#SayYes: Getting to Joy

#Bringbackourgirls-16

 Last Saturday, my friend and I had one of those late night conversations about life. I don’t know how we got on the subject, but I proceeded to tell her everything I learned through my suffering. I told her what I gained through my experience of getting to the other side of joy.

The next morning, a guest pastor delivered a message I needed to hear. From the moment I heard the title, “Making Sense of Suffering,” my friend and I knew this message was intended for us. The pastor began to preach and every single point he hit was my whole process of getting to joy. I thought of everything I’ve gone through and all of the work I’ve done to get to this point. I thought of the time I said yes to God…READ MORE. 

My Journey to Health Part 3

I’m back with Part 3 of my story. I know it’s been a long time, so if you need to refresh your memory, read Part 2 here!

“Jen, my ankle,” Mom said.

I tried to ignore her. Mom complaining about her ankle is just her way of trying to quit the race. I’m not having it. We’re at the halfway point, I think. But I am slightly concerned we maybe overdoing it at this point.

We reach another obstacle. There is a dip in the middle of the road filled with muddy water that we have to cross. I could hear the moans and screams from many of the participants in front of us. Not one person could get out of this muddy pit.

I quickly strategize to see how Mom and I can come out of this alive and with her ankle intact. Meanwhile, Mom is still reeling from that fire truck and her ankle, her poor ankle. She says she can no longer lift herself up, and I can see the paralyzing fear on her face.

In trying to keep the situation calm, I quickly grab her hand and just go for it. She, of course, released my hand, which left me no choice but to move forward. Someone has to lead, right?

I, once again, dive head first into the mud. Mom follows me and forgets that she ever injured her ankle. After we pull ourselves up out the mud for the 1000th time, we head into the woods.

The Other Side of Fear

“What’s that?” I ask Mom. I can see a weird yellow apparatus ahead of us. As we move closer and closer, my biggest fear started to come true.

“That thing is huge!” I tell Mom. She doesn’t answer, but just stands with me in the woods silent. We both look up as if we were facing a giant. This net had to be about 15 feet in the air.

“I’m not doing this,” I said.

“Come on Jen!” Mom replied.

She approached and started to climb the net. I was still hesitant. That thing is just too high. Now I’m the one who needs a cheerleader. I am deathly afraid of heights.

Because Mom did it, I decide to take those first steps on this net/apparatus thing. It didn’t seem bad at first. Mom quickly made her way to the top, so I began to climb faster. I soon realized this thing is highly unstable. I began to sway from side to side as more people started to climb. I even see kids pass me, make their way to the top and climb over. This whole situation is just sad.

And to add insult to injury, Mom decided it was just too much for her to finish the obstacle.

“I can’t do this,” Mom said.

She then proceeds to climb down. So there I was on the net, frozen. Did I mention I’m deathly afraid of heights? It seemed like I was stuck there forever. I’m pretty sure over 100 people passed me at this point.

After a few minutes of strangers coaching me through, I finally climbed over and down the obstacle. Mom was just happy to get a break. She had a conversation with one of the mud run volunteers.

After climbing down, I saw another person trying to conquer the same fear. I didn’t have the heart to help her. Mom and I had to move on. We lost a great deal of time.

We power walked into the woods hopefully for the very last time. As we ventured further, it seemed the mud was getting deeper and deeper. And there was no end in sight. I had to rely on my wits and my faith in God to get me through the rest of this race.

After quite a few falls in the mud, Mom almost quit again. She then fell again.

“Mom,” I yelled. “I cannot keep picking you up.” We’re too big for this.” Get it together!”

“Jen, I don’t have anything left in me,” Mom said. “I just don’t have anything left in me!”

I’m over this whole cheerleader thing. I’m hot, sweaty and dirty. Her survival skills are just going to have to kick in. Sorry Mom.

After five more obstacles, we could finally see the end! We could finally see sunlight! And our whole team waiting for us! But we weren’t at the finish line…yet.

Mom instantly thought the race was over. Her boss, co-workers and I had to convince her to finish. So we dragged her up that last hill and carried her over the finish line. We did it. We finished in just under 3 hours. And we weren’t last. There were at least three people behind us.

Mom and I at the finish line
Mom and I at the finish line/Photo by: David Feliciano

My Journey To Health Part 2

Many people often ask me about what I do to stay healthy post surgery, post health scare. Well, here is a glimpse of the time when I attempted to do a mud run…with my mother. Just a few of my crazy antics on my journey to health. Check out Part 1. And here is Part 2:

On the other side of the woods we run into three big lakes. No problem! We can swim. We just walked through the first one. The second one had ropes on each side. As we continued to walk, we realize the lake was 6 feet deep! Wait, what? That explains why I can’t feel the ground. This part was not in the informational video. We quickly swim through with the help of the rope.

