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If You Are Ignorant, Be Also Silent

For the last few days, social media has been abuzz with chatter about the loss of Robin Williams.  I’ve seen so many beautiful tributes.  Fans all around the world have written lovely posts and have edited and uploaded photos of a happy, joyous Robin.  People have shared clips of Robin’s funny and tender television and silver screen moments on Facebook so that we could all remember the genius of this incredible talent.  I saw one drawing an incredibly gifted artist made of a beaming Robin with the names of his movies beside his joyously illuminated face.  Celebrities and those who knew and loved Robin have written lovely and emotional stories for us so that we too could see the man that they loved…the man behind the laughter.  I’ve seen him characterized as loving, kind, generous, warm, and humble.  I’ve also seen him labeled a coward, and someone so self-engrossed and so self-involved that he dared to make the horribly selfish choice to end his life with little to no thought about how his decision would impact those who loved him and his millions of fans all around the world.  As I continue to see judgmental, hateful posts like this, I become more and more enraged.  I have something to say, Internet, and you’re going to hear it.  Indulge me as I take this opportunity to set straight anyone ignorant about mental health and suicide.

If you are ignorant, be also silent.  Having an opinion does not an expert make you.  You are absolutely entitled to think and believe as you think and believe.  It is not my intention to rob you of your right to exercise independent thought.  I am saying, however, that just because you have a voice does not mean that you should use it.  We seem to have lost the desire to exercise conscious restraint.  The Internet has given everyone a voice, and sadly, many use it when they should not.  The posting of any accusatory or inflammatory rhetoric about someone who has suffered and died or about the feelings you believe that he may have felt is inappropriate, period.  To our collective shame, we have become a society of people so intent on increasing our own personal visibility that we often do so to the detriment of others.  Use your voice to uplift and love others.  To do anything other than support and love those who suffer is barbarous.  I read one person’s belief that we’re all to be shamed for publicly recognizing Robin and remembering him fondly in the way that we are.  And why is this person shaming us?  Because others who are sick and have suicidal ideologies will too commit suicide just so they can receive similar adoration.  This same person went to say that Robin Williams did not die of mental illness.  Rather, he died of an intentional and selfish choice.  No one who would take his or her own life is selfish.  Someone hurting and suffering so gravely that this choice seems the only viable option is ill.  Any choice made in that kind of illness and that kind of pain is not the choice a healthy person would make.  Suffering of that magnitude is, luckily, something most of us will never understand.  I’m absolutely certain, however, that in an illness of that depth, the harming of those left behind is the absolute last thing on someone’s mind.  Unless you have struggled with mental health issues personally or unless you love someone who has struggled, keep your mouth shut about it.  You bring nothing to the table except uninformed notions of what you believe to be true.  People that I dearly love have struggled with mental illness and with everything in me, I swear to you that their struggles were real.  In the same way that anyone struggles with an illness, be it cancer or heart disease or diabetes, a mentally ill person needs help.  Needs support.  Needs love.  Any balderdash that claims anything to the contrary is misinformed and ignorant. 

To anyone who is suffering with mental illness, I beg of you to reach out for help.  There are people out there who are willing to listen to you and who are willing to hold you up when you yourself lack the strength to do so.  If you are considering self-harm, I ask that you please remember that the world is not a better place without you in it.  I also beg that you call one of the many suicide hotlines and ask for help.  There are many out there, both here in America and all over the world.  Please give the you of tomorrow a chance to realize that healing and joy are out there waiting for you.  They’re wonderful, too. 

Love to all of you.

That’s Your Responsibility As A Human Being

Hi everyone.  I write to you tonight with a heart full of tremendous sadness.  For the last few hours, the world has been suffering the loss of one of our most gifted actors and tremendous talents.  The news of the passing of Robin Williams absolutely broke my heart.  Mine among many.  I had aspirations of returning to blogging and intentions of waiting to do so until I had made some cosmetic changes here on my blog, but the message in my heart begs to be spoken and the cosmetic changes will have to wait for another day.

The news media and social media circles will discuss this tragic loss for many weeks to come.  Although the news isn’t official at this time, many are speculating that Robin took his own life.  Suicide has personally affected me three times.  Three people, all very special to me, made the heartbreaking and very final choice to end their suffering by permanently extinguishing their collective light among us.  The enormous reservoir of pain that these people, and Robin, must have felt just shatters my heart.  To think that there are people who walk beside us, who share buses and offices and grocery stores and churches and families and marriages with us, suffer so enormously that suicide is the only viable option just breaks my heart.  We are failing one another at a cataclysmic rate by not recognizing the pain that those around us experience.  We are responsible for one another in this life.  The exercise of human kindness and the extension of true attention and honest energy to those we encounter is so often overshadowed by the busy goings-on of our own lives.  So many of us drown in our own hectic, our own sagas, our own comings and goings that we do not make the intentional time to give of ourselves to one another.  We have to do a better job of being deliberately thoughtful of the people in our lives.  Don’t hear, listen.  Put your phone down.  Cancel your other appointment.  Be present for the people who love you.  Be kind.  That is your responsibility as a human being.  Live in love and treat those around you with dignity.  Watch for the less obvious signs of suffering.  Be.  Just be.  And know that in being, you make a difference in the lives of those you meet.

