What the Heart Sees

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| This is the 245th story of Our Life Logs |


If I have to walk without my eyes,

will you guide me?

Will you lead me by still water?

For if I go it alone,

I fear I will not make it.

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I was born in 1978 in Houston, Texas, just six years before my dad died of cirrhosis of the liver. My mom kept me with her during her next four marriages. Since I never had any brothers or sisters with whom to commiserate—instead, I had plenty of step brothers, step sisters, and step fathers who were bad-tempered, abusive perverts—I left home when I was sixteen. I moved in with a friend until I graduated high school and then worked my butt off until I had enough money to go to college. At this point, I figured life was all about independence. Still, something told me there was more.

I met Scott in law school and we married as soon as I graduated in 2003. Looking back, I realized that Scott was exciting, a bit dangerous…wasn’t that true love? I thought so. We both thrived as lawyers and I thought we were happy. But I guess I thought wrong. Scott and I hadn’t been married a year when he came home from work, ate dinner, and calmly told me he was packing his clothes and leaving me that night. I was stunned, embarrassed, guilt ridden, and brokenhearted. After he left, I barely left my apartment. I’d go to work then come straight home.  Could you blame me? What else had I known besides climbing up onto my own shoulders for support?

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For about three years, my life became a boring cycle, and I started searching for something to do to get me out. When I found out that the Houston Livestock and Rodeo was in need of volunteers, I jumped at a chance to go out and socialize while also helping raise money to help less fortunate kids. When I first started volunteering, I felt a lot like the mare that gets put out to pasture when no one knows what else to do with her. But eventually, I learned the ropes, and slowly, I found myself coming back to life.

As a new volunteer with the rodeo one must have rookie training, and so, into my life came my new trainer—a 6’2” Italian cowboy, with curly black hair and blue eyes. Tony was an architect who also had a ranch where he broke horses in and did bull riding in his spare time, he spoke with a gentle intensity that sung in my ears, and it was undeniable that he was sexy as hell. Still, on that first night when I had just met him, all I knew was I needed to steer clear of him at all times.

I didn’t think I could handle my heart being broken again.

What I didn’t understand then, that I do now, is there is no cowboy worth his dirty boot that can stay away from a challenge. I would tell him no, and he would shrug those broad shoulders, slap his cowboy hat back on his head and tell me, “That’s okay, I will try again tomorrow.” Then he would gently smile, and so would I. Tony knew—many months before I did—that our souls were meant to move together for the rest of our lives.

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My trainer, Tony.

I finally started to let myself fall in love with him, and by the time the next Rodeo came around in 2008, we got married. For those of you who have never married a cowboy, I heartily recommend it—he showed love to me in a way I’d never known. My life was more than I ever dreamt of, and contained so much happiness I scarcely believed it. All the while, I held my breath. In my experience, love came in waves, and there was no telling how long we would be able to ride this one out.

In the years that followed, I fell in line in my job, soaring through legal briefs and case files rapidly. With a great husband, we raised a precious little boy born in 2013 and a beautiful baby girl in 2015.

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Me, on the road!

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The picture-perfect image of my life began to blur around the edges as my eyesight was becoming compromised. Words would blur together as I read my legal briefs, and it was becoming a problem. I thought nothing of it at first. I just chalked it up to old age, like getting crow’s feet or sounding like your mother. By 2017, my vision had worsened, and I figured I should get glasses, I even joked about it with a friend at one of our rodeo meetings. We’d commiserate together on how the eyes seem to lose their perfect functionality after the age of 40, and that we probably both were ready to go get some Mr. Magoo-type glasses. I made an eye doctor appointment fully expecting them to give me corrective lenses. But what happened during that visit swept me under the current.

An hour into the exam, the doctor excused himself and disappeared. I was just getting my purse and leaving when he walked back in and told me he was so sorry, but he recommended that I go to M.D. Anderson Hospital to see an ocular oncologist first thing in the morning. They didn’t know what had caused it, but I had developed cancer in my eyes. As I drove home through an ocean of tears and panic, a thousand images went through my mind.

I tried to imagine what life would be like. Could I practice law if I cannot see or read the countless documents that I dive into every day at work? What would I do? What if I never again saw my babies’ eyes flutter open as they woke up from naps, or see the sticky cheeks that were bright green because of the ice treat they were eating. How would I know if they were crying if I never saw the tears fall from their eyes? Would I never see the warmth of Tony’s blue-eyed gaze on my face?

