Thursday, April 29, 2010

Least Expectations


In front of CJ's bag at the Relay for Life.
From left to right:
Alibrandi, Travis, Jerri, CJ, Brett and Corey

Right up there on a list of things I never expected to see in my lifetime would have been my son's face on a hospital's campaign letter representing kids with cancer or any other life threatening illness for that matter. Although, I knew CJ had been chosen to represent Joe DiMaggio in their mail-out campaign letter, I did not know when it would arrive and exactly what it would look like. I knew I had seen plenty of them before my own son was diagnosed and but I really did not know what to expect other than the free mailing labels they always came with.
Well, it arrived in the middle of the week, and, looking back, I believe that may have been providential. It landed on my counter smack dab in the middle of a very hectic week of settling two small children into our home and making the necessary adjustments of going from four kids to six kids literally overnight. It came, in the middle of trying to figure out where everyone was going to sleep and where their clothes were going to go. In the middle of endless potty accidents and washing load and loads of sheets and clothes...there it was. In the middle of wondering how we are going to get through this new trial, there lay this reminder of all that we have been through this past year and a half. It was a reminder of the enormity of what we can get through that we may have never thought we could.

That letter and all that it represents came as a reminder of sudden change and God's faithfulness during difficult times. I needed that reminder because once again our family has drastically changed overnight and we are treading unfamiliar waters. No, it is not a cancer diagnosis for one of our children, but it is a huge change none the less. Taking on two small children that have been through so much already is weighing heavily on me.

Believe it or not, I feel a lot like I did when CJ was diagnosed. For one, I have no idea how long I have with these children. Is it enough time to show them all I want to show them and share with them all I hope to share with them? Is it enough time to build the relationships and earn the trust to speak into their lives the beautiful truths of the gospel? As with CJ, I have no idea how we are going to get through each day other than to lean on God's grace. I don't feel equipped to handle this, yet I know God has called me to it, so I wake up each day and do whatever it is He has laid before me. So even though this is drastically different, the feelings are very similar.

Our concerns for CJ in this would be his continued health as he completes his chemo treatments. He is rounding the bend and the end is in sight with only five months of chemo to go. However, we now have one child in the home attending public school. That's right! Talk about treading unfamiliar waters...I am now not only a home-school mom but also a public school mom (so to speak) since I had to enroll my nephew in first grade to complete his school year.

With that, we are extremely aware that we are opening our home and exposing CJ to that many more germs and infections. Although, he is doing well with his chemo and his counts seem to be okay right now, we are aware of how easily and unexpectedly they fluctuate from one extreme to the other. Even though we will just have to cross that bridge when we get there but we would love to know he is covered in prayer regardless.

Also seemingly providential, smack in the middle of this week also lay Poppa Enzo's birthday! The latest reports we received after his most recent scans were not good. We were told "the chemo is not working." Words I have dreaded ever having to hear for CJ and never expected to be hearing for poppa so soon. So the day after receiving the letter reminding me of how far we have come with CJ, I stood before poppa while we had a special time of celebrating and honoring him in both a serious and humorous way.

We will try a new chemo next week and hope and pray for the best, but I can't help but wonder if right up there on that list of things I never expected to experience in this lifetime will be watching my son recover from cancer while simultaneously watching another loved one deteriorate from it.

Thank you to those who have stuck with us and continued to pray for our family. We are extremely grateful.




CJ and Alibrandi with Poppa Enzo






Thursday, April 22, 2010

Changes


Quick Update and Prayer Requests:

CJ has chemo tomorrow. He does not like thinking about this ahead of time and I have noticed he seems to get very distracted when he does. I will ask him to do simple things like put on his shoes and he just stares at me, so I ask again. No response. A little louder. Still no response. When I finally get frustrated and ask what is wrong with him and why he is not listening, he responds with something like, "I don't want to go to my appointment Friday." To which I, of course answer, "What does that have to do with putting on your shoes?" I am so sympathetic and supportive aren't I?

Actually, he is doing quite well with his chemotherapy overall. Five more months to go! We have so many families that are finishing their treatments and are getting their port out. It is nice for CJ to see that because it keeps him looking ahead to this all be over and life to resume without the constant interference and frustration of chemo appointments.

As I have confessed before, I am ambivalent about the end of treatment and what that will be like after two years of this. It is not that I am dependent upon the medications for his healing because I have known all along his healing is in God's Sovereign hands. I realize the medications are simply a tool that the Lord is using in his healing, however it is still a strange emotion.

CJ got to spend some time with one such friend who finished treatment. His name is Sam and he lives in Gainesville. Sam not only finished treatment but also got his port out. It was great for CJ to see him doing so well. Sam was diagnosed after CJ and had to undergo an amputation of his leg in his battle against this disease, so I know it confused CJ how Sam could be done with treatment before him. I have explained to him that each type of cancer has different protocols, outcomes, and lengths of treatments. It really was great to see them together. Thank you Blakemore family for taking our kids in at the very last minute while we were there. What a blessing to have friends like you!

