Sunday, February 19, 2012

Keep on Swimming

People ask me all the time: "how are you doing Katie?"   and I usually give my standard answer: "I'm hanging in there."  What do you say when you feel like you are fighting for your life?  How do you convey, while you pass a friend in the hallways at work, all the complex emotions that you are feeling.  How do you burden others with your own pain and fears?  One day at work, when I was feeling tired and run-down, a friend asked me how I was doing and I told her: "I'm here."  She looked at me and said "keep on swimming - keep on swimming." Many of you will know the reference - Dora, in "Finding Nemo" says it when she is feeling lost and doesn't know what to do; she says to herself over and over again "keep on swimming - keep on swimming."  That's how I feel on most days.  That's why I still insist on going to work on days I don't feel well - it isn't because I am so strong - no - I just need to keep on swimming.  I need to go about my everyday life like it is every day.  It is so easy to let cancer consume your life  - your every thought.  But you can't.  You have to keep going.  Keep living even on the roughest days.

Today I had an experience unlike any other I have ever had.  The ladies at my church asked me if they could have a Healing Service for me.  I felt honored but I had no idea how it would impact me.  As I sat, with a circle of family and friends surrounding me, while they all shared a common prayer - for God to physically heal me - I felt overwhelmed.  I felt their hands on me and felt their love.  I heard their prayers and I felt their hope.  For a minute I felt like I didn't have to keep on swimming.  I felt like I could sit there and cry and acknowledge how scary and uncertain my life is. In that moment I silently begged God to save me but I also asked him to give me strength to keep going - to keep fighting.  It was an amazing service and something that I will never forget. 

As I sit here and type this I feel tired from the hectic activities of the weekend.  I'm tired, but ready to take my kids to my parents' house tomorrow and have another great day.  I don't know if the Healing Service will heal me - I have a strong faith but I don't know what God's plan is for me.  What I do know is that no matter what, God continues to answer my prayers.  He continues to give me strength to keep going and living each day to the fullest.  So the next time you see me and I look like I'm having a rough day - please don't worry - just give me a smile and say: "keep on swimming."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What do I put for hair color?

I really must be the worst blogger ever because I post so infrequently.  Today's post isn't earth-shattering...just something small and trivial weighing on my mind, but here goes...

I was cleaning out my wallet last night and taking a good look at my driver's license.  I was thinking about how different I looked in my picture with my long "blond" hair when I noticed the expiration date on the card...February 24, 2012.  Oh, no.  My license expires this year!  Naturally the first thing that came to mind was my lack of hair.  They won't normally let you get your picture taken with a hat on...what about a scarf?  Surely they won't make me pose bald.  I don't own a wig because they are hot and itchy.  And what am I supposed to put for hair color?  I have no idea what color my hair will be when it finally grows back in some day.  What do they do for bald men?  Write "none" for hair color? Or do they actually write "bald."  I know this all sounds so trivial but I show my license all the time.  All my cards say "ask for ID." I can lie about my weight, I can lie about my hair color if it is dyed, but pictures don't lie. 

Who cares...I know...but I care.  Not because I am vain but because it is just another reminder that I'm not healthy.  I try so hard, every day to keep a grasp on the "normalcy" of my life.  I try to take care of my kids, to continue taking them to their activities, and play with them when they want attention.  I try to cook and take care of my husband as best I can.  I still go to work each day and try to remain upbeat for the children I help teach.  I try, even on my sickest days, to still look my best despite my lack of hair and swelling.  I try to not let Cancer run my life.  I don't want it to own me.  The license is just another ugly reminder that Cancer is all too real in my life.  An ugly reminder that I might die.  No one wants to say it out loud but we are all thinking it...this cancer could kill me.  I am optimistic that it won't...but there are no guarantees.  I don't need another constant reminder of this unknown.

So, yes.  I am more than a little annoyed by the timing of the expiration of my license.  Maybe I should go get a sexy red-head wig just for the photo.  Who knows, maybe then the next time my license goes to expire I will be annoyed, not because I still don't have hair, but because my real hair isn't nearly as great as my "red-head" days.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BELIEVE in Their Potential

I could see his mouth moving but all I could hear were the same words repeated over and over again in my heard: “mental retardation.” I flew through a series of emotions in rapid succession – confusion, sadness, anger – maybe I had misunderstood him. I stopped him mid-sentence: “Did you just say that Will is mentally retarded?” He confirmed that he had. I fired more questions at him: “Where did you come up with that diagnosis?” He explained to me that during the 20 minute testing session he had done with Will he had acquired an IQ score that placed him in the range of mental retardation. I was furious! I had witnessed this so-called IQ test and it was a joke. He had asked Will questions without first getting his attention and then he had expected verbal responses from my non-verbal son. I left the meeting enraged. This was the school psychologist and this report would now be a part of Will’s permanent file. I won’t sign it, I thought, as I drove home with the report in hand. How dare he assign an IQ to my son after only spending a few minutes with him? What qualifies him to diagnosis my son as being mentally retarded when he isn’t even a doctor? Why can’t he see Will’s tremendous potential?

