Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter Blossoms in Detroit

When I landed in Detroit, it was winter but I was feeling warm on the inside. Maybe it was emotion or maybe it was lupus, who knows? I was back in the loving arms of my family and friends. My mother was relieved about my return but my illness weighed on her. It was apparent each morning that she had to leave me each morning for work. When she returned in the afternoon, I was in the same position, my back propped up on pillows in her bed with my chin on my chest. I was so weak that she had to help me put socks on my feet because I stayed cold. She also had to assist me to the restroom because lupus was wrecking havoc on my legs. To stand for long periods of time made me hot, light headed and dizzy. All of these elements combined to form a mother's nightmare. She finished eight hours in the school system and then had to come home and fight the adversary that was messing with her only child.

I just didn't want her to worry herself to death. I might not have been the healthiest but if there is one thing that I know how to do, I know how to fight courtesy of my mom. We don't war with flesh and blood but with spirits of evil. Meaning I had to pray like hell to get this spirit off of me. I didn't do anything per say to bring lupus upon me but the devil will find any way to enter our lives. Unfortunately, he chose my health but I guess he didn't get the word that I'm covered on that end also.

Now I know that it may sound like I fought my battle with ease but it was a truly a nerve rattling thing. I was never scared for myself but moreso for those that loved me. I remember asking God just to spare me for my mother. My mother didn't sacrafice her whole life for her daughter just to bury her daughter. I rebuked that wholeheartedly.

During this time, the rest of my family pulled together which was nothing new. We had buried my aunt two days after my birthday in March of 2008 and my mind fell on a voicemail that she had left me when I first moved to Tallahassee. "Sherri, you are blessed. You are blessing. Whatever you want in this world is yours. You are blessed. Thank you, baby. Thank you. I love you." It almost became my victory chant that only I could hear and reply in my spirit. Auntie Helen told me that I was victorious from the grave.

At the time, my youngest cousin was 20 years old and he was just beginning his conversations with God. I feared that if I took a turn for the worse that he would curse God. I wanted my cousin and God to get off on the right foot so to speak so I always prayed that God would let Justin's prayers manifest. He would buy lots of anti-oxidant and herbal teas for me. Justin made me promise that if I recovered that he would get us front row tickets to a Beyonce concert that upcoming July. (He kept his promise. We were there shaking our tailfeathers and we even shook her hand.) My other little cousin would brew me cups of tea at a time. I remember my aunt rushing over with cocoa and shea butter to heal my face from the lupus rash that was covering my nose and cheeks. My other aunt, whom I have written about before, was back on her post cooking things that don't mix. Shrimp and hamhocks. Cinnamon buns and taco salad. Days like that I was glad I was on medication.

I can recall anticipating my uncle's visit. As he neared my bedroom, I put my hands over my face so he couldn't see my scars. I didn't take my hands from over my face until he called my name. I was ashamed to let my uncle see me. Everyone else could see me, no problem, but it hurt me to let my uncle see me. In true Uncle Bill form he said, "Oh no, we gotta do something about this." He has never let his niece suffer. Never.

Word got out that I was sick. Satan's head was pelted with prayers as far away as London. The Holy Spirit interceeded for me many a days. I just didn't have the strength to pray. Satan's attack may have compromised my body but he didn't have my mind. I said, 'thank you, Lord' plenty times in mind and spirit. When the pains were hitting me the worse, I was too exhausted to cry but I knew how to say 'thank you'.

My ordeal made some of my friends convert from "thoughts" to "prayers". Some of them never uttered the word prayer til the devil started to meddle with me. Those thoughts turned to prayers, pronto. The ones that were already prayer warriors kicked their prayers into overtime. How grateful I am for the entire Jones family. They visited often, prayed with me, laughed and spoke encouaging words over my situation.

I've always thought myself to be the example. God knows who can handle what and like Job I did believe that no matter how hot it got in my kitchen, God was with me. He said where ever we make our beds, whether it be the hospital bed, the outhouse or the whorehouse, He was with us. God is always available. If God needed to use me so that others can see His power then so be it. Take me, I'll go. I knew in my heart of hearts that on the other side of the potential tragedy was powerful triumph. It is a terrible thing for the adversary to meddle with royalty. God is going to get His glory.

Sometimes you have to go home to get your blessings. Sometimes you have to retreat to regroup. Most times God has to get you alone to speak to you. Most times the trial isn't chastisement but rather Him covering and re-creating you for what's to come. Many times we aren't going to understand it but we must stand in knowing that all the time, God is good. I praise His name for me blossoming in the winter.

