Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paying It Forward

Twelve years ago, we were hit by a tornado on May 3rd, 1999. It was a life-changing experience and one we will never forget. I wrote about it once and once was enough so I’ll post the links if you’re interested in reading about it.

Anyway, yesterday a terrible tornado blew through our little town, destroying one hundred homes and killing some of our neighbors just a mile or so north of us. It was déjà vu at it’s worst.

Piedmont Tornado, May 24, 2011


Today, I took half the day off hoping to help in some way. I am so thankful to be able to say we found a way to help. We met a couple that has no family in the state and lost everything including most of their pets yesterday. They will be staying with us while they try to figure out how to walk the path before them. It won’t be easy for them, but I can say without a doubt, they will make it. I know because I did.

As this husband and wife drove through our gate for the first time, I immediately recognized the look on both of their faces. It was the same look Bob and I wore for weeks after May 3rd, 1999. It’s a mixture of shock and pain and disbelief. It’s a look I’ll never forget and yet I am thankful for that because that means I can understand it in others now. There was a time I would have begged to forget. I am grateful to remember now because I know there is a way through it all.

When they exited their car, Bob and I hugged them and cried with them. It’s such an interesting thing to meet strangers and yet have an immediate connection with them. Shared pain can be a strong bonding compound I suppose. We showed them the farm and held their hands as we walked and talked. They both cried and thanked us repeatedly for our hospitality. That’s when it hit me like a sledgehammer. They saw our offer of help as if it were some big act of kindness. But it wasn’t and isn’t. It is the beginning of healing for them and the tail end of healing for us. We are being given an incredible gift. One we never asked for and didn’t see coming. We are being given the gift of paying it forward, of doing for others what was done for us. The days ahead won’t be easy but they will be worth the journey. I'm absolutely sure of that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Have A Sister

I have a sister named Kelly. She is my younger sister. She is my first memory.

My mother lays my newborn sister on her back on my parents bed. I am laying on my stomach, head resting in hands, repeatedly criss-crossing my bent legs with excitement. I am positioned at the top of her head, nose buried in her tiny wisps of hair. She smells like freshly baked sugar cookies to my three year old nose and I cannot stop myself from repeatedly kissing her head. When she looks at me and smiles, my heart races and I report this amazing feat with the typical toddler glee of a new big sister. My mother says she is too little to smile yet and it was gas. I know better. I know I made my sister smile and it sinks deep within my heart.

There have been fifty years between that memory and today. Fifty years of growing up and immaturity, laughing and crying, fighting and defending, standing and stooping. Fifty years that seemed like a hundred on some days and only a few moments on others. Fifty years.

Fourteen years ago, Kelly was diagnosed with Hemangiopericytoma. An extremely rare cancer. So rare in fact, the best doctors in California misdiagnosed it as a benign brain tumor. It wasn’t until ten years later, they finally realized what it actually was. The news was not good. They had only seen minimal cases due to it’s rarity and no one had survived past ten years. There was really no known treatment that could change that. Or so they said.

My older sister Char and I jumped online and researched Hemangiopericytoma, hospitals that dealt with it and doctors who specialized in killing it. We found MDAnderson. So, for the last four years we have met in Houston every three months. There have been major surgeries, clinical trials, tears, fears and laughter. Oh Lord, has there ever been laughter.

Last week, I flew to Houston to meet my sister Kelly at MDAnderson. She had a bad feeling about this trip. She kept saying it every time I called beforehand. I did what I am known for doing. I made light of it, changed the subject, made her laugh.

I called Kelly last night on my way home from work. I wanted to know if she had heard anything yet on the test results. She had. I knew before I even asked. I knew. I knew in Houston. I told my brother-in-law when we were walking over to get Kelly from her MRI.

“David, something just isn’t right. Maybe I’m just tired and I can’t put my finger on it but something doesn’t seem right.”

I made David promise not to tell Kelly what I had said as if that would make it go away.

Last night on my drive home from work, I called Kelly like I almost always do.

“Hey Kel, how ya feeling?”


“What’s wrong?”

The radiation in March had worked well on her spine. The brain tumor had grown but not drastically. She could have a seventh brain surgery to remove the tumor…again. That was the good news she said.

“ Weinberg said my lungs are bad. They couldn’t handle a surgery.”

“What? Your lungs are bad? Your lungs aren’t bad.”

“Marla, the tests say my lungs and liver are bad.”

“Ok, so what are they going to do. How are they going to fix this?”

“Three more months of chemo, then back for results. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing more they can do.”

I rarely cry. It’s the hand my sister dealt me awhile back. Everyone was always crying over her and she did not want me crying. She wanted me to make everyone smile again. So I did. For the last fourteen years. Until last night.

I screamed at my baby sister on the phone last night. I pulled my car over to the side of the road and I screamed through burning, hot tears.

