Friday, September 29, 2006

Little Miss It's All About Me


Someone in my family (think red hair) chided me last night for posting an update that failed to mention the star of the web site (think red hair): "Mommmm, it's my website. It's supposed to be about me."

I'm thinking, "Nine year olds should not be jealous of sharing their web space, especially with their most-beloved dog." I'm just about to move in and take corrective action (something like, "Oh don't be so spoiled, I've used plenty of bits and bytes on you, not to mention pixels."), when I look up and over at her. She winks:

"Gotcha, mom."

I did get a couple of messages after last night's posting asking for a cast of animal characters in the household. So for your entertainment enjoyment:

Luke (named for Luke Skywalker) is a very old (14+ years) yellow lab. He is the most expensive free dog I have ever owned. Most recently he contributed to the family by pulling a paw nail off and bleeding copiously throughout the house, sticking mainly to carpeted surfaces.

Uma (named, not by us, for Uma Thurman) is a 7 year old Welsh corgi (with papers), given to us by the widow of a friend. This woman parlayed our love for her and her husband into an opportunity to escape from the hell of living with a spoiled brat dog, who barks at everything, including all amorous activity among the household's adults. I am quite sure the ghost of Bob is having a great laught at our expense.

Willie (named for William Marsh Rice) is a 10 month old Rhodesian ridgeback, lab, terrier mix. He brings the worst qualities of those three breeds and packages them in a 60 pound puppy body.

Kitty Muffin (who really knows what a cat is named?) is a 3 year old tabby who is Erin's, but who has been banned to the house next door (my mother's house) by Walter who doesn't tolerate the catness of cats very well.

Alexander (who really cares what a fish is named?), the bata, is our only problem free pet. Having said that, I'll probably find him floating when I get home this afternoon.

On the medical front, Erin's counts remained fairly high this week (normal hemoglobin and platelets; satisfactory white counts). We are also trying to train a new classroom of students and her teachers to remain vigilant about hand washing. The best contribution I can make on a daily basis is to keep Erin as healthy as possible. This means washing germs down the drain, eating right, and making sure she gets enough sleep and exercise. These things are all easier in the summer when the weather is warm, and neither Erin nor I are in the classroom. We are trying our hardest, and so far have not encountered any bugs that have laid us low.

Once again, Erin has a busier schedule this weekend than either Walter or me. Her soccer team is playing an exhibition scrimmage during the half time of the Aggie soccer game tonight, and she has a real game tomorrow morning. Her dear friend Katie has invited her to see Peter Pan put on by The Theatre Company tomorrow night, and I am sure there will be begging for sleepover arrangements as well. Sunday, her choir sings at worship. Just to make it interesting, she started practice for UIL oral reading after school yesterday. I am sure glad she can do all these things without having to worry about whether she can keep up with school or not, because it would be really sad to pull the plug on the activities she loves because of bad grade. Just to prove the point, Erin brought home a stellar report card yesterday with excellent marks in all subjects and conduct. Woohoo!

For our close friends who read the website, here is the Davis Report (Required Legal Disclaimer--the following paragraph may contain information that shocks long-time Davis observers. Any and all damage caused because you become light-headed or fall into shocked convulsions from what you read are not my fault, and I will not be held responsible. You have been duly warned):

Davis has adjusted better than any of us thought he would to campus life. He appears to have changed in at least two fundamental ways since we left him on August 20 to fend for himself in undergraduateland: he studies (maybe every day; maybe even for subjects that are not due the next day), and he keeps his dorm straight (and complains that his roommate doesn't). I hear he made a 100 on his first economics exam and (here comes the really scary part) his English writing class is his second favorite class (yes, he is taking more than two classes). One of his papers for English was about the virtues gained from dog ownership, of which patience was prime. He is also playing a variety of intramural sports, and I suspect socializing at least the median amount. He will be home a week from next Wednesday for four days of Fall Break. Given the schedule he has been keeping, I am expecting him to sleep the entire time.

One other note: Thanks to all of you who sent Davis "real mail." He wrote me that since Ryan (his roommate) had so many interesting posters and wall hangings, his own side of the room looked pretty bare. Davis has solved that problem by hanging all of the cards and letters he received on the wall. This includes the one from first grader Adam Tjoelker who wrote HAVE FUN AT RICE, and spelled out Rice by gluing real rice on the page and the three page chronology of a day in the life of Nico Tjoelker. I knew I could count on all of you to help me out of a jam.

