Archive for May, 2011

24-hour Date!!! Happy Anniversary to Us
May 31, 2011

From James:

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary! I truly believe that So Young is a gift from God to me. I’m not so narcissistic to think that God created her exclusively to be my wife or anything, of course, but I see how He brought us together. We have been through a lot — not all of it good — and have grown up quite a bit since we met in college. All the while, there has been this underlying sense that we are right for each other, best friends, “soul mates,” (corny, right?) whatever you want to call it. We just fit together. So grateful for you, So Young! 

We had a great weekend celebrating, once again with much help from family and friends. Mom and Dad watched the kids all day on Saturday, starting in the morning, while So Young and I went to a very nice French restaurant, L’Auberge Chez Francois, a meal that Mom and Dad in fact very generously paid for.

So Young Eating at L'Auberge

The View from My Side of the Table at L’Auberge (Ooo La La)

James Eating at L'Auberge

The View from So Young’s Side of the Table (Zut Alors!)

Couple Shot at L'Auberge

Why Does My Right Arm Appear To Be Extended in Every Couple Shot?

Garden at L'Auberge

L’Auberge Has a Beautiful Garden

Around dinnertime, our good friends and neighbors of many years, Laurie and Bill, had the girls over for a sleepover at their house with their girls, “tag teaming” kid duties with Mom and Dad. We couldn’t have picked better people than my parents and Bill and Laurie to take care of our kids on that day. “Care for” is the right phrase. They all really love our kids. This is just one example among innumerable ways they have been a blessing to us over the years.

On Sunday, the Maryland ladies’ small group brought So Young a gift and card they had very thoughtfully prepared. So Young was encouraged by this, especially on Monday as her vision was worse than usual (it varies), and she was feeling down. We are continually reminded of God’s goodness through our family at Ambassador Bible Church.

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Seizures, Foot Massages, Food
May 27, 2011

From James:

So Young and I visited her neurologist, Dr. Jonathan Amy, yesterday. This is the first time we have seen him in over 6 months. He is the doctor who ordered So Young’s first MRI and told us the bad news after it was performed.

Our primary reason for meeting with him was that Johns Hopkins suggested we get a local neurologist, since JH is so far away and we could use advice about things like the medications So Young is taking. After all, the people we are dealing with at Johns Hopkins right now are radiation oncologists, not brain experts. Also, the nurse at Johns Hopkins suspects that So Young is feeling so much fatigue partly because of Keppra, the anti-seizure medication she is taking. It might be time to reduce the dose or change medications. (Changing medications, however, might not help with the fatigue, since almost all anti-seizure meds cause fatigue because of how they work.)

We brought Dr. Amy up to speed on everything that has been going on with So Young over the past 6 months, since he wasn’t involved after the initial diagnosis. I told him about the focal seizures she has been having for quite some time now (visual and auditory hallucinations). Focal seizures are usually precursors to more catastrophic seizures, kind of like an aura is a precursor to a migraine.

Dr. Amy said that if they are seizures, they aren’t typical. He decided to reduce her dose of Keppra by half, from 1,000 mg per day to 500 mg per day. We’ll monitor her for a month to see if the symptoms get worse. If they do not, she will continue on the lower dose.

I asked if there are any inherent dangers in seizures themselves, since we concern ourselves so much with mitigating them. He said that they don’t threaten her health apart from something occurring that is indirectly related to the seizures, such as So Young falling down the stairs, falling over and hitting her head, etc.

So Young is doing well other than the fatigue, which still has her sleeping until close to noon most days. Her appetite is slowly returning, to the point that I don’t worry about it anymore. She has lost weight since getting off radiation treatment and steroids. She recovered well from the half marathon and has started running again. (You usually take a few days off.)

Foot Massage

Shannon Giving Audrey a Foot Massage Last Night While Lindsay Improvises “Relaxing Music”

Fooood

An Example of One of the Many Delicious Meals We Continue to Receive, This One from Our Neighbor Suzanne

Race Report: Marine Corps Historic Half 2011
May 17, 2011

From James:

Short version: Sunday was our first non-metaphorical race together. So Young has run many miles alone. On Sunday, she ran 13.1 long miles shoulder-to-shoulder with her best friend. And then fainted. And went to the hospital. (Don’t worry. She’s fine.)

