Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sister's Tribute

Kim, Cami, and I were given the task of doing a tribute for Mel's funeral.  We decided we wanted to take a different approach, and not do a "life sketch".  We decided to do an acrostic or name poem. We split it up and each took a different section. Here is our tribute to MELANIE:
Mel was known by several names.  Mom, aunt Mel, Melly Elly, Miss Melanie, a few I can't say, or just simply Mel.  Today, we are going to use the name she was given on Sept. 13, 1977, M-E-L-A-N-I-E.  Mel would be disappointed in us today, because we do not have any props to help you with remembering the spelling.  So, here is our acrostic poem. (Angie)
M is for Mother. 
It is fitting for the first letter to be an "M", because above everything else, Mel's top priority was being a good Mother. Being a mother brought out the best in Mel.  It changed her forever. She was Kaden's biggest supporter and cheerleader. She loved watching her boy play sports.  If Kaden had a game, Mel was there!  No matter what!  It was usually with her entourage, umbrellas, chairs, and all.  As a single working mom, she never took the easy way out.  She worked and educated herself so she could provide a good life for her and Kaden. She taught Kaden how to work, which is still a work in progress.  The most important thing for her is that Kaden is respectful, polite, and kind to others.  So far, so good. (Cami)
E is for Entertaining.
Mel loved a party and she was the life of the party.  She was always planning the next get together.  She loved to host cousins parties, neighborhood parties, and holiday parties. Even when she was in the hospital, she kept east 8 lively and fun with her antics and humor.  She has quite the collection of board games, which we have all played at some point or another.  Many pinochle games have been played at our family table.  These games are usually filled with laughter and some fierce competition, especially when Greg would bid Mel up to 52!  Mel always bought fireworks for the 4th of July.  When it came to parades, being a spectator was not enough for her.  She wanted to be on a float waving and throwing candy.  After years of begging for us to do a family float, she had her wish come true with her "Be Strong - Thank You Hyde Park" float.  She had a blast! (Kim)
L is for Loving.
Melanie made friends everywhere she went. They were usually friends for life.  She loved her family, she loved her friends, she loved her students.  All of us here have felt her love in some way.  She was quick to give, and shared her smiles and hugs freely. She wasn't in teaching for the money.  She genuinely loved children.  Mel found tremendous joy in seeing the children learn and grow each year.  If someone was in need around her, Mel was there to help.  If she knew you were feeling down, she was there to lift you up. Mel had a talent of sensing the needs of others.  She was the perfect example of the definition of loving. (Angie)
A is for Aunt.
If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you had a Valentines day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and 4th of July party every year.  These parties were complete with themed games, treats, prizes, and endless fun.  If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you were taken on an adventure to find caterpillars each fall.  She knew right where to find the milkweed. If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, your birthday was never forgotten and you were spoiled.  If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you knew what it meant to pick something out of the treasure box.  If your were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you knew all the fun songs and read lots of fun books.  If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you enjoyed trips to the park, batting cages, and bowling. If you were blessed to call Mel your aunt, you made sugar cookies for just about every holiday.  Gingerbread houses or people for Christmas.  This last Thanksgiving, she helped the kids make turkeys in several different ways, with all kinds of cookies and candies.  Mel hosted her last party on May 4th.  She went with my mom and bought all the supplies for a pizza making party.  She was tired and struggling to breath, but she still came into the kitchen to cheer the kids on.  Above all, if Mel was your aunt, you knew you were loved. (Cami)
N is for Notes (of the musical kind).
This only seemed fitting, as music was such a big part of her life.  Some people train for years to play the piano like Mel.  She only had one short lesson from our mother.  The rest was her natural ability.  She loved music.  She loved to sing it, play it, watch it, listen to it, teach it, and share it.  Melanie had a song for everything.  Her life was a musical.  You never knew when she was going to break into song.  Music was a source of strength for her during some of her darkest hours.  Nurses liked going into her room at night, because she would always listen to soothing and uplifting music. I can remember walking around east 8, arm in arm, singing Christmas carols with her.  We sang to anyone who would listen.  And we all know she loved Tim McGraw. (Kim)
I is for Intelligent.
Mel valued education in all forms.  Her love for learning began with her own education.  She attended North Park Elementary, Cedar Ridge Middle School, North Cache, and graduated from Sky View High School.  As a single mother, she earned her Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees.  Her love for learning became her career, as she helped little 5 and 6 year olds love to learn.  She was a talented teacher! She had a knack for explaining concepts in a clear and fun way.  Many don't know that her teaching career began as a child.  The Nelson girls and her would get together and play school.  Launa said that Mel was always the teacher!  Proper grammar was very important to Mel. You also needed to make sure you had proper pronunciation when she was around.  You didn't hike in the "mouains", it was the "mountains".  You were not in "kinergaren", it was "kindergarten"  You aren't "thankful fer", you are "thankful for".  It is neat to think that even though she had to leave a lot behind, she took her intelligence and knowledge with her. (Angie)
E is for Enduring to the End.
Melanie endured 14 bone marrow biopsies, 14 lumbar punctures, countless rounds of chemo, 9 days of total body radiation, 2 stem cell transplants, three central line placements, months of ECP treatments, all the side affects of treatments, graft vs. host disease, and months away from home.  Yet, she remained positive and rarely complained.  When asked how she was doing, her response was always, "I'm alright." She smiled for every picture, even when she felt yucky.  Mel has been and inspiration and an example of what it means to endure to the end.  She lived longer than originally expected. Drs. have attributed this to her positive attitude. Mel attributed it to her faith.  She knew the power of prayer and priesthood blessings. (Cami)
In closing, we would like to share a few of Melanie's most beloved words.
Cowbells (Kim)
Shakalaka (Angie)
Fart Knockers (Cami)
Okinawa (All Together)
We love you, Melly Elly!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Funeral Services

