Wednesday, January 29, 2014

To Those Who Grieve

This update is long overdue.  I can't believe how quickly time has passed!  Our lives have returned to a usual chaotic state.  Willie is back to work and staying busy with his plumbing business.  We are staying continually busy at our nutrition store and between owning two businesses there is never a dull moment.
Happy 1st Birthday!
On January 8th we celebrated Willie's first (new) birthday.  It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since he received his bone marrow transplant.  We celebrated by going out to breakfast and spending the day together.  It was an emotional day for me as I considered the countless blessings that have afforded us the opportunity to celebrate these milestones.
We are most excited about meeting his donor.  The bone marrow registry doesn't release any information on the donors until one year after the transplant.  We have contacted the registry and are anxiously awaiting any news about the woman who selflessly donated her marrow that will provide us with a cancer free future.  There are no words powerful enough in the English language to adequately thank her.
On January 10th we received sad news that Casey had passed away.  Casey received a transplant the same day as Willie and we grew close with him and his family during the months we spent together at Stanford.  We were saddened by the loss of a vibrant life taken too soon.
Last Thursday Willie and I drove down to Southern California to attend his memorial service.  The family had requested that nobody wear black, but instead suggested bright colors to honor Casey's memory.  Willie fulfilled the request and purchased a new pair of orange pants and a neon green shirt. The church was filled with every color in the rainbow and it was awe inspiring to look across the brightly clad crowd of people whose lives Casey had touched.  His zest and enthusiasm for life was in inspiration to all of us and he will truly be missed.
Casey's pastor from his youth group gave a wonderful sermon in which he recounted one of my favorite stories from the bible.  It is the story of Jesus and Lazarus found in John chapter 11.  The story begins with the sisters of Lazarus coming to Jesus to inform Him that their brother is sick.  Jesus waits for two days before going to the city where Lazarus lives and by that time the man had died.  The sisters were dismayed and said if He had come sooner, their brother would not have died.  Jesus informed them that their brother would live again according to their faith.
Then He wept with them.
Verse 35 is the shortest in all of scripture and simply reads "Jesus Wept."  However, these two words tell us more about the character of Jesus than anything else.   He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He didn't deny the sisters the opportunity to mourn their loss. 
Instead, He mourned with them.
He didn't tell them to stop crying.
He didn't imply that things could be worse.
He didn't suggest that it would get easier with time.
He didn't try and talk them out of their pain.
No, He wept with them. 
Then He went to the place Lazarus was buried and called him from the grave.  To me, the significance in this story is not that Jesus raised a man from the dead, but what He taught us about mourning.  We learn from Him that it is OK to weep. 
The truth in this story goes far beyond death.  It applies to any hurt, pain, loss or sadness any of us have ever experienced.  It applies to our hopes that are dashed, plans that must be revised due to unexpected life circumstances, dreams that are unfulfilled, and faith that is shaken. 
In all of these circumstances Jesus weeps with us. 
Then, when He has shared our pain He reaches out His hands to comfort us.  The miracle He provides may not be as dramatic as raising a man from the dead, but the healing is just as real.  I know this because there have been times when He has wept with me.  Those were the times when I felt there was no road ahead of me and the darkness was far too scary to venture into.  It was during these times that He cried with me, then took me by the hand and showed me the way. 

There is no greater comfort than knowing this peace is available to ALL those who seek it.

We have wept along with Casey's family at his passing and have prayed for their peace in the coming days, weeks and months.  They will always be a part of our journey and we will think of him with each passing birthday and live a better life in honor of him.  The trials the Clem family has faced have been astounding, yet they have endured them with grace and inspiring faith.  I am honored to know men of such valor and know that Casey and Melissa are smiling down on them from above. 

