Every Story Counts

By Rachel Sircy

online-marketing-hIgeoQjS_iE-unsplashI know that I’ve written many times about how celiac disease affected me before I was diagnosed. The symptoms were all over the place, and no doctor seemed to be able to put the clues together to come up with what was wrong with me. I experienced no digestive issues for most of my life. The symptoms were mostly things like forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, joint pain, and debilitating fatigue. I developed stomach and intestinal issues during my late high school and early college years. It was only after the gastric symptoms – the bloating, the reflux, and the extreme pain I experienced right after eating (which kept me from eating more than about a cup of any given food at once) – became unbearable that a gastroenterologist looked at me and said, “I think I know what’s wrong with you.” Only people who have waited years for a diagnosis know what a blessing it is to finally hear those words.

I don’t know exactly how my mother felt all those years that she looked at me, knowing something was wrong, but not knowing what it could be. Of course, my mother turned out to be a celiac herself. I think there was always a kinship between my mom and me because we were both sick with something we couldn’t name and that, in fact, we weren’t always sure was real. I remember one time, in particular, telling her that I didn’t feel well. She asked me what I meant, and when I told her that I didn’t know, I just felt bad, she shook her head knowingly. It was as if we both understood that we didn’t have the language to talk about the ways we could feel our bodies failing us sometimes. She always believed that the sickness that she felt was the same sickness that I felt, and she was right about that.

She was wrong about what the sickness was, though. She’d been told all her adult life that all of her health problems stemmed from low iron levels. No doctor could tell her why she was anemic. Doctors have a word for when they’ve thrown up their hands and can’t figure something out, it’s idiopathic. I recoil from that word every time I hear it or see it written. If a body is malfunctioning, there is always a reason. That’s my opinion anyway. My mother’s anemia turned out to be only a symptom of her illness: celiac disease. The borderline anemia I had experienced from early childhood turned out to have the same cause.

I keep sharing my story because I believe it’s important for people to know what celiac disease can look and feel like. Raising awareness will get more sick people diagnosed. And that is why I found this story from the New York Times Parenting section so compelling. It is the story of actress Casey Wilson and her oldest son, whose depression, lethargy, broken leg, seizure, and apparent autism all turned out to be symptoms of the same underlying problem: celiac disease. The story is both terrifying and hopeful. Casey’s son, then under four years old, was too young to be able to tell his mother that anything was wrong with him, but Casey and her husband kept watching and finally found a doctor who was able to connect the dots and give them those incredible words: “we have a diagnosis.” And though her journey to her son’s diagnosis was something out of a parent’s nightmare, her son has experienced an amazing recovery just by following a gluten-free diet.

If you have a story of diagnosis, for any disease, (particularly one that’s tricky to pin down, like an autoimmune disease) I would encourage you to share it in whatever way you can. You never know who might be listening, watching or reading. Your story may give hope and much-needed information to someone out there who is still struggling with an inexplicable illness.

For those whose lives or loved ones may be affected by celiac disease, there are many outlets for you to find information and to share information, but I would recommend checking out the Celiac Foundation’s website at celiac.org. You can find out information about celiac disease and gluten-free living, sign up to participate in clinical trials (in certain areas of the country), join the iCeliac patient registry, take part in their student ambassador program and even share your story with Congress.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

by Tina Michelle Cameron

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Gold is the color representing childhood cancer. How I wish that neither of these would exist. Cancer shouldn’t exist—for anyone – adults or children. This statement is coming from a woman who worked for 25 years as an adult oncology nurse. I would love to have to find a different field of nursing to work in – this would mean, cancer doesn’t exist. But, unfortunately, this is not the case.

Image 2Many people think childhood cancer is rare. But, each day in the United States, 43 families will hear the words parents should never hear: “your child has cancer.” It is the number one disease killer of children in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death (after accidents) in children ages 5-14. This means that every two minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. This is an average of 300,000 kids worldwide being diagnosed each year—does this sound rare to you? This is unacceptable. Something must change. We need to demand more for these precious, innocent children.

I have listed the seven most common types of pediatric cancers. Leukemia is the number one cancer in children followed by Rhabdomyosarcoma, Wilms’ Tumor, Neuroblastoma, Lymphoma, Retinoblastoma, and Brain/Spinal Cord Tumors.

According to the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer (CAC2)* in 2014, of the $4.9 billion budget of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), only four percent went to research for childhood cancers. So, exactly how much is 4%– 4% of a dozen donuts is half a donut; 4% of an 8-hour night of sleep is 19.2 minutes and 4% of a $50,000 salary is $2,000.

Image 3Are you shocked? Has your mouth fallen open yet after reading that? Mine too. Were you also aware that since 1980, there have only been 3 new drugs approved for pediatric cancer treatment? In addition, only 4 new drugs approved for both pediatric and adult cancer treatment. These children are receiving adult-strength dosages to treat their cancers. The NCI needs to put childhood cancers as a higher priority as well as pharmaceutical companies. Many adult cancers receive private funding, this is not the case for pediatric cancers.

