Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Getaway

For quite a while now, this weekend has been circled on my calendar. My BFF Caroline managed to get tickets to a Chris Tomlin/Christy Nockels/Louie Giglio concert, and Friday was the big night! I left work early on Friday and drove to Houston. Just being alone in the car would have almost made the whole trip worthwhile! I dropped in on my brother and SIL just long enough to freshen up, then headed to Caroline's house. We enjoyed dinner at the Black Walnut...YUM!...and made it to the concert with time to spare.

This show was a salve for my soul. The "concert" could more accurately be described as a corporate worship experience. Thousands of people singing "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" and "How Great Is Our God" together was more than enough to give me chills. The best part for me, though, was Chris's rendition of "Amazing Grace" (with "My Chains Are Gone"). I don't cry much these days--there's too much "stuff" piled up on me. But the words of that precious hymn were as fresh to me as the first time I believed them. I linked my arm through Caroline's, leaning on her like I have many times over the years, and brushed tears away with my free hand. It truly felt like God was blowing the dust off the surface of my heart and stirring something that has laid dormant for a long time. I'm so thankful.

Meanwhile, my brother was working some magic on my behalf. He's got friends in high places (Hi, Clay!), and he was able to get us passes for the meet-and-greet after the show. Caroline and I were thrilled to be able to meet Chris Tomlin!

On Saturday, I had lunch with my grandparents. We went to the Olive Garden, and it couldn't have been more lovely if I'd had high tea with the Queen herself! Look at my cute Buck and Grandmama checking out the menu:

And here I am with them and Gran. I'm pretty fond of these three people!

I had a delightful time just hanging out with my brother and his Other. Phil and Chelsea, you made me so comfortable in your home and so happy. I love, love, LOVE you both!

I headed home feeling refreshed and satisfied. Of course, no trip would be complete unless something weird happened. Or maybe two somethings: 1) I was driving north on I-45, minding my own business, when I saw a field with some horses...and a zebra. Huh? 2) I stopped at Buc-ees, which is a legend in its own right in Texas. This was in front of me:
You might be a redneck if you only wear socks to pump gas. And yes, I took a picture...because that's how I roll. Sorry, Mom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011


Almost thirty years ago, my parents moved our (then) family of four to Oak Ridge, a little suburb just north of Houston. The doors on the moving van had barely shut when we set out on the hunt for a new church home. We found that home at Oak Ridge Baptist Church--back then, it was known as "that big white church by the freeway." We hadn't been there very long when our family first got to know, and then to love, the Wolfe family.

Joe and Barbara and their sons Jody and Jamie were a typical American family in a lot of ways. Joe was a CPA who looked for any excuse to go fishing, Barbara taught school and took care of her family. They were atypical in a few ways, too. Joe suffered from polio as a child, and the effects of that followed him into adulthood, making it more and more difficult to walk. Jamie had muscular dystrophy. As the years went by, the muscles in his body atrophied until finally he was wheelchair-bound.

You might think that life dealt this precious family a particularly unfair hand. Not one of them would have agreed with you. The love they had for each other and for God was unwavering. They approached life with enthusiasm and lots of laughter. Their faith got them through the darker days, and they made sure that God got full credit and glory in all things, good or bad. I watched them carefully through the years, especially Barbara. I couldn't have known then that I, too, would be the only girl in a house full of boys. She poured everything she had into her family and her church. I know she worked harder than I can even imagine, but no one that I know ever once heard her complain.

I grew up and moved away from my family and my church. My parents moved to the other side of Houston just a few months later. It's hard to keep in touch with people you don't see often, but we loved those Christmas letters Barb and Joe sent out! They were just as funny as being with them in person. I finished school, got married, and Hubby and I started our life together. As a young wife, Barb often came to mind as a role model for the kind of wife I wanted to be for my husband. The thought of her always made me smile.

Then tragedy struck for our friend. In just a few years' time, Barbara lost her husband and both of her sons. Three lives...three loves...three funerals. Then, the unthinkable. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and later, ovarian cancer. Cancer seemed to those of us on the outside to be the greatest injustice, just adding insult to injury for someone who deserved it the least.

