Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's True What They Say

It has been said that dog is man's best friend. Truer words have never been spoken. On Tuesday, Richard and I discovered that Gus, my old english sheepdog, had a terrible infection and had to be put down. I was completely blindsided and unprepared to lose him so soon. It is strange that whenever personal tragedy strikes the world seems to start spinning faster and faster; while I remain stuck in a horrible moment. When I realized that he was going to die my world stopped. I forgot to breathe, and I couldn't think about what to do next. All around me however, everyone else kept on going. No one stopped to notice what was happening. Only my sweet husband felt the shift as my private world was forever changed. To some, he was only a dog. To me, he had been a true and loving companion. Gus and I had been together for about seven years. I rescued him from a shelter in Utah while I was attending the BYU. I was living in student housing at the time, and had no where to take him that night. He ended up living in my brother's garage in Draper for a few months until I could find an apartment in Provo that would let me keep a dog. 4 cities, 5 apartments, 3 houses, 6 boyfriends, one husband, two kids and another puppy later and we had shared a lifetime together. Gus had been abused before I got him. His back legs were both broken and he was completely covered in sores. It didn't take much love from me for him to become completely attached and truly loyal. He was very protective and wouldn't let any guys near me. Richard and I used to have to lock him out of the house whenever he came over. We could always hear him growling behind the door during our make out sessions. In the end, the love shared between them was as strong as the relationship between Gus and I. It is funny how one's heart can stretch and grow to make room to love someone new. When I became pregnant with Olive, I wondered how I could possibly love this next baby as much as the first. Yet, when she came, without any effort there was plenty of room in my heart to love her as much as the first. However, with the loss of someone who has carved out a special place in your heart, nothing can every fill the void. Hearts can't recoil like a rubber band. Once they are stretched they stay that way. Heartache is a true condition. My heart actually hurts. I miss Gus very much. Just like no one could ever fill the void of the loss of any of my loved ones, there will always be a corner of my heart just for Gus. I count all those who knew this lovely dog very lucky. I consider myself the luckiest. He was one of God's gifts to me in the form of a shaggy old sheep dog. He was exactly the dog I wanted, exactly when I needed him. He has shared the lowest points of my life and been with me through the greatest moments I have ever known. He was always happy to see me, and never held a grudge when I forgot to take him for a walk or made him sleep outside. True friends like that are hard to find. To some he may just be a dog, but to me, I feel a very profound loss. It is true what the say....Gus has been one of my very best friends.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Coming Home

We brought Olive home one year ago today. A year I am glad to have behind me. We were at the hospital a lot longer than we ever anticipated. You always hear about complications, but before all of this I had no idea what that meant. Well, Olive had complications. Her tumor is located near the part of her brain that controls her breathing. Fearing that the tumor or surgery might paralyze Olive's lungs, she was placed on ventilators after each surgery until she could prove that she could breathe on her own. Following her first surgery, she was in the ICU for several days using a ventilator. While on a ventilator, no air moved past her vocal cords. Therefore, she could make no noise. For days, I watched my baby silently cry as she recovered from her painful surgery. It was heartbreaking to be unable to pick her up and comfort her as we watched her cry without a sound.

The hospital staff discovered she could breath by what would be a very lucky accident. One afternoon several days after surgery, the doctors wanted a scan of her brain to measure the size of the remaining tumor. As they were turning around a corner with Olive's hospital bed, her breathing tube caught on the door jamb. Without realizing what had occurred the tube was ripped from Olive's throat. From down the hall, I could hear my baby scream. I knew her cry in an instant. It was the first time I had heard it in days. The nurses were panicking as the realized what had just occurred. As I ran around the corner they were crowded over her bed. Miraculously, Olive had the strength to breathe on her own.

