You will have significant experiences.
I hope that you will write them down and keep a record of
them, that you will read them from time to time and refresh
your memory of these meaningful and significant things.
Some may be funny. Some may be significant only to you.
Some of them may be sacred and quietly beautiful. Some
may build upon another until they represent a lifetime of
special experiences.
- Gordon B Hinckley

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pain Control...

Dear Family and Friends,

We’ve made it through the first day after surgery.  Zac has been in a lot of pain.  He has been very reluctant to move, as pretty much everywhere in his body hurts.  He is feeling overwhelming soreness.  After a very rough morning, he was able to treat his pain using a self-dosing machine.  After a few hours of being reluctant to give himself medication, he understood that he was better off using more of the medicine than less.  He’s been far more comfortable this afternoon.  He has been nauseous with any movement.  The nurses have been turning him from side to side to keep his skin from getting pressure points.  I’ve been gently encouraging him to do his pulmonary hygiene.  His incision is much larger than I expected, approximately 8-10 cm!  It’s also higher on his back than I expected, from about his mid back downward.  Fortunately, he has been cleared to move out of ICU tomorrow.

I spoke with the surgeon at 5:30am, just after I got back from the hospital.  He was unable to remove the entire tumor, as several nerves were too involved with the tumor tissue.  Therefore, he is 90% confident that Zac will require radiation.  On the good side, preliminary pathology results found no cancerous cells.  The surgeon feels that we are almost definitely dealing with a benign ependymoma.  Thank God!  In other good news, Zac has already regained sensation to his left foot which has been numb for several months.  I hope his symptoms continue to improve as his back heals.

Last night, not 30 minutes went by without my receiving a text, email or message of encouragement.  It was as if I could feel all of you waiting with me.  Your words helped those 12 hours pass just a little bit quicker.  Thank you for taking the time to care about Zac and our family.  You continue to humble us!  

Even with the news that Zac will likely require radiation, I continue to pray that he will defy the odds and that the tumor will not require that treatment.  I pray that each day Zac becomes more comfortable and more mobile.  I pray for our children who are desperately missing their parents.  I pray for our families who are feeling the emotional strain.  I pray that soon we will be home and recovering from this time in our lives.  I thank God for this amazing support system that He has built for us.  

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family


Dear Family and Friends,

Zac is out of surgery and in the Neuro ICU. Initial reports state that the surgeon feels he resected most of the tumor. They will do a scan in a few days to see if there are any small stragglers. They removed four lamina, the back of the spine, on four vertebrae and did not replace them.  The surgeons tells us he will be in a good amount of pain. He's moving all extremities. The pathology was inconclusive (because of the pathologist, from what I can gather) so we have to wait for the pathology results to find out exactly what the tumor was. He has been extubated and is breathing on his own.

All in all it was a 12 hour surgery.  I'm hopeful that the scan result later in the week will show no remaining tumor. We are so thankful to God for answering our prayers and caring for Zac. Thank you all for praying for him. And thank you for showing your endless support with calls, texts and messages. They lifted my heart more than you can imagine. We love you all!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Update #3

Dear Family and Friends,

Hour 10 with at least two to go. All we know is he's "fine."  We are hoping this prolonged surgery means the surgeon is making a huge effort to get the entire tumor out. We've sent all the "parents" back to Tiverton House and Zac's brother and I are sitting in the lobby watching people come and go. We continue to turn our eyes to Heaven praying for a miracle.

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Update # 2

Dear Family and Friends,

Seven hours down, two to go. The OR just called to say one more hour of active surgery before they will start closing (meaning stitching him up). We are officially the last people left in the surgical waiting room, which closes in an hour, when we will be booted to the front lobby.  Such a long, rough day. But we are still praying for complete removal with no complications!  Love you all!!!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Update #1

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac has been in the OR for 4.5 hours.  The first two hours of that time were spent prepping him for the actual surgery itself.  He had an arterial line placed to monitor his blood pressure, was intubated to help him breathe, was turned over on his stomach and was prepped for the procedure.  We just got our second update saying that everything is “fine” but that they still have “a way to go.”  We are holding down the fort in the surgical waiting room, just us and another family.  We are hoping he is done before midnight.  We continue to pray for complete healing and a successful surgery!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family  

He's In...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac just went into the OR.  He got bumped so we waited the better half of the day for his surgery to start.  But he’s in now and that’s what matters.

The last thing the neurosurgeon said before he went in was that there is a less that 50% chance that he will be able to remove the entire tumor.  He told us that we should prepare that Zac will require radiation.  I’m asking for specific prayers that the surgeon is able to remove the entire tumor.  God has answered our prayers before and I have complete faith that He will do it again!  We are hoping for a miracle as we show the surgeons that prayer has the power to heal.  

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday It Is...

Dear Family and Friends,

Zac’s surgery is a go for tomorrow at 7:30am.  He is on the OR schedule so it’s a for sure thing.  Please keep praying for a miraculous outcome.  We are “excited” to get this tumor out and start the healing process.  

Tomorrow will be a long day and I will update once I know the outcome.  Thank you all for your unending love!

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Praying for Friday...

Dear Family and Friends,

We have a date and time…kinda.  Zac has been scheduled for surgery on Friday as an add on case.  This means that they can take him to the OR anytime after 7:30am.  However, he doesn’t have a specific OR time dedicated for him.  In order to do his surgery there needs to be a cancellation or other surgeries need to be completed ahead of schedule.  While none of that sounds very promising, the doctors assure us that there is almost always a cancellation.  If they are not able to perform the surgery on Friday, then it will be pushed back to Monday, as this type of case isn’t something they want to perform on a weekend.  Harumpf!  

