Category Archives: Cancer

5:31

Five hours and thirty-one minutes.

For five hours and thirty-one minutes he pounded the pavement, putting his feet to his purpose. And for all those hours and all those miles, past crowds, houses, and fields in the November sun, he ran holding a sign in the air – “Chase Away Cancer”.

And he told me tonight, though he kept his headphones in his ears, he never needed them as he talked to the people around him. People who came alongside him to talk about his sign because they were survivors, neighbors, family, friends – each one a person whose life had been touched by cancer. They saw him identifying with it in his sign and they identified with him as they all ran together.

And this morning, as he geared up and prepared to walk out the door, Chase and his fuzzy head stumbled down the stairs before the sun was up, urging him to run fast, not slow down, and “Run like me, Dad”. And then Chase covered his fuzzy head against the frost and cold and stepped out along the route to cheer the runners on, holding a sign alongside his crazy, cheering grandfather, proclaiming that “sweat is liquid awesome”.

Five hours and thirty-one minutes later, Bob crossed the finish line for Chase and fighters and parents and friends everywhere. And he wasn’t alone. You put your hearts into this race with him, and today, nearly $5,000 dollars went to St. Baldrick’s in their tireless efforts to chase cancer far, far, away.

THANK YOU.

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Being A Cancer Mom

This is a post from September 2014 – written especially for the Mary Tyler MomSeptember Series” – cancer stories from cancer parents.  It was written within a week of Chase’s bad scan and chronicles some of the difficult, unusual aspects of this journey.

To be able to read this a year later without significant change in the story is a great gift.  -MbM-

I’m a cancer mom.

There are fourteen months of “there’s less than 20% chance”-beating treatment, over one hundred inpatient days, as many outpatient days, ER runs, ever so many blood and platelet transfusions, nine chemo therapy drugs, multiple surgeries, and endless procedures and tests saying that I’m a cancer mom.

But what does that mean to me? Just this…

It means being wakened in the night by nightmares and then realizing it really did happen…I really did hear “There’s a large mass” pronounced over the ER bed of my 2-year old and there’s been no waking up ever since.

It means absorbing the sad looks and conciliatory touches to the shoulder and wanting to shout that we aren’t at a funeral yet.

It means “normal” defines any trip made to the hospital with myself behind the wheel instead of five-point harness-strapped into the back of a speeding sirens-and-lights ambulance while assuring him it’s going to be okay.

It means handing out candy at the door and seeing the looks on the costumed faces as they take in the too white, scarred, bald child at my side and ask their parents what he’s supposed to be while the embarrassed adults avert their eyes and move quickly away.

It means “fixing dinner” is preparing an 18-hour IV bag of nutrition and hydration and then attaching it to a tube in his chest.

It means watching a chemo being carried into the room…a chemo so light sensitive that it must be protected in a dark bag…and then they hang it and pump it into my baby.

It means being the grown up and saying; “You need to take your medicine even though it’s yucky.” to a red, tear-stained face when I want to sit down and cry right along with him.

It means listening to him whisper “I’m so brave” over and over as the medicine lulls him into a stupor and I hand him off to sets of surgical masks and scrubbed arms, knowing he’s going into the operating room and I can’t go with him.

It means that while other kids his age are learning to ride a two-wheel bike, I take joy in his remembering a words or learning to jump with both feet at the same time because in his world, that’s a really, really big deal.

It means there’s a kit in my purse that has gloves, alcohol swabs, clamps, and everything I need for a child with a central line and I carry it everywhere he goes….just in case.

It’s being up and out at 2:30AM, not for a party, but for an ER run in which I find myself praying that the fever goes down and the blood pressure goes up and that we can just be admitted to the regular oncology floor and not the ICU.

It’s learning to walk, and even at times run next to a child attached to tubes because playing makes them feel better.

It’s accepting the part of the living child forever lost to the moment his brain was open on an OR table and loving the living child he is today.

It’s feeling like I can’t breathe until I get answers and then they have none and I somehow go on breathing.

It’s allowing the child I swore to protect to go through intense seasons of pain, heartache and potentially life-long damage in order to try and save him.

It’s sitting by a hospital bed; a hundred percent powerless to fix anything and praying for the day the chemo stops hurting his skin enough that he’ll be comforted by a mother’s touch once again.

