Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Lighter Load

This post is #71 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.

April 25, 2008

Even after ten years, I remember clearly the weight that lifted off my shoulders when we received the news below.  After two months of balancing the twin burdens of daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the news that they had come to an end sooner than we expected was a reason to rejoice!  I do remember having a little bit of a question in my mind regarding the wisdom of discontinuing the chemo early, but we had confidence in the doctor's decision.  And, oh, such a relief to think of getting back to some sense of normalcy in our family!  I literally felt a lightness in my spirit that I hadn't experienced in a long time.

My email from this date ten years ago ...

We have many blessings to share with you today, our dear prayer warriors! Today marks two months since the surgery to remove Hannah’s brain tumor, and God has been so good to us!  This was Hannah’s last day of radiation … and we just found out that it is also her last day of chemotherapy, at least for another month!

As you know from the updates, her platelet count has really dropped over the last week. She had new blood work done yesterday, but we weren’t able to stay long enough to visit with the doctor because we had to hurry to our radiation appointment. So this morning I called the clinic to talk with the nurse and find out the details about the platelet situation. She told me that Hannah’s platelets are at 31,000, and they don’t even consider giving platelets until they drop to less than 21,000 (Normal is 150,000 – 400,000.)

Then she told me that the doctor has decided that she can discontinue her chemo drug for now (she only had nine days left out of 42). He believes she has had enough of it for now, and that after her MRI on May 19th, her platelets should have rebounded enough to begin the 5-day-per-month chemo drug. This will be the same drug she’s been taking, just a slightly higher dose. She will take this drug five days per month for ten months. And…yet another blessing…she can begin getting her weekly blood work done in Hot Springs, instead of going to the oncology clinic at Children’s every Monday. That means (Lord willing!) we won’t have to make another trip to Little Rock until May 19th!

So, at least for the next few weeks, Hannah will be treatment-free, and we look forward to her regaining her energy and strength. She has truly amazed us with her positive attitude and her quiet faith through the last two months. Your prayers and encouragement have been a big part of that.

“…Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts…” Romans 5:3-5 NIV

God is good, all the time!
Jill and Brad

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Speed Bump

This post is #70 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.

April 24, 2008

At this point in treatment, we could not have foreseen how much of a battle Hannah would have maintaining her platelet levels.  Low platelets caused ongoing issues for her the entire year she was sick.  But at the time, we had no reason to believe this was anything other than a little speed bump that would quickly be resolved.

My email from this date ten years ago ...

Hannah had another blood draw today to check her platelet level. Our favorite nurse was not there…so she had to be “stuck” twice and they were still not able to get a vein! They finally did a finger prick and got enough blood drop by drop to get a platelet count. We were a little bit disappointed to find that her counts had actually dropped slightly since Monday. It took so long to get Hannah’s blood that we were late to her radiation appointment by the time they got the results back, so we basically had to run out the door as soon as we heard them, and did not have an opportunity to talk to the doctor. Apparently, the doctor was not overly concerned by the drop, since she let us leave and did not feel it was necessary to come out and talk to us. We will go back on Monday for our regular weekly appointment. In the meantime, Hannah is off her chemotherapy drug, which I think she is enjoying.

We are so thankful for several things:

--Hannah has felt better today than she has all week...very little nausea this morning!

--She made it through both days of her geometry exam and feels that she did well.

--Tomorrow will be her last radiation treatment (at 6:30 a.m.!)

--She has been able to remain in school throughout her treatments.

--Although her hair has thinned a great deal, she still has her hair!

--God has provided His peace to Hannah and to all of our family throughout the last two months.

--We are thankful for all the friends, family, and even strangers who have been lifting us up in prayer.

--We are thankful that God is good, all the time!

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Juxtaposition of Sorrow and Joy

This post is #69 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.



We did not know before Hannah was born whether she was a boy or a girl.  We had an ultrasound done, but the doctor was unable to conclusively determine her gender from the grainy pictures .... This was well before the incredibly detailed ultrasounds available now!  So we had to choose both a boy's name and a girl's name.  We struggled to come up with a boy's name we both liked, but the girl's name was easy.  I had always loved the story of Hannah in the Bible and felt a kinship to her, as our daughter's conception did not come easily to us.  And the name Hannah, when paired with the middle name Joy, had such a beautiful ring to us.

Hannah loved her own name ... "Hannah" because it was a palindrome, and "Joy" because it was, well, joyful.  "Joy" has become my theme word since Hannah went to Heaven.  It reminds me of her, of course, but it also reminds me of the joy that is to come when I see her again one day.

Verses about joy abound in the Bible, and I've listed ten of my favorites below.   As you read them, I want to draw your attention to how many of these verses have the word "joy" juxtaposed with grief, tears, trials, affliction, etc.  Maybe I'm drawn to verses like that because of my own experience, and that's why these are my favorites.  Or maybe it's because that's how God so often seems to work ... allowing us to experience heartbreaking sorrow, but always following it up with a restoration of joy.

Maybe it's also because our capacity for joy expands based on the depth of our sorrow ... the greater the sorrow we've experienced in life, the greater our ability to experience true joy. And, of course, the joy we experience here on earth is nothing compared with the fullness of joy we will know when we are reunited with Him and our loved ones in Heaven someday.

1. "So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your JOY from you." John 16:22

2. "These things have I spoken to you, that my JOY may be in you, and that your JOY may be full." John 15:11

3. "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of JOY." Job 8:21

4. "For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but JOY comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5

5. "You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with JOY, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will praise you forever." Psalm 30:11-12

6. "You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with JOY in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11

7. "Consider it pure JOY, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." James 1:2-3

8. "And provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of JOY instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." Isaiah 61:3

9. "Shout for JOY, you heavens; rejoice you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones." Isaiah 49:13

10. "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of JOY!" Psalm 126:5

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tilted

This post is #68 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.




April 22, 2008

We were into the final stretch of these radiation treatments at this point, and Hannah was really working hard to hang in there with her schoolwork.  It was so important to her to take this end-of-course geometry exam!  She told me when she got home that day that she felt like the floor and her desk were tilted, and she had to hold on tight to keep from sliding out of her chair the whole time she was taking this test.  It wasn't a complaint on her part ... just an observation.  Apparently that was a pretty common feeling for her at that time.  It was so hard to imagine how these treatments were affecting her brain ... but her attitude remained positive and she never complained.

Here's the email I sent that evening ...

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”—Psalm 10:17.

