Camping, Cancer, and Crooked Creek…

I’ve loved all the inquiries about how I survived camping. And I love that most of you know me well enough to know that ‘outdoorsy’ isn’t on the top of list of adjectives for me. I’m not the girliest of girls but I am not exactly one to ‘rough it’ either. I hearken back to a trip in college with dearest friends and others from our Breakaway days (shout out to Breakaway and A&M and G-Matte and the peeps that redirected my walk with the Lord … Despite the camping!) and I had the same challenges in 1994. As captured perfectly by Mel in Nobody’s Cuter Than You …  

I didn’t pack satin pajamas (in part because I don’t own any!) but I did laugh that things haven’t changed much because I packed my monogrammed WHITE (not optimal for camping) robe. And, similar to my college days, all went quite well until it was time to go to bed in this…

 
Whoever said this was a 2.5 man tent clearly envisioned 4 year olds in the woods alone together. What?! Not even enough room for 2 blowup mattresses (nevermind that there are 3 of us…) but not to fear we let Linc sleep between us without a mattress or sleeping bag. We sacrifice like that for our son. But don’t you worry … He loved it. As we loaded to leave and I was patting myself on the back for my 2 nights victory he was shouting ‘bad mommy’ and ‘bad daddy’ from the backseat because he was so mad we were leaving. Clearly his fathers son. The days were great and weather amazing and views other-worldly and the best nap of the summer was had here…  

… Until I was awakened wet because my adorable cuddle buddy peed on himself and my new hammock and ME. And did I mention we were camping and couldn’t exactly go take a shower?!

But the tiny tent and nasty nap were more than made up for by these views and memories…   

  And s’mores…  

During my big fat nap Scott and Linc went fishing and when they returned Lincoln was so pleased to tell me about the 5 fish he caught and Scott was less pleased to show me where he had hooked himself in the back of the head. And then wanted ME to get the hook out. Don’t get me wrong, there are many days that my ugly sinful rotten self has wanted to inflict pain on him BUT this has never been how. ‘No really, you can do it, just locate the fly and then locate the hook … Oh and can you see if the barb is in my head or out … Yeah then just grab the hook with the hemostats and pull real hard opposite the direction of the hook and get the needle out…’ Really?! I channeled my inner Dr Quinn Medicine woman and gave it my best shot but all I saw was myself pulling his hair and skin a good inch away from his skull and that hook didn’t budge! But the Neales had gone for a hike so he was left with just me or Linc. And what does every avid fisherman do while waiting to get the hook out of his head?! Head back to the river! Once we were all back at camp and had our foil packed dinners cooking on the fire, Kurt went to work…  

And after 2 really good twists and pulls, out came a hook. 

Despite the tiny tent and the hammock o’ pee and the hook o’ flesh, we really had a good time and it’s a good story and a good memory for our family.

We loaded up our dirty bodies and dirty clothes and headed out of camp on Monday morning and headed right to the showers and laundromat. This is when I am glad that Scott is another kindred clean soul because he was as happy to do laundry and re organize the car as I was. And then we made the over the mountains and through the hills drive through Breckenridge to Winter Park where we are adults guests as YoungLife’s Crooked Creek camp. Our dear friend, Nick Manos, is the speaker this week. He is really Scott’s friend from his YoungLife days and was in our wedding but I love him and Melissa so much and am glad that Scott brought them into our marriage:) 

 Our hearts are full as we meet kids and hear the Gospel and celebrate Gods redeeming work. For us, there has been incredible joy as  we watch these volunteers love kids where they are without expecting them to ‘get it together’ before they meet Jesus. Some of my favorite kiddos we’ve met are the kids that are here from YoungLife’s Capernaum ministry to kids with special needs.   

But then again don’t we all have ‘special needs’? Mine just maybe aren’t as obvious:)

We had a sweet time with the leaders this morning. Nick asked me to share my story and what I am learning and it was a blessing to me. Several of their staff have lost loved ones to cancer recently so those are tearful connections and then they prayed over us and it was a precious gift.

