This blog is for Jim Marventano's family and friends to review his status and updates while he goes through treatment for Stage IV Colon Cancer. We can beat it together!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Setting Jim free

Before Jim passed away, he asked to be cremated and he asked to have his ashes scattered up in Northern Wisconsin, on Forest Lake.

Jim always complained that he didn't get a cake on his birthday as a kid. His birthday is May 28, and it inevitably fell on a Memorial Day weekend, so his family would be out camping. Let's be clear - he got a cake for his birthday. Birthdays are a pretty big deal at the Marventano household, so I seriously cannot imagine that his family ever once blew off his birthday. They probably just celebrated when they got home or something like that. It's not like his mom could whip up a cake in the woods. In any case, he complained about it as an adult. So every year I tried to make a big deal of his birthday. This year was no exception.

I thought that an appropriate time to scatter Jim's ashes would be over Memorial Day weekend so that we could all be together over a long weekend and celebrate Jim's birthday. We got him a birthday cake with a deer on it and sang him Happy Birthday. I cannot believe he's 39. I still remember my brothers freaking out when he turned 25, saying "Oh my God, you're so OLD. You're like a quarter of a century! You're ancient!" I didn't envision his 39th birthday this way, but we do the best we can with what we've got. I still wanted to celebrate Jim.

The Marventanos all drove to my house on Friday and spent the night. Then we all drove up north together on Saturday afternoon. We spent a lovely weekend playing outside, watching movies, reading, eating, and relaxing. The kids were so excited to see their Mimi and Papa, Aunt Judi and Uncle Mark, and of course, her cousins Kirsten and Sean. (Rachel said to me - "I can't wait to see Kirsten. And I already know mom, she's a teenager!")

I was terrified and relieved to scatter the ashes. I have been staring at the urn up on my mantle since September. I've been talking to his ashes and I've been kind of funny about where I'll place the urn. I hate putting the urn on the floor of the car when I have to take it somewhere - I would never ask Jim to ride on the floor of the car. Then again, strapping it in with a seatbelt seems like I'd be taken to a rubber room if anyone ever caught me. I've felt badly about Jim's ashes being trapped in the urn. After all, Jim was an outdoor guy. Having him trapped in a box didn't seem like the right thing to do. (Which is why I also suppose he wanted to be cremated.)

We all got a chance to let some of Jim's ashes go into the lake. We went out on the pontoon boat to an area the he'd previously scuba dived, and decided to start there. It was a very sad event. I suggested that each person could say something if they wanted, or they could just be silent. We all took turns - it was a lot of ashes. I tried hard to think of letting the ashes go as setting him free. He wouldn't have wanted to be kept in a box, but at the same time, releasing those ashes felt like we were letting him go as well. I think part of the fear is that people will forget. He's not here anymore to remind us how spectacular he is. Will other people remember? It seemed as though we were letting go of one more reminder. But in reality, it's not like there's any less of him here now that we've scattered the ashes. He's stronger in my mind because I know he's happy. We've followed his wishes and he's with nature - exactly how he loved to be.

Celebrating Jim is something that I plan to do for the rest of our lives. I want my children to know how wonderful he is. How he lives on in nature and in our hearts. His birthday will forever be a special day. I cannot imagine the mixed emotions his mother went through this year - the awe and gratitude for the gift of a healthy, happy child. Parental pride as a boy develops into a man. Mourning the loss of a life ended too soon. Remembering your child's birth day is such a treasure - remembering the first moment you heard the cries, the first time you get to hold them, the overwhelming sense of thankfulness and happiness.

Jim left this world knowing that he is deeply loved. Perhaps that's the best birthday gift any of us could ever ask for. Scattering his ashes and celebrating the extraordinary man he is, with his family and mine, seems to be the best thing we could do on such a day. Happy 39th birthday, Jim. You'll live on in our hearts forever. May peace and grace be yours as you reconnect with nature and grant us the freedom to set your spirit free.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


My finish time for the Journey's Half Marathon was 3:16:45! I am so proud. Mom and I walked together - we ended pretty much in the middle of the walking pack - despite the fact that we started in the back. We even beat out 22 half-marathon runners. Not bad for a first attempt!

I made a shirt for the event - it reads "In Memory of Jim - My Husband, My Hero". And I wore a hat that Aimee (LaRock) Ciulla, a friend of Jim's from high school, sent me - it's from the American Cancer Society and it reads "I am strong" - I thought it was perfect.

I was very nervous the morning of the half marathon. I feared not being able to finish and not doing Jim justice. To get to the starting line we drove down a beautiful and curvy 9 mile road - a road that Jim has run with my father in the past. (I've also run it with my mom, but I whined the whole time - Jim was much too gallant for that.) Driving down that road made me feel really nervous. As we lined up at the starting line, I thought I might cry. But I saw a friend of mine from scrapbooking, and we saw my Mom's friend who prompted us to walk in the first place. Seeing people I like sort of steeled me up for the morning.

