Friday, September 30, 2011

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Written Thursday evening, September 29

Got some disappointing news this morning. Lindsey nor I are a match for Jenny's bone marrow. The doctors were looking at markers on our cells called HLA markers. Lindsey matched 3 of the 6 markers, and I only matched 1. This news means the doctors are now moving to the next step in securing a donor: UNRELATED MATCHES. Essentially, "unrelated matches" means ANYONE except Jen's sisters or parents.

Signing up to be a bone marrow donor is a very easy process. If you would like to sign up, please visit http://www.marrow.org/ and click "Join the Registry." They will send you a kit where you swab the inside of your cheek and send it back to them. You will then be placed in the registry as a bone marrow donor. PLEASE READ ALL THE INFORMATION, INCLUDING THE DISCLAIMERS.

Signing up to be "Jennifer's bone marrow donor" isn't the way this works (little did I know). When you join the bone marrow donor organization, you could possibly match her's, but you may match someone else in need of a transplant (or, you may not match anyone at all!). With that said, please know they may be calling you to be a donor for someone other than Jen. Of course, you can refuse but donating marrow to a stranger would be a life-saving donation, exactly the same situation we find ourselves in. And, as a friend of Matt's put it this afternoon, "Bone marrow I donate may match someone whose sister is a match for Jen...It's kind of a pay-it-forward way to look at it." This logic really made sense to me, so I'm planning on signing up as a donor even though mine will never match Jen's.

The biopsy of her bone marrow was performed this afternoon and the results should be in, at the earliest, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then Monday. I asked Matt how the biopsy went, and this is how he put it: "Biospsy went well, and she slept some after due to the sedation. They were actually able to draw this time. During the first biopsy, they had trouble getting anything because the marrow was so full of cancerous cells. Their ability to get more this time hopefully means the amount of cancerous cells are decreasing. This is merely speculation, but I am hopeful it correlates to a decrease in tumor burden."

One more quick plug, as if asking you for your bone marrow isn't enough! Jen's 31st birthday is a week from today. If you haven't had the chance yet, please video yourself (from your phone would be great) wishing her a birthday message. Email the message to laurenmccool11@gmail.com.  Even if you don't feel like you know her well enough to do this, I assure you, this is definitely one of those cases where "the more the merrier!" Remember: Visitors are so limited right now that any familiar face will warm her heart. If you've never even met her and still want to send a message- fantastic! (Just include how you know of her so it won't be creepy.) Be as creative (or uncreative) as you like. Looking forward to making this a very special day for her and appreciate any help you can give us.

I helped her out today with her bath and washing her hair....It is starting to come out. Before I left for the weekend, she said, "When you come back, there might not be any left..." After a long pause, "Oh well, it's just hair." Well, it's not 'oh well' in my book. I'm sad. Sad about this whole darn thing. Sad that she can't come home with me from the hospital everyday when I have to leave her. Sad that her mouth hurts so bad she can't eat. Sad about (and terrified of!) the drugs in her blood that are literally burning her insides. Sad that she gets light-headed from a shower. Sad that Lindsey and I can't be matches and sad knowing it disappointed her we weren't.

While it might not be 'oh well' in my thoughts, attitude and emotions right now, it can be WELL with my soul. Out of the overflow of my soul, this WELLNESS will seep into all the rest of me...

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul." -Horatio Spafford

Father, You have taught us, "In all things, give thanks." Thank you for this news today. Thank you that we are not getting an easy match. Once again, it brings us to our knees before you- which is right where we need to be. Thank you for handcrafting Jennifer, Lindsey, and me each so uniquely that only a few of our markers even match! You are remarkable. Thank you that we can trust you have a better plan for Jennifer's bone marrow. Thank you for caring about 'little things' like hair. Thank you for being the Supplier of the 'well' that can be found in our souls. Father, thank you for this trial. For through it, we are certain, we will be brought closer to You. We praise You because You are the same God yesterday, today, and forever and we can count on You, not to do what we will, but Your will. And it is always perfect.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Heroes, Part I

“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become. ”
― Brooke Foss Westcott

She's looking out her window because, let's face it, there are only so many places to look for interest in this tiny room where we've spent most of the day. "Oh wow," she says, and it's her gasp that causes me to look up from my mindless web-surfing. And, there it is, the sweetest little sunset you've ever seen going down just over the Vanderbilt campus and beyond. Then her humor infiltrates the quiet, reflective moment, "You know, there's just nothing quite like the hum of your bed inflating, as you watch the sunset, over a plate of cottage cheese and a glass of grape juice." As I watch her smirk at her own joke, I can't help but think, "How do you do it? How do you stay so cheerful, so witty, so tender, so sensible in a time like this?" And I realize, she hasn't just become this way overnight, it's the way she's always been. And I am fortunate enough to watch as her character is unveiled to me moment by moment throughout our day together...

