Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's how you finish....

I guess I thought I was invincible...I had no limits. I thought I was better than I was, stronger, more agile, more determined to push through the pain. But yesterday, I learned a huge lesson about myself that was a long time coming.

It was my third half marathon and I felt like I had done this dance before so it was really no big deal. You train and train and train, getting ready for the "big day" and when it finally comes, there's a point where you feel confident in your ability to perform. That's where I was at yesterday, confident...maybe even a little too much so. I had a goal in my head, a lofty one might I add, that I was going to finish this race with a time somewhere in the range of 1:30:00 to 1:39:00, basically somewhere within the hour and a half range. My past two races, I was able to exceed my goal so this time, I was sure I had it in the bag. My fastest pace during my last race was 7:53 a mile so I was determined this time around to bump it up into the 7:30's. Those mere 17 seconds a mile proved to be a lot harder than I could have ever imagined.

The first few miles were a little rough but they always are so I didn't think much of it. Around mile 5, we had to climb a hill that I was sure could've killed me. I felt like my calf muscle was literally tearing in half but I kept seeing that finish time of an hour and a half in my head, so I pushed through the pain. Right at the half-way point, I was averaging about 7:30 a mile and was suffering greatly. The humidity was high, at 85% and I was way overdressed for a 57 degree run. I spotted an ambulance around mile 8 and was very tempted to throw in the towel and take a little rest on their stretcher....after all, they were just waiting for one of us to collapse. The urge to give up was overwhelming, every muscle in my legs were burning with pain and I could not seem to regulate my breathing. Each hill was like a stab in the chest and I was quickly losing steam. I knew I had to stop for a minute and catch my breath but that was breaking one of my own rules, "Never stop running during the race. Pain is temporary, just push through it.". Yet, despite my best pep-talk efforts, I broke down and caught my breath for a minute. I was never the same after that which is why I am adament about not stopping during the race. It's like your body finally realizes what you're doing and everything gives out. Mile 9, mile 10, mile 11....I have never hated running so much. I kept swearing in my head that I was never going to do this again, I was dying on the inside and this was not the enjoyable experience that I am used to having. When I saw the finish line just ahead of me, I tried to pick up the pace and finish with a decent time. I was furious with myself over my performance and yet so exhausted that I didn't care.

Immediately upon crossing the finish line, I knew something wasn't right. I couldn't think, I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe right. Fortunately, a nurse on the side grabbed me and put me in a chair. They were asking me a million questions and all I could say was, "I can't breathe...I need a banana"! I could feel my body sliding out of the chair but there was nothing I could do to stop it....I felt like I was a million miles away, almost like an out of body experience. My pulse was only 18, my temperature was 102 and I was way overhheated. Everything was a little jumbled after that and the next thing I remember was a doctor asking me, "Did you train for this marathon?". I actually laughed when he asked me that because I realized how ridiculous I probably looked. When I fully came to, I had been undressed, hooked up to oxygen and my husband was squatted down beside me rubbing my forehead. I had pushed too hard, reached my limit and thought I was capable of so much more.

This race taught me so much about myself and, even though it was a bad experience, it was a good one, as well. There's something about running that is addictive to me. I don't know if it's the sense of accomplishment or the endorphins or a mixture of both but I just can't seem to get enough of it. Because I've had two really good experiences in the past, I guess I just assumed my good fortune would continue. I had always been able to reach my goal and then pass it, I had always been able to push through the pain and run faster, I had always been able to pass the person beside me with ease and, to be honest, I think I was a little over-confident because of it. But lying there on a make-shift hospital bed, with nurses and doctors looming above me, it occurred to me how foolish I had been. I only stopped twice to drink during the race, why? Simply because I didn't want to slow down too much and mess up my finish time. I ran too fast from the very beginning, knowing that it was almost beyond my current physical capability simply because I was obsessed with reaching a goal I had set for myself. All in all, I had managed to suck the joy out of what could have been a wonderful experience.

I do this a lot in my life. I have wonderful intentions in the beginning, doing something for a good cause, going that extra mile and then it slowly becomes an obsession, an addiction, something that I put too much pride in and I lose the true motivation for why I started doing it in the first place. I started running because it was my quiet time with God....that's how it started. I've turned it into a stage for myself, a way to perform and praise myself for my efforts, I've strayed so far from where I started. I used to focus on the songs streaming through my IPOD, the worship music that kept me going, kept me strong, kept my eyes on Christ and yesterday that music was just an echo in my ear. I don't think I even asked God for His strength until mile 11....a little too late. My last half-marathon, I was praying and talking with God most of the race and at the end, despite how hard it really was, I knew the only reason I was able to finish was because of Him.

