Summer is here and hell is empty

Becky, Jeff, and Owen came to town last week to be with us as we heard the results of Dad’s PET scan. We’ve been waiting for this news for more than a month, and I’m happy to report that the cardiac sarcoma hasn’t grown nor spread to other parts of the body. There is still something there in the center of Dad’s heart, but that’s along the lines of what we expected. Dad will start taking a daily chemo pill to delay its regrowth. There are many options when it comes to chemo pills, so he may have to try several to find the one with the fewest side effects.

To say Dad is cancer-free would be untrue, but we’ve bought time, and that is a huge blessing and relief compared to the fear we carried in December, January, and February.

Dad’s daily struggle remains to be the side effects of the stroke (caused by the heart tumor). As much as we know about the human body and the resilience of a determined man, it is a mystery as to why he isn’t walking independently. But, that’s what a brain injury does: it messes with your whole system. Dad manages on his own during the day to a degree, and there is a steady rotation of OT and PT therapists coming to the house. He isn’t a quitter. He won’t give up.

His spirits are steady, too. My cousin Paul and his family joined us on Saturday for dinner on the deck, and he and Dad raised a glass to the positive test results. It was a good time being together.

We’ve taken Dad fishing a second time since our boat day in early May. I remembered there was a handicap-accessible fishing spot on the Little River, so last week we threw a few lines in, even though the water level was low and the chances of catching anything were slim. Any opportunity to get Dad in nature is worthwhile. You just have to STEER CLEAR when he’s casting because those unruly stroke hands are all over the place.

Chuck and I slipped out to fish early Sunday morning and stumbled upon a dock near us that is perfect for Dad. It’s secluded with plenty of room to spread out. Plus, it has little dips in the railing that should work well for him in the wheelchair.

So yes, it’s finally summer, and we’re enjoying every bit of good weather we can. Our magnolia tree has bloomed, and Chuck and I (with Salem) are relishing our low-humidity evenings on the front porch.

Finally, a few words about this week on the national front. If you know me in real life, then you know already know I feel. If we are close, then we likely share similar feelings of despair. George Floyd was murdered, and a longsuffering pot of boiling anger bubbled over (again). Unfortunately, I think the anxiety and the steady undercurrent of stress from months of isolation during COVID have only made us even less capable of managing ourselves in this chaos. As an ally, I am a patient listener and a deep thinker, but I’ve got to stop watching videos of cities, businesses, and people on fire. From now on, I’m censoring the articles I read and focusing on the positive things I can do to promote change. I’m not silent, but I’m not running my mouth either.

I’ll leave you with my favorite line from The Tempest:

I’m wrestling with a lot of conflicting thoughts right now, but, like Shakespeare’s Ferdinand, we have to call out evil when we see it, whether it be a devil’s knee on the neck of a dying man or the convenient delivery of bricks to an angry crowd.

Lord, your mercy.

My Safer-At-Home Begins and Thoughts on The Great Pause

First of all, Happy Birthday, Dad! It’s a milestone, and I’m so grateful for it 🙂

While most of the country started social distancing in March, I was still spending afternoons with Dad at the cancer institute. We had hours together each day amid other patients and their caregivers. By the end of his treatment, a nurse was assigned to the front door to take temperatures and hand out masks to everyone who came inside.

But now he’s finished! Mom and Dad rang the bell on April 7, and Dad went home from the rehab center that afternoon. We’ve entered another new normal, and when I think about the place from where we’ve come, I nearly get whiplash. First, they were stuck in California, then the rehab center, then the lockdown… It’s a testimony to how capable we really are when we put our heads down and keep moving forward, even when it feels impossible.

Now, he’s home! Medical equipment is set up in the house and my parents are adjusting as best they can. We’re in a holding pattern until the end of April and beginning of May when Dad will undergo scans and tests to determine if the treatment even worked. We have no idea what to expect, so we’re all just trying not to think about it.

Since the number of doctors’ appointments have dropped dramatically, that means I’m just now starting to stay home. I’ve gone to the grocery store, and I went for a run once at the Greenway (there were fewer people there than I expected), but for the most part, we’re staying home. I’m immensely grateful.

