Cheers to New Beginnings

One of my newest endeavors that has taken me away from this blog, is actually one of my most favorite past times.   I thought today, of all days, would be a great day to fill you in on this adventure.  For those of you who may be unaware to the significance of the day, today marks the 10th anniversary of my brother’s passing after fighting leukemia for 3 years. 

A year ago today, as I sat in my rotary meeting, I listened to a speaker discuss a new park that was (and is) under construction in Greenville.  It is to be called the Cancer Survivor’s Park, and it’s to be a place of rejuvenation, a place of learning, and a place of healing for everyone who has experienced some form of cancer directly or indirectly.  

As I sat in that meeting, I learned that I was considered a survivor of cancer because I am a survivor of my brother.   The executive director, Kay Roper, spoke so eloquently and passionately about this park, what it meant to her and what it would mean to the community.   Within moments, I had a lump in my throat and tears at the brim.  

I’d spent a good year and a half before meeting Kay, trying to find a place for me outside of being Davey and Henry’s mom.   I looked for something that would be an old semblance of myself, the creative, hard-working, career oriented individual I always thought I would be.   I knew what I was looking for was volunteer work as I didn’t have the band width to handle a full time job and still be the mom my boys had grown accustomed to.   Problem was, as I’ve always said, it couldn’t be just any volunteer work.   If it was going to take time away from my boys then it HAD to be something more worthwhile than padding the bottom line of corporate America.  AND it had to be something I could passionately feel good about.  

As with most things in my life, there is always Divine Intervention.   Even when I think the Lord doesn’t hear me, He is always listening.   When He brought Kay into my life on the 9th anniversary of my brother’s death, I knew this is where I was supposed to be and that my patience and faith in Him had finally paid off, as it always does. 

When I started volunteering with the Cancer Survivors Park Alliance, I was intimidated.   As I’d told my husband on countless occasions, I felt like our children were sucking me of any brain cells I had.   My mind, that part of me I once coveted which perhaps wasn’t the smartest in the world, wasn’t feeling challenged anymore.  The wheels were always turning but I wasn’t learning something new.   For a while, and even now, it’s felt like the boys had drained me of any intellect I’d had and I hadn’t been able to replenish that.  

I joined the Communications Committee and listened to all of these people who were still in the working world, mostly in marketing and advertising, and I was in awe, enamored, and as I said before, intimidated.   What could I contribute?   I worried that the Lord had answered my prayer, but perhaps I had prayed incorrectly.   Again, I just needed to have patience and faith in Him.

A couple of months ago, the opportunity arose for me to help out with a series that had become stagnant.   There just were not enough people to get the series going again, to coordinate, organize, and even help write and edit.   I didn’t hesitate.  I immediately spoke up during that month’s meeting and said I would “own” the series, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.

It is known as the Sunday Survivor Series, and is a bi-weekly story published on the park’s website every Sunday evening.    The stories feature someone within our local community who has been impacted by cancer, either directly or indirectly.  In most cases, the interviewees are survivors of some form of cancer, with the occasional relative of someone who has passed mixed into the shuffle of stories. 

As an introduction of me joining the team, I was photographed with my boys and the creator of the series interviewed me.   When I was being interviewed, I was amazed at how raw the emotions still were, nearly 10 years later.   I found I could still feel Brian’s last hug, his last tug of my ponytail, his voice as he spoke to me, and even the raspy sound of his last breaths as he squeezed my hand.   As I went through that interview, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy that I would be able to help so many others tell their stories, that I will be able to offer that compassionate touch, that vessel for emotions and stories to eventually unfold.  

So, here’s the link to the stories.  Our newest one is out and what a wonderful young man and inspiration he is.   The second story is mine.    

http://www.cancersurvivorspark.org/survivor-series.php

Please take a moment to read it and then take a moment to read some of the other stories.   Follow the Facebook page for the Cancer Survivors Park.  Sign up for email notifications so you’ll always know when a new story is out.   You may get to read some of my words there, even when they can’t always be here on this blog, and you may find an additional person who needs your prayers.  

God Bless all of you for following me, for encouraging me, and for giving me your love in some way.   I’m hoping 2017 will be full of great new adventures and insightful words to share with you all.  

Testing The Waters

For some time now, I’ve felt as if I could do more with my time.   I don’t homeschool my boys (at least not right now, that could change in the future) and with the two of them in preschool and mother’s morning out programs, I’ve had some of my time freed up.   At first, I thought I would devote my time to me, either working out, writing, reading, relaxing, or running errands.   And why not?  I work hard in my stay at home mom position.   But something deep down within my heart and in my head told me that my time could be better spent elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, at our local Rotary meeting (of which I am the Communications Director), we had a speaker who is the Executive Director of the Cancer Survivors Park Alliance.  It’s a park created for cancer survivors and their families, as well as those who are currently fighting the horrible disease.   The purpose of the park is to create a space for hope, healing, learning, and celebration.   The speaker happened to speak to us on the 9th anniversary of my brother’s death to leukemia, a debilitating blood cancer.

cancer survivors park
An artist’s rendering of the park.

