• Posted on December 24, 2016 11:47 am
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    I had my first holiday break down this week. The shopping, the cards, work piling up, kids home from school...it all got to me. I resorted to wrapping presents until early morning hours to calm my frazzled nerves. I thought wrapping the mountain of gifts would make the stress go away. Nope. I woke up yesterday with a knot in my stomach. What is it with this time of year? What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I just be present with my kids and spread joy and cheer? I did everything I know to do to calm my anxiety: yoga, shopping, quiet time, a long (really, really long) shower, food, distraction, friends. Nothing helped. The chaos of the season and my to do list were getting to me, until I saw it: .PERSPECTIVE. And not just any perspective...a perspective that hits really close to home and is probably a big culprit of my holiday angst. "My newsfeed is blowing up with everyone so excited and grateful that the elf shenanigans are over tonight.... and all I can think about is how much Ari loves Jewel... and how this might be our last night with Jewel.... and it makes me so overwhelmed with sadness... #Perspective  #LoveYourElves  #StupidCancer" Meet Ariana Farragut's elf, Jewel. Santa and Jewel are praying for Ariana because she is fighting a rare brain cancer (Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor: AT/RT). Last week, Ariana went in for what they were praying would be clear scans, but received devastating news instead. The cancer had spread and the new tumors are inoperable. Heart. Shattered. Ariana's sweet mother, Jenna, posted this picture of Jewel sitting with a bible. Have you ever thought to pose your child's elf next to a bible? Maybe you have. I usually throw the elf in the tree as I am running to beat my kids to the living room every morning. I'm not the most creative elf mover. But it isn't about creativity - it is about the joy that we have right in front of us. Right now and in the present. There's one thing I always say to others (and often to myself): We are all doing the best we can with what we know. Rather than beat ourselves up for complaining about the elf after seeing Jenna's elf picture and post, we should be aware. Aware of our thoughts and mindfulness this holiday season, reminding ourselves what is really important. No matter if you are the most creative elf mover or a tree thrower like me, let's work together to be present with ourselves and our loved ones. Life moves and changes so fast. It can be shattered in the blink of an eye. Trust me. Last night, I rocked Marjorie a little longer than usual, even dozing off with her heavy on my chest. My precious baby girl, healthy and thriving - something we hold so precious. We almost didn't have her home with us on that first Christmas. She was discharged from the NICU in the nick of time and I sat up all night staring at the most beautiful Christmas present I had ever received. I remember a Christmas when I was in treatment and only had six hours with my husband. Then just two short years later, I was in full recovery watching my precious baby boy crawl to see the magic of Christmas. This Christmas I experienced my first bout of holiday anxiety. I am so thankful to brave mommas like Jenna, who share their heartache and perspective with us. I have shared my fair share of perspective and I am thankful to now be on the receiving end of it. But no matter how many years pass by, the memories of being in treatment during Christmas and the fear of cancer still lurks. My heart still aches with my fellow cancer mommas. My soul is dented with them. My spirit sinks thinking of those in treatment and it aches knowing so many families who will spend their first Christmas without their child. Maybe we can all take a lesson in perspective from Jenna and Ariana. We can work to be present with our loved ones rather than expend energy on stressing to create a perfectly decorated Christmas table. There is no shame or guilt in getting caught up in Christmas chaos, as long as we can take a step back and remind ourselves about what is really important: faith, family, love and kindness. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Holidays. Sending you all love, peace and light, McCall For those interested in praying, supporting and staying up to date on Ariana, check out her website: Ariana's Fight Against Brain Cancer

    Cancer, Eating Disorder, Faith
  • Posted on May 27, 2016 1:02 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    Salt water waves crashed down behind us as we began to countdown... 3...2...1... Manning and Marjorie squealed as the bright yellow balloons lifted into the air. Tears quietly crept down my face as the photographer, Amy, captured this sweet moment for my family. We released balloons to celebrate Marjorie's clean scans, but to also mark her one year cancer diagnosis. May 27. This joyous photo session was smack in the middle of two extraordinary dates - one that brought the deepest of sorrows and the other that brought the highest of joys. As I think back on this day, one year ago, my mind replays the minutes with clarity, but my heart is foggy on the feelings. There were none. Jordan and I were numb, our bodies protected us from feeling the worst pain a parent can feel. One year later, shock has worn off and we have felt that pain with every chemo, every scan and every poke. May 27th replays in our mind each time we take Marjorie for a scan or check-up. The "What-Ifs" never end and they probably never will. Cancer robs you from ever feeling 'normal' again. Sure, you find a new normal, but that fear always creeps in the back of your mind. Painful memories resurface and sting your heart when you least expect it. I awoke at 4:30am this morning with a massive heart ache. It was at 4:30am that Marjorie woke last year. Jordan was sound asleep, but I was already awake. I never went to sleep that night. I lifted Marjorie out of the metal hospital crib and rocked her until they finally took her for her CT scan at 11am. Jordan and I met nurse Mackenzie that morning. She came into our room our nurse for the day, but walked out forever a part of our family and a main character in Marjorie's story. Mackenzie sat with us for hours that day. Answering our non-stop questions both about cancer and about her. I would eventually 'propose' to her