It’s taken me a while to write this, but on Monday, August 25, 2014, at almost exact 4 pm, this world lost a remarkable woman.  At the way too young age of 58, after eight months of fighting for her life with a ferocity that left everyone watching in awe, D’s mom decided it was time to rest.  In her last days, she taught me so much about life and love and strength.  No one loves life or their family more than this woman did, and I’m convinced that’s the only thing that kept her here this long.  When she first came home on hospice, she was given 48 to 72 hours to live, and she made it 17 days by the power of sheer will.  We were blessed to have some really good days in there.  She was awake, alert, relatively pain-free, and just as full of spunk and wit as ever.  The last several days of her life saw a steep and steady decline until she smiled and took her last breath.  She died the way she lived:  peacefully, smiling, surrounded by family.  My sister-in-law said something beautiful a couple of days ago.  “She was with us (referring to her and D) when we took our first breath, and we were with her when she took her last.”

Our last family portrait, minus my father-in-law, who took the picture.  It was taken at her request.

It was obvious by the nonstop parade of people paying their respects Wednesday night just how many people loved this woman.  People we had never even met.  We laid her to rest on Thursday after a beautiful service.  She looked positively stunning, more like herself than we’ve seen her look in months.  Several people spoke and did a fantastic job of honoring her and her legacy.  A couple of family members picked out songs that held special meaning for them or brought back special memories.  The youngest granddaughter had them play “I Won’t Say That I’m Okay” by Front Porch Step, an acoustic indie band.  Awesome song.

So now it’s about finding a new normal.  Everyone will feel her absence, but it’s going to be especially hard on her daughter and her husband of 43 years.  She and her daughter were the best of friends.  You never saw one without the other.  They did absolutely everything together, whether it was a shopping trip, a beach trip, or a trip across the country to visit their son/grandson.  It will be so hard, but we’ve all acknowledged that we just have to step up and keep doing all the things she would have wanted us to do.  We all went out to eat Saturday night as we have done as a family unit so, so, so many times before, and it just felt so strange with her not being with us.

One day at a time.

I will never remember her as the bedridden cancer patient.  That only defined the last few days of her life.  This is the beautiful, vibrant, classy woman that will forever be my mother-in-law.

With my father-in-law
With the oldest granddaughter

Taking selfies trying to get a photo for her real estate company’s web site.  haha

With her sister a couple of Christmases ago

Master Griller at work at one of our epic cookouts

With D

With my sister-in-law and me in Destin FL in my bleach blonde days

Gorgeous even when she’s sleeping
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Recalculating

Sometimes the route you were planning to take changes.  Sometimes you encounter roadblocks and have to go off course and do some unplanned twisting and turning.  You’ll still get to your destination, but it may take you a little longer to get there.

I won’t be ready to race RnR St. Louis in October.  Due to the circumstances with D’s mom, I just haven’t had the time to invest into quality training.  I’m running here and there and will no doubt be able to cross the finish line that day, but it will not be in a PR attempt as originally planned.  I’m spending the weekend with two FABULOUS LADIES, so there will be no shortage of good times, and October 19, 2014, is going to be about having fun running through Cardinal Nation and showing my team pride!!!  One of those ladies will be racing her first 70.3 only two weeks before this, so depending on how recovered she is, we may just have to shoot for a new personal worst!  haha  If I remember right, there are plenty of bars on the course.  And how cute will I be in these?!

WTF is it about an article of clothing in the floor that attracts animals???

The PR attempt will be delayed by at least six weeks when I’ll be running St. Jude in Memphis again.  And I’m even toying with the idea of running Mississippi Blues in January since it JUST SO HAPPENS to be on my birthday!  (And probably Little Rock again too since I’m so in love with that race.)  So yeah, my route has had to be recalculated, but I’m not one little bit upset about it.  The time I would have been running (and everything else, for that matter) has been spent with family, and that’s where I both need and want to be right now.  There’ll be plenty of time for everything else very soon.

The Outtakes:

The World’s Biggest Mind Fuck

I’m writing this post sitting on the love seat at my in-laws’ house.  I’m sitting 10 feet away from a woman that medical professionals tell us should not be alive.  Six days ago, we were told we had a couple more days together.  Four days ago, we thought we were at the end when her blood pressure and pulse were dropping, her fever was rising, she was asleep for nearly 36 hours, and was hallucinating and not always in her right mind when she was awake.  Today, right this very second, she is sitting on the couch drinking coffee and watching The View (I loathe this fucking show) with her work laptop in her lap uploading pictures to list a piece property.

