Sunday, May 15, 2011

Contact me

I get many comments with questions or just wanting to talk. Anyone who would like to contact me...follow me on Facebook. I'm always on there. If I don't know the answers I will find someone who does. I may not always know the right thing to say, but I'm here for you all and will help if I can. I know it's not easy and sometimes you feel lost or frustrated and just need to vent...I'm here. Cristy Barham on Facebook.


Hello everyone, it has been a while. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on April 27, 2011. The day after my birthday. Nice, huh? Well, it is what it is. I'll be having surgery soon and maybe then I'll get back to life.

I am still going to school. I'm still getting a 4.0. Not sure how, I just am. It keeps me sane. I'm fighting this hard, really hard...and planning to win. Failure is not an option for me. I have 3 kids and a highly deployable husband, so I have no choice. Fix it and move on.

Enough of that, let's talk Air Force Wife stuff.

The leadership response was "Tell us what you need from us." Sounds awesome, right? Well, it probably was until we killed Bin Laden. You see, I didn't schedule my cancer around our finding and killing Bin Laden, so for the Air Force that is a problem. My husband is Security Forces, and the threat con level went up which meant more manning. I guess his unit is running at minimum manning, and again, this is a problem. The doctor told us it was serious and I needed to go to the Cancer Center ASAP. I had an appointment scheduled for 2 weeks after the diagnosis. When the cancer docs got my info they bumped my appointment up a week. Being my first appointment there, and knowing we would be discussing my surgery and follow up treatment, my husband wanted to be there. Guess what? Yep. Bin Laden jacked up my life and he's not even alive anymore. We were told "no can do" when he requested to go. So my best friend Alec picked up the slack and took me instead. I'm not going to lie, I was upset. I got it, but that doesn't mean I liked it. Now I have roughly a week to get things done (including finals) before surgery. My husband wants to help, but they are on 12 hour shifts, which end up being about 16, so when does he have time? This is where being self reliant as an Air Force Wife comes in very handy.

I've approached this from the angle of "what would I do if he was deployed?" Because honestly, right now as much help as he is, he might as well be deployed. I don't like to ask for help ever, but when balls are being dropped because he can't be there I need someone to pick them up. I've got too many balls in the air to juggle all alone. I have just taken on everything and decided to handle this as I would have handled it had I gotten the diagnosis while he was gone. It works to an extent. It throws me off when I'm in my "you're on your own" zone and he finally shows up at 8 at night for dinner. Then I have to switch into "oh he's home, I have to fix dinner now" mode. Honestly it makes me nuts.

Being a military spouse isn't easy, and anyone who tells you it is...well, don't listen. The military is a whole different ball game than civilian life. The military comes first...always. I love the military. I was raised an AF brat and am now a spouse, in a few years I'll be an AF mom. The benefits of being in the military can't be measured. The sacrifices we make as spouses are minimal to what those in the uniform do for us every day. His unit is unbelievably supportive of me in my fight. I'm surrounded by great friends and family. I'll get through this because I'm a tough country girl who also happens to be an Air Force Wife.

Having a support system is key. Not just for when you are dealing with something big like cancer. It's important when they are gone TDY or deployed. Those are huge times that you have to have support. The people at the base are there for you, the other spouses are there for you. Hopefully your family and civilian friends support you. You need that. Sometimes you need help, even if you don't like to ask (guilty!). Sometimes you need to vent. Sometimes you just need a distraction. Surround yourself with good people and you can survive anything. In my opinion you don't find better people than you'll find in the military.

The husband will be there for my surgery. That is great. They are working with us and being as flexible as they can. I can't help it that the timing of my cancer and Bin Laden coincided. That's just bad timing, and I'm a pro at that! It's not my husband's fault, or the Air Force's fault. It is what it is. I tell everyone, as a military spouse don't make plans. If you do make plans though, make them in pencil...they are always subject to change. If you can accept that, you'll be fine.

