Monday, August 17, 2015

One year ago today

It happened August 17, 2014 – exactly one year ago today. It was a Sunday, I was in China, and I had hosted the Sunday morning gathering at my home that day for my group of expatriate friends. I’d made breakfast and coffee for them. I think we even had a light summer a.m. rain, making me glad I wasn’t the one who had to go out that morning, as was usually the case. When they left in the early afternoon, I went out on my motorbike, did some sightseeing, and met up with Chinese friends at a coffee shop. I came home that evening, gave Mimi a doggy head massage, and reveled in the lovely day I’d just had. I was in excellent health with lots of energy, especially since going off statins two years prior, and going off of sodas, sugar and wheat one year prior. At 10:25 p.m., I got in my pajamas, stretched my arms into the air, and decided to rub my own neck, something I never did. It was then that I discovered a funny little hard bump on the back right side of my neck.

I checked the left side and found nothing. I didn’t know if a lump on my neck was normal or not, but the lack of symmetry startled me. I decided I would be at the clinic run by English-speaking Singaporean doctors when their doors opened the following morning.

The neck ultrasound worried my doctor, and he suggested I get it checked elsewhere, outside the country. My organization’s medical consultant recommended waiting two weeks to see if the lymph nodes in my neck were just swollen due to an infection.

I went ahead and took my scheduled train trip in which I traversed half the distance of China from south to north, headed to the northern port city of Dalian to meet up with colleagues and friends. I felt fine, but the hard lump on my neck didn’t go away during that week of travel. If anything, the rest of my neck felt tighter than before, something I told the medical consultant.

She arranged for me to have an appointment in Hong Kong, and I showed up at the doctor’s office there two weeks and two days after finding the lump. On Tuesday, September 2nd Dr. Chen, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, did a fine needle biopsy, and on Wednesday, September 3rd he called me back into his office at noon to tell me the news that I had cancer in my neck that had spread there from some other yet unknown part of my body. I assumed that since we just found it, it must be in the harmless early stages, but my doctor told me otherwise. He told me it was serious and that I should get home to the U.S. as soon as possible to get it taken care of.

I was stunned that this thing could happen to me at all, much less at a time when I had never felt better in my adult life. I had faithfully and meticulously done cancer screenings during annual physical exams. I had done everything I was supposed to do and probably more than what most people do. How could I have cancer, much less cancer that had spread, when I had done everything right?

I flew back to my home in China the next day, on September 4th. Under a heavy cloud of grief, I spent days trying to figure out what to do about my dog, closing out bank accounts, shredding papers, trying to pack, making travel arrangements, trying to make doctor’s appointments in the U.S. (I had to stay up at night to do this due to the time difference) and saying goodbyes as best I could. I only had five full days. How do you bring 19 years in China to closure in just five days? I didn’t know if I would ever be coming back to China, if I would ever see my friends again in this life, if I should leave my belongings behind (in case I returned to China) or would need them for a new life in the U.S. or -- in the worst case scenario -- not need anything ever again.

Now, by the grace of God, it is one year later. I have more hope and peace now than I did at that time.

The excellent news is that my doctor at MD Anderson says the cancer is gone now as far as they can tell -- but then again they haven’t seen my type of cancer very often, as I have the most unusual of cases. The request for complete healing is always in my prayers, even now, as it is in many of your prayers as well – thank you. If all goes well between now and the end of January, when my every-three-week maintenance IV treatments end, my doctor says I will be fit to return overseas.

God is surely the One who prompted me to touch my neck on that evening one year ago today, to give me warning before it was too late, something my cancer screenings had failed to do. God is certainly the One who stepped in to rescue me. I trust in Him to navigate these murky waters and see me through.

All I know is that – and I hope it never happens to you – my life unexpectedly changed forever, and it started one year ago today.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mimi joy

Mimi and I have been going on walks in the neighborhood lately, right around sundown when the weather is bearable. Mimi LOVES to get out the front door of the house to see what's going on in the neighborhood. Access to the fenced backyard just doesn't hold the same appeal for her.
Indoor exercise always seems to involve re-arranging things in the house. Mimi knows that toilet paper doesn't belong in the living room, so she brings it there to get a rise out of me. Smart little doggy knows how to have a really good time. She's the best. I wouldn't trade this little doggy for anything.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Guests at the anniversary party

In the previous post I told you all about the 60th wedding anniversary party for my parents, and in this post you'll get to see the guests who attended the party. It's a really long post, but worth it if it helps us remember the day and all the people who made it special!
Charles Dodson was my parents' pastor both in Carthage and Tyler, and as such, he knew several groups of people at the party. Here he says a few words about my parents and our family.
 Janette and Dale Pair, friends of my parents from Sunday School in Tyler
Visiting at this table are the Stantons from Pecos, my cousin Sherry from San Diego, my aunt Lynnell from Gary (in east Texas), my mom's first cousin Mana Bailey from Dallas, and Mana's cousin on her other side of the family.
My niece Hillary used to work at a bakery, so she knows how to cut a wedding cake into serving sizes. Hillary has been living in Montana, got married in Scotland this summer, and will be moving with her husband to Seattle in a few days.