We finally got the garden started, so yes – I guess we had to go out and buy plants for it since I didn’t make the time or have the thought to start with seedlings. However, I was happy to see that the local co-op was limiting the number of people entering the store and corralling shoppers through specific doors.

Every time we’ve gone out in public, we’ve taken precautions. And every time we’ve interacted with others in the community, people were respectful and careful. Maybe these are the perks of small-town life. I know COVID-19 is here (to date, we’ve had three recorded deaths in our county), but I don’t think many people are being overtly careless. There will always be outliers, but I think most of us are doing our best.

Fortunately, we live out in the county where I can run on backroads and never interact with other people. With our gym temporarily closed, I’m back to running four and five days a week. I even signed up for a virtual race because – well, why not?

Just as I’m settling into my Safer-At-Home orders from the governor, Jeremy is struggling to manage the loss of a promising soccer season and the necessary friend time he craves as an extrovert. I’m not even poking fun! I know he’s miserable, and I wish I could fix it. The only high point of the last five weeks is the driving time we’ve afforded him.

Here he is driving me to pick up Mexican for dinner one night (to-go):

Chuck, Jackson, and I are homebodies and tend to prefer a quieter life, but Jeremy is dying a slow death from boredom and disconnection. We’ve involved the kids in all sorts of household projects and chores, but that doesn’t feed Jeremy’s need to be social, nor does it even remotely fix the problem of no soccer. Productivity funnels his energy, but it doesn’t fix the psychological need to feel connected to the world. I hate to think what the summer will be like for him if things don’t change for a while.


I don’t know who to credit for calling this time The Great Pause, but I think it’s spot-on. I know not everyone’s COVID crisis is the same. Mercifully, Chuck’s job is secure even though my freelance work will likely shift or potentially dry up. We are already homeschoolers, so our education plan for the boys is not hugely impacted. (It’s impacted, but not in a way that’s life-altering. Read more about that here.) I’m a decent cook and gardener, and Chuck is a hunter, so even food-wise, we have the means to figure out meals without a ton of outside help. In a nutshell, our COVID experience looks quite different from someone who lives in Midtown Manhattan or even downtown Knoxville. It looks different from households with two parents who work outside the home, or a single parent who works full time, or any other possible scenario in any American home. If boredom is our greatest pain, then we have nothing to complain about.

But I’m still using this time to think carefully about our lives, about how we spend our time, about what we spend our money on. I’ve even walked through each room in the house and considered the things we have – do we need this stuff? Could we downsize our belongings a little more? When this is all over, how do we want our lives to look? Crisis tends to make life come into focus for me, so I’m spending The Great Pause in deep thought.

We have four weeks of school left, but my ambition is thin. I’m already preparing final tests and getting my thoughts together on next year. However, whenever I see articles on the coronavirus, I keep reading words like “if we go back in August” and I cannot wrap my brain around The Great Pause going beyond the summer.

Truly, 2020, you’ve outdone yourself. You can stop now.

The Coronavirus Curveball

We are two weeks into Dad’s treatment for cardiac sarcoma, and now the rehab center, where he lives full time, is on lockdown.

Before today, we’ve been able to spend as much time with Dad as we wanted to at the rehab center. In fact, Mom spent most of February sleeping in his room at night so he wouldn’t be alone.

Now, and for good reason, the facility isn’t letting in any visitors, and all employees must get a fever check prior to coming inside.

Today I visited Dad one last time (outside the facility) and reassured him that we’d still have time together during his weekday treatments. Truth be told, I was put off by the idea of DAILY radiation two weeks ago, and now I’m grateful. See how quickly everything can change?

The disconnection we’re all feeling is palpable. Mom and Dad want to be together, and Becky and I want to be there to help them, but we’re all separated by miles, and the coronavirus has thrown us a curveball.

Yet, in an attempt to remain grateful for every possible blessing, I’m reflecting on our ability to be with him during treatment, to help him re-learn to walk when we’re together, and to share stories from years past (nostalgia has always been my favorite drug).

