I remember the call from my oncologist so very clearly. After months of battling brittle bones and being injected daily with bone hardening drugs into my stomach, just as I thought I had begun to make progress, he called me to tell me that my bone marrow biopsy was positive for multiple myeloma…a bone marrow cancer.
My first thought was thank God they finally know what’s slowly killing me. My second thought was like the words of the song says, “Lord, this time you gave me a mountain. A mountain that I may never climb. It isn’t a hill any longer. You gave me a mountain this time.”
It isn’t surprising that my first thoughts were of God and mountains. Throughout the four years that I battled multiple myeloma, at first just to survive, then to get mobility back, I would often mentally picture walking in the mountains of Montana. Mountains have always been where I have felt closest to God and found peace.
Multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, destroyed my bones. They became so brittle that all of my thoracic and lumbar vertebra sustained compression fractures. I once had six new fractures in my back at one time. I also endured several cracked ribs.
I would break my back doing the simplest of tasks including flossing my teeth, lifting a toilet lid and trying to pick a shirt up off of the floor. For over 18 months I was imprisoned in a chin to hip hard body cast. I spent over two and a half years confined to a hospital bed in my living room staring out of my living room window at a small oak tree in my front yard. I was unable to stand or walk without using a walker for over three years. So, being able to hike in the mountains of Montana was a pretty far-fetched goal.
Getting stem cells
Sitting up in body cast, watercolor painting, not allowed to lift elbows off of the table.
Where I spent almost two years.
If in reality I couldn’t get to mountains, I could in my mind. I dreamed, I was in those mountains, often. I was there when I was encased in that body cast. I spent time in them when imprisoned in the hospital bed in my living room. I was climbing those mountains the day they put the Hickman chemo port into my chest. I visited those snow covered peaks each time they bored holes into my bones using only local anesthesia before they used a massive syringe to suck out bone marrow samples.
Those mountains were in my nursing home, rehab and hospital rooms. They were there the day I watched, “the nuclear bomb” of chemo for my stem cell plant slowly enter my body.
There were times during those years of battling cancer, fear, depression, chemo therapy and stem cell transplant side effects, mobility loss, and pain when my only contact with the great outdoors, for this outside farm girl, was dreaming of mountains and their meadows.
To beat my cancer I did everything the doctors asked me to do, except for one thing. I refused to use a wheelchair. I had no intention of being trapped in one of those. For, I had decided, like Winston Churchill stated in his greatest and shortest speech to “Never, never, never give up.” In fact, I bought a silver dog tag engraved with those words to always wear around my neck on a necklace that included my cross, a silver family tree given to me by my grandson on a Mother’s Day long ago and the first ring my husband ever gave me.
After making the decision to fight on, no matter how sick I was, whenever someone helped me out of bed, I would push my walker around my kitchen island until I was too tired to go any further. First one, then five, 10, 20 and eventually a 100 laps a day. I wore a trail into my hardwood floors.
During the long months that stretched into years when I was too sick and weak to leave my home, occupational and physical therapists would come to bathe me, and help me relearn the simplest of tasks. First, I had to learn how to get out of bed without breaking more bones. As I would sit up I could feel my weak spine bend sideways just like a willow branch and would pray that it would not snap and paralyze me. It didn’t.
Eventually, I re-learned how to do stairs. Then, after months of being totally house bound, with two therapists, one on each side, I was allowed to go outside and push my walker to the end of my driveway and back.
There were many trips to the end of my driveway. I can still remember the sheer terror of trying to step down from the driveway to the street for the first time without jarring my spine. I did it, though, and my world began to grow. First just to the edge of our property line, next came the end of our street and eventually laps around the block pushing a walker with tennis balls on the bottom. As I grew stronger, I mastered using a walker with wheels, next came two canes and eventually just one cane.
I walked and walked. I walked with shuffling feet, bent over, with a broken back. I walked sick and exhausted from chemo. I walked bald. I walked masked. I walked on flat streets, inclines and hills. I wore out many tennis balls. I have worn out many rubber stoppers on the bottom of my canes. I climbed stairs many times a day just to strengthen my bones and leg muscles. Each step I took was me telling my cancer to go to blazes.
After such a hard and long cancer battle, you cannot imagine the joy of traveling out of state for the first time in almost six years; being in Great Falls, Montana, to visit and hug my dear Aunt Margaret who faithfully called me weekly throughout all of those years to lead me in Bible study; and to at last stand on a hiking trail in Montana and see a horizon filled with snow and wild flower covered mountains.
Uncle Klynn and Aunt Margie
As I stood beneath a snow-capped footstool of God, the bible verse that I clung to throughout my cancer battle was again prayed.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
It did not matter whether I could only lift my eyes to the top of a small oak tree in my front yard, or the summit of a great mountain, my help always came from the Lord….who never left me or forsook me.
With baby steps, a bit a grit and by the grace of God, I climbed the mountain!!!