After that episode Olive failed her swallow study. This meant she could not safely eat without danger of aspirating. She had to be fed with a feeding tube placed down her throat through her nose. She also contracted a sickness commonly known as C-Diff. C-Diff is explosive, dehydrating, cramping diarrhea. she was than isolated to a room all her own. For several days Olive and I sat confined to a room on the third floor. Finally in the early afternoon of October 20, Olive passed her swallow study. I successfully fed her the first bottle. The next day, we were discharged and could finally take our baby home. Taking Olive home. Something so simple weeks before was now the biggest blessing I had ever been given.

These pictures show Olive in the last photo she had taken before losing her vertebrate. She is being held by her Grandpa Harold. The other picture shows her wearing her neck brace and hooked to her feeding tubes shortly after her first surgery.

Earrings, Necklaces and Bracelets Oh My!

I would like to think that I am a genuinely kind and thoughtful person. However, every once in a while you meet someone who is so naturally kind, it is astounding and very humbling. I have had the privilege of being the recipient of some of those types of people's generosity. Two of these amazing people live in Colorado Springs, one of them I don't even know in person. The first, my cousin Niki, the second, her dear friend Stephanie. Stephanie is a Lia Sophia dealer. Lia Sophia, is a beautiful line of jewelry sold out of people's homes. It is incredible stuff. Upon hearing of our plight, Stephanie informed Niki that she wanted to hold a benefit sale on our behalf. Acting as hostess, Niki held the party at her house. These two women then donated their earnings to me. I received nearly five hundred dollars worth of jewelry, and even more than that in cash. I am still breathless at receiving such a gift. The kindness of complete strangers. Olive's sickness has been horrible, yet such an amazing experience at the same time. The people who have come into our lives that we would have never known otherwise, have made this battle so much easier. In a world that lately seems very corrupt, ugly and selfish, I am blessed to constantly be surrounded by love and kindness. I have reconnected with old friends, made fantastic new ones, and strengthened the bonds with those people who have been constant in my life. I thank God everyday for all of you. It is your faith and support that gives me the courage to keep hoping when I often feel I can not. It is all of you who give me joy, strength and continually make me laugh. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You.

P.S. When you see me notice my beautiful bracelets. That dang Lia Sophia knows what she is doing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

All Dressed Up

If you were to ask me if I was superstitious, I would probably say no. However, over the course of the past year, I have thrown away at least a dozen or more shirts. It started the day Olive was diagnosed. I was wearing a cute, new shirt I had just purchased the day before at Old Navy. Then we received the news. That night I threw the now ugly shirt in the trash. How could I ever wear that cursed shirt again? I had no idea that subconsciously I had started a my own superstitious tradition. Every subsequent scan, surgery or appointment that Olive had, would result in a discarded outfit. It didn't take long before I started running out of clothes that I was willing to throw away. The clothing shortage was not only a problem for me, but one for Richard as well. I couldn't allow him to wear any shirt that would remind me of bad news. So, he was often required to throw his out as well. Nine or ten months down the road, as we began to run out of clothes, we could often be found wearing really old, and most often skin tight (due to the marriage weight we've gained) shirts to every doctor appointment.

Well, one year later, as we returned to SLC for the scan that would determine if Olive's chemotherapy was working, I turned over a new leaf. More appropriately, I wore a new outfit. The old habit of throwing the bad shirts away was costing us a fortune, and didn't seem to have any real benefit. For this appointment, I got up early to ensure that I looked good for our day at the hospital. I left for the scan looking "fine". Not just any old "fine" but first date kinda "fine". I was lipsticked, hair-sprayed and made-up. I had on my good jeans, a cute top and some jewelery. I pulled out all the stops. The end results, and this is the very important part, Olive's scan came back showing she had no new tumor growth since July. The chemotherapy is working. After just three rounds of carboplatin, the tumor has not gotten any bigger. This is the longest Olive will have ever gone in her whole life without surgery. This is the first time we have every been allowed to take her home immediately following a scan. All the doctors agree that she should continue with her scheduled chemotherapy, and she is not required to return to SLC until February. This is great news!! If I was superstitious, I would probably feel obligated to wear this lucky outfit each time we go. Since I am not, maybe all I need is a new outift every time. Next time we go, I want to hear that the tumor is shrinking. Hell, for news that good I should probably buy some new shoes too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moving Mountains