We just got back from Stanford where Willie had his one year bone marrow biopsy.  It was performed by Lenny, who was one of our favorite doctors when we were frequenting the hospital a year ago.  The biopsy was fast and Willie handled it like a rock star.  He will get annual biopsies for the next few years to ensure that he is still cancer free and that his new cells are behaving appropriately.
This past year has been a wild ride, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  We have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and through it all we have become better people.  Cancer has taught us how to laugh often, live in the moment, hope beyond anything that makes sense and love unconditionally.  Most of all it has taught us the value of people and we have been continually blessed by the hands of others.
To anyone who has helped us along the way we shout a genuine "THANK YOU!" as merely speaking the words would not be enough.  Your care and concern gives us comfort and hope for a fabulous future!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Updates and Anniversaries

It's a little ridiculous that I haven't updated this blog in a full 3 months!  We have been so busy with work and life that I have had no time to think of anything else.  Our summer was magnificent.  We took a trip to the coast, went to a Giants game, visited family, took a few weekend getaways, and traded in our old car for a Toyota Highlander.
We are moving up in life!
Willie has been feeling fantastic!  Our only complaint, if we had one, would be that we are becoming too busy between our two businesses.  This is a great complaint to have and we feel so very blessed for the success we've had in business and health. 
Today we celebrate 9 months since Willie got his new cells.  It's hard to believe how fast the time is flying by.  We also celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary last Thursday. We took a trip to Reno for the weekend to celebrate.  The highlight was a trip to Scheels which is a HUGE sporting goods store that is so big it houses a Ferris wheel!  I have been talking about riding it for a year and couldn't wait for our spin.
It was so much fun!  I could have stayed in the car next to my husband spinning round and round forever.
Life after cancer is a curious place.  There was a time when we had to adjust our expectations of life and our future and adapt to our new reality, but mostly we have returned to life as it was before Willie got sick with one stark difference:
Everything has changed.
I have found that my capacity to love has grown beyond my own ability to understand.  We are able to find joy in the simple things in life and laugh with greater ease.  We empathize with people in their own challenges and understand that everyone walks their own path which shapes who they become.
And we are always in the process of becoming.
Our future is bright and our hopes and dreams are limitless.  We go back to Stanford this week to check in with Willie's doctor and hope to be moved from every 6 week check ups to every 8 weeks.  He continues to take immunosuppressant drugs to keep his body from rejecting the new cells and we are in the process of weaning him off of those.  They hope to have him off of these entirely by next summer. 
And life goes on.
I am writing this in my living room as Willie lies next to me on the couch and flips happily between 2 football games.  Kona is lying at the foot of the couch and he intermittently scratches her belly and talks to her. 
I am complete.
Life is good.
"Happy football season!" Says Willie.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

