Christmas Spirit

December 22, 2010

Christmas last year

Every year, the Christmas spirit hits me at some point. I may have been preparing for weeks, going through the motions because I know I have to or I will get behind, but not really enjoying it like I want to. Last year, it hit me when a sweet friend sent Santa to our house because she knew we wouldn’t be able to get out to see him that year. He arrived in a black pickup truck and came in amidst shouts of joy from my kids. He snuggled my bald little girl and tried to coax Jake to sit on his lap to no avail. And when I hugged him goodbye, I whispered in his ear, “Thank you so much… I didn’t think we would get to do this this year.” And, he whispered back, “I know… that’s why I came.” POW! The Christmas spirit hit me like a ton of bricks!

This year, it has come in more gently. I’ve been trying to enjoy the kids being home and their anticipation of Christmas, but mostly it has seemed like too long of a week without school before Christmas this year. But, this morning, sometime between 10 am and 1 pm, Christmas arrived for me. We invited two families over to decorate Gingerbread houses. These are not just any friends… they are dear friends. These are the girls that showed up, silently, at the hospital to hold my hands as we waited to find out if Tanner would make it through the night when she had to be life-flighted to Vanderbilt for a drug reaction. They are the girls that bring food without being asked, bring crafts when they know we have been housebound too long and take Jake with them when I need to focus my attention on Tanner. They are those easy kind of friends that are more like having family around your house.

So, we gathered this morning, kids happily smearing glue-like icing on gingerbread houses and eating easily as much candy as they smothered on. The girls did a nutcracker show, the boys played batman and air hockey and the Moms got some much needed girl time in a long week with no school.

A sugar coma in the making

When they all left and I sent the kids to their rooms for some quiet time, I realized that I was finally in the Christmas spirit. I put some music on the ipod and made fudge and counted my blessings… my many, many blessings.

When John got home, we went to see some Christmas lights and then, after everyone went to bed, I made Christmas morning breakfast casseroles to freeze in anticipation of Christmas day.

Christmas is just a magical time when, despite all the hubbub, there are genuine moments of such kindness to be found. Like the other night when my friend, Ron, called to say they had a special package for Tanner on Christmas day. I met Celia in the Kroger parking lot (okay, it was the liquor store parking lot, but that didn’t sound so good!) and we talked for 45 minutes in the freezing cold, catching up. Celia and Ron had pulled some favors and got a signed copy of Taylor Swift’s new CD for Tanner. It says, “I (heart) Tanner.” Swoon. In addition, the daughter of the person who got the CD for Celia made Tanner a necklace out of a Taylor Swift guitar pick.

In the bustle of season our friends had remembered us. That is the Christmas spirit.

I know I haven’t written in a while, so here are some of the highlights of the past two weeks:

– Jake had his Christmas program at school where he wore one blue transformer glove the entire time he was on stage singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
– Tanner had pajama day, went can caroling for the Second Harvest Food Bank and enjoyed her last day of school before Christmas break.
– We had our picture taken with Santa. Started out as a kids only picture, but since Jake wouldn’t get anywhere near Santa without me, we all jumped in. As you can see, he is clinging to my leg for dear life.
– Beth, Tanner and I went to see the Nutcracker. It was beautiful and reminded me so much of when my Mom used to take me to see it in downtown Philadelphia as a little girl.
– Beth knew me well enough to offer to go with me to return Domino to the rescue organization he came from. She was a great distraction. We drove to Jackson, TN, and handed him over to, hopefully, find a loving home without little kids. I still miss him terribly, but we’re ready to start looking for our new, family friendly dog after Christmas.

If it hasn’t already, I hope the Christmas spirit creeps up on you or hits you right between the eyes!


Good News All Around

November 20, 2010

Friday was full of good news. First, I got my scan results… and they were clean!!! I should have posted last night, but I think I was just so relieved, I just wanted it to all go away and not even think about it anymore. They found remnant tissue around my thyroid, as they expected, but the radiation was doing its job in killing that. And, they didn’t see anything else… nothing!!! That’s what I like to hear. Now, to get back to life without all these interruptions.

Second, we found out Tanner got a role in Annie. She will be an orphan named Kate. Talk about one ecstatic child! She threw her arms up in the air and screamed as only a seven year old girl can. Rehearsals don’t start until January, but she’s been singing “Hard Knock Life” for days. Even Jake can belt out a resounding rendition of “Tomorrow” at this point.

