Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thank God for Barking Dogs

I’ve mentioned our geriatric dog Lager to all of you. He’s a very sweet, very gentle, very grumpy old dog. Actually, he’s not grumpy as much as he is spoiled. He wants to be inside the house at all times, whether we are home or not. If we’re going to be gone all day, and he has to stay outside, he gets downright cranky. If he goes outside for any reason while we are home …. a drink of water, nature call, anything at all, he is at the back door, barking to be let back in, within seconds. And he will bark --- Until. You. Let. Him. In. Period. He doesn’t stop barking --- ever --- until you let him back in.

Most of the time we resign ourselves to standing at the back door while he does his business, or gets his drink, because if you let him out, then try to sit down, by the time your bum hits the sofa cushion, he’s already at the door barking. It’s just easier to wait on him, and let him in, and avoid the barking. (No, I have no idea why he’s spoiled, do you?) Because again, in case I haven’t made it clear --- The. Barking. Will. Not. Stop. He might be sixteen years old, deaf and arthritic, but he’s got the lung power of an young Iditarod champion.

The only time it really bugs me is when I’m trying to sleep, as the master bedroom is in the rear of the house, so his barking wakes me up. Which annoys me. Greatly.

{abrupt subject change}

Last year, when the kids accidentally broke our ancient video camera, we got a new one. But, without the old camera, we had no way to play the old 8mm tapes. So, I bought a DVD burner and made copies of all our old home movies. We have close to one hundred hours of DVD tapes, starting with shortly before Brayden was born in 1997 and going until the present. They’ve provided us with great many hours of entertainment, and there are still many tapes we haven’t watched yet. Each one is like opening a gift, since we’re never sure exactly what is on each DVD. (Are anyone else’s kids as narcissistic as mine? They could watch themselves all day, I swear!)

Yesterday, I heard the kids talking and laughing while they watched home movies. I heard one of them say, “Look! A birthday party!” and I stuck my head in the room to see which tape they were on. It was a tape of Kendrie’s 4th birthday party. We had it at a local pizza and games place called DJ’s, and the kids were running and jumping and having a ball. They were laughing on the tape, and laughing in the room, watching themselves on the tape, and I was smiling at all of it. Then, suddenly, the birthday party was over. The next image on the tape popped up and it was like somebody had punched me in the stomach.

Kendrie, in a hospital bed, recently diagnosed with leukemia.

We were in Atlanta, and it was Blaine taking the video of me and Kendrie. My mom had flown in to stay with Brayden and Kellen so it was just the three of us at Children’s Hospital. In the video, Kendrie was laying in bed, talking quietly, and looked so very small. I was taking photographs of her, and kept encouraging her to smile. I distinctly remember taking those photos. I hadn’t yet been told the statistics about childhood leukemia --- that the chance for a successful treatment and cure is actually fairly decent. (Not great, since we all know anything less than 100 percent isn’t good enough, but still decent.) But I didn’t know that yet. I remember taking those snapshots of her in the hospital bed, and thinking they would be the last pictures I ever got of her, and feeling like I could vomit at any minute.

Yesterday, watching that tape, it all came racing back at me, and I felt just as nauseous. Like someone was squeezing my heart through my chest.

The next scene was the three of us at the koi pond at the hospital. Blaine picked Kendrie up from the wagon, and tried to get her to throw a coin in the fountain. Her arm had IV’s coming out of it, and she was hooked up to the IV machine we were dragging along behind us, so she couldn’t get the penny in the water. On the tape, Blaine says, “Here, I’ll throw the next one, but you get to make the wish.” I remember thinking at the time, “Let me have the wish -- me! I wish for this all to be a mistake -- I wish for my daughter back, healthy, the way things were a few weeks ago!”

The tape played on, and the images were all disturbing to me. I sat there,watching it, feeling sick and nauseous ... yet those tapes cracked all three of the kids up. “Look, Kendrie, how chubby you were!” said Kellen, while Kendrie, sitting beside me on the floor, held her cheeks and was laughing so hard she was falling over. “Why were my cheeks so fat???” she asked, giggling the entire time.

