Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Cool Things -- My Transplant, Aussie Hat, and God

In the sidebar of this journal I will be adding several pictures from time to time.  I have chosen things that I think are cool.  I'm calling them "My Cool Things."  I've decided to tell you about them in a few entries. 



Today is a Red Letter Day on my calendar.  This is the second anniversary of the bone marrow transplant that put one, and kept another, of my cancers in remission.  In the last two years I have been through many complications, numerous procedures, countless infections, and endless tests; I almost died a number of times.  But without that transplant I would almost certainly be dead.  Being alive against the odds is definitely cool.
Australian hats have a unique style that brings to mind the Outback, exotic animals, and adventure.  My wife wanted to buy me a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off my face and neck since bone marrow transplant recipients are at high risk for skin cancer.  I picked an Aussie hat that was distinctive and good looking.  We chose a hat over sunscreen because shade is more effective than chemicals, and a fine hat can improve your appearance.  A little help from Australia is welcome, because avoiding a third cancer can only be cool.
God has been my friend since before I was born, even during those years when I spent my time in rebellious pursuits.  He was with me during my treatment for cancer, especially during my many, sometimes life-threatening, complications to my bone marrow transplant.  God kept me alive through those difficult times because He has a plan for my life.  Doctors, medications, and transplants are several ways God heals us of our illnesses.  Supernatural miracles may be the exception rather than the rule; He can  heal us that way, but He often chooses to help us help each other.  This does not diminish God's role in the treatments that lead to our cures.  I am deeplygrateful to God and my doctors for my recovery.  Having a friend like God is eternally cool.
This is the first entry in a five part series of "My Cool Things." 

Thursday, January 24, 2008

it's the 2nd anniversary of my bone marrow transplant

This Sunday is a special day.  It's a second anniversary for me.  On January 27, 2006, I had a bone marrow transplant, which put my bone marrow cancer into remission and prevented me from developing leukemia.  This transplant also made sure that my Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which had been in remission since 1999, would remain in remission indefinitely.  The transplant did what it was supposed to do, but it left me with nearly constant complications for almost a year, and frequent complications for a year after that.
But during the last six weeks, my weekly lab tests have shown a big improvement in some major areas of my health.  My immunities have been in the normal range for a month and a half.  This is a great relief after having very low immunities for most of the last year.  The three most important measurements of my red blood cells also have been normal for the first time in three years.  And my kidneys have improved from 30 percent function to 40 percent.  While my doctors are all pleased with these changes, I'm thrilled.  Maybe now I can have a life that's closer to normal.  I'm looking forward to that.
My home town nephrologist (kidney doctor) was surprised as well as pleased by the improvement in my kidneys.  He's told me several times that damaged kidneys don't repair themselves.  But that's what my kidneys appear to have done, at least partially.  He isn't sure how this can be.
This has happened to me several times.  In the summer of 2006, I had total kidney failure.  The nephrology team at Hershey Medical Center started me on dialysis the next day, but they told my wife Krissy to prepare herself, because they thought I would die.  Obviously, I didn't die; a week later they told Krissy that I would live, but that I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life.  A week after that, my kidneys were working well enough that they took me off of dialysis.
When I got home, my local nephrologist told me that my kidneys were functioning at 25 to 30 percent.  When I asked him if my kidneys might improve more, he said that he doubted it very much.  Now, a year and a half later, my kidneys are functioning at 40 percent.  This time when I asked him if my kidneys might continue to improve, he said, "I doubt it -- but never say never."  Apparently he isn't completely ruling out further improvement. 
I like surprising doctors when it's in a good way.  I've set a goal for myself:  I want to reach 50 percent kidney function.  Maybe it's not realistic, but I'm determined just the same.  I know that I owe a lot of my success to the prayers and support of you and the readers of my wife's blog, Sometimes I Think.  I believe that the Lord has kept me alive for a purpose that He has in mind.  God willing, I'll achieve my goal.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

raising baby rabbits (conclusion)

                     our baby rabbits eating pink clover

Here's the conclusion to the story I began in my last entry.

