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Life Matters

Letting go is not the same as forgetting. Loss happens. Illness and injury happens. But, LIFE happens to matter most of all. What we do with our pain is up to us. Do we ignore it? Do we surrender to it? Do we let it define us? Or, do we feel it, tend it, and grow through it? We are not what happens to us. We are who we become -driven by our choices, our actions, and our reactions to life’s blessings and trials. Notice those blessings; learn through the trials; and nourish the gift of life that remains.

Peace.

Smile Searching

Always in search of a positive path while still living a life in the now.

Smile: it’s Monday!

-Jac

A Quality Life

When asked how Abram is doing, my standard reply is, “He’s doing well!” My hearty response is not meant to be dismissive or overzealous, but more of a genuine attempt to encompass the two vital realities: he is alive and he is happy:)

With today’s results we were blessed to hear that Abraham’s brain scans are stable. The new aspect that has now worked its way in is that side effects of radiation are starting to show in regards to his endocrine system. That means the potential for new tests, new surgeries, new therapies, and new unknowns are once again on our plate. This isn’t a life and death situation. There are ways to manage these new disruptions. Nonetheless, it’s not a reality one would willingly choose to travel with a child.

This past week was rife with scheduling errors, delays, and unpleasant strangers. Yet, my standard answer still applies. “We are good.” It was a positive week because the ending is a happy one with the four of us safe, strong, and together.

Normal joys still rung true. Tommy was confirmed last week in Saint Anne, and he graduated from Kankakee Junior High earlier today. Abraham is finishing a fantastic fourth-grade year in the gifted program at King. So yes, we are blessed and we are grateful!

But how do I really feel when the pure joy of stable scans is marred by an annoying, life-altering side effect of cancer treatment? Do I really just shift gears from hospital to home without a hitch? Of course not.

I think the best perspective comes when I step back and place what I feel personally alongside what I’ve gathered from others.

Dealing with ongoing critical illness in a child is difficult to explain. I lost my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles to cancer. None of those tragedies prepared me for the helplessness I feel battling The Big Sick with my baby boy.

Some pediatric concerns are obvious. Children are smaller which increases the difficulty in everything from basic lab draws to extensive surgeries. Tiny humans haven’t the words and wherewithal to choose between the endless medical options presented day after day in clinics and hospitals. Kids often miss many months of school which can create academic and social struggles. Abraham was hospitalized nearly all of second grade. This year there were fewer but still significant absences.

Pediatric cancer patients specifically are sorely underrepresented in clinical trials that could ultimately offer our sons and daughters safer treatments, clearer results, simpler childhoods, and longer lives. That disheartening piece alone can give me fits on even the easiest of days.

And of course, there’s the pressing role of medical guardian to acknowledge. Life and death decisions can arise suddenly and leave a mournful trail of lifelong doubt for any parent forced to select from a handful of gruesome options. It’s difficult enough to imagine if and how we would fight for our own lives when threatening situations arise. In my experience, it is impossible to predict what we will do to save a child. I’ve made choices for Babe I would not have chosen for myself. It’s a wicked double standard, but I am not ashamed to admit that I have always sought more for my children than I’ve allowed for myself.

Seeing the list of potential side effects unravel into actual side effects over the years remains a shock. The doctors warned us verbally and in writing about what could happen, but medical disclaimers can never wholly disclose the challenges that come with survivorship. That is one list of commonalities that apply to cancer patients regardless of age: there will likely be pain, fear, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, toxicity, estrangement, anxiety, depression, and quite often- grief.

When I start to spiral, my husband reminds me that we achieved our goal. We saved our son’s life. His simple but blunt words always shift my attitude to where it needs to be. Each day we have is a treasure and my moaning in despair or regret would be a terrible waste of precious time.

Abram is now two years post-treatment, and even though doctors, nurses and well-meaning strangers would tell my bald child “not to worry it will all grow back after treatment” his has not. Radiation makes him overheat quickly on warm, sunny days at recess. His blood counts are still recovering. His physical and occupational therapy continues as he slowly rehabilitates his hips, legs, and hands. Surgery scars mark him as different. He tires easier than other ten-year-olds. Yet, those same trials have simultaneously built a boy who cares deeply, forgives quickly and expresses empathy in a manner well beyond his years. That is why, no matter the struggle, no matter the result, we are grateful for life and respectful of love.

Looking back at the start of cancer treatment options four years ago, one recurring theme was “quality of life”.

We knew Abraham had a rare and serious condition, but that did not make the decisions in regards to his treatment plan any easier. Before his first brain surgery my thoughts were not strictly of whether or not he would survive. My bigger fear was that he would return to us alive but without his funny, kind, and compassionate outlook. Thankfully, my prayers were answered then and continue to grace us now.

None of us know how our lives will go. Our realities and priorities can change quickly. Sadly, many of us are trapped by things we cannot control. What I have found is that despite the pain and loss that weaves its way into our personal narrative, we can always choose our mood and tone.

A quality life is not our goal, it is our foundation. With open minds, fluid expectations, and grateful hearts, we can learn day by day to manifest grace and light despite the darkest shadows.

Peace and love to you and yours…

Discovery Passage

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.

-Helen Keller

Discovery lights children with vitality. As we age, it seems we find fewer moments that fill us with awe. Is it that we become jaded to joy? Or, do we become so resigned to our circumstance and routine that we decide there isn’t anything worthwhile left to find?

