Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give Thanks

We are here in Charlotte for the third time.

Third time (in three years) that we’ve made the trip;
Third time that we are enjoying this traditional Thanksgiving feast;
Third time we’ve STOOD BACK as my brother, spreadsheet/notes/timeline/cookbooks created the feast;
Third time’s the charm, I’ve heard.

MUCH to give thanks for this year: friends from my home church are safe at home after surviving an attack by armed invaders. Most everything else pales in comparison.

Except. This trip was only penciled in: would Mike be well? Would he be alive? And my sweet sister-in-law, who carries the added weight of a brain tumor: would she be well enough? Would she still be with us?

Yes to all of this.

Even as of Tuesday morning, our trip was still ‘penciled in.’ Mike had chemo on Monday and by Tuesday morning, he was dragging. He may beg to differ but I did not plan our route nor pack up my clothes. When I got home from school --- I rushed right home – he presented the sweetest picture. He was deep asleep, blanket tucked under his chin.

So, I took off my shoes and snuggled up. About an hour later, he awakened. “What are you doing?”


“We’ve got to get going.”

“If you want.”

“Come on. No time to waste on the likes of you.” (Bolinger cliché’)

So, an hour later than we had expected, we were headed south. Then it started to rain. Then we hit Indianapolis traffic. And more rain. We inched 15 miles in about an hour and Mike was getting frustrated.

“I’m heading home if this doesn’t clear up.”

“Ok with me.”

But, once south of Indianapolis, traffic thinned so we continued.

Our route – because after 3 years, we have a plan – is to drive to Lexington, KY, where there is a dog friendly Hampton Inn. We pulled in about 9.

A word about the motel: there aren’t so many places that permit pets. When we booked our room here the first time, we figured, I don’t know, that you would notice an animal-ness to the place. As it turns out, except for a walking path and doggie playground, and the occasional bark off in the elevator, you wouldn’t know that canines are in the house.

This place is as nice as any Hampton Inn we’ve stayed in; we love Hampton Inns. Lexington is about 4 hours from home so it makes a good stopping point on the 10 hour trip to Charlotte.

We hit the road around 9 on Wednesday and arrived at my brothers around 4. My mom and my sister Jan had already arrived AND had hit the mall.

Janelle’s blog, as she takes her readers with her through her illness, mentions her trips to Pinkberry’s. She posts photos of whatever she orders. I had said, absently, that I’d like to go this yogurt place. So, after supper, and Cheesecake factory pumpkin pie (getting in shape for the Big Day), we drove over and had ourselves some Pinkberry’s.

Why oh why do we not have this place in Kokomo?

Of course, there were multiple trips to "Ken's" Starbuck's.

So, here’s the count at my brother’s house: Ken and Janelle; Mike and me; new bride Brittany and her Kenneth; sister Jan. And our mom, Evelyn. Then, by the time the turkey is ready, Cousin Jeannie, neighbors and other friends make the party about 20, ranging from 2 to 90. Much good food and drink.

Pockets of conversation.

And then football/puzzles/computer and tablet time/and more food.

So many of these friends gather every Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Traditions are precious and sacred.

Ken’s prayer joined us and he raised to the Father the needs of those gathered, especially Mike and Janelle.

How blessed we are to be a part of this day. Thank you, Father, from whom all blessings flow.

Monday, November 21, 2011

THIS overshadows THAT

A week ago, 14 members of my church traveled to Haiti to work as short term missionaries. We ahve partnered with an agricultuarl settlement, Double Harvest, for many years. This was to be yet another routine trip, a time to serve and then come home to report.

Except it turned out to be anything but.....on Thursday night, 6 armed men converged on their sleeping quarters, attempting to take hostages.

In the pitch darkness, one man awoke to screaming and guns in the face. Then, in the next 10 minutes, the 14 drew from within themselves to hold off the attack.

I cannot do this justice, but I sat yesterday and listened to their accounts. Here is a link from Sunday.

Click here to listen to it on Oakbrook's website.The story is also reported at Channels 6, 8, 13, and 59 in Indianapolis.

They credit our God for their safety. Please pray for them as they heal, physically and emotionally from this ordeal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

So, what do you make of that?????

This is the question raised by the hub when he wants my insight into a situation. I would get to opine occasionally when he was about to pick a jury and thought I might have an unusual connection to the voting list from which our juries are culled; when he had tried to explain something and the receiver had not, um, received it as he had expected; when his rational mind was challenged by the irrational.