The chief of neurosurgery has selected two spinal specialists at assist in the case.  By all accounts, each are very experienced without being too experienced (if you catch my meaning).  All of Zac’s pre-op labs and tests are normal.  The surgery will last a minimum of eight hours.  Upon completion, he will be transferred to the Neuro ICU, where he will stay for 1-2 days.  From there the length of his stay depends upon how quickly he recovers.  

Zac is in ok spirits.  Today he seems calmer than yesterday.  He’s asking for legos to build and we got “patio privileges” ordered so he could walk outside with me.  He’s taking the same medications he was on at home, nothing more, so his pain level is stable.  His mom and my mom are here with us.  His older brother came this afternoon and his dad just arrived as well.  We had been staying in a hotel until today.  We’ve now moved over to the Tiverton House, where we will probably stay for the rest of the hospitalization.  Depending on how prolonged that is, we might bring the kids down.  

I must say that I am overwhelmed by the love and support we’ve received.  We have AMAZING friends and family.  For all of you who have picked up our kids, cooked a meal, sent a text, donated money, offered a place to stay, offered a hand to hold, said a prayer…I’m just overcome with the feeling of love from all of you.  I feel guilty because you’ve all already done this for us once…and I feel like we need to stand on our own two feet…but that just sounds impossible right now.  I can only be apart from my kids because I know what loving hands they are in.  I was telling Zac’s aunt today about the arrangements that we’ve made to care for things at home and she commented on how blessed we are to have so many helping hands around us.  She is right…we are so, so lucky in knowing all of you.  Thank you!  You continue to humble our hearts.  

We are praying that the surgery actually takes place on Friday.  We continue to pray for a miraculous outcome.  We also pray for the boys, who both are throwing up with the flu, and my dad who is caring for them.  

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Surgery Pending...

Dear Family and Friends,

We have arrived at UCLA, one of the cleanest and prettiest hospitals I’ve ever seen.  Everything is new, well thought out, organized and did I mention clean?.  The neurosurgery department is equally efficient and detail oriented.  Everyone is friendly and helpful.  The grounds are beautiful.  The buildings are modern.  The neighborhood is full of medical students running around in their scrubs and apparently is very safe.  

The chief of the neurosurgery department has taken an interest in Zac’s case and will be heading Zac’s surgical team.  He is bringing in his “spine specialist” to assist in the case as well.  As of yet, we do not know who that surgeon is.  The neurosurgeon came very highly recommended by so many people here and at home.  From the desk receptionist to his physician’s assistant, everyone has been beyond complimentary of his skills.  He is a calm, matter-of-fact sort of man.  He agrees that Zac’s tumor is likely an ependymoma.  It’s not the largest he’s ever seen, but he does feel it needs to be taken out immediately.  He has reiterated what the previous neurosurgeons have said, that he hopes to remove the entire tumor.  However, its location might make that very difficult so radiation is still a definite possibility.  He also reiterated that most ependymomas are benign, so we are hopeful that is the case.  The surgery will be long, followed by 5-10 days of hospitalization here before Zac may be transferred to an acute rehab facility to heal the rest of the way.  It all depends on how much of the spine the surgeons have to access to take the tumor out.  

We are staying in a hotel tonight then are moving to Tiverton House (like a Ronald McDonald house for grown ups) starting tomorrow.  It’s cheaper and very close to the hospital.  Parking here is $12 per entry (that’s $5 more than CHLA!).    But the neighborhood is walkable and nice.  

Zac is holding up.  He is noticeably nervous.  He keeps saying that he feels like he’s in a dream state and he’s waiting to wake up.  He is tired; exhausted physically and emotionally as the pain of the last year has taken its toll.  We are excited to know that pain will be coming to an end soon.  All his pre-op work has been done today so we are ready to go as soon as the surgeons are.  We are hoping for tomorrow but there was mention of the goal being before the weekend.  I can’t imagine having to wait that long, but we have no control.  At least he’s admitted now and has access to medications to make him more comfortable and help him sleep.  I will send out an update as soon I know something concrete.  

Zac has been truly touched by all your attentiveness and prayers.  He’s a man of few words, but he did tell me that he doesn’t feel he deserves so much kindness.  As his wife, I feel that he deserves so much more than I can give him.  Please keep your prayers coming.  Please ask that the spinal surgeon would be the perfect one for Zac’s condition.  Please ask that the entire tumor would be removed and that it would be benign.  Please ask for radiation to be unnecessary.  Please ask for no additional injury to his nerves.  Please ask that Zac would understand how worthy he is of prayer and support and complete healing.  We love you all so much.  

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

UCLA or Bust...

Dear Family and Friends,

For the second time in our lives we have rushed to LA with overpacked suitcases in the dead of night.  The similarities between this experience and Everett’s hospitalization are eerie.  We have arrived at UCLA with an appointment scheduled at 8 am tomorrow.  After that appointment we should be given a surgery time for (hopefully) the following day.

Today we spent hours in the offices of two neurosurgeons who both agreed that this tumor is too extensive to tackle at home.  They also both agreed that the removal of the tumor can’t wait much longer.  We were given the recommendations of UCLA, Stanford and UCSF, all with equal standings and ability to remove this tumor.  UCLA returned our call first.

Zac’s pain has been steadily increasing over the past few days.  He’s been having more debilitating back spasms.  We are relieved to be here. 

The outpouring of love and support from all of you has humbled us.  From the meals, to the childcare, from the prayers, to the texts just to check in, from the gifts, to the donations…we are so blessed to be surrounded by such generous people!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You have once again touched our lives in a way that has made such a difference.  We appreciate you!  

