Friday, December 31, 2010

A Quick Goodbye

Dear Friends, Family, and People who stumbled across this blog by accident:
Today I am leaving the great state of Texas (just for a while!) and the not-so-great year of 2010 behind. As you know, I am jetsetting to Florida with the people I love the most. As we were packing yesterday--and believe me, that was an adventure all by itself!--I got to thinking about the trip and what it really means to me. Tonight I will sit with lots of other folks and watch a fireworks show to welcome in 2011. I'm not sad to see 2010 go. It's been, without a doubt, THE most trying, difficult year of my entire life. Never before have I known such loss, felt such sorrow, or asked so many questions. But if I were to be honest, I would have to admit that it's been one of the greatest years of my life as well. Although the circumstances have been (and continue to be) less than ideal, I have seen God move, work, provide, and bless over and over and over again. He has been faithful, even when I have not been. Cancer is an unwelcome guest in my life, but it is also the agent by which I have experienced grace in its truest form. That is something I wouldn't trade for anything.
I will say goodbye to 2010 in high style tonight, and I am praying that the new year brings better days. But be assured that the lessons and memories of this year will not soon be forgotten!
One more thing. To those of you who have played a part in orchestrating my ChristMUST wish: The excitement in my house is through the roof! We have already had so much fun planning and packing! I covet your prayers this week as my family celebrates life together. My four guys and my precious parents have been through so much this year...I often say that cancer happened to them, too. I just can't tell you enough what this gift means to all of us. Thanks once again for the opportunity to have fun and just BE TOGETHER. To me, that's magic!
Blessings and God's best in 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A BIG Surprise

Our merry little Christmas was topped off with a BIG surprise for the little cowboys! Several weeks ago, some friends in Houston contacted my mother and shared with her that they wanted to do something special to make Christmas a little brighter for me and my family. Never in my wildest imagination could I have dreamed up what that "something" might be!

Hubby and I wanted to keep it a secret from the boys until Christmas morning. After the Christmas melee was over and we'd eaten breakfast, we sat them down and gave them each one more gift.

We got boxes!

T-shirts? We don't get it.


Opening Disney Dollars from Nana and Poppy.
Little Middle: "Mom, is this a credit card?"

After the gifts were opened and the great cat was out of the bag, we called Nana and Poppy to say "thank you" for the Christmas gifts. That was when the final surprise came out: Not only are the five of us going to Disney World, but my parents are going, too! The boys were hootin', hollerin', and running in crazy circles!

In just a matter of weeks, hundreds of people in five different states donated money, airline miles, and other resources to make this trip possible. Every last detail, from park admission down to luggage fees, has been taken care of. There is a travel agent who worked feverishly to put together an itinerary so that we don't miss a thing. Meals are paid for, and we are even having breakfast one morning with Chef Mickey!

My Goliath will turn 9 while we are in Florida. I can't think of a better place for my gentle giant to spend his birthday than at Disney. Our friends arranged a special birthday surprise for him...I absolutely can't WAIT to see his face!

This Friday, seven very excited people will head to DFW airport to catch a plane to Orlando. We will be in the Magic Kingdom in time to watch the fireworks and ring in the new year. We will return to DFW next Thursday. I fully expect that we will be tired, happy, and chock full of memories that will last a lifetime.

To Our ChristMUST Wish Friends:

You are amazing. We are simply blown away by your generosity, your love, and your friendship. Many of you don't even know us, but you have shown us the love of Christ and given us great joy this holiday season. God has allowed us to walk a very dark and difficult road this year. There have been many days that I wasn't sure that I could, or even wanted to, take the next step. But along the way, God has been faithful to place people in my path who could cheer, encourage, and pray. "Thank you" is so inadequate to express how grateful I am that all of you allowed Him to use you in such a special way. But for now...Thank you for lightening my load and giving me something to look forward to (and brag to the chemo crew about!). Thank you for making my husband happy. Thank you for the smiles on my boys' faces. Thank you for the delight and excitement I hear in my parents' voices when I talk to them.
"The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others' burdens, easing other's loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas."--W.C. Jones
Thank you for giving us such a magical and grand gift! Surely I am the most blessed lady in the world, because I am loved. My cup runneth over.



P.S. I will try to post small updates and pictures on Facebook while we are gone. Watch for them!

Christmas 2010

Our family will always remember Christmas 2010 as a very merry one indeed! After the year that we've had, Hubby and I wanted to keep it simple. We stayed home and did Christmas our way--just the 5 of us. Here are a few pictures that I took with my new camera: (Thanks, Hubby!)

Hubby read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the little cowboys.

Handsome Little Middle showing off his new Christmas pajamas before bed.

Cookies and milk for Santa, carrots for the reindeer.

Christmas morning...Santa came!

They were up early...a little sleepy-eyed, but very excited!

Santa and his reindeer loved their treats!

Goliath read Santa's letter out loud for everyone.

Happy chaos!

Goliath loves his new "Russian" hunting hat.

He can't wait to get in the kitchen with Mom and try out a new recipe.

Star Wars Legos!!!!

Baby laughed hard the first time we played Twister.

Later in the day, I found this airplane "crashed" into the Christmas tree
and a plastic passenger clinging to life on an ornament.