Friday, December 3, 2010


So it's that time of year...time to juggle. When do we celebrate what and where do we do it and with who? That's always how it goes with the military. Can you get leave? When are the kids off school? Do we have time to get there and back? If we go see family who do we see when and for how long? This year I think we are staying here, because my husband will be on duty. I'm actually looking forward to not rushing here and there and being able to just relax with the kids and enjoy the days.

For us, this year is very different than what we've normally had. My dad passed away so my mom went to spend the holidays with my Aunt. I am spending my holiday break determining if I have ovarian cancer. My son rolled his truck (which was my dad's) and we are trying to keep it from being totalled as well as dealing with his injuries, which may end up being more serious than originally thought. His concussion may have caused him to develop a subdural hematoma and may require surgery. All this, and I'm trying to finish up the last couple weeks of the college semester. My husband is on duty for Christmas, so we won't be traveling...which probably wouldn't have happened anyway due to my son and my health circumstances. So this year I'm focusing on the true meaning of the holidays and what is really important...not the hustle and bustle of running here and there and trying to outspend everyone else. It will be a simple holiday, but nice I hope.

I am so glad that this year my husband is home and not away in Iraq. Christmas on Skype last year was nice, but not quite the same! I do have several friends who are gone this year to various locations, and I hope they have the best holiday possible, but they are missed.

I guess in this short little post I'd like to say happy holidays to you all, and I hope you take time to remember the things that are really important. Don't forget our military members who don't get to eat the home cooking and be surrounded by family. If not for them, where would we be? So keep them in your hearts, and pray for their safe return.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Air Force Wife First, Everything Else Later

For nearly 17 years I've always put myself last and my husband first. That's just how it is sometimes as a military wife. Whatever he wanted to do I supported 100%, and I still do. All the plans I had for my life prior to getting married got put on the back burner. I knew someday I'd be able to get around to doing some of it. In 17 years a lot of "life" happens. Things change, and that's not always a bad thing.

I've always tried to make sure that my husband and my children had everything they needed and have been able to do whatever they wanted to do. I've quit jobs so that it would be easier for my husband to do what he needed to do for his career. As a matter of fact I quit a job with the DoD when my husband deployed last time. My job required quite a bit of travel and with him being gone I felt I needed to be home for the kids all the time. My dad was also very sick, so quitting that job seemed to benefit everyone. I was there for the kids, my mom, my dad, and my husband could reach me any time, day or night.

Now I've gone back to school to become an oncologist. My husband told me that he wanted to support me the way I've always supported him. He wanted me to come first for a change. He wanted me to finally do what I wanted to do. My husband talked to his unit about transferring to the base near the school I had chosen. Things seemed to be working out, but I still had that little voice in the back of my head saying "don't hold your breath!" Things are rarely that simple when the military is involved.

Last week my husband came home and told me that one of the senior NCO's had come up and said "You should really consider staying here a few more years. You're not a piece of s*$t and I really don't want to let you go." That is a compliment in the Air He said that his unit would understand if he left, and that if I still wanted to go we would move ahead with our plans. I asked him what he wanted me to do, and of course I got no input what so ever.

He will be up for promotion soon, and from what he was told by the senior NCO, it sounds like he will get it. I don't want to do anything that would impact his military career. I don't ever want him to have a moment where he thinks "why didn't I just stay at Scott??" With all of that in mind I started looking at schools near here. There are a few that would do, but they don't have everything I had found at the other school.

So, once again, I've decided to "settle". That's not a bad thing, and I don't resent my husband or the Air Force. When I married him, and in a sense married the Air Force, I knew this was part of the deal. The Air Force comes first the majority of the time. I suppose that is one of the many reasons they say that being a military spouse is one of the toughest jobs in the military. All I have to do is adjust my dream so that he can have his dream. I will still be an oncologist, I just may not get to go to the school I wanted. I support my husband and what he is doing, now and forever. I love the Air Force and everything that comes with it. If that means being an Air Force wife first and everything else later, then that is what I will do.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Long time no post....

