Monday, December 7, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...the Arctic

I grew up in Miami, and although I don't own even a single pair of shorts (that is a subject for another post), I am definitely a tank top, jeans, and flip-flop kinda gal.  I could never survive in, say, Boston or New York because a) I prefer Colorado casual, like being able to wear a nice pair of jeans to a fancy restaurant--I definitely don't have the urban chic style, and b) I could never stand the brutal New England winters.  Denver, however, is a crafty little city that chose the gorgeous Rockies as a backdrop but settled itself neatly in the plains to avoid those unreasonably cold temperatures.  It snows infrequently enough that I am excited each time, exclaiming to the children that it is certainly a hot cocoa day and sitting with a blanket by the window to watch the flakes fall.  When it does snow, it is peaceful and cozy.  We go sledding and build snow forts and do all the appropriate snow activities during the storm and the next morning, and then by that afternoon the snow fades away under the electric blue skies and warm sun.  Aaahhhh, winter in nice, neat little packages.  Adore it. 

You see, I am a prime example of a product of Classic Parenting Rule #346--Deprive your children of something (in this case, seasons, written about previously in the middle of this post) and they will be forever be fixated on that wondrous, elusive thing.  It worked out for the good in my case, because I am filled with glee every three months as the landscape changes around me, opening up new activities and making me excited for what's to come.

I think it is backfiring for Sam and I, because we implemented Classic Parenting Rule #346 with the television.  Our kids don't watch television and only have Friday Night movie nights.  There is also a rare occasion where I am solo for the evening and need something to occupy our little man while I get dinner going, but for the most part we totally deprive our kids of the tv.  They aren't fixated on tv on a day-to-day basis by any means (in fact, it's not on their radars at all), but if we are in a public place or over at a friend's house and a television happens to be on, it is like they are drawn in by an invisible magnetic force, unable to avert their eyes, no matter what is on.  If you had witnessed the sheer joy my boys displayed when I popped in the instructional DVD that came with my super-duper amazing Vita-Mix blender you would have immediately picked up the phone and told a social worker at Child Protective Services to open a new file, stat. 

So, last week it got pretty chilly here--"unseasonably cold", the weather report read.  I was excited--Sam chopped a bunch of wood (free from Craigslist--score!), and we planned for butternut squash soup and other yummy wintry foods for dinner.  I came in the door each afternoon with the kids and immediately got the fire going, and one of them would pipe up saying, "It is definitely a hot cocoa day!"  Yes, I would agree, and made hot cocoa (not the packaged stuff, the real stuff) and made sure they each had 7 mini marshmallows in their cup.  It was f.r.e.e.z.i.n.g outside, homeless shelter workers walking around and trying to get people to come inside kind of freezing.

Did I mention that I adore seasons?  Well, Farmer's Almanac, I know you said this was going to be a harsh winter, but I am a girl from Miami who is living in Denver because, with the lack of humdity and the altitude, 40 degrees and sunny is absolutely lovely and you can put on a fleece when it is snowing and feel perfectly comfortable.  I didn't sign up for this "unseasonably cold" weather that we are now braving Week 2 of (and I capitalized that word because it feels about as a big as an eternity at the moment).  We came home today and I grumbled something about not making hot cocoa every single day before being a mean mom and refusing to make it.  As you can see, Sam braved the roof climb to hang the Christmas lights but only got partway done before the snow started.  Weather, you are sucking the joy out of seasons, so go easy on this deprived Miami girl, ok?

P.S.--One good thing about dealing with "unseasonably cold" weather and living in an old house where the youngest child's room is inexplicably freezing is seeing him in the cute hat he wears to accentuates his unibrow (sorry Kenyon, that came from me) but also his impossibly long eyelashes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Matt is officially in complete remission, which means his PET scan showed no evidence of disease.  Awesome.  It's what we hoped for at the start of all this of course, but to have it happen so early on in treatment feels great and is a huge relief.  The fact that his tumors were knocked out so quickly from ABVD's punches makes them much less likely to return.

While he was scheduled to have 12 treatments (6 rounds), he will most certainly be saying an early farewell to the comfy chemo chair.  The standard oncology formula is Complete Remission + 2 Rounds, to catch any little microscopic buggers hanging out that the PET scan couldn't find.

Not a bad way to start out a Tuesday morning.  Matt is having some ABVD for breakfast as I type, but I'd bet it's a lot easier to stomach with this news!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Catching Up

**Matt update**  I'm sure the vast majority of you know this by now because my Mom has likely put up billboards in most major cities, but Matt's PET scan last week was 'great'.  We won't have specifics until Matt speaks to the doctor (on Tuesday before chemo, probably), but the nurse called and said the PET scan was great and that the doctor wanted to speak to him about altering his course of treatment.  The doctor would only think about altering treatment if the PET scan was clean, so it's fantastic that the tumors responded to the chemo so quickly.  Matt has been wondering about most current research, and how he can ensure that this cancer is completely wiped out while doing as little longterm damage as possible from the chemical cocktail he undergoes every two weeks.  He plans on speaking to the doctor about whether it would be more beneficial to shorten the number of chemo treatments, or doing less chemo and then a light radiation treatment...I'll keep you posted.  But we're all thrilled that things are going so positively.

