At least you don’t have children.

By Julie

It was less than 24 hours after being told that my husband had a brain tumor that someone first said those words to me. I remember it vividly. I was standing outside of Travis’ tiny ER room, a roughly 12×12 prison cell that he was sharing with a lady who was having some severe intestinal difficulty, trying to find some breathable air. A doctor came by and asked me if anyone had spoken to me in a while. I said “no,” and so he proceeded to run through the details of the death sentence that Travis was facing once again, this time suggesting that it might be best to just take him home to die.

A woman who had been walking by stopped and listened intently to every word he was saying. She gasped and covered her mouth with her left hand while shifting an unlit cigarette into her right. As the doctor walked away she wrapped her arms around me and started crying. She smelled like a mix of stale coffee, alcohol, cigarette smoke, and hairspray. She was tethered to an IV pole and had failed to fully close her gown following a trip to the bathroom. While she attempted to comfort me, I gagged a little from the smell and wondered if she’d washed her hands.

She asked me the two questions that I get most often from people who meet Travis and me as a couple for the first time – How long have you been together? And Do you have any children? The second question is an obvious follow-up to hearing that we’ve been together for 10 years, married for 5. I mean, I assumed we’d have kids by now so why shouldn’t everyone else in society?

With cancer entering the conversation this line of questioning has changed dramatically. I used to respond to this question by saying something like “not yet,” or “we’d like to,” or even just “someday,” with the goal being to signal that this was something we wanted but that maybe you shouldn’t dig too deeply into our personal struggles with conceiving. Now, with so much uncertainty hanging over our future, I often pause and hesitate when faced with the dreaded kid question.

The smelly drunk lady in the ER was just the first of many people to take this line of questioning down an incredibly painful path. She talked about some guy she knew who had cancer, her own kids whom she sometimes wished she’d never had, and about how she only got to party on weekends when their dad “had to take them.” When she finally got the hint, that I didn’t feel much like talking, she gave me one last hug and said those fateful words “well, at least you don’t have children,” as she walked away to sleep it off in her cell some 15 feet away. I’ve heard those same words, or some variation, so many times in the past 18 months that I’ve lost count.

What she and others don’t know is that right around the time we were in the hospital receiving the devastating news of Travis’ cancer, we were supposed to be there for another, happier reason. After years of struggling to conceive, we were supposed to be welcoming the baby that I miscarried earlier that year.

I would be lying if I said that I myself hadn’t thought about how much more challenging the past 18 months would have been if there had been an infant in the mix. The words “at least I don’t have a baby to deal with” have even entered my own mind from time to time. But the comfort of knowing that I am not responsible for a tiny human life at a time when there are so many other things on my plate, is always quickly replaced by the crippling devastation that comes with knowing that we lost someone that we so desperately wanted to be a part of our lives.

But I won’t use this forum to lecture anyone on the finer points of comforting those who are grieving a loss. Newsflash, we’re all really bad at it. Even if you think you’re good at it, I promise you’re not, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. You meant well when you told your friend that God would never give them more than they could handle, that their loved one was in a better place, or that you could never be as strong as they are.

This is national infertility awareness week and so I hope this post raises some awareness of the struggles that so many couples face while they are trying to grow their family. I don’t want you to stop posting your baby shower photos, although I’ll admit that sometimes they may make me feel sad. I don’t even mind that you made that April fools pregnancy joke, it wasn’t funny because it’s not very original, but it didn’t hurt me. I don’t have a problem with you complaining about your kids being the terrible little monsters that I know they can be, and so I won’t lecture you about appreciating the fact that you were able to create life.

So why raise awareness of infertility, or anything else for that matter? Well, I think we’re just better people when we take the time to consider the daily struggles of those around us. That’s it, just be considerate. Do more listening than speaking if you don’t have something constructive to add to a particular conversation. And know that when you do say something ridiculous in an effort to comfort a person who is struggling or grieving, we will talk about you and make jokes about your attempt to console us in an effort to help us get through the day (so, thank you for that). And at whatever point you are struggling and I say something stupid and inconsiderate to you, I hope you can forgive me and find a way to laugh about it.

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Dear Hugh Jackman: Please don’t jump off a bridge.

By Julie

Dear Hugh Jackman,

Please don’t jump off of a bridge. That probably seems like a strange request, so allow me to explain.

