The Fourth Act

I’m totally over this whole cancer thing. I mean, seriously–it’s so 2011 ya know? I miss seeing my downtown crew, the group of people that never make it into a schedule because you happen to run into them whenever you’re around town. The problem is that I’m never around town anymore. Things in my body have changed so drastically over the last few days, weeks, and months that my presence in my downtown neighborhoods has dwindled to nothing…and it’s killing me (not literally folks…at least I don’t think so!). I absolutely hate it for more than just a few reasons. But…it’s just a part of the story that I can’t seem to get away from these days.

Speaking of an inescapable story, let me quickly give you a summary as to where my body is right now. Headaches have become normal. We don’t know what is causing them, but I tend to wake up with a throbbing type of headache that comes and goes throughout the day. It’s manageable, it’s not debilitating, but it’s there.* Then there are those times where the headaches get out of control. They (the out of control ones) seem to come about every 1.5 to 2 weeks and they always draw me back to the ER (they always seem to happen on the weekends too!). The problem is that when the headaches get too bad they induce vomiting which keeps me from being able to effectively manage the pain on my own. Anyway, so weekend trips to the hospital have sadly become routine around here as have the debilitating headaches. Not the routine we’ve been hoping for!

Simultaneously my ability to walk is getting worse and worse as my right leg has become less functional. This has a greater impact than I can write about here; it deserves a whole blog unto itself. Living in a three story house and being a guy who hates to sit still in his own home this has caused not only great identity crisis but also is creating more physical pain as I refuse to slow down my life in accordance to what my body is telling me I’m able to do. My body is screaming at me to slow down, but my heart/mind/spirit/arrogance is refusing. So what ends up happening is that I crash at different moments into a puddle of exhaustion and my wife is left picking up the pieces.** Showering is exhausting, tucking my kids into bed wears me out, standing while doing the dishes leaves me sweating, essentially anything that defines home life wears me out and leaves me huffing and puffing. Sadly, my favorite pastime: reading, is a freedom that I don’t have as much anymore due to my medically induced narcolepsy! Anytime I sit down to read I end up falling asleep! it drives me absolutely crazy and is one more thing that I can no longer do!

Anyway, this blog was not intended to be a whining blog…though I think whining occasionally is perfectly OK. My intention, however, was to say some of that simply because I want you all to know where I am at right now. MRI results will be in this week and we’ll find out if the headaches are due to tumor growth or something else. The results will give us one more small piece to the puzzle, but as I think I’ve shared before, MRI results only mean so much. We’ve come to rely less on these results because they can be so fleeting in their significance. Due to the volatile state of my type of tumor, what a scan says today could be completely opposite of what it says in four weeks! Regardless, I’ve said enough concerning where things are at. Due to some of the above factors (and a few others I haven’t written about here) my life is once again filled with sick moments, regular doctors visits, and now new visits with specialists of all sorts and sizes. Or, in other words, my life has not created enough time for me to be with you or to have quality time with my wife as I would prefer.

My fear and greatest burden right now is missing out. I’m missing out on all the fun. I’m missing out ’cause I’m just too tired to participate fully. I’m missing out ’cause I’m codependent with transportation. I’m missing out ’cause I don’t have time due to all my doctor’s appointments. I’m missing out ’cause I’m sick as a dog. I’m missing out and I don’t like it. But it is, weather I like it or not, a part of my story right now. It just is. It’s that part in the middle of the movie that’s not very good, the part that you endure ’cause you’re hoping (assuming?) that it is building up to some kind of more interesting and fun-to-watch part of the movie that should be following it. It’s not a lull but a building crescendo right? Please tell me I’m crescendo-ing right now ’cause otherwise this is just plain ol’ boring and I’m kind of done with this scene.

If Act One of my movie was all about discovery and initial recovery; Act Two was about trying to figure out what life looks like as the cancer boy; Act Three was the lull of digression (what this blog has been about); at some point Act Four must begin and it should be an act marked by life giving activity, by healing, by community, and by refreshment. Right? What will act four be?

The hope, then, is that this movie is shelved in the feelgood section and not in the drama or tragedy section of the stockroom. Right?

How about this: Lets just go out there and make a good movie okay?


* I know there’s lots of good ideas for what to do to get rid of these or to manage these–so please know that we are and have been exploring options. I appreciate your concern and your creativity in sharing different ways of treating this stuff, but I really do have an amazing support structure around me that is always pursuing new ideas and options. So don’t worry!


** Another whole blog needs to be written about my wife’s role in all of this! Shesh, I’m not sure who has it worse to be honest. She does so much and receives so little praise or recognition for what she’s constantly having to give up. She is amazing-a thousand times over amazing- and she makes so much of my life possible through her hard work and constant sacrifice.


Arnada Community Meal: Video Blog

This is a quick snapshot of our weekly Arnada Community Meal that we host here at the Arnada House. It’s something that we’ve done here at the house nearly every week for about a year and a half. Pardon my shaky hands in this video…it can’t really be helped. And pardon my high pitched voice…turns out this is what I always sound like and nobody’s every really told me. And finally, pardon my apologies…people who apologize too much can be tedious to be around. Sorry.


First Responders…with a dash of hope

Sometimes terrible things happen and there’s absolutely no reason why. Sometimes there are reasons. And sometimes it just doesn’t matter. I don’t know much about this story, I’ve been watching from a distance and am unfamiliar with many of the details, and…well, I’m not sure it matters. Our local newspaper, The Columbian, writes about it here: and here

Essentially my friends had a shooting happen not only in their neighborhood but in their front yard. What was so amazing, what was so beautiful was that my friend is a firefighter. So as the person to call the police and as the first person to make it to victim who had been shot six times he was fully prepared to care for this boy in ways that you or I would not have been. Even further, however, my friends family (including his wife and boys) are people who have spent the last many years learning to respond with love, grace, and compassion to anyone and everyone who comes their way. So not only was he equipped to deal with the physical stuff (and it looks like the young man is going to survive!) but their family has been an overwhelmingly amazing ‘first responder’ to the family and neighborhood’s needs as well. From coordinating meals for the victim’s family for a month to now coordinating a neighborhood-wide effort to honor the family through inviting a communal voice of hope with chalk (I’ll explain in a moment) they are finding ways to be responders with hope.