Well, I guess that is it for now. Little Miss It's All About Me should be satisfied (if she ever reads this. . .I don't allow her on the internet, unless it is for a school assignment). I hope you plan on having as relaxed a weekend as I do. Enjoy the first weekend of fall and take care of the ones you love.

Thursday, September 28, 2006



This probably falls under the heading of Details about the Buengers I Don't Really Need to Know, But Might Be Fun Anyway. We have a rather rigid morning routine. Walter gets up first, maybe 5:20 or so, dresses, coaxes Luke downstairs, lets Uma out of her crate, and frees Willy from the downstairs bathroom. He walks the dogs down the road in the pitch dark, collects the newspaper, and returns about 5:50 (actually, at exactly 5:50) to start the dog feeding process. At that point, yours truly is almost always still abed. . .waiting.

Waiting for what, you may ask. Godot? For the Iceman to Cometh? For Walter to bring me coffee and bon bons in bed? No, for the last six months, at 5:50 every morning, I've been waiting for Willie. He arrives one of two ways: by banging insistently (noisily, stubbornly, incessantly, , , you choose the adverb that fits) on the bedroom door until I let him in or by plunging through the doorway, up onto the bed, dogpiling on me and licking the ice cream cone he thinks I have stored behind my ear. I cozy him up for a few minutes then roust myself to dole out Erin's morning chemo. Willie eats while I dress, then I walk him the mile and a tenth around the lake, so that he will be calm enough to survive the day without doing something so bad that one of his owners kills him on the spot.

So, there I am, yesterday. It's 5:50. No Willie. 5:51, 5:52, 5:53. No Willie. I hear Walter bumping around in the kitchen, mixing doggie kibbles, opening the can, arranging it all artfully in their bowls. Where's Willie? I think to myself, maybe this is the day. Maybe Willie has grown up. Maybe he is setting aside his rambunctious puppy ways and is ready to join the family as a full-fledged, non-remedial, non-probationary dog. I dressed quickly and headed downstairs to tell him what a good dog he was. I found him laying there, head up and cocked, looking first at me and then at something else, something he is guarding between his front paws. I discover he has not given up his bad dog ways. I have, in fact, been jilted. Our morning tete a tete, our daily rendezvous, has been set aside for someone else. A tree frog. I was dumped for a tree frog. A now dead one, at that.

I picked it up, while it was still in one, non-bleeding piece, tossed it in the trash, and reclaimed my puppy, code named "No No Bad Dog."

Oh well, they grow up so fast. Why rush the process?

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Jar of Erin Fortitude


Everything was great at clinic yesterday. We will start round 10 of oral etoposide on Monday and scan on October 19. Erin is feeling very well, and Walter and I along with the medical team are working as hard as we can to keep this trend going.

I did have a follow up conversation with Erin about the horse show last weekend. It crossed my mind at bedtime the other night to probe a little into Erin's state of mind, riding into an arena on a horse that had never been in a horse show, much less inside a covered arena, on a day that performance jets had been flying low and repeatedly over the area (and stirring up a number of the horses to the point that they were trying to kick their way out of the stalls).

Mom: "What did you think about the horse show?"

Erin (straight to the point): "I liked it."

Mom: "Were you nervous or anxious or anything?"

Erin: "What do you mean?"

Mom: "Did it scare you to mount up and ride into the arena with judges and an audience watching? Did you think Scamp might panic? Were you afraid you wouldn't know what you were supposed to do?"

Erin: "No, mom, I was born for that."

And so, no stage fright, no butterflies, no pounding heart. Just a casual ride through the gate and around the arena. You can do that if you were "born for it." I love Erin's confidence. She has joined a new soccer team this year. All girls. All girls who could beat Erin's old (boys) team hands down, every time. Is she nervous? Maybe, but she's not letting on.

I'd really like to can some of this courage. Put a jar of Erin Fortitude off the shelf. Then I could pull it out when I wavered. Like I did this week when a girl that all of you would have liked, died from neuroblastoma. Her name was Christi Thomas. She was Erin's age, diagnosed a month or two after Erin. She was smart as a whip and beautiful. She loved art and science and animals (does all of this sound familiar?). Her parents and doctors went to extrmeme lengths to keep her healthy. They loved her from the bottom of their heart. Anyway, if you visit her website or her parent's blog you will read a heart ripping story of a girl who had much in common with Erin, and you will know why we sometimes need a jar (a gallon, a tank, an ocean?) of courage.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006



Information Worth Sharing: Several times a day, I call up on my computer to put my finger on a piece of information that I want or need. I just learned today of a better alternative. Instead of googling, if I go to for my search, the company will donate a penny to a designated charity (FOR ME, AND I HOPE FOR YOU, THIS IS THE CHILDREN'S NEUROBLASTOMA CANCER FOUNDATION). Imagine, people all over the country/world searching the internet and a penny dropping into the bucket each time they do. It's as easy as that.

