Sunday, July 26, 2015

Support from Family and Friends is Vital for Abuse Victims

I was recently asked to write on article for our local newspaper on this topic. It was published today. And I thought I would share it on my blog. I enjoy being assigned a topic. Especially anything that helps victims of abuse and domestic violence.


Breaking free from an abusive relationship is a bigger challenge than most people are able to comprehend.

As a survivor, I've had the privilege of being a friend to numerous victims. Quite often I am able to share the acquired wisdom that comes from personal experience. But other times, friends have experienced abuses I have not; abuses I perhaps cannot imagine suffering. And even in those instances, I am still able to offer support because what a victim needs most is someone who is engaged and who truly cares. When anyone expresses appreciation for my role in their healing, I remind them that all I've done is be a friend. And I have drawn from whatever resources I have to be a supportive friend.

Empathy is possible even when we have not experienced the exact same pain as another. Despite our different details, we all know what pain feels like. Victims primarily need to know (and see evidence) that we care. As one survivor said to me recently, "Just because I was a victim of abuse, that doesn't mean I don't have the same basic need to feel accepted and cared for."

To increase empathy, we need only to remember a time or circumstance in our own life where we may have chosen the pain that was familiar rather than facing our fear of the unknown. That's the tension victims live in daily. The future looks scary, not inviting.

If you suspect a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, pursue a closer connection with them. Don't disengage. Abusers are experts at nurturing emotional isolation in order to hold their victims captive. Abusers may try to convince their victims that friends and family don't truly love or respect them. Keeping a safe distance may make your life easier, but it will only confirm to the victim that they are indeed alone and perhaps no one cares enough to reach out and risk involvement through genuine connection.

When abusers are unsuccessful in isolating their victims from friends and family members, the walls of their prisons become surmountable. We don't have to have answers to their problems to be a friend. We can be passionately on a victim's side in surviving and overcoming, while completely aware that we can't make their choices for them. In fact, trying to do so would be counterproductive. They have to learn how to take control of their own circumstances, not transfer control from the abuser to us. We must be patient while we wait for them to outgrow the mental prison that keeps victims locked up in abusive relationships.

We must not minimize the gravity of their fears. When well-meaning friends have reduced my anguish to a problem that is solved with a quick and clear-cut solution, it has only made me feel diminished or even dismissed. There's no empathy or compassion in that type of "problem solving." And stating how quickly you would have already left -- especially when you haven't walked in your friend's shoes -- is not only unhelpful, it can be hurtful.  Try to avoid offering simplistic answers or resolutions. Listen without judgment and encourage. I've learned that we never help anyone to feel stronger or less alone by judging, criticizing or imposing our own expectations. Instead, we trigger shame in those who constantly fear they fail to measure up. Victims are frequently tortured by self-doubt.

Most victims have been threatened if they leave. The threats may be to them, their children, their families, their finances and security. But sometimes abusers threaten to harm themselves in a way that makes the victim feel bound to and responsible for them. Shortly after I finally left my 27 year long abusive marriage, I told my counselor, "I don't miss him, but I still love him." My counselor said, "You love him like a mother loves her child. You feel responsible for him."  I know from experience that survivors only learn this distinction fully after we have broken free from our abuser.

It may be difficult to avoid letting your own emotions and frustrations (or dislike for the abuser) motivate your responses. I've struggled with this more times than I care to admit out of a genuine desire to see a victim break free. But our frustration can leave a victim feeling defensive or protective of their abuser. To be a stabilizing presence, maintain a calm focus when a victim confides in you.

Anyone suffering abuse is living in a state of chronic stress, even on "good days." Why? Because life is precarious from one moment to the next. Even when the abuser is not antagonizing his victim, she knows his mood can turn on a dime. The slightest mistake or "wrong" tone of voice can trigger a barrage of verbal/physical abuse, belittling, character assassination, cruelty. She learns to live in a state of heightened awareness, anticipating the harsh lashing out that often results from her slightest misstep. Small differences of opinion bring the dreaded escalation a victim fears. Wrath. Rage. Punishment.

It's like living on an obstacle course.

When overwhelmed, our friends need time and space to safely share their struggles. What may be less apparent to us is how much they simply need a break from the constant emotional strain of day to day life. Laughter is a stress releaser. It helps us cope and rejuvenate in even the most dire circumstances. So consider how you might be able to bring a moment of humor, joy, or peace with your presence.

When we think about legacy, we tend to think of something left behind when a person dies. But a broader definition of legacy would be offering ourselves in making a lasting and meaningful contribution to humanity one person at a time while we are living. Legacy begins the moment we have something to offer. And supportive friendship is a valuable gift we can all offer to others.

