Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Erin" Moments


Whew!  It was one of those weekends.  We rolled right from back-to-back soccer games Thursday and Friday into a social scene whose pace resembled the Debutante Season in the Hamptons.  Erin's local buddy, Abby, had their out-of-town buddy, Ayesha, in for the weekend, and (I'm not really sure how this happened) they all had a sleepover at my house Friday night after cheering Davis's team on to a 4-0 win.

Luckily, Erin's Saturday mornings match was rained out, leaving just enough time for Abby and Ayesha to slip off to Jackson's basketball game, while Erin dropped by a couple of parties (Mrs. Helen's 90th birthday party and baby Aster's, welcome-to-the family party) before meeting back up with the gang (plus Tinka) at the movies to see the new Pink Panther show.  Jackson caught up with them all later at Abby's where they succesfully drove Abby's big sister crazy until the party broke up about 8:30.

Sunday morning we were reminded that the sun can and will shine in late February!  Erin, Nico, Adam and the rest of the children's choir sang the prelude at the beginning of the service, and their lovely sopranos filled the fellowship hall.  After church we continued our search for a replacement for Gina's.  We are honing in on Taqueria Arandas, where we have enjoyed several tasty lunches, but it's not too late to sway us to some other choice if you have a favorite.  We all pitched in after that to get the house straight for Walter, who was meeting with his Executive Committee at our house in secret deliberations first thing on Monday.  Then, lest we be tempted to spoil the pristine look of the house, Erin and I headed to the park for pickup soccer.

Last night the Hammerheads played one of the best games of their career. . .fifty minutes of intensity that never boiled over nor cooled off.  I can hardly believe how much progress these kids have made in the six seasons Davis and I have coached them.  It also left me feeling wistful in many ways.  For one, I realized that Davis has grown into a beautiful young man.  He prowled the sidelines, dropping just the right word of encouragement, making adjustments, gently correcting the players--coaching in every sense of the word.  Still, we have only two more games to coach together.  The season will end.  He'll start working soon, then leave for college in August.  Our shared coaching moments--deciding line-ups, chewing over what to do to eke more progress out of our team, celebrating the big and small wins--are numbered.  He will move on, as it should be.

The other wistful feelings came from watching Erin play.  Everyone else saw one tough girl, taking on any and all opponents coming at her with the ball.  She challenged and stripped the ball away, repeatedly.  She played every minute and saved numerous goals.  She was with her friends.  She depended on them.  They on her.  They needed each other to play like they played.  But I looked on and saw something else.  I saw a girl with cancer, who might not always feel as well as she felt last night.  In fact, with scans coming up next Monday, the old paranoia started creeping in and clouding my view.  Erin has had an achy back for a couple of days.  It doesn't matter that it hasn't slowed her down (re-read everything up to here, if you have doubts).  It doesn't matter that I also have an achy back, and that both Walter and my mother have had flu-like illnesses in the past week.  I looked at her and thought the worst:  what if the oral chemo isn't working?  What if her tumor is progressing?  What if this is her last game?  Wistful doesn't mean depressed.  It doesn't even really mean sad.  Mostly, it meant just a great mixture of emotions. . .great pride, great love, great anger that I had thoughts that would taint the moment, AND great hope that I am wrong. . . That I get to see many more triumphant "Erin" moments, on the field and off.

Friday, February 24, 2006



Erin has a special request.  She is looking for individuals or businesses to help sponsor her third-grade class in Relay for Life this spring.  When they decide how they are planning to raise money, I will let you know, but right now she is concentrating on finding people who will donate enough (total around $100) so that all 19 of her classmates can participate on her team and receive Relay t-shirts (that's $5.00) per student.  Erin is worried that someone in her class might not have $5.00, and she doesn't want anyone to be left out.  So, if you or your business would like to sponsor or partially sponsor her class's entry fee, let me know.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Normal for a Normal Person


We are successfully beating back the poison ivy!  Erin looks close to normal and is not scratching her face raw.  Even better, the prednisone beast has not reared its ugly head, yet (I hope I haven't jinxed myself here).  Perhaps best, Erin's counts on Day 10 of this chemo cycle are ALL normal, for a normal person:

White Blood Count--6500 (normal, even for a regular person)
Absolute Neutrophil Count--5100 (normal, even for a regular person)
Hemoglobin--11.9 (low normal, for a regular person, BUT it's been a long time since we hit that milestone.  BTW, she is still saying "More Steak")
Platelets--334,000 (right smack in the middle of normal, for a regular person)

