Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Life As A Stepmom

Yes indeedee, there's just something about being a stepmom. The world is full of us stepmoms. Heck, even I have one! Truth be told, at this point in my life I'm not terribly sad to have missed out on the stretch marks, labor pains, diaper changing, spitting up, and teething that go hand in hand with being a mom. I think for a time it bugged me that friends around me were having babies and I wasn't. I find it funny, in a strange sort of way, that I still get questions from people I meet asking if Dan and I have any children of our own. Nope, I am "stepmom" to 3 boys! Dan still wonders if I would have married him had I really known then what I was getting myself into. I didn't miss out on the dreaded "teenage" years, that's for sure, and fortunately, we're within striking distance of having survived them! I know anyone who is currently a parent of a teenager can empathize. :)

God obviously knows I am a perfect fit for kids...I ended up being a teacher, didn't I? But little did I know back then that God had even bigger and more important plans for me. Wasn't it 75 year old Abraham who laughed at God when he appeared to him and declared that Abraham would be a father to a great multitude of decendants? I'm pretty sure that if God had showed up on my doorstep in my mid-twenties and told me someday half of my liver would be donated to a 16 year old boy nicknamed Dinsker, I would have laughed too.

As a step parent, you are often faced with no-win situations. You are responsible for parenting the kids, but you really have no credibility when it comes to discipline. I can't remember how many times I've heard "You're not my mom", "You're so mean", or "I'm going to live with my mom". I always tried to not take those comments too personally. . . No, I am not your mom, but you still live in my house, and I expect you to respect me.

On the other hand, I can't even to begin to list how many wonderful experiences I've had being a stepmom. I have fond memories of making (and eating) cookies with Cayden. He loved to help me in the kitchen when he was younger and was always the "cooker" of the 3 boys. He and I shared the same affinity for Sponge Bob, watching that naiive little sponge and his silly friend Patrick Star on the couch together for hours on end...Cayden's "soap parties" in the shower...Yelling my head off while watching both Cayden and Taylor play baseball...Helping with elementary school projects...Having "the sex talk" with one of the boys (To prevent embarassment, I'll leave it a mystery as to which one that was!)...Driving to Arlington every weekend to watch Bryan play basketball during his senior year (also yelling my head off)..Family movie nights with plenty of popcorn and laughter...Camping vacations with late night escapades with boys scaring the heck out of the other campers...and the list goes on and on. These days, if all the boys are in the house, you can pretty much guarantee I'll be laughing so hard I cry.

A mom loves her children because they are a part of her. I thank God that the boys' mothers have allowed me to be a part of their children's lives. As a stepmom, I love my husband's "boys" because I love their dad. I love them because they have made me laugh, made me cry, made me mad (yes, I know you can't possibly believe that), and they have stolen my heart. While it's true, I didn't give birth to any of my "boys", there's no doubt that I have been abundantly blessed by having them in my life. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would give part of my liver so that Cayden could live a healthy and normal life. He might not be my blood, but I love him as if he were. I can only hope that those boys know how very much I love them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Community of Faith

Sitting at Starbucks yesterday, Dan and I ran into a couple of the ladies from our church. One of the ladies, Nancy, has been a special part of Cayden's life since he was first diagnosed with both of his diseases. We like to believe that she is Cayden's "Guardian Angel".

As he has grown up, she always brought him special little goodie bags filled with candy and other fun things as well as more meaningful gifts, like the "burden bear" she gave him when he was especially sick some time back. We know that she has been faithfully praying over him since he was a little guy. While we were in the hospital here in Tacoma about a month ago, Nancy had called to check up on how Cayden was doing. After hearing her message and the concern in her voice, I knew I needed to make sure to call her back to let her know what was going on.

Still sitting there with our grande, non-fat, extra hot lattes at Starbucks, we wondered aloud, how do people get through the difficult times if they don't have a belief in something greater than themselves, if they don't have a strong community of faith to support them, if they aren't somehow living their life for a higher purpose? These are the questions I return to when my life seems to be at the peak of distress, frustration, or anguish.

