Monday, August 28, 2017

Eazy Empathy

We met with Jordan's doctor on Friday and got some more clarification on what the end of her radiation treatment cycle looks like. On Wednesday, September 20th after her last Radiation treatment and her last day of Chemo she will get some well deserved time off. The time off will allow for her body to rest and also to prevent any false readings when they perform the next MRI scan. We weren't given an exact date on when the MRI would occur. After the MRI, she will begin several more rounds of Chemo. Each round will be brief (5-7 days) and will increase in strength with each round. She will not start Radiation again (news to us) because they are currently giving her the maximum dosage possible. I just imagine the doctor behind the scenes doing his best Scotty impersonation during treatment "I'm givin' her all she's got, captain!". So we are continuing to count down the days of Radiation (16 days!) as we are also preparing for school to start back.

Jordan and I have been together almost every moment this summer. Our brief times away from each other have come in the form of our friends giving Jordan a ride to treatment. I start back work early tomorrow morning. I have this small sense of worry in me for the first time ever that the universe is going to come unglued at my house while I'm gone. Is this what my mom always felt when she was struggling to decide if it was ok to leave me at home by myself? I never burned my house down cooking a frozen pizza or got kidnapped as a teenager so I think Jordan and the kids should be ok until the Calvary (in the form of family) starts arriving this weekend.

Possibly one of the most Oregonian things I have experienced recently was a flight of donuts from the farmers market. The best of the bunch was the earl tea glazed one of course.

Enjoying some homemade blueberry sorbet.

Before the back to school hair cuts.

And after! A friend had to clean up my neck line as Jordan's hand isn't steady enough for clippers currently.

Dinner at a friend's house the other day included a bowl of live snakes as the centerpiece for the boy's table. Don't forget the fancy glassware!

Benton was doing really well until he drove Jordan into a light pole. Don't worry the wheelchair is only a rental.
The summer Jordan and I met I took one of those stupid assessments that tells you all about who you are and what your gifts are. I'm not a fan of surveys, assessments or questionnaires. Don't tell me which Harry Potter character I am based on what I had for breakfast (why am I always Hermione?). If you ask me those things are designed by some sadistic Type A personalities anyway.

So I took that gifts and strengths assessment (probably because someone twisted my arm into doing it). I don't remember much about the results except for one small detail. I was comically low in the empathy department. Like off the charts low. The results were probably filed away in a drawer somewhere as exhibit A just in case I commit some heinous crime in the future. Besides the occasional joke that summer I never thought much about those results.

A few years later I had a mentor tell me that I had Olympic sized expectations for myself and others. He told me that could make it tough for myself and anyone around me to feel like they were ever being successful. That statement rang true for me the day after I woke up from finishing an extremely long running race that I had spent years training for with the simple thought of "Whats next Brack?".

I've always been a relentless forward progress and pull up your bootstraps kind of guy. So what in the hell do you do when you wake up in the morning and you can't sit up without help, much less pull up some metaphorical boot straps?

Jordan is struggling mightily right now with her mobility. We've got a home full of ramps and medical contraptions to make things easier for her. Even with all these things and me being there 24/7 it has still been hard. I don't own a shirt without a food stain on it but she is quickly catching up because eating has become a challenge. Fine and gross motor skills come and go. There are times when she walks well with my help to the bathroom only on the return trip to struggle just to pick up her left foot with each step. Her speech also bears a slur now that gets worse as she gets tired. This I know is maddening to her as she feels like it is a burden on others to carry on a conversation with her.

We still manage to laugh when she innocently bumps into something or steps on my foot while we are walking. Sometimes we pretend we are dancing or that she stood up just to give me a kiss or a hug. She even occasionally laughs when I make a fart noise every single time I help her stand in the presence of others.

I'm not always the kind hearted super husband though. Yesterday it seemed to take an hour to complete a five-minute task in the kitchen because I was looking for a dropped phone again or adjusting a pillow. I don't need the memory of a survey to remind me of my criminally low empathy in those moments.

