This year has been a big one, so to speak, in countless ways — and it’s not over yet. It’s a year full of some of the most difficult days of my life, and those of my family, and simultaneously a year of abundance and blessings. I fully feel the second part of that statement. God has shown up time and again this year, and I’m encouraged by the challenges and the victories because I see how He is there in all of it. He is a good, good God. Every day, I’m learning more and more that so much of life truly is about our perspective, the way we choose to see and respond to what’s in front of us — no matter who or what we believe in.
Shortly after Christmas last year, my dad was hospitalized. On January 3, 2019, he was diagnosed with B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctor who broke the news to us, while kind, was vague in terms of my dad’s chances of beating this and how long he might have to live. We learned a week or so later that, were he to continue without treatment, the cancer would likely take his life in 4-6 weeks.
So once an abscess in my dad’s intestine was treated — another story altogether, one where I also 100 percent see God’s hands at work — he started a month of inpatient chemotherapy at University of Michigan Hospital. Another round of outpatient chemo followed in March. In April, we learned my dad had several strong matches for a bone marrow transplant, and at the end of April, he successfully received a bone marrow transplant from a 20-something-year-old man in Germany. While the transplant was successful, my dad was not in the clear, and I would argue that May and June — though still full of blessings — were his toughest months and the most challenging for all of us. I know they were for me.
I usually find relief through journaling, and while I didn’t do a lot of writing during my time in Michigan in January, February, May or June, as we celebrate Thanksgiving and head into the holiday season, I did want to share something I wrote in May and read again today.
Saturday, May 11, 2019
University of Michigan Hospital
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tonight, as I prayed, I thought about how difficult it is to be patient at times, especially in seemingly long periods of waiting. When we are waiting for something to pass. To get through the darkness. To see how something will turn out. For our pain to subside. To be on the other side of the thick we’d often rather not be in.
As I prayed, my dad’s night nurse came into the room. From my pullout bed beneath the window, I listened to their exchange. She asked him about his pain. 6 out of 10. He asked for more pain medicine to help him sleep, even though he’d been sleeping. Fear, anxiety and insomnia have taken over my dad in recent weeks. I’ve never seen him like this in my life. Ever. At times, there is a deep fear in his eyes. For me, it is like looking at a different person. In those moments, I don’t see my dad. I don’t see his eyes. He is a different man. Haunted by visions and scared of the night here at the hospital, when he sees hands coming out of the walls and sometimes feels as though he is dying.
So tonight, even though he was sleeping when the nurse came in, he asks for more pain medicine to help him sleep. He fears sleepless nights and how they’ve passed for him before. He is over the hospital. He just wants to go home. He is over the sores in his mouth and throat and feeling like he is dying. “What a way to die,” he said to me just the other day. He is over all of this. We all are. I remind myself that it’s only been a little more than four months since he was diagnosed. We are still in the darkness. Only God knows when we will be out. I remind myself from time to time that some people run this marathon of darkness and heavy unknowns for months and years on end.
As my dad asked the nurse for more pain medicine tonight, I thought of myself just a month ago. Just back from Torres del Paine. On my own at home in Bariloche. That Thursday was the lowest of lows for me. I’d returned from the south with a cold, which was likely strep throat, and then wound up with an upset stomach that Thursday. Likely a virus I’d picked up in the south. I couldn’t stomach anything that day — and stuck to crackers, Gatorade, toast and scrambled eggs for more than a week after that. I finally vomited my brains out that afternoon and returned to bed. I made it through a conference call. I lay in bed and cried to my aunt on the phone, “I am tired of feeling this way. I am tired of everything right now. I just want to sleep through all of this and wake up on the other side.”
So tonight as my dad asked for more pain medicine, even though he was already sleeping, I thought of that desire to just sleep through everything until the darkness passes. If I felt that way as a result of everything that’s going on with my family and then a cold / strep throat and stomach bug / virus, I cannot imagine how my dad is feeling right now — and don’t blame him for asking for more medicine to knock him out. He is certainly enduring far more than I was in that moment.
Now, he is snoring softly. In the glow of the light from outside his room, I can see he is turned on his side facing me. The rail of his hospital bed blocks his head from my view. His right hand clutches the rail. His left rests across his stomach. The air conditioner whirs with a slight rattle from the ceiling. Hospitals are such dry, sterile places.
In early July, as I wrote another note to myself about some of the details of this year and the blessings I don’t want to lose sight of, I concluded, “There are details in every day that I’ve surely already forgotten. But I think it’s important to remember the details that I can recall. This is a story I don’t want to lose sight of. This is a season of my life that — while I’m seemingly so ready for it to pass — I also don’t want to soon forget. There’s a story and a testimony here. We’ve been in the middle of so much, and God is writing a story here. An important story that will bring Him glory. There is a testimony in all of this, and there are so many blessings in all of this. It’s all about perspective. So yes, this could be a period marked by uncertainty and instability — for me personally and for my family. And while those things are certainly in this season, I truly believe this is a season of faith and belief and courage and bravery and perhaps vulnerability.”
Back to today.
My dad’s counts and energy have been inconsistent and abnormally low in recent weeks. His medical team advised against out-of-state travel and scheduled a bone marrow biopsy. Last Friday, with support from my mom, the medical team at University of Michigan Hospital and Zac Brown Band’s music, my dad made it through the extraction without sedation.
This morning, he had a follow-up appointment at the hospital. Shortly after noon, my mom texted my sister, aunt and me, “Good news. Bone marrow results are good. Blood work is good. Gordie will be flying to Florida on Friday.”
Best. News. Ever.
It’s the news we’ve been praying and believing God for, and today, the day before Thanksgiving, it came — bringing tears to my eyes and filling my heart with gratitude. I cried, and I thanked God. While my dad will never completely be out of the woods with his cancer, we are celebrating and oh-so grateful for this moment. I am grateful for so much. I am grateful for all that God is, my family, my friends and so much more. I am grateful for this life with all of its highs and lows and am reminded to keep leaning into it with a perspective that chooses to see and believe in all that is and will be good.
Wednesday, November 27, 2019