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A new tumor showed up in my husband’s liver at his 8-week scans in May. But the rest of the liver tumors showed a mix of shrinkage, growth, and stabilization, so we signed a form stating we were choosing to continue the clinical trial despite disease progression, and proceeded to receive 8 more infusions of the drug.

At his 8-week scans in July, the new tumor grew, and a couple other concerning ones grew a tad, too. But just like last time, the rest of the tumors showed a mix of shrinkage, growth and stabilization, so we did a risk analysis with the doctor and decided it made most sense to stay on study for another 8 weeks.

After those scans, I shared a medical update with friends and family. One response caught my attention more than any other and has stuck with me since.

“I can’t imagine living 8 weeks at a time.”

Reality is, we started living scan to scan 4 1/2 years ago when my husband was first diagnosed with choroidal melanoma (eye cancer), but living scan to scan took on a whole new meaning eight months ago when we started a clinical trial for liver metastasis. Instead of scans every 9 months, 6 months, 4 months or 3 months as we’d done in the past, this trial required scans every 8 weeks. So when I saw that “I can’t imagine living 8 weeks at a time” comment pop up, it resonated deep within me. Living in 8-week intervals is a challenge. It changes the way you live.

We’ve been living 8 weeks at a time for more than 8 months now. But this current 8-week period felt different. Both my husband and I had prepared ourselves that there might have been enough tumor growth for us to be kicked out of the trial back in July. So when they told us we could stay on for another 8 weeks, it felt like a GIFT, a gift of more time.

My husband was glad he had another 8 weeks to stay on a treatment that’s become predictable as far as regimen and side effects. This is a crazy busy time for him at work. He had three big business trips over the course of this 8-week period, for a total of 11 full days of out-of-state travel. During these 8 weeks, he also took on more responsibility at work. And then there’s the 4-day Boundary Waters trip he’s had planned with buddies, also during this 8-week period. He decided he wanted to put more priority on local friendships, so he shared his intentions of getting a guys night out scheduled sooner rather than later. And he thinks we should be doing a better job of inviting more people over for dinner, so we agreed on a family we wanted to invite over for dinner. The only problem is we haven’t gotten around to inviting them yet. They’re the ones texting us, asking if we have room for freezer meals.

Living life 8 weeks at a time has taught us that despite our challenges, despite our most difficult hardships, life goes on. There’s work to be done, schedules to keep, priorities to consider, and plans to be made. So we flow, we live and we move through life. We keep things as normal as possible for normal is predictable, normal is comforting, normal is known.

The day we received scan results in July, I knew this 8-week period was a gift and I have treated it as such. Some might say I’ve gone overboard. Maybe so. But right now, I care little for what people think unless they’ve walked in my shoes. I’ve done what I needed to do. So in July, I decided that from here on out, I will do everything I can to keep myself healthy. I committed to working out three times a week, went to the dentist, to the OBGYN for a pap smear, had my annual mammogram, an intake appointment with a grief counselor, an intake appointment with a nutritionist, and met with a primary care physician. Have we covered all the bases? I believe so. In this 8-week period, I created an aggressive agenda and took a whole 5-day work week, 9 am to 4 pm, while my girls were at cancer camp to analyze my work life and seriously consider my call to pursue writing and photography in light of current circumstances. I pressed hard on household tasks, ensuring two furnace parts were replaced under warranty, ensuring a claim is still in process for replacing our washing machine also under warranty, beginning a discussion about cutting the cable cord, and keeping up on laundry, cleaning and finances so things were ready in the event of sudden change. And yes, I did all of that with the overarching goal of being a good wife to a husband balancing work and stage IV cancer, a good mom to three kids home for summer, and the best friend possible to local women who have been absolutely FABULOUS in every way possible. My anxiety has increased, and I’ve hit a few walls of fatigue and stress. But I’ve also felt strong and empowered and I will somehow make it through this.

Living life 8 weeks at a time has taught us that keeping ourselves healthy isn’t optional, it’s necessary. Taking responsibility for stuff that needs to get done isn’t optional, it’s necessary. Sometimes it takes hardships to push us to do the things we’ve been debating, doubting and putting off for far too long. Yes, there’s no better time than NOW to do pretty much everything.

