My Choice

A lot of people are talking about choices right now. Many people are angry. Others are upset about “rights,” who has them and who does not, or who is a human and therefore has rights and who is not.

I felt it was time to share the choices I have made.

Maggie as a small child, smiling

As a young woman growing up in the early 1970s, I was exposed to a society yelling about my rights. Of course, I wanted rights! Yes, of course, I didn’t want anything to happen to my body that I did not have control over (let us ignore the fact that all throughout my childhood, I was experiencing exactly that since I was the victim of sexual abuse from a very early age). I agreed with all of the rhetoric that screamed about my right to choose what happens to my body.

Then I got pregnant at 16.

The woman who was supporting my father at the time demanded that I get an abortion. My father became offended, saying the pregnancy was “his grandchild,” and I was confused, yet thrilled that the doctors who had told me I would have difficulty conceiving after many medical issues (from the early abuse) were wrong.

After a tumultuous nine months that included changing my own custody to join my mother leaving my father alone, crawling back to the woman he left to “save his grandchild from abortion,” I gave birth to my first son. During the pregnancy I voluntarily underwent counseling for adoption. Then, when he was born, I took parenting classes with my baby.

When my first son was nine months old, he weaned himself from the breast. I believe that was the emotional inspiration for the conception of my second child. But at the tender age of 18, I did not think I was ready to cope with being the single parent of two children.

I made an appointment for abortion counseling which would be followed in two days by the surgery. I was approximately seven weeks along.

The day came. I took my infant son to daycare, just as if I was going to school. Then I got on the bus to go to the abortion office.

I hadn’t eaten at all that day. I couldn’t stop the nausea, it seemed even worse than normal. As I looked out the window down Harrison, I saw the building where I knew from the protest signs, held the office where I was going.

Suddenly, I felt something in my lower abdomen. A shutter? A shake? A “quickening.” I felt what I knew was my second child’s soul enter his body.

I stayed on the bus.

18 and pregnant with my second

Then came the difficult part of admitting to my family that I had gotten pregnant once again. I was going to be a single mother of two at the age of nineteen. On February 14, 1986, my sweetheart of a second son was born.

While raising my children, in SPITE of the fact that I was completely upfront about the above story with my family, I also taught my children that it was a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I continued to stand up for the legal rights of women to choose to abort their pregnancies.

I didn’t change that viewpoint when I was Baptized in 2013. I considered it. I prayed about it. Then, I read a story written by a woman who had survived her mother’s choice to abort her. She asked, “What about her choice?”

Abortion and childbearing are very emotional topics. Sexually active women struggle with choices. No one responsible makes these choices without a lot of consideration and more often than not, a lot of tears.

Personally, I am thankful that I am no longer sexually active. I made a choice to be celibate until and except within marriage. I am also long past the age of unintended pregnancy. So, in that respect, my choices have already been made.

Do I want the world to go back to a paradigm of women dying by hangers in the alley? Of course not. I DO want my granddaughters to think carefully about all of the consequences of sexuality BEFORE they choose to make that very large leap. I DO want all people to understand that sex is far less casual than it is portrayed by the media. There are repercussions.

I wouldn’t trade either of my boys or their children

I also hope and pray that we, as a society, become more charitable with our feelings towards those who behave in opposition to our or even their own, beliefs. I pray that we as a society start FEEDING the HUNGRY and HOUSING the HOMELESS, especially the children. These are URGENT human rights concerns.

I am heartbroken by the tears of so many of our population right now. We have differing beliefs, we all come from different backgrounds that formed those opinions. We feel strongly about those beliefs and opinions. I only hope we can learn to respect one another and learn from each of our experiences.

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Friends: Reaching Out — Reaching In

Maggie and Vin

The bright sunlight through the burgundy bedroom curtains made the dark bedroom seem like a redlight district. I’d been living out of bed for over seven years as of 2009. Brief weekends out of bed were followed by weeks of recovery from the exertion. I curled up in a ball around a tiny screen where I would communicate with my friends on Facebook. My phone was anything but smart, and it cost a modest extra fee to be able to have web service on it. But the access to a society who would laugh at my ironic jokes and understand my pain when I couldn’t sleep at 2 am was something I deemed a justifiable expense.

Cell phone

My daughter had been accepted at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2008 and as part of giving their students a way to get to know their roommates, the school suggested new students start a Facebook account. When my daughter was home for winter break, we sat together on my bed as I signed up for my own account. I thought it would be a great way to keep in touch with the daughter I missed.

Some of my friends are quite witty. One of those friends had acquired friends from the online community, meaning “friends” he had never met in person. At first, I was very apprehensive about accepting “friend requests” from people I had never met. But soon conversations and jokes carried over from the friends I did know in person and

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Me & Maria Mills Greenfield (who passed 1-19-2017)

I felt like I knew people from places across the country and even the world. Places hundreds of miles from any I had visited.

While laying in bed in pain, I composed quick thoughts and shared them. It became a release. When people began to respond, I felt I had found friends in the darkness. I connected with other people who were isolated for different reasons. Many of us were dealing with pain. Chronic, neverending pain.

While certain members of the federal administration seem to do anything EXCEPT validate chronic intractable pain, that type of pain is exactly what isolates and literally cripples people, making them incapable of living their previous lives.

Many people responded to the dark comments my mind and thumbs combined to leave on other people’s posts. Quickly I accumulated a large list of friends.

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In October 2010, I decided I would rather take up my friend’s offers across the country to stay a day or a week, rather than rent a room in the gray dark winter of western Washington. I had only seen a few states of the country I lived in and a divorce after over 20 years of marriage was a great reason to explore. Many of my friends made plans to welcome me.

