Normal is underrated

Normal.  It’s a word I’ve never really identified with.  Growing up as an overachiever of grand proportions, I’ve always shied away from words such as this. I’ve never aspired to flirt with Normal, or tango with Average, and can hardly utter the word… Ugh… Mediocre.  Routine? – the bane of my existence, and solid was a word I’d like to hear only in reference to my backside.  I always pictured myself living a more glamorous existence, chasing the tail of life, and filling it up with adventure.  I’ve discovered, however, that normal is relative, and certainly not bad.  In fact, I would even say I now crave normal.

This past week was surprisingly just that, with a daughter who was functioning as a wonderfully average five-year old.  Lulu is off of chemotherapy for almost two weeks, and our regular-ish little girl has reemerged.  What most people find to be ordinary, we now find extraordinary.  Her fighter blood counts were so high we were able to do crazy things like go to the grocery store!  We got ice cream one day, and went to a park – WITH other children!  We sat at the dinner table together and shared a meal where Lulu actually ATE!  It was only yogurt and one bite of chicken, but we could have been dining at The Four Seasons, it felt so good.  I had a business meeting that I’m not sure how it went, but who cares!  It was a normal thing to do, something I haven’t done in 6 months.  I met a good friend who is going through a hard time and I was able to listen to someone else’s problems. Wonderful! My dad is in town and we actually went out on not one, but two dates!  I mean, come on, this is pure gluttony.

The icing on the cake was a visit to Lulu’s K4 class.  She had only attended for 2 months before her diagnosis, but her school has been surrounding us with love ever since.  When we entered the classroom, a hush fell over the room.  The kids were lovingly and cautiously instructed not to touch her due to exposing her to germs.  We hadn’t been able to tell the teachers of her improved status for this week.  Lulu was beyond excited, bouncing up and down, overwhelmed into smiling silence and eyes so happy they squeezed almost shut.  Gingerly, the little ones approached.  Jimmy, my dad and I watched from a distance, letting go of any control over the situation.  One little dark-haired boy came up to her and quietly said, “Hi Lulu, you look just beautiful”.  Wow, thank you God.  The kids were curious, but completely respectful.  I wanted to grab each one of them and squeeze their little cheeks off, then send a letter to their parents thanking them for raising such gems.  Her principle read a story to her class as Jimmy and I held hands, being sure to keep the other hand free to wipe the tears that were escaping rapidly.

Yes, Normal is relative. I remember when Lulu had an undiagnosed ruptured appendix on top of her leukemia, which caused her excruciating pain and multiple surgeries.  There were times when we thought to ourselves: can’t she just have normal shitty cancer?   Bo, a boy we met in the hospital during this time, is one of the sweetest, most kind-hearted boys I’ve ever met.  He was recently given his walking papers; remission.   He rang the bell at clinic, meaning his fight is over, he’s won, and his new normal can finally begin.  We felt lucky to be there that day.  He had adopted Lulu when she was at her worst.  Bo saw the little fighter in her, and just took to her, even when she was too sick to even know he was there.  He’s been her big brother from down the hall, making her little presents and always keeping her in his prayers.  Bo just celebrated his 13th birthday yesterday, and his present?  He found out his leukemia is back.  Please pray for him and his family. Normal has now moved into divine.

-and, Hey Normal, we know we only have you committed for two more days, but please stay for a while… and visit Children’s often.

A.L.L. of Us

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Seeing is believing

I have two crazy stories to tell you this week.  Crazy good, with crazy-amazing moments …  The first story came out of the blue:  I have to take Lulu into Children’s for bloodwork weekly, and put numbing cream on the insides of both of her arms, to give them a better shot at finding her teeny tiny veins. It’s always traumatic, no matter how much cream and self-talk I teach her.  As we sat in the waiting room last week we were, as usual, surrounded by other children with their parents.  You can tell immediately which are which; the sick from the healthy. Sometimes it’s obvious in the children themselves, but you can always tell by their parents.  Some just cry outwardly, others simply glaze over, lost in their own pain, overwhelm or denial.  The healthy-child parents give these sad, pitiful looks to the rest of us, or avoid eye contact completely.

A robust little girl came over and started speaking really obnoxiously to Lulu.  She kept asking her about her feeding tube, why her hair was gone, poking at her, your basic nightmare.  She wouldn’t give up, and her mom was M.I.A.  She kept trying to touch Lu’s feeding tube, and at one point, she tried to grab it.  Lu was so calm about all of this, but I had a secret desire to take this small child and do more than talk to her!  Down Mama Lion.  Of course, I didn’t act on this fleeting thought, her mom returned and we had a peaceful few moments before going in for the poke.

