Church, Cotten & COVID

July 26, 2022

I was not sure if I was going to continue to blog; however, after a series of events, I have decided to continue with sharing my thoughts with anyone who might be interested. The reasons for this decision will unfold throughout this post, but first an update on how life is 15 months post mastectomy.

Towards the end of recovery from my Preventative Double Mastectomy last April, I stared to notice pain in both of my thumbs. I tried to endure and ignore it. I told the pesky digits, I had been through enough pain and recovery and that they needed to cooperate and go back to working like normal.  Unfortunately, all the pep talks, threats and pleading did not work. The discomfort continued and I eventually relented and went to see a hand specialist. Thankfully, they were “Trigger Thumbs” and not a rare form of arthritis like I prepared myself mentally for. However, Trigger Thumbs are no joke, and I spent a year dealing with almost constant clicking, sticking, and hurting paws. Before surgery becomes an option, one must be tortured with two rounds of Cortisone shots. These each delivered approximately 4 weeks of relief before symptoms returned worse than before. I was finally able to put the pain to rest and had surgery on each thumb (three weeks apart) this spring. I am mentioning this malady here for two reasons. 1.) Because it’s my blog and I can cry if I want to and 2.) Because I began to realize that this seems to be a fairly common thing to happen to ladies’ post mastectomy. There is some speculation that it is hormone related and zapping estrogen from the body can cause it to happen. However, several ladies in the groups I follow have kept their ovaries and still experienced Trigger Thumbs after their own mastectomies. Soooooo…. if you have found my blog because you are BRCA positive and have either had a mastectomy or are considering it, keep this information tucked away somewhere and do not hesitate to tell your doctors about any pain you may experience in your thumbs afterward. The good news is the surgery itself is not terrible and recovery is less painful than the actual trigger thumbs themselves. I am thrilled to be able to use my thumbs normally now and pray that pain never returns! I am just now realizing the pain from my thumbs probably kept me from blogging much, so consider this a warning and be on the lookout for more posts in the future. 😉

As for the boobs – these days they are mostly behaving. However, I seem to be developing a like/dislike relationship here with ole’ Penny and Clover. Here is an insider’s view of my competing list.

  • Likes –
    • This “like” trumps all dislikes! I like knowing I do not have to worry about developing breast cancer!!!  Period. I could end it all right here, BUT I want to stay true to anyone I may be able to help in the future. I feel honesty is the best way to do that, so I will continue with my list.
    • I mostly like how they look when I am dressed. They are positioned nicely and resemble the boobs I had right after I delivered my son.
  • Dislikes – This list is definitely longer, but it in no way compares to the ultimate like from the list above. If you doubt this at any point, please refer to the first “like” listed.
    • They are bigger than I would have liked. If I were going to do ONE thing differently, it is this……I would have asked for smaller implants. This is nobody’s fault, but my own. I asked my plastic surgeon to pick what he thought would be best. This is what he picked. I imagine his choice was legit and he chose what fit my “pocket” and left me with the most natural look as possible. It is all fine. In my head, I keep telling myself, I am giving these babies 10 years, then I will re-evaluate the situation.
    • Although I like the way they look in clothes, when the clothing has been shed, I am not a fan. There is still some rippling after fat grafting. This is not surprising, as I knew my body would re-absorb 40-50% of the fat that was grafted last fall.
    • Scars and keloids – The scars from my original surgery continue to heal beautifully. Unfortunately, the four places that were extended when I had my revision (with fat grafting) in the fall have all healed with keloids. If you are not familiar with the term “Keloid” let me explain.  – In a nutshell, a keloid is an overgrowth of scar tissue. It can lead to scarring that extends past the point of incision/injury, is raised, dark and not pretty. It kind of looks as though an alien-like worm has attached itself to your skin. In addition to being unsightly, they can be uncomfortable, causing needle like pain and/or itching. There are a variety of treatments they can try to help (silicone sheets, laser and surgery being a few options.)
    • I have not regained much sensation and still get jolts of stabbing energy now and again.
    • They are heavier than their original counterparts. This tends to be most bothersome when I am agitated from a too hot and humid day or an intense hot flash takes over my being and I want to rip everything off my body, including these girls until it passes. I am convinced the heat and humidity is somehow absorbed into the implants and they are instantly 50% heavier.
    • There is NO bounce. As ladies, I know we are often sensitive to the effects age and gravity will have on our breasts. It is a nice benefit knowing I do not have to worry about those two things, but I still find it odd to have zero movement and at times miss it.

