Dealing with the Unexpected

Cancer is all about dealing with the unexpected. Let’s face it. No one expects to get cancer, yet it happens. And if you’re in the wrong end of the line, you’ll deal with it multiple times. I could write volumes on why cancer is an awful Beast that God needs to eradicate with a sweep of His mighty sword, but that’s been done. Sometimes it’s the unexpected that arises during cancer that makes you step back and think about why God is asking me to walk this particular path (and trust me, I ask A LOT). I try not to whine the whole “poor me” scenario since Coach Cathy has a strict limit on the number of pity parties I’m allowed to have, so I try to find those little nuggets of gold among the silt of the river. Sometimes you really have to look. Other times they come right up and smack you along side the head.

Christmas always brings unexpected blessings. This year, we were all nearly asleep around 10:15 when our doorbell rang. Hubby went to the door and found a large gift bag with a huge jar in it. The jar was a Christmas Jar and filled with money. Coins and paper up to the top. We were floored. An anonymous note accompanied the jar along with the book Christmas Jars. I’ve started the book and cried through the first 4 chapters. I also find myself crying at the thought of so many people wanting to bless my family this season. I can’t imagine who pulled this together and why everyone who donated felt led to give to us. I wonder if Mary felt a bit like this that first Christmas. Imagine all these strangers coming up to a cave bringing gifts for your baby. You know who your baby is, but still, he is a baby. I’m not sure she looked as serene as the nativity scenes and paintings make her out to be. After all, she had just given birth! She and Joseph had to be blown away by the sheer volume of blessings their baby boy was receiving.

We went to church Christmas Eve. I decided to go, despite feeling nauseated. I love the candlelight service and singing “Silent Night”. While that was moving enough, I was blown away by the sheer number of people who approached me and asked how I was and that they were praying for me. Some I know, most I didn’t. By the time I got to Pastor Brian, I was crying. As I hugged him, I was trying desperately not to use the shoulder of his shirt as a tissue. I didn’t want him to make a bad impression on those who only come to church on Christmas. When another person brought a plate of cookies just for my sons because she thought I wouldn’t feel up to making cookies for them, that was my breaking point. I cried through the whole service. It’s probably a good thing Momma Renie and Papa Dan weren’t there. I would have found Dan and cried like a baby since he reminds me of my own dad. Since he’s the head usher, that would have made collecting the offering a bit interesting with him walking down an aisle and me clinging to him like some sort of weird snake.

On Christmas, I opened my gifts from Sista Sue. She gave me an Angel of Hope. I think this is for both of us. She is reminding me to always have hope, while she remains hopeful that this cancer will be eradicated from my body. The Dammit Doll is much more practical. When you get mad or stressed, you’re supposed to slam it against the wall saying, “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit.” It’s going to chemo with me. I can’t think of any place more appropriate. I may even share it with a couple of the other regulars I know. Chemo patients are a strange lot, but we always stick together.

Last night, I reflected on my blessings. Yes, I have an incredible family, an amazing posse and friends who support all of us. But it’s more than that. I think God brought these particular blessings to me at this particular time to show me that while chemo sucks, it can be conquered. I have a choice to make this week, continue with my present course of treatment for one more cycle or switch to a new drug. Hubby and I believe that doing one more cycle of this cocktail will finally show significant results. My body is slow to respond to most drugs and the trauma of the DVT’s and liver biopsy, along with stress, make it more difficult. We’ve prayed about it and God hasn’t said not to, so we feel we should give these meds one more shot. A CT is tentatively scheduled for the end of January.

These are never easy decisions. My platelets and hemoglobin are at an all time low meaning I’m tired and cold all the time. El Nino is giving us a very mild winter, but, unlike our neighbors, we use heat because I’m always cold. My kids run around in shorts and T-shirts and I’m wrapped up in fleece blankets. But platelets can be transfused and eventually, I do get warm. Staying the course is the mantra of the day and I try to stick with it.

Embrace the unexpected and celebrate your blessings. Life has no guarantees, that’s why today is called the present. May 2016 bring you health, happiness, peace and a cure for cancer.

Great Expectations

I had thought about writing some profound Christmas blog, but I’m not feeling profound.  I’m feeling nauseated.  Nausea and deep thought don’t play well together.  It’s a lot like a couple of two year olds in a sand box.  Everything’s good until someone throws sand, then watch out.

