One winter day, I was looking for lunch in all the wrong places. I have long driven by this cute brick building called The Cheese Board, and always said to myself, “that place looks nice, I need to go in there.” That was months ago, because this girl takes procrastination to an art form.
Finally I went in. I didn’t wait for anyone; I went solo. I’m okay being alone, but there is something about dining out that makes me detest doing it alone - I crave company. Something about coffee shops caters nicely to the solitary soul, but not restaurants in my opinion. But The Cheese Board is the kind of place where you can feel comfortable even if you are all by your lonesome.
It’s on the busy California Avenue across the street from 1864 Tavern. This is a popular spot for the office crowd and also within walking distance of many office buildings downtown. This bistro is open 11-4 every day except for Sunday, serving up a fancy spin on the oft-tired sandwich/soup/salad fare.
I ordered the lunch trio because I’m indecisive and this gives you the best of 3 worlds – soup, salad, and sandwich. For just $10.95, you get a cup of broccoli cheddar soup, a petite grilled cheese sandwich and a light salad. The salad was the star of the show here, featuring almond slivers, sliced red grapes, dried cranberries and red onion, all tossed with a refreshing honey lemon vinaigrette.
Meet a friend here for lunch sometime or hire The Cheese Board Catering Co. to cater your next event! You can also schedule an event in the restaurant for after hours for up to 70 people – rehearsal dinner, cocktail party, company party or any other soirée you have in mind.
Pick up the perfect hostess gift here, or choose from plenty of must-haves like wine glasses, shirts, chocolates, jams, etc.
Aaaand…if this wasn’t enough, guess what? They have wine, but of course. By the bottle or glass. Many beautiful bottles decorate the area around the front counter.
Snag a bottle or two on your way out to take home and enjoy by the fireside or your Netflix fireplace if you’re me.
I detest complainers, but dang it, I'm going to complain for two seconds, so please don’t leave. Like many of us adulting, I work full-time and never seem to have enough time for friends, family and hobbies, etc. On any given Wednesday afternoon you can find me sitting at a desk behind mountains of paper, looking longingly at the snow-topped mountains outside my office. Most of my brain is focused on commercial leases, civil complaints, and other law stuff, but the rest is creatively cartwheeling a million miles a minute, thinking about everything I’m missing out on. Woe is me.
I have a bit of a perspective problem that I’m fiercely working on.
When I’m surrounded by this kind of beauty, though, who can blame me? And especially after coming off almost a week of no work. Today these words run through my head: Focus. Re-focus. Repeat.
Well today I got to combine a basic human need (lunch) with a new (to me) restaurant and the company of a lovely (newish but feels like we go back ages) friend. Yes yes and yes.
Two Chicks is an egg-cellent restaurant in Midtown, tucked away behind the main businesses on Virginia Street. It’s founded by two cute chicks who are best friends and business partners. Haley is the red chick and Jessie is the yellow chick. How cute is that?! That’s totally something I would’ve dreamed about as a teen is opening my own restaurant with my bestie. And these lovely ladies have done it, and done it well!!
At Two Chicks, you can get breakfast or lunch. They’re open until 2 pm every day, so make sure to stop in early! I couldn’t decide whether to get breakfast or lunch – it’s always the dilemma – but since I don’t actually like eggs, I avoided the breakfast options and opted for lunch instead! If you’re going for breakfast, though, and are an egg-hater like me, there are plenty of options like French toast, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, etc.
Here is my plate – the BLTA. Wow was this ever yummy. It’s your classic BLT elevated with the addition of avocado and a basil aioli sauce, along with Icky bread from Great Basin Brewing Company, another local favorite. This bread has the famous Icky IPA beer in it as well as local honey. Hello gluten, come to mama. And my fries were crispy, which is always a must with sweet potato fries. So much Mmmmm.
If you’re like my friend, you may like what she got, the Red Chick Scramble – eggs scrambled with spinach, mushroom, ham and cream cheese atop sweet potato home fries. I can’t wax poetic about this because I also don’t like mushrooms, but I’m sure many people would find this delicious.
