Monday, January 30, 2017

Part IV - Who's Beside Me?

This is Part IV of a day that forever changed my life. Go here for Part I, Part II and Part III

When Joe finally left the hospital, I was able to focus solely on my brother Jim. Although he'd been unable to acknowledge my presence, I stood at his bedside, leaned close to his face, looked into his eyes and spoke. The lids fluttered and opened. His big blue eyes slowly turned toward me.

"Jim," I said.  He tracked me with his gaze. Although he was unable to move or speak, a silent communication developed between us.

I spoke gently and softly. I don't recall most of what I said. I talked about my afternoon with the kids. I talked about the pretty day outside. I talked about how glad I was to be with him. 

Sometimes he wanted me to take the oxygen mask off and sometimes he wanted it on. He was unable to speak, move his limbs or use his hands to help himself, so I did it for him.

I really didn't think beyond the moment or try to comprehend what was happening. Oddly, none of that mattered anymore. Time stood still.

Suddenly, one of the nurses beckoned me into the hallway. As we walked along the slick floors, she questioned me, "Do you know your brother needs dialysis to live?"

"Yes, yes."

"Do you know he's refused that life-saving treatment?"

"Yes, yes."

She rattled details of Jim's condition. None of that mattered to me now. I just wanted to get back to his side.

"Do you have any questions," she asked.

"What happens if he slips into a coma," I asked. "Who makes the medical decision then?"

"You," they said.

It felt like someone dropped a heavy metal cargo container on my shoulders. I cringed, dreading the thought that I might have to go against my brother's wishes and permit them to administer dialysis, or violate my personal conviction to fight for his life.

Okay, I thought. Enough. Let me get back to my brother. 

"Are we done?" I asked the nurse.

"Sure," she said. I hurried toward Jim's room.

"Would you like a clergy to come," she called. "What denomination?"

"Yes, please," I said, suddenly realizing Jim would never want a stranger in the room. But the words were already coming out of my mouth: "Catholic."

I raced back to Jim, resuming eye contact and our intimate communication.  I don't know how long I was there, when suddenly Jim seemed to be dealing with what appeared to be waves of pain. He'd let me know when he wanted the oxygen mask on or off.  I did that for him. His big round eyes stared at me, and I continued to look him in the eyes.

Then, suddenly, I lost his gaze. His eyes didn't close, but he seemed to be looking beyond me. Or maybe through me?

"Jim!" I shouted. I pressed closer. "Jim!" I pushed my face directly in front of his empty stare.

His eyes remained open but the connection was lost. I called out to him. "Jim!"

I moved closer and pressed into his line of sight. No response.

Then I noticed...he was still breathing.

I raced to the other side of his bed. My heart was pounding. My pulse racing.
Urgently, I yelled his name. "Jim...Jim..."


It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only about five breaths later, when Jim's next breath didn't come.

I raced to the nurses station. "I believe my brother has died," I said.

Despite the urgency, I felt strangely calm.

There was no confusion. There was no fear. There was no sense of time passing.

The room turned into a whir of activity as a medical team rushed in with life-saving equipment. They attached wires and monitors to Jim's body. I was relegated to the outer edges of the room as they tried to shock Jim back to life.

Through it all, I felt freakishly calm.

Standing there, I overheard a conversation in the hallway as the Catholic nun announced her arrival.

"You're too late," the nurse said.

The nun gushed with apologies. "I tried to leave right when you called me, but on my way someone else stopped me. They were in great need too, so I stayed to help and left as quickly as possible. I'm so sorry."

Their conversation faded into the background as the valiant medical team working on Jim turned to me and announced what I already knew:  "Your brother has died."

I still felt strangely calm as they exited, pushing their equipment out of the room.

A moment later the nun walked in. She was just who I needed.

I couldn't believe her perfect timing.

We introduced ourselves and she offered consoling words. I was graced by her presence.

As she opened her Bible and began to pray, I still had no concept of time. 

But I didn't need to. It was all being handled for me....

Tune in next Monday...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict

Luke 21:15

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This One's Written Just For You

I'm sharing this diary entry written while undergoing cancer treatments because the resulting revelation applies to you too, cancer or not.