I swore yesterday that I would never run again, why did I do this to myself, why is this such a big deal to me? And that train of thought brought me back to the beginning, that first step on the treadmill when we were living at St. Jude's. In that regard, this race was just what I needed right now in my life. This isn't about me and it's not supposed to be. This is supposed to be about Him and what I learned through this is that I truly cannot do anything without Him. Sure I finished my race and just 4 minutes shy of my goal, but my attitude and focus throughout the race was terrible. So my goal for next year is not a certain finish time or a specific pace but just to finish knowing that I only did it because of Jesus Christ. I started off giving Him the glory and got sidetracked to the point where I was more focused on giving myself the glory. And what I plainly learned is that my life and my accomplishments aren't because of anything I've done, it's all because of what Christ does through me.

So I'll try again next year but this time my focus will be different. I'll give this another shot and I'll be sure not to rely on my abilities to get me through it. I can't tell you the joy I've received in past races from feeling run down, choosing to lean on Christ for strength and then feeling Him pull me through that moment of discouragement. It's what used to motivate me to get on the treadmill everyday, knowing that I was going to meet God there. It's been awhile since I've spent some time in that place and I'm looking forward to re-focusing my life once again. I think my new motto during the race will be, "It's not when you finish, it's how you finish".

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The things you don't know

I know you don't realize your childhood is different from anyone else's. I'm sure you've never realized that most kids your age don't have a port in their chest. I know you think our trips to St. Jude's are just a regular doctor's check up and I've noticed how often you seem to overlook the obstacles in your life as you battle through cancer. And although I'd never clue you in to any of this right now, maybe one day you'll want to know. So here's all the things you don't know....

When I rub your back as you're falling asleep, I'm always checking each bump in your spinal column for a tumor. Maybe that's crazy but it's become a nightly routine.
Everytime you wake up in the morning and toddle into my room, I say a silent prayer of thanks for another day with you.
Everytime you seem tired during the day, I have to remind myself to breathe because my first thought is "return of cancer symptoms".
Everytime you run, I can't help but smile because I remember the days where you didn't have the energy to even walk.
Anytime you fall down or get hurt, my heart stops and I can literally feel anger rising into me. I just can't stand to see you in anymore pain. I want to keep you as safe as I can for as long as I can.
Sometimes I watch you in the early morning before we've gotten out of bed and I think about everything you've been through. This is a huge part of my answered prayers, just having these little moments with uninterrupted.
Anytime you complain of something hurting, it takes a lot of self control for me to balance a healthy concern with overwhelming fear and worry.
I love to look at pictures of you from St. Jude's. It's amazing to me to see just how far you've really come.
Everytime I rub your head and feel the shunt that is close beneath your scalp, I always think about the first brain surgery you had. There's one moment in my mind that I replay over and over again...the look on your neurosurgeon's face when he came in to tell us that you had a brain tumor. I could see it in his eyes before he ever opened his mouth and at that moment, my life changed forever.
I secretly think it's precious that you adore having a pacifier at night. There's a part of me that knows you're nearing the age where we should break this habit but there's another part of me that wants to keep you little forever.
I get anxious with every birthday that you have. Call it a lack of faith if you will, but with each passing year, I feel like we're running out of time. I know that's awful but it's the truth.
I also get extremely emotional with every birthday you have. Along with my apprehension of the future comes this incredible sense that we have made it another year with you.
I often wonder how all of this will shape your life one day. Will you remember any of this? Will it affect you forever the way it has me? Will you ever know how hard you fought and how brave you really were?

