Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month

I suppose I'll just slide in on the tail end of this. Better late than never, eh?

I could bore you with statistics about brain cancer.  (If you are interested in this, click on over to my "About" page, and from there on to the American Cancer Society.) Or I could beg you for money to develop cures.  But instead, I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you how you might support a family with a cancer diagnosis in their midst. I think that this would probably be much more applicable, and hopefully more helpful, for your everyday life.

Ten Ways to Support a Family that has a Cancer Diagnosis

1. Go ahead and ask...

With a tube coming out of her nose, Charlotte used to look, well, a bit different from most kids.  It's okay to ask questions.  Here are some of the most tasteful questions that I've been asked.

"Tell me about your child." Okay, not a question, per se, but hands down one of the most compassionate statements that I've received.  This covers just about anything that the loved one wants to share.  For me, that's just about everything.  But other parents might not be so open.  

"What is her diagnosis?"  Don't ignore the elephant in the room which is the tube in her nose (or the wheelchair, or whatever else.)  Just ask sweetly.

"What is her prognosis?"  This is a very polite way of asking, "Is she going to live?"  It's important to be polite period, but it is also particularly helpful to use big words if young children are within earshot.  Don't be surprised if the answer is one thing one day, and something very different the next.  During Charlotte's course, we've thought we'd bury her within 3-month's time, then we thought the chemo might work, then we thought the chemo was working and curing her cancer, and now her last scan showed more and more cancer, so her future is, again, up in the air.  Don't think we're being dishonest or exaggerating; just hop on the roller coaster with us.

"What is the current game plan?"  This is a great follow-up question to the previous two.  The answer will explain what treatments are currently going on and how busy the family is with doctors appointments, etc.

Lastly, while Charlotte does have brain cancer, she also has a BIG personality.  Ask: "What does Charlotte like to do?"  Because she is far more than her cancer...

 2. ... And then listen.

   Don't be afraid of the uncomfortable answers.  Don't fear the bad news.  Just listen and help your friend process what is happening.
    I call one of my dear friends after almost every appointment at Duke.  Just talking to her about the medical stuff helps me process what is happening, as well as what to do next.  Even though she does not have a medical background, Laura offers a listening ear, and letting me think aloud helps me work out Charlotte's medical care.  

3. Fix a meal.

My friend, Wendi, is a hospitality genius.  Here's how... she called me one day with this message: "Hi Lauren!  I just made you a meal and am wondering when I can bring it over.  No rush if you are busy; it's in the freezer, just waiting for you whenever you are ready."  Get it?  Let's stop saying, "Let me know if you need anything, okay?"  Just make it, then ask when you can bring it over.  Because the truth is, most of us are too proud to ask for help out of the blue.  Need to organize a group for ongoing meals to a family?  Mealtrain it.  Do you live out of town?  Mail them a gift card for take-out. (P.S. Like my loaf?  Find the recipe here.  Yummmm.)

4. Plant their garden.

Melissa didn't ask.  She just did it on a day when she knew we'd be out of town and couldn't protest.  And I am so very grateful.  Do you not like to garden?  Then do something else that you love and are good at.  Friends have been so kind as to paint my toenails, babysit my children, give my kids a free farm tour, and cook meals, among other things.  What are you good at and what do you love doing?  Well, do that  for your friend.  Bless them with your giftings.  Especially if it's an "ordinary" thing like gardening or cooking.  With cancer taking over life, it's usually these "everyday" things that slide in our homes. (Or "outside of our homes" which must drive the neighbors crazy...)

5. Gift them in their love language.

   Maybe it's just me, but cancer has a very isolating effect.  Some friends don't stick around.  Some do, but they are still incredibly busy with their own families.  I get that.  And still, sometimes I feel quite lonely and as though people have forgotten.  Until I get a gift.
   I have come home to lovely fabric on the doorstep and have cut into it within just a few days.  Think: what would bless your friend?  Does she have long trips in the car, shuttling the kid to doctors' appointments?  A book on CD would be great.  A new magazine subscription to read while waiting for the doctor would also be welcome.  Are they inpatient, living at the hospital for weeks on end?  Mail them a book or gift cards for a local restaurant (hospital cafeteria food gets old real fast).

