Faith. Life. Faith. Death. Faith.

 

It was back in the 80’s.  Later 80’s.  We were such good Friends.  He was older.  He had a girlfriend.   She was weird; but I was nice.  She was in my Ceramics class.  She never showed up.  But, whatever.  She didn’t last.  Our friends were pretty mutual.  We went to Football games in early high school.  My parents liked him.  My Dad thought he was pretty funny.  We each had a parent that drank.  A lot.  It was part of our life.  We both understood it.  Most didn’t understand it.  We only told the “stories” amongst ourselves.  We totally got each other.

Sophomore year.  Like 1988’ish–Ugghh, does that date me?  I thought he should date my Best Friend.  Would she go for it?  Why wouldn’t she?  She trusts me.  Most of the time.  Where would we put all of this together?  A football game?  A party?  I guess that would work.  I think it was actually a football game and then a party.  I’m sure it was something like that.

Homecoming was coming.  He broke up with his girlfriend.  They were not meant to be.  He liked my Best Friend.  Really liked her.  BUT, he really wasn’t a homecoming kind-of guy.  Would he go?  He did.  With my Best Friend.  She was dressed up so pretty in a dress.  He didn’t have time to get a tux.  But he looked nice.  Sweater and all.  They had a great time.  They started dating.  It was fun to watch.  It really was the way it was supposed to be.  God had that figured out–that’s for sure!

There was a couple of years of high school ups and downs.  Who didn’t have those?  Boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, parties, jealousy.  You name it; we all went through that.  Right?  If you didn’t you are lucky.  My two friends stayed together.  A LOT happened through the years with them.  We were in touch most of the time, but not always.  We always knew the other was okay.  Marriages happened.  Kids came.  Houses bought.  Life still happened.  We always knew where the other one was.  We always called when there was a problem.  The other could always help out.  Somehow; over the phone.  It always worked that way.

My best friend and I both grew up Catholic.  I went to St. Joe’s, she went to Holy Spirit.  St. Joe’s was the “classy” Catholic Church.  Old school.  It still is.  I still have very fond memories.  It was the one we all went to as kids.  Holy Spirit was the new Catholic Church.  The one that was “updated”.  It was built when I was like in the 8th grade.  It was on the other side of town.  We both felt like we belonged.  That was all we knew.  We sang hymns.  I still sing them at times.

Over the years, my best friend learned to love the Lord.  Her heart was so open to the Lord.  I really didn’t understand that.  As a Catholic, I do not remember learning the openness that she had.  I thought maybe she got that since she moved to California.  Were Catholic’s different in California?  Do the Priests surf there?  Maybe.  She actually found a different church.  A different faith.  It truly empowered her.  Her faith was awesome.  I wanted to have some of that.  How do you find that?  It scared me.

In the mean time, I moved to a different town.  Searching for something.  My best friend told me she was a Christian.  She loved her church.  They sang great music.  I pictured the music to be like rock-star music.  Like people would clap.  It would make you happy.  Smile.  But, wait.  We didn’t do that growing up.  Was it okay to experience that?  Was it okay to listen to that kind-of music in church?  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure I even wanted to try that.

Years later, both of our lives changed.  Dramatically.  My best friends husband–the one that I set her up with–was diagnosed with cancer.  Esophageal cancer.  It is considered that “old mans cancer”.  That was a knock down.  Really?  Did I just hear you right?  Cancer?  I mean, he always had stomach issues.  Back in the day I thought is was just because we drank.  A lot.  We were the cool party team.  Oh, no–he chews.  Has for years.  Was that what caused this?  Oh, I hope my kid never chews.  Ever.  He never smoked.  Well, not really.  It had to be the chew, right?  He just has to quit chewing.  Chemo will take care of everything.  Maybe just meds.  He never quit chewing.  It was something he just did.  We all knew it.  It’s hard to just quit anything.

