Monday, August 19, 2013

Paying it Backward

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up

It's been about three months since we posted anything. Tammy continues to do exceptionally well. We're now about 15 months post-transplant, and Tammy's condition is a steady climb, much faster than anyone had a right to expect. We thank you for your prayers.
There’s a popular way of saying thanks these days called “paying it forward.” That means that you repay someone who did something nice for you by doing something nice for someone else. It’s a great practice and we love doing that ourselves.

Through the years, many people have helped us move. We want to say thanks, but we really don’t want to force them out of their homes just so we can help them move. It kind of defeats the purpose. So we love to help other people move. We get to do that several times a year. About a year ago, God blessed us with a truck with plenty of room. Now we get to carry a lot of stuff to the next location.

Last Friday, we had an opportunity to help a family we barely knew. Our mailman, Keith, has become our friend. He visits with us almost every time he stops by the house. Tammy puts out a bottle of water in a baggie of ice (with a Scripture verse on it) every day, and Keith really appreciates it. We have enjoyed hearing about the progress of his family selling their home and finding another one.

Last week, Keith knocked on our door and told us that he, his wife and five daughters—with one on the way—were moving Friday. It was a party wrapped in a move. There were about 30 people there—family, close friends and us. People kept asking us how we knew the family and we said, “Keith delivers our mail.” It left everyone with a puzzled look on their face, but we had a blast.

But last Saturday, we got a chance to pay it backward to a group of people who have had a huge impact on our lives over the past five years. The University of Kansas Hospital BMT Unit celebrated its 35th anniversary with a very nice reception. Four of the five doctors were there, plus many nurses, staff members and recovered patients. It was a celebration intended for the patients, but we took it as an opportunity to say thank you.
There were plenty of hugs, tears and laughs. It felt like a homecoming or a family reunion. At times there was a line of people waiting to greet Tammy. Each time the person would get to the front of the line, their expression was just like Carol’s in this picture. (Carol is one of the night nurses whose job it was to keep me calm when things were the toughest.)

It was an emotional evening for us, one we had looked forward to for a month after we found out about it. Saying thank you to those special people was wonderful. You see, they may have started as “healthcare providers,” but we now count it a privilege to call them friends.

Here are a few other pictures from Saturday night. For more, visit us on Facebook.

Tammy with Dr. Aljitawi and his wife, Hala.

Tammy with nurses Robin and Kodee


 Tammy with transplant coordinators Beth and Jodi.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Blessed Day

Jeremiah 17:7
"But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him."

We went back to the clinic today to get the results of the tests done two weeks ago. Dr. McGuirk came into the room with a big smile on his face and rattled off a long list of results that were all good!

We had a really good visit, and we laughed a lot as we always do. Tammy asked if she could start teaching Sunday School again, and he said she could, with some precautions. Tammy asked if she could start gardening, but that's still a few months away. We remembered that it was at this point the first time that she was allowed to return to church, so we're way ahead of schedule.

Finally, we asked him about our missions trip to Poland that we plan to take in July. He said he sees no reason why Tammy can't go. He's definitely the most conservative of the doctors in the BMT program, but he said she should be just fine on this trip.

Dr. McGuirk is the lead doctor in the BMT program. He is a believer, who acknowledges that the skills he has are from God. Before Tammy went back in the hospital for her second bone-marrow transplant last spring, we asked if we could pray for him as he led us on this latest challenge. He quickly agreed. He told us that he prays for God's leading every day and thanks Him for the ability to care for His people.

We had an opportunity to have some fun today. Tammy made peanut butter cookies and banana bread for them. And I had a chance to get a baseball signed by most of the St. Louis Cardinals for Dr. McGuirk. He grew up in St. Louis and is a huge Cardinals fan. We have fun banter back-and-forth, though it's mostly one-sided these days because the Royals are so bad. It was fun to see his face when we gave it to him. It choked him up a bit.

We are so blessed to have received such great care at the University of Kansas Hospital and Clinic (even though we're proud to be K-Staters!). The doctors are skilled, yet compassionate; the nurses are wonderful; and the staff is always encouraging. It can be scary to be going through the healing process with Leukemia, but these amazing people make it easy.

We also are blessed to have so many of you praying for us. We ask that you continue to pray.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Attacking Year 2!

Jeremiah 49:14
I have heard a message from the Lord; an envoy was sent to the nations to say, 'Assemble yourselves to attack it! Rise up for battle!'

Oh, by the way, one more thing. In case you were wondering, Tammy is not resting on her laurels of recovery. She is in “attack mode.”

For proof, see the attached picture!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another Birthday

1 Thessalonians 1:3
"We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Most people don't like birthdays. Tammy likes them so much that she has now has three every year. Of course, when you look the same as you did 30 years ago, why should birthdays bother you? The first picture is of Tammy hugging our newborn son, David Lee, in October of 1983. The second photo was taken earlier this spring.

