Monday, June 25, 2012

"On my birthday I'll be four. When will I be 2 again?"

4 Year Old Ella
Though she is still trying to wrap her mind around the thought that she will only get older, never younger, Ella is four years old today. My reserved, anxious, headstrong baby has grown into a socially confident little girl. She is still headstrong but she can't help it - everyone in my house is and we respect that.

For her party over the weekend, we treated our friends and family to our favorite summer pasttime: front yard swimming. (Truly, we'd love for it to be backyard swimming, but our backyard is more suitable as a parking lot, unless you prefer swimming in mud. I don't - especially when the floors are clean. One day - one day - there will be grass back there. I just know it.) She could barely contain her excitement from the time she woke up (at 7:30) until party time. She'd been planning her party for a month and a half and she was ready for everyone to be there at 8.

Four year old Ella finally sleeps through the night consistently (meaning all the time unless she's sick). This started about six months ago and she's been doing it long enough now that I've stopped expecting her to wake up during the night. It's fabulous. In addition to sleeping through the night, she often falls asleep in her own bed by herself while I'm getting Luke to sleep for the night. That just started happening in the last two months. Sometimes she's still awake and I cuddle her, but lots of times she's already asleep when I peek in there.

She has a few chores to do around the house and she gets very upset if she misses the opportunity to do them (because sometimes I forget that they are her chores now and do them first). She is in charge of feeding Georgia and Gypsy, keeping her shoes put away in her shoe rack, and clearing her plate from the table. Sometimes she gives Luke his medicine when he refuses to take it from me. If she finds me folding laundry, she asks to fold the wash rags and socks. She helps me cook and I've taught her how to use a knife (yes, a real one) to cut vegetables. We recently made homemade pizza, and she did 90% of the work, under my direction.

She is still doing gymnastics once a week and she's already talking about playing soccer again in the fall. Just as the spring season was ending, she was really gaining her confidence during the games, so I'm glad she wants to give that another try.

She loves playdates and recently went on her first one without me or Grandmother going along. Her friend from Florida was in town to visit her grandmother and they went to the local petting farm and out to lunch. While I nearly had a coronary about her going without us, she jumped at the chance to play with another little girl without her brother around.

She still loves to teach school and gymnastics and take care of babies but now she also likes to play Barbies and doctor her dolls and stuffed animals. Sometimes she works on their teeth, too. She tells us she wants be a cheerleading dentist when she grows up.

She is infinitely curious about everything from human anatomy to the reason septic tanks are smelly. I'm constantly amazed with what she observes and the questions she asks. She still loves to be read to and now she likes to spell the words that she sees (on flashcards, signs, anywhere, really). She's starting to learn basic addition, though she doesn't know that yet. She loves Sunday school and learning about God and she regularly prays or asks me to pray for our family and/or a whole list of others that she's thinking about.

She has a sweet, sweet heart and she is starting to understand that she has responsibilities as a member of our family. I am amazed at how fast she's changing and I love to watch her grow.

Edited to include a better picture.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ella's Bad News

Backstory: Luke has taken a lovin' to riding in our red wagon. He's very cutely insistent when he decides he needs a ride, climbing into his seat and asking me, "Ready?" When he asked for a ride yesterday before Dave got home, I had to decide if I had the energy to pull them both. Ella wasn't feeling well enough to make her walk, and though she wanted to stay home by herself, I obviously couldn't do that. I decided, "What the hey? It's a good butt and thigh work out." So I loaded them up, leashed the dog to the wagon (because I make her help) and proceeded to pull 85 lbs of kids plus wagon around the neighborhood. When we'd gotten about 1/3 of the way around our route I was working too hard to carry on a conversation with Ella, and she really felt too bad to have much conversation. However, when we rolled alongside a squished, dead squirrel she immediately piped up with, "Mama, what's that?!" I huffed out a short, "Dead squirrel," and continued on.

Fast forward to this morning's drop off at Grandmother's house where this conversation happened.

Ella: Grandmother! I have some bad news.
Grandmother: You do?
Ella: Yes, we went for a walk yesterday and there was a dead squirrel.
Grandmother: There was?
Ella: But it's okay because there are more squirrels. Like one hundred.

I guess squirrels are disposable.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day: I blew it.