One Year Later

One year ago today our world was changed forever. 
I remember the day in vivid detail as if it were yesterday.  Time drifted by at a glacial pace as we were quarantined in Enloe hospital anxiously awaiting the results from Willie's first bone marrow biopsy.  We were both exhausted.  The 2 days previous had been filled with countless doctors, a battery of tests, uncomfortable hospital beds and an underlying fear that prohibited either of us from relaxing.  I hadn't washed my face or changed from my black and white striped shirt from the moment we had arrived at the hospital. 
At lunch time I left the room momentarily to get some food at the cafeteria in the basement of the hospital.  A woman ahead of me in line kept glancing back with concern and asked if I was OK.  I forced a smile and nodded.
"I'm fine." I lied.
She smiled softly and we stood in silence for a moment. 
"Things will get better." She said, touching my shoulder with a caring hand. 
I nodded and smiled back at her with an expression that probably looked more like a grimace.  I didn't see how anything could get any better.
I knew in that moment that my husband had Leukemia.
He didn't know it yet, but I did.
I had known for a week after doing endless research on his symptoms and lab work.  It was a dark, nagging feeling that spawned from the depth of my core.  I wanted more than anything to be wrong, but I knew in my heart that I wasn't. 
I caught my reflection in the elevator mirror on the way back up to his room.  My eyes were hollow, eye makeup smeared, hair in a ratted mess and the trail marks of tears were evident in my worn makeup.  I looked like a train wreck!  It was no wonder the woman in the cafeteria was so worried about me.
I pulled my hair into a pony tail and wiped the makeup from my eyes with the tail of my shirt, before stepping off the elevator.  Willie was in one of two isolation rooms that had an attached foyer with a hand sink in it.  I entered the first door and carefully washed my hands.  The door to the neighboring room was wide open revealing a Hispanic family gathered around their aging father who lay motionless in the bed.  Their eyes held the same hollow pain that I had witnessed in my own, yet I knew their journey had been a very long one. 
My eyes caught those of an older woman who held the hand of the sick man.  I forced a small smile of empathy, but she returned nothing.  I lowered my eyes in respect and pushed the door open to our room.  I was shaken to the core, as if I was witnessing our future.
And I wanted no part of it.
It was only a few hours after that when Dr. Lombardi dropped the bomb of a Leukemia diagnosis.  We processed the news together for a few hours as I sobbed from a place in my soul that I didn't know existed.  I felt there wasn't enough tears to soften the blow that we had been dealt.
In the evening hours I stepped outside to call my family.  The sun was setting behind the hospital tower and I recall the long shadows that crawled across the parking lot.  I stood in the shadow of one of the towers and felt engulfed by it's darkness.
"Mom?" I shouted into the phone when she answered.
"Hi sweetie." She said brightly.
"Mom, it's leukemia." I sobbed.  "Willie has leukemia."
I screamed the news between sobs that I didn't even try to stifle.  I felt like an inconsolable child in the midst of tantrum, except there was nothing that could be done to make things better.
The other line was silent as I gasped for air.
"Moosie." Mom said firmly, using my childhood nickname.  "We're going to get through this." Her voice was fierce with conviction.
"I don't know if I can do it." I admitted.
"You will do it." She assured.
I cried some more.
"Moosie, what is the worst thing that can happen?" She asked.
"He could die Mom!" I shouted.
"Yes honey, he could die.  And then what?"
"Then I'd be alone."
"And do you believe you'd see him again?"
I stopped pacing around the parking lot and looked up to the sky.  A feeling of peace filled my soul as I was reminded of this truth.  I know there is a life after this one and I know we will be able to see our loved ones again.  This perspective takes the fear and pain out of death.
"Yes." I breathed through my tears.  "I do know I will see him again if he dies, but I don't want him to die."
"None of us want him to die honey and I don't think he will, but it's good to address the worst case scenario so we can move forward with hope."
I nodded my response knowing full well that she couldn't hear it through the phone.
She was right, and the reminder made me feel much better.
I walked across the parking lot and stood in the last rays of light that peaked around the tower.  The evening heat tickled my skin and I held my hands out at my sides as I welcomed the warmth that filled my soul.  It was as if the solar energy was recharging my warn batteries and I could feel my fire rekindling inside.
I stared the hospital with renewed determination. 
We would face this cancer and we would win. 

And win we did!
Today we look back at the past year with gratitude.  We have learned more from walking through the fire of cancer then we could have learned in a lifetime of experiences.  I have cherished every moment I have been able to spend with my husband and I'm most grateful for the amazing support from family and friends that have made it possible for us to be together.  We have been blessed so deeply that I stand in awe at the kindness that has been shown to us.  Most importantly I am grateful to a loving God who has perfectly orchestrated all of this for us. 
There are no words to express our complete gratitude.
Thank you will never be enough.

Willie is doing fantastic!  We have had two follow up appointments at Stanford with Dr. Laport and both appointments have been uneventful.  Yesterday we drove 3 hours to Stanford just to see the doctor for 10 minutes!  It was a 6 hour round trip for her to confirm that he is doing as well as he feels and tell us to come back in 3 weeks. 
The drive is never a burden though, as we are happy to give up that time in order to consult with the best doctors on the planet. 

Life is good.
I started to work again at our nutrition store and Willie has been helping out at the gym.  His doctor cleared him to start lifting weights again so he has been slowly starting back.  I watched him bench press 150 lbs the other night like it was nothing.  I find it funny that in my wildest dreams I could never bench that much and he is doing it easily after having a bone marrow transplant!  It's fantastic!

