Blinking once-sealed eyes

The baby robins open their eyes and prepare for rapid growth, May 2005

The baby robins open their eyes and prepare for rapid growth, May 2005

“I do not know what I am doing. But just like a baby bird, I am blinking once-sealed eyes and unfolding damp wings.” Julie Gregory

No matter how old we grow, life forces us to keep learning.  Sometimes it helps to re-frame even the most difficult experiences as opportunities to increase our competence, tenacity or courage.  When the full force of Jeff’s stage IV diagnosis came crashing down on our heads, there was a period of shock and grief, and then a tentative, logical period of weighing options and making plans for various scenarios.

During this time I gradually became aware of the many things in our personal histories that had prepared us for navigating these ominous passages.  Jeff had extensive experience and training, up through the post-doctoral level, as a military medical officer whose responsibilities went far beyond that of the typical dentist.  In a general way he knew a good bit about what would be facing him.  I had worked as an administrative assistant in an NIH-funded brain tumor study at the medical center where Jeff went to dental school, and much of the lingo, practices and atmosphere of the chemotherapy clinic were familiar to me.  Most significantly, for over 27 years we had been riding the waves of Matt’s major surgeries and ongoing medical challenges.

At one point I told Jeff and others close to me, “We have been preparing for this situation for 27 years.”  It’s true that the obstacles facing us are very different than anything we’ve faced before, with unprecedented potential consequences.  But remembering what we’ve already been through has helped us muster the confidence, however shaky, that we can and will get through this together.

Whatever obstacles lie ahead of you, chances are you have somehow been prepared for it in at least a few ways, whether or not you feel conscious of it.  As the baby bird struggles through growth guided mostly by instinct,  I hope you will reach back into your inner resources and reassure yourself that you have what it takes to find the right direction and make it through the often-frightening learning curve ahead.  As lonely as it may feel, others have walked the path before you, and emerged victorious.  Vaya con Dios!



  1. I am so sorry that you and Jeff are enduring this journey, but I am happy that you have eachother on whom to rely! I had no prior knowledge nor experience when I was diagnosed in 2001, but I have learned a wealth of medical information, experienced more than my share of surgeries and procedures and I have learned to and practice daily the art of gratitude for the presents of being present ~ hence The Presents of Presence! ♥♥♥ Big hugs to you both!

    • Thanks so much; no wonder your blog is such a cheerful and encouraging place! I really appreciate your presence and presents here!

  2. Mike Bertoglio

    Thanks Julia. Very profound post. The story of Nicodemus comes to mind, who asked, “How can one be born again.'” So in other words, how can we open a new set of eyes/? Also a wise pastor once told me that everything I learned on job x could used in the next job assignment.
    Enjoying my time in NYC and am getting to know some of the street trees. My new favorite is the Little leaf Linden. And the big Ginkos are pretty amazing. Never seen them that tall in Northwest.

    • I love Ginko trees and didn’t know they even grew in the Northwest at all. We have seen some fairly large ones, but I can’t remember just where. I’m not familiar with the Little Leaf Linden – will have to look it up. Over the years, with all the moves due to Jeff’s career, I have worked many different types of jobs, several at minimum wage and NO prestige, but I learned a lot from each job I ever worked, and would not trade in my “real world” experiences for a high-prestige university degree. I’m not knocking formal education; my MLIS (library and information studies) has been perhaps the most useful degree I could have gotten since it helps me learn about everything else. Still learning to look through new eyes, though. I think I truly have what the Zen masters call “beginner’s mind.”

  3. Eric

    Being neither prepared, nor knowledgeable about what you are facing, I ask a humble question: is what you are saying reflected in God’s words to Paul, found in 2 Corinthians 12:9?

    • Absolutely. Power is “perfected in weakess” through a variety of means, one of which is using the unfortunate or less desirable as a learning experience.

  4. Sheila

    Julia, I’ll share a testimony of an experience yesterday, at the grocery store. My favorite cashier, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January,and no longer worked there, as she was going through chemotherapy,etc.. She and I had “bonded at the checkout”, probably a same age thing. You guessed it, she is back! Her hair is shorter and her smile is bigger. I hope Jeff will tell cancer to Kiss His Ass! Walking on the beach in this storm has me so fired up! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I think you must be referring to the slogan Eric and I were discussing recently! 🙂 Jeff’s Aunt Gloria gave him a book called “What cancer cannot do” and it’s got the same type of empowering message. It’s so easy to get lost in a catastrophic diagnosis, but one way Jeff has been telling the cancer “KMA” is by going on with his life as normal all through chemo and even now – as just yesterday, despite being hooked up to this wound vaccuum (I watched the doctors change the wound dressing/vacuum tubing today at Jeff’s Bethesda appointment, and looking at a huge gaping hole in the abdomen is NOT PRETTY) he insisted on making a minor repair to our toilet at home, which he discovered was out of order. It works fine now. My husband is amazing. 🙂

      • Sheila

        My reference exactly! Thank you for letting me hop aboard the “Deaton KMA Express”.
        When I’m adoring of Bill, our daughters refer to me as “Schoolgirl”. I’m proud to be a friend to you and Jeff. Sheila

        • Oh Sheila, I read your other comment first and thought you were apologizing for the “KMA” bit – that makes it even funnier. I need to start reading these comments in chronological order! The KMA express is going so fast I sometimes lose my balance!

