Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's OK to Say No to Crazy

One of the first things we thought when Eric was diagnosed (among other things) was... "We are just TOO busy for cancer!"  Eric's career was thriving (albeit with long hours and a lot of travel), I was loving my time as Primary President, my new business was busy and growing, the kids were occupied with sports, Scouts and church activities.  We were probably borderline chaotic, but over the years, juggling such a schedule had become my specialty. We had only been in Jersey for two years, but had started laying roots and forming friendships that filled the rest of our calendar with play dates, dinner dates and family barbecues. Cancer aside, the thought of loosing control of how we spent our time was a difficult pill to swallow.  Naively though, I was pretty sure I could just juggle it all.  

Soccer on a chemo day, no problem. Swim lessons on a surgery week... yeah, I can do that.  Slowly, however, the things that once had dominated our calendar all but disappeared.  I learned very quickly that "doing it all" was the wrong thing to do.  It left me drained of energy, irritable and feeling very overwhelmed.  The house suffered, the kids suffered - Eric suffered. We eventually just stopped showing up at soccer, we left gymnastics, church activities and Scouts only happened on occasion when energy allowed. Play dates and the running around required to get kids from here to there ended. Interestingly enough, I realized pretty quickly that I didn't miss any of that stuff!  I didn't miss the craziness, I didn't miss yelling at kids to find cleats or the last minute searches for ballet shoes and Scout Books.  I was able to shift my attention from keeping uniforms clean to quality time with Eric at doctor appointments and chemo.  I traded it for low key, quiet nights with my kids.  I don't remember which one said it... but one of the kids commented on our "new" schedule and mentioned how much they liked just being home.  After that, I never worried for a second that they were missing out on something. The transition that occurred in our family was awesome... suddenly, a soccer game in the front yard with each other was enough.  A movie or quick game of checkers was awesome. The highlight of the week was roasting marshmallows and sitting around our fire pit out back.  The chaos of running around was replaced with family time. At home. With each other. With Eric. Who can put a price tag on that?  I didn't miss yelling from the sidelines a single bit. I also found I no longer hungered much for outside social interaction to feel fulfilled. Everything and everyone I needed was right here within the walls of my own home.

As we've been emerging again from behind the cancer-screen... I'd be lying if I said we weren't enjoying getting back out there a bit. We have carefully chosen and added a couple of things back onto our calendar now that Eric is feeling better - but I have no problem turning down extra craziness. I love the serene, calm feeling in our home right now and I don't plan on polluting it again with a schedule that becomes crazy and overshadows quality family time.  Eric's cancer taught me how important it is to live more simply and most importantly, to deliberately allow family time to dominate our week instead of the unnecessary crazy that has become the accepted norm of this generation. I absolutely don't mind that their memories will be playing soccer with each other or beating me fair and square in a game of HORSE.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Live For Today...


Collette B Bracelets

My name is Colette and I’d like to introduce you to my crew!  We go by “thebomsquad”… it’s a cute derivative of our last name and it describes us to a “T”.  We’ve been through some pretty explosive stuff and are grateful everyday to be together.  You might notice our lime green bracelets… it’s our family color.  Well, it’s my husband’s cancer awareness color – and we’ve all adopted it as our favorite.  My hubby’s health originally started to decline in late February of 2012, then was ultimately diagnosed with an aggressive form of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma later that May.  As anyone would be, we were devastated.  What followed was 9 months of brutal chemo treatments that left my strong, football-physic husband wilted like a washed up, ratty old towel on a deserted beach. Really. Chemotherapy can be that awful. The kids and I were exhausted, emotionally and physically as well – the toll it took truly felt unrecoverable and I longed to get our old life back. Good news came in December that year, his scans showed the cancer had receded significantly and what was left was dead! They updated him to the coveted “remission” status and in January we started rebuilding our life.  As his strength grew, our spirits began to soar. The relief and happiness we felt was pretty amazing… no longer did we take even the smallest things for granted. Dinners as a family, quiet Friday nights watching movies with the kids, low-key weekends… life was awesome.  In time, Eric returned to work and slowly our new normal began to emerge and because of what we’d been through, it was a stronger normal and maybe even a better one.