I hope you enjoy these vacation pictures!
Lots of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Herd of Wild Horses at Theodore Roosevelt Park
Foal with Mare
Foal trying to eat car
Beautiful Wild Flowers
Animals galore! Bear, wolf, elk and antelope too!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
It was a great trip. We hiked from sun up to sundown and I never even got sore muscles….Bully!!!!!
I have always loved looking at Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I know precisely where I saw an Ukrainian egg for the first time. It was at my Great Aunt Doris’s farm home.
Someone had given her two Ukrainian eggs. After she showed them to me, she often caught me looking at them. I was mesmerized by the colors, perfect geometry, fine workmanship and artistry.
It wasn’t too many years after Uncle Ing died before Aunt Doris sold her farm and moved into town. Those eggs went with her. There behind the glass of her china cupboard in her dining room those eggs remained prominently on display.
During the winter of my freshman year in college, due to circumstances beyond my control, I lived with my Aunt Doris. Many times she caught me admiring those eggs. Well, Aunt Doris had no idea how to make Ukrainian eggs, so she decided that I should learn how to crochet lace doilies instead. Both were symmetrical, required skill and a certain amount of artistry. However, where those eggs beat doily making hands down, was in the department of color.
Not to be deterred, Aunt Doris produced a skein of bright gold crochet floss and said, “Here you go!.” As she handed me a pattern book, string and crochet hook, I immediately forgot farm rule number one, panic never helps, and exclaimed that she must be dreaming if she thought I could make one of those complicated things. We had a good laugh and then she responded, “Nonsense, just focus on one stitch at a time and before you know it, your doily will be done.”
Sure enough, that is exactly how it went. Never again was I ever intimated by a lace doily pattern. Over the years I have probably made over a hundred doilies. Many of which were quite complicated.
I bet the one stitch at a time rule of Aunt Doris, could be translated to one stroke of paint at a time in Ukrainian egg making. I do know that whenever I have had a major project or challenge in life, Aunt Doris’s doily management skills have often come to the rescue.
Whether it was getting legislation passed at the Capitol; project managing Minnesota’s World War II Memorial Dedication; formatting a four-hundred plus page statutory legislative manual; working on voter outreach; being a press secretary; being bedridden for years with Multiple Myeloma and a broken spine; or any number of other situations that have been thrust upon me in this life, staying focused on the present and not becoming overwhelmed by the future made all the difference between success or failure, and happiness or or distress.
If I added up all of the times I forced myself to focus on just one project, one event, one committee, one bill, one legislator, one candidate, one campaign, one press release, one voter, one constituent, one veteran, one child, one word, one sentence, one page, one chapter, one day, one step, one stair, one medical test, one round of chemo, one illness, and one pain, the sum total would be equivalent to a very strong person who has lived a remarkable life one stitch at a time.
Of course, there were moments when doily management skills were just not applicable. The horse was let out of the barn before you got there, kind of times. The Franken-Coleman Recount comes to mind. For those times I fell back on some good advice I once received from a young air force pilot who was trying his best to convince teenage Pat to accompany him on a ride in a jet. He asked me if I was too scared to go with him? When I replied in the affirmative, he gave me the cutest grin and said, “What do you have to be afraid of? All you have to do is hang on and remember to breathe.”
Just over a week ago my husband and I finally made plans to go on vacation this summer. For the first time in years, we plan to hike in the mountains of Montana.
So, last week was an eventful week. It all began on Monday morning when my husband called me from work to say the he had made an emergency eye doctor appointment. Driving to work that morning he noticed his vision was distorted. When he closed one eye, then the other, it was immediately apparent that he had lost vision in his left eye.
He came home from his doctor appointment with a severe headache, a diagnoses of a macular hole and an announcement that he will need surgery.
This is what his vision looks like now out of that eye.
Normal vision Distorted vision
Learning that he would not be able to drive home after his appointment with the surgeon was a bit unsettling….for my husband. You see, I have not driven on a freeway in over five years. I have not driven, because I could not turn my head. However, after my trip into the oncologist the Friday past and the physical therapist breaking down the scar tissue that had grown onto my skull, I could move my head quite well. I was good to go.
The night before our expedition, I had the weirdest dream, which is not uncommon on my Chemo. This dream, however, repeated itself over and over again. It was of me driving. As I shoot down the on ramp my car ends up right in front of a big blue semi truck. I guess it must have been on my mind some after all.
When I woke up, I said a prayer for God to watch over my husband and myself, got dressed and we were out the door.
The surgeon’s office was in a neighboring city and was not the easiest place to find. Eventually we were successful. We both chuckled as it was right next door to the animal emergency hospital. With multiple resources readily available, our situation was obviously well under control. The surgeon checked my husband out and scheduled his surgery for April 9.