The rabbits were no longer tiny.  My Mom decided that it was time for them to start eating solid food.  She called the veterinarian again to ask him what to feed them.  He was frankly amazed that the rabbits were still alive under my mother's care.  He recommended pink clover as the best food for the rabbits.  This left us with the problem of finding enough of it to keep the rabbits fed.
My Dad drove my Mom and I around the outskirts of town looking for pink clover.  He clearly found the drive to be an annoyance.  I didn't understand why he had never shared our enthusiasm for raising the rabbits.  He had little patience with the babies, and searching for pink clover was obviously pushing his limits.  My Dad wasn't mean to us about it; he just acted like all the fuss was unnecessary.  The rabbits were so much fun to me that I was confused by his attitude.
Finally, to my Dad's relief, we found a field where pink clover grew in abundance.  We didn't know how much we would need, so we picked a lot.  Back at home, the rabbits nibbled at the clover at first, but quickly began eating large amounts.  One rabbit would start eating at the flower end of a stalk, and another rabbit would start eating at the opposite end.  The two would meet somewhere in the middle.
We discovered that picked clover would only stay fresh for about 24 hours, so we made daily trips across town to get more, much to my Dad's displeasure.  We also learned that even young rabbits are good at leaping.  One day a rabbit jumped out of the box and ran behind the refrigerator.  My Dad had to pull the refrigerator out from the wall to rescue the rabbit.  By the time he had the young one back in the box, my Dad was stewing about the "confounded rabbits."  After that we kept a window screen over the top of the box with books to weigh down the corners.
The rabbits grew rapidly after that.  My Mom said that soon it would be time to set them free.  She hoped they would be able to adapt to living on their own.  The rabbits were still wild:  They wouldn't let us pick them up without a struggle, and petting them was out of the question.  There was an exception to this.  One rabbit was tame.  We could pick him up and hold him; he actually seemed to like it.  Looking back on it now, I'm afraid he may have been too dependent on us to survive on his own.  
One day my Mom decided it was time to set the rabbits free.  We all got into the car; my job was to sit in the back seat with the rabbits and make sure they didn't get out of the box.  We drove across town to the field of pink clover.  I knew that an exciting time in my life was ending.
We walked out into the field where my Dad set the box down and turned it on its side.  Some of the rabbits rocketed instantly from the box and out of sight.  Two others ran a short distance away and stopped, apparently confused by their freedom.  They crouched for a minute, then began exploring their new surroundings.  The tame rabbit remained inside the box, unwilling to leave.  My Dad turned the box over, depositing the rabbit on the ground.  Tears threatened to fill my eyes; I could see that we were betraying the young rabbit.  We had been a foster family to him.  My Mom gave the tame rabbit some words of encouragement, then she and my Dad started walking back towards the car.  After a moment, I followed.  From some distance away, I looked back to see the tame rabbit still sitting there.  I couldn't tell what he was looking at, but I felt certain that he was watching us walk away and was wondering why we were leaving him.  I had a great sense of loss and guilt at abandoning him.  He was my favorite of all the rabbits.  
Leaving the rabbits was hard after caring for them for what seemed like a long time.  All of the rabbits had lived, largely due to the care my mother had given them, despite the veterinarian's dismal prediction.  I should have been pleased that our efforts had helped the rabbits grow up to be healthy, strong, and hopefully ready to live on their own.  But instead our house seemed empty without the rabbits, and a sadnesssettled over me that I hadn't experienced in that way before. 
That night, lying in bed in the dark, I thought about the rabbits in the darkness of that field.  Was each rabbit lonely and afraid, facing the night alone for the first time in its life?  Or had they gathered together as brothers and sisters to share comfort and companionship against a world much larger than any they had ever known?  I drifted off to sleep in the security of my family and friends.  I hope the rabbits did the same.

Friday, January 18, 2008

raising baby rabbits

 The adventure began when I was six years old.  Well, for me it was an adventure; for my Mom it was a challenge, but I'm afraid that for my Dad it was a chore.
At the time we lived in a house on the edge of my elementary school's property.  A large field of tall grass stretched from our backyard to the school itself.  In the middle of the field a mother rabbit had a burrow where she cared for her very young babies.
One day the school custodian mowed the field of tall grass.  Of course the tractor passed right over the rabbit burrow, which scared the mother rabbit.  She ran off, leaving the babies unattended.
I don't remember how my Mom knew that there was a rabbit burrow far off in the field, nor do I remember how she knew that the tractor had scared away the mother rabbit.  I just know that one day I came home from school and was thrilled to find my mother's bedroom slippers filled with sleeping baby rabbits.  For a six year old boy it was an unexpected delight.
My Mom had called a veterinarian about this small crisis.  The vet had told her that the mother rabbit would not return to the burrow after being so badly frightened.  He also told her not to try raising the baby rabbits on her own; he said they would die no matter what she did.  The babies wouldn't suffer.  They would just continue sleeping peacefully until they died.
No one who knew my mother would have been surprised when she ignored the vet's advice.  Her love of animals forced her to take some kind of action.  The rabbit-filled slippers on our kitchen floor were evidence of this.
My Mom didn't know what to feed the babies.  They were clearly too young for solid food, and since stores didn't sell rabbit formula, she used her imagination.  She put some dry oatmeal into a saucepan of milk and cooked it for a while.  Then she strained off the oatmeal and set the liquid aside.  When the liquid was cool enough, she took the rabbits out of the slippers and fed them a little of the milk-oatmeal liquid with a medicine dropper.  Each baby drank only a very small amount.  After a baby was fed she put it back in her slipper.  The baby would crawl as far as it could into the toe of the slipper and return to sleep.  In a short time, all were fed and sleeping soundly again. 
I watched the first feeding with wide-eyed fascination.  The baby rabbits were better than having a puppy in the house.  I wanted to help take care of the rabbits, but my Mom was reluctant; she said the babies had to be handled very gently, and she was afraid I might accidentally hurt them.  She let me hold one for a moment, and promised that as soon as they got older she would let me help with them.
The baby rabbits had to be fed frequently, 24 hours a day.  My Mom didn't complain.  She was determined that the babies would live.  The milk-oatmeal liquid must have been adequate food for the rabbits because after a few days they were not only alive, they were growing.  
Before long the rabbits were too big to all fit in the slippers, so we put them in a cardboard box with a bath towel in the bottom for warmth and softness.  The babies were spending more time awake now, though they still slept a lot.  Since they were active, I wanted to play with them, but my Mom said no, they were wild animals.  If they became too tame they wouldn't be able to survive on their own in the wild.  I realized then that these rabbits would not be a permanent addition to our family.  We were only caring for them until they were old enough to be set free.  I felt sad about this, and I spent as much time as I could with them, mostly watching them.  Even as an observer, having the rabbits there seemed like an adventure.
This story is running too long for one entry.  I'll finish it tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

JLand Photo Shoot #124


Here's my entry for JLand Photo Shoot #124.  The subject is 'a close up'.  If you want to be part of this, you can find it in my wife's journal Sometimes I Think.   

This is the first time I've participated in a photo shoot.  I've enjoyed the experience.  I've never taken close ups before; it was challenging and fun.     

Here are some shots of my wife's and my Christmas ornaments.