Saturday, November 28, 2009


Many of you know that I've gone to New York twice this year to receive training in the Enneagram Psycho-Spiritual model. This has been a reality altering experience for me. I feel that the faith I've had for much of my life has come to life. I have been blessed to have this opportunity to engage in this deeply meaningful learning process about the nature of humanity and the relationship between us and God. This experience has brought my passion for my spiritual life and my passion for the human condition together by acting as a bridge between the two. I would like to write more about this process and will over time for those interested. I just have so much stirring in my soul that I have to write. Today I just want to start with a little something that came into my heart as I felt a gratitude for grace that was so much more vivid than anything I had experienced in my life:

Grace is an endowment of the true nature-an endowment that provides us with guidance, peace, truth, the experience of holy love, real freedom . . .

At the point at which I knew I was closer to understanding what I truly am I knew I was closer to experiencing grace. An emptiness precedes the openness. And openness is a way, a manner of being, a something that you can only notice has temporarily eluded you and reclaim. The grace, itself, is God’s work. My work is to meet it where it extends lightly toward me, urges me toward itself with committed longing.

My body responds, my visceral nature knowing someone . . . everyone . . . is here, always comfortably, instructively here. I acknowledge every cell in my body with my body itself-the whole-and each cell grows its own ability to arrive and connect, to receive and to reply. I am.

And as I am I feel.

I feel my measure-my measure of love, of anguish, of joy of comfort, curative sorrow and peace emanating from the single source-the source from which all experience them knowingly or unknowingly. My measure-floating effortlessly in freedom, liberated from the falsehood and subjectivity that birth confusion and resistance. And I could linger here

. . . and sometimes I do.

And as I feel I see

And I see with no words, no shapes, no colors. I see where the humanity wakens to the divine and I can see that freedom whisks the anguish along and glides it almost imperceptibly past the form, that incarnate impression.

. . . and then I know with every part of me seen and unseen.

And in that moment the bends and curves in my body dissolve and the whisp of a heart’s cry liquefies into the hunger of all and the spoken outpourings dissipate. And all that remains is a straight line from here to the fullness of reality.

With gentle forewarning I return to my numb slumber with the promise to sleep more placidly and just a moment less than last I slept. And when I wake . . . grace . . . grace will have awoken me with that sweet sound that is the muse of hymns and grace will turn me within and without toward the source and into the light.