There's also a variety of Bloody Mary's, mimosas and other cocktails on the menu to kick your brunch up a notch or twelve. But I am Office Stefanie today, so that's for another day.
We went during my lunch hour from 1-2 pm, and it was busy, which is always a good sign. We only had to wait a couple minutes before we were sat. There’s a lot to see and do within walking distance of Two Chicks, so it’s great to park and walk, or even ride your bike down here.
This is one of many murals to be found around town, and it’s right across the entrance from the restaurant.
I’m thankful that I work in between downtown and midtown, so I am surrounded by some of the best local businesses! See, I'm not complaining anymore! It's one of my goals to turn everything into a positive. I guess you can say I multitasked today – I got to spend quality time with a good friend, I had a delicious meal, and I absorbed a new place and area, all within the span of 50 minutes. Not bad, Smith.
Today I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite places in the world - the mother ship, Disneyland. I’ll be sharing with you how I do Disney on a budget and what my recommendations are to make the most of your time there!
BEFORE YOU GO
This tip may seem useless, but I’ll show you why it’s not. Get yourself a Target debit card. This is not a store credit card (which I am against) but rather a card that links directly to your bank account and saves you 5% off your purchase every time you shop! Other perks of having the REDcard include free shipping, extended returns, and more. (And if you don’t shop at Target, what are you even doing with your life?) Once you have the card, use it to buy Disney gift cards.
These gift cards come in various amounts and can be used anywhere in the park - to buy park tickets, food, souvenirs, etc. I don’t buy anything in the park with cash or debit - I only use Disney gift cards! This can help you budget your spending while you’re in the park, since all that pixie dust and happiness has a tendency to make you forget everything practical. And the whole point is that you get to save money by getting your Disney gift cards at Target! It may not seem like much of a savings, 5%, but if you spend $500 on gift cards, you save $25!!! That equals a cool souvenir or a couple free meals in the park. Not too shabby.
WHEN TO GO
This can make or break your whole trip. Most people I talk to who hate Disneyland have only been there in the summertime when crowds are at an all-time high — lines can be 3 hours or more with the heat cooking you while you wait. Everyone gets real cranky, real fast in those conditions.
I have gone to Disneyland many times over the years, owned an annual pass last year, and I don’t think I’ve ever been there once during the summertime. Just don’t do it.
That being said, when is a good time to go? I think your best months are February and October/November. Avoid Disneyland at all costs whenever there’s a holiday or kids have a break from school. (winter break, spring break, etc.) Many people tend to plan vacations around when their kids are out of school, so the park will be prettttty crowded then. I went once during spring break - biggest mistake ever. Not only was it super crowded, but there are massive groups of tweens and teens arriving on giant buses from around the world it seems like - from cheer camps, sports teams, etc. They travel in packs of like 20 or more and are really obnoxious.
What day of the week is best to go? Obviously not on the weekends. It seems the best day for low crowds is during the middle of the week - Tuesday through Thursday. Sometimes Mondays and Fridays aren’t too bad either, but I’ve found middle of the week to be best.
This is the bench where Walt dreamed up the idea for Disneyland. You can't sit on it and be inspired, but you can look at it and ooh and ahh and take pictures of it, like I did.
HOW TO GET THERE
Now that you’ve picked a good time to go, the next question is how will you get there? (This section is directed at those living in the Reno area like me) JetBlue often has some great deals on direct flights to Long Beach airport — as low as $39 one way when they were doing their awesome promo, but currently it runs about $69, which still isn’t too bad. I prefer to fly even though by car it’s only about an 8-9 hour drive from Reno. From Long Beach airport, it’s about a $30 Uber ride to Disneyland. I always pick a hotel within walking distance of either the park itself or the Toy Story parking lot (more on that in a minute).
The benefits of flying - you don’t put the wear and tear on your car. You don’t have to pay for gas and a rental car. You’re there in a little over an hour. You’re way less tired and stiff than you would be if you’d spent the better part of a day cramped in a car. And airplanes are cool.
And you don’t need a car once you’re there. You can walk to anything you need. We like to stay at a place that offers a continental breakfast.
