Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our Welcome sign in the lobby at the plant.
“It’s too bad that Eli had to get cancer for us to do all this cool stuff,” Abbey said to me Tuesday as she took in the the sights of American history displayed at The Henry Ford. I sighed to myself before I agreed with her. She, of course, couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of what she had just said, but it struck me deep and I was ashamed. Why did the sky have to fall for us to look up? We never thought we were taking our blessings or our time for granted. We always had plans, intentions and check-marks - still do. And, comparably to mainstream family flow, we were unremarkable. But, we never looked up to enjoy the sky, so we carry the weight of it now for every move we make. And, what a view we have holding the sky. If you have one take-away from following Eli, I hope it is that you look up.

Frozen Niagara Falls, New York.
I am tempted to say that our trip has been life-changing because of all that we have experienced, but that seems so dramatic. Yet, it was dramatic! After visiting New York state to see the gorgeous frozen Niagara Falls and snow tube in the country hills, we arrived at the Ford Mustang plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, Monday to a warm welcome complete with plant dignitaries and media. It was nice to see some of the faces of Ford and the United Auto Workers that played a part in getting us up there. Eli posed for pictures and we answered questions to which several media stories have been run in print and video. Tim Young, the plant manager, was kind enough to step aside and let Eli be plant manager for the day. A little tram (which was fun for the kids in and of itself) took us on a tour of the 3-million-square-foot facility which was
Media taking pics of Eli in the driver's seat.
originally a joint venture between Ford and Mazda. But Mazda got out of American car manufacturing, so now the 3,000-plus workforce at the Flat Rock Assembly plant is responsible for making the Ford Mustang and the Ford Fusion. We followed the making of a mustang from a piece of sheet metal, all the way until Eli rode one off the line (save the paint department in order to keep the controlled environment free of impurities brought in by visitors. But, we saw a great video about it and the technologies there.). It takes 23 hours to make a mustang. In April, Flat Rock turned out its one millionth mustang - a red convertible. The American car legend has survived some lean muscle years to make a strong showing for its 50th birthday this year. Eli has been invited to celebrate the birthday with the Mustang Club of America at a huge national party in April and we hope to work that out.
Love this pic of Eli in charge. The workers had signed his vest.

During the tour, the operators cheered and called to Eli, and many stopped the tram to give him gifts. It was touching and we were humbled by their thoughtfulness and interest in him. They were obviously proud of their work, and were eager to share it with someone they knew appreciated what they were doing. Eli represented genuine interest, and they responded in kind. The tour was an experience and a sight that he will never forget. I hope seeing him, and knowing that a little boy smiles and points out their handiwork on the road every time he sees it will help them in their daily work. As they add a part, turn a bolt, or shine a bumper, I hope they think “Maybe Eli will see this one.” Under Eli’s “management”, I read, that Ford made over 400 Mustangs. Ford and the UAW showered Eli and the kids with gifts, and we will have plenty of shirts, hats, toys and decor for our Mustang family room.
This was his ride, which coincidentally is his absolute fav:
2014 Shelby GT in Grabber Blue with black stripes.

 He has also received several autographed pieces from the Ford family including from Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford and great-grandson of Henry Ford; from Edsel Ford II, member of the Ford Board of Directors and great-grandson of Henry Ford and son of Henry Ford II; Henry Ford III, great-great grandson of Henry Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford II; and from Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford. I will have more pictures of the plant visit from the company photographer since we were not allowed to take pictures in the plant ourselves. After the day at the plant, we came back to the hotel and the kids, sans Eli, played in the mounds of snow. He was tired and desperately needed down-time. Thankfully, since I had come prepared for snow tubing, we were also prepared for snow play with appropriate clothing so they had a lot of fun having never seen that much snow before. Then we had an unexpected bonus for that
Pistons vs. Spurs
evening when a new Ford friend gave us tickets to a Pistons game. The kids had never been to a professional game of any sport, so it was a fun experience for them. Detroit beat the Spurs that night.