“I think I quit,” mom said.

“Quit what?” I replied.

“My body is not cut out for the mud run.”

I guess this is the coaching part, but my competitive spirit took over. Maybe it was the thought that she dragged me to the gym almost every day to train or that she even talked me into doing this race in the first place. Plus the $60 entrance fee. Besides, I think I just swallowed a gallon of muddy water.

“The hell we ain’t,” I said. “We’re not quitters.” “You’re going to finish this race.”

It looks like  she got more than what she bargained for, because from the expression on her face she didn’t know which was worse, her daughter yelling in front of more than a 1,000 people or the fact that I just talked to her like she was some girl out in the street. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I could tell she took what I said into serious consideration, because she swam through the other lake with no problem. The only thing I heard her say was, “Use the rope and keep your chin up.” She was done after that. But the hills were next. We climbed about 5 hills before we reached the water slide. We both looked down from the top of the hill as more people slid down.

“This is supposed to be the fun part, right?” I asked.

“It looks like fun,” mom responded. “Come on Jen, we can do it.”

Since when did she get all optimistic, I thought. Just five hills ago she wanted to quit, and we haven’t even hit the first mile marker. That transference of emotions/energy thing is real. I just gave her everything I had and she gladly took it. Mom slides down first and from what I can tell the water is not that deep. I decided to slide right after. For a split second I forgot I had on contacts. As I came down the slide, my head goes all the way in the water. Not again, I thought. But then I realized this water screams infection! I’m borderline OCD. I don’t like dirt. Then my eyes started to burn. Oh no, chlorine!! Mom could see the panic on my face. She said, “Whatever you do, don’t put your hands in your eyes.”

“There is a water station just up ahead,” a runner said. Praise Jesus.

We finally approach mile marker one, then two. Mom is still power walking as more people run past us. “Are you ever going to run?” I asked. “You did not convince me to run 3 miles every other day to just walk.” Mom never responds. Instead she walks just a little bit slower and a few more people dash in front of us. I noticed everyone’s numbers. We’re team 408. There are more runners with team numbers in the 700’s. Our wave is far ahead of us. As for the rest of our teammates, they were ahead of us in the beginning. I decide to take a stand. My competitive spirit comes back. Maybe it’s in the air.

“We’re not going to finish last.” I said. “I don’t care what we have to do, but we are not going to finish last.” Mom forgot there were timing chips in our numbers.

We finally get to an opened field when I see water. Not just a drop of water, but a lot of it. This water is not a mirage, I told myself. And you know what? I don’t care if the water is a mirage. I’m dirty, sweaty, and hot. I need some relief. But I would be concerned if I ran towards it and I would slip and fall into a pile of mud if it was a mirage. That’s all I need at this point. But it’s not a mirage. The fire department thought it would be a good idea to hose us down in the middle of the race. They are pointing water hoses towards us. Not one, but three.

“Look, Mom!” I said. “There’s water!” She never responded. I think she zoned herself out, thinking of better days. We haul our butts as fast as we could through the water. As soon as we finished running, she screamed “My ankle!” At this point, I’m not hearing it. One part of me is probably in denial that she actually sprained her ankle and the other part of me is thinking we’re in the middle of nowhere. Who is going to come and rescue us? I don’t have my phone. On the other hand, this was her plan the whole time. Fake an injury and get out while she can. Not on my watch.

Part 3, next week.

My Journey to Health Part 1

This describes my journey to health. It has not always been easy, but the sun is always shining. Courtesy of BredeHighWoods.blogspot.com.
This picture describes my journey to health. It has not always been easy, but the sun is always shining. Courtesy of BredeHighWoods.blogspot.com.

“What number is our wave?” I asked as we made our way to the starting line. I’m nervous about this race and I haven’t been feeling well since I came down with a bad case of allergies. We’re in the middle of nowhere for the third annual JCB Mud Run. Their signs and dump trucks are everywhere. Wait, why do they need dump trucks? I look around and see more muddy hills than I cared to see and a foam pit, which actually looks like fun. But it’s the summer in South Georgia. I don’t know if I can take this heat.

I asked myself, “Why did I agree to do this?” Oh wait, because mom convinced me, and it’s not like you can say no to your mother. Or at least I can’t. Here’s the back story: Almost a year ago, mom joined a lean challenge at work. She and the “team” thought it would be a good idea to start training for races. Soon after, she started telling people I somehow helped her become a healthier person. Hence, the reason I’m at the starting line too. Since I’m in better shape, I’m supposed to be a coach of some sort, to help her through the obstacles. I would be considered a hater if I didn’t agree to participate in this race, and I would probably feel bad about it. It would also give my family free rein to talk about me until the day Jesus comes back. My guilty conscience wouldn’t let me sit on the sidelines.

