What Alzheimer’s Can Never Take Away

Sweet, familiar faces greet me at the glass screen door. Through tender hugs and peering over beloved shoulders, I begin my search for her. It’s hard to believe this day is here. I’m amazed. Her kids weren’t sure she’d live to see this day. It’s been a rough road lately, I hear. But she’s entered into the hour of her 80th birthday.

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The last time I was here, she conversed with me. She won’t be able to today.

I see her. I take in her sweet details from a distance.

She’s so loved. Disease can take so much from a person. People can give up on you, and one can choose to give up on themselves and others, but from where I stand, Alzheimer’s can’t take away your loves. She is curled up on her side, on the couch, cuddled into her pillow and blanket. So much princess pink. Her loyal Maltese blends in to the white cotton pillowcase, taking up more pillow space than my aunt’s precious face is. The beloved caregiver beckons the help of my cousin, the daughter, and they ease her to standing at the walker. The caregiver cups my aunt’s face in her hands and kisses her forehead.

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She’s so strong, even in her weakness. Because she’s all heart–all heart that fought for grandkids, that survived cancer, that survived the loss of two beloved children, that survived the loss of a husband, that fought and survived so much more than I’ll ever be privy to. Her fragile fingers grip the walker rails. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away a fighting spirit. Time after time, her kids wonder if she’s being escorted away into the arms of God, but to everyone’s surprise, He wonderfully escorts her wandering mind and body inch by inch to the table through the hands and feet of Christ. She takes a seat at the queen’s chair, the candles are lit, and everyone gathers around her with love, in love.

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She’s so tiny. Always has been. But a recent chest cold pummeled on top of Alzheimer’s leaves her frailer than ever. Her beautiful skin clings to her precious cheekbones. Yet a glow emits from her eyes, as her two remaining daughters sprinkle her face with kisses. She looks, in part, like a ten-year-old with her sweet braids. The room fills with the fragrance of a struck match and a rising melody, happy birthday over her. And the words we know so well since childhood seep from her lips … happy birthday to you. “She’s singing,” I say. “She’s always singing,” says her caregiver, smiling. She is. She sings hymns with her sisters–my mom, my other aunt. One voice begins and hers will blend, like always, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your treasure. A tiny package containing years of stored-up infinite treasure. Childhood treasure. Leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms kind of treasure.

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She’s so determined. She sits there, wobbly. But she will see this through. Her daughter opens the presents before her, for her. Chocolate and more chocolate. Giggles disperse. I think back over my conversation with my cousin, when I’d inquired over what I could possibly get my aunt for her birthday. If time is short and space is limited, what can I give her? “Chocolate,” said her daughter, my cousin. “She can still eat chocolate?” I asked, surprised. After the week she’d had, being so sick … “She sure can.” Would you look at that? My cousin places a slice of cake before her, crackers and Coke. All her favorites. She parts her lips for one tiny bite after bite, one tiny sip after sip, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your favorites. 

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She’s so … Heading home, I ponder my aunt in admiration. I can’t quite put my finger on the situation. My oldest says, “Mom, did you hear what Aunt Novie said when we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ … when we sang ‘and many more’?” My daughter giggles. I glance at her through the rearview mirror. “No. What?” I say. My daughter gasps for air, trying to compose herself. “She asked, ‘There’s going to be more?'” I laugh. That’s exactly right. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your humor.

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And that’s when I put my finger on it, really put my finger on it–when it seems one doesn’t have a lot to go on, one goes on what they’ve got. Illness can take away much, but some things found in this life can never be removed without authority–love, treasure, a fighting spirit, determination, humor, Coca-Cola, chocolate, and best of all, Jesus. 

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Do you know anyone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer’s? What can you add to the list that can never be taken away? 


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©Shelli Littleton

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Letting Go Of Your Child

It’s never easy. Letting go is never easy. Especially when you’ve had a needy kid. Life has always been a balancing act for me. One I fear I’ll never perfect. One kid is this way, and another is that way. One kid can eat anything; the other needs to proceed with caution. One has perfect balance; the other needs a hand. It’s just the way of it. But it’s also the life you carve out for yourself and your child when you’ve dealt with the big C. One kid is independent, but enduring surgery and chemotherapy takes a toll on the other … simple things can cause panic, weakness takes hold of the ankles.

