Sing for the joy that's found in setting up the pins and knocking them down

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Eric, do you know?

Do you know that in 2 short days you will be gone from us for a year?
Do you know that the combination of snow falling and the scream of an ambulance makes my eyes fill with tears, every time?
Do you know that Henry went into your closet (which will always and forever be called your closet even when it fills up with my clothes) and pulled out the leather jacket that I gave you as a wedding gift and has been wearing it ever since?
Do you know that Beatrice sleeps in your ratty Eddie Bauer sweater that I've been trying to get rid of for years?
Do you know that just last week Simon told me that he didn't cry for the months after you died, but lately it makes his eyes fill with tears when he thinks about you?
Do you know that the Scout leaders at 409 wear a patch with a Dutch oven that says "Eric"?
Do you know that I can't change the voice message on your cell phone even though it's been Simon's phone for the last year?
Do you know that some nights I spray your cologne on my pillow hoping that you will be in my dreams?
Do you know that I'm done with my treatments, my surgery, my cancer stuff and that I'm alright?
Do you know that we joke about putting a big nativity scene in the front yard now that you're gone?  (Don't worry, we won't)
Do you know that each and every time I see a mini van like yours I check to see if it's you?  So far, no luck.
Do you know that just the other day Simon held up his thumb and finger showing me the space of a couple of inches and said, "This is about the amount of time we have to be alive on earth" and then pointing outside to the horizon he said, "and the time we get to be in heaven just goes on and on. Mom, we're going to be with Dad in no time and then we'll be together forever."
Do you know that the weekend is the hardest because that's when we spent the most time together and every time I sit in church I think about what it felt like to have you slip your arm around me?
Do you know that I still sleep only on my side of the bed?
Do you miss me?
Do you know that Henry and I didn't want them to take you away with the shirt you were wearing that day (because it was the same shirt you were wearing the day he was born) so we wrestled you out of it and laughed about how much I hated that shirt and how perfectly ironic it was that you would die in it?
Do you even care about any of this?
Do you wish we were with you?
Do you know that we buried you right by your Grandpa Buys, just yards away from corn and alfalfa fields?
Do you now know the answers to all the questions you had here on earth?
Do you spend time with my dad?
Do you ever see Cassie? Arie? Luke? Grandma Rynders?
Do you know how inadequate I feel some days as a single parent?
Do you know how amazingly strong and resilient our children are?
Do you know that we still laugh?
Do you know that we still cry?

There you have it.  I spend a lot of time wondering about what Eric thinks about right now--what he knows right now.  I know that many of my fellow Christians feel that once we are in the presence of God that the things of this world grow dim--unimportant, so to speak.  I'm absolutely certain that that's true and I wouldn't want to imagine Eric fretting around about what's going on down below.  But it's also hard for me to wrap my head around his separation from us.  Is the veil between us sheer and airy or a thick heavy tapestry.  I think anyone who has lost someone has to wonder about the connection between the here and now and the there and ever after. So we're left to wonder about these things, I don't imagine that Eric's God-created mind has been erased of the relationships and history that he held so dear during his time on this earth.

So how do I imagine him?  That's a good question.  During those moments in church when we're belting out one of our favorite songs or hymns and I can feel my eyes fill with tears, those are the moments that I think "This must be what it's like up there".  Some days I almost raise my hand in praise.  I said almost because the Dutch in me just can't quite do it yet.  When we're singing those songs, those favorites, I imagine him singing right beside me, drowning me out with his big, bold voice.  In that moment he feels very close.  Heaven feels very close.  I like that.  It comforts my weary heart.

So I'll wonder about him today, this week, for years to come, until I join him in heaven to worship next to him once again.  Right now I have all these questions, but I'm pretty sure at that moment all the questions will fall away and the only question and answer that matters will be the one that got us to that glorious place.

This is probably Eric's favorite question and answer--not probably, it is definitely his favorite.  It is Heidelberg Catechism question and answer number 1.  He committed it to memory and recited it to us often.  We read it on a very cold December day as we laid him to rest.  I think if he could talk to me today he would tell me that it was the only answer that really mattered.

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, 
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 
He also preserves me in such a way 
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 
indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me
of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Letter to Dawn of one year ago...

Dear Dawn,

Today will be a pivotal day in your life.  You will get a phone call from an oncology nurse that will change a lot of things around you and inside of you, but it won't change who you are.  You know deep down inside that you can get through hard things--you have always known that.  Today and in days to come that will be put to the test. Always remember that you're stronger than you think you are.