It was October.  In 2006.  He was given 12 months to live.  How do you diagnose that?  Where does a time frame come from.  How do they know?  Well, Doctors know.  This is what they do, right?  Right?!  My thought process was this–this family has 12 months or 1 year to do Life.  Life.  They have two kids.  They work.  They are just about to go into a partnership with friends for a business.  This would help them out.  My Bestie would be able to help her husband with his time.  Stay with him when he gets sick.

I couldn’t go see him.  I get paralyzed thinking of death.  As a Catholic, one of the things I learned and always remember is that death is a good thing.  It’s a sacrament.  In a sence, you live your life fully, and then you die.  You wait to die.  It’s a very powerful thing.  I’m definitely not there yet.  I hope to be, at some point in life.  It is something you can’t get away from…  I think my best friend didn’t understand WHY, I didn’t come visit.  It made me sick to think about her husband–dying.  How could I be “normal” with their small children around.  Seems like I would cry and cry and cry.  I wouldn’t be able to stop.  I was actually obsessed with staying away.  They had/have great friends.  Very supported people around them.  I thanked God for that.  Daily.

I finally decided to go.  I was scared.  Would he die while I was there?  What if he did?  I went anyway.  It was my time.  I needed to…say goodbye??  Was that what I would do?  I hoped not.  I begged God to make this trip okay.  It was.  I learned so much.  As times were changing for this family, I got to watch and play with the kiddos as my best friend and her husband faced new challenges at the hospital.  While I was there.

My friend was gaining fluid all over his body.  I remember he lifted his shirt up and said, “Andrea, (funny thing–he always said “Andrea”, like Anjria-we still laugh about that) I look like I am pregnant.”  He did.  The worst part about that?  There was so much fluid in him that his skin was stretched out.  It was shiny.  It looked as if it was hard to bend an ankle.  Or a knee.  Or an elbow.  I asked if he was in pain, he said, “no, I’m just uncomfortable”.  Uncomfortable, hurts, right?

As I watched the kiddos, they went to the hospital to get some of that fluid drained.  He told me it was like 2, 2-liter bottles worth of fluid.  How does that happen?  I did learn that this is some what, of a normal thing at this stage.  I left two days later and he was full of fluid again.  Not as full as when I arrived, but he was shiny again.  That scared me.  Was this going to be a new “normal”.

My time in California was so memorable.  My best friend had become a Nurse.  She was so in love with her husband.  But taking care of him came first.  She was so good at it.  I envied her patience.  I wanted to be like that someday.  She always prayed.  In this time of such grief she was so spiritual.  She thanked God everyday for this life.  Hard or not.  She thanked him daily for her children.  Her faith, to this day, is something that she just knows is right.  It is the way you are supposed to live.  You trust Jesus AND his timing.  I still have a hard time with this.  I’m working on it.  Still.

She knew death was a possibility.  I’m not sure you are ever ready for something like death.  Of your husband.  The only man you have ever been with.  The father of your children.  He is so young.

I had called me best friend in July to make sure all was going well.  She was driving and gave her phone to her husband.  It was the last time I talked to him.  We talked about how life has been.  How are you feeling?  How are your kids?  Have you talked to your Dad?  As I told him, in tears, that I loved him and he told me he loved me to, he  kept asking why I don’t just fly down.  I couldn’t I was scared.  I just didn’t want to see him this way.  His voice was off.  It was like a whisper.  My last question to him?  “Can I ask you a question?  At this point, is cancer all you think about…”?  His answer?  “F**k no…”!!  We both laughed.  That made me feel so much better.  3 weeks later, I got that phone call.  From a good friend.  It was so hard for her.  She cried, I cried.  Is this it?  He was only 38.  His 1 year turned into a couple and a couple months…  So young.  God has plans for him.  Right?  I mean, he was a believer.

The funeral.  I didn’t go.  I couldn’t.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.  I wanted to see the love and feel the love.  Instead, I prayed.  And prayed.  From what I hear it was awesome.  He had a lot to do with that.

