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Hat and flowers

Assumptions, accusations, pity, and blame

All emit from a society, uneducated in me

Questions, inquiries, probes, and shame

Try to blanket my existence; why can’t they see?

 

Offspring is tied intimately to women’s worth

But her significance is rooted deep from within

Her value is not attached simply to giving birth

A childless womb does not equate to sin

 

A nurturing spirit is a gift from above

But some tend to narrow it in scope

You don’t get to decide whom He gave me to love

For when He made me, he gave her hope

 

Two broken spirits, a single dad, a disrupted life

God chose to heal us, one-by-one-by one

Our lives were changed when I became Eddy’s wife

Abandonment faded – I became her bonus-mom

 

Women nurture pets, angels, and children of others

These words are simply a reflection of my life – my fable

I bet there’s more women like me – idle wombs, yet still loving mothers

So world, show respect to a woman – don’t judge, assume, and don’t label

 

~Viv

Just Kiddin’

stacks of money

“Babe, Babe, stop. Put the phone down.”

“Why? I need to call somebody!”

Eddy grabbed the phone from my hand. He was in hysterics. Barely able to speak through obnoxious laughter.

“What are you doing? I need to call somebody!”

“No”, Eddy said, composing himself. He knew I would regret dialing the Human Resources department at Hill Air Force Base. “You can’t quit your job. It was a joke. You didn’t win.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “What? But the numbers match.”

For one minute – 60 blissful seconds, I floated on a cloud of reprieve. I was free. Free from embarrassment. Free from guilt. Free from a 10-year marital mistake, which left me floundering in a sea of red.

I was a newlywed, yet still married to my past. The debt I owed had been a miraculous conception, as I had no part in creating it, but the law said I was responsible. I hated that I brought unfinished business into my new life.

“I just need enough to pay off these bills,” I told my new beau as I climbed into the passenger seat of our Chevrolet Silverado. Our state didn’t have a lottery; we had to embark on a one-hour journey to Idaho, where, I was certain I would purchase the winning ticket.

“Okay, Babe, if you say so,” Eddy smiled.

Traffic was heavy. Utahans headed North on Interstate 15 – all seeking a piece of Idaho’s $125 million bounty. The scene resembled a story I learned in Ms. Brown’s Oklahoma History class – the Oklahoma Land Rush.

According to the Internet, I informed Eddy as I marked the bubbles on my lotto card, the most common numbers drawn were 2, 15, 33, 34, 54, and 67. “Okay, babe.” Eddy’s smile was beginning to irritate me. Where was his faith?

The idea to deceive me struck Eddy on our return from Idaho somewhere between the town of Logan, Utah, and our home on Hill Air Force Base. I talked of nothing more than my winning ticket. The suffocating excitement that pervaded the truck cab fueled Eddy’s plan. Engrossed in his plot, he wouldn’t remember driving home, an eerie feeling, he later acknowledged, as we pulled into the driveway.

Three hours later, my life changed.

The prank was locked and loaded, ready to fire with one click of the refresh button.

At exactly 7:00 p.m., I sprinted upstairs to log on to the Idaho lottery website.

“All ya gotta do is click the refresh button,” Eddy instructed. That was more like it – finally, he was showing some support.

The refresh tested my patience. I was reminded of a time I waited for a tardy passenger bus in the middle of a Florida monsoon. “Hurry up already!” I yelled. “Why is our Internet so slow?” Eddy didn’t answer. I was unaware he had tip-toed out of the bedroom, into the hall.

My saucer-sized eyeballs were fixated on the monitor; my body became tense as my left index finger traced the numbers on the screen. The first two numbers matched. The third number matched. “Shut up!” I screamed.

I felt a shockwave of anticipation and a blinding flash of hope when the fourth number also corresponded with my ticket. I continued to scream, “Shut up!”

To this day, I do not understand my choice of vernacular during such excitement. Who, exactly, did I want to ‘shut up’?

The fifth identical number caused me to rise from my leather chair.

The sixth number, the one that controls the jackpot, ushered in a tidal wave of hysteria.

“Shut up! Hey Babe, we won! We freakin’ won the lottery! Holy crap, I need to call somebody,” I squealed, reaching for the cordless phone.

Eddy came rushing into the bedroom. He hadn’t been far; he witnessed the whole spectacle from our neighboring bathroom. He was all smiles, but for an entirely different reason. He wasn’t smiling because he was a millionaire.

You see, Eddy was a gifted web designer. His talent included the ability to mimic websites. Three hours earlier, he copied my numbers into a fake Idaho State Lottery website, to which he developed. It looked real, thus creating the illusion that mine were the winning numbers. Gifts and talents should be used for good, not evil, just sayin’.

