Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In the Pink - Battle From the Saddle By C.P. Stringham

*I would like to give photo credit to the following people within our horse showing community: Lea Halderman, Suzanne VanDelinder, Donna Bortle Robinson, Lainey McBratney, and Jillian Cole Photography .

Carolyn and Reno
One of the fringe benefits with my daughter’s love and participation in equestrian sports (besides horsey kisses, of course!) are the fantastic people we’ve met through the horse showing community. Hands down, they have to be the most supportive and generous people around. We’ve attended all types of events as both exhibitors and spectators, from small 4-H shows to USEF Grand Prix level competitions, and have always felt welcomed. No matter how prepared we thought we were for each horse show trip, something gets left behind at home; tail extension, show lead-line, etc. and, due to the kindness of other exhibitors, some of whom are complete strangers, we have been able to borrow items so my daughter could show. Everyone just bands together to help each other—even though they may be competing against you. Horse show people also know how to unwind at the end of the day. There’s nothing better than coming back to the camping area (my oldest and I usually slept in our two-person tent set up between horse trailers with living quarters belonging to others from her barn) and have a meal together, bringing a dish to pass, as each of us talked about the day and told stories about horses or other shows. The camaraderie shared is one of a kind.  Syd and I were fortunate enough to be invited to stay with our showing friend, Betty, and her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Paddington. A fold-out bed in air conditioning sure beats the hell out of a sleeping bag on the hard ground during hot and humid summer nights at the fairgrounds. Betty was also known for mixing up a nice pitcher of adult beverages after hours as well—making her my best friend at horse shows. We were also treated to numerous suppers held throughout those same shows by Jeff, Denise, and their daughters, Kaitlyn and Kylie. Jeff, who is along as the cheering committee for the ladies in his life, was also known to drive off to find the closest farmer’s stand for fresh sweet corn and the local grocery store for other provisions and he would grill to his heart’s content for all of us.
L to R: Carolyn and Reno: the pair carrying the Breast Cancer Awareness flag at Barrels & Bikinis; Jean Lindsey and her horse, Smartie--Reno's bookend brother--getting ready to turn 'n' burn! 
This past winter, while my daughter was visiting our friends at Rockin’ N Stables & Ranch, we had the privilege of meeting another wonderful equestrian and formed a new friendship. Of course, we’d heard Carolyn Mosher’s name mentioned through our circle of friends, but we’d never met her. From the moment you meet this soft-spoken and down-to-earth person, you can see her passion for the sport shine through. She doesn’t just love horses, she lives and breathes horses. We instantly adored her and her gorgeous red dun Quarter Horse gelding, Reno. She also introduced us to her newest equine family member, Dallas, a cute little chestnut half-sister to Reno. While Syd rode Jean’s palomino, Leah, Carolyn and I talked. On that particularly cold February evening, she was telling me about the chest cold she was battling and how it was affecting her breathing. It was the reason behind her not riding that night, but relying on others to help work her two horses in preparation for the upcoming Ultimate Trail Challenge at the World Horse Expo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For Carolyn to be sitting on the sidelines that night, I knew she had to be fairly sick. It would be a few weeks before we found out just how sick she was.
Carolyn is a breast cancer survivor. A little over four years ago, she noticed a change in her breast and went in for a mammogram. Her results came back and confirmed stage three breast cancer. Her doctor acted quickly and a single mastectomy was performed. His first concern was getting the tumor and surrounding tissue removed and working on prevention as his second concern. Carolyn then went through six months of chemotherapy followed by six-and-a-half weeks of radiation that required her to commute to Williamsport Monday through Friday. The daily drive took an hour-and-a-half each way. Along with removing her breast, they also took fifteen lymph nodes from her left arm. At times, especially during activities, she has to wear a pressure sleeve to help with the occasional swelling of the arm and she also has a slight weakness in it. But, as the Brooks & Dunn song goes: "Cowgirls don’t cry. Ride, Baby, ride." And that’s what Carolyn has done. She was given the prognosis of being cancer-free and life returned to normal and with a new perspective and dreams.
Competitors lined up during the Barrels & Bikinis event in a sea of pink.

During her surgery and treatments, Carolyn learned, first hand, about the financial hardships experienced by families going through the same thing. Even with each of them working, she and her husband, Ron, began to feel the strain. They were encouraged to contact the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen to see if they could offer assistance or referrals for assistance to help with their mounting costs. They had insurance for the medical end of it, but there’s so much more that others don’t think about in the course of treatment. Expenses for transportation, dining out while on the road, and missed days of work, along with healthcare co-pays and deductibles. They add up quickly.  Much too quickly. After making calls and doing research, the Moshers found they qualified for a one-time gas card in the amount of $50.00. While they appreciated it, the gas card barely put a dent in their travel expenses. Those national organizations she contacted use their name to raise monies for research and spread awareness, but do little to offer actual assistance to cancer patients in need.
Scenes around the Mosher hacienda!

