Monday, April 30, 2018

Weenie Roast

My wife and mother-in-law were out of town, my brother was down on the farm for two more days and the refrigerator was getting pretty barren so my girls and I decided it was a good time to drive down to the farm for the afternoon and have a weenie roast supper with my family.

The first weenie roast that I can remember was when I was a young boy slightly before my teenage years when we lived in the big two story farmhouse south of where my parents live now. It was heated by big old wood stove in the core where we huddled during the winters to stay warm. The bedrooms around the edges were always cold so layers of blankets were mandatory. The second floor was simply out of the question. All that wood we used for heat was cut the previous winter. We would pick a sunny day as close to freezing without going over so that we could haul the wood out with the truck without getting it buried in mud. By noon, we would have a large pile of small branches and limbs not worth the effort to cut up and haul back to the farm to burn for heat. So we would set fire to the pile to periodically warm up and then after the fire died back, cook some hot dogs over the coals using the longest sticks we could find.

Weenie roasts never became a family tradition until later. When I was in my teens, we started heading quite regularly to the Ozark mountains of Arkansas whenever school wasn't in session and it wasn't summer. With high heat and humidity, that part of Arkansas is the last part of the world you want to be during summer. So that pretty much left us with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter breaks at school. Since we were away from the comforts of home and the small cabin we had to overnight in wasn't all that appealing, we spent a lot of those holiday days where others traditionally cram around a large table full of food, hiking through the mountains and river valleys. Since a small fire along a river is easy to start and rid without any trace, we got in the habit of having a weenie roast on those holidays until it became a family tradition. It might not seem an even trade swapping a turkey for a hotdog but when you are surrounded by a million acres of raw wilderness beauty and everyone else was staying home that day so you had the place all to yourself, it was more than a fair trade.

As kids tend to do, my brother and I got older and started families of our own and those days faded away along with weenie roasts by the mountain streams. Instead they gravitated to our backyards and involved more people since now we had wives and kids. At first we bought a portable fire pit so we wouldn't destroy the yard with flames and ash but its diminutive size just wasn't conducive to enjoying a weenie roast among a large family. Eventually we upgraded by building a stone fire pit on top of a slab of concrete covering an old cistern from days gone by. We can scoot our lawn chairs closer or farther from the pit as temperatures and smoke patterns dictate and have a proper weenie roast. We spend lots of time talking about this and that or just sitting there gazing at the burning logs and contemplating life inside our heads.

My daughters are still young enough where they get bored and run off to do this or that. I was like that once too. But it won't be too long where they will understand the joy of sitting around a fire, full of hot dog and potato chips produced by that company just down the road a piece and enjoying each other's company. I hope that I'm around someday continuing this tradition when my daughters have kids of their own. Are you making cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving? No, we're cooking weenies over a fire.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Family Crack


Not many people get some geographical feature named after them. Many get mountains and rivers, some get seas, our family has a crack. While not officially printed on any maps, those that know us and have gone hiking with us, know that the crack above is OUR crack.

Years ago, we combined two of our favorite hikes into one slightly longer loop hike. We go down to our favorite bluff, high up a vertical face along a river and traverse what is known locally as the "Goat Trail", I presume because only goats would walk along it without fear. Indeed in places it narrows down to just a few feet wide with a 300 feet drop straight down to the river below. Once you cross the face of the cliff, you could walk down a nose to the river below which is brushy, rocky, full of trees and totally unremarkable. Or you could hike down the backside of the bluff to a large overhanging rock ledge with a deep swimming hole below it.

One day rather than hike the mile back to the main trail at the saddle between two mountains and take a more gradual approach to the later river destination, we decided to see if we could navigate off the backside of the Goat Trail and find our way down. The very first time, we came to the edge of a band of rock very prominent in these mountains because it was harder than the surrounding stone and thus didn't wear away as fast. Instead it left a band of cliffs that range from 20 to 40 feet tall that ring almost all the mountains in the area. This means that the only way down are through natural deformities through the band like creeks or in this case, a crack in the face caused by a large part of it collapsing under its own weight.

