Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The End of the Season

Since my last blog, Dan has had 2 Chemo appointments and 3 Cross Country Meets…I guess it’s time I got everyone caught up!  On October 13th, his monthly Chemo appointment included the works:  IV chemo, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy!  That means getting up early, traveling the 100 miles to the Cancer Center and per our previous experiences, a very long day!  We had to be there at 8:00 am for labs with the LP and BMB scheduled at 9:00.  Usually, this meant we would be upstairs in the procedures area by 8:30 and have to wait for the Doctor until close to Noon to do the procedures!  The labs have to be gone over carefully by the Research Coordinator and then the Doctor…if his ANC (neutrophil count or immunity) is too low, sometimes, depending on the grading system, his daily oral chemo (Mercaptopurine or 6MP) and weekly Methotrexate (MTX) can be reduced or even suspended – we look forward to that!  If it is too high, it can be increased…which is not a prospect we look forward to.  Also, if his hemoglobin or platelets are too low (haven’t been in a long while, thankfully), they may have to postpone or cancel procedures due to the risk of bleeding or hematomas, etc.  His monthly IV chemo, Vincristine almost never gets cancelled…it doesn’t really work against the ANC and other levels!  He could basically be unconscious (God forbid) and still receive the Vincristine!
Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, SD
  So this time, we arrived a little late…just a tad after 8:00 and found a line in the lab…at 8:00…seriously???  We made it upstairs to the Infusion Center and went immediately into the procedure room.  Usually, when he has an LP, he goes into a room that is similar to a hospital room (only smaller) with a hospital bed and TV and that is where the office visit and LP is done.  If he was having an LP and BMB eventually he would be brought to the procedure room – so this was a first for us!  The down side…there is no TV in the procedure room so not much to do while we wait for the labs.  We didn’t really have a long wait…after we found out his labs, they started prepping him!  We were informed our new Doctor, Kelly runs a very tight ship and should be there shortly to start the procedures!  So I was kicked out to sit in the waiting area…trust me, I don’t care to watch the needles (deathly afraid of them) and I know of 2 people (medical residents) who have passed out or went down while watching one of Dan’s BMB’s, so I am happy to miss out on that!  I have full trust in the Doctors as they do this several times a week!  Our nurse, Nancy came to tell me that everything went fine and that he was sleeping – he is not completely out during the procedures but he is given Versed – which means he has little or no memory of the pain.  He usually sleeps for about an hour afterward – plus he needs to lie flat for about an hour after the LP to keep away those nasty LP headaches!  They usually give him the Vincristine chemo while he is sleeping – it only takes about 10 minutes anyway!  
This is one of the Infusion Bays where we go for chemo only.
 After reviewing his labs, Dan’s ANC was .35 (normal is 1.8-7.7) which was very low. The Clinical Study he is on  ECOG C10403  requires that the daily dose of 6MP & weekly dose of MTX be suspended until the ANC rises.  We were so sad about that…not!  This would bode well for his upcoming cross country meets!  He would need to get labs in Storm Lake every week to check and see whether his counts were responding to the suspension of his medicine.  (One week later they were back to the appropriate ranges and the 6MP and MTX were back to the regular doses).  We were actually out of the Cancer Institute Building by Noon – a first for us on a procedure day – and had plenty of time for a sit-down lunch with my daughter, Alicia before we headed home.  You are actually not supposed to drive for 8 hours after going under but we waited awhile after we got home and made sure he was fully awake and then Dan drove back to college (75 miles) – he had no issues, thank goodness!
Dan running at the Jim Drews/Tori Neuhbauer Invite
 That following Saturday, Dan ran at the Jim Drews/Tori Neuhbauer Invite in West Salem, WI.  I wasn’t sure he would even be able to run being he had an LP and BMB just 2 days prior!  Most people are so stiff and sore after, they have a hard time walking, not to mention running an 8K!  But you have to know my Dan…he doesn’t think anything of it – doesn’t see what the big deal is that he is able to do this – it is just what he does!  He ended up running 30:36 – 20 seconds faster than the last meet and a minute faster than he ran at the same meet a year ago!  I was not able to go to the meet since it was so far away but was so surprised to see his time for the race!  I never imagined that he could do so well after what his body went thru just 2 days prior!  He continues to amaze me!
Dan running at the IIAC Conference meet in Decorah, IA
Every year, the BVU cross country team’s main focus is on the Conference Meet – that is where they try to peak and run their best times of the year.  Dan was especially focused on this meet and now had the added incentive of running after a week free of oral chemo!  The meet was in Decorah, IA and I had pondered attending but with a 4+ hour drive each direction and the car issues I had driving to the Waverly meet, I reluctantly decided to sit this one out.  I now really regret that decision but that is hindsight – nothing I can do about it now!  I kept watch on the conference website for the posting of the results and the text from Dan!  When it came in, I was shocked…he ran a 28:54…a minute and 40 seconds faster than previous his best time of the year…and almost 3 minutes faster than his best time last year!  I ran into another BVU parent last week, who told him how good Dan looked at the Conference Meet.  He actually had something left at the end of the race and finished with his (former) signature kick!  Dan was so excited about how he did!  He had gotten a glimpse of what it will (hopefully) be like his senior year…running track with no chemo in his body – (he finishes chemo on January 19, 2013)!  I think we are all looking forward to what he will be able to accomplish then but still appreciate what he is able to do now!
Sunrise on the way to Regional meet - somewhere South of Milford, IA
 This past Saturday, Dan ran at the Regional Meet back in Waverly again. We were in Sioux Falls the Thursday before for his IV chemo appointment so we weren’t sure how he would be able to run just 2 days after chemo.  Of course, typical me…I had to stop twice on way to take a couple of sunrise photos!   I met his girlfriend, Bre outside of Storm Lake and rode with her to the meet…along with her new (and by extension Dan’s) puppy, a golden lab named Mazy! 
Dan, Bre and Mazy...aren't they cute?
 She is just 2 months old and is adorable!  She is also, we found out at the meet…a chick magnet…also, a guy magnet, a couple magnet, etc.  We had so many people coming up to us…asking to pet the puppy!  It was so funny! We also got to spend time with Bre’s sister, Caitlyn and her new baby, Brock!  He is absolutely adorable and it was fun getting to meet him for the first time!  The Regional Meet is a little different from a regular meet – in a regular meet, all members of the team are able to run – some have 40+ team members but only the top 5 figure in to the team totals.  At the Regional Meet, only 10 team members are allowed to compete so there are less competitors!  Most of the rest of the team members come to cheer on their teammates – many dressing up (2 girls were Tele Tubbies), painting school colors on their bodies, carrying huge team flags, etc.  My favorite was the Luther College group – they are the Norsemen.  There was one guy in a typical Viking hat with horns, another guy with a huge axe, a huge flag and after the men’s start, they ran together in a line, screaming with the flag flying!  It was like a scene from the movie, “Braveheart”.  It was really quite a sight!   
Dan running at Regionals in Waverly, IA
 Dan ran the 8k in a 30:19 – about a minute and 20 seconds slower than at the conference meet but still over a minute faster than his best time last year!  He said he knew after the first 400 meters that it was not going to be a good race for him…his breathing was not good, probably due to his declining hemoglobin from restoring the chemo.  It comes with the territory – you never know what is going to happen from one race to another.  That goes for any athlete but for Dan it is especially so…there are so many variables that can influence his performance! 