Over the next year you will find yourself surrounded by the most remarkable support system.  You won't be able to escape it.  It will be as overwhelming as the news you received today about your cancer.   This amazing group will be made up of your husband, your children, your families, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow church members and even complete strangers.  They will encourage you with hugs, phone calls, gifts,  text messages, emails, cards, food and prayers that will keep you going through the most difficult days.  Let that group of people help you even when it's hard to accept it.  Some days the help might be something that's equally important for them to do as it is for you to receive.  Don't be too proud to take the help that's lovingly offered to you. 

Rest assured, you will be tended to by the most amazing doctors.  They will be more than doctors, they will become your friends, your team members.  You will cry in their offices and laugh at their jokes.  They will look you in the eyes and tell you that they can help you and they will mean it.  They will ask you where your strength comes from.  Don't ever, ever miss an opportunity to tell them where your strength and comfort comes from.  

You're going to pound your fists on your steering wheel and cry hot, angry tears when you hear this difficult news.  Get it out.  Tell God how angry you are and how it doesn't seem fair to your little family.  He can handle it.  He created every cell in your broken body and he's catching every tear in his very capable hands. In the next year you will learn to love and rely upon him more than you ever dreamed possible.  He will be there in the cold, dark nights and he will greet you each morning with a fresh day.  He will bring you emails, cards and conversations at the exact moment that you need them.  He will make your witness strong and will give you so many opportunities to encourage people even as you struggle.  

Here's the truth, chemo will suck.  I mean really, really suck.  Night 4 will be the worst.  On those Monday nights you will cry yourself to sleep.  You will feel awful physically and emotionally.  The darkness will be heavy.  Let that be your day to sink into the sadness.  Let it go dark for a while because I promise you the sun will rise again the next morning.  Trust me. 

You will come to love those people who work with you at the oncology clinic.  They will totally be able to sense that you're not a big fan of being part of their club and they will kindly serve you and tend to you in spite of your stand-offish ways.  After a year, they will greet you by name and you will ask them about their kids.  Take a minute to talk to the chatty lady next to you who's got the battle scars of a tough cancer road.  Let her encourage you.  In a year, you'll be the one telling someone that they're in good hands and they'll be just fine.

And don't be too hard on yourself.  This year you will be tempted to handle your cancer and your obstacles better than anyone else ever has.  You're going to be crabby and short with your kids.  Your house is going to get messy and the laundry will pile up.  Go to bed early when you need it.  Just for the record there is no special prize for being the best at handling tough days.  The gift is getting through them and getting a new one each morning.

You know how your brother once told you that he liked to climb mountains because he wanted to see how hard he could push himself.  It's going to be that kind of year.  This year will force you to dig deep and figure out where your strength comes from.  You will learn to love, love, love the verse, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  You will feel weak, but you will also feel God's power.  Your roots will be growing deep even when your leaves are scattered on the cold ground.  

Last but not least.  You will laugh.  Read that again because you're not going to believe it today, but you will laugh often.  You will feel joy, real joy.  Soak in those times and use them to get you through the days where laughter doesn't come as easily.  Remember when the kids were little and everyone was crabby and Eric would say at the dinner table, "I don't think we've had a good laugh today yet" and we would force ourselves to laugh until it kicked in and we were all really laughing.  Do that.  A lot.

So in closing, hang in there.  When you're sad be really sad and when you're happy don't apologize for it.  

And not to spoil the ending, but everything's going to be alright.  



PS.  You're going to love your new boobs and cute bras are definitely in your future.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Can't Wish Him Back

For a couple of reasons, today I ended up logging into my Caring Bridge account.  There I found the long list of sites I have followed over the years.   It's a rough list.  As I look down the line there are very few who haven't passed on or are on a health road that is far from easy.  Out of nowhere, I decided that I wanted to read the last updates around Eric's surgery which took place well over two years ago.  I don't know that I could have read these six months ago or even six days ago, but today I needed to remember my thoughts and feelings at that season of my life.

Sometimes you have to look backwards to really see how far you've come.  The voice of those entries was really trying to be brave, to put a happy face on the heaviness that was happening within her own four walls.  I could feel the fear of the unknown and the relentless waves of disappointment.  Those were difficult days and my heart breaks for the struggles that Eric endured as he recovered from that last surgery.  I would sleep out on the couch while he tried to find maybe one hour of comfort in the recliner.  I would hear him get up in the night and pray that I wouldn't hear him hit the floor if he passed out.  There was physical pain and there was emotional uncertainty.  I have nothing but respect for the courage he showed in dealing with it all.  Those were incredibly tiring and tedious times in our life.

