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Thursday, October 29, 2009

“Because I want to get better……” KaSandra Dang (KK)…2009

GOING BACK IN TIME THIS WEEK...

I WROTE THIS POST BELOW ON THE AIRPLANE RETURNING FROM MEMPHIS WITH THE FAMILY IN LATE OCTOBER OF 2009, IT WAS FIVE MONTHS BEFORE KK's PASSING. I WAS BITTER AND ANGRY AND SCARED ABOUT KaSandra's CANCER RETURNING, AND I STRUGGLED WITH HOW TO BE MORE SUPPORTIVE, AND WHERE TO FIND STRENGTH IN MY OWN WEAKNESS.

MY FAITH WAS BEING TESTED AT THE TIME IN WAYS THAT I DID NOT KNOW OF THEN BUT THAT I KNOW NOW. IT WAS THEIR BEAUTIFUL SPIRIT THAT WAS GUDING ME, MY FAMILY, CHANGING ME, AND ALL THE WHILE I NEVER EVEN KNEW IT. OH, HOW I WISH I WERE A SMARTER MAN BACK THEN. I KNOW THAT I AM A BETTER MAN NOW BECAUSE OF THEM.

THE LORD REALLY DOESN'T WORK IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS AS THE SAYING GOES. HE WORKS IN THE OPEN, RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR VERY EYES. HE DOESN'T PUSH US, RATHER HE HOLDS OUT BOTH OF HIS HANDS AND LEADS US. HE TEACHES HIS LESSONS WITH LOVE, THROUGH LOVE, WITH THOSE THAT WE LOVE MOST AND WHO LOVE US MOST.

THANK YOU Katrina...THANK YOU KaSandra...THANK YOU Luc...THANK YOU Tuyet...THANK YOU LORD...



I know, I know, Life is beautiful, Life is precious, Life is meaningful, Life is a freaking gift from God! Unfortunately, Life is also a struggle, a challenge, a chore, and a uniquely personal test for each of us. We exist in a world with a perpetual forecast of “sunny with a chance of showers and oh yeah, watch out for the occasional tornado, earthquake, or hurricane!" It’s enough to drive you NUTS! Maybe that’s the idea?

Maybe Life is one long series of tests? Maybe that's how God molds us into who He wants us to be, using events and struggles, even His children to test our faith, to teach us valuable lessons about ourselves. And if it weren't for the whole "free will" thing, perhaps we'd get there as He planned. Mortals rarely walk a straight line, we're curious and naughty by nature. Our best lessons are usually taught the hard way...thanks a lot Eve.

Let's face it, Life is out of our control, it happens no matter how much we prepare for it. That's true from the get go. Think about it, how many of us planned on being born, planned on meeting "the one" and then losing them, planned on being hit by the proverbial bus or being thrown under one by someone who loves you, or planned on getting gravely ill? The only part of Life that we are in control of is how we deal with it. Doesn’t matter how closely you pay attention to the signs, or how carefully you travel down the road, sooner or later you’re going to step on a land mine, "Life," is riddled with them. It is inevitable and it is so unpredictable. The minute you think you have it all figured out, BAM, the inevitable crazy “out of left field” occurrence takes place and totally challenges you! Those with strength of character absorb these obstacles and with faith stay the course, God is always on the side of the faithful.

Having accepted that axiom, I am learning to avoid the urge to ask “why.” I believe that to be the most frustrating word in any language. Why you ask? Because it only leads to more “whys” and eventual frustration as those at whom the word is directed inevitably run out of answers. My personal philosophy is to try and not question the will of God as there's no peace in that action. Only acceptance will offer you a chance for peace because it puts you in a mindset to deal with whatever it is that Life brings to your doorstep.

My little muse gets it! She accepts the fact that these are the cards that Life has dealt her, for reasons beyond hers or our understanding. And, she has resolved herself to play them her way. She is up to the challenge. She likes lemonade, she knows how to zig after a zag, and she refuses to take strike three looking, she's going to swing away! I am inspired by her strength of character and her will to live. If there is a snowballs chance, watch out, this little girl is going to start an avalanche!  You go KK, I want to be like you when I grow up…;)

Okay, enough lamenting and on with chapter five of:


“KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper…”

Rady Children’s Hospital: Chemo Shmeemo!

