Tuesday, September 19, 2017

POD #1

At our second day at the hospital comes to a close I think back over the last two days and realize that it feels like 2 weeks instead of 2 days.  I hate this time warp that seems to keep finding us, I guess I'm going to have to learn to just deal with it.

Surgery Day

We had to check in at the hospital at 5:15 am.  As in morning, except it's really still night time--cold and dark outside.  I'd forgotten my ibuprofen at home and didn't realize it until bedtime on Sunday so I didn't fall asleep until about 1 am.  I was crazy tired and very jealous of Neil's hospital gurney and warm blankets.  After getting labs drawn, him all hooked up, gowned up with the cutest little pair of disposable shorts, belly clipped he was finally taken upstairs to OR waiting around 7:20.  I went out to the car (which was parked very close to the front doors) for my hoodie and a few things and got breakfast.  They'd planned the surgery for about 3 hours so I'd planned on waiting until I talked to the surgeon to get lunch.  I was getting updates from the OR every 1-2 hours, no details just "he's still doing fine" I was surprised to get a visit from Amber who I went to nursing school with, and in hindsight she showed up just as I was starting to get anxious about what is taking so long.

I had found ibuprofen but didn't want to leave the hospital to find a real soda1 so I was also caffeine less at this point.  I did have a soda coming in, so there was hope in sight and chex mix and fruit snacks seemed like a relatively balanced meal.  I wasn't hungry, I just wanted to see Neil and talk to the surgeon.  Around 2 pm I saw the surgeon.  They didn't initially get clean margins on the pancreas so they took another slice and had to re-sew it up.  The old tumor around the celiac access was tedious to take away from the vessels as well.  We are hoping for clean margins there as well, but he took as much tissue and he could.  We wait and see for pathology reports at this point.  He did put in clips so it will be easier for the radiologist to mark.

Once back to his room he really wanted some water.  Not water on a pink swab intended to just moisten his mouth but that he sucked dry trying to get a drink of anything.  After sleeping a bit more he woke up hurting (he learned that post-op crunches are a bad idea) but each time he woke up, he was more awake.

POD1

Neil in I differ in a few different ways.  Perhaps most strongly in our morning habits.  I enjoy my snooze alarm and/or laying in bed watching the sunrise, listening to the birds chirp or whatever means that I don't have to be up. Neil gets up before his alarm is even turned off.  This was obvious with him trying to get out of bed and resulted in him sore and/or dizzy.  He's spent today learning the value of getting up slowly (or waiting while I unplug the SCD's, lower the side of the bed, arrange his tubes and lines) and then sitting at the edge of the bed for a while his body adjusts to being upright instead of vertical.  He's enjoyed apple juice, jello, ice water.  The surgeon does some cool things to avoid overuse of narcotics and they've helped control his pain, just wearing off a few hours before his next scheduled dose of tylenol and toradol.  He's not enjoying the incentive spirometer, the pain that comes between getting up and getting down, or the random pains that come with a long open abdomen surgery.

The LifeFlight helipad is just across the unit from where Neil's room is, it's been fun to peek at them, I've been able to catch them taking off a few times.



Tomorrow will bring longer walks (full unit laps instead of half laps) and sitting up in the chair pretty close to every other hour, a shower for me and tracking my car down from the valet (yet another long story)

1 This spring Intermountain Healthcare made the decision to get rid of pretty much everything with high sugar content.  Contraband sodas are now referred to as real.  Yes, I know that artifical sugars aren't healthy, besides not enjoying them they trigger seizures for me.  I can't change the rule and I most certainly didn't make it or have the ability to explain why.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Two Roads Diverged

I've always liked Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I have viewed the traveler in this poem as having the choice of which road he picked, but as we are at a crossroads that leaves us very little choice I wonder if the traveler chose the road less traveled by or if that choice was made for him and he just went with it.  Not much of my life has been text book anything, and most days I'm okay with my road.  I am very grateful that pancreatic cancer is something that not everyone gets to experience up close and personal, from the initial breath stealing fear to people wondering why they weren't told sooner when we waited to tell until our minds were wrapped around what was going on and we could breath to seeing the look of pity and fear on people's face when they ask "Oh what kind of cancer?" and the only thing that comes out of their mouth is "oh, that's a bad one"

I never chose this road less traveled by.

I don't know how it will make all the difference, but I have the faith that it will.  There are lessons to be learned somewhere along this journey of mine and I believe I will come out on the other side a better version of me.  It's just a bit rocky and hard to travel on this road less traveled by.

