Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Review of 2011 --- Part 2

July was a hot and dry month. One day's high temperature made it the forth hottest day ever recorded in Kansas. And we received almost no rain. During the first week of July it was still hard for me to walk, sit, get out of bed, or carry anything heavier than a few pounds. I slept downstairs instead of upstairs, and my brother William was nice enough to buy me a laptop so I wouldn't have to climb the stairs to use the computer. If I played my guitar, I would need someone to get it out and put it away for me since it was too heavy to hold. I never realized how much stomach muscles are involved in carrying things. My belly had a seven inch cut in it, which was literally kept together by metal staples. At the beginning of the month I had a small surgery to get a chemo port installed in my right shoulder so that the chemo could be pumped straight to my veins. Thankfully it was only few days later and the staples were removed, leaving me only with internal pains. Eventually those got better too, and by the time July was half over, I could function normally as long as I didn't carry too much. The surgeries and cancer had also left me with less than half the normal hemoglobin count. So I often had headaches and felt light headed. I had many near-fainting experiences. Around this time, my sister Christianna and I took a trip up to Minnesota.

On the way there we camped beside a lake in northern Iowa. It was a nice break from Kansas' heat, and we had fun entertaining and being entertained by some imaginative children. All too soon though we returned to Kansas.
Near the end of the month three of my brothers and my sister-in law traveled from Colorado and Arizona so that we could all be together before I started chemo and before Christianna left for Germany.
This was nice since we had not all been in one place at the same time for over a year. So July ended well....

Christianna the morning of her departure
August 1st was the day I started my chemotherapy. I had always heard that chemo was not fun, so the day approached with much dread. Each chemo session consists of me getting some blood drawn for testing, visiting with the doctor, getting an inch long needle poked into the chemo port in my chest, then getting over half a gallon of combined anti-nausea medicine and chemo pumped into my body over about two and a half hours. I then get attached to a portable chemo pump which I take home and wear for 48 hours. I didn't really notice the nausea that first day, but I did notice one of the other side effects. I could no longer drink anything that was chilled. This was unpleasant because of how hot Kansas gets in summer, but I tried my best to not complain. I would soon realize how fortunate I was only needing to exclude chilled drinks; because as the sessions stacked up, so did the effects. And by September it was to the point where I couldn't even drink anything at room temperature. Only warm drinks. On august 14th my sister left for Germany at about the same date which I had only a couple months before planned on moving to Minnesota. My emotions were a mix of sorrow to see her go, and jealousy at the amazing opportunity she had. The weather was also starting to cool down, and I was very much looking forward to fall.

September is always a pleasant month. There aren't really any hints of fall until near the end, so the rest of September is a mild version of the Kansas summers. September is also my Birthday month. In fact starting with my birthday on the 14th, our family has 6 birthdays in 2 months. I had chemo on my birthday this year, but it was still good. The day after my birthday I woke up early to start the 12.5 hour drive to northern Minnesota. 
Near Bemidji Minnesota
I went to a Church rally/camp known as Jackpine, which was lots of fun. While there, my sensitivity to cold really showed up and my hands were numb most of the time. Another side effect of the chemo also got worse. The same drug that causes cold sensitivity can cause neuropathy, and I started getting it so bad in my hands that I good barely move my thumb and index finger together. Buttoning buttons and other simple tasks became very difficult. I also had problems controlling my hands to play guitar. My fingers just didn't move like I wanted them to. After I got back the doctors took me off the drug saying that one more week could cause the neuropathy to become permanent. I still have traces of it now and again. After returning from Minnesota I had one chemo session before I left on another adventure in the last few days of the month.
The Grand Canyon from above
Zion National Park
I flew out to Las Vegas where I met my brother William who worked in the Grand Canyon building trails. From there we went to Death Valley in California, and then ended the month while staying in Zion National Park, Utah.

 October is definitely my favorite month of the year. The weather is perfect in Kansas. You could spend all day, everyday outside, and you still wouldn't get enough of it. This year however October for me started far from Kansas. After Visiting Zion National Park we went on to Bryce Canyon NP, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde NP, The beautiful San Juan Mountains, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, the Maroon Bells, and Rocky Mountain NP before heading to our brother Jonathan's house in Denver. It was an amazing trip! Even though I wasn't feeling the best, I enjoyed every moment very much. Some of those places are so magnificent that they bring the lyrics from two songs to my mind. "We live in a beautiful world", and "How beautiful Heaven must be."
 While we were in Denver, we watched as our brother Jonathan  ran his first marathon. Afterwards we returned to Kansas where I got to experience Autumn all over again.

