Monday, February 18, 2013

A tribute to my Sister, California Screamin' and IBC

My last post was in August of 2012, almost exactly six months ago.  I had been posting about things from my family's recent trip to Disneyland and had been working on the posts with my sister, Melissa.  What I didn't tell all of you is that just a week before that trip, Melissa, who had been battling breast cancer for 7 1/2 years, had been given a very dire prognosis.  They took her off treatment and gave her approximately two weeks to live.  We were stunned and obviously heart-broken.  Because of the many chemo treatments, she hadn't been able to go to Disneyland in about two years.  

She loved Disneyland and so many people knew that.  Friends and family came together and we were able to go one last time as a family and stay in the Grand Californian together.  Despite her illness and prognosis, she was radiant and she had an amazing time.  

After the trip, when we got home, my husband and I knew that I needed to live at my parent's house with all of them for the last weeks of her life.  While I was there, we talked about and wrote the few previous entries on this blog, and I took notes on her thoughts and opinions about some of the other things we experienced that I haven't blogged about yet.  I'm sure you can imagine, it's just been too difficult for me.  As it is, I am sobbing as I write this entry.  But my sister was strong.  Amazingly strong. She trusted God and knew she was in His hands, and because of that, she faced life head-on, accepted the task God had given her and kept going. So in her honor, I am going to do this.

I would ask you to please, read to the very end of this entry.  There is some important, and possibly life-saving information that I want to share with all of you.
California Screamin' was Melissa's favorite ride in DCA  She LOVED it! The first year it opened, she went on it and proclaimed it her favorite ride in the park.    She even talked my mom and dad into riding it and Mom hates roller coasters. 
 The Mickey ears have been changed with the recent renovations to the park, and it is now a sun.  I preferred the ears myself, but seeing as they changed the Sun Wheel to Mickey's Fun Wheel, I guess they felt they needed to put a sun somewhere.
I just wanted to post a few pictures of the old facade because I really preferred it.  Here we are on one trip in October of 2008.  Melissa hadn't been able to ride it because she had been on chemo and had a port in her shoulder where they gave her chemo infusions.  On this trip, my husband and I didn't know it, but she had just been re-diagnosed after a year and a half of remission.  She still had the port, but I convinced her to go on Screamin' anyway, by padding her shoulder with a sweatshirt.  I knew she loved it, hadn't been able to ride it, and I didn't think she should miss out on it anymore.
We went over around dusk and it was lit so beautifully!  You really need to see Paradise Pier with all the lights on.
Normally it is a ride that we all go on, but since she hadn't gotten to ride it in several years, I wanted to get pictures of it. So I sent her on it with her brother-in-law, Mr. Diva.
She was thrilled and ready to go!  And look, front row seats!  Disney is awesome the way they help to make things special with even the little things like front row seats.

           Get Ready Screamers! In Four! Three! Two! One!

She had a great time! Later that week she called to tell us about her recurrence.  She didn't want us to know before and ruin the trip to Disneyland.  That's the way she was, always bearing the load and trying to make it easier for us, and yet her faith enabled her to live life and enjoy it in the midst of her trials. 
As I said earlier, Paradise Pier went through a renovation in the first part of the DCA re-do.  This is a picture of what it looks like now.  Gone are the cute Mickey ears in the middle of Screamin', and there is that sun I was telling you about.  But it didn't mess up the ride, it is still as cool as ever!

On that last family trip in July of 2012, despite being seriously ill, Melissa was determined to ride it one last time.  I was terrified that she wouldn't survive it.  After we rode it, I quietly shared my fears with my mom, and she told me what Melissa's view had been about such things.  I guess the first time she talked Mom into riding it, Mom said, "What if I have a heart attack or something and die while I'm on it?" to which Melissa replied, "Well, you should put your hands up and at the end of the ride all will be well. You will either die doing something fun and be in heaven, or you'll be safe on the ground after a great ride!"
I had come to much the same conclusion.  Melissa wanted to ride it and I was not going to stop her or say anything that would mar her last time on her favorite ride.  So I prayed, left her in God's hands, kept my mouth shut, and did my best to document it.
Melissa sat with Aunt Diva, and I sat with Mr. Diva, snapping photos the whole time and screaming, 'cause that's what you do on Screamin'!
One of the coolest parts of this ride, is the beginning where they launch you from 0 to 55 in four seconds straight up to the top of the drop!  Awesome!
Another cool feature is that it is 120 feet high at the peak, followed by a 108 foot drop. Aunt Diva is wondering why she agreed to ride it just about now.  Melissa laughed through the entire ride!
Here's Melissa hanging on and getting ready for the big loop!
It's hard to look good for this picture when they have been shooting you around the world's 8th longest roller coaster at 55 miles an hour, dropping you 108 feet and then sending you upside down through the loop.  I'm sure some people manage, but we never do.  Doesn't matter though.  
We came, we screamed, we conquered.
You know you had a good time on this ride when you get off with Screamin' hair!

