on family and making the time count


It’s funny- looking at these photos taken 4 months ago… I hadn’t gradated yet, summer break was still on the horizon, lots of time off before starting my internship at a private practice (next week!)… But life was kind of standing still that week with the Pelz family. A few of our members were experiencing deep losses, and as it goes with our family, we felt the weight of the loss with them- differently, but profoundly.

I think the nature of living so far away makes Nate and me that much more intentional when we are together. We recognize the time is precious, and feel the need to make it count. This was no exception-every conversation, meal, hug, smile- felt significant and valuable, and maybe even more so…




from life lately

Fascinating iphone photos, right?! Okay, not at all. But it reflects a very un-fascinating week where mind space was taken up by other things. Like the start of classes and the swarm of thoughts and feelings related to becoming a therapist and a mom at the same time. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve quit the program in my head the last 7 months… But then I read something, or talk it through with someone, and take a tentative, resolved step forward. I don’t necessarily “want it all,” but I do want to engage both- in a way that is healthy and sustaining for my family. And with so little experience at either (motherhood / therapy), we’ll just have to keep moving forward- adapting and adjusting as we go.

Any student-moms-of-little-people out there with advice?

waa wa

I woke up slowly this morning.

I have to say, one of the most frustrating things about this unique period of time has been the complete loss of understanding of my body (and mind). I used to pride myself in having a good grasp of these things, a keen awareness.

No longer people.

I’m indecisive, disorientated, uncomfortable, and off balance (literally and figuratively).

Nate has learned not to ask open-ended questions when it comes to expressing things I need or want. A short list of options work so much better at this point (also sparing him from very strange melt-downs).

But enough complaining. I started my day with a bowl of [vegan] baked pumpkin oatmeal that smelled and tasted like cookies. Sigh. It was delicious and I’ll share the recipe soon.

just keeping it real

Full disclosure: I take depression medication.

My approach to this blog has never really exuded direction/thematic clarity, but I will say that I’m conscious of keeping things fairly light. I’m in my own head enough, and it’s good practice for me to focus on the good of life like Henry, friendship, or (obviously) food. I also assume that you, as the reader, are very probably not looking for heavy reading material on the travails of a 28 year-old, when your life has plenty of its own.

But I wonder sometimes about blogging/bloggers. We all get to put our best online foot forward. I show you adventures, and parties, and days at the beach. I pick my best photos, from my better moments. This whole veil I can so perfectly pull leads people to say things to me like, “You guys always look like you’re having so much fun!” or “I just want your life!”

Okay, people. While these things are my reality, they’re only part of it.

So a bit of honesty regarding that which is much easier to keep private- I went three days without taking my medication (unintentional) last weekend, and two days ago, I hit a wall. Hard. Things like getting dressed (or moving) felt massively difficult.

It’s irritating because I know it’s circumstantial and will pass, but knowing that doesn’t help the dramatic immobility.

Honestly though, things could be so much worse. I mean, Allison who just returned to Africa already has malaria (so sorry, friend).

Summer of Tumor, Part Ten

Previous installments: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine.

I’ve been back and forth on how to approach this concluding post. The story doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a proper ‘ending’ since there’s a lot we both continue to feel unfinished about. But I think I’ll approach it by covering the first few days after surgery, then summarize some current thoughts being processed on the whole thing.

The day after surgery…

I was clingy. And emotional. But circumstances didn’t allow time together (family, friends, doctors and nurses- in and out all day), and when we did get twenty minutes alone, I cried the whole time. It was confusing. Honestly, we were both depressed and tired. Part of the reasons why were obvious. But as the days passed after surgery, part of it also had to do with the patients in the rooms next door. I think when the spotlight and pressure was taken off our situation, we felt the weight of suffering around us like we never had before. We almost immediately started wondering why us? Nate was the only patient (ever) on the unit that didn’t end up receiving a transplant. And the day Nate was discharged, a man a few doors down was dying.

I remember wanting to leave the hospital, but not wanting to leave the hospital (this was actually the start of my complete inability-to-gauge-my-feelings-in-order-to-make-decisions phase that lasted for months). I felt an intense attachment to our nurses and doctors – a definitive bond that had formed in the crisis. Wrapped up in that was my odd attachment [in general] to life in a hospital. It was safe, the routine predictable, and everything peripheral was irrelevant.