He talks to me often.  I will see a penny on the ground and when I get into my car Guns N Roses starts playing.  It is meant to be.  He always shows up.  Especially when I need him.  When the cat died.  He was there.  When the kid got his license.  He was there.  As usual.

Rest In Peace Joey William McGee.  Life does continue.  God shows us that.  Daily.  Sometimes, second by second.

I fly to California in about 6 weeks.  I get to hang out with my Bestie.  Kristie (Rothrock) McGee.  Now Ehlers.  Can’t wait…

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Faith. First.

Are you happy?  You should be.  Are you miserable?  At times, I am.  Are you a good Friend?  I try to be.  I should try harder.  Does your family make you happy?  Most of the time they do.  What makes you snap?  For me, pretty much anything can.  I do try and hold back.  Are you an extrovert?  Far from it.  Introvert?  VERY much so.  I know; people do not believe that.  There are times when I am in my zone and still not comfortable.  How does that happen?  Am I anxious?  A-L-L  T-H-E  T-I-M-E!!  Am I medicated?  Yep!

What helps me with all of this?  Faith.  As you may or may not know–two years ago, my life was rocked.  I found out I had a tumor.  In my head.  I thought I had a sinus infection.  For two years.  Yes, I did go to the Doctor.  More than once.  Nothing worked.  I’m a busy human and had no time to slow down.  I quit my job.  My son was playing basketball.  We traveled all of the time.  BUT, one day God told me that I needed to figure this out.  A conversation that riddled me.  Why?  Is there something wrong?  Why did YOU say something to me?  I’m scared.  It took me a month and I went in.  LLLOOONNNGGG story short and many Doctor’s appointments later, The Seattle Cancer Care Center (SCCC) called me.  At work.  They (VERY kindly) told me I have a mass that needs to be checked.  Mass?  Where did that word come from?  I mean, I thought my sinus’ were infected.  Right?  I couldn’t breath.  I’m at work.  Do I just go back and actually WORK??  How can I?  How would I even tell my boss that I needed to go home?  Holy sheep.  Do I call my husband and tell him?  Do I wait until I get home?  Go visit him on my lunch??  I called him.  Right then. It was weird.  I hope to never have to do that again.

We went to the SCCC.  That was hard.  My husband turned the corner.  I see a huge sign that said “Fred Hutch…” and then The SCCC.  I closed my eyes.  I couldn’t breath.  Chris didn’t say anything.  We got out of the car.  Walked in.  Everybody was so kind.  The first thing I saw was a gift store.  The gift store that helps people with CANCER.  Like they had tons of hats.  I mean, I don’t look good in hats .  They make you hot.  Right?  There was special deodorant.  Special deodorant?  What’s wrong with my Secret?  They didn’t have that there.  Why am I here again?  You see a lot of people with no hair.  Was that going to be me?  Really?

We went upstairs.  You have to fill out paper work that says you are not sick.  They even give you a sticker to put on that says you said you are not sick.  There were so many people crying.  Scared.  Chris and I didn’t even talk.  We couldn’t; we were so scared.  We get into our room.  At The SCCC you don’t just go see a Doctor.  You now officially have a team.  They R-O-C-K!

At the appointment we were told I have a rather large mass in my head.  “We are not sure, but it looks like it could be attached to your brain…”  An Oncologist that specializes in Radiology would let us know.  I couldn’t breath.  The nurse said, “It’s okay.  Just breath.”  I looked at Chris.  He was literally beside himself.  He held his hand over his mouth.

At that exact moment, God–AGAIN, told me, “You need to be strong and not just for yourself.”  After we left, Chris and I could not talk.  It took me until North Bend, stopping at Popeye’s, that I bucked up.  I need to be strong.  I remember God talking to me.  Telling me that.  I can still hear his voice.  It was calm.  Just like me.  There were no tears.  I do remember saying to Chris on our drive home–“Wow, that was not what I expected.”  He shook his head.  We decided not to say anything to Calvin.  He thought we went to a sinus Specialist in Seattle.  We left it at that.

