Friday, April 16, 2010

Checkin' Back In

Well, I have some relatively good medical news to report, for a change. The pulmonologist said that although I am still at 60% lung function (which is not great) he is pleased, nonetheless, that I have not lost any ground in the past year. And what's even better, I have held steady (or close to it) for about the last 2-3 years.

He said if a COPD patient is able to hold steady for that long, the chances of them having marked decrease in function down the road go way down. In fact, he was even saying that my chances of needing a lung transplant any time soon are not even worth considering.

So I was very, every encouraged! (Even though I did get all teary-eyed telling him about my upcoming surgery. Sigh.) Concerning that surgery, he did tell me it would be important to let the anesthesiologist know about my diminished lung capacity, just so that he or she is aware and can take necessary precautions.

So even though it doesn't seem like someone with 60% lung capacity should feel very rejoicy-y, I am very, very thankful for today's report.

And now on to other business . . .

Over the past few days, a number of you have left comments, asking what practical things you can do to help us during this very challenging and stressful season of our lives.

I really hesitate to even respond because I know that so many people are having difficulties. But I also know that there are people out there who love to help and to give and I certainly don't want to ignore these very gracious requests!

So if you're wanting to help, we could use the following kinds of gift cards:
  • gas stations (Shell or BP) Our travel expenses have been crazy lately.
  • grocery stores (Harris Teeter or Food Lion)
  • restaurants (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, KFC, or Applebee's are the ones nearest us.)
Of course, after a year of us both being unemployed ,having paid double house payments for the past six months, in addition to my medical bills and a kid in college, "regular ol' money" is always appreciated, as well. If you use PayPal, we have an account. The email address to log into is

Our mailing address is:

127 Raleigh Wood Dr.
Manteo, NC 27954

Although I hesitate to mention our needs, I have come to find out that you Smithellaneous folks have hearts of gold and are incredibly compassionate and caring. At a time like this, our family is very grateful for people like you. Thanks to each of you who have prayed, left comments,
e-mailed or sent things in the mail. (Some fabulous truffles arrived just today!)

And now I'm off to an early bedtime. Tomorrow is going to be crazy busy (we're having 10 people over a potluck dinner) and Sunday after the morning service, Steve and I will leave for our brief vacation before this life-altering surgery next Friday.

So I will sign off tonight with thanksgiving--thanksgiving for a good pulmonology report and thanksgiving for readers and friends like you who are walking beside us through these tough times and reminding us in a hundred ways that we are going to make it.

Held Hostage By A Bladder

Several of you left comments asking about practical ways to help out right now and I will post about that later today. In the meantime, I came across a little story from an earlier Breast Biopsy Surgery Chapter that always makes me smile; I thought I would reprise it here so that you could smile too!

(Written in March, 2008.)


You know, I wouldn't share the following pictures with just anyone, but you guys have kind of become a part of my family so I am going to go ahead and inflict them on you show them to you.

Although the hospital’s Official Excuse for foisting the blue hat upon me was because everyone going into surgery has to have one, I happen to know I got it because the entire medical staff was tired of looking at my flat, unstyled hair. Case in point . . .

After a couple hours of pre-op (including having lovely sharp wires inserted into both breasts) I was finally wheeled down the hall into surgery. There were four or five people in there with me—the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and several nurses. What was really fun was the fact that they were all women--I just wanted to serve everyone some brownies and settle in for some girl talk.

But alas, it seemed as though they had other plans for me. The brownies would have to wait.

I woke up from surgery fairly easily despite the fact that my teeth were chattering rather violently and I couldn’t seem to stop myself from making these pitiful little groaning noises. I kept thinking to myself, “Someone really needs to stop doing that,” but of course it never occurred to me that I was the one in charge of the sound effects!

The nurse asked me a few minutes later (when the groaning had stopped but the teeth were still chattering) if I was an “anxious person.” I said, “No, why?”

She said, “Well, you were thrashing around quite a bit and groaning and crying and we had to give you TONS of anesthesia.” She added, “I’m surprised you’re as alert as you are, considering how much was given to you.”

Yup, that's me! Mrs. Alert! (Do I look alert to you?)

Okay, I am now going to take a brief break from my narrative to post a picture of me in "better days." I don't want you to hold the horror of the other pictures in your mind too long so this is kind of like a "palate cleansing" picture.

