A Little Help From Aunt Sheri

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I was still in college when my sister Sheri gave me a gift. She had been a special education teacher for more than five years in a Michigan town before the stresses of the job combined with her CF struggles became too taxing on her body. The district in which she taught was a low-income area that housed a prison, and some of her students had parents or other relatives in that prison. The needs were great. Sheri’s heart was big and she was the perfect one to love and nurture these children while helping them learn.

Because her district didn’t have the resources that some wealthier areas have, Sheri invested a great deal of her own money and time into making materials to use with her students. Her creativity really shone through in a lot of what she made, and when she left teaching, she brought some of it home with her. She gave it all to me while I was in college preparing for my own teaching career. I was able to use her creations in my own classrooms and later, with my tutoring students as well.

This fall I acquired a new student…an extra special young five named Lucas. At conferences, his teacher mentioned that he could use additional practice with fine motor activities such as writing his letters and cutting. For several years now, Lucas has been asking when he would be old enough to be a tutoring student and this was the perfect opportunity to make extra practice at home exciting for him! I put together a program which included muscle strengthening and fine motor practice but also tasks I knew would be fun and easy for him to make it an enjoyable time for both of us. When I broke the news to him he was thrilled and proud to be old enough to come to my office like a big kid. And I was excited too! It’s been lots of fun to have these two loves of mine intersect. Lucas has been an enthusiastic participant.

I was also excited to take out some of Sheri’s creations that had been dormant for a while. I told Lucas all about how she had been a teacher and how she had made a lot of the tools we were using to learn. We keep a picture of her nearby while we work–a Christmas ornament she made with her students one year. I even found some fun animal pencils she and I had made together once and the cat pencil has become Lucas’s official tutoring pencil.

I wish that Lucas could have known Sheri and that she could have known him. Someday that wish will come true. But for now, I’m so grateful that she can still be part of his life, even in this small way, and that we can remember her together as we learn.

img_0985Lucas was one excited boy on the first day of tutoring! He even uses the outdoor entrance like my other students do. After all, he wants it to be official!

Coloring, cutting, matching, tracing. It’s all good.

Here we’re using some of Aunt Sheri’s materials! Lucas is holding her special pencil and ornament, working on more matching activities that she put together, and jumping on vinyl letters she cut out and labeled to blend sounds into words.

img_1535Today in tutoring we learned how to draw a cat. Perhaps Lucas didn’t inherit Sheri’s natural artistic abilities, but I think they’re great and I know she would have liked them too. 🙂

Sheri, thanks for the help! Your legacy lives on.

The Glory of Week Three

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Happy New Year a month late! I didn’t intend to let so much time pass between my last post and now, but things got extra busy with the holidays, and after…well, I just felt a little uninspired.  I suppose that sometimes I need a break, even from things that I greatly enjoy. I follow several CF blogs and when someone doesn’t post for weeks on end, I begin to wonder if they are alright. I hope none of you were concerned!

We had a wonderful holiday full of family time, fun, and relaxation. Here’s a few of my favorite photos from Christmas:

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Christmas morning!

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Lucas made Jaime a hat…

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And me a necklace 🙂

The new year started with a bang…in the form of a virus that hit me on January 2. Admittedly, it wasn’t my favorite way to ring in the new year. Unfortunately, Lucas caught my virus and missed a whopping four days of school the second week of the month. This virus made him sicker than he has ever been and seeing that made me very grateful for how well I weathered it.

I wrote in December about my uncommon cold and this virus progressed in the same way, except for one notable difference. My doctor was out of town when I got sick, and the day it became clear that I needed antibiotics was a Sunday. Because of these two factors, I was prescribed antibiotics by an on-call doctor who has never met me. To his credit, he listened carefully to me, allowed me to (respectfully) question his antibiotic choice, and even accepted my personal recommendation for what antibiotics I thought I needed (based on what I guessed my own doctor would have prescribed).  And I must say, I chose well for myself. I started to feel better after just a few doses. The one difference, though, is that this doctor prescribed me three weeks of antibiotics rather than two. I used to always get three weeks, but lately my doctor has been giving me just two weeks of treatment. Two weeks is sufficient to kick the infection, but three weeks is just so wonderful. I simply love week three.

