Saturday, January 30, 2010

. . . . . . . . Visions of Paradise

I am now finally adjusting to being back in Utah, though it took some time "coming down" off Cloud Nine, having lived there for 25 days while we were in Hawaii. :) The cold air here is much harder on me and the doctor told me on Wednesday that Hawaii would be an ideal place for my recovery, while Utah is probably the hardest place in the continental U.S. to deal with my eye issues. But, alas, I already knew that!

Though I wanted to post all 500+ pictures from our trip, the process is too long here on blogger. So, I've posted a sneak preview here and a ton of pictures on another site, and I hope you'll take a minute to visit the link and check them out. Maybe you can find some peace in them, too. (You don't need to be signed up for Facebook to see the photos.)

Still, I look at the photos and videos from Hawaii and I can't help but feel the warmth. I can feel the sand between my toes and hear the surf as it crashes on the beach. I can see my brothers laying and playing on the beach and realize again how lucky I am to have such amazing "boys" as my brothers. I can hear my mother as she asks my kids what they want for breakfast and see my sister as she lovingly helped my little ones make and frost cookies. I can picture my father walking around the Polynesian Cultural Center, hearing the stories he has to tell and admiring the beauty and peace that is the PCC. I can feel my husband's hand in mine as we walked along the lagoons in Ko'olina and realized just how blessed we are to still be together.

I can feel the hugs of my PCC family as they welcomed me and loved me at each visit. I can visualize the night show "Ha: The Breath of Life" and recall the moments of triumph and tragedy that so mirror real life that I couldn't help but cry. I can see the trees that look like giant pineapples, bordering the campus to BYHU and I remember the view from a top Temple hill, looking out at the ocean. I can hear the squeals of my children as the played Tarzan and swung from the vines on the Banyan trees. I can feel the heat of the pavement beneath my feet as we walked around the Swap Meet and smell the goodness of the malasadas we ate.

I hear the laughter of the guests delighted at the shows they saw at the PCC and I can see Kap, smiling at me while playing the ukelele and showing his beautiful artwork. I can see the poi balls spinning through the air and hear the sticks fall to the floor as laughter spills from the mouths of happy families. I can see the pile of boogie boards and surf boards next to the showers outside Mom and Dad's house and imagine the piles of sand still inside the house in the room where my children brought the beach home with them everyday.

I can feel the love of my family and a kind and caring Heavenly Father who allowed me to heal so much in such a wonderful place. Perhaps I need visions of paradise everyday, to remind me and help me continue to heal. I guess we can all use visions of paradise, be it the mountains, the beach or our own back yard. Where is your paradise? Perhaps you should "visit" it today and envision the peace...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

. . . . . . . Tumor & Medical Update

Today I had an appointment with Dr. William Couldwell, my neurosurgeon extraordinare. This man is amazing in so many ways. I continue to feel blessed that I am under his care throughout my brain tumor challenges.

As I waited for my appointment, I read some literature about the Clinical Neurosciences Dept. It reads:

"William T. Couldweel, MD, PhD serves as Professor and Chair of the Dept of Neurosurgery at the University of Utah. He also serves as Director for the American Board of Neurological Surgery and Secretary for the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Couldwell has over 230 peer-reviews publications..."

This man is literally one of the best in the WORLD at what he does. Yet, he is humble, kind, patient, warm and loving. I am truly grateful for him!

As he came in to talk to us, he had MRI scans from pre and post-surgery. He brought them up side by side on the computer and showed us the small tumor in my brain that caused so many problems, followed by the current scan without any sign of a tumor. The only thing he sees now are pools of blood, which are OK at this stage. That one small mass had smashed my nerves and was responsible for so many terrible, debilitating symptoms. Now it is gone.

My emotions were so strong as I heard him talk. My scans look "great" with no concerns at this time. He recommends yearly MRIs to keep things in check, as tumors can be "Chronic" and recur at later times.

Next he looked at the scans which showed the inside of my ear and noted that there is no fluid in the ear canal, which means my spinal fluid leak has stopped!!! Even a few months ago when I visited Dr. Shelton, he could still "hear" fluid, meaning it was still leaking inside my brain, but there was no way for the fluid to leak out, as it did through my nose and throat when I was in the hospital.

Again, my emotions nearly overpowered me. Why am I so blessed?

With the CSF leak "gone", I will continue to regain some hearing in my right ear. This will actually cause symptoms, such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ear. I have been experiencing this for months, and it will continue as there are still changes and improvements within my ear.