After meeting with the surgeon, my husband explained the good news is the surgery will be outpatient. The procedure can restore between 40 and 90 percent of his vision. The initial recovery should be a couple of days, followed by several weeks or months of restrictions. Honestly, all I heard was he was going to get an eye patch! I have asked him for almost 40 years to dress up like a pirate.
As my owl-eyed, severely pupil dilated husband headed for the car, he again asked if he could drive. I showed him, that I had my own keys. At that point, he got into the passenger seat. It took me forever to adjust the driver’s seat in our car. My husband is six feet, four inches tall. On a good day, I might be five feet, three inches tall. I adjusted all the mirrors, put on my seat belt and proceeded to drive out of the parking lot.
I never even made it out of the parking lot before my husband provided advice on safe car length distances. Which he is an expert on. It has been noted that at times he uses the age-old and well-practiced rational that the distance you are behind a car can help motivate the driver of the car in front of you to increase their speed. The optimal distance required to perform this motivational maneuver is easily discerned. It is when you can read the bumper stickers on the car in front of your without using the glasses to correct your severely near-sighted eyes required by your drivers license.
After safely exiting the parking lot, it was time for the big test….entering the freeway. The entrance to this freeway is at the end of a circular blind ramp. As I accelerated to merge, I looked over my shoulder, which I had only been able to do for three days, and there he was…that big blue semi truck!
As the truck did not move over, I had to drive on the shoulder for a short way until the lane was safe to enter. Thank goodness by the time this baptism by fire occurred, my husband’s driving coaching skills had been rendered impotent by widely dilated eyes and a blinding headache.
We arrived home safely and the rest of the week was uneventful until Friday. I woke up feeling seasick that morning and spent the majority of the day taking care of myself. I was so proud of our pup Oliver. Normally, he is Mr. Energy, but he had spent the whole day just resting with me. German Shepherd’s are like that, they are great caregivers.
He was pretty excited to see my husband come home from work. It was so cute to see him standing at the gate with his tail wagging, tongue hanging out, just waiting for dad. My husband stepped into the yard and threw Oliver a stick to catch. That is where it all went so very horribly wrong.
Oliver caught the stick at a strange angle, as he came down with it, the end of the stick went into the ground. The other end of the stick impaled Oliver in his mouth and became lodged. HE NEVER EVEN YIPPED! Both, the pup and my husband were sitting together in the backyard looking positively stunned.
In the Bible it says that a child will not depart from the way it is raised and I was raised on a farm with animals. Animals on a farm get injured, sick and sometimes die. Now, when our animals needed help the old doc would come out. Most farm veterinarians are laid back, but this guy could have sat and smoked his cigar in a tornado and not batted an eye. He also firmly believed that all veterinary procedures were performance art and a spectator sport. Being a girl did not get you a pass from the old doc when there was neutering, wound draining, shot giving or dissecting to be done.
Oliver came into the house on his own. It became quickly apparent that he was going into shock. No sooner did I notice the changes in the pupils of his eyes, than Truman, our other German Shepherd, began to nudge the pup. Oliver came back.
By then, the bleeding had commenced in earnest. The first thing I looked for was whether or not the blood had bubbles in it, was pinkish and foamy or was spurting. Oliver passed that threshold, but there was just so very much blood. We could not see the injury.
If anyone has ever seen the mouth wound of a small child who has fallen, you know how how awful mouth wounds can look and much they can bleed. After the bleeding stops often there is just a small cut. We waited for a few minutes to see if the bleeding would slow, but it did not. Soon, he was passing huge blood clots.
By God’s grace and my husband’s blind eye, we knew exactly where the closest animal hospital was. Oliver went with us willingly and on his own steam. Truman, our old white German Shepherd, for the first time in his life, fought with with my husband to stay with his puppy. He was so shook up.
By the time we got to the animal hospital, it looked like we had butchered a chicken in our car. Blood everywhere. As Oliver pranced into the clinic like nothing was wrong, with blood dripping all over the floor, one tech took the dog and another one offered Doug and I scrubs, should we want to change out of our bloody clothes.
We quickly learned that Oliver wasn’t in danger from the blood loss, but would need emergency surgery. Since he was stable there were several other pets in critical condition who would be taken in first. By the time of his surgery, at about 1 a.m. Saturday morning, the bleeding had pretty much stopped on its own. The surgeon found that he had a “massive” puncture wound under his tongue. He was sent home with two weeks of restrictions, antibiotics and other medication.
When we went to pick Oliver up the next morning, Truman howled the whole time we were gone. My husband acknowledged, “There goes my new big screen TV” as he paid the bill. We got to meet the dog who had been attacked by a muskrat. Then, we took a very groggy pup home.
As we were driving back, my husband made a comment about bad luck and things going wrong. That man and I certainly have had some challenges. For so very many years he had to be the one who stayed positive and strong, it was my turn. So, I told him that except for my cancer diagnoses and all of those years I was an invalid and sick, we really haven’t had that much go wrong. Besides what’s so bad? My cancer is in remission, the semi truck missed us, your eye will be fixed, the pup didn’t skewer himself in the windpipe, jugular or artery, by God’s grace we knew where to take him because of your faulty eye, we already own three T.V.’s and we are now officially the blind leading the lame.