This is the way I pictured Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday morning – Take the kids shopping to pick gifts for Dave, Papa, and Pop the Pop.

Saturday afternoon – Go to a birthday party.

Sunday morning – Make breakfast for Dave and go to church.

Sunday evening – Have supper with my dad.

This is how it really happened.

Friday morning – Yes, that’s right, Friday, 4:30 am, Luke threw up in our bed. While Dave cleaned up the floor (complimenting me on my cat-like reflexes as I jerked Luke up and suspended him over the side of the bed so that most of the vomit landed on the floor instead of the sheets) while I calmed Luke down, cleaned him up, took his temperature, gave him Motrin, and settled into the recliner with him. He threw up again. I calmed him down, cleaned him up, wrote off going to the office, moved to his bed for a couple more hours. Again, Dave cleaned up vomit from the floor and chair. I worked from home with two kids, and mostly held Luke all day. Aunt Becca came to help me for a little while by holding Luke so I could do some work and going to get us some lunch. While she was gone and I was holding Luke and listening to him breathe rapidly, I decided he needed to go to the doctor. His fever was still climbing despite a dose each of Motrin and Tylenol.

Friday afternoon – I took Luke to the doctor while Ella went home with Aunt Becca. He was running 101.8 fever in the office, tested negative for strep but had a blotchy throat. Doc thinks it’s hand, foot, and mouth disease and prescribed Tylenol with codeine to manage the pain while we wait for it to run its course and keep him hydrated, and oh, by the way, he can run fever like this for the whole 4 -5 days. I started shoring myself up for a long weekend of pain/fever management, toddler holding, and coercing him to drink.

Friday evening – Dave ran the errands to get the medicine (and shouldn’t have bothered since liquid narcotics are too nasty for a child to swallow) and brought me supper from Pop the Pop and Grandma’s house.

Friday night/Saturday (wee) morning - I slept with Luke because he started crying every time I moved from his side. Ella got up at 2:45 and got in bed with Dave. And I didn’t even know about that until mid-morning. That’s a miracle.

Saturday morning – Luke’s fever was gone and he was well enough to play in fits and spurts between needing to be held. Any tiny thing ruined the moment and made him inconsolable again. That went on all morning until he was just a melted down mess at nap time.

Saturday afternoon - I got Ella ready for the birthday party and she took Dave as her date while I held Luke for three hours while he napped. He woke up grouchy and stayed that way until supper when he finally decided he was hungry enough that he had to eat through the pain. After that, bath and bed.

Sunday morning – I woke up in Luke’s bed again, though I’d only been there half the night this time. He was ready to play but sill drooling buckets and crying, “mouth hurt.” Dave was already outside working on a project. I got Luke stabilized with Motrin and juice and went to the fridge to scrounge up breakfast. There were no eggs. No milk. No muffin mix. Nothing to make for breakfast. Why did I expect otherwise? I had not left the house in days. Luke and I went to the store for eggs. He ran barefoot through Lucky’s in a t-shirt and diaper, celebrating being out of the house, and I let him. At home, I cooked breakfast as fast as I could so Dave and Ella could eat before church. They left for church and I took my little petri dish to the grocery store, for real this time, and only because I had to.

Sunday afternoon – Papa and Grandmother came over for lunch. Luke slept another three hours and woke up happy. Ella was a complete grouch until I forced a nap on her. She woke up from nap still grouchy. I was at my wits end with being touched and needed and listening to crying/whining/grouchiness and it was oozing out of me. Dave left to go to Lowe’s for more things for his project and probably because we were unbearable. I put one kid in front of one TV and the other in front of the other TV and went to the shower – for the first time that day. At 4 in the afternoon. I sent my dad a text saying we would be there for supper because I had to get out of my house. After that, I put Ella in the shower, thinking it would improve her mood. It didn’t. She came out crying and complaining of a headache. I took her temperature and it was 102.2. I put her nightgown on her, gave her Motrin, and put her on the couch. Sent my dad another text, “Not coming. Ella’s running fever.” Changed into my pajamas and sat on the couch with Luke. He was grouchy again. I nursed Luke, patted Ella, and tried not to lose my mind.

Sunday evening – My dad brought us supper – happy Father’s day to him. I fed the kids and put them to bed, and then put myself to bed.