In closing, my precious Chunk, I love you. I hope and pray to God that you never have to relive any of the things you have endured in your little life. I know you are already starting to forget your days at St. Jude's. Just today you saw a picture of yourself with a mask on and you couldn't figure out who that "little girl" was and why she had that funny thing on her face. It's a blessing that you don't remember this. Thankfully, I do remember and I pray I will never forget. Who you were in those months of suffering has worked to shape who I am today and the perspective in life God has given me. As awful as it is, suffering and pain can be used by Christ to teach us things we would have never found otherwise. And so, one day, when you're ready, I'll read this to you and hope that you can see what I have seen in all of this. You are amazing, you are a fighter, your life is a testimony to God's power, strength and mercy and you, my Chunky Monkey, are a miracle. This journey we have traveled has been anything but ordinary and, even though we've been told your life will be short, I consider it a blessing to be a part of your life and this brave battle that you are fighting. I knew you were something special the day that you were born but it never occurred to me that God had graced me with an angel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The shadow of death

I know, it's been awhile. I can't really say I have some great excuse for not blogging, it's more like I've just been too busy being a mom. Things have been good, though. Our summer has been so incredible, I think we've managed to cram fun into every moment of every day. I am so thankful that Chunks-a-lot's good health has continued, we really needed a summer like this.

Unfortunately, life sort of came crashing back down on us a few days ago. Completely out of the blue, Chunks started complaining of a headache the other night. She had been a bit grumpy and sleepy before the headache began but I didn't think much of it at the time. About thirty minutes after she started complaining of a headache, the pain became so severe that she burst into tears, grabbing her head and crying out. I was terrified. I had already taken her temperature and was surprised to find that it was completely normal. About an hour after the headache began, she started vomiting. If I could explain the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach at that moment, it would be very similar to the feeling I had when Chunks was first diagnosed with cancer. It's like someone sucks the breath out of you, like you're completely empty.

Brain tumors are unpredictable. You never really know what they're going to do or when they're going to do it....they just seem to have a mind of their own. The doctors told us a long time ago that at any
time, Chunks' tumor could start to grow again and we would see symptoms like headaches, vomiting, lethargy, irritability, loss of balance, etc. The symptoms can start off slowly and become more progressive over time or they can just hit hard and fast. For awhile after they shared this information with us, I felt completely on edge. Every clumsy fall Chunks had became a sign to me that her tumor was growing. Every time she cried, I assumed it was out of pain and that had to mean her tumor was growing. It was a maddening state to be in and it took me a long time to trust God enough to climb out of the fear that had consumed me. But as time went on and her tumor remained stable, I began to trust in our tomorrows instead of being fearful of what was around the next corner. Trust is a funny thing, it takes so long to build it and only a moment to destroy it. That's what happened the other day when I saw my little Chunk in so much pain, my trust, my belief in tomorrow, was damaged.

I can't say that I hate it when things like this happen because I don't. I hate that my little girl has ever had to suffer and I hate all of the things that she has had to go through but I sincerely appreciate the things I have learned from it. Everytime we have experienced a crisis, God has been waiting in the midst of it, ready to teach me something new. It's a hard way to learn but it's also the best way. Lessons learned like that are not easily forgotten. What I learned the other day was that I was starting to forget, starting to lose the perspective in life I had gained through Chunks' trauma. I had started taking things for granted, life was too comfortable and I was slowly becoming self-sufficient. I tend to do that sometimes. I was blocking God out--- after all, life was great and I didn't need to lean on Him as heavily. But in that moment, as I was reminded of how fragile my little girl's life really is, I hit my knees in prayer. I hate that it takes something so sobering to bring me back to Christ. By now, I would have thought that my entire world would rest in the court of a Savior who has saved the life of my little girl time and again.

I have cried out to God each and every night since that "incident" with Chunks. I have begged Him for her health, begged for more time with her, pleaded for His mercy to reign down on us. I've had to come face to face with the reality and the possibility of losing her. I cannot explain the way it makes me feel when I entertain the idea of God taking her from us. And it probably seems crazy that I would even think about stuff like that but you'd be surprised the thoughts that go through your mind when you have a child with cancer. She's got a 5% chance of making it to her 5th birthday and there are too many days where I feel like we are running out of time. I just want to see more of who she becomes, to delight in her milestones and to have the privilege and the pride of watching her blossom into a young girl. I just want more.

July 23 will mark one year since she's completed chemotherapy, an entire year off chemo....that's huge in the world of cancer. And in that year, there have only been a handful of times that I have even thought about losing her. Life has been so amazingly normal and I am so thankful that we've had this time together as a family, it's just what we needed. But a year is not enough time, I need more than that. I can't even put into words what Chunks-a-lot means to me. Every part of who she is amazes me, her smile, her eyes, her giggle, her chunky legs....I absolutely adore her. And her spirit is precious. She has the best attitude in life and she has every reason to hate the world. I find that simply amazing.