If you are staying near the Toy Story parking lot, you can walk to the lot and from there you catch a free shuttle that will take you directly to the park entrance. This shuttle is mainly for the people who’ve paid to park in the Toy Story parking lot, but it is easily accessible from the street (no gates blocking pedestrian traffic) and no parking pass or anything is required. Many times, early in the morning when the lot is still empty, the cast members standing outside will see us walking in from the street and it’s obvious we didn’t drive in, but they never bat an eye or tell us we can’t ride, so we will keep doing this until we hear otherwise.
If you’re staying at a hotel that’s within walking distance but still kind of far, this shuttle tip can be a lifesaver. It may not seem like a big deal to walk 15-20 minutes in the morning from the hotel to the park, but believe me, after a long day spent walking many miles around the park, you will be miserable by the end of the day if you also have to trudge back to your room on another long walk. You will kinda sorta whine and make your husband get you an Uber because you seriously think your feet are going to bleed and fall off.
We may be smiling but our feet are gushing blood. Just kidding, that's gross.
WHAT TO EAT
Disneyland lets you bring in your own food, and plenty of people use this to their advantage and pack sandwiches, granola bars, sliced fruits and veggies, and that’s all well and nice especially if you have a tribe of children to feed, but I do not roll like that. When I’m in Disneyland, I eat Disneyland food. I want to savor the whole experience and not eat something that I can also get at home. Also, if you’re not staying in a place with a kitchen, it’s hard to pack your own food anyway. Speaking of things you can’t get at home, these are 2 of my must-have, get-every-time items:
Corn dog (either from the little red wagon at the end of Main Street) or Corn Dog Castle in DCA. You haven’t lived til you’ve had a Disney corn dog. They are huge, breaded down to the end of the stick and are soooo juicy! The cast member will ask you whether you want chips or fruit with your corn dog, as if you’re required to pick one. But this is the place where dreams come true, so you absolutely get what you want (and what I want happens to be just a dog without any sides, thank you), so I always say “just the corn dog, please.” Last I checked, it’s priced and listed on the menu as coming with a side, so many people don’t know that you can order it by itself. (And save $$)
Churro (sold in various food carts around the park) - one of these days I will get my own churro. I always share one with my husband and always regret not having my own! They are perfectly fine to share because they are pretty long, but I really recommend you get one all to yourself. The cinnamon and sugar and texture just can’t be beat, these really are the best churros anywhere. You deserve your own.
The legendary Dole Whip float. I can say I've tried it, but unfortunately I just didn't love it. It was the pineapple juice's fault. The soft serve itself is actually really good.
Another fun way to fill up between meals is to go to the area in DCA where they have the Ghirardelli shop right next to the bread shop (both places give you a free sample just for walking in). We will walk through both shops once and then again about 1/2 hour later. (sometimes I do clever costume changes like put my hair in a ponytail, take off my Mickey ears and sunglasses so I look like a brand new person) Sometimes the cast members have rotated shifts and will be different - even if they’re the same they usually don’t care/remember we were just there. More than twice might be pushing it, though. And that’s enough junk food for the time being, anyway. Carbs and chocolate, the two best c words in food history.
I’m ending this here - This post has gotten long and now I’m really missing this place. I have so much more to say and so I’ll do a part 2 and maybe 3 or more sometime. I’ll tell you how to find cats at Disneyland and also some of the best secrets and must-dos that not everyone thinks of or knows about, but will make your day memorable.
I don't know who I'm channeling here, but it sure ain't Spider-Man.
My new favorite cocktail lounge, Death and Taxes is one of the hottest spots in Reno. I’d long heard about how beautiful their drinks were, so it was definitely time to hit this place up! It’s on Cheney Street in Midtown right across from Noble Pie.
First impression: Pleasantly intimidating exterior. Reminds me of an entrance to a Fantasyland dark ride. I can’t wait to see what’s behind these 2 black doors!
The first thing you notice when you enter is the two giant chandeliers, one on each side of the bar. I’m instantly impressed and captivated by the sparkle and beauty, as I love a good vintage chandelier. It’s very dark inside, owing in part to the black damask-covered walls, black furniture and floors, and the effect is luxurious, transporting you to a 1920s speakeasy where I expect Jay Gatsby to walk in at any moment. There’s just the right amount of soft mood lighting from vintage wall sconces and table lamps. Besides the bar top area, there is cozy seating in couches by both of the two fireplaces. I’m absolutely enamored with the design and decor. Black has never looked so good.