Jake scrapping for the ball

Today, Jake had his end of season soccer party at CiCi’s pizza. He had a great team with really nice kids and parents so we had such a good time. The coach gave out trophies… you’ve never seen anyone more proud than Jake. He carried that trophy around half the afternoon with this big grin on his face. The pictures are on John’s phone, but I’ll post some next time. He really was adorable.

On a breakaway

I think it’s just sinking in for me that this latest health debacle is actually over. I think one of the side effects of becoming strong enough to handle what we’ve been through is that you also become a little numb to news – be it good, or bad. It’s like you just brace yourself for the worst and it’s difficult to believe it’s actually good news instead of bad. Even though my cancer has not been hard to deal with physically, it’s been hard on our family mentally. Just the disruption to our lives over and over and, for John and I, feeling like we were kicked when we already down. I just want to be able to move forward with some things, instead of always feeling like we’re treading water trying to keep from drowning. Swimming to shore and standing on dry ground would be a nice change.

Congratulations from a friend

Celebrations all around. Hurray for good news.


Big News

October 26, 2010

Some exciting news has come our way this week… Tanner has been named the 2011 “Girl of the Year” for the Tennesee Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society!!! What an honor! We’re so proud of her.

What does this mean? It means that the 14 or so candidates for Man of the Year and Woman of the Year will be raising funds in honor of Tanner and the Boy of the Year, Jack Woods. The kids will be LLS ambassadors at parties and events for the fund-raising campaign and even appear in ads. Tanner positively lit up when I asked her if she wanted to do it. Her duties will begin sometime in January and end in June.

Thank you all for supporting her during the Light the Night walk. Our unprecedented success as a “friends and family” team definitely played a huge role in Tanner receiving this honor.

Another piece of news is that I am starting my low iodine diet Thursday in preparation for receiving a radioactive iodine treatment in a few weeks… ugghhh. This radiation treatment is a pill that I take at the hospital and then I can’t be around anyone for five days (and the kids for eight days) while my body is ridding itself of the excess radiation. The iodine is absorbed into any remaining thyroid tissue, along with the radiation, and the idea is that it kills any remaining thyroid tissue, hopefully decreasing the chance of cancer recurrence. Thyroid cancer can recur at any time, even 20 or 30 years later, so I will be tested every year for the rest of my life, essentially. I’m actually relieved that they recommended the radiation… I just want to get rid of this stuff.

Once again, John will have to do it all… work, take care of the house and take care of the kids. I feel so helpless that he will have to do all this… again. I know I have said it before, but I will say it again… cancer sucks.

The low iodine diet is interesting. Since most salt we use in the U.S. is iodized, almost all processed foods are prohibited. No soy, dairy, seafood of any kind, etc. It made for an interesting shopping trip. Thank God for my friend, Beth. She spent all day yesterday baking bread, rolls, muffins and crackers for me from the thyroid cancer cookbook so that I wouldn’t have to survive without carbs for the next two weeks. Who has friends like this? I figure with bread and salt-free natural peanut butter, anyone can make it.

We’ve had a good week so far. Tanner’s energy seems to be back full force and she and Jake are amped for Halloween. Next week, she has a lumbar puncture with chemo injection, so that is looming over our heads, but we are trying not to think about it too much.

Tanner’s school is doing “Pennies for Patients” again in her honor. It’s a LLS fund-raising campaign where kids bring in change from home to benefit LLS. Moore Elementary continues to support our family in ways we never imagined.

I’m going to relish my last day of processed food tomorrow. I’ll miss pizza most, but diet coke is allowed, so I’ll make it!


The Luxury of Being Proud

July 17, 2010

I got to the theater on Friday at about 1:30 with Jake in tow to get a good seat for Tanner’s performance. Aunt Beth had beat me there and as I walked into the building, I realized I had left my camera at home… doh! I left Jake in Beth’s capable hands and drove like a bat out of hell all the way home and back, just in time to slide in my seat and catch my breath before the lights went down and the show started.

The kids were doing 10 songs, one from each of the ten years the Boiler Room Theater has been in existence. The first song up was, “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. The song is really upbeat and the kids had learned some fun choreography to go along with it. Tanner was so cute doing the dances. When the music suddenly slowed, my daughter stepped confidently to the front and center of the stage and belted out her solo. She was FANTASTIC!!!!

