Saturday, February 19, 2011

Barbies, butterflies, and one very busy week!

It's been a long week. Brien and I spent Valentine's day at work and then after that at Kaiser, which was probably not most people's idea of the most romantic spot but at least we were together. As most of you know, I had surgery to have my thyroid removed in December. About two weeks after, the lab results came back positive for papillary thyroid cancer. Two very small growths were found that would have never been detected had I not gone forward with the surgery. At first, we were dumfounded and devastated. Luckily, we learned soon thereafter that this was the most common type of thyroid cancer and it was very treatable. We thanked our lucky stars.

Our first step was already completed, have surgery for removing the thyroid. Now when the surgery is completed, unfortunately they have to leave some of the thyroid tissue so there is always a chance of cancer spread or recurrence. So, the next steps were to undergo a full body scan to make sure there was no spread of the cancer and then swallow a small dose of radioactive iodine that would destroy any remaining thyroid tissue. However, before that could all be completed, I had to go off of my thyroid hormone medication for three weeks. This was, by far, the most difficult part of the whole process. Your thyroid, although a very small part of your body, plays a very crucial part in many areas of functioning. For me, the worst part was that the symptoms of low thyroid are almost identical those experienced during the grief process. Many days I had no idea whether I was coming or going, had virtually no patience, was exhausted although I had done virtually nothing, slept way too much, and became distracted at the drop of a hat. Brien was a saint for putting up with me and taking over ALL of the needed household duties and chores.

So, on Valentines Day, we were finally ready for the last step. I laid still for a half hour while the machine scanned my body and then we met with the nuclear med doctor to review the scan and take my iodine dose. We were fortunate to immediately find out that the scan looked crystal clear, no cancer spread, and the doctor even commented that my surgeon did an excellent job, leaving behind virtually no residual thyroid tissue. Other than having to stay five feet away from people for a few days due to the iodine dose, and one last follow up scan to take place in the near future, I was DONE and so happy to be cancer free!

That evening, we received a Valentine's day present, it was Grace's marker for her site at the cemetery. Brien spent so much time finding the perfect design for her and working with an artist to make sure it was just perfect. It's just beautiful, her lovely face is embedded within a garden of flowers and, of course, a butterfly. He delivered it to the monument company on Tuesday, and as soon as the rain lets up here, they will install it at the cemetery. Her spot is at the very edge of the Angel Garden, we call her "the greeter" and now she will have a wonderful tribute marker for everyone who passes to see.

On Wednesday, I was allowed to start taking my thyroid medicine again, and even was able to start back with double doses to help me start feeling normal sooner. Never have I been so excited to pop some pills! Then, that evening, something extraordinary happened. For so long, I have longed to dream of Grace, for her to send me a sign. I look at her pictures and videos most every night before bed in hopes I will see her in my dreams. Once, I did dream of her, and she wasn't sick. But, that was all I could remember of that dream and it was quite some time ago. On Thursday morning, I awoke at 5:30am out of a very vivid dream. I immediately grabbed my phone and started typing away at what I remembered. Grace had passed away already and Brien came to me holding her, but she was a doll. He told me I had to hold her because she was breathing again. I took her and noticed she was not real but a doll. He told me to change her diaper and when I did she relieved herself on the changing table (something we often thought was so funny when she did this in real life) and when I picked her up she was breathing, alive, and then she smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. She then went back to being a doll again. Brien and I both just stood there holding her and we cried together but they were the most joyful tears. I woke from the dream with a feeling of peace that was just completely overwhelming.

Call me crazy but I do believe in signs. I do believe Grace was sending me a sign that she was okay, she was happy and content. Maybe she was also happy that I was okay, cancer free, and on the road to recovery as well. That was Thursday. Fast forward to today. We were on our way to visit Grace and decided to stop for a bite to eat on the way. Brien was joking with Gabe (who is a teenager) asking him if he wanted a Happy Meal for lunch. I thought a Happy Meal sounded good with its small portion sizes so I ordered one, something I never usually do. We ate quickly and headed to see Grace. We didn't stay long today as it started raining, however one thing that struck me was that today was the first time we visited her and I didn't cry. Brien said it was due to my state of mind, and I agreed that I was in a good place today. On the way out, I looked into the Happy Meal box and pulled out the toy. It was a small Barbie doll with one accessory....butterfly wings. I've never seen a butterfly Barbie before but she was just beautiful, of course, not anywhere near as beautiful as our angel Grace. I continue to have hope and I am thankful for all of the blessings in my life.


  1. Holly...

    I too have never ordered a Happy Meal from McDonalds before...for myself to eat...until Friday.

    A late Thursday night left me craving something really yummy and salty on Friday. The same friend that was out with me the night before sent me a text photo of her satisfyingly salty lunch (McDonald's). What a great idea I thought and I headed to the drive through.

    I didn't know what I was going to order, but as with you, decided to order a Happy Meal because of it's smaller portions. I felt funny ordering a kids meal, knowing it was for me to eat and knowing I didn't have any kids in the car. I felt even funnier when they asked me if I wanted a toy for a boy or a girl. I said girl because I am used to saying that, but had no intentions of doing anything with it (can't pick one child over the other to give it to). I figured I would just throw it in my prize box at work for one of my students. I didn't give the toy a second thought...until today when I read your blog.

    While reading your story about the Happy Meal, I realized I still had the kid's meal box in my car 2 days later (no judging). I went outside to see what toy I had been given, hoping of course for the same little Barbie with wings.

    As I looked in the box...I got tears in my eyes...

    I too had a beautiful angel Barbie...the same one as you, but with purple hair and a hot pink dress, which happens to be my favorite color.

    As I took her out of the bag and put her wings on, I thought of Grace and all her beauty. I thought of all that she taught us in her short time here and thought of how a little toy that had no meaning to me on Friday, now has meaning.

    I feel I try and live a life where I notice the small things. I sit back and appreciate all I have, but lately, things have been moving a little too fast. Receiving this Barbie at this time in my life is perfect! It's the reminder to not forget about enjoying the simple things in life and the people that make a difference in our lives, and all that we are to be thankful for.

    So, thank you Holly for sharing this with us and thank you Grace for my beautiful Barbie angel!


  2. Andrea,
    YOU brought tears to to my eyes! Love you so much my friend. Thanks for sharing such a touching story, I had no idea either how that toy would just inspire me to write. Now hearing this from you I'm so glad that I did. I am always in awe of how you live your life, just through your pictures I know that you and your family cherish every moment with friends and family and never take anything for granted. You are teaching valuable lessons to your girls through your actions and I know they will definitely appreciate that even more as they grow into such beautiful young ladies!

    Funny, when Brien ordered the meal and the lady asked "boy or girl?" Brien looked at me for an answer...I said "um I"m a GIRL!" ha ha. Barbie rocks!

  3. Thanks for the kind words Holly!!

    Barbie does rock!

    Love you!!!


  4. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful tribute. This blog has been such a valuable resource and inspiration for so many people. After experiencing the tragic loss of Gracie in October and the tragic loss of my own father in January, this story really brought home the importance of cherishing every single moment with our loved ones. I just returned from my father's memorial services - we buried my father over the weekend in the rain. This blog really touched my heart and brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

    This particular quote from Andrea really resonated with me. "It's the reminder to not forget about enjoying the simple things in life and the people that make a difference in our lives, and all that we are to be thankful for."

    Thank you for continuing this blog and for inspiring us to appreciate the little things.

    PJ Decker and family

  5. You've touched my heart and my sympathy is with you.I have a thyroid disease, too and I'm taking bovine . Just like you, I don't lose hope.