01 June 2014

3 years

3 years.  I cannot believe that it has been 3 years since the seizure that changed everything.  It is amazing to me, looking back on our life these last 36 months, how God has strengthened us, humbled us, and changed us.  Yet at the same time, there are instances where we I try to get through things on our my own.  Which can sometimes (OK...100% of the time) lead to mistakes, heartache, hurt, and stress.  We are human, we are messed up.

But most importantly...we are loved!  After all I have done in my life, my Savior loves me.  ME.  And he loves my wife.  My kids.  Our families.  Our friends.  And sure we could be bitter and spiteful because Natalie has cancer.  I know plenty in life who are.  But that is not what we are called to do, to be.  We are called to be "MORE THAN CONQUERORS!  (Romans 8:37).  To be different.  And I am not perfect at doing this.  In fact, far from it.  It is hard.  But the great thing is God takes the weak and makes them strong.  He takes the small and lets them face giants.  And win.  I take comfort in the fact that God has surrounded us with prayer warriors.  And he surrounds us with his presence on a daily basis.

So as I look back on the 3 years since the start of our new life, I thank God every day for Natalie, and for giving her the strength to move forward and to fight, even when she didn't/doesn't feel like it.  For being there for our kiddos.  I can't imagine my life without her, and I am amazed everyday by her fight.  She is absolutely incredible.  And I wish I told her that more often.

Also, I want to say thank you to our friends and family for your prayers and support.

To the organizations we have found since the diagnosis, thank you! 
Brain Power 5K and the Run for the Rose for allowing us take part in your fund raisers and be encouraged when surrounded by other survivors with their support systems.
Gregg Pearson Foundation for your friendship and spiritual support team.
Also the newest organization First Descents that will take Natalie for a week long adventure trip this July and help her remember to live life beyond the diagnosis.

But most importantly, I want to say thank you Jesus, for standing by us, and protecting us.  For lighting the dark path, and leading us to where we are today.  May we never stray from this path.

God meets us where we are, and when bad things happen, can help bring us out of despair.  Pain and hurt will still happen, but there can still be joy in the midst of pain.  Though we are fighting cancer, we are truly blessed and thankful.

Remember...Grey Matters.

~  David

16 April 2014

Keep watch with me.

If this blog is the only way you are following our family, my cancer story, and getting prayer requests, then I'm sorry that I am not updating.  I value your prayers and comments but you should probably send me a friend request on Facebook.  I have had so much that I wanted to sit down and post but other things take priority and then it always seems outdated to go back and post it.  For example, at this point I can guarantee that I won't be posting a 2013 year in review Christmas letter.  Maybe I should start on this years in order to finish it by December!  *This post is about as raw and real as I get.  I will probably sleep great tonight now that I've shared so please don't let this cause you to miss getting your rest!  Thank you for your prayers and for allowing God to use you in my life when I needed you most. 

If you are taking the time to read this, then I want to ask you, "Will you keep watch with me?"

Each time I read the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, He teaches me something new.  This year so much has touched me, but the main theme beyond His sacrifice and defeat of death has been the people in Jesus' life.  His family and friends that had to deal with his death.  I know they wanted more time with him on earth.  When Jesus knew His death was approaching, He went to spend time alone in prayer, but first he said to his closest friends, "Sit here while I go over there and pray.  My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me."  (Matthew 26:36-38)

Overall I have been well, but this week has been hard.  This time last week a blood vessel burst in my right eye.  My brain tumor is on the right side so my imagination is amazing when it comes to all the horrible things that could be going on inside my skull.  Also, this burst blood vessel is like having an eyelash stuck in your eye for a solid week.  Reading, writing, driving, watching tv, and even rolling my eyes seems more difficult than it should be and when all that is put together into a regular day I am exhausted just trying to be normal.  Don't forget that my imagination is still working overtime so even with much prayer I have not had enough rest.  I am exhausted.  I know that none of life is easy and I try to be hesitant to complain or even post prayer requests (just trust me that I do filter LOTS), because I can simply look around me and am reminded that I should just be grateful.  I can take the time and pray for children dealing with the same cancer as me and that puts everything back into perspective.  Keep watch with me.

As I consider worst case scenarios, it makes me be more productive when it comes to the journals I am working on for Kirstyn and James, but at the same time some very real loneliness is amplified in my life.  I have lots of days that I want to share my fears, but don't want to burden anyone.  I have lots of friends, but no one really close.  (Maybe some of the close friendships I see around me aren't any closer than people are to me, but just appear that way?)  I know that is mostly my fault, but sometimes I long for someone close that just gets me.  I have noticed that as I need people, God just puts them into my life for the first time or back into my life after years apart in different seasons of life.  I can go back and list a need and see the person God put there to meet that need.  Even last week when I mentioned being worried the tumor caused this blood vessel in my eye to a friend, she mentioned to me that she has the same fears creep up when she gets a headache.  She even said when she mentions it to others they just don't get it and she's assured she is overreacting.  Again, it seemed silly how alone I had been feeling because I'm not alone in those fears and God put her there for me to hear that.  She was just in time to keep watch with me.

I follow several brain cancer research sites and I read a statistic a few weeks ago that I have read before, but it hit me harder (everything is louder when I'm exhausted... I know):  Only 30% of people diagnosed with brain cancer live more than 5 years past diagnosis.  I am almost to 3 years.  Basic math tells me that the odds are not in my favor.  A 70% chance that I have less than 800 days to teach my babies and love my family.  Yes, I really do think like this (I used to like statistics!!!), but I don't dwell on it... I have laundry to do, dinner to cook, kids to taxi, and even a blog to write (ha!).  When I mention things like this, the people around me usually reassure me and we move on... I guess sometimes I just wish someone would panic with me.  It isn't always easy to just be reassured and move on with day to day things.  In the Bible studies I have been doing, I have been reminded that my eternal life started the day that I asked Jesus to be my Lord and I should live like that.  Psalm 118:17 says, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done."  Keep watch with me.

I went to the movies this week with another good friend of mine and we saw 'God's Not Dead'.  We thought it would be a good faith building "break" from our day to day stresses.  (We were wrong... God has a sense of humor.)  If you haven't seen it yet, you should go.  There were many people in the movie dealing with difficult relationships, aging parents, and even cancer, but my biggest and most real fear was the main character of the movie.  The man that wanted to push his belief that there was no God was raised in a Christian home but had become that person because of what he had experienced as a child.  He had watched his mother die from cancer when he was only 12.  He refused to believe that even with all of his prayers of pleas for her life that a good God could ignore him and kill her with such an awful cancer death.  I found myself wondering, if his mom believed so strongly in God and her son knew that, then where were her friends after she died to tell those faith stories to her doubting and angry son.  I wonder who will pull my babies out of that pit of bitterness and hate if they fall in when they have to watch this brain cancer kill me.  Keep watch with me.

