Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inhale. Exhale. Pray.


LuLu-ism # 55: I’m not just a bike. I’m an opportunity.

We did it! LuLu and I finally had our first spring ride! I filled her tires with air, checked her chain and tested the brakes. All good. Of course The Cowgirl and The Fake Knee were fussing and whining like babies. Let’em. Mama’s not listening.

Am I silly? Should a ride down the road on a pink bike be that exciting? What’s so special about a little wire basket, pink fenders, and white-walled tires? Why get so giddy about a four-mile bike ride? What’s the deal? Well, for me it’s much more. It’s the second year anniversary of  LuLu and me. Two years ago this month, LuLu was presented to me by the Hubs for my birthday. I asked for a bike and Gary didn’t blink once. If his wife wanted a bicycle for her 60th birthday instead of jewelry, or clothing, or whatever, then she shall have it.

That’s my Hubs. It has always given him pleasure to make me happy. Granted, he hasn’t always understood why I want the things I do, like the time I asked for a hamster as a college graduation present. No questions asked. He bought me a hamster. The man loves me. What can I say?

As I pedaled past budding trees and freshly cut grass, my thoughts were not far from the Hubs. We leave in a couple of days for Mayo for Gary’s third Ipilimumab infusion. For six weeks now, the drug that is nicknamed “ipi” for obvious reasons, has been blocking a protein on the surface of his T cells, the Ninjas of the immune system. This protein is called cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 or CTLA-4 for short. Yeah, that’s a mouthful. By essentially disabling a brake on the immune system (CTLA-4), “ipi” allows Gary’s own immune system to turn and fight cancerous tumors.  The scary drawback of all of this is that by loosening the restraints on the immune system, dangerous side effects can occur, the kind that can kill him instead of heal him. We are holding are breath.

Riding LuLu helps me sort out all of this. It clears my head and prepares my heart for whatever comes next. As her tires rolled down the road, my prayer called the power of heaven to earth. With every rotation of the pedal, “Heal him” became my breath prayer. Inhale, exhale, pray.

Well, that was our first ride. With warmer, drier weather, the rides will become daily and the prayers stronger. And you thought I was just riding a bike didn’t you?

Later, dear friends,

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dance before the King...

I have a friend who has decided that, for her, this is going to be the year of the dance. She’s going to do a little dance when she’s happy. When she’s sad, she’s going to get her feet moving and her hips swaying and dance the blues away. As she cleans house, she dances. As she cooks supper, she throws in a little two-step. I like that.
Okay, so it’s almost the end of April. How are those New Year resolutions coming? Say what? Forgotten what they were, have we? That’s okay. I’m here to challenge you to either pick them up again, or replace them with… wait for it… a dance.
I love to twirl. One of the first things I taught my granddaughters when they learned to stand and walk was to twirl with MeMe. We’ve twirled all over our house. We even have a couple of Dancing Trees in our yard (you probably know them as Weeping Willows) that have seen a lot of twirling action through the years.
Why dance and twirl? Well, why not? What better way to meet life’s challenges and doldrums? Dance them away. Twirl them right out of your day. Need a pick me up? Toss your head back, spread out your arms and twirl! Yeah, you too, guys. Close the garage door, shut yourself off in that Man Cave of yours and give it a go. Twirl! Shimmy! Let’er loose!
My days have taken a complete left turn. The Hubs is fighting for his life. I’m trying to help. My days are filled with raw juice prep and organic, enriched meal research. ‘Worst Case Scenario’ lurks in every dark corner trying to gnaw away my soul. There is a lot not to dance about. But I won’t listen to that mess. I refuse.
Have you ever danced a prayer? Have you ever twirled your way closer to God? I’m here to tell you, you should try it. Got challenges? Then, dance. Feel your heart caving in? Toss your head back, lift your eyes toward the heavens, stretch your arms out like eagle wings and twirl, dear friends. Dance before The King.
Some of you don’t get it, I know. But… start small. Tap a toe or two and go from there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

He owns the cape...

