Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Probably a Migraine
March 19, 2012

From James:

As I saw it, there were two-worst case possible causes of So Young’s extreme headache on Thursday that resulted in a trip to the ER: intracranial pressure (ICP) or bleeding in the brain. Today’s MRI and the subsequent consultation confirmed that it was neither. Dr. Redmond, our radiation oncologist at Johns Hopkins, said that So Young’s tumor looks “terrific” (as tumors go) and essentially unchanged since our last visit six weeks ago. This is a relief, because a year ago, So Young had two similar headaches, and at that time our neurosurgeon was considering installing a shunt to relieve the pressure in her brain. Dr. Redmond suggested that we talk to our family practice doctor about the possibility that it is a migraine and approaches for preventing a recurrence.

My main concern is to have a plan for differentiating between harmless and harmful headaches in So Young in the future. Dr. Redmond said that she immediately became concerned about bleeding in the brain when she heard about So Young’s headache and nausea on Thursday. She said that a trip to the ER was the right thing to do. However, she agreed that the trip doesn’t need to be repeated every time such a headache occurs. I simply need to be able to tell the difference between it and something more serious.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support over the past few days. Mom and Dad really stepped in today. Mom cared for the girls after school and fed us all a feast for dinner. Dad took over when she had to go to her Bible study, while So Young and I were still driving home, doing the Tour of DC Traffic from Baltimore to Woodbridge.

Mom and Dad, we’re so grateful for you. We aspire daily to be the kind of great parents you are, and we hope to be the same kind of grandparents as well someday.

Dear Dad
June 19, 2011

From James:

I’ve decided to honor my dad with this post. I guess I could have written him a private letter, but I feel like others should get a chance to hear about him, too. If you read this and feel compelled, feel free to respond with a post — long or short — about your own dad, to honor him.

Dear Dad,

There are so many things about you that amaze me, so much you have accomplished in this life. B-52 pilot. Air Force colonel. Soccer champion. Supreme negotiator and salesman. Georgetown MBA. Incredible work ethic. Exemplary provider. Supreme handyman and woodworker. And how did you land Mom? I mean, you’re a charming guy and all, but she was way out of your league…

More than that though, I want you to know that I admire your character, the man you are inside. I remember hearing you do the congregational prayer today. (I would say, “Nice prayer,” by the way, but I don’t want that to be your only reward, if you know what I mean, so I’ll refrain.) I thought (and I was praying, too, mind you), “My dad is such a tough guy. But he is a man of deep emotions. How can he be both?”

Your love for me and my family is so evident. I know it hasn’t always been easy for you to express that love to me. I’ve been really proud that you’ve been able to say “I love you” since I became an adult, and we even do those sort of  one-armed “man hugs” every once in a while. You initiated all of that, by the way. I didn’t. But you didn’t have to do that to show it. I can tell.

I remember how you just so desperately wanted to help when the world started crashing down around us seven months ago. You were ready to do anything, but the situation didn’t readily lend itself to what you are best at. Soon, you took on our house projects with gusto, combining your repair and maintenance know-how with your financial means to help us. So Young can see so much better with the new lights on the main level because of what you did. We were just talking about that last night. Also, the back fence is well on its way. I could never have done either without you, and those are just two examples among many. You are an amazing servant and giver/provider.

There is also the love you have for Mom. Forty years of marriage to your “bride,” as you proudly call Mom. That is such a model for all of us to follow. It shows deep character — a commitment to integrity and fidelity that is so rare today. So Young and I often remark to each other that we can tell you two really love each other. Your commitment is a rock, and it will be for generations to come. I want to have that fierce, unwavering devotion to my bride as well.

You may have never noticed it, but you are also a great encourager to me and my family. I find it fascinating that a man who is so tough on the outside can also bolster others up so effortlessly. I think of how you have encouraged So Young during the toughest times. For example, when So Young was in the emergency room after the half marathon last month, you just sort of materialized at the hospital within minutes of my phone call. You were there with strong words of encouragement for So Young and all of us, like some kind of an Air Force colonel angel or something. It seems like a small thing, but it is emblematic of so much. We won’t soon forget it and all the ways you lift us up.

Dad, I really want to honor you. I hope this takes some steps in that direction. As you prayed, we dads aren’t always perfect. As a father myself, I know exactly what you mean, and I face that every day. But you have done so well.

