The Olathe Fire Department was well represented this morning. Down in KC, the guys were doing a stair climb. This was the message sent to me from James from his crew today, which totally brought tears to my eyes. These are just the greatest guys in the world.
Meanwhile, back in Omaha, I walked in a Remembrance Walk today. It was pretty hot outside…in the 90’s and humid, but there were lots of opportunities to duck under a tent to paint butterfly ornaments, work on a large butterfly remembrance mural by painting in the colors, or pet a dog up for adoption. There were a couple of friends of mine there walking for the memory of their children. They had their families and friends of their kids with them walking. Unfortunately, Rich is out of town at a hockey tournament and Lily had multiple graduation parties for friends today. I was helping to paint part of the mural and was working on a section with an older woman. We were given buttons of our loved ones, so I had a photo of Joe in his bunker gear. She kept staring at me. I was wondering if I had managed to smear cobalt blue paint across my face. She finally asked me if I had been to one of these Remembrance Walks before. I told her I had not. I then asked her who she was here to honor. Her button was a young girl…under the age of 10 most likely, and in black and white. The woman was in her 70’s maybe. She told me she was here for her daughter, who died in a house fire. She then pointed at my shirt. I told her I was here for my son, Joe, a firefighter. It was just an interesting moment shared. My dear friend, Michele Nagel, joined me with her youngest son to walk. We used to do kickboxing together at the crack of dawn 5 days a week. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t there alone and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that. She had also lost two little ones over the last few years and so we honored them as well. There were some really thoughtful signs along the way to read. They also handed out beads for different losses. The butterfly release was really nice as well. It was a really nice event to attend, and I am so glad I did. Thanks to Steph for letting me know it was happening and for Michele for driving out to be by my side. FF Joe Messina, OFD badge #446, was well represented today.
Most of you know that we do not have blood family in Nebraska. We have a lot of friends we consider family, but there are only Rich, Lily, and me here in Nebraska. When Lily graduated on May 21st, we had a lot of family come to help celebrate. Her brother, Tim, flew in from East Palo Alto, CA. Her Aunt Tammie and Nana and Nano flew in from New Port Richey, FL. Her Grandma, Uncle Craig, Aunt Mayra, and cousins, Alex and Emily Jo came from Houston, TX. Her Aunt Pam, Uncle Brian, and cousins, Kara, Alyssa, and Micah drove from Goshen, IN. Her sister-in-law, Michelle, drove up from Kansas City. We were really blessed and humbled to have them all join us to celebrate Lily’s accomplishments. We had all of my side of the family together, minus my dad, who is in memory care and unable to travel. He was missed. We had all the cousins together though and took photos with together and with their grandma. Rich’s mother also has Alzheimer’s, so it was an interesting weekend reminding her who was who and why we were doing certain things. It was special to see Michelle meet the newest cousin, Emily Jo….named after her husband, Joe. Craig was Joe’s Godfather. Now Rich and I have been asked to be her Godparents when she is baptized. Joe was missed, and my dad was missed, but we really had a wonderful time celebrating Lily and it was nice to see her enjoying herself for the day! I have a few shots from her actual graduation at the Baxter Arena. When I asked Lily why she was paired with one of the tallest people in her class, she said she hadn’t even noticed! She comes up to his elbow! Thank you again for all the family and friends who came to wish Lily well. I know she deeply appreciated it and so did we.
