Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No more chemo...

Guys, we made it through chemo. A few weeks ago, at dinner, Chris unveiled a PICC line-free arm, and in what Chris proclaimed the most gratifying reaction to his good news, Jacob jumped up onto his chair, flung his arms out and sang,
"Everybody dance now!"

Chris is still recovering and has a lot of ground to regain, but this time, he gets to stay better. Several months ago I wrote about being where I am. If you're in a painful, hard place; if it's not fixable but what is intended for you, then be there. Lean into it. Do it with your heart and soul. And guys, where we are right now is happy. I feel like the Israelites must have felt when they crossed the Jordan River. Like a promise has been fulfilled, and I can move out of this godforsaken tent and build an actual home. Entering the Promised Land wasn't the end of their struggles, but glory hallelujah, it was definitely a time to celebrate. So, we're having a party. I only have a vague-ish notion of what I'm serving, but the No More Chemo playlist is in great shape. The boys and I have been rockin out to those songs.
  • Forget You by Cee Lo Green because... forget cancer.
  • Mama Said Knock You Out because Chris H has been knocking out some cancer.
  • O Love that Will Not Let Me Go because The Lord has showed up for us in cancer.
  • Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae because I dare you to resist singing along with it, and we're at a roll down the windows, turn up the volume and sing your heart out place right now...
Around this time last year I had a breakdown in an elevator at the hospital when I realized I probably would not be able to take the boys for our annual week in a cabin in a bit of wilderness. A kindhearted woman with a PICC line and no hair tried to comfort me, but she just made me feel worse - like a self-aborbed fool crying over missing a favorite vacation to my exhausted, perpetually recovering husband who would definitely be staying home feeling crappy (at best) for the summer. Thanks to my sweet father-in-law who devoted his year to lightening my cancer load and my parents who tracked down a cabin not too far from Houston but enjoyable in August (look at a map - it's not trivial), we did get to take our trip last year. This year, the boys and I are in Colorado. It's been another amazing trip which is not so much a testament to our awesomeness as it is to a quiet, scenic location and some cabin traditions and guidelines that have evolved over the years.
  1. No electronics. Not even for me.
  2. Supply the boys with whatever ridiculous, normally off-limits breakfast cereal they choose.
  3. Just because children complain about something doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.
  4. When you go for a hike, think of it more as being in the woods than covering any real mileage.
  5. Except for one day. Go for a hike that pushes the envelope - something ill-advised that they'll be proud of completing.
Our first year, this was a 3 mile hike that ended with Jacob on my shoulders and Bryan in my arms. This year Cecilie the Fabulous agreed to keep Rand, and our ill-advised hike was a 7-mile trek through snow, across creeks, through meadows and up mountains. But, my unlikely favorite part was along the side of a mountain that had been devastated by fire. It was stark - blacks, greys and whites, all the more jarring after miles of lush greens and browns. But this ruined forest held it's own kind of stoic, understated beauty. The fire left unlikely patterns on some of the blackened tree trunks.

Any bit of color - vibrant yellow flowers or bright green shrubs that went unnoticed in the thriving, healthy forest were remarkable - beautiful in that way that hurts - against a backdrop of desolation. It made me think of our past year and a half with cancer. The moments that I rarely notice in the midst of our happy, busy, cancer-free life - my family eating dinner together or Chris and I laughing over the boys' antics - felt like precious gifts in the middle of cancer. Miraculousness is easier to notice in the middle of a desolation.

I watched my boys hike their way through that forest that was and will be again. Each of them was wearing a bit of bright blue, and they were conspicuous in that stark forest - as they are when they're at the hospital with us. I worry for them over the cancer hits they've taken. To watch your dad go through this is hard and painful and it leaves marks in ways they can't understand yet. But I watched those bright, blue boys walk persistently on and felt assured - in a way I can't quite define or describe - that they're going to be okay, even if they're not okay.


Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7


Sunday, March 23, 2014

A weekend in pictures...

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. - Mark Twain

 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stumbling...

A few years ago I did a 100 mile bike ride with my family. Mine was an ill-conceived plan. I was in shape to do about 50 miles, and 100 - 50 is still a big number. The last 40 miles were rough. Miles 80 to 100 were ridiculous. At the beginning of the ride I was focused; I was chipper; there was a plan. My brother had a pig squeaky toy attached to his handlebars. We rode in a line, and every 2 minutes the little pig oinked, and it was time for the leader to move to the back of the line and the next person took over the hardest, front position. By mile 80, I was done. I didn't want to ride in a line. I didn't want to hydrate. I didn't want energy chews. All I wanted was to get myself and my bike to the end of that godforsaken race. When we found out at mile 90 that the route was 102 miles instead of 100, I nearly cried.

