Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's all good

Pictures and video will have to come later, but I should mention that everything has been wonderful!

Messiah was another dream come true -- twice, actually, because we had two back-to-back performances that evening in order to accommodate the audience. The cherry on top of my joy was watching my children in the audience, singing along to some of the songs.

Christmas Eve brought my brothers and dad and families together for dinner at my house, followed by a children's Christmas pageant and a gift exchange. It was so good to have the chance to establish new traditions with so many loved ones close by. Having my youngest brother there was especially nice -- we're all hoping that he enjoyed it enough to consider joining the rest of us here on a permanent basis.

One of the gifts my dad gave me was a framed snapshot of a sunset scene, taken on his cell phone while driving down the highway on December 14, 2005. He had seen me earlier that day at the hospital, as I was preparing to be released. We knew since my surgery on the 12th that I had cancer, but I had not yet gotten the final pathology results when he had to leave. The photo was taken shortly after I called him with the awful pathology news: grade four glioblastoma with a lousy prognosis. The sun was setting, and he stopped and took a snapshot just to capture what he saw at that memorable time. And then as he gave me the framed picture he pointed out the sunset, which was quite red, and he reminded me of the old adage: "red skies at night, sailor's delight". That hopeful symbolism was a tender mercy at such a dreadful moment.

This Christmas morning was my fourth Christmas since that fateful day. Getting one more Christmas with my family was what I wanted most, and on top of that I received many generous gifts from family and friends. My children were angels, squealing with delight at every package bearing their name, and even helping dig out and straighten up after all the unwrapping was over.

In the afternoon we went to a local nursing home for our traditional caroling and Christmas cheer with family and friends. We had a big group this time, and we met some charming and grateful residents who were eager to talk to us. We returned home for wassail and cookies, and then had the missionaries come to our house for dinner.

As I finished the day I noted in my journal that all of the events of the holiday were reminders of good things -- life, love, faith, tender mercies, and miracles -- things that surround us every day.

The next day we hit the road to see my mom. We also saw my aunt and uncle, who were visiting from Chicago, and we visited my grandmother in a nearby nursing home.

My grandmother is twice widowed and descends from a long line of healthy women. At age eighty-nine she had only been to the hospital to give birth, visit relatives, and heal from injuries sustained during a fall. But a few months ago she had a rapid decline in health, and although she is now living closer to us, the version of her that we always knew seems to be moving farther away. Long gone is the original Scrabble master who was virtually unbeatable. I recognize many neurological changes as I visit with her, and I have a greater appreciation for what my own neuro tests are looking for. But it's still good to have more chances to see her and express our love and enjoy what remains to enjoy.

Everything surrounding this season is good. It's good because Christmas is about the One who can heal and bless any situation and make it good.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Warming Up

Temperatures warmed up just briefly enough this weekend to trigger another round of seasonal allergies. Yet somehow my husband and I managed to make it (sniffles and all) through our rehearsal with the Messiah orchestra.

We threw down the gauntlet again, rehearsing "O Death, Where is Thy Sting?" and those notes always take us back to the first time we sang that together, just a few months after my surgery and diagnosis. (So does the video, courtesy of my brother Blake):

It was so exciting to realize how long ago that was.

I then got to run through "O Thou, That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion," which is such a cheery song for me. Like most of the oratorio, it is very dance-like, and it's a fitting celebration (in many ways) of survival.

(More video from the 2006 performance):

We moved to the next one, and I giggled as I rehearsed the recitative, "Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened," because the last words are, "and the tongue of the dumb shall sing." It's funny to me, because I (the dumb?) immediately follow that by singing my next aria.

And then my giggling stopped as I sang the words, which remind me of the Lord's care for us: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and he shall gather the lambs with his arm. And carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."
Like any mother with cancer, my biggest concern has been less about myself and more about the children who must deal with it. As someone "with young," it is a comforting realization to know that I am not the only one who knows their needs and cares for them.

As I left the rehearsal I had a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, feeling full of gratitude for yet another chance to do something that has come to mean so much to me. I remember that first "A.D." Messiah performance, when I thought it might be my last. I remember my brother joking back then that four years later people would be rolling their eyes, saying, "Here she comes, thinking it's her 'last Messiah' again." Back then I thought the idea was so far-fetched. But here I am -- three years later and looking forward to my fifth performance this Sunday.

Hallelujah! Glory to God!

Probably the least inspirational blog entry

Yeah, this one is just a shameless correction of a shameless plug I posted earlier. My book signing this Saturday is now from 2:00-4:00 at Moon's Bookstore. I'm not Glenn Beck, so I doubt there will be people lined up in anticipation, and I doubt that I'll need people in purple "Team Oakes" jerseys to manage crowd control.

But there's always hope!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy New Year

A.D. (After Diagnosis) Three is officially over today. I was wide awake, as eager as a child on Christmas Eve, as I watched the clock display 12:00 midnight, ushering in the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the year. Welcome A.D. FOUR!

Three years ago on December 12 I awakened from neurosurgery to hear the word, "malignant." I would later hear "glioblastoma" and receive somber explanations that a grade IV tumor had a prognosis of less than a year to maybe fourteen months, with my age and tumor location being favorable conditions. At that time, three-year survival was considered "long-term survival" -- a category for only a tiny percentage of patients. But I think that percentage is growing, especially among Dr. Fink's patients. I've met others who have survived longer.

I thought I should say, "Let the celebration begin!"

But we were celebrating last night. Jared and I stood in line with the kids for hours at a Wal-Mart in Irving, waiting to meet Glenn Beck on his book signing tour.

When he finally arrived, we had a brief book swap moment, as he signed our copies of The Christmas Sweater, and I handed him a signed copy of Fertile in Our Faith. Jared snapped a picture just as Glenn (that's him in the hat) was tapping the cover and saying, "I think I actually have a copy of this -- but thank you!" (He's an adoptive parent, too.) I think he was just being a gracious recipient, pretending to recognize the book, but I did try to send him a copy last year. So maybe now he has two. And I got to feel like a Make-a-Wish kid again.

We'll also celebrate tonight with a big party at our house. Actually, it's an Elders' Quorum Christmas Party hosted at our house, but hey -- it's still a party! And it's celebrating the birth of the One who has gotten me through the past three years.

And really -- although this is a milestone that I have had my eye on for a long time, every day of the past three years has been a day to celebrate. Waking up from neurosurgery three years ago was something to celebrate. And even though I carried devastating news with me, going home from the hospital two days later was something to celebrate. Surviving treatment and tumor progression and more treatment was something to celebrate. Graduating from treatment earlier this year was something to celebrate. Preparing for my fifth Messiah performance next week is something to celebrate. Working toward my brown belt is something to celebrate. Attending every baseball game, school recital, science fair, and birthday party has been something to celebrate. And I could go on and on.

Let the celebration CONTINUE!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I didn't forget Thanksgiving Day. It was very much on (what's left of) my mind as I enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my family at my mom's house.

We celebrated my mom's birthday and the 26th anniversary of my first date with Jared. These dates are appropriately aligned with Thanksgiving Day.

We visited my grandmother, who has lived 89 years very independently and in great health, but who has recently become dependent on 24-hour assistance. As we visted with her I couldn't tell if she really recognized us or was just being polite, like someone at a party who can't recall the familiar face who greets them. And as someone who has become quite familiar with neurological tests, I couldn't help but notice things that made me appreciate the easy daily functioning that is so quickly taken for granted.

