Monday, May 24, 2010


In case you missed the big news...I am officially a college graduate!

Saturday, May 8th was one of those perfect days. The weather cooperated, so many people got up early to see me graduate, others celebrated with me afterwards. I felt so happy, proud and loved and it truly was perfect in every way.

Though from there things began to get a little more interesting and less 'perfect.' The weekend went something like this:

Saturday: I graduate from college! Summa cum laude!! I celebrate with my family and close friends. (And thanks for all the cards you have sent!! My kitchen cabinets are completely covered. It's beautiful. I will have to post a picture!)

Sunday: Stay in my pajamas all day to rest and recover from the excitement of Saturday.

Monday: I wake up feeling good, ready to face the world as a college-grad, and then the doctor calls to inform me I have skin cancer. To be precise, I have melanoma.

I'm sorry. What?!?? Did you call the wrong patient or something? I'm MS Girl...I'm not Cancer Girl! That will require a totally different cape and costume, not to mention I don't have time or energy for all new sets of fundraisers!! (by the way, Team Wearing Red Shoes has raised over $19,500 making us the top fundraising team in the entire state of Georgia for 2010!)

Meanwhile, I am so proud of my accomplishment, of reaching this goal that has taken me over a decade and many hurdles to complete, and I just wanted to spend a day or maybe a week basking in the glory of finally becoming a college graduate. Instead I spent Monday feeling scared and crying, having miniature pity-parties saying, "Why me? Why me again?"

The good news: after they cut the melanoma out they ruled me practically stage zero - the cancer was mostly contained to the tumor site (on top of my head! like on my scalp, hiding in my hair!!) though he missed a little on the edges and has to go back and cut out more. blech. But in my doctor's opinion the chance of this melanoma having spread anywhere else in my body is less than 2%. I like those odds. I meet with the oncology surgeon June 1 and then we will schedule the rest of the cutting and a biopsy of my lymph nodes to be 100% sure I don't have mean, nasty cancer cells anywhere else. I have about 6 or so stitches in my scalp, but he pulled my hairline back together nicely so I'm not bald or anything. Though it did change my natural part a bit (you ladies understand!) so that will take some getting used to. I've been wearing a lot of scarves to cover up the stitches until they come out.

I probably sound braver than I actually am.

If I think about it all too much, I completely shut down and I don't wanna leave the house, or answer my phone or read my emails, and that's not healthy. If I have learned anything from MS it's that you need help from people to get through any major crisis, whether its physical help, emotional support or just knowing there are people there that have your back when you need them.

But I'm sad, scared and angry all at once. My post-graduation plans did not include "Get Cancer." And the fact that I do have MS just complicates matters tenfold. So now my doctors are going to have to all talk to each other and figure out what's the best plan for my current/future treatments and that scares the crap outta me too. The next couple weeks aren't going to be fun, but I really truly believe that somehow it is going to work out alright.

So I just have to move forward, one day at a time, holding my breath a little until we know for sure what all we're dealing with and what this will mean for my future. Nevertheless, MS Girl will now be taking on the world as a college grad, which only makes me that much more of a badass. :-)


Friday, May 7, 2010

Awards Ceremony

I had forgotten how at the end of the school year, particularly the end of your senior year they have Awards Day and Senior Honors Day. Well, at least Oglethorpe does and as I sat in our theater (and even watched my bff Angela win an award for being so brilliant in Sociology!) I thought about how my own college awards ceremony might go....

To the people who spent the most time and their precious fuel driving me to/from doctor appointments, so that I could save my energy for my schoolwork and classes, I give the Chaffeurs of the Year Awards to: Alice Nanda (with help from her sons Louis and Adam) and my Aunt Eileen 'Louie' Mengert.

For stocking our fridge with food when I was too sick to go grocery shopping over the past 2 years we present Shopper Extraordinaire Awards to Karen & Courtney Holder and my in-laws Barbara Faga & Paul Kulinski.

For leaving her job to pick me up at school when I found myself without a ride home (more than once!), the Search & Rescue Award goes to Beth Dieterich.

For helping me type papers when my left hand gave out on me (and learning more about Shakespeare's fools than she ever thought possible) the Helping Hands Award goes to "Lightning-Hands" Lyn Marcrum.

For their unfailing willingness to do whatever we needed whenever we needed, be it drive, cook, shop or have ginger molasses cookies on my doorstep even before the IV nurse arrived the Jacks of All Trades Award goes to Tiffany & Steven Wisener.

To the person who sadly got laid off from her job, but instead of settling in for a pity-party and Oprah-watching, called up her sister-in-law and said, "Hey, I just lost my job, so what can I do to help you? Drive? Shop? Type? Cook?" And during the toughest 6 months of my life she did all that and more. The Service Above Self Award goes to my sister-in-law Betsey Kulinski.

Within 2 hours of notifying my friends and family that I had lost the use of one arm and gained a sassy cane named Greg, this generous friend offered and spent every Friday afternoon for months doing whatever I needed help with. She typed papers, did dishes, baked cookies, made placecards, took me to Ikea and set up our entire dining room set for us. The Macguyver Service Award goes to my friend Bethany Okie.

For teaching me everything I know about theater that is worth knowing and for asking for my input and whatever expertise I might have had on his own productions. For inspiring me to go back and finish my degree so that I might someday pursue my love for educational theater, the Inspiration Award to my stepdad George Mengert.

For paying for Pace and for my first 2 years at CCM and for navigating every aspect of my medical journey with me, taking my frantic midnight phone calls, fighting for me with my insurance company and with my doctors, all so that I could stay in school and accomplish my goals: the Advocate and Support Award to my parents Larry & Sheryl Clements.

For choosing that 9am Sociology class in the fall of 2008, for driving me to countless doctor appts, sitting with me during infusions, helping type my papers, doing my dishes, folding my laundry, the list goes on. But most of all for keeping me sane with her encouraging, calming presence and always wise advice. To my 'mini-me' and partner-in-crime, the All-Around Support Award to Angela DeGroat.

She has easily driven half a million miles in order to advance my education and talents and she has worked behind the scenes for 30+ years, quietly helping me to put the pieces of my life back together every time they fell apart, so that even in the midst of great hardships I would never lose sight of who I was. When I was diagnosed with JRA at age 6, desperate to be a ballerina, she pleaded with and convinced Ruth Mitchell to allow me to keep on dancing. When CCM became too much for me and I returned home, she was the one who 'subtly' sent me the audition notice for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus so that I would keep on singing. No matter the hurdle, she has helped me to "keep on keepin' on." The Biggest Fan & Cheerleader Award goes to my mom, Annette Mengert.

Finally, for living with a full-time college student and not strangling me every time I stressed out over an exam or was too hard on myself about a paper. For being supportive of my decision to go back to school even when it meant seeing less of me and seeing less money in our bank account. For being understanding about what a perfectionist I am and trying to get me to dial it from an 11 down to an 8. For putting all my papers and exams on the fridge no matter what the grade. For encouraging me when I was scared, and telling me time and time again how proud he was of me for making this decision and seeing it through, the Better Half Award to my husband, Chris.

All of you and so many more have made it possible for me to reach this point: hours away from being a college graduate. I couldn't have done it without you.
(And even if I could have, I wouldn't have wanted to.)

As my dear friend Dorothy says: "You're the best friends anybody ever had."

Thank you for helping me to join the graduating class of 2010!