Saturday, March 08, 2008

Handsome

Last summer, when we attended the Lighthouse Retreat in Seaside, Florida, we were inundated with a typical Lighthouse week of kindness and caring and tender loving care. Not only did the workers and volunteers of Lighthouse rise to the occasion to make it a fabulous vacation, as always, but the residents of Seaside helped out as well. We received free bike rentals for the week, coupons for food and ice cream from the sidewalk restaurants, souvenirs, etc. Also, a local photographer named Michael Belk offered to take pictures of all the families, donating both his time (in the bazillion degree heat; that man was working up a sweat!) and then donating the photos to the families.

The retreat was the first week of June, and I hoped to use the family portrait for our Christmas picture. Summer ended, fall came and went, and no pictures. A few of the Lighthouse families were talking behind the scenes …. “Do you have your pictures yet? No? Neither do we.” Then Christmas came and went and still no pictures. I called the Lighthouse to ask about it, but have to admit I felt embarrassed. Sort of like, “Hey, thanks for the great beach vacation and pampering our family like we’ve never been pampered …. But I want MORE! Where are my free pictures?!?”

See what I mean? It just seemed a little greedy.

Well, imagine my pleasure when they arrived in the mail today! Even though it was only nine months ago, Brayden and Kellen, and especially Kendrie, all look so young to me. Brayden still had her pre-braces on, and Kellen didn’t have the gap from missing teeth that he currently has. The family portrait we received is 11 x 13 and I had to cut some of it off to scan it and share …. But I couldn’t be happier with either picture and am thrilled to have finally received them.



In fact, I was admiring our family photo this afternoon when Blaine came in from outside. “What’s that you’re looking at?” he asked, and I eagerly held up the picture for him to see for the first time. And what came out of his mouth … can you guess? Was it, “Ah, what a great picture” or “Wow, I’d forgotten about those” or even “Hey, what a nice looking family” --- was it any of those things? Nope, the first thing that came out of his mouth was “God, I look bad.”



Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer?

You know how they say that people tend to marry their physical attractiveness equal? Like how the beautiful head cheerleader marries the hunky quarterback? Or two people who are say, fives, on a scale of one to ten, will wind up together? And when they don’t, for example, like Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovette, or Drew Barrymore and Tom Green, people sort of look around like, “Hmmm, that’s weird.” I don’t care how charismatic or filthy rich Donald Trump might be, those models did NOT marry him for his looks.

Well, I think Blaine and I did exactly that equivalent-attractiveness thing. Let’s be honest, neither of us are ever going to work as Calvin Klein models, but strangers have never thrown paper bags over our heads, either. We’re just kind of … well ….. average looking, I suppose. We’re sort of mainstream …. Not drop dead beautiful, but not butt-ugly either. At least I don’t think so. If you think I’m butt ugly, you are welcome to NOT leave your opinion in the comment section.

But despite the fact I imagine we’re considered average, to *me*, Blaine has always been a really handsome guy. Shorter than normal, but with fabulous shoulders and great legs, extremely smart and easy going, he’s always worked for me. And I think I’ve always worked for him, and neither one of us has really given it a whole lot of thought.

Until cancer, and the devastation it wreaked not only on Blaine’s face, but on his psyche.

Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer?

When the doctors are telling you that in order to remove a cancerous tumor and save your husband’s life, that they’re going to have to remove his soft palate and his hard palate and his cheekbone and all his upper teeth on that side of his head, it doesn’t matter. You know without a doubt that looks aren’t as important as his health. You don’t care that after the surgery, that side of his head will basically be a giant sinkhole, you’re just grateful the tumor can be removed. Heck, when they come out after surgery and say, “Good news! We were able to save his eye!” it feels like a real bonus.

Then, surgery after surgery after surgery to try and reconstruct his oral cavity ….. not because he is vain, but because it is necessary for his quality of life. Because he doesn’t like being able to look in his mouth and see his eyeball, because he doesn’t want to live the rest of his life on a soft foods and liquid diet, because he doesn’t enjoy having a forked lip, because he hates blowing his nose and having mashed potatoes come out of it.

Blaine has had approximately fifteen surgeries in the last five years. ONE has been cosmetic, which was done at the same time as another, necessary surgery. He has been cut from the outside edge of his eye, all along his bottom eyelid, down the side of his nose, under his nose, through his upper lip, and had his face peeled off more times than I can count. He has a permanent dent in his scalp where they’ve removed part of his skull. They removed both a lower leg bone and a lower arm bone in order to reconstruct his palate and gums, and he has enormous scars on that arm and leg to show for it. His original trach hole wouldn’t close. He has a v-shaped scar across his neck that seriously looks like someone tried to slit his throat.

Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer?

Then, radiation when the cancer came back. Radiation that left him permanently partially deaf in one ear. Radiation that fried his salivary glands so that eating is a constant aggravation, and not pleasant. Even swallowing is a hassle. Radiation that caused contraction of his facial muscles so his mouth doesn’t close normally, and radiation that has left him with constant pain. The cold weather hurts, the hot weather hurts, the humidity hurts, the wind hurts. Radiation which wiped out his endurance, and has left him with at least a fifteen pound muscle mass loss because the man who used to work out five times a week hasn’t been in a gym in over two years, yet still loses weight if he doesn’t watch out. Would you even like to guess how much money we’ve spent on Boost these past two years, in an effort to keep his weight up?

He is every bit as handsome to me as the day we stood across from one another in church, holding hands, saying our “I do’s”. The same day that I squeezed his hand much harder on the “for richer” part of our vows, something you can see me doing on the video, and then you can see both of us grin at one another right after that. Ah, to be young and a complete moron, huh?

But guess what? It worked. All those surgeries worked, and he is currently cancer-free. (Big, giant happy dance.) Although he had complication after complication, and it felt like his entire life was one big “two steps back” scenario there for awhile, for the most part, the reconstruction is done. The chronic pain is still an enormous, intimidating hurdle which we are struggling to resolve (see: the hassle of being forced to travel to south Texas next week to meet another pain doctor because NO ONE in Oklahoma will touch him … and although the Air Force has no qualms about sending him to San Antonio, they don’t see the logic in just sending him back to his Tricare-participating pain doctor in Georgia who worked so well with him and is already familiar with his case history.) The deafness has become an issue and he’ll be having outpatient surgery again next month to have another tube put in his ear. But actually, that seems minor compared to everything else he’s been through. As long as the cancer stays gone, the implanted tissue and bone in his face maintains a good blood supply and doesn’t die, and the new bone in his gum can support the implants for his teeth, he should be ok physically.

What is not minor OR ok is the beating that his self-esteem has taken because of the way he looks and the way he feels. It was funny the first time someone at the military hospital in Georgia, after he got the MRSA staph infection in his leg, asked him if he had stepped on a land mine …. Not so funny the second and third time. For most of the past five years he has not had many of his teeth. I can tell in family pictures over that period when he had teeth and when he didn’t, by whether or not he smiled with his lips apart. He HATES when he doesn’t have teeth. He doesn’t really like to go out in public because he says people stare at him. He understands it, but it still makes him feel self-conscious. He doesn’t care for socializing a whole lot because in a crowd, he can’t hear what people are saying. We have to make sure he is seated with his good ear to people if we go out to dinner, or to a party. And despite months and months of speech therapy, and a newly-reconstructed palate, he still has some speech issues and is sometimes self-conscious about talking to people, especially on a phone. Coming back here to Tinker and running into people he worked with twelve years ago has been …. Interesting at times, to see their reactions.

It’s easy for me to tell him that it doesn’t matter, that looks aren’t important, and that he’s just as handsome to me and the kids as he ever was. I even tell him, “So, your face looks funny … I’m fat! Neither one of us is perfect!” but I know it doesn’t make him feel better. I remind him those scars are proof of his bravery over the years, and that I will never love him any less. In fact, to be honest, I don’t even really notice anymore, the physical changes he has undergone. But he notices, every time he looks in a mirror, and it makes him unhappy. It makes him self-conscious.

Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer?

After the last surgery he had in Georgia, the doctors came in his room and told him about the next surgery they would like to do on him. This one, for cosmetic purposes only. It sounded pretty high-tech, truth be told. They would do all sorts of 3-D imaging of his face, and build a flip-opposite mold of the undamaged side of his face. It would be a mask of sorts, which would perfectly mimic the normal side of his face, but would be constructed completely backwards. (Am I even explaining that right?) Then, they would peel the dented side of his face off, yet again, and slip the mask into place right under the skin, from eyeball to jaw, securing it somehow, so that his affected half would be a mirror-image of his normal half.

Sounds pretty John-Travolta-Nicholas-Cage-Face-Off-ish, doesn’t it? In fact, I kept calling it a face transplant, much to Blaine’s annoyance. The doctors told him, this would be a huge deal. Major surgery, with a major recovery time. For purely cosmetic reasons. But they really thought he was a good candidate, and they would be willing to try if he would.

Laying in the hospital bed, recovering from his umpteenth surgery to finish the reconstruction work, Blaine paused, then simply looked up at the doctor and said, “Not now. I just don’t have it in me.” He had never – NEVER – balked at a surgery, because he knew they were all necessary. But he was beat down, and couldn’t begin to think about a surgery that wasn’t 100 percent necessary.