This last week, I lost another friend. It seems the death notices come more frequently now than they ever did. Many of the friends I met during my travels during the years from 2010 to 2017 are no longer around. Their absence in mortality does not lessen their effect on my life. In fact, the more friends who pass, the more grateful for all of them and the ways they changed my life and my attitudes.

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Vin Arnone (2014)

At some point, I will write a detailed memoir, introducing you all to each of them…those who are no longer here. For now, I will say, I would not be around if not for my friends. My friends on social media pulled me out of several seasons of depression. These same people called 911 in 2009 when I was suffering withdrawals after a doctor prescribing me Fentanyl and Percocet discharged me without notice. My friends have saved my life in many ways and on many occasions.

Because I have been the recipient of such generous attention, I know the power of social media. I know when you just need someone to talk to, usually, there is someone at the other end when you enter social media. But I also know electronic connections are not substitutes for in-person socializing. They can supplement it very well, but at some point, my brain needed to meet the people I was talking to on the other end of the data stream.

Being disabled, to be able to afford travel, I sacrificed having a home to come to when I was not traveling. For the most part of seven years, I lived without a permanent dwelling. This was an experience of its own. I am in the midst of writing a book about a part of that experience, The Car That Ran on Prayers.

Many of the people I met in person during my travels joined me online to watch how my journey continued. When I finally made the decision to come inside and begin the task of documenting it all, many of my friends and family nearly cheered with relief. It had been a long seven years for all of us.

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I reached out of my bed into a world I had no idea where or if I belonged in. Then, as I traveled, I began to reach into the people who reached into me when I was reaching out.

I have visited my friends, sat on their beds while they were curled up in pain. I love them all. I love those who have passed, and those who are still here. I love those who no longer consider themselves my friends. I love those who try harder every day, and I love those who just want a break and take it.

On the occasion of saying farewell to yet another friend, I can only reflect on all of my friends and the wonderful ways in which they have all expanded my world. I look forward to being reunited with them, and you, all when we are done on this side of the veil.

For now, I recommend calling a friend. Someone you know who gets lonely. Don’t worry, they will forgive you for not texting first. Too many of us are lonely in a world of friends.

Rest in Peace, Vin, Maria, Stephanie, Dana, Lisa, Bobby and so many more. I’ll see you on the other side. IMG_20170726_054126

A Bad Drug

When I returned to my home state of Washington in July 2017, my broken, disabled body was less able than it had been in years. My first order of business was to make appointments with both my primary care practitioner and my pulmonologist.  My asthma had been flaring, causing me to spend at least one day in an emergency room each month to seek breathing treatments.Prescription bottle for levofloxacin 10 days and tablets with prednisone tablets

The result of my July visits was a diagnosis of pansinusitis with a complete obfuscation of ALL of my frontal sinuses. My prescriptions for my inhalers were renewed and I received two new prescriptions, one for a steroid, prednisone, to lessen the inflammation inside my sinuses and an antibiotic, levofloxacin, (generic for Levaquin) to clear the infection.

I was staying with a friend to help her pack and clean the house she was vacating and set about taking my first round of tablets hoping for a quick recovery. That night as I scrubbed the driving callus on my right heel that looked worse than it felt, I felt pain in my heel and ankle felt fragile and odd, but I didn’t do anything except note it in my journal.

The next morning, I felt like a train had hit my body and brain.  My brain was confused and every muscle and joint in my body hurt. However, both of my physicians had made a point of telling me that the pansinusitis was “probably causing me considerable system-wide fatigue and pain.” So, I chalked up these symptoms to my body reacting to me stopping long enough to feel it.

preview-4.jpgAs my body seemed to weaken, I was embarrassed at the lack of work I was physically able to complete. It wasn’t like me. Yes, I need to take a lot of breaks, but I am a bit of a perfectionist where it comes to packing and cleaning, and it was taking me hours and hours longer than it should have. I apologized to my friend.

About a month later, I revisited my pulmonologist who saw no improvement in my infection and again prescribed the same combination. Again, I took and finished that ten-day course. But my sinuses were still completely full and now my joint pain was even worse. Then my pulmonologist referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist who prescribed Prednisone and Levofloxacin for 21 more days.

I couldn’t understand how a longer course of the same antibiotics I had been on was going to do any good, but I acquiesced took the prescribed medication once again.

I will add, when I filled my prescriptions at the Walgreens’s pharmacy, the only thing that was said to me was “do you want me to throw away all these papers,” referring to the medication information in the bag of my prescriptions.

Two days before my 51st birthday, I traveled to my medical clinic for a follow-up appointment with my pulmonologist as well as an appointment with a new primary care provider. I expressed to both physicians that I was experiencing a HUGE amount of pain in my joints and fatigue that caused me to feel like I had been hit by a semi-truck from the moment I woke each and every day. Each of my steps that hit the ground was followed by knives shooting up my heel and the back of my leg, then into my knee and hips. After a few feet of walking, I wanted to cry. The pain and swelling in my hands, wrists, and arms made any household chore next to impossible.

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Braces made by my occupational therapist. I had to remove one brace to take the photo

 

Both mentioned they thought the tendinopathy I was describing and which my primary care provider had examined and verified in my hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and heels could be the reaction for which the Levofloxacin and its entire family of antibiotics was deigned to carry a “black box warning” from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). A “black box warning” denotes a serious reaction history and a limitation from the FDA in a medication’s usage. In relation to the class of drugs of which Levofloxacin was a member, the warning was issued almost one year to the date of my exposure. It read:
“Because the risk of these serious side effects generally outweighs the benefits for patients with acute bacterial sinusitis, acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis and uncomplicated urinary tract infections, the FDA has determined that fluoroquinolones should be reserved for use in patients with these conditions who have no alternative treatment options. For some serious bacterial infections, including anthrax, plague, and bacterial pneumonia among others, the benefits of fluoroquinolones outweigh the risks and it is appropriate for them to remain available as a therapeutic option.”preview-3.jpg

My pansinusitis was not anthrax or the plague…however, I have multiple antibiotic allergies and have reacted to many different medications. Due to this fact, my physicians rationalized it would be okay to risk my well-being because of an infection that was not fatal. In fact, I had that same active sinus infection for months before any treatment. However, after the prednisone and levofloxacin, I felt worse than I had EVER felt with the infection.