It was awful. The worst weekend we’ve had in a very long time. Thankfully, I'm learning to be flexible. And, thankfully, today is a new day. And, thankfully, Grandmother is willing to tag team with a feverish child so I could go to work today for a much needed break.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Round 4, Check.

There's not much to report this time since I found myself able to write during this round of chemo, and thus, less traumatized. In the previous treatment rounds, I've been sort of paralyzed by the whole thing but I guess I've adjusted more than I realized to this episode of our lives.

Once again, he moved straight from week one side effects to week two side effects without an energy crisis in between. I read recently that some cancer patients' experience their bodies adjusting to the low blood counts so they don't feel as exhausted in later rounds of treatement when the blood counts reach their lowest points. We know Dave's bottom out around day 7 and 8, but for the last two rounds he hasn't crashed during those days so I guess his body is compensating.

Here's a little education in layman's terms, if you want it (remembering that I got my medical degree from the University of Google). Lymphoma is a blood cancer, specifically of the lymphocytes - the parts of the white blood cells that make up the immune system. Essentially, some of the normal cells in his lymph system morph into cancer cells (like gremlins changing from cuddly cute things to monsters when they get wet). The chemo drugs he gets every three weeks are designed to wipe out his white blood cells so that the cancer cells that are mixed in with the normal cells will be killed. He also gets a shot with each round (24 hours later) that stimulates his bone marrow to make more white blood cells. That medicine helps his body recover his immune system, but it doesn't take full effect until day 7 or 8 of the cycle - thus, days 7 and 8 are when his white blood count (WBC) is the lowest. Starting day 6 of the cycle, he takes antibiotics for five days to protect his body from bacterial infections. This is also when he's supposed to stay away from crowded places (like the county jail) and sick people. Today is day 10 and his last day of antibiotics, and that means we are well on our way to the rest portion of this round.

Next week, he'll be feeling almost normal again and he gets a bonus week of rest this time. He and his doctor negotiated the next treatment for the first week of July to give his body a little extra time to make white blood cells and to accomodate his work schedule. This means extra fun time for us!

So, for two and a half weeks, we play and then onto the business of round five.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Another Lesson from Cancer: Flexibility

I am a rather inflexible person. I really like routine. I like knowing what to expect. I take comfort in the familiar. My biggest source of stress in any given situation is The Unknown. Followed very closely by Plans That Get Changed. It really, really bothers me when plans get changed suddenly.

This inflexibility is something I’ve known about myself for a while. In the past, it’s been something that drove Dave nervous (Incidentally, he is indecisive – the exact opposite of inflexible – you can see how that would cause, umm… discussions). I also had an evaluation at work one time that listed my inflexible nature as one of my areas for improvement. So…

I’ve been working very hard on being more flexible for years now, and I thought I was doing an okay job with it. I still might hate it when I’m asked to do something new, but at least now I can (usually) deal with it in stride rather than having a breakdown about it. My love of routine is really good for my small children, because kids like to know what to expect (especially kids like Ella). But I’ve realized lately that even though I’ve been working on it, I still keep a very rigid routine. I know this because I get text messages like, “Hey while you are out this morning and up that way how about stopping by the house we like….”, not because I told the sender that I was going that way but because I go that way every single Saturday at the same time of morning to grocery shop at the same Publix. I can’t help it, the other Publix stores in the area aren’t laid out the same and I hate it because it makes me forget things that I need.

I am so predictable that the people around me don’t even have to ask to know where I am on a Saturday. And I’ve probably written about it enough here that you knew it, too, even if you don’t talk to me in real life every week. That’s just so boring.

Do you know what doesn’t give a crap about your routine or what you have planned for tomorrow or next weekend or next year? Cancer. Do you know what that forces you to become? Flexible.

Dave and I had a conversation this morning about how we – our little family – have become more flexible since March. And we like it. We’ve spent that past few weekends meandering around with no solid plans in mind and it’s been wonderful. We’ve gone out to breakfast, made an impromptu visit to my brother-and-sister-in-law’s house in Gardendale (and it was reminiscent of how we used to just end up there on the weekends when we lived in Gardendale. And, I realized how much I’ve been missing them!). We had dinner with friends I had not seen since Ella was a newborn and we stayed out too late (with the kids!) and loved it. We’ve been to the Galleria, mostly just to ride the carousel – and I did ride it even though it makes me feel sick to go round and round – and I had fun because it’s been a really long time since I’ve actually ridden a carousel and because Luke was riding with me. We went to a birthday party. We shopped at a different grocery store and not always in the morning. Dave took Ella on a date while I cuddled Luke for a nap and watched movies on the couch instead of doing grown-up things like laundry and cleaning. We played in the pool when the weather was nice; we dragged a screaming kid on a walk because we needed it, even though it was rainy. Luke ate breakfast and lunch at the table in his room because he was playing and I didn’t care.