I took it as a sign from God, a sign that I had prayed about for quite some time.   I’ve longed for something with which I could devote my extra time (what little I have).   I’ve told my husband that I want to do more with my life, but I don’t want to sacrifice the flexibility of a stay at home mom lifestyle.   I want to go to my children’s events, be hands on with them and involved in every aspect of their lives, more so than I would be as a working mom, but still be active in my community.   I’ve sought out an organization with which I could be passionate about.   If it’s going to take away any of my time, then it has to be worth something for me, and by something I mean more than money.

After our rotary meeting, I spoke with the director and offered up  my services in some form or fashion.   She said she couldn’t pay me, and I told her I wasn’t looking for money.   She informed me of a couple of opportunities, one of which is on the communications committee.   Given my background in communications, we both decided the group could benefit more from my expertise in that arena.   So, last Wednesday, I dropped my boys off with my mom and dad and headed out to my first official meeting.

Although, I’m not being paid, this is still a professional organization and I hemmed and hawed over what I should wear.   It’s been 4 years since I’ve been in the corporate world and either my business suits no longer fit or I just don’t have them anymore.   I settled with a nice pair of jeans, a button down shirt, and a blazer…business casual.

As the meeting got underway, my head started pounding and my heart beat started accelerating.   All of the people in the room with me were currently working.   Not a one of them was a retired philanthropist or fellow stay at home mom like me.   They all were able to contribute to the conversations by injecting in some sort of anecdote from a previous experience either with a client or an idea.   Me?  Well, I just listened intently and took notes.

Secretly, I sat there wondering if this was a good idea.   My thoughts kept revolving around, “do I have the intelligence for this?   what about the bandwidth?   Have I been so long out of the working world, that I can’t contribute?”

After the meeting, I tossed around a couple of ideas and I have meetings scheduled to find ways to increase fundraisers, to market them, to write up press releases, and encourage the overall notoriety of the park.

That night, my husband asked how the meeting went.  I told him it went well.  I told him about what was being done and about some ideas I had.   As with everything else in my life, he told me he was proud of me for taking on this added responsibility, for finding a way to help others.    Who knows what may come of this?   I definitely don’t, but I do know that the excitement of being involved in something like this is exhilarating.   I’m likely to have less time for my blog posts, but it’s worth the sacrifice.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the park, you can visit their website.  http://www.cancersurvivorspark.org

 

 

I Want You To Know Him

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound. It’s the sound of his last breaths, the minutes that seemed like eternity as I watched him die and listened to the raspy sound of his lungs desperate to take in any air they could get. By that point, he’d had enough morphine in his body to not feel the agonizing pain of his body shutting down on him. Too bad my mom and dad and I couldn’t have something to ease our hurt as we watched the greatest thing to ever enter our lives, slowly drift back out of it, much too soon.

I can still see the look on his face as he struggled to breathe. His face was pale, gray almost. His beautifully blue, eyes which could have melted the heart of any girl who looked at him, had darkened as well and his body became limp as he stared at the ceiling. He was my best friend, the one I confided everything to, the one to know it all first. He was my soul mate.

Today has been 8 years since he left us and I find myself eager to pull up every memory I can of him. I sit and show my boys pictures of him and tell them stories about him. And I want to tell you those stories. I want you to know him, just like I want my boys to know him.

He was one week old.
He was one week old.

My brother was easily the most amazingly annoying thing to enter this earth. Our birthdays were 6 years and 2 weeks to the day apart, which meant that we shared a birthday party on the week between our birthdays, mostly for convenience for our mom. One guess as to how much I loved that! (sarcasm).

One of our many shared birthday parties.
One of our many shared birthday parties.

He cried all the time. He was always attached to our mom, never leaving her side, even when I just needed 5 private moments with her. He was a mom monopolizer. Not cool!

Enjoying a few laughs.
Enjoying a few laughs.

He hated to sleep and when our dad banished him from their bedroom at night, I would awake to find he had crawled in bed with me.

Brian 13

He loved wrestling, or as we call it down south, wrasslin’. 80s music was his cup of tea. Pauly Shore movies made him laugh, .38 Special was his favorite band, Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were the movie stars he idolized.