I certainly don’t ascribe blame for suicide to anyone.  Please do not misinterpret my message.  My heart, however, compels your heart to make a personal commitment to kindness, to intentional presence, and to love.  While you certainly are not responsible for the actions of others, you are indeed responsible for giving and loving and kindness….and making a difference.  The cliched notion of not knowing what someone else is going through is indeed very, very true.  We are largely ignorant of the profound difference and goodness that we can bring to one another.  Tonight, I remind you of your responsibility to exert that kindness and deliberate presence.  Be the person who makes the difference.  We can no longer afford the cost of failing one another.  One more family’s heartbreak is unacceptable.  One more life lost is unconscionable.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.  Thank you for the laughter and the inspiration.  May your soul find now only the joy that you brought to so many of us.

“They Live In Darkness. You Be The Light.”

Sometimes, the enormity of the human condition is overwhelming to me.  It just hurts my spirit.  Stays inside me.  Affects me.

This weekend, the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at three churches in my tiny little town.  I was browsing through Facebook on my lunch hour and I came across a story published by the Gardner News about this horrible organization’s plans to come to our little town and spew their message of hatred.  Why they chose us, no one knows.  We aren’t burying a soldier this weekend.  There have been no high-profile crimes or deaths in our area (in, like, ages), and none of us can figure out why they have chosen these three particular churches in our peaceful community.  All day long, the sadness and enormity of this has weighed heavily inside me.  I made the immediate decision to react with love, and to encourage the same in those I care for here in Gardner.  These people simply thrive on any attention given to them, and they relish in any negativity shown to them or any efforts made by the well-intentioned to change their hearts and their souls.  Heartbroken for the leaders and parishoners at the churches targeted for picketing, I called two of them today and spoke with members of their staff.  I offered my love and support and prayers to them as a sister in Christ, and I told them that they were cared for here in our community.  One woman asked me how she would explain all of this to her children, and I told her to treat this as a teachable moment.  To use this opportunity to clearly explain the difference between love and hate.  I thought that the very best way that we could respond to their presence was to continue on with our lives as if they were not here.  Show them no consideration.  Give their voices no room within our spirits.  Refuse their efforts to engage us in dialogue or hateful discourse.  Walk with dignity and show them by example the way God wants us to treat one another.  As the day wore on, I had another thought.  Each and every Gardner resident should take a few hours Sunday to give back.  To volunteer.  To do something kind for someone in need.  To combat hatred with love and to bring peace and goodness to others.  Please consider talking with your family tonight and tomorrow and making a quick plan to show kindness to others on Sunday.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Sure, if you have the time and are able to schedule a session, go ahead and volunteer at the charitable organization of your choice.  Write letters and make cards for our men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others halfway across the world.  Rally a few friends together and buy canned goods to donate to a local food pantry.  Just a few hours of your time can make a tremendous difference.  Your love and your good works triumph over any hatred shown by others.  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing in this world greater than love.  Nothing.

I shared my sadness about this situation with a colleague today, and he said something so incredible to me.  “They live in darkness.  You be the light.”  Be the light, my friends.  We cannot do anything to impede this hateful organization’s right to picket and to say the horrible and heartbreaking things that they say.  We can, however, give of ourselves to others and lead with love.

Emotional Day

Hi guys.  So it’s 6:35 in the evening and I am writing to you from high atop Two Pershing Square in downtown Kansas City.  The only one left in my office after a stressful day, I am enjoying the peace and quiet of a serene office and the comfort of knowing that a horrendously difficult project is almost done.  I stayed late to work on this monstrosity of an assignment (more on that in a moment), and in so doing, missed my bus home.  You’ll recall from yesterday’s awful situation (see here for a refresher) that the woman who assaulted me has agreed to take the later buses.  Not wanting to be in any way, shape, or form in her presence, I opted to go ahead and stay until after my daughter’s soccer practice, when my husband can make the trek downtown to pick me up.  The quiet here is nice.  I can articulate my thoughts and actually b-r-e-a-t-h-e after a rotten day.  Before I go in to any of it, I wanted to say thank you so incredibly much to all of you who posted incredibly supportive and amazing comments on Facebook last night.  You don’t know what your support means.  It’s funny, I guess.  After being sick last year and taking that journey so publicly with all of you (and receiving the hugest of the hugest outpourings of love and support), I should have known that all of you would come through again, hugs and support and love aplenty.  I thought that maybe you might all think less of me for having allowed this situation to continue as long as I did.  Nope.  Not even close.  Only love and support.  You guys are fantastic.  You make my heart happy.

