The house feels a little empty without all my fall decorations up.  I wasn’t going to do any decorating since we weren’t supposed to be home.  Things will be scarcely decorated for Thanksgiving. You won’t see Christmas at my house until November 25th.  Which also happens to be Day 100; the day after Thanksgiving.  It will certainly be a fitting holiday for us this year.  We can’t be thankful for all that we’ve had to endure this year but coming out the other side without constant and excruciating pain is a gift that our insurance company has paid over a million dollars for.

I’ll admit; I’ve had more than a couple days where finding anything to be thankful for has been more than a challenge.  While I’m feeling genuinely grateful, I thought I would share our Top 10 Things we CAN be thankful for this year. 

Scott carves the turkey for us again this year

Obviously, FAMILY.  For sister-in-laws with medical knowledge back when we were first learning how to deal with pain management.  For everyone’s unwavering concern that ultimately led to us going to Mayo Clinic for a diagnosis that would have taken the folks in Kalamazoo forever, if ever, to figure out.  Home-made meals, baked goods and Culver’s when he would eat nothing else but milk shakes.  Money, cards, letters; sitting with Scott when I had to work.  Helping with the IV’s & medications as well as staying with him for a few days and nights so I could go to my daughter’s wedding out of state.  Equally important was having family take our dog and treat him like their family while we couldn’t have him around.

FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS – most notably our bestie Tal that took a week out of his very busy schedule without blinking an eye.  Driving us to Mayo and going to all our appointments with us.  Being that extra set of eyes and ears when we were trying to understand things that we never thought we would have to know.  For keeping me company when all Scott could do was sleep.  Not to mention helping make the connection with the couple that allowed us to rent their lake home when we needed to be within 100 miles of U of M.  All the friends that called, texted, sent cards and financial gifts and even helped with firewood deliveries. 

You have to believe in a power greater than our own when you manage to meet a fellow BMT spouse while at U of M and quickly form a friendship based on shared experience.  I can only hope that I helped her as much as she helped me. During the days when our guys were enduring inconsolable suffering and didn’t want us around we hit the trails and walked off our stress.  Days they didn’t want to talk but we needed to talk.  We continue to check back with each other and share our on-going journeys to recovery. 

We also have the best neighbors we could ask for; watching the place all the time we were gone.  Again, sitting with Scott when I needed to work.  Taking care of my butterflies & our lone pet chicken, keeping the lawn mown, and even canning peaches from our tree.   

It was great to have my family (only short 2) and all the kids here for Thanksgiving dinner

INSURANCE & TIMING – It’s nothing short of a miracle that I delayed my retirement last year and then again in April.  By delaying it until August 1st, I was able to work pretty much up to his admission to the hospital and extend my 18 months of COBRA insurance as long as possible.  Keeping a high-quality insurance program throughout this experience is priceless – well truly – worth at least $1.5m so far and growing.  Between $15k drugs and $23k injections, we can’t begin to imagine the stress this situation would carry if you didn’t have good insurance.  After meeting our fairly sizable deductible, everything has been covered at 100%. 

GIFTS of MONEY – Accepting money was something that took us a long time to be comfortable with.  The fact that we never asked for money yet people kept asking to give and ultimately forced us to accept was humbling.  Not having to take money out of the farm while they had to pay others to do Scott’s work was something that was important for us to do and the gifts made that possible.  We are forever grateful for so many people’s generosity.

FINANCIAL STABILITY – Divorce has a way of causing financial chaos.  Thankfully we both were able to pay our dues and move on successfully.  Always working and saving and living within our means set us up to weather the storm that this year brought us.  Having adequate savings, along with the gifts from friends and family allowed us to get through the year without accumulating any credit card debt or loans. 

RETIREMENT – Another benefit of being part of a relationship where both partners believe in living within a budget and not abusing credit cards allowed us to be in a position for me to retire early.  That, and having worked at least two jobs throughout my entire adult life was finally paying off.  I kept up the ordering, bill paying and payroll for the store while I was gone but I didn’t have to worry about the daily duties of a 40-hour week on top of everything else while he spent 40 days in the hospital.  While we had amazing nurses there, there were a lot of situations that I was able to minimize or mitigate by always being there.  When he wasn’t able to tell them what he needed or remember everything that was going on, I was able to keep the staff aware of all that was happening to him.    

HELP/LABOR – After years of never having relief labor for Scott and his brother on the farm, a young man was made available to us; truly a godsend.  He quickly learned the feeding routines and helped fill the void left by Scott’s absence.  Scott’s two nieces stepped up and in to help where ever possible and while things weren’t the same, they all made it work.   Staff members at my store were taxed and tested and immerged successfully.  So many people giving 110% to help make our businesses continue as much “as usual” as possible.   

Nurse Emily was just one of several outstanding nurses on the BMT team

STAFF AT U of M – Having been raised in a green and white home, seeking treatment at the maize and blue was an adjustment.  One would think that something deemed a life-saving procedure would be administered by a highly skilled physician.  In actuality, the stem cell transplant was done by a nurse.  Throughout his stay, we were blessed by so many caring nurses.  Not only were they always doing everything possible to make Scott comfortable, they were always asking to see what I needed as well.  Overall advances in the whole process and medicines available to limit the effects of the chemo are also something to give thanks for. During his hospital stay, we felt we could always count on Emily the Physician’s Assistant and now we have nothing but praise for our Nurse Practitioner, Kari.   The care given there is outstanding.

TECHNOLOGY – When I asked Scott for his top ten, he was able to come up with two.  Of all things, he mentioned technology.  I have to agree that without technology I don’t know how we could have navigated this situation.  Allowing us such full and instant access to his medical information is pretty amazing.  Keeping in touch with all our loved ones while not being able to see them throughout the entire process was priceless.  Initially he was very hesitant about the Facebook group and then the blog but now he understands the need for the communication and fully supports my need to share our experiences. 

I think probably most people that have gone through something like this can look back and say that it made them realize all they had.  We are blessed with great families and friends and thankful for all that they have done for us.   We are amazed by the whole process and the gift of life received from a stranger from a far-away land.  Hopeful that someday we might be able to meet him and thank him in person. 

More important than my opinion or rating of our blessings is Scott’s exact words; that “the promise of a new day” is the greatest blessing of all.  That chance for Scott to be present to watch our family grow and age. 

Weddng photo credit to Samantha Sutarova; I plan to have her photoshop Scott into this family photo taken at my daughter’s wedding. It’s clear this photo has a hole where Scott should have been that day; right in the center of us all.