We looked for a better way down but really couldn't find anything or as "safe" looking as the crack. It starts up above the face and goes 20 feet down to the base of the face and over time, dirt and debris have filled it to create a very steep and very narrow ramp of sorts. The standard hip width at standard hip height is too wide to fit some one must turn sidewalks to slip and slide down the ramp holding any personal belonging high above your head so that you don't get lodged in the crack. It works and I have traversed this crack numerous times over the years. Above you can see one of those times where with my long legs, I propped myself between the crack sides some ten feet off the ground with my mom underneath and my brother in the background.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Learning To Drive

It's a bright summer Sunday and we are headed home from church but today is different because I'm behind the wheel for the first time having obtained my learners permit days before. It's just my mom, younger brother and I and we successfully made it down the length of the old fairgrounds road. It is called that because years ago, on the end closer to town, a regional fair was hosted there where the gravel transitions into dirt. The fair never happened in my lifetime and my memories of that site only pertain to the honey bee hives my parents used to have there and making countless sweaty trips back and forth to the trailer parked on the road carrying supers full of honey and trying not to get stung.

I don't recall the journey from town, past the old fairground site to the T-intersection where I now sat in an idling car with my foot on the clutch. By that point it wasn't really a dirt road more than two small strips of dirt in-between grass as high as the underside of the few trucks and cars that ventured down it. Turning east would lead me back to the highway and was probably the shortest way home but west led to the country gravel roads that would also take me home but with less traffic. Under mom's supervision, I flipped the blinker to indicate west, eased out of the clutch and deftly made the turn right.

Or at least that is how I imagined it. What actually happened was the car bucked forward about a foot, stalled and then settled back. I pushed in the clutch, started the car and tried it again with the same results. My mom started giving me guidance while my younger brother started hollering at me and laughing. More bucks, more lurches, more stalled engines. Unbelievably, another car appears behind me which increases the pressure. More bucks, more lurches, and more stalled engines. I could see the man in the car behind me laughing uproariously. I was beet red at this point and utterly frustrated with my situation but somehow got the car rolling again and began shifting up through the gears as we made our way west. Fortunately the next turn didn't require a stop and so I was able to continue on while the other car following me continues on a different direction.

Later the man driving told me that he wasn't laughing at me or my situation but at my brother who was laughing hysterically in the back seat. It really didn't make me feel any better.

Eventually I learned how to tame that car and eventually my parents would loan it to me after I got my license to drive to school on days when I needed to get home sooner to help on the farm. It saw me through many school events including prom and went with me to college. Eventually it met its demise coming home from college when the rear axle connections rusted away on one side of the car. It was welded back together and given away at a discount rate.

I've always had a car with a manual transmission every since I learned to drive one way back when on that sunny summer Sunday but my current one will probably be the last. My wife can't drive it and doesn't want to learn. It rarely gets used and when it does, it is just my errand running car around town. It is now 20 years old and I'm not sure I consider it safe enough to pass it on to my daughters someday. But if I still have it when they get their learners permit, I may drive it back towards the farm and take a detour with them down the old fairgrounds road, assuming it is still passable, and let them try it out.

Monday, April 23, 2018

John Bolton


John Bolton is one of my ancestors whom I know little about but led a eventful life. He came over from England ahead of my Chicken ancestors and patented some virgin land in Wisconsin. From the satellite, it is all timber with some pastures in the very northeast corner and east edge. Whether even those pastures were there in the time of 1848, four years after he came over and the date of the patent, I will never know. I've always thought that if I were ever up in that area, I would like to find the owner of those 40 acres and see if they would allow me to walk over them.

John came over to America in the summer of 1844 with wife Mary on the baroque ship the Joseph Cunnard, named after the man who designed it. It arrived in New York City and after a period of time, John and Mary arrived in the southeast corner of Wisconsin. In 1846, their first child Selina Jane was born and four years later my 3rd great grandmother Frances Ann was born. Whether John was around to see the birth is debatable.

The following year after obtaining the land patent, gold was found in California leading to a rush of settlers seeking their fortunes. Though John was listed as a farmer, southeast Wisconsin was a mining area for lead and was full of miners, including my Chicken ancestors. From the history books, many of these miners set off in late 1849 and early 1850 to seek their fortunes in California and I assume John Bolton was one of them. Two facts lead me in this assumption. In the 1850 census, Mary and her two daughters were living with the Pilings, another English family that came over from the same part of England as the Boltons and the Chickens. John is nowhere to be found. In 1854, John and Mary had a son named Jeremiah born in California. So at some point, the family lived there.

