Friday, April 4, 2014

April 4th 2003.

It was eleven years ago today that my son Benji had surgery to remove a brain tumor. I spent the last precious preop moments memorizing Benji and telling him how precious he is and how much we love him. How happy he makes everybody who meets him. I sent him to surgery knowing that I said everything that needed to be said.

During the surgery, time slowed down and sped up. i remember some things vividly, and other things are a blur. I remember the Muslim couple with their prayer rug, and their worried faces. I remember the male nurse who came in, and called this couple out of the room. They never returned.

The OR nurse would call every hour or so and update me. Each call would keep me going for another hour or so, so I never panicked.

My pastor, music minister and children's minister flew in, and played UNO with us. I won just about every game. I wonder if they let me win. Looking back, if I could've seen the shape I was in, I would've let me win too.
We ate munchies from a care package sent by the Joy school director, and talked about how special Benji was to us.

Then Dr. Shapiro came and spoke to us. Our pastor joined us in the hallway, much to the surgeon's chagrin. I remember looking at the surgeon's shoes, looking for Benji's blood, and feeling an odd mixture of relief and nausea that there was no blood. He told us that he believed he got all the tumor, but he would have to see another MRI.

I went into Recovery to see him, not knowing what to expect. A very sweet nurse met me at the door, and when I told her I was Benji's mom, she went on about how sweet and adorable Benji was. I went to his bedside, and indeed he was being sweet and adorable. Little innocent, sleepy smile on his face. He was feeling no pain. His tongue was swollen from the tube, and he wasn't thrilled about the tubes and IVs, but he was fine. The scar was a surprise, but all this time later, it's still a suprise sometimes.

The next few hours were a blur, getting him all settled in ICU.
Benji's surgeon suggested to us that we go back to the house, have a meal, come back and say goodnight, then go back to the house, and sleep. Best suggestion that man could've had.

I slept like a rock that night!!

Here we are at eight years. Benji is eighteen years old now. We're so blessed to have him here with us. He's fixing to graduate high school and has an awesome future ahead of him.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29, 2005

As an Air Force spouse, I've come to expect my share of adventure. But nothing could have prepared me for the adventure I'd be experiencing on a Monday in Late August 2005.

When hurricane Katrina hit, we were stationed at Keesler A.F.B, in Biloxi Mississippi. Our family had just starting getting back to normal after my son's brain tumor diagnosis. We had purchased a house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and were planning on settling there after my husband's retirement from the U.S Air Force. At that time, life was good, Benji was healthy, the kids were happy to live so close to the beach and my husband had taken a deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of us had any idea of what was about to happen.

Rick emailed me, then called from Cuba the Friday before. Katrina was coming and we were in the direct path. I was sick as a dog with bronchitis and remember telling Rick, "this dang storm is going to have to go around me. I can't get up off the couch."

My kids came home from a normal day at school that day only to find out that things weren't going to be normal for long. The next morning, while the boys were clearing the back yard of projectiles, My daughter, Grace and I joined the throngs of people lined up at the Wal-Mart. Everybody in line had an opinion or a theory on how things were going to play out. The general consensus was, that it was going to be bad, but not as bad as Camille. That turned out to be a fatal mistake. Biloxi's mayor A.J. Halloway was quoted as saying that Camille killed more people on Aug 29, 05 than she did the day she hit 30 years ago.

That Saturday was a flurry of packing and phone calls. By that evening, we had the van loaded and were taking stuff over to the base hospital, which was to be our shelter. As we were taking stuff up, the security guard at the desk was telling us that there were no plans to shelter as of yet. I told him that was fine. If we had to take our stuff back home, we'd do just that, but we were going to be ready.

The next morning, we found out that Katrina had grown into a monster. I had people calling me all worried, wanting me to just take the kids and bail. Every person I talked to said that they would pray for us. The pastor of our church came and boarded up our windows and we did all those last minute preps. By dinner time that night we were in the shelter watching Jim Cantore on the weather channel.

The next morning woke us up with a bang. We could hear the wind and rain at that point. It reminded me of Ivan, so I wasn't too scared. We still had power, so I spent most of the morning emailing folks, and checking out all the weather websites. The news wasn't good, but I trusted that God would keep a hedge of protection over our family.

