Monday, March 4, 2013

My Brother's Keeper

     There have been many studies on birth order of siblings and the impact it has on personality.  The Weaver clan consists of four children.  Sharon is the oldest and I was born four years later.  Our sister, Karen, entered the world three years later than me.  Brother Paul crashed the party ten years after Karen and he will be discussed at another time, if there is enough space on Google and the WWW to discuss Paul!
     Sharon is the consummate oldest child.  She is an over-achieving perfectionist, highly motivated to please others while constantly worrying about her younger brother (and everyone else) as a rule-abiding mother hen.  I say this in jest. I adore my sister Sharon. But we don't understand each other.  Sharon is a LIFELONG straight A student.  I was always a good student, but I reiterate, my sister never experienced a B.  Not in grade school, junior high, high school, as an undergraduate, or even in her masters program.  That just can't be healthy. I have memories of walking home from Ben Milam Elementary in Grand Prairie, with my sister as my protector.  After a few minutes of meandering, the interrogation would begin.  "Where are your books?  What happened to your knee?  Should we go back to get anything?"  Sharon was my keeper.
     I still remember a Meet the Teacher night when I was bragging to my parents that I was sitting by the teacher again, for the third year in a row as the "helper."  Sharon explained to me that it was because I couldn't be quiet, not because I was special.  Mom agreed as she reminded me of the box always checked on my report cards....talks too much.  Yeah, so much for being the "helper."
Aunt VA holding me while Sharon watches.
(Virginia has the look as if she is about to throw me & shouldn't my neck be supported?)
       My early years of high school were littered with the scholastic footprints of Sharon.  Each term paper or essay would always begin with these words, "I would like to read an example of this paper. It was written by a former student, Sharon Weaver. Kevin, that's your sister, right?"  The bar was set high and I was already stumbling.  In college it continued, as I attended the same university as Sharon.  Sitting in freshmen English, I reluctantly heard one of Sharon's papers.  I slumped in my desk hoping that at roll call Dr. Andrews would never put two and two together, but alas, "Are you Sharon's brother? I heard you might be coming here."  During Sharon's first visit with me at college, I told her how I was experimenting with how many classes I could make an A or B in and not buy the textbook.  I was appalled at what textbooks were going to cost and well, it was a challenge. Who doesn't like a challenge? Sharon was mortified! She feared that I would fail. Still hovering, trying to take care of me.
     So six months ago when all of my siblings were tested for bone marrow compatibility, who do you think would be the match?  You know already. It was Sharon -  a perfect match.  Once again, my sister was ready to take care of me.  By the way, Karen & Paul were perfect matches and I told them that explained a lot - poor Karen!
     Sharon married Don Hendrix in 1977.  They were truly made for each other.  They began a life of education and serving others -  Don coaching football, teaching math & physics;  Sharon teaching high school English.  In 2008 Don and Sharon began building their retirement "dream home" - a log cabin that they had planned for most of their married lives. We lost Don in March of 2009 to a heart attack. Our family has not been the same since. Nor will it.
     I know Sharon has struggled with my fight with cancer, there being no way she could really help.  I have agonized with her suffering since the loss of her best friend and husband.  She continues to teach English and Composition at a junior college and lives in their log cabin that she chose to complete on her own.  But two weeks ago, Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Tomorrow, March 5th, she will have surgery, chemotherapy to follow.
     My heart feels broken.  Last Sunday, Chris and I met Sharon at my parent's house.  We drank coffee, cried, drank more coffee, and laughed.  In so many ways, my sister and Don blazed a path for me to follow in this crazy life -  how to be a loving spouse, best friend, student, teacher, parent, and friend.  I hope I have been an example of fighting cancer for Sharon.  And I would take it from her, if I could. Love you, Sis!