So at the end of the day, we have no answers as to what tomorrow holds. There's part of me that feels like we're back to living one day at a time, moment by moment. But we're also back to appreciating every minute of every day together, realizing that there are no guarantees. As much as I hate having to learn things through trauma, I'm smart enough to know that it's the only way I'll learn them. I know God wants my vulnerability, He wants my weakness to shine to highlight His strength. And I know He wants me to cherish every moment of my little Chunks' life so I won't ever have to look back one day and wish I had done things differently.

Someone once told me that there would always be times where God allowed bumps along this road to keep us believing in His constant presence. She said there would be times that would be so scary that it would almost be like a "shadow" of death. A shadow that threatens to steal from us the things we hold so dearly in life. And then she quoted this verse, which resonates with me constantly these days, "
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me."

Sunday, May 16, 2010


A week ago, we celebrated a big moment in Talks-a-lot's life....his 7th birthday!  Even though he's now officially been seven for an entire week, I'm still in awe with this most recent birthday.  I guess it just seems like time goes by a little faster every year.  
  Although I tend to get a little teary-eyed thinking of my little boy quickly becoming a little man, it's amazing to be able to watch him grow up, to plainly see the person he is becoming.  So, Talks-a-lot, (and hopefully he'll read this one day so I'm not just talking to myself) here's all the things that make you amazing to me:

* You have the most incredible sense of humor that only seems to grow with you.  I love that you can find a laugh at every corner, it's definitely made my life full of smiles and giggles.
* I love that you can be the most competitive person in the room and then turn around the next moment and take everything in stride.  You always seem to know when to stop taking life too seriously.
* I never considered that you might be athletic, although I am sure your Daddy has dreamed of it!  But it has been incredible to watch you play sports, especially baseball.  I absolutely love yelling for you in the stands and your natural ability is amazing to watch.  It just makes me proud to see you out there with your team and I've enjoyed it far more than I could have ever imagined.
* Your strength of character is astounding.  I remember during a baseball game recently, your coach came running out to the stands to talk to me.  He had handed out candy to all of the kids and you told him that you absolutely had to have your mommy's permission before you could eat sweets, so you sent him out to get my "okay".  It brought me to tears as I sat there amazed at your integrity.  It's rare to find such character in a seven year old and I greatly respect and admire that part of who you are.
* I love that you love math.  I wouldn't have dreamed that something academic could bring us together, but it has.  One of my favorite things in the world is doing your multiplication workbook together.  You get so excited about learning new concepts and you're so teachable.  It's like a parent's dream come true!
* You have the sweetest attitude towards your little sister.  Even though she can be quite a "mess" sometimes, you are so patient and kind to her.  You treat her like a best friend and it means the world to her and to me.
* You are respectful and obedient and I always know that my words will be met with a "Yes ma'am".
* You are confident, outgoing and always on the look out for new friends.  I love that you can go anywhere and make a new friend.  I wish I had half the confidence you have.
* You're compassionate beyond words.  Everytime I have ever felt sick, you've been the first to jump at the chance to take care of me.  Whether it be taking on a chore that I can't complete or covering me with a blanket while I'm lying on the couch, you're there to do it.
* I love that you can have maturity beyond your years, yet still know how to be a kid at the same time.  That's a hard balance but you manage it with ease.
* You're a big helper and you seem to thrive off of doing things for others.  I know all I have to do is ask and you'll be there.
* I love that you embrace life with such passion.  Everything is a new adventure to you, every moment is a chance to meet someone new or discover something incredible.  You always help me to see that even the simplest thing can be something amazing.

 Talks-a-lot, this is just the short list of the things that make you who you are.  And as we go through each year, I find more reasons to respect you, admire you and cherish you for who you are.  You've taught me so much about myself just through watching you grow up.  I think you're an amazing person.  I think you are everything that any parent could ever want in a child.  It is such an honor to be your mommy and I am so proud of the person that you are and the person I see you becoming.  This year has been one of the best, in my opinion.  It's so exciting to watch you grow up and I can't wait to see what this next year has in store for us.  I know enough about you to know that I better scoot forward and put my seat belt on!  Thanks for being who you are, it's made my life so full.  I love you and Happy 7th Birthday!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taken too soon...