As days turned into weeks, then months, I started to cry when my feet hit the floor and it was not only not any better than the day before but felt like it had gotten worse. I was no stranger to chronic pain, having been through the gauntlet with chronic pelvic pain for decades and back pain for years. I had written REPORTS about chronic pain and cannabis. I KNEW the timeline of pain. I KNEW when pain becomes chronic, the brain changes. Although my body and brain had already gone through that process for a few injuries, I did NOT want that paradigm to repeat with BODY-WIDE pain!!

My nights were not restful at all. I would roll to one side and my elbow would feel like it was full of glass pieces and if I rolled onto it, they would only go deeper into my flesh… The other elbow was on fire. My wrists and hands swelled making typing insanely difficult as my Master of Arts program began in late November. Although I had some accommodations in place for my previously diagnosed limitations, I found myself utilizing the dictation software. It was frustrating and ineffective, to the point I reached out to an online group for my university and a wonderful undergrad student offered to type my dictation over the phone.

IMG_20150909_123512744For the pain, I was limited to cannabis. I will not use opioids after having been in recovery from them for the last 8 years and the other issues with the other medications prescribed for pain are what caused my physicians to initially recommend cannabis as my medication.

I’ve been working on recipes for topicals and bath bombs with this pain. A foot soak with a tablespoon of cannabis-infused coconut oil and Epsom salt is a good substitute when I don’t know if I can pull myself out of the tub.

I wanted to do something more to assist my own recovery, but I feared to damage my tendons more. I read about microcellular damage inside of my tendons and feared them tearing or worse. I requested physical therapy for my body and occupational therapy for my hands to get me started. My psychotherapist was also used to assist with the mental confusion caused by the medication interaction/injury.  Throughout this last December and January, I had therapy appointments three days a week! Still, every morning, as I put my feet out of bed and onto the floor, the pain would shoot up, and I would cry. Like the mercury in a thermometer that has been placed in boiling water, the pain shot up my heels. Yes, worse again.preview-1.jpg

I was in the middle of my finals week for that first term in my Master of Arts program when I woke up, put my feet on the floor, and …. It was about the same as the previous day. The next day, after my exercises and stretching, it almost felt better. I was reluctant to hope, but I had stopped crying. At this point, it had been over six months since the first prescriptions.

The occupational therapist confirmed the swelling in my forearm and wrist had lessened. Two days later, the physical therapist confirmed that my Achilles’ tendons had more movement. FINALLY!

I’m FINALLY on the road to recovery. I have never developed so much empathy, so quickly, for any group of people. I have many friends who have chronic illnesses that come complete with body-wide intense pain. I wish I didn’t have to know, but I do understand comprehensively at this point. I am looking forward to healing from this injury and spreading the word about this medication and its PAINFUL interaction with prednisone and some people’s chemistries! Levofloxacin is a BAD BAD DRUG!preview-2.jpg

 

A Medical Marijuana Mormon

Although I have talked a bit about the fact that I never wanted to be a “medical marijuana Mormon” or how I didn’t want my Testimony “tainted” green, I have not talked much (except by video) about why I willingly took on the moniker, “Medical Marijuana Mormon” at least in the choice of URL. (You can also reach this site by typing in MedicalMarijuanaMormon.com)wp-1485625896850.jpg

When I made the decision to purchase MedicalMarijuanaMormon.com as well as MaggieSlighte.com last January, I was taking a social media marketing class for writers in my bachelor’s program. I learned many techniques and improved some that I had already been working on developing.

I have been a “medical marijuana Mormon” since the day I was Baptized a Mormon, but it wasn’t until my own trial about the herb when I decided research I had performed might be useful to many other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when making the decisions about using cannabis as a medicine for themselves or a family member.

Two weeks to the day from the date I received my Endowments in the Seattle Washington Temple, I fell profoundly backwards 10 feet from the top of an attic ladder, incurring a compression fracture of my T-11, essentially “breaking my back.” What few people in the church knew about me at that time is that I was a medical marijuana patient. I had been even before I was Baptized.

Before I was even interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I knew medical cannabis patients who were Mormon. In fact, the seventh legal patient in Washington State was a Mormon and was a dear friend of mine. From him I first heard the words “The Church says it’s an herb, treat it as such,” meaning that smoking it is discouraged, but ultimately the route of administration is between the patient (member), their physician and God.

IMG_20120915_194030Contrary to many beliefs, there are many and varied reasons that a physician may direct a patient to inhale their medication. Although “vaping” or vaporizing is preferred to smoking or combusting cannabis in the administration of the medication, inhalation can be useful when attempting to bypass competing digestive liver enzymes. The simple fact is that when inhaled, the liver is not involved in the absorption and for many reasons this can be helpful. But I digress.  I will be including information about this in the book I am currently working on, Medical Marijuana for Mormons: Cannabis sans combustion. Topicals are a great option for patients needing to avoid the liver-involved administration as well! In fact, topicals are the least-used and most effective forms of cannabis medication!

When I broke my back, my cannabis use came “out of the closet” during an interview between myself, my husband and our Bishop. When the Bishop offered to help find a program to assist with the costs of my prescriptions, he soon realized that wouldn’t be possible. I had been in recovery, off the opioid medications Fentanyl, Percocet and Vicodin which I had been prescribed for over 7 years between 2002-2009, for five years. My physicians all agreed: I couldn’t take opioids even for the back pain. I was recommended a strong preparation of cannabis oil and given muscle relaxers as well.