I have a perpetual fear of coming in last. I'm always convinced I'm doing to be dead last, with the pace car nipping at my heels so they can close the finish line. Or worse yet: no one will be left at the finish line. Those fears give me drive to push on even if I think I just can't. And once I know I'm not in last place, I try to pick off people ahead of me.

There was a priest ahead of me and mom that looked like he was just out for a casual stroll. He must have been about 60. I set my sights on him. BOY was he hard to catch. My mother was very unhappy because I basically forced her to pass him, too. We didn't catch him until the second half of the race, but once he was behind us it seemed that we had an easier time picking people off.

We really hoofed it the last 1/3 of the race, which made me proud. I adhere to the "tortoise and hare" theory of running and walking. We passed a number of people that started off really strong but fell behind as the morning went on. We did just the opposite. Walking the distance made it seem a lot more attainable if I choose to run it in the future. And at the finish line, I realized that I could have run some of it - not all of it, but some.

At the finish line, our chips beeped and the announcer said "Jenny Ferguson and Kate... ... ..." {you could hear him thinking "mar...ven...tino?" "mara...vento?" "marvento? "...middle name Marven, last name Tano...?"} and finally "Kate...M-a-r-v-e-n-t-a-n-o! I knew it!" Well at least we're continuing the tradition where people butcher our last name to bits. He got it right, albeit slowly. I have to give him credit for getting it right.

My Dad came and took pictures at the finish line. I got a great medal and had it engraved with my name and finish time. My favorite part of a race is the finish - all the people milling around, a feeling of accomplishment in the air, bananas, bagels, juice and water's pretty fun.

It was a beautiful Northwoods day. Sunny, but not too hot. A slight breeze, but not a wind. Just the kind of day that reminds me of Jim. The kind of day where his skin would get warm from the sun and he'd wrap his arms around me to keep me warm. I could drink him in on those days.

I think I did right for Jim. I hope he thinks so, too.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Addicted to Nike+

Okay, so you know I signed up to walk the half marathon in memory of Jim.

There's more to it. I am walking in memory of Jim - and the Journey's Half Marathon was a big goal for him. (For those of you that don't know, Jim was a great runner when he put his mind to it. And great legs! My friend Stefany was sitting in her car one day in Atlanta and thought "Oooh, hot Italian guy out running - Oh My God, that's JIM!") But I have to admit that I am also motivated by Nike+.

Nike+ is that program that you can hook into your iPod. There's a transmitter between your Nike shoes and your iPod that tracks your pace, distance, calories burned...everything. I love it. I have maintained for many years that I am not a competitive person. {Those of you that have argued this point, take note: this is an admission of incongruity between my words and my actions.} I am competitive. The moment I'm done with my walk/run I go right into the house and hook my iPod into the computer so that I can track my mileage. I love seeing progress. And I sign up for challenges against other Nike+ members. The one I'm in right now is prompting me to run 70 miles in May - my goal is to stay in the Top 10 in a group of around 30.

Many of you know about my self-pity induced Girl Scout Cookie forays. I've gained some weight since Jan/Feb. Thank goodness those d#$% Girl Scout Cookies are gone. (I didn't throw them away - I just sped up the eating process to get rid of them faster!) I am committed to getting rid of that weight. After Jake was born I lost around 70 pounds in a matter of a few months. I haven't induced a 70 pound weight gain (more like 10 pounds), but I am determined to lose this weight in the same manner that I lost the weight after Jake was born.

I lost all that weight in the few months before Jim was diagnosed. I started exercising when Jake was 2 weeks old. I walked every single day, drank a lot of water, and ate sensible portions. That's it. But once Jim was diagnosed, I stopped exercising. I stopped drinking water. I stopped eating sensible portions. Amazingly, I really didn't gain any weight until this Jan/Feb. But I can feel a difference. And as a result of Jim's diagnosis, I am acutely aware of the need to care for my mental and physical well-being. Especially as an only-parent. But Jim struggled with feeling good from the day he was diagnosed, and truthfully, I felt guilty exercising when my husband was suffering through multiple surgeries and high-intensity chemotherapy. It just didn't seem right to say "sorry I can't hang out honey, can you watch the kids? I need to go for a run..." It just seemed selfish.