Nate…well he didn’t necessarily share in my hospital dependency, and was [understandably] impatient to return to life in the world. After three or four days of recovery, we were given the okay to leave. He got his last push of the strong stuff through his IV, and Nate, Allison, and I walked out the lobby doors.

We drove straight to Walgreens to pick up more pain medication. I’ll never forget how strange it felt standing at the pharmacy counter thinking that these people had no idea what we’d just been through. I had to suppress a laugh when the pharmacist asked Nate if he knew what to expect from the meds, how to take them, and how often.

After Walgreens, and after weeks of living in a fishbowl, we went into hiding in Pendleton, Indiana – thanks to the generous hospitality of extended family members, the Bollings. But man, those few days were rough. Nate woke up that first morning looking like he’d spent all night working at losing ten pounds (because he did – lose ten pounds).

In addition to the drop in weight and sunken eyes, we re-enter withdrawal to the story (oh how I wish we didn’t have to). It was bad. He had a hard time distracting himself from the pain and the side effects, but we managed a few shuffles outside (and more homemade food brought over by the amazing Leah Heuer and her dad, Dave).

We eventually made our way back to Fort Wayne, then Phoenix, and Nate slowly (emphasis on slowly) started to heal. His “zipper” was removed, and he pushed himself pretty hard, never wanting anyone to worry over him. Truth be told, though, it took months for him to regain energy. There were days, even in October, when he needed two naps a day just to get through it. But ever true to form, he never complained. People ask all the time how he’s doing now, and half the time I never know what to say because he doesn’t complain! I can tell you that digesting food isn’t his most favorite thing to do ever, and he still has to be careful about what he eats…

A sequence of emotions ran its course throughout the fall, mostly connected to thoughts on God, life, expectations, etc. None of them really seemed to match those of family and friends around us (or the circumstances for that matter), which was sometimes confusing. The almost immediate transition to Fuller and grad school fused with the expectations of how we thought we should be feeling, what we should have learned, how life should be changed dramatically (but it wasn’t, or it didn’t feel like it had), meant that things in the Pelz apartment were tense. Rather than expressing love more intentionally or feeling like a more solidified team, we were depressed and argumentative.

So of course to remedy this we took an 18 day trip to Europe with crazy amounts of concentrated time together. Okay, not really. We did go to Europe, but it was because the day Nate came out of surgery, I very clearly remember him saying, “We’re celebrating! Name the place and I’ll take you there!” Granted, he was highly medicated at the time, but it was still a great idea– never mind that by December, only six months post surgery, we ventured out on one of the most physically challenging vacations possible (kind of). Heavy backpacks and miles and miles of walking through big cities? Didn’t matter. We were going to see this through.

Honestly, somewhere along the way, things just clicked back into place. I remember us squeezing into the tiniest elevator I’ve ever been on in Barcelona, looking at Nate (from two inches away), and thinking that we were okay. Stresses had balanced, expectations had been laid to rest, and we’d made our way back to a similar page. And whether we realized it or not, we were a more solidified team after all this – how could we not be?

(posts/pictures from that trip here, here, here, here, and here).

Anger was part of the sequence of emotions felt in those six months after surgery – some confusion about the sovereignty of God, and fear about death. There were many sleepless nights, millions of questions with no answers, and finally…I just let it go. I can’t begin to explain the mystery of what happened here, how God chose to work, how prayer played into it, and why (always I wrestle with the why). But I’m grateful. While I never really had the high highs of celebrating Nate’s healing, there were moments when I’d look at him and really notice him – during ordinary things. And I’d feel a rush of gratitude in remembering the hospital and what almost happened.

But more importantly in my opinion, in a time when I could hardly get dressed in the morning or put two coherent thoughts together, a community of people (mostly unseen) stepped in and made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that all was not lost.

As I’ve written this story, and reflected on the events of this last year, love seems to be the theme running throughout. Every card, email, prayer, visit, thought, gift – hundreds of people from all over the world, from different chapters of our lives, who didn’t know each other or maybe didn’t all like each other – together got us through this. What an honor and what a blessing to have been on the receiving end of so. much. love. It moves me and humbles me, and makes me think the why I keep asking for doesn’t really matter.

Life and God…more mysterious than ever.

But we (all of us) move forward, and we do the best we can. We live and we love together and we affirm the doubt and confusion as part of being human; as part of coming to terms with the mystery that is faith in a God who doesn’t always make sense.