So today wasn’t even in the realm of what you or I would call a “typical good day.”  Not (period) even (period) close (exclamation point).  A major assignment is due of me at the office tomorrow, and I thought I had done a really amazing job on it.  The message was delivered today that I indeed had not done quite the whiz-bang job I previously thought.   I am a perfectionist when it comes to my work, and so I took this very, very seriously…and personally.  By the end of the day, the kinks were worked out and with one more tiny piece of information we’ll get tomorrow, the project will be finished and on its way to our National Office in Washington.  But to start the day with the enormous cloud of self-perceived failure hanging over my head didn’t give me quite the boost I needed for the events that followed.  I went to the Kansas City Police Department this afternoon and gave my report to a wonderful officer, who treated me with incredible grace and respect.  I actually apologized to him when I left.  He sees horrible, horrible crimes, and here I sit complaining about something so incredibly small (I mean, I know it’s not small, but you know what I mean…)  He said something perfect.  “A crime is a crime.”  And he’s right.  And she had no right to do that to me and I had every right to be there.  He took the report and discussed my case with a detective from the Kansas City Assault Squad.  He gave me a case report number, and told me to call in three days to see if the report had been filed.  The overachiever in me (damned perfectionism) called tonight.  (Yeah, it’s not filed yet.  I’m not surprised either.)  I asked what the process was from here, and he said that once the report was filed, a warrant would be issued and she would be arrested and booked and given a court date.  I’d then be called and told to come and testify on XYZ date.  He said that in many cases like these, defendants plead out.  It’s not worth the trial.  He seemed to think that the worst that would happen would be that she’d get probation.  I made it very clear to him that I did not want her to serve any jail time.  I see this so clearly in my mind.  She is older and hearing impaired, and I worry for her safety.  This isn’t about punishing her.  Or hurting her in any way.  This is about changing her behavior.  I almost began crying as I said that to the officer.  Mind you, at the same time that I am having this conversation, another woman was crying uncontrollably in the lobby of the police station.  My boss and I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but it was obvious that she had been harmed in some way.  I cry when other people cry.  I love.  That’s just me.  So add my rotten morning to my horrible evening the night prior to my worry that my assault-er (is that a word?) would be harmed in jail and it took me everything I had to keep it together.  Officer Hamlett (he smiled when I said, “Oh, like the story…minus a ‘t!'”) said that it’s hard to predict what will happen because he didn’t know if she had any prior convinctions, but that once the warrant was issued, it was out of our hands.  I know I did the right thing, but it doesn’t feel good inside.  I want this over with.  I just want to put this bend in my road so far behind me that no mirror will show it.  He wasn’t sure how long the process would take.  I suppose that’ll depend on how busy the Assault Squad is.  God, they have so many other more serious cases than mine!  I feel so guilty tying up their system!!!  (I know I shouldn’t).  Boss #2 told me this morning that I had to do this.  And that I shouldn’t feel a bit guilty about it.  She said that we’re all responsible for civility, and she’s right.  Wish I didn’t feel so bad.  You know, this was all compounded by the morning I had and the “Jen-the-epic-failure” notion I carried around at the office today.  (In Boss #2’s defense, she did later step up and try to get me to understand that she didn’t think I’d failed…but it was too little too late after a horrendous day).

It’s 7:00 now.  Soccer practice is over at 7:30.  I am so looking forward to going home and having a hot shower.  No lunch today (so I’m starving).  Just didn’t have the heart.  Thank you again for all the love and support…and for cheering me on today.  It’ll all be over soon, and I will have done the right thing.  Just hope “soon” is really soon.  Anyone wanna go to court and cheer me on while I testify? (I’m only half kidding when I ask that, by the way.)

Yeah…and about that whole NaNoWriMo, writing-about-how-much-I-loved-that-book thing?  I’ll be back on the case tomorrow.  I owe you two devotions now.

Bullying: It’s An Adult Problem Too

Hi guys.  I know I promised to devote my blog this week to my reviews of (and crazy love for!) Kevin S. Kaiser’s new e-book, “@Wrimo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers,” and, I promise, the love will return tomorrow night, but something happened tonight that I needed to put out there…to get off my chest.  And how do I do that?  By bloviating to all of you, of course.  (By the way, I know I tend to ramble on a bit.  Thanks and mad love to all of you who actually stick it out through my blog posts!)

We hear so much talk today about bullying.  As the mother of a school-aged child (and a former target of bullying), I couldn’t be happier about the increased focus and light shed on bullying in our schools, and the countless campaigns to end bullying and to return our focus to respecting one another and acting in love.  Because the incidents of bullying that we hear about occur in our schools, it’s easy to forget that this is a problem adults face as well.  And by “adults,” at least in the context of this blog post, I mean me.  I’ve been the target of a pervasive bully for the last several months, and have stayed largely silent about it because of shame and embarrassment.  Tonight, the shame ends and the light goes on.  Tonight, I took control of the situation.