“Babe, Babe, stop. Put the phone down.”

“Why? I need to call somebody!”

“No”, you can’t quit your job. It was a joke. You didn’t win.”

And just like that, I went from being poor, to rich, then back to poor. All within 60 seconds.

As far as jokes go, this was, by far, one of the best. Yes, I eventually paid off that pesky debt. Yes, Eddy and I are still married, though he was in the dog house for a while after the prank. But, I am happy to report, a few years later, I played those same numbers, and guess what? I actually won the Idaho State Lottery!

Just kiddin’.

~Viv

Just Breathe

Poppy in field of Baby's Breath

Heavy. I can not move. My right leg is eager, willing to handle the weight of my body, but it resents having to do so. Sure, it is a part of a team, but for an entire year, it has had to carry the left. It is tired, worn out, disproportioned. Not as disproportioned as her sister, for she is disfigured in a different way.

Cancer has a way of taking something away from you. Your hair, your life, your dreams, your mobility – and sometimes it takes away your lymph nodes, those tiny nodules that you never think about until they are stripped from the confines of your body. Though there are many, removing just two can disrupt the entire system, creating heaviness, burning, and a sense of fullness from deep inside. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, despite my doctors assuring me that the pain I feel when my foot hits the ground is good for me; it is worth it, they say, walking is medicinal.

My toes, now fat little sausages, burn from the inside out as thick fluid builds up begging for a place to escape. I wish I could drill a hole in them to relieve the pressure and drain the pain. I wish I could feel my skin, but it is blanketed with a layer of scar tissue that has left a scaly, lifeless indention. I used to have cute feet. The bubblegum toe polish is just a façade.

I am told to breathe – that deep breathing helps move trapped lymph fluid. I have to admit, I don’t do it. Seems like a bunch of bullshit to me – breathing can’t possibly relieve the constant pressure and pain I feel in my lower extremity. And it certainly can’t take away the disfigurement; the crater that stage IV melanoma so cruelly left behind. But today I tried. Today I took deep breaths. I concentrated on my fat toes. I visualized my reddish-purple foot and ankle releasing the evil toxins that hold them captive. I imagined the crater closing up and the thick juice turning into a flowing river of necessity. My thigh welcomed the prodigal solution – it had been waiting for its return. The system had been restored, if only for a while. It will take repetition; a concentrated effort of self-love to reunite, but the time invested is worth it. Breathe my sweet sister; you are alive. Breathe, my love, for you have been healed. You are a survivor. Just breathe.

~Viv

Just Breathe Rocks and flower
                                                                                                                                          Photo credit: Vicki McLead

 

My First Job

Mason jar of lemonade

I was finally going to make some real cash. I was tired of being broke and unable to have the finer things in life. Becoming an entrepreneur and selling my own product was a sure-fire way to guarantee home ownership.

This is what I told my two homeless Barbies the summer of 1978. I just celebrated my sixth birthday and was having regret that I didn’t ask for the pink and yellow Barbie Dream House I saw in the Sears catalog. My Barbies had never owned a house. Instead, they lounged around my parent’s house all day. When bedtime rolled around, they retired to the cramped quarters of my old Raggedy Ann and Andy lunchbox. I apologized to the plastic beauties every night as I shoved them inside and blanketed their contorted bodies with piles of tiny clothes and accessories. “I am opening a lemonade stand; I’ll be able to buy you a home soon,” I promised as I closed the lid on their hopeful faces.

Thanks to my Grandma Schmidt, I already had a fine collection of inflatable furniture for my Barbies’ future home. I had a living room, bedroom, and kitchen set. The orange floral print of the couch, chair, and coffee table didn’t match the green design of the bedroom furniture, but it wouldn’t matter once inside the Dream House. The kitchen furniture was yellow. The refrigerator didn’t stand up on its own very well once filled with air. Its cardboard doors were covered in a stretchy plastic and when opened, you could see a painted picture of nourishing staples inside. I remember thinking it was funny there were bottles of pop and veggies in the fridge. But what really cracked me up was the whole turkey that was sitting in the freezer.

My older sister wasn’t into Barbies anymore, so she gave me a plastic Barbie bathtub she acquired years earlier. I don’t remember there being a toilet, sink, or vanity – surely I had those too, right? The bathtub was cool though – it made bubbles. With a little bit of water, a drop of kitchen soap, and a few pumps of a button at the foot of the tub, I was able to create a mountain of fluffy white suds.

