Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back Home

It's Becky here! The Usual Blogging Woman's Very Own Daughter's Mother and the Sister of the High Maintenance Aunt is finally checking in.

And just to warn you advance, I'm on some pretty heavy pain meds, so I really can't be responsible for anything I type. But I must say--it feels so good to actually have a chance to update. I've felt sort of "lost" for the past 36 hours with no way of being in touch with you all, except, of course, for the aforementioned wonderful ladies who updated on my behalf. (Debbie and Sarah were going to post further updates throughout the day, but when we moved from the surgery side to the inpatient side, there was no Internet available.)

Debbie mentioned in her post my comment that the whole experience was "harder than I had thought it would be." And it really was. As in a LOT harder, on every front. And it's still hard right now. I hurt more than I thought it would hurt. The drains (all four of them) are more uncomfortable than I had anticipated. And getting me in and out of a bed requires heavy machinery and an Act of Congress.

All in all? Not so much fun. And I haven't started addressing the emotional side of the whole thing--I think the pain meds have dulled my brain enough so that the reality of my situation isn't really sinking in yet. When the drains are removed, and the large dressings are taken off, then I will have plenty more adjustments to make.

The surgeon told Steve that he had to cut into some muscle in my chest wall in order to get all the cancer out and achieve clear margins, so I know that added to my pain load. And then a mastectomy without the expanders being placed immediately is usually less painful than a mastectomy with immediate placement of expanders. Which is what I had. Ouch.

So at this point in my life, bereft of my frontal protuberances (wasn't that delicate?) with hair unwashed, wearing no makeup, and sleeping in the ugliest of comfy clothes, I'm wondering if I will look (or feel) pretty again. I'm just so totally overwhelmed by the meds, the pain, the experience itself and the reality of what it is all going to mean for me down the road. It's a tough journey. And no amount of pain meds can negate that fact.

But in spite of it all, I did feel peace yesterday--after I had gotten through the steadily increased dosages of pain meds (they had to call the surgeons for permission to keep upping the doses) and the nausea, and the vomiting, and the discomfort, when I was finally wheeled over to a patient room and put (ouch) into (ouch) my bed, I watched the door close behind the nurse and I laid on the bed in perfect silence, and in almost perfect peace. I knew for a fact that hundreds and hundreds of you around the world had been praying and were praying, and that your prayers brought peace.

And so rather than blathering on right now in my fragile emotional state, I will just close here by saying thank you for praying and for sending messages and for caring enough about our family to check in with us so frequently. We are so blessed to be a part of the Smithellaneous circle of friends.


And one more thing--we only call Debbie high maintenance to tease her; she is actually one of the most selfless, funny, giving, big-hearted people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. (And she didn't even pay me to say that!)

An Update From Debbie

Hello everyone! This is Becky's sister, Debbie (the high-maintenance one:-) ).

Becky is home, in her own bed and sleeping. On the way home this morning (she had to leave the room by 6 this morning due to insurance requirements--don't even get me started), her basic summation of the experience was that is was much harder than she thought it was going to be. But yet, she handled it all with her typical grace and courage and we are very proud of her.

Yesterday after the surgery, Becky had quite a bit of pain and some nausea through the afternoon. By evening, the pain was more under control and she was able to eat. She rested pretty well last night was able to tolerate the ride home, though with some discomfort.

The pain medications seem to be working well and Steve and I learned how to empty the drains with neither one of us passing out cold. Yep, the family that Does Drains together, stays together!

I know your prayers, love and concern mean so much to Becky and to the family as well. Thank you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sarah here!

Hello Smithellanians, this is the usual Blogging Woman's very own daughter typing this update. Mom is in recovery right now. The removal took and an hour and half, and the reconstruction took two hours in total, but who's counting? It's been an overall pleasant morning, hanging with the Fam, aside from Mom's sister Debbie's high maintenance, or so says Dad... :) Mom is currently in recovery, and Grandma and Grandpa Smith, Aunt Debbie, Dad and I are all waiting in the official Room of Waiting. No problems with her breathing, we heard recently, and the surgery was a success. We will pick her up tomorrow around 10 am.

More news later!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leaving . . .

We're headed out in about fifteen minutes for Greenville. Wanted to check in with you all one last time before tomorrow to thank you for all the comments that have been left and the emails that I have received.

I did find out that the waiting room at the surgical center has wireless Internet so you should be hearing from some member of the family at some point. (Wasn't that nice and specific!)

My mom and sister just landed at the airport so they'll be headed to Greenville with Steve's parents in the next few minutes ; we'll all meet up at about 8 pm, try to get a good night's sleep and then awaken (very) early for The Great Adventure.