A few scenes later, she walked across the screen -- totally bloated from the steroids, her hair nothing more than the wispy strands that screamed “CANCER PATIENT”, wearing a princess outfit whose neckline showed the scar from her port, complete with beaded necklace and high heels. “AAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” she shrieked hysterically when she saw herself on tape dressed like that, “WHY WAS I WEARING THAT??? IT’S A GIRLS OUTFIT!!!” while all three kids pretty much wet their pants, laughing so hard.

She wasn’t bothered by the bald head, or the puffy face … she thought those tapes were funny. She was able to look back on that and laugh, and I’m so very, very grateful. I know she remembers parts of her treatment because she’ll bring it up from time to time. But she has the ability to look at it with a sense of humor. We’re lucky that her treatment went well, and we have the luxury of looking at those things as funny. Not every family gets that lucky.

As for me, I watched myself on the screen, and saw the dark circles under my eyes, and the pinched, worried look on my face. I remember, viscerally, how those first few weeks in the hospital felt. Yesterday, the memory of that despair and terror was just under the surface, and it surprised me. I felt just as sick, remembering, as I did at the time. Although I never forget how blessed we are, and certainly don’t want to push the entire cancer journey under the rug, I must admit, I don’t think I want to watch those videos again anytime soon. With Kendrie’s treatment lasting twenty-six months, we obviously have a lot of tapes where she is bald and on treatment. But that first tape, the tape of her at the hospital, diagnosed, going from laughing, happy child to frightened, withdrawn, cancer patient …. That hurt. I don’t ever want to be that terrified again, and it's my most fervent prayer that she never faces that again.

{another abrupt subject change}

I dreamed last night. In my dream, me and Brayden and Kendrie were walking along a path when we came to a railroad crossing. The girls were both much younger, about the ages they were in that video. As we stood there, the bells started ringing and the guard rails started coming down, to signal that a train was coming. Suddenly in my dream, I was on one side of the tracks and Kendrie and Brayden were on the other side. They were both crying that they wanted me, and trying to cross over the tracks to get to me. My legs wouldn’t work (do your legs EVER work in dreams like this?) and I was screaming at them to stay on their side of their track, and to let the train pass by. Brayden listened to me and took several steps back, but Kendrie stepped up on the track, arms outstretched to me. I would scream at her to step back, and she would for a step or two, but then she would cry that she was scared, and needed me, and she’d step back on the track towards me, with the train getting closer and closer, second by second.

I was hysterical-panicked in my dream, because I couldn’t reach her, and couldn’t protect her, and couldn’t get her to listen to me. The train was bearing down and she wouldn’t step back away from the tracks, no matter how much I screamed. She just kept crying that she was frightened, and stepping up on the tracks with her arms reaching towards me.

It was one of the worst freaking dreams I’ve ever had.

It certainly doesn’t take a Harvard-trained dream analyst to figure out where it came from. The train was cancer (or I suppose menace in any form) and I was powerless to stop it. I could see that she was in danger, and I couldn’t help her or protect her. It was the most awful feeling in the world.

At that exact moment, my dog started barking, and woke me.

I was never so happy to hear that dog bark in my entire life. As far as I'm concerned, he never has to go outside again.


Anonymous said...

How I wish I had Lager here to bark & wake me from this nightmare I am in. Wake me back to that world before cancer when I could hold my sweet son again.

Anonymous said...

Kristie, bless your heart. Flashbacks are awful. I'm so sorry for your memories. And to "anonymous" who posted before me and wishes that Lager could wake her up from her dream, I'm so very sorry. Here's a hug for both of you.

Claire in Indiana

Alice said...

Kristie - As always, your words speak straight to my heart. Thank you for sharing all of you with us. I look forward to your blog because most days it makes me laugh. But I really appreciate the ones that make me remember. And it is a great reminder to be thankful for each day we are given.

Tammy said...

Man, i cant believe that dog is still around! Is this the same old dog you had back when i lived in GA? I miss my husky so much still.

I am sooo glad Kendrie is back healthy and well! I hate realistic bad dreams.

