July 3rd and remembering

What comes to mind when you think 4th of July? Traditions? Places? People? Fireworks? BBQ? For us, that question is simple. It is the holiday weekend when everything we knew about anything changed. The weekend all the fun plans went out the window. The race we had planned to run as a family. The sibling time staying up late movie-watching. The lake time with Dad. The yard games. The food Mom would prepare for us. The weekend we learned who our people were. Who our God was. It was the weekend we learned that Judah had a brain tumor. 

Tuesday, sitting on the porch at my parents home, looking at the lake, my older sister said, “5 yrs ago today”. That’s all she said. We all knew what she was referring to. Because for us, the 4th of July holiday is a harsh reminder that we are not in control and cancer is indiscriminate.

Judah got 2 fevers around the 4th weekend. He is getting chemo today. Needless to say, we didn’t need a reminder that Judah is battling brain cancer. And yet, Judah was present throughout our 3 days at my folks. He played the Ninentdo Switch with his cousins, teaching them to play his favorite game (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) and learning to play theirs (Fortnite). He watched Little Einstein’s (Pat Pat😂) with his Emmett and Stella. He came out for the fireworks, which he has never really done, and loved every second of the booms and lights. 

As I watched on, in awe of this kid who has sensitivity to loud sounds and has an acute memory for negative experiences, and thanked God for him. For the warrior He made Judah from the beginning. For the memory, now burned into my memory,  of my husband guarding and helping Judah assist him with fireworks. For my 4 oldest nephews who have never stopped stepping into the akward spaces with Judah to join him, encourage him, and accept him. For siblings who sit in the muck with us and play cards, cracking jokes, and lifting our collective spirits. For parents who help with it all without a smidge of martyrdom or jealousy.  For the sunshine and water and great books. For our 2 beautiful younger kids who are navigating Judah’s cancer better than I ever imagined while unknowingly wrapping up my wounded guilty-mom-heart with their smiles and requests for stories and snuggles. 

I have floundered the last 3 weeks. I have battled shame and disgust. I’ve been both bound up and emotional. I have been manic about tasks until I am no longer able to function and all the things fall to the wayside. My people love me anyway. But as I spin, my thoughts latch to the idea that I can wrest control from this cancer. And when I have enforced my control on all the moveable pieces in my world, making us all miserable, Judah still wakes in the middle of the night sick. His drs still don’t have answers. Matthew and I still have no peace or deep sleep. Because the idea of control is a lie. There is no control. There is only being confident in God’s faithfulness. And then moving, carrying all the swirling doubts if necessary, in the direction of the of the One who fights for us and goes before us. Every ‘yes’ and every step is progress.

The song giving me life this week is Oxygen by Stephany Gretzinger. A bit of it goes:

          Sometimes my very best

           Is only my weakest yes

          You see strength in every

           movement.

           Baby steps and short breaths

           Anything is progress

           You sustain my every moment

~Wendi

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don’t stop advocating

Last Thursday was a rough day. The fever at 5am. The ER visit. The CBC normal, again. But there was a change in our visit. Matthew requested a CT and the ER Dr agreed to do it! Fortunately/Unfortunately, it was normal too. The ER released us to Clinic for chemo. The Dr had results from all the tests she ordered, and again, they were mostly within normal ranges. His results did show there was inflammation somewhere. But no clue where.

We spent the weekend relaxing and resting. We played video games, watched movies, and enjoyed some much needed snuggle time! We also started the conversation with St. Jude. We gave the ok for them to request and receive all of Judah’s medical records. Vanderbilt sent records Tuesday (faxed and mailed). ETCH hasn’t sent anything yet, but our St. Jude coordinator assured us that they are the best at getting what they need. So we are leaving it to them!