A little over a year ago my husband underwent three brain surgeries (one planned, and two to repair complications that arose from the first). His doctors had prepared us for the worst, I mean it was actually brain surgery after all so we knew that when (or even if) he finally woke up, he may not be entirely himself. But nothing could have prepared me for the remarkable changes he underwent. When he finally woke up he was still Travis, but in his mind he had somehow become the Wolverine.

Now he wasn’t exactly articulating his thoughts very clearly, so when he talked about the metal that had been added to his system and explained that was why his nurses couldn’t draw his blood, and when he told me he didn’t need any more medications because his body was able to heal on its own, I struggled to understand what was going on. When he started showing his claws to one doctor that he was not particularly fond of every time that guy entered the room, I started to get it a little bit more but I just laughed it off as part of the healing process. I have called what he was experiencing a delusion, but to him it was incredibly real.

In the months that followed he underwent radiation and chemotherapy in an effort to kill the remaining bits of brain tumor that weren’t able to be removed during surgery. He continued to channel his inner-wolverine and became a champion for the cause of funding brain cancer research. In 2017, he raised over $25,000 for various research programs and, while still in active treatment for a grade 4 tumor, walked the full 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon course as part of the annual Jimmy Fund Walk. With such a display of superhuman strength I had to wonder if I was too quick to label his transformation as a delusion.

I am writing this open letter to you for two reasons. The first is to thank you for bringing the Wolverine to life on screen for so many years. What may seem like a silly comic book character to some, has been a literal lifesaver for my husband as he’s drawn strength from the self-healing soldier you portrayed so well. The second, as I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, is to ask you not to jump off a bridge.

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You see, last fall Travis got his second primary cancer diagnosis in just a year’s time. It wasn’t quite the life-altering experience he had undergone just a year prior, but it was a cancer diagnosis nonetheless. We had ignored a spot below his eye for years until he saw a post-operative picture of you online and he said “maybe we should get that thing on my face checked out.” After a biopsy we received the news that Travis indeed had basal cell carcinoma which, as you know, is a very common and treatable form of skin cancer. He had it removed this past December, and we’re happy to at least be able to say that he’s now skin cancer free.

So back to that bridge. I fear that Travis has finally taken his emulation of you and the Wolverine too far. It’s the only rational explanation for this additional cancer diagnosis that I can come up with. How else do you explain a second primary cancer diagnosis, one that’s completely unrelated to the brain cancer he is battling, in just a year’s time? I mean, I suppose one could claim that the skin cancer might have something to do with his failure to ever wear sunscreen during a two-decades-long career working outdoors… but just in case it’s the former and not the latter, I’ll ask again, please don’t jump off a bridge because I fear Travis would follow suit.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, please let me return to thanking you. Thank you for sharing your experience with skin cancer publicly, reminding others to use preventative measures and get regular checkups from a dermatologist. And, thank you for being an inspiration to my husband during the most difficult challenges he has ever faced. Perhaps you’ll be as inspired by Travis as he has been by you and you’ll join us for some or all of the 26.2 mile course?

Registration opens soon for the 2018 Jimmy Fund Walk. Team Wolverine will be out there again, raising awareness and money for cancer research and walking along side thousands of others who will be championing causes like yours and like ours.

 

Warfare

WolverineWarfareBy Julie

I have used a lot of metaphors to explain the various treatment strategies that have been applied in Travis’ battle against brain cancer. Sports metaphors have been my go-to because they come easy to me, but I’ve also referenced gardening, computers, sewing and dancing at various points to explain pieces and parts of the process. Now looking at the past 15 months, I’ve realized there is no comparison that can capture the whole of what has transpired and what is transpiring now besides all-out warfare.

We’ve all heard the terms “fight” and “battle” used to describe heroic efforts by cancer patients and their doctors in taking on this terrible disease, but I never understood the accuracy of those terms until I, myself, was drafted to serve on the front lines of one of these wars. If I had the budget for a big Hollywood production, I would get Tom Hanks on the phone right away to begin the scripting process (and, of course, have my casting director call Hugh Jackman). For now I hope my words will be enough to help you get the picture of how we got to where we are.

