You Get What You Need

June 27, 2010

We thought we wanted a golden retriever… a goofy, playful, ball chasing, loveable family dog. But, as Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, once said on his show, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.” (I wish I could do the accent; it sounds better with the accent.)

Domino has turned out to be exactly what we needed. He isn’t actually all that playful; I think being kept outside by himself for the first couple of years of his life didn’t teach him much about playing. He doesn’t even seem to notice when a ball bounces by his head. But, he is silly, which is actually more amusing. He is unbelievably adorable and super soft. He doesn’t really play with the kids, but his is unflappable when they play. He is the first dog I have ever seen sniff a tambourine when a child was shaking it… seriously. He is unfailingly gentle, completely bombproof and always ready for loving in any form. The kids can lay on him, poke his feet, pull his ears… it’s all good with him… he takes it as love, which is how it’s actually meant.

John ruining the dog

So, he may not be what we thought we wanted, but he is exactly what we needed. And, we have had a ball with him this weekend. The kids are taking turns having him on their beds at night while reading books… he loves it. Jake put his blanket over himself and Domino today and they lay on the floor and watched TV together.

If you or anyone you know is looking for a dog, I can’t recommend the Death Row Dogs program enough. You can find it at The whole experience was wonderful, from meeting the inmates to getting our super dog. He is very well trained; he knows all his obedience commands and basic good manners, is house-trained and crate trained. He doesn’t jump on you, or rush at the door or chew stuff up; it’s been a wonderful way to get a dog. They get 25 dogs every three months and Domino was the 484th dog they have rescued from euthanization. People come from all over the country to get their dogs and we feel lucky to have found them. They had four dogs from Domino’s class that had not yet found a home, including a beautiful chocolate lab. Surely, someone we know needs a trained dog….

Too hot to do anything this week, but swim and maybe, go to the movies. We go back to the clinic on Thursday for a counts check and, hopefully, they’ll be up so we can get a little more freedom after that.

On a sad note, Ellie, the little girl I asked you to pray for last week, passed away the very next day after my post. I don’t know what else to say about that, except to say cancer sucks.



March 29, 2010

It’s steroid week… always a blast. Tanner is handling it really well, but it just stinks and that’s all there is to it. She is also feeling the effects of her monthly dose of Vincristine. She is having a hard time with her mouth burning every time she eats or drinks anything. I think this is a precursor to mouth sores, but Tanner usually doesn’t actually get the sores and the feeling passes in a few days. This time, however, it’s lasting longer so we’re loading up on the glutamine to try to prevent them from turning into sores. It’s particularly frustrating to her considering the steroids make her really hungry – talk about a catch 22.

She’s actually been pretty active this weekend, though. The good weather, combined with the lure of the kids playing in our cul-de-sac, outweighed the steroid apathy many times this weekend. We flew kites, played baseball, rode bikes and jumped rope. She even made it to school for a couple of hours today and to the play therapist’s for a much-needed anxiety download.

I’ve been a little burdened the last couple of days. The little girl I’ve been writing about, Samantha Abbott, died yesterday morning. She was 7 and such a cute little girl. She was in tremendous pain in the last weeks of her life and her organs finally shut down and gave up. Too much for a child to have to bear and for her parents to have to come to grips with. Just unfathomable.

In addition, I heard through the childhood cancer grapevine about another Vandy patient, a 14-year-old girl, who was just sent home with hospice care. She was given six months at the very best, but has since taken a turn for the worse and it will likely only be days instead of months.

These stories both sadden me and terrify me. They eat at the edges of my hope and deflate my confidence.

As John showed me the text message Sunday morning that Samantha had passed away, we just stared at each other for a moment, eyes wet. It was a three-second moment, but I knew exactly what he was thinking. Then, we choked it down wordlessly and moved on.

What else can you do?