As for my facial paralysis, Dr. Couldwell says most of my facial "tone" has returned. Again, those who have seen me know this, because it is visible. I am not as "Crooked" as I once was. :) The mouth, eye, forehead nerves and such may still take quite some time to repair, but we are definitely going in the right direction.

As he left the room, Dr. Couldwell looked at me and shook my hand, then reassured me that I am doing "very well" and that he will continue to be "here" for me whenever a need arises.

I truly believe God blesses us with specific gifts and talents. I am so grateful that this man used the gifts he was given and has pushed himself to become a person who can truly help save lives.

I am still reeling with emotion. Thought I am not totally "healed", I know I am blessed. I will still need appointments, rest, down time and medication, but it is truly miraculous to be where I am today!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

. . . . . . . . Parable of the Scones

I made scones today and had a fabulous time with my boys. Casen and Daven love to help me bake and they each had their chair next to the counter. First we got out the hard wheat and they took turns pouring it in the grinder and listening as the wheat kernels magically became light, fluffy, wonderful flour. They like it so much, they eat the flour plain. :)

Next I gave them the measuring cups and spoons and they carefully dumped each one into the mixer. They watched as the mixer whirred around and mixed the ingredients into a sticky dough. Then I showed them a neat "surprise" that when more flour was added, the dough didn't stick to the edges of the mixer anymore, it was like glue and it stuck all the ingredients together! They were amazed.

After the dough was ready, they each got a piece which they patted and pounded, kneaded and stretched. They worked for over 45 minutes on their little sections of dough, adding a little flour here, kneading a little more there. I asked them if they wanted to make the dough into mini pizzas, but neither wanted to, they simply ate the raw dough instead!

Finally, after spending all morning preparing, it was time to fry the scones. The chairs were pulled up yet again, but this time, Mom did all the work, so the boys didn't get too close to the hot oil. For lunch, Casen had 3 hot scones and a glass of milk. He was delighted, then asked if we could share some with his friends. So, we took a bunch of scones to his best buddy, Boston, who is also the son of his preschool teacher, Michelle. She was excited about the scones for dinner.

It was a fabulous day of scone making and scone eating! So, where is the lesson in all of this? Well, I started out the day making bread. I had five wonderful fresh loaves of bread all ready to go, when after 45 minutes, I realized they hadn't raised hardly at all! I had old or bad yeast and my 1.5 hours of work (to that point) had been wasted because my dough was sitting in bread pans, as heavy and thick as bricks. After talking with my sister, Tami, and my friend Cathy (an expert baker and cook!) we decided there was no salvaging the bread.

One "loaf" of bread will make more than a dozen scones, so now I have lots of scones to share. :) So it is time to deliver more scones, this time to my good friend and neighbor, Annette, who had a birthday yesterday. It is not homemade bread and jam, like I had planned, but hopefully she will still like the late treat.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I had really been in the mood for fresh homemade bread today, but boy, oh boy, did we have a blast making scones!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

. . . . . . . Dry, Drool, Dysgeusia & Donate

The air is finally clean and I can breathe when I walk outside. It is crisp and bright (almost too bright for my ultra sensitive eyes), but is it so comforting to see the sun.

Though the air is clean, it is also dry again. For a few days we had quite a bit of moisture as snow storms came through the state, but at any other time, Utah is simpy a dry state. The dryness is challenging for my eye. With the facial paralysis, I still can't blink. I still have hope this will get better, but so far, I still have little to no functioning of my eye. The dry air irritates my eye in about 1.2 seconds, meaning the second I step outside, my eye is shot. I keep having people ask if I am in pain or not doing well. Neither is the case. I am doing great, all things considered. But, I often keep my eye covered or manually closed because of the over-dry air. So, if you see me holding my eye, no need for concern, I am fine, it is pretty normal for me in this weather.

Contrary to my eye, my mouth is making great improvements! I will be happy someday in the future to report it is back to normal, but I am not there yet. My smile muscles are coming back (which I am soooo grateful for! I miss smiling all the time!). My "chew" muscles are getting better and I am more easily able to chew food. I still have a harder time with liquids, but that is improving, too. I do find I still "drool" if I try to manage too much liquid in my mouth at once, but in small quantities (out of a straw) I can do just fine.

A bit of great weight is back up to my pre-tumor surgery "norm"! I am not as toned as I could be, but as I regain my strength, I am slowing adding exercises to my routine. Many are as simple as calf raises while I cook, going up and down the stairs, etc, but it is a good start. So, why have I gained back my weight??? I can finally taste again, and food is SOOOO good! :) My dysgeusia, which has caused the metallic taste in my mouth for 8+ months has finally faded to the point where I can actually taste food about 85% of the time! Wow, exciting! Now when I eat, I want to keep eating because it tastes so good to me.

