Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Prayer

There is nothing like a serious health issue to make one grateful for life and blessings. If you know me, you could probably predict that my mind and heart would go to the darkest places. Would Heidi be OK? How about my boys – now young men? What about my students? My little school? My friends and acquaintances? Who would love up my dog? This was a wake up call. An accounting of sorts.

All kinds of questions kept bubbling up. Have I been a good enough father, husband, friend, teacher, brother, son? Have I done what I could to leave this world a better place? Have I affected others in a positive way?

But I'm putting the cart before the horse.

A few weeks ago I went to the dermatologist. I had some lesions removed that looked suspicious. It happens every time I go. No big deal. Days later I got a message at school to call the doctor’s office. Again, no big deal, I thought. It was just to tell me that everything checked out fine. I was in no rush to return the call.

Then Lyn, my principal and dear friend, came in to tell me to CALL THE DERMATOLOGIST! OK, serious. Maybe a big deal. I stood outside my classroom on the phone looking in as Lyn took over my lesson. I got the receptionist. “Wait just a moment to talk to the doctor, please’” she said. Talk to the doctor? When was the last time I talked to a doctor on the phone? Never. OK, probably a big deal.

“Mr. O’Keefe, I am really sorry to have to tell you this…” were her first words to me. The rest of the conversation remains a blur. But I heard the words invasive and malignant and melanoma in the same sentence. That could not be good. She said that I needed to make an appointment to see an oncologist and a surgeon. She recommended ones she preferred. The words as soon as possible were also in there. I took notes on a piece of scratch paper that was near the door. They were nearly unintelligible. I don’t really remember the last few hours of school that day. I must have been on autopilot. My apologies to my students.

Fast forward. The skin biopsy from your right anterior chest showed… Phone calls. Consultations. …invasive malignant melanoma… The love of my family. Trips to the surgeon and the oncologist. Breslow thickness of 1.38 mm Being surrounded by beautiful third graders. Prayers from family, new friends and old friends. The lesion had no connection with the epidermis Reading about this on line. Consulting Ruthie O'Keefe– my family doctor. unusual for a primary melanoma skin cancer My own prayers of thankfulness for these 53 years, my family, my students. Encouragement from friends and family. I recommend that you see a general surgeon Not knowing who to tell. Not wanting to be a whiner but needing to talk about it. a general surgeon for a complete excision and a sentinel node biopsy… The hectic end of the school year. Saying goodbye to my children after two years together. You may need MRI or PET CT scans… Insomnia, bad dreams. Music to fill me up. This is important to take care of these things as soon as you are able…

And so it went. Office visits, scans, bolting right after school for doctor visits, insurance questions, the support of my family, my teacher friends, my church friends.

Yesterday was the surgery. Heidi hung out with me all day, chatting me up while I had radioactive injections around the site (ouch!), was scanned to find the lymph node, waited in the hospital bed for hours before surgery, loving on me. We talked to the doctors, the nurses, the anesthesiologists. After all of the meds were given, the IV put in place; when the nurse anesthetist gave me the final shot she said would make it so I “wouldn’t care” about what was going to happen, Heidi kissed me and said that she loved me. She flashed me that bright intense smile, her special reserve brilliant smile, the one that only I get, the one that says I’ll love you forever, no matter what happens. Just what I needed.

They wheeled me toward surgery. I was expecting to feel out of it, but I had this amazing moment of clarity. I said a prayer of thanks for all of these years, for my sons, my mom and dad and siblings, my students and friends, for music and my home in the woods, for all of the goodness in my life. It felt right. “Hey, I still care,” I said to the nurse anesthetist. She gave me another shot and then it was lights out.

We still have a few days to wait to be sure that the pathology report is good. It will be. I’m a little sore. Not bad, really.

I got up this morning FULLY AWAKE. My prayers are those of gratitude. I’ve got it made and I know it. I’ve got SO much to be thankful for.

I’ll end this post with a song I wrote about 10 years ago. It’s funny when you come back to something you’ve written long ago and find that it has new meaning. This one really does.

My Prayer

I am thankful for this golden day

And for all of the beauty that lies in my way

For music – for laughter and for all these friends of mine

For family and children and the precious gift of time

I am grateful for all that’s been and all that lies ahead

For patience and kindness and – yes – my daily bread

To live every day as if it were my last

To leave all my yesterdays far in the past

For the changing of leaves and the sky so blue

For the sparkling green eyes of my love so true

I am grateful for this golden day

And for all of the beauty that lies in my way

I am grateful.


Chris Hass said...

I'm relieved to hear that the surgery is over and that you're doing well. I wasn't sure the exact day of the surgery but I've thought of you many, many times over the last couple of days. I was planning to e-mail Heidi tonight to ask how it went.

It'll be nice in a few days to put all this behind you and focus on more pleasant and relaxing things- working in the yard, enjoying your pool, and your trip to Hawaii. I'm sure Heidi will remember to pack the SPF 100. Good luck getting that rubbed in.