Anonymous said...

How appropriately timed your post was, for me! Yesterday I went to my orientation for Camp Sunshine and shared ( over & over!) that I had decided to volunteer because of families, like you, whom I have never met! As the orientation video played, I saw images of kids from various activities at both the house and Camp Twin Lakes. And then, right before I went to look down to adjust my rump on the floor, a shot of Brayden pulling a little girl in a wagon came on the screen. Then images of other families from caringbridge flashed, and I remember saying "wow" subconsciously, because THAT was the exact reason I was sitting in that orientation to begin with. Your family, MANY...MANY miles from me, encouraged to drive 2 miles from my house to the Camp Sunshine house and volunteer for a program that I have come to love just by word of mouth! Thank you for your perspective, and your honesty about the scariest times of your life. You'll never know the impact you have made on others.

Morgan McDaniel
Atlanta, Ga.

kim said...

Ya know what really strikes me in this post? That Kendrie was able to laugh while watching the DVD? It is all because of your pinched face, dark circles, and worry-weary face that she is able to laugh it off. What a gift you gave her when she most needed it. Only a child with some very exceptional parents could do that. How wonderful that Kendrie feels that safe and secure that all is well in her world forevermore. If you and Blaine can do it without hurting yourselves, you should give yourselves a pat on the back for that. Amazing. The price, of course, is the occasional nightmare and the occasional movie-in-your-mind that isn't as easy to turn off as the DVD. Awful as it is for you, just forget about it by thinking of Kendrie's laughter. Say it with me...YOU ROCK!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you linked us to some of those sweet children that many of us have followed through their Caringbridge sites. I hope we never forget them because I know their families won't.

Now, would someone please pass the kleenex?

Dixie in CA

Anonymous said...

A journal full of brutal it hurts, but we need to share it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Pam Doughty said...

Thank you, Kristie, for sharing both the best and the worst of your life. You honestly will NEVER know how much of an impact Kendrie's site and this one have made on people, or how many good things have come from the nightmares you so vividly relive with us all. And for anonymous at the top of the comments, I am so sorry for your loss. It is bigger than the whole wide world.

alayna said...

My son was diagnosed a few days after his birth, and he had his tumor removed, and we went right along with life, just doing blood work and scans every month or so. And we rocked right along for a few months, and I started to feel like everything was going to be okay, and I thought I was putting all those awful cancer feelings behind me. Then, I was looking at pictures in our photo album, and I saw all the pictures from Joey's birth when we were in the hospital, and I felt just like you did when you saw that video. I had no idea those feelings were so close to the surface. I wanted to vomit, I felt all this fear just grip my heart just like it did in those days. I remember those nights of just holding him on my chest and crying and not wanting to send him down to the nursery for fear that they would come back with him with more bad news. It makes me so sad that the pictures from his birth do that to me. Maybe one day it will get better.

That is an awful dream. I've been having weird dreams about our oncologist lately, but nothing as awful as that train one.


Marsha said...

To anonymous who posted the first response to this entry, I am so very sorry. There is just no way we can comprehend the how and why of your loss nor can we know the depth of your pain. God bless you.

Kristie, you never fail to touch me in some way... I never read your blog without experiencing either tears or laughter Sometimes both.

I am glad for Kendrie, that she feels secure and safe enough to laugh at herself and her experience with cancer.

God bless Lager. Not many dogs have the power to stop speeding trains.

Anonymous said...

You know what's interesting? About 4 weeks before Marielle was diagnosed, I had a dream. In the dream, Marielle and I were underwater in a murky pond. There was a fallen tree, that had obviously been in the water for a long time and Marielle was trapped under the log. I kept trying to pull her out, but she was stuck on something, somehow, and I couldn't get her out of the water. I woke up frightened and panicky.

We were traveling back to Ohio the next week to visit friends that have a ranch and a pond on the ranch. I told my DH that there was no way in hell that Marielle could go near the pond - I thought my dream was a foreshadowing of her drowning.

