Author Archives: MeiLani Hock
Many of you know us. Many of you know our family. Many of you have become part of our family. Thank you for sharing our journey through the trials of our lives.
For those of you who know us, might know my brother-in-law Mike. He is an amazing man. He’s a got a quick wit, quiet demeanor, respectful work ethic, and a pride for Canada and BYU Cougars. 🙂 I love this man a lot and am very grateful to call him my brother.
Last month Mike was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer and thus starting one of his worst nightmares… no not the cancer. I actually don’t think he is very worried about that almost at all. The nightmare I fear he is about to experience is all the attention that his cancer might attract. In fact, when being diagnosed, he waited about 8 hours before telling his wife and then told her not to tell anyone. (For anyone who knows my sweet sister Mitzi, knows this command is almost laughable. I am very proud of how she did. She lasted until the morning and then told my dad but nobody else).
He wanted to wait to find out more details about what it really was and how bad it is. We now know more, and since he still refuses to share, and although the “talking about it” ban has been lifted, his wife is not supposed to make a big deal out of it. So I will take it upon myself to share with those that he loves. He can’t ban me, I’m his sister. 🙂
In fact, I feel I have earned this right because I distinctly remember when my son was diagnosed with cancer and I didn’t want it to interrupt people’s lives, and I told Mike there was nothing he could do so stay home and work, he directly disobeyed me! Upon arriving at Duke after our diagnosis at Big Wake, Mike was there in front of the ER waiting for us. I remember thinking, “This must mean this is a big deal if Mike left the office despite my wishes, to come and sit at a hospital all day.” I was ready to tell him to get back in his car and go home, but just found myself crying and letting him hold me for a good minute instead. I love my big brother Mike. And whether he likes it or not, people want to know details.
Let’s start with respecting his wishes and letting everyone know “Mike is fine”.
We have great faith that Mike is in fact fine. He was diagnosed with Melanoma. They say it is a classic case of early detection and it is highly treatable.It had not even been assigned a stage is it so early. It is a matter of just scraping it off. His surgeon is VERY optimistic. It will be something they will have to monitor for the rest of his life. He will go in every 3 months to get checked to make sure nothing else is growing.
If you want to know the back story it is actually kind of funny. Mitzi came to tell my dad in tears. Dad kind of tuned out when he heard “cancer” trying to think of all the things this meant. Apparently Mitzi had shared that there was an 80% chance Mike would live 5 years. Then when dad let the beans slip to me it swapped to 20% chance Mike would live 5 years.
YEA! We are so excited to share our news that AJ’s first scans are all clear!
We went in Tuesday for our MRI. It seemed like an off day all around. Things were running behind, AJ’s veins were feeling skinny so he had to be poked 4 times before they got him, once actually sedated and having the MRI he woke up 3 times saying “I’m scared, I’m scared!” crawling out of the tunnel of the big machine, so they had to give him more anesthesia to really knock him out.
We have come a long way in the past 4 months. Michael and I were able to sit in and watch the MRI this time. Big machines don’t scare me as much. Instead I have found they almost bring comfort. Michael and I watched that big machine, listening to the loud noises it made through our ear plugs, and both gave thanks for such wonderful technology to be able to help take care of our baby. I didn’t cry until I saw his little body groggily trying to crawl away from the scary machine. They have to put his head in a trap so he doesn’t move but somehow he wiggled out of it. His head poking out of that big donut machine is a site I will never forget.
We were supposed to get our results that night with a phone call from the doctor. The phone call never came so we decided to face the facts it wasn’t coming and headed to bed at 11.
The next morning when we texted the dr at 930 he apologized that his internet was down so he hadn’t been able to pull up the images but would shortly. He called me and said, “It’s all good!” and I, wanting to make sure I was understanding and wasn’t missing the truth through his accent said, “What’s all good?”. He then replied, “The scans, they look all clean! so go enjoy your next 3 months and I will see you then”.
We feel so blessed and grateful to be able to live “cancer free” for the next 3 months (hopefully longer) until the next scan. Cancer Free is a hard term because although we are hopeful and pretty sure we are cancer free, some of those buggers are sleeper cells that we can’t see yet because they are still paralyzed from the awesome proton radiation we attacked them with and we have to wait to see if they get their energy back. We know they were pretty darn aggressive 3 months ago and just hope that the weapon of radiation did the trick to make these bad guys stay away (see how I slipped into my Monologue to how I explain it to Houston there?:) In 3 months we take another scan to see if that is still the case!
