Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Life Support"

"Life Support" refers to any medical means for maintaining life, including procedures, devices, and medications. If you refuse life support, you will still get routine measures to keep you clean and comfortable...

As I was reading this to Jordan this morning I started breaking down a little. Two pages later I lost it. We both did. Section 3 Part A is a real tear-jerker. If you are looking for a little light reading to open up your Thanksgiving break I wouldn't recommend your spouse's Advance Directive. Or Power of Attorney forms. Sixteen pages of a legal mumbo jumbo snooze fest. Maybe just stick to the lighter stuff. You know something like those God-awful "Chicken Soup for the ____ Soul" books that your grandmother always has on her coffee table. Those would be a joy compared to the legal documents I've hopelessly sifted through this week.

In between legally binding documents I've also had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Jordan's medical providers then our insurance company then Jordan's medical providers then our insurance company again until they wear me down and I just give up.

The only movie not named Star Wars that I have seen more than twice is "A Christmas Story". There is a quote that I thought of this week: "in the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." I've launched a few tapestries into the space above Mt. Hood this week. Hopefully, I don't crash into any of them skiing this winter.

One more completely ridiculous thing and I'll move on. Don't you just love it when you call a company you pay actual dollars to do business with and they have that damn Artificial Intelligence Siri Alexa rip off thing trying to interact with you? My father in law couldn't help but chuckle as I yelled REPRESENTATIVE over and over again into the phone.

Maybe just one more ridiculous thing... During one of my extremely long phone calls with the insurance company this week I was about to get somewhere. I was ready to ask the one question that was going to get the ball rolling. It was on the tip of my tongue (almost thirty minutes into the call) when the REPRESENTATIVE said: "Is Jordan there with you?". She then shut down the conversation immediately because she isn't allowed to go any further without getting consent from Jordan. I almost mic dropped the phone and wandered off into the wilderness to build a fort from sticks spending the rest of my days never speaking to another REPRESENTATIVE again. Instead, I gathered myself and walked home. I then got Jordan on the phone with the insurance company. First REPRESENTATIVE says: "Mam, mam, I can't understand you" (then the call magically got disconnected). Second REPRESENTATIVE says: "Mam I'm sorry but I'm having a really hard time understanding you. Can you speak more clearly?". I magically disconnected that call (I didn't like her tone). Third REPRESENTATIVE was the charm! She read Jordan a few sentences, Jordan mumbled "yes" and we were good to go. If good to go means they still weren't helpful. At least they can tell me that they aren't helpful moving forward without having to talk to Jordan first.

Scouting out locations for the stick fort with no cell phone reception.
Alright already... Onto more important, brighter, cuter and lovable things. Jordan and I have two wonderfully beautiful children. You already know this. This blog is basically just a way for people to look at them and think "Well they obviously didn't get their looks, brains or demeanor from Brack".

This week our children had Parent/Teacher Conferences. Both Benton and Parker's teachers took the time to visit our home to make the conferences easier for Jordan. What a small, but super thoughtful way to show that they care and are paying attention. Both teachers are just absolute world-class people. A sappy blog post couldn't even begin to capture how Jordan and I feel about them and how they have fully embraced our children. Benton and Parker's classrooms have been a rock for them. Something they can hold onto in this crazy storm. A place that is safe, fun and full of love. I get to spy on it all the time and it gets me teary-eyed on a regular basis. Then some kid usually says "Coach Hassell why do your eyes look like that?" and I typically think "Shouldn't you be in class? Keep it moving short stack!".

Watching my children grow into little people has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

Benton is one of the smartest kids I've ever been around. He has read more this year than I have in the last ten years. Most people know that though. What lots of people don't know or see on a regular basis is how gentle he is. He cares so much for others. He gives his jacket to his friend on the playground if they are cold. He stops to help his classmate pack up their bag at the end of the school day. He walks his sister down the stairs at night if she is scared. He gives himself. He loves hard. Benton has the gift of a big heart and what makes me so proud is he does it because that is who he is. Oh, and he is flat out just a funny person.

