The many HURDLES all the way will pull at your heart strings, cry with laughter, challenging your spirit and fill your soul with joy. This memoir will take you on a journey to the core of author's true self, while understanding the importance of her family and friends.
On her five year cancer anniversary, this runner in her own race will hopefully encourage you to become a better spouse, parent, child, friend and leader to all.
Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the few guilty.
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HURDLESI find myself viewing the many beautiful colors in the rainbow as if I were looking through the sheer lens of a kaleidoscope. The many shades of color remind me of the "Hurdles" in my life
By Nancy Leake Woodson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Nancy Leake Woodson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt's Business
It was the Monday night of the Martin Luther King holiday that my world started to take an unexpected twist. Little did I know at the end of a relaxing three-day weekend my life would take such a dramatic and chaotic turn?
Doug, my husband, was working in the kitchen as our three children, Bailey (18 years old), Jay (15 years old), and Lawrence Elizabeth (9 years old), were in their rooms preparing for the four-day week. I was focusing on the children's schedules, while multi-tasking the packing of my travel wardrobe for a business trip the following day.
As I hurried around the house preparing for my trip, I headed down the hallway toward my bedroom. I casually placed my hand on my throat and felt an unfamiliar lump in the front of my neck. A wave of panic suddenly came over me. I quickly made my way to the full body mirror. As I peered into the glass I saw it. It was a strawberry shaped lump bulging from the right side of my throat. An uncomfortable and distressing sensation engulfed my mind and it made its way through my body. I immediately approached Doug who was seated at the kitchen table.
As his hands glided over my neck, his fingers gently returned multiple times to the swollen area. Doug closed his eyes to concentrate on his touch. He asked me how long the lump had been there. I explained that I had just then discovered it for the first time. My husband didn't seem too concerned, but he rarely displays much emotion or concern when he is initially confronted with just about anything while my anxiety and concern immediately increased. My breathing became shallow and rapid. I could feel my strong female intuition rising up inside of me increasing my fear.
I am by nature an intuitive person. My mind quickly went to the possibility that this lump was cancer. I was immediately stressed by the thought of how my children and mother would respond to the news and how it would affect them. As I stood in my room all alone it was as if I was in shock. I couldn't decide what to do next. What direction should I take? What happens now? Should I keep packing my suitcase and go about business as usual? Should I call my doctor or drive to the hospital? I felt completely overwhelmed and just stood frozen in time. Suddenly, the thought hit me I could call our next-door neighbor, Dr. William Childress. Surely he would tell me what to do so I called him and explained what I had discovered. Without hesitation he came to my house to take a look. He is direct and businesslike; I always respected him for that. I loved his approach straight to the point, honest and always accurate in his diagnosis.
I met Bill at the door and together we stepped into the dark living room. He felt the enlarged lump in my throat and immediately stated without hesitation with complete certainty, "Nancy, you have thyroid cancer." I blurted out "damn it, I knew it." I had complete trust in his opinion, I called out to Doug in a panicked voice, and he quickly appeared in the entry hall. Doug looked puzzled to see Bill standing in our home that late at night. He had a confused look on his face. I am sure he was wondering why his crazy wife had dragged this man out of his house so late in the evening.
Bill looked directly at Doug and restated his diagnosis. "She has thyroid cancer and it has to come out." Without any additional thought I blurted out, "I'm sorry, but I am leaving town tomorrow. I have 12 appointments and I have to get my numbers." My position was relatively new on the university campus and as a member of this team I was hoping to reach my upcoming one-year anniversary and becoming eligible for the tuition benefit program offered to employees and their family members. My oldest daughter, Bailey, would be entering the university as a freshman in the upcoming fall. I was carrying our family's medical insurance because it was substantially better coverage at less cost due to the fact that Doug was self-employed. My full-time employment was of major importance to our family primarily due to the benefits.
Although Doug was totally unprepared for Bill's spontaneous diagnosis, he knew he was a highly qualified medical doctor and held his opinions in high regard. His previous care and treatment of our children contributed to our confidence in his medical wisdom. Of course, I interrupted the conversation to reiterate that I had a prior commitment with twelve proven Houston prospects. Bill reassured me what I viewed as a crisis was not a life or death situation, but to consider the possibility of postponing my trip. I took a big sigh, considered his advice and thanked him for his visit as we walked him to the door.
As Doug closed the door, he turned to me and said "Let's Take One Day at a Time" and I don't think you should plan on leaving town." We mutually agreed not to talk about it until the morning. Even though it weighed heavy on our minds we didn't discuss the feared subject for the rest of the evening; however, the stress was building in our silence and body language. We agreed not to say anything to the children since the diagnosis was not yet certain even though we believed Bill was right. We were conflicted about our decision because we knew we could be concealing a life-altering matter. My future health would no doubt require inconvenient changes and potentially negative consequences for all of us.
Sleeping was a challenge that evening. Grabbing my bible and heading to the den, I entered the quiet area around four o'clock in the morning. I found myself in a totally vulnerable state. After all I am a girl that is used to being on top of things and demands control. I was feeling totally out of control with a racing mind that made me feel very uneasy.