As far as an update, Neil is done with his first cycle of folfirinox and has had repeat MRI, CT and PET scans.  He has had an amazing response to the chemo and his tumor has shrunk away from the vessels that were so problematic and had him not being a good surgical candidate.  We've talked to two oncology surgeons who both do lots of pancreatic surgeries.  We initially thought he'd be looking at a whipple surgery but more good news is he needs a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy so less rerouting of his guts.  He will lose about 80% of his pancreas (neck, body, and tail will all be gone) and his spleen.  He received a bunch of immunizations today in preparation for not having a spleen (he will be more susceptible to infections for the rest of his life).  His surgeon mentioned that his PET scan looks so good that he only pulls out dead tumor when he gets in there because of his great response to  his chemo regimen.

A picture is worth a thousand words (I struggled getting them rotated, so tip your head to the left), the first image is Neil's CT from April.  The tumor is circled in blue pen marked with a T.  There is a small portion of the atrophying tail of the pancreas showing as well.

Neil's CT from April
 This second picture shows his pancreas and the tumor as it is now (again, circled in hard to see pen)  This area didn't "light up" on his PET scan which is good, possibility that the tumor is completely dead.  When a PET scan shows a malignancy it "lights up" like googled image.
Neil's current CT
 Neil also had an old CT from 2009 showing a healthy pancreas.  Comparing the healthy pancreas to now it's easy to see how atrophied it has become.  All of that useless pancreas and his spleen will soon be gone with hopes that the head of his pancreas is able to make enough insulin and digestive enzymes.  Insulin and Creon isn't fun, but is very doable if we can rid of the tumor.

An old CT of Neil's from 2009 with a healthy pancreas


We are on an upswing right now, feeling good about the way things are going but I know this is a rocky path not a lazy stroll down a dirt path lined with wildflowers and things will get harder again.  For now I'm enjoying Neil not hurting and not being sick from chemo.  We took an extra day out of town to have some much needed downtime and reconnect.

Heather and Neil at the aquarium

I do want to thank all of our family, friends, work families, neighbors who have been praying for Neil and cheering him on.  Prayers, cookies, messages of hope, coloring books and so much more have all been appreciated and they really have made a difference to us.

~Heather



Friday, June 23, 2017

Listening v listening, not being strong, and more

I'm starting to feel like we are settling into our new normal.  Realizing that my thoughts and plans for summer are gone and replaced by scheduling around chemo and the week after when Neil feels the worst.  Being able to plan and schedule things out a few months are gone and replaced with things like "chemo if his ANC and other lab work is acceptable"  I have lots of stickers for my planner that are now replaced with washi tape and a sharpie pen because they are removable/repositionable.  Heavy yard work is tabled for now, replaced by watering and mowing--weeds the same height are better than dirt, right?

I'm not comfortable here, and I'd leave it in a heartbeat if I could.  I can't.  I'd have a garden, hopefully a few trees I was babying and trying to get some lawn going.  I'd be working the beginning of one week and the end of the next and planning fun stuff in the middle.  Tweaking my camping totes to take weekend trips far enough up the mountain to be cool.  I'd be picking up extra shifts at work to help cover our being short staffed and complaining when we were busy and I craved a break.

None of that is happening.

I have learned a few important things though.  Nice quotes with a pretty picture in the background don't fix anything.  Some of them are entirely annoying.  With all respect to Walt Whitman, this one is the top of my frustration list.


My facing the sunshine doesn't have a beautiful ocean view, meadows, rainbows or anything.  My facing the sun leaves me looking like this.  You can keep your meme thank you very much.


I've learned a lot about listening.  How to listen and how not to listen.  I've talked and written about listening before, but I feel like it's been written on my heart now.  I had a friend stop everything she was doing on a busy day and say "Heather, I want you to know I've thought about you every day--can I ask how things are going?" and then she just listened.  In the hour before I'd been asked probably 10 times in various ways by people who really care but I was exhausted explaining and I totally suck at "things are just fine" type lies.  Sharing wasn't tiring when someone was Listening instead of just hearing the words coming out of my mouth.

Hugs are okay.  Hugs can say more than words sometimes.  I've had hugs at work when there hasn't been much time in passing a patient off to a higher level of care or when I'm trying to get from point a to point b quickly.  No time for words, but those hugs spoke volumes of care and support.  

