Thursday, February 22, 2018

Into Your keeping

Today was my daughter's 9th birthday.  This day was different because her birthday wasn't the biggest event in her life.  Today Mariah started at a new school.

A week ago, I had to tell Mariah that Mommy was too sick to continue homeschooling.  She cried and asked what we were going to do.  I promised her that we would find her a different school that would still be a Christian school, because that was important to her.  We talked a while about it, then she ended the conversation by saying, "It's OK.  Whatever is best for Mommy."

This has been a devastating thing for us.  We put Mariah in homeschool because we believed it was the best thing for her.  After two years of distractions, our primary focus last summer was to put our children in a place where they could thrive.

But things change.  Over the course of the fall, Anne-Marie began feeling progressively worse.  We didn't initially think that it would come to this, but after two weeks trying to make a decision, it was the right thing to give Mariah a consistent education plan.  Thankfully, after a couple of days of arm-twisting and begging, a spot opened up at Elisha's school.  Our experience at Cornerstone so far has been good and we hope that this will end up being an accidental fit for Mariah.

The night of our talk, Mariah went up to her room and played the same song for the next hour from an old CD she found in our basement:

Lead me on, lead me on
To a place where the river runs into Your keeping
Lead me on, lead me on
The awaited deliverance comforts the seeking
Lead on


Monday, February 05, 2018

Siege the day

The past three weeks has felt like cancer has us under siege. For the past 12 years we’ve always known when the pain would start and end. There was always a surgery date. Always a treatment cycle. All we had to do was make it through.

This time’s different because it’s the cancer, not the treatments, causing the pain. And it’s not just a twinge of pain, it’s constant. Anne-Marie is in so much pain she can only be up on her feet for a few hours a day.

Herceptin/Perjeta treatment #1 was on 1/29. I hasn’t helped so far. Our previous experience has always seen the greatest difference between treatment #2 and #3, so we’ll hold out hope for that.

Meanwhile, we’ve made ourselves comfortable as possible here at home. There are no big plans and if there were, they got canceled. My new job is full-time work-from-home, so it’s allowed me to keep almost all my attention on what’s going on here. Our time here is still enjoyable. And quiet. Very quiet.

Going from a life where you’re alway leaving home to one where you never *leave* home is a shock to the system. But we’re trying to make the best of it, understanding that whatever it is that’s happening here is beyond our control. If life demands simplicity then we will submit to its demands.

We know God is the ultimate decision maker in our situation. I don’t understand it and I’ll even admit I don’t like it, but we will continue to struggle to find contentment even while we’re surrounded.

It’s a war for peace.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Disneyland post #6: memories and magic

I intended to publish this post a year ago, then life went crazy and has stayed crazy ever since.  I pulled it out of my files and put it on Blogger today to honor a promise I made to myself to complete the Disneyland posts.

1.  Disney Hotels: We stayed in the Grand Californian solely for the option of Anne-Marie being able to go back to the room and rest whenever she needed to. The hotel is spectacular and deserves its own post.  Early admission every day, impeccable service, rooms with park views, exclusive gate to the park, etc. If you're in a similar situation as us, the GC is your best bet. (Or you just want the best experience and cost is no issue.) If not, I would recommend that you stay somewhere within 15 minutes walking distance to the gate at most. Use that money you didn't spend to get a suite and maybe some extra souvenirs if you want to spend that much. We actually stayed at one of the very close hotels after flying in (Anabella) the first night  to save money and found it to be serviceable. Next time (whenever that is) we will likely stay off site. There's much more to be said. Contact me if you want to know more about the early admission thing, check-in at the Disney Hotels or switch between hotels or anything.

2.  Snacks: In order to keep everyone in a good mood, I recommend getting one of those small drawstring backpacks with a first aid kit and a bunch of non-perishable snacks. Nuts, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc. Disney will let you bring in your own food as long as it's not in a glass container. We saved a ton of money on in-park-priced snack pit stops by filling one of our allowed checked bags (thanks SW!) completely with snacks from Grocery Outlet and using that same bag to carry all our souvenirs home.

3.  Pressed pennies: The most well-known things to collect at Disneyland are trading pins (look it up).  These things start at $10. You can trade up at various stations around the park, but if you want a collection, you might as well fork over $100 to start. I put the brakes on the idea before we even left home. My alternative plan was to collect elongated pennies from those smasher machines in the gift stores. They're fun to collect too and they only cost 51 cents! Did you know Disneyland Resort has 127 penny smashers on site?  We spent $40 or so collecting about half the ones available and had just as much fun hunting them down.

