Old and New Friends

The Gift of Lorna and Keene

Ian had been diagnosed with a rare cancer a few months before I got a text from my old college friend, Lorna. We had also worked together for several years at the phone company but had lost touch for many years – decades, actually. A mutual friend, however, had heard that Ian was undergoing chemo and radiation treatment and suggested that Lorna contact me since her son, Keene, had recently battled cancer as well.

It was truly good to hear from Lorna after so many years. We texted back and forth, but when I realized that Keene didn’t win his battle, my heart dropped and it broke. Cautiously, I asked Lorna what kind of cancer her son had. A rare cancer she told me: rhabdomyosarcoma.

That’s what our son had.  

I then asked which of the two types of rhabdo – embryonal or alveolar? Lorna said it was alveolar, which is the deadlier of the two.

That’s what our son had.

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Thankful for the years…

One year ago today, we got the best news possible.  The doctors said that Ian’s first evaluations were “remarkable.”  The cancer cells were no longer visible on the MRI. It felt like a miracle, and words can’t express how overjoyed we were with the news.  I can remember Ian’s large, slow-motion fist pump when we got the news over the speaker of my cell phone! The doc advised that he’d have to continue the 10-month chemo treatment plan to be sure we killed every last cell of the aggressive cancer.

While our prayers were not answered the way we wanted them to be last year, I remind myself this morning that our prayers were likely answered about a dozen years before that…

Below is a post that I made on my personal Facebook page a few months ago (before I started this blog) where I shared about the gift of time that I believe Ian was given.

This post and many of my early FB posts were written directly to Ian…

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This is one of my favorite pictures of you. It’s just so … you! You were on a Big Island trip with your classmates – maybe in the 5th or 6th grade. Your extra-large looking forearm makes me think of that funny episode of the King of Queens where Doug and Carrie get that portrait and Carrie’s arm looks enormous and Doug has rabbit-sized front teeth. That was one of your favorite episodes of that sitcom. You would laugh and laugh and laugh, nearly jolting out of your seat.

You had a very sweet childhood filled with lots of laughter. But, at around the age of 10 or 11 we had a quite a scare when a quickly growing lump on the front of your right thigh appeared out of nowhere. It doubled in size in about a month and the doctor decided to have it removed, although he expressed no serious concerns about it initially.

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LIVE!

I understand that some level of grief will likely be a part of my life for – well, forever. So, I do what I can to find a way to move forward as best as I can.

I’ve joined a variety of grief support groups, which have been helpful. I’ve started this blog as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions. And, I’ve connected on a one-to-one basis with others who walk this same painful journey.

Recently, though, I received good counsel from a highly unlikely source:  me.  Rather, the other me … the Sherrie of years ago, the mom before she lost one of her sons to cancer at the age of just 23.

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The Gift of Lei

I know we’re not supposed to “compare” grief and rank them. I know that.

Yet, as I consider the depth of my broken heart, my mind sometimes does exactly that before I can stop it. And, when I believe someone else’s loss could possibly be even greater than my own, I wonder how can they bear it?

In my own life, there is someone whose grief, I believe – in many ways – could outrank mine.

It’s the beautiful, strong, and vibrant love of Ian’s life and fiancé, Lei.

Yes, I am Ian’s momma and it’s easy for me to believe that no one (besides God) could love him more than I do. But, the truth is, if there was such a thing as a loss-meter, I think Lei’s grief would easily measure up to mine (if not surpass it) because her loss comes at such a young age.

Yet, in the months that have passed, I’ve watched Lei handle her grief with strength, grace and wisdom beyond her years.

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Where I Go…in My Mind

One Sunday, Ian and I listened to our pastor speak on the subject of “Being a friend of God.” Ian was probably about 12 years old at the time. The pastor expounded on a related scripture verse and provided examples of what it means to be a friend. He explained that a friend is someone who wants the best for you. Someone who sees the good in you. Someone who loves you, despite your shortcomings. Someone who understands your moods, quirks and peculiarities. In a nutshell, when you’re with a true friend, you can totally be yourself.

It was at that moment that Ian turned to me and said, “Just like you and me, Mom.”

Some things just stick with you for life, and I will never forget those words.

I felt the same way. There was just something “easy” about our relationship, even during this preteen stage in life. He knew that I did not expect him to conform to society’s expectations nor behave any other way than his natural happy-go-lucky, cheerful and sometimes goofy little self. I utterly loved everything about him. It was true. He could always be himself around me.

So, when I ponder the fact that God considers himself a friend, the way Ian and I were (are) friends, then I know that I am truly blessed. To be a friend of God means that I can be myself and it is enough for God. He will love me just the way I am, despite my shortcomings.

And, he still loves me when I’m broken.

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The Yellow Notebook

When Dr. Vassalli told us that malignant tumor cells were found in the biopsied lymph node of Ian’s neck, it seemed that all the world should have stopped at that moment and taken notice. But, it did not.

For our family, life was in slow motion for about half a day as we processed the impossibly bad news. Then, just as suddenly as we were given the life-changing information, we were thrust into a whirlwind of appointments, conversations, and decisions.

Within a few days, we found ourselves shuffling through notes written on bits of paper, within the margins of books, on the back of brochures, and on our electronic notepads. It quickly became an overwhelming task to keep track of who was who and what came next.

To keep our sanity, I grabbed a yellow college-ruled notebook that was in my desk drawer and added tabs to segment the pages into sections for “Notes,” “To Do’s,” and “Appointments.” I consolidated all our notes and talked to Ian about the new plan of attack. We agreed that anytime he or I would speak with a doctor, nurse, insurance representative, disability coordinator, or any of the myriad of others now in our life, we would add notes to the notebook.

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Amazing Race, Amazing Grace

We were sitting on the couch watching The Amazing Race on TV the other night. It’s been a family favorite for many years. Dave and I always thought our sons, Zach and Ian, should enter the race!

“Send in your audition video,” I’d encourage year after year. “You guys should do this! Hey, it’s for a million dollars,” I’d carry on.

We were very serious but the idea never gained traction with either of them. I guess they were just too busy creating their own Amazing Races or they just weren’t that interested in a million dollars. Still, anytime I watched the show, I could envision them navigating foreign streets, launching watermelons with enormous slingshots, scaling the outside of skyscrapers, rock climbing or whatever crazy challenge came their way. Upon being eliminated from the contest, most contestants tearfully admit that it is the incredible journey that is the most valuable part of being on the Race.

This year, two young men have dominated many of the challenges, Redmond and Matt. Matt is a professional snowboarder and Redmond is a motivational speaker who races with a prosthetic leg. Both are very athletic. I don’t know too much about their backgrounds but, of course, when I watch them I think about Zach and Ian running the Race!

But, this can never be.

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