Boy, did I get a look, and then, slowly a lopsided grin appeared.
My husband took Oliver right into the back yard when we got home. The first thing that pup did was pick up that very same bloodied stick and sit down to wait for it to be thrown. There is something admirable about getting right back on the horse…but, too soon, Oliver, too soon!
Moral of Story: Therewill be many times when the only thing in life that you will be able to control is your attitude. Look for the blessings and count them instead of your troubles. And always remember that there is a fine line between bravery and foolishness.
WARNING FOR DOG OWNERS!!!! It is not uncommon for veterinarians to see dogs come in with severe injuries from playing fetch with sticks. DO NOT throw sticks for your dog! They should never be used as a toy. Oliver was lucky.
I have always believed that a promise given is a promise kept. Yesterday was all about memories and keeping a promise to myself.
When I was incapacitated from the fractures in every thoracic and lumbar vertebra in my spine caused by the cancer Multiple Myeloma, I found it heartbreaking that in only six short months I had gone from Assistant Communication Director/Press Secretary/Blue Book maker for Secretary Mark Ritchie to lying in a hospital bed in the Capitolview rehab center at Region’ hospital looking at our beautiful Capitol out of a window. At that time, I was very convinced that I was never going to get to go in it again, let alone climb any of the beautiful marble steps that I had raced up and down for so many years.
One day the social worker came to visit me. She picked up a notebook that I had been using as a journal. My body at that time was broken and there was nothing that I could do to make it heal, so I focused on preventing my mind from slipping into depression. After losing a baby, years before, I experienced a severe postpartum suicidal depression. During the weeks that I had be hospitalized at Sister Kenny Institute’s Young Adult Depression Unit, I had been taught coping skills. Boy, did that training pay off!
In my journal the therapist found I had written, “I will have better days!.” Over and over again. She commented how amazed she was to find an affirmative statement under the circumstances. Right then and there, I promised myself that some day I was going to again climb the stairs to the Minnesota Senate Chambers at our State Capitol. It may have taken almost four years, but yesterday, was the day!
The day began with a trip to see my oncologist. I had already seen my labs so I knew it was going to be a good appointment. He said that I should remain healthy indefinitely. That’s just what I wanted to hear from that guy! Then, we chatted about how far my physical recovery has come. He recalled the first time we met in the emergency room at Regions and how very fragile I was. My young Irish doctor noted that I was basically a conscious vegetable, completely incapacitated. When we had finished our reminisce, I gave him the cookies that I had baked for him and his staff. They all had worked so very hard to save my life and help me regain good health and mobility. I felt they deserved a treat.
My next stop was the infusion room. If you have never been in a cancer clinic’s infusion room, it can be quite overwhelming. These rooms are lined with many, many reclining chairs filled with people of all ages, genders and ethnicity just like you getting chemo. Cancer does not discriminate.
Sitting next to each patient’s chair is their IV stand hung with a multitude of bags filled with blood products, liquids and drugs. Some of us are bald and some of us are not. I have been both. Scattered about the room are baskets filled with donated stocking hats of every color imaginable free for the taking. Chatting the patients up are the worried and tired looking family members and friends that accompanied them.
World War II Buddy El Ewert and I enjoying our bald heads
My infusion was just for a bone hardening drug. For some reason, yesterday my oncology nurses all came by to remind me of the “fragile state”I was in the first time they met me. Maybe I got their attention when I asked one of my favorite nurses where her bright green hair was today. During St. Patrick Day’s past her green wig was a big hit.
The nurse got a hold of physical therapy. The therapist came to assess my movement and help with some trouble spots in my neck and back. I still cannot completely lift either arm and have lost considerable motion in my neck . Whenever I move my head from side to side or tip it back, I get pain in my spine, right between the shoulder blades. Not being able to turn my head is what prevents me from driving and was going to prevent me from seeing the top of the rotunda at the Capitol.
She knew exactly what the problem was and went to work. I had a muscle that was looped and a lot fascia that was being very stubborn. Then,she exclaimed, “Pat, you have adhesions sticking your muscles to your skull!” Which explained my incredibly unpleasant under the chin Charlie horses. She went to work. Finally she said, “There it goes!” At that moment, for the first time in years I could turn my head from shoulder to shoulder and backwards. Bully!
With my doctor appointment, infusion and physical therapy behind me, my husband dropped me off at the side door of the State Office Building. Fondly known to those of us who have called it home…the SOB. That door is the one I used for many years when I worked in that building.
As I stood in front of that door I noticed two things. Time had just been rolled back and it had been refinished. Loaded down with a bag filled with my friends’ favorite cookies, I headed for the Secretary of State’s Office. I barely got through the door when I was greeted by one of the two Brads. I asked for Bert.