The Hubs was diagnosed with Stage Three melanoma two years ago. A little over six weeks ago we were told he had now entered Stage Four—the cancer had found its way into his liver. In an instant nothing was as it had been.
How do you move forward when the skids have been knocked out from under you? How do you get air back into your lungs when you’ve been punched in the stomach? How do you protect everything and everyone you cherish from this horrible threat? How do your find the strength to get off the chair and walk out of the doctor’s office after such news? How do you stop the fear from strangling you? How do you find the control to keep a deep agonizing moaning from escaping from your gut and breaking all the glass around you? How do you….
The answer is you don’t. You can’t do any of the above. You are helpless. You are clueless. You are weak. You are over your head. You have no control. You have no rudder. You have no paddle. You have no compass. You have no map. You have no cape. You have no super powers. You have nothing.
Lying in the rubble that was once your life you are forced to admit a hard reality. You were always helpless, clueless and in over your head. Cancer didn’t do that to you. Arrogance and self-importance are smoke and mirrors.
You can’t. You never could.
It’s Him. It’s always been Him.
He is your strength. He is your compass. He is your rudder. He owns the cape.
How do I get through my days? I don’t. He does it for me.
My Rock. My Redeemer.


Friday, April 19, 2013


Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday was my sixty-second birthday. It was a good day. Although, if you ask LuLu, she may not agree. It was her second birthday and all she got to do was sit in the garage. The rain and the wind kept her sidelined. I did go out and visit with her. I promised her the first day without rain, snow or hurricane-force winds we’d hit the road. She just looked at me with her sad little white-walled tires and said, “Promises. Promises.” Poor baby.
However, I had a great day, even though I didn’t get to do to my annual pilgrimage to an old graveyard. Yeah, I’m weird. I love old graveyards, so shoot me. So much history there. So many great names itched in stone. But what I did do that was great fun was:
1)    … complete my edits on my latest manuscript and sent it off to the New York agent who requested a three-week exclusive. Yeah, you heard me a NEW YORK AGENT! Hopefully, I’ll have good news for you soon. Or, some really sad, but character-building news to share.
2)    … the Hubs took me to lunch at my favorite fish place. When perch melts in your mouth like butter you know you’re in the best part of the North Country. He also presented me with an iPad mini (another electronic gadget the grandkids are going to have to show me how to use).
3)    … all the sons called in. My babies. The sun, the moon, the stars of my existence.
4)    … the daughter-in-laws called in. The reason the sons even remembered it was my birthday.
5)    … grandbabies left some precious messages on voice mail that will never be erased, until I accidently push the wrong button.
6)    … grandbabies sent me artwork, videos and photos (granted, photos with their fingers up their noses, but priceless all the same).
7)    … the mom called in. At my age and you still have a mommy who calls and tells you about her water-breaking sixty-two years previous, you’re one blessed daughter, a little grossed out, but blessed nonetheless.
8)    … a boatload of friends and extended family sent me Facebook greetings or sent birthday emails, or actually snail-mail cards. Some who are just as old as I am. It’s a wonder the planet didn’t tip a little to the right from so much airtime generated toward one location.
9)    … my oldest friend in the world, the one I played in the sandbox with, went to high school with, was my college roommate and my matron of honor in my wedding (and I hers) sent me flowers, actual hold in your hands, sniff with your nose blooms.
10) … I treated myself with an afternoon of lectures from some visiting authors at a couple of public libraries. Great fun.
11) … I came home to the Hubs. He is still doing well, maybe a little green around the edges from the cancer-treatments, but his smile still makes my heart flutter; his arms still my place of refuge; his large, strong hands still my home.
12) … end the day the way it began, grateful, prayerful, and wanting to be no where else in the whole wide world.

Happy Birthday to me!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unwrapped gifts...

Today's super sassy hair cut.

LuLu and I were holding our breath.  The sun was poking out behind the clouds. Nothing was falling from the sky.  It was ‘Go’ day! Then… I stepped outside and practically got blown over. It wasn’t just a spring breeze, it was a left over harsh wind from winter. Arrrg! Will we never get to bike ride?!

Oh, well. Enough whining for one morning. I leave in a minute to get my haircut. A few snip-snips and I’ll be a new woman. Isn’t it amazing what a haircut can do? It’s not just getting the bangs out of your eyes, it’s giving you a whole new outlook. If you feel pretty, you are pretty.

Of course, for you guys it’s probably not the same thing. I gave the Hubs his haircut last night. I’ve been cutting his hair for 42 years. I figure if I cut his, I’ll have money to spend to have mine cut. I’m certainly not going to let him near me with scissors. Anyway, it didn’t change him in the least. I don’t think he felt pretty at all. It was a task that needed to be done. It got done. Let’s move on—yet another difference between men and women.

While there have been very few times I’ve left the beauty shop in tears, there’s been more than enough times that I’ve left disappointed. I come in with this photo of the perfect haircut. Granted, it is sported by some super thin, flawless, photoshopped actress or model, but hey, a girl can dream right? For whatever reason, time and time again, I have hopes that that haircut will look the same on me. Never mind that my hair is the wrong color and texture and that my face has seen a few more moons, as they say, than said model or actress. I walk in thinking Reese Witherspoon. I come out seeing old lady with cowlicks.