April, 2015

The past two days were debilitating. I felt like I was backpedaling, so I called the oncologist's office and spoke to my nurse manager.

She gave me full attention as I updated her on my symptoms - the unrelenting fatigue, searing bone pain, muscle aches, and sharp brain pain. There were intestinal issues and agonizing abdominal pain.

Finally, I ended with a pleading question, "Is this normal?"

I wanted answers. I wanted to know just what to expect. I wanted assurance that my symptoms were normal. I wanted to know recovery timeframes and expectations.

There was silence at the other end of the line. 

Then, finally, a response: "Truth is, there are so few cases of this kind of cancer, that they don't have enough outcomes to predict recovery times or extents."

In other words, it is whatever it is.

Oh, great.

I felt stunned by the haunting uncertainty,

Then I hung up the phone, clasped my hands, fell to my knees, and looked up. 

"It's just you and me, Lord," I prayed. "Just you and me. There's no script to follow. It's just you and me."

As if it were any different for any one of us...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Part III - Who's Controlling These Thoughts, Words and Actions?

Click here for Part I and Part II of this story.

The kids were riding bikes after school when my husband, Joe, came home early from work. He'd been out on sales calls all day so I'd been unable to reach him by phone (this was before cellphones) to communicate the day's unnerving events.

Last Joe knew, I was staying home with the kids. He had no idea Debbie stopped by. He had no idea my brother Jim was now in the hospital. He had no idea I'd need him to come home early.

But that's just what he did.

Joe barely set his briefcase down when I flooded him with the news.

I described Debbie's unexpected visit that morning and how she insisted that I check on Jim. I told him how I found Jim in his apartment, sprawled across the floor and unable to move. I told him about how Jim refused to let me call for emergency help  I told him how the phone rang unexpectedly and how the caller diffused my panic, then directed me to call 911. I told him how, much to my relief, the emergency responders convinced Jim to go to the hospital with them.

Things were in control, I said. We'd go visit Jim later, during normal visiting hours.

But Joe shook his head. "We need to go now," he said.

"What?" I said. "Who will watch the kids?" Our sitter wasn't home from school yet and I wasn't willing to leave my newborn with just anybody.

Joe suggested we call my friend's mother, who miraculously answered and agreed to come right away.

The hospital lobby was bustling with activity. My heart raced as we asked the receptionist which room my brother was in. I wondered...What would Jim be like? What would we find? I knew this was serious, but I'd managed to ignore that fact. Would I have to face it now?

Joe and I took the elevator up to the fourth floor and found Jim's room at the end of the slick hallway. I raced in ahead of Joe. My brother, covered with starch white hospital sheets, lay motionless in the bed. Nasal tubes encircled his face, pumping oxygen with an eerie rhythmic beat. 

I approached Jim, calling his name. No response.

I announced our arrival. Still no response.

My husband and I stepped into the hallway and hailed a nurse.

"He's fine," she said. She marched into the room. "He'll respond. You just need to get in his face, close to him." She leaned over and called his name, inviting me to do the same. Then she left.

I tried, but it made no difference. Jim's sleeping form remained unresponsive. Since the nurse didn't find cause for alarm, neither did I.

I joined Joe at the foot of the bed.

There, I studied my brother's sleeping form, assessing the situation. I was glad we'd come, but it didn't appear to matter to Jim at all. He seemed totally unaware.

Without voicing my thoughts, I decided Joe and I could stay awhile more, make a decent appearance, and then leave.  Maybe tomorrow Jim would be awake.

Besides, it was still early enough to get home before the kids went to bed. Joe could even make it back in time for his weekly tennis match.

As soon as that thought ran through my mind, however, something snapped. It was like someone flipped a switch and I was overpowered by a supernatural force.

I grabbed the sturdy wooden chair next to Jim's bed, shifted it, sat down, and looked up at Joe.
"I'm not going anywhere," I announced.

Joe shook his head. "Who said anything about going anywhere," he said."We are staying."

"No," I said. "I'm staying. You can go. Go play tennis."

Joe frowned. "No," he said. "I was going to call and tell them I can't be there."

Surprisingly, the commands poured out of my mouth.

"Go play tennis," I repeated.

"What are you going to do?" Joe asked.

"I'm staying here." I said.