Since I wrote last, I’ve learned with some change of plans for doctors visits when we get home. Instead of chemo on Monday and a scan on Wednesday they want the scan and a biopsy before deciding if we will continue with this chemo (if things appear stable) or start a new regimen. They will either biopsy my liver again or the spot on my neck. So, it’s going to be good that we have had a restful and sweet couple of weeks in Colorado because cancer doesn’t seem to take a vacation.

Thanks for the love and prayers and sharing in our journey – both to Colorado and through cancer!

 

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On the Rockies road again…

We rolled out of family camp at Horn Creek this morning and are on the road again. I think Scott likes my family camp idea (my idea 5 years ago because my childhood best friend, Jamie, has been going as long as I can remember…) just because it’s a good reason to drive. I also think he takes advantage of my complete-geographical-ignorance-and-confusion despite being in Colorado dozens of times. He always picks the scenic route I am pretty sure sometimes we go out of the way so he can burn more gas and get more views and feed his wanderlust. It used to annoy me (and truthfully on any given day that’s still possible…) but there’s something about the wide open spaces and big mountains and fresh air and blue skies that breathe life into my man’s soul. And, for that, I am grateful. We sometimes bicker because he can’t stand for me to read or text because he wants me to share in every new view and gets fussy if I miss one and I just want him to quit interrupting because ‘hello, can’t a girl just read a book?!’ Apparently not…

Family camp was super fun and restful and good times with our family (including my mom this year…), our friends from home (Jamie’s big family and the Dawkins and the Mattlages) plus our Horn Creek ‘family’ from Kansas and Missouri and lots of other places. Really special people and a really special week and every year we are more sad to leave. I asked Lincoln what his favorite part of the week was and he said ‘everything…’ I thought that was lame so I tried again, ‘what was most special about the week…?’ And he replied with ‘being with my friends.’ Everything is better together! Love him. Some of the ‘everything’ was trying to trap chipmunks, building forts, playing in the creek, fishing, hiking, tennis baseball, rock climbing, train ride through the gorge, volleyball (he thinks he ‘played’ because we congratulated his ‘dig’ every time he threw his full body into the sand face first…) and lots of early mornings and late nights with constant companions of all ages.

Here are some pics with the people that, as Lincoln said, made everything special…

… family pic after hiking at Garden of the gods

  

…Building a fort with friends


… hiking with tired (and heavy!) little people

 
 

…Mama and me

  

…water slides with Hunter

  

…hangin’ with my peeps at Kraus cabin

  

… great views and great friends

  

…sweaty and tired and happy after tennis baseball

  

…precious and fun friends

  

…our menfolk

  

…train ride with ‘my big friends’

  

…playing in the stream

  

…whip cream and chocolate and pancakes and friends

  

…we love Norm and Beth!

  

… rock climbing w my ‘bestest girl’ EmmyKate

 
Thanks for letting me spam you with photos! Pretty cute huh? Everyone looks better and happier in Colorado with people they love.

One night during our standing spades challenges, I found a lump in my neck. It’s nice to have doctors for friends and Trevor confirmed what I expected – we both think it’s an enlarged lymph node. I texted Dr Osborne and we’ve now added the neck to our nex CT scan that they have scheduled for Aug 5. Have I mentioned that I love my doctor? On Friday, she was also emailing our very respected (and unrelated) Dr. Osborne in Houston with all the scan info and treatment responses the last few months so that they could review my case together and decide the next course of treatment. Also so thankful for Dr. Osborne and his team and their interest and help!

Our next stop: camping! Like real camping with tents and campfires and a 4 year old.  I vascillate between nervous and excited for the adventure. Definitely not my idea. But Scott has deferred to me the last few years and we’ve visited our camping friends but never spent the night … Until tonight! I can do anything for 48 hours right?! And I am a little torn because if it goes really well Scott will want to do it again but I don’t really want to have a miserable 48 hours to convince him otherwise!