Yesterday, he mentioned it to me.

I don’t know how I feel about it. On the one hand, I want him to do whatever it takes to feel better about himself. To be able to go out in public without having people draw in a sympathetic breath and ask what happened to him. It doesn’t matter how handsome *I* think he is, his opinion of himself is low, and maybe this surgery could correct that. Sort of like how he tells me he loves me no matter what, too, but deep down, I *know* my ass is too big.

On the other hand ……… well ………… geesh. Again? I worry he’s not ready, or that he’s going through with it too soon. If he’s going to do it, it must be done while he’s still on active duty. He’s not retiring anytime soon, but the end is out there, looming. Should he do it now, just because he has the chance?

I feel like a protective mom, who hates to see her child endure any more than is totally necessary. I worry about what could go wrong. I worry that moving forward before we get his pain management issues under control is a mistake. I worry that he won’t be happy with the results and will regret doing it.

And I guess deep down, I worry that when he’s done he’ll be so handsome that I’ll be the Lyle Lovett in our relationship.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

The pictures are awesome Kristie.
Blaine is nothing more than a hero in our eyes. To know the husband, father and person he is (which I was able to learn a lot more about by reading the proof in the album you made him) Well, somehow his facial features simply remind me of how much he has had to endure, and endure for his daughter - and he kept the faith. Everytime I think of him I am in awe. I really mean that - its not just words. He is handsome. He is the man most women can only dream of.

On a side note - dont compare yourself to Lyle. You are just as admirable...and cute. ;) BTW - Blaine with a shaved head..well he is your husband so I cant really tell you the word I'd like to describe that. ;)
Love Erin

Cathy in MI said...

You family picture is wonderful, hang it on your wall with pride. I feel for Blaine, I hope either way whether he has the surgery or not that he stays cancer free. I hate cancer too.

Sandie in MN said...

Honey, I don't even know you but I feel like crying- for you, for Blaine because the whole damn situation is just plain unfair. I have nothing inspiring or uplifting to share (others are so much better at that than me)- just that I love the honesty in your voice and the way you love your husband.

p.s. I love shaved heads!

Grandma J said...

I am speechless. Speechless by your unconditional love for Blaine, but everytime you remind us of what he has gone through I am not only speechless but I'm in awe of him (and you).
If I didn't know all that Blaine had been through, I would still think he is handsome. It's not because I am old and fat, but because his beauty radiates through...really it does.

I commend you both for sharing yourselves with us....I love the picture...what a good looking family.

CJ in MO said...

You guys have been through a lot, so I can understand why you would not look forward to another surgery. You said you're not sure Blaine's ready for another surgery. But, if he brought it up 'out of the blue', then I suspect he's been thinking about it and is beginning to feel like he is ready. If it will make him feel better about himself, make him feel more comfortable in public, and if you both think you are ready to deal with the surgery and recovery process, then it makes sense to pursue it. Get all the details, do the research, find out the pros and cons and then pray about it asking for guidance. If after this you feel that this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it, then you should do it.

What ever you decide, you will have many family, friends and blog readers supporting you and wishing you well.

CJ

Tracy said...

kristie-
You love for your husband is so obvious by how you write about him. Blaine is a true hero for all that he has been through and still endures.I You have a family made up of something special and are all more than average looking :)-thanks for sharing! I totally understand about the Tricare
stuff!
Tracy
http://pricelessjourney.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

My heart broke a little bit for Blaine while reading this, and by the end I had tears in my eyes. I can't even imagine what he must deal with on a daily basis. You must feel like the luckiest chick in the world to be married to such an amazing man.
Thinking of your family, and hoping that things work out for Blaine the way he wishes.

Lauren said...

Hey Kristie,

I rarely comment, but needed to today! My heart also aches for Blaine, and I can imagine what a difficult decision the surgery will be, whether or not he does it. I do know though that, only knowing Blaine through your pictures and journals, he's always looked like an attractive guy to me--maybe you only post the "best" pictures (whatever that would mean), but I've never really looked and thought about the damage from the cancer. It's a different face than it was, I'm sure, but it's an interesting face, and his strength and personality seem to shine through. But that's just my opinion.

Also, way back when Lyle and Julia married, I thought you could divide the pop culture world into two groups. The "wait, she married him?!" group and the "wait, he married her?!" group. I was part of the latter. I had nothing against Julia Roberts, and could see that she was beautiful, but I loved Lyle's music and his odd acting and thought of him (correctly or not) as the more interesting person, while she was "just an movie star-type actress." Most of my circle of friends, including Rob, felt the same way.

Lauren
hey Rob's climbing Mt Rainier for CureSearch--check it out:

cureclimb.blogspot.com

Jen said...

Kristie,

I have always considered Blaine to be a handsome man. I really don't think his looks have suffered because of his surgeries. His face has changed shape over the years, but it's still the same face.

And to me, "handsome" isn't just about someone's physical appearance. His heart and strength make him a "handsome" man. All the trials and tribulations you two have been through have made him a stronger man. Whether he realizes it or not, that shows through.

As for the surgery, only he can know if he's ready.

And the pictures are beautiful!

Marsha said...

The most beautiful man sticks around to raise his children.

The most beautiful man tells his wife he loves her.

The most beautiful man is generous with time and patience where his family is concerned.

The most beautiful man faces life head on in spite of his doubts and uncertainties.

The most beautiful man allows others the freedom to be who they are.

The most beautiful man has respect for God, his country and his family.

yes... I would say that Blaine is a most beautiful man.

Jacqueline said...

Well, I just have to say that your husband is very good looking...before I had even scrolled down to read the rest of the post, while I was looking at the picture I kept thinking that you sure do have a good looking husband, and I kept wondering where the effects of the cancer were...I just couldn't see it. And you? SO pretty! You guys are in my thoughts and prayers constantly.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter how many times you tell someone they're good looking or that you don't care about the imperfections, you can't change their self-perception. I don't imagine I'd ever have plastic surgery (I'm too wimpy), but if it makes someone feel better about themselves, then why not? Blaine is a handsome man, and I'm sure you would think so no matter what. I am in awe of your whole family!

Gayle in AL

Renee; said...

Kristie, I can honestly say from the bottom of my heart, I don't see those scars when I look at Blaine. I see a handsome man, both inside and out -- a man who is a hero to all of us and a man who absolutely adores his wife and children. He is one of the kindest, most Christian man I've ever met. He never complains and is just amazing. It breaks my heart that he has had to endure this and how it has affected his self esteeem. He is still a hottie!! Love you guys!

renee said...

p.s. Love the picture!!! I love how casual it is -- you all look so relaxed.

lizinsumner said...

Well, I, for one, think that you're BOTH perfect 10s on that scale - and Blaine, I would never, EVER kick you out of my bed for eating crackers! If Kristie ever kicks you out - you come on up to Seattle - I'll take you ANY day, re-constructive surgery or no re-constructive surgery....and, I'm not just blowing smoke up your you-know-what. You're brave. You're a survivor. You're a wonderful example to all of us. In my book, you've even got Tom Selleck beat (and hey, I know ol' Tom's starting to look a little old, but then, so am I!)! And the Boeing engineering support person in me can't help but think cool! A backwards-engineered face via surgery! But, you need to do what's best for you, and what you want to do. I know you'll make the right choice, because I haven't seen you make any bad choices yet. We're with you, no matter what. And obviously, so is your sweet wife. We're so thankful that you're well - so, you just hold your head high and be proud, no matter what. You've earned it!

Tammy said...

Blaine, I know Kristy writting this blog is going to attract alot of attentin on you, you probably don't want, but, just know we all love you no matter what you look like, follow you heart, if the surgery is what you want, (need to feel better) than go for it! I know you have all the support you'll need to get thru! You have a wonderful family, and you are the rock in it. I know people say it does'nt matter what we look like on the outside, what matters is on the inside. They are true, but you feeling on the inside is what matters also. I hope your pain goes away, cancer is so unfair. Have I mentioned I hate cancer also, well I do! Hugs from Fort Worth.

Tammy said...

P.S. I love the pictures, they are just awesome! Just like the Escoe's.

Donna said...

Hero with a capital H. End of story. And the first thing I have always seen in your pictures of Blaine are his eyes. Those eyes are full of love and wisdom in every picture. Tell you the truth, for a long time I didn't realize just how much work he had to have.

I don't even know if my husband could handle what Blaine has been through. I hope that he would find a way, but it would be, well, unimaginable. And it would tick me off if people stared at him. And it would make him want to stay home. I have my doubts that he would be able to face it as well as Blaine.

For the people who stare: Nuts! Let's hope they stare because no one in their family has been in such a situation and they have never had to look a loved one in their damaged face.

A man who has served our country, battled cancer, and watched his daughter battle cancer should never have to hang his head because of his battle scars, be they from war or from cancer.

Your family stays in my thoughts and prayers throughout the year. There will be a voice in Kansas cheering for you when surgery rolls around again.

