. I think it is important to understand any concerns that might need to be address.

Jason said that mom might not know when she was diagnosed, but he knows exactly when we were told. He said it was December 2005, and he was about to go on stage for his church’s Christmas program. He had to take a moment to prepare himself before going on stage to perform. Jason said he was quite shocked when receiving the news. He said that it wasn’t something that he had time to prepare for. There was no previous conversation that lead to that day such as your mom thinks she might have breast cancer. She is going to get some test done to see what is going on. On this day, it was BAM and in his face. Instead, it was your mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she has to have surgery. Jason said he started his day with expectations of going about it being a normal day, but his day took a turn for the worse. He did feel that mom should have had the reconstructive surgery. He feels that it could have been rectified with surgery, but he said at the end of the day it was her choice. He would always support her decision whether he agreed with it or not. Jason’s advice is to have serious talks with your children and spouse about your family’s health history. A person should not wait until bad news is received to discuss these things. That way, no one is blindsided when health scares comes along, and a person can take preventive measures to help himself/herself. Lastly, whatever choice a person decides for their health is their choice, and the person has to deal with the deal he/she has made.

If you know Maury, he is the most nonchalant of the eight children. Vaguely, he remembered the moment. He said said he was not concerned nor did he have a fear of her dying. He never felt that her life was in danger. In his mind, she was going to be alright. He did not care about her not having reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy. He was glad she was alive. His suggestion is to enjoy the moments with the love one, do not add any extra stress to the person, support the person, and strengthen them.

For Josh, it was a feeling of helplessness. He was living in Florida. He wanted to be home in Mississippi to be with mom. He wanted to know what he could do to fix it or to help her. When we were younger, our mother had a miscarriage. She lost a lot of blood and had to resuscitated. When Josh received the dreaded call, it was a traumatic moment for him. His mind went back to that day of her having the miscarriage. He wondered would cancer be the thing that takes her out. He prayed and told God that cancer is like a common cold to Him. He prayed and asked God to please heal his mom. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he was worried about her mental health. Would she look in the mirror and still think she was beautiful? He told her to do what is best for her. If removing the breast will help her have longevity, he told her to remove it and proudly wear her prosthesis. His advice is that it is ok to feel every emotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s anger, sadness, frustration, or even despair. He would suggest seeking out professional help and talk to someone about how you feel about a parent having cancer.

Shayla was in college when she received the call. She was heartbroken, scared, concerned, and worried. Mom was the first person that she knew that had breast cancer. Mom is Superwoman in her eyes. How could Superwoman become sick? She was worried about her passing away because of the things she’s read about breast cancer. She was worried about what her outcome might be. She didn’t want people to look at mom differently for having one breast because she did not have the reconstructive surgery. Shayla’s suggestion to any child is to make sure you do not take it for granted. Self awareness is important. Breast cancer is real. Learn all the information you can and do all the things you need to do.

Jenci’s recollection was that we did not have a long tedious time to prepare ourselves. When we were told, mom was already diagnosed and knew what was going on. She was in college. Her initial reaction was concern for mom’s wellbeing. Even though she was in college, she did not personally know much about breast cancer. She did not want to see her go through what society had portrayed on television. With mom being a woman of faith, she had a community of people praying and believing for a healing. Jenci said that witnessing mom’s faith being strengthened helped strengthen her faith. She didn’t care about her not having reconstructive surgery. She knew momma had to have the breast remove in order to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. She wanted to make sure that mom self-esteem was ok. Her advice is to support both parents. Let them know you are their. Their journey is individual, but they need to know they are not alone. Lastly, ask questions. Be aware of your family history, and love can conquer anything.

With all the interviews, I, personally, feel that Zierra’s recollection was the most traumatic. When I asked Zierra the question about how she remembered being told, she stated that she was never actually told. She did not know of momma having breast cancer. She did not know momma had a mastectomy. She discovered momma had a mastectomy when she stumbled upon momma undressing in the bathroom one morning. The 10 year old child began to cry and wonder what happened. After mom was able to get Zierra to calm down, momma explained to her what happened. She informed her she had breast cancer. The only way to save herself and to continue to live was by removing the infected area. Zierra said she feared the worst. She said momma withheld the information of her having breast cancer. In her mind, she wondered what other information she might be keeping from here. She felt on edge, but mom reassured her that she would be ok. Her advice is to prepare for the worst but pray for the best. We can not control the situations. God is in control. Everything happens for a reason. We should go with the flow of life. Accept the things that we can change. Do not allow temporary emotions affect the time of your life ahead.

To sum it up, my suggestion is to talk to your children. It does not matter how hold your children might be. Let them know what is going on. As you read, we were all different ages with different things going on in our lives. Yet, each child was affected differently. Do not wait until the last minute to discuss the treatment plan. You might think your child can not handle it. It is better to know something than being dropped with a bombshell. Do not wait to discuss your family’s history with certain illnesses. As said I said last week and will say it again, the more you know about your body and health; the better you will be. Lastly, my suggestion is to continue to love one another and be a support throughout the entire process. Be blessed and in good health.