Okay. Better now? Good. Let's get on with the story!

After I had laid chattering in my little bed for a few minutes (under five heated blankets) the nurse bequeathed upon me the joyful news that it was now time for me to get up and walk around.

I searched her face hopefully for signs of merriment, thinking that surely she was just making a funny little joke but no, it turns out that she was quite serious. She actually expected my overly anesthetized, cold, chattering, miserable, morose self to get out of the bed and ambulate with alacrity down the hall.

So with Steve on one side and the nurse on the other, I got out of bed and took a step forward into the hallway. And then backward. And then sideways. Which basically means I was stepping a lot but really not going anywhere. With my flapping gown, flat hair and pale face added to the cute hospital hallway dance moves, I’m sure I was most entertaining. Not to mention inspiring.

In between all the dance steps and gown flapping, my eyes would involuntarily close and I would hear Steve and several watching nurses say, “You need to keep your eyes open while you walk.” (What a bunch of killjoys!)

Well, I eventually managed to dance, walk, shuffle and snooze my way to the bathroom (still accompanied by hubby and nurse) where I was informed that it was time to try and “void my bladder.” (I just love nurse-speak.) Do you know how strange it is try and use the restroom when there are people right there in the room with you?

The first time around, I didn’t have any success so they waltzed me back to my bed, piled the blankets back on my shivering self, turned up the fluids being pumped through my IV and started bringing me drinks.

Every half hour someone would come and escort me to the bathroom for another one of my earnest, albeit fruitless attempts at bladder voiding. Because the bottom line was this: If I couldn’t go to the bathroom, it would mean that my bladder hadn’t yet awakened from the anesthesia and I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital until it had. (Which explains the title, “Held Hostage By a Bladder. Which also explains why this post could be subtitled, “Bladder Blatherings.”)

Well, by about the third visit down the hall, the whole experience was beginning to seem a bit ludicrous. The nurse and I would get into the bathroom and establish ourselves in our assigned positions--me in the “obvious” spot with the long suffering nurse standing halfway across the room, with her back toward me, holding my IV bag. (I’m assuming she had to be with me each time in case I took a tumble from the toilet at some point in the proceedings.)

There would be complete silence for quite a long time and then I would have this horrible urge to giggle in a maniacal fashion. I mean, how often does one have to go into a bathroom tethered with IV tubing to a complete stranger?

I don’t believe Emily Post ever mentioned how to handle this particular conundrum in any of her etiquette books. Do we make conversation? Do I ask the nurse how her day is going? Do we ignore each other? Do we tell jokes--maybe incorporate a little “potty humor?”

I’m sure it was no big deal to her because she does that sort of thing every day but I thought it was absolutely hilarious. I tried valiantly not to giggle into the silence because she would probably be unnerved if her patient broke out into guffaws while doing the whole highly serious “bladder voiding” business.

The afternoon wore on.

One nurse said that if I drank warm apple juice, it would help. It didn’t.

Another nurse said that if Steve would walk me up and down the hallways for a while it would help. It didn’t.

I started to get a bit frantic, picturing myself stranded in there forever, the permanent hospital patient who was never allowed to leave. I started imagining how it would be worded on the prayer list at church. “Our pastor’s wife is in the hospital. Cannot go to the bathroom. Will be there indefinitely. Cards, flowers (and chocolate) appreciated.”

Panic started creeping in. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to go home. I wanted to lie down on my own bed and ponder the universe from there. I did not want to live forever in a curtained off cubicle, desperately drinking all sorts of liquidy substances in hopes that something would “work” in the ongoing Voiding of the Bladder Mission.

Well, I am inordinately happy to report to you that on the fifth visit, when Miss Nursing Bathroom Companion and I had established ourselves once again in our Official Bathroom Positions, there were results! Something happened! I was so happy I almost cried.

When we came out of the bathroom and imparted the thrilling news to the other nurses, they smiled, cheered and clapped their hands! I thought, “I have not been applauded for going to the bathroom since I was three years old. This is so special!”

