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Dec 31, 2008

Thank you and thank you again...

Hey folks, this is Brent.

Thanks for all your WONDERFUL feedback on Abby's video. You guys are SO kind and encouraging. Thank you even more for your continued prayers. And thank you again for the gifts and cards to Abby and our family.

A lot of people have been asking about my other blog, so I wanted to drop a quick note about it.

For ease of reading, and your convenience, I recently divided my single blog into SEVEN blogs on specific topics. Here is the list:

The "mind of Brent" is whatever pops in my silly head.... the others are self explanatory.

If you haven't checked out the new interface, or haven't seen my blog at all, I hope you'll take a minute to visit.


Dec 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Abby

Abby's 4th Birthday was yesterday. Thanks to a wonderful friend, Toni, she had a very fun party. We are still sorting through the pictures and we'll put up more tomorrow with some details... but we wanted you to get to enjoy how happy she was.

Dec 28, 2008

2008 - God's Blessings, A Tribute Video for Abby

I (Brent) had the blessing of getting to share with our church family this morning about the many blessings God has showered on us during 2008.

As I get older, as I write more, teach more, and hear from readers more, I realize that very often God's greatest blessings come during our times of greatest hardship. I had a few minutes allotted to convey this to our Christian family, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought a video might be worth a million. So I spent a couple of hours putting one together.

I hope you'll take a few minutes to view it, then leave a comment for us that we can make part of our family history in the years to come when we look back on this time.

If the video doesn't play, go here:

Dec 27, 2008

Christmas Lights

Thank you for praying for Abby while she was in the hospital. We got home late last night. Praise God. We are thrilled to be home. Abby was pretty quiet while she was at the hospital, but is now back to her smiling, energetic and happy self.
A week ago we were able to take the kids to see some special Christmas lights. The house and yard was covered with thousands of lights and they were synchronized to music. The kids loved the show so much they wanted to see it twice.

Dec 26, 2008

FFF - Christmas With Abby and Family

Abby is still in the hospital, her fever is down, but she is throwing up non-stop.

I am very thankful she was able to be home for most of Christmas day. We wanted so much for her to be home to open presents and eat with us. I loved seeing her eyes light up when she saw the gifts under the tree. I treasured every moment with the kids this year, especially Abby. We all know that it will take a miracle for her to be with us next year. We are praying for that miracle, while we make a point to treasure every moment we have with her. It is so hard to face the reality that this may be our last year with her, and still enjoy the time we have. I can honestly say we are doing that very thing, but we need your prayers for strength and wisdom to continue to enjoy the time we have.

Samrawit and I (Michelle) are at the hospital with Abby. Most of our pictures are on Brent's camera at home, but I want to share a few of the pictures that I have with me. Thank you all so much for your prayers and encouragement. You are a blessing. Money is tight, because of medical expenses and free time to shop is nonexistent, but our kids had more gifts this year than ever before.

Abby, Dane and Sami. The girls love their oldest brother.
Abby and Dane

Landis, who is almost 3, loves Spiderman.
He does this hilarious and impressive split "Spidey" pose!

Abby's gift from the Frat boys.

Dec 25, 2008

Riggs: Abby is back in the hospital...

(This picture pretty much sums up things. Abby had a great time opening her gifts, as we all did, But she felt terrible and had fevers all day. About 7pm her fever went way up. She had a sad, soulful look all day, but really did enjoy her presents.)

To all:

Abby is back in the hospital.

We are grateful that God allowed her to be home with us for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. She has a high fever, and has been acting depleted all day.

Of course with last week’s news, every hospital visit now becomes a grave concern. We appreciate your kindness and prayers...

We count it all joy that during this time, Abby’s situation will allows us to share the real reason for Christmas.

Brent (and Michelle)

Dec 23, 2008

Riggs: Update on Abby...

(The kids flipped out when they first got in the limo; they couldn’t believe how big the car was and how many windows… This is our three youngest kids, and Scott and Carol Bauman’s three; there are two more Bauman babies behind... The camera, twins, enjoying the ride… Abby is having a good day today and excited to get to go with her friends)

To all:

Some wonderful friends came by tonight IN A LIMO and picked up Abby, Landis and Sami to go look at Christmas lights… it was really cool. God is so good to us.

