My Breast Friend

By: Katie Austin

There are moments in life that define you. They make you stop dead in your tracks. They make you reevaluate who you are and where you are going. Sometimes you can see it coming and other times it’s like you were hit over the head, knocking you to your knees.

That moment for me was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2010.

What I remember most are the incremental moments along my cancer journey.

The day I was told I had the “C” word.

The first weekend after being diagnosed before starting my rounds with the doctors, I felt like I was cramming for a test. I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything they were going to tell me.

The day I had my port placed in case my veins didn’t cooperate. It ended up being one of the best decisions I made, as chemo sent my veins packing. They are just now coming back to life.

The first day of my chemotherapy treatments. I remember sitting in the waiting room. It felt like forever before I was called back. My stomach was in knots. I tried to joke with family to keep my sanity through it all. Then I looked across the room and saw other patients sitting there waiting for their turn. It was quiet in the waiting room, but as we looked at each other and smiled we were giving each other support as we entered into the unknown.

It was during my treatments that I met my breast friend. No, I spelled it correctly. That is what she and I began calling ourselves. We were on a similar treatment plan with her being a treatment ahead of me.

Breast Friends – Katie and Brandy

Breast Friends – Katie and Brandy

We were sitting next to each other, hooked up to the machines that were providing us our medicine. Ellen Degeneres was on TV and it was at the start of the show where music plays while Ellen dances in the audience. Little did we know at the time that we were dancing in our chairs to the music. We looked at each other and laughed. It was in that moment that I knew we would become fast friends.

It was such a relief to me to have someone there that could relate to what I was going through. She was ahead of me, so I would ask her questions to see how she was feeling and what did or did not help her. My favorite thing that we would do is race to the bathroom 🙂  I know – probably not the best place to do that, but we did and we would laugh. As soon as I saw her motioning to get up out of her chair, it was on! It was like we were the only two there and we found ways to laugh through the process. We were there for several hours, so we made the best of it.

Recently, Brandy’s cancer has come back. I am crying even as I write this as I miss my breast friend and wish that I could be there to comfort her as she goes through another battle. I know that she is strong and WILL beat her cancer!  She is the reason why I am writing this blog post; I want to dedicate it to her and others that are fighting cancer. I ask those reading this to post positive comments and to pray for them! Prayer is so powerful and I know that together we can give those fighting cancer the strength to keep moving forward!

For those battling cancer, don’t give up!  Keep fighting and know that you become a survivor the first day you start fighting back! Keep moving forward even if the steps you are taking are small. I will continue to pray for you and hope one day that we will find a cure to send cancer packing.

Brandy, I love you, my breast friend, and will continue to pray for you!  You are an amazing wife, mother, daughter and friend to so many. I hope to see you soon and know that we are here for you!

Tracking With Tile

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“Lose less of everything, including your valuable time.”

Tile To an aneurysm survivor spending way too much time looking for things lately, Tile’s promise sounded too good to resist. So I bought a four-pack.

The neuropsych testing I did at the end of my Shepherd Pathways rehabilitation didn’t indicate that I had any memory loss or issues, but as I got back to work and busy with the details of life, I started having some issues. I lost a prescription within days of picking it up. I misplaced everything from my keys to my favorite lipstick. And I lost my sunglasses right before a big outdoor concert. Because even a few extra minutes on the way out the door will knock me off schedule, I knew it was time for action. Enter the multi-pack of Tiles.

A Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker that helps find your lost stuff in seconds via an easy-to-use app. The tiles don’t work with everything; only those things you can attach it to or place it inside of, like keys, a wallet or gym bag. I used mine for my keys, remote control and sunglasses case. I used it to find something for the first time this evening, when I couldn’t find my remote. Beep, beep, beep: it was on the floor by my bed.

If only Tiles were really tiny and cheap, I would put them everywhere! My shoes, my prescriptions, my password book. But alas, they aren’t, so I’ll stick with them on the usual stuff like my keys and sunglasses. In the meantime, I’m working hard to become a little better organized.

What items do you often misplace? Have you learned to remember where you put them, and if so, how? What is your go-to tip for getting organized?

