Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tears and Laughter = Life Worth Living

Happy New Year!

As I was reflecting about the past 12 months and sitting here thinking about where we were a year ago, I couldn't help but laugh to myself.

Many people have wished us a better year in 2009. Sure, 2008 has been "eventful", but I realized that over the several months, I have laughed more than I have in a long, long time. This is not to say that I was morose or depressed through the early part of 2008. Life just wasn't that exciting. It was good, mind you, but there is a fine line between living and existing, and I fear we were leaning towards the latter.  

Let's recap, shall we?

First, I accomplished a longtime goal of mine by being accepted to graduate school. I'm one of two people who were accepted at Penn State to pursue an MFA in Scenic Design and Technology.

We found out we were pregnant (well, actually, Angie was pregnant). 

Angie got a good, steady job.

We moved to State College and I began classes, which I love.

Maxwell was born. With much fanfare, I might add. And fear. Fear we might lose him so early in our relationship. Fortunately, he's a chip off the old block and apparently a lot tougher than his papa thought an infant could be. He beat the hardest thing in the world to beat: the odds. And it started with the conception (Angie was on the pill). But he's here now and he makes us laugh so much! He's become quite the chatterbox and he has taught me to laugh more.

I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early, and I will make a full recovery. This will give me plenty of time to dedicate to bringing about some awareness about testicular cancer. I'm hatching plans for the future.

Sure, we've had tears this year. But the final total points to far more laughs than tears. And really, we can't ask for anymore than that, can we?  

I'm not going to wish for a better 2009 for us. That would be selfish. I'm going to wish that 2009 brings us more laughs than tears, just like this year.

And this is our wish for all of you; 

May laughter fill your hearts, may joy sustain your days, and may the inevitable salty tears that fall serve only to delicately season your life and bring a deeper appreciation of life itself.

Happy New Year!

A New Year...

May this new year bring health, happiness and peace to one and all!
~Michael, Angie & Max

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good News

The antibiotics are working! Aunt Jean's white blood count has gone down almost a point (down 6 points from last Saturday) and she's been moved to post-op from ICU! If everything continues this way, she'll hopefully be able to go to rehab sometime next week.

Things are looking up!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


An update:

"Jean took a turn for the worse today and they are moving her back to ICU. Yesterday everything looked great. Today, she has developed a brain infection that they are treating with a killer combination of antibiotics. If that doesn't work, they will need to do more surgery early next week. Chad and Matt are sitting with her and I came home to send out the request for your support."

Please help us in wishing for her recovery and comfort for Allan, Matt and Chad.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

Back in September when all we could do was watch Max lay on a warmer bed with seventeen tubes coming out of him, Angie and I would comfort ourselves by dreaming of the future. We would talk about fishing trips with Max, camping and how he would learn piano from his mom. We would laugh to ourselves when we thought of "Daddy's Little Helper" in the shop and how I'd probably come home one day to find all my watercolors had been used to create a portrait of the dog which would hang on the refrigerator. But the one goal, the one future that we could see and the one we held onto in the darkest hours was that first Christmas Eve candlelight service at my mother's church.  

We imagined how it would be. I would have him in my arms throughout the service. People would stop for a look and tell us how precious he is. My mother would beam with pride. We would beam with pride. And he would sleep throughout the service.  

This is the dream that kept us going. When the storm was raging, this was our life raft.

When the cancer hit, it gained new life. There we would be, my tough-as-nails son and me, his tough-as-nails father, sitting next to my just-nominated-for-sainthood wife in the family pew, thankful for the opportunity to be seen.  

The chemo tried to derail the dream, but I chose chemo, so it works for me. I let it tell me what to do most of the time (usually, it's a nap, with occasional vomiting), but tonight was different. There was no chemo. There was no fatigue or nausea. There was just a chubby baby boy in a Santa hat at a candlelight service at 7pm.  

The dream happened. Perfectly. Better than we imagined it. Tough-as-nails father needed a tissue to wipe tears from his eyes and more than once he was mouthing the words to the hymns, because he knew if he would try to sing, people would hear his voice crack. Just-nominated-for-sainthood mother had the same problem going on. And Max topped it off. He was good as gold the whole time. He slept through almost all of it, except for one verse of Silent Night when he decided to take a solo to let everyone know that miracles do happen and that his lungs were fine.

Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright...