Under that curly top lies a head of fear. Afraid of her own shadow.

I take her hand and often. If I can keep her from falling, I’ll do my best, I’ll be there, I’ll extend a hand. She often says, “I go where you go.”

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But time passes, and a kid growing up has a way of changing everything. She doesn’t reach out for my hand anymore.

I open the door for Him. “Come in.”

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I smile because I adore Him. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted for my daughter. Everything I’ve ever prayed for. Everything. I’ve known Him for so long, and I’ve just always loved Him. Something about Him. Even His name …

She doesn’t wait for me. She’s received Him with open arms, and she runs off with Him.

The chair scrapes the dining room floor, as she sits down to Bible study with Him. She’s always been nervous about reading out loud, but she reads aloud to Him. For Him. I’m so proud of her. She loves Him. She loves being in His presence. He brings out the braveness in her.

What do I do with myself? I try to find something to busy myself. This is so new. I’m not as needed as before. And I’m really feeling okay about this. I’ll go for a walk.

I open the sheep pen, and my feet hit the leaf covered dirt path. Hooves scramble behind me. I hear a different shuffling sound. She’s behind me with Him. The light radiates around her, and she’s glowing.

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It’s the sweetest sight I’ve ever seen. I laugh more than I should. I tear up more than I should.

I speed up. I don’t want to be a bother or interfere. This is good for her. I can’t help but look over, through the forest of trees, as the oaks are slipping on their sundresses. I grasp a small glimpse of her stroll … a shoe here, a pant leg there, color amidst the greenery.

He’s so tall and strong and kind and loving. He’s a gentleman. A real gentleman. I never thought I’d trust my daughter with another.  But here I am … trusting. Trusting more. If she trips, He’s right there. If she balances a log, He’s right there.

She’s more talkative than I’ve ever seen her. Where did the shy, quiet one go? She shares her dreams, her fears, her insecurities, her laughs … with Him.

All her late night conversations … Him.

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“Bye, Mom.” She closes the car door, and she’s off. The car travels through our windy driveway. She’s off with Him.

I wave my empty hand, blow a kiss, and watch the car till it’s out of sight. I look at my feet. The trees. The garden. The Rose of Sharon. And peace wraps around me like a shawl. I bow my head. Thank you, Father, for taking her hand and traveling this road with her. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter man in her life. You’re everything I’ve ever prayed for, since the day she was born. I’m thankful she knows you. 

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~~~

Are you having to let go of something? Someone? How has God helped you through this? What insight has the Lord given you?

 

Failing My Mammogram and Pansy Prayers


I never arrived. But there I was. 



I don’t want to meet hardships. But when the insufferable hand is extended, I want to offer a firm handshake. Who offers a pansy handshake? But I may never get there.

I had a huge scare this last week. I received a notice after my mammogram saying I needed to come in for more testing. Diagnostic testing. Another mammogram. Ultrasound. 

My mother is a breast cancer survivor.

Panic overrode my peace. That simple. That difficult. 

I stomped my foot at myself. Shelli, you know you can trust God. 

My mind and my spirit know the right things. This is what I know–God has me covered. There is nothing that happens to me that isn’t allowed by Him. In the surrounding heat, God holds out His mighty hand and covers me. The hand continually covers me. But because we just can’t seem to stay in His intended protection, since the beginning of time, we get burned anyway. Things happen. Disease and bad things exist. If my 13-month old daughter had cancer, I’m certainly at risk. 

Fear wrestled with my faith. In my dreams. In my daydreams. I thought of every “what if” scenario. 

Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

 



Accusations. You were late for your mammogram. How can you remotely encourage others through hardships if you can’t handle this? 

I went in for my second mammogram and ultrasound. “We need a biopsy.”

I cried out to my dear friend from childhood. She’d been praying for me since I found out. I told her I’d been sick, dizzy, sleepless. Where was peace? 