4.  About those souvenirs: Many tips and tricks books/websites are out there that are much more helpful than this post concerning all things Disney. One tip that's pretty common is to buy your souvenirs ahead of time from Amazon or Walmart to avoid paying the Disney Resort prices. It's a good idea, but we found that there are items you will never see in person in the shops at Disneyland. If it is an option for you, nothing will replace walking through the store with your child and letting them pick something out. We made them wait a few days before buying, but our kids made their final and, yes, costly choice on Wednesday of our trip. (Our kids had their own Christmas/birthday money saved for over a year.) However you make it work for your family, the stores are fun to look through and you should probably buy at least a little something to remember your trip.

5.  Our souvenirs of choice: Anne-Marie bought a shirt with a sketch of Marie from The Aristocats. Buddy got a Lego version of the Millennium Falcon spaceship. Sissy chose a music box with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, a Tinker Bell dress and a stuffed Marie from Aristocats. I went with a coffee mug with Cars Land postcard art and a pressed coin (see #12) depicting balloons carrying away the house from Up. I keep the last one in front of me at my desk. Every time I think life would be better if we made it to Paradise Falls, I just look down and remember it's as much about the journey as it is the destination. At least in this life

In conclusion:
One final thought about "magic": One of the words I heard time and again when people heard that we were going to Disneyland is "magical".

"Have a magical time!"

"Disney for six days? That sounds magical."

Two of my greatest character qualities are being cynical and being analytical. For years we've talked about doing this trip, but to me doing Disney seemed more like a way to get our money to magically disappear. And we all know the truth, right? It's expensive. Too expensive.

We did almost everything thing you could do at Disneyland.  We all had fun (even Mom!) and are planing to go again in 2021.  From walking out of the main gate, to sitting in John Wayne Airport, to arrival back home to a early February frozen Portland, we kept talking about how great it was.  A lot of it went into these six blog posts.

Now that it's a year later, the kids will still talk about their favorite memories and rides and times in the hotel.  They get excited when they talk about 2021 and what it's gonna be like when we go back.  Who knows what could happen inside the next three years, but you know what?  I'm kind of looking forward to it myself.

And I guess that's magical enough for me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I'm not sure how to say this

Two weeks ago, after a long interview process and getting all kinds of counsel and advice from people I trust, I resigned my position as Project Manager at Centerline and accepted a job offer at Acom Consulting. That's what this blog post was supposed to be about.

In the week leading up to my departure from the company, Anne-Marie was scheduled for a biopsy at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center here in Vancouver to take a look at another swollen lymph node. 

You may remember that we went through a nearly-identical process early last year which resulted in us discovering sarcoidosis (benign granuloma tumors) throughout Anne-Marie's body.  The treatment for that—while successful—has been incredibly difficult and is a lot of the reason why you haven't heard much from me since last summer, either in person or online.

The location of the new area of concern was about an inch away from the one from the one I just mentioned and was causing Anne-Marie pain off and on.  Anne-Marie brought the issue up to the doctors in April, but her concerns were mostly brushed aside since the nearby area from last January was resolved as a non-threatening situation and was being treated. 

The coverage of the quarterly CT scans fell just short of this area, so it was considered unknown.  Nothing could be proven either way, yet Anne-Marie persisted for eight months with her concern and that's how we got last week's biopsy scheduled. 

The oncologist and surgeon opted to biopsy rather than altogether remove the "inflamed lymph node".  Tuesday the biopsy was performed; Friday we found out that it wasn't another lymph node.  It was a tumor.

A malignant tumor just under an inch in diameter was found at the base of Anne-Marie's neck.  It has tested as a positive match with the other cancer, which means it has spread.  It is inoperable.

Now that that's been said: we all try to put a positive spin on this kind of news to make it more palatable for people, right?  Well, I'm having a pretty hard time with this one.

The battle lines have been drawn.  Treatment starts next week.  In God we trust.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Summer of 2017

We entered the summer of 2017 with almost everything unresolved.