As a survivor, Carolyn wanted to do something for others going through cancer treatment and that’s when Barrels & Bikinis came into fruition. Barrels & Bikinis started in 2012 and has become an annual event where both men and women riders raise money and awareness while competing in timed gaming events. These events include: Speed Barrels, Keyhole, and Barrels. By doing this, Carolyn eliminated the middleman of corporate cancer foundations and all monies raised go directly to actual local cancer patients to help them with treatment costs. This event is nothing like what is portrayed on A&E Channel’s Rodeo Girls and their lipstick-wearing, mega-dramatized for reality TV thing. Barrels & Bikinis is attended by every day, hardworking, horse-loving equestrians who want to give back to those in need from their community. Rough and tough guys go out and buy bikini tops and wear them over their shirts—many even don a pink shirt symbolizing breast cancer awareness. Riders buy bikini tops for their horses and affix them to breast collars or put pink flowers there. Many even buy temporary paints and put pink ribbons or polka-dots on their horse’s body or paint pink streaks through their manes and tails. You get the idea. Lots of pink in the gaming arena. The first Barrels & Bikinis had fabulous attendance and Carolyn’s family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers joined in to participate by finding donation sponsors and collecting raffle items. They also showed up to compete or volunteered their time to work the event. Each subsequent year, attendance numbers have grown and more money is raised. Even the year it was held and rain plagued the event, people still came out to support the cause. In 2013, they raised $2,500.00.
One of the grateful 2013 recipients was a member of our local horse show community, Renee Nichols, who was battling lymphoma. Everyone knows Renee and her husband, Harold. For years, they have operated Nichols’ Saddlery in Big Pond, PA as well as operating a mobile tack shop they take to local horse shows. Chances are, most of our kids can boast their first show helmet or bling-bling Western show shirt or show halter came from Nichols’ Saddlery—and, trust me, we’ve purchased our share of back-up items from Harold and Renee because we've forgotten something at home!! Mobile tack shops ROCK!! The Nichols had their tack shop set up for the 2013 event and were completely taken by surprise when Renee was selected as one of the donation recipients. When asked, Renee told me, “I was shocked last year and was speechless for a while. Carolyn and her Barrels & Bikinis show has helped a lot of people.” She also reports that her cancer is in remission. Her next three-month checkup is approaching and, should her results be positive, she will change to a six-month checkup schedule. Harold and Renee are planning their retirement and have been promoting a retirement sale on all of their inventory. If you are interested in contacting Nichols’ Saddlery about their sale, you can reach them at 570-596-2247. After all of their years of welcoming us to their shop with smiles and wonderful customer service, let’s help them sell that inventory so their retirement can begin!  
L to R: Renee Nichols with Carolyn (Jean in background) during the 2013 Barrels & Bikinis; Harold and Renee being presented with their Barrels & Bikinis check; a hug saying thank you. 

The horse community is coming together again to raise money and awareness. This year’s Barrels & Bikinis is scheduled for Saturday, September 20th and is being held at Rockin’ N Stables & Ranch. The event starts at 9:00am sharp and competitors should arrive early for registration. It is being organized by Jean Lindsey, Hilary Dorazio, and Nancy and Monte Nicholas. The Nicolas’ own Rockin’ N. In a twist of fate, Carolyn, the creator of Barrels & Bikinis, was recently diagnosed with bone cancer and proceeds raised will be donated to her.
Last December, as the holidays hit, Carolyn was feeling tired and chalked it up to being "that time of year" combined with work and their recent move into a new house. As the weeks went on she started having a pain in her chest that coincided with a muscle strain injury she suffered while opening a stubborn, heavy barn door. Again, she worked through it. By February, she was preparing at Rockin’ N for the trail challenge and was plagued by fatigue and had that feeling she was coming down with something. She said the smallest tasks were exhausting, but she pushed on until, one day at work, she sneezed and it felt as if someone used a machete to crack her chest open. The pain was so severe, she left work early. A CT scan revealed a mass on her sternum. She went to the Cancer Treatment Center in Philadelphia’s Eastern Regional Medical Center and a treatment action plan was put into place. While she has responded well to treatment, Carolyn will never be in remission because the cancer invaded the bone which can compromise bone marrow and has the potential for spreading cancer cells throughout her body.
Her initial reaction to the diagnosis went from denial to depression and then Carolyn said she got angry. That was when she decided she was going to fight it while living her life and living her dream. The Mosher family has pulled together to help Carolyn live her dream. Before her bone cancer diagnosis came, Carolyn and her husband, Ron, purchased a sixteen acre farm near Towanda, PA with the intentions of turning it into a place for cancer patients to visit. They would provide a relaxing country setting with horseback riding and overnight lodging within an efficiency apartment for visitors. Her recent setback has only built her resolve to see her dream come true. She says that, even if cancer patients can’t ride, there is no greater therapy than sitting on a bale of hay and listening to the horses munching right beside you. She firmly believes that animals can sense when a human is in need of their love and companionship. As Carolyn talks to me from her chair outside of the barn, tears in her eyes, she says, “There’s nothing like having a melancholy day and having a horse set its head on your shoulder to offer a comforting hug because they just know. They know and they want to help you.” While we talked, she told me about the improvements they are slowly putting into place at the farm which includes footing for the new outdoor arena, a concrete floor was recently poured inside the barn where stalls will be built, their bulldozer is operational and will be used to clear land for a trail obstacle course and regular riding trails. Her friend, Jean’s, land shares a property line with their farm and will also be used for trail riding. As she brings up Jean’s name she goes on to tell me that Jean has been her rock. They’ve been coworkers for years with Jean’s office four doors down the hall from Carolyn’s. While she knew Jean before, it wasn’t until they started working together that they became close friends. Besides their shared love of horses, both ladies grew up on dairy farms.
Carolyn's family: Sean, Ron, and Seth wearing their pink shirts for Breast Cancer Awareness.