 Written by Shari Howerton for the Beckley Register-Herald

Saturday, July 4, 2015


I'm thankful for freedom. I know it's a blessing that most of the world does not enjoy.

We talk so much about rights in this country that many of us as Christians feel very comfortable in demanding "our rights" be protected too. And there's nothing wrong with standing up for what we believe in. I just like to remind myself often that Jesus didn't talk about rights. He talked about suffering and dying to self; sacrificial love and pouring out our lives... in sacrificial service to others.

How many of us are substituting something easier than that as a demonstration of our faith?

I know I'm guilty every day.

I'm thankful for the gift of repentance. I'm thankful He keeps MY need of a Savior before my eyes daily. It keeps me humble. It makes loving and accepting others with different struggles easier when I am reminded of my own need for grace.

No matter how well we live our lives, it is still UNMERITED favor that we receive from God, my friends.

Celebrate your freedom today. But if you belong to Christ, your freedom is so much greater than anything America can give you. We have been purchased with the blood of God. Our sins, which are many, in exchange for the sacrifice of the Only Perfect One.

God Bless us All and make us one as His children, created in His image.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Having a good time with Cody Wickline at John Howerton Honda!

Just wanted to share our four new commercial spots!

The first three are funny little ten second vignettes. The last is our BIG THANK YOU to the community for voting JOHN HOWERTON HONDA the #1 dealership to buy NEW AND USED vehicles in southern West Virginia!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Update to My Previous Post on Switching Gears

Dr. Flinn called John yesterday after personally reviewing all of John's test results (blood work and scans), researching other patient experiences with Idelalisib, etc. He was out of town at a conference at our last office visit and our discussion of changing directions was with his nurse practitioner. She was reporting the lab and scan results to Dr. Flinn by phone and advising us of results. But she had also told us that Dr. Flinn would be calling to talk to John personally before his next visit in July.

Dr. Flinn told John that he is only slightly out of remission. After looking at the scans, although his nodes have increased in size they are still very small. And he hasn't had a big spike in his white count. He's just been trending upward very slowly. So it's not that the drug has stopped working. It may just need to be bumped up to the next dose. He is inclined to think that may put John right back into remission and after John said he would prefer to try upping his dose before moving to another drug (with possible side effects he is not now dealing with), Dr. Flinn said he was leaning that same way in his thinking.

I love love love having a specialist who discusses decisions with us and is open to hearing the patient and caregiver's thoughts on these decisions! I never fully grasped why we couldn't try to increase the dose first but when I asked if that was an option, the nurse practitioner had shaken her head no with an expression that I perceived as "definitely not an option." So I didn't press it. But I did hope that Dr. Flinn might offer that option when we spoke in person.

When John told me about his conversation with Dr. Flinn yesterday, I was so relieved. I know there are other drugs and we may still have to transition to something else at some point. But I'd love for John to get the maximum benefit and length of time from the drug he's successfully taken (without side effects) for the last five years. And I don't want to transition prematurely. I trust Dr. Flinn's guidance and if he did not advise staying with Idelalisib, we'd go with his expertise. But it was a great relief to me for Dr. Flinn to say he agreed that increasing the dose was an option that might do the trick (for now, at least).

I knew you'd want to know this happy news! Thanks for caring!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Time to Switch Gears

Well, it's been a while since I've blogged about CLL. But cruise control on Idelalisib has been
interrupted and we are shifting gears.

As many of you already know, John was an early participant in the Phase I clinical trial of Cal-101, now known as Idelalisib or Zydelig. He began taking Cal-101 in May 2010 after failing FCR (chemotherapy). And he has enjoyed remission status for a full five years. I've frequently referred to this symptom free part of the journey as being on cruise control.

Over the past few months, John's white count has been trending upward and his platelets have trended downward. The progression has been slow but steady. Nothing alarming. No urgency. But his CLL is definitely progressing again. Cruise control on this particular drug is ending and we must take another course in treatment.

CT scans this checkup have indicated disease progression in his lymph nodes as well as in his blood. Again, not an alarming increase in the nodes, but significant change in more than one area of his body.

For the next six weeks, John will continue taking the drug and at our next appointment we will discuss new treatment options. I'm sure Ibrutinib will be one option on the table and possibly another clinical trial will be offered.

I have enjoyed taking a break from CLL immersion during our cruising time. I've also known this day would probably come eventually. But I have not worried about it because I believe that transitioning to a new therapy will provide a new remission. There has been so much advancement in treating CLL in the last few years. And there are other drugs similar to Idelalisib that work in the same way but through different pathways. Other patients have transitioned successfully from one drug to another. But in spite of what I know intellectually, I have to admit that getting this disappointing news triggered a wave of anxiety for me. I felt so fragile most of Monday and into Tuesday.