So Young's Bib: 20/20

Long version:

This race started months ago. I figured out the day we needed to start: February 21.  That was just three weeks after radiation ended, but So Young had been walking or running throughout treatment, so she was ready. When training started, she ran three times per week, sometimes less if circumstances didn’t allow or she was too tired. Two short runs, one long run. We even ran together maybe two or three times, culminating in a 10 miler on May 8, one week before the race.

It is very difficult to run all of those miles exclusively on a treadmill. At first, I questioned whether she could run alone outside at all. Could she see cars if she had to cross the street? Would she trip and fall? What if something happened to her far away from home and nobody knew?

I took So Young on a couple of test runs.  I was extremely cautious at first, holding her hand most of the time in case she fell and calling out cracks and curbs before they came. This became very irritating to her. She would tell me to stop, she would stumble, and I would start again. We figured out that the key was for her to lift her feet more. The stumbling stopped, for the most part, although to this day she still trips on irregularities in her path.

So Young also passed the car test. She could see cars driving down the road with 100% accuracy. She just had to pause and look carefully. Finally, she was not allowed to leave the house without her cell phone.

I write the above as if she waited for my approval to run, but honestly, she did not. I would call home and she would be running without my permission many times before I had a chance to test her. She was ready to hit the road.

With almost three months of training behind us, we left for Fredericksburg Saturday morning. There was great complexity in the childcare this time. So Me, Laurie, and Mom and Dad juggled pick-up times and endured much inconvenience to cover for us.

On the day before the race, you go to the expo, get your bib number, and are plied with MCHH gear, fitness products, and sport food samples. There also always seems to be a pull-up contest that I can’t resist (and lose). So Young and I spent the rest of the day on an extended date, carbing and resting up.

We awoke at 4:45 a.m. on Sunday morning. We ate a small breakfast — a bagel and a banana, So Young less so than me — and rushed to WalMart. WalMart is the epicenter of the MCHH. It is very close to the start line, so a lot of people park there and everybody (it would seem) takes a pre-race potty break there.

We didn’t plan to meet anybody before the race, but at WalMart we accidentally ran into many of our friends who were there to run with us or cheer us on: Tongil, KT, Alvin, Sungjin, and John. Paul (So Young’s brother) and Scott (a colleague from work) were also at the race. We saw Paul but never Scott, for reasons that will become obvious later.

Group Shot

The race, which was run by over 5,000 people, started at 7 a.m. So Young ran strong for the entire course but slowed down as it progressed because of pain in her feet that she has had for several years. I think that the after-effects of radiation slowed her down considerably as well. Still, she never walked and was in good spirits until perhaps the last three miles, when the pain became almost unbearable for her.

I have to admit that I was like a giddy tourist for most of the race. I have never run a race this large or this long. I have only seen the MCHH as a spectator (four times). I carried my camera throughout and took pictures so numerous that as I write I wonder what I was thinking while I was taking them. I’ve included a few of the better photos below. This is decidedly not a boring race.

Couple Shot

Looking Very Energetic Before the First Mile Is Done

Big American Flag

American Flag Above the Course Between Fire Truck Ladders

Tongil

Tongil Rushing to the Finish for Reasons that Remain Unexplained

Tiny Pony

Miniature Horse Near the Halfway Point

Reenactment

Poignant Reenactment of Famous Hugh Mercer Statue

Marine and Reenactors in Old Town

A Marine and Reenactors in Historic Fredericksburg

Real Marine

A Real Live Marine Gives So Young Her Medal While Paul (Also a Real Live Marine) Looks On

We Made It

Bling! We Made It!

After the race, we met up with Sungjin, John, Paul, and Alvin. (Tongil had already left because — like a superhero — he was off to his next gig, which was leading his small group.) We had planned to spend some time together afterward, but we briefly parted ways.

Paul, So Young, and I took the very long walk to WalMart, limping along. I told Paul to stay with So Young while I went to get the car. Moments later, I saw Paul running toward my car. He told me So Young had passed out. I parked and came running. People were calling 911. She was still sitting on the ledge but was clearly disoriented. A woman who was standing there happened to be a nurse from Fairfax. She helped to get So Young to the ground and elevate her feet.

Very shortly, an ambulance arrived. So Young was conscious and now was more aware of her surroundings. They asked questions and examined her. The EMT said that, because So Young has a brain tumor, he recommended that she be taken to the hospital as a precaution. He didn’t think it was anything serious, but just in case. They drove her to the hospital in the ambulance (emergency lights off), and Paul and I followed.

