Finding the Light in the Tunnel

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We all are going to take turns in this life in our own share of dark tunnels. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dark tunnel travel is that if you walk through them with God, you are never be alone, and there will be good people to help you through the darkness.

My tunnels include:

Having asthma so severe as a child that my heart started to enlarge and the doctor told me at age 10 I would never live to see 20. I have severe food allergies to nuts, shell fish, pork, bananas and many drugs…I am still here. I am 55 years old now.

At age 23, I lost two babies and suffered from a major clinic suicidal depression. I was hospitalized for it for over a month and treated for it for over a year.  As I got better, good people saw past the stigma of mental illness and asked me to paint paintings for others who were in their own dark tunnel to cheer them and I did. Good people trusted me and I taught children again in Sunday School, Christian preschool and confirmation.

At age 30, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, my children were ages nine and 14 months. My greatest health fear at that time was not dying from the asthma, it was getting cancer. It was my thyroid cancer that cured the asthma. When the doctors were in surgery they discovered that I had, had severe thyroid disease probably since I was born and the scar tissue from that disease had wrapped around my windpipe and was slowly strangling me.

Throughout, my life up until that point, on good days, I had the equivalent of one lung. I took my first full breath when I woke up from surgery. Then, two days later, I found myself paralyzed for thirteen days, because the doctors had accidentally removed my parathyroid glands during surgery and my body would never be able to regulate my calcium levels again. They didn’t know what to do. Until one of the doctors discovered a small orange experimental pill called Rocaltrol. It worked. Over twenty years later, I still take it today.

As I recovered from that bout with cancer I used the time to stay at home with my children and write and illustrate stories with a gentle motherly moral message for them so that they would know me should my health decline further.  One of those stories “Golden the Goose” is posted on this blog.

At 35, the pain in my abdomen, that I had  since I was 21 and my son was delivered by emergency C-section became uncontrollable. At the of the birth of our first child, we had been married for over two years, were fresh out of college during a major recession, were unemployed and uninsured and our doctor showed up drunk. This pain eventually became so severe that I couldn’t work or hardly walk. After a hysterectomy, it was discovered that I had gangrene in my uterus from being sewn up wrong during our son’s birth. It was also why I lost the babies.

At 45 I had abdomen pain again only higher, I thought that I had cancer again, I didn’t have cancer, but what I did have was a golf ball-sized gall stone and a ruptured ovarian cyst. More surgery.

Now in my early fifties and for the past year, I have been bed ridden in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and many hospitals suffering from multiple compression fractures of the spine. Just two months ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma a blood cancer in my bone marrow. Now, I know caused those all those fractures.

Yes, I have found myself in a few dark tunnels. During all of those times there good people were placed into my life to care, support and encourage me.

Good people hired me to work as a Republican senator’s aide at the State Capital and encouraged me to help write laws to protect children from severe allergic reactions…I did. Those statutes are current law in Minnesota where children can carry their epi-pens with them in school. I was promoted to being a constituent services writer in the House of Representatives Republican leadership…I got to help people all day long and I loved it! I was promoted again to the position of Committee Administrator. In this position I had control of the policy and millions of dollars of funding for state agencies including veterans’ affairs.

When, I lost my legislative position due to an election loss by Republican leadership, I found myself a position at the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affair as the assistant communication director. Again, I was able to help veterans all day long and I loved it! I was assigned the task of being the project manager for the State Of Minnesota’s WWII Memorial Dedication. In three months, I raised over $90,000 and with a great team put on an event that hosted over 25,000 guests and veterans.

When that position ended, I was hired to be an information officer by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie a Democrat. I was promoted to assistant communication’s director and press secretary. I had the privilege of having a front row seat for the Frank-Coleman and the Dayton-Emmer recounts. I have worked with all the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN and all of the local news outlets. I enjoyed and was encouraged to be the “Republican” in the DFL office. I have learned to enjoy a good challenge. I also had the honor of still doing constituent services right up until the day before Christmas in 2012 when I lifted the turkey out of the refrigerator and my spinal fractured. In that millisecond, I again lost my health, my mobility, my job and would eventually again be diagnosed with cancer.

During the first three months after the initial fracture, I would go to work in my body cast. My back quickly degraded to the point where I could no longer sit in a chair. By then, I had multiple fractures and my bones were so brittle from the undiagnosed cancer that I broke my back when I raised both hands up at the same time to floss my teeth and once when I bent over to tie my shoe. Still, I worked from home, in our basement sitting on a recliner with a laptop, on serious pain meds, typing with only one hand until I completed a rough draft of the over 500 page Minnesota Legislative Manual, affectionately known as the Blue Book. I made deadline.

After that project was finished, I resigned my job in July of 2013, because my health had deteriorated to the point where I had at least six spinal fractures and was bedridden in a nursing home.

Even during this past year of traveling in a very scary and painful dark tunnel, God has sent great people into my life to heal me. The doctors who found the correct diagnosis, the physical therapists who bathed me, brushed my teeth for me and who helped me to gain the strength to do those daily activities for myself again. The therapists who helped me strengthen my hands and encouraged me to do it with my artwork. At first, when I couldn’t lift my hands independently or off of the table I did watercolor painting. I painted roosters, every day to strengthen and use my muscles and because I have to grudgedly admire their cocky self-assured attitudes. You can check them out at: http://www.turgeonart.com. Just last week I painted an acrylic painting on a table easel for the first time…my grandmother would be so proud of me for finally, “getting those elbows off the table!” I have started this blog, am taking algebra lessons to combat chemo brain and had my first guitar lesson. I can’t lift the guitar yet, but if someone gets it to me in bed, I can strum.

I am so grateful for the multitude of caring volunteers who have come to help me with simple tasks every day for this entire past year. The nurses who help me manage my pain,  my chemotherapy every week and laugh at my stories. In fact, today, I made my oncology nurse teary-eyed, when I set the walker aside for the first time in her presence and went walking without it…turned at the end of the hall and walked back waving both hands above my head. Not bad for a woman who only two months ago she had to help into bed and was totally walker dependent.

Yes, I have known my share of dark tunnels! I am still here.  With God’s help, I plan to stick around for a long while yet. Over the years when I have re-emerged from tunnels into the light, I know that I was never alone.  Even when I couldn’t see him, God has always seen me. I hope that I have emerged from those challenges a more empathetic and stronger person for having been tested. I have learned to focus on what I can do and control, not what I can’t. I still know joy. I am a happy person. I know better than to waste one precious day on bitterness.  I am blessed by a God who is loving, merciful and great and I am sure that I would have never reached the light at the end of the tunnels without him.  Just saying….

 

 

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