I had a good day today.  I watched the B-Man play basketball (and his team won), then went to breakfast to celebrate the Ultimate Bengal Fan’s Forever Family Day.  Then I was able to head out with the Best Husband Ever to do some Christmas shopping.  I was out for over 6 hours and I don’t need a nap.  Tums, yes, but not a nap.

Christmas is tough when you have cancer, especially when it’s a recurrence.  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it awesome for the boys without going overboard.  It’s a balancing act and I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at it.  I want to get them everything, take them everywhere and watch every Christmas special.  I’ve bought more Christmas movies this year than any previous year (stupid Netflix), just so we can spend time together.  I want to keep them home from basketball and youth group so I can be with them.  I’m gone four days out of the first seven of each chemo infusion so I feel like I’m always gone.  When I am home, I feel like I live on the couch, napping.

The worst part of it is that I feel guilty.  Mom guilt is the worst.  I should do more and be more.  But I can’t, because the stupid chemo has to be extra toxic to kill the stupid cancer.  And at this point, the stupid chemo isn’t doing a very good job of killing the stupid cancer.  I guess the chemo is too stupid to know which cells to kill.  Perhaps I should draw it a picture or let it use the GPS on my phone.  Maybe it needs its very own “tour guide” to show it the way.  As I said, it’s stupid.  And despite its being stupid, I still feel guilty.

People ask me what I want for Christmas.  My first response is “A cure for cancer,” as if anyone could actually give me that.  I feel a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story.  Remember the scene when his mom asks him what he wants for Christmas and he tells her he wants to Red Rider BB gun with real carbine action and a compass in the stock and she tells him he’ll shoot his eye out?  Then Ralphie says he was kidding and would be happy with some Tinker Toys.  I’m Ralphie.  I really want a cure for cancer, but I’d be happy with some new stainless steel cookware or a gift card to Kohl’s.

What I realize is that I need to let go of my expectations.  If I’m going to trust God on this journey, then I need to TRUST Him.  That means that my expectations probably aren’t the same as God’s plan.  It means letting go of what’s happened before, accepting what’s happening and knowing that God knows what will happen and has it under control.

If I let go, my expectations won’t disappoint me.  That’s not to say there won’t be some disappointments along this road.  There will.  Even when I finally reach remission (because failure is not an option here people), there will still be disappointments.  Life is full of them.  The trick is to not let the disappointments become the focal point of your life.  They’re just part of the ups and downs.

So while I’d really like a cure for cancer, which would just exceed my expectations on so many levels, I’d also like a digital camera, some snowmen to add to my collection, a Life is Good shirt and some jewelry to give me some bling.  Any of those would make me happy and actually exceed my expectations (because that means that my family actually listened to me when I told them what I wanted).

While my life is not where I expected, it’s not disappointing.  I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful sons and am still blessed to have my mom.  I am surrounded by an incredible network of friends to are willing to step up and help out.  Combine that with the gift of Christ in the manger and I am bound to have the best Christmas ever.

May you find love, peace, health and happiness in the miracle of Christmas.

 

 

What I Learned from Cancer

I know, it’s been a while. And dear reader, I know you’ve been longing for my nuggets of wisdom (or lack thereof). It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that sometimes life gets in the way of my best intentions. I have been getting ready for school (both here at home and for Learning Tree (#best homeschool co-op EVER), vacationing with one of my dearest friends, and trying to generate some income writing.

However, with a new school year comes looking forward to learning new things. The Ultimate Bengal Fan is doing an in-depth study of American History and I love hearing what he’s learned. B-man is telling me all about Ohio History. All this learning at the homestead has me thinking about what I’ve learned and what I continue to learn on this journey called life.

A couple of days ago my Facebook account showed me my memories from past years. My post on August 23, 2012 went something like, “Visit to the GYN ended with finding out I have a cyst on my left ovary. Ultrasound next week. Nothing like 5 years of fertility drugs to give you side effects.” My post was my usual “Who me, worry?” I remember that day like it was yesterday. I sobbed for hours on end. I KNEW I had ovarian cancer. Don’t know how, but I did. My entry into the world of cancer was swift and painful. I’m still looking for a way out that doesn’t involve ceasing to be an active participant in this world.