Patty House said...

Man. I hate cancer too! I read that whole thing with tears in my eyes. And let Blaine know. I think he's handsome too.

The pictures are gorgeous. I love black and white photos.

Anonymous said...

I've only seen Blaine in pictures. I've only seen Blaine through your eyes. To me (and obviously many others), he's perfect. There are a lot of poeple running around our world who have pretty faces and not very pretty souls. Give me the guy with the perfect soul and the "good enough" face any old day! And, may I just add, that family picture is awesome and well worth waiting for!

Dixie

Monica H said...

I think you are a beautiful family and there isn't any room for anything else.

Jen said...

Hey Kristi. I have been reading your blog for years and just want to say that I think the picture is BEAUTIFUL. Your DH looks hot to me ( don't worry, I'm married ;) ha ). I am sure that surgery/no surgery will play out the way it is meant to be. Peace during this time.
jen

Natalie said...

Yep, keep on telling us how much you hate cancer. That's what we're here for. We all hate it right along with you and for you. And it must be so hard for Blaine. But sheesh, I still think he's one good looking dude. Or is that creepy to say about someone else's husband? And I totally hear you about the big ass. I often wonder if Eamonn's friends wonder why he married someone with such a big ass. I'm hoping my charming personality overcomes it :)

kim said...

No matter what, Blaine is a hero. And so are you Kristie.
My thoughts are with you both as you make this big decision.
*hugs*
Kim

Hyzymom said...

I'm with everyone. Blaine rocks!
Loved the "Beautiful Man" poem that Marsha left. I think that might make Blaine the "Beautifulest!"

Pam Earley said...

I love the way you love your amazing husband.

You all are one of the most amazing families that I have ever "known." You all face everything that is thrown your way, and you all face it together as one. Many families cannot survive a crisis - and you guys have done it over and over and have stayed strong through it all. You guys all amaze me.

The Running Girl said...

I'm so sorry Blaine has had to go through so much. Hopefully the pain doctor in SA can find something to help Blaine.

Urban Blonde said...

I think your family is beautiful/handsome inside and out! The picture is gorgeous!

and yes I HATE cancer too.

Blondie

Miscellaneous From Missy said...

De-lurking to give Blaine and Lyle (grin) two great big hugs. I have no advice or opinion on to do it or not to do it, but I'm totally with you. Sounds like Blaine is tired of feeling like Lyle.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kristie -

You are amazing! There are many a people that need to read your blog and follow in your foot steps! The love that you have for Blaine is so very apparent whenever you write about him. You are VERY beautiful, and don't need to compare yourself with anyone. When the rubber hits the road, the love you have for each other will prevail, as it has for the past 20+ years!

I pray that Blaine will somehow find some relief from the pain, and will know just when, if he so chooses to do the recontructive surgery.

Thank you for sharing your amazing journey with us!

Denise

Anonymous said...

Kristie,
I HATE cancer too!!! You tell Blaine he is one handsome son of a gun on the inside and out! I am so sorry he has been through so very much and how hard a hit his self esteem has taken. Your family is beautiful and each one of you is so very special! Hang that picture with pride and brag away. Whichever path Blaine chooses we all think he is one good looking guy with a heart of pure gold.

Hugs,
Joy

Anonymous said...

I tell you.. when I read your posts, one of two things happens.. either I'm laughing, or I'm crying. Today I'm crying. You are both beautiful, and 10s in my book.

I hate cancer, and the hole in her throat my mom has to breathe and speak with.. and the cruelty of losing her teeth because of her radiation..and the way her neck and side of her face are caved in from what was removed. But she will always be beautiful to me, so I know what you mean!!

Blaine is a beautiful man, and that beautiful man poem couldn't have said it better..

Mary Burns in Albany NY

leeanne said...

Kristie, the picture is so good and I love it! Blaine is definately handsome and I can only see the outside. As long as he stays cancer free, that's all that really matters anyway. That, and the other four people in that picture who love him so much.

Trish in Leesburg, VA said...

I love the pictures! And for the record, I think Blaine is quite handsome. But I know his opinion is the one that really counts, and so if he wants the surgery I say go for it.

Keith said...

"Handsome", in my mind, is a journey of courage, commitment and unselfish love. Congratulations! You and Blaine are richer and more attractive than most of the couples I know.

Love ya,
Keith, Ann & Quinlin

Dianna in Louisiana said...

Beautiful Kristie--- You, Blaine, Your Children...... The LOVE you share..... just beautiful.

Dianna in Louisiana

LotoFoto said...

I've always thought Blaine looked rugged & handsome. His strength only makes him even more handsome.