Sometimes it makes me mad looking at all the cutesy pictures of smiling children hanging in the halls here. I know that they are meant to make kids comfortable and less afraid when they stay here, but still, sometimes I think they should have some fine print under the pictures of smiling faces that says “enter at your own risk!” Sometimes I ask myself “why do you keep coming here, you almost never have a good time!” But then I watch my Mom take charge of my care, questioning everyone and everything, and I know I’ll be alright. And I see my favorite nurses who take care of me, give me stickers, hugs, and smiles, and I know I’m in good hands. And then Dr. S, and Dr. L, and Dr. Z come by and their soft voices and kind eyes make me feel safe. That charges me up in spite of the hushed tones they use when they talk plainly to my Mom.

“So, how are we feeling today KaSandra?” asks Dr. L as she walks into my room.

“What do you mean we?” I answer with half a smile.

Touché! I mean how are you feeling smarty-pants,” Dr. L teases.

“I’m okay, but my stomach hurts a little bit,” I reply.

“How do you mean, like a cramp or nausea?” she asks.

“Nausea,” I answer.

“Hmmmm, let me see,” she says, feeling my tummy under my shirt.

I turn my head and try and look out the window, but the blinds are closed and all I can see are shadows of people walking back and forth in the hall outside my room. There are two other kids in the out-patient chemo room with me today and they are both asleep. I sorta wished I were too.

“Ouch!”

“Tender there is it?” Dr. L asks, wrinkling her nose.

”Duh,” I reply, annoyed at the dumb question.

“KaSandra! Don’t be rude!” snaps my Mom from the chair beside my bed.

“OKAY!”

“Sorry Dr. L, she’s been irritable all week,” my Mom explains.

The two of them disappear into the hall like they always do when they don’t want me to hear everything they’re saying. I don’t care; I want to be left alone right now anyways. I need to finish my plan to capture the Lunchito Bandito at school. Daniel will be bringing the bait tomorrow if his sister comes through with the cookies. All I have to do is work out the trap with Winnie and Claire tonight when I get home. I’ll text them when Mom thinks I’m doing homework! The tricky part will be getting warm cookies past Ms. Ryan’s desk without her making us put them on her desk. We need to get them into the cloakroom and into my cubbie so that the lunch swiping fiend will feel safe about making a play for the treats while were all at recess. The trickier part will be getting back into the classroom before the bell rings to catch him in the act. That’s where being a handicapped kid comes in handy! Ha-ha, I made myself laugh! I’ll tell Ms. Ryan that I’m not feeling well and get Winnie and Claire to help me back to my seat early. Then, while she is calling the nurse’s office, BAMMO, we catch the Lunchito Bandito in the act!

“Nice plan, simple, and effective,” I mumble to myself.

“What did you say honey?” asks my Mom.

“Nothing Mommy, I just was wondering when we were going home,” I replied.

“As soon as you're done here, around 5:30 we’ll be able to leave,” she said.

“Oh, but first we have to go and pick up your sister and brother at Aunt Tanya's house,” she added.

“Oh man! Can we get boba on the way home?” I asked whining.

“We’ll see, it’ll depend on the traffic, Mommy still needs to cook dinner,” replied my Mom.

I didn’t bother whining anymore, my Mom is really good at blocking out those noises. It doesn’t work for my brother either and he is the KING of the whiners. But, he’s really cute too so sometimes it works for him…NO FAIR!

Dr. L pats me on the head and tells me that she’ll see me next week. She waves to my Mom as she leaves and I watch my Mom watch her leave. The expression on her face bothers me but that just means she is thinking hard about something, not necessarily me. My Mom is ALWAYS juggling ten balls in the air at one time; it could be any one of the other nine! Its 5:05 according to the clock on the wall and my Hannah Montana watch, we’ll be leaving soon. I close my eyes and try to take a ten minute catnap, running the plan over in my head one more time.

“Tomorrow’s your day Mr. Bandito,” I mumble to myself.

“What did you say honey?” asks my Mom.

“Nothing Mommy…”


Next post: chapter six “KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

“If you really must keep score in the game of life, remember this; what you ‘give up’ is worth more than what you ’give’…” author unknown

They say (who are these guys anyways?) that life is one big roller coaster. Okay, I may have heard that once or twice over the years, but I’m here to tell ya, now I’m a true believer! At last I understand why so many people shut their eyes and scream on these rides. I get why they raise their arms high overhead as if reaching out to someone, anyone, who might grab a hold and yank them to the safety of solid ground! Life IS a roller freaking coaster! Big and scary sometimes, fast and thrilling the rest of the time, with the only real peace coming when you finally reach the end.