My wife and I have been discussing this latest very serious news about Abby (read here if you don’t know about it: ). Typically, we have been REACTIVE to Abby’s complications/hospitalization and it has truthfully taken quite a toll on us in every aspect. Even with all the wonderful kindness people have shown, it seems like it is hard to just get through a day when Abby is having significant problems.

Starting Jan 16th, Abby enters the hardest 60 to 90 days of her treatment. So…

  • Given her high risk factors…
  • Given her history with so many complications…
  • Given that we know how much the chemo is going to debilitate her…
  • Given her history of hospitalizations that are pretty predictable at this point… we expect her to be in the hospital most, if not all, of this phase…
  • Given our experience with the logistics of caring for both Abby and our other children…

Given all that, we are going to try to PLAN AHEAD for this period rather than simply reacting. If Abby doesn’t make it, it is more likely to be during this period than any other, especially given the genetic problem that was discovered last week. On the flip side, if she survives this period of treatment and gets into “maintenance” chemotherapy (the long term – 2 years – much lighter, safer treatment mean to keep the cancer from coming back), her prognosis begins brighten.

Mostly it involves juggling this reality

  • Spending as much time with Abby in hospital as possible not only to care for her but because we don’t want to miss out on being with her…

Juggled with:

  • Taking care of the other 4 kids at home, school, church
  • House, laundry, food, mail, banking, trips to the pharmacy
  • Brent’s work
  • Paying bills, paperwork, insurance

We know that there are a lot of great people that care about Abby. So if you have any suggestions, from your experience or intuition, on how we can better prepare, please let us know. We are appealing to the mass experience and wisdom of all our friends and family to prepare for this next period.

One thing we have decided to do for sure, is to hire someone to come to our house every weekday for 4-6 weeks to help with the kids, school, cleaning, laundry, babysitting, etc. We’ve talked about it at length, and see no alternative to this. Otherwise, I (Brent) am lucky to get to see Abby a couple of hours every day or two, and Michelle is all alone at the hospital for days on end. I don’t want Michelle dealing with this alone, and I certainly don’t want to miss what could be the last time I have with Abby.

So we will do whatever it takes to hire someone to “nanny” for us for about 6 weeks. For those of you that live locally, if you know of someone who might be interested in this temporary situation (roughly 6 weeks, starting Jan 16; weekdays, probably 8 hours a day, $????/hr, not sure on the wage yet), please let us know. It could be a maybe an older woman, or college age. Maybe a lady with older kids in school, or even a very mature teenage girl experienced with caring for kids and house. If you know someone who might be interested, please let us know.

We appreciate your prayers for:

  • Wisdom and strength to care for Abby
  • Opportunity to find someone for this “nanny” need
  • God’s provision for financial needs
  • Healing for Abby

Sorry for the long emails. You have been so instrumental in helping us through this trial. Your friendship, encouragement, prayers and practical help have been priceless. We are very sad for those who do not have such a “family” around them during their trials. It is truly a TREASURE. Please include Abby on your prayer lists and groups…

We know that God is watching over us, and we take joy in our trials as we watch so many people displaying their Christian love. Others who don’t know God are being drawn to Him as they watch the caring sacrifice of our Christian brethren.

Brent (and Michelle)

Riggs: important update on Abby - Dec. 23rd...

(For new readers, our daughter, Abby, three years old, adopted from Guatemala, was diagnosed with Leukemia in July this year).

We thought Abby maybe had a stroke last week; MRI's were negative; she has recovered from the strange symptoms.

Update on Abby...

We got a call late last week that our Doctor wanted to consult with us. Never good... Here's the short version about this latest development with Abby:
  • 8% of the population has a specific genetic variation...
  • That variation is NOT a factor in getting Leukemia...
  • However, if you get Leukemia and you have that variation, you are FOUR TIMES more likely to die during the first year of treatment from complications or relapse.
One effect of this gene variation is increased toxicity from specific drugs. Our doctor is going to help us monitor this particular aspect so that we can keep those complications to a minimum.

