Eden and Seizures: An Update

•March 14, 2013 • 15 Comments


The cell phone had quit ringing, the visitors were gone, the lights were out, and I sat alone resting my head against my daughter’s hospital bed as she attempted to sleep with wires and tubes coming off nearly every part of her body.  The only sound was the steady beep of the heart rate monitor assuring me, despite the adrenaline pumping through my body with her every sudden movement, that she was not having another seizure.  I sat up, opened the Book of Common Prayer app on my  “smart” phone, and went straight to Compline.

The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.


O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

So strange how ancient prayers designed to be general and usable by anyone at any time feel so appropriate… so perfectly particular.

Lord, hear our prayer;

And let our cry come to you.

Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The morning had started beautifully… Sun shining, fresh fruit, cinnamon toast, mama’s hugs and kisses, and Finding Nemo … about as good as it gets for a 22 month old little girl.  That little girl, our daughter Eden, was hanging on Jenny’s legs asking for a glass of water while I headed to the bedroom to take off my dress shirt…  Then her pleading stopped suddenly and strangely… enough for me to turn around to see what had happened.  I turned to see Eden’s body stiffen and then fall over.  Jenny cried out.  I ran over and scooped Eden up.  Her big, blue eyes looked at me with panic as her body arched, and then she stared at nothing, and then they rolled back in her head. Her body started shaking.  Jenny called 911.  She wasn’t breathing.  She turned grey.  Her body stiffened more.  She turned blue.  She wasn’t breathing.

She wasn’t breathing.

She wasn’t breathing.

After two minutes she went limp in my arms.  She wasn’t breathing.  She was blue.  And she wasn’t breathing.  I was on my knees weeping and begging her to breath.  And then she took a breath.

I would almost say that all the joy in heaven at the Resurrection would not have exceeded my joy at that moment.  It was what Tolkien would call a “Eucatastrophe…”  Something so good and wonderful that it makes up for all the bad.  But our day was just beginning.

The ambulance came and took Eden and I to Dell Children’s Hospital.  Jenny stayed with a very frightened Titus until our dear friend Evan arrived to bring them to the hospital as well.  The doctors came and told us that many children have seizures and that all would be well.   Sure, it was a little disconcerting that she stopped breathing during the seizure, but all would be well.  Eden perked back up, and wanted to go for a walk.  I carried her out into the hall, and felt her body go eerily stiff in my arms.  It was happening again.  I cried for help and the hospital staff came running.  They laid her on the bed.  I watched it all again.  Her body went stiff.  Her body turned blue.  She wasn’t breathing.

Jenny and I stood in the corner while the nurses and doctors attended to our daughter.  It takes a very special person to work in a children’s hospital, and my wife and I will forever count those people among the highest blessings of heaven.  One minute.  Not breathing.  Two minutes.  Not breathing.  Three minutes.  Not breathing.  Four minutes.  We were holding each other and weeping.  They gave her a drug that began with an “A” and she stopped seizing.  Her breath returned, and her color came back.  Jenny and I were holding each other to keep from collapsing.  Eden’s eyes slowly began to open, and the nurse called, “Mom, come over by the bed and talk to her.”  Jenny immediately composed herself and walked to the bed with such grace and calm that I can barely think of it without tears in my eyes.  “It’s alright baby.  Mommy is here.”


Eden had two more seizures.  They gave her another drug, and told us that should stop them.  She had two more seizures.  They gave her another drug, and told us that should stop them.  No parent should have to watch their baby child stop breathing, turn blue, and lie stiff on a table.  We had to watch it six times in eight hours.  It is like emotional water boarding.  Even now, it is hard to sleep because when I close my eyes I still see it.  I wish I could do justice to Jenny’s courage and grace-ful presence for our daughter all throughout the day, but you would have to have been there to believe it.  Her ability to to put her fears and tears seemingly on pause to calm and sooth our daughter was a type of strength I have probably never witnessed.

photo (1)

After roughly 40 hours awake, six seizures, a CT scan, an EEG, an MRI, blood tests, urine tests, and more tests, the good news is: Eden does not have a mass in her brain.  She does not have any neurosystemic malformations.  She does not have bleeding on her brain.  She does not have any exotic or dangerous infections.  To top it off, they finally found a drug that was able to control her seizures.