Just a quick update this evening…After a bit of a rocky start this morning, Hannah was able to go to school and take the first half of her end-of-course geometry exam. She felt good most of the day, and really believes she did well on the test. She will take the second half tomorrow. After receiving her radiation treatment this afternoon, she only has three more to go! Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement…It means more to all of us than we can ever say!

Jill

Platelet Issues

This post is #67 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.

Photo credit: ZEISS Microscopy on Visual Hunt /CC BY-NC-ND

April 21, 2008

By this time, Hannah had been undergoing radiation treatments five days a week and taking an oral chemotherapy drug since mid-March.  These intensity of these ongoing treatments was finally beginning to take a toll, as you can see from the email update I sent on this date ten years ago ...

Today was our weekly blood work day in Little Rock. Once again, thankfully, they were able to draw her blood easily…we’ve found a good nurse, Melinda, who seems to know just how to find Hannah’s elusive veins. The doctor was still very pleased with how well Hannah is doing overall, but her platelet count had dropped pretty dramatically from where it was last week. So … she will not be able to take her Temodar (chemo drug) for the next seven days. They will draw blood again on Thursday to make sure that her platelet count is improving. 

The good news is that she will be able to continue her radiation treatments since she is so close to being finished (four more days!) There was a lot of discussion between the doctors as to whether she could continue the radiation, and we were relieved when they concluded that she could continue. She is really beginning to experience some of the side effects of the radiation treatments (fatigue, nausea, dizziness) and we really don’t want that to have to be prolonged. I think she’s actually a little bit relieved to have a break from the Temodar, though!

Here are some specific prayer requests:

· Fatigue and queasiness have kept Hannah home from school last Friday and today. This week (tomorrow and Wednesday) she has to take her end-of-course Geometry examination. This test is given over two days, for about 3 hours each day. Please pray that she will feel well enough to get through these next two days of testing, and that she will be able to concentrate and do her best on the test.

· Please pray that her platelet counts will improve, and that she’ll be able to continue the Temodar soon (she only has nine more doses that she has to take in this round of treatment).

· Please pray that the radiation and chemotherapy treatments are effectively destroying any possible cancer cells that could be remaining.

Ephesians 3:20-21a – “Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, to Him be the glory…”

God IS good, all the time!
Jill and Brad

Friday, April 20, 2018

Well Done

This post is #66 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.




April 20, 2008

I thought I'd share a few more poems today from Hannah's anthology.  These poems are such a treasure because of the insight they give into Hannah's thoughts at that time.  As I've said before, she was a very private person and she gave us very few hints into what was going on in her mind during her cancer battle.  And while my heart breaks over the declarations of survival in these poems, which she clearly ascribed to herself, I am comforted by the knowledge that she accomplished everything listed in the "Well Done" poem.  God's purpose for her life has been gloriously fulfilled, and for that I am grateful.


"Cancer Free"
~ Anonymous

I'm living with the image that caner left with me.
I know the fears cancer has made me see.
I am more than what cancer had me be.
And I will live my life totally cancer free.

Cancer is a hard battle no one should have to fight.
Tossing and turning throughout the whole night.
Trying so hard to reach toward the light.
Sometimes wanting to just give up the fight.

But we all must hang in there and be very strong.
The battle will end soon; it won't take too long.
I will overcome cancer because I am strong,
With only happy thoughts nothing will go wrong.


"Cancer"
by Steven Felker

It's a terrible disease that affects millions of lives.
It affects sons and daughters and husbands and wives.
People take the news different kinds of ways.
It makes some people cry and puts some in a daze.
Some people pray and fall down to their knees,
But you've got to be strong to beat this disease.
This fight can be won, believe it or not.
You just have to put your faith in God and pray a whole lot.  
So keep your head high.  You'll soon know the answer.
And you, too, will be a survivor of cancer.


"Well Done"
by Barbara Sanders

When all is said and all is done
I stand before Your glorious throne.
All I want is to hear You say,
"Good and faithful child, well done."

I want to live for You -
To seek Your will in all I do.
I want to live by Your power
And follow You in every hour.

I want to live within Your will.
I want to see Your kingdom grow.
In You I stretch beyond my past
And Your light in me must show.

I want to live for You - 
To seek Your face in all I do.
I want Your love to live in me
And trust Your goodness steadfastly.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hannah's Poetry Anthology

This post is #65 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.

April 19, 2008

It was about this time that Hannah brought home a school assignment she had completed.  The assignment was to compile a poetry anthology.  I knew she had been working on it for awhile, but I had not seen it until it was graded and returned to her.

Here's what she wrote on the introductory page:

"When collecting my poems for this anthology, I really focused on the poems that connected to me on a personal level.  I chose poems that made me think, "Wow, this is an incredible poem, and I can really relate to it."  Whether they be about God, my family, battling cancer, or living life, they all struck a certain chord with me.

My favorite poem in this collection is "Nothing Gold Can Stay" because it was the first poem I can remember loving.  I connect to it because I don't want to grow up sometimes, and the poem is about losing innocence.  There is a poem about each member of my family.  I wanted to include family poems because I believe that I have the best family in the world.  A good number of my poems deal with God.  I decided to share those poems because God is the number one priority in my life, and I can definitely connect with poems about Him.  My addition of poems relating to cancer is a topic that I would not have dealt with a month ago.  It was good for me to read poems about cancer, and I added the ones with which I felt the most connected."

Over the next couple of days, I'd like to share a few of the poems she included in her anthology.  There is such a poignancy in seeing the poems she chose.

"The Day I Found Out" 
by Catherine Solomon

The doctor walked in
her eyes stuck on the floor
I squeezed my mom's hand
because I had no idea what was in store.
Mom looked and said, "Listen baby, she's got something to say.
Just hold my hand tight; everything will be okay."
She said, "Now what I'm going to say isn't as bad as it sounds,
but this tumor, this infection, is more than profound."
I still didn't get it.  I didn't know what to say.
Nothing hit me more than when the word cancer came my way.


"I Asked For"
Author Unknown

I asked for strength
and God gave me difficulties.
I asked for wisdom
and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity
and God gave me brawn and a brain to work.
I asked for courage
and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for patience
and God placed me in a situation where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love
and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors
and God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I asked for.
MY PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED


"How Do I Feel?"
by Susan Patford

Some days ... I'm not sure
how I feel ...
because ...
I feel confused.
Some days ... I feel great.
Some days ... I feel tired.
Some days ... I am energized.
Some days ... I am scared.
Some days ... I cry
... but I never wonder why.
Most days I wonder
just what my purpose is.
Most days ... I am happy
and most days I giggle.
All days ... I am blessed.
All days ... I am thankful.
All days ... I feel like living.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"That's What I Like About You"

This post is #64 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.

