01 June 2015

Bucket List

In the young adult cancer community I've heard the term "Bucket List" many many times.  Even on the first season of the show Chasing Life one of the characters (Leo with Brain Cancer) acts like the Robin Hood of last wishes for his friends in his cancer support group.  It is so emotional to watch these young adults experience their last wish.  The entire movie The Fault in Our Stars is a final bucket list wish being granted. Granting wishes looks like so much fun, but on this side of my diagnosis wishes can be very intimidating!

Bucket List is defined as a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.  It comes from the term "kick the bucket".  So do I have a bucket list?  NO.  Did I think for a while that I should make one?  Absolutely.  Making one feels so.... so final.  I like the idea of dreaming and I honestly need to be encouraged to dream and escape my day to day stressful details.  Yet at the same time I can't stand the thought of leaving this earth with an unfinished list for my family and friends to see.  I don't plan to have regrets when I die so I also don't want anyone looking at a list wishing they had help me do something or visit somewhere.   So for now I will just try to dream and accomplish those dreams one tiny plan at a time.  I want to continue to realize my destiny knowing that everything God does for me, to me, and through me will help me determine what that looks like.


While I'm on the subject, I'm looking back at the past 4 years.  Just 4 years ago was our last day as a family where cancer was not part of the story.  Tonight is the anniversary of the night that changed so much for us and helped us really take note of what's important.  I came very close to death and I didn't have a bucket list... if I had, I know that this list of adventures from the past 4 years should have been the bulk of it:
  1. See Kirstyn get baptized.
  2. See James ask Jesus to be his Lord and be baptized.
  3. Go to James' kindergarten graduation.
  4. Strengthen my marriage (I think we are ready for a lot less of the negative half of the marriage vows of worse, sickness, and poorer!).
  5. Go away for a weekend with David (We had not gone anywhere alone since our honeymoon in over 10 years of marriage except for one business trip and a couple of weddings if those count!!!  Actually I guess we still haven't but we are at least planning a getaway for our 15th.)
  6. Sponsor a child somewhere (We now have loved on 3 kids in Haiti).
  7. Go to Haiti and see how God is working there!
  8. Build a real sandcastle!  (Sandcastle building lessons are fun!)
  9. Be given a nickname... My week as Moonshine was amazing.
  10. Go kayaking!
  11. Make new friends (close ones!)
  12. Teach the kids to love GIVING as much as getting.
  13. Learn to Hula Hoop!
  14. Go to Disney World with my family.
  15. See kids learn to love reading.
  16. Watch Kirstyn find such joy in music (piano and singing).
  17. Get to know family!  (I have developed close friendships with family members that I am sure I had never spoken to or known before I got sick.)
  18. Start a business that we believe in!  (Ask us about Genesis Pure.)
  19. RELAX (translated: learn what's really important)
  20. Focus on the little moments and enjoy the day to day!

I look forward to our future and I hope to have many more years of adventures to report, but for this week I have school award ceremonies and parties to attend...

In case you are wondering David and I are trying to decide where we want to go in January for our 15th anniversary and how much money we can spend on that.  I personally want to go to CancerCon (Stupid Cancer's event) in Denver next spring and I want to figure out how to raise lots of money for First Descents so maybe just maybe I can go on another one of their adventure trips that also allows caregivers so David could get away too!  This year they offered a trip hiking in Iceland (WOW) so maybe one day.  While I'm dreaming we should probably take the kids to the Grand Canyon or the Smithsonian.

No matter what, I want to make sure I am living life in spite of this diagnosis! So since the month of May has come to a close.... please remember that Grey Matters year round!

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29 May 2015

Why Blog?

Why am I blogging?  That is a question that I've asked myself more times than I care to admit.

In all honesty, I started this blog for the sole reason to share pictures of us with my grandmother.  She and my grandpa were traveling all of the time but she really wanted a way to see pictures more often than every 6 months so I set up this blog.  It was a way for me to post random stories and pictures (mostly of Miss Kirstyn) and my grandmother could walk into any public library and hand the librarian my URL and she could sit and scroll through pictures and feel connected to us from as far away as Alaska.

Later, I discovered this amazing community of mommy bloggers.  I could read their stories and I even made a few great friends that I've never actually met in person, but will one day hopefully sooner than later!  I finally didn't feel so alone in my day to day tasks and we were able to share stories of our lives and relate to one another.  (This was WAY before I even joined any social media sites like Facebook or even Myspace!)  We have even exchanged gifts and cards and sometimes they feel closer than the people I greet in passing almost daily!

Then, I made up my mind that I wanted to drop some of this weight that I have carried my entire life.  Once again I found a community of support and I was able to type feelings that I wasn't able to articulate in person.  I read others struggles and triumphs.  I found recipes and was encouraged to attempt exercise.  I shared my struggles with the scale and my victories in the gym.  I was even featured in the Dallas paper after an author had followed my progress.

And just when I was coming to what I thought was then end of my weight loss saga, I had a seizure in my sleep and a week later learned that I had ...dun dun dun... CANCER.  Not just any cancer, brain cancer... one of the most deadly cancers that most people know nothing about and many seem scared to ask.  I have shared some of my raw emotions and we have been as open as we know how with this path that we were thrown on to walk.  (pssst... and you have probably watched me gain back close to 50 of the 100 pounds I lost.  Steroids, cancer emotions, church people food, exhaustion, and crazy hormones are mean to the body!)  My self esteem has been on a roller coaster that I don't remember volunteering to board!  Today, the kind older man tuning our piano asked about the family in a photo on my wall... I was taken back when I realized he was asking about a picture of me with David and Kirstyn.  I have been really hard on myself lately about my weight and his innocent comment made me realize how far I've come... physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Still, it doesn't change the fact that I long to feel as good as I did exactly 4 years ago in that picture on the right.  There was 50 pounds less of me, but I was so na├»ve to all life could teach me in just a few so very short years.  And that girl on the left holding that happy little girl 11 years ago...  I'm not sure I even recognize her.

It makes me laugh that I named this blog Normal to Natalie long before I knew what my real platform even looked like... I guess I'm still not sure.  I do know one thing.  I want to update my website to be more than just a blog (I'm probably going to need to hire help!  Suggestions?).  I want you to get to know me better.  Meet the me that sells insurance and that has continued to educate myself and change my family's eating habits.  The me that did endless hours of research and decided we would use Genesis Pure to deliver so many essentials to our door every month.  It's easy, I trust them, and I dread shopping... oh and their products keep me going at a pace that helps me keep up with my crazy family.  And my kids, they are the best and in so many ways have been forced to mature and learn some really hard lessons.  I need/want/have been asked to share more about that and how we are all working through our day to day "extras" together.  (A blog about our commission system is in the works... promise!)

I at one time described myself as a busy wife and mom on a mission to get healthy inside and out through clean eating, Bible study, and exercise.  That's still very true and I hope you will join me as I continue to take this journey called life and share it as openly and honestly as I know how with you on this blog.  Maybe one day my platform will grow and I will be invited to speak and share my heart with a group that needs to hear from me.

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01 May 2015

Moses and May

Did you know that the entire book of Deuteronomy was likely recorded during the last 37 days of Moses' life.  So, Moses was able to share so much wisdom and knowledge and blessings with the people he had been mentoring and leading in 37 days yet here I sit with a journal for Kirstyn that I have been working on for 18 months.  The journal is even designed to be completed in just one year, but hers is only about half finished and James' isn't even started.  Maybe I should be thankful that I don't have that same sense of urgency that Moses had or maybe I need to spend more time on the mountain learning from God before I try to share my thoughts.  Either way, I pray that they are learning that when faced with adversity and challenges we didn't expect that we will not run in fear but face them but only after seeking wisdom through prayer knowing that "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you".