Okay, so I have been married for nearly 32 years….so I know that I have been in love with Rich for a long time. I have three wonderful children and one daughter-in-law who I know I love. I even have a dog who has my undying love for his unconditional love for me. BUT….there is this new little guy at the zoo that makes my heart swell…and his name is Mopani. He was born March 2nd and he is adorable! His mom, Lolly, is one of the most beautiful African elephants I have ever seen. Mopani has a half brother and sister who are 14 months older than him. I thought they looked little. He plays the role of little brother so well that I find myself in fits of laughter at their antics together. He wants to be with the big kids and he isn’t always welcome yet by his half siblings. Mopani does have another half sibling due at the end of summer…so he won’t be the baby for long. There is yet another elephant calf due in the spring of 2024. I may need to plan a trip back to see 5 baby elephants together. Elephants are a matriarchal society, and the moms and babies often hang out together, along with the herd matriarch and her daughter, who are both the pregnant ones. Callee, the bull elephant that has fathered all of these baby elephants, was recently transferred to the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS, where I have visited this year. Love that zoo! They hope that he will continue to grow their herd as he did here in Omaha. The zoologists mentioned that this is how it works in the wild…bachelor bull elephants have a herd of their own and tend to move on to another herd of female elephants after a time. Hopefully this sweet boy will be able to do his magic in Kansas as well. Anyhow, I took some photos of my newest love, Mopani, along with Sonny, his brother, and Eugenia, his sister. I got a few photos of the cheetahs and then a lioness who was hysterical snoozing in the sun on her back. Then a few close ups of the takin (the yak looking animal). There are even a few shots of a rabbit in my neighbor’s yard. He isn’t big on mowing and enjoys dandelions….and so does the little rabbit who stopped in the munch on them. Anyhow, if you aren’t infatuated with baby elephants, this may not be your post. You have been forewarned. :o)
Today is the feast of Pentecost….the birthday of the Catholic Church….and all Christian religions. After celebrating the Easter season for 50 days, we now celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus was ascending into Heaven, He told his disciples that He would not leave them alone. He sent them the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was a dramatic event , that first Pentecost. If you know your Bible, there were tongues of fire on the heads of the believers and they were able to understand each other’s languages even though they were from different lands. In the Catholic Church, we are liturgical…we have seasons throughout the year and they are even color-coded! Pentecost is Red…for the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire on that first Pentecost 2000 years ago. The priests and deacons don red robes and the vestments on the altar and around the sanctuary are red. The Church is ablaze with the Holy Spirit. I attended the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, KS this morning. The priest commented that if he didn’t know it was the feast of Pentecost, he would have thought it was a Chiefs Football Game Sunday. Most of the parishioners were wearing red. I thought a Husker game connection was in order, but then I remembered I was in Kansas. It was a beautiful, large church.
Do you listen to the Holy Spirit or do you just muddle through life in a rush everyday? This has been a deep and abiding blessing for me over the last several years. I have learned to listen to the Holy Spirit. You have to have your heart and mind open to it. A lot of people will pass things off as coincidence. I say it is a Godcidence….that God has put something or someone in your path for a certain reason. My friend Kelly calls it “A shove from the dove”….I call it shoulder taps. When a thought or action springs to your mind unbidden and you don’t know why….don’t hold back. It is perhaps the Holy Spirit talking to you. How do you know if it is the Holy Spirt or the devil whispering in your ear? Is it borne of love…that thought or action? That’s the Holy Spirit. So, my friends, don’t let the days whiz by as you work…work…work. Pause. Open your eyes and ears to things around you. Then open your mind and your heart and see what comes.
I also wanted to mention a bit about yesterday. I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my daughter-in-law, Michelle. We met at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. We wondered around talking for a couple of hours and then had an early dinner and talked for a few more hours. There are several people in my life whom I just enjoy talking with and mostly listening to….because I just marvel at the way their brain works. Michelle has always been one of those people. I had a wonderful time just spending some one-on-one time with her. We will be empty nesters pretty soon. I have had a lot of alone time this weekend to reflect on Lily moving to KC….us moving to Montana….missing Joe…missing a lot of people in my life. Here are a few things I saw that I wanted to share with you.
I went to Walgreens and this statue was sitting outside the entrance. I immediately thought of Joe and Michelle. If they had met as little kids, I think it would have looked something like this. I even showed Michelle the photo when I saw her.
I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday morning. It was a HUGE one. I, of course, walked out of the wrong exit….not the one I walked into. If you know me well, this is a common occurrence. I have no sense of direction at all. I ended up walking all the way around the outside of the building. I was talking out loud to Joe because I could just literally hear him laughing at me. I began to think people were going to think I am crazy talking out loud with no one near me. I started thinking about how I would write letters to my Grandma Neitzke during the last years of her life. I looked up and this was the sign I saw. My Grandma Neitzke’s name was Ruby Jean. See? Keep your mind and heart open!!