Our Ford visit continued Tuesday with a personal tour of The Henry Ford museum, and then a tour of the River Rouge plant that makes the F-150 truck. I knew the museum was going to be impressive and interesting, but the content was not as I expected. I just thought it would be about Ford, but it was about inventions, innovations, and how they affect every day lives of Americans. But, it seemed to also have an aspect of history preservation. The museum was a personal project of Henry Ford. As most museums are, it was information overload, but we had our own tour guide telling the stories so that we wouldn’t miss something extra interesting. The Rouge plant tour,
I hate to love this picture.
however, was a self-guided tour along an elevated walkway above the manufacturing floor. We saw an interesting video about Henry Ford’s hand in the development of assembly lines for mass production. He perfected the
 process by adding conveyor belts to move the product to the workers instead of the workers moving to the product. Bottom line for what we learned is that HF was a really cool guy. It seemed like we could have used another day in Detroit, because I felt like the snow was covering up things we were missing. We closed up the museum and made an appearance at the monthly meeting of the Mustang Owners Club of Southeast Michigan, the largest mustang club in the country. After seeing Eli on the local news, the club president sought us out to extend the invitation. The club gave Eli gifts and donated to St. Jude. We hit the road late that night for south of Dayton, Ohio, where we visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force the next day. Again, information overload, and this time we were guideless. It was impressive, and I could just feel the gems of info throughout, but the kids and I just couldn’t appreciate it all as they were tired and I was clueless as to what I was looking at without
The first Mustang.
concentrating - which goes back to the kids being tired. It was huge, and well-done. The presidential tour was closed, but we were able to catch the IMAX tornado movie.

From the movie, we traveled to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where someone made fun of my southern dialect. Yes, in Kentucky! I had been to New York state, upper Pennsylvania, all over Ohio, and to Michigan, (admittedly I caught a few smiles when I used certain phrases, and one woman in Ohio asked where I was from) but it wasn’t until I was in Kentucky that someone thought how I talked was “so cute”. Seriously, less than two hours from Nashville.

We had plans to visit Lost River Canyon for a boat tour in the cave, but the canyon was flooded (and the ground swallowed some Corvettes and someone said something about me was cute. Kentucky is making me nervous - beautiful landscape though). So, we re-routed to Mammoth Cave
Henry Ford's first "car".
 National Park. We bought tickets for a two-hour tour straight down into the earth and back up. I am self-diagnosed claustrophobic, so I was a little leery to willingly enter a door in a natural sinkhole. I loosened up my button pushing finger (4, 8, 15,16, 23, 42) and glanced around for Boone as the ranger (who was not wearing a khaki jumpsuit) briefed us on the duck and squeeze dance we would do on the way down. He did not seem concerned when he shared that the sink hole that just swallowed some corvettes was part of the cave system we would be entering. Not helping. Thankfully, our family made up the majority of the group, and we were able to keep moving which kept my claustrophobia distracted. Eli struggled a bit, but seemed no worse off than the others afterward. We closed up the park and headed to our final stop before home
The car in which JFK was shot.
 at Opry Mills in Nashville, Tennessee, where we enjoyed the Aquarium restaurant and visited the Lego store. We arrived home about 11 p.m., cleaned out the rental car, and dropped into bed. I took Abbey to school on time the next morning, dropped Caleb off with his sitter, met Vic to return the rental, then he dropped Eli and me at St. Jude Huntsville for a day of chemo as he and Hg went to the surgeon for her oral surgery. Hg’s surgery went fine, but she is in some pain, swollen and some tired. They picked us up at the end of the day, we hit a couple of pharmacies from today’s treatments with each kid, then home to meet the carpet lady to get the ball rolling on putting the house back together from the damage by the frozen pipes over a month ago. Phew! Nothing but video games, Legos, basketball, homework, make-up work, housework, Lads to Leaders speech writing and laundry, laundry, laundry for the weekend.
They have trains! Sold!
We logged 2200 miles on the rental in the week, but endless miles of memories and experiences. We had several avenues to pursue to get to the Ford plant, and we want to thank all of you that offered. But, we want to especially thank Betty, who has followed Eli, and her son Joe, who works for Ford, for pursuing the visit with Ford and getting the wish to the right people. We appreciate Plant Manager Tim Young and Assistant Plant Manager Gary Polakowski for hanging with us during our visit of the plant. I’m sure they could have easily found something else to do, but rode the tram and had lunch with us. And, big thank you to Kimberly, our POC at Ford for all her work in handling us, handling the people on her end, and making it all connect after many weeks of arranging. I’m sorry, I am just not going to remember all the names of everyone we met from Ford and the UAW, which played a big part in the trip. For the tour we had a photographer that
Ford and Thomas Edison were like BFF's. This is a cornerstone
from the foundation of the Edison Institute with his signature.
Hg is an Edison fan.
 rode with us and did a great job of capturing the morning, and Hannah with Human Resources was with us, “Bacon” was our tour guide and she did an excellent job, there was another woman and man from communications with us. I know I’m leaving people out from the morning, please, understand that it was overwhelming and I know that there are a lot of behind the scenes efforts by people, there had to be, it just went so smoothly and was so big. It will be yet another special moment in our family’s history books.