Please keep us in your prayers tomorrow that we will be given the perfect surgeon to successfully remove the entire tumor.  I will update again when we have a surgery plan.

Believe in Miracles,

The Bollinger Family

P.S.  I apologize for my little temper tantrum in my last email.  I think I just needed to vent.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

What We [Think] We Know...

Dear Family and Friends,

Today has been a not-so-great day.  Zac had another MRI, with contrast this time, of his brain, thoracic and lumbar spine.  I failed to mention, to anyone I guess, that he needed to be checked for tumors in his brain.  Thankfully, his brain is clear.  Praise God!  His thoracic spine is also clear!  The tumor on his lumbar spine, however, is larger than previously thought and will take an extensive surgery to remove.  The surgeon prepped us that it will be very difficult to remove all the tumor, so radiation is likely in Zac’s future.  

The surgery will require several teams of surgeons to work eight hours or more to remove all of the tumor.  All the neurosurgeons here have offered to help on the case, which is pretty awesome.  As best we could tell, they would work on it in shifts.  However, these types of tumors are rare and the neurosurgeons here haven’t seen many.  While they feel confident that they could do the surgery, they might not be the best choice.  Therefore, we are seeking treatment at a university hospital.  The neurosurgeon here is working on the transfer of care this weekend and we hopefully will have a plan by Monday, if not before.  Again, time is of the essence.  If we were having the surgery here, the plan was for Tuesday.  So we know wherever we go, it will be this coming week.  We have no idea the duration of his hospital stay or the length and intensity of his recovery.  There are risks which I dare not even mutter quietly to myself.  

The flood of emotions that have come with this is overwhelming.  All these emotions from Everett that we’d boxed up and put away in the back of our minds are suddenly drowning us.  I feel like we just need to breathe but can’t find enough air.  I hate this!  I hate that this is happening to our family!  I hate that we are going to be separated from our children and that they feel the tension in our home.  I hate watching my husband suffer and try to be strong!  I am so, so angry.  And so, so, so scared.  I am strong.  He is strong.  We are strong.  But I DON’T WANT TO BE STRONG ANYMORE!  I want to ball up in a corner and cry and pretend that this isn’t happening.  I want to yell and scream and curse and punch something until it hurts as badly as we do.  I don’t want to do that part of our lives over again.  We were just getting back to the good stuff.  We have worked so hard to overcome, physically, emotionally, financially.  I don’t know where we will find the energy to do it again and yet I know we have to.  We have no choice.  

So, we trudge on.  We place our faith in God.  We pray and pray and pray some more.  We try to laugh.  We cry.  We hug.  And we shake that uncontrollable shake that comes from being so completely overcome that your body can’t process fast enough.  And we love.  We love each other so much and so hard that it is enough to make things better in just this one moment.  Because the next moment is too scary.  That’s the honest truth.

Please pray that the transfer happens quickly and that Zac doesn’t get worse while we wait.  Please pray that the doctors are able to remove the entire tumor so that radiation will not be necessary.  Please pray that it isn’t cancer.  Please pray for pain control.  Please pray that there is no additional damage from the surgery itself.  Please pray for strength for all of us.  Pray for faith and trust and peace.  Just please pray…


The Bollinger Family  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When the Hits Keep on Comin'...

Dear Family and Friends,

Today Zac was diagnosed with a tumor on his spine.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A tumor…on his spine.  He’s been battling back pain for about a year, with a huge increase in pain in early January.  We attributed it to an injury at work and have been actively pursuing treatment via that avenue.  If you’ve ever dealt with worker’s comp yourself, you might know it is a SLOW process.  So slow that just getting physical therapy took three weeks.  Zac has been dedicated to the physical therapy exercises, doing them faithfully with no improvement.  For 10 weeks we’ve been begging the work comp company for a MRI of his spine.  They denied the referral three times.  Then, last week, Zac’s symptoms suddenly increased, taking him out of work.  He began experiencing numbness in his lower extremities along with other symptoms that I won’t go into here.  But suffice it to say, they were scary to see in someone so young.  On Monday, we finally got approved for a MRI.  And on Tuesday we got the call that he has a 10cm mass on his spine.  Yes, 10 cm…that’s huge.  

We saw two neurosurgeons today who feel that it is a ependymoma.  I have not done a lot of research on it other than how to spell the diagnosis.  But from what we are being told, it’s a tumor in the spinal canal, next to the spinal cord, but not in the spinal cord.  Zac’s is so big that it’s compressing his spine over the length of four vertebrae.  They are *typically* benign and can occur in the brain in children and are often found in the spine in adults aged 30-40.  The location of Zac’s is at T12-L4, which is fairly low on the spine.  This is good news for location.  At the end of the spine is a bundle of nerves where the spinal cord divides into lots and lots of small nerves.  This area is called the cauda equina (horses tail).  This location is good because rather than compressing the main spinal cord, the tumor is compressing lots of little nerves.  It makes the prognosis for functionality after the tumor removal much higher, but makes the actual remove of the tumor more complicated as it has to be removed from lots of little nerves rather than one big one.  

We have very little time for action.  He needs surgery ASAP to prevent further damage.  He already has weakness to his left leg which will likely be permanent.  Once the tumor is removed and biopsied, then we will know if we are dealing with a malignant or benign mass.  Removal of the tumor will be tricky as I said before.  It will have to be scraped off the nerves and if the doctor is unable to get all the tumor out, then Zac will have to undergo radiation to kill the remaining cells to prevent reoccurrence.  This radiation could be required even if the tumor is deemed benign.  We are tentatively scheduled for surgery a week from today.  But we are also seeking a second opinion just to cover our bases.  

