Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Want To Be A Separatist

Merry Christmas to all of our friends and family who so faithfully follow CJ's story here in the blog we have kept for him since he was diagnosed with cancer back on September 2008. We are so grateful that so many continue in steadfast prayer and encouragement for him and our family. It is your love, encouragement and willingness to help carry our burden that has enabled us to extend that care and help carry the burden for others going through this.

I pray that somehow in all the business of the season, the demands for your time and energy, and the temptation to get caught up in the routine of it all, you were able to remain focused on the only lasting gift we will receive at this time of year. One of the things I reminded my kids this year on Christmas morning right before we set out to wake up the baby and begin our Christmas morning routine and eventually tear into the presents awaiting them, was that every gift they were about to open would eventually ruin. Most would be gone by the end of the year even.....broken, lost, rusted, replaced. But the true gift of Christmas....The fact that God sent His Son to earth in human form to live and die for us would never ruin. It is ours to keep...forever!

I had personally lost focus of the joy of that gift as I was overwhelmed by pain from the loss I had recently experienced. I was focusing on what was taken from me and continuing to be taken from so many families I continue to meet that I had to cry out like the Psalmist, "Restore me to the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing Spirit to sustain me." Psalm 51:12. And He did that by providing families for us to serve. It wasn't what I expected when I asked for joy, but I realized quickly it was exactly what I needed.

Last year at this time, CJ was so freshly diagnosed and we were still so uncertain of so much of our future, that I remember just staring at him as he opened his presents and thinking 'what if this is his last Christmas with us.' I wanted to engrave that morning on my heart and mind forever. I would never have dreamed that it wasn't CJ I would lose within that year, but my father instead to a tragic and premature death. I would never have dreamed that the Lord would use those experiences one year later to allow our family the privilege to serve other families facing that same deep pain and fear of losing someone they love.

The Lord brought two families to our attention. One we met in Orlando back in September on our family cancer camp trip. You may remember seven year old Andrew Broomfield from a previous blog, who is currently on hospice at this stage in his battle. He is at home awaiting the healing that will come, whether it is here on earth through a miraculous healing, or in Heaven when he stands healed before the Lord. Then, the week before Christmas, the Lord brought us a sweet 5 year old little girl named Mackenzie who has just experienced a relapse of cancer to her lungs that has left her with minimal treatment options available. Thankfully, I was reminded today that the Lord doesn't have 'minimal treatment options' available to Him. (Thank you Katrina for that reminder!)

We were privileged to be able to provide these families with Christmas gifts for their children as well as monetary blessings and gift cards we collected on their behalf through our non-profit organization we began back in the summer. What I thought was us blessing them really served to bless us and everyone involved in making it all possible. I saw it on the faces of the people who helped wrap, deliver and donate to these families. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive and you will never experience the blessing and healing that come from it unless you get out there and start giving so that you can receive.

On Christmas Eve our family drove to Lake Worth to deliver the gifts to Mackenzie's family. Her mother Sue asked me how I am able to do this while I am still going through it with my own son and I am sad to say I was so caught off guard by her question that I did not really have an answer. I think I mumbled something about it helping us focus on others instead of ourselves. But I have thought about that question a lot since then and the only answer is... The Lord! There is no explanation for what we have done. When I look back over this month He is the only explanation. My children and I have all been sick the entire time. Really sick! We have been completely heartbroken and grieved over the loss of Poppa Jerry. We have been through loss and pain that is overwhelming at times. Yet God still brought these families to us and asked us to provide for them and assured us He would provide the strength to do it. What I did not realize when He asked this of us was that it was a precious gift to our family and a part of our healing.

He allowed me to be sick so I would have to depend on others for help. As a large group of volunteers sat on my floor and wrapped presents for a few hours last week I realized I could never have done this alone. My head was so clogged I could barely think straight. It kept me very humble throughout the entire time. When I calculated all that came in for these families with one simple plea for help...I was overwhelmed at what can be done to help others who are suffering. Thank you to EVERYONE who helped make this Christmas a blessing for these two families. We are humbled and grateful to have been a small part of what you did!

Recently, CJ said something funny while we were driving back from an event and talking about all we had to do to meet the needs of these families and organize the gift collecting, wrapping and fund-raising. He was in the back seat and he said, "Mommy, I want to be a separatist for you." I asked him what he meant and he said, "You know, help with phone calls, and take notes and help you." It took a minute to realize he meant to say "secretary". We all got a laugh at that and then we reminded him what a separatist was and talked a little about the Puritans of the 1600's. Then it hit me that in many ways that is really what he already is. A separatist! I guess we are all separatists in God's economy. It's just a matter of sides. We are either separated from God by our sins or separated from the curse of sin and death through Christ.

"...remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12)
"For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord...
...I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.""(2 Cor6:17)

My little separatist will bring in the New Year with chemotherapy. That is right! He has a spinal tap, intrathecal, and chemotherapy on New Years Eve. We pray that all goes well and he is able to be home early enough to rebound enough to enjoy the evening with his family and friends. We are thankful for his continued progress and boldly ask for your continued prayers. CJ has been sick for some time now with a steady cold and some sporadic vomiting that we believe is related to the cold and not a result of the medicines or cancer. But we need him to get better so he can tolerate the chemotherapy and continue to fight the battle within. We desperately need overall healing in our home. We have been dealing with illnesses and severe colds since September.