Much Love, Barb

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 107

When I met Tom I was fourteen years old. I remember where we were (the Santa Maria mall, right outside Sears). I remember what we were doing (working at the Salvation Army's Secret Santa booth). I don't remember what we talked about. But, I remember the feeling. There was a special mix of excitement and comfort which I think one only finds with their true soul mate.
Well, clearly, Tom is still making life exciting. But, if it can be imagined of Tom right now he's still bringing me great comfort. Since Tom left the hospital 74 days ago his God-given peacefulness has ruled his body and his mind. Of course I run after him nagging about sunscreen and the bacteria sure to be found in fast food (and he really should listen to me, don't you think?) but I'm sure his legendary peacekeeping is really on the front lines of this successful battle.
And it has been a successful battle. One week ago today Tom met his first significant milestone of 100 days post-transplant. This milestone, though somewhat arbitrarily selected by transplant doctors some years ago, has been met with great health by Tom. He has had only minor complications since his release from the hospital. These include ongoing monitoring of his kidney function which has been under control almost since it was detected, and a fever that had him fractions of a degree from being rehospitalized. Drinking large quantities of water (or receiving saline infusions when he didn't) and monitoring of his immunosuppressant medication have kept his kidneys in check.
Other significant milestones include the last (we hope) of Tom's bone marrow biopsies. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow for this one. Maybe it's because he knew it would yield such great results. This biopsy revealed how much of Tom's blood DNA was his brother's and how much was his. We were pleased to find out that it's 100% Steve's blood DNA. This is a great signal towards harmony in Tom's immune system. We were also pleased that Mom DuBransky was able to be present with us during the biopsy. This intriguing procedure capped off a month long stay with us where she kept her watchful mom eye on Tom and made sure he took impeccable care of himself during the days, accompanied us to Tom's appointments, shuttled Tom to infusions and helped us so much around the house, including many an inventive idea to make low-bacteria eating more enjoyable. She returned to Santa Maria just in time for us all to celebrate her on Mother's Day.
Beyond his 100-Day mark and all his positive test results we look forward to his remaining milestones: Year 1, which will mark the end of the transplant process (and likely all medication) and Year 2, where his risk of relapse drops dramatically. In the mean time Day 100 offered a specific opportunity that has a great deal of meaning to Tom: In-N-Out!! As of Day 100 Tom can eat whatever he wants again. I'm still feeling a bit cautious, but, of course, couldn't deny him the In-N-Out that he has been waiting for since he was put on the low-bacteria diet in February. To be honest we actually cheated and enjoyed a beautiful meal at the Prado in San Diego with only a few hours left on Day 99. Well, I thought it was beautiful. Tom claimed a palate too simple to enjoy it and eagerly awaited In-N-Out the next day. Dr. Chen and Keri even sent him a gift card for In-N-Out, acknowledging his single most persistent question at each visit: "Can I have In-N-Out yet?"
Tom's strength also continues to build. He has been cleared for the driving range and looks forward to his next full round of golf. He feels so great that every once in a while he's surprised to find that he still has some strength he has yet to regain. For this reason he has eased slowly back into work and had to learn the hard way that he can't quite perform all of the Gabriel/Daddy tricks that he is used to (you'll have to ask him how he learned-there are some mandated reporters reading this blog). Tom is, however, enjoying his new short hairstyle and intends to keep it. I didn't really think I had a preference, as he looks handsome either way, but I'm enjoying seeing more of his face and nicely shaped noggin.
Not only has City of Hope been good to Tom. Blue Shield has, as well. After Tom's life threateningly low blood count scare in December we enrolled in the PPO coverage at my work. One of our favorite things to do now is read our Claim Statements. Claim Statements are those documents that come from insurance companies that look like bills, but specifically tell you that they are not. They tell you how much the insurance paid for your treatment and how much you owe. For some time now almost all of these come with a $0.00 0n the "you owe" line. Our favorite claim with such a $0.00 balance was the one with the over $650,000 in total charges which covered much of what occurred during his hospital stay. That's some high end bone marrow. The PPO, which allowed Tom to receive treatment at City of Hope, has proven to be a wise investment and has brought us, most significantly Tom, great ease with the impact this situation has had on our livelihood.
Finally, as you might guess, our little peanut is so happy to have his Daddy home. Gabriel was excited to return home from a play date on April 9th to find Tom home. It was a long reunion of play, wildness and unabashed lawlessness (or as its known to Mommy: chaos), but over the last few weeks things have returned to normal, as marked by Gabriel's recent whine, "You two always say the same thing to me." I told Gabriel that that was the nicest thing he'd ever said to us. In the last few weeks Gabriel has also become quite eager to see Day 100 come to pass. When it did he announced that it meant, "bone marrow complete" and brought a box of Tom's medication to him asking, "Can we throw this away?" When Tom said "no, why?" he simply stated, "because it's Day 100." Again, kids really do have amazing instincts and observations.
Gabriel (and his uncle Steve) are also Tom's greatest advocates in Tom's quest to claim three birthdays, all of which we've been able to celebrate in the last three months or so. Commonly the transplant date (March 6th) is a widely noted "re-birthday" for transplant recipients. Understandable. Well, Steve has graciously offered his birthday (seeing as it is his blood fueling Tom's life) of June 7th to Tom to share. These coupled with his actual birthday of May 31st have kept us celebrating Tom regularly. Today, on Father's Day, our last official celebration of Tom until next March I wanted to write him this love letter of sorts and celebrate him with all of you.
This journey is not over, but our journey of faith will be so infinitely longer. We can see that long road clearer than ever. With that I'll leave you with Gabriel's first memorized bible verse, one that has clearly illuminated this journey for us:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding." - Proverbs 3:5
Love, Mrs. Tom DuBransky of the Highland Park DuBranskys

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day 32

Hello Team Tom,
First, thanks for being on Team Tom. Whether you prayed, gave blood, watched Gabriel, visited Tom, kept Tom in electronic company, made food, sent packages, helped me out at work or some combination of these wonderfully supportive acts: you are on the team. And this has been a strong team. I often say: "If your partner has to go through a bone marrow transplant this is the way to do it." We're blessed and touched and excited.