We spent what seemed like an eternity at the hospital. The doctor took great pains to explain that we might be there for a long time, maybe even overnight. So Young underwent many tests: a chest X-ray, bloodwork, a CT scan of her head to check for bleeding, pulse and blood pressure monitoring, etc. Everything turned out normal. They pumped her full of fluids. She felt great. Meanwhile, Paul and I were pretty sure we were going to faint too from a lack of food and end up in rooms 24 and 25 next to her.

We were very surprised to see Dad in a short while. I had called him but didn’t expect him to come down. When I called, he was in church and passed a note to JP saying that So Young had fainted. The entire church prayed for her at the end of the service. 

Dad, if you are reading this, I want you to know how much you encouraged my wife — your daughter — on Sunday. She was very heartened that you cared enough to be there. We really needed somebody right then. Paul and I were pretty spent and useless at that point. You were the right man at the right time, as usual. So Young is still talking about how much that meant to her. Thanks also for the candy! We had run out of money for snacks and were starving.

When it was all over and we were on our way home, So Young remarked that it wasn’t great to go to the hospital, but it sure made for a more interesting story. We also continue to feel very loved by our family and friends through all of this. The many phone calls, text messages, and tweets we received proved it to us, as did the dear friends and family who prayed for us and even physically showed up to be with us.

When we arrived at home, there was a big poster on the door signed by all our neighbors, the kids, and Mom and Dad, along with a bunch of balloons. The poster said, “Way to go So Young! So brave. We’re so proud.”

Front Door

Our Beautifully Decorated Front Door

So Young jokes that she wonders if God is making her go through all of this to convince her that she’s popular, an answer to prayers she’d prayed in middle school. I think it’s more likely that He’s making us go through this long and difficult race to prove that, in the end, He loves us.

Finish Line Video
May 17, 2011

From James:

If you want to see a video of us finish, click the link below. You then have to click the video marked “Finish Line Videos 3:12 – 3:22,” which is the second video on the list. You can see us between 2:00 and 2:20 in the video. I am on the left in the yellow shirt, and So Young is next to me in the pink shirt.

http://www.csnwashington.com/05/16/11/Marine-Corps-Half-Marathon-Finish-Line-V/landing.html?blockID=523718&feedID=7798

Crossing the Finish Line Video Screenshot

Put a Fork in Me! I’m Done!
May 16, 2011

From So Young:

On Sunday, I carried each of you in my heart remembering every kindness, each prayer and word of support, loving my family with meals, etc.  It energized me to have my beloved James running this race with me. I was strengthened to know my friends were running the race with us. What an encouragement to be cheered on by Sungjin, one of my dearest sisters in Christ. 

So Young and Sungjin

I felt surprisingly strong until the last few miles. My aches and pains didn’t make it easy. Those hills made it difficult, too. But I do love those hills. My slowest of six half marathons, but it will certainly be my most memorable.

Half Marathon: Quick Update
May 16, 2011

From James:

I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that So Young completed the half marathon yesterday and is fine. Many of you heard about the crisis that occurred, but I want to reassure you that she is alright. For those of you who haven’t heard, after the race, So Young passed out briefly and was taken to the hospital by ambulance as a precaution. They ran a battery of tests (blood, lungs, heart, brain, etc.) and determined that it was most likely dehydration or exhaustion and not a result of her tumor or anything serious. We are notifying Johns Hopkins of what occurred so they can evaluate the situation as well.

The incident was announced at church and many people were praying for her. Thank you for your prayers!

I am working on a longer blog post about the race, but for now I wanted to write this quick post so nobody will worry.

Regardless, she made it! It was an imperfect end to what was otherwise a great weekend and a great race. More to follow…

Bling!

Marine Corps Historic Half on Sunday
May 13, 2011

From James:

I hope to post on Twitter on Sunday, ideally during the race, if I can. You can follow me @wjgage if you are interested. Thanks to everyone who is supporting us through this race, whether it’s by watching the kids, coming out to support us, running the race with us, or sending us your well wishes. It is truly a team effort!

Debby, I want you to know we got your card! So Young loved it! Thank you. Also, thanks for the big letters and high contrast. Anybody who looks out for So Young’s disability like that is great in my book.

We’re meeting with some people for lunch at Applebee’s on Saturday after the race (at least, that’s the plan right now) if anybody who reads this blog is going to be down there. We hope to limp to the restaurant by noon or so. It’s the one off Plank Road in Central Park, pretty close to the start and finish lines.