The book of Deuteronomy ends with Moses praising God as he blessed the people and God praised Moses. Wow, what a legacy he left that we are still studying today.  I want to be remembered as someone who praised my God and I desperately want my people (Kirstyn and James) to be blessed.  I'm praying for all of us to have unshakable faith in the most unstable circumstances!

May is Brain Cancer Awareness month.  In May of 2011 we were seeing subtle symptoms that something was wrong but we had no idea what was about to happen and change everything for us.  Even looking back, the symptoms were never something that pointed to a brain tumor.  Actually, I've met many people that were just in their day to day when a first seizure changed everything.  Many weren't even having headaches.... me included!  I recently installed the timehop app and have been looking back on my facebook memories from that year leading up to my first seizure.  I wasn't sleeping well, I was stressed, I was frustrated, and nothing I said reflected that I was seeking God first.  I was just trying to survive in the day to day.  Honestly, I don't remember much and after looking back and after these 4 years of conversations, David and I have concluded that at least 2 years of my memories were taken.  I have rebuilt some with pictures and social media history and listening to stories, but there are still gaps.  I've stopped crying when I realize I've just spent an hour watching a movie that I've already seen and something triggered the memory so now I know the ending.

Next week on May 5th, I have a brain MRI and oncologist visit.  We will learn if this monster in my head is remaining stable.  Then, I 'get' to face my newest challenge (why isn't there a sarcasm font?!?!).  I found a "mass" in my right shoulder a few weeks ago.  Since then, I have seen a couple of doctors and had an MRI on my shoulder.  (I swear I'm going to stick to my refrigerator at some point!!!)  My oncologist then scheduled me an appointment with an orthopedic specialist so I see him next Tuesday too and find out what's next for my shoulder.  I'm doing my best to give my fears to God but that hasn't been easy...  I'm praying for a simple and fast solution to the pain in my shoulder and arm that is being caused by this cyst.  Cinco de Mayo for us will be a long day of doctors and evaluations for me and we desperately need your prayers.

This month I want to raise awareness.  I want to accomplish something new.  I want to give thanks for all of the opportunities that even my struggles bring.  I want to see my faith overcome my fears.  I don't want to be what's happened to me, I want my hope to be contagious!  Help me show that the grey ribbon is important too!  You can buy this year's shirt and you can post on social media using the hashtags #normal2natalie and #greymatters










Because MyGreyMatters!
Deut 31:6
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18 February 2015

Influence

Don't get so caught up in manufactured drama that you forget to enjoy actual reality.  If you don't control your media then the media will control you.  Thoughts like this are running around in my head right now. 

David and I are taking a Re-Think Parenting class at church where we are hearing staggering statistics like the porn industry made 96 billion dollars last year while the NFL made a mere 9 billion.  In addition to that if you watch close you will see that every tv show, book, and movie has some kind of agenda.  Sometimes the agenda is hidden and sometimes it is more than obvious.  Is this going to be a lecture.... NO.  I just started thinking about the influence that things like books and movies have had on me and my character.  We are also thinking about what we are allowing into our home to influence our children.

So like every good researcher (ha!), I turned to Facebook where I asked my friends the following question:  What movie would you say had an influence on you (good or bad) as a child, teen, or adult?  In many cases the same movie was named several times.  Saving Private Ryan, The Shawshank Redemption, or The Sound of Music... anyone?

Then last night ABC aired a special countdown to the Oscars show called "15 Movies that Changed American Cinema"  We enjoyed the way they organized the movies by their impact on the big screen and our culture.  How many have you seen?
 
Here is our summary version of the countdown:
15.  Toy Story (computer animation)
14.  16 Candles (teens playing teens)
13.  A Hard Day's Night (music video/Beatles)
12.  Jaws (musical score/scary/changed the movie calendar)
11.  Lilies Of The Field (Sidney Poitier/black actors)
10.  Godfather part 2 (sequels)
9.  I'm No Angel (Mae West/sex symbols/woman in charge of sex life)
8.  Easy Rider (indie films/Jack Nicholson/movie for a generation/rock n roll/drugs/challenged movie studios)
7.  Birth Of A Nation (first full feature length blockbuster/showed at White House/first film to make us feel things that were wrong)
6.  A Streetcar Named Desire (Marlon Brando/leading man/method acting/emotions while acting/first to win 3 out of 4 acting oscars)
5.  2001: A Space Odyssey (birth of a sci-Fi genre)
4.  Psycho (violence to a shocking new level/scary/reinvented horror/first toilet flush in a movie)
3.  Snow White And the Seven Dwarfs (started the animation craze/hundreds of artists and animators/changed view of animation)
2.  Gone With The Wind (epic love story/everything was big/changed how we view of romance in movies/won 10 academy awards/first black woman to win an Oscar)
1.  Star Wars (original stretch of the imagination/great characters/influence/1st movie to extend the movie experience beyond the theater/merchandise)

I have movies that helped shape me and my opinions in several stages of life.  Yes, cinema has shaped not only my culture, but some of MY thinking.

Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows both taught me about loyalty and love even when it comes to a pet.

Lion King showed me another angle of the love and redemption story offered in the Bible by Jesus.

The Goonies made me want to go on adventures... even dangerous ones.

The Cowboys with John Wayne taught me about death.  I remember crying and crying when he died just like he was a member of my family.  This quote from the movie speaks volumes, "Death can come for ya any place, any time. It's never welcomed. But if you've done all you can do, and it's your best, in a way I guess you're ready for it."  I also remember how mad my mom was at my dad for letting us watch that movie as she had to watch us morn John Wayne for days!

Steel Magnolias taught me about the importance of friendship!  Everyone needs someone like Clairee that will say, "I love ya more than my luggage!"

Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, The Help, The Butler, Braveheart, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Passion of the Christ all taught me things about history that I had read all about, but seeing it on the screen personalized it even more.  There are so many different profound lessons and emotions in all those movies.

Now that I've been forced into this world of cancer and raising young kids at the same time I have found myself more careful about the stories we watch on the big screen.  Until you are living with cancer or watching a loved one walk that, I think we miss some of those loud messages.  Sometimes the mom dying of cancer theme shows up in places you weren't expecting it.  For example, I was shocked when it was in Rise of the Guardians.  I mean I was expecting an action movie!  I blogged before about the movie God's Not Dead and its cancer story.  Read that one here!

Movies also trigger conversation that we need to have but haven't been able to articulate.  The timing of our family watching We Bought a Zoo was perfect.  Our emotions were all very raw but at the same time I needed a way to talk to Kirstyn about what she was feeling and how she was acting.  She was really struggling with walking a fine line of fear and anger while dealing with my grim diagnosis.  That movie and the boy's attitude toward his dad after loosing his mom helped us both be able to better articulate what she was feeling and correct how she was acting toward me.  It was emotional and raw around here, but after we worked trough much of that together and while clinging to each other and scripture we were able to watch it again and enjoy it a little more.


Then later, David and I rented Safe Haven.  We knew it was a movie that was designed to bring emotion out but we thought it was more about abuse.  When that movie ended I spent hours on the kitchen floor sobbing so hard I could barely breath.  It was a long time before he gathered himself so that he could sit in the floor with me and hold me tight.  I own that movie now and have re-watched it once....  I will again.  It motivates me to journal and write to the kids.

So, I'll ask again... Are you controlling your media?  More importantly what do you filter your media against?  For me, I want to make sure that what I am seeing and feeling is filtered against the Promises that God has made me in His Word.  Like they kept saying that the IF: Gathering I attended.  Even if I feel like a grasshopper facing giants, I want to be willing to step forward in faith knowing I am ultimately SAFE in Him.  What changes Fear to Faith is the position of God in my life.  In Numbers 13 and 14, Joshua and Caleb were saying the same thing as Benjamin in We Bought a Zoo, "insane courage will lead to something great"!  I want to continue to have faith bigger than my fears...  Sometimes God even uses movies to teach me.