While Michelle and I were walking around the arboretum grounds, we came across this statue, which with Lily heavy on my mind, made me think of her.
Lastly, there was an area where there were a ton of bird feeders. We could hear the cardinals and bluejays calling out to each other. Michelle and I saw a lot of cardinals. Do I think that is my Joe? No. I don’t think he is a bird. However, I do believe along with many others that people in heaven can send signs. I know that whenever I go to a zoo…any zoo…I almost always see a cardinal. I do always think of Joe sending me this beautiful bird to know he is close to me and to Michelle (as she was with me). He wanted us to know he was also there.
Well, today is the final day of the convention. Did I mention the last two days started midmorning and went until 2 a.m.? Lily was looking a little haggard this morning. I have a feeling that I will be driving two sleeping girls the three hours home this evening. I overheard some other convention goers saying they were going to sleep for 2 days when they got home. Here are the costumes for today….
I have to say that it is hysterical to see all these costumes. I would say 80% of the large hotel we are staying at are with the anime convention. The other 20% are high school girls soccer teams in the area for a tournament. The difference between these two groups are vast and it makes me giggle. Literally. The looks between the two groups…it is a riot. Here are some photos of Lily and Sam for today’s characters. They broke out the wigs AND the wings today. Never did I think I would say that sentence….but they are both having a blast, and their joy and doing something creative that they both love warms my heart. You are still more likely to find me on a rugby pitch. Just saying. They had to walk into my hotel room sideways due to their wing spans. Another sentence I never thought I would say!
I think I have mentioned that it has been a little busy…in fact, when I was at the Mayo Clinic yesterday morning (goodness, was it just yesterday?) the intake nurse asked me on a scale of 1-10 how stressed I had felt the prior week. Rich and I just busted out laughing. I told him it was about an 8 but he needed to put an asterisk by it because it wasn’t very much cancer related.
When Rich and I returned from Rochester around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, I immediately started laundry and baking cookies. In between changing loads and swapping out cookie dough in the oven, I was packing up the living room. I have a lot of the packing done…I just couldn’t pack EVERYTHING because , well, we had a graduation party to throw.
This morning, Friday….I left with Lily and her best gal pal, Sam, to head to Overland Park, Kansas for the Naka-Kon Anime convention. They brought different costumes to wear each of the three days to include a few sets of wings and multiple Styrofoam heads and several wigs. I got us settled in our hotel before they headed over to the convention center with all the other dressed up people. There are THOUSANDS of them. They are having a blast though.
After they headed off, I drove to meet up with Joe’s Olathe firefighting shift he used to work with. Joe’s Olathe FF badge number was 446. Today is 446 days since he died. I happened to be thinking about that one day last week….when would 446 days be after his death? Well, it is today, and I happen to be 15 minutes from Olathe. I asked them ahead of time if I could bring cookies for them. They said I could if I stayed at the firehouse to have a meal with them. So I had lunch with them. It was so wonderful to eat with them and chat with them for nearly 2 hours. I brought them cookies with red, white and blue m&m’s. I also brought memorial cards I had made and sent out with Christmas cards this past year. I brought several of those for his firefighter brothers. They thought it was great. I had a really wonderful time with these guys. I can see why Joe was so impressed with them. As two of them were walking me out to my car, one asked if he could pray over me. The three of us stood in a tight circle in the parking lot with our arms around each other as he asked for blessings on me and my family. It was really very moving and such a perfect end to a wonderful visit with these awesome people. Joe was certainly with us.
We are here for the weekend, and go back home on Sunday evening. I am obviously playing catch up on all the things that make me sit down and be still. I am meeting up with Michelle to go to the Botanical Gardens in Overland Park tomorrow afternoon. I will continue to take photos of the girls in their costumes. They really are quite elaborate. Lily even has on tabi socks with her flip flops! (tabi socks are socks with a split between the great toe and the rest of the toes.) Please don’t ask me what characters they are….I have no idea!