As I was wide awake in the early morning hours, I burst into tears and cried out to God for direction and calming. The truth is I knew I had cancer. I could feel it. It was a feeling I never had or known. It was a deep, sharp, piercing pain in the core of my body. As I sat there thinking, crying, and praying I decided to face the situation with strong determination to be rational and brave. I also decided to face the cancer head on and be proactive with the process.
After I had contained my emotions and uneasiness I started going through the mail. I came across a term life insurance policy from an unsolicited mass mailing and immediately started to complete the application and by now it was 4:45 in the morning. My mind was starting to take on what I call "It's Business" attitude. It was only logical if I were unable to remain employed and provide the tuition benefit for my children, then I would provide life insurance money to cover the cost. I didn't tell Doug about this insurance policy. I completed the application filling in all the blanks with the necessary information and preparing it for mailing.
Just after 6:00 a.m., Doug entered the den. He immediately began to verbalize his thoughts and plans for the day, as I interrupted him with my own agenda to be the first unscheduled patient at the doctor's office. I explained to Doug if the doctor told me not to leave town, I would follow his direction. Additionally, if he told me I could leave; I would go ahead and fulfill my work obligation and head to Houston.
We both agreed on the plan and headed out the door at 7:30 a.m. As I left our home for the unscheduled appointment, I casually veered off direct course, heading straight to the post office where I would drop off my new financial plan. I pulled up to the mailbox and deposited the sealed envelope into the big, blue metal box. I was proud of myself for capitalizing on this opportunity. I knew if I received a cancer diagnosis, I would not be eligible for life insurance for several years.
I was the first patient in the doctor's waiting area, and I announced my presence through the glass window. When the nurse asked for my appointment time I burst into tears and explained my frightening discovery. She immediately escorted me to an empty room. Doug followed and then the doctor came in shortly thereafter.
Our internist doctor Dr. James Moore is a man of true character and a devoted family man. As Dr. Jim entered the room he immediately placed his hands around my neck while applying pressure to the thyroid area. I continued to weep while trying to explain what I had found. The doctor gripped my neck with a firm hold while pushing and feeling. He confirmed the lump and added he could feel a second lump as well. He explained more than one tumor is usually a strong indication that it is not cancerous.
As he spoke the words, I quickly interrupted him. I told him of the awful sensation inside my spirit and I felt quite sure it was cancer. He advised me that regardless of the diagnosis, the two tumors he felt should be removed in the upcoming weeks. He said I should choose a surgeon and schedule a consultation appointment. We discussed my upcoming out-of-town trip. His opinion was to continue with my plans since the test results would not be available before the weekend.
As we ended the impromptu appointment Dr. Jim offered to close my visit in prayer. I was first confused by his suggestion because I really was not sure how to interpret it. Was this his way of telling me that he thought this was very serious or that he thought I was dying? Doug thought it was wonderful and as we all held hands and prayed as I quickly decided to embrace his loving words with a calm spirit and open heart.
As we left the office, I headed to my car (we had driven separate vehicles because I intended to leave for Houston if my doctor consented.) Doug could not believe I was choosing to leave town. I kissed him goodbye, entered the driver's side of my car, and headed toward the highway. I desperately tried to stay focused on the task at hand that being my business trip, but I found it difficult to let go of the events of the past 12 hours.
It was a wonderful day to drive and escape to the open road. As the sun beamed through the haze on my windshield I loaded the compact disc with The Phantom of the Opera into the player and prepared my mind for some relaxing drive time. The music started and as the instruments began to play, I slowly started to feel a deep sadness. I felt as if my life was passing before my eyes and I was overcome with emotion. I cried all the way to Houston. When I arrived at my first appointment needless to say it was not a good look. I had been awake since four a.m. had little make-up on my face and had been crying for the past twelve hours. It was not one of my better looking days.
I managed to pull myself together, shift into my "It's Business" mode, and performed my duties. I parked my car, placed several eye drops in each eye and proceeded to approach the new prospect. I entered his office and immediately apologized for my tired appearance. I offered a lame excuse that the humid, Houston pollen filled air was awful on my allergies. The successful, middle-aged businessman politely made me feel comfortable about my swollen eyes and we had a very nice visit. I was on my way to a productive trip, which was a pleasant and much needed surprise given my emotional morning drive. I returned to Fort Worth four days later somewhat energized due to the productivity of the trip and the change of scenery.
I was scheduled for a sonogram the following Monday. Doug called our selected surgeon, a long-time family friend, and asked him to work me into his schedule as soon as possible. Dr. Jonathan Williams agreed to see me the next day to review the radiology films and consult us on our options.
