Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brain Surgery 1 year later

It's been one year since we found out the results from John's MRI that was performed July 2, 2010.  He'd been having headaches non stop, 24/7 for about 6 weeks prior, when his doctor felt that an MRI was necessary to see if there was something going on in that brain of his that we should be aware of.  I remember where I was, the day when John called me after his doctor told him what they found. He called me on the phone, I was home with 1/2 the kids, he had the other 1/2, at the 4th of July breakfast and flag raising put on by our church.

John:  Well, I got the results back from the MRI.

Me:  And???

John:  They found something.

Me: (My immediate response) Is it cancer?

John: No, but there's something there. I'll tell you when I get home.

Me:  Okay, bye.

My first thought?   Relief that it wasn't cancer. My second thought? What the heck is it, and does 'whatever it is' need to be removed?  I honestly can't remember the details of when he did come home and tell me what the doctor found from the MRI.  But the jist of it was this.... he has two cysts, one that's pretty large that needs to be removed, most likely.  The official name of the diagnosis is a Ventricular Tumor, or Arachnoid Cyst.  

Our first step in the process..... we take our DVD of the MRI to a neurologist, who does an examination on John, looks at his DVD, and tells us pretty much what we already knew. That step would have been nice to simply avoid, was a waste of time in my opinion.  The neurologist then directed us to a neurosurgeon who he felt would be 'the man' to take care of this.  We finally get the appt. with him, he looks at the DVD, but he's got a different reaction. Uh-oh..... I'm not liking this the more I listen to him and watch him.  

He proceeds to tell us what the neurologist couldn't.  The cyst itself isn't so much the problem, where as the location of the cyst IS the problem. It just so happens to be in the center of the brain, which is the most rare spot for a cyst to be.  He said that 95% of the time they will be on the surface of the brain, not IN THE CENTER. He proceeds to tell us that it needs to be removed, but removing it is the tricky part.  We are all for it, and figure, okay, it needs to be done, lets get it done. 

Me:  So is this like an outpatient surgery?
Dr:  (He looks at me like I've just asked the dumbest question on the planet). No... you'll be in the hospital at least 3 days.

He smiles at us and says....You haven't asked me how many of these I've done.

Us:  How many?

Dr:  None.

John and I both look at each other..... okay, not feeling so good about this now.  He proceeds to tell us that we need to think about this, if this is what we feel should happen, and that he himself is not convinced that this IS the cause of the headaches.  He orders a test be done by an opthalmologist, to make sure the optic nerve isn't involved.  Again, another appt. more weeks to wait.  Finally get that appt. out of the way, and fortunately, everything looks good, optically.

After some thought, both John and I are not comfortable with the first neurosurgeon, as good as he may be, to perform a surgery, in the center of the brain, where he's never been before.  We start to look for another doctor, another opinion.

It's nice to have friends that have connections. After an email exchange with a friend of mine, about this situation, she tells me that she will do some digging and find out where we should go.  This friend works at a law firm, and someone on the board of trustees told her for us to see either Dr. Delashaw, or another Dr. up at OHSU. We were told they were the best, they would help us. So that we did.

We got an appt. with Dr. Delashaw, who we were told was THE BEST neurosurgeon on the West Coast.  Just getting this appt. with him was a blessing, seeing how busy the man is, clinic is only on Friday's and he performs over 400 craniotomies per year.  It had been exactly a month since the MRI was performed, when we saw him.  Time's-a-wastin' in my book, so I was glad to finally see him, and hope for some answers, and that this man KNEW what he was doing.

The Dr. may not be the most personable, and he may go tanning, (nothing wrong with that, just when it's plain as day he's doing it) and seemed overly confident in himself (but hey, I want confidence if your going to mess with my husband's brain). He looked at the MRI DVD, came in to see us and spoke very clearly and blunt to us.

Dr:  You have a very large cyst (2 inches round) in the center of your brain, that is blocking the draining of the cerebral spinal fluid and you need to have it removed asap.  You also have another one in the back of your head on the surface of the brain, but we won't touch that one, it's so small and most likely not causing your headaches.

Us:  Okay, have you done this before?

Dr:  Yes.

Us:  So how's it done?

Dr:  I will cut part of your skull, take this tube down to where the cyst is, drain it, remove it, and allow it to drain for 24 hours.  