And with that ball rolling, Vanderbilt is moving in the direction of more aggressive diagnosis and hopefully, in conjunction with St.Jude and ETCH, we will get to the bottom of what is causing Judah’s fevers and headaches. We are of the opinion that the more eyes and brains looking at Judah’s records, the better! And we are so lucky to have so many Drs that care. Sometimes, it just takes a fierce advocate to get everyone on the same page and Matthew and I are happy to be that if it means Judah gets what he needs. We will keep on them. We will not stop. It is our job to fight for those that can’t fight for themselves. In our case, it’s Judah.

Who could you be fighting for today?

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Nothing pretty to see here.

Since the last post, Judah has been to the ER 2x’s and had fevers 4x’s. 2x’s we chose not to take him.

This morning, at 5am, when Judah came in with a headache and fever, Matthew and I discussed going or not going. We said, this is nothing new. And the ER would do nothing new. But we want an MRI or CT of his head while he has a fever. So we decided to go. I called the on-call oncologist and went through the same story I always tell. Because it’s always the same. I listened to his story (we just need to check his counts and make sure he’s safe) and tried not to interrupt him because I know this speech. It’s also always the same. When he told me we needed to take Judah to the ER, I asked him if he would order a CT or an MRI.

Dr: On Saturday. No probably not. If he is admitted, maybe.

Me: I know it’s super inconvenient that Judah always gets sick on the weekends and holidays. But he’s had these fevers and headaches for 2yrs and no one has done anything but blood work. If that’s all they are going to do, why should we go?

Dr: (say it with me) We need to make sure Judah is safe.

So Matthew is at the ER with Judah as I write this.  And they are doing blood work.

I cannot speak for Matthew. I can say, for myself, I’m losing my faith. I feel it slipping. My hope trading for cynicism. I don’t believe in Judah’s Drs but I have said before that God can work through anyone. But He’s not. Judah is sick and he keeps getting sick and NO ONE WILL HELP HIM! Unless there is a Dr, like Phil Noe, the guy who found Judah’s tumor almost 6 yrs ago, that WANTS to figure this out, do different testing, while he’s running the fever, they won’t figure it out. They will keep pretending like they are keeping him safe when really they are playing it safe. Everyone thinks it’s the tumor. And they won’t look anywhere else. And maybe it is the tumor. Maybe it isn’t. But we won’t know if they won’t look at his head while he’s running a fever!

We are sad. We are angry. We are utterly exhausted. It sure would be nice if the Creator of the world, would give us just a little leg up. Until then, we are trying to figure out where to take Judah next. To find someone interested in the Judah puzzle.

~Wendi

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Feeling is exhausting

It’s 7:15AM and I’m, yet again, sitting in the ER with our Bug. We have been here since 5.

When we woke to Judah crying out for help, I assumed it was that he needed help with the feeding bag. I groggily got up and walked into his room. He was moaning and said he needed help with the bag so he could pee  I reached down to help him up and his hand was on fire. Thermometer read 104.4.

I am great under pressure. I’m wonderful at comforting and helping. I laugh and cry easily and embrace ‘all the feels’! My 2-ness with a 1 wing makes me great at these middle of the night, sick, moments. When things get stressful and 8-ness takes over I can become a machine. I get things done, making sure everyone knows what they need to know. Inefficiency drives me mad. And usually, the tears are turned off. You get ‘business Wendi’.

Tonight I cried to the ER Dr. I do not do that. I was telling her how frustrated I was that we keep showing up here and no one can figure out what is causing Judah’s fevers. And I started to cry. In trying to stop myself, I made things worse and started breathing unevenly. And I was morbidly embarrassed. The voices in my head telling me that I should be.

“What a ridiculous way, for a seasoned mom of a kid with cancer, to act. This Dr now no longer takes you seriously because you are falling apart over nothing. Suck it up. There is a time and place for those tears and now is not that time.”

Thankfully, Judah slept through my blubbering and the Dr left shortly after.I sat on that uncomfortable chair, watching my boy sleep, thinking about all the things I was beginning to believe about myself. None of it was true I knew that. And yet, I felt as though I was being weighed down by all my inabilities. Matthew texted me:

“The Bible apps verse of the day was no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭54:17. So I’m praying over that.”