I love you, Dad.

Love,

James

Two Months After Treatment
April 2, 2011

From James:

First of all, the kids are great. Their parents are still learning to be parents, but the children are doing a stellar job. They have a new routine that involves a great deal of Daddy and Nanna time, which the girls don’t seem to notice all that much but Mom and I enjoy. Lindsay had to drop ballet when So Young was first diagnosed almost five months ago because of the crisis of the moment, but otherwise they continue with their activities and are doing well socially and in school.

Sensitive and volatile, Lindsay was the one we were most worried about early on. Much has improved. Mom has taught us a lot about how to respond with the right amount of structure, discipline, and compassion. Although she isn’t doing ballet now, she is the most active of the girls, as part of the running club,  piano, and chorus, and volunteering at the school library three times a week. Here is a picture of Lindsay at last week’s chorus concert, smiling because music is her gift.

Lindsay at Chorus

Shannon continues to be bright and ambitious, constantly reading and laboring on her many writing projects. She will not settle until she is a real “published author” (no vanity press, mind you), and I believe that given her talents and drive, she someday will be. Also, her sense of humor is incredible: She laughs at my jokes!

Audrey is a typical kindergartener, except that she was born with the “Command Gene” and is pretty sure she runs the house. She isn’t afraid to talk to anybody or tell them what to do. This is counter-balanced by her calm, levelheaded constitution and enthusiasm for housework or work of any kind.

All of that is to say that the girls are fine. They don’t ask too many questions about Mommy. They pray for her. Outwardly, they don’t seem worried. They are mostly concerned about her loss of eyesight, which has direct, practical implications for them. Shannon has asked some more penetrating questions. I can only respond by saying we don’t know the outcome and therefore can’t assume the worst about tomorrow. Today has enough worries of its own.

So Young weaned off steroids entirely a few days ago after a previous, failed attempt to do so. Now she is getting headaches again. I called Johns Hopkins yesterday afternoon. They said it could just be a symptom of a sort of withdrawal from the steroids themselves, like when you stop drinking coffee and get a headache. They decided we should wait over the weekend and see if the headaches get better. If they got worse, it could be edema (swelling of the brain), caused by either the radiation, although it seems too far after the treatment for it to be that, or the tumor itself.

Last night, a few hours after I talked to JH, So Young appeared to start developing one of the very severe, throbbing headaches that is a sign of edema. We have been through these before, and they are a nightmare. I didn’t want to mask the headache because I wanted to see if it really was one of the “big ones,” but I also couldn’t stand to see her in so much pain, so I gave her Motrin, and it went away. The bottom line is that she may end up back on steroids or, eventually, with surgery to install a shunt, as I’ve said before. Please pray for So Young, as these headaches are painful and scary for her.

I was talking to my friend KT the other day about how I’m surprised that I’m not more emotional about this situation all the time. Yes, I have my moments, but for the most part, I try to be objective and clear-headed about it. I speculated that it is because I can get highly compartmentalized: strong emotions over here, practical, “get it done” mindset over there, and never the twain shall meet. Hilariously, KT suggested that I get another compartment to mediate between the other two.

So while I would ask that you pray that I get another compartment, I’ll just ask that you pray for wisdom and a lot of strength.

First Week After Radiation
February 11, 2011

“‘I will not leave you as orphans…'” — Jesus, John 14:18

From James:

This was the first full week without radiation. (Radiation ended on February 2.) We are adjusting to a new routine at home. The trip back and forth to Baltimore made us long for the way things were before the diagnosis. Well, I suppose we would long for those days regardless, but it is comforting to have a routine that does not involve getting irradiated.

So Young is resuming activities that she hasn’t been doing regularly in quite some time. Since treatment has ended, she plays a very active role in getting the kids ready for school every morning. She has started making everybody’s breakfast and packing lunch for them. I help, although I have to admit that I am now spoiled in this regard. I drive the younger kids to school, and Mom picks them up. So Young often makes dinner for the family, but I am making dinner more often now and am actually excited about the opportunity to cook more.

We are still receiving meals — twice a week or more — from generous neighbors, friends, and family. My work bought us a number of frozen meals from Let’s Dish that we are eating as well.