When I told my mom about my career choice, she was supportive. She even helped me procure the supplies necessary for my lemonade stand: a Tupperware pitcher, a stack of Dixie cups, and a tiny packet of yellow lemonade. I insisted on making the tart liquid myself. Mom smiled as she backed away from the counter and let me take charge. I had seen her do it thousands of times – empty the lemon-flavored powder into the pitcher, add sugar and water, stir, and then add one more cup of sugar. Okay, my mom never added a second cup of sugar, that was my idea. Nothing but the best for my customers – the more sugar, the better.

Real estate was easy to come by for my business. I simply chose the front yard of our house. Between the street and sidewalk, I erected a folding T.V. tray and metal chair in the grass. I placed the pitcher of lemonade and stack of small Dixie cups on the T.V. tray – I don’t remember displaying a sign, but each cup of my lemon brew would cost consumers 10 cents.

My mom suggested I have a change box in the event someone gave me big bills, like a dollar. I repurposed an old “My School Box” that previously held Kindergarten supplies. What once housed pencils, crayons, scissors, and Elmer’s School Paste (I can literally smell that paste as I write this!) now held loose change for my lemonade business.

I only had one customer that day, but I will never forget him. Not because he was my one and only customer, but because I damn near killed the man with the thick, sugary beverage I had the nerve to call lemonade.

He was a police officer. One of Chickasha’s finest, who patrolled our small Oklahoma neighborhood. I waved at him as he approached my stand in his police car. When he pulled up against the curb, I could see inside the passenger window. There were lots of flashing lights and buttons on the dash.

“Whatcha got going on over here?” the police officer asked as he exited his car. His thick brown mustache couldn’t hide the handsome smile on his face.

“I’m sellin’ lemonade. You want some? Ten cents a cup!”

“Why, I was just thinkin’ I was thirsty,” he said reaching for his wallet.

Ecstatic, I immediately went to work, carefully pouring the yellow juice into one Dixie cup. The police officer held the cup for me; the pitcher was heavy – I had to use two hands.

Once filled, I handed him the cup and he, in turn, handed me a crisp one dollar bill.

“You can keep the change,” he informed me as he lifted the cup to his lips and took a swig. Suddenly, he started gagging and coughing uncontrollably. I watched in horror as he attempted to catch his breath and gain some level of composure. His eyes were watering and bulging at the same time. When he could finally speak, he muffled, “It’s good.” He managed to choke down the rest of it and handed me the empty cup with a weak smile.

“Good luck with your sales,” he said as he walked back to the driver’s side of the police car, still coughing. Bless his heart, the overly sweet concoction must have given his system an unexpected jolt.

After an hour, I decided I no longer wanted a career in lemonade sales. I didn’t want a Barbie Dream House anymore either. I had made a whole dollar – not bad, I thought, for my first job. A dollar was more than enough to buy a new bag of shiny marbles from TG&Y – and that is exactly what I did.

~Viv

Me at a lemonade stand I found while exploring Bodega Bay, California (November, 2021)

 

Love Your Heart

Red High Heels

One year ago, I found myself in a hospital bed in the Emergency Room hooked up to all sorts of machines. The little sticky pads on my chest were making my skin itch. I was having trouble breathing, even with the oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. The nurse had trouble finding a vein in my right arm, so she took blood, which would be tested for the protein, Troponin T from the top of my right hand. What a horrible place to stick a needle.

Thirty minutes earlier, I passed out at home while teleworking in my office. I had been feeling tired for about a week and my heart seemed to be beating extra hard. It fluttered, then felt like it would stop, then restart within a matter of seconds. The restart felt like a kick in the chest, but from the inside. The start-stop ritual had been going on for a week; it kept me up at night. Yet, it took me hitting the ground to do something about it.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate when it comes to our health?

Another nurse came in with a tiny cup of water and one aspirin. “Take this,” she instructed. It wasn’t until I was given an aspirin that it dawned on me how dumb it was that I drove myself to the hospital. My husband, Eddy, and our kids didn’t have a clue I was there.

I was being carefully monitored by nurses and machines, but I was all alone. I managed to stay connected to the machines as I leaned over to the visitor’s chair in the corner and grabbed my purse. I pulled out my phone, but before I could dial Eddy’s number, it rang in my hand.

“Hello?” I inquired, not recognizing the phone number.

“Ms. Cumins, this is Dr. Neuenschwander’s office with Tanner Clinic, Dermatology. We received the results of your biopsy; it is cancer and we need to schedule you for surgery immediately.”

“Is this seriously happening”? I said aloud.