I do realize, however, that cancer is a great teacher. Yes, that is a positive and seeing as there are so few, it does bear mentioning. I have learned a great many things; some about myself and some about others. All of them have shaped how I look at the world.

1. Cancer is a jealous lover. Remember the movie Fatal Attraction? Glenn Close played a creepy jilted lover. Cancer is a lot like that. It does not go way quietly. Trust me, there’s nothing quiet about chemo. From the beeping of the IV’s to the quiet moans of pain to railing at God and the universe, there’s no peace. And just when you think you’ve got a chance at staying in remission, it rears it’s ugly head like Jack Nicholson in The Shining and says, “I’m back!” No, mine’s not back, but I hold no illusions that I’ll be able to avoid this intruder for the rest of my life. When cancer wants to return, it will. And if it doesn’t, hooray for Dr. Downer.

2. Family is a relative term. Family is more than who you’re related too. My family of origin is relatively small. When I was diagnosed, my mom and cousin Ginny were really the only two people I spoke with. My husband’s immediate family is a bit larger. My mother-in-law made the 3-1/2 hour drive several times to help me after a chemo treatment and took me for fluids. However, there were other people who surrounded me and became as important as those who society would call my “family.” Momma Renie took me to an ultrasound, stayed with me when I got fluids and loved on my kids (and Mr. Dan helped out too), as well as dried a lot of tears. Sister Sue was there as was my niece Sarah to help out with transportation and child care, loving me as only a sister can. Second mom Kelley stepped up and loved on my children as only a mom can while I was at chemo. Coach Cathy quickly became my trusted confidant when I just couldn’t take one more infusion. While my BFF Denise only visited once, she made it count. She came a few weeks before Christmas and helped me bake cookies and put up the tree when she should have been doing that for her own family. My sister in teal, Lisa, whom I’ve never met except on Facebook, called several times with orders “Do NOT quit!” You don’t say no to Lisa. These people surrounded me and my family and loved us in a way that I still find incredible. God puts who we need in our life and they aren’t always a relative.

3. Laughter really is the best medicine. I love good humor (and the ice cream’s not bad either). In my opinion, my dad had the greatest sense of humor. Even now, I’ll say something and my DH says, “That’s a Budism.” There were a lot of days when I’d think of something my dad would day and would laugh (imagine a 6 year old singing “Walking in My Winter Underwear” to the tune of “Winter Wonderland” and you’ll get the idea). My B-man is a natural comedian and it was healing to my soul. I learned that when life is crappy, find humor. Life probably won’t be any less crappy, but if you can make fun of it, it’s easier to get through.

4. You are always stronger than you think. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that I showed amazing courage during my illness. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me not to be any other way. I had two young sons who needed a mom and a husband who, despite being an incredibly gifted engineer, has a tough time keeping things rolling at home. They needed me. So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, you find a rhythm even if it’s just walking from the bed to the couch, while stopping to get a cup of coffee. It’s like Nike Just Do It! I think God will let me know when it’s time to stop. Until then, you fight like hell.

5. Life is full of choices, not all of which you can control. We all make choices every day. What to wear. What to eat for dinner. What time to go to bed. Those are easy. The hard ones aren’t as easy. The toughest choice I had to make was when Dr. Downer told me that he recommended two additional chemo treatments beyond the 6 initially prescribed. My DH and Mom were supportive, but Coach Cathy cried with me. I was all ready so beaten down. I chose to do number 7, but drew the line at number 8 when my body was so broken that another treatment would have landed me in the hospital. Dr. Downer ultimately decided number 8 was not an option given my body’s physical state, but I’m not sure what my decision would have been if it had been presented to me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that choice, but lots of other teal sisters do every day. The choice of living while being poisoned or dying from the Beast doesn’t really seem like much of a choice.