It's okay to not be okay, to not be strong, to breakdown in tears, to not always look at the bright side (see the sunburn above)  Pancreatic cancer sucks.  It's heartbreaking to watch Neil be so tired and sick from chemo and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that and spending some time validating how much things suck right now.  I choose to not live in that place, I get up and go about what needs to be done but I can't pretend everything is "just f.i.n.e" and paint a smile on my face and even if I could I don't want to.  Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, sometimes I lay awake all night praying to wake up from this nightmare, sometimes I pull the curtains so the room is dark and I sleep too long and it's all okay.  Some days I even leave the dishes in the sink and stuff on the counter or have hot tamales and a Dr Pepper for dinner because I don't want to cook.

Letting people help me has been hard.  Every time someone does something my head screams "No! you don't need them to do that for you--you'll find the time somewhere" but I've started letting people help and my heart grows each time.  Another hard to learn lesson from this is that I'm not in charge.  I don't know what our life will be like this fall, next summer, next week.  I've worked hard to feel organized and like I have it all together and now I realize it was all an illusion.  I like to plan, my book of life (otherwise known as a Mormon Mom Planner) goes with me everywhere and if it's not written down it doesn't get done.  All of that control is gone and it's been hard, I don't like the chaotic unknown.

I've also learned I'm not the only one going through hard things.  I've had a couple of people talking about their hard things apologize because their hard things have an element of good in them.  Hard things are just hard.  There is no grand scale of hard things or rules about you can only complain to people who have smaller hard things than you.  I'm glad to listen to other people, to talk about normal things because no matter how certain I initially was that my world was coming to a screeching halt, life goes on.  Weather gets unbearably hot, people take vacations, buy new cars, or struggle with more "normal" things than cancer and I haven't stopped wanting to be a part of people's lives.  I want to hear the sad, happy and in between.

I have more to say and I know this post has been all over the place, but that's okay too.

Bye for now,
Heather

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Clouds Make It Prettier

I'm posting from my phone and blogger doesn't have an app, so forgive any weird formatting or typos. I'll blame auto correct before it even happens because it's hard to read as a proof. The photo is also from my phone and only captured part of the beauty.

Utah has beautiful sunsets and skyscapes and tonight the sky was on fire and the clouds were beautiful adding extra dimension to the sky. As I took a moment to appreciate the sky and thank God for the beauty that surrounds me I realized that the storm clouds that had just been raining on me made the sky better. The storm made an ordinary sunset amazing.

I can't see how and I still hate cancer and wish it didn't exist, but I hope I can turn this storm into something beautiful from my very ordinary life. Don't get me wrong, I'd jump at the chance for ordinary and boring without a second though, but that doesn't seem to be an option right now.

***its nearly impossible to add a photo from a phone into blogger, it will come later***


Friday, May 19, 2017

So, Chemo...

It sucks.

Day 1 we spent what feels like most of the day at the cancer clinic getting medications so that the next few hours go smoother with less nausea or any other negative reactions then the cocktail that comprises folfirinox, ending with coming home with a fanny pack holding a home infusion ball full of 5 FU that infuses over the next 46 hours.

Lots of word puzzles, YouTube clips, Facebook browsing and we were done.  No throwing up, no reactions, lots of nerves and worries but over all it went smoothly.  Came home and went for a walk (we're back to slow walks counting as exercise) to get rid of the tired that comes from traveling or otherwise sitting all day.  Neil was tired and his legs felt heavy, but all in all it went well.  That night he couldn't sleep, but morning came anyways.  Day 2 was spent catching up on sleep and spending some time outside {fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul} and commenting on how "this isn't as bad as I thought it would be" and being very tired of the fanny pack, and tired in general.  Several naps but not a lot of throwing up or wishing he was throwing up.

Chemo Grenade


Today is Day 3.

Day 3 sucks.  Lots of throwing up even with all nausea medications on board and side effects from Irinotican.  My mind is tired and watching Neil be so sick and knowing that it's not going to end anytime soon.  I think back to my blog post Is Your Hut On Fire and remembering that every Hard Thing (big, small, and in between) I've ever dealt with has in one way or another been an answer to my prayers.  Chemotherapy is hard.  It rips at my heart and bring tears to my eyes on a daily basis but it's an answer to my prayers, prayers I didn't even know I'd be saying just a short time ago.