Death and Taxes offers gorgeous cocktails with fancy names like “Spanish Diplomat”, “Shrinking Violet”, and my new favorite, “Dead & Lovely”. As their website states, they specialize in ‘fresh artisanal cocktails made with seasonal ingredients, house-made syrups, and infusions’.
The Dead & Lovely is made of toasted coconut-infused bourbon, tropical juices and two kinds of rum, garnished with a dried rose. It’s sweet without being overwhelmingly so, and very aptly named, because this drink is absolutely lovely with the deceased rose floating elegantly on top.
I’ll give you a tip if you’re looking for the restroom and want to look like you know what you’re doing (because I didn’t) - it’s behind a frosted-glass door labeled “Office” which feels very film noir. The theming carries over into this little space, decorated with a gilded mirror, pedestal sink and dark subway tile. Yes, a restroom is just a restroom, with the potential to be boring, but here attention is paid to the detail in such a seemingly-unimportant area of an establishment.
There is outdoor seating available as well, which I plan to take advantage of when it’s no longer frostbite season. Private classes are available here, including tastings, pairings, bartending techniques, and more! You can also rent out the bar for private events. If you are looking for food, their restaurant Midtown Eats is right next door as well.
Death and Taxes is one classy joint, not only visually but flavorfully as well. My friend and I popped in for a short visit, but next time I’d like to linger longer and eat at the restaurant next door to round out the experience.
I found a great one today in Midtown called JoStella. A dear friend told me about this place and so we went in late on a Saturday afternoon so I could check it out! (I usually avoid this section of town because of the road construction, so I almost missed this little gem!)
It’s located on the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and South Virginia Street in a brick building right in the heart of Midtown. It has a very warm and welcoming vibe from the moment you step inside. I must have a thing for chai lattes because that seems to be what I order whenever I try a new coffee shop! This chai was the best I have ever had in my life! Not only was it beautiful on the outside (superficial, yes) but it also has a great personality.
But seriously.... from the moment it was handed to me (in a delightfully simple, cute cup) the aroma captivated me! There’s something gorgeous and sweet-smelling that sits atop the foam (cinnamon? nutmeg? Can someone help me out here?) The drink itself was so creamy and flavorful and warmed my insides and my mood, as only a stellar chai can.
But let’s talk about the ambiance of this cafe..
There’s plenty of seating, and if you’re a people-watcher like me or an I-don’t-want-my-back-vulnerable-to-anyone kind of person (also like me), then plant yourself in one of the two big armchairs immediately across from the front door when you walk in. That’s where I sat and it gave me a good view of most of the interior as well as a window onto the goings-on outside. (orange construction cones or fascinating people on their way from point A to point B, depending on what you choose to notice)
If you didn’t bring anything to keep you occupied, they've thoughtfully provided a bookshelf with games, puzzles and books to keep your brain cells from dying.
There’s also beautiful local photographers and artists featured on the wall with amazing scenery from our very own backyard.
I can totally curl up here with a good book or a good friend and spend a few hours of quality time. They offer loyalty punch cards and online ordering to skip the lines (a la Starbucks mobile ordering).
I also love that JoStella is named for the owner’s beloved grandfather, Joseph Stella. In addition to a variety of drinks, JoStella also features food and pastries, including build-your-own bagel sandwiches (which I will be back in the future to enjoy)... back to the future.. heh.
All in all, a lovely place to spend some time. Go check them out today!
Open everyday from 7 am to 5 pm (or 6 pm on Friday & Saturday)
Supporting local businesses today! On my lunch break I grabbed a coffee at Bibo and headed across the street to Sundance Books and Music. I love a good bookstore, especially one with a unique, cozy vibe, and this is just the place.
The Levy Mansion, built in 1906, is a historical building in Reno and is home to this charming bookstore on the corner of California and Sierra in Midtown. There’s a lovely outdoor courtyard with log benches and trees. Upon entering the shop, you’re greeted by a grand wood staircase.