Everyone who knows me knows that I work in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  I live in Johnson County, Kansas, and the commute is lengthy.  To prevent wear and tear on my car (and avoid the huge costs of gasoline and parking in downtown KC), I take TheJO.  TheJO is a large-scale, very upper-class bus service that connects residents of Johnson County with destinations throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.  I’ve been a JO commuter now for over five years, and I’ve so enjoyed the convenience and ease of travel that it provides.  I am not a fan of driving, I’ll be honest, and it’s wonderful to not have to worry about traffic hassles and accidents…and weather.  Driving in severe weather is the absolute worst.  Plus, it’s nice to have some “Jennifer Time” where I can relax, unwind, and just be me.  Knitting, crocheting, reading, listening to music…just some quiet “Me Time” or a chat with some of the wonderful friends I’ve met on the bus.  I really appreciate and enjoy all that TheJO brings to my life.  Until very recently, I’ve experienced no problems in riding TheJO.  Sure, there are the days where the bus is running late or the heat or air conditioning can’t quite keep up with the climate, but barring that, it’s all been good.  Until this summer.  This summer, a hearing impaired woman began riding my route.  I’d seen her on other routes before and she seemed friendly enough.  Unfortunately. that was a first impression that later proved to be terribly wrong.  This woman is very aggressive.  She has to be the first person to board the bus.  She’ll shove you over and cut in front of you in an effort to ensure that she is the first person on board.  She also has to be the first person off the bus as well.  If you’re in her way, she’ll mutter aloud and make it clear to you that you’ve inconvenienced you.  She’ll also walk toward the front of the bus while it is still in motion (which is completely unsafe, mind you) just so she can get off the bus first.  One day, I was just about to get on the bus (before her, mind you), and she put her hands in front of me and pushed herself right in front of me.  I almost fell in to the street.  Another time, I actually did get on the bus before she did and because she was angry, she bent down and put her face in mine (after she boarded, of course), and just screamed at me.  Her words were unintelligible, of course, but it was visibly apparent that she was furious that I had gotten on the bus before her.  Another time when she tried to pull a similar stunt, I held my hand out to block her from coming close to me and I said, “Today, I get on the bus first.”  She muttered something aloud, and that something was, “Bitch,” I’m sure.  One day when the bus was very late, she paced up and down the street, moaning aloud and giving all of us a very clear indication that she was angry.  When the bus finally did come, she put her face in the driver’s and proceeded to yell at him just as she did with me.  My repeated EMAIL messages to TheJO to ask for assistance were met with a deaf ear.  They said that because her bad behavior was taking place off the bus, there was nothing they could do about it.  They refused to come and speak with her or to make any effort to explain to her that riding this bus is a privilege, not a right.  After several EMAIL messages back and forth, TheJO washed their hands of the situation and said that they couldn’t do anything to help me.  So I changed routes.  What’s that old adage?  You can’t change other people, only yourself.  So I made the necessary adjustments to my work and family schedule to take a completely different bus and avoid having another confrontation with her.  In all honesty, I was concerned for my safety (and tonight’s events proved my concerns right!) and I felt it was just best to make the change and to sever myself from any chance that we might cross paths again.  It worked beautifully, until she took my bus tonight.

While I was waiting for the bus tonight, I was chatting on the phone with my husband rather innocently.  The bus stopped immediately in front of me, and she, yet again, did everything she could to slip in to the mere inch or two separating me from the bus.  The last time she did this, I almost fell in to the street.  I turned around and said to her (she reads lips), “Back off.”  When I turned to get on the bus, she put her hands in the small of my back and shoved me, hard.  A third passenger waiting for the bus saw what happened.  When I got on the bus, I furiously left another message for TheJO, and then called the Kansas City Police Department.  They advised me to get off at her stop and to have the Overland Park Police Department meet us there and take a statement.  And I did exactly that.  I spent nearly two hours explaining what happened to the police officers (who were great, by the way…mad props to officer Trenton G.  Thanks for making me laugh.  You were the best part of this entire mess.)  They completed what they called an “informational report,” and explained that the Kansas City Police Department would have to order it.  I made it very clear that my intention was to press charges.  Assault?  Battery?  (In Overland Park, I learned that they call this “simple battery.”  The officer wasn’t sure what it would be called in Kansas City).  She said it was “an accident” and that she fell in to me.  She also apologized and said that she would take the later bus routes.  I don’t believe her.  She’s “sorry” only because someone stood up to her.  No one stands up to her, probably because of her hearing impairment.  That stops now.  Many people on TheJO asked me over and over, “Why is it you that she picks on, Jennifer?” and I had no answer.  And I let it go on and on because (God, I am ashamed to admit this), I was intimidated by her.  Her conduct in the past has escalated…from simply trying to cut in front of me to nudging me to yelling at me, and all the while, I put up with it (well, I did try to get TheJO’s management to do something about it, but other than that…)  Tonight, I stopped allowing that mean and ugly-spirited woman to treat me like that.  I called the Kansas City Police Department back, and they asked me to come in and file a complaint tomorrow.  I then called my amazing boss, who will be taking me tomorrow to file charges.  I want her arrested for assault (simple battery?  You say tomato, I say John Deere tractor – ha!)  According to Officer Trenton, most cases of simple battery result in jail time or fines.  I don’t want her to go to jail.  With her age and hearing impairment, she’s sure to be the target of harm and I don’t want that.  I do want her to get the message that mistreating other people…and touching other people without their consent…is illegal and it won’t be tolerated.  I know that if I had allowed this incident to come and go without fighting back, just as I have with all the others, it would be tacit approval and she’d think she was allowed to get by with it.  And the abuse to my self-esteem would have been terrible.  I let this bully bother me all summer.  I stood up for myself tonight.  I hope that tonight, she’s re-thinking the hurtful and hateful way that she has behaved (although I seriously doubt it, given her lame excuse to the officer that she “tripped” and that it was an “accident”).  I also hope she’s a little scared.  Scared of what happens next.  I wonder if they told her that I was considering pressing assault (battery?) charges.  You know what really scares me?  That we’ll go to trial and her husband (who looks as crazy as she does) will have a gun and shoot me or someone I love.  *sigh*

So that’s it.  Bullies are only successful because people cower in fear and shame.  My shame and cower days are over.  Please say a little prayer for me as I head to the police station to make my first (and hopefully, dear God, ONLY) police report against another human being.  Thanks for reading this.  I know it was long-winded (just another typical Jen post – ha!) , but I appreciate you sticking it out.  Please, please, if you’re the victim of bullying, step up and stand up.  I’ll be right behind you, that’s for sure.