The bad news is: They don’t know what exactly caused the seizures, so we have to live with a mystery.  She has been diagnosed with childhood epilepsy and will have to be on anti-seizure medication for at least two years.

I am not going to refer to my daughter as an epileptic, and I am not sure if I will tell her (when she is old enough) that she has epilepsy.  I don’t want that dark cloud hanging over her head.  Of course I will explain seizures to her, and why she has to take medicine, but that will be enough.  If the doctors are correct, we have every reason to hope that she will live a normal, full, and healthy life.  Jenny and I may carry a special fear in our hearts for a while that we will need to work through, and it may be a few weeks or months before I feel comfortable with her sleeping alone in her own bed again, but I’m hopeful that all will be well, and that all manner of things will be well.

Eden’s favorite movie is Finding Nemo.  It is a movie about fish facing some very difficult and frightening obstacles for a father to be reunited with his son.  There is one moment in the movie where the father and his companion have to swim into absolute blackness and danger deep in an ocean valley.  Dori, the father’s companion, tells him to, “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”  Sometimes, Eden walks around the house saying it to herself.  For some reason, that phrase was a mantra for me in the hospital, and it is exactly what the Ballard family intends to do… Just keep swimming.  Please hold us in your prayers.

photo (2)

Special thanks to: Lacey Uhre, Mike & Kirsten Kaiser, and Kari Tornes for watching a sick Titus while we were in the hospital.  I hope the vomit washed out of your shirts.  My dad Doug Ballard, and Todd & Ben Hillard for helping me keep vigil at Eden’s bedside all night.  It would have been a dark, lonely night without you.  Evan and Brandi Loomis for all their care and help.  Jenny’s parents Joan and Craig for flying in all the way from South Dakota to do anything that was asked of them… company, food, tears, cleaning, support, airing up car tires, wine, and more.  My mom and sister Chelsea for threatening to jump in cars and drive here as well.  I’m glad you didn’t need to, but we appreciate the love.  For the many more who called, texted, offered to come, prayed, watched on Facebook, and held us in your hearts… most of you are known to us with gratitude, but you are all known to God.  The Anglican Communion & Catholic Christianity for providing us and millions of Christians with such a thing as Compline for when we want to pray in the darkness but have no words.  Glory to God for All Things.

If you have babies, or parents, or friends, or anyone you care about… hold them tight and tell them you love them.  Life is short.  That ain’t no joke.  The most normal days of your life are glorious beyond all hope and deserving if you look at them right.  We just forget sometimes.

The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us.  Amen.

Looking Over the Edge… One Week & 50 Miles

•October 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

One week from today I will attempt the Palo Duro Canyon 50 mile trail race.  I have run roughly 800 miles in the last 12 months to prepare for this race.  That sounds like a lot of ground to cover, but when preparing for an ultramarthon, it turns out that it is not.  Due to the demands of work, and a stronger commitment to and love for my family than running, I am substantially under-trained.

To put it into perspective, when preparing for an ultramarathon, a runner should average 4-5 runs per week and 50-60 miles per week at an absolute minimum.  Many ultramarathoners do well over 100 miles per week.  In comparison, for the last 16 weeks I have run only twice per week for an average of under 25 miles per week.  That puts me at roughly 60% under-trained.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, besides quite a bit of discomfort and pain.  I also know the Palo Duro Canyon is a beautiful place, so it will be an adventure to see how far my legs can carry me across that terrain.

Because of my state of fitness, I don’t have many expectations.  To support my usual optimism, I have two 30 mile runs recently under my belt, and a completed 60K (37.5 mile) ultramarathon earlier this summer for which I was also under-trained.  In the “odds against” column, I have the fact that I DNF’d a 60K earlier in the summer as well, and when I finished each of the 30 mile long runs previously mentioned all I could think was, “20 more miles… How am I going to do this?”  So, what will happen?  Will I finish?  I feel certain that I will finish, if for no other reason than I am determined to.  How much I will suffer, and how much I will have to walk are the big variables.  The weather is looking to be just about perfect so that will help.  If I can finish in under 9 hours with as little training as I’ve done, I’ll call it a great success.