My Bishop was new to this country and to the cannabis laws. My state had recently legalized “recreational cannabis” and that seemed to confuse things with the Bishops even more. He referred the matter to our Stake President. The Stake President in the Centralia area had been in place for over a decade. His politics were not liberal in the least. He had NO love for cannabis.

My Bishop was directed by the Stake President to take my Temple Recommend.

I was devastated.

As the Bishop took the Recommend from my hand, I saw the tears in my eyes echoed in his own. Neither of us felt The Spirit in the action, but we would both be obedient. He obediently took my Recommend, I obediently gave it.img_20151001_100743

An interjected third person in the equation was my non-Priesthood holding husband of the time. He was offended and he was loud about it. He made a point to tell anyone who would listen that we were forced to kill our plants and shop from the local dispensaries instead of growing our own which was a much more affordable option available to us legally in our state as patients.

It didn’t matter how patient I attempted to be while I healed from my back injury, the scenes that my husband made at church became embarrassing. His actions did NOT echo my feelings. I knew it would be resolved in God’s time. But the husband I was married to then didn’t believe in waiting for God for much of anything.

Late in August, after being without my Temple Recommend for about a month, Stake Conference was held in Centralia, Washington. I invited a good friend of mine who is “fifth-generation LDS,” and was thankful for his perceptions. Elder L. Tom Perry had celebrated his 92nd birthday that week. We didn’t know that would be his last birthday on this side of the veil.

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Elder L. Tom Perry from LDS.org

Elder Perry was a giant of a man standing at the podium I peeked in from the door at the side of the chapel. I stayed in the foyer contained within my steel cage of a back brace with the walker that I still depended upon. I was happy with my viewpoint as the Stake appeared to receive a rebuke. He gave us a lesson in who reports to whom in the Priesthood offices. He tested the Priesthood holders in their knowledge of their duties and charges. He taught us all with an abundance of love. Elder Perry taught us about obedience. Then he replaced the Stake President, informing us of Brother Smith’s call to the Stake Presidency. President Smith’s day job was an FBI agent. He worked for the Federal Government.

I can’t remember if it was the next Sunday or the Sunday thereafter when my Bishop called me to his office and joyfully handed me my Temple Recommend back. We had both survived the trial.

I learned a lot during that trial. I received a Priesthood blessing when I fell. That blessing, given by the Elders of the Centralia Ward in late May 2014 on my mother’s front lawn while I lay on a gurney ready to be loaded up into the ambulance that awaited, specified that I needed to follow my physician’s advice and I would be healed. I followed the advice of my doctors and I endured a trial of my faith, and I healed. I learned to walk again and I live to this day with about the same amount of “able-ness” as I had previous to breaking my back.IMG_20120927_205912

I was left with the feeling much of the research I have performed in my own health-information-gathering could be very useful to others. I was also left thinking about the number of children who are finding relief from severe epilepsy and violent forms of autism with cannabis medications. I decided at that point to write a book called Medical Marijuana for Mormons: Cannabis sans combustion, both to educate other Latter-Day Saints about the herbal medication but also to help those who were in the process of a trial or making the decision to move to an area where the herb is legal for medical use.

I have completed the outline and a few of the chapters. Research for the book is ongoing due to the fact that new studies are coming to light daily about the botanical medication.

IMG_20120915_213049Being a “Medical Marijuana Mormon” doesn’t mean my testimony of Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit is any less. My testimony is strong. I know my Heavenly Father knows and loves me and created me exactly the way He wanted me. He is the reason I want to share what I have learned about this herb He created. I know His love is in the compassion that people who are in pain feel from this plant. I know it is a gift from Him. It is my job to do my utmost to educate myself and others through publishing this book.

Thank you for your interest and your time. I will continue to post progress notes on the Facebook page Medical Marijuana for Mormons: Cannabis sans combustion as well as on this site!
 

 

 

Awareness

The day after my 51st birthday at 6:19 pm, I was sitting at my dining room table contemplating what I should make for dinner. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the antique telephone ringer that signifies someone is calling my cellphone broke the silence of the small apartment. I looked at the number, it wasn’t saved in my contacts and it was from an area code a few miles north… probably a telemarketer or bill collector I surmised and decided to answer it just to make sure I knew which before saving and blocking the number. wp-1509142348363..jpg

“Hello?”
“Hello, is this Margaret …?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Hi Margaret, this is the Mammography center at Virginia Mason in Federal Way. I’m calling to …”

Her words faded into the ether as my mind raced. I had my mammogram like always just before my birthday. It was an easy way to remember. Now, only two days later, they were calling me about something?!

The sweet young lady from the radiologist office was impervious to my reaction on the other end of the line. She proceeded to inform me that I didn’t have anything to be concerned about, they just needed a few more images and an ultrasound to clear up an area on my mammogram. It was scheduled for 7:30 am on the next Thursday.

I would have almost a week to think about it.

The days went by at a snails-pace while thoughts flooded my mind. I didn’t tell many people for a few days. I didn’t want the people who loved me to have the same racing thoughts that I was having; I didn’t want anyone to worry.

wp-1509142651561.jpgThoughts about the cancers that run so rampant throughout my mother’s family.  Thoughts about my mother’s cousin who just fought breast cancer last year… and not to be forgotten, thoughts of my dear friend Maria Mills Greenfield who lost her fight with metastatic breast cancer on January 19th of this year.

I sought relief of my racing thoughts. I needed comfort. I prayed to my Heavenly Father and He filled me with peace. Divine peace. I knew at that point that all was okay; it was just a scare.

Once I received that comfort from the Holy Spirit, I shared the information with a few people that I would be having a “re-mammo.” A few days later, right before my appointment… I decided to share some of my activities at my reaction through twitter:

I was finally ready to talk about what I was going through.

