Thursday, August 31, 2006




Apparently, in the rush of getting this photo to press at The Eagle, Dave McDermand (who took the picture) interpreted the "neuro" part of neuroblastoma to mean brain-related, so that's the way the tag line ran. Anyway, you Erin fans and prayer-warriors do not need to add another worry bead to the chain. Erin does not now, nor has she ever had brain cancer.

Besides getting to ditch school with her best buddies and being honored by a really great group of local officials (who treated us all like visiting dignitaries), Erin's trip to Commissioners Court on Tuesday netted her a couple of other plums. We have been invited as guests on Doug Vance's radio show, "A Family Affair," on KEOS (89.1) on Friday, September 15 from 6-7 (p.m., I hope). There may also be a possibility of a little coverage on the health segment on KBTX. I'll let you know.

Now, on to other matters. What would you think if you walked into your kitchen from outside at 5:15 in the afternoon to find your nine year old chatting away animatedly on the telephone?

a. School mate checking on homework?
b. Bored telemarketer?
c. Call from grandma?
d. Your Congressman, who is in the midst of one of the toughest races in his life?

If you guessed "d," you would be correct. Chet Edwards had called Erin because he had heard about the commissioners court thing while he was at the Eagle Editorial Board meeting. He wanted to tell her that she was his inspiration. He had cut out her picture from the newspaper and was carrying it with him to remind him that his hardest day in Congress or on the campaign trail was not as hard as many of the days Erin had been through. It just floored me to hear her chatting away with this busy, busy man (he was on the phone at least fifteen minutes and called back at one point when his cell phone dropped the call)!

[Does this story make you want a Chet Edwards yard sign? Just let me know. I am an endless source of very fashionable and decorative (the red and white sets off both the greens of watered lawns and the golden hues of naturalized lawns) Chet Edwards/Congressman lawn signs and bumper stickers.]

This whole exchange hardly affected Erin. She handed off the phone to me and headed out the back door with her friend Aaron and her dog Willie. Their plan: to explore the wilds behind the dam. If only life were always so simple.

Those of you waiting for a Davey B. update may have to be satisfied with a more bare-bones story. He reports he is registered for classes (English, freshman seminar in Thomas Jefferson, Organic Chemistry, Honors Calculus III, Introduction to Game Theory, and PE) and having fun. Ask yourself, could both of those statements possibly be true?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Goldfish and a Cheerio


I had to answer a bunch of questions at church this morning about Erin and her health. She looks great and for most people seeing = believing. They see that she looks healthy, so they want to believe she is healthy (whole, cured, recovered. . .you pick the word). They don't say it, but some of them don't understand why she is still on the prayer list. I struggle to explain.

Does she still have measurable cancer?

Yes. She has two suspicious areas that show up on her CT scan (both small, but definitely there. Remember the Goldfish and the Cheerio?).

What're those two tumors doing?

Nothing much. They've been sitting there looking the same (I always use the word stable) for a pretty long time (maybe four or five scans in a row--at least since late last fall).

Do you know for sure they're tumors?

Not really. They could be scar tissue, dead tumor, or latent tumor just biding its time for later.

Why doesn't the doctor just take them out, look at them, biopsy them, whatever and find out. Then Erin would be cancer free.

The doctor won't remove them for three reasons: 1. Relapsed neuroblastoma is incredibly tricky. It would almost certainly come back even after resection, so surgery doesn't buy you much. 2. In fact, removing the tumor might put the doctor into a moral conundrum about treatment. We would probably have to stop treating Erin (which we believe is why she has stayed stable all of these months) if there was nothing measurable to treat. 3. By leaving the bits there, the doctor has a point of comparison from scan to scan (like a marker) that indicates what's happening inside.

How long will this go on?

We hope for a long time. That will mean that Erin is feeling well and the tumor is behaving. In the meantime we're going to take advantage of our good fortune.

Speaking of which. If you have a free moment Tuesday morning around 9:00, you might want to come down to the Brazos County Courthouse (ask for the room where the county commissioners meet). The County Commissioners are declaring September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Brazos County. Erin will receive the proclamation on behalf of local pediatric cancer patients (in treatment, off treatment, and angels). We would love to see a large crowd there raising awareness for Childhood Cancer.