I know this blog was all over the place but I want to hear from you too.  Tell me what movies have influenced you.... I might need to add it to my watch list!

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22 November 2014

Brain Cancer took...

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." ~Victor Frankl

Brain cancer took my quick wit, but forced me to look deep into myself and write things I couldn't speak.

Brain cancer took my ability to read novel after novel, but not my love of escaping into another person's thoughts, dreams, and trials.

Brain cancer took my stellar concentration and ability to remember all the small details, but not my love of learning.

Brain cancer took me into a fight that I was not interested in fighting, but not my determination to learn new lessons in the moment.

Brain cancer took everything and nothing all at once, but forced me to embrace changes in myself and my family that needed to be made.

Brain cancer took some of my long term dreams, but made me determined to focus more on the daily moments.

Brain cancer took my determination to do everything I could under my own power, but not the daily reminder that I need to be working under HIS power.

This list is not full of regret, but determination.  I want to use this awful trial to help others in their situations.  It might be as small as helping someone believe that they can complete an exercise class or as big as one day being given the opportunity to share my experiences with a large group.  Most importantly I want my kids to know the me that they aren't mature enough yet to understand.  I write here and I'm determined to journal privately for them.  I've been praying more for the opportunity for a larger platform... I'm just not sure what that looks like, I just know it's on my heart.  Pray with me and even help me find the right stage with a willing audience.  I think I have finally reached a place where I can believe that my most effective ministry can come out of my deepest hurts, but that can't happen until I'm willing to be more open and available.  "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

I have also decided that it is time for me to adventure back into books!  I saw a quote that said, "We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too." Even more convicting was when I read "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one."  There is really so much truth there. 

First my biggest excuse was that radiation stole my short term memory.  Reading novels became more work than fun because by the time I reached chapter 3, I had forgotten some of the details that I had read in the first two chapters.  The night of my seizure, I had read more than 200 pages of a novel that I get frustrated trying to finish because it was book 6 of a series and I can't remember any of them!  Since my brain surgery, I have read THREE books.  It is embarrassing to admit that in three years I have only read three books for myself.  Maybe I would feel better if I counted the Nancy Drew, Bernstein Bears, Veggie Tales... no, those are for the kids to learn this beautiful adventure into learning that is reading.  Two of the books that I read were other people's stories of challenges and were both very therapeutic for me, but not an opportunity to escape from my thoughts.

Second, all of the seizure medications make concentration incredibly difficult.  In the past if I was engrossed in a good book nothing could pull my attention from that paragraph.  Now I find myself in a constant joke of "squirrel!" when it takes almost nothing happening around me to change what I'm doing and thinking and even more frustrating cause me to go back and repeat the last several moments again as if never happened.  (If you don't get the squirrel joke, you need to watch the movie UP or this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxYYPziLdR4!)

More recently my health has become a battle with my eyes!  Apparently some of my mini seizures have forced the blood vessels in my eyes closer to the surface.  When I add that issue into the fact that I really enjoy weight lifting I've had to learn to live with burst blood vessels.  My right eye has had a few of these lately and I have had to make some adjustments in my exercise since I am not a fan of feeling like I have sand in the corner of my eye while that blood vessel heals. (I don't want to talk about the conversations I have with my oncologist and her nurses that always sound like "It is rare that anyone with what you have feels like doing that much")  Then for the past two weeks I have had a swollen left eye with unbelievable pressure.  After seeing my oncologist, an ophthalmologist, and my primary care physician it turns out I just have an ear infection and infection in the sinuses around that eye that made my eye bright red and full of pressure.  I have amazing vision and until the last few months never realized how exhausting a minor eye issue can be.

Reading gives me somewhere to escape when I've had all the reality I can endure that day (and have obviously already been to my Bible and the gym!).  While I do not enjoy change I am realizing that in order to get back to my love of books, I'm going to have to make some changes.  I think the time has come for me to give audio books a chance.

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." ~George Bernard Shaw

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09 August 2014

A Simple Knot

"The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask." ~ Rich Ridgeway.  Before I left for my trip with First Descents, my amazing dentist gave me a card with that quote in it.  I remember thinking... wow.  I hope that is really true for me on this trip.

When I applied to go on the First Descents trip, I just knew for sure that I needed to meet other young adults that were willing to live life in spite of cancer.  I needed to know that there were others that were not interested in just sitting on their couch angry about their circumstances.  Their promo video made me cry.  It made me realize that even though I keep trying, I'm not really living life like I was before the diagnosis.  I'm weak, needy, scared, confused, angry, frustrated, lonely, and desperate for a truly "normal" life!  Thankfully, I believe in a God that is real and he loves me even when my pride and overwhelming sense of entitlement get in the way!

I really had no idea how much this trip would help and impact me.  Just riding in the car from the airport looking at the amazing views in Montana and listening to the others talk about what their nicknames should be started to overwhelm me.  I've NEVER been anywhere alone... I've always been with a friend or family - an now, these people would not even know my real name - only a nickname!  I've also never had a nickname and didn't know how to create or pick one.  We drove up at the lodge and Chia, Yak, and Q all had their nicknames... I was just trying not to cry.  I felt so overwhelmed knowing I was about to be doing a whole lot of new stuff and was feeling a bit guilty for leaving my family behind to do this selfish trip for me.  After meeting with the doctor and nurse, my nickname evolved and I became known as "MoonShine".  Suddenly, I didn't have to be anyone for anybody.  I wasn't a wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, or friend - I wasn't even a cancer patient!  I was MoonShine and I was going to learn about kayaking along with a dozen others that had never tried this and we were getting to learn from some of the best in the world.  I was no longer putting the pressure on myself to chase normal for everyone around me!  I was overwhelmed with relief, yet again fighting tears, and nervous about having to be alone with my thoughts.

I have to admit that I was terrified by the whole adventure experience.  I wasn't scared of the water, of having to swim, or even of drowning (I actually had a scary experience during a swim in the rapids but that is another story!).  Turns out my issue was one of TRUST.  I had to trust others to flip my kayak back over when I managed to get myself upside down.  I had to trust that if I had a seizure that they could help me.  I had to trust that my slow learning and small failures and short term memory issues might be an inconvenience, but everyone had some kind of issues.  I just kept having to remind myself that I was kayaking with people that are experts at this sport.  Professionals that lots of people spend big money to work with out on the water and to continue to make this fun for me and minimize the risks, we also had a nurse and ER doctor kayaking right along beside us.  I could not have dreamed up a safer environment to take risks and learn to live life in spite of cancer!  "What could possibly go wrong?"  ~PK

In our off the river time, I really enjoyed hearing every one's stories.  We talked privately about diagnosis and how the cancer was found, about how it changed the people around us, about how treatment was different for everyone... many of us agreed radiation was worse than chemo.  I learned about other resources for young adults with cancer.  I decided I want to find a way to be more involved.  I need to make sure that one less person feels alone in this diagnosis.  We spent lots of time laughing at some really stupid things... have you read the directions on the toothpick box lately? 

I also spent LOTS of time in the kitchen watching our amazing chefs work.  Feast your eyes on just a few of the amazing meals they fed us.  Everything was made with fresh, local, and organic ingredients!  Just in case you have time to plan your last meal in this life, I am facebook friends with these kitchen superheros!