While we were getting ready for Lily’s graduation, a lot of my hospital stuff come due. I had my four month CT scans of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis a couple of days before graduation. For the first time EVER…they couldn’t get an IV started on me. I was poked 3 times, which is really rare for me. I think I had the beginner crew that day. I had not been feeling well and I wasn’t sure if it was grief, stress, or possibly the cancer starting to grow that was causing this icky feeling. I had a zoom call the next day with my local oncologist (Dr. I-can’t-wait-until-you-are-in-my-rearview-mirror). He was prattling on about all sorts of things and I finally interrupted him and asked him about my results. He had forgotten why we were having this zoom call, evidently. He said all was stable. Good news. I wanted to hear what my sarcoma specialist at the Mayo clinic had to say though. So we went through the graduation weekend. A few days after graduation, I had my big treatment. I had bloodwork done, a lupron shot (which I get every month) and then a zometa infusion via IV. The whole process takes a couple of hours even though on paper it looks like it would only take about an hour tops. You have to wait for labs…wait for the oncology pharmacist to mix your drugs…the zometa has to be infused over 35 minutes….you get the picture. The oncologist’s receptionist gave me a big hug. (I had been around longer than she had!) While I was in the infusion center, another worker from the clinic who handles scheduling and insurance for me…someone I really like, came up and found me to give me a hug goodbye. I have had two fabulous nurses who have cared for me the majority of my visits to the infusion center at Bergan Mercy. They have laughed with me, commiserated COVID restrictions with me, talked about raising kids with me….cried with me when Joe died, and rejoiced with me when I found a place in Montana to move to and live. Becky and Nora….they are the best. I would like to think that I am special, but they treat all their patients with that kind of love and attention and for that, I am forever grateful. I remember when I was starting a new chemo drug and it was during COVID and Rich could not be there with me. I had no idea what was going to happen as they pumped that poison into my port…which went right to my heart to pump it out systemically quickly. If I had an allergic reaction, it would get real bad, real quick. As a former nurse, I knew that. I was scared to death about it and they understood that. I have not made it a real secret that I was not fond of my local oncologist, who has the bedside manner of a hemorrhoid. However, what kept me leaving from leaving this hospital system was these 4 women…especially Becky and Nora. Anyhow, there were tears, numbers were exchanged…and I am sure the other patients were trying to figure out what in the world was going on with me. Typically you are ringing the bell because you are done and beat your cancer or you are going to hospice. I wasn’t doing either. I put a photo of me during my last treatment at Bergan Mercy. Many of you know I always take the same photo during each treatment….whether they are weekly or monthly, or every 3 months. I used to tell you all about the fact that the cancer infusion center overlooks the two largest civilian cemeteries in Omaha. Kind of depressing. They recently replaced alternating windows with stained glass windows. It is a big improvement!
After I got home from my morning soiree with the oncology infusion center, Rich and I got on the road to drive 5.5 hours to Rochester, MN to the Mayo Clinic. This was a nice time to reconnect with Rich and talk about the move and logistics of our calendars up until we leave June 13th. I think we got a lot accomplished on the drive there and back. We arrived in Rochester around 6 p.m. and met my best friend, Judi and her husband for dinner. Judi is a friend going back to when the boys were very little and we lived in East Grand Forks, MN. We had 5 kids between us at that time all under the age of 5 and our husbands were gone a lot for work. We became fast friends and she is Lily’s Godmother, and I am her youngest daughter’s Godmother as well. While Lily was graduating from high school, my Goddaughter was graduating with her master’s degree. So we are both very proud mommas! The years just melt away when I talk with Judi. It is such a wonderful gift, her friendship.
The next morning first thing, we had an appointment with my sarcoma specialist. I just love that man. He couldn’t be any more different than my local oncologist and they were classmates! Anyhow, he greeted me with a huge smile and said, “I don’t have to play where’s Cyndi today! (like Where’s Waldo?) I know exactly where she is! She is here with me in Minnesota!” I have not seen him in person since March 2020, when I first started under his care. COVID had just shut down all of Rochester two days prior back then. We met via zoom every three months for the last 3+ years. I have been in hotel rooms while traveling, at my mom’s house….all over. He gets a kick out of trying to figure out where I am when we meet. He went over my last three sets of scans and likes what he sees. I had a couple of questions and he answered them just fine. He was very happy with how everything is going for me on the current treatment. Long story short, we are going to keep doing what we are doing. He has agreed to continue to oversee my care when I move to Montana. Now I just need to manage all of that and fine an oncologist. That is next week’s problem. For now, I am happy that I am still doing relatively well despite my advanced cancer. He even said I could drop to having scans every 4-6 months now rather than every 4. That is a big deal. I, along with most people with this kind of cancer, live scan to scan. Giving me a whole half a year to plan? What a gift!