Our kind Doctor said it was "not a death sentence, but no, not good news". I asked her if that took Abby from her previous 70% chance of survival down to around 20 or 30% and she replied "it's hard to put a number to it..." but did not offer another figure.

For the next couple of weeks, Abby is in “interim maintenance” an easier period of chemo, which is kind of laughable if you saw how many drugs and chemo she is still getting. On Jan 16, she begins “delayed intensification” which is the hardest part of her entire treatment. Given today’s news, you can guess how much this 60 day period concerns us since we almost lost her a couple of times already in lesser intensity therapy periods.

We are already planning to get some help during those two months of “delayed intensification” because based on history, we will probably be in the hospital the majority of the time dealing with significant complications. Would you:

  • Please pray for us to have wisdom, strength and health to take care of Abby Put Abby on any prayer lists or groups and prayer for her healing
  • Pray that God will be glorified no matter what the outcome
  • Pray that God will make provision for the increased needs and expenses coming up
We know that God can safeguard Abby no matter what – four times, ten times, a hundred times “more likely…” whatever. God is bigger than genetics, cancer or any other difficulty we face.

We also know that Abby is in a win/win situation: she wins if we get to keep her here; she wins if she gets to go be with God and wait for us there. However, it goes without saying that we would be unspeakably sad to have to let her go, so we pray for her healing, and ask you to do the same.

Looks like Abby gets to be home for Christmas, and that is WONDERFUL. She went to see Christmas lights last night, and will get to see them again tomorrow night. Our wonderful friends, Carol and Scott, are picking up our three little ones in a LIMO and taking them to see Christmas lights! We have received Christmas gifts for the children from Scott’s office and co-workers. Carol and Scott have just been SO kind and generous to us. We are so thankful for them. They have really gone above and beyond to be a blessing to us.

We also received Christmas gifts for the kids from our wonderful church family, who also continue to bring us meals and help us however they can. We are truly blessed with incredible friends and Christian family. Our own families of course have done much for us too during this difficult time. We could go on and on about people reaching out to help care for Abby. One particular friend, J.N., knows how deeply grateful we are to him. He’s not about getting public praise, but he has been a life changing blessing to us.

If you have any questions, leave a comment, and we will be glad to respond. Thank you for your prayers. We pray that no matter what happens, everyone will see God clearer and be drawn to Him. God hasn’t gone to sleep, He’s not busy somewhere else. He cares for every tiny little re-growing hair on Abby’s head, and every missing hair on my head.

Our faith is unshaken, and God has already been more than glorified through our trial.

Brent (and Michelle)

Abby recovered from the weird symptoms
and gets to be home for Christmas

Dec 20, 2008

Abby & Sami Meet Santa (FFF)

A couple a weeks ago, Abby and Samrawit went to a Christmas party at the cancer clinic.

Abby was very excited that she was able to go to a party with her friends and getting to meet Santa. Samrawit had never seen Santa before, so even though she was trying to act "cool", she was more excited than Abby.

Sami's gift from Santa.

Samrawit, Santa and Abby

The clown quizzed all of the children as they were standing in line for Santa, asking them what they had done this year that was good. Sami said, "I obey my Mom and Dad." Very true.

Dec 18, 2008

Abby is in Love

Abby is HOME!!! Thank you so much for praying for Abby. We will write more tomorrow, but we wanted you to know how God answered your prayers and blessed our family. Abby is so excited to be home.

This hospital stay had many stressful moments, but there were also many blessings, too. Abby's favorite moment was when she got a package from Mary Beth. Mary Beth was so sweet to send Abby a beautiful Guatemalan doll. Abby has spent hours looking at her cute toes and fingers, combing her hair and holding her tight. She was so excited to get a doll that looked just like her.

Update, Prayer Request and Make a Wish

Thank you so much for praying for Abby and the rest of the family.

Tuesday was very hard for Abby, but Wednesday was much better. Abby did great during the CAT scan. She cried for a couple of seconds when I laid her on the gurney, but after that laid still and held my hand tight. We talked about swimming in the ocean, petting dolphins and building castles in the sand. She didn't need any sedation and handled it like the pro she is. They needed her to be perfectly still for the whole test and she did it on the first try. Praise God! Thanks for praying that she wouldn't be scared.