When we all finally got home and were having some dinner, I was tending toward rather slow, fuzzy speech, mangled words, and out-of-tune, enthusiastic renditions of miscellaneously selected songs. Although Steve and Sarah seemed to be enjoying the pill- produced, live entertainment I was so graciously providing for them, they gently suggested after we ate that it might be time for me to head to bed.

And so off I went thinking, “What a wonderful way to end a long, stressful day—food, rest, books, and a warm, welcoming bed. Not to mention the joy of going into bathroom uninhabited by a nurse.

Could life possibly get any better?


In more recent medical news:

Just because I didn’t think I’ve been seeing enough doctors during this little happy chapter of my life, today I will make the 3-hour round trip to see my pulmonologist. I had seen him a couple weeks ago at his local office but I need to go back to his main office for my annual pulmonary function testing.

He sent me a follow up letter about my earlier visit and, unlike my pulmonologist in Raleigh, doesn’t seem content to just say, “Well, you have COPD, which 98% of the time is a disease affecting only people who smoke.” He wants to know WHY I have COPD when there is absolutely nothing in my past to indicate any reason for it. (COPD=Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.)

And frankly, I’m kind of relieved to be getting this pulmonary function testing done before my surgery because it helps us to know whether there’s been any decrease in lung function in the last year and, if so, whether the surgical team needs to take any special precautions when putting me to sleep. (In addition to the PFT’s, he is also talking about sending me for a CT scan of the lungs sometime in the near future.)

Frankly, these sorts of visit make me tense because every year when I have these tests I think, “What has been happening over the past year? Am I one step closer to a lung transplant? Am I one step closer to being on oxygen? Or maybe, miraculously, have I taken one step in the other direction and am possibly doing a little better?”

To have house worries, cancer worries and lung worries hitting all at the same time is just a bit much but on the brighter side, I am happy to report that the highway to the pulmonologist’s office takes me past several thrift shops.

So yes, I’m traumatized and stressed But I’m happy too. Because there are few things on earth that good chocolate and a good thrift store can’t handle.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pastors. Pancakes. And Whales.

Breakfast . . . .


by . . .


the . . .




Today was our monthly get together with a few local pastors and wives; we usually eat at someone’s home but this time we opted to go to a rustic, ocean front restaurant instead. Just a few minutes before I took these photos, there had been whales spotted right out at the end of the pier. That would have been pretty cool to experience pancakes and whales at the same time!

Of course, the way I’ve been eating comfort carbs lately, I could probably float on out to sea and do my own (very convincing) whale impersonation. But I won’t. (I wouldn’t want them to look bad.)

And since I’m on this (delightful) subject, I’ve decided that I’m going to make something good come out of a bad situation. When I go in for my mastectomy next Friday, I’m going to speak to the surgeon beforehand and ask him to go ahead and do a hip, stomach and thigh reduction while we’re in there. I mean, really--what’s the big deal? I’m already asleep. I’ve already got a bill to pay that will curl my toenails. He’s already got the surgical team assembled. Just take another few minutes and go ahead make me a happy woman! (A double chin-ectomy would be great, too.)

Um. Am I living in a dream world? Sigh. I was afraid of that.

Anyway, back to the pastor’s breakfast.

As the ten of us were sitting at our table overlooking the ocean I thought to myself, “If someone walked around the restaurant and asked the other customers to guess our profession, no one would ever think to guess, “I bet that’s a bunch of pastors and their wives.”

Seriously. This group consists of some of the zaniest, loudest, funniest, wackiest people you have ever met. And out of the five couples, there were three different denominations represented. But there wasn’t any competition. No trying to “one up” each other. No sheep stealing. No intimations of, “Our church is better than your church,” or “We’ve got it right and you’ve got it wrong.” Instead, we were affirming each other, asking how we could help, how we could better cooperate, how we could reach out to the community better.

And you know what? I think I could safely say that if Jesus had been sitting there with us--eating pancakes, listening to us talk, watching the waves, watching for whales--He would no doubt have had a little smile on His face. Shucks. He might have even been thinking, “This is such a great thing to see my ‘kids’ getting along so well!”

But the morning wasn’t only about smiles and laughter. Halfway through the breakfast, when one of the pastor’s wives asked me for details about my surgery, I suddenly discovered that I couldn’t answer her without breaking down into tears.

You know what? Had Jesus been sitting there with us when I started to cry, I believe that His smile would have turned to tears, right along with mine.

