• Posted on December 24, 2016 11:47 am
    McCall Dempsey
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    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 October 8, 2016 9:52 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    To my dearest daughter on your second birthday, I wish I could look back on this day with loving memories and joy. But I can’t. Your birth date was one of the most difficult days of my life. I will never forget the sounds and sterile surroundings of the OR room. Your daddy sat behind my head, resting his face next to mine and holding my hands that stretched out on the cold steel table. When Dr. Glas finally pulled you out, the nurse came around the curtain and held you up. “She’s beautiful, mom and dad.” She said as she held you up for us to see your precious face. You looked back at us with wide eyes, as if to tell us, “I’ve got this mom and dad.” Tears streamed down my face – and your daddy’s too. Those precious few seconds would be my only glimpse of you on your birth date. My body had been through too much and I was unable to see you until the following day. I could not get to you fast enough the next day. Waiting for the doctor to make rounds and free me from the catheter and IVs, was agony. Unable to walk, your Aunt Anne and daddy wheeled me down. Daddy already had the NICU drill down – sign in, scrub in. I followed his lead, trying my best to clean my hands with IVs hanging from my arm. He pushed my wheelchair into your tiny room, where your NICU Momma Lisa was already there loving on you. She lowered your bed so I could get my first glimpse at you. I slowly reached my hand through the tiny porthole of your Plexiglas home and touched your tiny fingers. Tears welled and streamed down my face. You were so beautiful – and so tiny. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. But there you were. You clearly had a different agenda. Your birth set the tone for the spirit you carry with you today: small, but MIGHTY. Tough, but loving. Wild and free. Full of LIFE and ready for life’s next adventure – even if your mom and dad aren’t ready. You clearly have your own timeline and march to your own drum. Your contagious laughter and independence are going to carry you so far in life, my sweet girl – I just hope daddy and I can keep up with you! I don’t know why you have had to endure so much in your short two years, but I do know that there is NOTHING you can’t overcome. You have captured the heart of so many – and you have so many angels flying on your shoulders, watching over you, protecting you when we can’t. I often think about how I will tell you about your birth and tumultuous first year of life. I still don’t have the answer, but I don’t think I have to. You will let me know when you are ready. You will lead the way in your own life – just as you always have. Marjorie Mims, you are a shining example of what life is about. Perseverance, discovery, love, hope and faith. May this year be filled with tons of laughter, Minnie Mouse, wagon rides, black beans & cheese (lots of cheese), dancing, singing, sparkly & squeaky shoes, hair bows, big brother tackles, friends and HEALTH. You are my hero. You and your big brother are my heart and my light. I prayed long and hard for you. I dreamed about you before you even kicked your way into this world. I thank God every day for not only blessing me with a baby girl, but a feisty one who is going to be a world changer. You’ve already changed my world for the better. I know this isn't the birthday we planned on. Hurricane Matthew drove us out of our home, but we are together - and that is all that matters. You continue to teach us that no matter what curveball life throws us, we will march on - and we will do it with laughter and love. The world is your oyster baby girl and I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for you! Happy happy birthday my precious angel. Here is to the best year yet and prayers that your daddy and me can keep up with you! We love you, peanut!

    Faith, Family, Health
  • Posted on October 5, 2016 3:21 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    Last week I laid in bed next to my husband. We just turned our lamps off and I rolled onto his shoulder and said, “I am so happy. We are so blessed. How did we get so lucky?” “I don’t know,” he said, “Life is so good. Good night baby.” He kissed my head and we drifted to sleep. Except my sleep stopped a few hours later. I awoke with tears streaming down my face and thoughts racing out of control. ‘Oh, God,’ I thought, ‘something is about to happen. We have finally returned to a new normal. Something bad is about to happen. What was that new rare disease I saw on Facebook today? What if Manning gets that? Which hospital should we go to? I wonder if we will have to transfer to a specialty hospital. Marjorie has a scan next month. What if the cancer is back? What if there is a new cancer?’ Brene Brown calls it ‘Dress Rehearsing Tragedy’ and I not only own the shirt, but am the president of the Dress Rehearsing Club. I am so damn happy and thankful that I am scared shitless. This isn’t the first time I have written about my foreshadowing tragedy night sessions, but lately they have come back with vengeance. I know I have ZERO control about current events in my life or the world around me. And many of you would say I have every right to be fearful or even angry or to be the mom who keeps her children in a bubble. But that would not serve me (or my family) well. We have to keep living. And that is just what I intend to do. Or at least try to do. Until the next bump...or shall we say hurricane. What was lining up to be an amazing week with my momma in town, celebrating Marjorie's 2ND birthday on Saturday, has now turned into a chaotic hurricane evacuation. Hurricane Matthew. We just pulled out of my driveway. Mom is driving. If you know Annie, then you know she never lets anyone else drive. And that's fine by me. My head isn't on right this morning. I keep reminding myself that everything I need in life is in this car and the second car that Jordan will drive later...my family. Our house may be just fine. Our island might squeak out another hurricane. Or maybe not. The fear of the unknown and what ifs is terrifying...especially when you've had two years of unexcpected life curveballs that shattered your world. But we have persevered with faith and family and rebuilt our new normal. Marjorie's birthday brings up memories of being frightened and feeling out of control. This hurricane is compounding those old feelings. And I am very well aware everything might (and probably will) turn out just fine. In these moments of unknown, I fall back on my faith. God doesn't 'make' bad things happen, but He gives us people and hope to overcome and move on. Marjorie's birthday, October 8, is a day of joy and a sorrow. Her birthday marks the beginning of the most trying year of our lives. We rested our tired heads on faith, family and knowledge that miracles happen every day. Because every day is a miracle in of itself. So today, as we watch our island home disappear in the rear view mirror, I acknowledge the fear and look to faith. We will make the best of these next few days and unplanned beach trip. I can't think of a better place to celebrate Marjorie's second birthday than on the beautiful sands of the Florida panhandle. Massive thank you to our beloved Grand D and JJ for loaning us a condo for shelter and safety. Since we can't control life's hurricanes, we may as well enjoy the Love and people around us. Let the birthday celebrations and hurricane party begin. Praying for everyone's safety. Bring it Matthew. We're ready for ya.