Unfortunately, The spinal tap didn't go very well at all. Her doctor and physician's assistant worked hard to sedate her, giving her many times the medicine that she should have needed. She should have been at least very, very sleepy. The doctor kept sending the nurse for more and more medicine. Even after all of that, she was talking, sitting up and coloring. Abby remembers what the spinal taps feel like, so she was scared when we tried to lay her on her side. It broke my heart. After about an hour and a half we got her sedated a little and calm enough. Her intracranial pressure was 28 and the goal is for it to stay at 7-15, so he drained off some of the spinal fluid.

The good thing that came out of all of this is that people are coming together, to try and find a way to help Abby more during the procedures. Please continue to pray for Abby and for wisdom for her doctors and Brent and I. For those of you who have been through this trial, we would welcome any suggestions.

Abby and I were both drained Wednesday morning, but by afternoon, she was laughing, dancing and having a ball playing with Samrawit. Tuesday I couldn't write because I was too exhausted, Wednesday I couldn't write during the day, because I was following after an energetic three year old. I loved seeing her play and listening to her laughing. Just when I think I can't handle anymore, God blesses us with a wonderful day.

Thursday will be another long, long day. Because of her left-sided facial weakness, her doctor wants to do a very detailed MRI. I will be shocked if they find anything, but it is good that he is being cautious. They will do this under general anesthetic. The hardest part of the day for Abby is going without food before the test. The hardest part for me will be waiting for her to come out of the surgical suite.

Would you pray that the doctor would allow me to carry her back to the room that they will do the MRI in and to hold her in my arms until she is asleep? They have let me do this every time they have done either surgeries on her or MRIs, but it is the doctors decision and some of them say yes and others prefer not.

Would you also pray that they are able to sedate her well and that she is safe during the procedure?

If we get good results, quickly enough, we will get to go home this Thursday. Obviously I am praying that we will be able to go home after the test. Abby, Samrawit and I miss the rest of our family.

The pictures below were taken when Abby's Make a Wish representatives visited her at home a week ago. She knew that she could wish to meet one person at Disney or Universal Studios, but only ONE person. For a couple of days before they came, all she would say is that she wanted to meet Spiderman. Abby doesn't even like Spiderman, but her "baby" brother Landis LOVES ,LOVES, LOVES Spiderman. She kept telling him, "Don't worry Landis, I will get you your Spiderman." We finally got her to say that she would like to meet Little Mermaid too. She is a sweetie.

Abby loved being the center of attention.

Abby loved meeting Heather and talking about a wish. Heather and her mom Tracy were very fun to talk to and made Abby feel like a princess. Thanks guys.

Tracy talking to Abby when she brought up her first wish. :-)
She whispered it so the boys wouldn't hear. :-)

Heather and Tracy, Abby says thank you for the princess costume. She LOVES wearing it!

Dec 16, 2008

Update and Prayer Request

Quick prayer request and then more info below. Today especially, your prayers mean the world to us.

Abby will have CAT scan and spinal tap today. Would you pray that she is calm and that she is not in any pain.? Most children are well sedated for spinal taps, but because Abby has had increased pressure, they can't give her the same medicine as other children. Would you also pray for wisdom for the doctors, and for Brent and I?

Abby had a rough day, yesterday. at its highest her temperature was 103.9 (after they gave her Tylenol). She had a rash over most of her body, but her doctors don't know what is causing it.

Her eyes aren't focusing well on occasion. She is having more trouble "finding" words (this was bad after the first time that her intracranial pressures went up, but had been getting better). Also, when she smiles, one corner of her mouth goes up and the other stays down. This could be a sign that the fluid pressure is up in her head, mild stroke, that her cancer has relapsed or it could just be some weird side effect of chemo that will resolve on its own. Of that yucky list, I am hoping for weird chemo side effect. We will know more after her spinal tap and CAT scan.

Our great news for today is that Abby has gained another 1 1/2 pounds, for a grand total of 6 1/2 pounds! Abby says that she is getting "fatty mcfat, fat". :-) I love that she is getting stronger. Praise God!