Carolyn becomes teary-eyed again as she begins to talk about her family and how, through their help and strength, it makes her fight easier. Her husband has been her greatest support, “He has never missed an appointment, driving me to Philadelphia, getting anything I need to be comfortable. It's so nice to be married to your best friend.” After her first round of cancer, her youngest son, Sean, wore a pink shirt to school to show his support. When one of the kids from school teased him about his color choice, Sean told him, “You would wear pink, too, if your mom was fighting cancer.” The other student stopped teasing him. “Ron, Seth, and Sean are always here for me,” she declared.
L to R: Carolyn & family at Reese Ranch Rodeo for the Pink Out; Hilary Dorazio and Carolyn at the Pink Out.
Outside support is also strong from the horse community. A “Pink Out” was held in May at Reese Ranch Rodeo as a surprise for Carolyn and was organized by owners Jake Reese and Kadie McKay and friends. Even though she was in the midst of treatments, Carolyn saddled up and rode Dallas at the rodeo only, this time, she wore a new protective riding vest that was donated to her by Harold and Renee. 
Reese Ranch Rodeo during the Pink Out with Riders carrying flags with "Mosher Strong" on them.

Carolyn has also built a friendship with internationally known equestrian clinician Craig Cameron from RFD-TV’s Extreme Cowboy Race and Ride Smart as well as Craig’s protégé Stewart Rybak of Rybak Horsemanship. Carolyn was signed up to attend her first Craig Cameron Natural Horsemanship clinic when her original diagnosis came. While her doctor wanted her to immediately have surgery to remove her breast, he granted her the time to attend the clinic because he felt she needed something positive to do. He scheduled her surgery for the day after the clinic—his scheduled day off. The clinic was everything she wanted it to be and more. Craig and Stewart were wonderful when they found out about her upcoming surgery. At the end of the day, Craig had all of the participants, while on horseback, get into a horseshoe formation and then they all wished her luck with her surgery and treatment. Craig asked Carolyn, “What do you do when you get bucked off a horse?” Carolyn replied, “You get back on.” Craig nodded and said, “You get right back on. That's how you fight cancer, too." She said the support you get from everyone helps get you through the fight. The treatments heal the body, but the support helps to heal the human spirit.  Even strangers from the horse world will approach her at events, offering her hugs and their thoughts and prayers. Carolyn is so thankful for all everyone has done in support of her and Barrels & Bikinis.

L to R: Carolyn with Craig Cameron and Stewart Rybak during the clinic; Carolyn with Craig; Jean, Carolyn, and crew during Barrels & Bikinis.

As I end this blog post, I invite our local Broads of a Feather Blog readers to attend Barrels & Bikinis. Competing or as spectators. Show up and give Carolyn your support. For those unable to attend, donations in the form of checks or money orders can be mailed to: Nancy Nicholas/Rockin’ N Stables & Ranch, C/O Barrels & Bikinis, 3323 Wolcott Hollow Road, Athens, PA 18810. Hope to see you there! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Echoes and Ripples; Keep Heaven Rolling Robin Williams by Robin Janney

A man of many facets...
Just over a week has passed since the news of actor/comedian Robin Williams's death shocked us all.  It was news that sent many of us reeling, causing YouTube clips of his movies to be shared like wildfire on Facebook and all sorts of meme's with quotes from either him or his acts.