For years I never knew what happened to the family or of the existence of Jeremiah because the family just disappeared after the 1850 census. However, on a whim, I started searching back and England and found what was left of the family in the English 1861 census. Mary is listed as being widowed, Selina and Frances are listed as being born in America and Jeremiah is singled out as being born in California which I find odd since California had been a state by the time of his birth there.

Jeremiah wouldn't live past his teen years dying at age 17. His mother Mary and Selina would live out their lives in England as "fancy seamstresses" and Selina would marry and have four children of her own. Frances, would immigrate back to America for her second time around the end of the Civil War and marry Joseph Chicken, just back from fighting in the war and who would go on to change his surname.

I have no records of John other than his name in the ship log as he made his way to America and his land patent. I most likely have identified his parents in England as John and Margaret Milner Bolton but can't positively make that connection. I have no record of his death other than his wife Mary being listed as a widow in an 1861 English census. Until recently, I took this as fact but have found another John Bolton born in England around the same age that was a miner in California into the 1860's. So it is entirely possible that he wanted to continue that lifestyle and his wife decided she didn't and went back to England.

At this point, I will probably never find out what happened to John Bolton unless some rare document explaining his demise shows up someday. Without documentation on him, I will never be able to say for sure if his parents are whom I think they are. This branch on my family tree will most likely never grow any further. Other than that 40 acres of trees in southeast Wisconsin, I have no other ties to this man other than some of his blood and genes still running through my veins.

John Bolton's 40 Acre Land Patent in Wisconsin

Friday, April 20, 2018

Childhood Homes

My mom graduated in May. I was born three months later in a small county hospital and then brought back to the farm. My grandparents then left the farm and headed back north after deciding farming wasn't the life they were meant to live leaving me, my mom and her newly married husband to look after things. I have no memories of that old farm house but it still stands down a seldom traveled gravel road if you know where to go. I drive by it every few years.

Living on a farm didn't suit my dad either so unbeknownst to my grandparents, he sold it and moved to the town where I was born in the small county hospital. That move didn't endear him to my grandparents since they expected to recoup their investment in the small acreage. My parents moved into a small apartment of which I have exactly one memory. I remember sitting underneath the kitchen table while my mom was calling my name trying to find me. We soon left that place and it no longer stands.

We moved into a small run down shack of a house in a small town halfway between the county hospital and the farm my mom lives at now. It was run down even by the standards of back then but I have lots more memories of it. I can still draw a detailed layout showing the bedrooms, kitchen and living room areas. I can remember my parents shouting all the time and I can remember my younger brother joining me in life. My dad left after a handful of years of shouting and never came back. Mom was left with two kids she couldn't afford so go a job in the urban jungle and we moved again. As junky as the house was back then, it continued to stand over the years but looked more and more like a drug lab all the time. It was still standing after I was married and my oldest daughter was old enough to look disinterested out the window at it whenever I pointed it out. It was removed from the face of this earth about five years ago and is just a vacant lot of weeds now.

The urban jungle was a tough life. We lived in poverty in some low rent apartment and I attended first grade while my brother went to all day daycare while mom struggled to get grocery money. I thought at the time she was spoiling us by making hotdog pizza. I didn't realize that was all she could afford to make. We went through lots of baby sitters when not in daycare and didn't see much of each other. Then Mom got engaged again and soon we were heading down to a farm just a mile south of where my mom now lives. The old apartment buildings stood for awhile and I would see them just off the interstate now and then during my trips to the urban jungle. I noticed a few times ago that I haven't seen them in awhile so they too have returned to the earth.

My new dad was a farmer and while we always had food, we had to grow and raise it ourselves. The countryside was crowded with mostly older families but they gradually left. The farm crisis got many. Old age got the rest. Now my parents are the only ones still living on that 6 mile ring of gravel roads. The old farmhouse was full of happy memories which was a change of pace for me and my brother and probably my mom. It was way too big even by today's standards for our family of four. My brother and I claimed our bedrooms on the main floor and all the rooms upstairs so it worked out. When my step-grandfather died one summer afternoon while I was away being a camp counselor, we decided to move to his farm a mile to the north. The old farmhouse was rented out for a time but the tenants gradually destroyed it as they tend to do out in poor rural areas. My dad had it bulldozed, burnt and buried. I can still feel its presence when I walk over top of it.

