6 Months

Its absolutely amazing to me how fast time flies when you are having fun. Andrew is in Houston at MDAnderson again for his 6 month series of tests and scans, and I am at home holding down the fort and taking care of the kids and our zoo. To say that I felt absolutely sick to not leave the house with him at 4:05am this morning, is an understatement. Andrew is so strong, and he assured me (why the heck was he assuring ME?) that he would be fine on his own, and yet I feel strangely empty and scared tonight. And, yet, we both know and trust that his appointment with Dr. Swisher tomorrow will be cause for great celebration and a wonderful reminder of how fortunate and lucky we truly are.

The past 6 months have been a bit of a blur. Cancer is very strange that way. Time almost stands still at times, and yet when health returns, and normalcy appears, its easy to resume life as you knew it before and time begins to evaporate again. That said, its far too easy for me to talk about this, as I am NOT the one who has had cancer. I am NOT the one who has had massive thoracic surgery. I am NOT the one who has had part of his lung removed. I am NOT the one who has lost a father to the same cancer that I have had to fight. Its far too easy for me to talk about how the last 6 months have been. Quite frankly, its far too easy for me, as I am NOT the one fighting cancer. I am merely the spouse…

And, yet I will tell you that Andrew has been nothing short of amazing since his lung cancer diagnosis. He recovered from his surgery with such grace and such strength and as soon as he was able, he was walking the dogs, and hiking our local mountain, and then in short order, skiing at our local ski resort. And then before I knew it, he was skiing at altitude and pushing the limits of his lung capacity, and celebrating with quiet joy how far he had come in such a short time. All the while, feeling “different”, all the while knowing that his reality was forever changed. All the while, quietly aware that each day was a gift beyond anything he had ever been able to comprehend prior to last July.

Of course, we feel that tomorrow will bring nothing but great news. We have no reason to think otherwise, and yet cancer is this persistent shadow. Life goes on, and joy returns, and yet there is always this shadow. Sometimes its more noticeable, and sometimes, you can’t see it even if you try. Yet, its always there. A dull and sometimes even a dark shadow…

Just last week we lost a friend to cancer. A young father with an incredible zest and joy for life, and a very, very dear friend to two of our best friends. Why him? Why was this Steve’s story? Why is this Andrew’s story? Its been a horribly sad time to mourn the loss of Steve. And its also been another reminder of how fortunate we are…even if there is perhaps some guilt imbedded in our gratitude. Yet, our gratitude is DEEP. And we sincerely share in the collective grief for Steve’s passing.

So, I am here in Boulder, and Andrew is there in Houston. And I feel so far away from him, despite our consistent contact today. I know where he is. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. And quite frankly, in all of MDA’s incredible amazingness  and magic, its a hard place to be, even worse alone. Cancer is not something I would wish on anyone, and I am also deeply grateful for our experience and journey with lung cancer, thus far. We are truly the lucky ones.

Love,

Brooke

 

 

9 Weeks of Healing

It has been a while since I/we have posted. We have transitioned into a new phase of the healing process, and the last couple of weeks we have been introverted home bodies. Our preference is to do much less, stay home, and be with each other and the kids.

Both Brooke and I have been driven “doers” most of our adult lives, now we are both feeling much more interested in just “being” and much less concerned about the “doing”. I am sure, like most of this process, this is but another step in the journey, and that this too will change. Right now, doing less and keeping life as simple as possible just feels right.

Now that I am getting back into circulation I have had a lot of people ask me how I am doing. I appreciate the support and caring nature of the question. Often it is in a public setting or in passing, and my stock response is that I am doing well (true) and that I am grateful to be so fortunate (also true). The reality of the situation is a bit more complex. I feel as if everyday I am aware of a barrage of different emotions washing over me, some a passing thought or twinge of awareness, and others more deeply felt, and a few just plain disturbing. Since there is rarely time to explore this range of emotions in a casual conversation I thought I would capture some of the range of emotions here.

At times I find myself struggling with patience. I am through 80% of the healing process, and the last 20% is going to take time and focus. I need to make sure I focus on that 20%, if I let it go and settle for a new status quo, I am going to lose ground that I need not cede. And it is quite clear that it is going to take work to build back where I am stronger than I was before going into the surgery.