There has even been a Facebook community created in his honor named RIP Robin Williams.  No doubt they'll have their "trolls", just like Robin's own daughter Zelda had to deal with.  Death truly brings out the worst in many people.  While there are many tributes hitting the world wide web, the best tribute I've seen to date was the impressionist Jim  Meskimem who had to decide whether or not to continue doing Williams' voice.  

It is comforting even as it brings a tear to your eye.  At least it did mine.

I can spend hours on YouTube, lost in a sea of clips watching either old interviews or movie clips.  But then, who can't?

I find that all the clips comfort as much as they hurt.  Because there is comfort in knowing that Robin Williams can never truly be gone.  He will live on in these clips, in his movies yet to be released (Night at the Museum 3)(I haven't even seen #2 yet!)  For some, he will live on in their memories.  Two of his more youthful co-stars Mara Wilson and Liza Jakub have written posts about working with him on Mrs. Doubtfire.  Ben Stiller, star of the already mentioned Night at the Museum movies also has shared some memories, not all set related.  I could go on and on.  Their memories confirm to me what I said to my mother just a few days ago - that there was much more to Robin Williams than met the eye.

And yet, those same clips hurt.  Because he is gone from this realm of existence.  We will never see anything new from him again.  All we will have are echoes and ripples.  Echoes of his voice, and his laugh.  Ripples from the kindness he showed to a multitude of people.  He leaves behind a legacy of humor and joy, and yes, even a serious wisdom.

Yes, he killed himself.  And while that casts a dark pallor on his memory, it will fade in time.  It will lose its sensationalism.  And hopefully we will begin to look upon others with kinder eyes.  Because if there is one last lesson Robin Williams teaches us with his death, is that you can't tell by a person's behavior if they're depressed or suicidal.  (or if they're "saved" but that's a different topic)

Fake it till you make it - worse advice ever!
Robin was open about his battle, and make no mistake that is a brave thing to be.  Many look on depression as a weakness, a sin, or at the least a sign that you've sinned or been lacking in faith.  There are many shades of grey to depression.  Sometimes it is an expected result of a life circumstance (death, job loss).  Other times it is a hormonal/chemical imbalance. Illness, either their own or a family member.  A person can control none of that.

Some will argue that you can control your attitude about these things and triumph over depression.  It may be.  Personally, there have been times when I've had that "right" attitude, and could still feel that explainable sadness lurking beneath.  I've even been told "Fake it till you make it!"

Yeah, about that.  It's bad advice.  No "buts" about it.

It might work in cases of depression caused by life changes, but if the problem is chemical in nature, no amount of faking happiness is going to trick your endocrine system into working properly.

Some say that what Robin Williams did by taking his own life was selfish and cowardly.  If you've ever stood on that precipice yourself, you know that it isn't as cut and dried as all that.

Selfish?  When all you want is for the pain to go away, for the darkness that weighs you down to go away, for the mad voice that tells you it's never going to change to just shut up - - - No, it isn't selfish to want these things to end.  We're told that taking care of ourselves before others is a sin (Yes, I have been told that, in the same breath that I've been told I was being ungrateful for feeling as though I was being taken for granted.  After all, every good Christian knows we are here to serve others before ourselves).  So we ignore our own symptoms.  Some of us are strong enough to recover without help, others may never recover because they put their treatment off for too long.

Cowardly?  To willingly drain your life away and face the unknown that is on the other side?  I am in no way saying he was brave for what he did, but he wasn't a coward either.  His pain outweighed any fear of death he might have had.  His pain outweighed rational thought.  I've said this on my own blog, and I'll say it here: We have no idea what he struggled with in those last few hours.  And honestly, we don't need to.

What we can understand, is that Robin Williams was never alone in his struggle.  He had the love and support of his family, which is something not all people are lucky enough to have. We all need a reliable support system of friends and/or family.  There is NO shame in admitting to being depressed - for whatever reason, or for no reason at all.  There is NO shame in admitting that you're fighting a losing battle and need help.  And if there are people in your life who treat you as though it is: it doesn't matter who they are, they are wrong and you need to ignore them.  If possible, cut them out of your life and replace them with people who treat you with the respect and caring you deserve.  You deserve better.

We will forever miss Robin Williams, whether we knew him personally or not.  Because he brought joy to so many of us, whether he knew us or not.  May he keep heaven rolling in laughter!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Motherhood: My Favorite Career By C.P. Stringham

T to B: Sydney meeting her new sister; Kenzie at 
6 weeks old and smiling during her bath; Kenzie having 
some "thumb time" with her daddy. 
Warning: This blog post is going to reach monstrous word count proportions.