Mom and I played many games of Scrabble, and I won most of them, until one game when I got all of the "I" and "O" vowels and not much else. I tried to think of Corrie Ten Boom (the author of The Hiding Place) as she would have tried to come up with a reason to be grateful for those vowels. All I could come up with was that I wouldn't be able to spell my name without them.

Mom and I also enjoyed the thrill of the hunt during Black Friday. We pulled into the first store at 4am when it opened, and emerged victorious with a small list of items just in time to make the opening of the next store. A few more stores later, and a quick breakfast at I-HOP, and we were home when the others awoke. I was grateful for the opportunity for adventure.

During our adventure we visited a bookstore that used to carry my book, and when we didn't see it on the shelf we inquired and were told by the store employees that it was out of print and no longer available for ordering! I became very thankful for a quick-responding publisher, who assured me that my book was most definitely in print and prominently displayed in their latest catalog, and that sometimes booksellers will say anything to avoid the embarrassment of being sold out when the author comes in. And I became extra grateful for our local bookseller, who always keeps my book in stock, and who is ordering more copies for my upcoming signing event. (Which, by the way, ***shameless plug alert*** will be on December 20 from 12-2pm at Moon's Bookstore in Dallas, and will feature other authors and artists, too!)

We went to church with Mom on Sunday, and saw familiar faces from our days long ago when we lived in the area. Together we expressed our gratitude for the Savior, whose life and mission become more meaningful to me all the time. And then we drove home slowly (but safely) with thousands of other drivers, to find that all was well and ready for a new week with jobs and school and responsibilities to keep us busy. Much to be grateful for.

That weekend alone represented so many countless blessings. There are more yet to be acknowledged, and there are many more yet to be discovered. But we know from whence these blessings come, and that knowledge gives us cause to be thankful and hopeful in any circumstance.

With the Thanksgiving weekend behind us as a happy memory, our thoughts quickly turned to the celebration of Christmas. We have become a blur, finishing year-end projects and decking our halls. It occurred to me that I hadn't updated my blog in a long time, and I hope that I haven't lost readers with so many gaps between posts. But all of this bustle is an exhausting but wonderful reminder of what I am still capable of doing, and it reminds me that the day for giving thanks is never really over, no matter what the calendar says.

Monday, November 17, 2008

E.R. Anniversary

Okay, so I can't always remember where I put the car keys, and even though it's the one I call the most, I rarely remember my husband's cell phone number (probably because I just push "Jared" on the speed-dial). But mention November 16, and I remember vividly what happened on that date three years ago.

After my third seizure that day my husband took me to the emergency room. I had a fourth seizure on the way there. We didn't know what was happening, but we knew it needed medical attention.

The ER doctor insisted that I wasn't having seizures, and after the C-T scan was negative he sent me home with the reassurance that this was just one of those weird things that will just go away, and we'll laugh about it six months later.

Neither he nor I had any idea that glioblastoma cells were busy at work, and without intervention they would have consumed my brain within six months. The doctor even said, "It's not like you have a brain tumor..."

Thanks to a perceptive dermatology resident who wasn't afraid to nag his sister over the phone ("You're having textbook seizures! Get an EEG!"), and a handy neurologist who prays a lot, we got to the right answer a few days later.

I've told this story many times before. I should explain that I hold no ill will against the ER doctor, who was probably sincere in his confidence that he was right. I'm grateful that circumstances compensated for his error so that my life could continue. I'm grateful to understand that this experience is safely in the Lord's hands.

Three years ago November 16 was preceded by a Saturday at Six Flags, and it was the last time I rode a rollercoaster. My husband's company has a private party there each November, and we go every year. We were there again this weekend with all of my family. Once again I passed up the rides that I used to love (there's this thing about avoiding g-forces when you have a hole in your brain) but it was a joyful experience, because it was another survival milestone and an opportunity to spend time with loved ones.

We left the park and headed to our church Saturday evening for another exciting experience. Since I'm not dead yet, and since I still had the capacity for it, I was asked (and able) to write and direct a roadshow for our youth group. The roadshow performances were held that evening, and it was great! I wrote ours based on "Jake the Puppy and Emma the Cat" -- a poem that I wrote as a love story for my children. We made it into a musical, and we were lucky to have a great selection of talented and enthusiastic teenagers to form our cast. And my kids loved seeing "their" poem being dramatized on stage. I was just happy to be there, savoring a day of family, friends, fun, and all that good stuff that makes life so wonderful.

The next day we heard many inspiring talks during our sacrament meeting at church. The concluding speaker told his stories of survival, and the continuing challenges facing his family. Among these are the fact that his wife is a brain tumor survivor, and his youngest daughter undergoes neurosurgery this Wednesday. In the midst of this was his message, which is not to "handcuff the Lord". We should put our faith into our righteous desires, with a willingness accept the Lord's will concerning the outcome. I understood very clearly what he meant, having learned for myself the peace that comes from knowing that the Lord is always trustworthy. I was once again reminded of the great blessings that have been accruing for the past three years.

I personally don't think it was any coincidence that he was assigned to speak to us on November 16 this year, just as I don't think it was coincidental that my brother could diagnose a seizure over the phone three years ago, and that the right neurologist could take a walk-in appointment. This whole experience has been surrounded by tender mercies, so it's not surprising to discover more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I have a date for Messiah 2008!

Sunday, December 21
(2 evening performances, each about an hour long)
Artisan Center Theater
418 E. Pipeline Road, Hurst, TX

Free to the public, but reservations are needed (call 817-284-1200).

Audience sings along for the choral numbers.

I get to do my favorite alto arias, and Jared and I get to throw down the gauntlet again and sing the duet, "O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?"

This will be my fifth Messiah performance over the past three years! Each time I get to do this, it's a reminder of the miracles of both life and quality of life, and the One who makes all things possible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The twelfth has rolled around again. I've survived another month, for a total of thirty-five since the day I heard "malignant".

I did my own neuro test today, just for grins:

  • I know where I am (I'm right here!) and what day it is.
  • I can draw a clock and a cube (actually gained that ability since the craniotomy).
  • I can count backwards from 100 by 7's (ditto).
  • I can close my eyes and stretch out my arms and touch my nose with each pinky and forefinger.
  • I can walk a straight line on my toes and heels.
  • I can tap my fingers and thumbs together and roll my hands over each other in rhythm.
  • If I run my finger along the outer edge of my foot, my toes curl under like they should. (Did you just try that one?)
  • I can close my eyes and trace a letter or number on either palm and feel what it is.
  • I can spell WORLD backwards (without writing it first).
  • I have coordination, balance, and neuromuscular strength (just ask my sensei about karate class this week).
  • I can still do stuff (like my own neuro test) "just for grins".
  • I can still remember Scarlett O'Hara's opening lines in the movie Gone With the Wind ("Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war --this war talk is spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored, I could scream! Besides, there isn't going to be any war.")
  • I can still recognize and match musical pitches--which is really important, because another Messiah performance is coming up!!!
  • Although I do it less frequently than I should, I can still write a complete sentence or two.

I'm working, I'm teaching Relief Society and directing the choir at church, I'm enjoying my husband and my kids, I'm serving on the PTA board, and I'm working toward my brown belt. If someone pulls a knife or a club on me, you should feel really sorry for them.

The only signs of brain damage are my really messy bedroom and my tendency to lose car keys and shoes when I'm in a hurry to get somewhere.

But most importantly, I'm alive!