The viewing for Mel was on Friday, May 10th.  That morning, mom, Kim, Cami, Stephanie, and I were able to get Mel dressed and do her hair.  This was a very neat experience.  I thought it would be really hard, but it was very calming.  My mom worked so hard to get Mel's hair done just right.  She did a great job.  The mortuary did a wonderful job with her make up.  We all really felt like it looked like our Mel.  We had a constant line the entire 2 hours.  So many people came.  Mel was loved by many. 
Thank you to Leslie Carpenter (cousin) for taking these pictures.  You captured so many special moments that will help us to always remember this day perfectly.

  We had four tables set up.  This one was to represent her family (Cami did a great job setting this one up).  There was one for her hobbies and likes.  That table had piano and music, ReAl soccer, and Tim McGraw.  Another table represented her as a teacher.  The final table represented her battle with leukemia.

They had a great video that was playing, while people waited.  We were finally able to see it after everyone had left.  We were all so exhausted at this point.  It was a great time to let the emotions go, while we watched the video together.  It was good to see Kaden be able to let it out.  

When we were deciding all the flowers, we all agreed on one thing.  Mel was not a flower girl!  We thought it would be more fitting to have the blanket that Providence Elementary made for her, at the start of her battle.  She had this blanket with her in the hospital, at Greg's, and it was the blanket that she had on when she took her last breathe.  We thought it was fitting to lay it over the casket, instead of a big flower arrangement.  It was perfect.

One of Mel's students brought this gift.  She was planning to bring it to Mel in person, but did not make it to her in time.  She was such a cute little girl.  She had a hard time, and was crying through the line.  Many of Mel's students came through.  They all loved Miss Mel.
As we cleared the mortuary of all the decorations, I think we all had the same thought.  Do we really have to do tomorrow?  It was going to be a long, emotional day.
Melanie's funeral was on Saturday, May11th.  It was a warm and beautiful day.  We had another viewing before the funeral.  Once again, it was a constant line. 

Brooke really wanted to do something special for Mel.  After we said no to her suggestion of playing Amazing Grace on her recorder, she came up with a great plan.  With the help of Nan, she made a beautiful little pillow.  She sat in the foyer, while people were coming in for the viewing and funeral.  She had all the family, a few students, and friends sign their names.  After Steve gave the family prayer and we all said our last good byes, we made sure to put the pillow in the casket with Mel, before they closed it.  I know Mel loved it.  Also with Mel were her Diamond Backs dog tag (in honor of Kaden), her worry rock and faith rock (helped her through all her cancer treatments), and her temple recommend (renewing it was the last thing she did in this life). 