Dealing with the day to day issues of caring for a seriously ill child is hard enough, but when you factor in the ups and downs associated with remissions and resurgences, well sir, the ol’ stress meter can peak pretty darn quickly! This week we’re on an ‘all clear’ (cancer free) downhill run, hoping for a long slow glide to the end of the ride and NOT another uphill climb to uncertainty. Well, that’s what prayers are for, right?

Anyway, I’ve come to understand after 50 something years in the game, that we have absolutely zero control over what life brings us; that's up to God by way of the gifts and challenges he gives us. But, we are 100% in control of how we deal with them. So, speaking only for myself, I will be grateful for this week’s good news, accept the challenges of day to day life, and have faith that whatever the Almighty has in store for us will be in our best interests according to His perfect plan.

Okay, enough pontificating, on with chapter four of:

“KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper…”

Deer Canyon Elementary: School’s OUT!

We stood at the curb huddled together against the cool autumn temperature, me, Winifred, Claire, and Daniel (the new kid). We were waiting for Daniel’s sister to arrive to pick him up. That’s when we planned to gang up on her and charm her into baking the cookies we needed to trap the ‘Lunchito Bandito!’

“What kind of car is she driving anyways,” asked Claire?

“Um, my Dad got her a Mustang, he says it’s a classic,” answered Daniel.

“What does classic mean,” Winnie asked?

“It means OLD,” I replied sarcastically.
“Here she comes,” Daniel exclaimed, pointing at the candy apple red car turning into the school drive.

“WOW, that is an OLD car,” Claire gasped.

“CLASSIC,” added Winifred!

Daniel’s sister drove up and stopped beside us at the curb. She leaned over and seemed to wrestle with the door as the window jerked its way down slowly.

“What’s wrong with your car,” Claire wondered out loud.

“Nothing, it’s just hard to crank when I’m leaning over from the driver’s side is all,” Sissy replied.

“What’s cranking,” we all asked together?

“Well, it’s an old car and doesn’t have automatic windows so you have to roll down the windows with a hand crank,” explained Sissy.

“Oh,” we replied together, nodding our heads but really understanding.

“You know, cranking, like this,” Sissy added, making a circular cranking motion with her hands.

“Ohhhh, CLASSIC,” we said in unison, her visual aid made sense of it all.

“Right, you guys are cute! Who are your friends Danny,” Sissy asked her brother?

“Um, they’re just in my class,” he answered.

“I figured that much Einstein, what are their names?”

“Sorry about that! Um, the tall one is Winnie, the blonde is Claire, and the one with the purple hair is KK,” Daniel replied, pointing at each of us in turn.

“It’s Winifred,” Winnie corrected.

“Actually my hair is ash blonde,” Claire added.

“My hair is only purple on Tuesday’s,” I explained.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Danny’s sister Bethany, but you can call be Beth. Nice hair KK, I like it!”

We waived back at her sheepishly. “But Daniel said your name was Sissy?”
“That works too, I’ll answer to either one,” Sissy replied with a smile.

“Well, we gotta get going, hop in Danny,” she said after a pause, opening the door for her brother.

Daniel climbed in and shut the door. Sissy waived and put the car in gear when her brother suddenly hollered, “WAIT!”

Sissy hit the brakes and the Mustang screeched to a stop. “DON’T DO THAT, what is wrong with you doofus!”

“Sorry sis, but KK wanted to ask you something, didn’t you KK,” Danny explained hurriedly.

Sissy leaned forward and looked at me with a little frown, “well?”

Gulping I walked up to the car and put my head in the window a couple of inches.

“Um, well we were wondering if you would mind making some cookies for us tonight, I mean if you’re not busy or anything?”

“You’re kidding right? Can’t your mom do that for you?”

“Well, Winnie’s mom was going to but now she has to work, and my mom has to take me to rehab tonight, and Claire’s mom, well, Claire’s mom doesn’t bake, I think it has something to with math, fractions specifically,” I answered in one breath!

“I see, I think? Well, I guess I can make a couple dozen cookies for you. Chocolate chip okay?”

“Oh yeah, chocolate chip would be great, thanks!”

“Alright, I'll bake them later and Danny can bring them in tomorrow morning. Hope your party turns out nice,” Sissy said, waiving as she put the car in gear.

“What p…,” Claire started to ask.

