ROBIN’S JOURNEY: Promise of spring, travel brightens new year

Editor’s note: In this three-part series, Dayton Daily News Specialty Publications & Community Content Coordinator Robin McMacken reflects on faith, wisdom and grace gained during an ongoing medical journey. Here is her third installment.

Creativity, an Easter celebration with family, and thrift shopping with my cousin Kelly tower are just a few of the marvelous memories during a 2022 vacation to Phoenix. I was immensely grateful to spend time with my second dad at the home he and my mom had enjoyed as snowbirds.

Furthermore, I yearned to travel again after undergoing a second brain surgery in October 2021 for a benign brain tumor. Wanderlust had camped out on the wayside for far too long.

During some grueling periods in life, I have realized looking forward to something — whether it be a musical performance, a writers’ workshop or an out-of-town excursion — has buoyed my spirits in meaningful and unexpected ways.

Many months ago, Jim, who had married my mother years after my dad died of a malignant brain tumor, had asked me to retouch a mural she had painted in their backyard on my next Arizona visit. Of course, I said yes.

The only request I had for this particular vacay: I wanted to continue a series of interviews I had started a couple of years ago on the history of our remarkably well-blended family. Dad agreed.

ExploreDayton Metro Library, Dayton Live offering free tickets to National Geographic show

Artsy endeavors

As I undertook the painting project, I realized it was hardly a small venture. Years ago, my mom had painted an expansive mural with no pattern or sketch other than the shadows the landscape would cast. To refresh Mom’s artwork seemed daunting yet charmingly invigorating.

After sleuthing about the garage and finding various cans of paint Mom had used for other projects, I concluded Jay Blue by Sherwin-Williams was the perfect hue. Dad and I headed to the store to purchase the paint. I chose a water-based enamel with a smooth, luxurious finish that, hopefully, would create a hard, durable finish. After all, the rays of the Southwest sun can be astonishingly brutal.

Four days later, I was pleased with my free-form renewal of the shadows Mom had brilliantly imagined of the backyard cacti. The art project was cathartic and also triggered many fond memories of my mom.

Scent of a mother

Although my mom died before my surgery in 2021, she had been one of my greatest advocates during other health scares in my life. After an absolutely freakish accident in college, I suffered a nonbasilar skull fracture. I nearly died. But my mom, dad, siblings, relatives, friends and then boyfriend ushered me through the long healing process.

The head trauma caused anosmia, also known as smell blindness, which is the loss of the ability to detect one or more smells. Other factors can result in anosmia, too, such as allergies or colds, but mine was directly related to the brain injury.

In my case, anosmia meant the complete and permanent loss of the sense of smell. And the skull fracture may have led, years later, to the unruptured brain aneurysm that was successfully coiled in 2011.

During our shopping expeditions, my mother and I would hit the cosmetic counters in search of the perfect ruby red lipstick or rosy blush. Mom, a fearless style maven well before the influencers of social media, once placed a bottle of perfume under my nose.

“Isn’t this a romantic scent with its floral top note?” she asked.

“Mom, remember, I don’t have the sense of smell,” I softly replied.

“Oh honey, I am so sorry,” she replied. “I forgot.”

At that juncture, Mom briskly headed to the Estee Lauder counter and sampled different fragrances to find the right match for me. She chose “Beautiful,” describing its luscious blend of rose, lily, tuberose and orange flower. She had always worn Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew,” and now I, too, had my signature scent from the same luxury brand.

To this day, my sister JB and life partner, Bobby Joe, remark on how flattering the fragrance is on me.

Family tales and tails

On to my reportorial mission during last year’s Easter vacation: Asking Dad a lot of questions. For a total of about four hours.

Archiving the vast family history, whether it be through letters, cards, photos or newspaper clippings, had naturally become my passion after my mom died in September 2019. Using a handy app called Photomyne, I’ve slowly been assembling the visual elements of our clan. At the same time, I have been interviewing family members via my iPad or a spiffy Shure MV Digital Condenser Microphone.

Jim’s memory remains remarkably sharp, and he serves as an inspiration on how to age robustly. He grew up in the same rural South Dakota town in which my mom did. My dad Bob, who also was raised in a rural town in the Mount Rushmore State, died when I was 33. Glioblastoma was, until then, a word I had never known. After my beloved Dad passed, my mom relocated to Tucson, Arizona, earned a degree in interior design and traveled extensively. After Jim’s wife died, he and Mom reconnected, married in 2004 and boldly forged ahead as globetrotters.

ExploreSheetz chooses Beavercreek for its expansion across region

When I wasn’t painting, writing or shopping during this trip, I happily engaged with my Second Dad’s new dog.

I have been entirely smitten with this English Chocolate Labrador named Winston (yes, he’s a sir). I walked with him and Dad for 2 miles almost every morning at 6 or 7 before the desert heat crept in. At 75 pounds then with a friendly spirit, Winston fulfilled the resistance-training portion of this fitness spa-like vacation as I played with him. He gives chew toys a new meaning … and a short shelf life.

All in all, soaking up the sunshine in Arizona was incredibly healing and filled my heart and mind with calm thankfulness. To gladly share time with my dad, as well as my brother Matt and his son, five of my cousins and two of my aunties, recharged me.

Designing women

Additionally, a trip to Wisconsin and then South Dakota and North Dakota last fall sparked a flurry of colorful ideas for Chez Robin and my yard. My former college roommates and I reunite every two years or so at different locales.

In 2022, the wondrous process of cheesemaking and other culinary gems wowed us in Eau Claire and Menomonie, Wisconsin. My friend and her husband opened up their home to us, and the magic of interior design, cooking, antiquing, gardening and dining al fresco unfolded.

After spending a few days with my gal pals, I hopped on a plane and headed to the Plains states to see JB and my younger brother James and their families.

My travel plans for 2023 emulate those of prior years: Easter with family in the Southwest, maybe Christmas in England with my little sis Kris, and autumn in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

In the meantime, my Second Dad and Winston will be here this month. As I gussy up Chez Robin for my guests, I warmly envision the family tales we’ll share, a wagging tail and togetherness over a home-cooked meal.

The months ahead

Although my 2023 calendar is already chockful of theater performances, more forays into the West, and half marathons, it’s also filled with a series of continued tests and medical appointments.

I will undergo MRAs, MRIs and various ophthalmology exams every six months to ensure the tiny, noncancerous brain tumor doesn’t grow. Additionally, I will see my endocrinologist and radiation oncologist annually.

Although I pray Patrice, my chosen name for this petite mass, will behave herself, I know keeping my relationships, faith and coping mechanisms in place will accompany me through whatever the future might bring.

Robin’s Journey

Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022: Two brain surgeries reveal strength of human spirit

Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023: New Year kicks off with radiance, healthy habits

Sunday, Jan 8: Finding healing properties in traveling and painting

About the Author