After Hannah went to Heaven, one of the more difficult tasks we had to face was cleaning out her locker.  Thankfully, because Brad was Hannah's high school principal and had a key to the school, the three of us were able to go after hours to accomplish this dreaded chore.

Her locker was packed with schoolbooks, notebooks, binders, and papers.  All of her binders were neatly labeled, with little dividers between every subject ... a girl after my own heart!  It was a treasure trove of reminders of just what a special person she was, and the evening wasn't as hard as I was afraid it would be.

One of my favorite things I found among her things was a half-sheet of paper titled "That's What I Like About You."  It appears as though one of her teachers gave the class an assignment to write something they liked about each one of their classmates. Then he or she compiled the lists and gave them to each student.  It was undated, but I suspect it was written before her cancer diagnosis because of the references to her hair.  As I read through the list that Hannah's classmates made to describe her, I couldn't help but smile.  Here is the list verbatim ...

"That's What I Like About You"

  • I like your shoes
  • I love your hair
  • You are smart
  • Pants
  • You're pretty and smart
  • Smart
  • Nice
  • Pretty, smart, good person
  • Hair
  • Sweet girl, pretty, good manager (she was the manager of the basketball team)
  • Smart and intelligent
  • Shoes
  • Shoes
  • Really smart, good friend
  • Nice and really good friend
  • Sweet, smart
  • Awesome shoes!
  • Good person to talk to
The girl's shoe game was strong!  And her classmates clearly viewed her as smart, which I'm sure pleased her to no end.  But what really warmed my heart are the references to her as a good person and a good friend.  She continues to make me proud.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

In the Darkness

This post is #63 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.


Do you remember being a child alone in your bedroom at night? I remember that I always had to sleep with my door open ... I felt so alone if the door was shut. As a matter of fact, if I was acting up, not wanting to sleep, fussing, or whatever, my parents could always make me quiet down just by threatening to shut my door. No way did I want my bedroom door closed. I think I found a lot of comfort in just hearing their voices in the living room as I was drifting off to sleep.

The other day, I was reading the book "Stronger" by Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and he shared a very interesting illustration. He was referring to those times in our lives when God seems absent, when we just can't seem to feel His presence. See if this illustration speaks to you like it does to me...

"I think in this case, it's a little like being a child in your bedroom at night. It's dark, and so black that you can't see anything. Your door is closed, so you can't hear anything outside your room. Yet your favorite pillow and nightstand are still there. Your parents are nearby, too. They haven't left you. In fact, your mother is in the kitchen preparing lunch for the next day. She's humming as she works, because she's baking chocolate chip cookies to surprise you.

It's a simple illustration, but you get the idea -- circumstances may make it hard to sense God's presence, yet He's still there. He hasn't left us. And more often than we realize, His 'hiddenness' allows Him to work on our behalf in a way that wouldn't be possible if we could see Him.

To take the analogy further, if you're a child in bed at night, you could jump out of bed, turn on the light, and rush into the kitchen to make sure Mom is still around. You could do that all night long. But that isn't what's best for you, is it? It would leave you exhausted the next day, and it would spoil the surprise of the chocolate chip cookies. You'd be far better off to trust that Mom is there, that she has things under control, and that all you need to do now is go to sleep."

I love that! What a great reminder to continue trusting God, even when we can't feel His presence. Or when the bedroom door is closed, and we just don't understand what He is up to in our lives ... like where we found ourselves when Hannah was diagnosed with cancer.  Definitely something to think about during the darkest of times.

Monday, April 16, 2018

More Favorite Quotes

This post is #62 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 wanted to share two more of my favorite quotes from Randy Alcorn's book "If God Is Good".

Here's the first:

"E. Stanley Jones wrote, 'Don't bear trouble, use it. Take whatever happens -- justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, compliment and criticism -- take it up into the purpose of your life and make something out of it. Turn it into testimony.'"

In other words, don't waste your storm.  If you've been following along, you know that Hannah prayed for a storm that God would use her.  And He has answered that prayer over and over.  Our desire is to never let her storm go to waste.  We firmly believe that our greatest sorrows will result in our greatest ministry. That is, if we allow God to use us.

And here's the second quote:

"Joni Eareckson Tada spoke of a woman, pregnant with a disabled child, who cried out in desperation to her husband, 'Things will never be the same.' His response? 'Maybe God doesn't want them to be the same.'"

Let that one soak in for a minute.  It's been so, so true in our experience over the last ten years.   I am a completely changed person from what I once was ... I'm really not sure if there is any part of me that is the same. And maybe that is just a little glimmer of what God's purpose has been through all of this.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Blood Work

This post is #61 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.


April 15, 2008

At this time, we were driving to Little Rock every day for Hannah's radiation appointments, but Mondays were also our clinic days at Arkansas Children's Hospital.  We would generally try to schedule our clinic appointments for early afternoon, and then head over to CARTI for her radiation treatment.  These clinic visits were pretty simple ... blood pressure, weight, brief physical exam, and blood draw.

Hannah was what the nurses referred to as a "hard stick", meaning it was hard for them to find a good vein, and she would often have to be poked repeatedly to get just a little bit of blood to be tested.  In fact, sometimes her nurse would give up and call another nurse over to try.  Hannah never got upset or uptight about it ... she was always incredibly patient with them.  If Brad was there with us, he would have to step out of the room.  He couldn't even watch the process!  There was one nurse who could almost always get her blood on the first stick, and we loved it when she was working.

Once an adequate blood sample was acquired, they'd send it off to the lab and within twenty minutes or so, we'd have the results.  They were monitoring all her levels, because if her platelets, or her hemoglobin, or her white cells dropped too low, they would have to discontinue her treatments until they rose back to adequate levels.  As you can see from my email ten years ago today, Hannah's counts were still hanging in there at this point, but the treatments were beginning to take a toll.

