Tuesday, December 27, 2016

12 Perks of Having a Purple Birthmark on Half of My Face (#BirthmarkWin)

It isn't always easy having a purple, port wine stain birthmark that covers my face.  People aren't always kind, there's lots of medical stuff involved, and I've had my fair share of struggles.

But y'all...There are also so many perks.

1. It makes my eyes POP.  Seriously.  The darker it is, the more amazingly blue my eyes look.  I'm so glad that God perfectly color-coordinated my eyes and birthmark together.

2. I'm unforgettable...Especially in moments like this one, which took place in February:

Walking to class today, I ran into my speech teacher I had a few years ago.

Greeting one another, I told her, "I don't know if you remember me, but I took your speech class a while ago...And now I'm actually a speaker."

Reminiscing with me, she said, "Yeah, I remember you! That was a couple of years ago, right?? You did GREAT in my class."

"Oh wow, I'm surprised you remember me." I replied.

Walking away I couldn't help but laugh while I thought to myself, "Duh she remembers me. After all, who could forget a face like mine?" (Birthmark joke. #sorrynotsorry)

When meeting someone for the very first time, instead of telling them how to ID me by my choice of clothing that day, I just tell them, "Oh, I'm the girl with the purple face."

My birthmark jokes even made it in my college year book,
during my time at Welch College.

3. I have more birthmark jokes than I can keep track of.  For example: I color coordinate what I wear to match my face.  If it dares to clash, it goes in the trash.  (Well, the mental one anyway.  I wouldn't be wasteful.)  But you'll see a handful of the jokes in this entry, if you haven't already.

4. Kids are the best, and definitely my favorite kind of people.   They are so genuine and are often trying to learn how to be curious in a kind way.  But while they learn how to do that, I'm often found with a great story and laugh to accompany it.

Below are some real questions and comments I have received from children. (Seriously.  You can't make this stuff up.)

Child (5-years-old): "So that's a birthmark??"
Me: "Yep!!"
Child: "And you've had it since you were a baby??"
Me: "Yep, I have."
Child:"Did you get it from a hamburger??"
Me: "A hamburger??


Student (5-years-old): "Why do you always have that birthmark on your face? Why don't you ever take it off?"
Me: "I always have it on. I can't take it off. I have it on when I shower, when I eat dinner, when I go to the store, work, school..."
Student (interrupting me and excitedly saying): "And when you see me!!"

...Then kid tried to reach up and touch my face.


Child (6-years-old): "You've STILL got that OLD birthmark?"


Student (5-years-old): "What happened to your face?"
Me: "It's just a birthmark. I was born with it, just like you were born with brown eyes."
Student (with wide-eyes): "Actually...I was born with REALLY CRAZZZZZZYYY HAIR!!!"

...And trust me.  There's wayyyyy more where those came from!

5. It helps me connect with many strangers in an unexpected way, helping me realize I'm not alone in my experiences.  From people in real-life and online, I've had opportunities to make new friends from around the world that are on similar journeys.

Just this summer I had an unexpected, beautiful moment with a waitress at a Nashville Cracker Barrel:

Sitting at a table, I started working on an article. Before I knew it, one of the waitresses walking by me stopped, exclaiming, "You have a birthmark on your cheek just like me!!"

Looking up, I saw a beautiful African American gal beaming with excitement. Sharing a bit of her story, she told me, "Middle school was especially hard for me, but you get through it. I used to know a caucasian girl with a matching birthmark, and we called ourselves 'salt and pepper' because we matched so perfectly. I'm so glad that I noticed your birthmark!"...And I'm glad she noticed it too.
The waitress and I are total strangers, yet we have similar stories which resulted in an instant bond.

I've learned that just because you don't see a birthmark on someone, it doesn't mean they don't understand your journey.  So many people choose to cover their birthmarks with makeup, or they are a father of a child with a birthmark.  Just because you can't see something, that doesn't mean the story isn't there.

6. After 25 years, I'm basically a birthmark, medical pro.  I may not have a medical degree, but I've quickly realized that I know wayyyyy more about vascular birthmarks and Sturge-Weber Syndrome (a rare condition that tags along with my port wine stain) than most doctors.  There's always more to learn and I don't know everything - but 99.999% of the time, I feel extra smart walking into a doctor's office.

7. My birthmark is the equivalent of a purple shield that often protects my heart.  It's almost like I got a steal of a deal: "Get one birthmark, get a kindness detector for FREE!!" (And this girl loves a good deal.)

Yes, I have a lot of painful memories and experiences around my birthmark.  However, I get to see the side of people that many don't get to see.  When people react to my birthmark, whether it's kind or unkind, I try to engage in a conversation with them.  Many of the people who are initially unkind are willing to learn about my condition and story, while also hopefully changing for the better.  But, some people aren't willing, refusing to go beyond what they see.  My birthmark has helped protect me from the get-go from cruel people focusing on superficial things.

8. I really like the color purple.  It's not my all-time favorite color of the rainbow, but I do like it a lot.  I'm so glad the color I walk around with every day on my face is a color I really like.  In a way, it's like a free accessory given to me at birth so I can rock it the rest of my life.

9. I have a natural contour line.  Well, at least for half of my face...Which is great, because I struggle in the make-up department.  (I also save tons of money on make-up when I don't cover it.)

I'm so glad Annie's books are out changing the
world, and I'm so glad to call her my friend.
10. It's never the same.  I mean, yes - it's always some kind of purple.  But because it's affected by the temperature, if I'm sick, and blood flow, sometimes it's a deep purple, sometimes it's lighter.  I always joke that it's like my personal mood ring, changing colors with how I feel.  Sometimes it has a dash of red, sometimes it's on the pinker side.  Meeting one of my favorite authors for the first time in-person, she told me, "This is my first time seeing your birthmark in person.  There are so many colors - it's beautiful."  I instantly knew she was my kind of people.  (Thanks, Annie.)