Christmas Dinner
I went into the Christmas season fearful that the Sickness and all that goes with it would stand in the way of me experiencing real joy. I have been very purposeful about looking for joy over the last month, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been to find it--and how it was never out of my reach in the first place.
We went to the Christmas Eve service at our church. We sang traditional carols, the boys got to go down to the front for a mini-sermon, and at the end of the service, we lit candles and sang "Silent Night" a capella. I was overwhelmed with the hundreds of little lights and voices being lifted in worship toward the King.
Majesty in a manger...the Son of God in a stable. He came so that I could live (John 10:10). JOY!!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

From Our Family To Yours...


"And Mary said, 'I'm bursting with God-news, I'm dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened--I'm the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet, the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel, he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It's exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.' " Luke 1:46-55

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lines That Made Me Laugh

Little Middle, upon being sent to his room: "Oh, pickles and prune juice!"

Baby: "Mommy, you are a female and females are bad guys."

Baby, while playing the Wii with his brother: "We can't kill that guy because he is music-activated."

Little Middle, after waking from a rare afternoon nap: "Mom, is today still yesterday? You forgot to wear new clothes."

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Second Verse

I grew up in a great church where the foundation was laid for my faith. I memorized Scripture there, I made lifelong friends there, and I learned to worship, particularly through music. Our church services had a healthy dose of hymns with a generous sprinkling of praise choruses, circa 1980s: "Majesty," "We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise," and "As the Deer" stand out in my mind. I still remember that "How Great Thou Art" was #2 in the hymnal.

We don't use that hymnal much these days. My kids are learning song lyrics from a screen in the worship center rather than the hymnal in the pew. In fact, I'm certain that that hymnal is not much more to them than a hard book to put under their children's bulletins that they work on during the sermon! And that makes me a little sad.

When I was growing up, sometimes I would get bored during the sermon. My mother suggested once that I listen carefully and write down all of the words I didn't understand. The only word I walked away with was "multitude," with a bunch of tally marks for every time the preacher said it. Sometimes I would pass the time reading the hymnal. Yes, I know it's kind of a dorky thing to do. But that opened my eyes to what I now consider to be often-overlooked treasures: the second verse. We always sing the first verse of a hymn, and often the third or fourth. But why not the second?

It's no wonder, then, that I was surprised in a good way as I was driving around town running errands with the radio on this week. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" has a second verse that strikes my heart and meets me right where I am this Christmas:

And ye, beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary load
And hear the angels sing.

Every step I take feels painful and slow, and sometimes even backwards. Even my commitment to seek out joy this holiday season seems like a mountain in and of itself some days. I will gladly accept the invitation to leave my load beside the manger and listen to the angels sing.

And I will sing along...with my hymnal open.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


It is an awful feeling to wake up in the morning and think, "Today is the day I will find out if I have cancer in my body."

That is how my day began. Before I even opened my eyes this morning, my heart was pounding, my stomach was sinking, and I was begging God for favor. Maybe I should back up a bit... On Tuesday, I went to the hospital for my every-three-months-regularly-scheduled scan. This was a CT scan, much more difficult and not as detailed as a PET scan. When I got to the hospital and checked in, the technician took me and my sweet mom to a back waiting room and delivered 1 1/2 hours worth of barium sulfate. I had to drink a certain amount every 10 minutes. Let's just say that the more I drank, the faster the 10 minute mark kept coming! Before I even had time to rejoice that the cocktail was gone, the tech returned and whisked me back to what is really a closet with a chair in it. She started an IV, and then we went to the imaging room.

I've lost count of the number of times I've laid on that table, trying to follow the instructions from the automated machine: "Breathe in. Hold your breath." Whrrrrr. "Release your breath." Whrrrrr. Up, down, in, out. If I open my eyes, when the table moves me out of the machine, I can see what I'm sure is supposed to be a peaceful scene on the ceiling--a flowing brook surrounded by towering trees. I much prefer to close my eyes, but then all I can see are the faces of my boys. Desperate terror was what I felt on Tuesday. I think I might have tried to jump off that table and run away, except that 1) I was trapped in the imaging tunnel, and 2) I had a needle in my arm that attached me to an IV pole. So instead, I did the only thing I knew to do: I recited Scripture. A scripture, to be exact: Isaiah 26:3. "You will keep me in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because I trust in you." (paraphrases mine) Over and over again.

The scan takes less than 10 minutes, but it seemed so much longer than that. Finally, it was done and I was free to go. I collected my things and my mother and practically ran for the parking lot. Once we were safely in the car, I lost it. I simply could not contain the anxiety and fear any longer.

I don't know why I feel so terrified every single time I have to go there. Besides the obvious, I mean. I think it's natural to feel scared. The threat is very real. But after all this time, why do I start to hyperventilate when the hospital comes in sight? Why do my hands shake when I enter the office? Why do I still cry? I'm not nearly as brave as I want to be, or as good as I should be. I feel like if I were, then 2 Timothy 1:7 would not resonate with me like it does: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."

Mom, Baby, and I passed the waiting hours of Wednesday doing a little Christmas shopping while the big boys were at school. After school, there were spelling words to practice, friends to play with, and iCarly to watch. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode of iCarly that there is. We went to bed early, and that brings us back to this morning. "Today is the day I will find out if I have cancer in my body."

