It is Well

Julie and I grew up singing hymns. We go to a church that has a contemporary worship service now so hymns are few and far between. But we love it when somebody takes a hymn and turns it into something contemporary. On Sunday our church sang a contemporary version of “It Is Well with My Soul“. We cried. We listened to it again Sunday night. We cried. I listened to it again in my car over lunch on Monday. I cried again. Here it is so you can cry too.

I want to take a moment to express gratitude to the many, many people who are reaching out to us right now. Complete strangers are sharing stories of their journeys through cancer and encouraging us. And in some ways, we are gaining perspective on our daughter and her illness. Last night she wanted to argue about taking her anti-nausea medicine. She staged a fit, cried, yelled, argued and frustrated her mommy. So I stepped in and said something shocking to get her attention and she instantly changed from fake tears to real dirty looks. It worked. I got through. She asked why she has to keep taking medicine.

“Because you have cancer, honey.”

She took her medicine.

I never imagined having that conversation with my daughter but we are grateful she is old enough that we can discuss this with her. Another nearby couple is also in the same hospital with their two-year-old daughter. How do they reason with her? How do they explain the tubes, shots, wires or the bump under the skin on her chest? The endless medicines? Why are they stuck in that same room for days on end? Why can’t they just go home and play with their toys?

And it’s not just them. The hospital is full of sick kids and desperate parents. The most terrifying words in the world for me are “pediatric oncology”. The bravest people in the world are on that floor.

Our little girl has a tumor on a bone in her leg. It has not spread. Her prognosis is good but we have MONTHS of chemo between now and the finish line and the shadow of some pretty terrible side effects to watch out for. But the tumor is on her leg and we caught it early. And we are within an hour of one of the best hospitals in the whole world. And it is in our insurance network. And my employer could not be more supportive. And our whole community has rallied around us.

So what do I have to complain about? It is well.

Even though there is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing you can directly do either. Julie’s brother shared that he felt helpless living in another country and unable to be here. But he is not helpless. We can’t massage the tumor out. We are relying on the doctors to help us with the mundane. Mundane work is part of any miracle. Moses had to hold up his arms. The widow had to gather jars. Wendy has to have chemo. The miracle comes from the Lord but there is always something we have to do.

So I replied to Julie’s brother that he could do as much there as he can here. He can pray.

We walk around that hospital seeing scared and tired parents who just want their baby to get better so they can go home. It is really troubling. We see these parents and work, in our own way, to embrace the opportunity. It seems like I’m on the elevator 20 times every day. As a consequence I run into people repeatedly. One young man was named Adam. I didn’t know why Adam was visiting the hospital. I knew he was there with his wife(?) walking to and from the parking garage to smoke but I never wanted to ask why they were there. I guess I was afraid. The answers are too painful. Julie asked. Adam was there hoping his 15-day-old son would soon begin to breathe on his own.

It breaks your heart.

Julie and I decided some years ago to never say, “I’ll be praying for you!” when speaking in person. Heck with that. We just ask to pray on the spot. Adam said that was cool and Julie led the way.

Though I rode the elevator frequently, I didn’t see Adam on my next stay four days later. I don’t know what that means. I may never know what that means.

But I do know this: It is well.

Either “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” or it’s all our imagination and our weakness. The trouble with that later option is this: I have had multiple encounters with God. Encounters that I didn’t imagine. Encounters that are not coincidence. There is a reason my daughter is ill. But you know what? Even if the worst happens it is well. I, myself, baptized my daughter. It is well. I know it is well. I just don’t always feel it.

This is Julie: I want to share some of my thoughts on those words, “It is well.” It is amazing how so many different thoughts and feelings can flood your mind in the course of one song.

“Far be it from me to not believe, Even when my eyes can’t see. And this mountain that’s in front of me, will be thrown into the midst of the sea.”

I didn’t seek out this mountain. Mountains can be seen from a distance. Mountains don’t usually fall without warning out of no where and land right on top of you. I didn’t seek this route, I don’t want it. But I know He is with me. Even in the pediatricians office when the doctor spoke those first words of, “It is important that we stay in control of our emotions.” I never felt alone. This mountain has fallen, but I am not holding it up. He is. “It is well”

“Through it all, through it all. My eyes are on you. It is well with me.”

I sang those words on Sunday, out of faith because I may not be feeling that right now. My daughter has cancer. That is NOT well with me. I sang those words to proclaim it to myself. Even though I may not be feeling it, the words are true. I also sang those words to praise my Heavenly Father, because I can trust in Him.

-Julie

It is well. Even if I am crying. It is well. And through it all my eyes are on You. So let it go my soul and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.

It is well with me.

One Hour At A Time

I am somewhat reluctant to spam my farm blog by pouring out my heart for my daughter but I’m going to do it anyway. She is a part of the farm. So there.

It was a hot day for picking apples yesterday. She was keeping it cool in the shade.

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Things change every day. Every day. More frequently than that. Every hour. On Tuesday the 15th I went to work and my daughter had Osteosarcoma. I got to work and the doctors had changed their diagnosis to Ewing’s sarcoma.

We had planned to start Wednesday with a hearing test because one of the chemo drugs they planned to use could cause loss of hearing. Now that plan was scrapped. We had a start time and no other detail.

I need a plan.

A reader wrote to me this week suggesting we work our plan one hour at a time. One day is too big of a bite. We need to break it down. This hour I’m not going to cry. This hour I’m not going to say it is unfair. This hour I am going to work the plan.