Particularly we are excited because Tom's numbers finally shot through the roof yesterday. Most significantly, those elements of his white blood cells that are the most essential part of his immune system really took off:
  • White Blood Count: 3.8 k/uL (low end of normal is 4.0)
  • Absolute neutrophils: 1.5 k/uL (most prominent marker of his immune system function)
  • Red Blood Count: 3.59 m/uL (lowe end of normal is 4.2)
  • Hemoglobin: 10.6 g/dL (low end of normal is 13)
  • Hematocrit: 30.2% (low end of normal is 38%)
  • Platelets: 129,000 k/uL (low end of normal is 150,000)
  • Basophils and eosophils (just coming onto the radar from zero today)
Steve's stem cells and Tom's body have made peace, as the boys predicted. Tom hasn't felt ill since Thursday. Nausea and vomiting are also a symptom of Graft vs. Host disease (GVHD). So, as far as we can tell Tom's GVHD is mild. He feels strong and had a great time cruising around the sixth floor of Helford Hospital yesterday. Tonight bible study will be in the lobby. Tom has had only one red blood transfusion in the last two weeks and may not need another transfusion for some time if at all.
And (drumroll please) Tom will be coming home this week. Tom's blood counts are just fractions away from meeting the "send this guy home" goals. He's eating solid food (another "check") and is infection free (a minor bacterial infection from two weeks ago has passed). In preparation to return home Tom will be weaned off of i.v. medication and back onto oral medication. He will also undergo some tests, most significantly another bone marrow biopsy (wince). But, all so worth the reward.
Tom's mom is coming to stay with us to help complete the 24-hour observation period that will ensue over the next 30 days after Tom's release. Tom will visit City of Hope several times a week during this period and likely through the remaining 100 days of the acute transplant period. Over time the number of necessary visits will decrease and Tom will begin to get back to a normal routine.
I can't tell you the overwhelming relief that has come over me in the past day. I can feel all of the emotion and tension that had built up begin to seep out of me and the tears that I withheld for fear that they may never stop come more freely and are cultivated with joy. We can expect a few more challenges, particularly with keeping Tom free of infection, but he's definitely coming to the edge of the forest and approaching a bright open field.
On Sunday when Gabriel was marking off the day on his calendar and announced that Daddy would be home in five days. I began to fear that Tom wasn't going to be home by the time Gabriel marked that final date. So, I calmly said, "You know, Daddy might not be home in five days." He paused for a second, then turned to me and asked why. I said, "Daddy has some things he has to do at the hospital and he may not be able to get them all done by Friday." He paused again and said nonchalantly, "okay," and went about his business. Small crisis averted just by having a generally happy kid.
Gabriel and I have had great days and tough days, but overall I have just treasured this experience. Tom and I are both working parents. So, in the mornings and evenings we share Gabriel-related responsibilities and similarly throughout weekends. And, though I would never recommend single parenthood, I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend so much time with Gabriel, especially these last few weeks when we tapered off of the play dates. It reminded me what I'm missing when I'm trying to do a load of laundry or run to the store without a preschooler in tow. He really does add great color to what I think of as mundane tasks that I just need to get done as quickly as possible while Tom plays with him. There are so many cliches out there about the time we lose with our kids worrying about the business of living. It takes focus, work, and, in our case, a health crisis to allow the wisdom behind those cliches to sink into my bones. I'm making a mental list of the blessings that have appeared both quietly and with a clatter throughout this process. And it's all a nice confirmation of the divine plan that is so foreign to the plans of humans.
With love and anticipation, The Highland Park DuBranskys