Judy T said...

Wow, Tim. I didn't know. I would have been praying big time during the surgery while you were too much out of it to "care" and all you love had to be doing the praying for you. Anyhow, now that I do know, I can take up the praying that all will be well.

I know what you mean about having a wake up call that makes you understand the importance of cherishing every day and every experience for the joy it brings. Several years ago I went crazy. I was on the fifth floor of Baptist for a number of weeks. (I will write about it on my blog some day soon) While such a thing is not life threatening, it can mean the end of a truly meaningful life in many ways. My son was horribly afraid I would never "come back." Well, I did, and I am fine now. In fact, in some ways going crazy is one of the best things that ever happened to me. But believe me--and I know you do--such an event in your life transforms it in many ways. It was as though I was half asleep to what was around me every day . I now want to grab every minute of every day and suck the juice out of it.

Bless you my friend. Rest up. Put your feet up for a couple of days and let Heidi wait on you--bring you this and that and this and that (make up stuff. I'm sure you don't let yourself get pampered much. You don't seem like that kind of guy)

We have missed you at FNB. Now we know where you have been. All the guys have missed your huge pot of spaghetti and you. I will tell them what is going on and there will be a cloud of prayers surrounding you!!!!

We will save your place for you.

Mariana Souto-Manning said...

I am grateful for you, Tim...and for Heidi! Even though we haven't seen each other in a while, the two of you are always in my heart. Your teaching inspired me to push the boundaries of what I considered possible in my own classroom. Your vision lives with me as I dare to inquire, create, and learn. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thank you for sharing your life. Most of all, thank you for being who you are! My very best, Mariana

Teresa said...

I continue to be inspired by you! What a thoughtful, reflective path you chose to take during such a confusing and difficult situation. I am certainly sending positive energy to you and your family!

Jennifer Barnes said...

My friend,
You have touched so many lives - and changed all of us (children and adults alike) for the better. My prayer for you is that you have peace, rest, a great book, sleep at night, your dog beside you, smiling boys, your angel Heidi and the best phone call of your life. But, know this: whatever the future holds, you will be okay. You have always lived such a grateful life; you've always seen things in a different way. God is holding you in His hand and He will take you through this (hopefully short) episode. I promise you'll never see health and life in the same way again though. But, that's one positive thing that comes out of our dark places. We'll be praying until we hear... Know that we love you guys and we are just a phone call away.

Travis said...

Don't know what to say. I'm thinking of you and the family, and praying for good news. You are one of the greatest people in the world and if even half of the people who love you are praying for you you will be more than fine. Be well my friend!

Tim O'Keefe said...

Thanks to all of you who read and for your nice comments. I heard this afternoon from the pathologist. All is well. I am clean. I am blessed.


Paula said...

Tim this was beautiful. Amazing what clarity we get when we face difficult or dangerous circumstances. I think it is those moments that define who we really are and what we believe about God. When you felt gratitude it said volumes about your life, attitude and inner self. I am so happy the Lord came near and showed us His glory by touching you and healing you, I am also happy to have you as a brother in law and friend. And yes, you have been a good husband, father and friend, and the world is a better place for your students, the homelsss in the park and all of us because you are here. Be blessed Tim.

Vivian Vasquez said...

Tim, we are the ones who are blessed to have had you in our lives...your wisdom..your kindness. There are more of us in your corner than you can imagine.I am over the moon happy that all is okay. In peace, caring and love always. Vivian

Brent and Kristen said...

We've been praying for you! So glad to hear the good news that all is now well. What an expressive post. You're an amazing writer (not that I ever questioned you). Can I just tell you that if you ever decide to write a fictional novel that I could cuddle up with...I would surely buy a copy. : ) Brent, Asher, and I hope to stop by soon!

Ruth said...

Why do you suppose these things happen? Bad, scary things happening to good, kind, beautiful, caring people? Just in case we ever took a wonderful day for granted? Just in case we weren't paying enough attention to our own mortality? Nobody ever said life is fair - just notice the disparity at birth. Cancer survivors are special people. They seem to live with some kind of extra knowledge, more accurate priorities. I really like cancer survivors. They keep things straight. And I love you, Tim, more than ever. You are my hero.

Kelly said...

Thank you very much for your post; it was very touching, as usual. I loved the lyrics from your song-it made me think of 'What a Wonderful World.' I love to hear Louis Armstrong sing that one. You always have wonderful insights and such a great way of putting them. I'm glad to hear the surgery went well-something I can add to my long list of things to be grateful for, and which your post reminded me to think of more often. My mom and I will be thinking of you and your family, and praying for continued blessings for each of you.

Gloria (The Mamafamilias) said...

A friend I've never met is just as much my friend as the ones I see every day. Kelly just spoke for both of glad of the good news you received and yes, we will continue to think of you all and keep you in our prayers.