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Poetry & Stories
Finding Miracles Through Pain
We sometimes believe in miracles when we can see it right away. At times, we forget that some miracles take a
little longer. I believe I recently witnessed some miracles which may take some time to fully appreciate...
It has been a year since Betty had an accident in our little SUV. Since that day, she has had different surgeries,
as well as different approaches to therapy to try and help her with the pain from that day. I was in the emergency
room the day the ambulance carted her in. I saw her left arm dangling, her elbow - gone. It was a miracle in
itself that she didn't lose her arm.
The surgeons rebuilt her elbow and within time, she managed to regain 60-70% of her mobility. But through her
gains, the pain from that fateful day would not go away. Finally we were sent to The University of Iowa Medical
Center. We had no idea of where we were going or what kind of "rewards" they could offer. We only knew that
we had to try. To live in constant pain for over a year - is not living.
Betty's surgery lasted over four hours. They removed scar tissue, bone fragments, and pieces of bones which never healed. They attached
hardware to the outside of her arm, held together by two screws, tapped into her forearm and two screws attached to her bicep. The screws
held together two iron rods, on hinges, to limit her movements for 6-8 weeks. The surgeons believe her pain will be 80-90% gone and her
arm movements will increase to 85-95%. She would spend the weekend in the hospital getting her pain medication adjusted and doing
therapy. Now it's just a matter of waiting to see if her pain is gone.
On Saturday, a football game takes place and different types of miracles are coming alive. While the crowd is not too concerned about the
patients across the street, these people lie in their beds and watch their home town team. They share one thing in common - a hope and a
dream for a miracle.
We met a lot of different people, with different ailments during our five day stay. One couple who has been there for eight weeks, recovering
from a nervous breakdown, through shock therapy the future looks bright. A young couple, who have lost everything they had due to an
illness. While she is a patient, he lives out of their car, with their two cats. Everyone they meet, they try and find a home for their two
A lady with cancer, given a 5% chance of ever walking out the door, so she volunteered to try new drugs and maybe help someone down the
line. She has achieved acceptance and enjoys her time with her family and the many new friends she meets that walk through the doors.
We traveled over 360 miles to get Betty the help she needed. A six hour drive, we wished for a miracle and we left with so much more.
We left with an acceptance that life isn't always what we dream about. But through miracles, every day is special and unique. And with a
touch of humility, we thank the Lord, that while our pain is a challenge - it could be worse...
The first lap at any "Relay For Life" event is for the survivors. Inspiration built out of tragedy!
For the majority of women, shaving their legs is a job, they probably would not like to have.
For my wife, Betty and me, it was a day of celebration. It was the first time in well over a year
that there was any hair on her body. It was proof that the effects of chemotherapy and
radiation were leaving her body. In November of 1999, Betty had a mammogram. It came
back positive for breast cancer.
For the next year and a half, our lives, as well as our four children's lives, revolved around clinics and hospitals. Meeting many different
doctors and nurses, each one, showed a unique form of caring and a loving concern for Betty. Four surgeries, eight different rounds of
chemo, and thirty straight days of radiation, showed her strength and her will to live. I don't believe it was fear of death that kept Betty going, it
was a will to live for me. It was a will to live for her children. It was a motherly believe that her children still needed her. It was a believe that
she wasn't done raising her children. All of us share a lifetime of memories and we pray, for a lifetime of future memories!
Watching her shave her legs, brought a smile to her face and a tear to mine. Our hopes and prayers might still be recognized! Her long red
hair, which disappeared first, came back shorter, thicker, and now has a wave to it. As time went on, we began to get involved in a small way
with different cancer events. My favorite, is the annual Relay For Life. Because, its a chance for me to cheer for my wife and many other
survivors, as they are honored on the first lap. The one that was the most emotional happened at Haymarket Park, in Lincoln. A brand new
baseball park, which in 2001, also became the home for the Lancaster County Relay For Life.
