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.