Thanks to all of you that were able to donate points for some of the hotel rooms, and to the many of you as individuals that gave us funds and gift cards to help with expenses. A lot or a little, it was and is put to good use for Eli and the kids (and helps Vic to relax and enjoy the trip). With the unknown
Great detail in the exhibits at the USAF museum.
 ahead of us as far as Eli’s treatment is concerned, and with the unexpected renovations to the house due to the pipe bursting, and Vic cutting his hours to spend time with Eli, it is nice to be able to make a trip like this for Eli and our family and not feel like we are jeopardizing any future pursuits of treatment that we might need to make or fear that we will be financially behind when we get home. Thank you to the Wesley Foundation at Athens State University, and thank you to Jim McClary at McClary Ford in Athens, Alabama, for his help, and to the Dr. Frank Crim Fund Foundation at Huntsville Hospital. I am glad to learn about this foundation as it is local and specifically helps pediatric cancer patients at the St. Jude affiliate at Huntsville Hospital. If you are looking for a local connection to St. Jude, this fund directly benefits the kids of the affiliate. Many things go on here at home for us to be able to be gone, including help from family, our neighbors and from local law enforcement.
Space flight is covered at the USAF museum.

As we were traveling, making small talk in the car about what cars are our favorites and what we would get if we got one, Eli asked Vic what kind of car he wanted. He hesitated because he has always been a chevy guy and he said, “Well, I kind of feel like I’ve been adopted by Ford, so I guess my new favorite car is a shelby.”

Eli’s chemo went fine yesterday. It’s just the bevacizumab and the irinotecan, which is just for the one day. His ANC was a little low for the protocol, so they backed off the irinotecan. If it gets too low, they will postpone the cycle, so by backing off they hope to keep him on schedule. He looks good, still not eating great. We mentioned it to the doc when she asked if we had any concerns and said that he would eat pizza all day if we let him. She actually said, “calories are calories, doesn’t matter.” I just don’t get that. This is a HEALTH professional, someone highly educated to the extreme in the HEALTH of the human body. But, they are on the front lines, fighting the hottest fires so I think - as smart as they are - they just have tunnel vision to see that fire only. It’s like until his
Just feels like a "Hatch".
nutrition is causing catastrophic dysfunction (and to me, it does seem to have a part in it), why apply effort or resources to fight it or fix it. Anyway, I’m just always shocked at this attitude toward nutrition in connection with his healing.

I hope we start getting things lined up in order to get the house in order from the inconvenience of the burst pipe. We continue to be upside down, and I have poured more upside down on top of that upside down. I will begin collecting laundry detergent next week for us to take back to Memphis to the Grizzlies House, so watch for details on where to drop off, or you can mail funds to me just put a sticky note on it that it is for laundry detergent. The fund is still up to donate straight to St. Jude in honor of Eli for a tile on the wall at St. Jude, the address is http://www.gofundme.com/6da7z4 I’m not sure how long it will be up, someone else is in charge of it. Our trip has slowed the tallying from the car show, but we are getting the final numbers on the t-shirt sales which will wrap that up. We will get that to St. Jude, and the gofundme goes directly to st. Jude as well. This is a collective effort so that Eli has an engraved tile on the Memphis campus, but you can always submit individual donations directly to St. Jude via its website that just go to the hospital in general.
Inside Mammoth Cave.

Baylee, who I posted about, got good news. She has not relapsed as was first thought. The abnormalities in her spinal fluid are benign, so we are so thrilled and relieved for Baylee and her family. Two more children from our county have been diagnosed with cancer. Please, include fifteen-year-old Leah, and two-year-old Addie in your prayers as they both begin their fight.

Big sigh.
Part of the Mammoth cave system,
complete with icicles and snow dusting.



Our next bench mark is the MRI February 28 in Memphis, so please keep Eli in your prayers and express our deep desire that this treatment has stabilized the disease.



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