Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Project 365 - Trimester Awards...

Our elementary school gives awards once per trimester... and each class only has 4 awards... Best in Language Arts, Math, Citizen, and Best Overall.  On a side note, it drives me NUTS when schools feel the need to give EVERYONE an award so that nobody will have their feelings hurt... not only does it diminish the value of any award (and the hard work that some kids actually put into their school work), but it does nothing to prepare kids for reality... (I could go on and on about this subject, but I will leave it there...)

We were thrilled when we got the "secret invitation" to the First Trimester Awards Ceremony.  Knowing that Anna was getting an award, I made up a story about it being a special day at school, curled her hair, had her put on one of her favorite outfits, and took a few photos of her before school.

Anna with Principal Ausby... he is one of the most AWESOME Principals that I've ever known!
 Anna was awarded Best in Language Arts.  Although she is in first grade, she is already reading at a third grade level.  Besides the the awards ceremony, the certificate and the medal, the BEST part of this honor is that the kids get to ring the historic school bell... over 100 years old... very heavy... and very cool!
Poor Mr. Ausby... that bell is VERY hard to ring because it is so heavy and while the kids pose for their pictures, he pulls and pulls that bell!

Project 365 - A Day of Fishing...

We live about 1/2 mile from a beautiful lake and hiking/mountain biking/camping and although we hike and bike often, we don't visit the lake much at all.  So, we decided to use some of our Veteran's Day holiday to do some fishing.  It was Anna's first fishing trip and although she didn't understand why she had to be so quiet and why it was so hard to catch a fish, she had a good time.

Anna's first catch...
A TON of ducks kept Anna busy!

Project 365 - Senior Night...

GREAT NEWS! Santa brought us a BRAND NEW COMPUTER!!! WOOOOO HOOOOO!!!!!! It has been YEARS since my computer ran this fast... and months since it worked at all! A typical blog post used to take me around 2 hours... now, less than 30 minutes! So... I have 7 weeks of Project 365 to catch up with and not much time to get it done, so, for a marathon of Project 365 posts... HERE WE GO!

Senior Football Night... the last home game of the season... the last time that our senior boys would play in their high school stadium. The first of many "lasts" that we will be going through this year. Senior Night tradition is that the family escorts their senior player onto the field... and the senior gives his mom a flower as the announcer reads some sentimental comments written by the senior for his family.

We won one of two annual "Friday Night Lights" auction packages which included a reserved, front row parking spot at all home football games, free admission to ALL HOME SPORTS GAMES for the year for two people, and dinner for two at all home football games.  It sure was a fun novelty to share when we brought family and friends with us to the games!
For posterity sake, Mom and Dad couldn't make it to the game because they were caring for Mary (who went through surgery that day to put a plate and multiple screws in her wrist and lower left arm... FYI... don't swing dance in a cardboard box, with high heels on, after several Halloween cocktails... just saying...) We were so happy that Papa could be here for Senior Night... actually, he was at almost every single game of the season! So... Jeff, Anna, Papa and I escorted Chris onto the field... I got my flower... we heard Chris' comments... and I held it together and didn't need that tissue that I held tightly in one hand...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our Cancer Story... Happy 6th Cancer Free Anniversary, Sweetheart...

Before I jump into our story, I wanted to let you know why I have been so quiet lately... actually, for the past two months.  Our computer has finally given out (after almost a decade of loyal service!)  We have been pulling the money together (seriously... after property taxes on December 10th and Christmas, is there anything left!?) :-)  It looks like Santa will be bringing us a new computer for Christmas and I will get right back to my normal posting... lots of fun layouts, projects, product reviews and family stuff.  Thanks for hanging in there during my absence!!!

Onto the real reason for today's post... Jeff's 6 YEAR CANCER ANNIVERSARY!!!...

The journey that we started 6 years ago TODAY changed our lives... there were really, really bad and dark times... but there were also very uplifting, loving, and hysterically funny times. There were moments that we didn't think it could get any worse, followed almost immediatly by a wink, or a gentle hand squeeze, or the look that Jeff and I give each other when nobody else exists in the world... it is just us... together... in perfect love... knowing that things would be alright.

