Friday, February 12, 2010

"The Happiest Place on Earth"

As you are all well aware, the last 9 months have been a bit of a challenge for our family. After the first four or five months I began to wish for a vacation. Bobby's illness and his "absence" that came along with it was starting to take a toll on me (and the kids as well). So, I started to plan/hope for a vacation sometime off in the future when he would be able to take one. I thought of how wonderful it would be for the 6 of us to just have some fun together with no thought of cancer, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, etc. I knew that financially it would be difficult to go to Disneyland, but that is what I really wanted to do. It had been 3 years since our last visit there, so Seth and Kaymbria had little to no memories of it. I decided to save my candle business money, and then register for Disney's newest volunteer promotion where you can volunteer for a day, and in return, get a free day at Disneyland. I started to get excited about my plan, and it was nice to have something to look forward to. And then, the transmission in Bobby's car went out. Over $1000 later, the car was fixed, but my hopes of Disneyland had gone to the junkyard with the old transmission.

It was only about a week or so later that 2 wonderful friends pulled me aside at church one morning. I wish I could remember in better detail how they presented me the gift... I just remember feeling completely overcome with emotion when they explained that they had organized an all-expense paid trip for us to go to Disneyland. Through my tears I tried to tell them that we were doing fine, and that surely there must be others in our congregation who needed help more than we did, but they stood firm and said that the trip was already paid for. They also explained that as they contacted families and shared their idea, they were so very happy to contribute. They gave me a Disney bag full of T-shirts for all of us, a stuffed Mickey, a Mickey blanket, and the trip itinerary for 3 days at Disneyland, and 4 nights at a nice hotel. I just stood there and bawled like a baby (and even now, almost 2 months later, I am still brought to tears just thinking about it!).

We decided to tell the kids about the trip on Christmas day. We waited until the late afternoon so that it wouldn't interfere with their Christmas morning craziness. We brought them all together an told them we had one more Christmas gift to share with them. We explained that it wasn't from us, or Santa, but it was from many friends at church who love us. Through my tears (once again) I shared with my children that sometimes when people are sick or having a difficult time, others want very much to help, but don't know how or what they can do to help. This trip was how many friends wanted us to feel better. Their reactions were very mixed- from jumping up and down, throwing Mickey up in the air over and over, to "Who did this?!?" and "THANK YOU HUGHSON WARD!" The next morning Kaymbria woke up first. As I held her in the quiet of the morning before everyone else awoke she said to me "Mommy, do you know what my best present was?" What? I asked. "That we are going to Disneyland!"

Our days there were truly magical! Having a note from our doctor to get a medical pass proved to be valuable in many ways. Not only did we go to the front of every line, it also allowed us to witness others who have been through a lot. From a horribly disabled burn victim to a mother with terminal brain cancer, Bobby and I gained further perspective and great appreciation for our simple trials and the tender mercies of our Heavenly Father. I will not forget the father who had a smile on his scarred face, and Bobby will always remember his conversation with the mother who will not live to see her son grow from a boy to a man. Our children, of course, were oblivious to these people, but have wonderful memories of their own now. They are still talking about their favorite rides and attractions and ask when we can go back again!
I wish that we could hug and thank everyone individually who contributed to this amazing gift, but also understand and respect the desire to remain anonymous. We will never forget this act of love and kindness. This trip, plus all the other wonderful outpourings of love and support over the last nine months has taught me so profoundly of Christ-like love, and has increased my desire to share that same love with others. So for any of you who may be reading this who in any way offered help or love through this trip, dinners, money, house cleaning, babysitting, praying, hugging, sending cards, or giving words of encouragement, I thank you whole-heartedly! "My cup runneth over" with gratitude for you all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stanford Cancer Center

