The “Marathon” Is Nearly Done…and What To Expect Next

Today is a day for great joy and celebration. After nearly 6 long months of cancer treatment, William the Conqueror has finished his last round of chemotherapy.

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He will have 2-3 weeks left of in-patient hospital care. Then we will have about a week at home before the moving van loads us up and we move to Maryland. William is still sick and struggling a bit, which is typical. During those hard or messy moments, people are quick to encourage us by saying, “You are almost to the end of your marathon!

This is both true and amusing.  I am NOT a marathon runner. ft I run 26.2, call the police. Either something is chasing me beyond my avoidance abilities or I am chasing someone worth killing. Call the police.

I have heard this metaphor repeated so frequently that I have really pondered it throughout this process. Eons ago I would tell my students that if they began a metaphor they had to continue it throughout. I stand by that rule, hard and fast. If this is a marathon and I am almost to the end, I want you to be prepared for what is coming, my dear support system.

You have cheered me on, standing on the sidelines to hand me refreshment and to yell.I couldn’t have done it without you.

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As you watch me cross this metaphorical finish line, you may expect to see this:

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There will be a wonderful joy and euphoria, to be sure. However, I have seen the finish line of a marathon. Several years ago I supported a dear friend as she ran her first half marathon.It was a MAJOR accomplishment and I was glad to be at the beginning, 7 mile mark and end of it with her.

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As I waited for her I saw runners finish and I will tell you, it wasn’t pretty.

They fell. They collapsed. Their legs seized. They limped. They cried. They ran for beers and Gatorade. They vomited. Some even had accidents.

Red faced and shaking, the supporters helped our friends to our cars and let them spend days recovering, giving them rest and calories. Marathons are HARD. People really need time to recover. If I’m finishing a marathon, I am not sure I can be joyfully exuberant and ready to tackle the next new phase at 100%. I may be limping around and needing a really good burger, lots of sleep and some massages. Then I might make a cancer-parent-sticker for my bumper so everyone knows to get out of my way or can be really impressed with my kid.

In all seriousness, major illness survivors and their caregivers are some of the most mentally exhausted and overlooked professionally. There is a large rise in suicide, depression and inability to reintegrate, very similar to some soldiers dealing with PTSD. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow warriors in here and am better for it. When we support each other through trials and ‘marathon’ seasons, we also learn to give ourselves some grace and good coaching.

My friends, I know there will be an uproar of celebration when we finally leave the hospital. I imagined I would dance, laugh and smile until my cheeks hurt, trying not to speed home. Now I think I may collapse to my knees and cry. I may sob the whole way home. I’m at mile 20 and the excruciating joy is coursing through my veins.

When I arrive home, I will need to do laundry and pack for our move to our next military post the following week. I will say goodbyes and start over again. William will have more blood draws and clinic visits that will be frequent and continue monthly for about a year, in addition to other therapies and basic appointments. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m sad and overjoyed. I can’t describe the profound impact your encouragement has on our family. We are almost there. I trust that while there will be dance parties and celebrations, you warriors will be ready for us to collapse, cry and have no idea if we are alright or not.

I am very thankful you will be there and understand this is only year 2 of William’s Marathon. See you at the finish line. We will really need you.

Grandparents: The Unsung Cancer-Heroes

Parenting is challenging. Despite popular sayings, it does NOT end at 18. From day to day you never know if the other end of the phone has great news, bad news, or questions for more guidance. When you become a grandparent, it becomes a two-fold adventure.I have been thinking about our Diagnosis Day. We drove the two hour drive in a mix of shock and adrenaline. After we prayed, the first thing we did was call our parents.

The many hours of holding my crying son, unable to take away his cancer and his pain, felt like agony. The helplessness, exhaustion and frustration become more than feelings. They take a form and shape, becoming constant companions–villains that must be present for the story to make sense. I look and see my child suffering and feel ripped open, which renders the obvious conclusion: our parents see that when they look at us. Worse, they have two generations of pain that comes from love.

Although we didn’t think it would be possible, a parent has been here every month. They need to be honored for their sacrifices.

My father in law hasn’t been able to visit but he has walked every morning and diligently prayed for all of us. He works diligently to pay for the airfare to send his wife away for weeks. He is a silent warrior that holds the back line for us; a stable rock that makes a home sturdy and fortified.