It has been difficult for me to accept that exercising would actually be more selfless than selfish at this point. After all, exercise helps level me out mentally. (And we all know I can use that!) It gives me more energy and helps me keep up with the kids. I'm providing a good example for my kids. And it's just better for my health. Especially because I have the lung capacity of a beetle. It occurred to me tonight that maybe the reason I freaked out on the kids that weekend was because I was in desperate need of some exercise. So I've started hiring sitters so that I can go for a run in peace. (And if I see you and I don't stop to talk, there's a strong possibility that I'm out there crying. It just happens sometimes. And you know what I cry to? The strangest songs - "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough", by Michael Jackson [joke from our honeymoon]; "What You Waiting For", by Gwen Stefani; "I Will Survive", by Gloria Gaynor.)

Nike+ has really helped me get out there. The half marathon has given me a goal. The exercise has given me perspective. And darn it Gloria Gaynor, I will survive. I am that competitive.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Random Post #2

I couldn't bear to leave the blog in such a state of pity-party. Here are some great things that are going on in our lives:

1. I have been elected VP of the Patient Advisory Committee at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic! Needless to say, I'm very, very, very excited about it. It's a 2 year term. I am looking forward to really digging in and helping the President as much as I can. I am really excited about the woman who is the new President - I think she's going to be great to work with. It's just such an honor to be elected.

2. Rachel is a Spanish sponge. She's amazing. She already knows more words in Spanish than I do and I took more than 3 years of Spanish. She's got a Cinco de Mayo party coming up at school that she's looking forward to. Rachel, in general, has become a lot more verbal and able to express everything she's thinking. Although she's always been a relatively verbal girl, she seems to have had a mental growth spurt in the last couple of months.

3. Jake is doing well, although his reign of shock and terror with excessive biting and hitting hasn't stopped. He's starting to say a few more words, which is exciting. I am on him like a wet rug to start using words. He's frustrated right now because he can't communicate what he wants, and I'm frustrated because I can't figure out what he wants.

4. We're being teased by the weather, but this is spring in Wisconsin. We are looking forward to having a new swingset for the kids put up in the backyard the week of May 12th. Hopefully it'll be warm enough to start really using it soon. Although we're braving 50 degree weather to play outside, it would be nice if it was a tad warmer.

5. I have started a walking/running program that I'm pretty excited about. I signed up to walk a half marathon in a couple of weeks. It's a half marathon up north that Jim always wanted to run, but never got around to doing. I can't run it, but I can most certainly walk it. Last night I went for a 5 mile walk/run - and spent the bulk of it running. I'll work off those Girl Scout cookies yet.

6. Rachel is starting soccer and t-ball soon. We've got her whole summer scheduled out! She's looking forward to a fun summer.

7. We joined a local nature preserve. Once it dries out a teensy bit I'll start taking the kids over there for little hikes, etc. I'm also going to start shooting. My friends Liz and Tom are going to go with me. Tom has agreed to teach me how to clean my gun. I haven't used my gun in around three years, so I'm excited to start doing that again.

8. Rachel's teacher arranged a program at the school so that the teachers could volunteer to help us. This week one of the teachers offered to make us dinner, and I decided to take her up on it. She was so specific with her offer (told me the time and dates she could come, gave us menu choices) that I just realized that now is the time for me to say "yes, thank you, I can use some help". Rachel was twittering all over she was so excited. She helped the teacher make dinner the whole time, and as I popped in and watched every so often, I realized why being a teacher wasn't something that ever was in my future: the patience. She let Rachel really help with almost every single thing. I have a habit of letting Rachel stir and then I take the spatula out of her hand and nudge my way in and do most everything. It was a great dinner. Last that night two other teachers came over and watched Rachel and Jake while I want to my Patient Advisory Committee meeting. It was wonderful being able to leave the house and leave my kids with two people that are so gentle, kind...and willing to wear a big ratty wig when asked. They're hardly the kind of sitters that flick on the tv and sullenly go tell the kids to play. Such luxury - for me, and for the kids!

9. I'm reading good books again. I'm currently reading World Without End, by Ken Follett. And I've discovered the joys of podcasts. I'm really into downloading meditation podcasts. And I'm ADDICTED to Facebook. It's just shameful. And fun...

Okay - that seems more positive. We have lots of great things going on in our lives. I am trying to remember that one frustrating weekend does not an entire lifetime make. When I'm feeling sad I often go out and read a young widows message board online. One of the titles was "Can you really sell kids to gypsies?!" - so I figured I'm not the only one in this boat!!! But also I saw that a child's behavior can be a reflection of a parent's coping skills. So I decided to pull it together and work harder on controlling my temper and emotions. It seems to be working. A little, anyway.

I guess this is the roller coaster. But I still feel that I'm using the blog mostly to complain, and that's not the image I want to convey. I have been writing more often, obviously. There must be some part of me that still really needs it. Although I am doing quite well, I still get the urge to write on occasion. So there it is. I'll write sometimes, and sometimes I won't. But thank you for reading and caring and checking up on our little clan!