As a disclaimer, my disappointment isn’t with the hairdresser. I’ve had several wonderful ones over the years, and the one I have now is a miracle worker to be sure. But, my hair is what it is. Yet, most days, I come out of the salon feeling pretty. Uplifted. Able to throw care to the wind for the next six weeks.

Right now in my life, it’s the little things that form the bridge to the next day.  The haircut, a delicious meal, a warm sunbeam, a card in the mail, all brighten and bolster the spirit. They are little unwrapped gifts sent to me from my Father through acts of nature and acts of kindness.

God’s eyes are watching me and watching over me. That’s good enough for today.


Friday, April 12, 2013

But, here we are...

The Hubs at Mayo getting infusion.

The cute guy in the picture is the Hubs getting his second ‘ipi’ infusion yesterday. Cute guy, huh? We’ve had a good report this trip. Gary is still basically symptom-less when it comes to his cancer. How one can have six, deadly cancerous tumors embedded in their liver and not feel it, beats me, but here we are. His blood work came back all good. If we hadn’t seen the tumors on the scans ourselves, we’d have a hard time believing they are there. And thanks to all of our juicing efforts Gary’s blood pressure was the lowest it’s ever been.
Life is odd and sickness is even odder. Is that a real word ‘odder’? Probably not, but I’m a writer so I get to make up my own words when it suits me. Sickness is odd. It takes a perfectly healthy body and screws it up. Who’s idea was this?
I know whose it wasn’t. Remember the Garden of Eden? Perfection. Two beautiful, perfectly healthy people; A bunch of perfectly healthy animals; Fruit trees with no worms; Crystal clear brooks and ponds; Fish with no mercury; Lush foliage; No mosquitoes (if there were, they were all vegetarians back then); No decay; No germs; No sickness; And then…Wham! The bite that was heard around the world!
Before Eve could even swallow decay begun. The first wrinkle appeared. The first cough could be heard. The first burp, upset stomach, bile and so it began. Sickness and death soon followed.
Gary is sick, but you won’t hear this woman blame God. Could He heal Gary? Yes. Could He stop this cancer in its tracks? Yes. Could He remove the sickness from his body and place it into some unsuspecting hogs? I believe He could.
Could He put an end to all unrest and hatred? Yes. Could He have stopped the destruction and pain of 9/11? Yes? Could He balance the budget? Yes. But here we are.
My faith in the power of God has nothing to do with my comfort level. My belief that God created the earth and Jesus came and saved the earth has nothing to do with whether I’m pleased with the way things are going.
God is. He knows. He sees. He comforts. He weeps. Just like He did on Day One, or whatever day that was that Eve heard that ill-fated “hiss”.
His plan was perfect. His power is absolute. His compassion unfathomable. It is my understanding of it all that is a little suspect.
Gary is a cute patient. His liver is behaving for now. My beloved God has held that liver in His hands. I will trust Him to do with it what He wills…

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Before and After...

An 'after' photo. Zella, Gary and Murphy.
LuLu is getting impatient. If it isn’t snowing, it’s raining. If it isn’t doing either of those, the wind is out of control. If I weren’t such a wuss I’d just bundle up and get out there. But a wuss I am. So I stay inside and make juice.
This morning’s juice was kale, celery, radishes, pears and apples. A bit mossy, but good. I followed that with a Greek yogurt smoothie with orange juice, blueberries, strawberries and a banana. Hmm, good. The goal is to boost Gary’s immune system so we can do our part to help these treatments kick major cancer butt. Juice on, dude!
This is a short week in the Cleveland house. We’re off Wednesday to Mayo for the second round of ‘ipi’ treatments and probably won’t be back until Friday. It’s our new new normal. We pack, we go, we hang out at Mayo for tests, scans and infusion, we come home, we unpack. We wait three weeks and then we do it again. I don’t recognize my own life. I feel myself beginning to forget what my life was like before…before the diagnosis. I’m forgetting what it feels like to wake in the morning without this knot in my stomach. I’m forgetting what carefree feels like. I’m forgetting... many things.
Before. I want it back.
But, that’s not going to happen. Before is no more. So, I have a choice to make. Whine and lament what I’ve lost, or embrace and be thankful for what I still have. My fleshly self wants to ‘waller’ in self-pity. I want to do the “Why me?! Dance” with flourish (trust me, I would be good at it.). I want… many things.
But, God expects me to be better than that. Is He asking too much? Well, I’m still standing, so I guess not. So, I’m going to choose to be thankful instead. Thankful that Gary is still standing as well. He’s big, he’s still strong, those huge, lovely hands of his still grip mine with warmth and tenderness. We still laugh. We still embrace. We still sit silently next to each other and read. We still do … many things.
After. We now live in the after. The after includes many juices. The after still includes bike rides very soon.  The after. I’m praying it still includes happily, ever after…
Later, dear friends,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Daddy preached...