Jesus is good and His love for us is real and tangible guys. While my soul was being crushed by judgement and I was failing to see my worth or abilities, my husband sent me a bible verse that addressed those very things. Jesus has shown me over and over that He wants to and will show me His love and care for me in little ways. I just have to ask, look, and see.

We are getting admitted. The Drs say there are too many unknowns what with Judah’s, chemo, surgery, port, and these unexplained fevers. They don’t want to send us home in case they’ve missed something. We are still waiting for a room but we’ll be somewhere on the 2nd floor/North Tower.

Pray with us that the drs/tests will reveal something that is causing these fevers. That Judah will not be broken-hearted over getting admitted again. That he will continue to heal. That spiritual warfare will have no foothold here.

Thanks

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long weekend and plans to fatten Judah up

Family can make the hard days seem less hard.
Matthew and I took  short trip to Washington, DC and while we were gone, Mimi and Papaw, Mumzy and Papa, and Aunt Bam, Uncle Josh, Marshall, Eli, Gabe, and Stella entertained and loved on our 3 kids. All 3 got the love and attention they crave when there are plenty of adults to go around.  1 in particular needed a bit more tending to than the others.
Judah.
When Matthew and I got back from our trip, we couldn’t wait to hug our kids. We just wanted to give our babies a big hug. When we pulled up to Mumzy and Papa’s house, Emmett and Camilla Kate ran out to greet us. We wrap them up and old them how much we missed them. I looked up from my little girl’s head and saw Judah, sitting not 3 steps from the front door. And it was all I could do to not cry. I gently scooped him up an carried him in the house. Sitting in the wing back, my arms enfolding Judah, I saw a version of him I have never seen. Not in the year leading up to finding our then 4 yr olds brainstem tumor. Not in the 14 months of chemo he suffered through from 5-6 years old. He looked like a ghost of himself. Heavy bags under his eyes, frail, skinny body. Eyes spacey and sad. And he was tired. so tired.
He stayed in my lap for half and hr. Just resting his head on my shoulder, his hand in mine.
Over then next couple of hrs Matthew and I got the run down on how he had been feeling while we were gone. The jist was, not good. He had begun looking bad on Saturday night, and on Sunday he woke in bad shape. They told us that Sunday he basically moved from the the floor to the couch to floor. He ate nothing. He had no energy or strength. He could not keep anything in his belly even if he wanted to eat. Monday he continued to feel the same way. And it was a holiday. We talked about taking him to the ER.  With 2 drs in the house, and an attentive nurse a text away, we had plenty of eyes/ears on his health. The consensus was as long as he is staying hydrated, we could wait until he morning. The night was long. Matthew stayed up with him most of the night, praying over him, watching him breath, helping him to the bathroom.
At 9 AM, I called Judah’s Dr she said she wanted to see him. At 12:30 Judah and I got in the van and headed to ETCH Oncology Clinic to see what could be done for him. Thankfully, he was looking a bit better. He had more color in his face. He didn’t have the energy to walk to the clinic so I carried him. However, right before the nurse came back to get us, he decided he wanted to walk to his room himself. He walked as if he was  following a zig zag line, not staggering but certainly not straight. But I decided when we first found out about his tumor regrowth that I was going to allow him the independence to do and speak for himself as much as he wanted. So I kept my distance, keeping control of my face so he didn’t see worry. 
A couple of hours later, after accessing, blood draws, meds to help stop the diarrhea, and iv fluids, we discovered that, other than typical low labs associated with 48 hours or diarrhea, his labs looked ok. Dr Spiller came in to talk with us. I adore how she begin every visit by talking to Judah. He is her patient after all! She cares so deeply about how he feels, what he has to say, and uses the most friendly and unpatronizing voice each time she address him.
Dr. Spiller: Judah, how are you feeling?
Judah: good
Dr. Spiller: Judah, this isn’t what good feels like. This is what bad feels like.
But honestly that is just how Judah is. 9 times out of 10 the kids will tell you he feels good or is good, even when you KNOW he isn’t. he is compliant and sweet and has a difficult time saying things that may upset ‘his people’. This isn’t super helpful when we, his parents or drs, ask him to tell us how he feels. Or identify what hurts. Or even tell us when he has been sick. He doesn’t see it as lying. He sees it as protecting himself and those he loves from discomfort. I love that about him. It is also scary at times though.
 After Dr. Spiller did her exam, we went out in the hall to talk about his weight, nausea, and the need for a feeding tube. She agreed that Judah needed a feeding tube put in asap and wasn’t opposed to a G-Tube instead a NG-Tube. The problems that Dr. Esbenshade described are real. But she said those problems (not healing and getting infected etc) are more common when people are getting chemo every day for long periods of time. When their bodies don’t have time for the blood counts to rebound. But she said that Judah isn’t in that boat. We went over the pros and cons of surgery verses no surgery and in the most lovely way, left the decision up to us. Judah does not want an NG-Tube. He doesn’t want surgery either. But what he wants most, is to just be Judah. And the G-Tube allows him to hide the feeding tube.
We got home around dinner time, and Judah fell into a great rhythm with his cousins. The fluids did him so much good. Over the next couple of days, Judah did much better, eating and drinking, swimming and playing Wii. He and his siblings and cousins lived it up! And the adults had some much needed connection time. Being seen by your people is one of the great joys of being alive. I long for it and got an overflowing portion.
Judah’s surgery will be Wednesday at noon. He will have to stay for 2 days. And then he will be able to get the nutrition he needs to fatten him up. What a wonderful day that will be!
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Judah is still very sick