11. I've learned a lot, and I continue to learn important things.  I've learned about kindness, respect, and how to treat others - no matter what they look like, or don't look like.  I've learned about compassion, confidence, and realizing that there's so much more than what we see.  Everyone has a story.

12. Having a birthmark on my face isn't always easy, but I have the privilege of helping others learn important lessons in a unique way.  I'm literally a walking billboard for life lessons for thousands of people - while still learning many myself through these interaction.


If you have a birthmark and have a #BirthmarkWin you'd like to share, write it in a comment below.  Tweet it out.  Instagram it.  I'd love to hear what you love about your birthmark.

The Travelin' Chick,

Follow me on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.  You can also find me on Snapchat: crystal.hodges

Saturday, December 10, 2016

8 Lessons my Grandma’s 3rd Battle with Breast Cancer has Taught Me about Love

***While she has a long road of recovery still ahead, my grandma is now doing much better.  (Radiation is even finished....Yay!) However, this is is a blog entry I started in October, and I decided to leave the voice of this entry in that timeframe.***


“Your grandma is headed to the ER.  The doctor called and told her she needs emergency spine surgery”, my mom told me.

The next day my grandma had fast-growing masses removed from her spine and she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time.  In addition, a rod was surgically added to her back as the cancer cells had been eating her spine, and once the masses were out – she would need that extra support.  Once her surgery was complete, her doctors told us that because of the location of the masses, had she come in a day or two later, she would have been paralyzed. 

Since her surgery, she’s been in and out of the hospital three times, and radiation was been put on hold.

…And this all started a month ago.

Thinking about the last 31 days, I can’t help but think about my family’s current journey – both the moments of fear, and the beautiful moments.  As I think about the beauty in our situation, I can’t help but see and feel love.

Here are 8 lessons I’ve learning about love.  While I already knew many of these things listed, they’ve been highlighted again and again throughout the last few weeks.

1. Love is patient. There’s so much patience that comes with love, regardless if cancer and surgeries are involved.  Yet, when it is involved, love is taking one day at a time, one moment at a time.  It’s about rearranging furniture in the house so it’s easier for my grandma to get around.  It’s about creating a schedule for family members to rotate during the nights she was in the hospital.

2. Love is kind.  So much kindness has been shown to my family since this journey has begun. People have gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital, and at her home.  They’ve made meal after meal, and have even helped with some house duties when needed.  We've even received messages from people around the world, just to let us know they were praying for my grandma and our family.  Kindness hasn’t been shy, nor has it been timid.

3. Love is more than skin deep.  Recently I was talking with one of my friends about the topic of dating.  Talking about his new girlfriend, he told me that he didn’t even like the girl, but that she was the hottest girl he’s ever dated, “…And if I have to put up with a woman, she better be hot.”  Hearing him talk that way, my heart is troubled.  It’s cliché to say, but beauty is ever-changing, as are our bodies.  Love is loving your spouse when you meet them, and when weight is added after her child-rearing years. Love is loving your spouse when she ages, and permanent creases are added from laughter, to her once smooth skin.  Love is loving your spouse when cancer takes over and scars are added from life-saving surgeries, and permanent reminders of time spent in radiation are tattooed onto her skin.

4. Love is laughter.  In the midst of the struggle, there have been many moments of laughter in the mix.  My family members are naturals at finding the light in the darkness, laughter being one day.  During my grandmother’s 6-hour surgery, I may have offered to teach my 75-year-old grandpa to “whip” and “nay nay” in the waiting room…And he may have accepted the offer.  

5. Love is thinking of others.  The day after my grandma’s major spine surgery?  She was on a ton of medications, and was on a mission: to find me a husband.  The poor men that entered the room had no chance.  As they walked into her room, she would inquire, “My granddaughter, Crystal, was on the front page of the Fresno Bee yesterday.  Are you married??  She’s looking for a husband.”  (Teamwork makes the dream work?  Ha!)

6. Love is creative.  A few weeks after my grandma’s surgery, many of my family members left town.  She seemed to be in the clear and out of danger, and my grandparents insisted that we go on our previously scheduled trips.  One aunt went to a work event, the others of us headed to my grandpa’s family reunion in Florida.  Yet, halfway into our drive to Florida (from California), my mother received a call.  Grandma was put back into the hospital.  We hated to not be home while she was hospitalized, but they insisted we continue on.  It was important to them that we were at the reunion, when they couldn’t be.  And during the reunion?  The most precious thing took place.  All of my grandpa’s 8 siblings sat together, and brought them to the reunion via FaceTime.  Everyone was crying by the end of the call, but hospital or not – grandma and grandpa were going to be at the reunion.  (Mom and I also brought 36 pounds of frozen boiled peanuts home so they could also enjoy one of their favorite southern foods.)

7. Love is scary.  Loving another human being can be terrifying – regardless if they’re a family member or friend.  Loving them means you care about them, and when the hardships come?  When cancer diagnoses are made, and emergency surgeries are unexpectedly added to your calendar? It’s scary, and you can't imagine life without those special people in your life.

8. Love is worth it.  As scary as loving another human can be, it is so worth it.  Love means you’re never alone, that someone is there for you in both the good times and the bad.  Love means that you have others on your team, rooting for you through all the moments brought your way.  It means having a grandma who wants you to find a loving spouse when you’re single, because she wants you to experience the kind of love and joy she’s had for nearly 57 years of her life. It’s having people you can call or text at midnight when you are on the brink of tears, knowing they’re there for you regardless.  Loving other people creates memories, happiness, and an extra special adventure.  Love is scary…But it is so worth it, and life would be lonely without it.

The Travelin' Chick,