And just recently. Around here, what some might label “irrational,” or “luck” or “bad luck,” or “coincidence,” we can see as an act of God: protection, a gift, a secret delight, a confirmation of His presence.

Today, Mike told me that he had not taken any of his pain medication for 3 days. And he is having no pain. “What do you make of that?” The diabetes…I guess it’s still a diagnosis, is more than under control. “What do you make of that?” During the last ERCP, that doctor found a tiny ulcer and is treating it. He said that some of Mike's discomfort may have been a result of this ulcer. “What do you make of that?”

His questions gave me reason to pause and think: oh yeah. My small group and I have been praying about Mike’s pain. My request has been that his pain will diminish. So, this is an answer to prayer. A big “duh” on this end.

And for the rest? Our penciled in plans for Thanksgiving are to drive again to Charlotte, NC, for a big family feast. We have joined Ken and Janelle for the last two years. We were not sure if Mike’s health would permit it. And, as you may recall, my sweet sister-in-law is battling a brain tumor. Their insistence was that we come if we can and celebrate in style. This year, my mother is coming from Florida and sister Jan is driving from Kansas.

Could it be….yes it could….that family members have been praying specifically that we will be able to come… of this Sunday afternoon, it looks like a go.

Personal note: I continue to identify God’s specific answers at a glacial pace. But I’m glad He keeps pointing them out to me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Look, I love boys. I am in love with two of the most gorgeous grandsons in God's creation. And I have a son. And I have a small team of nephews.

BUT, I love my nieces. Right now, I am blessed to be called Auntie by 7 extraordinary young women: two in college; a talented graphic designer; an MBA/super scrabble player, like her mom; an Alaskan whose Facebook pages are exotic to a Midwesterner; her sister who is likewise talented and a nurse; and the soon-to-be-Mama of Madison Miller. That new (female) addition is due to make her debut in December.

Her mom, Kristine, is the only niece who experienced my teaching from the desk side; she met her husband at Taylor University and they have recently purchased a first home in Kokomo. She is a teacher, a tennis coach, and soon, a mother.

So, some ladies celebrated the coming event at a shower last Saturday. Sister Kat (niece!) was the hostess. She's been practicing 'Aunt ness." From great-grandma to great aunt, to friends and mothers of friends, the fete filled the afternoon with pleasant reminiscences, advice and very good food.

Tick tick tick, Madison.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Anything Too Small For God?

Close Christian friends know that I struggle with taking the small things to God in prayer. I know.....we are to take all of our requests to our Father. Somehow, however, I've gotten the idea that I shouldn't' muck up His agenda with inconsequential requests. Like God has a finite amount of time and energy and I shouldn't be injecting some silly little thing.

With Mike's cancer, I have the understanding that requests in this area are the biggies, the kinds that we should pray about. But I still edit my needs when they strike me as small or a mess of my own making. I'm learning, though.

My husband is a man of many talents and interests. With what looks like our last of warm autumn on tap, he and his buddy decided to drive out into the country for some target shooting.

Another friend owns a patch of wooded land about 15 miles away. It is surrounded by fields, now harvested, and a smattering of homes. Our friend has built a tiny cabin next to a larger garage: in that garage he has quite a few ALVs and lots of other guy-stuff. It's great fun to go out there and motor through a large, flat field.

Anyway, as is his practice, Mike brought Ivy along and let her out. She likes to run through the trees and see how many brambles she can pick up in her coat. Mike and Tom spent the afternoon disturbing rural peace. Then, I got a phone call:

"We've got a problem," said Mike.

These days, that can be the lead off to a long list. "What's wrong?"

"I can't find Ivy. We've been all over the place. We've called her. She's no where."

"What do you want me to do?" I asked. "Should I get out there and help?"

Then, the list of questions: Has anyone called? NO. Does Ivy have a collar? YES. Doesn't she have a tag on the collar?" SHE USED TO. (See "So Us" in October) What can I do? I DON'T KNOW: COME RIGHT OVER."

So off I drove, west, to Burlington. Then RIGHT. Then, LEFT on County RD. 350. Then, look for the cross road after the jog.

I got there 20 minutes later. Mike had the strangest look on his face -- worry, sadness, helplessness, resignation. We fired up the ATVs and drove the large field. We stopped. We called. No dog.

