Assessing Life

Sometimes life deals us a hard blow.  It can knock us off of our footing for a while – knock the wind out of our sails, and we fall, stuck – in a seemingly endless, stagnant ocean – unmoving. That happened to me recently as I had to again assess what I could no longer do.

What isn’t obvious to other people is the loss of function that I experienced as a result of surgery for cancer 7 years ago.  The mass was in lymph nodes in my neck, against the sternockeidomastoid (SCM) muscle and internal jugular; thus, along with a good number of lymph nodes, the jugular and salivary gland, a major part of the SCM also had to go. This muscle helps hold up and turn your head, helps you raise your arm, and is one of the primary muscles receiving stress throughout the entire side of the body when you perform tasks ranging from heavy lifting to small motor movements to chewing.  It’s hard to do any bodily movement without engaging the SCM.  So, I have had to learn to manage the pain and loss of function brought on by the muscle weakness and scar tissue.

I grieved for a while, thinking of some of the things I missed like making jewelry, working in the yard, even taking vacations. Then, I thought of my friend Grayce. She became disabled at a young age – half my age – when she had a stroke after delivering a baby. She lost use of her dominant arm and had other problems that made caring for herself and her family very difficult.

What saved Grayce was her attitude. She went to a supprt group, all lamenting over what they could not do, and she said, “If you can’t write a check, get a check card! ”  They threw her out of the group and she said that it was the best thing that could have happened to her – that those people were depressing.

To move forward, we have to assess and reassess our capabilities after a physical problem or just as we get older.  We need to figure out different ways to do the things we love – or learn to love to do new and different things.

I have often said that my experiences with cancer have been some of the best things, best experiences, that could have happened to me because of what I learned and the people who came into my life as a result.  I have some of the sweetest cards from friends and relatives and we have developed some very close friendships and relationships. I appreciate them everyday more than I could have before.

Yes, I have physical problems and pain that I will always have to manage. But, how can I lament and focus on what I lost when I have also gained so much?  I am closing in on 7 years past August 5, 2011 with no recurrences.  I have a wonderful husband who has been and continues to be so good to me through it all, my good friends and mentors Dr. Coleen Smith and Holographic Health® developer Dr. Theodore Baroody who have helped me through the loss and pain into a way to manage day to day.  I use Holographic Health® principles daily to improve my health and stay on track.  And, last but not least, I have three successful and happy children I can be proud of. To top off the blessings, a miraculous new granddaughter was born into our family last year. I have so many blessings and so much to be thankful for.  What do you have to be thankful for today?

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After being through life-threatening illness – twice – I appreciate everything and endeavor to never take anything or anyone for granted. Maybe I go overboard to ensure that I thank everyone; however, I am sincerely grateful for kindnesses bestowed upon me by people and by God. 

Also,  I grew up with love and discipline; but, I didn’t grow up with lots of money. My husband says that I can “out-poor” him anytime – it’s a running joke when anybody talks about things they did without while growing up.  His father was a Methodist minister and my dad was a schoolteacher.  Neither of our mothers worked outside the home – there was plenty to do inside the home. 

I grew up out in the country without running water or indoor plumbing – this was still common in the 1950s.  We heated with wood, didn’t have a heater in our truck – they weren’t standard equipment in the 1940s.  So, I really appreciate being warm, turning up the thermostat, getting into a nice hot bath, and just walking into the other room when I have to get up at night.

I worked hard to put myself through high school and college while juggling married life and parenthood. I have lived through happy marriages – and miserable divorces when they ended. I raised 3 children, juggled all of their activities, while working in corporate America for 3 decades. I cared for and buried my parents. I have faced death through severe illness and now understand that I shall be recovering and working to regain what strength I can for the rest of my life. 

What I have learned from all of this is to appreciate the good days and the good friends and family – they help you get through the hard days.  The good and true ones will stick by your side through it all – and the rest will fall away.  Do your best every day to make a difference – even if it’s just to smile at someone,  you just might change their life.  Life can change and can come or go in the blink of an eye – so, be grateful for today and what blessings you can find in it.  There are still blessings all around – if we just open our hearts to give and receive them. 

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Christmas Thoughts

The last few Christmases have been very different. I suddenly became a matriarch – with all of its honors, trials, and tribulations. This year, I have been reminded of all of the blessings over the years, old and new, people who have come and gone, and the massive changes from the way I grew up.

When we were young, we had no responsibilities and fit into the traditions of our family.  We learned  at some point in our lives that some of us were so much more fortunate than others to grow up in a loving family. Maybe we didn’t have a lot monetarily or everything we wanted – but we had love and everything we needed.

My dad, a very educated man who taught English and Science, was also very sensitive and religious. We read a Bible lesson every night as a family and he instilled the real reason for Christmas. Christmas is to honor the birth of Christ. Period. I also learned from my parents to honor this spark of Christ in every living being. The gifts I remember from my dad were things like gloves put in the Christmas tree…things memorable and useful.