It Never Gets Any Easier

So tonight was my parents’ last evening here in town.  They head back home tomorrow.  Because they were both exhausted and still had some packing to do, we had an early dinner this evening and parted ways after several hugs and kisses, a plethora of “thanks” for a wonderful last few days, and their promise to drive safely.  Almost immediately after we got in the car to leave, the tears came.  Bidding them farewell never gets any easier.  I was always the girl who never understood why children grew up and moved away from their families.  Even when I was very young, the thought of not being geographically close to my parents would make me heartsick and I would cry.  I vowed never to leave Indianapolis, and even in to my professional career, I had absolutely no desire to find a life anywhere else.  In 1999, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – a human resources internship with the Department of Defense.  My duties took me all over, but my first stop was here in Kansas City.  Within a week of my arrival (and just immediately after signing a two-year mobility agreement promising the DoD that I’d not set up roots anywhere), I met my amazing husband.  Our love story began, as did the journey of my leaving home and finding a new one.  I was heartbroken to leave Kansas City, but headed on in the summer of 1999 to my other assignments.  And when the opportunity for a permanent placement back in Kansas City came in October of 2000, I was thrilled and jumped (with joy!) at the chance.  Curtis was thrilled.  Finally, a job in the new city I dearly loved with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with!  Moving away was an odd mix of exhilaration and heartbreak, and I remember crying, quite often, and missing home and my parents so, so much.  The hole I felt in my heart was tremendous.  Curtis was so incredible.  So supportive.  So incredibly worth it.  (And he still is…another story for another day…)  With return visits home came the same heartbreak.  Saying “goodbye” and returning to my new home in KC was difficult.  That was 12 years ago, and the ache is the same even now.  Having them in my home for these last several days and sharing with them in this amazing life I’ve created and then seeing them walk away is just heartbreaking.  I wish they could stay.  I wish Indianapolis and Kansas City were closer.  I wish Facebook and phone calls were enough to make us feel as close as close can be, and that this kind of heartache didn’t envelope me.  I am not sorry I moved to Kansas City and built this amazing life.  I love it here so much.  I love the life Curtis and I have created.  This is the only home our Erin has ever known.  But a (very, very large) piece of my heart will always be wherever my parents are.  I miss them and Indianapolis so incredibly much.

Have you ever had a thought that you were too afraid to share?  Maybe a thought that you figured would go away or be less weighty if you just kept it to yourself?  I am afraid to give this horrible thought a voice here on my blog (or anywhere), because once those words are said, they are out there.  They become part of the lives of the people who read them.  They can’t be taken back.  But, I have to get this pervasively ugly thought out of my heart, and saying it aloud is just too painful.  My amazing father is 70 years old.  I am so afraid that this is the last time I will see him.  His health is good, vision notwithstanding.  Curtis thinks I am very premature in having this worry (and God, I so hope he’s right), but what if?  Visiting with them each year for Erin’s birthday, I see the signs of their aging.  The loss of the vitality and energy I so clearly remember them to have had.  It hurts and it’s heartbreaking.  I know aging is part of life.  I just don’t want it to happen to my parents.

Please keep my parents in your prayers as they drive to St. Louis tomorrow, and on home to Indianapolis on Friday.  Also, please love your parents.  Call them.  If you are blessed enough to have a close relationship with them, continue cultivating that relationship and share in their lives.  If not, make a concerted effort to extend your hand and establish a tie.

Happy Birthday Erin!!!

Eleven years ago this day, our beautiful daughter Erin was born!  As you know, we’ve been celebrating this big birthday for the last several days.  My parents came to visit from Indianapolis (they’re still here…hate the thought of them going back), and my parents-in-law came down and spent the day with us Saturday.  Today was wonderful.  Erin specifically asked me to wake her up at 6:00 a.m.  She knew that she “officially” turned 11 at 6:34 this morning, and I think she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss the moment!  We watched the clock, and as we got closer (read: 6:32), she got so excited (“Two more minutes, Momma!”)  6:34 a.m. came and our excited girl was thrilled to be 11 years old.  We are so happy.  She is an incredible young lady and we feel so tremendously blessed to have her in our lives.  Happy birthday to my beautiful Erin.  Momma loves you so incredibly much.

We had a great lunch at school with Erin and her friends today.  In elementary school, we’d always make it a big to-do to come and bring treats and spend time in the classroom.  My mom loved to read to the students, and we really enjoyed spending time with Erin and her friends in the classroom.  Now that she is in middle school (*sniff*), they don’t do that any longer.  Rather, parents and grandparents are invited to come for lunch and to bring treats.  At Erin’s request, Grandma Gotshall made some of her awesome pumpkin bread (recipe at the end of this blog post):

We sliced up pieces of bread and took them to school to give out to Erin’s classmates and friends.  Erin was allowed to invite two friends to sit with us, and other friends came by later to say hello and pose for photos:

After lunch, the kids had recess and we made our way down to the fifth grade hallway so I could show my parents her classrooms and introduce them to her teachers.  We gave them the rest of the pumpkin bread, and sailed out of her school on cloud nine.  I was so happy.  It was a wonderful lunch to celebrate an even more wonderful girl.  She has met some great new friends this year, and really seems to be loving her new school!

