Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Cowboy, The Bucket List & The Believers

It's been brought to my attention that I never fully blogged about my 3-Day experience. It's not for a lack of trying. It's just OVERWHELMING when you think about trying to put this incredibly amazing experience into words. So I've kind of let the pictures on our Facebook wall do the talking. But I *will* tackle it at some point.  Maybe.

In the meantime, I'm going to bog about another cancer related experience I had that was also incredibly amazing. And, I should point out, somewhat related because it involves two of the people who first made me aware of this whole 3-Day experience to begin with.

It was December 16th, 2010. Opening night of Garth Brooks’s 9 show run at the Bridgestone Arena, which is home to the SIRIUS XM studios where I work. I was super excited about the night. Not just because I’m a big Garth fan – which I am. But because my intern, Taylor, was going to her first Garth show.

Taylor’s from Oklahoma. She – and half of her family - graduated from Oklahoma State – Garth’s alma mater. The first time her mom left her with a babysitter was so she could go see Garth in concert. Taylor choreographed gymnastics routines to Garth songs. Her grandparents live down the street from the G-man, and she’d run into him in Walmart. But she’d never spoken to him. She’d CERTAINLY never seen him in concert. And you know… in order to see Garth these days, you gotta go to Vegas.

That was… until Garth announced he was doing a flood relief show in the very building Taylor was interning in. But even then, as all the GarthNutts know… getting a ticket was pretty much impossible the day they went on sale. We both failed. For a couple of days we were really bummed. Then three cheers for my wonderful friend Kendel, who managed to grab two lower bowl tickets and needed someone to go with. I snagged her extra ticket, so Taylor could go see Garth in concert. Because seeing Garth in concert was the #1 item on Taylor’s Bucket List.

In case you just blew by that last line, let me repeat it:  Seeing Garth in concert was the #1 item on Taylor’s Bucket List.

It's easy to dismiss a 22 year old with a Bucket List. So I should tell you that Taylor has cancer. Two types of cancer, actually. The doctors had given her a few weeks to live… three and a half years ago. I could write for days about how much I’ve learned from this fiercly stubborn, ridiculously snarky, incredibly faithful, beautiful young lady that God placed into my life. But I know most of you are here because you heard I have a good Garth story to share. And boy do I ever!

About a week before the show I’d sent a note to everyone I knew remotely connected to Garth telling them about Taylor. About how her grandmother took her to the Opry when she was five years old, and she announced then that she was going to move to Nashville. You just know that I played the OSU card. At the press conference announcing the Nashville show, Garth made a statement about how if this was a bucket list item for someone, now was the time. I wanted him to meet someone who truly had him at the top of her bucket list. There was a press conference the day of the show, and all I was asking for was a couple of minutes for her to get to meet him. Because I knew it would be pretty special for him too.

So I sent the note. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And I heard nothing. Now Taylor had NO idea I’d sent the note, and she was just excited as all get out to be seeing Garth. Then, a couple of days before the show, she got a fever. A bad one. And she wound up in the hospital. That wasn’t fun. She was… shall we say… less than pleased with this turn of events. But she had people all across the country praying for her. (Shout out to the amazing cheering section she had on my Facebook page!) Taylor NEEDED to be out of the hospital by the 16th! Fortunately, her doctor was a Garth fan. In fact, he had tickets to the Friday night show. So Thursday morning he sprung her loose, with instructions that she had to take her temperature every hour, and come back if it hit a certain point. YAY for the power of prayer!

Meanwhile... I’d heard nothing back from my request. So Taylor and I went to the press conference. And I made her ask Garth a question. Which I’d tried to get her to do at half a dozen previous press conferences for other artists, and she wouldn’t do it. But she did for Garth. And as I sat there in the press conference looking around at all the people I’d put my request in to, I started getting mad that no one had even bothered to tell me “no.” I was only asking for a couple of minutes! So when it was over I left her with my co-worker Storme Warren, who was doing a TV interview with GB. So even if she didn’t get a chance to talk to him privately or get a picture taken, maybe she could meet him.

Sharing the Garth joy!
And she did. And she was thrilled. And we put her on the radio talking about it. Which would give this story a happy ending if it ended right there. EXCEPT… there’s more. You should know with the Garth Angels around, there’s always more!

It’s about 6 o’clock that night, and my phone rings, a number I don’t know. I step out of the studio and take the call, and the person on the other end says:

“Hi Joyce, it’s Tracy Greenwood, Garth’s assistant. Garth wanted to see if you wanted to come backstage tonight before the show. And will you have Taylor with you?”

Yes and yes? Yes! Now Taylor and I weren’t sitting together at the show, I was going to the show with my friend Sandi, and Taylor was sitting with Kendel on the other side of the arena. So we all meet up, exchange tickets, and I tell everyone we’ll meet at the seats, I have somewhere I need to take Taylor. Yeah… I didn’t tell her where we were going until we got there. Then the fun of watching her freaking out began.