When I walk in to greet her at mid-morning, she beams to see me, as though she hasn't seen this face for the last 28 years. "Oh hey!" she says with a bright smile, "How was your night? Was your drive up yesterday ok?" It's not until later in the day that I will find out her night was completely deprived of sleep or realize that her yesterday was full of fever, nausea, and infection.

At lunch, her mouth twists and contorts to taste and swallow the lukewarm soup and pudding on her tray. Sometimes, when she is making pleasant chit-chat all to keep me from becoming bored, I can see the way she has to awkwardly hold her tongue because of the pain. Yet, during all our conversations today, she'll make no mention of it.

"Let's watch a movie," she suggests. So I hurry down to the Family Room, to keep her from waiting, and pick out an old favorite we watched nearly every afternoon my Freshmen year in college. During the movie, as we laugh at the quirky jokes and quote the familiar lines, I long to go back to that time in college when we were worry-free 18- and 20-year olds."Gosh, I didn't remember it had such a sad ending!" "Oh, I did, " she says, "but all the rest of it is just so good you can't help but watch." "Yeh, she's right," I think, "you can't take the good without the bad."

It's time for a walk. She gets suited up with her tennies and mask, and we head out. She slips one arm around her IV pole and another through my arm. She stops at the nurses desk for a friendly chat and to say hello to a doctor she knows from working in the pharmacy. He offers his sympathies, and I overhear his deep, aching sigh as we walk away. Did she? We make our laps, and she pauses another moment to offer a warm greeting to a fellow patient. Mindful of her weakened state, she encourages me to keep an eye on the clock. As we tick the laps off in silence, walking arm in arm, she asks me to tell her a story about the artist who's painted ornaments with inspiring messages for the 11th floor occupants. I stammer out something like, "Ummm... I don't know. Maybe she liked working with clay?" She cuts me off with, "No, I bet she went through a really tough time, and she used all these quotes to help get her through. She had so many that she wanted to share them with other people who were hurting and that's how she got her start." Sounds good. I'll buy it. The walk lasted all of 8 minutes, and she's worn out. But I know the people she encountered are probably better off because she walked today than she is.

I read to her about a woman named Jennifer who, at age 16, was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease and, by the time she entered college, was totally blind. This Jennifer went on to accomplish great things with her life and has become a successful wife, mother and author. Touched by the 'other' Jennifer's story, she asks me to record some of the verses that Jennifer uses for inspiration:

     When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O Lord, supported me.
     When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
     Psalm 94: 18, 19
  
A kind, young 'Care Partner' enters the room, and as the CP checks vital signs, she asks how her nursing test went. "I made a 105 out of a total 112 points," the CP gushes. "Wow! That's awesome! I know you are proud and glad to have that over with!" she tells her. The CP leaves the room all smiles because of her encouragement and the few jokes thrown in for good measure.

While she's content to watch a tv show with no audio coming through, I'm thinking on the latest "Prayerful Ponderings." I ask her if she believes she has the 'peace that surpasses all understanding.' "Well, Lauren, look around you. It's pretty tough to have peace in a place like this. But I'm trusting, and I know the peace will come." It's just like her to use this moment to teach me something. (Now I wish she'd also figure out the audio on this daggum tv and then 'teach' me how to use it!)

Evening comes, and I have the great pleasure of helping her get ready for bed. She's not too proud to ask for help so I slip off her socks, find a new gown, and help her button in. With all the lines running to and from her precious arm, it's quite a puzzle getting dressed but we finally manage.

It's time for me to go, and I hate to leave. On the surface, nothing especially eventful has happened today. Nothing other than getting to spend another day with one of the people I admire most. And I'm better for it, I'm certain.

