Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gift of Time

This is my Dad.  I want to tell you about him.  2012 started with my Dad learning that a spot on his pancreas, originally identified as a cyst, was actually a malignant tumor.  He also learned that some other spots on other organs, initially thought to be of little concern, would now be biopsied as well.  He further learned that the tumor on the pancreas was wrapped around 2 veins, and inoperable and that he would need to begin radiation in hopes of killing the cancer, shrinking the tumor and/or keeping it from growing and spreading its nasty little germs.  Happy New Year, right?!

So after crying for hours, I finally thought I had composed myself enough to call and be a comforter to my Dad so I made the call.  Dad answered with his usual cheerful voice, and I asked, in my shaky voice filled with tears, how he was.  He answered by telling me that he was fine, he really was fine, even if my sisters and I didn't believe him.  He then told me that God has a plan for everyone, we don't know the plan and don't always understand it, but God has a plan and a purpose for everyone.  I told him that I didn't want God to take him away from me.  And he honestly answered that he wasn't ready for that either but that we all have a time to go and that God is in control of our lives and the plan for our lives.  

In my blog in early January I wrote:  "My Dad is the godliest man I know. His faith and his relationship with God leave me wanting more, and make me feel ashamed for questioning how God could allow something like cancer to affect my Dad.  My Dad has devoted his whole life to working for God and to reaching people for God so that they too may have the special personal relationship that he enjoys with his Savior.  Why would God want to take one of his greatest workers from the earth? And when that time comes, who am I to want to hold onto my Dad's ankle as God calls him home to Heaven?  I am trying to be positive, trying to have the peace and faith that my Dad has, and praying constantly for healing.  The practical, worldly side of me knows what cancer means and what cancer does, and I hate not being able to reach into my Dad's body and pull out every bit of the poison that cancer is.  I want to fix it, control it and make it all better for him and my family.  I will try to learn from my Dad, to listen to him, to learn from his example and to trust that God does indeed have a plan for each one of us, and a purpose for our lives which we may not always understand or see.  Who are we to question God's plan for our lives and for the lives of those we love?  In the meantime, while I'm learning, I will pray for my Dad, pray for his healing, pray for his courage and his strength.  I will pray for the doctors, that they will know what they're doing and that they will do it well as we entrust them with our Dad.  I will pray for my Mom and my siblings and our children that we can offer support and encouragement to my Dad and to each other.  And I will thank God for this wonderful man that is my Dad, for the man he has been, for the man he is and for the man he will be.  His example, his faith, and his peace are to be admired and followed.  As my children have said on more than one occasion, "Grandpa works for God, and Grandpa is best friends with God." Who better to have in your corner than God?  Who better to have as a BFF than God?"
Since then, my Dad has gone through 2 rounds of chemotherapy.  The first round consisted of 6 treatments, each one done every other week for 12 weeks.  He had a good result and, although he felt tired and nauseous, he quickly found that a good nap and anti-nausea medication helped with that.  There was a PET scan after that first round, and it showed much improvement so another round of chemo was scheduled. This time there would be 4 treatments, over a period of 8 weeks.  

During these rounds of chemo, my parents took 2 trips to Illinois and 1 trip to the Grand Canyon.  I commented to my dad that his cancer was really lucky to be able to go on all these great trips.  But it's not luck, it's prayer, medical technology and my father's great health and tolerance for the chemotherapy that have allowed to him to, for the most part, continue living his life.  He often writes that he is thankful for the prayers, for the way his body has been able to tolerate the chemotherapy and that he is anxious for God's plan for him as a believer with cancer.  After the completion of the 2nd round of chemo, this is what my dad sent in his email to his prayer warriors:  
" Having cancer is always on my mind. Our church worship teams consistently select music that reminds me of the glory that waits me on the other side. I’m beginning to think they do it purposely to have me shed tears of anticipation and joy when I lead the congregation in prayer. I am enjoying my time with Linda, realizing how few times may be ahead of us. I’m ready to be with the Lord but wouldn’t mind if he allowed me a few more years to enjoy him here and serve him here."

Last week Dad had his 2nd PET scan, and this is the news we received from him today:  
"The scan revealed that there was no cancer activity in the pancreas, though there was thickening of the pancreas. The cancer in the abdominal cavity is still too small to be detected; so we don’t know where that stands, although the cancer has not settled in the stomach.

