Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mom; Part Three

Here is the final portion of Mom's Cancer story.  This is the speech that I presented for Lung Force - a campaign started on May 12th by the American Lung Association to bring awareness, recognition, and support to Lung Disease.  I've made a few tweaks, but hope you'll appreciate the message. 

I hope this goes without saying, but please recognize how difficult it was for me to write and then publicize this.  Any harsh words or criticism will be removed to protect my family and I.  

You can find Part One here and Part Two here


On Friday, September 7th, I went home to pick-up Mom and take her for a chemo treatment at the hospital, but something didn’t seem right.  She was still in bed, seeming to be in more pain than before, and wasn’t dressed and ready to go.  This was the first time in her treatment that she wasn’t dressed, ready, and waiting for me when I arrived.  After a few minutes with mom, I had some concerns and called my go-to for medical advice,  my husband Kevin, we discussed the weakness in her grip and speech patterns and decided that a trip to the Emergency Room was in order.  I’ve never been so sad to be right in my whole life, Mom had suffered a stroke sometime that day.  The next three days were filled with tests, information that there were even more tumors than previously, and a transfer to intensive care.  We spent my dad’s 60th birthday in the hospital, and possibly the hardest phone call my dad has ever had to make to the Red Cross.  The Red Cross was our lifeline to the Army, to contact my brother who during Mom’s hospital stay was training in Georgia. 

Just 5 days after she walked into the hospital, my little brother finally made it home, and she was discharged via ambulance to come home on hospice.  We had another 7 days with mom at home, and filled her days with friends, family, and books – the things she knew and loved.  I’ve said for a lot of years that when I “grew up” I wanted to have friends like my parents – this was only cemented after these two weeks.  Friends would stop by, with beer, muffins, or just to say hi.  They would sit for hours, in her bedroom, in the kitchen, or playing outside with the dog.  My mom’s amazing brothers & dad came every single day to visit, give us a chance to nap, and help in any way they could.  I’ve never been brought to tears by food, but when the “Bookheimer men” showed up with lasagna and a 6-pack, I couldn’t even find the words to say thank-you.  After 7 days at home, mom was “on hospice”, but still clearly in charge.  She couldn’t find all the words, but found a way to tell us she wanted to go downstairs.  She wasn’t strong enough to do the stairs on her own, so Kevin, Chris, & Dad carried her down, cheerleader style.  She relaxed in the kitchen with us while we ate dinner and then napped in the living room while we watched tv before bed.  We made one more trip back upstairs before bed & could tell she was exhausted, but happy.  All it took was a trip downstairs and an evening with her family for her to truly relax.  The next day, Wednesday, September 19th, just 13 months after being diagnosed with cancer, we lost my mom’s battle with Lung Cancer.  

My mom was a fighter through and through – I am blessed with her ability to find the positive in any situation, organize my way through anything life may throw at me, and am a solution seeker.  These skills and my love for my mom, have brought me to where I am today.  I was so unsure of many things when we lost her, but one thing I am confident about is my ability to help others.  I began my journey with the American Lung Association in October of 2012 – just a few weeks after my mom’s passing.  I needed to do SOMETHING – and the Fight for Air Climb gave me something to put my energy into, something to fundraise for, and an event to attend with my family, friends & supporters.  I’ve participated in other “non-profit” events, but the combination of the ALA’s specific goal and cause, combined with their obvious love and dedication to this cause is what continues to bring me back time and time again.  In the 20 months I’ve participated in the American Lung Assn events, Team Little Debbie has participated in 3 Fight for Air Climbs in Eastern PA and raised more than $10,000 in the fight against lung disease.  My goal continues to be twofold – first to keep the memory of my mom and her legacy alive every day.  Second, to do all I can to help find a cure for these diseases – so no son or daughter should face this kind of hurt again.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Mom; Part Two

Here is part two (of three) of Mom's Cancer story.  This is the speech that I presented for Lung Force - a campaign started on May 12th by the American Lung Association to bring awareness, recognition, and support to Lung Disease.  I've made a few tweaks, but hope you'll appreciate the message. 

I hope this goes without saying, but please recognize how difficult it was for me to write and then publicize this.  Any harsh words or criticism will be removed to protect my family and I.  

You can find Part One here. 


Inevitably, her hair started to fall out.  I think that was harder on me than it was on Mom.  Ever the planner, she had already chosen and ordered her wig – cute, red, and short just like her natural hair.  She scheduled an appointment with our hairdresser, had her head shaved and the wig styled to match her usual hair cut.  She left work on Friday with her natural hair and returned Monday with a wig – not that you’d know it by looking at her.  I will never forget how excited she was to call me Monday night – someone at work didn’t know it was a wig and commented to Mom how much they loved her highlights!! 