My mother in law has been here more almost more than she has been home these last six months. She retired only a month before or world was changed and believe me, she hasn’t rested at ALL. She has learned all the medical terms and kept watch at the hospital. She has been showered in foul-smelling formula from a broken tube, rocked to hours of crying, had showers and sleep interrupted and then come to my house. She brought a birthday party to a hospital and made each holiday seen special.  There she helped potty train, cleaned diligently, cooked, laundered and played. She attended school events and took my older son to speech twice a week. Nonna never complained when her freshly made bed was stripped to make a fort.  She snuggled a sad child and tickled his back until he fell asleep when he took our family picture to bed. Nonna gave treats, hugs, discipline and encouragement. That heals hearts. I could trust her to raise my boy, for she did an outstanding job on her son. She also is an experienced grandmother with 11 grands in tow. Nothing ruffles her feathers. Moreover, she never once told be I looked tired or bad. God bless her.

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My dad processed everything in his strong and silent way at first. He called to check in and searched Facebook for updates. He told everyone about our Conqueror and prayed diligently. In his steady way, he encouraged me to press on. Last month he came for two weeks and we didn’t know what to expect.  He came to the hospital to give me a reprieve because he is great with babies and soon had William eating things he wouldn’t eat for me. He played with William for hours, read him books and even handled some diapers. Then he came to the house to battle the toddler…and while he was here potty training went from 0 to 60 just like that. Daddy really came through for me in the way few grandfathers do. Knowing he is proud of me is still one of my most cherished pieces of knowledge.

Twice, on school breaks my mother was able to come. Both times she came just as I became viciously ill and could not stay with William. She cared for him in every way while I recovered and then brought her exuberance to the house. She is a master at encouraging little boy silliness. From hours at the park to buying matching Easter shirts, she showed her ‘first two grandson’ excitement in full tilt. In my broken moments she was able to be compassionate and then give me a mother-style butt whooping in the M’Lynn and Shelby style.

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Suffering is hard. Seeing children suffer is hard. Feeling helpless and also feeling exhausted from helping is hard. Parents of adult children are never obsolete, even if out of the picture. Their presence and absence is profound. Through this struggle my Jonathan has been able to enjoy one on one time with grandparents and realize how many people love him. The benefit has been remarkable.

Here is to the heroes who raised us and are still reinforcing us. May we remember to sing your praises often.

Real Easter Pictures

Tomorrow social media and e-mails will be inundated with adorable pictures of children in their Easter Best. Bows, bowties, sweater vests, lovely little dresses, shiny shoes and maybe a few smile will flood the “Lying Space”. You know, the space where we crop out real life to show the one adorable photo rather than the 5,094 attempts that led to tears and mayhem?

In the interest of full disclosure and to educate those with perfect children on what family photos are REALLY like with a 3 and 2 year old, I give you… Real Easter Pictures.

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First, the rejection of the outfit. He actually likes bow ties, but the suspenders were vetoed at record speed. Then, the aforementioned bow tie gets shown off with a wink. Oy vey.

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Meanwhile, all manner of cute hats are rejected out of hand. No hair, don’t care. Bald is beautiful, Y’all.

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As soon as the boys sat down, there were little yellow pollen imprints on their clean pants. Whoops. The yellow swirl soon led to a sneeze fest that nearly sent our more unsteady son toppling. My lunge quota was met for the week.

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By now we were all basket cases.

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Finally, we got a cute pose!

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Which started a parade. Note, it is very dangerous to sneeze while driving and squinting toward the sun. ( ALL of our family Christmas cards show squinting, red eyes and some wet cheeks from looking toward the sun to avoid shadows. Family issues carry on for generations.)

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Followed by the abandoning of shoes and running a muck.

All this to say, this Easter maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about the outward appearance and just doing it right for once. No, maybe we should all just be humans– kind of messy, kind of sacred, kind of broken and all in need of grace. The message of the cross is a perfect Jesus taking messes and letting us be broken and loved. or “really good” people don’t need saving. I’d rather be the imperfect picture-ruiner that sneezes than the unapproachable picture of perfection that is a white-washed mess.

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This is my favorite Easter picture to date. God bless us, everyone.