Footprints |Day + 278|

We measure everything….from how tall someone is to how much it rains. Whenever we use the words, how much or when, it is a measurement of something. This time of year, we measure where we have been and where we are going…..often in the measurement of one year.

The word, “believe” has stood for our word for 2017. Our belief in Jen recovering, our ability to handle everything that has been thrown our way,  and our belief in the power of God,  has been the platform for which we have stood upon throughout the entire year.

God has delivered to us, so much throughout the year. So many words of kindness, gentle hands of healing, and friendship beyond belief. I had debated mentioning a list of names and their kind acts that has brought us here, but decided against it, out of fear I would miss someone and then they think it wasn’t enough to mention. The truth is, because there has been so many, over such a long period of time, I know the list would be incomplete. But if you have graced us with prayer, words, gifts, or gestures, know you have made a difference in our lives.

footprints

As some of you already know, our word for 2018, is “blessed.”  Because we chose, to ‘believe’ in all that was mentioned above, we are able to see how blessed we are in the coming year. Blessed with Jen getting stronger each day, blessed with love from so many, and blessed with the joy of knowing we will grow by one in the near year with the birth of my first grandchild, a boy.

 

The word “blessed” has enabled me to see the words from the prayer “Footprints” so differently. As some of you know, in the prayer, it is during the most troubled times, we only see one set of footprints. For that is when God is carrying us.  When God carries us, it is the blessings delivered to us, that makes getting through these difficult times, possible. Blessings come to us by the thousands, when the weight is the heaviest. By allowing God to carry the load, we find so much. Without Him, there would be no footprints at all.  He delivered to us so much, I can’t even begin to make a list for fear something would be overlooked. I believe this with all my heart.

In 2018, I hope to live each day, knowing how blessed I am. And come next December, through His blessings, I hope I have vision for my for word 2019. May you too find all the blessings in your 2018.  Happy New Year and may God Bless you each day.

 

A Year Later

365 days ago, my phone rang and I got a call like I’ve never had before. It was a call from the office of hematology in Lima and the receptionist had instructed me to call Jen’s doctor.

I knew immediately the news was bad but I made the call with Randy at my side. I dialed his number while sitting on the edge of my bed. The words your daughter has leukemia still rings in my ears. I was able to keep my composure during the phone call but as soon as I had hung up, tears stream from my eyes and I gasped​ for air. I cried harder than I probably have ever cried before in  my life. When  I finally got the strength to pick myself up and walk out to the living room and face Jennifer, my legs barely carried me. Jennifer too knew before I even had to tell her.

Like a strong brave soul she has shown us over the last year, she showed such great strengths in those first days. She called her brother Matt while I called her sister Jess. Next I called her grandmother as I stood outdoors in the cool November air. Telling her grandmother and her sister the news and saying the words Jennifer has leukemia, felt so foreign.

From there I looked for someone to console me and I walked over to my neighbors and fell in the arms of Sparky and Doris Brinkman. I needed to cry but needed to be strong for Jennifer so I couldn’t fall apart in front of her. I eventually gathered myself and walked back home and packed my bag to take Jennifer to the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus.

When we learned a few days later that Jennifer was considered a poor risk and would need a bone marrow transplant, I had no idea what all that meant. But  I have learned so much over the last 365 days. Transplant meant, many weeks in the hospital, a huge hurdle to leap. It meant Jennifer would have the fight of her life.

So it makes sense after 365 days of being nothing but the family fighting cancer to share some good news. After many years of waiting and praying, my oldest daughter and her husband Chris are expecting a baby in April. My first grandchild and Jennifer first chance at being an aunt. And 2018 promises to give us hope. We are so very blessed.

Day +197 – 11 months Since Diagnosis

FB_IMG_1507736326663Jennifer dressed  literally  from head to foot today in her Indians attire, ready for game five against the Yankees tonight. But first we had to get a couple pesky appointments in Columbus out of the way before game time.

We left before the sun was fully up to get to her eye doctor appointment at 945. Of course, as all appointments go, they were running behind. The beginning of the appointment was going well with very little eye dryness from GVHD and little, if any changes in vision. And then, the doctor found something that would change the course of our day.