Some of the standouts of this place are:
I love Grassroots, my usual go-to bookstore in Reno (to be featured in another post), but Sundance is way more atmospheric and delightfully eclectic, in my opinion. And like any good bookstore, there are various reading nooks tucked away throughout, if you just need to get lost in a book for a while.
Reading will always be a special pastime for me. Mom taught me to read when I was 3, and ever since, I’ve been a sponge when it comes to anything book-related. I was the kid who loved being sent to my room for punishment – time alone to read! I grew up collecting a new Berenstain Bear book every time we went to the Eastridge Mall in San Jose. I also loved the Where’s Waldo, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and the Babysitters Club series. Some of my favorite times were rainy Oregon days when Mom took me to the library. I even dabbled in poetry and got a poem published when I was around 8 or 9 years old! (It wasn’t anything outstanding, but it was pretty cool at the time) Turns out poetry isn’t really my thing. But reading and writing are passions of mine for sure!
I didn’t buy a book this time; instead, I opted for a new deck of cards to add to my collection. This one’s called “Don’t Die Out There!” and contains survival tips on each card. I think it’s the perfect deck to take camping!
Where do you love getting books in Reno? Or what are some of your favorite bookish memories? Tell me about it!
Whats the first thing you think of when you hear that word? If you’re like me, you cringe because it brings up uncomfortable memories! (To be discussed later). Do you maybe picture some of your favorite smiles that belong to your loved ones? The eyes are a big part of what makes a smile so appealing, so if you’ve got a killer smile and some nice eyes, I think you have a lot going for you already.
Have you been complimented on your smile? Do you smile at strangers for no reason other than to be friendly? Or do you dislike your smile? Do people tell you to smile more often?
Babies learn to smile between 6 and 12 weeks of age (real smiles, unrelated to gas). So basically we’ve been smiling for as long as we can remember, and then some. Smiling is such a social gesture, and society tells us that our smiles should be straight and white.
It’s so adorable that most kids seem to lose both of their front teeth at the same time, resulting in that cute little gummy smile. It’s precious on babies and kids to see missing teeth, but as we age, we have things like veneers and dentures to make sure we don’t scare anyone away.
A smile is a universal sign of friendliness. It signifies to others that we’re having a good time (I guess that’s why we smile in pictures, right – to remember the good times?) But even the Bible reminds us that “even in laughter the heart may feel pain.” Sometimes a smile hides a broken heart. Appearances are not always what they seem.
Sometimes a smile from the right person can warm your heart, brighten your day and keep you going. Can you remember the first time your significant other smiled at you? Or can you remember the first time your baby smiled at you? Those are moments you probably will remember and treasure forever. (If you don’t have a significant other or a baby, maybe you have a dog that smiles – SO cute!)
Recently, I was having a conversation with one of my favorite 5 year olds, and when we reached a lull in the conversation, we made eye contact and she flashed me a huge, spontaneous smile. It was such a natural reflex for her that of course I couldn’t help but smile back – at both the sheer cuteness of her smile and also the fact that she is being raised to be so polite and sweet. Her smile melted my heart and made my day like nothing else could. Kids can be so precious.
When many of us reach adolescence, we are left with a crooked smile that often needs some form of orthodontia to correct. (Sorry if headgear made an appearance in your life; I’ve been told that times have changed) Many times this is purely cosmetic; other times it’s medically necessary. This, during a time in our lives when many of us desperately lack confidence. Having something “wrong” with our appearance only intensifies those feelings of self-consciousness. We suffer with a mouth full of metal for years so that we can have a perfect smile when it’s all over with.
Growing up, I had braces and shyness. I also had(have) what I’ll refer to as “resting grumpy face” (it’s most often called something far less kind, which I won’t repeat here). I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time people had said to me any of the following:
“Smile!” (thanks, I’ll move these muscles around in my face just because you told me to)
“Why are you so quiet?” (Why are you so loud?)
“What’s wrong?” (Nothing til you came around)
“You’re so quiet!” (And you’re so loud!)