Summer of Tumor, Part Nine

Previous installments: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

Impulse led Margie and me to hug Dr. Vianna on the spot. I got the distinct impression hugs weren’t really a regular part of his patient/family interaction.

Dr. Vianna pulled out Allison‘s camera (Nate had requested pictures from surgery), and began telling us about the procedure where they removed the tumor and only a foot of his intestine, as he proudly flipped through them, acting as if photos like these were the most normal thing in the world. I loved it. If you’re curious to see for yourself, click HERE.

Dr. Vianna left the room and immediately I was completely overcome. Unable to move or speak, I collapsed on a couch behind me. Back in the waiting room…well my bother-in-law, Phil, described it best in a letter he wrote us last summer:

“I remember the vibe in the waiting room was so tense. Then Holly’s pager went off – she grabbed mom and dad and went to the front. Our section went quiet. Heads bowed, no one broke the silence that engulfed all of us. Then we heard it, “IT’S GONE!  IT’S ALL DONE, THEY REMOVED IT!  THE TUMOR’S GONE!”  Dad’s voice came over the silence as he ran back to inform us what had taken place. Still no one talked for a few seconds. Shock had taken over us. Then there was complete rejoicing. People were screaming, crying and hugging. It was so crazy. People were partying that you had been healed.”

After rounds of hugs and crying, I wanted/needed to be alone. And I needed to be alone in Nate’s room. I waited for him to be brought back from recovery – with a thousand inexpressible, insubstantial thoughts swirling in my brain. I switched chairs I was sitting in twice. I couldn’t sit still and had the overwhelming compulsion to be on the floor – I felt so humbled by what had just happened. And I waited for Nate.

Eventually Allison text me from the waiting room, having just seen him being wheeled by. My heart was racing, my cheeks hot, my mind still pretty numb, and I met him in the hallway.  Wow.  He looked bad. Two IV’s in his arm, a neck IV, red iodine all over his body, vaseline over his eyes, and the overpowering antiseptic smell of surgery. I’d never been happier to see him.

Nate already knew the outcome – the first thing he did after waking up was feel for an ostomy bag. He was groggy and silly, and feeling perfect and pure joy. He wanted to hold every nurse’s hand, and tell them he loved them – even the nurse he’d just met that wheeled him back from recovery.

We had a few moments together, then…I passed out.

Well almost. It was a bit much to take in – he truly looked beautifully dreadful. Besides, I totally thought the red iodine was blood. :)  Nurses took one look at my face and snapped into action. Chair, juice, crackers, breathing exercises. Sitting next to Nate (in all his surgery-ness), my sudden patient status was embarrassing.

The dizziness would subside enough for me to stand beside his bed for 30 seconds. Then I’d sit back down until the blackness in my vision cleared. Up, down, up, down. Nate did most the talking. He was so overwhelmed with gratitude for having his life back, and was direct in letting God and every nurse know he felt that way. He’d have these deeply personal discourses with God while I was standing there – and later while others were with him, too. Phil wrote about this, saying, “Those ten minutes were so powerful for me. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone so honest, grateful, and so worshipful. It was something I will carry with me forever.”

Friends and family came in small groups to stand/sit with him. Nate was truly hilarious, and we joke that Nate-on-drugs is such a wonderfully uninhibited Nate. It was as if he had rehearsed speeches ahead of time for all our family and friends. One speech in particular, though, stays with me…and I still think of it often.

Adam and Al– my team, our team. The two of them stood around Nate and he wanted to hold their hands. One at a time, he told them how much he loved them, how thankful he was for them, how we could have never made it through this without them.

And guys, that is absolutely the truth.

Adam, you gave up over five weeks of your life, and work, and other relationships, and time with your family to get us through this. And Al, you selflessly & completely gave up your days and weeks, and sleeping, and normalcy, & your trip to Uganda – literally canceled your ticket to stay by us in the hospital. The two of you carried more and sacrificed more than we’ll ever really know. How could we possibly thank you for your loyalty?

This feels like a good place to wrap up for now. I’ll attempt to finally conclude the story of Tumor in part ten (ten also feels like a satisfyingly even closing number of installments).

Summer of Tumor, Part Eight

Previous installments: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

Today is the day we finally arrive at surgery.