I am so very proud of what Dan has accomplished this year in Cross Country!  He has worked really hard and it shows!  He now gets a couple of weeks off and then will start training for the Indoor/Outdoor Track Season.  He will start working (as will the whole team) with the new Strength & Conditioning Coach – hopefully he can help him get back his quad muscle mass that he lost during the first, intense stages of chemo.  He gained back the muscle, but it is now much leaner…we will see what he can do!  He is also anxious to see what his track times will be since his cross country times came down so much - what will his 800 and 1500 meter times be???  Only time will tell!

P.S.  For those of you in Iowa, please tune in on Saturday afternoon to watch the Spirit Lake Indians in the 2A Championship game - first time ever trip to State for the Indians!  Best of luck to them!  Gooooooo Indians!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Road trip to Waverly...with a detour to the Little Brown Church in the Vale

Last Saturday, I took a little road trip to Waverly, IA to watch my son, Dan run cross country.  It is about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive from home.  I could've taken the interstate half the way, but decided, instead to take the scenic route!  I intended to stop only on the way home since I wasn't sure how long it would take me and didn't want to be late!  I headed out of town about 6:45 am in the dark.  About 20 minutes into the trip, a deer ran out in front of me...luckily I had plenty of time to sure woke me up!  A little further down the road, the sun began to come up with a gradual change from gray to the lovely orange & yellow of the rising sun!  I just had to stop and take a couple of pictures...twice!  The second set was definitely the best...I am still working on figuring out the light settings, etc.
  The rest of the trip was beautiful with the changing leaves and rolling hills and perfect, sunny weather!  I made it there without taking a wrong turn and in plenty of time to watch the women run and get a feel for the course!  I also got a chance to talk to Dan, some of the other parents and the Coaches.  I still get a little nervous when Dan runs...hoping he won't be disappointed with his time or effort...hoping that he doesn't have any medical issues...that he can finish the race even though he has done so for the past year!  When I am not at the meet and I get a call close to the race finish time, I immediately wonder if something went wrong.  I can't help's the Mom instinct in me to worry...but I don't let it consume me...I let it go!  I do still get a thrill when I see him lining up at the start is just so amazing to see him run again!
 This meet he looked especially strong.  He finished the 8K with a time of 30:57...over 30 seconds faster than at the last meet at Ames!  He finished in 138th place (78th for the team) out of 174 runners!
 After the race, they always have to run a few miles for "cool down"...first, a couple of guys came back...then a couple more...then finally the only ones that hadn't come back were Dan and Brian.  Immediately my mind goes to that place...where in my mind I see him laying on the ground and something is wrong...but I snap back to the confidence that he will be ok...and he was!  Soon I could see him jogging up the field!  Whew!  After a few goodbyes, I headed back to the car to head back home.  I had decided to stop in Nashua on the way is just a couple miles off the main road.  When I was a kid, we had stopped there to see The Little Brown Church in the Vale and I wanted to see it again and take some photos.
 It is located on the side of a highway just a short distance out of Nashua with a parking lot and park across the street.  They even have a crosswalk across the Highway so that you can cross over to see the church.  Upon entering, there was a couple inside visiting the church also.  It is really a very quaint church with lots of antiques and old photos, etc.!  It would be a great spot for a wedding!
As I was leaving, another couple was just coming in for a visit.  I wandered around the grounds a little...there was a prayer garden that would've been beautiful in the Spring but now the blooms were gone.  When I got in my car to leave, a transit bus showed up with about 10-15 people on it!  I was surprised there is still so much interest in the church - I'm glad it hasn't disappeared like many of our other landmarks.  Click here for the history of the Little Brown Church in the Vale.  If you're in the area, make sure you stop by to see this awesome little church by the side of the road!
 After that I stopped to get gas ($3.22 a gallon!) and go to the bathroom and then decided to stop at a park in town that I had passed on the way to the church.  It was right in the center of town, on a lake and there was a tank (yes, a tank) and other machinery there!  So, I parked, grabbed my camera and got some shots of the lake, the spillway & old power plant that fed into a river.  There were several people down on the river fishing.
 When I was done shooting, I got in my car...ready to get back on the road...and home!  I put in my key and went to turn my car on and...nothing!  It wouldn't turn over!  Here I was in a little town on a Saturday, knowing no one and I have car problems!  After using a few expletives (sorry!), I decided I had no choice but to ask the strangers down by the river for help!  Gulp!  Again, not my strong suit...asking for help!  I went down by the river and asked if anyone knew anything about cars.  A nice young man (OMG - that makes me sound ancient!) asked me what the problem was and he offered to take a look.  He tried the car and it didn't start for him either...he popped the hood, messed with a couple of things and then tried it again.  Success!!  He showed me what he had done and told me what to do if it happened again...I told him I had no intention of shutting off the car until I got home!  I was not taking any chances!  I offered to give him something for helping me out but he declined!  So thank you to the "nice young man" from Nashua for helping this "old lady" out!  You were definitely an answer to a prayer!
 The rest of the way home was uneventful...thank goodness!  I drove by some beautiful trees, buildings, and a rainbow that I would have loved to shoot but I was determined to get home safely...which I did with no more problems!  This week will be a full one!  Dan has his monthly appointment in Sioux Falls but this time he has the works:  IV chemo, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy!  In other words, we will be there most of the day...although it will be the first time with our new doctor, Kelly.  Who knows!  Then on Saturday, Dan has a meet in Wisconsin...not sure if he will be able to run or not but he is planning on it!  He really has an iron will and I have no doubt he will run...not for time but just to get a run in and get that poison out of his system!  I am not going to this one as it is a really long ways for me to go!  I hope to get to the conference meet in Decorah on Oct. 29th, weather permitting.  Maybe I can stop and see the Decorah Eagles Nest while I am there...I know the eagles won't be there but it will still be cool to see.  Anybody up for a Road Trip???