that afternoon, asking her to be our primary nurse. Thankfully, she said yes with a smile and we all laughed. Much like Mackenzie, Dr. Gauger, also flew into our hearts and lives on this day. A brilliant pediatric oncologist with a passion for her job and love for her patients, we instantly fell in love with her and felt safe in her hands. Dr. Gauger was straight forward, but kind. She explained every step of what was to happen with the CT. Then it was time. The radiology powers that be were ready. It was time for Marjorie's CT scan, the scan that would tell us if it was cancer. Mackenzie came to walk us down to pre-op. I held Marjorie tightly, Jordan's hand on her back as we followed in steady pace with Mackenzie who rolled Marjorie's IV pole. We made our way into the tiny pro-op room. Jordan quietly signed where he was told, as I clung to Marjorie in the corner of the claustrophobic room. Dr. Collins was our anesthesiologist that day. He, too, would become a main character in Marjorie's story. He fell in love with our girl that day and we fell in love with him. Dr. Collins came to take Marjorie, but before he did he asked if he could pray for her. We nodded and thanked him. He told us he would take extra good care of our precious girl. My quiet tears turned into moaning sobs as I placed my fragile Marjorie in his arms. I turned and collapsed into Jordan's arms. We sobbed uncontrollably. The fear was too much, it felt like someone took a sledgehammer to my heart. Jordan and I eventually made our way back to Marjorie's room where we would wait...and wait. Wait for Marjorie to return, wait for answers, wait for the fate of our precious baby girl. It is a proven fact that when you are waiting for test results, time DOES stand still. Jordan and I painfully watched the clock. It was the longest day of our lives. Jordan's energetic spirit was no where to be found. The room was silent - no tv, no talking, no laughter. At 4:35pm the door opened. Doctor Gauger walked in with Mackenzie behind her. Dr. Gauger began talking and said the CT scan confirmed what she suspected, "Neuroblastoma". I tried to keep my composure, typing furiously on my Notes App so I would remember later. "Keep it together, McCall," I told myself in my head, "You have to remember." Then I realized I had no idea what neuroblastoma was. "Is this cancer?" I naively asked Dr. Gauger, praying it wasn't the answer I suspected. "Yes," she replied. My iPhone slipped out of my hand. My attempt at note taking was over. Mackenzie stood over me with compassionate eyes and Jordan's hand grabbed my leg. I knew neuroblastoma was cancer, but I wanted to not believe it until the very end. Dr. Gauger's voice slipped into the background as my mind's furry took over. Cancer. How? Why? Prognosis? Why God? Why my baby? Why not me? I looked down at Marjorie sleeping peacefully in her carseat. Her belly was growing so fast it was one of the only places she was comfortable. Our precious girl. The sledgehammer hit my heart again, shattering the pieces even further. Dr. Gauger and Mackenzie stayed in our room for quite some time, maybe an hour. They walked out and Jordan and I collapsed again. "I have to call mom and dad," I said. Then I thought about Gaga. How on earth was I going to tell her that her beautiful namesake had cancer. I dialed mom's number and the phone was answered with moan. "Oh McCall, cancer? Cancer? This can't be happening." I tried to hold together on my end, calmly explaining the bits and pieces I remembered from Dr. Gauger's explanation. But just like my note taking, I gave up and gave in to the sadness and anger. I bellowed along with mom on the other end. Daddy eventually took the phone and we bellowed together. My sister, Jessica, called next. In typically Dr. Jessica fashion, she was cool and collected. I could hear her voice wanting to crack, but she was playing her part of big sister, still trying to protect me even though nothing could keep the pain away. Jessica told me she would be on the next flight down. "We will get through this, McCall," she said. "You take care of you and Jordan and Marjorie. I will take care of mom. I will explain everything. We will get through this. I will be there as soon as I can. I love you." The rest of the day was a whirlwind of phone calls, texts and messages of love. I did the only thing that made sense in my head - I wrote. It was too hard for me to talk on the phone, but I could write. I had to release my pain, my hurt, my confusion, my anger. One year later, I am still writing. Thankfully, I was able to write a happy ending to her story, one that we hope is truly the end of our cancer story. Today has been a rollercoaster day (and its not even noon). Remembering that day is not fun, but it is necessary. A big part of healing from any trauma is to go back and remember, like really remember. I go backwards so I can move forward and no longer let cancer rule this day and my heart. Tears steadily stream down my face as I write this blog, but they are good tears - healing tears. They hold all of the feelings from that day. The more they fall, the freer I am. I must let them go just like we released those golden balloons into the air, the color of pediatric cancer awareness. Through therapy, writing and feeling the feels, I am letting go of the sadness that was this day. For on this day, I want to rewrite a new ending and make new memories every year - never forgetting what was, but no longer feeling a prisoner to the trauma of this day. The good Lord knows there is so much life ahead for Marjorie and Manning. And in this very moment there is so much love! Love for my tiny hero, the girl who stole the hearts of people across the country (and globe!), love for my husband, love for my unsung hero, Manning, and love for every prayer warrior, friend and family. It is a love so big it hurts. While cancer brought devastation, you all brought love and light back into our lives. Today, I am choosing to feel the love and to spread it. I am choosing to make lemonade from cancer's lemons. Move over Beyonce. Cancer might have dented my soul, but I will not let it dent this day anymore. Today, we will put on our pink, spread kindness, drink lemonade, soak in the sunshine and thank God for answering our millions of prayers. Cancer no longer exists in our Marjorie. She has overcome. We have overcome. Today, I let go and embrace the love and light surrounding me.  