There are about 8 of us I guess, taken backstage to a meeting room that’s being set up for a Teammates for Kids event that evening. Because apparently two full benefit concerts on one night wasn’t amazing enough for Garth to be doing. We wait there. I whisper to Taylor that we’ll let everyone else go first so we could talk to him in private. Turned out to not be necessary. After a few minutes Tracy comes and gets us, leaving everyone else behind, and takes Taylor and I to Garth & Trisha’s dressing room.

I’m not sure I can adequately put into words what the next 15 minutes or so were like. But I want to try. Garth, remembering his quick meeting with Taylor earlier in the day, introduced her to Trisha, even mentioning her hometown and OSU. He asked her if she was interning with Storme, to which she said no, she was working with me. Garth says “Ohhh…. So how’s THAT going.” (I may or may not have given him a little shoulder ram while protesting “heyyyyy!”) He TOTALLY put her at ease, and was even heckling Trisha about what she was wearing. (“You’re not wearing that on stage are you?” She didn’t.)

I told Garth about how Taylor had been in the hospital right up until that morning. And she was able to tell him about her doctor asking what was so important that she had to get out, and her answer was that she was going to see Garth!  She got to tell him that he was the #1 item on her bucket list. He was so cute… he asked Tracy if they knew where she was sitting so someone could keep an eye on her. Taylor was like “I’m FINE!” (Her favorite 2 words in the English language.) He said to her – “You’ve never been to one of these. It gets hot and we get LOUD.”

Garth also asked her if she had a favorite song. Hers was “Cowboys & Angels.” Garth was noticeably impressed that she’d picked an album cut. She proceeded to tell him how she had this whole video in her head about using that song in her wedding, because she just knew she was going to marry a cowboy someday. He told her it wasn’t in the setlist that night, but he sung the opening few lines, and talked about the songwriters, in particular how that song had Kent Blazy all over it.

Oh! We also had a conversation about fake hair. I don’t remember exactly how it got started, but Garth and Trisha knew that I’d shaved my head, and I think Trisha made a comment about my wig that I was wearing… and somehow Taylor must have said something about hers, because Trisha admitted that some of her hair was fake too.  (She looked amazing, BTW.)   And then Garth took off his hat and said “yeah, mine’s not real either.” Which, if you’ve saw him take off his hat during those shows, you saw that he’s coloring it. We all laughed. (Personally Garth, I think the grey looks good.)

So we took pictures, and gave hugs all around, and then we left so they could go meet with the other folks. And you could have powered the arena with the electricity in Taylor’s smile when we left.

As I have reflected back on that experience over and over, I am always, always, always amazed at how incredible they were with her. How lighthearted and fun they kept it, and how they put her at ease. How they didn’t rush her through, sign something, snap a picture, next! I’ve seen pictures from other people’s backstage meet & greets and they were from the public room. It truly was a very special one-of-a kind experience. And that wound up being invaluable in the days ahead.

The very next day Taylor wound back up in the hospital. Her fever was back (or quite honestly, it probably never went away.) Everyone that came into contact with her had to wear blue moon man suits and take a bath in Purell. And EVERYONE that came in contact with her knew she’d met Garth. All the doctors, the nurses. I can just imagine them coming in and looking over her chart… asking “How are you feeling today Miss Taylor?” And her reply (of course) would be “I’m fine.” Followed by “Did you know I met Garth Thursday night?” Or “ Miss Taylor, does this hurt?” “Really, I’m fine. Let's talk about Garth.  Did you get to go to a show?” Pretty soon, the staff was coming in and starting off the conversation with “So, I hear you met Garth!”

At one point, Taylor was told the mortality rate for someone in her condition with sepsis was 80%. I’m 100% convinced that the adrenaline flowing through her veins and the joy in her heart tipped the scales in her favor. And lest you think I’m exaggerating, I offer up her Facebook status from after the show that night:

Sorry future husband/children/grandchildren/great grandchildren/etc. Today was and will always be the BEST day of my life.

How's THAT for a look at cancer?
Or the one from chemo the next morning, complete with the picture:
Still too over the moon happy from last night to care even the sliiiiightest bit that a nurse in a HazMat suit (where's mine?) is pumping toxic chemicals (capable of producing 3rd degree burns if exposed to the skin) into my veins (which have already seen more than the full lifetime quota I was told my body could safely receive of the drug) OR that in several hours I will be a shivering, puking, pathetic puddle on the bathroom floor. Nope, don't matta'. I saw Garth.

Which brings me to today, and why I’m FINALLLLLY, some 6 weeks later, getting around to blogging about all this. I believe that the gift that Garth &Trisha gave to Taylor had a lot to do with saving her life. I believe in the power of music and I believe in the power of prayer.

Tomorrow Taylor is going in for some pretty risky surgery. The odds they’ve given her aren’t even as good as those crappy sepsis numbers. So I’m rounding up the believers and focusing everyone in one common goal:

Taylor needs a miracle. Miracles happen every day. To quote my friend Amy “Why not Nashville on a Friday?”

If you BELIEVE that miracles can happen… if you BELIEVE that prayer works… if you BELIEVE that Taylor can once again defy the doctors, then share, post, email and tweet this… and
Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (New King James Version)