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Gift of Cancer...2 Years in

 Happy 2nd Cancerversary to Dan!  Two years ago today, I was headed down the road to college to pick Dan up and take him for a Bone Marrow Biopsy (BMB).  We knew there was something wrong with him but we really weren’t sure what it was.  There was an issue with his blood but we figured it couldn’t be too bad since just a few weeks before he had been running 5-10 miles per day!  We were basically clueless about what was to come and I am grateful for that!  After the BMB, we were told we wouldn’t know for a few days what the results were but that everything had went well.  Afterwards, I brought Dan back to college and drove the 75 miles back home.  It was a relaxing drive…the surgeon had given me the impression there was nothing to worry about so I actually enjoyed the ride home…singing to the radio, etc.  Good thing I did, as it would be the last time I would truly relax for about 8 months!

Later that evening, the phone rang…it was Dan.  He had gotten a phone call at school from the Hematologist that had sent us for the BMB.  He told Dan that he was “pretty sure” that he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and would need immediate treatment.  Since we had requested a doctor in Sioux Falls, he said he had arranged for a doctor there to call us to tell us the plan.  Imagine…you are 20 years old…a college student…alone in your dorm room…and someone calls and tells you that you have Leukemia!  I can only imagine the shock, pain and confusion that he went thru in those moments…And then, to have to call his mother and tell her, he had cancer!  I know that was the hardest thing of all for him to go through…knowing the pain I would be in and not being able to hug me!  After he told me, we both cried for a few moments…then I went into fight mode!  Before a race, I had always told him, “Kick some (insert opposing school) @ss”!  So I told him, “We are going to fight this.  We are going to kick Leukemia’s @ss!”  He chuckled and said “Yes, we will!”  That seemed to calm him down…even then I knew that I had to stay calm and in control, so that he would be strong for whatever was ahead.  Then he went off to tell his friends, teammates and coach what was going on and waited for the Sioux Falls doctor to call with the plan.  I can’t comprehend what those conversations were like – I know they were shocked, just as we were.  He would need to leave school the next day to begin treatment…leaving his schoolwork, friends and teammates behind…for a year!
Dan in the hospital with his "fake hair"
  So here we are two years later.  Although Dan has done incredibly well during treatment, there have been many tough times…financial issues, medical issues of all kinds (including a blood clot in the jugular that required 2 shots a day in the stomach for months) and the removal of his Triple Lumen Hickman catheter due to an infection.  When I look back, it is not these things that come to mind first but rather the good things that came our way…the incredible outpouring of support from family, friends & co-workers…the wonderful doctors & nurses that cared for Dan…and the amazing survivors we have met along the way.   The best part of this experience though has been how both Dan and I have grown in the past two years…hence the title “The Gift of Cancer”.