As it turns out, the scan was clear. The emotions I felt with that news were a mixed bag: Relief, fear, joy, sorrow. Of course it was good news! It was exactly what I, along with so many of you, have prayed for. In the back of my mind, though, I can still feel the fear creeping in. This clear scan is just a reprieve...a temporary sigh of relief. The Sickness will be back, unless God overrules medicine (and He absolutely could choose to do that!).

I explained it to a close friend this afternoon this way: I feel like Eeyore, who always moved around with a dark cloud hovering over his head. No matter where he went or what he did, that cloud stayed with him. That's me. The cloud of cancer follows me everywhere. Just because it's not raining right now doesn't mean it isn't there or that I am not acutely aware of it. It permeates everything I think and do. It threatens to open up and pour down on me at any time. And do you want to know the truth? I am scared of it.

I hate that I'm scared. I want to be brave. My boys make me want to be brave. Whether or not my time with them is cut short, I desperately want them to remember that I trusted my Lord with all that I had. I want them to know that I faced the Sickness, if not cheerfully, than certainly with a welcoming spirit for the challenge. I want them to know that they were worth fighting for, and that the strength that I had to fight came from above.

Tonight I cooked one of their favorite dinners and we celebrated the good news with root beer floats. Watching them enjoy their desserts, I breathed a prayer of thanks that there is "no evidence of recurrent or metastatic disease." I asked God to help me slow down and be present in the here and now, and most of all, to help me get a handle on that spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. If God is for me, who can be against me?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This and That