Last night, I received some terrible news that one of my good friend's two year old daughter had been tragically killed by a car.  She was playing near her neighbor's driveway and he didn't see her when he was backing out.  Sadly, she was hit by the car and died later at the hospital.  
  I was immediately devastated by this story.  I knew this little girl, I was friends with her mother, we've been on playdates with her just didn't seem possible.  I didn't expect to be impacted so greatly by this, I figured I was a little more numb to death than most people because we have been surrounded by it for so long since Chunks has become a patient at St. Jude's.  But this was just different.  This little girl wasn't living a life of sickness, she was a healthy, happy toddler with an abundance of energy.  Her life was cut short by an accident and it left her family shattered.
  I sat with her mom for two hours this afternoon and cried with her, listened to stories about her precious daughter and mourned with her over this tragic loss.  I was surprised how much this hit home with me.  Just to see this mother so torn up by the passing of her daughter absolutely broke my heart on a level that I was not prepared for.  I can't tell you how many times I have gone over this scenario in my mind with my own little girl and her unpredictable future.  I know that is morbid but it just comes with the territory of having a "terminally ill" child.  You think about death, you go through the emotions you might feel at the possibility of their passing, and you'll do it a million times over.  And as I sat there today, watching this mommy mourn the loss of her little girl, it made me realize how much I have underestimated the devastation that comes with losing a child.
  I laid in Chunks-a-lot's bed tonight for much longer than I usually do.  She fell asleep almost immediately and that's usually my cue to exit and enjoy some quiet time, but I just couldn't convince myself to get up.  I thought about how blessed I am to still have her in my life, how precious these moments are, how lucky I am to be able to lie in her bed and feel her breath on my face.  I thought about not having her, how much it would hurt to lose her, how devastated our family would be should Jesus choose to take her. 
 It was like I felt those feelings that my friend was suffering through today.  They were real for me, almost too real.  And as much as I try and cherish all the little things, all the tiny moments that I know I'll never get back, I never truly realized how hard it would be to have to give her up until today.  
  This isn't about me and I don't mean to make it that way.  These emotions and these feelings that I am experiencing were already there, I just have refused to acknowledge them.  And yet today I couldn't escape them.  My friend commented on how much she had hurt for our family, watching as we battled through cancer with Chunks, but she never thought she would have to walk through her own tragedy.  I told her God puts people in our lives for a reason, He knows we're going to need them.
  It's funny because all this time I thought God had placed people around me because I needed support, encouragement and strength.  It never occurred to me that God might have placed me in someone's life because they needed a part of me that only exists because of what we have been through.  I wish I didn't have to be there for her in these circumstances.  I wish she could just have her baby girl back and make all of this go away.  But instead I am left with the reality that Jesus has taken this precious child and it's killing me to watch her family as they suffer through this.
  Her mom was overwhelmed with tears as she told me how she wished she could just hold her daughter one more time, kiss her once more, hug her one last time.  Unlike the parents of cancer patients, this family didn't know their little one's life would be cut short.  There was no warning, no preparation.  They didn't go through the stages of her passing, they didn't hold her hand as she took her last breath.....Jesus just took her.  Just like that.
  I cried for most of the day today as I was completely overwhelmed by the grief of this situation.  I thought all of my experience with what we have been through would make me better able to encourage my friend through this difficult time.  Instead all I could do was sit there, speechless.  There are no words, there is no encouragement, there is no relief in knowing that she is in a better place.  They just want her back.  And everything I know, or thought I knew, was turned upside down today as I was confronted with the reality of loss....true loss.
  This family and their tragedy has forever impacted my life.  The pain, the tears, the shock, the complete and utter suffering that I saw today brought me to my knees.  I thought I was stronger than this, but it's somehow refreshing to know that I'm not.  Please pray for this family who will remain in anonymity out of respect for their privacy.  Pray for healing, for peace, for comfort and for strength as they prepare to lay to rest their precious little angel.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meeting Dora