The greater love of God is what I believe binds us together as human beings. It's our community of faith lifts that us up in prayer when we need it the most, when we just cannot do it alone. It's those prayers that keep us going when we are in our darkest hour of need. As I told my friend Eric who is struggling with a difficult health condition, "ride on the prayers of others and gain strength from them". How do people get through the low points in their life without it? I certainly don't have the answer to that question, however I do know that OUR community of faith and our belief in the Ultimate Healer pulls us through when we feel that we have nothing of our own left.

Yet again this morning I experienced another example of how our community of faith is constantly there for the Luce family. As I was putting away music after the 11:15 service ended, Kristi, who happens to be the daughter of the former pastor of our church who had officiated my and Dan's wedding, came up behind me and presented me with a quilt that she had hand made. It was just the right size for me to take to the hospital. Her comment was "from one mom to another". Wow, I was simply overcome with emotion, all I could do was hug her and cry.

How many people are out there praying for us? I'll never know for certain. What I can tell you is that Cayden and I will be able to go into surgery on April 26th knowing that we are supported, loved and protected. That both God and the community of faith, far reaching beyond Christ Lutheran Church, will allow us to ride on their prayers and gain strength from them. Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 26, 2010

One Month To Go Mark

From the moment I woke up this morning, I was very aware that today was March 26th. As I lay there, I wondered...what would I be doing at this exact time (5:30 a.m.) one month from now? Would I be on my way to the hospital to check in? Would I already be there waiting? How would I be feeling? Nervous or petrified? How will I do knowing that Dan will be with Cayden just prior to surgery? Since I am checking in at the adult side of Stanford, will I even get to see Cayden before we both go under? I've thought about that one a lot. I want to be able to be with him for a bit before it's time for the big event. I suspect Cayden may have to go into the hospital the night before to receive both platelet and fresh frozen plasma transfusions prior to surgery. This was pretty much par for the course while he was both at Mary Bridge and Stanford the last time. His spleen traps a lot of the platelets, so his platelet count is about 1/3 of a normal person's count, which happens to be much better than it was prior to his vascular surgery in February. What this means for him is that he has a hard time clotting, which, as one could imagine, is not a good thing when going into a major surgery.

You know, I really haven't had much experience with surgery, wisdom teeth taken out and a ruptured ovarian cyst last year (no, not at the same time!), but what I do remember is that I start shaking uncontrollably before they give me the anesthesia in my IV. I'm thinking an anti-anxiety med might be in order!

On the 19th, I have my appointment with my surgeon, Dr. Esquivel, who happens to be the head of the entire liver transplant program. On my "itinerary" it says that this is the time to ask the surgeon specific questions about the actual surgery. First of all, I have to laugh at the reference to "itinerary". To me, a big travel fan and honeymoon planner on the side, an itinerary implies that you are going on a trip and should be doing something fun...hmmmm, surgery prep, fun? I just can't wrap my brain around that one. Anyway, I haven't decided how much specific information I really want to know. I like to think that I do much better when I have ALL of the information, I'm thinking in this case, less info might be better for me (see my post regarding to my "squeamishness"). We'll see about my state of mind when the time comes. I'll get back to you on the 19th and let you know what I decided to ask and what I decided to leave a mystery!

I've vowed to myself that I will do nothing school-wise tomorrow. My next week is so full of school stuff. I know all my school friends are now on Spring Break mode, but I already stayed in the building until after 6 tonight trying to get organized, so I think a day off is definitely in order.

That's it for tonight!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rain & Tears

I don't know whether it was the gray skies and depressing rain this afternoon, the sheer amount of work that is still hanging over my head at school, or the sudden realization that I have just a mere 11 school days left with my second graders that caused the flood gates to open and the tears to fall on my way home from work at 5:45 this evening. I thought, what the heck is happening to me? I've turned into a big bawl baby today!