Monday, November 10, 2008

I was there

During our many childless years, my husband and I worked with primary-age children at church, and as we watched them grow and give talks and sing we'd wish for the day when we had a child of our own doing those things.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I felt that longing again -- not for the child (because we had our children), but for the opportunity to be there and enjoy all the wonderful moments a child experiences as they grow up.

Last month my son gave a talk in primary at church. It wasn't his first talk, but it was a special one. He helped a lot with the preparation, and even did his own illustrations to show the audience while he spoke. In my completely unbiased opinion as his mother, I thought it was very charming. And although it was a small moment, it meant the world to me to be there.

Now you get to be there, too -- sort of. I finally loaded the video onto YouTube:

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day, and he has a small speaking part in his school program. It's another brief moment, but I'm really looking forward to being there.

(...and I was!)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Despite the election, I still want to live

I try not to get too political here, but I will admit that I'm still proudly displaying my McCain/Palin yard sign and bumper sticker. They didn't win, and the potential consequences are sobering, but I don't regret my choice. And if I can survive brain cancer for three years, surely I can survive four years of blue domination. (Those in power may end up destroying the world's best healthcare system, but I also rely heavily on prayer to stay alive.)

This morning I awoke to read the following article, which was both brilliant and timely (in my humble and completely objective opinion as the author) as well as a good reminder of stuff I've preached before:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mirror Mirror

After being benched for a while, I was able to return to the dojo this week to get caught up on my karate material. It was awesome -- I have learned all the material for my first brown belt. So it's just a matter of p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y waiting and working until I have mastered it enough to be invited to test. And after three levels of brown belt, the next rank is the coveted black belt.

At this point I am now starting to learn some things in mirror image, which is a really neat stretch for a left-brained person who has to switch gears and start using more of (what's left of) my right brain. In fact, one of the requirements for black belt is to not only have mastered all of the material, but also to be able to execute everything against a right-handed or left-handed opponent. So I will ultimately be re-learning everything in mirror image. Talk about giving the brain some exercise! I think it's great -- I try to envision the healthy glial cells in my right brain getting stronger and taking down any bad cells that try to wake up and spread.

I am re-living another moment in a (sort of) mirror image, too. The link below was recently posted online, so I get to re-live my recent Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) conference address (from early August). Except this time I'm watching my address from the audience perspective instead of standing nervously behind the microphone.

The first two speakers on this broadcast are well-known and wonderful, and I had the intimidating job of following them and trying not to suffer too much by comparison. I gave my remarks at about minute 56 1/2 of this broadcast and drew much of my material from my "Sunday Sermon" blog post from June.

This is the other part of me that keeps me strong against anything that threatens to destroy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I can turn off Jurassic Park now

With two good reports under my belt, I braced for a third moment of suspense. An initial biopsy showed a precancerous endometrium, so I underwent minor surgery last week for a more comprehensive look and testing.

The slow boat pathology report was finally given to me today. It was negative, which was good news once again. Since it conflicts with the initial biopsy, I just have more monitoring to look forward to. But as my doctor was telling me not to worry, I reminded him that I've had worse. Being put on another "live and look" plan isn't that big of a deal.

The holidays are fast approaching. It's nice to think that perhaps I can enjoy the rest of the year taking a break from being a professional patient!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Negative News

Remember -- cancer turns your life upside-down, so words like "progress" and "positive" can mean bad things, and "negative" can mean a good thing.

Today I got negative news, which was a very good thing. My needle biopsy was "completely benign."

So I only have one raptor in the kitchen, and it's been asleep for over two years, despite all my shouting for joy.

As my friend said, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow..."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The first thing Dr. Fink said about my brain MRI today was that it was "SUPER-imposable" on the previous scans. Still holding stable eight months after my last treatment, and two years after my last evidence of tumor progression.

This is SUPER news! I go another three months before my next scan.

I left Dr. Fink's office and headed for my next adventure, where I donned my SUPERwoman cape and submitted to a needle biopsy. I am now tightly wrapped in a huge Ace bandage, feeling like Scarlett O'Hara or an Elizabethan princess -- both in my inability to take a deep breath, and also in my need to be waited on hand and foot, since I am restricted from most activities for the next 24 hours. (Had to reschedule tonight's karate class.) I should get a call in the next day or two with the results.

But, hey -- it was still a SUPER day!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Yesterday was my husband's birthday, and we celebrated all weekend, including today at our traditional Sunday dinner with all of our in-town family.

I also realized that today marks thirty-four months of survival. I'm two months away from "long-term survivor" status. It's been two years since tumor progression interrupted my first year of treatment, and if all goes well with this Tuesday's MRI, I'll have been stable ever since. It's a miracle.

Actually, no -- that's not right. It's not a miracle, as in just an isolated event. The past thirty-four months have been steady string of many daily miracles, thanks to many kind friends and loved ones who have been vigilant in prayer on my behalf, and thanks to a loving Heavenly Father who hears and answers those prayers.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The saga continues...

I promise that I'm not doing this for ratings, but this latest adventure is to be continued.

I went in for my "recall" mammogram today, and the results of that led to an ultrasound study, and the results of that led to a referral for a needle biopsy sometime next week. The radiologist tried to be reassuring, and I hope she's right. She thinks it's a benign situation, but wants to be sure.

My next challenge is to schedule the needle biopsy sometime between Tuesday's brain MRI and Wednesday's jury duty summons. It'll be an interesting week. I'm very grateful for the many prayers that have been carrying me through this twist in my story.

And speaking of prayers, my aunt's PET scan concluded that her cancer has not spread, so we are enjoying a big celebration on her behalf, and using yet another opportunity to express our love to family and friends.

No steroids this time

Last night I gave my daughter a pep talk about getting enough sleep. Em is a night owl and an early riser and a nap avoider.

We don't share DNA, but she has nonetheless managed to carry the family insomniac torch into another generation. I got it from my mom, who got it from her mom, who probably got it from her mom. Great-Grandma Mabel's parents immigrated to Chicago from Sweden, so my theory is that we sometimes go to bed late at night in the central US time zone and wake up early in the morning in the central European time zone.

Since my daughter is three-going-on-sixteen I decided to appeal to her vanity by educating her about the merits of beauty sleep yesterday evening. It worked. She went to bed on time with no appeals for more water/snacks/stories/hugs, and as of 4:30 am she is still asleep, thank goodness.

I, on the other hand, didn't follow my own counsel. I stayed up reading until 11:30 and was wide awake four hours later. After trying to fight it for a while, I decided to remind my body that if it won't sleep, it has to get out of bed and work. I made the long commute from my bedroom to my adjoining office and sat down at the computer to do some writing.

It's reminiscent of my early A.D. days, when I was on post-op steroids and doing this on a daily basis -- except back then I managed to write several magazine articles and a book. This time I'm not on steroids -- just too much on (what's left of) my mind. So I'm not as productive, and all I can churn out right now is a brief blog post.

The funny part will be reading this later in the day to see how many silly typos I made while BUI (Blogging Under Insomnia).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Other Raptor

The movie Jurassic Park was so scary. I remember when it first came out, and my husband and I stood in line at the movie theater with lots of parents and their small children, as though this were some kind of Barney event. As the movie progressed, there was a parade of these same parents, dragging their terrified children out of the theater. We scratched our heads and shrugged, as we were childless at the time and feeling rather smug in our ability to armchair-quarterback parenthood.