“Excuse me?” The women on the other end said. Bless her heart, she had no idea what I was currently going through.

“Nothing,” I replied.

I had gone to the dermatologist a week prior and had a biopsy on a spot on my left shin. Honestly, I didn’t think about that visit until right then. I could hear the beeps coming from the machine next to me. My heart was starting to beat faster. I needed to call Eddy; this was all just too much.

“Hey babe, don’t get mad or freak out, but I am in the Emergency Room. They are checking my heart,” I told him. My voice started to quiver. “And I just got a call from dermatology that the spot on my leg is cancer and I have to have surgery.”

I can only imagine the shock, worry, and anger that flooded over my husband in that moment. I quietly accepted the lecture coming through the receiver. I shouldn’t have driven myself; I should have called him or an ambulance – he was right in all he had to say. I could hear the worry in his voice, so I simply listened, and agreed. Then, as is typical for my husband, he provided comforting, positive words of wisdom that promised we would get through this together. If you follow my blog, you already know my cancer journey. If you don’t know, you can read the story here.

Two hours later, I walked out of the Emergency Room with referral paperwork in hand. Thanks be to God, I had not had a heart attack; however, my heart rhythm was severely ‘off’ and I was being sent to a Cardiologist, where I would undergo an echocardiogram and a nuclear cardiac stress test.

I was in the middle of two major health crises; which one do I tackle first? My newly acquired medical team suggested we get to the bottom of my heart rhythm issue first, then take on the cancer surgery. So, that is what we did.

Premature Ventricular Contractions”, otherwise known as “PVCs”. That was my diagnosis. My heart was throwing in extra heartbeats – 400 extra beats per minute. The good news was my heart was otherwise healthy. Medication would bring my heart rhythm back into sync; and to this day, I remain ‘flutter-free’.

Today, the first Friday in February, is about the HEART.

National Wear Red Day is celebrated each year on the first Friday in February. On this day, people wear the color red to raise and spread awareness in hope to help eradicate heart disease and stroke across the nation. Check out the links below for more information.

I am Crazy Blessed, y’all. A lot has happened since I was in that hospital bed in February 2021. I am still here. I have purpose and a calling. I accept each day as a gift. And I take care of myself.

Love your heart, my dear friends. Not just today, but always.

American Heart Association

National Wear Red Day

Women and Heart Disease

~Viv

My Calling_A Poem

Created with Purpose

It was there all along,
Never elevating past a whisper.
Patiently it waited,
The time would come.
Life was noisy,
I could not hear.

Selfish existence is hollow,
I always knew there was more.
But life’s purpose won’t intrude,
It wants our full attention.
Life was noisy,
I could not hear.

Sometimes bad things happen,
For me, it was cancer.
But good can come from bad,
If we simply choose to learn.
Life was noisy,
I started to hear.

Trials build character,
If we refuse to faint.
Preparation for destiny,
Often occurs through tears.
Life was noisy,
I needed to hear.

One step of faith,
Leads to another.
Confirmation, then peace,
Renews mind, body, and soul.
Life was noisy,
I wanted to hear.

Obeying without knowing,
Requires undisputed trust.
Doing what we know to do,
Allows God to do the rest.
Life is noisy,
But I finally hear my calling.

~Viv

The Original Ice Castle

Ice Castle

One of my favorite winter attractions is the magical Ice Castles that come alive every January in the small, Swiss-themed town of Midway, Utah. Built on an acre of land, Ice Castles attracts thousands of curious visitors, all looking to unleash child-like imagination and get lost in a whirlwind of fantasy.

Ice Castles are constructed from hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles, ice blocks and frozen walls. Inside, custom caves, walkways, tunnels, mazes, and slides encourage hours of icy play and exploration. At night, colorful lights, synchronized to music from Disney’s Frozen, bounce off the glistening interior and add to the enchanting experience. Without fail, every visit to this winter wonderland takes me back to my childhood. Long before Ice Castles rose to fame in 2011, my sister, Vicki, and I were celebrities in our hometown of Chickasha for building our own icy fortress.

According to weather records, Oklahoma averages a measly two inches of snowfall a year. Winter precipitation, if any, typically shows up in the form of freezing rain, but in January 1977, Chickasha residents woke up to a lot of both.

“I hope they cancel school,” Vicki said while our mom placed our General Electric radio on the kitchen table and fiddled with the tuner knob. We didn’t have email or text messaging back then; the quickest way to get local news and learn of school closings was to tune into the KWCO-KXXK radio show. I agreed with my big sister; playing in the snow was far better than going to school.