In middle of that last sentence Scott spotted a fox in a field. Love it. We also saw a ring tailed cat earlier this week and of course lots of deer. Still holding out for a bear! But maybe not while we are camping….?

Thanks for the prayers for refreshment and rest for our family. I haven’t had as much alone time with the Lord as I would enjoy but sure have enjoyed the good gifts of His creation and His people – they are precious reminders to our souls that He is big and capable and in control and takes cares of us and loves us!

O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you. When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority— the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (‭Psalms‬ ‭8‬:‭1-9‬ NLT)

A little ditty about Jen and chemo…

Far less interesting than Jack and Diane but it will definitely be ‘little’ because I don’t feel so great tonight. I’m learning the pattern of these drugs…

Days 1-2: feel pretty good thanks to anti nausea and steroid IV drugs

Day 2-3: bones ache and tired girl (slept until 10:30 today and really thankful that little man was worn out from fun friends and play dates so he was curled up beside me sound asleep too…)

Day 3-4: little headache and little nausea and torn between wishing for throw up to put me out of my misery and totally hoping it never comes…

Right now I am on the couch headed to bed and hoping I don’t leave another throw up trail on the gorgeous rug in the backhouse (if you’ve been over to our new digs I know you just cringed!)

I only got one of the 2 drugs I normally get (gemzar and carboplatin) because of a concern about carboplatin so soon after the brain procedure. I am hoping that this means a little reprieve in side effects?

Also, in our doctors appointment on Monday, we learned that we are changing treatment courses again. She’s not liking the brain lesion and referred to my cancer as ‘clever’ in its ability to get around our intended roadblocks. She’s plotting and planning and partnering with Dr. Osborne in Houston to decide the next action steps. We leave for Colorado (our 5th year with friends and precious folks at Horn Creek and a second week at YoungLife camp at Crooked Creek with our dear friends the Manos’) and will be home on Aug 2nd for another round of this ‘cocktail’ on Aug 3rd plus another CT scan that week. So, we should have more information after Colorado. And between now and then I hope to send lots of smiling faces of our family enjoying each other, the mountains, and the beauty of our God.

Thanks for the ways you pray for us, love our little man with play dates and gifts, encourage us and walk alongside us.

Also, a sweet week finishing our Heaven study and to you ladies that joined us please know (again!) what a precious 7 weeks that was for me … My heart and head and soul are well prepared for many more years with you all or “being absent from the body and present with the Father” as Paul wrote. And if you’re a guy who couldn’t come or out of town or just curious, you can click here to listen to the discussions thanks to my dear friend Eraina!

Love!

Short…and sweet

Hi guys – this is Jamie again.  Jen asked me to update all of you who have been so kind to text, call and pray about her radio surgery which took place today.  The good news is that the procedure literally took about 8 minutes (SHORT) and she came out of the operating room looking like a rock star.  That is, if a rock star wears a mask like this.

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Seriously.  Don’t we love our Jen?  And even though we keep tossing around that it’s ‘only 8 minutes’, let’s be clear that 8 minutes might not feel so short if you are relegated to this position.

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And in this room.

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And even though Baylor has valet parking (so I heard), don’t let that fool you.  It’s still a hospital. And whether you are there for 8 minutes or 8 days, you usually don’t let the door hit you on the way out so to speak.

For those of you who like the short version (i.e. all the guys), all you need to know is the surgery was ‘uneventful’ and Jen will have a follow up MRI in 3 months to make sure the lesion hasn’t grown (best case scenario is that it has shrunk or even disappeared).

For those of you who like the longer version, let’s get to it.  (The teachers at FBA who taught Jen and me would confirm that neither of us is short on words, so this blog serves as the perfect outlet.  You can decide if that’s fortunate or unfortunate).

Jen’s posse arrived at Baylor close to 2:15 today (SWEET) and quickly moved outside the intended waiting room due to all of the stares from the other patients.  (It’s clear that Jen approaches cancer differently than most others and may be known to cackle loudly or smile excessively.)  Even (especially) prior to brain surgery.