Barb fought hard. She endured multiple chemotherapy protocols. She lost her hair, grew it back, and lost it again. She continued to teach a women's Sunday School class. She continued to encourage and uplift other people, even though her suffering must have been great. I know she did, because one of those people was me.

Barbara's last scan showed tumors growing all over her body. She moved in with her parents, and was placed under hospice care within weeks. On Valentine's Day, God showed mercy and called her home. I wish I could have caught just a glimpse of her three able-bodied boys running to meet her! What a perfect day for a perfect homecoming!

The last time I saw Barbara was at my brother's wedding in September. She sat in an aisle seat during the ceremony, and several of their wedding pictures have her in the background, smiling like witnessing Phil and Chelsea's love and vows was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She gave me a big hug that day and reminded me to keep on fighting the good fight. She told me that even cancer was no match for the power that I have through Christ. Cancer took Barb's earthly life, but whatever she is experiencing now is nothing to be mourned. Indeed, He has turned her mourning into dancing!

The summer that I was about the same age that my Goliath is now, Barbara was my VBS teacher. During that week of VBS, she challenged us to memorize Psalm 100. I met that challenge, and all these years later, that Scripture passage is still hidden deep in my heart.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who has made us, and we are his.
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving
and into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

That, my friends, is quite a legacy. To be not just a teacher, but a doer of the make lifelong impacts on believe He is good even when it doesn't seem like it, and to proclaim His faithfulness to anyone who will listen...that is who Barbara was. And it's who I long to be.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.

Allyson, Phil, and Barbara--August 2010

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On This Day...

One year ago today, I sat in stunned silence as my oncologist told me that there were new tumors growing in my body.

The year that has passed since February 17, 2010 has been harder than I could have ever imagined it could be. Not one single day has gone by that I have not lived and breathed the reality of cancer. I have been sicker than I ever thought possible. I have had to rely on my friends and family to care for me, and even worse, to care for my children. I've had to try to explain things to my sons that no child should ever have to even think about, let alone live with. I've listened to my husband cry in the middle of the night when he thought I was asleep. I've been poked, cut, prodded, and tested, and I've swallowed hundreds of pills. I've lost my hair. I've lost my dignity. I've lost my confidence.

Today, in a twist of irony, I had another appointment with Dr. M. I was going to find out the results of the CT scan I had on Tuesday and hear his advice on how to proceed with treatment. After several heart-stopping moments where I strained to hear his conversation with Nurse Michelle in the hallway, he entered the exam room and pronounced that no new tumors showed up on the scan. A great deal of back-and-forth ensued. I will spare you the details, but the bottom line is this: I will continue with the cytoxan/Avastin maintenance regimen for a few more months. At the end of that time, I will go for another scan and if all remains unchanged, I will be declared to be in remission and this leg of the cancer journey will be over.

You'd think that with the end in sight, I'd be thrilled, right? Actually, I am terrified. The news on my latest scan is good, no doubt about it. But to me, it's not a sigh of's just a delay of the inevitable. I've been told more than once that the cancer will surely invade my body again. Just because it isn't there now doesn't mean it isn't coming.

Dr. M was prepared to release me from treatment today. He saw things through different lenses than I do, however. He looks at me and sees a challenge, a science experiment, a few dollar signs, and maybe an opportunity. I look in the mirror and see a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a mother. The whole time he talked to me (or sometimes over me) today, all I could see in my mind's eye were my 3 little cowboys. Their faces were so clear, in fact, that I did something a lot of people might think is ridiculous: I chose to continue chemo. I couldn't picture myself tucking my boys into bed at night, knowing that I could have done more to prevent The Sickness from recurring. I've come this far...what's a few more months?

So I will press on. I will do every treatment I can within the time frame I've been given. Cancer is a terrible disease. I hate those abnormal silent cells with everything I have. And February 17th? I don't care for it much, either. But next year, I will be able to look back and remember that this is the day I chose to finish strong.