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK?!?!?!?!

We are all just flabbergasted.  We truly don’t know what to think.  When she woke up from her day-and-a-half nap with more spunk than we’ve seen in weeks, we asked hospice, “What the hell is going on???  Did the doctors miss something???  Were they wrong???  Do we need to be going back to Vanderbilt demanding they not give up???”  They simply told us that she had caught her second wind.  They explained that she’s getting better rest being at home where she doesn’t have doctors and nurses poking, prodding, testing, and examining her around the clock.  A second wind.  But, damnit, it just feels like so much more than that to us.  A second wind shouldn’t last this long, should it?

Nothing could have prepared us for this roller coaster.  Earlier in the week she told us that she had made her peace with it, that she was good with God, and that she was ready, but that she just had a few more things to think about before she went.  Last night she told us she wasn’t giving up.  Today she’s talking about the things she’s going to do when she gets better.

Y’all, we don’t know what to do.  Several of us have taken off work this week because the doctors told us it was time to say our goodbyes.  Her grandson and her niece hauled ass in from Colorado and New York.  My brother-in-law used his last week of vacation this week because we believed what the medical professionals said.  We expected to be planning and attending a funeral this week.  Please don’t get me wrong.  We are so incredibly grateful to have this extra time with her and so happy to see her feeling better.  But again…

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK?!??!?!

What do we do?!  We can’t all stay off work indefinitely just waiting.  But on the other hand it feels so wrong to go back to work too.  It kind of makes me feel like I’m saying, “Well, if you’re not gonna die, I’m leaving.”

I have no idea what we’re supposed to do.  Completely mind fucked.

Things I Never Want to Forget

The past week has been a blur.  Especially the last four days.  This post will probably be as choppy and as all over the place as my mind is lately.

My mother-in-law was airlifted back to Nashville last Sunday night.  Things steadily went downhill with one setback after another until finally on Thursday the doctors waved their white flag and admitted defeat.  They made the decision to stop all treatment and send her home on palliative care for her last few weeks/months. That very night things got even worse when SEVERE pain prompted a scan, which showed that the tumors had become so large that they were cutting off blood supply to her major abdominal and thoracic organs.  Her prognosis quickly changed.  No longer were we looking at a few weeks.  We were told on Friday that she had a couple of days left.

Imagine that for a second.  This is a 58-year-old woman, perfectly awake, alert, and coherent (a state that so very quickly declined over the weekend), being told that she only has a couple of days.  She (as well as we, the rest of her family) was devastated.  As horrible as that day was, and as horrible as what is coming will be, I want to document this time because there is so much happening that I want to hang onto forever and never, ever, ever forget.

Such as…

The family unity in that hospital room upon hearing the news.  As we all were crying, and as MIL was expressing her fears and worries between sobs, we were assuring her that we would be okay.  My sister-in-law reminded her that after her father and brother passed, she grieved and she missed them like crazy every day, but she adapted and moved on and healed with time, and we all promised her that we would do the same.  We vowed to all be there for one another.

Feeling the most pure and powerful love I have ever felt while watching my husband spoon feed ice chips to his mom on her first really bad day.  I had to leave the room to ugly cry.

Watching the fight left in a woman who only has days to live.  The day after receiving the news, she was in the bathroom taking a sink bath (a shower was impossible with all her attachments), washing her hair, putting on lotion and perfume.

Seeing the love my husband has for his mother as he sobs over her unwillingness to give up.

Some of the hilariously funny things she said while under the influence of morphine:
MIL:  *Starts to get up out of hospital bed, IV and drain lines be damned*
SIL:  Mom, where are you going, what do you need, what are you doing???  (Her reaction every time MIL moved a finger)
MIL:  I ain’t doin’ nuthin’!  I swear I’m gonna get me a damn bell that says, “DING!  I’M DOING SOMETHING!”

Some of the excruciatingly painful things she said while under the influence of morphine:
MIL:  Where is my medicine?
SIL:   You’re getting it through that needle in your stomach, remember?  Why, what do you need?
MIL:  I just need to know.  I’m leaving tomorrow.
(We know she didn’t mean that the way we heard it.  According to her, she was going shopping the day before that, but when a dying woman says she’s leaving tomorrow, that’s enough to make all the eyes leaky.)