American Girl World

By: Leah Prescott

A few people have recently asked me about American Girl dolls. I have been a fan of the brand since the 80’s when I first laid eyes on a glossy “Pleasant Company” catalog. I loved that the stories and dolls were linked together with authentic outfits and accessories. Even though I didn’t own my first doll until age 12, I fell in love with the books and the magical world so much sooner. In the early days of AG, there were only three dolls: Kirsten, Samantha and Molly. They represented three different eras in our country’s history and to this day I remember their stories (and the history woven throughout each book) with so much fondness. I re-read some of those books 20 times!

American Girl dolls

Later in the 90’s, the company evolved into “American Girl” and the line of books expanded into dozens of titles, from cookbooks to mysteries to historical guides. Once the Girl of Today dolls were launched, options were expanded and the brand gained popularity. These toys aren’t just for kids. Now American Girl fans of all ages build entire miniature worlds for their doll collections and proudly upload them for the cyber world to admire on YouTube. Book clubs, fan forums, DIY sites and doll trading groups abound.

As a mom, I’ve been thrilled to introduce the book series to my girls and we have enjoyed reading them together. The books contain the perfect mix of fact and fiction and they don’t sugar-coat reality too much. American Girl has gently introduced my children to war, poverty, death, and child hunger. It’s opened up a lot of valuable conversations for us and sparked interest in historical events that otherwise might not have grabbed our attention.

SamanthaIf you are new to American Girl, it can be pretty overwhelming. I feel that it’s always best to start with the books. The AG world can be quite a money pit, but libraries are well stocked with most of the titles. Explore some of the books with your daughter and see if any particularly appeal to her. Relate the books to places you have visited or people you know. Then consider your first doll purchase as an investment. The dolls are expensive, yes, but they are very nice quality and can even be saved as heirlooms. I still have my first American Girl doll and she is in lovely shape. In fact, she could be sold today for more than she cost in the 90’s.

My twins just turned nine and they love playing with their dolls. They build tons of crafts for them (think upcycling milk cartons into doll-sized lemonade stands), write stories starring their favorite characters, and collect random miniature items as doll “treasures.” I love that American Girl helps them savor every bit of childhood as they grow (far too quickly) away from it. I love that it teaches them to value our country’s history. I love that it helps us relate to each other. I really love that American Girl stays true to its original purpose: celebrating girlhood.

Not “The Talk” But a Conversation

By: Lara Winburn

The talkOctober is “Let’s Talk Month” and when I say talk I mean, yes, that talk, the awkward-for-most-everyone-participating talk. But the truth is, it isn’t just a talk – it is a conversation. Now, I do not remember much of “the talk” when I was growing up. Maybe I have blocked it out of my head or learned everything from Salt-N-Pepa, who knows? One friend said her mom never had “the talk” with her. She just handed over a book for her to read and then suggested she pass it down to her younger sister one day. “The talk” has had parents and kids blushing for years, but I am willing to blush for good reason.

I work for the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and because of that there are a lot of office conversations that are not your typical water cooler talk. (On my first day here, I heard the word “sex” enough times to make even the most comfortable person cringe in a staff meeting.) But that’s our business. We are in the business of preventing teen pregnancy and we have to talk about real issues – and yes, that includes love, sex, and relationships. Our mission is to improve the health and economic wellbeing of individuals, communities and the state of South Carolina by preventing teen pregnancy. We work with youth serving organizations, teachers, counselors and parents to implement appropriate teen pregnancy programs. These programs educate young people about waiting to have sex (the only 100% reliable birth control) and empowers teens to think about love, relationships and IF they are going to have sex – are they protecting their bodies, their hearts, and their futures?

I have little kids, so NO, I am not having “the talk” with them about sex, but I have started the conversation. Part of the conversation that starts even with my sweet toddler is knowing about good, healthy relationships. I want them to understand all kinds of love: between mommy and daddy, between friends, and my endless love for them. I want them to know about bodies all sizes, shapes and colors, and appreciate how wonderful and beautiful and strong and important our bodies are. Unfortunately, we live in a world where I need my children to know the difference between a “right” touch and a “wrong” touch. Do I fumble through this? Absolutely. Do I hope they never need this information? Hope is not a strong enough word but I do it all the same! This is all part of that early conversation.

If you start this now, October 2015 –  Let’s Talk Month, then even if you are talking to a toddler like me, the conversation has begun. In 2 years, 5 years and even in 10 years I know this conversation will change drastically but they already know that I am here. I am here to talk.

You can stop blushing now, too.

If you need some age appropriate talking tips, visit

The 21st Century Baby Book

By: Brady Evans

My child’s baby book is actually an email account. When I was pregnant with him I secured his name as an account with my email provider and began writing him short notes. Now, 18 months since his day of birth, I imagine his inbox is filled with hundreds of short notes, images, and videos documenting his life.

Letters to my son

That’s what this world has become.  Paper baby books aren’t a thing much anymore, I imagine It wasn’t much of a thing even in my infancy. My book is only partially filled out from my days as a baby. We all organize and live by our phones, so it made so much sense to me to be able to document milestones and memorable events via my phone rather than sitting down and filling in the blanks on some printed template. What if I want to share things that there are no spaces for in the book? What if there are spaces in the book for things I don’t know?

Letters to my son

I haven’t yet imagined the day when I will give him the credentials to sign into the email account. And it may be painful – after all, the account is filled with memories from loved ones who may have passed on by that time. And when I give him the credentials he may not even care to sit down and take the time to read through the overstuffed inbox. But I know when he’s in my situation – hopefully with a child of his own on the way – he’ll wonder about his childhood and this is the perfect way for us to document it.

Letters to my son

Flooded with Emotions


By: Chaunte McClure

Flood. Breach. Barricade. Boil water advisory. After about two days, I couldn’t take hearing these words and others associated with them any longer. Following the historic rainfall earlier in October, this was common language in the Palmetto State. All eyes were on us as news of South Carolina’s devastating floods spread nationwide.

I would have never imagined seeing houses and businesses, in some cases, with water nearly to their rooftops. And I certainly didn’t think it would happen just a few hundred yards from me. But it did. Right here in Columbia, S.C.

Photo credit: Chris Brathwaite

Photo credit: Chris Brathwaite

After finally falling asleep that Sunday morning, I awoke to get ready for early morning service as I normally do. I knew we were expecting a few inches of rain, so I turned on the TV to get a weather update. As I watched, I was silently contemplating whether I’d be going anywhere and finally I asked my husband if he thought we should go to church. He said yes, so I said well, we’ll ride together today. (It usually takes one of us longer to get dressed than the other (Ahem!), so we drive separately sometimes. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m the slow one.) Then something the news anchor said caught my attention: The first floor of an apartment complex flooded. The name rang a bell because the apartments are in walking distance from our neighborhood. I repeated what I heard to my husband because he was still trying to take advantage of the extra 15 minutes of sleep before he really needed to get going. At that point it was obvious that we weren’t leaving home because even if we had, chances are, we wouldn’t have made it back.

Now we were wide awake, gazing at the TV, shocked at what we were hearing and seeing. As time passed, we saw: families being rescued from their homes by boat, cars floating in water, a Title Max business about to cave in from being inundated with water, and a portion of Decker Boulevard and Garners Ferry Road flooded.

Social media was abuzz with more images, videos and the #scflood hashtag. I started receiving text messages: worship services are canceled, neighbor’s house flooded, turn to the news, checking on you, and let’s pray together. The texts, phone calls, and inbox messages continued throughout the day and into the next.

For days, there was round-the-clock flood news coverage and I eventually had to turn the TV off. It was becoming stressful, plus I had cabin fever. I think on Wednesday we ran a couple of errands and on our way back home, we forgot about a road closure that was part of our usual route home. We detoured through a neighborhood, honestly just following the cars ahead of us. What I saw next took me over the edge. It was more compelling than any news story I’d seen – and I saw some great stories and professional news coverage. We drove through a neighborhood that was affected by the flood. After passing about three houses on one particular street, I lost it. My emotions overtook me after seeing pile after pile of people’s belongings on the curb. A yellow sofa where a family probably sat and watched TV together. A washer and dryer that a mom or dad once used to do laundry. A water-stained brown leather recliner where someone, perhaps, watched Sunday night football or read a good book. A coffee table where family photos were probably displayed. And volunteers, homeowners and contractors were still clearing out flood-damaged homes. My heart ached for those families and countless other flood victims.