Here are 3 of my 4 Keloids. I will be happy to have them revised!

I am hoping to tackle some of these dislikes by going back into the Operating Room one more time in September. The doctor is going to do a “scar revision;” meaning, he will surgically remove the keloids and the plan is to keep a better eye on the healing this time. I was way more diligent with silicone strips and wound care the first time around, and plan to up my game again in September. I am also giving fat grafting another whirl. Why? Well, for two reasons….1.) because I like how they feel much better when some of my own fat is surrounding the implants. It makes them feel more natural and less fake and 2.) I really do not like the way the rippling looks. Could I live with it and be okay? Yes, but why should I if I am not happy about it?

Before I end this section, I want to add a couple strange facts to bring awareness to anyone thinking about getting implants or to those who simply like collecting weird and wacky information….

Did you know that implants can be very cold? It is quite bizarre, but these babies got to be at least 10 degrees colder than my body temp. Now for the weirdest of all…. they glow in the dark! I am not lying. Look it up! If you shine a flashlight on them in the dark, they glow orange. I showed it to my husband only once, but he made me promise not to do it again. LOL. If I ever go to a “Glow Party” Penny and Clover will 100% be making an appearance!

Sorry, I did not realize how much I had to say. Now, onto the title of this entry.

If you have followed along the last couple of years, I am sure you now know these three things about me.

  •  I am obsessed with Eric Church and would go to a concert every week if I could
  • COVID has caused me a ton of anxiety since it reared its ugly head in March of 2020
  • I separate my life into two stages…. Gina BEFORE her BRCA1 status and Gina AFTER.

The rest of today’s post entwines these three things in a fun and heartening way.

Sacramento – Ahhhh……the place where I met my lifelong Church going family in 2019. So many awesome people were headed back there for this mid-week show and I HAD TO GO!  Three of my friends and I decided to make this one a Girl’s Trip. It all sounded great until anxiety kicked in about a week before I was scheduled to leave. You know the drill…. self-doubt, insecurities, constant irrational thoughts playing on repeat inside my head keeping me from getting any sleep. What if I snored or kept the girls up because I had to pee fifty times throughout the night? What if they discovered they did not like me after all this time? What if I got lost somehow when I was by myself and did not have Jim there to find me? It had been years since I travelled without him. Anxiety is a bitch and I thought more than once about cancelling this trip. BUT, I pulled my big girl panties up, had a long and successful chat with my therapist, tested negative for Covid and hopped on the plane.  Thank goodness I did, as it was the trip of a lifetime! I spent the first night in Sacramento alone in my hotel room. Solitude is not something I normally enjoy, but I relished in it for one night only. The next day I was up super early and made my way to the arena. I was certain I was going to spend the entire day in the Pit Line, so I grabbed a coffee and a Danish from a delightful little French Patisserie called Estelle’s and headed for the line. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady at the foot of the stairs said I was in the right spot for pit fans. I was ecstatic when she said, they were giving people numbered bands. Meaning, we would get a number, which would corral us later in the day by numerical order. I would be free to enjoy the city and did not have to be back at the doors until 5 o’clock! This was music to my ears, but when she opened her box of bracelets and I realized I was NUMBER 1, I about did a jig right there on the sidewalk! Although I like to get in early any time I have Pit tickets, it was of the utmost importance for me to scout out a spot quickly for this show. You see, two of the ladies I was rooming with helped me tremendously on my BRCA journey. Both are breast cancer survivors, and one was just finishing another round of treatment. In an effort to get Eric Church to do a celebratory shot with us, my son helped me create an enormous sign to smuggle in. Therefore, a prime position in front of the mic was in order. And boy did it pay off! Within the first ten minutes of the show, Eric saw the sign, shook his head yes to the question “will you take a shot with us” and said he’d be back. About 10 minutes after that, you can hear him say “I made a promise” as he walked away from another mic and headed back our way. As you can imagine, there was a lot of screaming, smiling, hooting, and tears as he grabbed the sign to show everyone what it said, reached for his mini bottle of jack (which we had on ice), raised it with a grin, tossed it back and blew us a kiss to complete this incredible moment.  I do not think words can express exactly what those two minutes meant to me. What a perfect way for me to honor and thank multiple people at once for their support in my life over the past 2.5 years. It completed a circle, and I will treasure that moment in time, standing there with not only the three girls I roomed with, but several others I met in that same spot years ago, who have offered me love and support throughout this ride. As for EC and the Eric Church Band, I will be forever grateful for not only their gift of music, but their ability to spin a wild, weird, and extraordinary web that somehow entangles strangers and creates a network of long-lasting friendships. It is simply something you must experience to believe.