I'm a little scared, a little anxious, a lot ready to get it over with and see what the next few days and weeks will hold.

Thanks to all of you for the way you have been my virtual support group; I appreciate you all so much.

Later . . .

A Mish Mashed, Miscellaneous, Smithellaneous Post

Since my mind is in sort of a mish mashed state right now, this is going to be a bit of a mish mashed post. Maybe we could even go so far as to call it a mish mashed, miscellaneous post. Or, maybe possibly, even a mish mashed, miscellaneous, Smithellaneous post. Yup. That sounds good to me.

I have quite a few pictures from our vacation that I’ll be posting over the next week or so, but first I wanted to write about one of my goals for last week. That goal was to make it through at least one day (since being diagnosed) without crying.

Can you look at the picture below and try to guess how that goal is coming along? Steve was eating breakfast a couple days ago and I sat down to talk with him a few minutes, feeling all cheery, chipper and chatty. Ten minutes into the conversation, the ol’ emotions welled up and the Kleenex box was, once again, called into use.



This is the not-so-cheery face I wear around occasionally. Other times, though (and I dare say, most of the time), I feel fairly positive.


Even on vacation, even at the beautiful beach, there were somber moments. But I know that’s to be expected.


And speaking of somber moments, Sandy, a cousin of mine recently sent a picture to me I had never seen before.

old mom and dad pix

Right to left, you’ll see my Grandpa and Grandma Clemmerson (Dad’s parents) my Uncle Duane and Aunt Rita (Rita is Dad’s sister and Sandy’s Mom) and my Mom and Dad. (On a non-somber note, you can take one look at my Grandma’s face and know that she was one the zippiest, sauciest, funniest ladies you could ever hope to meet. I miss her!)

The somber note comes with the knowledge that both Grandma Clemmerson and Aunt Rita died of breast cancer.

I’ve always known that they had that disease, but it hit me especially hard after being diagnosed with cancer myself. Even though my prognosis is excellent, I still feel a small, scary shiver at the thought of joining the sisterhood of those who have been diagnosed and didn’t survive—especially when that sisterhood includes women who were (and are) very special to me.

And while I’m on the subject of cancer, several of you have asked if someone would be updating the blog tomorrow. I don’t know when they’ll be able to get to it, but someone will keep you informed as the day progresses.

In fact, tomorrow morning at this very time, I will be in a surgical suite under anesthesia. And the thing that I have been pondering, waiting for, and dreading will be in process. Hard to believe it’s almost here.

Okay. Enough of that!

Now on to more cheery pictures from our vacation.

I was determined to get up early enough one morning to see the sun actually peep over the horizon. And here it is! Peeping! That was so much fun. (Especially since I got to go back to bed, and the sun had to stay up!)


Just before the sun appeared, several large groups of birds flew by—there were thousands of them. Obviously they were on their way to a Very Important Bird Convention.


Here are a few pictures of the lovely house we stayed in.



Steve’s colorful jelly beans.


IMG_3671 IMG_3685 IMG_3698

IMG_3676 IMG_3688 IMG_3689 IMG_3695

And here’s a not-so-lovely picture of a “little plant thingie” that was lurking in the vicinity. I’m not exactly sure what this is, but I will let you know that when you step on one, as I did, you will not be a happy camper. Steve gallantly got down on the ground and pulled it from my foot--without the benefit of anesthesia, might I add. And then he held it up so that you could all see the inherent nastiness of the nasty little thingie. Ouch.


After I had survived the trauma of the thingie, we walked over the sand dune behind our house to check on the ocean. Just to make sure it was still there. (It was.)


Steve and I were amazed that as far we could see, there was no sign of anything man made. So cool.


Well, the time has come to pull my thoughts away from lovely beaches and concentrate on a to do list that’s even longer than that stretch of sand you see above.

It’s hard to believe that this is the last day (for a few weeks) that I will feel anything like normal. It’s going to be an adjustment to not be able to run around and be as busy and productive as I love to be.

But . . . I heard something a long time ago that has stuck with me. It said, “In acceptance, there is peace.”

And that is my challenge during this surgery and recovery—to accept it. To be grateful for a medical procedure that can get rid of cancer, to embrace the period of rest and recuperation, and to not get overwhelmed by the aftermath of dealing (physically and emotionally) with a double mastectomy.

I have my work cut out for me in finding acceptance. In finding peace.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Real, Real Slow

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the countdown to surgery has begun. 