For anyone that knows my little Chunk, you have to know how obsessively in love she is with Dora the Explorer.  Chunks-a-lot was never fond of cartoons and refused to even watch television until she turned two years old.  That was quite a difference from our chatty Talks-a-lot who was in love with the television before he even turned a year old.
  Dora was the very first cartoon Chunks had ever seen and, for some reason, she just fell in love with her.  It's pretty much a part of our daily lives now and somehow all conversations root back to Dora the Explorer, Boots or Swiper.  For instance, if Chunks is in a dark room by herself, she announces pitifully that Swiper is going to get her.  Anytime we run an errand, her Dora purse or Boots stuffed toy must come along....after all, they looove to explore.  I am constantly surprised by the foreign words I hear repeated from the backseat, thanks to our Spanish-speaking friend.  And even the other day, my little Chunk started to fuss about something and I reminded her that she was a "big girl" and didn't need to whine about not getting her way.  Chunks' response came with a smile and beaming eyes, "I need to be a big girl like Dora?".  Yes, it is cute, precious and can get a little obsessive at times.  But nothing was cuter than today when we finally met Dora the Explorer.
  We have a science center/museum in our city called the McWane center.  The kids love all the hands-on activities and it seems as though we could spend the entire day there and they would still beg to go back the very next day.  Well, today was extra special because Dora the Explorer was coming the McWane Center and, gasp, taking pictures with the children!  When I first found out about it, I told Chunks-a-lot and her entire face lit up in a way I have never seen before.  I honestly regret telling her two weeks in advance because I have been interrogated daily about when we are going to meet Dora.  "Is today the day?", "We going to McWane Center today to meet Dora?", "I see Dora today?", "We're going bye-bye to meet Dora at McWane Center?".  Yes, every day I have been pestered with these endless questions by my very desperate daughter.  So when we woke up this morning and she asked her daily question, it was my pleasure to reply, "Yes, today we are going to meet Dora!!!".  
  Of course, in honor of this event, we had to watch a Dora movie this morning, wear a Dora shirt to the McWane Center, carry our little Dora purse and bring the Dora backpack.  It was like Dora overload.  And as excited as I secretly was to watch all of this unfold, nothing could have prepared me for how absolutely precious the whole thing was.  I have never, in my life, seen Chunks-a-lot so excited about something.  When the double-life-sized Dora walked out into the room, she went crazy.  Chunks started waving her little hand and blowing kisses, jumping up and down and was just beside herself with joy.  We had to wait in a 30 minute line to have our picture taken with Dora and when it was finally our turn, Chunks was just beaming.
She was insistent that Talks-a-lot come with her even though, in his own words, he is not really a "fan".  Fortunately, he realized her excitement and agreed to go along with it.  What a sweet brother he is!
  Chunks hugged Dora, blew her kisses, giggled a little and smiled from ear to ear as Dora the Explorer rubbed her back.  After I snapped a picture, Chunks got down from the bench and just stood there in awe, staring at her precious Dora.  She talked about it the rest of the day and even said with great pride, "Dora smiled at me!!!!".  I mean, of course she smiled at her, she had a permanent smile sewn onto her cloth face.  I got such a kick out of her reaction to this entire situation and it's a memory I will cherish forever.
  The only bad part of the day: the parking deck was full so we had to park on the side of the street in downtown Birmingham, there were probably a thousand people at the McWane Center and it was complete insanity trying to keep up with both of my kids, and we had to walk back in the rain to our car and were approached by a homeless man who needed money.....just a little unnerving.  But nothing could compare to this picture I have in my mind of the smile on my Chunks' face as she lived out a little girl's dream come true...