After Judah’s last chemo, he never really bounced back. He hasn’t been ill the whole time but has been tired and had very little appetite. Then Sunday he became incredibly lethargic. He was white as a sheet with huge blue bags under his eyes. He ate 2 pieces of bacon all day long and drank about the same. He did not move from the couch/floor.
Matthew and I had been out of town and returned today to find him looking the way I described above. It was shocking. So shocking. Today we have spent the day getting fluids in him. He has eaten a bit more but everything runs straight through him. And he feels wretched.

This is so much worse than he was the first time we did chemo. And we have a long, long way to go. We want more than anything for him to be better and know that the chemo is killing the cancer. But it feels like it’s killing him too. And that is almost too much for a momma and daddy (and grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, friends) to stomach. We are watching him with tears in our eyes. Doing the best and knowing the best is not even close to helping.

We will be taking him to see his Dr tomorrow morning and fully anticipate him being admitted to ETCH. Please pray for him and us. Pray that tonight is uneventful and that we get a solid plan for helping Judah with his diarrhea and nausea so he can start to get a little more energy. Pray that we get a feeding tube put in soon and that it helps. Pray for his spirits. He is so sad and tired. And so are we.
Thank you friends.

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Chemo 4 done and side effects ramp up

I’ll start with the most important news first: Judah’s tumor hasn’t grown since we started chemo!

The radiologist hasn’t actually read it yet but we looked at with the dr and you can see it hasn’t grown! We also saw, and the dr confirmed, that there is less contrast (lighting up) so that means the chemo is killing those growing cancer cells. We are so elated! We won’t know if it’s shrunk until we see the radiologist’s report but we feel confident that this MRI is good news!

He has already had his labs and anti nausea meds. Everything looked pretty good. The dr said it looked, by his labs, that he is fighting “a little something” by the slight elevations but nothing to be worried about.