Jen has swelling in both optical nerves and several hematomas behind the eyes. This can explain the spots in her eye sight (blood leaking into her vision) and her headaches. The eye doctor sent her immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

Upon arriving here, she has had an iv hooked up and recently came back from MRI. It  has been decided she will spend the night as they figure out the reason for these things.  Of course, some of the possible answers are frightening,  so the waiting is hard. But also, this place is so full of bad memories,  it is the last place we want to be.

I ask for a couple things as we sit and wait. 1. Prayers of course. We have felt the power of prayer. 2. To remember this is such a hard place to be for jen and myself. And for Randy, Jess, and Matt as they wait anxiously for answers back at home. It is a lonely and  a scary place to be. When someone reaches out to Jen or the rest of us, it often comes as we are feeling so helpless. And it is so appreciated.

Hopefully this is a short stay with positive outcomes. And hopefully the Indians win tonight and we can enjoy the rest of this post season from home.

Six Months – Day +182

I have been humbled in ways I never knew was possible.  When life took a turn for the worse nearly 11 months ago, I was not sure how possibly this could happen to Jen. Her gentle soul, her love for everyone was reason enough to not have to face the cancer that could end her life.

Why? I asked myself that many of times. I would be lying if I said I don’t still ask myself why. But some days, I see the why. God has brought Jen and myself down a path in which we would grow in so many ways.

DSC_1329

To begin with, we have learned how one can be so completely generous without needing a thank you. A wonderful, unselfish 24 year old man gave Jen the gift of life. He didn’t do it for praise. He didn’t do it for money. He gave his bone marrow to give someone a chance at life and never asked for anything in return. Although I have written a thank you to him, and I hope he has received it, he has not made any contact back. I don’t know if he wishes to stay anonymous, however tomorrow will be six months since Jen has received his marrow and was given the chance to heal and live.

*Public Service announcement – You too can give someone the gift of life by getting on the registry to become a bone marrow donor. Visit www.bethematch.org to find out more.*

I also have learned how much there is to be thankful for in life. We are so blessed by so much and often we can’t see it as we are too distracted by those things we choose to complain about. On Saturday, I photographed my first wedding of the season. It was very hot for September. I sweated through my clothes and I was completely soaked only a couple hours into the day. In the past, this would be cause for me to complain. But instead, I knew I was blessed as I was able to work, make some money, and spend the day without fear of leaving Jen at home. I heard many complain about the heat. I heard many complain about many things. And I so wish, they could find a way to see the blessings without ever having to go through what we have in the last eleven months.

I also am learning to not let others define me. Popularity and my name has never been spoke in the same sentence. And there are days, especially when attempting to run my own business, popularity was important to me. To have someone choose me, as a friend or as a photographer, meant I was accepted. And when I wasn’t chose as those, I felt rejected. Often, when harsh word or actions came my direction, I would allow that to define me. And although it is difficult some days, I am learning to tell myself that God and God alone can judge me.

There had been times over the last several months, even while I watched my dear daughter fight cancer,  we had been judged.  And as much I wish I could  have protected Jen from these comments and actions, I am so blessed these moments occurred. Through it, I have had to find how to rebuild myself up, build Jen up, and not allow those things determine who we are or how we feel about ourselves.

kodak

The doctors had told us to expect to see some of Jen’s strength to return at the six month mark. And that has been the case. In the last couple weeks, Jen has been able to attend two Cleveland Indians baseball games, gone to a flea market, and has painted my coffee table and a portrait of her cat Kodak. Her infectious smile has returned and her love for life has been restored. And although the battle continues, and lasting side effects still have to be addressed, to see the part of Jen that has been missing for so long, is like winning the lottery.  I am walking on sunshine!

Day +140 Praise Jesus

Today, Jen had an appt at the hematology clinic in Columbus. She hadn’t been to a clinic appt. for three weeks so we were excited to see what changes we would see. To start, Jen will once again be decreasing the amount of meds that protect her from developing GVHD. As this medicine is decreased, Jen will experience less tremors and hopefully will be able to drive again. At the rate of current decrease, we can expect to be completely off of the medication in about two months.