I’m looking forward to getting out of Austin for the weekend, looking forward to being in something like wilderness, and looking even more forward to spending a long weekend with my beautiful wife and best friend Jenny.  Mad props to Lacey, Mike, Kirsten, and Kari for watching the kids while we are gone.

If cell service is available, Jenny will post live updates to my Twitter account (@JasonDBallard) and/or FaceBook page so friends and family can follow along.  If not, we’ll put up updates as soon as we can.  The race starts at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 20th.

Mule Shoe 60K DNF! or Move Along, Nothing to See Here

•July 24, 2012 • 2 Comments

Well, I am now 1 and 1 for 60Ks.  I entered the Mule Shoe 60K on this past Saturday night put on by Tejas Trails and I dropped out at 20 miles due to stomach issues.  I could tell something was wrong even at mile 1, and by mile 20 I could tell it just wasn’t my night.  Funny, the last ultra I ran I finished even though I was completely unprepared, and this one I dropped out even though I was in significantly better shape.  Lesson: Respect the ultra!  Running that far on trails is always a challenge and is never a given.

The race was, as people have come to expect from Joe, well organized and a lot of fun.  There seemed to be a good deal more people than at the Perdenales Falls race, and that one was well attended.  On to the course….

The 60K course consisted of a short out and back, followed by 4 – 9.XX mile loops around Mule Shoe Bend recreation area.   There were two aid stations on the loop which effectively broke the course up into three sections.  This course was quite a bit less hilly, but quite a bit more technical than the Perdenales Course.  I would have thought that would mean it was easier, but judging by the winning times (almost an hour slower than Perdenales), it turns out it was probably a tougher course overall.  It was just relentless.  It really beat you up.  There were almost no stretches where you could really open up your stride and cruise.  I stumbled and fell multiple times.  The course required constant attention and focus.  Of the three sections, the second stretch (between aid stations 1 and 2) was by far the most difficult.  I completed the out and back and then two loops before dropping.  I wish I could have soldiered on, but given that these races are more like glorified training runs for me, I didn’t want to risk really messing myself up for no good reason.

Again, major kudos to Joe and Tejas Trails for another fantastic event in the Texas hill country.  Looking forward to many more in the future.  My next scheduled race is in October (Palo Duro 50), but if I can find another “short” ultra before then, I may try to fit one more in as a training run.

Perdenales Falls 60K Race Report

•June 25, 2012 • 6 Comments

Last Tuesday, I was sitting in the breakroom at TreeHouse when I recieved an email from Endurance Buzz saying that there was a 60K (37.5 mile) race in Perdenales Falls State Park on Saturday night.  It was to be the first of four races in the Captain Carl’s Night Race Series.  For some reason, I knew I would give it a try almost immediately even though my training hasn’t been nearly enough for a 60K.  I have only been running around 20 miles per week lately, and my long run of the year has only been 14 miles, but I thought, “If the wheels fall off, I’ll just drop out.   Why not try?”

So I showed up in the parking lot Saturday evening at about 5:30pm, an hour and a half before the start of the race.  It was about 97 degrees at the time, but would cool off to about 95 by race time.  The race would consist of two 18.8 mile loops around the park on single-track and jeep trail.  The below picture is pretty well representative of the whole course.

It was a fairly hilly, very rocky trail the whole way.  There was only one or two stretches (less than two miles each) of what I call “cruiser grade” where you could open up and drop in a few sub 8 minute miles.  For most of the run you are either dancing around ankle-breaking rocks, climbing, or trying to negotiate a steep and rocky descent.  I don’t want to overstate the course (I know there are plenty of ultra courses that are tougher), but it was a reasonably challenging and moderately technical course to be sure.

A Run Through The Woods – Miles 0 through 20

As most of you know, I used to run track at Texas A&M University.  While I was only a mediocre runner in college, that competitive instinct can still be fairly pronounced if I am not careful.  I realized that probably the worst thing that could happen to me would be to try to race someone who has been running trail ultras for years. Admitting to myself that I was in way over my head (I have never run anywhere near this far in my whole life), I positioned myself at the very back of the starting line with the slow people.  That way, once I finally did get free from the pack, the lead group would be way too far ahead to worry about.  Out of sight, out of mind as they say.  At mile 1, I was somewhere near last place.  It would turn out to be a very good decision.