I only lived a couple years and a few summers in the new smaller farmhouse before I moved out permanently. There are memories with the farm but not too many with the house for some reason. I don't identify it with my childhood and it is mostly my parents house now. It was built by my step-grandfather the year my dad was born and with the exception of the time spent at the old farmhouse a mile south, he has always lived there. I'm sure he has many more memories of that house than I do. But for now, it still stands and holds the distinction of being just one of two of my childhood homes still standing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Linked?


This past weekend, I got an email out of the blue from a distant relative by marriage. She is married to my distant cousin of mine whom I have never met or known about. She found me because of a compilation story I put together about my Chicken ancestors that I have blogged about in the past on here many times and all the assorted stories I have come to know. What makes her unique, is that she and I are connected through my 2nd great grandfather's first wife. He had two wives and 99% of the people I talk to and have met are descended through his second wife.

We trades some information back and forth and through that exchange, she mentioned a lot of people on her side of the family tree who have had cancer throughout the years. It suddenly hit me that perhaps my mom's issue is all tied into this family tree and all thanks to Lynch Syndrome which she will be tested for next week. To remind you, Lynch Syndrome is a genetic "disease" where certain cell repair genes stop working correctly. Your body creates mutated genes all the time and this repair gene goes around fixing them in normal people. Those with Lynch Syndrome have a lazy gene fixer and so the mutated genes accumulate to much higher levels which is what increases your chances for various types of cancer. Many can be treated and cured and some like in my mom's case cannot.

The picture above is of my great grandfather Charles holding my grandma. Grandma had colon cancer in her 40's, one of the most common forms of cancer in those with Lynch Syndrome but has been cancer free for the last five decades. Her father, my great grandfather, Charles, died of lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker but lung cancer is also more common in those with Lynch Syndrome. Charles's father, my 2nd great grandfather, John Henry died young of complications from heart disease. His father Joseph who is my ancestor that changed his name from Chicken to a different surname, died at age 37 from causes I have never been able to discern. Now with this relative adding others on her side with colon cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer, I can't help but wonder if the Lynch Syndrome is present and being passed down through this line of my family tree. If a parent has it, there is a 50 percent chance each child would have it.

This also might explain why 99% of the people I talk to our descended through the second wife. Perhaps John Henry's first wife was the carrier of Lynch Syndrome and so the second wife and their numerous descendants are unaffected by all this. John Henry's first wife died very young but due to childbirth, I presume due to the circumstances. But had she survived, it might not have been for long anyway.

All this may just be coincidence and drawing lines to fit my conclusions and honestly, I hope that is the case. If not, well it may explain a lot of things that I was never really asking about until recently. If at the end of the day, it is Lynch Syndrome, well I am thankful I live in a time where we can cure some of the cancers that afflict those with the disease.

All this pondering started because of something I wrote a couple years ago that got passed around until someone wrote an email to me and we got to talking. What a small world.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Is Missing


April 15th, tax day, nearly a month after the arrival of spring, this is how our daffodils looked yesterday morning. I'm not sure spring will ever get to this part of the country.

For our part, we made the best of it. My brother has come up from the deep south to spend a week on the farm with my parents. So I picked up my maternal grandparents from their apartment and we all gathered on the farm to celebrate my brother's birthday a few days early. It was the first time my grandparents had been out to the farm since Thanksgiving when my grandmother took a swan dive from the top porch step and broke her hip. This time we had enough younger bodies at the bottom of the stairs to absorb and fall but fortunately everybody made it down the steps without incident.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Picking Up Sticks


Despite the rain and snow falling every other day and the sub freezing temperatures, our lawn is starting to protest this weather delay and go ahead and started greening up anyway. Last year we were planting at this time. This year the snow just melted off yesterday. When I took this picture, it was the first sunny day above freezing that we have had in a long time. I used the opportunity to pick up sticks which is a pretty major chore on our two acre plot of land full of hundreds of mature trees on the edge of town.