As Beth, John and I were giving each other high fives, the kids launched into several more songs from Gypsy, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and Fiddler on the Roof. Then, they all went back stage and the lights went out. A spotlight came on center stage and Tanner walked out from behind the curtain and all by herself, and sang the first stanza of “Day by Day” from Godspell. She was dressed in jean shorts and a purple t-shirt with a long psychedelic vest over it. Her long, skinny legs ended in a pair of sneakers that looked too big for the rest of her. Her short hair set her apart from all the other girls. She looked very small on the stage. But, she was so confident and so beautiful. John, Beth and I cried, of course. Tanner caught my eye while I was crying and I quickly smiled so she wouldn’t be thrown off.

It was an arena where it did not matter that she has leukemia. It didn’t matter that she has spent 25 days in the hospital over the past year or visited the oncology clinic 37 times, or spent countless hours in the ER with a fever. It didn’t matter that she had blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, antibody transfusions and an unbelievable variety of chemo drugs injected into her small body.

It just didn’t matter.

She could still stand up there and sing with a confidence and a natural ability that could not be stolen from her by this disease or her treatment. It was a great victory in what has been a grueling battle. In that moment, it just did not matter that she has cancer.

John and I were left speechless all that night. We kept watching the videos we had taken over and over. She had zero fear on the stage and why should she? What could be scarier that what she has already endured? I think we just couldn’t believe that after all that she has been through in the last year, there she was, shining on that stage. Making a place for herself, despite the fact that she had been in the hospital just the day before getting chemo.

It was just a great day, one we will not forget for a long time, and the first of many we will spend sitting in a theater watching our daughter perform. We’re already trying to figure out how she can do Alice in Wonderland in the fall. She’s found what she loves and what she’s good at; and I think it will really help her get through the next year to have something she is passionate about to focus on.

I realize I have gushed beyond what is acceptable, considering this is my own child. But, it’s been a long time since we have been able to proud of her for anything other than fighting cancer.


P.S. You can watch two of her solos by following this link We kept the clips short so as not to compromise the privacy of the other kids in the show.

We Made It!!!!

May 10, 2010

Our drive went well and we arrived yesterday at 6pm in Give Kids the World Village, the resort just for Wish kids. It is truly a magic place. There are probably 50-75 wish kids here with their families and 8,000 volunteers work together with a small staff to make every moment special for these kids who have been through so much.

Just a few highlights:

• The present fairy comes every day and leaves gifts for the kids. Today we got a special Give Kids the World Village Candyland game.

• The characters from three theme parks come here so the kids get more undivided attention. This morning – Goofy, Pluto, Mary Poppins, and Mickey and Minnie.

• The Mayor of Give Kids the World Village is a large rabbit and he and his wife, Ms. Merry are here every night. Tanner rode the carousel with Ms. Merry two times tonight and is so smitten with her. We will call tomorrow to arrange for Ms. Merry to tuck Tanner and Jake into bed one night this week.

Tanner and her new friend, Ms. Merry

• There is a putt-putt golf course, splash park, train, playground, magic castle, theatre, etc., etc., etc. All right here at our beck and call.

• There is an activity every night. Last night, there was a Candyland party on the playground with a DJ and Tanner danced the night away while Jake played on the playground. We even played a giant game of Candyland. Tonight, there were therapy dogs to pet, a Kinkachu and an armadillo to see, a man with a telescope showing you the sun and a party that we didn’t attend because everyone was tired.

• All of our meals are free here and there is ice cream all day long. We had ice cream right after breakfast this morning!

• Tanner had her nails and makeup done at La Ti Da spa and she and Jake both got airbrush tattoos. Again, all done by volunteers.

• The list goes on an on, I can’t say enough about these amazing people and how fun it is here in the Village before we even get to a theme park.

We went to Sea World today and saw the Shamu show and rode some rides. Everyone had a great time. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Magic Kingdom tomorrow to see the Princesses, Lightening McQueen and Mickey Mouse.