Hannah had her weekly blood draw done yesterday at Children’s Hospital…and thankfully, only one “stick” was needed this time. The nurse called today with the results. All of her counts are still really good. As a matter of fact, the nurse said that Hannah was just “sailing through” all of this. She has eight radiation treatments to go, and fifteen more doses of chemotherapy. Her hair is continuing to thin somewhat, but she is able to fix her hair so that it is really not noticeable to anyone but herself. It appears that the biggest issue she will be facing of the next week and a half of radiation is fatigue. The treatments are really beginning to wear her out.  She is still going to school every day, but often falls asleep in the car on the way home from radiation in the afternoons. Please pray that she will have the energy to continue going to school and keeping up with her schoolwork.

Your prayers, emails, cards, and phone calls continue to lift us up and carry us through. We are so thankful for you, our dear friends and family! God has really used you to bless our family, and to remind us that God is good, all the time!

Jill and Brad

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sharing Hannah

This post is #60 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.

One thing I didn't mention in my "Ten Things About Hannah" post yesterday was that Hannah was a very private person. In fact, as we were walking to the car right after being told she had a brain tumor, she said that she didn't want anyone to know, and she wanted me to promise her that we wouldn't tell anybody. Of course, I did not make that promise, because we wanted people to be praying for her! Once we explained that to her, she understood, and she was fine with me sending the emails which chronicled her journey. However, she did not want to have a CaringBridge site, and she did not want me to write a blog while she was sick. She always shunned the spotlight, even before she was diagnosed ... always content to remain in the background.

So it's always been a little strange to me that her story captured so much attention during the year she was sick, and that it still does today. I started this blog about four months after she went to Heaven, confident that she would no longer mind me writing about her and would, in fact, welcome it. And we've had the privilege of sharing her story dozens of times in churches and through the bereaved parents retreats we host through the While We're Waiting ministry.

You know ... when Hannah was here on earth with us, Brad and I thought of her as "our daughter."  She "belonged" to us. Now, it's as if we are literally "sharing" her with the thousands of other people who have been touched by her story.  Does that make sense?

And I can't help but think of our dear friends, Larry and Janice Brown. Their son, Adam, was a member of SEAL Team Six, and was killed in Afghanistan in March of 2010. A New York Times best-selling book has been written about his life, ("Fearless"), and a movie is in the works.  The book reveals both the highlights and the very low points of Adam's life. Talk about "sharing" your child ... they are "sharing" their Adam with literally millions of other people.

I think I can speak for the Browns as well as for ourselves when I say that we don't mind "sharing" our children. What better way to remember and to honor their lives than to allow others to see how God carried them through their respective journeys?  To God be the glory.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ten Things I'd Like People to Remember about Hannah

This post is #59 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.

Early on after Hannah went to Heaven, I often heard other parents who had lost children talk about how much they worried about people forgetting about their children. And I remember thinking to myself that I would never be that way ... I certainly didn't want people to forget about Hannah, but for me personally, that was not a huge concern.  I knew I wouldn't forget her, and at the time that's all that really mattered to me.

Well, now it's over nine years later, and I must admit that those kinds of thoughts do creep up on me from time to time. It's become a little more important to me that people remember not just that she lived, but the things that made her Hannah.

Thus, this list of Ten Things I'd Like People to Remember About Hannah:

1. She loved her family -- Whether it was a noisy extended family gathering or a quiet evening at home with just the four of us, she would rather spend time with her family than do just about anything else. She loved spending time with her cousins, who always made her laugh.

2. She loved school -- She was all about learning, and took great pride in excelling academically.

3. She was a Hog fan -- The Arkansas Razorbacks, that is. She had no athletic ability of her own (she inherited my limited athletic ability rather than her dad's!), but she really enjoyed a good Razorback football game.

4. She was a "girly girl" -- She loved flashy earrings, colorful tops, and pretty shoes. You would never catch her going to school in a t-shirt and tennis shoes.

5. But, she was also a "tomboy" -- She loved dressing down in camo and boots, riding 4-wheelers, and deer hunting. Maybe it was just because she liked hanging out with her dad.

6. She looked just like her dad, but she acted just like me -- She had my good character traits as well as the bad. It's almost scary how similar our personalities were, and I would love to see what our relationship might be like now that she would be twenty-six years old.

7. She was a deep thinker -- I'll never forget the question she asked me when she was 5 or 6 years old. Having been told her whole life that she looked just like her dad, she asked, "How can a kid look like their dad when their mom has them?" I think my reply was something along the lines of, "Isn't it amazing how God does that?" From that point on, she kept me on my toes!

8. She had a strong faith in God -- In fact, a few months prior to her cancer diagnosis, she prayed that God would send a storm into her life to help her grow closer to Him, and so that others could see Him through her storm. Not long after that, she posted on her Facebook page, "This world has nothing for me...I will live for Him." When her diagnosis came, she accepted it as her storm, and her faith never wavered. She never asked, "Why me?" and she never complained about her situation.

9. But, she was not perfect -- Often, when someone dies young, there is a tendency to put them on a pedestal, to almost venerate them as some sort of saint. This seemed to be especially true of Hannah, because many people knew about her prayer for a storm and watched her valiantly battle cancer for a year. But she was not perfect (her sister can attest to that!) ... she was a sinner in need of a Savior.

10. She lived -- Perhaps most of all, when people think of Hannah, I don't want them to think of her as that girl who died of cancer ... I want them to remember the girl who lived for 17 1/2 years. And I want them to know that she still lives today ... in fact, she's more alive than ever before!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Paradigm Shifts

This post is #58 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.



A few years ago, I spent a week sitting in school workshops. A large part of the presentation was on the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and one of the main topics had to do with paradigm shifts. As part of his introduction, the presenter posed a question to the group, "What is something that has happened in your life that led to a paradigm shift?" A few people shared stories of events in their lives that had led to significant change.

I didn't volunteer to share, but if I had, I would have said, "When my teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer."  And the whole paradigm shifted again when she went to Heaven a year later.

There's nothing like suffering and loss to change your paradigms.

In Randy Alcorn's book, "If God Is Good", he shares nine paradigm-shifting insights that he learned through studying the book of Job.  And wow ...These are good!  Take a few minutes and mull these things over.

Nine Lessons To Be Learned from Job (via Randy Alcorn)

1. Life is not predictable or formulaic.

2. Most of life's expectations and suffering's explanations are simplistic and naive, waiting to be toppled.

3. When the day of crisis comes, we should pour out our hearts to God, who can handle our grief and even our anger.

4. We should not turn from God and internalize our anger, allowing it to become bitterness.

5. We should weigh and measure the words of friends, authors, teachers, and counselors, finding whatever truth they might speak without embracing their errors or getting derailed by their insensitivities.

