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.


  1. You are never far from our thoughts, Jennifer, and we are praying for you constantly. We are thankful for your sweet husband and sisters and their wonderful support. We're praying hard for an bone marrow match. Love, David and Beverly Casteel

  2. Jennifer & Matt~
    Praying so hard for the both of you!! Thanks so much to Lauren for your blog to keep us all up~dated and we are all hoping for a bone marrow match! Kim will be coming to Nashville on Sunday~so if you need anything~please let us know~& hopfully Matt he can spend just a little time with you!
    Hugs, Kisses & Prayers~
    Kim & Jeannie

  3. Jennifer -
    It was so good to hear your voice on the phone the other day (even if it was for just a few minutes.) I hope you feel the love and support of the Pharmacy. Please know that you, Matt and your family are in our continual thoughts and prayers.



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