It’s holding him close next to the Christmas tree and answering “Mommy, will you hold me close so the death won’t get me?” without completely losing it.

It’s hearing that after almost two years of clear scans, there’s something growing and nobody knows what it is and the best thing to do is to wait and check again in six weeks and I find myself agreeing over the sound of my heart ripping open.

It’s knowing we’re out of options to cure his diagnosis and still getting up in the morning.

It’s coming to peace with the understanding that what I do may never change an outcome or what’s ahead for my darling son…and then finding the strength and purpose to make the most of every second of every day anyway.

This is what it means for me.

I’m a cancer mom.

My darling Chase

My darling Chase

Chase’s Story [VIDEO]

Have you ever seen this video of Chase?

If not, I highly recommend it.  And even if so, feel free to watch it again…  We have been so blessed to partner with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation this year and are continually thankful for the platform they give us to share Chase’s story with so many.

-MbM-

[Our deepest gratitude to the incomparable Matthew Lackey for his mad, crazy video skills.  Also, a huge thank you to both Jane Hoppen and Kristen Thies for all they did to put together the finished product and the time spent filming it.]

The Good, The Bad, And The Same

Pre-procedure game of "Got Your Nose" was pretty epic...

Pre-procedure game of “Got Your Nose” was pretty epic…

Monday

He lay on the pre-op bed and absolutely knocked us over:

“I will do a good job and I will be fine because I’m a survivor, okay?”

The medicine kicked in and he asked me to text his home healthcare nurse and let her know he’d been brave for the needle in his arm.  And then, with a sigh, he passed into oblivion again for yet another MRI.  I wish I could tell you the number but I’ve lost track…his 30th? …40th?  Yeah, there have been a lot.

"Tell Miss Joanna I'm doing it, okay?  I give you permission to tell her." -Chase

“Tell Miss Joanna I’m doing it, okay? I give you permission to tell her.” -Chase

Tuesday

Despite a brief meeting with Chase’s neurosurgeon on Monday afternoon, the final word came, as it always does, from neuro-oncology regarding the MRI.  The cysts appear to have grown again, but Chase’s spine looks clear, his condition is beautifully stable, he isn’t having seizures, and so, we continue to wait.  If the cysts continue to grow, he may need a biopsy or some other surgical intervention, but it is not the right time for those things.  And so we wait some more…

Placing special markers on his spine

Placing special markers on his spine

This is bad because nothing should be growing.

This is good because nothing is growing fast or harmfully.

This is the same because everything is growing marginally as they has been all along and we’re pretty much exactly where we were three months ago: watching, waiting, and scheduling another MRI in a few more months.

Out of the tube and awake...barely.

Out of the tube and awake…barely.

And as I write these things and feel a little weary as we start the fourth year on this AT/RT road, I’m mentally checking myself for complaining about a living, breathing son who probably shouldn’t have survived more than six months, some three years ago.  The scan results comes down to what they always do: perspective.

Stuck in the wait a little while longer and choosing joy… moment by moment.

Hey, you've got to stay in shape if you're going to give out warm hugs all the time... ;)

Blood pressure cuff + stick arms … If anything can handle it, Dr. Ewoldt can ;)

Marking A Year Of Another Kind

Bob and Chase preparing for the MRI - Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bob and Chase preparing for the MRI – Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re supposed to “throw back” on Thursdays and “flash back” on Fridays and today is yet another date to mark.  Recently, we’ve had an awful lot of “one year ago”, “two years ago”, and so on, but sometimes the days are really long, the years are short and stressful, and rehearsing our previous survivals and God’s goodness to us in them is the only way to keep breathing.  And so, we go back…again.

One year ago today, I stood in the barren kitchen of a newly bought house (a seeming symbol of a fresh start), staring out at the view that would be my new back yard, and listening to the voice on the other end of the phone as my stomach dropped: “His spine looks clear and overall, his brain looks amazing, but…”

Those words kicked off a season of deep shadow that has been some of the most difficult waiting since his initial diagnosis.  The every six week scans, the waiting for growth… 

But today, we are stopping to mark and remember that Chase has now lived for one year, one whole year with his tumor bed growths/radiation effects/whatever they are and he’s lived as fully and well as ever he can.  We’re so thankful.

It’s incredibly frightening to write these words -about how well Chase is doing and how long he’s gone without an issue- when he’s about 72 hours away from another MRI.  But no matter what happens in this next week, today is a good day and we’ll take it one breath at a time in the… moment by moment.  

