Lis made an interesting comment this Christmas. She said, “You know, this really wasn’t a bad year.” This from a woman who was in the hospital for 30-plus days with cancer, away from her 5-month old son. This from a woman who, as she tells me this, still has a head full of peach fuzz thanks to the five rounds of chemotherapy she has gone through this year. This from a woman who has a titanium passport in her left arm and scars scattered around her body from the many needles and tubes that have been inserted into her. Not a bad year? C’mon!
And then I begin to think…maybe she’s right! Maybe, it hasn’t been that bad of a year. Sure she has leukemia (I say this like it’s no big deal) and has spent more days in the hospital then I or any other person can ever imagine spending, but a lot of good has come from this horrible experience, and for us to think that it’s been a good year has shown how far we’ve come and grown.
For some reason I always thought 2005 would be THE year for me. Maybe it’s because I’m 10-years removed from high school and should be on my way to growing up (I said on my way, not actually there). I don’t know, but in years past I had thought that 2005 would be my favorite year, my best year. I know it was silly of me to predict that and put that pressure on to 2005. Sorry year. I can tell you one thing, 2005 has become my most unforgettable year in my life.
By the way, why do we think things start over on January 1st anyway, just because the calendar tells us it does? Sorry, just something I was thinking about.
The year did start off well. Lis, Lukas, my brothers and I opened the year in Brazil. We had spent Christmas there and were now finishing off our two-week vacation. It was fun, my brothers and I had a good time and we were sad to leave Lis’ family. Lis spent two additional weeks with her family so that they could fall more in love with their new grandson/nephew, Lukas. Little did we know that those 14 nights we were apart would actually grow to a total of 72 we did not spend next to each other. We vowed to never again spend that many nights away from each other, little did we know that those 14 days would seem like hours compared to what was about to happen.
But let’s not jump ahead…Lis and Lukas returned from Brazil and Lis eventually returned to work. When she did return she had a continuously bloody nose which she thought may have been from the flight back from Brazil and seemed fatigued, which we blamed on her pregnancy and having to get up and down all night to deal with Lukas. I mean, wouldn’t you be thinking the same thing and not an early indication as to what was about to happen?
In February Josh and I went to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl and more importantly our good friend Dennis’ bachelor party. Josh’s folks were nice enough to let us use their frequent flyer miles so we could partake in Dennis’ party. Thank you Middleton’s! It was a two-night trip (tally it up…16 nights without Lis) but that was enough time for us to party. We drank a little too much the first day (the first time I’ve drank all day long) and well…what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It was actually nice because Dennis hung out with me, Josh and a friend of his from Vegas that first night while the other eight or so guys that he worked with and sees all the time, did their own thing. Super Bowl Sunday we were wiped out and spent the day in the hotel room watching the game. I actually would’ve preferred the usual Hotel Johnson Super Bowl party, but it was still fun.
A week later Lis, Lukas and I went to Dennis and Allie’s wedding in San Diego. My parents and brothers drove the motor home down and picked us up at the airport. Our flight and been delayed a few hours and it wasn’t until about 2am that we arrived. The wedding was a short but sweet ceremony and the reception was fun. I was the Best Man and had to give a speech. It went over well, I was making people giggle, when all of a sudden the ol’ sensitive Johnson male gene went off and I began to cry. More people giggled. Actually they didn’t but still I felt kind of embarrassed for blowing it.
March my Uncle Jeff returned from duty in Iraq. He had joined the National Guard at the ripe age of 44 and they sent him to Baghdad a few months later. He was in one piece when he returned and we got to go to the ceremony which was touching. We saw him march in, he noticed us in the bleachers and he looked at Lukas and looked at me and gave me a little nod. I thought that was pretty neat.
Throughout March Lis and I had noticed bruises on her body. At first we didn’t know what they were from. She’d get them easily, like when Koby jumped up on her, or when she bumped herself on something. But then they started appearing more and more all over and in odd spots on her body, in the palm of her hand, on top of her hand, everywhere. I was wondering if I was beating her up in my sleep. I told her to go to the doctor’s but she (and I) kept putting it off. Then in late March small pin-point red dots appeared on her leg and then on the top of her foot. It was then, April 6th, that she called to make an appointment.
On the 7th of April we went to the doctor’s and he checked up on Lis. He was surprised to see this on her and was curious to what it was. In my mind I think he knew what it was but didn’t want to make any assumptions until after a blood test. We got the blood test and the nurse excused us. We returned home, I went to work and about an hour later the phone rang. Lis was on the phone and crying. The doctor wanted her to stop by the lab, get the blood work and go straight to the hospital, it may be cancerous. I just froze up, told her I’d be right there, grabbed my jacket and with a blank but scared look on my face, told the Boss Lady I had to go, it may be cancer. She told me to leave and I got in our car and drove straight home. On my way to the house I called my Mom and told her to come by and pick us up. I wasn’t okay to drive; I was tense, nervous, puzzled and upset. My Mom was going to meet Lis for lunch but instead ended up taking us to the hospital.