I am so, so, so glad that Melissa wanted to ride this.  What wonderful memories! 

I feel like this is the perfect place to put this sign Melissa found at a shop on one of our trips to Philadelphia for her treatments.  She really liked it. It made her laugh, and she had a fantastic laugh.
I miss her  

Since she died last August, I have been studying what the Bible has to say about Heaven.  I can't wait to join my sister there.  It will be far better than any trip to Disneyland, or even the very best of days we had here together.  This life is just a taste; a little foreshadowing of all that God has prepared for His children for eternity.  Melissa is enjoying that now and I know that when I join her, she will be there to welcome me with that radiant smile and that infectious laugh.

In keeping with the desire to honor my sister, I am compelled to post some information on Breast Cancer here, so please don't stop reading.  She wanted people to be informed and was always open with her health struggles and willingly participated in test studies so that she could further medical research.

We were always sure that we didn't need to worry about Breast Cancer because it didn't run in our family, we were under 60, etc. etc.  Well, I'm here to tell you that there are some dangerous myths about BC out there and we ALL need to be aware.

Melissa was just 33 when she was diagnosed.  I already said that it doesn't run in our family.  She didn't smoke, drink, wasn't overweight, and she ate healthy and worked out regularly.  Originally she was diagnosed at stage 0 with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in-situ) She went all in and had the double mastectomy right away.  We were assured that she had done more than she needed to and she had a 1-2% chance of it ever recurring in her lifetime.  One year later she was diagnosed with a recurrence.  It was local, and had not metastasized.  She had 2 more recurrences.  The last one (possibly the last two) it had changed into something called Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  This is a little known form of breast cancer that is more often than not, misdiagnosed and by the time it is, it is generally too far along for successful treatment.  I am linking a video here about IBC.  Please take a few moments to watch it, and know the signs of IBC.  Early detection is imperative.

It's important to take care of ourselves, get check-ups, fund research, pray for cures, but in reality, all we are truly doing is postponing the inevitable.  We are all going to die. Did I pray fervently that God would cure my sister, and use the treatments to heal her so I could have more time with her here on earth?  You bet I did!  Do I still pray and hope for a cure for cancer?  Absolutely.  But is that going to change the fact that sooner or later, we are all still going to die?  Nope.

As a teenager, Melissa was convicted of her sin and separation from God.  A dear man in our church shared with her and she repented of her sin, accepted Christ's payment for her sin through His death and resurrection, and gave her life to Him.  Was she perfect?  Absolutely not.  She would be the first to tell you that.  But because she was a sinner, saved by grace, she was able to face the trials God put before her without feeling sorry for herself, getting bitter, or forsaking her faith in Him.  When she was told she only had two weeks to live, and it ended up being four, she walked that last month with a grace and peace that can truly only come from a faith rooted in God and His word.  She knew that she was headed home, to eternal life in the presence of her savior. 

I want everyone to know that same peace and assurance, and I know Melissa did too.  It is my prayer for you, dear reader that if you don't already know the forgiving grace of God, that you will ask for it.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8


Susan Stringfellow said...

Beautiful Beautiful job, Tami! I totally love the Screamin' Hair! What a wonderful memory for you guys and I am so glad you were finally able to share it with everyone. I miss hearing what you and Miss think of the rides, shows, meals, etc. I hope you will post more soon :)

Cheryl said...

What a beautiful post, Tami. You've given us a front row seat to a wonderful memory with Melissa. I especially love how everyone is "Diva"! It makes me think of the verse in Titus 2 where it says, "that in everything you may ADORN the doctrine of God our Savior" (vs 10. Melissa, along with your entire family, has worn the gospel as her crowning jewel. Even now she shines!

Laurie said...

Lovely, Tami. What a joy to share in this wonderful time with your memories shared so beautifully. Having a loved one in Heaven makes it seem all the nearer and decreases our hold on the things of earth. Thank you.

Elizabeth - UK said...

It has been with absolute honour that I have shared Melissa's life even though that teeny bit has been through her blog & this wonderful Screamin story. She has touched many during her life. My love & hope for the future to all Melissa's family.

Merrick Dunphy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!

Rachel Taylor said...

This very personal and tender story is something we should all read and be humbled by . God bless you Tamera for sharing x