Archive | January, 2013

Wordless Wednesday – 1/30/13

30 Jan

My sister being interviewed by the local news!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

28 Jan

Bianca: “There’s a difference between like and love. Because, I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack.”

Chastity: “But I love my Skechers.”

Bianca: “That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.”

Chastity: “Oohh.”

10 Things I Hate About You, 1999

Okay, just kidding! I’m not that shallow! But because this week’s photo challenge topic is Love (great….why couldn’t it be something simple like Trust, Faith or God?!), I HAD to include it! (Shout out to a great friend who watched this movie with me so many times we had it completely memorized line for line at one point in time…I think I may still have the notebook you wrote the script in!)

But I digress….I need a picture. Something that describes what I love. Boyfriend? Family? Pets? Music? Books? Photography? Disney?

You’re starting to see my problem…. how do you choose JUST ONE?!

Answer: YOU CAN’T!! Alright, I’m sure someone out there in the blogshpere  has managed to capture everything they love in one glorious photo. But let’s face it, that was never going to be me. So here we go, and I may be breaking the rules here, but my photo(s) for the week.

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With my sisters – NYE 2012

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Bernie

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With two of my very best friends! Love these girls! NYE 2012

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Bear. RIP. Miss you everyday. ❤

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My family! Christmas 2012!

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Wishes firework show at The Walt Disney World Resort – Magic Kingdom. July 31, 2011

So there you have it, half a dozen things I love….

Not-So-Sweet 16…

23 Jan

The following blog post may be difficult for some to read. If you have a low tolerance when it comes to seeing/hearing/thinking about others in pain, I advise you to stop reading here.  

When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Honestly, when I saw Tuesday’s Daily Post Challenge, I wasn’t going to write about this topic. Immediately I backed away, closed out of WordPress and attempted to forget all the memories those two seemingly harmless words evoked: “Sweet Sixteen.”  It has taken me two days to complete this entry, but it is a tale that needs to be told, and who better to tell it than me?

My sixteenth year was anything but sweet, it was a nightmare, and one I pray even my worst enemies never have to live through. I have spent 8 years trying to forget about that year, trying to erase, what little I can remember that is, from my memory. I don’t often talk about it, and only within the last 2 – 3 years have I started to realize that the events of this year helped shape me into who I am today. While this story has a happy ending, it is still hard to revisit all these years later. I will answer the questions posted at the top, but first you need to know the story to understand my answers.

My story actually begins in June 2004, 3 months before my 16th birthday. I remember waking up late, having enjoyed the ability to sleep in. After stretching and attempting to focus my still sleeping eyes, I stood up, and in that moment, time stopped. What should have been a brainless task, asking my legs to support me, turned into impossible in a split second as I found myself crumpling to the ground in pain so intense I lack the words to express it. It was upon attempting to stand for the second time I realized something was truly wrong. Somehow I managed to craw on all fours to an upstairs closet where my crutches from a few years prior (broken ankle after sliding into 3rd base during our first softball practice of the season) were stored. With their support, I awkwardly made my way downstairs in search of my mom. I don’t remember the conversation, I’m sure she asked me why I had the crutches and I must have explained I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. Needless to say, I ended up in the Emergency Room where they gave me a brace, sent me on my merry way, and referred me to a specialist.

I don’t remember much from this visit, other than the nurse asking me when I had the rod removed from my leg after she saw my X-rays. “What rod?” I asked her. “You’re bone is hallow, all the way from your hip to your knee. It looks like you had a rod removed.” “I, I’ve never even had a surgery before. Why’s it hallow?!” She looked at me with sad eyes and no answer. That was the first time I remember really starting to panic.

A couple of weeks after this appointment, my family and I went on vacation. In all the pictures from that trip I am sporting my new brace, which was black and bulky and uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but days before we left my parents got a call from my doctor. “We think it might be cancer. We aren’t 100% sure, we wont know more until we go in for surgery and run some tests.” I don’t know how my parents functioned during that trip, I would have been a mess if I’d been in their shoes. And they kept that information, that it may be cancer, from me for years.

