Monday, August 31, 2015

Hope from a Diagnosis

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. For us, September is also diagnosis month. September 30th will make 1 year that we have been living with this diagnosis of a pediatric brain tumor.

Throughout this month, I'd love to give you some facts, statistics, warning signs, and general information about childhood cancer to help raise awareness. To start, though, I'd love to give a little hope from the past year.

Tillery loves to smile! She loves laughing with Luke and they play in a way that only brothers and sisters play. She loves to talk to Nana and Poppo on FaceTime and even likes to turn the camera around so they can see her toys and what she's playing. She babbles a lot and will copy anything you say. She even sings sometimes!

A year ago, Tillery had stopped being the happy child she was as a baby. She cried and fussed a lot and was almost impossible to console. She made a few sounds and could say "mama" and "dada" but wasn't consistent with them. She would not imitate sounds.

Tillery loves to crawl! She is a fast mover and will crawl all over the house. If you are holding her, she's always saying "I wanna down". She plays chase through the house with Luke and they even play their own version of hide-and-seek. At church, I have to get on to her for crawling all over the sanctuary and in-between pews! Sometimes I lose her!

A year ago, she had almost stopped crawling completely. She could barely sit up on her own and had to prop herself up with one arm because she lacked balance and coordination. At school, the teachers would pick her up and move her around the room to be where the other kids were because she didn't have the ability or energy to follow them from one center to the other.

Tillery works very hard to learn new things! Therapy is very hard on her physically and emotionally but she's making huge strides. She will tolerate some weight bearing on her legs, she is able to stand for 30 minutes at a time in her stander, and she will "walk" in her gait trainer to get to something she's interested in (Luke or our dog, Emma).

A year ago, we had stopped trying to get her to learn new skills. She showed no interest and we didn't know why she wasn't progressing. We didn't know if she had physical or mental limitations and we didn't want to push her to do things that would injure her. We were waiting for someone to tell us what she could do.

Tillery is not a typical 2 year old. She has limitations that many 2 year olds don't have, but that isn't want makes her atypical. Tillery is a miracle child! She is living with 90% of her original tumor still in her head! She has endured a surgery that lasted longer than she is normally awake in a day! She has made it through a surgery that started with serious conversations about the unlikely chance of her surviving! She has had to wear a helmet, be fed by a g-tube, take various medications including chemotherapy, use a stander, gait trainer and leg braces, and has faced every challenge with a smile on her face and a side pony tail!

Tillery is a face of childhood cancer but childhood cancer is not her identity.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hope from a Hurricane

Ten years ago, my world was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. Three months before, I had moved to New Orleans and started work at a fabulous advertising agency. I had just started feeling at home when a storm changed the entire course of my life.

To take you back to 2005 Alana, I was stuck in a life that was okay and I wasn't looking to break out of my comfort zone to find a life that was amazing. I was dating the wrong guy, living in a dumpy apartment complex, and living paycheck to paycheck. I wasn't a church goer and really had nothing and no one that I put faith or hope in. I had a handful of friends that I kept in touch with from college but no real post college friends. I dreamed of being a big advertising executive one day but wasn't confident enough in myself to get there.

The Hurricane Katrina came and saved me.

Let's fast forward to 2007. I relocated to Chattanooga, TN after the storm and had been working at an advertising agency in a job that I loved. I had made some wonderful friends, had an active social life, and even bought a house. The most important part of my transformation was joining a church, joining a Sunday school class, joining a women's small group, and then allowing Jesus into my heart.

I was so pleased with my new life and felt led to join a mission group from Chattanooga on a trip back to New Orleans. I felt like it would be good closure to go back and see everything one more time. I wanted to be a part of something positive since the last time I was in New Orleans it was a very horrible time.

On September 9, 2007, I met the group I would be working with for the week in New Orleans. Before we left Chattanooga, we had to make a stop at a church to pick up the pastor there who would also be joining us. We pulled up to Brooks Memorial UMC and on the front steps sat a man I had never seen or met before. Ten months later, he and I sat on those same steps and talked about our hopes and dreams for the future as our wedding rehearsal dinner was going on across the street. Our favorite wedding photo was taken on those steps.

See, Hurricane Katrina shook up my life. It tore apart all of the things that were happening in my life. It left me broken. And as I started to rebuild myself, I realized that I needed to be broken so that I could start fresh. Once I was broken, I was able to see a need for a Savior who I had never known. Once I started to understand God's love for me, I was able to love myself and realize that I was worth more than just settling. Once I could accept God's love as sufficient, I was open to see the man He had found for me, sitting on the front steps.

For 8 years together, Joe and I have had a relationship that has been rooted in our faith. During happy times we have praised God and during hard times we have prayed to Him. We have always believed that He is a part of our relationship and He is leading our family.

When Tillery was diagnosed with a brain tumor last September, it was hard to hear. It's been hard to adjust to this life of hospitals and sickness. I hate what my daughter has lost. I hate what I have lost.

BUT, God has already seen me through one storm and look at how awesome that turned out!

God is with Tillery. God is with our family. And I will praise Him in this storm!