The man in the radio read through the list of school closings in alphabetical order, however, he had already passed the “Cs” by the time we tuned in. Disappointed, Vicki and I had to wait for the next commercial break to hear if “Chickasha Public Schools” made the list. Our mom went about her morning routine of preparing cups of hot tea, cold milk, and buttery toast. We still needed to eat our breakfast and get ready for school, she told us, just in case.

As I munched on strawberry jelly toast and listened to Paul Simon sing “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”, I got lost in the busy wallpaper staring back at me. It didn’t match our brownish-gold kitchen carpet or aluminum table with floral-padded chairs. Instead, it portrayed a colorful pattern of coffee pots, cups, and muffins. I thought the muffins were funny and took pleasure in seeing how many of them I could count. At age five, I was still learning big numbers, so my ability to get very far, numerically, was limited.

“Here we go!” Vicki said, turning up the volume. Suddenly, I snapped out of my wallpaper trance and joined my sister in leaning towards the radio as if our hoovering bodies would somehow affect the announcement. One-by-one, the radio man recited school closures – again in alphabetical order. Finally, he said it: “Chickasha Public Schools are closed today.”

Hallelujah! Vicki and I wasted no time putting on our coat, hat, boots, and mittens. Even our mom bundled up to join us, though her mission was to de-ice the driveway, steps, and sidewalk.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea to build the fort, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do with the growing collection of excavated ice chunks. Using a shovel, our mom chipped away at the slippery surfaces while Vicki and I hauled the two-inch ice blocks to the front yard.

One-by-one, we stacked the chunks on top of each other. When I could no longer reach the top, I handed the blocks to Vicki, who used her tippy toes until our fort reached an astounding six feet. With little daylight left, I quickly formed a snowman and rolled his body center stage so he could stand guard and protect our fort from evening intruders.

As days passed and temperatures rose, our lovely masterpiece and snowman started to melt. It was sad to watch them slowly dissipate after so much work – in a matter of days, our fort and snowman would be gone forever – or would they?

I don’t remember his name, but we had a neighbor who worked for the Chickasha Daily Express (now known as the Express-Star) newspaper. He drove by our house on Virginia Avenue every day on his way to work. Unbeknownst to us, he snapped a picture of our fort the morning after it was built. What a surprise it was to us to see our fort among the top stories in the Sunday newspaper!

The caption read: ICE FORT, followed by a cute introduction to our kitty, Snowflakes, whose timing was perfect; she was a great photo-bomber. Our mom cut out the photo and story and placed it on the refrigerator. Our hard work, innovation, and creativity had been showcased to the entire town – it was a proud moment for our little family.

What’s even better than memories are the old photographs that accompany them. Below is the newspaper clipping featuring our ice fort; forty-five years later, it still stands.

Share in the comments below of a time when you built a fort. Was it inside or outside? What materials did you use? Never built a fort? Well, it’s not too late! Build one today and post a picture in the MemoryBlogger Forum!

Original Ice Castle

ICE FORT – This cat stands guard at an ice fortress in the 100 block of Virginia. With all the ice storms, thaws and more ice, it was easy to chip these blocks and pile them up for the brick style fort. A lone snowman stands sentry duty inside the half circle.  Chickasha Daily Express, 1977

~Viv

Pure Bread

Loaf of bread symbolizes spiritual gift of daily bread

It was nothing more than a simple loaf of bread, but its message was powerfully unique to each of us. For the downtrodden, homeless man, it symbolized hope and life. For me, it represented humility and submission. Worlds apart, he and I, yet as we sat on a cold bench in downtown Ogden, we became one. The only difference between us was the gift we would receive.

Gift exchange was a fun tradition in our Utah neighborhood. Days before Christmas, our front porch became a breeding ground for homemade treats, tins of cookies, chocolates, and bags of caramel popcorn. One afternoon, I came home to a beautifully wrapped loaf of bread. The tag identified it as one of Great Harvest’s holiday staples: orange marmalade swirl. I smiled as I picked it up and carried it to the kitchen to join the rest of the treats. Such a lovely tradition, however, the number of treats always surpassed my husband’s and my ability to consume them. I never told anyone, but every year, I set aside a few goodies for us, then took the rest to the James V. Hansen Federal Building, where I shared the bounty with my co-workers.

Located on the corner of Grant Avenue and Historic 25th Street, the “Federal Building” was home to thousands of employees serving in multiple agencies. Parking around the six-story building was strictly reserved for visitors; therefore, us Feds parked across the street. Not a big deal, it was a short walk in the spring and summer, but in the fall and winter, when daylight hours were few, the walk seemed longer. I dreaded it.