Baby of the Family

      Stem cell transplants are amazing, medical procedures.  Whether allogenic, requiring the healthy stem cells from a donor, or autologous, taking cells from the patient - it's a miraculous process.  With the allogenic, the search for a donor begins with immediate family members, with siblings having the highest probability of being a match.  After that the search goes national and sometimes even global through the registry. If you want more information, go to
     I had the autologous transplant.  Healthy cells are "harvested" from the patient; treated, tested, and then frozen to be transfused back into the cancer patient.  Both of these transfusions have similarities before the transplant. Cancer cells must be killed through several sessions of intense chemotherapy, which of course, destroys healthy red cells, white cells and platelets in the process. The last session before "Day Zero," the treatment reaches a "reverse pinnacle," and almost complete annihilation of blood cells. One of my doctors called the process "draining the pond." This was the toughest "marathon" I had ever run. But I will write about that later.

Saturday, Chris and I, with our daughter, Callie, and boyfriend, Timothy, joined transplant doctors, nurses, stem cell transplant patients, donors and others as Team Match Makers. We raised funds for Be the Match Foundation and had our own tent for the celebration of healing and life. Several donors were present. One patient met her donor for the first time.
Dr. Jennifer Potter introduced each stem cell patient that was present. What a unique group! Some young, some older, working, retired, some with family, some alone. Even a former Olympic gold medalist joined as a survivor. Jennifer presented the medical staff to cheers from all: Dr. Bhushan, Eddie, Brenda, Jodi, Leah, Patricia, Jennifer, Katy and more. She presented from oldest patient to youngest, according to our "new birthday." The first, a woman who was seven years from her transplant. Cheers, hugs...shared pain unites us. A healthy man, six years old...more cheers, more hugs. Shared pain unites us. Hannah, from England, Shannon, from Frisco. A daughter accepts her father's card; with tears as he could not be there to celebrate. Shared pain unites us.

I have read accounts of POW soldiers. Even years after their captivity, they still share an unexplainable common bond. The torture and the pain that they endured united them forever. I remember during the years when I used to run marathons, I would come across someone with a T-shirt or a bumper sticker that read "26.2." We would begin to talk as complete strangers, while not strangers, as we told of the races we had run. Why? The pain and the common experience united us.

 As I continued to listen to the announced birthdays, I realized that the name list must be nearing an end. And then it occurred to me. I must be the "youngest patient" here.  As I stood with Chris, who had been beside me through the entire journey, Jennifer called my name.  Kevin Weaver was the baby of this new family!  4 months old, no immunizations, baby hair on my head.  Through cheers and tears, Dr. Bhushan stood at the perimeter of the group, smiling as he looked on each of his patients.  Such an humble man, content to be on the outside, looking in.  And the first day I met him flashed into my mind - that day in July he gave us an hour lesson, teaching me about my cancer and suggesting the pathway to remission.  So naturally, when Jennifer called my name, I walked to Dr. Bhushan, the man who helped save my life, to give him a hug of gratitude.

     In his book, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years", Donald Miller describes the effect of adversity on the story of our lives, "But in that place, I remembered about story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage.  There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing.  And I smiled.  I'm not saying I was happy, but for some reason I smiled.  It hurts now, but I'll love this memory, I thought to myself.  And I do."

     Thank you, Chris, for enduring the pain with me and continuing this chapter of our story.  Thank you, Jennifer Potter, for organizing our team and celebrating with us.  Thank you, Dr. Bhushan, for leaving your home country to share your gifts with us.  Thank you, Medical City staff!

     Ultimately, God is my healer, but here are some of his helper-angels!
Dr. Bhushan

Jennifer Potter
Eddie (one of my nurses)
Brenda (one of my stem cell transplant coordinators)
Jodi (one of my nurses)

Timothy & Callie (Callie is in green!)


My best friend, Chris & me (She's the pretty one!)          
Leah Atwood ( stem cell coordinator)

Monday, February 11, 2013

No More Sea (I Had A Dream!)

