Archive for December, 2008

Waiting rooms are gathering places for people in transition. Last week, Dad and I met John and Anna from San Benito, Texas; they have moved in with their son here in Katy while Anna receives radiation. We also met a lovely mother –with three equally lovely, young children– who accompanies her mother to therapy. Overhearing Dad remark that he is from Oklahoma, she volunteered that her mother is from Baker, Oklahoma, and has recently moved in with her family. Today we met a man who waited three months for a space to open up, although he lives a mere six miles away. He told Dad that tomorrow is his day to ring the bell in the hallway, signaling the completion of treatment.

Dad crosses the radiation finish line on Friday, and he’s looking forward to ringing that bell. He commented today as he entered the building that the doctors have figured out exactly how much radiation a person can stand before it kills him. He’s grateful for a radiation holiday on New Year’s Day.


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“Do you have time to read our book?” Dad asks with a hopeful look. “Oh, yes!” I respond. Hurray! It’s Drop Everything And Read Time with Dad.

In anticipation of Dad’s arrival in mid-November, I carefully selected books that I thought he would enjoy, and arranged them on a bookshelf within easy reach of his bed. Dad is a voracious reader and books have always been an important part of his life. During his first week, I occasionally observed him flipping through a Newsweek. One day he eagerly asked for a Dallas Morning News but that, too, went largely unread. In answer to my query about his lack of interest in the books-in-waiting on his shelf, Dad said, “I don’t know why but nothing I read makes sense. I can’t focus long enough to figure out any of it.”

Cancer treatment affected me much the same way. “Reading” consisted of holding a book. How comforting it was to hold a book to my chest –especially my Bible– knowing that wonderful things were in it even if I couldn’t comprehend one sentence. Two or three books accompanied me to every chemotherapy session, doctor visit, and hospital stay.

Dad and I agreed that a change in literary habits was necessary. Happily, I took on the role of reader to an attentive listener. We raced through The Shack, although we continue to contemplate and mull over the spiritual ideas so creatively presented by the author. Dad fell in love with Corrie Ten Boom and her family in The Hiding Place as they lived through a time of profound horror in WWII Germany. It was a delight to introduce Dad to the grand adventures of Brother Andrew, as he slipped into Communist countries with cargos of Bibles, in God’s Smuggler. We marveled at Brother Andrew and Corrie’s close friendship until her death at age 91 in 1983, and how 80-year-old Brother Andrew courageously ministers in Muslim countries today.

While pondering our next DEAR Time choice, I read an interesting article about President Bush’s literary habits. (Dad and President Bush have this in common: they are both history majors even though Dad doesn’t possess a college degree.) We were both impressed that the leader of the free world found time to read 40 books in 2008.

Since Dad and I thrive on reading several books at once, we will continue with God Works the Night Shift and A Bend in the Road, both written by men sharing how cancer can indeed be your friend. Perhaps our next read-aloud will be a book from the President’s reading list. No matter what we choose, we say, “So many books, so little time.”

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Katy is the coolest!

The temperature on this beautifully gray Sunday is a chilly 49˚. Dad’s countenance is also overcast due to the Dallas Cowboys trailing the Eagles 17-3 at half-time. At first, I thought that Yahoo! Weather had scrambled the temperatures because it’s indicating 55˚ in both Hugo and Denison. A quick call to Mom confirmed the surprisingly warmer Oklahoma temperature.

Dad delights in warmth of all kinds, and he’s pleased with this new trick of keeping his feet “warm as toast” (in Grandmother Rachel-speak) by utilizing a dish towel, a gallon plastic bag, and the microwave. A microwaved-wet-dish-towel, stuffed in plastic bag, keeps Dad’s feet comfortably warm for quite a while. However, it’s going to be impossible to find comfort for Dad if the Cowboys don’t pull ahead of the Eagles in the next half.

Philadelphia is boasting a balmy 65˚. Wow, Katy really is the coolest!

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The corridors of the Katy branch of MD Anderson are decorated with numerous, large canvases painted by children receiving care at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson. The children’s art work is reproduced on greeting cards, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, clothing, stationery, and calendars. The money from the sale of these items enables current and former patients to go to camp, to college, and on special outings.

The pieces of art below, courtesy of the Children’s Art Project, have become an integral part of the daily radiation therapy atmosphere. I so want to ask Ellen, painter of the festive heart, to tell me about her picture. I know that she has a special story about the blue figures painted at the top of the heart.

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Happy Boxing Day to You!