My friends responded on the post that was echoed on my Facebook account, concerned. I tried to reassure those I could by telling them I felt it would be okay. But I just wanted the re-mammo to be over.wp-1509142645891..jpg

Thursday finally arrived and I awoke at 4:14 in the morning, six minutes before my alarm. My dogs were surprised when I turned on the light in the bedroom and began getting ready.

We were loaded into the van before 6. I nervously adjusted the radio to a station that would include a traffic report about the highly congested area of Joint Base Lewis McChord that I would have to travel through to get to my Federal Way radiologist.  Singing along to the country song they were playing, I pulled out and headed into the darkness of the morning.

Thanks to an absence of collisions, we got to Federal Way about a half hour early. I poured some water for the dogs in their van-dish and assured them I would be ‘right back’ and headed into the clinic.

There was no line at the radiology check in counter and the receptionist told me to have a seat, they would be “right with me.”

I scrolled through Facebook and read email for the longest half hour wait I had in a long time. Finally, at 7:34 am, I was called back to the exam area.

IMG_20171026_075356643.jpgThe young lady who was in charge of taking the extra views of the mammogram was very soft spoken and gentle. I wondered to myself how many times she has to do extra views and if it is difficult on her when there is more obvious issues. She left the room as I undressed from the waist up and put on the gown open in the front.

I could see from the displayed previous image of my mammogram displayed on the monitor that they were focusing on a tiny area that just looked like a blur to me. The young lady was gentle as she manipulated my right breast into the correct position for each image.wp-1509069172642..jpg

After changing out the supports a few times and taking several additional images, she asked me to wait while she delivered the images to the radiologist for her to look over. Another long wait, so I took a few photos around the room.

She came back and informed me she needed more views and changed the supports again on the mammogram machine. After she was done, I waited once more. Finally she returned and asked me to follow her into another room where she passed me off to another young lady for the ultrasound.

I was quietly thankful that everyone I was dealing with were female. Apparently the radiologist was female as well. At least that fact was reassuring. I lay down on the table and put my right arm over my head as she squeezed the cold gel onto my right breast and began the exam.

The ultrasound tech explained that she would be taking a few images and measurements, then she would be going out to get the radiologist who wanted to take a look herself.  The exam didn’t take long at all. Before I knew it, the tech stepped out and almost immediately back in with the young radiologist with long dark hair. Her words were also quiet and kind, making me think that she had to tell much harder news to other women often.

PicsArt_10-26-06.56.48.jpgThe radiologists words were reassuring as she informed me the spot they needed more information about was just a tiny little tangle of blood vessels that wasn’t very clear in the mammogram. She reminded me that I have fibrous breasts and told me it would be a good idea for me to continue getting the 3D mammograms, my next being needed in a year.

As I was leaving, I saw a sign reminding me it is breast cancer awareness month in October. This October I am feeling VERY aware. Very aware and very thankful that breast cancer is not currently one of my challenges. My heart and prayers are with all of those who do have and have had breast cancer. I am also much more empathetic now about the scares that many of us go through.wp-1509142437346..jpg

Making Our Mark

In North Carolina, I was met with the proof of a fact that I had no way of knowing when I began my journey towards graduating from Southern New Hampshire University. Having come from very intelligent parents and grandparents, yet knowing that none of them had attained what my daughter and I were obtaining in our educations; I had

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Solomon Richardson’s mark when he took a marriage bond to marry my 4th great-grandmother in 1822

never doubted that my family “had always” been literate. When I read the words, “his mark” surrounding the “x” that made Solomon Richardson’s mark, I was taken aback with the proof in front of me that my fourth great-grandfather, born in North Carolina in 1800, had been unable to read and write: He was illiterate.

My own education, in retrospect, would appear to those not intimately involved, to be a series of “fits and starts.” I remember when I became pregnant at the age of 16 (after being told due to female health problems that would be impossible) I was unsatisfied to take the GED tests, choosing rather to enroll in an alternative school that was based on the format of the local Evergreen State College and allowed me to set my own curriculum with the guidance of teachers and a counselor become friend. It was imperative to me that I actually graduate high school. I did so with one child on my lap and one on the way.

I continued my education immediately after high school, enrolling in South Puget Sound Community College’s medical assisting program. Looking back, I don’t think I would have had the guts to do so if it weren’t for my mom’s employment there. She was an integral and vibrant part of the college’s support system. Throughout my preteen and teen years, she had invited my brother and myself to the campus, introducing us to faculty members and support staff, making the school feel for us like a second home and its staff our extended family.

Having loved writing all of my life, I found myself drawn to the school’s newspaper. Although I was a very busy young woman with two very active toddlers, I would spend any free moment from my grueling curriculum in the Student Center. I learned the now archaic Apple computer with a manual on my lap and my hands on the keyboard in the room that doubled as the school’s newspaper office. I assisted with getting a paper we would call “Sounds” off the ground and was asked to step in as a Vice President of the Student Body of South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) when the student election had gone awry.

With more than six months to go in my program, financial aid not going far enough to cover my expenses and in the midst of a personal mental health crisis, I resigned my position with the student body. I left my writing gig at the student newspaper and got a job as a Medical Assistant/Back-Office Nurse when the need to support my tiny family overwhelmed my desire to actually finish my degree. This was 1988.

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At our reception

In 1989, I married my husband Bruce after we used the idea of us being engaged to prank the student government we both worked for. He knew my mother before he met me, she was an integral part of the social sciences department where he had found a passion. The campus was still my family, our wedding reception was held in the Student Center where we met and became best friends.

Our daughter, Siobhan, was born in February 1990. She was the product of our college education, although neither of us finished any degree at SPSCC. Siobhan graduated with her Associates in Arts 18 years later. It was on the same campus where her parents had met the day before her high school graduation. She embodied the epitome of our desire for our children to take education seriously.