There's this one scene that has come to (what's left of) my mind lately. It's the one where the kids are trapped in the kitchen with a fierce and clever raptor who is hunting them, and they are playing this highly suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. It got to the point where I could barely stand it any longer, when another raptor came in the room. At that point, I thought this was over -- how could these kids possibly survive two raptors?

But they did.

I was telling this story to my Aunt Pat, who is having a PET scan done today to further examine some spots on her liver and lung, which may be nothing -- or which may be her cancer spreading. (She is a colorectal cancer survivor.) We'll know the results tomorrow, and hopefully she doesn't have any more raptors entering her kitchen. But even if she does, the game isn't over. It becomes another battle, and it's better to face the raptor head-on instead of having it take over without warning.

In an eerie coincidence, I got a letter in the mail today, informing me that my recent mammogram warrants further examination. I go in tomorrow, and hopefully I won't have any more raptors entering my kitchen. (I know that many recalled cases end up being nothing.) But I thought it was interesting to have talked to my aunt about the possibility of taking on another raptor and surviving. Maybe it was a way of preparing myself for the possibility.

Or maybe tomorrow will just bring us both a big sigh of relief.

(OR maybe this is how I will finally get book #2 finished...)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Normal People" Stuff

It was actually kind of fun this week, being well enough in my head to be worrying about "normal people stuff."

Like my knee. It's still not happy with me after last week's karate classes and belt test. I had more x-rays and an MRI on Tuesday, and I get to visit the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow for my verdict and sentencing. Meanwhile, I keep trying various combinations of rest, ice packs, InterX, brace, Advil, and -- when push comes to shove --crutches. And each wince of pain is a reminder that -- hey -- how many GBM survivors get to complain about knee strain from trying out scissor kicks nearly three years after diagnosis?

(By the way, it was really funny having my knee go in the MRI tube instead of my head!)

I also had my first mammogram on Tuesday, now that my "normal people" doctor is satisfied that I am not dead and therefore I am subject to routine screenings. They had to pull my chart out of the archive warehouse.

(By the way -- did you know that when you get a mammogram you get to wear a really cool cape? I think if more women knew that, they'd quit procrastinating. And now I think I have my Halloween costume figured out.)

It was just really cool to spend most of the day in doctor's offices and radiology centers, knowing that for the first time in nearly three years, none of this had anything to do with what usually has me in doctor's offices and radiology centers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Earned Another Stripe

It was the most painful date night my husband and I ever had. We both had karate belt testing this evening. He started about seven months after I did, and earned his blue belt. I earned my brown stripe. My next aim is my first brown belt, and after three levels of brown I would (hopefully) earn the chance to test for my black belt.

Not only did I do this one with half a brain, but I also did it with a gimp leg. Earlier this week I was learning a brown belt form that is particularly acrobatic, and my knee was not happy with the part where I had to spring from a crouch position into a scissor kick. It's been trying to punish me ever since.

Luckily the ongoing knee pain was secondary to the thrill of the test, knowing that once again I was doing something that would have seemed impossible to me about two years ago.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Yesterday I was able to mark thirty three months of living like I'd never lived before. In three more months I'll be considered a "long-term survivor."

My family members now refer to my condition as the "alleged" brain tumor.

Still gotta keep on my toes. Still gotta be thankful for the gift of each breath, and for the hope that each new day brings.

Still gotta live while I can.

(Don't we all?)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Something in politics worth blogging about here!

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not why the ship is built."

- Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, giving her remarks after being named McCain's VP pick

This was said in the context of explaining why she didn't go with the "safe and easy" way of status quo politics. But naturally, I had my cancer glasses on and appreciated the additional application to adversity in our lives and the faith that gets us through it all.

We weren't "built" here on earth to have a safe and easy ride. Not that we are supposed to go out looking for danger, but life is meant to be bumpy so that we can learn and develop our fullest potential. If we press forward with a steadfastness in Christ and a perfect brightness of hope, we can successfully navigate through this life experience.

Sorry for the long pause...I was on my honeymoon!

Actually, I'm still on my honeymoon...and have been for the past twenty years!

Look at those cute kids at the Salt Lake Temple on August 20, 1988!

And there they are again, on August 11, 2008!

And here they are a few days later, celebrating their 20th anniversary in Hawaii!

(Twenty years...ten addresses...two kids...four beagles...and one brain tumor later.)

This hug at Hanauma Bay is courtesy of my mom, who not only gave us the trip, but also came to our house and watched the kids while we were gone.

We spent our first night as classic tourists in Waikiki. Since Texas is five hours ahead of Hawaii, we were able to wake up, walk the beach, and eat breakfast before heading up to Diamond Head to watch the sunrise.

(Photography just doesn't do it justice.)

Then we were off to Laie, to immerse ourselves in the island experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center. (It was like Epcot Center for Polynesia!)

Here we are with our tour guide, "Rock":

And here I am, at a demonstration of Maori New Zealand (Aotearoa):

It's not the most flattering picture, but I like it because I'm imitating their distinctive quivering hands while dancing, which they do to represent that they are full of the life force. It was definitely blog-worthy!

After a fun day and a monster feast of seafood and fruit (no pig, thank you -- gimme Omega 3's and antioxidants) and a spectacular Horizons pageant, we spent the night on the north side of Oahu, at the beautiful Turtle Bay Resort.

We spent the morning walking the beach, and then got some toes-up time with some good books on the balcony of our room:

And then we headed back to Laie to check out the BYU-Hawaii campus and thank the bookstore manager for having my book on their shelves...

...and to spend a couple of hours inside the "Taj Mahal of the Pacific": the Laie Temple, which to us is the most peaceful of all the peaceful places in Hawaii. We headed back to Waikiki and played in the ocean. We also tried to have another toes-up moment with a book on the balcony, but this time I was sixteen floors up so it wasn't quite as relaxing. (Cancer hasn't cured my acrophobia yet!)

So we opted for some other forms of relaxation: 1) shopping and 2) good Japanese food. My husband served his mission in Tokyo, and loved being around so many Japanese people and getting reacquainted with the language.

(I figured eating rice with chopsticks made for another reassuring neuro test.)

We spent our last day checking out more sights, including Pearl Harbor and Queen Emma's Summer Palace (could not resist that one, since our daughter's name is Emma) and having the ultimate schmaltzy tourist's lunch at the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant. (After four days of fish and fruit, I splurged on a burger topped with a huge slab of grilled pineapple and sliced avocado.)

One eight-hour flight later, we were back home being greeted by a hand-made welcome sign from the kids. It was a long enough trip to enjoy some solitude, but short enough to get home just as we started to miss them.

A taste of paradise to celebrate a twenty-year down payment on forever...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008




(Lemme check that right?)

(It is!!!)

Thirty-two months of survival!

Thirty-two months of miracles, one at a time!

One Miracle at a Time

It was amazing.

It didn't come with an asterisk.
It caused some head swelling, which didn't show up on the last MRI.
It was awesome!

It happened in Utah, at the Families Supporting Adoption National Conference. I taught three classes at the conference, and gave a small address during the general session.

I also gave a brief acceptance speech after being presented with FSA's Hall of Fame Award.
As I considered previous recipients of this award, I started hearing the old Sesame Street song about "one of these things is not like the other!"

Also, considering my steroid use following surgery and during cancer treatments, I thought it was cool to be a "hall-of-famer" with no asterisk by my name!

The conference theme was "One Miracle At a Time." It reminded me of my life, and how it has miracle at a time. From the miracle of each new day, to the miracle of a loving marriage and two miraculous adoptions, to the miraculous transformation of adversity into blessings, I have witnessed many miracles.