The trail leaves the parking area and descends quickly to the river by way of single-track trail.  Once by the river, there was roughly one mile of boulder hopping and rock ledge scrambling (see top picture) before climbing out of the river valley onto a long stretch of rolling but very straight jeep trail that follows the boundary of the park.  I bided my time for the first four miles or so, just slowly working my way past people as it felt easy and convenient… no real hurry at this point.  I finally ended up running side by side with an older gentleman (58) named Bob.  He was quite an accomplished runner and had dozens and dozens of ultras under his belt.  I would find out later that he actually qualified for the Western States 100 (the defacto championship of ultrarunning in America) twice.  I figured it would be a smart idea to run with a veteran and learn what I could.  So Bob and I ran together for 7+ miles chatting easily and eating up miles.

At somewhere around mile 11, I stopped at an aid station to refill my hydration pack and I never saw Bob again.  He would go on to have  a very good run (9th place).  From here on out, I ran the race alone.  I had run for about two hours and over 13.5 miles before it got dark, at which point I had to don a headlamp for the rest of the race.  I’m glad I had a good couple of hours on the course in the daylight to see what I was in for, because navigating the rocky trails in the dark with just the headlamp was certainly a challenge.  The good thing about the sun descending was that the temperatures did the same.  Once the darkness was upon us, the temperatures dropped from the 90s and into the 80s quickly and were into the upper 70s by the time I finished.  The challenge for the first two hours was avoiding overheating.  The challenges for the next 5ish hours would be hydration, nutrition, electrolytes, and pain management.

I finished the first loop in roughly 2 hours and 54 minutes (roughly 9:21/mile including stops at aid stations).  I stopped at the big aid station at the half way point for several minutes to refill on gels & electrolyte tablets from my drop bag, top off my hydration pack, and eat a half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich before hitting the trail again at 2 hours 57 minutes.  I was surprised that I had made it halfway in under three hours, but at this point I had run very controlled and very within my means.  However, with my longest run of the past 9 months being 14 miles, I was about to go somewhere physically and psychologically that I have not been before.

Descent into Hell – Miles 20 through 25

Mile 20 was the beginning of some of the worst physical suffering I have ever been through.  I thought about quitting for virtually every step for the next 10 miles.  Immediately after descending again into the river bed my left quad began cramping so bad I could barely walk.  I looked down at it with my headlamp and it was quivering and spasming like one of those alien movies where some nefarious life form has invaded your body and is about to erupt out of your skin.  I quickly ruled that out as a likely scenario, and tried to keep moving while massaging my leg vigorously.  The pain was so intense it was difficult not cry out on every step.  I realized I still had almost 18 miles to go (further than I had run all year) and wondered it I should just go ahead and drop out now.  It was only a little over a mile back to the aid station with a nice chair to sit in and all the ice-cold Gatorade, PB&J, and bananas I could want.

“Think Jason, think!”  I told myself.  “What causes cramps?”  I reviewed my hydration and nutrition for last three hours.  I had been taking a gel and a salt tablet every 30 mins as is recommended,  but I realized that in these hot conditions my body was probably going through electrolytes much faster than usual.  So I pulled out two salt-electrolyte pills and took them both at once and kept walking.  Within two minutes, the cramp went away and I was running again.  Bingo!

I was now on the long, hilly stretch by the boundary of the park again.  Somewhere around mile 22 I was beginning to feel good again and picked up my pace to try to make up for lost time ( a few people had passed me while I worked through my cramp issues).  I crested a hilltop after a pretty steep climb and opened up my stride to let gravity carry me down the descent.  Somehow, I had missed a root in the dark and just as I was reaching good speed I suddenly found myself falling face-first downhill in the dark.

My chest was the first thing to hit the rocky trail, and it knocked the wind out of me.  I rolled over and layed on my back for several minutes in the middle of the trail.  The stars were out and they were beautiful.  I moved my arms, legs, and feet.  Everything seemed to be working.  I pressed my ribs, chest, and face.  Sore, but nothing broken apparently.  I sat up and took a gel and sipped some water.  Now what?  I stood up.  I felt a little dizzy, but I walked to the bottom of the hill and then resumed running slowly.  Several other runners passed me during this period.