Dan has always been a “good kid”…not that he didn’t get into trouble.  It wasn’t often but when he did, he learned from his mistakes and tried to never do it again.  He was quiet and shy…introverted but thoughtful.  His teachers always said they wished he would speak up more – they were certain he knew the answers but wouldn’t raise his hand!  He rarely started a conversation with someone but would answer, briefly, when spoken to.  Sports were always his focus and after winning state in the 4x800 he earned a bit of swagger!  Schoolwork was important but sometimes he did just enough to get a decent grade…accepting a B when a little more work would have gotten him an A.  He could’ve made it onto the National Honor Society but didn’t want to write the essay – who needs that anyway, right??  That was his mindset.
Dan crossing the finish line at state - State Champs!
 Today, Dan is still a quiet guy but is much more engaging.  After 2 years of doctors, nurses & techs greeting him and asking him how he’s doing he has learned to reach out.  At first, he would just say fine…then, eventually “pretty good” and now he will engage first and tell them about his latest running exploits or his perfect 4.0 from last semester.  His grin has turned into an all-out smile that brightens the room.  He is also so determined to do well in college…the B’s just aren’t good enough anymore and he is now gunning for one of those medals around his neck at graduation in 2013!  He can’t indulge like other kids in the partying…with all the drugs he has in his system, more than one or two drinks are not wise!  Most nights he is in bed by 9 or 10…after the up to 10 miles of running, classes and the chemo, his body is just worn out by the end of the day!  It doesn’t seem to bother him…he keeps the end game in sight and focuses on the ultimate goal…finishing chemo and graduating!  Before, Dan’s prize possession was his medal for winning state in the 4x800 relay.  Today, it has been replaced with a purple medal from the Relay for Life!  The track medal sits at home under glass while the Relay for Life medal goes with him to college to remind of what he’s been thru and what is to come!
 For me the changes have been gradual…I have found my voice…literally…as proven by this blog!  It started out of necessity with Dan’s Caring Bridge to keep everyone informed on his progress and transformed into a growing passion that I am just beginning to realize.  I used to write – both stories and poems but haven’t done it in years.  I am happier & more content with my life now.  I think when you go through something like this you learn to not sweat the little stuff anymore but focus on the bigger picture.  My kid has cancer…so if I make a mistake or someone doesn’t like me or my hair looks like crap…in the big picture, those things are really pretty insignificant!  I am much more positive…to be honest, I was a little bit of a Negative Nellie… looking at the glass half-empty instead of half-full!  I enjoy life more and notice the little things…like the chipmunk in my yard…I’m sure he was there before but I never bothered to look.  I love the feel of the sun or wind on my face and try to take the time to just see what is going on around me!  I am not so hurried anymore!  I take the time to watch the birds and the butterflies in the yard.  I don’t take myself so seriously anymore.  I am finally at peace with who I am and what my life is…boy, that took awhile!

Like everyone says…you find out who your friends are…and I have many more than I thought!  I found support from my brothers & sister and their families as expected but also was lifted up by my work family too!  They put up with my frequent absences and occasional breakdowns and still kept me around – I am so grateful to all of them!  All the Coaches, Parents, Teachers…they all stepped up to help keep us going in this fight.  I actually learned to ask for help…I still have a way to go with that one but I am working on it!  
Dan and I at the ISU Meet in Ames
 But the biggest gift that cancer gave us was each other…that neither Dan or I had to go through this alone…we did it together.  I remember one time early on saying “we had a lumbar puncture” and then I apologized to Dan…I didn’t have the LP, he did!  He answered, “No, we both did…you’ve been with me thru everything.”  So from then on, I used “we” when I talked about anything regarding his illness.  We have gotten very close in the last 2 years…we sure spent a lot of time together.  I did get a little sick of the non-stop viewing of ESPN Sportscenter and the Food Network but I am getting a respite from that when he goes back to school.  The bond we have forged is stronger than ever and is one of the greatest gifts I could ask for.  I would trade places with him in a minute and take on all he has gone through but I know that he is grateful for this gift also.  He wouldn’t be who he is and where he is without the Leukemia.  I wish it could have come to him in a different manner, but “it is, what it is”.  So Happy 2nd Cancerversary Dan…and here’s hoping for many, many more!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a Difference a Year (or Two) makes...

Dan running at the State XC Meet Senior Year
 The smell of Fall in the air means football, falling leaves and to us…the Cross Country season!  My son, Dan came to Cross Country a little late in the game.  As a freshman in High School, he played football but as much as he loved the game, it just wasn’t for him!  He took the fall of his sophomore year off but decided the Summer before his Junior year to go out for Cross Country.  He had been out for track every year but at the most ran an 800 so the 3.1 miles he would need to run would be a stretch for him but he was determined.  I knew very little about the sport…it is one of the most overlooked sports in High School and College too!  Even when you continue to contend for a state title as our school has, it is usually overshadowed by Football and the other Fall sports.  But after the first meet, I was in love with the sport of Cross Country, as was Dan!  The parents and kids are the best…everyone cheers for everyone else…even other teams!  Dan ran on the JV squad that first year and was always towards the front of the pack, gaining medals at most of the meets!  Senior year, he made it onto Varsity and was consistently the number 6 or 7 runner on their team that was ranked in the top ten for most of the season.  They made it to State as a team and ended up in 7th place as a team.  Dan was the number 7 runner at State and also had one of the highest places for the number 7 runner.  He decided to attend Buena Vista University mostly to run track.  He had decided to practice with the Cross Country team just to stay in shape and run at the Conference Meet only if needed.  But after just a week, he decided that he could run with the guys on the team and he felt good, so he ran his first meet on Labor Day Weekend at Central College at Pella, IA.  It is a 6K course and he ran a very respectable time of 22 minutes flat.
Dan (# 189) running freshman year for BVU
 The following Summer, Dan worked harder on training than the year before because he knew he would actually be running the Cross Country season.  A week or so before he was to leave for college, he ran with his former High School teammates just to see where he was in his training.  He was a little disappointed because he couldn’t keep up with them but we thought he just hadn’t put in enough work.  At school, he struggled a little bit in practice but that is not unusual as the Coach never knows how much work everyone has put in over the Summer.  The first meet was again at Central in Pella…I was not able to go because of the distance.  Dan would always call me on his way home to tell me how he did.  I had found the times online and had to go way to the bottom to find him…that was very odd for him!  His time was 27:47 – 5 minutes slower than the year before!  When he finally called me, he said that he had needed to stop several times during the meet!  His coach thought he might be anemic as he had all the signs so we decided he would see a doctor in Storm Lake to get his blood tested.  About three weeks later he was diagnosed with Leukemia and the season and the school year came to an immediate halt!
Dan finishing strong in his first meet back in 2010!
 After finally finishing the intense rounds of chemo for his Leukemia, Dan finally began training again in May of last year.  His doctor was on board as long as his hemoglobin stayed high enough for him to run.  I really don’t believe the doctor thought he really could compete, but knew that having that goal would be very good for Dan’s morale.  We really had no idea how he would do and if he could actually run an entire race or not.  The first race of the year, again on Labor Day weekend, was this time in Mitchell, SD – a new course for us.  It was only a 4K course due to the large amounts of rain they had received in the area…which was a good thing for Dan.  I was so nervous…I thought he might collapse or just not be able to finish!  It was a course with several loops thru the same area.  The first time thru, he looked very strong…hanging with the others guys on the team he usually ran with.  The 2nd time thru, he seemed to struggle a bit more and by the last time, he really was slowing down!  I went to the last hill to try to motivate him up it and then went to the finish to cheer him on!  He finished with a hint of a kick to fight off a contender that was behind him!  It was such a huge relief to see him cross that finish line!  He wasn’t last but was only a few runners from the end but it didn’t matter!  To be able to finish and to compete again, at any level was the goal!  He continued to amaze us throughout the rest of the season by getting better…slowly but surely.

