Our Story | Are We Riding on One Wheel? Or, Instead, Are We Free?

Katelyn Riding FreeWhenever I’m on a unicycle I feel free, I feel brave, I feel a ton of things.
– Katelyn, Our Daughter, 10

After Maureen and my trip to MD Anderson in Houston on Monday and Texas Oncology in Dallas on Tuesday, we returned home yesterday, reconnecting with our three children who started school on Monday. The start of school is a special time. It reconnects us with the idea that we can start afresh, start new… write a fresh chapter as my friend, Terri Wingham, would say.

This motif is a perfect backdrop to our journey the past few days, as we realized that the next several pages in our story were not the last pages of the previous chapter, but instead the first few pages of the next chapter. As I just wrote on my Facebook page:

How many times in life do we find ourselves riding on one wheel? How often do we find ourselves in a health situation, family situation or work situation, where all of a sudden we realize that the other wheel, the handlebars, the brakes and everything else is gone?

For the rest of this post to make the most sense, you really need to stop reading now and click on this link and watch the Uni-Saders trailer. It is just over 3 minutes and is being submitted to the SXSW Film Festival as a documentary. Katelyn, who made the quote above, is one of the two little girls holding hands. Ella, the other little girl, is one of her best friends. They are both in 4th grade, and you will see them holding hands in various spots of this video. Jimmy Agnew not only initiated this club but is also a 2nd grade teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. He is not just a great teacher but a really special human being. He has changed our daughter’s life.

As Maureen and I departed for Houston on Monday, we were anxious. We were nervous. Over the course of our 24 years of marriage, I’ve always felt like we are riding a bicycle built for two, flowing perfectly in tandem. Cancer has been really busy trying to invade our rhythm, but Maureen and my wheels aren’t just connected by a chain. They are connected by love. I am at my strongest as a human being, as a husband, as a father, as a business person when that love is driving me forward. I feel God’s presence every time I hold my wife’s hand or see her smile.

Without our love, the last few days could have been really scary. Actually, the last few days were scary. That emotion lurks around every corner in the fight with cancer. Love doesn’t make the fear go away; it just changes how much power fear has over you. In some ways fear is like the wall for a unicyclist just learning to ride. As Jimmy Agnew says in the UniSaders video, “Look where you want to go. You don’t need to look at the wall. The wall isn’t going anywhere.” As a result of Dr. Linda Chavez MacGregor and her team at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Joyce O’Shaugnessy at Texas Oncology in Dallas, Maureen and I are no longer looking at the wall with her cancer. Instead we are looking ahead of us.

For 24 years, I’ve known my Maureen is special. It appears her cancer cells are just as unique. That is the thing about cancer. Like us, it is not one big thing. It is unique, even when it looks to be the same. We have to understand its individual spokes in our cells to know exactly the right approach to combat it. We are on a path in the next several days to do just that, with another visit to MD Anderson ahead of us, for a biopsy to really get a firm understanding of the exact right approach to treat Maureen’s cancer cells and to explain to those cancer cells that they will have to stop their progression. In other words, we are about to write the first pages of our new chapter.

As we commence on this chapter, I come back to where I started and our daughter, Katelyn, and her unicycling club. I don’t suspect Maureen or I will ever figure out how to do what she does on her one wheel. However, she has taught us how to feel brave and how to feel free as we ride on one wheel into our ongoing fight with cancer. As we make that ride into the next chapter, I also realize that rather than a bicycle built for two, Maureen and I riding on our own wheels, but like Katelyn and Ella on their unicycles, we are riding while we hold hands.

Our Story | Taylor’s First Days

53f3ae9eac7ee9014f1c6f2cSo, the worst thing to do to a 10th grader is embarass them. Unfortunately, even though that is true, we are still going to embarrass our son, Taylor, with this post.

Today was the first day at the Upper School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. I didn’t make it last year, but Maureen and I were both there today, listening to the bagpipes play as the 9th to 12th graders processed around the campus with their advisories and then entered the Upper School chapel to ask God to bless them and their campus for the year ahead.

