Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Happiest of Anniversaries

"We write to taste life twice: once in the moment, then in the introspection." Anais Niy

A year ago, I was sitting by my husband watching television, when he turned to me and said, "I think I have a brain tumor."

Being the kind, compassionate wife that I am, I replied tenderly, "NO, YOU DO NOT!"

You see, we'd done six years of cancer related surgeries at that time and I was not up to another one. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. I grew up with a grandmother whose cure to every ailment was, "You'd feel just fine if you'd just stir around a little!" I just wanted him to stir around, be well, and not go down another long road of sickness.

But then I was reminded of a friend's husband who had turned to her a few weeks earlier. "I need to go to the hospital", he signaled, because he could not longer talk. She, too, was tired of their long battle with cancer and refused his request at first. But she took him, and found that he had weeks to live. His story, related to me, may have saved my husband's life because it caused me to listen and act quickly.

I had my sister make the call and she got the first appointment, which was still several weeks down the road. "I can't wait that long," my husband informed me. "It feels like there is a pipe going through my eyeball and out the back of my head."

Well. There was a piece of information that he had omitted. Sister related that to the nurse in charge of appointments and we were given an appointment a few days later for an MRI.

We trudged in to the familiar waiting room with my sister along. She has accompanied us during this journey with cancer. She drives, takes notes in a spiral notebook that is so full we had to add additional pages, and gets past tough nurses because she will not take no for an answer.

When my husband was gone far too long during the MRI, I went back to his room and noticed a flurry of activity. When I was identified as his wife, I was led to a small windowless, airless room that I had not known existed in past visits. And then I was joined by my husband and the door was closed. And we waited. And stared straight ahead. And did not speak.

A tech finally came in with a huge envelope of MRI images. We were to take them straight to our general practitioner. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Still wordless, we gathered up my sister from the waiting room and climbed into her car.

From my position in the backseat, I began riffling through the MRI images. I may teach six year olds and have no medical training, but even I could see there was a problem. One after another showed a large growth that covered one fourth of the image of my husband's brain. To quote Scooby Doo, "Rut Rho."

The general practitioner's office had been notified we were on our way and we were led immediately into a waiting room. Never in my 14 years of visiting this doctor had I ever had less than a one hour wait. This was not looking too good.

I'd love to say the doctor who broke the news to us had a compassionate bedside manner. What he actually did was face the wall and say, "This is very bad. You have a very large brain tumor and you need to get to a neurological surgeon immediately. This is very bad." His nurse was to set up the appointment. She was given a date weeks down the calendar. My sister begged to differ, got on the phone and had us in on Monday. This was late Friday afternoon, and the only reason she did not get us in sooner was that the surgeon was closed over the weekend. And they probably would not give my sister his home phone number or address. It was not for lack of her trying.

Mmmm, it was a pretty long weekend. I was amazed at how quickly my husband's condition seemed to worsen. And did I mention that my beloved grandfather died of a brain tumor? Best not too think to long or too hard on that. We were all relieved when Monday's appointment arrived.

The neurological surgeon was an amazing man. He saw the severity of the situation but still spoke with hope for a completely positive outcome. The surgery was scheduled for two weeks later, and my husband was given medication for the pain and small seizures he had already begun to experience.

What happened during those two weeks of waiting? Our world became an amazing place. My husband's and my birthdays both fell during that time. A large group of people from our Sunday School class showed up with cake, ice cream and gifts for his birthday. A continual stream of ladies from my church showed up with Starbucks gift cards for me. I think I may have received enough to treat a small third world country to coffee.

At school, I had a parent who donated airline vouchers to get our four children, scattered across America, home before the surgery. They flew in from Seattle, D.C., Missouri and Texas to visit and encourage their dad. It was a very special time for us all. Unbeknownst to me, my elementary school took up a collection to help with expenses that left us all speechless. We were so very grateful for all the support and all the prayers.

And then the day came. Not exactly how I had expected to spend my birthday. We all arrived at the hospital before dawn for the prep work. The surgeon reminded us that the surgery would be a long one: probably 12 hours or more. And then he did the most amazing thing: he knelt by my husband's bed, put his arms around my husband, looked him straight in the eyes and said,"You are going to be just fine." Now there is some bedside manner.

