Monday, December 31, 2012

...And Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out!

Ah, 2012.  I woke up this morning and remembered that it was the last time we would meet, and I actually smiled.  You haven't been too kind.

I dreamt last night that my family 'o five was on vacation.  At our resort, there was a Belgian waffle buffet for breakfast.  We loved it!  The waffles could be made into any shape and the toppings seemed to stretch for miles:  cherries, strawberries, whipped cream, blueberries, flavored syrups, pecans, get the idea.  It was a waffle smorgasbord.  That's what I want 2013 to be like:  full of choices.

2012 didn't give me much choice.  It handed me cancer on a silver platter, not caring whatsoever that I don't want it.  It took my job and replaced it with chemotherapy.  It gave me The Great Heartache.  2012 found me seeking professional help for the first time in my life, only to realize that I might be too much of a mess for it to matter. 

Now, as 2012 prances its way out, I feel like I'm left with a huge natural disaster that requires clean-up, but it's so big and unruly I don't even know where to begin.  Should I start with my Baby, who might think it's normal for a mother to oversee homework progress from under the covers?  Or should I start with my calendar, which is dotted with lab appointments, doctor visits, and infusion times--all in pencil, because they are subject to change at any minute?  Maybe I should start with my husband, who confessed to me through tears on Christmas night that he can't "do THIS"--meaning, "You make Christmas smell like Christmas, look like Christmas, and taste like Christmas, and if you're not here, we won't have the right kind of Christmas."  How about my Little Middle, who knows that a half hour of Duck Dynasty with Mom is a surefire way to escape reality and laugh?  What about my Goliath, who worries and is constantly on watch for the next bad and unsafe thing for our family?   How about those all-too-real thoughts and ideas that are taking form on paper, outlining my wishes and what-to-do's for the end of my life?  I wish it were as simple as a "delete" button.

Clark Griswold had a point:  "Look around you, Ellen!  We're at the threshold of hell!"

It's no wonder that I hibernate.

I'm tired of 2012.  I'm fed up with its surprises and never-saw-that-comings.  I'm exhausted from trying to hold it all together, only to have everything crumble around me.  I am sick to death of treading water with the hopes of just staying afloat, rather than really being out there and living.

My pastor said this in his sermon yesterday:  "Look at your 2012.  And give thanks."

Give thanks.  Give thanks?  Are you serious, Clark?

I know that he is.  SGH doesn't kid around when it comes to direct commands from God.  So I'm hunting down a few things to be thankful for in 2012:

1.  Reese Elizabeth.  Lordy, I love this baby girl.  She makes me happy when skies are gray.

2.  My cousin Christina moved to Dallas a few months ago, which has afforded me the pleasure of her company.  We think the same things are stupid, we have in-depth convos about theology, and we are gonna write a book someday.  Oh, and neither of us has an actual dessert menu.

3.  My house.  I l-o-v-e this house.  It makes me happy to be here (which is good, since I spend so much time here!).  I am particularly in love with my freshly-painted kitchen right now.

4.  People.  God has put some pretty dynamic people in my life.  Some of them are related to me; a lot of them I just lucked out with.  I am blessed in an amazing way with people who love me and my family, who pray for us, who feed us, who knew us way-back-when and still care...pretty unbelievable.

5.  Opportunities.  Although The Sickness has brought a lot of undesirable misery my way, it has also presented opportunities that I would never have had otherwise.  I can be real about suffering, but I can also be real about my Savior to a world who needs to know.

Hmm.  It's a good start.  My life, as messy and unpredictable as it is, is still intact.  I have so much more than a lot of people.  I am blessed, in spite of this year's best efforts. 

Make no mistake, 2012.  I won't miss you AT ALL.  You will go down in history as one of my least-favorite 365 days ever.  I'm definitely looking for more sunshine and sparkles in 2013.  But you are valuable in your own way because you taught me a lot. You gave me happiness in spite of yourself.  Most importantly, you stretched me.  I'm not the same person I was, and that's not a bad thing.  I am determined to add to the list, and I will give thanks.  In all things. 

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”--Albert Einstein 

Here's to new beginnings and a bright 2013~Cheers!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?