Good night. I love you. And thank you for always being who you are right now. Nothing more, nothing less. A woman of character. A woman of integrity. A woman to emulate. A woman I'm proud to call my hero and blessed to call my sister.

Prayerful Ponderings:
Jen had a good day today but the mouth pain can be excruciating at times. Matt is preparing to go back to work tomorrow and is asking for prayer that this can be a smooth transition. He is a wonderful husband. Thank the Lord for the blessing he is to Jennifer, especially during a time when his vows, "In sickness and in health," have taken on a very real meaning. We should be finding out soon whether Lindsey or I will be a match for Jen's bone marrow. This would be the best case scenario, so please pray for a match. The doctors will perform another bone marrow biopsy at the end of this week (either Thursday or Friday) to see how well Jen is responding to the chemo treatments. Pray for good results with the biopsy.

The Vandy Verse:
He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:20

A Little Somethin' for the Samples:
Jen's birthday, October 6th, is a week from Thursday. We talked today about how she wanted to celebrate this year since she'll be in the hospital. She decided she wanted something small and low-key for the actual day and to postpone the big celebration with family and friends for when she comes home. Because she can't see any of her friends or extended family in person on her birthday this year, if you would like to send her a birthday message recording, that'd be great! Just record your message on your phone and then email the video to laurenmccool11@gmail.com. I'll compile all the messages into a video for her to watch.

Several people have mentioned difficulty with posting comments. Try clicking on 'Anonymous' in the drop-down box near 'Post comment.' Just remember to sign your name at the end of the comment. If anyone has a better way to trouble-shoot this problem, this tech-UNsavvy girl sure'd be appreciative.

Lastly, a wonderful group of folks have set up a fund to support Jen and Matt and to help cover extra expenses incurred during her illness. Please prayerfully consider giving and if you feel led to do so, you may make a donation at M&F Bank under the account number 102104830.

Monday, September 26, 2011

God's Calling

A Hypothetical. Follow me on this.

You're in the mall trying on shoes and your phone rings. Your purse, with the phone in it, is lying on the floor a few feet away and your best friend, being closer to said purse, asks if you want her to pick it up. Sure. "It's God calling, do you want to talk?" she asks. Of course you do. You take the phone from her and hurry outside so you can hear Him better. Foregoing the common exchange of pleasantries, the Almighty gets right to the point, "You and your husband have worked really hard toward some fantastic life goals. And I'm proud of you. But I'm going to redirect your path a bit. Before I tell you your new path, I want you to trust that I know what's best for you. Can you do that? I need you to give me your 'yes' or 'no' before I tell you what it is. What's it going to be?" "Of course, Lord. Whatever it is You have in store for us, sign us up. Yes, we trust You!" And then He drops the gauntlet...

"I know you both wanted a baby, but I'm going to give you cancer instead.

When you go to your doctor this afternoon, he won't find an embryo. He will find mixed-lineage leukemia.

In the coming weeks you won't be shopping for maternity clothes, but hospital gowns. No need to browse the bonnets and bows, you'll be picking out chemo-caps and wigs instead.

When you go for routine check-ups, you'll be watching an echocardiogram of your heart instead of a sonogram of your womb.

Instead of decorating a nursery, you'll be decorating a hospital room on the oncology floor.

When you go for your walks, you won't be pushing a stroller. It will be an IV drip with chemotherapy drugs that you lug.

You won't commiserate with expectant mothers about morning sickness and cravings. You'll befriend cancer patients and discuss things like, "How is your treatment going?" and "When will you be getting to go home?"

Your "big news" that you break to your friends will not leave them wanting to throw you a shower but wanting to know how curable you are.

Your sleepless nights won't be because of a tiny precious. It will be because the nurse keeps coming in to get your vital signs.

Your family will all gather in the waiting room. They won't be anxious to know if it's a boy or girl. They will be searching the doctors' faces for assurance and hope.

Your rosy glow will not be because there's a bun in the oven. It will be because there's Prednisone in your blood.

Your mom and sisters won't rush out to buy coloring books and puzzles for your busy toddler. Those very gifts will be to combat the stir-craziness you will go through.

I'm telling you, you will go through nine months (and more!) of extreme discomfort. And yes, there will be life on the other end.