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day 17

Hello Dear Ones,

This is a big week for Tom. He must must must start producing white blood cells, the key sign that the transplant is working. He must also make them feel at-home in his body, so that they don't attack him. We place our confidence in the love and synergy that Tom and Steve have been professing to each other since the transplant occurred. I'm personally eagerly awaiting hearing that number go up. It had jumped up to .2 last week, briefly, but then fell back to .1 and then 0. It has been back up to .1 for several days. Waiting each day for Tom's blood count I am reminded of how distraught Tom and I were when Gabriel was born such a skinny little bird who didn't catch on to nursing right away and didn't begin to gain weight quickly. Tom and I would stay up nights just trying to get him to eat and our favorite day of the week was the day of my breastfeeding support group, where they would weigh him with an accurate scale. Tom would wait eagerly for me to call with that number and we would relish in every new ounce. Well, the tables have turned and Gabriel and I are eagerly awaiting each rise in Tom's count and we expect to have a similar experience, filled with steady climbing.

In the meantime Tom has been eating well, feeling well and looking well. Just as I expected he has a great shaped head and looks quite handsome with no hair. Tom has also gained 10 lbs since entering the hospital-much of it is suspected to be fluid retention - due to his cornucopia of i.v. fluids, from antibiotics, to nutrition to anti-rejection drugs. He likes to claim that he's getting chubby. So far, he's the only one who's willing to go that far.
He's also enjoyed a good number of visitors from family, to clients and friends from all aspects of his life. He welcomes visitors and has remarkably avoided developing infections or other illnesses-so exposure has remained gratefully under control . At this point he only asks a few minute heads up and recommends a visit after 10 AM, when he feels he can stay awake. And I'd like to ask that if you have the opportunity to take a picture of your visit (particularly if I'm not there camera-ready) that you do and forward the photo to me. Among his many visitors was our weekly bible study group. Tom and I have studied with this group for about 10 years and Tom was so happy to see them all last Tuesday. Tomorrow they plan to visit again and, this time, have the study in Tom's hospital room. This effort has seemed to me to be such an example of the interpersonal community-oriented nature of the early church. We have always felt that John and Laurie (Barnts) have lead us through a unique and enlightening study and the spiritual, emotional and practical support we have received from the group during this time is such a vivid example of its strength.

In other supportive news a steady stream of blood donation continues, to Tom's great pride. Each time someone contributes in Tom's name Tom feels like a superstar patient: contributing to his own care and sometimes to that of others. If you are able to donate, and have time, please stop by and visit Tom when you donate. Tom is keeping each "Donor Designated" card that comes with the blood and platelets and hopes to track each one back to the donor, so save the number they give you when you donate.
Gabriel and I are still working to find a nice groove, sometimes hampered by whining, frustration and pouting . . . and Gabriel gets pretty upset too. We don't have as much time to relax and enjoy each other as we'd like, but I try to make time when we can and he is enjoying his many play dates. I am really looking forward to Tom experiencing first hand the developmental strides that Gabriel has made in the recent weeks. Each day I'm more amazed that in the midst of all this that Gabriel is flourishing in the areas of reading, making up and answering addition and subtraction problems in his head, artwork and Spanish. Today I particularly noticed how he's beginning to read more fluidly and adding common inflections. As a lover of books I can't tell you how excited I am for him that he's opening the door to a whole world of imagination and fascinating information. He has read some to Tom over the web cam, but I think it will be an even more rewarding experience for Tom when he's able to hold Gabriel on his lap and enjoy a book.
Gabriel was also excited that Aunt Lisa came to stay with us this weekend. My sister came to help me with some of the bigger cleaning projects on which I haven't been able to get a handle. It was so nice to have her here and a huge relief to get the house ready for Tom's return. I also thoroughly enjoyed taking the web cam around the house to show Tom the results and hearing him say, "Wow, it's like a whole new house." I liked even more hearing him say he's going to help with the upkeep when he returns. I liked it because I like the sound of him coming home, and besides, I could use the help. ;-)
I've also appreciated all of the help those of you have offered by signing up on the Team Tom calendar. This is a key week, so I'm going to ask that if you have any time this week (particularly from approximately 8:00 - 11:00 on Wednesday or Thursday night) to please sign up on the calendar. This is the best time for me to visit Tom after getting to spend most of all of Gabriel's waking evening with him. (; login: teamtom; password: support).
Expecting that Tom will be producing blood like gangbusters by Friday, Gabriel and I will visit Santa Maria this weekend to celebrate Babies Kiana and Lily DuBransky's first birthdays, and the expectation of Baby Boy DuBransky #4 awaited by Jeff and Diane. It'll be a quick trip, but Gabriel has been looking forward to it for weeks.
Considering how successful all your prayers have been so far we dare ask that you continue, especially through this critical week. I, too, pray for Tom. I also am so grateful that I can't help but pray that every family and every individual struggling through these difficult times would have the kind of wonderful community that we have on which to rest their heads and their hearts. Love, The Highland Park DuBranskys