Collette B Family

Sadly, it was very short lived.  In April of 2013, Eric began feeling unusually run down and tired. Other tell-tale signs and hot flashes seemed to return overnight.  It was literally only a few days time and what was happening was so obvious – my heart sunk. The following week was a regularly scheduled monthly check up – and after moving up the necessary scans, we learned his cancer had returned.  This time, it was a bigger beast (with gnashing teeth) and the fight ahead was clearly going to be uphill.  After already having been through it and understanding some of what might be coming, I decided there were many things I was going to change.  I looked at it as a do-over, an opportunity to “do” cancer better.  No longer did I want to live appointment to appointment… fearing the next result, dreading the next surgery or worrying about the next scan.  No longer did I let tomorrow’s schedule dictate today’s happiness.  As a family, we learned a unique way to live in the now, live for today.  Not knowing what was ahead became a blessing, it allowed me to simply be happy and content with today. This proved to work to our advantage and we weren’t as stressed. I think we all slept better, there were less tears, less acting out and we all seemed to cope much better with our crazy circumstance.  Through it all, Eric demonstrated the will and strength of an ox – and in a very real way became our hero. How lucky for our kids to see a hero in action – as never a greater example of courage and faith had they known.

In January of 2014 – after 7 more months of treatment and 2 failed chemo regimens, we went to a top Cancer Center in NYC where Eric underwent massive mediastinal radiation to eradicate the remaining cancer in preparation for a Stem Cell Transplant.  We told the kids the radiation rays would blow his cancer to Jupiter, and that it did. Once his status was upgraded to remission once more, he was admitted for a final round of high dose chemotherapy and a transplant thereafter to rescue his body from all the lethal treatments he’d received.  Through it all, he never wavered.  He never quit. Though his body was beaten and battered, he never let it overtake his spirit.  Not exactly the way I wanted my kids to learn how to be strong… but who better to learn it from than their dad?

Collette B Family with Dad

In the 6 months since, we haven’t taken a single day for granted. Even the bad days.  Not knowing what might lay in the future for our family, we readily understand that today is a gift. This week is a gift.  Eric is a gift.  We are each a gift.  Life is precious. Our normal now is an awesome normal… we’ve been through so much, but in the process we’ve grown closer and our love for each other has grown beyond measure.  Eric has shown us what it means to love in one of the most incredible ways possible and for that… I can only love him more in return.  My view these days is a priceless picture; definitely earned from endless worry, a long string of heart-wrenching experiences and through buckets of tears… but it’s a view I am so grateful for and will forever treasure.

To one of the bravest, toughest – most amazing Dad’s I know… Happy Father’s Day, Eric!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Beyond the Clipboard...

I have this darling friend named Camilla and one of my MOST favorite principles of love and service I learned during Eric's battle was from her and her husband.  I've been excited to share this story with you and was glad when I woke up this morning with the feeling that today was the day to get it written down.

The Relief Society is the Women's Organization of the LDS Church.  Worldwide, it has about 6 million members and is one of the oldest and largest Women's Organizations in the World. I've been part of this amazing sisterhood for nearly 20 years now; it's a huge part of my life and where most of my dearest relationships are formed.  It's not just an educational part of church where the women are taught and instructed in a one hour meeting on Sundays; another primary function of the group is to offer relief to others, just like the title states.  So, it was no surprise when Eric was originally diagnosed in 2012, these ladies where immediately on the job!  Calling, checking in, stopping by, offering help in many ways... they kept me in great supply of my beloved Diet Cokes, even dropped by cookie dough and treats for the kids.  Probably most importantly, by being present... it seemed someone was always there when I needed to cry. They also offered to bring in meals on Fridays through that first Summer.  Although I hesitated, (as no one EVER wants to have THEIR name on a clipboard...) but deep down I knew it would be a welcomed relief when the meals were delivered.  As soon as I gave the go-ahead... they wasted no time getting organized and the next time they met, they passed around a sign-up sheet on a clipboard with about 12 Fridays laid out on the list.

I wasn't in there that day - as my volunteer assignment had me on the other side of the building with the children - but what I heard both warmed my heart and taught me a lesson I will never forget.  My friend Camilla called me later that afternoon and explained to me what had happened.  As is customary when announcements are made at the beginning of the meeting, the clipboard and "the plan" to help was announced to the group.  The sign-up sheet was then passed around and by the time it got to Camilla's row, all 12 Fridays had been filled.  I wish you could hear the cute animation in her darling Brazilian accent as she relayed to me how she reacted to this list being full.   She said something like, "I was so mad!  I'd been waiting for an opportunity to help and when the clipboard moved about the room I was anxiously waiting for my turn to pick a week.  When it got to me, it was filled!  I thought to myself - WHAT?!!  I have to wait clear until September to feed the Bomsta's?!! No way, I am so mad!!"  She continued to tell me that on the way home from church that day she complained to her husband that BECAUSE SHE WAS SITTING IN THE BACK OF THE ROOM she lost her opportunity to help and was mad the days had been grabbed so quickly.  Had she known, she'd have sat right in the front!