Hello everyone!!! Let me start by saying, I apologize that I've neglected to post for a while. My normal everyday chaos went into overdrive, and I just didn't keep up. Now that I'm back, I will do what I always do and fill you in on what's been going on...

We sailed through deployment with surprisingly few "catastrophes" this time. I'm either used to it and handling them with more ease, or it really was smoother this time. Thank goodness for Skype!! The internet in Iraq is less than ideal, but Skype did allow me to see and talk to my husband every day. The time difference made things interesting, but we adjusted...well, I adjusted, and it worked out fine. He would call every morning on Skype to talk to the kids before they went to school, then I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning waiting for him to call me when he was off duty. Compare it to having a new born adapt to a different sleep pattern and it gets to be no big deal! So I highly recommend getting a laptop or netbook with a camera on it if you have someone deploying...they appreciate being able to see you as much as you love seeing them! I liked to "see" him because I knew if anything was wrong by looking at him...just talking on the phone you can't always get the full effect of what may or may not be happening.

The day they returned home my dad was very sick. We had been dealing with health problems with him for roughly 4 years and it was looking like he was going back to the hospital. So, I was a bit preoccupied that day. I remember a woman from the USO coming up to me at the welcome reception and saying "You are so calm." I told her that I just roll with the's all you can do. When we got word that their plane was coming in I don't know that I was "calm" anymore. I'd never been so excited to see one of those ugly grey planes in my life. When he stepped off that plane I nearly tackled him! I felt this huge sense of relief that now I didn't have to do this all on my own anymore.

My dad did end up in the hospital, but it was so wonderful to have my husband physically present to help me through it. The doctors did not expect my dad to make it. They obviously had never met my dad...retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant. He fights and does not just give up. It took a long time but he amazed them and came home. He ended up doing better than he had done in years!! He had an amazing 4 months. Then July rolled around....

We watched my dad start to slowly decline for about 3 weeks. We knew it was different than all the times before. We had been dealing with heart, lung, and kidney problems for 4 years. He was on dialysis and oxygen at home as a matter of fact. This time though his problems seemed different. Mom and I kept saying we felt like we were missing a piece to the puzzle. We tried and tried to get him to the doctor and he would have none of it. Finally, on 13 July 2010, we had convinced him to go to the doctor, but he couldn't make it. Mom called an ambulance and we were all off to the hospital. They thought he had a stroke, but he didn't. Then the blood work started coming back. EVERYTHING was off...and way to low. So, he was admitted and he started getting blood and platelets. It didn't work. The next day we stayed at the hospital all day. After getting home we were called to come back. Dad had a bad nose bleed and they couldn't stop it. He was, as they put it, in "very critical condition". They managed to stop it, but the situation had taken a very serious turn. The following day they did a bone marrow biopsy. We got the results back on Friday, 16 July 2010. My dad had Burkitt Lymphoma. It is very aggressive and he'd only had it for a month, which is exactly how long he'd been going down hill. The oncologist said "the best case scenerio is tragic" and recommended hospice. They didn't know how he was still alive because his bone marrow looked like "post-mortem" bone marrow. My dad, the strongest, toughest man I knew...the man who could beat anything, was not going to beat this. On Saturday my mom decided to put him in a hospice room so we could be in there all night. (We had been sleeping in the waiting room because he was in ICU). The kidney doctor said we had to stop dialysis because fluid was going to accumulate in his lungs and he would essentially drown. We've been told since he started dialysis that he could only go one day without it, so this was a huge and devestating blow to me. We spent the night Saturday night with him. Me, my husband, my oldest son and my mom watched my dad fight with everything he had to stay with us. Sadly, at 10:05 the next morning he lost his fight. He died in my arms with his head lying on my chest.