The first phase of the assault on Travis’ tumor was the surgical phase. Approximately 2 weeks passed between his original diagnosis and the day of the surgical assault, during which time extensive preparations were made for the battle ahead. A concerted effort was made to get to know the enemy, as well as the native population, so that as little damage as possible could be afflicted to the regions of Travis’ brain that were under attack through no fault of their own.

While the initial attack appeared successful, with more than 70% of the original insurgents destroyed or captured, the assault lasted a full 15 days longer than was originally planned. This dramatically depleted our resources as the surgical team was forced to return twice to the original front and surrender was nearly signaled. But the General — wait, maybe he’d prefer Admiral? He’s always been more of a navy guy… never mind that’s not important.  Anyways, Travis rallied.

The second phase of the assault was radiation. While I initially pictured some sort of precision laser beam attacking each remaining cancer cell (I genuinely had a vision of the old side scrolling space invaders game in my head), I quickly learned that that there was a lot more involved in the field of radiation oncology (and it’s way cooler than space invaders). Ultimately what I came to understand is that radiation is about cutting off the supply lines that feed the tumor. So we’ve completed this massive surgical assault and eliminated a vast majority of the threat. But there are still pockets of enemy invaders hiding within the region. Radiation is used to isolate and starve them by cutting off the blood vessels on which they’re feeding. Again, we want to avoid harming the native population but some collateral damage is inevitable.

So your initial assault was a success and you believe you’ve managed to isolate the enemy — but what if just a few insurgents managed to escape from the capital? The region is already pretty unstable, so just to be sure let’s use the intelligence we’ve gathered to weed out any remaining cells that may have escaped our grasp. During the surgical assault phase, we captured a lot of insurgents and learned a great deal about the enemy and how to defeat it and so a combination of chemotherapy drugs are selected, including some that have never been used in battle before, to go after anyone who may have tried to sneak out across the border.

In our battle, phase three at first seemed successful but we’ve discovered time and again that this particular enemy is smart, unrelenting, and seemingly determined to defeat the strongest man I have ever met. Our greatest fears were realized when intelligence gathered in December revealed that a few insurgents had survived, regrouped, and began to attack on an entirely new front. They are small but mighty, and just as we’ve learned a lot about them… they’ve learned a lot about us. They went after a major communications outpost which has limits the arsenal of tools at our disposal, attacked before we had been completely able to recover, and have used tactics that would most certainly not be sanctioned under the Geneva Convention.

So we’ve gathered our reserves and engaged the enemy on this new front. We have recruited the best team available and we are hitting this thing with all that we have. Most importantly, we have chosen to enter this battle with a champion who will certainly do us proud.

Though he may be wounded, he is far from finished. In the words of General Patton: “Wars might be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

Thank You

JT_Sept24

By: Julie

I had so many plans about what I was going to write after the walk. I was really going to bring it with all kinds of metaphors connecting the marathon to the struggles we’ve faced over the past year, and a full recap of all of the tear-jerking moments of the day. I write in my head before I ever put anything down on paper so, as I nursed my swollen feet and my aching calves I had plenty of time to assemble the piece in my mind. It was good, really good. At least I think it was. I honestly don’t remember any of it now.

Just a week after finishing the walk, while still coming down from the high of accomplishing a feat (albeit a very slow version of that feat) that elite athletes work and train so hard for, and while still watching our fundraising total creep up past $22,000, the wind was suddenly knocked from our sails. It was just a subtle change in one of Travis’ eyes, he was having trouble looking to the left, but we knew what it probably meant, and just like that our focus shifted back to crisis mode. In all of the chaos of scans and tests and added appointments, the joy that we felt just a week prior just disappeared (along with all of the words I had planned to say).

The past 8 weeks have been a bit of a blur, much like the first 8 weeks of the original diagnosis. A small problem with one of Travis’ eyes became a major problem with both eyes. His speech became slurred and his arm and leg muscles became weak. The man who finished walking a marathon nearly a full hour ahead of the rest of his team, was suddenly asking to turn around just a mile into our daily dog walks. It all happened so quickly that we both started questioning whether one of us accidently made a deal with big guy (or worse, the other guy).

We’ve caught our breath. He’s still fighting. And here are some amazing numbers we meant to share with you after crossing the finish line in September.

