Vladimir and a Thousand Terrible Things

Yesterday we had to go to the lab for JJ’s weekly blood test.

The drive to the lab was very beautiful. Last weekend’s ice storm was worse just north of us and there is still a lot of ice remaining on the trees there. It looks like a beautiful winter wonderland, although there are a lot of bent and broken trees everywhere. Ice storms do a lot of damage to trees. There are also a lot of people still without power, although the number grows less every day.

Because EJ is on vacation, we didn’t have to rush to leave so early. There are benefits to this, of course–such as not having to get up early and rush around–but also disadvantages. When we get to the lab early, we are usually the only ones in the waiting room. Because we got there later, the waiting room was filled with people. I always look at the people with the understanding that they all have a reason to be there. They all are sick or accompanying loved ones who are sick. Some faces are sad and worn, others less so. I wonder who the people are and what their stories are. I sometimes long to take a picture of all these faces, but I don’t because I don’t want to intrude in their lives. Most of them have enough to bear without having a camera capturing them.

EJ and I always go back with JJ to the room where he gets his blood drawn. We are his support and distraction, chatting with the technician and JJ to keep his mind off what is happening to him. JJ always dreads the Friday blood tests. He hates getting poked.

We mark time in two ways: One is when JJ makes it through an intense week of Chemo Every Day. That week is the hardest. “You’ve made it through another week of Chemo Every Day,” we say. “You are now 1/4 of the way through the difficult weeks of Chemo!” The other is when he makes it through a complete cycle. Each cycle involves one week of Chemo Every Day and two weeks of Chemo only on Mondays with blood tests on Friday. We told JJ on the way home yesterday that he has now officially made it through one complete cycle. Only three more to go.

Monday begins another cycle. It will be JJ’s second intense week of Chemo for five hours every day. We are mentally preparing for the exhausting week ahead. At least EJ doesn’t have to work next week.

JJ said yesterday afternoon that he thought he was beginning to lose his eyelashes. He has struggled with a headache all weekend. He learned that the headache is caused by him losing his hair. Before we left for the lab, we went through all the winter hats we had accumulated over the years to find one that was warm but light and soft because his bald head made him cold but a heavy, scratchy hat made his head hurt. We finally found one that was just right.

I was thinking yesterday that there are a thousand terrible things a person with cancer has to experience and endure, like port surgery, weekly blood tests, getting hooked up to IV’s, being at the Cancer Center for hours and hours. There is having to decide whether to keep the needle inserted in the port all week, which means having to being careful of it all night, or having it removed each day and reinserted in the morning. There is food that doesn’t taste good anymore, more intense smells, nausea, sleepless nights. There are headaches and emotional distress from losing hair, not just on the head, but other places too–even eyelashes. There is increased susceptibility to illness and huge antibiotic pills that we cut in two to make the pieces easier to swallow. There are injections needed because of low white blood cell counts–injections that cause the whole body to ache miserably for a couple of days afterwards. There is having to flush the toilet twice every time it’s used. There is nervous waiting in the doctor’s office to hear what the lab report reveals. Yes, a thousand terrible things.

But there is also love, support, prayers, kindnesses, tears, and laughter, which makes it bearable.

In the afternoon, EJ went to his friend’s place. RB had a load of wood for him. They filled the truck and EJ drove it home. We just have to stack it in our wood shed when we have time. While he was gone, I cleaned the house, did laundry, and made dinner.

Our regular Shabbat table.
Our regular Shabbat table.

Yesterday morning, since we didn’t have to rush, I made Challah bread for Shabbat. Making Challah Bread is a creative joy and it is relaxing. I enjoyed making it again. I haven’t been able to make it since Chemo began because Fridays have become so busy. I had time to let the bread rise and to braid it before we left for the lab. I put the bread near the woodstove to let it rise again while we were gone, but it got too hot and didn’t rise right. It still was beautiful and edible, but not as beautiful or tasty as it usually is. Oh, well. I made Ground Beef Yorkshire for our Shabbat meal. Usually I set the table very nicely with a tablecloth I ordered from Israel and very nice dishes, but we seem to be in a permanent state of tiredness so instead I brought the tzedakhah box, candles, bread, and wine into the living room and we said the blessings there. Then I dished up the food and brought it to my family and we ate while we relaxed in comfy living room chairs and couches. JJ wasn’t hungry, but he had eaten well all day. The Shabbat meal, whether sitting at the table or in the living room, begins a beautiful, peaceful, time of quiet resting.