The following is a summary of my general state of being on any given day:

Changed perspective about daily life, not as concerned about sweating the details.

Relaxed and at ease.

Energized and creative.

Reflective and  meditative.

Full of love for Brooke, family, and friends.

Conscious of being present and feeling.

Open to new possibilities.

God and the presence of spirit.

Aware of gratitude for so many blessings.

And…

Weary, especially in the mornings.

Uncertainty about the future.

Random shortness of breath, usually when I am not doing anything.

One in three who relapse…

Questioning everything.

Lethargic, and at it’s worse, apathetic.

A sense of loss…

Often I find myself in the midst of one of life’s mundane tasks, such as driving, and I hear a voice in my head asking if this is all for real? Did I really have lung cancer? Am I really missing 15% of my lung? And of course the answer rings in my head…YES! And I am reminded that one of the gifts of this experience is to stay present with the reality of my own mortality. To not slip back into the trance that this life is infinite and old age assured. To appreciate the beauty and gift of every moment and every day. And when I have that awareness if often seems as if my daughter’s smile is just a little brighter, the sky a tinge bluer, and it is that much easier to take a deep breath and be relaxed and present in the moment, grateful for the beauty of the life and love all around.

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you can not achieve.

– tao te ching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming home…

I have not shared since returning to Boulder from Houston, almost three weeks ago. Our last few days in Houston found me with complete trail head fever. I absolutely couldn’t wait to get our family home to Boulder and the kids back to school, and to get Andrew in our own bed, and in our own home, eating our own food, etc. I was craving some exercise, something so important to me, yet not possible since arriving in Houston. I was yearning for some “normalcy”, even if that meant normalcy at home in Boulder with a husband recovering from a massive thoracic surgery. I was looking forward to engaging with my girlfriends, who complete my family circle in Boulder. I couldn’t wait to pick up our two dogs from the training kennel they were at, a place new to them. We arrived home to Boulder on a Tuesday evening and it was raining and quite chilly. It felt so good. I went to bed with a feeling of  incredible relief. Relieved to be home. Relieved to know that Wednesday would be a day for Andrew and I to sit at home alone, while the kids got back into the swing of things at school. And rain was in the forecast, which for Boulder, is literally unheard of. Because it so rarely rains, we so appreciate days to “stay in”.

On Wednesday morning, I almost skipped down the stairs giddy with excitement to be making breakfasts, packing lunches, and getting the kids off to school. And it was raining. I am ashamed to admit this now, yet I was so grateful for the cold, rainy day. We sat on the couch for much of the day, watching tv, talking, listening to the rain. The rain felt so foreign, yet so welcome. I had a few friends comment on just how much the rain was our perfect homecoming. Of course, no one could imagine what the next 4 days would bring.

The calm and cozy quiet of our first day home came to an abrupt halt at 12:30am on Thursday morning. We all went to bed on Wednesday night to the sound of pounding rain. Again, never thinking a thing about it, other than how strange it was, yet also how welcome it was. The clap of thunder that struck our home at 12:30 was unlike any thunder I have ever experienced. We BOTH jolted upright, looked at each other and knew something wasn’t right. The storm cell was stuck overhead and the thunder and lightning were coming repeatedly every few seconds. The rain was hammering the house. I checked on the kids and they were fine. Chase was the only one that awoke, yet it was slight and she went right back to sleep. Soon enough, adrenaline overcame Andrew and he was determined to drive the neighborhood to make sure the creeks weren’t rising and to check out where all the sirens were coming from. I got online and social media was already blowing up. Then the texts started to roll in from friends who were also awake in their beds, wondering what was going on. While no one could predict what was already happening, and what was about to take over our precious town, it was as if we all DID know that this was just the beginning of a time that we would really come together, and really need each other. While Andrew was out (he definitely SHOULD NOT have been driving a car, yet I won’t focus on that discretion), he was calling and letting me know what he was seeing. It wasn’t good. And I was sharing with him what I was reading online and it also wasn’t good. School was cancelled by 6am and our relaxing homecoming was over. Thursday, Thursday night, Friday and Friday night were FAR from relaxing, nor nurturing, nor healing. Now our family medical crisis, had quickly merged into a community natural disaster crisis. The Boulder Flood of 2013 was truly the most remarkable community experience I have ever lived through…the good and the bad. Nursing a husband recovering from lung cancer surgery only served to heighten the experience.