  • 4 – The number of miles walked with our Delaware supporters at White Clay Creek State Park.
  • 2 – The number of miles walked with our Ohio supporters in the Cleveland Metroparks.
  • 5 – The number of days between Travis’ most recent chemo infusion and the date he tackled the marathon.
  • 6 – The number of Team Wolverine walkers at the Warrior Walk in Rochester.
  • 6.2 – Miles walked by Team Wolverine at the Warrior Walk in Rochester.
  • 8 – The number of states represented by Team Wolverine team members in Boston.
  • 13 – The number of Team Wolverine walkers who walked all or part of the course in Boston.
  • 26.2 – The number of miles walked on September 24th by a man who was told less than a year prior that he likely wouldn’t live to see that day.
  • 31 – The number of states where our donors reside.
  • 38 – The place Travis finished among all fundraisers for the Jimmy Fund Marathon (38/10,000+)
  • 60 – The age of the oldest Team Wolverine team member to walk the 26.2 mile course.
  • 241 – The number of handwritten thank you notes we are sending to donors who made contributions to our team.
  • $2,612 – The number of dollars raised by Team Wolverine for the Wilmot Cancer Institute.
  • 6,091 – The number of roundtrip miles traveled by our farthest traveling teammate to come to Boston.
  • $12,878 – The number of dollars raised beyond our original fundraising goal.
  • $22,266 – The number of dollars raised by Team Wolverine for the neuro research team at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
  • $24,878 – The total dollars raised by Team Wolverine, which will be used to advance research for patients just like Travis.

Thank you to everyone who walked with us, who held a fundraiser, made a donation, bought a t-shirt, and shared our stories. Thank you to everyone who kept us going personally so that we could focus on doing things for others. Those words hardly seem like enough, but please know that they are spoken sincerely. Thank you.

How do you measure a year?

By Julie

In one month, God willing, we will celebrate Travis’ one year cancerversary. Probably over a sushi dinner, because that’s how we tend to celebrate milestones… and Tuesdays. We aren’t currently celebrating remission, being “cancer free” or even the end of active treatment. We still travel to Rochester every other Wednesday and spend the day at the infusion center, and physical and cognitive rehab are still on the docket twice a week. Slowly but surely, however, cancer is just becoming a part of our daily lives rather than dominating every minute of every day.

Given my background in museums and archeology, I have a tendency to look at material things and instinctively organize them into stories. The vestiges of Travis’ cancer story are scattered about our house like a poorly curated museum exhibit just screaming for organization and context. His radiation mask, flipped upside down and filled with slips of paper from a raffle we did to raise funds for cancer research, sits on our living room bookcase next to a file folder filled with get-well cards.

MaskThe cards themselves are a treasure trove of content that show love and support from around the world and the timeline of the relationships we’ve both built across our lives. About half of the 100+ cards are from one single person who has sent Travis at least one card, letter or care package every week for the last year. If I were curating an exhibit I’d certainly call out the story of their connection and how much her simple gesture has meant to us both. I’d also note how much a hand-written card can mean to a person who is so low after a 12 hour day at the hospital, and how much it means to that person’s support person when she’s lost the strength to be supportive after the 2 hour drive home that followed the 12 hour day at the hospital.

There’s a stack of half-complete elementary school workbooks from the earliest weeks and months after Travis’ brain surgeries when he had to relearn letters, numbers, colors and basic sentence structure. Both the incomplete and complete pages are reminders of how far he’s come. The incomplete pages subtly remind us that he’s come far enough to no longer need such basic activities, while the earliest attempts to identify objects and colors are startling reminders of the days when we weren’t sure how much of Travis we’d get back.

Colors

I opened our kitchen pantry this week and removed a large shopping bag where I’d been dumping empty pill bottles since last fall (saved not because I’m a pack rat, but to benefit an organization that collects old pill bottles for medical missions and recycling). After I’d peeled all the labels, steamed and washed the bottles and left them in the dish drainer to dry, Travis was shocked to see just how many we’d accumulated over the last year, as was I. For me this was the most striking visual reminder of what he’s been through this last year.

pills

When we came home from Travis’ first hospital stay over 10 months ago we brought with us about 10 pill bottles and each month there were more and more. Each time a pharmacist would sit down with me to discuss the reason Travis was taking each drug, how exactly to take each one for the best results, and how to protect myself from the more toxic medications I would be dispensing. Though I can still name each medication he’s been on and give you a complete oral history of his experience with each one, over time they became simply known as “the big one,” or “the yellow one,” or “that one that makes me feel like crap.”