Thank you all for your love, prayers, donations, thoughts and support.  We are so very, very grateful.  I'll still update the blog occasionally, but I'm dedicating my time now to writing a book about our adventure!
And what a wild ride it has been!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Last Visit at The Cancer Center

People are fantastic!
This world would be so empty without our relationships.  The best part of this past year has been the people we have met along the way.  We have welcomed doctors into our lives like family members and made friends that will last a lifetime. 
Last Tuesday we went to Willie's appointment at the cancer center.  Lenny came over with his usual smiling face and got updates on how things have been going.  Willie had been feeling fantastic and we have no complaints except for the ingrown toenail that is nagging him, but even that is nothing in comparison to where we've been.
"You've done really well." Lenny said with a smile.  "I'm going to miss seeing you here, but I wish you two the best of luck in the future."
"Is this goodbye?" I asked in shock.  We've had a lot of false alarm goodbyes in the past and this one was entirely unexpected.
"But we have an appointment here next week." Willie corrected.
"Your appointment next week is with Dr. Laport downstairs." Lenny said with a shake of his head. "She will do your lab work down there so this is the last time we will ever see you here in the ITA."
It was a declaration I wasn't prepared for. 
We must have looked like we had been slapped because Lenny just laughed and gave us both a hug.
"You're going to be fine." He assured.
We thanked him profusely for all he has done for us then said another goodbye. 
"Come and say hi anytime." He encouraged with a wave.
We said goodbye to a few nurses in the hallway then took our final walk out of the cancer center.  That is the last time we ever intend to enter that unit as a patient!
On our way out to the parking lot we stopped by a booth that was promoting clinical trials.  Willie told the woman at the table that he had given blood and tissue samples for research studies and the lady jumped out of her chair and gave him a Stanford pin that says "Hero for Research."
He immediately pinned it on his shirt and smiled.
"Now I'm a Stanford doctor." He said and I laughed.  I had to agree the resemblance the pin provided was uncanny.
We were still a little dazed as we waited for the valet to get our car.
"I didn't know today was going to be our last time." I said to Willie.
"Me either." He agreed. "It feels weird."
A nurse called to us from the crosswalk then came over to congratulate us.
"Today was our last appointment at the ITA." Willie told her.
"I know." She smiled. "I am so happy for you."
"Aren't you retiring soon?" I asked, knowing the date is drawing close.
"Tomorrow is actually my last day." She said bashfully. "I'm trying not to broadcast it, but it's ironic we are both leaving here at the same time."
We gave her hugs and thanked her for all of her help as well.  She has been with us through these past few months and we have grown to love her.  We wish her all the best in her retirement.

There is not a word powerful enough to relay our gratitude to the staff at Stanford.  We have always had complete confidence in their care and have felt like family among the staff.  If we had to have cancer, I'm happy we were able to get treatments at such a stellar hospital.
I am also most grateful to our community for their continual support of Willie.  I have been working a bit at our store and have received nothing but encouraging comments and well wishes for Willie.  His victory over cancer is a victory for the entire community and their joy brings us joy anew everyday.
We wouldn't be here today with the support of this awesome community and the thoughts and prayers from loving friends and family. 
People are awesome!
This coming week we meet with his original transplant doctor.  We haven't seen her since February so we are looking forward to meeting with her again.  She will be giving us the results on how many of the cells in Willie's bone marrow are his and how many belong to the donor.  Lenny said he expects that 100% of the cells will belong to the donor and that is what we're shooting for. 
More updates on that to come.
Happy Sunday to all!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day 100!!!!

