January 27th, 2012, started off just like any other day. I talked to Elaine on her way to the gym while I was on my way to Christi’s school to watch the kids run laps for their fundraiser. We confirmed our plan to meet for lunch at South Coast and return a purse. It wasn’t but a few minutes later my phone rang with a call that would change our lives forever.
I was watching the kids run, giving them five, and laughing with them. I felt my phone buzz and saw it was my friend Kristin. I didn’t answer. It was loud, and I couldn’t talk. It rang right back and I thought it must be a pocket dial, an accidental call. When it rang the third time in a row, I thought I had better answer. She said, “I’m at the gym with your mom. Don’t freak out, but something has happened to her and they have called the ambulance.”
Of course I freaked out, but I thought it was her racing heart again, and I couldn’t hear her very well and said I would call her right back. I ran as fast as I have ever ran before to my car. I called my dad, who never answers the phone on the golf course, but happened to pick up. He was in Palm Desert. I explained what little I knew, and told him I would call as soon as I got to the gym and could figure out what was going on. I called Ben next who I thought was in LA in a meeting. He didn’t answer. I knew he wouldn’t have his phone on in the meeting so I texted him, “CALL ME 911.” He surprisingly called me right back, as he was getting ready to leave to go to LA because the meeting had been pushed back. He told me he would meet me at the gym.
I called Kristin back to figure out what was going on. She was staying with my mom, talking to her and caring for her. She was able to put me on the phone with the paramedic. He told me she was having a stroke. I am so grateful to Kristin for being there with my mom, being so kind and caring, and letting her know that she wasn’t alone. Despite Elaine’s condition, she told Kristin, “I’m mad at you for calling Staci. You don’t need to bother her with this. I’m fine.” I don’t remember parking the car, but I won’t ever forget pulling into the parking lot and seeing the ambulance and fire truck, knowing that they were there for my mom.
I ran into the gym and saw my poor mom on the gurney, clearly having a stroke, scared, and saying, “I’m not having a stroke.” It was life saving mode now. We loaded in the ambulance and headed to Hoag. I called my dad, who was already on the road heading to Newport, and Ben, who was meeting me at the hospital. We wheeled her into the ER and they were scrambling to get her on the machines and to the scans she needed. Ben called Dr. Hackshaw on the way to the hospital. He continued to walk us through the next few hours. He was amazing, and a lifesaver for Ben and me.
It was a moment you can never be prepared for, when you are asked to truly make life and death decisions with no time for a second opinion or to sleep on it. Elaine never lost her sense of humor, insisting that they not cut her shirt off, despite me arguing that we can get her a new one. The staff was incredibly kind and managed to get her out of her shirt, without cutting it. My poor dad was driving a million miles an hour, in shock, and not sure if he was going to see his wife alive upon his arrival. We continued to call him, making sure we were all in agreement, keeping in mind that we wanted to be aggressive, giving her the best chance at a life. We knew life as a vegetable is not what she would want, She didn’t want them cutting into her brain. She made me promise I wouldn’t let them do that.
The TPA was our first choice, although given the severity of her brain bleed (of which Ben and I saw the proof), they weren’t overly optimistic it would work. Ben continued to stay in touch with Dr. Hackshaw, as we trusted him implicitly. He was in agreement as well. Suddenly, as if it wasn’t possible for the day to get worse, it did. Ben and I were holding my mom’s hand when, Dr. Death as I called him, asked us to step outside and talk to him. He brought us to another computer with some x-rays. They did a body scan and showed us her lung. He then points to two masses. I stared at him in disbelief. There is no way it can be cancer, it just can’t. I literally fell to the floor in shock and heartbroken.
We didn’t want to tell my dad until we could tell him in person. We stayed calm and fortunately, the TPA was working, the clot buster was doing its job! Thank you Herb Boyer and Genetech! Ben met my dad in the parking lot to tell him of the “cancer.” They had moved Elaine to ICU by then, and I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when she saw my dad. She had been telling me throughout the morning that she was “mad you called dad! He didn’t need to get off the golf course for this.” When she saw my dad, they both started to cry, and you could see the sense of relief in both their eyes, each feeling relief for different reasons. Fred sat there holding Elaine’s hand for the next few hours, refusing to leave her side. It was in that, typically two hour drive, that only took Fred 1 hour and 20 minutes, his entire life flashed before him and not knowing if the next time he saw her, she would be dead or alive! We are so grateful she is alive!