Erin asked for chicken cordon bleu (that recipe’s below, too) for her big birthday dinner.  Chef Daddy was on the case!

We spent the evening together and enjoyed one another’s company.  Erin played her trumpet for us.  We laughed and just spent time loving and being together.  Being a family.  Erin opened two last birthday gifts…a “Just About Me” journal and a gift card from her all-time favorite store, Justice!  Those were from us.  :)

These last few days have been wonderful.  My heart is full and I feel so incredibly blessed.  My beautiful little girl is a young lady now!  My wish and dream for her is that the rest of her life is spent in love…growing and learning and laughing and loving.  Every mother’s wish, I suppose.

And now for the recipes!

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

1 can (15 ounces) of pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup of vegetable oil
2/3 cup of water
3 cups of white sugar
3 & 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 & 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon  of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon  of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon  of ground ginger

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 7″-by-3″ loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, and sugar until well blended.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended (we used the KitchenAid mixer, and added small bits of the powder mixture and blended, one at a time).  Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.

Bake the loaves for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (we increased the recipe since there were five of us dining!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper
6 slices of Swiss cheese
4 slices of cooked ham
1/2 cup of seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 7″-by-11″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/4″ thickness.

Sprinkle each piece of chicken (front and back sides) with the salt and pepper.  Place one cheese slice and one slice of ham on each chicken breast.  Roll up each breast, and secure with a toothpick.  Place in the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle the chicken evenly with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove the chicken from the oven, and place 1/2 slice of cheese on top of each chicken breast.  Return the chicken to the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.  Remove the toothpicks, and serve immediately.


“Accept Your Miracle”

Hi Internet.  It’s me again.  I’ve been deliberately holding off on writing this blog post since March 2oth (an incredibly l-o-n-g time ago, yes, I know).  As you know, I had D&C #3 in mid-March.  It was to be the end of my “hyperplasia uncertainty” journey, and its results would tell me if medication and weight loss alone would be the forces strong enough to combat my atypical complex simple endometrial hyperplasia, or if a hysterectomy would be the only option to prevent me from getting uterine cancer.  As you know, my emotions ran the gamut over this last year.  I came out fighting from the very beginning, unwilling to give cancer any sanctuary inside me, and determined to do all in my power to ensure that I’d live a long and happy life, filled with the laughter and love of the family and friends God had so richly blessed me with.  As I got farther along on my journey, the fear crept in.  And as 2011 left us and the new year began, I became more and more convinced (and terrified) that I’d fail on this journey and that I’d have to have a hysterectomy.  The dreaded “H word.”  I feared it and did all I could to will it not to happen….and finally came to accept the fact that perhaps it was the smartest and most succinct way to end this journey and to get on with the rest of my life.  No more worry.  No more talk about my uterus (because really, isn’t that everyone’s favorite topic?) and hysterectomies and cancer.  Just a future-focus and laughter and love.  In the last moments before last month’s D&C, I told my doctor that I thought perhaps we had done this wrong.  By “we,” I mean “me.”  My OB/GYN and my gynecologic oncologist were right to do all they could medically to preserve my uterus.  Hysterectomies are risky surgeries, and being overweight adds additional complications.  They were right to try to treat me with medication.  But I was absolutely convinced that I was wrong to have been so married to my uterus…so strong an advocate to keep it.  In the end, I felt positive that a hysterectomy was the best decision…and, too, that the results of my D&C would show that I hadn’t beaten this disease on my own.  I had no idea just how wonderfully wrong I was…

…On March 20th, I could no longer waitwaitwait for my doctor’s office to call me with the results of the D&C.  (Oh, and this may be old news, I went for my first-ever mammogram the day after my D&C.  Your Jennifer, ever the glutton for medical punishment – ha!)  I called and left a message for Sherry, my doctor’s nurse, who almost immediately called me back.  She said, and I quote:

“Dr. Eckert wanted me to call and give you the good news.  You are negative for any hyperplasia or malignancies.  And your mammogram was normal.”

I didn’t believe her.  I made her repeat her sentence.  I wrote down the words as she said them:

And then I went completely numb.  Insanity, right?  Why wasn’t I dancing in the streets?  Tears, then numbness.  My husband and mother and bosses were thrilled.  Hugs, and many of them.  And still, I was numb.  When was Sherry going to call me back and tell me that she had given me someone else’s test results?  When was the other shoe going to drop?  I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks post-op, and I figured it would be at that time that that “other shoe” would drop and that any excitement and happiness I felt would be immediately extinguished and replaced by new fears.  I cancelled an evening out with girlfriends that night, deciding that I needed to spend the evening at home with my family.  I posted my good news on Facebook, and the very lot of people who have been here all along cheering for me and praying for me and loving me were right there to delight in the good news.  When I told my dear friend Donna that I was numb and couldn’t feel this joy, at least not yet, she said, “Jennifer, accept your miracle.”  She was right.  That “follow-up” appointment was today, having been rescheduled from Wednesday of last week so I could represent my agency at a veterans’ career fair in downtown Kansas City.  I told my doctor today that I was worried and waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she smiled and said that there isn’t any other shoe.  It’s truly, truly over.  You may recall that she told me early on that while endometrial hyperplasia does respond to medication, she didn’t think I’d overcome it with medicine alone (see here for a refresher).  She took responsibility for that today, and apologized.  Medicine isn’t always an exact science.  I was so afraid to believe, and now, it’s time for me to accept my miracle.  She said that of all her patients who have come this far, none have gotten sick again.  I have to continue taking the medicine, but I can handle that.  If it means I won’t get cancer…if it means there’s no risk of me dying on the table during a risky hysterectomy…I’ll do it.  It’s finally over.  I’m not sick anymore.  And it’s finally OK to believe that.

