I had an incredible experience on my AFE Military Tour. I went to Alaska for the first time with three stops there and then to Hawaii for one show and two shows in Guam. This marks my 20th year doing this and I couldn’t be prouder of how awesome it’s been to be part of this. While I know the servicemen and women really enjoy my appearances, I have always found it to be quite humbling. As some of you may know, I’ve been struggling with health issues my whole life. Lately, though, it’s been a bit worse. Last year I was diagnosed with Parsonage Turner Syndrome, to which has no cure or treatment. It causes pain and weakness in my left shoulder, wrist, hands, fingers and up through my neck. It still didn’t cover all the problems. After more testing, this year I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. This seems like bad news, but for me, I was happy to have a diagnosis that not only made sense, but there was a treatment for it. She immediately put me on Prednisone and Methotrexate, as well as a slew of other meds to help me with the inflammation, stiffness and pain I was dealing with. By the time I went on this tour, my pain had dramatically decreased, and my weight had dramatically increased. 23 lbs in around three weeks. The only time I had ever gained that much weight was when I was 9 months pregnant!!!! Needless to say, I was very self-conscious and sad. Going on this trip, I was so self conscious that I questioned if I should have even gone on this tour and if cancelling would have been a better option. I chose not to because with rest, I was physically fine to go on the trip. My vanity and fear of criticism was not a good enough excuse for me to quit on such an important trip. So I went. Man, am I glad I did. At first, I put on the strong face. And as I saw beautiful Alaska, I felt lucky to be there. I got to see the World Ice Art World Championships. I met wonderful people and ate great food. Still, from my first show, I felt the need to explain why my cheeks and neck looked like a chipmunk ( as my son so eagerly described me). When I do a show, I start off giving my little speech about who I am, how I got to the top and what kind of obstacles have slowed me down but didn’t stop me. I met so many soldiers and I was humbled by the stories they shared with me. It’s so nice to hear back from them, because while my intent is to give them a piece of American gratitude, I learned so much from them. You know, each one them have different reasons why they were there. It’s not all about patriotism. Sometimes, it’s to get away from a tough home life, or to pay for their college,etc. But to me, it didn’t matter. They were still there, working hard, away from their homes and families. And I was grateful. And each one of them, were dealing with their own issues. They follow you no matter where you live. You still have to look in the mirror each morning. And in talking to them, hearing from them, it didn’t take long to stop feeling so alone. I met one soldier in Guam, who had Stills disease. He was on Prednisone too. His cheeks and neck were swollen also. He was so happy to hear my story and I was so happy to hear his. I was also with my AFE Tour manager, Frank Tagatac who showed me a pictures of his beautiful daughter Taylor. Pictures of her now, but also a picture of her from before after being on Prednisone for a year. It was beyond anything I could have imagined. She had gained over 70 lbs, most evident in her face and neck. I really wanted to cry. Cry for her for what she had to go through at such a precious young age. Cry for her parents and loved ones who shared this journey with her. Cry for what I’m going through and what I might be like if I have to stay on this stuff. Cry for being so vain that I even care. I have the best fans in the world. There is no good person out there, that wouldn’t understand and the rest don’t matter. I have come out of this tour, with each base, strengthened and renewed. Humbled and grateful, to have something to offer to these guys and gals, and to be lucky enough to realize that I’m the one that received the blessing. We all have more strength in us than we believe. For those of you who have friends who have called you strong, even though you felt weak? They were right! You don’t have to FEEL strong to BE STRONG!!! You just have to put your pants on those mornings when you feel you have nothing left. You don’t even have to do it with a smile on your face. You just have to do it. As we go on, we’ll find out that there is always a brighter day ahead. People are watching you all the time. They gain strength in seeing you keep going. And you and I gain strength from others as well as they go through their lives, like I did with the wounded warriors. It’s so important that we continue on our lives, doing what we can, for ourselves and for others. We all have a story to tell, and we can be pitied, or we can inspire. It’s our choice, and we choose by what we do or don’t do. How we respond to those inevitable bad days that we all have. As much as some fans may put me on a pedestal, I’m just like anyone else. I question, I doubt, I fear, I bleed. All those emotions are very real. The difference that separates some of us is that while I feel all those things, I continue to do the things I believe in. Sometime, I need a day or two to recuperate when things hit me really hard, but I don’t stay there. It’s not about what you feel, it’s about what you do!!! That’s the important thing!
Thank you again to Frank Tagatac and Armed Forces Entertainment for making this tour happen and for sending me to bases big or small because they all matter. Thank you for all those who have served our country, now and before. While I know that they don’t all do it for the same reasons, it doesn’t matter to me. The fact is, they do it! You either do or you don’t and they DO!!! So I’m grateful and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to bring America’s favorite ball breaker right to them!!! Haha!
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