This week was rather busy, with So Young spending time with friends on most days. One difference between now and just after the diagnosis is that we don’t worry as much about her being home alone. In fact, she enjoys it, because it gives her an opportunity to rest and organize things (she has become a big organizer). She also tries to get a run in every day. Training for the half marathon starts February 21!

So Young is in good health generally. Her major symptoms are vision loss from the tumor  and tiredness from the radiation.

Her vision is still quite bad. She can’t drive (of course) and struggles to read and therefore usually doesn’t try to. There are signs that her eyesight has improved, however. With effort, she can read words with relatively small fonts. She can cook, although identifying the “done-ness” of meat is hard. My mom and I insist that So Young’s vision has improved, but So Young still thinks it is because she is just adjusting to her condition. She says that in the middle of her eye there is “static” and that there are spots of darkness. She says it’s sad but tries not to complain, which really is true. She might get frustrated, but she doesn’t whine about it at all. We are hopeful that in few months her vision will be restored.

So Young takes a nap every day if possible. When she can’t, she feels tired, and there is a cumulative effect if she lacks rest over a few days. The steroids she is taking also (paradoxically) keep her up at night. (One praise is that So Young is weaning off the steroids, which have helped in many ways but also have bad side effects.)

A lot of people ask how the kids are doing, and frankly they are doing great. There was  period where we had some difficulty, but the structure that my mother provided, along with firm discipline, resolved the problem for the most part. I don’t know that there are no psychological effects in the children, but they seem just about the same as they were before the diagnosis.

One quick anecdote to show how we’ve been blessed in this situation. I’ve told a few people about this. We have received a lot of money from our friends at Ambassador Bible Church and my workplace. We received a generous amount before, all of which was used to pay doctor’s bills. (I only use the money for So Young’s medical treatment.) More recently, I was taking an inventory of the amount I was about to pay, essentially outflow from my bank account to the various healthcare providers. I then added up how much I had received from the church and work: precisely the same amount I was about to pay to the doctors. If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. It is as if God is saying, “Yes, I know this is hard, and sometimes you might feel abandoned, but I love you and am with you. You are not alone.”

How It Began: Part 3
February 4, 2011

From James:

This is the third in a series of posts describing the events leading up to the biopsy, when we began writing this blog.

After the initial diagnosis, the hours and days that followed were intense and emotional. First, there was a deep sense of shock and sadness — a feeling that So Young’s life was being cut short. We cried and prayed a lot. Second, a sense of urgency took over me. I somehow realized that time was of the essence in terms of selecting a neurosurgeon and pursuing the next steps, whatever they might be.

Just after we got off the phone with the neurologist with the news, I immediately called my mom, who I swear rushed over in 10 minutes for what is normally a 20-minute drive. She was there with us during the hardest time, just as she always is.

I also called Pastor Kenji, who I’m sure was dumbfounded but prayed with us over the phone.

Shannon arrived home shortly. It was a strange situation. She had a slumber party scheduled for that night for her twelfth birthday, but obviously the moment was too intense for us, and there was no way we could handle that. We had to cancel it quickly, which meant that we had to tell her about So Young’s condition. She is bright and asked a lot of questions. We tried to keep it vague but could not. I just remember sitting in her room, telling her the best way I could, and then her sitting on the floor and crying. Nothing prepares you for that.

Dad soon came over, too. We had pizza, and Mom and Dad left.

So Young and I cried ourselves to sleep that night and woke up crying the next day. It’s hard to describe the emotional intensity of that time. When you receive a diagnosis like that, it is as if you are already grieving, but of course you don’t really know the outcome. Also, we became very reflective about life, particularly our life together and as a family. We cried a lot about the kids and the potential of them losing their mom. We cried about losing each other.

Underneath it all, when you go through this kind of thing, you get a very heavy sense of the sovereignty of God that we are all subject to. He can allow whatever hardship in our life that He wants, whenever He wants to allow it. We can’t predict or understand it completely. Still, through all of this, we have realized not just his autonomy and power, but also his love for us.

<< Part 2 | Part 4 >>

Q&A
January 13, 2011

From James:

How did Shannon’s sleepover go last Friday (January 7)?