6. God is always in the storm. I never felt closer to God than when I was battling cancer. Being in the pit, you decide to shun God and “punish” Him or hang on for dear life. There’s a song I love which goes something like this “Sometimes He calms the storm with the words ‘Peace, Be Still.’ He can, but it doesn’t mean He will. Sometimes He holds us close and lets the wind and waves go wild. Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.” He calmed this child in ways I never thought possible. Yes I was nervous, but never afraid. God had this and I was just along for the ride. I vividly remember placing everything in His hands and walking away before my surgery. Unfortunately a few weeks after chemo ended, I snatched it all back. I need to remember that control is an illusion. How I chose to respond is what matters. That applies to everything, not just the Beast.

So I have, like my quote, begun to grasp that the unexpected happens. Courage, grace and humor go a long way to making life more tolerable. Those same attributes will help me as I continue on this journey and as I move onto my next. I am meeting with a dietician this week to get a definite weight loss plan in place. The weight has got to go. I got rid of cancer so now it’s time to get rid of the flab (vacation pictures can make you realize what you really look like). The Beast wants me to keep the fat. You know I hate listening to the Beast so the flab has got to go.

Here’s to lessons learned. May we never stop learning.

If I Knew Then…

This week, my husband and I celebrate 11 years with our Ultimate Bengal Fan. It doesn’t seem like he’s been with us that long. I now have a much clearer understanding of the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Those early days of mommyhood were so long and I spent much of my time wishing they would pass.

The seemingly endless days of early childhood were tough. Unlike the traditional route, where you have several months to prepare for your child, I had 3 weeks. While my husband and I had spent months jumping through hoops at the state and federal level in the US as well as the Russian government, it was all just paperwork. We had a crib and a few other things, but that was it. When you adopt, you don’t have a due date. It’s pretty much a hurry up and wait kind of thing, at least it was with us. One day you’re living your life and the next you’re scrambling to finish paperwork, buy airline tickets, gathering baby things and generally running like a chicken with your head cut off to take off for a foreign country where you can’t even read the alphabet.

I did learn that I love the people of my Fan’s home region in Siberia. It’s beautiful and the people are hard working and friendly. Our return to Moscow was a bit like being in New York City, only you couldn’t read the signs. It’s busy and crowded. I don’t like crowds. And it is a bit disconcerting to go to the grocery and be greeted by guards carrying weapons. Kroger doesn’t look so bad any longer. I learned that while I may not like a lot of things in the US, it’s still better than many other places and I literally knelt down and put my head to the floor after we landed in Boston (despite being tired, I drew the line at actually kissing the ground. I still had a bit of sense after being up for 26 hours straight). I was not only thankful for my home, but that there were changing tables in the bathrooms. It’s the little things, trust me.

It was that trip, and the subsequent one to Guatemala to bring home the B-man, that shaped me for my future challenges. Both my sons faced challenges stemming from being orphaned as infants, albeit different since one was in an orphanage and another in foster care. I learned I’m much more resilient than I give myself credit for. I learned to think on the fly and that life cannot be put into a nice box, allowing you to pick and choose what will happen. It just goes and you have the choice to go follow the current or try to swim upstream. There are times to be the water and times to be the spawning salmon. You just have to know which is which.

Cancer is like that. You have to know when to fight and when to let it go. I’m not talking about the “calling in the hospice” letting it go. I’m talking about taking a nap, letting the chemo do it’s thing and having a pity party kind of letting it go. It was a tough act two years ago and is still a tough act. I’m still fighting the incredibly taxing side effects of chemotherapy. I still fight neuropathy, bone pain, nausea, headaches and stomach issues. Anemia, which I had filed away as a past issue, has raised its ugly head again. The rain today is making me feel achy and just plain yucky. I am bummed because this is the first Saturday in I don’t know how long that I actually had time to attend a volunteer meeting for the Ovarian Cancer Alliance in my hometown. Instead, I’m sitting here hoping that my hands last longer than the words in my head.

I thank God every day for the gift of motherhood. He knew exactly which children we should have and when we needed them. It wasn’t on our timetable, but His. He knew that I would get cancer, but made sure my precious sons were old enough to understand and help me out, but that I would be around to make sure they would continue on their path to be well-rounded, faith grounded and loved beyond measure young men. My prayer has always been to see them start off in their chosen fields (choosing to see them graduate from high school seems cliché. I want to see them soar). He placed us in a homeschool environment so my boys would be able to be hugged, cared for and blessed by people who were friends.

