My Fatherless Father’s Day

This Father’s Day is going to be different for me. It’s the first time in 46 years that I haven’t had a Daddy here to celebrate.

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Daddy, me and my sister. Summer 1974

My father passed away after a three year battle with cancer, on January 27, 2015, but it feels like only yesterday that he was still here. How is it possible that five months have passed when I think of him every day?

The reality of his passing hits in the most unexpected places. Just heating up the grill automatically brings me back to my dad. We always grilled out for Father’s Day, because his favorite food in the world was a “nice, juicy hamburger, hot off the grill.” I think of him the moment I smell the smoky scent of charcoal in the air and hear the sizzle of the burgers as they’re cooking. (And I’ll always think of him as I load my plate with more French fries than I should.)

I think of him whenever I get a funny or a political e-mail, and then my first thought is always, “Daddy will get such a kick out of this.” Then I’m crushed when I realize that he’s not here to get my messages any more.

I want to call him whenever I have good news, and I always have to think twice about calling him to let him know I got home safely. But I guess my guardian angel already knows that I’m safe.

I thought of him last month as my son graduated from the Fire Academy, and as my nephew graduated from high school. “Papa” was always encouraging them to do their best and to “Study hard!” Education was always so important to him, so it was hard on us for him to not be there to see how his guidance and support had led his grandsons to accomplish their goals.

I felt him last week when my husband and I went to the Georgia coast.  Daddy had a little fish camp there.  It’s nothing fancy, just a place where he could go and relax. As much as I love it, I was filled with dread at the thought of being there for the first time without him, knowing that there would be reminders of him everywhere.  Even something as simple as finding his old sneakers sitting on the floor by the bed drove me to tears. One time, I asked him why he loved it so much, and he replied, “Because I fit in here.”

But, amazingly, this time something else happened there.

I found my peace.

My favorite picture of my dad.  Summer 1970

My favorite picture of my dad. Summer 1970

To me, Daddy was everywhere because it was HIS favorite place. Sitting out on the dock at night, I could feel his kisses from heaven brushing against my cheek as the wind blew the salt air on my face.

And I smiled. Finally, I knew I was Daddy’s girl again.

Living without my dad has been a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and being without him has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m learning how to do it, because as he would say, “Life goes on. We’re only here for a little while, so make the most of it. Be a good person, and live your life well.”

This year, I will be spending Father’s Day without my dad.

But I know that my dad will be spending Father’s Day with his dad, and his Heavenly Father.

And as much as I miss him, I can’t be sad about that.

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I’m Not Walking – I’m Just Running Very Slowly

Saturday was the kind of day that makes you smile.

Dale and I woke up early to participate in a 5k fundraiser for Tripp Halstead, a local child who was severely injured last October when a tree branch fell on him.

We got up around 6:30 AM to begin getting ready. Those of you who know me already know that I am NOT a morning person, and 6:30 comes quickly when you normally go to bed around 1 AM.

Dale gulped some coffee. I shoved a pack of chocolate chip Little Bites muffins down my belly and we headed out the door.

Since I had my stitches out from my Melanoma back in March, my doctor had told me to take it easy on the running because I could still damage my scar for up to a year after surgery. I have been walking on the “dreadmill” and through the neighborhood when I haven’t been worried about melting, but I only got the okay from my doctor to start running again about three weeks ago.

I have competed in nine triathlons and numerous 5k races, but I was about to find out how not being able to run for three months had taken a toll on my body…and my ego.

I knew I would probably be a slow runner so I went to the back of the crowd and waited for the race to start.

The whistle blew. People started moving. Some people were walking, some were jogging. My headset started spitting out my favorite 80’s tunes and I slowly started to run. IMG_6531

Mile one came and went. I looked down at my pedometer. I was running at a pace of 13 minutes per mile. So far, so good.

Mile two came and I noticed that my legs were really getting heavy. Did I somehow contract polio this morning?

What the heck??

Was I carrying $50 in change in my pockets or something? It was getting harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other.

I checked my pedometer again.

Good. At least I was getting close to three miles.