What would life be like if I were still adding journal entries to his story?  What if there were more entries around a surgery in December or a trip down to Mayo in the spring?  Selfishly, I want him back at my dinner table, behind the wheel driving my kids to their activities and looking at me from his pillow as I prattle on about my day.  That's what I want and when I imagine it, he's healthy and strong. When I look back at those journal entries I know that we were saved pain and suffering.  We were saved a decline in Eric's health that would have no doubt been difficult.  What I'm saying is that God's divine timing is perfect, even when it's perfectly painful,

As I read each entry on his site, I had to admit these words to myself, I wouldn't want him back.  I wouldn't want him to wake up short of breath one more time, I wouldn't want him to have to make one more trip to the ER, to have to pause one more time, winded, at the top of a staircase.  I love him enough not to want that for him even though I can feel his immense love for us in the way he bravely battled the broken heart God gave him. I am glad he fought, but I'm grateful that he can now rest.

I found two different updates that I wanted to share from the journal entries.

From May 2, 2102  "A bruised reed He will not break."  To be very honest, we've felt more bruised in the last several weeks than we ever have in our lives and this promise is one that we cling to.  We are thankful that God never gives us more than we can handle and that he surrounds us with people to hold us up when we go through periods of trial.  This is all part of our story and we thank you for the roles which you play in it.

What I've learned in the past year is that God almost always gives us more than we can handle. That's how he designs it so that we absolutely have to lean into his strong arms for comfort, for guidance and for strength.  He doesn't expect us to go it alone.  He provides his strength through his promises, his hope and through a thousand different people who come alongside you, give you encouraging words or simply warm your day with a smile as you pass in the hallway.  

From March 7, 2012  Part of me thinks that I should write some really mushy stuff but in truth if you like that kind of stuff you probably get 4 emails forwarded to you each week full of that.  I do appreciate your prayers for my health and especially for Dawn and the kids.  They are real troopers and I am very proud of how they manage all of this.  
Thanks again. Eric

The second paragraph is one that was written by Eric on the eve of his last big surgery.  I think it shows his always present sense of humor and his gratitude for the overwhelming support for our family.  I also think it's what he would still say to all of you who have loved us so well over this last year. 

I had completely forgotten about the little note he asked me to post on March 7, 2012.  Maybe I was supposed to forget about it so that I could rediscover it today when I needed to hear his love, his humor and his encouragement to his family.  I'd be lying to you if I said that I don't spend considerable time wondering what Eric would think of how we're doing today.  Now I think I know.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What I want you to know about being a widow...

What I want you to know about being a widow:  I’ve been a widow for 7 month and 28 days.  Those stats might lead you to believe that I have some chart affixed to my fridge where I’m crossing off days each morning as I reach for the creamer for my coffee.  That would be wrong.  I just looked at my calendar and quickly and unemotionally did the calculations in my head.  It wasn’t always that way.  The first couple of days after he left I couldn’t get past 3:07 pm without a lump forming in my throat, then it was Wednesday afternoons that were a hurdle and at this point I still take pause each month on the 4th—it’s doubly bad if it happens to land on a Wednesday.  I suspect that eventually one of those 4ths will pass by without my noticing and I will have reached a new sense of freedom in my widowhood. But today, I'm still well aware that Monday will mark 8 long months without my husband. 

I became a widow at 44, nearly 22 years after I became a wife.  Eric and I planned to have a big celebration when the years that we had been married were longer than the years that we hadn’t.  We didn’t quite make it.  The time we had together was good--not perfect because its participants were far from perfect.  But as I look in the rear view mirror at it, we had a solid and healthy and really fun marriage.  I could tell you a thousand reasons why my husband was an amazing man who loved me completely and faced his failing heart bravely, but I won’t.  Lots of women have wonderful husbands who fill nearly all their needs and only occasionally drive them completely crazy—mine was one of those.

There are a couple of things that widows have in common.  We all carry around the story of our rite of passage into widowhood.  For some widows, it’s those last minutes with their husband, for some it’s a phone call that changes their status and for others it happens while they sleep.  However it happens the end result is the same—a passing away of the old and an ushering in of the new.  My transition came one December afternoon while the snow blanketed the world and brought along with it a coldness that never entirely lifts.  I told my failing husband, “Help is on the way, they’ll be right here.  They can help you.”  As those words left my mouth, I’m certain he was experiencing a kind of help that I could never imagine in my wildest and most amazing dreams.  Widowhood crept in as the ambulance attendant asked, “Who can we call?”  It became even more real as I helplessly pleaded with my sixteen-year-old, “Is today the day, is this how it all ends?  Is he really going to leave us.”   One minute I was his wife and in his last breath, I became a widow. 