Until then… WOO HOO! we will be living life to the fullest!
THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of the any prayers and support and help over the past 4 months! It is kind of weird for to just slip a switch and pretend to go on with life like it never happened, but in the back of our heads knowing it did and might happen again. Thank you for your help these past 4 months! We still have a long journey ahead of us, but they burden is much lighter.
Thank you for being a part of AJ’s team!
Today is our first MRI check up! From what we hear, no news is good news. Most of our friends have already had theirs, but since AJs was so close to the main blood vessel in his head that probably swelled up a lot with radiation, we had to wait for it to calm back down to be able to see the tumor site. We will post an update tonight when we hear more. Thanks in advance for your well wishes and prayers.
We are home!
We are so excited to all be back under one roof! It has been a week and we are finally getting all unpacked, laundry done, house getting cleaner, and settling back in. Our whole family has gotten sick since we got back. It is like all of the germs were building up in our bodies knowing that they couldn’t come out while we were staying at the Ronald McDonald House and are now making up for it!
Back to real life outside of our cancer bubble. We have spent the week so happy to be together as a family: going to nativity celebrations, Frozen on Ice, a welcome home party for AJ, cleaning, hanging Christmas decorations, and adjusting to life in our new phase. Since AJ was diagnosed on Sept 12, we had only been home as a family for 2 weeks. Since then we have been to Disney World, had our parents move home from Africa to live with us, and 8 weeks in Jacksonville for treatment.
We are getting adjusted to our new living arrangements and after so long are happy to discover our bedroom has a floor! We were starting to question it based on the piles and suitcases we just kept swapping each quick visit home. AJ is doing great, other than his new found narcoleptic-like lifestyle where he falls asleep randomly throughout the day.
Thank you for all your prayers and love! AJ has minor surgery to remove his port on Tuesday (Dec 23) and then we wait until February for our next MRI to see how the tumor looks. In the mean time, we will continue to post thoughts and entries that I never finished while in Jacksonville.
I don’t know why but I’ve thought a lot about the children’s book “The Giving Tree” this past week. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of the book (because I feel like the boy just takes advantage of the tree) but I’ve thought about the evolution of the relationship between the boy and the tree. It reminds me of the relationship between AJ and his bike throughout seven weeks of radiation.
We have been so lucky with pretty minimal side effects, but his relationship with his “hospital hog” demonstrates that having nuclear radiation shot into his brain every day has had an impact.
Our first week here, he could not get enough of it! He would ride it to every doctor appointment, every radiation treatment, the mall, the grocery store, and our daily walks along the riverfront after treatment or at sunset.
On the eve of his last proton therapy treatments, our little boy is exhausted. His body gets worn out so much faster. About three times a day he will have major meltdowns from sheer exhaustion. In talking with some of the prostate patients, they said by their last week and for about a week after, they just wanted to stay in bed and sleep.
Last week we went to our usual launching point for our bike ride. AJ laid on the ground and said , “Please no mommy! The bench!”
When I ask if he wants to ride it into his therapy appointments, he replies, “No mommy, you carry me!” Instead of him riding it around the mall or grocery store, he prefers to lay with his blankey and snuggle.
His poor little body is worn out. So my sweet boy, until further notice I will gladly hold you on my lap at the bench, carry you each day to your doctor appointments, and pad your bed with groceries.
Last night, I found myself very nostalgic. I sat and watched my baby boy sleep, his long brown eyelashes against his beautiful pale puffy cheeks. It was my last night to have just him and me as daddy, papa, and Houst are joining us tonight for our last weekend (aka graduation party all weekend long!) before finishing on Monday.
Is it weird that I kept thinking, “I’m not ready for is to end”? What a weird thing to say, right? There are two reasons for me feeling this way…
First, I really have enjoyed this special time.How many moms get to spend this much one-on-one time with their third child? No work, no cleaning, no appointments (lol, except seven doctor appointments a week I guess). My number one focus was AJ – keeping him healthy, happy, and eating.
If that meant sitting and watching him play at the mall play place for two hours, I did it! If that meant sitting in the car when he falls asleep so he gets his nap instead of possibly waking him when transferring him, I did it. If that meant letting him eat two cupcakes for dinner just so he was getting calories, I did it. I truly have enjoyed this special time with my sweet AJ. No matter what happens, I will treasure these past seven weeks for eternity!
But then I realized my desire to stay had an even greater driving force… I realized that come Monday, when we are done with radiation, done with oncology checks, done with the Ronald McDonald House, done with Florida…
The next thing on the list to do is to go home, back to regular life, and just wait…. and wait…. and wait…
And I am not good at waiting!