Also since Jen’s platelets have come up, she will start taking a blood thinner. She needs to do this because she had blood clots and a pulmonary embolism. Although it is not expected she will develop more, this is protocol for anyone who has had one. Hopefully in a few months, she can stop taking tbis medication.

Jen also starts aquatic therapy tomorrow.  She has had a great deal of muscle loss and has been having a great deal of back pain. Hopefully the therapy will help her get stronger and the pain will subside.  She will have an mri of her back to be sure there isn’t something they are missing so we will make a trip to Columbus for that sometime in the next couple weeks

Now for the best news!

Praise Jesus! We prayed and He has answered our prayers.  At this time,  the doctors have told us Jen’s counts (other then her platelets being slightly low) have rebounded. Her white Count, ANC,  and hemoglobin are all normal.  This means the transplant has worked and means even less blood draws. Dr Minns also told us they do not see any reason to have any more biopsies as long as Jen shows no symptoms of low counts or her counts fall.

As Jen moves forward, the focus will be on continue decrease of medications, increasing her strength,  and emotional support. Jen currently appears to be suffering from some PTSD. This is quite common for AML patients, especially when they have had a ton of complications along the way like Jen. But we hope as time passes, Jen will also begin to feel strong emotionally once again. For now, we can support her by listening and by letting her know we are here for her. It was also suggested she spend time doing things she enjoys so be sure to invite her to the movies, to dinner,  to paint, etc. She may take time to feel well enough to go for long periods but in time,  God willing, she will inprove here too.

 

Day +133

It has been awhile since I have updated on the blog, so this may be a long(er) post. Over the course of the last 20+ days life here has had slow changes.  Now that the benefit is over, things are a bit more relaxed and the the piles of things for the it diminished. There were however some prizes that were not selected on the prize wall, so sometime in the coming weeks the prize wall will make a reappearance.  With so many businesses so generous, we want to make sure we gift them to give Jen the most reward. But for now, we are enjoying a little down time from world of benefits.

Jen had a local hematology appointment yesterday to check her counts.  Her counts have been on the up swing for a couple of weeks and yesterday her numbers were the best they have been since she got sick last fall.  I don’t think Jen believes it yet, as she still feels very ill most days.  Fatigue, weakness, and pain are daily complaints and some days I feel frustrated in how to help.

Jen saw an orthopedic doctor last week to see if there is a source to her continued back pain.  Early results say she is suffering from substantial muscle loss due to no activity for so long.  The only thing she can do is to work through this pain through physical therapy.  They ordered aquatic therapy but it will be another week before she can get that started.  Along with pain comes nausea and fatigue. There is no magic pill or cure for all this. Time and prayer and pushing through it is all that can be done.  This makes me often feel helpless as endless tears are shed daily.

If there ever has been a time I have felt ill-equipped  for the job I am to perform, it is now.  The smiles Jen was able to share at the beginning, aren’t as frequent. And despite her positive numbers, the cancer has left behind a young lady who suffers daily both emotionally and physically. I have told her many times she will get there….but  at this time, she isn’t buying it. The PTSD from leukemia is far too real.

In addition to the stresses of leukemia, the stresses of our pet family has also been difficult. A couple weeks ago, Jen had to put down her cat of sixteen years. He was in renal failure and could no longer keep food down. In addition to losing Kodak, my dear dog Molly has had no improvement. Later today, she has a vet appointment in which I expect will be coming home without her.  She no longer can lift her back end and she spends her days laying on her side on a cushion. I bring food and water to her and after I sit her up, she takes a long drink and a few bites and goes back to laying down. My heart is broken but I don’t want her to suffer any longer.

Rally Together With Jennifer and Be The Match was a beautiful day.  There were 15 people who signed up to be on the donor list, which means 15 more options for registry to look at when someone is needing bone marrow. Hopefully, when we are able to do another event with Be The Match we can sign up twice as many!  We also were blessed with nearly 200 guest to help celebrate Jen’s remission.  Jen spent much of the day outdoors and enjoyed visiting with people she hasn’t seen much of lately.  Thank you to all who came.  Also we raffled off the $3000 Disney Cash.  My dear high school friend Beth Kortokrax won!   Beth’s older brother Rob died from leukemia a few years back so it felt so perfect that she won.  Her two youngest children had saved money up to buy the tickets.  Congrats to Beth and her family!

We had so many generous businesses help us and I will be making a list of all those in a future blog.  It all would not have been possible without their help.  I hope for life to get less complicated, less trips to Columbus, and Jen to get strong enough so she and I can return back to our normal lives soon.  And when we do, I have a ton of paying it forward to do.

Day +110 The Other Side of Cancer

The ugly word of cancer many have experienced.  Some fights long,  some short. Some with positive outcomes,  some not. Cancer  has changed our entire lives,   and it has become easy to feel alone. We are now on the other side of cancer. 

We start days slow now. The rush is not tolerated well by Jen. If the day has an early start, the afternoon becomes slowed down. We seldom can plan anything too far in advance because likelyhood of canceling is high. The moment we think we have a completely free day, we are often met with a complication that changes that. Runs to the doctors, ER, or pharmacy happen several times a week. And plans to the store, to get laundry done, or maybe a church social change on a dime.

We watch on social media our friends and family take vacations, go to work, and celebrate holidays. We dream when we can do the same. Going out to eat and Jen feeling well from start to end is an accomplishment.  The drive to Lima seems long for her…. the drive to Columbus she dreads. 

As we plan Jen’s party, we have forgotten the world has not stopped. Plans for vacations, family weddings,  and other events have filled up the calendar of many of those we invited. And it’s hard to not feel alone or disapointed. But we are on the other side of cancer and we can’t expect those who arent here with us to understand.  It is why the words ‘cancer sucks’ is said daily here. 

I have promised myself to never forget what this side of cancer feels like.  And to remember those who  walk this after us, know they can count on me. I promise to do my best to ring their doorbell with dinner or to ask if I can help in any way. I promise frequent messages to let them know I think of them often. And when I close my eyes at night, I remind myself how blessed I am to be back on the easier side of cancer.  I wish for others to know, without ever having been on this side, they are blessed. Do not take for granted vacations, Monday mornings, and casual drives to Lima. Remember celebrations, church socials, and lazy summer days are fleeting. 

Day +106

Yesterday Jen had a clinic appointment in Columbus. For the last several months, Jen has had low white count,  low platelet counts, and stable but low red blood counts.  The reason for the low counts were not only because of radiation and chemotherapy,  but also medications that are needed to help ward off viruses and her rejecting the bone marrow. 

The low platelets have resulted in many transfusions and the low white counts means she needs injections of neupengen several times a week. The transfusions required many trips to the ER and the clinic. And injections often give her bone pain. This has been very exhausting over the last several weeks on her and on all of us.

Yesterday at her clinic appointment we learned they no longer detect the CMV virus in her and if the blood test yesterday still shows no virus, she will be able to quit taking the medication the lowers those levels.  They also are now in a safe place to have her quit taking one of the meds she needed to keep her fron rejecting the marrow.  Both of these medications are immune suppressents which means they drive down all her counts.  By stopping them, her marrow hopefully will be able to start growing and transfusions and injections can be stopped.  This hopefully will make her start feeling stronger and less tired and fatiqued. 

We also will be able to only go to columbus every two weeks for clinic appointments and have maintenance cbc blood test done in Lima on the off weeks. This gives us more time at home to get stronger. We are thrilled.

Jen’s Survivor party is now a week and a half away. A lot of planning and love has gone into planning this for Jen. And we are looking forward to sharing a day of love and celebration with her. We welcome everyone to join us and give Jen a very special day she will always remember.  She has been through so much in eight months. She faced cancer, pneumonia,  chemo, radiation,  blood clots, and so much more. She has shown us so much strength. And what better way to celebrate than to show her she has been in our thoughts and prayers through it all. 

And finally, today was a difficult day for the Honigford family, especially Jen. Today we put down Jen’s cat of 16 years. Kodak’s health had been failing for some time but Jen couldn’t bring herself to put him down when she was preparing for her transplant.  Today, she braved saying goodbye and cried as he passed. He was buried near her dog Grace back near Randy’s parents old house this evening.