Irene and Bob Testimony, 2018 Retreat
This journey of Irene’s and mine started just over 2 years ago. We were scared and had no clue where this journey would take us. But this journey became our calling. A test of faith, heart and of love. I hope through our testimony we can somehow inspire you and we hope it can somehow help all of us realize how precious each of our lives are and lastly how blessed we are no matter our situations. If we can somehow touch you in your own personal way then this fight we are fighting will be worth the struggles.
As I sat wondering where do I begin and what the heck do I write, I started remembering about when this crazy adventure, God sent us on, started, and where we are now. As I sat there remembering, I realized two years later that I am still healing from all the emotional stress that we went through and are still going through to this day. But at the same time I remembered seeing, as Kim Moxanim has said many times, God’s mysterious hands at play at each phase of the way.
For those of you who don’t believe or are trying to find your faith, you may think that what I’m about to share are just coincidences and that we are just lucky. I used to think that way. I wasn’t always a Christian. I started my faith journey as a Buddhist being born into a Buddhist family. Maybe that explains why I used to look like Buddha…a happy short little fat kid. Yes I was that fat chubby kid with the big cheeks. Then as I grew older, I was introduced to Jesus. The reasons how I met God wasn’t of the purest intentions and then I started looking at Christians as hypocrites as I did not know the true love of God and I didn’t understand His ultimate Grace. I ran from His love and when I was truly broken years later in life…He was there looking at me like what took you so long? But that’s a story for another day.
So this crazy adventure Irene and I are on started in April of 2016. We were driving to church on a regular Sunday in April when Irene felt numbness on her left side and had very blurry vision. After church we went to Toronto Western Hospital which is the premier Neuro Hospital in Canada, according to the boss. Irene has VIP statis there being a patient for over 20 years.
You see, Irene went through this exact same thing 20 years ago when she was 20. Irene at the time was living in Kansas. The Doctors in America didn’t think there was anything wrong with her after doing tests as she complained about excruciating headaches. Irene’s sister Sharon was not satisfied with that diagnosis and drove from Toronto to Kansas and back to get a second opinion back home. If her sister, didn’t do this marathon of a drive…Irene wouldn’t be here right now to live out this sequel. The neurosurgeons removed 2 of the 3 cavernoma’s in her brain and saved her life. What is a Cavernoma? A Cavernoma is a small blood growth that looks similar to a blackberry. You are born with them and some people live their entire lives without being affected by their cavernoma. Unfortunately for Irene hers didn’t stay dormant and instead started to bleed out giving her similar symptoms of a stroke victim. The neurosurgeon that worked on Irene 20 years ago was Dr. Michael Tymanski. At the time he was some young random neurosurgeon. Irene to this day will tell you that she owes her life to that man. Many miracles happened that first go around. The first miracle that happened at that time was living through the emergency surgery administered by Dr. Tymanski. The second miracle that happened 20 years ago was none other than own beloved InKee Moxanim. Moxanim means minister for those who don’t know. InKee Moxa was by Irene’s side praying every step of the way and in the end Irene found her faith through all this. After the surgeries, Irene recovered and healed and went on living her life.
Fast forward to 2016.
Irene always says it is amazing how Gods mysterious hand was always at play whenever she needed Him through all she has been through. So when Irene needed Him again almost 20 years later, there He was. After being in emerg for almost 24 hours, the first batch of Neurosurgeons told Irene that what was happening, after looking at the MRI’s, was the last cavernoma was now bleeding out. They told her that she needed surgery to remove the last cavernoma that was left untouched 20 years ago due to the very delicate and dangerous location it was situated in the brain. Irene requested that the only Neurosurgeon she wanted working on her brain was Dr. Tymanski who was still at Toronto Western.
A lot happened in 20 years. Dr Tymanski was now the head of Neuro at the hospital and is now a very respected and decorated Neurosurgeon. Usually heads of anything usually don’t do the day to day surgeries and assign things to their minions. However when Irene requested it, there he was. It was funny because whenever she requested to see Dr. Tymanski, he came down to see her. Nurses told us he never comes down to see anyone! It was so funny to see the looks on the nurses faces whenever he came. Some nurses worked their for years at the hospital and never saw this man. Dr. Tymanski reassured Irene that he was personally going to do her surgery. He also told her news that totally contradicted what the original neurosurgeons told us. It was not the 3rd cavernoma that was bleeding. One of her original cavernomas grew back which rarely happens. It was actually very hard to see the Cavernoma in the MRI because the scar tissue from the original surgery blocked the view of the regrown one. The hand of God at play once more. If we had gone with the initial diagnosis the first team of neurosurgeons gave us, they would have taken out the wrong cavernoma and who knows how this journey would have played out.
