Saturday, March 31, 2007

Take no thought for the morrow

Today it's easy to "take no thought for the morrow". There's nothing to worry about tomorrow, except whether we'll have a good turnout for choir practice.

It's a little harder not to take thought for the marrow, as in the marrow of my bones. The chemotherapy has done its destructive work on my bone marrow, so my white blood cell and neutrophil counts are low. Hopefully the chemotherapy did worse damage to my tumor cells. And hopefully my counts will bounce back up quickly. They will do more lab work on Monday, and if my counts are still low they will postpone my chemotherapy treatment until my counts go back up, which is both inconvenient and scary. But as they explained to me before, this kind of situation puts me "between a rock and a rock", where I die either from infection or from interrupted cancer treatment; the latter taking a little longer. (This is where I remind myself that I'll go when I'm supposed to go, and if it's not from infection or cancer it might be by Mack truck or freak lightning strike.)

I'm hoping for good results with Monday's labwork. Monday is not "the morrow", but it's the day after the morrow. (Maybe that's why it's still on my mind.) Monday is a day for collecting other important information, too. It's MRI day again. That nervous picture day for my brain; the breathless ritual that repeats every eight weeks. If all goes well, it will mark six months since my last recurrence, and if I can go six more months without a recurrence it will be a good milestone, and I will have earned the ability to coast along on maintenance chemotherapy that isn't as damaging to bone marrow. If Monday's MRI has different news, then the battle takes a new direction. It's hard to ignore.

So I'm not thinking about "the morrow" (although I am vacuuming the living room, since choir practice will be held here); just the marrow and the day after the morrow. They motivate me to pray for whatever I need to face the days ahead.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tribute to a friend

My favorite teacher passed away today. He was diagnosed with cancer last fall, and just barely made it past his original prognosis before succombing to complications.

I got to know Terry Tucker when I was in ninth grade, and my friends and I decided to take a clog dancing class. Our high school had a dance team called Cloggers West, and we were eager to join this team, which had already earned the distinction of "age division world champions" at the world clogging championships in Fontana, North Carolina. I remember being elated that we were able to join the "farm team" in our sophomore year in high school, in the hopes of being selected for the real team as juniors and seniors.

I was chosen. My best friends were chosen. A really awesome guy named Jared was chosen. Our days of practicing, performing, touring, and competing were tiring but fun. Mr. Tucker taught us so much, and coached us well to strive for excellence. I choreographed a routine for the group one year, and last fall he made it a point to thank me for that long-ago contribution. He said that the group continued to open their shows with it for many years. To this day I remember the music (Foggy Mountain Breakdown) but I have very little memory of the choreography. (Darnit! I wish I had a videotape!) But anyway, he was always so positive and appreciative of any little thing that we did, and he always encouraged us to be our best.

He also let me sing in the high school choir. That awesome guy, Jared, sang there, too. Many of my friends did, too. Jared sang in the bass section, and I was an alto. I am still an alto. Jared is a bona fide first tenor.

I am ever grateful to Mr. Tucker for helping me cultivate talents that are still a joy to me, and for giving me activities that fostered some of my most treasured relationships. I married that awesome guy, Jared. My "gaggle" of high school girlfriends are all from choir and Cloggers West. I still have my competition trophies and pictures of those fun days. I still have my dance partner, and we love singing and dancing together. I am so glad that I thought of Mr. Tucker when I visited Utah last fall (before we knew he was sick), and he was kind enough to come and see our Evening Song choir performance on Temple Square. He kept thanking us for things that we did for him, when in fact he was the one who deserved the gratitude.

We graduated from high school more than two decades ago, but the positive ripple effects of this great teacher's influence will continue to bless our lives.

A long time ago I mentioned a poem that a friend shared with me, and I think it is very fitting for this great teacher and friend:

So let me live that when I die
A tear will come to every eye.
In every heart there'll be a spot,
An empty place where I am not.
So let me live that when I'm gone,
Kind thoughts of me will linger on.
And folks will say with grief inside,
"I kind of wish he hadn't died."