And when the pastor’s wife next to me put her arm around me and gently rubbed my shoulder, I understood an old truth in a new way. I understood that Jesus truly was present in that small room surrounded by the ocean He had made. He was revealed in the splendor of His creation. He was seen in the beauty of our unity. And He showed up in the compassion of one of His children reaching out to another.

He was there, indeed.

Amid the pastors. The pancakes. And the whales.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The “What Else?” Doctor

Monday I went to Greenville to meet with my plastic surgeon one more time before surgery and also to sign a few papers at his office and at the surgery center. I must say that it’s really quite sobering to put your name on a piece of paper that gives someone permission to do something rather alarming to your very own person.
It’s also rather strange to sit in a little room with a newly met man (the breast surgeon) and casually talk about all the things that comprise breast reconstruction. I’ve always been a fairly modest, reserved person and to be launched into this new world where no one thinks twice about discussing the personal parts of ones’ anatomy—well, let me just say, I’m getting an education! I’m also learning just how far my creaky little ol’ comfort zone can be stretched!
I mentioned before how much Steve and I like Dr. F., my plastic surgeon. He’s breezy and funny and very much engaged in the whole process. I met with him for about fifteen minutes on Monday and he asked if I had any more questions for him.
I searched my modest little brain in an attempt to think of something that I wouldn’t feel too terribly uncomfortable discussing with a fella; when I’d finally asked, and he’d answered, he looked me right in the eye and said, “What else?”
And we repeated the process several times—question, answer, what else?-- until all my questions had been answered and (most of) my concerns had been put to rest.
I’ve had doctors in the past who would sprint into the room, rush around the exam table, do their cursory exam, sprint toward the door, put their hand on the door handle, open it part way, turn and then say with a quick glance at their watch, “Did you have any questions for me today?”
Um. Yes. My first question would be, “Would you care to please come in and sit back down and at least pretend like you’re a little interested?”
And so to have a surgeon who would sprawl in a chair next to me and follow up every single answer to every single question with, “What else?” Well, that was a lovely experience, indeed. He gave the impression of having all the time in the world for me and he made me feel that he understood how big a deal this whole surgery thing really is.
And so I have affectionately nicknamed him, “Dr. What Else?” And I think that every doctor on the planet should add those words to his or her vocabulary, especially doctors and surgeons who are dealing with people who are about to go through something fairly traumatizing.
Yes, I understand that doctors are busy and overworked and have more patients than they can handle. But even if a doctor only has five minutes to spend in conversation, I want to feel like he or she is really in the room with me, and not already mentally already racing down the hall to the next exam room.
And so that’s my Doctor Speech for the day.
In really happy news, I just got a phone call from my sister, Debbie, and it turns out that their schedules will allow for them to fly in for my surgery and then stay with me for about a week afterwards. Hurray! That is such a great relief to Steve and to me, knowing that I’ll have some ladies in the house to help me with all the “fun stuff” that needs to be attended to. (If anyone feels like they would like to help with their travel expenses, it would be a huge help. Please email me at

In closing, let me answer a couple questions that have come in:

Q. JMckemie said, On another note, is it possible that there is a video of the stick performance that you can post? I have never seen the stick ministry but have heard that it it something truly worth seeing.
A. I tried video taping the performance, but the memory space on the camera ran out halfway through. I might be able to get the video from someone else, but in the meantime, you can go to YouTube and type in Arise My Love+sticks and you’ll be able to see some performances very much like what Sarah’s group does. It was truly amazing the impact such a relatively simple musical/dramatic could have on a congregation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Endlessly Uttering Incoherent Pre-Mastectomy Mutterings.

Poor Steve.

He knew I’d been having a tough morning, but when he arrived home for lunch today, he wasn’t really prepared to find me gone.

Just gone.

Snowy was put away in his kennel. My van was sitting in the driveway. But I was gone.

He looked through every room and bathroom. Twice.

He went to the third floor and looked through Sarah’s domain. No wife.

He called my cell phone. No answer.

He went outside and looked up and down the street to see if maybe I was wandering mindlessly about, endlessly uttering incoherent, pre-mastectomy mutterings.

There was no incoherently muttering wife to be found.