It's Christmas Eve.  Later today, my parents, my siblings, Reese the Niece, aunts, uncles, and cousins will gather at my Gran's house to celebrate.  I can't be there in person, although my heart sure is.  I'm sure that there will be plenty of leaves for a certain little boy to play in.  There will be dishes of candy in every room.  There will be a motion-sensor snowman planted by the front door who will sing a little jingle every time anyone goes in or out.  (Mom or Aunt Mary Kay will eventually roll their eyes heavenward and shut him down.)  There will be a crazy Santa hat that some uncle will don to pass out gifts.  There might be a plumbing problem, in which case all of the men will gather in the backyard and pretend that they know how to fix it.  There will be a silver coin in each of the 28 stockings.  There will be music of the uncommon sort--Christmas tunes played on the old player piano, or a family band with cousin Jonathan on the guitar and Gran on the saw.  (What?  Doesn't your grandmother play the saw?!?)  There will be football on the TV, and maybe later, a viewing of the timeless Christmas Vacation movie.  There will be tamales, Big Red, and eggnog, because these are the things that make a Conner Christmas. 

Gran, here's the recipe I promised you.  You and I and my Baby understand that eggnog makes everything better.  Thanks for giving me a lifetime of good holiday memories. I am loving all of you so much today!

Egg Nog Coffee Cake

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup eggnog
1 container (8 ounces) sour cream
1 teaspoon rum extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Struesel Topping

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Grease bottom only of rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches, with shortening. In small bowl, mix all Streusel Topping ingredients with fork until crumbly; set aside. In large bowl, beat 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Beat in 1 cup eggnog, the sour cream, rum extract and eggs until blended. Stir in 2 1/2 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Spread in pan. Sprinkle Streusel Topping over batter. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Heat oven to 350°F. Uncover pan; bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes.

Egg Nog Glaze

1/2 c. powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp. Egg Nog

In a small bowl, mix all Eggnog Glaze ingredients until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over coffee cake.

Note: You can wait until right before baking to make the struesel topping and sprinkle it on the batter and then bake if you want a more crunchy-type topping.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


So, chemo's not going so well.  Actually, I think that chemo is going exactly as it is supposed to.  I do this funny thing where I just decide that things are going to happen a certain way.  I seem to think that just by sheer willpower I can escape side effects that are universal with chemotherapy.  Silly, huh?  I set myself up for disappointment when I actually sleep for three days, or when I stand in front of the refrigerator wondering why we don't have anything good to eat. 

So the universe will have to forgive me for not feeling as Christmassy as I ought to.  Yes, all of my gifts are purchased and wrapped.  The tree is still standing straight (usually by this time it's leaning to one side or the other).  I've caroled, shopped, churched, baked, and traditioned myself as much as possible.  One might say I'm ready for Christmas.  But I know the truth.  I have been too tired and honestly, feeling a little too sorry for myself to get into the spirit. 

This morning I woke up determined to do something beyond the four walls of my bedroom, where I've been since my last infusion on Tuesday.  I wanted to bake cookies.  There are certain tastes and smells that mean "Christmas", and I wanted them in my house today.  So I went to Wal-Mart.  I needed only a few things--powdered sugar, butter, eggs.  I didn't bother much with makeup or wardrobe.  I just wanted to go fast so I could get home fast.

I was so caught up in hiding my non-made-up face behind my big sunglasses that I didn't notice him at first.  I was in a rush, but Mack was not.  He never is.  Mack is a greeter at my local Wally World.  It's his job to say hello to everyone, give directions, wipe down shopping carts, and put stickers on return items.  If I had to guess, I'd peg him in his mid-sixties but it wouldn't surprise me if he was younger.  He walks with a limp, as if he never quite healed from an old injury. 

Now, I'm more of a Kroger girl when it comes to grocery shopping, but there are days (like today) that the Mart is good for one-stop shopping.  I've been there enough to know that Mack is a fixture.  He is as steady as the stream of people that pass by him each day.  He stands in the entryway of the giant store, often leaning on a cart to support his weak leg.  He must get tired.  He has to be bored.  I can't imagine spending hours every day at such a menial task.  Better Mack than me.