All the nieces and nephews will truly miss their fun aunt Mel.
The funeral services went very well. Aunt Eva gave the opening prayer. Kim, Cami, and I gave a tribute about Melanie.  It was fun to work together to write it.  We were all really worried about making it through.  There were a few tears, but we all held it together.  Greg Larson, Mel's principal at Providence Elementary, gave a nice tribute to Mel as a teacher.  After his talk, the nieces and nephews (minus Lindsey, the little ones, and Brooke) sang "I Am a Child of God" with some of Mel's former students.  It was such a neat song.  Mike then gave an amazing talk.  It was really focused on Mel's faith and testimony.  I also loved that he mentioned my mom in his talk.  She has been by Mel's side through all her ups and downs.  Greg then sang "Savior, Redeemer of My Soul".  I am always in awe, whenever I hear Greg sing. I don't think there was a dry eye in the building.  Mel's bishop closed with some remarks.  He had some powerful words to share.  Aunt Arlene then gave the closing prayer.  We were all happy with how the service went. 

Mel graveside services were at the Hyde Park Cemetery.  I loved the spot my dad and mom picked out.  It is right by a tree, and just felt right.

The pallbearers were: Kaden, Greg, Mike, Eric, Steve, Uncle Yencey, Uncle Dave, and Andrew Helpingstein (Kaden's uncle).

Before the pallbearers lay their flowers on the casket, Uncle Brett gave a beautiful dedicatory prayer on the grave.

Kaden had some of his good baseball friends there to support him. I thought it was very touching to see tears in their eyes. Mel was a big supporter of their team.

The nieces and nephews thought it was very fitting that there was a caterpillar crawling on the green carpet by Mel's casket.  Many of them had the opportunity to go caterpillar hunting with aunt Mel.


A side story about the blanket.  My mom did not want the blanket buried with Mel.  It is very special and she wanted to keep it.  However, with all the hustle and bustle of hurrying to get to the luncheon, she did not take it off the casket before she left, and it was then buried.  My mom was very upset about it! She called the mortuary and was informed that it would cost $500-700 to dig it up and jack hammer the vault open.  Luckily, we chose the vault that was not glued shut, so it was just going to be $350.  Eva called all of my mom's siblings and they were going to go in and have it done.  When the cemetery workers heard about what happened, they were kind enough to do it for free.  Eva brought it, wrapped up, to my mom last week.  You can imagine the joy she felt!

Mel would like this picture of Kaden's smile.

It is always hard to leave.

We were able to enjoy a delicious lunch, provided by the Hyde Park 5th ward Relief Society.  It was great to visit with all the family that came.  We are blessed to have so many aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It was a good day.  It was an emotionally draining day.  It felt weird to return back to my parent's house and know it will never be the same.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Melanie Balls Memorial Account

There is an account set up in Melanie's name at any America First Credit Union.  If you feel you can help in any way, that would be greatly appreciated.  We are not sure about Melanie's life insurance plan.  They are trying to deny it right now. All the funeral expenses would then fall with my parents.  Thank you for your support and for all those who came to the funeral and viewings.  Our family felt of your love and truly had the power of the comforter with us.
I will be posting about the funeral in a few days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Our first post on this blog was November 18, 2009, five days after Mel was diagnosed with bi-phenotypic leukemia.   This was about 3 1/2 years ago. We now have to write the post we never wanted to write.
Mel was released from her pain and imperfect body at 6:22 am, on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. She left this world with the same people who were there to welcome her 35 1/2 years ago, her father and mother.  My mom spent most of the evening awake, because she noticed that Mel's breathing had changed.  She was not responding, which led her to believe that she was in some kind of a coma. In the morning my mom called for my dad to come in.  Mel was fighting to stay alive to the end.  My dad was able to give her a blessing and they told her that Kaden was in good hands and would be well taken care of.  My mom said that as soon as my dad had his hands on her head and started to pronounce the blessing, Mel immediately calmed and was peaceful and relaxed.  My dad told her it was alright to go with the people, who came to get her.  Mel was then free from her fight, from the pain, from her body, and all was still.
Kaden was called up to sit with his mom, after she had passed.  He had a good cry, but we know he will be alright with the great support system he has around him.  He spent a lot of the day looking a bit lost. He loved his mom. He will miss her, but as he said to me at the mortuary, "I am calm."
Yesterday was a bit of a blur. I was able to make it up to Hyde Park and spend a few moments with Mel, before the mortuary took her body.  When I arrived, Cami, Eric, Stephanie and Mike were already here.  It was hard to see them take Mel's body and drive away. All I can really remember of that is hearing my mom say, "My Melly."
Greg and Kim were able to make it in the afternoon.  The rest of the day we cried, we laughed, we visited with the countless number of people who stopped to give their condolences.  We were all in awe at the outpouring of love on facebook and in person.  So many have reached out with flowers, cards, food, supplies, hugs, and tears. 
Today we have been getting all of the busy work done.  My dad, mom, Kaden, Kim, and I took a trip to the cemetery in Hyde Park and picked out the burial plot.  Mike, Stephanie, Cami, and Greg joined us at the mortuary to pick out a casket, vault, dress, and to spend a few precious moments with Mel. 
We are staying busy, trying to get everything prepared for the funeral.  This is probably a good thing.  Mel's obituary will be in the Herald Journal the next couple of days.  For your information, there will be a viewing from 6-8 pm at Allen Mortuary in North Logan. The funeral services will be Saturday at 11:00 am at the Hyde Park Stake Center 535 E. 200 S. There will be another viewing from 9:30-10:45 am before the services begin.
**As part of the program on Saturday, Mel's nieces and nephews will be singing all three verses of I am a Child of God. We would like to invite any of Miss Melanie's former students to join them on the stand.  It will be printed in the program, so you will know when to send your children up.
Thank you once again, for your prayers.  We have felt their calming and peaceful influence.  This is a hard thing, but we know we will see our Melanie again.  We are grateful for that knowledge and testimony.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mel had a peaceful day of resting. She was evaluated by the hospice doctor. He said that Mel is deteriorating quickly. He said that her lungs sounded good except for one area. They turned her oxygen up to 5 (not sure what that means). The doctor told my mom that when a patient quits hydrocortisone cold turkey (which is what Mel has done), it can cause their adrenal system to shut down. They are going to try and give her something for that and see if it perks her up a bit. Mel was taking 26 medications day and Dr. Duke brought her down to 6 a day. The problem is that Mel won't eat or drink much. It's been hard for our Mom. She is such a nurturing person and it just doesn't feel right to not feed your child. We have been told that lack of eating is a normal part of the process. 