THESE GIRLS!!!! And, he said YES!!!!
My Roomies!!!

The morning after the Sacramento show, two of us said goodbye to the other two gals and made our way to the airport to board different flights headed to Vegas. We were both meeting our husbands there and had tickets to another EC concert the following evening. I want to make note that this was my first flight since COVID that I decided not to wear my mask; although COVID was still on my mind and my internal anxiety meter was raised tenfold, I figured I had just spent the previous night with thousands of people at a concert, so if I was going to get it, I probably had already been exposed.  I lifted a silent prayer asking for a bit of protection from the booster I received a few weeks prior to this trip, zipped my Eric Church hoodie, pulled my backpack into place, and got ready to board my flight. My boarding number for Southwest that day was A 45. Not a bad position, as it all but ensured I would get an aisle seat. As I boarded the plane, I briefly took note of the people toward the front of the plane, but I was more focused on what looked available mid-plane back. I have no idea what caused me to pause at the second row, but as I did, I locked eyes with the beautiful blond lady sitting by the window. It took all of a nano-second for my eyes to widen to the size of saucers and my big ole’ mouth to drop to the floor. It took me a moment, then I stupidly mumbled something like “OH MY GOD….is it really?”  To which she humbly chuckled and answered “yes, it is.”  At this point, she probably wished I would have smiled, asked for an autograph, and made my way to the back of the plane, but that is not how it went down.  Instead, I instantly asked if the middle seat was taken and practically stepped on the masked lady sitting in the aisle seat as I straddled my fat ass over her to sit next to my new flight neighbor…. the one and only Joanna Cotton!!!!  This remarkable woman is Eric Church’s back up singer and has been helping to set his stage on fire for 8 years. I very quickly apologized for acting like a teenage fan-girl, but could not contain myself.  The only words I uttered to the woman occupying the aisle seat was “you have no idea that you are sitting next to a Rock Star with the voice of an angel.”  That poor woman never had the chance to ask another question, as my lips started flapping and never stopped for the remainder of the flight.

My son has a crazy talent for timing phone calls. Therefore, it was not surprising my phone rang the exact moment my butt hit the seat. I answered and in a shaky and not as quiet as I thought voice told him I was sitting next to Joanna Cotten. He responded with disbelief, so what other option did I have then to hand over the phone and let her say HI. Joanna was as down to earth as the grass that grows under foot and as sweet as southern pecan pralines. After she had a brief conversation with Jacob, we started chatting like we were old friends and got yelled out several times by the flight attendant as he walked through his pre-flight checklist. Had we been in school, we would be headed to after school detention. I  listened like the obsessed fan I am as she told me all about her time at Julliard, the fact that her mama has always been her biggest fan, some challenges a lady faces in a male dominated industry and how excited she was to be ending the tour at Madison Square Garden, as she was planning to take her mama along, see a show and connect with a teacher/mentor she had mad respect and admiration for.  We quickly realized we shared a love for wine, our pontoons, adventures, and time surrounded by those we love. I got a sneak peek at some potential merch designs and we both agreed Eric’s women’s merch could use a little updating (sorry team, the wings and Good Girls never miss church are a little overplayed.)  Throughout the conversation, I got to share a little about me as well. I shared the fact that I have written two children’s books and that I was one of the gals from the night before with the enormous poster. She asked what the poster said, so I told her. To which she replied “that’s awesome. My mama is a breast cancer survivor.”  I then shared some details of this blog, including where she could find it (and I sure hope she visits it someday). As the flight and conversation continued, I realized four things:

1.) Women’s health issues should be talked about more frequently and more openly. We need to remind each other to follow through on our mammograms and pap smears appointments AND we need to check in on each other to ensure the appointments were followed through.

2.) Whether it is music, writing, art, cooking, parenting or simply trying our best to be decent humans, we can all benefit from mentors, coaches, and positive people in our lives to help us rise up to our full potential.  

3.) You never know when/where you will meet an inspiring individual.

4.) This woman is more incredible and a bigger bad ass than I ever imagined.