My own education continued when Siobhan was only three. I had returned to the campus I called home to retrain when the strain of the birth of my daughter caused my first disabling condition no longer allowing me to work in the medical profession.

With Siobhan in the daycare that I helped to build while I was Vice President of the student body, I retrained in the computer field. A year and a half after I began, I once again was forced to call my education to a halt before any degree was attained. My husband Bruce was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his overwhelming symptoms made it difficult to maintain his employment. I quit my program and went to work for The State of Washington as a computer programmer to support our family. My dreams of finishing my education seemed to dim in the everyday chores of raising a family.

A couple of years before the blessed event of my daughter’s dual graduations, my body and brain conspired to make continuing to work at my position as a computer programmer impossible. Once again disabled, I conceded to draw a pension and concentrate on my health and the matters of domesticity. My daughter struggled through the stress of her parents losing their home and gradually losing their relationship with one another as the overwhelming stress of being disabled mentally and physically changed the shape of what she knew as “family.”

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Me, Siobhan and my mom, her grandma Joan

Her Grandma Joan was a beacon for Siobhan. The community college where her parents had met and celebrated their marriage became a home for her as well. She was welcomed in the position as a math tutor, just as one of her older brothers had been. Tutoring people twice and three times her age, they adored her amazing intelligence and beauty.  When she graduated with honors, no one was one bit surprised, but we were all amazed.

I was living in the middle of 37 undeveloped acres of land in a 5th wheel trailer with my new husband of 18 months in October 2015 when I felt impressed by God to ask Siobhan about this University where she and her husband had chosen to finish their degrees.  She had left the University of Washington’s engineering program after being the first in our family to ever be admitted to a four-year college when her dad and I had finally divorced. The event had not only put me without a home but had shattered her very idea of stability. She went on to find that stability with her new husband and they rapidly went about supporting each other in the pursuit of their dreams, making and achieving goal after goal together. In this same spirit, they had researched online education extensively and had chosen Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to be the best college to meet their needs with programs and credentials that they found exemplary.  When Siobhan posted online about a place called “the writing center,” I replied that sounded like a dreamy place. She encouraged me to apply and see if SNHU could do anything with my 130 community college credits. I made the call.

IMG_20151021_093242703Although I had no practical way of living to most people, the lack of basics such as electricity, water or even a place to use the toilet did not deter me from what it seemed that God was calling me to do. Where there is a will, there is a way? Perhaps, but it seemed that God was guiding me to start school where many would only find impossibility. My first term back was highlighted by a blown head gasket in our truck which would strand me 5 miles away from a paved road with a partially collapsed lung. The installation of the satellite internet that student loans helped to pay for was delayed by the company so long that although I tried to complete my classes on the disposable phone from Walmart that my husband and I shared; I failed my first term back at school.

I wept. I felt utterly dejected and discouraged. My Visiting Teacher, Amy, through the local Branch of my church, was encouraging. She was a retired lawyer choosing to create her dream of a farm in the middle of nowhere.  We shared a commonality in our mental

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Amy at Snowflake Temple

illnesses. In spite of an increasingly abusive marriage, I found a friend and support in Amy that would enable me to continue. I was faced with overwhelming adversity, but a glimmer of hope each week in Amy’s and my weekly visits to the Snowflake Temple made the impossible to most, seem achievable to me.

This year when my second divorce was finally finished, I headed to the east: My daughter was to be graduating summa cum laude from SNHU in Mathematics on Mother’s Day. Every mechanic that looked at the little Volvo which was my only return from my second marriage of three years deemed it impossible. Every time I prayed, and every Priesthood Blessing I received said it could be done. I persevered in the face of impending doom and followed every impression on the journey. Just days before Easter, I arrived in New Hampshire and toured the “brick and mortar” campus of SNHU: It was real. I made it.

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My first-year adviser, Lauren with me

Through the intense assistance of my first-year adviser, Lauren, and then her follow-up, my “senior adviser,” Liz, I recovered from that disastrous first term. When my credits began accumulating quickly, we realized I may also be eligible to graduate this May. I was frustrated when life and the college schedule extended my classes out through August but was thrilled when the university stated that I could walk with the class of 2017 in spite of the fact I was finishing up in the summer. My daughter and I would be walking for graduation the same weekend.

This Mother’s Day weekend was fabulous. Dreams that I never thought I could dream have come true. By pursuing her education, Siobhan became the first in her father’s family and my family to achieve her Bachelor’s degree after also being the first in both our families to earn her Associate’s. She has made me so proud and she has now made education more possible and inviting for generations of our family yet to come.

We both have learned to “make our mark,” after coming from those who could do no

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Siobhan and me Mother’s Day weekend 2017

more than to sign with an “x.” I know that our ancestors worked hard and traveled to distances trying to make a better life for their children. The pioneers of our families did all they could while imagining more significant opportunities for future generations. As I traveled across the country to receive the honor of my degree and watch my daughter receive hers, I realized that we are the product of those hopes and dreams. I thank God for relatives that reached across the veil to help me to understand that.

Watch: A video from backstage at the SNHU Arena

 

The End of the Journey

These last few days, I began to retrace my steps. It has been two weeks since I had reached my destination. On the Sunday after I had reached New Hampshire, “The Car that Ran on Prayers”, stopped. It stopped starting.  I had a bad feeling about what seemed to be a “minor” fuel-flow issue. The Bishop in the area who I called when it initially stopped on Saturday (I was able to keep it running after the sun went down, by “double peddling it” and got it to church the next day). After finding out that the spark pIMG_20170421_153144_070lug wires were ORIGINAL from 1983, I had a feeling that the fuel filter might also be original. He had agreed and purchased a filter for me, but didn’t find himself with the time to replace it once it’s location was discovered. It was soon towed to a shop, where it has remained for over a week while they have been doing anything and everything they can to figure out what is the problem, while the problems seem to multiply.