The survivors stood in a line, underneath an archway of balloons, ready to start their lap, along the right field line. Led by children, these
people, men and women, of different ages and different backgrounds, would follow the concourse, around the park, listening to the cheers,
honoring them! My youngest daughter, Lisa and I, stood by first base and started clapping. It seemed like we were the only ones doing it. But
as the walk progressed, the claps got a little louder. We continued to clap as they reached center field and the applause continued to grow.
By the time they reached left field, the stadium became alive! As they headed toward the infield, the place was rocking! The echoes of the
cheers bounced around the ballpark. Better then any homerun, because there was no losing team. These survivors were all winners, and
everyone there, was proud to be a part of their team.
The "Do's" and "Dont's" of cancer...
With the upcoming spring and summer months, throughout the country, you can find all night affairs, paying tribute to cancer survivors. The
Relay For Life events are a very intense spiritual experience. People sharing their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow. It took a tragic
event, like cancer, that brought people together in the fight to eliminate it. The Relay usually starts on a Friday evening and runs straight
through till Saturday morning. A track, or a course, is made as people walk through the whole night, symbolizing, the many sleepless nights
the survivors and their caretakers have experienced.
But, for this caretaker, the most powerful part of the night is that first lap. A lap taken by the survivors. I watch as my wife, introduces herself,
"My name is Betty and I've been cancer free for five years." As she starts her lap, tears form as I say a pray of thanks, that God gave her the
strength to fight, and the courage to survive. As she walks by, my attention goes back to the microphone and I listen to other survivors. Young
and old, one year, one day, I pray for them all. I watch as nervous spouses stand along side, hoping that God will give them both the strength
they will need in the upcoming months. The surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, at times, you wonder will it ever stop. And at times, you
wonder, how much fight the both of you have. But, somehow, by the Grace of God, you work your way through it all, and as a couple, you
become stronger. Along the way, you learn some valuable lessons. There are some "do's" and "don'ts" which should be practiced, as a
family with cancer, or as friends of a family with cancer.
Though, I talk as a caregiver, and my survivor is my wife. What I say holds true , for wife's who are caretakers and their husbands as
survivors. The most obvious of all things to realize is that things will change. First, the surgeries, will "steal" parts of your wife's body, making
her feel, unattractive and less feminine. Do say "I love you," don't avoid her, or look away. She's still your wife and your soul-mate. No matter
how silly, her fears may sound - listen, and don't say "you shouldn't feel that way." They're her feelings, she has a right to feel anyway she
wants. Sometimes, saying nothing is the best thing to do. When my wife, Betty, started chemo, she was told she would lose her hair in 14
days. On the 13th day, her hair fell out. Not a little at a time, but all at once. I was standing next to her as she pulled clump after clump. It was
a shock and a fear which can only be described as unknown. As she started to cry, I just hugged her. We stood motionless, until she was
done crying, we cleaned up the hair, and found her a hat. Betty, didn't wear wigs or scarfs, just baseball caps.
Don't expect your wife, to be loving or even caring. And please, don't take it personal. She doesn't feel well. The sad part is, what will make
her better (chemo), will make her sicker. She'll have no appetite, so don't expect her to fix your meals, but do fix her something. Whether she
eats it or not, isn't important. The message she will receive is, your thinking of her. Along with cooking, you better learn how to do the laundry.
I don't think anyone, including myself, can honestly say, how sick your love one is. I just remember the moans, the crying, and the endless
trips throughout the night, into the bathroom, to vomit. If there was ever a time in your life, where you absolutely, must not think of yourself, it's
now. Your wife needs you. While at times, you'll feel neglected or rejected, years later, you'll be happy you did what you did.
Whatever you can do, to take away all fears and stresses, from your loved one - do it. Don't let her see any bills. Pay them on time, if you
can't, call the people, before they call you. Your wife, needs to concentrate on her health. But, as hard as it is, don't take control of their
medical program. Go with her to doctor's appointments, ask questions, you want answered, but let your wife run the show. Let her set up the
appointments, let her manage her health. Yes, you'll be there when she can't do it and help her when she ask for it. But again, this is part of
her battle, part of her recovery, she needs to fight, with your support, not your control.