Here she is! The ONE and ONLY Joanna Cotten!!! She tried to go incognito with the hat and natural look. Sorry girl…..I’d know you anywhere!

I can say with extreme certainty, this was 100% the best flight I have ever taken and as it made its final descent, I lifted a bit of silent gratitude to the universe and promised myself I would spend time re-evaluating this blog and figure out the best way to continue it. Joanna and I continued to chat until our feet met the Vegas airport floor. Once we said our final good-bye, I allowed myself to release my super fan-girl energy and spent the next 10 minutes standing on shaking legs calling and texting my friends and family member to share my excitement. I finally met up with my husband at the airport and we spent the remainder of the day exploring the Vegas Strip, connecting with friends, and prepping for the next night’s show.

Unfortunately, Vegas was not as organized as Sacramento. We hit the pavement across from the arena around 11:00 am and settled ourselves in for a long day in the Las Vegas heat. I don’t mind spending the day in the Pit Line. It is like tailgating for a game. I have met a lot interesting people and am able to share my obsession without explanation or feeling awkward about it. At 2:00 pm we were able to waddle like chickens across the street to the official pit line and hunkered down once again. As in common when you are in this kind of situation, we struck up conversations with the groups around us. The lady in front of us was super cool and we had no problem finding things to chat about. The gang behind us consisted of seven people from Canada. They were fun, intriguing and it took no time to feel like we have known them forever. They had made a “Covid pact“ promising each other they would attend an EC show once restrictions were lifted and decided Vegas would be the perfect place to do it.  As day turned to early evening and a few beverages turned into a drunken state, we were finally able to get into the venue. We once again scored an incredible spot close to the stage and made sure our new Canadian friends were in a prime location to enjoy the show. It is always heart warming to see newbies embrace and respect the Pit. We all sang, danced, and continued to drink the night away. By the end, the couple Jim and I attend concerts with AND the Canadian Gang morphed together and created a new pact. From hence forth, we will gather together at least once a tour to party it up, sing like fools and grow this newfound friendship.

Oh, two more unforgettable things about the Vegas show. During our conversation on the plane, Joanna mentioned she can not drink Jack Daniels, which is Eric’s shot of choice, so, what other choice does a gal have other than to sneak in a bottle of Prosecco for the Queen? As I lifted the bottle, she glanced down to see who smuggled the bottle of bubbly in and grinned as she recognized it was me. We made our way to each other on the side of the stage, exchange a hand squeeze and she strutted away bottle raised high. After she emptied the contents into a cup, she signed the bottle and returned it to me. The baby Prosecco bottle now sits alongside the mini bottles of Jack (from the shot we took with Eric in Sacramento). Just looking at them lifts my spirits on a rough day and acts as a reminder that “most days in life don’t stand out. But life’s about those days that will!”  And then, just like that, the concerts of a lifetime were over. I made my way back to Pennsylvania with a happy heart, some cool keepsakes, new friends, stronger bonds with old friends and to balance the good, I also brought back the dreaded and two plus years feared COVID.

Thank You for being SO AWESOME! Cheers!!!
7 + 4 = 11 ~ Can NOT WAIT for the next tour!!!

Thankfully, my Covid symptoms were mild. I quickly started the anti-viral meds and, for the most part, felt like I had a sinus infection. I isolated my five days, consulted with my boys and friends and we collectively decided to keep our New York City plans, which included a third springtime concert. This show was quite different then the rest, as per protocol I could attend, but needed to mask. While Jacob and our NOLA friends had seats, Jim, me, and our concert going partners in crime stayed toward the back of the Pit. Even though we had our masks on the entire time, we continued to sing behind our shieled faces and relished in being together for the final show of the tour. There was one major thing missing from this final show in NYC and that was my beautiful new friend Joanna Cotten. For the second time this tour, she tested positive for Covid and singing from behind a mask was not an option for her.  Although Ashley McBryde did a phenomenal job, she is not my girl JoJo and the concert was good, but not as great as Joanna makes them. In my heart, I believe she makes Eric and the ECB better! She is a force, a wonderful spirit, a fan favorite and to me, something was missing that night and I am certain it was her. I know she had to be extremely disappointed to miss this particular show, as she had plans to connect with her mentor and spend time with her mama. However, I have no doubt she will still do all those things and I will do my best to make my way back to NYC when the day comes to see her take that famous Madison Square Garden stage!

A little different, but still incredible!