I know there hasn't been much activity on the blog lately, but that's really because there hasn't been much to say. Cancer, along with its many sorrows and joys, is still with me. The new maintenance regimen is much better than before, but it is still chemotherapy. It's difficult. I am having a CT scan next Tuesday, and a follow-up meeting with Dr. M on Thursday. We anticipate that all will be clear, as expected, and he will recommend marching forward with what I'm already doing. Still, there is much anxiety as the day approaches. I would appreciate your prayers.
Now, how about a little of this and a bit of that to catch up?
*Little Middle lost three teeth in four days. The Tooth Fairy is going broke. And he came home from school today with the announcement that another one is loose!
*I upgraded some of our Christmas decor this year. I figured after 12 years of marriage, we deserve a new tree skirt. Thank you, Hobby Lobby, for your over-the-top-after-Thanksgiving sales!
*Speaking of Christmas decorations, Hubby and Goliath hung lights outside. We want to do outside lights every year, but it doesn't always get done. Ahem. Anyway, while they were working, I heard maniacal laughter from the backyard. Turns out that Little Middle climbed up on the roof and JUMPED OFF onto the trampoline. Be still, my heart.
*Baby's favorite indoor "decoration" is the Little People nativity set. He is constantly rearranging the the animals and the characters, and pushing the angel down so she will "sing." He loves to sing along to Away in the Manger, and I cracked up when I heard his sweet voice sing "the little Bo Jesus laid down his sweet head." I mentioned that the right lyrics are "little LORD Jesus," and he said, "Hmmm. I always thought it was Bo Jesus." He keeps on singing it that way.
*Goliath is going to be Penguin #7 in the school Christmas play. It reminds me of this.
*I was totally blessed by two groups of MOPS moms from my church who adopted me as their "service project." One group took three baskets of our laundry to the laundromat, and the other group went to the grocery store for me. I literally wept when I saw the full refrigerator and the baskets of neatly folded clothes.
*Christmas came early for Hubby this year. He is the proud owner of his first new car since 1998. Believe me, he deserves it.
*I am on a personal mission to seek out joy this holiday season. It isn't coming as naturally to me as it usually does, so I am being very intentional about looking for it.
*While we were in Houston, my brother invited my boys over to his house for Nephew Camp. It might be the greatest thing that's ever happened to them--they are still talking about it! Baby now wants to get a Christmas tree to use in his room for a nightlight, because "that's what Uncle Phil let us have."
*I could probably construct a small temporary shelter with the lint I pulled out of my dryer today.
*Gus the dog is no longer my friend. He ATE the blue cover that goes over the trampoline springs, for crying out loud! What's worse, he doesn't much care what I think of him. He only has eyes for Hubby.
*Princess Puppy Love has stiff joints now that the weather is cold. Watching her struggle to get up and down (and I don't mean because she's plump) makes it easier to forgive finding her hairs on my new black sweater.
*I am not a fan of the new hair growing on my head. It is curly and it is the color of ugly dirt. The good news is that my eyelashes are finally growing back.
*When Hubby changed jobs back in September, we paid to COBRA our health insurance for about six weeks, until his new benefits kicked in. They were quick to take our money, but have yet to pay out one single claim that my doctor's office has made. What's more, we haven't been able to do much about it because we didn't get our ID cards until two weeks after COBRA was up. This has been so frustrating!
*Every single room in my house has at least a few silly bandz scattered around the floor.
*When I got up this morning, I got my glasses off my nightstand. It wasn't until I turned on the lights in the kitchen that I realized I was wearing my sunglasses.
*Goliath did a family tree project for social studies. I enjoyed helping him put together the information and telling him stories about the memories I have of my great-grandparents.
*One of my favorite things my husband does for me is to get the coffee pot ready every night. Each morning when I get up, there is already fresh coffee waiting!
*I bought something on Cyber Monday for the first time ever.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The holidays are upon us, ready or not. The little cowboys and I hightailed it out of the Big D and are spending the week in Houston with my parents. All we're missing is Hubby. He's working, but will join us for Thanksgiving later in the week.
To be honest, I've dreaded the thought of the holidays. The shopping, the cooking, the traveling, the decorating, the entertaining--it all seems so overwhelming. That is why this trip feels like an escape. There is no agenda except to enjoy just being.
Yesterday I spent the day with my boys. I was purposeful about being with them, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I really wanted to listen to what they had to say and be part of their experience--not just an observer. We played at the park, where we fed some ducks and rescued a turtle. I let them choose where we ate lunch (Burger King--ack!), and then we did some shopping at the dollar store. We walked the mall and had some ice cream in the food court. We rode the escalators just for the fun of it, and enjoyed the massage chairs in Macy's. We finished the day by playing in the playscape at Nana's church. We were hot and tired, but oh, so happy.
It's been a long time since I had a day like that with all three of my sons. There were no distractions, no places to be, no obligations. Just us. I am glad to be away. And I am so glad I got the reminder that there is so much to be thankful for this week: I am doing exactly what I want to do, and there could not be three more wonderful people for me to do it with.
P.S. I took great pictures yesterday. They would look super filling up this space. Unfortunately, Little Middle dropped my camera on the tile floor last night and now all I have is a flashing message that says "Lens Error: 211." Hubby, do you think you can fix it? Please?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Dear Baby,
You are five today! Although I am excited for you, this birthday has been bittersweet for me. Turning five is a big deal, because now you are really a big boy. Any traces of that beautiful baby with the perfectly round head have been replaced by a high-energy, fun-loving, super-funny boy.
Eight days ago, you lost your first tooth. You had made no mention of it being loose, so I sure was surprised when I picked you up from your class at church and your teachers handed me a tiny package containing what I'm certain is The World's Smallest Tooth! You were pretty proud of yourself, and you were thrilled with the dollar bill the Tooth Fairy left under your pillow. You won't know until you read this letter someday that as she flew by my bedroom on her way to yours, the Tooth Fairy probably heard me crying over that tiny tooth.
You also won't know that I cried very early this morning while I was making monkey bread for your birthday breakfast. (You broke the family birthday muffin tradition this year. Someday you'll need to tell Nana that you're sorry.) I cried tears of sorrow, because the more you grow up, the more independent you are...and the less you need me. I cried tears of joy, simply because that's what you bring to my life and to our family.
Without a doubt, this year has been the hardest one of my life. Cancer reared its ugly head again, and I have spent the last nine months undergoing treatments. It has been horrible for all of us. How I pray you don't remember it when you grow up! God has given me amazing friends, but there have been days when no words from them could cheer or encourage me. On those days, there was you. You might rush in for a quick kiss and be gone, or you might climb in bed and snuggle for a while. Either way, no words were needed. I have found tremendous comfort and peace just by being with you.
You never seem to be upset at being left while I go to the doctor, nor do you ask too many questions. You are just content to be, and you act as if whatever I say is perfectly fine with you, thank you very much. I will never, ever forget the day I told you and your brother that I would lose my hair during chemotherapy. He was worried and tearful, but you simply put your hand on your little hip and said, "Little Middle, it is going to be OK, because God will take care of Mommy." Such wisdom for such a little guy!
Of course, it isn't all gloom and doom around here. No, not while you're around! Case in point: After church last week, I was explaining to Little Middle something from his Sunday School lesson. I ended my explanation by telling him, "Everything we have comes from God." You piped up from the backseat, "And Santa!"
One morning I asked you to get yourself dressed. You said, "Mommy, I have to wear pants, right?"
And one of my favorite Baby quotes: "I have three words to say! Can you get me some Cocoa Krispies with no milk?"
Gosh, you're funny.
I guess it's because you're my youngest that I feel the passage of time so acutely. I am torn; part of me can't wait to see what you're going to do and become, part of me wants to slow time way down so I can soak in every second of this season of your life, knowing that I will never experience it again. I want to remember how you love to drink with a crazy straw, but rarely want milk in your you concentrate so hard when you play Angry Birds on Daddy's iPhone, and how you can beat levels he can't even get your feelings get hurt when Goliath and Little Middle leave you out, but how it's easy to see how much you love them (and they love you). I never want to forget how adorable you look in your Wranglers and boots, how you laugh so hard you snort when I tickle you, and how you smile first thing when I wake you up in the mornings. I want to freeze the images I have in my head of you being the cutest ring bearer EVER in your aunt's and uncle's weddings this year, and how you barely managed to tolerate that little flower girl. I want to remember you building Legos with your brothers, playing Star Wars with your friends, demanding macaroni and cheese every Tuesday, the goofy faces you make every time you get your picture taken, and the way you say "I love you."
Baby, I know that every life is precious, but God sure had a special plan when He thought of you. He knew that I would need you just as much--or maybe more?--than you would need me. I am so thankful that I got to be your mommy! In five short years, you've given Daddy and me so much joy, and without even knowing it, you remind us that God is always in control of all things.
Yes, you're a big boy, well on your way to big things. But make no mistake: you'll always be my baby.
Happy Birthday, darling boy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Plan B

It's been a ho-hum sort of week--and it's only Tuesday. Some of my blah-ness comes from the fact that my eyelashes are falling out again. I've been watching them with suspicion for several days, but yesterday morning when I was putting on makeup I realized there weren't even enough there to justify mascara. I called my mom at 6:30 a.m. crying.