When I am lonely, I know this:  Jesus was far lonelier than I will ever be and endured it so that we could know Him.  In Matthew 26:36-38, Jesus reached out to his closest friends to keep watch and pray for him but they too were tired.  They were also confused and probably didn't understand just how little time they had left with him...  I like that he wasn't aggressive or needy or dramatic.  Jesus just simply said to his closest friends, "Stay here and keep watch with me."

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10 May 2013

Lifting Weights


I don't want to bound or limited by my diagnosis of brain cancer.  I don't want to make major decisions based on whether or not the remaining tumor could cause another life altering seizure or worse.  I want to trust that my God has amazing plans for me and my family.  I want to raise awareness and see more compassion, funding, and sensitivity toward people just like me.  I've had people question if I really did endure 18 months of chemo... Lots of ignorant statements like, "But you still have your hair" and "everyone that does chemo has their hair fall out" and "you don't act like you have cancer".  Really?  Have cancer patients really been placed into such a small box.  Why do I feel like the powers that be built that box.  Sometimes I find myself jealous of the fact that on any given day you can walk into target and purchase a pink ribbon tshirt. 

*** UPDATE FOR CLARIFICATION 12 May 2013***
The more I review my blog post in my head I feel like I should clarify some of my thoughts. Yes, I actually do spend time reviewing my thoughts, words, and writings each day as I'm trying to go to sleep.  I've always had an amazing memory for being able to quote what I've read word for word even days later.  I can't do that any more, but I can remember most of what I write and I do judge myself rather harshly sometimes.  This time I am relived to be clarifying myself. 

I am so very thankful that breast cancer awareness is everywhere. When a cure is found thanks to all the funding and research I pray that some of that knowledge will translate to other cancers like leukemia that took my grandmother or pancreatic cancer that took a friend and especially pediatric cancers that take too many dear children way too early. I lost a dear friend to that terrible disease of breast cancer and I pray for her 3 daughters all of the time. I have two shirts that I bought because of her that I wear from time to time to be reminded that life is short and she made the most of it. I also have a close friend that was a bridesmaid in my wedding that lost her daddy to breast cancer. And even today as I type this I have an aunt and a great aunt on my dad's side of the family that are fighting breast cancer and yet another encourager in my life that is currently in remission from this horrible beast. David has a t-shirt that says "Save Second Base" that he wears all the time just to watch teenage boys react. We bought that in support of a friend walking in the SGK 3 Day probably 10 years ago before that disease had ever even touched our friends or our family.

All of that to say, if I'm still being honest, I feel guilty admitting these feelings of jealousy and fear that more awareness and funding is not being put into brain cancer. Brain cancer is a terrifying illness that most patients would just like to survive long enough to die from something else (especially me... I don't want my mind to go before my body because I don't want my family to have to endure that!). Did you know that this year alone 70,000 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with a brain tumor? There are already over 120 different types of brain tumors identified. Right now only 32% of brain cancer patients make is past the 5 year mark from diagnosis. And sadly or maybe thankfully, due to lack of funding, brain tumor "facts" will change as more funds are raised and more is learned.
*** THANKS FOR READING THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM ME ***

With that all said, May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month.  Please help me make the Grey Awareness Ribbon more recognized!  This is my current facebook cover photo.


While I'm talking decision making that has to revolve around my cancerous tumor I will tell you that David and I would really love to visit Haiti with my church on a mission trip in October.  We need to make the final decision very soon so that we can pay money toward the trip.  My next MRI is next Tuesday, May 14.  We meet with my oncologist later that day for the results (please read my last few blog posts).  More to come on why Haiti very soon.  James' is planning to collect Spoons for Haiti from his friends for his 6th birthday party and we are excited to see our little boy make a big difference.

So, who wants to help me raise awareness for brain cancer AND help pay a few of my medical bills so that we can pay for the mission trip IF when we get the okay from my oncologist.  Thanks to my awesome friend Eric over at TheShirtPrinter we have a new grey ribbon design available to print!  The best part is that you have lots of choices and all prices are a suggested minimum donation!

$20 - Regular Gildan Brand Tshirt in just about any color you would think to reguest (Kirstyn picked bright orange)

$23 - Dry Fit Heather Women's fit (I'm wearing a red one) or Men's Fit - these are 100% poly so have a silky feel and make a great work out tshirt!  There is a bit of a sheer to them too.

$12 - Just in need of a great draw string gym bag in a variety of colors.... we have that option too!  I can't wait to get my hands on one for me to use every single day.

Please email me, message me on facebook, or text me with your order and we can discuss money details.  I can even take paypal donations.  To save on printing costs we want to try and only do one run so I want to keep orders open for a couple of weeks. 

This design really means lots to me and I hope it inspires you too.  Who knows, maybe someone will ask you what the grey ribbon stands for and you can be the one that raises brain cancer awareness!


"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10




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27 February 2013

Scanxiety

Well, I have to say that timing is everything and with God it is Perfect.  At church our pastor has been preaching a series on Fear.  I've learned that there are two kinds of fear.  One kind of fear is described as Awe or Reverence.  The other kind of fear is one of apprehension, doubt, and dread.    During this study the verse Isaiah 41:10 has been used several times.  "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  I just keep thinking that I need to design a shirt to wear to the gym that says something like 'My God Lifts Weights' and reference that verse and put a barbell on there too.  Anyone else want one too if I design it and get my awesome friend at TheShirtPrinter to make it real?!?!

Anyway, yesterday was my Baseline MRI that I talked about in my last blog.  This morning we went to visit with my oncologist about all the details of "what's next".  I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't anxious about the results of the scan and about the unknown.  No matter the results or my oncologist's planning, the bottom line really is that I have to learn to trust the unknown to a known God.

Yesterday, right after my scan a friend sent me a text with her devotional from 'Jesus Calling' by Sarah Young and it was perfect for me to hear!
I am leading you, step by step, through your life.  Hold My hand in trusting dependence, letting Me guide you through this day.  Your future looks uncertain and feels flimsy -- even precarious.  That is how it should be.  Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things.  When you try to figure out the future, you are grasping at things that are Mine.  This, like all forms of worry, is an act of rebellion:  doubting My promises to care for you. 
Whenever you find yourself worrying about the future, repent and return to Me.  I will show you the next step forward and the one after that, and the one after that.  Relax and enjoy the journey in My Presence, trusting Me to open up the way before you as you go.
So, the question I am having to learn to ask myself daily is will I choose one of the natural responses of fight, flight, or freeze OR will I choose a Supernatural response based on Faith?  Honestly, I think the answer is all of the above.  I have been fighting with everything I have since my diagnosis.  They put chemo wafers in my brain during my surgery in June 2011, I then accepted the challenge of 6 weeks straight of chemo and radiation.  Then, 3 weeks later I agreed to a new chemo regimen where we quadrupled my chemo dose and I have taken that dose 5 days every 28 days for the past 18 months! 