So there was Irene with her original surgeon and who else was by here side like 20 year ago? InKee Moxanim. However at this time we also had an army of Moxanims at St. Tims. SooJin, Song, and Jane Moxa were all their giving us courage, peace and love through prayer. Even Pastor Sunny came to pray for Irene. They all came multiple times. We believe whole heartedly in the power of Prayer and we felt so lucky to have such a strong team to pray for us.
So it was the big day! Irene’s surgery date. All the ministers came to the hospital and prayed for her. I put on my bravest face that I could for Irene before the surgery. Irene and I prayed one last time together before the surgery and then they strolled her away on the hospital bed. Now I had to find a way to pass 5 hours as she was having her surgery. I had lunch with the Moxanims at Swatow in Chinatown which I found funny because I have so many mermories there good and bad. After lunch I just wondered the streets of Toronto aimlessly strolling, praying, hoping for the best and accepting whatever fate I would have to face when everything was done.
I met up with my cousin to kill time at his work. We had coffee and I remember him telling me that if anyone was going to get through something like this that it was me. He reminded me how strong I was and that my attitude will hold me through…then I got the call from the surgery team. They let me know they would be done in an hour so I started heading back to the Hopital. It was a slow walk back on a beautiful day. I remember thanking God for our Good life thus far. Thanking him for our kids and thanking him for Irene. I remember reassuring myself that God will only put before me what I can handle. I’m usually the happy guy and I tried to stay positive as much as I could. Then I got word from a nurse when I got to the hospital.
A nurse ran out of the area where the surgery was taken place and asked if I was Bob, Irene’s husband. She then asked me to follow her. I walked down this long hallway and it felt like the longest walk I ever took in my life. Then I saw her. My heart broke and I almost broke down. There was my rock! Bandaged up, tubes everywhere and almost unrecognizable. Then she said as best she could…hun? Bob? Is that you? I could barely understand her and I could barely even say Yes. Then I walked closer so she could see my face. She was in la la land with all the meds they put her on. As quickly as I saw her they asked me to leave so they could wrap everything up.
I remember walking back to the waiting area saying thank you God! Thank you for Irene remembering who I was. You see, the worst possible outcome that day was that Irene could have left us, left me and my family without her. She could have come back as a vegetable…or worse she could have come back and not remembered who I was! I told a lot of you about this…but I was so worried she wouldn’t remember me and I would have to do the whole Hollywood thing and make her fall back in love with me. But again…God was there during the surgery. Irene was still with us and her memories in-tacked. Thanks be to God for real!
Irene’s recovery after this point was very very slow and difficult. I thought for some reason…after the surgery everything should be good again. That’s what happens on Grays Anatomy! But I should have realized…that was TV! Seeing Irene suffer after the surgery was so painful. I was helpless and honestly felt so worthless. All I could do was hold her hand, put my face up to hers so she could see my face and call the nurse. I remember her trying to talk but she couldn’t really say anything. As she got a tiny bit better, reality finally sunk in as I started learning about what was taken away from her and it was a lot. Her beautiful smile was gone, a lot of her face had paralysis, she lost all sensation or feeling on her left side! Lastly, her vision was so messed up and she could barely make anything out because the eyes wouldn’t focus.
As hard as the first month was, little by little she got better and eventually was healthy enough to transfer to Bridgepoint Rehab Hospital. There she started the long road to recovery. The surgery took everything away from her. Irene had to learn how to do the basic of things we all take for granted daily. She had to learn to talk, eat and focus her vision. The simplest of things became huge hurdles. It was here that Irene probably had her darkest days. She hated what she had become. She hated the way she looked, she hated that she couldn’t talk or purse her lips to kiss her own kids or myself. She couldn’t even see her kids faces properly because her vision was so eradic. She hated being stuck on a bed all day and night as her independence was truly gone. Going to the bathroom was a daily fight for her. If you know Irene she is a very independent woman, when that is taken away and you have to call for help to a total stranger just to pee…your self respect and dignity is destroyed.
During this time Irene asked me…Hun, why am I going through this. Why would God do this to me. I answered to her truthfully, I don’t know. I told her to stop asking why? The honest truth was she would never find an answer. I told her on that triumphant day when she is face to face with our Father, make sure to ask Him! I told her sometimes it’s better not to ask why and just accept the path God put us on. I told her that we as children always think we know better than our parents and in our case our Holy Father! Sooner or later we have to submit and trust that our Father knows best! I told her the best thing we could do is show God that we can get through this test together instead of questioning Him and driving ourselves crazy with the unknown. I reminded her God would not put us through things we couldn’t overcome and in the end…Gods love is and always will be there for us even in our darkest times. She found comfort in that knowledge and I find comfort in that knowledge too. I told her we will make our Father proud. I really had no clue where, what I said, came from…but all I could do was hope she didn’t go into further depression.