My mother, and her mother before her, made sure that everyone felt loved and was recognized and cared for. This was my responsibility for years – decorating, dinners, family gatherings. Now, this torch is being passed to my daughter as we go to her house for holidays. My role suddenly became the matriarch that holds the family together.

There are blessings and trepidations with each new  role we take in life.  Sometimes  we have choice; sometimes life just evolves and chooses us. Whatever the phase, we can focus on the blessings or the trepidations, what we have or what we have lost. Regardless, we still have those precious memories of people and Christmases past and new memories in the making.

I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams by good friends and family, and I wish the same for you.  May God hold you in the palm of His hand this year.  Wherever you are and whatever your situation, I wish you love, blessings and peace in your heart. A very Merry Christmas.

Love, Ann


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Updated for Halloween, 2015

Balanced Lives Resources - Ann Marie's Blog

My Grandmother's BowlMy Grandmother’s Bowl


Halloween comes
on little ghost feet.

It meanders
place to place, ‘Trick or Treat’ing
for candy kisses
and childlike fun.
                                – Ann Marie Byars, 10/27/2015

My grandmother loved Halloween.  She loved all holidays, I think mainly because she loved to entertain, make people feel welcome and loved, and just make people feel good in general – especially children.  My life is richer for having known her and the things she taught me.

I learned at an early age from my parents and grandparents that people don’t always have the same beliefs, even people in the same family; however, one can still honor and respect those individuals and their beliefs – even if one does not agree with them.

My grandfather was a Primitive Baptist and my grandmother was a Methodist.  Primitive Baptists, at least in his church, did not believe in Sunday school.  My grandmother taught…

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I have learned a lot about pain over the last 5 years. I always have had trouble with my back and neck; and then, two tongue surgeries and a radical neck dissection 5 and 4 years ago have given me a crash course in pain management and recovery.

I have always been able to handle pain as well or better than most.  I had my first baby with an epidural, didn’t like the results, and then had two more with natural childbirth. When my youngest child was on the way, the doctor and I were having an argument.  Doctor, “We need to give you a local because this baby is big and you are likely to tear.” Me, “No. I’m not having any drugs!”  Doctor, ” This baby is coming, he has a large head, you are likely to tear, it’ll take you a while to sew you up, and the drugs won’t have time to get into his system – we need to do this now and so I’m giving you a local!”  Me, “Ok. Fine!”

I have never been one to complain about my maladies.  My experience and view of the world has always been that nobody wants to hear it.  While this is generally true, if one is in pain and does not share that with people who need to understand what one is really capable of doing or not doing, what sends one into waves of pain, and what helps one to prevent it, then some of this pain is brought on by oneself.  I have pushed though the pain – and it has sometimes brought me to my knees.

I always wanted to help others – and I have had to learn to ask for help.  A dear friend said this to me a couple of years ago and it made such a profound impression, “If you don’t ask for help, you are defying spiritual principles.  What if someone needed your help and wouldn’t ask?  How would you feel?”  So, I now regularly ask for help.  There are distinct differences in 1) being lazy, 2) being a martyr and going through unnecessary pain, and 3) asking for help appropriately when it is really needed.  One does not need to be a martyr and go through unnecessary pain if it can be avoided!

My mother lived with pain.  I saw it start in her 40s and by her 60s, she had a terrible time getting around.  I started seeing a chiropractor regularly in my 30s and she didn’t see one until probably her 60s when I started going.  She had severe deterioration in her hips and some in her spine due to osteoporosis and misalignments.  Now that I better understand pain, I hope that I was kind enough, understanding enough.

Pain makes one want to just sit down and cry.   It’s impossible to think.  That list of things to do today…. some days the list just has to wait.   I have, also, been adamant about a natural approach, only taking significant painkillers when I had surgery.  I saw what happened to my mother taking Loritab – it just took away her will to do anything.  So, getting my neck aligned regularly, getting work on the muscles and scar tissue, and taking vitamin and herbal remedies are my preference. I also use Holographic Health CamphoRub topically to help sooth the area, and ibuprofen when I must.

I have also had to learn to be creative in finding different ways to accomplish tasks: carrying things in smaller bags, getting a vegetable chopper and immersion blender, letting my husband do the dishes…. and some days, just eating out.  To me, life is not about “woe is me because I can’t do that”.  Instead, Life is all about being grateful for what I can do – and doing that with a smile!

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Alkalizing the Body

Remember, I’m the health nut who had cancer – so, I decided four years ago when this happened that I must have been missing something. One friend loaned me Dr. Theodore Baroody’s book, Alkalize or Die, and another friend introduced me to Holographic Health, a system for health developed by Dr.  Baroody.

Alkalize or Die makes one aware of how food acts once it is in the body – creating an alkaline or acidic condition –
and how combinations of foods do this, as well. I have heard many tout the importance of food combining; and yet, their explanations are very complex.  Dr.  Baroody includes a graphical representation of food combining in this book that makes this process quite simple.