You've given me your answer. You said you would trust me. Are you ready? Now, come, take My hand and go with me. I will see you through it all."


What reads as a hypothetical for most of us is very much the reality that Jen and Matt live everyday. God has called them, as a couple, to lay aside their hopes and dreams for their life together and to pick up their crosses to follow Him. Since Tuesday, September 13th, Jen and Matt's life has been turned upside down. Their life-plan has been totally uprooted. But, once again, therein lies the hope. God will plant new hopes, new dreams for His precious children Jennifer and Matt. Their Christian faith is being put to the ultimate test: will you travel down an unknown road, walking in blind faith, letting go of all you once knew to be, so that along the way you have the chance to make much of the Perfect One who let go of Heaven for you?

Could you do it? If God placed just such a call on your life, a call to a closer walk with Him, would you be ready? The truth is God IS calling each of us. And it's not so much the path He's wanting to take us down that's all that important, but the answer that we will give to Him. What will your answer be?

Prayerful Ponderings:
Please pray that Matt and Jen's hope will be restored. As they realign themselves to all that God now has in store for them, pray that God will strengthen their marriage, their love for one another and, most of all, their love for Him and their commitment to the cause of Christ. I can think of no greater cause and what an honor it is for them to have the opportunity to glorify Him during such a trying time.

Jen's temperature has returned to a nice, normal 98.5 degrees. Mouth sores are a bit of an aggravation and a restless night is leaving her drowsy today. She contracted a PICC line bacterial infection over the weekend but, thankfully, the profilactic antibiotics were started in time to prevent an escalated situation. Some have asked, and her beautiful brown hair is looking just lovely today. Thank you for your concern. She's holding up well and remaining positive. Praise the Lord.

The Vandy Verse:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall say to the Lord, "You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust." Psalm 91:1-2

*DUE TO THE SENSITIVE NATURE OF THIS POST, PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT. THANK YOU FOR YOUR THOUGHTFULNESS. *

Saturday, September 24, 2011

And Now a Message from Eli and Sullie

video

Here's a cute video of our brother-in-law Eli and his and Lindsey's dog Sullie. Sullie was a shelter dog Lindsey got two Christmases ago because the description on his kennel read: Sweet and quiet. She thought, "Hmmm...sounds like me. It'll be a good match." Well, truth be told, Sullie is anything but sweet and quiet. He is such a rascal, so boisterous, and loves Eli! They live on a great piece of land with five ponds out in the country. It's dog paradise! As all four dogs would attest to could they talk! But of the four dogs, Sullie is the one who's always at his dad's heels ready for the next adventure...as you can see in the video. Looks like Eli's got his hands full!

Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!

Yesterday afternoon, after a walk around the floor with our youngest sister Lindsey, Jen was weak and became nauseous. She began to vomit and run fever later in the evening. This morning the nausea had subsided a bit and the fever was trending down. Mom spoke with one of the doctors and asked him to clue her in on the cytogenetic marker info.There are five markers, all of which are abnormal. Three have the same abnormalities and the other two each have their own specific abnormalities. This means that a bone marrow transplant will be highly likely during the first remission, though the doctors are hesitant to confirm this as fact. 

I'm in Kosciusko for the weekend and when Mom called me with the update, I felt so much further away than just five hours. Helpless and hurting for my sister, I realized that even if I was there, there's nothing I can do. There's nothing any of us can do. And it dawned on me that God has us just where He wants us- In a state of total dependence on Him.

You see, more often than not, my life is totally self-maintained. I have to go to work, I set my alarm clock. Having trouble waking up, I make a pot of coffee. Need food on the table and gas in the car, I use my resources to make money. Want to stay in shape, I head out for a walk. Tough day, I call a friend. Scared to confront an out-of-control ego, I busy myself with not-so-important activities. I surf the Internet, catch up on some tv, repaint a piece of furniture, read a magazine... A crisis hits, and because I am in self-dependent mode, I immediately think, "What can I do?"

I would say I live in a pretty connected relationship with the Lord but what actually plays out in my life goes a little more like this...Thank you, Father, for all the blessings You have showered down on me. Thanks for the nice house, wonderful husband, loving family, and good job. I appreciate the jump-start but I think I've got it from here. Tell You what, if I run across anything I can't handle, I'll bring it to You.