I Win

My husband and I have had a friendly rivalry when it comes to illness. If I got the sniffles, Prince Jared would have a major allergy attack. If I had a headache, Prince Jared would have "neanderthal forehead" from swollen sinuses. If I had a cold, Prince Jared would get the flu, and so on. We would joke about the age-old stereotype described in Gone With the Wind about how a man "roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger," and a woman "muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him." (Although, since both of our children are adopted, I didn't have to worry about noisy childbirth.) As tough as Prince Jared is, I still give him a hard time about the day he walked past a mounted policeman and his allergies to the horse drove him to bed for the entire evening. He pampers me enough most of the time, though, that I guess he's entitled to the rare wimpy sick husband moment.

We are also very much in sync with each other, such that if I get sick, he is not far behind, and we make it a competition to see who is the most pitiful.

Last year, when we were at Disneyworld, my brother (Dr.) Jim showed off his biopsy vision skills at the resort pool. One brief glance (without glasses on) at Jared's back was enough for Jim to recommend that Jared get one of his moles checked out. Jared speedily complied with this recommendation ten months later. Our primary care doctor did a punch biopsy, and after a long wait the pathology report noted irregularities and recommended further excision.

My heart jumped in my throat at the news. My grandfather died from melanoma cancer, which spread to his brain. And of course, I figured this must be Prince Jared trying to one-up me in the sicko contest. Part of me immediately scanned for something to hang onto. I felt a little grateful that I could at least empathize with him if he had to endure cancer treatment, because it was painful to picture him going through that scary process. Part of me selfishly acknowledged that this might make the whole "will he remarry" question a moot one. (It's not like my original fantasy of dying together in our sleep, holding hands, while our octogenarian children and their great-grandchildren wave goodbye, but at least it's not like the prospective second wife buzzards could be circling, either.) My main concerns were for his comfort and for our children. Luckily my brother Mike and his wife Melanie are already set up as the perfect guardians if we both bite the big one, but still -- we didn't make these children; we are here to raise them. We need to hang around here for another nineteen years or so.

It was a tough weekend, waiting for Jared to see a specialist this afternoon. But fortunately the specialist reviewed the pathology report and put it in proper context. Not cancerous; just pre-cancerous. Next week they will remove the whole lesion and biopsy it again just to make sure. But everything looks okay. Jim reviewed the report, too, and said the same thing. He also added that this was the kind of pathology report he expected when he glanced (without glasses) at Jared's back at the pool last year. He really should put "biopsy vision" on his resume. ( or go by Dr. Jim, M.D., B.V.)

I win! Not only do I get to keep my title as "Most Pitiful", I also get to keep my prince around!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


There is a time and a season for everything, and fortunately lately I've had a season of joy.

Last week we celebrated my son's sixth birthday -- something I (literally) live for. I always go crazy with his parties. (Chuck E. Who? We do homemade parties because they are super fun!) His first birthday had a circus animal theme. #2 was a train theme. #3 was a crayon theme. #4 was a race car theme. #5 was a baseball theme. This year was a Star Wars theme, and more than a dozen kids came. I was up until 4 am the night before the party, making an R2D2 cake. It was awesome! We designed the party around the Jedi trials (Trial of Flesh = lunch and birthday cake; Trial of Skill = games; Trial of Self = get-to-know-you activities; Trial of Courage = defeat the Darth Vader pinata). We gave each Padawan-nabe (guest) a little brown tunic and clipped a yarn Padawan braid in their hair (my husband was up until 2 am braiding yarn in various hair colors), then sent them to make their own light saber (using long balloons, glow sticks, and cardboard tubes wrapped in foil). They reported to the Island of Tattoo-ine, where they got little temporary Star Wars tattoos, and then they reported to the Cantina for Han-burgers, double light saber hot dogs, Ton-ton Tots, Galaxy Fruit Salad, and Yoda Soda. After the trials each Padawan was promoted to Jedi Knight status and got a certificate with their picture on it. It was a lot of fun!

Last year, after the baseball party was over, I wondered if it would be the last time I would get to celebrate like crazy. Thankfully, it wasn't. This year was especially joyful because it was another chance to celebrate with my boy.

We also celebrated his "Homecoming Day" - the day we brought him home to our family. We always celebrate by taking a family picture. I'm having trouble loading pictures onto this blog, but one of these days I'll figure it out and put some on here. Another happy thing to celebrate.