Even in our excitement about nearing the end of treatment, we are acutely aware that others are just beginning. There are so many new diagnosis and we recently heard about a little girl named Susanna who is only four. She was with her family on a missions trip in Haiti when she became sick. After realizing this was more than the common flu they flew to Miami to seek further medical attention. Upon further evaluations and scans, it was discovered that little Susanna has tumors throughout her body. Please pray for this little girl. Her familiy has a blog where they will post updates at www.howcantheyhear.org. This little girl is heavy on our hearts and minds and we know you will pray for these kids faithfully.

I have two other young children who can use some prayer. Some of you already know, but our three year old niece and seven year old nephew are now living with us as of this week. That is why we were in Gainesville. We drove up to go to court to be named their temporary guardians until some things can be sorted out that their parents are going through.

Although Chris and I are sure that this is what the Lord would have us do for these kids, there is a lot of adjustment and changes when you go from four kids to six kids overnight. Many of those hardships we expect but one unexpected reaction I have been having has to do with my dad. My niece's name is Jerri. She was named after my father Jerry who recently passed away. This has actually been a little difficult for me hearing and speaking his name all day. On the lighter, but still unexpected side, today my little son Corey, who is two years old, decided to call me Aunt Dawn since that is what he hears the other kids calling me. That was surely a surprise. Ha!

On a serious note, we would just ask that God would bless this time they are with us. That He would allow us to make the most of this opportunity with these kids. They have been through a lot in their young lives and we want to be able to pour Gods love and grace into them.

Please pray for for wisdom as we continue to do our best to protect CJ as he completes his treatments even as we bring two more kids into the home. We will have to place my nephew in school to complete the school year. Since we have always homeschooled our children that is new waters we will be navigating and we are aware that is also a lot more germs coming into the home.

Thank you to all who continue to lift CJ up in prayer before the throne of Grace. God hears. God responds. God is faithful. In these past few weeks as we have watched much suffering from Poppa Enzo to small children living and dying with cancer and broken homes and lives. We have been reminded that God does not view suffering the way we do. He cares and I believe no tear shed goes unnoticed, but He has already conquered this world. He sees it all in from the end in light of eternity. We view it through the present time in light of this life and the little we know. Totally different. view points. Suffering does not weaken Him, His power or His resolve. It does not make Him question the universe as we do. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and He is on the throne at the right hand of the Father.

~Keep praying~


After chemo today, CJ will walk as a survivor in the Relay for Life. But he will also walk in honor of his poppa Enzo who is in the thick of the battle as well as all the kids we lost this year to this disease. Most especially, he will walk in thanksgiving and honor of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who has sustained him unto this day. Thank you Lord! We love you.








Thursday, April 15, 2010

inSECURITY

We would like to extend a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who came out and supported CJ as he used his 11th birthday to bless other kids battling cancer. We had a great turn out and even met many new people. It was neat to meet so many of you who have followed CJ's story through the blog and yet we have never really met before.

I instantly feel connected to you all when I know you have been reading the blog. I guess knowing you read the deepest, most personal parts of our lives instantly bonds you to us in some weird cyber-world sort of way.

We were pleasantly surprised with the turnout considering we kept that place packed for four hours straight from 4:30 to 8:30. Your kindness towards CJ was such a blessing for him as well. At one point, after having many cards and gifts handed to him, he came up to me and said he was so surprised that people brought him gifts since he thought them attending and eating a meal there was supposed to be his gift. It was so sweet to see him receive that joy as well for all his efforts. Thank you form a mommas heart!

We found out a couple days later that together you and CJ raised $600.00 through the meals purchased that night for Children Battling Cancer. On top of that, we also brought in 1300.00 in miscellaneous donations handed to us by individuals as well as bracelet sales. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity. Please know it is our privilege and honor to be able to steward your donations faithfully as we bless these families and we take it very seriously. Every penny we raised that night will go directly to supporting these families in their time of need!

I also want to extend a HUGE thank you to Elsa Hanley of Sparkles and Swirls Face Painting Company, who donated her time and amazing talent for the event. What a hit that was with the kids! I have never seen so many kids so beautifully painted. It really was a great addition to the evening. Not only did she donate her time, but she also donated a portion of the tips she received to CBC.

I want to share one story about that night with you that was very special to me. A woman walked into the restaurant and asked for me. As I was brought over to her, she introduced herself and explained she had heard about the event on the news broadcast. She lived just down the road from the restaurant. She said she was so surprised when she saw the news piece because the exact day we were hosting the event (April 5th-CJ's birthday) would have been her daughter's 18th birthday. However, she died of cancer at just 15 months old. I could see the pain and sadness still present in her eyes.