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Day 8

Hello All,

Well, Tom's 8/100's done with this transplant business and is looking great! His nausea is decreasing. He's not excited about food, but he can eat. He's also being administered intravenous nutrition now. Throughout this week Tom has felt better and enjoyed visits from friends and family. Each day the doctor notes, surpisingly, how well Tom looks. The doctor also shared that Steve gave Tom an abundance of stem cells. He wasn't specific about the number and how it compares to the average donation, but it was definitely on the high end. Here they are on the big day last week:

By the end of this week the doctor's expect to see Tom's white blood count raise from the .1 that it's been since the transplant. We're eagerly looking forward to hearing that news around Friday, give or take.

Today Gabriel got to see Tom at the hospital. Last week, after declaring that he WOULD wear the mask and gloves we prepared for a visit by asking for a doctor's order for him to come up and by practicing wearing the mask and gloves at home. Gabriel lasted about 20 minutes before he'd had it with the mask, but did very well while he was there.

Today the ominous hair loss symptom took hold. Tom faced it head on (pun intended) by asking Tim to come and shave his head:

This week was also our first chance to call upon the help of the many of you who have signed up to make it possible for me to visit Tom by hanging out with Gabriel. The calendar and all you signees have been a great relief to me and I thank everyone who signed up over the last two weeks. I don't know what I would do without this support.

Thank you all for being the community holding Tom, Gabriel and me up. We really feel it. Much love, The Highland Park DuBranskys

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day 1

Hello Loved Ones,
So, Tom's a new man. He finished filling up with Steve Marrow at about 10:00 PM last night - 3 bags of it. It's pretty anti-climactic on Tom's end - as the transplant procedure is akin to a blood transfusion, of which Tom has had many. However, for Steve it's another story. Being a life-saver is painful. Steve was a champ, had a smooth harvest and is now resting through the achey recovery. Steve and Katie were able to come up and visit Tom after Steve was released. Tom was so happy to see his brother, friend and hero. The DuBransky boys love each other and there was never any question that any of the boys would do this for any of the other boys, but all the same, Tom is moved and overwhelmed with gratitude, as am I and as is Gabriel (well, being four, he mostly thinks it's really neat).
Tom's heart rate has been watched closely since the transplant began, as it has been too low (about 45 instead of his usual 70 - 75). The Laker game raised it temporarily, but not consistently. He temporarily had some chest pressure, but they gave him something to help with that, which was probably due to the thickness of the stem cells, which were placed directly into his heart for distribution throughout the body. Next steps include keeping infections at bay and managing the graft vs. host disease inherent in this process ( Though, Steve and Tom deny that there will be anything other than a peaceful compromise met within Tom's bones!!
It was great to see Tom with some energy and some smiles yesterday. He had suffered with nausea and vomiting since Tuesday night and felt that all he could do to avoid it on Wednesday and Thursday was sleep. He was overwhelmed with feeling sick and exhausted. On Thursday, after almost two days of this Tom received a call from Joe Adams, who was a leader in our youth group in high school and a man of great love, affection and encouragement to us throughout our young and young adult lives. Joe prayed for Tom over the phone and Tom found this so meaningful that he laid his head in my lap and cried (for all the dudes reading this, I was not only authorized, but encouraged by Tom to tell this story). Tom is so grateful for all the prayers and appreciates the opportunity to hear the prayer himself (even if he has that comical moment of "curse that guy for making me cry"). In the end, I think this was a great relief to Tom to be able to let out his frustration and fatigue this way.
In an uncanny related event, Thursday night I was sitting on my bed getting Gabriel ready for sleep and reading to him, when, as is customary, we were about to move onto cuddle - the last step before bed time. You're going to have to trust me when I say what occurred next has never occurred before. Gabriel said, "Mommy I want to lay between your legs and cuddle" and he preceded to lay down and lay his head in my lap exactly as Tom had done earlier that day and squeezed chemo duck to his side. I've always known that Tom and Gabriel have a very special connection and a whole lot of physical and personal "alikeness," but this was such a stark picture of it to me. I didn't even realize until the next day when I was at the hospital telling Tom about Gabriel's day. Tom asked how I was doing and how Gabriel was doing and I tried to think of things that he had done that were just different to try to assess how he's doing. I realized that this need to be comforted in this special way was new and then realized: it's new for both of them.
Not only have we considered that this challenge has strengthened our faith and our understanding of the heart of God, but it has allowed all three of us to find new aspects of one another and to see, in ways that we haven't before, how tight these bonds are between us.
With love and great hope, The Highland Park DuBranskys