 This Summer, Dan was an “animal” in training!  He ran up to 10 miles a day and I think he is in the best shape ever!  Last year, he was just beginning to get his hair to grow back in and had a little bit of “moon face” from the high doses of Prednisone he had been taking.  He also was just starting to get his muscle mass built back up!  Now, his hair and face are back to normal and his muscle tone is back…better than ever!  The only giveaway that he is still ill is the port in his chest.  His expectations are high due to the training he has put in and how he feels.  He is ready to compete…for real, this year!

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend…just a week ago.  Again, I was not able to go to the meet in Pella again this year.  It is a 4+ hour drive for me and starts at 9:30 in the morning, so it would mean staying overnight in a hotel which just isn’t in the budget!  Even though Dan is doing great, we still have the same prescription bills, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses we did in the beginning…it just takes a little longer to get there.  Anyway…I anxiously awaited the text from Dan with his time!  I knew he was gunning for that 22 flat that he ran as a freshman to prove he was back to “normal’!  Finally, he put me out of my misery with a text…He ran 23:11.3 – just a minute slower than he ran his freshman year…Healthy!  He said he was very happy with his time as it was a tough course!  He finished just one second behind a teammate and 10 seconds behind a former HS teammate!  He had led them most of the race but it ended up a hill and he just didn’t have the kick he used to be famous for so he fell back at the finish.  He finished 79th overall out of 120 and was the seventh runner for the team!  I am so proud of him for this accomplishment but it didn’t come easy.  I saw the blood, sweat and tears he put into his training this summer…along with holding down a full-time job and monthly chemo treatments!  
Dan running this year at the Pella Meet
  This coming Saturday, Sept. 17th Dan will run at Ames for the ISU meet.  He hopes to break the 30 minute mark for the 8K course.  I certainly wouldn’t bet against him! I will be there to cheer him on along with my sister, Anita.  Hopefully, we will be missing the pouring rain that they ran in last year! I think this team will do great things this year with plenty of talented freshman pushing the upper classman!  I also think that those who know Dan’s story will be inspired by his progress and pushed to do better also!  Two years ago, I never thought he would be at this level!  I have learned what a strong, courageous and very determined young man my son is and I am so proud!  To me it doesn’t matter what his times are…I am just happy to see him back out doing what he loves…running!  That was something a few days after diagnosis I wasn’t sure would ever be possible!  What a difference a year (or two) makes!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Abby TV (or the view from our picture window)

As soon as she was big enough to jump up on furniture, our dog Abby has claimed the Queen Ann-style chair that sits in front of our living room picture window.  It is the perfect place to sit and view the neighborhood.  She sometimes sits for hours just staring at the people walking by and the occasional critter that happens her way.  Then she will erupt in a scream – the high pitched bark that is reserved only for the Mailman or a rabbit, squirrel or cat who gets a little to close to the house!  We have laughingly called the view from the window “Abby TV”!  It certainly keeps her occupied!  Now I have started to watch “Abby TV” also!

My Mom, in her later years lived in the upper half of a duplex with a large deck attached to the kitchen.  She put out numerous bird feeders and loved to just sit and watch the birds!  I used to think she was nuts – well, not really – just didn’t understand her fascination with it.  I remember one time her telling us about her tangle with a squirrel.  She had set out something in particular to attract a specific type of bird.  The squirrel decided to help himself to it and that really ticked my mom off!  She reached for the closest thing she could find…a potato…and winged it at the squirrel!  She plunked him right in the head and he stood there for a moment, staggering and then ran away.  I laugh every time I am watching my squirrels and I think of my mom, hurling a potato at a squirrel!

In the past few years, I have been adding bird feeders in front of the picture window:  a suet feeder, hopefully to attract the woodpeckers, a squirrel-proof feeder (more on that in a later blog) filled with sunflower seeds and a cheaper plastic one with seed to attract the finches...mostly goldfinches.  I also have a bird bath and now a platform feeder my neighbor made for me to hopefully attract some cardinals!  They were my mom’s favorite birds!  There is a small bush next to my feeders that the little birds just love to flit back and forth in.  One of my favorite birds is the Chickadee.  They are tiny black and white birds that never stay in one place for too long.  They usually come in groups and hop back and forth from the bush to the feeders to the bird bath!  They are really fun to watch!