When I walked in the door that night to see my loving husband and beautiful children, I fell to the ground in the hallway and couldn’t get my words out. Tony who never panics at bucking bulls, or wrecking balls, was beside himself. Holding our little girl in his arms while our son played around his legs, he gently knelt down and said one thing, “Whatever is wrong, whatever we need to do, no matter what it is, I am here and will always be here with you.”

Somehow his words reached through the pain in my heart, soul, and body and I struggled to let him know what the ophthalmologist suspected and what M.D. Anderson would confirm the next day. Tony let me finish talking, hugged me, and then told me he loved me, and that we could move mountains as long as our paths were joined together. I chose to believe him.

But choosing to believe and actually believing are two very different things, especially in the presence of fear. After countless tests and tears, I was told I was going to lose my eyes. Probably one at a time. Words were thrown at me like, “very unusual in both eyes,” “could be genetic,” and “case study.” I barely heard them.

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Every day with my children felt like the last day that I could still see them. I would run my fingers over their cheeks as they slept, through their hair, kiss their tiny feet, and cry uncontrollably as I did it all. I memorized Tony’s face as he lay sleeping—I wanted to always keep every whisker stubble, every eyelash, every curl. I clutched the memories so tight inside of me I thought I would break apart into pieces from the force of them swirling in my body.

Then it all got to be too much, and I snapped. I simply crawled inside of myself and wouldn’t come out. I still took care of the kids, but I never slept. I stayed in the chair in our bedroom that overlooks our backyard, and thought about how I would never see my children run and play again. The life that I knew and loved was ending. I just didn’t know if I was strong enough to begin again in a new life that I would never get to see.

It took a couple of weeks, a lot of visits from friends, prayers from those that loved me, my children, and Tony to give me the courage to do the first surgery, to remove one eye, and with it the tumor that was slowly destroying my sight.

Before surgery, Tony whispered to me that he loved me always and forever. He said that I may go blind, but he wanted me to remember that what we see with our eyes is nothing compared to what we see with our heart. I replayed those final words over and over like great waves.

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Since 2017, I had three more surgeries and have lost both of my eyes. They have been replaced with artificial eyes that Tony tells me cannot look more real. Also, I now have Rocky, my seeing eye dog, with me at all time.

I am learning Braille and my law firm is letting me learn for as long as I need to before I come back to work. I think I will be ready by this summer, in 2019. I learned to change my children’s diapers, feed them, bathe them, and put them to sleep (albeit with many hiccup moments when I had to try and try again to get it right). And since then, I have made up my mind that I will beat my cancer, that I will raise my children with my husband, and that my lack of sight cannot stop me from living, loving, and seeing with my heart all that I have.

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A couple of weeks ago, Tony and I had our first date night in a long time at a Houston Livestock and Rodeo Committee Party. As Tony was driving us there, I, absentmindedly, put down the passenger side mirror to check my makeup. I must have looked pensive when I realized my mistake because Tony flipped up the mirror visor and said to me, “Do you know what you cannot see unless it is dark around you? You cannot see the stars. That’s what you are to me.”

I didn’t say a word, but I reached over to his so familiar face and I told him, “All our yesterdays seem like a dream to me, but just thinking of you keeps me going and gives me strength. Most of all, loving and being with you, gives me sight.”

 

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This is the story of Cassandra Whitman

Cassandra grew up in Houston, Texas, learning independence and heartbreak at an early age. It wasn’t until she met and married the love of her life when she began to realize the power love brings. She has been able to overcome the emotional toil of losing both her eyes through those around her who care about her most.

Since being without vision, Cassandra has gained the support of Rocky, her seeing-eye dog, who makes sure she doesn’t walk into cars or fall off curbs when her husband or friends are not around. Rocky can even do a pretty good impression of the real Rocky from the movie if you play the Rocky theme song. As the music plays he stands on his hind legs and raises his front paws above his head. Cassandra says that she doesn’t have to see him doing it to laugh with joy when she feels him perform beside her as the music plays.

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Cassandra and Rocky, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on January 16, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editor: Colleen Walker |
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