Other springs

Jeff enjoys springtime on Grand Cayman Island, March 2011

Jeff enjoys springtime on Grand Cayman Island, March 2011

When we began this endless trek,
I feared I saw a darkened door,
Through which a line of marching sick
Were heading for some winter shore.
But now the news the doctor brings
Seems to promise other springs.Jane Yolen

One year ago today, Jeff went into the local emergency room with sudden, acute abdominal pain that suggested appendicitis.  That day I got a phone call from him in the ER with the kind of devastating news we all dread; news that would change our lives abruptly and irrevocably.

It was the beginning of a year that was to bring him two different cancers diagnosed (apparently unrelated to each other), four surgeries, four weeks in the hospital, two different courses of chemotherapy and one of radiation, countless trips to Bethesda, and further surgeries and treatments planned, with no completion of treatment in sight. The initial diagnosis of atypical cardinoid in the appendix was worrisome enough, but with the additional finding of Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the colon, with multiple tumors scattered over the liver and lungs, his prognosis was grim indeed.

On Christmas Eve 2010, a dear friend of ours had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Sometime in the weeks following, Jeff picked up a copy of the book The Radiation Sonnets, written by the prolific and multiple-award-winning author Jane Yolen, who penned the sonnets daily as a way of coping with her husband’s cancer treatment.  Jeff hoped the book might bring comfort to this wonderful couple we loved, who were facing a such a formidable challenge.  He didn’t read it, but asked me to review it and decide whether it would be an appropriate gift.

By the time I was able to skim the book, our friend’s prognosis and condition had worsened, and I felt the hopeful tone on which the book ended might not fit the current circumstances.  I set the book aside hoping the time would come when it might be more fitting for them, or if not, there might be other friends who could benefit from it someday.

Shortly after Jeff’s second cancer diagnosis in November 2012, I was going through the cache of gifts I keep on hand when I buy something perfect for a particular person, to save for the next Christmas or birthday.  I found Yolen’s now-forgotten book and decided to read it, with the somber realization that the person I had been saving it for turned out to be me.

The poem I partially quote above, entitled “Ask the doctor,” falls slightly more than halfway through the book.  I clung to it and read it often during the darkest days, with the fervent hope that there might someday be an appropriate time to feature it in this blog.  I am filled with gratitude and joy that the time finally seems right. 

It’s not that we’ve gotten any particularly good news lately, but Jeff has again managed to fend off some frightening and excruciatingly painful side effects from the chemotherapy that has ravaged his body, and with every comeback, I feel more hopeful.  As did Yolen’s husband, Jeff still faces a very uncertain future, but one that holds considerably more hope than it did just over ten months ago when I began this blog.

All of you who have joined us on this path, through your visits here, comments, thoughts and prayers, have helped us reach a brighter place.  I think of every reader with appreciation and a deeply thankful heart.  You have created for me this supportive community that has upheld me through more than I could have imagined thus far.  As we continue forward with a renewed determination to defeat despair, know always that you have played an important role in our ability to rise above the pain and sorrow.  As I love to say in my comments, “thanks for being here!”


  1. You have the gift of strength. May things turn for the best for you and your family.

    • Thanks so much, I really appreciate your kind words…they are like vitamins for the soul!

  2. Now I can understand your condition and feelings better, Julia. My father was diagnosed with brain tumor and a serious heart problem (aortic stenosis) in July, just after we spent a happy week together. I am glad my sisters are there to take care of him.
    A supportive spouse or family member means a lot to the patients. Your husband is blessed with one. With prayers….

    • Bindu, it is so nice to hear from you again! I hope you had a wonderful summer break. Thanks so much for your prayers; they are the most important gift anyone can give us. I wish you a happy and productive school year this year! I’m so happy to see your smiling gravatar here again! I hope that your father will blessed with healing and strength. I’m glad you were able to spend some time with him again, and that he is well taken care of by your sisters. I remember your sweet blog post about your father.