“You’re so much prettier when you smile!” (Thanks for the tip! So sorry I’m disturbing you with my hideous face)
I know people mean well when they say such things (but teenage Stefanie took it pretty hard, so I say this for anyone who can relate) – It’s their way of saying they would like it if I spoke up more, smiled more, or made more of an attempt to be social. Ugh.
I’m an introvert. Socializing and conversation (especially small talk) are two things that come harder for me than you may know. I KNOW that I need to work at being more social. I really want to run away from you when you point it out to me, however.
Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice that I firmly swear by: Never, under any circumstances, instruct another person to “smile!” unless you are behind the camera and they are your subject.
If you see someone who is in desperate need of a smile, why not give them yours for starters? Then maybe gently engage them in conversation and try to see why they need a smile that day. If they feel like sharing, they may just open up to you. As a shy, awkward teenager, I felt very comfortable around extroverts who accepted me just the way I was and didn’t pressure me to be more like them. Even as adults, I know a lot of people are self conscious about how they look or about how other people are viewing them. To be told to “smile” is just further pressure they don’t need and creates a new thought that oh great, now someone IS focusing on me and finding me deficient.
One habit I’ve gotten into is that of smiling at myself in the mirror every time I wash my hands. I know it sounds cheesy, but it does several things – instantly lifts my mood even if for just a second; verifies that I don’t have anything stuck in my teeth; and most importantly, gets me in a frame of mind to more readily give that smile away to the next person I see – which could be you!
Let me know your thoughts below! Even post a smile if you like ;)
Beware, this is long.
When Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in January of this year, I became a member of a club I never wanted to join. It’s the cancer club, and you become an involuntary, permanent member if you or a loved one has ever had this evil disease. You suddenly realize, with that one phone call, that one diagnosis, that your life has now separated into two distinct parts – before the disease, when you were living your life blissfully unaware of anything wrong, and now, when your world has forever been changed. You can say goodbye to your old “normal”. I realize that my perspective and experience represents just one end of the spectrum – that of the daughter of a current cancer fighter. Talk to my dad and you’d get a whole other perspective. Talk to my mom, my sister, my grandma, my aunts and uncles, cousins – and you’d get different perspectives as well. We all love Dad from the bottom of our hearts and his diagnosis has changed all of our lives forever. I’m here to explain how it changed mine for the better.
I’ve always been Daddy’s girl. As a kid, I called my dad “Papa”, and I usually wanted to be held or comforted by him. My mom would say to my dad, “Papa, hold her.” I started to copy this and would say to my dad, with outstretched arms, “Papa, hold her!” How I wish I could remember this, but I was so young at the time! Dad also told me a story about how whenever I would fall and hurt myself, I would look to him with my big brown eyes full of tears and say “Kiss it, Papa!” This did not go over so well at a baseball game where I fell and hurt my butt. I screamed “Kiss it, Papa!” in front of a huge crowd of strangers, and Dad told me later, laughing, that there was no way that was going to happen! I still laugh when I think about how funny that must have been.
Dad was always there for me when I needed him, and even when I didn’t think I needed him. We spent many late nights during my teen years talking in the downstairs den. Many conversations revolved around why I couldn’t hang out with these certain people, or go to that certain party, etc. So many times I was a hot mess of tears, protesting why my life was so unfair. I hope I wasn’t too dramatic of a teenager. Looking back now, of course, I am so thankful for the right direction he nudged me towards. How different my life might be right now if I didn’t have such a wonderful, loving father on earth to guide me in the way my Heavenly Father also wanted me to go.
As a kid, I remember if Dad was late coming home from work (in the era before cell phones) I always assumed the worst – that he was in a car accident or something equally terrible. I always feared losing one of my parents. I would often imagine what my life would be like if something happened to my dad or mom, and I couldn’t see how I would go on living.
Dad and I are alike in so many ways. We’re both naturally quiet and reserved, both perfectionists and our own worst critics. We both are worrywarts and tend to imagine the worst. We even look a lot alike, which is something I hated to hear as a young girl growing up. “You look just like your dad,” people constantly told me. As a shy and self-conscious preteen with braces and frizzy hair, this was probably the worst thing I could be told, that I looked like a middle aged man with a mustache.