Brian 14

He was constantly watching movies, a die hard Star Wars fan, but hated reading books. His food of choice was a 2 liter Mountain Dew and a large bag of Doritos. He was easily annoyed with laziness and incompetence. He didn’t have the patience for those who wouldn’t help themselves, but if you needed him he dropped everything.

Brian 4

He worked hard, hoarding money (we joked he was a miser). He treated his body like a temple, never drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. He was a work out fanatic and he longed to be a dad one day. He loved children way more than I ever did.

Brian 12

He loved to hunt and would come home with some of the greatest stories of spending a weekend in a cabin with 8 other men, who farted and snored all through the night. He bagged a couple of deer with the help of our dad.

Brian 2

He entered this world the purest of souls and I know for a fact left this world the same way. He was a realist, a lover and a fighter. He had two nicknames for me…fat legs (which I do now have thanks to my two darling boys) and Al, which was short for my first and middle name, Amy Lynn. No one else ever called me “Al”. I miss that.

Brian 10

He had something wrong with his ankles in that every time he took a step, his ankles would make a popping sound. Sometimes when I’m at my parent’s house, I hear that sound and I know he’s around. I just wish I could hug him one more time, to feel the strength of his arms around me.

I struggle with each passing day to not forget the sound of his voice or the way he looked. I want to remember his blue eyes and chuckle when I think back to a couple of nurses discussing how he looked like Ben Affleck. When I told him that, he suggested I hook him up. I told him to hook himself up since he was going to be around them 24/7.

With our dad before the church Christmas program.
With our dad before the church Christmas program.

We were each other’s strongest protectors. He was always there to save me and if someone screwed with him, you risked getting screwed over by me. I remember when he was first diagnosed with leukemia, he cried (one of the few times in the 3 years he fought it) and asked me what we were going to do. I said we’re going to keep living. When the leukemia came out of remission three years later and he was given 3-6 months to live, I cried and asked him what are we going to do. And he said, “You’re going to keep living.” Me. That’s who he was thinking about in that moment, not himself or what he would have to endure, but what my parents and I would have to endure. He was the most selfless human being I’ve ever met. He was my hero and everyone who knew him was a better person just for knowing him.

Brian 5

He was a Christian, a strong believer in God. On one of the final weeks when he was in the hospital I asked him if he was scared. He said, “no. I know where I’m going and it’s the most wonderful place to ever be. I’m just a little nervous about what I’ll have to endure before I get there.”

After one his radiation treatments.  After one his radiation treatments. [/caption]

The day before he died, it had snowed and he begged our mother to put him in his wheelchair and push him around the driveway so he could enjoy it. Hours later she called to tell me they were at the hospital and the doctor had told her, “his little heart won’t survive much longer.” His little heart. Boy, was the doctor mistaken. He had the biggest heart of all! I told my mother I wasn’t ready to let him go. I went to bed, thinking that we still had plenty of time left with him, only to be urged by God to go to the hospital. I’m glad I listened to Him, because had I not I wouldn’t have been able to cuddle up with Brian one last time as we laid in the hospital bed talking about our childhood while our parents tried to nap. We shared our last laughs together that night and to this day I’m forever thankful to God for encouraging me to go.

The week before he died.
The week before he died.

Today, I look at my boys and think what their lives would be like if Brian were in them. Davey has his name, but Henry has everything else. Henry looks like Brian, acts like Brian, he is Brian. My mother and I sometimes confuse him. They both have a piece of Brian in them. I just wish they could have actually experienced the magnitude of Brian.

Brian 10

So, on this day, the 8 year anniversary of his death, I wanted all of you to know one of the most wonderful lives I was ever a part of. It was easily the greatest 25 years I’ve ever experienced.

Brian 1

Farewell, Captain!

There are so many heroes in this world. When I was growing up, my heroes ranged from my parents to Sandra Day O’Connor (as I became older). Then it was my brother as he fought leukemia. When I was always asked about my heroes, I can’t ever recall turning to fictitious characters, but I also can’t recall ever having a celebrity, be it athlete or actor, as my hero.

When my dad was growing up, heroes were the men and women who fought during World War II or the Joe DiMaggios and Hank Aarons of the world. Heroes were people who were strong and brave, people who fought for others, and people who did their job with a higher standard in mind. My husband and I have tried to instill the same beliefs in our sons where heroes are concerned. We ask that they not look to Thor or Captain America or Justin Bieber or anyone unreal or superficial. Heroes are few and far between these days, but there is still one left even if he is no longer a participant in his sport. That hero is Derek Jeter.

Derek Jeter is more than just a baseball player. Sure, his stats speak volumes. A .310 batting average. A .377 on base percentage. 3465 hits. 260 homeruns. 1311 RBIs. Clearly, this man was a hero to many on the baseball field, but it’s off the field that I’m excited about.