     On December 1, 2012 there was a race in Bonham, Texas.  It was a 5K and it was called the "Hold Fast" 5K.  It was held on a beautiful, winter morning.  While in training I used to always do my long runs on Saturday mornings.  I remember many a Saturday morning, sitting in the truck with the heat on, waiting for just enough light to get on the road.  This race was held in my honor and I was in a hotel room.  I had been released from the hospital only two days before with the instructions to stay close in my sanitized hotel room (Thank you, Chris!) to make the short half mile trip to the hospital each day for shots, blood-work, and fluids.
     In the book of Revelation, we learn that the disciple John had been banned to the island of Patmos.  It was a volcanic island that was used by the Romans to leave prisoners.  An island, surrounded by water.  Many scholars think that the torture of the island was that the mainland was sometimes in sight.
     The hospital room had been my PRISON for 28 long days.  After only four days in the hospital, I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection.  What did that mean?  I could no longer leave my room, I was quarantined and anyone entering my room was dressed like a commercial for HAZMAT control.  I still remember the feeling when Dr. Bhushan said I could leave the hospital and go to the hotel room.  Instructions?  Don't leave your hotel except to go to the hospital.  Wear your mask, only eat certain foods, and stay in your room as much as possible.  The hotel room became my new prison.  I was staring at the sea.

     Race Day!  How many memories!  I asked the medical team on that Friday, could I go to Bonham with Chris and sit in the car during the race?  NO!  I began to get text messages and e-mails from family, church members, players I had coached, faculty members, and friends that they would be at the race.  I lay in our bed on Friday night thinking of how I always wanted Elizabeth to meet my mom, Bro. Rex to meet Heather, Steve to meet Roger, to see Kathy with Michelle, Lance Shelton to, I didn't want Lance to meet anyone!  Many of these friends and students I had encouraged to begin running.  I sat and wondered..............was it raining, did anyone show up, ........please Chris, let's drive to Bonham!  I love my wife so much.  We normally enjoy every moment together, but that Saturday was strange.  A trip to the hospital, shots in the stomach, blood work, IV bag to replace potassium.  Back to the hotel where Chris' parents, her sister Michelle & children, Tim & Callie would be arriving that evening.  I would stay awake and hear about every minute of the race, supper, and auction.  But night time meds at 7:30 and I was out.  Chris stayed awake to meet family.  And I had a dream....................
     There are a lot of books about heaven.  Paul describes how he received a glance of heaven.  On Saturday night, December 1, 2012, I saw a glimpse of heaven.

     My family lived in Stringtown, Oklahoma while I was in 5th - 9th grades.  My dad was the pastor of  the Baptist church and we lived in the parsonage, which was one block away from the school.  Most evenings I was at the school yard which had an outside basketball court.  We would play basketball until the whistle.  What was the whistle?  My mom could whistle so loud (she still can!), a piercing shriek, somehow produced by this small woman of 5'2".  Everyone would announce, "Kevin, better go, it's your mom."  The whistle meant supper was ready and time to come home.
     In my dream, we were playing basketball.  It was cold, but we were having a great game.  Then there was a whistle.  Not now!  The game was close, but all of my friends began to tell me, "It's your Mom, better go."  I grabbed my jacket and told the other players I would try to come back.  Maybe Mom would let me finish the game.  I ran to my house, where my Mom was waiting at the door, smiling.

     I have tried to share this dream several times, I always begin to sob.  It was so real!

     My mom put her arm around me and said how much fun supper would be.  I begged her to let me go finish my game.  She looked at me and said, " I wish you would stay with us, but finish your game, but you will regret it."  The door closed and I started to run back to the school yard but I stopped.  Our house was filled with people.  Now understand, my mom is very much alive.  I walked to the window and looked through the glass.  My grandfather, Pa-Pa, was there.  My mom & dad and all of the my siblings.  My father-in-law, Danny was standing with his arm on his father, whom I never met.  Friends, family.............everyone eating and laughing.  A strange mixture of people, but I wanted to be in the house.  I began to beat on the window, but no one could hear me.  I went to the door and began to knock, but no one answered.  Chris said she was awakened to me sobbing and screaming, "I don't want to play, I want in, please, let me in."  Sleep escaped me the rest of the night.  I sat with family in the hotel lobby wearing a mask and listened to stories about the race.  My daughter, Callie, sat in my lap and showed me the many photos she took of the race.  I tried to tell about my dream, but I just cried.