Her teammates were happy we made this a mother-daughter event. Truthfully, I’d rather attend Zumba and have a smoothie afterwards. Picture this; a bunch of overzealous adults in their late 40’s and early 50’s, and then there’s me – the millennial. The optimistic side of me was excited to conquer something new. Besides, it’s not everyday that you get to play in the mud.

Our wave is next. The hosts count backwards from ten and we’re off. Everyone including mom takes off running. We were going at a steady pace…at first. As I looked back, we realize we were the last team in our wave. Note to self: Never look back. We get to our first mud pit. I tried to take my time and tip my way in. That strategy didn’t work. I trip and go in feet first. As I make my way out, my mother dives in. I try to pull myself out and immediately I slip back in.

We finally climb out of the pit together. I start to run towards the woods. Wait…why we are running towards the woods!?!?!? I guess today I’m going to have to be one with nature. As I looked towards my left and my right I noticed mom wasn’t beside me. She fell behind. Don’t look back, I told myself. She’ll catch up. But no, I don’t listen to my own advice. I decide to wait for her. But she’s not running, she’s walking. I mean power walking; you know, to keep her heart rate up. While she catches up with me, a group of about 100 more people come running into the pit. We get some motivation to run as fast as we could in the woods, but most of them ran past us. #Fail.

“Why did it take us so long to get to the woods,” I asked. I never got an answer. My mom was already out of breath. This can’t be good.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Joy Comes In The Morning: How My Recent Health Scare Changed My Perspective

  Are you happy?

Last week, I caught up with an old friend I haven’t talked to in a while. Each time we talk, the conversation always turns to my health. But this time was slightly different. After I briefly told him how I was doing as far as my health is concerned, he came back with an interesting follow up question.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

It seems like I get asked that particular question all of the time. My knee-jerk reaction was to say, “Of course,” and that’s exactly what I did. But I never took the time to think about if I was really happy, until two weeks ago.

Mother’s Day weekend last year marked a pivotal moment in my very short life – my health scare. A few months before, I started taking hormone therapy as a solution to treat my uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. It was even used as a diagnostic tool for suspected endometriosis which I address in my previous blog post: Joy Comes in the Morning: My Battle with Fibroids, Ovarian Cysts and Endometriosis.

I thought hormone therapy would be easy in comparison to the emergency room visits, biopsies and a ruptured cyst. In the beginning, I had a few side effects which included hot flashes, night sweats, memory loss and headaches, but within a week, the side effects became progressively worse. The headaches turned into debilitating migraines and the pain was so magnificent, it’s literally indescribable.

It was not until my mom found me in my room unresponsive is when we learned the side effects from the hormone therapy started to affect my brain function. I underwent a spinal tap procedure. Soon after, I began to leak spinal fluid. I soon lost my vision; my balance and I developed a spinal headache, which surpassed the pain of any migraine in the world. All I remember is my mother rushing me to the hospital and everything went black.

I thought about that question my friend asked as I replayed that weekend over and over again in my head. It became hard for me to accept what happened, especially when there was no solution in sight. I was literally healthy at one point and all of a sudden life changed for me in a second. I could accept if my situation was preventable or if it was something I did, because that meant I could have some level of control. But God quickly showed me the true meaning of trust. The one thing I do know is my health scare changed me for the better.

There is unspeakable joy I get when I think about how I felt when I thought joy was unattainable. I felt like Oprah having one of her infamous full circle moments. From the furniture arrangements to the blankets I slept with on the floor, everything remained the same when I had my health scare last year. And it just so happened to be Mother’s Day weekend. Time was repeating itself.

The only thing noticeably different was me. Then I realized somehow I was granted a second chance. God took me to the end of the earth and brought me back wiser and stronger than ever. Without even noticing, I developed a new zest for life. A certain part of me died during my health scare and now there is something in me being reborn. I went from traveling through a tunnel that kept getting darker and darker not knowing if the end was near. The further I traveled, the more alone I became, and when no one could find a solution, I saw God walking with me.

There is truly a blessing within the blows of adversity. It’s an opportunity to show what you’re truly made of. It’s an opportunity to pull yourself up by your boot straps and conquer the fear of starting over. It’s really a wonder to feel like my old self again, but I know I will never be the same.

What about you? What types of adversity did you overcome? Did it change you for the better? Was it a blessing? Click on the post and comment below! Be candid in your response!