On other fronts in the Buenger family. The old Buengers all start class tomorrow. Yippee! At least we hope we are all starting classes tomorrow. The jury is still out on Davis, who had his registration blocked because he did not have a current TB test. As it stands now he will have his hastily administered test read tomorrow, and as I understand it, we will either know he has tuberculosis or he will be able to register for classes. I hope there are a few spots left for him, preferably in something related to his degree plan.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"I Brush My Teeth"


Imagine the changes coming to Erin's life after this conversational exchange:

Scene: Erin visiting with her nurses at University Pediatrics the day after returning from vacation.

Beverly: "So, Erin, what did you need a vacation from?"

Erin: "What do you mean?"

Beverly: "Like chores. Do you have a lot of chores around the house that you needed a vacation from?"

Erin: "Oh yes. I have lots of chores."

Beverly: "Like what?"

Erin (thinking or maybe stalling): "Well.. . um."

Beverly: "You probably don't do anything to help out. You probably make your poor mother do all the work."

Erin: "No, really. I do chores every day."

Beverly: "Like what?"

Erin (smiling because she finally thought of something): "I brush my teeth."

Mother collapses in a mortified heap on the floor.

What kind of failure of a mother am I that the only chore my nine-year old has is the brush her teeth? Wait a minute. Maybe I'm brilliant. Maybe I have so brainwashed her and disguised the chores that she really thinks that setting the table, loading the dishwasher, and collecting the garbage are fun and games, not work. Yeah. That's got to be it. It can't be that I have given her a free pass on chores.

School started uneventfully last week. Erin has a few of the usual suspects (her buddies) in her homeroom which has made the transition to fourth grade a piece of cake. We think her new teachers, Mrs. Carson (homeroom, language arts, and social studies) and Mrs. Harper (math and science), are super already. And here's one for the small world category. It turns out that the only new student from Bryan High going to Rice this fall with Davis is Connie Carson's niece. Davis is still trying to figure out how I am able to plant so many spies around him.

Speaking of the college man. He irritated me yesterday. About the time I got the living room organized to start staging items for packing, he decided Walter couldn't make it to the grocery store without him. Then, he had to touch up a project he had been working on. Then, he had to go to the rec center for one last work out. Then, we had an early family dinner planned so that he could have one last night out on the town with his high school buddies. So, the little red hen (that's me) said, "That's okay, I'll do it myself," though inside I was thinking "How do I know what he wants to take?" and "This is so inefficient. He's likely to forget some important things because we're not doing this together. By the time he gets in tonight. I'll be sound asleep and no help."

In the end, it all got done, of course, and I didn't have to stay up past my appointed bed time. He may have forgotten some things, and I may have packed some things he didn't want to take. I decided that those miscues were just like dangling threads and loose ends, and that I faced a choice. If I really tied up all the loose ends and cut all the dangling threads, then Davis would be just like a marble--solid, compact, nothing hanging off. If he were like that, then he could just roll away, where ever he wanted, and everyone knows that a rolling marble has no reason to come home. If there are still the telltale bits of string dangling there, it probably means I'll see him again (and if whatever he has forgotten is important, it will probably be sooner rather than later--like maybe even Tuesday, when Erin and I will be across the street at Texas Children's for her monthly clinic appointment).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Not Enough

August 14, 2006

Hypothetical question: if you left bottles of hops-based adult beverages as inducement to your pet sitter, with instructions to drink one every time your pet misbehaved, how many do you think you would need to stock for a nine-day trip?

Answer: I don't know, but a twelve-pack wasn't enough.

Do you remember reading below how Willie had a talent for shortening all of our shoe laces? Did you know that the same skill works on electrical cords and phone wires? So here's a favor: if you thought you left us a phone message while we were vacationing, please call back, especially if it was important. Willie may have listened to our messages before they disappeared, but he's not talking.

Being in the market for new telecommunications equipment was just one of the downsides of returning from vacation. Blistering heat might be a more obvious one. Starting the grind of the fall semester ranks up there. Counting down the days until Davis moves out also makes the list. But since I don't dwell on the negative, I'll move on.