From here on out, there is nothing else we can do to fight cancer other than pray and have faith. There is nothing else the doctors can do! We will have about eight MRIs over the next two years that will reveal if radiation worked. If we find the tumor is still growing then we will take it from there (possibly talking invasive brain surgery or limited-success chemotherapy with lots of side effects).
Each day here, I’ve felt like I was doing something to fight cancer. Come Tuesday, it is 100% in the Lord’s hands. And even though I have great faith that He knows the greater plan for my family, it is still humbling and hard to completely turn it over to Him.
Elder Wickman of the Seventy said, “Mortality’s supreme test is to face the “why” and then let it go, trusting humbly in the Lord’s promise that ‘all things must come to pass in their time'” (D&C 64:32).
Well… Here comes our supreme test then…wish us luck and keep us in your prayers. We greatly appreciate them!
You know those really cool coin whirlers? The ones that we have all walked past hundreds of times? If your kids are anything like mine, they sit and wait for some other lucky kid who’s mom actually gave them a penny to watch twirl and race down the funnel. They usually don’t even ask because they know I would say no.
On those rare occasions that I try to be a fun mom and let them give it a spin, I’ll shuffle through my wallet looking for bronze because there is NO WAY they are getting anything silver to put in there… I mean… They aren’t going to put a whole 25¢ in there!
Man, how my attitude has changed!
When we first looked into where we would stay when we came to Jacksonville, we thought about renting an apartment for seven weeks. The Ronald McDonald House was considered as an option but we had a lot of questions.
Would it feel like we were living in a college dormitory or weird combine? What about privacy? Is it just a bunch of people crying in every corner? What if I am the one that wants to just sit in a corner and cry without anyone bugging me? We could find the money to pay for a rental, are we taking advantage of a service that is really just for those that cannot afford another option? So many questions… And I’m so glad I ignored all of them and just came!
The Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville is one of the most special places I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of.
Anyone is welcome (with a doctors referral for a pediatric patient).
No food is allowed in the rooms, but they have a lovely huge kitchen where we have our own cupboard and our own basket in the fridge.
Volunteer groups come in every night and prepare lovely meals. There is plenty of shared food available – bread, peanut butter, salad dressings, etc. A dairy fridge fully stocked with milk, chocolate milk, and ice cream thanks to Blue Bell.
The rooms each have private, attached bathrooms with lots of counter space, a good-sized shelved closet, two queen beds and a crib upon request for AJ. Each floor of the three-story building has a play room, family room with comfy couches and tvs, and laundry rooms. The halls are extra wide with shelves full of books, couches, and tables to play or work on so you have sitting areas right outside your room.
The staff is like your cousin or aunt you never had, but were missing out on! They are happy to help and there is at least a manager on duty 24/7. We have a house dog named Reed. Some of my kids are afraid of dogs, but not of Reed. He is too lovable and friendly and likes to give high fives and hand shakes.
The volunteers are the sweetest. Don’t be afraid to ask their names repeatedly and introduce yourself as many times as it takes. They are there to be your friends and help. Take advantage of that. Show them you appreciate their help by becoming their friend.
Now for the best part of the Ronald McDonald House… The faces and people in the house. You walk the halls where little heroes walk every day. You can’t help but fall in love with these little bald headed cuties. You hear their stories and want to cry, but instead you find joy in watching them go down the slide in the courtyard, or the way they proudly show off their painting from art time, the way they learn the rules of their new home and chores, the way the older ones take the younger kids under their wing and adopt them as younger surrogate siblings for a time. We get excited together for fun events that have been donated to us to look forward to. NFL games, concerts, shows, bingo night, Halloween costumes… It gives us something to look forward to.
And don’t even get me started about the parents! These men and women that I get to be with are amazing! Some of them you wouldn’t normally meet, your lives are different, and you seem to have nothing in common. But you come here and you join an elite club of hospital moms and dads. Other people who know what hospital food taste like. Who know what it’s like to have your world flipped upside down. We share our stories, we talk about our ups and downs, we get bored and stir crazy together, we laugh, we cry… And although I haven’t seen it, I can only imagine that they too sometimes go back to their private rooms and cry when they need it.
I’ve received information to go to support groups. I don’t need those for right now because I have my RMH cancer moms!
Thank you Ronald McDonald House for the most special 7 weeks of my life. … Oh, and thanks to all those parents who donate bronze or silver coins to let their kids enjoy the thrill of seeing the coins roll around, so that we could have a home away from home for 8 weeks.