Today’s event made Maureen and I realize that what was once our story is now his story. Taylor is the oldest of our three children. He will be 16 on January 29. 2015. As the photo at the bottom makes clear, he is almost as tall as his mom. This means that he passed me in height a year ago. However, he has not just grown in height, but he has grown as a human being. We are really proud of him, because he is choosing each chapter in his own story wisely.

A little over 16 years ago, Taylor was still our story. He had not been born yet. We were eagerly awaiting his arrival. I still remember Maureen coming into our bedroom, after using one of those pregnancy tests, and saying to me, still not quite awake, “Good morning, Dad.” Trust me, after hearing those words, I was awake, very awake.

As we fight a bunch of cancer cells in Maureen’s body that have gone nutso, it is important to think back to the birth of our children, because in those moments, our cells were doing what they were meant to do. They came together in the ultimate act of love and created life. They created lives that would simply not be possible but for those two particular cells coming together at that exact moment. Those lives and the resulting love that now exists have come full circle, shining their light back into Maureen and my life as we prepare for the battle ahead.

At the birth of each of our children, I have written a poem on the day of their birth, as we sat in the delivery room. Well, I sat; Maureen, then, like now, did the hard work, always with a smile. We’ve never known the sex of our children before their birth, so we’ve always had two names, just in case. Taylor would have been Lauren, if things hadn’t turned out as they did. So when you see LT in the following poem, you’ll understand what it means. This is his poem from his very first, first day.

Our Child to Hold

A new life is dawning, a soul is awakening; A product of love, nine months in the making.

A walk up the aisle, our vows at the alter; God watches over us to be sure we don’t falter.

A moment of closeness, husband and wife; God reaches out with His gift of life.

Baby LT, alive in the womb; Kicking and moving to make some more room.

This is the moment, a small twinge of fear; Our hearts are pounding as baby draws near.

All of the waiting, all of the scheming; This is the moment of which we’ve been dreaming.

Our hands are clasped, one final push; Our world is changed with one giant woosh.

Inset with diamonds, a band of gold; Today we’ve been given a child to hold.

Our Story | Not Cancer’s

Scan259_2Have you ever noticed? Have you ever noticed that when faced by a tough disease, like cancer, suddenly all the stories become about the cancer? Not us? I gaze at the pages of other dear friends here at CaringBridge and interwoven in between what their disease are doing are the real stories, the stories about trips to college, weddings, family times, love. Life.

We’ve hit a rough patch, but yesterday afternoon, it dawned on me that rather than telling stories of metastasizing triple negative advanced breast cancer, we were instead going to start telling love stories on the pages of our CaringBridge. There will be a lot of them from me, because I like to write and tell stories. There will be some from Maureen, and there will be some from our kids. This is our story, not cancer’s. Cancer, the “Emperor of All Maladies,” has not only taken too many lives, but it takes away our stories, too.

We, the Thompsons, are taking a stand and saying no more. Are we faced by many important decisions about treatment? Yes, of course, we are, like everyone fighting their version of this stupid disease. We’ll tell those stories when needed, but starting today we are telling the stories of 25 years of love and life together. We’re going to fight like hell to have another 25 to share, but there is absolutely nothing cancer can do to erase the last 25, and let me tell you, 25 years with a woman as beautiful and amazing as Maureen is a real gift.

Before I close this first post of “Our Story, Not Cancer’s,” I will tell a quick story about the early days in Chicago when Maureen and I were first dating. Of course, to be honest, this story is so early in our relationship together, it may have been my wishful thinking that we were dating. From Maureen’s perspective, it was more likely something along the lines of that crazy guy she worked with at Apple asking to go see a movie and nothing more… 🙂

However, our Apple office used to be at 10 S. Wacker in Chicago, right in the heart of the loop. At the time, I lived in the Chicago suburbs, and Maureen lived in Lincoln Park, north of downtown. I used to come into the Apple office on the weekends to get some work done but to also put myself close enough so that when I got up the courage to call Maureen at her apartment in the afternoon, it would be easy to pick her up, grab dinner and go see a movie. I will never forget a Saturday in February of 1989 when she said yes. We saw Rain Man, grabbed dinner at a restaurant in the Hancock and walked around. It was a day of joy, and it is part of Our Story.