Wednesday, September 22

Moved to Houston

by Lisa. I wrote this story to process recent events, enter a contest, and contribute to a future OC women's website. And beside that, staying in practice with writing is a life skill! If you've kept up with the recent events of our lives the information won't be new to you, but Ben said some of his readers might like to hear from me anyway.

I never thought I’d move to Texas. Moving in general is stressful enough, and moving to a place where I don’t know anyone is even worse. I’m also not a fan of big changes, heat or cowboy culture. Yet there my husband Ben and I were, driving south with a car full of computer equipment, clothes, and a small green parrot. We were now doubly removed from our hometown with no idea when we’d be back.

My husband receives medical treatments from M D Anderson, the best cancer research and treatment facility in the United States. There, a research doctor specializes in the rare and frightful sarcoma in Ben’s chest. He had been advising our local doctor in Colorado Springs of the chemotherapy regime he thought Ben would need to get rid of his cancer.

The prescriptions slipped into his bloodstream for the past seven months, however, had reached a dead end. In the short term this was something of a relief; the side effects had been brutal. As you might expect there was the usual nausea and hair loss, fatigue and lowered immune system. He’d have a week of treatments, and then be unable to leave the couch for another week. One of the three drugs really messed with his digestion and could keep him up all night. A nurse practitioner joked that its name, Irinotecan, really was “I ran to the can” (no need to further elaborate). We both suffered due to the infamous “chemo head” which could reduce Ben’s attention span to the length of a television commercial and even then he might not remember any details later. We continued to preserve through all the side effects because they seemed like they were worth it. We had subscribed to the perhaps slightly superstitious belief that the more the chemo poisoned one’s body and stole away health, the more the tumors were poisoned as well. Sometimes this holds true, but not recently for Ben.

We prayed for a miracle. We had prayed that the chemo would work, or that another treatment would be available, that the tumors would just go away, and that Ben would beat the odds. We prayed, and our families prayed, our close friends and colleagues and friends of acquaintances prayed, and uncles and aunts of college friend’s spouses prayed. For reasons we don’t fully understand, hundreds of people around the world prayed for, and continue to pray for, us.

What was next after we learned the chemo was no longer effective? The news came that Ben was admitted to an exciting drug trial, perhaps a spectacular advance in science! It is impossible to describe the hope we felt. Ben’s tumors are in difficult places, and we had been told it would be impossible to surgically remove them. This is hard to hear at twenty seven years old. We had hope that this treatment would be better because it was designed to directly attack the tumors and not harm the body surrounding them. Maybe this would be the way that God would act to save Ben’s life so that he could continue to dream and build and stay with me. The treatment was given once a week and only available through a clinical trial at M D Anderson, in Houston.

The study coordinator asked if we could be there by a certain date. “How were we going to move to Texas in a week and a half?!” I kept asking myself. As mentioned, moving is a big deal for me. In Seattle, where I have lived most my life, my university was less than ten miles from my high school, which was approximately two and a half miles from my first salaried job. Our move to Colorado from Seattle had been an earth-shattering act of God which I had thought would never be repeated. Even thinking about temporarily moving to Texas was a huge leap both practically and emotionally, though at this point it was also the most sensible thing we could do.

Before we had even begun to plan too seriously the first signs that everything might work out started to arrive via email. Folks we had never met before offered to let us live with them. These unmistakably generous and kind offers to our somewhat introverted sensibilities seemed like they could make for potentially awkward semi-permanent arrangements. The cancer treatments could last for months; so we thanked the hospitable Texans with “no’s” and began to comb apartment rental websites. Then we heard from a friend’s friends parents. They had very recently purchased a house strategically located down the street from their young grandchildren. Now they were returning to their work in Thailand and a house-sitter was required. We’d only need to pay half the utilities and keep the house clean and lived in!

My company continued to be flexible with my working arrangements. They had already demonstrated their stretching prowess over the past year as I left frequently to drive Ben to appointments and treatments and fly to Houston. Being a contract worker such as I am entitled me to some freedoms, but not the gracious supportiveness I also received. From Texas I couldn’t attend meetings or run errands but I could continue to do the bulk of the work I had done in Colorado from my computer.

With a place to stay and an income, we breathed a little easier. Our savings account seemed safe as other details began to fall in to place: we could take our pet parrot with us, and a nearby friend would care for my vermicomposter. My office adopted my rubber tree and Ben’s office could water the ginseng bonsai. We figured out how to forward mail for free without changing our address and we packed our essentials: which included the considerable amount of technology necessary to do our jobs from another state and, as food lovers, a large cast-iron Dutch oven. Ben planned our route.

As moving day approached only one sticky situation remained. Ben’s treatments in Texas would run for eight weeks minimum, until the first evaluation. At that point if the treatment was considered unsuccessful we would need to try something else. If the treatments worked, however, they would keep going indefinitely. The researchers working on this clinical trial were unclear about the timeline: six months? A year? Five years?

We certainly didn’t want to leave our townhouse in Colorado empty for any length of time. We’d still be covering the mortgage, insurance, utilities and Home Owner’s Association fees and with the addition of Houston living expenses our budget could be stretched pretty tight. It would be fantastic to rent the townhouse out, but we didn’t know if we would be able to find someone interested in the unusual conditions of a furnished space for the unspecified period of our absence. We prayed and spread the word through friends and family.

Then we received a brief email from a young woman we didn’t know and dubiously thought we might never hear from again. It turned out that she was a trustworthy person living with our pastor’s family but looking for a short-term place of her own. Ironically, she hailed from Texas! Just two days before we left she signed our rental agreement.

That is the story of how we got to Texas, where we have been startled at the friendliness of strangers and surprised that we don’t need a jacket to go outside. We are homesick for both Seattle and Colorado Springs but still consider ourselves blessed to be so close to the heart of medical advancement and to have all the things we need: food, shelter and friends. In my experience, moving is survivable. Even wonderful.


  1. Thank you so much for a "State of the Morrells" post. There were some bits and pieces that I hadn't connected together or missed from some blog post.

    We will continue to pray and if you guys need anything please don't hesitate to lean on your prayer network.

  2. Thanks for the post Lisa (and Ben!) Great writing.

    Wish I could visit, maybe sometime soon. Keeping you guys in my prayers.

  3. Thanks for the post Lisa (and Ben!) Great writing.

    Wish I could visit, maybe sometime soon. Keeping you guys in my prayers.


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