If you have high school age or younger children, don't "dump" all your fears on them. They probably have a lot more then you ever thought of.
And don't shield them from the reality of cancer. They want to help, but most of the time, they don't know what to do. Ask them, to spend time
with Mom, just sit and talk. If she feels well enough, she might even enjoy trying to help with their homework. Let the kids and Mom, set their
own boundaries. Don't interfere, thinking, Mom's to sick to do that. The kids are smarter then we may think, they'll know when Mom, isn't up
to it. Have faith in your wife, have faith in your kids, and have faith in yourself.
What was truly amazing, throughout our war, was how intelligent our pets were. I do believe the strongest part of Betty's early days, was our
cat and dog. They were so peaceful, they laid with her, let her cuddle them, and were just always there for her. My belief now, is that people
who have pets, get a good "jump start" on recovery, due to their companionship and gentle concern.
By far, the best thing, we as a couple did, was get informed. After we found out, Betty had cancer. We read everything and anything we could
find out about breast cancer. By the time, we went for our first doctors appointment, we knew the questions we needed to ask. We knew
what would be a good answer, as well as answers where we needed to be concerned. We knew what to expect from chemo, as well as
radiation. Anything we didn't understand, we'd ask the doctors to please help us understand. When something did happen, we'd know it was
"normal" because we read about it. Being informed, kept us in control, and helped us manage cancer, the best we could.
OK, there are some "do's" and "don'ts" as a family, but what about our friends and neighbors. If you ask a survivor or a caretaker "How are
you doing," be prepared for an answer. If you really don't want to know, please don't ask. So many times, people would ask and I'd start
telling them about my fears, when they'd cut me off, and say something like, "you got broad shoulders, you can handle it," or "God wouldn't
give you more then you could handle." I really didn't want, nor did I need a pep talk. I just wanted you to listen.
Please realize everybody who does chemo, reacts differently. We don't want to hear about a sister or a brother who had a cancer and went
through chemo just fine. Just as there are different cancers, there are also different chemo drugs. I know you're trying to offer words of
encouragement, but again, sometimes the best thing to do, is say nothing and just listen. By listening, you'll understand and you'll learn
what we truly need. We know you want to help, so please listen.
You won't catch cancer from someone who has it, so you don't need to avoid us. We realize, you may be uncomfortable with everything and
have no idea of what to say or do, but you don't need to run and hide either. Believe me, we understand. We had no idea either.
Don't take "no" for an answer. Stupid human pride, at times, tells us, we can handle this and we don't need any help. Don't ask, just do it. So
many times, I'd come home from work, just wore out from my job and the stress of seeing my wife so sick and feeling so helpless, I didn't
know what to do. It was at these times, God would send us an angel. A neighbor, who'd bring a meal over. We didn't ask for it, they just did it.
Don't get me wrong, my wife is a great cook, but those meals, were the best meals I've ever eaten.
At work, my co-workers had "food drives." On three straight Friday's, I went home with a car full of groceries. These people, like so many
others, wanted to help, but didn't know what to do. So they came up with different ideas, which always seem to happen, when we truly
needed them to do so. They felt wanted and needed, we felt relieved, without being beggars.
There is no correct way of dealing with cancer. Its like parenthood, you do the best you can at the time. I'm thankful that God gave both, Betty
and I, the strength to fight it - together. I'm thankful for our community for all their help, and friends and co-workers, who always seemed to
understand what we needed and when we needed it. Please, don't live in fear of cancer. People who have it, will answer you questions and
will talk openly about it. They don't want your pity or your sorrow, just a shoulder to lean on and someone who will listen. Eventually, God
willing, cancer will be wiped off the face of the earth, due to the advances in medical science. But no one, should forget the support system
for survivors and their families and the power it gives to all of us.