I daily think of the people who have dealt with pancreatic cancer before, when it wasn't treatable but they tried anyways, giving the medical field invaluable data.  We are benefiting from those efforts in ways I wish I could express to their families but I can't.  I have things to be grateful for, ICU remained closed so I was able to stay at home, the families before us, the technology in the little chemo grenade, the last 3 years, friends who call when they are thinking about you.  Even among the gratitude, today was hard.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Goodbye Normal

I don't think there is anymore chance of me falling asleep tonight than there is a kid on Christmas eve.  Except instead of bringing fun, tomorrow is sucking away my normal.  Instead of stockings and toys Neil gets a port implanted into his chest.  Normal won't ever be the same for us again.

Port placement at DRMC tomorrow at 7 am (I didn't want Neil to have to be fasting all day, but 7 am? *yawn*) then chemo here at CCH Wednesday at 10 am, coming home with a fanny pack with chemo infusing until Friday.  Normal.  Diarrhea, nausea, fatigue.  All normal. Work scheduled around chemo and oncology appointments, totally normal.

I wanted to get normal family pictures taken, before our new normal invades our life and I got them back today (thanks for being flexible Jenelle!)

Nornal.
These pictures mean so much to me, it's rare for everyone to be at the same place at the same time.  Our pictures from Provo was as close as it gets and someone was missing.  Besides pictures of Christmas pants, the last time we were together with everyone and there is photographic proof was our wedding.  I want decades of pictures, showing kids growing, new additions, people missing because of military service (even though it scares me), more wrinkles than I wish I had.  Crazy styles we thought were awesome, big hair we'll make fun of some day -- I loved the big hair.  I might not ever get all that.  For now I get our pre-wedding family pictures, wedding pictures, pictures in Provo and these, one of our last normal pictures before normal became a stranger I don't like.

The reality of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis has been very real for me today, I don't know if it's conversations I've had work, Neil starting chemo this week, realizing I still need to go chemo shopping (it's a real thing and much less fun than Christmas shopping) and want to get everything cleaned tomorrow, or reality starting to set in a little more.  I have a love/hate relationship with the uncertainty we are facing.  I mostly hate it.  I want guarantees and about the only guarantee we have is that things are about to get worse, like sitting on a hill watching black clouds roll in and the air change, I know a storm is impending.  Not so long ago the fate of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis was a lot more certain.  Pancreatic cancer meant death, and a lot sooner than had been thought of or planned. It's still not a "good" cancer to get, but there is a lot more uncertainty in the outcome than there use to be.

I still want concrete.  I want a date on a calendar I can do a count down chain to when we can go on long walks holding hands because that is more important than walking for exercise.



Girls days/nights where we paint fingernails that will chip the next day, spread charcoal on our faces (it seemed like a good idea at the time) or go for a drink. (uhh, I didn't get a normal picture of just the girls, I will have to fix that)


Blogger is telling me I have too many pictures, and my clock is telling me I'm going to get less than 6 hours of sleep, so the normal pictures will have to wait until tomorrow. 

Love, Heather




Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

It's never what I expect, and today is no exception.  I miss 2nd ward traditions, I wanted to see our little Primary singing, etc.  Our new ward is starting to feel less strange, but I still miss our old ward.  It's apparently about a 4 year long recovery time and we are 4 weeks in.  I'll make it.

They did something today that I liked and have been thinking about all week, trying to gather my thoughts.  Sharing our favorite hymn with a short why.  Like many of my other favorites, context matters but all week I've been thinking of "A Child's Prayer"


Rules were simple, a 1 minute "why" and from the hymn book.  I had managed to write down a why that was condensed and photocopied the song from the Children's Song Book.  Both rules circumvented, but it was very busy and I still feel a bit guarded {unless I'm spilling all of my inner thoughts on here} so I didn't get a chance to share, hence being here.  The song is above, with scenes from Cokeville Miracle {great movie by the way} Here is my "why"

Spring of 2013 I was dealing with The Very Hardest of Hard Things and was very traumatized.  Up didn't seem like up and for a week or so I was surprised each morning when the sun came up.  I had no grasp on reality, but I knew that Christ knew me personally and believe that his heart ached with mine.  I'd had a priesthood blessing from my Bishop and I know he cared, but I felt very alone and very scared.  My prayers had very few words, lots of sobs and tears filled with emotions that there aren't words in the English language to describe.  I'm not certain how that week ever ended, but it did as the Hard Things continued to pour forth.  I acutely felt the lack of priesthood guidance in my home, as well as a partner or helpmate to get me through.