Now, I know that in the grand scheme of things, eyelashes don't matter. Hair won't get me to heaven. My husband won't judge the temperature of our relationship on whether or not I can flutter my eyelashes at him. The boys won't remember that Mommy's makeup looked different from other mommies. But to me, in the here and now, it matters. It suddenly seemed to matter even more after I questioned my chemo nurse about it, and she told me that there is a very real possibility that I could re-lose the hair on my head as well.

I recently read Plan B by Pete Wilson. A friend gave it to me and wrote inside the book that it was "a good read, probably one you could've written." BD, I'm sure you didn't mean for this book to tear me apart, but that's pretty much what happened. It's been a long time since a book has affected me to the degree that this one did. And I think it got to me because the premise of the whole book is this: What do you do when God doesn't show up for you in the way you thought He would? That question is one I've wrestled with for quite a while now.
I had lots of dreams and plans once upon a time. Those plans might have looked mundane and boring to some people, but for the most part, I've always known what I wanted from life. It was simple: I wanted to fall in love, get married, raise a family, and live happily ever after. Yes, I went to college, and yes, there are days that I think wistfully of that framed diploma gathering dust in a box in our garage. Some days I think I would rather run an office than a carpool, or I would like to make money instead of cookies. But my four guys remind me that I'm living my dream, and even on the hard days, I know I wouldn't trade it for anything.
In the summer of 2007, though, my little world came to a screeching halt with a cancer diagnosis. It had never occurred to me that I could become Wife and Mommy and then get sick. Since then, and especially this year, I have had to abandon my perfect Plan A for my life and accept Plan B. Plan B means that instead of giving my family homecooked meals every night, I am ordering more than my fair share of pizza. It means that some other kid's parent gets to share a new experience with my son because I can't go on his field trip. Plan B means that my Goliath frets like a little old man when he is away from me because he is fearful that something will happen and I won't come back. Under Plan B, my husband digs through a basket of wrinkled laundry to find clean clothes. I hate Plan B.
If I didn't feel like the cloud of cancer was hovering over me so closely, I might find it humorous that God allowed this to happen to me. Really, God? Me, of all people? The girl who despises change and upset in the order of things?
"Your dreams may not be happening, and things aren't turning out the way you expected, but that doesn't mean your life is spinning out of control. It just means you're not in control." (Wilson) Ouch. No doubt about it: I am definitely not in control here. I have spent much of the last 9 months asking God for a way out, begging Him for relief. I couldn't count the number of times I have said, "I just want my life back."
Ironic, huh? I have walked with Christ for most of my life, but when we came to this, THE thing, I misstepped. I allowed fear and anger and uncertainty to creep in too close, and I begged God to give me what wasn't mine to begin with. I gave my life to Him a long time ago. I promised my husband on our wedding day that I would do my best to love him in sickness and in health--why would I do less for my God?
This season of maintenance chemotherapy is hard. I fully expected that it would be much easier, both physically and emotionally, because--hey! I survived chemotherapy! The reality is far removed from my expectations. It still feels like chemo: I am tired, I'm taking LOTS of meds, I'm losing hair. The difference is that before, life was spinning around me, and now it is trying to sweep me along with it. A lot of days I feel like such a fake! On the outside, everything appears to be fine, but on the inside, I'm barely holding it together. What I know in my head doesn't match up with what I feel in my heart.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Andy Stanley: "Every day we have this choice to make. Am I going to define God by interpreting my circumstances or am I going to simply trust that God is who he says he is?"
My Plan B isn't at all what I expected, and certainly not what I wanted. But I think maybe I'm making it harder than it has to be by over-thinking. I might not ever know why God allowed this suffering. I'm not sure why it seems that He is silent at times when I need Him the most. Maybe it's time, though, for me to pull it together. "We're called to be faithful to God even when it seems he hasn't been faithful to us. We're called to love him even when we feel abandoned. We're called to look for him even in the midst of the darkness. We're called to worship him even though our tears." (Wilson)
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenent, His blood, support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
I choose to continue to look deeper and love more, trusting Him through my Plan B.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pumpkins, Pajamas, Hunting, and Haunting

We wrapped up October in typical H family style: slightly chaotic and lots of fun!

The obligatory pumpkin patch picture.

The three cowboys were much happier standing in line for the hay ride with their friends.

I was blessed by some sweet friends with a surprise front porch makeover, complete with pumpkins and hand-painted sign. How I love those girls!
Every year, our preschool has Pajama Day at the end of October. In my humble, comfortable opinion, it is the best day of the year!

Mommy and Baby at Pajama Day.
Baby and Joe the Bear had matching Batman pjs!

Shannon (aka World's Greatest Co-Teacher) and me in our matching jammies.

Our monkey socks were super cute, don't you think?

The Strawberry teachers and our across-the-hall neighbors, Ms. Gloria and Ms. Renee.

Baby and Bransyn with their Frog teachers, Ms. Maureen and Ms. Michelle (plus Kendall).
Goliath got to participate in Youth Hunting weekend this year. He went out to the lease with his Papa, completely confident that he would be able to get a great buck within 2 days. I needn't have worried, because it took him less than 4 hours.

I'm not a hunter, but I sure am proud of him!
Goliath made it home from his hunting trip in just enough time to get dressed up for Halloween!