After the appointment, my mom and I had lunch together. There's nothing worse than crying in a restaurant with people all around you laughing and enjoying their lunches. I am just so sad. Even good scan results feel like a burden to carry. I am well aware that this sounds like a woe-is-me, glass-half-empty kind of narrative. I don't mean it that way at all. In fact, just in the few hours since I saw the doctor, I hugged two friends, laughed with my boys, kissed my husband, talked to my sister, and snuggled my dog. I am blessed beyond measure. It's just that I am at sort of a breaking point with The seems to be controlling me more than I am controlling it.

The mug said it all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

For Hubby

I'd rather dance through minefields with you than walk through life by myself. I am thankful for our promise. I love you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby Scone

Dear Baby Scone,

Before I say anything else, I want to say that I love you. The news of your existence brought great joy to our family! Knowing you were on your way to be with us was like the first pretty day after a long, cold winter. I loved you from the minute I found out about you.

Last week when your mommy and daddy went to the doctor to check on you, your heart had stopped beating.

And just like that, our breath of fresh air vanished and we were thrust back into what feels like a never-ending winter.

Your mommy and daddy are devastated. They had been so thrilled about you! Your daddy had a LOT of work to do to get your room cleared out, but he was over the moon about you. Your mommy is one of the most laid back, even-keeled people I know, but she was giddy about you. She and I had already been shopping for you, planning how to decorate your room. We took hours walking through Babies R Us, deciding which "paraphernalia" was good enough for you and which looked silly. You would have had the best of everything.

And that's the thing that gets me, Baby Scone. We already adored you. You would have been loved and taken care of no matter what. So I don't understand why you can't BE.

Because I love you and I love your mommy so much, I went to be with her. Nana and Poppy came, too. We all went back to the doctor with her, and we left there with broken hearts and a sonogram picture. That black and white picture is all we have left of you, but I know it will be one of your mommy's greatest treasures. It shows you, fearfully and wonderfully made. I could clearly see your two little legs and two little arms. One arm was sticking up and out--would you have been a fighter? Oh, and your head. Your head was gigantic, just like your auntie's. I'm sorry about that.

It was a cold, raw day--just perfect for how we felt. Your mommy, your Nana, and I sat on the sofa in our pajamas, watching the wind howling outside. Your mommy cried, and we cried with her. Because that is all that we can do. We can't get you back, we can't fix it, we can't understand. So we grieve.

I want you to know that the adults aren't the only ones who adore you. Your cowboy cousins had big plans for you. They were unanimous in their decision that you should be a boy (they don't understand that it wasn't really up to them!), and that they would teach you everything you need to know about boy stuff. They had great ideas about hunting and fishing trips that they would take with you. They also thought you might enjoy coming to our house with your daddy and all of you could go to Monster Jam. I was not invited because I am a girl.

If the boy thing didn't work out, however, the three of them agreed that they could deal with a girl cousin. The contingency plan was that you could still come visit and we would all bake and decorate cookies together. Then they would play Wii and you could go shopping with your mommy and me. Specifically, we would go to Target. They are crazy--and they would have been crazy about you.

I have not told them yet that we no longer have you. I guess I'm a little afraid...because how can I explain to my sons something that I can't understand myself?

Your mommy and daddy are great people. They really love each other. They like to have fun together and they laugh a lot. Before there was you, all of their extra affections were heaped on their dogs, Lucy and Moose. Your mommy is SO pretty, and your daddy's not bad, either (especially his hair, which he protects with a fierceness that leaves him wide open to mockery). You would have been a beautiful baby. Your parents are also food snobs. Your dad looks down on regular cheddar cheese with disdain, always opting instead for the weirdest, hard-to-pronounce blocks of cheese in the deli. This is why you are called Scone. It would never do for your mommy to have a plain old bun in the oven.

Most importantly, your mommy and daddy love Jesus. They would have taken you to church. They would have talked to you about Jesus and taught you that He loves you. They would have prayed for you, and as you got older, they would have taught you what it means to be a person of faith and to walk with Christ, just like they do. They believe that God made you and gave you life, and that your little heart was in His hands. All of us who love you are heartbroken and desperately trying to come up with some plausible reason for the loss of wonderful, perfect you.

I love you, Baby Scone. You will always be a part of our family. You can not be replaced or forgotten. I believe that I will see you in heaven. And when I get there, let's bake some cookies together, OK?