Another thing we have in common is that we hate the word widow—but there’s no other word.  Survivor is a more accurate term, but that’s used for lots of things:  the list of family on an obituary, reality show winners and cancer patients—which I also happen to be but I’m saving that for another submission, What I Want You to Know About Having Breast Cancer While Your Husband Passes Away…yep, sometimes truth and my life is stranger than fiction.  I was informed by a friend that I should be thankful to even have a word—thankful?  Having lost a 9-year-old daughter several years ago she pointed out that there’s no word for losing a child.  She’s right—children without parents are orphans and spouses without spouses are widows and widowers, people who can’t or don’t have children are barren or childless, but there’s no word for losing one of your children when you have others. Someone should come up with a word for that.  They, of anyone, deserve to have a word.  So with that kind of perspective I’m glad to have a word, even if I’m not a big fan of joining the club. 

I also know that you struggle to know what to say to me.  Here's a quote from CS Lewis' book, A Grief Observed--a brilliant and angry book that Lewis wrote after the death of his wife. "I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll say something about it or not.  I hate it if they do and if they don't."  Lewis nailed it.  I feel exactly the same way.  I recently had dinner with some friends and no one asked about my widowness.  In my mind I felt a little like my left arm was on fire and no one offered to get up from the table for an extinguisher.  On the flip side, I certainly don't want the whole conversation to revolve around the fact that my arm is on fire, I'm completely aware that there are topics that are much more entertaining.  But even a "Wow, that must really hurt..." would have been better than simply ignoring my smoldering arm.  It makes me reflect on a couple of meals where I probably let someone's arm be reduced to ashes while I munched on my salad.  Sorry for that.

Being a widow (and reading CS Lewis) has showed me that loss it part of love.  Did Eric and I think we would die together in some kind of tragic exit from this life--the likelihood was slim.  If most couples are honest, they know that one of them will always leave the other behind.  Here is Lewis' quote, "...bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.  It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer.  It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases: not an interruption of the dance, but the next figure."  Should we be so surprised about this part of the plan?  Sure, I know that I'm relatively young and Eric was, as well, but part of the strength of our marriage was that we did spend a good deal of energy preparing for someone's early departure.  It was an ironic blessing of our marriage and one that I hope others take away from our experience.

Last, but certainly not least, a widow spends most of her days suspended between two things--honoring the memory of her husband and moving at a healthy pace away from that life she knew with him.  I loved Eric the best that I humanly could and he loved me right back.  His fingerprints and words are all over my children and our household, but he of all people would want to see us march bravely forward without him.  I can never forget him, no more than I can forget about my ash covered left arm.  It will always be with me.  He will always be part of my life story, our story.  I am a widow, but if I let it be the biggest label in my life it will cripple me and my household. I need to give it its proper place but focus on roles that have life and a call to my future--mother, friend, sister, child of God.  That being said, I wear the label Widow with some honor because it means that I belonged to someone.  I was the person he pointed to across a crowded room when was telling someone about his wife.  I mattered to him so this label still matters to me.  It is the leftover shadow of my amazing role as a Eric's wife.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Time to Celebrate / Cancer Update

I'm going to take it from the top for those of you who might have joined us late or would rather not sift through old postings saying, "When exactly did she start this all...."

  1. I found a lump on October 19 and was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 24.  
  2. Left breast, 2 o'clock, 2.2 cm mass - invasive carcinoma, your traditional breast cancer.  One cancerous node which automatically tips you into the oh crap category
  3. Triple positive--estrogen, progesterone, & HER/neu  
    • A little aside story here.  My brother, Brent came to my initial appointment with my surgeon who he had done part of his residency with at Abbott.  As Dr. Anderson went through all these "positives" the diagnosis sounded increasingly more ominous.  I think at one point I looked at my brother and said, "Am I completely screwed?"  It was so great to have him there to assure me that, yes, it was bad, but what I had was very treatable and would play nicely with treatment.  
  4. 6 rounds of chemo starting November 14 and ending March 10 (every three weeks).  I take a cocktail of Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and the newly approved, Perjeta (Pertuzumab).  I was one of the first 5 people to receive Perjeta at Abbott.  Also decided, with a little help from my friends to do cold-capping to save me from chemo hair loss-yay!
  5. Once chemo was wrapped up, I continue to get a bag of Herceptin pumped into me every 3 weeks for a year (ending mid November).  It's an easy process and leaves me with very few, if any, side effects.  
  6. Daily Tamoxifin pills for the next 5 to 10 years--no biggie. 
  7. March 14 MRI shows cancer is gone and the yucky chemo has done its job!
  8. April 14 Bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and 3 nodes removed successfully.  All cancer was completely responsive to (killed by!) chemo.
Normally, per standard care treatment, this all would be followed up by radiation (5 weeks, 5 days per week) due to the fact that the cancer had spread to my nodes.  I'm told that I'm a candidate for the B51 study which due to my complete response to chemo gives me a 50/50 chance of having radiation.  I talk to my brothers, my oncologist, surgeon, anyone who will listen...looking at my options.  If I just go ahead and have radiation it feels like I'm covering all my bases, really killing anything that might be lurking inside of me.  On the flip side, radiation comes with its own set of risks and might not be necessary.  I ask my oncologist, "If I was your wife, what would you advise?"  He said he could honestly tell me to do one thing or the other--they just don't know if radiation (for people with my type of cancer and response) improves your prognosis and that's why they're doing this study.  I decide to be part of the study.  I pray like crazy that God, in his infinite wisdom will control the "coin toss" and do what's best for my body and His plan for my life down the road.  I also pray for peace with whatever the decision is.