Little Middle/Iron Man and Baby/Darth Vader

Baby/Darth Vader, Goliath/Super Mario, and Little Middle/Iron Man on the way to trick-or-treat. I'm sure they really were smiling under those masks and mustache!

Trick-or-treating is more fun with friends!

My Baby isn't scared of anything.
Right after he grabbed a handful of candy, the real live person in the casket tried to grab him!

The loot, after careful negotiations and re-distribution.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

He Really Loves His Mama

Goliath: "I think I love you more than cheesecake, Mom."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I met with my oncologist yesterday. The appointment was not routine, rather, I requested the meeting in order to discuss the difficulties I have been having with maintenance chemotherapy. A bit of background: When I began maintenance chemo in August, I was told that it would be no big deal in comparison with the IP chemo I had just completed. I was assured that I could resume my regular activities and that I would feel much like my old self. The nurse told me then that the maintenance chemo would be "just like drinking water." Well, someone apparently poisoned the water hole. The maintenance has been horrible. I have experienced many of the same symptoms that I had with the regular IP chemo: debilitating leg pain, prolonged headaches, and EXTREME fatigue, to name a few. The big difference is that with IP chemo, I could plan to be sick for a few days, but I knew I would gradually feel better before it came around again. On the maintenance regimen, I am always either going to chemo or recovering from having been there. It is a constant cycle of misery and trying hard to get ahead. Even worse, my precious family is paying a very high price. I have been unable to do much of what I normally would. My Hubby is trying to take over for me in a lot of ways, but he is exhausted. I am doing minimal mothering, and the little cowboys deserve better.
So I said that to Dr. M. I told him that the quality of life that I have with the maintenance protocol is unacceptable to me and my family. I told him that I needed a change. I was worried that he might try to assure me that everything is fine, so I was greatly relieved when I described my symptoms to him and he said, "None of these things should be happening!" Good--I thought I was going crazy. We spent quite a while hashing out the details of a new chemo plan. In the end, it looked like this: I will not be receiving Taxol at all anymore. The once-a-week Taxol IV has been replaced with a once-a-day-Cytoxan pill (When I googled Cytoxan, one of the search results was "types of medicine for cats with breast cancer." Yikes!). The Cytoxan is another chemo drug--not as preferred as Taxol--but well-tolerated and effective. I will continue to receive Avastin as an antibody every other week and participate in the clinical study for that drug. The schedule remains the same: I will have a CT scan at the end of this cycle (mid-November), and another scan at the end of the sixth cycle (February-ish). At that time, if no new cancer shows up, I will be released from therapy and we will continue to monitor with scans and physical exams.
In addition to working out the chemotherapy mess, I also felt ready--sort of--to ask some hard questions. Up until now, we have dealt with whatever issue was at hand and pushed all of the looking-into-the-future things to the side. As my body and my treatment have changed, however, so has my thinking. As much as I wish it could be different, my reality is that my body is affected by a life-threatening illness. I very much want for Dr. M to tell me that without a doubt, I will live to be a very old woman. I want to hear that I will raise my little boys to be fine men. That I will sit in the front row at their high school graduations, that I will take them to college, and after I leave them in a dorm room somewhere, that I will go home and bake cookies for the care packages that I will send them. I want him to say that I will dance at their weddings and that their wives will be the daughters I never had. I want him to say that there will be plenty of time for Hubby and me to travel together, and to build our dream house with a huge porch where we will sip coffee in our rocking chairs when we are very old (but still very much in love). So I just asked him: Best guess...what does my future look like?
Deep breath. Almost certainly, the cancer will return. Hopefully it will be a few years, during which time I will live like I want to live instead of living according to what cancer dictates. When it does come back, it will most likely redevelop in the pelvic region, and everything I've done this year will need to be done again. Will cancer kill me? Maybe, maybe not. Dr. M is noncommittal, although we got a big lecture about the power of positive thinking.
All in all, the news and the steps taken have left me cautiously optimistic. I have been so sick for so long that I almost expect the next thing, whatever it is, to be bad. Today my weary body and my discouraged heart feel ready. I am ready to try again, and encouraged to start putting one foot in front of the other. The journey is l-o-n-g, and the steps are so small. At the same time, my God is SO BIG. Even in my days of despair, He has been faithful and excessive in the ways that He shows His love for me.
"I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place." Psalm 31:7-8
I am trusting You, Lord, as we take these next small steps together. Give me the will to keep up the good fight and to keep pointing back to You. Help me to be the best wife and mom that I can be to my guys. Thank you for walking with me and flooding the path with Your light when I can't see where to go or what to do. I will continue to hold tightly to Your hand and follow Your lead. Amen.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birthday Blog

Some time ago, I joked with my mother that she could be a guest blogger for me someday. Today, on my 35th birthday, she is doing just that. Thanks, Mom, for sharing my life and your heart here...

On October 15, 1975, I became a mother. I already knew--not through technology, back in the day--but in my heart I knew for sure that our first child would be a girl. And then she was here, ten fingers, ten toes, beautiful in every way. A daughter. Allyson Amber. What joy!

Larry and I couldn't believe that God would give us such a gift, but apparently He had, because we took our amazing daughter home with us and she began showing us who she was. She grew, and soon she skipped off to kindergarten with her little ribbon-tied pigtails. She was the smartest girl in the class, she made the best friend ever, she was everything a mother could want. Sweet joy!