“It sure will now that we have cookies to share, thank you so much,” Winifred said, stepping in front of Claire before any damage could be done.

“See ya girls, nice meeting you,” Sissy said waiving as she drove away.

We waived back and started walking toward the school bus. Claire got on first, while Winnie held my cane and helped me climb the steps.
“Hi Mr. Beedle,” I said to the driver as I past by and headed down the aisle to my usual window seat two rows behind him.

“Hiya KK, thanks for reminding me it’s Tuesday,” he replied pointing at my wig.

“No worries, don’t forget tomorrow is carrot top Wednesday,” I said.

He winked at me and closed the bus doors. “Sit down everybody, we’re on the road!”

Winnie sat beside me making sure I stayed in my seat while Claire took her usual seat behind me to hold my neck pillow in place. Besides being my two bestest friends these guys were my crew as well. It would really suck to deal with this yucky cancer stuff all by myself. Luckily, I’ve got people!

“Alright, phase one is done, we have the bait. Now it’s time for phase two, setting the trap,” I said as I looked out the window.

“So, what’s your plan KK,” Claire asked?

“Yeah, we know you have one, we can see that wicked little smile on your face,” Winnie added.

I turned back and faced front, making eye contact with Mr. Beedle in the rear view mirror. “Oh I’ve got a plan alright! Listen up…”


Next post: chapter five “KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these…” John Lennon…1984

I’m working on getting my life back on track, writing wise specifically. That is to say back to writing EVERY SINGLE day! Actually, it’s as hard as it sounds because, well, I don’t live in a bubble. Oh well, that’s my goal, albeit a tad lofty given my life’s current circumstances, but not out of reach once I make it my priority. If I were to chart my creative life metrically, I think I would measure progress in terms of, good days, not so good days, and ho-hum days. Why these three? I dunno, they just seem like the right adjectives to encompass a day in a life (forgive the shameful plagiarizing of a John Lennon tune). Like as not, I’d choose three different terms tomorrow. So, short answer to an unasked question, why not! How am I doing so far? Well, let’s give it a month or so. Good days would be 4 hours, not so good days would be 2 hours, and ho-hum days would be, hmmm, you guessed it, what hours? Stay tuned for a future post with a tale of the tape performance chart.

Nobody wants to win all the battles and lose the war! So keep in mind that when one starts a project the primary measure of success is FINISHING IT!

Okay, here’s chapter three of:

“KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper…”

Deer Canyon Elementary: Lunchtime!

BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Finally, the lame lunch bell! Not that Mrs. Ryan’s lesson was boring or anything, even if the new kid and Ali had started snoring halfway through it. Oh, by the way, the Incas were from Peru, the Mayans were from Honduras/Guatemala, and the Aztecs were from Mexico. Ya gotta love the Internet!

“Okay class, that’s thirty minutes for lunch. Try not to trample each other on the way out,” Mrs. Ryan barked as she pulled a brown bag from her top left desk drawer. There was a telltale stain darkening the bottom of the paper sack. That would mean she had packed either a tuna-fish or a sardine sandwich for lunch…gross!

Mom, I am not breaking the rules! The bell already rang and Mrs. Ryan told us all to scoot,” Winnie whined into her cell phone.

She passed me in a mini-huff and headed out the door to our usual lunch table. Claire winked at me as she followed directly behind her, cinching up the combo book-bag/lunchbox which set squarely on her back. I waited a few seconds as the class emptied and then casually strolled out, smiling at Mrs. Ryan as I passed her desk. She gave a “what you up to” stare as she went about unwrapping whatever was in the brown paper bag. My guess was a sardine and limburger cheese sandwich by the tears in my eyes. Adults are just plain weird, there’s no getting around that! I hope they find a cure for that before I get old!

“So where are we eating,” the new kid asked, startling me in the process.

“Don’t do that,” I hollered, socking him in the arm as I jetted ahead him quickly. I stopped after a few feet and looked back. I must’ve hurt the poor kid’s feelings because he was still standing where I socked him, staring down at his shoes. I shook my head and walked back to get him.

“Come on new kid, we haven’t got all day, I’ve got a plan to hatch,” I said, taking his arm, pulling him along after me. The kid didn’t even try to hide his smile as I dragged him along to our special table. Note to self; I hope he isn’t gonna be a problem, there’s nothing worse than puppy crushes!

“It’s about time! What took you so long,” Winifred asked frowning?