“You cannot leave me here alone! You cannot! I can’t do this without you!”

“Marla, you’re not helping.”

“I don’t care, you can’t leave me here. I can’t talk to you right now.”

We both hung up without another word.

I dreamt about Kelly last night. It was a dream about something that had happened in Houston last week. We were in the hotel room getting ready for one of her appointments. She was having trouble with her right hand and said she thought one of the doctors was probably right. She believed she would be paralyzed and unable to write one day.

“Whatever Kelly. You never could write anyway.”

Kelly started to cry and said, “You just don’t want to hear the truth.”

I dreamt about that conversation last night. I dreamt about how I felt punched in the stomach at her words because they were true. I saw myself in the dream, doing what I had done in reality.

As I stood next to her wheelchair with my arms wrapped around her, I buried my nose in her red hair and kissed the top of her head repeatedly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

See Ya Later, Alligator

Well, like I said yesterday, here I am in Houston with my sister Kelly and her husband David. Today was the usual: blood specimens, MRI and CT scans and lots of paperwork. Oh sure, there were the typical moments of ridiculousness like when they attempted to coerce her into the rectal CT again. She wasn’t going for it this time either. Party pooper. As for running her into the elevator wall, well, it wasn’t totally my fault. The man that held the door open for me smelled really good and I lost my sense of direction for a moment. Old men that smell good remind me of my dad and then I get all melancholy and forget things like stopping before I walk Kelly and her wheelchair into the elevator wall. As for the laughing, I could have stopped if Kel would have stopped telling me to stop. Telling me to stop laughing only makes me laugh more. It’s a common physics fact, or something. Besides, it’s not like she got hurt and even if she had, we’re in a hospital. What better place to get hurt? Duh!

Just another little pet name my sister has for me?

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about tonight. No, I have something much more riveting to tell you. I have discovered one of the most amazing, incredible, fascinating studies of humanity ever known to man. No really, stay with me, you won’t regret it. Ok, you probably will but stay with me anyway.

Not having cable TV at home, I find myself flicking through all the channels every time I am here at the Rotary House. They have a bazillion channels full of foolishness. It can be quite entertaining. So last night as I was flicking away, I came across this show.

If you have never seen Swamp People, you don’t know what you’re missing. This show is brilliant. I mean, seriously, any show that has to use English sub-titles when the people being filmed are English speaking so to speak, well, that is my kind of entertainment.

Now, before you PETA family members of mine go psycho on me for watching this show, I will admit the shooting of the gators made me sad. Especially when they show the little gator paw slowly dropping down into the boat as the pre-historic beast gives up the ghost. Poor humongous, slimy creature that would eat my face off in a nano second if given the chance. All you wanted to do was munch a stray dog or two, attack an unsuspecting Cajun fishing on the bank now and then and maybe grab a bunny snack once in awhile. And for this, they shoot you. Well that and the big bucks the ladies will pay for a purse made out of your hide.

Rest in peace, monster gator. Not one inch of you will go to waste. As for tasting like chicken, I’ll just have to take the Swamp People’s word for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pass The Prozac Please

It has been 26 days since I last blogged. When I finally stopped by to see my long lost blog, I was actually shocked to realize so many days had passed. If you would have asked me, I would have thought it might have been a week since I last wrote some amazing piece of crap to post. This got me to thinking. What in the world could I have possibly been so consumed by over the last 26 days that I would neglect my love of writing?

In the last 26 days I have:

~ been promoted

~ been trained and trained and trained and trained on my new position until my head is ready to EXPLODE!

~ worked 1373 hours

~ laughed until I cried

~ cried until I laughed

~ worked 1373 hours

~ read two books

~ paid 17 bills

~ worked 1373 hours

~ brushed my horse three times

~ screamed at the dogs 48 times

~ had a daily conversation with Harley the African Grey 26 mornings

~ worked 1373 hours

~ done 13 loads of laundry

~ dropped 2 van loads of treasures at the thrift store

~ made dinner 6 times

~ eaten 26 granola bars for breakfast

~ drank 103 cups of coffee

~ worked 1373 hours

~ watched late night Star Trek reruns 26 times

~ watched The Office late night reruns 26 times

~ watched the ceiling 26 times because I couldn’t stop thinking late at night

~ lost three pounds

~ gained three pounds

~ lost three pounds

~ gained three pounds

~ lost three pounds

~ run on the treadmill once

~ been thrown violently from the treadmill once

~ left the house by 8 am 20 times

~ walked back in the door by 9 pm 20 times

Oh yeah, and worked 1373 hours!!!

I could possibly be hitting the point of pure exhaustion however I am too tired to be absolutely sure.

One last thing I might mention. I flew to Houston today and you know what that means. Three days with my sister. Things could get interesting. If I can stay awake, that is.