Our street was one of the particularly hard hit city streets. At times, we literally had a white water river coursing down the street. No pavement could be seen. Our neighbors were outside around the clock building barriers, placing sandbags, and shoveling mud in efforts to save each other’s homes. One home on our street was a complete loss and became a spectacle for all the news outlets. We spent our days, working to keep the rising water and mud from flooding our home, keeping the kids busy, helping neighbors and friends who were in far worse shape than us, and feeling so grateful for our house that sits up a little higher than some others. There was plenty of drama and intensity in these days, and a lot of sadness. There was also such incredible generosity of spirit and kindness. People were out in the droves helping people they did not know. We got hit with a flow of mud that literally landed in our driveway and yard and one morning I caught three of our dear friends quietly shoveling and moving the mud as best they could….they were here for hours, in their boots and rain coats. Angels. True angels. Despite the destruction and devastation in Boulder, we also had home-made loving dinners delivered each night from our incredible community of friends. Andrew struggled to be so immobile during this time of incredible physical need and support, yet his one stretch of trying to shovel mud, put him back significantly in terms of his healing and recovery. I worked hard to “represent” for our family, in the absence of Andrew’s ability to help.

Now, despite the mud and mess that still consumes our part of town, life has certainly resumed routine and normalcy. School is in session, sports are on, Andrew is recovering a little bit more and more each day, and I am just beginning to feel some spaciousness. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted to the core. My cells even feel tired, and yet I am lifted each day by the courage and determination of my dear Andrew, and the resilience of our precious children, and the beautiful spirit of our blessed community of Boulder. I know that there is SO much learning going on each and every day — our family is certainly not the same family that we were in late July, as we were preparing to head east for my oldest sister’s 50th birthday celebration and family visit (a trip I still feel sadness about missing). I have faith that the difference is only positive, and from this place, we are stronger in our faith and dedication to each other, to our family and to God.

Love,

Brooke

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.”

-Haruki Murakami

Chase’s List

Chase's List

Prior to surgery Chase (our 9 year old daughter) and I were talking one night. She told me she was scared and felt conflicted with so many different emotions. I encouraged her to write all her different feelings down and express herself. Here’s the list, sums it up pretty well…

Roller Coaster.

It’s only Friday night. Surgery was just over a mere 48 hours ago, and yet I feel like I have lived a few lives since then. And yet tonight, I am feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks. Truly relaxed. Every night I think I will sleep and it evades me, yet I truly think tonight I will.

I know I could easily look to see when I last posted, yet its more complicated than that navigating on the iPad and working with different Wifi’s access codes….so suffice to say, I am not quite sure when I last wrote. Perhaps Wednesday night, perhaps last night. I don’t know.

Yet, its been a wild 48 hours since Andrew came out of surgery. Complete with super sweet relief from the sheer good news and results of his surgery, to the pain and sadness — watching him have the necessary ups and downs of recovery from a major thoracic surgery. Yesterday consisted of Andrew having a miserable morning for quite a few hours, complete with headaches and anxiety and general depression, to a better afternoon of up energy and optimism and relief from pain. Just to end the day with more intensity around his pain and mood and change of narcotic which brought more tubes and beeping machines — which greatly affected his mood and morale.

Fast forward to this morning when I was back in his room at 7am. He had already left for a chest X-ray and I was able to visit with his night nurse who let me know that he had slept well and was such a kind and gracious patient, making her “job so easy”. Andrew very quickly established wonderful report with all of his care providers, because that is who he is, and also because EVERYONE at MDA are truly angels in their own right.