There have been so many high and low moments this summer. Usually several of each in the span of a single afternoon. One of the things that I have learned though is that I don't understand what Jordan is dealing with each day. I sure do try though. I listen, I anticipate, I pull strings behind the scenes, I ask questions, I coordinate, I give the kids the eye and do whatever else that I can. Deep down though I can't fully understand.

As per usual though I have learned by being around our village. I have been witness to so many kinds of empathetic gestures. Some people have slid into our lives with the comfort, grace and gentleness of Mr. Rogers. Others come bumbling in the front door with the awkwardness of an episode of The Office. The beauty of it all is that everyone in our lives is trying their best. That seems to be what Jordan and I are doing each day as well.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

I Wanna Be a Coward When I Grow Up

19 more radiation treatments to go! Jordan is doing well overall. She has kept her appetite and hasn't been getting sick. Her attitude hasn't slipped a bit and she doesn't seem to mind letting me know what she thinks. Her mobility has gotten worse though. We have brought the wheelchair into the house and walking around is a chore even with my help. The forty-two steps from the bed to the bathroom seem to get longer each trip. Her speech is also beginning to slur a little more. It is probably comical for someone on the outside. I always thought we would be much older before I started yelling "huh!?!" and squinting my eyes when trying to figure out what she was saying. Jordan has been sleeping like a champ. After breakfast, after a trip to the bathroom, after treatment, after an episode of The Bachelor in Paradise, before dinner, after dinner and anywhere else in between. I'm thankful that she has been able to rest and my hope is that her body is in full on recovery mode when she is asleep. However, I know though that she would rather be up and in the middle of everything that is going on.

We watched the eclipse on Monday with some close friends. The kiddos were impressed for about four minutes before they switched their attention to snacks and nerf guns. I thoroughly enjoyed it though. It was great to sit and just be a part of this slow celestial crawl. The sun, moon and earth were doing their own thing (just as any other day). It wasn't about us. Not sure what it was but I liked that.

No retinal damage for this crew.
All glasses worn approved by NASA and Neil Degrasse Tyson.
Just another beautiful day in Oregon.

After the eclipse, the kids and I took Jordan to her radiation appointment. While waiting in the lobby I thought I would escape reality for ten minutes and read a little TIME magazine. I wasn't halfway finished flipping through the pictures when I came across an article titled: It's Okay to Be a Coward About Cancer. Come on TIME! Where is the unbiased reporting on Russia or the story on the new fad that millennials are using to destroy the world as we know it? I can't even read a magazine at the doctor's office for crying out loud. So I had to read the article. My favorite line was "Cancer doesn't give a damn how tough you are. Cancer doesn't care if you stared down the North Koreans, or won the Tour De France." Now that is some good writing!

The article didn't teach me much. It did stir me up though and force me to think (so maybe it did teach me a few things). I started thinking about my approach to this whole situation. So of course pretty much every interaction I've had since Monday afternoon has forced me to come to terms with things this article stirred up. Pandora's Wilco playlist seemed a bit more self-reflective, the book I'm reading seemed to be speaking right to me, emails/conversations all seemed to be in on the bit. It just took me a few days to start to make some sense of it all.

I've been tossing around the idea since Monday that now more than ever it is okay to be not okay. It is perfectly acceptable to think "this sucks". As in "this sucks" with a period on the end of it. Like there is no explanation or tid-bit of wisdom or life lesson or anything else right now.

So what I'm saying is that it is okay to be a bit of a coward. A word that almost makes me shudder. I'd rather be called almost anything else. If you stacked up my life I'd hope one of the last things that came to mind after "he sure was handsome" was "he was such a coward". However, I think there is a place for some cowardice in all of our lives. Some admitting that things are not always under our complete control. That is just flat out scary to me.