Simply, based on today's oncologist visit.  My tumor is under control for now and has even shrunk some since the start of chemo 18 months ago.  Now the biggest challenge I am faced with is the eliminating of all of the drugs that I take regularly that are no longer a necessity now that I don't have to be on chemo. My favorite news is that I don't have to make weekly blood work appointments anymore.  So, bye bye to all of my nausea drugs, sleep aids, and pain medications.  The chemo that I have been taking basically since June 2011 listed the following as the first four major side effects:  nausea, back pain, weight gain, and sleeplessness.  Trust me when I say that there is a reason why many people have to attend an inpatient rehab facility to come off of some of these drugs!  I have been cutting back the past few months very slowly and I have still had some crazy dreams, night sweats, and major mood swings.  This will not be easy but I know how to cut back slowly and I have a detailed plan.  I will continue to take the massive doses of seizure medication (probably for the rest of my life).  That one causes drowsiness so I won't be giving up my coffee or spark any time soon!!!

I really want to drop some of this weight that I gained while in the hospital and at the beginning of this cancer mess when I was having to take massive doses of steroids.  Getting off of many of these drugs will help that process but I really do need some sleep...good sleep in order to make this weening process easier on my body and my mind!

Now, I really have to let go of this fight.  I'm such a planner and in spite of how incredibly hard all of this has been on me physically and mentally, I can honestly say that my faith has matured.  I would be lying if I said that fear is not a factor since now that my 'fight cancer' plan is more of a 'wait and see' what happens next with the tumor waiting game while continuing normal day to day activity in our home.  Nothing for me to power through except my own thoughts and even then I need to turn that conversation with myself into a conversation with Him.  Please be praying that I will continue to choose faith in spite of my natural responses!  "... we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope."  Rom 5:3-4


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29 January 2013

Not Cool Robert Frost

So yesterday I had an oncologist visit.  Then yesterday afternoon I was in a processing, thinking, stressed, frustrated, trying not to cry in front of my kids kind of mood (you know what I mean, right?!?!)  Well, anyway, I was just trying to focus on something, anything other than my situation and so I checked facebook and several of my friends had posted this video saying "watch this if you need a pep talk!"  So, go ahead, watch it!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-gQLqv9f4o  It is too cute and my favorite part is at the very end where he dedicates his video to his friend Gabbi that is "Fighting Cancer like a BOSS!"  I love it.  If you didn't watch his video then you won't get the title of this blog either!  So, go watch, I'll wait...

Anyway, back to that oncologist visit.  I know this isn't new news but for some reason it just hit me yesterday... HARD. 

First, I went to my appointment alone.  I know I know, I have lots of people that would go with me, but it wasn't an MRI appointment.  Just blood work (and I do that every single Monday so that's routine for me) and a visit with the doctor about my month and what's the plan for next month.  Oh and what I call sobriety testing... really they are checking on my brain and reflexes but if you were looking through the window while I walk up and down the hall and touch my nose and repeat a list of words (yesterday's were: frog, bicycle, and apple) and spell words like train forward and backward then you would be wondering if they were checking to see if I had enjoyed too much fermented fruit for breakfast!

Then we went over the plan.  Start my 18th and LAST (for now) round of Chemo on Monday (Feb 4).  Then schedule an MRI with Profusion (the long one hour, 2 hours from start to finish MRI) for our new Baseline.  Um, okay... that's when I started asking more questions (questions David and my sister Neida had asked 18 months ago and I listened but hadn't really heard).  New Baseline.  *sinking in*... So can we expect it to shrink or die anymore or lessen blood flow to the cancer any more.  NO.  Right now we are believing that the Chemo and radiation has done all it can to fight my cancer and continuing it right now puts me under too many new risks (like building a resistance to chemo and putting me at risk for other cancers... fabulous).  So I said, ok, baseline for what...  Finally she put it in Direct easy for Natalie to understand terms.  "We have to have a baseline because the tumor WILL grow and come back, we just don't know when.  This will allow us to closely monitor it so that we will know what we are dealing with WHEN that happens."  (To be clear for those of you that just decided to panic for me... this could be in 3 months, 3 years, or prayerfully 30 years.  Either way, LOTS more awareness and funding and research needs to be directed toward Brain Cancer!)  And starting out I will be getting an MRI every three months and then eventually stretching it out for longer periods of time as long as no new symptoms appear.  I will stay on my massive doses of seizure medicine since much of the tumor is still in there pressing on important parts of my brain.

Okay, so there I am, proven to be sober and with a pretty cooperative brain and face to face with my reality.  Time to do the blood work and schedule my Baseline MRI and next appointment.  Well scheduling was a nightmare... everything was booked so we are having to split my MRI and oncologist visit over two days.  MRI Feb 26 and Oncologist Feb 27 (David will go with me for both some way some how even with the end of the month being his busiest in car sales and we will work out childcare/taxi services for Kirstyn and James).  While Marsha and Betty (my oncologists' awesome front desk ladies) were on the phone trying to work out a MRI and appointment time for me, I picked up a book that a patient had left behind and started reading.  It's called "There's No Place Like HOPE.  A guide to beating cancer in mind-sized bites" by Vickie Girard.  (I'm currently looking for a copy for me so please message me if you see one... I wasn't able to find an ebook version.)  There are little quotes all in there divided into chapters.  The first one I read was about Nighttime (note: I'm exhausted because I never sleep good before a doc appt).  One of the quotes said, "I'm fighting so hard to live, why do I yearn so deeply for the sweet nothing of sleep?"  Another chapter was Well Meaning Comments... my sarcastic sense of humor was reading these and laughing out loud... I've thought so many of these while just smiling at well meaning people... one was something like:  We all die from something, I could walk outside right now and be hit by a car.  Uh huh, let's level the playing field and you put on a blindfold and stroll on the freeway and I'll take my cancer and cross the street.

Let's just say I needed to know that other people have thoughts like that.  Not that they are good but they are REAL.  I've done nothing but try to be real.  I'm still trying... and I have to agree with the kid in the video, Not Cool Robert Frost, Not Cool!

In other news I've worked out extra hard in the past two days (it's my preferred method of stress relief) and I'm going to be sore.  Today a friend shared a saying that I posted last summer...  I needed the reminder!

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."  Psm 55:22

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

(If you are reading... please comment so that I know who you are.  I know many of my friends visit here because of David and I on facebook, but I also know that there are several others that only use this blog to check on me.  If that is you, please comment so that I can be encouraged to keep posting.)

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09 January 2013

Merry Christmas 2012 (at least it's not Easter yet!)