Another Battle Lost

November 24, 2009

I am crying as I write this, crying for yet another child who has lost his life to cancer. I did not know him, but every time I hear about cancer taking a child so early, I can’t help but cry out of sadness for the child and his or her parents… and out of fear for my child. There are no words to describe the terror.

My Mom emailed me last week about a little 5-year-old boy she heard about who was losing his battle to neuroblastoma. He loved Christmas and his family was celebrating Christmas early while he was able. They put out a request on their blog that people send Christmas cards to him.

Yesterday, I told Tanner about Noah. I didn’t tell her he was dying, but that his family was trying to do something special for him, just like people do special things for her when she is having a hard time. She eagerly agreed to make a card for him and got right to work. She drew a Christmas ornament and wrote inside it, “Merry Christmas. Hi, my name is Tanner. I am six-years-old and I have cancer just like you. Love, Tanner.”

IMG_1303This morning when I woke up, she had gathered a small stuffed fox, a pumpkin eraser and a little fuzzy ball and put those items, along with the card, inside a large zip lock bag. Thirty minutes ago, I put the bag inside an envelope and addressed it to Noah, added stamps and dropped it into the mailbox. When I came in, out of curiosity, I decided to look him up on Caring Bridge to see if he had a site. He did not, but I googled him and found a host of new stories documenting how his family’s request for cards had gone viral and more than 1 million cards and gifts had come to their home. But, the family was asking people to please stop because they had celebrated Christmas on Nov. 8 and Noah had passed away… yesterday.

I can’t stop crying thinking how I now have to hide away the card and little gifts Tanner collected… little childhood treasures put together from the innocence of her heart… so I don’t have to explain to her that he died before he could receive them.

Noah Biorkmann received more than 1 million Christmas cards before he died yesterday

Noah Biorkmann received more than 1 million Christmas cards before he died yesterday

This disease is vile and heartless. It steals childhoods from innocent children and beautiful children from loving parents. It breaks my heart every day and I am sick of it.



November 10, 2009

Tanner, Jake and I went in search of an uncrowded playground yesterday. We ended up at River Park in Brentwood. There were a few little boys Jake’s age, but not really any one else around. Tanner and I sat on a dinosaur together and watched Jake play with three little boys. She was not wearing her wig… she hasn’t worn it for even one minute since she shaved her head… and had a Hannah Montana bandana wrapped around her head.

While we were sitting there, another Mom sidled up to us and tactfully said, “Where does she go?” She caught me slightly off guard, but only for a second before I replied, “Vanderbilt.”

She told Tanner she liked her bandana and then stood next to me as we watched Tanner run off to play. Then she said, “My son went to St. Jude, but finished his treatment at Vanderbilt; we lost him when he was 12.”

We hadn’t even exchanged names yet, but I already knew her. I knew the long hours she spent in hospitals, dosing out medicine, waiting for test results, soothing a sick child, wishing it could be her instead of him. I knew her without saying anything else. I knew her except for that hole in her heart, which I have had to face but never had to actually accept.

After telling her how sorry I was for her loss, I said, “I can’t possibly know what it feels like to lose a child, but I can imagine it… because I’ve had to.” She just nodded.

John and I have had to face the possibility that Tanner might not live at least twice; once when she was lifeflighted to Vanderbilt for a drug reaction and doctors could not tell us whether she would live or die; and the other when she was diagnosed with leukemia. It’s a feeling you can’t really appreciate unless it’s happened to you, just like the feeling of actually losing a child is something I’ll never truly understand, although I think I might have a better idea than most.

The thing that struck me about this woman, who had lost her son just 4 years ago, was that she smiled when she talked about him. She explained that just last weekend, they had hosted the Hoover Run for Hope in Brentwood, in honor of her son, Liam Hoover, and that they had raised over $40,000 to give to St. Jude and Vanderbilt to help families of children with cancer. She and her husband had found a way to turn their grief into something positive and she was amazing in her strength.