I feel like every time I get online to this blog, I am playing catch up. I have been so incredibly busy and I am even out of town right now, but I have some time to sit down and post some photos and stories to go along with them. I have a bunch of photos on my good camera waiting for me to process. Most of the photos I will put on here for now are shots with my phone. The good photos will just have to come later.
Lily graduated from Westside High School this past Sunday, May 21st. She had a lot of events running up to graduation. Before I get to that, I want to share some early photos of Lily and some of her very early artwork. Lily was dragged to all of her brothers’ sporting events and she was fine as long as she brought her art bag with her. She rarely saw a minute of their games or matches, she was coloring and drawing the whole time. Most of the photos of Lily are from kindergarten, but there is one of her and Joe when she was four and lived in Norway. She kept calling him “Joey” and he hated that. He would grab ahold of her overalls and press her up and against the wall telling her forcefully, “Don’t call me Joey!” as she laughed hysterically and kept saying “Joey!”.
She has come a long way from her early days with us. She is going to do great things, I have a feeling….she just needs to find her path in life. Aren’t we all like that? She started out her senior graduation event schedule by having her senior art show at the Regency Mall in Omaha (think boujee). We were so very proud of her. Here are a few photos of the night they honored the seniors at the senior art show.
The large painting of the girl in the mask is her best friend, Sam. They are both going to Kansas City Art Institute this fall and will be roommates. Lily took that large painting and gave it to Sam’s mom on their graduation day.
We then moved on to the scholarship and honors night. Lily was invited to attend because she has a scholarship to KCAI. She was also on the honor roll for the fall of her senior year. She was NOT however, in National Honor Society. She was pretty impressed that someone at the school thought she was smart enough to give her that honor on her slide show on stage!
They have a wonderful tradition here in Nebraska where all the graduates go back to their elementary schools and march through the school and getting cheered on by the elementary school kids. The boys never got to do this because they did not go to elementary school in this area. Lily made up for them and went to two elementary schools. She went to Fairview Elementary School in Bellevue, Nebraska from Kindergarten through fourth grade. She called the school and asked if she could come down for the graduation parade. They said, “Of course!” We had to hightail it down there (about 25 minute drive) from her high school (where she had just picked up her cap and gown) to Fairview Elementary. She hadn’t seen her classmates in 8 years. They were all so very happy to see her! So many smiles and hugs…it was so nice to see her so happy. There were lots of photos and selfies and the principal and teachers just let the graduates who lingered walk around the school and visit teachers. I used to volunteer at Fairview in the library. The librarian, Mrs. Gibson, is a student favorite, so they all came in to show her their love, which made her tear up a bit. She is a pretty special teacher and I have kept in contact with her over the years as well. A group of them decided to make a snapchat group so they could talk and keep in touch. In fact, Lily drove down to Bellevue the next morning to have brunch with a few of her former classmates. They are such a great group of kids…and I know their parents….so I was happy they reconnected. Here are some photos from the Fairview graduation celebration:
The next elementary school graduation visit was in our current neighborhood at Oakdale Elementary School. Lily went to 5th grade in that building (which was very old). For her 6th grade year, she attended Oakdale Elementary School but it was displaced to a different building a mile or two away while they demolished the old building and rebuilt it. So she went to school with those same kids for two years, but was only in the building for one of those years. It was funny watching all her graduating classmates come to their “old” school to find a new building that they couldn’t even find the front door! Evidently in years past, there have only been three or four graduating seniors that come to do this elementary school walk through. This year, almost all of them came. The principal and teachers were so surprised! They did things a little differently here. They met with the 6th grade class for 45 minutes and got asked questions about middle school and high school. I found it very interesting to hear their answers. Most were really well thought out and oddly mature. They recommended that these 6th graders put down their phones and actually talk to people. They recommended that you do your homework and do it early. They told them to ask for help from their teachers when they didn’t understand a concept. It was oddly refreshing. Anyhow, I think they were only missing about 5 graduating students from their group. After the meeting with the 6th graders, they paraded around the school, getting and giving high fives to all the students. It was funny to watch because the principal had to lead the graduates around because they had never been in the new building before and had no idea where anything was. This man became their principal the year they were in the swing school and the new building was being built.
