Monday, November 24, 2008

This week last year

Well, it has been a year now since we found out Joseph had a brain tumor. It was this week last year, Thanksgiving was over and we had come home to Atlanta. All week Joseph had this strange head tilt that kind of came and went. He was always so quirky that I just attributed it to him being silly or something. I honestly was not worried one bit about it. He also had been a bit off balance, but that also didn't worry me since he was always a little clumsy. I could tell Allen was worried but was trying not to show it. He had checked his eyes to see if he had a reflex and his left eye did not blink at all when he flicked his finger in front of it. When he showed me that I became extremely worried. We took him to the pediatrician who was not sure what was going on, but referred me to an opthamologist. I was planning to bring him there on Thursday. But on Tuesday night Allen came home from work early (he was supposed to work all night at the hospital) and said his attending doctor recommended we bring Joseph in first thing the next morning for an MRI. I was pretty worried at this point, but Joseph was so happy and normal in so many other ways that I just couldn't comprehend that anything serious could be wrong.

That afternoon, before Allen went in to work, I had gone to Starbucks (something I did regularly whenever Allen was home and I needed a breather) and called my sister while I had some coffee. I was relaying to her what was going on and that we were going to take Joseph to the opthamologist. At this point I don't think we had decided to take him for an MRI. Anyway, about halfway through my conversation, a sweet lady who had been sitting beside me got up to leave. As she walked by, she dropped a little note onto the table and smiled at me. It read "I will be praying for your son." I couldn't believe it. It stunned me that I had been speaking that loudly (oops) for her to hear everything, and that what I had said prompted her to pray. This was my first inkling that something was wrong. I just felt it.

The next morning, we woke up the kids at 6:00 and headed to the E.R. While Joseph was in getting his MRI, I received a phone call from our dear friend B.J., who was calling to see if I would check in on his wife, who had recently lost her baby. I wasn't going to tell anyone we were in the hospital until we knew what was going on, but I felt like I needed to explain why I couldn't call to check on my dear friend who needed me. I think he was on his way to work, but he said, "I'm coming right over there. I know Allen is going to tell me not to, but tell him I'm coming." I realized at that point how scared I was, because I really was grateful he was coming to offer us some moral support. I had a feeling our world was about to come crumbling down and neither of us were prepared for it. I remember both Allen and I saying, "But it could be nothing; We'd hate for you to come all the way over here for no reason." But, God must have given him insight as well, because he came right over and waited with us.

When they wheeled Joseph back into our little waiting room, he was still asleep. I remember feeling like I might be sick. Then the doctor came in, who happened to be a man whose child Allen had taught when he taught 5th grade. We had house/babysat for their family when they were out of town and they had gone to our church for a while. We were so thankful to have someone we knew and trusted to give us this news. I still remember it as though I was watching someone else. The words were registering in my head; I could comprehend what he was saying--it just didn't seem real. How could there be a large mass in Joseph's head? How could it "probably be cancer"? How did they know that? I remember saying, "But, he's so little." Cancer happened to older people, not to children, not to my child. Then a few moments later I went outside to get some fresh air and cry.

Those few days, while horrific, were also such encouraging and sweet days. We could never have expected this news, but we also could never have expected the outpouring of love we received from friends and family and the community at Emory. Joseph got balloons and stickers, toys, treats, McDonald's, Moe's, cars, trains, all his favorite things. I still remember when all the aunts and uncles and grandparents showed up at his hospital room that he probably felt like he was the most special child in the world. Everyone was there to see him and love him and make sure he had everything he needed. We are so thankful for all the many, many people who served us and loved us and supported us during that critical week (and the ensuing months).

I recently read an article about a family in Ireland who lost their son to a brain tumor. They had no indication that he was seriously ill. They thought he had gotten a stomach bug, and after a few days of him not getting better they took him into the hospital. He went into a coma that day and died from the tumor that had grown so big without their knowledge. After reading that article, I realized how that could have been our story. If Allen had not noticed the serious issues with Joseph and if the doctors at Emory had not taken him seriously and gotten us in there quickly, we could have bounced around from opthamologist to neurologist before anyone thought it might be a brain tumor. There are so many people I have met at St. Jude's who said it took them months to figure out their child had cancer. I think in our case we wouldn't have had months and it would have been too late. So, I'm so thankful the Lord gave us 9 more months with him and that we got to see him grow up some more, really enjoy life and really enjoy spending time with grandparents and cousins and our family that loved him so much.

So, this Thanksgiving I'm thankful for my family I have here with me. I'm thankful for the four wonderful years of life I got to spend with Joseph and all the wonderful and special memories we have with him. I'm also thankful for the many ways God supported us and provided for us throughout this journey. I can honestly say I'm not scared of much anymore. Well, I guess I don't fear things as much because I feel like if we can get through this, then we can probably get through other things. To say I miss him just doesn't cover it. But his life has influenced me and Allen and Holly, and our family will always include Joseph. He is always on our minds and in our conversation and we regularly quote "Josephisms." Holly still imitates him and wants to be like him. I hope that never changes.