Every day puts the odds into play. Every day is a gift. Good days are filed away and bad days bring home the fact that the battle continues. Cancer is a lot like a foreign country. If you stay long enough, you learn the language, adapt to the weather and find joy in the culture. If I knew then that I would face ovarian cancer, I might have paused about bringing my children home. But then I wouldn’t know what I know now.

The days are long, but the years are short. It’s what you put into them that counts.

Making Memories

10487173_781151851948158_5764858939129974259_nTwo years ago, I found myself desperately wanting to make memories for B-man and the Ultimate Bengals Fan.  It was the day before my surgery and I had this nagging thought that if anything happened to me, I wanted them to have one last fantastic final memory of how cool their mom was.  To take it a step further, earlier in the week I’d asked Other Mom Kelley to take over my homeschooling duties in the event of the unthinkable (in her typical style she told me that we were not going there).  I had a fabulous day of skipping school and shopping for Halloween, buying pumpkins and playing in the park.  I secretly hoped that I would see those costumes on my babies.  I think there was some guilt in the mix because I knew I’d be gone for 3 nights and my hubby would be spending time at the hospital.

Eight days, a pulmonary embolism and a cancer diagnosis later, I was back home.  The future held a port insertion, 7 rounds of chemo, a Thanksgiving that ended up with a bald mom and a Christmas I don’t remember anything about except being horribly sick and tired (unlike my normal sick and tired which occurs when the boys decide to play basketball or soccer in the living room).  There weren’t too many memories made except those that the B-man talks about.  They all involve my bald head.  Apparently, no child appreciates a mom with no hair.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to rely on memories.  A dear friend passed away as a result of her battle with breast cancer.  Ironically, it wasn’t the cancer that killed her, it was the chemotherapy which had damaged her heart beyond repair.  It’s always scary to think that the thing that supposed to cure you tends to end up killing you in the long run.  Anytime another survivor dies, it chips away at my resolve for a bit.  Fortunately, it comes back, but like a scar, the resolve is never quite the same as what it was before.

I find that memories are strange things.  They warp with time.  My memories of my paternal grandma come in flashes now and they are always positive.  Initially, I remembered some negative things, but mostly I just remember being loved.  I have more vivid memories of my maternal grandpa, but even those are more of a reflection from pictures or other events. Time has a strange way of changing things so you only remember what you want.

My Ultimate Bengal Fan recently mentioned that his memories of his beloved Papaw (my dad) were mostly gone.  When I asked him what he did remember, he told me that he remembers being loved.  Nothing else; just loved.  I can’t imagine a better memory of someone than being immersed in an unconditional love.  That’s what Papaw had for his Bengals Fan.  It was a love that transcended this world and has a connection to the next.  Despite the disappointment that B-man feels for not knowing his Papaw, I know there’s a connection there.  Some memories are made by God, others by us and some are a combination of both.

Tomorrow, I get the chance to make more memories.  Cancer wasn’t able to steal that from me.  Chemo might have taken my recall, but not my memories – at least not yet.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I know that the Beast is lurking; looking for a chance to reassert itself into my physical being.  It’s a constant presence in my mind, so I know it’s just dying (excuse the pun) to get another shot at me.  I can only do so much to keep it away.  The rest is in God’s hands, exactly where it belongs.

So tomorrow, I put the Beast back in the box and spend time with the Ultimate Bengals Fan, the B-man and the Best Husband Ever making memories.  While they may fade with time, I hope my “men” remember the love and joy and that it transcends time.

Life Lessons Learned

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.  I’ve found myself in the position to be able to finally begin paying it forward.  Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always a learning experience.  The lessons we learn in life aren’t always easy or pleasant, but I’ve found that they are always necessary and, by and large, come in handy in the future.

I’m a stubborn, strong-willed and independent woman who learned to do a lot by myself.  I married at 29 and my husband worked all the time before we had our kids.  We had a house affectionately dubbed “The Money Pit” that my dad used as a DIY teaching tool.  I learned to wall paper, paint, lay tile, pull up carpet, compare estimates, put together furniture, sand, stain and a whole host of other skills that have served me well in “The Money Pit II.”  I like being independent and figure things out for myself.  Cancer really screwed that up for me.  Suddenly Miss Independent had to ask for help.  It was easy enough when I was in the hospital after the surgery, but as the chemo dragged on I began feeling guilty for needing help. 