(Learn how you can help us give back to the Ronald McDonald House by simply collecting the pop tabs from soda cans.)
I remember as a young adult woman having a really terrible day. I had walked into church, slouched onto the pew, and just felt blue. I was so self absorbed with the troubles that were bothering me, I felt like nobody around me would understand. As we opened the hymnals to the first hymn, I looked across the pew, far on the other end there was another girl that I barely knew who was crying.
My heart wondered what on earth could be going on. Was she OK? Did she want someone to talk to her? Should I, even though I was kind of in a downer mood and didn’t really know her?
I sat quietly in that meeting wondering how many other people were aching on the inside, just like that girl, just like me. Although all of our problems might be different… they are hard on each of us. They consume us. No matter what our trial is at any time, they are important to us, and thus they are important to Him. The Lord is there and wants to help us through it, if we let Him.
The day AJ was diagnosed, Michael and I felt its effect in every aspect of our lives changing us in to better people. We realized we had no idea what other people were going through and with the new development in our lives, we were choosing to give people the benefit of the doubt. It started off as a joke to the guy that cut us off on our way transferring to the emergency room of the second hospital. We laughingly tried to make light of our news, saying , “Who knows? Maybe he just found out his son has an urgent brain tumor.”
But then it evolved into truly wondering, “What is that person struggling with today?” To the car who parked taking two spots in a full hospital lot – maybe he was rushing to the side of a mourning mother or father. To the nurse who was abrupt to us – maybe she just had to deliver bad news to the patient before us and is emotionally exhausted.
One of my favorite scripture stories is depicted in the letters written between Moroni and Pahoran as found in chapters 60-61 of Alma. Sometimes the “war chapters” of the Book of Mormon get a bad wrap, but I think there are lessons that relate to our own lives’ battles. These chapters remind me that you never know the struggles the other guy is going through.
In Chapter 60, Moroni – the military general – complains to Pahoran – the head of the government. He and his men have been battling and are absolutely exhausted. Moroni is trying to be a good leader, but is struggling to understand “management” from the government. Moroni writes a letter to Pahoran saying in effect, “Where are you? Are you just sitting in your palace ignoring us? We need help! If you don’t send help soon, we will rebel and come attack the government”.
Pahoran’s response is found in Chapter 61 and to Moroni’s surprise, Pahoran explains that he too is exhausted because the government has been overthrown and he has been leading the faithful to defend themselves. Through open communication, they are then able to unite in faith and join forces to defend themselves and their people together, but only after they were able to understand what the other is going through.
People ask if I wonder, “Why me?” and I can honestly say I don’t. This is hard. But there are much much worse things that we could be going through. In just the short time since AJ’s diagnosis, there have been two that stand out to me. The photographers were able to beautifully capture these families and I hope they are OK with my sharing.
One of our dear friends has a sister that has to go through 13 rounds of chemo. I cannot imagine me, as a mother, trying to battle cancer. To try to give love to my kids and wondering what their future holds, while trying not to blame myself for my body’s frailties and being prideful enough to think that it is up to my attitude to beat it. Katie, we have never met, but you are an inspiration to me.
The next is Sarah, a second cousin of mine that I have looked up to for many years from a family that I love and adore. Sarah and her husband Haini welcomed baby #12 – YEP their twelfth child – just a few weeks after I welcomed my Hunter. About a month ago, when their sweet baby Sariah was only two months old, they lost her to SIDS. Sarah, I have looked up to you for many years, but now more than ever. Thank you for inspiring me to handle challenges with grace and faith.
To all the others out there that might be suffering from trials seen or unseen, please know that you are not alone. Our Savior is there for us. “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning [AJ]; for all flesh [even AJ’s] is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.“
AJ and Hunter have always had a very special relationship. AJ, more than I remember with any of the other kids, loved to come and kiss “his” baby in my tummy. It is like they were soul mates and he couldn’t wait for Hunter to get out already and come and play with him!