For the next few miles, my knees and hips began to hurt in a way that can only be described as excruciating.  My heart rate was controlled, my breathing was steady, and my muscles felt strong, but my joints were simply not accustomed to being used in this way for four hours.  They were in a state of rebellion.  From now on I tried not to think about finishing.  I just tried to make it to the next goal.  I thought to myself, “You are only 3 miles or so away from marathon (26.2 miles).  That will be a good place to stop and drop out.”  I mustered enough determination to suffer for three more miles and kept going.

Purgatory – Miles 25 through 31

“Relentless forward progress.”  That, I have been told, is the ultrarunner’s mantra.  “Just keep moving,”  is what I would tell myself when the pain would get so bad I could barely think.  I would never let myself stop.  Even when I couldn’t run anymore, I would make myself walk.  Soon I realized that it was just as painful to walk at this point, so I might as well run.  But I kept moving.  The pain was nearly unbearable, but it didn’t get any worse.

Eventually I got to the marathon mark, which happened to be very close to an unmanned aid station.  I took my hydration pack off, refilled it, took a gel and an electrolyte tablet, shut off my headlamp, and I allowed myself to sit down and think.  I was actually pleased with myself for having made through a marathon on such a tough trail without nearly enough training.  I was mentally prepared to drop out at this point.  I tried to remember the trail map I looked at before the race began, and I realized it would be a four mile walk out back to the finish area.  “Four miles.” I thought.  “That would would be 30 miles all together if I kept running.  Wow!  That would be something.”  I stood up, turned on my headlamp, put on my pack, and decided not to drop out yet.  “I will try to  get to the 30 mile mark and then I will drop out.”

Once I got to the 30 mile mark, I had a similar decision point.  “I’m only 1.5 miles away from 50K (31.5 miles), and 50K is ‘officially’ an ultramarathon.  I’ve come this far, I may as well complete an ultramarathon.”  So off down the trail I trotted, suffering with every step.  By this point my joints were hurting so bad that I had to walk downhills.  I was fine on uphills.  In fact, I began to pass people on several of the climbs, but I simply could not endure the pounding of running downhill.  Slowly but surely I was making progress, and I was even beginning to pass people who had passed me earlier in the evening.

Paradiso – Miles 31 through 37.5

The last manned aid station is at mile 31.5… exactly 50K, and it is at the top of a long series of climbs.  I almost couldn’t believe I had actually made it.  I sat down and the saintly aid station volunteers filled my hydration pack for me, they brought me bananas, and poured cold water over my head.  It was like a whole new wave of energy, determination, and encouragement washed over me.  I realized that with only six miles left, there was no way I was dropping out having suffered so much and having come so far.  If I had to crawl all the way back, I was going to finish.  I stood up with new focus, profusely thanked the volunteers, and hit the trail at a run.  There is a pretty steep climb coming out of that aid station and I passed two people on the way up.  I walked the next downhill, and while I sucked down a gel I started to do some math in my head.  “OK, so I am going to finish this thing.  Where do I stand?”  As I converted my total time and miles covered into average pace and then did some extrapolating, I realized that I was going to be right on the bubble for finishing under 7 hours.  I had a new goal: Finish under seven.  That was my new mantra.

I took off at probably my fastest pace of the whole race.  I was easily running 7:30 per mile.  I don’t know where the strength came from, and I don’t know where the pain went, but I never walked another step.  Between mile 31.5 and the finish, there are two more ridges to climb and descend.  I hit them hard and I didn’t let up.  I began to pass people.  After 3.5 miles I arrived at the final aid station which is unmanned.  There were three people standing around drinking water and filling bottles, but I didn’t even stop.  I was only 2.5 miles from the finish and feeling good.  I took one more gel on the final climb, and then hauled it into the finish area on the final descent.