Enter my friend Kelley, who became our caterer, chauffer, baby sitter and substitute teacher.  My boys have grown to love her as another mom.  They walk into her house and make themselves at home.  They don’t even treat her as a substitute teacher any longer (meaning they choose to whine, moan and complain about schoolwork, just like they do with me).  I would try to refuse help, but she wouldn’t let me.  Hospitality is one of her spiritual gifts and God certainly has blessed her in that area.  She graciously kept the boys from 7am – 9pm during my chemo days, feeding them 3 meals, going over school work and taking them with her on errands.  I told her over and over that I would never be able to repay her.

Unfortunately, I now find myself in the position of having to reciprocate.  I say that not because I don’t want to, I do.  I just wish I didn’t have to.  No one wants to have to reciprocate this kind of kindness.  Fortunately, Kelley doesn’t have cancer, but she does have a serious orthopedic injury.  My boys remember her in their prayers each night, just like they did me.  I find myself both thanking God for our friendship, while praying that He would grant her wisdom to manage what comes.  I offer what help I can, from buying groceries, to transportation, to keeping her company (she plays a mean game of Bananagrams).  She doesn’t want to impose on me.  I get it.  It’s tough to ask for help.  You don’t want to wear people out.

Another friend, Renie, just finished up chemo and radiation for breast cancer.  We rejoiced on the phone.  It was tough for me when she was diagnosed.  Not only do I love and respect her like a second mom, but she was the first person I’m close to who was diagnosed after me.  It hurt, not only because she had to face the Beast, but because I knew what she was going through.  While no two people walk the identical path, chemo is poison and at some point you will feel like crap.  I hated when she felt that way, knowing that there’s not much you can do about it.

Renie babysat for the boys when I would to see the oncologist, every 3 weeks.  She drove me to appointments.  She sat with me while I got fluids.  She hugged me, cried with me and prayed for me.  When I asked what I could do, she said, “Just be there for me when the time comes.”  And I was with my own hugs, prayers and tears.  No one wants a friend to join your battle with the Beast.  Especially someone you love so very much.

Renie wanted to know what to do now.  She’s done and the oncologist relinquished control.  That feeling that your life is yours again is unsettling.  We talked a bit, but I felt like I needed to offer her more; like I needed to dig deep for some profound insight that would help.  Instead, I offered to meet her for lunch and a glass of wine.  Not feeling the depth here.

I’ve learned that I can’t keep pain away from my friends.  I want to, I really do.  I want them to avoid the helplessness and frustration that comes when your spirit is willing, but your body isn’t.  You want to move, but it’s just not in the cards.  Planning your life around doctor’s visits and therapies, along with all the adjustments you have to make to accommodate your injury or illness is difficult on so many levels.  People see the physical. You have to decide if you’ll share the emotional/psychological side.  God sees it all, but we have a tendency to think we can hide it from Him as well.  If you play the game well enough, people believe you don’t need help and you can be Miss Independent again.  It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.

I’ve learned that I’m blessed with a few people who really love me and my family.  Those are the people I want to keep close.  These are the people who I want around my children.  I turn to these people when I’m scared or happy or need a hand.  And I turn to them when they’re scared, happy or need a hand.  It’s called being family.  It’s called loving each other. 

Will there be times when I don’t want to help?  I’m sure.  There’s days when I threaten to change my name from Mom to something my sons can’t pronounce.  There are days when I want to run away screaming at the top of my lungs hoping the men in white coats will catch me with their net and straight jacket.  I don’t though.  The Beast taught me that even on the worst days at home, those are better than my best days with cancer. 

I hope Renie sees that life becomes a new normal.  You are healed, but still different.  You have two lives; the one before cancer and the one after (I don’t think you actually have a life during treatment because you just feel too lousy to have one).  It’s how you choose to deal with what life throws at you that matters.  There’s no road map, you just sort of blaze your own trail.

As for Kelley, I hope she learns to extend herself some of the grace and hospitality that she so blessedly extends to others.  I hope she realizes that people help out of love, not obligation (well, most people).  But more than that, I hope she learns that times like these are when God works on us the most.  When you are at a point when you depend on others, it’s those times that you most clearly hear God.  And yes, He does have a sense of humor about these things.