All of the family togetherness.  MIL has always been her happiest when surrounded by her big, happy family, and we are all determined that she go out that way.  There has been tons of family, tons of food, tons of reminiscing, and unlimited laughter.  The past couple of days she’s been in and out of it, but we want to make sure that all she hears are the happy sounds of her family.  We promised her in the hospital room that she would be surrounded by family for the rest of her life, and we are making good on that promise.  Her kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, siblings, parents, in-laws, extended family, and friends have been there around the clock, some of them coming in from across the county to do so.  The French gatherings and cookouts have always been pretty epic, and that’s how we’ve always celebrated everything–holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings–and now we can add life celebration to that list.  I’ve taken a week of vacation so I can be here and cherish every last second of these final days.

Being a part of her … dreams?  hallucinations?  memories?  Whatever it is that comes at the end when they start talking to people that aren’t there and going through the hand motions of doing things that they aren’t doing.  The past couple of days, we’ve watched her, seemingly wide awake, patting out burgers, even asking for the kosher salt (she’s always been the grill master at these cookouts!), cut her food and eat it, put on her makeup, and fold clothes.  We think she was packing for vacation because the rest of the day she kept talking about leaving and telling her grandkids to go finish getting ready.

The fact that she still hasn’t lost her sense of humor even through the haze of what’s real and what’s a dream.  She woke up once and looked over to find SIL, BIL, and two of their kids zonked out on the couch and asked for her camera.  Apparently the instinct to take funny and embarrassing photos of your children is something that never dies.

A Fourth to Celebrate (And a Mother-in-Law Update)

Happy Belated Fourth, y’all!  I hope everyone had a safe and fun-filled holiday.  We had the best one that I can ever remember having.  For starters, it’s been a solid 10-15 degrees cooler this year than what we’re accustomed to.  We were all actually chilly sitting outside lighting fireworks Friday night.  The truck on the way home said it was 59 degrees out!  That’s just nuts for Tennessee in July!

We didn’t know till fairly last minute that we were going to be doing anything on the 4th, so we didn’t even hit the fireworks stand until about 10:00 that night.  By then they had everything marked waaaaay down, so we all pitched in and got $100 worth of stuff, which actually turned out to be quite a bit considering how cheap we got it all.  That was all we did that night.  Well that and we threw together plans for a big cookout the next day.  That was when we truly celebrated the holiday.  Family, food, alcohol, and cornhole–that’s how we party up in here!  We do that a few times a year for various occasions on D’s side of the family, but this time was extra special for a couple of reasons.  First, my parents came too!

D and his niece grilling

Cornhole!

My Dad and D’s niece’s dogs

Can I just say how much I HATE that high-waisted shorts are back in style?  According to my 14-year-old niece anyway.  If those are in style, I will just have to be out of style.

And the second reason this holiday was special… well, that brings me to the mother-in-law update part.  She finished her chemo and radiation back in May.  She’s been going back for checkups periodically but wasn’t scheduled to have any more scans until August.  They said she would have too much dead tissue and scarring from the radiation for them to even really tell how effective her treatment was.  Well last Monday, while they were on vacation in Colorado visiting their oldest grandson, she went to the hospital with severe stomach pain with violent vomiting and diarrhea.  They thought it was her gallbladder, so they did an ultrasound, and on that ultrasound they saw something suspicious.  They did a CT scan to check it out further, and they found masses on her liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and the main artery running from the heart to the leg.  They kept her one night to get her rehydrated then they released her to come back to her oncologists in Nashville.  They admitted her on Thursday, and they were under the impression that the team would be in to consult with her on Friday, but then on Friday afternoon they found out that since it was a holiday weekend they wouldn’t be in until Monday.  So she pretty much said, “It’s a holiday for me too!  I’m going to the house!”  It was about 9:00 Friday night when they got back home, thus explaining the last-minute fireworks and BBQ plans.  I don’t want to sound negative, but ,guys, it doesn’t sound good.  We don’t know how many holidays we may have left with her, so we wanted to at least make this one fun before she goes back into the hospital tomorrow.  But no matter what they say, we ARE NOT GIVING UP.  We know of too many people that have had successes using unconventional treatment methods, and she’s ready to start trying some of those if western medicine says they have nothing else to offer her.  I ask for all of your prayers and good thoughts.  We should know more in the next few days.