Friends, that's where we are in chemo. It's been fifteen months, and we're weary - limping to the finish line. The whole thing feels ridiculous and beyond endurance. We're at the hospital for another round of chemo today. It feels like we're a couple of washed out Vegas performers running through the same sad, tired act we should have quit years ago. Chris stoicly verified his medical information and accepted the medicine that's definitely going to make him feel crappy but will hopefully (we're staking months of our lives on it) make any subversive cancer cells feel crappier. I had the same worn out conversations with the nurse and pharmacist that, I'm sure, annoyed the hell out of them but also established me as a person less irritating to placate than ignore. There's always a moment before I speak to them when I think, "You know, most people really do like me, but you're not going to be one of them. I'm going to be that person you complain about tonight when you complain to whoever it is you complain to, but sustained nagging is the only way I've found to walk out of this hospital today with what we need," and then I begin my unremitting attack like that Komodo dragon with poison teeth on Planet Earth who bites an elephant, infecting him, then relentlessly follows him for weeks, refusing to let him lay down or stop to drink until the exhasuted beast just voluntarily lays down in some kind of aggravated suicide. It's not that the Komodo dragon is cruel, it's just hard to kill an elephant.

There were holy moments today too, but those tend to happen when we're alone. Chris with his hand on my leg in the car on the way here because he could see I'm struggling today. And friends, that's what love is - comforting your wife on the day you have chemo. We usually listen to NPR in the car, but this morning's program was "The Way We Die" so I plugged in my iPhone and hit shuffle to hear Jars of Clay sing,

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan's fair and happy land where my possessions lie. I am bound. I am bound. I am bound for the promised land.

And I laughed at the irony and beauty and we sang along. In our room I told the same comfortable old jokes about how things are harder on the caregiver than the patient - especially the nausea and needles. Then we negotiated the lighting situation. Chris prefers absolutely no light. I feel like the dark shrinks my soul and probably his too, he's just not emotionally aware enough to feel it. He threatened to call my mom. I rolled my eyes and gave in. Then he fell asleep, and the sadness started to creep up on me again, so I took out my Bible and read my cancer psalm. And when I got to this part,

You give me your shield of victory and your right hand sustains me.

I remembered my sons' piano recital. A few times, a student would lose their way in the middle of their piece. The teacher, a lovely, kind-hearted elderly woman, would sit beside them on the bench, place her right hand on their back and whisper words of instruction and encouragement, and the child was able to continue.

So, I'm not finished with my song and I'm stumbling, but his right hand sustains me.

 

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

There's no crying in deer hunting...

Guys, there are scenes from cancer that would break your heart: Chris sitting at the window watching the other men play basketball with our sons and nephews. There are so many things he may not be able to do again - basketball, skiing, hiking (also bowling and roller skating, but he's reconciled himself to those losses). So when the men of my family organized a trip to take David and Chris on their first hunt, I was... verklempt.

They had such an amazing time. My dad, my uncles, one of my brothers, my cousin and nephews were all there. There were weapons, rude noises, lots of red meat, and, apparently, with no moms in the picture, unlimited cookies. David and Chris each shot their first deer. David got a couple of wild hogs, too. Evidently, Chris is an excellent shot with a pistol. David came home bragging on his dad's prowess with a gun. They both came home refreshed, freer. It was like they got to check out of cancer-land for a weekend, and something unseeable loosened its grip on Chris.

I know there's no crying in deer hunting, but to see my husband and son doing something manly, something they've always wanted to do, that has nothing to do with cancer, was so overwhelmingly good - real-life-good not cancer-good* - that I'm afraid I cried. I felt like I needed Tom Hanks to yell at me.

Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN HUNTING!

Men come alongside one another in a way that's beautiful and foreign to me. It often seems to look like standing together and defiantly doing normal stuff in the face of terrible circumstances.

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galations 6:2

*Cancer-good is best described by example: "You only have to wait 30 minutes to start the medicine that makes you feel like you have ebola."

 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Incentivized by a 7 year old...

For the past year and a half, Bryan has had me on an incentive plan.  He doles out kisses at bedtime based on his assessment of my performance that day.  He keeps me updated on the maximum and the average number I can expect.  A few months ago he had to recalibrate and bring the max down some because he decided the nightly kiss routine was taking too long.  He's serious about his system.  The maximum amount of kisses is reserved for truly exceptional mom behavior, 
Bryan:  To get the full amount, you have to do something like take me to Disney World and Chuck E Cheese.  
and he insists on taking into account all the information from the day.  He's unmoved by emotional pleas.  His system generates some interesting bedtime conversation.

A few months ago, on a day when I made cookies, allowed extra video game time and took them to the pool, I still only got a little over the average.
Me:  Seriously?!?  The pool, video games and cookies, and that's all I get? 
Bryan:  (sympathetic but with a hint of condescension) Yeah, but spinach.
I had served spinach with dinner.

Like any good manager, he gives me advice on how I can improve my numbers.  Last night was a beautiful, clear night.  We had planned on watching Amazing Race, but I took the telescope out instead and showed the boys the surface of the moon and Jupiter.  You could even see a few of Jupiter's moons.  At bedtime I got a few kisses over the average.
Me:  Did I get so many because I showed you Jupiter and the moon? 
Bryan:  Yeah.  But you could have got more if I could have also watched Amazing Race.  Like maybe next time you could plan better and serve dinner earlier and we could watch Amazing Race and do the telescope.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pulling on my blogging shoes...