The power went out later that morning and the rest of the day was spent hunkering down as Katrina passed through the area. It was hot, dark, and smelly. The De-humidifier wasn't working, so the floors were actually sweating. A dear woman named Betsy was with us and was reading aloud from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. Let me just tell you all, this is not a good book to read when all you have to eat is cold soup and Pringles!!

That night, we were able listen to the radio and what we heard was horrifying!! Talk of people drowning in their attics, whole towns being leveled, thousands of homes destroyed. The next day or two was a bit of a blur. Hours spent listening to the radio, deciphering fact from fiction. Walks around the hospital to gather news from anyone we could. "have you heard anything new?" became the standard greeting that week.

Either Tuesday or Wednesday, I was able to contact my in-laws, and my best friend, who was in Texas.

Tuesday night was the night that Benji had his meltdown. We had just eaten grilled chicken rescued from the commissary, and I practically force fed my kids a gallon of milk, not knowing when we'd see something precious like milk again. I took him to a far away hallway and just let him cry. He asked if things were going to be normal ever again, and what if we lost our home? All I could tell him was that we would have to find a new normal and that it would be alright. God was watching over us, and no matter what happened, we were going to be fine.

Wednesday, I was able to sneak on a military line and contact Rick. I had no news on the house yet, so he was kind of on standby. However, his commander, who was from Pensacola, said that all the Gulf coast troops were going home. So, when I called back Thursday, one of the Colonels. that he worked for told me he was coming home, I burst into tears.

Later that day, they let folks out of the shelter in groups to check on our homes. When I saw my that my home was intact, I fell to my knees and just started sobbing, "Thank you, Jesus!! Thank you, God!!" I had thought that surely our home would either be destroyed or at least uninhabitable. But aside from our privacy fence being down, we had no damage. We had someone's roof in our backyard, and that was weird, but hey, what can you do?

After going back to the shelter, we could see first hand how bad so many people had it. And what people were made of. Betsy lost everything. Her husband was in Iraq and she had to deal with her home being demolished. Yet, she was the most positive person I met in the shelter and my kids and I will never forget her. She had such a calm about her. Every morning in the shelter, she'd disappear and do a bible study and pray.

That night we all waited three hours in line for a makeshift meal that the chow hall provided. We had cold hotdogs, warm strawberries, and all the orange juice we could drink. It was a gourmet meal.

The next day we went home. That night was a really strange night. No lights anywhere, but you could hear planes and copters flying overhead continuously. It was so loud and so strange. We had the windows open to let in some air, but ended up closing them because it felt like we were in a strange and dangerous place.

The power came back on Friday. The first thing I did was put one of those homestyle bake things in the oven. It was Chicken and biscuits, and to this day, we call it Katrina casserole!! Again, a gourmet feast!

That Sunday my husband came home from Cuba. He was able to rent a car in Mobile and get some groceries. I was so happy to see him, but I was appalled later to realize I pushed him out of the way to get to the groceries. I can't tell you what he was wearing that day, but i can tell you he brought home milk, produce, meat, all kinds of good stuff. I was able to make spaghetti and meat sauce that night with salad and it was heaven. Again, our whole family drank nearly a gallon of milk in one sitting. God bless Rick for bringing us milk!!!

The Sunday after Rick came home, we went to church for the first time since the storm. Sitting there was like being at a funeral at first. There were hugs and tears and seemingly endless updates of bad news. Then our pastor said something about praise and Worship. Blessed Be Your name was the first song that was played.  "Blessed Be Your Name Blessed be Your name When the sun's shining down on me When the world's 'all as it should be' Blessed be Your name Blessed be Your name On the road marked with suffering Though there's pain in the offering Blessed be Your name. The lyrics  hold a special meaning to me. Just standing in that church praising God while we were suffering the same as we would when the sun was shining, it was amazing and humbling. I'll never forget that moment. There was and is so much that God has blessed us all with.

Because of Benji's cancer, it was pretty much decided on the spot that we'd be leaving. I'm a military spouse, who's had to say goodbye to many places, but leaving the gulf coast, was the most heart breaking thing our family has had to do.

We love the coast, but after what happened, we don't see ever living there again. It's been eight years now. I'm sitting here in Texas, fat and happy so to speak, while my kids are enjoying all the comforts of home. God has blessed us mightily. Our family still marvels at having air conditioning, power, and plenty of food and water. We're safe and we're together. My Goodness, what a miracle that is.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Good News Shoes!