     In Revelation chapter 21, John is describing a glimpse of heaven.  He says,
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away.  Also there was no more sea.".................."And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
     So what does this mean?  The Old Testament is filled with descriptions of family and feasts.  We were created for these celebrations.  I have learned that separation can be a cruel punishment.  With my job I live for those solitary moments, but when SOLITARY is required, it is tough.  For John the greatest part of his dream of heaven is "no more sea."  The barriers are gone and he is reunited.

     I do not profess to have any insights of heaven.  From the Bible it is hard to know what is figurative or literal.  But I have no doubt that I will not be worried about how things look.  There will be no death, pain, or tears.....................and there will be no more sea.

Oh yeah, thanks for running!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A 100% Stinky Lesson

     I was blessed to be able to rejoin my students and colleagues at Honey Grove Middle and High School beginning January 2nd, as they returned from the Christmas holidays.  Not everyone has been thrilled to see me in the normal setting.  In a loving way, some have said,  "You know you probably have enough years to retire. I know I wouldn't be here!"------ "I know you're wearing a mask, but should you be here with all these germs?"------"Does your doctor know you are doing this?"  It has been hard to answer each of these questions. But a man called "STINK" summed my feelings.

     Chris and I live about 15 minutes from the school district, so many times I listen to one of the Dallas sports stations on my short drive in to work.  On my first week back I heard a valuable lesson on this station which strengthened my beliefs in returning to be with my students.  The hosts of the show were discussing the impact of a major knee surgery on the career of Robert Griffin III and they were joined by Mark Schlereth, who is lovingly called "Stink."  Schlereth played in the NFL for 12 seasons and has had 29 sports related surgeries, including 20 knee surgeries.  I would call him a specialist as a consumer of knee surgeries.

     Mark grew passionate in his discussion when the terms "100%" and a "player's return" were mentioned.  He told the story of happening upon a player from another sport in his surgeon's waiting room.  The other athlete was dejected and said he didn't know when he would be 100%.  "Stink" shared the reality, "100% of what?"  He said to the younger player, "You will NEVER be at the same place you were before surgery.  If you are missing the opportunity to play the game you love while waiting on the old 100%, you are missing a window of competing.  You now have a new 100%."

      Thank you, Mr. Mark Schlereth.  (You're too large for me to call you "Stink.")  In the world of cancer we call this the new normal.  While I will never let multiple myeloma define me, the side effects and scars of battle will take their tolls.  The only danger would be sitting on the sideline waiting on everything to be perfect or back the way it was.

     On Friday my new normal, or 100%, changed yet again.  Since Christmas Eve I have been dealing with an eye issue that we thought was a retinal bleed. We learned that my retina was torn, detached, and had actually rotated 360 degrees. I had surgery Friday afternoon (1-18-13) and today I had the patch removed. For the next week, I will sit in a posture facing the floor, to allow my retina to reattach properly. Complete restoration, or 20/20, isn't being discussed. They are hoping in a few weeks or months that I will be able to see the "big E" on the chart. That in itself will be a miracle. Chris and I had our time for tears and now it is time to move on. There is a very real possibility that next week I will be in meetings in a Post-vitrectomy chair, facing the floor while making educational decisions and leading a campus. Shouldn't I stay home, you ask? I could. And I might have to, but I will not miss out on windows of opportunity because I can't accept my new 100%.