For example, Americans love sandwiches and meat with potatoes – combinations that are extremely acid forming. Another misconception is eating fruit for dessert. Think about this: fruit digests very quickly and meat digests very slowly – these do not mesh well together at all.

Vegetables are in the center of the chart where they belong. We need to make vegetables the center of our diets!

There is also a very nice laminated 80/20 chart available that reminds us to eat 80% alkaline forming foods and only 20% acid-forming foods. Lemon, while seeming acidic on the outside, is one of the most alkaline-forming foods available when taken internally. Watermelon is also very alkaline-forming – along with Love, Kindness, Meditation, Prayer,  etc.

On the most acid-producing side of this chart are artificial sweeteners, sugar, meats and Stress, Anger, etc. An Indian mystic once said that if you knew the damage a fit or anger did to your liver, you would never get angry over anything!

Food is your first medicine. Take a close look at what you’re eating. Shop around the edges of the grocery store – and don’t eat from windows!  Learning to eat a better diet is a process – and you and your health are worth it! You carry your health with you every moment of every day in that wonderful body of yours! Make them a priority now – or they will become a priority at some time in your life, maybe in an unfortunate way when you least expect it. Especially, if you are currently facing a health challenge, whether large or small, your diet is extremely important. Remember, food is your first medicine.

If you’re local, I keep copies of Alkalize or Die and the 80/20 Chart for sale.  Or, you can go to to order. I also teach classes on low-glycemic impact and alkaline eating.  Contact me for more information.

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Using Your Gifts


It was about this time four years ago that I found a lump in my neck.  I had been through two tongue surgeries for a carcinoma and so I knew what it could be.  But, I only had a 2% chance of it being that, right?

There were many things that went through my mind at that time.  First, there was not knowing.  Not knowing was harder than knowing.  After you know, you can decide what to do.  Before knowing, it’s just harder.

Then, there were decisions – before and after the surgery.  I had to decide whether or not to take chemotherapy – I chose not to.  I had to decide whether or not to take radiation treatments – I chose to.  These were decisions I had to make given advice from my doctors and my own research.  The main advice I can give to anyone going through a life-threatening illness is to do your research and then take it to God, a Higher Power – whatever you consider Him/Her to be – and then make the decision based on your research and what you receive from that faith.  I felt better because it gave me the control I needed in this earth because the actual outcome was in God’s hands.  I was just the voice for what I believed He guided me to do.  Dr. Coleen Smith helped me to muddle through all of the decisions and find that voice, and I shall be forever grateful to her for her guidance.

Then the healing began and continues to this day.  I lost half of the SCM muscle that goes through my neck to my shoulder.  My neck always was a challenge – and now, even more so.  I have had to find other ways to do things (such as, chopping vegetables), do things in smaller steps (such as, write part of a blog and then finish later), carry half of what I would have carried at one time, etc.  I need regular care from my health care providers – and how fortunate I was to have been introduced to Holographic Health!  Dr. Theodore Baroody and Dr. Noel Baker changed my life, and so much so that I became a Holographic Health practitioner.  My desire is to use this knowledge to pass along to others the health that the Holographic Health system has helped me to achieve.

The main thing is that we all have challenges and we all have gifts.  It is how we overcome the challenges and use the gifts that are so important.  Things that I once took for granted have become so important to me after the surgery and radiation that this causes me to look at these gifts very differently.

One gift that we all have is our voice, our ability to speak, to communicate.  I have given presentations and training sessions throughout my whole career, I always sang in the choir in church – and then, suddenly, I couldn’t talk when going through radiation.  Losing the left salivary gland has made my mouth drier than normal and so I have to be very careful to drink plenty of water and sip on aloe or use lozenges to keep my throat moist.  I am very susceptible to sore throats, I can no longer strain my voice or project it – or I lose it again.  This has happened to me several times over the last four years.  So, even though I must be very careful with it, my voice has came back and I still have it.

I hear people in the doctor’s office from time to time when I go for checkups who have a stoma, the electronic voice.  Yes, they have the ability to communicate, they can talk; however, there is no inflection, it’s robotic. …  It makes me want to cry.  That could have been me.  I am just so grateful to have my voice, with all of its challenges, rather than the electronic version.  Our voice is part of who we are, and those of us  who have used our voice for speaking and singing our whole lives, are changed forever without it.  Can we adapt, as I did to chopping vegetables?  Absolutely!

However, one thing my husband and I have always enjoyed is singing in the choir and honoring God, our Country and our Veterans in the Kingsport Liberty Celebration. Father’s Day reminds me how my dad honored his country by joining the Navy in WWII, and singing in that production was a big part of my life that I so hoped I could continue to do. Three years ago, less than a year after my surgery, I sang in that choir and did so again last year.  Yes, I had to be much more careful with my voice and may always have to – but, I sang!

We all have gifts given to us by God.  These gifts are there for us to use, to share, to make a difference in the lives of those around us.  Use your gifts today, be grateful for them – we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.  Whatever tomorrow brings, have faith – because, as it says in Matthew, faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains!

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