The doctor said we could take a break from the treatment and run the risk of the cancer reactivating or just continue with the treatment. I chose to continue treatment to maintain the positive momentum of the chemotherapy. So my next treatment is August 13th. The average number of my kind of treatments is 12 (I’ve had 10). The most treatments he has given is 18 and I’m going for the record!"

I know the ups and downs of cancer, I know that cancer doesn't discriminate between old or young, sick or healthy, man or woman, parent or child.  I have watched cancer take my grandmother and take one of my best friends.  But today I rejoice because today is an "up", today is a day that God has shown me that prayers work and that there can be healing.  Today I am thankful, thankful to God for allowing me more time with this wonderful man, thankful to friends and family for their constant prayers and thoughts and support.  And I am thankful for the gift of time, for each and every day, each and every minute that my parents have together and that I have with my Dad.  He is truly an inspiration and his faith and contentment continue to amaze me and make me proud, so very proud to be his daughter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oh, Baby

It's happened again. Another baby has been born, and I'm jealous.  Over the past few years, as I have reconnected with high school classmates, or caught up on their lives by reading their Facebook posts, I am amazed that some of my classmates are still having babies, or are having their first babies.

Most of these new mothers or young mothers have established careers, have completed many more years of schooling than I, or have been married less time than me.  But they are making me feel old. I have been a mother for 20 years and have almost been a mother for more years than I have not.  My baby is almost 10 years old, and when I see the pictures of the new babies, I can almost smell them and feel them snuggling in my arms and wrapping their tiny fingers around my one finger. 

These moms are women who, I am almost positive, did not torture their guidance counselor the way I did when sitting in his office discussing their post-high school dreams.  When my counselor kept handing me brochures for Ivy League schools that cost a fortune but that I "should be considering with my great grades", I pushed them aside. When asked whether I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a businesswoman, I always responded that I wanted to be a wife and a mother but that in the meantime until I reached that goal, I might want to be a teacher, the counselor would shake his head. I was sure he was thinking "What a waste."

Well, Mr. Daly, it wasn't a waste.  I love being a wife and a mother, and although I never became a teacher, I teach my children things every chance I get.  And even though it took me years to get my Associates Degree, I did it when it didn't interfere with my first priority of being a mother.  And I'm proud...proud of my 3 children, proud of the time when I was a single mother on my own, and the job I did with my babies.

And even though the practical side of me is glad that I can say "Come on, kids, time to go", and they put on their own shoes, their own jackets, walk to the car, and put on their own seatbelts, there will always be the other side of me that wouldn't mind packing the formula, the bottles, the extra clothing, the diapers, the wipes, the back-up pacifier, the burp cloths, putting the infant carrier on my arm and trying to juggle the carrier, the overstuffed diaper bag and the pocket book through the doorway while still being able to close the door behind me without dropping everything and then loading my precious newborn cargo into the car.

So, to my high school classmates in their new careers as mothers:  enjoy every second, every minute because it all goes by so fast, leaving behind precious memories and making way for new ones with your "grown-up" babies.  And please keep posting those pictures!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There's Something About the Beach

I LOVE the beach. When I was a child, I loved going to the beach with my family.  We would park and then all walk down to the beach, armed with blankets, towels, sand toys, sunblock, food, a cooler and many times a stroller.  We could never get too far walking in the sand before our sandals or flip flops would come off and then we would run the rest of the way on the hot sand looking for a large area where we could drop everything and run to the water or settle down to build our creations in the sand.

My sisters and I would play in the sand for hours, building sand castles with moats that went all around the connected castles and would eventually empty out into the ocean, the same ocean that would also fill the moats.  I remember building underwater tunnels and the thrill we would get when the water poured through without collapsing our castle.  Then we would go splashing into the water, riding the waves, laughing at each other when the undertow would occasionally take one of us down.  I can remember coming back up from one such takedown only to have another wave immediately take me back under while I was trying to get my hair out of my face, get the seaweed off of my body and to get the horrible taste of saltwater out of my mouth and eyes.  I remember stumbling blindly to the beach blanket to grab my towel and wipe my face, only then realizing that my towel was full of sand, and I was only making it worse.

