Today’s Feature Friday shines a spotlight on someone who is incredibly special to me. This person has been there for me in every sense of the word. They have laughed with me, cried with me, encouraged me, dreamed with me, supported me and occasionally even scolded me. You may have guessed by now that this person is my mom, Lisa Weaver.
Lisa was born and raised in Leicester, North Carolina, which is a small town of around 12,000 people. She lived there until I was 3 years old when my family moved to Asheville, North Carolina. She lives in Asheville currently, but was able to travel around and live in other places for a few weeks and sometimes months at a time when she was married to her second husband (more on him later). These places consisted of Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, New Zealand, Savannah and various places throughout Colorado.
As for Lisa’s schooling and career, she did the typical college thing right after high school in a not so typical way. She attended Western Carolina University (fun fact – my brother went there too!) and finished a business degree in computer information systems in three years. She then worked for a company that programed accounting packages and wrote manuals, which is where she learned some of the basics of accounting. This led her to doing in house accounting for her dad’s company called Terry Brothers. She then transitioned to being his safety director and staying on top of all the government requirements for federally funded jobs.
Eventually her and my dad, who also worked for my grandfather at the time, started their own company called T&K Utilities. Another fun fact – it’s named after me and my brother – Taylor and Keri. She did the same sort of work for T&K for a few years until she left the business and let my dad run it on his own. She then became a stay at home mom who was highly involved with my brother and myself.
Once my parents split in 2005, she took a job doing the same type of work for 10 years. This business closed in April 2016, but my mom was given a heads up in 2015 so that she could close all of the accounts. This is when she started photography. She did lots of weddings while working full time in 2015 to build her business up. Then in 2016 she remarried and put a pause on photography while she worked to figure out what she was going to do. That’s when she shifted to doing portraits along side of weddings. She has now been doing portraits since the middle of 2017 through her company called Lisa Weaver Photography.
Ever since I can remember my mom has enjoyed various creative outlets. Currently it is photography, but growing up it was scrapbooking. She picked up this hobby when I was little. It was a social thing for her because she would meet with other scrapbookers to work, but also something she could do for herself without feeling guilty. While it was her hobby, it was something to give back to my brother and me later in life because she was preserving our memories. But I just gotta say, I must be the favorite child because I have tons of albums and my brother only has one. Take that sucker!!! Lol!
You guys may have noticed that when I set my mind to something, I go all in on it. Well the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My mom went to lots of events at a local scrapbook store, and one time a publisher for a magazine was there. She decided to submit a scrapbooking page and it actually got published in the magazine! This led her to working on several design teams (four at once! – see what I mean about going all in?) in which she got paid with product.
The most intense design team she was a part of would send her a kit and she would have 10 days to make everything she could possibly make out of that kit. Then she had to photograph it, email images along with instructions of what she did and a supply list, then write a blog post on it all. She also had to host events on their forum once a month where she gave a challenge and then presented her version of the challenge.
Other teams she was a part of were much more low key. They would give her a theme for the month and she would create a single layout and explain her thoughts and work behind it. While it was a bit stressful for her at times, it was totally worth it. It was good for her socially and pushed her creatively because she had to work fast. But, she added, she was glad it was done when it was done! She misses scrapbooking a lot and still wants to do it. Once she has the time (if ever that happens) she plans to pick it back up again as she still has all of her supplies just waitin’ for her to use!
Lisa also enjoyed blogging for a bit, and in fact she is the reason why I started a blog myself! She has always loved the idea of writing and became interested in blogging after reading several different crafting blogs. Then she started one just for the heck of it in 2007. It caught on real quick and she really enjoyed it. Her first post with several hundred readers (that’s a lotta readers btw) was about a marathon pee session in a gas station called “Assume the Position”. Lol! She blogged until 2014 when life just got too busy. This is something she misses as well, but she hopefully gets a bit of satisfaction with helping me with this blog.