But this morning, the Saturday before Christmas, when I was completely wrapped up in ME, Mack made a difference.  He greeted me, like he's done a hundred times before.  There were people in front of me, and  lots of people behind me.  But Mack made me feel like I was the only person there.  He gave me a huge smile that showed his teeth, made eye contact with me, and then he said, "Merry Christmas." 

And as I pushed my cart into the aisles with all the other Saturday-before-Christmas-crazies, I couldn't help but think:  Mack gets Christmas.  Mack IS Christmas.  Mack works a seemingly unimportant job that surely doesn't pay nearly enough.  He is physically inept.  From where I (and most of you) stand, he is at some disadvantage.  But Mack embodies the spirit of this season:  J-O-Y.  He made me believe in our second of contact that there was nowhere else he would rather be than right there in that windy atrium, welcoming me to my friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart.  He made me think that I mattered, and he had the smile and the kindness to back it up.  He put someone else ahead of his own needs and wants.

That sounds like quite a load to attribute to a man I don't even know, doesn't it?  Maybe so.  But when it is so easy to get lost in the endless to-do lists, and when the budget it blown, and when "peace on earth" is out of sight, and when the season doesn't make sense...I think we should be even more on the lookout for the true spirit of Christmas.  So here's to you, Mack...have yourself a merry little Christmas.  As for me, I baked those little almond cookies and sprinkled them liberally with sugar.  Tonight I will share them with my family and make a new holiday memory.  'Tis the season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Letter To My Sons

Dear Goliath, Little Middle, and Baby,

Something big happened on Friday, December 14.  It didn't happen here.  It didn't happen to us.  But it was big just the same, and I can't--and don't want to--just shake it off and get on with life as usual.

I didn't want to tell you that a sad, sick person went into an elementary school.  It was a school just like the one the three of you go to every day.  I didn't want you to know that he had weapons and an intent to kill, that he wanted to cause harm to children who are just like you.  I wanted to protect you from knowing that the world can be such a scary, awful place.  But I couldn't.

You are each so smart, and there was no hiding from you the rampant news coverage, the solemn moods of the adults around you, and the half-mast flags that are all over town.  You asked all the right questions, if there even is such a thing as "right" in this horrible situation.  You wanted to know what happened, and if it could happen to you, too.  You asked about the children and the teachers.  How did the bad man get in?  How did he kill them?  How did they get out?  And you asked the question that most of our country is asking:  WHY?  Oh, little loves.  Why, indeed? 

We, of course, have talked a lot in our house about why God allows bad things to happen to good people.  Although I don't necessarily like it, I've thought that maybe, in terms of my cancer and our other family heartache, that I might have figured it out.  I've told you that if I--if WE--trust God and we are faithful to Him, than our suffering is not in vain.  He promises good things because we love Him.  He promises to take care of all of us and to give us exactly what we need. 

But my suffering is easier for me to process because I am a grown up.  I've had a life full of experiences and mistakes, happiness and sorrow, growing and learning.  I never say it out loud to you, but I think you already know that you, my babies, are the reasons I worry so much AND why I fight to get well.   Because you have everything ahead of you.  I don't want you to be frightened or worried or disadvantaged or helpless.  Most mommies want the best for their children, just like I do for you.

Those children in Newtown had everything ahead of them.  Their mommies helped them get dressed on Friday morning.  Maybe they rushed them through breakfast the way I sometimes do.  Maybe some of them sang silly songs about the weather, or maybe some of them had to ask more than once if teeth had been brushed and hair combed.  Some of those mommies might have been flustered or annoyed, or maybe they loved mornings that bring the promise of a new day.  Some might have even been relieved when they dropped their kids off and came home to a quiet house.  I have mornings like that.

I don't know why.  As much as I want to assure you that you are safe, I know that would be dishonest.  Daddy and I do our best, but this world is so broken, sweet sons.  There is so much hurt and people are damaged in millions of ways.  You, maybe better than a lot of other kids, know what real suffering is.  I'm sorry that I can't protect you like I want to.  I'm sorry that you will remember December 14, 2012 as a day that you felt scared.  Will you do this for me?  Let's try to remember December 14, 2012 as a day that we were reminded of what we already know is true:  God loves you.  God cares about you, down to the smallest detail.  God is with you everywhere you go.  The Bible is absolutely true.  God wants good things for you. 