And that’s when it happened.

A rush of people came up from behind me and blew right past me like I was standing still. Two moms were pushing strollers…one with TWINS in it. They were chatting away like they were sitting at a coffee shop while I was gasping for breath and sort of making choking and gurgling sounds. My face was so hot I thought I might spontaneously combust at any moment.

Suddenly, up ahead, I saw it. It was as if the heavens opened up and the sun started to shine down.

It was the golden arch of the finish line.

I picked up the pace. Woo-hoo!!! I was back to being a runner. It took everything I had not to punch myself in the shoulder in a “way to go” fashion. I was so proud of myself!

That is, until a seven-year-old girl with pigtails and pink “Hello Kitty” sneakers flew past me like the finish line was an ice cream truck and she had some dollars to spend.

Yep.

I have some serious training to do.

The Strongest Man In The World

Nope. He’s not lifting cars off trapped people or flying through the universe saving the planet from stray asteroids.

He’s fighting cancer right this very moment.

And he is going to win.

My dad. My superhero.

My father was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood, in December 2011. In May 2012, he underwent a stem cell transplant. In February 2013, it failed.

But that did not stop my dad. He immediately started a clinical trial, which turned out to be too hard on his body. So after being admitted to the hospital last week, he began a 96 hour aggressive chemo treatment to knock the cancer out.

Now, my dad is notoriously stubborn.

My favorite picture of my dad.  Summer 1970

My favorite picture of my dad. Summer 1970

Just ask my mom.

Or my sister.

Or me.

Last week, he refused to go to the emergency room even though he was feeling terrible. (Turns out, he had pneumonia!) The nurse came in and fussed at him for not heading to the hospital sooner, even though we had all begged him to go.

My mother said he sat there and patiently listened to the nurse as she ranted and raved about how if he had waited much longer before coming in, he could have passed the point of them being able to help him.

When she was finished, my father said, “You know, I’m a retired Colonel in the Army. I’ve been chewed out by drill sergeants and superior officers, but ma’am, I must say, YOU are second to none.”

Under normal circumstances, my dad’s stubbornness would get under my skin like a blood-thirsty tick, but being up against this cancerous kryptonite, it has actually come in handy. He is digging his heels in and is not letting the cancer get the best of him.

And I am thankful that he has superhero strength, and stubbornness as well to fight this villain and to get us all through this.

But I’m still wondering…how does he hide his cape under his hospital gown?

Just Like Her Mom

They say if a man wants to know what his future wife will be like, all he needs to do is look at her mother.

That can be good OR bad. Some women might not want to be like their mother, but for me, I hope I’m exactly like my mom.

There is something about moms that make everything okay. I’m 44 years old, but when I feel like I’m going to puke, I want my mom. When something makes me sad? I want my mom. When I have good news?

Okay, first I call my husband, and then I call my mom.

But what if I need to complain about my husband? Who do I call?

Yep.

My mom, who everyone calls “Ninny”.

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, and most of the time it’s completely unintentional. We have always had many different ways to communicate – and not just looks or cryptic sounds. She actually taught us the sign language for “Watch out – Daddy’s about to blow his top” so that we would know without words when Daddy was in a bad mood.

Ninny learned everything from her own wonderful mom. My grandmother, Banma, is probably the sweetest person alive. She is 94 years old and still living on the farm she grew up on, going to the same church she was baptized in, and a friend to everyone she meets.

My mom said that she never heard Banma raise her voice. Clearly, that gene did not flow down to my mother or my sister or me. We have no trouble raising our voice but hopefully we got some of Banma’s sweetness.

Throughout their 52 year marriage, my parents have always been there to support each other. Ninny was a stay at home mom when I grew up, and my father happily worked because he loved his girls and wanted her to be at home with us.

Ever since we found out about my father’s cancer, I have been amazed not only with my father for fighting the cancer so hard, but I am in awe at my mother’s strength. I always knew she was strong, but to be strong enough to care for my dad, as well as her own mother, could easily cause an IronMan to crumble…but not Ninny.