In the bed in Tallahassee (Dec '08) Lupus rash and fat cheeks.

Sorry about the blurry pics. Started chemo and my scalp is scarred and my hair is thining (Jan '09). Lower pic is a closer look at mean lupus.

In Detroit (April '09), a couple months into chemo treatments. My hair had fallen out considerably but I was still grinning. I wasn't surrendering my joy!

Looking better and feeling stronger (May '09). Still on the thin side (I can tell by looking at my neck). Still smiling.

In Orlando (Nov '09) and In Detroit (Dec '09). God said it and I believed it. I took Him at his word.
(Still grinning and looking like my old self.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tallahassee in the Spring, Pt. 2

I woke up one morning freezing and safe to say, delirious. October in Florida still equaled eighty degree temperatures but tell me why I am rummaging through my sock drawer trying to find my third pair of Betty Boop socks to cover my feet? My feet felt like bricks of ice. I turned the heat up to ninety. I went back to my closet and put on a tank top, a long sleeved t-shirt and a hoodie in addition to the long johns and jogging pants that I had on. I remember just getting back under my covers praying that whatever "this" was, it would be over soon.

The next morning was a doctor's appointment and pretty soon, the appointments were coming fast and furious. My poor doctors, haha. I can laugh now but honey, when I was going through it, I wanted to snatch that stethoscope from around their necks, pound on the bottom of it and scream, "yoo-hoo, is anyone there?" My physicians were concerned but their hands were tied because they didn't have a clue as to how to treat lupus. I remember Dr. W coming into the exam room and standing about three feet from me. She said, "my goodness, I can feel the heat emitting from your body." Heck, by the end of my visit, I thought I was going to have to resuscitate her. Poor thing. She probably wanted to be somewhere walking her goldfish versus looking up in my face.

Work was becoming a near death experience. Each morning, I would use my apartment hallway's walls to guide me to my bathroom. I used anything sturdy to lean on as I got dressed. It was bad. I would get to work and my supervisor would take my hand and lead me right back to my car. Sometimes I would insist that I was "ok" but by lunchtime she was demanding that I leave my desk and go home. I've always said that God protects fools and babies. My supervisor will always, always have a place in my heart. So many people say their employers don't understand lupus and were treated poorly once it was revealed they had lupus. My experience was totally different. My experience was nothing short of miracles that were crafted by God.

My rheumatologist told and not suggested that my last day of work be December 2, 2008. I'm sure that took weight off of my supervisor. She didn't have to cut me off in the parking lot and make me go back home. While I was on bedrest-and still refusing to my family in Michigan-my team of about 25 people at work took up a collection that totaled more than $300 plus a $50 Target gift card for me. I was floored, truly floored, for two reasons. Like my mama said, charity begins at home and spreads abroad. She always encouraged me to do good by people no matter the circumstances and when I needed it, God's grace would kick in on my life. My mama was right, per usual. It was a bit overwhelming that people thought enough to come out of their pockets like that for me. Little ole, sick and spotty faced me. Wow.

Secondly, I had only known my co-workers since April and they were genuinely concerned about me. They would come by my place and bring me food, get my prescriptions, make me laugh, just whatever I needed would get done. No questions asked. One of my co-worker's brought his wife and kids by my apartment. That was very heartwarming because this world can be very 'every man for themselves' and for a whole family to come by, I was thankful. Once again, by the grace of God, that wasn't my story.

My breaking point came when I wasn't responding to treatment that the rheumatologist recommended. I was sitting in the exam room and he was looking at me and rubbing his chin. I'm sitting on the exam table, watching him rub his chin and waiting on him to say something miraculous. The miraculous statement didn't come. Instead, he told me to go to Michigan to be with my family. Then, he helped me to my feet, patted me on my back and said "good luck". Yes, those were his parting words to me. "Good luck". So what did 'good luck' mean? Would I last til suppertime? Or should I be read my last rites? I don't know how I made it home after that appointment. I think it involved waiting in my car for my neighbor to arrive so he could help me up the steps to my apartment. Lupus is bitch like that.

Later on that night, I remember this clearly, I was sitting on my couch. I had taken my lupus meds and on top of that I took some over the counter medicine to fight a cold. Then, I decided to call my mother. Terrible mistake. I felt myself talking incoherently about horses and dressers. She let out a shrill scream that I can hear still to this day. It was a scream that said to me that she had lost her child. I was scared but kept my mouth shut because I wanted so badly to talk about trolls but she was screaming. She said she was on her way to me. I told her no and I was going to sleep and then, I hung up. I was tired (high of meds).