Lovingly, and perfectly... her husband said to her, "Camilla.  Do you think the Bomsta's eat on other days of the week?  I'm just thinking out loud here... but maybe you could just call her and offer to bring in a meal on another day.  I don't know... like on a Wednesday?"

Oh my word!  As she was telling me this whole story, we were both laughing and I could see the whole thing "going down" in my mind.  What a fun sight... it not only relieved my worry about being a burden to others, it helped me see how many willing friends were around us... just waiting for a turn to help.  I love her sweet husband for pointing out, in such a sweet way... that a whole new level of angelic service is going beyond the clipboard.

Camilla, on the errand of angels, brought us a delicious, authentic Brazilian feast just a few days later...  

"When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with — here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. ... Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind." - Elder Holland, LDS Church Apostle


Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Lesson at Panera...

One afternoon during Eric's first year of treatment, we left early for chemo so we could grab a bite on our way.  We decided to stop at Panera and sat there eating like two, completely normal people. We chatted like any other couple, smiled at each other... and even let out an occasional giggle. By all appearances, we blended into the crowd and there was no way anyone could guess our awful predicament and circumstance. We weren't crying, we weren't upset... we were having a decent time, a normal lunch like anyone would.  At one point, I suddenly recognized how "normal" we actually looked.  Eric was bald, but he is so cute bald (okay, he's hot bald) - so who would know he wasn't bald by choice?  For a minute I felt myself pretend we weren't fighting for Eric's life or on our way to get poison pumped through his veins. It was refreshing to be in a place where people didn't tear up when they saw us, it was nice that no one hugged me and asked how we were doing - and I didn't miss the looks of pity at all.  We started enjoying ourselves, basking in our moment of - what appeared to others to be - just a normal lunch.  As we continued talking about it Eric posed a prolific question... "If we look THIS NORMAL, can you imagine what must be going on at the next table?  Or the table over there?"  Wow.  Good point.  What is it they say?  Looks can be deceiving?  Yep.  That's absolutely true.  In that moment, we looked like a happy couple - out to lunch during the week without a care in the world.  Yet, we were quite the opposite.  Full of anxiety, worry, stress with EVERY care in the world.  There we were... looking SO normal - and yet we were on our way to battle the scary invaders that had taken over our family and threatened to rob Eric of his life.  

Since that day, I've thought often about what Eric said and how we looked sitting there.  I've thought of the faces that were scattered around us and thought deeply about what might have been going on in their lives.  I imagine there were people among us that day who had lost loved ones, maybe having problems in a relationship, dealing with wayward teens or addictions.  Maybe some who were depressed, had lost a job or facing financial stresses.... yet in the disguise of a normal activity like eating lunch it would be impossible to detect.  So many of the toughest battles we face in our lives cannot simply been seen on our faces.  Wouldn't it just be safer (and kinder) to assume everyone is fighting a hard battle?  As I've practiced this, and I'm not all the way there yet... I've seen a really cool change in myself.  I'm quicker to help, faster to smile and a much less likely to judge. Most of all, I've found that it has added to my own happiness. We're all fighting battles... let's all be a little kinder, a little more quick to live the golden rule... what a difference that would make - no only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.

Image: {Here}

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Bomb Squad Truck Told Me So

To fully understand the awesomeness behind this next story... I have to tell you that for years - almost 6 or 7 years - we've referred to our family as "The BomSquad".  It's a cute derivative of our last name.  My mom actually came up with it when she was helping me think of a name for our first blog - a family blog that I religiously (and obsessively) have kept updated for years.  The name has not only "stuck" - it's become our call-sign as a family and most of our friends and family refer to us as such.  We've since added email addresses, updated our mailing labels, even used it as part of our home decor in a few places.  It is who we are as a family.  I love my "bomsquad" - and that's just what they've proven to be... tough, brave, we face explosive situations together and we hold strong...

May 16, 2012... I was sick to my stomach.  Nauseated. The puffiness surrounding my bloodshot eyes was indication that it had been a particularly rough few days.  Eric had been diagnosed just two weeks before and the whirlwind that ensued had been emotionally crushing and physically draining.  We had gone through the process of interviewing doctors and had chosen our Oncology team - then proceeded with the endless battery of tests to stage him.  A whole new vocabulary of words and terms had been presented to us, then there was the reading. So much reading and learning to do.  The constant poking and prodding, scan after scan - a bone marrow biopsy. Appointments now dominated a calendar that was once filled with lunch dates, play dates and gymnastics. Awful doesn't even begin to describe the feeling of erasing a soccer practice and putting an Oncology appointment on instead.  The questions that remained unanswered during this time plagued us. How bad is it?  Did we catch it early?  Are we saying the right things to the kids?  Do we have the money to weather this? Is Eric going to die? Am I going to be a widow with 4 little kids? How will we EVER do this?  I would rate those couple of weeks as some of the scariest, most emotionally intense of my life. 