I made the decision very early on to take this journey in a very public manner, and I’ll never regret it.  I did so for two reasons.  Well, three reasons, if I’m being honest.  I love to write, and I’m good at it.  Very good at it.  It’s a catharsis for me, and I love using the written word to spin the stories of my heart and my life, and to share those stories with those who will read and embrace them.  I also wanted to be an advocate for women to take charge of their health care, and to not be neglectful of their bodies like I was for so, so many years.  We’ll never know for certain, but the likelihood is very good that I would never have gotten sick if I had gone for my annual exams and if I had kept on top of my polycystic ovary disease.  What better example than a living, breathing one?  I didn’t want any other woman to risk the loss of her health through carelessness or neglect.  I wanted the men in my life to take a second look at the women they loved, and to press them to make smarter health care decisions and to be more careful with their bodies.  Finally, I knew myself well enough to know that I’d need support in order to make it through.  My amazing husband and family were with me every step of the way, but the prayers and hugs and love and support of one’s friends can’t ever be underestimated.  I figured I’d get one or two, maybe five (tops!) people wishing me well and keeping me in their prayers.  I had no idea the outpouring of love that would come my way.  From phone calls and EMAIL messages to hugs and dinners and yummy desserts being brought to our home to dear friends caring for our daughter so I could be at the hospital for three early surgeries to COUNTLESS posts on Facebook and Twitter expressing love, sharing prayers, and listening and responding when fear and sadness made several days on my journey hard to endure.  I have no way to thank all of you with the limits placed on the human language we speak.  I am living proof of the fact that, as I’ve said many times throughout this journey, there is NOTHING stronger than love.  NOTHING stronger than prayers.  To each and every one of you who have followed my journey and cheered me on and helped to make the hard days more bearable, thank you.  For listening and reading VERY long (sorry!) blog posts and sending up prayers and for laughing with me and loving me, thank you so incredibly much.  I am so unbelievably blessed to have had your love and support.  And I’ll never forget it.

So, I guess that’s it.  The journey’s really over.  Time for me now to accept my miracle.  Thank you for being a tremendous part of that miracle.


D&C, Volume Three…

Hi everyone.  I am horribly late with this blog post and I apologize.  It’s been a crazybusy (read: good) last few days and I am just now slowing down to catch my breath.

Thanks again to everyone for all the love and support leading up to last Thursday’s D&C.  It went incredibly, incredibly well.  No cramping whatsoever.  Very minor nausea that resolved itself with ice chips and crackers.  I was a little wobbly and sleepy when I left the hospital, but after a bagel and a nap, I felt much better and spent the evening shopping and cheering my daughter on at soccer practice.  As the weekend wore on, I continued to movemovemove and feel greatgreatgreat as I did so.  Friday brought with it my first-ever  mammogram, a massage, treating myself to lunch, and a bit of shopping indulgence.  We spent Saturday  doing volunteer work with my daughter (who is working on earning an award from President Obama for community service), and we spent the evening with my in-laws Saturday night.  Today was full of shopping and meal-planning and laundry and cooking (you know, the whole being a mom thing.)  Other than some minor bleeding today (which the doctor on call assured me is normal), everything is going well.  I feel tremendously blessed to be where I am and to be surrounded by a beautiful family and wonderful friends and a doctor and a gynecologic oncologist who are right behind me.  I thanked my doctor Thursday before my surgery for “being my cheerleader,” and she lit up like a Christmas tree.  That’s how I feel.  Unalone and very loved on an intensely personal and intimate journey and surrounded by amazing people rooting for me at every turn.  With that kind of strength and love behind me, I can’t fail.

This has been an interesting road for so many reasons.  Remember at the very beginning of this journey when I was terrified to have my first D&C and was so afraid of what was happening inside me?  SO, so many amazing women in my life came forward with stories of their own D&C procedures, all of which went well.  Many of my girlfriends had undergone multiple D&Cs, and each of them assured me that I would be fine.  I took incredible comfort in their support, and found peace in their assurances.  Three D&Cs later, I’m a textbook case for the procedure.  This tiny little part of me hopes for the opportunity to “pay it forward,” so to speak…to be the one who gives the assurances and who makes the road a little less dark and scary for someone else.  As was the case with the D&Cs, so too now are my girlfriends and female colleagues coming out of the woodwork with incredible stories of their own female health challenges and their hysterectomy journeys.  Since hysterectomy is a real possibility for me, these stories are incredibly strength-giving and make me feel, again, unalone on my road.  Safe, even.  These amazing women, each for their own reasons, underwent this procedure that so terrifies me and they came out just fine.  Better than fine, truthfully.  Fantastic!  These women are thrilled that they had hysterectomies, and their lives are so much richer and happier for it.  Their stories resonate inside me and give me incredible hope.  I realize I am putting the cart before the horse (who knows what the results of the D&C will say?), but it feels incredibly good to know that if this is indeed the next step on my journey, documented proof is out there that I will be just fine.  Better than fine, truthfully.  Fantastic!