So how are we???  Terrified!  But keeping things in perspective, this isn’t the worse thing we’ve ever been through.  We know how to navigate major medical issues and we know how strong we are individuals, a couple, and as a family.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t have one moment of “Why us?”  I’ve mistakenly been going through life thinking that we paid our quota on this type of stuff.  But clearly, that not how life works.  We have lessons yet to learn.  Life can always be worse and we will chose to be thankful for the blessings before us.  We are making a conscious effort to stay in the moment, not looking too far to the future or what scary things it could hold.  While it seems that we are often ending up on the hard end of luck, as Zac said after we got the diagnosis, if we used every bit of our good luck on finding each other and on the health and lives of our beautiful boys, then it has all been worth it.  

If you could once again hold our family up in prayer, we would really appreciate it.  We have already experienced a miracle and are hoping for another one.  I will keep the updates coming.  We are so lucky to have such friends.


The Bollinger Family

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reece Turns One...

A letter to my son on his first birthday

Dearest Reece,

I can hardly believe that a year has passed since you came rushing into this world.  When I think of our family, I can hardly remember a time without you in it and yet I still marvel at your newness.  Each day with you is a new adventure as you grow and change before our eyes…you have brought so much light to our world.  

From birth you have been an easy child with an observant temperament.  You enjoy watching the world around you with eyes that look much older than your one year of experience.  You take everything in.  Your eyebrows are extremely expressive and work independently from one another.  They are the most complimented part of you from strangers.  You, like your brother, seem to be an old soul. 

Everett is, by far, your favorite person to interact with.  You adore him!  It was for him that you laughed the first time and it is him that continues to make you laugh the most.  Hearing the two of you giggle together might be the best sound in the whole world.  You are obsessed with Everett’s toys and have absolutely no interest in your own.  This posses a problem as everything goes straight into you mouth.  We encourage Everett to leave his bedroom door closed as you’ve taken to destroying his toys while he’s at school.  The two of you already play like brothers…giggling one minute and screaming at each other the next.  But Everett has learned to be patient with you and often, when you steal his toys or hit him, he excuses your actions by saying, “It’s okay Brother Reece, you’re just a baby and don’t know better.”  We tell Everett how much you already look up to him.  I hope you grow up to have an unbreakable love.  

You can be feisty, often demanding your own way, especially with me.  With Daddy, you are more content and less prone to crying.  You are not easily distracted when you are focused on something you want.  You are a good sleeper who seems to thrive on a set schedule.  Your development has been typical, which we have found so joyously refreshing.  Your skills just seem to suddenly appear without us encouraging you to develop them.  You sat at five months, rolled at six months, crawled at nine months, and walking is on the horizon.  When new skills are emerging, you become fussier and more easily frustrated.  You are developing separation anxiety.  Your first word was “Mama.”

You are the definition of cute...with dimpled cheeks, rolls on your legs and a toothy smile.  Daddy and I could not have ever imagined how much we would love you.  You have brought so much joy and happiness and laughter to our family.  We have found so much calm in being your parents.  Daddy and I often talk about the dreams we have for you….but above all we desire you to know just how fiercely you are loved.  Happy 1st Birthday, my sweet prince!


Mama and Daddy

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The One We Lost...

Dear Family and Friends,

There was a baby between Everett and Reece…a boy actually.  In June of 2012, Zac and I decided to start trying and after several months we found out we were expecting.  We were thrilled and overwhelmed all at the same time.  

We found out we were pregnant at only three weeks.  From the beginning, the pregnancy felt as if it was in hyperdrive.  Morning sickness kicked in at just four weeks and by six weeks I was so sick and miserable.  By seven weeks I was already showing and by eight weeks I was taking prescription anti-nausea medication because I just couldn’t function! From the start, every symptom felt like it was exaggerated times ten compared to Everett.  But four good appointments with our new OB had us reassured that things were moving in the right direction.  

We took Everett to Disneyland for his birthday that year.  We had a doctor’s appointment the day before we left and the baby was measuring correctly with a strong heart beat.  We had a wonderful trip and came home reeling with memories of Everett’s first time at Disneyland.  However, with 45 minutes of getting home, I began to spot.  Nothing too alarming for a nurse with *some* obstetrical knowledge.  I felt so confident that it was nothing that I waited until the next day to call my doctor.  He reassured me that it probably was nothing but offered an ultrasound.  We met him in the afternoon.  Within 45 seconds of starting the ultrasound, Zac and I knew that something was wrong.  After a minute and a half of silence, our doctor announced that there was no longer a heartbeat.  I had miscarried and by his measurements, it had happened on Everett’s birthday :-(  I can remember apologizing to Zac, telling him that I just wasn’t good at making babies.  He, of course, said it wasn’t my fault.  We went home, devastated, and waited for nature to take its course.  

Nature never did take its course and after a week of calling in sick to work, we opted for a D&C.  The procedure went fine and the recovery was a breeze.  My doctor was pleased at the possibility of finding out why Everett came early so everything was sent for testing (something that doesn’t normally happen with a first miscarriage).  After about a week I was back to feeling like my non-pregnant self.  After two weeks, I went in for a follow up.  The doctor had the lab results and asked if I knew what a molar pregnancy was.  The only knowledge I could dredge up was a faint memory from nursing school that connected molar pregnancies with cancer.  Unfortunately, my memory served me right.  