I was glued to the chair, I was shockingly resolute. Who was this doing the talking?

"Okay, I'll go play tennis," Joe said, eyeing me. "What do you want me to do after that?"

"Come back here," I said.

"What will you do then," he asked.

I'll never forget my response.

"I don't know," I said. "Just come back here. I'll tell you then."

I didn't know what was to come. I didn't know why I was so sure he had to go or why, just as I was considering leaving, something convinced me to stay.

But I do know the panic was gone. There was no fear. There was only the moment...

As God would have it,  Joe, who really didn't like hospital environments, left to go play tennis. That enabled me to turn my full attention to my brother.

It was all for the best.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

God is our refuge and our strength;

an ever-present help in times of trouble

Psalm 46:1

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Things I Learned from Cancer

5Things I Learned from Cancer

1.  Cherish the moment
Life is made up of many sparkling moments, so don't waste time worrying about tomorrow or what happened yesterday. Fix it. Plan for it. Then, trust God. His powerful presence is found in the moment. 

2. Begin with the end in mind
In Stephen R. Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the second habit is to begin with the end in mind. It's good advice for all of us.

This life isn't forever, so maybe now is the time to brush up on your faith. Don't wait until it's too late or you're too sick to develop a faith life.  Prepare for that. Get to know God now. Join a church...participate in a bible study...a small prayer group. Do it now! Then, when the winds blow and the tide rises, it won't be as scary.
Today's actions will lift you later, believe me. Growing your faith is like putting money in the bank. Begin with the end in mind.

3.  There is a separation between body and nurture your spirit
Nurture your spirit. Bone pain, muscle aches, brain pain and fatigue can debilitate me and leave me struggling physically, but it doesn't limit my ability to soar spiritually. Surround yourself with faith-filled friends. When I felt too poorly to get out of bed, I'd listen to holy music, the daily readings and encouraging sermons, and my spirit would soar. Despite the illness, I feel wrapped in the love of God. Sometimes I wonder if the sufferings of this life are like labor pains pushing us toward the new life that awaits us.

4. Everybody has troubles, so get over it (trust God with it)
While I was battling cancer, sometimes friends would visit and share their troubles. Surprisingly, I'd sometimes find myself thinking I'd rather be dealing with this cancer than facing their struggle.

It makes me remember this passage: Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest...for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:28, 30. Did you know that yokes were specifically fitted to each individual animal?  I've always heard God will never give you more than you can handle. Maybe it's true.
5. There's a silver lining in every cloud...even yours! Find it.
There's a silver lining in every cloud, my mother used to say. She's right. I can be too ill to drive, get out of the house, work, volunteer or visit friends, but I can sit in my backyard and cherish the gentle breeze blowing my hair. I can be awestruck by the beautiful sunsets. I can give unlimited time to a conversation with my kids. I can read my Bible, I can pray, I can write...Silver linings...and I thank God for them daily.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Part II -- Who's Ringing the Telephone?

This is Part II of a story - Part I can be found here

I banged on the door to my brother's apartment, barely waiting for his faint reply.

"Come in."

I fumbled the keys, unlocked the door, and shoved it open.

There, sprawled across the floor, lay Jim.

"What happened?" I screamed.

I dropped the carseat to the floor and raced to Jim's side. My newborn daughter, still strapped in, began to wail.

With a slight motion of the head, Jim turned his eyes toward me. Nothing else budged. His limbs were like bags of concrete.

"I don't know," he said. "I can't move."

This was serious. Jim, at age 33, was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. After several dialysis treatments, he decided he couldn't tolerate them and, checking himself out of the hospital against medical advice, calmly and resolutely maintained that he'd rather hope and pray for a miracle than live his life tied to a machine.  

I crumbled under the weight of his decision. It clashed with everything in me except for my love for him.

"I have to call 911," I said.

"No, don't," Jim said. "I don't want to go to the hospital."

I broke down, sobbing.

He was such a gentle mild-mannered. Even as a child, I never saw Jim get angry with anybody. There wasn't a mean bone in his body.

How could I defy his simple wish?

And yet, how could I not?

My heart raced. My head was spinning. Sobs racked my body.

Struggling with whether to call 911 or not, I mindlessly reached for the phone handset, scattered across the floor from Jim's fall, and hung it up.