Aunt Allyson

"The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Old Man Winter blew into our city last night with a vengeance, and it seems he is settling in for a few days. I have some excited little cowboys who are not going to school today. It's going to be a Netflix-watching, pajama-wearing kind of day.

And I have to confess that it won't be the first day that I've stayed in my pjs recently. I've had a rough go of it lately. It started on my last treatment day, when the woman in the chair next to me cried the whole time. It was her first chemo treatment, and she was scared. Part of me wanted to comfort her, but most of me was annoyed and angry--angry that she had to be there, angry that I had to be there, and angry at cancer in general. That treatment room is a terrible place. Cutesy ribbons and bows on the IV poles and cheery green plants on a desk can not disguise the reality of what goes on there. It's awful, and I hate it.

The side effects of last week's treatment were tough. They always are, but for some reason I had a more difficult time bouncing back. My emotional state is directly related, to a degree, to my physical pain. The more my body hurts, the more my heart hurts. Tuesdays are treatment days. I typically go pretty early in the morning, and I am back home by lunch time. I like to stop off at Schlotzsky's on my way home and grab lunch, sort of like a reward for myself for enduring the morning. My order is always the same: a small original sandwich, hold the lettuce, onion, and tomato. I get home, change into my pajamas, pop the first of several pain pills, and eat my sandwich. Then I put my best game face on, deal with it, and wait to feel better.

Only this time, Wednesday morning came and I did nothing. I didn't shower or change clothes. I didn't put on makeup. I didn't dig deep and look for the silver lining. I'm not even sure I brushed my teeth. I just let myself be sad. I looked for the closest pool of self-pity and jumped in. I watched kid TV with Baby during the day, and when it came time for church that evening, I did not make the boys go. It was just too much effort. Good mom, right?

Then it was Thursday. I had to do something very hard that brought to light some tough issues. I've said it before, and I'll say it again here: I am not the only one affected by The Sickness. My suffering is not solitary; the sorrow isn't isolated. On that particular day, it simply felt like more than I could bear.

On Friday night, my family chose from these three options for dinner: blueberry Eggos, chocolate chip Eggos, and cinnamon microwave pancakes. Again, the mundane everyday task of preparing a meal required more than I had to give.

I am facing another scan within the next couple of weeks, followed by a meeting with Dr. M. That meeting will determine what we do next. I asked my chemo nurse, and she said he more than likely will want me to continue with the maintenance chemo, in spite of its "uncomfortable" side effects. The reasons are solid: theoretically, the longer I suppress cancer cells with the chemo, the longer it will be before they can grow again. Makes sense.

But the anxiety and depression I feel knowing what's coming is ridiculous. Nearly one year after the start of Chapter 2, I still find it hard to believe that this will be the rest of my life. When I started this journey, I said that I did not want to lose myself and be identified by The Sickness. But more and more, I am afraid that is exactly what has happened. Pretty much everything I do (or don't do--i.e. cooking dinner!) is determined by how strong or sick I feel. I don't make plans without checking to see when my next treatment day will be. I don't laugh like I used to, or even cry like I used to. Not too long ago, I watched Steel Magnolias with my Bible Study sisters, and I didn't shed a tear when Shelby died. Not one. I was stone-faced when M'Lynn lost it in the cemetery. And I can't remember for certain, but I don't think I even laughed when Clairee offered up Ouiser as a sacrifice for her friend.

I am reading a book right now titled The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison. The author is a mother of two sons, and the book is her memoir. In reading, I have captured a glimpse of what I want more than anything: plain old, ordinary days. Mornings that allow me to sleep as late as I want to instead of my wake-up time being dictated by last night's medication. Afternoons that are open for game-playing or park-going or just plain lazing around with my cowboys. Evenings that invite us to share a home-cooked meal on the back patio and count the airplanes that fly by or wonder about the rooster that we can hear through our neighbor's fence. Days that are blank squares on my calendar instead of doctor appointments. Days that don't involve pills or IVs. Days that I can look in the mirror and like what I see. Normal. Is that really too much to ask for?