Zach and his friend Tiffany arrived. She's a country girl and came better prepared. (I was still in heels) She had pulled on some sweat pants and a pair of waterproof boots. More ATVs, more transit, more calling.

And the sun was setting. A chilll dropped into the air. I sat down on a bench and watched Mike as he paced and rubbed his arms. Now the face was all sadness. Maybe she was lost. Maybe she was hurt. MAYBE, oh I hope not, maybe she has been hit by a car or caught in a fence, or she has met up with a hungry coyote.

There are few hazards out in the country. However, there are hunters, mud pits, larger stray dogs, barbed wire fences, and water. Where could she be? What would we do? And even with a collar, a finder would have no way of contacting her owner.

I just slumped onto a bench, folded my hands and had a talk with The Father. I reminded Him (this is SO ME) that Mike loves this dog, almost to distraction. When I'm at school, Ivy is his constant companion. Did I mention that Mike LOVESthis dog?

"Father. Please let us know what has happened to Ivy. If it is within Your will, please help us find her. If something has happened, please let us find out."

Mike announced that he would drive home, get his various medications, a blanket and pillow, and return to spend the night.

I don't argue with him.

Tiffany needed to get home so I drove her along dark county roads. As this is deer mating season, fields get thick with roaming deer. They can be a hazard in the twighlight, so the trip home took a while as I was on the lookout for that doe that would crash into my car. A few more moments in prayer, asking for protection from those phantom deer, and another request for Ivy's return or a sure outcome.

As I got home, Mike was heading back out. He planned to camp in his truck, near the spot where he had last seen her.

Rural county folks tend to be generous and helpful. Several had been golf carting around since we had left. Still no dog.

One gentleman, wise, told Mike that there was no reason to freeze. "Look, why don't you lay your coat on the ground? We'll put out some dog food. She'll find it, catch your scent, and wait for you to return in the morning. And," he added, "we'll keep looking for a while."

I'm glad that Mike took that advice. He returned home, long faced, took a shower and prepared for a sleepless night. We prayed again and turned out the lights.

You may know how this turned out:


Ivy was found, was safe, was curled up in Mike's jacket. He threw on some sweats and was out the door again. Within the hour, the Iverson was back in her home.

Today, she's sporting a new collar; a tag with all sorts of information (blood type?) AND quite a few big black brambles.

All is calm. All is bright.

Thank you, our Father. You love us more than we can imagine.

A One-Act Play from the Chemo Room

The chemotherapy room at Howard Community Hospital is in the shape of the letter “C” Very comfortable beige leather armchairs make up the “C”, while the space in the letter is the nurse’s station. Each chair can be privatized from its neighbor by pulling a curtain around the chair. This affords a degree of privacy, because some people go to sleep while being infused with the poison ( I have done this.} Sometimes, you want the curtain closed because the person in the next chair is not looking too good. That can be a real downer.

Oncology nurses, in my book, are nothing short of angels. They greet every patient with a smile and, oftentimes, a hug or pat. They are always up, never down. Frankly, I do not know how they do it. I could not handle that job. Most everybody dies of this infernal disease.

You can see this hard, immutable reality in the nurses’ eyes. They know that you may not die today, but they are aware that the relentless black horse can be seen on the horizon, always galloping closer.

I commented to one of my favorite nurses, Cathy Primerano, that I could not imagine the emotional toll the job must take on her. I asked her how she deals with it on a daily basis. To my surprise, Cathy told me that there were downsides, but they were greatly outweighed by the benefits. Surprised, I asked what the benefits were.

She told me that every day she was witness to astonishing courage and the incredible will to survive displayed by patients. She marveled at how grateful the patients were for the care that they were receiving and that she could tell sometimes that the patients could see the end and they were at peace with it, yet they continued to fight on for one more day, so they could make Thanksgiving or Christmas to be with family, or to see a loved one graduate from high school or college, or get married, or to see that first grandchild, or the tenth. She said she was inspired daily by her patients.

She said that she sometimes wished she could do more for them and she told me how much she hated the disease for what it did to patients.

This Monday I was being infused in “my” chair, when I looked at the man in the chair next to me. At first I did not recognize him, as the liver cancer was doing its vile job on him. John was a former client and a good one. He had grown a beard and had lost some weight, but he was still a big guy, maybe 6’ 2’. He had with him an old leather motorcycle jacket that had long been in the wind and was scraped and bruised and smelled like motor oil. That jacket and John, as bikers often say, had been down a time or two.
But it was the baseball hat that caught my attention. Instead of “New York Yankees” or some other logo, it said “Marine Recon.” His VietNam service ribbon was pinned to the hat. Like the coat, that hat had been around.