God gave you to me, the three greatest gifts of my lifetime.  You are mine only for a time, though, because He and I both know that you really belong to Him.  I promise you that I will hug you a little tighter in the mornings.  I will listen a little more intently when you talk, I will soak up every minute I get to spend with you, and I will look for every opportunity to teach you Truth.  Your Daddy and I love you with everything that we have and we are.  So do your Poppy and Nana and your Papa and Mema.  But nobody--not even me--loves you the way that God loves you.  Love people without reserve, show kindness and respect to everyone, and live large, boys.  The world can be scary, but you can be and do anything.  YOU ARE LOVED.

With my whole heart,

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Night Before Chemo

'Twas the night before chemo,
when all through the house,
were my kids and my mother
and Hubby, my spouse.
School lunches were packed
by the Nana with care
As I dragged boys to bed
up every last stair.

The cowboys were nestled
snug in their beds,
With lyrics of Christmas songs
stuck in their heads.
And Mom in her pjs
and me in the same
Both were worn out
from the $%&! cancer game.

When up in my head
there arose such a clatter
I sat up in bed
to think what was the matter.
Away to my blog
I flew like a flash,
Opened my laptop
Praying it wouldn't crash.

The gleam on the screen
of my trusty old Dell
gave me a chance
for my story to tell.
When, what to my wandering mind did I think
I should make an appointment to go see a shrink!

More rapid than eagles the images came,
And I got mad, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Dumb sickness! Dumb chemo! I hate you a lot!
Mean nurses! Cold tubing! My blood will not clot!
Stop touching my port! Stop giving me meds!
Now dash away! dash away! or off with your heads!"

And then in a twinkling
I knew in my mind
That sure enough, I was
in a big bind.
I reigned in my thoughts
and settled on down,
Then something else happened
that caused me to frown.

My hair was two colors,
and getting quite thin,
And my clothes were too scratchy
for my sensitive skin.
My stomach was rumbling
from the inside out
And I felt like I needed
a drink that was stout.

My eyes used to twinkle
But now they're ablaze
And my soul is determined
to fight through these days.
When the morning comes
and I rise from my bed
I surely know I have
nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word, but
bowed my head to pray.
"Lord, give me the strength
I need for that day."
Then, knowing that my God
was holding me tight,
I reached to the lamp
and turned off the light.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Goliath's jiu jitsu class is a great place for me to talk on the phone.  I am stuck there for a solid 45 minutes while he punches and wrestles his little heart out, which is plenty of time to play catch up.  This was the case yesterday.  I spent a good 25 minutes chatting and sharing with a long-time friend.  We had just hung up when my phone rang again.  The caller i.d. said that the caller was "unknown."  In my world, that means it's the oncology office.

It was Dr. F.  I'm not sure that he has ever called me himself before.  Isn't that why doctors have minions?  To do the bothersome work of communicating and scheduling?  But this news was far too important to assign to a minion to deliver.  I knew it as soon as I heard his voice.

The news is bad.  New cancer is growing in my body.  It is growing out of nothing, at the same time that active poison chemotherapy is being delivered into my body.

We were both silent for a moment.  Neither of us knew what to say.  Then I took a deep breath, tuned out the sounds of punching bags around me, and said the only thing I could think of:  "Well, this really sucks."  He agreed.

The course of action is up to me.  Obviously, I am done with Doxil.   Dr. F assured me that the problem is not necessarily that the Doxil wasn't working.  The real problem we face is that the cancer that plagues me is big and fast and aggressive and strong.  It simply overpowered the drug.  So, I am going straight to the next drug.  Remember when I told you that Doxil was the one and only possibility?  That list is still true, but in my case will serve as more of a guideline than an end-all cancer Bible.  I've given the go-ahead for the medical team to stuff Doxil and move on to topotecan.  It is standard, as far as chemotherapy goes.  I will be nauseous and sick.  I will be very susceptible to infection due to low blood cell counts, and weak.  I will possibly lose my hair.  The plan now is to do six cycles. One cycle means treatment once a week for three weeks, with the fourth week off.  I will start immediately.