I started reading a friend’s Caring Bridge, filled with sadness for her, and so much empathy.  I didn’t have time to finish reading it before our names were called, and I brought that energy silently into the lab room.  Lulu started sniffling immediately upon entering, and I sat her in my lap as the nurse came over to do the deed.  The techs there are usually very disconnected,  getting the job done, ignoring all the pain/fear/screaming/hysteria they deal with from these little tykes.  How else could they get through the day?  But our nurse was different, completely present.  As Lulu was obviously terrified, yet trying her very best to be brave, the nurse seemed moved.  She kept saying, “I just feel awful, I just don’t want to do this to her.  I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t want to do this.  I’ve never felt this badly before”.  I could tell she was sincere.  It was as if she could tell how much worse Lulu’s been through, how much worse she has yet to endure, and how this little poke was just one too many insults to her little body.  The blood was drawn, the kleenex came out and as I wiped the rivers of tears and snot from Lu’s face I looked up to see the nurse who also needed a tissue.  We exchanged a look that reached beyond the moment, when you really see someone.  She took Lu by the hands and apologized to her profusely, looking her straight in the eyes.  She apologized over and over again in a heart-wrenchingly touching and surprising way.   As she looked up at me, eyes still brimming with tears, she said she’s been doing this for 24 years and never wants to do it again.  She’s never been so upset, and just doesn’t ever want to poke another child again.  Ever.  I thanked her for not being numb to her job, to us.  I haven’t seen her there since.

The other story came just as unexpectedly.  As you know, Lu and I have been largely sequestered for months, due to low blood counts and susceptibility.  She had been asking me for weeks to go to Alterra, our favorite coffee shop, so she could get hot chocolate.  It seemed like such a wonderfully normal thing to do.  Finally, I just said “let’s do it!”. I actually showered and put a touch of makeup on, threw on some jeans with my favorite jacket and off we went.  She was bubbling with excitement as we stood in line.  The place was packed and I immediately started doubting my decision.  There was no turning back now, though.  We got our goodies and were forced to sit at the, oh no, COMMUNITY table!  Ugh.  Germs everywhere! Ok, let’s just make this snappy and get outta here.

But Lu was actually eating something, her favorite poppyseed bread, a sip of hot chocolate.  Ok, we can stay a couple minutes.  The guy sitting next to her says hello, and Lulu is having a ball playing as I plan an escape-route in my head.  There’s something about this guy next to her, he keeps chiming in on our conversation, wanting to engage somehow.  This is already atypical for us, as we more often encounter the opposite reaction from strangers.  He looks like the usual eastsider:  young, plaid shirt and jeans, but there’s something more there …  Lu must have sensed it too, and after chewing on the broken-off piece of bread for a while, she turns around to the young man and says “do you want some?”  She reaches out, offering this obviously goobed-on-by-sick-girl crumb and the guy takes it, thanking her, and EATS IT!!!  He gave us a beautiful gift in this small but mighty gesture.  My eyes connected with his and there was a strong energetic moment of what I’ll again call “seeing” past our physical selves.  We exchanged first names, and although I wished we could talk more, I have to get Lulu out of there.

The encounter really stuck with me.  I couldn’t shake it.  I just had this strong intuition about it.  I decided on a whim to google him.  His first name was Toussaint and I knew where he was from, how hard could it be?  It proved to be incredibly easy, as if fate had stepped in once again.  I found him within a few minutes.  He had a band, and a blog.  I stopped there.  I knew he would write about us, about Lulu.  I don’t know how, but I just knew.   I started checking the blog every few days until … There it was.  The entry was called “Coffee and Chemo”. Here is the link to the full story: http://www.toussaintmorrison.blogspot.com/2012/04/coffee-chemo.html . You’ll chuckle at his misinterpretation of me (“Jesse”), but I can understand it from his point of view.  He was, however, spot on in his impression of Lulu.  I ended up emailing him, explaining my preoccupation, thanking him, and introducing my family to him and letting him know that Lulu was doing well.  It turns out that his mother works in oncology and had been battling some health issues of her own.  He was very generous in his email, and I think we will forge some kind of friendship from this.  He also writes beautifully, and I’d like to invite you to follow his blog: http://toussaintmorrison.blogspot.com/

I still can’t get over it.  How powerful a moment can be, a small gesture, a little empathy.  How connected we all are, how powerful it is to really SEE someone, and be seen.  Isn’t that what all of us really want and need in this life?

Please reply to this and share your thoughts, or a time when you’ve felt seen.

T. Marie and a.l.l of us

“Rise”

I am with Lulu at Children’s this week for more treatment. She’s been the life of the party here, and hosted her own rainbow fiesta at rounds this a.m. One of our favorite docs brought supplies for her to decorate her room in a rainbow theme, and she made each doctor a rainbow drawing. She also gave away bead necklaces and leis. It was so cute and, although the toughest round is still ahead, it reminded me how very far we’ve come in 6 months.

Hubby Jimmy’s gone for 3 days this time, so he will get back tomorrow when we hope to be released. I have friends stopping by with dinner each night we are in the hospital, which helps tremendously in passing the time. If everything continues to go well for Lulu, we are planning a little family camping getaway this weekend. Cabin camping, no roughing it for us right now!

