Thursday, April 3, 2014

State of Kind Georgia: "Peachy Keen Kindness"

Things have been a little crazy on our end as of late.  Our son, Cohen, has spent most of the first 4 months of his life living at Lurie Children's Hospital here in Chicago due to complications from 22Q Deletion Syndrome (Read about it.  Learn about it.  Talk about it.).  At one point it got really scary to the point that he was in a medicated coma on a breathing machine, but he is a little tough guy and is doing a TON better at this point.  So much so that there are rumors we may actually get to go home in the next couple of weeks!!  My wife and I have had an insane schedule where we rotate days and nights in the hospital so that we can give our daughter, Isla, the attention that she deserves.  We finally got approval to bring her up to see him and both of my kids were so happy to see each other.  I'm really looking for the day when the 4 of us can be home together for good!  Since things have been kind of hectic, and I haven't been able to get away from the Chicagoland area, State of Kind has had to take a little bit of a back seat.  However, just because I can't go to the different states for each one, doesn't mean I am going to stop this journey.

Typically, I am super possessive of this blog and like to do all of the writing myself.  But for State of Kind: Georgia, the story I received from a woman named Holly was something I didn't feel as though I should (or could) change/edit it at all.  Holly is the sister of a friend and former co-worker of mine, Ashley.  Ashley emailed me near the end of last year to see if there was anything that I might be able to do to help out her sister's family.  I told her I wasn't sure exactly how I could help but I would do everything in my power to, so I decided that I would base the state of Georgia act of kindness around them.  Here is Holly's story:

"My story with cancer started in November of 2011 when my husband, David, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. It had metastasized and spread throughout his entire skeletal system, making it extremely painful for him to walk. The very same day of my husband’s cancer diagnosis, we received notice that his father passed away from bladder cancer. As we mourned his father's passing and the news of David’s cancer, incredibly a little miracle was only a day away. I gave birth to our second son Brody, a sweet, calm and healthy boy.

The next months were filled with constant testing and trips to multiple doctors in order to get a better understanding and course of treatment for my husband’s late-stage, terminal cancer. We stayed strong, prayed, but understood that our lives and relationship had changed forever overnight. We knew we would have to be strong for each other, as well as our two young sons.

Pray as we might, our journey seemed to become more muddled than clear. Over Memorial Day weekend 2012, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. Then in June 2012, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colorectal/Colon Cancer. Talk about feeling like your life was spinning out of control! When I heard my diagnosis, I didn't cry. All I kept thinking was I have to be strong and I HAVE to fight this! I HAVE to be there for my babies. At least one of us needs to be around for our young children I remember telling myself.

Things quickly progressed with my treatment. Brody was six months old at the time and I had to stop nursing him in order to undergo treatment. That was especially emotional for me, but I knew I had to take care of me in order to ultimately take care of him and his older brother. I had many procedures and tests, including six weeks of both chemotherapy and radiation that started in the middle of July. Considering the location of my cancer; radiation was really tough, but I made it through and continued to work every day. I would teach my third grade class, then drive to radiation (25 consecutive days), drive home and take care of the kids, house, and husband. We ultimately had to give up our two dogs, Ginger and Peanut because we could no longer give them the love and attention that they needed. It is and has been a crazy and physically painful time, but God gives you the strength you need, when you need it!

In October of 2012, I had surgery that removed my entire rectum. My surgeon rebuilt a new one for me using the healthy parts of my colon. I then had 17 lymph nodes removed and a total hysterectomy, due to the cancer spreading to my reproductive system. A temporary colostomy bag was attached to my abdomen to take over the job of my colon and digestive system.  In December 2012, I started an additional 6 months of chemotherapy.  I had my last chemo treatment in May 2013 and my colostomy reversal performed in June 2013. Throughout my whole treatment I continued to work, only taking Thursdays off. I had treatments every other Thursday, but returned to work each Friday.  God blessed me and allowed my body to endure the treatments. Though I had side effects of nausea, fatigue, etc..; I never became too sick to post pone or prevent treatment.  I am proud to say that today I am cancer free!

My husband underwent various treatments to help slow his prostate cancer and rebuild the strength of his bones. He had ups and downs and ultimately passed away on December 25th, 2013 after a courageous 2 year battle.  David was such a champion and fought hard and was so strong.  He always stayed positive, had faith, and never gave up hope.  David never felt sorry for himself and rarely told anyone of his or my battle with the disease.  He never wanted cancer to define who he was… In fact, he amazingly continued to work and provide for his children and myself until 3 weeks before he passed away. Most importantly David and I were a team; we helped each other and loved each other unconditionally and especially during our illnesses. We kept each other and our family going, which was our first priority.

The lesson that I have learned through all of this is to never give up hope and to always be grateful for the blessings that God gives you… especially during your darkest moments.  Remember, no matter how dark that tunnel seems, look for the light…there will be one to guide you to the other side…"

The fact that, even with everything that she has gone through over the past year, Holly can still remain positive and hopeful for the future is extremely inspiring to me.  It is especially touching to me given everything that has been happening with our son over the past few months.  Any time I've had negative thoughts creep into my head, or when I get dejected, I think about how Holly has remained positive and it helps me.  

Since I was stuck here in Chicago, I needed help if I was going to be able to pull of a State of Kind all the way in Georgia, so I reached out to some friends, new and old, to assist with it.  The first thing I thought was that, with her husband gone, there were probably things around the house that needed to get done that he may have done in the past.  So I reached out to Adam Loggins from Sunnyscapes LLC of Roswell, and he offered to provide monthly lawn care and maintenance to Holly for 2014.  This will make it so Holly doesn't have to worry about her lawn turning into the African Serengeti, though I am sure the "frigid" Atlanta winter may keep that from happening as well.  I also wanted Holly to be able to get away from the stress of everyday life, and relax to take a day just for herself.  So thanks to Tom Winegar and the folks at Renew Day Spa in Marietta, Holly will be able to get a day of spa services, massage, etc. where she can just unwind and chill out for a bit.  Finally, I wanted to be able to do something for Holly's two sons so that they could have an awesome day as well.  During 366 Random Acts, Kyle Korver, then of the Chicago Bulls, and his brother Klayton donated an autographed pair of shoes to be used for a fundraiser that I was attending for a young boy fighting liver issues.  I reached out to Klayton because Kyle is now on the Atlanta Hawks, and they, along with Marissa from the Hawks, were more than happy to help out.  The team has invited Holly and her sons to be guests of honor at tomorrow's game vs the Cleveland Cavaliers.  They will have the opportunity to come down to the court for pre-game shootaround, meet Kyle and the players, and watch the game from awesome seats! 

As is the case with all of my acts of kindness, I wouldn't be able to do them without the help of awesome, giving people, some of which I've never even had the opportunity to meet in person!  So thank you so much to Sunnyscapes, Renew Day Spa, and the Hawks for helping to put together the State of Kind: Georgia. Also, thank you to Holly for being an inspiration to me, and probably many others who are going to read this.