I have had a busy, if not sedentary and solitary past six months. In July, I suffered what my doctor told my parents was a “Horrific Setback.” Even though, all of my lab tests at that time still indicated that I was in remission, my multiple myeloma had silently returned. Its presence revealed one evening, when I arose from bed to make the very short trek to my bathroom.
As I stood up, I told my husband that my spine felt really weird and weak, just like it used too when it would break. As I hung onto the wall, he assured me that after all of the years of bone-hardening drugs, that was not possible. So, I lifted my foot to step over my huge white German Shepherd and my world and back exploded.
My legs became instantly useless and a pain like electrical liquid fire enveloped me. I fell right on top of my dog. My dog never moved. He just laid perfectly still until Doug was able to lift me from on top of him.
It was obvious something had gone terribly wrong.
My husband half carried me down our steps, out of the house and got me into the car. We drove to Regions hospital. There in the emergency room, a doctor asked me to wiggle my toes. I tried and the pain became extremely intense as a spasm coursed through my body so harshly that it arched my back in off of the bed about six inches, then froze me in that position until the spasm stopped. Then, it would do it again and again….and again. It was unpleasant.
I remember almost nothing of the next three weeks that I spent in the hospital. I do remember being conscious for a moment inside and MRI, because I was waving at the technicians. I felt foolish. Then, I was put out again. I remember a nurse standing next to my bed describing to someone else a patient who was in so much pain she was levitating 6-inches on top of her bed. I felt sorry for that poor soul. I remember staff both Christian and Muslim asking me if they could pray with me. I experienced angels.
The cause of all of this trouble was due to Myeloma lesions having grown on the base of my spine. My bone marrow biopsy showed over 40% myeloma. The great news was that no bones had actually broken. Too bad whatever was causing the paralyzing painful contractions could not have celebrated that fact and left me alone.
I am told I had ten rounds of radiation. I remember only the last three. I can recall that after my last one my parents were in my hospital room as I returned. When the bed I was on moved too fast, a spasm was triggered and as usual during the contraction my head would be arched completely back. At that moment my dad was standing right there with the most awful look on his face. I felt bad that I had scared him so.
When I was eventually released from the hospital, I left too weak to walk on my own and was again trapped in a walker. And, I faced months and months of weekly, four and a half hour, chemo infusions.
During those months, my life as a cancer patient reminded me of my grandmother’s embroidered kitchen towels. She would embroider them with the name of each day of the week. Each day of the week was set aside for a different household task. Monday for washing, Tuesday Ironing….etc… My entire autumn schedule became much like those old dish towels of grandma’s. Each day’s task the same as it had been the week before.
It went like this….on a Friday, I received infusion. On a Saturday, I thought I was Hercules powerful and bursting with energy from the massive dose steroids given with the chemo. On Sunday, the effects of the steroids, such as not sleeping for 48 hours, would begin to wear off. Monday arrived accompanied by severe fatigue, body pain and nausea. Tuesday was an amplified copycat of Monday. Wednesday was a slightly more productive day. Thursday was the best. Friday morning was outstanding… right up until you began swallowing the half cup of pre-med pills needed for your next chemo infusion signaling it was time to hop on the cancer chemo carousel and take another spin.
Whether it was a real or carousel horse, I have always been an excellent rider. My dad still brags about how as a small child I would grab onto the ears of a a small pig, jump onto its back and away I’d go. I only rode the pigs because the adults in charge felt I was too small to have my own horse. He still marvels that I never fell off. Riding a pig is a lot like riding the cancer carousal. If you loose either your focus or grip the situation is going to become very stinky quickly.
Where there is breath there is hope. With that in mind, regardless of how I felt, I kept busy. I completed several oil paintings, crocheted over two dozen hat and mitten sets for charity. Still managed to visit my World War II buddy in the nursing home. And, when my back had recovered enough to lift a cookie sheet…I baked gingersnaps for him and to help relieve my neighbor’s nausea in his battle against brain cancer.
I had no interest in laying around and letting all of my hard won muscles turn to mush again. No pain, no gain. Besides, what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. By the end of August, I had graduated from physical therapy and nurse home visits, and I had escaped the walker was again using only one cane. And, I was strong enough to enjoy a Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park with my family. I wasn’t up to my usual miles of hiking, but I did walk from the car parking lot to the picnic grounds and sat up for hours. I am not saying I did not pay for that outing later, but and it was so very worth it.
Just over a week ago, I had another bone marrow biopsy. To be honest, my husband and I were both just hoping for single digits. However, to our and my oncologist’s delight no abnormal cells were present….at all! I am again cancer free! What a great 60th birthday present!
Which brings me to this morning.
As I took lots of butter out of my refrigerator to soften for a robust Christmas cookie baking session, which will commence shortly, I thought of my Uncle Mrywin who passed away in early December a couple of years ago after a long a courageous battle with dementia.
Somehow, I always grin when I think of my Uncle Mrywin. A fabulous earthly legacy! In my mind, Uncle Mrywin was defined by three things. His love for God, people and sweets. So, I guess it is only natural that, whenever I begin baking my Christmas cookies I think of him. Especially, since so many of the recipes I use are his mothers.