On Friday I received word that I had been entered into the study and I didn't have to do radiation!  Okay, I was happy and relieved.  I had truly prepared myself for either outcome, but it was so good to get a pass on this.  Now I can truly get on with my recovery and know that the worst is behind me. And I'm not one bit freaked out by not having radiation.

I've had the most amazing doctors, nurses and medical staff (well there was that one nurse in radiation...) during this whole process.  I'm so grateful for their brilliance and their kindness.  This has been a long road and I'm not quite done, but I'm definitely making my way down the easier side of the mountain.

PS.  I've attached the photo of my first report from my oncologist, Dr. Bloom.  He used to be a stand-up comedian in New York--need I say more.  He even made cancer funny.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Managing Expectations

Our sermon at church last week started by laying out the notion that our expectations shape how we see the world--for good or not so good.  I'll be the first to admit that my misguided expectations have been the source of a great deal of unhappiness in my life.  Mother's Day is a perfect example.  I am a horrible person on Mother's Day--there I said it.  In the past I've let every cliche, worldly, Hallmark expectation ruin many good Sundays over the years.  If Mother's Day is anywhere on heaven's radar, I'm certain Eric is breathing a sigh of relief that he doesn't have to deal with me tomorrow.  I would try to tell myself not to expect too much--maybe a simple breakfast in bed with dry toast and sloshed over orange juice.  Then the day would begin and someone would ask me to find their socks or do something motherly and my grumbling would begin...  My dear husband would get out of bed give me a sleepy kiss and mumble "Happy Mother's Day".   Resentfully I would think, "Where are the flowers, the thoughtful card about all the hard work I do around here..."  Then there was the dreaded year that my children made me a giant-sized card at Sunday School where they were to list the things that their mom was good at.  My children have a sense of humor (although I evidently do not on Mother's Day) and listed things like this:  Talking to her sister, Going out with her friends, Going shopping, Going to movie club, Doing her nails...  I read the card, felt completely unappreciated and then threw a monster-sized temper tantrum like some kind of toddler and finally--to preserve my own dignity--Eric sent me to my bedroom for a time out.  If my kids need therapy some day it might stem back to that Sunday.

About expectations.  I still have them.  I expected to have my husband around for a few more years.  I expected to be healthy.  I expected to have one more Father's Day with my dad.  Mostly, I expected that if I lived a good Christian life and checked all those boxes that God would bless me with easy days and sleep-filled nights.  My expectations were wrong.  It's hard for God to grow people when all of their expectations match up with the reality of their life.  God can't do much with us when we're comfortable.  Our roots grow deeper when an unexpected storm causes us to sway in the wind--when our branches snap and we have to grow a new one.  If someone outlined my life 6 months ago, I would have expected it to ruin me, leave me rocking in a corner.  Many of you have expressed to me that you couldn't endure what my life is like right now--you have an expectation that it would destroy you.  Your expectation is wrong.  You would survive by the grace that God provides for such a time as this.  He doesn't mince words on his one, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.  So we can wholeheartedly expect that He will be there when the hard times come and we can also expect that those will most definitely come.  Over the last months I have been grown and have received so many blessings through a life path that I would have never expected to have to walk.