Parents are terrified of losing their child to this horrible disease, but must also still deal with life—work, other children at home, financial worries, as well as watching their child be sick with nausea/vomiting, pain, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss and other side effects from their treatments. Children that survive cancer often face lifelong problems from their treatments. These problems can range from breathing problems and difficulty walking to sight, hearing and heart issues. Many of these children can become traumatized from everything they go through. So, even though the treatments are over, their journey is still not over. They will have the fear of it returning.

Image 1Parents should not worry about losing their job, their home, their car or getting behind on bills because of the financial burden that cancer treatments cost. Many parents must create a GoFundMe page, so they can stay with their child in the hospital or be with them for their lengthy treatments. This should not be. We as a nation need to stand up for these children and do better. We need to ensure more research funding goes to these children. They deserve more than 4%.

*Credit for cancer statistics given to Coalition Against Childhood Cancer and the National Cancer Institute.

Delivering Happiness – A Second Time!

By Maddie Shumpert

I was blessed to welcome my second daughter, Riley, into the world earlier this summer. As a second-time parent, I felt a little more prepared, informed and ready to grow our family than perhaps I did the first time around – and that’s part of why I chose to deliver my baby at Lexington Medical Center.

My older daughter Parker was born at LMC four years ago and we had a wonderful experience. So, when we were getting ready to welcome our second child, I had fond memories of the first birth experience but wanted to make sure I considered all my options. I am actually a nurse at a different hospital so, in many ways, it made more sense for me to deliver there. But I knew that LMC had just opened their new tower with an entirely new Labor & Delivery area and Mother Baby nursery area and was interested in what that offered.

We opted to take a tour of the new North Tower and were completely blown away by the new facilities. The rooms seemed much larger and more accommodating for our family. But what was most impressive and was a real factor in our decision was how kind and welcoming the LMC staff was to us. From the moment we stepped in the door, we saw smiling faces who made us feel at home and welcomed. In addition, I’m lucky to have a few friends as LMC employees. They had been part of my first delivery, which was an awesome experience, so I was looking forward to having them be a part of this one too.

Delivery teamAs my scheduled delivery date drew closer, we had lots to prepare and a little bit of anticipation, because we had kept the gender a surprise. But I genuinely was excited to deliver my baby at LMC. I delivered Riley via a scheduled C-section with Dr. Garrick, who rearranged her schedule to accommodate the shifts of my friends, so they were able to join us again. The entire LMC team made my c-section delivery very special and as comfortable as possible. After delivery, the nursing staff was like a part of our family, helping to capture images of this incredible moment where my best friend was able to tell us that we had another daughter. That’s how we got this amazing photo, with this awesome clear drape, of me and my best friend just moments after Riley was born.

clear drapeOne of the other main differences in this second delivery was the skin-to-skin experience that I was able to have with Riley. Once she was born, she really never left my side, and the nursing team made that possible. We were able to bond immediately through that experience and I will always cherish that special time.

My experience at LMC was truly the best delivery I could have hoped for and was such a special beginning for our daughter’s life. I am so grateful for all the care and attention we received!

Life After the Big D

By June Headley-Greenlaw

Statistics say that 40-50% of first marriages will end in divorce.  Unfortunately, I was part of that statistic.  I was married to the man I now jokingly refer to as my starter husband for nearly 20 years.  When that marriage expired, it was a very scary time in my life and the lives of my children.  I had been married since I was 20 years old and didn’t know what my identity would be outside of that marriage.  There was no abuse or anything else that you’d think would cause a divorce, we simply stopped loving each other the way married people should.

Our friends used to ask us how we had stayed married so long.  My then-husband used to reply that it was because we just never wanted a divorce at the same time.  It wasn’t because we never had hard times.  We did!  We were both going thru college while working and later raising children.  We struggled frequently.  We were both blessed with loving families and lots of friends.  We made it through – until we didn’t.  There just came the point in time when we no longer felt supported or loved by each other, and something told me it was time to start over.  I believed it was whispers from God.

I won’t tell you it was easy because that would be a big fat lie!  I moved into my best friend’s house for a few months and slept on what we now affectionately call “the divorce couch”.  She lived on the same street so the kids could walk back and forth.  I looked for a new home close to the one we owned so the kids, then 6 and 9, could be close to both of us.  I found one that was a foreclosure and needed a lot of work.  New carpet, new appliances, etc.  the house had 11 different colors on the walls from orange to black.  I vividly remember many friends and family members with rollers and brushes in their hands and my nearly 80-year-old Uncle taking up the carpet and hauling it outside.  But on Thanksgiving, all of those people had commitments.  Alone in this new empty house, I turned up the music and rolled and cried and rolled and cried.  The whole time praying that God would give me the strength to get through it and help me find a way to explain to my children that this was necessary.  I was determined to have a home IN ORDER by Christmas for the sake of my kids!