Dr. John was the big brother of a childhood friend from Doug's neighborhood growing up. Doug had always admired him and had complete confidence in his medical expertise. The sonogram revealed three remarkable masses located on my thyroid. The three tumors were situated on the right side of the butterfly-shaped organ. Dr. John calmly reassured me by stating these tumors probably didn't contain cancerous cells. I respectfully disagreed as my mind flashed back to the day of my discovery and my next door neighbor's spontaneous diagnosis that night. I quickly apologized for being so forward, but wanted to clue him in on my strong female intuition. I turned to Doug, seeking confirmation of my comment to the surgeon, but he was unsure of the direction to take. Was he supposed to support the scared wife or the experienced physician? He suggested a needle biopsy to assess the situation but I firmly declined that option. I was convinced the tumors needed to come out and I was comfortable with this more aggressive approach. I kept thinking to myself "It's Business," I can't get emotional. I need to make the most logical, well-educated decision and then stick with it, and in my heart of hearts I felt my intuition would lead me in the right direction.
Within what seemed like seconds, a final decision was reached. The surgeon would remove the three tumors in the right cavity and test the tumors while I was still on the table for an immediate diagnosis. If the masses tested positive for cancer Dr. John would remove the entire organ and surrounding lymph nodes in hopes of extracting all of the cancerous tissue. Doug was supportive of my decision although he was uncertain if this was the best path but respected my chosen course of action.
Dr. John kindly altered his schedule for the following Monday to work me in and I prepared myself mentally for surgery. I had many things to do to get organized at home and at work. I kicked myself into "preparedness" mode knowing full well I was about to have forced R&R. After a few days I decided it was time to share the news with my mother. She immediately became upset, and both of my parents were firm on coming to town for the surgery despite my insistence that it wasn't necessary. In light of my parents' reaction, I decided that I would not inform the children until the day before the procedure. I consciously withheld from them my health information convinced it was the correct approach but that was a huge mistake, and I suspect that Doug, who is typically very pragmatic about family communication, chose to follow my lead to maintain his full support of me. I regret not communicating to my three children the potential seriousness of my condition. Despite my well-meaning intentions, my children should have been given the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions. Their feelings were hurt and they were somewhat angered that others were informed of their mother's health before they were. I feel remorseful to this day not telling them immediately.
In the middle of all this chaos I received a phone call from a local realtor asking permission to show our house to a prospective buyer from out-of-town. This was a strange request considering the fact that our house was not currently on the market. But for the right price anything can be for sale. After all, "It's Business." If we could sell our house and make a profit why not go for it? No, it was not an ideal time, but the circumstances were not in my control. I was starting to see a pattern: there really wasn't much in my control at this point so I offered to leave him a key and told him I would be unavailable until the end of the week without disclosing the reason.
It was time to inform my boss, Susan Christy, of my upcoming surgery. Even though she was fifteen years younger, Susan had become my mentor due to her caring and professional approach to being my manager I held her in the highest regard. She was a "woman of detail" and her leadership qualities inspired me to work harder. I respected her not only as my superior, but as a friend and this was made possible by her confident, no non-sense approach. She had high expectations from her staff, but always required more from herself. She empowered me daily through her work ethic and ethical standards. Each day I strive to be a better employee because of this woman.
As I prepared for my hospital stay I felt it was important to make my home a more comfortable place. I found myself nesting in my house with new nightgowns, candles, and lotions. The pending overnight stay in the hospital would be a quick one, and I told myself my reward would be coming home to a spa environment. I felt the urge to keep my life simple to get through the days ahead. "One Day at a Time" was starting to sink in. I chose to limit my conversations to family members and a few close friends. The less said the better in my mind. I felt strongly about not receiving anyone's opinions or advice from this point forward. I knew the decisions I would make would have to be my own. I was about to venture out on a solo flight and I convinced my head I was going to be tough while my heart was scared to death. Even though I had plenty of support I would later discover just how lonely this journey would be.
Excerpted from HURDLES by Nancy Leake Woodson Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Leake Woodson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsStruggles Bring Blessings: An Introduction....................xvii
Chapter 1: It's Business....................1
Chapter 2: Don't Poke the Snake....................9
Chapter 3: Our Friends are Our Family....................19
Chapter 4: Forced Family Fun....................25
Chapter 5: You Can't Prove That....................31
Chapter 6: One Day at a Time....................37
Chapter 7: That Is Not Appropriate....................41
Chapter 8: Education Creates Freedom and Enables Power....................47
Chapter 9: There Goes my Baby....................51
Chapter 10: Too Much Coffee....................55
Chapter 11: Nancy Ann....................61
Chapter 12: This was not in the Brochure....................67
Chapter 13: This is Not Good....................87
Chapter 14: The Truth Will Set You Free....................95
Chapter 15: Extremes are Dangerous....................105
Chapter 16: Trust....................115
Chapter 17: Baby Steps....................125
Chapter 18: Green Socks....................131
Chapter 19: Hurt....................145
Chapter 20: Debbie Downer....................157
Chapter 21: Family Business....................163
Chapter 22: This is Crap....................171
Chapter 23: Family Loyalty....................191
Chapter 24: Emotionally Unstable....................201
Chapter 25: Never Say Never....................205
Chapter 26: Red Shoes....................215