I am focusing on good foods, and my spinach & salad greens drinks and smoothies are my favorite. Add a little pineapple, lime or blueberry and these greens create a tasty, healthy snack. Love it!

I continue to pray for those whose lives are not so good right now. I am anxious to get updates from my sister-in-law so I can hear how our new Haitian niece is doing. Please pray for Valencia and all her countrymen, so many are still fighting for life. I know Valencia has a difficult transition ahead, but we are still so grateful she is here and out of the mess in Haiti. Pray and donate to the relief efforts if you can. My love to all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

. . . . . . . . .Friends and Freedoms

The house is straightened (mostly), the kids are excited and everyone is counting down the minutes. We anxiously wait and peer out the window until at last we can see it! Their car is here, our friends have arrived! The last 2 days I have had wonderful visits from dear friends of mine. We have caught up on life, let the children run around and play, but mostly we have just visited and strengthened friendships that are already strong enough to stand the test of time.

Visits from Emily S. and Brittany H. have just made my week. :) Life is even better when you share it with people you love! Friends like these made me get through the hard times with my tumor and I love them even more now!

Something very exciting is also happening for our family this week. Last night, the newest member of the extended Brown family arrived, literally arrived, by airplane. Tolan's sister and brother-in-law, Teresa and Jared, finally have their adopted daughter, Valencia, from Haiti. They have been in the process of adopting her for 2+ years, and as a result of the earthquake, the process was actually sped up and she arrived in Miami last night.

When little 5-year-old Valencia arrived last night, she had nothing but the clothes she was wearing. Many orphans from her orphanage were flown by helicopter to the airport in Port Au Prince, then flown by plane to Miami, where all the families were gathered to meet them.

Even amidst disasters, miracles still happen! The transition will be hard, I am sure. Valencia doesn't speak English, but she is here, in the United States. She will have food, friends and most of all FREEDOMS she would never have in Haiti. We are tearful and grateful she is finally here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

. . . . . . . .Time Warp

I woke up in the morning, ready to go play with the kids and enjoy a beautiful summer day. Perhaps we would have a picnic or maybe go to the pool. We could take a walk to the river and skip all seemed so wonderful in my mind.

Then I woke up and realized that it is January, 2010, not June, 2009. It is not summer. I missed summer. Sometimes, I honestly feel as though I am in a time warp. Spring and summer 2009 disappeared from my life. I missed them and sometimes I forget that they have passed. While the rest of the world experienced spring and summer one day at a time, the minutes seemed like hours, but the days and weeks flew by for me. I honestly don't know where that time went. I do have memories, but some are cloudy, others unpleasant, and others are wonderful, but they seem almost like a dream from another time.

So today I am not spraying the plants (or the kids) with the hose, I am looking at the snow-covered mountains out the window and wishing I could get the time back that I lost. As we all know, we can't get time back, which is why it is so important to use it well.

Though I may not remember it, I know it happened, and the results are the reason I am writing this blog today, so it couldn't have been all that bad. :) Perhaps in my dreams I will get my spring and summer back, and in the meantime, I will be counting down the days until my tulips start to peak out and say hello.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

. . . . . . . . Believing in Angels

On this day, one year ago, in the early morning hours when most of the world was asleep, my dear, sweet Grandma Vearis Anderson Orgill Lisenbee, left this life and joined her loved ones on the other side. She went from being my mortal example to my heavenly angel.

I could never have known when she left, just how much I would need her to be my angel during the last year. It was 3 months to the day from her passing, that I was hospitalized for the first time for my tumor. Only then did I begin to know (quite selfishly) that I truly needed her to be my angel, and I was grateful she was there for me, on the other side of the veil.

Since that time, I have realized that there really are angels among us. Every single day, I am touched by their efforts. Some are heavenly angels, like my sweeet Grandma. Others are our neighbors, friends, and family. In my case, I know that my parents, siblings and husband are definitely angels. :)

I have seen more miracles and more angelic acts in the last year than ever before in my life. Many of you have been the angels that answered my prayers and pleas.

When my Grandma passed away, I was saddened that I didn't "feel her" presence with me all of the time. I wanted so desperately to know that she was still here, with me. Then as the challenges of life surrmounted, I knew more than ever before, that she is still here, guiding, directly, loving and supporting me through all my trials. She is my "Ha" or "Breath of Life" as the Polynesians so wisely understand. I still miss here dearly, but I also understand now that she is even more needed where she is today, as an angel and missionary to the world.