The reason that I have to do this is simple, and can be divided into three parts:  Goliath, Little Middle, and Baby.  I may not be the best mother in the world, but I am their mother.  Made for them.  I'm the only one they are ever going to get.  I will not--WILL NOT!!--do anything less than everything for my sons.  This disease may kill me, but not without a hard fight.

Last night I cried with my husband and my mother.  I called my dad, my sister, and my brother and cried again.  The sorrow among the six of us is overwhelming.  The despair, the anger, the absolute grief--too much.  The hurt...oh, the hurt!  I think our hearts must be broken, but none of us have the luxury of giving in to heartbreak.  Because there are three little cowboys who need their mom.

I am close to the edge.  I'm teetering on the side of keeping it together.  I am so close that I can look over into the pit of despair and hopelessness.  If I am pushed ever so slightly...if I get one more phone call...if I have to make one more decision...if one more inkling of uncertainty darkens my doorstep...I could just give in and let go.  I could surrender to the inclination to cover my head and hide out until I die.  And who would blame me?   

But there are these little men who call me "Mom."  And some days, when I'm really lucky, I still get to be "Mommy."  And I have this God who I sure don't understand, but he promises to stay close to me because I am brokenhearted and my spirit is crushed (Psalm 34:18).  I know that I am not done.  I'm close, but I can back up, take a deep breath, dry my tears, and look ahead.  Brokenhearted, but not beaten.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When I Am Afraid...

Doxil 3/6 has not been fun.  Or easy.  Or calm.  Or without drama.

Last week, I had mouth sores that reduced me to using a dry-erase white board to communicate with my family.  Luckily, the cowboys thought that was a great game!  I also had the skin affliction in full swing, meaning that standing under a shower felt like being pelted with bullets.  My yoga pants were the only fabric that could comfortably touch me, and big chunks of skin were peeling off of my feet and toes.  Horrible, stupid side effects.

The other thing I had last week was appointments.  After 3 treatments, I am at the halfway point with chemo.  I had an appointment to have an echocardiogram done to check for any damage that Doxil may be doing to my heart.  I also had an appointment for a CT scan, which would provide a picture for my medical team to look for complications, and ultimately, recurrent cancer.

The echo came back clear.  My heart is still pumping perfectly.  The scan, however, was a different story.  The radiologist who read the scan saw spots that have the appearance of recurrent carcinomas.  This news was delivered to me by a solemn-faced Dr. F.  I could tell that he was concerned.  Frankly, I think that he has a terrible job.  Why anyone would want to be an oncologist (or a dentist) is beyond me. 

Anyway, there was a decision to be made.  I could assume that the spots are scar tissue (or some other medical thing that I don't understand) and carry on with the Doxil treatments as planned.  OR I could take a more proactive approach and have a biopsy done.  Although the idea of yet another procedure was less than appealing, I feel strongly that I have to know what I'm up against.  If I have cancer growing in my body in spite of active chemo treatment, I have a bigger problem than I thought and I need to make big decisions.  The implications of that scenario are overwhelming.  If it is not cancer, I can breathe a little easier and keep fighting.  I opted for the biopsy.

The procedure, although uncomfortable, went fine.  I was told that my doctor's office would contact me with results.  As of this morning, the results are still not in.  So I wait.

Waiting is really, really hard.  It means that I have a lot of time on my hands and I have to fill it, or else I'll go crazy.  I went to a spelling bee (Goliath won his class bee, then placed 5th in the school bee.  Proud mom!).  I went Christmas shopping with my mom.  I'm catching up on some reading and some crafting.  I've done FaceTime with Reese the Niece.  I'm taking Little Middle to the dentist tomorrow (although he doesn't know it yet).  And through all of that, I pretend that I am a normal girl with an "normal" life.  Just looking at me, you wouldn't know that I'm desperately afraid, and that my entire life hinges on a phone call that has yet to come.

"When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You."  Psalm 56:3

Trusting God means that I believe that He has the best for me.  Always.  No matter what.  I don't see how cancer can be the best thing for me, or for the people I love.  I can't fathom how this blow is to my benefit.  I'm not sure how to not waiver while waiting.  But I want to trust.  I DO trust.  Lord, I am scared.  I am tired.  I am uncertain.  But I love you and I know that you are good.  My hope is in you alone.