Us:  How long will this take?

Dr:  It's about a 4-5 hour surgery. You'll be in the hospital 3-5 days, recovery of about 6-8 weeks.

Us:  So what do we do?

Dr:  Get it scheduled.

Us:  Well, we're going to Hawaii in October, and we've got tickets and everything, can't change that, can we still go? (Come on now, I've got my priorities and I'm not gonna see this money go down the drain for the condo we rented!)

Dr.  You should be fine.

So, arrangements are made for surgery on August 30th.  My husband is going in for brain surgery.  Never thought I would say those words, ever.

During these two months of finding out the results of the MRI, and up to surgery, many thoughts entered my mind about the future.  The whole time, through all of this, John is telling me he's not worried one bit, his exact words.  He's probably the most optimistic person I know (except for when it comes to the direction of our country... but that's a blog post for another day) Was I worried? You better believe it. I have 4 children still to raise, we're self employed, in the midst of a remodel, my mom was 17 hours away in another country, and if something were to happen to John, he's got my house set up in home automation, and I haven't a CLUE how to fix anything that has to do with that. When the lights aren't working, HE'S THE ONLY ONE, literally, who knows how to troubleshoot and take care of it. In all seriousness though, part of me was scared, very scared. Very grateful that no, it was not cancer, that this was something that could be taken care of. But when you are given the news that this type of condition is very rare, and the location of it, well, it couldn't have been located in a worse spot. That is what scared me.  I don't care how talented you are with your hands in surgery, when it comes to the brain, if you don't have that, well, then, you don't have much.

Never once did I let my emotions get the best of me. I had to keep in control, mostly for my children.  We are very honest with our kids when it comes to things like that. They know all about their big sister, who died at 4 months of age.  This was just another trial that we need to be refined from, and what better lessons could they learn than by watching how their parents deal with it.  

I will never forget a friend of mine who came to visit me at my home a few days before the surgery. Before she left she was in tears, for me!  She told me that she just felt terrible about what was happening, and especially to someone like John.  That she felt we were so strong and wondering how we were keeping it together.  I smiled at her and said, "_____, I haven't even cried about this yet, so don't YOU cry."

Am I strong? I don't know if I would call it that. Sometimes I feel like the weakest person around.  Since losing my dad, then my first baby just two years later, I've had lots of time to dwell on the topic of strength.  I used to say to people, while dealing with McKenna's death, that I didn't have a choice, I had to be there for her, had to have faith that things would work out as they should.  But as the years have gone by, I understand more clearly now, that we all have a choice. We choose how we will react to trials. They can either tear us apart, or they can make us better people, and it's up to us how that all turns out. 

I also believe that none of us are immune to problems in life. No matter "how good" someone might think another person is, or how well you may live your life, trials come to us all.  Some have trials BECAUSE of choices they make, others have them because we have a loving Heavenly Father who knows there's something we need to learn from this. That is how I had to look at this trial we were now going through.  I remember telling another friend that I hadn't let myself think of the worst case scenario for the first month or so, until right up to surgery. I was getting scared.  John was as calm as could be, which is his temperament.  It's not mine.  Yet I never let my children see that.  I had to keep it together.  

The time for surgery came, and still, John was calm, ready to roll.  I remember clearly in the pre-op room, listening to the other patients who were behind closed curtains, but you could still hear every word.  I began to count my blessings as I listened to an elderly man go in for brain surgery for the 3rd time, to try to remove more cancerous tumor.  I wasn't dealing with cancer with my husband, and for that, I was immensely grateful.  I am grateful for trials in my life, that have reminded me of the many blessings I do have.  I also hoped that I could be as brave as that wife was to her husband with cancer if I were to ever face such a challenge.

 As I sat in the waiting area of the hospital, two good friends came to visit me, to occupy my time, bringing me my most favorite dessert, a wonderful giant lemon bar, and a yummy bagel sandwich.  What more could I ask?  Good food and good friendship.  They helped pass the time, for which I am grateful.  I know of many family and friends that prayed on his behalf and those that fasted for him.  His name was on the prayer roll at our temple nearby, as well as several others around the country.  I knew that not only was John in good "surgical" hands, but in the hands of the Lord as well, and that he WOULD hear the prayers of us all.  