Lampposts along the street and throughout the parking lot were intended to shed light on the darkened city block. Their illumination, however, produced a shadowy-infused ambiance. This created opportunity for ill-intended street occupants to engage in inappropriate behavior. As I walked to and from my car in the early morning and evening hours, I was accosted by men who emerged from the shadows. Some wanted money, others wanted sex. Refusal of either resulted in verbal attacks of profanity. It was an ongoing ritual; one that hadn’t broken any laws. I learned to simply ignore it, which is why I crossed the street without so much as a glance at the downtrodden man on the bench.

Clutching my purse and the loaf of marmalade bread, I hurried passed him and entered the safe confines of the Federal Building. My stomach was churning. By the time I made it to my office on the fourth floor, I was sweating profusely. As I took off my coat and mittens, I stared at the loaf of bread I placed on my desk. My heart began to pound wildly as these words entered my conscious: “Give him the bread.”

“No,” I said aloud to nobody in particular. I was not going to place myself in an awkward or potentially dangerous situation. Besides, I had already taken off my coat; I was not going back outside.

“Give him the bread.”

The prompting became stronger the longer I resisted. I could not concentrate. I could not get my heartrate down, nor could I stop sweating. After about 10 minutes, I reluctantly submitted. I put on my coat and mittens, grabbed the loaf of bread, and headed outside.

His head was tilted down, but he wasn’t asleep. I hadn’t noticed before, but he was an older man. His long gray hair was curly and stuck out from underneath a red crochet hat. He had on a waist-length black coat and brown boots. Looking at this man, my heartrate settled down. My stomach stopped churning. My fear immediately subsided.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Vivian. Would you like some orange marmalade bread?”

Instead of looking up and accepting my gift, he shook his head ‘no’ and continued to stare at the ground.

“Do you not like orange marmalade?” I asked, sitting down beside him. Again, he shook his head, still refusing to look at me. “Me neither,” I confessed.

He had nothing to say to me and I didn’t know what else to say to him. I was confused at the prompting. Why go through all of this just for him to refuse my gift? We sat in silence for a few minutes before I stood up to leave.

“Well, I better get inside so I won’t get into trouble,” I said. He still would not look at me.

“I hope you have a blessed day. Merry Christmas.” As I turned to walk away, the man yelled at me. “Hey, get back here!”

From the tone of his voice, I expected confrontation. I cautiously turned around and for the first time, I saw his face. Tears were rolling down his rosy cheeks into his untrimmed beard. His expression softened. “Thank you,” he said. “Merry Christmas to you too.”

I nodded and smiled. Now I understood.

It was just a loaf of bread, pure and simple, and though neither he nor I consumed any of it that cold December morning, it nourished and filled our bodies. It was never my gift to give to a homeless man. Rather, it was a special gift intended for both he and I. It was never about the bread.

~Viv

Give us today our daily bread…
Matthew 6:11

Thankfully Blemished

Leaves and hearts symbolizing a thankful heart.

“I’m too old for this,” I said to myself as I added more acne cream to my nose. The stubborn red blemish that took center stage on my face showed no sign of ever leaving, despite the plethora of facial scrubs, creams, ointments, and acne treatments I tried. I was becoming quite frustrated; the unwelcomed nuisance had been there for months – it interfered with my vanity – I wanted it gone.

Little did I know, it had to be there. It had to grab my attention, for without it, I may not be here today.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s – a time where kids spent hours playing outside. I don’t recall  lathering up with sunscreen before heading out the door though, despite my blonde hair and pale skin. It just wasn’t something people did back then. I burned a lot as a kid. As a teenager, I spent the weekends laying on a towel in the backyard, slapping gobs of baby oil on my arms and legs in an effort to tone down my pasty white skin. The oil was supposed to attract the sun so you could tan faster. It attracted the sun all right, but I never tanned – I burned. Same outcome in my twenties and thirties when I traded bottles of baby oil and natural sunlight for bronzers and tanning beds. I was caught in a vicious cycle: lather, burn, repeat.

I figured the spot on my nose just needed a strong, acne prescription from Dr. Neuenschwander, a local dermatologist in town. In a matter of days, I thought, it would be gone, and I would go about my business, never to think of it again. Boy, was I wrong. I am reminded of it every day.

“That isn’t a pimple,” Dr. Neuenschwander told me as he inspected my face with a dermatoscope. “It is a broken capillary. It won’t go away with medicine, but you can have it removed with laser treatment if you would like.”