Sure, I am biased because I am Will’s Mom, but I knew my son wasn’t mentally retarded. Yes, some children with Autism also struggle with mental retardation, but not Will. The next day I had an appointment with Will’s neurologist and I was eager to tell her about the school’s diagnosis. She was equally concerned. First of all, a non-verbal child should be given a Non-Verbal IQ Test (yes, there are a few). Second, this Non-Verbal IQ Test should be administered by someone who has been trained specifically to perform the test. Third, there was no need for the school to assign Will an IQ score. Will’s doctor went on to explain to me that this label could be very dangerous for my son’s academic future. Once a school assigns a student the label of mental retardation they often shift his curriculum to focus more on life skills and less on academics. In other words, Will would be learning how to dress himself and not how to write his name. Even though Will attended a private Autism school, our school district was still involved in developing and approving his IEP (Individual Education Plan) each year. She urged me to demand that this diagnosis be removed from the ETR document before I sign it. To make a long story short…I did…and they did. This story is from my previous district - not my current one.  I think you can see why we weren't too sad to leave them.

But indifferent or incompetent school administrators aren’t the only ones capable of underestimating a child’s potential; sometimes, even loving and devoted parents can allow fear to place road blocks in front of their child’s progress. When Jessica was three-and-a -half, I enrolled her in a YMCA dance class. Since she loved to shake and wiggle with her Sesame Street friends, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for her to participate in an activity with typical peers. I was so excited for her first lesson. She made it about fifteen minutes, which was actually about ten minutes more than she really deserved. She loved dancing, but had no skills to follow directions. She did not even respond to her own name, and chaos ensued as she ran wildly around the small studio. Six months later I thought she was ready to try again. I wanted to sign her up for group swim lessons; confident in her success since we had been working diligently with her teachers and tutors on her “following directions” skills. But Bill was extremely skeptical. He was afraid that she would again be disruptive to the class, and he added that he wasn’t really “in the mood for a setback.” But I persisted. I know that he only wanted to protect her from disappointment, but I explained that I could see her doing well. Like all married couples, we have our disagreements, but they usually end before they start. One of us senses that the other is determined, and in this case, I was very adamant. I knew she could succeed. And she did! I watched her proudly as she sat at the edge of the pool with her typical peers and listened intently to the directions she was given…well, as intently as any four-year-old listens.

Whether you have a child with Autism or not, with 1 in 110 children being diagnosed with Autism we are ALL going to interact with them throughout our lives.  Take a minute and look at that child. Really look at him – not as how he is right now, but how he will be in the future. See him making progress. See him communicating. See him living independently as an adult. We have to believe that these things are going to happen; otherwise, they never will. I know that not all children with Autism are the same nor is their individual potential, but they all have potential for progress. Believe that. When I look at my two children I see very different futures for them, but one very important piece is the same – I see them both advanced far beyond where they are today. I see Will living independently working outdoors with animals. I see Jessica as a highly driven, successful professional who lives by her own terms. I can close my eyes and see their futures and I truly believe it is attainable. Whether my vision will become reality, I can only guess, but I will do all I can to help them meet their potential. I have surrounded them with people who believe in their abilities, people who will push them to achieve, people who support them on the most difficult days, people who see them as happy adults, just as I do. It is very easy to focus on all the deficits these children have: Will isn’t talking; Jessica is overly rigid and non-compliant; but it is important to only let these deficits fuel our drive and determination – don’t let them deter us.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Til Death Do Us Part

I know I'm the worst blogger ever because my posts are so far and few between...sorry.

Republicans and Democrats have always argued and disagreed - that's why they are separate parties.  They have very different core values and beliefs about how our great country should be run.  That, by itself, is not a bad thing.  Through debate new ideas are formed and old ideas are solidified.  Although I am a strong conservative Republican I don't believe that all Democrats are inherently evil.  I don't think they want to ruin our country or destroy the traditional family unit but I do think that some of their beliefs and ideologies would inadvertently do just that.  I know that some of my Democrat friends would say the exact same thing about me.  This has been the case for as long as we have had a two party system (sorry but I only count the two parties since there are the only REAL options). 

For some reason people have their panties all in a bunch lately about this debate.  There is fear that our differences are tearing us apart as a country.  I would totally disagree.  I think that people on both sides are angry and scared about the the same thing - the state of our great nation.  People need jobs.  People are scared about our national debt.  Money problems are the biggest strain on a relationship.  Let's look at marriage.  Most couples who are struggling financially will also tell you that they are feeling a strain on their marriage.  Money problems make us feel insecure, angry, and resentful.  We place blame where there is none.  As money gets tighter our fears and feelings of despair increase.  As a couple we fight more - and talk less.  Tempers are short and some marriages just can't withstand the strain.  Now think of our country.  If money problems can destroy what is supposed to be the most sacred of unions, what makes us think that our societal relationship isn't going to suffer when we are struggling financially as a nation?  Again, our tempers are high and we place blame where sometimes there is none.  But, just as strong marriages can withstand this strain, so too can our strong country.  We will get through this.  We may disagree on how we are going to get through this, but I have faith that we will.