So, here’s the only downer… Tanner is still coughing… and coughing… and coughing. It definitely seems worse and it took her a very long time last night and tonight to get to sleep because of the coughing. But still, no fever, which is what they told us to look for. So, we don’t know anything else to do but keep going… carefully. We are trying not to wear her out and forcing her to take naps to try to avoid worsening her immune system with fatigue. She has had a coughing virus before that she got over without incident, so we’re hoping that’s what it is. We’re going to Magic Kingdom tomorrow because we’re terrified we’re going to end up in the hospital and that’s the theme park we would most want to go to if tomorrow is our last day. So, pray for healing for her.

That’s about it. Good night!


Disney Here We Come!

May 9, 2010

Well… we made it this far with no fevers and we’re on our way to Disney! As usual though, things haven’t gone exactly as planned.

Saturday morning, Tanner woke up sounding a little worse and we really struggled with what to do. If we canceled, we wouldn’t be able to reschedule until fall. If we went, we risked ruining the trip with a visit to the hospital and exposing her to all those germs when her immune system was compromised by possible illness. Ughh. We hate these decisions. We decided to take her to the pediatrician’s office and see what they thought. They listened to her lungs and checked her ears. ALL CLEAR!!! Then, they were kind enough to run counts for us. They were elevated… boo! That indicates she is fighting something. But, overall, the pediatrician felt like she was okay to go but suggested we check with her oncologist. So, I called in to clinic and gave them all of our information.. they also said, “Go!” But, in asking about whether we were exposing her to undue risk by taking her to a park with thousands upon thousand of people, they said the airplane was really our biggest risk.

After much deliberation, we decided to drive to Disney instead. It was just one risk we could eliminate. So, we called Make-A-Wish to cancel our flight, packed up and got the car tuned up within three hours, and got on the road yesterday!!!! Hurray! We drove last night to my parents’ house outside Atlanta and stayed overnight. This morning, we are on our way and should be there by 6 pm.

Tanner doesn’t seem any worse; she really isn’t coughing too much this morning. Everyone is super excited and we’ve got our fingers crossed we’ve made the right decision.

Mickey Mouse… here we come!


A Wet Weekend and a Beautiful Monday

May 3, 2010

Goodness… I feel like I’ve lived a year in the last four days. As I am sure you have seen in the news, it is very wet here in Nashville. Thankfully, the flood held off Friday night for the Spring Fling at Tanner’s school. It was a beautiful evening. Spring Fling is a carnival-type event with a dunk tank, face painting, hula hooping, a firetruck, etc., etc., etc. Tanner and Jake ran and ran and ran and had the best time. Friday night is not usually the best night for Tanner… most times she doesn’t even eat dinner. She lasted all through Spring Fling, but paid for it when she got home. She didn’t feel good at all and couldn’t go to sleep until 9:30. I think it was worth it, though.

Saturday, we planned to stay close to home and rest up. Little did we know, we wouldn’t really have a choice. Yikes!!! Water water everywhere and all the boards did shrink!!! I have never seen it rain so hard for so long. The creek behind our house became a raging river of rapids within a couple of hours. The tornado sirens went off several times that day and night, but thankfully, nothing touched down. Sunday, more rain, more togetherness at the Page house. We got out in the afternoon to go to the grocery store and drove by Tanner’s school. The Harpeth River runs behind it and it had completely flooded the playground. Teenagers were swimming in the water and playing on the playground – ewwwwww!

That's Tanner's school playground in the background

We were very lucky nothing in our immediate area was flooded. Others were not so fortunate. Suffice it to say, it continues to be a mess here and many people have lost their homes.

This morning, I woke on a mission to save Tanner’s Make a Wish send-off party from the flood. Our volunteer Wish Coordinators, Erin and Erin, were so awesome, as was the Glow Galaxy for donating an awesome party. I began calling, emailing, googling Tanner’s classmates this morning to be sure we would have enough kids. No need to worry. They turned out in droves and we had a great time.

The party was a surprise for Tanner. I sent out invitations to the parents and asked them not to tell the kids until they were on their way to the party so we could keep it a secret. I told Tanner we were meeting a friend at Glow Galaxy for open play and John went early to gather all the kids and get them ready to yell, “Surprise!” And, yell they did! Tanner was a bit overwhelmed and Jake hid behind my leg, but everyone got over it quickly and had such a great time.

When we got in the car to go home, Tanner said, “Mom, when I asked you why we were having the party, I didn’t hear what you said; it was too noisy.” No kidding. She went the whole party and had no idea why we were there. I asked her what she thought could be the reason and she said, “Because I have leukemia, I guess.” Close enough.

