Ode to Brooke

Brooke has been amazing over these last 2+ months.  I cannot imagine this journey without her by my side, supporting and loving me while also holding and supporting our 3 precious children. It has been an extraordinary time. Cancer is unlike anything I have previously experienced. It has been trying and stressful on all of us in many different and unexpected ways. And in many respects our journey has just begun. The love and connection we share as a family is the foundation that holds us strong.

Recently as Brooke’s  birthday approached she was very clear, with me and her friends, that she wanted a simple and quiet day, no fanfare. We exchanged a few presents, and the kids made some really special cards. I decided to also mark all that is special about Brooke and honor her through the written word. This is not award winning verse by any means, yet I have tried to capture and share her unique essence. With love and gratitude…

Bright rays of light

warm as the suns glow

expanding to fill the space.

Radiant smile, sharing warmth and ease.

Musical laugh, disarming and opening,

offering others to feel their own joy.

Quick to care for all,

action and deed manifesting a hearts calling.

A balm for you, a gift too so many.

Mama lioness, soft and fierce,

nurturing with firm resolve.

Driven with spirit, yielding with love.

Strength, commitment, focus, integrity.

Love, sister, partner.

Nourish the circle, feel your light

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

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

A Simple Cold…

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Limbo – an intermediate or transitional state of uncertainty

The last few days have been a bit more challenging. Out of nowhere on Tuesday I developed a summer cold. Nothing serious, sore throat, a little sinus, and that heavy feeling in my legs and mild headache. Pretty common, end of summer, small kids back to school, etc. No big deal. Yet this time around it has felt like a very big deal indeed.

I have never been a very good patient. I don’t like being sick, restricted, or otherwise encumbered. And I especially don’t like it if it is not of my choosing. I have a hard time sitting still. I want to move. I want to engage, I have a bias towards action. And this little cold was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.  I couldn’t ride or hike, I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt like do nothing. And that bummed me out much more than I was expecting. I feel like I need to make the most of this time. In two weeks I enter a new phase of life. And although I am confident I will make a relatively quick and strong recovery, I am also certain that I am losing a part of my lung, lymph, and my innocence. A transition, a new phase, and a new beginning lie ahead.

It was a poignant reminder to me that I have cancer. A reminder I clearly needed to help cut through the lingering fog of denial. That I have a disease growing in my chest unfettered, a silent killer. That no matter how strong I feel, how much I ride, hike, meditate and stay positive I am not in complete control. Of course I think we all know that at some level. Control is an illusion, our health especially is not a given, and that every present moment is truly a gift. But in our whirlwind and busy lives, I like most of us I beleive, manage the illusion of control so well.

This is not the first time I have had to confront the illusion of control. I have survived many trials in my life from childhood on. I am a survivor and I know that I will always fight to the end, and that many times “success” only emerges through “failure”. I have had friends fight and some succumb to cancer. I helped my family nurture my dad through the dying process 13 years ago (lung cancer) and my mother just 3 years ago. I know the statistics, 1 in 3 will get cancer, but that was always something that happened to someone else. That was not going to be my story. I am active, fit, focused, young…and I have lives ahead of me.

So I have focused on my diagnosis in the last three weeks much the same way I have confronted many challenges in my life, head on. I have focused my energies into activity and a positive attitude. Doing my best to engage in “everyday normal”, to support my children and Brooke, and to enjoy this gift of open time.  I have written about attitude and effort, about being a warrior and preparing for the battle ahead, and have received a lot of loving support  for taking this approach.

Like every dynamic there are many facets to any situation.  A light and a dark, a positive and a negative. No judgement on either, one does not exist without the other. And over the last few days God, the universe, Buddha, etc. have provided me this gift of a cold to remind me that I cannot just push through this challenge on will power and strength alone. That I need to open to my vulnerability, to my fragility, and to the uncertainty that exists in all dynamics. My only control is to surrender my desire for control. To accept the full picture, to focus on being strong even when I feel weak. To draw my strength from my spirit and essence, my core as a spiritual being. Knowing that all else will fade away, not anytime soon, but with an eventuality that is certain and guaranteed.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

So with two weeks left before surgery I will continue to focus on staying fit, especially my cycling, and the freedom of flowing over the land in the open air. And I am reminded that I also need to open to my vulnerability. Accept that I have cancer. Accept that I am going to be vulnerable, hurting, and incapacitated. That I need to be open to being still and vulnerable. That my body will be less than the pillar of strength that I want. To accept a “weakness”, fortunately temporary, and in it find the courage and openness to engage in the infinite strength of my spirit.  For the real gift of this cancer is to accept this vulnerability, a path we will all travel, if we are so fortunate. And in this journey to continue to cultivate empathy and compassion for the all of those who struggle everyday to have the strength to get through life with grace while dealing and accepting physical limitations and challenges that make my situation pale in comparison.

I have had more than a few colds in my life. And until yesterday I had never stopped to reflect on the gift offered and the lessons to be learned from a simple sore throat.

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

 – Proverbs 18:14