He came back inside. He pondered for a while. When he was done with that, he pondered a while more.

And then? All that pondering paid off! He remembered something!

He remembered that I had told him I was having lunch today with a friend from the church; however, what I hadn’t told him was that she was picking me up. So when he forgot the lunch date, saw my van in the driveway and still wasn’t able to find me? Let’s just say he was very relieved when all the facts finally came together and he realized I really hadn’t evaporated. Or run away to Tahiti. (smile)

Lunch was especially therapeutic after a very hard morning. The friend I ate with has a 30-year old daughter who had a bilateral mastectomy about a month ago and is now on chemo. My friend lives next door to her daughter and so she’s had a front row seat on all the nursing tasks involved; she was a veritable fount of knowledge when it came to answering the practical and personal concerns that I had about what the whole post-surgical process would be like.

So while on one hand it was a little overwhelming to hear it all, on the other hand it was comforting. The only thing worse than having too much information about an upcoming surgery (and all its ramifications) is not having enough information.

And speaking of surgeries, for those of you who have had bilateral mastectomies (with immediate expander implants) or have a friend who has had one—I am curious about the length of the hospital stay. We were told that bilateral mastectomies are now done on an out patient basis, which basically shocked and alarmed me. (However, they have reserved a hospital room for me to stay in overnight if I don’t feel up to going home, which makes me feel better.) I would be curious to know what other peoples’ experiences have been in that regard. You can post your response in the comments area or email me at

Thank you so much to each of you who left a comment after my earlier post today. It was so touching to feel the cyber hubs and loving prayers headed in my direction. I felt encouraged and not quite so overwhelmed by life.

It’s funny though. After I posted this morning, I felt sort of guilty. I thought, “I know that so many people have told me that they come to Smithellaneous for a smile or a cheery story or a heartwarming anecdote. And now today, people may have dropped by for encouragement and all they got were the morose ramblings of a weighted down pastor’s wife.”

And yet I know and you know that no one is cheery all the time; we all have our down days. But I’m just not clear if I need to be forthright with my down times or wait for the down time to pass before posting. I do want you to feel like this is a place where you can receive an infusion of joy and yet every day isn’t a happy day for me, especially with what we have going on right now. I guess I’ll just have to find the balance between being honest and being downright depressing. (smile)

For right now though, I will share some pictures with you of some recent happy mail that made me smile big. Really, really big. Which I really, really needed that day.

The first thing to arrive was this lovely box with a shiny gold tissue laid down over it. I was so impressed by the presentation, I almost didn’t want to open the box!


But I did, finally. And saw these.


Tulips! Lovely, lovely tulips! And an official Tulip Vase.


The whole kitchen was enhanced by the tulips in its midst.

IMG_3332 IMG_3335

Question: How can a vase of tulips possibly be made any more beautiful than it already is? Answer: When a recently delivered box of chocolates is placed in front of it.


And when the chocolates are surrounded by various cards, it gets even better. And when each card represents the love and prayers of friends who I haven’t even met, it’s even lovelier.


And now, several days later, the tulips are still adorning our home! (Although the chocolate is, um, gone. Mysteriously gone. Ahem.)



And so there you have it! A post about chocolate and tulips.

What could possibly be cheerier than that?


P.S. I mentioned last week that Nathan's girlfriend, Meagan, had surgery. If you have a moment, drop by her mom's blog to see how she's doing and leave a comment. It's turning out to be quite a challenging time for them.

Bad Day

Not having a great day.

Housing situation is not looking good.

Stressed (and depressed) over surgery and its awful aftermath.

Financial worries are making me cry.

Chocolate isn't making it all go away.

Becky "Miss Sunshine" Smith is nowhere to be found.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Husband. Wife. Daughter. Dog. Dusk.

Today I’m doing something new, different, out-of-the-ordinary, novel, unusual and just downright extraordinary.

I’m driving to Greenville! Again. (Sigh.)

The plastic surgeon and the surgical center both need me to come in and look over some stuff and sign some papers (promising them our first born son, no doubt) and so off I shall go, over the river and through the woods, for another 4 1/2 hour round trip journey. When this trip is done, I will have traveled 1750 miles in the past three weeks, just getting to and from doctor’s appointments.