This Cancer Parent Club is not one I ever wanted to join, but now that I’m here I find I meet the most amazing people. Fighting this horrible disease can sometimes bring out the best in someone. It’s a by-product of facing your worst fear every day and trying to make the best of it. I’m better for knowing the people I have met through this process, including Michelle Hoover, Liam’s mom. I’m touched by the stories they choose to share and by the way they unfailingly put aside their own worry or grief to try to soothe mine.

My Mom sent me an email from a friend of hers that had a quote at the bottom that struck her as appropriate and meaningful and I agree:

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day, saying… “I will try again tomorrow.” –Mary Anne Radmacher

Yesterday, a quiet voice sidled up to me at a playground and showed me how to keep trying even when everyone would understand if you gave up.


Tanner’s New Hair

photoThis is from Tanner:

I’m at the hospital. And my hair is falling out, but I’m very sad. Lily is another girl with leukemia and she is my friend and she gave me her wigs. One is dark brown and very long and is real hair. And the other one is dark blonde but fake hair. And my Mom ordered me this one and it is blonde just like my real hair. Here is a picture of it.


We Almost Made It Through Sunday

October 11, 2009dec 08 015 Just when we thought we had gotten through this rotten, unending week, our beloved border collie, Millie, died today. She was 12 and over the past few months, had seemed to be getting old quickly. Today, she suddenly was unable to move and John quietly took her to the emergency vet so as not to upset the kids. The vet said she had several cancerous tumors and one had ruptured causing internal bleeding. John called to say she would only live an hour at best and I piled the kids in car and left a check taped to the door for the pizza guy who was on his way. In the car, I explained to Tanner that Millie was an old dog and had a cyst that was bleeding in her tummy and that the kind thing to do was to keep her from suffering any more.

Together, the four of us said goodbye to our sweet, gentle, Frisbee-loving dog and watching her pass peacefully. Tanner sobbed while Jake patted her and said, “Bye, bye Millie.” This sweet dog slept at the end of Tanner’s bed every night to keep away the monsters and keep a child with an active imagination “safe” at night. She was intelligent, loyal and the model of good doggy behavior. She is already missed.

Sadly, Millie’s passing is just one more loss for Tanner. Millie was her security blanket at night and she has been up 4 times already in the first 2 hours after bedtime. John will go sleep in her room tonight; if I go, I will wake her with my coughing. It was the worst possible time for this to happen (not that there’s a good time for your dog to die) when she most needs comfort and security in what is often a very scary world for her. I’m not sure what we will do.

John is devastated and keeps questioning whether he did the right thing by not opting for a surgery option which the vet said would only give Millie a few months. It would definitely have been nice to have some time to prepare Tanner for her passing. It was just so sudden (it all happened in a matter of an hour) and I think it’s hard not to second guess a decision you feel you made in haste, even if it was the right one.

We’re all tired from the week behind us, with nothing to really look forward to this week.

As John said when I came down from putting Jake to bed, “I want a do-over.” I think he was talking about the dog, but I was thinking about 2009.


So Sad

August 18, 2009 I wasn’t planning on posting today; it was an uneventful day for the most part and I didn’t really have much to say. But, then just moments ago, as I was idly surfing the net, I wondered whether the Tanner Time blog would show up if you googled Tanner’s name. It does, which is cool, but beneath it was another blog listed for another Tanner Page.

I opened the blog to find that a beautiful little 7-year-old boy named Tanner Page had passed away just this past January from brain cancer. His family has the most beautiful site in his honor. They write messages to him on the blog, even now, to tell him how much they miss him, to ask him to watch over his mother and father, to let him know they see him in a sunset, a wave on the beach or a butterfly at the window. It is heartbreaking and I cannot stop crying.

Tanner is not the most common name and it seems so strange that they are basically they same age and both with cancer. This is a bizarre world.

I sent his parents a message; I didn’t really know what to say except that maybe a little part of their Tanner could live on in ours. Perhaps it will bring some small comfort in the midst of what must be an unimaginable sadness.

Yes, this is a bizarre world.