I look forward to seeing many more.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

How To Endure Anything

My daughter turned three in June, which is usually amazing to people, because she looks much older. She's super-tall for her age, and she's also very articulate for a preschooler. And added upon that, her personality aged about ten more years after a recent trip to "Nana's."

Just to give you some history on the hair journey that led us to Nana's:

When Emma was a few months old we started out doing the "cocoa puffs":

And then earlier this year she graduated to "fro and headband":

Emma always looked adorable, but she was soon ready for something different in her coif. When she wore jeans and a t-shirt, people often mistook her for a very charming little boy. Store clerks were always saying, "Hey, Buddy!" Someone even mistook her for our six-year-old nephew on one occasion.

So my husband took her to see "Nana," a local hair braider/weaver in our town. The idea of sitting in the chair and letting a stranger touch her hair sent our daughter into a screaming rage. Fro and headband remained the style, and we just tried to keep her wearing skirts and pink clothes.

A few weeks ago we decided to try again. I took her into Nana's salon to see about making an appointment. Emma entered cautiously with me, remembering her previous trauma. But this time she let Nana comb out her hair as a test, so we went ahead and made an appointment for the following day.

I prepared Emma all the next day, telling her that she was going to have her hair braided, and that her hair was going to be really pretty. She appeared to be a little nervous, but when the time came she readily complied, got into the chair, and sat like a little angel for THREE HOURS while Nana sectioned off her hair into little pieces, then wove in some longer locks and braided them. It was a painstaking process, but Em did not utter one complaint, no matter how hard Nana had to tug on her hair. She did not squirm. She did not ask for a drink or a snack. She actually napped through part of the process. Nana (who has been braiding since she was a young girl herself) marveled that she had never been able to work on a three-year-old this easily before.

When Nana was finished braiding, she took sections of braids and wrapped them around a curler, then dipped them in boiling water to make little ringlet curls. I was the nervous one this time, but luckily Emma remained still and patient.

Finally the moment came to show her the end result. Beautiful, long braids with curls at the end. (For those who read Ramona the Pest as a kid will appreciate the term, "boing-boing" curls.) Emma stared into the mirror and smiled.

Knowing that Emma has been historically incapable of sitting still for five minutes, much less three hours, I found myself learning a lesson as I watched this miraculous event.

How did Emma endure three hours of sitting still and letting her hair get tugged, piece by piece, with no entertainment? Three hours is like three eternities in Three-Year-Old Land, so why wasn't there a single peep of complaint?

The answer is simple: she knew the purpose of the experience, and she was willing to endure whatever it took to achieve that end.

I know -- vanity isn't the most worthy of pursuits. But this was a (literally) cute way of illustrating the value of staying focused on the prize.

Romans 5:1-5: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope in the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope; And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

James 5:11:"Behold, we count them happy which endure; Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."

Doctrine & Covenants 121:7-8: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over thy foes."

Monday, July 28, 2008

He Ain't Heavy (his stuff just is!)

I turned 41 on Friday. (Yay!)

I was happy when I turned 40 last year -- something not many 38-year-olds diagnosed with GBM get to do. So turning 41 was even better!

On top of that, I got everything I wanted this year. The birthday itself, of course. And good MRI's all year (so far--praise God)!

I also got my favorite shoes. Not new ones -- just my old favorites that had been hiding from me. They were gorgeous Italian shoes that were a rare find during a garage sale last year, but a common loss in our house. (I swear my epitaph will read, "She couldn't find her shoes.") It drove me nuts, constantly hunting for those shoes for months. For a while I was cruelly teased by the discovery of one shoe. It had separated from its mate, which seemed hopelessly lost. I even tried replacing them, but I could not find their equal in stores.

Then last week I dreamed that I found the other shoe. I woke up and looked under my bed (something I had done many times before) and FOUND IT!

My husband cleaned the house and treated me to three new outfits to go with my shoes. There is a special occasion coming up (I'll talk about it later) and now I have my Barbie clothes for that.

My kids gave me gifts and made me cards. My son's card was "To my speasl, speasl Mom." (His dad later taught him the right way to spell "special.") And my daughter carefully wrote "MOM" on hers -- the first word she's written on her own.

And my brother Jim drove in to town. He and his family are now officially Texas residents, living about twelve minutes from my house, and close to where Jim is setting up his dermatology practice. We spent my birthday emptying the moving truck, which was actually pretty neat. I considered it opening the big, huge present I'd been hoping for all year. (More family living close to me.) We followed that ceremony with lots of revelry, as the remaining non-Dallas-area members of my family also came up to celebrate Jim's arrival, my birthday, my nephew's birthday, my grandmother's birthday (lucky her -- she's turning 89) and some anniversaries.

On Saturday evening I saw the Osmonds wrap up their 50th anniversary tour, and as they sang "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" I thought about how light the moment was for all of us, no matter how heavy the boxes and furniture were. As I thanked my mom and my grandma for being part of the reason for my birthday, I thanked Jim for his life-saving advice nearly three years ago, which is part of the reason I've been lucky enough to have forty-one birthdays.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Rest

The word "rest" is on (what's left of) my mind.

Maybe it's because I get to rest from monitoring for three months.
Maybe it's because my son loves to practice the piano, and is still learning about rest values.
Maybe it's because my brother Mike and I were recently discussing our family heritage of sleep deprivation.

And maybe because I was thinking of my 2ofus4now support group and a question that someone asked about why certain factors in her situation couldn't guarantee a particular outcome.

Actually, that question can apply to everyone at some point (or points) in their lives. Sometimes circumstances are predictable (like if you put your hand on the surface of a hot stove, you will feel intense heat). Sometimes, however, we are placed in situations that are very unpredictable and difficult to navigate.

I was also thinking of a recent conversation I had with a friend, who faces overwhelming challenges and heart-wrenching decisions. Sometimes decisions are easy (like, "should I put my hand on the surface of that hot stove?") and some are not -- especially when options seem to be equally good and bad.

As I pondered these conversations, I thought about faith and prayer and righteous desires...and rest. Whenever we have a problem to solve, or a question to answer, or an uncertain future to face, these elements come into play.

We consider our righteous desires. Through study and prayer and pondering with sincere hearts we can understand what things are worthy of our petition.

We put our petition before the Lord in faith that he will hear us. We breathe life into our faith through our works, pursuing with our best efforts the paths and resources that are open to us.

The rest -- well, it's the rest.

(Kind of like how today is a gift -- the "present".)

The rest is out of our hands, and so we don't have to carry it around. It is a chance to rest "the rest" in the sure knowledge that we are loved and cared for, and that we are subject to the will of the Lord, who knows us and loves us. We won't go astray if we are sincerely tring to do our best, and put our complete trust in the Shepherd. We may rest safely in that trust, knowing that even if it is through thorny ways, we will be led to a joyful end.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matthew 11:29)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quarter Rest

Today's MRI was good! Things have remained stable long enough that my "live and look" plan has been extended to three-month intervals!

As long as I remain symptom-free, I am finished with MRI scans for the rest of this quarter. I don't go back until October 14! My son begged me to show him the "pictures" when I got home. He wrote me a note to tell me how happy he was that my pictures looked good. To punctuate it, he taped part of his favorite pencil to the note as my prize.

Recent clinical evidence of a functional brain is useful when I have half-brained moments (like when I went to karate class this evening without my belt). I also realized today that I completely forgot about July 12 being my "...and THIRTY-ONE!" monthly milestone!

