Saturday, August 18, 2018

President ... And Vice President

This post is #94 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

August 18, 2008

I wish I had a "first day of school" picture for this, the beginning of Hannah's junior year and Bethany's eighth-grade year.  But at this point in her cancer treatments, Hannah really did not like having her picture taken.  Her hair was still thin from the radiation rays and she was a little self-conscious about that.  I respected that and did not take one.  In fact, we have only a handful of photographs of her from that entire year of her battle.

In Hannah's small high school, class elections were held on the first day of the school year.  She came home that day a little bit bummed ... not because she didn't win her election, but because she didn't win two elections!  She was voted student council president ... but was "just" the vice president of the junior class.  Other than that minor disappointment, she was very pleased with her schedule, her classes, and her teachers.  We really couldn't predict the impact her treatments might have on her day-to-day schedule, but she was ready to tackle whatever lay ahead.  School year 2008-2009 was underway!

My email from the first day of school 2008 ...

After a great first day of school, we went to our doctor’s office at Hot Springs and got Hannah’s blood work done. Her platelets were at 102, which is well above the magic number of 75. So…she will be starting her chemo drug tomorrow night, and will take it for five consecutive days. That way, she’ll only have to be in school for three days while taking it, and the last two days will be over the weekend. She’s been feeling so good lately, it’s hard to make her start back on the Temodar, but it will get her that much closer to finishing these treatments. Please pray that she will not feel too bad while taking it, and that it won’t interfere with school too much. This week should give us a good idea of how the school year is going to go.

Your prayers for our family have meant so much to us over the last few months….God has truly used all of you to bless our family! He is good, all the time!

Jill and Brad

Saturday, August 11, 2018

School Supplies

This post is #93 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.


August 11, 2008

I've always loved school supplies. There's something about brand new, never-written-in notebooks, clean loose-leaf paper wrapped in plastic, binders with tabbed dividers, "bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils" (one of my favorite lines from "You've Got Mail"), and neat stacks of pristine pocket folders that I just like.  Every new school year is a blank slate; a fresh start.

Hannah shared my affinity for school supplies. She always wanted to shop for them as early as possible for the best selection, and the second we got home with them, she would get busy. She'd separate them all by class, then painstakingly label each item with her name, her teacher's name, the class title, etc. The loose leaf paper would go into the binders, and dividers would be put into place. Then she'd place everything in a neat stack, largest items on the bottom, smallest on the top. She would have her schedule, locker number, and combination all memorized within five minutes of receiving it. The girl just loved school!

And just like every other school year, she was ready to get started.  She would be a junior this year, and was ready to get it behind her so she could graduate (as valedictorian, of course!) and go on to Ouachita Baptist University that next fall.  Brain cancer was just a blip on the screen of her life at this point.  She had so much to look forward to!

One more thought ... As we approach the eve of back-to-school week in Arkansas, I want to share a word of encouragement to those parents whose children are marking milestones ... starting kindergarten, beginning junior high, entering their senior year of high school, or maybe going off to college for the first time.  Let me encourage you to rejoice and celebrate each of these milestones with your children.  Please don't waste precious time being sad that your children are growing up ... That is what children are supposed to do!  Those are things to celebrate, not to mourn.  Allow me to gently and lovingly encourage you to be thankful that your children are healthy with bright futures ahead of them. Take time to savor every moment and celebrate every milestone!

My email update from ten years ago tonight ...

We had our monthly visit to Children’s Hospital today for routine bloodwork and Hannah’s antibiotic breathing treatment. Hannah’s blood counts were really good…almost all counts were in the normal range, except for white blood cells and platelets, which, of course, is to be expected. Her platelet count was exactly the same as it was last week (72,000), which was really good, because we really had expected it to drop lower this week. She was scheduled to start back on her chemo medicine (Temodar) this week, but her platelets have to be at 75,000 in order to start. So…we are glad she will get to enjoy her final week of summer, but it means that she will probably have to start the Temodar next week, which is the first week of school. At the same time, she will be glad to get yet another round of treatment completed…after that, she’ll only have seven more to go.

We are so thankful that Hannah has felt really good for the majority of the summer, and we’ve been able to enjoy time with family and friends over the last few weeks. We are also glad to be getting another school year underway, and to be getting closer every day to the completion of her treatments. God has truly been gracious to us, and we are so very thankful.

God is good, all the time!

Jill and Brad


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Late Summer 2008

This post is #92 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.


August 4, 2008

The beginning of August always brings a flurry of back-to-school activity, and late summer of 2008 was no different.  Scattered among the weekly trips to Children's Hospital were cheer practices, band practices, basketball practices, back-to-school haircuts, visits to the dog groomer, dentist appointments, and end-of-summer visits with the girls' grandparents.  And of course, there was the requisite back-to-school shopping!