baby girl

Mom, baby girl child we share, Dad

I should tell you there were times when I thought my heart would just stop beating because it was so broken.  There were a lot of tears, sometimes anger, fear, and TONS of times when I questioned this decision.  Thankfully, my ex and I were both committed to not making this any worse than it had to be so we put on brave faces and marched thru the logistics of starting over.  We split the debt.  He kept the house with the equity, and I kept my retirement.  I took things from the house that he could easily live without and bought whatever else I needed.  On credit cards!  Ugh!  We even shared an attorney to keep costs down.  As divorces go, I think we might have had the cheapest one on the planet.  I strongly suggest that anyone going thru this think carefully before fighting.  The only people that win in these situations are the attorneys.  It’s much easier to buy new furniture than to hire a lawyer to fight over it.  You owe it to your kids not to sweat the small stuff.

boy child

Dad, boychild we share, Mom

We made about the same amount of money, and we shared custody, so neither of us paid child support.  We never argued over switching weeks or days with the kids for vacations, family events or other fun activities that might have fallen on the other person’s time.  We both wanted what was best for our children.  I’m very proud of the way we handled those years.

The divorce was final 17 months after we filed.  I would have bet when we split up that I

family

Bonus Mom, Dad, Baby Girl Child we share, Mom, Bonus Dad

would never remarry, but in a very short time, I met my do-over husband, and my affectionately called “wusband” met his do-over wife.  We were both remarried within five months of the divorce being final.  Those marriages are still going strong after ten years plus.  Fortunately, our kids were blessed with great “Bonus” parents and lots of new “Bonus” siblings.  I don’t use the word “step” because I think it insinuates some sort of distance between people.  A friend once told me that it’s always a bonus when you have another person to love you so we had a lot of bonuses in our new blended families!

While the statistics on second marriages are abysmal, we are all committed to beating those odds.  We have both thrived in our do-over marriages, and we still support our now college kids as a team.  All four of us!  I’m living proof that life after the Big D doesn’t have to be a horror show.  I credit my strong faith in God and a lot of commitment from all involved for carrying us thru such a challenging time.

 

My love for The University of Alabama

By Tina M. Cameron

Despite what some of my family members believe, I have always liked Alabama football. You see, I’m from Knoxville, so growing up, I went to Tennessee football games with my dad. These are some of my favorite memories. I love the Vols and always will, but, my heart fell in love with The University of Alabama in Fall 2009 when my older son Corey became a Freshman as an Aerospace Engineering major. He changed his major during his junior year to Mechanical Engineering. I made many trips a year while he was there for 5 years. He had so many opportunities and made some wonderful lifelong friends. I fell in love with the campus, the school and the amazing people that I have met there. Oh, and we have a pretty good football team!

13116341_10153813275391645_4307474500324260944_o  I am now a student there full-time. I am a Registered Nurse and have always dreamed of having my BSN degree. That is now becoming a reality. In March of this year I was accepted at The University of Alabama and then 2 weeks later found out that I had been accepted into the RN to BSN Online Distance Learning Program. I will graduate on May 3rd, 2019, exactly 4 years after my son graduated. I will also be wearing his cap and gown.

One of the main reasons I love this school so much is the way the students and parents support each other. I belong to our Alabama Parent Facebook Page, which has over 10,000 members and even though my son has graduated I just can’t unfollow the page. We refer to ourselves as “Bamaly” because it is one big family. We answer questions, give support, help each other’s kids out. We have a map of the U.S. where each parent has flagged themselves on it in case our kids are traveling and breakdown or have a wreck; there is someone always close.

20180108_165108            The University of Alabama is one of the top public universities in the country. My son received an amazing education and is thriving as a Mechanical Engineer. He now lives in Charleston, SC and works for Mercedes-Benz. The nursing program I am enrolled in is also one of the top programs in the country. It is very competitive to get into and I feel blessed and proud that I was admitted. I have dreamed of having a 4-year degree since I was 18 years old and I will graduate 7 months from today. I cannot wait until I can call myself an alumnus. And, one final thing—Roll Tide!!

When Did You Grow Up?

 By: Ashley Whisonant

The day I have been dreading has finally come. My oldest “baby” started kindergarten this morning. I held back my tears and we walked down his hallway and into the room that will mold him into the student he will become. My confident little guy went from attendance check in to lunch choice with ease. He gave me a hug goodbye and sadly did not look back. Here are all the words I wish I could have said…

You will always be my baby. You are the one that made me a mom. I didn’t know how much I could love someone else until I met you. I am a ball of emotions. I am both terrified and overjoyed for you. All the experiences you will have, good or bad, will make you into our future young man. Remember to help others, even when it isn’t the popular choice. Find your voice and use it for good. Kids can and will be mean. Do your best to surround yourself with sweet souls. Remember to be yourself. Love you my sweet boy.

Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.