And away we go! We’ll be sure to post a race report next week with photos of us looking all cool and athletic.

Three Months After Treatment
May 12, 2011

From James:

If you remember, please pray for our friend Ellen, whose father is in the hospital after a heart attack. Also pray for our friends Mak and Pannie. Pannie’s mother is ill from cancer. There are so many people in need of prayer and support. Even if you just pause right now for a moment to pray…

It has been over three months since February 2, when So Young’s radiation treatment ended. (She did not undergo chemotherapy and, God willing, never will.) The comments we receive on this blog continue to be a source of encouragement for both of us, and even more so the tangible encouragements we receive every day from family and friends.

For example, this coming Friday, May 13, will mark 6 full months of receiving meals from family and friends. Yoon and Rose brought the first meal on November 13, 2010. Shortly thereafter, Hayong began coordinating them, among many other aspects of the care we have received. She has extended their delivery one month at a time, as it has continued to be evident that people want to give in some way. We receive two meals a week in this way, but each lasts two nights at a minimum, so that provides for four dinners. Mom also makes a home-cooked meal for us at least once a week, and again this meal lasts at least two nights. We literally think of these meals as manna from heaven — a direct gift from God.

Three months after treatment means we are halfway to the true “end” of treatment, in a sense. Our radiation oncologist, Dr. Kristin Redmond, told us that radiation continues to work for roughly 6 months after it ends, meaning that, if the tumor is going to shrink, it will do so for that amount of time. The true end of treatment will be August 2. Then we will know just what effect it had.

So Young is doing very well under the circumstances. Her eyesight is still quite bad, but it is good enough that she can see the “big picture” — people, cars, etc. — without much detail. Reading is very difficult. You won’t see her picking up a book to read. She is enjoying audio books more these days, however, and we own an iPad, which she initially did not like but now has taken to because it is easy to zoom in. She reads large letters slowly, and then only material that has good contrast (e.g., black on white). She often can’t recognize faces immediately, so don’t be surprised if she mistakes you for someone else or has to ask who you are. Driving is out of the question, and that limits her daily activities quite a bit.

So Young is in great physical shape, obviously, given that she is running 3 – 10 miles regularly as she prepares for this Sunday’s Marine Corps Half Marathon (13.1 miles). She is experiencing a lot more aches and pains this time. Her pace is also slower than usual. Her reduced performance is understandable given that she is fresh out of radiation, which is known to wear you down, let alone the fact that she has a brain tumor. She is very hard on herself about her performance at times. 

General fatigue still persists. It is especially hard for her to get up in the morning. I noticed this symptom since before she received any kind of treatment or medication, especially right before her biopsy surgery last year.

Her appetite continues to be poor. Food tastes funny to her, she says. The idea of a food might make her happy, but when it comes down to eating it, well…

We have had an eventful few weeks. Shannon and Lindsay were baptized on May 1, affirming the faith in Christ that they have had since their mom led them to Jesus years ago. Lindsay ran a 5k race and auditioned for the school talent show, playing the piano. Shannon performed in a chorus concert and has started to show interest in cheerleading.

Here are a few excellent pictures of the baptisms, courtesy of Bernard, Shannon’s youth leader. The man in the pictures is our pastor, JP, who also baptized his son that day.

Shannon Gives Her Testimony

Shannon Gives Her Testimony (Bravely)

Shannon Is Baptized

Shannon Is Baptized (She Didn’t Drown!)

Lindsay Gives Her Testimony

Lindsay Gives Her Testimony (Courageously)

Lindsay Is Baptized

Lindsay Is Baptized (She Made It Through!)

Happy Mother’s Day!
May 8, 2011

From So Young:

Dear Mom,

I hope you feel loved and appreciated all the time, but especially on this day. I was overcome by emotion today, because every Mother’s Day and every special holiday reminds me that my mother is absent. I still miss Mom so very much. It’s been 11 years. I’m sure you miss your mom, too.

I am so thankful when I think of you. In you I have a loving mom and grandmother for our girls. Thank you for being here for us, especially in these recent hard times. Thank you for being at every dance recital, piano recital, and choral concert. You’ve been here for all of it, communicating to us that we matter to you. You have always treated me closer than a daughter-in-law. You are a true blessing to me everyday. I pray that God will repay you for your love, generosity, and kindness.

I love you, Mom.