“You earn that hat, John?,” I asked.

“Damn right, Mike. Hardest thing I ever did, almost. Three tours, one in infantry, two in recon, “he replied.

“I am impressed. You were one of the baddest of the bad,” I said.

“Well, it was a long time ago when I was just a kid. I was only nineteen. There’s no way I should be here. Should have been dead a hundred times, but here I am.”

“What kind of cancer do you have?” I asked.

“I have been fighting liver cancer for 5 years now and I am tired of it. It has beat me down. I am always so tired. I can’t ride my Harley anymore. I can live with that, but I can’t stand being so tired all the time. I can’t deal with it any more. Most days I just want to lie down and rest, but even if I do, I am still dragging my butt when I get up. I hate it.”

“What are you going to do, John?”

“This is my last treatment. I am going to tell the doctor I’m done. I feel like I have done what my family and friends wanted me to do. I have had enough. Five years is a long time. How long for you?”

“Almost three years. Too damn long for sure. You know, if you quit, you might only have a couple of months. That’s it.”

“I know. I don’t care. I should have been dead a long time ago. I’ve had three heart attacks in the last year. It’s time.”

He spoke with an air of finality and I could tell he had given it a lot of thought. Frankly, I did not know what to say after that. So, I reached over and shook his hand and I told him I appreciated that he fought for us in Viet Nam. I told him I would attend his funeral if I was still alive and that it had been a privilege to represent him in court. I told him that I wished we had gone for a ride together. I told him he should be buried in his jacket and especially his hat.

He laughed and said, “I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a good idea. Thanks.”

“I’ll be looking for that hat,” I said.

Mike out

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Too Fast?

So, the hub visited with a new doctor today; he now has an endocrinologist to monitor the diabetes.

She downloaded the data on his little monitor, examined all those facts and figures and announced that he doing well.

In fact, perhaps TOO well. It seems that they expected his glucose level to drop, gradually, over several months, to a better level. She said that perhaps his newest fatigue is caused by his too quick drop from stratospheric to 'normal.'

She told him (so he says) that if he wants a candy bar, he can eat it with a strategy. If he wants to sip a wine cooler, something he has been missing, he can, with a strategy.

She also lowered his overnight medicine. "Let's see how you do," she said.

So, on with the adventure.

Today, Friday, we drive back down to Indianapolis for Mike's 4th ERCP. It was scheduled for the week of Thanksgiving and his doctor (which one?) decided that we should go for it tomorrow. The specialist (ANOTHER of our doctors) is sandwiching Mike in so instead of our favorite time, that being 8 AM, we cruise into the operating room at 11.

All OK. It WILL kill the day. Maybe it will be raining. TODAY, we got our first dusting of snow.

So, as you remember us, you are now up to date.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

James Caird II Update

The boat won on Wednesday as I was too sick to do anything
of significance. I won on Thursday, even though part of it was spent in the hospital.

Anybody ever given blood samples from a port and both arms? No fun.

The pictures show the curved parts that make up the bow and stern. Cut and trimmed by hand. Note keel is installed. The first sheer clamp is installed, giving the hull its beautiful shape.

More photos to follow.

Mike out.

Humming on a Saturday Afternoon

Was it, what? 3 weeks ago that the doctor dropped a new bomb: full blown diabetes.

From the initial shock and anger and worry and stress.....

We've been weathering along. Although the hub can exaggerate, I was sitting right there when the doctor explained the disease, with the stratospheric numbers of Mike's glucose.

"What if I don't do anything about this," he asked.
"Then you'll slip quickly into a coma," explained his doctor. "And you'll disappoint many people around here."
"I am not doing this," he said.
"Of course you will," the doctor winning out with her wise ways.

So, it's been three weeks of testing, charting, injecting, and eating more carefully. One week in, his doctor was less than satisfied so she doubled one type of injection. Wow oh Wow. Did THAT change things.

In the last week, Mike's numbers have been amazingly low. We even had an incident of low blood sugar.

He had taken his overnight injection. It was about an hour later.

"I feel really funny," he said.
"What do you mean, "asked the Frau.
"I'm sweaty, shaky, and, I don't know, my skin feels, well, funny," he said.