So when David and I got married, I really wanted to make sure that I took the time to write a Christmas update letter each and every year.  Guess I had a misconception that it wasn’t a big deal and I would be able to always follow through with my plan.  I know I wrote my last long update letter in 2008 and then in 2009, I put together a Christmas postcard with a brief update to save on postage.  But, in 2010 we made the difficult decision to sale our Farmers Insurance Agency to David’s mom and he was officially unemployed and looking for work in a tough economy.  And since postage, Christmas cards and a fun letter wasn’t a necessity I wallowed in my bad mood and opted out of one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  In January 2011, David started a new job at Sewell as a Service Manager with their Fort Worth Lexus Dealership and was really enjoying his new career.  In June 2011, I was diagnosed with a malignant brain cancer – Oligoastrocytoma.  Before even having time to process this devastating diagnosis, I began an aggressive treatment schedule of both radiation and chemo!  The seizures that I had in my sleep that required David to do CPR, and that ultimately lead to that terrifying cancer discovery, forced me to be without a driver’s license for 6 months.  Kirstyn had to attend before- and after-school daycare and James was able to continue to attend his private pre-school.  We had lots of amazing friends that stepped up and helped with transporting all 3 of us while David was working.  When the medical hold on my driving was lifted in mid December 2011, I had people to see, kids to entertain, and tons of errands to run, but no time (or the correct frame of mind) to sit down and write a Merry Christmas letter!  Oh – and in December of last year David transferred within Sewell to work as a Sales Associate at their new Fort Worth Infiniti dealership.

So, here I am at the end of 2012 (NOW, beginning of 2013!  Maybe I will get this out before I need to label it Happy Easter!).  I have a new appreciation of each and every day.  We are being more proactive in teaching our children that ‘stuff’ is not what is important and that life isn’t ever going to be fair, but we serve a God that loves us in spite of us.  I love quotes and I think the one that fits our family this year is by the character Thomas Hunter in Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, “Most men and women will yield to the seas of ruin.  Only the strongest in mind and spirit will swim against that current.”  We are trying very hard to make that a practical and daily process.  For Christmas this year our kids asked us to participate with our church in making an eternal impact in Haiti.  We are sponsoring a 7 year old boy named Woodley through New Missions.  We have his picture on our mantle and we are praying that he will grow into a man of God that will one day be a leader in the Church that our home church is partnering to build in the coming years.

For James’ 5th Birthday in May he asked all of his friends to not bring him presents but to instead bring hats for him to donate to kids with cancer.  Since he rarely takes off his own hat, he thought it was a great idea to make sure all kids, especially ones that might loose their hair, have a special hat!  We also spent much time in the spring praying about whether or not to do another year of pre-k classes or allow him to start kindergarten as one of the youngest in his class.  We decided it would be best for all of us if he returned to his pre-k at Fielder Road Baptist Church.  We did decide to switch him from 2 days a week to their 3 day per week program so he could go more, and that schedule worked better with my monthly oncologist visits and weekly blood work appointments.  He has really grown and matured this year.  He is starting to read and is so very curious about everything.  His absolute favorite thing to do is play Mario games and read Nintendo magazines and websites to learn about more secrets in the Mario games.  I am constantly amazed by how fast he memorizes the tiny details in each game he masters.

Kirstyn began 3rd grade this fall.  She has fallen in love with Hula Hooping and can do some amazing tricks.  She also loves doing zumba and dancing and singing.  Sometimes she is able to combine all 4 of these activities into one!  She played volleyball through the YMCA this fall and really enjoyed it (great news since she is so tall and competitive… just have to work on the aggressive part a little.  Guess she will always be our princess.)  She also started taking piano lessons and has progressed like crazy.  Her teacher believes she is already ready to compete so we will be trying that out this spring.  For her 9th Birthday in November she asked her friends to come to her party and bring donations for the backpack food pantry at our church instead of presents.   This was her second year to donate to this ministry but this year we were able to go bigger by combining her party with her friend Thomas that is in both her class at school and church.  They collected 999 individual food items totaling over 260 pounds!  We made a short video testimonial for our Thanksgiving service at church that can be viewed here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY38R2tFmdY

We stayed very busy this past summer.  In June, my mom and I took the kids on a road trip to TN to visit family.  We also went on our yearly vacation to Port Aransas where we spent a week with some of my dad’s family and mostly just relaxing and playing on the beach!  I was excited to get to actually swim in the ocean, something I look forward to every year!  (Vacation 2011, I still had staples in my skull and wasn’t allowed in the water.  Also, surgical staples can get very HOT in the summer Texas sun!)  The kids attended several day camps too.  Their favorite is Camp Thurman where they play outside and learn so much about Jesus.  Every afternoon they get in the car looking like the counselors dipped them in the lake and then drug them through the dirt all the way to the car but they are excited about scriptures they have learned, fears they have concurred, and friends they have made.

As far as my medical details go, I have had several stable MRI’s showing that the tumor that remains in my brain is not changing.  My most recent MRI was on Dec 31, 2012 so we ended the year with good news.  I will start Round 17 of Chemo pills on January 7th.  The current plan is to stop chemo after 18 rounds rather than the originally planned 24 rounds.  We don’t know all the details yet but we do know that we will continue to monitor my cancer with regular blood work and MRI’s and I will continue to take massive doses of seizure medication.  Most importantly we covet your continued prayers for all of us to be at peace with His will as we continue to make the most of each and every day that God allows us to have together. 

"Because she loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call on me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16 NIV)

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29 September 2012

If it doesn't Challenge you, It won't Change you!

I'm not as smart as I used to be... I don't learn as fast as I used to... I don't multitask well anymore... I have trouble hearing the changes in the music... I have a high risk of seizures under stress... I'm no where near in peak condition, I'm not sure I'll ever be as strong as I was... I have soooooo many excuses and reasons not to keep trying to teach Body Pump, but I still LOVE the program and how it helped me to believe in myself and set aside the excuses I used to use.  BUT...

This battle of mine is NOT a Journey!  So many people refer to some one's battle with cancer as a Journey.  I think a journey is something that you want to do, something that will be a fun and maybe even a challenging experience.  Like college kids backpack around Europe and call that a journey of a lifetime.  Experienced climbers call making it to a peak, a worthwhile journey to the summit.  Yet, in the Old Testament, Genesis 22 when Abraham was tested by God and told to climb a mountain to sacrifice his only son, do you think he would have for even a second called any part of the climb a journey?  No.  It was a test... a trial, one that no one wants to ever face.  In the Old Testament, "trial" is a noun from the Hebrew word sara that probably means "bind, tie up, restrict".  So a trial in that case is a time in life when one is bound or restricted.  Yeah, my battle with cancer is no Journey, it's a TRIAL.  But I can tell you this, my God is not threatened by my doubt nearly as much as He is glorified by my faith.  So, knowing that I just keep praying Mark 9:24, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."

I feel like it is VERY fitting that when I finally got brave enough to try to learn a new Body Pump release (I haven't even opened the last 4) that one of the instructors on the master DVD made the statement, "If it doesn't challenge you, then it won't change you."  Has being diagnosed with cancer challenged me? Yes and more importantly, it has changed me.  Sometimes I want to focus on all those negative changes in me that I listed instead of viewing them as challenges that have caused much personal grief and growth.  Some of these changes have been for the better... I'm more determined to life life intentionally.  I want to build strong relationships.  I want to seek God for my strength.  I don't grieve the time that passes as my children grow up and they change, I'm so very thankful to be witnessing and influencing them!  I've heard people say, I don't want to turn 40... I just keep praying that I will get to see 40.  God may not heal me on the terms that we selfishly and persistently pray for, but I will let him use me no matter what. 