6. We should not insist on taking control by demanding a rational explanation for the evils and suffering that befall us.

7. We should look to God and ask him to reveal himself to us; in contemplating his greatness we will come to see him as the Answer above all answers.

8. We should trust that God is working behind the scenes and that our suffering has hidden purposes that one day, even if not in this life, we will see.

9. We should cry out to Jesus, the mediator and friend whom Job could only glimpse, but who indwells us by grace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Highest Good

This post is #57 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 thought I'd share a little more from Joni Eareckson Tada in today's post.  For those of you who don't know her story, Joni broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967 at the age of 18, and became a quadriplegic.  She published an autobiography in 1976, when I was 11 years old, and it quickly became one of my favorite books.

I think one reason why I liked it so much is because she was brutally honest about her bouts of anger and depression following her accident, even contemplating suicide at times. Over time, though, she turned back to the Lord, and she has been a powerful witness for Him for many, many years now.

Joni is now nearly 70 years old, and has battled breast cancer along with enduring chronic, "jaw-splitting" (her words) pain. Yet she still continues to serve the Lord with all her might from her wheelchair.  Her most recent book is called "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty", and it is excellent.

If you have ever questioned why God heals some people and not others (and who hasn't?), this is the book for you! I mean, why hasn't God healed Joni? After all, she's served him faithfully all these years ... and wouldn't her miraculous healing bring thousands of people to salvation? She explores this topic thoroughly with a wisdom and peaceful acceptance that amazes me.

Here's just a brief excerpt:

"In the meantime, these afflictions of mine -- this very season of multiplied pain -- is the background against which God has commanded me to show forth His praise. It's also that thing I am to reckon as 'good and acceptable and perfect,' according to Romans 12. God bids me that I not only seek to accept it, but to embrace it, knowing full well that somewhere way down deep -- in a secret place I have yet to see -- lies my highest good.

Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease; but more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise."

This book also gives reassurance for those of us who have lost loved ones to devastating illnesses, like cancer. When those doubts wiggle their way in ... Was Hannah not healed because we didn't have enough faith?  Was there some sin in my life that kept God from hearing my prayers?  Why did so-and-so get healed, and Hannah didn't? ... these words serve to remind us of this truth:

"Let us then not say God cannot heal and will not do so. Let us rather say God can heal and will do so if it is for His glory. The saint is to remember that God is the judge as to whether or not He will display Himself and His power by a miraculous act, and also when, where, how, and with whom this will be done; and he is to keep constantly in mind that God is just as faithful and loving when He does not so display Himself as when He does." (Joni is actually quoting the words of Henry Frost here.)

If you've got a couple of minutes, I highly recommend reading the brief article linked below.  I think you'll find it well worth your time to click over to it.  If you do read it, please pay close attention to the very last line. ... It is absolutely beautiful.

Why Joni Eareckson Tada Wants to Bring Her Wheelchair to Heaven

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Challenge

This post is #56 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.

Today's post is a little different.  It's an excerpt from Joni Eareckson Tada's excellent book, "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty".  Joni has lived as a quadriplegic since her teenage years when a diving accident paralyzed her from the neck down, so she is well-acquainted with suffering.  I love the challenge included in this passage!  It's something that really spoke to me when Hannah was going through her cancer journey, and it still does today.  Here's Joni ...

"If you're facing what seems to be an overwhelming situation in your life this week, I want to encourage you to stand firm. Don't let this thing fill up your whole horizon. Don't let your anxieties swallow you up or drain your faith dry. Rather, stand firm and take action. Take it as an opportunity to do a little research of your own into God's Word. Compare Bible verses with each other; investigate the examples of Paul or Joseph or Daniel or Peter and how they dealt with bad news and suffering in their lives.

What a waste of an illness or injury if we read -- or go on talking -- day and night about that illness, that injury, and not about the God who allowed it for His own sovereign reasons.

My friend Dave Powlison has some very good advice in that regard.

Dave is a professor at the Christian Counseling Education Foundation. He's also fighting a war with a cancer that seeks to ravage his body. Used to being a man on the go, Dave has been forced to slow down and learn some new lessons in patience as he walks through this unexpected season of life. I've never had to face cancer myself [this book was written before Joni's battle with breast cancer], but as I've watched Dave, I have drawn so much encouragement, so much help and hope, just observing the way he approaches the challenges of this disease.

As you well know, cancer is such an alarming word; it immediately spreads fear and doubt. Dave has gone through the usual chemotherapy routines -- the waiting, the uncertainty, and the awful reaction to the drugs. But I'm amazed at the way he has kept his emotional balance ... and his courage.

In the face of all the fear, pain, and sickness, just listen to what Dave wrote to me not long ago:

'Joni, I have learned that for every one sentence you say to others about your cancer,
say ten sentences about your God, your hope, and what He is teaching you,
and the small blessings of each day.
For every hour you spend researching or discussing your cancer,
spend ten hours researching and discussing and serving your Lord.
Relate all that you are learning about cancer back to Him and His purposes,
and you won't become obsessed with fears and doubts.'

The truth is, in this world it's a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge.

The Bible tells us time and again that God is faithful, and greater is He who is in you than any ache or pain or even terminal illness.

Remember today, if you start talking about your health issues -- or any problems, for that matter -- be sure to talk also about the grace of our wonderful Lord to sustain and save!"

Monday, April 9, 2018

God's Definition of "Good"

This post is #55 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.

Have you ever wondered if God has different definitions for words than we do? I've come to believe that maybe His definition of "good" is different from mine. For example, my "good" would never include cancer, car accidents, war, or natural disasters. My "good" would consist of healing of all diseases, protection from all accidents and evil, seeing both my children live long and healthy lives, and dying peacefully in my sleep at a ripe old age.

But in God's dictionary, could it be that "good" means anything that brings us closer to Him ... whatever that may be?

As we closed every one of our emails ten years ago with the words, "God is good all the time", this was a concept with which we were just beginning to grapple.  What was His "good" in our family's situation going to be?

"...Yet in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!"
~John Greeleaf Whittier

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Fashion Accessories

This post is #54 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.