Seeing the curiosity that Parker has growing in her is so exciting. She is one of the most observant people I have ever met. She doesn't miss anything and has an incredible memory. We recently took a walk through our neighborhood by ourselves. She proceeded to point out fifteen things or so that I've never noticed. She also stopped and spoke to some strange cat that usually hisses at me. Then the cat let her pet it and she just kept right on talking and telling me all about this cat. I was blown away. She just casually floated through details like she had lived in our new neighborhood for years. Parker also likes to look at pictures. I'll catch her with some of our photo books under a blanket looking at our past family adventures. She asks questions. Crazy questions. She says whats on her mind and wonders aloud when you aren't on the same page as her. 

"I love you, but I'm mad Benton got a toy" was a letter Parker hand delivered to Nana after she got a purse as a present.
These are just small little glimpses into who my kids are. They are so much more. They will be so much more.

I took Benton and Parker to their family therapy appointment earlier this week. I sat in the lobby by myself for an hour (with no wifi and bad magazines) and just thought about my kids. I revisited the same thing that I can't stop thinking about. The same thing that choked me up while I was reading the Advance Directive to Jordan this morning. What is my family going to look like in a year?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

It's a happy enchilada and you think you're going to drown

Sorry for my long absence and lack of updates. More on that later...

First some deeply important mustache rambling. I firmly believe that the man makes the mustache and not the other way around. When Steve Prefontaine toed the line of a race with a finely groomed mouth brow it struck fear in his opponents. Teddy Roosevelt ran the country with a hairy lip. So the man can carry his lip foilage onto greatness. Or the man can make it creepy like my high school math teacher that always called the same girls up to the whiteboard in class (what are the chances he is reading this?).

John Prine has one of my favorite lip rugs of all time. It has stood the test of time and had the privilege of hearing some of the sweetest folky tunes from one of the best storytellers in music. I've been spending lots of time with John Prine, Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young, Elliott Smith and other fine songwriters (not all mustached) the last month or so. I've carved out this little corner in our living room for this time. I put an incredibly fashionable vintage green chair there, a turntable, some books, a painting from a local artist and I even made a hipster lamp out of an old globe. It is a sweet set up and a nice place to drink a beer at night and contemplate life after the family has passed out. I've put in lots of time in that chair the last month or so.

Treatment kicked Jordan's ass last week. There is no other way to put it. A five-day dose of chemo (twice the strength of her first dose) and two IV treatments in two days that took several hours each. She was worn out and beaten up. Her speech was comically bad and she lost lots of her strength that she had regained over the last month or so. She wasn't sleeping well. It was a rough week. Yet by the weekend she was rallying for a night out with our co-workers, having friends (and kids and kids and kids) in town for the weekend and going to a musical with friends. Jordan is resilient as ever even in the face of all this.

I've noticed that we have all changed though. Jordan, I and the kids are different. How could we not be? I've spent some nights trying to remember what life was like this time last year. I simply can't wrap my head around it. It feels like a foggy memory. Coming home from work together, having dinner, playing with the kids and getting everyone ready for bed. It was ordinary. It was beautiful. It is gone. That reality doesn't exist anymore.

One of the things that I have been struggling with the last month or so is trying to put words to how I'm feeling about this. I've found more and more that I just don't know what to feel, what to say or even what the questions are. I've been sitting in my green chair (did I mention that I got it for $5 at a yard sale?) and just losing it lately. The emotions are there. They are real. They are raw. I just don't know where they came from, where they are going or what they are called. There is an awesome Wilco song called Box Full of Letters that is just a gem. There are some lines there that just got me the other day:

Wish I had a lotta answers,
'Cause that's the way it should be
For all these questions,
Being directed at me

I just can't find the time
To write my mind
The way I want it to read

I can totally relate because not only have I not wanted to blog, I haven't wanted to think. I've gotten caught up in this fog/funk in which I stopped naming what lurked in my mind. In that, I lost the ability to hold on for dear life in all this craziness. Even though it feels good to name that uncertainty right now it also feels like that knot in my gut isn't going away anytime soon.

A big fear of mine is what will we all become from this? Who will Jordan and I be in a week, a month, a year from now? What kind of father will I be for my children? How will this shape my son and daughter? Where is this taking us as a family? Did the Astros really win the Series? Living in the right now is hard with all of these questions looming big. I'm ok with not knowing the answers but the emotional ride in my fancy green chair (did I mention that it spins all the way around?) is a bumpy one.

