Tuesday, February 28, 2012

EZ Loves Projects!

If you know EZ, you know he loves projects! One of his latest was to enclose a smaller area of our yard, and then install a doggie door in our mudroom. When we had indoor cats this wasn't a good idea, but now that we are a dog-only family, with dogs that are 11 1/2, hard of hearing, and now need to go out more often, it was time. He measured our dogs, we headed out to PetsMart and Home Depot, and the rest is history!

The dogs got the hang of it right away and we are all happier for it! Always wonderful to see my man with tools in his hands cuz it means he's feeling good and back in the saddle!

Friday, February 24, 2012

More Moments to Remember

Mom Baker was very focused on doing her exercises both with her physical therapist three days a week, and with her occupational therapist two days a week. This made for a very busy schedule, especially considering that she wanted to do them on her own as well, which really impressed me! We were glad to be able to witness first hand how hard she was working to regain her strength, stamina, balance and use of her right arm, following her accident. Not many patients have such a sweet smile while doing their exercises!

Before we headed back to Wake Forest, we wanted to accompany Mom for her MRI. Once again, she followed the directions to a tee and laid perfectly still in that big donut hole. At 104 pounds fully dressed, she had a tad more room than EZ does for his MRIs! We were pleased to find out that she does not have a torn right rotator cuff as expected, but simply has some nerve damage and immobility that should come back over time if she uses her arm and doesn't "baby" it.

EZ and his Dad always enjoy their time together, walking on the land, solving computer problems, working on projects, or just talking. Dad also loves dessert after dinner, so I had to have him try Pioneer Woman's Apple Dumplings. They were a hit!

Before we knew it, over a week had passed by and we had to head home for medication refills, doctor appointments, and other commitments. We always treasure the time we have with our folks and are so grateful to be a part of their lives. Until next time, have a blessed weekend everybody!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moments to Remember

I really can't believe it has been so long since we posted. Thank you to those who were concerned about us and wrote to be sure everything was okay. We are fine...life just took a very busy turn when we went to check up on EZ's parents over in the mountains, and we stayed longer than first anticipated.

As you might remember EZ's mother, Erna, fell and fractured her pelvis on January 8th. He was able to spend five days with her, and we have been in daily contact since, but we just wanted to see with our own eyes how she was doing a month later. At 87, an injury like this is not easy to come back from, and we had reports from EZ's Dad and their caregiver, Lisa, about increased confusion, and problems using her right arm. So off we went.

Unfortunately we arrived to learn that Lisa had been using a pressure cooker that morning and opened it while still under pressure. The top flew off and hit her in the forehead, and the steaming hot green beans and water splattered onto the right side of her face, causing second degree burns. Thankfully, she had closed her eyes, so they were not injured. She is one tough cookie and we were so happy that her injuries weren't worse and her burns healed really well with each passing day. While we had some tough times during the week, we also had some very precious and tender moments caring for one another.

Linda and Lisa

Erna beaming and beautiful after we took her to have her hair done for the first time since her fall.
EZ loves to hug his mom.

On Sunday morning we prepared and enjoyed a nice big breakfast together, and of course monkey bread had to be a part of it. Erna was very proud of the fruit salad she helped me make, and I was thrilled to have her in the kitchen, being able to do what she loves. I was definitely trying to put a few pounds on her while I was there!

We celebrated Valentine's Day together and Mom helped me gather dishes from her two china cabinets to set the table. We used crystal pieces and silverware she hadn't seen in quite a while and everyone commented about how nice it was to enjoy a candlelight dinner, at home, in our "5 star restaurant". From the time our children were little, I always tried to make this day extra special for my family as a way to serve them and show them how much they were loved. We brought out our best china and the children felt like royalty, often eating in the dining room not the kitchen, even if breakfast was the only meal that we could all gather for. It was fun to do this for EZ, his Mom, Dad, and Lisa. Last year on Valentine's Day EZ had surgery to place a pin in his femoral neck and a rod in his femur, requiring a three day hospital stay for us. This year was a whole lot more fun!