The clock says 3:22. I have been watching the minutes tick by since 1:17. I feel very sorry for people who suffer from insomnia. Not being able to sleep is so frustrating. I know the cause of my sleeplessness. Olive, is sleeping like a baby,
(which I guess she is). Ignorance is bliss. For her tomorrow is just another day. For me, it is another huge day in the cancer battle. These scans always change everything, and I am never quite prepared for the news they bring. I have the worst case of heartburn, and my mind won't stop racing. Richard, Olive and I are bedded down at the Ronald McDonald House here in SLC. It is where we stay every time we come to Primary Children's. My mind is constantly saying a prayer. I can't stop. It's the only control I have over the situation. It is the only power I wield, as if subconsciously I hope and believe that God will change everything. I have been taught that with enough faith, God can move mountains... I don't need a mountain moved, I need something much smaller, but in ways so much bigger. I need a astrocytoma spinal cord tumor to start shrinking.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thursday Morning

Thursday morning is our big day. Olive is scheduled for her routine MRI, but they are never routine. This will be her first scan since she started chemotherapy. The hope is that the drugs are keeping the growth in check.

A bad situation is that the tumor has gotten larger and she will have to undergo a de-bulking surgery, or increase her chemo drugs. Worst case scenario, the tumor has grown up into her brain stem. If that is the case, brain radiation that will severely affect her intellect will be necessary. To learn that the tumor is shrinking would be a miracle. Like always, we are praying for a miracle. We check into Primary Children's Hospital Thursday morning at 8:00 am. She will then be sedated and undergo her scan which will last about an hour. After she awakens, we will met with her doctor to review the results. We have never had a clean scan. However, there is always a first time. Last October when Olive was first diagnosed she began a regular, routine scan every three months. In January, she formed hydrocephalus, water on the brain, and had a permanent shunt placed in the brain ventricles to relieve the pressure from fluid build-up. In May, the scan showed her tumor had returned, and was removed for a third time. Finally, in July, when the tumor had regrown yet again, she started chemotherapy. Easy to see why I get so anxious when we have to go in for a simple scan. Like always, Richard is very optimistic. Thank heavens. Personally, I try to go numb until we get the news, otherwise, I get to worked up. Please keep Olive in your prayers over the next few days. Keep us all there. It is amazing the strength you feel when you know others are praying for you. We will let you know. The pictures show Olive's neck after her last surgery, and with Dr. Douglas Brockmeyer, her neurosurgeon. I am secretly kinda in love with him. I think it is because he is good looking, and has saved my daughter's life numerous times. Don't tell Richard.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Worth Its Weight in Gold

There is just no way around it, chemotherapy makes you sick. Olive has been throwing up a lot since her last treatment. Fortunately, the anti-nausea medicines available work wonders, and are super fast acting. A refill of her Zofran prescription is just a little less than one thousand dollars. This morning, as Olive was throwing up all over aunt Amy, I would have paid any price for it. So literally, these days, one pill is pretty much worth its weight it gold.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Smooth Sailing

They say practice makes perfect. That must be true about everything, because this session of chemo went without a hitch. Olive's blood counts came back high; qualifying her for this round of treatment. After such a rough session last time, they wanted to make sure she had plenty of fluids. Eight hours later, she was very hydrated and looking and feeling great. The best part of the whole dang day was the surprise visit from my sister Amy, her daughter Ruby, and my cousin Niki. Without ever spilling the beans, they had planned a trip out here from Colorado. I was completely surprised. Olive and I were sitting on the bed in her hospital room when my mom walked in with Ruby. I knew instantly who the round, little, butterball belonged to. I hadn't seen her since August, but her cheeks are unmistakable. In all the world, it was exactly the people I needed and wanted to see. The pictures show Olive and I at the clinic getting ready for chemo. Before she ever starts, they access her chest port with a special needle. Once her port has been punctured they can draw blood and then administer her medicine through the same needle. Nick, one of her nurses first cleans the port site, and then draws blood. Finally, she is hooked to an IV line and pole.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chicken Chicken Choo Choo

All day long, as Rex plays with his Thomas the Train, I have to chuckle under my breath. While other trains may be chuga chuga choo chooing down the tracks, Rex's train says, "Chicken chicken choo choo!"