It was a day we will never forget, and a day that has changed our lives, our behavior, our attitudes, forever. Your always say you are going to live in the moment, enjoy every day like its your last, not sweat the small stuff, never take a moment with a loved one or friend for granted. These are all easy to say, but harder to do. I have learned that I have the strongest mother alive. I always knew that she was a fighter, but she has been courageous, brave, not felt sorry for herself, not given up, and had the most incredible attitude. Sure she has had some dark days, but who wouldn’t in her situation? She could have crawled in a hole, but she didn’t! She has defied all of the odds, making the impossible, possible.
My dad has surprised me the most. He has been more patient that I ever knew anyone could be, especially him. He has been aggressive in seeking out options, alternatives, new technology or ideas. He has been her voice and brain when she needed him the most. He has been her rock, her shoulder to cry on, her entertainer, and her best friend. He has been incredibly compassionate, and loving. He stepped into a role that I don’t think anyone thought he was capable of, and has simply been amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that Elaine would not be recovering so well, and be the medical miracle she is, without his constant love, support, and attention.
I’m sure she dreams, or has nightmares, hearing his voice saying, “straighten your leg, where is your arm, swing your arm, don’t hitch.”
He has never given up on her, and she has never given up on herself. They are the dream team. It is an incredible feeling knowing that your parents are so committed to each other and have such a strong love, especially in this situation.
Ben does not get the credit or accolades that he deserves. He has been an instrumental part of my mom’s recovery in so many ways. The first night my mom was in the ICU, my dad was exhausted, mentally, and physically, after a very long day. We were at the hospital and Ben came back with his backpack, insisting that he stay with Elaine. Ben didn’t sleep a wink that night, just sat there holding Elaine’s hand, watching monitors, and staring at her. Ben spent many nights in the hospital and rehab hospital with my mom as well. He spent hours taking to doctors, and doing research. He never did this out of obligation, but out of pure love and because he wanted to. Ben has been so supportive and loving to my mom, my dad, and I, in different ways, but each of us needing him. I am so lucky to have married my best friend and the half that made me whole. Ben, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being by my side throughout the past 11 years, and especially this past year. Thank you for loving my parents so much, too.
There are many lessons we have learned over the year. The most valuable to me has been the importance of family and friends. If you have your health, but no one to share the goods days with, your life is empty. The four of us have worked very closely as a team this past year. We have cried together, laughed together, and most of all, shared love. I have been amazed of the depths of friendships that my parents have, too. We have said it often, but it continues to humble and inspire us, and we could never express our gratitude for the outpouring of love, prayers, and support we have been given throughout the year. Elaine had countless visitors in both hospitals and when she arrived home. People still continue to reach out, inviting them to lunch, dinner, or just wanting to visit. Their friends have filled their days, and given them strength. All of you have displayed friendship in its truest form, and it will never be forgotten. It takes somebody who is very loved, a special soul, and wonderful to have such caring friends. Elaine is certainly that person.
Elaine has inspired so many with her dedication, perseverance, courage, and determination. She has had visitors from all ages visit. Her granddaughter wrote an inspirational paper about her. Elaine had three friends run half marathons for her; Christi, Jackie and Kendra. Greg wrote a song about Little Darlin’. Elaine had a golf tournament dedicated to her. Her ETS bracelets became a staple on all our friends. Elaine even had an award named after her at Palm Desert High School.
It has been quite a year, and we are celebrating January 28, 2013 as the beginning of our new year! We are full of hope, full of love, full of inspiration, and full of faith. We are thankful to God for answering our prayers. Thankful for each other. Thankful for our friends. We are celebrating the life Elaine is living!
We made a video of the past year from photographs we have taken. We will warn you, it’s a bit long! Its in chronological order, and clearly made by very inexperienced movie makersJ The easiest way to watch it is by clicking on this link: https://vimeo.com/58337764
It should work on your computer, phone, or iPad.
We want to say a very special thank you to Richie, Julie, and Vangie. The three of them completely upended their lives to help us (and continue to do so) every single time we needed them. Their love, kindness, and sacrifice will always be remembered and incredibly appreciated by all of us. There are not enough words to ever fully express our gratitude.
This blog has been an important part of our journey. We are so thankful and humbled by all of you who read it and who have told us how much you appreciate it. It means the world to us, and to Fred and Elaine.
We started this blog a year ago. It is now time that we sign off. Elaine has come so far. We have all come so far. There may be a post every so often if there is something to say, but we hope that the health of Fred and Elaine speaks for itself. Updates will come from seeing them living their lives! We love you, thank you, and Happy New Year!
WHO'S GOT IT BETTER THAN US?