Dec 14, 2008

It Was Great While It Lasted.... Abby's Back in the Hospital

Well, we had a good run of a couple of weeks out of the hospital, but that came to an end tonight. Abby is back in….

She has been throwing up non-stop for several days. With the loop they put around her esophagus, she’s not actually throwing up any contents up, but she is dry heaving every few minutes, and all night long, which is miserable for her (especially) and all of us. She’s been non-stop nauseated for days. While chemo causes a lot of symptoms like this, we suspected something else was going on because this is beyond “normal” for the chemo.

They did her blood tests tonight and she has acidosis, another wonderful side effect of all her drug therapy. Acidosis is where the body fluids have too much acid. This can cause all sorts of weird side effects. For Abby, she has been feeling awful, and “throwing up” every few minutes for days. If you can think of how hard it is on your body to throw up once or twice, imagine doing it ten or twenty times a day for several days straight. It doesn’t matter if any contents are expelled from the stomach, it’s still the same physical wear and tear.

We’ll keep you posted, but for now, she’s back in the hospital getting blood, blood tests, and the doctors are trying to see what they can do for her.

Dec 12, 2008

Trick or Treat... and Abby update

Some of you know that Abby was in the hospital on Halloween. She was disappointed that she was not able to go Trick or Treating, but we told her that as soon as she was at home and feeling better she could "Trick or Treat" family members, who had saved her candy. She loved the idea and talked about it often, but had the wisdom to know that it would be more fun when she could eat the candy.

I never imagined, when we were first talking about it, that it would be the second week in December before she was both home from the hospital and able to swallow candy. She waited a long, long time for that sack of candy.

Abby is doing much better now, and I would love to not think about or talk about how much she has gone though in the last couple of months, but I also know that in order for the people who are new to our blog to understand how exciting it is for Abby to be doing better, a brief review is in order.

Short version: Abby was not tolerating the chemo medication to the point that we thought we were going to lose her.

Longer version: In the last few months, Abby has had mucosytis three times (canker sores on her whole digestive tract), she lost 25% of her weight (she was thin to start with), had increased intracranial pressure (up to 4 times normal) from the chemotherapy, had surgery to place a feeding tube in her stomach and to repair a hernia (she had a hernia because of weak muscles and vomiting so much). Her surgeon said that her stomach was paper-thin, because of malnutrition that was caused by the side effects of the chemo.

Abby's throat has been swollen since she had surgery three weeks ago. The only thing she could swallow was liquids. It has been a long three weeks. She still gained weight and wasn't hungry because of the feeding tube, but she missed eating.

Abby is doing GREAT now, praise God. She has gained almost SIX pounds! She has more energy, needs less sleep, and can eat any any food she wants to. The chemo she is taking is still hard on her body, but she is much stronger than she is normally, during rounds of chemo. We love having our happy, energetic and affectionate daughter back. Thank you so much for praying for Abby and our family. God is so good.

Several months ago my blogger buddies came up with some great ideas for costumes that Abby could wear, that would cover up her beautiful bald head. She loved all of the ideas, but her favorite the bridal gown. She wanted wanted to wear a beautiful dress, so that she could marry Daddy. I love that. Before Halloween our church had a dress rehearsal for a play, The Chronicles of Narnia, that they were doing during their Fall Festival. Since there wasn't as many people at the rehearsal, Abby was able to go, as long as she wore her mask when she was around groups of people.

Abby with one of her favorite friends, Megan.

Landis watching the play. He is scared of people in masks, but he was trying to be brave.

I love Landis's smile.

Abby and Grandmother. I love that you can see she is smiling, even with the mask on.

Samrawit had so much fun dressing up. The hat she wore was sent to Abby when she was first diagnosed. My friend Tony, collected the funnest hats, from friends that live all over the country.

Abby with her favorite "boyfriend".

Dec 10, 2008

Please Pray for Josi's Family

Josi's adoption was final and she was supposed to come home before Christmas. Instead she and her foster family were killed in Guatemala. So many people are hurting, both here and in Guatemala.

Would you please take a minute to pray for Josi's family and to leave them a comment to tell them you are praying for them. Please pray also for the people in Guatemala who knew them.

