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One Year Ago Today

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One year ago today was a beautiful crisp, sunny day.  I packed up the car to head to a show at one of my favorite boutiques, Van Jean, to meet up with the Novel girls for a joint trunk show.  I had my 5 month old daughter in tow.  My mom was meeting me at the show to keep my daughter. We were staying in a hotel near Van Jean that night and headed to Charleston the following day for another show at Novel.

As I left town, I kept pulling over and emailing Look Linger Love who was having a Sally Benedict Read sale on her website.   I am a HUGE fan of Sally’s work, but didn’t want to email and drive with my baby girl in the car, so I must have looked insane pulling over every 2 seconds trying to make sure I got a painting!  I was laughing and wishing Chassity and Sally could see my dedication.

Anyway, I arrived at Van Jean and dropped my sweet girl with my mom, met up with the Novel girls, and set up for the trunk show.  Like I said, it was a BEAUTIFUL day and we were having a great time catching up with all the cute ladies at Van Jean and Jackie from Leap Frog.  I got a coffee for a little extra afternoon jolt, found a new pair of jeans to wear that day, and lots of cute fun people started coming to the show.

After a while I started getting a headache.  This was not unfamiliar, as I had gotten lots of headaches over the past 5 months, most of which I attributed to being dehydrated from breast feeding.  However, this headache did not subside.  Within an hour, it was unbearable.  I was lying on the floor in Melissa’s office to avoid having to talk to anyone.  I had never felt pain like this.  Finally after enough suffering, I had to leave the show to go to the hotel.  When I arrived there, my mom didn’t know what to do. She is not very good with illness, and until that day didn’t believe in headaches.  She is one of the lucky ones who only gets sick once in a blue moon, eats candy bars for lunch a few days a week, and is skinny, gorgeous and healthy!  She called my dad to drive up from Newberry (1hour away) to take me to the emergency room.  I spoke with my husband in the meantime who was adamant that I got to the ER.  I brushed it off, since he is a bit more of a hypochondriac than I am (obviously I inherited some of my mom’s adversity to medicine).  When I spoke with my assistant to tell her she would need to go to Charleston the next day to do the show for me, that’s when I realized how bad I sounded.  She seemed alarmed by the way I was talking and insisted that I go to the ER.

I was not fighting it, but had never been to the ER before and didn’t know what kind of pain warranted going. I was sure I would feel better as soon as I arrived and would have wasted my parents’ time and energy for nothing.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  I got to the ER with my dad.  They took my vitals and it’s lights out after that.  Let’s just say that it was a rough night.  I cannot imagine what my dad was thinking and feeling.  I have yet to ask him any details, as I don’t want to make him relive it.  All I know is that I ended up having cardiac failure (called a cardio myopathy) and a mass in my brain.  The heart condition was likely caused by the stress on my body from the tumor, but I will be on heart meds for the rest of my life as it stands now.

I spent 4 days at the hospital in Columbia (where my sister in law happened to work, so we were cared for and treated very well by all of the staff there). I was intubated for the first 3 days, which is an awful breathing tube down my throat and a frame around my head to keep me from moving. I remember waking up and HATING that!  It hurt and I couldn’t move.  I had no idea what had happened or what was going on.  I was able to scribble a note to ask my husband what the hell was going on and to tell him that I did not want my children to see me like I was.  I just found out from my cousins that I went from looking like a healthy 35 year old (well, maybe a little younger J) to looking like a 95 year old in a matter of a couple of days.  I am glad no one let my babies in to see me.  Although they wouldn’t have been aware since they were 2 years old and 6 months, I am glad to know they didn’t have to see their mom that way.

On the 5th day, I was stable enough and was then airlifted to MUSC.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am terrified of flying.  I do it all the time, but the thought of flying on that dinky helicopter would have given me a heart attack had I not been heavily medicated.  I wasn’t even scared.  I looked out the window and enjoyed the ride.  Maybe it was the first time my body wasn’t struggling, but it was actually quite relaxing.

I arrive at MUSC and was immediately in amazing hands.  I just knew it.  I had the most wonderful nurses (two of which were old friends) and doctors. I still didn’t know what was going on exactly.  From what people told me, I was stable enough to have an MRI and find that I had a pineal region tumor.  Surgery was scheduled for December 20th… just one day after my 35th birthday.  Not exactly the celebration I imagined.