The colors of fall continue into November. I enjoyed taking several hikes with my brothers at Kaw River state park along the Kansas (Kaw) River. At only 11 months old, our dog Teddy is a full grown dog who thinks he is still a puppy. He still enjoys jumping up in my lap like he use to. Our other dog Annie started having puppies right after Church on Wednesday night November 9th. By morning there were 7 squirming miniature Golden Retrievers.
Yawn for the camera
 They were born at just about the perfect time to become Christmas gifts for someone. So we took several pictures of them in Christmas attire. It is extremely difficult to capture good pictures of ever moving puppies.
It was nice to have my brother Jonathan visit for a few days at Thanksgiving. Michael and Rachel stayed in Colorado, William was in the middle of the Nevadan desert, and Christianna was in Germany; so this was a much smaller Thanksgiving gathering than usual. Only six at the table. As November ended many people started thinking about Christmas, but I was more excited for the fact that I only had a little over a month of chemo treatments left!

Soldier Creek emptying into the Kansas River
 I feel like I should be posting snow-filled pictures for the month of December. But alas, except for one very lite dusting we haven't seen any snow. In fact even today on New Year's eve, the forecast is sunny with a high of 63. I do hope we see some snow this winter, but as long as the temperatures stay like this I will not complain. 
Oliver (my favorite) sitting, as Stanley lays in a flower
box on our front porch.
winter weeds

All but two of the seven puppies have left for their new homes. They are about as big as their father Teddy was when we got him ten months ago. "Oliver" and "Yoga Bear" (So named for the odd positions he sleeps in) are set to be picked up the first week of next year. While we are speaking of next week, I should mention that it is my final chemo session!!!! For once I actually can't wait to go to the hospital for chemo. Another big event of the month is that much of my cancer bills were forgiven. To date I have been forgiven about $150,000!!!! I can never thank God and those who helped me out enough! My brother William moved back from Arizona this month, and on Christmas we got to skype with Christianna in Germany, which was fun. The day after Christmas, my mom, dad and little brothers all left early for Colorado to visit my two brothers and my sister in law there. They aren't set to be back until the first of the year, so New Years eve won't be a big event for me here in Kansas. It will be a quiet end to a very busy year....
Train heading out of Topeka
2011 has no doubt been the most eventful year of my life.
Even if some of the events were unpleasant, it makes for a full and memorable year. And over all it was a good year. Even now with chemo, I can look back at the not so fun moments and feel glad instead of sad. Now that the pains my stomach aches and surgery are gone, their memories create joy that I now feel much better.
 2012 also looks to be an eventful year.
William is set to move to Alabama next week where he will work at the space center. I have my final chemo session next week. Providing that my upcoming scans are clear, I will have surgery in about a month to remove my chemo port. Another big event is that my Dad has found a job as a preacher in southeast Kansas. The rest of the family are planning on moving around the beginning of February. I will remain in Topeka with Teddy and keep working at Red Lobster. There are not too many work opportunities for me in a town of about 300. Depending on housing availability, I plan on finally moving to Minnesota this spring. Probably in May. Christianna returns from Germany in June, and my brother Michael is trying to organize a family canoe trip or something of the sort this summer. Although it may seem like the first part of next year is pretty well planned out; if the last year has taught me anything, it is that one should never put too much trust in plans. In the end God's will will be done.

I will end this entry with a short photo timeline of a year in one spot along the Kansas River.....
Winter (I wish I could have gotten a picture while the river was frozen)
It is unfortunate that I don't have a final winter picture. I find it very fascinating to look at the shape of the trees and the leaves through all the seasons.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Good Place To Start --- (A Review of 2011) --- Part 1

           One year ago I was jobless, broke, and completely unaware of everything the following year would have in store for me. I had recently moved back home to NE Kansas after living two hard years in Denver, Colorado. I had also just spent nearly the last of my money paying off medical bills from a bicycle accident which gave me a broken left clavicle (requiring me to have a still-present titanium plate installed in my shoulder). Despite all of this, I believed that things were looking up, and the next year was going to be a good one. Thanks to the low cost of living with my family I was able to buy a cheap little pickup truck. This was a great feeling after being without a vehicle ever since my medical expenses forced me to sell my Mustang over a year before. At the time I planned on attending Boise Bible College in the fall with my sister Christianna. Knowing that the near-mimimum-wage type of jobs which I had held in the past would be insufficient to support me in Boise, I had enrolled in a month-long CNA program at a local tech school. One day we were training with some medical equipment and after taking my pulse, the teacher told me that I must be anemic. I shrugged it off because I was confident that I was in excellent health. After a short while I realized that being a CNA was neither a sufficient job to support me, nor one I wanted.