I haven't posted recently because we've been busier than usual around here, and much of it has been enjoying the glorious Colorado fall weather.  Having grown up in Miami, I didn't fully understand and appreciate what a season was until I moved out here.  And I love it.  Fall in Colorado, as I've seen up close and personal this past month, has everything from bright blue skies to crisp leaves swirling in the air to heavy snowstorms.  Three weeks ago, the Autumn Blaze maples that we planted in the front yard were the most brilliant fiery red--I looked out the window constantly and can't wait until next fall to see them again.  Then, snow.  This is what our street looked like just 3 short days before Halloween:

We had about 14 inches of snow--school canceled, the whole bit.  It was awesome fun--Sam built a snow fort in our front yard and we all had snowball fights with neighbors.  Kenyon, true to (round) form, focused on eating as much snow as he could.  I used the snow as an excuse to make hot cocoa with marshmallows, and we had a fire going the whole time.

After two and a half days of snow falling steadily, the sun came out and worked its magic for all moms who were dreading attempting to fit snowsuits under two vampire costumes and lugging around a toddler while trudging through ice and snow so they could get candy that they don't even eat--namely, this mom.

Thank you, Sun.  By Halloween night, snow was nowhere to be found, and we didn't even need to wear jackets.  I love the fact that snow comes to visit Denver but doesn't stay like a dirty, unwanted houseguest as it does in the midwest and east coast.

I stupidly announced to the boys that we were making our own Halloween costumes this year.  Their initial hesitation vanished upon our entrance to the fabric store, where they were allowed to pick the inner fabric for the vampire cape I would be 'sewing' for them (red spider webby material for Jackson, silver swirly material for Alex).  I use the term 'sewing' loosely, because I have never actually come in direct contact with a sewing machine, nor do I have anything but the most rudimentary knowledge of needles and threads.  The universe took pity upon me and placed a woman in front of me in line at the fabric cutting counter who was also making a vampire outfit for her child, but this was a crafty woman.  She told me exactly how I could sew a cape, and although it would take longer because I was doing it by hand, it seemed doable.  How difficult could it be to make a cape?

Well, it wasn't all that difficult, but it was time-consuming and also did not hold up all that well to even two uses.  The boys were thrilled, which of course was the whole point, and they looked fine as long as you didn't examine the handiwork (or lack thereof).  They are already planning their costume for next year, which means I need to enroll in a sewing class, and fast.

Kenyon was an owl for Halloween, because I wanted to reuse an amazing costume that my mom made for Jackson when he was just about the same age.  Amazingly, we were able to stuff his body into teeny brown tights (belly hanging over unfettered, of course).  I couldn't manage to get a good picture of Kenyon in costume for comparison, but here are the two brothers in costume, five years apart:

Too bad Alex wasn't an owl when he was that age. 

I blinked and five years have gone by; how is that possible?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Boys, In Brief

More and more each day he doesn't look like a little kid; I'm amazed and heartbroken all at once.  I know the days that I am able to pick him up are numbered; his legs now brush near my ankles as his head, heavy with sleep, rests on my shoulder.

He is exploding with growth in every sense of the word.  I am enjoying him having this last year in Montessori school but am so thrilled with anticipation for what he will experience in next year's Kindergarten class at The Odyssey School.  His body is a spindly beansprout, obviously taking after his father.

He is now 19 months old, the same age Jackson was when he became a big brother.  His solid body definitely comes from my family, namely my father.  The eyebrows are mine for sure (sorry, sweetie!).  He relishes life with his brothers and doesn't have any problems with making his demands heard.

Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Matt went solo for Treatment #3 on Tuesday; he figured if old ladies could be there by themselves that he didn't need to bring his mommy along.  I'm sure he managed to keep busy with his trusty companion, the beloved iPhone.  What can't it do, really?  I'm surprised there's not a chemo infusion app by now...

The medical report, in brief--his white blood cells continue to rally, which certainly contributed to his feeling great during this past week in between treatments.  He worked at the office every day last week, right up until the day before chemo.

While the original understanding was that there would be 4 cycles of chemo (8 treatments), Matt learned on Tuesday he would actually undergo 6 cycles (12 treatments).  Surprise!  Four cycles of chemo is most often coupled with radiation treatments afterwards, so although it is a bummer that Matt will winding up his tour of cancer duty in February instead of December, it is still much more preferable to avoid radiation if he can.