A Chickadee feasting on a sunflower seed in the bush
  About a month ago, one of about five cats that seem to wander thru our neighborhood curled itself up under the bush that sits close to my feeders.  It sat, watching intently as the birds continued to eat at the feeder.  I remember saying to Dan, “Dumb cat…does he really think he can jump up there and catch a bird!”  Not long after, a chickadee landed in the bush, pulling apart a sunflower seed oblivious to the cat sitting near it!  After a couple of minutes, the cat slapped at the bird with its paw and missed.  Ok…maybe he does have a chance, but the birds have to know he’s there, don’t they?  A couple of minutes later, the cat was back in his attack stance under the bush when another chickadee landed!  Sure enough…the cat pounced and caught the bird right in his mouth as I watched in shock!  He casually walked away with the feathers sticking out of his mouth looking very satisfied!  I really hated that cat at that moment!

The cat in question
 We also have a little chipmunk that lives somewhere near my house who comes and cleans up the sunflower seeds.  It is so fun to watch his cheeks get bigger and bigger as he stuffs those seeds in his tiny mouth!  I have to admit, I have put out seeds where I know he will come and get them just to watch him!  He is so cute!  Saturday, I was doing some work around the house and Abby Dog started making her combination growl/snorting noise so I went to the front door to see what was bothering her.  I saw the aforementioned cat cutting across the yard with something in its mouth.  At first I thought it was another bird…then, thought it was a mouse!  Good a mouse…yuck a mouse!  On closer examination, I saw in horror that he had “MY” chipmunk in his mouth!  I flew to the door, ripped it open and yelled at the top of my lungs “Hey!”  The cat was straight ahead of me on the sidewalk and was so startled he dropped the chipmunk, which to my relief darted away from the cat in a mad dash towards the overgrown bush on the other side of the house!  Behind him was the cat and behind the cat was ME!  The chipmunk made it to safety and the cat high tailed it down the driveway with me chasing him, yelling “Get out of here!”  After I was sure the cat was gone, I went back towards the house and could hear a rustling noise and chattering from where the chipmunk had run.  I told him “I saved your life, little guy!” and went back in the house.   

My little chipmunk after his "Close Encounter"
 About a half hour later, I saw him back out eating the sunflower seeds, looking no worse for the wear!  The cat has shown up a couple of times since then, but has taken off running at the sight of me!  I guess he can be lucky I’m not packing a weapon or he might have had a rump full of shot!  No…I really don’t think I could harm an animal intentionally…but that cat better not mess with MY chipmunk again or he will have to deal with me!  I swear, I hope my neighbors don’t have “Wendetta TV” or I'm sure they got an eye-full on Saturday!

So tune in again for our next episode on “Abby TV” – it’s sure to be an entertaining one!  Perhaps, something about Squirrels!  Until next time…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Goodbyes are never easy...

I have never been very good at saying goodbyes…maybe no one is good at it, but I really find it particularly hard to deal with.  Last week, I had to say two very different goodbyes.  One of a permanent kind and one temporary but both bittersweet!

Last Thursday, we had Dan’s monthly appointment with his hematologist, Dr. Medlin at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls.  He was scheduled for his monthly IV chemo and an office visit with the doctor.  We had learned the previous month that this would be our last appointment with him, as he is moving to Arkansas.  It was quite a shock but we have learned to roll with the punches in this last year and a half!  For those of you who don’t know, my son Dan was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in Sept. 2009 while running on the Cross Country team for Buena Vista University.  We were first seen by a doctor in Sioux City but wanted to be closer to family, etc. in Sioux Falls so we were referred to Dr. Medlin (or Steve).  He was such a good fit for us…kind, caring, and willing to answer all of our questions…and believe me, we had a bunch!  He also gave Dan the “green light” to run again as soon as the initial, intense chemo was over last May which kept him going thru the tough times!  Anyone who has heard the words “You have Cancer” said to them or a loved one knows how important it is to have a doctor you can trust.  Steve helped to bring a sense of calm to our chaotic world and give us hope!  I am glad that he didn’t leave while we were still in the early stages of Dan’s illness – I think that would have been impossible to deal with!  We will be switching to Dr. Medlin’s partner, Dr. McCaul or Kelly, who we know and has performed several of Dan’s Lumbar Punctures.  He is also a runner, so that will be an added bonus!  He will be gone at our next appointment, so our next meeting with him will be in October when Dan has to have a Lumbar Puncture and a Bone Marrow Biopsy!  What a way to break him in!  We will really miss Steve but wish him well and know that we are in good hands with Kelly!  On to the next phase of our Leukemia journey – a year and a half to go!
Dr. Medlin and Dan at his last appointment
 On Friday, I helped Dan move into the dorm at Buena Vista for his Junior year!  I was reminiscing about dropping him off freshman year - it was extremely emotional for me!  I worried that he wouldn’t know anyone, not make friends, etc. – typical mom worries!  I needn’t have stressed so much – he had a girlfriend in 2 weeks!  Sophomore year (2009), it was a piece of cake!  No worries, dropped him off without a care until… he had to leave school on medical leave for the year and battle Leukemia.  Sophomore year round 2 (2010) was very difficult for me!  Sending him back to school with a host of medications and training all while still receiving  IV chemo once a month!  Also, getting back into studying etc. after a year off is never easy!  My biggest worry was keeping him healthy with his compromised immune system!  Again, no reason to worry.  He ran every Cross Country race with no problems and made the Dean’s List both semesters with a perfect 4.0 for the Spring semester... and he stayed relatively healthy all year long!  So this year when I said goodbye to him, I tried not to worry…what good does it do anyway!  On Sunday, he left for a trip with the team to Colorado!  I am trying not to stress about him running in the high altitude, getting high altitude sickness or pulmonary edema!  I am doing better…the concern is still there, but I am learning to trust a little more and have figured out that things will happen or not happen, whether you worry or not!  I will breathe a little easier when he is back in Iowa on Thursday! 