This past Saturday, we went shopping for shoes. Grace wanted a pair of pretty canvas shoes like Vans or Converse and had a particular style in mind. So, we're looking for the perfect shoes when I saw them. MY perfect shoes. They were sparkly and fun and would be perfect for me to wear to work at my job at Kids Club. When they caught the light, these shoes were positively stunning. 

I brought these shoes home, with thoughts of my wee bitties  showing me their light up shoes, while I showed off my sparkly Vans. I was just waiting for the perfect time to wear them.  That time was this past Monday night. 

Now, many of you know that Community Bible Church is having their annual Vacation Bible School this week. I'm volunteering and am on my feet all week. Monday morning, I threw on my sandals and away I went. As the day went on, tiredness set in, and I really wasn't feeling the whole working that night at Kids Club  experience. I wanted nothing more than to get rid of any shoes and just relax. Read a book or finally beat that candy crush level once and for all. 
The shoes twinkled at me as I was getting ready for work, almost as if they were saying, "hey, what about us?" So I put on the shoes, gathered up my enthusiasm and headed to work. 

Now, over the past couple of weeks,  we at Kids Club have been learning about the armor of God. I had no idea which part of the armor we'd be learning about. I went into my room, looked at my curriculum and just had to laugh. The  lesson was about "good news shoes". The Bible lesson was about Philip and the Ethiopian gentleman with the scrolls, heading to Gaza. As I taught the kids, using my sparkly kicks as an object illustration, I felt God working in my heart. I was Philip, wearing my "good news shoes" spreading the the gospel to my wee bitties. 

Suddenly, I didn't feel so tired anymore. I was right where I was supposed to be. And every time I wear my sparkly "good news shoes" to Kids Club, I'll have a tangible reminder of that. I love how God used this lesson to teach ME a thing or two! 

Ephesians 6:13-17  (NIV)
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Beyond The Lights 2012

This weekend was the 5th annual Beyond The Lights Celebrity Golf Challenge. Beyond The Lights was created by actors Kyle Chandler and Brad Leland to help raise awareness and funds for spinal cord injuries. The two organizations benefitting from Beyond The Lights are Gridiron Heroes and The Buoniconti Fund, which are both doing amazing things with people suffering from spinal cord injuries. This year, my son Josh and I signed up to volunteer at the golf tournament.

 After signing up, we got our schedule and job assignments about two weeks ago. Josh and I were going to be relievers on the course, which means that we relieve any volunteers for lunch, restroom breaks, what have you. We were assigned the first five holes and were pretty excited and relieved to have a set job to do.

 This year, with the event falling on Mother's Day weekend, we decided to make a weekend of it. We got a room at the Lost Pines Hyatt and Rick, Benji and Grace drove down later on Friday. Rick and I decided to go to the gala, so Friday ended up being a pretty busy day!

 Friday morning after we arrived, we had some breakfast, got our golf cart, and a map and away we went. We got lost just a little. There was no feasible way to stick just to our holes, so we ended up adopting four more holes, which actually made more sense in the long run. We got to see a Deer on the course. We got to see lots of folks that we had worked with last year. We got to talk to Kyle and Brad a good bit, but the highlight for me this year was meeting a few soldiers from Ft. Hood. These young men were detailed to sit on the course and watch the hole in ones. They were in their BDU's and looked so young and were so polite. It was a pleasure to be able to do even the littlest things to make them more comfortable. Josh and I kind of adopted them that day.

 So, basically, the whole day was spent driving around and relieving volunteers. I know it seems kind of boring, reading it here, but it was actually a really fun day and it went by pretty quickly. The weather, thankfully, turned out gorgeous. Up until Thursday night, they were calling for a 90% chance of rain with severe thunderstorms, so the sunshine and warm temps were more than welcome. The golfers all seemed in high spirits. We volunteers looked great in our navy and gold shirts. The folks in charge did a really great job making sure everyone had what they needed and it was just the most pleasant experience. Josh and I are already looking forward to next year's event.