That may sound strange, but week three of antibiotics is the closest thing I get to a vacation from CF. Of course I use that term lightly. I still have to do treatments and therapy every day. I still have to take a handful of pills with each meal. I still have 40% lung function. CF never really takes a break. But by week three of antibiotics, the infection is gone and my chronic levels of bacteria are lower than normal. Because of this, I produce less mucus and cough far less than I usually do, even at my healthiest. My chronic cough is hard on my body in many ways. When it vacates or lessens for a bit, my life becomes easier. Here’s a few things I noticed last week during week three:

Monday: I woke up earlier than usual and still felt rested. I breezed through my treatments in record time because there was so little coughing and so little mucus to clear. Lucas and Jaime hadn’t even left for school and work and I was already through my morning routine! What to do with all my extra time?!

Tuesday: I (almost) made it to my 9:45 am Bible study on time. That. never. happens.

Wednesday: I had so much free time after my speedy treatments that I decided to go for a walk in the morning. And run some errands. I picked up Lucas for school. I decided to run more errands with Lucas. Let’s hear it for energy!

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One errand was to buy a birthday gift for Lucas’s cousin. He can’t wait to give it to her!

Thursday: I had a friend over in the morning. No need to preserve my kid-free time after I knocked out my entire to-do list yesterday! My friend commented on my clean house. That’s right, a clean house at the end of the week!!  I picked Lucas up and after lunch, we decided to put up some new maps we bought for his room. Several hours later all the wall decor in his room was rearranged and re-hung. I had five hours of tutoring that evening, but who needs to rest when it’s week three!

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Lucas is thrilled with his world map and US map (behind). He can start teaching me geography now.

Friday: CF decided to remind me of its presence this morning. In all my productivity yesterday I forgot my digestive enzymes at one meal. I spent the morning feeling sick to my stomach, but I was still able to get out for a brisk walk before I picked up Lucas, because #weekthree.

Saturday: I took my last dose of antibiotics. It felt a bit sad to bid farewell to my security blanket. I knew I would have a few more days of feeling better than usual, and with that in mind, I headed out for a walk. I surprised myself by powering through 2.5 miles in 38 minutes.

Sunday: I decided to do as much as possible to get into good shape before the adjustment phase hits and went out for another walk. I got through three miles in 48 minutes. Not bad!

Monday: Week three was technically over but I still felt great. A former student texted me and asked for an emergency tutoring session before an exam. Tacking on two extra hours of tutoring didn’t seem like a big deal so I agreed. (This just in…she aced her test!)

Tuesday: Week three’s extra energy was still fueling my fire so I decided to write a blog post on top of my Bible study and tutoring today. And here I am 🙂  I’m thankful for week three and for each day of feeling strong and energetic. I’m learning to enjoy these days as a gift rather than focusing on the fact that they won’t last.

Because they won’t. I know that things are going to get more difficult in the next few days. I also know that I’ll get through it and adjust to my normal once again. It will mean longer breathing treatments, earlier nights, later mornings, less productivity, more coughing, and more exhaustion. I’ll have to start over on my running goals and pace myself throughout the day. But it’s still a wonderful life–my own wonderful life. And God always supplies the grace and strength that I need. The glory of week three is behind me but there are blessed and happy days ahead!

100 (and counting!)

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One hundred of anything is usually noteworthy. Like if you owned 100 cats. Or if you live to be 100 years old. Or if you eat 100 hot dogs in one sitting. It’s kind of a big deal!

Last January I bought Betsy a Fitbit. Wearable technology was becoming more and more en vogue and I thought it would be a fun and useful way for her to manage her fitness goals. Collecting data on her sleep patterns, heart rate, and workouts seemed like a useful exercise.  From the beginning Betsy found it quite motivating! The default setting challenges you to log 10,000 steps each day. Apparently the American Heart Association recommends it for “improving health and decreasing the risk of heart disease” (who knew?). Betsy ended up getting me a Fitbit shortly thereafter so I could join in the fun!