Years flew by. Every school year started with an oh-so-cute picture of Allyson and her red-haired friend Caroline. Allyson became big sister to Phil and Jenny, loved her daddy above all people, and, through God's grace, developed a relationship with her Heavenly Father. Together we went through the drama of junior high and the happiness and minor heartbreaks of high school. She made us proud. Continuing joy!

One of my favorite quotes says that being a mother lets you know what it's like "to have your heart walk around outside your body." Every mother knows this feeling. Allyson is my heart. (Phil and Jenny too, of course. How blessed am I!) The day came when we did the strangest thing. We drove Allyson to college and left her there. I've never known such a feeling of incongruity as I felt looking back and seeing my heart happily waving me away. This, even this, was joy.

In college Allyson fell in love with the man she would choose to marry. She chose well. Clint is a man who is committed to protect her and walk with her through all the stages of life. Together they have given us the world's three greatest grandsons and made a home filled with love and laughter. Joy multiplied.

Along the way, a surprising thing happened. My daughter became my friend. Not just a you-might-as-well-be-friends-because-you're-stuck-with-each-other kind of friend. She is the kind of friend who makes me laugh like no one else, who knows what I'm really thinking, who holds my secrets and trusts me with hers, who wants the best for me, who I would have chosen to be my friend whether she had been my daughter or not. That is an amazing joy.

Today, my daughter, my baby, my girl, my friend, is 35! And today she faces a powerful, terrible enemy named Cancer. She stands strong and proud as she faces the foe that makes her future uncertain. In some way her strength protects all of us who love her so much. She says, "Lift up your eyes. See that God is good," and we see. She says, "Be still and know that He is God," and we are stilled.

Do you wonder what I feel when I see my girl suffering through this horrific trial? Oh, I feel the things you would imagine. I feel deep sorrow, great fear, dismay of the why-couldn't-it-be-me? variety; but there is more. I feel the deepest joy I have known.

This amazing Allyson is my daughter and my friend. I have the privilege of walking this walk with her. Our love grows deeper with every step. My admiration for her expands daily. And wonder of wonders, the greatest lesson of mothering becomes ultimately clear to me. All along, she has not really belonged to me. She has belonged to her God, her Creator. I stand back and watch as He cares for her and the two of them face the future. I know He has her, He loves her, He holds her. And that joy is unspeakable.

Happy birthday, Heart Girl. I love you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Want to Say...

I wrote a new post earlier today while I was in the chemo room. I went back and read it, and realized it did not make a bit of sense. Crazy drugs and crazy people will do that to you. The crazies will also crush your ability to put together coherent thoughts, stand up straight for any length of time, or tolerate any noise/chaos/changes without wanting to pull your hair out (if you had any to pull).
I have a lot to say, but I don't feel like I am able to get it down well enough or fast enough to justify telling it. Would you put up with one more bullet point list? Thanks. I want to say:
*That maintenance chemo is harder than regular "big" chemo in a lot of ways. At the top of the list: Going every single week. Thursday used to be my favorite day of the week, and now it is my least favorite. Even The Office can't make Thursdays OK for me anymore.
*After suffering debilitating leg pain, days-long headaches, and extreme fatigue, I spoke up and told Nurse Stephani that maintenance chemo was not at all like "drinking water," as I was told it would be. She agreed that something is amiss in the way my body is responding to the treatment; I have an appointment scheduled with Dr. M on October 18th to discuss what could possibly be wrong and what we should do to fix it.
*I talked with each of my boys and now have their blessing to walk around the house with my head uncovered. Goliath told me that I "look like Uncle Phil, only a girl" with my "new" hair growing in.
*Gus the dog is able to get into more trouble now that he's tall enough to reach more stuff. His cousin Moose refers to him as "that giant puppy."
*I really want to take the boys to the state fair, but I don't know if we can make that happen this year.
*I like to mark in my books when I read. I just finished a book that is so marked up, I don't know if it will even be helpful when I go back to look for something specific. This book tore me up in a good way, and it took me forever to read it because I kept having to stop and absorb the information and apply it to my situation. It is entitled to its own post later on.
*We are being blessed by friends bringing dinner to our house twice a week while I am doing maintenance chemo. A lot of those friends don't seem to think that their gift of food is adequate. Hear me loud and clear, you cooking pals 'o mine: There are days (like today!) when your aluminum dishes full of warm goodness make me stand in the kitchen and cry tears of gratitude. You are doing for my family what I can not do, and that is HUGE to me.
*Earlier this week, city workers came out to repair the sidewalk in front of our house. Baby and I went out and sat on the grass and watched the workers mix, pour, and smooth concrete for the new sidewalk. Little boys love big trucks, and he was a terrific mix of wonder and questions. I love that littlest man, and I loved making that memory with him. He reminds me why I must press on and keep giving everything I have.
*The Neulasta injection I receive every month costs $4,150.00. For ONE SHOT. Let that sink in.
*Insurance is so necessary, but is also such a pain in the rear.
*I love my job. I appreciate it even more now for the sense of normalcy it brings to my life.
*I still have two kids who need Halloween costumes.
*It is hard for me to answer when people ask me "How are you feeling?". I want to be honest, but I don't want to sound like I'm complaining.
*I really wish my sister and brother lived close to me, but I'm thankful for my very cool brother-in-law who does.
*My family is getting used to Hubby being at work all day. We are all adjusting to the new schedule, and we all really like it (especially the part where he comes home)!
*I've had a few lay-it-all-on-the-table talks with God lately. I've been very honest in telling Him that I am weary, and I just don't think I have what it takes to keep on going. I cry. I whine. I beg for Him to make it all go away. He tells me that He is nearby (Psalm 14:17), that I am safe (Psalm 91:1-2), that He has good plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), and that there should still be joy in the midst of my troubles (James 1:2-3).
*A couple of friends put on a Pampered Chef show a few weeks ago from which all proceeds were to be donated to Team Allyson. I don't know what kind of funds a typical show nets, but it seems like everyone I know bought something! I am so grateful, and so humbled. Thank you, friends.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ultimate Chemo Brain