Satan and our sinful natures have done a beautiful job of creating easy lives for ourselves. It also doesn't help that, in today's world, I can have just about anything I want at any given time. I've been spoiled by immediate gratification that is so vigorously promoted in our culture companies make billions of dollars every year because I think I've got to have the latest iPhone, a trendier bag, and more updated furniture.

That deadly combination of sin, Satan, and society has inched us further and further away from lives leaning on the Lord. Sure, it makes perfect sense to run to Him with our fears, doubts, and helplessness. But running back to Him during these hard times, I think, is a direct indicator that I must have been walking away from Him during the easy times. Had I been right there with Him in my day-in, day-out, trusting and depending on Him for everything, there would've been no need to run back. For all that He has given me the ability to do and to manage, I truly believe that a life of utter dependence upon Him is the better life. Correction: BEST life.

So now, as another day begins its close in Room 11010, God is doing what only He can do- taking care of Jen. And all I can do here in my living room, is be still and know that He is God, I am not. And, at the end of the day, what more comforting words than that can we rest on?

Prayerful Ponderings:
Please pray that Jen's nausea will go away and that the Lord will give her a renewed sense of strength. Pray for wisdom for the doctors as they attempt to make heads or tails out of Jennifer's cytogenetic markers. Once again, because of the rarity of her disease, there is little data on what they are dealing with. The markers have been sent to another institution for further evaluation. Also, please pray for safety in travel for family members going to and from Nashville.

The Vandy Verse:
Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I wasn't going to write today...

I wasn't going to write today. I was busy. Had a lot to do. Didn't get ready for bed 'til late. And, frankly, just didn't feel like it. But, as I was lying in bed, winding down and thinking about how relieved I was that my husband was just kidding when he texted me a picture of two goats with the message, "And I got one to keep at the house!," another thought crept into my mind. It was of a conversation Jen and I had about 3 weeks ago.

She called one night with a sense of urgency in her voice as I was about 4 episodes deep into a House Hunters marathon. So instead of telling her I'd call back after Katie and Ron decided between the 'fixer-upper' and 'the one with the great view,' I hit mute and listened in. She was telling me she had the perfect project for me and, if I did well enough, I might even make it big-time. She explained that Matt's grandmother had lived a fascinating life. So extraordinary, in fact, that her life-story would make an excellent biography. "And you, Lauren, are just the person to write it!" She said it with such conviction that I almost believed her. I told her I'd think about it, and the idea had not reentered my mind until tonight. And I got to thinking, yes, Matt's grandmother has lived an exciting life. That is undeniable. But then I thought, you know, Jennifer has lived a pretty awesome life herself... I thought back over some of the especially good stuff that I would put in a book if given the opportunity to write one about her. But one instance kept coming to mind. It's definitely not intriguing enough, or long enough for that matter, to be an entire book but it could be a short story, and it certainly has a moral. Read on, if you'd like...

Growing up, Jennifer and I were like oil and vinegar. Not oil and water, oil and vinegar. We really didn't mix all that well (think Newman's Own Raspberry Vinagerette salad dressing before you shake it up) but when we did, it was truly something special. Another fact to note: I was an extremely shy kid. Now I'm not talking about the kind who won't talk to adults or the one who would rather die than ask another kid for a turn on the see-saw. Of course I did those things. Or rather, didn't do them. No, I was the kind who would get downright sick if I had to do anything outside of my comfort zone- which, back then, was limited to just our house on East Jefferson Street.

Well, low and behold, one day I got invited to a birthday party. A boy's birthday party. At the skating rink. And I didn't know any other kids that were going except, yep, boys. My nightmare. My mom was making me go. I guess she was beginning to worry that I would become a hermit or live with her and my dad for the rest of my life. I cried. I begged. I pleaded. I faked illness. I all but ran away from home. Jen, witnessing my distress over the death sentence my mother had issued me, nobly stepped in and did the unthinkable. "I'll go with you, Lauren. It won't be so bad if I'm there with you, will it? At least you'll have me and even if the boys are mean to you, you know I'll be nice." Well that did it. It was all I needed. The weight of the world had been lifted. If she was going with me, then I could definitely manage this boy-birthday-nightmare thing.