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deut. 31:8

Ten Thousand Reasons For My Heart To Find…

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“Wait here”, the manager said, and we leaned against the wall, all six of us, like a giant line-up.  I turned to Chase and whispered: “Are you excited to meet Matt Redman?” and he nodded and grinned as  we leaned against the wall in the wait. 

I suppose we expected fanfare, or a crowd, or something to herald this amazing artist – but suddenly, humbly and quietly (I didn’t even from which direction he came), he was standing in front of us and there were no handshakes – only hugs.  He said he’d heard a lot about us and then he moved down the line of us and greeted each one, learning names and personal details.  He met Karsten’s stuffed dog, talked with Darcy about her loom bracelets and their colors, and got on his knees in front of Chase and Aidan and asked them if Spiderman and Batman were in a competition, who would win?

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And the craziest, most amazing part of it all?  We got to stand in front of Matt Redman, look him in the eye, and try and put into words what the song 10,000 Reasons means to us….  

How it underscores every car ride to the hospital…

How it’s floated out of most pre-procedure rooms…

How most of the hematology and oncology staff have been shown the music video at one time or other…

How it was the last thing Chase heard every day as he whispered “I’m so brave” and slipped into unconsciousness on the radiation days…

How every music therapist in the hospital downloaded the chords because they knew if they went to Chase’s room, it’d be the song he’d want to hear…

How it wrapped us up as we’d sit, high about the lake, day after day in the dark cancer days when the fevers wouldn’t break and the cancer cells wouldn’t leave…

Oh how we failed!  There are not having enough words, enough good words to put into a few sentences what three years of this song as a soundtrack to our lives has meant.  How precious it is to us, and how precious Matt Redman is to us because of it.  There have been times and seasons when our hearts were broken and we could not call out, and the only thing that came from us to God were Matt’s words, Matt’s voice in this song as we had none left ourselves.  This song has been one of the greatest gifts — until last night when we got the opportunity to try and find the words to tell him of it’s impact.

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And how I wish you all could have been with us and watched as Chase sang along to so many of the songs, raised his arms in worship, clapped and cheered, even danced a little.  And at the end of the night, before the closing song, the room got quiet as Matt spoke and he told them all about how he’d just met a family and the kids were all “firecrackers” (I mean, did he get us or what?) and that one of the sons had a brain tumor and then, Matt Redman told the room a minute of our story and Chase’s love of the song because – as he said – we were there to worship, but the church is always there to bear each other’s burdens, and we are the church, and as I sat in the hundreds of people, with Chase on my lap, Matt Redman invited the church to bear Chase’s journey with us, as a picture of Chase went up on all the screens, and Chase gasped and exclaimed “That’s me!”.  Matt dedicated the song to the Lord, but said they’d sing it with Chase that night, and so we all stood together in this great room with hundreds around us and cried as we sang every word by heart – the way God put things together blew me away yet again.

And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending…
Ten thousand years, and then forevermore.

And all the way home, late into the night, Chase chatted on about “my friend Mr. Matt” and how he loved him and missed him and wanted to give him another hug “…because he sang my song, Mom!  He sang my song!”

We are so thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience of worship and fellowship…

…moment by moment.

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*For more on the ministry and music of Matt Redman, please visit his website here.*

Three Years And A Letter

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This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Chasey-Bear,

How very far you’ve come!  When they first put a name to the giant ball inside your head, the nightmare of it spreading through your skull and down your back, I read that “long term survival” was 3-5 years, and now, here you are: at the three year mark.

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I know you don’t like me to even speak about the hospital on the majority of days and it’s okay, we can mostly play on your terms, but today is different.  This day in your short history, you were on nobody’s terms and only God himself knew what came next as we learned the unfolding: that you would carry a terminal illness with you the rest of your breath here on earth.

I still remember how small you looked in that first ER bed, how confused your eyes were, and how rosy your cheeks got from all the steroids they pumped in as they tried to save you from yourself before the damage became too great.  

I remember holding the oxygen mask to your face and thinking it couldn’t really be happening, and if we were in a movie, that would have been the moment for slow motion and an audible heart beat.  Because sometimes life feels like it’s slowly tearing apart.