A few weeks after that very first night was General Conference.  I remember so many details of that conference, the feeling of the blanket on my lap, my snacks, the smell of breakfast, my little TV with crappy signal, the pajamas I was wearing.  Boyd K Packer gave his talk These Things I Know and in that talk are two great truths I needed to understand.

I have come to know that faith is a real power, not just an expression of belief. There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother.
Up until then I'd thought of faith as a feeling or emotion, not a power in itself and I discredited the power behind my wordless prayers that went straight from my heart towards heaven bypassing my mouth entirely. I knew God didn't answer my prayers how I had planned but I believed that yes, he does answer every child's prayer.  I don't remember anything else that conference, just that I was going to be okay.  I was fine on my own {fine is a relative term} and that my faith had power behind it, not just warm feel goods.  We were going to get through

Things are different now, We are dealing with Hard Things 3: Cancer, Again. instead of  Hard Things 2:  The Very Hardest of Hard Things  The kids are older (easier and harder all at the same time) and I'm not alone (but at times I still feel very lonely and afraid) and in some ways they are the same.  That first week feels like an alternative reality, and I'm not certain how it ended.  I'm not sure what I'm suppose to learn this time, but I'd like to learn it so we can move on to a chapter I'd like to call After Hard Things Life is Grand but I don't know that my life gets that chapter, so I'm working on finding grand things in the midst of Hard Things.  Life feels very uncertain for me right now, but I know Christ understands me, and he knows what it's like when I'm paralyzed with fear and uncertainty.  God does answer every child's prayer, and not just all those other prayers but my prayers too.  I believe in the power of believing.  What I wish I knew is where all of that is going to leave me, but for tonight I pray in sobs of uncertainty and fear knowing that there is power in that prayer.

Friday, May 12, 2017

We Have A Plan

We saw oncology again yesterday and left with a plan and lots of new information.  Serious information overload.



Good news is there is no metastatic spots (spreading) so it's all just hanging out in his pancreas.  Overall staging is stage 3 (T4 N0 M0).  Bad news it is still wrapped around the artery (celiac access or celiac trunk) in a place that the artery can't be sacrificed and it can't be cut away from the artery so he isn't a surgical candidate yet.  Plan is have a port placed on Tuesday and then start a chemo regimen called Folfirinox.  It's as aggressive as chemo for pancreatic cancer gets and we hope it shrinks the tumor away from the artery so that Neil becomes a surgical candidate and we can just have it all cut out.  The surgery is a big deal surgery, but I'd like the tumor out of there.

We have a class today to talk about his chemo and plan, then family pictures tonight and then we have a break until Tuesday early morning.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Are You Guys Doing?

I can't count how many times I've been asked that the last few weeks and I know it's from a place of caring but there is no good answer or even an actual answer.  It varies day to day, sometimes even hour to hour.

The first week everything was foggy and hazy.  It was like I was reading a well written book without interruptions and I was putting myself into the book, feeling what they felt.  Except when I read a book that way I wake up the next morning and I'm back in my life. I'm grateful for the muted feelings, I don't think I could have cried anymore and my chest hurt from fear of the what lies ahead.

The weekend I was able to mostly pretend things were normal.  We did a dump run and got rid of some weeds and yard waste, discussed the rapid cycling that Utah weather has, went to church and had family dinner around the table.  Normal things.



Monday I was nervous and busy with school stuff (it is May after all) homework, plays, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, laundry and then some more laundry.  Busy enough that I was able to focus away from the nerves.  Today everything felt very real walking into the Cancer Center for Neil's PET scan, without the book like quality from a few weeks ago. I'm anxious to have more of a plan in place for treatment, I know that staging his cancer is crucial to making the best plan possible but I'm tired of this limbo land.  I want to discover what our new normal is going to be.  I want to have weekends off and be able to escape for the weekend to the cabin.  I want to wake up and find out this is all a bad dream (it's rapidly losing it's dream like qualities though).  I want this evening to last forever, it's quiet except for the rain and I'm not worried about my to do list, and I have pineapple spears from Costco.

How am I doing?  I'm rapid cycling through the stages of grief, if you don't like my answer wait an hour or so and it'll change.

We have marked a to do off the list of things we need to do, but won't have an update until Thursday.