After the show, Jim, Jacob, our dear friends from New Orleans and I continued to create some incredible memories in New York. In addition to Eric Church, I also have obsessions with all things Harry Potter and the Broadway Show Hamilton. On Saturday, me and my boys spent a good chunk of the day nerding out at the Harry Potter store. If you are a HP fan and are ever in NY, check this place out! So much fun!!!  Then, all of us attended the Saturday evening Hamilton performance. There are no words to describe the happiness my heart felt after this trifecta of obsessions had been fed. At times, I thought it just might burst.

The Harry Potter Store in NYC is worth checking out
A.L.E.X.A.N.D.E.R. HAMILTON!!! This show did NOT disappoint!

We ended our time in the city by splitting Sunday between the 911 Memorial Museum and a walking Hamilton inspired tour. Both are worthy of an entire blog post on their own. They have done an incredible job with the 911 Museum, and I hope the loved ones of those honored and remembered within the walls are pleased with the work they have done. That day changed lives forever and if you are ever looking for a place to ground your soul, you should check it out.

Geeking out with my boys on the Walking Hamilton tour was super cool and a much-needed reconnection for the three of us. We ate at Fraunces Tavern (https://www.frauncestavern.com/), which was a popular watering hole for many of the country’s Founding Fathers. It has an incredible history, unique vibe, and tasty food. If you are a fan of history and/or Hamilton, you should do a tour if you are ever in the city.

There are so many other things I want to write about, but I am going to end for the day in just a second. I want to take some time, regroup, and start brainstorming what I want the future of this Blog to look like. ~  As my flight with Joanna was ending, I chatted with her briefly about Jacob and his music. She reminded me of how important mentors are in every aspect of life. It was a message that hit home, and I am grateful for the refresher. SOOOOOOOOOO……to end today’s babbling…. I want to:

One – throw out some good vibes that everyone…. including my son, husband, mother, brother, sister-in-law, sister, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, friends, and anyone else in my stratosphere recognize and attract positive mentors. These individuals help guide, advise, and strengthen us. If you leave your eyes, ears, mind, and heart open, you never know when an advisor will sit right beside you or enter your life by sharing their wisdom through books, songs, or simple conversation.

Two… (this one is tough, but if you are reading this, know this…you are tougher.) Fear is NOT a good guide. Even though it can be hard, try not to let fear rule your world. When you do, you have the potential to miss out on some super magical moments. Take the plunge, sing the song, hit the ball, dance the dance, ask the tough questions, kick anxiety to the curb (if even for a little while) and enjoy whatever brings YOU happiness.   

I can’t end without a couple songs. Here are today’s picks:

Here they are lighting up the stage together. The compliment and push each other, which I think brings out them best in the both. XOXO

I had to add a Hamilton selection to this post. This one is just vocals, but totally worth listening to.

I’d like to finish up by giving one final shout out to Chief, Cotten AND Covid. This trio has reminded me that a rainbow does not exist without the rain. I sometimes get frustrated cause it seems like something good is often followed by something bad, but I guess that is life. Maybe the secret to it all is mastering the balance and not allowing the negative to get heavier than the blessings.

As always, if you are reading this, I appreciate you and your time. Thank you for walking this journey with me. Being BRCA positive has changed me, and I am not entirely sure I know where I am headed, but I hope you will continue to follow me wherever I go from here.

Peace and Love,

Gina

PS………. I was mentioned an article written by my very smart, kind, and informative Genetic Doctor. Her name is Mylynda Massart and if you are interested, here is the article. https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2022/07/16/23andme-genetic-tests-health-upmc-precision-medicine/stories/202207170009

4 thoughts on “Church, Cotten & COVID

  1. Oh my gosh, I love you, girl!!! This was a brilliant blog, I read much of it to my Jim, and it briefly took us back to November of 2019 and May 2022. So many feels!!!! I am so proud of you for your bravery to face these issues over the past 2 1/2 years and your tenacity to share what you have learned to help others. Gina, you are an angel. No other explanation. Hopefully you and your Jim will take us up on a road trip to northern Idaho once we get settled. Every fiber of my being wishes you only the best for all that life has to offer you! I am proud to call you a friend. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Girl! You are going to make me cry. Thank you so much for your constant support and uplifting words. They mean more to me than I can express. I am so happy to be trapped in this web with you. Jim and I would love to take you up on your invite one of these days. Hope you are settling in well. Can’t wait to hear all about the adventures ahead. Much love and gratitude headed your way. XOXO

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