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

 

 

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

Contentment

Which is more vital

fame or health

which is more precious

health or riches

which is more harmful

loss or gain

the deeper the love

the higher the cost

the bigger the treasure

the greater the loss

who knows contentment

suffers no shame

who knows restraint

encounters no trouble

and thus lives long

– tao te ching (verse 44)

Non-being

We join spokes together in a wheel,

but it is the center hole

that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,

but it is the inner space

that makes it liveable.

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use.

     – tao te ching