However, it could be much worse; I could be going to Norfolk for all these visits, instead of Greenville. (The two cities are both two hours away—just in opposite directions.) Now I have nothing whatsoever against Norfolk, mind you, but in order to get to the highway going to Norfolk, one has to drive down The Beach (as the locals call it) which is a 30-mile strip of the Outer Banks dotted with stores, shops, traffic, restaurants, congestion, and stop light upon stop light. (By the way, where I grew up in Wisconsin, they call stop lights “stop and go” lights. I just love that.)

However, when you turn your car east instead of west? This is one of the few stop lights you will see!


And the view’s really not all that bad.


If you like that sort of thing . . .


IMG_3187 IMG_3196 IMG_3206 IMG_3222

Since I’ll be making that trip many times in the coming year for ongoing reconstruction procedures and surgeries, I’m extra thankful for an extra lovely drive.

Yesterday’s church service was not too terribly difficult to get through, although I still felt myself tearing up at the oddest moments, like during the offering when a quartet was singing the offertory. I just sat there and quietly cried and cried—for really no reason whatsoever. Next thing I knew, Sarah had reached over, grabbed my hand and held on tight.
So nice to have a built-in comforter in the pew next to me.

Steve made the announcement about my upcoming surgery in a low key way, and then moved right on with the service. We hate to draw a lot of attention to ourselves and our situation, and yet we know that our church family wants to stay in touch with what’s going on. I was surrounded by hugs and tears and words of encouragement after the service; we feel blessed to be in a community of believers that is stitched together by prayer and compassion and kindness.

And speaking of kindness, Steve and I have been given the opportunity to get away for a couple days before the surgery date. We have the (free) use of a million dollar, 5-bedroom home on the ocean for two nights! There will be many stresses and adjustments ahead for him, for me, and for our marriage as we navigate these waters; this time away for just the two of us will provide a healing oasis and give us the chance to gather up our strength for the battle.

As for the house situation? We did counter offer, with a price $1,000 less than the asking price. She can take it or leave it. There’s just not a whole lot more we can do at this point.

Steve is going to be in touch with the person who wants to buy this house (if we aren’t able to buy it), in order to see what he might be thinking about charging for rent. That will go a long way toward deciding if we can even afford to stay here on a rental basis.

Steve and I were even thinking about seeing if we could delay my surgery a little, because we’re so stressed about the possibility of a move right after the surgery; however, we’re hesitant to do that because you never want to give cancer any more ground than it already has.

And so life continues to be interesting. And stressful. And blessed. And challenging. And scary. And full of surprises and joy and tears.

But thankfully, sometimes life mercifully takes a break from throwing complexities our direction and offers instead the chance to go outside on a perfect Sunday evening and take a stroll through the evening’s golden hour.

Husband, wife, daughter, dog, dusk. Peace.

Troubles seem just a tad smaller when gazed at under the expanse of a sapphire sky; they seem a little less complex when compared with the intricacies of the dogwood blossom displayed along the journey.

Right now, our time spent together as a family--this Before Surgery time—is extra precious and extra special. Yes, a health crisis is looming. Yes, a house crisis is looming. But towering over the crises lined up at our doorstep is the knowledge that we can lean hard on the love of family, and the support of friends, and the faithfulness of God. We can be assured that somehow, someway, we will get through this choppy chapter of life.

So enjoy a few pictures that show the peace of our evening walk. And know that your prayers and kind words have helped contribute to that peace we are experiencing, even in the middle of this the storm.





And after we come through the storm, we know our home will always provide for our family a safe harbor--wherever that home may be.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Year!

Happy one year birthday (or is it anniversary?) to Smithellaneous!

One year ago today, I branched out from Sarah's Spot to start this blog and I must say, it's been a fun and fabulous year, thanks to those of you who have become faithful readers and long distance friends.

I appreciate your comments as to what post(s) stuck out in your mind the most from the past year. From the way things look right now, Snowy's posts have been among the most popular; I'll have to talk with him and see if he'd be willing to write any more. (Or maybe, based on his popularity, I'll end up having to work through his agent.)

I never take it for granted that there are people out there who actually take the time to read what I take the time to write. It would be pretty lonely around here without you so I'm glad, thankful (and even ecstatic) that you're here.

Thank you for being a part of the Smithellaneous Family!