I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but it has not been the right time. In fact, I don’t even have time now but I’m writing it anyway determined to piece it together in whatever snatches of time I can grasp. I want to write about my life over the past six months and my reaction to other lives that are close to me.
One day last October I was on the phone with my mother lamenting the aches and pains I was having from adjusting to a new job working with preschoolers. Ya’ll, that is hard work. They are mostly precious and it’s mostly fun, but it is hard on this 48 year old girl’s frame. When I finished all my jabbering, my mother proceeded to tell me that my brother, who is 19 months older than me, had been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma on his tongue. You can look up the diagnosis. It’s bad. The prognosis isn’t fantastic either. I was stunned and alarmed but I didn’t know anything about the illness at that time.
Later that day, my family of five hopped in my car to travel to Raleigh to see Switchfoot in concert for my husband’s 50th birthday. I didn’t say anything about my brother’s cancer to my family because I wanted to talk privately with Mike first so I held on to the news and waited for a time to talk to Mike alone. It’s about a 45 minute drive to Raleigh and when we had been on the highway for about 20 minutes, at about 3 in the afternoon, a deer ran from the other side of the highway and collided with us, totaling my car. Thankfully, no one was injured; including anyone else on the highway, traveling at 70+ miles per hour.
A new season of life was opening before me and I have been feeling the weight of it ever since.
A team of doctors collaborated and Jamie’s surgery was scheduled for two weeks away. For those two weeks, while I worked my new job and my family traded turns with the remaining cars, I grieved. I knew that my brother had two weeks of the rest of his life to speak normally. I began to assemble a group of friends to pray. I know it sounds strange to some but I just couldn’t pray. I was in shock and full of sorrow and so tired and I just couldn’t do it but I knew that my friends and my church would fill that gap for me. And they did. I was so very thankful. We planned an early Thanksgiving so we could all eat together and arrived at the hospital the next morning at 5 am.
The plan was to remove the majority of his tongue, hoping to retain as much as they could, and replace it with a prosthetic tongue created from tissue in his thigh. This replacement tongue is called a flap. The risks of surgery were many including the possibility that he may never speak again or eat again. Even with a successful surgery we knew that a major, devastating life change was ahead for him.
My brother, machine that he is, came through 11 hours of surgery with flying colors. There were other procedures and incisions that were included in the entire process and he had not one single complication. The next day he was breathing on his own and within two weeks his trach was out.
Me and Jamie, the night before his surgery.
I called my parents one day to ask my dad about how to get a smell out of my new to me car and in the background Jamie, who used to detail cars for a living, starts telling me what to do.
“Wait,” I say to my mother, who was also on the phone, “He’s talking??? When did he start talking???” She says, “Honey, he’s been talking for two days.”
I was absolutely giddy with thankfulness.
Then the 11 weeks of radiation began and the pain and depression set in. It’s been a pretty low ordeal ever since. Weight loss and low blood pressure and weakness became the norm for a few months until he finally needed a hospital stay. That hospital visit turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For it was then, 6 months after surgery, that he finally began to take in some pureed food through his mouth. Until then, it was strictly tube feeding. This was a game-changer in his disposition.
He has a long road ahead of him but his resiliency is incredible. I wish that I could change things for him. I wish I had all the money to meet his needs and the ability to ease his burden. I wish I could plan out every hour of his day and insure his healthy decision-making behavior but we all know life’s not like that.
And even when things are crumbling around us, life still goes on.
I remember one morning at breakfast, just talking to my husband and eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. I was exhausted and I just started crying, realizing that my boys were going to graduate from high school in just a few short months. The excitement, joy, stress, busyness and expense of ALL THAT has been ever before me. I have been determined to enjoy it regardless of what else is going on though because I am not going to get these days back.
At this writing, two of my three have had their graduations. Lindsay earned her Associates Degree on May 12 and Jonathan graduated from his Classical Conversations group on May 20. There is one graduation ceremony left where Caleb and Jonathan will both graduate with our local home school group. We will laugh and cry and celebrate like we should. If you follow me on instagram or facebook, you’ll be seeing all the pictures. You may or may not see my brother, depending on what his life is like on those days. He wants to come. He is so proud of my life and my family and I want him to come if he can. I want him to have joy filled days and things to look forward to in life as he walks in his new normal.
It has been a strange combination these past months walking in sorrow and pain and joy and celebration. Some days I do it well, some days I don’t. But it’s a balance I guess we all have to learn at some point in life. I have been graciously spared a lot of grief in my life and that makes me a little nervous about the days to come but I know that all my days were written in His book before one of them came to be. I’m in good hands. Psalm 139:16