April 8, 2008

By this point in her treatment protocol, Hannah was beginning to lose some hair.  As a sixteen year old girl with thick curly hair, this was naturally a bit alarming to her.  It bothered her the most when she washed her hair, because she could feel it coming out in her hands.  It was so troubling to her, she asked me to start washing her hair for her ... and so that's what we did.  She would put on her swimming suit (always a modest girl!) and turn on the water.  Then I would lean into the shower and wash her hair for her.  And it was alarming how much hair would come out each time ... I kept a trash can close by and just dropped the wads of hair into it, being careful not to let her see.

After her shower each evening, we had another little ritual.  As her hair was naturally drying, she would watch TV, and I would gently run my fingers through her hair, pulling out the loose strands.  She never wanted to know how much hair came out, so I didn't show her.

Our oncologist had assured us that the chemotherapy drug she was taking would not cause her to lose her hair.  And the radiation oncologist had told us she would possibly lose some hair, just in the areas where the radiation beams were going in.  But this looked like a lot more than just "some hair" to me!

So ten years ago today, Hannah and I took some time off school and work and attended a special program at our local cancer center called "Look Good, Feel Better."  It was a program designed for women undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.  I can't even express what a surreal feeling it was to walk into that room full of mature women with my 16-year-old daughter to talk about cancer, hair loss and wigs.  The speaker that day had a lot of experience with women undergoing radiation treatments, and she carefully studied Hannah’s scalp and told us that she didn’t feel she would lose much more hair than she already had.  What a reassurance that was! 

When we went for her radiation appointment that afternoon, the technician also told us that she probably wouldn’t lose much more hair.  The technician showed us how the thinning spots all corresponded with exactly where the beams of radiation were entering her skull ... and each of those spots was perfectly square-shaped!

We were thankful that Hannah's hair loss did gradually slow down and then stop, although the thin areas remained.  A ponytail with a wide black headband became standard fashion accessories for her, and she managed to cover up those square-shaped areas pretty well. 

In my email that evening, I included this update on Bethany ...

Just a quick update tonight … we finally heard from the nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where Bethany had her blood work done last week. Everything she was tested for turned out to be negative … which is good news! They had told us that if that happened, it was probably an indication that her illness was viral in nature and would just eventually run its course. She has also really been feeling better this week, which of course, makes us feel better, too. We are thankful to know that she does not seem to have anything serious.

Jill and Brad

Saturday, April 7, 2018

18 Treatments Down!

This post is #53 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.

April 7, 2008

My email from ten years ago today ...

Hannah had her 18th radiation treatment today and her weekly appointment with her oncologist at Children’s Hospital. As you know, her blood is drawn every Monday, and they check to make sure her blood counts are within normal limits. If they were to drop to a certain level, we would have to discontinue treatments for a short time while waiting for them to rebound. These verses are always a little nerve-wracking, because Hannah is what the nurses call a “hard stick”. It usually takes two or three nurses to come and stick her two or three times before they can find a good vein. Thankfully, today she had a nurse that was successful on the first try. The oncologist came in and visited with us for a few minutes and explained that it is usually at this point in the treatment that he sees blood counts begin to drop, then went to check the results of her blood work. When he returned, he jokingly told us that Hannah’s counts are so good, she could donate blood! Her white cell count was a little low, but he explained that that is to be expected when undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. So, we are praising God for this good report!

Hannah is still going to school every day, and keeping up with all of her school work. She is tired in the evenings, but for the most part feels good. She is beginning to experience some hair loss from the radiation, and this is difficult for her. She dreads washing her hair, because that’s when she is able to see the most loss. To look at her, you still can’t tell that she’s lost any, because she has such thick, curly hair. Hopefully, it will just thin somewhat, and that will be all. Please pray that she will be able to deal with the emotional aspect of possibly losing a significant amount of hair.

We are still awaiting test results for Bethany. She continues to run a low grade fever (99.7 tonight) and has abdominal pain from time to time. However, her energy level has definitely improved, and she is clearly feeling better overall.

Thank you so much for all of your continued prayers and kindnesses. We truly feel God’s love through all of you!

God is good, all the time!
Jill and Brad

Friday, April 6, 2018

Seaweed

This post is #52 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.



Two years after Hannah went to Heaven, our family took a trip to Panama City Beach for a week.  We really enjoyed the opportunity to get away ... the condo where we stayed was lovely, the weather was perfect, and the sunsets were spectacular.

The only down side of the week was the "June Grass" ... thick, slimy seaweed that, according to the locals, usually only shows up in June. That year, it made its appearance in the middle of July.

Hannah would have hated that seaweed. It really didn't bother us too much .... we were determined to enjoy our time at the beach, and went into the water just as if it wasn't there. The other thing Hannah wouldn't have liked were all the schools of little fish we saw (in the few clear spots between the seaweed). She had a funny fear of fish swimming around her like that ... and I'm really not sure she would even have gone into the water with all that seaweed, especially since she couldn't see what was around her feet and legs.

Hannah actually had a lot of little fears ... before she was diagnosed with cancer, that is. After her diagnosis, it seemed as though she was never afraid of anything again. She faced brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, countless MRIs, and more ... all without any apparent fear. One time, when they were lying in bed together at night, Bethany asked Hannah if she was scared that she might die from her cancer. "No," she replied, with disdain in her voice, as if she couldn't believe Bethany even asked her that question.

How did she do that? How did she go from being a world-class worrier to a fearless warrior? The only answer is her faith in God. Her belief that her storm was fully under His control removed all
fear.

I'm so thankful for the example my teenage daughter set for me. And I'm so thankful that my God is powerful enough to change a worrier into a warrior. If He could do it for her, He can do it for me, and you...and you....and you....and you....

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Gift of Manna

This post is #51 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.


When I was a little girl, sitting in my Sunday School class in the basement of First Baptist Church of Phillips, Wisconsin, I learned all about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and how God gave them manna to eat. Our teacher described manna as little wafers that tasted like honey. And I can actually remember wishing I could taste manna, because I knew I would like it. Anything that tasted like honey had to be good. I remember thinking that the Israelites were really lucky that they got to eat that stuff every day. Little did I know that someday I would be eating manna every day myself. Let me explain.

As I've shared before, when Hannah's brain tumor was found, my mind was flooded with "What If's". What if it's cancer? What if she's never the same after brain surgery? What if she dies during surgery? Then, once she had survived the surgery with basically no after-effects, and we found out it was cancer, a whole new set of "What Ifs" took over. What if she loses her hair? What if the chemo makes her really sick? What if her brain is damaged from the radiation? What if she doesn't survive this?