If I told you about everything we did on vacation, it would sound like that tired joke about people's vacation blogs that ran last week in the Cathy comic strip. Suffice it to say that we spent many happy hours with old and new friends, hiked great trails, and enjoyed each others' company. Many of the highest highlights came at or near the track at Ruidoso Downs. Davis entertained all of our friends by building a mathematical model using Excel to handicap the races. I did not use anything that fancy, but hit the money 8 out of 9 races. Erin was in the money in six races, using her perky ear method to choose her bets. She also put her amazing ability to network to the test and somehow found herself officially escorted under the track to the saddling paddock, where she met some trainers and jockeys and saw the ponies from a much more intimate distance. She was also invited to the winner's circle contingent on a particular horse (who up that point had never won a race and was therefore running in a maiden race) winning. Well. . .Future Cash paid off, and Erin had another once-in-a-lifetime treat. The jockey even gave Erin his goggles as a souvenir of the race. Thanks to Joanie, Jimmy, and Carla for making one little girl extremely happy.

School starts tomorrow, but only for Erin. Davis is very smug that he has two more weeks before hitching himself to the cart. I will close for now (but hopefully get back to it later in the week) with the news that today (on day 15 of 21 on Erin's sixteenth round of chemo since relapse) all of her key blood counts were in the normal range (WBC--4500; ANC--2900; HGB--12.3; PLT--271,000). Hallelujah!

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Primed for Vacation

August 3, 2006

Everyone in the Buenger household has their back-to-school haircuts, including Erin who had her trim up under extreme duress (I know, I know. Every hair is sacred, but she really did have a lot of split ends and needed a little shape up). Davis's do will have to last him until mid-October or possibly Thanksgiving. No quick trips home for haircuts for this college boy.

Erin has passed the time since our Houston trip happily, with plenty of friends, swimming, and lazing about. We'll leave Saturday morning for New Mexico (warning to burglars: in our absence the Texas Rottweiler and Doberman Club will hold their annual meeting and guard dog recertification classes at our house). We always try to find some cooler mountain air before we face the heat of late August and September. I just checked, and Ruidoso's current temperature (4:00 p.m.) is 65F. We will practice for cooler weather by stopping by Carlsbad Caverns on the way, where it is a constant 56F in the lower cavern year round.

I recently had a conversation with Davis about vacation next year, wondering to him if he would like to try to go to Poland with the group he has worked for the last three summers. (They have a forest there that they study every other summer.) I told him that he should find ways to broaden his horizons and have new experiences. He said, "Poland would be fine, but mom did you know that I have never visited a Blue state? Well, that's not exactly true. You did take me to California, but we stayed in Orange County (very Red) the whole time. If you really wanted me to expand my horizons you should show me parts of America I have never seen." Hmmm. Maybe I should plan on a trip to Boston or St. Paul.

While we are on Davis, he has a request for you Erin fans. If anyone has a copy of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" album ON VINYL that you are willing to part with (for $$) let me know. He is one retro kid and prefers "records" to CDs.

Last Sunday, I played in my last soccer game of the summer league. I got home that night (we only lost 10-1, a psychological victory because we scored), and Walter was a bit miffed. He had taken out the water left over from boiling corn on the cob and used it to water the potted plants out back in an effort at conservation, only to discover that SOMEONE had left the water running (maybe for hours) in the bathroom upstairs. He leveled his stare at me and asked, "Do you know anything about this?" "Well, maybe. . .a little. . ." I thought about lying. I thought about blaming Willie. I thought about mythological plumbing snakes. I thought of naughty house brownies who caused mischief. I thought the truth was much funnier. I was running a little late getting off to the game and had rushed upstairs at the last minute to put in my contacts (much better that eyeglasses for heading the ball, as if I had enough coordination to actually get my head on an airborne ball). I squirted liquid soap into both hands (remember, cleanliness is next to Godliness), and turned on the faucet to scrub and rinse. No water. Both hands full of liquid soap. What would you do? I took the top off of the back of the commode. Rinsed, popped in my contacts, and made it to my game with minutes to spare. End of story. Well, except for the part about not returning the fawcet to its upright and secure position before dashing out the door. How can you tell if a fawcet is on or off if there is no water dripping out?

One final bit of information. Erin saw her buddy Congressman Edwards on Friday. She walked up to him at a public gathering at the Architecture Building. I think they call that self possession or maybe poise. He called her name immediately and had a long and friendly conversation. She left happy and so did he. Nobody told her that he was at A&M on official business. No one told her that she was the only child there. No one told her that she held up the start of the entire meeting when she stopped Chet for a chat. She knew that she was happy and he was, too.