What happened afterwards was somewhat of a blur. But eventually we got into Room 707 on Floor 7, on the 7th of April (Lis’ favorite number is 7) and there the nurses told Lis to get into a gown and hop into bed. She was confused. We were confused…what’s going on? Nobody told us what was happening. How long was she going to stay here? A couple days at least they said. What? What for? The oncologist came in and took a sample of Lis’ bone marrow. A big cork screwed needle straight into her back. Hours later we would meet our soon to be main oncologist, Dr. Congdon.
When Dr. Congdon arrived, he excused Randy and Dad (who had shown up after work) from the room and gave Lis and me “The Talk.” Lis had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) and if she doesn’t get treatment ASAP she would probably die in 3-6 months. WHAM! The bricks hit our face, tears filled our eyes.
She would need to start chemotherapy on Saturday (this was a Thursday) and would be staying in the hospital for 30-35 days. We couldn’t believe it. The only questions you could ask was “Why?!” and “How?!?” I didn’t even know what to do. It all happened so fast. I went to the waiting room and met up with my parent’s, brother and Lukas, who was crying his head off and I wondered…does he feel our pain? I broke the news to my family and they began to cry. “Why her? She’s healthier than we are?”
Our first thoughts lay with our son Lukas. What was going to happen with him? Lis would need to stop breast-feeding. This tore her apart. Which looking back at it makes me realize how great she is and was. My parent’s and I were recently talking about this…Lis never once took pity on herself. She never thought about herself and what would happen with her. She thought solely on Lukas and how this was going to affect him.
The rest is history and you can read my previous 102 entries to find out the rest of the story. It’s a long story and it gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes when I think back on it. Ahh, but Lukas is supposed to be napping right now and instead he hears me in here and is calling out “dad”. Instant smile brought back to my face! Thanks bud!
Back to the story…Lis went into remission on April 22, the first round of chemo had been successful. Of course her insides were now torn apart, she wasn’t remembering things from a day before, she had infections in her stomach cause of her low immune system, and oh yah, she was bald, which really is the least of the problems. Most people immediately ask about her hair or when the doctor told us the bad news he first told her, “you will lose your hair”. Big deal! I think too many people are worried about the outside of the person and don’t realize what is happening inside someone’s body when going through chemo. It eats you alive.
When dealt with something like this you really realize who your true friends are, who will be there for you in your greatest time of need. Every time we needed them our family and dearest friends were there. Every time we turned around someone was doing something special for us and this still goes on, to this day.
We got great support from our family and friends. My parent’s were awesome, my brothers came by just about every day, my grandparent’s visited often, my uncle and aunt sent a care package, Sara cut Lis’ hair, our friends were always wanting to come visit, our church donated food to us and later made Lukas and Lis quilts, and our friend’s church set up a schedule and made us meals also. And don’t let me forget our friend Tony organizing a car wash for Lis’ fund and raising over $500. It really has made us better people, Lis and I and my family. Thank you all!
Lis was released from the hospital the day before Mother’s Day and about 30-something pounds lighter. A not-so great way to lose the pregnancy weight you had gained. Her Mom and youngest sister, Elen, had come to visit two days before. It was a great Mother’s Day for all of us. She got to spend time with her Mom and I got to spend time with my Mom, who spent 30-days in the hospital with Lis, taking care of her and Lukas. Her pulling the long morning shift while I took the night-shift. Again Mom, I can’t ever thank you enough for what you did for Lis, Lukas and I.
Later that month Lis celebrated her 28th birthday. We had a picnic for her and the same people that visited in the hospital came and spent time with Lis on her birthday.
In June our family and friends got together and helped out at our first American Cancer Society Relay Walk. We didn’t raise a lot of money (I signed us up two weeks before the walk and missed all but one meeting, but we’ll be better prepared in 2006) but again the support was there and we all had a good time hanging out and walking miles and miles and miles around the park.
June was also my first Father’s Day and Lis returned to the hospital with a serious infection. She got better and we marched onto July.
July we held a garage sale for the Lis’ fund and raised more money. Again, family and friends came together to donate items or just hang out and help at the actual sale. Lis’ Mom and Elen left later that month and we were left with just the three of us for the first time since April 6. Our friends Cory and Hillary, who have helped us out dearly and have been awesome from the start, moved to Japan. We had just started to get to know them better so we were sad to see them go, but they went to fulfill a dream they’ve both had for a long time, teaching English in Japan.