  3. Among my first waking thoughts, this Lord’s day, was: “It was exactly one year ago, today.” During that year, I prayed over two hundred times for a young man doing a tour in Afghanistan. But, that does not approach the number of prayers I have offered up for Jeff. Today, I am resolved to “lose certain dates”. Being a history buff, this will not be easy. Along with the recent eleventh day of this month are days like November 22, 1963. The dates, themselves, are not really important, are they? Defeating Despair is. Along those lines, let me say that not only is this a great photo of my brother-in-law, but the composition of the entire scene presents a better view than I have ever seen in the Caymans (out of dozens of nights spent there – each one-night-at-the-time 🙂

    • Hmm, I hope I didn’t get the island wrong! 🙂 To be truthful I had to check the date on the photo to be sure which one it was. That’s one nice thing about digital records; they keep the dates for us. But that was a lovely day on Grand Cayman, an island that seemed more residential and less tourism-based than some we have visited; perhaps it was just where we happened to end up. Foremost in my mind, November 22, 1963 is the day C.S. Lewis died. His modest and hard-to-spot grave marker in Headington, near Oxford, reads “Men must endure their going hence.” I wondered if that was meant to refer to JFK also, since they both died on that day. We really appreciate your ongoing prayers for us, as well as the many cards and little thoughtful gifts (and big ones that got lost in the UPS black hole).

  4. Ann

    You and Jeff are surrounded by a host of friends who love and support you even though we’ve never met.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

    The old hymn ” Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” came to mind as I write this post…maybe you’ll remember it too when you need to rest.

    • Thanks Ann, I love that song. It’s one of many I was blessed to learn as a child, and never forgot. I love the way it refers to the fellowship of “this pilgrim way.” When Jeff’s pain was at its most intense, I suggested to him that I sometimes visualize literally being held in the arms of God, “save and secure from all alarms” as the song says. Such mental pictures really help me when I am beyond more mundane methods of relaxation. I really appreciate hearing from the “host of friends” who have walked with us in spirit though never having met us. We are very blessed!

  5. HarryS

    The amazing metaphor of being born again and the absolute declaration that anything which God calls you to or helps you to attain is always a promotion is one of the most powerful affirmations of being in a new life as promised through the act of faith.

    “Sometimes when we touch”..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVf940pO5ME.. even though it is written to express feelings between humans, nevertheless expresses my own feelings when that special moment between my creator and I occur, causes me to swell with spiritual fullness.

    • Yes, the term “born again” has become so used and abused that we don’t really tend to hear the incredible message it originally carried. Thanks for sharing your faith, and for affirming the oft-denied truth that we really can be changed and made new. It reminds me of a favorite verse: “Therefore we do not lose heart. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

  6. Barb Seibel

    Been praying, still praying. Your hope and faith is inspirational Julia.

    • Thanks so much Barb. The prayers from you and so many others are the basis of our hope! I’m so happy to have you here with us.

  7. Carolyn

    Julia, it has been wonderful reading your blogs every morning. Jeff holds a special place in my heart as well as you. I pray that this will be a better year for him. I have one week to go before my lab work,for my three month check up. Sure hope markers are all down. I want know anything until Oct.1st. Hanging in there with the eyes and just pray that the chemo hasn’t done anything else to the body. I just try to have a good outlook and our visit, one day, will be great. Keep those blogs coming and I will keep prayers going up. Hugs and love to you all.

    • Thank you so much, Carolyn. We will keep praying for you, too, and we’ll be marking these milestones together. Keep us posted. Love to you and Terry!

  8. Ivy atkins

    GOD give you and your family the strength and blessing, Jeff, Matt and you always in my heart and prayers, always remember GOD is in control.

    • Thank you Ivy, I look forward to seeing you every Sunday at church. Thanks for your faith and good example. I will be praying for you and your family, and especially as you mentioned, all our children.

  9. What a horrible day that was. I keep you always in my prayers that the next prognosis will be one of nothing but hope. Our love to you all.