When I interview people for these features, I always ask how we met. This seems so silly to ask my mom, but I wanted to hear her answer. She said we officially met on my brother’s birthday when I was conceived. My due date was set for her 25th birthday, but I came a day early. She likes to say that I knew I needed my own day because my personality is just too big to share a birthday with someone else. And you know what? I think she’s right! Ha!
There have been so many good times and cherished moments we have shared together. From playing with her hair to going to movies together to cooking together to racing each other when completing sudokus. But my mom loves our travels the most. We have gone on several trips with just the two of us, but her top two favorites are our trip to New York my senior year in high school and our trip to San Francisco when I finished my masters degree. Both hold a very special place in my heart, and I cannot wait until we can travel together again, but with Andee bear in tow!
My mom has had a bit of a rocky road when it comes to relationships. She first met my dad through friends and started dating when she was in college. They dated for about 1.5 years, then got married right after she graduated from university when she was 21 years old. They were married for close to 20 years by the time their divorce was finalized. It was a rough divorce, particularly for me, but my parents are both much happier now. My mom likes to say that they were like oil and water – they just didn’t mix well.
Then a few years after my parents divorced, Lisa started dating Keith. He was a lovely man and perfect for my mom at the time. They were together for around 3 years, and were engaged for a bit. Keith was great with me and my brother, and him and my mom were best of friends. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out. He was perfect for her then and helped her set the bar for a lot of things she wanted and deserved from a relationship moving forward.
Lisa had a few other relationships mixed in there, but then her high school boyfriend came along in 2016. They had always been great friends and kept in touch since high school, but they were never single at the same time. So nothing ever came from their friendship. Then it was like lightening struck. They basically had a conversation where he professed his love for my mom and within a month they were married. Their marriage lasted for close to 3 years.
All was great in the beginning, but personal demons crept in resulting in an abusive relationship and a heartbreaking breakup. It was so hard for my mom to leave because she knows what a great person he is yet he really struggles to get past his own issues. She thought she would never be in a relationship like that, but she says it is so easy to lose yourself in it all. She was so wrapped up in helping him get better that she often sacrificed her own well being. She knew it wasn’t healthy, but she really did love him. Looking forward, she does want a relationship because she feels like she is good in a relationship. But she doesn’t want to settle for anything. She is open to a partnership if one comes along, but she is not actively seeking one.
This next part of the post is something that is really difficult for me to write about and I’m sure it will be difficult for my mom, and maybe others, to read. However, it is part of my mom’s story and what makes her such an inspiration, so it is worth sharing.
During the summer of 2010, I was living with Keenan and his family in Calgary. My mom came to visit in July and wasn’t feeling well the entire week she was here. Something was just off. On the flight home she became super sick. She ended up having a double ear infection, a sinus infection and bronchitis. She had two rounds of antibiotics and it didn’t seem to touch it. While she was home from work recovering, she found a mass in her left breast. She went to get it checked and her doctor thought it was related to the sicknesses she was fighting. Perhaps it was an infected milk duct. Her doctor gave her one more round of antibiotics, and said to go from there.
Two weeks went by and Lisa was feeling better, but the mass was still there. She went to the doctor again and they did a huge biopsy. Then on a Thursday night the doctor got ahold of her. She said my mom needed to start treatment immediately because she had aggressive stage 3 breast cancer. It was August 12th, 2010 that my mom’s world was rocked.
Lisa told my brother in person first, then drove down to Georgia where I was living over the weekend to tell me. We went to lunch and then she sat me down on my bed and broke the news to me. I’ll never forget that moment of being so excited to see my mom and looking forward to our girls day, and then feeling like my world was completely shattered in a matter of seconds. I can only imagine how my mom felt.
Lisa’s official diagnoses was triple positive stage 3 breast cancer. There are multiple types of breast cancer and you can have any combination of them, but my mom’s cancer was estrogen, progesterone and HER2-positive. Estrogen and progesterone are what fed the cancer, but the HER2-positive was the worst part of it all. It was like taking the cancer that was like a burning fire and throwing gasoline on it. It’s what caused her cancer to grow so rapidly.