Up until this point, having cancer hasn't been that bad.  Slight nausea? Yeah, but no big deal. Fatigue? Sure, a bit.  Really nothing too terrible.  The third time having poison pumped into your body is the charm, apparently, because Matt came home from his treatment looking yellow.  While this experience previously was more akin to a Thomas Kinkade painting, the past few days have been more like Van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden in the Snow. 

It is common for the effects of chemo to worsen as the treatments add up.  This treatment has hit him much harder than the first two, and the 'fun' of this whole thing is wearing off, to put it mildly.  It is difficult for him to muster up the energy to speak, his body is very sore from the Neulasta shot, the nausea is more pronounced....

I had my photographer in the field (Bohdana) snap this picture of the elusive cancer patient...

One alternative medicine really does help with his side effects (take note, all you lawmakers out there).  Previously, Mom fretted over his disinterest or inability to even have some water (which helps the body to process and flush the chemo drugs out of the system sooner).  This afternoon, Matt managed to sit outside, looking unintentionally but convincingly Hunter S. Thompson-esque, for a bit for a more enjoyable form of medicine.  As I write this, he is eating some pretzels and sweet potato soup.

Here's hoping that he only has a few of these really uncomfortable days each treatment.  Throughout all of this, Matt has always said to spare him an ounce of worry.  The knowledge that so many little kids are subjected to this process is unbearable.  For any of you who feel compelled to do something for Matt, you can donate a toy to your local pediatric cancer center.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Making His Cancer Hurt

Now, I went to Florida under the guise of visiting my brother, but I have a confession: I have been dreaming about the chocolate/lime swirl ice cream cones at Nokomis Groves, a nearby citrus grove.  I woke up on my birthday yesterday, eagerly awaiting an hour where it would not be absurd to suggest ice cream, and checked the computer for the citrus grove's hours.  To my chagrin, they are closed until November.  November?  Darn those citrus groves and their seasons.  Luckily, Dairy Queen was waiting patiently in the wings, with its long hours and convenient location, so I was still able to get my fix and fulfill my promise to the kids.

One of the highlights of my trip (other than being able to peacefully sit on a plane, sipping a coffee drink and reading a magazine) was the fact that I got to be Auntie Annie.  I became a mother before I became an aunt, and I have found it difficult to be a fun aunt when I have my own kiddos to tend to.  I got to read stories, snuggle, play, help a wounded knee--and I loved it.

Bohdana bought Lexie a new bike, which we assembled on our own, and Ty was the lucky recipient of Lexie's old Radio Flyer bike.  We took the kids out to the park for some test drives and playground fun.  Matt didn't join us on this and other outings because chemo makes his skin more sensitive to sunlight, and I can't blame him at all--even though I grew up here it is very difficult for me to be outside, even after the strongest heat of the day has subsided.  Give me Colorado altitude and blue skies any day (and cue John Denver's Rocky Mountain High).

The following is a oft-told story in our family, but I'll give a shortened version since some of you may not know it.  Bohdana was originally my friend.  We met and became fast friends as au pairs in England one summer ten years ago.  In a twist of fate, there was one weekend where my parents were over in London for my dad's business trip, and my brother and his friends were heading through London on their way back from traveling around Amsterdam.  We all met up at a historic English pub in London, and I brought along my friend from the Czech Republic, Bohdana.  Matt and Bohdana hit it off, and within just a few months of emailing back and forth, he sold his worldly possessions, quit his job, and moved to Prague to be with her as birds chirped and the sun shone all around him.  I couldn't be happier that my brother married this girl, as my friend is now my sister. 

For my birthday last night, Bohdana and I went out to an English pub (shhh, don't tell Mom that we left Matt to fend for himself!).  Granted, we weren't single and in England in our early twenties, but it was great to sit and drink a pint together and have a bit of the old days together. 

On Friday, Bohdana and I went out to lunch at a great place on the beach; we even saw dolphins frolicking in the ocean.  Mom called home while we were out, and Matt told her he was helplessly lying in a pool of his own filth. :)  He is waited on 95% of the time, and if he does something on his own he'll jokingly say in a pathetic voice that we are 'making his cancer hurt'.

Truthfully, Matt is doing really well.  He took anti-nausea meds just for the first couple of nights after chemo.  Our awesome aunt (guess which one!) sent Matt some natural (albeit illegal) anti-nausea meds, so occasional use of this has made a difference this round as well.  We use the Eating Well Through Cancer cookbook daily--name your side effect, and it has a number of recipes that work to ease symptoms and get good nutrition into a patient.  They are good recipes, too--we all ate the chicken with a sauce made from black beans, peaches, green onions and the sweet potato bisque.  Matt has lost six pounds since the start of all this, but that will level off.  He handled Treatment #2 much better than #1--less mouth burning/soreness, less nausea.  He plans to go to work much of next week, since the Neulasta shot does such a great job of keeping his white blood cell count at a reasonable level.

