Dennis

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Dennis’s flight took off from Shanghai about twenty minutes after the earthquake hit Japan, just as he was flying over, looking down at the shaking land mass and thinking to himself that it was strange that he was leaning to see the land below, to study the outline and form of Japan, as he’s normally not a window-looker-outer. He didn’t see the country moving. It was my first question, too.

Then he flew home, only slightly ahead of the tsunamis. With a one hundred mph tailwind, he landed one hour ahead of schedule, just as the first waves were hitting Hawaii and just as Little J crawled into my bed and asked, “When is Daddy getting home?”

I was bleary-eyed, having woken up with a start at 5:30 a.m., which is when the tsunami alarms had begun to blare in San Francisco. Unable to go back to sleep and sure that there was something wrong somewhere, I checked CNN, then lay in bed with a breaking heart knowing that the initial death toll of 52 would begin to swell as fast as the waves heading toward the Pacific coast line.

Several hours later, with Dennis safely landed, with Little J and Virgil cuddled up with me, and with my mom on hand with tea and sympathy, we began to thank our lucky stars and send extra love and strength across the ocean.

When Dennis arrived home, I could see in his weary eyes that, while he and his body had arrived, his spirit and energy were still winging their way toward home.

We regaled him with stories of the fun we had while he was away: the long-awaited trip to Chuck E. Cheese, the new shoes and toys, the snuggling and reading with Grandma.

Now that he was back, we would have a weekend of extra cuddling, of sending our thoughts of peace and fortitude to the brave people facing the rising waters and leaking radiation. If smiles and love could help them, Little J would be his own Red Cross.



Hugs,
Jennifer

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This is what the after-dinner cuddle looked like last night. It was Dennis’s last supper at home before leaving for his annual China trip. We ate a roast, sipped wine, and talked Virgil into believing that all would be fine with his Daddy away.

Dennis has only been gone since 7:20 this morning, but I miss him already. The first few days after he departs are always the hardest. A little off-kilter, I don’t sleep as soundly, and I wear an extra sweater around the house because I know that warm hugs aren’t coming through the door any time soon.

Little J and I are excited though too. First of all, Auntie Mari is coming to stay.  Second, the long-awaited Chuck E. Cheese trip is coming up. And finally, Grandma will be here. For Little J, this means brand new sneakers and many other treats. For me, it means good food, deep sleep, and sharing a quilt for an old movie or two.

This China trip is shorter than most, so it shouldn’t be as hard. But when you land and read this baby, please know that we already miss you dearly. It’s about to start raining, and we’re hoping the new blossoms will hang onto their branches until you’re back.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Taken at a very hip coffee shop near Carolyn and Tommy's house in Portland.

One of the things I adore about my new iPhone is that I can post to Fourseeds from just about anywhere. So today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: blogging from the chemo chair.

I should point out that my friends, family, and I have begun to refer to chemo as “getting juiced” since every Monday is now chemo day, or Juiceday.

This Juiceday, I’m thinking about a phrase Byron Katie uses a lot: Love what is. (By the way, I love “Byron” as a first name, and did you notice the Oscar winner last night who gave a shout-out to his daughter “Bronte”? Awesome.)

Byron Katie’s an inspiring writer and speaker whom my friend Jill told me about over lattes recently. Katie uses the Socratic method (asking questions) to awaken people to the concrete things they love about who they are and what life has handed them, no matter how dire their situation seems.

She doesn’t talk people into being happy in spite of the difficulty in their lives. Rather, she leads them to discover what they love about the life that pain and difficulty has brought them.

I think embracing Katie’s notion of “loving what is” requires a belief in a bigger picture, a broad plan that we all somehow fit into, a context where natural disasters, disease, and mean people make sense.

I personally agree that we’re all part of a bigger plan that we can’t quite grasp. Believing this gives me some relief, and it supports my conviction that my role is to love: to love my son and husband, to love my family, to treat my friendships with reverence, to take the best care of myself that I can, and to live with the biggest heart possible. I can say that my role in this life felt much more complicated before November of 2008 (when I was diagnosed), and that I lived with a lot more stress, many more feelings of lack, and wanting always just a little more of everything, and from everyone.

I do love what is. And if it takes weekly Juicedays to experience that love, so be it.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Only Love

I took this photo in Sevilla, Spain on Valentine's Day 1996.

Last Valentine’s Day, I posted that this day is Dennis’s and my first-date-iversary.

This morning, the three of us woke up to sweet surprises thanks to Hallmark, Little J’s unending enthusiasm for candy-related holidays, and the one thing that keeps this family moving forward no matter what: Love.