Tonight around dinner time, Steve and I will head back home.   Tomorrow, we’ll spent most of the day in Manteo, getting all of our last minute stuff done.  Unfortunately, as it turns out, some of our last minute stuff will include picking up our mini van from the garage where we dropped it off yesterday after attending Sarah’s award’s ceremony.  With everything else going on, we now have a lovely, unexpected repair bill of $350.   But since we’d hate to break down at the side of the road on the way home from surgery, we figured it might be a good idea to get it taken care of.  (Hitchhiking immediately after surgery is generally frowned upon in medical circles.)

Tomorrow evening, Steve, Sarah, Snowy and I will grab an early dinner and then head out the door to Greenville where we’ll meet up with Steve’s parents (from Charlotte)  and my mom and sister (from Wisconsin) and prepare for the early morning surgery. (We have to be there at 6 am.)

But you know what?  That day isn’t here yet.  Today we are still on vacation, if only for a few more hours.  And better yet, I am happy to report that I have now retrieved my camera cord and uploaded all my pictures.     I won’t force you to sit through them all in one day (you can thank me later) but today I’ll concentrate on Monday’s jaunt to Ocracoke Island.

To get to the island, you have to take a 45-minute ferry ride, which was quite exciting to a couple of landlubbers like us.




This is Steve’s head.  (In case you we were wondering!)


Once we got to the island, we explored a few of the side road and found a couple of signs we just loved.  If you’ve ever wanted to have a street named after you, all you have to do is just get a board and write your name on it.  It worked for Howard.  (And his street.)


This sign also made us smile.


Of course, when the road is this lovely, it’s pretty easy to drive “real, real slow.”


That particular (slow driving) road took us to this little shop.  I was especially intrigued by the “Books to be Red” sign; I still haven’t quite figured out what that meant, but any sign having to do with books deserves a picture.  I also loved the word “uniquities” on the sign.  Those Ocracoke folk are pretty creative in the signage department.


As we were entering the shop, Steve stood and pondered for a moment if he could get away with requesting a motorcycle for his upcoming birthday.


And then he thought, “Naw.  I’ll just be content with riding this rubber shark instead.” 


The front of the bookstore.  Don’t you just love it?


After browsing for a while, we drove a few blocks (real, real slow) to an ice cream store and came across this very stressed, anxious island dog. Can you say, “No worries?


Across from the ice cream store was another colorful, quaint shop.  I just love colorful and quaint!


I also loved the orderly way all these bikes were lined up.  (No, I don’t get out much.)


Following the ice cream eating and the bike gazing, we drove a few blocks to the lighthouse.


As much as I loved the lighthouse, I especially the loved the old light keeper’s house beside it.  (Which is now owned by a private individual.)    The old tree in front of the house was gorgeous.


And then it was back on the ferry . . .


and back to the lovely view from our very own (borrowed) balcony.


Such a lovely time. 

Such a great opportunity to take life real, real, slow.


For you folks who like to see on a real map where things take place, I have included one for you.  A lot of people have trouble picturing what the Outer Banks are so hopefully this will help make it clearer.

The Outer Banks are the strip of islands out in the Atlantic.  If you’ll look to the left (um, I mean, to the west) of that string of islands, you will see Roanoke Island and Manteo.  Looking north on the Outer Banks, you’ll see Corolla, which is where we went a couple weeks ago to see the wild horses.

Heading South, you’ll see Rodanthe (yes, it’s where the movie “Nights at Rodanthe” was filmed) Waves, and Salvo. That’s the little area where we’re staying on vacation.  And if you look way south on the map, you’ll see Ocracoke Island which is where today’s story happened.

There.  Now you have received an official (albeit brief) education about the Outer Banks.  Wasn’t that fun?

map use


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photographically Discombobulated

This morning our very own Princess Groovy Chick will be honored in a ceremony at school for being on the A/B Honor Roll for the past quarter.  (Her only B was in math—and considering that she started the school year two grades behind in math, we are thrilled, amazed and astonished that she was able to earn a B!)

Although it will be an hour round trip to get back to Manteo to attend, we decided to take a brief break from our vacation and go and celebrate with her.  It’s her first award since going to public school and she’s come such a long way, despite her learning difficulties; we just want to be there to cheer her on.

While we’re  in Manteo, we’ll stop by the house to pick up my camera cord so I can finally post some pictures.   I’ve been feeling rather photographically discombobulated not having any photos to include in my recent posts.

In the meantime though, I thought I’d throw in a few pictures from a year ago this month, just as a way of incorporating at least a few pictures; also, I always think it’s fun to look back and see what we were doing a year ago.

