Thursday, October 18, 2018

Breast Cancer: Why Self Exam is so Important.

Me and Lindsay Feb. 18, 1989

Lindsay Pinson Hess was one of two little girls who took part in my wedding. Long before her own diagnosis, she worried about and supported me. Later she was so enthused to read my books to her children

My Tickles Tabitha title was a book I hoped she would never need, but last year this grown-up little girl (to me) was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a young mom of three little girls, her breast cancer story shows once again why self-exam and early detection are so important. Especially when you are a young woman, and not yet at the age that yearly mammograms are recommended. 

I am so proud of the courage shown by Lindsay.  

Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Lindsay Pinson Hess!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

TBT: Way Back! #Halloween

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

BOObs and Pink Pumpkins. It’s BC Awareness Month.

Fall, fall, fall… It is always fall at our house.  That’s a poem my daughter wrote about two decades ago. One of those bad Mom moments… It was summer when she wrote it.
As a breast cancer survivor and the author of a children’s book about it, I was always pitching a story idea, or planning the next marketing event. Many of them targeted October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

Since I loved Halloween, I would combine it with my breast cancer awareness props, which meant painting our orange jack-o-lanterns pink. This was before you could obtain the pink plastic ones at Walmart. 

It seemed only fitting that years later when they were available, the Tickles Tabitha school program character was birthed from a giant plastic pumpkin. Yep! Underneath all that hair is a huge pumpkin head.

I’m always a step ahead or behind popular perception, so naturally Tickles Tabitha was created before Pinterest and Instagram made it cool to be an artsie, nerdy, DIY, children’s book writer.

Much has changed since I began the path of my breast cancer maze. This time last year, my Tickles Tabitha title got a facelift, and I received a new set of breast implants. This October my new implants are scheduled for their first mammogram. 

Some things have not changed. October is still a scary month… As I’m usually on edge until I get my mammo results back, and EARLY DETECTION is still the best way to survive breast cancer! Please remember to examine your BOObs.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Summertime and the Living Ain't Easy!

Summertime and the living is easy.... When Gershwin wrote those lyrics he must have been describing his single, childless, orphan friends. Since I’m none of those things the living ain’t easy. It is aggravating and sometimes difficult.

Yada yada. I know I am fortunate. I'm healthy, my aging parents who live in NW Florida are still alive, my kids who were residing in different parts of NC are happy enough, and my husband who resides most the time at a job site or apartment in North Alabama hasn't divorced me yet. 

Our home is in beautiful East Tenneesee, but I spent most of the summer on the road. Traveling one direction and then another to help out, (annoy and be annoyed in return) by family. 

I love them with all my ice-cold (I've been told) heart. However, if you want to label me an ingrate go ahead and judge. I know I would. 

If you follow my social media posts you know my life is so good, if it wasn't my own I'd be jealous. Thought I'd rub it in and share just how good it is… good and AGGRAVATING. 

I began summer by spending quality time at my childhood home on Solomon's Happy Hill Farm. Both my parents have been in and out of the hospital, and my dad is not well. 

While there to help, I managed to tick off relatives and non-relatives alike by asking questions instead of taking orders, cleaning house, mentioning hospice, and God forbid doing the laundry.

I didn't just wash the Sunday go-to-church attire or going-out clothes either. Nope, I had the audacity to wash the manure drenched work clothes that were drawing flies to my mom's back porch. The hired help was not impressed with my laundry abilities, and let me know he did not appreciate me butting in.

Then my mother who was already fed up with me for cleaning house tossing out important plastic kitchen containers, reprimanded me for being childish when I tossed his clean, dried laundry back on the porch for him to fold himself. I figured it was the least I could do, as I'd already denied him the pleasure of washing and drying his own laundry.

Childish, I told my mother, would be to dump it in the cow pasture and stomp it into the manure! I (not bragging) refrained from that!

I'm going to skip over other highlights of my visit, but by the time I left, only my Daddy was sad to see me go. He was still well medicated.

My social media is divided into two categories, the people that grew up with me, and the people that came after. The latter group will think I make these things up, but I'm pretty confident the people I grew up with will know, if anything, I'm omitting the best parts of my visit to Walnut Hill, Florida. 