I think we would all be a little better off if I left you with a little John Prine:

I was sittin' in the bathtub just countin' my toes
When the radiator broke, water all froze
I was stuck in the ice without my clothes
Naked as the eyes of a clown
I was cryin' ice cubes, hoping I'd croak
When the sun came through the window, the ice all broke
I stood up and laughed, I thought it was a joke
That's the way that the world goes 'round

That's the way the world goes 'round
You're up one day, the next you're down
It's a half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown
That's the way the world goes 'round

Fall is beautiful here!
Always great to get out into the woods for a bit.
Pretty cute Trick or Treaters!
Showing off some Chick-fil-A swag we got in the mail.

One joyful little girl.
Click on this picture and check out the view that is just a few miles from my house!
Peanut Butter and Jelly running with Parker during Parkdale Pumpkin Run.
Sorry, Parker is the cutest one in the family by leaps and bounds right now.

Jordan is always up for an adventure.
Beautiful night for a campfire and some smores.
Packing out a whole row at Fiddler on the Roof.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Round Two

Surprise, it's Jordan! I know, you were expecting Brack. Me too. It feels like his blog now  So many people have commented that he is such a great writer, and I agree. Good job, babe! Don't worry; he'll be back. Anyway, I wanted to update everyone on our doctor's visit yesterday and keep you posted about where we are now.

Yesterday at OHSU, we didn't really get good news. After one round of radiation and chemo the tumor did not shrink. But we didn't really get bad news either. From what they can tell, what looks like tumor growth is actually just inflammation from the radiation.

For round two, I will take chemo pills five days of each month and go in once a month for IV drugs to help alleviate symptoms. I will also have an MRI every two months from here on out to check progress.

Meanwhile, we've had awesome visits from family who have taken great care of me and spoiled our kids. My mother-in-law was here for the second time, my mom came again and now my dad is here. Thanks, family!

Happy hour with co-workers at Solera (and live music!)
My sweet mom
MIL, Cindi, and the crew
My penguins try their hands at show business
The best dad

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Jordan and I rolled into the gorge for the first time in June 2016. We drove around trying to imagine that we weren't completely lost and attempting to wrap our heads around the fact that we were about to move 3,000 miles away from everything we had ever known. We met with the principal at one of the schools I would be teaching at and stuck around for a staff meeting so that he could introduce us. During that introduction, he mentioned that I had interviewed via Skype and had accepted the position without ever visiting the gorge. As he was saying this a teacher shouted out "You just hit the jackpot" and several people in the room seemed to wholeheartedly agree. At the time we didn't think too much of it. We wrapped up our trip, went home, picked up our kids, sold all our earthly possessions, packed up our van and hit the road.

Not long after moving here I was out exploring with my family and that phrase "You just hit the jackpot" came back to me. That phrase quickly became my personal mantra as I found myself thinking it on a regular basis.

The awesome thing is that I haven't stopped thinking "Jackpot" with everything that is going on. I find myself thinking it even more. Today we cashed out a little of our jackpot.

Two incredible friends of ours organized a brunch, bubbles, band, beer, treasure hunt (I ran out of b's) to celebrate Jordan completing her radiation treatment. Over the course of a few hours today the rain and clouds broke, we got sunshine (and a rainbow) and we got to soak up all the good things this community has poured out to us. It was a special day for us and we are so thankful that we got to share it with so many of our friends and family. JACKPOT!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Stay Gold Ponyboy!

Seeing Mt. Hood from our town is stunning. Words and crappy cell phone pictures can never do it justice. I regularly say things like "Holy crap I live here", "Look at that thing" and probably most often "Huh" (as I can't even muster up something that matches what is stirring around in me). If you haven't had that "huh life is stinking beautiful" moment in a while I feel sorry for you. Put down the phone, leave your keys on the counter and take a walk. You might not have Mt. Hood in your backyard but there are all kinds of amazing out there.

Mt. Hood was hiding for a while but it has been showing its face again. We had all the wildfire smoke, then we had some rain and now we have that glorious bit of fall weather starting up. It is fun when an 11,000-foot chunk of rock surprises you with its presence. The tease of fall has brought fresh snow on the mountain and incredible lighting (not lightning). The lines on the mountain and in the gorge are clean, crisp and full of contrast. The clouds are puffy and magical. The hills seem to come alive with this special glow in the late afternoon here. Everywhere I look outside is basically a Bob Ross painting.