WHY is this man smiling?

steve butts1 

It’s because he’s sitting on THIS can!

steve butts2

The above photos and the two pictures that follow were taken at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC, which Make-A-Wish arranged for us (and some other families) to tour.


Steve loves airplanes and had a great time hanging out out and talking planes with a pilot.

collage planes

And here is Steve in yet another role—the High Priest in an Easter Drama.

steve play 

Sarah and Victoria spent several days together last April; part of their fun involved looking back through old pictures, plays, and stories they had written back when they were “young.” Snowy is, of course, an integral part of the fun.

sv April

April also included yet another visit to Duke.

steve sarah duke

After Nathan returned from Israel, he spoke to the youth group at church about it.  He is one fine fella.  (Whom I happen to miss very much!)

nate speaking1

So there ya have it--a few pictures at least.  Hopefully later today I can post a few from our current sojourn to the sea. 

But for now I’d better jump in the shower so that I can rid myself of my alarming morning hair!  (You haven’t seen alarming, until you’ve seen my hair.)

More later. . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Faced. Handled. Gotten Through.

It's a beautiful morning here at our vacation house; I'm sitting in a comfy chair and staring at the ocean. So very lovely. So very therapeutic.
By way of an update on life in general, Steve and I will hang out here until Wednesday afternoon (Sarah is staying with friends from church) and then we'll head home to unpack and get a whole slew of things accomplished before heading to Greenville late Thursday afternoon.
Steve will need to have most of his sermon for Sunday finished by then and I'll also need to work on prep for the service. (Even though I won't be there.) That includes filing music from last Sunday's service, making a new music list, pulling music for the four singers, drummer, Steve, and the pianist who will be filling in, and then getting all the songs and Steve's sermon Power Point slides entered into the computer, and creating new announcement slides to be projected on Sunday morning.
Of course, I'll be packing and getting things ready for my sister and Mom's arrival at the same time.
Sarah, Steve and I will drive to Greenville Thursday night and stay in a home owned by one of our church members. Steve's parents are driving into Greenville from Charlotte Thursday; they'll stop through Raleigh on the way to pick up Mom and Debbie from the airport and bring them on to Greenville.
And then Friday morning? Well, we all know what happens Friday morning. I'm just not going to think about that right now. How can one dwell on a subject like a traumatic surgery when one is gazing at the ocean?
Nope. Just can't be done.
Yesterday at church, Steve asked if I would sing a particular song I've written following his sermon. (He's doing a series on the book of Job.) I got up there feeling pretty calm and "in control" but when I got to the second verse, I just lost it. Here are the lyrics:
I never thought the time would come when I'd embrace the fire
Never thought I'd choose to face the flame
But in its sacred light I've seen the ash of my desire
Swept away, till just your Voice remains.
Well, those words just did me in and I spent the rest of the song, half singing, half crying. By that point, most of the people in the congregation were crying too, all of them fully aware of the fire that I was about to face.
Steve came up and stood with me and put his arm around me while I continued to sing--and sniffle. He was being such a wonderful, supportive husband, trying to sing the words for me when I was too choked up to continue. Unfortunately, since I haven't sung that song for a while, he wasn't real clear on how all the words went, so there he was, cheerily and courageously singing out words to my song that weren't even correct! (smile) I was so tempted to giggle, right in the middle of my tears which would have been a rather alarming sight--the pastor's wife crying, giggling, sniffling and singing, all at the same time!
At any rate, we did eventually make it through to the end and it just turned out to be such a sweet moment for all of us. Tears have a way of breaking down walls, bonding hearts and mending spirits--it was truly a special morning between us and our dear congregation. (Note: I've included the lyrics to the song at the end of this post; it's one of my favorites.)
Today, as I was thinking through all the stresses that we're facing right now (and yes, we're still at a point of great stress concerning our housing situation) I remembered back to 2008 when I had a cancer scare amidst a lot of other things going on. I went back and found a timeline that I had drawn up and as I read through it, I was reminded that we made it through that difficult season and we will make it through this one, as well.
Dec. 5-6 (2007)
Sarah and I were at Duke for her 5-year post transplant studies. After plenty of nervous waiting and stress we got the "all clear" report!
Dec. 14
Steve had surgery to remove two suspicous moles.

Dec. 20
Steve had a colonoscopy (Oh happy day!)

Dec. 31
Had my annual physical and was told to schedule a mammogram as soon as possible.