The weird thing is that in that self-transparency I've immediately experienced grace. It feels good to just come out and say it. To put a name to how I feel some days. So I'm committed to acknowledging my own ineffectiveness and foolishness. I think we all need to give ourselves some grace to be able to say "this sucks (period)".

A friend (in direct response to my Village People research) sent me some lines from a Townes Van Zandt tune. I don't think his studio albums ever did him justice because the dude could tell a story. Like listening to your grandad the first time he told you that war story or about brewing beer in his closet growing up. You just hang onto those words. They seem to mean a little more. So I'll just leave a little Townes Van Zandt wisdom with you.

Days up and down they come
Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
But don't turn none away
Everything is not enough
Nothin' is too much to bear
Where you been is good and gone
All you keep is the gettin' there
To live is to fly
Low and high

Saturday, August 19, 2017

It Takes A Village (People)

A friend included #takesavillage in a text conversation this week as we were discussing the logistics of the mundane. This led to a brief exchange that ended with a GIF (pronounced JIF grandma) of Jimmy Fallon doing the Y-M-C-A.

Of course, this got me thinking about The Village People. Did you know they had three albums that went Platinum? Platinum is a million records sold people! That is a ton of dough (even if it is split between six people in funny costumes). Back from a Wikipedia "research" binge, I started to think about my own village for a bit. It doesn't include anyone in a construction worker or sailor costume but it is still pretty awesome. Here are some of the cool things we have gotten to share with our village in the last few days:

Beautiful flowers and a wonderful painting.
Lots of lunch dates for Jordan!
Mobility is tough but she can still use chopsticks for her sushi!

Parker attended her first treatment session with Jordan. Parker turned down a massage from Stan. She has lots to learn.
Target shopping trip sponsored by friends. Don't worry we bought all the leggings and snacks (despite my best protesting).

A friend delivered a treatment chain for Jordan. It is hanging on a wall in our living room. It is currently touching the floor. Each day after Jordan gets back from her radiation treatment we get to remove a chain. Parker is especially excited about this because she immediately turns the chain links into an unconventional art project.

We also got a couple of packages from Georgia this week. They were from my former co-workers at Ethel Kight Elementary. A place that I was thankful to call home the first six years that I taught. A place that allowed me to grow, make mistakes and learn that educating young people is something that I want to pursue as my career and passion. There were lots of sweet notes and some awesome gifts (for Jordan, myself and the kiddos). It served as an emotional reminder for me of how formative that time was for me and in turn my family. A village that I'm no longer a part of but will always be a part of me.

Last night we left our kids with some of the village and went to a rock show. Or maybe a power pop show depending on who you speak with. We saw Jimmy Eat World and Incubus. Jimmy Eat World had a wildly successful album (Bleed American) that was basically the anthem of the summer Jordan and I met. It went Platinum and the band is still together (eat your heart out Village People). It was a fun and reflective album that was perfect to sing along to with friends while you cruised around on warm summer nights in suburban Georgia with the windows rolled down. Those songs will always be anchored to memories of that summer for me and will never fail to bring a smile to my face. They brought a smile to my face last night as I watched Jordan sing along. If you ever want to hear more about why Bleed American is a great album or why a concert t-shirt costs $35 (and I bought one) I'm perfectly happy to regale you with stories from 2001. All it will cost you is a beer.

Looking a little older than when we first sang along with Jimmy Eat World.

Finally I will leave you with a quote that was in a letter I received from my principal this week. It resonated with me and all that we have been going through. Hopefully it will sit a while with you as well.

"We must take care of our families wherever we find them."

Thanks for being a part of our village!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer is Fleeing!

Jordan is out today with a friend having lunch and then going to treatment. She is only a few days into Radiation/Chemo but things are going well. She hasn't seen any significant side effects and her blood work reports look good. Possibly the only side effect is that she is a little wonky when we get up at night to go to the bathroom (TMI?). She says some pretty funny stuff that I make sure to remind her of each morning.