I've talked about being tough and strong as a military wife. None of that helped me with that loss. It is going on 3 months now, and I'm still not over it. I would like to tell you though, that being a military wife meant more to me through that time and the times to come afterward, than I could ever express. As soon as they heard what was going on at the base my husband began getting calls. They had given him as much leave as he needed, without him even asking. He was at the hospital every day, he was off through the funeral and about a week after. People he worked with watched our younger kids so we could stay at the hospital. They wanted to bring us food at the hospital, they just wanted to do anything to make it easier for us and for my mom. When my dad died, they all jumped into action. We of course got flowers...but it was so much more. My dad was being taken from Illinois back to Oklahoma (where my family is from) to be buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery. His blues were cleaned and my husband made sure they were perfectly put on him down to the finest detail. The people from his unit showed up at 4:30 in the morning, in their blues, to move my dad from the funeral home to the hearse headed for the airport. They gave him a final salute, and sent him off with honor. They made sure he had full military honors at the cemetery in Oklahoma. They had connections down there and made sure everything my dad deserved was done. They sent flowers to the funeral home in Oklahoma, and cards to my mom. You don't know what that meant to us.

Say what you want about the military, but we are a family.

Now I am back in college. I'm going to go to med school, for oncology. I couldn't save my dad, but maybe I can help someone else. I'm getting "A"s, and I'm doing it for my dad.

So, as you can probably see, now I'm a mother of 3, Air Force wife, college student and trying to adjust to life without my dad. I've been busy! I try to be there for my mom because August would have been their 56th anniversary. She can't adjust. She tried telling herself that this was dad's final "PCS", but that only worked for so long. She told herself she'd been on her own a lot throughout his military career, but this is different. This time he isn't coming back.

I'd like to close by saying...I'm sorry for rambling on about my dad. I told that story in hopes that you would see just how wonderful being a part of the military could be. Sure, it has it's ups and downs...what in life doesn't? But when one of you are down and your military family rallies around you to makes all the other stuff not seem so bad. We have amazing friends through the Air Force. I know there is nothing they wouldn't do for me. What really went a long way though was the response of leadership. They made sure things were handled so I could have my husband with me as long as I needed to, and they never pressured him about when he needed to come back. Any sacrifices I make for my husband to serve in the Air Force are more than worth it, think about the sacrifices they make for us every single day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reality bites...hard

I know it has been a while since my last post. I've been traveling and preoccupied with other things.

One of my very best friends, who now lives in Abilene, Texas, had to have a quadruple bypass operation. He's only 31 years old and has other health problems working against him, so as you can imagine I was terrified. I drove almost 900 miles to be there for his surgery and stayed a few extra days to make sure he was recovering well. I am happy to say that he was released from the hospital this Monday and seems to be doing pretty well.

On the way home from Abilene I stopped in Oklahoma to visit family there. My mom is staying with my Aunt to help her recover from surgery, so I went to see them. I was there for my birthday and it was amazing. I spent the day showing my husband and children the places I'd grown up in. I took them to all of my favorite places and bored them with stories of my childhood. It was perfect.

We got back to Illinois two days ago. I spent yesterday catching up on things that had piled up while we were away. Then I got a rather unpleasant "welcome back to the real world" today. We received a postcard announcing the predeployment town hall meeting this weekend and we got the deployment guide for the base where he will be posted. Reality bit and it bit hard...

I don't know why it hit me the way it did. Maybe because I'm still tired from all of the travelling. Maybe because it felt to me like I still had quite a bit of time before I really had to start thinking that way. Maybe because I hate to entertain the thought of the love of my life being over there. But the reality is that he is going to be there and the time is drawing near.

I'm not naive about any of this. I've worked with countless families dealing with the very things I am dealing with. I have accepted the fact that this is happening and I thought I'd made peace with it. I've begun getting things in order and preparing for him to leave. My mantra for this situation has been "It's not good, it just is", and I've been fine. So, why in the world did I get a knot in my stomach while reading the deployment guide?

Don't get me wrong, I am not hysterical or sitting around crying about it. I just feel sick. I felt scared for the first time since he told me he was deploying. I still think I'm doing fine, but reality really bit me in the butt. Today everything really started sinking in.