We experienced a partial molar pregnancy, which is when a single egg is fertilized by two sperm at the same.  The chances of conceiving this way are less than 1% and it is generally thought to be a total fluke phenomenon.  Molar pregnancies rarely result in a viable baby as the child has three sets of chromosomes (one from the egg and one from each sperm).  They do, however, have up to a 20% chance of causing choriocarcinoma, a rare and extremely aggressive form of uterine cancer.  It is actually one of the most aggressive forms of cancer BUT is also one of the most treatable.

I left the appointment with a lab slip for bimonthly HCG blood draws to monitor for developing cancer cells.  In a molar pregnancy, the placenta quickly grows out of control and actually invades (and kills) the baby and surrounding tissue.  From there it can rapidly move on to the lungs and brain.  As the HCG (pregnancy hormone) rises at an abnormally rapid rate, grossly exaggerated pregnancy symptoms are often experienced (thus the early pregnancy test result, severe nausea etc).  The HCG also takes longer to leave the body after the miscarriage because of the invasive nature of the placenta.  Luckily, within eight weeks, my HCG was back to a normal level and I showed no evidence of cancerous cells in my blood.  But the monitoring would continue for six more months.  

During our monitoring wait time, I focused on projects to keep my mind off the possibility of getting cancer.  I revamped our household budget, our insurance, our retirement, re-landscaped, re-decorated, found a support group, lost18 pounds, got healthy, had drinks with friends, potty trained Everett and traveled a lot (we made four trips to Disneyland).  And, of course, I grieved the loss of our baby.

Toward the end of our wait Zac and I began talking about the possibility of trying again.  He was reluctant at first.  I think the possible cancer diagnosis scared him.  It scared me too...thinking that trying to have another child could take me away from the child I already had.  But after a lot of conversations and tears, we decided to try...just one more time.   

We spent the first 12 weeks of Reece’s pregnancy holding our breath.  The problem was, after a miscarriage, no part of a pregnancy feels like safe ground.  We had to worry about the beginning and the middle while hoping to make it to the end.  The statistics on miscarriage are 1 in 4 pregnancies.  When I look at our immediate group of friends, we fit the statistics perfectly.  It isn’t uncommon and the more you talk about it, the more couples you find who have been through it.  I try not to dwell on the sadness of the loss.  There are days of course, like when our due date came and went, that hurt.  Times when I see a baby that would have been his age that my heart aches a little for losing him.  But I try to remain ever thankful for my health, for my not getting cancer, for my not needing chemo, and for my retained ability to have more children (Reece wouldn’t be here otherwise!).   Some women with molar pregnancies end up requiring a hysterectomy.  In the end, I’m just so thankful we were able to have Reece and for my being here to enjoy my two beautiful boys.  


Friday, October 10, 2014

Everett Turns Five...

A letter to my son on his fifth birthday

Dearest Everett,

In this, the fifth year of your life, there has been so much change…probably the most change since the year you were born.  You’ve had your successes and your struggles, your good days and bad days, but through it all you’ve remained our loving “big, strong boy.”

This year you became a big brother.  A title hard-won for our entire family, the pregnancy and introduction of Reece took some major adjusting on your part.  I’m thankful that in the months leading up to his birth, you and I were able to spend most of our time together.  Being off of work allowed me to dedicate myself to your happiness almost completely.  And you loved every minute of having me home.  But you also had to quickly develop some physical independence as I wasn’t able to carry or lift you and many days were spent with me lying on the couch.  Your body kept up with your changing needs and you finally seem equal with your peers.  When Reece was born you seemed neither in love nor in distaste for him.  I called it indifference for the first six months of his life.  You were loving to him when we requested that you be, you were never aggressive or jealous, but I think you often forgot his presence in our household.  In the past few months though you’ve really started to blossom in your job as a big brother.  You can make Reece laugh like no one else can.  You devote time to showing him toys and talking about how the world works.  Reece already looks up to you; always watching you and trying to mimic your movements.  You love showing him off to your friends.  

With the birth of Reece came your stammer.  That stammer stole your voice for the better part of this year.  You’ve struggled with it most days since he was born.  Some days are good days, when your speech hardly catches and everything flows.  Some days are bad days, when you can barely get a sentence out and something that should take a few seconds to say takes a half minute or more.  You’ve been frustrated.  We’ve been frustrated.  We’ve tried to get you the help we thought you needed but overall, with stammers, it just takes time.  In the past few weeks, the stammer has abated and we have LOVED hearing your voice again.  We don’t know if this is something you will always struggle with.  So far it hasn’t made you different from other kids.  You have amazing friends who are patient and wait for you to say your words.  I’m so thankful for their kind and tolerant hearts.

You began formal school in August.  Because of when your birthday falls you qualified for a transitional kindergarten program.  The switch from preschool to regular school has been easy and hard.  It has been easy in that you love school, you made new friends quickly, and you are learning so much that sometimes I am surprised at what you already know.  It has been hard in that you miss Miss Cathi, your preschool teacher and often ask to visit her.  You also miss your old friends and you’ve struggled with the rigid rules that formal school requires.  Sitting still has always been difficult for you and your teacher has to remind you often to “calm your body.”  You also love to be the class clown and are often reminded to stop making silly faces or to stop singing (and dancing) in front of the class.  Your teacher adores you for your sweet temperament and your appreciation for praise.  You are always kind to your friends, are very willing to share, and are concerned when people are hurt or upset.  You play with everyone.

You continue to excel at swimming (which makes Mama’s heart so happy).  You can float and are almost able to keep from drowning.  You are working on your freestyle stroke and just dove head-first into the pool last week.  I find myself encouraging your love of the water, as so much of what I see in you reminds me of myself.  