To know how much Ninny is loved and needed, you only have to look as far as this Mother’s Day. I offered to stay with my dad, who has been sick from the chemo treatments, so that my mom could visit Banma for Mother’s Day. But he declined and said “No offense, sweetheart, but I need my Ninny”, and then went on the long drive with her to Mississippi even though he was feeling terrible.

I get it. She can make anything better.

And I thank God every day for her.

When I go to my final resting place, I can only pray that someone will give me the greatest compliment I can imagine.

I hope they’ll say “She was just like her mother.”

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011

Time Marches On

My husband gets so tired of me correcting him when he says how old I am. Yes, I will be 45 years old this year…but I’m not there yet. I’m 44! So don’t say that I’m 45!!

I always joke with him because HE IS 45. I think he just wants to not feel older than I am especially since he is already getting AARP literature in the mail or it could be that when he doesn’t shave his beard he starts to look like Wolverine from x-Men because it’s turning gray.

It’s never seemed to bother him much, however, yesterday afternoon I think he finally understood my frustration with getting older.

Old Man Winter

Old Man Winter

We were in the car heading down to see my parents for the afternoon. I was driving, and Dale was in the passenger seat working on his laptop. Since my dad has been going through chemotherapy, his taste buds have become a little skewed and so we decided to stop at the Varsity and pick up some of their famous “Frosted Orange” drinks. He loves them and they are strong enough for him to taste so I love surprising him with them.

We pulled up to the Varsity and waited in line. When I ordered the drinks through the intercom, I asked the lady taking my order not to fill up the cups to the top. I just wanted them filled up enough so when she put the lid on them, it didn’t squirt out the top of the cup.

Dale just looked at me and said “You sound like Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry Met Sally’. You know how she ordered her food and had a zillion conditions to go with it – “I’ll have the Caesar salad but I don’t want croutons, and I want the dressing on the side”. The lady taking your order is going to think you are a nut.”

So I decided to explain myself to her when we drove up to the window.

“I’m so sorry for being so picky. My dad loves these, and since he is going through chemotherapy, we have to be really careful about not letting anything touch his food, so I didn’t want the cup filled up because I didn’t want it to squish out on your hand when you put on the top.”

She did look at me like I was a nut.

But then she smiled, leaned out the window, looked at Dale and said “Is that your father?”
I choked on my diet coke and some of it ran out of my nose.

Dale leaned over and looked at her, smiled and said, “Uhhhh no. I’m her HUSBAND.”

I couldn’t stop giggling.

She never missed a beat. “What kind of cancer does your dad have? Is he being treated here? I had breast cancer and beat it. I hated chemotherapy. I lost my sense of taste too. And I lost my hair. I’ll say a prayer for him”, she said.

I then thanked her and we drove off.

I giggled some more.

“Doesn’t it stink for someone to think you’re older than you really are?” I asked. I think at that point he understood why I never want to be labeled older than I actually am.

Dale just growled at me.

I remember a quote from “Steel Magnolias” where Dolly Parton said “Time marches on, and sooner or later you realize it’s marching right across your face.”

Yep. Getting older really stinks.

Especially when someone thinks you are your wife’s dad.

The Big C

I am missing a big chunk of my leg this week. No, I didn’t get bitten by a shark or attacked by some criminal with a knife.

I saw my dermatologist.

As many of you know, going to the doctor in general isn’t one of my favorite things to do. It seems like whenever I go to a doctor I end up with something smashed, something violated, or something involving needles or x–rays.

I do not like going to the doctor. I cringe when I hear “This will only hurt for a little bit.”

Seriously?

I don’t want anything to hurt. Ever. Not even for a little bit.

I’ve discovered with age that I seem to be allergic to pain.

Years ago I had a zit on my nose that wouldn’t go away. The more I tried covering it up with makeup, the more it seemed to say “Look at me – I’m not going away!!!”

After about a month of mashing it, I decided to go to the doctor.

He was 150 years old and had glasses so thick that it made his eyeballs look freakishly enormous.

“Hmmmm,” He said. “I think we need to take this off. It’s not a zit. Looks like skin cancer.”