And then there are the kids. I brought the girls back-to-school shopping and our son by himself. Managed to get all three out for school supply shopping, our annual pizza at the park outing, and an afternoon at a trampoline park. During this 8-week period, one of our son’s best friends moved to California. I prayed that God would surround our son with new friends and that existing friendships would be strengthened, and that prayer has definitely been answered. As evidenced by empty energy drink cans, McDonald’s bags on the kitchen island and lots of voices coming from the game room, this has been an incredibly busy social summer for our son. Our oldest daughter has also been socializing like a mad woman. And then there’s cheer. She had to raise $650 through fundraising in addition to the $550 we already paid for basic fees and $675 for the uniform package. So in this 8-week period, she learned what it’s like to go door-to-door trying to raise $650 by selling $9 car wash tickets. Real life at its finest. The youngest has been obsessed with playing. Any kind of playing. Indoor. Outdoor. Slip and slide. Playground. Movies. Playdates. Lemonade Stands. Tractor rides through elk fields. Whatever. It’s all fair game. I can still carry her if she jumps into my arms, which reminds me she’s still so little. And I see my big kids ready to head off to a beautiful new high school in a couple weeks, and time is literally slipping away before my eyes. I want to stop time for them. Stop time for me. Stop time for all of us as a family because this couldn’t be going any faster, and I don’t want to get through this medical crisis and realize they’re grown, they’re gone. What happened? Oh my.

Living life 8 weeks at a time has taught us that there is a season for everything. Seasons come and seasons go. Seasons don’t stop when you’re stressed or distressed. Seasons won’t stop so you can enjoy them a little longer. Savor those seasons while you can. Because once they’re gone, they’re gone. Love whatever season you find yourself in. Because before you know it, it’ll have turned.

And I was holding up oh so (sort of) well for 4 weeks and 6 days of this 8-week period until our 14-year old daughter jumped out of the car and sprinted into the house to change out of her cheer uniform before I could even process what was going on. She was leaving with her friend and needed to pack quickly. I didn’t even get to say good bye. Realizing what was happening, I looked out the side window of our car and started to cry. “Why are you crying?” my husband asked. “You should have told us your plans.” “I didn’t plan this,” I responded. “I didn’t plan any of this.” All I’d planned, all I’d hoped for was ONE meal out as a family that weekend. One meal. But five became four when our 16-year old said he had to work all day. And four became three when our daughter rushed off to a last-minute outing with a friend. And suddenly, our family time was gone and it was just the three of us with 45 minutes until I needed to leave for a photo shoot. Not enough time for a nice meal out. Arby’s was where it was at. I felt like Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” when the whirlwind wedding left him trapped in a crowd, unable to see his daughter for even a passing moment before she whisked away with her new husband. What happened to my daughter? What happened to my family time? What happened to my life?

Yes, that’s what finally broke me. That’s what made me cry. That’s what living 8 weeks at a time has taught me. Live diligently. Live awake. Life is a fleeting mist and we’d better get at it NOW.

I gathered myself. I ate my turkey club at Arby’s. I was back in time for the photo shoot and it was awesome.

But the truth is, it had been a difficult week. My husband woke with pain on Tuesday that seemed to distress him and he’s not a distressed kind of guy. The pain lasted all day, made him uncomfortable, worried and more fatigued than normal. The pain got better by day two, three, four and five, but he could still feel something different in there, and there was still an area that was sensitive to touch. I sent an email to the head nurse and they told us they wanted us to come early for scans. We didn’t even get 8 weeks this time. We got 5 instead. Just as I’d thought. This 8-week period was a gift. Every week. Every day. Every minute and second. A gift.

While this week’s scans didn’t show any NEW tumors and technically he’s “stable” according to study parameters (less than 20% growth since the last scans 5 weeks ago), the doctor said he’s “on the plus side of stable.” There’s also a key lab that’s been on the rise for seven weeks, which more often than not indicates that the melanoma is getting ready to grow. So the doctor recommended we begin taking a serious look at what our next treatment options will be. Sometime in the next 2-3 weeks, we’ll be meeting with an interventional radiologist to determine what type of liver-directed treatment will be best, and after that treatment is done, we’ll need a new systemic treatment, which will likely be another clinical trial.

So for now, we will live NOT EIGHT WEEKS at a time, but ONE DAY at a time. That’s the best choice any of us can make anyway.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Matthew 6:34


We were in our bedroom when the call came in from the doctor. The tumors in my husband’s liver had grown by about 20% in size. Where there were 8-10 lesions upon original diagnosis of metastatic uveal melanoma on June 15th, there were now 14 on September 7th. His liver enzymes were notably elevated, indicating injury or inflammation. We’d need to see a gastroenterologist to get those liver enzymes under control. And since the tumors had increased in size and quantity, the immunotherapy treatment of Yervoy and Opdivo was deemed to be ineffective. The next best treatment option was a clinical trial in Denver. The gastroenterologist told us it would likely take “a good two months before the liver enzymes [were] stable and [he’d be] off all meds” used to bring enzymes back to normal.