Love, Heather

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hard Things: Volume 3

I'm not certain how to begin this blog.  In our primary care physicians office I said "can you just look at the CT scan?" when friends/coworkers say "how are you doing?" I answer "not really okay" in a few text messages I've just laid out the facts. When I'm somewhere I don't want to break down I rely on my old favorite coping mechanism sarcasm. I've been wanting to write this story, to help me think and process but to write a story the beginning needs to be told.

Neil and I were sealed in the Provo City Center Temple on March 11.  We went up a day early and on that trip I noticed he was changing his food choices because of stomach pain.  He has an ulcer and takes ibuprofen regularly, so it must be his ulcer.  He started using alka seltzer more and more often but didn't want to go to the doctor because of "I'm fine"  In mid-April he was hurting enough he agreed to go see the MD.  Our primary MD was on vacation that week and I scheduled an appt for Wednesday late afternoon after he returned.  I started to think it was more than just an ulcer and began to suspect a gallbladder.  I wanted to be wrong, I didn't want him to have to go through surgery. I'd give anything to have been right.   On Monday April 24, 2017 Neil stayed home from work because of the pain and early afternoon asked me to take him to the ED.  He hates the hospital, especially emergency departments, so to ask to go worried me. As we sat I was convinced definitely gallbladder and it probably needed to come out sooner rather than later.  Blood work, IV fluid, pain medication and a CT scan.  Then more pain medication and waiting.  Neil finally was mostly comfortable and I was waiting to hear that we needed a surgical consult and I'd be taking him home less one gall bladder.

That wasn't what we heard.

I don't remember exactly what was said or what the conversation was like just a series of words floating around fuzzy then coming into focus one at a time.  Pancreatic mass.  Biopsy. Oncology consult.  Time instantly changed, days seemed like weeks and waiting for appointments was unlike anything I'd experienced.  Phone calls from the cancer center, radiology, more blood work (12 tubes!), an MRI to check out a spot on his liver, trip to LDS hospital for a EUS with biopsy and I'm realizing more than anything that all I want is normal.  I want to sit in bed and plan vacations we'd like to take after the kids are all moved out.  Summer road trips while they are still here.  Evenings sitting on the porch watching the sunset worrying about bills and how much housework I didn't get done.

I don't get that.

Now my normal has changed.  Tests, blood work, chemo, waiting, and uncertainty.

So, for details Neil's diagnosis is pancreatic cancer (specifically an adenocarcinoma) and staging is not yet complete, he has a PET scan on Tuesday and we see oncology on Thursday for a definitive plan.  I'm also realizing that definitive is taking on a new meaning, it's more of a goal or a hope than a description of how things will be.

Updating people every step of the way is exhausting at times, another reason for the blog revival.  Please be understanding if we've missed a phone call or took the time to process the news, it still feels like I'm living someone else's life and will wake up soon back in April prepping for Joint Commission, working extra shifts, and trying to unpack.

I've always said I learn lots from Hard Things and I'm hoping this is a nice thick volume.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hey!

So, I'm still around.  I've been busy being married, juggling kids, work, housework, and life.

I've been wanting to write.  I have thoughts and feelings inside of me that are crying to get out, and their way out is through words.  I won't promise that I will be around often or regularly, but I will be around.  Some stuff might be shared not so publicly, but feel free to ask me just about anything.

~Heather

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Martin's Cove--Trek 2015

We went on Trek to Martin's Cove and Rock Creek Hollow end of June and first part of July.  I've been before.  4 years ago we went on a youth trek through Kiabab forest ending overlooking the Grand Canyon.  When Michael was a baby our Ward went, so 14 years ago or so.  Every time I have not been able to write about the experience to a level equal with the intensity of the week.  I expect this time to be similar, and I have no idea how to even proceed, but I go back to work tomorrow so I'm trying to get something down for now.

The History

This is where I will fail miserably.  Click here for another account.  Fire and the Covenant is a historical fiction novel written about the handcart companies, and Follow Me to Zion is a collection of journal entries and stories.  A quick search on amazon has several books listed.

In 1856 Brigham Young authorized LDS saints to travel to Utah by handcart.  They had started the perpetual emigration fund to help gather the saints in Zion and using handcarts could gather 10 saints for every 1 by wagon train.  The first 4 handcart companies (about 500 people each) had made the long trip successfully.  Traveled by ship to either Boston or New York and then by train to Florence, Nebraska.  In Florence they built handcarts and sewed tents for the journey.  These saints were not frontiersmen nor had they been trained for the journey ahead of them.  They did have the faith to do whatever was required of them.  They started late in the season and had several set backs to getting started.  They were allowed 17 pounds of belongings.  