Today is my third Sunday in this area, Testimony Sunday. Boy, do I have a testimony. But can I put it into words? That small, still voice telling me to just go the shortest way to New Hampshire. Don’t take the freeway, keep it under 60 mph. That small still voice that guided me and comforted me when the job I thought I had, didn’t pay. And I was left to shoulder the expenses of the trip on my own. The God that I, and so many friends prayed to on my and the car’s behalf. It was not only the car that ran on prayers, but my mind and body as well. Jesus was, indeed, my co-pilot. He guided me wherever I traveled. He told me, through the Spirit, which way to turn. On those occasions when I took the wrong turn, He would force my steering wheel. One of those times was in Kernersville, North

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Sunrise in Kernersville, North Carolina

Carolina, when the car would not go past a certain milepost, no matter how many times I tried.

That was where a tune-up and a few other minor repairs were performed, and I met a Bishop who called himself “Charlie.” Bishop Charlie is a man who is young enough to be my son, but as I poured out my tales of woe to him, he listened with the ears of a father. He used the Priesthood in a caring manner to comfort me with a blessing. Bishop Charlie also gave me the gift of meeting a woman who was serving our Heavenly Father in the midst of her own struggles. The wonderful Relief Society President of their ward had been stricken with that awful “c word.” An orange bracelet on my arm still reminds me to keep that Sister in my prayers.

It was in Kernersville where I followed many impressions, including one to go into the chapel early. I routinely like to be at the church that I am attending, early, but I tend to “hang out” in the foyer for a time. This time I was in the chapel when a wonderful Sister who had baked the Sacrament bread offered me one of the 3 extras that she baked for friends in the Ward. Later that day, I broke my fast with the same bread that I tooIMG_20170501_015133k at Sacrament, and I can only echo the little boy who sat with his parents on the bench in front of me in church, “YUMMY bread!!!!”

When I left Kernersville, I took a different route out of town. The car continued, purring like a kitten through the rest of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Vermont and then New Hampshire before it began acting up again.

Before Kernersville, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina hunting up a bit of genealogical history. During a middle of the night perusal of my family tree on FamilySearch.org, I discovered that one of my “brick walls” was born in South Carolina. Married in Rowan County, North Carolina, Rebecca Wassin reported that she had been born in South Carolina. I searched the history rooms at libraries and I scoured microfiche in the state archives, but it was to no avail. I could not find any record of her family. What I did find was a personal awakening about our nation’s history in the early 1800s before the Civil War.

IMG_20170501_014619While in South Carolina, I was invited to stay with a wonderful Sister named Leanna after the Women’s Session of General Conference. She had two dogs also and our dogs became friendly as we also developed a friendship. I stayed a few days before a personal situation caused me to need to be in an environment I could control due to my mental illness. But I remain incredibly thankful for her generosity.

Before leaving Florida, after Jacob left heading back to Washington, I was having issues with the publisher of the magazine I started this trip writing for, when Sunday came along. Being left without the funds promised, I felt quite discouraged. I was in a city called Palm Bay. That was where I met a Sister named Nikki and her family. I had beenIMG_20170501_014131 more open about the fact that I was living in my car, than I had been in most of my church visits. I don’t know why, I just felt compelled to be a bit more open on that particular Sunday.

Nikki invited me to dinner, then her daughter gave up her bedroom for the night and the dogs and I were invited to stay over. It was a blessing that was so appreciated. The night before the dogs and I were attacked by mosquitoes that were quite gigantic in the Volvo where it was too warm to put the windows up. I was covered in bites and so were the dogs. The next day, Nikki and her children took me to Walmart and purchased a cart full of fresh fruits and other necessities that were quite needed. I was completely humbled. Not as humbled, however, as the fact that weeks later during text conversations with Nikki, she shared with me that her children still keep me in their prayers. Specifically praying that someone will pay me for my writing. These are the things that hit me right in the “feels” as the kids say nowadays.

After we left Palm Bay, a bit more set for our travels, we continued north in Florida. I was in DeLand when I was contacted by a Sister from “across the pond” who had read my story about being “Transient in Trump’s America.” She had a bit of “extra cash” as she put it and really wanted to help me out. I was torn. As much as I have received from others, I HATE asking for help. I REALLY long to be on the OTHER side of providing for others, I dislike the situation I am in currently not being able to completely provide for myself or have anything extra to give to others. She persuaded me over a couple of days and I finally accepted her help. Jean had made a point of explaining that she had been in my situation and she wanted to pay forward the help that she had received.

IMG_20170501_013831After that explanation, I finally consented to accepting her help. It was a major blessing. With Jean’s help, I was able to finance a week at a campground, taking a much needed time-out from traveling that coincided with a week break from my classes.  It also ended up giving me an opportunity for some major self-care as I fought off some of the worst allergies and chest cold that I had experienced in my travels that far.

There have been friends that I have met on Facebook and on other trips that I have been able to visit along the way. Those visits have been, for the most part, limited to a few hours. That isn’t what this trip has been about. This trip was about making it to New Hampshire to watch the first person in my family graduate from a University.IMG_20170501_015048

I will be walking the day before my daughter, but won’t finish my classes until August. My daughter, my youngest child, remains the first person in our family to graduate from college. It will be the best Mother’s Day present in history to watch her walk across that stage and be presented with her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics.  All of the blessings that I have received on the way here have all lead to that. The goal when I left Arizona where my second divorce was finalized and I was left with nothing to my name except the Volvo and my dogs was to get to New Hampshire before Mother’s Day.  I have made it to New Hampshire. I was only able to do so with an incredible amount of help from God and all his angels on this earth. I am more than blessed and I appreciate each and every one of them.

