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June 2006, just weeks before Peyton's diagnosis

Our family has two big anniversaries coming up that are bittersweet experiences that could have left us changed for the worse, but has seen us grow stronger as a family and in our faith.

When say that July is our least favorite month of the year, we aren't kidding around. July has been particularly brutal for us, and not just because of heat and bugs.

July 20, 2005 was the first day of Pete's summer vacation and we didn't have much planned, but what happened blew us out of the water. After I woke up, I tried to talk to Pete but he told me I was mumbling and I just blew it off as still being sleepy. I got up, got a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch to enjoy it. My first drink ended up dribbling straight out of the right side of my mouth and all down the front of my bathrobe. My first instinct was to look up and see if Pete saw it because I knew that would be my signature smooth move for the day. When the second sip of coffee did the same thing, and Pete noticed THAT, we both realized that something was definitely wrong. After getting the kids settled so that we could head to the hospital, we were shocked to find out that my blood pressure was 240/190! Shortly after an MRI, the doctors came in and told us that I'd had a bleeding stroke in the night. A stroke…I was 31 years old. I truly thought this was going to be the worst day of my life….little did I realize that had yet to happen…but it rocked our whole world. I know we were both terrified that I was going to die, that I would be left disabled somehow by this stroke, and my personal worst fear was that another stroke would leave me in some horrible conscious vegetive state. There are worse things than dying.

After 10 days in the hospital, I left on enough medication to strangle a small pony. The first weeks home were just awful for me. I walked around in a daze because of the medication, physically I was weakened on my whole right side and I couldn't carry Peyton with my right arm for long and I shuffled when I walked. I just feared that this was the rest of my life. I was going to be this half person, there..but not really there….because of the amount of meds I would just sit in a chair and stare off into space, I couldn't follow a conversation, I felt perpetually stoned. I struggled to be there for the kids, to be a part of the family, to try to be normal, but I just couldn't. I finally was able to get my medication adjusted so I didn't feel like I was walking under water, I started physical therapy when the kids went back to school and the healing began. It took 6 months, another trip to the hospital where I was overmedicated and my blood pressure plummeted and went life-threateningly low and a lot of patience and prayer, but I now if you didn't know I'd had a stroke, you wouldn't.

I still fight with fatigue in a way I didn't before the stroke, I still take a ton of medication to control my blood pressure, I still feel a little fear whenever I get a really bad headache, but I know in my heart that the stroke was just a preparation for our family to get us ready for Peyton getting cancer.

In just a few days it'll be the one year anniversary of Peyton's diagnosis. We joke that Peter's never allowed to take a vacation in July ever again because it was the first day of his summer vacation last year that we ended up at the hospital again, this time with non-stop prayers for our baby. We're a little nervous because our Dream Wish trip to Give Kids the World falls on the last week of July. We joke that as we drive to Orlando a piano will just mysteriously fall out of the sky onto our vehicle. If it does, we may just choose to board up the windows and become hermits during July for the rest of our lives.

In the time since I had my stroke, so much of our life had changed. We grew closer to each other, we learned to reach out and accept help when it was offered, but I know most importantly, we grew closer to the Lord and renewed our faith that He was in control. In doing this, He provided what we would need to get through the challenges we didn't even know would lie ahead of us. We strengthened our friendships, we changed insurances in consideration of my needs, never thinking we would need it for one of our kids, and we learned to love each other through the times when we were acting pretty unlovable. How can we not believe that God's looked out for us each step of the way? I guess for some, the thought would be "God could have just not given you a stroke or Peyton cancer", but He has brought so much good into our lives through these events and given us the opportunity to do and be more than we ever have before. It would never have been my choice to have our growth come through these particular lessons, but He knows what it takes for us to truly become what He has planned and for us, this was it. I'll be honest that I'm praying that He finds other ways for us to grow in the future, but who am I to question His mighty methods?

As these anniversaries approach, it would be so easy to think about all the things we had planned that never happened, the dreams we've had to put on hold, the fears and sacrifice we've been through. Instead, I choose to concentrate on the multitudes of ways that we've come through these past two years with more blessings that we'd ever imagined. We've had the chance to touch hearts and raise awareness about childhood cancers, we've found this amazing purpose that I know will be a mission for the rest of our lives, we've felt the love of our family, friends and community in a way that is just beyond comprehension, we've had our lives impacted by meeting the most courageous and outstanding families, we've learned not to sweat the small stuff (and if it can be fixed, repaired or replaced….it's ALL small stuff, inconvenient maybe, but still small stuff), we never take a day or moment with our family for granted, we know first hand that each day is precious and to be treasured…..these are all gifts that could only be given and truly be appreciated through the pain.

We are so thankful for all the people who continue to offer their encouragement, support and prayer for our family. We are ever in awe of the other families we've met who've had their lives touched by cancer, by the strength of friendship and the bond we have with them. We love and cherish the friends and family who stand by our sides every day to get us through it all. And we thank a mighty God who provides what you need before you even know you need it.

f.r.o.G…fully relying on God

4 Comments on “Anniversaries”

  1. #1 mimi
    on Jul 9th, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    I was visiting from another child's website.I was struck by Peyton's beautiful face!!! Just wanna kiss her!!!
    Big hugs from Texas…

    Mimi Mom to Julian dx 03/07 medulloblastoma
    [url=http://www.carepages.com]www.carepages.com[/url] juliansworld

  2. #2 Gina Bracken
    on Jul 10th, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I was just looking over my e-mails and one was sent to me fromThe Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's team in training. ( I am fundraising as I will be running the Nike marathon in October), and I chos to look at Peyton's profile from all that were given. Ironic that I am in venice,FL, just south of sarasota. She is beautiful and I pray that she is doing well. If no one else is wearing a ribbon in this race in her honor then I would love to. Please let me know. Sincerely, gina Bracken:SMILE

  3. #3 Katie
    on Jul 10th, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    I can't wait til Friday!!! Love your family!!!

  4. #4 basi
    on Jul 10th, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing about your stroke. Wow. What you guys have endured. You are a blessing to many others who see your children thrive through the uncertainties of life. I believe our children (and their sibblings) will survive this and become better and stronger for it.

    I'm praying that this July be wonderful, full of blessings and summer fun. You guys will love GKTW.

    Take care, love, basi