Thursday, March 11, 2010

I don't blog as much as I used to.  I actually have to force myself to do it sometimes.  It's not as though I don't enjoy it, it's just because this is the place where I used to release all of my fears, all my pain, the daily heartache we were enduring at St. Jude's.  Now that we're not in the midst of pure tragedy anymore, I feel as though I don't have much to say.  Or maybe I do and I'm just scared to say it.  Releasing your emotions can be exhausting sometimes.
  Our lives have been so normal lately.  Chunks and Talks-a-lot have become just like any other normal brother and sister.  They fight, they laugh, they play together, they pick on each other and sometimes they'll shower each other with love and affection and it just makes my heart melt.  Our routine has changed a bit, as well.  Talks is in Awana's at our church and has recently started playing baseball with a local league here in town.  Chunks-a-lot is still going through quite a bit of separation anxiety, so she prefers to be with me unless I decide to pry her off my hip....which I do from time to time.  We are a lot busier than we used to be but I enjoy it nonetheless.  
  It's interesting to me how quickly our lives have changed in the past year.  We went from a peach fuzzed, skinny, constantly fatigued, always medicated not so chunky Chunk to a "plump", energetic, giggly, beautiful-haired little girl who is currently off all medications.  That's a big leap!  And through this transformation, somehow I forgot.  I forgot just how tiny she was after being so sick during treatments, I forgot how much pain she endured on a daily basis, I forgot how bald her little head really was.  It hurts so much to look back at pictures that I often try not to.
  But the other day as I was updating her caringbridge page, I decided to read back on some of the journal entries....back to where this journey began.  And what I found absolutely brought me to tears.  For there we were, somewhere in the middle of our story, surrounded by chemo treatments and constant sickness and I was dying just watching my little girl suffer.  I wrote about how much I missed home, how much I missed playdates with friends, church on a Sunday morning, a lazy Saturday at home.  I was desperate for my little girl to experience her childhood for what it should've been, for her to be able to walk without falling, to play without getting tired, to sleep without waking up sick and in pain.  And as I read those words, I was humbled.  For here we are.  We are living in our answered prayers and we often don't even realize it.
  I take life for granted so much more than I used to.  My little Chunk's every step, every meal and every milestone used to be something I praised God for on a daily basis.  Now I'm lucky if I can keep my eyes open long enough at night to finish "talking" with God.  I don't want to forget any of it, I think that what we went through changed us and should continue to change us forever.  I mean, it's a miracle that our Chunk is alive, much less thriving and developing beautifully.  
  I guess I've just had this subject on my mind for awhile and, as though to add fuel to the fire, I read a caringbridge update the other morning.  It was from the mom of another brave St. Jude's buddy of ours named James.  Although he was diagnosed with an aggressive kidney cancer, he did well through treatments and his mom held steadfast to her faith that he would be healed.  Unfortunately, he passed away six weeks ago.  Here is one of her more recent journal entries:

Hello Everyone,
 Today marks one month since James left us. I miss him more than words can say. Many things have gotten easier for me, but there is always that one point in the day that you realize they are never coming home, and that is a horrible feeling. Last night I couldn't sleep. I just kept thinking about our last night with James. We were up all night with him. He just couldn't get comfortable. James would ask us to rock him, and ten minutes later he wanted to get back in the bed with us. He was hurting, and I couldn't do anything to fix it. As a mom, you always want to fix whatever is wrong with your baby, and I could bring him no comfort that night. I hate that he had to go through that, and I hate that there was nothing I could do. James was such a loving and caring little boy, and he didn't deserve to hurt or go through any of the things he endured. Everyone told me that anger is part of grief, and I am beginning to find that true. I get very frustrated that James was taken from me. I have been going to church, but it doesn't bring me the comfort it did before. I get frustrated because I always trusted in God's plan for our family. I knew that if I trusted God and prayed everything would be okay. God took James from me, and I know he has a reason, but it is very hard not to get mad sometimes. The bad thing about this is that I don't want to get mad at God. He is my only hope that we will one day find peace with the plan he has for us. It's all hard to explain, and I don't think you can really understand it unless you have been through it.  I did attend mass this morning, and after, I went to James' grave. I talked to him and watered the tulips I planted for him. Nothing makes me feel better though. It's as if a piece of me is literally missing. I feel the void, and I can't find a way to be whole. I just want him back. I want to hold him, kiss him, and listen to his little voice saying mommy I love you. It is even hard to go to the grocery store. I feel lost because 90% of the things I would normally have on my list  we don't need anymore.  Michael and I hung up some of our family pictures this week, and that was hard too. I looked at James' picture, and it hurt to think we will never update his pictures again. This is it. He is really gone. I don't know what else to say. It is very hard to not have James with me, and I just miss him more and more each day.
I was in tears after reading that.  It brought back so many of my own fears about losing my little girl.  It almost made it too real for me to handle.  I've read this post several days in a row since I first read it and, honestly, it's helped me tremendously.  This battle needs to be real to me, it needs to stay fresh on my mind and I never want to lose the perspective in life that it has given me.  The fact is, neither one of my children are guaranteed tomorrow and both of their lives are so precious to me.  Sometimes I get tunnel vision and I forget how important today is.....just today.  I hug both of them just a little bit tighter at night and try my best to not let the daily stresses of life override the precious moments that I'll never get back.  That monster of a tumor might still be in her head but for just today, that little girl is healed.  I don't have to wait for the tumor to disappear to claim a miracle in her life, no, I'll claim that now.  She can run and jump and is finally enjoying her childhood for what it should be.