Bert came and he took me on a complete tour of the office. It was wonderful to see all of the changes and meet new staff. So many of my friends were still there and they all looked so good.
Then, Bert and I had a good visit in his office, just like we used too. Bert used to keep me out of mischief when we worked together. It was a necessary role and he hasn’t changed at bit. He felt that it was alright for me to climb the Senate stairs, but all other stairs were strictly off limits and elevators to be used. When we worked together, he knew that I could rarely be found in an elevator if I could get some exercise taking the stairs. I promised him, I would follow his advice, and that if I got too tired I would be back to sit with him in his office until my husband could pick me up.
My next cookie stop was House Supply. I don’t think I will ever forget the look on Bill’s face when he saw me standing there. I didn’t get to see Jess, but found Steve later. I was introduced to Danny’s son, he looks like his dad, and was assured that one of the over a dozen gingersnaps I had made for Danny would be saved for him. I bet he does only get one.
Next, I headed out for the Capitol and those senate stairs. Bill was concerned that the incline to the Capitol would be too steep for me, but it wasn’t at all. Heeding Bert’s advice, I took the elevator up to those stairs.
Stepping back into the Capitol after an absence of almost five years affected me a bit. Then, I headed for the Senate stairs.
I took this picture myself from the top of the stairs.
Stairs never looked so beautiful. There they were, just as I remembered them. I had thought of them so very many times. They were before me when I sat in a chair with a therapist helping me to lift one leg then the other. They stood tall when I tried and tried to go up those four little steps in the physical therapy room. I dreamed of those stairs when day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year were spent in a body cast trapped in a hospital bed in my living room. Those stairs taunted me when I wanted to give up. Those stairs helped me conquer my cancer and it was finally time for me to conquer them.
As I stood before my nemesis, I took a deep breath, said a prayer of thanksgiving to a merciful God, held on to the railing and up I went. It wasn’t even hard! When I got to the top, I took a picture. Then, I found one of those big old oak Capitol benches and just sat for a bit to savor the moment.
It will surprise no one that, that did not last long. Soon, I was back on the trail to find my senate friends. Many of whom had no idea where I had disappeared too so long ago.
After a great visit with John in the information office. I went into both the House and Senate chambers. I had worked in both. It was then time to just take in all of the Capitol renovations, especially the artwork. I walked into the rotunda, tipped my head way back and took in the whole dome. Magnificent! The colors of the murals in the Supreme Court chambers were particularly glorious. I did not go into the governor’s office, on purpose, because it leaves me a reason to return.
Next, I decided that I needed to explore the new Senate Office Building and see where Senator Mary Kiffmeyer had hung my painting of U.S. Grant. That building is so light and roomy and marvelous. I was impressed! As I headed out to find friends, they just seemed to find me. David found me in the hall, then Ward showed up and Troy. We had a good chat.
As I turned to continue on there was Glen. He showed me where to find the other Sergeants at Arms. Those guys have always been some of my favorite people. Not all of them were there, but I got to see Herb and Bob. Bob and I were always good friends, and he escorted me up to see my painting. When I was standing next to it, as he took my picture, I noticed that I had painted it in 1997. It was twenty years old!
Bob and I continued our tour ending up in the Senate offices. I saw Steve, Sven, Marilyn and of course Nick Thompson. Since, they did not know what had happened to me, they were surprised to learn of my challenges. We shared memories and laughs. Then, Nick gave me one of the best compliments ever.
After working in both the Senate and House for Republicans, I think many people were surprised when I went to work for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie a Democrat. Nick said that it had surprised him. However, after he thought about it a while he came to the conclusion that the decision to hire me was probably one of the best decisions Secretary of Ritchie ever made. I, sure, hope the Secretary felt the same way.
By this time I must have looked tired. The infusion I had received that morning always causes fatigue and I had been wandering around the Capitol for hours by this time. I told the folks that I was going to head back towards Bert. Nick asked me several times if I needed help. I am sure that he would have had the wheelchair out in a shot if he thought for one second that I did.
On the way back to the SOB, I needed to find the new press pool. I had been in the old one many times and wanted to see if those hardworking folks had finally gotten better digs. I could not find it! Just then, I spotted Bill Werner, a reporter. He pointed me in the right direction.
Several of the reporters that I used to work with were there. It was so nice to see them again. One of them, sadly told me that she’d had just lost another friend to cancer the day before. We agreed that cancer sucks. I did miss seeing my friend John from KARE 11, down there, but he was on vacation.
When I got back to the SOB. I headed upstairs to see my House friends. Rebecca and I had a great chat. Seeing as how I am no longer an employee of that place, I feel there is no need for me to be politically correct. Making Rebecca laugh has always been one of my favorite pursuits. Success was mine! I stopped by to see Mark’s office and where Alayne and I used to work.