We did have to have a talk about his weight. He had lost weight…again. Dr pulled up Judah’s growth chart, which I always dread because he hasn’t been on a growth chart since he was 4, and showed us that Judah is in the 0.02% for his age. That means if you picked 1,000 kids randomly, he would be the smallest and thinnest of all those kids. And the kicker is, that he has now lost so much that he is technically considered “failing to thrive”. This wasn’t shocking to us because we have been fighting his weight loss and lack of appetite for 5 yrs. But the failure to thrive was heart wrenching. The dr was quick to tell us that we have done nothing wrong. That gaining weight is hard for a lot of kids with cancer. But also said that we can’t do nothing now. So in the next couple of weeks Judah will probably be getting a feeding tube (NG Tube). For those of you who are medical people, he can’t get a G Tube because the chemo makes it too hard for his body to heal. They can’t do surgery unless he goes off chemo for 4-6 wks. And we aren’t doing that right now.  Judah is very sad. He doesn’t want  to be “Judah with cancer”. He wants to be “just Judah”. And the NG Tube will be on his face. And people will see it. You can hide a G Tube under your shirt. It’s a bummer. But it’s also necessary at this point. Judah is an amazing kid. He sweet and gets “it” like most kids can’t. He understands he has to have the NG Tube. And he will get to a better place because that is just who God made him to be. Brave and introspective and sweet and trusting. Join us in praying for his heart. And that his little friends can see past the weird tube and treat him like “just Judah”!

He finished his chemo in great time and we went down the street to McDougal’s Chicken, before we headed back to Bam’s for the night. We planned ahead of time to stay over night in case judah was sick and boy am I glad we did. About an hour after he finished chemo he started getting sick. We had to rush to the bathroom several times before we even got back to Bam’s. Unfortunately, Judah was sick the rest of the day and into the night. He hasn’t been actively sick today but he also hasn’t eaten much.

Thank you for celebrating with us and praying with us. We are grateful for our community!

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Last day of school and 6wk MRI

Judah and Camilla Kate (Cricket) had their last day of school today. It was full of fun and parties and sweet hugs and goodbyes. Thankfully, the co-op family is close and we will still see our friends throughout the summer.
While the kids were at school, I busies myself with cleaning and packing and searching for Judah’s long lost bey blade he “really needed to show to Gabe!” *Insert exasperated 9yro voice* Packing for Nashville isn’t usually very hard, but this time, since he’ll be doing chemo there tomorrow, I had to pack for chemo day too. It was hectic and frustrating and I did not find the bey blade though I searched for almost 30 dedicated minutes😬
As I loaded the car, I kept running through my mental list of must haven’t items knowing I would forget something. And I did. Matthew and my toiletries…of all the things to deal with on chemo day, stinky breath and armpits was not one of them. We weren’t far from home when I realized it so we went back!💥 My mother has always told me to make a list, put it the car when you think of it…I’m a great listener 😂
After dropping off Emmett at Mimi’s, meeting Mumzy to get her lasagna, we finally got on the road.
God has blessed us with beautiful weather and traffic and we are about to pull into Bam’s as I type this. But before I leave you, I want to request a few specific prayers:
1) That Judah’s rocks his MRI at 7est and is very still so the picture is crystal clear (he does them awake bc he’s a rockstar!)
2) That the MRI shows that the chemo is working and Judah’s tumor has stopped growing (or at least shrunk)
3) That tomorrow’s chemo (begins at ~10am) goes by quickly and that the nurses are kind.
4) That Judah doesn’t get sick during or after chemo.
5) That God continue show us His enormous love and care whether through continuing to provide for our every need (And He has!) or healing Judah completely or both!Matthew and I cannot thank you all enough for showing up and showing out for the Thacker pack. We are in awe at how The Mover of Mountains has battled for us through y’all.

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Sleep, chemo side effects, and Jesus

I am a heavy sleeper. I love sleep and people who know me will tell you that I really do need 9-10 hrs of sleep a night to be my joyful self. So I go to bed early. Like at 9pm. I know! But I have learned that if I want to get all the sleeps, I have to forgo the TV and all that stuff and get into bed. I have even gone back to reading ‘dead tree’ books, as my husband affectionately calls them, to minimize the chances of falling into the endlessness of internet only to find that I’ve scrolled my way to midnight and kick myself because what had I actually read/seen that as worth losing precious shut eye?