We quickly discovered that our landing area had amazing light and we all started taking pictures with Jen.  (No wonder she owns that rock star persona).

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Jen & Sheila

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Jen & JuJu

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Jen & Jen

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Angela, me, Jen & Amy (the chemo crew)

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Jen & Scott

(Several other sweet friends were in attendance but showed up after the impromptu photography shoot.  Let’s just say I bet now they are glad they did.)

I was deathly afraid to look back into the original waiting room (just on the other side of us through the FULL GLASS PANES) to see how many patients were now staring at us for other reasons.

After about an hour and 45 minutes, they finally came out to get Jen for her procedure.  Sweet Ramona made sure to brief the obnoxious crowd group on what was about to happen.

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And poor Ramona didn’t know that she was about to fall victim to a good lighting scenario.

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Jen went back for surgery, where she just happened to meet the physicists who worked on the formula for her brain radiation.  I’d say these were pretty important people, and apparently Jen thought so too, so – shocker – she got her picture with them as well.

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Jen & Andre

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Jen & Dana

Unfortunately the basement doesn’t provide ideal lighting, but we are so grateful for these geniuses that we will overlook that.

Once the surgery was finished, Jen walked out with a huge smile on her face and a grateful heart (I didn’t actually confirm this, but I know her well enough to know this is probably the case).    We all prayed in a circle and thanked God for no complications and for the love of friends & family.  With each step on this path, gratitude is ever present.

Thank you again for all of your prayers and encouragement.  I know they are felt and appreciated by Jen, Scott & little Linc.

In closing, I will leave you with a verse that continues to come to mind throughout this journey.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Much love to you all,

Jamie (“B”)

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Surgery Schmurgery.

Yall. This may be brain surgery but let me assure that to the peeps involved (Dr Barnett and Dr Cheek and apparently some brainiac physicists who calculate laser beam ratios) it is Easy Street. It is so non invasive and non complicated that my mom asked (no lie…) if she could ‘push the button.’ The neurosurgeon, Dr. Barnett, maybe shouldn’t have mentioned that there was an ‘easy button’ and that’s pretty much the extent of their involvement on the day of the surgery?!? Before the big day, the doctors (neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist) put their smart heads together to decide what to do (angles and dosage) and then some big brained physicists do calculations to tell the equipment what to do and all that gets loaded into computer, double checked by Dr. Cheek (radiation oncologist) and then they ‘push the button’ which fires some stereotactic laser into my temple for about EIGHT MINUTES. Yes, all of this talk of “brain surgery” boils down to 8 minutes.  The equipment and technology and brains involved in this stuff is so cool. And our medical team is even cooler. After our appointment with Dr. Cheek yesterday (who also did the radiation to breast and neck in 2012) my mom sent me this text:

“Really thought of today’s appt with Dr. Cheek as another encouraging visit. It seems like the neurologist-radiologist-physicist team involved in the radio surgery piece of this are top notch, even if they do keep the physicists in the basement and we didn’t get to meet with him (or maybe it’s the her). 🙂 And how TOTALLY AMAZING is it that sweet Dr. Osborne would call Dr. Cheek while she is on vacation to pave the way for quick treatment for you, and that Dr. Barnett and Dr. Cheek were on the phone together after hours last night about your treatment. Absolutely awesome.”

To say the least, we are thankful. And admire the heck out of all 3 of these doctors and some mysterious physicists in the basement named Dana and Andre.

Today I went in to be fit for the uber tight mask that will hold my head in place to make sure they get the right spot. I also got a CT of the brain that they will overlay on the MRI to even more precisely calculate location and look for any more areas of concern. These people be smart.