This specific hour, 6-7 on Sunday the 20th, Julie and I are packing eggs for tomorrow’s delivery and doing a little housework. As we work we sip our coffee and talk a little bit about the next step. What is the next step?

We need to be packed and ready. If our little girl gets a fever we have to be at the local hospital within 30 minutes. We need to have a script ready for the hospital explaining our situation and letting them know we are on our way. We have to notify our oncologist to prepare to transfer our daughter from the local hospital to the one in St. Louis. Oh, God!

OK. Too much.

I need to pick up some pajamas for her today. Maybe load up a board game in her backpack and a favorite blanket.

That’s better. I can handle that. At some point today I need to write out information about her port and make sure the phone numbers are in our phones.

Got it.

But there is more going on in our lives than just my daughter’s cancer. I am married. Our marriage doesn’t pause. I have to continue to invest in my relationship with Julie. I have to help Julie to widen her focus. It’s not all about my wife and daughter. We have 3 other children to love. We have each other too. Human relationships are difficult and require effort to maintain. We have to make the effort even if we don’t feel like it.

The hospital gave us a book about how teens deal with sibling cancer. One point it made is that some siblings can feel dumped on by the additional chore load. I laugh because I know they are talking about city kids. Chores? Ha. But my kids do chores, man. In fact, while Julie and I were in the hospital the kids ran the farm. An aunt commented that they just all magically knew what to do.

They don’t magically know what to do. We have trained our children. We have made ourselves redundant on the farm. That didn’t happen in a day. That happened slowly, over time and in small increments. One minute here, an hour there, a comment, a criticism, a reminder not to leave the water running in the pasture.

We share our observations with the kids. We ask for their input. We make adjustments. We train and re-train each other.

We learn together.

That’s how we manage the farm. That’s also how we manage cancer.

We sit together. We talk about it. We cry a little bit. But a little at a time, as a family, we work to understand what is going on and find ways to help each other out.

I have no idea what our kids will ask us today. I don’t know what hurdles we will have to overcome today. Today is too far away. But I know it is 7:00 now and I haven’t opened the chickens or milked the cow yet so I need to go do that.

I have conquered the next hour. That’s the best I can do.

Normally I try to publish my reading journal on Sundays. This week I found it difficult to focus on reading. I have been reading Lord Emsworth and Others by P.G. Wodehouse. Hilarious. Truly hilarious.

It is Important that we Remain in Control of our Emotions

Our youngest had a sore ankle and woke up Tuesday crying. For the previous two weeks we believed she had a sprain but the pain convinced us to be more serious about a possible break. We took her to our pediatrician for an x-ray.

About an hour after the appointment, as Julie was driving home, the pediatrician called Julie and asked her to return to the office. His first words to her were,

It is important that we remain in control of our emotions.

We are not certain who he was talking to. He may have been talking to himself. Obviously this was going to be bad. His next words were:

Your daughter has cancer.

Julie texted me:

I need you to come home now.

No explanation. I assumed the cows were out or something. I was in a meeting. I stepped out to call her.

I didn’t go back to the meeting. I lost control of my emotions.

I felt helpless and afraid. My little girl was sick and there was nothing I could do to help her. Maybe there was nothing anybody could do to help her. The internet was certainly no help.

My little girl has cancer in her leg. My healthy, happy, beautiful, laughing daughter has cancer in her leg.

Julie and I cried. A lot.

Love her smile.

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The next day the specialists confirmed that pediatrician had good cause for concern. We had an MRI. It showed a wad of what looked like cobweb where bone should be. More tears.

Days passed. Friends reached out to us. It was both encouraging and humbling.

On the fourth day we had an early morning appointment to get a CT scan and a biopsy performed. This would tell us what exactly we were dealing with and weather or not it has spread.

The cancer had not spread.

We lost control of our emotions again.

Four days before we were devastated to learn that our little girl had cancer in her leg. Friday we were elated to learn her cancer was just in her leg.

Today is …what day is it? Today is Thursday. How did that happen so fast? We have waited for the biopsy results, met with doctors, met with more doctors, toured the hospital and paid co-pays to all parties involved. Today, Thursday, was a big day for us. Today our little girl had surgery in preparation for chemotherapy.

She slept on the way to the hospital.

Feo Addleeton Oscar the cat is a very loyal friend. He is always by her side.

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She woke up in a lot of pain.

Our emotions were under control.

We don’t want to see our little girl in pain but we accept that this is part of the healing process. We held her. We told her we loved her. We kissed her. We asked the nurses to help her with the pain.

But we didn’t cry.

I don’t mean to imply that we are all cried out. Nor are we callous to the sufferings of our daughter. But the uncertainty is gone. We are afraid. Who wouldn’t be? But we have a plan. We know what is coming up. Today was the first step in the plan.

Usually I try to bring my tangents around to farming in some way but not today. I’ll finish this way instead. We are relying on God to fix our little girl…weather He uses miracles or medicines. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. And I will praise Him in this storm.

While I do work to make my blog real, honest and personal I usually leave the really personal stuff out…except for love letters for my bride. What we are wrestling with right now may shut the farm down. I have considered selling the herd of cattle. But I also enjoy having them around…even if I have to chase a cow/calf pair for two hours in the dark and rain once in a while. But the farm really doesn’t matter. My family matters. My little girl matters.

And right now we are focused on her.

Someone was playing with my phone this morning.

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Please pray for us. This is scary stuff.