Well, the vacation went well. The day we arrived home, that night Marielle got sick....which lead to seeing the pediatrician who said it was just a viral illness, to 2 weeks of fevers coming and going and finally being diagnosed with leukemia.

I really think now that the dream was a foreshadowing of the leukemia that was already there, just not manifested.

I think the first year of treatment was hardest for me. To look back a year was so painful because it was looking back on my beautiful, healthy child. Now, as we approach 20 months of treament, I look back and see how far we've come, the strides we've made and it's actually comforting.


Natalie said...

I hear you, sister. I hear you.

Renee said...

My friend, that isn't a dream. That is a terrible NIGHTMARE! Glag Lager knew when to bark.

Hang in there.

Sue (from ALL-Kids) said...

Our dog is an inside dog. If it's raining, she refuses to go outside, despite the call of nature. We throw her out, and she comes right back. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, she'll stand outside of my bedroom door: woof. Wait 10 minutes. Woof. Wait a few more minutes. Woof. I get up and let her out, partly because I don't want to clean a mess in the morning and partly because I will just be drifting back to sleep when she woofs again. Of course, she believes she deserves a treat for waking me up every time. Lager definitely deserves a treat for waking you up this time!

In the early days of treatment, and when Rachel was at her sickest moments (like DI), Nellie (our dog) would stay in the same room with her, often at her feet. It was like Nellie knew something was wrong. Now that Rach is in LTM, she takes Nells Bells outside to play fetch, or jump through a hula hoop, or just to feed her treats while I'm supposedly not looking.

Give Lager a bellyrub from me!

Lisa said...

I'm glad Lager woke you up - but bless, he's 16, can't he stay indoors all the time unless its a call of nature...(hangs head a little) my little dog has her own duvet - and my late husband and I would hang over the sides of the bed to sleep so Chels could have the middle of the bed to herself. Now *thats* spoilt. Love and Prayers - what is the latest on Blaine?

The Running Girl said...

Wow. I can't imagine the memories that video brought back. Praying that the good memories prevail and that many happy memories continue to be made.

D said...

Kristie---- Dear friend who I've never met, your words hold such power. You so eloquently relay to us "innocents" what you and too many parents have/are going through. I pray that your words incite passion in your readers. Passion to donate blood, passion to become marrow donors, passion to voluteer....... passion to make a differnce in the lives of these beautiful children.

Anonymous at 9:21-- I am so, so sorry that you can no longer hold your sweet boy. I will be praying for you.

Tracy said...

Kristie, thank you for sharing. The barking dog had me laughing. The children laughing at themselves made me smile. The video changing to Kendrie and her cancer journey made me cringe remembering all of your entries and all of her struggles. What a sick feeling. Your powerful and extremely scary for you. Thank goodness for barking dogs!! I hope you only have sweet dreams of your children enjoying themselves and laughing so hard that they pee their pants.

Woman Lost said...

It truly is amazing how resilient kids are. That she was watching the DVD and finding joy and humor is wonderful. If only it was as easy for the parents.

Patricia said...

Oh, Kristie, how awful. I've had dreams where my husband or my kids die...once I woke up and my pillowcase was sopping wet from tears I was crying. But I've never had a dream so obviously tied to something. (I did dream there was a buffalo in my mother's bathroom 2 nights ago. Where THAT came from-who knows!) I'm glad that dog barked, too, and don't watch those videos again!! :) (and I, also, send my thoughts to anonymous and wish with everything I had that you could hold your son again. Life isn't fair at all...)

Anonymous said...

Dear Kristie,
how nice to have all your films put onto DVD's, I have to get that done, we haven't watched ours for years now, I don't use the old video cam any more. What a lovely dog, ours died a few years back, we have not got another one, it's so sad to lose them, we have two cats though.
How awful those kind of dreams are, when you can't move as you want to, you keep trying and never get to where you want to be, it's so strange isn't it? Sorry you had that night mare. How strange Marie's dream was, like a premonition of her daughter's illness, perhaps in her heart she knew already that her daughter was ill?
Thanks for sharing, your journal is so moving, making me laugh, cry, all the emotions. I hope Blaine is OK?
Take care,
Love Angela