I remember clearly how John looked before they rolled him away, and the stark difference after surgery when I was finally able to see him in the recovery room. The surgery was a success, they say.  The cyst was removed, but he was having a hard time coming off anesthesia.  He ended up being in the hospital the full 5 days, with fevers coming and going.  When you have been married to a very healthy man for nearly 14 years, who's never had major surgery before, you are not well prepared for the effects of surgery, especially after brain surgery.  He was in the ICU for 24 hours before he could get a regular room.  I had never seen him in such bad shape.  That morning he was John, the John (most of us who will read this) know, but after surgery, he was not well.  I was actually worried, after a few days, that he would never be the John I had married.  

I will never understand what he went through.  And it's hard for him to explain to me.  He says it's "like having a baby".  I used to get ticked when he'd use that remark in other conversation, but this time,  I understood what he was saying. You just simply do not understand what it is like unless you've gone through it yourself.  For days, he couldn't carry a conversation, he would stare blankly.  That got me worried. He did not want visitors, just wasn't up for it (and for someone as social as he, I knew he was not feeling well at all to turn people away).

We knew of someone who's husband died of brain cancer, and she and my other friend, who helped us get in touch with this doctor, both knew how recovery would be, but never told us. They didn't want to scare us.  Part of me is glad they never told us.  Yet from my perspective, it was an amazing thing watching him go through all this.  He was kind to his nurses, very soft spoken, and honest in how he was feeling. And it made me realize how truly grateful I was for him.  Not just as a husband, or father, but provider, and that if anything DID happen to him, that I would truly be missing out sharing the life of a truly good person.

I knew, that if John, after surgery, wasn't as political as he had been before surgery, that something very wrong had happened. Well, he was and is just as spunky politically as ever.  None of that changed.  Thank goodness.  He just wouldn't be the same John if it had.  But recovery was tough, tougher than he thought. He thought he could return to work a week later, but he understood that was going to be longer than he wanted.  However, he went back to work after 3 weeks, instead of waiting 8.  He is not one to sit around, and goes stir crazy if he has to.

You never know how the cards will be dealt. It's while the cards are being shuffled that we are being prepared for times such as these.  As a year has nearly passed since surgery, I reflect more on my many blessings.

*  The simple blessing of life
*  The blessing of talented surgeons
*  Friends who help comfort, feed you and your family, listen to your fears, and share in your burden
*  Family who will drop anything to help you, whether it be staying with my children so I could be at the hospital, or fasting for John's surgery and recovery
*  Medical advances...... entering the center of the brain? Who would have though that just a hundred years ago that was improbable.
*  Most of all, the blessing OF trials, because it is IN the trial where we learn the most about ourselves, and our willingness to submit to God.

Have things improved for John since surgery, health-wise?  He still gets occasional headaches, but not like before, he's had his 6 month MRI checkup.... everything looked good, and he'll tell you that he just doesn't have the strength that he used too.  But he's here, with our family, providing for us.  I couldn't ask for anything more.  And knowing him, I know that after he reads this, he'll try to get me to delete this post and say that I shouldn't write about him.

I can't believe it's already been a year, and because of that, it makes me appreciate even more, the time I do have with my family, 'cause I know, from experience, they can be taken from you before you feel it's time.  But it's in those moments that we seek deep into our soul, submit our will to God, and know that our lives ARE in his hands.  I'm just so grateful that his will was for our family to have their dad/husband, stick around.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things I learned at a Tim McGraw concert

It was a last minute decision, literally, to go see Tim McGraw last night.  John had talked about it for a week or two, but never purchased any tickets.  He's not one to pay full price for anything if he can avoid it.  He'll gladly tell you the C for his middle initial stands for cheap.  So, avoid it he did.  He arrives home from work at 4:30, gets on Craigslist to see if there are any good tickets for sale, happens to find 2 from someone that lives just down the street from us. I put lipstick on, hairspray my hair, he changes his shoes, and we're off.  We left at 5, the concert started at 7 p.m., about 15 miles north of Vancouver, about a 45 minute drive from our house.  

On our drive there this was some of our discussion...
John:  Have you ever been to a concert before?

Me:  Yeah, John Denver, when I was a little kid.