My sister and her mister were in town this weekend for the Texas-OU game. I don't want to discuss the game itself, or the fact that they ate a deep-fried PopTart at the fair, so I will entertain you with a true story of chemo brain instead.
I fixed Waikiki Meatballs for dinner last night (thanks, Dee!) and there was enough to feed my hungry Seester when they got back from the fairgrounds. I fixed her a plate piled high with meatballs, rice, steamed sugar snap peas, and bread. I handed it to her, she set it down on the table and excused herself to the bathroom. While she was gone, I cleared the table of all remaining dishes,--including her untouched dinner--brushed all food into the trash can, and loaded the dishwasher. When Jenny came back to the kitchen, she said, "Hey, who took my food?" And you know what I did? I helped her look for it. Oh, yes, I did.
Thank you, chemotherapy, for destroying my brain cells but giving my family a reason to laugh at me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chemo Is Not Loverly

Picture Audrey Hepburn singing these twist on a classic favorite:

All I want is a place somewhere
far away from this chemo chair
where women have no hair
Oh, chemo is not loverly.

The nurse says be careful
what you eat
I say I still can not feel my feet
Off week is such a treat
Oh, chemo is not loverly.

Not so loverly sittin'
abso-bloomin'-lutely still
I want to cry when it comes
in view just over the hill.

Old ladies staring straight at me
Talking over my misery
Oh, where is Stephani?
No, chemo is not loverly.
Loverly, loverly, loverly--
No, chemo is not loverly.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good News

Several weeks ago, I gave a blood sample for the BRAC analysis test. In addition to all the "regular" cancer stuff, I have carried the weight of worry that people I love will be at a higher risk for cancer because of me. The BRAC analysis checks for gene mutations that would indicate the possibility of that happening.
Yesterday during chemo, Nurse Michelle pulled me aside and said that they had received the test results. She handed me a folder, and in the middle of long paragraphs of medical mush, these words jumped off the page at me: NO MUTATION DETECTED. The tests were negative. My Seester, my cousins, even my children are not at any greater risk for cancer than the average person walking down the street. Thank you, Lord. Michelle handed me a tissue for the tears that were falling, and all I could manage to say was, "I love them so much." And I do.
Now, just a touch of funny. Now that I have to go to chemo all by my lonesome during the maintenance phase, my mom and I have a plan worked out. I keep my phone close by my side and text her during the treatment. That way, she knows everything that is going on and I don't feel so lonely. Here is the series of texts that we exchanged yesterday:
Me: Oh Lord. Just got here. 2 old couples in the waiting room discussing the beauty of Mackinaw Island in the summer.
Mom: Don't make eye contact.
Me: In sick room. One bald head, 2 sleepers, 1 Bible reader with 4 bottles of water. Dr. M just came by and kissed my cheek.
Me: Houston, we have snoring.
Mom: Make up a song about the chemo room. "All I want is a room somewhere..."
Me: New addition who looks alarmingly like (someone we know), only taller.
Mom: How many can fit in the room??????
Me: 6. It's always full.
Me: Old lady a few chairs down has had a voice change b/c of chemo. She sounds like a man with a cold.
Mom: Oh no. The dreaded voice change.
Me: Sick lady is watching a how-to video on her computer about insurance--with no ear muffs!
(I once mixed up the terms "ear phones" with "ear muffs" due to chemo brain. My mother still is laughing about it.)
Mom: She should know muffs are a must in the chemo room.
I can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Phillip's Wedding

The second sibling wedding is done! The Brother and his Other got hitched this past Saturday in a beautiful ceremony in our childhood church. Phil was so handsome, and Chelsea was the picture of style and grace.
Mama and her cowboys at the rehearsal

Once upon a time this amazing man was an annoying little boy who shoved me into a thorn bush and tried to convince me I was adopted.

Hubby helping Goliath with his tie. Handsome men!
Goliath and Little Middle walked my grandmothers down the aisle; Baby was the ring bearer.

I love these guys with all my heart.

Phil and his sisters--ready to walk down the aisle.

The happy couple!

Confidential to Phil: All of us who love you have longed for and pleaded with God for the happiness you showed on Saturday. Your joy fills my heart to overflowing. I will never, ever forget the look on your face and the tears in your eyes as I walked down the aisle toward you while you waited for your bride. I mouthed "I love you" to you, and I know you understood that there was nothing that would have kept me from sharing that moment with you. You have stretched my heart in a way that no one else can: Thank you for teaching me about faith, grace, prayer, and humility. My little brother has grown up to be a godly man; I am so proud of who you are and what you do. I will continue to pray for you and Chelsea as you begin your life together. May your home and your hearts be always deserve nothing less. I love you so much!