Darn. Not the quick fix I hoped for, but an easy fix, nevertheless. As I stood up and thanked him for the diagnosis, Dr. Neuenschwander suggested he do a full body skin scan. He could tell I had sun damage and wanted to look to ensure there were no other weird spots. I was happy to oblige; I was there anyways, might as well get my money’s worth.

The blackish-blue spot on my left shin had been there for years, I told him when he inquired. In fact, I had it looked at a few years ago during a routine exam and was told to simply watch it for changes. It never changed, so I dismissed it. The look of concern on Dr. Neuenschwander’s face alarmed me. When he insisted on doing a biopsy, a slight rush of fear entered my body. When the biopsy report came back two days later, I dropped to my knees.

Superficial spreading malignant melanoma, Stage III/IV”, that is what the pathology report said. The blackish-blue spot on my shin had been classified as the most dangerous and deadly type of skin cancer. On the surface, the spot had not changed or grown, however, it had penetrated deeply into my skin and was branching out. I was at risk of the melanoma invading my internal organs if it had not already.

To say I was shocked at the diagnosis is an understatement. In a matter of days, I went from being a healthy woman with plans and aspirations, to becoming Dr. Elliot Asare’s newest cancer patient at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Dr. Asare is a surgical oncologist who specializes in melanoma.

The first two surgeries were quite invasive. To ensure no cancer cells remained, Dr. Asare had to take an exceptionally large chunk out of my shin. To determine if the melanoma spread, he also had to perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy. In ten business days, he informed us, we would know whether the cancer had spread. We would discuss treatment then, if necessary. In the meantime, he ordered me to remain immobile and heal; I would undergo reconstructive surgery and a skin graft to put my leg back together in five weeks.

Dr Asare and Vivian before surgery to remove melanoma.
Me and Dr. Asare before surgery

Ten days. It felt like 10 years. The emotional pain of not knowing my fate was worse than the physical pain I was forced to endure. I worried. I prayed. I cried. I even begged. Once I exhausted myself, I finally trusted. I remembered my faith and recalled all the answered prayers of my past. Suddenly, my thoughts circled back to that annoying red spot on my nose. Had it been strategically placed to where I could not miss it? Would I have seen the dermatologist if it had not been there? How long would I have gone without knowing I had melanoma? Could it be the red spot was a blessing and not a curse?

I got the call on the tenth day. By then, I had Huntsman’s phone number memorized, so when the number popped up on my phone, my heart pounded wildly. This was it. This was the call I waited for. I had come to a place of acceptance; no matter what, I would put it in God’s hands.

“Mrs. Cumins, this is Dr. Asare’s office. We received the results of your lymph node biopsy. The results came back benign. We have no reason to believe the melanoma spread. You are incredibly lucky; it was caught early.”

For the second time in two months, I dropped to my knees. I managed to thank the nurse and confirm my next set of appointments before disconnecting the call and bursting into tears. This time, my tears came from a place of gratitude, not fear.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States every fourth Thursday in November. It is a day to which we give thanks and count our blessings. Though it was a difficult and challenging time, I learned valuable lessons in trust, gratitude, and humility. I am thankful for that unsightly red spot on my nose. To me, it symbolizes mercy; I have no plans to remove it.

What are you thankful for this year? Share in the comments or hop on over to the Forum and tell us about it! Happy Thanksgiving my friends!

For tips on preventing skin cancer, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.

~Viv

The Call

Combat helmet boots and dog tags

“Hey Babe, I’m okay – just don’t watch the news. I will call you when I can. I love you.”

That was all my husband, Eddy, said before the old military field phone went dead. I didn’t hear his voice again for over a week. Eight days, to be exact. Eight excruciatingly uncertain days.

Mortar attacks aimed at Camp Taji, Iraq, a military installation used by Iraqi and coalition forces, were a daily occurrence. In fact, they happened so often, the media rarely covered the incidents in detail. On this particular day, however, CNN was on the scene. This time, the devastation and destruction was massive; there were both American and Iraqi casualties. This was news.

As I cradled the phone receiver in my hand, my thoughts immediately flashed back to February 18, 2003 – the last time I saw my husband before boarding an aircraft at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Eddy had been called to serve overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was our first deployment as a married couple.

The sense of national solidarity and support that originated after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was felt the moment we arrived at the airport. The black M-16 carrying case and government-issued green bags Eddy hauled around were telling. Some people offered supporting nods and smiles as we walked by. Others shook Eddy’s hand and thanked him for his service to our country. The airport staff went above-and-beyond for us; they were understanding and kind to our family. They even allowed my daughter and me to go through security and sit with Eddy until his zone was called, a gesture that was forbidden since the attacks.