Lisa is a lover of puzzles and has a quite a few to choose from. At first Mom was hesitant, but once we got the table out and asked for her help, she was all in. This is the second one we completed together...a great feeling of accomplishment for her.

When the weather cooperated we enjoyed many walks outside and were so proud of Mom's progress from a walker, to a cane, to holding an arm and walking a big loop. We all love to be in the great outdoors and it blesses my heart to see EZ lovingly, tenderly and with great joy, spending time just walking with his mom. How well I remember the days in April of 2010 when he painstakingly took his first steps after spending a month bedridden. He too had to progress from walker to cane, building up his endurance by walking loops around our driveway...just like his mom. Sometimes having been there gives one a sensitivity others find hard to understand. It was a beautiful thing...mother and son walking arm in arm. As you can see, their dog Charlie was also happy to have her outside again!

There was much more to our week, from home physical and occupational therapy to an MRI. Progress was made and questions were answered. More sweet memories were created. Tune in tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We Have a Future Dentist in the House!

It is with great joy that we celebrate Nick's acceptance into the UNC School of Dentistry! Some of you may remember his journey up to this point, but I thought it might be fun to look back at some memorable steps along the way.

Nick took his first dental mission trip to Honduras in the summer of 2007 and by the end of the week, actually got his hands in people's mouths, confirming that this was what he wanted to do. The setting was primitive to say the least, but the people were brave and grateful for relief from the pain many of them were experiencing due to rotten teeth.

Here he is graduating from UNC in May of 2009 with his degree in Biomedical Engineering, minoring in Chemistry. It DID take him five years, but he loved it and did very well.

Wanting to travel a bit and explore the west coast, he moved out to Oakland, CA in August of 2009 and earned a good living as an amateur online poker player.

Unfortunately Multiple Myeloma entered our lives in January of 2010 and Nick came back east to work from home and help out as his dad underwent treatments and a stem cell transplant.

In the Fall of 2010 he began diligently studying for the Dental Admission Test (DAT) in order to take it in December. Here is the schedule he mapped out, and a picture of him after he dominated the test, despite exhaustion and a terrible cold. We were so proud of how hard he studied and how disciplined he was, deeply desiring to do well.


In January of 2011 off he went to Cuzco, Peru for three months to volunteer with with IVHQ, eventually working under a Peruvian dentist. Here is the lovely extraction chair...yikes!

 He became much more fluent in Spanish and met lots of interesting people from all over the world, of course traveling whenever he had a free moment. The highlight of the trip was his hike up to Machu Picchu with three friends who had flown over. Amazing...

In April Nick returned home to begin getting all his materials together for applying to dental schools. Unfortunately for him, the FBI froze all the poker sites and went after the executives for tax fraud, so Nick suddenly found himself without a "job" or source of income.

So what did he do? He decided to work as a lifeguard and began the process of certification, eventually landing a sweet job less than a half mile from our house.

As the end of the summer drew near, Nick decided it was time to look for a "real" job as he waited for word on interviews and hopefully acceptance to one of the four schools he applied to (UNC, ECU, Midwestern, and VCU). Enter a pharmaceutical services company whose global headquarters is in Durham. Nick was hired in November as a simulation analyst on a joint venture, working in Indianapolis Monday-Thursday, and either from home or in Durham on Fridays. He finds it challenging and thoroughly enjoys working in both cities (no he didn't get tickets to the Super Bowl) and feels like a perfect fit for the job he is doing. He felt blessed to be where he is, should he not be accepted to dental school, but definitely hoped he would get interviews. Here he is (reluctantly posing for a picture) on his first day of training as a bonafide full-time employee with a Blackberry, laptop, office space, benefits and badge!