Last week, Dennis and I talked about how this would be a special Valentine’s Day. Instead of awkwardly wooing each other over gimlets in North Beach, we’d hold hands and make each other laugh while we embarked on our next cancer-venture: the Morab-003 trial. Chemo on Valentine’s Day might seem cruel to some, but for us it’s perfect. Love is our secret power. So today is an auspicious day to get this leg of the journey going.

But perhaps it is not meant to be.

We got a call this morning from the trial coordinator saying my white cells are too low to qualify for the trial. They’re supposed to be 1.5. They are 1.25. So I headed out into the rain to get a STAT blood test at Sugartown Community. And as I type, we are waiting to find out if my neutraphils have risen another .25 since Friday.

Can a girl get a break? I mean, PLEASE. Enough already. This trial looks so promising, and I am going to admit to you right now that I will be heart broken (broken) if this doesn’t work out for me.

While we’re waiting for the phone to ring, let me share some photos with you. I took these in Morocco in the Spring of 1995. I had been living in Spain for several months and needed my passport stamped because it was illegal to live in Europe without a visa that long. And back then, they were more strict about it. I also went because I’d been in love with the idea of visiting Fez ever since I’d read Anais Nin’s writings about the ancient walled city:

Fez. I have just left the balcony where I stood listening to the evening prayer rising over the city. Overwhelmed by all I have seen.

Mystery and labyrinth. Complex streets. Anonymous walls. Secrecy of the houses without windows on the streets.

Fez is the image of my inner self. This explains its fascination for me. Wearing a veil. Full and inexhaustible. Labyrinthine. So rich and variable I myself get lost.

Fez is a drug. It enmeshes you.

The layers of the city of Fez are like the layers and secrecies inside of me. One needs a guide. Traveling, I add everything I see to myself. I am not merely a spectator. It is not merely observation. It is experience. It is expansion. It is forgetting the Self and discovering the self of affinities, the infinite, limitless worlds within the self.

Here is a photo I took of the entrance to the old Medina of Fez or, فاس البالي:

And once inside, I took a photo with a different camera, one with black and white film:

And this photo is my most cherished of all non-family photos, of all travels. Ever.

This morning, I took the picture out of my jewelry box, where I keep my wedding hair clip and treasured string of perfectly matched pearls, a college graduation gift from my parents. I need to look at and share this photo with you this morning.

Who knows how it came to be that this little girl was standing alone, in the darkness, in this tiny alley, in a walled and roofed city that one could get lost in. Forever. Maybe, even at her age, she knew her way around the twisting, turning, walled-in cobbled pathways of the old Medina better than most.

You can’t see it, but she is smiling at me. I remember sneaking this picture because I’d been told Moroccans find it offensive to have their photo taken. But I had taken out my camera and aimed it down this corridor before I knew anyone was even there. The flash revealed her. And in the quickly fading burst of light, I saw her smile.

I’ve treasured this photo for fifteen years. Not because of its quality. Because of its mystery. Because of the confidence, bravery, and beauty of this little girl, standing in a dark alley, alone with one tiny light bulb. She’s almost like a little ghost, or an angel.

I feel that Anais Nin would have loved to have seen her there. Or maybe she saw her, too. Maybe she’s the inner self that Nin finds in the city, in her travels. Anyway, she’s my symbol of bravery and hope right now. And now I’ve got to go.  A tiny doorway just opened on my own twisty path. The coordinator just called, and my white cells are 1.7. Morab-003 is on.

Hugs and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Jennifer

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The lights flickered on and off just before the thunder and lightning came. Then the six-foot ladder blew right off the back deck while Heather and I were hunched over the couscous and cucumber salads, chopping away. Just when I thought the foul weather might be a bad omen for the party, Dennis entered and announced, “It always storms on my birthday. This is great.”

And so it was.

You should have seem him out there in his storm jacket, grilling sausages in the downpour. With a flashlight. He and Tom had spent most of the day rigging a tarp over the pergola in case there was the slightest chance that people would want to go outside. There wasn’t.

But indoors it was gorgeous and candle-lit and cozy. Friends and family had driven across bridges and through the rain to celebrate with us. Everyone was smiles and happy-to-see-you’s and dressed adorably.

One of my favorite moments was when Shelley (gorgeously preggers with twins!) had the brilliant idea of re-staging an old photo of Dennis with some of his best friends.

This was taken in August of 1988:

Ryan, Dennis, Paul, and Seth

November, 2010:

Oh my gosh, we are all so old. But the guys just get better with age, don’t they?

The party is over, but the happy energy still lingers. We cozy up to the fire these last cold nights, with our tea and books and puzzles. In spite of the dark, stormy outside, the sweet energy from the birthday fete lingers, and we hope Little J still believes us when we assure him he didn’t miss a thing!

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Every day I count my lucky stars.

Because it’s going to take at least a lifetime to get through all of them.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

From Little J, too!