Four weeks of ups and downs (more downs than ups), all led to this moment, this conversation with Dr. Vianna. We had just gotten back to the room after my lamenting in Barnes & Noble, when he walked in and said “no transplant.” I think he said a lot of other things too, but I mainly remember him explaining that he wanted to go in and get a better look and feel, and attempt to re-sect the tumor without taking as much intestine as originally thought. OR he might be able to remove enough of the tumor that Nate wouldn’t need a transplant for another twenty years. And worst case scenario, they get in there, find there’s nothing they can do, close him up, and add him to the donor list as previously planned.

He said that if it were his belly, that’s what he’d want done.

We told a few jokes, he left the room, and we….were….speechless. Major swing of the emotional pendulum. Nate called his mom and immediately broke down.

Two hours later, the head of the entire transplant unit, Dr. Tector, came walking in our room- the legend we’d not yet seen in real life, but had heard so much about. He’s pretty much another superhero, and as I looked up at him standing on his very high pedestal (that I self-imposed), my mind went blank and I stuttered through several sentences before just letting him do the talking.

He gave answers to why all the waiting, including that for the last several weeks he’d been collaborating with many people from all over the world- Denmark, Egypt, Brazil, etc., and would be joining Dr. Vianna in surgery due to the complexity of the tumor. He told us he was going to do everything he possibly could to save Nate’s small intestine, and that he was hoping to bump some things in his schedule so they could get underway tomorrow (Wednesday)! He left the room, made some calls, but had to schedule the surgery for Thursday, the 17th — his preferred operating room wasn’t available until then, and he wanted the conditions to be to his exact liking (fine by us).

I was freaking out! But Dr. Tector wanted to talk life, and family, and irresponsible teenagers like it was the most normal thing in the world following conversation of a life-saving surgery. He gave us a thumbs up and walked out of the room.

We were elated, numb, crying, laughing, exhausted – all at once.

And people (you) were praying. We’d asked for a fourth option, for a “miracle,” for something to materialize that didn’t involve transplant, & here we were looking right at it.

Nate would argue the next day in the hospital was his worst yet. And had I not seen the critical days and nights in Phoenix (that he doesn’t remember), I’d probably agree. Prep for surgery was miserable. It meant no food, drinking gallons of something meant to clean him out, enemas (hope it’s okay I’m telling the world, Nate), and being marked for an ostomy bag.

Dr.’s were prepping us, trying to keep us realistic about the outcome not being certain, and that he may very well still need a transplant due to tumor/intestinal difficulties. Surgery was set for 9 the next morning, and sleeping was near impossible. Nate’s stomach was so full and uncomfortable, and I was practically jumping out of my skin. I crawled into his hospital bed with him that night (as I did most nights), and we tried to get a few hours sleep before the nurses came to get him.

Around 6am, Nurse Carey and Nurse Janel apologetically arrived early to take Nate for surgery prep. It was a confusing rush of adrenaline, phone calls, and movement down to pre-op. Our families, including Adam and Al, rushed to the hospital, met us in pre-op, and we prayed over him one last time before he was taken for surgery. I was given a sticker to wear (with Dr. Vianna & Dr. Tector’s names on it), a pager, and told the operating room was booked for 4 hours – but not to be alarmed if it took longer.

At this point, I was experiencing this weird sense of floating. My head was in a cloud and I had no sense of what I was thinking/feeling. I do, however, remember walking to Barnes & Noble with Adam and Al at the start of surgery, expressing my disbelief that the outcome of our lives was being decided in the next few hours. But there was no real conceptualizing its gravity – they were just words being said.

I remember my cousin, Travis. He came to the hospital that day and sat near me in the waiting room with a book. I remember leaning against his chair, and every so often feeling him squeeze my shoulder, communicating that he was there, and that everything was going to be okay. Whether he knew it was a big deal or not, I feel forever connected to him for being by my side that day, reassuring me.

Many people drove down from Fort Wayne to sit with our families in the waiting room. Wonderful friends and family (I love you guys) – all sitting with their own thoughts, voicing internal prayers, keeping each other company.

My pager went off and oh, the nervous stomach (I’m even feeling it now as I type this). Expecting an update from an OR nurse, I was surprised to see Dr. Vianna at the front desk of the waiting room. He asked me, Dave, and Margie to come into a little side room with him, and after walking in, Dr. Vianna, in all his presence and with his amazing Brazilian accent, said the words:

“It’s all done. He’s fine. I told you I would fix him.”

Truth be told, my eyes just filled up as I typed that. I still can’t believe it sometimes.

I’ll write about our reactions in that moment and what happened next tomorrow