6. Cancer affects the whole family... Be sensitive to the other children.

   First, watch what you say in front of them.  For our part, our kids know that Charlotte has a brain tumor, cancer, and is disabled.  What they don't know is that this cancer might kill her.  Why?  Because right now, Charlotte is alive and is doing well.  There is no need to burden their little hearts with such weighty matters - yet.
   Second, ask how the other children are doing, too.  Sometimes when we run into folks, they ask how Charlotte is doing.  They say "hello" to her only.  And they act like our other three children don't exist.  This is very discouraging.  The reality is, we go through periods of intense stress in our household.  If Charlotte is inpatient, then my husband and I live at the hospital with her and our other children are thrust on relatives.  Or if we get bad news, then we spend a few days crying.  And the kids pick up on that.  Some days, all I've had time to do is dispense Charlotte's medications.  So, please include the other kids in your greetings and in your gift-giving - they are more affected than even I will ever know.

7. Reach out and Stay Connected.

   The internet is this funny little thing where you can read and read and feel like you are connected to me, but I might neither know you personally nor the fact that you are even reading.  Even good friends of mine can feel like we are staying connected, though I don't really know anything about their life.  So when your friend updates their Caringbridge/Carepage site, drop them a little note.  Celebrate their good news.  Sympathize their bad news.  (Listen, I am the first to admit my diagnosis: foot-in-mouth syndrome. So I'll just help us all out by saying that, "I'm so sorry" is never the wrong thing to say.)  
   Even better, do like my friend, Jillian, and send a full-length email.  Or really go the distance by breaking out pen, paper, and 46-cent (what?!) stamp.  We love to get out of our little cancer bubble and hear about all the happenings in your lives, too!

8.  Respect boundaries.

   Offer your medical advice once.  Then respect the family's decision, and drop it.  Why?  Because a lot of this is gray, Baby, and we're all just doing our best.  The thing I've learned is: Doctors say that they've been "practicing medicine" for "x" number of years. That's right... "practicing."  Because there are very few cases that are black and white, cut and dry, take this medicine and be cured.
  Also, just a reminder: don't go visit a friend on chemo if you are sick, or even appear to be sick.

A few team members at this year's AAU event.

9. Be involved in their "cause."

   Do what you love to do, and make it a fundraiser for their cause.  One of my neighbors hosted a jewelry party, and our former church did a dessert auction.  I quilt and gratefully accept the quilting skills of others.  Short on time or skills?  Nothing says, "We still care and want to help," like cold, hard cash.

10.  Give a "medical gift" to those with a medical need.

   Donate blood.  Charlotte has had so many blood transfusions that I've lost count.  If you are able, donate blood.  Hey, free cookie!
   Donate cord blood.  If you are pregnant, or might be in the future, then please consider donating the blood from the umbilical cord.  This is a procedure in which, after giving birth to your baby, a medical professional will collect the blood from the umbilical cord and store it for future use.  I did not bank any of the blood of my first three kids.  Why?  Because banking cord blood privately does cost thousands of dollars.  So I thought it was something "rich" people did.  Also, in the general population, the odds are poor that the blood would be used for curative purposes in one's immediate family.  (Who ever thinks it will be their kid with cancer?)  Furthermore, in my pregnancy books, I had read that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages privately banking cord blood for use in the immediate family.  What I did not know, is that the AAP highly endorses publicly banking cord blood.
   To learn more about the why and how of cord blood banking, visit Be the Match.

One last thing to note is that it is so helpful to be offered support at every step of the journey.  Many people reach out right at the time of diagnosis, or maybe at the time of a major surgery, but the truth is, trucking along day in day out for years at a time gets tiring.  So don't forget about your friend on the ordinary days.  They'd love to hear from you!

Alright, stepping down off of my soapbox now.  (I hope that wasn't too bad...)  Now it's your turn to chime in... If you are a family living with the stresses of cancer or another long-term illness or special need, what has helped you?  Or if you've been on the giving end of things, can you share what you've done that seems to have been particularly helpful?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Les Amis" Baby Quilt

Believe me when I say, I totally lucked out a few weeks ago.  My sister, Theresa, was following the quilt auction, and while we had quite a few baby quilts up for auction, she did not see the one she was looking for.  Her best friend, Heather, is having her first baby this summer, so Theresa was looking for a quilt to go with the baby boy's nursery.

Meanwhile, I'd been drooling over these fabrics: Les Amis by Patty Sloniger.  My husband has no problem with me buying fabric, so long as it's for a specific, meaningful project.  Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a good enough reason to splurge on these lovelies.