I pushed the new kid toward the table as I grabbed a seat on the bench. “I had a little trouble getting out the door,” I replied, pointing at the new kid who still had that silly grin on his face.

“SNAP OUT OF IT,” I hollered, tossing Claire’s Twinkie at him.

“Hey, I’ve been waiting all morning for that treat,” Claire whined.

The new kid handed back her sponge cake and pulled his own lunch from his back pack. It looked like PB&J on whole wheat, some celery, and a bag of veggie chips. His mom must be a health freak like mine. I turned back to Winifred and gave her the ‘so tell me all about it look.’
“Oh, yeah, well I called my Mom and we got problems,” Winnie started.

“What kind of problems, how hard can it be to bake a batch of cookies,” I asked?

“The problem is my Mom has to work tonight and you know my Dad’s all thumbs in the kitchen,” Winnie replied.

“Oh yeah, you’re right, I remember the BBQ last summer when he set your back yard on fire. It was pretty cool!”

“You squished my Twinkie KK,” Claire suddenly complained.

“HELLO, we’re working out some details here snack-a-saurus,” I replied, giving her the look. Claire stuck her tongue out at me and went back to eating her lunch.

“So what are we gonna do now,” Winnie asked.

We sat there staring at each other for a minute or two when the new kid broke the silence by uttering the first words any of us remember him speaking.

“My thisister can cook,” he said through a mouthful of PB&J.

“Excuse me? Can you repeat that, I mean right after you swallow that glob of Skippy in your mouth you Philistine,” I said, scolding him for his totally “boy like” manners.

The new kid squeezed his eyes shut as he dry swallowed a huge mouthful of peanut butter and jam. Claire must have felt sorry for him cause she offered him her water bottle.

“Who is this guy anyways,” she asked, sitting back down next to me.

“He’s new, I think his name is Danny or Daniel, or something like that, I dunno, he’s one of Ali’s friends,” Winnie replied.

“But why is he sitting with us,” Claire asked as she watched the poor kid gulp down the water. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket and then used the same sleeve to wipe the water bottle clean.

“Well, he looked kinda lost at recess and since we’ve been looking for someone to do the dirty work for the team he just sorta seemed like a possibility,” I answered timidly.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling sheepishly as he handed the water bottle back to Claire.

“Uh, that’s okay, you keep it, I’ll share with KK,” Claire said, wrinkling her nose and making the eeww face.

“Alright, Danny is it? What about your sister,” I asked?

“Um it’s Daniel, and I thaid my thister can cook,” he replied with a smile.

Wait, is that a lisp,” Claire gasped?

“Oh, no, I still had some peanut butter on the roof of my mouf,” answered Daniel. He stuck his finger in his mouth and scraped the rest of the goo from his mouth and swallowed it.

“There that’s better,” he said smiling large, showing all his teeth, top and bottom.

“Ah, you still have a little jam on your mouth kid,” Winnie said looking down at her lunch as she pointed.

“Oh yeah, thanks,” Danny replied, licking the jam from the corner of his mouth.

“So, you’re saying your sister would bake some cookies for us after school,” I asked?

“No, I said she CAN cook. I dunno if she will or not, we’ll have to ask her.”

“Well, can you call her? Where does she go to school? How old is she,” we all asked at once?

“Wait, um, I don’t have a phone, she goes to Westview High, and she’s 17, so I guess that makes her seven years older than me,” Danny replied.

“Oh man, a high school kid isn’t gonna to help out a bunch kids like us,” Claire whined.

“”No, she might, she has to cook dinner for us during the week cause my mom works, so, maybe she’ll bake some cookies too,” Daniel explained.

“Well, you can use my phone,” Winnie offered.

“Thanks, but Sissy doesn’t have a phone either. My Dad says cell phones are the beginning of the end,” said Daniel. Claire, Winifred, and I looked at one another and silently mouthed "Sissy," not even trying to hide the giggles.

“Her name is Beth, but I call her Sissy because, well, because she's my sister. Anyway, she picks me up after school every day, so we can ask her then,” explained Daniel.

“Any better ideas,” I asked looking at my team one at a time. Not a sound came from them, you would’ve head crickets speak if it were nighttime.

“Okay, I guess we continue with operation “Lunchito Bandito” after school,” I said.

“Let’s do it,” Claire added. We reached across the table and hooked our pinkie fingers together to seal the deal.


Next post: chapter four “KK Undercover…The Cookie Caper”
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