Today marks FOUR months ONE week since my husband’s metastatic uveal melanoma diagnosis. TWO months TWENTY days since he received his last treatment for metastatic uveal melanoma. TWO months EIGHTEEN days since his first ER visit. TWO months SIXTEEN days since his second ER visit and hospital admission. ONE month FIFTEEN days since we found out the tumors were increasing in size and quantity. ONE month EIGHT days since we saw the gastroenterologist and began an intense pharmaceutical regimen to get the enzymes down so my husband’s liver would ready for the next treatment, a clinical trial called imcGP100. ONE week since we found out that the clinical trial will be Portland instead of Denver. ONE week since they sped up steroid tapering to get things moving faster for us. NINE hours since my husband went in for labs to see where things stand today. TWO hours since my husband texted letting me know that his liver enzymes are both finally back within normal limits after being elevated for more than two months.

So much unknown. So much uncertainty. So much waiting.

So much patience, trust and faith to get through these trying times.

Back in mid-July, I knew I was going to need extra layers of support in order to get through this experience. So while we were waiting for one of my husband’s appointments at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, I stopped by the family and patient resource center and grabbed every handout on caregiver and family support I could. They all led me to Cancer Pathways, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting patients and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. I submitted an online application indicating interest and providing information about our family’s situation, and soon heard back from Maddie, the person responsible for coordinating services for patients and families. By late July, Maddie and I were playing email and phone tag in an effort to connect and get me “interviewed” so we could find the most fitting caregiver support services.

Phone and email tag wasn’t cutting it. I knew I needed to find at least one extra layer of support and sooner was better than later.

Mid August, I joined a closed Facebook group for spouses of uveal melanoma and metastatic uveal melanoma patients. A couple weeks later, I joined another closed Facebook group for metastatic uveal melanoma patients and spouses of metastatic uveal melanoma patients. Since joining those closed groups, I’ve become Facebook friends with three young wives whose husbands’ had or have a diagnosis of metastatic uveal melanoma; all three of those wives have young children and understand the impact this diagnosis has on the family. First layer of support? CHECK.

In August, we met a couple at our church who have a son our son’s age, and who also happen to be building a house two doors down from us! Early September, I was seriously debating whether I should join a small group to get to know more women in our church, or whether we should join a married couples small group. One week before sign up, I happened to grab an info packet describing each small group. But the week passed and I hadn’t taken one look at it. I was on the verge of giving up on the idea of a small group. Time had run out. But I had that packet and a 10-minute drive to church. So I sat in the back seat and scanned through the group descriptions as quickly as possible. There it was. Staring back at me as if it was meant to be. The couple we’d met a month before, the couple who were going to be moving in just two doors down from us, were hosting a small group and they were open to new members! We signed up for their group and started attending the next day. The group has been a tremendous blessing and thick layer of extra support during this journey.

In August, I also began researching counselors. I wasn’t 100% sold on a counselor for myself, but I’d spoken with someone who lost his brother to cancer and he said he wished he’d begun counseling sooner, so I thought I should at least research. One referral led to another, and I found myself a private Christian counselor 15 minutes from our house. She didn’t accept insurance, but specialized in cancer patients and family members of cancer patients and came well referred, so I knew I’d found my person. She and I agreed to a 1x/month session, which is all I need, can handle, and can afford right now anyway. Our first session was excellent and provided an added layer of education, empathy and practical suggestions I can use during difficult times.

Then things finally came together with that nonprofit, Cancer Pathways, in Seattle. Last month, I joined a support group for families who are facing a cancer diagnosis in the family. I was blessed to find myself in a group of six women, all younger moms whose spouses had or have a cancer diagnosis. Two women in the group recently lost their husbands to cancer. Four of us have husbands with some sort of cancer diagnosis. It was a six-week group and our last session was last week. A new group will resume in January after the holidays. In the meantime, I can tell you this. The layer of support provided by that support group was incredible, deep, rich, a profoundly beautiful gift of connection and authenticity with women who understand what it’s like to live with such uncertainty.