We’ve given you over to Jesus more times than I can count and held you close even more time than that.  Yet here you are, still on your journey, standing smack in the middle of your life road, laughing at anything barreling down on you – and how we love you for your fierce, “you-and-what-army” self.

I know these days turned into years have not been easy for you – and I know “not been easy” is a gross understatement.

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None of us know how much further this road continues, but I know if it’s with you – as I’ve known from the first time you kicked inside of me – it will never be dull.  And so we’ll just keep at it as we have tried to all along… in His grace, moment by moment.

All our love, my darling survivor,

Daddy and Mama

Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand will be my guide.
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and You won’t start now. So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves when oceans rise. My soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.  ~Oceans, Hillsong United

Of Birth Order, Stature, And What Really Counts…

“Are they twins?”  The lady smiled as she gestured to Chase and Karsten – brothers born 22 months apart. 

The man bent forward to talk to Chase, who will be six in December: “I have a granddaughter who is three like you, too!”

As we sat at the lunch table one day last week, we talked about who had been born first in our family and Chase kept insisting he was the baby.  We tried to point out several times, in several ways, that he is older than Karsten, yet he refused to accept it and finally, the source of his reasoning became clear: “But I’m the baby of the family because I’m the smallest!”  And just like that, it was spoken.  He sees and understands – on some level – the radiation damage in it’s unfolding.  

I’ve considered this moment for some time and it’s here.  Karsten is as tall as Chase.  It’s neck-and-neck, but it’s happened.  Karsten, at nearly four, stands as tall and far more broad than his older brother.  And Aidan, though a scant 12-months older, stands nearly a head taller than both of them.  

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It’s heartbreaking to see this and it’s precious because Chase is alive, and it never stops being amazing to hear his wise, old voice come out of such a tiny body.

So, I’ll keep the smaller size of clothing in the drawer knowing Chase will probably use them a little longer.  And if stature were measured in experience, he’d already be ten feet tall.  

Moment by moment.

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b

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Of Breathing, Growing, And Being An Ambassador

Sometimes Chase remembers that things change as he grows and sometimes he doesn’t.  The last time he had a continuous EEG (the process of monitoring the working of his brain for hours on end), he was newly 4, six months off chemo, and his heart and body were both still deeply hospital weary.  He had to be wrapped and held and he screamed the whole time as the wires and goo covered his head, so when I told him on Monday that the time was coming again, he slumped down on the couch next to me.  “Mom, stop talking.  Please don’t say anything else.  I need to breathe.  No more talking… I need to breathe in and breathe out right now.”  And I sat half laughing and half broken that he’s 5 and yet he’s 107 for all of his experience.  

The awkward "can't-climb-into-the-hospital-bed-with-you" snuggle

The awkward “can’t-climb-into-the-hospital-bed-with-you” snuggle

In preparation, we wandered through Target last night and found a new movie and some popcorn because seizures can happen when you go from sleeping to waking and so he had to be able to sleep during the test, and as the kids sat on the old, blue leather couches and munched around giggles at WALL-E, there was another July EEG night on my heart.  One when Darcy and Aidan were still too young to stay up terribly late and Bob and I took turns napping and walking a two-year-old Chase around the block and at 10:30, when I simply couldn’t stand anymore Thomas the Tank Engine and decided to put him to bed, he lost his balance and fell, and my stomach turned, but many things can cause a fall and so we went to bed anyway…never knowing that it was less than 48 hours til we’d sleep in an ICU under the shadow of imminent surgery and tragic diagnosis.  I always think of that night come each July and it was my turn to breathe in and breathe out and remember that by the grace of God, that night wasn’t a minute past, but nearly three years ago.  

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Being perfectly still

This movie night lasted until 11:00 and the EEG day started at 5:00 and in moments like this, grace and coffee are my best friends.  By a mile down the road, it was time to find the nearest bathroom just because that’s what happens with 5-year-olds, and as we sat on the Eisenhower in the long lines of traffic, as soon as he saw the top of the Willis Tower, Chase pulled out his iPad and turned on 10,000 Reasons, because sighting the tower means he’s almost there.  Three years have nearly passed and this is still how he prepares for a hospital day.

Within minutes, we were there in the familiar rooms again and then came the moment he knew things had changed for he sat completely still while they put 21 brightly colored electrodes all over his skull and the only time he ever got cross was when I tried to make him laugh. IMG_1250  And I got to hold his hand and not hold him still.