My mom says I have to learn the hard way and I do.  I’ve learned the hard way that some people don’t want to deal with me as person in remission.  They don’t want to hear about my residual issues or my fatigue or frustration.  I’ve also learned there are people like Cathy and Lisa who do.  I’ve learned Sue will always be my sister.  I’ve learned that homeschool keeps you sane when your sick.  I’ve learned that Renie and Kelley are incredible friends.  I’ve learned that Kyle uses the tangible to show he cares (by making mom sandwiches and keeping water bottles filled) and Braeden uses humor to deal with stress (mine and his).  The fact that I married an incredible man has been reinforced beyond what I could have ever imagined (any man who willingly sits through a pelvic exam with his wife is amazing and John’s done it more times than any man should have to). 

Some of us are a quicker study than others.  Some of us never learn.  I hope that I’m able to both learn and share what I’ve learned the same way people have shared with me.  That would be the best lesson learned.

 

Ten Years of Life

It’s ironic that the snow is falling and it’s cold today.  I hesitate to use the term “bitterly” because I’ve been where it’s bitter cold and this, I’m afraid to tell you, isn’t.  Bitter cold is taking a breath in through your scarf and the cold still burns your lungs and freezes the mucous inside your nose.  It’s spitting and having it freeze before it hits the ground.  THAT is bitter cold.  This is just chilly.

It was in bitter cold that John and I made the trek 10 years ago today to a military style courthouse in Chita.  We sat in a cold hallway waiting for the translator to tell us it was time for our hearing.  The courtroom was even colder since it had tall windows along one wall that were thick with ice on the outside.  The judge strode in along with everyone else and began barking out the proceedings in Russian.

Now, when we landed in Moscow the first thing that struck me was that the Cold War was still going on.  The airport was painted in a cheery military gray and there were armed guards EVERYWHERE.  In the midst of this, VH1 was on and there stood Mick Jagger on an 8 foot high screen belting out “Brown Sugar.”  I still get a headache from the paradox.

Traveling to a foreign country is a unique experience.  Now imagine doing it with $20,000 in cash strapped to your body.  John and I had managed to split it up so we didn’t have to declare it coming into the country.  We still panicked through customs, especially since we were the last Americans off our plane, the last to have our passports and visas stamped and the last to figure out where the heck we had to go.  Finally we found our translator and she helped us get our luggage and explained the ground rules for the rest of our time in Moscow.

From Moscow to Chita, we were treated to an Aeroflot flight. Now, if you’ve never had the opportunity to fly on a post-Soviet era Aeroflot jet, DON’T.  Seriously, run away!  While standing on the runway with the couple we were traveling with to the region, the maintenance crew started tapping on the front landing gear with a screwdriver.  Now, I am in no way a mechanical person, but it seems counterintuitive to tap on metal and rubber in the cold with a sharp instrument.  My expertise is limited to watching Delta at the gate.  I never saw them do it, so I’m assuming it’s an Aeroflot thing.

We were assured our crew spoke English.  Yep, “Meat or Chicken?” “Water, no gas?” (Sparkling water is the drink of choice in Russia.  This is flat water like what comes from the tap) and “You okay?” were the sole words we heard.  Children were given potty chairs to use.  The little girl in front of me used hers twice during the 6 hour flight.  That was fun, especially since it was stored under her seat by my feet.  I dropped my chicken on the floor.  The plane’s bathroom was an experience.  I quit drinking immediately after I used it an hour into our six hour flight and began about an hour before we would land knowing I could probably hold it until I got to the terminal.  As I waited an man who obviously flew with a flask of vodka let me have it in Russian.  He had tried to ask me a question and my response was, “Sorry, English speaker.”  What a tirade.  Of course, I am one of the few people I know who can say they’ve been cussed out in Russian.

The landing was fun – if you like ceiling tiles falling out on your head connected only by shoestrings.  Yes, shoestrings.  The look on John’s face is etched permanently in my mind.  Normally, we are patient and will wait to exit the plane.  I have never seen my husband move so quickly to get our things and shove us off a plane.