When we were trying to decide what to name Hunter, we had a hard time choosing a middle name. I had jokingly thrown out Harvey as a joke months earlier, but we kind of blew it off. When we were in the hospital I kept coming back to it. In our house Harvey was, in a weird way, a term of endearment. With 6 siblings, instead of my dad going down the list of names and waiting until he called the right one, he would just say “Harvey” and expect us all to look. During a high school basketball game, my teammates kept hearing this crazy old man in the top of the bleachers yell, “HARVEY! Get on the ball!” etc. They were all wondering who this Harvey was. At the end of the game while in the huddle, my dad came up to me and patted me on the back and said, “Harvey, where were you on D?” and the huddle all looked at me and said, “YOU are HARVEY!?!?” For the rest of my high school career, my warm ups said “Harvey” instead of my name. To me, it was a sign of love. Others might have seen it as weird that my dad didn’t call us by name- I thought it was a compliment. When I heard “Harvey” I knew that my dad needed me and loved me. If he didn’t need me, he needed one of my siblings, but I was there and alert to help if they needed help. He needed one of us or all of us. One of his crew. One of my teammates in life. One of my best friends.
While in the hospital to welcome Hunter, I was nervous and worried that despite this baby coming while I was working so much and he being so close in age to the other three, I wanted him to know that I knew him… I loved HIM! I wanted him to know that even though he might sometimes feel overlooked and that he is just one of the big crew, I wanted him to know he was an important part of our crew and although I might be busy with work and chaos of life, I would always love him and he is never forgotten. Little did I know at the time how much this would really fit him.
Just before Hunter turned 2 months, AJ was diagnosed with brain cancer. Hunter went from house to house as our family’s “normal” was turned upside down. Any sort of feeding schedule was gone. Sleep schedule — good luck! I barely even saw him for weeks. When I went in for his 2 months check up, I started bawling when the nurse asked if I had any concerns about him and I had no idea. I didn’t know how many wet diapers he had. I didn’t know how much he was sleeping. I had barely seen him. Yet whenever I do get to see him, he smiles at me as if he gets it and knows who I am knows this is how it supposed to be.
Back to AJ & Hunter’s sweet relationship…
After AJ’s brain surgery, AJ recovered quite well but still had no interest in walking a couple days after surgery. We had been praying that he would find the desire and energy to get up and walk. It was on Sunday night I believe when a baby in the hospital room next to us was crying. He must have been the same age as Hunter because it sounded very similar. Despite his bad headache, nausea and vomiting, stitches from the brain surgery a couple days before, as soon as he heard that crying, he sat up and said “My Hunter, My Hunter…” and wiggled right on out of bed and out of his hospital room (with some help holding a hand). I had to rush to get the IV stand that was attached to him still as he headed out. He was pretty ticked to find out it wasn’t Hunter. (Hunter wasn’t allowed to see AJ until he came home because kids had been banned from the hospital due to a virus going around).
When I went home for weeks 2&3 of radiation, while my parents stayed in Jacksonville with AJ, we would try to FaceTime. He seemed to enjoy talking to me, Michael, Houston and Hadley. But after a long conversation one Sunday evening, it was when he saw Hunter and heard his baby whimper, that AJ started crying and demanding, “I hold my Hunter! I hold my Hunter!” They have this bond this is different than any I have seen.
It was wonderful to spend time with just them two this Thanksgiving weekend. What a rare opportunity for Michael and I to focus on just them. It was heartwarming. Hard to get Hunter to sleep because AJ continued to layer blankets on top of him or binkies in his mouth when he would give a slight whimper. If those didn’t work, then he would start piling his toy cars on top of the blankets, because of course that would put Hunter at ease! AJ loved holding him and reading him stories, sharing his toys and giving him snuggles. My favorite was when he took of Hunter’s shirt and handed daddy one of his own McQueen shirts to put on Hunter… I guess only “the best” will do for his little brother! He would always insist that Hunter come lay by him while we were having relaxing time no matter what he was doing. What a wonderful team these two! I can’t wait to see the things the Lord has in store for them.
That day back in the hospital with Hunter, trying to decide a middle name… I looked up what Harvey meant: “Eager for battle, Strong and Worthy!”. At the time I was unsure what battle our family would have to face and I am sure many more lie ahead. But I knew that we could use another teammate as we did and I wanted him to know that even though it might not always feel like it because he is a part of our chaotic crew, we love him as an individual so much! So grateful to be the mother of these 2 great warriors!
[Taken from MeiLani’s Facebook post on November 29]
It has taken 8 years of marriage, 5 years of kids, and a 2-year old with a brain tumor to help me realize that I’m not a bad mom if I decide to stay in and snuggle for daddy’s last night in town instead of taking a tired 2-year old cancer patient and a 4-month old to a late-night Christmas boat parade and fireworks.
(You know that if my two older kids were here we would have been all over it!)
I love how AJ is pinching Hunter’s cheeks. I’m not sure it is a sign of endearment or to make sure he is focused on lightning McQueen.