After Florida, I hightailed it to North Alabama, where I enthralled my husband, Randy, with stories of my visit to the farm. If he had paid attention I wouldn't be blogging VENTING. What would a writer do without family to inspire and motivate!? 

My husband was distracted by the TV and a headache (a.k.a a work project that had him trapped in Alabama all summer long). Randy didn’t get to share the joy of moving our daughter, Tabitha, out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Tabitha graduated from the UNC grad school, and her new employer is in Huntsville, Alabama, only thirty minutes away from where her Dad works. It’s the first time in a decade he’ll have one of his children closer than an airplane ride away. Now that she’s all grown up and soon-to-be financially independant he’s thrilled about it! 

Such a happy time, as you can see from Instagram photos I've shared. What's not pictured: the disagreements, frustration, anxiety, and tears behind those fake smiles.

This time next year we'll all be laughing about it. I'm already laughing about the used car salesman who called himself an IT recruiter, and demanded my indecisive daughter make a decision right then and there about his job offer.

Not so funny was the interview in NYC where Delta screwed up Tabitha's flight back home, and took her off the plane she had boarded and left her stranded in Newark, New Jersey as the airport was closing. Then the hotel we got her so she could get some sleep (none of us slept) failed to mention that they didn't have a shuttle running early enough to get her to her early morning flight the next day. She had no cash for an Uber, and the hotel she'd stayed at previously, paid for by her potential new employer, had placed a hold on her bank card in case she drank the liquor or stole the bed linen. Both of which would have cost more than the amount of money she had left in her bank account. 

Then there was my road trip to NC to move her home. It's a little funny... now. Except for the part about her car which was, and remains, in the shop in North Carolina.

On my way to Chapel Hill I picked up my son, Jordan, in Asheville, NC. He was to help us with the heavy lifting and the U-haul. Only he woke up sick, and Tabitha and I had to do it by ourselves. 

No surpirse. It’s uncanny how many times the men in our family have some life-threatening illness, or an important work or school project that just happens to coincide with some fun family activity involving grunt work.

Tabitha and I argued over how to pack, worried it wouldn't fit, and got lucky on parking as neither of us could back up a trailer. If her sofa hadn't been moved to TN earlier, we would have had a serious predicament. 

Once our trailer was loaded the next hurdle was a hotel parking spot that I could get in and out of. If you’ve ever visited a college town, you know why I was stressed out about it. Luckily there were no sporting events.

On our way back to TN, in an effort to avoid the narrow backroads of Jordan's Asheville abode, I took a detour he suggested, which did not take us back to the interstate. Instead we went the scenic route through NC which meant hairpin curves, steep mountains, and unhappy people who preferred to drive faster then 25 mph behind a U-haul trailer. We were queasy the entire drive.

The good news, according to Jordan, was we were not on the infamous Dragon's Tail. That would be the road he took a few years back when he drove from NC to TN after owning his new-old motor bike for about five minutes. I'm still cringing. 

On August 20, Tabitha began her new job as a UX Researcher for Trideum in Huntsville, Alabama. I stayed in Alabama long enough to see her return from her first day of work. As soon as I saw her return home (driving her rental car) I could tell she was going to be fine.  

She's happy with her life decisions, and I'm happy she's happy. It makes it easier to tolerate the fact that her car is being held hostage at a Fiat dealership in North Carolina due to the Fiat Chrysler manufacturer's inability to produce a transmission 

Apparently there is a nationwide transmission shortage on Fiat 500s. Her car has been in the shop since early July. Which meant she had to move without it, is now having to rent a car to get to work, they have no idea when the part will come in, and once it does she'll incur the expense of another trip from North Alabama to and from North Carolina.

We've complained to every customer service representative from the Fiat dealership to the USA.GOV. None of whom are optimistic. 

On the bright side, Tabitha has a job she loves, and by the time they find a transmission for her car, she will not even need that credit card we co-signed for her so she could afford to pay for it.

Summertime and the living ain't been all that easy, but it's been fun. Just look at all my photos on social media. Wink, wink. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Explaining Cancer to Kids: Tickles Tabitha's going to Summer Reading Camp!

Schools Out for Summer!

Just writing the words sends a nostalgic feeling of euphoria pulsing through me. I disliked school as a kid. However, I loved attending my school's summer reading program. It was everything I liked, which was art, reading, and snacks, without the things I didn't!