 

 

Joy Comes in the Morning: My Battle with Fibroids, Ovarian Cysts and Endometriosis

Psalm 30_5-3

Excitement ensued when I read this month’s issue of Essence. On the cover was a special health report which addressed the issue I’ve been dealing with over the past year. Since my surgery, I battled with telling how this very issue affected my quality of life. After reading the article, I knew it was time.

The article, Fighting Fibroids, tells the story of Tasha Mitchell. When she decided at 26 to stop taking her birth control pills, it unleashed a multitude of health problems. I was just like Tasha. Starting at a young age, I suffered from painful menstrual cramps and seriously heavy periods that no medication in the world could cure. After years of taking the pill, I took a stand. I wanted to feel like myself again.

For a while, everything was fine. I dealt with the pain every month and I thought I got my life back. But one day I felt the worst lower abdominal pain ever. The world began to shatter like I was in some alternate universe. After a series of tests and two emergency room visits, I was diagnosed with having uterine fibroids. At that very moment, my fight began.

In the Essence article, I read about a Mayo Clinic study of women ages 29-59 with fibroids. Elizabeth Stewart M.D., the study’s lead author explained, “The study also suggests that Black women have a harder time getting a diagnosis, good information about treatment alternatives and a solution.”

I was 23. After multiple trips to the doctor, it seemed I couldn’t get any valid information about my fibroids. Forget a solution. I was only given a pamphlet about my newfound condition and possible treatment options. Since I wanted to have children, there were only a few options available. My actions and my feelings were reduced to this pamphlet. Any symptoms I had, if it was not in the pamphlet, didn’t exist at all. I often found myself questioning if the pain and the significant blood loss was real. Just a few weeks earlier, my doctor told me the reason he chose to become a physician was to help women with fibroids. I lost confidence in him.

Soon after, I began to feel worse. An ultrasound revealed I had an ovarian cyst on my right ovary – a complete let down. One cyst turned into several on both of my ovaries and small activities such as walking became a challenge.

As time passed, the pain became relentless. My fibroids drained any life I had and I didn’t know why. When I looked in the mirror, I started to become unrecognizable. After weeks of confusion and more tests, one of my cysts ruptured. The ER doctors sent me home after yet another frustrating night. There is nothing more devastating than a doctor telling you he is out of options. I thought I was going to die.

My only solution was to undergo hormone therapy and stop my reproductive system all together. I went through a medical menopause. I had night sweats, hot flashes and debilitating migraines. The series of injections caused serious adverse effects aside from the usual side effects and it affected my brain function. Not to mention taking more medication to cure the side effects. I went from just getting by to being completely broken. At one point, I could no longer feel. I was numb to my situation. A spinal tap and a blood patch later, I said enough was enough.

I sought a second opinion and was also referred to some infertility specialists. The first one denied my case. She said she couldn’t help me. I appreciated her honesty. By the time I talked to the second one, I stopped all medications. He recommended surgery to remove the fibroid, and to see if I had endometriosis. I was diagnosed with a moderate form of endometriosis after the surgery.

The misunderstanding about my experience was the lack of information available about the cause of these conditions and preventative measures. I wanted to be proactive, but didn’t know how. What can I eat? What can I do? I was left with nothing. The only way I knew how to deal with it was just as the women who came before me did. You get the surgery and move on, because life doesn’t stop.

A few people told me all women get fibroids at some point in their lives. It was just a way of ushering me into womanhood like some rite of passage. And because so many of us get diagnosed, these health issues become acceptable. We carefully wrap our issues, put them away, and fiercely protect them. We fail to talk about it, because it’s too painful. I was amazed at the amount of women dealing with these complex issues. I had no idea until it was my turn.

I hoped, prayed and wished; and wished, hoped and prayed; and prayed, wished and hoped for answers. I never got them. All I could do was try to take control of my health. But in order to take control I had to recognize my worth. I was conditioned to put everyone else before me just like my mother and my grandmother. They took care of everyone and everything until it was nothing left for them. I had to realize I was enough. I had to know that I mattered too.

Now at six months after surgery, my life is full of the unknown. Am I confident that I will be able to have children one day? No. Am I confident that my fibroids, cysts and endometriosis won’t grow back? No. But that’s the beauty of walking by faith. I’m more than overjoyed that Essence decided to continue the conversation. It gives me hope.

Seven ER visits, two biopsies, countless doctor visits, ultrasounds, surgery and an extended hospital stay can sum up my story. It’s not a testament to how I got over, but it’s a story about God’s power working through me. If He can fix me, He can fix you too. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.