I don't know how Davis stayed sane doing a weekly radio show for a year. Our hour on A Family Affair last Friday night set me on edge and left me exhausted, not to mention thirsty. Luckily, no one called in with a question I couldn't answer. Let me re-phrase that. No one called in. I hope any of you who listened could tell that Erin had a great, big grin pasted across her face every time she spoke. I, on the other hand, bordered on the panicked look most of the show. Doug only really caught me offguard once. I mentioned that since Erin became sick, my world had crystallized as to what was important and what was not, and that I didn't do things I didn't want to do anymore. Then I panicked. I couldn't think of anything I had actually stopped doing (although now in my off-air office I can think of plenty: I don't pretend to understand when students lie to me, I have little patience for cheaters, I don't agree to serve on committees just to be a good soldier, I don't wear uncomfortable shoes, even if they make my ankles look attractive). So, I said I don't gossip. That probably wasn't true.

Erin had a fine day on Saturday at the BAHA Horse Show. She only rode in one event. Her horse had never been under a covered arena before, so we weren't sure how he would react. He did great, and so did Erin. She came home with a lovely red (second-place) rosette ribbon for 10 and Under Western Equitation Walk Only. I think some kind folks took digital pictures, so her gleaming eyes and toothy smile may appear on the photo page before too long (I did update the photo page earlier with a couple of fresh pictures of Erin with Chet Edwards).

Erin had a pretty social weekend, otherwise. Her friend Clayton Sue from Fort Worth came to town, and she hung out with us at the horse show, out at Veteran's Park for soccer pictures, and back at our house for general nonsense and some top secret science experiments. Unfortunately (for Erin and CS), we had to share her a little bit with her grandparents, so she didn't get to spend the night. They did meet up for Sunday School and church and added Nico to the mix. After CS headed back home, Erin spent the rest of the afternoon with Nico and Adam, so that she wouldn't have to sweat it out at my soccer game (yes, our record is still in tact, 0 and whatever, with no chance of a victory in sight).

Yesterday brought a goodly amount of homework, so we were both a little relieved that the big rain Sunday night had left the fields too wet to practice. The rest of the week looks pretty low key. We will drive to Houston on Thursday after lunch for clinic. I don't expect any surprises. After clinic we will meet up with Davis for a family dinner (in honor of the anniversary of the day yours truly burst into the world completely naked). We may sneak some swimming in on Friday afternoon. Otherwise, we just have school, homework, soccer, and choir.

Willie has really been too bad to write about. We are losing the vanity in the bathroom a mouthful at a time. We have no toothbrushes left in tact. He has shown more than an academic interest in Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. He will come when I call. . .if he wants to. More Barbies have lost hands and feet--no doubt their punishment for stealing and dancing. I wish he were cute. At least then he would have redeeming value.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fat Hand


Walter and I ran down to Houston this afternoon to visit with Davis and bring him his bicycle. This weekend is parents' weekend at Rice (strange timing, huh?), but none of us really wanted to spend the whole weekend wandering around experiencing campus life together (I, for one, get enough of campus life every day when I go to work). We did want to be supportive though, so we took a batch of cookies, Davis's second pillow (how he thought he could do with only one is beyond me), and the bike and went to pay a friendly call. He had bought a six by eight foot rug at a rummage sale for $5, and it really made the room. The only thing he mentioned that wasn't going so well was the complete absence of mail from home (stab me in the heart son o'mine). Here I was, thinking I was hip and happening because I wrote chatty, but not maudlin e-mails two or three times a week, and ALWAYS waited until he replied before I unleashed more news from home on him. What a slip up.

So, bail me out here Erin (and Davis) fans. If you still know how to use a pen or pencil and can afford the cost of a stamp, drop Davis a line at

Davis Buenger
Will Rice College
6330 Main Street
Houston 77005

Don't tell him you know how badly his mother let him down.