Christmas Eve, Mark, Hannah and I attended a glorious, candle lighting service at Second Baptist, and Dad stayed home to listen to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church service on FOX. Second Baptist trucked in several trucks of snow for children (and adults) who wanted to craft snowmen or throw snowballs on the parking lot. We opted to go straight home, turn on the air conditioning, and eat a supper of chili and tamales. Yesterday we spent a quiet day reveling in the Gift of Love that is Jesus Christ the Lord.

Today Mark is happy to have a Boxing Day holiday, granted him by his British employer. (However, he noted that his company does not honor that Italian guy who was in the employ of the Queen and King of Spain.) Dad is glad that MD Anderson isn’t on holiday, and that he’ll receive radiation treatment #11 today. Mark overheard Dad and me puzzling over the significance of Boxing Day, and pointed us to a New York Times article which, in essence, says that it has meant different things at different times.

Seeing as how the tradition of Boxing Day is long and varied, I am going to make it into what I want it to be. I’ll stick with the boxing theme by unpacking some boxes that I haven’t got around to opening since our last trip to Manchaca; listen to a bunch more Christmas carols; sample some Rose’s chocolates that Mark brought back from Wallingford, England last week, communicate with “rellies” via the phone and email, wrap some gifts (boxes again!) for my family’s gift exchange next week, and then go shopping with Mark. I’m thinking that I’ve been celebrating Boxing Day all along and didn’t know it.

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Years of teaching young children have taught me that the definition of tradition is anything that has been done one time. That’s how I felt three years ago today when I heard the Christmas Eve service, “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” performed by the staff and choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England, and members of the community of Cambridge. Within seconds of hearing a young boy’s voice singing the words to the opening hymn “Once in Royal David’s City,” I knew that a new tradition had been born in our home.

In a quarter of an hour, BBC Radio 4 will begin broadcasting the live service, and I will join millions who have also made listening to this historic service a Christmas tradition! Thanks to Internet radio, I’ll be listening in on Minnesota Public Radio.

It was in the midst of Googling the English composer, Ralph Vaughn Williams, that I ran across a page with the Order of Service for “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.” The previous Sunday I had been perusing the various indexes in the Baptist hymnal, something I’ve been doing since I began attending Calvary Baptist Church in Denison, Texas, as a 10-year-old. Ralph Vaughn Williams had arranged several hymns in the hymnal, and I was curious about him. Over the years, “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” has included several pieces of music arranged by Vaughn Williams, and he composed the original tune for “Wither’s Rocking Hymn” that is part of this year’s service.

The service was first perfomed Christmas Eve, 1918, and first broadcast in 1928. The narrative, drawn from the Old and New Testaments, tells the story of Christ. Interspersed between these scriptural “lessons” are prayers and Christmas carols.

The service always begins with one young boy singing “Once In Royal David’s City.” Gradually, the 14 men, 16 boy choir joins in. In order to prevent the one chosen for the solo from becoming anxious beforehand, he is not told that he will be opening the service until seconds before the service begins.

Time to join the community of worshipers who are gathered round the radio! Live from Cambridge, England!

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Dad has very much appreciated the care package of snack foods and reading material that Uncle George and Aunt Twylah sent. Included was a recent issue of the magazine Cure—Cancer Updates, Research & Education that was especially interesting. Dad learned about the cutting-edge radiation treatment administered with three-dimensional conformed radiation therapy (3-D CRT) and its sophisticated counterpart, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).

Dad was intrigued with the story of Alvaro Martinez, MD, a radiation oncologist, who happened to wander into a wrong conference room while attending a medical conference in Dearborn, MI, five years ago. What he observed was a group of Ford Motor Company engineers discussing how to detect defects in engine blocks with CT (computed tomography). Dr. Martinez had a “brainstorm,” and his idea to incorporate a powerful CT scan with robotic technology has enabled radiation oncologists to treat tumors with absolute precision. The story also refers to James Cox, MD, head of the radiation oncology division at MD Anderson, who says that the new 3-D technology is giving positive results, especially in lung cancer.

“Absolutely,” said Ryan, Dad’s radiation technologist, when I inquired for Dad whether he was the recipient of these innovative technologies described in the magazine. He added that in addition to the three-dimensional scan, Dad’s treatment plan also includes an incredibly high-tech, four-dimensional scan that adjusts for the rising of his chest as he breathes during treatment.

When Dad returned to the waiting room from his treatment, he said that Ryan had told him that a total of 40 radiation beams are directed at his tumor. “It really thrills me,” Dad said, “that the machine being used for my treatment is the most recent piece of equipment that MD Anderson has purchased—it’s just months old.”

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