John:  No, I mean a REAL concert.

Me:  What? That WAS a real concert.  (What girl doesn't like John Denver? He was country/western back in the day.... I still listen to him every now and then)

We arrive, and realize we're under dressed (or, over dressed for that matter, meaning, we've got a little bit more clothing on us than some folks), but it was fun seeing all the cowboy hats and boots and gigantic belts, where I have no idea how some of those guys can bend over wearing them. Oh, and the seats? Well, we paid only $50 each and noticed they said "Pit".  I suppose I should mention, we're not regulars when it comes to going to concerts.  It's been a few decades or so since we've been. I know what the pit is, from musicals I've been to. I didn't really think about it so much until we walked in the arena.  Oooohhhh, the PIIIIIIT. Yeah, so that's where all the arm reaching folks who want their hands touched by the concert giver, and you're standing the WHOLE time, squwished by everyone.  No thanks, I'd rather sit. (Like I'd be doing much of that anyway).  But I still wanted the OPTION to sit if needed.

Sooooo, I persuade John that we just aren't "pit" kind of people, we're OLD. I want to be able to sit down if I need to, and I'm okay with not touching Tim McGraw's hand, I didn't bring any hand sanitizer anyway, so I'm good.  Well, we looked around to see who might enjoy the pit more than me (John would have gladly stayed in it, but being the kind husband he is, he consented to swap).  Now, mind you, we didn't realize these tickets were worth $623.00 each!!  Would I have changed my  mind had I known? Probably not.  We found a mom with her 5 or 6 year old son, who was decked out in Tim McGraw from head to toe, and they gladly gave us their comfy seats about 20 rows back. Still good seats if you ask me. We had EXCELLENT views of Tim.

Here are some interesting details I soaked in while pretty much enjoying myself at this concert....

*  There were only  a handful of sober people at the concert, I'm glad John and I were 2 of them.

*  Grandmas and grandpas pushing 70 and 80, like Tim McGraw's music.  How cute it was to watch them mouth the words to the songs. I wish I could have just taken a picture of them, but they were sitting right next to us, they might have thought we were weird or something.

*  I came to realize that indeed, everyone on the planet does in fact own a cell phone.

* Getting alcohol poured down the back of your seat and not realizing it until you sit down, is not fun, nor does it feel good on your back. I've never had a sip of beer in my life, and now I was going to go home smelling like I took up drinking.  (So glad I brought a blanket with us to dry myself and the seat off).

*  Yep, the music's PRETTY loud. I thought my chest was going to leap out of my body.

*  I believe I lost a bit of hearing about a quarter way through the night.

*  The consumption of alcohol can produce some interesting "shows" from people around you.  If Tim McGraw, Band Perry, or Luke Bryan weren't entertaining enough, the gals in front of us sure were.

*  What I learned most of all?... That giving up some pretty darn good tickets to a little boy and his mom, was worth it, just to see him on his mom's shoulders pretty much the whole time, with the best view a little 5 year old's heart could desire.  

We had a great time. I'm glad we went. It was some good old fashioned "country" fun, and I'm glad I can wake up the next morning, not sick, or puking from a hangover, and REMEMBER the good time I had with my husband whose middle name is cheap.  Sometimes that can turn out to be a good thing! (There's only one other concert I'd REALLY like to go to honey.... Rascal Flatts. Hint. Hint.  And I might turn into a "pit" person for THAT one.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

End of School Blues

Kinda, sorta... for me anyway, and not my kids. I don't know that there's been a summer vacation I've looked forward to more than this one; yet at the same time I felt kind of sad for my kids to be done with this particular school year.  They, on the other hand, couldn't WAIT for summer to begin. (Now, if only the weather would cooperate).

I just want to give a gigantic thank you to all 3 teachers of my children. They were fantastic. I was at school today, their last day, helping out where ever I could, as I've done each Tuesday this school year.  And as I was watching the teachers say their goodbyes, give their hugs, tell me all the wonderful things about my kids that I love to hear, I really could feel their genuine love FOR my children.  I could sense their sadness to see each child go, if only for a few months, even though they'll return after labor day. But it won't be the same. They won't be their teacher again, and they won't have the same interaction with them as they did this year. 