This family has been wonderful about praying for Abby. I am ao sad that they are hurting now.

Thank you.

Dec 9, 2008

Christmas Blessings

Every room in our home is filled with reminders that we serve an awesome and loving God and blessed with great friends, both here at home and new friends from all over the world.

Our freezer was filled with meals from the adoption community, Red Letter, and our church. We have received many care packages and soon Abby will have new hair. Thanks to some great guys from OU, the kids have a new club house to play in.

Thank you all so much for helping us care for Abby and for making her feel so loved. She carries your cards and letters around with her all day long and tells everyone that her friends love her and are praying for her. Thanks.

I love everything about Christmas, especially decorating our home, doing fun projects with the kids and teaching our children why we celebrate. This year is tough because we are so tired, stretched to our limits and behind on many tasks. It is more important than ever to have a great Christmas, because she is so sick. We don't want to squander any chance to have some memories with her in case God calls her on home.

Another reason we want to have wonderful Christmas is because this will be our nine year old daughter's, Samrawit, first Christmas with our family. Last Christmas she was living at an orphanage in Ethiopia. I want us to have happy memories of this year, even in the midst of all of our challenges. I was worried about how we would be able to do everything that we want to do, while still caring for Abby.

Sunday, friends from our church decorated the outside of our home with Christmas lights and decorated our Christmas tree. They brought cider and cookies for the kids to decorate. The kids were so excited. We didn't ask them to do it, they are just kind and loving friends. We are very grateful they decorated and had a lot of fun while they were here.

You'll notice all these pictures are of the children. Every picture I took of the adults had at least one humbug adult trying to dive out of the picture. I though I was the only one who did that. :-)

Samrawit decorating a tree for the first time. Abby loves watching her big sister.

Abby, Abby's friend Megan and Landis. Abby calls her "MY Megan".

Landis had more icing on his shirt than he did on the cookies.

Thank you all for making this holiday special.

Samrawit had never decorated cookies before. While we were waiting for her adoption to be complete and her to come home , I was sad that we had missed so many of those firsts that all parents love to see. Since she has been home, we have seen her experience so many new things. It was fun to show her something else new.

Thank you all so much for decorating our home and making our Christmas special.

Dec 7, 2008

Abby and Her 50 Boyfriends

I guess there is hope after all…

That’s what I wrote when we found out 50 frat guys from Oklahoma University were headed over to our house to bring Abby a present and visit her. If it had been a group of girls, everyone would think “how sweet”. But for college guys to do something so kind, and be so selfless and mature truly was VERY heartwarming. Here’s what happened:

We got a call a couple of weeks ago from John, who attends our church. He said he heard about Abby at church one day, and just really felt like doing something for her, him and his frat house. “How nice” we thought.

Thursday afternoon we get a phone call to find out that 40-50 guys are headed to our house! Holy cow… we had no idea what to expect. But here they came, down the road like a caravan.

They had traveled a couple of hours the day before to go get Abby a big playhouse for the back yard. The drove TWELVE HOURS, yes 12, to get a little girl a present they had never met. They showed up and set it up in the back yard.

One group of guys took our 17 and 16 year old out to an OU/USC basketball game. Another group stayed at our house for a couple of hours and played with Landis, Sami and Abby (our sister was here caring for Abby medically). Another group went out and bought presents for the kids for Christmas. Another group took me and Michelle out to dinner, made us reservations and paid for the whole thing.

It was truly heartwarming and amazing. I’m going to write a story on it in the next issue of Serious.Life Magazine and not only cover what they did, but talk about their fraternity and some of the members. It will be a good story on a good group of guys.

We could not have been more impressed and touched by what they did.

Abby with all her new "boyfriends"
She now refers to them all as her boyfriends,
and just grins every time they are mentioned.
She was a little docile in this picture having had
chemo that day.

The guys unload the new playhouse they drove TWO HOURS to get!

Mission accomplished! The playhouse is set up,
but it would be the next day, sunny and warm
before the kids would get to play on it.

Abby playing outside! That is first for her in several months.
She couldn't wait to get out to her new playhouse,
set up by her 50 boyfriends!