    Faith, Family
  • Posted on August 22, 2016 1:56 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    Just over a week ago, my beloved hometown of Baton Rouge was practically washed away in one of the worst floods in US history. My 93-year old grandmother and mom were stranded on the interstate for over 30-hours. Some of my dearest friends and their families have lost absolutely everything. While my friends spent the last week escaping floods and ripping out floors and drywall, I was on the beach with my family. Manning would laugh with delight as the salt water washed away our sand castles. I did my best to stay in the moment with him, but my heart was breaking for the people who witnessed the water washing away their actual homes. Today, as my family and I sink back into routine life, I can't help but think of those in Louisiana who would pay anything to find routine and normalcy again. The sadness hit me this morning. Tears fell and my heart started to absorb the hurt and the distance that stands between me and the town I love. My Facebook stream is flooded (pun intended) with pictures of devastation, but more so, pictures of the best of humanity, of a community rising above a terrible summer and historic devastation. Yes, that is my Baton Rouge. These are MY people. There is no black or white, young or old, rich or poor. It isn't every man for himself - it is everyone together, rising above. It is what we, in Louisiana, do best - we rise, we conquer, we celebrate. Because even on the rainiest days and the darkest nights there is still something to celebrate: life. My mom and grandmother still found friends and a reason to toast, despite being hot and on the side of an Interstate. We rise. We are unBRoken. I am carrying that spirit with me today, as I made Marjorie's first oncology appointment at our new hospital in Savannah. We haven't set foot in a clinic in two months - and it has been oh so nice. It knocked the wind out of me to say her diagnosis aloud: neuroblastoma. Can I go back to the beach now? Back to the place where worries seem to wash away with our sand castles? I guess living in paradise would be nice, but it isn't real. Life is what is real. Life is what sucks sometimes. Life is what is hard. But life is also where you find the love, the joy and the people who make the sorrow all worth it. We will never know why things happen - and sometimes accepting that piece is the hardest of all. But what we can do is fight our way back - back to life, back to normalcy. We can choose to rebuild. As much as I don't want to take Marjorie to another Oncology clinic, I will. Because that is our normalcy. As much as my friends don't want to tear down the walls of their homes and rebuild, they will - because they will fight to regain their normalcy. The flood has forever changed all of our lives. Cancer has forever changed mine. But we rebuild, we reschedule and we march on. Because at the end of the day, there is so much we can't control. We can all learn something from my bayou kinfolk. We can spend our days asking ‘Why me?’ or we can choose to rebuild, finding faith in humanity, strength in ourselves and of course, always finding a reason to celebrate. So cheers, y'all! Cheers to life, love and LOUISIANA! Laissez les bon temp rouler! Forever and always unBRoken         Links on how to help friends and their families: Sarah Duncan Smith Mandie Tracy's Family Baton Rouge Flood Recovery Amazon Flood Registry  - run by my dear friend Carolina Grace Baton Rouge Area Foundation - Louisiana Flood Relief Fund Amazon Wishlist for Woodlawn Elementary School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Amazon Wishlist for Sherwood Academic Magnet Middle School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Flood Recovery Fund for Schools in Baton Rouge Junior League of Baton Rouge Diaper Bank Check my Facebook page for other ways to help! And please message me to add your family's link or others way to help <3

    Faith, Family, Inspiration
  • Posted on May 27, 2016 1:02 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    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