(Max's Solo) WHAA!

Round yon virgin, mother and child....

That was it. Nothing drawn out, just enough to make a point. Filled the whole church. Supported from the diaphragm. Nice tone.

I couldn't be prouder.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the 8th Day of Christmas...

Hi All- it's been a couple days since our last update and we have lots of (great) news to report!

Michael got through his chemo like a champ on Friday. It was a VERY ugly day weather-wise and it took us an extra hour to get to Geisinger. Michael said they were some of the worst roads he's ever driven. We actually watched a car (who was probably driving too fast for the conditions) almost plow into a police car, which was coincidentially pulled over to help another car who'd gone in the ditch. It literally stopped 2 feet from the police car.

It only took about a half hour to infuse the carboplatinum into his blood stream, followed by about 45 minutes of saline. (We joke that the trip there took longer than the actual chemo!) The nurse who administered it was really wonderful (we wouldn't expect anything less at Geisinger!) and explained everything really in depth beforehand. Michael had a comfy chair (complete with massage and 'butt warming' features!), ginger ale to his heart's content, a TV and probably most importantly- a crossword puzzle book. 

They put him on anti-nausea meds before the chemo and also wrote him prescriptions for some to take at home. Interestingly enough, these meds seem to be what makes him sick! He reports that they give him terrible heartburn and then combine that with hiccups and he gets sick. (And then feels much better once it's over!) He is also quite fatigued, but is thankfully on winter break from school now, so he's able to sleep as much as needed.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that he's also ruggedly handsome! (It might have been 'suggested' that I write that as well, but at least it's true!) :) He's so strong and realizes that he needs to go through this sickness to move on. It doesn't make it any easier to watch, but it's a nice reminder of what a strong-willed and wonderful husband I have. He's the bees knees.

The latest on Aunt Jean is that she's been taken off the respirator and is receiving oxygen through a nose tube. She's also been cleared to have solid food, but doesn't really have an appetite yet. She will probably be moved out of the SICU (surgical intensive care unit) to the MICU (medical intensive care unit) soon as she is no longer in need of the intensive care she has been receiving. It appears that she is preparing for the next step in healing by moving to a rehab floor! She is awake and talking, but gets tired very quickly. She probably has months ahead of her with physical and speech therapy, as she has some trouble at times forming cohesive sentences and thoughts. (They say you can see she knows what she wants to say but just can’t think of the words to say it, which is very frustrating to a woman with a masters and 2 bachelors degrees!) As of this morning (Sunday) her right arm is paralyzed, but her right leg is not, so they're hoping it's temporary paralysis.

The search is on for the woman who hit her. The police fortunately have 3 eye witnesses and all of their stories back each other up. They also have the woman's car on surveillance video, as well as video from a neighbor down the road. Apparently the woman hit Jean, got out of the car and saw that she was not responsive, told the three bystanders to call 911 and got back in the car and DROVE AWAY. When she is caught, she will probably get a minimum of 15 years, maybe more/less depending on whether or not she cooperates with the authorities. Her story has been featured in various media in the NYC area and the state senator has promised the family that they will use Jean's story as an example for other hit-and-run cases in the future.

So all in all, the thoughts and prayers are once again working! 'Tis a Christmas miracle! :) We hope that everyone's holidays are merry and bright! Thank you again for all of your support!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Update

The Latest: They're going to attempt to put a feeding tube in Aunt Jean today. She is able to recognize some commands, but is having some difficulty responding. There is still swelling on the brain, so your continued thoughts and prayers are appreciated! The same goes for my sweetie, as he undergoes chemo this afternoon. We're going to hit the road to Geisinger extra early so we can take it slow with the snow & ice. (He doesn't have to be there until 1:30pm) Uncle Dave arrived last night to care for the Maxster and brought him this adorable musical & light-up seahorse. That Uncle Dave is a sucker for his nephew! Admit it dude, you're hooked. (P.S. Happy Day, Nana!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008


As most of you know already, tomorrow was the day Michael was going to do his round of chemo. That has since changed- he'll be going in this afternoon. There's apparently a big storm headed this way, so Geisinger actually called him and asked if he wanted to do it today so as to not have to do the one hour drive to & fro tomorrow during the storm. Nice and considerate, eh? He had actually JUST been at Geisinger this morning for an appointment and they called him as he was about half way back here, so now he's on the homestretch to pick up Max and me and then we'll head back.

