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

 

 

Holding…deep vulnerability

I was a horrible mom last night. I went to bed with a sick stomach and heavy heart after yelling at the girls and getting upset with Miller. I literally couldn’t get out of my own way. I watched myself getting upset, at the time feeling so justified in my frustration and angst. The clothes all over the floor of every room, the mess in every corner, the lack of respect for me nor listening to a word I say – a nd yet, no one deserves to be yelled at. No child deserves to have their sweet innocence poisoned by a mother who is so tired and so scared. You see, I am holding. At times I am not sure all that I am holding, yet I catch myself with my shoulders practically touching my ear lobes. I am so tired, and truth be told, I am scared. So scared. I have been scared for weeks and weeks now. And I haven’t wanted to say it out loud or to anyone with too much emphasis. Andrew’s surgery was a success, and I am still scared. Andrew’s prognosis is good, and I am still scared.

 

I feel weak. I work hard each day to have perspective and believe me, I KNOW how lucky we are. I KNOW how fortunate we are that Andrew’s lung cancer was found incidentally, and as such, his survival rate is far greater than it would have been if it hadn’t been found so early. And I am truly grateful. Deeply grateful, in fact. And yet, for some reason, I still feel this deep underlying fear. I pray, I give of myself to others, I pray some more, and I am still scared. It doesn’t consume my waking hours, and yet it has exhausted me.

 

It was my birthday earlier this week, and my gift to myself? NO plans. NO commitments. NO obligations. As graciously and as gracefully as possible, I declined the amazing and generous offers from dear friends to celebrate me, nurture me, give to me. And I spent much of my birthday sleeping. I am truly tired. I have napped every day this week and gone to bed early each night. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. While Andrew needs very little physically from me now (he is more than capable of making his own food, has started to drive his car, can help with the dishes, folding laundry, etc), there is still so much “holding” for me to do. When I am not home with him, he is never far from my thoughts and heart. I worry about him. I question my ability to be his best possible partner during this time. I lack confidence in how to best help him bridge this time between diagnosis and the current stage of remission and the future, as a cancer survivor. Apparently, there is a real deal psychic “holding” that goes on, that is quite taxing. At least for me. I am humbled by this process. I am also embarrassed that it seems to take so much out of me. I would like to think and believe that the sheer magnitude of gratitude that I feel each day for Andrew’s incredible story and long-term prognosis would be enough to carry me and fill me up. Yet, I am tired. And I am still scared.

I adore this man. He is courageous and marvelous. He is smart and beautiful. And he feels a tremendous sense of responsibility to be given this new lease on life, this “second chance”. He does not take it lightly. Nor do I. Yet, it is exhausting. I do not say that with an ounce of complaint. I am grateful for this deep exhaustion. I am grateful for the opportunity to feel so deeply, and to also feel so alive with my fears. Yet, I am tired. And scared

I was a horrible mother last night. I woke up with a clear head this morning and started my apologies with Lang, who is our first to rise. We sat on the floor of the kitchen while our tea water boiled. We hugged and hugged, and I whispered in her ear. I apologized for being harsh. I apologized for not being stronger, for not knowing when to walk away to sit with my fears, rather than project them onto her. I thanked her for being such an incredible light and embodiment of joy and love and for gracing me with the honor of being her mother. I did the same with Chase when she got up. And I had some time with Miller later in the morning to express my apologies. Lang and Chase could barely recall what I was so apologetic about and yet they hugged me with incredible vigor and strength and Miller responded with deep emotions. We are all holding a lot right now. We are vulnerable. I am FAR from perfect, and yet I hope that I am learning and growing.

I pray to surrender more to the vulnerability and magnificence of this time. I pray for strength. I pray for understanding. I pray for wisdom in how to best support my precious Andrew. I pray for courage as we go forward in this lifetime as changed individuals, as a changed couple, and as a changed family. I pray for patience in my parenting. I pray that Andrew remains in remission for many, many years to come.

We go to Houston on Monday  morning. Its time for Andrew’s surgical month follow-up and while I have great faith and trust in the grand plan, I am also scared.

 

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

-Brene  Brown

 

Good night. Today was a much better day. I believe that tomorrow will be even better.

Love,
Brooke

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

A Cake to Cure Cancer

Often I am asked how our children are doing? How have they handled the whirlwind of the last 8 weeks? How has cancer impacted us as a family, or more specifically how has it manifested in each of our children?