Matt is so fortunate that he has a wife and family that can do things for him so the only thing he needs to focus on is resting and letting the chemo do its thing.  I was glad to pitch in with the effort, and get some good sister/niece/nephew time in as well.  I love these people; we should all see each other more often, no matter the sickness or health.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Treatment #2

I have broken free from the fog of emergency room visits, an ambulance ride, and pediatric head injury monitoring to bring you this update about Matt.  While I would love to relate the recent dramatic events in my own children's lives, my brother's friends can't seem to stomach reading another line about my mundane life (Hi Ben! When you find yourself on the verge of a kitchen remodel, you better not come begging me for advice!).  I hereby solemnly swear to keep this post strictly Tunheim family-free. 

With the side effects of chemo all but dissipated, Matt spent the last week feeling generally great.  He had a shot of Neulasta, which aims to boost white blood cell counts and reduce risk of infection.  With the flu running rampant through schools (9 kids out of 25 are absent right now in Jackson's 1st grade class--ooops, my apologies, Ben, scrub your eyes!), my mom spent the week stripping Lexie and Ty down in the foyer each day after school, putting their school clothes in an incinerator to destroy any rogue H1N1 cells that may have been along for the ride, and spackling them with Purell.  Think of the scene in E.T. with the government men in the white space suits coming into Elliot's home; you can rest assured that their father having cancer won't have as much lasting psychological effect on these kids as their Nana's antibacterial cleansing regimen.  All in the name of love, though, and Mom is doing a terrific job.

Matt went to the local chemo center today for Treatment #2.  Good news rained down today on all fronts; here are the highlights:
  • no bitchy, condescending nurse at this place--the people are a pleasure, and much less waiting around.
  • his white blood cell count was superb, which means he responds great to the Neulasta shot.  This also means that on the off-week when he feels good, he can actually go out in public, hug his kids, and live like a normal person.
  • the tumors in his neck have been reduced to nubs already from the first treatment.  There was even talk of possibly altering/shortening his course of treatment at the next visit; we'll see how that plays out, but it's fantastic that the Hodgkin's cells aren't putting up much of a fight.
Matt should feel slightly worse this week than he did after his first treatment.  I'm heading to Florida on Thursday to visit, spend time with my awesome niece and nephew, and generally help out.  Now, I'm not one who is generally a stickler for cleanliness (to put it mildly, but how can you be with three boys?  Shit, sorry Ben!).  I am ready, though, armed with a pocketful of Purell and bottles of Lysol.  I will brave the 90-year old shoppers in motorized carts at the local grocery store to pick up whatever sounds good to Matt at the moment. 

I will talk dreamily about unicorns and rainbows with Lexie, and attempt to make my eyes adjust to this color that doesn't make an appearance in my household. 

With that gorgeous face, how could I not be excited?  My next post about Matt should be in a few days, from the front lines.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The kitchen, an oft-mentioned topic earlier on in this blog, hasn't made an appearance for quite some time. As if I had gone through a nasty breakup, I needed a little time to mend my wounded heart and forgive it for its shortcomings (that, and it's still not 100% finished--these days I don't find a whole lot of spare time for staining trim and such). I'll spare you the mundane but terribly frustrating details of what went wrong during the remodel, and share some pictures of the highlights. **disclaimer--any use of the word 'we' in this post largely means 'I', as Sam had virtually no patience for or interest in agonizing over every decision like I did, funny enough. Every conversation about the kitchen went something like this: "What do you think of this sink?" "I like it--done; decision made. Order it." "But what about this...or this....or this? Are you still paying attention?" As such, I take responsibility for the bad decisions as well as the good...**

I freely admit that interior design is not one of my strengths. I looked through kitchen magazines (thanks, Anna!) in order to get a sense of what I was drawn to, and used many elements I gleaned from a couple of favorites. Since our home was built in 1905, we wanted something that would evoke the feeling of a period kitchen, but with modern amenities. And with the space opening up to the dining room and its large built-in buffet across the back wall, we also knew that wood cabinets matching in tone to the buffet would work best.

Here is a before picture to give you an idea of what we started with:

This was our only section of countertop, and a wall separated the kitchen and the dining room.

Here are some after pictures:

A beam supports where the loadbearing wall once stood, and two schoolhouse pendants light the island. The wood floors were mostly great underneath the white tile, but they did have to use a small amount of new wood to patch a couple of spots. I plan on stripping and staining the transom window above the back door, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

I like these inset cabinets and cup pulls, which lend a period feel:

Choosing the countertops was an easy process; we both fell in love with the easy, warm look of soapstone. Over time, small nicks and scratches give a lived-in feel, which works well with our older home. It has a muted black look (although this picture looks very green), with veins of color weaving through it. Here is a closeup of a more vibrant section of the soapstone:

I'm more attached to the form of the integrated drainboard than the function and don't want things left there overnight. Sam doesn't share the sentiment and has the nerve to actually drain things upon it; I don't think this is a battle I will win.

