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Testicular cancer ribbon

What I will remember from that day

That day is cancer day. The day we found out our middle son had testicular cancer. What I will remember from that day…

It was February 18th. It was towards the end of my day, but my son was on my mind. I knew he was going to the urologist. I was standing in a cemetery, it’s my work. My son at the time was an 18-year-old college freshman, his first semester, one month into a new school. He had transferred to that school after attending a school further away. That decision was instrumental in the story of how God put him where he needed to b

“So, it’s looking like it’s cancer.”

All the things people say, things got blurry, the breath left my body, and a lump was now in my throat. All I could think of was to get to him but that was impossible as he was states away, a 10 drive at best. I walked toward my colleague, Mark. He was talking to someone up the hill from where I was. He was facing my direction and as I got closer, I began to cry, and he excused himself to meet me. There and then I told him Guthrie had cancer. He hugged me, walked me back to the work van, and my other co-worker, Wayne came and sat in the van with me. I will always remember their reassurance. Wayne is a cancer survivor so he had it on good authority it would be okay. But we work in an industry surrounded by bad prognoses. While I waited for things to end, I called my husband. He was out on the floor with management. He told his boss what was going on and she told him to leave right away.

The drive toward home was full of phone calls.

My mom

My best friend, Kathy. I’m pretty sure she was packing a suitcase, ready to hop on a plane.

My father-in-law

My friend Lisa. It’s not the first time she’s taking a distressing call from me.

I drove on home and told my sister and brother-in-law who were living with me at the time. I told my other two boys. My oldest son had told his brother to go to a doctor when he found the lump.

I continued to make phone calls, it to the people I always call when something’s wrong.

Ann, she’s always praying for us.

Mary (I had to call her daughter Grace because Mary rarely answers calls.)

Derek, my pastor. He offered a prayer over the phone.

Scooter

Eleilia, she too prayed for us and was already looking up flights from Alaska.

Angie, she too has answered calls from me that started with me in tears.

Kate, she’s his godmother.

Marisa, who has her own story of loss.

I had a mental list of people I had to call. Once I posted it on Facebook, the evening was full of text messages, FB messages and phone calls. Finally, we had a moment to make a plan.

On my way home that day I had heard the song God, Turn It Around by Jon Reddick. That became a theme for us and a prayer.

There is so much that is a blur but there are key things that I’ll never forget.

I’ll never forget the song or the prayers that went out on his behalf.

I’ll never forget my oldest son telling me, “You’ve been taking care of me my whole life, it’s time to return the favor. I’ll take care of things here at home.” He stepped up in big ways.

Uncle Dan making a 1.5-hour trip one way just to let our dogs out of the house one day when everyone else was busy.

I’ll never forget the gifts of food from many people, the Fisher and Drummond families, Madison, Elisabeth, and finally my work family. We never paid for a meal ourselves while we were in town. The generous check for our hotel stays. It was a sign we were not alone.

The phone calls and messages were constant. Melanie and Lori who both had cancer experience called to offer support. Some of the best advice I got was that I owed no one anything. I was mentally exhausted, and this was music to my ears.

Surgery was required for that Wednesday to remove the testicle but more than the fear I felt, I was elated because that day while I waited in the waiting room, our friends had their baby. It was a reminder that God was still good.

2 years later and we still have some trauma, but my prayer is that with each passing year we will be able to see how far we’ve come. Today he is healthy and for that we are grateful for. And he insists we concentrate on February 23 when he had the cancer removed.

What I will remember from that day is that God did in fact turn it around and he used all of you to make it happen.

 

 

happy birthday banner

Looking back: 50 thoughts for my 50th birthday

Rascal Flatt’s, the country music trio sings a song titled, Life is a Highway. I agree. It makes a wonderful metaphor for life. The old adage is to not look back because you’re not going that way. While the sentiment is an attempt to inspire us to keep moving forward, I tend to disagree. I believe looking back helps to see how far I’ve come. In celebration of my 50th birthday, I find it helpful to look back.