The patient was wheeled off and we were left to wait in the cafeteria through breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then asked to move to a waiting room since they were closing the dining hall down for the day. Finally at 7:00 p.m. we could not wait anymore and approached the floor where the surgery was taking place. At that moment, the doors opened and my husband's bed was being wheeled by. I looked at him and he sat straight up and said, "Hi! How are you doing?" with a smile.

I'm really glad there was a wall behind me to hold me up. We are not people without faith, but the sheer number of procedures we had been through made us feel like the odds had to go against us at some point. Yet, there he was: appearing to be doing fine. Actually, not just fine but great.

We followed the bed to ICU and he was ready to talk and eat. Except for the trauma of the surgery (like the "sweet Hannibal-like ear to ear scar" as my daughter called it) and multiple tubes, he looked just like he had when we left him that morning.

He skipped through a few days in ICU and was allowed to go home after a few days in a regular room. He was clearly the rock star of recovery.

And now, we find ourselves a year from that surgery and life has returned to normal. He is driving again, working part time and showing a determination to press on that amazes me on a daily basis.

This is the happiest of anniversaries.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pray for Stellan

Prayers for Stellan
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A New Normal

Over Spring Break, my husband and I took a road trip to Missouri. This may sound like an everyday occurrence to most, but we've been sidelined by health issue for seven years, so I feel like I should write ROAD TRIP in capital letters. We crossed over Texas, through Oklahoma, into Missouri and back to a normal life. A life that includes road trips with my husband driving. And pictures to prove our normalcy.

Or not, as evidenced by our side trip to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. I collected the little statues in the early 80s, but the fans that inhabit the Chapel and it's adjoining gift shop are FANS. From all over the world they pilgrimage to purchase those little wide eyed statues, under a Sistine chapel-like ceiling. Except that all major characters wear Precious Moment faces. Been there, done that, didn't get one of the 100s of t-shirts. Or mugs. Or dishes. Got to spend great time with my newlywed daughter talking, laughing, shopping and eating. My favorite kind of normal.
We celebrated a joint young son-in-law/new father-in-law birthday. The cake traveled across three states, created by the famous Lone Star Bakery in Round Rock, Texas...the same people who baked the couple's wedding cakes on November 3, 2007.

And, meet the Grandpup, Tex. This little guy stole our hearts in moments. He is only a few months old, but when he grows into his giant paws, I'm pretty sure he will be able to fetch his own doggie treats off the top of the refrigerator.

Road trips. Kitschy tourist traps. Time with the kids. Birthday cake. My husband driving. Does life get any better than this?

Well, yes.
I ridiculed it, swore I'd never get one, raged against the machine... and then succumbed to the pressure. My feet are sandal ready for spring. Meet my new best friend:

At least it's not a ShamWow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"My Teacher"

Yesterday, the journal prompt for my first grade class was "Write about your teacher." I knew I was treading on dangerous ground because of two things:  1.First graders are brutally honest and 2. First graders are brutally honest.

Some of the comments I culled from these entries were:
  • "She had four kids that now live by themselves. Now she has 19 more kids in her classroom." (An even swap, may I add.)
  • "She likes coffee and chocolate." (A reoccurring fact that continued to be mentioned.)
  • "She likes to see good reading and good math. She loves to teach." (Oh, yes I do!)
  • "She drinks too much coffee." (Hey, kid, you teach 19 six year olds for 8 hours a day and see if you can live by bread alone.)
  • "She likes children." (Very much)
  • "After school, she likes to grade math." (It is my first choice for after school entertainment, right after sticking myself with sharp objects.)
  • "She had kids but they moved away from her."(Only because I do not teach college subjects. They like me, they really like me.)
  • "She is a grate teacher. She teachis fun stufe like spelin." (Apparently, not very well...)
And my particular favorite:
  • "She is old but she doesn't have a beard." (Yet.)
And then, they decided to illustrate their stories by making pictures of their beloved teacher. If you are reading this blog and have ever wondered how I look, see the picture above. Now you will be able to pick me out at the mall. Or Starbucks where I'm apparently always drinking the coffee and eating the chocolate.

One of my favorite friends from another school, Nurse Connie, has a picture a child made of her years ago. It is basically a circle head pasted onto a triangle body. To quote my friend, "Why do we even bother to dress up if this is the way they see us?!" We laugh, but that picture is still taped to her door, and the little artist is now in college.

