So, since my last (semi-final) entry, a lot of amazing things have happened. Our babysitter, Kristin (who will be attending Berkeley in the Fall!!), organized her cross-country team to take part in the Relay for Life at San Pedro High, a 24-hour walk/run to raise money for the American Cancer Society. She named the team, "Kids Giving Kids Hope" and dedicated the walk to her mom (a cancer survivor), Jillian, and Christian Hernandez (who, if you remember, was our roommate at one point.....you can see how he's doing at www.careforchristian.com). She had really cute shirts made with a pic of Jillian/Christian on them....we were so honored and touched that she went all out for us once again. (How can I raise my girls to turn out like her? Is there a book on this?). Anyway, our family came for the kickoff and did the "Survivor's Lap" which was very emotional. Jill was beaming, seeming proud to be wearing a medal and special beads, walking to music with everyone cheering her on the whole way. Anna seemed proud, too. We certainly were proud of both of them. At the end, a cancer-survivor (yay!) named Penni came up and asked me if I was Jillian's mom. She said that her 10 year-old daughter pointed Jill out during the lap ("Mom! That's her! That's Jillian!") as she recognized her from posters/flyers that were plastered all over Pedro during the time of the Bone Marrow Drive. She asked if we could introduce Jill to her daughter and take a picture with her. Melissa seemed pretty excited to meet Jill and Jill of course, didn't mind at all posing for a picture with a BIG GIRL (little girls ADORE big girls...it's so endearing). Penni asked if we'd be interested in joining her for the Relay next year. Her hope is to gather 24 San Pedro Cancer Survivors so that each person and his/her friends and family can do one hour of the 24 hour relay. I love the idea! There were a lot of other people that we reunited with at the Relay....other survivors/friends/people from the community. It was a beautiful experience.
Last Sunday, we were honored guests at a very special Baptist Church in Santa Ana. The Children's Choir Director of 34 years, Mrs. Karen Reid, saw us on the news in January and immediately called the hospital. They put her through to our room (much to her surprise) and we talked a bit. She asked what she and her church could do for us. Though I insisted we weren't in need of anything but well-wishes/prayers, she trekked out to our home (35 miles north) in a van with some of her children from choir (it was only Sunday I realized she brought kids with her!) and left a package on our porch (they thought we'd be home...unfortunately, we were still at Miller's). Inside was a big beautiful card that each and every child put a lot of work into, letters from her and the pastor, and a giant white teddy bear. I took a few pics of the girls appreciating the gift and sent them to Karen with a thank-you from Jillian. When we were discharged from the hospital, we talked and she invited us to come to the church on their annual Youth Day, which we gratefully did this past Sunday. The service was beautiful, powerful and moving. The people, from the moment we entered the parking lot were gracious and kind and so welcoming. There was so much boisterous singing and clapping, dancing, and calling out during the pastor's sermon and the skits put on by the children. Mrs. Karen put so much work into getting the service ready--it was impressive. Halfway through the service, the pastor invited our family to come up to the front of church (neither of us were planning on saying anything, but there we were). I delivered, somewhat nervously, a message of gratitude and hope and Matt told the story of how, very early in Jill's bout with cancer, Anna brought him her Children's Bible which we had only read with her a few times, and opened it to a story of Jesus healing a little dying girl. The short passage read, "Do not be afraid. She will be healed." (The whoops and hollers, "Hallelujiahs" and "Amens" that rang through the congregation at that moment were overwhelming and made us both teary-eyed). The pastor confirmed our belief and that of so many of our friends/family that God gives us nothing we can't handle and that He has a plan for our little Jillian. The service lasted almost 3 hours...towards the end, the girls were starving (bad planning on our part) and antsy, so Matt took them out, but I stayed till the end, joining everyone holding hands around the perimeter of the church....feeling like I was in a long-lost family member's living room, and prayed....and thanked God for the beautiful blessing that is our family and the health of every single one of us....and for all of the love and life that surrounds us....and on and on and on....and each member of my family left with the scent of so many "strangers" on our clothes...that scent that gets embedded into you from a REAL HUG....the scent of true compassion and caring and "I mean it when I say 'Come Back'". I think that feeling carried me through the entire next week.