(...brief moment of elation to mark that milestone...)

Speaking of half-brained moments, I heard a cute joke today about someone who named their pet zebra "Spot".

And another one about a guy who said he had CDO. "It's like OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)", he explained, "but with the letters in alphabetical they should be!"

And I also listened to someone talk about the logic behind selling suitcases at the airport. "Do they really think someone is running around with his arm full of shirts, looking to buy a suitcase?"

Those gave me a chuckle as I went into the tube. It's nice to be able to smile when you're getting your picture taken!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Here I go again!

(My apologies to Whitesnake)

Here I go again on my own,

Goin' through the MRI I've always known.

Thanks to prayers I know I'll never walk alone.

And with what's on my mind,

I ain't wasting no more time!

I'm just another brain in need of rescue,

Riding solo without chemotherapy,

And I'm gonna hold on

For the rest of my days,

'Cause I know what it means

To hope the doctor says the scan looks clean!

Here I go again!

JULY 15, 2008 -- MRI # 19

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Second = Best

My son's baseball team finished their season tonight with an exciting championship game...

...and took home the second place trophy.

(That's my Jake, front row, third from your right, holding his trophy high in one hand with his Gatorade in his other hand!)

This team has played together since they were four years old, and they work really well together. This season they moved into a tougher league, and they had some challenges to overcome. And despite those challenges, they managed to pull off a great season, and we have enjoyed each moment.

Despite their disappointment over not winning the championship title, they still emerged from the bullpen exuberant over a job well done. They really played their best this season, and that made it so exciting to watch. In my completely objective and unbiased opinion, they were true champions.

Best of all, I spent the season grateful time and again for the opportunity to be in the bleachers, rooting for #8 and getting a wink and a thumbs-up sign from him. Tonight was one of those moments I would never want to miss -- and I didn't!

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's not easy being green

(But it's awesome!)

I had my belt test today. I reached the rank of Gokkyu and earned my green belt!

It wasn't easy. It ended up being a private test, and a really intense workout for over an hour. Toward the end, as I was delivering a series of roundhouse elbow strikes to "Bob" (the standing punching bag) I felt something in my left shoulder go "pop" and then my hand went all tingly and I couldn't raise my arm.

I felt like Daniel-san in The Karate Kid, and I wished for Mr. Miyagi to run into the dojo and rub his hands together and fix my shoulder. But instead I was given an opportunity to defend myself with whatever was still working. I did yet another form without using my left arm, and then I had to exact my revenge on Bob with another fifty strikes, this time using only my right arm and legs. I did some punches and kicks, and then I decided to come crashing down with a full force shuto strike with the side of my right hand onto the top of Bob...

...except the top of Bob wasn't padded. (OWWWWWWW!)

So I'm blogging while I alternate icing my left shoulder and my right hand.

And as I left the studio victorious with my new green belt and matching green t-shirt, I noticed that my new sensei underestimated my normal shirt size and gave me a smaller one. But when I got home and tried it on, it fit! My exuberance over that discovery helped mitigate the intense pain of lifting my arm to try it on.

It's not that easy being green;
Being a Gokkyu with a broken wing.
When I see my hand and shoulder turning black, or blue, or red,
Or something much more colorful like that.
It's not easy being green
It seems I can't do some very ordinary things
And people tend to pass me over 'cause I'm
Wearing the same outfit everyday
(To painful to change clothes).
But green's the color of Spring
And green meant I had balance,
And memory, and neuromuscular strength--
Like a reassuring neuro exam!
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine; it's beautiful --
And I think it's what I want to be!

(until I'm ready for brown stripe...)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon

We had a great weekend with lots of family in town to celebrate my daughter's third birthday. They also stayed long enough to hear me speak in church today. For those of my family and friends who weren't able to be there, this is what you missed:

In Doctrine & Covenants section 122 the Lord responds to the prophet Joseph Smith, who is in Liberty Jail. After describing many awful possibilities, the Lord said: “…and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When I first learned this scripture I wondered how all those terrible things could possibly “give thee experience” and “be for thy good”. Of course, at the time, I was pretty inexperienced with adversity.

Our Heavenly Father designed a great plan of happiness to bring to pass our immortality and eternal lives. And yet this plan of happiness necessarily includes opposition and adversity. When our lives take twists and turns that we don’t expect – or want – we may find ourselves longing for a more predictable and pain-free existence. Something more simple, fair, and controllable.

We must remember that in the premortal existence there was a plan presented, where everything was controlled to ensure a guaranteed outcome. But that plan, presented by Lucifer, was contrary to the will of the Father. It was rejected, and those who supported Lucifer’s plan were cast out. Our existence on this earth is evidence of our willingness to accept the Lord’s way.

The Book of Mormon records Lehi’s counsel to his son Jacob, who had experienced much affliction and sorrow. Lehi taught that in order to accomplish his purposes, the Lord’s plan required an opposition in all things. In order to bring to pass righteousness, the plan allowed for wickedness. In order for us to appreciate joy, we must also be subject to misery.

President Spencer W. Kimball explained this in more detail: “Is there not wisdom in his giving us trials that we might rise above them, responsibilities that we might achieve, work to harden our muscles, sorrows to try our souls? Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?If all the sick for whom we prayed were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.”

After acknowledging the role of adversity in the Lord’s plan, Father Lehi also taught Jacob, “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”

The same reassurance was given by the Lord to the persecuted saints in Missouri: “Fear not…All things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good.”

There are many scriptural examples of how this promise is fulfilled, and I’ll name only a few. The more the Israelites were afflicted by the Egyptians, the more they multiplied and grew.

When Alma’s followers were enslaved and threatened, the Lord strengthened them that they could bear up their burdens with ease and submit cheerfully to his will.

Alma the younger described his own repentance process, in which he said that there could be nothing so exquisite and bitter as was his pain and suffering over his sinful state. Yet upon receiving forgiveness he said there was nothing so exquisite and sweet as his joy. His desire from that point forward was to labor without ceasing to bring more souls unto repentance. He taught his sons to rely upon the Lord, testifying, “And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions…yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.”

The apostle Paul had what he called "a thorn in the flesh". He prayed for the Lord to take that thorn from him, but instead the Lord replied: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness". The prophet Ether received a similar response when the Lord told him, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

President Ezra Taft Benson explained: “It is not on the pinnacle of success and ease where men and women grow most. It is often down in the valley of heartache and disappointment and reverses where men and women grow into strong characters.”

Ardeth Greene Kapp said that: “This life experience is designed for our growth and progress. Our trials will not be more than we can handle, but they cannot be less if we are to fill the measure of our creation.” This quote always reminds me of the careful silversmith, who oversees the refining process to bring out all of the potential of the silver while protecting it from damage.

Orson F. Whitney said that, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility.

And Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it well by saying, “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’” He also said that “For the faithful, there is short-term tribulation but long-term joy.”

Even the Savior, who walked in perfect obedience, needed to experience adversity in order to fulfill his mission. As Alma wrote, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” The Savior himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” President Hunter said that if our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.

As the Lord consecrates our afflictions for our gain, I have pondered how I might in turn consecrate my afflictions for the Lord’s purposes, like the apostle Paul, who gloried and took pleasure in infirmities for Christ's sake.

We don’t always get to choose the circumstances in our lives, but we always get to choose what we will do about them. Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who wrote about the various reactions he witnessed among concentration camp prisoners. He describes “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." The Book of Mormon also describes the contrasting ways that people responded to adversity. Alma 62:41: “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” We choose whether to allow adversity to be destructive or constructive experiences in our lives.