Here goes...

UPDATE: Scratch that- we're going to keep tomorrow's appointment and brave the weather. We just found out that Max wouldn't be able to go back into the treatment room with us, so he and I would just be sitting in the waiting room, which defeats the purpose of being there with Michael.


Hi Everyone,

First and foremost, thank you for your prayers, thoughts and support. Please keep bringing them on- they are needed!

This morning's update: Jean's eyes are open and she recognizes Allan and the boys. A few of her cousins have travelled to be there as well. They had to put her 'boxing gloves' back on her because she's been pulling out tubes. Her right hand and leg are no longer paralyzed.

They're doing another CAT scan this morning to see if the swelling has gone down and Allan will have another meeting with Jean's doctor afterwards.

More to come...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's Make Another Miracle

There's no real easy way to say this. Max's Great Aunt Jean was struck by a hit and run driver a half block from her house last night. She's in intensive care with a concussion, contusions, and a hematoma on the brain.

Aunt Jean and Uncle Allan were there for us during Max's dark days. They drove up several times to sit with us in the hospital and to provide a respite from the grinding days in the NICU. Their love and hope inspired us and were a large part of us being able to keep our sanity during those days.

Please help us send Allan & Jean and their sons Matt and Chad and their families comfort and healing during this crucial 72 hour time period. They mean so much to us. And we've done it before. Let's do it again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Mr. Man had another great date with his physical therapist today. She was really impressed with how much weight he's gained and how much stronger his neck has gotten in the past week. He's doing so well that she added 'Bumbo Time' into his daily routine. (Thanks, Niswanders!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Carboplatin and You

I had my meeting the the chemical oncologist yesterday. It sealed the deal on chemotherapy. Apparently, just this July, a study reported to a large group of doctors at a conference that the use of chemotherapy on patients with Stage I seminoma cancer is just as effective as radiation over the course of 5 years (the length of the study as of the's an on-going study). This is significant because chemo has fewer long term effects than radiation. Angie was sold as well, and frankly, she had greater misgivings about chemo than I did. Something about "not wanting poison pumped into her husband's body." I told her that it was for the greater good, and, hey, all the cancer patients are doing it! Max really didn't care either way, he just wanted to be held.

So, on Friday, December 19th, I'll report to Geisinger at 1pm and sit down for about two hours and get pumped full of carboplatin. Angie will be driving me home and Uncle Dave will be spending some quality time with Max for the day. I'll be nauseous for a couple of days afterward, and then be at my weakest 7-10 days after the treatment. This is when I'll need to watch infection and getting sick and all the usual chemo stuff. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we'll be at Nana's for the holidays. This time, unlike Thanksgiving break, I won't have a paper to write (which, incidentally, I got very high marks on that one) and I can just sit back and be sick. Or lazy. Or both.

This upcoming week is crazy stupid busy. Tomorrow I have to have a set plotted out for class and I have to meet with my Literature and Criticism group in the evening, then I have to set up a presentation of all the work I've done this semester. I have to turn in my final paper in the morning, a group presentation on Thursday afternoon, and the presentation of all my work right after that. I have design class Friday morning and a doctor's appointment Friday afternoon. The weekend looks pretty open, now that I think about it, and Friday will be the last day of classes for the semester. Woo-hoo!

The doctor's appointment on Friday is to see if I have any healthy sperm after the cancer. If I do, I have the option (at a cost) to bank my boys for future use. The chemotherapy may leave me sterile. This is probably the most degrading part of the cancer experience for me. What I view as a very personal matter is going being opened up to a bunch of strangers. Worse yet, if I do need to bank my boys, I have to pay for it. Capitalism at its best. Of course, in another form of society, my personal health and aptitudes may not qualify me to begin with. Gattaga, anyone?

Sometimes, misery doesn't love company. Our close friend, Shawn, and his family are going through a hell of a year. I don't want to speak out of turn, as private matters should remain as such until brought forward by those involved. But what I can say is that I never like to see friends suffer and have to deal with hardship, and this year, I've watched Shawn deal with more than his fair share in 2008. But he's done it with strength and conviction. He's been here for us in more ways that I can count. If you ever need a definition of what a true friend is, I'll talk to you about Shawn. And right now, we wish we could be with him at our favorite bar in Pittsburgh while we put our arms around each other and cry a little and raise our glasses to a bright future and knowledge gained. But circumstance being what they are, we can't be there right now, so instead, we will hope, wish, and pray that he and his family are given some comfort. I would ask that all of you do the same for this dear friend whom we love very much.