As they came through Wyoming they were hit with a harsh winter storm and they had been on reduced rations already.  The Martin Company along with Hunt and Hodgett Wagon companies (about 1100 people) took shelter in Martin's Cove and the Willie Company took shelter at Rock Creek Hollow being 100 miles ahead of the Martin Company.  When Brigham Young heard that there were saints out in the storm he said "go and bring them in" sending out rescue parties and supplies.  

The Stories

The stories are endless, and I could talk forever about the ones I know, what they taught me and what I hope to never forget.

Francis Webster (He settled in Cedar)

In a Sunday School class the teacher was being harsh and critical of the handcart companies coming so late in the season and Francis Webster was sitting in the class and said 
 ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’”He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.“‘Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’” 
After my hardest of Hard Things I've often thought this Hard Thing is my price, and I have become better acquainted with God.  The second part I am eternally grateful for.

Ann Jewel Rowley

She's my ancestor, was part of the Willie Handcart company and best known for the sea biscuits in the Dutch Oven as portrayed in 17 Miracles.  She's one of my favorites because she came across a a single Mom bringing 7 kids.  "If Ann Jewel can do that, I can manage kids schedules, work, school, and the house" got me through days I didn't think I could go on any farther.

Samuel Rowley

I learned this time that after being part of the Willie company he was later called on a mission to settle San Juan.  He was in the first group that went through Hole In the Rock.  Not only can we do Hard Thing, but can do multiple Hard Things.  I can't think of anyone who would say that was 'fair' but he was called and he went.  He never complained.

Trek 2015

Pre-trek: Sewing, sewing, and more sewing. Packed in 5 gallon buckets and gathered epi-pens, inhalers, first aid supplies, portable nebulizers, last minute tent crew stuff. 




Day 1:  We left the Stake Center at 5 am (well, we were suppose to) and most people loaded onto tour buses, significantly different than the train ride in crowded train cars being threatened as they passed through towns.  Neil and I were fortunate enough to be able to ride with Benson's.  We drove, what seemed like forever through empty Wyoming plains to arrive at Martin's Cove.  Neil at the last minute was put on tent crew (the second tent set up didn't go so well, due to some lack of miscommunication/knowledge/information) and in minutes it went from raining and blowing while setting up tents to heat, sticky humidity, and mosquitoes.  



Bishop Heap spoke at a fireside, everyone was clean and fresh.  We were well fed (the entire Trek we had plenty of good food) and then the adults worked on getting the kids to go to sleep.  Michael and Dallin caught rabbits and went looking for rattlesnakes.  'oy.

Fitbit has me at about 12,000 steps.  Most of it from tent set up I'm certain.

Day 2:  Breakfast at 7 am to load the buses at 8.  Breakfast was great -- biscuits and gravy with delicious sausage patties and we were on time, much to my surprise.  They broke the stake up into two main groups (orange flag and a red, white, and blue flag loaded onto the front carts)  We also divided medical staff so that 3 of us were the 9 families and 4 of us were with 10 families.  All of the kids except Kaede were in my group.  Later I wished I'd been there to watch her closer.  Reminders to start drinking.

They told us stories of Dan Jones and trying to eat hide glue then took us to the chapel where they played this video.


That video was my moment (along with the fireside the night before)  I wasn't worried about people being dehydrated yet, I wasn't dehydrated, only 1 minor injury and no sore feet.  

From the visitors center we walked towards the Sweetwater River crossing.  Lots of reminding people to drink and then drink some more.  I want to go back in the winter.  When the pioneers crossed there were chunks of ice floating down the river and we looked forward to the relief from the heat.  Later in the day when we crossed on the bridge I paused for a second and tried to imagine the green banks covered in ice and snow and the wind blowing bitter cold instead of like a furnace blower and my mind can't make that connection.  Crossing the Sweetwater is Holy ground.  There was reverence, tears, and beautiful violin music.  Shortly after the Sweetwater we stopped at some statues.  I can't tell you much about them because I was busy doing medical stuff, inhalers, sick kids, and reminding people to drink some more.  From the statues it was a short walk to lunch.  Shade, cool water, and food. 