Coming into the finish area people can see your headlamp for roughly a half-mile out and they start cheering and clapping before you can ever see them.  Coming around the final corner, you hear music playing, you smell food cooking, and the end is in sight.  It almost made tears come to my eyes.  I was only happy for that moment.  I had no business running this race given the training I had done, and I couldn’t believe I was actually crossing the finish line.  Final time: 6 hours and 45 minutes.  It was 1:45 a.m.


I was immediately given cold Gatorade, a medal around my neck, and a chair to sit in.  One of the volunteers told me they thought I had finished top 10 for men (which later turned out not to be true…. I was the 12th man.  Whoop!).  All things considered, I am very pleased with how I did.  Despite the pain and falling and walking, my second lap was only 51 minutes slower than my first.  I stayed on top of hydration, nutrition, and electrolytes/salt the entire race.  That is something that usually trips up rookies, especially in hot weather.

During the race I consumed roughly:

200 ounces of water (a little over 1.5 gallons)

2000 calories

20-25 salt tablets

My total time puts me at roughly a 10:48 /mile pace.  However, if you take out nine aid stations, falling and laying on the trail, etc. my average moving pace was probably closer to 9:45 / mile.

My muscle strength was good, and my aerobic conditioning was more than up to the challenge.  Going foward, it is merely a mater of joint strength… which comes from simply putting in your time on trails.

The talk at the finish area was what an impressive field turned out to race this year.  There were people from all over Texas, the US, and even people from Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland.  To put it into perspective, my 6:45 time which put me 17th overall (12th male) this year would have put me in 7th, 6th, and 4th overall respectively for the past three years.

Looking ahead

I now have my first ultramarathon under my belt.  And though it was a sufferfest, I now have a good idea about what I am capable of, and where I need to improve.  There is another one of these Captain Carl’s Night Race Series 60Ks on July 21st at Mule Shoe Bend.  I will probably try to run it.  I will try to run faster than 6hrs and 45mins.

My big goal for the year is still the Palo Duro 50 miler in October.  My time from this weekend’s 60K would translate into exactly a 9 hour 50 miler.  Judging by the last few years’ results, that would put me somewhere between 2nd and 12th place.  However, I intend to be in better shape by then.  I don’t think 8 hours is out of the question.

I’m going to need a few days off.  I am very sore and have several black & bloody toenails.  I will hopefully resume training mid to late week.  I can hardly wait for the next one.  A special thanks to my beautiful wife for all her support and enthusiasm from South Dakota.  She really wanted to be there, but I told her, “Don’t worry about it.  I will almost certainly not be able to finish.”

May Training Update

•May 31, 2012 • 1 Comment

I am beginning to feel like a runner again.  My long runs are getting longer and my fast runs are getting faster.  I have still had to skip a few workouts to make sure I have enough recovery time, but things seem to be headed in the right direction.  So far, everything is going to schedule regarding prep for the Palo Duro 50 in October.

I am also beginning (I hope) to figure out how to train at a high level while being a good husband and father.  I don’t ever want Jenny or the kids to think running is anything other than running, or that I wouldn’t skip a run in a heartbeat if they wanted me to.  That has meant running either very early, very late, with Jen & the kids (in a jogging stroller), or when we have some extra help around in the form of friends or family.

A few highlights from the month were a 12 mile run down the Galveston Seawall and a solo trail half-marathon through the Piney Woods of East Texas near Toledo Bend Lake.  The low point of the month was the return of the heat.  It has taken some adjusting and some planning (water packs, energy gels, electrolyte replacement) to continue to train in 90+ degree weather.  It’s only going to get hotter for the next few months, so I better get used to it.  No injuries to report other than the usual and expected soreness.

The return to serious running has been good for me on several levels besides the physical.  It has been wonderful stress relief, it helps me to clear my mind and collect my always divergent thoughts, and it makes me happy… enriches my soul.  A few weeks ago after a half marathon before church, Jenny remarked, “Wow!  You are like super husband this morning.”  I think she was right… not that I am a super husband, but that running makes me happy, helps me focus, and gives me energy.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

May Summaries:

Total Miles in May: 84

Total Runs in May: 13

Longest Run: 13.1 miles (2x)

Total Miles Since Return to Running: 524

Running Reboot: From Black Hills to Hard Wood

•May 7, 2012 • 2 Comments

It has been quite a year for the Ballard household.  Honestly, probably the most trying four months of my adult life: helping my wife fight cancer, two children under two, and six month old start up business, and living in a new city without a well established network of support.  I think we will always look back and say, “2012 was just a hard year.”