I finally have a real reason to learn this release too because one of the morning instructors has a broken finger and asked me if I would like to team teach the new release with her next week.  I'm so excited to have some real motivation to move past all of those excuses and learn a new release with new music and new choreography!  Am I having to work harder to learn everything than I ever had to before?  Yes... but now I realize challenges aren't limits... they are opportunities to see positive changes in myself!

Body Pump 83 has my new favorite Bicep song, "Stronger [What Doesn't Kill You]" by Kelly Clarkson.  Today at launch I was just there as a participant and much to my surprise the other instructors invited me to the stage for this song.  Of the 70+ participants in that class today, only a small handful even know I am in this trial called brain cancer.  Most of them also don't even know that I'm a certified instructor.  But today, I "stood a little bit taller because" I really believe "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"

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For those of you trying to keep up with my health details: 
I have an oncologist checkup with extensive bloodwork on Oct 2nd; Chemo Round 14 (of 18) starts on October 7th;  an ultrasound of my uterus on Oct 11th (chemo has my hormones confused so this is just a precaution because my periods have changed and I'm dealing with anemia); Next MRI followed by Oncologist visit on October 30th; Chemo Round 15 on November 4th.  I do weekly bloodwork and am also seeing a Physical Therapist to help with some balance issues and left side weakness that have been frustrating me.  It would be so nice to just wake up one morning and not have to think about cancer and doctors and bloodwork and all the expesnses associated with all of this.  Some days just keeping up with my household chores, all these specialist appointments, and taxi-ing the kids to and from school is daunting and I appreciate your prayers.  Lately for some reason, Wednesday evenings have been very hard on me... physically and emotionally, so if you think about me will you please pray for me. 

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24 June 2012

Moments of Impact

"I have a theory...my theory is about moments, moments of impact. My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity that completely turn our lives upside down actually end up defining who we are." - quote by Leo from the movie, The Vow

I sat and watched The Vow with my wife (of course, the sweetheart fell asleep 1/2 way through) and all I could do was sit and cry.  I thought about the moments I spent with her these last 13 years, 7 months, and 24 days.  Some up, some down, some that have changed our lives forever.  But moments that will forever bind us together, define who we are not only as a couple, but individually.  I am not perfect.  I have made my fair share of mistakes.  But there is nothing in this world that I would not do to have my wife beside me.  To hold her close and feel the warmth that radiates from her.  And these last 4986 days have been, by far, the best of my life.  And I would not change that for the world.

I have not handled this journey well, at times.  Not at all.  There are things I am still trying to figure out.  Things that I wish would come easy, things I wish I could change.  But these moments, even the ones I mess up on, can only (eventually) make things stronger.  But what I have to focus on are the things that I can change daily, moment by moment, that can make me a better man.  A better father.  A better husband.  Most days I wake up and go to work, and I completely miss the point.  The point of this incredible life God has blessed me with.  All to often, we go about life and take for granted the lives we touch on a daily basis - heck, even our own life right in front of us!  And I for one, am saddened by my misfortune.

Another line that Leo says in the movie is actually his vows - "I vow to love you now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is once in a lifetime love. I vow to love you and no matter what challenges may carry us apart, we will always find a way back to each other."

I don't want to give up, give in, take the easy road.  Why would I want to do that?  Did Jesus take the easy way out?  Did John the Baptist or any of the other disciples for that matter take the easy way out?  So, honestly, what gives me the right to take the easy road?  Challenges come.  But fighting is harder.  Staying the course is harder.  Taking the road less traveled is harder.

I want to live my life in such a wife that my wife will fall in love with me all over again.  That is my goal for the next 5,000 days - to make the next 5,000 days even better than the last 5,000 days.  Because if I can do that, if I can live my life in such a way that the love of my life will fall MORE in love with me, than I have fulfilled my purpose in life.  And isn't that what we are all striving to do?

The next 5,000 days are going to be the best days I have ever known, for as Robert Frost once said, "two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

Natalie's diagnosis is just a moment in a sea of moments, and I will not let that define us. Our moments range from our first childhood memory, to learning about and believing in Christ, to knowing each other, to falling in love with each other.  What does the rest of our history hold?  Dying?  What about the pieces in between love and death?  A tombstone has your birth year, a dash, and the year you die.  What matters is the dash.  And the sum of all of our moments make up that dash.  The sum of all of the moments of our lives...that is what counts.

David  ~

07 June 2012

May-tastic

Looking back on May, I think I can honestly say it was a fantastic month for our family.  We were able to spend time together and make some fun memories. 

Since May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month I thought I would start with an update about my brain and the tumors attacking it! 
I watched "We Bought a Zoo" with the kids.  It was very therapeutic for all 3 of us and Kirstyn is really thinking about why she has been so mean to me lately.  She seems jealous of David's time w me and his long hours at work, she just struggles to articulate the pain and fear in kindness and she's not alone in that!  Please continue to pray for my babies and us as we continue to process my cancer diagnosis!  David watched it that night when he got home from work and said he sobbed through the entire movie.  Again, I was reminded I should read more reviews and summaries before I just rent a movie to "entertain" us.

I had an MRI with contrast (that's the shorter less detailed MRI) and it showed no new tumor growth.  That is good news since what I have is expected to grow.  What my doctor explained is that since an MRI doesn't show cellular level we can't know if the cells are not dividing anymore or are just dividing much slower now.  Either way, no new evidence of new tumor growth is good news.  Hopefully the chemo will continue to shut down the blood supply to the tumor and stop the growth and then start killing it so that we can see a decrease in tumor size!  I also completed round 9 of chemo in May.  My next doctor appointment is on June 12 and I'm scheduled for round 10 of chemo to start on June 17.  My next MRI with profusion (long one with more detail) is scheduled for July 5th.  Of course all of these appointments and chemo start dates are contingent on my weekly blood work. 

The first big event in May was Mother's Day.  This year we didn't go to Arkansas like we usually do because David was working Saturday and Monday so I didn't want to make the trip alone with the kids.  We did however get to go to lunch and sit on the patio at my favorite place... Joe T Garcia's with David's mom and dad.  It was a very nice relaxing day together.
Seems like most of our BIG activities all happened during the last two weeks of May that I will from this point forward refer to as "The 2 Week Mommy Marathon"!  We had James' last week of pre-school, James' 5th Birthday (the actual one), James' 5th Birthday Party (he asked if he was 6 that day...), Memorial Day Weekend (which in the car business means David works NON STOP), Kirstyn's last week of school including 2nd Grade Awards Ceremony and End of Year Party.  Whew!  At least David and I managed to work in a date night too!