We recently got results from Bobby's latest PET scan. One of our oncologist's office staff thought that there was some troubling results and he would need further evaluation. Our other doctor seemed much less concerned, telling us that PET scans can show a lot of false positives and that we need not worry about it. Both doctors, however, talked highly of Dr. Kaplan at Stanford, who is an ENT who exclusively treats head and neck cancers. We decided that if we could get an appointment, we would go and hope for some direction and answers to our questions. We spent hours at the cancer center last Monday, and were very pleased when Dr. Kaplan reassured us that Bobby is indeed recovering, and there is no need to pursue surgery at this time. He even said at one point that "it might be time for you to put this behind you." Music to my ears!! I know that it will be easier for me to move on and try to think of something else, or at least put cancer on the "back burner" for a while. For Bobby, I'm sure it will be much more difficult. For one thing, he still feels the effects of his treatments on a daily basis. He is still losing weight (around 30 lbs. total) because it is so difficult to eat. The nerve/circulation damage caused by the chemotherapy to his hands and feet bother him every single minute of the day. He was discouraged to hear Dr. Kaplan explain that those things can be permanent, and he may just have to live with it for the rest of his life. But, we hope it will be a nice, long, cancer-free life. I guess it is a small price to pay when your life has been spared. He is fatigued and weak, but is doing his best to live a normal life again.
This picture is very typical for him. He gets home from work and almost immediately falls asleep on the couch. He doesn't even have a chance to take off his shoes, gloves, or coat before he is knocked out.

Even though he struggles quite a bit, he really has come so far. When I look back at where we've been and what we've been through, it is really amazing to me. Bobby is truly inspirational. I know he is in pain or (at the very least) uncomfortable every moment of the day, yet no one (but me) is ever aware of it. He simply doesn't complain. He is just grateful. He does still on occasion feel depressed at the thought of not being cured, not knowing, or simply having to deal with the side effects forever, but again, largely keeps it to himself. I too, at times struggle with the unknown, but find comfort in Proverbs 3: 5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I love about cancer

I imagine there are two types of people out there who may be reading this. Ones who have experienced cancer closely in their lives, and ones who haven't. In either case, I have decided NOT to share what I hate about cancer (the list is long, for one reason). If you are one who has dealt closely with cancer, you probably don't need the reminder of when you cried so much your eyes were dry and irritated for days. Or when you were so consumed with worry, fear, turmoil, you couldn't sleep at night- for days. If you are one who hasn't experienced cancer, you may feel as I once did- a heartache for one you love, admire, or even just know casually. No matter what your reason for reading this, one thing is for certain- there really is no point in sharing the bad news. You've either "been there, done that" or you are one who doesn't ever want to go there, do that.

Someday, when I look back, I hope to remember most the things that I love about cancer, and I'm pretty sure it will be easily recalled. Just to be sure, though, I'll record just a few here. I know there is no way I could list everything, since my list grows each day, even if it's just in one small way.

I love the nearly 3 month vacation I got from cooking all summer (wonderful women who gladly brought in meals 3x a week with enough left overs that I really never had to cook!). I loved to hear "I made a donation to the cancer society in your name and brought your family these LIVESTRONG bracelets." I love the hugs, even tears that were shared from so very many friends and family. I loved the clean house I was graced with a few times from the love of family and great friends. I love the new baby trees that my dad planted in our yard- our summer of cancer trees. As they grow and thrive, so will our family. A daily reminder for me that I truly love to see. I love Pitman High, or more particularly, the staff at PHS. Bobby has said so many times recently how much he loves everyone in his department and what "awesome people they are!" I love my dear friends, boss, and fellow employees at Turlock Fitness Club. When word got out about our family I was overcome with an outpouring of support- in so many ways. I love that I could go to work, and somehow turn off my brain for one hour to "escape" and no one ever complained about my lousy classes during that difficult time. I love the new quilt my aunt made for Bobby, which we use frequently and always think of her love and generosity. I love friends who shared their "been there, done that" tips on getting through chemo and radiation. I loved the family and friends who searched the internet for answers... something I really hated doing. I love friends who present us with gift cards for Jamba Juice (Bobby's current source of nutrition for getting through the day) or for restaurants for "whenever he can enjoy food again." I love the medical staff and doctors who treat Bobby so well, and always address our concerns with great care. I love the research that is being done every day to improve Bobby's and millions of others' chances for a cure. I love that Trina and Brent were brave enough to take 7 children under the age of 12 camping for a couple days so my kids could have ONE fun outing this summer. I love the friends and neighbors who stepped in and said things like "I'll give the kids a ride" or "Don't worry about Cub Scouts, I'll take over until you're ready" or "Do you need anything from Costco?" Simple acts mean so much. I love the many cards that were sent, the prayers offered, the emails, comments left here on the blog, etc. Rarely did I respond (please forgive me!), but ALWAYS did I appreciate. I love the tender prayers of my children as they remember their daddy is sick. I love the joyous outburst from Kaymbria on Sept. 30, "Mom! Daddy's going back to work!" I LOVE to hear them laugh and giggle with him again... the sweetest sound that I have missed for SO long! I love that my mom, dad, and Deb, who shared our load the most, never made us feel like they were burdened too. I love our caring bishop who took time out of his busy schedule to check in on Bobby several times. I love the spiritual experiences that have strengthened me beyond anything I thought possible. And most profound, is my love for Bobby. I thought I loved him 17 years ago while we were dating. I thought my love had deepened even more 15 years ago when we married. 12 years ago when our first baby was born I thought "how could I love him even more?" Eight more years, and 3 more babies found me asking that same question time and time again. Now here we are, traveling a road that we never anticipated, and I am amazed to discover that somehow, it is possible to love him even more.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The first day of school