Once upon a time, I never wanted children. I wanted to be a career woman. All through college, my resolve built. My plan was to work my way up through the specialty retail company I started working for while a junior in high school. I even transferred to a large metropolitan market after obtaining my college degree. My plans continued to take shape, but instead of visual merchandising, which I was good at, I found myself being drawn towards loss prevention. I liked order. I liked keeping meticulous files and helping out at other stores within my district when store personnel were caught stealing. Maybe it was the mystery book lover in me. I don’t know, but I liked being an official witness while employees were being questioned by our regional loss prevention coordinator. I liked watching justice being served. Other managers got nervous when they heard our coordinator was out and about in the district doing surprise audits. I looked forward to their visits. My store was in order, I had nothing to fear, and we would spend time catching up.
My husband and I had entered into our marriage four years earlier with the mindset we’d spoil the hell out of our nieces and nephews, but never have children of our own. We’d be DINK’s (double-income-no-kids). Then, age thirty was in sight. My husband caved first. He caved like an igloo in July. For months, he kept reminding me that age thirty was approaching for both of us—mine especially. As if my biological clock would suddenly wind down before I was finished blowing out my birthday candles. Part of me was hoping that that scenario would really happen. My only baby experience involved holding my oldest niece, Stephanie, when she was a newborn and she barfed down my cleavage. I was wearing my favorite Victoria’s Secret bra and, no matter how many times it had been laundered after the incident, I swear I could still smell regurgitated Similac. I still haven’t forgiven her. At any rate, my husband had his work cut out. In the meantime, we ended up moving back to our hometown through our respective companies.
Almost six months later, I finally gave in to starting a family. Mind you, it involved numerous bargaining sessions. I made him promise he’d help out by changing diapers, giving middle of the night feedings, staying up with a sick infant, etc. And he agreed. (I should have had it in writing and notarized because the diaper thing seldom happened, he slept through all middle of the night feedings, and never once stayed up all night with a sick infant.) Fourteen months later, a 6.5lb baby girl came into our lives. We named her Sydney after Annette Benning’s character in The American President.  A year into being a mom, I asked for a demotion and transfer in order to be closer to home and work less hours. So long career woman. It was all good though. I acclimated to motherhood, surprising myself, perhaps, the most. My heart swelled with love. Three years later, a 6.9lb baby girl joined our little family. We named her Mackenzie. Second babies are so much easier. The first child is the practice child. By the time #2 comes along, you’ve been there, done that. Don’t get me wrong. You still get a little nutty when they’re sick, but you don’t freak out like you did with the first.
L to R: Kenzie and her bedtime bottle with her favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Lion; Sydney and Kenzie

The Easter Bunny always brought books with candy to our house
Kenzie loved her books!
As Mackenzie grew, I began having concerns because she wasn’t hitting milestones at the same rate her older sister did. She crawled later. Didn’t say much. Walked later. Items I brought up with our older pediatrician who told me I needed to stop comparing her to her sister. Sydney was a precocious child. Mackenzie was going at her own rate. Most of her milestones were falling within range, but on the upper part of the range. Just enough that her doctor wasn’t concerned. Even by three years old, she wasn’t the chatterbox her sister was. He asked me why would she need to talk when her older sister talked for her. And it was true. Mackenzie would point and grunt at something and Sydney would tell me what she wanted or get it for her. Time and time again. When Sydney started kindergarten, Mackenzie did start to talk more, which fell in line with what our pediatrician had said right along.

I began volunteering at Sydney’s elementary school. My favorite was helping out in the kindergarten room during Kid Writing. Go figure. I just loved watching them draw their pictures and then come up with a sentence to go with it. The best part was watching the progress they each made as the school year went on. By the time Mackenzie was old enough to be enrolled, I knew she wasn’t ready. I spoke with the principal and she told me that if I felt she needed another year at home, then that’s what I needed to do. Especially since her birthday was in August. I chalked it up to Mackenzie not being mature enough. She had a hard time sitting still. While Sydney loved watching movies when she was little, Mackenzie couldn’t be bothered. She was always on the go. The same as she was when I sat down with her and tried to teach her how to write her first name or learn her letters and numbers. She barely knew her colors. I couldn’t get anywhere with her. Not to compare my girls again, but by eighteen months, Sydney could count to twenty in English, German, and Spanish. By three, she knew how to write her first name. She also was an only child then and getting my full attention.
Sydney and Kenzie when they used to "love" each other.