We decided from the first day of my diagnosis that we would be transparent and open with our children. That we were going to include them in every step of the process. We realized that it would be difficult at times. We also knew that given their ages, 12, 9, and 7, that they had different capacities to engage in such a weighty topic. And as suspected they have each handled, or at times struggled, with the journey in their own unique ways.

What follows is a short piece written by our 9 year old daughter Chase as part of her school journal. I only recently discovered this entry when we were reviewing some of her work to date. I have written it exactly as it appears in her journal.

I feel so blessed and grateful to have this incredible family. My children are not only an inspiration and motivation, they are also unbelievable teachers and  a source of wisdom and light in our lives.

A cake to cure Cancer!

I baked a cake to cure cancer. The cake’s ingretients are, happieness, courage, health, medicine, water, sleep, family, cuddles, cofert, hugs, warmth, flowers, bucket full of love, Respect, Pillows, rest, Peace, a pinch of maple syrup, a cup of ginger ale, a sliver of sugar, a bit of popcorn, teddy bears, and kisses.

Like when a person goes to the doctors, and the doctor thells the person he/she has cancer and tells the person, you have cancer. Then says your options to get rid of it is you either have surgery or you have cemoetheripie or you can have a slice of cake with magicle ingretients. the doctor says the ingretients are happiness, courage, helth, medicine, water, sleep, family, cuddles, comphert, hugs, warmth, flowers, buckets full of love, Respect, Pillows, rest, peace, a pinch of maple syrup, a cup of ginger ale, a sliver fo sugar, a bit of popcorn, Teddy bears, and kisses!

Then the person asks what does this cake do. Exzactly what does this cake do? What this magicle cake does, is after you swallow all of it these migic ingredients especially Love and Family! Well what it does once you swallow the peice it forms into a big pumping heart makes the cancer die kicks the cancer out and then your all better. The End.

– By Chase

….love the teachers comments…”I think the world needs your cake!”

Image

 

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…

The hospital…

At the hospital, a day of intake, prep procedures, etc. a very different feel this time. Not sure why. Perhaps the reality of it all is settling in?

The nurse played us a 12 minute video of what the surgery and recovery would be like. Sobering. I don’t want this damn cancer and I certainly don’t want this surgery and recovery.

The hospital is an odd mix. Many, many sick people, lots of them elderly, occasionally you see younger patients. Chase thought it was a very sad place. She’s right. Lots of dour expressions, thousand yard stares, people who are fighting and tired. Lots of waiting and more waiting, so many people seeking treatment. I have been told that 40-50 year olds are the fastest growing cancer demo…where are they? I don’t see them here in large numbers…

Tomorrow this time I will be in post operative recovery, holes in my chest, tubes, beeping, and pain meds. 4-5 days in the hospital, I can’t wait to walk out of this place. Just want the next 5 days to go quickly and start the recovery.

I still cannot believe this is the path I must walk. How did this happen? Lung cancer? Will I ever get used to hearing that?

I am going to need to work really hard after the surgery to stay positive and keep my spirits up while I am in the hospital. It is not as easy for me as it is when I am at home, physically active, and surrounded by the love of my family.  Man I want to yell, kick and scream, and curse that it is not fair…and I imagine so does every other person in this hospital.

And I need to remember that I am lucky. As the PA in anesthesiology said I have one of the best surgeons in the world, a great team, and an excellent prognosis. And yet I don’t feel lucky.

This damn cold. 2 weeks of annoying sinus, of all the times to have a nagging cold. guess I will have bigger things to worry about tomorrow.

Going to miss the kids so much it hurts. I felt it today when I was at the hospital and they were here at the hotel in the pool. All I wanted was to be in the pool playing and goofing around with them.

Tomorrow will be a blur, a lost day. The following few days will hopefully not drag on to slowly. I just want to get through this. Man this sucks.

Keep thinking of the day I crashed on my mountain bike. I was feeling so good, and yet I had this deadly disease slowly growing in my lungs. How weird to feel so good and yet to be ill with what would eventually be a terminal disease.

Too tired to think about it anymore. Hoping to get a solid 11 hours sleep tonight, hopefully make some more progress on this cold and get as ready as I can for tomorrow. Saying good-bye to the kids will be hard.

Hard to imagine that only 5 weeks have gone by since I was diagnosed…time is a funny construct.

