“Children are a heritage from the Lord.” – Ps 127:3
Dear family and friends,
I went in to get fitted for my vinyl mask this week. Not quite Admiral Ackbar (yet – home embellishments might be attempted after the fact), it looks more like this:
|This is not me. The technicians were too busy to take my picture.
Maybe Kendra can get one when I go for the procedure.
Getting fit for it was like the whole-face equivalent of melting and fitting an old football mouthguard. They apply it in four different pieces of warm, melted vinyl that then cool and harden. They had me wear a shower cap so that it wouldn’t “stick to my hair,” but I wasn’t seeing the danger in that. Oh well, as I often advise young upstarts, don’t distract professionals who are going to radiate your brain. The whole thing took about a half hour. Here, too, the UCLA team showed that they’re just fantastic. Professional, motivated, caring. They select their people well.
I’m scheduled for my session of radio-surgery on my 5 brain tumors at noon PDT on 4/5. I’m told that it’s a pretty instantaneous thing and doesn’t take long. They told me that I can walk out, drive away, and go to work if I want. “They go in yo brain,” and you can head right in to work. Astounding.
Given that I might have some side effects of the radiation, and then the new drug that I’ll be starting, I took the step this week of telling my colleagues at work about Cancer 2.0 and what’s been going on the last 10 months, plus the whole story going back to 2007. I had avoided this all along because I had such a good chance of having no side effects, I ultimately didn’t end up having them, and there were beneficial effects of the drugs I was on.
When I was doing my infusions every two weeks, I’d schedule conference calls and do computer work on my laptop from the infusion chair. The whole thing was little more than a minor inconvenience and didn’t impact my professional life at all, really. But now, even though I am not that worried about side effects and figure I can gut them out more easily than the ones I had in 2007-8, I don’t want to have even a temporary slow-down impact my colleagues and have them wonder what’s going on. Time to tell the people on my team. And then I plan to tell my direct reports next week.
I actually had two pieces of information to share. First, I asked if anyone had any suggestions for baby names.
|‘Bout that time in the Tierney house, right?
Yes, Kendra posted about it, but I hadn’t told people at work yet. Kendra is highly organized, disciplined, and likes puns, so baby #10 is due Labor Day if you’re not in the loop. We are thrilled, of course.
Then I shared the cancer facts with the team over 10-15 minutes, starting at the beginning and talking about the current prognosis, my state of mind, etc. This experience had me thinking not only about a reaction my colleagues might have, but many other people, too: I suspect that some people who hear the fact pattern around here might have some questions about our whole having babies and having cancer deal.
Maybe some are doing the math and saying, “Cancer 2.0 hit last May, and you’re having a baby 16 months later?” Or, “Wait. You found out you had cancer in 2007. How many kids have you had since then?” I imagine this must seem crazy to some people. Especially crazy when it becomes clear that we found out we were expecting baby #4 only two days after the Cancer 1.0 diagnosis. That was a time when, if I left this earth earlier than planned, Kendra wouldn’t have even had any big kids to help. It would have been about the toughest moment for them to get through without a dad around. What are you guys thinking? What are you doing?
As Kendra says in the post I linked above, we want all of them, no matter the hardship. Over the years, in moments when I’ve felt that there’s been a spike in misquoted, misinterpreted demographic research that recycles debunked Malthusian myths or that scolds about the carbon footprint of babies, I have stopped short of the social media rant about how – believe me – my hard working kids are going to be paying for a lot of people’s Social Security and that my patent-holding son is going to solve cold fusion (carbon solved + unlimited fresh water, next?) – and decided to light a candle and give people a little window into our mind. I posted this photo and caption on Facebook several years ago as our 7th baby Lulu was learning to sit up…
|“Because stopping at 3, or 4, or 5, or 6 would have meant that we would never
have met this baby. It was the only rational decision we could have made.”
You see at that time, I knew Lulu better than anyone who might wonder at our judgment. On the day this picture was taken she was already, as Kendra called her, “the nicest person I have ever met.” She was going to change the world. She currently is. She always will. I’ve posted about her here, and here, and here. I don’t know what we ever did without her when I was going through 2007-8. She loves others. There is nothing that will change the world more.
Fast forward a few years, and we’re having baby #9. I posted this picture and caption on the morning after George’s birth, when his siblings first met him…
|“Because if we had stopped at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8, this never would have happened.
Sixty five times we’ve had to pick out kids’ Christmas presents, and sixty five more times for
birthday presents. Every one has been cast aside within days. This is the one gift they act better
because of, order their lives toward, sacrifice for, seek the happiness of. The day their baby brother
was born, they were able to love more than they were able the day before.”
That’s Mary Jane, then 2 years old, looking at the person she loves the most to this day. Mary Jane is not cuddly and doesn’t need a lot of attention or even affection. But from day one of George’s life she must touch, and kiss, and hug, and smother her little brother to complete excess. I know Mary Jane better than anyone, too. This love could have been activated in her only by the arrival of her brother. He was the greatest gift we could have given her so that she might live a joyful life, see God in others, and be selfless. Without George, Mary Jane would be different. So would all of us around here. George teaches me to be a better dad, he inspires me to work harder, and he makes me want to love people better. He evokes incredible, true, genuine generosity from teenagers. George is changing the world. What’s cancer when you’re changing the world?
Kendra and I are not cavalier about the challenges that a mom and 10 kids would face without dad. We haven’t been at any step along the way. To some it might sound trite and naive to say “the Lord will provide” (Gen 22:14) To us, that provision is very, very big. It includes actual grace, strength, a team of kids who can run this show, family generosity, friends – so very many friends – who are helping us, beauty, Truth, goodness, a Church and sacraments, prayers, even material resources. The homey adage “every baby is born with a loaf of bread under his arm” has proven true for us in moments when finances didn’t seem to work on paper. The Lord has already provided. We knew all along that he would, and we couldn’t have imagined how he would not be outdone in his extravagant generosity toward us.
People talk easily about “making a leap of faith.” Many times that seems to mean a professional risk. I agree. Sometimes those are called for, and I have made them myself. What this comes down for to us – being okay with babies and cancer – is that we decided long ago, even before Cancer 1.0 that we were going to have a level of ambition in family life that matched or exceeded anything we dedicated ourselves to in professional life. This has required leaps of faith many times. But for us it would have been an incongruity to aspire to the highest levels of personal or work success and be okay with aspiring to less in the family department. The family life aspiration plays out in ways that fall in on a huge spectrum from something as small as avoiding flopping down on the couch when I come home from work to Kendra’s willingness to embrace a very uncertain future. We call it our family culture. We can do it. What is it?
With fortitude and prayers for you,