Not only is there quite a bit of ground to cover and a lot of sticks to pick up, it is quite the work out going up and down the gully. Because I get so many branches a year, I burn them down in the bottom of the gully twice a year but most of the sticks fall on the tops of the knobs so it is a lot of up and down. I use a wheelbarrow where possible to save on trips but near the gully the sides are so steep I can't "park" it anywhere so that it stays upright when I take a hand off, so for that part I just tuck them in my arms and walk back and forth. This time with my arms full I hit a slick spot on a steep spot and after running in place like a cartoon character, I did a face plant in the mud. I wasn't hurt but my clothes had to be exchanged for cleaner ones when I was done.

I did a survey of all my trees that I have planted over the last few years to see if they survived. I think most of them survived our extremely dry summer last year thanks to my hauling water 10 gallons at a time to each of them once a week. I won't know for sure until the buds start opening. One tree appears to be missing altogether? I'm guessing rabbits as they temporarily got another one the year before. It sprouted up and came back again. That's one of the problems when planting twigs for trees.

While walking around to the various trees, I stumbled across a plastic Easter egg that didn't get found a few weeks ago. Our oldest was pleased to discover that the contents of the plastic egg were still intact and edible.

With all the sticks picked up and the grass starting to turn green, I am more than ready for spring. Tomorrow we are going to hit 60 degrees and 70 degrees for the first time since last year both in the same day. I expect there will be a lot of shorts on tomorrow. Now if only we get a stretch of that to grow the mushrooms....

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Strength and Fragility

Mom's doing better these days. The last time I was down to visit, she was back to tying her own shoes, something that we all took for granted since her early childhood. She also seems to have regained most of her strength back especially in her legs which allows her to be mobile. Her left arm is still a bit weak and clumsy but she is learning to compensate for that.

Still she appears fragile and defeated more often than not, though whenever I am around, she seems happy enough under the circumstances. It is another reminder to me that I need to spend as much time as possible with her.

Mom is never one to lay down to defeat. When I spoke to her the other day, she was already preparing meals for a month in the future so just in case she isn't able to do so then, they will still have food to eat. But her appetite is already starting to wane as she struggled to eat half a bowl of soup the last time I was down there. She says she is forcing herself to eat even that.

Her chemo pills came in the mail from a pharmacy one state over, the quickest and easiest way for her to get medication living in such a rural area. She took her first dose and won't have to do another one for six to eight weeks depending on blood counts. Already she says she is feeling tired from the medicine but the doctor told us that she shouldn't feel much of anything for four weeks. I hope it isn't an omen of things to come.

Fortunately my parent's church has a great support network. The last time I was down on the farm there was food that parishioners had dropped off. They also come and pick mom up whenever they go shopping if she needs to do some shopping as well. They certainly give me peace of mind knowing that they are in good care even if I am not there.

I've been contemplating going down to the farm this afternoon after dropping my youngest off at preschool and continuing to do so every Wednesday from now on. It gives me time to spend with mom and dad and since it is my wife's half day off, she can take care of our home front for me during that time. I've also been contemplating asking mom to let me record an interview with her. I'm not sure if she would be receptive or if it would only remind her of what she will be missing. Right now I'm just kind of waiting for the right time and perhaps the right signal.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Scorched Earth Policy


This past weekend I went down to the farm to help my parents burn some CRP land that was required as part of its annual maintenance along with spend time with my mom and counsel my dad. I've been helping do this for over three decades and for quite awhile, it was a Christmas day tradition after all the presents were opened and our Christmas breakfast was eaten. After my brother and I left the farm for other things, the tradition stayed for awhile but eventually faded back into early spring. This year with all that was going on, the days of getting a hot enough burn to do any good before it became too green were numbered which is why I made the trip to the farm.


In the top picture, I am backfiring along the downwind side. We plow a ring around the field and them burn the grass near the plowed ring to create a wide barrier to contain jumping flames and embers. The smoke in the top left of the first photo is my dad backfiring on the opposite side of the field. Once we get the downwind sides backfired, we work around the upwind side setting the head fire which you can see immediately above. It takes off racing with the wind and actually sucks the backfire on the far side of the field towards it creating tremendous fire whirlwinds and billowing smoke clouds. The goal is to get the fire hot enough to kill any tree shoots or noxious weeds and leave behind only native prairie grasses and flowers which thrive immediately after a fire.


Here you can see what remains after the fire has passed by.