Why share all of this? Why not stop after the medical update? Because one of my greatest hopes for sharing publicly is that MY STORY will inform, influence and inspire YOUR STORY. My ultimate desire is for YOU to see the significance of YOUR story. If we’re going to see our stories as having significance, then it’s crucial that we’re honest about life. Serious life circumstances have serious implications for all parties involved. When serious life circumstances come crashing at your door, the likelihood is that you’re going to need additional layers of support to get you through. In my case, I knew I was going to need more support to get through this. In fact, I told Maddie at Cancer Pathways when I originally contacted her three months ago, that I was just looking for “more layers of support.” What I didn’t know THEN that I know NOW, is that I needed SEVERAL LAYERS of support. I needed two closed Facebook groups, individual contact with moms whose husband’s were or are facing the same diagnosis, a weekly small group through church, monthly individual Christian counseling, and a caregiver support group in order to feel like ALL the bases were truly covered and I was getting ALL the support I needed. It was an incredible realization, actually. To realize you need an extra FIVE layers of support is humbling.

Here’s what you need to hear. You might need MORE support than you realize to get through what you’re going through. Reach out. Talk to a family member, a friend. Gather a group. Send an email, a text. Make a phone call. Connect with a counselor. Connect online. Find a support group. Join a small group. Get help with meals, cleaning, child care. Ask for a break. Breathe. Accept help when you get it, and don’t be afraid to accept help that’s offered repeatedly, from that same person, over and over again. They want to help you. Accept it. Do something different. Step out of your box. If something comes to mind that might be helpful? Try it. You need support. It’s okay to say you need an extra layer of support. It’s okay to say you need extra LAYERS of support to get you through whatever you’re going through. Peace be with you, my friend. Your story is important. Be blanketed in layers of love, care and support.

Today’s story is written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness, and serves as a gentle reminder for ALL of us to continually press forward towards mental health and wholeness. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on this site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a number of issues with focusing and staying on task. They often call that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I have that label placed on me and I don’t mind. I’m classified as having the inattentive type. I’ve had people, including my kids, tell me to slow down. I’m always looking at what’s next. That inhibits me from enjoying any given moment. I need to just breathe and enjoy the happy, peaceful times.

My mental illness conditions don’t always allow me to stay focused and on task. In the past, I quit many jobs because I was not focusing or staying on task. When I’m moving from one thought to the next, my anxiety gets extremely high. When I’m communicating with the voices in my head, I have to keep the loud, ever-changing conversations going. The voices confuse me, so I often retreat and isolate myself.

It’s important for me to keep up with my mental health so I can focus and stay on task.

I hope these stories illustrate how self-care is needed when dealing with focus and staying on task in the past, present, and looking forward to the future?!

Relationships have helped me deal with my isolating issues. I have a strong support system that I can be open and honest with. Sometimes we laugh at psycho me and that is alright.

I walked into my psychiatrist’s office the other day with so much to catch him up on. Guess what? I forgot what I was going to talk about with him! He recommended, as he always does, to make a list before my appointments for both my kids and myself. Sometimes I do that, but often I just don’t think of it. My psychiatrist offered me another way to focus on what’s going on. He suggested using mnemonics. That is making a sentence from the first letter of what I want to remember. He explained to me that repetition is the mother of learning. He wrote these strategies down for me, along with the reminder to RELAX to REMEMBER. There are often times that I’m having a conversation, and I completely forget what was being said. I have noticed that everyone does that from time to time, so I’m not alone. I just get confused because my emotions don’t match the conversations that are going on. I guess it’s alright to just say, “I forgot what we were talking about!” Focusing and staying on task is tough sometimes, but there are ways to deal with it!

I rarely get to hang out with my brother since he lives out of town, but I recently got to spend the day with him. My brother works in the mental health field and is pretty good at keeping me on task! He is the kind of guy who likes to enjoy each and every moment. That is the reason I look up to him so much. My mom dropped me and my son off at his place. We chilled for a bit while he was smoking some food for our lunch. After lunch, we went to Legoland at the Mall of America, and we let my son, Xander, go on a ride. My focus and staying on task issues were pretty good most of the time. He had to tell me a couple times, “Just chill, Tiff. You’re always moving so fast.” The next day we celebrated the one-year anniversary of my dad’s lung transplant. Pretty much right when my brother arrived at my sister’s place, I wanted to take pictures. My brother got kind of irritated and said, “Just let the moment to take pictures happen. Don’t force it!” I was focused on getting the pictures taken, and I got my way. I tend to rush life, so being with him forces me to slow down. When I am focused and staying on task, I actually enjoy moments with my brother and my family.