But Theresa emailed me, requesting a commissioned quilt.  I gladly agreed.  She then sent me a link to Heather's chosen nursery bedding, and when I saw the gray and white chevron from Pottery Barn, I immediately thought of these fabrics.

And you might really think I'm making this up when I tell you that her next link was to a patchwork quilt of these fabrics found on Etsy.  Oh, I would have screamed for joy had it not been naptime... Finally, a reason to buy and work with these fabrics!

What brought me even more joy was when the bundle of fabrics arrived on my doorstep, and I hadn't even paid a penny!  Free fabric!  (And boy, is it soft!)

So I whipped up this little ditty - 4-inch squares and a charcoal minky backing.

Here are some close-ups of the prints.  The sweet owlies are winking at you, Baby!

As a teenager, turtles were my favorite!

And here are all sorts of woodland creatures.  Who doesn't  love a woodpecker?

Though, I do think that "Socks the Fox" wins as my favorite.  Isn't he cute?  Not to mention spry...

Of course, the francophile in me loves this title print: "Les Amis de la Foret."

Had to throw in some burp cloths for good measure.

Here's the happy mother-to-be!  (Is it just me, or are you, also, having a hard time believing there's a baby bump behind that blanket?  You look great, Heather!)

Quilt Stats:
Measures: 33 x 46 inches
Made and quilted by: Me!
Fabrics: Les Amis by Patty Sloniger for Michael Miller and minky in charcoal

(The money for this quilt did go toward brain tumor research at Duke.  I just can't brag about how much because it was a gift.  Thanks for commissioning it, Theresa!  Also, if you happen to love it, like I do, you're in luck... there's plenty of extra fabric for a very similar to quilt to debut in the auction next spring!)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Race Day Quilts

Now that our quilt auction is over, the quilting is really going to start to slow down.  But first, I have some things to wrap up.

We took two quilts to auction on the day of the Angels Among Us event on April 20.  First, we took the Angels Among Us quilt.  The bidding closed on the online auction at $500, so this was the beginning bid that Saturday morning.  During the day, many people walked by our booth in the "marketplace" to admire and compliment the quilt.  There was another family who loved it enough to bid on it, too.

Here's Charlotte and her "Mamaw." 

But in the end, and after some negotiation, my mother-in-law ensured that her daughter won the quilt.  And she paid $1,000 for it!  Thank you so much, again, to the Crooked Road Quilters' Guild for making the angel quilt, and to Christina for winning the auction and donating so generously to Duke's brain tumor program.

The second quilt which we took to auction was a generous donation that I named the Blueberry Crush quilt.  This quilt had so many lovely fabrics in it.  I really love it!  Unfortunately, I did not have time to photograph it, so I just pulled this photo from Sara's blog.

Blueberry Crush quilt by Sara Strange

Sara heard about our quilt auction from a post that Sarah Jane did on her blog, telling a bit of Charlotte's story and featuring this little quilt auction of ours.  (Which, by the way, was so kind and generous of Sarah Jane to do.)  Well, Sara Strange felt compelled to donate this quilt that she had made for her husband's grandparents, both who recently passed away, one from cancer.

After reading about us on the vast, world wide web, Sara discovered that we live in the same town.  And so how easy was that?  She touched base then swung by the following week.  This quilt is chock-full of such lovely fabrics; I was sad to see it go. I am so grateful, though, that it fetched $175 from a bidder at the auction.  Many thanks, Sara!

Now this last quilt, I had no part in.  I just want to show you some pictures because it is A-MA-ZING.

This quilt was donated to the silent auction at the event that day.  It eventually went for $250 (I think).  I was sad that I did not bid!  This quilt looks similar to the quilt that was showcased at the event last year, and which was one of the main reasons that I was inspired to start this auction.  The blue and white are Duke's colors, of course.

Ready for something really neat?

Can you see the angel on a cloud and the stars?  Yes, it's true: the quilting of this piece is the logo for the Angels Among Us event!  How amazing is that?  This design was repeated over and over again on the entire quilt.  I only show you one here because it's easiest to see in the picture that way.

I have no idea who did this quilt, but I am assuming that it is the same person who did the quilt last year.  If anyone out there knows this person, I'd love to be in touch.

Well, since the quilt auction is over, I will be posting much less frequently.  But I do still have some quilts to show you.  Coming up in the near future, I have two, privately commissioned baby quilts to show, then a larger, collaborative work for a brain tumor patient.

Don't go away!