Okay guys. I've been waiting for something really inspired or witty to come to me but have finally realized that I've just gotten out of the habit of blogging and I need to lower the bar for myself. So this is me tugging on my blogging shoes and limping through my first post-holiday blog.

Chris is doing well... not real-life-good but cancer-good. He did a cycle after Thanksgiving and it was okay. There weren't any of the horrible side effects we dealt with in the fall. He didn't even have to take the meds that give him crazy drug eyes. We expected that he'd have to be on chemo over Christmas, but given his record of not responding to chemo the way anyone expects, his doctor didn't want to foist him off on a colleague over Christmas. So, everyone (especially the boys) was thrilled to get Chris for Christmas. It was a wonderful imperfectly perfect holiday with a mish-mash of holy moments and just enough reality to keep me from getting insufferably satisfied with myself. There was a Sunday evening service when, during a carol, I looked over and saw Jacob asleep on Chris' shoulder. The sight of all those boys I love sitting together in church made my soul happy. Really, I should look at them all in dim lighting with soulful music in the background more often. We delivered cookies at the hospital on Christmas Eve, and my favorite barista - the one who always gives me the employee discount, was working, and I was able to thank her for making the coffee that brought me so much comfort over the past year.

But then, those holy moments only come in snatches. I got the Christmas Eve service time wrong, so we were late and had to sit in the lobby. One of the boys told me that in the future he'd rather not deliver cookies at the hospital because it's really not that fun. Two of them fought over who got to hand the cookies to the security guard. The winner of that debate got his in the end, though. The security guard was a gregarious and affectionate woman who insisted on giving him a big hug. Rand dropped a full glass of water on my toe on Christmas. It hurt so bad I had to leave the room to keep from cussing at him. I was sure it was broken. I thought about swiping some of Chris' serious drugs. I whined. A lot. By the next morning it was clear I was fine.

Chris: How's your toe?

Me: Fine. How's your cancer?

Wow. That's a lot of words and we're not even caught up yet. I'm going to pick up the pace. Chris did another round of chemo about a week and a half ago. It was okay. It's still chemo, but it's punch you in the gut and let you recover kind of chemo, not punch you in the gut, kick you in both shins, stomp on your face and then pull out your teeth on the way to the hospital kind of chemo.

Overall, Household H is doing okay. It's starting to feel like this chemo road may have an end at some point.

 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ten books that have influenced me...

Or, what I did Saturday morning (write this list) instead of the laundry.

In no particular order these are books that have influenced me or my reading...

1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - Chris recommended this book when we were dating. I read the chapter on pride, and it was painful. It was the first time I really understood that God wasn't super-excited to have me on his team since I was a "good kid" and the beginning of understanding sin and grace.

2. Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins - I told my friend Kara that I did not understand poetry, and she recommended Billy Collins. I love reading his poems because I understand (I think) what he's talking about. (for the poetry novice I also recommend Good Poems collected by Garrison Keillor.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - This isn't my favorite classic, but it's an important first for me. I saw it on my Senior reading list in high school and groaned because it sounded so boring. Wuthering... withering... ughhh. I was so surprised to find that it's actually interesting. The story grabbed a hold of me and gave me confidence to try Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo and more.

4. Incidents in the of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs - This was written by a runaway slave in the mid-1800's. The scariest part of this book to me was the damage that was done by generally well-meaning people who lacked the courage or oomph to do the hard right thing. It's a fascinating window into what it was like to live with slavery. It turned me on to good historical nonfiction books.

5. The Histories by Herodotus - This was not easy to read, but it was worth it. It helped me see how much we inherit from Judaic law. And there are so many good stories here: the culture that auctioned off its unmarried women in order of beauty (men were paid to take the ugly ones and had to pay for the good looking ones), the Spartans brushing their hair and dancing as a pre-battle routine,...

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - I think this was the first REALLY good children's book I fell in love with. I wanted to be Anne. I kind of still do.

7. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - For years Chris tried to get me to read this, but I had no confidence that he could pick something I'd find readable. Someone else recommended it, so I read it (he'll be mad about that until the end of time) and really enjoyed it. Now Chris is my fantasy guru. He knows what I will and will not like and has recommended several other good ones - Name of the Wind, Way of Kings, Wheel of Time, ...

8. Winnie the Pooh - I read this in college on a whim and was surprised to find much more sophisticated humor than I expected (I've read it to my kids a few times, and the older kids always enjoy it in a different way than they did when they were younger.) It was the beginning of rediscovering children's literature as an adult.

9. Where is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey - I read this at a time when I felt set upon by God. I was too angry to read the Bible but wanted to read something spiritualish. This book helped me understand that I was not the only person in the world who had been hurt and helped me come to terms with my unanswered questions.

10. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy - I tried to read this in college and found it unbelievably boring. I picked up again as an adult and loved it. It's one of my all time favorites now. So, this book helped me give a whole category of books a second chance. Some (Madame Bovary) I still hate, but some that I hated as a teenager I was able to enjoy as an adult.

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