Elaine Cannon said that “A person who understands that life is schooling is more likely to benefit from adversity than one who expects only happiness in life.”

President Kimball said that “Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”

Many years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I had a visiting teacher who was going through significant adversity of her own. She was a faithful visiting teacher who focused on my needs, and when she closed her visits with prayer, she always prayed that we might both “quickly learn what we need to learn” from the trials we were facing. I have always remembered and appreciated her choice to learn from adversity.

The Savior suffered all that we suffer, so that he could know how to help us. Likewise, we can choose to develop compassion and empathy for others. We can use our experiences to become instruments in the Lord’s hands, to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

We can also choose to develop gratitude, because adversity reveals things that we may otherwise take for granted. As we take notice and acknowledge the blessings in our lives, and the tender mercies that sustain us through our trials, more of them are revealed to us, and we become like the servant of Elisha, whose eyes were finally opened to see the numerous chariots of fire protecting them against the enemy.

We can also choose to submit ourselves to the Lord’s will, and reap the blessings that come from trusting in him. Howard W. Hunter said that “Peace can come to an individual only by an unconditional surrender to him who is the Prince of peace and who has the power to confer peace.”

The Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth.” He also said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And he said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”

In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In closing I want to quote President Gordon B.Hinckley at a time that must have been his deepest sorrow. From the funeral program for his wife, his words are as follows:
It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is.
It all works out.
Don’t worry.
I say that to myself every morning.
It will all work out.
Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future.
The Lord will not forsake us.
He will not forsake us.
If we will put our trust in Him,
If we will pray to Him,
If we will live worthy of His blessings,
He will hear our prayers."

Someday we will be free from all of our earthly sorrows, but we will get to retain the experience that we have gained. These experiences will be for our good, making us better prepared to realize our greatest potential and our highest joy and fulfillment as children of our loving Heavenly Father. I bear testimony of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

...and THIRTY!

June 12. It's my "baby" brother Blake's birthday (says the half-brained-yet-still-literate alliterate). This cute little guy turns 27.

And not to steal his party, but June 12 is also a birthday of sorts for me.

I know -- I'm really fortysomething, age-wise. But June 12 marks 30 months since my cancer diagnosis and my new "survivor" life began. But I promise not to start whining like the famous Thirtysomething folks.

After all, I'm still alive and kicking. Literally, in fact -- just ask my karate sensei, or "Bob", the standing punching bag that recently got a series of roundhouse blows to the face.

Somebody tell Ted Kennedy. Give him some hope.

Blake is coming up again this weekend for another visit (see, I'm still magnetic!) so we'll be able to celebrate. (With cake!)

Naturally this thought makes Beatles music start playing in (what's left of) my mind:

(na na na na na na)
You say it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
It's my birthday too, yeah
(na na na na na na)
They say it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
We're gonna have a good time!
(na na na na na na)
I'm glad it's your birthday
(na na na na na na)
Happy birthday to you!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Unexpected side effects from the MRI

Since November 2005 I have made eighteen trips through the MRI tube to get my head examined.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging -- MRI -- is miraculous technology. Here's the half-brained description of how it works:

The scanning tube creates a strong magnetic field. The protons in the gazillions of water molecules in our body align with the magnetic field. A specially designed radio wave flips these protons around, and as they realign themselves they produce a detectable image. Different tissues of the body have protons that realign at different speeds, so it's possible to differentiate and distinguish things like fat, muscle, bone, and (lucky for me) brain tissue in the images.

(All this happens while I lie there for about an hour, pretending that I'm toothpaste in a tube sitting in a very loud laundromat with video games being played in the corner. )

Contrast agents are also used to help highlight blood vessels, tumors, and inflammation. The contrast agent commonly used nowadays is gadolinium, which has potentially serious side effects that are listed on the consent forms that I have to sign each time I go in for a scan. So far I've been lucky to avoid those side effects, and if there are any long-term effects yet to be discovered, I hope to live long enough to get to worry about them.

Surely this much interaction with magnetic fields could eventually turn me into some kind of superhero (yeah, I remember talking about that in my Vector Vision post long ago). But lately I've come to realize that there is another really cool side effect. Apparently I am able to create a strong pull on my family to bring them closer to me! Skeptical? Take a look at the evidence:

1. My dad moved from the Houston area to the Dallas area, and has recently relocated even closer -- just a few blocks away from my house.

2. My brother Mike and his family have moved here from North Carolina.

3. My grandmother relocated from Arizona to Texas. (She'll only be 89 this year, so I got her a bumper sticker that says, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!")

4. My brother Jim and his family came to visit us from Georgia last week, and spent most of their time looking at homes and schools and medical office space, as they are considering moving here to set up his dermatology practice.

5. My brother Blake and his friend also came to visit us, as they have an interest in setting up a business, possibly in our area.

This is just to name a few. I think more family may be heading our way!

And my new "magnetism" has worked on friends, too! We've had great reunions and visits with long-time friends, and one of them has even taken a job in our area and commutes here frequently.

I like it. It's more fun than waiting for people to gather around me at my viewing.

Plus, who knows -- maybe that viewing is still several decades down the road.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

No Hope?

I was at the grocery store on Saturday, and as I went through the checkout counter I noticed the first wave of tabloid stories about Senator Kennedy's brain tumor diagnosis, all with their sensational headlines. "SIX MONTHS TO LIVE!" said one. "KENNEDY DEATH WATCH" said another. One had a subtitle: "THERE'S NO HOPE!"

Good thing I never believe the tabloids.

I don't know any details about this person's medical condition, and even if I did -- I'm not a doctor who would be able to know what those details mean. But I do know this: THERE IS HOPE.

In a related story, I recall a conversation with someone who talked about "the worst thing that could happen" to anyone. That person said the worst thing was death. But it's not the worst thing that could happen to anyone. It's the only thing that does happen to everyone at some point. There's a time to be born, and a time to die.

So we're all terminal from the moment of our first breath, although none of us likes to think of it that way. But realizing that death is inevitable (and just at an unknown time to us) should not be a depressing thing. It should certainly not rob hope. After all, it's not the loss of life but the loss of hope that is one of the worst things that could happen to someone.

To quote part of a poem that I shared in a post last year:

If hope is false, then surely I guess,
There must be false hopelessness.
What would it mean to have false hopelessness?
Perhaps that indeed it was true hopefullness.
So let's turn it around, or inside out,
Because hope is something we can't live without.
-- Rebecca Libutti, from That's Unacceptable (2001)

Each day we wake up and do what we can, with an instinctive hope in the promise and opportunity of that day. If we think that our days are numbered less than we'd like, it just makes each day more precious and valuable. That's an economic fact -- they call it "supply and demand".

When we pray for a miracle, we do it with hope in the possibility of a miracle. Hope leads to faith, and faith fuels miracles. Even when adversity isn't spared, miracles in many forms surround the experience. I've seen that happen many times.

When life is not as we expected it to be (and really -- whose actually is precisely how they expected it to be?), it shouldn't rob hope. In fact, it is often in the face of disappointment and readjustment that we find new opportunities.

When mortality confronts us with some advance notice, some consider that lucky. When it confronts us suddenly, it is still viewed as lucky in other ways. When this life is over, all that we lose is this life, and that was the plan from the beginning. Even then, I am grateful to know that there is still much to hope for.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

So now the ME spin gets out there!