All that to say, once I’m asleep, there isn’t much that wakes me. One of my children crying is one thing I ALWAYS hear no matter how asleep I am (fellow mommas nodding, right?) Another is the Holy Spirit. And that’s about it. Last night I was out cold, and had been for a few hrs, when I woke up for no apparent reason. When I say woke up, I mean wide awake! I looked at the time, after midnight, and then looked around the room. Nothing. Looked out into the hall and saw the bathroom light was on. And I said a quick thank you prayer because I knew then that one of my kids was sick. It wasn’t the fact that the light was on, cause my kids get up to pee in the middle of the night too. It was that I had been asleep and woke up for no apparent reason to find the bathroom light on. I knew this was a gentle nudging from Jesus.

I walked into the bathroom and found Judah a mess. He looked awful and told me he felt equally so. I asked him what was wrong and he said “my belly really hurt like I needed to poop but I was too late. And I feel like I’m gonna throw up”.  I told him is was totally fine and I would clean it all up. And I looked in his face and saw how embarrassed he was. So I got down next to him and said, “Hey Bug. I’m sorry this happened. Don’t feel bad about it ok? It’s so easy to fix this mess and it is 100% not your fault. This is the chemo rearing it’s ugly head.”

I prayed over him and for him, got him cleaned up and back in bed, and then set to cleaning up the hall and bathroom. While I cleaned I felt a crushing sadness. A feeling of helplessness. Weakness. How do we get Judah through this? What will it even look like to get him through this? And then there was the black hole…the what if’s taking over. I wish I could tell you I prayed or got my bible and read or even sang a worship song to myself. But I did none of those things. I scrubbed the floors and bathroom and cleaned myself up and crawled back in bed. I chose to ignore my feelings in hopes that they would go away if I just went to sleep. I slept horribly. I woke the next morning ‘tight’ inside. I knew I needed Jesus but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to Him. So Jesus crossed lines to get to me.

My phone pinged. A simple text message popped up on my phone. “I’m praying for you right now.” That’s all it said. But it’s all it needed to say. Cause in that moment I felt God’s love for me. And that made it possible for the walls to come down and me to see Jesus.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit wakes us up in the middle of the night. Sometimes He urges us to send a note, a text, to make a call. Sometimes He brings a friend to mind. My advice is to heed that prompting. Jesus may be using you to pull someone out of the the back hole of despair.

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We all want the miracle

Since Judah’s rediagnosis, I have found a renewed urgency to soak up God’s words. I remember the last time we went through all this, God had prepared me by giving me a desire to memorize His word. When I was afraid or sad or joyful, His word would linger in my mind, an encouragement to me. I sit here this morning, praying for a friend who is having surgery this morning, and I long for those scriptures I used to have at my fingertips! I have a distant memory of them, but have to look them up now. So as I’m thinking and praying, I know there is a scripture I want, I just can’t think of it.

But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me. ~Psalm 55: 16-18

We are distressed. We live in a time where the world feels sick. But I love this bit of scripture. “He ransoms me unharmed”. Strong’s says this word ‘ransom’, at its root, means to deliver, by any means, preserve, redeem, rescue. And how are we redeemed? Unharmed. Also translated as ‘in peace’. This Hebrew word is Shalem. It means to amend, make good, finish, repay, restore, recompense. So this doesn’t mean unharmed the way we think of it. It means, when He rescues us, He will restore us. This is a beautiful picture of love. Because love doesn’t mean we are always safe and happy. But it does mean showing up. Showing care. Participating in restoration. Now, more than ever, I need to know this.

Because we all want to experience the miracle, right? We all want to be the 1 in a million. And when we aren’t? What happens to our faith then? For me, it’s knowing that God promises restoration.  And He is moving in ways we cannot see for His and our good.

Would it be nice to have the rescue story? Of course. For now, though, we will allow ourselves to be satisfied by His care and provision. And we cling to hope, asking God to keeps us close and direct our steps.

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