In so many ways you’ve done so much growing up this year.  You are such a boy with increasing independence, it both excites me and pulls at my heartstrings.  We continue to be amazed and thankful for all that you accomplish.  You are magnificent.  And we love you, every part of you.  Happy 5th birthday to my big, strong boy.


Mama and Daddy

Friday, August 8, 2014

Falling In Love...

Dear Family and Friends,

I think most parents of multiple children would argue that they love each of their children equally.  I think most would say that the quantity and quality of the love they bear for each of their offspring is exactly identical.  I remember while being pregnant that everyone told me that my heart would grow to accommodate the love that I would have for our new baby...that rather than dividing what love I felt for Everett, new love would grow in spaces yet unused.  And all that is true.  But what I find isn’t true, or maybe just isn’t said, is that the type of love that a parent has for each of their children isn’t exactly the same.  Maybe it’s just my experience but I find myself loving my two boys differently.  While I think (and hope) the quantity and quality of love are the same, I know the emotions that go with loving each of them are as uniquely different as they are.  

The love I have for Everett is a primal love, born of my strong instinct to protect him.  I’m used to fighting for him, advocating for him, worrying for him, pushing him to be the best he can be.  It’s an intense love.  And for how intense it is, it is equally as vulnerable.  Because loving Everett, at least for the first few years of his life, came with the possibility of loss.  At times it was hard to fully open my heart to him because the possibility of losing him was so huge.  Call it self-protection, but there were always moments of reservation, seconds of holding my breath, and an unspoken knowledge that every day I loved him more, was one more day of hurt I’d have to endure if he died.  Thankfully, much of these emotions have faded with time, but he can still make my heart stop just by saying his stomach hurts.  And when he started stuttering after Reece was born, I found myself back in fighting mode, trying to get him the help I thought he needed.  I will always have a strong desire to care for him...maybe because he spent so much time being cared for by others.  My tendency is to do too much so that I’ll never have any regrets.  And my ultimate goal is that he knows just how immensely he is loved.  

Falling in love with Reece has been how I always imagined parenthood to be.  After the sleep-deprived fog of the first eight weeks lifted, I found myself completely enamored with this little butterball of a baby.  The love I have for Reece is an easy love, a peaceful love, a confident love.  Born of normalcy, my love for him is without fear or anxiety.  There is no questioning if milestones will be achieved and I’ve found calm in loving him.  I’m content to let him do things on his own and I’m less inclined to panic where he is concern.  I find myself more ready to play and less focused on outcome.  And I’m making a conscious effort to enjoy each moment of his “babyhood,” living in the moment instead of looking forward to the future.  I’m falling more in love each day and cannot imagine our lives without him.  

Until Reece, I never fully realized just how much normalcy we missed with Everett those first years.  I’m so, so thankful that in the story of our life, Everett came first.  I think the journey would have been exponentially harder if we had known how things could have/should have been.  Instead, we find ourselves ever grateful for both our boys, miracles in each of their own unique ways.  The love we bear for each of them is built from different foundations but carries equal strength in our hearts.  As they grow, I hope they learn to love one another as fiercely as we love each of them.  

With Growing Love,

The Bollinger Family

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Everett's Micro Marchers...

Dear Family and Friends,

It has been a dream of mine since Everett was discharged from the hospital to participate in a March of Dimes walk.  I’ve donated regularly to the organization since he was born, but I’ve always wanted to walk in his honor.  Something about putting feet to pavement sounds cathartic.  To be surrounded by families who have traveled the same road, shared the same thoughts, experienced the same fears all of which often separate you from “normal” parents...well, I’ve just always wanted to do it.  Unfortunately walks in our area have been hard to come by, as they are usually hosted in larger cities like Fresno, San Francisco, and LA.  That is until now!  

The March of Dimes is holding a test march in Arroyo Grande on May 31st at 9am.  If there is enough local interest, they will host a full march next year.  Our family (Reece included) will be walking in Everett’s honor.  The march will begin and end at the Clark Center.  It is an easy four mile course that you can walk or run.  All of the donations collected go directly to the March of Dimes and are put toward funding research in the battle against premature birth.  

On a side note, did you know that the March of Dimes is one of the top organizations researching solutions to preterm births?  And did you also know that without their research, Everett would not be alive today?  I say that because it was the March of Dimes organization that discovered the life-saving medication that Everett was given at birth.  It is called Surfactant and before it’s invention, micro-preemies like Everett rarely survived.  It is a drug which coats the lungs and helps them to open so that oxygenation can take place.  Everett received two doses of this medication in the moments following his birth and without it, his lungs would not have been able to breathe.  Because of this the March of Dimes holds a special place in our hearts :-)  

This is a no-pressure update.  I simply wanted to inform “Everett’s prayer warriors” that we will be marching in his honor.  We would be thrilled if you would like to join us.  If you would also like to make a secure, tax-deductible donation, you can do so on our team page via the link below.  Again 100% of all money raised goes straight to funding research.  But no pressure (really).  We are just excited to be fulfilling a dream that has been over four years in the making.  I’m so excited to march in his honor and even more proud to be his mama!


The Bollinger Family

Because one baby born too early
is one baby too many

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mothering My Boys...

Dear Family and Friends,

We are slowly settling in as a family of four.  Having two “littles” is definitely a learning curve...especially the newborn part, which is all new to us.  The first seven weeks were pretty challenging, if only because we really felt as if we didn’t know what we were doing!  With Everett, we had so many luxuries that we took for granted, so much that was already decided and taken care of before we took him home.  Contrast that to leaving the hospital with Reece, when both Zac and I were astonished that they just let you walk out with your tests, no training, no nothing but a “good bye, good luck, and enjoy those sleepless nights.”  Oh ya, those sleepless nights are new too.  