There are moments when God gently or gigantically realigns our expectations.  Just prior to one of Eric's many heart procedures, I remember having the hope, the expectation, that this procedure would resolve his rhythm problems.  I expressed this to his doctor.  He looked at me with kind and sympathetic eyes and said, "I know you want this fix to keep his heart from going out of rhythm, but the reality is that when I look at the condition of his heart, I think it's a miracle that it ever stays in rhythm at all."  Everything in my head had to adjust.  I was expecting a miracle, only to find out that I was already living in the reality of that miracle.  It was a sobering, but sweet reminder that maybe we're smack dab in the middle of something good, but we're missing it because we expect something better or different.

What are you expecting out of your life?  Health, happiness, success?  Are you expecting that God will bring you a great husband, successful children?    Are you expecting that your spouse will love you perfectly or that you will outlive your children?  Are you expecting another day to put things right in your life? Are you expecting things of this earth to fill a heaven-shaped void?   Expectations are not all bad, but they often become the guiding compass of our life and when they disappoint us we feel like either we've failed or possibly God has failed us.  What I've learned to expect is that God is in my tonights and my tomorrows. He is there to catch my tears of disappointment and He is there orchestrating my surprise successes.  He has a plan that I may not understand or appreciate with my earthly senses.  I expect that I might not be the main character of the story and that I might not completely understand the plot line while on this earth.  I expect that I will need Him to get through each minute of each day.  I expect that He is in control and I expect that His love is greater than any of my expectations.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacred Schedules and Earthly Eyes

Today is surgery day--bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  I'm up early because the blowing wind outside was keeping me awake and it also gave me opportunity to squeeze in one last cup of coffee before my 8 hour pre-op window closes.  I can honestly say that I'm not even very anxious about today.  The bag is packed, I've got the kids taken care of, my sister-in-law arrived last night to be my driver and overnight nurse at the hospital, my brother (who just happens to do mastectomies as part of his daily work) is driving to meet us at the hospital and care for me once I'm home.  Everything is in place from a practical stance.

Eric should be here.  He really should be.  He sat beside me when we put these plans into motion and he really should be here to see this through.  But he's not and as Christians we throw out phrases like God's perfect plan, perfect timing, all in His control, and on and on. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't just a little frustrated with God's timing.  The straw that is weighing heavy on the camel's back is that at this moment my father is in a hospital bed four hours away from me while my mother dozes in an uncomfortable recliner at his side.  He's fighting his own horrible battle with cancer and his prognosis is not nearly as glamorous as mine.  I want to be there, they want to be here.  We ache and pray for each other and say through tear-filled eyes, "thy will be done on earth..."

I remember a sermon on this type of topic and the pastor used this phrase repeatedly in reference to God's ways, "I wouldn't have done it that way..."  These questionable story lines have always been a part of my life.  I wouldn't have given a great man a bad heart.  I wouldn't have put a truck in the intersection when that dear girl rode her bike across the road.  I wouldn't have given that couple a sweet baby just to take it away.  I wouldn't have taken that husband while his wife battled cancer.  There are so many things I would do differently through my early point of view.  The pastor's point was not to condemn God's ways, but to show that they are higher than ours.  What we see dimly, he sees with complete clarity for all times past, present and future.  Even though I believe it enough to base my whole life on his plan for me, it doesn't make it easy some days.

There's a song that I loved when the kids were little call "Parade" by Go Fish.  I still think of the chorus and sing it in my head on mornings like this:

You see the whole parade 
From the beginning to the end
You know the route that my life will take
You know exactly where I've been
Cause while I only see what's goin' by in front of me
You see the whole parade.

So today, I'll keep walking in this parade, one step at a time, believing that someone with a better plan and a better view than me has laid out the whole route of my life for my good and the good of His people.  I know those are just nice Christian words, but I either believe them or I throw in the towel and take my place on the curb.  I'm choosing to keep walking and to believe.

Isaiah 55:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Going Public

WCCO came out and filmed me at my work about 6 weeks ago.  The story was about how cold capping can help cancer patients keep their hair through chemo treatment.

I've attached a link to the segment, but honestly I can hardly watch it.  Of course there are the natural things--I wish I had lost 20 or 30 lbs before they filmed me, I wish I could have cut, colored and styled my hair (all forbidden when you're cold capping) and do I always shrug my shoulder like that when I'm talking???  There are plenty of things that only I see when I watch it--I see someone who wishes they spent more time in intentional prayer, not just a fall-back plan when sleep escapes you at 4:00 in the morning.  I see someone who worries about the effects of all of this on her children and wishes they were more open about how they're feeling.  I also see a woman who more than any thing would like to go back to being 10, riding her Shetland pony and getting called into the house to sit down to a warm meal surrounded by family.  It's hard to stomach that woman's life--it's hard to accept that it's the story of my life.