50 Thoughts for my 50th birthday:

  1. Be authentic and real. People can relate to you. Be your imperfect self, people want that.
  2. Be kind to others and while you’re at it be kind to yourself. That’s how we change the world.
  3. Therapy is a type of self-care and love, there’s no reason to be ashamed. Should be as natural as going to the regular doctor.
  4. Travel, far and wide and often It gets rid of ignorance.
  5. Do something that scares you. Sometimes you have to do something when you’re scared.
  6. Don’t fall for fads, trends, etc.-it makes you like everyone else and that defeats the purpose of life.
  7. Eat the cake, eat the bacon. I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t.
  8. Do something you love. It can be a hobby or a job but find something that brings you joy.
  9. Believe in a higher power.
  10. Friendship is like pie and there is only so much pie so choose your friends wisely. Thanks Emily!
  11. Live the obituary you want written about you someday.
  12. Collect friends of all shapes, sizes, colors, cultures, ethnicities….you get the drift.
  13. Don’t try to be strong all the time. It’s okay to fall apart. It’s okay to not be okay.
  14. Laugh and make others laugh.
  15. Visit the elderly, they have a lot to offer, and you can learn so much from them.
  16. Go outside. Be with nature and in nature.
  17. Take all the pictures. You’ll never regret having too many pictures.
  18. Be the first to smile at a stranger in the grocery store aisle.
  19. Compliment strangers. Compliment their colored hair, their tattoos, whatever makes them unique.
  20. Speak up against wrongdoing. Let others know what you’re for. Be pro love, and pro human.
  21. Make your bed every day or marry someone who does.
  22. Laugh at yourself before others have a chance to make fun of you.
  23. Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself.
  24. Savor the moments.
  25. Worry less about what others think. Don’t listen to the opinions of people you don’t respect or wouldn’t ask for their advice.
  26. Do not compare your life with others. God created this life with you in mind.
  27. Be grateful for the problems you don’t have.
  28. Hang out with people who are smarter and wiser than you. If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
  29. Always bet on yourself. 
  30. Apologize especially to your kids. You’re human not perfect.
  31. Sometimes you’re wrong.
  32. Be like a tree, rooted but flexible.
  33. Leave people better than you found them.
  34. Be brave enough to suck at something until you get better.
  35. Be a Fountain, not a drain (Rex Hudler)
  36. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
  37. Make everyone feel like they are the most important person. Thank you, Mary!
  38. Be who you needed when you were younger.
  39. Mentor others. Share what you have learned.
  40. Don’t dig up in doubt, what you planted in faith (Elisabeth Elliot)
  41. Don’t die before you’re dead. (Tennessee John Hurt)
  42. Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire. (Wendell Berry)
  43. Don’t finish a bad book.
  44. Sometimes it’s not about you. Remember this when someone is mad or acts out in anger toward you.
  45. Celebrate yourself. Be brave and go to a restaurant alone or a movie theater by yourself. 
  46. You will never miss what’s meant for you.
  47. If not you than who?
  48. Everyone should have a porch to watch sunrises and the sunsets and watch the world go by.
  49. Music is life. Listen when you’re happy, when you’re sad, alone, scared, joyful, jubilant……..
  50. Don’t be sad about birthdays. It’s a privilege not afforded to everyone. Besides, you’ve been through a lot, and it shows, and you should be proud of how far you’ve come and what you’ve endured.

I hope when you look back down the road of your life, you see how far you’ve come. There were hard times but you’re still here. And as you look ahead down the road do so with hope. I could write fifty other things, but I’ll save that for when I’m 100. Thank you for always reading and thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday!

 

The prayer road has potholes

I just got back from a quick walk with my dogs, the ones that smell like a skunk. We walked down the gravel road near my house. In the past I have referred to this as The Prayer Road because I have walked hundreds of miles on this road while saying my prayers. (https://missykuester.com/walking-the-prayer-road-each-morning/) Today, it struck me how the road has potholes, the prayer road has potholes. That perfectly describes the past month and a half.

I haven’t felt like writing. It’s a combination of being busy, not feeling creative and depression. February isn’t my favorite month, but this past February started a pattern of what felt like an attack. It started with reliving the memories of February 2022, followed by stress with my husband’s job. While it ended up working out for the best, I was left with emotional scars.

This month the streak continued with flooding, water issues, and a bunch of small annoyances that added up. Did I mention my smelly dogs? Yeah, they personally met a skunk. During this time, I decided to reread Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. (https://www.amazon.com/When-Things-Happen-Good-People/) I read this book 30 years ago. The biggest take away was this: “Prayer is not primarily a matter of asking God to change things. If we can come to understand what prayer can and should be; and rid ourselves of some unrealistic expectations, we will be better able to call on prayer, and on God, when we need them most.”