She explained that she felt she needed to come by to say hello, make a donation, and share that with me. After hugging and sharing some motherly tears together, I immediately asked her where her daughter was treated and she said Joe DiMaggio. I asked her if she would happen to know Lotsy Dotsy (the Lord's Clown) and she said, "Oh yes, of course I know Lotsy." So I walked her over to where Lotsy was and they took one look at each other and hugged and cried. So amazing to witness. It really was powerful and reminded me why we are doing what we are doing. To comfort and help hurting families.

CJ had his counts done on Friday and everything seems to be hovering in safe ranges. He goes back in for chemo on Friday the 23rd and then plans to walk in the survivors lap at the Relay for Life in Pembroke Pines. Go CJ! You amaze me! He wants to walk for all the kids who will no longer have that chance and for his poppa Enzo who is deep in the battle against cancer.

I want to go into more detail about that and so many of you have been so kind to pray for him but it is so delicate and painful. All I can say right now is that words can not express how difficult it has been to watch what cancer has done to this man so quickly. Words can not express the overwhelming sadness involved in watching him and my mother go through this. Words can not express the underlying fear of losing another father in so short a time. But I can also say that words can not adequately express God's steadfast faithfulness to bond us together at this time as we take it day by day and that is where we have to remain.....insecure in this world and our circumstances, yet completely (in) security in Christ and in God's loving hands during this difficult time.

Once again, thank you for all your prayers for our family. Please continue to pray for CJ as he continues to fight this disease. Pray specifically for the cancer to remain gone.
The other night he came into our room with a fever and said weekly, "I feel very weak." Needless to say, it is moments like these that my mind can wander rather quickly and I was instantly back in the days he would stand next to our bed with a fever weak and in pain. Thankfully, this time it was only the result of a cold that he is trying to get over and dad was able to take care of it and get him back to sleep. We took him and the rest of the kids to the doctor the next day and begged them to tell us how to get these kids to stop coughing and finally over these incessant colds that just seem to linger and linger. Please pray for health to take over our home as we try to get them all completely well.




We also want to extend our sympathies to Keaton's family upon their loss of this amazing kid who battled hard! There are no words.

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/keatonlee

...as well as our continued support of the family or Nicholas Reamer who passed away recently. We are so deeply sorry for your loss.

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/nicholasreamer/journal

To all the kids, including sweet Andrew, who we have lost these past few months to this awful disease....CJ and our family are honored to walk in your memory.



Thursday, April 1, 2010


HAPPY 11th BIRTHDAY CJ

CJ turns 11 today! I can not tell you how thankful we are for each birthday with him. When you come so close to losing a child, birthdays are really special moments. We are thankful for each and everyone that the Lord grants us on this side of cancer.

Easter Sunday is also a very special time for our family. Not only because of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but also because we almost lost Alibrandi (our 14 year old daughter) 3 years ago on Easter Sunday. The Lord granted her a second chance by releasing her from the grips of death as she was sealed to the bottom of a pool by an uncovered drain. Just as she made peace with the fact she may not ever get off that drain and was confident of where she would go upon death, she tried one more time and the seal broke, leaving a suction mark the size of the drain on her back. Let's just say, at the emergency room that day, the doctor's face turned white when he saw it and he told us he doesn't see many kids "walk" in after something like this. They are usually dead!

Needles to say, these past two days, Easter Sunday and CJ's birthday, have been very special for our family. We hope and pray you also had a wonderful Easter with your family celebrating the greatest day in history.

Today, as we continue to celebrate CJ's birthday, we are also extremely proud of him! It is humbling to see a child willing to set aside their special day and make it about others instead of themselves. CJ is doing just that by donating his birthday to raising awareness adn support for other kids with cancer. We hope to see all of you (local blog readers of course) at the Denny's tonight anytime between 5pm and 8pm to support and encourage him.

Please remember the family that owns this Denny's also has a child battle cancer. Actually, the same cancer as CJ; Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. Noah was diagnosed just one month after CJ. Both boys are the maintenance phase of their treatment. Little Noah is only 6 years old and had Stage 4 Lymphoma. His family was told he would not have made it through the weekend had they not brought him in. I can't imagine what that must have been like.

Here is the amazing news piece these two boys did to invite you to this special event. The pictures of little Noah are very powerful as he lingered near death.


We also found out that some Miami Dolphins Players will be there as well as a very special guest. If you have never met God's clown before, this is your chance! Her name is Lotsy Dotsy and she is one of CJ's most special friends!

Thank you for all who have continued to follow CJ's journey and have supported our family through prayers and your friendship.


WHAT: CJ Birthday Charity Event
WHERE: Denny's in Davie just NORTH of Sterling on University Drive!
5645 South University Drive
Davie 33328
WHEN: Monday April 5th from 5pm to 8pm
WHY: To raise support and awareness for children battling cancer.

20% of the proceeds go to Children Battling Cancer, Inc.