Fast forward to August, and the time has come for my surgery. I can remember sitting in the waiting room clinging to my mom. I was scared, terrified. The hospital gown was the icing on the cake….it didn’t even cover your backside completely. How humiliating for an almost 16-year-old girl! And if that wasn’t enough, the nurse asked me what I felt at the time to be the most embarrassing questions: “When was your last period?”, “Could you be pregnant?” While I know she was just doing her job, the longer she talked, the more I considered fleeing the hospital on all fours, regardless of  who happened to catch a glimpse of my backside during my get-away. My plan, however, was foiled when the doctor came over to sign my knee. That’s right, he initialed my left knee, and winking told me it was so they didn’t operate on the wrong one. (Was that SUPPOSE to make me feel better?! Because you have taken my anxiety level to an 11!)

I was told the surgery went well. The last thing I remember was the nurses asking me about the guys I liked at school and something about rainbows or maybe puppies. Okay, so the details are a little groggy. When I woke, however, the pain was electrifying, a burning so intense even screaming out in pain couldn’t provide an escape. Everything from my hip to my toes on my left side hurt. I was told they had to make two incisions to flush my bone out. I was only to remain in the hospital 1 – 2 days tops, just long enough for the cultures to grow, a diagnosis to be made, and a treatment plan to be established. 2 days turned into 7 days as it took the cultures way longer than expected to grow. Finally, I was released and prescribed Vancomycin and Ibuprofen for what the doctors decided was a Staff Bone Infection, however, they couldn’t tell me where I got or how long I had it, only that the morning I collapsed unable to put weight on my leg was the morning the infection ate through the back of my knee.

I ended up missing the entire first week of school my sophomore year, thus leading some of my teachers to believe I was one of those students who sometimes didn’t feel like coming to school, therefore I stayed home. It didn’t matter that I showed up the next week with crutches, a PICC line and a doctor’s note, there was nothing I could do to change some of their minds.

The next two weeks were interesting. Twice a day I had to endure Vancomycin treatments through my PICC line (IV). After a couple of days of this, I began to turn red during my treatments. My skin would feel irritated and I had the desire to rip it off to stop the pain from spreading. “It’s just Red Man Syndrome” one of my Visiting Nurses told my parents over the phone, she couldn’t be bothered to come see me. The redness and the irritation continued, soon to be joined by blisters in my mouth and down my throat, making it hard to breath, talk or even eat. “Here’s a prescription for ‘Magic Mouthwash’. (Yes, that was the actual name) Have her gargle with this 3 times a day for a week.” I could have used that stuff that claimed to taste like bubblegum every 30 seconds and it still wouldn’t have done anything. My parents tried everything, changing the times I got my medicine, giving me Benadryl before, even adjusting how long it took for me to get my medicine. My mom devised this plan: we put in a movie (Prince and Me) and she set the drip on my IV so that it would not finish before the movie. She’s a genius, and I love her dearly, but even this did nothing. Sadly, it kept me red, itchy and irritated longer.

Two days after my 16th birthday (mid September 2004), my world teetered again. (Much of this knowledge came from talking to my mom years later.) It was 5AM, time for my morning medication and my mom got up to prepare it. We were sleeping downstairs because I was having difficulty mastering the stairs with my crutches and still terribly sore leg post surgery. She got up to prepare my medicine when something told her (call it a message from God, Mother’s Intuition or whatever you want), “Do not give that to her. It will kill her.” And because my mom is a wise lady, she choose to listen and went back to bed, also noticing that for the fist time all night, I was peacefully sleeping and she didn’t want to disturb me. A few hours later, I sleepily made my way to the restroom. I was tired and didn’t turn on the light at first, it was only while washing my hands and looking in the mirror did I see it, a giant blister that had formed on the right side of my neck, the side that had been facing away from my mom while I was sleeping. Another, equally as big, blister was forming on my arm. I began to panic, a healthy person doesn’t break out into huge, painful blisters for no reason. My parents called the squad (aka: alpha unit, ambulance) to come to check me out and it just so happened that two of the people who responded were my aunt and uncle. I was rushed to the hospital, but by this time I am out of it. I guess the best way to explain it is like and out-of-body experience. I knew they were talking to me, about me, but I couldn’t focus in on anything they were asking or telling me. It was like I was hearing everything from the opposite end of a very long tunnel.