 

When I tried to fall asleep at night, my thoughts would stream through all of the 'what ifs'.  What if I can't maintain this happy normal life I have so desperately worked to rebuild for my family.  What if I invest time and money in learning something new that I won't get the chance to use?  What if I have to smash my safe little box where I have so carefully placed us.  What if it is really okay for me to have fun and not take everything so seriously while going over all of the worst case scenarios. 

I am forever thankful for my week as MoonShine.  I was able to realize that since being diagnosed with cancer that I have been so incredibly busy being normal for everyone that I have managed to forget that I'm important too.  I don't have to stop dreaming so that I can be realistic and cautious so that everyone around me can continue to dream.  I will dream too and I have a new village of friends that also hate cancer and love life!  My new FD family reminded me that we should all challenge ourselves and continue to dream. 

Stitch, I will sign up for a random class to teach me something new!  Yak, I will laugh more.  Cookie and Cowboy, I will look into StupidCancer.org and hopefully see yall there.  Choppa and Skillet, I will read more warning labels, laugh hysterically, and wonder if yall have called the 1800 number to find out what to do with your used toothpick.  BlakeFish, I will play more card games.  Habibi, I will try a new fitness class.  Starfish, I will be more consistent (maybe!) with my blog.  Doodles, I will be a better listener like you.  DJ Rob, I'm going to have a dance party with my kids in my living room!  Papa T, I'm going to appreciate my family, our Texas sun, and avoid COLD water.  Cheerio, I will find new sports to challenge me and keep trying when I fail.



I will write a bucket list.
I will try to silence the negative what ifs by replacing them with new adventures!
I will look at the string on my left arm and remember that I have more support than I can comprehend.  I will let it remind me that MoonShine has to stop being so cautious and be willing to try new things that might lead to failure, adventure, lots of laughs, and more!

I will choose to live today as a child of the King.  I am loved, my eternity is secure, so I can dream.  I will dream!  Psm 63:4 says, I will praise you as long as I live.

"When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

FD staff and volunteers, thanks for throwing me a rope with a knot already tied!!!

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01 June 2014

3 years

3 years.  I cannot believe that it has been 3 years since the seizure that changed everything.  It is amazing to me, looking back on our life these last 36 months, how God has strengthened us, humbled us, and changed us.  Yet at the same time, there are instances where we I try to get through things on our my own.  Which can sometimes (OK...100% of the time) lead to mistakes, heartache, hurt, and stress.  We are human, we are messed up.

But most importantly...we are loved!  After all I have done in my life, my Savior loves me.  ME.  And he loves my wife.  My kids.  Our families.  Our friends.  And sure we could be bitter and spiteful because Natalie has cancer.  I know plenty in life who are.  But that is not what we are called to do, to be.  We are called to be "MORE THAN CONQUERORS!  (Romans 8:37).  To be different.  And I am not perfect at doing this.  In fact, far from it.  It is hard.  But the great thing is God takes the weak and makes them strong.  He takes the small and lets them face giants.  And win.  I take comfort in the fact that God has surrounded us with prayer warriors.  And he surrounds us with his presence on a daily basis.

So as I look back on the 3 years since the start of our new life, I thank God every day for Natalie, and for giving her the strength to move forward and to fight, even when she didn't/doesn't feel like it.  For being there for our kiddos.  I can't imagine my life without her, and I am amazed everyday by her fight.  She is absolutely incredible.  And I wish I told her that more often.

Also, I want to say thank you to our friends and family for your prayers and support.

To the organizations we have found since the diagnosis, thank you! 
Brain Power 5K and the Run for the Rose for allowing us take part in your fund raisers and be encouraged when surrounded by other survivors with their support systems.
Gregg Pearson Foundation for your friendship and spiritual support team.
Also the newest organization First Descents that will take Natalie for a week long adventure trip this July and help her remember to live life beyond the diagnosis.

But most importantly, I want to say thank you Jesus, for standing by us, and protecting us.  For lighting the dark path, and leading us to where we are today.  May we never stray from this path.

God meets us where we are, and when bad things happen, can help bring us out of despair.  Pain and hurt will still happen, but there can still be joy in the midst of pain.  Though we are fighting cancer, we are truly blessed and thankful.

Remember...Grey Matters.

~  David

16 April 2014

Keep watch with me.

If this blog is the only way you are following our family, my cancer story, and getting prayer requests, then I'm sorry that I am not updating.  I value your prayers and comments but you should probably send me a friend request on Facebook.  I have had so much that I wanted to sit down and post but other things take priority and then it always seems outdated to go back and post it.  For example, at this point I can guarantee that I won't be posting a 2013 year in review Christmas letter.  Maybe I should start on this years in order to finish it by December!  *This post is about as raw and real as I get.  I will probably sleep great tonight now that I've shared so please don't let this cause you to miss getting your rest!  Thank you for your prayers and for allowing God to use you in my life when I needed you most. 

If you are taking the time to read this, then I want to ask you, "Will you keep watch with me?"

Each time I read the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, He teaches me something new.  This year so much has touched me, but the main theme beyond His sacrifice and defeat of death has been the people in Jesus' life.  His family and friends that had to deal with his death.  I know they wanted more time with him on earth.  When Jesus knew His death was approaching, He went to spend time alone in prayer, but first he said to his closest friends, "Sit here while I go over there and pray.  My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me."  (Matthew 26:36-38)

Overall I have been well, but this week has been hard.  This time last week a blood vessel burst in my right eye.  My brain tumor is on the right side so my imagination is amazing when it comes to all the horrible things that could be going on inside my skull.  Also, this burst blood vessel is like having an eyelash stuck in your eye for a solid week.  Reading, writing, driving, watching tv, and even rolling my eyes seems more difficult than it should be and when all that is put together into a regular day I am exhausted just trying to be normal.  Don't forget that my imagination is still working overtime so even with much prayer I have not had enough rest.  I am exhausted.  I know that none of life is easy and I try to be hesitant to complain or even post prayer requests (just trust me that I do filter LOTS), because I can simply look around me and am reminded that I should just be grateful.  I can take the time and pray for children dealing with the same cancer as me and that puts everything back into perspective.  Keep watch with me.

As I consider worst case scenarios, it makes me be more productive when it comes to the journals I am working on for Kirstyn and James, but at the same time some very real loneliness is amplified in my life.  I have lots of days that I want to share my fears, but don't want to burden anyone.  I have lots of friends, but no one really close.  (Maybe some of the close friendships I see around me aren't any closer than people are to me, but just appear that way?)  I know that is mostly my fault, but sometimes I long for someone close that just gets me.  I have noticed that as I need people, God just puts them into my life for the first time or back into my life after years apart in different seasons of life.  I can go back and list a need and see the person God put there to meet that need.  Even last week when I mentioned being worried the tumor caused this blood vessel in my eye to a friend, she mentioned to me that she has the same fears creep up when she gets a headache.  She even said when she mentions it to others they just don't get it and she's assured she is overreacting.  Again, it seemed silly how alone I had been feeling because I'm not alone in those fears and God put her there for me to hear that.  She was just in time to keep watch with me.

I follow several brain cancer research sites and I read a statistic a few weeks ago that I have read before, but it hit me harder (everything is louder when I'm exhausted... I know):  Only 30% of people diagnosed with brain cancer live more than 5 years past diagnosis.  I am almost to 3 years.  Basic math tells me that the odds are not in my favor.  A 70% chance that I have less than 800 days to teach my babies and love my family.  Yes, I really do think like this (I used to like statistics!!!), but I don't dwell on it... I have laundry to do, dinner to cook, kids to taxi, and even a blog to write (ha!).  When I mention things like this, the people around me usually reassure me and we move on... I guess sometimes I just wish someone would panic with me.  It isn't always easy to just be reassured and move on with day to day things.  In the Bible studies I have been doing, I have been reminded that my eternal life started the day that I asked Jesus to be my Lord and I should live like that.  Psalm 118:17 says, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done."  Keep watch with me.