My dad is my hero. I love the fact that I literally have never heard him yell. I’ve heard him raise his voice on the rare occasion, but I really could not tell you what his “angry” voice sounds like, or what he sounds like when he yells and screams, because he has never shown it to me. I suppose if our house had ever caught fire then I might have heard it. He has amazing poise and composure. I don’t know how he does it. To people who don’t know him, he can come across as serious and maybe even intimidating, but he is the farthest thing from that. We both share a dry sense of humor, and I have plenty of text messages, inside jokes and funny stories to prove it. If there’s anyone who does not deserve to have Stage 4 cancer, it’s my dad. But if there’s anyone who could handle it in our family, it would be him, hands down.
When Dad developed a persistent cough in late 2017, I worried it was something serious. My mind immediately went to “lung cancer”, but the results of his numerous doctor visits always put me back at ease. When his bloodwork came back normal and the doctor said his lungs sounded clear, I assumed he just had a really bad cold. I was way too trusting of the doctor’s judgment, and who can blame me? He’s the one who went to medical school, not me. I realized that lung cancer was an easy jump-to-conclusion for someone as pessimistic as I apparently was!
I’ll never forget what I was doing the night of Monday, January 29th, 2018. Blake was on the last day of a business trip in Illinois, and I had just come home from work and was getting ready to go out to dinner with my parents and sister. Dad’s work at the warehouse was coming to an end since the company was moving things to Fresno, and his boss who was a brother had flown in from out of state, so we were going to all have dinner together. Dad was super tired and fatigued, as he had been lately, but we were still going to enjoy a nice night at Olive Garden as a family. I was in the living room, straightening my hair around 6 pm. My sister texted me to say that instead of going to dinner, they were taking Dad to the emergency room because he was coughing up blood and having trouble breathing. My heart absolutely sank. All the air rushed out of my lungs. I quickly threw my half-curly, half-straight hair up into a messy bun and ran out the door. I drove down the 395 going 90 miles an hour in a 70 mph zone, not caring about speed limits or police officers or anything but getting to that hospital. Along the way, I tried calling several friends, but they were at meeting and my calls went straight to voicemail. I’m sure I left some sort of blubbery, incoherent messages. I couldn’t call Blake because he was on a flight home already. I just wanted to talk to someone more than anything, and when I couldn’t get through to any human, I talked to Jehovah the whole way there.
The doctors had dad in isolation when I got to the hospital, which they explained was a precaution if he had tuberculosis. He had coughed up so much blood, in huge clots, which was sickening and heartbreaking to see. Instantly I felt a bit of relief, because now I finally had an idea of what the problem was! Of course! He either had tuberculosis or a bad case of pneumonia, and he would be sent home in no time with some antibiotics. After things settled down somewhat, I went home to get some rest and promised to return early in the morning when the doctor would have the results of his CAT scan. I was dressed for work and told Blake that he should go to work also, because at this point I was sure that Dad just had pneumonia or TB. Nobody expected the worst.
When I arrived at the hospital, they had already moved Dad to a room of his own upstairs, in isolation. Mom, Ashley and I wore masks as we visited with him. Even the doctors and nurses tending to him were wearing masks and gloves as a precaution. And then the door to his room opened and two doctors entered, both not wearing any masks. I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach at seeing this, and something did not feel right. After confirming that we were all family and after asking Dad for permission to speak freely, he spoke the 6 words that will forever be seared into my memory.
“I do not have good news.”
He went on to explain how dad had numerous tumors in his lungs, which had metastasized from a large tumor in his kidney. Stage 4 kidney cancer. He made no mention of chemotherapy or radiation. He did say that if he had caught this tumor 6 months earlier, he could have removed my dad’s kidney and he would have completely healed. But now, it was too late for that. After that grim explanation, most of his words just became a blur. I don’t even remember the rest of what he said. Later, I found out that he told my dad to get his affairs in order. I’m already an anxious person, so I spent the rest of the day taking tranquilizers and doing anything I could to just catch my breath. This could not be happening. My dad was dying. My world was ending. I immediately texted Blake something along the lines of “get here now.”