I kept praying for God to change my circumstances; stop the flood water and snow, give my husband a better job, clean my water, keep my cistern from flooding. Instead, God sent people. He showed me that I wasn’t alone in the mud, figuratively and literally. He gave me strength when I didn’t think I had any. He brought me people who could fix things.

Things are starting to look up, even though my dogs still smell, and it snowed again today. And I think The Prayer Road will have potholes for a while. The potholes will be a reminder that though I prayed hard for my circumstances to change, it was me instead that was changed. The Prayer Road has potholes but they remind me there is hope.

Grandpa Rea

An evening with the grandfather I never knew

I recently had an amazing dream, the kind you don’t want to wake up from. I dreamt I enjoyed an evening with the grandfather I never knew. My grandfather Rea (pronounced Ray) died in 1961 at the age of 51. My father was just a teenager when his father died while returning from vacation. They had been in Arizona and stopped for the night in Kansas when he had a heart attack and died.

I don’t much about him. He was a farmer and school bus driver and an only child. One day a family friend, Mary Kay told me I acted a lot like him. She told me a couple stories about him and I’m grateful for the things she shared for it’s all I know about him. She told me he had one of the first still cameras and that he was a jokester. 

It’s the first time I have ever had a dream about him. He and I were walking about their old farmstead. We were talking and I remember it was delightful. At one point I took his hand and told him I was grateful to finally meet him. He showed me where their barn used to be, and I explained that after he died Grandma sold the animals and neighbors farmed the land he owned. The barn became dilapidated, and it was torn down.

You know how people ask, “Who is one person dead or alive that you would want to have dinner with?” Hands down, it is my grandfather. It’s strange how I can have such a strong attachment to my grandfather even though I never knew him. When we were expecting our second child, not knowing if it was a boy or a girl, I knew that if it was a boy, I wanted to honor my grandpa. Grandpa Rea’s real given name was Thompson Rea, named after his grandfather. My son’s middle name is Thompson. 

I’m grateful for that evening with my grandfather and I hope to have another evening with him soon.

Air Force logo

Farewell to the Air Force

Well, after 24 years it’s Farewell to the Air Force. It’s been a part of our daily lives. More than just a job, it was a career, a lifestyle, an accomplishment, a burden…but it was never just a job. That’s the difference between a military career and a civilian career in my opinion and that’s what makes the last day in uniform bittersweet. Chris was the one in uniform but all of us were affected by his career more so than his current civilian job. And so here we are 24 years, 3 months, and 29 days later. We have grown up in the military, all of us. It has molded us, shaped us and forever changed us. 

The stats of a 24 year career:

1 year-long deployment

6 deployments

13 bases

14 moves

18 houses

In a previous post (https://missykuester.com/dear-air-force-had-it-not-been/ ) I shared that had it not been for all the Air Force gave us and took from us, all the adventures and the missteps, that we would not be who we are today. So, we say thank you. We have found our home in Utah and we’re gonna plant some deep roots here. Thank you for getting us here.

Years ago Magnum was asked to speak to a room of JROTC cadets at SHAPE American High School Dining Out. I snuck this recording so don’t mind that it’s not the best quality. I believe he said it best.

Air Force Thank Yous in the style of Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show:

https://youtu.be/K8bRDAJE23M

Dear Air Force, Thank you for 24 amazing years….

(First day to last day)

Cohen standing on barrel

The one time my kid fell out of a window

Facebook is a time capsule that reminds us of life’s biggest moments. It also reminds us of the not so great moments. All of these, both good and bad define us. I had one of those defining moments on May 21st, 2008. I swear death-defining moments should not happen before coffee but that’s what happened. It was a normal weekday morning until it wasn’t. To this day, it makes me cringe to think about. I recently found when I posted about it on Facebook that several of my mom friends are in the club with me. It is a club for those of us that have had a kid fall out of a window.

Morning silence followed by chaos

I was barely through my first cup of coffee and was reading the newspaper (that’s how long ago this happened). My middle son yelled downstairs, somewhat panicked, but in a casual demeanor. “Mom, Cohen fell out of the window!” I knew my 5-year-old son was playing a computer game in his brother’s room. It didn’t make sense that my youngest (18-months at the time) would fall out the window. Why would he? How would he? Nothing made sense so I didn’t react. A minute or so later, my son walked down the first couple steps so he could see me in the living room. He repeated, “Mom, Cohen fell out the window.” And then he was gone. He might as well have said, “I want pancakes for breakfast.” It was so nonchalant. That’s when I heard the faint cry of someone crying outside the window.