I think I wanted to cry.  I didn’t.  Actually, I never did.  I was almost scared to.  Like if I started, I would never be able to stop.  I would cry forever.  And ever.  My boy would be freaked out.  My husband wouldn’t know what to do.  I just didn’t.

At my Doctor’s appointment at the SCCC we came up with a plan.  After the Radiology Oncologist looked at my “mass” and could determine that it was not attached to the brain, they would go in and take a bit of the mass and send it off to Pathology.  I was like-Roger, that.  Let get going on this.  Unfortunately, the Oncologist Team only gets together once a week.  We had to wait.  AND wait.  Finally, they came back and said, your tumor (this is the FIRST time my Doc said “tumor”.  I couldn’t breath.) is not attached to your brain.  Thank You Jesus,  Best.News.Yet.  However, at this point we still had no idea if the “tumor” was cancerous or not.  I had to go in for surgery.  I’ve never had surgery before.  Do they put you out for this?  I mean, I couldn’t be awake for this–Right?!

Surgery was about 5 weeks later.  The tumor was so big, I could actually feel it on the right hand side of my nose.  Because of this, they could actually go through my nose to get what they needed.  I think I was under for about 3 hours.  I woke up and the “Team” I had were so awesome!  There kindness was exactly what I needed.  I had 2 black eyes for about a month.  That is fun to go to work with…  They were black, that went to green, that went to some sort of gold color.  Attractive, none the less.

That 3 hour surgery was on a Tuesday.  My Doctor said I would have news by Friday.  Friday came and went.  Hmmm, weird.  Right?  Chris and I both just said, lets wait until next week.  The following Friday–Nothing.  Is this normal?  Chris and I were a little skeptical.  I mean, does this mean there is nothing and that’s why no one has called?  Or is it something major and they are scared to call us?  I think we felt like if we didn’t know anything, life was still normal??   Not sure.  One month later, my Doctor called.  Yes-ONE MONTH!!  He called me.  I happened to be at work.  I freaked out.  My heart was pounding.  He told me that my tumor was benign.  Was that good?  I couldn’t remember–was benign cancer?  Or not?  I couldn’t put anything together.  I finally figured it out.  I hung up the phone and just sat there.  Head down.  No tears.  All I kept saying to myself was–now, they told me another  Doctor was going to call.  Who?  When?  I couldn’t remember.  BUT, my tumor was benign and that meant it was NOT cancer  I got it together and called Chris.  He to was at work.  I told him.  We were both so thankful, but neither of us could do anything.  We really couldn’t do anything at home either.  We didn’t want to give Calvin any worry.  We really never said much more.

One thing that people do not realize when you are going through something like this, is that life continues.  You still have to work.  You still have to go to Basketball games.  You still have to function.  You can not go to bed for a year a hope all will turn out the way you want.  God gave me strength.  He gave me this vision.  I could survive.  I had to give some effort to living.  I stayed away from Google.  I never Googled one thing in RE: to my situation.  Well, I did Google my two main Doctors.  I mean, they were legit, right…?  I opened my Bible.  For the first time in a VERY long time.  That means, years.  I go to church, have for years, but I never really had to use my Bible.  That seems so weird for me to hear me saying that now.

During this time of change or me, my faith didn’t change it just became vibrant.  I was being guided.  Learning what is important in life.  Listening.  I was being spoken to.  I finally met “THE” Doctor.  I liked him.  He told my husband that he would treat me like his wife.  Funny thing–when we got into the car we both brought that up.  We were both like–I hope he treats his wife good…  Funny!

We got the date for surgery.  August 28th.  Wow, a date.  I had to continue to go back.  I had to take a class on anesthesia.  They told me it was a 1.5 hour class.  I was out in 20 minutes.  I had to go back a couple of times for “information”.  They asked a lot of questions.  One that was always asked was, “Do you do drugs?”  “Heroine, cocaine, meth…”  I finally asked a nurse, “Why do you guys keep asking that?”  It was freaking me out.  The nurse tells me, “Unfortunately, it is so normal now.”  That was sad.  At this point, I think I am ready.  I mean, I guess I’m ready.