August was the calmest month, considering the previous four. Lis’ sister, Elisete, gave birth to twin boys, Eduardo and Leonardo, Lis got her catheter replaced by a titanium passport in her arm, and she went through another round of chemo without any major glitches. There was the incident at a local hospital where they missed Lis’ port and put all the fluid in her arm causing it to swell up from the shoulder to the wrist, so that wasn’t all too good, but she was in and out of there – thankfully. Oh yah, we went to my 10-year reunion and I somehow won “Best Smile”.
In September we had to say goodbye to our family pet, Rudy. He had been sick for awhile and my folks finally decided it was best to put him down. Making things better for everyone was the fact that Lukas was taking his first few steps. He had been slow to crawl (eight months) but at 11 months he was walking like a pro. Plus he had said his first word and it was “ball”. Lis fought through another round of chemo and Lis’ eldest sister, Eliana, came to visit.
October I celebrated my 28th birthday and Lukas celebrated his first. We had a nice little Nemo-themed party for him and he got more toys than we know what to do with. Lis also finished her final round of chemotherapy. Hooray!
November Lis got her last mini-infection and we said goodbye to the hospital hopefully for a very very long time. We also said goodbye to Eliana. It was very nice for Lis to have her sisters and Mom here during this time. It relieved some pressure from us with Lukas, but more importantly it gave her family the opportunity to be with Lis in her greatest time of need. She got to spend some quality time with her family which made us feel good.
December we celebrated Christmas and also received a nice surprise from the radio station Warm 106.9. I had written to them telling them our story and telling them that my Christmas Wish was for Lis, to be able to get her a bike. They granted our Wish and we were able to buy the bike and a seat so that Lukas can cruise with his Mama. They also gave us $1500 in travel certificates to be used on site59.com. It completely shocked me and once again I shed some tears, this time on-air. It was a very special surprise and we are so happy to end this year on such a high note. Plus, listeners of the station donated tickets to the Nutcracker, a mini-basketball hoop, which ended up being our main gift for Lukas, and a Safeway gift card! Amazing!
So now you’ve been updated on the year that was 2005 for the Johnson’s. I apologize if I missed anything, if I did it would all be in the previous entries I have written. So read up!
So, if I think about it, Lis is right, it wasn’t that bad of a year. A lot of positive came from a very negative situation, a situation that has made Lis and I stronger, the family stronger and our friendships stronger. I no longer take for granted my family and friends. I don’t get easily upset and I’m enjoying life a lot more. I’m more patient with things because I realize that life is just too fragile. Every time I feel myself start to lose it I think about what Lis went through and realize, life is just too short to get upset about something so silly. I’m feeling better about myself, which has come from the support we’ve gotten from family, friends, strangers and God. He tested our faith this year and I think He’s proud of us. We had skipped church for three years, decided to go to church one April Sunday morning (April 3rd) and a couple of days later made a doctor’s appointment for Lis and found out she had cancer. If that’s not proof that God was talking to us then I don’t know what is.
Lis’ family was able to come and visit, which they probably wouldn’t have been able to do or wouldn’t have done if this hadn’t happened. And they and us had a good time while they were here.
Lukas grew up in front of our eyes (and the eyes of the nurses at the hospital and the people that tuned into my online journal) which really was the greatest thing this year. To watch him go from an immobile baby to a walking, talking toddler has been amazing. My best life experience in the midst of my worse life experience. It’s been a lot of fun and without that this year may not have been so positive.
I have also gotten to share our story through this blog and it’s become and inspiration to people, not to mention a lot of fun for me. I’ve met some interesting and incredible people through it. And, through those tough times in April I was able to sit down, write my feelings down and express how I was feeling. It made going to bed easier at night cause I didn’t have all these thoughts racing through my head, making me sleepless and tense.
So onto the New Year. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for my brother’s who are headed in the right directions of fulfilling their dreams. Erik has been selling his paintings and Randy is moving to Hollywood to become an actor. I’m excited to watch Lukas reach the so-called “terrible two’s”. I’m excited to use our travel certificates and take a much-needed vacation this year. The last time Lis and I got away – just the two of us – was back in July 2004 when we went to San Francisco. We’re looking forward to taking a trip with just the three of us.
Do I have any New Year’s Resolutions? Nah. My wife is alive; she’s still here with me and with our son. I have a wonderful son who is always smiling and has put smiles on faces of people that were in need of smiles, mainly his family. His first word was “ball”, he waves his hand around like a light saber and makes the whirring sounds, plus he throws the ball pretty well already. My dream has already come true! Hehe! Lis is a great mom, and a wonderful wife and we have a great family, not just between the three of us, but our extended family, and really there is nothing better or more I could ask for.