Then, I went downstairs to get something to drink and ran into one of my favorite people Sean. Sean, Michelle and Valerie have worked at the SOB cleaning up after all of us since my Senate days. Sean looked great. His little girl, that I used to help tutor, is now 17 years old and will graduate next year. He has two more children. He caught me up on the news of Michelle and Valerie.
By the time I got back to the Secretary of State’s Office, I was locked out. It was almost five p.m. and I had been walking and chatting for over four hours. So, I sat down on a bench to wait for my husband.
Who should show up? Travis Reese. Travis had worked with me in the Secretary of State’s Office doing outreach. He reminded me of all the fun, he, I and Sara had working together at the State Fair. He then reminded me about my being Minnesota State Fair Reserve Grand Champion in Animal Calling in the Ag Olympics two years in a row. Both years I was beaten by a team of folks from the Department of Ag doing musical animal theater.
My state fair ribbons for animal calling.
You might think that I lost because I was out numbered, but I cannot ever remember being outnumbered. Far be it from me to cast stones, but scripted group animal calling was clearly a violation of Ag Olympic rules.
Interestingly enough, one of the years I competed, one of the other contestants was a former preschool student of mine who was then Princess Kay of the Milky. I had both her and her sister as students and they both became Princess Kay’s. Yes, she recognized, “Mrs. Detergent.”
Then, too, only I would work for Mark Ritchie at the state fair, and be on Republican Lt. Governor Carol Molnau’s team for the Ag Olympics at the same time. I had forgotten that I used to practice my cow mooing and chicken crowing in front of Sara and Travis. Travis hadn’t forgotten at all!
Bert came out into the hall right about then. He told me Becky was back and we went back into the Secretary of State’s Office to say hello.
Bert gave me a hug and then Doug was there.
My magical day didn’t end there though. When I got home, I went to the mail box and there was a letter from my cousin Chris. Uncle Myrwin’s daughter. In that envelope was the most perfect picture of my dad and Uncle Myrwin. The two brothers are sitting side by side. I will get a frame for it.
Travis’s comments reminded of my State Fair Ribbons. I went to look for them, so that I could put a picture of them in this blog. When I pulled open the drawer, there he was, right on top….my lucky Duck.
When I worked for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs it was my honor and privilege to be the project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication. It was a neat day and we had over 25,000 people attend. One of the events that day was a flyover by World War II bombers and fighter planes.
About a week after the event, I received a package in the mail. The package was from one of my pilots. In it was a stuffed toy duck with a note telling me this was a lucky duck, because he got to fly in the cockpit of a World War II bomber on the day of our dedication.
As long as I am sharing memories maybe this is the time to report that the morning of the World War II Dedication Memorial I was informed that one of the pilots flying over our large crowd of men, women and children would be a World War II pilot flying his own plane. I paused. Asked if he had passed his flight physical, then informed the lads that he could fly as long as he did not fly over the crowd. That is why one plane was slightly out of formation.
You know, I think I am probably still the only Capitol employee that ever had to get gun permits from the City of St. Paul for a tank, muskets and machine guns. Or who, had Civil War cannon placed in the Rotunda. We never scratched that beautiful historic floor even a bit!
Yes, there definitely are lucky ducks, I own one and am one.
Moral of story:The view is definitely best after the hardest climb.
My cancer battle against multiple myeloma was a very long and painful one. It began in earnest during the Christmas holiday’s in 2012 when I first broke my spine taking the turkey out of the refrigerator. Over the next four years, I would have many new unpleasant experiences. Such as being in a body cast for 18 months, confined to a hospital bed in my living room for years, months of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, baldness, drug withdrawal and other physical, emotional and mental challenges.
Having cancer is just plain tough. I have now done it twice. Thyroid and multiple myeloma. No matter what your age, a cancer diagnoses is terrifying.
Cancer patients suffer. They become quick friends with much of the worst that life has to offer. Their new companions include the fear of death and dying; pain; nausea; anxiety; depression; isolation; loneliness; and job and financial loss.
Cancer patients lose. They lose body parts, hair, appetite, mobility and independence. While most of those things can often be compensated for or regained, there are permanent losses. Relationships change. Friends and relatives drift away, because they are either too busy to be bothered, your situation is bringing them down or they just cannot stand to watch the suffering. Some of those relationships will never be made whole again.
In addition to physical, mental, emotional and financial loss, cancer patients often miss out on everyday things that most people take for granted. Like being there for the special children in your life as they grow up. Then, too, due to circumstances beyond control special events cannot always be attended. When I was in chemo and still in a body cast due to my broken spine, I missed my only daughter’s wedding.
Cancer patients surmount. This morning when my latest round of cancer tests indicated that I am still cancer-free, I told my husband that it is time for me to experience the things that for so many years were beyond reach and only dreams.