Love and miss you, Grandma B., every single day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

. . . . . . . . Seeking Consistency

Last night and today are the times that Halloween stories are made of. It is cold and damp outside, so foggy and dirty from the inversion that I can barely see beyond my neighbor's house. It feels eery and makes me want to hide away.

This feeling is in total contrast to how I felt for 2 days this week, when I had very good, "normal" days. :) I am so grateful for these times and the energy which has allowed me to be a good mom again.

The struggle I am having is that it feels like my energy is much like money. I have a certain amount, and as it gets divvied out on one day, there is simply less left for the next. I know that is not truly the case, but I think I am still getting very worn out by the "normal" activities. So, I feel good as I am doing them throughout the day, but then my body collapses and I am left struggling a bit the following day.

Now what I need most is consistency, and part of that is simply up to me. I need to make sure not to overdo it on any given day, so I can leave enough strength for the remaining days each week. That is hard for me to do, because when I feel good, I am tempted to do all the things I want to do. That is just not realistic for me now.

Despite all of that, I continue to feel so blessed. Everywhere I go, I am touched by the loving, kind words of friends and acquaintances. Do you know how much you mean to me? Can you possibly imagine how much your words buoy my spirit? You thank me for teaching you through my trials, but it is you who have helped me make it through them and strengthened me. You are still my angels, every day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

. . . . . . . Keeping Up with the Kids!

Yesterday was a truly remarkable day! Actually, to anyone else, it probably wouldn't seem like anything but "normal", but that was the part that was so wonderful. It was a very "pre-tumor" normal sort of day. :)

I got up early to make the kids their favorite blueberry muffins for breakfast, then after I got ready, I decided to be ambitious and get cookin'. So, Casen, Daven and I got out all the ingredients and made 3 pans of lasagna, one for dinner, 2 for the freezer. The boys had a blast helping on this one. Casen cooked all the meat and Daven helped me spread the meat and cheese layers on the pasta noodles. They were great helpers.

As a reward for their excellent help, we went to our favorite children's musuem, the Treehouse Museum. We played (hard!) for 2 hours, then I dropped Casen off at preschool. Daven and I came home for lunch and I did some work for a few hours. Next I picked up the big kids from school and we came home and did homework together.

We had our lasagna, plus garlic bread, beans and a fresh "green" smoothie for dinner and I made chocolated bliss cookies for dessert. Then we really got busy and spent 2 hours making some toys out of yarn and plastic bags. This was our version of Maori Poi balls, which we saw at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. They turned out great (the second pair better than the first) so now all the kids have their own set.

By the time we finished it was bedtime for everyone, so all the kids went to bed and Tolan and I followed a short time later.

See, totally normal. But the remarkable part was that I was able to "keep up" and keep going all day long! No breaks, rests or stops the whole day, and yet I had energy and felt good! No headaches, pain or problems! What a tremendous blessing!

Everywhere I go, people continue to remark on how much I have improved in such a short period of time. Yesterday made it evident that the healing is happening to me as a whole, not just my paralysis and physical struggles. I am so grateful for that wonderful, remarkable, normal day! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

. . . . . . . Healing and Hearing

Today I returned to my church for the first time in 5 weeks, having been in Hawaii for the last 4 Sundays. It was so wondeful to see my friends and neighbors and to exchange heartfelt, warm hugs. I was grateful for the warm hugs since it is so cold here now!

I heard over and over again today how much it appears I have improved over the last month. Numerous friends said my mouth looks "straighter" (less droopy from the paralysis) and my eye looks better. I mentioned that the Aloha state did wonders for my healing, and this is just what I meant. I feel like I made 3-4 months of healing progress in 24 days. I can even see the difference in my mouth. It looks so much better. When I speak, the paralysis is still evident, but when I am just still, it looks much improved.

The Hawaiian air was also good for my eye. When you can't blink, your eye dries out so quickly, but in Hawaii, the humidity was heaven sent for my eye. Even when the wind blew, my eye was not as irritated. Sadly, it isn't as good here in the cold Utah inversion air, but I know I made a ton of progress.

Thank you, to the many people who noticed and made comments to me or Tolan. I am so grateful to know that you care enough to notice!

As I mentioned yesterday, Tolan and I spoke today in church. We prepared separately and didn't hear the talks until they were given, though we did make sure we weren't going to go over the same material. I feel like it went very well. There are so many lessons we have learned over the last year, it was impossible to condense into two 20 minute talks, so we just talked on a few important things and kept it focused.