Bethany would be starting eighth grade in a few weeks, and Hannah was looking forward to her junior year of high school.  We knew the school year would be somewhat challenging with Hannah's medical situation, but things were going so well, we really weren't too concerned.  By the end of the school year, she should be just about finished with her treatments, and would be good to go for her senior year.  Things were moving along just as they should be.

My email from ten years ago tonight ...

This will once again be a short update, because, thankfully, there’s not much to say. Hannah had her weekly blood work today, and her counts have dropped slightly, as expected at this point in her chemo cycle. They are probably a little higher than they were last month at this point in the cycle, so that is good.

She also went to see her ophthalmologist today, at the recommendation of her oncologist. As a result of her surgery, she has some remaining double vision and some difficulty with her upward eye gaze. Neither of these problems is too bothersome…she is able to read without difficulty, and the upward eye gaze is only a problem when she is in a seated position and has to look up at someone standing beside her. She is able to look up, but it requires some extra effort. We’ve been told that these problems may yet resolve themselves, and our visit to the ophthalmologist was just so he could get a baseline indication of where she is right now. Next Monday, we will go to Children’s for our monthly appointment.

Psalm 73:28 ... "But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God; that I may declare all Your works."

God is good, all the time!

Jill and Brad

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Just Another Step Toward a Cure

This post is #91 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

Mid-July 2008

Hannah was amazingly patient with the various aspects of her regularly-scheduled appointments at Children's Hospital.  She didn't love being repeatedly poked as the nurses searched for a "good" vein, but she never complained.  Nor did she enjoy having her blood pressure taken ... in fact, it was quite often high because of the stress related to the blood draw ... but she patiently put up with it, even when it had to be taken more than once to get a reading within the acceptable range.  She smiled her way through all the routine questions she was asked at every appointment.

But she hated the antibiotic breathing treatment she had to endure every month.  This was no inhaler or nebulizer-type breathing treatment.  Hannah had to sit in a hospital bed or on a chair, be zipped into a plastic tent, and breathe in some sort of foul-smelling (and apparently foul-tasting) medication for about thirty minutes.  The tent was transparent, so we could see each other when she was in there, and we could talk to one another if we raised our voices a bit.

I'm not really sure why she hated that treatment so much, but I have a suspicion.  It was obviously unpleasant, but so was most of what she went through during that year.  The purpose of the procedure was to prevent a certain type of pneumonia to which she was susceptible due to her chemotherapy regimen ... and I know she thought that was silly.  She never believed she would get pneumonia.

I suspect that what really bothered her was how isolated she felt sitting in that tent.  For those thirty minutes each month, she could do nothing but sit inside that tent, breathe, and think.  While sitting surrounded by plastic, I believe she keenly felt the separation that existed between herself and the rest of the people in her world.  The isolation of being a teenager with brain cancer became a little more real.

Finally the tent would be unzipped and she would be freed from her temporary prison.  She would sputter around for a few minutes to clear the remnants of yuckiness from her nose and mouth, and then her good humor would return.  Another month's breathing treatment down.  Just another step in the process of accomplishing our goal ... a cure for Hannah's glioblastoma.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Reasons to Celebrate

This post is #90 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

July 21, 2008

It had been a busy summer with Grandma and Grandpa Camp, our family trip to Nashville, and the celebration of Grandma Frankie's life.  The cancer battle had actually become somewhat routine at this point ... weekly blood work, platelet monitoring, and five days of oral chemotherapy per month if those platelets were high enough.

But nothing can shake up a routine like an upcoming MRI.  Hannah was on an every-two-month schedule for these scans, and it was already that time again.  For us as Mom and Dad, the "scanxiety" could be extreme.

But Hannah approached these MRIs with remarkable composure.  She never needed any kind of sedation ... just her headphones and a Carrie Underwood CD.  The biggest stress for her was the insertion of the IV because she was such a "hard stick".  I've wondered if maybe she didn't really understand the life-or-death nature of these scans, or if she was just that confident that everything was going to be fine.  I believe it was the latter.

Thankfully, this particular MRI promised us at least two more months of life.

As you can see from my email from ten years ago today, we had several reasons to celebrate!

Well, we had a good visit at Children’s Hospital today. We first went to the oncology clinic, where an IV was inserted (to be used for the MRI contrast later) without too much difficulty. They drew Hannah’s blood and all of her counts have improved…some even within the normal range! She had her antibiotic breathing treatment, and then we went down to the MRI suite. About 45 minutes later, we were sitting with her oncologist looking at today’s scan compared with her original scan from February 20th. How awesome to see that wonderful, clear MRI picture right beside the MRI picture with the tumor! The oncologist said that today’s scan looked really good to him, but the radiologist will have to read it and we should get the final results tomorrow. We are again very thankful for what God has done!