Tammy came into this world on July 24, 1959. She gained a new birthday when she got her first bone-marrow transplant on April 1, 2009. Her "clock" started all over again, and she was coming up on her third birthday last spring when the Leukemia returned.

She had another transplant May 16, 2012, one year ago today.

So today is her first birthday the third time around. We celebrated with more tests to make sure everything is progressing as it appears it is. Before the tests, however, we stopped by the BMT Unit at KU Medical Center. Tammy made cookies and we delivered them to the staff in the unit.

I knew that as much as Tammy would be inspired to return to the unit on her feet, the nurses would be more inspired to see how well she is doing. Many tears were shed as she told them about her progress. One of the nurses told her how much seeing her lifted her spirits. "This reminds us of why we do what we do," she said.

We left the unit and stopped by the office of two of the nurse practioners. They were expecting us and they met us at the door. Two more nurses called and told them to hold onto us until they could come by. There is a picture permanently burned in my mind of those four wonderful caregivers with wide-eyed awe looking at Tammy and commenting how good she looks.

We won't get the results of today's tests for a couple of weeks, but everything continues to look good. We continue to covet your prayers. We know God's Hand has been in this whole journey.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

It is finished, and it is just beginning!

Mark 16:5-7
"As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 'Don’t be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, "He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."’

Our favorite day of the year, hands down, is Easter. We enjoy Christmas because it's the start of the journey. We enjoy celebrating each other's birthdays, as well as those of our family members. We enjoy Thanksgiving for the food, football and family, and the chance to thank God for His blessings. But Easter is the best. Besides the beginning of Spring, it is the celebration of the new life offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

Jesus' last words on the Cross before He died were "It is finished." There is so much rolled into that expression. His earthly teaching, His carrying our burdens to be buried forever, His victory over death itself, all were wrapped up in that expression. He had accomplished what He was brought on the earth to do. It all was finished. My sin is paid for, once and for all.

Today was a special Easter for us. We remember that three years ago, the first time Tammy got to attend church after her first bone-marrow transplant was Easter in Louisville, with Julie and her new boyfriend (soon to be her husband). David Lee came with us, so we were able to celebrate as a family once again.

Then last Easter, Tammy once again was in the hospital on Easter. The doctors told us she probably wouldn't make it until this Easter. We knew that God could change that, and we trusted that He would. But we also knew that He could choose to bring her home and that our last Easter with Tammy could have been spent in the hospital.

We are so blessed that not only is she still around, but she's doing amazingly well. We were at church today, and nobody had to come up and say, "It's good to see you here." She's been in church since just after the first of the year. Our focus was not on the fact that she was able to attend. Instead, our focus was completely on the celebration of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

We hope you have special plans today to celebrate the greatest gift ever, the gift of eternal life because of His sacrifice for you. And while His mission on Earth, and His victory over death, is finished once and for all, our celebration will continue forever! Our life with Him is just beginning!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Year Ago...

Leviticus 25:11
"The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you."

It was a Saturday morning, March 24, 2012. I had a meeting at 9 a.m. As I pulled into the parking lot a couple of minutes before 9, Tammy called me, in tears. The day before, we had spent the day at the KUMC Cancer Clinic because she just didn't feel right. She had no energy, to the point where she was holding onto furniture. They did a bunch of tests and found that her counts were very low. They did another bone-marrow biopsy, just to make sure it was only a virus. We were not prepared for the call the next morning.

Tammy answered the phone to the tearful voice of one of the doctors. He said, "Tammy, I need you to get straight to the hospital. Your Leukemia has returned, and it is acute." She called me to tell me the news. I called the person I was supposed to meet and told him that I wouldn't be meeting him. I drove straight home and helped her pack quickly. Then we drove the familiar drive back to KUMC.

It was the start of another long battle, one that looked far more ominous than the first. She was in the hospital for four weeks that time, then home for two weeks before heading back for four more weeks and another bone-marrow transplant. Before she went back in, the doctor told us that she had a 25 percent chance of surviving a year.

I'll never forget her reaction. She smiled, and said, "Somebody has to make up the 25 percent." The doctor paused for a second, then said, "And I think you will be part of that 25 percent, because of your toughness and your faith."

The past year has gone remarkably fast. Tammy's recovery has exceeded all expectations. Her counts at six months were better than what they were at a year in 2009. She's back in church and she's doing exceptionally well.

Our faith is strong. We don't think, "Why did Tammy have to go through this...twice?" We know God has a perfect plan. And we know that He knew that Tammy would bring Him glory with her reaction.

We thank you for your ongoing prayers (please continue them). We thank you for the cards and letters, visits, and countless hugs. You guys are our family, and we are thrilled to be part of God's family with you.