At the Emergency Room, another aunt of mine happened to be working and took over my care. The physician, who my mom still fondly refers to as a Doogie Howser clone, popped his head in for only a second and was gone again. This angered my parents, but it was later explained to them it took this man one glance to know what was wrong with me because he had seen it once during his residency. I had Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a severe allergic reaction to medication. To this day, my doctors don’t know which medication cased the reaction because both Vancomycin and Ibuprofen can cause such a reaction.  When the doctor left my room, he began the process of setting up transportation to the nearest Burn Unit (the local Children’s Hospital) because time was of the essence and he knew that’s where I needed to be transferred to immediately. I don’t remember much about being transferred other than the ambulance had a television in it (which I remember thinking was odd) and that they asked me which movie I wanted to watch (I chose “Angels in the Outfield”). I didn’t watch any of it because I was gone again, to that place where you have no memory, no recollection of what it happening around you, let alone TO you. It’s a scary feeling, I knew something was wrong with me, but I was powerless to say what or where. When I concentrate on that moment in time, I see and experience it all from the third person, as if I was watching it on television as it happened to someone else.

I spent that first night in ICU. I remember next to nothing of that time. I do recall the monkeys. My first day in ICU happened to be the annual Teddy Bear Run for the Children’s Hospital, where hundreds of motorcyclist came to the hospital with teddy bears for the kids. My mom and my aunt went out to see what was going on. Years later, they told me how all these teddy bears were being thrown into a big pile, but off to the side there stood a husband and a wife clinging to these two monkeys. I think they noticed them because monkeys are my favorite animal. My aunt asked if they were saving the monkeys for someone, and the wife goes on to explain how she sent her husband out that morning to buy two teddy bears and he came back with those two monkeys instead. “Who’s going to want MONKEYS!?” she had demanded to know. “I just know someone is going to need them” her husband had replied. And so, they stood off to the side, watched and waited. My mother explained that I was there and that my favorite animal was monkeys. They broke down, touched by my story and the knowledge that they were meant to get monkeys because I would need them. They asked my mom if they could meet me. I remember they were there, by my bed in the ICU, but I can’t picture their faces or remember their names, and for that I am truly sorry. I hope they knew how thankful I was for the gift, and how often I’ve thought of their generosity, and even though I couldn’t respond, I knew the monkeys were hanging from my bed because every time my doctor came in to see me that night, he would squeeze one and make it laugh. From this point on, my collection of monkeys grew as the nurses went searching for more and others were dropped off by friends and family. My 8th grade English teacher, the one who gave me the nickname of monkey because of my last name, came to see me at one point and brought a GIANT Curious George monkey. He told me how he and his daughter went searching for the perfect monkey and how they were coming up empty-handed, until they discovered this guy! Before coming to see me they stopped for lunch at Taco Bell, where my English teacher got taco sauce on his shirt. (It was hidden behind the plastic yellow gown all visitors have to wear in the Burn Unit.) So naturally I named that monkey Taco.  My collection of monkeys were a source of happiness, not only for me, but for my family as well. And believe it or not, not one monkey was a repeat! They are all different kinds, sizes, colors, brands and textures.

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From this point on, I only remember 3 or 4 different times in a 9 day period. I was taking a strong medication that would block my memory because of severity of the treatment for my Stevens Johnson. There is no cure for this disease. It has to run it’s course, and it is different for each person. I was treated like someone who had 2nd or 3rd degree burns, because basically my skin was burning itself from the inside out. I was monitored closely. My parents were told that if I blistered 70% of my body I would require skin graphs. Thankfully, I was just under that. Treatment consisted of a special bath that was given and monitored by a team of 5 – 6 people. My parents had to leave the area during this time they later told me because even though I was in a separate wing from the waiting room, they could hear my blood curling screaming as if it was coming from outside the door. Afterwards, I was wrapped up in bandages, closely resembling a mummy, to protect my raw skin. The only part of me you could see were my eyes and my lips.