I'm still processing everything that has happened. One thing I'm learning, though, is that it really is best to be thankful for what you have. It can always go away. I could be bitter and angry that I don't have Joseph anymore, but what would that do for anyone? I have Holly, a wonderful husband, a sweet new doggy, an absolutely amazing family, and the sweetest friends in the world. I really am blessed. I think we all are in different ways. We just don't always recognize it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What We've Been Up To

We have a new member of our family, a cute little beagle we have named Kellogg. My mom found her on the side of the road on the way to dropping David to school. It looked like she hadn't eaten in weeks and had no collar or tag, so my mom had pity on her and took her home. She then called me to tell me she had found Holly's dog. A flea-ridden half-starved dog. Just what we always dreamed of. :) But then I met her and she was the sweetest little dog, very scared but really sweet and loving. When I looked at her, I thought, "This is our dog, and her name is Kellogg." Don't ask me why.

We have been contemplating getting a dog for the last few months, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. We took her to the vet and got her fleas and worms (uggh) taken care of, so now she is fattening up and looking healthier every day. If only we could get her to pee outside, she would be the perfect dog. She is really patient with Holly treating her like a baby doll and so far has been extremely gentle. And I think Holly gets competitive with her and gets jealous if I'm giving her too much attention. It is really funny. They have even started to fight over toys. Holly has a care bear that talks, and Kellogg is either scared or very excited by it, but still loves it. Well, we had a big fuss over it tonight and we had to resort to "taking turns" between the dog and Holly. Oh boy. It's good for Holly to have a little playmate, though, and she absolutely adores her little puppy (who is actually 3 yrs. old).

Speaking of potty training (the dog), I have decided to add to the craziness and try to potty train Holly once and for all. This is the week. I am a big wimp and basically put off potty training until they are practically asking to be potty trained. Holly has been asking why she can't wear the underwear that has been sitting in her drawers for months now. She can definitely use the potty and has been for a while, but things have been so crazy, it was just the last thing I wanted to do. But now it's time (I think). She asked again tonight if she could start wearing underwear so we are going to really focus on it this week.

Holly has been taking a little "Mommy and Me" gymnastics class once a week and has just been loving it. Her favorite thing is the trampoline, but this last week she got to swing on the rope and she got really excited about that. She is good at all the activities, but she has exceptional arm strength, so hanging on bars and ropes are her forte. This is her waiting for her turn to swing on the rope. You can see the glee.

This is Halloween. We had a really sweet flower costume for her but all she wanted to wear were Joseph's Thomas pajamas. Last year Joseph was Spiderman (in pajamas) so I think she may have wanted to be like him. She looked adorable either way and people still gave her candy even if they weren't too impressed with the costume. :) Here is a picture from last year's Halloween. You can see the similarities:

How we missed him this Halloween. It just wasn't the same without him there to lead us in running from door to door. My heart still wrestles with believing he is really gone. I know Holly is struggling to grasp it. She is finally telling us that she misses him, and if I say I miss him too, she will quickly say, "Me, too." We are so thankful for Holly. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have her little voice and face to light up my day. She definitely has her "terrible two" moments and days, but I'm even thankful I have her here to drive me crazy. It is a privilege to be able to raise one of God's creations. I just pray constantly that He will give me wisdom and grace to teach her and guide her the way I should.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Big Success!

Kate Etue made these delicious, creative pies--for Obama and McCainMerridees donated 15 pies, which got snatched up quickly!
Some friends stopped by for cupcakesThis sweet girl sold her Halloween candy so she could make a donation. Yes, she SOLD her Halloween candy for childhood cancer research.
Just a sampling of the many, many goodies that were lovingly baked for this sale.

This handsome guy stopped by to set up and break down tables and man the table.

Special thanks to Katy, Amanda, and Em'ly, who mailed goodies from afar. Thanks Mom, Kathy, Jennifer, Katie, and Kellie for helping with organizing and finding a location. And special thanks to Ruthie, Penny, Katie, Jennifer, and my hubby for manning the table and providing moral support. We had so many people stop by and were really shocked at how much we were able to raise for childhood cancer research. Thank you to everyone who contributed in any way, whether it was baking or coming by to get some goodies. I really had a lot of fun doing this. The organization, Cookies For Kids Cancer, was hoping to have 50 bake sales in 50 states on election day, so we were able to provide the Tennessee one. I hope that all of us raised lots of money to help with research for childhood cancer. I think I can request that our funds go directly to brain tumor research, which would be awesome!

It was a really amazing day. God gave us a perfect day, sunny and warm (I even got sunburned in November), and a beautiful location in Westhaven. We got to meet lots of people and be a part of the fun of election day, too.