Erin had a good week, save one bad incident. Sunday night out at the soccer fields she got stung by some unknown insect, so she has spent the week with a much fatter than usual hand--so fat that she couldn't hold a pencil, so fat, in fact that we had to run to Dr. Parr's office to find out if she was allergic or infected (infection would have been much worse). Luckily??? it was merely an allergic reaction. She has spent the entire week taking a combo of three different antihistamines. She has also had three soccer practices, children's choir, and an afternoon at Nico's. Tomorrow she will bathe horses after school in preparation for the horse show on Saturday where she will ride Western Equitation (am I the only parent in America who remains clueless about the activities their children are involved in?). Tomorrow night is also Erin's radio debut. She and I will be the guests on A Family Affair, Doug Vance's show on KEOS (89.1) that focuses on children, teens, and families. Tune in 6:00-7:00 p.m.

For those of you who read this update for medical news, there is precious little to report beyond the fat hand. Erin feels well. Her blood counts this week were robust (WBC--4900, ANC 3000, hemoglobin and platelets normal) even though this was the third week of this cycle of chemo. She has clinic next Thursday (9/21), and we fully expect to get the go ahead for one more round of etoposide before the October scans.

I'm going to tuck the fat handed one in now. Until next time!

Friday, September 8, 2006

Handwashing: A Priority

09/08/06 (later)

Thank you for pushing those little neutrophils up! Erin's ANC had moved from 700 on Tuesday to 1900 (almost normal) today. We have thus ducked difficult conversations with doctors, etc. and are primed for a regular weekend. Erin immediately made sleepover plans with Jackson, and who knows what else will grab her attention tomorrow! Whew!


In about three hours, I will take Erin to get her blood counts done for the second time this week. Tuesday, her ANC and WBC (germ fighting numbers) were lower than expected. Not so bad as to keep her home from school, but low enough to make handwashing a top priority for the last several days. I am hoping that the numbers were the result of vigorous play at the local Contamination Factory (a.k.a., McDonald's Playland) on Monday or perhaps because she licked the ice at Arctic Wolf Ice Rink last Saturday. Other than the September Sniffles, shared by many in the Brazos Valley, Erin feels well. BUT, if the ANC is not over 500 this afternoon her doctor will DC (medspeak for discontinue) her chemo until it recovers. Aack! (What a weird world I live in that the possibility of not poisoning my child on schedule distresses me.)

We are stumbling along in the early weeks of school. Erin seems to have mastered her schedule quite easily. Walter and I fall asleep earlier each night than we would prefer, but you know we both need our beauty sleep. Davis appears to have become a True Believer about his Rice education. We get cryptic, but almost entirely positive, e-mails from him a couple of times a week--usually with the date/time stamp of somewhere between midnight and 3:00 a.m. Today I got one that started this way:

I just got back from a 6 mile run with JJ. I went back to the book store and boughta few folders, a model kit, and an ether net cable, and when I was checking outthey put in a five bladed razor, four for broad strokes and one for precision.Also, get this, it had a battery in it to make it vibrate. I know--Wow! Asskeptical as I was, I tried it out and it felt pretty nice. I think I'll use ittill it wears out.

I think he has mastered the college thing: find out where the free stuff is and take advantage.

Erin took another step towards political maturity last week. The evening after she visited with Chet Edwards by phone, she wrote up a letter to the editor on his behalf. You can check it out here in its full glory, or just read the text of it:

To The Editor,

Thank you for running my picture on August 30 and helping me raise awareness for childhood cancer. Chet Edwards is also helping kids like me with cancer by co-sponsoring the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2006. Last June, on my birthday, I went to his office in Washington D.C. to ask for his help with this bill. We were scheduled for a short meeting, but he gave us more time and even made people wait while we finished talking. He listened to me and my mother and took what I had to say seriously.

A couple of months later I saw him again on the A&M campus. He remembered me right off and told me he had been reading about me on my website. When he saw my picture in The Eagle this week, he called to check on me and see how I was doing. I think you should vote for him. He is good to me, and I bet he will be good to you, too.

Erin Buenger, age 9

I hope that Erin's counts are passing this afternoon. The doctor has suggested discussing the possibility of reducing the dose if her counts give her trouble. We are so in love with this particular regimen (so few side effects or quality of life damaging effects) that we would like to ride the wave much, much longer. I'll let you know.

In the meantime, Erin's dance card is filling up. She has signed up for Oral Reading (UIL event) at school, begun children's choir and bells, started fall soccer, and will ride in her first horse show a week from tomorrow. Maybe her ANC just didn't get the word that the pace had picked up and took a slow start to the week. If that's the case, it better get a move on and catch up--preferrably in the next couple of hours.