Stairs to the Senate Chamber at Minnesota State Capitol
When I was hospitalized for weeks for physical rehab to relearn standing, walking and stair climbing. I vowed to myself that not only was I going to conquer those five steps in the rehab room, but that someday I would, again, climb the steps to the Senate Chamber at our state Capitol. After four years, God willing, next Friday, March 17, after my oncology appointment and infusion at Regions, I am going to return to the Capitol. I am going to visit friends, deliver some cookies and check out all of the changes. And, I am, again, going to climb all of those beautiful marble steps.
Later this spring, I will need to complete a short test run of a trip. So, my husband plans to take me to see where my daughter was married two years ago. Then, I am going to return to the land of Lincoln to visit my daughter and her husband and finally see their apartment.
Our last trip to Illinois before my cancer struck.
If my back can survive a car trip to Illinois, then, later this summer I am going to Montana. I am going to visit my dear Aunt Margaret in Great Falls, Montana, who spent so many hours in prayer on my behalf. When I was totally bed bound, with not much light at the end of my tunnel, Aunt Margie called me every week, for months on end, to lead me in bible study. I need to give her a hug.
Great Falls, Montana
Then, I am going Glacier Park. I am, again, going to stand outside of the cafe at Swift Current, look up at those God made granite cathedrals and hear the Lord whisper in the winds that race around those cliffs.
Glacier Park, Swift Current Lake.
After, I get my fill of the view, I am going to take on a few trails with just as much determination as I did my cancer while trying my best to avoid a bear.
Although, after all I have been through, the bears would be wise to watch out for me.
I know that I have been neglecting this blog. I am sorry about that. It is just that it has been hard to write since my beloved Uncle and Godfather Myrwin Larson passed away on December 22. I cannot seem to write without tearing up.
So instead of blogging recipes and writing, I have been painting a landscape of Jesus finding the lost lamb. I keep painting it over and over again. It should have been done weeks ago. In fact, it was done and I had signed it and posted a picture of it on Facebook.
However, each time I look at it, I feel compelled to pick up a brush. I just keep thinking that I can do it better. Make it right. Make it perfect.
Apparently I can’t make it right or perfect anymore than I could make Uncle Myrwin himself again once his Alzheimer’s advanced to the point where he had to be in assisted living. That was over five years ago.
So, every week for over five years, I sent him a hand-written letter filled with farm memories. Uncle Myrwin and my dad farmed together. It was like we were all one big family. Until I married and moved away, I saw my uncle almost every day. In fact, it would have been cause for alarm had he not called our house everyday before 8 a.m.
As happens with this awful disease, Uncle Myrwin’s memories faded away over time. It had been awhile since he could recognize my dad, his youngest and only surviving brother. He had troubles at times recognizing his children and grandchildren. He stopped answering the phone years ago. In the past year it was difficult for him to make conversation, walk and sometimes eat. But, he always knew my letters were coming.
When he got to the point were he could not remember his farm, where he had spent his entire life and where I had been born, I painted him a pictograph of the place. He had it hanging in his room, next to the bright blue rooster watercolor painting I had done for him. Many times, I was told how proud he was of those pictures and how much he enjoyed telling visitors about them.
It seemed that everyone could visit him, but me. Due to my battle with cancer and my damaged spine, for the past four years it was just too painful to ride in a car that far. So, I kept sending him letters, gifts and flowers.
My cousins, his children, had my paintings on an easel at his viewing and funeral, right by his lovely blue casket. They also had the toy John Deere tractor that I had sent him there. It was an exact replica of the old tractor his dad, my grandpa George, had purchased right after World War II.
Many, many days were spent on that tractor in hot humid Minnesota summers, riding up and down field after dusty field picking rocks. The loader on that tractor seemed only to haul three things: manure when the cow yard needed cleaning, rocks and kids that picked the rocks. The toy tractor had his name written on it so no one would take it. His whole life Uncle Myrwin put his name on everything he owned. I would not be surprised if his children had M.W.L tattooed somewhere on their persons in blue ink.
Everyone back home, if they knew my uncle, knew that his favorite color was blue. So, every year that he was living in the assisted-living home, I would send him blue spring flowers, that included blue delphiniums like those he had grown on his farm. In the fall, I would send a bouquet that had to include ripe wheat, because a farmer has to test ripe grain with his teeth to know when to harvest. Each Christmas he would get a bright blue poinsettia.
When he was first in the home, he would keep his poinsettia alive until the next one came. For a full year. Farmers never stop being farmers. This year he wasn’t up to taking care of the plant, which was sent right after Thanksgiving. Neither he or the plant survived until Christmas.
Somehow it just didn’t feel right for Uncle Myrwin not to have a blue poinsettia on Christmas even though he had died three days before the holiday. So, I sent him another one to be with him in the funeral home and at his funeral.
As it turned out the plant was the same color as his casket and so very beautiful. Crow River Floral in Hutchinson, MN, always does such a great job. They kindly delivered all of the flowers I had sent my uncle throughout these past five years. Hutchinson to Cosmos is quite a drive especially when the roads were icy. Not only did they bring flowers, but they stayed and visited with him.