Jan 7 (2008)
Steve was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Jan. 10
Had my mammogram and was told that I would need a Breast Specific Gamma Imaging Study. (BSGI)

Jan. 11
I had my pulmonary function testing done and was told there was a 10 percent drop in function since last year and that I might be looking at a double lung tranplant if the trend continues. (I'm at
60 percent of normal lung capacity right now) Was started on a new, heavy-duty inhaler.

Jan. 15
Steve had surgery to remove more of the area around the place where the two (one cancerous, one pre-cancerous) moles had been.

Jan. 17
Had a chest x-ray because my pulmonologist wanted to see if there was anything "obvious" causing decreased lung function.

Jan. 18
Sarah went to Duke for a routine dermatology visit and ended up having two suspicous moles removed.

Jan. 24
Had the BSGI study done as well as an ultrasound. It was made clear to me during that visit that there were definite areas of concern.

Jan. 28
Got the call that there were "atypical cells" in the moles Sarah had removed and she would need additional surgery.

Jan. 30
Had a breast MRI which turned out to be traumatic, teary experience because of a severe, unexplained pain in my abdomen during the whole thing.

Feb. 1
Got the MRI report saying that there were areas in BOTH breast that were highly suspicous of malignancy. (90-95% chance)

Feb. 6
Had core needle biopsies done on both breasts

Feb. 7
Had an appointment with breast surgeon
where we were supposed to get the biopsy results and discuss surgery options. (She was talking about surgery sometime in the next two weeks.) Found out that the biopsies results had been delayed but, in her words, the mammo/MRI results were "very, very concerning."

Feb. 8
Got the news that six pathologists had argued all day over the biopsies with
half of them thinking they were malignant and half of them thinking they were benign.

Feb. 11
Was told that the biopsies were being sent to the experts at Mayo clinic for further study. Was also told that my films and biopsies would be studied by a group of area radiologists, surgeons and pathologists on Feb. 14.

Feb. 14
Should have the results from that "study group" today.

Appointments yet to come:

Feb. 15
A visit to my pulmonologist and follow up pulmonary function tests.

Feb. 26
Sarah will go back to a Duke surgeon to have more of the area around her suspicious moles cut out.

And in all likelihood, a follow up surgical biopsy of the breast will be scheduled for me soon. (
Note added: Yes, I did go on to have surgical biopsies of both breasts. Results: benign.)

So there you have it--a tough period of life.

Faced. Handled. Gotten through.

We did it before, with God's strength and the help of of our friends. No reason why we can't do it again.

I'll close with the lyrics from the song I sang yesterday.


1. I never thought the day would come
When I'd be stripped so bare
Never knew such brokenness could be
But here I stand before you with my heart in disrepair
Take me where your healing waits for me

Quietly,speak to me
Tell me you inhabit every heartache, every tear
Quietly, sing to me
Melodies of mercy only broken hearts can hear

2. I never thought the time would come
When I'd embrace your fire
Never thought I'd choose to face the flame
But in its sacred light I've seen the ash of my desire
Swept away till just your voice remains

Repeat chorus

I can feel the thunder from the storm, yet I'm at peace
And I will smile and rise to ride the wind
My fragile wings are stronger and my heart is finally free
And as I fly, I'll hear your voice again

Quietly, speak to me
Tell me you inhabit every heartache, every tear
Quietly, sing to me
Melodies of mercy only broken hearts can hear

(You can info about ordering "Sweeterwater," the CD this song is on, by clicking on the CD order link at the top of the page.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wild and Crazy Pastoral Party Animals

Hello from Rodanthe, NC where Steve and I are ensconced in a 5-bedroom, million dollar house on the ocean. In fact, if I look up from the computer, I see nothin' but sand dunes and a deep blue sea reaching out to the horizon. We were given the opportunity to stay here free by some very dear people who are choosing to remain anonymous. (Well, actually we know who they are but if we tell you we'll have to kill you.)

Steve has just left to pick up some pizza and bring it back for us to nosh. And after that? Well, we are going to turn into Wild and Crazy Pastoral Party Animals. In fact, we might even get so wild and crazy that we'll put on our pajamas and Go. To. Sleep.

I know. I know. It's just hard to keep up with us, isn't it?

Of course, I will be taking a lot of pictures while we're here; unfortunately, though, I forgot to bring my cord to transfer the pictures to my computer. But since we have to run back to Manteo on Tuesday, I'll grab the cord while we're there. That way you can feast your eyes on what I'm feasting my eyes on right now.

Which is pure, sweet loveliness. Such balm for a weary soul.


To "anonymous" who asked what happened to the dates at the top of each post--thanks for pointing out that they were missing. I hadn't even noticed!

I just went back in and changed a setting so now they're showing again.