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So true.

The thing about having a Fitbit is that it is oddly motivating. At least for Betsy and me. The Fitbit app even gives you a green star when you hit the targets for steps and for two people who were always motivated by extrinsic rewards, if there is a green star up for grabs – we are going for it! We often find ourselves doing laps around the kitchen table at 10 o’clock at night to get the last 1000 steps before bed. Fitbit gives you badges for bigger milestones like lifetime miles and hitting 20,000 steps in one day. In any case, it does the job. Both of us have been more inclined to be active whether it’s hopping on the treadmill or jumping up and down while we are watching TV at night.

This past July, Betsy started a streak of consecutive days with at least 10,000 steps. It started innocently enough, as she strung together a week of green stars. Then a week turned into two. And then Betsy was passing even bigger milestones: 30 days, two months. On October 26, she did it. The streak reached 100 days. And there’s been no sign of letting up! Currently the streak stands at 149 days.

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The day it all began…July 18

There have been days when the 10,000 steps came easier than others. A trip to the park with Lucas including walking there and back home plus all the running around and the ups and downs on the play structure make it pretty easy to hit 10,000 steps. On days when Betsy tutors for 6 hours, it can be really challenging! It’s a testament to her determination that she’s managed to keep the streak going for essentially the last 5 months.

The funny thing is, I had started a streak of my own, three days before Betsy’s current streak began. It flamed out after 18 days. I also had a streak of 47 days going during the months of August and September. Then one night just 87 steps away from the 10,000 target, I fell asleep on the couch at approximately 11:47 PM. I was highly exasperated when I woke up at 12:16 AM and realized what I had done. My current streak is 25 days. If you’ve ever tried it, you know it’s difficult. It’s hard to consistently log those steps. Which makes Betsy’s streak even more remarkable.

After her streak had reached a certain point, Betsy decided that she wasn’t going to break it until she got sick and there was a legitimate reason for her not to be active. A few weeks ago, Betsy came down with a cold. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she decided that she wasn’t that sick and carried on without missing a day of 10,000 steps! Turns out that light exercise can actually boost the immune system. Or at least that’s what Betsy told me when I suggested she take it easy and forget about the Fitbit for a couple of days. 🙂

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Today’s count…she’s nearly there!

Of course there will come a day when Betsy’s streak comes to an end. But it won’t be today! And it won’t be without an extremely good excuse. Like being eaten by a crocodile. 🙂

 

 

The Uncommon Cold

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Cold and flu season. The bane of my existence.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the viruses lurking around every corner this time of year stir up a bit of panic in those of us with chronic lung disease.

The past few years I’ve gotten my first cold just before the holidays, in December. This year, I got my first cold at the end of October, and I was less than enthusiastic about its early appearance. It started on a Thursday evening while I was tutoring. My throat began to feel a little dry, a little sore, a little unwell. The panic set in. Calm down, it’s just allergies, I told myself. But I had a nagging suspicion that was confirmed when I woke up the next morning with all the classic symptoms of the common cold.

Those first days of a cold cause a great deal of stress for me. CFers can never just “relax” and let the virus run its course. For the average person, a cold means a short period of annoying, uncomfortable symptoms, followed by the return of normal life. The common cold usually lasts 7-10 days. If you are a CFer reading this, I’m pretty sure you just laughed or rolled your eyes. I don’t remember the last time a cold lasted 7-10 days for me. For CFers, the common cold means annoying, uncomfortable symptoms, but it also includes the threat of a much more serious infection that can result in weeks of illness. Sometimes these illnesses can result in the permanent loss of lung function. The common cold is plain scary.

My cold lasted, from that first scratchy feeling in my throat, to the day I woke up feeling like myself again, exactly 38 days. Over five weeks. Here’s an outline of how my [un]common cold progressed:

Day 1: Uh oh…sore throat…the feeling of impending doom sets in. My poor husband is subjected to a great deal of my angst which is bubbling over as I see the worst case scenario playing out in my mind and sadly bid farewell to my six-month, illness-free streak.