Several years ago, I wrote the following blog about my Uncle Mrywin, his stuck tractor and a recipe for Fudge Bars. The story of the stuck tractor really does capture the essence of my uncle and the importance of good-naturedly attempting the seemingly impossible, attacking a task with determination, giving it your all, recognizing when you are just spinning your wheels and knowing when to seek help…earthly or divine.
Throughout my life and especially during my cancer battle the following bible verses are the ones get my wheels unstuck. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t have the words to these Bible passages pass through my mind. I guess my confirmation pastor was right when he told me that memorizing these verses wasn’t a waste of time, and that knowing them by heart would pay off in the long run. It certainly has.
Psalm 118:24 (Everyday is a gift)
“This is a day that the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Psalm 121 (My help comes from God)
“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Psalm 23 (I am never alone)
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
So, if ever you should find yourself stuck in the mud up past your axels, and it is easy to do especially this time of year, remember that a God of Love loves sent us something sweeter than Christmas cookies…a baby…his son our savior…Jesus Christ. The Son of God who came to give hope to the hopeless.
I hope you enjoy this humorous farm story about my Uncle Myrwin and his stuck tractor. A yearly spring ritual as I recall. I also would encourage you to try this recipe for Fudge Bars this Christmas Season…they are tasty and would have made my uncle smile.
My dad and my Uncle Myrwin farmed together for most of their lives. The brothers and their families were all very close. In fact, when I was a child the phone would ring bright and early every morning and it would be my uncle calling to talk to dad about the day’s farm business and work. I cannot remember a day while growing up when I did not talk too or see my Uncle Myrwin.
About five years ago my Uncle Myrwin had to move from the farm into a nursing home, because he had developed memory issues. He has been there ever since and over the years his cognitive abilities have declined.
From the first week he entered that home, I decided that he was not going to ever be forgotten by his niece and so I began to write him a letter every week. I have continued this practice for the past five years except for a short time during my cancer fight when I was in a nursing home and too sick to write. I even got letters off during my stem cell transplant. I have never told him of my illness.
Yes, I know that my uncle would no longer recognize me. That does grieve me, but I know that he still enjoys getting my cards and having them read to him. I will continue to write to my uncle for as long as God allows either one of us to remain on this earth. You see it doesn’t matter one bit that he doesn’t remember me, because I remember him and that is what counts.
For the past year I have found pictures online and made my own “farming” cards for my uncle. This picture of a stuck tractor is this week’s card. I thought I would share this week’s story of my memories of farm life with him, dad and stuck tractors.
Dear Uncle Myrwin,
I hope this finds you having a good week and feeling good. It looks like spring is almost here and there are a lot of song birds again at my bird feeder. Their song sounds wonderful!
I really like this picture of a tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles. Boy, does that bring back memories of stuck tractors on our farms.
It seemed that the vast majority of stuck tractors occurred in the spring when we were in a big hurry to get into the fields and plant. I recall many a time riding on the back of a big red tractor, standing on the hitch behind the driver’s seat and holding on for dear life to the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel fender.
As we would drive into the fields to check field readiness, there would eventually be a dip or ditch that was extra moist looking. Sometimes there was even standing water in them. It was at this point the tractor’s driver would shout loudly above the roar of the engine, “Hang on, I think we can make it!”
The driver would then speed up and make a run at the wet spot. As we would hit the moist mud the tractor’s engine would moan in exasperation at being so rudely stressed while the tractors big back tires would slide first to one side, then back the other way as they cuddled into the rich slippery black dirt. Eventually, we would come to a complete halt with the rapidly spinning back tires furiously spitting mud chunks high into the air.
With mud raining down on us from the heavens, the driver would then start the process of rocking the tractor. First, forward,then in reverse. This was done to try to get out, but in my experience it only served to sink us deeper. Eventually when the big rear tires were sunk to the axles and the back hitch was level with the water and frogs, the driver would shut the tractor off.
As we climbed free of the stuck tractor the driver would then slowly walk around the entire scene with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. Then, he would walk up next to me, grab the bill of his green seed corn cap with his thumb and pointing finger, slide it to the back of his head while he scratched the top of his head with his other fingers. He would slowly replace his cap into the original position, breathe a deep sigh and with a proud smile declare, “Well, we almost made er.”
Sending lots of love and hugs,
There is one thing that Uncle Myrwin always appreciated as much as he did good farming and that was excellent baking. There was always great cakes, cookies and bars to be found in either family’s farm kitchens. Fudge Mud Bars are still a favorite treat served in my mother’s kitchen.
Fudge Mud Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease at 9 X 13 cake pan.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups quick cook rolled oats
In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl combine and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, oats, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix well.
Firmly press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of your greased 9 X 13 pan.
2 Tablespoons butter
One, 14-ounce can of sweetened and condensed milk
One, 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium-sized sauce pan, on top of the stove on a low-medium heat, add butter, chocolate chips and milk. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips have melted. Add vanilla and stir to combine.
Spread the fudge mixture over the dough. Drop teaspoons of the remaining dough evenly on top of the fudge mixture.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough starts to brown.
Letter writing has become a lost art which is a shame, because the written note immortalizes the writer while bringing so much joy to the recipient. I would encourage all of you to take the time to send off a card or note to someone who is ill, lonely, a child, grandchild or anyone in your life who needs encouragement. I can assure you that it will make their day!