The spring before Mackenzie started kindergarten, my husband and I decided I would take early retirement from my job of eighteen years. Financially, we knew things would be tight for our family of four, but we could swing it. We knew it was the best choice for Mackenzie. She needed a stay-at-home mom and not someone working nights, holidays, and weekends. She needed routine. (Routine is a word that will come up again in this blog post.) I got to experience my first summer at home with my girls. It was great. Everything I hoped it would be. And then the new school year began and, with it, the daily phone calls from school. Sometimes, twice a day. Mackenzie was acting up. Thank God I knew all of the teachers at school from my prior years of volunteering because, otherwise, I don’t know if they would have been as gracious. My husband and I learned what B-Mods were—Behavior Modifications for those unfamiliar. At school, they used sticker charts and reward charts with mixed results. One day, she’d be good and, the next, terrible—climbing under her desk and refusing to come out, running around, or having sudden outbursts of words or nonsensical noises. We had progress meetings. Discussed her poor academic progress and her behavior. When summer vacation arrived, we found a fantastic pediatric psychologist and took her weekly for sessions. The psychologist helped us immensely as parents. We had to learn a totally different parenting style for raising Mackenzie. Things that worked for Sydney didn’t yield the same positive results with Mackenzie. By first grade, I was afraid she was going to be kicked out of school because she was so disruptive. I even started smoking again—a habit I gave up when we decided to start our family. But I couldn’t help it. I was a nervous wreck.
The touring group of the Broadway musical
Cats came to our local theatre. Kenzie loved it!
Six weeks into the school year, the phone rang shortly after dismissal time, but before the bus dropped the girls at home. My husband, already home from work, answered. It was Mackenzie’s art teacher—a former school friend who I’d reformed a friendship with after Sydney started school. While I was waiting to hear how horrible Mackenzie’s behavior was in art class that day, something else happened. He had even called his father, a retired school administrator, to get his opinion before calling us. His father concurred with his observation and urged him to call us immediately. His story: Mackenzie’s class was his last of the day. He asked the students to stack their chairs on their desks to help the custodians for later. All the kids stood and went about their task. Mackenzie got up, but stopped. In fact, she froze. While twenty-eight other first graders stacked chairs and talked excitedly, she wasn’t reacting. My friend took note of it because her classmates were trying to get her attention since she hadn’t stacked her chair. He then tried to get her attention, to no avail. Suddenly, she jerked and was back. The "spell" lasted a minute and a half to two minutes. He said her eyes were open and she didn’t blink. She just stood in place. He was fairly certain that what he had witnessed was a seizure of some sort.