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day -2

Hello from Che Hope,
Tom is slowly seeking sustenance (no time is a bad time for alliteration) from a bowl of oatmeal and a banana. He just showered, so between these two morning rites of passage I think he's perking up and he looks great. Tom had just received his last drop of chemo last night when it all finally caught up with him. He developed a fever that just a bit ago broke and, at about 12: 15, got sick five times in rapid fire succession along with which came some dizziness and disorientation. Up until then he had only brief encounters with symptoms: chills, fever, stomache ache, headache and chest pain (probably bone pain from the marrow loss) were all addressed swiftly and effectively. Tom was really pleased with his relative lack of symptoms until last night. To top it off he hasn't been able to sleep the last few nights due to lots of trips to the bathroom and constant taking of his vitals. Getting sick has been a little discouraging, he really hoped/thought it wouldn't happen. But, he now has empty bones and 0.1 units/ml (usually 140.00/ml) of white blood cells.
He also receives a number of visits, in addition to his ever present nurses and Patient Care Assistants. Each day Doctor Chen visits to check on Tom and to make any adjustments to Tom's medications, tests, etc. He is also visited by his Social Worker, Recreation staff, his Physical Therapist, his Occupational Therapist, his Nutritionist, his Transplant coordinator and various Lab technicians (blood draws, chest x-rays). Tom will not leave his room until his white blood cell count goes up, so even the chest x-ray is done in his room. They are taking good care of Tom.
Tom hasn't felt he needed much. He asked for a t.v. guide-life without DVR is so challenging =o), and a couple of personal care items that are less harsh.
Yesterday Tom also received his first designated donor platelets. Tom feels really good about all his blood and platelet donations, as he hopes not to use any of the hospitals general donations and would like to leave the hospital with a surplus from his donations. Thanks, all!
Gabriel is doing well. He and I talk a lot about being a team - a team that takes care of Daddy by being cooperative with each other, talking about how much we miss him and looking forward to him coming home. He took Chemo Duck and his calendar to school yesterday for show-and-tell and talked to his classmates about his daddy's trip to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant. Each night he crosses off one of the days on his calendar. He likes doing it, even though one day the number of days still ahead were disappointing to him. Tonight we will also decorate Gabriel's March calendar page with a picture of Tom in the hospital so Gabriel can visualize how healthy and comfortable Tom looks right now. Today he starts a yoga class at Celebration Kids, which we hope will be fun and hopefully give him a few tools for coping with any stress or sadness he may feel. He's looking forward to the aspects that I told him were good preparation for gymnastics, which he will start in the Fall and to which he is so looking forward: balance, flexibility and strength. Everyone at Celebration Kids, from the teachers and directors to the parents have been so supportive of all of us. We are very blessed that he goes to preschool at a place that really is a second home for him and a support network for us.
Finally, the calendar is working very well! It's been a great comfort to check out the calendar and know that no matter what happens with Tom there'd be a way for me to be with him. Thank you, all. Because things are going relatively smoothly right now and because I took this week off of work I haven't called in any of you reserves yet, but I'm sure I will.
Thank you! Much love, The Highland Park DuBranskys