Photo Credit: Chris Brathwaite

Photo credit: Chris Brathwaite

I can’t imagine the stress that victims are experiencing but I do know that God will comfort them during and after the flood. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Whether going through a natural or spiritual disaster, never allow it to wash out your faith. The same God who provided for you before will provide for you again. When a dam breaks in your life and you’re flooded with troubles, like David, find strength in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6).

The loss, disappointment, and heartache can become overwhelming, but here is hope, and that hope is in Jesus Christ. Yes, we are South Carolina strong, and storms like this should lead us to be God strong – strong in our faith.

Finding My Voice

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

By now, you know the story of my ruptured brain aneurysm. I nearly died. I also lost four months to hospitalization and rehabilitation. I have a new outlook on life and confidence in Speech_bubblemyself. And I also have a new voice. It’s softer and raspier, not quite what I’d call sexy, especially at the end of the day.

Upon my arrival at the hospital, I was intubated to facilitate my breathing. I had a trach the entire month I was hospitalized in Columbia, and I kept the trach in as I was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation. The first week, I apparently coughed out my trach, and the decision was made to leave it out. Until I started making funny sounds called stridor, and they called in an ENT doc. He was able to determine that my vocal cord had scar tissue, and he scheduled surgery to remove.

It was a painful surgery. When I woke up and for days after, it felt like someone had taken a weed eater to my throat. He inserted another trach, which was larger than the first one. It tickled the back of my throat and pretty much constantly triggered my gag/cough reflex. Seems like I was always either coughing or vomiting, or a combination of both.

My trach was removed in late June, right before I came back to Columbia. I was glad because he originally said I would have it in when I came home. The result was a voice that wasn’t much louder than a whisper. I worked with a speech therapist at Pathways, but my voice was still quiet when we got back to Columbia.

Pathways recommended that I continue speech therapy in Columbia. It took us a while to find one who worked with adults, but we finally did. She had me working to speak in “confidential voice” to reduce the stress on my healing vocal cords. Last week, she and I went to an ENT, who did a procedure to examine my vocal cords. (Another tube down the nose – UGH!)

The ENT detected some nerve damage in my vocal cords. She said it was either damaged by the aneurysm or during the intubation. She made some recommendations to my speech therapist and said that I should have a fuller voice within a year… A year? I was hoping that she’d say something sooner.

For now, I am avoiding situations that require me to talk a lot (which is hard as I have a lot to say!) and/or loudly. Restaurants are hard for me because my voice is so soft that it’s hard to be heard. The phone is hard for me; it’s harder to control my breath when I’m talking on the phone, and I end up sounding choppy.

My speech therapist gave me exercises to do twice daily, exercises that strengthen the vocal cords. I’m also practicing breathing through my diaphragm. There is a great app available only in the Apple Store, so I bit the bullet and bought an iPad. It makes it a lot easier to do my exercises.

I started this post a few weeks ago. Thankfully, I’ve made some progress since starting it. My voice isn’t what it used to be, and it’s far from perfect, but progress nonetheless. And that is a good thing.

Proud to Be a South Carolinian

By: Leah Prescott

I have lived in South Carolina my entire life. I have had a very blessed life, but I’m going to be completely honest with you: It has never occurred to me to be proud that I am a South Carolinian. I’ve been proud to be an American, proud to be Christian, proud to be a wife, a mom, a friend. This last week has fully changed my perspective.

SC Flood

SC Flood

This week, my heart is full and I am bursting with pride for my birth state. I suddenly feel I am living in the very best part of America. To those of you who haven’t followed the events, we have suffered historic rainfalls that have devastated our state. Roads have collapsed, dams burst, and buildings have crumbled. Beyond the initial rainfall, homes continue to flood a week later from the shifts of water as officials work to control the overage. Homes are being destroyed and there is no way to save them. Lives have been lost and families still search for loved ones that are missing as the waters recede. It’s been jaw-dropping to watch the devastation in an area completely unprepared for flooding of this magnitude. Knowing what my neighbors have been going through has broken my heart this week.