Dr. Flinn was out of town this visit and it was the nurse practitioner who gave us the news. Knowing John's white count had been inching upward and platelets had been low for the first time since beginning Cal-101, I thought I was somewhat prepared for this. I had even anticipated there might be some lymph node change with the scans. John said last week that he thought he could feel one in his neck for the first time. But when I heard the NP say "disease progression" and that John would not be able to continue Idelalisib even at an increased dose, fear grabbed me by the throat and I knew tears were in my eyes. If I even blinked or tried to talk, they would have been on my face.

We were asked a question (I don't even remember what) and John looked over at me for my response. When he looked at me, he made a joke. "Don't ask her," he said, "she'll start crying." It wasn't the kind of question that would make someone cry. But I couldn't say a word. He said later that I had that deer in headlights look and he just knew I was fighting back a surge of emotion. He was absolutely right. I guess there was some small part of me that dared to hope Idelalisib might work forever. And those hopes were dashed.

John has not felt good for months. His fatigue has been severe and he's had a lot of unexplained pain in his body since late fall. Dr. Flinn has done extra blood work to rule out rheumatologic issues. Nothing has shown up indicating any problem other than a "profound" deficiency in Vitamin D. So I've been reading about fibromyalgia and talking to people I know who have it. I've learned of other CLL patients who suffer from this condition. And I've discovered that several good friends battle it as well. John may or may not have fibromyalgia, but he has many textbook symptoms. And fibromyalgia cannot be diagnosed with blood work. It's also possible the pain and fatigue are CLL-related or even treatment related. We'll see if he feels better after transitioning to a new treatment. And we will also consult a rheumatologist about the possibility of fibro.

There are so many things to consider when comparing treatments. In my reading the last few days, I've learned that tumor lysis syndrome (which can be fatal) has been a problem with ABT-199 (a current drug being studied). The drug shows great promise in controlling CLL, but John has one kidney and has already experienced tumor lysis syndrome previously, after his first Rituxan infusion in 2008. It was scary. I really did think I might be losing him that day in the doctor's office. He lost consciousness twice. The first time, he passed out in the elevator as we were leaving and hit his head on the metal threshold as the doors opened.

For those who don't know what TLS is, it's a metabolic condition resulting from a large number of malignant cells being killed by treatment and having to be processed through the patient's body. It can result in kidney failure. And John only has one kidney. I've been trying to protect that one kidney to the best of my ability since his diagnosis.

Ibrutinib is already an approved therapy for CLL and it is successfully controlling disease progression for a large number of patients. It has relatively few side effects. Fewer than Idelalisib, actually. But one of its known side effects for some patients is joint pain. And since John is already experiencing quite a bit of chronic pain, I worry about that side effect.

I don't know what Dr. Flinn is going to suggest, but I'm trying to get back to soaking up the latest information so we can at least know what questions to intelligently ask about the treatment options we're given. And, of course, I want to help John make informed decisions.

I'm a good caregiver and patient advocate. But this week I've been a pretty fragile wife. I've had to ask John to forgive me more times than usual because I get needy when I'm feeling fragile. And I am not always aware of my tone when I'm feeling stressed.

I have the best husband in the world. He's not perfect even though I once thought he was. But he is perfect for me. And he is without a doubt my rock.

This has been a challenging week, but it's also been a good week. I don't think I ever take John for granted. After all the years I endured an abusive relationship, a day doesn't go by that I don't think about how much I appreciate him. I truly am thankful for every day even when it's smooth sailing. But there's something about the waves kicking up unexpectedly...

My gratitude for all that I have today is magnified by the uncertainty of what I will face tomorrow.

While we are both optimistic this is just a bump in the road and new treatment will get his CLL under control again, it's still a reminder that every day is a gift.

I'll keep you posted on the next part of the journey. And thanks in advance for your prayers!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Thoughts and Wishes

My thoughts on Mother's Day are of course memories of my mom and a little sadness that I only got to have her for the first 28 years of my life.

Losing your mom prematurely is staggering and agonizingly painful at the outset. Over time I've learned to live with being motherless and gradually I began to savor sweet memories rather than sinking so deeply into my loss. But there are some losses I feel today that I could not comprehend at 28.

I'll never know the mother/daughter relationship we might have had through the growth of the last 28 years.

I finally do believe in my heart that she would be proud of the woman I am today. But I don't get to experience it.

I don't get to see my mom hold my grandchildren or tell her about them. I don't get to tell her how much I admire her as a grandma and that my goal is to be as good a grandma as she was.

I'd love to do things for my mom at this stage of life. I'd love to take her for a pedicure and massage. I'd love to take her on a trip ~ just the two of us. I'd love to take her to fancy restaurants (my treat).