Reliving my early fears
While my writings started long before Betty got cancer, it was her battle for life that changed my views of others. The thing that impressed me
the most was the strength and courage all survivors have. This is a short story about those first couple of months, which we never really
seemed to catch our breath. Everything happened so fast. And it never really slowed down for close to a year. It is an experience I'll never
On her 40th birthday, she made a decision to start a regular program of annual check-ups. A mammogram and a pap smear would become
part of this wellness check. She felt good after the first year showed that everything was fine. She had taken a step to be in charge of her life
and as time would show it would be a wise choice.
As the second year rolled around she scheduled her appointments. The mammogram would take place on November 29th - her birthday.
The pap smear would take place a couple of days later, where she would learn of the results of the mammogram.
At our clinic, our doctor told her that the radiologist had a concern about a lump deep in her breast. A normal biopsy wouldn't work and she
would have to have it surgically removed. We talked to the surgeon and surgery was set for December 23, 1999.
As thoughts of Christmas approach, our thoughts were pre-occupied with the upcoming surgery. The 23rd finally came and I settled in the
waiting room for the 45 minute surgery. The surgeon came in and told me everything went well and she should be back in her room within a
half an hour. I asked him what he thought; he shook his head and said it didn't look good. I never told Betty about our conversation, not
wanting to worry her and somehow hoping we could enjoy our Christmas together.
For the next six days we waited and I prayed a lot. Finally, the 29th arrived and we headed to the surgeon's office to get the results of the
biopsy. We sat in a room for about five minutes, Betty and I not really saying much to each other. He finally came in, sat down, looked at Betty
and said its cancer.
I tried to stay focused as he began talking about the plan of attack. A partial mastectomy would take place on January 3, 2000, then after
some recovery time she would have radiation.
On the ride home, I was quiet and in shock. Already on that day, Betty was showing me the strength which would carry our whole family
through this ordeal. It was her early strength that gave me the courage to realize that this fight wasn't just about me, or her – it was about us.
Not only did our Christmas have a cloud over it, we were now ready to enter a new year, with an even bigger cloud. The 3rd arrived and I was
prepared for another hour in the waiting room.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed outside for a quick smoke. I wasn't outside 10 minutes when a nurse came out and told me the
surgeon needed to talk to me. Telling me to have a seat in the waiting room, she went to get the doctor. He came in and sat next to me. He
said it was worse then he thought and I had to make a decision for her. He wanted to remove her whole breast. I didn't know what to say,
Betty thought she would come out of surgery still pretty much in tact. I gave my permission and began to prepare for Betty in the recovery
room and tell her about my decision. An hour and a half later surgery was complete and the surgeon said he didn't remove the breast -
which he believed he got it all.
Three days later, we were back in his office and found out that he did not get it all that Betty's breast would have to be removed ASAP. Five
days later, on the 11th, her breast was removed.
Again, three days later we sat in his office waiting to find out what would be next. He planned CT scans, MRIs, and bone scans to see how
far the cancer had spread. Then in a couple of months, chemotherapy followed by radiation.
One final surgery would need to take place before chemotherapy started. Betty has really small veins, so she would need a catheter would
have to be placed in a main vein, so the chemo wouldn't destroy her veins.
This was supposed to be a 15-20 minute surgery and a half-hour in recovery and out the door we go. Surgery was scheduled for February
7th. Our minds were elsewhere that week and didn't give much thought to this surgery. We took it for granted. I was still in the waiting room
an hour later, when the surgeon finally came in and said it was more difficult then he thought it would be.
I went to Betty's room and watched her. Something wasn't right and the three nurses that were in the room knew it. One left the room and got
some more help and a doctor. I sat and watch as Betty went from sitting to laying back, her eyes closing and as I looked at the machine
showing her vitals, everything flatlined.
She would return to us a few seconds later. But I learned that there is no such thing as a simple surgery. Nothing can be taken for granted.
What we thought would be an hour in the hospital, ended up being three days as Betty was moved to ICU.
Not only would we fight cancer, but that day I realized that cancer would fight us. There would be more trying days ahead, but those 20
seconds of being a widower - prepared me to expect the unexpected.
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