Uhhh, what?

I was only 24 years old. Okay, YES, I had used baby oil and iodine at times to get a tan, and YES, I had gone to the tanning bed when I was younger, but skin cancer? Don’t only old people get skin cancer?

He numbed my nose with a needle that was the size of a railroad tie and felt like it was coming out the back of my head. Then he performed what is called “Mohs” surgery, where they scrape a layer of skin off and then check it for cancer cells. They repeat the process until all of the cancer cells are gone and they have hit clean skin.

He scraped, and scraped, and scraped, and I was afraid I was going to end up with a third nostril.

Finally it was over and there was nothing more that needed to be done. Turns out it was Basal Cell Carcinoma, which wasn’t deadly, but it meant I would need checkups from that point on.

Fast forward 15 years. I’ll admit I became a little lax about going to the dermatologist EVERY year. Who has time for that? My life was too busy.

Then my father was diagnosed with cancer and that changed my thinking.

So I scheduled an appointment with a new dermatologist, this time with someone other than Dr. Kevorkian.

Dr. T is 5’ tall and weighs less than a fifth grader, but she is super sweet and incredibly smart.

She looked me all over and I mean ALL OVER and said “The only thing I’m concerned about is this little mark on your leg.”

“It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I always thought it was a freckle,” I said.

“It’s never changed?”

“No.”

“Well, if it were ME, I’d recommend getting it removed. Since you’re not having any problems with it, it won’t be covered under insurance (of course not!) and will be considered an elective excision but I’d do it if I were you.”

Elective excision? That’s me ASKING to be stuck with needles and cut on?

Hmmm. I’m gonna have to think about that.

So my husband and I talked about it and he said that we’d better be safe than sorry so we scheduled it on the calendar.

The day of the excision, I took a Xanax because as I stated earlier, I am allergic to needles. I also doubled up on my blood pressure medicine. Okay, okay. I might have doubled up on my Xanax also.

She circled the spot on my leg, which was about the size of my pinkie fingernail. The circle, however, was about the size of a golf ball.

Then she pulled out a needle.

“This is only going to hurt for a second.”

Shut. Up.

It did only hurt for a second. But then she stuck it in again, and it hurt for another second. And as she stuck me with the needle ALL THE WAY AROUND THE CIRCLE – about 25 times and I felt it EACH TIME. So for me, that “only hurt for a second” actually lasted over 25 seconds. Just a second. Yeah right.

I couldn’t watch. I stared and focused on Dale and squeezed the blood out of his hand.

Finally it was over. I went home and went to sleep.

Two days later I was allowed to remove the bandages and finally got a good look at it.

Holy cow. When I said golf ball size, I didn’t realize I meant golf ball size deep too. It looked like Hannibal Lector had taken some of my leg for a skin suit.

And the stitches? Clearly, my doctor has never studied plastic surgery. Was she blindfolded when she stitched me up?

My leg looked like Frankenstein’s neck.photo(10)

However…

My irritation quickly dissipated when she called to say that she had “good news and bad news,” which is something you NEVER want to hear from your doctor. (“The good news is we were able to perform your lobotomy. The bad news is that you were in here for an ingrown toenail.”)

For me, the good news was that she got it all.

The bad news? It was Melanoma.

Oh. Dear. God.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified of a doctor in my whole life. Not even with one brandishing a needle at me.

Melanoma? No, it’s not a country in Europe.

Wow. All of those days out in the sun with no sunscreen on had finally caught up with me.

But I got lucky. God answered my hysterical prayers and my promises to feed the children in Calcutta, never miss church on Sunday again, and correct all my wrongdoings if He would let me be okay.

And even though it’s 37 degrees outside, I am heading to the drugstore shortly to buy sunscreen, which I will probably start bathing in.

Just to be safe.

(Friends, if you have not had your skin checked recently, please, PLEASE do so. Did you know that Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer but is one of the easiest to treat if caught early? And even though I write blogs to talk about these things and try to be funny about it, please do not ever skip seeing your doctor. One rough day isn’t worth the consequence of not going.)