 After we were done for the day, we went and checked into our room. I grabbed a quick shower, got changed and by the time I was dressed, Rick, Benji and Grace had arrived. Rick and I went down to the gala, had a drink before dinner and just visited with some folks. Unfortunately, I was a bit dehydrated and the drink I had went right to my head. By the time we went in for dinner, the room was spinning. The food was absolutely amazing. We shared a table with sme really nice folks. The live and silent auction both raised a good bit of money. Before I knew it, it was wrapping up and I was ready to go upstairs and just sleep.

 The next morning, we took a horse drawn carriage ride around the resort, played some horseshoes, explored and just relaxed. We had a wonderful lunch at the club house and then went swimming a bit. The resort has the most awesome pool and lazy river. It was just so nice to sit and relax. After a dinner in town, we came back, made some s'mores, watched a movie and that was it for the day.

 We came home yesterday. I'll have to say this was the most awesome Mother's Day I've had in ages. It was so nice just spending it with my family. I have the most awesome kids ever. Rick was amazing, setting it all up and driving down after a full day of work. I'm so grateful to him and so enjoyed just spending time with him this weekend. The resort itself was amazing. They went above and beyond with both Beyond The Lights and with our family's stay. The grounds are gorgeous and we got to see some really sweet animals, some horses, alpacas, and longhorns. And we made friends with this gentle giant named Hoss, who loves ice cream.

 A special shout out for Kyle Chandler and Brad Leland for concieving this event. They're both very busy actors, yet take time and energy out every year to do this event. I admire you both more than I can even say. The folks in charge, Heather, Karen, Gail, Jen, hopefully, I did'nt leave anyone out. These ladies were amazing. Everything went so smoothly and there was just this feeling of calm during the event. These ladies worked so hard during the year to create this amazing weekend and any time I saw any of these folks, they were just smiling and doing what needed done. I would have been pulling my hair out months ago during the planning stages. Kudos to y'all. It was a pleasure working for all of you. I'm going to leave y'all with a couple of video presentations that we watched during the gala, to give you an idea what this weekend is all about. So many people made this happen. My family and I are so blessed to be a part of it.
The Buoniconti Fund
 

Gridiron Heroes

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 24, 2003

It started out like a normal Monday. We were stationed in San Angelo texas and I remember the weather was gorgeous that spring. Lots of rain made for a spectacular display of our state flower, the bluebonnet. That morning was bright and gorgeous.

Josh and Benji, then 9 and 7 were excited that I finally was letting them walk to school with their friends for the first time. Little did they know that I was excited to not have to get their three year old sister, Grace out of bed quite so early.

I had just lied back down for a little snooze when the phone rang. It was a nurse from pediatrics. Benji had an MRI to see what was causing his siezures the Friday before and she was calling to let me know the results were in. She told me to NOT bring, Benji, but to bring my husband. As she said that, my heart started thudding in my chest and i felt sick inside. It couldn’t be good news at this point. I remember calling my husband at work and begging his coworkers to have him call back. It was an emergency. Ten minutes later, Rick came home to find me on the stairs, sobbing, while Grace sat with me, confused. We spent the next little while getting Grace to a friend’s house and driving to the clinic. After we got to the clinic, the nurse, without meeting our eyes, directed us to Dr Sawyer’s office.


The next ten minutes spent waiting for him were pure torture. When he finally came in with Ben’s records, he didn’t seem to know what to say. I remember asking him something, to which he answered, "We’ll talk." At that point, I asked why he couldn’t just tell us what was going on. Then he said the words that would change our lives forever. "Benji has a brain tumor." I remember looking over at Rick and he had the most PLEASANT look on his face. Almost as if Dr. Sawyer just told him it was going to rain. His expression just stayed the same. Dr Sawyer, then started saying words like cancer, surgery, astrocytoma, Cooks medical center. Words that made no sense and didn’t fit into OUR family. All I could think was "My God, this is how we’re going to lose him." We’re going to LOSE him. I had never heard of anyone survivng a brain tumor. I felt so sad that he would not get to do all those normal things. I worried about how Josh would take possibly losing his best friend. I wondered if Grace would remember the brother who called her goose and loved her so much. This is what it’s like to be told your child has cancer.

I called Glenmore and a secretary answered the phone. I blurted out the news and she put the school counselor on the phone immediately. We then went to the school and talked with her about the situation and how we would tell Benji his life as he knew it was over. Again, it struck me how utterly gorgeous the weather was that day. I didn’t want to tell him. I wanted him to have that innocence.It was like if I didn’t tell him, then it wasn’t real.