Derek Jeter played the sport with integrity. He is admired by many and respected by all. It’s very rare to hear about Derek Jeter outside of baseball, at least personally. In a day when so many young celebrities allow their newfound fame to tear them down, Derek Jeter practiced the lost arts of humility and grace. He created his Turn 2 Foundation to help youth steer clear of drug and alcohol use and to reward those with exemplary academic standards. He understands the value of community service.

My husband is a native New Yorker and for him there is no other team than the New York Yankees. He grew up a Yankee fan and can remember the stories of Babe Ruth and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. In his youth, my husband admired the likes of Bernie Williams, a mentor and teammate of Derek Jeter’s, so it was easy to transition to Derek Jeter as his all time favorite baseball player. Now, we have two young boys of our own and while I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, I’ve come to have a certain level of love for the Yankees and Derek Jeter. I’m content to have my boys sporting their Derek Jeter jerseys. I’m happy my son has a “hero” like Derek Jeter to look up to. Davey’s even attempted to learn how to announce Derek Jeter’s name like Bob Sheppard.

It was sad in our house to watch Derek Jeter’s last All Star game, his last game in Yankee stadium, and his last game EVER at Fenway Park. We had lumps in our throats when we watched the Gatorade commercials. Our chests swelled with pride as we watched opposing teams tip their hats in respect to the 2nd ever Pride of the Yankees.

Davey watched one of Derek Jeter’s last games on television and at one point, he stood to hold 2 fingers in the air…a gesture of support and admiration for the one and only #2 of the New York Yankees. My husband is sad that we never took the opportunity to take Davey to NY this past summer to see Derek Jeter play. It worries him that there will never be another hero like Derek Jeter. For now, we’ve had Yankeeography: The Captain’s Collection, on replay in our house. Davey’s learned more than most other children about Derek Jeter.

So, from the Doser household we’d like to say:
“Thank you, Captain, for holding your head high, for playing the game with integrity, for maintaining a humble persona, for your charitable works, and for helping to shape the lives of so many. You will be missed.”

First season in the new stadium.  Our chance to see Derek Jeter in action
First season in the new stadium. Our chance to see Derek Jeter in action

Extension of Life

Watching my boys grow is when I see him the most. At night, when Davey is acting silly or trying to squeeze in that one extra minute of playtime before bed is when I’m most reminded of him. Or the days when Henry is smiling so big and proudly reaching for my necklace, that’s when I know he’s still with me. It’s bittersweet sometimes because I would give anything for to be able to see his face again, to be able to see him watching my boys grow. I see him everyday in both of my boys and I’ve even found myself from time to time slipping and calling Davey by his name.

Nine years ago today, my parents and I sat in a hospital room at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, GA and prayed for what we hoped would be a cure or at least an extension of a life that was being cut much too short. Most people were panicking that day about the fact that they had waited until the last minute to file their taxes. We were panicking because we were unsure if the bone marrow transplant would even take.

A couple of days earlier we sat and listened to the doctor talk about concerns that the leukemia would come out of remission before he got his bone marrow transplant which meant he couldn’t have the transplant. I sat there and looked at my brother, who for the first time since he was first diagnosed with this horrible disease, showed genuine fear in his eyes as he asked, “does this mean I won’t get my transplant?”

Each year when this day comes around, I’m haunted by those words and I think back to the tortured look on my parent’s faces as they stood resolute and told my brother he would get his transplant. I look at my boys and I think about how wonderfully blessed our lives are, but also how quickly they can change in the blink of an eye. In the day to day frustrations of trying to raise a toddler who’s standing firm in the Terrible Twos and a 4 month old who’s eager to start mimicking in his older brother, I often take for granted that I’ll have the next day with my two healthy and happy boys.

My brother did get his bone marrow transplant on April 15th, 2005. By January 3rd of 2007, his leukemia was back and there was no longer any hope of another transplant. We prayed to God on that warm April morning and asked Him for an extension of Brian’s life. He answered our prayers, perhaps not giving us as long as we wanted with Brian, but He did extend his life.

Tonight, as I rocked Henry to sleep, I found my mind drifting off to my brother again and the significance of this day. I saw Brian in the sweet quivering of Henry’s lip, something he does a lot before drifting off to sleep. And before I wrote this blog, I saw the playful, yet mischievous nature of my brother in Davey as he decided he wanted to climb onto the back of the couch and try to walk on it like a tightrope. My brother is everywhere. He’s with me everyday, but I’ve never noticed it as much as when I became a mother to two boys who are mini-me versions of one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.