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!

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