Here is what we did know:
  1. We would be moving to a new house (which we closed on in May)
  2. Elisha would be changing schools from the local public school to private school
  3. Mariah would be changing schools from the local public school to a home school
  4. I would officially begin my new position as a manager at my job
  5. Anne-Marie would try to figure out what in the world is going on with all the conflicting reports from the doctors
The list points out the obvious: Our family as a whole was facing a major change in buying a house and moving into it.  At the same time, all four of us were facing individual challenges.  This is the story of our attempt to connect all these dots.
The big move day.  We had a whole new crew!  Thanks everyone.
1.  The House

The property market in Portland is absolutely bananas.  By the time we would find a house we were interested in, the house would already be pending.  With the help of Richard at Portland Digs, we found a house we wanted, put together a very strong offer and won a very short war for possession.  The house went on the market on Friday.  We found out it was ours by Monday.  We were picking out decor by the time most people saw it on Zillow.

The move thing is always intimidating, but we had huge help from friends.  The amazing thing about it is that it was a completely different group of friends we tortured with moving last time.  I'm so grateful for all those poor people who helped us come back home in 2014 and am forever indebted to the people who helped us this June.  Gatorade Flow on me any time, guys.

The kids love the house and the new neighborhood.  I have all kinds of work to do making the 2 bed / 1 bath into something like a 4 bed / 2 bath with an office.  I'm giving myself a decade.

New neighbors
The sun vanished
2.  Elisha's new school

We tried for 3 years to do our best with Elisha in the local public school.  He learned a lot there and was succeeding academically.  We are grateful to the exceptional teachers he had for his success.

Yet there was nothing they could do to stop the bullying.  I don't want to say a whole lot about it because I know Buddy might be reading this blog himself sometime in the next five years.  Let's just say, the problem was so bad that early in the 2016-17 school year we decided it would be his last at the public school.  Ultimately, it is our responsibility as parents to put our child in a healthy environment, not the government's.  

First day at the new school
The good news is that Elisha is now a student at Cornerstone Christian Academy.  This doesn't guarantee a school year without issues, but it does put Elisha in an academic setting with similar values as he's taught at home and place him in the position where his education is a privilege and not a right.

3.  Mariah's new school

This one was even more challenging.  Mariah wasn't doing so well at school either, but her problems were just plan ol' academic.  Whether it was the system not working or whatever, something needed to change in order for her to progress, so while we were changing everything, we came up with the solution to homeschool Mariah for at least one year.

We signed her up with the online version of a local Christian school with curriculum by Alpha Omega.  In a totally different way, we are heading toward the same goals as we had for Elisha: values and accountability.

Starting out with the new setup has been a bit rough, but we are getting it figured out.  Our hope is that each of our kids is a little jealous of the other for how cool their new school is.  That is, until the day (hopefully) comes where they're back together in the same place on school days.

4.  Eli's new position

After a month of negotiating in March/April of this year, I decided (agreed to if I'm honest) apply for the vacant Project Manager position at work.  I've been a drafter my entire career and the opportunity to manage other drafters and represent our department to the client seemed a bit intimidating.  But it was a salary increase and we needed the above three points to work, so--after counsel with a bunch of people--I applied and easily got the position.

Then our most experienced drafter died in a tragic accident.  Then the head of our department resigned.  Then the senior project manager (my trainer) resigned.  Now, with five months experience, I have become the most junior senior project manager in the history of the industry.  The first 3 weeks was really, really hard, but this week we started to turn stuff around a bit.  I know that God knows and understands the entire situation and that something good can still come of it.

5.  Anne-Marie's jumbled medical news

The last four were complicated.  This one is so confusing, I can't even remember how everything happened over the last few months.  Remember this?  The oncologist cut us loose from the harsher treatments and put Anne-Marie on an injection every four weeks with periodic CT scans to check on anything concerning.

After a three months of treatment with the injections, Anne-Marie's scans came back with concerning areas near her sternum.  We spent a day at the hospital waiting for the doctor's to get a tissue sample with a laparoscopic biopsy.  They couldn't reach the area.

Rather than rushing to an "open heart" style situation, we elected to allow the pulmonologist to prescribe a series of antibiotics and steroids to see how the unwelcome growth responds.  This may tell us what the growth is.

Last Friday, Anne-Marie went in for her follow-up CT scan to see what's changed under the antibiotic/steroid treatment.  We expect results in the next couple of days and we're believing in faith that the results will be completely boring.

16 years

This Friday, Anne-Marie and I have been married for 16 years and we celebrated the accomplishment last weekend with a trip to Central Oregon.  We know there's craziness going on all around us, but it doesn't keep us from celebrating the special days.  And from celebrating every day, really.  Not that it's all positive and happy, but whatever it is, we're thankful for this last three months and believe we'll read this in 10 years and laugh about how crazy everything was.