Now if that's not healing....I don't know what is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Toddlers don't tinkle on command

A couple of weeks ago, Chunks-a-lot came down with some interesting symptoms.  None of them seemed to be related but all of them were odd enough to worry me, so off to the pediatrician we went.  After some questions, confirmation that she did, in fact, have a fever and some other formalities, we were handed a "tee-tee" cup and a sanitary wipe.  Seriously?  My little one is 2 1/2.  She is fully potty trained but that does not mean she will tinkle in a cup.  The nurse told me that we could always put a "urine bag" on her but I assured her that would never work.  We have tried to get a urine sample with a bag at least 20 times at St. Jude's and not once have we been successful.  Even though I had some serious reservations about the entire potty and cup situation, I had no choice but to go with the lesser of two evils.

First off, let me just say something.  If you expect toddlers to even be able to go to the bathroom at a doctor's office, you might want to think about installing a mini-potty.  Because, as I discovered, you cannot just sit a tiny person on top of an adult's potty because, ahem, they will fall in.  So as I half-squatted on the floor, trying to hold up a thirty pound child at a very awkward position, I started to wonder how I was going to catch tee-tee in a tiny cup.  I decided to "one-arm" it (that is, use one arm to hold her on the potty and the other to hold the cup beneath her) and was able to maintain that position for about 30 seconds until my biceps gave out.  Then I tried to get her to hold the cup......impossible. 

 Finally we were able to get into a somewhat workable situation and I was in position, ready with my cup.  I waited and waited and nothing happened.  Finally, I asked Chunks, "Do you need to potty?".  She casually glanced up at me, unaware of my aching muscles, and replied, "No...I don't need to potty.".  Let me make this part clear, she said it with an attitude that said to me, "Why in the world did you ever think I needed to potty?".  I was a little frustrated at this point, mostly because I had broken a sweat and was regretting my decision to wear a sweatshirt that day.  We walked out of the bathroom and the nurse chuckled a little as she handed me a new urine cup.  I kindly informed her that we had not even used the previous cup but, alas, it did not matter....we had broken the sanitary seal at the top.  She was kind enough to let me know we would need a brand new cup and sanitary wipe every time we entered the bathroom.  How convenient.  "We could always try the urine bag, ya know.", the nurse said as we walked down the hallway.  I, again, assured her that it wouldn't work and went on my way.

I poured about 16 oz. of juice over the next few minutes and after lots of drinking and waiting, Chunks announced that she had to potty.  I was extremely excited and whisked her down the hallway to the bathroom, new cup in hand.  We got into position again and I kept thinking to myself, "This is it, we're going to finally be done with this!".  Nope, another failed attempt.  Another clean cup, another sanitary wipe and another cup of juice.  We were in our small room for two minutes when my sickly Chunk blurted out, "Tee-tee is coming!".  We briskly walked to the bathroom for attempt number three.  After holding her on the potty for a few minutes, I realized that she was not going to potty.  I didn't want to ask for another urine cup so I tried to get creative.  I bribed her, begged her, bribed her again and even made "swooshing" sounds to try and get her to tinkle but  none of it worked.  Feeling defeated, we left the bathroom, were handed a new cup and trudged down the hallway to our room.

The nurse popped her head in again and said, "You wanna try the urine bag now?".  I wanted to roll my eyes but I managed to mutter a meekly "yes" instead.  She put the bag on and said she would come back in a few minutes to check on us.  A few minutes later, still nothing had happened.  I'll be honest and say that I was secretly smiling that she had not tinkled in the bag.  I am after all her mommy and I know everything...right?  Well, apparently not.  The nurse said she had a trick, turned the faucet on in our room and left.  Exactly 13 seconds later, my Chunk finally tinkled....and in the bag, no less.  All the nurses praised Chunks and she even got two suckers and a happy face sticker.  She was all smiles.

I learned two things that day.  One, toddlers do not potty on command and two, I don't know everything, even when it comes to my children.  I guess I had to eat a little "humble pie" that morning as my stubbornness really only caused me more frustration than anything else.  I'm kind of thinking that it might have helped my complex if they had given me a sucker and a smiley face sticker, as well.  Fortunately, as an act of graciousness, my Chunk was kind enough to share her already-licked lollipop with me while we were driving home. 

 I guess, as moms, we might not always get the credit we deserve but, somehow, I think our kids always notice the little things we do.  After all, we might not be right about everything but it's nice to know that they still appreciate us in their own little way.  While a pat on the back and a "thanks for the effort" speech might work in most cases, when it comes to my little ones, I'll take a half-eaten lollipop any day.