Yesterday my mom reported that my book finally appeared in her local bookstore. It's still on its way to my neighborhood. It will be here any day now. Last year I wondered if I would live to see it on store shelves. As long as I keep my seatbelt on in the car, I have a pretty good chance! If you want to see it, too, you can check it out online at:

Today is the first day of Spring -- a change of seasons. Hopefully the "season of joy" will continue. My next MRI has been moved to April 2, hopefully kicking off Cycle 7 of the season of successful chemotherapy. During today's chemo infusion I met a man who just had his first tumor recurrence -- a slow-growing one -- TEN years after his initial surgery! It's always nice to meet long-term survivors, because they are a great source of hope. It's especially nice to meet them at my doctor's office, because it reminds me that I am in good hands. Of course, doctor or not, we are all in good Hands. But this patient and I also talked about how our kids keep us alive. He has been able to watch his children grow, and that naturally tugged at my heartstrings. My little six-year-old and my soon-to-be-two-year-old need their mom. This needs to be my season of raising up acorns into Mighty Oakes.

Monday, March 12, 2007


My mom called to wish my son a happy birthday a day early, and we both acknowledged that while tomorrow is the day Jacob turns six, today is actually my fifteen month "birthday". Fifteen months from the day I started living, as Lance Armstrong describes his diagnosis date.

Anything beyond twelve months puts me in the minority. Anything beyond fourteen months really feels like borrowed time. (Although, I KNOW...we're all on borrowed time.) Here I am at fifteen months, and as long as I wear my seatbelt, and unless next month's MRI has different news for me, it doesn't look like I'm going anywhere yet. So far I remain a statistical anomaly, and I like that very much.

A friend told me that they not only prayed for the preservation of my life, but also for the preservation of the quality of my life. What was the quality of my life like as I approached the end of my fifteenth month?

Well, I started out last week by getting an "A+" on my neuro test. Clean living pays off once again. My labwork was also very good. I am tolerating the chemotherapy relatively well so far. (Just some allergies and nosebleeds, but they are well worth the life-saving treatment.) The next day I drove myself to my chemotherapy appointment, endured the long I.V. drip, and drove myself home again to wrap up some work projects, do laundry, and pack luggage.

The next day I traveled to Chicago with my family. We stayed with my Aunt Kay and Uncle Andy, who should definitely be in the bed & breakfast business with their heavenly hospitality and generous pampering. Jared's brother Jon, who is in his first year of medical school in Detroit, joined us on our trip. On Thursday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a place I have longed to take my son. It was my favorite field trip destination as a schoolgirl. We saw my favorite exhibits from long ago (fairy castle, u-boat, giant heart, etc.) and we went through "Body Worlds", which featured many cadavers that had been plastinated for preservation and viewing. It was kind of creepy and kind of cool. I was (of course) fascinated with the brains on display. We looked at one brain that had been sliced up, and it looked like a live version of an MRI. I became very grateful for MRI technology, so that my doctor could see slices of my brain without sticking me in the freezer and grabbing a bandsaw.

The next day we went to the Chicago Temple grounds for a photo, and stopped at a nearby bookseller to greet the store manager and tell her about my book (which is reportedly on its way from the printer to the publisher's warehouse for release to retailers). Then we drove down memory lane, and I was happy to know that I still had a memory! We went to the four houses I remembered from my childhood days in Buffalo Grove, Woodstock, and Hawthorn Woods. I showed my son the school where I went to kindergarten. The neighborhoods looked so familiar to me, despite some changes, and I was flooded with memories of events that happened at each place. I took a gazillion pictures. It was awesome. We also had breakfast one morning with another aunt and uncle (Karen and Bob) and Aunt Karen gave me a set of pictures from my childhood, sending me on another trip down memory lane. We arrived back in Texas late Saturday night with happy hearts and minds, full tummies, and a box of Salerno Butter Cookies--my favorite childhood treat that can't be found in Texas grocery stores.