His phone call brought about a long chain of events. The first, was to call our pediatrician's office. Our regular pediatrician was out of the country. We weren’t sure about seeing someone unfamiliar with our child, but took her in anyway. After arriving, we found out the pediatrician was not only unfamiliar with Mackenzie, she was young and new to the practice. But our uncertainty about her qualifications disappeared immediately. She was thorough, concerned, and moved heaven and earth to set up tests and an appointment with a pediatric neurologist. First came the EEG appointment. Mackenzie had twenty-some electrodes attached to her head. The lights were dimmed and she had to go through a series of activities while her brainwaves were monitored. Keeping her still and making her cooperate wasn’t easy, but we got through it. Three days later, we met with the pediatric neurologist and he delivered the news: Mackenzie had epilepsy. More specifically, absence seizures. The EEG indicated she was probably suffering hundreds of five to ten-second seizures a day. A day. They were so short in span, no one noticed--until that one day in art class when it lasted so long. The neurologist told us she probably started having them at around three years old. Her behaviors, in part, were due to the seizures. She was living in a stop and start world and acting out was her way of dealing with it. He told us it would heavily affect her academics. My husband and I felt horrible. We felt as if we had failed her for not noticing. According to the doctor, unless you have prior experience with someone suffering from them, chances are, you wouldn’t know any better. Her final diagnosis came with the following words: Predisposition for a Generalized Seizure. He told us that, while she was prone to absence seizures, her EEG indicated she had a 10% chance of having a grand mal seizure. The good news was, he felt she had a 90% chance of maturing out of her seizures after puberty. It was a bad news/good news prognosis. It took seven months and three different medications until we found the best match for her. A year later, she was diagnosed with ADHD and started Adderall. Between the controlled seizures and ADHD, her behaviors at school made a complete turnaround. However, she still struggled academically. Despite the seizures ending, it was overwhelmingly evident she had learning disabilities and her social skills were lacking. By fourth grade, she was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder—which justified my earlier fears about her hitting developmental milestones late. I had been comparing my children, yes, but with just cause. It explained her need for routine and order.
Mackenzie is fourteen, almost fifteen now. At the start of summer, her neurologist consulted with us about weaning her from her anti-seizure meds in an attempt to see if she was now seizure-free. It took six weeks to do using a gradual withdrawal approach. Her last dosage was on July 9th. In that month, we noticed a slight decrease in her appetite. One of the drawbacks of anti-seizure meds is weight gain. Mackenzie gained 21 pounds this past year. Our celebration was short-lived. On August 2nd, Mackenzie suffered her first grand mal or generalized tonic-clonic seizure. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. My husband’s as well. Thankfully, we were home together when it happened because the whole incident took teamwork. While she was on the floor, unconscious and convulsing, my husband, who got to her first, went down on the floor nearby her and talked to her, monitoring her, while I called 911. We leaned on each other to keep it together. She seized for around ten minutes total. The first, longest wave, lasted a minute and a half to two minutes followed by a series of smaller seizures. During the third or fourth, she stopped breathing for thirty seconds. I almost came unglued while talking to the 911 dispatcher at that point. Even though it seemed like hours passed from the moment the seizure struck and the ambulance arrived, in reality, it was more like fifteen or twenty minutes. Mackenzie was conscious by then, but she was utterly confused, mumbling, and when she could form words, they were slurred. It was so nice having familiar faces from our local ambulance association show up and take over. Mackenzie handled everything like a champ. The girl who doesn’t like being touched, even by family, knew the people swarming her were trying to help even though she wasn’t sure what was happening.
Mackenzie was admitted to the hospital overnight and administered a mega-load of her former anti-seizure medication. Again, at the hospital, she was a total champ. Talked with doctors and nurses. Actually joked because she had a slight warning, known as an aura, come over her before the seizure hit. She told anyone who would listen she should have yelled, “Timber! I’m going down!” She did give my husband notice, but it came a little too late for him to react and, unfortunately, she collapsed from a standing position into the arm of the loveseat, face-first. Luckily, she didn’t sustain a concussion or fractures from the fall. She was left with bruising on her arms and legs as well as developed broken capillaries all over her face, neck, and shoulders. The later was a combination of physical straining and elevated blood pressure during the actual seizure’s tonic-clonic phase. My poor baby looked like one giant bruise.
She’s been home for over a week now. Back on her regular dose of anti-seizure medication. Lingering side-effects of the seizure have left her fatigued with a slight headache, nausea, as well as muscle aches. They lasted a few days. I haven’t been able to let her out of my sight. I slept on her bedroom floor at night and during the day during her catnaps since I wasn’t sleeping well at night. It sounds like paranoia, but I had to periodically make sure she was breathing. It was like having a newborn and worrying about SIDs all over again. During the past two days, I have relaxed quite a bit. She still needs to be monitored while bathing. Her neurologist has restricted her from activities with heights and from swimming. She has to avoid electronics with the strobe effect.  He feels she will be fine and is hopeful we can try to take a break again in maybe two years. I have mixed feelings about that, but it is the only true way to see if her seizures have left her. An EEG during the break could cause a false positive. I never want her to have a grand mal seizure again. It was horrific to witness. I can’t imagine what it was like for her when she felt it coming on and didn’t know what was wrong. Or how scared she must have been when it was over. She has no recollection of the actual seizure or what happened immediately following. Amnesia is common. Her memory returns to her somewhere during the commute to the hospital. She remembers talking to the EMTs and inviting all of them to come back to our house sometime so she can show them her pet chickens.
L to R: Kenzie upon discharge with her "freckles" from the broken capillaries and her smiling face, four days later, and the freckles are almost gone.

I am so thankful to have her back to herself! Everything could have been much worse. I think about John Travolta's son, Jett, and how he died from injuries sustained during his seizure. Mackenzie was lucky. All in all, the event has made me reevaluate my priorities. I’m spending more time with her. We've colored and did word searches and read her summer chapter book while doing little things to make it fun like spreading a blanket out under a shade tree in the backyard. We’ve “played” together. She’s fourteen and growing up, but in many ways she’s always going to be like a seven or eight year old child. I have to remember that. I have to spend time with her and cater to her mentality. She isn’t like Sydney. She’s Mackenzie. And she has her own likes and special needs. I know that, but sometimes I don’t live it.
If you made it to the end of this long blog post, thank you for hanging around!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Real Life Romance vs. Fiction

A replica of our cake from a year ago the 3rd...
When I first released my novel last summer, one question that I was kind of expecting was: Is it autobiographical at all?  I got this a lot from local acquaintances.  To which I always reply, "No."

My novel is pure fiction.  Sort of.  The only thing that I pulled from my real life was the large family the main character came from, and while I didn't realize it at the time, struggles with mental illness and my own religious/spiritual issues.  For starters, I am one of ten children; born of the same father but different mothers.  I didn't give either of my characters this many siblings, but both the Carman's and the Moore's have large extended families.  It's the kind of chaos I am familiar with.