In closing, I have to again thank the amazing nurses at Menorah Medical Center for caring for me, for making me laugh, and for making much less scary and bumpy these little jaunts along my journey.  From Amy who got me ready to Mary and Callie who helped find a cooperative vein (hey, your veins would be dehydrated too if you hadn’t had anything to drink since midnight!) and Angie who stayed with me in recovery to Rick (yes, the same Rick from before), my faaaavorite phase II recovery nurse who held my hand and laughedlaughedlaughed with me and wished me well yet again as I left to go home…I am overwhelmingly grateful for the amazing PACU nursing staff at Menorah.  So glad they are a part of our local community.

That’s it in a (bloviating, not really nutshell-ish) nutshell.  I’m doing well.  Trying not to focus on or worry about the results.  Anxious to get back to work next week (hey, you miss two days and you miss a lot at my office!)  I miss snarking and laughing with my boss and colleagues.  I have an audit coming up that I am (so incredibly!) behind on.  This week brings with it two soccer practices, Girl Scouts, our first soccer game, and the annual Daddy-Daugher Dance.  Lots to live for and laugh for and look forward to.  Thanks for loving me through this.  Please don’t stop.  Those results are still coming.  Please pray that they’ll be good.

A Misstep On My Journey…?

Hi guys.  It’s the night before D&C #3 and all’s well here Chez Smith.  Erin is spending the night with a dear family friend.  My amazing husband made me dinner, and now we’re relaxing and enjoying a quiet and peaceful night in.  No worries about tomorrow’s procedure.  It’s all “old hat” now.  Past history (see here and here) gives me comfort, and I know that everything will be fine tomorrow.  I have to be at the hospital at 5:45 (!!!) for my 7:30 surgery, and I’m hoping we’ll be home around noon or so.  I’d like a few hours to regain my balance and sleep off the remaining anesthesia, because Erin has soccer practice tomorrow and I’d like to go.  We’ll see how I’m feeling, I guess.

Over the last several days, I’ve been wondering if I’ve taken a significant misstep on this hyperplasia journey.  Ever since I learned I was sick, my focus has been to keep my uterus.  Rather, to find a way to keep my uterus without developing endometrial cancer.  Hysterectomy is the treatment of choice for women with either type of atypical endometrial hyperplasia (simple or complex), yet I foughtfoughtfought to do all in my power to prevent myself from having to undergo “The Dreaded ‘H’ Word” (that’s a hysterectomy for those of you who are new to this and/or who aren’t uterine savvy).  I pondered the rationality behind my decision, likening my uterus to my gall bladder (“an unnecessary organ which caused me pain…and that I’d have cut out on my own if I could have!”)  I understood that the loss of my uterus wouldn’t make me less of a woman, and I came to terms with the fact that my femininity was so much more than an organ.  Yet, I just…couldn’t…bear the thought of giving it up.  Had you asked me back then, I would have told you that I was perfectly comfortable taking Megace for the rest of my life and consenting to occasional trips back to the operating room for D&Cs to ensure my condition hadn’t worsened.  In these last few days, I’ve had a tremendous change of heart, and I truly think I’ve made a mistake in my emotional response to my condition. Why did I fight so hard to keep this, now-unnecessary, pre-cancerous organ inside me?  Why was it acceptable in my eyes to spend the rest of my life taking a medication with some pretty unsavory side effects and consenting to annual (and expensive) trips to the operating room?  Each little step on this journey has been about making me well.  Giving me my life back.  Helping me and helping the people who love me to move forward.  Wouldn’t I have been smarter to have had the hysterectomy and called it over?  No more worry.  No more waitingwaitingwaiting to potentiallymaybehopefully heal on my own.  No more feeling like I am trapped in an endometrial cage, unable to move forward with my life and focus only on the blessings around me.  Remove the pre-cancerous organ, and the potential for cancer is gone.  I feel so foolish.  I realize that a hysterectomy is inherently risky, especially for someone who is overweight.  And I realize as well that my doctors wanted me to try medication in the hopes of preventing me from needing a hysterectomy.  But I think I was wrong for being so emotionally invested in keeping my uterus.  I convinced myself that the medication would work, and accepted for myself a life of “half knowings” and “always wonderings.”  I don’t want to do this any longer.  I want the rest of my life to begin…NOW.  Without the worry and without having to spend another second (or keystroke!) on hyperplasia.  Or concern.  Or fear.  Or anything uterus-related.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of having a hysterectomy.  In fact, I’m scared to death at the mere idea of it.  But if it will save my life…and give me BACK my life…aren’t I foolish to run from it?  Wouldn’t the discomfort and worry of the procedure be so worth it if I could be here to watch my daughter grow up?  To kiss and laugh with my husband?  To live surrounded by the love and light of my family and my friends?  I feel so incredibly foolish.