I had no idea that summer school was educational. It was too much fun! My real school experiences had taught me that anything educational is difficult. In my childish mind fun did not equate to learning. If it had I would have been a much better student. 

That is why I try hard to make even difficult topics, like cancer and nuclear power, fun to read about. 

This June, I’m excited to announce that Tickles Tabitha and I are going back to summer school!  We've been invited to Read to be Ready Camp at Midtown Elementary School in Roane County, Tennessee, where I now reside. 

Midtown Elementary was awarded one of Tennessee's Read to Be Ready grants, and we were invited to participate in their summer reading camp: Birds, Blooms, and Books! Made possible by the Tennessee Department of Education.

I’ll be introducing students to my book Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-tankerous Mommy, and sharing with them my experiences of being a writer, publisher, and cancer survivor.

It’s been several U-haul moves, and a new computer, since my last author school visit. However, you cannot retire from being a children’s book author…not when you have friends who are teachers.
My friend Nancy Laws teaches at Midtown Elementary. Today, I met up with her at the school to check out where I'd be camping. (Make sure all the technology works!)
Nancy and I became friends over twenty years ago, when our children were in play group together. She had just begun to take her teaching courses, and I had just found out I had breast cancer. It was in Tennessee, that I penned the first version of my cancer title.

It seemed only fitting that I would share my cancer awareness program with her campers.

I've been getting reacquainted with Tickles Tabitha, and Nutcracker Publishing's cancer awareness school program curriculum. All I'm missing are my campers, and a few props. 

I will never find!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reading, Writing, Overcoming Taboos: Celebrating Children's Book Week!

Poster created by Jillian Tamaki
April 30-May 6, 2018 is Children's Book Week!

Much has changed since the October day in 2001, when Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-Tankerous Mommy debuted on the Rosie O'Donnell Show.  Many of the obstacles I faced back then no longer exist, and are the source of amazement, and amusement to the Millennial and under generations. 

The technology such as print on demand, our children take for granted was not possible then, and getting a book published could take months or even years.

Publishing houses often had their books printed in China, and for authors, the phrase slow boat from China was literal. 

However, what surprises my friends and colleagues most is that my children's book about cancer was greeted with about as much enthusiasm, by the publishing industry, as my children's book about nuclear power was, by anti-nuclear opponents, in the wake of Fukushima. 

In 1994, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was not the norm to talk to children about it. We barely spoke above a whisper about it when talking to our adult friends.

Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-tankerous Mommy was the first children's book to touch on issues like a mom's depression. Or picture a tired and moody mommy. Its honest portrayal was a taboo topic.

When Rosie O'Donnell advocated for cancer awareness on live TV, her mere mention of a children's book about cancer opened the door for social acceptability. 

There were very few resources available about living with cancer, even for adults. 

One that could be found at the oncologist's office was Coping with Cancer Magazine. Unlike other publications, handed to me during my diagnosis, it offered stories about people who were surviving cancer. 

How I survived publishing my first children's book, while coping with a cancer diagnosis is the subject of my own survivor story, featured last year in the printed version of Coping with Cancer

This year, I'm happy to help them announce that the new Coping with Cancer website is up and running, and includes a digital version of my story:  After Cancer: Discovering the Life I was meant to Live.

I feel like that old Virginia Slims cigarette slogan should be applied to non-smoking me: "You've come a long way, Baby." I sure have! So have children's picture books!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Where is a Tree Hugger when you need one?

On a recent hike with my son, Jordan.
Today I'm celebrating World Book & Copyright Day by taking a read day! 

I feel like I earned it as I spent all last week, and my weekend celebrating Earth Day. 

By that I mean I purchased a truck load of plants, and then agonized over which ones I'm least likely to kill, what color combinations look best, and most importantly, where they need to go to make it look good. 

One of several flower beds.

By the time my husband, Randy, arrived home Friday evening I had the hard part taken care of, and all he had to do was dig a few hundred holes! With my help...which is why today, after all the garden aerobics we did, I felt justified to skip the morning run. 

Instead I chose to listen to my audio book while sprinkling cayenne pepper on the flowering plant that it turns out is not resistant to rabbits!

Happy World Book Day & Copyright Day!

Crack Open a Book! from Nutcracker Publishing.