This picture is nearer the downwind side of the field where the backfire has been sucked into the oncoming head fire creating huge billowing clouds of smoke. On some days, you can see tornado like whirlwinds of fire dancing around for a bit but on this day with just my dad and I doing the work, I was never in a position to see them that wasn't obscured by the smoke.


Less than ten minutes after we set the head fire, almost all is burnt and the fire out except for a few stray clumps of grass still smoldering and on this piece, thousands of ant hills. All told, we spent about an hour burning this 40 acre piece of land and went on to burn four more small pieces afterwards.

My mom went with us and was planning on driving a small utility vehicle a bit bigger than a traditional four wheeler with a small water tank and spray hose. Her job was to monitor the headwind and sides of the fire after we set the head fire to make sure the fire didn't creep into the wind across the plowed barrier strip of land. In low humidity conditions this does happen occasionally despite all the exposed dirt but on this day the humidity was high enough it wasn't a problem. However during the first fire we set, mom got confused and just kind of drove around and we were too worried that she might get in danger so we nominated her fire marshal and just parked her out of danger on the upwind side with her cellphone and ordered her to call us if she saw wisps of smoke where they shouldn't be. On the grand scheme of things, she was just happy being out in the sunshine and watching dad and I do our thing.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The New Normal

After spending more time with my parents, I went with them up to their followup appointment with mom's oncologist not knowing what my mom was going to decide. At one point she said she was done with radiation and chemo but then a few sentences later talk about a friend of hers with the very same malady and taking the same chemo now a year later still going on strong.

We met with her wonderful oncologist and mom made her decision. She didn't want any more radiation because of the effects it had on her mental faculties the last go around. She would however start chemo again with the knowledge that she could quit at any time. The doctor wrote the prescription and she will probably start it this weekend or the first of next week.

That's the good news.

The bad news is the confusion just seems to be getting worse. It is hard to describe since it really isn't a memory problem per se. It does affect her short term memory of remembering what you just told her but anything more than a few hours old she seems to remember fine. It mostly seems to be a decision making deficiency. Whenever she faces a decision, small or big, she gets flustered and then forgets/ignores what it is she was wanting to decide. She can set off to go downstairs, walk by the pantry, open its door and then go back to the living room and sit down. If you ask what she wanted downstairs she will remember and set off again, sometimes successfully and other times derailed by another decision along the way. The worst part is that she knows this is going on but just can't focus enough to prevent it. I keep reassuring her that we will take care of her and that always seems to bring her peace.

It hurts all of us to see this and flusters my dad. I am constantly reminding him that this is better right now than the alternative because she is aware and she still is in there, scared and sad. She is here for now and so we have to accept it and just be there for her. Mom did all the business aspects of the farm, all the housework, ran errands, managed their social calendar, etc. while my dad tended the farm work. Now he is having to do everything and it is a huge bell curve for him to climb. I'm doing my best by helping him with the tasks that can be done off the farm or on the phone/internet and he is getting better.

My younger brother is coming up in a week to spend time on the farm with my parents and then a month later has another trip up planned for another week. He wants to spend as much time with mom as possible while she is still here and aware. I think that is for the best. I too have tentatively made plans to go down to the farm during the week on the day my wife gets off work early so I can spend time with mom and then also spending weekends there as well with my whole family. I just have the feeling that time is really short and I want to make the most of it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

No Decision

Thanks all of you for your kind words. As the shock has worn off and the emotions not so raw, though not nearly normal yet, I find myself more at peace again. It is still very difficult for me to talk about it in person but writing is much easier and so I continue as a form of self therapy. So here is more of the story picking up the day after the diagnosis.

*****

We got to the farm on Saturday at lunch time and my mom was off at church helping to teach the youth how to sew along with some of her friends so I knew the Avastin to reduce the blood flow to the tumor and thus reduce swelling was kicking in and she was feeling better. Since she wanted to stay until one o'clock, it gave my wife and I time to talk to my dad alone.

I am just amazed at how my wife can lead a discussion without beating around the bush or dropping a bombshell on your lap. With her, she smoothly steers the discussion where she wants to go. I sensed from her questions, that they needed to get personal and I know my dad could never express what he was feeling in front of me so I volunteered to go pick up mom from church while my wife stayed and talked with my dad. By the time we got back, there was a lot of used Kleenex but I could see my dad had turned a point.