During those two weeks, prayer took on a whole new life within me.  No longer was it the standard, same-old going-through-the-motions kind of prayer.  It became an emotional, pouring out of the brokenness from my heart to the Almighty, begging for Him to have mercy on us. At times I doubted. Was he REALLY there?  We are a good family.  How could He let this happen to us?  As we drove to the Cancer Center that day to get the results of Eric's staging... I continued my pleading; heart pounding nerves reached new heights and I'm pretty sure my blood pressure was on overdrive.  Knowing what I know now... I think the Lord was shaking his head lovingly at my wavering faith and smiled knowing what little treat I was about to find.  And boy, was it EVER a treat, the coolest divine treat you can imagine!  It's a gesture I'll never forget -  the moment we pulled into the parking lot, He made Himself known.

I am not kidding. When we pulled in... a "Bomb Squad" vehicle was parked right in front at the drop off area. We both saw it immediately and reacted with total surprise. What in the world was a Bomb Squad truck doing at a Cancer Center?  There were no other emergency cars around, no sirens... NO POSSIBLE reason this truck should be there.  Eric and I looked at each other; my jaw dropped and he smiled. We were thinking the same thing, "Hey... WE ARE the BomSquad!" Nerves shed effortlessly from my body and we totally busted out laughing.  At that VERY moment, in this big wide world, during THE MOST STRESSFUL moment of our life yet... God had sent a fun and very personal message that He knows us, He knows our family (even what we call ourselves)... and that He knows VERY LITERALLY where we are and what we are going though.  A Bomb Squad truck at a Cancer Center... at precisely our appointment time, right when I was about to loose every last marble I had?  A smile spread across my face and I undeniably realized that we were in the RIGHT PLACE at the RIGHT TIME, that God was absolutely with us and that all would be well.  For the first time, I realized that I can do this.  I can barely describe how it felt as calmness and gratitude flooded my body... seeing that truck was as good as God reaching out and hugging me Himself.  Being the blogger that I am - I always have a camera in my purse and I remember Eric winking at me and saying... "Soooooo... are you going to take a picture of it?"  Me... "Ummmm.... Yeah. I would say so!"  It's a moment I'll never forget and I'm so glad we were there together to see it.

Tender mercies are all around us if we just take a moment to notice them. Our life never really got easier, in fact... that day started a two year battle for Eric's life that has rocked us to the core... but I think of this day often. I think of that "divinely placed" Bomb Squad vehicle all the time and it has carried me through our toughest days. It's been a literal reminder of how personally the Lord knows me and I've never questioned that since.  He's knows us each so well... and if we are mindful and pay attention, we'll all see the beautiful "signatures" He leaves for us to find. He wants us to know He's there... we just have to be willing to look, willing to see.  I believe when I look back at my life from the other side, I'll look at this as one of my most favorite life experiences... as it was the day I knew, unequivocally, that God was there, that He loved me and would be with us every step of the way.  

Please know that He's there for you, too.  That is something I know for certain... for a Bomb Squad truck on a hard day in May told me so. :)


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Do small things with great love...

I have so many cool stories I can't wait to share about how others have shared our burden, come to our rescue and shown us amazing, unconditional love. In fact, I could write nothing BUT those stories and it excites me to begin the process of recording them. One particular experience has been on my mind today and I knew it was time to write it up.

I have a friend at church named Sue.  She's a mother and grandmother - and the woman seriously has a heart of gold.  She's unique... a bit quirky maybe, but compassionate beyond description. I've grown to love and respect her very much and know few others that love as unconditionally as she does. Another thing I love about Sue (and this might sound odd) but she always has yummy gum. As in like... remind-you-of-your-childhood-super-delicious sweet-watermelon-flavored gum.  Just chatting with her, you can smell the sweet scent and you can't help but smile while your taste buds scream for a piece.  On more than one occasion, I've complimented her on this lovely aroma and have been rewarded with a stick to enjoy.  Kind of a silly, insignificant thing, but a fun connection I have with this sweet friend.  She'll even pass me (or my wild 8 year old) a piece between pews if I wink and give her a signal! :)