The weather has cooperated enough to let both Davis and Erin back on to the field.  The high school lost in Temple Tuesday night, but Davis had a solid game (half at full back and half at stopper).  Erin picks back up tonight at 6:00.  It's been so long I hope everyone remembers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Imagine a Raspberry


Imagine a raspberry as big as a medium pumpkin.  Add peach fuzz.  And some freckles.  You now have a mental image of Erin, as she is currently configured.  That's right the endless jaunts through the woods this winter have finally taken their toll, and Erin finds herself with a raging case of poison ivy.  The itchy rash is confined to her head, neck, and face (since she has dutifully taken the precaution of wearing long pants and sleeves as she has tromped around), but it is pretty deep down her ears and dangerously close to her eyes.  She will go (back) on prednisone and a prescriptive antihistamine tonight (Lord, please protect me from Prednisone Rage and let there be enough acceptable food in the pantry to satisfy her.).

This rash started Friday evening, about the time we arrived in Dallas.  We kept it at bay throughout the weekend festivities with over-the-counter antihistamines and topicals and proceeded to celebrate Emma's first birthday with style and verve.  For her part, Emma did the mandatory "Cake Grab and Smear" as if she had been practicing for weeks which made the whole trip worthwhile.   By the time we made it back to Bryan through what passes in Texas as a Big Winter Storm," Erin's tolerance for itchiness was waning quickly.

It was another vet/doc day this morning.  Uma already had an 8:30 appointment for her annual exam and shots, and I couldn't immediately get in at Erin's pediatrician, so the dog got treated first. . .again.  Erin finally made it to school by 11:00, and everyone started absent-mindedly scratching random body parts just looking at her.  Fortunately, the school has a ready supply of cool, damp paper towels for relief, which I had confirmed in an e-mail with her teacher Mrs. Jennifer Steen who wrote to assure me that they wouldn't run out: "cold, wet paper towels are actually a miracle drug in 3rd grade - they cure headaches, stomach aches, hurt ankles and elbows, loose teeth...."  Having some experience with drug companies, I wouldn't want this information to get out or the price of those rough, brown folded towelettes would soar.

Anyway, as miserable as Erin feels, I am relieved that we have a poison ivy diagnosis.  When she started to break out in a head rash, I had Walter scour the information we had on etoposide (you know, that long list of indications and side effects printed in devilishly small print on tissue-thin paper and folded twenty-two times and stuffed inside the drug package).  Rash was listed as a rare side effect, leading me to immediately jump to the conclusion that I was witnessing an unpalatable side effect of this drug that we really hope works because it is so easy to administer and tolerate.  I didn't want to have to make the decision about whether to let her itch and look raspberryish and continue taking the chemo, or to discontinue and move to something else.  At least with a poison ivy diagnosis, we can make the etoposide decision based on its efficacy against the tumor, rather than whether we can live with the side effects.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Life Full of Soccer and What Not


What better way to warm-up and train for the World Cup?  ABC has promised to air all 63 games played over a 30 day period this summer, and I hope you have a plan to get ready.  For our part, Walter and I will be watching (LIVE, of course) Erin or Davis play in nine matches in the twelve days between February 17 and February 28 (we are taking Wednesday and both Sundays off--although since I play pick up soccer on Sundays, maybe those days should go in the total).  This does not count the ones we sat through yesterday and Monday.  During our marathon, we will concentrate on building our stamina through conditioning and also work on building an appropriate repertoire of cheers and insults, as all good fans should.

For those who have written to ask whether I let Erin in the goal or not, I have to say, not yet.  Last Saturday's game was rained out, and I didn't trust our opponents on Monday to "play nice."   We scored more against that team than the previous three seasons combined--three really pretty goals, including drawing first blood--but still got shellacked.  Davis's team has posted back-to-back wins in district, including a squeaker over cross-town rival A&M Consolidated.

Enough about soccer, how is Erin doing?  The course of antibiotics seems to have squelched the ear infection (we will check at the pediatrician's later this afternoon), but thick cedar pollen everywhere has guaranteed that she will continue sniffling for a while.   She is handling this round of chemo, just like last time--no problemo.

Erin skipped Davis's game last Friday to spend the night with Jackson.  I heard they started agitating to go hiking Saturday morning about 6:30 (having stayed up past midnight). Shirlene finally relented about 8:00.  It might have been warm enough to hike and bike at that point, but by noon, as we sat at the A&M baseball game, we were a-shivering.  We lasted until the sixth, then headed home to warm up.  Brilliant decision on my part.  We were still ahead at that point, and we didn't have to stay until the bottom of the 13th to see the next time A&M would take the lead.