Thanks to all who have reached out. Please be sure to look after Brooke while I am on my back. She is strong, yet everybody needs love and support. She is human after all :-).

Ok that’s it for me for a while. See you on the other side!

Much love to all.

Andrew

Gratitude

I have so much to be thankful for. Recently I have often stopped and wondered if I have properly honored the my many blessings in my life. Especially the many people who have provided me so much in the way of love, wisdom, and friendship. As I head off to Houston today and prepare for surgery, and to cross the abyss to the other side, I want to be sure to mark as many of these blessings as I can.

How could I start anywhere other than Brooke. She is my rock. I cannot imagine this journey without her love and support by my side. In the last 4 weeks I have reflected upon our relationship, marriage, and Karma in this lifetime. And it has occurred to me that perhaps I have not always properly expressed my appreciation for this incredible women and all she brings to my life and our family. Marriage can be hard. Anything of value is hard work. I am always skeptical of anyone who claims otherwise. We have worked hard together. And I know I have not always been everything Brooke has wished, that I have fallen short in my commitments, and that I have not always had an awareness beyond my own needs. I know that I have at times been attached to desires or outcomes that in context of the bigger picture are minor at best. And through it all she has remained steadfast in her commitment to me. She continually goes the “extra mile” in service of others, and there is nothing she would not do for me or the children. Brooke is pure heart, and caring for those she loves is her greatest joy. I am calm and steady because I know that she is by my side. I love you Brooke, I am a better person with you in my life.

Our incredible three children. My teachers, inspiration, motivation, and joy. So similar and so different. Full of energy, light, and promise. Nothing can compare to the embrace of a loving child. Their love and trust nurtures me with every breath I take. The purity of their love and the faith they place in us as their parents is invigorating and humbling all at the same time. I derive incredible joy watching them blossom and grow, and I am enthralled as I watch their lives unfold each day at a time.

My brothers who are my blood. With whom I share many of life’s triumphs and sorrows. With whom I have journeyed from childhood through adulthood, through trauma, challenges, and celebrations. Both of whom will be supporting me and my family in Texas and Colorado as I make this journey. Both of whom support me with unconditional love.

Our extended family of grandparents, sister and brother-in-laws,  and cousins, who have all provided so much love and support, offered their time and presence in anyway needed, and are constantly supporting us with their prayers. And my “adopted” brother Jens who at a moments notice dropped everything and made the 18 hour drive to Texas and with whom I have ridden many miles in the last few weeks.

My/our community. So loving and available, so willing and eager to help and support us in any way we ask. We have always felt a strong sense of community and many good friendships. And yet we have both been humbled and full of gratitude over the last 4 weeks by all the many people who have reached out both near and far. Current and old friends. Cancer is an incredible disease, immediately opening hearts and tapping into a collective empathy. “There by the grace of God go I”. We are all vulnerable, we will all travel the path of sickness and death. We all need each other. It is amazing how many different ways friends have expressed their love and support, a hug, a meal at just the right time, a book, a memento, call, text, email. The last 4 weeks have offered so many gifts in my/our, connections to others. My only regret is that I have not had more time to spend with each and every person who has reached out, prayed for us, or made large and small gestures.

This human experience is defined by the relationships and connections we make. None of the material objects transcend our death, we cannot take any of the accolades or achievements with us, and few will remember us by what we did. We will be remembered by who we were, the quality of our person, our integrity, our generosity and love towards those close to us and to our fellow men and women. Having cancer has stripped away the veneer that often exists between ourselves and others, immediately opening a presence and accessing a heart space that is often cloaked in the everyday stress and activities of life. It has truly been a gift to connect so deeply and authentically to so many. And for that I have immense gratitude for all who have reached out to offer support, shared their stories, and expressed their love.

And of course our incredible menagerie of animals, 2 cats and 2 dogs, who show up every day and provide unconditional love without expectations or wanting. What an excellent model for all of us humans, to give freely of oneself without expectation of something in return.

So I offer my deeply felt gratitude to all who have and continue to bring so much to our lives. You are my family, my teachers, my friends. I am grateful and honored to be a part of your lives. With love and blessings.

“At the center of the Universe is a loving

heart that continues to beat and that

wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster the

intellect and spirit and emotional growth

of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular

vision must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.

– Fred Rogers

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”