And yet, we know if could have been harder, and it could have been worse.  All things considered, we are a happy family with (hopefully) the worst of these trials behind us.  I publish this blog for our friends and family to keep with us, and I think it has done that exceedingly well.  Several readers who knew I had been (before the arrival of cancer) training to run the Black Hills 100 have asked if I am still training, and if I still plan to run it.  The answer is yes and no.

I have in the last month or so begun to run again (80 miles in the last 8 weeks).  That is not a lot, but my fitness is coming back.  I do plan to give the BH100 a try, but it will not be this year.  For now, I’m tentatively shooting for June 2013.  But, I didn’t want to let the whole year be a wash or let the 450ish miles I’ve run in the last 12 months be for nothing.  So, I’m going to attempt a more modest race in October of this year: The Palo Duro 50, a 50 mile run through the Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas.

The Palo Duro (English translation: Hard Wood) is the “Grand Canyon of Texas”, and as a native Texan that holds a certain romantic mystique.  For those of you who want to keep up with my progress, I’ll begin posting training updates to this site again soon.

“I Have Good News”

•March 20, 2012 • 9 Comments

The night of Jenny’s surgery, as she fell asleep in her hospital bed practically tangled in wires and IV lines, I read to her from The Lord of the Rings.  That book is about a number of things, but one of the major themes is of a journey through the dark, without knowing exactly where you are going, holding on to hope, and then coming out the other side.

This morning we got a call from the pathology lab.  ” Can I talk to Jenny?  I have good news.”  said the voice on the other end.  The news was this: The cancer has not spread.  There is no sign of invasion or aggression.  This despite early indications of “micro invasion” on the scan and a “suspiciously swollen” lymph node.  Many of you have prayed fervently and faithfully for Jenny, and continue to do so.  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  However, the word at the Ballard house is “Praise God!”

Jenny is now on the mend (though she still has two surgeries in front of her), and can look forward to what should essentially be a full recovery, though she will carry both the memory and marks of cancer for the rest of her life.  Much of that will be difficult, but much of it is (no doubt) intended for our good and for our salvation.  It is a common cliche that “time heals all wounds,” but I do not think that is true… not in this age of the world.  Tolkien said of Frodo’s wound in The Lord of the Rings,

The evil…cannot wholly be cured, nor made as if it had not been.

“…nor made as if it had not been.”  That strikes at something more like the truth I think.  We see it in the scars that Christ still bears after his Resurrection, and if we stop for a moment, we see it in our own lives.  We must all carry the wounds and scars that life gives us, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.  But I have good news, we carry them in hope that, just like Frodo, we will one day

smell a sweet fragrance on the air and hear the sound of singing  coming over the water.  And the grey rain-curtain turns all to silver glass and is rolled back, and we behold white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Almighty God and heavenly Father, we give you humble thanks because you have been graciously pleased to deliver from her sickness your servant Jenny, in whose behalf we bless and praise your Name. Grant, O gracious Father, that she, through your help, may live in this world according to your will, and also be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Resting and Recovering in Austin

•March 16, 2012 • 4 Comments

Jenny before her surgery on Tuesday.

We arrived back in Austin yesterday afternoon.  Jenny is resting as much as she can and trying to stay on top of pain management.  The surgery, in case you haven’t heard, went as well as could be hoped.  They believe they were able to excise all of the tumor, and upon microscopic inspection of the two lymph nodes they removed there doesn’t appear to be any sign of spread or invasion… always our greatest fear.  We will find out for sure at our next appointment Wednesday.

We are relieved and tired, and can’t  offer our appreciation and gratitude to all who have hoped & prayed with us in a manner that would even begin to fairly convey what a treasure and life-line that love has been to us.  Please give thanks with us now for a successful surgery and the beginning of a recovery.