I'd love to laugh with her about some of the ways I am exactly like her (because the ways we were different were so big in those first 28 years that they eclipsed the ways we were alike).

I know how much she would love John and wish she could have met him. I wish she could have been at our wedding.

I wish she could have watched me become strong enough to overcome the foolish choices of my youth ... and make better choices.

I wish she could have met all of her grandchildren and watched them grow into adulthood.

I wish I could still go to her house for holiday meals. Nobody did holidays better than my mom.

My list of wishes for what might have been could go on for hours and pages. But more than anything, I really wish I could laugh with my mom as a mature woman. I wish I could reminisce with her about the past and share the wisdom time has brought. I wish I could tell her that I am able to recognize her many strengths so much more than I did as a younger woman. I would love to tell her that I'm honored when someone tells me I'm like her.

I would love to know her more intimately than I was able to know her in my twenties. I would have loved for our relationship to have had time to blossom and mature. I wish we could have been better friends. And I wish I could have had more time to show her how much she meant to me and how much I appreciate her.

If you have your mom and are blessed to enjoy the many possibilities that are losses for me (and others like me), I am not jealous of you. I'm so very happy for you. I wish no one ever had to lose their mom prematurely and go through life without the love (and occasional frustration) of a mother.

What I hope is that you will make the most of the time you've been given. And ...

Today's a great day to start!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Meeting Cody Wickline ~ From Fan to Friend

Meeting Cody at Women's Expo

As Season 8 of The Voice was about to air on NBC, a buzz started in our little town of Beckley, West Virginia. Everywhere I went, it seemed like I was being asked, "Do you know Cody Wickline?" I didn't know Cody or his family yet. We've only lived here for three years. And when I shared that, friend after friend would start to tell me about this "great kid" from a "wonderful family" who was going to be on the show.

John and I were already fans of The Voice. So we were excited about watching his performance. If you don't watch the show, you can see his blind audition (and four chair turn) in this video...

 And in the battle round that followed, Cody showed another side...

Just prior to Cody's last appearance on the show (Blake chose Corey Kent White in the knock out round), we sat down with Cody and his parents to discuss the possibility of Cody representing our automobile dealership (John Howerton Honda). We thought we'd spend a couple of hours talking, but we wound up spending most of the day together. And toward the end of our "meeting," we assured them that it didn't matter to us how far Cody went on The Voice. We may have initially reached out because of his celebrity and how great his involvement in our advertising would be, but after spending time with Cody and his parents, we wanted to help promote Cody as much or more than we wanted him to promote us...

We believe in his talent. His singing and performing abilities are undeniable. But we are even bigger fans of the person. Cody has continued to impress us as we've had the pleasure of getting to know him better. He's genuine, kind, respectful and humble. And he's eagerly devoted lots of time and attention to charity work already, performing for as many fundraisers as he can possibly squeeze into his schedule. I know he'll continue to help others because it's obvious his heart is in it.

*From George Jones Museum Facebook Page
Next week Cody will be an invited guest at The George Jones Museum's Grand Opening, personally invited by Nancy Jones, George's widow, after his performance of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" on The Voice. I've heard Cody talk about what an honor it is for him simply to have received a phone call from Nancy because she loved his performance that much.

I believe Cody Wickline is on the brink of seeing a few more dreams come true. It's exciting to have the privilege of knowing and spending time with him and his family at this exciting time in his life. We couldn't be more thrilled for Cody's recent national attention. But beyond that, it's just an honor and a treat for us to be considered friends of the Wickline family. They are precious and real and devoted to each other. One of my very favorite things about Cody is his love and respect for his mom and dad. You can just tell they mean the world to him, as well as his little brother Caleb. He values their opinions and looks to them for guidance. It's a refreshing thing to see in a 21-year-old guy who is suddenly a big celebrity in our community. Cody Wickline knows at a young age what really matters in life. And I don't believe any amount of success will ever change that about him. His voice may make him a star in the eyes of many, but his heart is what shines brightest in my eyes.

We are sponsors of Cody's first arena concert here in Beckley. We're a humble little town and our arena sure isn't anything comparable to Bridgestone in Nashville or any other big city. But Cody's gonna rock the house on May 2. And John and I will be in the front row. Well, John will be in the front row apart from whatever amount of time Cody manages to get him up on stage with the band. (John has a music history of his own from the seventies, you know.)

This video doesn't showcase Cody's vocals the way the old country ballads do, but this is the Cody I'm looking forward to seeing perform on stage:

An extra treat for fans at the concert will be hearing fellow Voice contestant, Sarah Potenza, perform live with Cody in Beckley!








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