Ups & Downs


Life really is a roller coaster ride, filled with so many ups and downs. Personally, I've been climbing an apex lately, everything is just right. Two weeks ago I was finishing a personal trip, taking pictures in Iceland and backpacking in the Alps, experiencing things so spectacular that they didn't seem real, even in the moment. My twin sister Jackie was pregnant with her second boy, and I was flying home to document his first few weeks. Life couldn't be better.

During the final weeks of Jackie's pregnancy she was experiencing extreme back pain and numbness from her chest down. It was first thought to be a rare pregnancy side effect or a pinched nerve, and the doctors believed it would take care of itself after the birth.aaThe birth was pushed forward a week, from September 22nd to September 13th for the sake of Jackies well-being . She gave birth to my new nephew, Kenton Oliver Coll, a beautiful and healthy, 7lb little dude!

The night I arrived in New Hampshire Jackie started experiencing increased numbness from her chest down, making her unable to walk. She was admitted to the regional hospital emergency room, and was immediately transported to a larger hospital with better neurology facilities. The doctors were concerned that there could be an infection in her spine causing it to swell, so they kept her overnight to run tests, including an MRI scan. She was forced to give up her three day old baby boy Kenton to our mom, which Jackie admits was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. She had been carrying little Kenton around in her belly for the past nine months and nursing the past few days, so naturally she was devastated at the thought that she couldn't be with him.

Meanwhile, three day old Kenton and his big brother Landon are staying at my folks house while Jackie is at the hospital with her husband James. Landon is great at staying busy, building trains from scraps of wood, and assembling crazy matchbox car race tracks.

The following day Jackie receives the results from her MRI scan. The doctors discover a large tumor pressing against her spine, which is causing the numbness. This was devastating news for everyone. Like the feeling I experienced in the Alps weeks before, this didn't seem real. Jackie's husband James is with her when she receives the news.

I point out the tumor on the MRI scan results. It is almost 4" long, and is inside her spinal cavity, compressing her spinal cord.

Jackie texts our parents the MRI scan results. I'm struggling with the idea that there is a tumor in her back, laying right beneath the knot on her hospital gown. The worst sorts of thoughts pop inside my head at a time like this, and all I could do was fight them off. I can only imagine how tough this was for Jackie.

Many doctors are in and out of Jackie's room all morning, including a team of neurologists, and a team of oncologists. They ultimately decide that operating to remove the tumor was a priority.

 Neurosurgeon Dr. Bauer talks about the surgery to Jackie, describing how parts of her vertebrae will be removed to gain access to her spinal cord so the tumor can be cut out. He calls it "routine surgery", which is soothing in a conversation of the sort. Surgery is scheduled for 2:00 PM, and it will take about four hours. Recovery will take six weeks.

Surgery went smooth, and Doctor Bauer was able to remove the entire tumor from her spine. However, the oncologists feel that the tumor is Cancerous, probably of the Lymphatic type, though we won't know for sure until test results are back in "five to ten days". In this new MRI scan you can see that the tumor is gone, and the spinal cord is not being compressed anymore. You can also notice the bone pieces that are now gone when comparing to the original MRI results.

I'm constantly reminded how strong my sister is. The way she handles news like this is admirable. Her unwavering sensibility and composition make me wonder if I could react the same way in her situation.

Jackie spends two more days in the hospital recovering from the surgery. She has remained in high spirits, making jokes and laughing often. Five days after she was pulled away from her newborn son Kenton, she is finally reunited. Jackie, her husband James, and their two sons, Landon, and Kenton will be living with our folks while she recovers. She cant lift anything for weeks and needs a walker to navigate everywhere.

At times its easy to forget the magnitude of the surgery due to Jackie constant high spirits, but one look at the the incision is a swift reminder.

A few days after returning home Jackie is able to walk small distances with help, and is able to leave the house for breakfast at Landon's favorite place, the Bagel Mill.

Kenton likes having his mom back. He's a week and a half here, and he is the shining light through the fog for everyone. He is just a joy to have around.

Jackie's recovery is going smooth. We are waiting for the final test results still, but we do know that she has B Cell Lymphoma. The treatment will likely include both chemotherapy, and radiation. As disturbing as that may be, Jackie has set a tone that the whole family seems to have also adopted. She chooses to live in the moment and take everything day by day, as opposed to thinking too much about what the future might hold and letting it consume her in the present moments. This philosophy has made life much more enjoyable for her and the family among difficult times.

Like Jackie, I choose to focus on the positives, like how wonderful it is to all be living under the same roof again. I've really enjoyed spending quality time with Jackie and my family. I also appreciate the way an event like this puts life's daily woes into perspective for everyone involved. Things that seemed so important two weeks ago immediately seem trivial now. Its always important not to sweat the small stuff, because you never know when the larger stuff might pop up that actually matters.

We are all confident Jackie will make a full recovery from the Lymphoma. In the meantime I look forward to enjoying lots of time with my family.

Life is still good.