During the week, I got to spend a lot of time with girlfriends. On Thursday, my friend Renee (the one that made us dinner almost every week for the entire period of time Jill was sick) invited us over for a playdate/lunch. Need I say how yummy lunch was? Nah.....you know that already. The conversation was the dessert :) We talked about so many things that are important to me right now....her perspective on things is really inspiring. She made me think things through a different way. I admire her strong convictions and appreciation of tradition and simplicity. That evening, I had coffee with a friend whom I haven't seen for nearly 3 years. I ran into her last week at a doctor's office and we immediately planned this meeting. She wasn't aware of Jill's cancer.....and I wasn't aware that her father had passed away last year at the age of 62. I remember an email from her stating that she was going back to St. Louis (where she is from, coincidentally) to be with her Dad when he was told he had approximately 6 months to live. She and her entire family (two boys, ages 5 and 3, and a six-month old girl, and a husband whose job allowed him to telecommute) took care of her parents during this immensely trying time. The story she told me, though, of her nephew.....and the connection to her father, gave me chills. 5 years ago, her nephew was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. It was very scary when they found his tumor, as it had apparently been growing since he was a baby. Susannah was visiting her nephew in another state when she picked him up and noticed his tummy felt hard. The only reason Susannah, my friend, had recognized his hardened tummy may have a tumor was because one of her sisters had just been diagnosed with a tumor in the fat cells of her stomach (shortly after having a baby) and described to her what it felt like (many doctors had already told Susannah's other sister, her nephew's mom, that this hardness was due to constipation). Susannah convinced her sister to pursue it further and not take "Oh it's nothing" for an answer, and thank god she did, because an MRI revealed a very aggressive and rapidly growing cancer. The family united, Susannah moved with her then one child to the state in which her nephew lived, and cared for him during his treatment, as both of his parents worked. She told me that one night, as they were all gathered to pray, her dad told God, "If You take this cancer away from my grandson, I would be more than willing to give my own life to You." The family is Mormon, and Susannah explained that her father was making a "covenant" with God. Her nephew is now 12 years old and in complete remission. 5 years TO THE DAY, her father passed away from the SAME KIND OF CANCER. We talked in depth about this. Did God take her father because of the "covenant" he made???? Would He really do that? And Why???? Her father certainly wasn't intending for that to be an empty promise, and what a marvelous thing to do....the biggest sacrifice he could've made, he did....but did he truly believe it would happen? And if he did, would he still have made that "bargain"? Susannah believes he believed in his heart that it would happen and that he was at peace when he died. I was so incredibly moved by this story and at a loss for words. There is less and less these days that I just "don't buy". It all makes sense, really, if you simply open your mind. I've become a lot less cynical since Jill getting cancer and a bigger believer in the Powers that Guide the Universe (sorry, Grandma, I mean "God"). By the way.......the sister that had cancer in her stomach had no treatment and the cancer vanished. But when her baby was 15 months old, she (the baby) was killed in a car accident. Ok, now I'm really confused. Was that "The Plan" too??? Just when I thought it was starting to make sense......I hope Susannah doesn't mind me sharing this story. I was just so impressed by her father and stunned by the gravity of the entire family's plight all around. And I believe stories should be shared. We all have them. As mundane as your life may seem some days, if you actually had time to sit and write down, or just TELL some of your stories, you'd be amazed at how quickly your book would write itself.
Which brings me to not being able to let this cancer-thing go. Lately, I feel that it has become almost a friend in that so many wonderful people and situations have become part of our lives because of it. I find myself mesmerized by articles/tv shows/and friends' stories about cancer. I was watching Oprah the other day and there was a woman by the name of Kris Carr talking about her experience with cancer after receiving news she had a very aggressive and incurable kind in 2003 (in her mid-20's!)....the docs all thought she'd for sure be dead by now. You can check her out at http://crazysexycancer.blogspot.com/. Please do....because, cancer or not, WOW is she inspiring. It's amazing what YOU YOURSELF can do to completely alter (in a good way) the course of YOUR OWN LIFE if you just BELIEVE YOU CAN. Cancer and me are skipping down the sidewalk hand in hand. We go knock on Matt's door, however, and HE's NOT HOME. Rather, he peeks out the keyhole and bolts the top lock. Matt's not having this "Read this/watch this" inspiring/depressing romance with cancer any longer. He's dropped it from his vocabulary. Which I respect. But I don't understand. How could he leave this soon? Am I weird? I think I'm weird. Would I be this in love with the notion of cancer and me being friends if it was slowly taking my baby away from me? Probably not. But it's not. We won.....and will continue to win as long as we're in a good head space....right? Maybe not. I don't know. It is what it is.
Okay, whew.....so today was the Champions Run for Life. Jill ran a very short distance with her magic wand and "frown" (crown) on and a whole lotta people cheering her on (thanks to Jannah, Cristina, Jamila, Jen, Michelle, Kevin, Kevin's Dad, Kristin and all the kids who stuck it out in the hot hot sun to support our family).
Thanks to Shahin (our dietician) for being Jill's sponsor and for all those who raised money to benefit the Children's Cancer Center. Thanks also (so much) to Michelle and Kevin, who had all of the guest at their daughters' dual birthday party last weekend, donate money to Miller's Hospital, in lieu of gifts for the girls. We were so touched by that. (Michelle said she did it because her kids have too much crap, but I believe there was a bit of humanitarianism in that sentiment). We plan to do this run every year from here on out. Next year we will be more prepared and will be hitting y'all up for $$ and presence.....so, well, don't say I never asked you for anything :)
Wow.....maybe I can't let this blog-thing go. I'm having a little bit o' fun journaling my life in public (and the lives of unsuspecting family members/friends.....don't tell me anything you don't want the world to know, at least not without a disclaimer). I need to do something. Something positive to help somebodies. I will start with pleading with all of you to spread the word about becoming a bone marrow donor (go to www.marrow.org) and banking newborn baby's umbilical cord blood!!! VERY IMPORTANT!! LIFE SAVING STUFF. If anyone has questions, leave a comment or email me.....I am happy to let you know what I know or do additional research for you. And don't think I'm going to shutup about this. You will be my bone marrow ambassadors. Everyone wins.
(Continued from last night)....Today is Father's Day. The girls helped me make Daddy breakfast in bed and presented him with homemade cards and little songs they made up. They then presented him with a diorama-like scene they made as a "hint" about his BIG present. When he couldn't guess what it was, Anna gave him a map and I explained that next Friday (I had asked him to take off work), we will be taking a train from LA to Santa Barbara where we will be staying a very fancy hotel on the beach and walking the 4 blocks from that hotel to the famous SB Zoo at least once...and to the cute little Farmer's Market 5 blocks the other way....no car....all weekend. He was very surprised! Yay, it worked!
Oh, and for those who don't already know.......we're having a boy!
Hopefully, he'll be a late talker.
We're open to name suggestions!