Several years ago I wrote about the first few hours after diagnosis... I believe this is the third year in a row I have posted this story on this special day.  Jeff and I have been overwhelmed with the touching comments that so many of you post each year... so as long as you enjoy and/or are touched by our story, I will continue this annual tradition.
Dedicated to the unlikely star of the story,
my love, my Sweetheart, my best friend,
my hero, my husband, Jeff.

Snickerdoodles, peanut butter, sugar cookies and spritz cookies…that should finish off our holiday baking. Go on a city drive of Christmas lights. Buy a pair of jeans to match the pink sweater for Jessica. Spend an afternoon in Julian and get hot apple cider. Finish wrapping gifts.

It was December 16th, 2004 and a week before Christmas. I was sitting in the waiting area of the Gastroenterology Department of Scripps Green Hospital writing my list of last minute Christmas ‘To Dos.’ Anna Grace, then six months old, was waiting with me for Daddy to be done with his colonoscopy. Jeff hadn’t been feeling well and hadn’t been eating very much. As he was preparing for the colonoscopy, he told me he was craving a Double-Double from In-N-Out. I promised I would take him there as soon as his procedure was over.

“Mrs. Locher?” Dr. Nodurft was standing in front of me. “May I have a word with you?”

He guided me through a door that led to the examination rooms. I walked down the hallway, pushing Anna’s stroller in front of me. All morning, the nurses that walked by Anna had stopped and made some comment about how cute she was or how happy. There were two nurses standing in the doorway of an exam room, waiting for Anna’s stroller to pass by in the little hallway. This time the nurses didn’t look at Anna. They looked me in the eye. They didn’t smile. They looked down at the floor. For a split second, things started moving in slow motion. Could there be a problem with Jeff? As the cold fingers of dread started twisting in my stomach, I calmly reminded myself that Jeff was 44 years old, in great health, and in good shape. I knew I was being led to the transition room where my slightly drugged up husband would be waiting for me, right? Everything would be fine! Everything would be fine!

I wasn’t led to the transition room, but a small exam room. There wasn’t room for the stroller, so I left it outside and carried Anna in. Dr. Nodurft entered the room with us and another doctor followed behind us. The room seemed to be filled by the exam table and I remember how white the paper liner looked on the table. Did I say the room was small? That feeling of slow motion was starting again and I had a bad feeling. There couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with Jeff. Don’t doctors give you bad news in their private office, or in a family waiting room…or in a private, small exam room…

NO! I was cuddling our beautiful baby girl…Jeff waited so long to become a Daddy…nothing could stop him from watching his children grow up…from walking his daughters down the aisle…to watching his son become a father and passing the family name to the next generation…why were they just standing there? But, I knew the answer, didn’t I!?

“As you know, your husband was here today for a colonoscopy. He has been bleeding internally and we needed to find the source of the blood. We found a tumor…” I tried to concentrate on the next words coming from Jeff’s doctor, but I seem to have gone deaf.

“I guess I won’t be taking Jeff to In-N-Out.” I told the doctor about my earlier promise. I smiled and was silent. He seemed to know that I needed a moment to process reality.

I was standing there, holding Anna. I was dizzy and darkness was creeping in from the sides of my eyes. Shouldn’t the doctor take Anna from me so I don’t drop her? I sat down in the only chair in the room.

I knew what my next question was going to be, but how would I ask it? I started my question several times, but only uttered a few disconnected words… “Is…will…it’s not…he can’t be…Jeff is not terminal…” came out more as a shaky statement than a question.

Dr. Nodurft explained we wouldn’t know anything without more tests and until the pathology was completed on the specimen that would be collected during surgery. We talked a bit more and I was told that Jeff was still out and wouldn’t be ready to see me for awhile. The good doctor suggested a nice, quiet spot outside by the reflection pond where I could make some phone calls. He assured me he would come get me when Jeff was awake and ready for a visit.

I sat down by the pond. Nobody was around but the coffee cart barista. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I was cold and shivering. Anna was so quiet…almost as if she knew what was happening. She just looked at me as tears flowed down my face.

I remember thinking of a line from one of my favorite TV shows, Lost. Jack, the young doctor character, explained that in order to deal with the emotional situations related to his work, he would allow himself to give into his fear/pain/grief for a count of ten. Then he would take a deep breath and concentrate on what had to be done to rectify the situation. I slowly counted to 10, took that all important deep breath and called my Mom.


“Mom?” I could barely get the word out.

“What’s going on?” Her voice was shaking by the end of her question. She knew where I was.