She had a tumor in her left breast and lymph nodes under her left arm, which is what made it stage 3. Lisa’s doctors even argued amongst themselves at one point about her diagnoses because the cancer had presented itself so much in her skin they weren’t sure if she had inflammatory breast cancer as well. Inflammatory breast cancer is even worse because doctors didn’t really know how to treat it. They never said she had this type of cancer, but there were lots of questions about it. Since her cancer was growing so rapidly though her diagnoses wasn’t the major concern for her doctors. The concern was getting the treatment and getting it NOW. There was nothing more they would have done anyway.
The treatment for each type of cancer differs, and the drug to treat the HER2-positive portion, called herceptin, was relatively new at the time. Typically herceptin is given to patients after chemo and radiation and it is to help prevent recurrence. Lisa took part in a study aiming to see if it was better to administer the drug during chemo as opposed to administering it afterwards. There were two groups in the study – one that got herceptin during treatment and one that got it after treatment. Fortunately my mom was in the group that received it during treatment. The down side to this drug is that it can cause various heart issues which are irreparable. So Lisa had to have lots of MUGA scans throughout to monitor her heart. If they ever noticed a problem, they would have to stop the treatment immediately. By the grace of God, no damage was done and treatments could continue.
Everyone in Lisa’s group for the study had full resolution by the time they went into surgery. This means that their tumors were completely gone. My mom’s, however, were not gone. She was the only one in her group like this. She still had residual tumors in her breast and lymph nodes. Her doctor’s did not like this one bit and that’s why they have been so concerned years later because the chemo didn’t fully eradicate the cancer and the herceptin didn’t fully get rid of it.
Lisa ended up having 26 weeks of chemotherapy in total. She received chemo through a port put in her chest near her collar bone once a week for the first 12 weeks where she was administered a single drug. Then she received three drugs at once for another 12 weeks, but she only had to go once every three weeks for treatment. Following chemo, she had radiation for seven weeks, five days a week. So 35 radiation treatments in total. Then she had surgery to remove her left breast and 17 lymph nodes from under her left arm. She eventually underwent reconstructive surgery, and the not-so-lucky, lucky duck came out with better tatas than my own! Consider me jealous!
The side effects from chemo were a bit different based on the drugs that were administered. Taxol, the first drug my mom received, had side effects that accumulated and got progressively worse. These effects were exhaustion, bone pain, which felt like heart burn in her bones, loss of hair everywhere and her nails turned black. She was told she might experience neuropathy, which is nerve damage, in her hands and feet, and it had the potential of never going away. So Lisa took lots of supplements to help prevent this. She did, however, experience neuropathy, but for only two days. She couldn’t touch anything without wanting to cry. Even handling toilet paper hurt tremendously. Thankfully she hasn’t felt that pain since. During the second 12 weeks of chemo where she received three drugs at once she experienced more nausea, mouth sores and exhaustion. Everything tasted super weird as well.
Radiation also brought about exhaustion and there was the potential for burning of the skin to occur. Again, my mom was aware of these side effects, so she treated her skin with lots of aloe throughout. If the burning of skin became too bad, they would have to stop the radiation, which she did not want to happen. Thankfully her proactiveness worked! In terms of exhaustion, she basically felt normal until her last two radiation treatments. These last two treatments kicked her butt. She could barely get up off the couch and it took her several weeks after radiation was over for her to fully recover.
Keep in mind that Lisa worked full time during all of this, even after her surgery. She was suppose to take two months off to recover from the invasive procedure, but she only took off less than two weeks. This is baffling to me and I just gotta say my mom is one bad. ass. BITCH. who is maybe a little stubborn at times. Lol!
Though she is in remission, she still has lasting physical effects from the surgery. Her skin is super tight and often insanely itchy. She has cramping that goes from her back to the middle of her chest, which makes it hard for her to breath. She has to wear a compression sleeve sometimes since so many lymph nodes were removed. And of course, as you might guess, she doesn’t complain about any of this – like ever!
