Monday, December 3, 2012

Running in Memphis, Part One

After months of training and raising money and more training and more raising money, I can finally say proudly, I am a marathon finisher!! Woot Woot!!

I have tried several times to express what it's been like to train for this marathon but I don't know if I've really been able to express it. Yet, somehow, this weekend made all of that melt away. I'm left with tearfully beautiful memories, wonderful photos, and some tokens of the race.  Here's words and photos to try to explain the weekend.  I have so many thoughts that this will be separated into a few entries. Today, enjoy the travel and the tour of St. Jude.


8:00 p.m. On the Road

Thursday we packed everything in sight in our house (maybe it just felt like that) in preparation to head toward Memphis. The weather was predicted to be in the 60's but the forecast kept changing so it was hard to pack. We were stuffed! Warm pants, light pants, tank tops, shorts, stocking caps, mittens, rain coat, and so, so much more! And that was just for the race.  By the time we got our house sitter settled, went to a meeting, and got on the road, it was around 8:00.

10:00 p.m. Arrival at Dad and Mom's

We settled for the night at my parents' house. Since we had an early wake-up call, we pretty much crashed the moment we got there. Well, after we all expressed our anxiety about the race. Out of our 7 person team, 5 of us were doing our first marathon and it made for quite the jittery bunch. This cold be why I didn't get an amazing night of sleep. That and we were off early...


6:00 a.m. Wake Up Call

Getting six people (one of our teammates drove separately) showered and ready was not as much of a challenge as packing all our stuff:). We each had all the race gear previously mentioned. BUT, there was more! This was not our first trip to Memphis to run. This time, we (by we I mean Mom:)) didn't forget anything. We brought bananas, a giant jar of peanut butter, gu, a stick massager, a coffee pot (yes you read that right!) and, wait for it, A TOASTER! I mean, once you have a race routine, you have to stick with it.  One we got all that in, we were off by 7:15 a.m., only 15 minutes past our goal.  Which was good because what came next was a little unexpected.

9:00 a.m. Suburban Maintenance Stop

When you're on a road trip, you just never know what's going to happen. We hadn't even left Missouri when the check engine light came on and Pete The Mechanic got nervous. We stopped a couple of times for diagnostics before doing an oil change. Yes, it was a little delay but it allowed a Walgreens stop for nail polish and some Redbox movies. I will admit I was a little nervous because we had a tour scheduled and we were pushing to get there on time. Luckily, the oil change seemed to do the trick and we were off.  With only a few more stops. Let me just say race hydration and a four hour drive don't go hand-in-hand:).

1:55 p.m. Arrive at St. Jude

Yes, we arrived on time. After waiting quite a while to make it through the gate and hopping in for a bathroom stop, we started our tour at the statue of St. Jude.

Our tour guide, Adam, was also a former patient. His tour was neat because he not only spouted the facts but he gave personal experiences as well (like the way the registration desks are child-height and he would check himself in as a child to feel more a part of the process. So cool).

For privacy reasons, you can't take pics of people in the hospital. I did manage to get quite a few pics that I feel give you at least a glimpse of the cheery atmosphere.  For instance, the hospital has a mural at the entrance that portrays all four seasons. Then, as you go through the main floor, each section is a giant mural portraying one of the seasons. It's so bright and beautiful and reminded me of a beautifully painted nursery.  The kids portrayed on the walls (not the mural, I didn't get a picture of the walls) intentionally are of all types of kids--some with hair, some without, some with all their limbs, some missing.  It's a neat way to "normalize" some of the things the kids are going through.

I didn't get a picture of the cafeteria but it was a neat place. Adam told us they intentionally don't section off any area. So, kids, parents, researchers, doctors, and other staff all eat side-by-side. The chefs work so hard to make sure the kids have kid-friendly food to help them nourish their recovery. In one instance, they even worked pretty diligently to find a patient's grandma's mac n cheese recipe since that's the only thing he wanted to eat.

If you are in the hospital for any amount of time or even if you talk to someone who's been there, you'll hear the word hope. It's hard to express it in words but St. Jude is for sure a place of hope.  Almost every day, there are activities and parties for kids. The hospital was currently dressed up for Christmas. We didn't go upstairs to the rooms but there are Christmas trees in the main area and they're said to be in the rooms as well. Kids will spend their holidays here so they try to make it festive.

As we walked through, staff said thank you and patients with masks and little bald heads waved and smiled through glass. It's amazing how you can see a smile through a mask.  It was incredibly humbling to have such a warm welcome. They are so appreciative of the St. Jude Heroes and it's kind of hard to accept the thanks. I mean, these families are going through some rough stuff and yet they look at you with such gratitude. I am tearing up just writing about it.  Of course I did there as well.

The ABC wall is made by kids. In fact, lots of the hospital art is made by kids. The ABCs rotate out periodically and they express the emotions and experiences of the children, both patients and families.  You can see here K is for Kemo:). Some other notable letters were T is for Tears,V is for Vomit and  Z is for Zofran. They are sweet, heartfelt, a little funny, and incredibly sad all at once.  

I mentioned the patient art. This one was one of my favorites and was particularly poignant since we toured right before World AIDS day.  People often think of cancer when they think of St. Jude but they also do groundbreaking research on H.I.V. and AIDS, Sickle Cell disease, and many others.

The blood donation center is in-house and provides about 50% of the blood used by patients.

I'm not describing all of it and I'm for sure not doing it justice. There are tons of toys, rooms just for teens to hang out, video games in all the waiting rooms, and just so much cheer.  And that's just in the main area. The hospital is about to go through an expansion as well. In fact, as we were entering, Eric Trump's posse was leaving. He had just been there to announce a nearly 20 million dollar donation to the hospital and specifically to the new tower.  It will have new surgery suites, a fancy schmancy tumor shrinker (there's a real name but let's be honest, I will get it wrong if I try to say it. It has the word proton. That's all I got.)

We finished with a walk through the garden and a trip to the gift shop. Because, when all the money goes to St. Jude, you gotta buy!! We left with a water bottle, a Christmas ornament (our second) and some post cards. And of course, lots and lots of love.

Look at my cute parents in the garden.

Some interesting facts about St. Jude:

--It takes 1.8 million dollars per day to run the hospital. PER DAY! 
--The majority of donations are from individual donors
--The average individual donation is around $30 
--No family ever pays for anything. EVER. If a family has to fly to the hospital, it's covered. If they have to stay somewhere, they stay at the Target House or another place that's covered. If they need to eat, it's covered. Having a sick kid is trying enough. Finances shouldn't be an issue.
--St. Jude focuses on being a place of hope and healing. They have school, graduation, prom, last day of chemo parties, and celebrate holidays. Kids, after all, deserve to be kids.
--Siblings aren't left out. They provide counseling and activities for siblings and families. St. Jude explains how to handle questions and how to process feelings. They truly are a holistic place of healing.

I am so thankful for my tour of St. Jude. I can't wait to tell you about the rest of the weekend. But for now, I'll let you know it's still not too late to donate!  I'll be accepting donations for St. Jude until the end of they year. You can go to my website  to donate.

I'll see you around here tomorrow for the rest of the weekend:).