Thankfully, Reece, by all accounts, is an easy baby.  He doesn’t cry often.  When he does, it’s for a reason.  He’s rarely hysterical, most often his cry is a small, short wail that we interpret as if he’s trying to remind us that he’s there.  He’s mellow, like his daddy.  And he looks like his daddy too!  His eyes are blue, his hair is falling out, his complexion is olive, and he has an almost perfectly round face.  He’s advanced for his age.  I’m not saying that to brag but more as a “this is how normal development goes” kinda statement.  Our frame of reference on milestones is so skewed that when I saw him bat at a toy at five weeks old I was convinced that he was some type of baby genius :-)  But really, it’s been refreshing to watch him develop typically.  He is smiling, cooing, tracking, grasping, holding his head up, and is almost laughing.  He’s a great eater.  I call him “barracuda” because when he wants to eat, he gets all wide-mouthed and starts throwing his head from side to side.  His arms join in as his hands start to kneed, and the more frantic he gets the more snorting he does.  Just last week he started sleeping a good six to seven hours stretch each night (from 8:30pm-3:00am), followed by an additional three to four hours of sleep...thank goodness!

Reece’s only issues are reflux (aka GERD) and some food sensitivities.  Those two culprits are what made the first six weeks so hard.  We diagnosed him with reflux pretty much the day he was born (we recognized the symptoms from our experience with Everett) but the food sensitivities went unrecognized until about seven weeks old. After a really bad reflux flare, during which he turned blue a few times from holding his breath too long, we convinced our pediatrician to start him on a reflux medication.  At the same time, I was advised to stop eating dairy, soy and corn.  The medication and the diet changes helped tremendously!  He’s really been a different baby these past two weeks.  He was always very noisy; congested in his nose, constantly grunting, and the reflux had him frequently gasping for air.  Now he no longer grunts, he’s rarely congested, and while he still refluxes several times a day, he hasn’t turned blue in weeks.  We also have him sleeping in a reflux sling, designed and used by NICU doctors.  It allows us to safely elevate the head of his crib 30 degrees to assist with the reflux.  It’s been a life saver!  He is so much more comfortable.  The reflux and the food sensitivity are both issues that he should outgrow as early as 12 weeks old.  But for now we are making it work, although I really, really miss cheese :-)  

Everett has been adjusting well overall.  He’s incredibly affectionate toward Reece, always giving him kisses, telling him goodnight, and introducing him to people as “brother Reece.”  The first two weeks he was rather mad at me...wouldn’t hug or kiss me, would not tell me he loved me.  It nearly broke my heart, but we knew to expect it.  He eventually got over it.  But also around the same time as Reece was born, Everett began stuttering/stammering.  We couldn’t exactly determine if one came after the other but it all seemed very coincidental.  At first, he just stammered with Zac and I.  His sentences would go something like “I-I-I-I need-need-need-to-to-to-to-to go potty.”  But it quickly progressed to stammering with all adults but not with kids or animals (weird, I know).  Then, three weeks ago it peaked with him being unable to get anything out, so he just stopped talking altogether.  We had been trying to handle it ourselves, encouraging him to breathe, think, relax, and we even just tried to ignore it for a while.  When he stopped talking, I knew we needed a professional evaluation.  Of course, by the time we got to his appointment, he wasn’t doing it anymore.  As fiercely as it came on, is as quietly as it went.  He woke up from a nap and the stammer was gone.  The speech therapist gave us a book on stuttering and a list of dos and don’ts (we had been doing all the don’ts) and she told us that this is his reaction to stress.  Because language is his weakest area that’s where his stress manifests.  We can expect it to return when he starts Transitional Kindergarten in the fall.  But because it’s a stammer, not a stutter, and because it resolved in eight weeks, and because he doesn’t have blocking, which is the facial twitching that goes along with stutters, she thinks it won’t be a permanent condition.  Watching him struggle to speak just about broke Zac and I.  Knowing that it was caused by something we did to him (having Reece) tore at my heartstrings.  Add to that post-partum hormones and mommy guilt, well, it was enough to make me feel like an awful mother.  Especially when everything else was spinning so out of control, to have Everett not be that touchstone of normalcy and predictability was hard.  Anyway, I’m glad those weeks are behind us.  We’ve been falling in love with Reece more every day and can hardly remember life before he came.  

I return to work the second week of June; still part-time, still night shift.  By then I will have been off a total of 10 months.  And while I didn’t enjoy being home at first, I find myself very thankful to have had this time to focus so exclusively on my boys.  It will be hard to go back, but me not working just isn’t an option for us.  

Our boys continue to be as opposite an experience as their births were.  I find myself contrasting (not comparing) them a lot.  For every experience we mourned with Everett, we’ve been able to rejoice experiencing it with Reece.  And even more, now I look at Everett and realize just how far behind he was and how hard he had to work to overcome his prematurity...well, I just beam with pride for both my sons.  We have been so blessed with them.  And I wonder when I will get used to saying my “sons” because I’m still not used to hearing it :-)

Happy Easter!

The Bollinger Family

One Month Old

Two Months Old

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Welcoming Reece!!!

Dear Family and Friends,

Reece Wyatt Bollinger was born on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 6:40am!  He arrived weighing 5 lbs 8 oz and 19 3/4 inches long.  He is HEALTHY with ten fingers, ten toes, dark brown hair, grey eyes, two dimples, and he looks just like his older brother.  He is eating like a champ, passed his first bowel movement within hours of being born (we were very excited about that after Everett’s issues), and is a perfectly beautiful blessing for which we thank God.  His name, which we picked out during our last pregnancy, means “enthusiasm.”  Judging from the amount of movement he did in utero and his rushed entrance into the world, he’s going to live up to his name.  We are so excited to welcome him into our family.  