Another feature I love is the 1 3/4 bowl Blanco Silgranite sink. I had decided on a porcelain sink until I read about these sinks on the kitchen forums at Gardenweb, a site I highly recommend for anyone planning a kitchen remodel. I also find the sink grids really handy; they protect the sink and help keep water flowing down the drain even with a sink full of dishes.

The marble subway tile backsplash is simple but pretty, and since our stove is in the island we don't need to worry as much about the stone etching from pasta sauce or other various substances.

In time, I know that I will admire the kitchen for its positive traits and not see all the flaws. It has already made a large improvement on our daily life as a family, which was the whole reason behind this endeavor. There is plenty of counter space for the boys to help chop tomatoes for a salad or work the mixer for cookies, a lower cabinet with easy access to cups--every morning when Kenyon hears the Vita-Mix start up, he toddles over to the cabinet, pulls out a cup, and asks for his 'smoo-mee'. It works for our family as it is now, and I can also see Sam and I with three teenage boys and a herd of their friends hanging out here. The process was painful, but worthwhile.

Anyone want to come over for dinner? :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brotherly Love

A household of three boys comes with more than its fair share of bloody noses, fart jokes, and the like--I'll spare you the gory details. But there are an awful lot of sweet moments, too, especially in the way the older ones treat little Kenyon. They extend patience and kindness towards Kenyon that goes way beyond how they would willingly treat each other.

Kenyon, 18 months
I use all-important Mom Tactic #217 often--instill the stuff that counts in the kids while they are still willing to listen. While the boys are at this impressionable age, I talk a lot about how having brothers is the most special thing in the world. I believe this wholeheartedly, and I want them to truly grow up with an appreciation for each other. I'm not naive enough to think that their surly teenage years are going to be spent with nothing but love and respect for each other, but I do hope that the core values that we drive home early on will be inescapable in their psyches.

I wanted to document a few interactions between the kids so I will be able to look back and remember these sweet times when I have three teenage boys in the house at once. I'll undoubtedly be penniless at that point--if my memories of my brother in adolescence are any indication of what I'm in for (times three), our only hope is for Sam to get a job as an investment banker to pay for the weekly truckloads of cereal delivered to a personal silo. I may also force them to watch these videos after arguments to remind them how sweet and caring they are deep inside, underneath that thick veil of testosterone.

This morning, Kenyon finished his own breakfast of toast, orange juice and a hearty bowl of cereal with strawberries. Not quite feeling satiated, he then took it upon himself to climb up on Alex's lap. The following ensued...

After breakfast, I noticed Jackson on the couch with Kenyon and recorded the following video, which sadly doesn't have great audio. In case you can't hear, Jackson is reading to Kenyon and asking him questions about the book.

Kenyon is 18 months going on 6 years and expects to join in everything his brothers do, including games of tackle football. Yesterday after school, it was Sam and Kenyon vs. Jackson and Alex.

Before we decided to have a #3, we worried that the third would feel left out since Jackson and Alex are so close in age. Now we see he's the lucky one to have such doting big brothers to show him the ropes. Having three has most certainly made our family complete. I can hear my mom's sigh of relief from here. :)

Round One

Matt and Mom made the trek to Tampa for his first go at chemo yesterday. He said he figured the chemo would be the most unpleasant experience he would have that day, but dealing with the chemo nurse actually topped having four different poisons enter his body. Now that he knows he won’t have any allergic reactions to any of the drugs, he’ll opt to have the chemo administered at the local cancer center in Sarasota for the sake of convenience and to avoid being arrested for assault on a medical professional.

With the palm trees in the background, the plaid fedora and minus the medical equipment, the above picture just as easily could have been a glimpse into his 70-year old self lounging by the shuffleboard court at his retirement community. Mom, bored, searched for the chemo center’s wine bar, to no avail.

Matt wanted to fit in with the cool kids at the center, so he went ahead and shaved his head with a razor over the weekend. He certainly looks the part of a cancer patient now.
How does he feel now with the ABVD concoction working its magic? Pretty lousy at the moment—nauseous, weird taste in his mouth, fatigue, diarrhea that morphed into constipation…all was expected, but difficult nonetheless. Luckily, he is keeping up his nutrition—it is at best a futile effort to thwart a Jewish mother and a Czech wife pushing food on you. Recipes from a chemo cookbook have proved useful, but when I am there I will welcome the opportunity to selflessly go on Dairy Queen runs to boost his calories (and mine).