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Next Wayne Gretsky

When Richard was in college he played a little bit of hockey. Since Rex was born, Richard has been chomping at the bit to get his boy on the ice. Saturday was finally the day to introduce Rex to world of ice skating. Now don't get me wrong, but my kid is a natural. I couldn't believe it as I watched my two year old skating around the rink. He loved it. Two hours later, he still wanted to skate. Richard firmly believes a new hockey star has been born. I decided not to mention he might be more like Scott Hamilton on ice instead of Wayne Gretsky. Sometimes you just gotta let a proud father have his dreams.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Holding My Breath

It feels as if I have spent much of the past year holding my breath. Once Olive was diagnosed with an intramedullary astrocytoma, which is just the official way of saying, big, fat, ugly, cancerous tumor in her spinal cord, our roller coaster ride had begun. Over the course of the year Olive would undergo multiple life threatening surgeries. More than once, I was faced with the possibility of losing my child. Our family's life was turned upside down. We had a house we couldn't sell in Twin Falls. For a little over 9 months, Richard lived and worked in Boise while the kids and I stayed at my parent's house in Pocatello. All of it was hard, but one moment stands out among the hardest. It was the early morning hours before Olive's first surgery. I had not released the hold on my baby since first learning of her diagnosis some 36 hours earlier. Already she looked different. Her face had become very puffy as she was pumped full of fluids and steroids in preparation for her surgery. We had been surrounded all day by family, doctors, and nurses. Olive was hooked up to IVs and monitors, and she had received a blessing of health and healing from her father, and my brother who had helped Richard administer the prayer. All that was left to do was wait. Wait for the doctors to rid my baby of the evil cells that had invaded her sweet, tiny, perfect body. Cells that if left alone would slowly paralyze her spinal cord and brain stem, eventually preventing her lungs from supplying her body with the oxygen it needed to survive. We were out of options. We were helpless and totally at the mercy of the Lord, and the skilled hands of her neurosurgeon. We knew we had to discuss one last thing. Where we would bury our baby. No conversation has ever been so difficult. This stands out as the hardest moment of my 31 years on earth. As I held my child, and felt her breathing on my neck, I had to think about her lifeless body, and her last breath. We finally decided we would lay her to rest near the family plots in Pocatello. We have never mentioned it since. At this point we were all physically and emotionally exhausted, Olive and I couldn't get comfortable around all the tubes and monitors to which she was mercilessly hooked. At this point, my sweet and loving husband gave me the world. With the permission of the nurses, they unhooked all the monitors and cords. The tubes were taken out and the alarms were shut off. I was able to lay down on the fold-out chair, and hold my baby without any interruptions. Her breathing became steady and even as she spent those last, precious hours asleep in my arms. The next morning at 8:00, I carried my beautiful baby down two flights of stairs and into the operating room of Dr. Douglas Brockmeyer. For the next 5 1/2 hours I held my breath.