Exiting the plane, that was an adventure.  Imagine walking onto another planet.  That’s what we did.  It was cold (-20F) and everyone is bundled up to their eyeballs.  You walk down the steps and onto the tarmac.  It’s 7AM but pitch black.  Only the lights of the terminal and the runway are visible.  There’s ice fog in the distance.  You are searching in vain for the one person you know speaks English.  Fortunately I am married to a very tall man and Katia (our host and translator) was able to spot John right away.  She led us inside and to a clean bathroom.  After waiting for over an hour for our luggage (yep, it happens in small airports too).

At this point, I am ready to chuck the entire trip.  When I landed in Moscow, which was my first time out of the country, I sobbed – for hours.  I wanted my Dad.  I wanted my bed.  I didn’t care why I had made the trip, I just wanted to go home.  Even though the staff at the hotel spoke English, I couldn’t read anything.  It was in Cyrillic. I had never felt so utterly alone.

Our arrival at Baby House #1 was surreal.  The outside of the orphanage looked like a gingerbread crazed designer had taken over the playground.  The playground was decorated in lollipops, gingerbread houses, sugar plums and anything else you can imagine, encased in a half foot of snow with a thick layer of ice on top.  My glasses were fogged up from the change in temperature. When we entered the building the blast of steam heat caused my glasses to steam up more then defrost.

As we were lead through the Soviet era building to the music room, we met the 3 year olds who had been practicing for their New Years concert.  Despite being cold, their little faces thawed all of us out.  Then the wait began.  This was why we had traveled half way around the world.  After 20 minutes, it was all worth it.  A baby boy with the most beautiful gray eyes and charming smile was placed in my arms.  Despite John’s comment that he had a big, pale head, I was in love.  This was the son God had promised me.  I felt like Sarah holding Isaac for the first time.  This was my child.

As I look over the last ten years, it’s been quite a ride.  Kyle has faced his fair share of struggles.  He has chronic gastritis caused by an antibiotic resistant ulcer as well as some other challenges that are a result of spending the first 5-1/2 months of his life in an institution with only his most basic needs being met (he remained in the baby hospital until there was room for him in the orphanage).  When he was transferred to Baby House #1 the head caretaker, Ludmila, made sure he was cuddled, sung to and loved until John and I got there.  I firmly believe that his intense love of music is a direct result of Ludmila singing to him every day.

Kyle has had to deal with more loss in his young life than most twenty-somethings have ever had to face.  He lost his family of origin and his caretakers before he was 8 months old.  He lost his beloved Papaw shortly before his 3rd birthday.  His Opi died before his 6th birthday.  Our family dog, who fiercely protected Kyle from the moment she met him, died in 2010.  Last year, he had to face the very real possibility that his mom might die.

My son is amazingly resilient.  I know he still fears losing me as much as I fear leaving him and his brother.  Next week, I see my oncologist for my quarterly appointment.  While he never says anything, you can see the subtle change in his eyes.  He is more willing to hug me.  He will actually sit by me on the couch.  He never talks about how scared he is, because he is trying to be strong for me.

This child, who I would willingly give my life for, has put himself in front of me being my anchor to this world.  In the little bit he has said, he firmly believes that we can beat cancer.  Not me, not my oncologist, but we.  He pushes me to be my best.  He reads labels for soy and artificial sweeteners.  He looks for opportunities to lay a teal ribbon.  He sends “hellos” to my chemo nurse, even though he’s never met her.  I always ask the boys if they have a message for my oncologist when I go to see him.  Kyle’s is always “Please keep my mom safe.”  Not cure my mom, not keep the cancer away necessarily.  Just keep her safe.  It’s as if he knows that someday I won’t be here, but for as long as he needs me, do your best to keep her here since I’m not ready to let her go yet.

So with tears streaming (yes, I do cry when I write these), I can hear my son flipping the pages of his beloved Sports Illustrated Kids. Occasionally he will spout off a statistic, but mostly I am hearing the sound of pages turning. While he can drive me nuts, as all kids can, I am so thankful that I have yet another year to celebrate the Forever Family that God blessed me with.  Please God, keep me healthy so I can see him and his amazing baby brother, grow into the strong young men you want them to be.

Happy Forever Family Day, Dma.  Know what whatever happens, your Momma loves you more than you will ever know.