If I were curating a Travis’ cancer exhibit I guess you could say that the pill bottles would be a key design feature. I would strategically locate them in a place within the gallery that draws the visitor’s eye, and arm the tour guides with stories about “the big one” that would inspire eager guests to learn more about brain cancer and the value of research.

For now I’ll just continue to pass by these things each day and allow them to remind me of how far we’ve come. How grateful I am to have had the miserably difficult year I’ve had, knowing that the alternative would have been a year without Travis. And, of course, how much I need to declutter the living room.

Why I Walk (June)

By June

I am not athletic by any means, but I enjoy walking. Walking gives me time to reflect, put things in perspective, and count my blessings.

When I was 13 years old I lived in Pennsylvania. Not only was I queen of the social group I ran with, I thought I was queen of the world. The day after my 7th grade school year ended, my parents broke the news that we were moving to Maryland. I  was extremely angry, telling my parents numerous times that summer that I would never have another friend again and it was all their fault.

That fall, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. What I missed as a disgruntled teenager was that my mom’s doctor in Pennsylvania had told her that she was as healthy as could be and could skip her mammogram. She switched doctors when we moved and, on the advice of her doctor in Maryland had a mammogram. Lo and behold: cancer. The year following her diagnosis was one of the hardest and scariest for my family, it was also a year that brought us closer together.

In 2007, my mom’s 10th year in remission, I walked 60 miles for the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Walk. That year I walked in celebration, alongside my best friends (Julie included!), thankful for that move that years ago that I had once resented. As I walked I reflected on the year after my mom’s diagnosis – recalling the time we all shaved parts of all of our heads when mom was losing her hair because of chemo and the night my 16-year-old brother modeled different fake boobs for mom to choose from. I reflected on how our family used a traumatic event to become closer than ever and I reflected on the power of medicine. We bought mom a dog that year and named him Phoenix – after the mythical bird that raises from the ashes. That year we rose together from the ashes. My mom is celebrating her 20th year in remission this year. We still call her our one boob wonder — and I’m just happy that we still get to call her something.

My first thought when I heard Travis had been diagnosed with Glioblastoma, was “What do I say? What can I do?” Over the course of Travis’ treatment, I’ve tried to find ways to brighten their day and show them support – even from 10 hours away. This walk is something I can do to show support. I am not sure what reflections will come out of these upcoming 26.2 miles but I’m walking to show Julie and Travis they’re not alone.

Why I Walk (Julie)

By Julie

I was blessed with four wonderful grandparents, two of whom I was lucky to have in my life until just last year.

My mother’s father got to know my husband during the first eight years we were together. The two of them had so much in common that there was rarely a moment of silence during our visits, and I would have to pry them away from Grandpa’s shop at the end of our time together. He made me a beautiful bookshelf and a lamp for my high school graduation. I see them every day and think of him.

My father’s mother taught me to bake, not once or twice, but in phases and with varying degrees of difficulty in the 32 years we spent on this earth together. She made me scrambled eggs and toast when I was sick (or when I just didn’t want to go to school and I could convince my mom to drop me at her house). She came to dance recitals, tennis matches and school plays, and could recount the details of these events even at 92.

My father’s father passed away suddenly when I was a teenager. He was 84 and just days before had beaten me in multiple sets of tennis. We once spent a whole day together, just the two of us (that’s a big deal when you have 20+ cousins to compete with), while on vacation in Louisiana. We went for a long walk and played racquetball.

My mother’s mother died when I was seven. She had a wig that she used to let me wear when I was at her house. She had breast cancer. I was so young that instead of memories that play over and over in my mind like home movies, I’m left with only snapshots. Even then, I’m not sure if those are real memories or photographs that I’ve seen in family albums.

Watching my mom take care of my Grandma was my first experience with cancer. As a kid all I knew was that I was going to Grandma’s house, and I was going to play dress up with her wigs. I don’t know if those were good days for her, but they were good days for me. Even from just the snap shots in my mind I know that those were good days for me.

