February: We continued our house remodeling project. Painting morphed into new window and door trim and starting the screened porch addition. I loved waking up to see a yard full of pickup trucks. All I had to do was make a request and these guys said, "Yes, ma'am."
March: Bryan first noticed the swelling in his parts. We spent Spring Break in Fayetteville, helping with bridal pictures and grandbabies. Erin and I took Elliot along to the photo shoot with Rachel. He was a trooper. The photo shoot had been delayed because of weather, so when we got to Fort Smith to meet the photographer, there was no place to change into her gown. Shannon marched across the street to the funeral home, asked if we could use a room, and led us in! Erin and I were panicked that mourners would encounter the beautiful bride in the hallway, but there was no confrontation.
April: The house project continued quickly. After 27 years of glacial-speed progress, having all these workers here was quite a change for us. We had carpenters, granite fabricators, tile layers (thanks, Keith!), roofers, electricians. . . . and we had a wedding about to happen!
May: The weather threatened, and we rented every tent in Fayetteville, but the wedding was beautiful! Wearing blue rainboots, Rachel avoided the puddles, and the ceremony happened as planned in the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks. The nephews and niece made it down the aisle and the bridesmaids avoided hypothermia with their lovely pashminas. Then we had a great party. Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Silvestri! We celebrated Emily's third birthday. She loves Fancy Nancy books, Legos, and baby dolls. As much as she loves to read, she loves to talk.
June: Bryan and I went to Malibu to visit with Bob Harris of Malibu Ceramics. He and Bryan collaborate on a lot of projects since their talents complement each other. We stayed in a beautiful house on a mountain overlooking the ocean. It was then that we realized that a visit to the urologist was necessary to figure out what was going on.
July: We had a houseful. The Sutcliffes were here. All the kids were here. Peggy was here. Daddy was here. Others were waiting at home to hear. After the diagnosis of stage-four renal cell carcinoma, the brain scan was next. We held our collective breath and together sighed our prayers of thanks when it showed no mets. "We knew there wasn't anything in your brain!" Then waiting for surgery was hard. Knowing that a cancer is growing inside you is frightening; to have to wait so long to get it out gave us a sense of helplessness. However, we had met the surgical doctors on the team and were confident in their plans. July 22: radical nephrectomy followed by several days in the hospital. What a supportive, competent group of nurses and doctors we had at St. Vincent's. They took care of us and smiled at our beach-themed visitors. We met our oncologist, Dr. Baltz, and immediately felt safe and optimistic in his care.
August: We actually went to the beach. Dr. Baltz understood our family's crazy need to complete our annual trek. He approved the delay in Bryan's blood tests by prescribing daily heparin injections. The grandkids understood their parents' explicit instructions to NOT use Pawpaw as a trampoline. I even got a new car for the safe transport of the patient. I had expected to need to drug him up for the trip, but he did fine, even walking into rest stops and restaurants. The beach house had two living areas. In past years, we have made ourselves available to the kids, focusing on each one in turn. This time, Bryan napped and I found quiet places to reflect and rest. Just being together was healing. Elliot contracted foot and mouth syndrome (disease?) and was a mess. His mouth hurt so nothing was soothing. Bless his heart. He was better by the time they flew back to NWA. The other kids loved the pool and the sand. They love to be together.
September: Back to school and the self-centered world of middle school kids. All my colleagues have been tremendously supportive and helpful. Teaching is a monumental task. There's not really a break from it. No substitute takes over the tasks. The planning, responsibility for instruction, assessment, interaction with parents, care of students doesn't abate whether the teacher is on deck or not. It's a heavy load to carry along with a heavy personal load. I know many teachers carry that load, and I hope to understand it in others and help when I can. I try not to whine.
October: We love those Hogs! We were able to attend all the football games both here and in Fayetteville. Rachel and Matt organized great tailgating in The Gardens. We usually rode the shuttle bus up the hill. One of Bryan's side effects has been tender feet. We even went to Dallas to the new Cowboy Stadium to see the Hogs play Texas A&M. David Sutcliffe and his wife, Jenn, are A&M alums, so it was fun to visit with them and their baby, Anthony, before the game. Rachel and Matt met us and took us to the game. David's folks, Gail and Vic, retrieved us from the game so we didn't have to negotiate Dallas traffic.
November: Thanksgiving is usually at our house. We love it. Cheryl Dawn, Peggy, and I usually make dressing by the vat. Tables everywhere. Enough food to make us all feel stuffed, drowsy, and very grateful. But, this year, Sam and Alicia were going to KC, Erin and Shaun were going to Shreveport, and Rachel and Matt were packing in preparation to moving. We had many invitations from all of our friends. We decided to go to the Henry house where we had a wonderful meal, a soft couch for watching football, and a very-welcomed respite from our busy lives. I actually made a normal -sized dish of dressing that was pretty good. We were disappointed that LSU beat the Hogs in overtime the next day. Ethan had to be convinced that his team really lost. He was in Tiger country and was influenced to defect. The best news came on the 30th, though, when Bryan had his latest set of scans. Whole body, top to bottom (thanks NovaSys) NO NEW METS!! and the mets in his lungs are shrinking! Bryan used his famous math skills to calculate the volume of the largest based on the numbers from his previous scans to figure a 79% reduction in size. Dr. Baltz told us that it was nothing short of a miracle. Keep those prayers coming folks!
December: Birthdays! Eli turned seven on the 2nd. He chose El Porton for the birthday dinner. When he was two, he loved that place. He called it "Tone" and would eat cheese dip with a spoon. He is much more refined now. His friends' party was a Lego party at his house. Alicia made a great cake that looked like Legos, of course. He's enjoying first grade at Williams Magnet School and is a Tiger Cub. His Daddy is, of course, the den leader. Ethan turned four on the 8th. He had a friends' party at "Chucka" Cheese that we missed. It was on a Tuesday! Ethan is now on the Mighty Mites' hockey team and actually ice skates. Matt's birthday was the next day. We made it to Fayetteville over the weekend to see their new house. We have guest quarters! We realized that the perfect gift for him was a sky hook, but since those don't exist, we found a great ladder that is alternately an extension ladder or a step ladder. The smoke detector in their living room is at 20 feet! We continued through the fullness of Advent, getting busier and busier. Gertie came down for a short visit. We appreciate the folks who carry her down. She needs to see her boy regularly. This isn't something a mama should have to endure. On Christmas Eve, Sam and family, got out to the house around 3:00. Daddy was already here. We had planned to be here with them until Christmas afternoon and then head up to NWA to see the other kids. The weather was coming at us, though! Sam and Alicia and kids were heading to Germany on the 26th, and they didn't want us to get stuck here, so they said Go Now to beat the snow. We quickly threw clothes, gifts, food, etc. into the truck and took off around 5:00. The precipitation was liquid until we got onto I-540 when it turned into blowing snow. It did get slick, but we made it to the Silvestri abode by 9:00. They welcomed all of us, even sleeping on their couch so we older folks all had beds. Cheryl Dawn and Marty made it down from Bella Vista to get Papa the next day. We had our usual rollicking Christmas dinner complete with crackers (silly hats, jokes, and toys) and a delicious dinner. Ethan is into Jesus and the wonders of his birth and reality. We elders are kept on our toes, answering all his questions.
We celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary yesterday with dinner and a basketball game. Tonight, we've watched more football and other New Year's Eve television. How blessed we are to be here, together. Life is about as normal as we could ask. We look forward to 2010 with optimism and hope. We continue to plan new projects and new trips. As we said when this diagnosis was presented to us: What do you do when told you have cancer? You live!