She said, “No more pansy prayers from me, Shelli. I’m praying seriously for you.”

Much needed laughter penetrated my chest cavity. 



A week I wait for the biopsy. 

“This looks like a fibroadenoma type mass. Benign. Tiny. But we can’t be sure.” 

Hope springs alive in my heart. 

My gut feels pierced, my insides covered in pain. I so failed. Man’s word gives me hope. What about God’s word? Hope eternal.

I grab on to His hand that covers me. I peek up at Him. As He lifts me up, my feet flip-flop around barely touching the ground. “God, I trust you. I do. Forgive me. Help me. Let me be okay.” I pray on my face.

The Spirit within says to me, “Say it, Shelli.”

“I don’t know if I can. How did you say it, Lord Jesus? How?”

“Say it, Shelli.” I wrestle with the Spirit within.

I don’t know. “I don’t know that I want to give you approval. I don’t think I can.” I love my girls, I want to be a grandmother one day, and I’m not that tough. I toss and turn in bed. Tears soak my pillow.

“I don’t need your approval.”

I want to pound the pillow. Four mighty words seep out of my mind and heart and mouth, as I choose surrender instead. “Thy. Will. Be. Done.” Tears flood.



Just because you’re covered doesn’t mean you won’t feel the heat. Doesn’t mean you won’t get stings, scrapes, and bruises on your ankles. Doesn’t mean you won’t get beat by flying debris. Doesn’t mean you won’t get wind-burned. But you can believe–it’s a heap lot cooler in the shade of God’s hand. Bearable. You are covered, Shelli. Covered by the blood of the Lamb. 

But no more pansy prayers, Shelli. The way you beg for life … you beg for others.

The phone rang today. “The results are benign.” 

All that flip-flopping around for nothing. Pansy handshake. Faith over failure, Shelli. Not failed faith. How on earth will you survive when you get bad news? One day again, more than likely, you’ll receive bad news. That’s life. But it’s the how. You’ll survive on earth or in heaven because God has you covered. But it’s the how. 

You’ve arrived because of Jesus. But you haven’t arrived. How will you survive? In the now? How? Will you trust? It’s not really for nothing when your flop flips to the In God We Trust side.

No more pansy, Shelli.



“I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my handI who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” Isaiah 51:16

Thank you, Julie Garmon, for the reminder of this beautiful Scripture.

To the Youngest Cancer Survivor


I slid my finger to open the envelope’s seal, and as I pulled out the invitation, a rush of memories came spilling out


My whole body trembled, while my heart peeked past the fingers sheltering it. I wanted to hide in the locker room. A crowd always makes me tremble. But I pressed forward, one step at a time, through the parking lot, through the grass, until the sky opened up.

Two little trusting bodies tagged along.

Tables had been placed everywhere, and people scattered here and there, passing out flyers of information. Some in a hurry, some sitting and talking, some eating.

“Let’s get you all signed up,” said the lady.

“Okay,” squiggled out of my mouth. I would have been biting my nothingness of a fingernail had I not been holding my littlest.

I always held her, or at least held her hand, because I didn’t want her falling. She’d been hurt enough. And the chemotherapy she’d takenVincristinehad damaged her ankle strength. Her tiny one-year-old ankle strength. Vincristine … sounds like such a sweet name, doesn’t it? I have a love/hate relationship with Vincristine. It helped kill any wandering cancer cells for which I’m so thankful, but I didn’t like the big hook that went into my baby’s chest for each treatment. And I didn’t like the way it weakened her walk, in every aspect. Vincristine treated her good, and Vincristine treated her bad.

“Here are your T-shirts. Everybody put them on.” The lady smiled.

I evaluated my Relay for Life T-shirt, wondering how I’d wear it over my overalls, while my oldest daughter put on hers. The littlest got the cutest T-shirt with a kid in a cowboy hat, riding a stick-horse, and it proudly displayed the most beautiful words: Kids Kickin’ Cancer.

The lady stopped us. “Wait a minute. Do you know what? Katelyn is our youngest cancer survivor. She sure is.”