In typical Bollinger form, his birth came as a huge surprise.  It seems we can’t have kids without some level of drama and Reece’s birth was no exception.  As I mentioned in my last update, we were scheduled for a repeat c-section on Wednesday morning (tomorrow).  However, last Tuesday night I began feeling some contractions in the early evening.  I kept track of them and for a few hours, they were pretty steady and consistent.  Our doctor told us to call when I had six an hour, but I never had more than five that night.  Around 10 pm, they stopped, just as my contractions always have throughout this pregnancy.  We felt nothing was unusual and went to bed.  

Around 3 am I woke up with a feeling of “gastric distress,” as if the dinner we’d eaten the night before wasn’t agreeing with me.  I spent some time in the bathroom then returned to bed and fell back asleep.  Around 4 am, I woke again with the same feeling and decided to take a bath to help relax.  At 5 am, I began experiencing cramping pain that radiated down my thighs.  I decided to wake Zac up by yelling at him from the bathtub that I thought the baby was coming.  He woke up fast.  At 5:15 am we called the doctor who instructed us to drive to the hospital.  Zac called our parents and woke them up while I washed my hair and shaved my legs (yes, I honestly did that).  While Zac packed the car and we waited for my parents to arrive to watch Everett, I dried and styled my hair while timing my contractions which were now about 2-3 minutes apart and getting progressively stronger.

Our parents arrived at 5:45 am and we left for the hospital.  As we turned off our street, my water broke.  We just bought a new car (a used minivan) and all I could think about was how I didn’t want to ruin the leather upholstery.  So I pulled up the floor mat and sat on that for part of the drive.  But I didn’t stay sitting long as the contractions quickly became almost unbearable.  So I unbuckled my seatbelt and stood up in the car as we drove into SLO.  As we reached the city limits, the contractions became even more intense.  Zac said I punched at the car window (I don’t remember that).  But I do remember screaming something like “I should have taken a *insert expletive here* birthing class!!!”  My cursing got Zac freaked out, so he started running red lights and passing cars on the wrong side of the road (thankfully he’s a good driver).  At 6 am we reached the hospital.  My hospital has two entrances, an ER entrance that is about as far from the Labor & Delivery unit as you can get and a back entrance with about 50 of the steepest stairs in existence.  I told Zac to park in the back because the ER seemed WAY too far away.  I had a contraction at the bottom of the stairs, then literally ran up them.  Zac said he tried to grab my arm to help me and I told him to stop touching me.  We entered the hospital.  My unit is attached to the L & D unit so I had to walk in front of my coworkers, during shift change.  They started cheering and wishing me luck and all I could do was hold up my hand.  Then I heard Zac running behind me saying “Ya, this is happening now!”  

I waddled onto the L & D floor and was greeted by one of the most amazing nurses ever!  I trained with her during my preceptorship as a student as she is an amazing nurse to watch.  I can’t even describe my relief to find that she was there that day.  She led us back into the triage room to assess where things were at.  She asked me to provide a urine sample and I made it about five feet toward the bathroom before another contraction hit and I told her I felt like I was going to have a bowel movement.  That got her attention so she led me directly to a birthing room.  

Once in the birthing room, things got pretty “primal” for lack of a better word.  I laid down on the bed while the nurse checked to see where I was at.  I was completely dilated and Reece’s head was starting to crown.  Since it was during shift change, and my doctor hadn’t yet arrived, and I was now having a vaginal birth after cesarian (VBAC) which my hospital isn’t typically allowed to perform, there were a lot of people in the room.  As I said in my last update, we didn’t want to VBAC because of the increased risk of uterine rupture.  So it was all hands on deck in the birthing room with the OR on call in case something went terribly wrong.  

Instinctually, I started to push.  Women have always described it as something your body just naturally does and it’s totally true.  And it hurt...A LOT, just as everyone says it does.  I put Zac into a choke hold of sorts (nope, I’m not making this up) with my left arm around his neck and my right hand strung through his belt loops.  As I pushed, I also pulled on him.  Then I started screaming.  I honestly couldn’t help it.  I screamed about how this wasn’t supposed to be happening, about how I was supposed to be having a c-section, about how I wished I read a childbirth book.  My nurse very calmly replied that the sooner I accepted that I wasn’t getting my c-section and surrendered my body to what was happening the quicker it would all be over.

Her pep talk did the trick.  I surrendered.  I pushed a total of seven times.  My doctor arrived for the last three.  In what seemed like an instant, Reece was born, beautifully healthy and crying on the way out!  It was pure magic!!!

He went straight to my chest.  I looked up at Zac and cried out “We just had a baby!”  We were both in shock.  I’d done it...from start to finish in 3.5 hours, a completely unmedicated and surprise VBAC.  We all cried tears of joy as the anxiety of the past 10 months faded away.

Having Reece was the exact opposite experience of having Everett.  It has been such a healing experience overall.  In our very abbreviated birth plan, all Zac and I asked for was to not have Reece removed from our sight unless we asked.  My hospital accommodated this and more.  He spent the first two hours of his life on my chest, nursed within 30 minutes of birth, and we all talked about what an amazing gift it was to have a baby born breathing and crying.  It is the simple blessing of having a child born healthy that commands appreciation.  And we are so very, very thankful.  

Welcome to the world Reece Wyatt Bollinger.  How we have been hoping for you.

With Love,

The Bollinger Family

P.S.  Also in typical Bollinger form, Reece brought the rain, just like Everett did when he was born.