As you may be able to tell by my writing, it is difficult for me to stay on task. My first diagnosis when I was just out of college was ADD/ADHD. The doctor prescribed me Adderall. I was told my personality changed drastically, and I feel that drug was the start of my drug addiction. I’ve heard Adderall has been the start of many peoples’ addictions?! I had a couple huge bottles of the drug because I was not taking it as prescribed. They were stolen from an apartment I had in Minneapolis because I was hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Over the years, I have been put on numerous stimulant and non-stimulant ADD/ADHD medications. My doctors now know NOT to put me on ANY of them. I know how I abused those drugs in the past, and I don’t trust myself with any of the stimulant medications. If I could go back in time, I would have never started taking Adderall or any of the medications for focusing. Staying on task and focusing takes a lot of work, but I’m glad there are other ways to deal with those concerns.

Everyone seems to want to keep their mind sharp and active. I’ve had a few conversations with my friends about that subject. I have been told by doctors that I have brain damage from the numerous times I attempted suicide in the past. There are many times I was near death and in the Intensive Care Unit. To keep my mind active is very important. I keep a calendar for my appointments and what I need to do each day. I also enjoy writing and reading, which is important for my brain. Lately, I have found that I can’t remember much. Ask me what I did yesterday, and I can’t remember all of the time. I have found that I am enjoying each day more and am appreciating the small moments. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have attempted suicide, but I can’t always control what my mind is doing to me. Someday, I’d like to be an advocate for suicide awareness. I have personal experience with the issue and I feel like I could help others. No problem is big enough to end your life. There are ways to cope.

I am always looking for suggestions on how to improve my memory. My friends, family and doctors help me slow down because yes, sometimes I’m moving too fast. I may get lost in conversations, not be able remember, or move too fast, but I am at a happy place in my life. Working on focusing and staying on task helps me to enjoy the small moments more!


This is a story about mental health and self-care written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m hoping her stories will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on the site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.

My weight has fluctuated over the years. People have said that I’ve gone from too skinny years ago, to a healthy size now. The truth is that I’m not completely happy with my current weight and the way I feel. I need to start eating better, exercising more and improving my overall well being. I feel strongly that being in good physical health helps with one’s mental health!

When I first lived in Los Angeles in my early to mid 20s, I was told that I was at an unhealthy weight. I never weighed myself during those times, but I’m guessing I weighed around 115-120? I ate Clif bars for almost every meal and spent the day drinking Gatorade. I was getting the necessary calories I needed to survive the day. I lived in Venice Beach, so I’d walk up and down the beach and around different zip codes all day, including Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Culver City. I may have looked alright, but my mental health was slipping down during that stage in my life. I was not feeling good mentally at all. I remember a couple times I went to parties with models. A few of the girls attempted to get me to fly to other countries to do modeling. I was in no place mentally to take that venture. I had opportunities, but I figured out a way to destroy them all. As you can tell in the pictures from Los Angeles, I did not have a sparkle in my eyes like I sometimes do. I was also sucking in my cheeks because I did not feel skinny enough. During the “skinny” time in my life, I would look in the mirror and see an overweight girl. I saw myself as a girl who was not good enough. I was a girl who needed to lose more weight so I was like the other girls. Yes, I compared myself to them.

There were times when I chose to live on the streets. I could not sleep, so why not be outside? I was slipping. I had prescriptions for anti-psychotic medications, but I was not taking them the prescribed way. I was medicating my body in unhealthy ways. Trips back and forth from Minnesota to Los Angeles ultimately landed me back in Minnesota with the proper self-care I needed and was looking for. I was not treating my body as a temple. I was not only polluting my body but also my soul.

As I previously stated, my body weight has fluctuated over the years. When I was in high school, a few of my friends had eating disorders. Those girls were some of the most beautiful girls in my high school class. But shhh, it’s not okay to be sick. That’s what our society tells us. To be honest with you, I often took on some of the responsibility for their disorders. I did not want to be one of the girls whom they were comparing themselves to. I felt an extreme guilt during high school because I did not know how to help my friends. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I was struggling during that time too. I have compared myself to the “skinny” girls. When people share about how much weight they have lost, it’s hard not to compare. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I realized why. I, along with them, was trying to look NOT SICK in a SICK world. Everyone is hurting in some way. We are all at different stages of acceptance, but we have to accept who we are today.

When I started to be more concerned with my mental health, I was on a cocktail of different medications. Many of those medications caused bloating and weight gain. A couple years ago, I was at my ideal weight of around 132 pounds. The fact is that I was not mentally stable at that time. My dad was getting sicker and sicker every day, and I was grieving over a boyfriend who was dealing with his own issues. I felt pretty good physically, but I was torn apart inside.

Currently, I look in the mirror and see a body that I do not want to accept. I see a woman who needs to feel better about her current size. Lately, I’ve weighed between 140-145. I work in the child care area at a health club and receive a free membership for the work I do. My dream is to start working out a few times a week and to definitely watch what I am eating. To burn off calories takes time and effort.