If the chemo is making a 6’ 4” man feel not so hot, I can only imagine what it is doing to the tiny rogue cancer cells. I relish the thought…

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Doig vs. Hodgkins

Matt is ready for the upcoming Doig vs. Hodgkins fight. He'll be damned if this experience takes anything from him, let alone his hair, so he cut his own hair today before the chemo has a chance at it. I'd be willing to bet the last time a non-trained stylist cut his hair was when he was about twelve, when my mom wanted to trim a little around the ears--not known for her finesse, she cut his ear (not that it's a small target, but still...). This morning, he bravely kept the post-traumatic stress at bay while his kids jumped at the chance to wield scissors on a normally off-limits subject.

I think he looks just fine, especially considering my husband gives himself the exact same hair cut every month without battling cancer. And with his lovely wife already beside him, who needs hair?

He bought himself a couple of suave fedoras, and is on the lookout for some Dolphins, Canes, and Heat skully caps that he can wear accordingly as he rests and watches sports this fall in between treatments. He is also seriously considering buying--and I truly hope he follows through with this--a 70's style toupee like the ones found in the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video.

Upcoming dates--
Sept. 14th: bone marrow biopsy to ensure the cancer is not anywhere else and port installation in his chest. This, in Matt's words, is his "best opportunity--through a freak electrical storm or gamma ray mishap--to inadvertently contract some sort of super power". My children will certainly be keeping their fingers crossed.

Sept. 15th: Treatment begins. Again, in Matt's words--"When I take the chemo I'm going to listen carefully, hoping to pick up the sound of tumor screams as the poison does its work. And I will smile."

Fair? They Should Call It Great!

The title of this post is also the title of a 1987 newspaper article my brother and I wrote for The Miami Herald about the Dade County Youth Fair...

We made the 2-hour trek down to illustrious town of Pueblo to attend the Colorado State Fair today. To be honest, I was fairly amped to see the 'freak show' that was profiled in the newspaper (yes, the one I hold in my hands--I'm one of the last remaining few that actually enjoys seeing a paper on my doorstep each morning). I had no idea freak shows still existed--you'd think they would have gone by the wayside with various disability rights groups demanding that it be called the Unique Sights Exhibit, or some similar politically correct but not nearly as intriguing name. Anyway, I'm sad to say that I completely forgot about the freak show until we were on the way home; we never happened upon it and it was not listed in the fair brochure we were handed upon entrance. I can only imagine it was part of some secret-handshake, underground part of the fair that only those select few that get the daily paper could gleefully witness. Despite that letdown, the day was packed with entertainment, glaring sun, greasy foods, and crowds the way a State Fair should be.

In an effort to avoid wasting too much money on cheap, plastic crap, we told the boys they could choose one item during the day that they absolutely had to have (a la Tim Gunn's Guide to Style). Jackson found his holy grail at the first attraction--the Shark Encounters show. As we walked up, Jackson exclaimed, "I SO hope I get to ride on a shark's back!". I guess the fair couldn't write a waiver that would absolve them from any litigation surrounding shark rides, but we did see a witty show and Jackson left with his prized item--a shark tooth necklace ($10).

One of the highlights of the day (for me) was our snuggle with sea lions. I've never given sea lions much thought, but they now rank pretty high on my Cute Animal Scale. They just wiggled right up and put their sleek, wet heads on our shoulders. I wasn't quite sure how Kenyon would react, but he just reached out, petted one and said, "Wet."

Alex's favorite alter ego is Gumball the Guinea Pig, and he can wile away many an hour squeaking, "Wee wee wee", scampering around like a cavy, and telling me that I am his owner. Sometimes Sam and I play along for a while, and then get busy doing something else. An hour and a half later we're wondering why Alex is in the corner making squeaking noises and we'll look at each other incredulously and say, "Oh my gosh, is he STILL playing that game?". I can only hope his attention span will be that hearty in geometry class. Imagine his glee when we happened upon the Human Hamster Wheel--he was a natural.

After much deliberation over at the cheap crap tent, Alex chose a plastic sword and sheath ($5) as his must-have item. Now, we don't allow guns, toy or otherwise, in our home, but little boys will make guns out of anything and everything. Not kidding--Alex chews his toast into the shape of an automatic weapon and will shoot his brother with it. Anyway, for some reason we find medieval weapons more appropriate. We have at least five other types of swords at home, but this sword, that cost probably 4 cents to make the deluxe version embedded with lead in China, this sword meant everything to Alex and he was enthralled with it for the rest of the day (until he poked Sam in the back of the head with it on the drive home, and it was taken away).

The main event, of course, was Mutton Bustin', aptly dubbed 'The Toughest Sport on Wool'. We're city folk, mind you, and don't have much experience with farm animals outside of helping Grandpa care for the chickens at Plantation Tree Farm.

The boys checking out the competition while Alex holds his prized sword

Alex had no desire to mingle with the sheep, but Jackson signed up (the Fair does have a waiver for parents to sign their kid's life away to ride sheep) and the following ensued:

He only stayed on half as long as the other time he's done this, but I'm proud of him for having the confidence to do things that are out of his comfort zone, and he is pleased with another ribbon to add to the one he won from his fishing derby.