As the new year approaches I can't help but look back at all this year brought into our lives. We are so saddened by the pain of loss we experienced this year personally and the loss we witnessed again and again in the world of childhood cancer. "Yet we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5:2-5) I pray that no matter what you have experienced this year you too can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God! If you are able to do that, then you just may be a separatist too!

Stockings, Cards and Presents Collected for the hospital

Volunteers Wrapping for Mackenzie's family

Mackenzie with CJ and Allie and her sister Alicia

CBC and the Miami Dade Mortgage Fraud Task Force with Andrew

My beautiful babies on Christmas morning
CJ Corey Alibrandi and Brett

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vote For CJ!

Vote for CJ!
(See bottom of this post!)

Here's a tip..... The next time your kid has a chemotherapy appointment coming sure you don't mention it to him until the last possible moment!

We told CJ he had his chemotherapy and spinal tap appointment yesterday to prepare him for today and it basically ruined two days for him instead of one. The closer the day drew to a close and the closer the appointment drew near, the more he sulked. He did not want to go. Understandable! We tried to reassure him. We reasoned that it was Thursday instead of his usual Friday appointment and that would allow for him to have a longer weekend and recoup in time for his first Flag Football game this Saturday. We told him he would get to see the nurses he has not seen in so long and maybe some of the kids. None of that seemed to work.

When it came time to put CJ's numbing creme on his port before we left the house so he would be good and numb when they accessed him for chemo he really became uncooperative. He complained about the tape and how much it itches. So we used press-n-seal instead and he complained about that. I wish I could say I gently came along side my son, reassured him, and prayed with him. But I didn't! Instead I told him, "Fine! Go without the creme and see how that goes over when it is time to access you." He scowled at me.
"It itches!" he whined.
"No it doesn't!" I countered.
"How would you know?" he challenged.
And that was it.....I ripped open the press and seal and start sticking it all over my chest as well. His eyes revealed his pleasure at that even though his scowl remained.

It is so difficult having a child you feel sorry for because they have to endure all of this and yet you can not allow disrespect or disobedience because you are still training them. It's easy to think that since they have cancer they get a free pass on attitude and disrespect and responsibility but it doesn't work that way unless we want to pay a huge price later. I have actually had other cancer moms warn me, "Whatever you do, don't stop training them! We created a monster and now that it is over we don't know what to do." I certainly don't want to create a monster and yet I certainly don't want to have to spank my child right before heading out the door to chemotherapy.

I know...I all probably think we are crazy or at the very least, cruel. My mom will be calling to let me have it before she even finishes reading this post. Just so you know mom, it was daddy who almost had to do the correcting. Lucky for CJ, Daddy's a lot more patient than me. I am gald to say that instead of spanking, we resorted to reminding CJ about some of the kids we have met recently, like little Andrew! I told CJ to consider what Andrew and his family would give to be ABLE to go to chemotherapy and have a fighting chance against this disease. Then I reminded him of 9 year old Truman who just had his leg amputated in an effort to save his life. What would he give for chemotherapy to be enough to eradicate his cancer? I know comparing others problems doesn't eliminate our own, but it does help put things in perspective a little sometimes. After thinking about these other children, CJ seemed to soften a bit. Plus I think he liked the idea that I had tape all over my chest too.

Anyway, once CJ and I got under way things eased up and within about 10 minutes I could see more than just the back of his head. He did well with his nurse and the port access and the spinal tap. It was a long day but Chris brought our other three kids up to the hospital and that was nice. It was good for all the kids to be there again. This has become so much a routine in our lives that I worry they will minimize the significance of it all. Being there surrounded by all the kids that are struggling and fighting this disease really helps keep things in perspective for us.

CJ is doing well and not reacting too badly to the chemo. He did well with the spinal tap. He got the itchy face he always has to deal with and a headache which is common after a spinal, but other than that he seems okay. His CBC (blood counts) were in a fair range so he is not increasing his meds or decreasing them at this time. He is at about 75% dosing. They like to try to work them up to 100% dosing while keeping the counts in a good range but for now we will hold where we are. Today he starts his monthly steroid regiment and that should help boost his counts a bit as well as his appetite!

Thank you for all the prayers and we ask that you continue to pray for his continued healing.

We also want to ask a favor. Would you please take one minute to Vote for CJ on the C.O.L.E. Foundation website. (See link below.) They are having a Christmas Cash Giveaway to the kid with cancer that gets the most votes before December 15th. So hurry and get your vote in and spread the word to all your friends. It is very easy to do. Just enter your email address (they only allow one vote per email and this is how they keep track of who votes) and select CJ George from the long list of cancer kids. I must warn you the list is a little depressing to see but it is a reality. All these kids are fighting cancer. I am sure it will be great for whoever wins but we would love CJ to see how many people support him and vote for him.

Thank you again for your prayers and support. Keep praying for CJ's continued physical battle and the spiritual one as well. The enemy wants this boy my friends. I can tell you that boldly and confidently as his mother. He has tried to destroy him in more ways than one but we are not going to give up or give him a foothold in his life. Thankfully, the enemy is no match for the One we serve.

"The enemy boasted,
'I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
and my hand will destroy them.'

But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.

"Who among the gods is like you, O LORD ?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?

You stretched out your right hand
and the earth swallowed them.

In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling."

(Exodus 15:9-13)