This year has been a hell of a year as you all know. But through everything that’s happened, somehow, some way, we managed to make it through as a stronger family. And because I just love talking about myself, I’d like to share some of the takeaways that came as a result of this chaotic 12 months.
(1) Family. Friends. God.
These are the only things you need to make it through the tough times. They’re listed in no particular order because I think they should all be equally weighted. Y’all. This year, right as Matt and I were beginning to adjust to life as parents that have lost a child, we learned that all of the hard work and dedication we had put in as a family over the past few years of medical school was going to land us right where we wanted to be– in our hometown. Close to our families, and right where we felt we were meant to be. Little did we know how vital a role this was going to play over the course of the following months. Matt landed his first choice of residency programs at Palmetto Richland (internal medicine). So we didn’t have to move away from the lives we had started to build for ourselves in this special place. We were able to begin planning to build our first house, and it was of great comfort that we knew we could count on some stability in the next few years as our family continued to grow.
As the weather got warmer, we finally made it to medical school graduation. The day we had been waiting for for years had finally arrived. We celebrated our birthdays, our fourth wedding anniversary, and Cole’s third birthday during that week. But something wasn’t right with our little Reese. We thought it was anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is very common in toddlers because they’re not the best eaters. So we got him checked out and put on an iron supplement, and we thought that was going to be the end of that. But something lingered in the back of my mind– a familiar feeling that something just wasn’t right. I had felt it before– years ago as a child when our neighborhood friend Cole Sawyer was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. And a couple years later, I experienced it again when my sister’s best friend’s older sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Something was coming, I just didn’t know what it was.
We took Reese back for a follow-up to make sure that the iron pills were doing their job, but they weren’t. So we got admitted for a full hemolytic anemia workup. At this point, we were looking for RBC (red blood cell) defects like Thallasemias that could be genetic– Matt’s Greek after all, so the Mediterranean heritage could be to blame. But nothing was adding up. As a last resort, an abdominal ultrasound was ordered because the doctors couldn’t get a good feel on his liver or spleen. So this was just to rule everything else out– nowhere in anyone’s mind did cancer ever register. But that’s what it was. A huge tumor had been growing inside my little boy for who knows how long. It was everywhere. It was cancer.
The biopsy revealed that it was neuroblastoma. And it was advanced because it had gone undetected for so long. It was stage IV. Not the good kind. Kids don’t bounce back from this. My heart broke that day, and it has broken every day since then seeing him undergo all of the treatment he’s had to endure. Reese’s cancer was considered high-risk because it had spread from the original site of the tumor through his diaphragm up into some distant lymph nodes, and it had invaded his bone marrow. And since Reese was older than 18-months at the time of diagnosis, the prognosis was grim. Where the f**k did this come from? How did we not know? How did no one see this until now? He was a wild little toddler just weeks earlier. I’m his mother– how did I not see that he was so sick?
Treatment began immediately, and he was whisked away to surgery to have a Broviac central line placed, and chemo would start within a couple days. We needed the weekend to comprehend what had just happened. So we basically ran away to the beach for a couple days. Our world had just turned upside down. How are you supposed to act when you learn your happy and healthy two-year-old is staring death in the face? What are you supposed to do? We didn’t know. So we did what felt right. We just left. Us and the boys.
We learned that weekend that we were expecting another baby. How do these things happen? After losing our third baby at twenty weeks, we had been trying for a few months to get pregnant, but it just wasn’t happening as quickly as it usually did for us. So this weekend, after getting the most devastating news of my life, I find out I’m going to have a baby too? When I might lose another? I don’t know how we would have made it through this time without our family and friends. And God. Prayers. Praying. Praying is what has gotten us through to this point. People praying for us– people from all over the world have heard about Reese, and they pray for him. We pray. Our family prays. Our friends pray. Without the support of our friends and family, I don’t think we could have survived this year.
(2) Matt and I are definitely soulmates.
I love this guy. And I can’t stand him sometimes. And we fight like cats and dogs. But we always make up. We might have a complicated relationship, but at the end of the day, he is my ride-or-die best friend. And I am his sassy, sometimes bitchy and dramatic little southern sweetheart. We bring out the best in each other. I live for him, and he lives for me. Literally all of the cliches you can think of– they fit us. I respect the hell out of this man for all of the things he puts up with on a daily basis. He works so hard for our family to provide for us the lifestyle that we want, and he is the best father to our children. He puts up with me, which is no easy feat, I can promise you. And he is calm under pressure. I can always count on him, and I know that. He is so smart, and he’s such a hard worker. It’s really amazing to see how far he’s come and how he’s making his dreams of becoming a physician come true. Everything is finally starting to fall into place, and I couldn’t be prouder to be the one by his side as it does.
(3) I am a boss, and I can handle anything.
I can’t think of a thing in the world that I’d be intimidated by. Everything I’ve gone through this year has shaped me into a pretty tough piece of work. I’m pretty sure I can do anything, and I’m not scared to fail. I’ve learned that life is too short to be anything but happy. I’m going to do the things that make me happy. I’m going to do the things that make my family happy. And I don’t care what anyone has to say about it. I do not care what anyone thinks about me, and I’m 100% sure that anyone who has something negative to say about me is either jealous or misinformed. Not a good look, sweetheart. I am learning exactly who I want to be and what kind of legacy I want to leave behind. I have no ill feelings toward anyone (at the moment), and I basically just don’t give a f**k anymore about stupid things that don’t matter. Drama? I’m not into it. Want to be my friend? Then be a friend. I’ll be one back. I’m going to be the fun one that’s living the hell out of her life. That’s what I’m here for.
(4) Writing is my calling.
I love blogging. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop. It’s so therapeutic for me, and I love having the ability to make people feel things with my words. I’m also very opinionated, and I enjoy having the chance to voice my opinions on things that might be controversial. Blogging is such a perfect fit for me because it allows me to live. It allows me to capture priceless pictures of my family and our adventures. It has given me so many professional connections, and I’ve learned so many new skills during this year alone. A blogger wears many hats– photographer, lifestyle brand, product reviewer, hostess, socialite, stylist, model, writer, event coordinator, influencer, marketing liaison, planner, organizer, brand rep, media curator, negotiator, public figure, and so many others. I’ve become all of these and more, and I LOVE IT. Basically, I’m a boss. And The Dixie Belle Diaries is not going away anytime soon.