    • Thank you Amy. You were there with us the night everything changed. I will never forget that. I love you.

  10. MaryAnn

    The beauty & joy exudes from this photo. I want to dash over there & run into the water hopefully w/ Matt splashing alongside!
    Thank you for sharing all the photos, quotes & thoughts w/ us. I appreciate the details in this post. It shows our Heavenly Father right there as you & Jeff are “holding to His unchanging hand”.
    Love & prayers continue…

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. Just picturing you and Matt at a beach together brought a smile to my face! I’m so happy to have you visiting with us here – I always love to hear from you. Hope you have a great week!

  11. merry

    Julia, thanks for your inspiring blog and the wonderful picture of Jeff. I can tell your family loves the outdoors…mine too!
    In my doctor office is a wonderful picture with these words of encouragement:
    Attitude is Everything
    There is two ways to live your life…one is as though nothing is a miracle.
    The other is as though Everything is a miracle.
    May you and Jeff be blessed with a miracle of many days…

    • Thank you Merry! Yes, we love to be outside, especially in beautiful weather. We are all bookish types so that would seem to be contrary to the stereotype, but since Jeff’s career has taken us to such lovely places, we have been able to enjoy some really gorgeous country. You are lucky your family enjoys being outdoors too. It really does cut the stress level better than most anything I can think of. Thanks for the quote – I do believe that attitude is SO powerful, maybe more than we ever realize. I appreciate your kind words and your visits here!

  12. Sheila

    Julia, the circumstances that brought us together assure me that God is always at work in our lives. We have shared so much and the caring has evolved just because we really do seem to understand each other. Your words touch my heart! We are in Orlando! With love, Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, wish I were there with you so we could go see our friend Eleni who moved to Melbourne over a year ago – we still miss her! OK, and so we could have a blast at Disney World together, too! I never get enough of that place. Every time we go, Jeff says “that will be the last time we go back for many years” and then what seems like a short time later, we are all ready to go back! I am so grateful that we connected through this blog. God really can take awful circumstances and find ways to bring good out of them. TTFN, as Tigger would say – and if you see him, give him our best! Wishing you a Zippidee Doo Dah Day (and week) – and if you remember THAT song, you are definitely as old as I am!

      • Sheila

        Me oh my oh what a wonderful day…. or something like that!

        • Well, then, everything is SATISFACTUAL. 🙂

  13. merry

    My family enjoys reading too. Rainy days don’t bother us…we just find a book to curl up with!! most of us have e-readers, I still like the feel of a book in my hands. :}

    • Merry, I do too! Especially hardbacks. I’m grudgingly coming to see the many benefits of e-readers, though. I can get all my magazines free now through the library, and I use a Nook HD+ (a gift from Jeff) for that. But Jeff got me a Kindle Paperwhite too, and I use it most. It’s nice for reading at night in the car or after Jeff is asleep; I love the backlit screen. I don’t intend ever to give up my books, though.

  14. Living with that kind of news and then medical intervention and uncertainty must really take a toll on Jeff, yet your words are full of promise. That’s so beautiful. It seems almost like a miracle really. I can’t help but think you must be almost plum worn down, I know I would be. We just never know how strong we really are until life calls on us to support someone we love. I’m glad I found you Julia, believe me, I get as much out of my visits with you as you do. To quote a wonder lady, “Thanks for being here.”

    • I am so happy you are here! I think yours was the first blog I started reading regularly. It all does feel bit like a miracle right now. When the days (or even moments) are beautiful, I pack them away to take out next time everything crashes. Thanks for being part of the “beautiful!”

  15. Maggie

    Love you both. Prayers continue!

    • Thank you Maggie! We love you too!

  16. Hi Julia! I just got reading through a few of your posts and I had a quick question about your blog. I was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance. Thanks!


    • Hi Emmy, which posts, and what is your question? Your message is almost identical to some of the SPAM I get daily. What separates SPAM from real mail are the specifics – can you give us some? Thanks!


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