Max has become an adopted family member in some of our friends’ homes. We are eternally grateful for their generosity. He’s still very quiet about what’s happening with his sister, and I sometimes worry that he’s stuffing it all. – but he surprised and touched me last week when he told me there was a song that always reminded him of Lulu. He quoted some of the lyrics which proved just how deeply he understands. I bought and played the song on the spot. It is called “Rise” :

I used to be afraid of giving up
The road was just too tough
Out here on my own
My path was so alone

But now I see clearly
Everything within me
Is reaching out to the sky
I can see the world with open eyes

You can’t let it pass you
Just take hold and grasp it
Now’s the time to take a chance
With the strength of a thousand men
Climbing to my feet again

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

That’s what left your head up to the sky
And find yourself asking why?
Never see them out at night
With the hardships of life

But faith is where my heart is
Let energy replace my doubts
Won’t my trials get the best of me
I’m marching forward towards my destiny

You can’t let it pass you
Just take hold and grasp it
Now’s the time to take a chance
With the strength of a thousand men
Climbing to my feet again

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

Together we can do anything
We’ll rise
We can make it through anything
We’ll rise
Together we can do anything
We’ll rise, we’ll rise, we’ll rise

You can try to hurt me, doubt me and desert me
I feel the will of kings, with my mind I’ll build the sea
And you know a tree will grow and take me in
To safety’s arms, I will descend

So dry those tears from your eyes
And everything will be alright
You know the rainbow’s just in sight
Dust your wings off as you rise
If your heart feels overwhelmed
Just know you’re never by yourself
Put your hands in mine, hold your head up high
And together we’ll rise

Together we can do anything
We’ll rise
We can make it through anything
We’ll rise
Together we can do anything
We’ll rise, we’ll rise, we’ll rise

Yeah, I was tearing up too. Jimmy listened with us, and it was one of those moments when our bodies were pulled powerfully to the earth, and we were completely grounded and accepting.

I’m feeling, dare I say it … Hopeful? Please knock on wood as you read this! I think hope is the difference between thriving and existing. In any circumstance.

Love,
a.l.l of us

Tootsies and Trips

This morning began with foot in mouth. I’m not speaking figuratively; said something stupid, embarrassed myself or someone else … I’m talking 5 tiny pink painted toenails inserted ever-so-gently inside Mommy’s drooling, agape craw. No, there was no adorable little princess sock protecting me, no pink tights smelling of fabric softener. Just skin on skin contact featuring upside-down duckling-headed five-year-old and finally sleeping mama. Blech! Ptu-Ptu!!! That’s it. We’ve gotta get this girl back into her own bed! I must say, it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time, much needed after the events of this week and I finally feel motivated to do something today. Perhaps it will be getting Lulu’s little-girl bed out of the attic again, since she can’t maneuver her big-girl bed with her feeding tube. Or maybe I’ll have Jimmy do that while I go to the gym?.

Yes, hubby’s back after another trip. He was only gone 3 days this time, but of course, everything seems to happen when he’s away. The night before last, I dragged myself up the stairs at 11:30 after taking a benadryl, hoping for some deep Z’s. I crawled into bed, next to, HEY, there are TWO kids in my bed! Oh well, there’s room without Jimmy in the king-size (yes, I know it’s an issue and we need to work on this. Don’t call Dr. Phil). I pulled the warm covers up. Really warm covers. Too warm. Shit, Lulu’s got a fever. Shit shit shit! It’s over 101 which means I have to take her in to E.R. Panic. Can’t leave Max here alone, or can I? He’s 9. He’ll sleep. What if he doesn’t? What if he wakes up and starts freaking out. Don’t want to take him to E.R. at midnight and mess up his whole school day tomorrow, let alone have him go through the trauma of being there with screaming Lulu. Who can I call this late? No answer from Jimmy. Call BF in Minneapolis. Ok, I’m not thinking clearly, but she has 2 kids who are older than mine and will know what to do. Sure enough, she says leave him a note, he’s ok to stay, but might not remember talking to me and call a neighbor. I didn’t want to do that to my neighbor, but that was the permission I needed to make the call. Ring. She was so gracious, came right over and slept on the couch.

Lulu and I got into the car and she asked if she’d have to get poked. Of course she would, and without numbing cream, her port would have to be painfully accessed. “I’m not sure baby. I’ll ask when we get there”. She’s still freaking. As I arrive carrying her through the doors on the way to her room, I hear “T, is that you? You look beautiful!”. This is the weirdest thing I can ever imagine hearing right now. Me, in the hospital, stressed-out bed-headed in sweats juxtaposed with this statement. I turn to see a long lost dear friend from high school whom I’ve been trying to find for years. “Laura?” Wow, how nuts is that!?! It turns out she had taken care of Lulu the last time Jimmy brought her to E.R. and that they had clicked instantly. He had spoken to me of the great nurse they’d had that night as well. I long to speak with her and catch up, but between the docs asking questions (yes, she has A.L.L. em, yes she’s on some medications…), Lulu’s screaming and me fighting the effects of the benadryl, all is lost. She leaves me her info and we promise to get together soon. Lulu gets her blood drawn, is poked and prodded, given antibiotics and after 4 hours we are released. She likely has a cold.

Aaah, just another day in Cancerland.

A.L.L. Of Us