On James' actual Birthday we went as a family to Chuck E Cheese to play games.  We had a great time but the definite highlight of his Birthday was getting to take his picture with the Mario on the side of the road on the way home!  He was standing there waving at the cars because a new video game store was having a grand opening.  James started screaming... look its Mario, a big one!  I've never met a REAL Mario.  So fun that it really is the little things that kids just love! He is still talking about getting to meet Mario the very first day he was there.  We are still slowing down to wave at him on a very regular basis.  Poor Mario, it's been rather hot here already!

For James' birthday party we had a fun swimming party at the YMCA indoor pool.  The theme this year was "Where's My Water" after the iTunes game that he loves to play.  Since Disney hasn't released any products to go with the game other than the tshirt I was able to buy for him, I decided to take on the challenge and decorate his cake.  (I purchased a chocolate cake from Costco so I didn't have to bake too, just decorate!)  James loved his Swampy cake and that is all that matters!

Also, thanks to Disney, my kids have been seeing advertisements about other kids having parties with themes around giving to others.  Kirstyn is so proud that she asked for and was able to donate food to the Backpack ministry at church, but James started asking what he could do for his party that would help others.

After much discussion about what he likes, he concluded there were just too many kids that didn't have hats to wear and in his opinion that is tragic... especially kids with no hair.  So, we asked that his friends not bring him presents but bring hats for him to donate to kids with cancer so they can wear them if their hair has to fall out.  He ended up with 27 hats and $15 to spend on more hats! He is excited to take them to donate them to a Children's Oncology Unit. 
(He ended up going to Arkansas for a week after his party and this week has been in an all day camp so as soon as we have a moment we are going to deliver the hats!)

And I just liked these pictures of James (notice he even has a swimming hat!) with his cousin Bryton and this picture of me with my mom and little sister Neida.








Well, there was my May recap!  More blog posts to come very very soon!  Next up...  My ONE year celebration or a more serious one that I have had spooling in my brain for a few days now. 

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04 May 2012

April Whirlwind

April 2012 has proven to be a major Whirlwind for our family for MANY reasons. 
Here in Arlington we started the month off with a major Tornado.  The 4 of us at the time of the storm were all in different locations and all in the path of destruction.  We were all a little emotional and shook up but safe and sound and that was the most important.  I waited the storm out in the walk-in at our Fuzzy's Taco shop with a good friend and several strangers that won't soon forget me.  Kirstyn was in duck and cover position at her elementary that was only a block from some very major damage.  She told me the next day, "Mommy, I know we are just supposed to pray inside our heads at school, but yesterday when the building was shaking, I was crying and praying out loud!"  James was at his pre-school where they took all the kids into the designated shelter to play games... he had no idea that there was even a storm.  David was in Dallas at a training class and his cell phone calls to me were not coming through, he just knew several tornadoes had been reported in Arlington so when we finally got in touch I already had both kids and we all made it home safe with only minor damages compared to many of our friends.  (Hail damage on our vehicles, new roof has already been put on the house, new bedroom windows, and still working on picking out new garage door... details really overwhelm me now but we are using an awesome contractor and David is taking care of everything that reguires financial decisions.) 

Our friend, Chris took these amazing pictures for our Easter Card.  I love these words to an old hymn we used to always sing in church for Easter Sunday and this year they are so true for our family!

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
and life is worth the living just because He lives!

David and I went on TWO dates.  That might be a record for one month!  We went to a Ranger game with my college roommate Angela and several of her friends and then we got to go to the Bass Hall to see the Ricky Nelson Remembered concert.  I was feeling like I had won the Date Night Lottery.

We made lots and lots of fun memories!  We went to a friend's house for a Crawfish Boil and Kirstyn had so much fun playing with her food.  James wanted nothing to do with the little critters and made it very clear that he didn't want food with eyeballs on his plate!  I enjoyed visiting with several friends from back in our college days.  David ended up at work late but there was still plenty of food when he finally made it over!  YUM!

David had his best month so far since he started selling for Sewell Infinity of Fort Worth. He was very busy and we are all very proud of his hard work... God is so good!  When he needed to deliver a car to a customer in Austin, the kids and I packed a bag and met him down there and enjoyed a Sunday of site seeing and eating!  We had so much fun touring the capitol building and visitor center.  Both of the kids have been learning Texas history in school so they were so excited to be recognizing things all over the grounds and in the buildings.  On our way home we were able to stop by and have Blue Bell Tin Roof Sundae ice cream with my Uncle Johnny.

I took Kirstyn to an event called "Spin Out Autism" and we took along friends of ours.  Kirstyn and Gracie were interviewed by Chevy Hometown Kids and should be appearing on cable on Saturday morning very soon.  We were unable to hear anything the girls were saying so I'm nervous excited to hear what all they said about why they were there Hooping and supporting a cause that helps kids with Autism.  We were all wearing blue shirts in support too!

I was asked to start teaching a regular Body Pump class at a local gym on Monday mornings at 5:30 am and if you know me, you already know that I said yes!  Prayers appreciated because I'm nervous about how that will work during my monthly chemo weeks. 

David's company had a huge summer picnic at the Texas Rangers game.  We were all given t-shirts to wear and had a great time going to the game as a family!  Kirstyn decided that our shirts needed some help to look like 'girl' shirts.  We even sprayed her down with body glitter!  I think David said there were around 3,000 employees and family members that attended the game.  It was really fun to look all around the stadium and see huge sections of seats filled with blue Sewell shirts!  We were seated in sections with each of the dealerships so our family got the opportunity to get to know the families of the people David works with every day.  Kirstyn and James both made new friends that they can't wait to see again soon!

We finished the our crazy busy fun month of April at the Gregg Pearson Invitational golf tournament and dinner.  This foundation has been an amazing support for our family since my cancer diagnosis and we will forever be grateful.  David and my Dad played on a team with two of our good friends and they had a very good time!  The kids had a blast playing in the bounce houses and Kirstyn got her face painted.  I got to meet several people that have been praying for me and mailing me encouraging cards for almost a year now.  It was so nice to put faces with these names that are so special to us.  I was also featured as one of their "Fighters In Focus" and for that I was humbled and honored.

All that in the midst of our day to day activities and I completed Round 8 of chemo.  My next oncologist visit and MRI is scheduled for May 15th.  Round 9 of chemo is scheduled to start on May 20th.  This blog actually feels very "normal"...  we are working very hard to minimize the power that the cancer has in our lives and we really appreciate all of your prayers and encouragement!

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28 February 2012

Living Strong?



I have been reading Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike".  The book is only 232 pages but it feels more like I'm working through this book rather than just reading.  I can relate so much to so many of the things that he says.  In one of his very first paragraphs he says In bike racing... "you don't fly up a hill.  You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.  Cancer is like that, too.  Good, strong people get cancer, and they do all the right things to beat it, and they still die.  That is the essential truth that you learn.  People die.  And after you learn it, all other matters seem irrelevant.  They just seem small."

People keep telling me that they can't believe that I keep going to the gym and working out so hard.  See, I feel like I just HAVE to.  I WANT to.  I am now learning how to articulate that...