The school year is drawing closer with each day and summer is slowly starting to wrap up. The temperature has finally cooled some here and it is finally a relief to be outside again. The sun is going down before 9:15 at night which all of a sudden seems strange.

We have started prepping the kids for school. They are both excited to be at Parkdale this year and we are thankful for such a warm and welcoming school community that we all get to be a part of. It will also be a bonus that we live about 30 seconds from the front door of the school.

We have breaking news and blog exclusive... A video! Benton got a bike last week and within 20 minutes he was riding. He is already terrorizing the neighborhood and I have trouble finding him for dinner. He is going to participate in his first triathlon next month which I think is a logical progression.

We continue to have our minds blown by the fruit here. I'm sorry to inform all Georgia peach eaters/loyalists that you haven't lived until you have had a doughnut peach (not a peach doughnut). These tiny little peaches are incredible. Someone also hesitantly brought us a peach pie the other day that lived up to the expectations of a couple of southerners. We even shared it with a Texan and he approved whole heartedly. 

A friend had us over to make some ice cream and top it with fresh fruit from her garden. Yum!

We frequently end up at pFriem when we have friends visit. We all love this place!

Farmer's market face paint.
We are excited for the Eclipse next week and squeezing every bit of life from these last few weeks of summer!


Sunday, August 13, 2017

30 First Dates

While we were at OHSU for Jordan's brain surgery a month ago we watched this awful Adam Sandler movie called Just Go With It. I tolerated it because it had Jennifer Anniston in it (Is she ever going to age?) and the drugs from the hospital helped Jordan tolerate it.

Growing up I was always a Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison guy. Adolescent humor wrapped in an easy to follow plot with one-liners that have stood the test of time. Whats not to like? Unfortunately, The Adam Sandler franchise has been in a steady decline since Waterboy. However, this blog has neither the time or space for a proper debate on Adam Sandler's acting career.

I do want to touch on 50 First Dates (right in the middle of that steady decline) with Sandler and Drew Barrymore though. Barrymore's character wakes up every morning with short term memory loss. She is sort of stuck in time and all of her friends/family help keep her there by playing into it. Sandler comes along, falls in love, figures out how to overcome her amnesia, yadda yadda, happy ending...

Recently Jordan and I added 30 of her Radiation appointments to our calendar. It was intimidating to look at a calendar that suddenly had a daily reminder of what we are being faced with. This sat with me for a bit. Thinking about it more allowed all the little stresses that have been building to team up and be overwhelming. So I had a bad day.

I woke up the next morning thinking about the calendar and 50 First Dates. Fortunately, I wasn't suffering from short term memory loss like Barrymore. I realized that instead of hoping to forget my bad days I could do something far more powerful. I could acknowledge that I had a bad day, embrace the day I had in front of me and treat it as a "first date". A chance to buy into this process, learn from my bad days, embrace the special things that happen and acknowledge that waking up each day is a gift.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Day One.

Day one of Radiation and Chemo are in the books. Jordan has felt good today and is in good spirits as we officially get started fighting this tumor!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Can a Salad Change Your Life?

Brack here again...

A few days ago we had someone drop off a meal at our house. This is not the least bit unusual because a friend set up a meal train for us recently. We have had some incredible meals and shared some even better company when people stop by to show that they care with food (my new favorite way to receive love is through baked goods).

What made this meal drop off different though is that it was a complete stranger. She had signed up and learned about our story through a mutual friend. She dropped off a salad. A salad. Let me just preface this by saying that I grew up in the south and it wasn't a meal unless it had cornbread and meat. So despite fostering several healthy eating habits over the years, a salad has always remained a way for me to sneak in more bacon, croutons and cheese into my diet.

I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes about her own story and what led her to want to bring us a meal (surprisingly it wasn't my awesome blogging skills). After she left I put the meal away for later and my family went about its day like normal.