I went to the movies this week with another good friend of mine and we saw 'God's Not Dead'.  We thought it would be a good faith building "break" from our day to day stresses.  (We were wrong... God has a sense of humor.)  If you haven't seen it yet, you should go.  There were many people in the movie dealing with difficult relationships, aging parents, and even cancer, but my biggest and most real fear was the main character of the movie.  The man that wanted to push his belief that there was no God was raised in a Christian home but had become that person because of what he had experienced as a child.  He had watched his mother die from cancer when he was only 12.  He refused to believe that even with all of his prayers of pleas for her life that a good God could ignore him and kill her with such an awful cancer death.  I found myself wondering, if his mom believed so strongly in God and her son knew that, then where were her friends after she died to tell those faith stories to her doubting and angry son.  I wonder who will pull my babies out of that pit of bitterness and hate if they fall in when they have to watch this brain cancer kill me.  Keep watch with me.

When I am lonely, I know this:  Jesus was far lonelier than I will ever be and endured it so that we could know Him.  In Matthew 26:36-38, Jesus reached out to his closest friends to keep watch and pray for him but they too were tired.  They were also confused and probably didn't understand just how little time they had left with him...  I like that he wasn't aggressive or needy or dramatic.  Jesus just simply said to his closest friends, "Stay here and keep watch with me."

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10 May 2013

Lifting Weights


I don't want to bound or limited by my diagnosis of brain cancer.  I don't want to make major decisions based on whether or not the remaining tumor could cause another life altering seizure or worse.  I want to trust that my God has amazing plans for me and my family.  I want to raise awareness and see more compassion, funding, and sensitivity toward people just like me.  I've had people question if I really did endure 18 months of chemo... Lots of ignorant statements like, "But you still have your hair" and "everyone that does chemo has their hair fall out" and "you don't act like you have cancer".  Really?  Have cancer patients really been placed into such a small box.  Why do I feel like the powers that be built that box.  Sometimes I find myself jealous of the fact that on any given day you can walk into target and purchase a pink ribbon tshirt. 

*** UPDATE FOR CLARIFICATION 12 May 2013***
The more I review my blog post in my head I feel like I should clarify some of my thoughts. Yes, I actually do spend time reviewing my thoughts, words, and writings each day as I'm trying to go to sleep.  I've always had an amazing memory for being able to quote what I've read word for word even days later.  I can't do that any more, but I can remember most of what I write and I do judge myself rather harshly sometimes.  This time I am relived to be clarifying myself. 

I am so very thankful that breast cancer awareness is everywhere. When a cure is found thanks to all the funding and research I pray that some of that knowledge will translate to other cancers like leukemia that took my grandmother or pancreatic cancer that took a friend and especially pediatric cancers that take too many dear children way too early. I lost a dear friend to that terrible disease of breast cancer and I pray for her 3 daughters all of the time. I have two shirts that I bought because of her that I wear from time to time to be reminded that life is short and she made the most of it. I also have a close friend that was a bridesmaid in my wedding that lost her daddy to breast cancer. And even today as I type this I have an aunt and a great aunt on my dad's side of the family that are fighting breast cancer and yet another encourager in my life that is currently in remission from this horrible beast. David has a t-shirt that says "Save Second Base" that he wears all the time just to watch teenage boys react. We bought that in support of a friend walking in the SGK 3 Day probably 10 years ago before that disease had ever even touched our friends or our family.

All of that to say, if I'm still being honest, I feel guilty admitting these feelings of jealousy and fear that more awareness and funding is not being put into brain cancer. Brain cancer is a terrifying illness that most patients would just like to survive long enough to die from something else (especially me... I don't want my mind to go before my body because I don't want my family to have to endure that!). Did you know that this year alone 70,000 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with a brain tumor? There are already over 120 different types of brain tumors identified. Right now only 32% of brain cancer patients make is past the 5 year mark from diagnosis. And sadly or maybe thankfully, due to lack of funding, brain tumor "facts" will change as more funds are raised and more is learned.
*** THANKS FOR READING THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM ME ***

With that all said, May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month.  Please help me make the Grey Awareness Ribbon more recognized!  This is my current facebook cover photo.


While I'm talking decision making that has to revolve around my cancerous tumor I will tell you that David and I would really love to visit Haiti with my church on a mission trip in October.  We need to make the final decision very soon so that we can pay money toward the trip.  My next MRI is next Tuesday, May 14.  We meet with my oncologist later that day for the results (please read my last few blog posts).  More to come on why Haiti very soon.  James' is planning to collect Spoons for Haiti from his friends for his 6th birthday party and we are excited to see our little boy make a big difference.

So, who wants to help me raise awareness for brain cancer AND help pay a few of my medical bills so that we can pay for the mission trip IF when we get the okay from my oncologist.  Thanks to my awesome friend Eric over at TheShirtPrinter we have a new grey ribbon design available to print!  The best part is that you have lots of choices and all prices are a suggested minimum donation!

$20 - Regular Gildan Brand Tshirt in just about any color you would think to reguest (Kirstyn picked bright orange)

$23 - Dry Fit Heather Women's fit (I'm wearing a red one) or Men's Fit - these are 100% poly so have a silky feel and make a great work out tshirt!  There is a bit of a sheer to them too.

$12 - Just in need of a great draw string gym bag in a variety of colors.... we have that option too!  I can't wait to get my hands on one for me to use every single day.

Please email me, message me on facebook, or text me with your order and we can discuss money details.  I can even take paypal donations.  To save on printing costs we want to try and only do one run so I want to keep orders open for a couple of weeks. 

This design really means lots to me and I hope it inspires you too.  Who knows, maybe someone will ask you what the grey ribbon stands for and you can be the one that raises brain cancer awareness!


"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10




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27 February 2013

Scanxiety

Well, I have to say that timing is everything and with God it is Perfect.  At church our pastor has been preaching a series on Fear.  I've learned that there are two kinds of fear.  One kind of fear is described as Awe or Reverence.  The other kind of fear is one of apprehension, doubt, and dread.    During this study the verse Isaiah 41:10 has been used several times.  "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  I just keep thinking that I need to design a shirt to wear to the gym that says something like 'My God Lifts Weights' and reference that verse and put a barbell on there too.  Anyone else want one too if I design it and get my awesome friend at TheShirtPrinter to make it real?!?!

Anyway, yesterday was my Baseline MRI that I talked about in my last blog.  This morning we went to visit with my oncologist about all the details of "what's next".  I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't anxious about the results of the scan and about the unknown.  No matter the results or my oncologist's planning, the bottom line really is that I have to learn to trust the unknown to a known God.

Yesterday, right after my scan a friend sent me a text with her devotional from 'Jesus Calling' by Sarah Young and it was perfect for me to hear!
I am leading you, step by step, through your life.  Hold My hand in trusting dependence, letting Me guide you through this day.  Your future looks uncertain and feels flimsy -- even precarious.  That is how it should be.  Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things.  When you try to figure out the future, you are grasping at things that are Mine.  This, like all forms of worry, is an act of rebellion:  doubting My promises to care for you. 
Whenever you find yourself worrying about the future, repent and return to Me.  I will show you the next step forward and the one after that, and the one after that.  Relax and enjoy the journey in My Presence, trusting Me to open up the way before you as you go.
So, the question I am having to learn to ask myself daily is will I choose one of the natural responses of fight, flight, or freeze OR will I choose a Supernatural response based on Faith?  Honestly, I think the answer is all of the above.  I have been fighting with everything I have since my diagnosis.  They put chemo wafers in my brain during my surgery in June 2011, I then accepted the challenge of 6 weeks straight of chemo and radiation.  Then, 3 weeks later I agreed to a new chemo regimen where we quadrupled my chemo dose and I have taken that dose 5 days every 28 days for the past 18 months! 