CNN has invited brain tumor survivors to share their stories online. (Wow -- never thought of doing that before!)

Here's mine:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One More Tu-mor

As soon as I heard the news last week that Senator Ted Kennedy was hospitalized for a seizure, I wondered if he might have a brain tumor. (Seizures were my presenting symptom, too.) And sure enough, today's news about Senator Kennedy's malignant tumor has been flooding the airwaves (even drowning out the primary election going on today, which is the only good thing about this happening).

Our local Fox news station has some video of Dr. Fink (my miracle-working neuro-oncologist) as she discusses the location of the tumor:

I liked Dr. Fink's approach because it is straightforward instead of trying to go for the sensationally devastating.

It's so interesting to see how other news coverage portays things to hype up the negative. Although the specific pathology has not been released yet, it seems like every article I read jumps right to the possibility of glioblastoma. (The kind of tumor that I have.)

I kept reading descriptions about how vile and aggressive glioblastoma is. Things like:

"Average survival can range from less than a year for very advanced and aggressive types — such as glioblastomas..." (MSNBC)

"A glioblastoma is the most common brain tumor that affects adults. It is also the most rapidly growing, malignant tumor of the brain with the shortest survival. Death may occur within months. 'It’s the most malignant, the most aggressive, the tumor of the brain associated with the shortest survival,' said Marc Chamberlain, a professor of neurology and director of the Brain Tumor Program at University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance." (Fox News)

"Average survival can range from three to five years for moderately severe malignant gliomas to less than a year for very advanced and aggressive types such as glioblastomas." (CNN)

There is a different spin, however:

"Glioblastoma is pretty darn serious, and needs a lot of medical attention and prayer. It's like a sixteen-year-old getting their first driver's license. A year later some might be dead, while some might be working on their next karate belt and hoping for another shot at a Messiah solo. There are wonderful treatments that work to preserve both life and quality of life, and we should support the research that brings us these treatments (and hopefully a cure someday). Average side effects of glioblastoma include increased perspective, diminished pettiness, and a swelling of faith." (ME)

Just to clear the air, I am a staunch Texas conservative and superfan of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. When it comes to politics, Senator Kennedy and I are diametrically opposed. But we are both children of the same God, and now we are both survivors with something serious on (what's left of) our minds. I wish him all the best, and pray that he and his family will have all that they need right now. I am sure many are praying for him, and I hope he feels the strengthening support of those prayers, as I have felt.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Livestrong Day?

I guess Livestrong Day is like Easter. It may fall on a different date each year.

In the past it has fallen on May 17th, and I just noticed that the Lance Armstrong Foundation celebrated it on May 13th this year.

I've mentioned it before, but May 17th has personal significance. May 17th this year marks a quarter century from the first time I kissed my future husband. It was our third date, and Prince Jared planted his first smooch on me at my doorstep. We were friends for a long time before that, and I had been mooning after him for about six months. I guess he finally decided to be in love with me, too. And it's just gotten better ever since.

So whether or not this is Lance Armstrong's official Livestrong Day, it's kind of mine in a way. I'm lucky to have gotten many more smooches than originally predicted in December 2005.

Monday, May 12, 2008

...and...TWENTY NINE!

Wow -- twenty-nine months!

I'm at that really really short point on the statistical curve as it (hopefully) flattens out for a while. If I go seven more months like this I might reach "long term survivor" status. When I was first diagnosed I thought I'd be really lucky to survive to a point that is now fifteen months back in the distance.

Once in a while something changes in my schedule for the day, and I end up with "found time." I always like to keep things in mind that I can do with those pockets of extra time on my hands -- no matter how small those pockets are.

And here I am with a whole lot of "found time" behind me (and every minute adds to it). I've started taking an inventory of what I have done with that time so far, and what I should be doing. If I had known in December 2005 that I would still be alive and kicking today (literally -- just ask my sensei), would I have done more with this time? Would I have been a lazy bum and done less? Who knows?

Gotta do what we can, while we can. Right now I can drive myself nuts thinking about what to do next with all this "found time".

I prayed a whole lot for this life, and I'm sure that I should give an accounting for what I have done with what I have been given. I feel like one of the servants in the parable of the talents. Whether I get a little bit or a lot doesn't matter as much as what I choose to do with it.

Some things are easy, like hugging my kids and telling my family members how much I love them. We always want one more chance to do that, and I've been blessed with many chances.

Other things are harder and require me to cut out a little circle and write "T U I T T" on it. (Because I'll finally do it when I get "a round TUITT.")

I'll get the scissors and start cutting circles. After all, if I want to try and stretch this out to twenty-nine years, I need to be filling it with a lot of good stuff!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gonna Whip Cancer

Those who read my blog know that I have a multi-faceted approach to my survival strategy. Those facets include

faith & prayer
friends (especially those who add their own faith and prayers)
staying active (in church, at work, and in karate class)
good music
good food
good laughs
and on and on...

Another contributor is my good care; particularly my neuro-oncologist, Dr. Karen Fink. She not only knows the gold standard of care for GBM, but when my tumor became too aggressive for that she had a lot of tricks up her sleeve. Her involvement in research is saving lives, including mine.

I don't know how she does it, because medical insurance does not cover experimental treatments like the ones that worked so well for me. The fact that I was using up over half a million dollars in uncovered chemotherapy never worked its way into our conversations, as she seemed so intently focused on the good results. (And I'm not the only patient in this situation!) Half a million dollars is nothing compared to the value of living days and even years longer than I thought possible. I could never repay what has been done for me. And yet someone has to at least keep funding alive for this life-saving research.

This has been on (what's left of) my mind as I think about how grateful I am for how well things are going. Also on my mind is my friend and fellow Longflicks rocker who is surviving breast cancer that has recently metastasized to her brain. (I had to tease her about quitting trying to compete.)

And it so happens that I have another friend who is a Pampered Chef consultant, AND it so happens that they do fundraisers, AND it so happens that they also have a special "Let's Whip Cancer" program going on this month. I had to jump on this for two reasons:

1. If I host a fundraiser I can have all of the fundraising proceeds go directly to Dr. Fink's research fund. This is one small way to say "thank you" to Dr. Fink.

2. In addition, during the month of May there are some special "Help Whip Cancer" products being offered, and $1 from each one purchased helps support the American Cancer Society's breast cancer education and early detection programs. This is a great way to pay tribute to my survivor friend.

I was a Pampered Chef myself years ago (before my son was born) and I love-love-love their products. I still use my stoneware and cookware and gadgets, and my husband still loves his grilling tools. And their Pantry seasonings are great, too (all natural/no MSG/very yummy). And the cookbooks are awesome, and so on...

I'll end this commercial with a link to a secure website, where you can view and purchase items for this fundraiser online:

Remember -- anything purchased from this link will make a contribution to Dr. Fink's cancer research fund. In addition, any of the specially designated "let's whip cancer" products will also contribute to the American Cancer Society's breast cancer programs.

I hope everyone will enjoy helping me whip cancer in a yummy new way!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I have ten weeks left...

...until my next MRI! (I had one today!)

There was an abnormality on today's MRI...
...if you consider it abnormal to have things look so good this far out, with no treatment during the past two months! (I wouldn't call it an abnormality -- I'd call it a miracle!)

There is no progress to report...
...and that's good news in cancer world!

So I go into the hospital on Thursday for an overnight stay... escort my son, who is having his tonsils and adenoids removed!

Gotta run...
...from the angry mob of readers! (You prayed for me and I reward you with sick humor!)