As an adult, and as the primary caregiver of a cancer patient, I know now that they probably weren’t good days. I know now that my mom was probably at her house because it was a bad day and my Grandma needed her. She probably needed help with medications, was too tired to do much needed housework, or was having some existential crisis and just needed a hug and a sympathetic ear. I now know what bad days look like for a cancer patient. They look like tears and chills and muscle aches. They look like bland food, or no food, and taking a 3 hour nap because walking the dog around the block wore you out. There have been 25 years between my first and second (and I hope last) direct experience with cancer. As difficult as the good days are for Travis, I know that medical advances have allowed us to have a lot more good days in the past year than a lot of people have post-diagnosis.

My Grandma was my first “why.” I did Relay for Life as a teenager, walked two Komen 3-Days, and dedicated my first Jimmy Fund Marathon to her memory. She deserved more good days, and I deserved more good days with her. The advances in research that have happened over the past 25 years have already given my husband more good days. They’ve given us more long walks, more sushi dinners, and milkshakes for breakfast four times in the past year at our favorite restaurant in New Hampshire.

I walk for more good days.

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“He is my hero and inspiration. I’m proud to wear this symbol to show it.”

By Courtney

travMy brother Travis has always been well put together. He always has the right words to say and he’s well liked by all –honestly, the list goes on. I may not have realized just how much I looked up to and admired him while I was growing up – but I certainly realize it now.

Last fall, I was on my way to a friend’s house when I received the call from my sister-in-law, Julie, telling me that Travis was in the hospital and that he had a brain tumor. My heart sunk. I felt unsure of what I should say or even think. Actually, my first thought was to call Travis and see what he would say or how he would advise me to handle this, but quickly remembered that this was about Travis and he couldn’t help me. I had to pull myself together. I said “Okay, what do you need me to do?” She said please call your parents and let them know. So I did.

In the weeks after, there were updates. Then the date of the surgery was finally set and I made the trip to Rochester, NY. That was a long trip. Not just by time and distance, but it was very taxing mentally. I was unsure about how he would be or if I would not be able to handle seeing him this way.

Seeing Travis for the first time in along time, I felt guilty. Why I felt that way, I’ll get to in a moment. Physically he looked the same, he still had his same goofy smile. He still sounded the same when he spoke, he just couldn’t get all the words out. We went to dinner with my parents, and Julie and Travis. He couldn’t find the words for different things on the menu and it was hard for me to see him like this. He would tell Julie and she would figure out what he wanted and then order it. That just wasn’t him. I fought back tears and, as I was fighting back tears, the guilt really kicked in. How could I let days, weeks, months and, yes, even years go by without talking to him? My heart grew heavier.

That night I went back to my hotel room and thought about us as kids and the fun and amazing summers we would have at our grandparents’ house. I thought about the times that we were “treated” to cheesesteaks and I would do something that would upset him and he would eat all but the end of my cheesesteak. The countless fights, the countless talks. The joy in his voice when I told him he was going to be an uncle. And, of course, about why we had even stopped talking in the first place.

20161101_163038The following day we visited Niagara Falls, it was nice to spend some time with him and take some family photos together. The day after that, Travis had brain surgery. Following the surgery, he experienced all of the complications that less than 5 percent of folks get; from a bleed, to excessive swelling, to having seizure activity as well. He ended up having three surgeries within that first couple of weeks.

I had to return home before Travis was ready to leave the hospital, which meant leaving him lying in the Neuro ICU hospital bed and hoping I would see him again, but not really knowing for sure. The whole way home I thought about the treatments he would have to endure. The amount of strength he would have to have, both mentally and physically was unspeakable. On that long drive, I decided to do something that would give me a daily remember the fight he was just starting with cancer. I decided to get a tattoo.

I spoke with Julie several times over the next few weeks about Travis and his progress. When a loved one has a serious cancer, conversations about final wishes are unavoidable and, ultimately, my tattoo was inspired by something Travis said he might want to have done with his ashes. Travis has always loved the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout growing up and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He has always loved camping and hiking.  His choice of a career in the forest service was no surprise, since it would lead him to something to do with the outdoors, and it also made sense to hear that he has expressed an interest in placing his ashes with nature – specifically, to have his ashes mixed with Bear Oak Tree seeds and planted. I took that information and ran with it.