He heard first from ECU and spent a morning in late September at their facility interviewing with faculty and dental students. He was impressed with their program and just waited to hear whether or not he would be accepted. Then came the interview on January 7th at UNC...totally at home back on the campus. Then all he could do was wait. On January 26th, he got the call from one of the members of the admission committee that had interviewed him at UNC. HE WAS ACCEPTED and would become part of the Class of 2016, the first class to graduate from the new state of the art dental school facilities...a far cry from Honduras and Peru! He sent in his deposit last Saturday and will begin orientation in August (hopefully he will be able to continue working at his current job until then!). 

And so he will begin another exciting chapter in his life, back to the books and a campus he loves, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We are so grateful for his help, love and support these past two years, as his dad battled multiple myeloma. He unselfishly gave up his independence and new life in California to move back home, and get us up on our feet again, and we have thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with him. We are thankful he will be just up the road and look forward to great things in his future. We love you Nick and are so proud of you!

Mom and Dad

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thankful Thursday: My Dad's Testimony

This past Sunday was a very special day in the life of our church and family.  It was Baptist Men's Day, and for this year's service, my Dad was asked to share his testimony. I was so proud of him as I listened to him share about the difficulties that he has experienced over the last two years, but also about the joyous contentment that he has in Christ. I was brought to tears as I watched my father share from his heart, not only about his fears but also about his faith.  I'm so thankful for the spiritual and godly legacy I have in my Daddy.

In addition, my heart was filled to overflowing when Nathan and Natalie wanted to stay in "big church" (instead of going to Children's Church) so that they could "hear Grandpa talk about Jesus."  As I watched them listen to him speak, I couldn't help but think of the verse in Deuteronomy 4:9, when God is talking to His people: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that YOU DO NOT FORGET the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. TEACH THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN and to THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM" (emphasis mine)."  

I have watched my Daddy closely over the last two years, and I have seen him on good days and bad.  He has never once complained, and has been an encourager to all those around him. He has clung to Christ and found his joy in Him, despite health, financial, and emotional difficulties. And on Sunday, he taught his children and their children; spiritual heritage if there ever was one. May you be blessed by his testimony as much as I was:

And just in case you are not able to watch all three parts (about 20 minutes total), here is an almost-complete transcript:
"Good Morning. It is a JOY for me to be here with you this morning.  I love to see all of your smiling faces.   I see a few visitors that have come to support me this morning.   Thank you for coming. I would like to start with a word of prayer. Let’s go to the Lord: 
 Father, I thank you for this beautiful day.  Thank you for this time when we can gather to worship you.  I would ask that you would help me share the many blessings that you have provided me and that everything that I say and do be honoring to you.   I ask this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.  
When Jamie asked me to share my testimony, I asked him how long I would be speaking.   He said that it is Baptist Men’s Day and I could go as long as I wanted, but there was an evening service that did start at 7:00pm.  You don’t need to worry, I am just hoping my feet, legs and back hold out for 20 minutes…so you are safe. 
 If you have your Bible, please turn with me to Philippians 4, verse 11.  This has become one of my favorite verses as I have lived my life with cancer these past two years. This is from Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi.   He was in prison at the time of this writing:
 11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
13I can do everything through him who gives me strength." 
Seven years ago, I spoke up in the sanctuary on Baptist Men's Day.  On that day I shared the importance of being an encouragement to those around you.
 Seven years ago, this was the scenario: 
·      I was CEO of a small software company at RTP
·      I had one daughter, Tara,  married to a preacher
·      My other daughter, Leah, and my son, Nick, were in college
·      This building was just in the planning stages
·      Jamie and Tara did not have any kids.   Zero 
Anyone Remember?  A lot has changed in seven years! 
Two years ago, my world was turned upside down. In late 2009, I was having back problems…..lower back pain that the doctors and chiropractors all said it was a degenerative disk disease, a common condition that comes on as we age..... I was not improving, so my orthopedic doctor recommended an MRI,…..which I had on January 4th, 2010. 
I remember Linda and I being in the orthopedic doctors office here in Wake Forest, on a Tuesday morning when we first heard the words “PRIMARY TUMOR, ABNORMAL CELLS and BONEMARROW CHANGES”, The doctor also used some other unfamiliar terms:   Lymphoma, Leukemia, Myeloma….he did not know exactly what it was, so he scheduled a biopsy a week later. 
By the time we left his office, we were pretty certain that I had some sort of cancer. Two days after this appointment, and having shared my condition with my employer, my job was terminated and I was told my services were not longer needed. 
Cancer, such an terrifying word……by a show of hands, how many here have cancer or have had someone in their family diagnosed with some form of cancer?……Each of you know how it can change your life in an instant. 
Overnight I had gone from an executive in a small company with a stable income and  a ‘normal’ life to someone who was unemployed and in for the fight of my life with cancer……Linda and I knew a bit about cancer….we had lost Linda’s dad only seven months before and knew first hand all the trials and tribulations cancer treatment. I remember Linda and I returning home and making a list of all the things we were going to have to address: 
·      How do we tell our kids and family?
·      Could I ever work again,
·      Could we stay in our home?
·      Could we afford insurance?
·      What was the outlook for my cancer
·      What about the future? 
Linda and I began earnestly asking the Lord to guide us, to help us, and to let us be an example to others of how to handle a situation when life throws you a curveball. Needless to say, the Lord had already been working on our behalf.   As we awaited the biopsy results, our own Cindy Coats, a lymphoma survivor,  was talking to Linda one night and said “If you ever need a hemotolgy oncologist, you have to call Dr. Kritz”.  When the biopsy revealed a tumor called a plasma cytoma, my doctor asked if I had an oncolgist. I looked at Linda with a blank stare and she cooly said “We’d love it to be Dr. Kritz”.
The very next afternoon, we were sitting in Dr. Kritz’s examination room.  He is recognized as a leading oncologist, and one of the top 100 doctors in America. It is hard to get on his calendar….but the Lord had miraculously opened up a window for us.  Dr. Kritz spent over 2 hours with us that afternoon, immediately doing a bone marrow biopsy, and ordering bloodwork, long bone x-rays, urinalsys, vaccines and radiation for my tumor.   
So, on January 29th, 2010, exactly two years ago today, the test results were back and Dr. Kritz told me that I have Multiple Myeloma. MULTIPLE MYELOMA. Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer that affects 20,000 people in the US each year.  The bone marrow ends up making abnormal plasma cells that multiply out of control causing lesions or tumors that destroy the bones.  Unfortunately, at this time, it is not curable but treatable. 
In my case the Myeloma had already destroyed the lower 70% of my sacrum.   The sacrum is that bone on the lower part of your spine that connects the backbones to the pelvis.   The top portion of the sacrum is the load bearing bone that transfers the weight of your upper body to your legs.   
The lower part, the part in my case that was destroyed, is the part that shields all the nerves of the lower half of your body from any upward or twisting pressure…..like when you bend or sit.

