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What defines us?
Is it our past, future fate that is swirling around over us, our family? Some venture out and go with that fortune from the cookie at that all you can eat buffet. I choose to believe that experiences define our character and our character takes the reigns of the future. My past is colorful. And like the rainbow, I have colors (or experiences) that were arranged in order and they were put there as building blocks for my story.
I didn’t really go to the School of Hard Knocks and growing up I had a pretty normal, exciting childhood.
I had skinned knees, played ball with the boys, tried to run away from home and like all teenagers, I tried to replace vodka with water in my dad’s vodka bottle. All those experiences taught me lessons. I put those in my pocket and moved on to the next adventure. I’ll skip straight to the early 20’s. Ahhhhh the 20’s. As a woman, I thought that my stomach would always be that flat and that eating McDonalds French fries hungover with 3 packets of BBQ sauce was healthy because potatoes grew in my grandmother’s garden and everything in that rectangle plot was “of the earth” and healthy. And speaking of my grandmother, this is where I begin to write the good stuff. Her actions and presence alone helped mold my character.
My Granny Hicks was a farmer and in turn, she sacrificed a lot to maintain a 90-acre farm with cows, chickens, donkeys, rabbits, tobacco, and a garden that was fit for a king.
And on top of that she had 2 girls and a husband and raised other children who were nieces and nephews and everyone loved Imogene’s house. She outworked men and didn’t take shit off of anyone. And as often as I could, I would run around over there as if it was my very own zoo, accompanied by animals and anything that slithered or went near the creek.
I learned to save every ketchup packet, salt and pepper packet, and napkins that were gently used.
I worked for fried bologna sandwiches and learned that a cast iron skillet is truly a kitchen staple. And I also learned that apple cider vinegar can multitask as a degreaser, health tonic, and conditioner for your hair. TV was a rare occurrence at her house as she got 5 channels. Of those channels, 3 of them were fuzzy, 1 of them the screen rolled, and the other had no sound. Observing her at the time was just that.
It took me years to appreciate her selfless and random acts of kindness.
She turned her cheek when she was wronged and wasted no time in letting others know her feelings. She was sassy and sweet…sort of like a strawberry still on the vine with a little green on the bottom. Granny was classy and I loved her: her smell, her rough hands, and her tobacco trucker hat. But mostly I loved her silence. I observed her and her emotions and I could tell a lot about her as she just sat in that red rocker on the front porch. She was constantly on the go so seeing her just be…felt just right.
In reflecting on the time I had with her, I realized that I was going to be tested in the future for lessons she taught me.
Still in my 20’s, I was nearing the end of a decade. I was looking straight at 30 like it was a mountain to overtake. I’ve never really cared about age and I still don’t as I know numbers are just that. I was hiking, camping, loving life. And then suddenly it was like the wind was taken out of my sail.
I was tired. Like the kind of tired you have when you go pee in the bathroom and you just sit there. I imagine that is the kind of tired that mothers and fathers have with young children. I’ve seen my friends retreat to the bathroom like it is a 5-star hotel. I knew something had shifted in my momentum but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Thanks to a snow day with my school system, I headed on into the doctor’s office for a routine checkup because the insurance company said so.
I was with my mom and she promised me Ridgewood if I went to the doctor to see what was wrong with me.
Yes, bribery still works even when you are 29. So, I had what felt like all my blood sucked out of me and I headed home. As I was doing my Winnie the Pooh happy dance for the BBQ I was about to receive I got a phone call. The nurse nonchalantly told me I needed a blood transfusion. Siri wasn’t around then I don’t think or I would have asked her. I didn’t have internet on my phone so I was just lost in my thoughts about why it was needed. As I told my mom to take me back, she was making 20 phone calls and telling everyone in Sullivan County what my needs were. And after telling her that police officers issue tickets for going wayyyyy under the speed limit, she finally pressed the accelerator and got me to the hospital.
I had a huge support system for this little hiccup that I was going through.
I received blood and my mom and I made it through the night in the hospital without killing each other. The next morning, I was so ready for bacon, eggs, and hash browns but instead, I got something else: I had to have a bone marrow biopsy done. The only positive thing I can say about that is you get Versed. I hope you all never have to have it, but it is a truth serum and high at the same time. And while I laid in bed with those I love surrounding me, I was given the news.
I had cancer.
Not just any cancer. I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. “Isn’t that a kind of cancer only kids get?” …Why I asked that I have no idea. I was an adult and clearly…adults get it. You hear stories of people reacting to the “C” word. I was numb. Vain. I asked if I would lose my hair…I mean good grief, Jennifer! Looking back, I could slap myself for begin so selfish. My outcome was fuzzy and the success of my treatment was dependent on how my body reacted and whether or not I maintained a positive attitude.
Before starting treatment, I cut my hair, making sure that some child could benefit from those locks I was so proud of.