Brooklyn started 7th grade on August 12, 2009...

Carson started 5th grade on August 12, 2009...

Seth started 1st grade on August 12, 2009...

Kaymbria started preschool on September 9, 2009...

And, after 125 long, painful, emotional, difficult, and sometimes wonderful days, Bobby returned to school on September 30, 2009.
I stopped by to bring lunch to him, and as I turned the corner from the stairway to walk down the hall to his classroom, I saw a crowd of students at his doorway. Inside his classroom were balloons from some students. And a typical example of what he experienced with his return put a smile on my face as I watched it happen- a group of boys came up to him, hugging and welcoming him back. One gave him a big bear hug saying "Mr. Boice!!! I haven't even met you, but I love you!!" Others made him cookies, some interrupted his classes and walked right into his room to see him and welcome him back. I share in their joy, with just a tinge of sadness. I have grown quite fond of having him around, especially lately, as he's started to become himself again. Physically, the day was difficult for him to endure, but emotionally, I think a step in the right direction.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Our big news for the week

First, Bobby had his PET scan on Monday. Then, on Thursday he had his feeding tube removed (good bye, my old friend!). The initial report on the PET scan is good news, showing a "nearly complete resolution" to the area. One of his doctors simply said "there is no activity in the area." Either way, we are breathing a little easier and are grateful for the good news. The plan is to repeat the scan in 2 months, continue to watch the size of the lymph node and hope that it reduces enough to the satisfaction of the doctors. If it doesn't, then we are off to Stanford for one last surgery.

So, we wait, and try to get on with life. It is time for us to discover what our new "normal" life will be. I know already that it will be better than before. We both have a deeper appreciation for each other, for different reasons, and we both have a deeper appreciation for our children, families, friends, co-workers, even acquaintances. A new perspective and value on life has been given to us, so I know that life as we know it will be better from here on out, even if that means more surgery, a recurrence, etc.

Bobby is doing his best to move on. He has been gradually tapering off his narcotics the last few weeks, and just went "cold turkey" a few days ago. He feels very weak, but the pain is subsiding quite a bit. His taste has returned to a degree, and the doctor yesterday said that he should notice a great improvement in his saliva function over the next few weeks. Lately, that is the most annoying thing for him to deal with. It is extremely difficult to eat and swallow food without saliva. We are back to using a humidifier at night to help with the dryness as well. He carries a water bottle around with him everywhere (thanks Allison, for your thoughtfulness on that!) He hopes to return to work on September 30. Right now, he is outside on the tractor mowing the lawn, something he hasn't done for months! Thank goodness for my dad and Larry, who have prevented the 3 acres from turning into a jungle!