When Chris, Abraham and I stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Loyola, the director informed us that the home was built with a secret. We were free to walk the floors and look for a hidden room. Despite the looming task of cancer treatment, the mystery fueled our sense of wonder. Knowing there was something to find kept us searching. We searched for hours and were delighted to discover a brightly painted secret passage with a spiral staircase hidden behind a bookshelf. One by one we wound our way up the tiny stairs to an enormous attic. The entire floor was sparsely furnished and minimally decorated, but its expanse was thoughtfully accented with quiet cubbies, game tables, and children’s art.

In the secret attic, we met a red-haired boy named Andrew expertly sinking billiard balls (despite his heavy reliance on a walker) who became a dear friend to Abraham. A small window seat overlooking the flower garden became my favorite hideaway. After our discovery, years fell from Chris’ eyes while his movements and posture revealed a lightening of his spirit. He often recalls our time at RMH Loyola as “our magical stay at the castle.”

We had arrived at “the castle” physically, emotionally, and spirituality exhausted just days after Abraham had received his central line, and we remained there as the dreaded combination chemo-radiation treatments began. The rooms were small, and the area was sketchy, but the atmosphere of possibilities at our home away from home was different-otherworldly. As a result and despite our pain and apprehension, we had great fun.

I mention this today because it reminded me of how different life becomes when we actively seek hidden joys instead of expecting them to materialize without direction or effort.


(Chris and Abram in front of RMH Loyola, July 2015)

My recent lack of posts belies my standard routine. I write every day to let go and work through the pieces of life that strike me -good or bad. Currently, my family is steadily progressing down the twisted, singular road of pediatric cancer survivorhood. Though I sometimes share the teachable moments we uncover, lately I’ve become cautious.

With each paragraph I write, I feel more and more protective of my thoughts. Why should I add our personal joys or struggles into a social mix where blanket hatred abounds and keyboard critics reign? Scrolling through the social muck and placing a photo of my children or myself in the mix feels like trickling glitter down a drain.

Then I remembered searching for The Secret Garden at Ronald McDonald House and the lasting effect that day of discovery had on all of us. I want readers to feel my faith in the unseen possibilities that can come despite trials and loss. It’s easy to choose joy when days go well, but it’s vital to choose light when life goes dark.

Maybe if I cast out flashes of decency and hope, some of its glitter will stick to the edges of our plunging, murky standards. It’s a small drop in a large bucket, I know. Yet, I am compelled to remind others that amid the endless trauma and pains of life there remains abundant happiness to seek.


I see myself as a hopeful realist. I know that there is a shortage of love and an abundance of evil in the world. I know it is always a close race between what should be, what can be, and what will be. I also know that life isn’t always fair.

But I choose to focus on what I can bring to the human race so that I can best lead my family through its tricky paces. I find it fruitless and ridiculous to spend precious time fixated on the transgressions of others running in their own lane.

So, despite the social spectacle dousing reality with real (and imagined) fears, I will face forward and move along in positive measures.

While doing so,  I hope no matter the climate, I can continue to chronicle our shared, imperfect, spectacular landscape where limited days draw purpose and unlimited hope fosters love.


Peace.

Autumnal Attitude

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”
― John Donne

Change isn’t always better.

Change can be scary, or damaging, or wrong.

But change is the natural order from whence forces conduct so a fresh line of hope can be drawn.

The beginning of this school year was distressing for me. Abraham and I have been inseparable for the past 18-26 months. Dropping him off each day is like sending him off to kindergarten all over again. Only this time he’s emerging in his third grade element, and I’m stuck, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But as the days pass, I am wearing a positive groove into our routine, and my attitude is slowly improving. After all, I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group for our son than the staff and students of Taft Primary School.

For instance, the homecoming parade was across the field from the school. Abraham was able to walk there, but having the energy to return was a completely different story.

So the new principal, Mr. Lee, gave Abe a piggyback ride most of the way back to school. The kids thought it was great fun, and once again, a school situation that could’ve been beyond Abraham’s ability was not only possible but downright warmhearted and enjoyable. I must learn to rely on others now, and give myself some space to rebuild.

A friend told me that I needed to be as good in giving myself grace as I am in sharing it with others. I thought about that quite a bit over the weekend. I’m not sure where to start with myself, so I will do what always feels best; I will look to nature to find direction and peace.

Autumnal attitude comes as a second spring of color where even though the chill of winter is nearing, we warm to the idea of fall. I remain absorbed in the well being of my family, but I don’t want worry to mute the bright colors emerging from our recovery.

So, I’m going to take the advice from my dear friend as well as from Mother Nature and practice grace and depth born of natural change. With enough practice, I hope to find peace along the changing landscape.

Peace, hope, and faith…

Hustle Kindness Friday 

Two years ago today, we found out that Abraham’s cancer had returned. One year ago, we received these customized shoes in the mail from a small NFP in Farmington, NM that brings hope to children living with critical illness or disabilities by putting compassion into action. 


The kindness and love that found our family moved me, and I’ve tried to promote their mission ever since. Everyone has the power to make a positive change in this world, we just have to find our own unique way. The kindness hustle is real, and I am proud to be a part of the Peach’s Neet Feet tribe. 

It is Hustle Kindness Friday and today’s hustle is for Kaj, a strong little boy who has battled hard to overcome many obstacles, surgeries, and hardships after an accidental car fire. 

How do we grow compassion for kids like Abraham and Kaj? 

From our roots.

Kindness begins at home. All families are different, and respecting those differences is best learned through example. 

Today, be the voice of kindness for kids who can get overlooked during their struggles, but deserve to be seen just like everyone else. Include those who are otherwise left out, and talk to kids about diversity in appearance so they learn to see beyond skin or scars or baldness; and into the body of love.


Peace, love and hope…