Hospice brought in a hospital bed for Mel today. She traded in her plush queen for a little twin. This will help the nurses access her better, and allow Mel's position to be adjusted.

All of the legal things associating with a death were finalized to day. Mel attempted a signature, it was notarized and a huge weight was lifted off my parents. 

One of the things Mel wanted to be sure to do while she could, was get her temple recommend renewed. She met with her bishop a couple of weeks ago. A member of the Stake came today to interview her. She was awake to answer the questions. He asked her if she wanted him to set her recommend on the nightstand, or if she wanted it. She told him that she wanted it. She took it and held it to her chest. Such a special thing! She held it in her hand until she was too relaxed to do so.

I was with Mel for a few hours today. I never heard her speak, and she only opened her eyes a few times, but there is something sacred about being there with her. There is a peace and reverence. I look at Mel and think about how much she has been through and think about what blessings await her. She has endured well. 

We loved to watch "The Voice" on Monday nights. I turned it on tonight in her room and sat there with her. She looked so peaceful. Her breathing is still labored, and it takes a lot out of her. I don't think she's is pain, and her nausea and vomiting seems to have subsided.

Kim will be flying in tomorrow from CO. It will be interesting to see if that wakes Mel up a bit.

Aunt Arlene and our cousin Trisha came tonight for a visit. It was good to see them. They have been a big support for Mel over the years.

Eva came over for several hours today to help out our mom. She is always there for mom! Thanks Eva!

Eva, Jennifer, Emily, Julie, Scott, and Les came over yesterday for a visit. Mel walked out to the living room and sat in her chair. She slept most of the time. We took a picture before they all left.

Thanks for all of the love and concern for our family. We are blessed with great family and friends. We love you all so much!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cancer Sucks!