If you had asked me at the beginning of this journey if I could handle...

shaving my daughter's head for her...

watching her gradually lose her vision...

pushing her in a wheelchair when she could no longer walk on her own...

listening to her struggle to talk because she could no longer find the words...

feeding her when she could no longer feed herself...

holding her hand as took her last breath...

... I would have said, "No way. There is no way I could ever, EVER do any of those things! I don't have that kind of strength." And I would have been right ... There is no way I could have done any of those things on my own.  But God gave me manna in the form of His strength every day.

Do you remember what God told Moses to tell the Israelites about the manna? They were only to gather enough for each day. Did you catch that ... only enough for each day.  Some of them tried to save themselves a little work and gathered some extra for the next day. Do you remember what happened to that manna? According to the ESV, "it bred worms and stank." (Exodus 16:20)

In the same way, God gave our family manna for each day .... and only just enough for each day. We couldn't look ahead into the future and worry about "What Ifs". We simply had to trust God for our manna each day. If we did try to look too far ahead and let the worries and what ifs take over ... well, things just got wormy and stank!

The other thing the Israelites had to do was go out and gather the manna (Exodus 16:16). It didn't just fall into baskets for them ... they had to physically go out and get it. In the same way, I think we have to seek God's strength, and then be willing to receive it when He gives it. There were plenty of times when it would have been easier just to curl up into a fetal position and be angry about, or at least question, what God was allowing to take place in our family.  We had to be willing to open our hands and receive God's gift of manna.

Finally, the manna was sweet like honey (Exodus 16:31). When I look back on it now, there was a lot of sweetness during Hannah's illness. Even though there were indescribably difficult times, there are some sweet, precious memories that we wouldn't have otherwise, if not for her storm. Just the awareness of and appreciation of a simple "good day" is a priceless gift.  For that sweetness, I am grateful.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Trust God and Keep Driving

This post is #50 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.


Picture from capriceglob.blogspot.com
April 4, 2008

It was very important to Hannah to miss as little school as possible for her radiation treatments.  That's why we found ourselves driving to Little Rock in an absolute deluge in the wee hours of the morning on this date ten years ago.

Her appointment was at 6:20 that morning, so we had left home a little after 5:00.  It was dark and rainy ... definitely not ideal driving conditions ... but we were glad it was Friday after a long week of treatments.

The closer we got to Little Rock, the heavier the rain became, and before long we were driving in a blinding downpour.  There weren't many other vehicles on the road at that hour of the morning, but as we approached within a few miles of the I-430 exit, I could see that the traffic was beginning to back up ahead of us.  Assuming there must be a wreck up ahead, I whipped our Toyota Camry off onto the access road, thinking I'd skirt around it and pick back up on the interstate on the other side.

It didn't take long to see why the traffic had started backing up.  As we proceeded down the access road, we discovered that the road was completely covered with water ... not just entire multi-lane interstate, but the access road we were on!  I stopped the car and Hannah and I looked at each other with round eyes.  We had to get to this appointment!  I had no idea what would happen if Hannah missed a radiation appointment.  I realize now that it probably wouldn't have been a big deal, but at that time, I was terrified by the thought of getting off schedule.

We decided that we would push forward and brave the water.  The rain was still coming down in sheets, and I knew if we waited much longer, it would definitely be impassable.  I could see that a few cars on the interstate to my left were also braving the floods, though most were holding back.  I assigned Hannah the job of praying while I drove.

White-knuckled, we began our slow crawl through the flood waters.  Being on the access road as we were, there was nothing to indicate the edges of the road, and we could not see the road itself.  The water was not rushing, so I had no fear of being swept off the road, but I was very concerned that I would drive off the elevated access road into the deeper waters on each side of it.  In fact, I stopped driving for several seconds somewhere in the middle of all that water, too afraid to go any farther.

We had the radio on, tuned into the Little Rock news station, with the volume turned up loudly so we could hear it over the drumming rain.  We heard the announcement that they were closing down the interstate due to flooding and would soon be initiating rescues of people whose cars had been swamped by the high waters.  We could see the blue lights flashing all over the interstate beside us.  Despite the tension of the situation, Hannah and I laughed out loud that we might be among those people.  We could just imagine the two of us sitting on the roof of the car waiting to be rescued ... and then showing up on the evening news!

I really just wanted to turn around and get back to higher ground.  But attempting to turn around would definitely have resulted in us sliding off into the deeper waters around us, and backing up was not a viable option.  The only way through this mess was forward.  And besides, I worried that if I sat still much longer, the water would start coming through the bottoms of the doors.  And we had to get to that appointment!

So we set off again, driving extremely slowly, hyper-aware of any feeling of downward motion which might indicate that we were leaving the roadway.  Every so often, I would see a sign sticking up out of the water, and we could sort of judge where the edge of the road was by that landmark.  Gradually, gradually, as we began to work our way through that lengthy low area, the water became more shallow, and the roadway was visible again.  We were quickly able to get off the access road back on the interstate, and as I looked in my rearview mirror, there were only blue lights visible on the highway behind us.  No one else got through that area after we did.  We shakily thanked God for our safe passage.

We made it to Hannah's 6:20 appointment, she got her radiation treatment, and we were on the road heading back to her school by 7:00.  Thankfully the rain had slowed to a drizzle by this time.  When we passed back through that area, the water was still high but the interstate was already back open.  It had apparently been a freak flash flood that quickly subsided when the rain slowed down.

In one of Hannah's classes, the students spent a few minutes each day writing in a journal.  She opened her journal entry that day with, "I almost died today!" and proceeded to share the story of our adventure.  A bit dramatic perhaps, but pretty typical for a teenager, I suppose.

Really, that morning was a pretty accurate microcosm of the childhood cancer experience.  You start out with determination and high hopes, even in the midst of pounding rain, and eventually you reach a point in the middle where you desperately just want to head back to higher ground, where things are familiar and safe.  But there's no turning around or backing up ... the only way through is forward.  The edges aren't clearly marked, there are very few road signs to guide you on your way, and the heavy rain keeps getting in your eyes.  You have no idea when or how this thing is going to end, but you just have to trust God, grab hold of the steering wheel, and and keep driving.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Joys of Raising Girls

This post is #49 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 grew up with two brothers. Well, actually one of them arrived (Surprise!) when I was already practically grown up. So, I just always assumed that when I got married someday and started having babies, I would have boys. When I was expecting Hannah, my first ultrasound was inconclusive ... they could not tell if she was a boy or a girl. By the time I had my second ultrasound, her arrival was only about a month away, so we asked them not to tell us ... we wanted to be surprised. And I was definitely surprised when the doctor said, "It's a girl!" a few weeks later.  I was surprised again a few years later, when an ultrasound confirmed that I was having another girl. But what a joy raising two girls turned out to be!!