We arrived at the party on time, strapped on our roller skates, and eased around the rink. We hadn't even made it half way around before we decided we'd better sit down. The boys were skating way too fast and if we got knocked over... Well, it just had disaster written all over it. So, we took our seats on the bench and were happy just to watch the boys try to out-do one another from our own quiet corner of the rink. But then, the disaster we hadn't planned for showed up. A couple of boys noticed us sitting on the bench by ourselves. One of them happened to be the big-shot birthday boy. (Side note: Remember how cocky the birthday boy/girl could sometimes be? I mean, really, you just made it another year. Does that warrant this exorbitant display of arrogant obnoxiousness?) So they skated as fast as they could toward us and slammed their skates against the bumper right at our feet. The teasing commenced. After a few general 'sissy-pants' remarks, they decided to zero-in on Jennifer.

She has worn glasses for a grand total of five years in her life and this happened to be during one of those years. They pointed and laughed at her 'four-eyes.' An insult they'd heard one of their older brothers (a genius, no doubt) say. I hadn't even heard that term before but it wasn't the words they were saying, it was the WAY they said them. So condescending, demeaning and heartless. And they were two years younger than she was! I remember time felt like it absolutely stood still. The only people in the world were me, Jen, and these two blubbering baboons. My heart was racing, and I couldn't really see straight. I wanted so badly to stand up and punch both of them right in the guts. I wanted to tell them how ugly they were, how mean they were, how stupid they were. But I didn't. I didn't punch them. I didn't yell at them. I just sat there by her. And she sat there by me. It's what she'd promised me she'd do. Come along with me and make it better.

She has always been that selfless, that loyal, that compassionate. But I have not always been that cowardly. I made up my mind after that birthday party that I would never let anyone be ugly to one of my sisters again and let it go ignored.

So there. There's my short story about my sister doing a pretty remarkable thing on a pretty unremarkable day. There's a moral in there somewhere, maybe even a few, depending on who's reading it. But the lesson I took away from it was- Stick by your sister, even when it hurts... And punch the obnoxious birthday boy in the guts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mercy in the Minutiae

How has your day been? Busy? Frantic? Interrupted? Perhaps, even, normal? Sometimes the days slip by and all of a sudden a Monday is now a Friday, another week is logged, seemingly unnoticed, and after a two day break (if you can even call it that), the cycle will inevitably begin again.... And so it goes for as long as we'll let it. The day-in, day-out 'normalcy' of life is something we come to expect, sometimes loathe, and occasionally escape from in a daydream about really pushing the envelope, shaking things up a bit.

For all the expecting, loathing, and daydreaming we do, it's this normalcy that we long to return to when our lives have become too shaken, too stirred (and no, not the good kind of shaken or stirred that comes in a martini glass). If life outside a hospital can become like this, then certainly life confined to a hospital is destined to be so.

In an effort to dodge the mundane that is so easily found lurking in hospital corridors, I decided to try and step outside of myself and go looking for all the minute ways Mercy shows up during the day but most of the time, unfortunately, I'm too busy to notice.... So, here's what I found today....

...the girl checking me out at a store happened to mention her mother's recovery from ovarian cancer... hello again, Hope.

....Mom simultaneously flushed the toilet AND her reading glasses all in one fell swoop. For all her brilliance, these types of things happen to her on a weekly basis... nice to see you, Laughter.

....I strolled down to the stem cell transplant clinic to have blood drawn to see if I could be a possible match for Jenny's bone marrow... join me, want you Trust?

....the runny-nosed, 'croup-y' 2-year old was thrown out of the waiting room at aforementioned clinic because they do not let any children under the age of 16 into the area for OBVIOUS reasons... it's been a while, Justice, but I do adore it when you show up!

....slurping milkshakes, playing board games and laughing with Jen, Mom and Matt this afternoon at our hang-out (the nurses like to call it room 11010, we call it a modern day "The Max" or "The Peach Pit", if you catch my drift)... want you come back again tomorrow, Comfort?

....watching Jen and Matt's dog Traveler play with his new bone Mom bought for him in a state of sheer delight. When's the last time I was that overjoyed over something so simple?... Reality-check, you have perfect timing.

So, we're still waiting... waiting for the cytogenetic markers to come back, waiting to see how well she is responding for the long-term, waiting for the next benchmark, waiting to see how it will all play out. There will be many more days like today. Days where we can sit and watch another Tuesday pass by; or, instead, we can make a point to go looking for the truly good things (even in the midst of some crummy stuff) and know they all flow from a Merciful hand.