Days 2-8: I sludge through the cold symptoms while trying to keep tabs on the health of my lungs. I worry. I ask Jaime 100 times a day if he thinks my cough sounds okay. It does. I try to relax.

Day 9: The virus hits my lungs. Each breath is a cacophony of various wheezes and hums and vibrations. I call the doctor and start on two oral antibiotics.

Days 10-16: I wait for my cough to improve. Still waiting. “Mommy, why are you spitting your fungus in the toilet?” Lucas asks. He tries to join me but he’s only got saliva in there. No fungus (or mucus) for him. I laugh and thank God for five-year olds. Still waiting on that cough. C’mon antibiotics, you can do it!

Day 17: My cough beings to improve. The Hallelujah Chorus plays in my mind. I try to join in. Yeah, my cough isn’t all the way better yet. I leave it to the angels and keep quiet.

Day 22: I can finally say my cough is back to normal. But this is already my last day of antibiotics. I take my last dose and hope it’s not too soon. Bye-bye security blanket.

Days 23-28: These are blessed days of feeling good. But I know what’s coming…

Day 29: The Adjustment Phase hits.

Days 30-38: I cough and cough and cough and cough (and cough). I have many wonderful friends, but this week, Motrin is my best friend. I need it to get through the day. I remind myself that this will pass. It will.

Day 39: It did! I wake up and realize I can make it through the day without Motrin! My cough is quieting. My muscles are less sore. I don’t have a headache. I’m through my cold and ready to start another illness-free streak. There’s that Hallelujah chorus again! I join in. It still sounds better in my head, so I decide to save that one for the shower.

The good news is that all things considered, this cold was relatively mild and manageable. I was able to function fairly well through it and I’m sitting here today, six weeks out, feeling good. I’m so very grateful for that! Perhaps an early cold this year will mean less illnesses overall this season. A girl can dream.

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Kisses from this little guy always make me feel better when I’m sick.

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Kisses from this big guy help a lot, too.

Conversations with Lucas, Part Five

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It’s time for another installment of Conversations with Lucas! I hope they bring a smile to your face 🙂

L: Mommy, am I holding my pencil right?

B: Yes Baby, that’s right.

L: Oh thank you! That fills my heart with joy!

[Mine too.]

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L: Mommy, no one is allowed to touch the cell phone tower. No parents and no kids. But I am.

B: Oh, do you have special privileges?

L: No, I have gloves.

*

L: Daddy, I want you to read this book! [Points to The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell]

J: Oh, the Three Little Javelinas.

L: Dad?

J: Yes?

L: Would you please stop speaking Spanish and read it the way Mommy does?

*

[Lucas, singing a song from church]

J: Lucas, if you know the songs we’re singing during church you can always sing along!

L: I know, but do you know why I wasn’t singing at church, Dad?

J: No, why?

L: I was waiting for the part where we eat the bread and dip it into that cup.

B: Oh, communion!

L: Yeah, I love that part.

B: Me too. Does it make you feel close to God?

L: Yeah, well, it’s just that being at church makes me really hungry.

*

L: Mom, do you know what?

B: What?

L: You and I have belly buttons.

B: True…

L: But Daddy doesn’t have a belly button.  Daddy has a belly hole.

*

L: Daddy and I are your husbands!

B: Well, Daddy is my husband and you are my son.

L: But we both take care of you and that’s what husbands do!

B: Yes, you’re right, but sons can help take care of their moms too.

L: Okay, I’m your five-year-old son and husband helper!

*

L: Mommy, Henny’s not playing in today’s soccer game.

B: Oh, that’s too bad.

L: Yeah, she has an attitude.

B: Uh oh!

L: Mommy, what’s an attitude?

*

L: Mommy, you feel warm.

B: I do?

L: Yeah.  Your skin is so warm it feels like the fur of a fox.

[He knows this because of all those foxes he’s touched?]