So with job uncertainty and a new unsureness about if I would even be moving to Boise, 2011 began.
The most eventful year of my life.
A  January walk in the woods
Taken on Jan. 29th (Kansas' 150th Birthday)
Shortly after the beginning of the new year, my brother William and I traveled to Colorado to visit our brother Jonathan in Denver; and our brother Michael and his wife Rachel in Colorado Springs. On the way back home a blizzard made the roads treacherous and I had my first minor car accident. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was a headache. Speaking of aches, less than a week after our trip to Denver I was struck with a terrible stomach ache after working out one day. The pain was about the worst I had ever felt. It was so bad that I could barely walk. I thought that I may have had appendicitis. But I wasn't in the position to pay for a trip to the doctor. So I waited and in a few days it went away. Little did I know that this would be the first of periodic stomach aches over the next six months....
Still without a job, I began to feel like I was wasting my time. So I enrolled in the same community college I had two years before, knowing that I could take general courses which would transfer to any college.


Our home at dawn, after a fresh February snow

Theodore (Teddy) Bear Pope
In February I was able to finally find a job. It was only part time at Subway, but by now I was willing take just about anything. Still I knew it was not enough to save up sufficient money for a move to Boise, and I was starting to have questions about some of the religious views at the Bible college as well. On a happier note, My sister Christianna and I bought a Golden Retriever puppy so that our other dog Annie would have some company. Less than a year later, he is huge and has pups of his own.
First blooms

March is always exciting because that is when Spring starts arriving in Kansas. I had hoped and planned on making an expedition out to the Southwest over spring break with my brothers, but a lack of money and free time ended those plans. In it's place my brother William and I attempted to make a 50 mile cross-country hike over the spot where the Atchison-Topeka railway use to run. Our trek was cut about 40 miles short when all traces of the line dissipated into fields and farmland. I also took my two younger brothers and our two dogs on a short but fun camping trip.

Stephen acting crazy
Teddy got cold after a swim in the lake, so I wrapped him up and sat with him by the fire

towards the end of March my sister learned that she would be receiving a full-ride scholarship to be a foreign exchange student in Germany come fall!

I finally found a better paying job as things were really starting to warm up, and green up in Kansas. Working as a waiter at Red Lobster, I was now making twice what I was making at Subway. However by now my plans of going to school in Boise were nearly completely gone. I decided that I needed to go to school for a profession before going to Bible college, and was starting to consider moving to Minnesota and enrolling in a forestry program. I often enjoyed the nice spring weather by going on long bike rides and walks. Unfortunately the stomach aches were starting to bother me more, and any descent amount of physical activity could summon great discomfort.
Thomas and Stephen getting muddy on the banks of the Kansas River


May is one of my favorite months of the year. By then everything is either pretty much fully green or blooming. School let out for me, and family visited to celebrate Christianna's graduation from highschool. Around that time my stomach aches started to greatly worsen, and rather than coming and going every other day or so, they began to remain almost constantly. They were also no longer triggered by physical activity alone, but also by merely eating. Along with the stomach aches, I often felt light headed and in a daze. Despite this, I tried my best to enjoy the weather before the inevitable heat of summer arrived.

Topeka and the flooding Kansas River

                              Here we go...
Beautiful Minnesota
The stomach aches soon became so bad that everyday was almost unbearable, and I struggled to get through each shift at work. I had no idea what was causing them, but I was starting to realize that it might be something serious. Despite the pain I decided to take a week off to drive Christianna to Bible Camp in Iowa, and from there I would go up to Minnesota for the first time to visit the school there. Camp in Iowa is always fun, and I enjoyed a few days there. My time in Minnesota was also great, and I met some wonderful people from the Church there. It was a nice break from the Kansas heat, and surprisingly my pain disappeared for the entire week! I credit my mom's homemade granola for that. :) 

Unfortunately just two days after getting back home, my pain returned at an increased level after eating some grilled hamburgers. Those hamburgers might have saved my life; because the pain they gave me was so great that before the week was halfway done I decided that I needed to go to the hospital regardless of the financial cost. After sitting in the emergency room for what seemed like hours, I went through a series of scans and labs which showed there was a tumor or something like it in my colon. 
I underwent  surgery on Saturday June 25th where it was confirmed that I had stage three colon cancer. They removed 1/3 of my colon along with my appendix, and part of my small intestine. Besides giving me post-surgery pains which exceeded the stomach pains I had before; this surgery admitted me to the minority group of people who have an organ known as the Semi-colon. :) I spent one week in the hospital, of which there were five days where I had no food and little water. I was so glad to leave the hospital on June 28th, that I didn't even mind the 112 degree heat that day.  
With chemo and another small surgery imminent; and with no idea how I would pay for my medical expenses, the year reached its half way point with more uncertainty than it began with....