It has been ten and a half years since Lisa’s diagnoses and she just finished taking tamoxifen. She originally was only suppose to be on it for five years because this drug can lead to other cancers. However, recent studies suggest that for various types of cancers, particularly ones that are as aggressive as my mom’s was and the stage that hers was, there are benefits to staying on tamoxifen for ten years. There are lots of negative side effects of taking this drug though that include body aches, joint aggravation, inflammation, weight gain, dizziness, vision degradation and swelling. My mom experienced all of these side effects, so much so that her doctors even monitored her closely for brain cancer. The reason she chose to stay on the drug given that she was experiencing so many negative effects was because her risk of recurrence dropped from 45% to 1.5% if she stayed on it for a full ten years instead of just five.
Since Lisa has been in remission she was suppose to have follow up appointments once every six months for the first five years, then once a year after that. However, her tumor markers elevated at some point, so she has still been going once every six months to be checked out. She is hopeful that when she goes back in July, her markers will be more normal and she can start going once a year for follow up appointments.
It goes without saying that this experience was very hard on Lisa emotionally. She said she waffled between trying to stay up beat and positive because she knew it was to her benefit to wanting to embrace all the life that she had because she never knew if it was going to end to feeling alone and alienated no matter how many people were around to being sad for what she might miss out on to being grateful for all that she had. She said she was constantly on this emotional journey and she never really knew where she was going to land at any given moment. It’s like all these feelings were right there on the edge of her reality. She shared a memory with me of her being with me on campus at university and becoming overwhelmed with sadness. She felt content if she didn’t make it because she had had a good life, but was thinking of all that she was going miss. She was saddened by the thought of not being there for her babies.
Not having a partner during this time was also challenging for Lisa, especially at night. She experienced incessant insomnia and that’s when a lot of scary and negative thoughts would creep in. It was also hard for her because she is always the one who is there for everyone else and she never wants to be a burden for others. This is so ingrained in her that she doesn’t know how to think or feel any different. But there were times in her cancer journey that she just needed someone. She didn’t want to turn to my brother or me because she felt it was unfair to us, but there was no one else. If I could go back to that time, I would encourage my mom to rely on me more. Of course I tried to be there for her as much as I could, but I was living three hours away. I wish I could have been there for her more and made her feel like she wasn’t so alone. She has always been my rock, and I want to always be hers.
If cancer taught Lisa anything it is to really appreciate every moment and not sweat the small stuff. Moving forward she tries to focus on relationships because she has been made more aware of how important people are over anything else. She feels very grateful and like she always had people surrounding her, and people were always so kind to her, strangers included.
Over the last ten years, she has had lots of ups and downs emotionally, but now having hit that ten year mark she feels like she’s finally arrived. She can’t believe all that she went through and that did all of this and survived it. It’s like it happened to someone else, but she is in a much better place now. She wants to share with you all that the biggest lesson she has learned is to make sure that the people who mean the most to you know it and make sure those relationships stay strong. Realize that people and relationships are what matter more than anything.
In closing, I want to share a bit from the first book Andee ever received. It’s called “Forever” by Emma Dodd and my mom purchased it for her before she was born. It is about the love a parent has for a child. Of course I feel these words towards Andee, but I feel them so deeply for my mom as well. I want her to know how special she is to me and that I am so lucky to be her daughter.
“When you’re happy, having fun, I feel happy, too. When you giggle, play, and run, I laugh along with you. I do my best to cheer you up when you are feeling down to see if I can make you smile and smooth away your frown. If you’re ever feeling scared, I’ll be right beside you. If you’re ever feeling lost, know that I will find you. When you share your hopes and wishes, I’ll keep them safe for you, and promise to do all I can to make those dreams come true. And no matter what may come as we journey on together know that deep within my heart, I will love you… forever.” – Forever by Emma Dodd
I love you mom.
If you or anyone else you know would be a good fit for my Feature Friday series, please comment below or message me on Instagram. As always, thank you for reading and happy day y’all!