Dan’s first meet is on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Pella, IA.  Last year, the first meet of the year was in Mitchell, SD.  We weren’t sure if he would even be able to finish the race or how he would be able to do!  He finished without having to stop and didn’t finish last!  That trend would continue throughout the year with his times getting better with his best time at the last race of the year…4 days after having IV chemo, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy!  We have no idea what to expect again this year…except that he is in much better shape and his times are getting close to what they were before he got sick!  I will keep you informed on how he does!
So, I guess I did well with both goodbyes…no tears or anything (well, maybe one)!  I just wish Abby Dog could get over missing Dan!  I swear, every year she thinks I did away with him or something.  She patiently waits by the door for him to come home, while shooting me dirty looks!  He will return…in about a month!  I think we will both be okay until then!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Pet by any other Name...

     I have been blessed to have shared my life with some amazing pets!  Growing up, it seems we always had a pet in the house...cats, dogs and even a rabbit!  My parents were both animal lovers.  I know my Mom's family had several dogs, even during the tough times.  My favorite photo of my Mom's father, Adolf was taken with his wife and my Aunt Ellen in front of their Sod House in Meade County, South Dakota about 1910.  Besides the historical interest of seeing an actual sod house, I love the fact that the dog has the seat of honor and my grandpa is standing!  I don't know this dog's name but he does bear a striking resemblance to a dog, Prince we had growing up (more on him later)!

Mom also had a dog named Beans growing up - not the most original name but it beats some of the other pet names in the family!  My Dad never mentioned any pets by name (that wasn't his nature to share much about his family) but growing up on a farm, I'm sure he had a dog at more than one point in his life.  He was a real softie when it came to animals.  More than once, after having a pet die or be put down he would say, "No more pets"...but soon after, one would magically show up and become his favorite!
     The first pets I remember around the house were cats.  I know we had 2 cats named Friskie (how original) and one named Rhubarb.  I don't remember if they were inside cats or outside cats, or a little of both.  Looking back with the knowledge of my allergies and reactions to cats, it's lucky we didn't have more cats in the house!
One day when I was pretty young, we had a little dog just show up at our house and make himself at home.  Back then, most people let their animals run around town...they seemed to always come home.  He used to wander all around town liked he owned it and came home when he pleased.  I think he was some sort of terrier mix...kind of a brown, orange and black color.  My parents decided to let me (the baby) name the dog!  In hindsight, I'm sure they thought I would pick Fido or Rex or something boring and unoriginal, but not me!  I decided to name him...wait for it...Fruit Juice!  I'm not sure why they didn't try to talk me into naming him something else but it might have something to do with the strong, stubborn streak I was born with.  Anyway, can you imagine a grown man or woman standing on the front porch and yelling "Here, Fruit Juice"!  What a hoot!  About the same time, my sisters boyfriend at the time, bought me a huge rabbit.  It really was adorable but one day someone let Fruit Juice in the house when the rabbit was out and the poor rabbit almost bit the dust!  Then we learned the "he" rabbit was really a "she" rabbit and going to have babies so she got farmed out...literally!  One day I came home and my parents told that Fruit Juice had run away and wouldn't be coming back!  I cried for a long time but eventually life returned to normal again.  Years later, I learned that he didn't run away - my Dad had to put him to sleep and it really hurt him to do it.  It would be a few years before we got another dog.
      Our dog, Prince was brought home by one of my brothers when I was in Junior High.  He was part Irish Setter, Black Lab and German Shepherd.  Although he wasn't a puppy when we got him, he was very smart and learned all sorts of tricks:  shake hands, speak, catching objects, etc.  He could also really understand what we were saying.  When we would go away for awhile, he would have to stay in the garage and he hated it!  One time my parents were in the hallway talking about putting him in the garage and couldn't find him...he was in the basement hiding under a table!  When he got older, we felt it wasn't fair to keep a big dog in town and gave him to a nice family that lived on a farm.
     Our next dog, was a Silver Poodle named Muffin that was a sibling of my sister's poodle, Princess!  She was definitely my Dad's dog although she tolerated my Mom and I because we would feed her and let her out, etc.  She had a lot of attitude and could have a little bit of a mean streak!  She definitely held a grudge!  If we left her at home alone too long, we would come home to find something of ours torn apart!  Her favorite spot was out on the front porch under the buffet.  You did not reach under there to get her unless you wanted your hand bit!  That was her domain!  Looking back, perhaps the mean streak had a little to do with the outfits I made her wear (see above - this was one of many!)
     When my kids were growing up, we didn't have pets mostly because we lived in apartments or rentals where pets weren't allowed.  Also, money was tight so it was hard to justify adding another mouth to feed.  When my daughter, Alicia was 15, she got very ill and spent 9 days in the hospital.  Since she had pneumonia they moved her from the Pediatric wing to the Cardio Pulminary unit where most of the patients were over 70!  Luckily we had a nurse that worked several days in a row and took a liking to Alicia.  She even smuggled into the hospital a couple of puppies that she had just had bred!  One of them was a puppy they named Blue because when she was born she wasn't breathing and the Nurse had to give her mouth to mouth to get her to breathe.  She was kind of their favorite puppy and hated to sell her.  Somehow, I just knew this was supposed to be our dog.  So a couple of weeks later, we were meeting her halfway in Rock Rapids to pick up our new little Shih-Tzu Poodle mix (Shih Poo) puppy!