I know he is going with a great group of people and I trust in the training he received from the Air Force. Somehow though that's not enough. I'm very protective of my family, and when he is over there it is all out of my hands. I am a bit of a control freak, so I think it is the reality of my not being in control is really bothering me most. I guess it is one of those "let go and let God" situations, but that's hard for me to do.

Deployments have become such a way of life in this post 9/11 world. I don't think people who have no friend or family member in the military realize what a toll these deployments take. It is not an easy process to go through for the service member or their family and friends. We all know that this is a likely possibility when our loved one chooses the military for their career, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier when it's their time.

I know that the next 2 months will fly by and soon he'll be gone and I'll be here trying to carry on and trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids. I also know that we will be fine and life will go on. As I said before, none of this knowledge makes it any easier to deal with the realities of the situation. With that said, my goal is to handle things with as much grace and dignity as I can without losing it or falling apart. I need to be strong, as much for myself as for my husband. If he thinks I'm falling apart he'll worry. He has enough to worry about without worrying about what is going on at home. My husband knows I'll miss him terribly, but he also knows that I am tough enough to deal with it.

My mission during this deployment is to take care of myself and the kids and keep things running as smoothly as possible at home. I am going to make sure that he doesn't have to worry about what is going on back here. I want him to be able to stay mission focused so he can come back to me in one piece. That is the mission I chose as a military spouse and I will carry it out to the best of my abilities.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Can I tell you something kind of good?": A double edged sword...

The other day my husband came home from work and says "Can I tell you something kind of good?" Heck yes! I'm always up for good news, and this was coming on a particularly stressful day. My 81 year old Aunt was having surgery on her carotid artery and I had a phone call from one of best friends telling me he needed a heart transplant but doesn't qualify due to his other health problems, so they are going to attempt bipass surgery but can't make any guarantees. So yes, by all means tell me something good!

He tells me that his training prior to Iraq may only be 2 weeks now, rather than 1 month as we've been told, and he might get to come home for 2 weeks before deploying. I sat there almost dumbfounded and the first thought I had was "When do we get to the good part?"

Now before you think I'm a horrible person and quit reading, let me defend myself to you, just as I did to him. Unfortunately my mouth reacted before my brain could stop it and I said "I'm not sure I want you home for those 2 weeks." Of course he reacts the same way you probably did and says "Fine I'll stay out at the base and won't tell you I'm home." Then I began my defense...

The bad part of him going to training before he leaves is that I don't get to tell him goodbye before he goes to Iraq. The bad thing about him coming home is I do get to tell him goodbye before he goes to Iraq. I say that because it kills me to say goodbye to him anytime he goes anywhere for long periods of time. It will hurt bad enough seeing him off to training and knowing from there he goes to Iraq. Just imagining telling him goodbye as he boards a plane to Iraq makes me cry, so how in the world will I do it for real?

I was looking at that month of training as an adjustment period for us, time to get used to him being gone without the added pressure of him being in Iraq. Mostly that would apply to me because I'm old enough to overthink the Iraq part of the equation, for the kids it doesn't matter as much, daddy is gone and that's all they really factor in. However, I do think it would put us all on a roller coaster that I don't want to ride.

For my family it takes us that first week to get into our new groove. That means we'd get in our "daddy's gone groove", then he'd be home only to leave again and we'd have to get back in the groove again and this time for a lot longer. I really think it would throw my 4 yr old off. She adjusts pretty well, but I don't want him to leave the 2nd time and have her thinking in a couple weeks he'll be back.

I would love nothing more than to have 2 more weeks with my husband, but at the same time I am afraid of what it will do to us emotionally. It will be hard, but if that's how the Air Force wants to do it then I'll get through it. I will make the most out of those 2 weeks and suck it up when it's time to say goodbye again. When the big one comes (2nd goodbye) I will just find a way and get through it just like I've found ways to get through everything else.

My husband understood where I was coming from, and I hope you do to. It's not that I don't want him here...I do, more than's just that it will be awful saying goodbye a second time so soon. It truly is a double edged sword, it's good and it's bad, but in the end it is what it is and all we can do is deal the hand we are dealt.