Then, as if I hadn't caused enough damage, I decided to text my cousin. The text read "Weng Weng Facebook dresser midget". He and I laugh about it to this day. He said "I looked at the text and rolled back over and went to sleep. I thought you were out of your mind." I keep that text saved in my pink phone. It wasn't funny at the time but it the text is hilarious to me now. As far as my mama went, I remember Jeopardy being on meaning it was about 7 pm. The last flight for Tallahassee left about 7:30. Of course, all of this was reasoned once I sobered up, later that night. I called her back and explained that cocktail of drugs that I had ingested. She was calmer but she asked when I was coming home. The gig was up. I was on a plane to home and healing that next week. I didn't know exactly what was going to happen but I did know that everything was going to be alright.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tallahassee in the Spring

It was March of 2007 and I had finally made it Tallahassee, happy yet anxious to pull of something that I could call my own. I remember going to my apartment’s leasing office and getting the key to my apartment, Apt D-12. The only thing that I got out of my car was a comforter and a pillow. I stretched out on the floor and went to sleep. I had driven from Michigan to Florida, alone, and a sister was beyond tired and hot. I had forgotten that Tallahassee could reach 80 degrees in March.

I hit the ground running with my eyelash business. My friend had designed some pretty fly business cards for me. They were all professional looking and I was very proud. I went around town leaving cards in various businesses and passing them out at different events. Everyone from the beauty supply owners to students on the city’s three college campuses were extremely supportive. On top of the eyelashes, I hadn’t yet resigned from being a flight attendant. Due to the economy, my airline offered leaves to flight attendants where I didn’t have to work but I was able to keep my flight benefits. I was all over it. Having my own business and free travel? Are you kidding me? Making my own schedule and doing things that I wanted to do. Eureka! I had finally made it!

When I did have to return to flying, it became apparent that I couldn’t maintain a business in the south and be a flight attendant in the north. The unpredictability of an aviation schedule left me unable to consistently service customers in Tallahassee. So in March of ’08, I resigned from the airline and accepted a job as an eligibility specialist. I hated it, bottom line. I needed the job because I needed medical benefits. I was back to a place that I didn’t want to be, behind a desk. Ugh!

The project that my team was working on was very stressful to say the least. Every other day, there was a protocol change being made. Then a week into training, my Aunt Helen passed away two days after my birthday. So now I have to hightail it back to Michigan to bury my aunt. Florida sunshine+job I hate+aunt’s death=perfect combination for a lupus flare. I remember being so tired. I also remembering saying that I couldn’t stop because I had things to do.

That August, I drove to New Orleans to meet my mom for her birthday. I know I made it there and back on a prayer. Talk about someone being exhausted. I just wanted my mother to enjoy herself in New Orleans. I could’ve laid up in that nice hotel for three days with no problem but what kind of birthday would that have been for my mother? On the final day of the trip, she hugged me and said “your nose is raw.” I knew there was something going on but leave it to my mother to put a name to it. My skin surrounding nostrils were pinkish. I don’t know if it was denial but I chalked it up to being tired. Saying that it was a lupus flare-up wasn’t even on my radar.

A week later, I had five wisdom teeth pulled. Then, all physical hell broke loose. The corners of my mouth split so bad that it left me looking like the Joker. I was beyond miserable with my job becoming increasingly more and more stressful. I was beginning to get tired of the drive from my office to the salon to do eyelashes. I remember walking around thinking that something was going to have to give.

Getting up for work each morning was becoming a chore. I know some folks don’t like their jobs and dread going to work but I literally had to plot and plan to make it to work at 7:30 a.m. Once at my desk, I would take pictures with my camera phone of my ears that had turned black like coal and open sores had began to form. A dark rash started to cover the underside of my chin and my back. I chalked it up to being the dye from a weave that I had sewn into my head. I figured that I was just having some sort of terrible reaction to the weave hair. I found a couple of my clients who said that the same thing had happened to them. In my mind they had corroborated my story and therefore, I was good to go. Once again, lupus never crossed my mind. Until one day when I woke up in a cold sweat and it was 100 degrees outside....

Dark lupus rash forming on my ear.

Lupus discoloration behind my ear.

Dry rash forming under my chin (it didn't stop me from eating though :).