*

[Riding the bus to the hospital]

B: We’re going to pass your old preschool in a minute! And then we’ll pass by Aunt Ede’s work.

L: Then where, Mommy?

B: Then we’ll be on our way to the hospital.

L: Wow! You know almost everything!

*

B: Honey, can you please sit at the table while you’re eating? You’re making a big mess.

L: But Mommy, I can’t just sit still! I need a lot of exercise!

*

J: Did you have fun even though you didn’t want to go?

L: Yes! It was so fun!

J: I had fun too even though I didn’t want to go either.

L: But Mommy did.

J: Yeah, she was right. We should probably just listen to Mommy.

L: Yeah, girls know the right thing to do. They have better ideas than boys.

*

B: I have something to tell you. You and I are going to get a flu shot today.

L: NOOOO!!!

B: But wait, I didn’t tell you the good part yet. Daddy got the movie Inside Out for you from the library and we can watch it when we get home as a “thank you” for being brave and getting the shot.

L: Okay, I guess I’ll go.

[After surviving the shot and both watching and loving the movie…]

L: Mommy I really appreciate this.  Thanks so much for getting me that shot!

B: Um, you’re welcome?!

L: Next time I get a shot, I’ll say to the doctor, “Thank you for the shot.”

[We’ll see about that :)]

*

L: Mommy, I’m going to tell you a story.

B: Okay!

L: Once there was…[story continues for a good, long while].

B: Wow, that was quite a story!

L: Did you like it?

B: Yes…

L: Good! Because I’m going to do it again, but this time I’m gonna sing it.

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Thanks for all the smiles, funny boy.

Space for Grief

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Living with Cystic Fibrosis is hard. I am reminded daily that my body does not work properly and that to continue to live, I must fight. Some days I become weary. Some days I feel sad. I’ve been learning lately to give myself space for grief. Grief is unpredictable. It can be triggered by an event or a period of intensified struggle, and sometimes it surges up unexpectedly.

I’ve had a few times recently were grief has darkened my day. These dark days have traditionally made me feel guilty. I regularly see quotes such as these:

Someone out there is praying for all the things you take for granted.

Remember, no matter how many problems you have, there is always someone who has more.

These sentiments surely have a place in our world. In our consumerist culture it is easy to be in a perpetual state of discontentment and lose sight of all our blessings. We complain about minor inconveniences. We take things for granted. Many of us, including me, have not suffered the extreme hardships of hunger, violence, abuse, or the loss of worldly possessions that are rampant in parts of our world. It is important to remember that and to retain a proper perspective.

Sometimes when a wave of grief hits me, it brings with it a big dose of guilt. The voice in my head berates me. You have no right to be upset. So many are suffering so much more. Many CFers struggle far more than you do. Remember all those healthy years you had. You have a loving husband, a beautiful son, a supportive family, true friends, a wonderful home. Look at all you can still do.  And the list goes on.

It’s true. I am abundantly blessed and I know it. However, the pain in my life is real too, and sometimes I need space to grieve that. Sometimes I need to pour out my heart to God, lamenting the pain, explaining my hurts, expressing the sadness and disappointment. Grieving doesn’t have to be angry and bitter. It doesn’t have to indicate that I’m not trusting God, or that I feel sorry for myself, or that I’m not accepting my situation. Grieving doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not thankful. It is possible to be grateful for all the good in my life, all the blessings, all the wonderful things that have come out of my challenges, even to be thankful for the challenges themselves while allowing myself to mourn the pain, the loss, and the ongoing adversity. Some specific struggles have endured for years with ups and downs, times of hope and times of despair, bends in the road, minor bumps and major setbacks. At times I feel tired and bruised. There is chronic hardship in my life that will never leave me. Barring a miracle, there is no end in sight on this side of eternity. It’s hard. It’s sad. And so I grieve.

Tears can be cleansing–a discharge of the pain bottled up within me. It’s as if their release waters the soil of my soul, making way for acceptance, joy, and peace to bloom once again. When I take my hurts to God, I find the grace I can’t always extend to myself. There is no guilt there, no pointing finger, no accusations, only the reassurance of God’s love and His presence.  There is the reminder that while I will continue to struggle, I will never struggle alone. There is healing in that place of grief.