Tanner on the Glow in the Dark Dance floor

At the party, we got our itinerary for our Disney trip this Sunday. Now, we’re officially excited. Tanner couldn’t stop asking me questions at bedtime. We’re ready.

Thank you so much to Make A Wish. There will never be a way to repay them for what they have done for Tanner and for all of us.

Here’s hoping you’re dry wherever you are.


A Field Trip to Aunt Beth’s

March 24, 2010

Did you ever have someone’s house that you went to when you were a kid that seemed magical? My grandparents’ house was like that for me. They had three acres with a big vegetable garden, fruit trees and grape vines that stretched across the yard. I remember doing the simplest things there… like playing in the gravel in their driveway, or climbing up this big weeping willow that was in the median of the circular drive, or sitting on the swing in the dark with my granny, listening to grown-ups talk and the cicadas sing.

When I look back on it now, there was really not anything to do. They didn’t keep any toys at their house for us to play with, although sometimes we would borrow the neighbors’ bikes. The house was tiny and modest, with one bathroom that all seven of us would share, and I slept on the floor every night, sharing a pallet made of old quilts with my two brothers and falling asleep to the drone of the television.

But, still, something seemed so magical about being there. Food tasted better, the simplest things were more fun. I think it was just so different from where I grew up, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My grandparents lived in the country in Huntsville, AL, on a road named after them because theirs was the first house built there.

My kids have that at their grandparents’ houses, too. The magical basement at Grandmom and Grandad’s house where you can hit a golf ball into a net or “work out” on the exercise bike, or ride a scooter. And, the great cul-de-sac at E. and Papa’s where they ride the battery-powered cars she keeps for them, sled for days, and play with their cousin, Mack.

Digging in Aunt Beth's garden

But, as a bonus, they have Aunt Beth’s house. On an acre-and-a-half in Spring Hill, Aunt Beth dabbles in lots of things that I don’t… namely gardening and cooking. Today, the kids dug holes in the dirt, spread four-o-clock seeds under the weeping willow, fed the geese in the pond, “worked out” in the basement and cooked up some pretty darn good pizza roll-ups.

Being able to spend the morning at Aunt Beth’s took a little bit of the sting out of not being able to go to school for Tanner. She came home tired and napped while Jake napped.

Tanner manning her rock store at Aunt Beth's house

Overall, Tanner doesn’t actually seem to feel bad, although she is stuffed up. I really believe she has allergies, but without knowing for sure or having any idea where he counts stand, keeping her home again today was probably the right decision. We’re off to the clinic tomorrow after dropping Jake off and we’ll find out for sure where she stands. She’ll also get her monthly IV dose of Vincristine, begin her five-day course of steroids. Tomorrow night, she will also take her weekly dose of oral methotrexate, which can kind of wipe her out the next day. So, even if her counts are high enough to return to school Friday, I don’t know how long she’ll last. Monday and Tuesday will also be pretty doubtful as she is usually pretty wiped out by the steroids.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this rollercoaster. I might numb myself to it, but then I find I’m numb to all the good stuff, too. For right now though, that’s how I’m sleepwalking through this current disappointment… numb and in a fog.

I’m hoping to wake up tomorrow.


Clinic Day #29 — This is a good one!!!!

March 12, 2010

So here’s how my conversation went with Dr. Mixan as we huddled over Tanner’s count sheet yesterday:

Dr. Mixan: “Her counts still look good. Her ANC is 2100.”

Me: “Oh, good.”

Dr. Mixan: “We’re going to bump her chemo up a bit to 75% and see how she does on that.”

Me: “Okay. “ (I pull him away from Tanner and talk quietly) “So, um, what about school?”

Dr. Mixan: “Yes.”

Me: “Really?”

Dr. Mixan: “Really.”

Me: “Really?”

Dr. Mixan “Really.”

Me: “REALLY?!!!”

Dr. Mixan: “REALLY!!!”

Me: “Tomorrow?”

Dr. Mixan: “Why not?”

This is the part where I dissolve into embarrassing Mom tears and hug the doctor. I turn and tell Tanner who is now officially the happiest girl in the world. She spread her joy all over the infusion room and everyone was congratulating her and telling her to have a good time.

So, she’s going to school this morning… for the first day… about 7 months late.

Wow. I’m speechless.