What made this time worse was I had to go back to work so she would not see me everyday. I would not be by her side for the first time in over 2 months. This meant She would be alone at the hospital at times, and I know that was so hard for her…this time alone was her wilderness. It’s not that she was scared to be alone like a child but being alone meant being alone with her thoughts. No one would be there to take your mind off of things, this is where she would collect all her thoughts, good and bad and battle her inner demons, insecurities and depression. However, through the wilderness is where she found God yet again. Through tears, prayers and loneliness, she eventually accepted who and what she had become. She had to let go of who she used to be and move forward with who she was now. She had to accept life was different now. She had eventually found peace inside herself.
Months later, Irene was finally able to leave the hospital. It was such an amazing day. I remember it was a hot sunny summer day. We finally had our mommy back home!!! But before we could even have her back home…we had to make our home into Kim’s Hospital.
We had to purchase a fully functioning hospital bed, a chairlift, shower equipment, wheelchairs, renovate our flooring to hardwood from carpet. It was just so much stuff we had to do and the expenses were jaw dropping. How did we manage this financially? Insurance! We were fortunate to be living next door to an insurance wizard. Here name is Ingrid and she is like family to us. Again, some might think this is coincidence but we know it was Gods mysterious hands at play once more.
Way back when before this journey began, Irene got her new health benefit forms and booklet from her work. Ingrid just happened to be over that day and saw the insurance book. Instead of ignoring it, she decided to take the booklet, skim over it and told Irene exactly what to do to maximize her insurance. It was because of her insurance expertise on that day, that we were prepared for what came years later. Her short term and long term disability was maxed and we also maxed her critical illness insurance which was a total God send. Critical Insurance, for those who don’t know, is money that is given to you as a lump sum when you face a life changing illness like Irene is facing. Most people don’t know that when you work for a big company like CIBC, you can up the amount to a certain cap. Also…unlike private critical illness insurance, you don’t need to do any medical tests. You see if Irene tried to get critical illness privately, she would have to pay an arm and a leg because of her medical history. Ingrid knew this so she said maximize the crap out of her critical insurance, because of her employment, she would be paying next to nothing for it. Ingrid also fought for us to get our critical illness money when the insurance company was giving us the run around! We are so blessed that God puts the right people we need into our lives. We genuinely believe God placed Ingrid into our lives to help us prepare and get through this a little easier.
Irene had one last surgery before the tides changed in our favor. She left for the hospital once again after a short few weeks of being at home. She had fluid building up in her brain due to the first surgery and she needed a shunt placed onto her brain. A shunt is a device that pumps fluid from the brain into her abdomen. This was not a big surgery but again, Dr. Tymianski took it upon himself to perform this one last surgery. Irene spent a few more weeks at Toronto Western healing from the shunt before moving to West Park Rehab Hospital.
It was there that Irene started healing at a much better pace. She started getting a little bit of her independence back. She was able to eat on her own, she got a little piece of her adorable smile back, and her vision was improving slowly too! It was here that she started to work on her legs so when that fateful day comes, when her nerves reattach themselves, she will learn to walk again!!!
After a few months of recovery and rehab, Irene was finally allowed to go back home where she is today. Could God’s mysterious hands possibly be at play at West Park too? Yes they were!!! One of the heads of physio at West Park is Jackie Deaves. She was a friend from St Tims years ago when Irene and I first met. She is like a big sister. We were lucky she was working there because she helped Irene get more physio time then we supposed to have. Most patients get a month or two of rehab at a rehab hospital. Irene? She got like 9 months and every session counts when it comes to rehabbing.
Our journey still continues today. Irene is still numb on her left side and she still cannot see properly. We unfortunately were not given a time line by her neurologist as to when her numbness will go away. What this means is unfortunately we have no idea when she will start walking again. It can be next week, next month or next year or longer. Irene continues to do physio each week and continues to exercise daily to keep her strength in her legs. When her nerves comeback…Irene will not only walk…she will run! Our family tries to work the best we can as a team. Patience, understandably, is thin these days as this journey continues longer then we ever wanted. But we as a family know, a life with mom, is better than a life without. When things get hard we make sure to be thankful to God that we have what we have and not what we don’t. We all remember how hard it was seeing mom at the hospital and what life was like without her at home. A house is just a box with four walls and a roof…moms are what makes it feel like home. So just because our mom is a little different…our home is still blessed with a mothers love.
Through this journey, God has tested our family’s faith. But all along this journey God has also made sure that we would know that he is their with us, watching us and helping us. Irene always says that God’s mysterious hands were always at play. One thing I failed to mention is the roll that all of you played.