It was an exercise in extreme middle schooler decadence. In case you aren’t familiar with extreme middle schooler decadence, it involves the excessive consumption of sugar and caffeine, excessive inhalation of helium from balloons (which I thought I was buying because they were pretty), excessive watching of “chick flicks,” extreme sleep deprivation, and extreme messiness. For some reason, this time they left out extreme noisy-ness, which is normally included. Thankfully, the decadence was contained in the basement.

When I surveyed the aftermath, I discovered that the floor was literally carpeted with candy wrappers. They even slept on candy wrappers. I found a drink that consisted of punch sprinkled with popcorn and laced with Hershey Rolos.

How is So Young doing?

She has lost a lot of hair because of the radiation and feels bloated because of the medication. (Steroids cause a lot of water retention.) Besides the tiredness, those are the two side effects that are bothering her the most right now. The hair loss was traumatic. So Young couldn’t see that she was losing hair, until one night she noticed significant bald spots on both sides of her head. Nevertheless, her hair covers them nicely at the moment.

Her vision is terrible. She has very bad light sensitivity (meaning normal lighting feels very bright to her), which is why you might see her with sunglasses indoors. Flourescent light is particularly bothersome. In terms of her actual eyesight, she can’t tell if her vision is getting worse, but she knows that it is very bad.

The good news is that So Young is adjusting to her disability. On Sunday, she made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the family, with some assistance. She also made chicken soup for Dad, because he has been very sick for a while. She is on an organizing binge. She thinks she is doing this because it enables her to be more in control of things. It also helps her better know where things are around the house.

How is everything else going?

Great! Some of the biggest blessings include the people who have signed up to drive So Young, the dinners we are receiving (still coming since mid-November), and my mom’s constant care and help.

People have signed up to drive So Young every day until her treatment is complete. All slots are filled. I hoped that our friends and church family would help out, but I had no idea they would do so to this extent. Some people have even taken vacation time from work to drive, and everybody has adjusted their personal lives significantly to help out. What an incredible demonstration of God’s love.

What I have mentioned on the blog is just part of it. Some day I want to write a blog entry listing all of the things people have done for us. It will be a long blog entry.

How are you doing? Are you taking care of yourself?

Of course. (Cough, cough.) No, but seriously, I feel a lot better, and yes, I know, I need to get a different doctor. I’m actually meeting with him today.

A Great Start to the New Year
January 1, 2011

From James:

“Your mother has a brain tumor and oh by the way your birthday party is canceled.”

That’s a brief summary of how Shannon was told about So Young’s condition. Unfortunately, November 12 was both the day of So Young’s diagnosis and the day of Shannon’s 12th birthday party. Well, we eventually rescheduled it for yesterday night. Then Shannon got sick, so we canceled it again. Poor kid. She can be pretty dramatic when she’s upset, but this time I sympathized. We are determined to reschedule it as soon as we can. We also canceled the family get-together (more on that later).

But there were lots of bright spots over the past couple of days. On Thursday night, Grace came over and slaved in our kitchen for hours to cook a traditional Korean soup that So Young makes every New Year’s. She knew So Young always makes it. She also knew that me or one of the kids helping So Young make it would end up tasting like — well, a soup made by a blind lady, a couple of kids, and a dude who can’t cook. (That’s an exaggeration, actually. So Young still has “the touch,” and the girls are quite the accomplished cooks in their own right.)

On Friday morning, Jin took So Young out for breakfast and shopping. While they were gone, Elisa brought a care package that she, Valentina, Heather, and others in their small group put together for us. The kids were delighted. Notes of encouragement (with a sense of humor, which we love), some great verses, sweets, games, and most importantly of all, 15 Peanuts books that the girls got to fight over, lovingly donated from Heather’s vast collection. So Young was very encouraged when she got home. Below is a picture of Lindsay enjoying one of the gifts while Audrey watches in misery, awaiting her turn.

Enjoying the Gift

What it means to be loved by the church used to be an abstraction to me.

So Me called and spontaneously volunteered to host the family get-together, which was very gracious given that she had a baby 3 weeks ago. So Young went, but the rest of us were banished. Josh and family and Paul and Olivia swung by our house afterward anyway. Last night, So Young told me how she felt so loved by her big brother Josh, who has shown much care and concern for her. Later on, Paul watched the girls while they played in complete chaos and So Young and I went out for a bit.

All in all, a great start to the new year.