Today marks 100 days since Willie received his transplant.  This is a big day in the transplant world because it is the day that most patients get to go home.  We were lucky that Willie did so well that we have been able to be home for two weeks now. 
The day got off to a fabulous start when we learned the our friend Casey got good results on his bone marrow biopsy.  They found no cancer cells and he gets to join Willie in the cancer free club!  We are so happy for him and his family and celebrate in their joy with them.
Willie and I went to lunch in Chico to celebrate our victory.  We had an amazing meal at the Pour House which is a restaurant we've been talking about going to for a full year. 
"Do you feel like the past 100 days have gone by fast or slow?" I asked Willie as we ate our delicious burgers.
"It feels like longer." He said between bites of his fancy burger.
"To me it feels long and short at the same time." I agreed.
"Yeah." He nodded.  "There were parts that were really long, but overall it wasn't that bad."
I agreed.
It was 100 days spent in a total time warp.
And I'm grateful for every moment of it.

Things have been awesome the past two weeks since we've come home.  Willie continues to improve and has been feeling excellent.  Baseball season started again so he is busy watching his Giants play and annoying the dogs as much as possible.  The dogs couldn't be happier to be annoyed by him so it is a perfect scenario.

That's all the news for today.

Happy day 100 to all!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cancer Free!!!!

Yesterday we walked away from cancer.
We woke up early for our 3 hour drive to Stanford which didn't feel like the slightest inconvenience since it comes with the freedom of living at home.  We arrived at the cancer center just before 11 AM and got to sit in the common area instead of an isolation room for the first time in almost two months.  Willie was feeling good and looking great! 
"I'm just so happy to be here today." I said to Willie as we took a seat and waited for our nurse.
"Why?" Asked, slightly skeptical.
"I don't know." I replied.  "I guess because it's the first time we've come here just to check in and not for anything else."
He nodded in reply and I sat back in my chair and smiled. 
I was completely content.
A handful of nurses came by and talked with us like we were celebrities at an event.  Each of them congratulated Willie on a job well done and he accepted each remark with grace.  After a few minutes Lenny came over, found himself a rolling stool and sat down in front of Willie.
"Congratulations my friend." He said with a smile so wide I thought his face would split. "We got back the preliminary results on your biopsy and there are no cancer cells to be found!"
Neither of us were expecting to hear results until our appointment on May 1st so this news slapped us both into a stunned silence.
I looked at Willie, who was looking back at me with the same face of shock that must have been on my face.
"You got results back already?" He responded in what must have been the only thought he could grasp.
Lenny laughed and patted Willie on the knee.  "You did it man." He said brightly.  "You did it!"
I exhaled so long and loudly that I think the people across the room may have felt the wind.  It was as if the breath I have been holding since his diagnosis finally found it's escape in this amazing news.  I have imagined this moment when I hoped to hear news like this.  I thought I would cry and throw myself on the ground in exhausted sobs, completely overcome with gratitude.
That didn't happen.
I was overcome with gratitude, but it translated into a feeling of happiness so intense that I can only compare it to the excitement I felt on Christmas morning as a child.  I wanted to stand on my chair and sing out to the world that we had made it, that we did it!
I reached out and touched Willie's other knee and he smiled back at me.
"We did it!" I echoed Lenny.
"We did it." He repeated softly to himself, as if he didn't really believe it.
"That right," Lenny nodded. "You both did this. You couldn't have done it without your awesome wife."
"I am awesome!" I joked.  "I have to remind him how awesome I am though."
"My wife tells me too." He laughed.
He turned to the computer, implying it was time to get back to business.
"We are still waiting on the cytogenetics of the biopsy which will tell us what percentage of the cells are the donors, but I would be surprised if it wasn't 100% donor cells since everything else looks good."
We nodded in reply and he continued to click on the computer.
"Your labs look excellent today so we'll just stick with the current plan and see you in two weeks!"
With that, he shook our hands, congratulated us again then sent us on our way.
It was the shortest appointment we've ever had which is truly ironic since we had to drive 6 hours round trip for it.
But it was worth the good news.
The best news ever!
We left the cancer center walking on air.  I can't remember a time in my life when I have ever felt a sense of complete and utter joy as I did in those moments.  It was the definition of bliss.
We walked over to the F Ground unit to visit Casey.  He was having a hard day and we had nice visit with him. I hate the fact that he is still in the hospital while we get to go home, but I have to remind myself that cancer does not take any two people on the same path.  Casey said he wasn't feeling very inspiring that day and it led to an interesting discussion on staying positive through cancer.  It is no easy task to remain upbeat and happy through the drudgery of treatment.
In fact, I think it's impossible.
Casey is an inspiration as is Willie and any human being who has ever been dragged through the battlefield of cancer and struggled to stand at the end with their heads held high.  They are an inspiration not because they are happy every day or smile in the face of torment, but because they have the courage to face the fears that many of us cannot comprehend.
When we were in the hospital last year waiting for Willie to be diagnosed, a good friend of ours counseled us to have courage to accept the diagnosis he would be given.  We didn't know the full depth of this statement until we were thrown into the fire and our courage was tested on a daily basis.  Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens one and strength in the face of pain. 
Cancer has given these men courage beyond any of our ability to understand.
It has tumbled them through a course of refinement until all of their rough edges have been polished and they have shined like precious stones.
It has pushed them to the very edge of their capacity, past the point where the rest of us would have waved a flag in the air while shouting "I give up! I can't do this anymore!"
They are men of complete and total courage.
And their courage brings us hope to face our fears that are far less challenging.
And that, Casey, is what makes you inspiring!