There's just something different about not ending the school year on June 24th like everyone else will. I'm pretty sure some people would think it's a good thing to be finishing up the year early (especially if they have some of the same "special friends" that I have in their own classrooms). For me, I've always invested my whole heart and soul in my students (yes, even my "special friends"), so thinking about how soon I must say good bye to them was a very sobering moment for me. On the flip side, I had a number of parents tell me how upset their kids were that I was gone when we had to leave suddenly for Stanford in February. As a matter of fact, a few moms said their kids cried while I was gone and one of my moms had said her daughter didn't want to come to school until I came back. Another mom shared with me that the only reason she keeps bringing her son all the way from Lacey to school on post was because he didn't want to leave me. Consequently, my last day of school will also be his last, and he'll start the following Monday at his new home school. He's one of the 9 kids I also had as first graders. What a gift to get to have them for nearly two years. Those are the affects of having built positive, caring relationships in the classroom. I don't even want to think about what the afternoon of April 16th will look like in my classroom. I am pretty sure I'll be a puddle, and I can guarantee some of my students will be as well.

On a happier note, the snafu with the sub seems to be ironing itself out. It's not a perfect situation, but I should be able to soon cross it off my "list". Cayden seems to be pulling things together at school. He's got two more weeks to get his grades to where he wants them and then he'll become a "hospital school" student for the rest of the school year. His high school here has been very accommodating with his lengthy absence last month. I am just so happy and relieved that he will be able to complete his sophomore year and start next year as a junior. Instead of his last few years of high school being ridden with hospital stays, he will be able to live like a "normal" (is there such a thing?) high school student and just enjoy it and graduate on time!

Just one more day until Spring Break. I've already gotten my self-inflicted schedule figured out for next week: Monday and Tuesday-go to school to write report cards and organize the classroom, Wednesday-Dentist, Thursday-hey maybe Thursday is free, the memory fails me at the moment, Friday-Cayden's mom Angie is coming shopping with me to help me pick out some new hospital attire...yes, I need some new PJ's! I am not about to walk around with ill fitting hospital PJ's. She and I got to spend a lot of time together down at Stanford. We actually snuck away for a girls afternoon and got pedicures to relieve the stress of our last experience there! I am pretty sure we'll be on for baby back ribs sometime after I get out of the hospital.

Off to take my twice daily dose of ferrous sulfate to get my iron levels up. On the 20th, I donate my own pint of blood for surgery.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cross that one off...oops, never mind!

For those of you who know me well, you totally get that I am an organized, anal list maker. The good news about this obsession is that when you're trying to keep track of all the things that must be done in order to be gone for two months, it comes in quite handy.

Imagine my relief yesterday having finally come to a decision on a substitute for my classroom yesterday, only to end up practically having a heart attack today. I love my second graders and am very protective of them. In my mind, the sub I had chosen was perfect. Picture this...I walk into my boss's office this morning for a pre-observation conference at 7:15. Yes, today was my "formal" observation day in math (my least favorite subject). The first thing he says is that he has some bad news about the sub situation. There's an issue with the sub's certification that would be very difficult to work around. Oh no!!!!!!! I can't start over, she's the one I wanted for my kids. I know she would be able to relate to them, and believe me, my class is not a piece of cake. After fretting about it all day, I begged him to call Human Resources to see if we can make it work somehow. Patience is not a virtue that I possess when it comes to things like this! We shall see what happens tomorrow.