My prayer is to be happy with my overall physical and mental health. I’ll let you know when I am! I have found that no matter what your size, confidence is everything. We need to find a way to be comfortable with our body size, no matter what that may be. A lot of this may sound trivial in comparison to more important problems that we face in life. It is, but we have to feel good about ourselves in order to communicate properly with the people we surround ourselves with. You’ve got to like and love yourself before you can like and love others! For me, I have to take care of myself in order to be a better parent to my two kids.


I woke at 5:07 a.m. on Friday, December 16, 2016. Within a couple minutes of waking, I felt a tingle rush down my left arm. This wasn’t your average “my arm fell asleep” kind of tingle. It was different. Significant.

I’d been feeling tiny pains in my heart on and off since February 2014, the night before I left for Haiti. And for months prior to this particular day, I’d had several spells of unexplained dizziness when standing. Add to that three weeks of unusually elevated stress including two days of appointments at Mayo Clinic for my husband’s eye cancer, returning home to grandma and three kids with head lice that would NOT GO AWAY for NINE DAYS, my husband’s birthday, my last published post on my old blog and a new website in development, my daughter’s birthday and birthday party, one early Christmas with my side of the family at our house, and preparations for an early Christmas with my husband’s side of the family. Add to that 12 years of significant stress, including my dad’s layoff from his job two years before retirement; my sister’s SIX YEARS of significant addiction and mental health issues followed by two pregnancies with two children, one who had a serious medical problem requiring surgery three days after birth; my brother’s accident; my dad’s heart attack; my husband’s eye cancer; my dad’s rare lung disease which lead to a lung transplant; my mother-in-law’s heart attack; several years of chronic bleeding with multiple doctor visits and no answers; a vocation change; lice not once, but THREE times; and other diagnoses and discoveries we’ve chosen to keep private.

I was CERTAIN. Absolutely CONVINCED that morning of December 16, 2016, that with the tingling down my arm, the pains in my heart, unexplained dizziness and ALL the stress both long-term and short-term, that I was HAVING A HEART ATTACK.

I grabbed my phone from the nightstand, typed “symptoms of heart attack in women” into Google, and began reading the first article that popped up. No kidding. I didn’t even make it half way through the article and my heart began beating SO fast, SO out of control, SO out of my chest that I knew something was terribly wrong. My husband was sleeping, so I gave him a swift and hefty nudge.

“I need to go to the hospital. I don’t feel well.”

“What?” he said as he pushed himself slightly up and out of sleeping position. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, I NEED to go to the hospital. Call 911 RIGHT NOW. I don’t feel well at all!”

I wasn’t sure my husband believed me. This was totally random. It was still 5-something in the morning. I’d woken him from a deep slumber, asking him to call 911 and get me to the hospital.

“I’m not kidding! I’m going to DIE!!!! Call. 911. NOW! I’m having a heart attack!!!” I yelled in a panic over my symptoms and my husband’s disbelief and disobedience over not calling 911 the millisecond I asked him to.

My 11-year-old daughter rushed in our room after hearing me yell “I’m going to die.” I gave her a hug, held her hand tight alongside the bed, told her I loved her so much and that they need to call 911 right away!

At that point, I’m pretty sure my husband started to take the situation seriously. He whipped his clothes on and called 911. As soon as he connected with 911, we got me down the stairs. I hugged all three kids as big as I could, told them I loved them SO much and to hang on until we could get a neighbor to come over to watch them, and made my way to the cold car. If I was, indeed, having a heart attack, and if, indeed, it was going to be fatal, I knew this was a beyond-traumatic way for my kids to see their mom one last time. In the panic of the moment, I did my best to reassure them of my love and give them one last memory of their mom holding their hand as she rushed to take care of her health. It was, indeed, a memory four of us will never forget.

After taking my heart rate and hearing my symptoms, 911 confirmed that they should send emergency services. An ambulance was on its way.

My husband helped me back in the house.

I lay flat on the living room couch with my blue snowflake pajamas and disheveled morning hair. My arm wasn’t tingling anymore, but my heart rate was still unusually elevated, far beyond anything I’d ever felt working out faithfully for 11 years. I was dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous and shaky. I felt weak and disconnected from my surroundings. I was going crazy, having a heart attack or dying…perhaps all three.

Before I knew it, my neighbor who’s a firefighter was kneeling beside me. His wife was in the background gathering our kids and basic belongings so they could hang at our neighbor’s house before school.