Simply, based on today's oncologist visit.  My tumor is under control for now and has even shrunk some since the start of chemo 18 months ago.  Now the biggest challenge I am faced with is the eliminating of all of the drugs that I take regularly that are no longer a necessity now that I don't have to be on chemo. My favorite news is that I don't have to make weekly blood work appointments anymore.  So, bye bye to all of my nausea drugs, sleep aids, and pain medications.  The chemo that I have been taking basically since June 2011 listed the following as the first four major side effects:  nausea, back pain, weight gain, and sleeplessness.  Trust me when I say that there is a reason why many people have to attend an inpatient rehab facility to come off of some of these drugs!  I have been cutting back the past few months very slowly and I have still had some crazy dreams, night sweats, and major mood swings.  This will not be easy but I know how to cut back slowly and I have a detailed plan.  I will continue to take the massive doses of seizure medication (probably for the rest of my life).  That one causes drowsiness so I won't be giving up my coffee or spark any time soon!!!

I really want to drop some of this weight that I gained while in the hospital and at the beginning of this cancer mess when I was having to take massive doses of steroids.  Getting off of many of these drugs will help that process but I really do need some sleep...good sleep in order to make this weening process easier on my body and my mind!

Now, I really have to let go of this fight.  I'm such a planner and in spite of how incredibly hard all of this has been on me physically and mentally, I can honestly say that my faith has matured.  I would be lying if I said that fear is not a factor since now that my 'fight cancer' plan is more of a 'wait and see' what happens next with the tumor waiting game while continuing normal day to day activity in our home.  Nothing for me to power through except my own thoughts and even then I need to turn that conversation with myself into a conversation with Him.  Please be praying that I will continue to choose faith in spite of my natural responses!  "... we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope."  Rom 5:3-4


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29 January 2013

Not Cool Robert Frost

So yesterday I had an oncologist visit.  Then yesterday afternoon I was in a processing, thinking, stressed, frustrated, trying not to cry in front of my kids kind of mood (you know what I mean, right?!?!)  Well, anyway, I was just trying to focus on something, anything other than my situation and so I checked facebook and several of my friends had posted this video saying "watch this if you need a pep talk!"  So, go ahead, watch it!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-gQLqv9f4o  It is too cute and my favorite part is at the very end where he dedicates his video to his friend Gabbi that is "Fighting Cancer like a BOSS!"  I love it.  If you didn't watch his video then you won't get the title of this blog either!  So, go watch, I'll wait...

Anyway, back to that oncologist visit.  I know this isn't new news but for some reason it just hit me yesterday... HARD. 

First, I went to my appointment alone.  I know I know, I have lots of people that would go with me, but it wasn't an MRI appointment.  Just blood work (and I do that every single Monday so that's routine for me) and a visit with the doctor about my month and what's the plan for next month.  Oh and what I call sobriety testing... really they are checking on my brain and reflexes but if you were looking through the window while I walk up and down the hall and touch my nose and repeat a list of words (yesterday's were: frog, bicycle, and apple) and spell words like train forward and backward then you would be wondering if they were checking to see if I had enjoyed too much fermented fruit for breakfast!

Then we went over the plan.  Start my 18th and LAST (for now) round of Chemo on Monday (Feb 4).  Then schedule an MRI with Profusion (the long one hour, 2 hours from start to finish MRI) for our new Baseline.  Um, okay... that's when I started asking more questions (questions David and my sister Neida had asked 18 months ago and I listened but hadn't really heard).  New Baseline.  *sinking in*... So can we expect it to shrink or die anymore or lessen blood flow to the cancer any more.  NO.  Right now we are believing that the Chemo and radiation has done all it can to fight my cancer and continuing it right now puts me under too many new risks (like building a resistance to chemo and putting me at risk for other cancers... fabulous).  So I said, ok, baseline for what...  Finally she put it in Direct easy for Natalie to understand terms.  "We have to have a baseline because the tumor WILL grow and come back, we just don't know when.  This will allow us to closely monitor it so that we will know what we are dealing with WHEN that happens."  (To be clear for those of you that just decided to panic for me... this could be in 3 months, 3 years, or prayerfully 30 years.  Either way, LOTS more awareness and funding and research needs to be directed toward Brain Cancer!)  And starting out I will be getting an MRI every three months and then eventually stretching it out for longer periods of time as long as no new symptoms appear.  I will stay on my massive doses of seizure medicine since much of the tumor is still in there pressing on important parts of my brain.

Okay, so there I am, proven to be sober and with a pretty cooperative brain and face to face with my reality.  Time to do the blood work and schedule my Baseline MRI and next appointment.  Well scheduling was a nightmare... everything was booked so we are having to split my MRI and oncologist visit over two days.  MRI Feb 26 and Oncologist Feb 27 (David will go with me for both some way some how even with the end of the month being his busiest in car sales and we will work out childcare/taxi services for Kirstyn and James).  While Marsha and Betty (my oncologists' awesome front desk ladies) were on the phone trying to work out a MRI and appointment time for me, I picked up a book that a patient had left behind and started reading.  It's called "There's No Place Like HOPE.  A guide to beating cancer in mind-sized bites" by Vickie Girard.  (I'm currently looking for a copy for me so please message me if you see one... I wasn't able to find an ebook version.)  There are little quotes all in there divided into chapters.  The first one I read was about Nighttime (note: I'm exhausted because I never sleep good before a doc appt).  One of the quotes said, "I'm fighting so hard to live, why do I yearn so deeply for the sweet nothing of sleep?"  Another chapter was Well Meaning Comments... my sarcastic sense of humor was reading these and laughing out loud... I've thought so many of these while just smiling at well meaning people... one was something like:  We all die from something, I could walk outside right now and be hit by a car.  Uh huh, let's level the playing field and you put on a blindfold and stroll on the freeway and I'll take my cancer and cross the street.

Let's just say I needed to know that other people have thoughts like that.  Not that they are good but they are REAL.  I've done nothing but try to be real.  I'm still trying... and I have to agree with the kid in the video, Not Cool Robert Frost, Not Cool!

In other news I've worked out extra hard in the past two days (it's my preferred method of stress relief) and I'm going to be sore.  Today a friend shared a saying that I posted last summer...  I needed the reminder!

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."  Psm 55:22

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

(If you are reading... please comment so that I know who you are.  I know many of my friends visit here because of David and I on facebook, but I also know that there are several others that only use this blog to check on me.  If that is you, please comment so that I can be encouraged to keep posting.)

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09 January 2013

Merry Christmas 2012 (at least it's not Easter yet!)


So when David and I got married, I really wanted to make sure that I took the time to write a Christmas update letter each and every year.  Guess I had a misconception that it wasn’t a big deal and I would be able to always follow through with my plan.  I know I wrote my last long update letter in 2008 and then in 2009, I put together a Christmas postcard with a brief update to save on postage.  But, in 2010 we made the difficult decision to sale our Farmers Insurance Agency to David’s mom and he was officially unemployed and looking for work in a tough economy.  And since postage, Christmas cards and a fun letter wasn’t a necessity I wallowed in my bad mood and opted out of one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  In January 2011, David started a new job at Sewell as a Service Manager with their Fort Worth Lexus Dealership and was really enjoying his new career.  In June 2011, I was diagnosed with a malignant brain cancer – Oligoastrocytoma.  Before even having time to process this devastating diagnosis, I began an aggressive treatment schedule of both radiation and chemo!  The seizures that I had in my sleep that required David to do CPR, and that ultimately lead to that terrifying cancer discovery, forced me to be without a driver’s license for 6 months.  Kirstyn had to attend before- and after-school daycare and James was able to continue to attend his private pre-school.  We had lots of amazing friends that stepped up and helped with transporting all 3 of us while David was working.  When the medical hold on my driving was lifted in mid December 2011, I had people to see, kids to entertain, and tons of errands to run, but no time (or the correct frame of mind) to sit down and write a Merry Christmas letter!  Oh – and in December of last year David transferred within Sewell to work as a Sales Associate at their new Fort Worth Infiniti dealership.