On Monday morning I was rushing out of the house to get to a work meeting. I hopped in my car (a rarity here!!) and took off. As I rounded the corner the mountain was orange/red/yellow. You know that crazy color when the sun is just blasting something early in the morning before it really climbs above the horizon. It caught me off guard enough that I wanted to take a picture (I didn't care if it was going to make me late). I drove less than two minutes, pulled off the road and got out all excited only to look up to a perfectly normal mountain minus the glorious glow of the sun. I should have just stopped in the middle of the road when I had the chance! I drove off a little bummed that I wouldn't be able to show Jordan a crappy picture on my iPod that afternoon. Instead, I just stumbled through trying to explain how awesome it was.

I'm thankful to be in a place where the seasons actually change. It is the transition that gets me. A stark reminder that there aren't many things in life that are constant. Robert Frost wrote a short poem called Nothing Gold Can Stay. I love it because it is brief (who has the time to read a sonnet these days?), playful and powerful. It is his reflection on the necessary change that is constantly happening in nature.

I try to use the changing of the seasons as a way to prevent becoming stagnant. For several years I've recognized seasons in my own life and in those that have taken the time to share their lives with me. It is always comforting when you are in a season of joy or comfort to think that those things have grown and blossomed in your life. It is also comforting when you are hunkered down in a season of darkness and storms knowing that change is just around the corner. I'm not going to lie though. There is an uneasiness that comes with the changing of the seasons. I keep coming back to the word fleeting.

Our big season seems to be just stretching out and making itself comfortable on the couch of our lives. It seems to go on forever. Occasionally I wake up at night to help Jordan to the bathroom and I'm reminded that we are still in this season. For those few groggy seconds before my feet hit the floor at 3:00AM I've managed to forget only to be reminded again and again.

Within this long season, there have been these unseasonally weird weather days though. You know that warm day in February where you stink up your winter gear from sweat and forgot for a second what bone-chilling cold feels like. We have had lots of those days. Funny days, happy days, content days and carefree days. Sometimes it isn't even a day but a brief moment. It seems like these moments come into existence and dissolve right before my eyes. A continuous change of conditions. Exactly like the wind in the gorge (you have no idea until you have stood on the shore of the Columbia River).

Our next season begins on October 19th (no farmer's almanac needed). We have an appointment with the oncology department at OHSU to discuss the results of the MRI scan Jordan will receive on October 12th.

If you are traveling with us into this next season bring a good coat, an umbrella, some comfortable shoes and hell maybe even some sunscreen. The weather is crazy here...

September 19th was talk like a pirate day. We celebrated with a pirate themed joke day.
The support keeps pouring in from all over. Jordan loves getting her mail call every afternoon.
Two of our favorite cards from the last few weeks.
The mask Jordan wore for her treatments. She got to keep it as a memento. The kids have had fun with it!
When you finish 30 radiation treatments you get all the ice cream you want.
Hustlin' for the Hassells! Our school community organized a fundraiser during our back to school night. It was a family-friendly fitness boot camp. There was a great turnout and they raised over $1700 for our family!
Just another special day with our Parkdale Family. Feeling the love.
A friend helped our kids harvest all of our mutant squash in the backyard. The kiddos made signs for the neighborhood and made $20. Mostly off their cuteness and not the quality of our squash.
Not sure if Benton is going to be an entrepreneur or a hobo one day.
Crisp and beautiful day in the valley.
We are still picking fresh blueberries. Some of them are the size of a nickel and so stinking juicy.
I accidentally held a baby the other day. We were both surprised.
Always good times and brews at Solera!
Love that our kids are growing up with such close friends!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Then There Was One...

Twenty-nine treatments. Twenty-nine zaps. Twenty-nine trips to The Dalles. Twenty-nine times the doctor has attempted to shrink the one thing that has dominated our days. Twenty-nine brave days. Twenty-nine late nights contemplating life. Twenty-nine times we have leaned hard on you. Twenty-nine times we have broken a small paper chain that represents so much to us.

Today is day thirty of radiation (THE LAST DAY!!!!). We are thankful, we are anxious and most importantly we are alive for another day.

I'll leave you with a Michael Franti lyric that seems relevant to our weather the last few days and the mood of the hour. Come on y'all!

