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Health and Wellness

The Cigarette Fights Back

Smoldering Cigarette

The Cigarette Fights Back

I’m a small little thing,

Not much in cost,

But smoke me awhile

And I’ll show you whose boss.

You killed my great Grandpa

To win a childish dare,

By the time you were twenty

You just didn’t care.

You’ve stomped me, you’ve burned me,

You’ve given me away,

Just keep on inhaling,

I’ll get even some day.

Your eye balls are burning,

Your lungs are on fire,

You’ve got my dead brothers

All over your car.

You’ve dropped a half dozen

On the wife’s newest rug.

That’s not anyway to get a big hug,

You think a good meal is some kind of joke.

You say, “Aw I’m not hungry,

I’ll just have me a smoke.

Hubert K. Mandrell

12-29-56

 

Grandpa Mandrell

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

 

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

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

Sleepy Tingles

Iron and ironing board

Have you ever fallen asleep listening to the sound of rain showering the roof? Do ocean waves crashing on a sandy shoreline trigger feelings of serenity? Has Bob Ross, with his tranquil voice and mesmerizing tutorials, ever lulled you to sleep watching The Joy of Painting on PBS? If so, welcome to the world of ASMR!

ASMR stands for:  Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a non-clinical term that emerged in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who was simply searching for a way to describe the tingling, calming sensation one feels when exposed to certain audio and visual stimuli. Many claim that exposure to specific sights and sounds lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and contributes to better sleep. While psychologists, scientists, and researchers continue to compare theories regarding the mystical phenomena, Allen’s discovery has ignited an inferno of artistic YouTube videos intended to impart relaxation to an audience triggered by sight and sound.

Most adults who experience ASMR were first exposed to it as a child. I am no exception. I recall many instances where sounds, such as blowing fans, rustling papers, and lingering thunder, would highjack my senses and place me under a sleepy spell; the most vivid memory I have is when I hung out with my mom while she ironed clothes in her bedroom.

I loved to climb all over on my parent’s queen-size bed; it was so much bigger than my tiny twin. I would play Gilligan’s Island’ and pretend I was a shipwrecked castaway. My young, vivid imagination transformed my parent’s bed into a tropical island with sandy beaches and tall coconut palms. Our shaggy tan carpet was turned into an ocean of clear blue water. There was only one dwelling on the island, and it belonged to me. Built out of bed sheets and pillows, my hut was warm, cozy, and dark. Though light was barred from entering, sound was both permitted and welcomed.

The ironing board creaked and clicked with every stroke of the iron. The fabric swooshed. The starch can sprayed. The water-filtered iron bubbled as it converted water to steam. The plastic hangers clunked together. The wooden clothes pins drummed against the sides of a plastic margarine tub. Every movement produced a unique sound. It was an orchestrated symphony of sheer tranquility that ushered me into a deep sleep.

To this day, when I find it difficult to relax or have trouble falling asleep, I pop in my earbuds and tune in to an ASMR recording. Without fail, I drift off in a matter of minutes.

Those who create ASMR videos are called “ASMRists”. Just like every artist, each have their own way of expressing their art. Test your senses by visiting Rebecca’s Beautiful ASMR Addiction found in Viv’s Favorite Things.  Share your experience in the comment section below or tell me about it in the MemoryBlogger Forum!  Good night and sweet dreams!

~Viv

Shoulder Work Ahead

Shoulder Work Ahead Road Sign

I am not sure if I heard it rip or if I merely felt it rip. One thing was certain, the 35-pound kettlebells I held in each hand as I ran around the gym had just contributed to tearing something in both of my shoulders. Being new to the world of Crossfit, I was still learning the limits to which I could push my body. Apparently, I had just exceeded that limit.

Vivian Cumins Shoulder SurgeryNot wanting to overreact, I nursed my injuries with aspirin and a heating pad for a few days, but the pain in my right shoulder was intensifying. I made an appointment with Dr. Watson, an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered an MRI.

The MRI showed nothing. No tear or damage—literally, nothing. Dr. Watson informed me he could do exploratory surgery to see what might be causing the pain, but he couldn’t guarantee anything. It was a risk, he said, and one I needed to decide if I was willing to take.

I left that appointment confused as to what to do. I didn’t want to deal with the cost or hassle of an unnecessary surgery, but then again, maybe the MRI was wrong. I decided I needed to seek wisdom from God on this one. I prayed silently all the way from the clinic to an overpass bridge approximately two blocks from my office. Typically, I don’t ask God for signs; I just say a prayer and go about my day. But this day, I was so conflicted about what to do that I blurted out, “God tell me what to do—give me a sign if I need this surgery or not!” Just as I was descending the overpass, there was a big, bright orange sign in the middle of the road. I had to slow down and swerve to avoid hitting it straight on. It said, “Shoulder Work Ahead.”

Road crews use those kinds of signs all the time to notify the public they are working on the streets, but I have never noticed them before. But this day, there was no ignoring the sign. It was in plain sight. I began laughing out loud at the way God had chosen to answer my prayer. He literally gave me a sign!

As soon as I parked my car, I walked to my office and made the call to Dr. Watson’s office.

The surgery revealed I had a labrum tear where the bicep tendon attaches and a rather large bone spur. I would find myself hanging out with Dr. Watson a year later to perform the same surgery on the left shoulder, but that time it showed up on the MRI, so no sign was needed!

What I love so much about this memory is it is not only a great lesson in faith, but it also shows God has a sense of humor. Have you ever been given a “sign”?

~Viv

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