In short, I can’t sit or bend.  Many of you have seen me laying down or walking there in the back ….it’s because I can’t sit up here with you…..believe me, I would much rather be sitting up here with you than laying down and looking at the back of your heads!
By the time March of 2010 rolled around, I had already had a dozen or so radiation treatments, had a infusion port installed, was on chemotherapy and daily pain medicine.  The pain in my lower back and legs was increasing. On March 29th, the siatic nerve pain was so intense in my back and legs that I could not get out of bed.  Linda called 911 and the Stony Hill Fire Department transported me to Rex hospital. 
For the next 26 days, I was unable to get out of the hospital bed.  I had daily radiation and chemo treatments as  the doctors tried eveything from morphine to snail toxin to relieve the pain.   Nothing worked. A friend commented then that perhaps the Lord had put me on my back so all I could do is look up to Him……so true. The doctors were out of solutions….however, Linda and I learned of the many people that were praying for me….believers in North and South Carolina, Tennesee,  Georgia, Florida and even in Africa.   This church body and others were also praying for me. 
And the Lord answered those prayers.   On the 27th day, a young physical therapist helped me out of bed.  I was up, learning to walk again and I came home on the 31st day.
An additional difficulty with walking is the nerve damage done by the chemo drugs.  This nerve damage, called neuropathy, usually affects the feet and hands.  In my case, the drug damaged the nerves so that both feet are completely numb with severe tingling and false pains, making walking difficult. 
This church body has stood with me and my family constantly over the last two years.    I cannot say thank you enough.  Your prayers are felt every single day as I work to recover.
The Lord has continued to sustain me through this trial:·      He was working on my behalf before I even knew we had cancer.
  • He was with me everyday in Rex hospital…granting his comfort and peace
  • He was with me every trip to the cancer center for radiation and chemo
  •  He raised up Christian friends to host a fund raiser for me in July 2010 that allowed us to stay in our home
  • He was with us for my Stem Cell Transplant in August 2010 at Duke.
  • He was with us in March of last year when I had a pin placed in my upper femur to strenghten the area where the myeloma had eaten a 1 inch hole through the bone.
  • He provided a loving and dedicated caregiver in my wife that has been with me every step of the way. 
He continues to bless me as the medicines are working for me, my cancer is for now complete response, and with his help may I stay there.  I want to continue getting stronger so that I can again serve this church.   I miss teaching Sunday School, being on committees, serving as a deacon and helping with Awana. 
On this journey, Linda and I have met many others, some walking with Christ and some hopelessly lost without Him.   We have hopefully been an encouragement to them and a witness of how to run this race with Christ by our side.   I can’t  imagine battling cancer without Christ…… 
So when you see me with a smile, or you see me “looking good today”, it is because as the verse says:  I am content. I am content that the Lord he has equipped me with whatever I need to walk in this world.  He has raised up many friends and family that continue to pray for me and to be there when I need something.  I am content whatever the circumstances because it is the Lord who gives me strength to carry on, to count my blessings and to serve Him in any way I can. I am not content because I have cancer, I’m content with Christ. Let us pray: Lord help us be content.   Help us to be aware of the many many blessings that you bestow on us.   Thank you for the safety you provide, the substanence you provide and the many brothers and sisters in Christ that walk with us.   Lord, give us your strength to walk the good walk and fight the good fight in order to glorify you and be an example and encouragement for others in need.  In your Holy name, Amen."
I love you, Daddy! Thank you for exhibiting contentment in Christ, despite all circumstances. I am so very proud of you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Nats Sleep Over

Nathan and Natalie have been asking to sleep over for quite a few months now and we finally made it happen last week. To say they were excited is an understatement!

It's always so much fun to plan out what we will do, where they will sleep and what we will eat while they are here. (Here is a link to our sleepover back in March of 2011.) We try to give them our undivided attention, and many special memories are always made in the process. It's nice to occasionally give the "Bigs" an opportunity to enjoy time with Grandma and Grandpa apart from the "Littles". Such is life with two sets of twin grandchildren! Can't wait till the Sams and Emery are old enough to join in!

After a nice walk near the lake, we headed home and began making our pizza. The Nats are both great helpers and love to be in the kitchen. Natalie washed all our mushrooms, Nathan sliced them, and they each created "a masterpiece" that was delicious!

Nathan decided to take a break and race Lightening McQueen on my phone, while Natalie helped with the salad.

 After dinner it was time for the traditional bubble bath, pjs and a game. This time we played "Hisss" a kid's version of dominos and it was alot of fun.

 Soon they were fast asleep...and so were we, knowing they get up a bit earlier than we normally do!

A "must have" according to these two is Monkey Bread, so when we got up it was back to the kitchen to get started!

Natalie helped make a yummy fresh fruit salad and we also scrambled some eggs. The Nats are excellent chefs, and everything was delicious. Can't wait to do it again!