I am not a doctor. I do not play one on TV. I get most of my medical knowledge from USA Today which, you may notice, is always announcing something that is both really bad and really good for you.

I AM a veteran mom and in this case, a public school teacher. I knew that he was describing hypoglycemia. Blood sugar was too low.

I also knew that the quick fix was to drink some juice and then eat something a little longer acting. And I knew, as I headed to the kitchen, that I had thrown out all of the sugared drinks, bottled juices and cookies.

What to do? What to do?

I rummaged around and way in the back, I found some cranberry juice that had evaded my initial cleaning. In the freezer, waaaaay in the back, I found a petrified donut, probably glazed, and popped it in the microwave.

Hypoglycemia abated!

This week, the numbers are good. This morning, they were as low as are mine, which would win awards if such prizes were given.

Why? We asked.

Oh yeah. We have an army of prayer warriors. They ask our Father to help us, in anyway we need. And, as He is faithful, He does.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Random Thoughts About Cancer

Sometimes I just do not know what to think about my struggle with cancer. Given that I have endured this evil disease for nearly three years, I have almost become used to it. Dealing with it each day has become a way of life, or death, for me. Daily it leans on me, pushing me toward my grave, and I push back, trying to maintain my shrinking physical beachhead. It is relentless in trying to define what is left of my life by throwing up daily roadblocks designed to gnaw away my remaining life.

I have learned that there are certain things I can no longer do, because my body is not as strong as it once was. I have learned to pace myself through the day. I never run. I walk. I enjoy my afternoon nap, most days, because I need it. I have learned how to get through painful, sleepless nights, which seem to be increasing in number, and I know enough to not even try to do some things I used to do.

I would like to think I am compromising with the disease, but that is only wishful thinking. It always trumps me, eventually. Maybe I win on Monday, but it’s back on Tuesday. It never

lets up. There is no slack and it gives no quarter.

I love building wooden boats. Constructing them differs from building furniture, as the tolerances are not so critical. I like to think that my mortise-and tenon joints, which are basic to quality furniture construction, are accurate to 1/64th of an inch. With a wooden boat, get it

within 1/8th of an inch and you are good to go.

Wood bends; it can be clamped in place, epoxy can be added, or a screw installed to close a gap. Building a wooden boat is stress free, compared to building good furniture.

After much internal debate, I am building another wooden boat, a 13 foot peapod. You can row it or sail it, depending on how you fit it out. The long term problem that I have is that I am in a race with the boat. Completing it will take three to six months. Can I finish it before I am gone? Which of us will win? Me or the boat?

The immediate problem is that I am running out of strength and stamina. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so pitiful. Today, I needed to handplane two pieces of wood for the boat. It used to be that I could do this simple task in just a few minutes. Five or six passes with my exquisitely sharp Stanley No. 4 plane would have made short work of the job.

Not today. It took me almost ten minutes and I was exhausted. I made three or four passes with the plane and I was gasping for air and had to sit down to catch my breath.


So, I moved a chair next to the workpiece and sat down. Five or six more passes and I laid my head on the workbench to rest. A few more passes and I was out of breath again. And so it went, until I finished the task. I got it done, but I was literally exhausted.

I remember once that I had not eaten in three days. I picked up my forty pound backpack and trotted 5 miles through the woods to pick up a 16 foot aluminum canoe, which I then carried by myself for 3 miles on a trail to a river. I paddled with my partner down the river for 12 miles and dropped off the canoe. Then I ran 10 miles through the woods on a compass course, finishing my Outward Bound school. I didn’t even breath hard. I was an animal back then. It was a lark. I may not have been the fastest, but I would never quit and I could go forever.

I remember swimming in college. It was the hardest money I ever made. Six miles a day in
the pool six days a week will turn you into a machine. I weighed 135 pounds and was cold all the
time. This was because I had no body fat. None. I was solid muscle tuned for one purpose--- sprint the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. I could swim the 50 free in one breath, the one I took off the starting block. Those were the days when I was going to live forever and only other people got cancer.

Now I have to rest my head on my workbench and sit on a chair to accomplish a simple task.

The only thing I can say about the physical challenges confronting me is that I still may not be the fastest, but I am not going to quit, either. Maybe the boat will win and my friend, Brian, will finish it. Maybe I will survive long enough to finish it and sail it across Winona
Lake. Who can know? Time will tell.

Mike out.