While he could, he would call me, and I would again hear the voice with the distinct Swede Grove Township accent that I had heard each morning as a child say, “My dear girl, thank you for all of your wonderful, letters!” When the calls no longer came, I would get short and shorter notes of thanks from him. Those, too, stopped several years ago.
I have known for some time that even if I had gotten the chance to see him again, he would not have recognized me. Late this fall I learned that he was on the decline and had been put on hospice.
At that time he was not my only relative on hospice, my three-year-old niece Laney was on hospice for her leukemia. Laney passed away the very last week of November. That was hard.
A couple of days after Laney’s funeral my phone rang and I heard a male voice saying,”Is this my cousin, Pat?”
Myrwin was a great believer in bad things always happening in threes. He also believed that if you ate a double-yolked egg you’d have twins. And, that the first fall frost would come six months to the day after the first clap of thunder after the first of the year. So, as naturally I assumed the worst, figured he was dead, and tactfully inquired if he was OK.
My cousin, Bryan, happily told me that I had made his day and went on to tell me that he had gone to visit his dad that morning. When he arrived he had found Uncle Myrwin sitting up in a chair. Since his dad had been bed bound for a time, my cousin was surprised and thought it a good sign.
Bryan saw my letter for the week had arrived and decided to read it to his dad. I had written about how muddy my backyard was from my two big dogs and all of the rain we had just received. I explained that my yard looked just like the pig sty on the farm and the dogs looked like a couple of filthy hogs. I wrote of the tunnel on the farm that passed from the sty to the pig pasture and how when the pigs heard us putting mush in the feeding trough, they would come spurting out of the tunnel like soda pop out of a bottle that had been shaken. It was a visual explosion of pigs.
Bryan could tell that his dad was listening and explained that I had two really big dogs. It was then that Uncle Myrwin started to laugh and laugh. I can just hear him. I can also hear him proclaiming, “What did she think was going to happen with two big dogs!” Bryan said that he could not remember the last time he had heard his dad laugh.
The front of the cards I made for Uncle Myrwin always had some type of a farming picture that would mean something to him. On that card was a small red Farmall tractor. My cousin had that very tractor. Father and son, once again, talked tractors together.
Then, later that afternoon, my dad called. He, too, had gone to visit Uncle Myrwin as he was leaving in a day or so to winter in Arizona. Dad was overjoyed that his big brother, again, recognized him. He hadn’t for years. They even got to visit. Dad was so very happy, that for those few moments, he had his brother back.
Uncle Mrywin did well for about two weeks after that. I am so glad he had that time and that so many people got to say good-bye to him, even if I didn’t. What a great last Christmas gift for his family.
The last letter I wrote to him was about Christmas in the church where our family has worshiped for generations. Where he and I were both baptized and confirmed. Where his funeral was held. I described the beautiful stained glass windows and how some of the gentlemen, including his Uncle Ed, would sing Christmas hymns in Swedish. I wrote about being together on the farm to celebrate Christ’s birth and how special it was when the Mennonite families came Christmas caroling. How they sang in perfect harmony.
Just like the Mennonite’s songs paintings need to harmonize. With this painting; however, I am just not finding the right note. I have tried and tried to make the light and colors balance only to have perfection flee in a brush stroke.
Obviously, I am never going to create a perfect anything, but if I could produce perfection my great niece Laney would be a perfectly healthy skipping, tongue-sticking out, singing three-year-old. Not a little lost lamb. Her mother, my niece, would again have her daughter. She, too, would not be a little lost lamb.
In a perfect world, I would have been able to hug my uncle Myrwin a last time and tell him how much I loved him. I would have gotten one of his famous whisker burns and bear hugs. There would have been a proper good-bye…or see ya around. Then, to lighten the mood he would have exclaimed with gusto,”I have Alzheimer’s, my dear girl, what did you think was going to happen?”
Really, what did I think was going to happen? That everyone I love is going to live forever? That pain, grief, suffering and all other bad things only happen to others? Only old people die? That God is a cosmic vending machine and if I only pray or believe hard enough he will give me my way? That my will supersedes his will?
No, I thought none of the above. I know that in this life we all take our turns. I have prayed many times on bended knee for God’s will to be done and for me to accept his will….whether I like it or not. I say that as a two-time cancer survivor and a woman who lost several babies.
God is the only perfection. It is because of the imperfections in this world and myself, that he gave us Christmas in the first place. God so loved us that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him shall never perish, but have eternal life. I know that I will not be parted forever from those I love. That someday we will all meet again.
Our family motto, according to my nephew Adam, is that Larson’s never quit. So, I will finish the painting. Its sunrise will be very pink, the waves on the lake will be bright blue and Jesus will find the little lost lamb.
When the painting is finally done, I will frame my grief for Laney and Uncle Myrwin beautifully.