The rest of that day was a flurry of phone calls and appointments to get Benji ready for surgery. Opthamology, Neurology, neurosurgery, oncology. The list of appointments grew. We made arrangements for my mother in law to come care for Josh and Grace while we dealt with Benji. That evening we took the kids to the park. I sat and stared and prayed. I prayed almost constantly during that time. Nothing eloquent, just please God, let me keep him. . That day was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Everytime I woke up that night, it was just "Please God, Please God. over and over.

Benji’s school handled everything so graciously. His teacher and the school counselor told his first grade class and they all hugged a teddy bear to send with Benji. One of Benji’s teachers said that the counselor called a meeting with every teacher that had worked with the boys. this teacher said that everyone was devastated. I was devastated to hear this because I just wanted my child to be one of the gang, not the child with the brain tumor. The school raised three hundred dollars in two hours. This enabled us to pay for lodging while waiting to get into the Ronald McDonald house. Benji was actually able to go to school during this time between appointments.

One day was April Fools day. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to say April Fools. This is all a joke. We wore out a path between Angelo and Dallas. The Bluebonnets were spectactular that year, but i barely noticed.

His surgery was April Fourth and praise God, he’s been tumor free ever since. We live in San Antonio now. Benji is 16. The bluebonnets are out and they remind me of that sad time eight years ago when I thought I would lose my child.

Then I look over and I see Benji, with his fuzzy hair, freckles, and snarky little attitude and i don’t feel so sad anymore. I feel grateful that Benji is here with us and able to enjoy the bluebonnets with the rest of his family! Thank you, God!!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A bitter sweet time of year....

As I sit here, enjoying a lovely spring day here in Texas, I can't help but think back to other springs in Texas. One spring day in particular, was especially beautiful. I spent a lot of time walking around outside on that day. It was gorgeous, clear and sunny, warm, with birds singing and the sound of kids outside playing. My boys picked some dandelions and were selling them to the neighbors. I was walking up and down the block, trying to coax my baby girl into making her debut. The next day, an equally beautiful day, our family welcomed Grace into our family. These perfect spring days make me smile when I think back to her birth.

Fast forward a few years. A different town in Texas. Equally beautiful weather. My boys were nine and seven. Grace was three and we had a whole week of spring break to enjoy. That year, I felt an almost urgent need to make spring break special. So we ate a lot of ice cream, had a lot of paydates and spent hours at the park, just playing and soaking up the Texas sunshine.
Spring break ended and within a few weeks, our lives changed forever.

Fast forward a week after spring break. A beautiful sunny Monday. My boys walked to school by themselves for the first time and I was just relaxing with Grace when the phone rang. Within a few hours, we had found out that my son, Benji, who was just in first grade, had a brain tumor.
Parts of that day are a blur. Parts of that day are forever etched in my memory. One moment that stands out in my mind is picking up the boys from school. We went outside and it was just gorgeous. I remember asking my husband how we could have gotten such bad news on such a beautiful day.

Thankfully, it's been nine years since that day, and Benji is still with us, whole and healthy.
Grace is now twelve years old and all three of my kids are looking forward to their spring break. Hopefully, they'll have gorgeous weather to relax in. I'm looking forward to having these days with my kids and making some awesome memories!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Here we go again. Sigh.....

So for the past several months, I've been dealing with cysts in my breasts. For the most part, these cysts have been harmless. In November, I ended up having a suspicious looking cyst biopsied. Thankfully, the biopsy showed no malignancy. The diagnosis was typical hyperplasia, which is good news. My doctor told me to follow up in May or sooner if there were any concerns.

Well, guess what? A month ago, I found two new lumps. I've gone through a full cycle to see if they'd shrink, go away, or grow. They've not shrunk, they're still there and the one feels slightly bigger than it did last month.

My dilemma is, I'm about almost totally sure these are more harmless cysts. I was tempted to just keep watching and go in May as scheduled. But these lumps are in my breast. So today I sucked it up and called for an appointment. And wouldn't you know it? For the first time EVER, I had a male operator when I called camo. What are the odds? So I'm going to see my PCM on January 23rd and we will go from there. Any and all prayers would certainly be appreciated. I guess it's better to go in and feel stupid, than to take a chance that there could be something bad. Thanks!!