No one said anything like that to me when I was extremely obese...  then, it was "great job... keep up the hard work"... as if then it was the best for me to work out because it would help me to loose weight (it was and I needed the pushes to keep trying).  Never mind the difficulties involved when trying to exercise in a room full of 'fit' people believing that I would never look like them, be able to endure like that, be that coordinated.  I lacked the self confidence to even believe that I was capable of being better than I was in that moment.  Somehow, with lots of encouragement (and blogging), I found that self confidence.  I moved from the back of the group fitness room to the front.  I introduced myself to the instructors so that they would know my name and hopefully push me to my limits even on days when I was just in the building to use the childcare!  I got stronger, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I dealt with fears.  I found the same girl at the gym that was smart and strong enough to excel in math and science in High School, College, and in the world of Government Defense Contracting.  I pushed myself.  I let others push me.  I found limits that I didn't know existed and pushed right past them.  I got certified to teach Body Pump and found a confidence and alter ego that was capable of pushing myself to the max while encouraging and challenging others to do the same!  I didn't stop there... I got AFAA certified so that I could teach other group fitness classes!  I was taking step classes all over Arlington and Fort Worth trying to find my favorites so that I could figure out what my specific style of step would look like and how I would challenge others! 

But that's about the time that I experienced a seizure followed by brain surgery and a cancer diagnosis.  Something Lance Armstrong describes as racing down a hill on a bike feeling accomplished for climbing that mountain, only to be smashed into a ditch by a 4x4 pickup truck!  A moment when you are grateful to be alive but just plain pissed off by such a sudden and major derailment in your training. 

But then what do you do?  You get on the bike, go home, nurse the wounds, and restart your training with new limits to push through or allow to heal.  He says even when he got so sick it was a struggle just to go on a short 30 min ride, he did anyway, because he could...  because when he was riding he felt alive and it was a perfect reminder to keep fighting and pushing.  That made so much sense to me!  Going to the gym for a class was on my schedule and a part of my life just like brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and cooking dinner.  Not always something I wanted to do, but always something that I needed to do. 

I can remember the day last summer that my doctor said it was okay for me to return to 'routine' activities and I asked her about going to the gym.  She said, sure, you can go and ride a bike or walk on the treadmill.  I made a face and said I wanted to do a Body Pump class!  (I'm pretty sure David was holding his head on by rubbing his temples, he knew what was coming, he knows how stubborn I am.)  She said she had never heard of that...  so I pulled out my iPhone and showed her a video. She showed it to her nurse and physician assistant and they all three said, "YOU did this before?  Wow.  Ouch."  I proudly said, I taught that before and want to again!  They then realized I was strong and willing to fight this disease with all that I could muster if they would just let me LIVE in the meantime.  As soon as I was able to convince my doctor, David, and my mom that I would survive the experience...  I drug myself out of the bed and into some gym clothes and talked someone into driving me to a pump class!

Last week when we saw the oncologist, I asked her how many more monthly rounds of chemo I would need to do.  I don't know why, but as we are approaching the one year mark I guess I expected some kind of change in my treatment regiment.  I was wrong.  I was caught off guard.  She said, "well this is round 6 of probably 18-24 rounds of chemo."  Wow.  I have to keep taking this stuff for another year... at least.  I was (and still am) devastated.  Here I am getting stronger in so many ways but I still have so much fighting ahead of me.  I hate "chemo week" each month.  I hate waking up for 6 days straight feeling like I have a terrible hangover... like my head is pounding as if I didn't sleep, thirsty, and nauseous.  Yet worse because the only fun I had the night before was swallowing some nasty smelling pills, having to sit up straight for an hour so that it would go down and hopefully not burn my digestive tract, and then falling asleep by 9 sometimes in a puddle of tears only to wake up knowing I have more mornings just like that one to look forward to tomorrow.  On off weeks, I have to get lots of blood work done.  Then every other month I have an MRI... sometimes a simple one that is only 30 minutes long, but other times a 2 hour MRI.  I have one of the long ones coming up on March 20.  I hate having to be so still in a tiny noisy tube for 2 long hours, but I do like that it gives my oncologist so much detailed information about this cancer that we are on a mission to kill... to remove from my body... all the while trying to keep my body strong enough to keep fighting.

At the gym, my new favorite game to play is "excuses".  I started this with my new friend Virginia.  She was about to give up.  She made some comment about her age or her knee (I honestly don't remember)... I just remember that I said, "oh, if you want to compare excuses... I'd love to play!"  She laughed and took me on.  I won!  I showed her my brain surgery scar and told her I was currently going through chemo.  She took a drink of her water and we pushed each other through the rest of that kickboxing class!  Not two weeks later in a pump class, Virginia was behind me again and another woman was beside her.  She was groaning and made a comment about being too old to finish this class, it's just too hard for a woman her age she told me... and commented that I was still young.  I told her that I love to compare excuses, did she want to play?  Virginia laughed and said, "say NO, she will win and you will be challenged..."  The other lady played anyway and lost in our game of excuse comparison.  She finished that Pump class and pushed herself right past some limits she was putting on herself.  Now they both get near me when they can... we push each other.  I don't want to be treated like I'm sick but I'm still careful!  I always make sure there is someone in the room that knows where my seizure meds are located in my bag along with where my phone is and how to contact David if needed.
I just really struggle with the extra challenges that this disease puts on the people around me.  It has added a tremendous financial burden to our budget and specifically to David. When I have "sick" days, it makes Kirstyn ask and worry that I might die during the night. When I spend an entire day at the doctor for MRIs and reports, it makes James ask if I'm going to have to go away and stay at the hospital.   In many ways, we have all had to grow up a little sooner than expected.  Our faith and love is growing stronger.  We are trying to be much more careful with our words.  I still have moments of short temper, quick words, and deep depression...  Writing helps me think it through and your responses challenge and encourage me.

I made up my mind a while ago that I was going to fight this as hard as I could while continuing to live the best I know how.  I get frustrated, I get depressed, I deal with paralyzing fear, I seek the face of Jesus, and I ask for prayer and encouragement.  I want my kids to continue to learn from me.  I want to keep challenging myself.  I want to keep learning.  See, with or without cancer, I'm still the same stubborn me! 

But I'm slowly and humbly realizing that I really am an example of LIVING STRONG.  So do me a favor, put aside what ever excuse you are currently using and try to do something that you know will be rewarding but difficult... just make sure the end result will be worth it and focus on that, because the journey there may be much more challenging than you expected!

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” - Aristotle
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18 February 2012

My Chance to Share!

Last Monday for the Arlington YMCA fundraising and Livestrong program kickoff luncheon, I was asked to share a little about my cancer story and how the Y has helped me.  I was honored to be asked to speak in front of many people that I have never even met.  Many of my friends have asked how it all went...  I actually felt very good about my talk and was more than overwhelmed when I received a standing ovation at the conclusion of my talk.  For those of you that were not there, I thought I could at least share the notes that I made for myself:

(I introduced myself as a group fitness instructor and told them if I got too nervous, I would calm down if I just made them all do pushups or squats...  we got started with a little laugh and I calmed down and was ready to share.)