SC Flood

Now, to get to the joyful part. Get ready, because this is some good stuff.

I have seen unconditional love, boundless generosity, and Christ-like servant-hood like I have never seen before. I can’t even begin to tell all the stories that have been popping up across the Midlands and beyond of amazing rescues and sacrificial gifts. Victims were terrified and stranded. But help came, and it came with a force stronger than the rushing waters. Strangers helping strangers, rescuers laying down their lives, artisans and businesses pulling out all the stops to meet the needs of Columbia. From mega-donations by huge organizations to families cooking in their own kitchens for the first-responders, it seems like the entire city has contributed.

SC Flood Relief

Early in the crisis, I joined a Facebook group called “Midlands Flood Assistance” which quickly grew to well over two thousand members. As quickly as a need appears, there are dozens responding with ways to help. I’m blown away. I am so incredibly proud to be a South Carolinian today. I truly can’t imagine living anywhere else. We have a long way to go as we recover from this, but we will make it. Thank you to all who have helped; I’ll truly be thankful my entire life on behalf of my home town. What an amazing place to call home.

Food for SC Flood Relief

If you have been affected by the flooding in SC, please know my prayers are with you. And my prayers fly up with those of thousands and thousands of others. That’s a lot of prayer-power, people. God Bless South Carolina! If you would like to give to the relief efforts in the wake of this historic flood, you might look into Samaritan’s Purse or Harvest Hope Food Bank.


By: Lara Winburn

Columbia was not supposed to be my home. I grew up in the Upstate, went to Clemson, married a fellow Tiger and don’t even look particularly good in garnet. But here I am 11 years later.

Our bridge

Our bridge

Over the weekend, the rains came down and the floods came up. The bridge closest to our house simply disappeared. Trees around us fell to the ground, the soil so wet that they just tipped over, roots and all. Friends who I hold dear and have collected here in this town suffered devastating loss. They swam away from their homes even though they were never really waterfront before. Friends I don’t know well (more the wave-to-at-Publix variety) have left their homes barely saved by boats. The stories of devastation are too much to bear sometimes, but there is another story too.

The aftermath

The aftermath

In the days since, all I have seen has been warm and loving neighborly assistance. We are new to our neighborhood (hence my absence from the blog), but Sunday night as we all feared evacuation and the creak of falling trees, we gathered in one kitchen. I watched as a full meal for a dozen neighbors suddenly, out of thin air, appeared. Straight loaves and fishes. Once it seemed the threat had passed for us, I gathered in my cow’s neighborhood, one of the worst hit in floodmaggeden.

There, I have witnessed men ripping their neighbors’ houses apart with their bare hands. My husband and his friends have emptied houses, all worldly possessions covered in something that can only be described as insulation/drywall mud (because the ceilings gave way and the insulation ended up on the floor). We have done loads of laundry in an effort to preserve everything from winter coats to smocked dresses that still had a chance against that sludge. We have spent hours delivering lunch, dinner, cold drinks, and the occasional beer to groups of helpers- their sole purpose to serve the need…whatever that need may be. Donations poured in. We mentioned we were making sandwiches or hot dogs or lasagna to serve to those whose stove was now sitting on the side of the road, and the deliveries rolled in. “I can bring salad, I can bring bread, I can watch all 11 kids,” were the words that rung out. As we walked these streets, armed with nothing more to offer than a cold drink or a sandwich, we were called “a blessing.” We encountered gracious families who had lost everything and were watching years’ worth of photographs dry on their lawn. With a smile and a thank you, those same people would point to other homes and ask, “Would you make sure they got some?” just as concerned for their neighbors as themselves.

The aftermath

A lasagna run

I tell you all of this to say, we were not alone. This was the norm. This is what the masses were doing to serve their neighbors and town – the people of Columbia and the people of South Carolina together.

I know this is not an unusual tale. We have all seen it on Facebook and even the nightly news. But this is not a story that gets old. Community should be celebrated again and again.