Each one of their teachers put their heart and soul in the classroom. I could tell.  There are two professions that I truly feel takes a very special kind of person to fulfill that job: teacher and nurse.  I have had lots of experience with both, and I've been able to distinguish between those that love their job, and those that make me wonder how in the world they chose such professions when they seem to have a hard time dealing with "people". 

Being a teacher is no easy task.  It takes lots of skill, patience, time, dedication, love, sacrifice.  I could go on and on. And aside from all the politics associated with schools and teachers, I know these particular teachers, and many that my children have already had, truly love what they're doing. And for that, I am so grateful. 

I believe that it is within the walls of our own home where we will be the greatest example to our children, where we will have the most important influence.... but it sure does help when they've had such great teachers to help them along the way too. Thank you Mrs. B, Mrs. D, and Mrs. G for helping to make my child's school year such a success. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Read me through before you get upset......

Well..... here goes. Wasn't sure if I should post such a topic. You know, there are some things that should just remain silent, kept to ourselves.  It's a sensitive topic, one in which I've thought long and hard about. And one that I may need to remind myself of, if I happen to get addicted to it. I've got to be careful, or I could eat my own words.  Try as I might, I hope I don't fall into this dangerous habit that has afflicted millions world-wide.  I pray that my children will not get caught up in it when they are older, although I know that the influence of the media, friends and peer pressure will remain high, and could alter their decision making, and ability to lead productive lives.  Enter..... the SMART PHONE.  That darned piece of electronical technology that is driving me C R A Z Y!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And just in case you're wondering..... I certainly DO believe everything I just wrote in that previous paragraph.  And I worry for myself, that I might fall into the trap of this fast paced world in which we live, that has made us feel like we need to be updated on every little thing in a moment's notice, or faster, or that we can't wait for an answer to a question, but that we need to have it now or never.  

(Let me just say here and now, to all my friends and family who have smart phones.... I still love you, phone or no.  None of this is directed to any one person. Plus, I think very highly of you all, you're much 'smarter' than I am)

Okay, so it's obvious I'm not anti "new" technology, or "new" stuff. I'm on facebook, I have a blog. I do the books for my husband's electrical contracting company using sophisticated software on  a computer, and I DO have a cell phone, albeit a piece of junk that constantly dies, with the bare minimum internet access that makes it so not worth even using. However, I am glad I do have one, for emergencies, and that kind of thing.  I don't have a GPS in my car, but have many friends that say I should get one, that they really are awesome.  I'm not against that either, I just don't have one.  But is my life any less functionable without it? Without a Smart Phone? I still get by.  Just a decade ago, these things were either unheard of, or were in the baby steps of mortality.  And look where we are now?  Well, I can tell you where we are, most of us anyway.... WITH OUR HEADS DOWN STARING AT OUR PHONE.  (I know someone who sleeps with their Droid underneath their pillow every night....now tell me, if that isn't dedication, I don't know what is). (oh, and I should mention, it's NOT my husband).

I know that we are a very blessed generation to have such technology at our fingertips, LITERALLY.  It is an amazing thing to be able to scan a product at a store, with your phone, to see if it is sold elsewhere for cheaper. Wow, who would have thought?  Not me, certainly.  And I realize that the world we now live in demands us to be more accessible to our families because of the dangers of society.  It is very much a different world now, than it was when even I was a child.  I get all that, I do. I also want to state that I'm not saying Smart Phones are EVIL.  I know they are amazing devices used for much good. I know plenty of contractors, where it is an amazing tool to have to run their business, and what a blessing that is. It would be like saying computers are evil just because of the access of pornography, or that television, period, is corrupt, because of some pretty nasty shows that are out there. But there is this thing called the remote control and parent lock, and self discipline.  The benefits of the Smart Phone, the computer and television, far out way the cons. I am not against any of them. 

So what's my beef with the Smart Phone?  Well, like I said earlier, I realize I could very well fall into the love affair with these phones if I'm not careful myself. But I suppose that is when I should reflect and make sure I know my limits.

So here goes............... 

*  there was a time when the dinner table was for eating dinner as a family, and engaging in conversation with your loved ones, instead of listening to uninvited guests blaring out of that little black rectangle.

*  it used to be that when someone wanted to talk to you face to face, or was just trying to have a conversation with you, that you actually looked like you were listening while you were manipulating the phone.