Through another round of chemo, she worked full-time, we spent our every other Fridays together, and things seemed mostly status quo:  Some tumors were shrinking, others stayed the same, but none were getting larger – and that was a victory for us!  However, in her June CAT scan, we saw that some tumors had actually grown, and that a new tumor was showing in her hip.  Over the next 12 weeks, this tumor would continue to grow, pressing on her sciatic nerve and compromising her quality of life.   

It was like a stranger had taken the place of the energetic, vivacious, personality filled woman we knew and loved.  August 24th began a new round of chemo, what we were told were more potent drugs and that things would likely get worse before they got better.  I had no idea just how bad they were about to me.  This chemo took a great toll on Mom’s body, already compromised by the tumors, and now I truly felt like she was a cancer patient.  The months preceding this treatment were time consuming and stressful, but this was emotionally and physically exhausting for our entire family.   


(Part 3 to come) 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mom; Part One

Here is part one (of three) of Mom's Cancer story.  This is the speech that I presented for Lung Force - a campaign started on May 12th by the American Lung Association to bring awareness, recognition, and support to Lung Disease.  I've made a few tweaks, but hope you'll appreciate the message. 

I hope this goes without saying, but please recognize how difficult it was for me to write and then publicize this.  Any harsh words or criticism will be removed to protect my family and I.  


Every five minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with Lung Cancer. 

On August 30th, 2011 at 4:00pm, that woman was my mom, Debbie.

My name is Jessica and I’m here tonight to tell you about my late mother, her one year battle with lung cancer, and how it has affected my life.  This photo is of our last family vacation, in Bar Harbor Maine, taken just 6 weeks before her diagnosis.  We spent 10 days hiking, boating, relaxing in Maine – and it was wonderful to spend time together as a family.  I had no idea it would be the last trip we would take together - or the last time I would feel unbridled joy.  Mom was a little short of breath and coughing a bit, but we thought maybe mom had bronchitis, or pneumonia, and it wasn’t a huge concern – who wouldn’t be short of breath and coughing at 60 years old after an 8 mile hike!   

We came home, and began to see doctors about her symptoms.  Following a lung biopsy and meeting with an oncologist, Mom was diagnosed with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.  I was shocked, mad, sad, and frustrated.  These emotions & many others were overwhelming as we called those we loved the most to tell them about her diagnosis.  The most difficult call was to my brother, Christopher, who was deployed with the US Army to Korea for 18 months.  I could hear his heart break through the phone, and had none of the answers he needed.  I googled my heart out – stunned to find that her five year survival estimate was less than 20% - she wouldn’t see me turn 30, she wouldn’t see my brother get married, how was this possible?! How did someone who yes, was a casual smoker in her 20’s and 30’s get Lung Cancer!  She exercised 30 minutes a day, ate chicken and carrots for lunch, and was in wonderful health her entire life.  She was a 60 year old woman, who was in better shape than lots of 30 year olds I know – this would benefit her in the weeks and months to come.  

Like most cancer patients, once we got over the shock of her diagnosis, it was time to form a plan – and that plan involved chemotherapy.  Dad took her to so many doctors’ appointments he had his own notebook with names, terms, and questions to ask.   The more challenging aspect of the diagnosis and treatment was understanding the words, phrases, and medical jargon that these doctors tossed our way.  It made it hard to form coherent thoughts at times, especially as Mom was accepted into a medical study.  This meant rather than just a regular drug, she was going to get a trial drug – results unknown.  Her first round of chemo was every other Friday for 12 weeks, and I took her to (almost) every session.  Mom was a little lady, and there is no way she was safe to drive before or after chemo.  Although that didn’t have anything to do with the chemo itself, it was the Benadryl that made her loopy, silly, and a general good time!  But we made the most out of those  8 hour sessions – we Christmas shopped online, made photo books for gifts, and watched movies.  I guess you’re supposed to be quiet in the treatment area, but Mom & I must have missed that memo – we laughed, got scolded, and laughed some more.  While Chris was home over Christmas Block Leave, he took Mom to chemo – and she asked him to go in his full Army dress uniform.  She had talked and talked to the nurses about how proud she was, and she made the most of her time to show him off.  So there he sat for 8 hours, all dressed up, spending some quality time with Mom.  No way was cancer going to keep Mom down – with the exception of those chemo sessions, she worked full-time through treatment.  

(Part 2 to come) 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TWO CLIMBS - 2014!

No, your eyes are not broken - that title says we are doing TWO CLIMBS IN 2014! 