The procedure (kind of hard to call it surgery when it’s so easy breezy) is at 230 next Thursday. Of course there are some risks (internal bleeding, swelling, headache or damage to that area which controls speech … That could be bad news bears for this talker!) but none of the doctors expect any complications. And though the tumor is not immediately eradicated it will slowly die, Lord willing, over following weeks and I will get a follow up MRI in 3 months (and the rest of my life). But while we expect this will work, Dr Cheek also told me to expect to have more lesions – but to be encouraged that we can expect to be able to treat them the same way. If for some reason this is ineffective in the targeted area (less than 10% chance I think) then we will do traditional surgery but the lesion is near my skull and in temple area so should he relatively accessible for surgery if needed. It’s tempting to try to ‘milk’ the ‘brain surgery’ for a week’s rest and vacation and doing nothing but the truth is that Dr Cheek said ‘we will have you in and out in an hour or so and should be great for dinner or even a glass of wine that night…’ For reals?  Unfortunately, Jamie has decided she is my personal liver guardian and any reference to alcohol has her coughing and awkwardly saying ‘tumors in the liver’ under her breath. She makes a good Baptist:)

I for sure covet your continued prayers and even though the procedure is simple and doctors are genius we know that the Lord governs all and we trust Him above all. And we trust Him to work through all of the doctors and technology according to His will.

As Job said, ‘shall we accept good from the hand of the Lord and not the bad? … The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’

We trust the One who numbered my days even before I was born, the One who loves me even more than the Mama who wanted to check the GPA and credentials of the physicists, the One who is not subject to statistics and the only One who is the Greatest Physician.

Little lesion and little surgery.

The quick update can be cut and paste from text to friends this afternoon (6.30) after met w neurosurgeon:

Wow. Dr Barnett was freakin amazing – smart and kind and engaged and patient. And offered me to call him or come to his home if needed anything?! Clearly smart and in the brain surgery world this is on the low difficulty scale w incredible technology. Meet w radiologist tomorrow and these 2 docs plus Osborne will confirm plan. Hopefully scheduled for next week. Truly grateful.

Tomorrow, 7.1, I meet w my radiologist from previous treatments, Dr Cheek, and then we will begin scheduling.

As noted above, I think this is very simple in the world of complex brain surgeries. And I think this combo of doctors is amazing and a blessing! I pulled the connections card late on Sat night when I realized the doctor that had been scheduled was in same practice with a doctor (Barnett). He goes to our church, did Matt Chandlers brain surgery, was the surgeon my friend Miriam worked for as his PA (and she adored and admired him!), and I know his wife. I texted her and asked if she would ask him about doing my surgery (or  ignore my text if that was awkward and I would then have just pretended I didn’t ask…). But she texted back real quickly offering to help and first thing Monday morning his office called with an appointment. Scott, Jamie and my mom were there and we all felt the same – wow. My mom summarized it by saying ‘I don’t think an appointment with a neurosurgeon could possibly have gone better.’ I agree.

The surgery is really just a fancy math equation by a super smart physicist  probably done in the bowels of Baylor and the doctors just show up and push the button. It has very few side effects and is very effective for tumors under 3cm (and mine is .9cm). It was wild to see my brain on the screen and we could clearly see the tumor (or ‘lesion’ in medical terms) as well as the skull fractures though I think chemo will continue as the course of action for tumor activity in the bones.

Despite being weird to even be in the waiting room of a neurosurgeon (and then funny to see people we know there!), it was as great as weird can be.

And this morning we had a really fun time studying Heaven with friends (and personally fun for me that my high school friends and old coworker from Andersen and old neighbor and college friend were all there!) and getting sooo excited about where I am headed and the joy of being reunited one day with those there that I love and those of you that will come a little later. I feel like the Lord is making me ever more grateful for salvation through Christ and ever more excited about seeing Him soon. But, until that  day, I really enjoy the sweet gifts of my family and friends and fellowship in Him. And understand these words from Paul more than ever:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” Phil 1:21-25

Goodnight friends and families. You are a gift and a blessing and the reason I am happy to continue alongside you for our progress and joy in the faith.

PS Truly, any of you ladies of all ages are welcome to come to Northwest Bible at 930a on Tuesday mornings to discuss heaven with us. My friend Kay will lead next week’s discussion and then I will lead our last discussion on 7.14. Come one, come all.