We are living The Unknown right now. I started this journey half afraid to make any plans, but now I realize that I half want to be open for entertaining our whims. I have planned exactly two things this summer: the kids’ birthday parties. And I almost decided to skip those altogether, but Ella will be turning 4 and I just couldn’t tell her we weren’t having a party. We don’t have a vacation planned. We don’t have every weekend booked from now until September. But there’s potential for those things. Maybe we’ll take a vacation. Maybe it will be to the beach, but maybe not. Maybe we’ll find a nice hotel with a good pool and just swim for a few days, somewhere other than in our yard. Maybe we won’t go anywhere at all.

All this un-commitment, this potential, this non-routine is rather freeing. Though living in a rut as deep as the Grand Canyon is comfortable for me, I get so stressed out and exhausted by the expectations and demands on my time, the sense of responsibility and obligation I force myself to uphold. Not that those are bad things – they are really good, but sometimes it’s suffocating. And sometimes I just need to breathe. Is it coincidental that cancer brought that breath into our lives? I doubt it; I don't believe in coincidence.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Valet Parking Lady

As busy as the Bruno Cancer Center is and as much as I've been impressed with the nurses and doctors and office staff, there is one lady there who just blows me away: The Valet Parking Lady.

Today's parking spot.

We found out yesterday that she goes by the name of Suzy Q, and I'm ashamed to admit that it took us four treatments to learn this. Because she knew Dave's name the day after his first one. She never fails to call him by name and she knows when he's there for a long day of chemo and when he's just there for the quick shot (he gets a shot 24 hours after each round of chemo to help his body recover his white blood cells).

This space usually holds 1 or 2 more with
just enough room to drive around them to get out.

The lot was not full today.. there are usually
2 more cars squeezed in this space you see.

Suzy Q works in the hot stress of a parking lot with a seemingly unending flow of traffic - and she is always happy and caring when she talks to the patients. She also has mad parking skills. I'm astounded at the number of cars she can fit in this tiny lot. One day, when she allowed me to parallel park the car myself for our quick shot day, I sucked it up so bad that she offered to fix it for me and bring the keys inside to me when she was done - teasing me the whole time. Another day, she said, "I'm gonna park you right over there in the shade Mr. Roper 'cause we don't want you gettin' too hot."

She does a job that I would hate and she does it with a good attitude, even when the cars are lined up so no one can get in and out of the lot and it's 95 degrees outside. I don't know how much a parking attendant makes, but I know it's not millions. Her job is one that would be easy to glance over without much thought; I'm sure some people see her as a mere convenience so they don't have to find a parking spot. But she's more important than that.  She spends her days running all around the St. Vincent's campus so that cancer patients have only to walk into and out of the front doors to get to their cars - not because the parking situation is sketchy, but because sometimes even the walk to the front door is too far. I don't know if she realizes it, but she has a pretty powerful ministry going on right at the front door of a place where people really need ministering. Any random person could be parking cars there, but not many would do it with the love that she displays for the patients. 
There are so many cars parked that the entrance/exit is one lane.

I believe she has a spiritual gift of service and probably also of mercy, and she is putting them to good work every day.

Do people recognize my spiritual gifts from watching me live my life? I'm not so sure...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Chemo Day

The waiting room at the Bruno Cancer Center is a bizarre and busy crossroad of lives. I sit in a chair in the corner,  so I can see the majority of the room (save for the chairs that are blocked by the aquarium in the middle) but most importantly, the door where Dave goes in. I like to watch the traffic and try to guess who is here for the first time, who is in the middle of treatment, and who is here for follow up. I want to see the nurses when they come out in case one of them is looking for me.