To everyone here that has prayed for us, that visited us at the different hospitals that we were at, for those people who wanted to come but couldn’t make it for whatever the reason, for those who just come up to us and asked how we were doing, to those who gave us cards, gifts or flowers, for those who gave us encouraging words, for those who gave us hugs or a simple smile, and especially for those who gave us, and my favorite, food,…we say thank you. Seriously from the bottoms of our hearts. Thank You. We are so grateful.
We saw God in all of you. So many times we would be having a hard time dealing with all the stresses that we face and someone would just show up, do something, say something, cook something and it would lift us up so much emotionally and spiritually. We honestly could see and feel God through the love you all gave us, give to us. His Holy Spirit is working through all of you! We all are really blessed to have a community like we do. Our congregation, like Jesus, accepts all of us as we are…from our Ministers to Elders and not so young to the young peeps here.
We don’t have to be someone we are not to be part of this community and that is such a beautiful thing. Our community is genuine and inside the core of our church, is love, God’s love and Irene and I felt it first hand. Love is what we felt from our congregation through all our hard times and even now as we are fighting this fight! I always knew it was there, but it was so powerful to experience it in our most vulnerable and darkest of days. Again…we appreciate and love you guys so very much. We are not where we want to be but everyone here gives us the courage to fight. I have been told by so many people that we inspire them or they don’t understand how we can be so happy going through all this. To be honest, neither do we. We just keep fighting. We decided awhile ago, we will live a normal life like everyone here…just a little different of course. But our source of strength comes from God above and from our kick ass community!
Lastly we just wanted to share with you something personal I wrote to Irene when she was going through her wilderness at Bridgepoint. Well I say we, but Irene wanted to share this with everyone as much I didn’t want to. Irene loves to embarrass me so of course she wanted to share.
I remember the first time I left for work and how incredibly sad Irene was. She would call me and we would try to have a conversation which was next to impossible because Irene couldn’t really talk due to her paralysis. It was really hard to understand anything but her crying and silence spoke louder than anything she could have said. I could physically feel how broken she was over the phone. After the first night I felt like I had to do something to help her. I had no idea what to do so I sat down and wrote her a letter to try to inspire her, and to help her accept that things were changing and no matter what we would prevail. God had not let us down in the past, He would not start now.
The title of my letter is called Banana Bread. As a lot of you know..Irene makes the best Banana Bread and that is where this came from. Irene later shared that this poem really helped her to find perspective of her situation. I was just happy I could do something to really help her during those times where I felt like there was nothing I could do to help her.
There are so many fruits. All different and unique in their own ways. But one fruit that stands out is a Banana. It’s different in shape, taste and colour. Everyone loves a Banana when it is ready and ripe. The taste, peeling it the texture…everything about a banana is fun! It starts off green and then Yellow then it starts to bruise. It’ll eventually spoil and go to the Green bin as waste.
But wait!!! If you are a lucky banana. You are picked to be part of something amazing even after it bruises and becomes inedible. Together with other ingredients it is mashed and mixed together and then put into a pan and an oven and VOILA! Banana Bread. It becomes one of the yummiest of all breads. Moist and perfect and something so totally different then a Banana.
Babe. I fell in love with you. My banana. You are different, everyone loves you. You are yellow like a banana! I fell in love with you when you were your best. It was easy to love you when you were ripe! Like I wrote…everyone loves a banana when it is ripe. However…like some banana’s, you started to spoil earlier than you should have. You started becoming dark and bruised. However…instead of expiring and going to the green bin. God had a greater plan for you.
He hand picked you to transform you into something else, rather than letting you go to the green bin. He had to peel away your outsides but kept what I fell in love with. Your insides. It was your warm heart, your sweet soul and your person whom I love deeper than your banana peel.
God then mashed you into something you couldn’t even recognize. He broke you. He broke you so he could mold you like clay into something even more beautiful. He added different ingredients to make you whole again. He added Doctors, he added nurses, he added the love of our church family, he added the love of our family, he added a bunch of love from the kids and a lot of sugar from me! He blended it all until it was perfect, He doesn’t make mistakes you know. He then put you into a pan which is the Hospitals. Then was the hard part that only you can do alone.
He put you into the oven which represents your wilderness. It’s some where only you can go alone like Jesus did. The heat around you that is testing you is the devil…just like Jesus our savior had to endure. Right now you are being tested and I know how much you hate being alone. I know how much you miss the kids and how much you miss me when I’m at work. But the oven is a place only you can bake alone.
After all the baking is done. No matter how long it takes…you will become a banana bread! You will become someone new! You will not be the same banana you were. But be grateful and give Glory to God that you didn’t go to green bin. You will be whole again. You may not be the same banana but a new creation that was baked by God. Also…remember, God created you with all His LOVE just like the love that goes into baking a banana bread.
I love you babe…you were my banana but you are becoming my banana bread and I will wait forever with you my banana bread until we can continue on our crazy journey that is life, together.