I was at church, it was probably only a Sunday or two after Eric had been diagnosed for the second time.  I always hated those initial weeks - the first time you see someone, it's either emotional or awkward and I dreaded the duty of individually breaking that ice with everyone. It's just hard. When the meetings were over that day and I was be-lining for the door, she stopped me.  She grabbed my hand and immediately I could see her eyes welling up with the biggest tears you've ever seen. As if she'd had it forever and had just been waiting for the right moment... she put her hand in her pocket and pulled out a package of her famous "Watermelon Twist" gum. Not just ANY old pack... it was a gift; adorned with a small bow tied with baker's twine. In her soft, choked up voice... she said, "I'm so sorry. I just didn't know what else to do when I heard."  She hugged me so tight and in my ear she pleaded for me to call her when I needed help with the kids; a promise that her husband could bring her over anytime I needed her. Understandably, my eyes welled up too when I realized how much she loved me, cared about our family and how much she had wracked her brain to think of the right things to do and say the first time she saw me. My heart melted, not really over the pack of gum, but because she thought of the one personal thing that connected us and used that to show her love. Her gesture that day was nothing short of perfect and I think of it often.

I love you, Sue.  Thank you for teaching me that small things, done or given with great love, can make the biggest difference - even if it's just a .99 cent pack of gum.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Loving the present...

Rewind to November 12, 2012...  It was a rainy and dreary Friday. We had just finished Eric's 12th and final round of chemo from his first diagnosis. To add insult to injury, we were also going on DAY 12 with no power, heat or running water from the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy. I know. Brilliant timing. The physical and emotional exhaustion after 8 excruciating months of chemo on all of us is impossible to describe and to come home to an empty, cold house was almost more than I could stand. I had farmed the kids out for the weekend to stay with friends so that Eric could sleep and recover by the fire in the family room; the one room in the house that we could keep warm. I'm NOT the "farm your kids out" kind of mom - I'm like a hen, I like my chickies close.  So coming home and having them gone was like the icing on the cake of hitting rock bottom. After I got a fire started and had Eric settled in, I laid there in the dark listening to the logs crack and the tears I had been working so hard to dam up began to rush.  In a matter of minutes, I was drenched with my own tears and my body convulsed as intense emotion and despair finally overcame me.  It was in that moment that I truly knew what it meant to weep. To really, really weep. As the hours went on, well past midnight - I remember pleading, absolutely begging the Lord to put my life on fast forward.  I didn't just want our current circumstance to be over, I wanted to be past it.  I wanted to be so far ahead that the sting of it all was forgotten. I would have offered a limb, a million dollars, my soul - if only to fly past one year, JUST ONE YEAR to get this awful hell behind us.  

I eventually fell asleep and morning came. Two days later, the power was back on and the kids came home. What followed the next few months was a slow, but welcomed recovery. By January he was back to work and little by little it seemed we were getting back to that "normal" we used to love. The better and better he felt, the better I felt. The whole feeling in our home turned from anxiety and stress to laughter and fun. The sweetness and appreciation for each other, for life, increased 10 fold and those 3 or 4 months were awesome.  I felt the skip in my step return, I no longer had to just "grin and bear it".  I started designing again and my creativity exploded.  Eric felt well enough to travel. I painted. We had moved into our new house just a few weeks before he was diagnosed, so I was anxious to decorate and put my stamp on it. We even went on a vacation to Washington DC.  Life was seriously awesome. It was a new kind of normal, a new kind of awesome, and although the fear of ongoing scans loomed in the background - and I appreciated every second of it.

Then... in a unique moment, just about a year later, suddenly the remembrance of that awful night flooded back to my mind. The experience had been so vivid, I could almost smell the fire and I physically cringed just thinking of it. I remembered how I had BEGGED for life to advance past the turmoil we were in. Ironic that now, about a year later, we were back in the hospital.  Months had passed since a second diagnosis robbed us of that new found relief and Eric was sleeping, hooked up to a centrifuge collecting his stem cells for transplant. I almost fell over when I realized it.  Had the Lord granted my wish to advance a year - we would have missed those precious months of bliss before he was diagnosed again. We would have missed the wonderful feeling of remission and the relief and happiness that came with that.  We would have missed the growth, the gratitude and the quality that LIVING IT had added to our life.  By all accounts, one year from that awful night - we were now in a much worse, far more serious and life threatening situation.  I couldn't BELIEVE I unknowingly WISHED for that!!   It was in that moment that I learned how important and ESSENTIAL it is to live in the present. Today is a gift. Who knows what tomorrow or next week or next year may bring?  It was that day that I chose to appreciate each day for what it was, no matter what.  Wishing away today would be a huge mistake!  Looking back... I might even realize that those days, the days I wanted to end so badly, were actually some of the sweetest days.

From that day forward, I vowed to no longer wish away my circumstance... but to embrace it.