I didn’t understand that I had a brain tumor until a couple of days after surgery.  (In fact my memory is just now getting back to normal.)  My husband said that after the surgery they rolled me out on the gurney.  I had a serious look on my face.  When he asked me what was wrong, I said, “I am just nervous about the surgery.”

The next 6 days I spent getting some strength back. I had to meet certain goals to get moved out of the ICU and then to get to go home.  I was waken up every hour on the hour for two weeks and asked questions like, Who is the president? What year is it?

Many times I got them wrong and they kept asking questions until I was able to answer an appropriate number of them correctly.  I also had to be able to walk down the hall and back, which doesn’t sound like much for someone who was had been doing bootcamp 3 days a week at 5:15am until the day I went to the hospital, but it was a challenge.  It was difficult and exhausting and maddening.  To top it off, my right eye had gone completely off the radar during the trauma, so my vision was no bueno and thus my balance thrown off.

In the meantime, my cousin, Way Way and her amazing husband Robertson decorated a tree and bought presents for our children and tried to keep the Christmas spirit alive at my parent’s beach house on Sullivan’s Island.  I spent Christmas in the hospital, but was so thankful to see my babies, who seemed completely clueless as to where they were or why I was there with the tubes and needles and bruised arms from IV’s.  on December 26th, I was released from the hospital.  I spent another week at Sullivan’s Island recuperating and getting my strength back.  Rang in the New Year with family and close friends.  Actually I went to bed at 9:30, because I was beyond exhausted.

We returned home the following week and I spent about 2 weeks in bed full time and then slowly began going back to work and life.  I was left with double vision from nerve damage, a half shaved head from emergency surgery to put a shunt in my head the night I got to the hospital, and very little energy.  I would say considering where I had been less than a month before, things were looking pretty good.

My mom moved in to a friend’s garage apartment around the corner for a month, to drive me and help with the children since I wasn’t allowed to pick them up until I got clearance from my cardiologist.  After a month of dinners being delivered by the unbelievable people in Spartanburg, and mom helping me I felt like I was slowly but surely getting back to normal.

Every day this year I have felt a little better than the one before it.  Every day this year I have tried to focus on being thankful for every little smile from my children, every goal accomplished, every hug from my saint of a husband gives me.  I am not sure if they removed a part of my brain that worries or focuses on silly things, or if I have such a grand perspective now, but I am thankful for it. I am thankful to be here today and to have had the AMAZING support of all of my friends, and my incredible family, and some strangers.  I would not have made it through this year without each of you. I know I owe lots of people thank you notes, and I will get to them one day.    Sometimes it is difficult to put into words that people collectively saved my life and got me back to normal (or at least the new normal).

My hair has grown out enough that it blends in (somewhat), and my energy is building up.  The double vision did not repair on its own, as doctors expected.  And thus my sweet mom has been driving an hour every day to pick up the kiddos from school and me from work and to help me with the end of the day/nighttime routine.  Like she says, “If you had asked me if I wanted to drive my daughter and her two children around every day for the next year, I would have said, no way.  But, it has been such an amazing time, and I don’t think I would have known my grandchildren this well had I not.”  I will be able to have surgery to fix that early in 2014.  Wish me luck. I haven’t been driving for a year!!!!   My hubby thinks I am going to pick up an all night delivery or trucker job when I get my vision back.  Ha! I doubt it, but I will be excited to drive myself to the store, or run errands, or hit the black top to visit friends!

This year has been very special in an odd way.  Our little family riding to work/school together each day; my hubby stepping up in a major way to make our new life manageable; and my mom spending every week day with us.  These are things I will miss and think of fondly.

But, I am ready!  BRING ON THE NEXT CHAPTER!  This one is closing.

Please note there is so much more to the hospital story and my family and freinds rallying around me!  I appreciate every moment that my family spent with me at the hospital and I will never find the words to express thanks!  Love you all beyond words Will and Erin Pope, Mom and Dad, Margaret and John Wanning, Molly and Gretchen and Frances Wanning, Way Way and Roberston Allen, Aunt Jane and Mike Eubanks, Dele and Scott Latell, The Kennedys, The Popes, Carter Johnston, Meredith Corby, all of my dear friends … and TYLER COOPER!!!  I would not be around if it weren’t for every single one of you!

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO JPC