I felt compelled to write this post today. It’s definitely for me. This is something God is working out in my heart. Grief is a gift I’m learning accept without guilt and without comparison. But perhaps it’s for you too. Maybe you need to give yourself some space to grieve.  Maybe it’s time to stop pretending that your pain doesn’t exist, isn’t that bad, or doesn’t matter. Maybe you need to allow those tears to fall so that true acceptance, joy, and peace might thrive in your life again. Maybe you need to hear God whisper to you how much He loves you, how much He cares, and how through it all, He will never leave you or forsake you.

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Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

 

A Health and Exercise Update

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Friday, September 9th was clinic day for me. It had been three months since I’d been in to see my CF doctor. That means that for the past three months, I’ve felt good enough that I didn’t need any visits outside of my routine check ups. I really like my doctor and I’m pretty sure he likes me too, but we were seeing way too much of each other over the winter months.

I didn’t feel too nervous leading up to the appointment, not until right before my breathing test. Then sure enough, I felt my heart rate start to rise. There are just so many nerves when it comes to that test. I have felt healthy and strong all summer which is the most important thing, but you just never know what that FEV1 number will be. It’s hard not to be anxious.

In the end I scored a 39%. It would have been great to see a big jump since I’m feeling far stronger and healthier than I did three months ago when I scored 38%, but I’ve been through this enough times to moderate my expectations. It didn’t go down so we’ll call it a success!

Everything else checked out great–my heart rate returned to normal after the test, my oxygen saturation was good, my lungs sounded clear, and my blood pressure was normal. All good signs of health. My doctor was very pleased with how I was doing and was especially happy to hear about my exercise tolerance which he reminded me (again) was just as if not more important than what my FEV1 says. He also brought to my attention that in spite of several illnesses over the winter, my FEV1 stayed stable during and after the illness and didn’t dip like it did with my struggles in the winter of 2015. Stability is a wonderful, wonderful thing when you struggle with a chronic and progressive disease like CF. I am so grateful.

Which brings me to my next update–Operation Lace Up! A few months ago I wrote that I had achieved my goal of running two miles without stopping but I intended to work on diminishing the amount of time it takes me to get through those two miles. At the time I was running them in about 26.5 minutes.  Well…I’m still running them in about 26.5 minutes. I did start working on reducing my speed as planned, but I found that when I pushed myself even a little bit harder, I was getting over tired and not having energy for the other things I wanted to do. I took a step back and reevaluated my goal. I decided to continue to run two miles three times per week at the slower pace and to shoot for increasing my overall level of activity by getting 10,000 steps or more every day (which my Fitbit measures), workout days included. The summer is a great time to be active, and specifically this summer, I had a lot of work I wanted to do on the exterior of the house after being bitten by the Clean Window Perspective bug. I had areas in the yard I wanted to spruce up and Jaime and I decided this was the summer to paint our house.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that yard work and painting are physically challenging to someone with reduced lung function, but I love doing these types of jobs! The sides of our house and the perimeter in the back were overgrown with weeds, so I set out to clear the weeds and move rocks from the back to the sides where they could be more useful for weed management. I’m not done yet, but things are shaping up nicely.  Here are a few photos…

 

You maybe wondering what Lucas was up to while I was doing all this work. As you can see, he helped us paint (for a few minutes) but it took some creativity to keep him occupied most of the time. I put up a tent which I filled with books for him, turned on the sprinkler, even filled a snow sled with water. (Think portable bathtub).

Working outdoors (and going back indoors a hundred times to get the other book or bath toy that Lucas wanted) really racked up those steps! So far I have been successful with my goal and am on a 75-day streak of getting 10,000 steps or more. I feel like this increased level of daily activity has improved my energy and stamina which I’m very happy about. Fall is here now and winter is coming, so I’m sure it will be more difficult to keep it up from here on out. But I’m up for the challenge 🙂