At this point all is going well, most people are drinking well and the rest from the scorching sun was appreciated.  Just above the cart parking/pavilion is Martin's Cove.  There are no handcarts and no water in the cove.  Along the path to the cove is Dan Jones amphitheater where we stopped again.  Both groups are together at this point and Kaede finds me to walk with me.  She's red and not sweating and "can't find" her water bottle so she has a little 16 oz bottle that she's not drinking.  I ask her to drink and she keeps talking.  I asked if she has been drinking and she said no, I've been too busy pushing (and most likely talking) so I hand her my full water bottle and have her drink it and she perks up a little and starts sweating again.  I'd forgotten how long it is around Martin's Cove and have never been in the middle of the day.  Kaede drinks all of our water and rests at the top of the cove in the shade.  I pause for a moment and try to imagine 1100 people laying underneath canvas from their tents and wish just for a moment that I could feel -10.  At the top I realize Neil still has water and try to ration it between the 3 of us the rest of the way down.  

Once I get back to cart parking I drink water like crazy, alternating water and gatorade.  By crazy I mean 2 L.  I keep drinking and feeling increasingly tired and hot.  I don't know if my feet hurt because I don't care.  The Women's Pull left me in tears, and I didn't even pull or push -- I promised myself  I'd be kind to my back.  We had 2 girl in rickshaws in our group and we got all 9 handcarts, 2 rickshaws up with "women can do hard things" pushing.  At the top the guys were silent, hats removed out of respect with tears on many faces.  Bishop Heap once again did an amazing job talking to our boys.

From the women's pull you can see camp in the distance.  In camp is my bucket, shade from a tent, and food.  Once we got to camp I sat down in the shade of the Bishop's tent.  Dude continues to comment on how wonderful I don't look and has my every need taken care of by others.  As the night goes on and I keep drinking and feeling worse I actually ended up with an IV laying in front of our tent--the point I started to get nauseated I knew that all the water I'd been drinking was not enough.  

In a heartbeat I'd do the same thing again, give my water up for my children--any of us would.  I knew it wouldn't be a long term problem.  I can't imagine what it was like seeing kids going hungry knowing that you had to eat too, or you wouldn't survive.  At one point rations were cut to 4 oz of flour for the day.  There wasn't endless food just ahead like I had water, they had no idea where their next food would come from.

Fitbit: 23,000+ steps

Day 3: I spent in the visitors center at Rock Creek with a couple of youth not well enough to trek.  Long day, lots of water, reading, and a flushing toilet.  Tents were not set up because Dude and I thought we'd be hanging out with the non-trekkers at our camp site so we sent Neil on trek.  The missionaries were confused about where we were camping and so there was nothing to do but hustle to get the tents up when everyone got to Rock Creek Hollow.  



That night we camped at Rock Creek Hollow, had the most beautiful testimony meeting I've ever witnessed followed by strawberry shortcake.



Day 4: I refer to day 4 as "gratitude for Benson's day"  The young beehives sang, clapped, laughed the entire way home.  There was no rest, no sleeping, no quiet.  The bus seats were comfortable for about 40 minutes until my back started to complain.  We were all home, showered, and in bed by midnight.



Post-Trek:  My backyard has been tent city since trek.  The day we broke camp the tents were all very wet so we set them back up to dry them out and just as they'd get almost dry a thunderstorm would roll through.  Tents are all down now, one still draped across to dry and we are back to "live as normal"  I wish I knew how to keep the lessons learned during these glimpses into our past to help us re prioritize, strengthen our resolve but I don't.

Getting to the Salt Lake Valley was important to the pioneers so they could be sealed as a family in the Endowment House.  Getting those temple blessings were so important to them that they gave all they had to have the opportunity and they were grateful for the experience.  I hope my resolve and priorities can be as set as theirs.

~Heather

p.s. A few more pictures to come, but not many as we were electronics free and I didn't bring my camera. 


Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring update


The forsythia blossoms are mostly spent, same with the Crabapple tree. 

While I was walking this evening you could smell spring in the air, it was heavenly--the only thing that would have been better is if Neil had been with me. 

Two of the three transplant hollyhocks are doing ok, and the hollyhock patch is thriving weeds and all. 


Tulips are in various stages, under the pine trees they are still buds and the parking strip they are just past prime but still beautiful. 


Alums are budding. 


Dandelions are gangbusters 


The bush by the forsythia is blooming well. 


Creeping phlox is starting to show off colors. 



The columbine hiding under the daffodils has a blossom too!


Lilacs are just starting to release their fragrance 


Wallflower is even blooming 


While watering I could see the hues in the East change giving promise of a beautiful sunset behind me so I went for a walk. 




Happy spring 2015
~Heather