On Sunday we gave thanks for our mid-day church schedule, which made it easy to adjust to our late night arrival on Saturday and the switch to Daylight Savings Time. As usual, I took extra delight teaching music to the Primary children and working with our ward choir on the Easter program. And on Sunday evening I savored the delicious experience of auditioning and rehearsing for the upcoming Messiah concert. As I stood there waiting for my entrance, I was transported back in time to my performance last year. Back then the odds were very much against my being around (much less singing) for this year's performance. Back then the fact that I could still sing at all was miraculous, considering the ravages that had taken place in my right brain. And so here I am, still alive and still singing. Whether I did well enough to land the parts I want is up to someone else to decide. But it was a joy to sing, even if it were just for the small audience comprised of the audition committee, other singers, and my cheerleader husband. Later, as we rehearsed the choral numbers, I once again found myself savoring the musical experience of Messiah. The music is beyond glorious, and the message has more depth than ever in its meaning to me. And I was happy to keep my nose out of the score and keep my eyes on the director, because I could still sing a lot of it from memory. It was a brain tumor-savant moment.

(By the way, the concert is on Easter Sunday evening in McKinney, for those of you who can be in the North Texas area...)

Today I did some work, did some preparations for my son's birthday, planned and executed our Family Home Evening lesson, and wrote a quick story that I submitted to our church children's magazine. And I'm finally catching up on my blog again.

Anyway, so fifteen months post-diagnosis...I'm not drooling in a cup. I'm not paralyzed. I'm not tone-deaf (or at least if I am, I'm surrounded by people who love me too much to tell me). Most of this post is spelled correctly (unless I'm really dyslexic and don't know it yet). I'm not planning my funeral; I'm planning my first book signing and preparing for Messiah. I'm still of value to clients. I'm still having fun with my family. I still know who I am.

To those who have prayed for my life and for the ability to live my life...THANK YOU!!!

(...and keep doing it!)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sufficient is the day

One of the predictable things about cancer is that there never seems to be a shortage of things to worry about. Everything from the obvious and general (like when will the figurative piano dangling above my head finally drop) to the routine (whether my labwork will look good enough for me to continue chemotherapy, whether the next MRI will look good, whether I'm losing my keys more often than I should, whether the insurance company will finally pay for my treatment so I quit bleeding $25,000 every six weeks, whether my house will finally get organized, whether my son got in trouble at school and woke up crying in the middle of the night because he was worried about me, and whether I am losing blog readers because I've been posting less frequently lately). Then there is fun stuff, like whether my book will arrive from the printer on time, and whether it will have any typos. And whether I'll have enough time to meet with a bookseller during my trip to Chicago so it will be a partial tax write-off. And whether I'll have to wait until the last minute to know which Messiah solos I get to sing this Easter. And finally there is the idiotic: whether my roots should be touched up before our annual family photo, and whether my lack of sleep is damaging my immune system (it keeps me awake, which is really dumb).

As is typical, the scriptures came to the rescue. Sometimes things just pop up during my reading, right when they need to. Earlier this week we had some news that threw more worries on the pile (fortunately, not health news, at least). Despite having received a lot of training experiences that have helped me deal with worries a lot better, that unsettled feeling takes some effort to keep in check. It's all because my imagination is usually much worse than my reality. (The imagination cells in my brain are obviously still completely intact and functional.)

Enter the Sermon on the Mount, which has been the subject of our family scripture study at bedtime. Even though I had read it many times in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, the "consider the lilies" part took on special significance in the context of our day. What was especially nice was learning the interpretation of the final remark: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." The supplemental text that we were reading explained that there is enough trouble in one day. I guess even on a good day there is enough to deal with, and there is no need to take on the concerns of what may or may not happen tomorrow.

A couple of exceptions, of course. Always save for a rainy day. Emergency preparedness is a good thing. Wills and durable power of attorney documents are good things. Think before you speak, look before you leap, etc. Once in a while I remember a Seinfeld episode where Kramer did something really stupid and cried out, "I didn't think ahead!" We should think ahead.

Worrying about possible future tragedy is not useful, however. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Sometimes what we worry about doesn't happen, so we waste energy and damage the immune system. Sometimes what we worry about does happen, and the pre-emptive stress doesn't offer much protection. We still can't really deal with hard stuff until it happens, so other than taking care of prudent things (like carrying an umbrella and wearing seatbelts), consideration of what the future might hold should stop far before worry sets in. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In my experience, in good times and in bad, the morrow really does take care of itself. We do our best, and we get what we need when we need it. Someone knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows how to guide and shape our lives and provide all that is expedient. Not all that we want right now, but certainly all that we need.