We all left exhausted--Kenyon looked like this, and the rest of us didn't look much different. A successful family outing, and thankfully there are still two more days of this holiday weekend to recuperate.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The C Word

When I was growing up, cancer was the ultimate scary, obscure disease that you heard about. When my parents were young adults, they knew no one with cancer, and in all my years of school I never heard of a single person, in any grade, in any school, with cancer. Times have changed, unfortunately, and it feels like cancer is dropping C-bombs all over the place, wreaking havoc on people's lives.

A 3-year old boy in my son's class was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died shortly after his fifth birthday.

A thirtysomething year-old co-worker of mine, the lead singer in a local punk band, came down with glioblastoma multiforme last year (the same kind of brain tumor Ted Kennedy had). He is now on hospice.

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with a rare cancer just a few weeks after she got married, while she was in her late twenties. She is currently undergoing chemo, and thankfully is tolerating the treatments well.

Heck, even the guy who came over to give us an estimate for redoing our hardwood floors earlier in the summer was diagnosed with a brain tumor two short weeks later.

Sorry for the bummer post, but here's the 'good' news. My brother Matt, my only brother, who is also a wonderful husband, father of two gorgeous young children, and a Pulitzer Prize-Finalist kick-ass investigative reporter, was just diagnosed with the 'easy' cancer--Hodgkin's disease. The good kind, like this whole experience will be a walk in the cancer park. Luckily, he didn't ignore the small lump that he felt in his neck a week or so ago. The doc immediately suspected cancer, and things went quickly from there. My family and I all held our breaths as the fine needle aspiration, CT scan, PET scan, and full biopsy were performed. I handled the stress by 1) crying more than I've cried in the past 10 years combined and 2) reading as much as I could get my hands on about everything and anything this could be. I wanted to know the worst it could be and the best it could be, and everything in between. I basically took the short course in blood cancers and am now Gaylord Street's leading expert on lymphoma. A big fish in a very small pond, but it's the best I could do in a week's time.

Matt's official diagnosis is Stage 2 Classic Hodgkins (the subtype still unkown), which means he has tumors in his neck and chest but everything is above the diaphragm and there's no involvement with the spleen or other organs. More good news--he also doesn't have any of the B symptoms that are sometimes present, like night sweats, considerable weight loss, or severe itching.

I'll be periodically using this blog to write updates on how Matt is doing, in an effort to spare my mom's poor iPhone from overheating. Feel free to check in regularly, and I apologize in advance to Matt's childless friends if you happen upon any mundane details about my children's lives I also include here.

Matt's first meeting with the oncologist was today and went well. It's good news when the oncologist seems bored by the diagnosis--you certainly don't want a case that is leaving the docs scratching their heads and flipping aimlessly through their medical textbooks. Just to have the most accurate picture of what is going inside his body, he will have a bone marrow biopsy performed early next week, and while they have him under anesthesia they will also put a port in his chest to make the administration of chemo easier. This means he won't have to have an IV placed each time. I think he's looking forward to the fun anesthesia meds--last week after some Valium and Versed he told the doctor that he hadn't felt that good since college. :)

On September 15, Matt will officially start his trip down Hodgkin's lane, beginning with 4 rounds of ABVD chemo (adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine, for those of you keeping track), administered once every two weeks for four months. He won't feel great, but there have been some huge strides made with anti-nausea meds, so I'm confident he'll come out of this okay albeit with a larger appreciation for the morning sickness Bodia went through with her two pregnancies. He'll also lose his hair, but like my mom said, with his height he'll just look more like the NBA star he's always wished he was. A number of doses of radiation to get any microscopic buggers that may be hiding in the shadows will bring him to the end of this road, where in all likelihood he'll be cured and be able to close the door on this damn experience.

I didn't need Matt to get cancer to know I love him and care about him. I don't want to hear anyone say there's a reason for everything, and spare me the 'it's God's will' talk. It's not fair, but I know that life isn't fair. What I do know is that Matt is strong and he has his family rallying around him for support, so we'll get through this. And then I'll just add two more words to the list of reasons why I look up to my big brother--cancer survivor.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tour de France, Here He Comes

I'll just come right out and admit that I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was about seven, so I'm not one to judge here. I was perfectly happy with my Dukes of Hazzard Big Wheel, thankyouverymuch. Jackson made a brief attempt at learning to ride last summer, culminating in him riding a good twenty feet on his own before declaring that he was done, that he would NEVER be able to ride a bike, that it was too hard. I tried using an analogy, that learning to ride a bike is like climbing a mountain, and he was just on the verge of reaching that summit before things got easier on the descent. I gave him the standard parent lecture about how learning new things is not always easy, that everyone goes through this, that once you learn you will never forget how to do it, blah blah don't you want to feel the wind in your hair blah blah. Then winter came and we figured by the time summer 2009 rolled around, he'd be itchin' to get back on the bike and show it who's boss.