    Cancer, Faith, Family
  • Posted on May 24, 2016 9:37 am
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    The week that forever changed our lives is upon us. Last night, I posted a picture saying, "The week Jordan and I have been dreading is here." I received many comments to celebrate and rejoice. I realize 'dread' is a strong word, but it describes much of what my heart feels. Of course, there is celebration and joy - look how far my girl has come in a year. AND I would not be doing her story or my heart justice if I did not embrace the sadness that comes with this week, the week of her cancer diagnosis. The days leading up to her diagnosis were ominous, filled with signs. I knew in my 'mama gut' something was wrong. In fact, on this very day one year ago, Marjorie, Jordan, Manning and I were at our best friend's pool. I was showing my best friend's mom Marjorie's distended belly. Everyone confirmed it had to be gas, constipation, etc and then gave their tried and true remedies. I wanted to believe them. I really tried, but I knew something was going on. I just had no idea that 'something' would be cancer. This week marks the days prior and then signals off the days, weeks and months that followed the diagnosis day. The tears, the gut-wrenching moans of sheer disbelief, the unbearable pain and yes, the laughter. The laughter through tears brought to us by our friends, family, nurses and you. I will most likely be writing quite a bit over these next few days. It is the only way I know to settle my heartache. Jordan likes to look ahead. I always tease him that he 'shits rainbows'...and he does, which is a big reason why I love him so much. I, on the other hand, have to reflect and (re)feel the days and memories. It is a big part of my healing process, one that I have worked hard to cultivate since my eating disorder recovery. I do not dwell in the past, but I do honor it. Reflecting the past, gives me the ability to look back with different eyes. In this case, the wounds of last year are still pretty raw. It will be quite some time before they heal and I am not sure if they ever completely will. It feels like cancer put a dent in my soul. And while my soul may be forever dented, it is not damaged. My dents and scars are signs of life, of living, of defying the odds. My wounds heal because I work to heal them, I absorb the painful grief, remember the past, live for today and push forward to tomorrow. I don't believe in 'forgetting' the past. The past created my future, it shaped my soul - dents and all. So as my family and I walk through this week and the coming months, I invite you to walk with us, soaking in the memories and yes, even the pain. While there is much to celebrate, there is also much left to feel. There are many tears to be shed and many belly laughs to jiggle out as we look back to what has been the most defining year of our lives.     