This one night I remember perfectly. I don’t know why I remember it, maybe my medication was wearing off? Anyways, a night nurse I’d never seen before poked her head into my room to check on me. After my mom assured her that we were fine for the time being, she looked at me and said “Oh, I see you are into the Gothic look.” That poor woman had no idea that what she thought was deep reddish-black lipstick was actually dried blood from the cracked and healing blisters on my lips. I wanted to cry. I think in that moment, in my dark hospital room with its beeping equipment, being mistaken for a Gothic chick, the reality of my situation sank in. I honestly don’t remember if we corrected her, part of me feels my mom did, because she’s a protective momma and she’d do anything to help her kids.

I spent a total of two weeks in the Burn Unit. Two weeks worth of memories I will never get back, and if I’m honest, part of me is glad I can’t remember most of it. I know there were times I asked about friends (one of my best friends was having an outpatient surgery), other times I would ask when I was going for my bath, to be told I had already gone for the day. Most of my memories of the Burn Unit come from my last two days there, days 14 and 15 in the Burn Unit (early October 2004). I remember the bath room, the metal tub, sterile smell  and how humiliated I felt bathing in front of people, honestly, what 16-year-old girl wouldn’t be mortified if she still needed the help of two or three nurses, and this time without the medication to block the memory? I didn’t cry out in pain, but I may have flinched a couple of times because my skin was so raw. I remember watching the cartoon “Braceface” and I began “singing” (raspy talking is more like it, blisters in your throat KILL your vocal cords) along with the theme song.  I also remember a few of the nurses, especially Tony, he was my favorite!

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Nurse Tony and I the morning I got to go home! He’s holding the monkey I named after him!

 I can’t describe the excitement I had at being able to go home! I missed my family (one of my parents was always with me at the hospital), my room, my dog, my life, my friends…everything. Even school. I missed being “normal”. But there was one thing I didn’t have to miss….the HOMECOMING DANCE! I got out of the hospital on a Thursday and the dance was two days later… I was even off my crutches, that being my first day without them!

Tell me, does this look like the face of a girl who spent the previous two weeks fighting for her life? I’m a tough cookie, what can I say?!

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I would have to endure 3 more surgeries in the coming months…. an emergency surgery one Sunday in February 2005. I woke up and my knee was the size of a cantaloupe. No one knows what happened during the night to cause my knee to swell to that extreme, however, I can tell you that it was so painful trying to move. In the Emergency Room, the doctor had to cut the pant leg off my pajama pants to even get to my knee. I would have a follow-up surgery two days later to make sure the infection that had begun to spread again was completely cleaned out. This time the hospital stay wasn’t terrible, I had a laptop to use. Many countless hours were spend IM friends. And can you see the paper doll on my IV pole, that was my Paca Flaca for my Spanish Project. She came to visit me in the hospital, and she brought my friend, Dan’s Paco Flaco, along, too.

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I wish I could say that was the end, but there was one final surgery during my 16th year. April 2005. Whatever was happening with my knee, it got better after that. (Knock on wood that it stays that way!) The only way to describe this year would be torture. Countless needle pricks for blood work and IV medications, 4 major knee surgeries, 15 days in the Burn Unit, and dozens of hours at physical therapy. I didn’t have time to think about the future past two of three days. I was swamped under make-up work for school due to the 32 days I missed during my Sophomore year.

When I thought about my future, I dreamed of being healthy. I prayed for no more surgeries. I begged my parents not to make me eat yogurt or drink protein shakes even though I knew I needed the nutrients to get well. My future consisted of learning to survive one day at a time, hiding my scars and dealing with the knowledge that my skin would forever be more sensitive to sunlight than it already was. My future consisted of fearing a flare-up of infection, long pants and sunscreen by the gallon. I dreamed of a future where I would feel “normal” again, but I’m not normal, no one is.