So why did I do it?  Primarily, I wanted to get the word out there about cold cap therapy.  I've talked to so many women who admitted that losing their hair was far more traumatic than what they had anticipated.  I'll admit something to you.  I was terrified of cold capping--far more nervous about it than the chemo itself.  I wanted people to know that it was tolerable and my result was fantastic.  I also wanted to publicly acknowledge my amazing co-workers who have been right beside me through this whole process.  My home is forever changed by Eric's absence but at work I can get lost in meetings, emails and phone calls.  All things that keep me moving forward and help me adjust to the new path my life has taken.

Marc, who was also interviewed for the story and whose wife has become a dear and admired friend, is one of two people that I mainly work for.  The other is the CEO of the company.  Our CEO was the first person I told about my cancer.  I received the call at work and I knew that this news would greatly impact my work life.  I walked straight into his office and told him.  He embraced me, I shed some tears and he said, "I know I can be pretty demanding but when the chips are down, I'm the guy you want in your corner.  You're like family to me and I've got your back."  He has never failed on those promises.  I honestly cannot say enough good about all the wonderful praying, laughing co-workers that I'm blessed with.

So here's another piece of my cancer story.  Cold capping was a choice that I feared was based in vanity, but in hind-sight gave me back the ability to at least fake a little normal in my life.  Please feel free to contact me for any additional info around this very "cool" option for keeping your lovely locks when you're fighting something ugly like cancer.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Emergency Rooms

Sunday was often an emergency room day.  This morning as I lay in bed wondering what our day holds, I remembered that.  We would have been busy on Saturday--running errands, driving kids, working in the yard.  Somewhere during those mundane, life-filled hours his heart would have slipped out of rhythm.  We would assess the situation and decide that Sunday morning was as convenient as any time to right the situation.  We'd tell the kids the night before that we were making an early morning trip to the ER and hopefully we'd be home by lunch and then depending on how Eric was feeling we could be at church by 4:00.  The emergency room was always less appealing than the heart hospital on Monday, but that would mean that someone else would have to get the kids home from school and I would either miss work entirely or be the uncaring wife who had sent her husband into the hospital alone, only to pick him up after work hours--I had played both roles so many times that both of us had lost count.  Emergency Room Sundays gave us time together to fix a problem, without creating additional ones.

We usually got up around 7:00 so we could make the 17 mile trip.  We figured this timing sandwiched us between the Saturday night crowd and the Sunday morning snow shovelers, runners and falling elderly.  Depending on the weather and time of year, we'd make predictions during our drive on how many rooms would be ahead of us.  There's always the drunk in room one, sleeping it off.  The elderly lady with chest pain in room two and someone probably just looking for pain meds in room three.  I would drop him off at the door so that he wouldn't have to walk the steep incline from the parking lot and by the time I made my way in he was usually safely behind the glass getting his vitals taken by the nurse.  I'd glance over the waiting room to see what we had for competition.  Full waiting room means full emergency room.

We'd quickly establish that we had been through this drill far too many times and that we weren't some crazies who had been using some online search engine to figure out if we were really sick.  As we walked back to room 15--our room--we'd glance at the rooms we passed making mental checks of which predictions were correct or incorrect regarding our fellow emergency room clients.

As we waited for our "staff" we'd say a little prayer that the nurse would have a personality and that the doctor wouldn't be young.  Young doctors have to do everything by the book--they can't help it.  Older doctors--or better yet, ones we've seen before--make this whole process faster and less painful.  The nurse would come in--with or without a personality--and take Eric's vitals, ask it he was having any pain, shortness of breath, yada, yada, yada.  They'd ask him to repeat his name and birthday a couple of times, which he'd always follow by rattling off his patient ID number which would impress them like nothing else.  They'd laugh and realize that we would be the easy room to deal with and that we had run this drill before.

Alone in the room, we'd talk about every day things mostly--what was up for the week, if there was someone who could cover for Eric's Sunday school class, if a prescription needed to be picked up.  When the conversation would lull, he would look at me and say, "I'm so sorry to put you through this."  It seemed such a silly thing to say, but I'm certain he said it every time.  I would shrug my shoulders and assure him that he wasn't alone, we were in this thing together and that I was okay and I was married to the bravest person I would ever know.

There are two visits that mostly stand out in my mind and I document them mostly so that they don't slip away from me as so many things do these days.  The first was years back, one of our early Sunday runs when these ER visits seemed more serious and less routine.  I looked at him and said, "I know you must be weary of this."  He assured me that he was just fine and things would be back to normal soon.  I told him through tears, "If you can go, then go.  I won't blame you for leaving all of this behind for what's waiting for you. Who's to know if you're ever given the choice, but if you are, know that we'll be fine and we'll be there soon."   I'm sure that he thought I was just being dramatic, but in that moment and even today it was important for me to let him know that he didn't have to continue to struggle for us, that he had some silly permission from me to pass from this life to the next.  I needed him to know that I could continue without him if that were my only choice and that I loved him enough to not want to see him struggle in his earthly body any longer than he had to.