For me, the best part about speaking is that once again, I was able to hear and feel the Spirit of God whisper to me as I prepared my talk and as I spoke. It was through that powerful yet subtle voice that I was able to select the appropriate stories to share. I cannot yet talk about all of my experiences without crying, but some of my tears were because I could feel the Spirit strengthen me and touch my heart. I felt the warmth of the gospel of Jesus Christ engulf me again.

It was interesting for me to hear Tolan speak on the topic. This was such a hard year, we tend not to talk about it or focus on it at home. We lived it, we barely survived it, so we just don't dwell on it. We focus on my progress, not the past. Listening to his words was comforting. I realized, yet again, how blessed I am to have him as my eternal companion. After we got home and talked about "how it went" he looked and me and said, "We really do make a great team." Yes, honey, we do.

I was also touched and delighted to see some of my friends come to church today to support me and hear me speak. When Brittany, Kelly and Robin showed up, I was nearly in tears. Your love and support is amazing! Thank you! And to all my neighborhood and ward members, you truly are angels!

My love to all!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

. . . . . . . Thinking Before I Speak

Tomorrow Tolan and I are speaking at Church. The topic: MIRACLES. :) (The meeting is at 12:45pm at the LDS church on 3900 S Parker Dr in Riverdale if you'd like to come!)

It is funny because this should be a very "easy" topic for me to speak on. I have experienced so many miracles in the last year, I should be an expert on the topic! But I have been thinking about this speaking assignment for 4 weeks now, yet my remarks are not yet solidified. Tolan's talk is prepared, mine is still in progress.

With so many miracles in our lives, I wonder how we could possibly be so blessed. I often don't feel deserving of so much love. I keep trying, but I keep falling short. I guess that is the beauty of the Plan of Happiness given to us by our loving Savior. No matter how many times we fall short, He is still waiting to bless us for the things we do right. Glass half full, right? :) Perhaps that is the key to it all, miracles included. We may never be "worthy" of all the blessings and miracles, but He blesses us just for trying hard and making the effort.

Thank you all for being part of the miracles in my life!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

. . . . . . . . Leaving ALOHA

We returned home to the cold and snow of Utah late last night, so today the house is a mess, none of us (except Tolan who had to work) were up before 9:30am, there are piles of clothes all over the house and the cupboards are bare. Ahh, the joys of returning from vacation!

In leaving the Aloha state, I had very strong emotions. I am leaving the Aloha state's warmth and humidity, which have been so good for my recovery and have helped heal my body. I am leaving the Aloha love of my parents and several siblings. I am leaving the Aloha love of the hundreds of "strangers" who are part of my extended PCC family. I am leaving the Aloha love of my Polynesian brothers and sisters, whose strength, hugs, kindness and warm welcome made me feel at home from the very first day. I am leaving the Aloha spirit of brotherly kindness and genuine concern for those around you. This time, it was very hard to leave Aloha.

My children and I all cried late Tuesday night as we said our good byes to family members and friends before going to bed. The tears were not just because our "vacation" had come to an end, but because the Aloha state had come to feel like our second home. Yes, this time, it was very hard to leave Aloha.

Now my hope is that I can leave ALOHA everywhere I go. I want to demonstrate the Aloha spirit, love, warmth and caring to those around me. I want to help strengthen others, as they have to me. I want to show my love, as they have shown me. I want to provide help, care and genuine consideration for those around me. I want to live my life by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thereby leave a little Aloha behind wherever I go.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

. . . . . . . . . A New Year

It is with many mixed emotions that I said "good bye" to 2009 and welcomed in 2010. Charles Dickens started out the book, A Tale of Two Cities, with a paragraph describing the state of things, ending with "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." That is exactly how I feel about the year that just ended.

There were days when I felt like I was deeply in the worst of times. There was pain, sickness and tears that I could never could have anticipated. There were nights when I thought I would never leave the hospital. There were moments when I said good bye to my family members, sure that our time together on Earth was over. The emotions are so deep that I cannot really say how I feel inside about those times.

But most of the year was filled with the best of times, times that could not have been experienced without the challenges. There were so many miracles and blessings that my life has literally been transformed. Though it is not a visible transformation, I can feel everyday that I am a new person. I have been blessed by people around me, by people far from me, by people I have never met. These people, the angels in my life, have blessed my family and helped us have miracles.

My young children have learned, grown and we have been strengthened as a family. Tolan and I are closer than ever before. We know we can make it through anything. Is all of this worth the trials of a brain tumor? Is it worth the pain? In my mind, it is not only worth it, the challenges are the blessings that brought about the miracles.

So, I guess you could say it was a good year, a very good year. Here is to much more good in the year to come!