Today, I am happy and healthy. It’s been 8 years since that April surgery. I somehow passed my sophomore year, graduated and went to college. I had the chance of a lifetime to work at The Walt Disney World Resort® in Orlando, Florida. By the grace of God, I had a full-time job waiting for me right out of college. I have a loving and supportive network of friends and family. I am training to run in not my first, but my SECOND 5K! I can wear shorts and a swimsuit now and not feel self-conscious about my scars, after-all, they speak loud and clear about the hardships I’ve overcome in my young life. They don’t define me, nor are they a flashing neon sign when someone first meets me. What would life be like had I had a “normal” 16th year on this planet, I couldn’t fathom a guess, nor would I want to because I am enjoying this life, imperfections and all. I am so blessed to be here. I am building a future and chasing my dreams. My life isn’t cookie-cutter perfect, but it’s good and I couldn’t ask for more.

Wordless Wednesday – 1/23/13

23 Jan

Is it too early to start packing?!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond

18 Jan

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Wow! I took this photo nearly two and a half years ago as I was arriving in Orlando, Florida. I was about to make my dream of working at The Walt Disney World Resort® a reality by participating in the Disney College Program… boy has time flown by, pun intended!!

For this week’s “Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond,” I can’t just focus on what you see beyond the main focal point  (plane wing) of this picture, but let’s start there. In this picture, we are moments from landing, and I was kind of freaking out because as you can see, the road was quickly rushing up to meet us! I honestly felt like we were going to land right on that car! I LOVE flying, but this first time flying into MCO was TERRIFYING (okay, maybe I exaggerate!) And it wasn’t until I was safely on the ground, in my hotel room loading my pictures onto Facebook that I noticed the plane taking off in the background! Look closely and you’ll see it by the .com on the wing!  And somewhere, WAY BEYOND those trees, is Walt Disney World…my final destination! 😀

Now, I’ll go a little “beyond” my picture for the rest of this post. That time in Florida was beyond anything I ever could have dreamed! I had the opportunity to work in not one, but three different locations on Disney property in the course of a year. (See some of my photos from my cast member days here!) I met people from all around the world, had the most wonderful roommates and made memories and friends that will last for a lifetime. I found myself, found the place where I belong, found happiness and where I hope to someday find my own happily ever after. What I thought was going to be an exciting semester working for Disney turned into a year that has forever changed my life. I began to discover what lies beyond my own small town environment and I’ll do whatever it takes to get back there someday.

 

Wordless Wednesday – 1/16/13

16 Jan

The best part about winter  running…

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Finding Happiness

14 Jan

Today I had a bad case of the Mondays…. I don’t know why, it just never really turned into a great day. Okay, maybe that’s because I’m still not sleeping…. I thought you were suppose to outgrow nightmares?! But back to Monday, I was just having one of those days were I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t sad, I was just… blah.

And then I happened across this gem during my lunch break:


Happiness is a state of mind

Disney to my rescue once again. I got to thinking about it. I was the only thing standing between me and my happiness today. So I finished the day on an up note, I was going to do something to lift my spirits. And thus I found myself running in 30 degree weather….I must be crazy! ME, the girl who three weeks ago would have rolled her eyes if you suggested “hey, let’s go for a run.” Me, the girl who hates the cold.

That’s right, Me, the girl who taking back control of her happiness while training for the Expedition Everest 5K Challenge in May at Walt Disney World! Only 109 days left to train….I’ve so got this!

And I found that after my run/walk in the bitter cold, I was happy. I accomplished the “unthinkable” from a few weeks ago. I broke down some walls, pushed past the negative voices in my head that told me I wasn’t strong enough or healthy enough to be training for a 5K, and I enjoyed leaving the world behind for 40 minutes. Nothing can touch me when I’m on that course, I’m in my element. And thinking about it now, I think I’ve found happiness in what I would have once considered an unlikely place…on a trail, with only me, my running gear and my iPod to keep me company. In those precious moments, I have never felt more alive, at ease or at one with myself.

I hope you, too, find your happiness this week!