So, here I am at the end of 2012 (NOW, beginning of 2013!  Maybe I will get this out before I need to label it Happy Easter!).  I have a new appreciation of each and every day.  We are being more proactive in teaching our children that ‘stuff’ is not what is important and that life isn’t ever going to be fair, but we serve a God that loves us in spite of us.  I love quotes and I think the one that fits our family this year is by the character Thomas Hunter in Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, “Most men and women will yield to the seas of ruin.  Only the strongest in mind and spirit will swim against that current.”  We are trying very hard to make that a practical and daily process.  For Christmas this year our kids asked us to participate with our church in making an eternal impact in Haiti.  We are sponsoring a 7 year old boy named Woodley through New Missions.  We have his picture on our mantle and we are praying that he will grow into a man of God that will one day be a leader in the Church that our home church is partnering to build in the coming years.

For James’ 5th Birthday in May he asked all of his friends to not bring him presents but to instead bring hats for him to donate to kids with cancer.  Since he rarely takes off his own hat, he thought it was a great idea to make sure all kids, especially ones that might loose their hair, have a special hat!  We also spent much time in the spring praying about whether or not to do another year of pre-k classes or allow him to start kindergarten as one of the youngest in his class.  We decided it would be best for all of us if he returned to his pre-k at Fielder Road Baptist Church.  We did decide to switch him from 2 days a week to their 3 day per week program so he could go more, and that schedule worked better with my monthly oncologist visits and weekly blood work appointments.  He has really grown and matured this year.  He is starting to read and is so very curious about everything.  His absolute favorite thing to do is play Mario games and read Nintendo magazines and websites to learn about more secrets in the Mario games.  I am constantly amazed by how fast he memorizes the tiny details in each game he masters.

Kirstyn began 3rd grade this fall.  She has fallen in love with Hula Hooping and can do some amazing tricks.  She also loves doing zumba and dancing and singing.  Sometimes she is able to combine all 4 of these activities into one!  She played volleyball through the YMCA this fall and really enjoyed it (great news since she is so tall and competitive… just have to work on the aggressive part a little.  Guess she will always be our princess.)  She also started taking piano lessons and has progressed like crazy.  Her teacher believes she is already ready to compete so we will be trying that out this spring.  For her 9th Birthday in November she asked her friends to come to her party and bring donations for the backpack food pantry at our church instead of presents.   This was her second year to donate to this ministry but this year we were able to go bigger by combining her party with her friend Thomas that is in both her class at school and church.  They collected 999 individual food items totaling over 260 pounds!  We made a short video testimonial for our Thanksgiving service at church that can be viewed here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY38R2tFmdY

We stayed very busy this past summer.  In June, my mom and I took the kids on a road trip to TN to visit family.  We also went on our yearly vacation to Port Aransas where we spent a week with some of my dad’s family and mostly just relaxing and playing on the beach!  I was excited to get to actually swim in the ocean, something I look forward to every year!  (Vacation 2011, I still had staples in my skull and wasn’t allowed in the water.  Also, surgical staples can get very HOT in the summer Texas sun!)  The kids attended several day camps too.  Their favorite is Camp Thurman where they play outside and learn so much about Jesus.  Every afternoon they get in the car looking like the counselors dipped them in the lake and then drug them through the dirt all the way to the car but they are excited about scriptures they have learned, fears they have concurred, and friends they have made.

As far as my medical details go, I have had several stable MRI’s showing that the tumor that remains in my brain is not changing.  My most recent MRI was on Dec 31, 2012 so we ended the year with good news.  I will start Round 17 of Chemo pills on January 7th.  The current plan is to stop chemo after 18 rounds rather than the originally planned 24 rounds.  We don’t know all the details yet but we do know that we will continue to monitor my cancer with regular blood work and MRI’s and I will continue to take massive doses of seizure medication.  Most importantly we covet your continued prayers for all of us to be at peace with His will as we continue to make the most of each and every day that God allows us to have together. 

"Because she loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call on me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16 NIV)

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29 September 2012

If it doesn't Challenge you, It won't Change you!

I'm not as smart as I used to be... I don't learn as fast as I used to... I don't multitask well anymore... I have trouble hearing the changes in the music... I have a high risk of seizures under stress... I'm no where near in peak condition, I'm not sure I'll ever be as strong as I was... I have soooooo many excuses and reasons not to keep trying to teach Body Pump, but I still LOVE the program and how it helped me to believe in myself and set aside the excuses I used to use.  BUT...

This battle of mine is NOT a Journey!  So many people refer to some one's battle with cancer as a Journey.  I think a journey is something that you want to do, something that will be a fun and maybe even a challenging experience.  Like college kids backpack around Europe and call that a journey of a lifetime.  Experienced climbers call making it to a peak, a worthwhile journey to the summit.  Yet, in the Old Testament, Genesis 22 when Abraham was tested by God and told to climb a mountain to sacrifice his only son, do you think he would have for even a second called any part of the climb a journey?  No.  It was a test... a trial, one that no one wants to ever face.  In the Old Testament, "trial" is a noun from the Hebrew word sara that probably means "bind, tie up, restrict".  So a trial in that case is a time in life when one is bound or restricted.  Yeah, my battle with cancer is no Journey, it's a TRIAL.  But I can tell you this, my God is not threatened by my doubt nearly as much as He is glorified by my faith.  So, knowing that I just keep praying Mark 9:24, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."

I feel like it is VERY fitting that when I finally got brave enough to try to learn a new Body Pump release (I haven't even opened the last 4) that one of the instructors on the master DVD made the statement, "If it doesn't challenge you, then it won't change you."  Has being diagnosed with cancer challenged me? Yes and more importantly, it has changed me.  Sometimes I want to focus on all those negative changes in me that I listed instead of viewing them as challenges that have caused much personal grief and growth.  Some of these changes have been for the better... I'm more determined to life life intentionally.  I want to build strong relationships.  I want to seek God for my strength.  I don't grieve the time that passes as my children grow up and they change, I'm so very thankful to be witnessing and influencing them!  I've heard people say, I don't want to turn 40... I just keep praying that I will get to see 40.  God may not heal me on the terms that we selfishly and persistently pray for, but I will let him use me no matter what. 

I finally have a real reason to learn this release too because one of the morning instructors has a broken finger and asked me if I would like to team teach the new release with her next week.  I'm so excited to have some real motivation to move past all of those excuses and learn a new release with new music and new choreography!  Am I having to work harder to learn everything than I ever had to before?  Yes... but now I realize challenges aren't limits... they are opportunities to see positive changes in myself!