And when it comes to the romance of the novel, while there are a few similarities it was written long before I ever met Mr. Janney.  There are far more differences than anything else.

Since I was also recently asked how I met my husband, by a Facebook friend who's an "imaginary friend" I've never met because she lives on the other side of the world, I thought I would share that story for those of you who don't know me and relate some of the similarities and differences.  Largely because it is 2am as I'm working on this first draft and I can't sleep because my mind keeps working on it and technically at this hour it is our anniversary already!

#1 - Like Craig and Angela in my novel (Farmer's Daughter) there is a ten year age difference between Mr. Janney and I.  However, in the novel, Craig is the older one and in real life...I'm the older one!  It caused far more drama in the beginning of our relationship in real life than it ever did in the novel, probably because it is still more socially acceptable for the male to be the older in the relationship.  Craig was worried about the age difference because of his past abuse; Mr. Janney's family had issues with it because what could an older woman want with a younger man other than sex?  Oh well.  We all got over it!

#2 - Craig and Angela met at work, just like Mr. Janney and I did!  However, neither of us were lucky enough to be the owner of a store or anything fancy like that.  We are just two hardworking American peeps who developed a friendship that turned into something more.  I had been working at the press facility of a local newspaper for almost 2 years when Mr. Janney was hired, and he had been there about 6 months when sparks flew.  Truthfully, we owe a lot of our relationship to our one supervisor who gave us a good push towards each other.  Our supervisor was privy to the fact that I had a crush on him, and when she was feeling him out to see if it might be returned, she told me how his face got this big dopey grin on it.  "Age is just a number," she said.

#3 - Quick trip to the altar.  Sort of.

        • Craig and Angela were married roughly 6 months after they met, Mr. Janney dumped me roughly 7 months after we started dating.  That lasted little over a week, because he did it for all the wrong reasons.  Later, after we got back together, I left for work early to surprise him by picking him up for work only to meet him on the road...riding his bicycle and trying to call me, not realizing all he had to do was look up!  He later told me how he had been asking God for a sign, at which point I reminded him of this incident and asked him how bigger of a sign he needed!  Unplanned and unaware of each other's intention, we were both trying to get a hold of each other just because we wanted to spend time with each other.

        • Once Craig asked Angela to marry him, not that long after admitting that they were indeed a "couple", they were married before 24 hours had passed.  I had him whisk her out to Vegas for that.  Mr. Janney never really asked me to marry him.  We had been discussing it with his parents after his great-grandmother's funeral, and two days later (Monday) he let me know that he had purchased wedding rings.  Oh, ok!!  Two days after that (Wednesday) after my birthday dinner, we had enough money for either the marriage license or a birthday cake.  He left it up to me and I chose the piece of paper.  Here in PA, we have a 72 hour waiting period before we can use it and then we have a month after that to tie the knot.  Well, at this point we had been a couple for five years, close enough, so I didn't see any reason to piddlefart around and we were married at a Justice of the Peace the first day the paper could be acted upon (Saturday).

        • Small wedding  Craig and Angela had only their closest friends stand with them.  We had our parents; both of his, and my mother.

        • Neither of us had a true honeymoon; Craig and Angela had a short stay in Vegas before coming home to Angela's kidnapping and coma; Mr Janney and I both had to be back to work on Monday.  I got a bit of ribbing for coming back from my vacation a married woman when I had been single when I left, but I had no idea what was coming when my week long vacation started!  Surprise!
Me posting by the new/pre-owned truck
that was a gift to my husband and I
from his parents.

So sometimes art imitates life, and sometimes life imitates art.  In my case, life often feels like abstract art.  But then I can take something simple and straight forward and twist my perspective just right and come up with something...well, abstract!

Granted, a writer draws from their life experiences, which is probably why there is a lot of naivety to the characters in my first novel.  In a lot of ways, I was writing about experiences I hadn't had yet. Okay, some I've never had - like being kidnapped or in a coma.  (knock on wood)  But that's where imagination comes in (and a passing knowledge of some basic psychology).  Google makes research so much easier than it used to be, so long as you find the right sights.

There will never be a perfect lineup of similarities between real life and fiction.  And that's the way it should be.  Just enough to let us know that the story isn't all that far-fetched.  After a story, we should be left thinking, "That could happen to me."

Because you know, it sometimes does.  (See pic of truck -- speechless!)

There are probably more comparisons I could make between my story and my real life relationship, because every relationship has different sides to it.  Differents shades of grey, different chapters.  Real or imaginary.  Just like no two books are alike, even on the same subject, so it is with relationships.

Never stop believing in the fairy tale moments of real life.