An ambulance and two medics arrived. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The Christmas tree was decked to the nines with red ribbon, sparkly poinsettias and Hallmark ornaments aplenty. And there I was on the couch having a heart attack…or not.

This was absolutely, without a doubt, the most humbling and humiliating experience of my life. 

One male medic and one female medic rushed in the front door with their medical equipment. They asked about my symptoms and took my pulse and blood pressure. Still super high. Unusually elevated considering I was just lying on the couch. They listened and decided to take a quick EKG to see if any unusual heart activity could be detected.

Nothing. Nada. No unusual heart activity except my reported symptoms and extraordinarily high heart rate.

I KNOW myself. I KNOW my body. I KNEW something had happened and was terribly wrong.

I also happen to be a highly sensitive and intuitive individual.

I sensed pretty quickly that the male medic didn’t believe me. He thought I was some crazy person, that I was making all of this up, that there was no heart attack happening here, that it was high time for them to get out of our house and let us take care of this in our own due time. Okay, perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but everything I read from the male medic’s body language was dismissive rather than supportive. I didn’t need any sort of dismissive. Dismissiveness, whether subtle or outright, is not a way to handle anyone’s story.

What did I have to lose in that moment? I’d already lost all sense of dignity. Heck, I was humbled prone on the couch.

“I know you don’t believe me,” I exclaimed as respectfully and NOT-crazy-person as possible to the male medic, “but I’ve been working out for 11 years and I know my body. I’ve never, ever experienced anything like this in my entire life. Something happened. Something is wrong.”

“Let’s see if you can get up and walk around a bit,” said Jordan. I got up. Made a few slow laps around our kitchen island. “Have you experienced any stress lately?” inquired one of the medics. “Yes. Significant stress for many years.” I shared the stress in a sentence or two, knowing full well that reality was more like a book.

Humbled and humiliated, I got back on the couch.

We decided, reluctantly, that the medics and ambulance would leave, that we would drive ourselves to the ER.

It hit me. I started crying as they looked at me one last time and made their way out. Something significant happened. We called 911. I traumatized our kids. Our neighbors came over. An ambulance and two medics came to my house at a freaky early morning hour. And now they were all gone. It was just me and my husband. Something had happened to my body AND I was crazy all at the same time.

A half hour later, we found ourselves in the emergency room.

Four hours later, after physician interviews, a chest x-ray, another EKG, TWO enzyme tests used to detect a heart attack, and continuous blood pressure and heart rate monitoring showing my pulse was still totally out of control, it was determined that I had NOT had a heart attack, but a PANIC ATTACK.

Yes, this was definitely the most humiliating experience of my entire LIFE.

The only consolation was the emergency room doctor who said she could see in my eyes that it had all been too much, that I had been through a lot and my system crashed once and for all. She said she wouldn’t have been surprised if my enzyme tests had come back positive considering my unusually high heart rate for all those hours; she’s seen runners leak enzymes at those heart rates post-marathons. Yes, she assured me that my heart was, in fact, INCREDIBLY STRONG.

That was Friday.

I had another panic attack on Sunday and another on Monday. On Monday, I made a doctor appointment for Friday; I’d read up on panic attacks and had no interest in this moving into the realm of panic disorder. Tuesday and Wednesday were okay, but my nerves were COMPLETELY FRAYED that whole week. I could feel my heart beating ALL the TIME. I had to move quarter to half my normal pace just to fend off another panic attack. I did very little around the house and had to take breaks to sit or lie down throughout the day. Thursday I had a panic attack. Friday I had a panic attack in the morning and was NOT well when I went in for the doctor appointment. I scored top of the charts on the anxiety test and began a medication that’s used to treat panic attacks that same day. Christmas Eve afternoon was terrible. I’m pretty sure I had panic attacks, one after another, all through Christmas Eve service. I only slept 3 hours overnight from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day because I was cycling through panic attacks all night long and was certain I was going to land in the hospital again. Yes, it was that bad.

Thank the LORD, my last panic attack was late Christmas morning on our way to the airport. Praise the LORD, we just happened to be heading to Orlando that afternoon for a 4-day family vacation. God knew I would need to get away.

The medication kicked in. I was able to enjoy the vacation and haven’t had a panic attack since late Christmas morning.

From then on, I knew life had to change.

I knew I needed to take better care of myself if I was going to continue taking care of others.

I KNEW I needed to see the significance of my OWN story. 