Body Pump 83 has my new favorite Bicep song, "Stronger [What Doesn't Kill You]" by Kelly Clarkson.  Today at launch I was just there as a participant and much to my surprise the other instructors invited me to the stage for this song.  Of the 70+ participants in that class today, only a small handful even know I am in this trial called brain cancer.  Most of them also don't even know that I'm a certified instructor.  But today, I "stood a little bit taller because" I really believe "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"

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For those of you trying to keep up with my health details: 
I have an oncologist checkup with extensive bloodwork on Oct 2nd; Chemo Round 14 (of 18) starts on October 7th;  an ultrasound of my uterus on Oct 11th (chemo has my hormones confused so this is just a precaution because my periods have changed and I'm dealing with anemia); Next MRI followed by Oncologist visit on October 30th; Chemo Round 15 on November 4th.  I do weekly bloodwork and am also seeing a Physical Therapist to help with some balance issues and left side weakness that have been frustrating me.  It would be so nice to just wake up one morning and not have to think about cancer and doctors and bloodwork and all the expesnses associated with all of this.  Some days just keeping up with my household chores, all these specialist appointments, and taxi-ing the kids to and from school is daunting and I appreciate your prayers.  Lately for some reason, Wednesday evenings have been very hard on me... physically and emotionally, so if you think about me will you please pray for me. 

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24 June 2012

Moments of Impact

"I have a theory...my theory is about moments, moments of impact. My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity that completely turn our lives upside down actually end up defining who we are." - quote by Leo from the movie, The Vow

I sat and watched The Vow with my wife (of course, the sweetheart fell asleep 1/2 way through) and all I could do was sit and cry.  I thought about the moments I spent with her these last 13 years, 7 months, and 24 days.  Some up, some down, some that have changed our lives forever.  But moments that will forever bind us together, define who we are not only as a couple, but individually.  I am not perfect.  I have made my fair share of mistakes.  But there is nothing in this world that I would not do to have my wife beside me.  To hold her close and feel the warmth that radiates from her.  And these last 4986 days have been, by far, the best of my life.  And I would not change that for the world.

I have not handled this journey well, at times.  Not at all.  There are things I am still trying to figure out.  Things that I wish would come easy, things I wish I could change.  But these moments, even the ones I mess up on, can only (eventually) make things stronger.  But what I have to focus on are the things that I can change daily, moment by moment, that can make me a better man.  A better father.  A better husband.  Most days I wake up and go to work, and I completely miss the point.  The point of this incredible life God has blessed me with.  All to often, we go about life and take for granted the lives we touch on a daily basis - heck, even our own life right in front of us!  And I for one, am saddened by my misfortune.

Another line that Leo says in the movie is actually his vows - "I vow to love you now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is once in a lifetime love. I vow to love you and no matter what challenges may carry us apart, we will always find a way back to each other."

I don't want to give up, give in, take the easy road.  Why would I want to do that?  Did Jesus take the easy way out?  Did John the Baptist or any of the other disciples for that matter take the easy way out?  So, honestly, what gives me the right to take the easy road?  Challenges come.  But fighting is harder.  Staying the course is harder.  Taking the road less traveled is harder.

I want to live my life in such a wife that my wife will fall in love with me all over again.  That is my goal for the next 5,000 days - to make the next 5,000 days even better than the last 5,000 days.  Because if I can do that, if I can live my life in such a way that the love of my life will fall MORE in love with me, than I have fulfilled my purpose in life.  And isn't that what we are all striving to do?

The next 5,000 days are going to be the best days I have ever known, for as Robert Frost once said, "two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

Natalie's diagnosis is just a moment in a sea of moments, and I will not let that define us. Our moments range from our first childhood memory, to learning about and believing in Christ, to knowing each other, to falling in love with each other.  What does the rest of our history hold?  Dying?  What about the pieces in between love and death?  A tombstone has your birth year, a dash, and the year you die.  What matters is the dash.  And the sum of all of our moments make up that dash.  The sum of all of the moments of our lives...that is what counts.

David  ~

07 June 2012

May-tastic

Looking back on May, I think I can honestly say it was a fantastic month for our family.  We were able to spend time together and make some fun memories. 

Since May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month I thought I would start with an update about my brain and the tumors attacking it! 
I watched "We Bought a Zoo" with the kids.  It was very therapeutic for all 3 of us and Kirstyn is really thinking about why she has been so mean to me lately.  She seems jealous of David's time w me and his long hours at work, she just struggles to articulate the pain and fear in kindness and she's not alone in that!  Please continue to pray for my babies and us as we continue to process my cancer diagnosis!  David watched it that night when he got home from work and said he sobbed through the entire movie.  Again, I was reminded I should read more reviews and summaries before I just rent a movie to "entertain" us.

I had an MRI with contrast (that's the shorter less detailed MRI) and it showed no new tumor growth.  That is good news since what I have is expected to grow.  What my doctor explained is that since an MRI doesn't show cellular level we can't know if the cells are not dividing anymore or are just dividing much slower now.  Either way, no new evidence of new tumor growth is good news.  Hopefully the chemo will continue to shut down the blood supply to the tumor and stop the growth and then start killing it so that we can see a decrease in tumor size!  I also completed round 9 of chemo in May.  My next doctor appointment is on June 12 and I'm scheduled for round 10 of chemo to start on June 17.  My next MRI with profusion (long one with more detail) is scheduled for July 5th.  Of course all of these appointments and chemo start dates are contingent on my weekly blood work. 

The first big event in May was Mother's Day.  This year we didn't go to Arkansas like we usually do because David was working Saturday and Monday so I didn't want to make the trip alone with the kids.  We did however get to go to lunch and sit on the patio at my favorite place... Joe T Garcia's with David's mom and dad.  It was a very nice relaxing day together.
Seems like most of our BIG activities all happened during the last two weeks of May that I will from this point forward refer to as "The 2 Week Mommy Marathon"!  We had James' last week of pre-school, James' 5th Birthday (the actual one), James' 5th Birthday Party (he asked if he was 6 that day...), Memorial Day Weekend (which in the car business means David works NON STOP), Kirstyn's last week of school including 2nd Grade Awards Ceremony and End of Year Party.  Whew!  At least David and I managed to work in a date night too!

On James' actual Birthday we went as a family to Chuck E Cheese to play games.  We had a great time but the definite highlight of his Birthday was getting to take his picture with the Mario on the side of the road on the way home!  He was standing there waving at the cars because a new video game store was having a grand opening.  James started screaming... look its Mario, a big one!  I've never met a REAL Mario.  So fun that it really is the little things that kids just love! He is still talking about getting to meet Mario the very first day he was there.  We are still slowing down to wave at him on a very regular basis.  Poor Mario, it's been rather hot here already!

For James' birthday party we had a fun swimming party at the YMCA indoor pool.  The theme this year was "Where's My Water" after the iTunes game that he loves to play.  Since Disney hasn't released any products to go with the game other than the tshirt I was able to buy for him, I decided to take on the challenge and decorate his cake.  (I purchased a chocolate cake from Costco so I didn't have to bake too, just decorate!)  James loved his Swampy cake and that is all that matters!

Also, thanks to Disney, my kids have been seeing advertisements about other kids having parties with themes around giving to others.  Kirstyn is so proud that she asked for and was able to donate food to the Backpack ministry at church, but James started asking what he could do for his party that would help others.

After much discussion about what he likes, he concluded there were just too many kids that didn't have hats to wear and in his opinion that is tragic... especially kids with no hair.  So, we asked that his friends not bring him presents but bring hats for him to donate to kids with cancer so they can wear them if their hair has to fall out.  He ended up with 27 hats and $15 to spend on more hats! He is excited to take them to donate them to a Children's Oncology Unit. 
(He ended up going to Arkansas for a week after his party and this week has been in an all day camp so as soon as we have a moment we are going to deliver the hats!)

And I just liked these pictures of James (notice he even has a swimming hat!) with his cousin Bryton and this picture of me with my mom and little sister Neida.








Well, there was my May recap!  More blog posts to come very very soon!  Next up...  My ONE year celebration or a more serious one that I have had spooling in my brain for a few days now. 

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