Here is a picture I took about a week ago. You can see that she looks beautiful, but you also probably know that I think she'll always be the prettiest girl at the ball.

Oh, and you might be wondering why we chose the verse we did. Today is Tammy's brother Jim's 50th birthday. We are celebrating his "Year of Jubilee" today. Happy birthday, Jim.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Perfect Game

Matthew 5:48
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

If you've been a follower of this blog for a while, you know that a lot of our illustrations are sports-related. As an author of 13 published books on sports history (and a 14th in the works this summer), it's only natural for me to use them.

The number 300 is synonymous with success and even perfection in sports. A career .300 hitter is destined for super-stardom. A pitcher who wins 300 games is destined for the Hall of Fame. But in bowling, 300 means perfection.

Today is Day 300 post-transplant in Tammy's second recovery. And it's been nearly perfect. She's had very few bumps in the road. Right now, she's battling a little Graft Vs. Host Disease (GVHD), but that's okay. The doctors want a little GVHD, because that's what will keep the Leukemia from returning. It's manifesting in her skin and her liver, and the treatment is making her hungry and somewhat high-strung. And she tires very easily. But compared to where the statistics said she'd be at this poimt, she's...perfect.

It's been a while since we posted, mostly because things are going so well. We know it's because God has ordained her recovery. We thank you for your prayers. We ask that you continue to pray for her. We also ask that you pray for others who are fighting the same battle without the support we've received over the past four years.

Our son, David Lee, wrote the following devotion last summer for his team in Poland. Please allow it to inspire you to impact others. We think it's perfect.

"This morning I am going to tell you the story of my Mom. A lot of you know most of it already, but some of you don’t know the story at all, so I am going to go through the important parts and not ramble on too long. In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Leukemia. I had just returned home to Kansas City from an eight-month trip to Poland, and the next day we found out that the only good treatment was a bone-marrow transplant.

"I was already planning to be home for the next year or so, and I scheduled my college classes to be mostly in the evening so that I could be at home during the day while my Dad was working, and he could be home in the evening while I was at school. I was able to be with her when she got her bone marrow transplant in the spring of 2009, and I was with her for over a year after that as she recovered. By the time I moved back here in Sept. 2010, she had recovered very well and had gotten very close to 100 percent normal physically.

"Then, this past March, she suddenly felt sick and weak and went in to get a check-up. The doctors did some tests and found that the Leukemia had come back and she needed another bone-marrow transplant. A second bone-marrow transplant is always much riskier than the first. Julie and I were here in Poland and were only able to hear her through phone calls and see her through Skype. We found out through Skype—not in person—that there was a 25 percent chance she would die in the first four days, and a 75 percent chance she would die within a year. It was much harder than the first time for me, not just because it was more dangerous, but because I couldn’t see my Mom and hug her and just be there with her.

"The first step was to get chemotherapy and kill off the Leukemia, then wait for a donor to be found. She got that step done right away and was told she should get as much exercise as she could to stay as healthy as possible. The healthier she was for her transplant, the better her chances would be, so as soon as she felt like it she started to go on walks outside.

"This was right after I had decided to take up running on a regular basis with the goal of being in better shape for mountain climbing and rock climbing. She emailed me on May 3rd and said that she had walked almost all the way to the stop sign at the end of the street, and her goal for the next day was to walk all the way there. This stop sign was no more than 100 yards (100 meters) from the end of our driveway, but for someone who had gone through full chemo less than a month before, this was a big deal.

"I emailed her back, telling her that I was thinking of her while I was running in the mornings and I was going to push harder the next morning, just for her. I also told her to picture me standing next to the stop sign at the end of our street, rooting her on.

"Two days later I got an email from her saying 'Stop sign touched! Yahoo! We walked to the sign, I slapped it, actually, and we walked back home.' Then a day later she wrote me again saying she had walked from the driveway to the stop sign, back past the driveway to the stop sign at the other end of the street, and then back to the driveway. That was about 300 yards (300 meters). She wrote that she was 'tearing up' our street, and that we couldn’t blink or we’d miss her. That is how good her sense of humor was, even through all this mess.

"I, of course, responded telling her how proud of her I was, and she told me it helped that she had imagined me waiting for her at the stop sign. Then she sent me a picture of her with her hand on the stop sign as proof that she walked there and slapped it. She signed the email 'your sign-slappin mama.'

"With her as my inspiration, I pushed my personal run the next day and ran to a stop sign that was almost 3k from my apartment, running almost 6k total, which was the farthest I had run at that point. I took a picture of myself next to the sign and sent it to her. She sent me a picture of her next to a sign two blocks away, and I responded with a sign exactly 5k from my apartment. We were encouraging each other, and using this to stay positive in this tough situation.