Tuesday Tidbits

  • I’m two weeks out from my next half-marathon, and I haven’t been this unprepared and undertrained for one since my first one four and a half years ago.  I guess it’s a good thing I gave up any notion of racing this one weeks ago!  I ran 9 miles yesterday, the farthest I’ve run this training cycle, and I can sum it up in two words:  shit show.  It’s so aggravating for my long runs to be so awful when my short runs are so great.  I ran 3 miles last week at a pace 7 seconds/mile faster than my previously fastest 3 miles, which was at the end of a marathon training cycle when I was in pretty damn good shape.  (And this was the first time I’ve ever run a training run with a sub-9 average!)  Go figure.
  • Less than 24 hours after posting about my new-found patience and level-headedness (relatively speaking haha), I had probably my most intense test.  I went into a “quick lube” place for an oil change and it took them TWO FREAKING HOURS to get me in and out of there.  There were only three cars ahead of me, and it’s not like there was anything going wrong… I could see them just moving at a snail’s pace!  The ol’ patience was wearing a bit thin!!!
  • I just ordered some new running shoes.  Maybe that’ll help my long run?  HA!  They’re the new Brooks Cascadia 9s.  The only Brooks I’ve ever worn is the Ghost line.  They have been my last 5 pair of running shoes.  I hope I like these as well.  If not, there’s no loss, thanks to Road Runner Sports’ 90-day “wear ’em and love ’em” guarantee!
  • One picture to sum up our Valentine’s Day evening.
  • My mother-in-law is in Atlanta at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America this week getting a second opinion.  I’ve heard such amazing things about them, and I pray that they can work their magic for her too!

It Ain’t All Sunshine and Roses (alternate title: "The C Word")

Since coming back out of the blogging closet, I’ve mentioned all the positive things that are happening.  What I haven’t mentioned is… the C word.  I have two stories to share.

Last fall, I had Bella at the vet for a routine visit and while we were there they noticed a spot on her rear end that I hadn’t ever noticed.  It was a thickened, ulcerated spot about the size of a quarter, but it was covered by her fur.  They thought it was a hot spot and gave me some topical steroid spray.  Ten days later it was no better, so they gave her 10 days of antibiotics.  It still didn’t improve, so they wanted to biopsy it.  It came back as a mast cell tumor.  I was floored and devastated by the cancer diagnosis.  Surgery was scheduled for the next week.  The tumor sent off for staging and histopath, and thankfully it came back showing that it was in the early stages and had been completely excised with good, clean tissue borders.  Since it was caught so early (thank the Lord for a super attentive vet staff) and had been completely removed, there was no further action required.  They’ve just told us to be super vigilant and watch her closely for recurrence in that same area and for any new lesions elsewhere on her body.  In addition to that, since she’s had several issues in her short little four years that can be attributed to a weak immune system (demodectic mange, lots of allergy problems, and now this), I’ve started her on a pretty stout immune system boosting regimen.  The whole ordeal was nerve-racking and upsetting, but at least it was over and done with one simple surgery.  It in no way compared to what the family is dealing with now.
Also in the fall, D’s mother began having a lot of unrelenting sinus pressure and congestion.  Like COMPLETE congestion.  A total inability to breathe through her nose.  She went to an ENT who told her that she had sinus polyps that needed to be surgically removed.  This was around the first of November, and she insisted that the surgery be put off until after the holiday season.  That surgery never happened.  Things increasingly worsened and when she started swelling into her neck they knew that what they were dealing with was more sinister than plain ol’ sinus polyps.  On December 26th, the biopsy results came back:  stage 4 neuroendocrine carcinoma.  It’s in the paranasal sinuses, behind the cheekbone, up close to the eye, very close to the brain, and down into the neck.  On January 10th, she began chemotherapy.  The plan is four months of chemo (three days on, three weeks off) with radiation to be added during the last seven weeks.  I need for every single one of you to pray that this works because they’ve already said that she is not a candidate for surgery given the location and the fact that it has invaded the bone.  So please, pray for her, send healing thoughts, do whatever it is you do when you really want something to happen.  We can’t bear to imagine the alternative.