At now three years oldthe youngest cancer survivor.

I must have bit my lip. And then I might have scrunched my nose. Being the youngest cancer survivor is such an honor. Or is it? Good to be a survivor … bad to have cancer … What baby should ever have cancer? I was still making my way through the whirlwind. Trying to figure it all out. What have we just endured? Oh, God, what have we endured?

I’d been so tough until a year or so after it all. And the pictures of hair loss, paleness … it just all came washing over me. I lost it. Working on that baby’s photo album, I lost it.


“Follow me,” the lady said. “You’ve won this prize for her being the youngest survivor.” She handed me a sack of lotions and make-you-feel-better stuff. It was sweet. And her heart was so precious. “We’ll do the survivor’s lap first. You can walk with your daughter. And then you can walk the caregiver’s lap. So be ready when we call for you.” 

“Okay.” We placed our belongings down on the stadium bleachers. The girls opened up their pink umbrellas to fight off the Texas April sun.



Look at those curls on one. And look at that proud sister smile on the other.


And just like that, we were up. We began walking the lap around the stadium track. I held my littlest’s one hand, and her big sister held her other. She would not fall.



And my cautious expression eased to a smile at the love and friendliness that welcomed our baby. And then hands began to clap, as pictures were taken, and military men began performing what my heart could barely takethey fell down to their faces and began push-ups.

People we didn’t even know. They fell to their faces.

Tears gathered in my eyes and air seemed scarce. 

As we made our way to the other side of the track, those people walked to the other side, clapping, and the men in uniform ran to the other side to fall to their faces again.

When the caregiver lap began, they did the same. And more tears. More clapping. More push-ups. 


My heart felt overwhelmed at the love shown to the youngest cancer survivor. But I especially couldn’t believe the love shown for me. Because every ounce of effort I had made on my littlest one’s behalf was out of love. I had only done what any parent would do … to the youngest cancer survivor.


It’s Okay to Cry


“A CT scan is scheduled for Monday.”
When our pediatrician discovered an abnormality in our 13-month-old daughter’s abdomen, I drifted home in a state of shock. After walking through the front door, I locked myself in the bathroom and ran water in the tub as hot as I could stand it. I sought a safe place to cry, where only God could see.




Y’all, I’m a guest blogger with my dear friend, Norma Brumbaugh Wieland. 

If you’d like to read more of my story, please head over to her website
Blessed by you,
Shelli

Mesothelioma

What do I know about cancer? Not much and a whole bunch. Yeah, my daughter had kidney cancer at only thirteen months old.

What do I know about mesothelioma? Not much and a whole bunch. Yeah.

I recently had a message on my blog, asking me to contact this particular family. My first thoughtoh, no, is this stranger trying to break into my computer system? Will my email be used for harm? Yeah, I thought that. People hurt people. It’s hard to understand. It’s hard not to have your guard up in a world where intentional computer virusesdiseasesgo down.

The family asked, “Will you share our story? It’s a messy story … a diseased story … a mesothelioma story. And Mesothelioma Awareness Day is coming up … September 26, 2014. Will you be our voice?”

I thought immediately about my dad. Coming back from Disney one year, I got a phone call sharing that he was in the hospital. He was critical. And he was. He has extreme damage to his lungs due to asbestos. Nothing was intentionally done to harm him, but he worked in a pipe factory all his life. He went to work there probably at the age of 19 … and he retired there. He gave his life there. He gave his days there. I don’t actually know the extent of his lung damage. You see, he didn’t even tell us he had prostate cancer until he had completed his radiation therapy and was well on the way to recovery. He’s a private man. Even to his girl. But his trouble breathing is obvious. And I know he’s under doctor’s care.

With all that in mind, I knew I had to share Heather Von St. James’s story. I don’t know her, but I know she has endured much. She was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2005 at only 36 years old, after her daughter’s birth.

She’s had a long road of surgery and chemotherapy. That’s a long, tough road for anyone. For any child, for any adult. And she’s a survivor.

 
And I am honored to help raise awareness in this month of September.
 