See more photos by clicking below where it says: "Read more."

60th Anniversary Party for my parents

My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage as of July 1, 2015. We, their children, had been planning -- for a long time -- to have an anniversary party for them to commemorate this hard-to-reach milestone. But when I became ill, we had to reschedule the party around my radiation treatment. We had the party on August 1st. We tried to invite everyone, but the invitation process was also a casualty of my radiation treatment. (Sorry if you didn't get an invitation and wanted one. We did not mean to exclude anyone.)
My parents, Wheeler and Mary Wilson, cut their 60th wedding anniversary cake. Given a choice, they went with chocolate for the cake.
 Here's the welcome table where guests signed a guest book and got name tags. 
Snacks included crackers, veggies, dips, nuts, mints, orange coconut balls, creme puffs, quiche, punch, etc.
 My sister-in-law Laura made a beautiful fruit punch.
 Here's a closer view of the cake. I just loved the way the cake looked! 
The table centerpieces had flowers, glass lanterns with candles, and photos of my parents' wedding back in 1955.
 Here's a bird's eye view of the centerpiece (at my house, not at the party).
 Guests go through the serving line to get snacks.
 One more view of the cake, because apparently I am obsessed with it.
Flowers on the cake table.

Photos of guests and festivities will be on another blog post coming up next! (It appears before this blog post.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The yard boy

I was looking forward to having my own yard to tend to. But I had some nerve damage to my right shoulder during surgery, and I was told that I shouldn't mow my own yard for a year. Yikes! I'm not even planning to be here a year. Fortunately, my 17-year-old nephew, Nathan. was looking for part time work, so I hired him as my yard boy. Here he plants a crepe myrtle. Nathan will be a senior in high school this year. I'm so glad that he lives nearby, for many reasons!

I bought a house

I used to joke that one day I would retire from my overseas work and come back to the U.S. to live under an underpass. But I really wanted a house instead. I'm picky like that. And since my salary has not increased in twenty years, while everyone else's in America has, I wondered if I would be able to even afford a house if the current housing cost trends continued upwards between now and my retirement So I prayed and asked God what I should do.

I know some people who live overseas buy a house in America and rent it out while they are overseas. But I was never home long enough to work on buying a house (I usually only stay in the U.S. for two months at a time). But since I have medical issues, I am home much longer this time around. 

I looked at houses in the neighborhoods I liked, and they cost too much. My tastes always seem to be higher than my pocketbook can handle. 

But THEN, a house in a good neighborhood came up for sale. I knew the people moving out. They had to make a quick exit for personal reasons, and the house needed a lot of fixing up since many maintenance issues had been neglected for many years. So they were selling it for cheap. I found out about it before it was made public, and the neighbors wanted to give me the first shot at getting the house. Without their generosity, I wouldn't have succeeded in buying the house. Others could have bid more and were waiting to do so.

So I bought it.

And it is next door to my parents' house. :-) 

Doing the needed repairs myself (with the help of family and friends) means I could make it work. I got it back during the spring. I did a few weeks of repairs while recuperating from chemo, then I had surgery and radiation which put house repairs on the back burner. But I moved into the one bedroom that was move-in ready, and Mimi and I live in the house already.

Some may wonder why a cancer patient would invest in a house since life is so uncertain. But life is uncertain for all of us, and we still buy and sell and carry on with our lives. No one knows if they will wake up the morning after they sign their housing paperwork. Romans 8:28 is at work in my life. The year in America has some good purposes for my life. 

Visitors from Tasmania

When I moved to Tasmania in 1987, so did another Texan, Sandy Hatch. She got married a year later to Warren Graetz and she has lived in Tasmania ever since. We were both back in Texas at the same time, so she came to Houston and stayed with me a week while I was undergoing radiation treatment. She was a great encouragement and help. 
One weekend, Sandy and I traveled to Whitehouse to visit my family. 

The top photo of Sandy and Warren was taken at MD Anderson, on the skybridge. The other was taken while having dinner with the family of my brother James. (Interestingly, Sandy and James traveled together on the same Continental Singers summer tour in the 80s). 

So glad I was able to visit this dear friend, who has already returned to Australia.