The barn where Gary has preached the last 36 years.

The LuLu Chronicles started out as a journal of sorts to record my journey toward better health, physical, emotional, and spiritual. I have battled for years to get back to my ‘fighting weight’ with only temporary success, and I’m always trying to improve and make more relevant my spiritual journey. As for my emotional health, who isn’t a little nutso at times, right? But, never did I think I would be chronicling our journey with cancer and how this journey affects all of the above. We’ve taken a turn in the road that is full of bumps and so far, seems to be uphill all the way.
The Hubs is doing okay this week. With one ‘ipi’ treatment down, the side effects haven’t been too bad. This drug is a slow builder, so his symptoms will more than likely worsen as we go along. But for now, a little bit of stomach stuff, a bout with dizziness, and some fatigue seem to be the worst of it. After a couple of weeks off he is so looking forward to preaching this coming Sunday.
Sunday. This day defines our family more than any other. The first day of the week. The Lord’s Day. This is the day, as young parents, we got up earlier than the other days. I’d get up a whole hour earlier than the fam so I could get myself dressed and breakfast on the table before I woke the kids up. Gary would rise, shower, dress and then sit in our living room and look over his lesson with a cup of coffee in hand. As we entered the church building, which for us for the last thirty years or so has been a renovated diary barn, the worries of the world were left on the doorstep. Inside serious business was going on. Formation of spirits, and character were being molded. Communion, hymns, prayer and fellowship were manna to our souls. And, for our family, daddy preached.
Daddy is still preaching. He stills sits on his stool. He opens his Bible and he tells us stories, stories that inspire, challenge, make us laugh and always, always make us better. My prayer request this week is that you ask our Father to allow Gary to keep doing His bidding for Him; To give him strength and health enough to keep doing what he has been called to do for as long as he can. Pray that God will continue to be honored by my sweet Hubs and his wise, humble words.
It’s Thursday… but Sunday’s coming.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mine does ...

My sweet daughters (inlaw) Sarah & Erin.

Outside the birds are chirping and the sun is shining—should be spring, right? Well it would be if the temps weren’t in the twenties and a wind chill in the teens. Mr. Ground Hog, I want to hunt you down! Hence, LuLu still sits in the garage and Rusty (my exercise bike), the sidekick, awaits upstairs with a nasty grin.
Last week was one for the books. My daughter-in-law Erin and her kids (my sweet grandchildren) were here, and Erin was on a mission: rid our cupboards of bad foods and fill them with cancer-fighting superheroes. She worked her fingers to the bone, but mission was accomplished. Then Easter weekend was upon us and the rest of our kids and grandkids descended upon us (minus a son and grandchild…missed them terribly). Sarah joined Erin and all kitchen duties were taken care of. The kids played around us, under us, over us. Eggs were colored, hunted and eaten. Chocolate bunnies became extinct (once again) and these old wooden floors became Holy Ground (once again).
And then… we worshipped together. As the thirteen of us sat on a row at church a God-thing happened. My heart, that is cracked, weighted with sorrow, and barely able to move me through my days, began to thump harder and stronger. The weight on my shoulders sagging with worry over Gary’s return of cancer began to lighten with each hymn. As several grandchildren took turns sitting on my lap, my shriveled soul once again expanded inside of me. As I sat and listened to the story of our Christ’s resurrection, while coloring on my lap with Isamae and Kasia (our four-year-old twin granddaughters) God whispered my name. When Gary passed me a communion tray over the sweet heads of grandchildren, our fingers touched and my love for him, my faith in our risen Savior and the compassion of our God flowed through me and I knew… we would get through this. Whether the cancer goes or stays or harms, the miracle had already happened. The miracle of family—people who love you unconditionally. Who does that anymore? Mine does.
If you have a family like mine, cherish them. If your family is broken, be the one to fix it. If your family is scattered, be the one to call them home. Do not take this miracle for granted.
Spring will come. LuLu (my pink bike) and I will ride again. And if God is gracious, my love, Gary, will ride with me (if I push him out the door and make him).