Silly moments with Chris at school.
Beta Stands Up to Cancer

Silly moments with staff member, Elizabeth Shelton.
Jacob, our new State VP
Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Damn Cancer!

     I have a lot of writing to do.  Since "Day Zero" I have been trying to survive.......literally!  Even though I have not been writing, I have been reading constantly.  I am an avid reader and with my medical challenges and frequent insomnia, reading has helped me keep my sanity.  Friends and family have shared certain books and told me I MUST read them.  Here are just a few of the books others have recommended:
              My Dad - Timeline by Michael Crichton
              My son, Ryan - The Road by Cormac McCarthy    
              One of my doctors, Jennifer Potter - Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
              My sister, Sharon - Love Does by Bob Goff
              ...........then books I found,
                       Killing Kennedy;the End of Camelot - by Bill O'Reilly            
                        The Racketeer by John Grisham
                        Your Church is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan
                        The Black Box by Michael Connelly
                        The Skeptical Student by Timothy Keller
and then it happened.................................
             A dear friend, Lynn Arthur sent me a book, Dancing with the Enemy by Meg Brown.

     This book is the personal journal of a cancer survivor.  When Lynn sent the book home, I moaned, a cancer book.  I read to escape cancer and the pain of surviving.  Come on, Lynn, you can do better than this.  You are a reader!  A book about cancer!  Chris said that some of Lynn's family played basketball with Meg, the author, and she was diagnosed with cancer and had a stem cell transplant.  Of course, I did the Christian thing and told Chris, "How thoughtful."  I wondered how many days I should keep the book before sending it back.

     That evening as fate would have it I couldn't sleep.  I got out of bed and went to the living room to read.  There was the book from Lynn.  Great idea, I would scan the first of the book and then go to the final pages to see how the story ended.  I know how cancer stories progress, the middle of the book is the same for all of us.  I just had to know how Meg finished.

     I was wrong.  I read the entire book.  I was captivated by this person's honesty.  She voiced prayers to God followed by what we in Texas call a "good ole cussing" of cancer, her situation, and the constant physical variables that assaulted her.  Meg described how it felt to go from a collegiate athlete to the struggles of walking to the restroom.  She wanted to finish a round of treatment, not to serve at the local homeless shelter, but to go drinking with her friends at a bachelorette party.  (She can't write that, we cancer patients have an image to keep.)  Meg wanted to live and she was honest.  Damn Cancer!

     I am not good at being honest with others about my journey.  I like to be positive, upbeat, and encouraging to others.  What do you say when someone says, "How are you?"  Let's see, honest answers might be:

  • My eyes are bloodshot because I burst blood vessels while puking for 1 hour & 30 minutes in a plastic bowl that a friend was kind enough to send supper in. Thanks for bowl, Angie.
  • The ulcers in my mouth are now in my butt; I have only had 2 popsicles for the last 2 days.  Burns going in and feels like fire going out.
  • Good news, I thought treatment was finished but just got orders for intrathecal chemo & 20 days of radiation. WOOOHOOO, more side effects.
  • Oh, I'm just a little tired. Fell asleep in recliner at 4:00 a.m. and then my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.  Coffee, anyone?
  • I think I'm okay. The last I remember, my body was in spasms, heard them call some code for my room, and I was packed with ice & then they put something in my pic-line and ............I am okay, right?
  • I have no vision in my right eye.  Retinal hemorrhage, should be healed in 4 weeks. Oh, I'm sorry! I thought I was shaking your hand.
  • Yesterday I worked all day and only fell asleep twice at my desk, and no one drew a picture on my mask. Yep, good day!
  • Or maybe just...............DAMN CANCER!
     I was able to go back to work as high school principal on January 2nd.  The staff & students have been incredible.  Thanks for praying and for a few moments, thanks for letting me be honest.  I praise God for this new chapter in Chris' & my story.  Two more dear friends have been diagnosed with cancer and we will now have shared memories that I wish we never shared.  DAMN CANCER!