Two days before the surgery, I had to have an angiogram done.  OMG!  This was worse than “the” surgery.  I had that done and then could not move.  Had to lay on my back for 7 hours.  Catheter and all.  It was terrible.

Because my angiogram was successful and clean I had a “day off” before surgery.  We walked around Kirkland.  As we stayed with my Aunt and Uncle it was so nice to walk around.  My head was spinning.  Chris and I were both just ready for tomorrow.  It came.  I was scared.

I got up.  Showered.  Couldn’t think.  Today was the day.  I had to be checked in by 5am.  We got up at 3am.  Once there and in, it was go time.  Change, go to the bathroom, go over everything.  And again.  I sent a text to my Pastor.  Early.  I told him I was scared.  He immediately text’d me back.  Something like–You’ve got this.  Praying for you.  Why is it when you hear from your Pastor things seem to be fine.  His kindness mattered at that moment.   He teaches me things I am still trying to learn.  They started to wheel me off.  Chris could come to a certain point.  Not sure where that was because I was out cold.  I do not remember anything after that.   After the 14 hour surgery, I was sent to ICU.  My surgery was an actual craniotomy.  Yes I have a huge scare and hole on the left side of my head.  I have curly hair, it is now straight at the cut.

I was in Neurosurgery ICU.  I don’t remember much.  I do remember my “neighbor” was very sick and kept throwing up.  I felt so bad for her, but it was so easy for me to close my eyes and not have to hear anything.  Chris on the other hand…  I would wake up–when you are in ICU you are poked or woken up every 10 minutes.  I’m not kidding–and I would pray for my neighbor.  I just envisioned what she looked like, as there was a curtain between us.    There was a guy that would draw my blood every night.  It was awful.  I couldn’t stand seeing him.   I think he felt that.  When you go in for these kind of procedures, they take so much blood from you.  The bottles that they would fill are nothing you have ever seen.  They are HUGE!!

On my last two days of ICU, they made me get out of bed and walk.  I had to use a walker.  It was so weird.  It was the first time I actually saw God next to me.  I was not wanting to do this.  He warned me.  I remember that minute like it was a second ago.  I walked.  Half way around the floor.  It was hard.  I had told Chris to document everything.  He did.  This picture of me getting up for the first time is horrifying.  I am still unable to share the pics.  I’m glad we have them, but they are tough for me.

I still am unclear about the rest.  In January, of this year,  I started asking Chris questions.  For some reason, questions are coming to me.  He is patient with me to explain.  It has been almost a year and a half.

I have learned so much about me.  The biggest thing I have learned is how un perfect I am.  I’ve never given myself completely to God.  I didn’t know that I wasn’t.  I’m learning.  I know what I need to do.  For today.  This event has changed my life.

After the surgery— Pro’s = No more tumor.  The faithful change this had made in my life.  The simple knowledge.  I learned to not feel sorry for myself.  I met people that continue to inspire me.  I learned that I do not have to be so fearful in life.  I’m not scared to walk into a hospital anymore.  I now know that there are so many people that have it so much worse than myself.  God really does have me back.  The life lessons continue.  Con’s = My vision is not so hot anymore.  I have to wear contacts/glasses at all times.  Some of the veins that grow behind the eye were attracted to the tumor and somewhat pulled.  My taste is very limited.  It comes and goes.  I can taste the best in the morning, right when I wake up.

I go to the Doctor every year.  In April.  I’m getting ready to go in a little over a month.  I continue to pray.  Pray that my MRI comes back as, “Yes, Andrea, your tumor is grey.  It looks good.  See you next year.”  If it is something different, I still pray.  And go on.  And Pray some more.

Faith.  First.  It’s life changing.  I challenge you.