And these are just a few of the joys I've experienced in raising girls ...

1. Dressing Them Alike. My girls were about 3 1/2 years apart ... just the right age difference to have fun dressing them alike. That probably lasted until Hannah was about 7 or 8 years old, when she decided that it really wasn't that cool to be dressed like her little sister!

2. Fixing Their Hair. When they were little, it was so much fun buying the big hair bows, and experimenting with all kinds of different hairstyles. Both of the girls had naturally curly hair, although Hannah's was much thicker.  Bethany's hair was very fine, and white-blonde. I remember a sweet little old lady in the grocery store telling me one time that she had "angel hair." As much fun as it was to fix their hair for them, it was also nice when they got big enough to fix their own hair.

3. ______________ Lessons. You can fill in the blank here. I believe at some point or another, we've done dance, gymnastics, piano, and drama lessons.  And the expense of all these lessons!  I don't think Brad has any idea to this day how much turning our daughters into well-rounded people cost him. But it's all worth it at recital time. It's so much fun to see your child perform after they have worked so hard. Those recital home videos are priceless, especially now!

4. Shopping! First, the fun part is shopping for them ... then the fun part is shopping with them. I always loved shopping for the girls ... the aforementioned matching outfits, those white lacy socks, the Easter dresses, shoes, prom dresses ... but shopping with them was even better.  Bethany and I still have a great time shopping together. Hannah and I were also good shopping buddies ... the last year or so that we shopped together, she seemed to take it upon herself to move her mom out of the '90's the '80's. She seemed to really enjoy critiquing my outfits as I tried them on and giving me fashion advice.  I loved it.

5. Texting. I never would have thought I would enjoy texting. I fought getting the girls texting plans on their phones for a long time. Why pay to type when you can talk for free? Then Hannah went into the hospital, and her phone blew up with incoming texts. All of which we were paying ten cents each for, whether she answered or not. Of course, we wanted her to be able to answer, so we sprung for the texting plan, and it was a great way for her to stay in touch with her friends when she was in the hospital.  Bethany and I now text each other almost daily, sometimes multiple times a day, and I love it!

6. Watching Pageants. The girls and I had a lot of fun watching the Miss America pageant over the years ... talking about which dresses we liked the best, who had the best talent, which girls totally flubbed the interview question, and of course, pulling for our favorites. Good times.

7. Eating.  If we were shopping, and we got a craving for a Krispy Kreme or a treat from Sonic, we would stop and get one!  And nobody knew but the two of us, so the calories didn't count, right?

8. Chick flicks. Who better to watch a sappy romance movie with but your daughter?

9. Listening to Music. Hannah and I spent a lot of time in the car together during the year she was receiving cancer treatments. For nearly that whole year, we drove either daily or every other day to Little Rock (50 miles one way) for radiation treatments or platelet infusions. We passed a lot of that time listening to music. We talked about the music we liked and didn't like and spent lots of time singing along with the radio. I've put several of those songs on my iPod now, and every time I hear them, I'm transported back to those fun times in the car.  And today, if Bethany and I are riding somewhere together, she introduces me to her new favorite songs and I love that.  Somehow, neither one of my girls ever quite picked up on my affinity for '80's music.

10. Inside jokes. "Jokes" isn't really the right word here, but I can't really think of another one that fits better ... maybe "secrets" would do it. Both of my girls and I had our share of inside jokes ... we could say one word, and start each other laughing. And then there are those secrets ... like the three hand squeezes that say, "I love you" and the four squeezes in reply that say, "I love you, too."

I love my girls. I'm so thankful for the assurance that I'll get to spend eternity with them. And if we have had this much fun together on earth, how much greater will our joy be in Heaven? I can't wait!

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Sister Left Behind

This post is #48 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.

April 2, 2008

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it has a profound impact on everyone in the family.  Our younger daughter Bethany actually got sick before Hannah did.  She had been diagnosed with mononucleosis just a week or so before Hannah's first symptoms began to appear.  In fact, until the moment that an MRI revealed a tumor in Hannah's brain, I was more concerned about Bethany's health than hers.  She actually seemed far sicker than Hannah at the time.

But of course, when we found out about the brain tumor and were launched into the roller-coaster world of cancer, 12-year-old Bethany was left behind.  Life as she knew it changed dramatically overnight.  Her Mom, Dad, and big sister who had always been there for her were suddenly gone, and she often found herself in the care of her grandparents, friends' parents, and neighbors.  And if we weren't physically absent, we were distracted with Hannah's medications, radiation appointments, and blood counts.  Hannah's health became our primary concern, even as Bethany continued to deal with medical issues of her own.

We are so grateful for all those who reached out to Bethany during this time in our lives.  Lots of folks stepped up to get her where she needed to go, make sure she was fed, and give her some much-needed companionship.  I don't even know who many of those people are ... but their kindness will never be forgotten.

Here's the text of an email I sent ten years ago today ...

This actually will be more of a Bethany Sullivan update than a Hannah Sullivan update. She had her appointment this morning at the Infectious Diseases clinic at Children’s Hospital. It was a bit frustrating at first, because they had lost her file, and had no record of her having an appointment today. By the time they got all of that straightened out, it was nearly two hours before we finally saw the doctor. The doctor did a thorough exam, and took copious notes about all of the symptoms she has had over the last two months. She told us that the blood tests which had been done previously had been negative for the two main causes of mono symptoms, Epstein-Barr virus and Cytomegalovirus. She told us that there are two other viral infections which can cause mono symptoms, but they are not very common and difficult to test for. She discussed with us a variety of other illnesses which can cause fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, etc. (there are LOTS of them!) and drew quite a bit of blood to be sent off for testing. She said the results will come in over the next week to two weeks, and she will keep us posted on the results as she receives them. She was pleased to hear that Bethany’s energy level has definitely improved over the last week or two, and that she is in school and keeping up with her schoolwork.

Hannah has had a good day today, with very little nausea or dizziness. Tomorrow will mark the halfway point of her radiation therapy! She continues to have a wonderful attitude about everything, for which we are very thankful.

Thanks again for all your prayers! God is good, all the time!


Jill and Brad