Also, I've scoped out the place and my chair is one of the few next to an electrical outlet, which is necessary if I'm going to work while I wait.  Sometimes I work, sometimes I Google, sometimes I read. Today, I've done a little of all of that and addressed birthday party invitations for Ella. Last time, I worked the whole day, with my business all spread out around me, talking on the phone and annoying my fellow waiters. I sent my dad a message that day to tell him, proudly, that I had been acting just like him all day. (When he waited with me for Dave to have his port put in back in March, we both spread our business out around us and worked, him borrowing my notebook, glasses, and laptop because he wasn't planning to work until he saw me with all of my work things. It was classic Wyattness.)

It's really hard to focus on anything for very long because there is so much traffic in and out of this place. Dave has one of the longest chemo treatments, so we get here first thing in the morning when there are usually only 2 or 3 other people here, and we leave late in the afternoon, when the crowd has thinned out. That means I get to watch a group of people pass through in the morning and then be replaced by a new group in the afternoon. Some people bring a herd of people with them and some come completely alone. I'm not sure how that works. Maybe they don't get Benadryl with their chemo cocktail? Or maybe they have a ride coming later?

All these people make for good People Watching. I like to listen to their conversations and try to figure out who has cancer, what kind, how old they are, etc. And also, sometimes they are just funny.

There is one pair of older ladies, always dressed to the max with jewelry and shoes that put my t-shirt and flip flops to shame, that I've sat next to twice now. They come in the morning. The husband of one of the ladies has cancer and I'm convinced that one brings the other lady along for entertainment while she waits. Today, armed with new iPhones in pink Otterboxes, they were discussing whether or not they had the Timeline on Facebook, how to create notes on the iPhone for their grocery lists, and looking at a picture on Facebook of so-so's new wife whom no one knows is married. They left before lunch.

While they were here, another family of husband, wife and 2 grandchildren came in and sat beside us. The wife has cancer. The children were young, a boy around 5 years old and a girl about 12 months, she sort of walked but mostly crawled. And she tried to take Fancy Lady's phone and magazine. They also left before lunch.

After them, an older man sat down next to me with a lap desk, a Bible, and a stack of mail. He actually initiated a conversation with me because I'm wearing my Job 13:5 shirt today. (I almost never initiate conversation in waiting rooms because I'm socially awkward with strangers.) I found out that his stack of mail was actually tests from a prison correspondence course - a Bible study - that he and his wife help facilitate. His wife had cancer and they come back to Birmingham once a year for her follow up appointments. They live in Georgia now but they like these doctors. The wife grades the multiple choice part of the test, then the husband reads and comments on the discussion questions. Their daughter got her Master's degree in audiology at the University of Montevallo. He and his wife live near her now to take care of their grandkids while she works a few days a week. She actually called and asked them to move to Georgia to do that and they did. I told him I thought they are doing good work, both with the prison ministry and the grandkids. And it got me thinking, my introverted self could grade tests for Biblical correspondence courses...

Then as I was answering the question about Dave's profession, another man sat down with us and volunteered that his brother was a criminal defense attorney until he finished his 17th capitol murder trial and decided he needed to do something else. His wife has cancer, and he's still here waiting for her to finish her treatment.

There is another man here who had a visit from his son, daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter while he waits. I'm not sure who he's here with, but I presume it's his wife. He's still waiting, but the baby is gone.

There's a whole group of people on the other side of the room that I watch, but can't hear. I keep track of the young ones because there aren't many. Most of the people here are 40 or older. I keep track of who has lost their hair and who is in a wheelchair that wasn't last time. I wonder how often they have to come.

I really like it when there are little kids here because they liven the place up a little. But there aren't many kids because treatments take hours and there is nothing to do here but read 8 year old magazines and watch Judge Somebody loudly berate young idiots about their failure to use birth control (a point I agree with, though at a lower volume).

I check on Dave periodically but I can't stay with him because the treatment room is a large open space with lots of chairs separated by little walls so the patients can't see each other, and so they can pretend they don't hear each other. When I'm back there, I take note of the young ones as I scurry into his little space, trying not to invade the others' privacy and disliking the wide-open feeling of many sets of eyes on me as I walk through the door. I bring him snacks and lunch and try not to bug him if I think he might be sleeping. When he's finished, he comes out looking wholly normal without even a visible bandaid since his port is in his chest. Then we go home.

This is what Chemo Day looks like for me.