Then I became a teenager, and I loved going to the beach with my friends.  These were the easiest trips.  Teenage girls throw on their bikinis, put a pair of shorts over them and don a pair of flip flops and sunglasses.  As long as we had baby oil or some low SPF suntan oil (always oil, never lotion), Doritos and Cokes we were ready.  Towels and beach blankets were optional as we spent most of our time cruising the strip, either in the car, on foot, or on the backs of motorcycles.  We bought tie-dye half shirts and short shorts, took goofy pictures of ourselves and got fake tattoos.  If we got hungry we grabbed a slice of pizza or fried dough.  We were there to soak up the sun as we walked around looking cool.  We were there to get tan, to shop and to meet boys. Those were fun trips!

Then I became a Mom. Trips to the beach now meant juggling baby bottles, formula, a stroller, toys to keep the baby busy, sunblock (SPF 50 for the baby and SPF 6 for me - I was young and still on the prowl), an umbrella, beach blanket, towels, snacks and juice boxes.
I would exit the car and try to load as much as I could in the bottom of the stroller and the rest on the top of the stroller. 
 I would push the overloaded stroller to the beach entrance and then frantically struggle to push it through the sand until finally I would just pick it up and carry it to an area close enough to the water to watch my toddler play but where I could actually push the stroller on the wetter packed down sand.  Then I would unpack everything, apply sunblock to my baby, position the umbrella and spend the next few hours ensuring that the sun didn't shine on him but that it did shine on me while we were only inches apart from each other.  We would make the trek from beach blanket to the water with little toddler steps and then kick the water and jump and laugh as the waves splashed on our feet and ankles.  We would build sand castles and we would eat cut-up fruit and drink from juice boxes.  As this adorable little toddler grew into a young boy around the age of 4 or 5, I remember one beach day where my sister Terry and I were lying on the blankets soaking up the sun while little Jake played next to us in the sand. As I was drifting off to dreamland in the sun with the sound of waves crashing, I thought I heard a voice, a little voice saying, "Excuse me, excuse me."  I didn't recognize the voice and as the words spoken didn't include the word "Mommy" I didn't pay much attention. Then the voice got louder.  "Excuse me, excuse me, lady.  You have a wedgie."  I now recognized the voice to be that of my boy.  As I rolled over and sat up, I noticed him standing and pointing at a lovely young lady walking along the edge of the water and wearing a pretty red thong.  To a 4 year old boy, she most definitely appeared to have a wedgie.  His public service announcement continued, despite my pleas for him to stop and my insistence that she knew she had a wedgie, only to hear back, rather loudly, "Why would anyone want a wedgie?  Why isn't she picking it?"  Yes, it was a fun day at the beach, but I did smile as that poor young lady ran off to probably put some shorts on.

Now I have 3 children. The wedgie patrolman is now 20 and probably seeks out women wearing those particular bathing suits.  My other two are 11 and 9.  No one likes to go to the beach, at least not with me.  They will go with friends and make a day of it, but when I suggest going, someone always says "not today".

Well, this weekend we are going.  I am going to make sandwiches designed to taste good even when mixed with particles of sand. I will pack cookies and chips and fruit and waters and sodas and juice boxes.  I will pack varying degrees of sunblock - 30 for them and 15 for me, I've gotten a little bit better.  I will dig out the beach blanket and the sand toys and the beach towels.  As we search for parking, I will unroll the windows so I can smell the saltwater and hear the crashing waves.  I will scan the crowds of people, remembering earlier days of hanging with the girls.  I will search for that little hole in the wall that sold the best fried dough. I will drag the kids and all of our gear through the hot sand until we find the perfect place to put it all down - right next to the large woman in the small bikini - hey, I don't look as good in my suit as I used to, and I need to make myself feel better.  Call it conceit, I call it careful planning.  I will ride the waves with the kids, we will kick and splash in the waves.  I will hold hands with my kids and run in the water.  I will eat sandy sandwiches and junk food. I will lie on the beach blanket and try to get a tan while reading my romance novel.  I will watch the clock so I know when to turn over so that my sunburn is even on all sides.  When it's time to go I will help the kids wash off their feet so they don't have to be all sandy and uncomfortable on the ride home.  And then I will make the drive home.  They will sleep, I will turn the radio up a little louder, and I will smile because we just made a memory.