Bobby's brother, Paul, recently came to visit. When I asked him if he liked Bobby's hair, he told me he didn't know what to think- was it a bad haircut, or was it from the treatments? Since I am the one who cuts his hair, I better clarify... the chemo thinned him out everywhere. The radiation gave him the bald spot behind his left ear, and the nearly bald spot across the back. The doctors say that in time, it should all grow back. If not, it's nothing a hat can't hide!

I must say, aside from his crazy hairline, he is looking pretty good! Many who have seen him lately comment on that. He isn't fitting the stereotypical cancer mold, I guess. If ever I am teasing, or kidding around with him about his cancer, he will correct me and say "you mean I had cancer" and emphasize the past tense. There are still difficult times, but for the most part things are looking up!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The glass is half full

Last night, for the first time in about 4 months, we sat down together, just the six of us, and had dinner together. Bobby dished up a plate of food just like the rest of us, and did his best to eat. I don't know if the kids even realized how significant it was for him to be sitting there with us, it was just another normal, rowdy, silly time for them. After the kids finished and disappeared to play or finish homework, I got up to go do dishes. Several minutes later Bobby was still at his plate, all alone, painfully trying to finish his food. A snowball of thoughts sort of hit me at that moment.

First, all the raw emotions came back, and I was nearly brought to tears by the pain and immense difficulty he has faced for so long. Can't he just be better now? When will this end? Something so simple as eating and sleeping are difficult chores for him. I know that I (and everyone else) don't even realize just how bad it's been for him... he simply endures quietly without complaining.

My thoughts then turned, however, in another direction, as they often do when I'm feeling down. I told myself that things could be so much worse. Right now at this moment, someone is dying in a tragic car accident. Right now, somewhere in the world, there are mothers despairing because their children are literally starving to death, and they are helpless to change their destitute situation. Right now, there are families in anguish over a terminally ill child, spouse, parent, friend. Right now, there are millions who are suffering from some form of physical, verbal, sexual abuse. Right now there are millions who live without freedoms and opportunities that we so frequently take for granted here.

The fact is, life isn't fair. It never will be. We will never know why some seem to pass through their mortal journey with one challenge after another, while others appear to have "their cake and eat it too." We all, at one time or another, pass through a refiners fire. It is up to us to decide- am I going to let the flames burn and consume me? Or will I come out of this more pure, stronger, changed. I am certain that if our attitudes are full of gratitude, we can pass through our trials and triumph over them. I am grateful for what my family has gone through for nearly 4 months. I will cherish always the things I have learned and the experiences we have had. And when I feel the weight of our trials beating me down once again, I will remember what Bobby recently said "The Lord is trying to bless us." The glass is half full...The glass is half full...The glass is half full...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Green jello makes me happy!

About a week or so ago Bobby said that he could maybe try to eat some jello. So I immediately walked over to my mom's house and stole a box from her pantry. I came home and quickly made it, put it in the fridge and was off to work. Several hours later I asked him how it was, and he hadn't even tried it yet. When I got home the next morning I saw a small bowl sitting on the kitchen counter with a spoon and jello remains at the bottom. Again, I asked him if he ate it, and when he told me "Yes, I got it down" I couldn't believe how emotional I got! Over jello! After about 2 months of never putting anything in his mouth (with the exception of his toothbrush) he was sipping water and eating green jello! Who cares if it was only about 3 tablespoons worth- he got it down! It hurt, it burned, but he did it. Since then he has braved Cream of Wheat and grits (both a post-tonsil surgery favorite), yogurt, and soup. Yesterday the soup he tried tasted like "how an ashtray would taste" in his words, but again, he ate it. His most dominant taste buds right now are salt, and everything just seems so overpowering and strong to him. Since he has started trying to eat food, the water is going down much better now too, so we are grateful for the slow, but steady progress.

This morning he did 25 push-ups with me, and has been dragging out his exercise bike a few days a week to slowly ride. His poor body has really been beaten down with the treatments, but I'm so proud of him for the effort he is making to overcome and move on. The pain he feels in his throat, ear, and at the site of his feeding tube are persistent, but, he endures and doesn't complain.