“They found cancer…” came out in one gush of breath, as if I had been punched in the stomach.

Mom was sobbing by the time she finished her “Oh my God!”

I gave her the limited information that I had. “They don’t know how bad…Jeff is being admitted…surgery tomorrow…Jeff doesn’t know yet…”

I guess Mom knew the “10-second Fear Rule” because she was quickly down to business.

“I will call your Dad and get him home…”

“You don’t have to pull him out of work,” I inserted because I knew Dad had used all his vacation time for the year.

“I can tell you that he will not be able to work after he hears this news. I will pack while he gets home and we will be there as soon as possible.” She already had a plan for getting Anna from me at the hospital, picking up Jessica and Christian from school, and staying at our house with the kids as long as we needed. Isn’t that what Moms do best? They take care of business when their kids need them!

The next call was to our church. I knew Jeff would want Father Jim to pray with us before the surgery. I requested Jeff be added to the parish prayer chain. Both requests were granted.

Next, Jeff’s Dad. The receptionist was telling me Jeff’s Dad was out of the office just as Jeff’s doctor walked up. “Jeff is awake and ready to see you.” I would track down Jeff’s Dad after I had a chance to see Jeff.

Anna and I were led to the transition room. I knew my eyes were swollen from crying, but my “10-seconds of Fear” were over (actually, by that time, I was up to about 40 seconds) and I was going to be strong for my incredible husband.

I could hear the beeping of the medical machines from all the patients hiding behind their privacy curtains. I could hear the nurses’ shoes squeaking on the floor. I could smell that unmistakable scent of “hospital.” Our eyes met. I was strong. He looked like he was still out of it. Everything else faded away. My grasp tightened on Anna’s stroller. There was a long pause, smiles from both of us, and almost simultaneously we both said, “I guess we’re not going to In-N-Out.” He had been told. He reached for my hand. Our grasp was strong. Neither of us let go. So many questions. Not many answers. No guarantees. Yet, we both felt a slight feeling of calm, serenity, peace. The feeling was buried by the fear and sadness and questions and that “spiraling out of control” feeling, but it was there. You can call it what you want…denial, hope, naiveté…I call it faith. No matter how small that pinprick of a feeling was, we knew everything was going to be okay. Looking back, I can pinpoint that moment, that first look and coming together of husband and wife during a life-altering situation, as the moment that God stopped walking with us, but gathered us in His protective arms and carried us. Together.

Ironically, as I finish writing this story, I am sitting in a waiting room. Anna is asleep in her stroller. It is one year later and Jeff is having his first colonoscopy since going through surgery to remove the tumor, which came with a foot of large intestine, some small intestine, his appendix and 29 lymph nodes. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, has endured six months of chemotherapy, and two additional surgeries. He is still dealing with side effects from the chemo, but we know those will fade one day soon.

“You can come in now.” The nurse is standing at the recovery room door. I had been pretty calm until this moment. I thank the nurse and start pushing Anna toward the door. The nurse is smiling at me and commenting on how cute Anna is. Although I smile back, I think I have stopped breathing.

I hear machines beeping, nurses’ shoes squeaking on the floor, and recognize that antiseptic smell. There are five nurses walking around the room. They all smile at me and make cute comments about Anna. Jeff’s nurse leads me to his bedside. He appears to be asleep.

Jeff’s nurse hands me the report from Dr. Nodurft. The first thing I see is a happy face. The report reads, “Well done, Mr. Locher! Your colon is perfectly normal! Great news. Next colonoscopy is recommended in three years. Let me know when you get back to cycling and we should go sometime!”

A single tear is rolling down my face. “Thank God! Jeff is going to be fine!,” I enthusiastically say to the nurse. I look over at Jeff…he hasn’t moved…his eyes are closed… and he is smiling.

I love you, Sweetheart! Make it an INCREDIBLE day, Everyone!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Graphic 45 and Core'dinations Blog Hop!

Be sure to check out the Core'dinations and Graphic 45 Blog Hop happening this week, Dec 6-10! See some amazing crafts using the new Core Impressions/Graphic 45 Timeless Collection and there are going to be prizes!!! Oh, so exciting!

You can see one of my samples in the post below... the "Time Flies, So Flirt" layout was created using the Core'dinations Cardstock!  I LOVE that stuff!!!