We are still laughing and smiling as much as possible (sometimes too loudly, as seen in this photo – Mom was trying her best to hold it in). 🙂

We have no idea how long the lockdown will be in place. The administrators probably don’t know either. No one knows anything, so we’re all doing what feels best and right. I want to stay well so I can sit with Dad during chemotherapy, so I can be his taxi after radiation, so I can keep doing whatever I need to do to help my mom. If that means shutting the world down for three weeks, then that’s fine with me.

As for Dad, he’s is determined and steadfast. “Just tell me what to do,” he keeps saying. I love it. I see myself in him so frequently these days. Stubborn yet self-critical. If they told him to climb Mount LeConte, he’d grab his walker and give it a go.

And we’d be right there cheering him on.

On the Eve of Chemotherapy and Super Tuesday

Those two things, in theory, should be unrelated, but sometimes things fall together on a calendar for a reason.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea why or how my father’s first chemotherapy appointment and the primary election in Tennessee have aligned this way, but here we are.

It’s been a little more than a month since my parents returned to Tennessee from their two-month stint in California. Dad has made tremendous progress in these last few weeks. His goal is to walk independently (with a walker), and he’s as stubborn as ever, God love him. I spent Sunday afternoon with Mom and Dad at the rehab center, and his resolve is solid. Up and down, left and right, he was practicing. He wants so badly to go home. We all want that.

For now, though, he needs to stay put since he’s in the best possible place. We have no idea what chemotherapy and radiation will do to the tumor or his body. We don’t know what side effects he’ll have, how tired he’ll feel, or whether or not this treatment will have any impact at all. We don’t even have statistics to rely on. That’s how rare this cancer is.

But I digress. We will do what we’ve always done as a family – keep moving forward and laugh as much as possible.

As far as Super Tuesday is concerned, I’ll slip in to vote tomorrow on my way back from the hospital, and then I’ll stay up tomorrow night to watch the returns. It’s been a wild election year already, but I’m feeling the way I always feel – the people I vote for don’t get elected. That’s what it means to be politically homeless.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings for us as a family or us as a country, but faith is good for times like these. I may not know what’s going to happen, but I’m not worried in a philosophical or theological way. Life goes on. The sun sets, and then it comes up again the next morning. God is faithful. He’s near. And, we have each other. These are the things that truly matter.

The rest, I guess, is left to the wind.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Another special occasion has come around and we’ve still managed to keep our immediate family spread between three states and our extended family spread between six (or seven, or eight? I can’t keep track…). Anyway, regardless of distance, I’m thinking of you this weekend, Dad. I wish I could bake you a cake and join you for dinner and hang out for a movie like usual.

Instead, I’ll post this picture and send my well wishes from a distance. We love you very much.

Why I Wear an Army Hoodie

I’m not sure exactly when I stole it. It could’ve been before I left for college in 1996, or when I moved back home from college in 2000 before getting married. It might have been long before any of that. I really don’t remember. All I know is that this is my father’s Army hoodie from his two decades of service and I wear it just about every day.

It’s extremely attractive. Just ask Chuck.

Almost every time I put it on or get a glimpse of those big, black block letters in the mirror, I think of my dad. He and I have always had a really good relationship. (Minus that summer before my junior year of high school. I don’t know what I was thinking.)  When I was little, I’d follow him around always seeking a hug or praise, anything that reflected his approval and affection. It was with him that I’d watch old “Star Trek” episodes or hours (upon hours) of golf. I started gardening with him when I was in middle school and we carpooled to school together throughout high school. I’d tag along on errands or help him in the yard, but it was only  just to be with him.

As I got older and began to read him a little better, I noticed many of my own personality traits were similar to his.  We are known for our occasional impatience, our sometimes coarse humor and our affinity for black and white movies. Since living apart there’ve been many times when Dad and I have sat in the living room together saying very little, and in the end we each consider it a “good visit.”

Something else I stole have of my father’s is his high school class ring. I think I’ve had this since the early 90s when we lived in Atlanta, but it truly could’ve been before then too. It’s been in my jewelry box a long time.

Today is my dad’s 59th birthday and even though I live on the eastern side of the Mississippi River now, we’re still a good 11 hours away from each other. So this is a long-distance birthday wish for you, Dad: May this year bring you closer to home, may it bring you contentment in life, and may it bless you with more laughter than your body can take.

I love you, Dad! See you soon.