And with all of this, I know these are my people, my neighbors. This is my tribe. This is my town. And this is my home.

Why Drama Should Be Taught in Every School

By: Shannon Boatwright

Any time I hear of a school that does not have a drama department, my heart aches. Literally. In a lot of cases, school districts do not recognize the incredible benefits of the arts OR they simply do not have the funding to hire a drama teacher OR, to be honest, they don’t have enough sense to hire the “right” professional for the job. Being a drama teacher, arts integration teaching artist, performer, producer, director and huge drama-312318_1280supporter/lover of the arts, this is a hot button for me. Research has proven that the arts are a huge asset to ANY student, no matter what age. And drama, in particular, covers such a priceless span of subjects that any and every one can benefit from its riches. Meaning, the span of knowledge and experience that comes with the world of drama can truly improve any individual’s life, no matter what they want to be when they grow up or what profession they’re already engaged in.

I’ve done a lot of research on this; not to mention, every day that I teach, I see firsthand the benefits of drama being experienced and soaked up by my students. I’ll let the documents and quotes speak for themselves. Please take the time to read them, share them with your schools, your peers, and the leaders in your communities. Take note of the schools and organizations that do provide the arts on some level and see how those involved benefit from it. With the right teachers, instructors and leaders, all those involved with the arts will benefit, grow, and expand their minds and their hearts on some level! (Key word being the “right” teachers, instructors and leaders; those who are actually educated, trained and qualified to teach drama or any of the fine arts.)

This fabulous article on What Drama Education Can Teach Your Child touches on some fabulous points!

Some highlights include:


Gai Jones’, a theater educator with over forty years of experience, work has been recognized by the American Alliance for Theater and Education, the Educational Theater Association, and the California State Senate (among others).

According to Jones, Theater addresses the skills which benefit children’s education and development in five general areas: physical development/kinesthetic skills, artistic development /drama and theater skills, mental development/thinking skills, personal development/intra-personal skills, and social development/interpersonal skills.”

Academic gains aren’t the only benefits. There are the obvious ones: improved self-confidence, better public speaking skills, but Jones says students show other gains as well, such as the “ability to work with an ensemble in cooperative ventures” and the “ability to work through consensus and differences or obstacles to achieve a goal.” She points out that a play requires students to follow a time line, to use self-discipline, and to accept feedback. Studying theater can be a great starting point for careers such as teaching, law, and politics, not to mention broadcasting and performing. And the ability to speak confidently in front of a group is a boon for any career.


As a middle school drama teacher, I personally have had students start my class, come to me the first day and say, “Mrs. Shannon, I’m not comfortable getting in front of people, I’m shy and I don’t want to have to do anything in front of the class!” I always respond by telling the student not to worry, that I’ll never make them do something they don’t want to and that we’ll work together as we move forward. This relieves that intense stress they have and helps to lessen their fears. By the end of the first week or two, that same student is participating and doing things in front of the class. It never fails. Seriously. And I’ve had just about every kind of student, from a wide range of special needs students to the severely shy. Due to the way I set up and lead my classes, the students start to feel comfortable with each other, loosen up and then start having so much fun that they don’t realize how much they’re learning and that they’re conquering their fear of being in front of others. It’s a lovely thing to witness and be a part of. My number one goal with my classes is to help instill confidence in my students. And because I teach drama, I can do this.

The following link is a one-page list of the benefits of drama education. It says, “Research reveals the positive impact of drama on a student’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.”

Why drama? Here’s another fabulous link to check out:

An incredible document written by Sandra S. Ruppert and published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in collaboration with the Arts Education Partnership: “How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement”.

The joy of the arts is that they can be integrated into every subject. In a perfect educational world, every school would have fine arts programs; and not just chorus, band and visual arts. We need to include drama into the curriculum. In fact, arts integration should be a part of every school’s curriculum. Students and teachers would only benefit; there are no negative aspects whatsoever, only the deepening of understanding. A perfect educational world that utilizes the arts may never be possible but we can at least create awareness. To those who recognize the benefits of, engage in and truly support the arts, bravo to you! And thank you. 🙂

Enjoy this short video!