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."

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