Walter and I celebrated the 23rd anniversary of our first date on Monday night.  Over the years, I have been happy that we could celebrate Valentine's a day early, both because it let us celebrate on our own terms and also because it has been easier to get a babysitter.  One of my students told me his anniversary was February 15, which came with the same two benefits, plus the option of buying candy and flowers at a deep discount after the big day.  I had to laugh out loud about that one.

Speaking of anniversaries, we received the great news earlier this week that our beloved third nephew, Michael, was going to get married next month so that he can start celebrating anniversaries along with the rest of us old married folks.  Welcome to the family, Mackenzie!  Lamesa, here we come.

Erin is scheduled to have blood tests this afternoon after school (no big deal) and also to have her port flushed (ouch).  I think we'll hang out at the park for a while first to get into the right mood.  Sorry to tell all of you reading from colder climes, but it is 74 and beautiful here today, with a predicted high tomorrow of 81.  We'll take advantage of those unseasonable temperatures before we head out to Dallas this weekend for Emma's first birthday party.  The predicted high there on Saturday is 37 F with rain.

Friday, February 10, 2006

In the Goal?


As promised, here's a bit more detail.  Our day in Houston yesterday (eight hours) stretched out longer than it needed to because of ungodly traffic (going and coming) and a long wait in clinic.   But, as I already mentioned, the trip was worth the wait.  Dr. Russell thought Erin looked fabulous, bragged about her blood numbers over the month, and signed her up for another round of etoposide.  We have scans scheduled the first week of March, and at that point we will know more about how this is working.  Right before she left to return to the OR, Erin remembered to ask Dr. Russell the question she had been holding in her heart for the past couple of weeks.

Erin:  "Can I play in the goal now?"

Dr. Russell:  "Can you play where?"

Erin:  "Can I play goalkeeper in soccer now?"

Mom/coach sucks in her breath and hopes for "no."  (Parents really don't relish watching their children slapping down sharply struck balls headed straight for their face or other key body parts--especially if they have a catheter embedded under their skin in their chest).

Dr. Russell (with no hesitation):  "Sure."

Mom/coach:  choking noises.

Dr.  Russell:  "What's the worst that can happen?  It breaks under her skin and floats in her bloodstream down to her heart."

Mom/coach:  more choking noises, perhaps chest pain, too.  Can't tell whether it's real or sympathetic.

Dr.  Russell:  "Sorry.  Just kidding.  That wouldn't happen.  If it breaks, she would have to have it removed. . . Erin, try to keep your hands up in the goal, for your mother's sake.  See you in a month."

Erin dances a jig.

To backtrack a little, last weekend was quite a spectacle.  Davis played soccer on Friday and we got to bed late only to hop up at 4:45 to catch his ride to Houston for the state chess tournament.  He had mixed play on Saturday, taking out his first two opponents relatively easily, than losing a marathon to a very highly rated player in round three.  By his fourth matchup (6:00 p.m.) he was out of soap, and lost a match he probably should have won.  Instead of retreating to bed, he ate, regrouped, and entered the Bughouse Tournament.  If you have never heard of Bughouse, I probably can't explain it adequtely--it's chess with two players playing two other players on two board.  Any pieces you capture you can give to your partner to place on his board.  As you might imagine, things move very quickly and chaotically.  Davis and his partner, Spencer Kendrick, ended up winning alot--enough for a second place finish and a three-foot trophy!  If that wasn't enough, Davis really got after it on Sunday and won both matches he played.  He had to take a bye in the final round to make it back to Bryan for Beyond Guitar, but his play was enough to secure a medal at state and a 13th place finish for the team (not bad for a team that has only three members, compared to other teams that brought ten or fifteen players).

In the meanwhile, the rest of us moved at a little more leisurely, but no less enjoyable pace.  We had a grand time with Mark and Liz, and Erin discovered a kindred spirit in the lovely Liz, who took the time to read and draw with Erin.  It turns out they both have an affinity for fairies (and may, in fact, both be fairies, for all I know).

Our lovely weekend came to an abrupt end on Monday morning when we discovered our "Old Man" dog, Luke, couldn't lift his head or stand on his own.  The lines from Erin's poem (previously published here) had gone from "My dog Luke, He doesn't do much" to "My dog Luke, He doesn't do anything."  Walter carried him downstairs (remember, this is a 90 pound yellow lab), and we really thought that his time had come.  We took him to the A&M Vet hospital anyway, just to see if anything could be done.  I was thinking stroke or spinal tumor or possibly poisoning from some toxin he might have stumbled across.  In the end, the vet just thought his knees had given out.  After years of hard use, he has no cartilage, few ligaments, and much arthritis in both of his back knees.  We spent the morning with him at the vet and by late afternoon they sent him home with pain medicines, anti-inflammatories, instructions for physical therapy, and a suggested course for accupuncture (I'm thinking this is an idea that's going to remain on paper).  