They may not see the blush, mascara and highlights, but I know they see our hearts because of comments like these:
  • "She likes to teach us. She makes us smart and happy."
Fingers crossed that I will always be successful at that!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


You know, it's time for a lot of people to stop hating on Starbucks.

My semi-weekly therapy sessions there with girlfriends began about the time my firstborn left home for college. Friends who had already been there, done that, and learned to enjoy the newly empty bedroom as a sewing room, sympathized with me over Cinnamon Dolche lattes.

The departure of my last child at home leaving for college was commiserated in comfy purple chairs listening to James Taylor CDs and holding Grande Caramel Macchiato Frappuccino decafs. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times to quote some book I read in college a long time ago.

The news of future weddings of friends' children is shared regularly now over Salted Caramel Latte decafs. Genius: sweet and salty in one taste. And a great substitute when I found out that guilty pleasure named Macchiato was too guilty with 430 calories. (Or light with 180 calories and no taste.)

Even the drinks' names drive my spell check crazy. My brother-in-law, who does not "do" Starbucks, will sometimes call and ask me to tell him what I ordered at Starbucks recently. I repeat the Starbuckese language and he laughs uproariously. My sister is usually ratting me out in the background saying, "And she says 'thank you' when they charge her $5.00 for that!"

So, I was greatly delighted last Sunday when Starbucks came up during a DVD that my Bible Study was watching. The name of the series is "Love and Respect" (sing it, Aretha), and it is basically about the differences between men and women. And there are a few. Oh yes there are.

Anywoo, the speaker is talking about women's need to visit and share and have face to face contact. And his example was that Starbucks has little round tables and the aforementioned comfy chairs for just that purpose. That you never see 6 foot 6 inch construction workers huddled around those little tables (or sunk in those little chairs) 'sharing' with each other. Those men like to sit shoulder to shoulder looking straight ahead in bars and not share or have face to face contact. A place for everyone, and everyone in his (or her) place.

So, when I searched my Yahoo Mail to see how many times "Starbucks" is mentioned in my emails, the number was 97. I hope that represented 97 great convos I had with girlfriends about important things. How many times we sorted out our lives. And how many times we laughed until we ached. (And not 97 x 430 calories because I have quit the Caramal Macchiatos and refuse to Google the Salted Caramel Frappuccinos. I have boundaries about protecting my happiness.)

My son in college works at a locally owned coffee house in his college town. They are rabidly anti-Starbucks at that venue, fists raised in the air for solidarity against The Man that invented the $5 latte. But guess what? Every time I visit him in his college town and Mom is paying? He wants to drive through Starbucks for a Venti Tazo Green Tea Frappuccino with Creme. He tries to eat healthy food, so green tea is a good choice, right? I will not be the one to tell him it has 650 calories with 15 grams of fat. I'm sure he would not be jiggy wid it. (No, son, you cannot erase embarrassing words from my blog from your computer screen.)

So. In closing, Starbucks has a place in my world. And a place in many people's worlds. Lucy would probably hang her "Help 5 cents" sign there, since everyone else seems to use it as their office. And if you don't understand the Lucy reference, perhaps Starbucks is not for you anyway.

Good Grief.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Things I Forgot to Remember...

Recently, I was at a women's conference and the speaker was talking about a much anticipated cruise with several of her friends. The night before they sailed, she called on of her friends in a panic. "Tomorrow is the cruise. I forgot to get skinny!"

Life can be like that. I've had my nose down, immersed in motherhood for the past 24 years or so. One by one, the children have flown the nest to bigger and better things and I've looked up, startled, to realize: THERE IS NEW LIFE OUT HERE!

And one of the best parts? My lifelong friends are doing the same thing right now. All those children we raised together? They are beginning to get married and we are attending some precious weddings to celebrate the successful launch of our newlywed adult children.

Here's to Lauren and Brian: the happiest newlyweds on earth today.

And to Mary Ann and John for one of the sweetest most memorable weddings ever.

Life is good, isn't it? Past, Present and especially Future.

The newlyweds enjoying their first dance.

Father and Daughter dance

My precious friends...see you in May at Pat's daughter's wedding!