We are also thankful that this round of chemotherapy has been easier on Hannah than the last one. She took her last dose on Saturday night, and is already feeling pretty much back to normal today. Her nausea was much better controlled by the new drug, and other than some off and on queasiness and fatigue, the five days went by much more quickly than last time! Thank you for praying! She will have eight more rounds of chemo to go, with the next one to start in 23 days. This timetable could change, though, and probably will, based on her platelet counts. It’s nice to know that she will have at least 23 days without any side effects from treatments!

Your prayers have truly made a difference in our lives….God is good, all the time!

Jill and Brad

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Thoughts At a Funeral

This post is #89 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.


I love this picture of Hannah and her great grandmother Frankie.  It was taken when both of them were still healthy and perfectly captures the special relationship they had.

Grandma Frankie's funeral was held in a small country church filled with family and friends.  As the eulogy was read and the songs were sung, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through Hannah's mind.  Was she thinking of her own mortality as she considered the life and death of her great grandmother?  She had heard what the doctor said about glioblastoma on the day of her diagnosis.  Did she wonder if her own funeral might be next?  Or was her faith so strong that she didn't even harbor such thoughts?

I honestly don't know.  She was intensely private, and if she had any such thoughts, she kept them to herself.

My email from ten years ago today ...

July 15, 2008

Hannah had her weekly bloodwork done a day late this week, because we spent the day yesterday celebrating the life and homegoing of Brad’s grandmother. Frankie Mae Stahl Owens was a precious, godly lady whose life was an example to the whole family and to all those around her. She will be greatly missed, but we are all rejoicing that she is now in Heaven, where she most wanted to be!

Hannah’s counts have all risen somewhat this week, including her platelets, which are now at 87,000. That means she will start her next five-day round of her chemo drug tonight. The doctor has decreased her milligrams from 340 to 300, in hopes that it won’t take her platelets quite so long to recover from this dose. They have also prescribed a different anti-nausea drug, which we are hoping will be more effective in keeping her nausea under control. Starting a new round of this treatment is kind of bittersweet…we hate for Hannah to have to go through it when she’s been feeling so good lately, but at the same time, it is good to get back on track with her treatments again, because it will just bring her closer to getting finished! She will have eight more rounds to go after this one is completed.

Next Monday (July 21st), we will go to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for her bloodwork, her antibiotic breathing treatment, and an MRI. This will be a very full day, and Hannah may still be feeling a little sickly from having just finished her chemo medication a couple of days before. Then on Tuesday night, we will be meeting with a volunteer from the Make-A-Wish foundation, which Hannah is really looking forward to!

Please be in prayer that this round of chemo will cause less nausea than the last one, and that our appointment on Monday will go well, with a good MRI report. Your prayers have meant so much to us over the last four months, and we continually thank God for all of you!

God is good, all the time!

Jill

Monday, July 9, 2018

Family Vacation to Nashville

This post is #88 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

Mid-July 2008


Our family was blessed to enjoy several wonderful vacations together ... while the girls were growing up, we made treks to Branson, Gulf Shores, Disney World, Yellowstone, and several other fun destinations to visit family and friends.  During the summer of 2008, Brad had to travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend a work-related conference and we girls had the opportunity to accompany him.  It was the perfect trip for us that year ... not too far from home and our doctors if Hannah had any issues ... yet far enough to be a good get-away for us. 

We stayed at the Opryland Hotel, which was an interesting experience in and of itself.  We enjoyed some good restaurants, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, visited a botanical garden, shopped at a couple of big malls, and saw the sights of Nashville. 

During the time we were there, we could almost forget that Hannah was sick because she was doing so well, but there were little reminders.  In this picture, we were at a pool of manta rays at one of the malls we visited.  We had a great time feeding them and reaching into the water to touch their backs as they skimmed past.  You can see the thinness of Hannah's hair, which she worked hard to cover up with her ever-present wide headband.


Here the girls were having some fun posing with "flat" Dorothy, emulating the expression on her face.  One of the only lasting side effects from Hannah's brain surgery was the inability to look up with her eyes, and you can see that in this picture.  She could look to the side, but not upward. 


Thankfully, these were relatively minor issues and we were able to fully enjoy that time together as a family! 

On Friday of that week, while we were still in Nashville, we received the sad news that Brad's grandmother had gone to Heaven.  Well ... sad for us, but not for her!  Frankie Mae Stahl Owens had raised nine wonderful children, and had 20 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren.  She was an amazing example of a life well lived, and we knew her reward in Heaven would be great.  We headed home to Arkansas the next day to prepare to celebrate the life of Hannah and Bethany's great grandmother.