When we met this morning at 7:30 upon his return from X-ray, Andrew looked amazing — great color in his cheeks, rested eyes, big, real deal smile. SO wonderful. I had left the kids sleeping at the hotel, so it was just the two of us and it was such a nice time of connecting. He came into his room and we decided to walk the halls. Yet, I asked to feed him some of the fresh fruit I had brought him before we walked. So, he sat on the edge of his bed, and I fed him  piece by piece…all the while, watching his face and demeanor change. His pain was changing, rapidly and was fast becoming acute and sharp. We put him back into bed, pushed more meds and I rubbed his feet with all hope that the pain would subside. It as 90 minutes before it released. He was tense, moaning, and scared. He had decided that he was going to do everything he needed to do within his power to get himself discharged by Saturday, and this was feeling like a major setback. Perhaps. Yet, I just wanted the pain to subside for him.

By 9:30, the pain released and his shoulders relaxed and his brow unfurrowed and he was tired again. Different nurses were coming in to talk about his care for the day and goals and plans for discharge. This fired him up again, and as soon as he felt up for it, we walked. And he ate, and he drank fluids and was totally on the program yet again, fairly pain free.

Hamilton and the kids arrived at 12:00 and we all visited for some time. I left with the kids by 12:40 to head back to the hotel to meet the sitter who was planning on spending the afternoon with the kids. They were full of energy and were so happy to have seen Daddy.

As soon as I got the kids set up with the sitter, Miller let me know that he wanted to come back to the hospital with me to “help support Dad”. Who is this kid? Clearly, Andrew’s son. So. the girls went to the Houston Zoo with Chelsea and Miller and I went back to MDA. We had a really nice, easy afternoon — with GREAT news. Andrew’s pain was totally under control, he was relaxed and in good spirits. Andrew went for another chest at about 2pm and once the positive results came back (that his air in his chest cavity was not increasing) from that, he was cleared to have his chest tube removed. Miller very deliberately stepped out of the room, and I held Andrew’s hand while Sonia (one of Dr. Swisher’s nurses, who had been with Andrew during the surgery) prepped Andrew for the removal, as well as talked to us about the surgery and the cancer they found. I will let Andrew be the one to talk about his cancer finding. Sonia was a true pro and with some breathing exercises and distraction had the foot and a half long chest tube out with no pain. MAGIC. And almost immediately, Andrew was like a new man. Incredible relief, incredible pain relief and discomfort abated…clearly no one is meant to have anything foreign in their bodies and the release of such foreign body (albeit necessary) is cause of somatic celebration! And then the removal of all wires and tubes/IV’s began. The beginning of the discharge process. So exciting and so exhilarating. And yet I felt I needed to caution Andrew to moderate his dancing around the room and fist pumping. You never know, right?

I left the room at 4:45pm to go relieve the sitter and pick up the girls to bring them back for a family dinner in the room. Hamilton was there to be with Andrew, and during my short time away informed me that he was struggling again. More pain and perhaps some disorientation from the switch to oral meds, versus the IV pain meds. Bottom line is that Andrew does NOT do well with narcotics. While they are a necessary means to an end in the pain management game, he does NOT like them. By the time we arrived, he was doing better and we had a super fun and lovely hour visit.

Soon after the kids and I left tonight, Andrew was joined by Hamilton and his other brother Lang (who flew in today from Portland, Oregon). The last text I got from him sounded happy and content. And LOVED.

Its been a fairly manic 48 hours — a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts, yet the end result is that the odds are VERY much in Andrew’s favor to have a discharge tomorrow afternoon. If his morning chest X-ray is good, he will be joining us at the hotel by the afternoon.

The plan is to continue to rest and recover here at Hotel Zaza in Houston until Tuesday morning when we meet with Dr. Swisher again, and hopefully get a blessing to fly home….Tuesday afternoon/evening. AMAZING.

I will leave you with the pure amazement that I experienced today, that despite the roller coaster of ups and downs, and how hard it is to see the one you love the most in such desperate pain… that when Andrew felt relief, both mid-morning after 90 minutes of acute pain, as well as this afternoon once his chest tube was removed, he chose to direct conversation immediately to how this blog would evolve once his more immediate fight with cancer ended. He was most concerned with how to really direct his energies to giving back and not only marking the incredible gratitude he feels for so many in his path right now, yet also for how he wants to pay his good fortune and grace forward. Is this man for real?

I am not worthy. Yet I am inspired to meet him in this incredible place…and work that much harder to keep going an extra mile in every thing we do, both individually and collectively.

Love,
Brooke