*  it seems to me that if you have lived in your place of residence for years, and know all the restaurants on the back of your hand, that you could just figure out where to go without making everyone "shush" in the car while you spoke into your phone and asked "Restaurants in....." and waited for a response.

*  why do I need to get the GPS woman to speak to me on what the best route back to my home is, FROM a place I've traveled for years?  I'm pretty sure none of the roads have been demolished and new routes put in place.

Yes, yes, yes.... .these things are cool.  And I hear these particular phones come with a bazillion apps.  You name it, you can have it.  Cool, I suppose.  But not for everyone I guess.  I know someone in particular, that wonders why it's just simply not a big deal to me.  Will there be a time in our world when we will HAVE to be dependent on such devices to even just barely get along or make it in life? I certainly hope  not.  I understand that to a certain point, we need to be current on what is available and up to speed on everything that is offered, especially if we want to compete in the market place, to simply be able to progress with work, etc... etc.... I truly do get all that.  

But I am a child that grew up in the era of watching Little House On The Prairie every Monday night at 8 p.m.  Oh how I loved that series.  I think the reason I loved watching it, and still do to this day, is because it was a simple life. Not simple physically for them, but socially.  Life seemed much slower paced, content with what they had, and family was important, it was everything, as well as hard work.  I think they came with a lot more patience too.

I can hear some of you now, thinking that I'm insinuating that we are not family oriented, that we are not content with what we have.  Well, I'll be honest, I think that is true for many people in the world today.  I, myself, need to be reminded of the treasures that I have, to not take them for granted, and am always needing to learn to be content with what I have.  But what I HAVE noticed, is that something as small as a rectangular device that we hold in the palm of our hand can take too much attention away to what is staring at us in the face, and we'll only know who/what they are when we're looking UP.

p.s.  please forward this post to me if I become a smart phone geek :-)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Vacation...... can hardly wait!

As the years go by, and the more children I have in school full time, the more READY I am for summer vacation. I was reading a blog post of a friend who was explaining how she needed to appreciate each summer home with her kids.  I felt like I needed to do the same thing.  Writing things down usually helps me appreciate my circumstances better.

I am a routine kind of person. I like a schedule, I like things to be done orderly, and I like consistency.  But when the end of May nears.... I am SO  ready for none of that.  

Here in Oregon, school doesn't get out until around mid June.  The kids are ready, by Memorial Day, to be DONE with school; and so am I.  

*  I look forward to not having to get out of bed by 6 a.m. to wake my oldest up. (He insists that he arise at 6 a.m...... I'm determined to get him an alarm clock that won't break or die before September).

*  I  am glad to be done with homework for a few short months.

*  I will not miss packing lunches every day, and hearing the kids fight about who gets what chips.

But what I DO look forward to is......

*  The hikes we will take every week, exploring Oregon

*  The lazy days of sleeping in, and not racing to catch the bus

*  Basketball camp, Cub Scout day camp, Boy Scout camp, and maybe a trip to California

*  Hanging out with my kids (after they've done their 30 minutes of summer school) THEY will definitely not be looking forward to THAT!

*  And last, but not least, sending them off to school again come day after Labor Day, 'cause by then, I will be ready to send them off and look forward again, to routine, a schedule, and consistency.

Funny how that works out; always so ready for summer when May rolls around, and by end of August, ready to send them off again.  Don't get me wrong. I love my kiddos.  But somehow, I think they're ready for routine too, as much as I am.  

We'll go through the motions for yet another year; learning to get along with new friends, deciding that hot lunches are just really gross, figuring out where the best spot to sit on the bus is, realizing that the current grade we're in is tougher than the last one, bring home gobs of fundraiser catalogs that just end up in the garbage the moment I take them out of their back packs, and so on and so forth.

But for now, I can't wait for summer to officially begin. Mother Nature? The sun would help if you don't mind.  We Oregonians don't take the sun for granted, and we kind of feel jipped from this so called Spring we had.  I plan on making the best of each moment at home with all quatro kids.  (Although I have a feeling I'll need to remind myself why it is I was longing for summer) And before I know it, they'll be gone again.  Like my friend in her blog said...."This is the only summer I have with my 11, 9, 6, and 3 year old."  Let the good times roll!