Today I am overwhelmingly grateful for the events of this past year.  Willie still has a lot of healing to do and we know our lives will never be the same, but I am happy to accept that.  We are different people than we were a year ago when we began this journey. 
We are better.
We are stronger.
Above all, we have gained a deep and personal relationship with our loving Father in Heaven who has sustained our hope, quieted our fears and provided us with miracles beyond comprehension.
It is this gift that I am most deeply grateful for and one that makes this trial a small price to pay for the reward it has given.
I feel we have walked through the fires of Hell and come out happier because of it.  The concept boggles my mind, but it is undeniable.   I now stand with a firm conviction that there is no trial so big that it is impossible to conquer.  There were times along our path where the weight of the burden brought us to our knees, but these were the times when we looked upward and cried out for help. 
There is always divine help awaiting those who ask.  I know this because we never would have made it without the silent support of heavenly hands that helped carry our load when it seemed we couldn't go a step further.  God does not take our burdens from us, but he is always waiting to help us carry the load.
Thank you all for your love, prayers, thoughts, donations and overwhelming support.  We have been blessed beyond reason and are most grateful to everyone who helped us along the way. 
Hugs all around!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 85. Willie's Birthday and Moving Home!

Tuesday was an emotional day for me.  We moved out of the apartment in the morning then went to Willie's appointment at the cancer center.  It was the big biopsy day that we have been dreading and simultaneously looking forward to for weeks.
"I've been getting my arm loosened up." Lenny joked as we passed him on the way to a private room.  "I'm just going to lift some weights then I'll come do the biopsy."
We have really grown to love Lenny and will miss seeing him twice a week.
The nurse drew about 15 tubes of blood.  Some of them were for tests, but most were for a study that Willie has been a part of that will help identify blood markers in Leukemia patients.  When she finished, Lenny came into the room with a lady from the lab.
"You ready for this?" He asked with a broad smile on his face.  "We only need aspirate today so I won't need to use the drill."
We both exhaled loudly at this news.  When a bone marrow biopsy is done they drill into the hip bone with something that looks like a hollow screw driver and take out the blood inside the hip.  This is called aspirate fluid.  Sometimes they take a bone sample as well which means drilling into the hip again with a hollow screw driver and popping out a piece of bone.  That second part of the biopsy is the most painful and Willie was not looking forward to that.  We were so happy to hear they only needing aspirate.
Lenny prepped Willie for the biopsy and started drilling within minutes.  He got into the hip on the first try and attached a large syringe to the instrument to suck out the marrow blood.  Willie says this part feels like they are sucking your insides out and can be painful.  Lenny needed 6 cc's total and took his time drawing up the aspirate.  He handed the syringe to the lab tech who squirted it in the dish and smiled.
"This is a great sample!" She said. "There are a lot of spicules."
"Is that a good thing?" Willie asked.
"It means there are cells in the marrow, which is good." Lenny replied.  "Now we have to test them and see if they are cancerous cells or not."
The room fell quiet under the burden of this news. 
"We have no reason to think there will be any cancerous cells though." Lenny added as he placed a large band aid over the hole he had just drilled in Willie's hip.  "The cells would have shown up in your lab work by now if there was any cause for concern."
We relaxed at this news.
"You're going to be fine." He reassured.  "You've done really well and your labs have been looking fantastic."