In the meantime, Erin's congestion, which flared up substantially over the weekend, had moved into her ears and gotten infected.  So she has started a new course of antibiotics.  I guess I mention this only because I was contemplating the irony of paying my dog's vet and pharmacy bill on Monday within an hour or so of paying my cancer-stricken daughter's doctor and pharmacy bill.  Can you guess which was less than $50 and which was greater than $700?

Everybody felt better on Tuesday.  Davis because he had gotten some rest and his soccer team came out on top of a 6-0 game in Killeen.  Erin because her nose was less drippy and her ear less achy.  And Luke because he was no longer immobile.  In fact, after his water aerobics yesterday, he was pretty darned perky. . .for an "Old Man." 

Now, we have made it to another weekend.  I hope we all get some rest.

Happy belated first birthday, Emma Dear!  We'll be there in a week to celebrate with you!

Thursday, February 9, 2006



Everything was great at Erin's check-up yesterday, and she is cleared for another month of oral etoposide (starts next Monday).  I want to write more about the week, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, February 3, 2006

First Round of Etoposide Coming to an End


Well, we've put January to bed and made a start on February.  The first cycle of oral etoposide is almost behind us (two more days), and so far I can't really tell that Erin is taking chemo.  I sure hope the tumor cells can tell.  Here are her counts from yesterday:

White Blood Count--3300 (low, but we have seen much worse)
Absolute Neutrophil Count--2200 (still in the normal range)
Hemoglobin--10.9 (still below normal, but trending up)
Platelets--240,000 (still normal, even for a regular person)

These are all numbers we can live with at this point.  And frankly, if her hemoglobin ever reached a normal level, I think we would have to push her into training for triathalons or hire her out to dig ditches to burn off the extra energy.  She is pretty bouncy even in the below normal range.  As for the nonblood effects of this drug, I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall.  Erin did have somewhat loose bowels yesterday and felt a little stomachy.  Hard to tell if that was treatment related or associated with the three helpings of Tuna Helper she downed after a strenuous soccer practice.

The Hammerheads start their season tomorrow morning at the not-too-unGodly hour of 10:00.  We had the full team at practice yesterday, fairly rare in this day of busy family schedules.  Erin may be the smallest one on the team, but no one trifles with her.  Her ball skills have improved through off-season practice with Davis, her personal trainer, and her intincts are keen, sort of like she understands the game or something.  Davis's district season starts tonight against Belton.  I hope the coach will quit diddling with the starting line-up.  In his search for the perfect combination, I think he has succeeded in undermining the confidence of a few of the players.  I'll try to remember that when I'm on the sidelines switching players in and out, looking for chemistry.  Although frankly, with our team I am usually more concerned with keeping six players on the field (as I frequently see hands waving at me signaling the need for a break).

Besides soccer, we have some bonuses planned this weekend.  Davis leaves at 6:30 tomorrow morning for the state chess championship.  We don't think he'll win it all because he has to take a seventh round bye (worth half a point and recorded as a tie) on Sunday to make it back in time for his radio show.  Unfortunately, he will be missing a visit from Walter's college chums, Mark and Liz, who I'm sure have numerous embarrassing stories they would willingly relate to Davis about his dear old dad's halcyon days.  Maybe we can find a volunteer to drop by and videotape the weekend for his viewing later.  Scratch that.  I won't allow anyone to capture my soul (or any indiscretions that might occur) on video, even for the sake of informing the young un of his legacy.

What's up next (presuming we survive the weekend)?  Next week Erin has a scheduled week of rest with no chemo.  On Wednesday afternoon, she and I will drive down to Houston for a quickie check-up.  If all is good, Dr. Russell will approve another month of oral etoposide.  She will scan in early March (the week before spring break).  If things still look good we will continue down the path we're on.  If not, we'll take a detour.

One last bit of news for long-time Erin fans:  Her top front tooth, kicked out the week after Christmas of 2004, finally made an appearance this week.  The shy little bugger cut through the gum just a tad, but relieved Erin of the anxiety that a dentist would have to do the dirty work.  Pretty soon she will look like a regular third grade with big 'ol chompers up front.