Silent tears streamed down my cheeks as I sat next to Eddy and tightly held his hand. When the time came for him to go, I gave him a soft kiss and long hug. I didn’t want to let go. For the past two months, we had been so busy going to deployment briefings, getting our legal affairs in order, and meeting with church elders that I failed to prepare myself emotionally for this day. Feelings of immense pride and fear hit me like a ton of bricks as I watched my husband of five months slowly disappear down the jetway.

Eddy arrived at Camp Taji in March following a stint in Kuwait for convoy operations training. He was an Air Force Technical Sergeant at the time, assigned to an Army Fire Department. His assignment was to provide vehicle maintenance, security, and support to the Department as they fulfilled their mission.

Camp Taji, Iraq
Eddy, Camp Taji- 2003

Up until his unsettling call, Eddy and I spoke on the phone once a week. Though our conversations were short, and his words were few, I was thankful to hear his voice. Pockets of silence between our calls were filled with hand-written letters, cards, and care packages my daughter and I put together. We packed small boxes with staples such as Racer X magazines, baby wipes, beef jerky, Chicken and a Biskit crackers, and that squeezy Cheddar cheese that comes in a can. Not everyone deployed to Camp Taji received care packages, Eddy informed me, so I gladly satisfied his request to pack extra goodies so he could share.

I wasted no time searching for information as to the meaning of his call. Against Eddy’s wishes, I flipped through every news channel – nothing. I did Internet searches – nothing. I called Eddy’s Squadron Commander and First Sergeant – nothing. I got the feeling they knew what had happened overseas, however, they were not at liberty to tell me. As a military spouse, I understood Operations Security (OPSEC), nevertheless, I struggled with the fact I was left to wrangle my unsettled thoughts alone. Had my husband been hurt? Was he taken hostage? Had he and his comrades seen combat? My mind raced out of control.

As a woman of faith, I wish I could say that I trusted God that my husband was okay, but the truth is, I was terrified. For eight days, I tortured myself with agonizing thoughts. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even pray. Then finally, an angel of mercy, disguised as a DSN phone operator, patched a call from Eddy to our home.

The Defense Switched Network, otherwise known as DSN, is a worldwide Department of Defense telephone system. It allows calls to be sent and received from one military installation to another. We lived on base, so the call was easily patched through the landline in our home. With the 10-hour time difference, Eddy took a chance I would be home. Little did he know, I had been waiting by the phone for over a week.

Eight days prior, he told me, he was awakened by the explosion of two car bombs outside Camp Taji’s main gate. The bombs rattled the entire military installation. The highway was blown to smithereens, along with innocent American and Iraqi pedestrians, drivers, and passengers, of which were left to burn inside their vehicles. Eddy assured me he had not been harmed in the attack. He arrived on scene immediately after the explosions and tended to burning vehicles.

With military casualties, he explained, all communication in-and-out of Camp Taji had to be shut down to allow next of-kin notifications. He was concerned I would see the CNN broadcast and think the worst when I didn’t hear from him.

Even though Eddy was in the middle of war-related chaos, he thought of someone other than himself. He thought of me. He wanted to assure me he was okay. He didn’t want me to worry (sorry honey, I did anyway!) He was selfless – a character of a true hero.

Veteran’s Day is a day to honor our military heroes, both past and present. Regardless of whether one served in a combat zone, each military member (and their family) has sacrificed countless ways for their country. Such devotion is deserving of recognition other than just one day a year. Below is a small list of ways one can show their appreciation to our veterans each and every day. What ideas do you have that can show support to our veterans? Add to this list by sharing in the comments.

Thank you to all who are and have served and thank you to the families who love and support them.

Ways to show appreciation to a Veteran:

    1. Say “Thank you”.
    2. If you see a military member in uniform while at a restaurant, secretly pick up their tab.
    3. Donate to a cause that supports veterans.
    4. Listen to their stories.
    5. Attend local Veteran’s Day parades.
    6. Fly an American flag – fly it properly.
    7. Write. Write a story on a blog, in a public forum, or for a local newspaper.
    8. Volunteer at a military installation.
    9. Offer to help the family of a deployed military member.
    10. Send cards and letters of gratitude to deployed military members.
    11. Pray for them and their families.
    12. If you own a business, offer a military discount. Click here for a list of business that offer military discounts.
    13. Open your home to military members and their families for the holidays.
    14. Get to know the veterans in your neighborhood; be respectful during holidays that include fireworks – a pretty firecracker could be a traumatizing trigger.
    15. Vote

~Viv

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