Picking up my mom was rough for me because she was still in a state of confusion now and then. It is never anything major but lots of little things like not recognizing that we were getting into my car and not her car. She then gets flustered because she knows she made a mistake and I have to reassure her that everything is okay.  It is hard for me to see someone who is so very smart, confused in this way. For the first time in my life, I felt like I do taking care of my grandparents and not just my mom's son. Despite the confusion, my mom is still in there and she knows what is going on.

We had a great lunch together and then while the kids played off in another room, we essentially counseled my parents. There were lots of tears and pauses and in the end, I think my wife was able to express what needed to be said about the future. I'm not sure in the end what route they will choose to go as far as treatments but we do know what we want to do with the time remaining. We will be concentrating on those things from now on. She also knows that we will take good care of her and support whatever she opts for with treatments.

The next day, my maternal grandparents and my mom's brother and his wife came down to our place for Easter Sunday. By happenstance, they all got there about an hour before my parents did so it worked out well. We were eventually able to talk about the elephant in the room and get it out of the way before mom got there. The rest of the day we were just a smiling happy family. It was a superb way to spend the day. When everyone had to leave to head back home, it did get a bit emotional but I wouldn't want it any other way.

We are on this journey together and as a family, we will get through the coming weeks and months.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Rollercoaster

I apologize in advance to those who read my blog. For me, blogging is a form of therapy. I write down stuff about my life that can/is personal because it makes me feel better to see it on a screen in black and white. Perhaps someday some of my ancestors might find it and understand me better. With that being said....

Two days ago while my mom was doing things around the house she spontaneously passed out and hit her head on a washing machine on the way down. My dad was working out in the shop so we really don't know for how long she passed out but eventually she came too and called my dad who came and took her to the emergency room. Based upon her history and passing out being a side effect of the immunotherapy drug she is taking, the doctors in the ER called her oncologist who issued her a steroid to reduce swelling and made an appointment to see her the very next day.

My mom got another MRI done and the cancer is back. The previous two spots were compact spherical balls of cancer measured in centimeters. This time it was an ugly looking mass probably larger than a baseball. My heart broke when I saw that because I knew it was probably going to be a deal breaker.

The week leading up to this, my mom started experiencing a lot of muscle weakness, particularly on her left side and exhibited a new level of confusion that we hadn't seen before. The made three attempts to leave the farm by driving away to an event that had been cancelled and once made it a fair way down the road before my dad was able to catch up and get her turned around and headed back home. Her driving days are over now and the keys are hidden.

Mom's oncologist issued her a drug that will reduce the swelling in her brain which should help with the muscle weakness on her left side and hopefully eliminate the confusion for the time being. However it does nothing to stop the progression of cancer, especially one that grew from nothing to the size of a baseball in a month.

Options.

She can take a new chemotherapy drug and because the tumor was in the second spot which hasn't received radiation, she is eligible for radiation. Some. Regardless of what route she takes, she probably won't make it another nine months. Both the radiation and chemo were extremely hard on her and took months of recovery afterwards and she is loathe to go through them again. I don't blame her. If she doesn't, three months is being very optimistic. Weeks wouldn't be surprising.

I made the decision to call and tell our immediate family who is all planning on coming down to our place for Easter. I wanted everyone to know ahead of time so the shock and grief can be dealt with ahead and perhaps we still can have probably what will be our last family get together in relative good spirits. They were hard phone calls and visits to make but I eventually got home just in time to make Good Friday service at the church. On the way home my oldest finally asked the question I had been dreading and I had to tell her too. Broke my heart to see her crying like that but I was relieved at how well she dealt with it. I know she will be fine in the long run.

This morning (Saturday as I write this) we are heading down to the farm for lunch with my parents. My parents are having a hard time making decisions and I think having my mom talk with my wife who although family is somewhat removed and has a clinical oncology background will help us through the hard decision we have to make. I already know now I will support whatever decision and I want my mom to know that.

Family is first, blog therapy be damned, so I'm not sure if I will be very frequent in my writings for awhile. I may anyway because I always seem to find a few minutes and I can type really fast. If I'm not, I'm sure you will all understand. Thank you ahead of time for all your prayers and well wishes. I'll let you know what happens eventually. I hope everyone had a happy Easter.