Thanks to the generosity of a wonderful friend (THANKS HOLLY), Team For Little Debbie will be participating in not only the Philly Fight For Air Climb, but also the Hershey Fight For Air Climb this year.  I am so excited to get to share our story and journey and be part of this amazing fight.  Here's a date recap for those of you trying to keep tabs on us! 

Saturday, February 22nd - Last day to order t-shirts
(see Jess for the order form)

Saturday, March 29th - Philly Fight For Air Climb
(also last day to make donations) 

Sunday, April 27th - Hershey Fight For Air Climb 
(climbing with the FIAT team)

There may be some other fun thrown in there as well, but I am going to say that the first four months of this year will be incredibly exciting and I can't wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for us! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

How Are You So Strong?

Today, for the first time - I heard a friend use the word hospice with regard to his own parent's care.  A friend younger than me, someone who supported me during my own loss is now experiencing the same grief I did just 17 months ago. 

And as I asked about his parent's wants, needs, and wishes - I realized I had no idea what to do or say.  Me - who has just been there so very recently was completely incapable of doing ANYTHING.  Because really, it won't matter what I do or say - he will bury his father decades earlier than he should.  He will miss important moments and little ones, and there will be more "I wishes" than he could imagine in the days, weeks, and years to come.  There are thousands of things I wish I could do - but I'm going to do those that I would have most appreciated myself when I was in the same place.

I'm going to tackle the silly work related projects, because those are the things he doesn't need to worry about.  I'm going to fill his own freezer with things that can be microwaved - for the nights that making real food is just too hard.  I'll text him every day just to say hi - not to ask questions or need answers, just so he knows I care.  And I'll try to keep it together, at least in front of him. 

For those of you that supported me, thank you once again.  I'm not really sure that I comprehended how difficult this journey is when you are the one doing the supporting.  I am still at a loss for words some days and I know I'll never truly repay all the favors I owe - but I am here, in any way and every way you could ever need.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day Entertainment

While I may be at work today, I know lots of people are home, snowed in.  I decided to help entertain people and keep you occupied - ya know, for your own good.  So here goes: 

1.  Make a donation to the Philly Fight for Air Climb!  Pick any member of Team For Little Debbie (link here).  If you need a reason to donate, please see this, this, or this.  

2.  Order a For Little Debbie t-shirt!!! This is a small fundraiser, but I'm hoping that each member of our team, plus 40 more people will all be sporting our For LD shirts in 44 days.  Short Sleeve are $14 and Long Sleeve are $18.  You can find the order form here

3. Thank a soldier.  I'm not picky about organizations, branches of the military, or how you say thanks.  Just Do It.  

4.  Help us decide what kind of car Kevin should buy.  Extra bonus points for ridiculous items such as 'short enough Jessica can reach the roof' OR comes in the same two tone paint job as Emma Jean.  What's that, you don't know who Emma Jean is? Okay, I'll blog about that someday too! 

5.  Guess what church I grew up in.  I'll give you one clue:  my boss is wrong, and try as he might, I will not admit to being Amish.  

6.  Google 'Surprise Military Homecomings' and try to tell me they aren't the most emotional, amazing videos on the internet.  

7.  Go play in the snow... 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I don't want to forget your voice...

Let's start this post with something most of my generation will find ridiculous:  

Kevin and I have a home phone

Yep, like one that has a phone cable, plugs into the wall, and an answering machine.  Now - it is portable, so it's not the total power outage solution, but is better than nothing.  After living in Kennett where Verizon sucked at our home, a land line was incredibly helpful.  We kept the home phone when moving to Downingtown, although it took me a bit to get it hooked up.  My dad had a set of two phones, with the built in answering machine at his house.  He said they were spares (huh Dad?), so we "acquired them" like we do many things from his house.  

When Kevin and I finally hooked them up, we made a test call to our cell phones and everything worked - hooray, end of thought process.  Except, the story gets way better.  

Two weeks ago, just before we left for Seattle, the home phone rang.  Kevin and I were laying on the couch, and knowing that we hadn't even given anyone the number, just let it ring.  When the answering machine picked up - I cried.  You see, the answering machine saved the recording from the last person who used the phones.  The message when the answering machine picks up is Mary Elyn's.  And she says the phrase I must have heard on her answering machine a hundred times: 

"I'm not lost, I'm around here somewhere" 
and ends with 
"have a blessed day"

I don't have the heart to delete it - and haven't figured out how to record it and maintain the audio quality yet.  But you'd better believe that it made my day, my week, my month to hear her voice and those silly phrases that I've missed for two years.  It also made me remember that the only recordings we have of Mom's voice are probably old home movies - I guess I need to get started transferring those while they're still in good shape.  Happy tears, and memories of the most amazing grandmother isn't such a bad way to end the day.