"Then I had the idea of entering a race in her name, since I was running farther and farther and I thought it could encourage her further. She said she was honored that I would do this just for her. I didn’t really ever like running, but it turns out I wasn’t too bad at it, and I was doing it for her.

"After Skyping with my parents about my upcoming trip back to the States, we found out that there weren’t any good races coming up during the time I would be back. My Dad had the idea to start our own run and raise some money for the BMT department at the hospital where she was being treated. Over the next two weeks my Dad, some running friends he worked with and one of the nurses at my Mom’s hospital planned a 5k run in her name, where the benefits would go to buying encouraging shirts for all the patients coming through that department of the hospital.

"I had bought my Mom a shirt for her birthday last summer that said 'I fight like a girl' with a picture of Rosie the Riveter, a famous woman from an American WWII poster, flexing her bicep, and with the words 'Leukemia Awareness' across the bottom. She had worn it in the hospital as often as my Dad could wash it. Everyone there, including the doctors and nurses, had commented on how cool it was. My Dad had taken a picture of my Mom flexing while wearing the shirt and a flame bandana on her head. Her hair had fallen out during her first time in the hospital, so she wore bandanas to keep her head warm. My cousin Ian had given her one with the flames all over it, to be funny.

"We bought shirts like that one for all the women who will get bone-marrow transplants at this hospital over the next year. For the guys, we had to come up with a different design. Instead of 'I fight like a girl,' the guys’ shirts say 'I fight like Chuck Norris' with his face on the front. We had to get permission to make a bunch of shirts with Chuck Norris’s name and face, so I actually got to call Chuck Norris’ agent. We ended up having to send the design to the Norris family directly, and they liked the idea so much that they didn’t charge us anything to use his name and face.

"Within about six weeks, we had gone from my Mom and me encouraging each other to 'go farther,' to having a 5k run that raised enough money to buy an encouraging shirt for every patient who would be going through a bone-marrow transplant in that hospital over the entire next year. We are already planning a bigger run for next spring to raise money to buy shirts for more hospitals. Our goal is to supply them for BMT patients nationwide.

"A lot of people who go through cancer don’t have much family, or don’t have an encouraging family. The doctors have told us how big a difference encouragement can make. They told us that cancer patients who don’t have lots of visitors have a measurably lower chance of making it out of the hospital, and that these shirts could be a spark of hope to patients who don’t have much encouragement. A simple T-shirt could end up saving someone’s life.

"And it started with a few simple words of encouragement.

"I’m not bragging on me. I’m bragging on my mother and her endless optimism and her epic faith. She prayed for God to use her in a mighty way, and she sees this cancer as a way she can show others God’s love. She is a light in the world that will not easily be ignored. I’m also just trying to show that even the smallest bit of encouragement can start something big. I’m proving the point of how important it is to be encouraging to each other, and to the campers here, and to everyone else we interact with.

"You have no idea who needs to hear that they do a good job, or that they are important, or simply that you like them and think they are cool. You have no idea what getting to know and encouraging a camper can one day boost them to do. You have no idea what smiling and holding a door for a stranger, or picking up a stranger’s bag that they dropped, or whatever, can do for them."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

John 15:12-13
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

Sorry it's been a while since we posted. Tammy's recovery has been so smooth and steady that there haven't been as many things to write about as there were the first time, when there were more ups and downs. We get busy and we don't think about posting anything because the news is not much different than the day before. But we will try harder to post more frequently.

We love Valentine's Day. We are madly in love--have been for 33 years, officially, though it's really been much longer than that for me. We don't need Hallmark to tell us to tell each other that the other one is special, but it's still fun.

This one was especially fun, because Tammy got to have flowers again. With the relapse last spring, Tammy was on a strict diet of nothing "living" in the home, like pets or plants. That time has passed. We should get our cats back soon, and today I got to bring home some flowers for Tammy. I still think she's the prettiest girl at the ball, and with her in the picture, it's hard for me to notice the flowers.

Tammy is doing amazingly well. Her counts continue to improve, and she continues to inspire the doctors and nurses. She is a model patient, and God has indeed blessed her with a quick and thorough recovery. She's not completely there yet, but she's well on her way.

Tonight, as we ate dinner, I told her how much I enjoyed today, thinking about the blessing she is in my life. Last May, when she was preparing to go back in the hospital for her second bone-marrow transplant, the doctor told her that she had about a 25 percent chance to be here at this point. It doesn't matter what else is going on in life; if I need a lift, I think of Tammy and the fact that she is still with us and still a blessing to everyone around her. It's another chapter in our love story every day.

As you celebrate your own version of Valentine's Day, we hope you have a love story to share. We hope you and your loved ones appreciate each other more each day. And we hope you count on the love exemplified by Jesus Christ as an example of how to experience ultimate love.