Prayerful Ponderings:
Jen is staying in charge and staying focused. She makes every effort to sit in a chair when I'm sure lying in bed would be more comfortable for her. She's been walking laps around the 11th floor and on their walk today, she and Matt bumped into one of the docs treating Jen. He's very optimistic! They are even considering presenting her case to some other docs because it's so special! (And, yes, by special I do mean rare.)

Life in Room 11010 is very, very hopeful but menial tasks do abound. We wash our hands upon entering and leaving her room, every. single. time. The lines running her meds are wiped down every time they hit the floor. A die that fell on the floor during a board game had to be, you guessed it, washed off. The constant state of sterility that we are subjected to, especially Jen, can wear on you a little. Sometimes, I think she'd just like to scream out, "I don't feel like Clorox-ing my writing pen again! I'm tired of having to write the number of mLs of fluid in the 'out' column every time I go to the bathroom! I don't want to wear a mask when I leave the room! I hate being preoccupied with sterilization and chemotherapy! I'd just like to have a hug, durn it!" (And Jennifer doesn't even really like hugs!)

But by God's sweet grace and abundant mercy, He is daily giving her everything she needs to endure. Pray that He will keep her spirits bolstered and her mind sharp and focused. Pray that she will be used as His vessel- that His love and light may be poured out through her into the lives of others she may never have crossed paths with had this not happened.

It has been the elephant in the room but we did have a chat with her nurse about this today. Her hair will begin to come out between days 10 and 14. We are all very sad about this. Pray that she can grieve necessarily over this and that His peace will overwhelm her as those days draw near.

The Vandy Verse:
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays...

It's rainy here in Music City and as I sit here in this lonely house listening to the quiet tears of a broken-hearted man, his plea breaks our hour-long, reverent silence, "Lauren, pray. Pray so hard." "I will." We all will. For it is prayer that will ultimately sustain us. It is prayer that is our life-line. It is prayer - that conversation we all too often take for granted - that will heal our pain, renew our spirits, and bring calm in the midst of chaos...

Chaos. Now there's a word to ponder... I'm once again reminded that God is not a God of chaos but a God of order. All that has happened in the last week was a part of this heavenly order. What blindsides us on a random Tuesday afternoon comes as no surprise to the Master of the universe. Sure, He has a lot on His plate, but not for one second did He look away as the cancer began to invade her body. Not for one second did He become too preoccupied to make sure her blood counts didn't drop. Not for one second did He run out for a lunch break and come back to find her being pumped full of life-threatening drugs. None of it has caught Him off guard. In fact, all of it has been orchestrated by Him. Since she was a thought in His perfect mind, He has had this planned for her.

But why HER, we may ask, especially in our moments of darkest doubt. That, we may never have an answer for. But the answer to the 'why' in all of this can be simply put- For His glory. And isn't His glory worth it? We serve a mighty and an awesome God. He has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us; He will not give us more than we can handle; though we walk through the fire, we'll not be burned; all things work according to His good purpose for those who love Him....the list of promises goes on and on. But even better than the promises is the Promise-Maker. For, unlike any of us, He keeps His promises- ALL of them. So, Father, give us as many rainy Mondays as You'd like but keep us mindful that You are the God of the rain, You are the God of the tears, the God of the lonely Mondays and the random Tuesdays and help us love You better for it all.

Prayerful Ponderings:
Pray, with thanksgiving, that the echo-cardiogram of her heart has slightly improved and that the white blood cell count is dropping. Pray that her body will continue to be strong and tolerate the extremely aggressive treatment. Pray for Matt's continued positive outlook and that he will continue to make wise decisions for their family. Pray for Mom as she shared last night the excruciating pain of having to watch her daughter endure all that this disease brings with it. Jennifer's jaw is hurting as a side-effect of one of the drugs; please pray that the pain will ease.

The Vandy Verse:
Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

A Little Somethin' for the Samples:
Jenny is loving the cards and care packages! Thank you! If you'd like to send something, it may be helpful to use their home address as the return address to ensure it makes it to her one way or the other. Jen and Matt's home address is-
7400 George Gaines Road
Nashville, TN 37221

Finally, I'd like to leave you with the lyrics of the song from which I borrowed my post title. I found them especially poignant this evening.
Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with YOU
Nice to know Somebody loves me
Funny, but it seems that it's the only thing to do
Run and find the One who loves me....