We have been slacking on this blog.  Over the next little bit, we will try to update it daily.  I know people would like to know how Mel is doing.  We have to back up a little bit, to get the full story put together.
At the end of March, Mel was having her routine blood draw.  One of her levels for kidney function was a bit high.  They decided to do an ultra-sound on her kidneys, just to be safe.  There was a mass in her right kidney. They thought it would be fluid filled and be some kind of an infection.  However, when they went to biopsy the "fluid", they discovered it was solid. The biopsy revealed that it was leukemia, once again.
Mel was not excited to have more needles and tests.  They did a bone marrow biopsy.  During the procedure, they injected some chemo as well.  Her bone marrow was clear.  However, upon looking under a special microscope, they could see a trace of cancer blasts.  Melanie also had a pet scan.  The things that stood out were: 1) The mass in her kidney. 2) The spot on her lung that she has had for months, which they are saying is a fungal infection. They don't know for absolute sure without a biopsy. 3) Something on the upper side of her back.  They don't know what this is.  Pet scans show everything.  This could be inflammation, soreness, or a mass of some kind.
Our family met with the doctors at LDS hospital on April 5th, to go over the results.  We always knew there was no option for a third transplant.  Given the fact that her leukemia keeps coming back, and in random places, they stated that her cancer is incurable.  Not a fun word to hear.  The doctors wanted Mel to think about how she wanted to spend her remaining time.  They gave her three options.  To do nothing, to do a chemo called Dacogen (it has been proven to give time to some patients), or seek a larger leukemia facility that is running a trial study.  At this moment, she was having no affects from the leukemia. Her kidney was functioning and her levels were all good.  There were no tears at this meeting.  My mom even said how we should all be bawling, but yet there was such a feeling of peace and calm.  Mel added her testimony, once again, about the fact that there is a higher hand in all of this.  We all knew that it was in Heavenly Father's hands. 
Mel was not sure what to do.  She eliminated the trial study pretty quickly.  This would cost a lot of money, and she would be away from Kaden.  She still had not made her final decision (although I know she didn't want more hospital time), when she started experiencing pain and having problems breathing.  This was about a week ago, Friday, April 26th.  Cami called and told me that the night before, Mel was up in the night with pain. This last week, she had her labs done on Thursday.  This time, her levels were shifting.  Her red blood cell counts are going down, and her white count is going up.  Her kidney levels are starting to change as well.  The leukemia is setting in.  They do not do more in depth looks into the blood in Logan.  My mom called the head nurse at LDS in Salt Lake and had them run further testing there.  This testing showed that in Mel's blood, she had 50% cancer blasts.  Three and a half years ago, when she first went to the hospital, she had 75% cancer blasts. 
I feel like I am not putting this in a good order and that I am rambling and forgetting things.  I am just going to go through this last week. 
Wednesday, Mel was able to meet with one of her old bishops, who is a lawyer.  He was kind enough to offer his services.  He sat with her and they put a trust in place.  Mel was able to talk about what her desires were for Kaden as well.  She called me later that day, and we had a nice visit.  I know getting this done was a big relief for her.
Thursday, this was the day she had her labs drawn.  That evening, their current bishop came over.  He gave Mel a blessing and interviewed her for her temple recommend. My parents told me that in the blessing, she was told that she would be around long enough to get her things in order here.  Mel had a hard night that night.  Her pain and labored breathing have been getting a bit worse as each day went on.  My mom was determined to find hospice care.
Friday was Mel's first visit from the hospice nurse.  She brought some needed relief!  Mel was given some better morphine, some oxygen (hers was down to 68), and a wedge to help prop up her bed.  I know my mom felt better, knowing there was help, and also getting some answers of what to expect. 
Saturday, we were able to make it up. Cami and I sat in her room and watched some game shows with her.  Mel was in good spirits. She was pretty tired and would go in and out quite a bit.  She was able to have some fairly good conversations.  However, she said some pretty funny things that we all laughed about.  For instance, I asked her to help me write a bit to put on facebook.  She said she wanted me to make sure I put accurate information.  When I asked her what was accurate, she said, "You can only eat a hot dog, if it is real.  Melanie is on morphine again."  A little later she told me that I should not plant raspberry bushes.  Cami and I told her we needed to start writing some of this down.  Mel had a hard time with nausea today.  She was not able to keep much down.  This was frustrating for her.  It is also hard to puke and cough, when you struggle just to breath.
Sunday, Greg, Charise, and Makayla made it up.  Melanie perked right up, when her sweet Makayla came in her room.  She wanted to sit up and play with her.  She was good for a few minutes, but then she could hardly keep her eyes open.  That was the story for today.  You go in her room to talk with her, she starts to talk, but is asleep with only a few words in.  She would be eating (what little she eats), and fall asleep before she swallows.  It seems so in and out.  One minute I would walk in her room, see her labored breathing, try to have a conversation, and think how she must not have much time.  The next minute she is walking in to sit at the kitchen table.
When the nurse came this evening.  We asked her how much of this is due to the morphine, and how much of it is her own body.  Since she really is not getting morphine that often, the nurse said it is probably a lot her own body starting to shut down.
It is hard to watch your sister die.  It is hard to watch my parents lose their daughter.  I had to come home for a couple of days, and that was hard to do.  Today was fast Sunday.  I fasted that Mel will not have to suffer anymore. In all of this, we hold onto that peaceful calm feeling we felt on April 5th.  We remember Mel's testimony that there is a higher plan.