Since January 11th, I’ve consulted once a month with our neighbor who’s a rockstar personal trainer. I’ve eaten more salads in the past two months than I had in a year. I increased my workouts from 2x/week to 3x/week, and am lifting serious weights EVERY workout which is a notable change from my mostly-cardio workouts. I’ve cut back significantly on sugar, fast food and mindless late-night snacking, and I’m generally eating with MUCH more intentionality. Every day without fail, I log my nutrition on My Fitness Pal. I’ve lost 7 pounds in 8 weeks.

The last day I drank caffeinated beverages was December 15th, the day before my first panic attack. I started going to bed an hour earlier and have been sleeping MUCH better.

I’ve said NO to some things and YES to new things.

I’m trying to reach out when I sense I’m in need of encouragement, community and connection.

Slowly, but surely, I’m allowing myself to dream again.

Something had to change. Praise God, things are changing. For He works ALL things together for those who love Him. He makes ALL things beautiful in their time. THIS is my story and I’m sticking to it.

So here we are. So much has happened since I began working on this new site on November 7, 2016. So much has happened since I shared my last post on the old blog on December 12, 2016. God has worked mightily, and although life has brought new and unexpected challenges, I am 100% confident that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

You might be asking yourself “So why did you tell us this long and crazy story? Now what?!”

Well, let me tell you, friends!

If you followed my story for a while, you know this website is NEW, just launched TODAY! After four months of hard work, I’m so excited to finally have this site up and running, and can’t wait for you to look around. But before you take a peek at our new online home, let me explain where we’re heading from here!

Moving forward, this site will feature four categories of stories:

1. Stories by Me.

ONCE a month, I will write on ONE of four topics, including DREAMS, HEALTH, FAMILY, and REAL LIFE.

2. Stories by My Sister.

Tiffany is a mother of two and has schizoaffective disorder – bipolar type. ONCE a month, Tiffany will write on ONE of four topics, including MENTAL HEALTH & SELF CARE, MOTHERHOOD, DAILY LIVING, and RELATIONSHIPS.

3. Photo Stories

Some photo stories will be simple, featuring my favorite photographs from recent shoots. There will also be full-length stories for people who choose to pay extra for a photo shoot, interview and written story in honor of a special occasion or major life event!

4. Featured “Sisterhood of Significance” Stories

Last, but DEFINITELY not least, I’m beyond excited to announce that I’m launching a long-term series called the “Sisterhood of Significance.” For the past 4 years 8 months, I’ve been sharing my story and others’ stories on my blog. Today, in honor of the new website launch, I shared an incredibly vulnerable and personal part of my story for a reason.

I love stories. I believe strongly that everyone has a story, a story worth knowing and worth telling. Good, bad, beautiful and ugly, your story is significant. I want you to see, more than anything else, the significance of your story.  So we’ll meet. We’ll talk. We’ll get to know each other. I’ll ask questions and I’ll listen to your story. Then I’ll use words and photographs to help you see and share the significance of your story.

Two months ago, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with a crystal clear vision for how the “Sisterhood of Significance” will work! I started the chain today by sharing my story. I’m passing the torch and nominating my college friend and day spa owner, Amy, as next in the “Sisterhood of Significance.” Next week, I’m meeting with Amy. She’ll share her story of significance, I’ll take notes and photographs, and I’ll feature her story on the site! Amy will pass the torch and nominate someone who’s living a life of significance, whether they believe it or not. That person, if they agree to be interviewed and featured on the site, will join our “Sisterhood of Significance.” And so goes the chain, on and on, until we have hundreds of women in our “Sisterhood of Significance.”

The original “Sisterhood of Significance” chain can and will pause and resume on an as needed basis. New story chains will be inserted when I launch special series. I won’t go into detail about how that will work now, but the possibilities are endless, exciting and totally in line with all the visions I’ve ever had.

One more P.S. I’ve dreamed up something super amazing for this “Sisterhood of Significance.” How about a “Sisterhood of Significance Gala” where we take one night, once a year, to honor all the women that have been featured in the series?! I’m just going to put that dream out there and won’t mention it again unless it comes to life. But wouldn’t that be awesome?

One story. One woman at a time. Let’s do this. See the significance of your story.

  1. Thank you for sharing your story.  As someone who suffers with anxiety, I know panic attacks can be extremely scary.  I’m glad you are doing better!

    • Amy says:

      So glad you could relate to the post, Amanda. Thank you for your well wishes. I am feeling a LOT better than I did in December. Have a fantastic weekend!

  2. Raquel says:

    Love the honesty and transparency you are writing about. Cannot wait to read more. Sidenote: I have a gift card to your friend’s spa that I cannot wait to use!

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