"I believe that what you sing to the clouds,
will rain upon you when your sun has gone away.
And I believe that what you dream to the moon,
will manifest before you rest another day.
So stay strong, and sleep long, and when you need to
let the morning take you out onto today, hey hey.
And when you find you're at the end of the road,
Just lift your head up, spread your wings and fly away, come on y'all!"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Laughter is the best medicine...

Jordan has been feeling better recently. Her platelets have returned to a normal level, her rash has gone away and her speech has improved some. The doctor even complimented her on being able to understand her more clearly last week. She is still off of her Chemo pills and will stay off for a few more weeks. Her energy levels still plummet though if the nap schedule is not adhered to and her hair is slowly falling out. Overall though the mood is still positive in the Hassell home.

Friday night Jordan surprised me for my birthday by taking me to see Jim Gaffigan. He is a comedian that finds the absurd in the everyday. A lighthearted guy that is just flat out likable. Jordan and I have been laughing at his stand-up bits since before we were married. He makes fun of himself in the best way, talks openly about his family and has ongoing material about hot pockets. What is not to love? Do yourself a favor and check him out on Netflix.

As we were settling in and getting ready for a night of laughter Jim Gaffigan opens up his set revealing that his wife recently had brain surgery to remove a large tumor. "Et, tu Gaffigan?" is all I could think. I mean we were here to escape our reality for a bit with some good clean comedy fun and BAM! The opening twenty minutes of the show was about a brain tumor. So for twenty solid minutes, we laughed harder than we have ever laughed about brain surgery, hospitals, tumors and doctors. He managed to take a topic that couldn't be any nearer to our lives and make it hilarious. It was an escape and a smack in the face all at the same time.
Ready for a little tumor comedy.
After the show we got Jordan tucked in on our friend's couch and I got to go to the airport to pick up our friends from GA. They planned an impromptu trip to come out and visit. It was great because we haven't seen these friends in years. We both have had children, changed careers and had all sorts of other life-changing nonsense happen since we last hung out. There is something magical about lifelong friends though. From the moment they stepped off the plane and we exchanged hugs it was like we picked up right where we left off. I sincerely hope that anyone reading this blog has at least one person like this in their lives. Jordan and I enjoyed reminiscing, laughing, catching up and just sharing life with these friends.

First stop in PDX was Voodoo Doughnut.
Don't worry I brought Jordan one back for breakfast.
Teaching our friend some Mucklehead.
If that wasn't awesome enough Jordan's childhood best friend and her mother are also currently here. So it is one big blast from the past this week! They are cooking up awesome meals (we had vegan tacos last night), helping with the kids, cleaning the house, laughing about the past and making up the beds like they do at the Holiday Inn Express. I'm talking no wrinkles, fluffed pillows and the sheet tucked in nice and tight. I'm getting spoiled.

We also continue to get yummy fresh fruit, food and treats from our local family. The other day I made a breakfast at the house entirely from local ingredients down to the fresh juice with a few blended up peaches in it. For the first time in our lives I'm thinking about buying a freezer just to store all the berries we have amassed this summer.

A truly local breakfast!
In other news, it finally rained here. A real rain. A take that wildfire rain/smoke rain. With the rain has come a few really cool days where all of a sudden I am aware of the fact that the sun is not hanging out as long as it normally does. I stepped out of my house this morning and took in a huge deep breath of cool, clean, wet and smoke-free air. It was glorious. A change of seasons is upon us here in Oregon. A new beauty awaits around the corner in the form of fall. I love being in a place where we seem to be so tightly connected to our weather.

Our kids doing the "no school dance" when they found out they had another day off of school because of the smoke.
Crazy smoke from the wildfires.
As fall creeps in so does the end of Jordan's radiation treatments. Thursday is her last appointment! We have been counting down the days here (the chain hanging on our wall is almost nonexistent) and realizing that we are approaching a new season in our own lives. I'm so glad to say goodbye to the season we are in. I'm thankful to be able to say that we survived today over and over again this summer. We have taken this season full of unexpected turns the only we know how. One day at a time.

A huge thank you to everyone that has shared the load of one of those days with us. We have survived this season because of all of the love and support from all of you. Thank you for walking with us as we enter our next season full of hope and free from fear.