With 3,000 people being diagnosed yearly, mesothelioma is “an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen.” It is caused by asbestos, whether you worked in it, or you contracted it from the substance being brought home by another (second hand exposure).
 
There is no cure. But the pain can be reduced and one’s life prolonged. Early awareness, early diagnosis is critical, as in all cancers, all diseases.

Please be in prayer for Heather and her family.

And Heather, thank you for sharing your life and story with so many. Your voice outshines the rest.
 
And from one surviving family to another
 
God, please bless and keep them.
*****

“Symptoms of mesothelioma include chest pain, chronic cough, effusions of the chest and abdomen, and the presence of blood in lung fluid.”

“About 60% of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experience lower back pain or side chest pain, and there are frequent reports of shortness of breath. Lower numbers of people may experience difficulty swallowing, or have a persistent cough, fever, weight loss or fatigue. Additional symptoms that some patients experience are muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling, and hoarseness” (Mesothelioma.com).
 

Messy

So yeah, what happens when your life feels like a muddle mess? I ask myself, lying on that table in the doctor’s office.

Giving blood had not totally buckled my knees since my 20s. What happened?

I try to make sense of it all. My right arm hasn’t been the same since after my surgery, when I became so dehydrated. I had cautioned the nurse to use my other arm. But she felt sure all would be fine. “The vein looks great,” she said. She dug around a bit trying to get the vein to work before heading over to my left arm. I was the wrong person to dig.

My strength and arms began to feel a bit battered.

I couldn’t stand up. My vision blurred, my hearing muffled. I scrambled for consciousness.

I’m escorted to a room across the hall to lie down.

So yeah, what happens when your life feels like a muddle mess?

I look across the room at my daughter sitting there with me.

I feel ridiculous. I’m looking straight into the eyes of a fourteen year old cancer survivor … one who has to give her blood yearly to evaluate her body’s progress, ensuring no signs of cancer … one who smiles through it all. She really smiles. She giggles. She amazes me. I’ve never been that strong.

And I’ve been blessed to have had her sit on my lap through every single vial of blood drawn. That baby girl will never be too big or too old to sit on my lap. Yeah, that comment came from my grandmother.

The nurse walks in and gives me a sugar tablet. She places a cool cloth on my forehead. She fetches water. You know, I need … a teaspoon of this, a teaspoon of that …. She marks in my chart that blood is never to be drawn from me unless I’m lying down. Bless her sweet heart.

My daughter waits patiently for my strength to return … so we can leave. I, the pitiful mess I am, look her way …

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she replies. She smiles.

Seeing her endure cancer treatments throughout the years took my weakness and threw it into the waste basket. She made me stronger. Or so I thought. Lord, what has happened to me? Why am I so weak? Is this due to my recent health issues/surgery?

Yeah, what happens when life feels messy?


It wasn’t always easy for her, you know. In those early days, we were never more thankful for bubbles and baby M&M’s candies. And her favorite pink baby blanket named “Blanka.” And prayer.

In those early days, there were tears. Being poked and prodded was scary to a tiny tot. And to me  for her and for me.

Being an eye witness  to the mess that crumbled our plans for her life, for her baby days  singed this heart.

Yeah, when life seems messy, it’s tempting to wonder if there is purpose. God, what are you doing with me? What are you doing with my life? What are you doing with her life?


When the heat’s turned up, we must trust that the Lord, who made the universe and sustains all things, is capable of sustaining us.

We must trust that there is a plan for change. The kind of change that turns us inside out … that disrupts our lives … that takes us to our knees … that mixes us up … that forms us … that shapes us … that makes us whole … that makes us more like Jesus. Father, thank for not abandoning us to ourselves.


And if we stick with God, we’ll see over time that we are better. We are stronger. Maybe not physically but spiritually. We’ve been refined. We can rise and walk. And we become something beautiful. We become something worth holding onto … something worth keeping … something worth displaying … something to make God proud … something He can use.


When our muddle mess becomes something worth keeping, it’s only then that we have something worthy of ourselves to give away.


“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).