Spring Break is just two days away, but next week will be far from a "break" for me. I will have exactly two teaching weeks left and it also happens to be the end of the quarter. Not only do I get to write all of my report cards, I need to clean out an organize my cupboards and storage areas in my classroom so my poor sub will have places for all of my stuff currently being used. You know those commercials when the person opens the closet door and everything falls out on top of his head? Yeah, well that's what a few of mine are like. I won't torture the sub that way. It just doesn't seem fair, now does it? ;)

I did actually get to cross one thing off my list today...a place for my mom and stepdad to stay! They'll be able to stay in the home of one of the ladies that goes to the same church as Dan's sister and brother in law. Their church has a special hospital homestay program for families of patients at Stanford who are from out of town. Gail, who has a place about 4 miles from the hospital is as sweet as can be. I spoke with her by phone today for quite awhile. She wanted to know all about Cayden's situation. She asked how to spell his name so her church small groups could pray for the two of us. I can't wait to meet her. The funny thing is, apparently I didn't follow "protocol" for getting housing. I was supposed to go through my social worker at Stanford rather than get in touch with the church housing person, but it all ended up ok. I told Miriam, the social worker, she had permission to slap my hand when I see her on the 19th at our appointment. She just laughed.

I'm so glad my mom will be there to support me while I'm in the hospital. Of course I'd want Dan with me all the time, too, but I know that Cayden needs his "daddy" during this time. I don't know how Cayden is feeling about all of this right now. Every day that brings us closer brings a new butterfly or two in my stomach. If I didn't feel a little nervous, I wouldn't be human, right?

Hopefully tomorrow brings good news about the sub situation...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Road to Living Liver Donation

I thought I wouldn't write a blog, because I figured I didn't have too much to say. Besides, I talk too much anyway. :) I decided to go for it anyway, because I know some of you out there reading this will miss the fact that I'm not at work talking to you...those of you know who you are!

Ever since my 16 year old stepson Cayden was diagnosed with
Ulcerative Colitis and Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis at age 9, I remember praying a lot and convincing myself that it would never come to a liver transplant, despite what the Stanford docs said. When we originally talked to the liver team doctors from Stanford they mentioned the possibility of living liver donation. The thought of it scared me at the time. I mean the fact that they actually cut you open and surgically remove one of the lobes of your liver, is quite a mental image. I'm the kind of person who can't even watch when I donate blood and get creeped out having the warm line of the blood donation bag run over my wrist. Call me weird, but I'm definitely squeamish in every sense of the word.

It's interesting to think about it now and remember back to the meeting with the docs seven years ago. I recall wondering if this was why God brought me into this marriage. Would I someday be giving part of my liver to Cayden? I never did say anything to Dan or anyone else about it, and I didn't think much about it after that, mostly because his health was relatively stable and things seemed so good for such a long time.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks since being told that it was time to list Cayden for a liver transplant. We kept hearing everyone at the hospital mention living liver donation. Since Dan shared the same blood type as Cayden, he decided to do the work up. It wasn't long before the doctors told him he was not a good candidate to donate. Since we were already at the hospital and we had a few days before we were to come home, I decided to go ahead with my medical work up. Even before I was approved, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to let my fear be in charge of this situation, and told everyone that if I were to be approved, I was prepared to go through with the surgery.

After a week, we found out that I was approved by the head surgeon, the dates were set, and we were officially on the countdown to April 26th for Cayden's liver transplant.

What's been going on since then? A lot, that's for sure. We're going to be gone at least 2 months or more, so of course a housesitter was needed (thanks,'re the best!). Silly things like buying tons of cat litter and cat food. Depressing things like taxes (yes, found out we owed this year for the first time in years...oh well) and an Advanced Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Annoying things like figuring out how to pay utilities for companies who do not do online billing and dealing with the insurance company, although I do have to say, we now have a point of contact to get in touch with throughout this process, so I don't have to talk to some random agent everytime. Oh, and one of the most important things...coverage for my 2nd grade friends! Decided upon a great substitute and hope that my kiddos will be ok for the rest of the year. It'll definitely be hard to leave them on the 16th of April.

Despite the busyness, I am doing my very best to take care of this liver of mine. No wine or cocktails for me and I've been trying to get to the gym regularly. That's a little selfish on my part. First, it seems to help when I'm feeling nervous about everything. Also, I'd like to ensure that this 41 year old body bounces back from the surgery quickly...especially since my recovery time is at least 6 to 8 weeks!

Well, that's all for now. More postings later!