Chase never relinquishes a fight and it took him until 5 hours into the test to fall asleep and that was 5…long…hours… of sitting in a bed with virtually no radius of movement unless a bathroom was absolutely necessary.

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Sleep finally wins

 

When the test was done, having mercifully lasted only 6.5 hours, he pulled some St. Baldrick’s brochures out of his pack.  They had his picture inside, his and Dr. Lulla’s, and to anyone who would stop, he gave a brochure and said “I’m an ambassador.”  And even though he doesn’t always give Dr. Lulla the time of day during clinic visits, to any and all who would listen, he would explain and point, saying “This is Dr. Lulla and he’s my favorite doctor in the whole world.”  He even stopped a security guard and somehow managed to encourage him to shave his head next year, and it was a precious moment of conversation and meeting, because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it here a dozen times…this is how Chase rolls.  And I wish you could have seen the tall security guard fold down and give tiny Chase a big hug.  Those are the good moments to breathe in.

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Chase and his “favorite doctor in the whole world”

And now Chase has learned that things change as he grows and what was hard a year ago wasn’t very hard at all anymore, though the sitting still and his mom trying to make him laugh at inopportune moments will probably remain trials for many years to come.  

For now we await results.  No matter what comes of this, we’ll breathe in, breathe out, and take it…

Moment by moment.

Someone To Know Me

He’s afraid of almost nothing outside the hospital, but he hates change like the plague.  I mean, knock-down, drag-out, hates it straight up.  One time I changed his bed without telling him and he lay on the floor and screamed until I could persuade him that new sheets weren’t the end of the world.  And I tell you truth when I say that I’ve just gotten him to wear shorts in the warm weather and not steal his winter hat onto the school bus in the June 80 degree days because he doesn’t remember wearing shorts last summer and all he has in his memory are long pants and winter coats.

Everything I’ve ever read about a brain hurt by surgery and tumor says this is not uncommon.  It takes longer to adjust and more to cope and the little things are always very, very big.  If there’s no mental paradigm for something, it’s usually treated with anything from caution to outright hostility.

Three weeks ago now, Chase was to start summer school, but we sent him to vacation bible school at the church for the first week instead.  He wanted to be with his siblings and, his life being so different as it is, I couldn’t refuse him this opportunity.  

The Monday morning of “VBS” rolled around and suddenly, he didn’t want to go.  When I asked why not, he would evade by screaming about something or simply leaving the room.  Finally, he calmed down, crept back into the kitchen sheepishly, and sighed.  “Are you ready to talk now, Chase?”  He nodded and then whimpered quietly.  That sound meant only one thing: Chase was afraid of something. 

We sat cross-legged on the floor of the kitchen and talked until I realized that all the screaming had been a sabotage of sorts because while he knew the church and the people, he didn’t remember “VBS”…something he preferred to refer to as “PBS” or “PBS.org” (for real), and because he didn’t know it and couldn’t account for it in his brain, it terrified him.  

As we talked, I asked if he wanted to pray and he nodded silently and so we prayed that God would give Chase peace.  I said “Amen” and his head shot up with a quick question.  “Mom?  Will you pray that my teacher would be somebody who knows me? Please? I need somebody who knows me.”  Not just someone that he knew…no, someone who knew him.

An hour passed and as we walked into the brightly lit auditorium, I watched Chase lose his fear to intrigue as he took in the jungle set and the replica of Mount Kilimanjaro (a part of the week’s theme).  We walked forward to find his seat and at the end of his row, checking the children in, was his 2-year-old Sunday school teacher, a beloved woman who taught him that God is good and glorious and always with us and she said it so often to him from the day he turned 2 that when he lay on pre-op beds and in hospital rooms, when all else pushed aside in his fear, it was those words from the Sunday school room – “God is near me” – that would come to him and he’d sing them softly as he’d wait for the doctors.  This was the woman who’d walk him through the week.  

I’m putting this story down for you to read because I often fall into thought that finds the hard things unjust and the good things deserved and the small things somehow just getting ignored.  So, I’m writing this here and now because life comes with crazy ups and downs and sometimes, I forget to hand the small things over to the One who knows and when I do remember, I’m often too busy to record exactly how He surrounds and blesses.  Chase prayed for someone to know him.  

Stopping to be thankfulmoment by moment.

Chase and Mrs. Worley

Chase and Mrs. Worley