Friday, October 3, 2008

One Year Ago Today

It all started one year ago today. I was sitting in the recovery room at Primary Childrens' Hospital holding Olive, not quite four months old, as she awakened from her sedation. She had just completed what was to be the first of many MRIs she would experience. Rex and my Mom where waiting for us outside. Richard was starting his first day at his new job in Boise. We were prepared to hear she had a cyst on her spinal cord that would need to be drained. We were unprepared to discover she had a tumor the length of her first seven vertebrate. I almost dropped her when they told me. They thought I knew. The doctor walked in and said, "Well, she has a very large tumor on her spinal cord." The other mothers, waiting with their children, all looked away as I started to hyperventilate. Someone went to get my mom. Someone else took Olive from me. Within minutes, we were in a private room with Dr. Douglas Brockmeyer, Olive's neurosurgeon. He would be responsible for saving Olive's life at least three times over the course of the year. He showed us the scans. It was impossible not to see the tumor. It filled the whole image. I couldn't breathe. I called Richard and told him to come to Salt Lake City immediately. They wouldn't let Olive leave the hospital. What was to be a quick overnight trip to Utah would turn into a 21 day stay.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Not Just a Rock

This is going to sound strange, but every once and awhile my babies go from being my babies to being actual little people. You see, my whole life is dedicated to my children. We are always together. Typically, if they need something done, I do it. They are fed by me, changed by me, bathed by me, dressed by me, groomed by me, carried by me, praised by me, punished by me and soothed by me. It is often easy to forget that although they need me in so many ways, they aren't actually an extension of me. They think on their own, act on their on, and feel on their own. Already, they are who they are.
It's strange how different my two children are. Their days are spent in almost identical situations, yet at the end of 24 hours their experiences have been very different. Rex is my tender heart and he lives life at his own pace. If he is given a cookie, without hesitation he breaks it in half and takes the bigger piece to his sister. He cannot sneeze that he doesn't bless himself, and those around him. If he gets into trouble his eyes well up with tears, and he needs me to hold him for a good five minutes after. When he needs some downtime, he takes one of his favorite books into our shower and sits and reads to himself. He asks to be hugged and kissed at least once every hour. He says "thank you" and "your welcome" every time you do or give him something. His favorite blanket tends to accompany him around the house, and he is very, painfully shy around new people. Olive on the other hand, is a pistol. This girl was born knowing what she wants, and doing whatever it takes to get it. Getting into trouble is part of the fun for Olive. Yesterday, she spent the five minutes I had my back turned pulling as much toilet paper off the roll as she could. She knew I would be mad, but she didn't care. As I began to scold her, she looked at me and reached for another handful. By now, Rex would be crying, and trying to figure out how to put the T.P. back on the roll, but not this kid. I hadn't reached her yet, so she figured she still had time to get more off the roll. Olive loves strangers, spending her time from the front seat of the grocery cart parade waving like a little princess to everyone we pass, and if you are lucky you can steal a kiss from her as she races by you.

Currently, rocks are one of Rex's greatest fascinations. He is going to save me a bundle this Christmas, because a box of rocks can't be that expensive. Everywhere we go, the kid is on the look out for a good rock. At the end of everyday, I have to empty the rocks he has collected from out of his pockets. When Rex finds a particular great rock he always brings it to me for safe keeping. Seeing nothing special about these rocks I usually toss them when he is not looking. Yesterday, about a half hour after I had ditched one of his special rocks, he came and asked me for it back. What.... this had never happened before. I told him I had lost it and he was crushed. He had given me one of his most treasured possessions, and I had the nerve to "lose" it. He spent the next half hour frantically scouring the backyard for the rock I had carelessly lost. By this time, it was time to go in and get dinner ready, and the search had to end. Rex was brokenhearted, and strangely, so was I. My kid had trusted me with something important, and I had just tossed it aside. This morning when Rex got up, he came out of his room with a different rock, after a small lecture about keeping it safe, he presented to me with a bit of hesitation. That is the great things about rocks, there are always plenty more. Trust isn't so easy to come by. Fortunately this little person, my kid, has decided I am worth another try. Currently, the rock is sitting on my jewelery box where it will stay safe and sound. To some, it is just a rock. To my son, it is a treasured possession and a symbol that he trusts me again. To me, this morning anyway, it means the world. I am worthy of another try. Sometimes, we carelessly toss aside some of the most important things without a second thought, but if we are lucky life will present us with the chance to redeem ourselves. I am very lucky, life and my son has given me another rock.