After we got more info, we realized that the situation was not so grim. This was not an automatic death sentence, and there was hope to be had. Because Dad’s particular type of cancer is not responsive to chemotherapy, we were relieved that he didn’t have to go through those brutal side effects. But the doctors here in Reno weren’t proactive about getting him treatment. I think they were waiting for him to go home and die. But that was not going to happen on our watch. We did our research and spent many tireless days and nights on the phone or e-mailing doctors, insurance companies and the like.
We finally got word that Dad was approved for a new drug that was shown to be effective for advanced renal cell carcinoma. It had just been approved by the FDA in December 2017, so the timing could not have been better. After just three months, the drug had shrunk his tumors by 50%! I’ll never forget how amazing it was to see his new scans, much clearer compared with the original scans from that night in the E.R.
After just a few months, however, we found that he wasn’t responding to the drug anymore and the tumors were growing slightly. This was such a discouraging day. But the way I looked at it was, we were just being too nice to the tumors. It was now time to get aggressive. There was always a Plan B and C if Plan A didn’t work. We just didn’t think we’d have to use it so soon.
Dad started immunotherapy treatment in August and finished a few weeks ago. The drug combo he began taking had just been approved in April. Again, amazing timing which was absolutely no coincidence. As I write this today, he has looked and felt the healthiest I’ve seen him in years. In a few short hours we will know the results of his latest scans, and learn where to go from here. But back to the part where I explain how this has impacted my life for the better.
Before Dad got sick, I realized I lived a pretty charmed life. I had the typical everyday worries of your average human being, but no major problems. I don’t think I relied on Jehovah enough, because I seemed to be getting along just fine. My biggest concern was managing my anxiety disorder. I was operating on a pretty even keel, with the occasional panic attack here and there. I was learning to manage it and seemed to be doing better than in previous years.
When Dad got sick, I prayed harder than I ever have in my life. I prayed to switch places. I prayed to wake up from what surely had to be a nightmare. I prayed that he could beat this. I honestly don’t remember if I prayed for peace of mind, but there was absolutely none to be had on the day Dad was diagnosed. At the lowest point of that day, I sat alone on the floor outside Dad’s hospital room, bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t let Dad see me this way. A kind nurse found me and asked me what was wrong, so I told her I just got news that my dad has cancer and it’s really bad. She hugged me and told me she was there for me if I needed anything. I’ll never forget her kind words and touch. I thought Tuesday would never end. It was an endless stream of visitors coming in and out, phone calls, text messages, hugs, cards, flowers, meals. I was overwhelmed with the love shown to my family in our darkest hour. I did not want to be alone, and I certainly was not. But my anxiety was swallowing me whole. I could not comprehend how I was going to get through the coming weeks and months if I could barely make it through the next minutes.
And then the next morning, a funny thing happened. I woke up with the most amazing calm I have ever felt in my entire life. It took me a few seconds to remember that I still had a sick dad, a worried mom and sister, and a long road ahead. But instead of the weight of that realization crashing over me like an angry wave, it sort of absorbed into me. I felt like I could handle it, for once. I felt like whatever would play out, good or bad, that I would be okay. It’s really hard to explain if you’ve never felt it before, but I believe what I was experiencing was the truth of the words found at Philippians 4:7. I could really feel “the peace of God” guarding my mental powers. This was absolutely not going to destroy me. This was going to make me stronger. In the days that followed, I made Philippians 4:13 my motto. I posted it on a sticky note and put it on my work computer where I would see it every day. My favorite translation of this verse is from the New American Standard Bible, which reads “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Just take a minute and think about what that verse really means. With Jehovah’s strength, you can literally do a n y t h i n g. What have you been grappling with? I know you can overcome it and let it make you, not break you. With Jehovah’s help, he will carry you and make you equal to the task in front of you. I have personally experienced this and will never forget it. I have a strength now that I never knew was in me all along. I don’t know what will happen in the coming months or years, but I know that our family is safe in Jehovah’s loving arms and we will prevail, no matter what.
P.S. This post was originally published on my former site, which you can find here: http://stefaniesmith.home.blog - I received some very sweet comments which i can't seem to transfer over to this site :(