We love you!

Jennifer

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Hallowed

Over the week that we returned from Kauai, the spirit of island lingered in that way that it does. We found it hard to get up on time, we smelled the floral scent in the air, and I felt urged to walk around in a sarong and flip-flops forever.

But holy Kamehameha, nothing says, “You are now back in Sugartown” like getting ready for Halloween on our All-Hallows devoted street. There was Heather’s annual pumpkin carving party.

There was scaring up the place with ghoulish decorations.

And there was the Power Ranger who could just barely wait to don his power suit and hit the streets.

And as they tend to do around this paganish holiday, and this time of year in general, the sacred and the profane crossed paths.

Now, you know I like to keep my secrets when it comes to the sacred. I throw my pennies in the wishing well and don’t say a word. But let’s just say that a certain extraordinary healershamanfriend came to visit and filled our house with her light and presence. And though I’ve never met a being quite like her, I feel I’ve known her my entire life. A more generous soul, I’ve yet to meet. And her husband, I cannot begin. That is for another day.

Halloween weekend for us was about Welcome home to Sugartown, and aren’t we blessed by the people in our lives, and aren’t we always *this* close to the sacred with our holiday and everyday rituals?

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Bhakti Boy

The other day, we went to Waimea Canyon, the immense and lush depression formed by erosion and the collapse of the original crater that formed Kauai millions of years ago.

Three fuchsia leis had been strewn along the lip of the canyon, an offering to the Gods. I wanted to feel a connection to the sacredness of the place, to be inwardly vast enough myself to soak it in.

Little J took off his flip-flops and told us to do the same. “Feel the lava sand, you guys,” he said, closing his eyes. “It’s still warm from the volcano.”  Smiling, Dennis and I took off our shoes, following J’s lead, we stood and tried to feel the energy in the lava sand.

Then the Little One lay down in the red dirt to make a “lava angel.”

He used the top of his head to make the angel’s face.

Then added lava rocks for the eyes. A perfect offering.

Before we left, Little J insisted we do a “family bow” at the edge of the canyon. He had us stand in a circle and touch palms in a kind of triple namaste. Then, following his lead, we all bowed our heads slowly.

My fourth trip to this canyon over the last decade or so. My first real experience of it.

Hugs,

J

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Clarity


Ahh, there’s that silver lining.

Yesterday I found out that, due to the bone-crusher shots, my white cell count was high enough to do chemo.  There will be no seventh round because, as Doc G states, “By these delays we see that we have reached toxicity level.” That leaves ONE more infusion on to go. A few more white cell shots will be given to make sure we can get the last chemo done on Monday, in time to rest up for aloooha time on the 15th.

After I return, I’ll have a scan then start on one of THREE possible maintenance plans. Option 1) is Avastin, a non-chemo drug which cuts off blood supply to developing tumors. Preliminary study results for Avastin for maintenance are good-ish. Option 2) is  a vaccine trial at UCSF. Everyone in the trial will get a  immune-boosting drug to help stave off a recurrence. Some in the study will get the ovarian cancer vaccine in addition to the immune-booster. Option 3) is at my favorite place, the California Cancer Center. It involves a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo or a vaccine on its own.

We’ll see. That leaves a lot to think about. For now, we’re just focusing on getting through these last two weeks of chemo.

Hugs, and a Happy Anniversary shout out to Dennis. Remember when we danced to this song eight years ago while Eric played?

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You’d think that with all the sleeping I did on this trip, I wouldn’t still be so tired three days later. After all, I was in bed before ten on both nights. Everyone else did the work.

Example: here are Uncle Mike and Dennis blowing up the air mattresses before Uncle John arrived with the pump.

*Note Little J’s helpful relaxing.

The next day, Little J pulled his weight by carrying his own oar on the way to do some boating:

And everyone else cooked, schlepped gear, and poured the drinks.

The entire clan (seven adults and three kids) had a fantastic time in the great outdoors battling with the squirrels (who managed to make off with a Cliff Bar and several chips), playing on the rocks, and making s’mores.

It was the second-to-last weekend of September, and we definitely had one foot in summer (a bright, hot Saturday), and one foot in the fall (a cloudy, rainy Sunday). Make that one soggy, dirty, stinky foot:

Little J’s sock, which got left out in the rain near Uncle Tom’s tent (as a little gift?) sort of says it all. Seriously, you should see the inside of my car. By the end of the weekend, we were a pack of mud monsters.

But Little J got to play with his cousins, and we all got to catch up and spend some much-needed time together. My favorite parts were waking up in the tent with Dennis and Little J, seeing J play with his cousins, and watching my two guys do their favorite thing:

The tent, sleeping bag, air mattresses, and lanterns are all washed and packed up for next summer.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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