When it was meal time I started unpacking and preparing the salad. There was a small note saying that the salad was prepared with love and that each ingredient had been hand picked from the Farmer's Market in Hood River. The ingredients were:

-Soft, delicate lettuce that had this perfect crunch to it.
-Juicy tomatoes full of flavor.
-Stinky stinky and delicious blue cheese.
-Steak from a cow that probably happily lived out a life here in the Gorge.
-Perfectly grilled onions.
-Beets. B-E-E-T-S. Something I've never even pretended to enjoy eating. These were so good though that I'm rethinking my whole beet stance.
-Bread from a local bakery.
-A great bottle of red wine.

I listed out all of the ingredients because just as the note said this thing was prepared with some sweet sweet love. This complete stranger took the time to carefully shop and prepare this wonderful meal for my family. It had all the details taken care of. I would have taken this thoughtful approach and care to prepare a meal for someone that I loved, cared for and had known for years. She did it for someone she didn't even know.

A friend of ours stopped eating the salad and declared "I'm pretty sure this is the best salad I've ever had". We all soon concurred and began giving this salad some well-deserved shout outs before we went back in for another huge bite. I hope deep down our kind stranger saved a little bit of this salad for herself!

This salad is sticking with me because it was awesome but also because it made me realize a few things (one of which being that beets aren't so bad). All the kind gestures that friends, family, co-workers and not so random strangers are doing for us are having a huge impact on my family. We are blown away several times each day by all sorts of ways that people are reaching out to us.

The little things mean so much right now. They are allowing us to live with joy, smile, laugh and eat like royalty. I sincerely hope that my kids are able to soak up this kindness and that they are as inspired as Jordan and I are.

Now to some nuts and bolts of what is happening right now...

Jordan starts Radiation and Chemo treatments tomorrow in the Dalles. She will have a Radiation appointment there each weekday until September 20th. Her Chemo will be taken orally each day until September 20th as well. Treatment will continue after this date but this will be our first benchmark of how things are going and a revaluation will occur around this time.

Jordan's mobility has continued to worsen. We have gotten a wheelchair for her to use when we leave the house. This allows her to save her energy and also safely get around to all the places I drag her to. We are concerned about this but have continued to plug along and haven't held back from anything because of this.

Yesterday Jordan and I sat down with our principal at Parkdale and officially started the process for her to take a leave of absence from work. We are hopeful that this is short and that Jordan can return to work. She has become a big part of Parkdale in the short time that we have been there. Also since both Benton and Parker will be there this year I need an extra set of eyes in the building to be nosey. So we are hoping for a quick return!

We drop Jordan's mom off at the airport on Thursday and have just a few weeks of summer left with the kids before things get truly crazy around here.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Conclusion of the East Coast Tour!

Benton and Parker are back! Kim (Jordan's mom) brought the kids back to Oregon last week. We are absolutely thrilled to have the other half of our family back with us. These kids hit the ground running and we have all been going to bed every night absolutely worn out. We are excited to have another month of summer left with these kiddos!

Joy at the airport!
Popsicles with friends on a hot afternoon.
Parker got a long overdue haircut to match Jordan.

Some awesome gifts from our friends in Bend!
Jordan's mom brought back cheese dip from Georgia. Biggest smile I've seen on Jordan's face in a while.
Always a good day when Jordan gets her hands on a baby.
How we have ended every day. Passed out!
Beating the heat in Parkdale with some time in the pool.
We picked over 14 pounds of blueberries at a friend's farm.
Our family sent us some Ginger Tea from South Korea for Jordan to drink to help with nausea.
Sharing a meal with out of town friends in Parkdale.

Good to have a house filled with laughter and noise again.
We found a snake in our front yard. Parker is always curious when it comes to animals.
Benton Learned a new card game in GA and has been teaching us.
Hello from Oregon!
Jordan starts treatment on Wednesday. We have lots to share over the next few days. So stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The County Fair, Radiation and a Pebble

Generic warning about Brack posting...

