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.