Alica wanted to name her Abby...I think it was wise giving her a "people" name because I think she thinks she is a person not a dog!  She has truly been a joy in our life!  She has helped us thru Alicia's illness, Dan's illness and everything in between!  My Mom absolutely adored her and always made sure that we brought her when we came to visit.  I don't know what I would do without her now that my kids are off building their own lives...she truly is my best friend!

All of us kids were brought up with a love for animals and all four of us currently have pets in our homes.  My sister has always had Poodles, my brother Layne has Cairn Terriers and my brother Rich finally got with the bandwagon with a cat!  What I've learned is that the name of the pet doesn't matter, but the love they share with you does! Would love to hear if any of you can match the name "Fruit Juice"!  Keep it clean though...this is a family blog!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Passion For Photography

It seems like I have always had an interest in taking photographs and been drawn to photos from the past.  I got my first camera about the age of 12.  I'm not sure where it came from...I'm certain someone gave it to us as it was given as a Premium from a store and could not be purchased.  It was a strange little camera...teal blue with a funny hot shoe attachment at the top but it took great photos!  My mom, thought that it had been a dental camera...after doing some research on the web, I don't think so.  It was a Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic camera with no flash that took a 126 cartridge.  I don't think we had a photo processing store in town so we dropped the film in the mail and I patiently waited for the photos to come - hoping that the wonderful photos I thought I had taken would actually turn out!  Of course there was no focus or zoom, so photos from that time are a little strange!  You would have a great photo of someone standing by their house but they were so far away you could barely see their face!  It drives me crazy when I am scanning those photos...wishing they were in better focus or closer to the subject!  Many of our photos were processed with one large, square photo with 2 smaller square photos attached that you could remove and share with friends.  Again, scanning those tiny photos at times has become the bane of my existence.  It seems like those are the only ones that we kept!  This camera went with me on our vacations to the Black Hills, Montana and to all our family celebrations!

My next camera was a Kodak Tele-Instamatic 608.  I don't think I had it very long.  The shutter button to take the photo was very hard to press and ended up making the photos blurry.  I also seem to remember the little sliding mechanism that covers the lens getting stuck all the time.  It used 110 cartridge film and had a flash that inserted into the top.  Not one of my favorites!

My next camera was a Kodak Ektralite 10 camera with a built-in flash!  Wow...we were really moving up in the world!  It took pretty good photos but was really cheap and didn't last very long.  It also took 110 film and was easy to carry around but not made to last.

My first "real" camera I purchased about 1982 or so.  My brother, Layne had bought a camera, a Canon AE-1 Program and I was determined to have one too.  Besides my car at the time, it was my first big purchase I made on my own!  It took amazing photos, although...My brother and I took photos of the same occaisions and I think mine turned out better!  Maybe it was the photographer!  Just kidding, Layne!  This camera really got me into photography for real!  I got a couple of lenses and filters and took some great photos.  When my kids came along, I took thousands of photos of them!  It is so much fun looking back at  those photos and reminiscing!  This camera was a 35mm camera and the zoom lens really gave me a great view of my subjects.  I used this camera right up until the digital cameras started coming out.  The downside of a film camera is thinking you've taken all these great photos and you find out the film didn't get put in right and they are all gone!  Or the focus was off or the flash didn't go off!  What a disappointment!  I will always have a special place in my heart for this camera but I was so excited for the digital age!  Now she sits in a worn camera bag covered in dust...maybe someday I'll take her out again!

My first digital camera was one with a 3.5 floppy disk that you could just pull out of the camera and insert into your computer and there was your photo.  The zoom wasn't great and the megapixels were really small but it worked ok.  After that I purchased a Canon S2IS - a great digital camera with a good zoom and decent megapixels.  This is the camera that took action shots of my son running at the Drake Relays and the Iowa State High School Track meet!  I also took family photos mostly of my mom...I am so thankful to have those now that she is gone!  This camera combined what I loved about my SLR with the best of the digital world and still ranks as one of my favorites.  When it stopped working a year ago or so, we were in the middle of my son's battle with Leukemia.  Even though times were tough, I still got a new camera because photography is such a big part of my life and I wanted to document what we were going through.  My current camera is a Canon SX30IS.  It has a 35x zoom which is totally amazing and rivals that telephoto lens I had on my SLR.  I would love to have a digital SLR someday but this is as close as I can get!  I am still learning to use all the settings and miss my manual focus on my SLR but am consistantly amazed at the photos it turns out!  

Most of the photos I will use in my blog will be my photos taken with the myriad of cameras I have used over the years.  Most of the old ones, I couldn't tell you which one it was taken with.  Actually, the story behind the photos is much more important than the camera it was taken with.  So that, in a nutshell is my progression thru the world of Cameras!  I hope this is just the beginning of the journey!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inaugural Post

Welcome to the Inaugural Post of Wendetta's World.  This is my first attempt at blogging so bear with me as I get my feet wet!  I decided to start this blog for several reasons.  First, after sharing my photographs on Facebook and getting several positive comments on them, I thought I would like to share a little of the stories behind the photos.  I also want to share with family and friends (and anyone else interested) the volumes of genealogy information and old photos that I have collected over the past decade and tell my ancestors' stories so that they do no disappear.  A year and a half ago, I started a Caring Bridge site for my now 22 year old son when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.  Now that he is in his last year of chemotherapy, there is not as much need for the site and I want to expand the subjects that I can cover.  This blog will not replace the Caring Bridge site (yet) but will include some of the medical issues we have dealt with throughout his ordeal.

So here we go...come and visit my world with me and feel free to share your comments!