Jackson started first grade on Monday, so I guess summer is over, and no progress was made on the bike front. I know Jackson well enough to not push things if he's not interested. So I used Mom Tactic #217 (make an activity seem top-secret, like a spy mission, and they will automatically want to be involved) and casually but conspiratorily mentioned to Jackson this morning that since he only has a half day of school on Fridays, I thought maybe it would be fun to pick him up with his bike in the car and head straight to this great park where there was a hill famous for teaching kids to ride--gentle slope for momentum's sake, wide grassy expanse for knees' and elbows' sake...and that we would just keep this to ourselves and practice until we ready for the big unveiling to Daddy. Did that sound cool?

This afternoon, we headed to Congress Park, I popped a helmet on his head, and off he went.
Run #1: ten feet, and then a mildly painful fall. No big deal...
Run #2: fifteen feet, and then a mildly painful fall. Um, he's starting to look discouraged.
Run #3: fifteen feet, and a hard fall with some bike part leaving a 6" nasty scrape on his inner thigh. He's done, he says...he'll never learn how to ride, it's too hard. I swiftly break out seldom-used Mom Tactic #422. I don't use this one very often because I don't want it expected, but it has its purposes. "Jackson, we've done 3 runs. If you give me 20 runs, we're going out for ice cream." He eyed me warily, squinting. "When?" "Today, before picking up your brothers. Just you and me." Aha...a glimmer in his eye.

Runs 4-5 make progress, and Run 6 is stellar, going down the hill and a good distance into the soccer field. I tell him he has made it to the top of the mountain and is starting to jog down the other side. Runs 7-19 go smoothly, with no major scrapes and some good skill building with steering and braking. I tell him that Run #20 should be on the sidewalk, and he says he's not ready. Run #20 is done and he is telling me that he thinks mint chocolate chip sounds good. I can't resist, and dangle one last carrot--"Hey, if you go on the sidewalk for Bonus Run #21, I'll let you have sprinkles on your ice cream." That was easy, and he did great.

We drove a few short blocks to Lik's, and bubble gum ice cream with chocolate sprinkles was the well-deserved reward.

This evening, Jackson felt confident enough to surprise his dad with his newfound skills.

In light of this and the two top teeth he is currently missing, I am doing my best to sloooowwww down time. Universe, help me out here, because for some reason my kids are growing up way too fast. It would be a great help if I didn't have to do things like work, or stain kitchen door trim. Let me savor this time while my boys are young.

The Bassmaster

We've taken Jackson and Alex fishing a few times, but up until this summer they had never even got so much as a nibble. I've already posted about our Maine trip, but I felt the fishing experience deserved a separate post.

At times, and like many 6-year old boys I'd imagine, Jackson can have grandiose expectations but lacks the patience or willingness to put forth the effort to achieve something. We headed out to the docks the first morning after we arrived in Maine, bathed liberally in mosquito repellent but thankful for the slight breeze which kept the swarms at bay. Jackson had no interest in having me actually show him how to use this particular rod, and thus was having a difficult time. About 37 seconds into the experience, he decided he was done and ran off to watch his older cousin Dylan fish and hear stories about catching a 'big bass'. Alex patiently casted and sat happily, daydreaming. He is an accomplished daydreamer and can turn on a daydream at a moment's notice, usually a moment after I have asked him to put on his shoes, or get undressed for a bath, or wash his hands for dinner, or clean up an activity, or....I digress. Back to the docks--Alex promptly caught a couple of sunfish and had a ball doing it.

The following day, Jackson had a larger capacity for patience and he had a near miss with something big--the line snapped as he was reeling a fish in, but that was enough to get him hooked. Later, Jackson went back to the docks with Sam, Uncle Bodi, and his cousin Holden, where the following ensued...

The week turned into one of those programs that you see on a B-grade sports channel on Sunday afternoons--fishing, fishing, and more fishing. We all had a blast, though, and kept our eye out for one of a few massive snapping turtles that hang around the docks. Alex had his own patented method for snapping turtle repellent:

There was a fishing derby that weekend for kids aged 5-13. Jackson ended up rallying against the older kids and won third prize for biggest fish! His prize was a new lure, and his grin was fantastic.

The last night in Maine, Jackson and I headed to the docks for one last dose of fishing for the summer, this time with his newly-won lure. With three children, it is always a special treat to spend one-on-one time with any of them, and as I watched Jackson that night I tried to etch that image in my mind, of his 6-year old self. He caught another good-sized fish, which we took home with us. Papa cleaned it, and Nana cooked it the next day and put it in a fish sandwich for lunch. I have never seen Jackson so excited to eat a fish sandwich.

Alex will be old enough for the fishing derby next year, so Jackson will have some stiff competition...