Once again, The Columbian writes about it here:

So here is what I’m getting to. If you live in Vancouver or Portland, I want to invite you on August 21st from 10:00-1:00 to join the Hough neighborhood to “Chalk the Walk“. Chalking the walk is a Vancouver tradition (and a very cool one at that) but this year at 1114 W 21st, Vancouver, WA 98660 it’s going to be a tradition marked with a deeper message when neighbors and friends counter the senseless violence that happened with messages of hope, life, and togetherness. Want to join?

Here’s the thing. I’m tempted to end this blog by saying something like “It’s not about Nate and Jasmine and how they’ve responded. It’s bigger than them. It’s about the neighborhood, it’s about you, its about…” but you know what? You know what the reality is? The reality is that we have so much to learn from this family, from Nate, Jas, and their boys (yes, their boys seem to always be a integral part in leading the charge as well!). If it were not for their posture of responsiveness to their neighbors none of us would be entered into this story. If it were not for their families core of love, grace, and compassion none of us would be invited to be ‘second responders’, if it were not for them this story would look very differently. So, you know what?, while this blog would probably feel better if I expanded it here at the end to include all of us as the ‘moral of the story participants’ the reality is that we’ve got to be learners here! We’ve got to learn from the Cook fam’ how to be first responders with a little dash of hope.

While we cannot (and should not…and I WILL NOT) try to pretend like any form of response at this point will dull the pain and terribleness of the situation–our hope, as always, is that God can transform shit into something beautiful. That’s what he does when we allow him to enter into our story. He doesn’t always get rid of the messiness (oh how I wish he would) but he is willing to enter into our narrative and do something magically beautiful. None of us know where or how this story is going to end, but because of this families willingness to enter into the fray we all are being invited to bring a candle of light into the bleak narrative in hopes that light might one day shine through it.

So will you join with us on August 21st from 10-1 at 1114 W 21st, Vancouver, WA 98660 as a second responder of hope?

Take ’em a Meal

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the most difficult things in this whole cancer journey has been learning to be a recipient of people’s generosity. It’s just hard to feel like a sucker–like someone who is just sucking the life of those around you. It’s hard to be humble enough to willingly receive a gift with a simple “thank you”. Very very difficult.

And yet it’s a beautiful journey to be invited into. It’s a journey that I think all of us need to be invited into from different avenues. What I mean is that some of us do not find the challenge in being a grateful recipient because we’ve been in that role for most of our lives and therefore play it well. Some of us need to learn a posture of thankfulness ’cause we’ve gotten used to the receiving. Others need to learn the posture of thankfully receiving because we’ve taken a posture of authority our whole lives. We’ve often even mistakenly placed ourselves as the rider on the white horse who comes to rescue those three feet below us. Some of us are just prideful. Some of us are just lazy. Some of us are both. And I’m sure there’s one or two of you who are neither.

This week, as we’ve been movin’ rooms around, we had many people offer to help. It was wonderfully overwhelming. In the end it was easier to have just one or two people come to do the work, but it was yet another example of our greater community stepping up in a time of need. Thank you.

The tension that it creates, however, is that there is a line. There is a very blurry and often wandering line that Jess and I are always trying to be aware of. The line has very little to do with you and very much to do with our own emotional and mental health. Because there are times that we might need help but we just don’t want it. We don’t want to always feel like we MUST have helped to survive. We don’t always want to feel like our home is overrun with people (a stark change from how we felt before I was sick to be perfectly honest). We don’t always want help…even when we may need it. Sometimes we just want to be a family. Sometimes we want to pretend like we’re normal, like our life isn’t overrun by the cancer narrative. Sometimes we just don’t want to receive.

And the reality, I think, is that those impulses are not bad. They’re not off. They’re not ‘wrong’ (though I hesitate to use that sticky word). It’s a valuable tension to hold, one that, again, is blurry in its definition but important in its usage. It’s very very important that we, at times, create those boundaries and allow both openness to receiving and protection from it to be a part of our story.

So to Blur the Lines a Bit…

I’m asking for a bit of help here. One of the things that has been hugely helpful has been the occasional meals that people have dropped by for our family. They’ve been a non-intrusive way for people to care for us, it provides a huge relief for us amidst the stress of life, and amidst the time crunch of doctors visits that run up until 5pm often days. Here’s what our friend Sherilee, who is graciously managing all of this, briefly said:

For those of you that know and love Ryan and Jessica Woods…here is a organized way to sign up to bring food. To give them time together and not worry about what to make for supper – a small gift that means so much.

She says “supper” because she’s Canadian–and we forgive her for that–but it is a small way that you can bless our family from near or far away (they’ve suggested that you can order food to have it delivered or creative things of that nature). It’s all online so it’s amazingly easier than ever before! Thank you so much for your participation in caring for our family during this really strange and surprising time of sickness. I hope and pray that one day we look back on this time and see how it was shaping us for a future life together. But if the story is different–if the story continues on the same path that it’s gone thus far then we are especially grateful for every moment that you help to create for us to be together as a family and for me to pursue a path of health as much as is humanly possible in this life.


Here’s the link to take a meal.

It Takes a Village: Video Blog 7-20-12

A new video blog where I’m chillin’ on my back porch musing about doing life with an amongst all you people.


You can also view it by going here: