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)