So, there is always going to be debate between the two parties and there are always going to be "wackos" who do horrible things in the name of party loyalty - that's a given.  (To continue the analogy, there will always be a handful of people who kill their spouses - it doesn't mean that marriage itself is in a state of crisis.) Right now, I think we need to acknowledge that we are suffering as a nation.  We are scared about the future and this fear makes our debates even more passionate.  Republicans believe strongly that they know how to save this great nation - I would agree with them.  Democrats believe strongly that they know how to save this great nation - I have friends who would agree with them.  We have to keep trying.  We must stay passionate about finding solutions. The most important thing of all is to save this marriage.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More than just a Grandpa

When I was a small child we would go over my grandparents house and play.  At the time we lived in the same town, LaPorte, Indiana and my Mom's parents lived out in the country on several acres of land.  As a kid I never really noticed that the place was "run down" or unkept; all I knew was that I loved going out there because there was always kittens or puppies in one of the out-buildings and there were tons of abandoned cars and trucks out back to play in.  As an adult I realize that it was really a kind of junk-yard but as a kid you don't really notice those kinds of things.  As a kid, I thought that was pretty awesome.  All I knew about my Grandpa at that point was that he was always there in a pair of dirty work pants and a white t-shirt working on something in the big garage out back.  He was a bit rough but I loved that he would let me go get him a PBR from the fridge and sometimes, if Mom wasn't around, he'd even let me have the first sip.  He was just "Grandpa" and that's all I knew. 

When I was in 3rd grade we moved to Wisconsin and then to Iowa and on and on.  Our visits to LaPorte became far and few between and my relationship with my Grandpa, since he never came with Grandma when she drove to visit us, became non-existent.  We lost my Grandma when I was in college and my Mom and Grandpa had a falling out.  I won't go into the personal family details because it isn't important.  They reconciled a few years ago and I got the chance to see my Grandpa once or twice when I visited my Aunts in LaPorte.  By then he was a old man - still rough around the edges but what can I say, he was still just "Grandpa." 

Walter Becker - Grandpa - passed away peacefully in his sleep last week.  When I read the bio that my Aunt wrote about him I was stunned.  I had heard a little bit about his time in the military and knew that he had been a POW but I didn't really know the whole story.  I guess he was more than just a "Grandpa" after all...

Walter Becker was born in Cismar, Germany and came to America with his parents when he was about 1 years old. He grew up in Chicago and when he was about 17 he and his family moved to a farm in Hamlet, Indiana. As a young boy in Chicago he learned to play the drums and was a part of the Drum and Bugle Corps for years. He continued to enjoy playing the drums as an adult when he participated in a Senior Citizen’s Band. He often shared these memories with his grandson Steven, who is carrying on his fondness for playing the drums.

He and his late wife Maryalice were married for 47 years and raised 7 children. They were both active members of Tracy Immanuel Lutheran Church. As an involved member of the community he was a Boy Scout leader, a member of the Lion’s club, and one of his proudest memories, over 45 years of continued service to the Kingsbury Volunteer Fire Department.

As a WWII POW vet he was a lifetime member of the American Legion.

He, his sister Clara, and their brother Bill all served their country during WWII. Walter received numerous citations for "exceptionally meritorious conduct" as well as a purple heart for his services as a radio operator, maintaining communication with his commanding officer while under cross fire of 3 enemy machine guns allowing their patrol to advance aggressively across open terrain to obtain valuable information. He was wounded, captured, and sent to a German prison camp.

He was very proud of his service to his country and shared his stories with his family of his time in the war and his 18 months as a POW. He saw a sign in the prison camp asking for volunteer prisoners to go to a prison work farm and he convinced his 4 "city" buddies to go with him as he told them "it’s a farm we will be able to get food there" as they had none at the time. When he arrived at the prison farm there were 70 other prisoners there who were weak and sick as they had not been able to eat. The man who was in charge of running the farm had been sent to fight in the war and no one was left who knew how to care for the farm. Walter quickly repaired the tractors, mowed the hay so they could feed the cows, and showed them how to dig up the crops that were in the field. He survived 18 months as a POW and when the day came for them to leave the camp he was placed by the German guards at the front of the line and he led the march with his 70 fellow prisoners across Germany to LaHarve, France not knowing where they were going. When they arrived there they were given mattresses to sleep on for the first time in 2 years, a real meal, and then as he looked up from his food he stood up at attention bringing the other 70 men to their feet at the site of General Eisenhower who was there to thank them for their sacrifice for their country and to inform them that the war was over for them and that they were finally going home.

While he was committed to serving his country and his community, his life was spent providing and caring for his family as an excavator and eventually owner/operator of Becker Excavating. He will be remembered as a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
(written by Mary Becker "Aunt TT")

Rest in peace Grandpa

*Katie, my Mom, Will, and Grandpa