I'll never forget what happened next.

The phone rang. I answered it.

"Hello," the cheery voice at the end of the line said. "This is the visiting  nurse you requested. I'm called to set up an appointment to meet with James..."

"It's too late for that," I cried.

"Why, what's wrong?" the voice asked. "What's happening?"

Sobbing, I explained that he'd fallen, was immobilized, and didn't want me to call for emergency help. She heard the terror in my voice. She felt the panic. She understood the alarm.

"I hear a baby crying," the caller said. "Is there a baby in the room?" 

"Yes," I said. I was so distraught, I hadn't noticed my three week-old daughter still wailing in her carseat. 

I'd been frozen with fear, but now the voice at the other end of the phone directed my steps.

"Can you pick the baby up," the caller asked, " and make sure she's okay."

My actions felt surreal, guided only by the caller's voice. I crossed the room, picked my infant up and consoled her. Then, baby in arms, I returned to the phone.

"Is the baby alright?" the called asked.

"Yes," I said. "She is."

Then the caller shifted attention back to my brother. Did he feel pain in his chest?  Was his heart racing? Did he feel clammy?

No. No. No. 

My panic subsided. Maybe he'd be alright, I thought. 

Jim relaxed too. For the moment, the 911 issue lost its focus.

As we ended the conversation, the caller said, "Now, hang up and dial 911."

"What?" I burst into tears. "He doesn't want me to."

"I know," she said calmly. "But you have to. Just do it. Hang up and call 911."

My hands shook as I began dialing the three numbers.

"What are you doing?" my brother asked. "Don't call. I'm not going to the hospital."

"I have to," I said. I could barely see the numbers on the phone through my tears. "I have to."

Within moments, we heard the approaching sirens. A team of paramedics rushed in. Next thing I knew, Jim agreed to be loaded into the ambulance.

I stood on the sidewalk, cradling my baby, and watched them drive off, siren wailing. My insides were shaking but I felt relieved. Hospitals always fix things, right?

I arrived at the hospital shortly after the ambulance. However, I was banned from visiting Jim in the emergency room because infants weren't allowed back there.

Glancing at my watch, I decided to pickup my oldest from school, gather my preschooler from my neighbor, get a sitter and return with my husband after work, which would have been regular visiting hours.

The day began to feel normal, however, it was anything but.

Neither Jim nor I got exactly what we wanted that day, but we both received precisely what we needed.

Thanks be to that unknown caller.

(I'll explain in next Monday's post.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Fear not, for I am with you.

Do not be dismayed; I am your God. 

I will strengthen you;

I will help you;

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. 

Isaiah 41:10

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cancer- the current crisis. Got Faith?

Hello again.

If you follow my Monday posts, you know I'm backtracking, telling a story from decades ago about a day that forever changed my life and my relationship with God.

Before that day, I knew about God. After that, I came to know God, the God who walks beside us each and every day of our lives.

Since then, I've worked at getting to know this God.

Good thing. 

Because five years later, I was diagnosed with cancer...a rare blood cancer called Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia.  

Initially, the medical team chose to delay treatment, believing, at the time, that it would do more harm than good. Great choice!   Unexpectedly, it took 20 years to become a deadly threat. Twenty years of uncertainty, choosing to cherish each moment I was given.

So it was no surprise that in August 2015, after experiencing serious vision issues caused by a blood disorder caused by the cancer, I ended up in a chemo lab, hooked up to some very potent drugs. The treatments would, thankfully, save my life.Those same drugs would, however, wreak havoc and leave me feeling debilitated. Those side effects? It's all true.

It's been a long haul.

In my case, they can keep the cancer at bay, but not eradicate it. Ongoing treatments will always be necessary. Every six months, I'm back at that lab, fighting the fight.

But I'm one happy girl! One thankful soul! I've been given all that I need...and more... to get me through this.

God is amazing. God is dependable. God is...all he says He is.

That's why I'm so thankful for my faith. Because, even in the darkest moments, I see that God is with me. His provision, His care, His glory...they haven't been lost on me.

I know this life isn't forever. I learned that long ago. But, oh my friend, there's so much more.