Sunday, September 18, 2011

We got us a rare one!

Julie Andrews once quipped, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start." So, I shall do just that Miss Andrews.

Last Tuesday morning, Matt and Jennifer went in to see a doctor at Vanderbilt to check on some swollen lymph nodes in her groin, a swollen ankle, and a lesion on her left breast. She also had a pretty bad cold for several weeks which left her unusually fatigued. The doc conducted a series of tests, and Jenny and Matt went on about their day to await the results. Jen headed back to work at Vandy where she is a supervisor in the oncology pharmacy. Matt didn't have to work that day so he made the 20 minute drive back home and decided to spend the afternoon mowing the grass, a surprise for Jenny.

After the yard work was complete, Matt, with a touch of anxiousness, decided to log on to the computer and read her chart, an advantage of being a resident at Vanderbilt. The chart revealed low red blood cell count, low white blood cell count and low platelet count. Immediately, Matt understood the danger in the numbers and made a call to Jen at work telling her to go to the ER where he would meet her. Within minutes of their arrival in the ER, she was admitted to the hospital and given the news.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday brought many tests, biopsies, family members, and visitors- a general barrage of information and emotions. We all joyfully welcomed the news that she was FLT 3 negative on Friday morning and settled in at the hospital to await the leukemia subtype and prognosis to be given that night. Her wonderful doctors told us she has mixed-lineage leukemia which has characteristics of AML and ALL, both types of leukemia, a hybrid of sorts. This type shows up in less than 5% of patients. Thankfully, the rarity of it has no direct correlation to the cure rate. In fact, both docs believe her to be 70 to 80 percent curable, having both pre-existing health and young age on her side.

Friday night, at about 10:00, the first round of chemotherapy began with the intention to 'blast' the bone marrow, ridding it of all cancerous and, unfortunately, healthy cells. The next benchmark is set for two weeks when the doctors can see how well she is responding to the chemotherapy. The week after that will be her 31st birthday. We all pray to be celebrating a lot this October 6th.

For all who know Jenny, you will not be surprised to learn that she is taking this all in stride. The obvious fears are there but she is relying on her faith in our Lord, our Rock, our Hope, our Redeemer, our Friend for healing and grace as we enter into what will certainly be a fiery trial. Nor will you be surprised to find out that when she was informed of a defect in the equipment used to inject her meds, she promptly had it sent back down to the pharmacy, the very place where she has been working for the past 11 months. She has sent many a drug to this floor, the oncology floor, never dreaming one day she would be on the receiving end of these drugs.

To wrap up for the day, know this- our hope is in Christ. We are confident He will sustain her through this journey. May He be made much of, may we learn how to love and serve Him better, and may we be given the grace and wisdom to have our minds set with a heavenly perspective as we live in our earthly bodies in this temporary home. We are heaven-bound and may we be better prepared for it because of Jennifer. In all things, ALL (and, for that matter, AML) things, we will give thanks. God is good. To God be the glory.

Prayerful Ponderings:
Please pray specifically that Jen's biomarkers will come back high for a positive prognosis and low for a negative prognosis. Pray that her cancer will be obliterated by this first round of chemotherapy. Pray for her doctors and nurses and other caregivers, especially her husband Matt. Pray that her body will be strong and resist infection as it poses a seriously dangerous threat to her life. Pray that she will have the peace that surpasses all understanding.

The Vandy Verse:
For you alone are my hope O Lord, my God, my confidence since I was young. Psalm 71:5

A Little Somethin' for the Samples:
If you'd like, Jennifer would love cards and pictures for her room. You can mail them to: Jennifer Sample
1211 Medical Center Drive
Vanderbilt University Hospital
Room #11010
Nashville, TN 37232
No flowers, please. That one's a real bummer but they carry some nasty stuff that could make her sick. Also, Lysol/Clorox wipes and bottled water go like hotcakes around here. If you'd like to send those, just drop them off at the home of Gary and Donna Holdiness. So Jen and Matt can rest, please call Lauren at 601-259-7535. Thank you!