    Cancer, Eating Disorder, Faith
  • Posted on May 1, 2016 6:29 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    It happens every time. The wait. The anxiety. The nerves. The quiet understanding between Jordan and me as we wait for our baby girl's scan results. Will the cancer be gone? Will it have metastasized? Will it be the same? Marjorie's previous two scans showed stability, meaning the cancer did not spread, but it also did not go away. To say I was left confused and devastated was an understatement. The results always knock the wind out of me no matter how much I attempt to emotionally prepare for them. It was a weekend filled with wonderful distractions at Derek and Lara's, our Jacksonville family who housed Marjorie and me all summer as she underwent chemo. But tonight we are back home. Waiting. My mind has been scattered since pulling into our driveway this afternoon. I put Marjorie down and couldn't wait to sit on the back porch. I needed to write, to think, to process what the last few days have been. As I watch the sun's light fade between the oaks, I anxiously await the phone call from our oncologist tomorrow. The purgatory wait for results always takes me back to the day, the day our baby girl was diagnosed with cancer. A day that is looming and imminent on our calendar. May 27. I can't help but to think back to that gut wrenching day. It was the only day Jordan and I said nothing to each other for hours on end. We waited. And waited. I wrote a blog and Jordan laid still on the small hospital sofa. Writing was the only thing I could do. It was too hard to talk on the phone or have a conversation. The feeling remains the same now. So I write. Tomorrow will come. The phone will ring. Will it be a call that forever alters our lives yet again? Will it be another much of the same? I don't know. This wait is agonizing. In this very moment, I want to collapse in tears,  but my body won't let me. It is that all too familiar place of shock and survival that I have lived much of the last two years in. I hate this place of numb. I hate feeling trapped in my head with a raging desire to scream, stomp and run the anxiety and fear out of my body and out of my life. Tomorrow will bring a phone call that will catapult me out of the shock and into the sensation of feeling again. I welcome it. I welcome any feeling other than numbness of purgatory. But I find relief in knowing that this will end. I cannot change the results or what tomorrow will bring, but I can control how I accept the feelings that will come up. My eating disorder kept me from feeling - happy, sad, angry, disappointed...you name it. I felt nothing. I have worked hard in my recovery to not only embrace every emotion, but give myself the time and space to feel them as well. For if we push away sadness we will never fully know joy. My two children bring me more joy than anything on this planet. I simply could not imagine my world without them. I have come too close to losing Marjorie...twice. I carry a lot of grief in my heart, but with that grief comes pure joy - the kind that shoots out like rainbows. Because we have stared down death and felt the lowest points of sadness, we have also felt the highest level of joy in life's simple pleasures. Tonight, I choose to sit in the numb knowing the joy will return. The sadness will creep back in and that is okay too. I will wait. Tomorrow we will wake up and find joy in morning chaos. We will wait for the call and remind ourselves that every minute is a gift, even the ones in purgatory.

    Authentic, Cancer, Eating Disorder
  • Posted on April 26, 2016 9:12 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    I knew this photo was coming and today it popped up. One year. I vividly remember this day. It was the day I looked out at the ocean with my family and thought, "We made it." We survived nearly three months in the NICU and extreme reclusiveness during flu season. The weather was warm and Marjorie was growing and healthy. This day still feels like yesterday. I recall thinking, "We made it to our new normal. Life is good." And it was; life was so good. Little did any of us know that our lives were about to drastically change. If Marjorie's first year of life has taught me anything, it is that life can truly change in the blink of an eye. One minute you are resting on the couch, the next you are in an ambulance terrified your daughter is about to be born at 25-weeks. One minute you are laughing on the beach and the next you are being transported to a Pediatric Oncology floor. Every month, day and minute is so very precious. It is pretty impossible for anyone, no matter how mindful you are, to be fully aware of time's sacredness every minute of every day. I am the queen of multi-tasking, buzzing and getting lost in life's to do's. However, nothing jolts me back like seeing a picture like this, a vivid reminder of what used to be...before the cancer. But what catapults me even more into awareness are Marjorie's scans. Scans are looming this Friday, with her nuclear injection Thursday. I can't lie, I. Am. Terrified. Today, in particular, I have felt paralyzed, as if sitting in some kind of pre-scan purgatory. Just waiting. Words escape me in being able to articulate this feeling and place where my mind is currently existing. This looming reality that our lives could change once again this week is excruciating. Errands seem insignificant and I honestly can't complete them. I attempted a trip to Target to distract me from my cluttered mind. After thirty minutes of aimlessly pushing Marjorie up and down each aisle, I gave up. I left with one yoga top and one box of tea. So random and definitely my cheapest Target purchase to date. So I guess that's a plus. It is an unbearable fact: life can change in the blink of an eye. The other fact is that we will all experience this at some point in our lives. Jordan's best friend, Marjorie's Godfather, and his family are living that nightmare now after a loved one's tragic fall at home. Another reminder of how extremely precious life is. A dear friend reminded me today that without fully embracing these times of sorrow, we cannot completely soak in the joy. Life comes in peaks and valleys and some time the peaks and valleys co-exist. Laughter through tears...probably my favorite emotion. So where to go from here? I honestly don't know. Well, I do. I signed myself up for yoga tonight and plan to rock some child's and corpse poses. I might cry my way through and that's okay too. Tomorrow, I will do much of the same and distract with some work. My heart hurts, but I will honor these painful feelings and push on. I will pray and pray hard. I will accept the love and support around me. That's all I can do. Honor myself: mind, body, spirit...and pray. Pray for Marjorie's scans, pray for Brian and most of all pray that I will never, ever forget how very precious and amazing this beautiful and difficult road we call life really is.

    Authentic, Cancer, Eating Disorder