Vladimir the Vicious

This morning I woke up after 6 a.m. When I came downstairs, I saw that the kitchen door was closed. The kitchen door is always open, held open by Vladimir. We bought Vladimir at a yard sale years ago, when JJ was younger. We decided to name it because it was cute. JJ asked, “So what should we name him?” I replied, “Let’s not name him a typical raccoon name like ‘Bandit’ or ‘Rocky.’ Let’s name him…..uhm, Vladimir because no one ever thinks to name a raccoon Vladimir.” So Vladimir he became. Vladimir’s cuteness is deceiving because he is actually very vicious and terrorizes us. He lurks near the kitchen door and occasionally attacks us as we walk by. Most people would say we simply stub our toes on him, but we know better. He rushes out and attacks when we least expect it. We then do a dance of pain, crying, “OUCH, OUCH, Vladimir just bit me again!” We should move him–and EJ has threatened to get rid of him–but Vladimir doesn’t bite all the time and he has become a permanent part of our home. What would we do without him to add a bit of excitement (and pain) to our lives? “He’s like Cato in the old Pink Panther movies,” I tell EJ. “He keeps us on our toes by attacking us unexepectedly.” (In the Pink Panther movies, Cato was a servant who was instructed to attack Clouseau unexpectedly to keep Clouseau’s combat skills and vigilance sharp. Cato often took these instructions to the point of ambushing Clouseau in his own house or at times when Clouseau obviously would prefer not to be disturbed.) Vladimir hasn’t attacked any of us in quite some time, but he attacked me yesterday. “OUCH, OUCH, Vladimir just bit me again! Stupid, stupid Vladimir!” I howled as I danced in pain.

Prince Humberdinck in The Princess Bride.
Prince Humberdinck in The Princess Bride.

Anyway, this morning the kitchen door was closed and the cats were all in the kitchen. I went into the kitchen and saw the broom leaning against the counter in front of the sink, the milk crates holding our gallon jugs of water pulled out into the room (our water isn’t tasty so we buy water to cook with), and a few other things out of place. Obviously, during the night there had been some excitement while I was upstairs sleeping. I studied the scene like a world-famous detective–or maybe like Prince Humperdinck studying the scene of the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black in The Princess Bride. I deduced that the cats had been after a mouse and that EJ and JJ had tried to help them catch it by exposing the mouse’s hiding places. I verified this with EJ later, and learned that I was correct. I am so skilled at deducing that I should be on NCIS or Castle, I think.

Today is Shabbat, our quiet day of rest. We will rest, relax, be together, study. Shabbat is a quiet oasis in a busy week.

4 Comments on “Vladimir and a Thousand Terrible Things

  1. Dear Teri I’m waiting for your first book to come out I love your writing and I can see how EJ and JJ have been busy with finding the mouse……I also feel the pain of the thousand painful things but also the way you all are handling it. My Shabbat is almost over just 2 more hours. I had a emotional day because my last radio program was broadcasted this morning and now it is definite I’m out of a job and have to see what Abba will have for me. I cried a lot and that was good too. So I was happy that I could be just do a study ( very good one about the lost sheep of Israel) and just take it easy. Love you all ❤


  2. I am so sorry that this was your last broadcast. I understand how hard it must be. Here is a LOVING HUG for you. Shavua Tov, a good week to you!


  3. Hi to one and all, we are so full of greatfulness TJ that you are able to put in print what all of you are experiencing in JJ’s illness. Reminds me of my Dad when I would spend time with him, it really never gets easier but just knowing that this journey is not alone, we are with you in this great time of prayer and intervention at Heaven’s door, we are keeping all of you in the arms of our Lord!!
    Our love to all of you.


  4. Thank you, Linda and Bob. We have such tremendous people on this journey with us from all over the world, including you two. It’s really quite amazing.

    Linda and Bob are very wonderfully sweet hair stylists. Linda always cuts my hair and her husband Bob cuts EJ and JJ’s hair. They also keep us in their prayers. Everyone should have such people in their lives. We love them deeply.


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