I made a list in a diary of what I wanted people to have of mine if I died. I had my clothes picked out, songs I thought would be nice for the funeral, and I wrote letters to Nikki, Jenna, Donnie (brother), Brenda (my aunt), both Granny’s and my parents. That time is so still sensitive to me that I have tears in my eyes as I type this. I was not given a good chance and I had played the game of life long enough to know that the odds weren’t looking good. But I would sing the Alicia Keys “I Am Superwoman” song with each chemo drip I got. I shifted my thinking from “what can I do with the time I have left?” to “what can I do for others?” and it completely humbled my soul.
I learned to play Sudoku puzzles as I raced to finish before my brother.
And I lived on salt and vinegar potato chips and fruit-flavored Mentos. I also know the reason why people don’t take Ambien and watch QVC. You really don’t remember anything. I saw and experienced random acts of kindness in ways that made me fall to my knees. I experienced the love of strangers, doctors, and nurses. But most of all I embraced the fact that I was loved by so many. Time passed slowly and I healed. I healed from cancer and I also healed as a person. I moved forward and with each day, I gave life a hug. My outlook on life changed and I appreciated the small things and I began to cherish the things that had fallen through the cracks as life happened. I felt the sun’s rays a little more, noticed the bees pollinating flowers, and admired the lines on my grandmother’s face.
I turned into a little caregiver for my grandmother.
While I was still getting outpatient chemo, I wanted to get out of the house to do something. So, I headed to Granny’s house every day for 3 hours. Life happens and you fast forward through it. Years later, I found her as my new roommate. We celebrated nights with Andy Griffith as she ate a Moon Pie and drank chocolate milk while I had Cheerios and sipped cheap wine. Granny and I were a modern-day Laverne and Shirley and I cherish those moments.
We listened to The Rolling Stones on Spotify as she spoke of the “good ‘ol days”, reminiscing about farming and making quilts with her sisters and friends. She played BINGO often and her winnings would help take her to her next social security check and she never once complained. I had an appendectomy and Granny was dumbfounded that we have an appendix. It’s like they just started making those when I was born. LOL…she had no clue she even had one. She was a hoot.
Last year was my 7th anniversary of being cancer free and I believe it was the hardest year.
I lost both my grandmothers unexpectedly. It hurt. My heart physically hurt. I didn’t know that was real, but it is. I would give anything for one more pot of chicken and dumplings or to hear Granny sing “Froggy Went A-Courtin’”. Life just happens. But even in the darkest times, there is a light somewhere. I found mine on a first date at Cootie Browns. His red hair and 1987 Land Cruiser reeled me in. He is always pushing me to be more, find more, travel more. He helped me discover better music like Sturgill Simpson and The War on Drugs and introduced me to a dog named Pabst. Good beer is important! And it’s so important that you name a dog after it.
I told myself to do the shit that makes me happy.
I got my Yoga certification and I can’t wait to help people through their tough stages in life. I’m a homeowner and I had no idea that having human waste pumped from the ground could cost so much (I mean we can’t help we have to go!). I have selfless friends who I can’t go a day without talking to. I am in love and it’s an easy love: one that reminds me of Snow White and her Prince Charming. I’m employed and grateful to have insurance and the freedom to use it. Spontaneity is my forte and I’m always looking for my next adventure.
When an old chapter closes, a new one opens.
I learned through cancer that 13-year relationships end. I’ve also learned that life’s most precious characters can be placed and suddenly taken from my life but that time doesn’t have to stop when it happens…and I don’t want it to. So, thank you Granny for all those moments of reflection. A lot of time has passed but those lessons you taught me still hold true.
I’ve also learned that a mother and father’s love for their children is eternal. I saw that and I felt that. I knew that there was something deeper that I was meant to experience. Years later I welcomed my niece, Luna Elise, and she stole my heart and sweetly following I got my nephew, Will. I have 3 godchildren: Frank, Hazel, and Clyde. Spoiling those youngins is one of my favorite past times.
And this story can’t go without the notice of an unsung hero. She goes by Coach Campbell to many but to me, she goes by Nikki.
She is my therapist, best friend, adventure seeker, educator and nurse. Her selfless sacrifice to take care of me during the darkest time in my life will never go unnoticed. Nikki, in the years that we have known each other my respect for you as a person has grown immensely. Thank you for eating gluten-free and even putting up with my lack of knowledge in washing dishes. I do know how to run a vacuum cleaner although I hate it. You have taught me that patience is a virtue and that when you have hope in the darkness, you can see the light. The love that I have for you might have rooted in another direction, but it is still grounded and intact and forever will be. A thank you isn’t enough and I will spend years brainstorming to figure out what I can do to repay you.
Tough times make you dig into the places you never knew existed until they exist.
And as I sit on that porch of that little farmhouse on the hill, I will reflect on the lessons that life placed in my path. A gentleman name Christopher McCandless graduated high school and set off on a journey to find himself and experience life’s greatest adventures. He went by the street name Alexander Supertramp and he found what he was searching for in a van in Alaska. Sadly, he died right there in that van, but not without realizing that happiness is only real when shared.
So, start sharing.
Do you have a story that would empower and encourage others? Would you like to be considered for the Inspirational Woman of the Month? Send me a message via the contact form!
Til next time, stay sassy!