Not winning any Mother-of-the-year awards

Any mother’s reaction in a crisis situation when looked back on could be classified as bizarre. My reactions that followed were not textbook. You learn in First Aid class to not move a victim. So, that’s exactly what I did. Upon opening the door, Cohen sat in a bush that was directly below the bedroom window he had fallen out of minutes before. My motherly instincts picked him up to comfort him. Step two of my not-so-perfect response was to call my husband at work. Not 9-1-1. Magnum had a bad habit of answering his office phone in speaker mode. When he answered he and his office mates received an earful, mainly an expletive-laden barrage of words. I wanted to know who had opened the @#$&?! upstairs window and I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

A blur of activity, followed by fog

My husband calmly redirected my misguided anger toward calling for help. In my mind, I was saying, “I don’t feel like going to the Emergency Room today.” I did call for help. But I also realized that I nor my kid were in any condition to greet visitors. I could hear the volunteer department fire alarm go off in town so I figured I had only a couple moments to spruce myself up (a.k.a. put on a bra). Still holding my screaming child, I ran upstairs got dressed, and changed his diaper. I know! I told you, I’m not good at this kind of thing. EMT’s and paramedics soon arrived. I ushered them in. And as if out of a movie, they cleared off my dining room table, slapped down a backboard, and began assessing my kid. Like I would many times that day, I explained to them what happened. I desperately wanted to tell them, “I’m not a bad mom!” Unfortunately, this was not my first time in an ambulance with one of my kids. I have a full bag of stories to share eventually.

I need a hero!

EMT’s took us to the closest hospital. Much of that part is foggy. However, there were two things that stand out.  One moment was when our minister, Jim walked in the door. The look on his face told me just how serious this situation was and that he would try to make it okay. The second was when someone announced, “The bird is 20 minutes out.” Bird? My husband is in the Air Force and I have worked in a trauma center, I knew then that they weren’t talking about crows or a pretty red cardinal. The CT had shown narrowing of the spinal cord. Another surreal moment was when they took us to the helipad on the roof. There is a dedicated elevator to the roof. As Cohen was still strapped to the backboard, they wheeled him through the halls. People backed up against the walls as we passed. I could hear their whispers. “Oh, that poor baby!”

I document these times because in them I find heroes. I can’t remember names or faces but I remember how they made me feel. On this particular LifeFlight, there was a pilot, a flight nurse, and a tech. I was buckled into the front seat of the helicopter while Cohen was loaded underneath and behind me. The pilot gave me a headset and some basic passenger instructions. You could tell he knew the gravity of the situation but his voice was soothing. We took off soon after. I could see Pastor Jim standing down below by his car, ready to drive to the trauma center about 45 minutes north. The pilot talked to the air traffic controllers and then we started our journey. My husband was at that time a flight commander of the local Air Force base air traffic controllers. They were the ones that talked to the pilot that day. A friend of mine was actually in the tower when the flight took off. At some point, the flight nurse, called to me to tell me that Cohen had fallen asleep. Heroes were all around us that day.

Lessons I learned that day my kid fell out of the window

To wrap up this story, he ended up being fully evaluated and released after being observed all day. As Pastor Jim likes to say, “A miracle happened on the flight that day”. Certainly seems that way. I know thousands of kids fall out of windows every year and many are not as fortunate as Cohen. My friend Angie wrote an article that included Cohen’s story. Read more: https://www.militaryspouse.com/military-life/are-your-kids-safe-playing-upstairs/.

I did a lot of things wrong. Afterward, it took forgiving myself for not being attentive to my kids. Every time I had to explain to a medical professional what happened, I felt they were judging me. They probably weren’t. Sitting in a medivac flight with your kid is one of the worst experiences for a parent. I had to let go of anger aimed at my husband for leaving the window open. In hindsight, I realized I was suffering from PTSD. Above all, I looked for heroes in our situation and thank God for watching over us and planting that bush underneath the window. We had a lot of prayer warriors that day. It could have ended much worse. I share Cohen’s story because there are other parents out there who have had a kid fall from a window. I’m not alone. I also share so that another mother doesn’t have to go through that experience.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I was in an ambulance with one of my kids. To be continued.