20170714_115610I called my tattoo artist, Steve, and told him what I thinking and why. He was moved by my thoughts behind this piece of art and the appointment was set. I am not a fan of pain or needles – tattoos, of course, have both – but throughout the time Steve was tattooing me, I reminded myself that I can deal with this pain if it shows my support and love I have for my brother. The tattoo was finished and I was super-happy with it. My work schedule has not allowed me to show Travis the tattoo in person, but he has seen pictures and loves it as much as I do!

I continue to show my support for his fight by helping to fund raise and will proudly walk next to him in Boston in September for the Jimmy Fund Walk. He is not only my brother and the uncle to my kids — but he is my hero and inspiration. I’m proud to wear this symbol to show it.

Keep fighting Travis – kick cancer’s A$$!

Unanswered

By Julie

The better part of two decades ago, my high school religion teacher made the statement: “there’s no such thing as an unanswered prayer, it’s just that sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” At the time this statement didn’t have a huge impact on me, except to ruin one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs. I don’t remember the context, so I don’t know if it was part of a larger lesson that she had planned or if it was just something said in the moment, but all these years later it means something to me.

Over the past 8 months numerous people have looked at our situation and commented on how strange, funny, amazing, remarkable etc…, it is that we always seem to find ourselves in the right place for whatever we are facing. And it’s true, while there’s never a good time to battle brain cancer, Travis and I are in a better position right now to take on the fight than we ever would have been before.

In all of my obsessing about why this is happening, I’ve looked back at the past 10 years and thought several times–what if it happened then? What if it happened while Travis was a full time student? What if it happened while we were living in an even more remote area, nowhere near a major research hospital or cancer center? What if he’d been uninsured? What if… I could go on and on with the “what ifs,” but “what is” is more than enough to deal with, and “what is” is that we’re exactly where we need to be right now to deal with what we’ve been dealt. Whether through fate, chance or divine intervention, every decision we’ve made and the decisions made by those around us, have all been leading to this moment.

But I didn’t just come to this realization over the past 8 months. My deeper understanding of my high school teacher’s “unanswered prayers” remark actually came a few years ago. I was still settling into a job that I wasn’t sure I loved, after leaving a job that I definitely loved. I’d run up against a wall with my previous employer who had chosen to look outside rather than promote from within for a position that I desperately wanted. I left my job in a bit of a huff. I pretended that I was okay with how things had gone down. I had not one, but three job offers, all of which included a higher salary and greater responsibilities, so clearly someone recognized my professional capabilities. But the truth is that it wasn’t the way I wanted it to go. It’s not what I planned, it’s not what I prayed for.

The person who got the job, ultimately, was, and continues to be, very well suited for the position. She’s doing great things for an organization that I greatly admire and respect, and I’m doing great things as well. But professional success aside, this all goes much deeper. You see, about two years ago as I was still settling into my “new” job, and as the person who got the job I really wanted was likely still settling into hers, her life was turned upside down in a way that I could not imagine at the time. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

I watched from afar on social media as he fought through surgery, radiation and chemo at the Wilmot Cancer Institute in Rochester, NY. I thanked God for my health and the health of my husband as I thought about the pain of uncertainty that must come with such a devastating diagnosis. And I found a much deeper understanding in why my prayers had been seemingly ignored, and why my plans had been rejected by whoever it is that controls our individual destinies.

You see, by the other person getting the job that I wanted, their family was able to return from out of state to their hometown. It meant rather than being halfway across the country when the cancer struck, they were close to the family members and friends that they would need to fight their fight. They were exactly where they needed to be to take on the challenges they were facing.

It was quite the revelation for a newly minted 30 year old who previously thought she had it all figured out. Sometimes things happen, or don’t happen, in your life. Sometimes you figure out why they happened, and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes when you do, you realize that the reason you didn’t get what you thought you wanted had nothing to do with you in the first place.

I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of destiny vs. choice. I don’t truly grasp why it is that we must suffer pain, loss and uncertainty, and my faith in something greater than us has never been more shaken than it is right now. But I do know that there is meaning and purpose in the life that I’m living. There is fate and there is free will, and the harmony in which those two concepts live create the road map of our lives. I pray for wisdom and enough understanding to make it through each day. And when I am left wondering why my life has taken a particular turn, I pause and remind myself that it may not be about me.