The second was the Sunday after I was diagnosed.  As he was being attended to by various medical personnel, we made eye contact and he saw that my eyes were filling with tears.  I was overcome with the notion that the two us would be switching places.  That I would be the one in the bed, being attended by nurses and doctors and that he'd be sitting in my chair.  In my head I remember thinking, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this."  I didn't know how I was going to play the role of patient and I was even more concerned about him playing both roles.  My cancer would, Lord willing, be gone some day, but he would always carry his heart.  He smiled in a way that wordlessly understood all the sadness I held inside and said, "Why don't you take a walk, I'm in good hands."  I quickly exited and made my way through the maze of hospital halls that had became all too familiar to me.  I found myself in the elevators in the Piper Building which leads to the offices of the Virginia Piper Breast Center--where I would find myself for appointments over the next days.  As I stepped off the elevator I stood face to face with the entrance to the office.  It was quiet, doors closed, a soft glow back-lighting the row of three delicate tea cups that decorated the ledge above the office name.  It was beautiful, tastefully decorated, inviting under any other circumstances.  The crippling part was that this beautiful office was going to be the ugly scene of the reality of my life.  I traced the elegant lettering on the cold, glass door.  Without warning, a sob worked its way out and I quickly retreated to a nearby bathroom.  As I slumped to the floor I wept all the tears that I had bravely held in for the last couple of days.  I cried for our life that had been forever changed, I cried for my husband sitting in an ER bed, I cried for my kids getting their own breakfast at home, I cried for the future which terrified me, I cried for the unfairness of it all.  I wanted to bargain with God--get me through this, give me healing, heal my husband's heart, spare my children all of this...but I all I could pray in that quiet bathroom stall was "help".  It's all that would come out and it seemed the only word to utter at that moment.  Some days it's still my prayer of choice.

So on this sunny Sunday morning, I have to smile at the strange fact that today I woke up wishing I could make one more Sunday Emergency Room run.  They were sweet days where the world stood still for a few hours and we got to love each other in sickness and in health.  In those heavy moments we had conversations that erased hard words and wiped away future regrets.  They were snippets of time where we were allowed to find sabbath rest in the love that God intended for us to enjoy not only on his holy day, but each and every day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Manageable Grief

I cry a little every day whether I want to or not.  Usually the tears come on their own, but if they don't, I sit down and figure out how to make it happen--maybe some pictures, listening to an old voice mail, breathing his shirts in deeply, reaching to the cool side of the bed, there are a thousand things that bring tears these days.  It's my plan to stay ahead of it.  I know it's probably a useless exercise, but it's my way of taking manageable bites out of my giant sized grief.

This plan probably fits my personality.  I would like to think that I'm the type of person that would love a huge surprise party, but I'm not.  I would wonder how in the world I had missed the signs that something was being planned for me.  For me, I also enjoy the anticipation of something.  For me the planning is an important part of the whole thing.  I think that's how I felt about Eric's death before it happened.  I didn't want it to catch me off guard.  We would live an event and then I would replay it in my mind without him--not everything we did, but certainly many things.  It became a way of life.  We would do a family Christmas, I would take maybe a minute to think about the whole thing without him, make a note that I could probably survive that and then I'd move on and the thought was gone.  This mental game was usual wrapped up with the thought, "I could do it if I had to it.  It wouldn't kill me." When I admitted it to Eric he would say it was a little morbid and no doubt it definitely was.  He warned against those thoughts ruining the joy of our present life and I assured him that it really didn't.  In a strange way it probably made me very thankful that he was there in that moment and I didn't have to do things without him.

What I couldn't anticipate was the emptiness that would go along with doing these routine or sometimes wonderful things without him.  We laugh, keep it together, fool the untrained eye, but inside we all feel a little fake.  He was our compass.  We took more direction from him than I would have ever imagined.  Being able to imagine this emptiness would have crippled me, stolen my joy.  I'm thankful for those limits to my imagination over the years. 

I shed my tear today when I signed paperwork at the dentist.  There his name was, on the line right above where the well-meaning hygienist asked me to sign.  He would have never known that there was anything more than routine to him signing a silly dental consent form.  But today, it caught me off guard and gave me a perfect opportunity for a manageable bite of grief.