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.