  5. This day shows your courage. Everyday you share this strength that God has placed deep inside of you! You and your family have been preparing for this day. When you trust God you are always prepared. Victory has and always will be seen in the love that you and your family show for Him. I look back on my life and I see and noticeably feel all the struggles ya’ll are going through and I know He will see you through too! ‘One day at a time, Sweet Jesus.’

    • Renee you keep my spirit refreshed! Fair warning my friend; I have written a post starring YOU (and Tammy and Roger) which you shall see here in a week or so. I didn’t give you veto power over the photo, but I think it’s a pretty good one :-). Thank you for showing me through your life that “We Shall Overcome” is a reality and not just wishful thinking. I am grateful you are in our church and in our lives, here online and elsewhere!

  6. Carlyle

    Most inspiring and encouraging advice gleaned from your years of experience. Not only good advice, but demonstrably exemplified in your own life. Thank you!


    • Thank you Daddy! I am always so happy to hear from you here and to know that you are reading my blog.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, I certainly meant ” Denton KMA Express “…… Sorry.

    • Sheila, no problem, I might not have known what you meant unless you wrote it out! 🙂 If anyone gets offended they can…well, you know…

  8. Thanks for your encouraging and uplifting post today. Zig Ziglar has been known to say, “If you want to be enthusiastic, ACT enthusiastic!” The operative application here being… the cheerful and optimistic outlook you show forth here daily (because of your faith in God) is what is seeing and will continue to see you through this experience. The expressions of optimism take hold and become reality!!! Isn’t that a blessing!!!
    Love you! (Did you get my email this morning? Just checkin’ in)

    • Hi Carla, thanks for checking in – yes, I did see your email briefly before we headed up to Bethesda this morning, I just haven’t had time to get to my email very much lately. Thanks for visiting here and for your encouragement! I do think so many things become self-fulfilling prophecies, for better or worse. When I hear Jeff say something discouraging to himself (like “I am falling apart”) I say “Don’t say that! Your body will hear what you say and respond accordingly! Say, “I am AMAZING!” (And he truly is.) He may secretly think I’m silly when I say such things, but at least he doesn’t say so :-).

  9. Cliff

    Thanks for your encouragement. You and your family are also in the prayers of us here in Oklahoma as well.

    • Thanks so much! Oklahoma has been on the minds and hearts of so many. I appreciate your being here.

  10. Mike Bertoglio

    Jeff fixed a toilet after surgery? Amazing. I could not fix a toilet under any circumstance as I am plumbing challenged.

    • Mike, Jeff is not too much of a handyman either, but luckily there are so many DIY experts online that we were able to find a relatively simple fix. I think Jeff has been so frustrated at being unable to do ANYTHING but survive, that it was a great morale booster to take care of a small task like that. He’s such a worker that being sick is even harder on him than it would be on a naturally lazy person such as I :-).

  11. Ann

    How in the world were you able to take that photo? It’s amazing and so are you!

    • Thanks Ann, we have a bunch of ligustrum shrubs around our deck and sunroom at our York home, and the Robins LOVE them as building sites. Every year we have at least one nest that’s fairly easy to see. I have come to think of these as “our” Robins and I have tons of photos I’ve taken of them over the years. I featured them here and here, and I know I will have more photos of them in upcoming posts! I appreciate your visits here and your kind words about me and the blog.

  12. Julia, hugs and prayers from me. I only wish God continue giving you both the strength to fight it.
    I have the same question – how did you manage that picture? Such close-ups are rare.

    • I can get the photos because the nest can’t fly away and although the mother or father robin sometimes makes quite a fuss when I come near enough to take the photos, I am always careful to leave the babies undisturbed. It is more difficult as they get bigger and the nest gets crowded with the hatchlings, though. They will sometimes jostle around when they see me and I don’t want to frighten them. I appreciate your hugs and prayers – they are much needed and brighten my day!

  13. Their lives, like our own are so precarious. There are so many things against it that are totally out of our control. Yet there’s always a momma bird, struggling to nurture her loved ones with hopes to see them soar one day. That’s you Julia, a tireless momma bird. Take care of yourself too my dear.

    • Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and your visits here! This momma bird should hop on over to Boomdeville and see what Alyster and the rest of you are up to! I always leave there happier than when I arrived. 🙂

      • You’re so welcome and I love my visits. Come on by whenever you have time, if I don’t see you for a bit, I’ll be glad to know you’re spending time with your hubby xK


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