The other night we went to the fair. I am formally and morally opposed to any and everything county fair due to a super embarrassing experience that happened to me during those formative teenage years. However, Jordan loves the fair. So off we went! We met up with some coworkers and cruised around for a bit.

We rode the Ferris Wheel with one of our students from Parkdale and shared a beautiful view of both Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. We saw some cool livestock, ate some disgusting/delicious fair food and went until Jordan got tired.

We then realized how far away we had parked and were mulling around about how to get back to the van. Just then a wonderful man in a golf cart pulled up and offered us a ride. We might still be walking back to the car if he hadn't picked us up.

We've also been continuing to enjoy the fruit of the Gorge this last week.

10 pounds of fresh Apricots!

Parkdale backyards are the best backyards.

Always love hanging out at Mike's Ice Cream in Hood River.
Today we had an appointment with Celilo Treatment Center in The Dalles which is located 40 miles from our home. This is where Jordan will be receiving her Monday-Friday radiation treatments. The staff there were courteous, quick and friendly. The doctor explained in depth what the process would look like. On Friday Jordan will return there for a simulation appointment. They will fit her with a custom mask that will be used for treatment and give her a CAT scan. The doctor will take all of the information gathered about Jordan's brain up to this point and put together the exact coordinates that the radiation will enter her body and where it will meet up to zap (is that a medical term?) this tumor. The actual process will be very quick (just a few minutes) and she won't be in any pain during treatment. To my disappointment, after receiving treatment she won't be able to turn on the TV with her mind. So I guess the hunt for the remote continues... As we were finishing up with the secretary today we met the in house massage therapist. He spent ten minutes giving Jordan a shoulder massage and just making small talk. What a perk!

After we left Celilo we went to the DMV and got a Disabled Parking Permit. I'm so happy that this is available to us. It will make life much easier for us as we continue to carry on like normal. That being said we are currently accepting flair for Jordan's walker (bike bells, horns, bumper stickers, etc...).

I am writing this update from a nice hotel room just a few miles from the airport in Portland (while Jordan watches The Bachelorette). We are soaking up the air conditioning as the temperatures top 100 degrees in the Gorge and just enjoying each others company.

Perhaps the most important part of this update though is that tomorrow morning we set off for the airport to pick up our children Benton and Parker and Jordan's mom Kim.  Benton and Parker flew out with my mom Cindi and sister Sunshine on July 1st for a wonderful adventure on the East Coast with both sides of the family. They have been staying up late, eating all kinds of junk and basically been given everything they have asked for. Pretty much exactly what is supposed to happen when you are with your grandparents.

Before Benton and Parker left we were spending some time at Waterfront Park in Hood River. As our kids played on the beach Parker followed what is becoming a habit by giving us some small gifts. These are always things she finds on the ground (rocks, flowers, trash or whatever else sticks out to her) and I usually put them back when she isn't looking. If she is suspicious of me getting rid of the item I usually find it in her pockets later on. That day I decided to break with my Leave No Trace tradition and keep the small rock she gave me. I put it in my pocket and it has stayed there all month.

It wasn't intentional at the time but quickly became something I would find myself holding onto all month. I would forget about it and find it when I was getting out my keys or digging for some change for the parking meter. I held onto it lots while we were at OHSU. That small rock was something that gave me a little connection with my kids even though they were 3,000 miles away. I revisited that small beautiful moment on the banks of the Columbia River 100 times this month. I think Jordan and I both realized this month the strength we get from being around our kids. Their laughter recharges us, their energy is contagious and their kindness inspires/awes us every single day.

While this was not the month Jordan and I had in mind when we planned this getaway for our children it has been a good one. We have been able to find our bearings, talk frankly about our future and focus on Jordan's health.

With that said we have missed our children terribly. We are so excited to get to see their big toothless and silly smiles tomorrow.