Meanwhile, we had family coming in from all over the country to help Lily celebrate. Her Auntie Tammie, Nana, and Nano came from Florida. Her Uncle Craig, Aunt Mayra, cousins Alex and Emily Jo, and Grandma came from Texas. Her Aunt Pam, Uncle Brian, and cousins Kara, Alyssa, and Micah came from Indiana. Her sister-in-law, Michelle, drove up from Missouri. Her brother, Tim, flew in from California. It was so nice to have so many family members come together to celebrate Lily. She had a rough go of her high school career. In the first semester of her freshman year, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I didn’t know that I would be around to even see her graduate. The second semester of her freshman year dealt with me being incredibly sick on chemo and then COVID creating a global pandemic. That affected her sophomore year as well. Her junior year, her oldest brother, Joe, died suddenly in a car accident. Honestly, I prayed very hard for a boring senior year for her. High school just wasn’t the best experience for her and I am so happy she has put that in her rear view mirror and will be moving on to bigger and better things. We probably had around 45 people at her graduation party at our house after the ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Baxter arena on Sunday afternoon and considering she graduated with the largest student body of all of our kids, they kept it moving and we were out of there in 90 minutes. I took most of the graduation ceremony photos and family photos with my good camera, so those will be forthcoming. We had all the cousins from my side of the family together, which doesn’t happen often, as we all live in different states and as our kids are growing up, they, too, are moving away and busy “adulting”. There weren’t any Messina cousins here, but we hope to connect with them in July. We were so thankful to friends and family who came together to help us honor Lily on her special day.
Rich and I flew to Montana this past Sunday and then came back on Wednesday late. It was a short trip but we got a LOT done. It was originally supposed to be a house hunting trip but we are already under contract, so it was a “getting to see your house in person” trip. We spent a lot of time at the house getting a feel for where we want to put our furniture….colors, etc. We also did a lot of driving around the area to see what is close by and what we will have to drive to Kalispell for. The house we hope will be ours is 10 minutes’ drive outside of Columbia Falls, MT (population 5500). It is a small community of houses in a wooded area with each house having just under 2 acres each. There is a lot of wildlife. Each time we were there we saw mule deer. We have white tailed deer here in Nebraska…those mule deer are BIG! Our neighbors have been there for 13 years and have seen deer, black bear, cougar, moose, turkey, and a herd of elk. There is 18 acres of woods behind our house. The nearest bigger city is Kalispell, Montana, which has a brand new Kohls (opened while we were there), a Costco, the hospital, and Montana’s ONLY Chic-fil-A. I have never seen so many coffee places…they are everywhere. Evidently the Treasure State likes their coffee! We did some furniture shopping and ordered a washer and dryer. We had enough time to spend some time hiking in Glacier National Park and in three other state parks in the Flathead River Valley. The weather was in the 80’s everyday and then the 40’s at night. The locals were melting, saying they had a foot of snow just a week ago – they felt they never got a chance for spring, that summer had come straight after winter. We got all the good weather, I guess, because it was supposed to cool down to “normal” early May temps this weekend. The mountains were covered in snow but it was quickly vanishing by the time we left. Everyone is so friendly. I am so looking forward to moving there! We thought we would go into a local live sport drought moving there, but they have a semi pro farm baseball team called the Glacier Range Riders! How cool is that? Live baseball in the summer! Whoop whoo! Don’t be shocked, but I did not take my camera with me. I was traveling light. All of these are just shots with my phone. The ones from the plane are of Salt Lake City, which is so pretty from the air as you are coming in. We are anxious to get a closing date for the house so we can get moved up there and settled in so we can have visitors!