As if on cue, the nurse returned with Willie's labs for that day.  All of his counts improved and he is almost normal on all of his levels. 
"He won't be needing that PICC line anymore."  Lenny said to the nurse.  "You can go ahead and take it out."
She had already planned on doing this and had all the equipment ready so she got right to work.  The process of taking a PICC line out is much easier than putting it in.  All she had to do was snip the stick that held it in place and pull the 18 inch line out. 
Willie complimented Lenny on his biopsy skills as the nurse pulled his line out.
"I guess I'm better at it than others since I've had 9 biopsies myself and I know how it feels."
"Did you have cancer?" I asked, in total shock.
He looked at the floor and laughed, looking a little ashamed.
"No, I didn't." He said. "I was in medical school in the 80's and back then they would pay people to donate bone marrow for study purposes so I did it as often as they would let me."
We laughed at that.  It's just like selling plasma to pay rent, but to the extreme.
"I had a lot of bad biopsies that were really painful and very few good ones, but I learned from them how I could do them better."
"I'm glad you did." Willie laughed.  "What did they pay you for them?"
"200 a pop." Lenny said, looking sheepish.
"I've had 7 and no one has paid me a dime!" Willie joked.
"And then we ask you to pay us!" Lenny added. and we laughed.
By this time the nurse had finished pulling the line and had placed a large bandage over the hole.
"Looks like your free!" Lenny said, helping Willie to his feet.  "We'll see you next week to check in.  Now all you have to do is go home and have a happy birthday!"
We thanked him and had the nurse take a picture of us together.  He has been such a blessing to us and we are so grateful to him.
We left the cancer center and walked over to the main hospital to see our friend Casey.  He is in the F ground unit which is where Willie was admitted for a month last year when he was first diagnosed.  It was strange to walk back onto the unit and think about everything that has happened since we were there.
 It was on that floor that the doctors first mentioned the possibility of Willie needing a bone marrow transplant.  It was there that we cried after hearing this news and refused to consider such a risky procedure.  It was there that we began facing the fear and relentless anxiety that comes along with cancer.  But it was also there that we learned that there is an abundance of peace to be found in times of trial. That unit represents the beginning of a journey that we are nearing the end of and it was an appropriate time to come full circle in our path.
Casey has been receiving chemo and was not doing well and had a high fever when we got there.  He had been out of it all day and was sleeping when we arrived.  We talked with his parents for a while then Casey started to come around.  He was still out of it so we didn't stay long.  Those are the moments that I wish no one ever had to go through.  We've been through it with Willie and it never gets any easier.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to that dear family who we have grown to love. 
Yesterday was Willie's 34th birthday.  33 was the most challenging year of either of our lives, but also the most rewarding.  It is a relief to move past 33 and onto a brighter future.  We celebrated with smoked ribs and mashed potatoes at his parent's house.  Some family and friends came over and we enjoyed the evening together.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude as we sang "happy birthday" to him.  I will never again take the singing of that song for granted. 
Willie's 33rd year is one I will forever be grateful for, but never want to repeat.
It taught me how to life deeply.
Laugh fully.
Love with reckless abandon.
And hope beyond anything that makes sense.
It is that hope that will keep us going for 33 more years then 33 more after that! 
Happy Birthday Willie!
I love you!