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lords.  Romans 15:8

Monday, January 9, 2017

Part I - Who's Knocking at My Door?

Well, it's Monday and I promised it. A blog post that will show you that Mondays (and any day of the week) are anything but Mundane...Let's start at the very beginning...

 I'm about to share stories from the darkest time of my life; so you too can see...there was always a light shining in the dark...and you too can know....there always IS a light shining in the dark...always...

Come, travel back with me...and see...

One particular Thursday,there was a loud, unexpected, knocking on my door. I gathered my newborn in my arms and opened the door.

Bright rays of sunshine flooded the foyer. Debbie stood there, car running in the driveway. Debbie was new to our neighborhood, but we became fast friends.
Like me, she was a stay-at-home mom. Like me, she had just given birth to a third daughter. Like me, she'd left a rewarding career to raise her family. In her case, she worked in the medical field, counseling teens who refused life-saving treatments like dialysis, insulin and such.

"Good morning," she said. "How's your brother?"

My beloved younger brother, Jim, the only family member I had living in town, was suffering from total and sudden kidney failure. His diagnosis came on the heels of our birth announcement. When we called Jim from the maternity ward to share the good news, he said he wasn't feeling well. A trip to the emergency room delivered Jim's frightful diagnosis.

The news left me reeling.

Worse yet, Jim couldn't tolerate dialysis and, after a few attempts, refused the treatments.

I looked at Debbie. "He's doing okay," I said. "I saw him yesterday. I'm going back tomorrow."

"Don't wait," Debbie said. "You need to check on him today. I'll keep your kids while you go."

No way. With three little ones of her own, she didn't need more kids to watch.  Besides, my good friend, who had watched my kids all week, was unavailable today but planned to watch them tomorrow.

I wanted to stay home today. I longed for time with my newborn. Ever since her birth, I'd been pulled by Jim's diagnosis. I spent the day with Jim yesterday and I'd return tomorrow; but today was reserved for my children. 

Debbie didn't buy into the wait until tomorrow idea. She insisted I needed to go today. 

Finally, we agreed that I'd phone Jim. If he was fine, she'd leave.

After several attempts,  however,there was no answer.

"See what I mean?" she said. 

I cringed. Within moments, I sent my toddler home with her and kept the newborn with me, promising to call if I needed her to pickup my oldest from school.

As I slipped into the driver's seat, I panicked, wondering what I'd find at the other end of this trip.

Jim and I had many discussions about the dialysis but he remained steadfast in his refusal to continue. The treatments were difficult to endure. He didn't want to live his life 'tied to a machine.' If he were married and had kids maybe it would be different. He would hope and pray for a miraculous healing. 

At last, I understood his stance. I'd never agree, but I did love him.

Before I drove to his apartment, I wondered.  What would I do if Jim was unconscious when I arrived?

I dared to ask.

I'll never forget Debbie's response.

"You have to do what you can live with for the rest of your life." she said. "Sometimes you can save a life. Sometimes it's too late. If you have a choice, just know you have to live with your decision for the rest of your life."

Immediately I knew what I'd do, but still I prayed.  "Please God, don't put that decision on me."

Along the way, I tried to assure myself that Jim would be alright. His diagnosis was serious, but surely he'd be okay.  Although my mom died years earlier, death seemed so remote, even impossible. At age 33, Jim was too young, right?. I couldn't imagine. 

As I drove into his apartment complex, I clenched the steering wheel. I was scared...scared like never before.

But God had already delivered one installment of His loving care...He sent Debbie.

Thank God I didn't wait another day to go see him.

t was good that I went. 

(Tune in next Monday for the rest of the story.)

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Mondays- Anything But Mundane

by Debra Tomaselli

Happy New Year!

This is the first Monday in 2017 and the first of my weekly blog posts intended to inspire, encourage and lighten your load. These true stories illustrate God's loving presence in our lives.

Years ago, in the darkest times of my life, I began a search for God. Seek and you shall find! What an exhilarating journey it's been, filled with surprise and reward! I can't wait to share these stories with you!

Come along for a miraculous run...Open your eyes to the divinity in our lives....and you'll discover that Mondays...and any other day of the week...are anything but mundane!

Stay tuned. I'm excited about what's up ahead.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. 
Matthew 7:7

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...