Hang in there, buddy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Three Months?!

Today at 11:07am EST, Miracle Max is officially 3 months old! It has definitely been a whirlwind and we're constantly amazed at how much he's changed in such a short period of time. It is with difficulty (and pride) that we post the above left picture, as it was taken by a nurse shortly after we were wakened and summoned to the NICU to say goodbye to Max. It was truly one of the most terrifying nights we have ever experienced and we hope that other parents out there never have to go through anything like it... but we believe in miracles and the pic on the right is proof that they exist!

I'd take another shot of him right now, but he's finally asleep on his boppy in my lap and isn't a fan of being awakened by Mommy's camera flash. (Yes, perhaps he has a little too much experience with this already...)

Yet there are the rare times I'm able to get a good one without waking him (like last night) and boy, is it worth it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Tis the Season

We hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Max was a busy guy over the holiday! On the family side, his Aunt Dr. Becky, Uncle James & Aunt Katie all flew in from their respective homes and on the friend side, Shawn, Brian & Andrew and Pisor visited as well. Max was passed back and forth all weekend and was never at a loss for attention! (I even had to cut in at one point for dibs on MY personal time with him!) Some highlights were: Nana's deeelicious Thanksgiving meal, playing the hilarious board game 'Don't Be a Dork', taking turns documenting the holiday with the awesome video camera Uncle Dave bought us and (as mentioned in one of Michael's previous blogs) actual SLEEP! Becky and I also went to see the new holiday movie Four Christmases and I fell asleep 3/4 of the way through it and woke up just in time for the credits. Sweet.

Since that blessed Thanksgiving Eve, Max has been giving us about 4-4.5 hours of sleep each night. FOR REAL! It's been an incredible gift. We've met with both his physical therapist and massage therapist in the past two days as well. Both are very nice ladies who will be a great asset to Max's development. The physical therapist will visit us once a week for the next two years and the massage therapist will visit us three more times in the coming months. The physical therapist was very impressed with Max's strength and alertness. She gave us several exercises to use during play time. The massage therapist taught me a couple techniques to help aid the end of his regular constipation as well. He goes back in for his next synagis shot in about a week and they'll probably weigh him again. We estimate that he's definitely over 10 lbs now! He has rolls of baby chub on his legs and neck- "it's okay to have rolls of fat when you're a baby, especially a preemie!" as Michael says. He's also starting to give us what we think are actual smiles. Talk about melting your heart...

A Michael update: he has an appointment this coming Monday with the chemotherapy oncologist at Geisinger. We should hopefully learn more then on when they intend to do it. Due to the potential side effects, we wouldn't be surprised if they wait until right after the new year so he can enjoy the Christmas holiday. He also has another CAT scan on the 22nd. On a side note, he seems to be loving grad school. It's nice to see him so excited and intellectually stimulated by the work and people. Sometimes it seems like we talk on the phone in between classes and work more than in person (thanks, Verizon!), but we knew it would be like this and we know it will be worth it once the three years are up! I'm so proud of him.

Next weekend we'll be introducing Max to the glories of the local Victorian Christmas extravaganza. It's apparently quite the sight and I'm a big fat sucker for all things Christmas. Max has recently started a love affair with lights (you should see him sit and stare at the dining room ceiling at Nana's), so I'm thinking he'll love all the gussied-up trees just as much as I do.

I had my first yearly viewing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" while my mom was here a few weeks ago. It's a family tradition dating back many years when we'd watch it at Grandma & Buddy's (Grandpa) house over and over. I dare anyone to a quote fest- I pretty much (to my husband's chagrin?) have the whole thing memorized back and forth. ("Is Rusty still in the Navy, Clark?", "She'll see the tree later Clark, her eyes are frozen", "See Russ? Can't see the line", etc etc etc.)

And with the holidays comes festive music... I won't lie- I pulled out the Mariah Carey Christmas Album a couple weeks ago and just added Andy Williams, John Denver and the Muppets and Mannheim Steamroller to my mp3 player yesterday, too.

Does anyone have any suggestions for other very merry holiday tunes?