(Also posted on SlightelyMormon.org)

 

A Woman’s Best Friends

Over seven years ago, I met a Staffordshire Terrier who changed my opinion about dogs. I had been afraid of large dogs (for no reason I can remember….but that isn’t new to me!) for as long as I knew. Barkley was different. A HUGE “pitbull” type breed, he was loyal to no end. Not only to his family, but when I stayed in the house he was protecting, he buddied up to me in a manner I had not experienced. I fell in love with him.

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Ruger Sr., Athena’s father

Then I met a pitbull named “Ruger.” A blue nosed beautiful blockhead, he and his mate Brandy (a chocolate lab) belonged to friends of mine and I rapidly fell for him too. Both Ruger and Brandy would sit on or near my feet when I was in pain, demanding me to pet them. When I would pet them for a little while, the pain got much less intense. Sometimes I even forgot about the pain. Since I could easily deal with daily pain that reached levels of 8-9 (on a scale of 1-10); the idea that a dog could lessen that pain was astounding! I had never heard of such a thing, but I wanted more!

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Brandy, Athena’s Mother

These dogs also showed me in person, what I later learned through reading: Canines have the capability to change a human’s mood as well as ability-level.

When I was crying my eyes out, both of them would lay next to me and encourage (quite forcibly) me to pet them and give them attention. As I was to learn, the very action of petting a dog releases the same hormone, oxytocin, as is released in nursing moms & babies. It is known as the “comforting hormone”. Better than any anti-anxiety drug I know!

God answered my prayers. I stayed with my friends Robin, David and Katie for a month in the spring. As I was getting ready to move on they realized that in spite of being separately kenneled, Brandy had gotten pregnant with Ruger’s litter.

On the first of April, 2011, I woke up to smells and sounds I had never before experienced. I went downstairs to learn that puppies were being born. Before my friends left for work and school, five puppies were born. When I went back downstairs after my shower, there was a sixth. She was later adopted by me and named “Athena Brooke” for the middle names of two of the strongest young ladies I have ever known.

 

Having never raised a dog from a puppy, I had a lot of learning to do. We hit the road before she was even 8 weeks old. Although I had been planning to re-start my cross country road trip with my new-to-me BMW 525, I hadn’t previously planned to have a brand-new puppy in tow! Fortunately, God had me covered; I had friends across the country whose pets and advice taught both me and Athena.

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There was a time she fit in the “Peace Bag”

Together, Athena and I visited people from Idaho to Florida. She made friends with little and big dogs, kittens and even a few house bunnies. Athena was patient with me, and I learned to get my behind out of bed earlier in the morning or pay for my laziness by
having messes to clean up.

When Athena and I had been traveling and living together for less than a year, she made her true “job” or “service” apparent to me.

As a survivor of multiple traumas, I have certain symptoms that are quite distressing. One of them happens quite unexpectedly: I can lose most sensations below my waist suddenly, making it difficult to walk or stand. When Athena was only 9 months old, she sat at my feet and barked me into the chair behind me. We had not had the economical ability to procure formal service-dog training for her, so I was unsure as to her intent. When I sat down, she stopped, seeming pleased with herself. Within five minutes, sure enough, I lost all feeling in my legs.

wp-1491685091988.jpgAthena has made her place in my life with this skill on many occasions. She has
also calmed me, or separated me from a situation, when my PTSD acts up.
She has learned my triggers, and has learned to give notice to me when I am needing help.

Athena and I had many adventures in the past five years, but unfortunately we both eventually experienced some emotionally traumatic events together. She was left with a habit of barking, making it difficult to socialize her enough to use her as a formal service animal. My own PTSD about medical interventions would cause me to delay in having her “fixed.” Although I toyed with the idea of breeding her, I didn’t have the stability to consider that when Athena took matters into her own paws this last summer.

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Athena spent a lot of time hiding from the litter. Especially right after her c-section

It seemed she really liked the full blooded Golden Labrador (who was so old he was silver) next to a house I was visiting, and the two of them conspired to get through the falling down fence more than once. She had tied with him and there were puppies on the way!

I was blessed to be staying with understanding friends who had a lot of experience with dogs when she came to term. The litter of six had to be delivered by emergency c-section due to their huge sizes, but they were all alive and well. Athena woke up to puppies and being a new mom, was not too impressed with them suckling on her near her incision. It took a while of cajoling and treating her to get her to nurse them. Once she did, she rose well to the challenge of motherhood.

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Baby Ruger Bear (abt 3 weeks)

The only puppy in the litter with Athena’s father’s markings was a little black boy with tiny white toes and a splash of white on his chest. I wanted a male from her, and I named him after his grandfather and the name he appeared to favor with his lab looks, he was a “Ruger Bear.”

The rest of the litter was given to friends. I was fortunate to be able to place 2 of the litter to be trained for service dogs for two veterans suffering from PTSD. One has been accepted into a formal training program. It makes me happy to know we were able to help others with this “mistake.”

The only chocolate male of the litter, named “Kiko” by my grandson on his birthday when he came to see the newborns, was given to David, a member of the family that the original Ruger and Brandy belonged to. They have become inseparable. Brandy and Ruger have been gone for a while, and Kiko found a place where he was needed.

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Ruger Bear, about a month old

All of Athena’s puppies found their places. Athena gained experience that seems to help her be more attentive (and rolls her eyes at the puppy’s behavior with me). She is even better at her job of being my companion with Ruger Bear as an additional companion to train. Perhaps I will actually work on training them both formally when we get settled later this year. I hope so. They deserve it and so do I.  For now, Athena is an excellent member of the family and she is truly my very best friend.

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Ruger Bear is already bigger than mama at 6 months

 

Click here to watch Athena and Ruger Bear run and play!

 

(This post was edited from a previous post on SlightelyMaggie authored by myself)