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I’ve been overweight or obese my entire life until, after having a daughter, I made up my mind to get healthy.  I put on my facebook page that I was on a mission to be healthy through Bible Study, Clean Eating, and Exercise.
My original "life" verse:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12-13

My Y Journey:

Jan 2011 – was recruited by Downtown Fort Worth YMCA to launch Body Pump first to the corporate offices and then to the members.  Took on only one class because I was teaching two per week at the time at Golds Gym and subbing Pump both at Golds and LOA.

Feb – Golds shut down very unexpectedly and I started working out more and more in both the Arlington and Fort Worth Y’s.  Mostly because I was looking for the best step classes to learn to be a step instructor myself. 

March – passed AFAA certification planning to teach step classes in addition to Pump and not long after that I stopped teaching pump in Fort Worth.  My kids just loved coming to this Y for kid fit and the playground.

June 1 – at probably the most physically fit time in my entire life.  I took a step class here and had my kids not been so tired I would have driven over to LOA for a late pump class.  Instead we went home and all did our normal routine.  When I woke up on the next Thursday morning I was in the Neuro ICU at Plaza medical center in downtown Fort Worth and my husband had been through hell.  I had had several seizures in my sleep, he had performed CPR while waiting on the ambulances and I had been first taken by ambulance to MCA and then transferred to Plaza. 

June 7 – the swelling in my brain had reduced enough that they were able to do brain surgery to try and remove as much of the mass they had discovered in my brain as possible.  It was determined that I had oligoastrocytoma (two kinds of brain cancer) and they were only able to remove about 30% of the cancer.

While in the hospital the Ditto PTA moms brought me a big bag of everything – from restaurant gift cards, movie gift cards, bowling, scholarships to camp Thurman, and one that was huge…. A note saying that my kids were given scholarships to any of the Arlington Y summer day camps that they wanted to attend…

After seeing my oncologist in Dallas we determined that I would begin an intense 6 weeks of both chemo and radiation to try to slow the aggressiveness of my cancer.  I began that on July 18th.  See, no one tells you that when you are diagnosed with cancer, you also need to win the lottery.  Pharmacy bills start to look more like car payments and are then stacked on top of paying for weekly blood work, monthly MRIs and oncologist visits, and on and on…  At the end of July and August my kids attended 3 Y summer day camps at NO COST to us and loved every minute.  It was something I would never have asked or applied for but it was such a huge blessing because it allowed me to rest without those little worried eyes glued to my every move.  Since that 6 weeks of treatment I have continued to do one week of monster chemo per month and I come to the Y several times per week even when I don’t really feel up to it because it is normal for my kids and they love the kid fit program and playing with the other kids.  I love that they get tired too and I can trust knowing they are being taken care of.   
I want to make sure that I am making memories with my kids and keeping myself as healthy as I can... spiritual, physical, and emotional health all work together!

"To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable." - Erich Fromm.  And at only 33 years old, this has never felt more true!
My new life verse:
"Because she loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call on me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16 NIV)

We all need to keep in mind what Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.” 

The YMCA and the Livestrong program fit this quote better than anything else I’ve ever read:  said by the character Thomas Hunter in Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy
“Most men and women will yield to the strong currents sucking them into the seas of ruin.  Only the strongest in mind and spirit will swim against that current.” 
Thank you Arlington YMCA for being a part of helping me have a strong mind, body, and spirit!

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Like I said, it was an honor to be asked to speak and I pray that the scriptures I shared touched someone and I know that so many people are watching and many are telling me that I inspire them.  That feels like a big responsibility, but guess what, we are ALL being watched by someone, especially our kids, so make your actions count for good and keep in mind that the people you are watching will make mistakes because none of us are perfect... encourage and push forward!  Thank you so much to those of you that take the time to encourage me, pray for me, and challenge me!

sign

31 January 2012

"Normal" to Natalie...

nor·mal
[nawr-muhl]
adjective
1.  conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2.  serving to establish a standard.

When Natalie originally started this blog, she named it Normal to Natalie so that the world could see what is "normal" to her on a daily basis - how our lives really are in regards to our kids, work, faith, etc.  This new journey we are on with Natalie has really made me think about what is "normal".  As Christians, we are called to be a part of this world, but different from the world.  As Romans 12:2 in the NIV Bible says, "Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...".  We are to be transformed through God and by God, not be transformed by what the world tells us or wants from us.  Yet circumstances love to come about that make it hard to continue that constant transformation process.   And a lot of times the circumstances are far beyond our ability to overcome (in our case, cancer), and can make us question our faith, our love, our strength...ultimately our will to live.

So how ARE we doing?  As mentioned in previous posts, we get asked this question a lot.  And no fault of their own, I know they mean well, and hey...people just may not know what else to say.  And we don't mind talking to people about it.  But we just don't necessarily have an answer.  Our first response (well...at least MY first response) is usually "fine", or "good".  I just don't know what the person is wanting to truly know.  I mean, I honestly haven't slept good in 6 or 7 months.  I STILL wake up at night to check on my wife, sometimes even waking her up in the process because I am checking for pulse or breathe.  Most days, I feel like I am in a fog, which I can overcome this with copious amounts of caffeine and prayer, but how do I tell someone how I am?

As father and husband, I am to encourage and lift up my family in prayer on a daily basis, and trust me...I have.  Probably more than I have the previous 8 years I have been a father, and the previous 11 years I have been a husband.  But why now?  Why does it take a hard circumstance?  Why wasn't I acting this way, praying this way, before this new journey?  Why does it take hitting bottom for us to figure out a way out?  What are we afraid of?

I am reminded of what Colossians 3:2 says in the Message version of the Bible - "Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ - that's where the action is. See things from His perspective."

Here are a couple of other Bible verses I have been reading lately:

Proverbs 4:23 - "Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts"
Romans 12:1-2 - "...Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.  Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead fix your attention on God.  You'll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

So normal to us is a little different now, and I really don't know how we are doing most days.

I mean normal compared to what? :-)

Well, I now know the definition of oligoastrocytoma, and as I mentioned before, I know that grey is the color of brain cancer. I still work at Sewell and am getting used to the long hours, even though it is hard most days.  And I am thankful for my family and my friends.

And normal for Natalie is now making sure the kids stay on a routine even though most day she doesn't feel like she wants to. She really is a hero in my book for all that she does when I am not around (which is a lot recently, it seems).

I am far from perfect, nor do I try to be. And unfortunately it did take this circumstance for me to try to be a better father and husband. But all I have is now, all WE have is now. I don't want to shuffle around, in a fog. So I will take this opportunity to look up.

Until the next blog post, please don't wait until you hit bottom to be a better person, a better husband, a better father.  Why not start today?  Look up...

-   David D.