Almighty God and heavenly Father, we give you humble thanks because you have been graciously pleased to deliver from her cancer your servant Jenny, on whose behalf we bless and praise your Name. Grant, O gracious Father, that she, through your help, may live in this world according to your will, and also be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, your compassions never fail and your mercies are new every morning: We give you thanks for giving our sister Jenny both relief from pain and hope of health renewed.  Continue in her, we pray, the good work you have begun; that she, daily increasing in bodily strength, and rejoicing in your goodness, may so order her life and conduct that she may always think and do those things that please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I will have more to write soon, but for now… rest is the order of the day.  Thanks be to God.

Surgery Tomorrow Morning

•March 12, 2012 • 8 Comments

Jenny getting a few last minute tests run today at MD Anderson.

Jenny’s mastectomy is tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10:00am.  Please pray with us.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, graciously comfort your servant Jenny in her suffering, and bless the means made use of for her cure.  Fill her heart with confidence, that, though at times she may be afraid she yet may put her trust in you through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

or this

Strengthen your servant Jenny, O God, to do what she has to do and bear what she has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, she may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Cancer, Lent, and the Discipline of Celebration

•March 7, 2012 • 3 Comments

This past Monday we had a meeting with the reconstructive surgeon who will be working on Jenny after the oncology surgeon is done with her.  We didn’t learn anything particularly new, but we did get a clearer picture of the path before us.  It was a tough day, and we can really feel the clock ticking down until next Tuesday when two things happen to Jenny’s body: The tumor will be permanently removed (good news),  and a permanent & lifelong alteration including scarring, artificial reconstruction, loss of glandular and immunological functionality, and loss of feeling and sensation (sad news).  We are trying to be mature & sane enough people to feel both things at once, but it is a tall order.  We oscillate from relief that the tumor will be gone, and grieving over what will be a real loss for Jenny.  The joy & sorrow are mingled together inextricably.  

For most people, myself included, the most noticeable thing about Lent is the spiritual disciplines related to asceticism and self denial.  For those who observe Lent, the most difficult disciplines that we observe to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday are the disciplines related to penitence and fasting.  Can I really give up meat and drink for 40 days?  Can I keep my prayer rule?  Etc.  Etc.  This year is different though.  I feel compelled by our circumstances to be continually in prayer, and fasting isn’t quite the same when your appetite is mediocre at best.  In other words, what should be a discipline is a natural part of my life right now because of what we are going through.  The part of my Lenten journey that has taken the most prayer, work, and discipline this year is the discipline of celebration.  Let me explain.

Traditionally, Lent is a 40 day fast before Easter (or Pascha) used for self examination, repentance, and self denial as a sort of “spring cleaning” before the Great Feast of Easter.  However, if you count on a calendar from Ash Wednesday until Easter, you will see that there are actually 46 days in Lent.  Why is that?  It is because there are six Sundays in that time period and Christians are never supposed to fast on Sundays… every Sunday is a mini-Easter, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Subtract those six Sundays, and you end up with 40 days for fasting.

So here we have, embedded in the season of penitence, six days where we are basically required to feast and give thanks (I have heard, though it may be apocryphal, that the the early church even threatened excommunication to those fasting on Sundays).  The joy & sorrow are mingled together inextricably.  Even in Lent, the Church has made space for the spiritual discipline of celebration.  The necessity and wisdom of this had never occurred to me until my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Usually, the Sundays are the easy part… not this year.  I find myself in a situation where celebration, joy, and thanksgiving are profoundly difficult.

So this Sunday, I came home from church with my family, took my son into the backyard with a beer in my hand, let the sun shine on my face, and celebrated…. celebrated the beautiful weather, my beautiful family… celebrated all the friends and family who have been so supportive… celebrated that medical technology has come so far in the last 50 years, and that this isn’t a death sentence for Jenny and that if all goes well she can look forward to resuming a more-or-less normal life…

As I sat there, I was reminded of a quote from Tolkien… if you are not familiar with the Lord of the Rings, it is from a scene near the end where two of the heroes, Sam and Frodo, are beyond hope and defeat seems eminent.  They lay down in a forsaken wilderness under “The Shadow” and Sam looks up.

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

So I sat there, and I celebrated… celebrated the Resurrection of our Savior who has trampled down death by death, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and because of who “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore,” for the former things will pass away.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give him thanks and praise.